Wednesday, 18 July 2018

Elliott Seabrooke (1886 – 1950) – British Actor and Artist; Red Cross volunteer and official war artist Italy WW1

With grateful thanks to Sergio Sbalchiero for finding and posting this painting by Seabrooke and for telling me about Seabrooke’s WW1 service with the Red Cross in Italy.

Ransome Elliott Seabrooke was born on 31st May 1886 in Upton Park, London, UK and was baptised on 3rd July 1886.  His parents were Robert Elliott Seabrooke, a warehouse Superintendent, and his wife Harriet Elizabeth, nee Ransom. The Seabrookes also had a daughter, Winifred Elliott Seabrooke, who was born in 1889.   Elliott studied at the Slade School of Fine Art in London from 1906-1911. Among his teachers was Henry Tonks.  Elliott then rented a shack in England’s Lake District and adapted it for use as a studio.

During the First World War, Elliott, who was a pacifist, volunteered to join the British Red Cross and served on the Italian Front.  While in Italy, he became an official war artist.

Elliot was tall and handsome and had a fine singing voice.  He became an actor and performed in films and in plays on stage and on the wireless with other contemporary actors and actresses - John Gielgud, Lewis Casson, Sybil Thorndike, Wendy Hiller, Charles Laughton and Ralph Richardson. 

In 1930, Elliott married Adolphine C. Joosten in Hampstead, London.

Elliott travelled extensively and died in Nice, France on 6th March 1950.

Find my Past and Free BMD

Painting:  Elliott Seabrooke "The Bombardment of Gorizia 21 August 1917".  The view was from the building that housed the First British Red Cross Unit in Gorizia, Italy on the Italian Front in The First World War.

Photograph of Eilliott in the play "The Lion Tamer or English as she is Eaten", an English version by Charles N. Spencer of Alfred Savior's play "Le Dompteur" at the Gate Theatre Studio, London.

Photograph of Elliott and Adolphine seated on the sofa at a reception in London given by Lady Latham (seated on the left) in honour of Elliott's exhibition at Tooth's Galleries in London.  Madame Alanova is on the right of the photograph.   Photo from "The Tatler" magazine, 9th June 1932.

Monday, 2 July 2018

Book Review: “The Half-shilling Curate: A Personal Account of War and Faith 1914 –1918” (Helion & Co. Ltd., Solihull, W. Midlands, UK, 2018)

“…the chap who has got religion is a damned lucky chap” ( p. xvii).

The title of the book refers to the way in which Wesleyan Church Minister The Reverend Captain Herbert B. Cowl, MC signed his letters home to his parents, i.e.:  “From your loving son, ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’, Herbert” (p. 20).

I found this book enthralling.  Although it is a personal account, mainly of Herbert’s experiences in the trenches during the conflict, there is a wealth of background information about the First World War - which I found very interesting.  I don’t want to give too much away because I really want you to read this inspiring book but here are just a few of the things that I found of special interest:

When it came to military service, men in Holy Orders or regular Ministers of any denomination were exempt, which makes Herbert’s story and how he, as a non-combatant, came to be awarded a Military Cross, all the more impressive.

Herbert was educated at Hertford Grammar School at the same time as W.E. Johns (“Biggles” creator). Herbert’s sister, Muriel Trehane, was a WW1 VAD;  Herbert had a great love of poetry and was a friend of the poet Walter de la Mare. When Herbert first met his future wife, he had to ask for permission to write to her, which would seem to indicate that   “…the decay of parental authority in the home” (p. 28) was surely only just beginning.

Dr Philip Gosse, son of the WW1 poet Edmund Gosse, was the reason I included the heading ‘Fascinating Facts of the First World War’ in my commemorative exhibition project, so I was really pleased to find Gosse mentioned on several occasions.  Dr. Gosse was present when Herbert was seriously wounded by a piece of shell, as Herbert and Gosse shared accommodation in a cellar of the Advanced Dressing Station where Philip Gosse was based.   I can see why they became friends because they were both keen naturalists.

