Saturday 31 December 2016

Lise Rischard, a housewife from Luxembourg, British Secret Agent in WW1

Among the inspirational women of the First World War on my list is Lise Rischard, an 'ordinary' housewife from Luxembourg.   Officially neutral in WW1, the people of Luxembourg had suffered greatly during the wars that ravaged Europe in the previous years.   Lise's son by her first marriage - Marcel Pelletier - was a member of the French Olympic Team send to the Olympic Games held Stockholm in 1912.

During a visit to her son who was in the French Army and in Paris before being sent to the Front, Lise was recruited to help the Allied cause. Her story is amazing as she travelled from the area  held by the Germans via Switzerland to Paris, which remained a free city during WW1 and then set up a network to provide vital information to the British.

I mention Lise in "No Woman's Land" but you can find out the whole amazing story in the book 'The Secrets of Rue St. Roch' by Janet Morgan (London: Allen Lane, 2004).

Wednesday 28 December 2016

Harry Lauder's son John was killed on 28th December 1916 in France

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 recruiting concert tours.  Harry 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.

Photo:  Captain John Lauder

Monday 21 November 2016

Centenary of the sinking of the Hospital Ship "Britannic", sister ship to the R.M.S. "Titanic"

Today marks the Centenary of the sinking of the Hospital Ship “Britannic” on 21st November 1916. There is still speculation as to whether she was torpedoed or hit a mine.   RMS “Britannic” was built by Harland and Wolf, Belfast, as a sister ship to the White Star Line liners RMS “Titanic” and RMS “Olympic”.  “Britannic” was launched in February 1914 then laid up until the British Admiralty requisitioned her for use as a Hospital Ship in 1915.

“Britannic” was steaming from Southampton to Mudros in Greece with 1,065 people on board – 77 nurses, 315 Royal Army Medical Corps personnel and 673 crew members.   An explosion caused her to sink in the Kia Channel near the Greek Island of Kia with the loss of 30 lives, the bodies of 5 of whom were found and buried.

There is a Facebook Group dedicated to the memory of the Hospital Ship “Britannic”:

Sunday 6 November 2016

The Roses of No Man’s Land a song written during WW1 by Jack Caddigan and James Alexander Brennan

Many thanks to Sue Robinson of the Group Wenches in Trenches The Roses of No Man's Land for bringing the song "The Roses of No Man's Land" to my attention.  The song was co-written by Jack Caddigan the lyricist (1879 - 1952) and James Alexander Brennan the song-writer (1885 - 1956). The lyrics were translated into French by Louis Delamarre and the song became popular during the First World War.

It was written as a tribute to the women who went to all the theatres of the conflict to nurse the wounded. The song is still in copyright but you can read both sets of lyrics - English and French - here

Sue Robinson is campaigning for recognition of all the women of WW1 and a special memorial is to be unveiled at Lochnagar Crater.   The Women of War Memorial will be unveiled at Lochnagar Crater, La Boisselle, France at 2.30 pm on 11/11/2016, just after the main ceremony.  All welcome.

To find out more about Sue’s work please see the website

Photo: The cover of the sheet music to the song.

Monday 24 October 2016

Relatives of Famous People killed in WW1 - a grandson of Gladstone, former British Prime Minister

I have just been reading Anne Powell’s delightful book “Gardens Behind the Lines, 1914 – 1918” and there I read:

 “… I suddenly came upon young Gladstone’s grave, in the corner of an orchard railed off, where he lies with about fifty men of different regiments… it’s curious to think of him there and his grandfather in Westminster Abbey.”  (p. 12).

Anne quotes from a letter home written in 1915 by Alexander Douglas Gillespie, a 2nd Lieutenant in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders who was an enthusiastic gardener. 
I  had to find out more, so I looked up Gladstone and it seems that Gillespie was referring to William Glynne Charles Gladstone, 14th July 1885 – 13th April 1915, who was a Grandson of the former Prime Minister of Britain – Liverpool-born William Ewart Gladstone (1809 – 1898).

William Glynne’s parents were the former PM’s eldest son, William Henry Gladstone, and his wife, The Hon. Gertrude Gladstone, daughter of Charles Stuart, 12th Lord Blantyre.  “Young Gladstone” was the last of the Gladstone dynasty to sit in the House of Commons.  He was made Lord Lieutenant of Flintshire in Wales on 8th July 1911.

In WW1 William Glynne Charles Gladstone was commissioned into the Royal Welch Fusiliers as a 2nd Lieutenant.  He was promoted to Lieutenant on 7th April 1915 and posted to France where he was killed on 13th April 1915 near Laventie.   His was the last body to be officially repatriated during the First World War and he was re-buried in St. Deiniol’s, Hawarden, Flintshire, Wales.   His cousin, William Herbert Gladstone, MC, son of the former PM’s second son, The Rev. Stephen Edward Gladstone and his wife Annie Gladstone, was killed in 1918.

“Gardens Behind the Lines, 1914 – 1918 Gardens Found and Made on the Western and Eastern Fronts” by Anne Powell, edited by Jean Moorcroft Wilson and published in “The War Poets” Series by Cecil Woolf, London in 2015.

Monday 26 September 2016

Book Review: “Betrayed Ally – China in the Great War” by Frances Wood and Christopher Arnander

I first found out about the Chinese Labour Corps when researching Canadian Artist Mary Riter Hamilton for the Inspirational Women section of my commemorative WW1 exhibition project.  Mary was commissioned by the Canadian Amputees Association to travel to France in May 1919 to paint the aftermath.  She lived for three years in a tin hut among the Chinese workers who cleared away the mess left at the end of the First World War.   I was therefore very interested in finding out more about China during the conflict and pleased to find a book on the subject.

As the writers say in the Introduction: “Few in the English-speaking world have any idea of China’s participation in the First World War”.  This books puts that right.

Initially neutral, in October 1915, China presented a military aircraft to the British government;

300,000 Chinese workers served during WW1;

140,000 Chinese workers served in France;

200,000 Chinese workers served in Russia; they were caught up in the Revolution and ‘disappeared’;

One of the first battles of the First World War was on Chinese soil;

10,000 or more Chinese workers died or were killed – some at sea during the perilous journey by sea to France - due to the intense German submarine campaign against Allied shipping;

China officially joined the Entente Allies in 1917 and declared war on Germany;

China attended the Versailles Peace Conference in 1919 but felt belittled and betrayed and did not sign the Peace Treaty.

Reading this book, which, the writers explain, is aimed at ‘the general reader’ (that is most definitely me) helps us to understand the current situation in the world.   The writers explain in detail the recent history of China which became a Republic in 1912.   They tell us about the political intrigues, secret dealings and complex diplomatic negotiations that went on behind the scenes during the war years in the Far East.   What happened during the Versailles Peace Treaty is also explained and this undoubtedly led to the conflicts of the 1930s and beyond.

I particularly liked the notes on transliteration which explain the complexities of the Chinese language, for instance, the word ‘coolie’ means hard labour.  I knew there was a Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery for Chinese Labour Corps members who died or were killed in France but I did not know about the Chinese Hospital at Noyelles-sur-Mer in France which was run by Douglas Gray, the former Medical Officer at the British Legation in China.

And interestingly, we learn that young British diplomats who worked for the British Civil Service and who wanted to volunteer for military service were discouraged from doing so because it was thought a waste of their long years of training in diplomacy, though young men in the Consular Service were eventually allowed to join up (p. 58).

Illustrated throughout with maps, cartoons, photographs, charts and diagrams and including appendices detailing recent Chinese history and prominent personalities of WW1 and with copious explanatory notes and a comprehensive index, this book is required reading for anyone interested in the First World War.

“Betrayed Ally – China in the Great War” by Frances Wood and Christopher Arnander, published by Pen & Sword, Barnsley in 2016. ISBN 978-1-47387–501-2.

“With the Chinks” by Daryl Klein is available as a free download on Archive:

Tuesday 6 September 2016

The Knuts in WW1

The Knuts came to fame in the review “The Passing Show” which starred Basil Hallam (1889 - 1916) as “Gilbert the Filbert”.  Knuts - nuts with a K - were Edwardian men-about-town, usually the younger sons of wealthy families.   In his Jeeves and Wooster novel “Joy in the Morning”, P.G. Wodehouse described the typical Knut as “humble, kindly, and lovable”. 
"The Passing Show" introduced the American actress Elsie Janis to British audiences and opened in London at the Palace Theatre in April 1914.   At around that time, Elsie and Basil became secretly engaged and set up home in Liverpool.   

Possibly for medical reasons (he had a steel plate in his foot from an old injury) , Basil didn't volunteer to serve immdiately when war broke out.  However, after being given several white feathers, which were often thrust upon him at the stage door of the theatre, he decided to enlist. Basil became a Balloon Observer with a Kite Balloon Section of the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and his duties were to reinforce the work of observers working for Corps Squadrons. He was killed on the Western Front during the Battle of the Somme.  In the afternoon of 20th August 1916 on the Northern part of the Somme battlefield he was manning a tethered un-powered observation balloon watching the German line near the village of Gommecourt, when its steel cable tether snapped and the balloon, caught in an Easterly wind, began to drift towards enemy lines out of control. To avoid capture, Hallam bailed out of the balloon's basket but he was obstructed from jumping clear, and fell several hundred feet to his death after his emergency parachute failed to deploy.  Basil was buried in a British military cemetery at the nearby village of Couin.
Jack Buchanan the actor (1890 – 1957) was not passed as fit to join the armed forces during WW1 and continued with his acting, singing and dancing career.  He became known as ‘the last of the Knuts’.  
Elsie went on to entertain the troops on the Western Front during WW1 and then had a career as an actress and writer. 
Jack Buchanan made his name as a film actor as well as a musical comedy star.

Photo:  Basil Hallam as Gilbert the Filbert.
Here is a cartoon relevant to the Knuts drawn by Martin Anderson (1854 - 1932), better known by his alias Cynicus – Scottish artist, political cartoonist, postcard illustrator and publisher.

