Friday 3 November 2023

George Henry Powell pen name George Asaf (1880 –1951) - Welsh songwriter

George Henry Powell was born on 27th April 1880 in St. Asaph, Denbighshire, Wales. His parents were John Morris Powell and his wife, Sarah Snelson Powell, nee Hill. 

Although George's brother Felix Lloyd Powell (1879 - 1942) served as a Sraff Sergeant during the First World War, George was a Pacifist and became a Conscientious Objector when Conscription was introduced i n 1916.  

On the 1921 Census, George is registered as living in Telscombe, Sussex, Uk with his wife Leila, and he described his occupation as 'actor'.

Using the pen name George Asaf, George wrote the lyrics of the famous WW1 marching song "Pack Up Your Troubles in Your Old Kit-Bag" in 1915. The music was written by George's brother Felix Powell, and the song was entered into a competition held during the First World War to find the "best morale-building song". It won first prize and was noted as "perhaps the most optimistic song ever written".


While you've a Lucifer to light your fag,

Smile, boys, that's the style.

What's the use of worrying?

It never was worth while, so

Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag,

And smile, smile, smile.

By the time of the 1939 Census, George was living in Peacehaven, Sussex, UK with his wife Leila, and described his occupation as 'Journalist'.  He died on 3rd December 1951. 


What is a Lucifer?  Lucifer was a brand of matches sold during WW1.

The first match was created by a French chemist named Jean-Louis Chancel. It was difficult to ignite and released strong, smelly fumes when the head was finally lit, but it also paved the way for the future of lighters.

John Walker from England created a match that worked via friction. He never received a patent for this invention, so another matchmaker named Samuel Jones stole his idea and marketed it under the name “Lucifers” a few years later.

Lucifer matches

Sources: Find my Past, FreeBMD and

Monday 23 October 2023


Photo:  Spahi of the 5th Regiment de Spahis Algériens (5th RSA) from Wfa België

Spahi insignia

The 1st Spahi Regiment (French: 1er Régiment de Spahis) is an armoured regiment of the modern French Army, previously called the 1st Moroccan Spahi Regiment (French: 1er Régiment de Spahis Marocains). 

The Regiment was established in 1914 as a mounted cavalry unit recruited primarily from indigenous Moroccan horsemen. The regiment saw service in the First World War, and in the Second World War as part of the Forces Françaises Libres, as well as post-war service in the French-Indochina War and elsewhere. The modern regiment continues the traditions of all former Spahi regiments in the French Army of Africa.

The Moroccan Spahis of the French Army were created in 1914 by Général Hubert Lyautey. The initial title of the regiment was that of the Régiment de Marche de Chasseurs Indigènes à Cheval (R.M.C.I.C). The French Army had already raised four regiments of indigenous cavalry in both Algeria and Tunisia during the 19th century, and extended the designation of "spahis" to the Moroccan mounted units recruited after 1908.

The first Marching Moroccan Spahi Regiment (Régiment de Marche de Spahis Marocains, R.M.S.M) participated in the First Battle of the Marne. Subsequently, sent to the Eastern Front, the regiment served with distinction at Pogradec, Skumbi, Bofnia, Uskub and on the Danube. The regiment was accordingly awarded 5 citations and a fourragere with the colours of the Médaille militaire.

The 5th RSA was founded in August 1914 and consisted of 8 squadrons and was dissolved in 1962.

The Indochina Wars (Vietnamese: Chiến tranh Đông Dương) were a series of wars which were waged in Southeast Asia from 1946 to 1992, by communist Indochinese forces (mainly the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) against the opponents (mainly French, the State of Vietnam, South Vietnam, American, Cambodian, Laotian Royal, and Chinese forces). The term "Indochina" originally referred to French Indochina, which included the current states of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia. In current usage, it applies largely to a geographic region, rather than to a political area.   

