Monday, 24 June 2019

Erskine Childers, DSC (1870 – 1922) – British writer, soldier, RNAS/RAF

Best remembered for his novel “The Riddle of the Sands” (1903), Robert Erskine Childers was born on 25th June 1870 in Mayfiar in London, UK.   His parents were Robert Caesar Childers, the Oriental scholar and civil servant, and his wife, Anna Mary Henrietta Childers, nee Barton, who was Irish from Wicklow.  Erskine’s cousin, Hugh Childers, was a member of the British government who advocated home rule for Ireland.

Educate4d at Hailebury College, Hertfordshire, which was founded to train boys for Colonial service in India, Erskine went on to study classics and law at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he also played rubgy and rowed.    Erskine was slightly injured while hill walking and from then on he walked with a limp and this led to him taking up sailing.

When the Second Boer War broke out, Erskine joined the City of London Imperial Volunteers, an Artillery Regiment, which was funded by institutions of the City of London.  Erskine’s unit sailed for South Africa in February 1900.  That August, suffering from Trench Foot, he was sent to hospital in Pretoria, during which time he came into contact with some wounded infantry soldiers from Ireland and was impressed by their loyalty to Britain. 

During an exchange visit of the Honourable Artillery Company of London to the Ancient and Honourable Artillery Company of Massachusetts in Boston in America, Erskine hired a motorbike to explore.  While there, he broke down and by chance met Mary Aiden Osgood, known as “Molly”, daughter of Dr. Hamilton Osgood, a Boston doctor.  Erskine and Molly were married on 5th January 1904 in Trinity Church, Boston.  On their return to London, the couple lived in Chelsea.

In July 1914, Erskine helped to smuggle guns from Germany to Irish Nationalists.

In August 1914, Erskine volunteered for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was granted a temporary commission as a Second Lieutenant.  He was posted to “HMS Engadine”, a seaplane carrier, and flew as a navigator and observer.   Erskine took part in a raid on Cuxhaven airship base on Christmas Day 1914 and was Mentioned in Despatches.

In 1915, he was posted to  “HMS Ben-myChree” and served during the Gallipoli Campaign and in the Mediterranean.   For bravery during these Campaigns, Erskine was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Erskine returned to Britain in April 1916 and worked at the Admiralty, allocating seaplanes to ships.  He then began training for a new coastal motor boat squadron for service in the English Channel.   In July 1917, he was assigned to the Secretariat of Lloyd George’s Home Rule Convention, based in Dublin.

Appointed as Director of Publicity for the first Irish Parliament in 1919, Erskine wrote and published “Military Rule in Ireland” attacking the British government’s Irish policy.   He stood as a Sinn Fein candidate in the June 1922 general election in Ireland.   He was arrested in November 1922 and court martialled on a charge of posssessing a semi automatic pistol in violation of the Emergency Powers Resolution.  Erskine was tried, found guilty and executed by firing squad on 24th November 1922.  He was buried Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, Ireland.

Sources:  “In the Ranks of the C.I.V.” (Smith, Elder, London 1900) and various Internet sources.

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Book Review: “The French Army in the Great War – Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives” by David Bilton, (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019)

Whilst most of us are aware of the involvement of the French Army on the Western Front during the First World War, in the UK we tend to forget they were also deployed in other theatres of the conflict, such as the Balkans and Gallipoli.   In his latest book, David Bilton sets the record straight.

The book begins with a comprehensive explanation of the background to the French Army, leading up to the events of August 1914, with mention of the troops from French colonies, and a year by year account of the French Army’s WW1 involvement.  Although I had heard of the Zouave Regiments, I had not heard of the Spahis.

The main body of the book is given over to the most amazing photographs from official archives, beginning, on page 25 with photographs of reservists – every Frenchman was required to do military service, after which he was transferred to the Territorial Army, or Reservists. 

Each photograph is accompanied by a detailed explanation and there is much to learn.   The final photograph in the book, on page 221, is very poignant, captioned simply “the wooden cross”.

Although I had seen several of the photographs in this book, most of them were new to me and I found them fascinating – for instance on page 190 “Fort de la Macedoine” – an Allied fortress in the Balkans.

Another fascinating book from Pen & Sword publishers, Barnsley – I urge you to read it.

