Saturday 19 December 2015

Christmas in Britain during the First World War

A very interesting article in today's 'Times' newspaper tells us a lot about Christmas in Britain in 1915.  It was the second Christmastide of the conflict that most people had believed would have been 'all be over by Christmas 1914'.

Whilst Christmas 1915 was 'shorn of some of its old meanings' such as peace on earth and goodwill to all men, 'there are signs that to some extent, at any rate, its material associations will be preserved.'

The shops were full of British made toys, rather than the usual German ones - 'military and naval toys - soldiers, forts, warships, guns, and the rest' seem to have been the most popular.  However, for those who could not afford such luxuries, 'at the other end of the social scale is the penny toy, usually to be found in the trays of the kerbstone vendors of Ludgate Hill' (in London).  That year, both sellers and the goods on offer were fewer than in previous years.

Food, however, was apparently plentiful that year: 'Prices for turkeys, geese and beef are high, but both the supply and the demand are good.'  And for those with a sweet tooth, the Port of London Authority (for London was a premier port in those days) reported that 'vessels have come into the Thames with 80,000 to 100,000 packages of Greek currents.  Spain is keeping us well supplied with nuts.  France is sending us, among other things, mistletoe…'

From 'The Times' '1914 - 1918 The First World War, page 28, Saturday, December 19th, 2015.

Saturday 7 November 2015

Edmund Dulac (1882 - 1953) - French-born illustrator

Edmund Dulac was born in Toulouse in France in 1882. After studying art in Toulouse, Dulac moved first to Paris in 1904, then on to London, where he settled.  

During the First World War, Dulac helped to illustrate King Albert's Book which was published at Christmas 1914 by Hodder and Stoughton and sold in aid of the Daily Telegraph Belgian Fund.   He also worked on Princess Mary's Gift Book and the Queen of Roymania's "The Dreamer of Dreams (1915), as well as producing a book of his own in aid of the French Red Cross - "Edmund Dulac's Picture Book".

After WW1, Dulac designed theatre costumes and sets, bookplates, chocolate boxes and also drew caricatures for newspapers.  He contributed regularly to "The American Weekly" and 'Country Life".

Perhaps his best-known work is in the field of stamp design.  He designed the stamp to commemorate King George VI's Coronation, issued on 13th May 1937, and stamps for the 1948 Olympic Games in 1948, the Festival of Britain in 1951 and for the Coronation of Queen Elizabeth II in 1953.

Dulac died in London on 25th May 1953.

Wednesday 14 October 2015

The League for the Marrying of Wounded Heroes

Today's "Times" newspaper in England carries a story reprinted from their edition of the same day one hundred years ago, during the First World War.   It deals with the creation of "The League for the Marrying of Wounded Heroes", which was set up by The Rev. Ernest Houghton, an Anglican clergyman who was Rector of St. Stephen's church in Bristol.

There may be speculation as to whether or not this would have been a good idea but it was not allowed to go ahead.  As reported in an American newspaper on 19th November 1915, the idea was short-lived because the Bishop soon scuppered the plan and forced the Rev. Houghton to resign from the League. The Rev. Houghton had received many letters from 'noble-minded, patriotic women' hoping to marry a wounded hero but those letters had to be returned to the, presumably very disappointed, senders.

Does anyone know whether the League continued without the Rev. Houghton and whether any such marriages took place?


Monday 28 September 2015

Searchlights in The First World War

While watching an ice hockey match yesterday between Coventry Blaze and Widnes Wild, the word 'Coventry-Climax' popped into my head.  Research threw up the fact that the firm had a connection with WW1.

The company was formed as Lee Stroyer in 1903 by Henry Pelham Lee from Putney, a former Coventry-based Daimler employee, and Jens Stroyer from Denmark.  By 1905, the company was called Coventry-Simplex and they manufactured engines. Ernest Shackleton chose their engines for the tractors used in his Antarctic Expedition from 1914 to 1917. 

During the First World War, Coventry-Simplex supplied the engines used to power the searchlights needed to spot enemy plans and Zeppelins, thus helping to keep the night skies safe over Britain.  The company's name was changed to Coventry-Climax in 1917.  

The concept of 'artificial moonlight' - using searchlights to light up the night sky - was invented by Major-General J.F.C. Fuller (1878 - 1966), A British soldier veteran of the Boer War who served in several regiments during the First World War.

Some of you may remember the name from motor racing as the engine was used to power sports cars first in the 1954 Le Mans.  Stirling Moss, Jack Brabham and Jim Clark also had successes with cars powered by Coventry-Climax engines.  The company was sold to Jaguar Cars in 1963.

