Tag Archives: WW1

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


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.

Leave a comment

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


Tags: , , , , , ,

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


At 5.a.m. orders were received placing the Battalion at the disposal of the G.O.C Dehra Dun Brigade, in connection with operations to be under-taken on the morning of the 11th. The Battalion was ordered to support the Right flank of the Dehra Dun Brigade, which was to attack the BOIS de BIEZ that morning. Accordingly the Battalion marched off once more and reached their appointed position on the R. flank of the Dehra Dun Brigade at about 6.30 a.m. The morning was foggy and cold. The Battalion took up a position in the open ground in front of trenches captured the previous day and now occupied by the 2/Leicester Regiment and the Seaforths. Touch was gained with the 2nd Gurkhas on our left and all as in readiness to support them when they advanced. The prospect was not a pleasing one as, the ground was absolutely open for 800 yards, and it was across this that the Battalion would have to advance, as it was, the battalion lying out there in the open suffered a good many casualties from rifle fire and snipers, and eventually the C.O. ordered their withdrawal into and behind the trenches, where some dead ground in an orchard afforded a certain amount of cover. here the Companies entrenched themselves, A report was sent into the G.O.C. Dehra Dun Brigade explaining the situation and pointing out the extreme difficulty of the task allotted to the Battalion, i.e. to advance under fire from 3 sides across the open ground. Meantime our guns shelled the BOIS de BIEZ heavily the enemy replying occasionally with rifle and machine gun fire. Considerable movement was seen in the German trenches opposite the Battalion, and it was evident that a good number were collecting there. the Bombardment of the BOIS de BIEZ continue practically all day, till about 4.p.m. Rations were brought up for the men by a party fo the 28th Gurkhas, the first food the men ha since leaving RICHEBOURG St VAAST, except what they had in their haversacks with them.

The Germans opened a fairly heavy shell fire all along the line from 4 to 5.30 pm, but no much [sic] damage was done.

At 12 midnight orders were received from G.O.C. Dehra Dun Brigade to march to billets at LA COUTURE. Which was reached at 3.a.m.

Casualties during this day.

Casualities - 11th May 1915

Casualties – 11th May 1915

Captain J F Parkin, 113th Infantry (attached) had been wounded on 10th instant while doing duty as Brigade Bomb gun officer through the busting of one of his own bomb gun while assisting in the attack on NEUVE CHAPELLE.


The Unit War Diaries are held at the National Archives. This time I find myself hearing echos of Drake-Brockman’s voice in the understandable irritation in this account and its overview of the day, and I find myself wondering if he dictated it. 

Leave a comment

Posted by on 11 March, '15 in 39th Garhwal Rifles, Neuve Chapelle


Tags: , , , ,

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


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. 

Leave a comment

Posted by on 10 March, '15 in Neuve Chapelle


Tags: , , , ,

The significance of First World War Memorials in Britain

A guest post by Sol Solntze

First World War Memorial, Holborn, London

First World War Memorial, Holborn, London

In the UK, World War I memorials are all around us. They are so all around us, in fact, that it is easy to overlook them. I think that Micheal Gove certainly has, with his comments about how the emphasis on the tragedy of the First World War is a left wing conspiracy imposed on the narrative of the conflict by agenda driven historians long after the fact. On the centenary of the beginning of the World War I, perhaps it is time to think about what they can tell us about the attitudes the people who lived through the war and its aftermath had towards it.

Firstly, it is interesting to note that the Cenotaph wasn’t originally built to last. It was a temporary structure provided for the victory march to have something to salute at, the nod to those who didn’t come back intended to be just one part of the end of war celebrations. In actuality, however, it seems for the members of the public who attended the event, this acknowledgement of the glorious dead rather than of the glorious victory, of the anonymous unfortunate collective rather than the heroism of one or two great men was the highlight of the proceedings, and what kept them coming back to visit in large numbers after the parade was over. The temporary monument became permanent because of the reaction of people at the time to it.

The Cenotaph, London. <br/> By Adrian Pingstone (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The Cenotaph, London.
By Adrian Pingstone (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

It might be easy to pass this off as the natural result of the decision not to repatriate the bodies of those who fell abroad, which left the people at home needing something other than individual grave sites to focus their grief. But that’s the point. There were, the country clearly felt, so many people that needed to be mourned. This was considered to be the aspect of the war that needed to be remembered.

The subsequent explosion of memorial building all over the country was a grass roots movement conceived of, organised by and funded by the communities in which they were placed rather than by any central authority. There are the memorials which were linked to a civic administrative area, such as an urban borough or a village. There are memorials which remember those who belonged to a particular religious community. There are memorials which are dedicated to those who were attached to a particular school, workplace, or social activity. And there are memorials for those who fought in particular regiments or in particular battles.

There also seems, right from the beginning, to have been a deliberate avoidance of militaristic images. Again and again, figures of soldiers are depicted as standing at ease or in positions of mourning rather than marching or attacking with military purpose. An upturned gun was a particularly popular motif. The country was in no mood to glorify this war.

War Memorial, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire. <br/> © Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse

War Memorial, Down Ampney, Gloucestershire.
© Copyright Philip Halling and licensed for reuse

But it is true that neither were they prepared to condemn it utterly. The dead themselves were very rarely portrayed directly, especially not in attitudes which bore any relation to death on the battlefield. In fact, the idealised forms of the figures of soldiers, along with an avoidance of the depiction of the realities of the fighting convey no sense of the horror of war. In addition, Christian symbolism, where it existed, showed the typical First World War soldier as a martyr, someone prepared to sacrifice himself for a just cause. Indeed, a new type of cross became widespread in expressing this idea, the Cross of Sacrifice – a cross with an upturned sword pointing downwards on its face, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield for the Imperial War Graves Commission.

This kind of thinking, and the idea, often expressed in unveiling speeches, that the sacrifices should not have been made in vain, meant that many of the memorials took a utilitarian form. They were intended to benefit the community in some way through the provision of charity to a section of community members (often war widows or children), or by providing or improving a local service or facility (projects ranged from a new ‘memorial’ hospital to a ‘memorial’ village hall to a ‘memorial’ park).

The "Sentry" War Memorial by Charles Sargeant Jagger, in Watts Warehouse, Manchester. Now the Britannia Hotel.  Cnbrb at the English language Wikipedia [GFDL (, CC-BY-SA-3.0 ( or GFDL (], from Wikimedia Commons

The “Sentry” War Memorial by Charles Sargeant Jagger, in Watts Warehouse, Manchester. Now the Britannia Hotel.
Cnbrb at the English language Wikipedia from Wikimedia Commons

Of course, the reality of the post-war depression for many people was clearly not one of experiencing ‘the land fit for heroes’ the dead had supposedly sacrificed themselves to create. In fact, the image and rhetoric surrounding the war memorials and commemoration ceremonies provided an impetus for increasing numbers of people to take a critical view of the war, war memorials, and the impact it had had. Memorials were often the focal point for protests.

Yet many aspects of the memorials actively militated against a critical perspective. There is certainly a nationalistic emphasis to them. This war (and this sacrifice) had been about fighting for ‘the King, Empire and God’. For example, the Celtic cross was a particularly popular type of cross to erect, whereas crucifixes were often seen as the preserve of foreign, Roman Catholic, influences and avoided. Images of St George, or from the Arthurian legend of the Grail quest, were also widely used.

Nowhere, however, is the traditional bent more evident than the way the two minutes silence was fiercely kept, even at the height of the dissatisfaction of the 1930s. Enforcement was organised both by those in positions of authority, such as the policemen who ensured that traffic stopped at the appropriate time, and by ordinary participants themselves. There are examples of dissenters being harassed, and even beaten for refusing to conform.