Postcard - The Kernel of the Knuts  

The Passing Show – original Broadway review by Arthur Wimperis: Music by Herman Finck; Lyrics by Arthur Wimperis
The first revue entitled The Passing Show was staged at the Casino Theatre, New York, in May 1894. The name was revived on Broadway for a similar production, The Passing Show of 1912 (Winter Garden, 22nd July 1912). Thereafter there was a Passing Show every year until 1919, and the last of the series was The Passing Show of 1921 (Winter Garden, 29 December 1920). 
In London the format was reproduced by Alfred Butt at the Palace Theatre, Cambridge Circus, where The Passing Show was produced on 20th April 1914 with Elsie Janis, a young Broadway star making her first appearance in London, Basil Hallam, Clara Beck, Gwendoline Brogden, Winifred Delavanti, Marjorie Cassidy, Jack Christy, Mildred Stokes, Florence Sweetman, Nelson Keys and Arthur Playfair.
Palace Theatre, London – 20th April, 1914 (ran for 351 performances)
The Cast included:  Clara Beck, Gwendolin Brogden, Jack Christy, Winifred Delavanti, Basil Hallam, Elsie Janis. Nelson Keys, Arthur Playfair, Florence Sweetman.

The Programme included:

You're Here and I'm Here
Gilbert the Filbert
Florrie Was a Flapper
I'll Make a Man of You
I've Got Everything I Want But You
A la minuette
A la gavotte
Valse Joyeuse
The Showman's Song
Matrimonial Bureau
Dances from Venice
Waltz Song

Musical Director: Herman Finck

Elsie Janis and her partner Basil Hallam were an immediate hit. They recorded their two duets from the show, ‘You’re Here and I’m Here’ (HMV 4-2401; 1.20mb Mp3 file) and ‘I’ve Got Everything I Want But You’ (HMV 04116) in London on 4th June 1914.
The Passing Show proved so popular that Butt repeated his success the following year with The Passing Show of 1915 (Palace, 9 March 1915, with a second edition on 12 July), again starring Elsie Janis and Basil Hallam.

 I am known round Town as a fearful blood
For I come straight down from the dear old flood
And I know who's who, and I know what's what
And between the two I'm a trifle hot
For I set the tone as you may suppose
For I stand alone when it comes to clothes
And as for gals just ask my pals
Why everybody knows.

Chorus: I'm Gilbert the Filbert the Knut with a K
The pride of Piccadilly the blasé roué
Oh Hades, the ladies, who leave their wooden huts
For Gilbert the Filbert the Colonel of the Knuts.

You may look upon me as a waster, what?
But you ought to see how I fag and swot
For I'm called by two, and by five I'm out
Which I couldn't do if I slacked about
Then I count my ties and I change my kit
And the exercise keeps me awfully fit
Once I begin I work like sin
I'm full of go and grit.

Chorus: I'm Gilbert the Filbert the Knut with a K
The pride of Piccadilly the blasé roué
Oh Hades, the ladies, who leave their wooden huts
For Gilbert the Filbert the Colonel of the Knuts.

Lyrics by Arthur Wimperis & music by Herman Finck - 1914
Performed by Basil Hallam 




Monday 5 September 2016

Ruhleben WW1 Internment Camp, Germany

A report in “The Times” newspaper of 9th January 1916 gives us a good deal of information about those civilians who were interned in the camp at the outbreak of WW1.  Ruhleben Internment Camp was situated on a race track about six miles west of Berlin.

A party of released internees travelled through Holland on their way to Britain.  Those released were men from many different countries “Aden, Burma, Jamaica, and from other parts of the Empire”.  In the main they had been crew members on board merchant ships but others had been working in hotels and restaurants as waiters and so on.  

Interviewed by newspaper reporters eager for news, the released prisoners said they were very grateful indeed for the parcels that were regularly received at the camp containing butter, bacon, milk and white bread.   They were also very grateful for the hospitality they received from the Society of Friends as they travelled to freedom through neutral Holland.

On New Year’s Day 1916, internees performed a pantomime – Cinderella – in front of an audience that included the American Ambassador in Berlin, some of the female employees of the American Embassy and German Army officers on duty at the camp with their wives.

By January 1916, detainees had organised themselves to make internment as bearable as possible and the camp was set up with a wide variety of facilities for prisoners, including the possibility of studying for exams – lessons were held in Greek and Latin as well as modern languages such as Russian, French and German.   Golf, hockey, lacrosse, Rugby and Association football were played and matches were held.  There was even a magazine.  A jockey – Mr H.W. Dye – told reporters there were a dozen or so jockeys in the Camp.   One of the released mentioned that those German officers who spoke English were almost always more considerate than officers who did not speak English. 

Source:  "The Times" 9th January 2016 and various Internet sites.

Picture - from the camp magazine Ruhleben in Winter.

Saturday 20 August 2016

Sir John Lavery (1856 - 1941) - Irish Artist

Born in Belfast, Northern Ireland on 20th March 1856, John Lavery studied art at the Haldane Academy in Glasgow, Scotland before going to study in Paris.  Lavery was commissioned to paint the visit of Queen Victoria to the Glasgow International Exhibition in 1888 which brought him to the public's attention.  He moved to London and began painting society people, becoming friendly with the Asquith family.    In 1889, Lavery married Kathleen McDermott who sadly died of TB not long after giving birth to their daughter, Eileen (1890 - 1935) who became Lady Sempill.   

In 1909 Lavery married Hazel Martyn who was an Irish-American socialite who had a daughter - Alice Trudeau - who became Lavery's step-daughter.   Hazel became Lavery's model.

