Wednesday, 5 January 2022

Book Review: “Reported Missing in the Great War 100 years of searching for the truth” by John Broom, with a foreword by Paul Reed (Pen & Sword Military, 2020)

“ … over half a million men remained missing upon the signing of the Armistice on 11 November 1918, and searching and exhumation work began in earnest on 21 November, with men volunteering for this grisly work being paid an extra allowance of 2s. 6p.* a day.” P. 30

“The missing continue to remind us of their presence, and the yearning for closure amongst their families remains unabated.”  P. 39.

When the First World War broke out, Great Uncle James from Northfleet, Kent, UK, joined the Royal West Kent Regiment. He had been transferred to the Northumberland Fusiliers when he was reported missing on the first day of the Battle of Arras, 9th April 1917 – which was Easter Monday that year.  This book is therefore of particular interest to me, as it goes into great detail about just some of those reported missing, the effect it had on their loved ones and the efforts of their families to find out what happened to them. And I can certainly relate to that "yearning for closure".

Although primarily about the missing of WW1, the book is filled with extremely interesting details – for instance, I discovered a female poet hitherto unknown to me - Emma Backhouse. And for the Fascinating Facts of the Great War section of my WW1 exhibition project, I discovered that two of Emma’s sons – Tom, b. circa 1885, and his brother George Harry, b. circa 1890 - went to live in the United States of America and became naturalised citizens in 1913.  Tom Backhouse joined the American forces in WW1 and was killed in action while serving in the Argonne with the 325 Infantry, 82nd Division of the U.S. Army.  (pp. 36 – 38).   His body was repatriated to Britain because he served with the U.S. Army - which is why he was included in the book.

Another fact I did not know was that, as a conscientious objector in the First World War, the British writer E.M. Forster served as a Chief Searcher (for wounded and missing servicemen) for the British Red Cross in Alexandria, Egypt, from November 1915 until January 1919.  He wrote: “It is depressing in a way, for if one does get news about the missing, it is generally bad news”. p. 2. 

On page 62, I discovered some of the artwork done by a soldier artist of WW1 – Frank Mead for the Artists of the First World War section of my project.

In fact, there is so much of interest in this book that I find it very hard to put down!  

Even if you are not among those who have family members who were reported missing during the First World War, this is an extremely interesting book and another must read for anyone interested in the history of the First World War.

For further information about this and other publications from Pen & Sword, please visit their website

* NOTE: In the spending power of 2022, 2s. 6p. (two shillings and six pence = half a crown) would equate to around £25. 

Lucy London, Commemorative First World War Exhibition Project, January 2022

Friday, 19 November 2021

Richard Bell-Davies, VA (1886 - 1966) Royal Naval Air Service aviator who later became Vice Admiral Richard Bell Davies, VC, CB, DSO, AFC

Found on Twitter from Revd Nicholas Pye @RevdPye

Born in Kensington, London, UK in 1886, Richard enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1901, took flying lessons in 1910 and in 1913 joined the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS) as a pilot.

On 19th November 1915, during a raid in Bulgaria, Richard Bell-Davies rescued pilot Fl SLt Gilbert Smylie, who had been shot down near Ferrijik Junction.

Richard swooped down in his plane, landed, grabbed hold of Symlie and hauled him on board his plane to safety, as the Ottomans attacked again.

That was the first ever combat search and rescue operation and Richard Bell-Davies was awarded a Victoria Cross (V.C.) for his action.

Artwork: "Richard Bell-Davies, VC, Rescues Gilbert Formby Smylie at Ferrijik Junction, Bulgaria, 19 November 1915" painted by Kenneth A. McDonough (1921–2002)

Credit: Fleet Air Arm Museum

Sunday, 14 November 2021

Book Review: “Royal Flying Corps Kitbag: Aircrew Uniforms & Equipment from the War over the Western Front in WW1” by Mark Hillier (Frontline Books – an imprint of Pen and Sword Books Ltd., Yorkshire, 2020)

Having read several books about First World War aviators and researched aviator poets for my commemorative exhibitions, I was very keen to find out more about the equipment needed in those early days of flight.  In this book, Mark Hillier has collected the most wonderful information about the uniforms and equipment that aircrew required to stay safely in the skies over the Western Front.

After admiring the front cover photograph, the first thing I discovered was on one of the first inside pages that the Latin motto of Britain’s Royal Air Force – “Per ardua ad astra” (Translation By hard work we reach the stars), which was the motto used by my primary school when I was there – was approved as the motto of the Royal Flying Corps, as the RAF was initially known, by King George V on 15th March 1913, and confirmed by Army Order No. 111”.

As an aside, due to my interest in the role of women in WW1, I was interested to note on page vi that the book is dedicated to the author’s family members, among them Nurse Memie Gwendolin Stephenson, who was a volunteer ambulance driver with the Red Cross.

Although Mark goes into great detail about equipment, he also explains the history of Britain’s military aviators and the background to the formation of the Royal Flying Cops.  

In the Introduction I noticed that “keeping warm was not just about creature comforts, but maintaining alertness which meant the odds of surviving increased on long or high-altitude sorties.”  Mark explains that “The focus was on the art of flying, and it was an art form at this time rather than a science.” (pp. viii and ix).

I found the chapters on flying clothing, flying equiment, unforms, rank, badges, insignia and buttons utterly fascinating.  They are chock full of the most wonderful photographs – many of them from Mark’s private collection - information, explanations and contemporary advertisements. “It seems that by August 1917 the RFC had started to adopt some electrically heated clothing.” (p. 93).   It is a real eye-opener to read about the trials and tribulations involved in finding out which clothes, goggles, gloves, helmets and boots, etc. were the best in those early days of flight, which were difficult enough without being shot at, and the research and testing necessary to manufacture them.

There are also chapters on paperwork and documents and on the transition from the Royal Flying Corps to the Royal Air Force.   With appendices, notes and an extensive bibliography, this is a book you will want to refer to again and again.

For further information about this and other wonderful books from Pen & Sword please see their website:

Lucy  London

Saturday, 6 November 2021

"Twelve Secret Voices" A Hand-made mystery bedspread from World War One

In November 2018, Anne Schuermans was in a charity shop in Wales, UK, rummaging through a bag of white goods, looking for a tablecloth for Christmas Day, when she came across a rather unusual embroidered double bedspread. Anne tells us:  "The bedspread was unusual because the embroidery was not of baskets, seasons, flowers or bonneted ladies. There wasn’t even a bird or bow!  The embroidery was of REGIMENTAL BADGES!   Twelve in total, representing assorted units from seven commonwealth countries!

When my husband Damian and I identified them, another unique fact came to light - they were all active in World War One! Now we were REALLY intrigued!

This amazing bedspread helped us through 2020 by taking us on an international and often time- travelling adventure, including 1914 Ypres, a British actor in Hollywood, an Irish Convent, Chequers (yes - THAT one) and to numerous historic professional organisations.

And all because there is NO clue on it of WHO, WHERE, WHY, WHEN etc. it was made! NOTHING AT ALL!

These questions inspired us to write a book about our adventure and we are pleased that this beautiful article is now in a public collection for all to enjoy.  We have called the book .

"TWELVE SECRET VOICES:  A true World War One mystery" 


£10 plus p&p worldwide from

Anne and Damian"

Wow! I will definitely have to get a copy of this! 

Tuesday, 19 October 2021

John B. McDowell, MC, BEM (1877 – 1954) – British film maker, director and cameraman during WW1

John Benjamin McDowell was born in Plumstead, London, UK on 22nd December 1877.  His parents were George McDowell and his wife Susan, nee Franklin. He had a brother, George, who was born in 1882.

When he was fifteen, John began an apprenticeship as an engineer at Woolwich Arsenal, who manufactured armaments, munitions and explosives.  By 1898 he was working as a cameraman, projectionist and electrician for ‘The  British Mutoscope and Biograph Syndicate’, often showing  Biograph films of the Boer War at the Palace Theatre in London. 

John married Emily Ada White in 1900 and the couple lived in Deptford before moving to Willesden. On the 1901 Census, John described  himself a Biograph operator at the Palace Theatre, London.

In early 1908, John went into partnership with a former colleague and formed the ‘British and Colonial Kinematograph Company’ (B & C) producing news, documentaries and short comedies.

When the First World War broke out, John joined the voluntary home defence militia The Volunteer Training Corps. He negotiated for the rights to film the war – he was the signatory for ‘B & C’. In June 1916 after one of the two ‘Official War Office Kinematographers’ who had been authorised to film the allied armies in action in France was invalided home, John volunteered to replace him. While still a civilian, he travelled to the Western Front and worke with the other official cameraman, Geoffrey H. Malins, in the battlefields of the Somme. The officer in charge noted that, during the filming, “Mr McDowell ran considerable risks. I have seen him have very narrow escapes, notably from machine gun-bullets…when trying to cross no man’s land…and several times from shells….he has also been gassed”.

John then worked on several more film productions for the War Office including newsreels and the major films - ‘The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks’ and ‘The German Retreat and The Battle of Arras’.  In April 1918, although still a civilian, he was put in charge of the movements of all the cameramen on the Western Front. In June 1918, both he and Geoffrey Malins were awarded the ‘Medal of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire’ (known as the ‘BEM’ from 1922) for ‘courage and devotion to duty’. John was then commissioned as a Lieutenant in July 1918 when he was also awarded the ‘Military Cross’ for ‘courage under fire’. 

Filming King George V during his
visit to the Western Front, 1916

Note:  The Volunteer Training Corps was a voluntary home defence militia in the United Kingdom during the First World War, formed following a demand for a means of service for those men who were over military age or those with business or family commitments which made it difficult for them to volunteer for the armed services. At that stage of the war, Britain had on a voluntary system of enlistment and many men still held to the Victorian principle that it was the task of professional troops to fight a war, while voluntary militias provided for home defence.  Consequently, civilian local defence groups began to spring up spontaneously as soon as war was declared.

The volunteer movement gained publicity from letters and articles in newspapers advocating civilian participation in home defence, with notable proponents being Arthur Conan Doyle and H. G. Wells.  Harold Tennant, Under-Secretary of State for War, realising that the government could do little to prevent them, decided in September 1914 to allow the Central Committee of the London Volunteer Defence Force to continue. Lord Desborough became the President of the Association and General Sir O'Moore Creagh VC was appointed the Military Advisor. In November, the association was officially recognised as the administrative body of the VTC and formally subjected to conditions which prevented interference with recruitment into the regular army, barred members from holding military rank or wearing uniforms other than an armband and denied any state funding. The Volunteer Training Corps was suspended in December 1918, and officially disbanded in January 1920, with the exception of the Volunteer Motor Corps, which was retained until April 1921 in case of civil disorder.

Photographs: John McDowell on the Western Front and

John McDowell filimg King George V during his visit to British forces on the Western Front, 8-15 August 1916.

Sources:  Find my Past, Free BMD and

Wednesday, 13 October 2021

Frank Maurice Jephson, ARCO (1886 - 1917) – British composer and organist

With thanks to Ciaran Conlan for telling us about Frank who was the only composer/musician in the list Ciaran sent me who was not on my list.  If anyone has a photograph of Frank please get in touch 

Frank Maurice Jephson was born into a musical family in Derby, Derbyshire, UK, the birth being registered in the first quarter of 1886.  His parents were Thomas Jephson, a coal merchant, and his wife, Emma H. Jephson, nee Raynolds and the family lived in Handel House, Curzon Street, St. Werburgh, Derby, which was built by Frank’s grandfather, John Jephson. Frank’s great grandfather was a music teacher and his great great grandfather was the organist at Alfreton Parish Church in Derbyshire.

Frank initially studied music with Mr S. Neville Cox.  On the 1901 Census - when he was fifteen - Frank is recorded as boarding in Kensington, London, along with John H. Williams, a professor of music from Lincolnshire, with whom Frank also studied music.  Frank’s music teacher, John Williams, was organist and choirmaster of Westbourne Park Baptist Church. In 1902, Frank became Assistant organist of the Westbourne Park Church and at the age of eighteen, Frank obtained his Associateship Diploma (ARCO) from the Royal College of Music – which demonstrates high achievement in organ playing and supporting theoretical work.

In 1904, Frank became the organist of Richmond-upon-Thames Presbyterian Church and in 1910 he married Margaret Kathleen Davis.  The couple lived in Acton, London, before moving to Richmond.   

In 1916, Frank joined the 1st/5th Battalion, London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) as Rifleman No. 303040.  He was posted to France, where, according to a newspaper report, he was apparently commissioned, although I cannot find anything to back that up.  Frank was badly wounded fighting in France on 19th April 1917 and died of his wounds on 20th April 1917.  He was buried in Etaples Military Cemetary, France, Grave reference XIX. E. 5 and is also remembered on St Mary Magdalene Church - WW1 Roll Of Honour (WMR 12510) - in Richmond, now in Greater London, UK.

List of works by F. Maurice Jephson held by the British Library, which (except where noted) are for piano and were published by the London firm Joseph Williams:

Arabesque (1913)

Autumn "romance for piano" (1912)

Brownies: two short pieces for the piano (1924)

A Country Dance/A Woodland Dance (1927)

Danse Humoresque (1913)

"Dear golden Days" a song with words by P. J. O'Reilly (London: Novello & Co, 1918)

Five Pieces for Piano (1911)

Gaudeamus, for organ (London: The Organ Loft, 1911)

Hunting Song (1911)

Idyll (1912)

Impromptu (1911),

Marionettes "A Characteristic Sketch for the Piano" (1912)

Melody (1911)

"My Scotch Lassie" song with words by F. G. Bowles (J. Williams, 1914)

On the Hill-side (1917)

Postlude in C minor for Organ (reprinted by Bardic Music, 2002)

"Send back my long stray'd eyes to me" for male voice choir (TTBB) words by John Donne (Joseph Williams, c1930.)

Six Easy Pieces (On the Hillside, The Tin Soldier, Minuet, The Irish Piper, A Country Dance, Harlequin) (1914)

Two Little Waltzes (Joseph Williams, c1924)

Waltz in C (1911)

Sources:  Find my Past

Derby Daily Telegraph, 12th July 1935 and

Tuesday, 28 September 2021

Charles Dennis Fisher (1877 – 1916) - British Academic

Charles in WW1
Charles Dennis Fisher was born on 19th June 1877 in Blatchington Court, Blatchington, Sussex, UK. He was baptised in East Blatchington on 4th August 1877.  Charles was the ninth of eleven children born to Herbert William Fisher (1826–1903) and his wife Mary Louisa (née Jackson) (1841–1916). 

Some of his siblings were: H. A. L. Fisher, historian and Minister of Education; Admiral Sir William Wordsworth Fisher, Commander-in-Chief of the Mediterranean Fleet; Florence Henrietta, Lady Darwin, playwright and wife of Sir Francis Darwin (son of Charles Darwin); and Adeline Vaughan Williams, wife of English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams. He was also the brother of Cordelia Curle (née Fisher), who was the wife of the author, critic and journalist Richard Curle and the mother of the academic Adam Curle. 

Educated at Westminster School, Charles went on to Christ Church, Oxford in 1896, where he gained his B.A. in 1900 and his M.A. in 1903.  He then Senior Censor at Christ Church from 1910 to 1914.

NOTE The Senior Censor is responsible for academic matters, including requests for course changes or suspension of studies, general concerns and complaints about academic work which cannot be resolved by your Tutor, and academic discipline.

When war broke out in 1914, Charles learnt to drive a vehicle before joining the Royal Army Medical Corps Motor Ambulance.  He served on the Western Front as an orderly and interpreter, distinguishing himself for bravery under fire.

Following a training period, Charles joined the Royal Navy in August 1915 becoming a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve. He was serving aboard HMS "Invincible", the flagship of the 3rd Battlecruiser Squadron during the Battle of Jutland, when she was sunk on 31st May 1916 with the loss of 1,026 lives.

HMS "Invincible" explosion
Naval History. United States Naval Institute. 

Charles is remembered on the Roll of Honour at Christ Church College, Oxford.

Robert Bridges, Britain's Poet Laureate during WW1, dedicated the following verse to Fisher following his death:

Over the warring waters, beneath the wandering skies

The heart of Britain roameth, the Chivalry of the sea,

Where Spring never bringeth a flower, nor bird singeth in a tree;

Far, afar, O beloved, beyond the sight of our eyes,

Over the warring waters, beneath the stormy skies.

Staunch and valiant-hearted, to whom our toil were play,

Ye man with armour’d patience the bulwarks night and day,

Or on your iron coursers plough shuddering through the Bay,

Or neath the deluge drive the skirmishing sharks of war:

Venturous boys who leapt on the pinnace and row’d from shore,

A mother’s tear in the eye, a swift farewell to say.

And a great glory at heart that none can take away.

Seldom is your home-coming; for aye your pennon flies

In unrecorded exploits on the tumultuous wave;

Till, in the storm of battle, fast-thundering upon the foe,

Ye add your kindred names to the heroes of long-ago,

And mid the blasting wrack, in the glad sudden death of the brave,

Ye are gone to return no more.-Idly our tears arise;

Too proud for praise as ye lie in your unvisited grave,

The wide-warring water, under the starry skies.

By Robert Bridges.

Sources:  Article from "The Westminster Gazette" 3rd November 1916 - sent to me by Historian Debbie Cameron.