I was also interested to read that “Despite the decrease in the active numbers of worshippers, Christianity still under-pinned society” at the time of WW1 (p. 42).

Herbert mentions the power of prayer, in which I am a firm believer, asking his family to pray for him – “That kind of moral bias, and spiritual influence, which comes from other’s prayers, means so much to a man …” ( p. 27) 

During the early days of WW1, General Sir Douglas Haig said:  We must have large minded, sympathetic men as parsons, who realise the Great Cause for which we are fighting, and can imbue their hearers with enthusiasm” (p. 44).

I don’t think I have seen a photograph of the uniform of a chaplain before – they had black buttons, badges and belt - there is a lovely photograph of the Rev. Captain H.B. Cowl taken in Bristol in December 1914 on page 56. 

The description of Soldiers’ Homes at army camps that provided leisure activities on p. 46 I also found interesting.

I did not realise there were ‘rivalries between the churches’ or that soldiers’ dog tags mentioned their religious affiliations, (p. 11).

This book is really beautiful – a delight to read, hard back with glossy paper and illustrated throughout with a great many of the author’s photographs from the family album.  I also very much enjoyed the two sections at the back of the book:  “Herbert’s Roll of Honour”, which has biographies of some of the people mentioned in the book, and “Fond Memories” – testimonials about Herbert from some of the people who knew him and whose lives he touched.  Also included are a bibliography and index.

Herbert’s unshakable belief in God shines forth throughout the book and I was moved to tears several times by his faith, as well as by his bravery.  It is wonderful to think that his message of faith taken to the trenches of the Western Front 100 years ago is being passed on to future generations.  Sarah Reay has done a magnificent job writing this book which is a fitting tribute to her wonderful Grandfather, The Reverend Herbert Cowl, MC.  Credit must also go to Sarah’s late Father, Michael, who had the foresight to keep hold of his Father’s letters, papers, diaries and photographs.  Alas, when my beloved Grandpa died when I was very small, my Uncle threw away all the documents, papers photographs and medals that had belonged to my ‘Old Contemptible’ Grandfather.

Lucy London, June 2018

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Lieutenant-General Henry Scrope Shrapnel (1761 – 1842) - British Army officer whose name has entered the English language as the inventor of the Shrapnel shell.

The current accepted definition of shrapnel, which has passed into the English language is :

Plural shrapnel

1 : a projectile that consists of a case provided with a powder charge and a large number of usually lead balls and that is exploded in flight;
2 : bomb, mine, or shell fragments.

Henry Shrapnel was born on 3rd June 1761 at Midway Manor in Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, UK. Henry was the ninth child born to Zachariah Shrapnel (1724 – 1796) and his wife Lydia, nee Needham.

In 1779, Henry joined the British Army, serving with the Royal Artillery as a 2nd Lieutenant. He was posted to St. John’s, Newfoundland from 1870 until 1874, where he was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant.  When he returned to Britain, Henry invented what he termed "spherical case shot" ammunition.  This was a hollow cannonball filled with lead shot that burst in mid-air.  Henry successfully demonstrated his invention in Gibraltar in 1787.   The device was designed as an anti-personnel weapon. In 1803, the British Army adopted a similar but elongated explosive shell, which immediately acquired the inventor's name.  This has resulted in the term ‘shrapnel’ coming to mean fragmentation from artillery shells and fragmentation in general.  Throughout The First World War, British Shrapnel shells were still manufactured according to Henry Shrapnel’s original invention.

Henry Shrapnel served in Flanders, where he was wounded in 1793. He was promoted to the rank of Major on 1st November 1803, after serving for eight years as a Captain. In a battle at Fort New Amsterdam, Suriname, on 30th April 1804, Henry Shrapnel’s invention was proved to be a success.  He was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel on 20th July 1804.

Henry married Esther Squires (1780 – 1852) on 5th May 1801 in St. Mary’s Church, Lambeth, London, UK.  They had a son – Henry Needham Scrope Shrapnel - who was born in July 1812.

In 1814, the British Government recognized Henry Shrapnel's contribution to the Army by awarding him a pension of  £1,200 a year for life.   This is roughly equivalent to the buying poewer of  £240,000 in 2018.  Henry was appointed to the office of Colonel-Commandant, Royal Artillery, on 6th March 1827 and was promoted to the rank of Lieutenant-General on 10th January 1837.

Henry Shrapnel lived at Peartree House, near Peartree Green, Southampton from about 1835 until his death on 13th March 1842 at the age of 80. Henry’s wife, Esther, died in 1852.

NOTE:  According to the Memorial on the Shrapnel Family Memorial in the vault of Holy Trinity Church at Bradford-on-Avon, Wiltshire, Henry Shrapnel died in 1849 at the age of 80.


For a detailed explanation of the Shrapnel Shell see

Portrait of Henry Shrapnel by F. Arrowsmith in oil at the Royal Artillery Institution, Woolwich

With grateful thanks to Andrew Morgan for his clarification of the definition of Shrapnel and for the images shown here :

“Contrary to the accepted definition in dictionaries and encyclopedia, 'Shrapnel' was a quite distinct type of artillery projectile, in very common use particularly early on in The First World War - .a British invention, by a Royal Artillery officer of the same name. By 1914, it was effectively a shell that was a flying shotgun, discharging hundreds of metal balls in a cone shaped hail. The container or casing then fell to the ground and was completely inert, unlike a High Exposive shell (HE shell) which contains no metal balls but is designed to shatter into pieces, which are then called 'shell splinters' or similar terms.

All sorts of pieces of all shapes and sizes were used to fill the shells. Rather than using hardened lead or steel balls, on occasion, the Belgians used cube shot as a Shrapnel shell filling.”

Monday, 7 May 2018

Osmund Bartle Wordsworth (1887 - 1917) British Writer

Osmund, who was related to the poet William Wordsworth, was born iin Glaston, Rutland on 17th May 1887.

When war broke out in 1914, Osmund was in Canada about to take up a teaching post.  Joined by one of his sisters, Osmund booked his passage home on the RMS "Lusitania".  He and his sister survived the sinking - Osmund gave his life-belt to another passenger.

Commissioned into the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry as a 2nd Lieutenant, Osmund was killed on 2nd April 1917 near Henin-sur-Cojeul.  He is commemorated on Arras Memorial, Panel 10, on Winchester College's Roll of Honour, in the Chapel at Trinity College, Cambridge and in Salisbury Cathedral.

Osmund Bartle Wordsworth is one of the featured writers in the exhibition commemorating poets, writers and artists of 1917.  If you missed the exhibition watch this space as the book of the exhibition will be available soon.

Tuesday, 27 March 2018

Commemorating The Centenary Of The Death Of Isaac Rosenberg

Sunday, 1st April 2018 marks the Centenary of the death of the poet and artist Isaac Rosenberg, who was killed at Fampoux, north of Arras on the Western Front.

Isaac's great-niece, writer and poet Robbi Nester, who lives in America, has written a special poem dedicated to Isaac which she recorded. 

David Windle, Director of Music at Blackpool Tower Circus, has given us his permission to use the piece of music he wrote in memory of the violinist Hugh Gordon Langton, who was killed at Passchendaele on 26th October 1917, to use with the poem.


Clive Bettington is organising a commemorative walk in honour of Isaac Rosenberg on 1st April 2018 called "The Whitechapel of Isaac Rosenberg", which starts at 11am from Aldgate Tube Station. Tickets are by donation (suggested amount £10) from Clive

Robbi Nester, MFA and PhD from University of California, Irvin, is the great-niece of poet and painter Isaac Rosenberg. She is the author of three books of poetry, a chapbook, Balance (White Violet, 2012) and two full collections: A Likely Story (Moon Tide, 2014) and Other-Wise (Kelsay, 2017). She also edited two anthologies of poetry, The Liberal Media Made Me Do It! (Nine Toes, 2014) and  an Ekphrastic e-anthology, Over the Moon: Birds, Beasts, and Trees--celebrating the photography of Beth Moon (accessible at Her poetry, essays, articles, reviews, and interviews have been widely published in journals and anthologies, as well as on websites and weblogs.

David Windle, who studied classical organ at Huddersfield School of Music (now University), previously worked as Musical Director for P & O Cruises (Oriana) and as Deputy Musical Director/Band Leader for Cunard (QE2), was inspired to compose a piece of music with a violin cadenza in honour of Hugh Gordon Langton.  He has called the piece "Carmen Milita" or  “Langton’s Theme”.  Singer Lynne Fox produced a short video to accompany the music David composed:

The local brass Band at Harelbeke near the cemetery in Belgium where Hugh lies have also composed a piece of music which they play every year at Hugh’s graveside. For further information about his composition, please contact David Windle on

Monday, 26 March 2018

BOOK REVIEW: “Led by Lions: MPs and Sons who fell in The First World War” by Neil Thornton, published by Fonthill Media Ltd., 2017

In this extremely interesting book, Neil Thornton writes about the Members of Parliament who served in the Armed Forces during the First World War who were killed or who died, as well as the Members of Parliament who were too old or infirm to serve and whose sons were killed during the conflict.  Beginning with the Introduction, in which the origin of the phrase “Lions led by Donkeys” is explained, the book is divided into two sections – MPs and sons of MPs - in alphabetical order with date and place of death and where they were buried.   Also included are photographs, a list of the members of staff of the House of Commons, extensive notes and a bibliography.   

Due to my own research into the First World War, I was particularly interested in the different theatres of the conflict – Palestine, Egypt, Gallipoli, Jerusalem – and the different services i.e. not just the Army but also the Royal Naval Air Service, Royal Navy, Royal Flying Corps – in which the men served.  I also like the way Thornton mentions the First World War service of some of the mothers, wives, sisters, etc. of the men, as they are so often overlooked. And I was pleased to see two of the Forgotten Poets of WW1 on my list – Tom Kettle and Raymond Asquith – included.

With a Foreword by John Bercow, Speaker of the House and a Preface by the Hon. Ian R.K. Paisley, Jnr., Member of Parliament for Antrim, I think  you will agree with me that this hard-to-put-down book is a very welcome addition to the library of anyone truly interested in the history of the First World War.

Friday, 23 March 2018

T.:P. Cameron Wilson (1888 – 1918) – British

Remembering Theodore Percival Cameron Wilson who was killed 100 years ago.  T.P. was born in Paignton, Devon on 25th April 1888.  His parents were Theodore Cameron Wilson, Vicar of Christ Church in Paignton, and his wife Annie Fredeline Wilson, nee Smith.  T.P.’s siblings were Christopher, b. 1883, Mary, b. 1885, Alice, b. 1889, John, b. 1890 and Charles, b. 1899.   The family moved to Little Eaton in Derbyshire, where T.P.’s father became rector of Little Eaton Parish Church St. Paul’s.  Charles and Mary also became writers – Mary wrote under the name of Marjorie Wilson.

After studying at Oxford, T.P. left without a degree in 1907 and became a primary school teacher at Mount Arlington preparatory boarding school in Hindhead, Surrey.  One of his pupils was the son of poet Harold Monro who founded the Poetry Bookshop in London and encouraged aspiring poets.  T.P. and Harold became friends. T.P.’s novel “The Friendly Enemy” was published in 1913.

In August 1914, T.P. enlisted as a Second Lieutenant in the Grenadier Guards. Transferred to the Sherwood Foresters, he was a Captain at the time of his death on the Western Front during the German Spring Offensive on 23rd March 1918 at Hermies, France.  He has no known graves and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial and on the lynch gate at St. Paul’s Church, Little Eaton, Derbyshire.

“Magpies in Picardy” was published by the Poetry Bookshop, London, with an introduction by Harold Monro, in 1919.

The full text of those poems, some of which, including T.P.’s most famous poem, “Magpies in Picardy”, were published in “The Westminster Gazette” “The English Review” and “Poetry and Drama”.  His poems were included in 12 WW1 poetry anthologies.