War Memorial, S & J Watts, Manchester, now the Britannia Hotel

War Memorial, S & J Watts, Manchester, now the Britannia Hotel

To be honest, it is hard not to draw the conclusion that the way in which the Armistice Day commemorations took on an increasingly reverential tone is because to allow people to diss the Armistice Day ceremonials would be to admit that the deaths of loved ones had been futile. And the mere fact that war memorials were so widespread, so energetically pursued and the form which they should take often so fought over has a flavour of a nation protesting this point a little too strongly for it not to have been a subconscious niggle at the very least.
But whether you accept this or not, you cannot ignore the point that the deaths of those who took part in World War I were what contemporaries were most interested in remembering about it. That is what the British First World War memorials tell us.

Sol Solntze is a former history graduate who has a tendency to lecture her children on such fascinating topics as the history of agriculture given any provocation whatsoever. She blogs at

Image Credits:


Posted by on 28 June, '14 in About, WWI


Tags: , , ,

At the Imperial War Museum

We spent a couple of days last week at the Imperial War museum. I hadn’t realised that the archives and reading rooms are still open by appointment during the refurbishments. But we were able to visit the letters.

Although the letters are archived as two collections, they are in fact stored in five boxes.  Even seeing the five boxes was moving.

The Berryman Letters at the IWM

The Berryman Letters at the IWM

The room was small and at times very full. My sister and niece were there and Chris was there too checking some specific transcriptions.

There were some particular highlights for me. Being able to get reasonable photographs of some of my grandfather’s illustrations, such as this one of the cramped conditions in the trenches, for example:

Ted in the trenches - France 1914

Ted in the trenches – France 1914

I hadn’t seen the letters since the early 1980s when my mother was working on them for the book Socks, Cigarettes and Shipwrecks and I didn’t pay much attention then.

One thing I noticed this time was the palimpsest nature of the record – the photograph below shows a letter from Ted, the note that his mother Gertrude wrote on the envelope, the note that my mother wrote on another envelope and the folder the IWM stores them all in. And now I am publishing the letters online adding another layer to the record.

Ted, Gertrude and Felicite

Ted, Gertrude and Felicite

We found so many things that I am still absorbing it all. I am angered by the cruelty of the telegram that came on two sheets of paper the first one of which read:

Regret to inform you that your son Captain E.R.P Berryman 39 Garhwal Rifles officially reported admitted to no 3 London General Hospital Wandsworth common 10th May suffering from

Telegram - page 1

Telegram – page 1

But I was charmed by many of the letterheads such as this YMCA one saying “for God, for King, for Country”

Y M C A - for God, For King, For Country

Y M C A – for God, For King, For Country

I am endlessly grateful to the anonymous transcribers in the 1980s who typed the letters. without them, and without Chris, this project would be impossible.

It was too much to absorb at once, and in fact too much to photograph. (We found photographs, maps and postcards, cartoons, letterheads, news clippings: far too much for the time we had there). So I need to go back. This is frustrating because I live at the other end of the country. But at least I have a better idea what is there and what I want from the collection for the website.

The Imperial War Museum posted a request for haiku this weekend, and this was my response:

Grandfather’s letters
from trenches, ships and deserts
safe for the future

IWM Haiku

IWM Haiku


Posted by on 31 March, '14 in About, Imperial War Museum, WWI


Tags: ,

Letters and photographs

Letters and photographs

My great-grandmother was a true family historian. As well as her sons’ First World War letters, she kept diaries going back to the 1820s, family photographs of when she was a child in the 1860s, her children’s letters from school, their school reports, and photographs throughout the first four decades of the 20th century. I don’t know how many boxes there are altogether, a good half dozen or so, and a couple of trunks.

It’s daunting. As I teenager I sometimes felt that dead people were more important in my family than live ones were.

Having said that, this doughty group are now my Windows Desktop. The child is my great grandmother, the one who kept all the letters. I love her hand-on-hips stance and the way her head-tilt echoes her own grandmother’s. I just find it very odd to realise that I share so much DNA with these people when I can see their faces but I’ve no idea of their names.

Assorted Ancestors, mid 19th Century

Assorted Ancestors, mid 19th Century. 

Back to the First World War. Here are some things I took photos of at the weekend to blog about and to share on twitter.


We found several blank envelopes pre-printed:

“I certify on my honour that the contents of this envelope refer to nothing but private and family matters”.

Spies don’t lie, obviously. Hmm.

Private and family matters


We also found several blank cards for sending from hospital, but this one had been completed and posted to my grandmother from my grandfather telling her he was sick. And how extremely English he was: “I am quite well, I have been admitted into hospital sick”.

Ted Sick 1917


This is the envelope of a letter which has been damaged by immersion in sea-water. Several of their letters were on ships which were torpedoed, as indeed were two of my great-grandmother’s sons.

Damaged by imersion in sea water


I’m taking the photographs to be scanned on Friday, but here is one I photographed at the weekend. It shows soldiers of the 1st Btn the 39th Garhwal Rifles, probably during World War One. The question in my mind is are they in India, France, Egypt or Mesopotamia? I think the latter, but am happy to be told otherwise.

Soldiers of the 1st Btn 39th Garhwal Rifles with Lewis Gun, World War 1

Soldiers of the 1st Btn 39th Garhwal Rifles with Lewis Gun, probably during World War 1

I photographed this photograph to find out what kind of gun it was. Such is the power of twitter, that within five minutes, I had this answer:

I’m very excited by the photographs I’ve got for scanning and I’m looking forward to beign able to share really good photographs of the five brothers, their sister Ben and most of the rest of the family over the next few weeks and months.


Leave a comment

Posted by on 20 March, '14 in 39th Garhwal Rifles, About


Tags: , , , , ,

More photos, better photos

March is photo month. I am going through the family albums  when I visit my sister to blow the dust off the boxes in her attic. My mother had plenty of photographs to choose from for the book of the letters she published in the 1980s so I am hopeful my sister still has them all.

If she doesn’t then Chris and I hope to visit the Imperial War Museum to go through Ted’s archive and Paul’s archive there to get scans of some of the original letters and postcards, and some of the envelopes including the one where Gertrude wrote tersely “Letters from my shipwrecked sons”. While Chris was transcribing, the letters he also spotted some other records in other libraries he wants to look up while we’re in London.

And then I shall go and visit Ruth’s daughter in May to go through her boxes of letters, photographs and other records.  The images currently on the site are photos I took in 2010 of her photographs so I know she has some wonderful stuff. I can also record some interviews with her about each family member to get some good biographical material – when they were born, what they were like, what happened to them after the war.

It’ll be a treat to have more than these blurry images to put on the site:

File of Photos

File of Photos


Leave a comment

Posted by on 3 March, '14 in About



These are the stories of our young men

Three projects that have caught my eye are projects where people are using the internet and other ways of researching family history to uncover the stories of their local heros.

Flintshire War Memorials

The first that I noticed was @NamesOnStone who is one of a group of people researching the story of all the men who died in the Great War 1914-18 and are remembered on the war memorials of Flintshire, North Wales.

These are the stories of the young men who had attended our schools, played in the lanes and streets of our towns and villages and worked in the fields, mines and industries of Flintshire before they went off to their deaths fighting for King and Country. –

I asked @NamesOnStone to suggest stories links for this blog and these are the ones she suggested.

Griffith Piercy was shot by a female sniper on the 1st October 1918 when he was 21. His story and that of his brother William is full of family photographs.

Three brothers, Edgar, Rowland and Douglas Rogers were all at Gallipoli on the 7th August 1915 where two of them died. Douglas was killed first, and when Edgar went to help him he too was fatally wounded. Rowland found Douglas’s body and buried him, but Edgar was buried at sea.

Back. Left Ted Titley, Right Edgar Rogers Front. Left Douglas Rogers, Centre Rowland Rogers, Right Percy Rogers

Back. Left Ted Titley, Right Edgar Rogers
Front. Left Douglas Rogers, Centre Rowland Rogers, Right Percy Rogers

Charles Blackburne, his children Audrey and Peter and their governess Mlle de Pury, drowned when the ship they were on, the RMS Leinster was torpedoed by a German submarine on the 10th October 1918. Apart from the fact that these were civilian deaths, there is something horribly poignant about deaths so near the Armistice.

Peter and Audrey Blackburne. A watercolour by Miss K Mayers

Peter and Audrey Blackburne. A watercolour by Miss K Mayers

Castleton Lanterns

Then I had a twitter conversation with @ClassyGenes about whether spending so much of our time thinking and working on the First World War will lay our ghosts, and I discovered her Castleton Lanterns Project. She is trying to find out about men in photographs, the congregation of a Church, without even their names to start from.

In April 2013 we found a box of old lantern slides in the organ loft of Alexandra Presbyterian Church. The images were of soldiers and sailors in First World War uniforms.

There are 77 lantern slides in total which were made by the famous photographer Mr Alex. R. Hogg … ‘of our men at the front’… we have now established that the lanterns include both men who survived and men who were killed in action.

The Ulster Museum would like to give these slides a home, It is unusual to have this type of evidence gathered together with, we hope, an image of every serving son of the Castleton church community recorded for posterity.
Castleton Lanterns – About the Project

When I asked @ClassyGenes for some pages, these are the ones she suggested.

Samuel Fee, who was already a sailor at the start of the war (his service records describe his tattoos (a bust of a man and a figure of a woman) but he was killed aged 25 when the ship he was serving on was torpedoed. I don’t know what it is about him, but Samuel Fee seems to have a very modern face.

The story of Patrick Bryan Adair reminds us that people did survive fighting in the First World War, and this is one of the unique features of the Castleton Lanterns as a memorial project. He was a fire officer both before and after the war, and died in 1941.

Francis McCann, his brother James McCann and James Magill – as @ClassyGenes says “These three men and all the Castleton Lanterns men were closely connected, brothers, best friends, pals and colleagues. … It is sad to hear the stories of those who were lost or wounded beside those who lived and flourished and I’m sure the families who gathered to watch the lantern slide show in 1918 must have felt something similar.”

McCann Brothers, Castleton Lanterns

McCann Brothers, Castleton Lanterns

St Helens Roll of Honour

The St Helens Roll of Honour is a community project, run by and for the people of St Helens in Lancashire and tweeting updates @SHRoH. It’s designed to be easy for local people to comment and add content. They have pictures of the war cemeteries in Flanders and France, as well as the war memorials at home. When I asked for a story, this is the one they sent me:

Lance Corporal Bertrand John Allender who was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. His parents were told of his death in a hand-written letter from his sergeant, who kindly told them “… he was always talking about his father and mother, all the lads of his section miss him very much and send their deepest sympathy, Bert suffered no pain as death was instantaneous in fact the lads did not know he was gone… ” Those letters were dreadful to write, and dreadful to receive, but at least the humanity shows through.

St Chads, Cheetham Hill

Not everywhere has such a sense of connection with the soldiers whose names appear on the memorials, or whose faces look out at us from the photographs. St Chads Church, Cheetham Hill in Manchester don’t even have their war memorial. (How do you lose a war memorial?) The only record they have is a photograph and not all the names are legible.

There are local projects all over the UK, a twitter search on the #ww1 hashtag is a good place to start.  Or browse the list of people I follow and the lists of people they follow, and so on.

Leave a comment

Posted by on 21 February, '14 in About


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.

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.


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: , , ,