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.