“The French Army in the Great War – Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives” by David Bilton, (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019).  For further information, please see the Pen & Sword website

Lucy London, June 2019

Erich Maria Remarque (1898 – 1970) – German writer

Author of "All Quiet on the Western Front"

Eric in uniform c. 1917
Erich was born Erich Paul Remark on 22nd June 1898 in Osnabràch, Germany. He was the only son of Peter Franz Remark, a bookbinder, and his wife, Anna Maria.  Erich began writing in his teens and attended the University of Münster, where he studied to become a teacher.

Called up to military service in the German Army during WW1, Erich was posted to the Western Front in June 1917 and was wounded in the leg, arm and neck by Shrapnel. He was hospitalised in Germany for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Erich worked for a time as a primary school teacher, as well as having a variety of other jobs, including being a librarian, journalist and editor. His first novel was published in 1920 and around that time he changed his name to Erich Maria Remarque.

In 1925, Erich married the actress/dancer Jutta Ilse Ingeborg Ellen Zambona, who was of Italian-Danish origin. In 1927, drawing on his war experiences, Erich wrote his most famous work “All Quiet on the Western Front”, a novel about the First World War, which was published in 1929 and later made into a film.

Jutta and Erich were divorced in 1930 but continued to live together. They fled to Switzerland in 1933 when Erich’s literature was condemned and burnt by the Nazis and re-married to prevent Jutta being sent back to Germany. In Erich’s absence his younger sister, Elfriede, was arrested, tried and executed by the Nazis.

Erich and Jutta went to live in America and became naturalised citizens in 1947. The couple were divorced again in 1957 and Erich married the American actress Paulette Goddard in 1958. They returned to live in Switzerland where Erich died on 25th September 1970. When Paulette died in 1990, she bequeathed US$ 20 million to New York University for the creation of an Institute for European Studies in memory of Erich. Erich was buried in Ronco Cemetery, Ronco, Ticino, Switzerland and Paulette was buried alongside him.


Tuesday, 14 May 2019

Prince Maurice, Victor, Donald of Battenberg (1891 – 1914) – British Royal Prince

Prince Maurice, Victor, Donald of Battenberg, called after his father Prince Henry Maurice of Battenberg and his great-grandfather, Count Maurice von Hauke, Victor after his grandmother, Queen Victoria, and Donald in honour of Scotland, was born at Balmoral Castle on 3rd October 1891. His mother was Princess Henry of Battenberg (née Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom), the fifth daughter, and youngest child, of Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort.

Educated at Wellington College, where he was in Benson House, Prince Maurice served as a Lieutenant in the King's Royal Rifle Corps and was killed in action at Zonnebeke, in the Ypres Salient on 27 October 1914.

Prince Maurice was buried in the main city cemetery of Ypres in October 1914. His mother appealed for the right to repatriate his body, which she followed up with a concerted campaign to erect a headstone of her choice over his grave. These demands coming from such an influential person made Prince Maurice’s body, and the memory of him as a person, a test case for the authority of the newly-forged Imperial War Graves Commission. Determined to uphold the principles of non-repatriation and equality of treatment, the IWGC had to fight a delicate battle in which an individual’s body was subsumed into wider arguments about class, identity and the very meaning of the war itself.

(Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

Photos:  Prince Maurice of Battenberg

King George V visits Prince Maurice's grave in Ypres Town Cemetery which is situated at Zonnebeekseweg 14, 8900 Ieper (Ypres), Belgium

  1. Grave of Prince Maurice – Photo by Mark Bristow

2. Grave of Prince Maurice – Photo by Eddy Lin

Monday, 22 April 2019

Blackie and Peggy – two horses who went to war in WW1 and returned safely to Britain

Blackie was the horse that belonged to the poet Leonard Comer Wall, who was born in West Kirby in 1896.   Leonard’s father, Charles Comer Wall, was a grocer and a Director of the firm G. Wall and Company of Liverpool.  Leonard’s mother was Kate Wall, nee Earle, from Newfoundland.  Before her marriage, Kate had attended a boarding school for girls in West Kirby.

Leonard was educated at Clifton Academy in Bristol.  He joined the 1st West Lancashire Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery and was commissioned as an officer.  The Regiment was posted to the Western Front with A Battery, 275 Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery in September 1915.  During that period, Leonard was Mentioned in Despatches. His horse, Blackie, served with Leonard in several of the major battles of the First World War, including the Somme Offensive, Arras, and Ypres, where he suffered severe Shrapnel wounds when Leonard was killed on 9th June 1917. Leonard is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium.   At the time of his death, Leonard was engaged to be married to a young lady from Kent.

Leonard left instructions in his Will that his medals should be buried with his horse, Blackie.   He must have left more than that because “Blackie” was apparently among the few horses repatriated after the end of the War.  "Blackie" lived on until 1942 and when he died at the age of 35 in an RSPCA facility in Hunts Cross in Liverpool, he still bore the scars of the Shrapnel that killed his master.

In 2017, Blackie’s grave (see photo) at the RSPCA in Halewood, Merseyside, became the first ever war horse grave to be given heritage protection by Historic England.  The grave is one of more than 1,000 historical sites given heritage protection in 2017.

Peggy was the horse that belonged to Bevil Quiller-Couch, son of the poet Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, known as “Q”.

May Wedderburn Cannan was born at 34 St. Giles, Oxford on 14th October 1893.  Her Father was Charles Cannan, Dean of Trinity College Oxford, who also managed Oxford University Press and her mother was Mary nee Wedderburn. At the age of 18, May joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment and trained as a nurse, attaining the rank of Quartermaster. In 1913, she was instructed to set up a small hospital of 60 beds but when war broke out she had to step down in favour of a higher ranked officer and worked as an auxiliary nurse.

May went to Rouen early in 1915 to help run the canteen at the railway station known as the Coffee Shop.   Her most famous poem ‘Rouen’ recalls this period of her life.  In 1918, May went to work at the War Office Department in Paris for the intelligence department.   She met up with and became engaged to Bevil Quiller-Couch in Paris in December 1918.  Bevil, who was in the Royal Artillery and survived the war, died of influenza in Germany in 1919.  After his death, Bevil’s horse “Peggy” was returned to England to his father, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a poet, writer and lecturer at Cambridge University, who had made arrangements for the horse to be returned to his home.   May’s poem “Riding” describes her feelings when riding the horse in Cornwall and is extremely moving.

May published three volumes of poetry – “In War Time” in 1917, “The Splendid Days” in 1919, which she dedicated to her fiancé, and “The House of Hope” in 1923, which she dedicated to her father.   May also wrote a novel based on her life experiences – “The Lonely Generation” - and in her 70s wrote her autobiography “Grey Ghosts and Voices”, which was published after her death.

With thanks to Clara Abrahams, May’s Granddaughter and for  her  help and for sending me the photograph of Peggy.

May’s most famous poem “Rouen” recalling the time she spent working at the Lady Mabell Egerton Coffee Stall at St Sever Station can be found on  This has been set to music with Clara’s permission by north-west composer Chris O’Hara and was performed for the first time by the Manchester Chorale on Saturday, 2nd July 2016 at St. Ann’s Church, Manchester M2 7LF.

Dame Lucy Innes BRANFOOT, who also served at the Coffee Stall in Rouen, died of bronchitis on 16th March 1916 aged 52 and is buried in St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, Seine-Maritime, France.

Saturday, 6 April 2019

Andrew (Sandy) Comyn Irvine (1902 - 1924) – British Mountaineer

Sandy Irvine was born Andrew Comyn Irvine in Birkenhead, Wirral on 8th April 1902, one of six children. His parents were William Ferguson Irvine (1869–1962), and his wife, Lilian Davies-Colley (1870–1950). He was a cousin of journalist and writer Lyn Irvine, and also of pioneering female surgeon Eleanor Davies Colley and of political activist Harriet Shaw Weaver.
A schoolboy during The First World War, Sandy attended The Birkenhead School on the Wirral Peninsula - the school was just around the corner from the Birkenhead Institute school, where Wilfred Owen was educated.

Sandy, who also attended Shrewsbury School, had an aptitude for all things mechanical and when his school acquired a machine gun, he stripped it down and re-assembled it.  He then came up with a design for a contraption allowing pilots to fire machine guns in propeller-driven planes without damaging the propeller blades.  He also designed a gyroscopic stabiliser for planes and submitted the plans to the War Office.  A keen sportsman, Sandy also demonstrated an aptitude for rowing and climbing.

Sandy Irvine joined Mallory’s fourth expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1924. Mallory and Irvine disappeared while trying to reach the summit in June 1924. The two men were last seen only a few hundred metres from the summit. In 1999, Mallory's body was discovered, only partially decomposed, close to the summit. Debate and research still continues as to whether they reached the summit and whether it was in fact Mallory and Irvine rather than Sir Edmund Hillary who were the first to conquer Mount Everest.

Photograph from World-Pass Magazine - photographer unknown.

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

The Stanley Cup (French: La Coupe Stanley) – Canadian and North American Ice Hockey Trophy

The trophy was not awarded in 1919 because of a Spanish flu epidemic.

Commissioned in 1892 and called the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, the trophy is named after Lord Stanley of Preston, who was appointed Governor General of Canada and Commander in Chief of Prince Edward Island on 1st May 1888 until 1893. Frederick Arthur Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby, KG, GCB, GCVO, PC (15th  January 1841 – 14th June 1908), was known as Frederick Stanley until 1886 and as Lord Stanley of Preston from 1886.

The Stanley family first saw an ice hockey match at Montreal's 1889 Winter Carnival, where they saw the Montreal Victorias play the Montreal Hockey Club. “The Montreal Gazette” reported that Lord Stanley "expressed his great delight with the game of hockey and the expertise of the players". During that time, organized ice hockey in Canada was just beginning and only Montreal and Ottawa had anything resembling leagues.  Lord Stanley donated the trophy as an award for Canada's top-ranking amateur ice hockey clubs. Stanley's sons became keen ice hockey players, playing in amateur leagues in Ottawa, and Lord and Lady Stanley became staunch hockey fans.

The first Stanley Cup was awarded in 1893 to Montreal HC, and subsequent winners from 1893 to 1914 were determined by challenge games as well as league games. Professional teams first became eligible to challenge for the Stanley Cup in 1906. In 1915, the two professional ice hockey organizations, the National Hockey Association (NHA) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), reached a gentlemen's agreement in which their respective champions would face each other annually for the Stanley Cup. After a series of league mergers and folds, it was established as the de facto championship trophy of the NHL in 1926 and then the de jure NHL championship prize in 1947.

Since the 1914–15 season, the Cup has been won a combined 101 times by 18 active NHL teams and five defunct teams. The trophy was not awarded in 1919 because of a Spanish flu epidemic. Joe Hall, who played for the Montreal Canadiens, died on April 4th 1919.

Joseph Henry "Bad Joe" Hall (3rd May 3, 1881 – 4th April 1919) was a Canadian professional ice hockey player who played senior and professional hockey from 1902 to 1919.  Joe was in a Stanley Cup winning team three times - twice with the Quebec Bulldogs and once with the Kenora Thistles.
Born in Staffordshire, UK, Joe grew up in Brandon, Manitoba. He aquired the nickname "Bad Joe" due to his aggressiveness on the ice.

Joe was a member of the Montreal Canadians team in the Stanley Cup Finals of 1919. The Finals were interrupted and eventually cancelled due to an outbreak of Spanish Flu.

Another Canadian ice hockey player was Frank McGee who was born in Ottawa on 4th November 1882. When he left school, Frank joined the Civil Service, working for the Canadian Pacific Railway.   He was an accomplished sportsman having played lacrosse and rugby and was a keen rower and boxer.  He began playing ice hockey for the Ottawa Aberdeens.

In 1900, Frank’s older brother was serving with the Canadians in the Boer War. The Canadian Patriotic Fund was an organisation that raised funds to help the war effort and an ice hockey game was arranged against a team from Hawkesbury.   Frank sustained a cut over his eye that prevented him from joining in the after match party.   His eye did not heal and he lost the sight of his eye, which meant that he retired from ice hockey.

Incidentally, the Aberdeen Pavilion in Ottawa was the muster point when the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were formed in 1914.

When Canada declared war on Germany, Frank joined the 21st (Eastern Ontario) Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 9th November 1914, having managed to hoodwink the medical examiner who declared his vision ‘good’.   Frank’s Battalion went to France in September 1915 where he was blown up and wounded in the right knee.  He was sent back to England for treatment and attached to the Canadian Training Headquarters in Shorncliffe, Kent, where he instructed in machine gunnery.  He re-joined his old Regiment in March 1916 and was then seconded to assist the Director of Railways and Ordnance in the building of railways across Flanders and France.  By 29th August 1916, Frank was back with his old regiment again and took part in a battle to take the sugar refinery at Flers-Courcelette on 15th September 1916, in which the tank HMLS “Crème de Menthe” also took part.

On 16th September 1916, Frank was killed in a heavy artillery attack.  His body was never identified and he is remembered on the Vimy Ridge Memorial.