Sources:  Wikipedia and Google Images

And the Ice Hockey match?  Well Widnes Wild won but Coventry Blaze put up a very, very good fight and were the first to score, holding Widnes to 1 : 0 throughout the first session.  They show great potential.

Monday 17 August 2015

Book: 'Rough Riders The City of London Yeomanry during the First World War' by Stuart Latham

I have just discovered another fascinating book about the First World War.  Stuart Latham's Great-Grandfather, Fred Latham, served with the City of London Yeomanry during the conflict and Stuart has put together a detailed history of the Regiment.   

From my point of view, for the 'Fascinating Facts' section of my exhibition project, the first thing I learnt from the book is that the word 'chat' meaning an informal discussion, comes from when soldiers were together to perform the task of killing the lice in their uniforms - 'chat' being the sound made when a lice is popped.  With photographs, anecdotes written by the soldiers of the Regiment and more, this is definitely a 'couldn't put it down' book.

"Rough Riders The City of London Yeomanry during the First World War" by Stuart Latham, published by S and T Marketing Ltd, Swindon.  Further details from  

Sunday 2 August 2015

Belgian Refugees in the UK during The First World War

I have just found an exciting venture commemorating Belgian Refugees in the First World War. Here is the link to the website

More than 265,000 refugees came to the UK during WW1.   Many of the records were lost during the Blitz so it is difficult to be certain.  A Belgian Refugee Committee was set up but each area that took in refugees had its own Committee through which help was channelled.

Two of our best known poets of the era - May Sinclair and Beatrix Brice Miller - travelled to France and Belgium in 1914 to help and wrote about what they witnessed.   May's account of serving coffee and "two slices of black bread per person" to over 3,000 people is particularly moving.  As indeed is the account written by Charlotte Kellogg, the only woman member of the Commission for Relief to visit Belgium in July 1916.    According to Charlotte in "Women of Belgium Turning Tragedy into Triumph", there were three million people who were destitute and one quarter of a million dependent for their existence upon soup kitchens. 

Bertha (Betty) Stevenson, a YMCA volunteer who was killed in May 1918 during an air raid while working near Etaples, also mentioned Belgian refugees in her diaries which were published after the war by Betty's Mother and Aunt.

The Belgian poet Marguerite Coppin was evacuated to the UK during the First World War.  She stayed on after the war and worked as a French teacher.

Perhaps the most famous of all the Belgian Refugees of WW1 is the fictitious character of Agatha Christie - the detective Hercule Poirot.   

Monday 27 July 2015

The Order of the White Feather in The First World War

I am reading Dr. Vivien Newman’s book ‘We also served The Forgotten Women of the First World War’ (published by Pen and Sword, Barnsley, 2014).  On page 13, is the story of The White Feather Brigade.  I did not realise that was an official movement called The Order of the White Feather founded in August 1914 by Admiral Charles Cooper-Penrose (1841 – 1921) with the support of the government.  Admiral Cooper-Penrose was helped by the prominent writer Mrs Mary Augusta Humphrey Ward (1851 – 1920).   Starting with a group of 30 women in Folkestone, the idea was to shame men into joining the forces.  According to Dr. Newman, would be adherents had to complete a form, and, if they included stamps to the value of two pence (just over £1 in 2015), they would receive a badge and a place on the Active Service League’s Roll of Honour.  The idea was picked up by the press and quickly spread with special songs being commissioned and written to encourage men to enlist. These were sung by women in music halls.

The original supposition that a white feather represented cowardice appears to come from cock fighting, in which it was believed that a cock with white feathers in his tail would not be a very good fighter.  In America in 1775, an incident occurred in New York when a group of Quakers in a Meeting House were confronted by a hostile group of indigenous Indians.  The Quakers remained silent and the Chief of the Indians, realising the Quakers had no weapons, took a white feather from his quiver and attached it to the door of their church as a sign that the building was to be left alone. 
We have been speculating as to where the white feathers would have come from.  Could they have been goose or duck feathers?  At that time people raised geese in their gardens and back yards for Christmas.  If anyone knows more please get in touch and enlighten us. Photo Admiral Charles Cooper Penrose-Fitzgerald.

Saturday 23 May 2015

Women's Football in WW1

According to an Italian, saying ‘cows and wives should come from the same village’ which would appear to illustrate an old fashioned attitude towards women and could go some way to explaining why the Italian women’s football team is currently under threat.

Women’s football was played in public for the first time during the First World War.  A fascinating book called “In a League of their Own” written by Gail Newsham tells the story of the women factory workers who played that historic game on Christmas Day 1917.  The Dick Kerr’s Ladies Football Team played the match at Deepdale Football Stadium in Preston, Lancashire.  The match was seen by 10,000 people and the girls raised the equivalent of almost £50,000 in today’s currency for the war effort.

Teams of women from munitions factories and other establishments played against each other during WW1 for silverware. The Dick Kerr’s team went on to travel to play against teams in France and America, taking the idea of women’s football out into the world at large.

Women’s football became so popular that after the war it was banned by the Football Association in the UK and did not start up again until the 1970s.   Germany also banned women’s football until 1970.

Gail Newsham also has an excellent website where you can find out more about The Dick Kerr’s Ladies Football Team in the First World War

Sunday 26 April 2015

Book Review: "Images of the Great War" by Lawrence Dunn, published by Austin Macauley Publishers Ltd., London, 2015

Lawrence Dunn, an artist from Sunderland, guides us through a brief history of the First World War featuring a selection of images by some of the British and Empire artists, cartoonists, poets, photographers and sculptors of the time -  paintings, drawings, illustrations and photographs, some of which are from the author's own collection.  With the skill that only an artist has, Lawrence encourages us to have a closer look at some of those works and in so doing brings the conflict to life as never before. In many instances, Lawrence also invites the reader to compare the styles of artists who have painted the same view or person.  

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book.  I already knew some of the names that Lawrence has included but there were many that were new to me.  I was interested to see that Lawrence has dedicated the book to his second cousin, Corporal Michael Davison of the Northumberland Fusiliers (1st Tyneside Irish).  Michael was an underground putter at Ryhope Colliery when he enlisted in 1914 and was killed on the first day of the Battle of Arras - Easter Monday, 9th April 1917.  My great-uncle James Yule was a Private in the Northumberland Fusiliers, 23rd (Tyneside Scottish) Battalion and he too was killed on 9th April 1917, as were the poets R.E. Vernède and Edward Thomas,  

Beginning with Lady Elizabeth Butler, both male and female WW1 artists of all disciplines are represented in the book - Sir David Muirhead Bone, Francis Edgar Dodd, Sir William Orpen, Charles Sergeant Jagger, Christopher R.W. Nevinson, Paul and John Nash, Bruce Bairnsfather, Arthur Leonard Smith, Wyndham Lewis, David Bomberg, William Patrick Roberts, Colin Unwin Gill, Harold Sandys Williamson, Augustus Edwin John, John Singer Sargent, Henry Tonks, James Francis Hurley OBE, Olive Edis, Eric Henri Kennington, George Clausen, Sir John Lavery, Austin Osman Spare, Gilbert Rogers MBE, Adrian Keith Graham Hill, Sir Jacob Epstein, Mark Gertler, Joyce Dennys, Olive Mudie-Cooke, Flora Lion, Anna Airy, Lucy Kemp-Welch, Norah Neilson-Gray, Clare Atwood, Dorothy Josephine Coke, Frederick Horseman Varley, Stanley Spencer, David Michael Jones, Robert Douglas Strachan.

But this book is not just about the artists and the pictures of WW1, Lawrence goes into detail about some of the battles and includes personal stories about the artists and the areas and subjects depicted.   On page 137 you will find paintings by the artist William Patrick Roberts, who was at the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917 and is therefore of special interest to me.

Lawrence has also included poems by both male and female poets - Laurence Binyon, Rupert Brooke, Beatrix Brice Miller, Jessie Pope, John McCrae, Lucy Foster Whitmell, Charles Sorley, Alan Seeger, Vera Brittain, Thomas Kettle, Lady Margaret Sackville, Isaac Rosenberg, Siegfried Sassoon, Francis Ledwidge, Wilfred Owen, Robert Graves, Iris Tree, Winifred Mabel Letts, May Wedderburn Cannan, Anna Gordon Keown, Alice Meynell, Katharine Tynan, Elinor Jenkins, Muriel Elsie Graham, Edmund Blunden, May Hershel-Clarke, Mary H.J. Henderson, Eileen Newton, Emily Orr, Dorothy Una Ratcliffe and Edward Thomas.

I also very much enjoyed reading about the photographs taken during the First World War in the section about James Francis Hurley OBE, a photographer from Sydney, Australia.   Lawrence explains that many of the photographs taken during the 1914 - 1919 period were not fake but 'composites', as photographers were still experimenting with the medium.

With a map of the Western Front showing some of the worst battles of the war, a comprehensive Index and Bibliography and a final poem written by the UK's current Poet Laureate, Dame Carol Ann Duffy, this is a superb book which I would highly recommend.

Wednesday 15 April 2015

Sinking of the S.S. Arcadian, 15th April 1917

On the anniversary of the Titanic disaster, it is appropriate to remember one of the Titanic survivors - Thomas Threlfall - who also survived the sinking of the HMT Arcadian five years later on 15th April 1917.

Threlfall noted that it was the "same date of the month that the Titanic went down, and I have come safely out of both affairs’. The story is included in the book  "Into the Danger Zone Sea Crossings of the First World War" by Tad Fitch and Michael Poirier, published by The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2014.  For a review of the book, please see

The S.S. Arcadian was a steam powered passenger ship built in 1885 by Vickers, Sons and Maxim Limited of Barrow-in-Furthess (then in the County Palatine of Lancashire) and was run by the Pacific Steam Navigation Company as the S.S. Ortona out of Liverpool to Australia from 1885 until 1910.  In 1910, she was purchased by The Royal Mail Steam Packet Company Limited, based in London and her name was changed to the S.S.Arcadian.  I remember reading that it was considered unlucky to change the name of a ship.

The Arcadian was converted for use as a troop transport ship during the First World War and was in the Aegean Sea on her way from Salonkia to Alexandria with 1,335 troops when she was torpedoed with the loss of 279 lives - crew members as well as Army personnel.  1,058 of those aboard were saved perhaps because the ship had just had a boat drill.

David Marks has just informed me via Twitter that Sir Marc Armand Ruffer, pioneer of Palaeopathology, was one of those who died in the sinking of the S.S. Arcadian.  Many thanks David.


For information regarding the above-mentioned book, please see Facebook Page

Sunday 12 April 2015

Famous People who lost sons during WW1 - Harry Lauder

Harry Lauder the Scottish comedian and singer was in Australia on one of his tours when war broke out in 1914.  He returned home, began to raise money for the war effort and organised concert tours to help with the nation's recruitment drive.  He also took his piano to the Western Front to entertain the troops.  Lauder set up a charity called the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund to raise money for seriously wounded Scottish servicemen.

On 28th December 1916, Harry's only son John Lauder who was a Captain in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was killed at Pozières.   Harry wrote the song "Keep Right on till the end of the Road" in memory of his son.   Captain Lauder was buried at Ovillers, France and his father had a memorial placed in his son's memory in Glenbranter, the Lauder family home in Scotland.

Photo:  Captain Lauder from Google Images. For a poem written by Female Poets of the First World War Nadja (Green) Malacrida please see

Monday 6 April 2015

The S.S. Drina - first ship to be converted for use as a Hospital Ship during WW1

HMHS "Drina" - the first Hospital Ship of The First World War

One of the first to be refitted as a hospital ship was the steamship S.S. “Drina”, built in 1913 by Harland and Wolff and run by the Royal Mail Steam Packet Company, Belfast sailing to Brazil and Argentina. Her sister ships of the line were the Steam Ships "Deseado", "Demarara" and "Darro".

"Drina" was the first hospital ship to be requisitioned by the Admiralty. The contractors for the conversion were H. & C. Grayson Limited of Liverpool, who became insolvent in 1921.  She was handed over to the Royal Navy for use as a Hospital Ship on 15th August 1914 and sailed the following day.  According to Lynn Isaac, some ‘Immobile patients were taken there to be unloaded quietly at the Pembroke Dock in Liverpool".

Prince Albert (who later became King George VI) was serving in the Royal Navy when war broke out, having trained at naval college then served aboard the Dreadnought Battleship HMS Collingwood. At that time he was not the heir to the throne.  He was mentioned in despatches at the Battle of Jutland - 31st May to 1st June 1916. 

Prince Albert was taken ill and treated aboard HMHS Drina. According to Andrew Wingrove, Prince Albert had been suffering from a stomach ailment from around the 15th May and had seen the ship's doctor. On 12th July 1916, he was transferred to the HMHS Drina for observation by Staff Surgeon Willan. He was given a diagnosis of “weakening of the muscular wall of the stomach and a catarrah condition.” A prescription of a careful diet and nightly medications was recommended. He was in fact suffering from a stomach ulcer and was operated on for that in November 1917. 

"Drina" had a refrigerated cargo hold for the transport of South American beef and coffee but had been fitted with 1,000 tones of sand as ballast when converted to a hospital ship.   There are conflicting reports as to the demise of "Drina", as she appears to have been taken out of service as a hospital ship for a journey to South America. One of the most interesting accounts is written by a diver who has dived down to the wreck - see link below - definitely worth reading.

In February 1916, the Hospital ship staff, many of whom were from Sutton in Ashfield, plus stores which had been loaded at the start of her service as a Hospital Ship, were apparently taken off. 

In 1917 S.S. "Drina" was returning to Britain from a voyage to Buenos Aires via Lisbon and Falmouth, carrying a cargo of timber, carbon and currency of some sort, plus meat and coffee. The ship had called in at Falmouth and was seaming up the Welsh coast when she was torpedoed and sunk by a German U Boat (possibly UC 65, commanded by Otto Stienbrink) near Milford Haven on 1st March 1917 - St. David's Day.   It seems there were many survivors, including the captain of the ship, C.V. Fletcher and Daniel Trimbel, the ship's butcher who was from Birkenhead.   
With many thanks to Lynn Isaac, who has dived to the wreck of the S.S. "Drina" and whose account is fascinating:

and Andrew Wingrove, who is writing a book about WW1 hospital ships and has a Facebook Page dedicated to the Hospital Ships of the Grand Fleet 1914 - 1918 -

Both Lynn and Andrew kindly supplied me with a great deal of information as well as photographs.

Photo:  S.S. Drina in the River Mersey before conversion.

Sunday 15 March 2015

South Africa in WW1 - The South African Labour Corps

Through Derek Walker of the Facebook Group South African War Graves,  I discovered a "Forgotten Poet of the First World War" (Forgotten (male) Poets is another section of the project) - Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi (1875 - 1945) - South African.  I also learned of the existence of the South African Labour Corps during WW1.

Derek kindly supplied the following information:  "The SANLC are a very neglected part of our military history. Basically volunteers who were employed to do the dirty work and who were not allowed to bear arms. Its a bit of an unsavoury part of our military history, and the loss of the Mendi was a tragedy, I dont have numbers or info on it all, but will see if I can dredge up some interesting reads about them. 

They also served in WW2 although I think they were then known as NMC (Native Military Corps), and did a fantastic job wherever they went.

Many thanks indeed Derek.

Sunday 1 March 2015

Famous people who lost sons in WW1 - Sir Arthur Conan Doyle

Sir Arthur Connan Doyle was another member of J.M. Barrie's recreational cricket team.   Conan Doyle's son by his first wife Mary Louise, nee Hawkins, was born on 15th November 1892. He was called Arthur Alleyne Kingsley and was known as Kingsley.   

Kingsley joined the 1st/2nd Hampshire Regiment, receiving a temporary commission in 1915.  He was wounded at the Battle of the Somme in 1916 and died on 28th October 1918 after contracting influenza. 

Monday 23 February 2015

"A Slice of WW1 Life" - a play at Cheltenham Library, Friday 27th March 2015 7.30 pm

For anyone living in the Cheltenham/Gloucester area, or able to get there, a play about the lives of Gloucestershire citizens during the First World War.

With thanks to the F.W. FW Harvey DCM Facebook Page.

Sunday 22 February 2015

Famous People who lost sons in The First World War - E.W. Hornung, writer

E.W. Hornung, the British writer, poet and member of J.M. Barrie's recreational cricket team, was the author of the "Raffles" stories. 

E.W. Hornung married Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's sister Constance in September 1893.  Their son Arthur Oscar (Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's nephew) was killed on 6th July 1915.  Educated at Eton and then Cambridge University,  when war broke out Oscar, as he was known, volunteered and was commissioned into the Essex Regiment.  

Oscar was killed at the Second Battle of Ypres on 6th July 1915.   His father joined an anti-aircraft battery and then went to work as a YMCA volunteer running recreational huts for soldiers on the Western Front.

Tuesday 3 February 2015

Flanders Poppies

It seems that the phenomenon of those Flanders poppies about which Canadian poet, artist, doctor and artilleryman Colonel John McCrae wrote has been evident after every battle in the area.

The British historian Lord Macaulay wrote in 1855 about the site of the Battle of Landen in the Province of Brabant. The battle took place in 1693, during the Nine Years War between the French and the English when William III was on the throne.  Landen is in Belgium and is approximately one hundred miles from Ypres.  The French lost 9,000 men and the English 19,000:

 "The next summer the soil, fertilised by twenty thousand corpses, broke forth into millions of poppies. The traveller who, on the road from Saint Tron to Tirlemont, saw that vast sheet of rich scarlet spreading from Landen to Neerwinden, could hardly help fancying that the figurative prediction of the Hebrew Prophet was literally accomplished, that the earth was disclosing her blood, and refusing to cover the slain."

John McCrae's poems:

Macaulay's works are also available on Project Gutenberg.

Picture:  A painting entitled "Trenches on the Somme" by Canadian Artist Mary Riter Hamilton who went to paint the aftermath on the Western Front in 1919. Mary's paintings were commissioned by the Canadian War Amputees Association and can be viewed on

Monday 2 February 2015

Famous People whose sons died in WW1 - Rudyard Kipling

Rudyard Kipling's only son John, who was born in 1897, was lost at Loos just six weeks after his birthday. He was eighteen years old.  

At the outbreak of war, John tried to join the Royal Navy but was rejected because he was short-sighted.  However his fiercely patriotic father, Rudyard Kipling the famous poet, had friends in high places and pulled some strings to get John a commission in the Irish Guards. After training John was sent to the Western Front which his father was visiting as a war correspondent at the time.  John was reported missing in action at the Battle of Loos in September 1915.

Photo:  John Kipling

Sunday 1 February 2015

Famous people who had sons killed in WW1 - Oscar Wilde

For anyone interested in Oscar Wilde, there is an exhibition, lectures and more currently on until 26th April 2015 at the Rosenbach of the Free Libfrary in Delancey Place, Philadelphia, PA in America. For details please see

Oscar Wilde's son, Cyril Holland, was killed in action on 9th May 1915.  After Wilde's imprisonment, his wife changed their name to Holland and took the children to Switzerland.  Cyril was educated at an English-language school in Germany before going to Radley College, an independent boarding school for boys near Oxford.  He went on to the Military Academy at Woolwich and was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery in 1905.  After service in India, when WW1 broke out Lt. Holland was posted to the Western Front where he took part in the Battle of Neuve-Chapelle.  He was killed by a sniper on 9th May 1915 at the Battle of Festubert.  Lt. Holland was buried in Richebourg-l'Avoué in France.

Photo:  Cyril with his mother.

Monday 26 January 2015

Book Review: "Into the Danger Zone Sea Crossings of the First World War"

Review of "Into the Danger Zone Sea Crossings of the First World War" by Tad Fitch and Michael Poirier published by The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2014.

"Go wild in Brazil" screamed the headline in the holiday supplement of the newspaper on the first weekend of  2015.    Travel is so easy these days and more affordable than it was in the early part of the 20th Century, when travel to somewhere on the other side of the world to where you lived was just for the very rich.  And yet many people did undertake those journeys to answer the call of their Motherland during the First World War.   With the advent of submarine warfare and mines, sea travel, however, was hazardous and it was the only way to go as air passenger travel was in its infancy.   

"Into the Danger Zone Sea Crossings of the First World War" is the only book I have found which is full of details about those hazardous sea journeys.  I was absolutely thrilled to find out it was in preparation and couldn't wait to get a copy as it really does answer many of the questions I had during the course of my research into the role of women during WW1. I was particularly  interested in knowing of the journey women like the poet Ella Wheeler Wilcox and the entertainer Elsie Janis would have made to reach the Western Front where they entertained American troops and this book has the answers.

But "Into the Danger Zone" is not just a book about shipping in WW1.  I love the way the book gives a step-by-step chronicle of the events from the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand and his wife Sophie in June 1914 to the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in Paris in June 1919 and beyond.  There are maps and photographs of the ships, U-boats and their passengers and crew and quotes from letters written by survivors and indeed before sailing by those who perished.  I particularly like the photographs of the ships, having been brought up near Liverpool in England at a time when beautiful liners were still regular visitors to the port.

The Cunard Liner RMS Carpathia is one of the many ships featured that stood out for me because one of the Female Poets of the First World War featured in my exhibition project is American poet Moina Belle Michael. Moina was the person who got us all wearing poppies in remembrance of the conflict in 1919. She was on a teaching tour of Italy when war broke out in 1914 but managed to secure a safe passage home to America on the RMS Carpathia, which was the ship that rescued survivors from RMS Titanic when she hit an iceberg and sank in 1912.  Many passenger liners of the era were pressed into service as troopships or hospital ships.  Carpathia served as a troopship during WW1 but was again a passenger ship when she was torpedoed on 17th July 1918 (pp.366 - 370).

With a foreword by Hugh Brewster, author, "Into the Danger Zone" is full of eye-witness accounts of the sinking of many passenger ships, troopships and hospital ships during WW1 and illustrated with photographs from the impressive private collection of the authors.  It is a large book with over 400 pages packed with fascinating details and statistics that take us through the early days of WW1, when ships going to America were full but those going to Europe were almost empty, and finishing with an Epilogue chapter about 1919, when the American and Canadian troops returned across the Atlantic.   A photograph on page 367 shows us what conditions were like for the troops who crossed the Atlantic in WW1.

It must have taken Tad and Michael years to gather together all the information in this amazing book.  I should like to thank them and to recommend this book highly to anyone interested in the First World War.  If you only have time to read one book about the First World War please make it "Into the Danger Zone Sea Crossings of the First World War."

"Into the Danger Zone Sea Crossings of the First World War" by Tad Fitch and Michael Poirier
published by The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire, 2014.

Saturday 17 January 2015

Alfred Leete (1882 - 1933) - British Graphic Artist and Cartoonist

If you scroll down the posts for a while, you will come across one entitled "The Birth of Jingoism" illustrated by a very famous WW1 poster - "Your Country Needs YOU".  The drawing for the poster was done by Alfred Leete.

Alfred Ambrose Chew Leete was born in Northamptonshire on 28th August 1882.  His parents were John Leete, a farmer, and his wife Harriet.   When John Leete's health failed, the family moved to Weston-super-Mare in Somerset where John and Harriet ran a boarding house.

Alfred was educated at Kingsholme School in Weston-super-Mare and then went to Weston College of Science and Art.  After college, Alfred went to London where he began work as an artist for Caxton Advertising Company.

His work was published in the newspaper "The Daily Graphic" and in magazines "Punch", "Tatler & Bystander" and "Strand Magazine".  In 1914 he created a series called "Schmidt the Spy" which was published in "London Opinion" and turned into a film in 1916.

Alfred Leete's design for the front cover of the magazine "London Opinion", which was published on 5th September 1914, became the most famous WW1 poster in the world. 

During the First World War, Leete joined the Artists' Rifles and was an instructor with the 2nd Battalion and later served in France. 

After the war, Leete continued his work, published several books and designed many famous posters and worked on advertising campaigns for well-known companies.  He died in Kensington, London on 17th June 1933.

Sources:  Wikipedia and

Photo: Google Images

Sunday 11 January 2015

WW1 song "Keep Right on till the end of the Road" written by Sir Harry Lauder (1870 - 1950) - Scottish singer/comedian

Born on 4th August 1870 in Edinburgh, eldest of seven children, Harry's parents were John Lauder, a master potter and his wife Isabella Urquart Macleod nee Maclennan.  The family moved to Derbyshire in 1882 where John Lauder was going to design china.  However, he died on 20th April and they had to move to Isabella's parents' home in Arbroath. 

Harry Lauder left school at the age of 11 and went to work in a flax mill.  The family then moved to Hamilton where Harry worked in a coal mine.  In 1891 he married Ann Vallance, daughter of the manager of the coal mine. 

Harry's fellow-workers, who whom he often sang, encouraged him to sing in local music halls.  He joined a concert party and began touring, which enabled him to give up his job at the coal mine.  By 1894 Harry had turned professional and was singing in London venues.

Harry began writing and publishing songs and successful roles in pantomimes ensured his British and international success and he toured America as well as Australia, becoming one of the highest paid entertainers in the world at that time. He was the star of the Royal Command Performance Variety Show in 1912 in front of King George V.

When war broke out in 1914, Harry was in Australia on one of his tours.  He returned home and began to raise money for the war effort and organised recruiting concert tours.  He also took his piano to the Western Front to entertain the troops.  He set up a charity called the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund to raise money for seriously wounded Scottish servicemen.

On 28th December 1916, Harry's only son John Lauder who was a Captain in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was killed at Pozières.   Harry wrote the song "Keep Right on till the end of the Road" in memory of his son.   Captain Lauder was buried at Ovillers, France and his father had a memorial placed in his son's memory in Glenbranter, the Lauder family home in Scotland.

For his many services to the war effort, Harry was knighted in 1919.   Lady Lauder died in July 1927 and Harry continued to tour, sing and write songs.  He retired in 1935.  Apart from his songs, Harry also wrote several books and appeared in several films.   He came out of retrieved in the Second World War, entertained troops in Britain and also took part in radio broadcasts. 

Harry died on 26th February 1950.

"Keep right on till the end of the road" is used by Birmingham Football Club as their anthem. 

Source:  Wikipedia;  Photo:  Google Images

Friday 9 January 2015

La Voie Sacree - The Sacred Way - the road from Bar-le-Duc to Verdun, France, WW1

With many thanks to Peter Allen of the Facebook Group who brought this to my attention. Peter has managed to track down two of these amazing WW1 mementoes.

Kilometre markers or 'milestones' (road markers because the French count in Kilometers not miles)
marked the distances along the sacred road to Verdun in the First World War. The Voie Sacrée (in English : "The Sacred Way") is the road that connects Bar-le-Duc to Verdun which are both in the French Department of Meuse, France.  The road was given that name after the end of World War I because of the vital role it played during the Battle of Verdun.  It is 72 kilometres or 45 miles in length.

In 1927, Gaston Deblaize (1895 - 1935), a French sculptor and veteran soldier of the First World War, came up with the idea of making commemorative terracotta milestones and selling them as a means of raising funds and awareness of the plight of former soldiers who were living in the retirement home for "Gueles Casses" (in English 'broken faces') - in other words, those with sever facial injuries - at Moyssy-le-Vieux in France.  The expression 'gueules cassees' was coined by Colonel Yves Picot (1862 - 1938), the first President of the Association.

The hollow terracotta milestones were made up as containers shaped like the original milestones but 13 cm high x 6 cm x 3.5 cm.  A sample of soil from Verdun was placed inside each container The date "1914" was inscribed down one side and "1918" was on the other side;  the origin of the marker was inscribed on the back and front of the markers.  For example, "Verdun" or "Flandre" (Verdun or Flanders). The inscription "This terminal contains a sacred piece of soil from Verdun " was attached to the finished article.   French military veteran associations were closely involved in the process, members of the Association des Gueles Cassés (En. Association of Broken Faces) were present when soil samples were taken from Verdun.   These were then placed into the containers which were sealed under the watchful eye of a 'controller from the Association of Broken Faces". 

On 27th July 1927, the tenth anniversary of a French victory in Champagne, Gaston Deblaize and Albert Jugon from the Association of Broken Faces presented a special bronze commemorative milestone to the President of the Republic of France at that time - Gaston Doumerge. 

Some years later, Deblaize began to sculpt larger milestones which incorporated a cross. These were 1m 20 high and inscribed to the memory of the soldiers who lost their lives and with the names of the main battles of the First World War in which French soldiers were involved - on the left Aisne, Alsace, Argonne, Artois, Belgium, Champagne and on the right Flanders, Lorraine, Marne, Somme, Verdun, Yser.

Deblaize was working on a project to have these commemorative milestones placed around the world.  There is one in Arlington Cemetery in Washington, DC. America, which was dedicated on 21st March 1929. Deblaize was working on the seventh commemorative milestone which was for Algeria to honour and commemorate the contribution and venerate the memory of the many soldiers from Algeria who fought in the First World War, when he died in 1935 and his work remained unfinished.

The completed milestones in Deblaize's project were dedicated in the form of a gravestone and with soil from Verdun, at Invalides in Paris - 12th December 1929, Guernic, Quiberon - 23rd August 1931, Cinq Mars la Pile - 18th October 1931, Meures - 31st July 1932 and Vignola, Ajaccio on 30th September 1932. 


Photos from Google Images:  Top Deblaize with one of his terracotta milestones; middle a terracotta milestone; bottom Deblaize at the dedication of the larger sculpted milestone in Meures in 1931.

Wednesday 7 January 2015

Harold Delf Gillies from New Zealand - Doctor in WW1 - pioneer working with facial injuries

With thanks to Dominic Sheridan of Australian Great War Poetry

Harold Delf Gillies was a New Zealander. He was the inventor of the ‘pedicle tube’ in WW1. Antibiotics had not yet been invented, meaning it was very hard to graft tissue from one part of the body to another because infection often developed. But while treating Able Seaman Willie Vicarage, Gillies invented the “tubed pedicle”. This used a flap of skin from the chest or forehead and “swung” it into place over the face. The flap remained attached but was stitched into a tube. This kept the original blood supply intact and dramatically reduced the infection rate. Because of Gillies’ pushing, the Queen’s Hospital, Sidcup, in England, was opened in 1917.  Photo:  Google Images.

Monday 5 January 2015

The Birth of "Jingoism"

It is the fashion these days to describe some of the First World War poetry as "jingoistic" but what does the term actually mean and where does it come from?

My elderly dictionary+ has the word "jingo" defined as "a term used in a vulgar oath" and "jingoism" as "the military spirit of England as represented by so-called Jingoes".

These days, "Jingoism" is defined as "patriotism in the form of aggressive foreign policy".

The word apparently has it's origin in a song that was popular in Victorian Music Halls in Britain during the Russo-Turkish War of 1877 to 1878. It was performed by the singer Gilbert Hastings MacDermott (1845 - 1901). The song was written by the songwriter George William Hunt (1839 - 1904) and in the chorus the words "by Jingo" were used in order to avoid blaspheming:

"We don't want to fight but by Jingo if we do
We've got the ships, we've got the men, we've got the money too
We've fought the Bear* before, and while we're Britons true
The Russians shall not have Constantinople."

*The Russians - in the Crimean War…

The song was brought back several times and with altered words was also popular during the First World War.

Sources: - full text of the song

G.W. Hunt's songs -

+ Nutall's Standard English Dictionary of the English Language, William Clowes and Son, London