Tuesday 28 October 2014

An Ice Hockey Hero of WW1 - Frank McGee from Canada

FRANK ‘ONE EYE’ McGEE – Ottawa Senators

As many of you will know, since April 2012 I have been busy preparing commemorative WW1 exhibitions. I began by researching women who wrote poetry during the First World War at the request of Dean Johnson who runs The Wilfred Owen Story Museum in Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, UK.  Dean wanted to hold an exhibition of female poets - so I started looking.

By the time the exhibition was on display in November 2012, I had become so fascinated with the research that I continued.  I hit a snag - I wanted to include the Canadian artist Mary Riter Hamilton who went to paint the aftermath in France in May 1919.  Her story was so amazing that I could not leave her out so "Inspirational Women of WW1" was added to the poets.  Then I discovered Philip Gosse who was the official British 2nd Army Rat Catcher Officer on the Western Front.  How could I leave out such an interesting story?  That is how "Fascinating Facts of the Great War" came into being.

Knowing that many sportsmen joined up during WW1 - whole football teams, rugby teams, cricket teams and so on - I began to ask the question “Do you know of any Ice Hockey players who joined up during the Great War?”.

Thanks to a book called “The Greater Game Sporting Icons who fell in the Great War”, by Clive Harris and Julian Whippy, with a foreword by Richard Holmes the WW1 historian, I can now answer that question with a resounding “Yes”.

Frank McGee was born in Ottawa on 4th November 1882.   Frank’s Father was John James McGee, who had Irish ancestors and was from Kingston, Ontario.  John James was an important man – he was Clerk of the Privy Council in Canada.

When he left school, Frank too joined the Civil Service, working for the Canadian Pacific Railway.   He was an accomplished sportsman having played lacrosse and rugby and was a keen rower and boxer.  He began playing ice hockey for the local recreational team the Ottawa Aberdeens.

Incidentally, the Aberdeen Pavilion in Ottawa was the muster point when the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were formed in 1914.

In 1900, Frank’s older brother was serving with the Canadians in the Boer War. The Canadian Patriotic Fund was an organisation that raised funds to help the war effort and an ice hockey game was arranged against a team from Hawkesbury.   Frank sustained a cut over his eye that prevented him from joining in the after match party.   His eye did not heal and he lost the sight of his eye, which meant that he retired from ice hockey.

In 1903 he was approached by a sponsor of the Ottawa Senators asking him to consider coming out of retirement.   1905 saw Frank’s best season with the Senators dominating first class hockey.   In spite of a wrist injury, he helped his team to win the Stanley Cup for three seasons in a row. 

At the end of that season, Frank retired again – he was twenty-three by then – and settled down to be a civil servant.   Frank was a Lieutenant in the Canadian Militia, which is similar to the British Territorial Army.  When Canada declared war on Germany, he joined the 21st (Eastern Ontario) Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 9th November 1914, having managed to hoodwink the medical examiner who declared his vision ‘good’.   Frank’s Battalion went to France in September 1915 where he was blown up and wounded in the right knee.  He was sent back to England for treatment and attached to the Canadian Training Headquarters in Shorncliffe, Kent, where he instructed in machine gunnery.  He re-joined his old Regiment in March 1916 and was then seconded to assist the Director of Railways and Ordnance in the building of railways across Flanders and France.  By 29th August 1916, Frank was back with his old regiment again and took part in a battle to take the sugar refinery at Flers-Courcelette on 15th September 1916, in which the tank HMLS “Crème de Menthe” also took part.

On 16th September 1916, Frank was killed in a heavy artillery attack.  His body was never identified and he is remembered on the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

HARRIS, Clive and WHIPPY, Julian, “The Greater Game Sporting Icons who fell in the Great War”, by Clive Harris and Julian Whippy. (Pen and Sword Military, Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2008) pp 64 – 74.

Photos:  Top left Frank in his uniform and with his Ice Hockey Team, standing far right.

Photos from Google Images.

Wednesday 22 October 2014

The German Light Cruiser SMS "Emden"

"The Times" newspaper publishes extracts from the paper one hundred years ago and today's extract bears the headline "The Emden Reappears".

It concerns the German Dresden Class Light Cruiser SMS "Emden" (see left), which had apparently been wrecking havoc among British shipping and costing Britain millions of pounds in lost shipping and trade. At that stage of the war, however, the crew of the Emden and other German ships behaved impeccably as true gentlemen and though ships were destroyed, their crews were saved.  As the writer of the report on October 22, 1914 stated:  'The accounts given by the crews of the destroyed steamers invariably bear testimony to the considerate restraint with which the Emden does her deadly work".

I was interested to note that, among the problems caused by the actions of "Emden" were:  "Burma isolated for a fortnight", the trade of Calcutta paralysed, insurance for shipping on the Eastern routes increased and the interruption of the Indian mail service.

However, the Australian Navy came to our rescue and on 30th October, HMAS "Sydney" (see right) an Australian Light Cruiser engaged "Emden" after her attack on Penang, Malaya.   "Emden" was badly damaged so her captain beached her on North Keeling Island in order to save the lives of his crew.

Commemorative First World War theatrical production "Where then shall we start?" Greenwich, London, 13 - 14 November 2014

I just received an interesting e-mail via the Wilfred Owen Association in the UK announcing a new theatrical production commemorating the First World War.   The title is "Where then shall we start" and it is based on the work of Wilfred Owen, the British soldier poet, and Käthe Kolwitz, a German artist who lost her only son Peter in WW1.  The production is directed by Jennifer Leach.

