Friday, 23 October 2020
Fascinating WW1 facts in this book "An Unladylike Profession: American Women War Correspondents in World War 1" by Chris Dubbs
Saturday, 12 September 2020
BOOK REVIEW: "Bloody Red Tabs: General Officer Casualties of the Great War 1914 - 1918" by Frank Davies and Graham Maddocks, published by Pen & Sword Military, an imprint of Pen & Sword, Barnsley, UK, 2014
“It is our most earnest hope that when the poppy petals fall at the Service of Remembrance in the Albert Hall each November, people will realise that some of them fall for generals.” (p. xii)
This book firmly knocks on the head the often-quoted phrase referring to the British troops of the First World War as “Lions led by Donkeys” and tells us about the many ‘top brass’ who lost their lives during the conflict, “putting the record straight and doing justice to the memory of the senior officers who have been unable to fight back for so many years.”
I was particularly interested in reading this book because my Grandfather was an “Old Contemptible” with the Royal Field Artillery. Having joined the British Army as a Boy Soldier when he was 16, by August 1914 Grandfather was a Sergeant and was married with two children. Due to the very heavy losses among the Officer ranks of the British Army in the early days of the war, Grandfather was actually commissioned as an Officer in November 1914 - that would never have happened to a working-class man during peacetime.
Frank Davies and Graham Maddocks have drawn on a wide variety of resources to put together this excellent book. You will find out that, contrary to popular modern belief (it seems the myth about officers may have come from comments made by David Lloyd George in his “War Memoirs” – Chapter 2), many senior officers were killed in the line of duty during the course of the war. I must admit I was surprised to find out that in 1915, British Army Officers were actually ordered to remain behind the lines as much as possible. "...Haig had decreed in 1915, as GOC 1st Army, "That no staff officer was to go nearer to the trenches than a certain line" This was because of the danger involved for difficult-ro-replace Staff officers". (page 6). Nevertheless, many were killed. You will also discover just how 'safe' the chateaux used as headquarters really were and how many Generals were awarded the Victoria Cross (V.C.).
I found an enormous amount of extremely interesting material in this book and I don’t want to give too much away as I really want you to read it. Following two chapters setting the scene are two further chapters listing the Generals who were killed, wounded, gasses and/or taken Prisoner of War. Appendix 1 lists the cemeteries where the Generals are buried; a comprehensive list of abbreviations is in Appendix 2 and Appendix 3 has a comprehensive Bibliography. With copious photographs and a painting by WW1 artist Gilbert Holiday, who served with the Royal Field Artillery Western Front as a Forward Observation Officer and was later appointed Reconnaissance Officer on the front cover, this is another must read for anyone with an interest in the history of the First World War.
For further information or to order a copy of the book, please see the Pen & Sword website https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/
NOTE: Eddie Bon tells me that the artist who painted the painting featured on the cover of the book was Gilbert Holiday, about whom you can find out more on Lesser Known Artists of the First World War.
Thursday, 10 September 2020
Monday, 24 August 2020
General Louis Auguste Adrian (1859 - 1933) – French soldier and designer of the Adrian Helmet used by French troops during WW1
In 1913, Louis took early retirment due to health problems but when war broke out in August 1914, he asked to serve again and was appointed Assistant Director of Stewardship for the Ministry of War, with responsibility for clothing and equipping France’s new armies. He acted quickly, liberating 4,000 tons of cloth and wool from Lille, just before the German army marched in on 14th October 1914. The liberated fabric was soon being worn as uniform to replace the previous French Army uniform of bright red trousers and polished mess kits that made ‘le Poilu ‘ easy targets against the countryside they would be fighting in. As well as the helmets Louis designed temporary barracks for the front line troops.
Then General Joffre commissioned Louis to design a helmet that offered both increased protection and comfort. It had to weigh as little as possible, yet be strong and easy to manufacture in large quantities. The ‘M15’ design was approved at the end of April 1915 and production began immediately at the Japy factory for 529,000 by 1st August 1915 but they only managed to supply 141,000. Encouraged by Louis and the needs of war, production began to speed up. By September of that year, 52,000 helmets were produced every month and millions of soldiers’ lives were saved.
On 18th December 1918 a decree was made to award each French officer and solder a ceremonial Adrian helmet and with it a brass plaque that fitted over the visor inscribed ‘Soldat de la Grande Guerre 1914-1918’ (Soldier of the Great War 1914-1918).
Louis’ barracks were used as temporary housing after the war and still in use during the Second World War.
The Adrian helmet remained standard military issue in the French army, evolving slightly into the even stronger M26 for World War II, and was also used by the French police into the 1960’s.
Louis died on 8th August 1933 in Paris. There is a memorial to him in Genets in north west France.
Friday, 31 July 2020
This self-funded project is in memory of my Grandfather, who was an Old Contemptible with the Royal Field Artillery who survived, and my two Great Uncles who lost their lives in WW1.
Monday, 20 April 2020
Review: “The Daily Telegraph Dictionary of Tommies’ Songs and Slang 1914 – 1918” by John Brophy and Eric Partridge with an Introduction by Malcolm Brown
The book was first published in 1930 - the two editors had both served on the Western Front during the First World War – and they wanted to record the songs sung by ordinary British soldiers before they were forgotten. Fifty years on the book was re-published with a Introduction looking back over the intervening years by John Brophy, which is included in this edition.
From my point of view, as a researcher of verse and poetry of the First World War, it is a shame that none of the songs included give any clue as to the identity of the writer(s). “… they came from the ranks, especially from the private soldiers without ambition to bear office or special responsibility.” p. vii
Following Malcolm Brown’s introduction to the 90-year commemorative edition and John Brophie’s introduction to the 50-year commemorative edition, the book is divided into three parts – Soldiers’ Songs, Soldier’s Slang and an appendix – Other Kinds of Words and Music.
The songs, the lyrics to which composed by ‘ordinary’ soldiers’, were sung to existing tunes – many of them popular music hall songs; they are divided into seven categories – 1. Satire on War and Mock Heroics; 2. Satire on the Military System. 3. Satire on Superior Officers; 4. Paneggrics of Civilian Bliss Past and Present; 5. Celebration of Drink and Other Comforts; 6. Nonsense and Burlesque. 7. Sex and Ribaldry.
With regrd to ribaldry, it may amuse some readers to note that, as editor Brophy kept in some of the coarse language to be found in the songs but removed two of the most vulgar terms used “…in the 1914-18 Army” (p. 22), replacing them with asterisks – I’m guessing that he did not realise that at least one of those words is an acronym. On the other hand, if you are used to warnings on television programes made during the 1980s that they ‘may contain strong language and scenes of violence’ then perhaps you too will be shocked by the use of these words.
Immediately after the songs you will find a comprehensive alphabetical Glossary of the slang terms used by the troops during the First World War, followed by an Afterword with Bibliographical notes
I was fascinated to learn that the term “Tommy” to describe a British soldier was dismissed by Brophy and Partridge as “never used by English troops except derisively or when imitating the style of a newspaper or a charitable old lady”, though they admitted that it was used by Australians and New Zealanders.” P. 238. The Imperial War Museum suggests the origin of the use of Tommy Atkins to describe a British soldier is disputed. One theory says it originated with the Duke of Wellington who used it in 1843; another says the Imperial War Office established it in 1845 — a sort of British "John Doe!!
And, while I knew that radio was in use during WW1 for “sending telegraphic messges only, by long and short ‘buzzes’, and there was no amplification by loud speaker at the receiving end”, a generation proficient in the use of the Internet may not. (pp. 16 – 17).
Altogether an extremely entertaining and enlightening book – I urge you to read it. “The Daily Telegraph Dictionary of Tommies’ Songs and Slang 1914 – 1918” by John Brophy and Eric Partridge with an Introduction by Malcolm Brown (Frontline Books, an imprint of Pen and Sword Books, Ltd., Barnsley, 2019). For further information please see the Pen & Sword Website https://penandswordbooks.com/ or Facebook Page https://www.facebook.com/penandswordbooks/
16th April 2020
Wednesday, 5 February 2020
|Thomas in Royal Flying Corps uniform with his wife and son|
Thomas studied engineering in his spare time while apprenticed to Widnes Alkali Works. On 10th February 1914, Thomas married Lilian M. Bree (known as Peggy) from Tranmere in Birkenhead, Wirral. They met when Thomas was working at the Cammel Laird Shipyard in Birkenhead. He had just started work in Portsmouth Naval Dockyard when the First World War began but he joined the Royal Flying Corps as a mechanic on 10th August 1914 and was posted to the Central Flying School in Upavon, Wiltshire. He was promoted to the rank of Sergeant on 1st April 1916. In May 1916, Thomas began training as a pilot.
In June 1916, he obtained his Flying Certificate and was posted to No. 25 Squadron at St Omer in France, flying the FE 2, on 6th July 1916. He saw action during the Somme Offensive.
The Distinguished Conduct Medal
Established in 1854 by Queen Victoria as a decoration for gallantry in the field by other ranks of the British Army. It is the oldest British award for gallantry and was a second level military decoration, ranking below the Victoria Cross, until its discontinuation in 1993, when it was replaced by the Conspicuous Gallantry Cross. The medal was also awarded to non-commissioned military personnel of other Commonwealth Dominions and Colonies.
One of Thomas’s first operations was a low-level bombing raid on a German anti-aircraft battery, which he successfully destroyed. On 22nd September, with 2/Lt C. Street as observer he bombed the railway station at Samain, destroying one ammunition train and strafing another. While climbing away from their target, their aircraft was attacked by a Fokker scout. Accounts of the engagement indicate that it was Thomas's skilful manoeuvring which enabled Street to shoot the enemy aircraft down. For this action and other displays of gallantry, Sergeant Thomas Mottershead was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and promoted to the rank of Flight Sergeant. He was then transferred to No.20 Squadron based at Clairmarais, Pas-de-Calais, France.
