Monday 28 April 2014

Philip Gosse - official Rat Catcher of the British Army during WW1

c. 1933
Philip was born Philip Henry G. Gosse in Kensington in 1879.  His father was Sir Edmund Gosse, one of the Forgotten Poets of the First World War, and his grandfather was the naturalist Philip Henry Gosse, FRS

Philip was educated at Haileybury, then sent to farming school, after which he went on the FitzGerald Expedition to the Andes to collect animals.

Philip studied medicine at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London then became a General Practitioner with a practice in Beaulieu in the New Forest.   He joined the Royal Army Medical Corps in 1914 and served in WW1 on the Western Front and in India. For a time,  Philip was the British Army’s Official Rat Catcher Officer on the Western Front and he toured the camps lecturing about the importance of hygiene and care of food - especially left-overs and food waste.

After the War, Philip married Irene Marden in 1930 and moved to Sussex, where he wrote books and dug ponds.

In 1941, he matriculated from Cambridge University and went on to work as a research student at Trinity College.   He died in 1959.

As part of my research into Fascinating Facts of the Great War for my commemorative exhibitions in memory of my Old Contemptible Grandfather, I have been reading Philip Gosse’s book “A Naturalist goes to War” - which is fascinating.  He describes in detail the flora and fauna of the Western Front and it is astonishing how many animals, birds and flowers survived the bullets, shells and bombs.   

I found this extract from Philip’s book particularly interesting and decided to share it with you, under the heading “Fascinating Facts of the Great War”.

On pages 63 and 64, Gosse describes the amazing work of the Postal Section of the Royal Engineers, which dealt with all the post of the various British Expeditionary Forces in the theatres of WW1.

He finishes by printing a letter sent to his mother by Siegfried Sassoon from whom he obtained permission to reproduce the letter.   In the letter, written by Sassoon on 6th January 1916 from the 1st Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers on the Somme near Airaines, among other things mention is made of

“.. a young poet in this Battn., 19 years old and a temporary Captain – Robert Graves, son of Alfred Perceval. … R.G. writes moderately well and is a great admirer of Samuel Butler…”

From “A Naturalist goes to War” by Philip Gosse, first published by Penguin
Books, Harmondsworth, Middlesex in 1934;  my copy published in 1944.

Sunday 27 April 2014

Arnold Ridley - "Dad's Army" star

Arnold Ridley (1896 - 1984) - Actor and writer

Arnold was born on 7th January 1896 in Wolcot near Bath in the UK.  Hi father was a gym instructor who also ran a boot and shoe shop.

After graduating from the University of Bristol, Arnold became a primary school teacher.  He also began his acting career in a play called "Prunella" at the Theatre Royal in Bristol.

In 1914, Arnold Ridley, who went on to achieve fame as a television actor, enlisted in the Somerset Light Infantry as a private.   Arnold fought on the Western Front, was promoted to the rank of Lance Corporal and took part in the Battle of the Somme in 1916.  He was wounded in the left arm and both legs by shrapnel and during a hand-to-hand action, a German soldier struck him on the head with a rifle butt. 

After a varied career in acting and military service in WW2, Arnold starred in the UK television series about the British Home Guard during WW2  - "Dad's Army" - as Private Godfrey.   He died in 1984.

Photo:  Left Arnold as a WW1 soldier;  Right Arnold as Private Godfrey - by kind permission of Great War Centenary.

The Chinese Labour Corps

The Chinese Labour Corps was set up by the British Government in 1916.   Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haigh asked for a force of 21,000 labourers to be recruited in order to free the soldiers for fighting.

The idea was that these labourers would carry out the manual work behind the lines previously carried out by soldiers.  Exceptionally heavy casualties in the early days of the War made those in command realise that something had to be done.  China did not join in the conflict at first, although they later declared war against Germany and the Austro-Hungarian Empire (14th August 1917).   The French Government came up with the idea of recruiting manpower from China and in July 1916 the first group arrived in Marseilles en route for the Western Front.

The British Government picked up on the idea and so the Chinese Labour Corps came into being. In all more than 140,000 men served in the CLC before it was disbanded.   Many of the men died in France and are buried there in graves cared for by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission who have produced a pamphlet about the sacrifices made by the workers of the Chinese Labour Corps during World War One.

Commonwealth War Graves Commission -

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.

After the war, 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.

He 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:  Wiki Images

Friday 25 April 2014

Anzac Cove by Leon Gellert (1892 - 1977)

Leon Gellert took part in the landing at Gallipoli.

Anzac Cove

There's a lonely stretch of hillcocks,
There's a beach asleep and drear,
There's a battered broken fort beside the sea,
There are sunken trampled graves,
There's a little rotting pier
And winding paths that wind unceasingly.

There's a torn and silent valley,
There's a tiny rivulet,
With some blood upon the stones beside its mouth.
There are lines of buried bones.
There's an unpaid waiting debt.
There's a sound of gentle sobbing in the south.

Leon Gellert.

Welcome to Fascinating Facts of the Great War

I have been putting some of the fascinating facts  covered in exhibition panels on the weblog Inspirational Women so I felt it was high time those Fascinating Facts had their own weblog.

I will shortly be including a page listing the facts we have covered so far.

If you know of any particularly fascinating facts then please let me know so that I can share them, add them to my list and research them for exhibition panels.

Photo:  Mobile pigeon loft in France during WW1
Source:  Wiki Images