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