Our community blogs
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
This area is not for queries but for ongoing blogs. if you want to ask for help, please go to the appropriate sub-forum in the main part of the GWF.
You have been asked to make your first post in a specified location. Once you have done that, your query can be raised in the various sections of the forum.
If you previously posted a request for help or information in this area, it is likely to be deleted at some point in the next few weeks or months. So if you have a reply, please make a note of it, If not, can you re-post it in the appropriate part of the forum, which is likely to get you a quick response.
for the GWF team
- Read more...
- 0 comments
It was an emotional moment. The culmination of ten years of research inspired by the chance discovery of an old photograph. The day a book I thought I would never finish finally arrived on my doorstep.
It felt as if I had reached the end of an epic journey full of twists and turns, mysteries and surprises. That I had completed a seemingly never-ending project that had eaten up many thousands of hours of my life.
All kinds of thoughts raced through my mind today as I opened the boxes containing my new book about retired Devon agricultural worker John Roberts who had a remarkable 30 grandsons serving in the Great War.
I was thrilled that it would reveal the extraordinary courage shown by ordinary men of Devon on the front line a century ago. That their stories of life and death on the Western Front and beyond would at last emerge from the shadows of history.
I felt honoured to have had the opportunity and the time to ‘walk in their boots’ as they left these shores to fight in some of the bloodiest battles of the war – from Ypres to Loos, and the Somme to Aubers Ridge.
I felt proud that all the men I had researched were relatives of mine. And that I had got to know them, and how they had served – and in many cases died – in the war despite never having the privilege of meeting any of them.
Most of all, I thought of my wife Jenny, who encouraged me to start and continue with the research, helping me to find the time to investigate the lives of John Roberts, of Witheridge, and his 30 Devon-born grandsons.
Jenny played a pivotal role in the fact-finding, helping me to plough through hundreds of Census returns, parish records, museum and other archives. She accompanied me on visits to dozens of village and other cemeteries in my quest for information.
When Jenny died in 2013, I almost gave up on the book. But, after a long break from writing, I decided to continue with it, not wanting to waste all the hard work we had put into it over the years. Now History Maker is finished, it has been published in her memory.
The book would not have been possible without the help of the Great War Forum, whose members have provided a wealth of new information and leads about the war service and identity of John’s grandsons.
Of the seven grandsons who lost their lives in 1914-1918, four were identified with the aid of crucial clues from Forum members who also provided answers on war gratuities, regiments, service numbers and much more.
Proceeds from History Maker – which will be available from the National Archives Book Shop – are going to St Margaret’s Hospice in Taunton and Yeovil.
As well as doing a series of talks about the book in Devon this year, I am also hoping to be involved in an event or events focusing on the research that has been carried out.
The picture shows John Roberts, as found on Witheridge Historical Archive.
- Read more...
- 0 comments
In my post "Numbers from the War Memorial" I mentioned that a there were 28 men who I had been unable to locate - I've since been back through the records and found 8 or so of the missing but 20 remain unfound. Here is a list of them and a summary of my attempts to fnd them. If anybody has access to other records that may help identify them or clarify which of the recorded men may have a connection to Galashiels I would really appreciate if you could let me have access or point me in the right direction. I have identified over 600 men using CWGC, SNWM, Ancestry and the British Newspaper Archive and it would be lovely to find them all.
Royal Field Artillery
Gunner John Higgins
4 John Higgins listed in CWGC database. No connection to Galashiels. No Service records with connection to Galashiels, Nobody of that name in 1901 or 1911 census lived in Galashiels. One reference to a J Higgins who sent a letter of thanks to Selkirk Soldiers Comforts committee in April 1918 evidently from his hospital bed. One Higgins family appears in 1901 census in Galashiels but no ”Johns” 3 John Higgins in RFA listed in SWB records but no connection to Galashiels
Gunner James Thomson
8 Listed in CWGC of which 5 born in Scotland but none in Galashiels. One James Thomson from Selkirk served in the RGA and enlisted in Galashiels where his brother lived – possible but would his brother placed him in the wrong artillery corps?
Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders
Pte Andrew Knox – One person listed in CWGC but no identified links to Galashiels and full name is Alexander. A Andrew Knox S/27890 2nd Btn A &SH rcvd VM & BWM. Nothing in local papers for a “Andrew Knox” and “A Knox”
Pte D McCulloch – One person listed in CWGC but no identified links to Galashiels. Soldiers Died has him being born in Renfrew. A David McCulloch was born in Galashiels in 1886 Nothing in local papers for David McCulloch and D McCulloch. Several D McCullochs served in A & SH according to MIC’s. One Douglas McCulloch served 4/7596 +GH & RE died 1/3/1917 arrived France 27/12/1914. Missing from CWGC
Pte Robert Brown 9 listed on CWGC. One unofficial report in local newspaper of a Robert Brown of the 7th Cameron Highlanders ex Scott Street Galashiels dying pre 3rd Feb 1916 but cannot locate death in CWGC or SNWM or Soldiers died.
Pte Alexander Sutherland 2 listed on CWGC no additional information. Both located in soldiers died both born in highlands no A. Sutherlands in SNWM born in Galashiels. 10 listed in MIC but no addresses. No
Pte James W. Tod: A James William Tod was living in Galashiels in 1901 but tracing him in the army in the Dorset Regiment or finding a newspaper reference has not been possible. A James William Tod served with the 1st Cameron Highlanders S18009 died of wounds 23/7/1916 buried in Contalmaison Chateaux. Recruiting officer noted he was a ”Superior, Smart lad, anxious to go with a friend” – but wrong regiment and born and lived in Dumfries.
King’s Own Scottish Borderers
Pte Robert Bradley
No R Bradley in CWGC attached to KOSB, No SWB Nothing Soldiers Died
A Robert Bradley was born in Galashiels in 1891 and by 1901 was living in New Monkland. A Robert Bradley attested in 1915 and joined the Royal Scots with the correct age possible? But gives his place of birth as Barony Glasgow?
Pte William Murray
Two William Murrays listed on the GWM who served with the KOSB. One of them listed in the CWGC has parents and a wife resident in Galashiels. No other CWGC listed William Murrays have a connection to Galashiels. No William Murray deaths in Gala can be tied to KOSB service
Pte Richard J. Turnbull
2 Listed in CWGC. Only one Richard Lillico Turnbull has connection to Galashiels as according to Soldiers Died he enlisted there so a possible connection but he was born and lived in Selkirk. The other is connected to Hawick.
Pte Peter White
No Pte Peter Whites in the CWGC list for KOSB or SNWM or SDGW. A Peter White Labourer of various addresses was hauled up in front of the magistrates several times pre-war for poaching salmon (cleeking) and drunkenness – the same person? Nothing in 1911 census or post war death records for Galashiels or nearby towns.
Machine Gun Corps
Pte George F Thomson
Only George Thomson is from Kilmarnock – No connection apparent to Galashiels
Cpl Robert Fairburn
Two listed in CWGC have no connection to Galashiels. A Peter Fairbairn enlisted in August 1915 in the Royal Scots moved to the Labour Corps then discharged aged 52 in 1919 – may have died later
Pte Thomas Hart
No Thomas or T Harts died in service with the Royal Scots. A Thomas Hart did serve with the RS but was discharged in late 1918 under KR 392, Medals were not delivered –may have died but no Thomas Hart deaths post war then can be tied to the Thomas Hart discharged.
Pte Russell Mason
None listed, no trace in newspaper
Royal Scottish Fusiliers
Pte James Thomson.
8 men named James Thomson listed in CWGC but none with a connection to Galashiels. SNWM has no James Thomson’s connected to Galashiels. No James Thomson’s who served in RSF are listed in SDGW have any connection to Galashiels. BNA searches for “James Thomson” and “Royal Scottish Fusiliers “ in the border area don’t yield any likely results
United States of America
Pte William Newlands
Pte Newlands is not the on ABMC list but a L/Cpl William Newlands of the 9th Btn Gordon Highlanders is listed by the CWGC as having died on the 1st of August 1917 at 32nd CCS. Service records survives and he was born in Galashiels but he is recorded in the Gordon Highlander part of the GWM – A double entry? If so why under the USA?
Pte Alexander Brown
94 Alexander Browns attested with the Canadian forces and by cross referencing with the CWGC record of Canadians named A Brown who died (36 in total) 6 Men named Alexander Brown are identified. Cross check against the 1901 census list 6 Alexander Browns in Scotland associated with Galashiels. One’s birth year corresponds to Alexander Finletter Brown 163068 who was living in Hunter Square Galashiels in 1901. His NOK on his attestation is a William Brown but his father was a James, but a brother named William is listed in the 1901 census. Birth locations differ CFR =Maybole, 1901 = Dumfries. Not enough to confirm.
Cpl E. Miller
1 Cpl E Miller in CWGC in Canadian Forces. Details do not give a connection to Galashiels. Canadian attestation records give NOK in Canada and birthplace as Queensland Aust. Cpl E Miller 790649 died 26/10/1917 no known grave, listed on Menin Gate. A Report in the Southern Reporter 9/5/1918 report his death states he worked at Abbotsford Mill and was in the Galashiels Harrier Athletics Club prior to emigration. But no details connect the Men described. Nothing in 1901 census.
Sgt Joseph White
2 Possibilities: A Pte Joseph White, known as Joe. 437020 49th Btn Canadian Infantry ex Scots Guards 3491born Edinburgh 14/1/1883 parents lived Galashiels Camp Cook in the Yukon prior to war. Siblings in Canada, note Incorrect rank.
A Sgt Joseph White, note correct rank 725123 44th Btn CI. Born Ontanrio, parents lived Ontario – no known connection to Galashiels – unlikely ?
L Cpl J.H. Young
One Sgt J H Young listed on CWGC but Canadian Records and CWGC show no connection to Galashiels or Scotland. One John Young (no H) born in the Borders is an alternative. 34 J Youngs in CWGC and Thousands in Canadian Attestation records
Many thanks for reading!
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
Today, there is 1st of December, and all the Romanians celebrate this year 99 years since the Great Reunification of 1918. But the national day was not the same in the last 150 years, having different dates. Romania's national day ran from 1866 to 1947 on May 10, then from 1948 to 1989 on 23 August. By law no. 10 of 31 July 1990, promulgated by President Ion Iliescu and published in the Official Gazette no. 95 of 1 August 1990, December 1 was adopted as a national day and a public holiday in Romania. This provision was resumed by the Romanian Constitution of 1991, Article 12, paragraph 2. The anti-Communist opposition in Romania advocated in 1990 for the adoption of 22 December as a national holiday, a fact recorded in the transcripts of the parliamentary debates.In 1990, after the 1989 anti-communist revolution, the NSF-dominated parliament refused the opposition's proposal to adopt December 22 as the national holiday of Romania. On the background of the inter-ethnic confrontations in Târgu Mureş in March 1990 and the mining of 13-15 June 1990, the Romanian Parliament adopted on July 31, 1990 the Law no. 10 of 1990, which repealed the Decision of the Council of Ministers no. 903 of August 18, 1949, declaring August 23 as a national holiday and proclaiming the day of December 1 as the national holiday. Law 10 of 1990 does not specify the meaning or reason for the election of December 1 as the national day of Romania. The law passed in 1990 by the FSN-dominated parliament and promulgated by Ion Iliescu aimed at combating the sympathies related to the monarchical tradition of Romania with the historic national feast on 10 May, as well as countering the demand for anticommunist opposition to adopt the day December 22 as a national holiday. The election of December 1, though unexplained, made reference to the unification of Transylvania, Banat, Crisana and Maramures with Romania in 1918, and the Alba Iulia Proclamation, which took place on 1 December 1918. The election of this day as a national holiday Romania was seen as an affront to the Hungarian minority in Romania, for which the day of December 1 meant a political loss. The first national day of December 1, whose central festivities took place in 1990 in Alba Iulia, was marked by political polarization, the speech of Corneliu Coposu, the then leader of the anticommunist objective, being interrupted several times by booze Petre Roman, the then prime minister, was pleased with the repeated interruption of the opposition leader's speech, which made President Ion Iliescu give him a sign to stop, gesture filmed and broadcast widely by the media.Historian Neagu Djuvara showed in an interview with TVR in 2011 that the election of December 1 by the Iliescu regime was a conjectural one, explaining that on December 1, 1918, only Transylvania and Banat were united with Romania, while the other the historical provinces, namely Bessarabia and Bucovina, were united at different dates.
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
I am now the very proud owner of the Royal British Legion commemorative Poppy pin to remember those that sadly lost their lives 100 years ago at the 3rd battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele.
The details of how this project came about and what went into the making of these commemorative poppy pins can be found on the attached video link.
- Read more...
- 0 comments
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
"AN ANZAC'S FAIR."
Have I been a soldier long sir? Aye, it
seems like twenty years
Since we sailed away from Melbourne
to the time we took Pozieres.
We lobbed at dirty Suez and entrained
for Mena Camp,
Right underneath the Pyramids, where
we soon got something damp.
We marched around the desert until our
feet were sore,
But soon took a jerry and filled our packs
We went down to Ismalia, to meet old
But the only thing we found there was
work, and then more work.
At last we sailed from Egypt and arrived
at Lemnos Isle,
We rehearsed all the landing in good
We heard at last the dinkum about the
Then all of us were pining to get quickly
to the front.
We got there, no time wasted, and on
that forsaken brink
We fought and starved and sweated when
you couldn't buy a drink,
We stuck it for eight blooming months,
when the heads made up their minds
To do the quiet, cunning trick - but we
left a lot behind.
We retreated back to Lemnos, the mob
was worn and pale,
I tell you sir, it was just like one coming
out of gaol.
They shipped us on to Alex, so the boys
couldn't spend their dough,
And they put us in the desert - we never
had a show,
In time we got near water, heard the
order, "He that hath
"In his harness soap and towel, may go
and have a bath."
We were thankful for small mercies, and
dropped in there with glee,
Its wonderful the dirt we dripped did not
stain the blooming sea.
At last there came along the news and we
did a dinkum dance,
Our Colonel said, "If you're good boys,
I'll take you all to France."
The trip across was lovely, the sea of
The only thing that marred it was ever-
But what a sight for sore eyes when we
landed at Marseilles!
The people there were civilised - we had
no eyes for males.
The girls all looked just lovely, as we
went north in the train,
And when this war is over I'm coming
They dropped us in a quiet spot to get
our second wind;
The Boche pulled nasty faces, but we just
sat there and grinned.
We stayed there for a month or so, then
things began to hum,
They took us quietly by the hand and
dumped us on the Somme.
"Now lads, this is the dinkum joint,
you've got to keep your name!"
But I guess the boys of Anzac earned
their undying fame.
We thought the place called Anzac was
pretty rough for shells,
But blime, down there on the Somme, was
two or three large hells.
Well, I think we did our little bit, and
we're now out for a rest;
I think the German won't be long before
he gives it best.
Our little British Army has got him
He's feeling pretty sorry he started up
But we are getting weary of looking
round for fight,
We'd like those clouds to turn around
and show us of the light.
I often in the dugout dream of "Home,
And I'm sure if I get back, sir, I never
more will roam.
But when I lob in Melbourne, and by the
I'll be proud that I in truth can say,
"Thank God, I did my bit."
The poem “An Anzac’s Fair” was sent home by Hector [soldier on left in above photo], and published in his local paper the Inglewood Advertiser on the 5th January 1917. Hector was killed 9 months later in the Battle of Passchendaele, and is commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres.
Hector Leslie DESLANDES was the youngest son of John DESLANDES and Catherine MUNRO and had been born at Inglewood, Vic, in 1894. Hector lost his eldest brother in 1910 (age 23) and his father in 1913, so when he enlisted on the 3rd February 1915 with his remaining brother George, they left their mother virtually on her own, as their only sister had married in 1912. Also enlisting with them was their mother’s brother, their uncle George Munro, and 3 other Inglewood boys, Thomas Murray and brothers’ Charles and William Roberts.
All six sailed with A Company of the 22nd Battalion on the Ulysses at the beginning of May, reaching Alexandria on the 9th June. Another local boy, Phillip Thompson, also made the journey with them, but as a member of B Coy.
They continued on to Gallipoli on the 30th August on board the Scotian, minus the Deslandes’ uncle George, and Tom Murray (‘Nip’), who were both ill. As a part of the 6th Brigade convoy, they were lucky to avoid the lurking submarine UB14 which managed to cause severe damage to one of their companion ships, the Southland.
Eventually landing at Anzac on the 5th September, they moved into trenches opposite Johnson’s Jolly the following day, where ‘Nip’ joined them a couple of weeks later, and there they remained until the evacuation. George parted company with his brother on the 8th October when he transferred to the 4th Field Coy Engineers, but both Deslandes boys returned safely to Egypt in January 1916.
Later that month, their uncle, who had remained in Egypt on guard duty after his illness, was invalided home after a bout of enteric fever – his war over before it had really begun. Charles Roberts also left them. He’d found himself in a spot of trouble after falling asleep on sentry duty at Anzac, and after the return to Egypt began a sentence of imprisonment, which was soon suspended. However, by April he was in hospital with Tachycardia and Valvular Disease, and the following month was shipped home medically unfit. His brother Willie, Phil Thompson, Nip and Hector made the move to the Western Front towards the end of March. It was during their stint in the nursery sector at Fleurbaix that they suffered their first casualty in action, when Willie received a bomb wound to the neck. He had been discharged from hospital to a convalescent depot, and Hector and his unit were taking over the reserve line at Bois Grenier, when George landed in France with the Engineers in early June.
By July Hector was on the Somme and on the 25th moved into the fighting at Pozieres. For four sleepless days he and his mates endured the horror of the attempted obliteration of Kay Sap, which was raked with enfilade and frontal fire, gas and high explosive shells. As noted in ‘With the Twenty-Second’: “The shells, malignant and relentless, killed wounded and buried living and dead together.” Phil Thompson was the next casualty of the group, he sustained a head wound on the 27th, and also suffering from shell shock, was sent through the hospital system to Blighty. Nip, operating as one of the Battalion runners, (described as ‘supermen’ during this time) received a Military Medal for his efforts.
After a short rest at Sausage Gully the 22nd then took part in an attack on the German trenches on the 5th August. Unfortunately, before the attack even commenced, they had lost approximately 20% of their men to enemy shellfire, and as they advanced, A Coy ‘were practically annihilated by machine gun fire.’ However, they took their objectives and held them until they were relieved later that night by the 24th Bn, and after leaving the front line, Nip was admitted to a rest station for a couple of days with shell shock. Later that month they played their part in the attack on Mouquet Farm, and the battalion was then moved on to a quieter sector in Belgium.
Hector then left his mates in the 22nd Bn, and transferred to the 6th Machine Gun Coy on the 7th September.
By winter he was back in France, and after a stint at Flers, was in billets at Flesselles when a fully recovered Willie Roberts, joined him and the machine gunners on the 8th December. Christmas was spent in the line amongst the cold and fog and slush, and the following few months were spent in and out of the line as they followed the German withdrawal towards the Hindenburg Line.
The Battle of Bullecourt on the 3rd May 1917 brought both glory and sorrow for the boys from Inglewood. Willie and Nip both operating as runners for their units met with completely different fates this day. Willie, following in the footsteps of Nip at Pozieres, earned himself a Military Medal. Pinned down in a shell-hole by machine gun fire with a badly wounded Lieutenant Palling, he and another man made a dash back to Company HQ with a report and to collect a stretcher. He then endeavoured to guide a stretcher party back until casualties prevented further progress. Meanwhile, Nip went missing and was later declared killed in action.
From a letter to their parents from Nip’s brother Frank (Murray):
I am writing to you to-day to tell you some bad news - "Nip" is missing. He may be in hospital, or he may have been taken prisoner - they don't know for sure where he is. His battalion was over here to-day, and I hunted round until I found his cobbers; that was the first I heard about it. He was bringing a message back to headquarters with a couple of mates, and they were hopping from shell hole to shell hole when he was hit in the leg and arm. His mates tried to pull him to the hole by pushing out a rifle, but he said, "I'm beggared; I can't hold it." His arm was broken, I think. They did their best to get him in, but couldn't at the time. They reported it when they reached headquarters, and two stretcher-bearers went out to get him. One came back carrying the stretcher - the other was killed. Two more tried and another was knocked, and they couldn't get him in just then. Another mate of his said that later on one crawled out and gave him a drink out of his bottle. They looked for him after but could not find him, so there is still a chance that he may have been picked up and taken to hospital, or he even may have been made a prisoner. ………………
Nine days later, the last of the group remaining with the 22nd Bn, Phil Thompson, joined Hector and Willie in the 6th MG Coy. Less than a month later however, he moved on to the VetHospital. After Bullecourt Hector’s unit went out for a long rest, which actually involved moving from camp to camp for the next few months. During this time Hector was promoted to Lance Corporal. Finally at the end of July they left the Somme area and headed north once more, where they went into billets at Wardrecques. From here they traveled to Ypres and began preparations for the Battle of Passchendaele, beginning withMenin Road on the 20th September, followed by Broodseinde Ridge on the 4th October.
Fighting was resumed on the 9th October, and Hector was a member of one of the 6 gun teams under the command of Lieutenant Wright, that were positioned behind the ruins of Broodseinde to provide indirect covering fire. They were shelled continuously; two guns being destroyed and two put out of action, whilst Hector and five of his comrades lost their lives. In the words of Lieut Wright; “…we were all dazed and ducking involuntarily at every burst and shaking at every sound, waiting for our ‘issue’ with just a sheet of tissue paper – it seemed – between us and sheer lunacy.” By next morning “When word came to abandon the cursed spot, I had some difficulty in inducing the boys to stay long enough to bury their comrades.”
Hector’s body was either never recovered or not identified.
A year after his death Hector was remembered by his mother and sister in verse:
He has done his best along with the rest
And marched with the brave old boys,
Inscribed his name on the scroll of fame
As one of Australia’s boys.
Hector’s brother George, along with Willie Roberts and Phil Thompson, returned home in 1919.
Endnotes: Menin Gate Photo taken by author. Photo of Hector & mate AWM PO8120.003.
Hector Leslie Deslandes (1894-1917) L/Cpl 145, KIA 9/10/1917; George William Deslandes (1885-1949) Pte 144 / Spr 4222, RTA 9/3/19; George Alexander Munro (1873-1935) Pte 214, RTA 21/1/16; Thomas James Murray ‘Nip’ (1893-1917) Pte 216, MM, KIA 3/5/1917; Charles Frederick Roberts (1894-1947) Pte 238, RTA 11/5/16; William Henry Roberts (1881-1937) Pte 239, MM, RTA 5/4/19; Phillip Louis Thompson (1887-1956) Pte 476, RTA 19/4/19.
Frank Murray (1895-1918), Pte 6314, 7th Bn – who wrote to their parents when Nip went missing, was KIA 27/4/1918 Meteren.
Heather ‘Frev’ Ford, 2010
- Read more...
- 0 comments
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
Previously numbered 1 - 9999, the Territorials were to be allocated a new (and in most cases) 6 digit number.
The changes were to be implemented by the 1st of March 1917.
In the case of the 5th Black Watch the number block given over to them began at 240001.
With few exceptions the renumbering followed the previous order, with the lowest numbered men recieving the first of the new batch.
240001 went to 5 Pte. Allan Christie (later awarded the D.C.M.). Christie attested on the 3rd of April 1908, shortly after the creation of the Territorial Force from the old local militias.
241258 went to 3842 Pte. James Forbes. Forbes attested on the 16th of November 1915.
On the 15th of March 1916, almost a year before the new numbering regulations were to be in place, the 1st/5th Btn amalgamated with the 1st/4th Btn to form the 4th/5th.
Looking at CWGC post amalgamation casualties, it is interesting to see there's mixtue of old and new soldiers numbers jumbled together in a 7 month period, starting from 03/09/1916 when the first renumbered man is recorded, until 01/04/1917, a month after the new numbering was supposed to be in use the final casualty was recorded using an old number.
Of 155 other rank casualties in this period, 101 are recorded under their old number with 54 under their 6 digit one.
Considering the even application of the new numbers to the old, it's odd that there's not a clean cut off where the new numbers take over in the casualties on CWGC from the old.
There's no pattern to the two number groups in this time frame. Neither is based on the previous Btn. a man belonged to, 4th or 5th, or if he's remembered on any particular memorial, or has a grave.
So why there's a large overlap in usage of the two numbering systems remains, to me at least, a mystery.
A medal recently came into my hands with an intensely human story behind it that I feel compelled to share. It is just one of the 6.5 million British War Medals that were produced at the end of the Great War of 1914-19, and is therefore nothing special in itself. As with so many of these, it’s true value can only be found by discovering the story that lies behind it.
As always, my start point came from the meagre details that the mint had punched into its rim, telling me that the medal was issued to recognise the service of “950. PTE. A. COOK. NOTTS & DERBY”. The actual Medal Rolls proved to be much more informative, revealing to me that he had in fact served with their 1st/8th battalion. Alfred Cook was therefore a member of the newly formed Territorial Force which had emerged from the reorganisation of the old volunteers units that came about with the implementation of the Haldane Reforms in 1907.
Born at Sutton-in-Ashfield (near Mansfield), in November of 1891, he was the fifth surviving child in a family of six. His older siblings were Annie Elizabeth, Hannah, John William and Harold, whilst Robert, the final addition to the family, had been born when Alfred was two. It is however the special relationship which seems to have existed between Alfred and Harold that will occupy much of our story. He was just a year older than Alfred, and they seem to have been very close.
So far as is known, Harold was the first member of the family to join the Territorial Force, which he must have done around the year 1909. In those days Sutton-in-Ashfield had its own Company of what was then simply known as the 8th Battalion. Still organised on the old “8 Company system” until after war was declared, their unit had several bases scattered around north Nottinghamshire. There was “A” Company at Retford, “B” at Newark, “C” at Sutton-in-Ashfield, “D” at Mansfield, “E” at Carlton, “F” at Arnold, “G” at Worksop and “H” at Southwell. It would seem that Harold enjoyed the experience enough for some of his enthusiasm to rub off onto Alfred, who followed in his footsteps and joined in his own right on 22nd August 1910. The battalion had actually returned from their annual summer camp earlier in that same month, and perhaps the tales of Harold’s 2 week adventure had been a major factor in influencing Alfred to sign up himself.
The boys were however growing up in other ways too, and it was not long before Harold had both found himself a bride and started a family of his own. This young couple would go on to have 3 children before the war, who they named as Lilian, Alice and, perhaps significantly, Alfred. It is easy to see that, with a young wife and growing family, Harold may have begun to find his commitment to the Territorial Force a little irksome and, despite their training being part-time, it would certainly have eaten into the time that couple had for each other. Whatever the reasons that lay behind it, we do know that Harold did not extend his contract with the unit, and handed back his uniform when his 4 years were up.
The two brothers would still have had lots of time together with “C” Company before then, and doubtless went on several annual camps in each others company. If Alfred at all missed his brothers’ presence in the unit, perhaps he consoled himself with the thought that his own contract would terminate at the end of August in 1914. Unfortunately however, by that date the Kaiser already had other plans for both of them.
The 4th August 1914 actually found Alfred at summer camp with the entire Territorial Brigade of the Sherwood Foresters, where the outbreak of the European war apparently took very few of their number by surprise. In fact, it is recorded that the men were so gripped by “war fever” that it rendered any prospect of them following their planned training schedule completely impossible. Once the formal declaration of war became known to them, their summer camp at Hunmanby near the Yorkshire coast was broken up and the men were sent home. Alfred would doubtless have been exceptionally eager to talk things over with Harold as soon as he arrived back at the family home in Park Street.
Things then began to move very quickly, and as early as Friday 7th August, the entire battalion had been mobilised and concentrated at Newark, where their men were briefly billeted in the local schools. With their strength recorded at 29 officers and 852 other ranks, a Church Parade and official send-off was held for them in the market square on Monday 10th before they marched off to their designated war station.
Harold also acted quickly, and signed a new attestation document with his old unit on August 9th. It would appear that, despite his family commitments, he may have been determined to take part in what he perhaps thought promised to be a great adventure. It is also possible however that he was equally motivated by wanting to try to look after his younger brother.
Alfred’s destiny actually became sealed on 3rd September, when he signed Army Form E624 and volunteered for overseas service. As with many other battalions of the Territorial Force, the issue of overseas service had not been given much emphasis in the 8th before the war, though 80% of their men readily accepted the commitment shortly after they had been mobilised. The brothers would almost certainly have discussed this issue, and we know that Harold also stepped forward to join the majority.
Part of the first full Division of the Territorial Force to be sent to France, the brothers landed at Le Harvre in early March of 1915. After moving up country towards the front line they engaged in an intensive training programme that culminated in them being sent into the trenches near Messines at the end of that month under the watchful eye of seasoned regulars. Despite the deep seated and widespread suspicions held about the Territorial Force amongst many of the full time professionals of the regular army, who frequently disparaged them as “Saturday night soldiers”, the 8th were judged to have performed well. So well in fact that, from the beginning of April, the battalion were detailed to take over a stretch of the front at Kemmel in there own right.
Up to this point the 8th had been lucky. Whilst 3 of their number had been wounded, their familiarisation had taken place in a quiet sector where they had not yet been exposed to the full grim reality of the war. All this began to change with the death of 18 year old Jack Hyde on Tuesday 6th April. Originating from Arnold but serving in “A” Company, he was shot through the head by a sniper and buried at the nearby Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery. In fact, as the days passed, and their casualties grew in number, Rows D and E in this cemetery began to assume the appearance of a plot reserved purely for the men of the 8th battalion. By Monday the 14th June, and after several tours in the trenches, it had already become the final resting place for no fewer than 43 of them.
Tuesday the 15th should have brought relief for the battalion, who were due to be replaced by anther unit thereby affording the 8th an opportunity to spend some time in one of the safer rear areas. It was reported as a quiet day until 21:00 hrs when, quite suddenly, with the unexpected detonation of three huge German mines, all hell broke loose. These acted as a signal that started a hail of artillery shells, trench mortars, rifle grenades and machine gun fire that then swept across the British trenches for over an hour. The enemy infantry proceeded to use this covering fire to advance into one of the mine craters that had been created within feet of where Alfred Cook had been standing, though they were swiftly driven out of this new position at the point of the bayonet. Major John Becher (a native of Southwell) was then able to supervise the reconstruction and reorganisation of the British defences, the coolness and efficiency with which he completed the task contributing towards him becoming the first man of the battalion to receive the DSO. By 23:00 hrs the situation had stabilised enough for the battalion to carry on with its planned relief but, by that time, both Alfred and another man from “C” Company, Oliver Bryan, were missing.
When greeted by this news, it would appear that Harold became beside himself. Joining forces with two of Oliver Bryan’s brothers, who were also serving with the battalion at that time, the three of them together swiftly sought and received permission from one of their officers to go back and search for their missing kinsmen.
In the darkness however they soon found that they were unable to conduct a proper search and, being in close proximity to the enemy, were at last reluctantly forced to abandon the enterprise. A court of enquiry later came to the conclusion that both Alfred and Oliver must have been buried under the front wall of their trench at the very start of the attack, when the German mines had been detonated. Neither of them were ever seen again and, having no known graves, they later became the first 2 soldiers from the 8th battalion to be remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial to the missing.
The story however does not end on that particular date, there being an equally sad postscript. Harold would lose his own life just 4 months later, during the same action which also saw Major Becher become fatally wounded. In a cruel twist of fate for the Becher family, two of his brothers-in-law, who were also serving as officers with the 8th battalion, were also killed on that same date. Becher eventually lost his own struggle for life at one of the base hospitals on the 1st January 1916, eleven weeks after he had been injured. The remaining Bryan brothers fared better, Charles went on to both win the MM and be promoted to the rank of Corporal, before being invalided out due to sickness in August of 1917. Stanley Bryan however was perhaps the most fortunate of them all, he was the only one of the 5 brothers that went on to serve until the end of the war, and was finally demobilised from the Labour Corps at the end of February in 1919.
Having completed my transcription and posts on the 801st MT Coy, I am now looking at the units they supported, particularly the Yeomanry, in this case the Surrey Yeomanry and the Derbyshire Yeomanry. I have acquired copies of their regimental history books, read the Surrey one and I have started a new thread 'Yeomanry in Salonika' on the 'Salonika and Balkans' sub forum, if anyone is interested.
- Read more...
- 0 comments
My step-grandfather served in 5th Bn. The London Rifle Brigade. He kept a diary from 2nd August 1914 until he was wounded and repatriated on 1st July 1916. I am publishing it as a series of day-by-day entries on www.robinlodge.com He refers as much to how he spent his time outside the trenches as to time spent in the front line.
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
I have a picture of my Grandad when he served in the great war.......It is a group picture He served i believe with the 17th Yorks & Lancs Which were a labour corp.......In the group picture there seems to be a mixed bag of regt's looking at the cap badges...I was wondering if any member's had maybe seen this picture before or could give any idea's on it.....
The transition from CEF Sergeant to civilian father of two boys was at first fairly smooth. Three years of soldiering had accustomed John to broken sleep, so rocking fretful babies back to sleep was easier for him than many other a new father. And it was some months before he ceased to look at Marie as she slept beside him and wonder in awe at how they had come together at last.
Very different he thought from the few British and Canadian soldiers he met who had married in France. Apart from a few men from Quebec regiments, they were still struggling with the language - and most of the locals had difficulty with the French-Canadian dialect and pronunciation.
Still, John was relieved when his mother asked if he could return to Canada for a week to tie up the loose ends of his father's estate, and sell the family home. Marie was included in Madame's offer, but now pregnant again she decided to stay behind.
Toronto had changed, John decided. Everything seemed to be moving much faster, and the ever-intrusive American culture delivered from radio, magazines and newspapers made John long for the pre-war days.
He visited his Captain, now back to civilian life, but still serving in the Militia, which had changed greatly since before the War. The old numbers and the scarlet uniforms had vanished.
John was relieved to return to France.
- Read more...
- 0 comments
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
The following extract is taken from “MI 7b, the discovery of a lost propaganda archive from the Great War”.
A Trench Raid
At last, after what seemed years of waiting, the long-expected signal came, and we filed into the sap, and then crawled cautiously across No Man’s Land to the shelter of some friendly shell-craters about forty yards from the Boche wire. The signal for the final rush was to be an intensive bombardment on the flanks of the position we were to attack.
We did not have to wait long. Punctual to the second, the artillery strafe commenced and simultaneously a blinding sheet of flame and an earth-shaking roar told us that H.E. had completed the work of our wire cutters in blasting a gap in the entanglements. The next few minutes were crowded in the extreme. The whole party made a dash for the opening in the wire, scrambled over the parapet, and, as had been arranged, divided their forces, and bombed their way, right and left, down the trench. A sentry, who had been posted quite close to the point of entry, had been blown backwards off his perch by the force of the explosion, and was no longer in a condition to dispute our passage. The only real resistance we encountered was on the right where a machine gun team hurriedly dismounted their gun from its emplacement, and directed a stream of bullets down the trench in the hope of catching the attackers unawares when they rounded the traverse. But the Bombing Sergeant, crawling along the parapet, dropped a couple of Mill’s Bombs in the middle of the party, and then jumped down afterwards lest there should be any mistake. So it was that a battered machine-gun, plus a pair of stout Bavarians, very much the worse for wear, were shortly being passed to the rear.
Naturally the time is limited on a raid, and it is prudent to get back to the shelter of your own trenches before the enemy has time to recover from his surprise, and starts to retaliate. But before we turned back we lighted the fuse of an “infernal machine” which had been part of the R.E.’s contribution to the night’s entertainment, and placed it in an unobtrusive position at the foot of the traverse, with the object of discouraging any Huns from annoying us in our retirement. We returned to the original starting point to find the “moppers-up” had lured several unwilling captives from their under-ground funk-holes, and had already started to shepherd them across No Man’s Land on the first stage of their journey to England. As we picked our way through the shell-holes on our way home, our machine-guns were sweeping the Boche parapet on our right and left to restrain any vulgar curiosity on their part as to the fate of their brethren. The last of the excursionists dropped over our friendly parapet just as two infernal machines, in quick succession, rent the night with the roar of their explosion, and a salvo of “woolly bears”, the first fruits of retaliation, burst high up in the air over the ground we had just vacated.
The article, “A Trench Raid” was written by Lt J.P. Lloyd of the Welch Regiment in September 1917, and is one of 150 or so articles and stories he wrote. His work is the sole surviving archive of military propaganda from a secret outfit designated MI 7b. All the official documents of MI 7b were thought to have been destroyed at the war’s end.
Lt James Price Lloyd was my paternal great uncle and as a Second-lieutenant, he had been shot and wounded in the first Battle of the Somme in the fighting at Mametz on Friday, the 7th July 1916. Whilst recuperating, he responded to a War Office trawl for officers to write articles about the war. His work was accepted and on 7th July 1917, a year to the day since he had been wounded, he reported for duty with MI 7b.
He thought he was joining a unit set up to counter Hun propaganda, but that was just a cover story. Although he didn’t know it at the time, he was joining a strategic propaganda offensive aimed directly at the Home Front, and the home fronts of the Empire, her dominions and colonies. Allied nations too were targeted, as were neutral nations who needed to be swayed towards our cause.
MI 7b (1) had been set up in response to the perceived threat that support for the war was waning, that revolution was in the air, that there was discontent in the factories, and saboteurs active amongst us! In the autumn of 1916, through to the dread dark days of early 1917, disaster loomed. The nation, traumatised by the horrendous losses on the Somme front, faced insurrection in Ireland, revolution abroad, and was in danger of losing the battle at sea. The fear of losing the war and the prospect of famine brought home the reality of a modern, total war. To have any hope of preparing the nation not only to accept the huge losses that the strategy of attrition would inevitably demand, but also to sustain their faith that the cause was just and noble, and the sacrifice necessary, there had to be a counter-balance to the Roll of Honour.
The authorities recognised that they had to seize the agenda, set the tone, improve and sustain morale. To that end, the War Office trawled for officers with some time on their hands to write about the war, especially the human interest side. Capt Alec Dawson (Border Regt) fielded their submissions and set up what became MI 7b (1).
It attracted some of the finest literary talent of the day, many of whom were serving in the Army and had connections to the popular newspapers and magazines of the time. Similarly illustrators and artists were recruited and so it was that MI 7b (1) was able to produce high-grade propaganda material in both graphic and text media from the outset. Given its connections and the newspapers’ insatiable appetite for war news, MI 7b (1) became a major source of news that was then reported by the press all over the English speaking world.
From August 1917, Lt James Lloyd wrote first-hand accounts of battles and daily life in the trenches, and Captain Bruce Bairnsfather provided cartoons and illustrations that gave the imagination a visual hook. It is clear that their work was integrated as a result of a clearly developed editorial strategy. Bairnsfather’s cartoon character “Old Bill” and his “Fragments from France” were a national sensation – Old Bill became the archetypal “Old Contemptible” and a much loved figure world wide. Lloyd’s retrospectives on fighting in France, along with Bairnsfather’s illustrations, allowed those on the world’s home fronts to identify with the men at war, and get that much closer to what they thought the war may be really like.
Lloyd had much to learn about writing propaganda as many of his drafts were too close to reality to have been passed fit for publication. Some of the most poignant and moving accounts he wrote, never made it beyond the manuscript. These “rejected” articles contain much that would otherwise remain hidden. In my view, these articles are that much more interesting and shed a truer and brighter light on events that went unreported.
As the propaganda agenda moved on, Lloyd was tasked with producing “Tales of the VC”, and so that his reports on the fighting in France weren’t stale, he was sent back to the Western Front to observe first hand. It is clear that Lloyd wasn’t the only MI 7b officer to undertake such travels, as A A Milne, too, undertook secret work in France at some time during 1918. Officers from MI 7b travelled the Western Front extensively witnessing, as opposed to taking a further active part in, the battles and major campaigns of the war from early 1917 onwards. Those accounts were their main source of war news reporting and were then distributed for publication around the globe. There are examples of newspapers carrying 2 or 3 articles sourced from MI 7b on a single page.
With War Office support, what had started out as a “one man and his dog” operation in early 1916, became a highly successful broadcast medium with global reach within 18 months or so, producing an estimate of 7,500 articles for syndication world wide. Had the “Green Book” – the secret valedictory house journal of MI 7b (1) - not been discovered by chance, those writing for MI 7b (1) would have remained incognito, and its secret work only imagined, as so little of its official archive is known to exist. A A Milne is now the best known member of MI 7b, and the current media interest in his role risks eclipsing the wider story. Milne was not the only surprise to be found on the inside cover of the Green Book, posted elsewhere on this forum. The list of members and their literary achievements is truly astonishing.
The 150 remaining articles in the archive are of a high literary standard and the articles and stories each stand on their own merit. They would be interesting enough on their own, but in the context of their being examples of a secret campaign, they are an invaluable source. Written by someone who had served and been wounded in the front line trenches, Lloyd’s stories provide a fascinating glimpse into the realities of the fighting, and of life in France. His published work for MI 7b (1) is extensive, and I am very grateful to everyone who has helped me find examples. However, not everything was published, and the unpublished drafts provide tantalising glimpses into the realities as perceived at the time and written in the lingua franca of that era with its richness of slang, its wry observations on the detail of daily trench life.
It is also fascinating to view the propaganda production process in action; from idea to pencil draft, to manuscript and green-ink correction and censorship, to the typing pool and beyond to the higher echelons of the War Office food chain where it may be “Passed for publication.” Then, the article is there on the page of a Tasmanian journal, sitting alongside other articles from MI 7b. Each of the articles are under the name of the serving officer who wrote them giving no indication that they are the principal parts of a highly secret and sophisticated propaganda offensive.
If the newspaper articles indicate the scale and reach of the operation, the discovery of the Green Book indicates the calibre of its operatives and like the Rosetta stone, unlocks some of the mystery.
Why were so many talented and intelligent men willing to write propaganda in support for a war that each of them knew would result in further widespread slaughter? I believe that that they knew it to be their duty. They were recruited ostensibly to take part in a counter-propaganda offensive, and although that may have been plausible for a while, it is clear from what is written in the Green Book, that by the war’s end, some of these were men who felt that their integrity had been compromised.
If all their work was meant for publication, what was the secret? The real secret of MI 7b (1) was that the Crown and Parliament had a very great need for it, far greater than history may yet have acknowledged.
Why was it disbanded so quickly? The rapid disbandment of MI 7b did not affect its role and function, for that carried on. I think that Lords Northcliffe and Beaverbrook recognised that MI 7b (1) was a first class news agency with global reach, in effect, the information superhighway of its day. They took control of its infrastructure to further their newspaper interests, and MI 7b’s role and function morphed via the Ministry of Information through to the BBC.
From Adelphi House to Bush House!
With its records destroyed, and all its members bound by the Official Secrets Act, the story of MI 7b (1) might have remained an interesting, but obscure, footnote in history. With any luck, this discovery may yet inform our thinking about the First World War, and play a significant role in our understanding of the true nature of the conflict and the context in which it was reported.
“Tales of the VC”, 96 of the 150 or so articles can be found on:
 21 September 1917
- Read more...
- 0 comments
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
I have decided to begin blogging on my research which I started a couple of years ago. The journey has been interesting and taken many twists and turns and I would like to keep a record of what have done and what I intend to do.
In order to do this I must first back-track to the very beginning...
My mother in 2007 and at that time in her 69th year and in seemingly good health asked me to find out 'what happened to your granddad in the First World War', my granddad being her father. My responses were:
We already know what happened, he was a 6th Seaforth Highlander, under-age, reported and made to be a stretcher bearer, was wounded and captured as a POW. He also joined up as a runaway about two weeks after the war started.
And, as she insisted she wanted to know how he was captured, where he had been as a soldier and POW - I don't have time to find this stuff out right now.
I had asked tons of questions as a child and got the answers. I didn't think there would be anything more to find out. However, she didn't let it drop and in 2009 I began to do some searches on the internet based on what she (and my grandma previously) had told me. 'He was captured at Arras in 1917'. I couldn't really make sense of the information I found and the truth was, I still didn't really have time - always too busy.
In 2010 my mother died unexpectedly from an undiagnosed heart condition/disease and in amongst all of the grief and torment, I also felt I had let her down. For I had loved and worshipped my granddad while he was alive because to me he had always been a hero and yet as a grown-up, I no longer had time for him or my mother who wanted to know what her father really did.
After the funeral a cousin asked me to take her to another kirk so we could visit her mother's grave too and on that visit she told me she knew where our old family graves were and would show me. As it turned out she couldn't find them and so some weeks later, I returned to look alone. I had almost given up after quite a while of looking and started to walk away. On reaching the gates, I checked my watch and decided to allow another 15 minutes but doubted I would be successful. Some of the grave stones were completely illegible due to the erosion. I only went another row down when I found two of them, side by side.
My attention was caught by an inscription on the grave of my great, great grandparents 'and also their grandson William Proctor Duncan who was killed at Beaumont Hamel November 13, 1916 aged 31. Buried in Maillet Wood cemetery...' I asked myself several questions. Who was he? How had I not heard of him? How did he tie into granddad and the war? He must have been highly thought of but now forgotten. He needed, like granddad, to be remembered once again.
That was the start of the journey in the summer of 2010 when I began some serious ancestry research on my granddad's side of the family and in particular, the enigmatic William Proctor Duncan.
Six weeks after my mother died, my father died. He had emigrated to Cape Town in the late 1980s and had remarried my step-mother died ten months after him. Because of the distance and circumstances of funerals taking place immediately, I could not attend either. Instead in the spring of 2011, I found myself on a train to London having taken 3 days unpaid leave from work, to collect the belongings of my father that were being brought back from South Africa after the death of my step-mother, by her granddaughter whom I had never met.
I had managed to accumulate quite a lot of information on my great, great grandparents, their ten children and their grandsons William and George (my granddad). The day before leaving for London, I did something quite strange, I typed the words William Proctor Duncan into the Google search engine, not really expecting anything at all. What a shock I got. I found he was being discussed on something called The Great War Forum...
There was a conversation on the Forum and as I recall, it was entitled A Service Number on a Spoon.
It appeared that a spoon had been found by an amateur archaeologist near what had been the sight of a CCS at Poperinghe. It had been engraved with the letters SEA. and a number 3936. The feeling was that the letters denoted a Seaforth and the number was a service number. They had identified that William Proctor Duncan, a Seaforth, had that service number. However, it appeared from the conversation, he was not the only Seaforth with that number.
I must admit, I was very shocked that a relative of mine was being discussed on the Internet. When the initial shock subsided it was also quite exciting that having found out nothing about my granddad, here I might be able to find out more about the war service of his little known cousin. I checked what I had found out about him again. Just to make sure there was no mistake and they were actually discussing the right man.
So far, I had found him on two census aged 5 and 15 at the home of his grandparents at the Tugnet, Spey Bay. He had been born in Corstophine, Edinburgh the illegitimate son of the eldest child and daughter of the 10 Duncan children, according to his birth certificate. She was at lodgings and gave her usual address as Tugnet. She had been a servant in Fochabers but how she had ended up in Edinburgh, I didn't know at that time. I thought that his name, William Proctor Duncan was a nod to who his real father might be, a clue to be followed later.
The CWGC had yielded more information and his service number. It was definitely him. I needed to make contact...
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
William Smith was my grandfather. Of course now I wish I had spoken to him about his life when he was alive. And I wish I had asked my dad questions too. Too late. In the unlikely chance someone can help me, I thought I would put up what information I have on my Pop and see if anyone happens to know anything about him.
William Smith was born in Maryton on 23.8.1896. He was married to Jane (aka Jean) Cameron from Dundee. He went off to war at a young age I believe. I have been told he was a Corporal Machine Gunner in the Black Watch and I remember him talking a lot about Mesopotamia. He was a broken man and never recovered from whatever he experienced there. I do not know any more about his war years but would love to find out.
He did survive the war and later worked for Glasgow Transport as an Inspector on the trams and buses.
If anyone could give me any idea on where to start looking for information, I would be most grateful.
- Read more...
- 0 comments
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
The Long Walk (Western Front)
My adventure started back in 2004 on an organised tour to the First World War battlefields. Not sure whether the seeds were sown on a wet weekend hopping on and off a bus, huddled in groups, staring at names on crosses and digesting events etched into memorials.
On reaching home, I began to think about my trip and wondered if it could be done in a more personal way.
I met Val in November 2004 and discovered her passion for walking, which over time began to make a huge impression on me. We would walk for hours across the Chilterns, trying to recognise the little brown things that flew across our path.
As confidence grew we walked further and further and then the penny dropped. One day in the early spring of 2005, I asked Val if she would be interested in walking the Verdun battlefields having read the excellent book titled the Paths of Glory. Val was not one to turn down a challenge and the rest is history …….
Oh I forgot to say my ambition is to walk the Great War, from every battle, skirmish that occurred from day 1 to the conclusion. Here is my story
April 2005 – Verdun(1916) Walk No 1
Flight to Paris - Train from Paris to Chalons sur Champagne - Train from Chalons to Verdun
We met Georges the train conductor on the train to Verdun. His nephew was on the train and was introduced to us so that he could improve his English. I told him of our quest but I’m not sure he either understood or believed me.
Verdun station set the trend, my mind wandering back to Feb 1916 and those first salvos that rained down, turning the tracks into twisted metal.
Who needs public transport or taxis when you can walk everywhere, saying that the walk to the Hotel Tigre complete with luggage was a slog. The Hotel Tigre sits on the Voie Sacree the most revered road in the whole of France and an important supply artery for the French Army in their hour of need.
Ok, Val and I like a drink and we didn’t disappoint, in fact we got pretty hammered by the end of the evening. It would set a precedent, a relaxed evening preparing for the unexpected.
Early rise, routine much the same now as it was then. We head to the supermarket to stock up. We stretch and go!!
Absolute rookies at this stage, not sure of distances, how much water to take and whether we had the correct walking gear. We didn’t look like stereotypical walkers that day and still don’t 8 years later. As long as you’ve got a decent pair of shoes and an umbrella, you’re good to go. Yes, you did read right an umbrella rather than waterproofs. If you are prepared to spend decent bucks on a breathable cagoule then fine but don’t go the cheap option as I assure you, you’d rather get wet on the outside then on the inside – catch my drift. Umbrella’s rock!! J
Anyway, we set off following the River Meuse past Bras, turning right at Samogneux. Three hours of walking on tarmac – ouch! Off-road for the first time following the path to the village of Haumont, where we had lunch and wondered what this village would have looked like. Haumont was blown off the face of the earth by the heavy fighting endured for 10 long months and was never re-built. I recall a long path called the Chemin des Americaines, meandering through the re-generated woods, which was signed off with a high five. High fives should be used sparingly, or they become worthless and they can be a tad geeky as well. We arrived at the Bois des Caures famous for a certain Colonel Driant who is immortalised here and his bunker (HQ) was soon reached. If I can take you back to that February morning when the German bombardment was at its most intense, French soldiers in the rear could see their comrades in the front trenches being systematically annihilated, then realising that that same bombardment was working its way towards them – now that’s a thought.
We followed the German attack through Beaumont en Verdunois, coming across some random guy with his dog looking for truffles, down through Louvemont-Cote-de-Poivre, another decimated village (village detruit), along the aptly named Ravin de la Mort, ending up at the Tranchee des Bayonettes.
An American was so moved by the story of a group of French soldiers who were interred by an explosion leaving only their bayonets visible that he built a memorial which enshrouds this moving site.
We had run out of water and boy was it showing. I took a drink from a stream, Val thought otherwise preferring hallucinating to dysentery. We finally found a place near Thiaumont to grab some water, which Val ordered in Spanish, which she doesn’t actually speak – interesting!
The Ossuaire is an incredible place, 15,000 headstones in front of a mausoleum. All along the length of the building are arches, atmospherically lit, displaying the names of many of the places we had walked through. Take a peep around the back and you are met with a macabre sight of bones found on the battlefield, stacked in huge piles in numerous crypts.
The walk back to Verdun took us through Fleury, flirting with the grounds of Fort de Souville, past the Lion de Souville commemorating the furthest advancement of the German army. I remember Val or myself spotting a dead Hawfinch in pristine condition on the side of the road.
We paid our respects to the Unknown Soldier at Faubourg cemetery and sat down at a bus stop gathering our strength for the final stretch.
Once in Verdun (no high 5), we collapsed in a restaurant that we have visited many times since. Neither of us found it easy to walk the final stint back to the hotel. But on reflection our day, which totalled 11 hours of walking (43.8km) and I hasten to add has never been surpassed in the 20 plus trips since, was a walk in the park compared to what those brave soldiers endured 99 years ago.
Woke up surprisingly fresh, both given the thumbs up, we’re good to go.
Stocked up at the same supermarket just by the railway station, had a good stretch and headed off in the same direction along the Meuse before taking a right up through Belleview, the goal being Belleview Fort on top of the hill. The house at the top of the hill had an interesting garage, from memory was definitely WW1, possibly a pill box or observation bunker. We ventured into the Fort, very eerie, noticed empty wine bottles – this was Fort Hoboville, not Fort Belleview. We walked the entire circumference of the Fort marvelling at the condition, although subject to German artillery bombardments never saw hand to hand combat, the German advance stuttering to a halt a mile or so away.
Retraced our steps back down the hill, chucking a right across fields (little farm on right), appreciating great views of woods in front and the top of the Ossuaire just visible. Descended onto the Sentier de Froideterre where we were not disappointed coming across various French fortifications. One of these being the Ouvrage de Froideterre, a defensive work, where we met some English lads who had a torch – bonus! Through dark corridors we inched, until we came to a gun turret. To reach the turret we had to ascend a ladder, which was missing several rungs. I and another lad climbed to the top, where I cast my mind back to the mind-set of a French gunner firing shell after shell at the approaching hordes. What discipline these men must have had to see so many attackers flowing like ants over the immediate terrain and the defenders refusing to leave their positions.
Following the path we soon reached the Ouvrage de Thiaument, tortured land, frozen in time. The remains of what was once an observation cupola, lying on its side where it had been hurled almost 100 years ago. Jagged barbed wire and undulation or should I say shell hole after shell hole, resembled the peaks and troughs of waves.
Adjacent to Thiaument is the Ossuaire, which we had visited briefly the day before. Rather than re trace our steps (standing joke between Val and myself, mustn’t tread over trodden ground, well at least on the same trip), we picked our way through the 15,000 graves, noticing the Muslim graves pointing towards Mecca. The Sentier De Douaumont led us to the biggest and most famous of the forts at Verdun - Fort de Douaumont. I must quickly say the path leading up to the fort should not be over-looked, with trenches visible either side.
Well, we went in, under, over and all around the fort. To think a handful of Germans, took the fort without a struggle, the French expending 100,000 men to re-claim the fort months later. Standing on top of Douaumont does not do the surrounding area justice, if you are trying to imagine the battlefields of 1916. Nature has a knack of re-claiming what man has endeavoured to obliterate. Check out the chicane’s within the fort, to thwart the enemy and buy time for the rest of the defenders. In one of the many dormitories, young swallows perched on the rusting bedsteads being fed by their parents.
Tiredness particularly after the previous day’s exertions was beginning to take its toll. At Fleury, we followed the mazy paths around the village that is no more. Names of the previous tenants, etched onto plaques mark out the original plan of the village. Fleury museum probably came at the wrong time for the both us and we crept around the exhibits like Flamingos, resting each leg in turn. Half-heartedly we flirted with Fort Souville, knowing full well that we would be back in the not so distant future.
Felt fresher than day 3, the last day of this trip. We headed out towards Fort St Michel, through the suburbs of Verdun towards the railway track. We trudged up and down looking for a path that would take us up to the fort; all we achieved was setting off a pack of dogs on at least three occasions. Fort St Michel like Fort Souville would have to wait for another day. Making our way to the Tunnel de Tavannes became only visible by scrambling down an embankment towards the railway line. Here in 1916 a huge explosion apparently caused by explosives attached to a pack mule resulted in 500 French dead.
We had lunch at Fort Tavannes. Not venturing too close to the damaged stronghold as the bombardments of 1916 had made light work of its structure.
Rain greeted us at Fort Vaux, no sign of humanity other than ourselves. We huddled on top of the fort for this quick visit, Fort Douaumont’s French flag on the horizon. The rain eased off and our trek continued on to Damloup, yet another of the villages destroyed although a mile or so up the road the re-built Damloup village very much alive and kicking. We ended up walking a complete circle thinking we were at Douaumont in fact we were back in Damn Loop... I mean Damloup. A tad dispirited we set off again for Douaumont, this time successful in our efforts. Our first trip was coming to an end.
- Read more...
- 0 comments
Some years ago, interest was shown in my Grandfather, Lt Col The Reverend A. H. Boyd. I have recently accessed this website, and read the discussion. The question came up as to how he won his MC. My understanding is that at Ypres, the Germans commenced to drop shells on a hospital full of wounded French and German soldiers. The French removed their wounded, but left the Germans. A French doctor remained with two Sisters of Mercy to attend the remaining about 50 wounded. The doctor, after heroic work left, and it was then that my Grandfather found them. After much work, along with the Sisters, he eventually got the remaining wounded removed, with the aid of the Red Cross, but not till nearly a third had died of further shelling and wounds.
I have replica medals of his, and a wonderful picture of him on uniform. I also have the sword he wears in the picture.
- Read more...
- 0 comments
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
I am trying to find out the history of my brass WW1 Tank. The tank is subscribed B G Hood, 2nd Aug 1915 Lincoln. I have concluded that William Fosters &Co Lincoln, were the company that built the first world war one Tank dated aug-sept 1915, this date fits in with the same date inscribed on my tank, I think my brass tank is what was named the" Big Willie tank" which was built after the "little willie tank" I am also trying to establish if the name B G Hood which is also inscribedcould this possibly be a persons name or if it is linked to the Big Gun Hood battleship.
- Read more...
- 0 comments
Hello, this is my first involvement with the Forum - here goes. I know there must be many others interested with particular units etc. My interest is the Essex Regt. WW1. Could anybody advise me on how to get War diary's without having to spent too much money. ( I am a pensioner !!)
Recent EntriesLatest Entry
Yesterday 27/2/13 I found the remains of a World War One soldier In a field in pozieres I have declared the remains to the gendarmerie and passed on the personal effect I found which incl :-
An Australian badge
And some little beads ??
I believe the remains have been recovered today from the field and I await their findings , i am hoping they will find some indication as to who this soldier is
I have as part of my collection an Adams & co, trench periscope no,9 mk2. It is in reasonably good condition except for the label. I will attach an image to demonstrate its deterioration.
What I am seeking is anyone who has the same item with the label intact and who would be willing to photograph the label, this would allow me to exhibit the complete label alongside the original periscope to demonstrate how it would have looked in use.
Any assistance or infomation would be greatly appreciated.
Regards Al Kelly.
I apologise I could not work out how to attach the image of the periscope.
- Read more...
- 0 comments