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

“We who have survived are not, in many ways, the same people that we were”  John Brophy, p. 9.

This book is perfect if you are in isolation during the COVID-19 outbreak, bored stiff and looking for something to read. Who can not identify with this sentiment at this time:  “The War was a war not only of physical endurance but of nervous and moral endurance” P. 13.   To my mind, reading this book is a terrific morale booster during these difficult times – at least we are not up to our necks in filthy water, covered in lice and being shot at by artillery fire, rifle fire and machine gun fire at short range.” pp 25 – 26.   Brophy reminds us that “…first a hundred thousand, then a million, eventually several million civilians were hurridly passed to be transformed into soldiers.” P. 14.

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 or Facebook Page

Lucy London
16th April 2020

Wednesday, 5 February 2020

Thomas Mottershead, VC, DCM (1892 – 1917) – British WW1 aviator hero

With thanks to Mr. S. Neal for permission to use his photograph of the grave of Thomas Mottershead in Bailleul Communal Cemetery, Bailleul, France, which he visited recently.

Thomas in Royal Flying Corps uniform with his wife and son
Thomas Mottershead was born on 17th January 1892. His parents were Thomas and Lucy Mottershead and they lived in Widnes in Lancashire, UK. Thomas and Lucy had six sons and three daughters. Thomas Junior was educated at Simms Cross School and Widnes Technical School.

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

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.


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,_Widnes
And Historian Debbie Cameron

Statue to Thomas Mottershead in Victoria Park, Widnes

Saturday, 18 January 2020

Philippe De Lacy - American child movie star rescued during WW1

Philippe De Lacy was born in July 1917.  He was rescued when a British lady called Edith De Lacy heard cries coming from the ruins of a bombed house in Lorraine.  Edith was working with the American Women's Overseas Hospital which was based at that time in Nancy.

When the war ended, Edith adopted Philippe and took him to America, where he began a career as a child model.   He was discovered by a Hollywood talent scout and appeared in his first film when he was four years old.

After appearing in 36 films, many of which were for Paramount Studios, Philippe decided to concentrate on producing and directing films, rather than acting in them.   During the 1950s he also managed a Hollywood TV station and directed films for television.

Philippe died on 29th July 1995 at the age of 78.

The story was told to me by Leigh Bennett from The Wirral who is related to Edith.

Sources:  Leigh Bennett and Wikipedia

Photo of Philippe:  Wiki Images


Through a mutual friend, Barry Allen sent me the following up-date: "Lucy has the basic facts about Philippe correct. IMDB has him in 38 films and lists them. The number you quoted is proably beause he was not crditited for some films and some were shorts and may have not been counted.

Philippe had a very long career with J. Walter Thompson’s advertising agency. He has a listing for two WWII documentaries – “Yorktown” and “The Fighting Lad” -  as an editorial assistant. His childhood story was the subject of a fictional children's book “LITTLE PHILIPPE OF BELGIUM”, by Madeline Brandeis as part of her "Children of the World " series."

Thank you Stephen and Barry.