The Victoria Cross (V.C.) is the highest and most prestigious award of the British honours system. It is awarded for valour "in the presence of the enemy" to members of the British Armed Forces and was introduced on 29 January 1856 by Queen Victoria to honour acts of valour during the Crimean War.
On 7th January 1917, near Ploegsteert Wood in Belgium, Thomas was on patrol in FE-2d (serial number A39) with observer Lieutenant W E Gower, when he was engaged in combat by two Albatros D.III of Jasta 8. Lieutenant Gower managed to hit one plane and put it out of the action, but the
second Albatros, which was flown by German 'ace' Lieutenant Walter Göttsch (who had 20 victories to his name), hit the British aircraft, piercing the petrol tank and setting the aircraft on fire.
Enveloped in flames which his observer was unable to extinguish with a handheld fire extinguisher, Thomas was badly burned but nevertheless managed to take his aircraft back to the Allied lines and make a successful forced landing. The undercarriage collapsed on touching down however,
throwing the observer clear but pinning Thomas in his cockpit. He was subsequently rescued but died of his burns five days later. Thomas was buried in Bailleul Communal Cemetery, Bailleul, France.
|Grave of Thomas Mottershead, VC, DCM|
Photo by Mr. S. Neal
Sergeant Thomas Mottershead was awarded the only Victoria Cross (V.C.) ever awarded to a non-commissioned RFC officer during the Great War. Thomas’s medal was presented to his widow by King George V in a ceremony in Hyde Park, London on 2nd June 1917.
A sum of nearly £1,000 was raised when an appeal was launched in 1917 – yet neither widow or son received a penny of the money collected. It was over 50 years later that a civil servant found the records of the fund and the money. It was then used to endow the Mottershead Scholarship at Widnes Technical College.
There is a memorial to the memory of Thomas Mottershead, VC in Victoria Park, Widnes, which was unveiled in April 2018.
The VC Citation
"For most conspicuous bravery, endurance and skill, when attacked at an altitude of 9,000 feet; the petrol tank was pierced and the machine set on fire. Enveloped in flames, which his Observer, Lt. Gower was unable to subdue, this very gallant soldier succeeded in bringing his aeroplane back to our lines, and though he made a successful landing, the machine collapsed on touching the ground, pinning him beneath wreckage from which he was subsequently rescued. Though suffering extreme torture from burns, Sgt. Mottershead showed the most conspicuous presence of mind in the careful selection of a landing place, and his wonderful endurance and fortitude undoubtedly saved the life of his Observer. He has since succumbed to his injuries."
On Wednesday, 11th April 1917, the Mayor of Widnes held a concert in the Premier Picture House for the "Memorial Fund to the late Sergeant Thomas Mottershead V.C, D.C.M"
The flyer for that concert included a 'TRIBUTE TO "A VERY GALLANT SOLDIER"', by Amanda Bebbington, also published in the "Weekly News" on 16 February 1917.
TRIBUTE TO "A VERY GALLANT SOLDIER"
If I strove to tell this story as such story should be told,
I should write in jewel letters on a leaf of shining gold;
With a diamond pen to shrine each word as crystal as a tear,
And a blood-red fire of rubies to flash the record clear.
Oh! I cannot tell this story, for the flame is in my heart,
And my soul's afire with a vision of the mighty hero-part;
And I spill the diamonds, in tears, that blind my mortal eyes
As I dream the horror of that flight through the unpitying skies.
Oh! A nation's heart beats quicker with a proud exultant glow;
For such deeds as these can thrill her through her agony of woe.
And the England that doth render him her amplest meed of fame
Counts richest jewel in her crown her brave son's honoured name.
I leave the story all untold - too feeble are my words.
The ocean's diapason and the storm wind's thundering chords,
The very stars that strew the heavens, the suns that ceaseless roll
Shall sing and blaze the brighter since they keep that hero-soul.
Written by a lady called Amanda Bebbington, published in the "Weekly News", 16th February 1917. The 1911 Census lists an Amanda Bebbington married to Joseph Henry Bebbington and living in Belvoir Road Widnes, Widnes, Lancashire & Cheshire, England. They had a daughter called Stella who was born in 1911. Research from Debbie Cameron regarding Amanda found this: she was born Harriet Elizabeth Amanda Gittings in 1880 in Wednesbury, Staffordshire. She married Joseph Henry Bebbington, an engineer, in 1902. Amanda died in 1927.
Sources: Find my Past, Free BMD and www.mottersheadstatueappeal.co.uk/themen
And Historian Debbie Cameron
|Statue to Thomas Mottershead in Victoria Park, Widnes|