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.