There will be performances at Queens House, the Royal Museums Greenwich on Thursday, 13th and Friday, 14th November 2014 at 7.45 p.m.

Further details and to book:  http://www.wherethen.org

Sunday 12 October 2014

Percy Haselden The Liverpool Poet (1895 - 1916) - NB UPDATE this is not the poet - please see post on Forgotten Poets of the First World War April 2023

I have received the following information from Historian Deborah Cameron:

Percy Haselden was born in Toxteth, Liverpool and his birth was registered in the September quarter of 1895.

Percy joined the Kings Liverpool Regiment and was killed on 30th July 1916 in Flanders.  He is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, Picardie, France.

Percy's poems were published by Erskine Macdonald in 1917 under the title "In the wake of the Sword".  His poem "Searchlights on the Mersey" was published in "The Fiery Cross: an Anthology" edited by Mabel C. Edwards and Mary Booth and published by Grant Richards in 1915.  

With many thanks to Deborah for her kind help.

If anyone knows anything more about Percy or if they have a photograph of him, please get in touch.

Update on 22nd April 2023.  I just received a message from Linda Michelini :

"I am helping to research soldiers from the Liverpool Pals battalions who 
fell during WW1. Googling Percy Haselden's name I came across multiple 
sites, including yours, which hold incorrect information.

The Percy Haselden who was born in Liverpool in 1895 and killed on 
30/7/1916 was not the poet. We have his biography here -

The war poet Percy Haselden was born Percy Haselden Evans in Liscard on the Wirral Peninsula in the early months of 1887 and was baptised on 27th March 1887.  Percy’s parents were William Parry Evans, a cotton broker, and his wife, Matilda, nee Haselden, who were married in 1884.  

I thought you would appreciate being able to correct your profile of the 
WW1 poet.
Linda Michelini

Linda Michelini 

I hve now placed an entry on the weblog Forgotten Poets of the First World War about the
Merseyside poet born Percy Haselden Evans, who used the pen name Percy Haselden before changing his name by Deed Poll in 1929.

Wednesday 8 October 2014

Heroic Sportsmen of WW1 - Edgar Robert Mobbs, DSO

Keen Rugby Union fan J. Daniel Dawson has sent me this report about Edgar Robert Mobbs:

Born in Northampton on 29th June 1882. Edgar was an English Rugby Union Footballer who played for and Captained Northampton RFC and England. After being turned down as being too old to join the Army in WWI, Edgar raised his own "Sportsman's" Company of 250 Sportsmen ( Also known as Mobb's own) for the Northamptonshire Regiment. He rose to Command his Battalion with the Rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

Edgar was killed in action in July 1917 at Zillebeke (Belguim) during the third Battle of Ypres, (now called Iepers) while attacking a Machine Gun post. His body has never been found, so his name is on the Menin Gate Memorial. (Ypres/Iepers) He was honoured with the Distinguished Service Order.

A Memorial to Mobbs and other Northampton players who lost their lives in wartime stands in Franklin Gardens, home of Northampton Saints Rugby Club.  With many thanks to The Saints for allowing the use of the photo of Edgar Mobbs.

Sunday 5 October 2014

Songs of the First World War


While I was researching the songs of the First World War recently, I came across a reference on page 175 in a book called “Charlie Chaplin and His Times” by Kenneth S. Lynn, published in 1997 by Simon & Schuster, New York to the song about Baggy Trousers and the Dardanelles.  My Mother used to sing that song so I was immediately interested.

According to Lynn, Charlie Chapin’s decision not to return to Britain and enlist was because a clause in his film contract that forbade him to leave the United States of America.   The British public were none too pleased and Chaplin received quite a few letters containing white feathers which in those days was a sign of cowardice.  A sheet-music  firm in London published a set of lyrics to the tune of “Red Wing”, a song that had been written in 1907 in America with music by Karry Mills (“ who also penned Meet me in St. Louis Louis”), adapted from a piece of piano music by Schuman, and lyrics by Thurland Chattaway, about an Indian Princess who lost her Brave.

The new lyrics became popular with troops during the First World War, and referred to Charlie Chaplin’s apparent reluctance to return to England and enlist.

Now the moon shines bright on Charlie Chaplin
He’s going barmy to join the army
But his old baggy trousers they’ll need mending
Before they send him to the Dardanelles.

The moon shines bright on Charlie Chaplin
His shoes are cracking, for want of blacking
And his baggy khaki trousers still need mending
Before they send him to the Dardanelles.

Lynn goes on to explain that “in the year of the Battle of the Somme" (which began in July 1916) ",.. the movie tents behind the lines in France continued to be filled with laughter whenever Charlie Chaplin comedies were shown.”  (p. 176)

Being able to laugh must have had a positive effect on the morale of the troops who, according to Kate Luard, a senior nurse in France during The First World War who was a veteran of the Boer War, when they were frontline troops spent four days in the trenches and four days resting in camps behind the lines.

“Unknown Warriors The Letters of Kate Luard RRC and Bar, Nursing Sister in France 1914 – 1918” Edited by John and Carolie Stevens and published by The History Press, Stroud, Glos. 2014.

Picture:  Cartoon by Bruce Bairnsfather - "The Last Man"