Lavery was appointed as an official war artist during the First World War but was injured in a car crash during a Zeppelin air raid and was therefore unable to travel to the Western Front.  He remained in Britain and painted scenes in military bases, military hospitals, naval shipyards, munitions factories, planes, Zeppelins and ships.   Knighted after the war, Lavery was elected to the Royal Academy.

He travelled widely between the wars exhibiting his work in Europe and spending winters in Morocco where he purchased a house.

Sir John Lavery died on 10th January 1941 in Ireland and was buried in Putney Vale Cemetery in London.

Right:  "Woman with Golden Turban" a painting of Hazel Lavery by her husband.

With thanks to William Bulcke of the Facebook Group Women in the Great War and Elena Branca of the Italian Red Cross whose posts of some of Lavery's WW1 paintings prompted me to research him.

Thursday 18 August 2016

Joe English (1882 - 1918) - Belgian artist and graphic designer

Joseph Alphonse Marie English was born on 5th August 1882 in Bruges, Flanders, Belgium, one of thirteen children.   His father, Henry English was Irish from Waterford and his mother, Marie Dinnewet, was Flemish from Bruges. Joe's father started an embroidery workshop in Bruges and Joe's mother was from an artistic family.  Joe studied art at the municipal college in Bruges and then at the Royal Academy in Antwerp, where he worked with the artist Juliaan Devriendt.

In 1910, Joe married Elisa Goederne, a singer and piano teacher who he met in Antwerp.  The couple moved to Bruges and had two children.

Called up to military service at the outbreak of WW1, Joe was sent to the front.  He became the official war artist of the Belgian Army and designed the headstones that commemorated the lives of Flemish soldiers killed during the war.   He also painted many pictures, designed posters and drew sketches and cartoons.  Joe died of an untreated appendicitis in the military hospital L'Océan 2 at Vinkem on 31st August 1918.   He was buried in the military cemetery at Steenkerke in Belgium.  In 1930, his body was re-buried in the crypt of the Yser Tower (Ijzertorencrypte), which was constructed in 1925.

Every year there is a Flemish national gathering called The IJzerbedevaart (Pilgrimage of the Yser) which has been held annually since 1920, the first one being held at the grave of Joe English.

Belgium is more or less divided into two parts with the capital city, Brussels, being rather more multi-cultural and where French is predominantly spoken - Flanders to the west where Flemish (Dutch) is spoken and Wallonia to the east where French is spoken and there is a German-speaking area.

My thanks to Geoff Harrison and Simon Jones for posting Joe's poster warning of the dangers of the ordnance left over from the First World War.

Pictures:  Self portrait by Joe English and the warning poster he designed.

Wednesday 17 August 2016

George Washington Lambert (1873 - 1930) - Australian WW1 official war artist

George Washington Lambert (1873 - 1930) was born in St. Petersberg, Russia in 1873 and emigrated to Australia with his mother in 1887. After studying art in Australia, he spent a year studying art in Paris in 1900, later moving to London where he exhibited his work at the Royal Academy between 1904 and 1911.   Lambert was appointed official war artist and was attached, as an Honorary Lieutenant, to the Australian Imperial Force in 1917 when he went to Palestine to paint scenes of the battlefields.   In 1919, he was appointed official war artist to paint the scenes in Gallipoli.  Lambert died in Cobbitty, New South Wales, Australia on 29th May 1930.

You can see more of Lambert's work by following this link

With thanks to the British & Commonwealth Forces Facebook Page

Painting by Lambert Trenches at Beersheba, looking towards Tel el Saba, 11th March 1918.

Monday 25 July 2016

Book Review: "Bicycles, Bloomers and Great War Rationing Recipes"

“On Bank Holiday (1914) war was the only topic of conversation. In three months the whole affair would be over. A retired colonel assured me that everything was arranged.  Yet in spite of that assurance, a week or two later wounded men were loaded into filthy cattle rucks; the dead, the dying and the wounded were crowded together in ships and in the Casino at Boulogne, hastily converted into a hospital, the stretchers were packed close on the floors, the veranda, and the garden paths, and the cries of men, to whom no attention could be given, were heard throughout the night.” From “How we lived then” by Dorothy Peel, p. 106 - quoted in “The Life and Times of Dorothy Peel, OBE Bicycles, Bloomers and Great War Rationing Recipes”.

Dorothy Peel was way ahead of her time – she would have been the star of The Great British Bake-off, Ready Steady Cook and Dragons’ Den, for she not only earnt her own living writing for women’s newspapers and national newspapers like the “Daily Mail”, but she also wrote novels, recipe books and books about home economics.  Dorothy also opened and ran a hat shop, as well as carrying out charity work, marrying, bringing up children and managing her household.   Not many people know that in the First as well as the Second World Wars food in Britain was rationed – it was for her services to the nation in that field during those dark days that Dorothy was awarded an OBE.

This book is an extremely valuable social history, giving us an insight into the way of life in Britain in the years leading up to 1914 - as you can see from the quote above.  Also included are descriptions of what women wore both before, during and after The First World War, how people behaved and what people ate, how houses were decorated, advice on thrift, decorating the home and much more.  There are also some wonderful WW1 photographs from the family’s private album, as well as cartoons, quotes from Dorothy Peel’s books - there are even a few lines of poetry - together with Dorothy’s quotes, comments and advice that still ring true today.

Vicky Straker, Dorothy Peel’s great-great granddaughter has put together a fantastic book with a great deal of information, copious notes, an extensive glossary and, dulcis in fondo, lots of mouth-watering recipes (including modern conversion tables and instructions) which I for one cannot wait to try out.  I have learnt a great deal - would you know what a “Fly” was?  Or what were “pattens”?

There is so much that I really like about the book that it is very hard to pick out just a few items, but I particularly liked mention of The Daily Mail newspaper’s revised fashion headline as the war continued of “What Women Can Do” to help the war effort.  Also Vicky’s explanations of Dorothy’s philosophy on life and her down-to-earth, no-nonsense, sympathetic attitude to everything from the way people wore their hair to the trial and death of Oscar Wilde.   Had she been alive today, Dorothy would make a wonderful Member of Parliament and a brilliant Prime Minister.    

I love this book - it will be read and re-read - and I look forward to trying out all the recipes. 

“The Life and Times of Dorothy Peel, OBE Bicycles, Bloomers and Great War Rationing Recipes” by Vicky Straker, published by Pen & Sword History, an imprint of Pen & Sword Books Ltd., Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2016.

Saturday 23 July 2016

Italian assault troops in WW1

I discovered an interesting WW1 commemorative Facebook Group called Arditi della Grande Guerra, which I assumed meant ‘The Brave of the Great War’.

Now, however, thanks to Elena Branca of the Red Cross, I know that the Arditi were a group of Italian assault troops – like the British Commandos and the American Navy Seals.   The Italian Arditi were formed on 29th April 1917.  Italy declared war on the Austro-Hungarian Empire on 23rd May 1915 and on Germany on 29th August 1916 and fought with the Allies on the Italian Front.

Fighting was fierce on the Italian front and many British were killed during WW1 and are buried in Italy, among them Vera Brittain’s brother.
The Arditi had a fighting song which is seen here on the left.

Sunday 17 July 2016

The Chinese in the First World War

In “The Times” of Saturday, 16th July 2016, Allan Mallinson, author of books about the First World War (“Too Important for the Generals:  Losing and Winning the First World War”.- Penguin Random House, London), reviews several very interesting books about WW1.   Among them I noticed “Betrayed Ally China in the Great War”.

Having tried to include as many countries of the war in my commemorative exhibition project, I managed to find Bing Xin, a Chinese poet who is included in Volume 1 of Female Poets of the First World War.  I only recently became aware of the important contribution of the Chinese to the Allied Cause in WW1 – when I read about Canadian artist Mary Riter Hamilton who lived for three years from May 1919 among the Chinese Labour Corps workers who cleared away the debris after the conflict.

The entry in my list of Female Poets of the First World War (see weblog :


Initially neutral, sent a large contingent of men - Chinese Labour Force - to help the Allies behind the lines.  Declared war on Germany on 14th August 1917.   Chinese Labour Force workers cleared away the debris left by the war.

Bing XIN (1900 – 1999) - Chinese poet.

I understand that there is a special Cemetery on the Western Front in France dedicated to the memory of the Chinese who died during that time -

Mallinson says: “While the fighting in Africa and the Middle East generally receives attention, the contributions of British and French imperial troops, the war in China and the part played by the Chinese in Europe are not.  British troops skirmished with German troops on the Chinese mainland and in 1917 Cjhina, like the United States of America, declared war on the Central Powers.  An army of Chinese labourers the size of the original British Expeditionary Force (some 140,000) on the Western Front maintained roads and railways, dug reserve trenches and worked in French factories, 10,000 of them dying in the process.  Another 200,000 served in Russia, most of them caught up subsequently in the Revolution, of whose individual fate little is known.” 

“Betrayed Ally”  by Frances Wood and Christopher Arnander is published by Pen & Sword, Barnsley and is available via Amazon and the Pen & Sword website. 

“The Times” Saturday, July 16 2016, page 85.

Saturday 16 July 2016

Colin Gill (1892 - 1940) - British artist

Colin Unwin Gill was born in Bexleyheath, south-east London on 12th May 1892, the eldest of three sons born to George Joseph Gill, a civil servant with the Metropolitan Water Board, and his wife Sarah Sharey Gill, nee Driver.

Colin studied art at the Slade Art School in London and in 1913 won a scholarship to the British School in Rome.  He joined the Royal Garrison Artillery as Second Lieutenant in WW1 and served on the Western Front.

 Seconded to the Royal Engineers as a Camouflage Officer, he was invalided back to Britain in March 1918 due to gas poisoning.   After recuperation on the Isle of Wight, Colin returned to the Western Front as an official war artist.

 After the war, he returned to Rome to finish his studies.  Colin painted murals and portraits but is perhaps best remembered for his WW1 work.  He died in South Africa while working on an assignment on 16th November 1940.

Gunnery Officers correcting their Battery fire by field telephone from a disused trench in No Man's Land.

Sources:  Wikipedia and "Images of the Great War" by Lawrence Dunn, published by Austin Macaulay Publisher, London, 2015.

Monday 11 July 2016

John Morse - an Englishman in the Russian Army during WW1

John Morse was travelling in France and Germany on a combined business/holiday when war broke out in August 1914.  He crossed from Alsace in France into Germany during the last days of peace in July 1914 and was rather surprised to see the amount of military activity going on in Germany, especially compared to France.  

Morse wrote a book about his adventures after the war, describing his escape to Poland and how he joined the Russian Army to fight alongside them before being taken prisoner of war by the Germans.  If you have time, do look at the book which is available as a free download on Archive:
"An Englishman in the Russian Army" by John Morse  

Friday 8 July 2016

Remembering Hospital Ship "Vpered" sunk on 8th July 1916

Remembering all those who died when the Imperial Russian Hospital Ship ”Vpered” was torpedoed and sunk in the Black Sea on 8th July 1916 by German U-Boat U-38.   She was off the Turkish Coast.

Wednesday 15 June 2016

Cyrus Cuneo (1879 - 1916) - Official First World War Artist

Few people these days have heard of one of the official First World War Artists, Cyrus Cincinato Cuneo.  This year marks the centenary of his death.  

Cyrus Cuneo, father of Terence Cuneo who was also an artist, was born in San Francisco in 1879.  His parents were John Cuneo and his wife Annie, nee Garaboldi, of Italian origin.  Cyrus's  brothers Rinaldo and Egisto were also artists but his sisters Erminia, Clovinda and Evelina preferred music.

Cyrus demonstrated artistic ability at an early age and worked hard to save enough money to study art in Paris.   With his brother Rinaldo, Cyrus, who was very athletic, became a boxer, entering contests and winning prizes.  Cyrus became Flyweight Boxing Champion in San Francisco.   By 1896, he had enough money to go to Paris where he enrolled at the Academie Colarossi and was a pupil of the artist Whistler.

Six years later, Cyrus went to live in England where he married one of his classmates from Paris - Nellie Marion Tenison - in Fulham in 1903.   In 1911, the couple lived in Uxbridge Road, Hammersmith, London with their two children Desmond and Terence, and Nellie's mother.  Cyrus worked as an illustrator for publications such as "The Strand Magazine" and the "Illustrated London News".  He also produced illustrations for some of the best known writers of the era such as Arthur Conan Doyle,  E.W. Hornung (both of whom were members of the J.M. Barrie recreational cricket team) and H. Rider Haggard, to name but a few.  Cyrus was a member of the Royal Institute of Oil Painters and his work was exhibited at The Royal Academy.

When King Edward VII died on 6th May 1910, Cyrus went without sleep for four nights and worked solidly to produce four double page spreads of the funeral for the "Illustrated London News".   When the First World War broke out, Cyrus became an official War Artist.   One of his paintings was auctioned in 1915 and raised sufficient funds to purchase two ambulances which were sent to France bearing the inscription "The Cyrus Cuneo Ambulance". 

Cyrus died on 23rd July 1916 after a brief illness at the age of 37 after having been accidentally stabbed with a hatpin at a dance.

Monday 13 June 2016

Bombing Raids on Civilian Targets during WW1

There appears still to be little public knowledge of the air raids that took place in the UK during the First World War.  Most people know about the bombardment of Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby from the sea on 16th December 1914 by German Battlecruisers but there were also Zeppelin raids during the First World War and later bombs were dropped from Gotha Gv bomber planes.

An eye witness who was five years old and living in South London was witness to a burning Zeppelin and described how women came out of their houses shaking their fists and shouting obscenities at the burning airship.
In September 1916, Zeppelin raids on the UK were scaled back in favour of Gothas and the first air raid by Gotha Gv bombers took place in May 1917.

The last Zeppelin raid was in August 1918 when 4 airships bombed targets in the Midlands and the North of England.
In all, 557 civilians were killed, 1,358 were injured and 5,000 bombs were dropped with £1.5 million worth of damage done.  Among the dead were 18 primary school children who were killed when a bomb was dropped on their primary school in Poplar on 5th June 1917.   The raid was described at the time by Commodore Lionel Carlton as being "the beginning of a new epoch in the history of warfare…".  Prophetic words.,_Hartlepool_and_Whitby

CROSS, Robin "World War I in Photographs".- Paragon, Avonmouth, 1996.

Monday 30 May 2016

Reflections on the Battle of Jutland by a nurse on the Hospital Ship "Plassy"

Battle of Jutland, 31st May 1916

By kind permission of Andrew of the Facebook Page Hospital Ships of the Grand Fleet 1914 – 18, where you will find many more very good post - 

Here is a report from a nurse who served on the Hospital Ship Plassy - two days after the Battle:

HMHS "Plassy"
From the Diary of Charlotte Amy Clarke:

“2nd June 1916 Friday

News at last of the most exciting kind! We received orders early to proceed at once down to the Forth Bridge and prepare to take in patients as the ships came in.
There had been a tremendous battle and I am afraid we have lost a good many ships, including some say the "Queen Mary" but I do hope that is not true. As we got to anchor the ships began to come in, “The Lion”, “The Tiger”, “The Princess Royal”, “The Southampton”, “The Birkenhead”, (our late rival) the ————- who was to have been our next opponent. Besides destroyers steamed passed us and we gave them our cheer. They did not look much the worse except for a few ominous looking holes, but inside some of them there had been inferno but a few short hours before.

Crowded on the decks in most varied rig, we're the survivors from the poor lost ships. The men all looked cheery even at that hour one could hardly believe all that they must have gone through. I much regret that I did not take any photographs as they came in, but we were expecting patients at any moment“, so did not dare go away.
So they began to arrive, drifters by the dozen, six or seven deep on ten port and starboard sides waiting to unload their sad burdens. Poor men they almost all had their faces and hands tied up. We started about 11 am and by 12.30 had taken in over 100 and they said the worse ones, at least 90 cot cases, were still to come. We got them all into bed as quickly as possible, no easy job sometimes, and fed them with beef tea and the bad ones with brandy and left them to settle down a bit before we attempted their dressings.

We washed up and snatched a little lunch as we could then the bad cases began to come in. Poor things it was pitiful to see some of them, with legs off and arms off, and some fearfully burnt, face, arms and body. We even had destroyers up alongside discharging patients directly on board."
Photo:  HMT "Plassy" lying off Netley Sound in Southampton Water c. 1909.  Photo taken by A. Pritchard MLNA.

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Roland Garros (1888 - 1918) - French aviator

Eugène Adrien Roland Garros was born on 6th October 1888 in Saint-Denis, France.   He obtained his pilot’s licence in July 1910 and in 1913 was the first person to fly non-stop from Fréjus in the south of France across the Mediterranean to Bizerte in Tunisia. 

When war broke out, Roland joined the French Army and was credited with having destroyed a German Zeppelin, killing its two pilots, on 3rd August 1914.   Taken prisoner of war in April 1915 when he was forced to land due to a jammed petrol tube, Roland finally managed to escape in February 1918.  He rejoined the French Army and was shot down and killed in September 1918 near Vouziers in the Ardennes.

Roland was a keen sportsman and played tennis at a club in Paris in his spare time.  During the 1920s the Centre was named after him.  Et voilà – Stade Roland Garros

Sunday 22 May 2016

The Battle of Jutland, 1916

An interesting, well-researched documentary was shown about the Battle of Jutland by Channel 4 on Saturday 21st May 2016.  New technology enabled divers to have a close look at the wrecks lying on the bed of the North Sea.   It is hard for us these days to imagine what life was like in WW1 when ordinary folk did not have telephones at home and there was no television or radio (wireless).

During the First World War, Cecil Roberts was a young journalist working for the “Liverpool Echo”.  In early May 1916 Roberts went with a party of other journalists on a “special naval mission” to “see the Navy in its various activities”.  They visited ships, arsenals and building yards around the coast of Britain.   After meeting Vice-Admiral Sir David Beatty on HMS. Lion at Rosyth, they went to Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, which Admiral Sir John Jellicoe had decided was the safest harbour for the main British Fleet.  Although Scapa Flow was too far north to protect the east coast from the German bombardments (Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool, December 1914), it meant that the German fleet were “bottled up… save for the odd hit-and-run exploit.”

Roberts interviewed Sir John Jellicoe aboard HMS Iron Duke.  As an amateur pianist himself, he asked the Admiral if he played the baby grand piano that was in the Admiral’s cabin. ”Very badly,” replied the Admiral.  With regard to the war, Sir John Jellicoe warned: “The main danger which we have to guard against is that of the Fleet being forced to make false strategic moves owing to some outcry being caused by people who think that unless guns are being fired, or the Fleet is constantly in the vicinity of the enemy coast, the Navy is not doing its work to win the war.”

The British Navy had not seen significant action since the Battle of Trafalgar on 21st October 1805 but warfare had been very different back then when there were no submarines or mines.   Sir John Jellicoe knew that, compared to British ships, the German ships were faster and better equipped with thicker armour plating.  German ships had better range-finders and optical instruments for gunnery.  However, Jellicoe’s warning to the Admiralty of July 1914 about the inferiority of British ships, went unheeded.

According to Roberts, ‘Our shells were inferior… the magazine chambers had dangerous defects, ship design was faulty and our cordite was defective, being unstable at high temperatures’.    Writing in 1968, Roberts added a note with regard to those defects which were the possible cause of the sudden explosions that destroyed Vanguard, Bulwark, Natal, Princess Irene and Glatton.   This would indeed seem to have been the case, for the documentary showed a German ship that, in spite of having been hit 24 times by British shells, was afloat and had to be scuttled with most of her crew still on board to avoid her falling into British hands.

After the Battle, Roberts went to a lot of trouble to try to find out the truth and came to the conclusion that, while the Germans could claim a ‘tactical success’, they “never again dared to challenge the British Fleet”.  Their ships “rotted in the harbours with deteriorating crews” and they were “forced to resort to unrestricted submarine warfare which in turn failed and brought in the U.S.A.”  Roberts felt that Jellicoe was right to urge caution and had the British Fleet engaged the German ships at Jutland, there would have been a far greater loss of life and shipping on both sides.

Cecil Roberts “The Years of Promise” (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 1968), Chapter Three “Beatty, Jellicoe and Jutland”, pp. 89 – 133.

Illustration: A painting by Charles Dixon, RI entitled "Windy Corner, Battle of Jutland" - depicting HMS "Bellerephon", a Dreadnought.

Monday 16 May 2016

Why the Laughing Cow laughs and how she got her name

Most people have heard of the Paris taxis drafted in to help during the Battle of the Marne in WW1 but there is another interesting fact relating to Parisian transport.
Once it became clear that the war was going to last, getting supplies of fresh food to the large number of troops in the war zone became a problem.  Until that time, wagons with horses were the main means of taking supplies to troops at the front in wartime.   With the vast numbers of troops involved and the terrain of the Western Front in WW1, it was clear that a more efficient means was required.  And so Parisian buses – motorized transport - were drafted in and modified to take much needed supplies of fresh food to the front.
A special unit was set up to transport fresh meat called in French Ravitaillement de Viande Fraiche and known as RVF.  This organization was divided into sections and each section had their own logo to identify their vehicles. Animals were chosen – a cow, a monkey, stork, dog, goose, etc. - and a competition was held to find the most suitable drawings to be used on each section’s buses. 
German supplies of fresh food were transported in motorized vehicles with the insignia “Walkirie” and French Cartoonist Benjamin Rabier won the prize for his drawing for a logo for Section B70 of the RVF.  Rabier decided to parody the German Walkirie emblem which referred to the Valkyries, made famous by Wagner in “The Ride of the Valkyries”.  Rabier drew a parody of the German logo - a laughing cow under the banner “Wachkyrie” which looks remarkably like “vache qui rit”, meaning laughing cow.
The design was accepted by the authorities, on whom the ironic humour was not lost, and it was duly installed on the eight buses of Section B70.
One of the drivers of the eight buses in Section B70 of the RVF was a certain Leon Bel, a cheese maker from Comté in France, who was 36 at the start of WW1. He was assigned to the RVF as a driver. 
When Leon Bel started France’s first industrial cheese making concern in 1921, he drew a cartoon representation of a cow to use as a company logo.  However, he wasn’t completely satisfied with his drawing and so he contacted his old friend Benjamin Rabier, who came up with the design we know today – the head of a cow laughing - wearing the now famous round cheese boxes as earrings.  
With thanks to the Facebook Group Hommage aux Poilus for bringing this to my attention.

Thursday 17 March 2016

Australian WW1 Soldiers buried in Wiltshire Villages, UK

I have recently been in touch with a lady called Cathy Sedgwick from Australia who has been researching Australian soldiers who died during the First World War and are buried in the United Kingdom.  I posted some information about those in the Wiltshire village of Compton Chamberlayne some time ago and will re-post shortly in the light of what I have since found out.  This is what Cathy said:

"My name is Cathy Sedgwick. I am a 54 year old stay at home housewife with 2 adult sons – aged 23 and nearly 20 and I live in Sydney, Australia.  I started researching my Family tree on my father’s side almost 10 years ago as my parents had divorced when I was around 12 years old and I knew very little about my father’s side of the family – except for his brothers and sisters and my grandmother.

Then I moved on to my husband’s side to research. He was born in England and moved to Australia when he was 7 years old. After researching the Sedgwick name back to 1750’s I then moved on to my mother-in-law’s side of the family tree. Her grandfather lived in Dinton, Wiltshire around 1920 until his death in mid 1960’s. He was Chauffeur and right hand man to Bertram Philipps, who bought Dinton House which was later renamed ‘Philipps House’.

While researching the parish of Dinton, I came across a family history website based on the county of Wiltshire, where you “adopt” a village and therefore the page on the website. So I volunteered to take on the Dinton page.  As there is very little information as in Census etc. for the time period between 1920-1960, I learnt a lot about the village itself by doing research – through newspaper articles, persons of interest, listed buildings, names on the War Memorial and photos.

While researching Dinton, I came across the nearby village of Compton Chamberlayne which had 28 Australian Soldiers buried there. Being an Australian I felt a need to explore this and as the tiny parish had no-one looking after it on the website – I took that on.   Thankfully, a lovely man by the name of Andrew Stacey (who I had contacted out of the blue to ask permission to use his photos of Dinton) went to Compton Chamberlayne on one of his visits to the area and took photos of all the graves in the cemetery. I then research all the War Graves and completed 5-7 page biographies on each of the Australian Soldiers.

I then discovered that another village – Codford had 31 Australian Soldiers and 66 New Zealand soldiers buried in one of their cemeteries. I emailed around and a lovely lady by the name of Romy Wyeth – an author of several books on Codford - went & photographed all the War Graves for me. So I completed biographies on all those.

I then discovered that Durrington had 141 Australian Soldiers so took that on as well as Baverstock – 29 Australian Soldiers - and then Sutton Veny which has 141 Australian soldiers and 2 Australian nurses. I have completed biographies for all 169 War Graves in Sutton Veny which will soon be available on the Sutton Veny village website.

I am no longer volunteering on the family history website – due to issues with the Administrator. I did have 13 parishes that I was looking after and completed biographies for the names on the War Memorials in the villages I looked after.

I am almost finished researching all 227 War Graves in Durrington, Wiltshire as a favour to Dave Healing from Durrington who helped me out many times with the Durrington page. I hope that the biographies will be available on the Durrington Council website – but have had some interest from Amesbury History Museum.

In between completing the Durrington War Graves - I am working my way through the Australian soldiers who died in WW1 and are buried in England. There are almost 2,500. My work is now being accepted on the Australian website – WW1 Australian Soldiers & Nurses who Rest In The United Kingdom: