RSS

Tag Archives: FirstWorldWar

12 March 1915 – 2/39 Garhwal Rifles – Unit War Diary

12-3-1915
LA COUTURE and CROIX
MARMEUSE, and RICHEBOURG
St VAAST.

LA COUTURE was reached by the last Company about 3.a.m., on the way back the Regiment had to march down a road which was being heavily shelled all night by the enemy, and 3 men of the Dogra Company were hit. The road was much congested with traffic, as the Sirhind Brigade were marching up it in one mass into the trenches to relieve the Dehra Dun Brigade. It was afterwards stated that some 300 casualties occurred on this road during the night from shell fire. On the way back the men collected as many of their great coats as they could find, which had been left in the 6th Jat trenches on the morning of the 10th previous to the attack.

The men had hardly settled down in LA COUTURE when orders were received to march early next morning to billets near L’ESTREM. Battalion marched at 7.30 a.m. and reached billets at CROIX MARMEUSE at 10.30 a.m after a long wait on the road for the billetting officer.

The march as necessarily a slow one as the men were much fatigued after their strenuous efforts of the last 3 days. Billets were much scattered here.

At 4.40 p.m. orders were received to march at once to RICHEBOURG St VAAST. the men were cooking at the time, and most of the food had to be thrown away and the Regiment fell in immediately and marched off. The march was very slow, and several men wanted to fall out owing to bad feet. In fact the feed of all the men were in a very bad way and the regiment was in no condition to do any more hard work till it had a day or two’s good rest and food. CROIX MARMEUSE was left about 5.45 p.m., and RICHEBOURG reached at 9.5 p.m. and on arrival their billets were allotted but proved difficult to find as there were so many troops in the village and no Staff Officer to show us till he was seen and fetched out. However sufficient rooms were eventually found and the men got what rest they could.

All ranks heard with the deepest regret this day that Major MacTier had been killed in action while commanding the 1/39th G, Vice Colonel Swiney, wounded.


The Unit War Diaries are held at the National Archives. Ted was Adjutant and often wrote them, but they are typed and it’s not possible to tell if he wrote them. In this case I wonder if Drake-Brockman wrote or dictated the diary.  Major “Mac” was a close friend of Ted’s.

Get Directions
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 12 March, '15 in 39th Garhwal Rifles, Neuve Chapelle

 

Tags: , , , , , ,

10 March 1915 – 2/39 Garhwal Rifles – Unit War Diary

10-3-1915
NEUVE CHAPELLE
and VICINITY

Left RICHEBOURG St VAAST at 1.30 a.m, and marched to and took up position in 6th Jat trenches. Just before dawn Nos. 1 an 2 Coys., left the trenches and filed out in front of main trench and lay in readiness in a small trench specially dug at the C.O.’s request just the other side of the road ready for the assault on the German trenches covering Neuve Chapelle. Here the line lay down out of site of the German trenches defended [?] by  the shape of the ground. The whole Brigade was to assault in line, the regiments being in the following order from the left

2/39th G.  23rd G.R.  Leicesters.  1/39th G

The front to be assaulted was divided up and assigned to the various regiments of the Brigade as above, the 3/London Regiment being in reserve. The object of the attack was to capture the advanced German trenches, and if possible push on, capture NEUVE CHAPELLE and eventually occupy the original British line E. of the village, known as the Smith-Dorrien line, as being the line taken up by that General’s Corps in the fighting round this area in the early days of the war. The 8th (British) Division of the 4th Corps was also to assault on our left, and Brigades of the 1st Corps on our right were also to attack the German trenches in their front. The plan of attack was as follows:-

From 7.35 a.m. to 8.5 a.m. the guns were to concentrate their fire on the front to be assaulted by the Garhwal Brigade; 10 minutes fire being by Field Guns on wire entanglement etc. At 8.5 the attack was to be launched simultaneously along the whole line, though the attack by the 8th Division was timed for half an hour later. At 7.30 a.m., the guns began a terrific bombardment, every kind of gun being used, field siege, and howitzer. The noise as deafening and the fire very accurate. One or two premature bursts caused casualties in the trenches, but these were remarkably few considering the number in action. the German guns also fired a good deal in reply.

Precisely at 8.5 a.m. Nos. 1 and 2 Companies rose to the assault, advancing in a very good line across the 100 – 200 yards or so between the trenches, followed by their 2nd Platoons at 50 yards distance, and soon reached the German lines. The barbed wire had been cut a good deal by the fire of the guns, and but [sic] little resistance was at first met with. Bombing and bayonet parties worked down the main fire trench an up communication ones and so rounded up prisoners who all surrendered and touch was thus gained with the Berkshire regiment who also were working up the trenches towards us. Several casualties occurred here, bu t the line pressed on, and reached their objective the line G – H. During this advance 187 prisoners and 3 Machine Guns were captured. Meantime No. 3 Company had been sent  up to support Nos. 1 and 2, and eventually the whole line advanced and passed through NEUVE CHAPELLE and reached the Smith- Dorien line beyond. touch was gained with the Rifle Brigade on the left, the right battalion of the 8th Division. A strong line was now established here, the Battalion taking up a position in support of the front line behind the 2/3rd G.R and facing the BOIS de BIE. Sandbags, hurdles, and entrenching tools were found in a house in NEUVE CHAPELLE, evidently a German Sapper depot, and good use was made of all this material to build up a breastwork. a few shells were fired during the day and occasionally a maxim [gun] opened on the groups working, but on the while there was little firing. Jemadar Ghantu Sing Bisht [sic – this was how Singh was spelt at this time] was killed by maxim fire while here.

During the advance, Subedar Shib Sing Negi had been killed, and Subedar Ratan Sing Negi, Jemadar Balbhadar Sing Gusain and Jemadar Amar Sing Negi had been wounded. 26 rand and file had been killed, and 75 wounded, 31 being reported missing of whom 11 were  believed to have been killed. Subedar Khiyali Sing Negi was missing, not traceable at all, so it is presumed he must have been killed by a shell.

The advance has been carried out with great dash and vigour, and the start was well timed; and this undoubtedly prevented heavier casualties. The men behaved splendidly and were always ready and anxious to advance further.

The Battle of Neuve Chapelle

This photograph of a painting, probably of the Battle of Neuve Chapelle, was among Ted’s papers

(For a detailed account of the operations see report, Appendix attached).

About 5 p.m. G.O.C Brigde sent for the C.O. and he received orders to go and consult with Colonel. Swiney, 1/39th G. who had been slightly wounded about consolidating the R.Flank of the line at PORT ARTHUR and to take over both Battalions. Orders were received to be ready to move at a moments notice, and at 12 midnight the Battalion was ordered to proceed to PORT ARTHUR. On the way the Commanding Officer was met on his way back from PORT ARTHUR and he ordered the Battalion back to the trenches they had just evacuated. meanwhile the G.O.C. Brigade had directed Major MacTier, to take over Command of the 1/39th G. vice Colonel. Swiney who had been wounded, and Captain Harbord was also transferred to the 1/39th G. as they had suffered heavily today in the attack losing 6 British Officers Killed. the Battalions returned to the breastwork behind the 2/3rd G.R., and got what rest it could.

2/39 Garhwal Rifles, Casualties, 10th March

2/39 Garhwal Rifles, Casualties, 10th March


The Unit War Diaries are held at the National Archives. As Adjutant, Ted was often responsible for writing them. It’s hard to tell when he wrote them because they are often typed, though sometimes his voice comes through. However, the typescript for the 10th March has additions and corrections which are not in his writing. 

Get Directions
 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 10 March, '15 in Neuve Chapelle

 

Tags: , , , ,

Putting my mouth where my money is

The Royal Mint’s decision to commemorate the start of WW1 with the portrait of Kitchener from the famous recruitment poster on the £2 coin is clumsy. Surely they knew it would be seen as an even more blatant piece of propaganda now than the posters were a century ago? Yes, it’s a strong image for a small canvas, but it’s hard to accept they did not realise that easy jingoism then looks like even easier jingoism now.

Kitchener Coin from Royal Mint

Kitchener Coin from Royal Mint

The Mint’s thinking about the First World War seems to be altogether shallow. On it’s website it claims it is

“[embarking] on a five-year commemoration of the emotive wartime journey“.

“Emotive” is a word that looks as if it means something but doesn’t. Sainsbury’s Christmas ads are emotive. So is the verse in birthday cards. It’s not an appropriate word for an event that killed over 16 million people and left a horrific legacy of ruined mental health and dreadful physical injuries among the survivors; or for an event that transformed the economic and political history of the USA and Europe. Such a cheap use of one of the language’s most cheapened words leaves me with little faith in the Royal Mint’s good judgement.

However, I don’t like to say someone’s done a thing badly without trying to do the thing myself, so I have spent some time thinking about how to better commemorate WW1 on coins. Here is a coin for each year of the war and one to sum the whole thing up, and after some thought I’ve come to realise how very little I actually know. So this is a flawed list, but for the little its worth, here it is. My two cents, as it were.

 

1914 – The Assassination at Sarajevo

I have struggled to think of an image for 1914. The causes of the First World War remain disputed by historians as well as politicians so I keep coming back to the catalyst if not the cause and Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand and his Duchess Sophia in the motorcade in Sarajevo.

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg

Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and Sophia, Duchess of Hohenberg

However, I cannot get away from the feeling it’s in poor taste to show people who will be dead so shortly afterwards, and I’m not convinced it’s a better choice than Kitchener, it is just less loaded with contradictory symbolism. 

Since I began writing this piece, the Canadian Mint have announced their commemorative $1 coin, and I admire it greatly. It shows a couple in a last embrace on a busy station platform before he departs for the Front. I like it that it is not a romantic embrace but an embrace of fear and comfort, it could be a mother being embraced by her son.

Canadian One Dollar Coin commemorating WW1

Canadian One Dollar Coin commemorating WW1

 

1915 – Edith Cavell

As the Canadians remind us, it is important not to see any war as a wholly masculine affair and when we think of the women who served in WW1, we think mainly of the nurses. I am not the first to suggest Edith Cavell who was executed in 1915, and the petition to ask that she be commemorated with a coin has rmore than 50,000 signatures. 

Cavell was a humanitarian before all else. Wikipedia describes her thus:

“She is celebrated for saving the lives of soldiers from both sides without distinction and in helping some 200 Allied soldiers escape from German-occupied Belgium … for which she was arrested. She was subsequently court-martialed, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Despite international pressure for mercy, she was shot by a German firing squad.”

Her last words were:

“I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone”

The British saw her as national heroine and the streets were lined with people when her body was repatriated and her funeral finally held in 1919.

For more information see the Edith Cavell website. A relative of one of the 200 men she saved, @Cavell200 is trying to trace descendants of the others.

Someone has even designed Edith Cavell coin, complete with the unsettling and in this context almost subversive phrase “Patriotism is not enough”

Edith Cavell Proposed Coin Design

Edith Cavell Proposed Coin Design

 

1916 – The Anzacs at Gallipoli

When we think of the First World War, we think of Tommies and of Pals Battalions and we think of France. It’s easy to forget the contribution of troops from the Empire be they black, asian or white and easy to forget the other theatres of war such as the Far East, the Middle East and the Naval battles. As an example it’s almost unknown that the Germans bombarded the city of Madras, now Chennai.

The best known of the Commonwealth troops were the men of the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps, the ANZACs who fought at Gallipoli, and while I personally would prefer to commemorate the black, Indian and asian soldiers, Gallipoli is well-known. It’s also a defeat or a stalemate and we should respectfully commemorate those sacrificed and not jingoistically celebrate victories.

Here is Wikipedia’s description:

In 1915, Australian and New Zealand soldiers formed part of an Allied expedition that set out to capture the Gallipoli Peninsula… the [strategic] objective was to capture Constantinople … The ANZAC force landed at Gallipoli on 25 April, meeting fierce resistance … [which] quickly [led to] a stalemate… . At the end of 1915, the Allied forces were evacuated after both sides had suffered heavy casualties and endured great hardships. The Allied casualties included 21,255 from the United Kingdom, an estimated 10,000 dead soldiers from France, 8,709 from Australia, 2,721 from New Zealand, and 1,358 from British India.

The total numbers of Australian and New Zealander casualties were a high proportion of the Australians and New Zealanders who took part. The 25th April is Anzac Day and is commemorated with services at dawn in both Australia and New Zealand.

Whatever the design of the coin, from a practical point of view, Australian soldiers, known as Diggers,are easily identifiable because they wore and still wear slouch hats. Here the 15th Battalion march through Melbourne in 1915.

'A' Company, 15th Battalion, marching through Melbourne on 17 December 1914

‘A’ Company, 15th Battalion, marching through Melbourne on 17 December 1914

1917 – Harry Patch

It would be wrong to commemorate WW1 and not commemorate the Tommy and so for the 1917 coin I suggest Harry Patch, the Last Fighting Tommy, who died in 2009.

harry_grey5
Photograph by Salient Points
shared under creative commons – some rights reserved.

He and those last few centenarians were a bridge between our time and history.  Harry Patch was born in 1898 in Somerset and was an apprentice plumber who was conscripted aged 18 in 1916 as an ordinary fighting soldier. He was in France for six months in 1917 before being wounded at Passchendaele.

Historian Richard Van Emden who co-wrote Harry Patch’s autobiography said

“He had faced the demons of his war; he had talked his war out and had returned to the battlefields on half a dozen occasions; he had even met a German veteran.”

Harry Patch stands not only for those who were there, but for those who came back, many of them wounded as Harry was or suffering shell-shock, the First World War term for post traumatic stress disorder.

 

1918 – Wilfred Owen 

I don’t know my way around the war poets as well as I should despite having studied them at school. I am including Owen to stand in for them all, partly because he is one of the best (listen to @historyneedsyou read Owen’s poems Dulce et Decorum Est and  Futility) and partly because he was killed a week before the Armistice.

Wilfred Owen - Plate from the Poems

Wilfred Owen – Plate from the Poems

The Wilfred Owen Association tell his story thus:

“Wilfred Owen … was born in Oswestry … and brought up in Birkenhead and Shrewsbury. In 1913-1915, [he was] teaching at Bordeaux and Bagnères-de-Bigorre in France. In 1915 Owen enlisted in the British Army. His first experiences of active service … led to shell-shock and his return to Britain. When Owen returned to the Western Front … he took part in the breaking of the Hindenburg Line at Joncourt … for which he was awarded the Military Cross in recognition of his courage and leadership. He was killed on 4 November 1918 during the battle to cross the Sambre-Oise canal at Ors.”  His parents received news of his death on Armistice Day.

So a military hero, a victim of shell-shock and a poet, Owen encapsulates so much of the “lost generation” of junior officers killed during the First World War.

 

1914-1918 – War Cemetery

I want a generic image, standing for the whole of the First World War and I cannot think of a better one than an image of massed war graves which has remained with me since I first saw the closing sequence of Oh What a Lovely War. It is as loaded with meaning in its own way as the Kitchener image. There are many stunning images of war cemeteries which have always been laid out and maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commision with great thought and respect, and they move everyone who visits them. An image that gives a sense of the scale of the slaughter is important, and George V expressed it clearly when visiting war graves in Flanders in 1922:

I have many times asked myself whether there can be more potent advocates of peace upon earth through the years to come than this massed multitude of silent witnesses to the desolation of war.

Chemin des Dames.
Photograph by abac077
shared under creative commons – some rights reserved.

 

My grandfather’s view of Kitchener

Finally, I should say that my grandfather would disagree with me about the Kitchener coin. He came close to hero-worshiping Kitchener and wrote home in 1916:

We have just heard of the tragedy of Kitchener’s death …. It seems to have completely knocked us all over here

… the one bright figure, the one proved patriot gone.

The loss is absolutely irreparable; you know how I admired him; easily the greatest man of his age & the outstanding figure of the war…

My grandfather was clear that without Kitchener’s recruitment campaigns as illustrated in the Mint’s two pound coin, Britain would have lost the European war:

The creator of England’s mighty army that has done and is going to do so much … why couldn’t he live just long enough to see his life’s work … crowned with success?

… time enough to mourn his loss to the full when we have finished the war which we shall be able to do, & thanks to him & to him alone for our ability to do so.

And since this project is about hearing the voices of the dead even when we disagree with what they say, maybe I am wrong, and Kitchener is a good choice. But I find it hard to think so.

 
4 Comments

Posted by on 4 February, '14 in About

 

Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

Listen to Ted’s Christmas Truce letter home

I’m feeling all choked up today. @HistoryNeedsYou contacted me recently with an offer to read one of the letters out loud.

The obvious one to choose was Ted’s letter about the Christmas Truce (written just after a stretch of 25 days and nights in the trenches, contradicting the “mythbusting” piece by @TheHistoryGuy that they were only in the trenches 3 days at a time).

Do listen to it – it’s all there: the strain and exhaustion of the trenches, the mud, the Christmas Truce, and the excitement of the prospect of going home for a week’s leave.


And if you need history brought to life, you need History Needs You.  They are good peeps.

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 23 January, '14 in About, WWI

 

Tags: , , ,

Response to @thehistoryguy – Mythbusting WW1 with Primary Sources

The BBC published a hugely popular post recently by Dan Snow @thehistoryguy entitled “10 big myths about World War One debunked“.  Dan Snow then went on to create a few more of his own some of which seem to imply it wasn’t as bad as we think it was.

Myth 3 he says is that “Men lived in the trenches for years on end”

…  the British army rotated men in and out continuously. Between battles, a unit spent perhaps 10 days a month in the trench system, and of those, rarely more than three days right up on the front line. It was not unusual to be out of the line for a month.

During moments of crisis, such as big offensives, the British could occasionally spend up to seven days on the front line but were far more often rotated out after just a day or two.

I am curious to know what Dan Snow bases this on – the newspapers of the time or on letters, army records and other primary sources?

I am fortunate to have my grandfather’s letters from France in 1914 and 1915 and he wrote home during stints of 20 and 25 days at a stretch in the trenches, with the time between spent “in reserve”.  Ted Berryman was a Captain in the Indian Army and they were in their light tropical kit for the worst part of the winter of 1914, drenched to the skin and shivering in the mud and bombarded with shells.

Ted first went into the trenches on the 29th October 1914.  10 days later he says:

It is most awfully cold here my dear as you can imagine. And we are still in thin khaki drill;  … I don’t really think I’ve got enough on, but I cant get any more gear at present.

You see we came out to occupy the trenches on 29th Oct, & are still here; that makes 10 days. Not very long under some circs, but devilish long to be in cold damp trenches with only the kit you stand up in! … You see we have’nt a a thing off for the whole tirne, boots, clothes or anything, nor a wash nor anything like that. We are all filthy, black grimy hands & faces, but we are all the same so it does’nt matter.

He then writes about the sorts of newspaper stories that Dan Snow echoes in his piece:

I read a glowing account in the “Standard” a day or two ago of life in the trenches, but it was very misleading. First of all it talked about “spade hewn, straw-spread” trenches; true in a way, but all our digging has to be done at night, as it would be impossible to dig by day, as the enemy’s…. little advanced trenches, in which snipers sit & pick you off if you show a finger, are only about 150 yards; so the digging is’nt very grand, though I must say our men have done wonders, & have made the trenches quite comfy- And there is some straw, but it’s mostly trodden into the mud.

Again he says we do 3 days in the front trench, 3 days in the support, & 4 days rest. Divil a bit, this is our 10th day in the front trench, & no hope of relief yet awhile. Still it’s all part of the day’s work I suppose.

Ted and his troops finally came out of the trenches on the 17th November after 20 days. They were only out of the trenches for about 10 days and then on the 16th December his uniform turns up but he can’t get at it because the depot is too far from the front.

Ted’s second stint in December was even longer and more relentless as his first in October / November.

Since we first arrived here on 29th October we’ve had 35 days in trenches & only about 10 out, out of which were 5 in reserve and so we have only had 5 days’ so called rest, & were busy the whole of that. However it’s all part of the show.

On the 31st December he says:

We came out of those old trenches on the night of the 27th  [December], after doing 25 days & nights there, pretty long time was’nt it. We were glad to be relieved as you may imagine, the men were all absolutely doggo, as they had to work day & night to keep the trenches for from falling in, because the weather was so wet & beastly that the earthy all got sodden & soaked & had to be simply propped up, & our trenches were simply lined with boards & old doors & anything we could get hold of.

So when I read Dan Snow echoing the Standard’s assurances that troops were only in the trenches three days at a time I was furious on behalf of all those cold, wretched, verminous, sick, shot at and shell-shocked men who were in the mud in the dark for weeks on end.

Maybe things were generally better organised by 1915.  In January and February the three-part cycle of serving in the trenches themselves, in reserve and then in the rear is much more as Dan Snow described it.

Ted was on leave early in January. Late in January they were in the trenches for four days, in reserve for six, and then in February they seem to have settled into week long cycles into the trenches then back into reserve, itself no picnic.

 On the 27th February Ted tots it up saying:

We are being relieved tomorrow & go back for a short rest. We’ve done 6 weeks in reserve & trenches & have been hard at it more or less ever since I came out from leave, so I think we deserve a bit of a rest don’t you. But I don’t fancy it will be for long.

So Dan Snow is partly right and partly wrong.  I am leaving the last word with Ted though and the picture he drew  for his sister Jane on the 1st of January 1915:

We are out of the trenches now after 25 days on end, & the whole corps is now resting… I’ve got my uniform now & have had a bath – in an old dustbin – but still it was a bath, & I feel so clean & smart, you would’nt know me. Of course I grew a beard in the trenches, & did’nt shave for just a month, but it was’nt exactly a success, & it looked exactly as if I was’nt shaving & not as if I was trying to grow a beard!

Going into the trenches.... coming out


These extracts are from more than 600 letters written by Ted and his brothers to their mother during WW1. Each letter will be published here at www.familyletters.co.uk 100 years after the day on which it was written.

Like Family Letters on Facebook page and follow @familyletters on Twitter for updates.

 
2 Comments

Posted by on 20 January, '14 in About, WWI

 

Tags: , ,

A few words from the typing pool

Desk

When Ben asked me to take on this project I was above all grateful for the opportunity, as it arrived just as I was setting up shop for myself as a proofreader and writing support assistant for hire – a venture which began in testing circumstances but has since proved one of my better decisions, not least for access to so many vivid and rare first-person insights into what a century ago would develop into one of the costliest conflicts in human history.

Initially I was asked to go over the output of the software Ben had been using to convert scans of the decades-ago typed transcriptions of her ancestors’ letters, which were done in something like Lucida Sans – a plain enough typeface to work with but still challenging for the software concerned, not least because most of the scans weren’t vertically very well aligned, which added an extra element of jauntiness to the outcome.

Added to that, though it seemed to be improving with more input the errors that kept recurring were possibly more to do with the print on the pages themselves – it may only take a lighter pixel or two from the program’s perspective for an m to be rendered as r n, or a slightly heavier amount of ink at the foot of an h to be a b instead. This, and considerable confusion created by numbers, punctuation and some of the original authors’ idiosyncratic writing made for an uphill struggle, with sometimes unintentionally comical consequences (“the men are hoping they’ll all be homo by Christmas.”)

So after doing my best to make sense of the initial output in text files and then Word documents, it became clear that checking these files – with the added challenge of not being able to predict where the errors would likely turn up, as you could expect in the work of a person – would take as much time, if not longer, to do to a reasonable standard than simply re-transcribing them, which is what I went on to do. To begin with I displayed the scanned .pdfs on my PC monitor and typed the .doc files up on a laptop, which sadly passed on, and since which I’ve been using the right-hand side of my thankfully wide PC screen to copy the contents of the left.

Transcribing the transcriptions has proven the better option – not simply for being an easier job, and less of a strain on the eyes and psyche. It’s meant that as I’ve gone through the letters I’ve been able to absorb more of the character of the writers, the precarity and adventure of their circumstances and how they all, through struggles difficult to imagine a century on, loved and missed their family and worked hard, week in week out for years of that abysmal conflict to assure them they were fit, chipper, stronger than ever, resolved to fight and survive and ready to win.

The question arose of how much, if any ‘editorialising’ should go on, no-one wishing to censor or misrepresent anything written. At first I thought it an error on the part of the original transcriber though that wasn’t the case but Ted, Richard and Paul apparently were all taught that the apostrophe in words like did’nt, has’nt and could’nt went, as written here, before the n. I’ve elected to keep that the case, along with idiosyncrasies like Ted’s “at anyrate”; but for ease of comprehension adding some punctuation where needed. Being originally handwritten letters in challenging environments, the flow of the text can be uneven and hard to read at times, but no less rewarding. There is even a precursor to textspeak, when they often sign off “yr loving son”.

Harrow

WWI veteran Richard Harrow, a character in the HBO drama Boardwalk Empire

Perhaps obviously the most illuminating aspect for me – I turn 40 on the centenary of the Gallipoli campaign in April next year – is how different the world has become, for our concept of warfare, our expectations and our notions of duty. Reading of Captain Berryman’s excitement at his first sighting of an aeroplane (once mentioned as a ‘plane, though not otherwise shortened) his childlike wonder at the beauty of it up against a clear blue sky completely overlooked its purpose – to find out where exactly he and his comrades were, for later bombardment. I can’t imagine what he’d make of today’s warplanes, which don’t even need a pilot; in a world where we can watch the horrors he endured re-enacted for our entertainment and edification (or titillation) in our homes, on contraptions half the size of his fancy new gramophone records; and where a letter from home, far from taking weeks on end to arrive, if indeed it did, can reach his pocket in little more time than it takes to switch a light on. I have to stop complaining about the 3G around here.

This was a privileged family in Edwardian England, rooted in Empire but the rigours of The War To End All Wars took its toll on officers and Tommies alike, and the horrors that ensued are recounted in sometimes grisly detail in the Berryman brothers’ letters home. As historical documents of such a dark period they are priceless, but they speak also to the innocence of the time; a grim dramatic irony overshadowing, for instance, talk of how the treatment of prisoners and civilians in 1915 became so abominable, the Germans absolutely had to be stopped to ensure that no such cruelty would ever be repeated.

I have plenty of work ahead and the more I progress, the more invested I’ve become. I relish opportunities to research some of the minutiae of life that emerges; requests for things to be sent over, or mentions of friends and comrades, which can descend into a rabbit-hole of Googling (of what?) but which rarely provides only a minimum of information and can turn up all sorts of surprises along the way. But as well as being a challenge and a privilege to be involved, it’s a valuable education. I look forward to discovering how life for the Berrymans progresses over the years of the war to come with trepidation, enthusiasm and at some point I hope, a larger monitor.

Chris

 
Leave a comment

Posted by on 20 January, '14 in About

 

Tags: , , , ,

Sidebar image for the site

I need a small image which Facebook can pick up to show when it posts links. At present Facebook shows the posts with the image loading symbol:

Facebook  Screenshot

Facebook Screenshot

I don’t want to use a photograph of one of the brothers, because what about the others? Ted did little cartoons, but only a few might be suitable, so here are the choices:

Here is a German firing a Jack Johnson – a shell – in France in 1914:

German firing shells

German firing shells

There are other small cartoons which are less bellicose, but perhaps they are less meaningful.  Two where he was drawing items for his mother or his sister to purchase for him, a lantern, which strikes me as a possible:

Lantern for the Trenches

Lantern for the Trenches

and a vanity set, which isn’t really:

Vanity Set

Vanity Set

This little bird comes from a larger illustration of the Christmas Day truce

Christmas Day Bird

Christmas Day Bird

And this shows the Indian troops shooting at the Germans on Christmas Eve:

Christmas Eve

Christmas Eve

And this is a very much smaller version of a cartoon of Ted going into the trenches fairly spruce and out of them three weeks later.

In and Out of the Trenches

In and Out of the Trenches

Remember, when it’s picked up by Facebook, it will be even smaller.

When I go to the Imperial War Museum later in the year, I will try to photograph one or some of the envelopes – I think that would be best. This something I need in the meantime, really.

 
3 Comments

Posted by on 18 January, '14 in About

 

Tags: ,