Saturday 21 October 2023

The Raid on the Suez Canal, 1915


The Raid on the Suez Canal, also known as Actions on the Suez Canal, took place between 26th January and 4th February 1915, when a German-led Ottoman Army force advanced from Southern Palestine to attack the British Empire-protected Suez Canal, marking the beginning of the Sinai and Palestine Campaign (1915–1918) of World War I (1914–1918).

Substantial Ottoman forces crossed the Sinai Peninsula, but their attack failed – mainly because of strongly held defences and alert defenders.

Since its opening in 1869 the Suez Canal had featured prominently in British policy and concerns. Among its great advantages were as a line of communication and also the site for a military base as the well equipped ports at Alexandria and Port Said made the region particularly useful. 

However, the Egyptian public was becoming increasingly opposed to the British occupation of Egypt, in particular various policies issued by Britain during the occupation.

The Convention of Constantinople of 1888 by the European great powers guaranteed freedom of navigation of the Suez Canal. In August 1914 Egypt was defended by 5,000 men in the Force in Egypt.

Photos:  Memorial photo - Chorley Pals Memorial by Andrew Mackay

The Ottoman Camel Corps 1916


Thursday 17 August 2023

Two excellent WW1-related books published by Chris Warren

Retired school teacher Chris Warren has published two excellent WW1-related books:

-  “Somewhere in France: Letters written from the Front 1914 – 1918 by Jack Turner, MC, Croix de Guerre”. Chris’s Uncle Jack’s letters sent home from the Western Front 


-  “In Flanders Now: The War Poems of Father Albert Purdie 1915 - 1918”.

Albert Bertrand Purdie (1888 - 1976) – British writer, poet and Catholic Church Minister, Army Chaplain in WW1. For the poem by Father Purdie, please see

John Turner MC, Croix de Guerre (1882 – 1918) – British schoolteacher and artist (known as Jack Turner). 

In a letter home written in July 1915 by Chris’s Uncle Jack when he was serving on the Western Front, he wrote about meeting the Catholic Chaplain Father Albert Purdie and reading the poem Father Purdie had written about Ploegsteert Wood. 

In an extract from one of Jack’s letters published in the book, he mentions being given a copy of a book – a special gift to Catholic soldiers during the First World War from Lady Edmond Talbot. 

“He has also given me a jolly little “Garden of the Soul” (Lady Edmond Talbot’s gift to the Catholic soldiers) which is small but has all the offices in.”

These two books are really interesting and give us an insight into what life was like on the Western Front from the perspective of a soldier and an Army Chaplain.

Chris Warren’s wonderful books can be purchased by following these links:


“Somewhere in France: Letters written from the Front 1914 – 1918 by Jack Turner, MC, Croix de Guerre” and

“In Flanders Now: The War Poems of Father Albert Purdie 1915 - 1918”.

For further information please see

Friday 23 June 2023

Thomas Arthur Nelson MiD (1876 – 1917) – Scottish International Rugby player

Portrait of Thomas
by Philip de László
Born on 22 September 1876 in St. Leonards, Edinburgh, Scotland, Thomas’s parents were Thomas Nelson, Head of the Nelson Publishing Company in Edinburgh, and his wife Jessie Nelson, nee Kemp. The family lived in the house that had belonged to Thomas’s paternal grandfather, Thomas Nelson - Abden House - in the south of Edinburgh. The grandfather died in 1861.

Thomas’s father built a new house – St. Leonards - in the grounds of Abden House and the family moved in there in 1890.   In 1892, the family purchased an estate in Achnacloich & Kilmaronaig, Argyll, Scotland, on the shores of Loch Etive near Oban in Scotland and spent a considerable part of each year there.

Thomas initially attended Edinburgh Academy, where he became a Rugby Union player, playing for a combined Edinburgh Academy /Watsons College schoolboy team in January 1895. He went on to study Classics at Oxford University, where he met and became friends with John Buchan.  Thomas played Rugby for Oxford University from 1896. He captained the side in 1900.

On 18th June 1903, Thomas married Margaret Balfour, daughter of the Liverpool merchant, Alexander Balfour. 

 John Buchan’s novel “The Thirty-Nine Steps” (1915) is dedicated to Thomas, who became head of the family publishing firm of Thomas Nelson and Sons. John Buchan was taken on by the firm as literary advisor.

During the First World War, Thomas was commissioned as a Captain into the Lothians and Border Horse Regiment, attached to the Machine Gun Corps, before moving to special service.   After eighteen months on the Western Front, Thomas was killed by a stray shell on the first Day of the Battle of Arras, Easter Monday, 9th April 1917.  

Thomas was buried in Faubourg D'Amiens Cemetery, near Arras, France, grave reference VII.G.26, and is also remembered on the headstone to his parents’ grave in Grange Cemetery in south Edinburgh and on the Scottish Rugby Union War Memorial at Murrayfield Stadium, Edinburgh.

CWGC headstone for grave of
Thomas Nelson, 
Faubourg D'Amiens Cemetery


MiD – Mentioned in Despatches 

Portrait of Thomas Arthur Nelson, wearing a greatcoat over service dress of the Lothians and Border Horse, 1916 paintd by Philip de László  (1869 – 1937)

Sources:  Find my Past, Free BMD, Wikipedia, Commonwealth War Graves Commission and

Saturday 8 April 2023

Wednesday 15 March 2023

Ernest Bristow Farrar (1885 - 1918) – Scholar of the Royal College of Music. Composer and Organist.

Found by Historian Debbie Cameron while trying to find out more 

about the WW1 poet E.D. Farrer*

Ernest was born in Lewisham, London, UK in July 1885. His parents were the Rev. and Mrs. C. D. Farrar, of Micklefield Vicarage, Leeds, where the family moved in 1887, where his father was a clergyman. The rest of Ernest’s life was very much centred in the North of England, which had a thriving concert and recital tradition, particularly at the turn of the century. 

Ernest became involved in the thriving musical scene in Harrogate. He conducted the Harrogate Orchestral Society and was involved with the Harrogate Municipal Orchestra through his friendship with the flamboyant conductor Julian Clifford, who performed a number of his premieres, including the now-lost Orchestral Rhapsody No.2 ‘Lavengro’ in 1913, the extended orchestral fantasy The Forsaken Merman in 1914 and the Variations on an Old British Sea Song on Ernest's 30th birthday in 1915. 

Commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the 3rd Battalion Devonshire Regiment on 27th February 1918,Farrar was posted to France on 6th September 1918.   When he arrived in France Ernest had briefly befriended the playwright and later broadcaster J.B. Priestley. He was granted leave in the summer of 1918 and returned to England, where he conducted the premiere of his final opus, the “Heroic Elegy”, at the Royal Hall in Harrogate. This piece was dedicated to his fallen comrades. 

Ernest returned to duty in September and was killed by machine gun-fire at the Battle of Ephey Ronssoy on the Western Front Farrar near Le Cateau in the Somme Valley, south west of Cambrai on 18th September, after just two days back in the Front Lines. Ernest was buried in Ronssoy Communal Cemetery, Grave Reference: B. 27. His grave lies just outside the churchyard wall in Ronssoy Communal Cemetery Extension, in a corner under a few trees.

Ernest’s obituary published in the “Musical Times”: ‘He was a musician of the highest ideals, and was devoted to the art he served so faithfully.’ Stanford, writing in the “Durham University Journal” wrote: “Farrar was one of my most loyal and devoted pupils. He was very shy, but full of poetry, and I always thought very high things of him as a composer, and lamented his loss both personally and artistically.”

Sources: Find my Past ranscript?id=GBM%2FLIVES%2F1200125

Debbie Cameron runs the Facebook Group Remembering British Women in WW1 – The Home Front and Overseas

Here is the poem Debbie found written by E.D. Farrer and published in "Forget=me-Not" Journal in 1914: