Friday 15 December 2017

BOOK REVIEW: “Tracing your Great War Ancestors: The Egypt and Palestine Campaigns – A Guide for family historians” by Stuart Hadaway, Pen & Sword Family History, Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2017.

Just prior to the onset of the First World War, the British Navy changed from using coal to using diesel oil, which meant it was vital to keep the oil wells and the Suez Canal in Allied hands.   The Egypt and Palestine Campaigns were therefore vital, yet they are often forgotten in favour of the Western Front.   This book, which is illustrated throughout with superb photos, explains the background to the Campaigns – the signing of a secret treaty between the Ottoman Empire and Germany in August 1914 - and goes on to give detailed descriptions of the fighting in Egypt and Palestine and also explains how to go about searching for your family members who served in the armed forces during the conflict.  

Here you will find descriptions of the difference in the challenges and needs of the men fighting in a hot climate to the requirements of the Western Front, along with fascinating anecdotes such as the use of camels, elephants and mules to transport ammunition, guns, food, water, and so on.   As the granddaughter of a Gunner who served in Palestine during WW1, I was particularly interested in the detailed description of the different types of gun used by the Royal Horse Artillery, Royal Field Artillery and Royal Garrison Artillery and the logistical problems involved in getting the guns, ammunition and men to the right place at the right time on difficult terrain.

I also read with interest about the health issues of the Campaigns and the setting up of the different medical facilities – Field Ambulances, Casualty Clearing Stations, Base Hospitals and so on – again all very different to those encountered on the Western Front.

I found the following particularly helpful - the map at the beginning of the book, the detailed instructions on tracing your WW1 ancestors, a chapter on Prisoners of War, the time-line of the Campaigns from 1st August 1914 up to July 1919, an extensive further reading list.

Do you know what ‘cacelots’ are?  I didn’t either but you can find out on page 86.

Stuart Hadaway has produced a very valuable and extremely readable book and I cannot recommend it highly enough - even if you do not have ancestors who served in that theatre of the war.

“Tracing your Great War Ancestors:  The Egypt and Palestine Campaigns – A Guide for family historians” by Stuart Hadaway, published by Pen & Sword Family History, Barnsley, Yorkshire, 2017 and costs £14.99.  For further information, please see the Pen & Sword website:

Wednesday 22 November 2017

American WW1 Red Cross Cake - update

Keith Arden Colley has let me know that the cake arrived in time for Thanksgiving.

More soon...

Thursday 16 November 2017

American WW1 Red Cross Cake - baked to send across the Atlantic to the Doughboys in France

Keith Arden Colley in Texas, USA has a mobile First World War commemorative exhibition which he takes on tour.   During a recent exhibition Keith put some posts on his Facebook page and one of them I found particularly interesting.  It was a WW1 Red Cross cake recipe for a cake to be sent across the Atlantic to the troops of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF), who were known as “Doughboys” because of the shape of their hats.

I decided to make the cake and found it delicious.  Then I had an idea – why not bake a cake and send it back across the Atlantic by surface mail.  In 1917, when America joined WW1 on the side of the Allies, aeroplanes were still something very new, the first recorded flight being in 1903.

Keith thought the idea sounded great so we took some photos of the cake being packed up to send off to Keith and hope to bring you more when the cake reaches Keith.

The Recipe
2 cups brown sugar
2 cups hot water
2 tablespoons of lard (if this is not going by sea you could use an alternative fat)
1 teaspoon each of cinnamon, mixed spice and cloves
8 ozs. Raisins or Craisins – soaked in Rum
1 teaspoon Baking Soda
3 cups of flour

Preheat oven to 190 degrees. Place all ingredients in a pan – except for the flour and soda.  Bring them to the boil, stirring frequently.  Reduce the heat and simmer for 5 minutes.  Remove from the heat and cool.  Stir in the flour and soda and mix well.

Grease a loaf tin.  Pour the mix into the tin and bake for 45 minutes.  

NOTE:  I found it was better to bake the cake at a cooler temperature for longer.

For more information about Keith Arden Colley’s Mobile Commemorative WW1 Exhibition follow the link or find Keith on Facebook

For a fantastic account of the hazards of crossing the Atlantic during 1914 – 1918 see “Into the Danger Zone: Sea Crossings of the First World War” by Tad Fitch and Michael Poirier (The History Press, Stroud, Gloucestershire, UK, 2014).  You will find a review of the book in a previous post on this blog.  Tad and Michael also have a Facebook page: 

Friday 10 November 2017

HUGH GORDON LANGTON (1885 – 1917) - Violinist

A few weeks ago I saw a photograph of the grave of Hugh Gordon Langton posted on a commemorative First World War Facebook Group page.   Someone had visited the Poelcapelle British Cemetery in Belgium, noticed Hugh's grave and felt it was unusual.  I just had to find out more.

Gifted violinist Hugh Gordon Langton, was born in London and studied the violin with some of the most famous music professors of the era.  Like his father, Hugh was a Freemason. 

Hugh joined the 4th Battalion of the London Regiment during WW1 and was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele on 26th October 1917.   He was buried in Poelcapelle British Cemetery, Langemark-Poelkapelle, West Flanders, Ieper/Ypres, Belgium, Grave Reference: Sp. Mem. 3.   His Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone is unusual in that it has some musical notes engraved on it.  
A note on Hugh's memorial on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website suggested that the musical notes might have been taken from the popular song "After the Ball", a popular song written in 1891 by Charles K. Harris.  However, it occurred to me that the notes might not come from that tune, as Hugh was a classical musician.  So I asked our talented musician friend David Windle if he could identify them.  David, who is Musical Director of the Tower Circus in Blackpool, Lancashire, UK, told me that, although the tune is similar, the notes are not from "After the Ball". 

David researched Hugh’s life story and was moved to compose a piece of music with a violin cadenza in honour of Hugh Gordon Langton.  He has called the piece “Langton’s Theme” - David has written the score which includes a violin cadenza and is hoping it will be performed.  Singer Lynne Fox produced a short video to accompany the music David composed:

The local brass Band at Harelbeke near the cemetery in Belgium have also composed a piece of music which they play every year at Hugh’s graveside.

For further information about David's composition, please contact David Windle on
Here is a painting of a WW1 violinist in uniform, painted by the Scottish artist William Bernard Reid (1879–1961) - it is signed and dated 1916.

posted by Paul Simadas on the Facebook page Artists of the First World War

Monday 6 November 2017

REVIEW OF “PHOTOGRAPHING THE FALLEN: A WAR GRAVES PHOTOGRAPHER ON THE WESTERN FRONT” by Jeremy Gordon-Smith published by Pen & Sword, Barnsley, Yorkshire, UK in 2017

Jeremy Gordon-Smith has edited photographs taken by his Great-Uncle, Ivan Bawtree, who worked for the Kodak Company and who became an official photographer of war graves on the Western Front during the First World War.  Ivan worked for a special Graves Registration Unit set up during WW1 when “it was decided that each soldier, regardless of rank, should be given an individual burial with a wooden cross, later to be replaced with a headstone” (pp.13-14).  The Unit worked continuously, dangerously close to the Front Line, and in all sorts of conditions, taking photographs of the graves and cemeteries.  The photographs were developed onto glass plate negatives – fortunately Ivan made two copies – one of which he kept.  Jeremy’s father rescued the plates after Ivan’s death.   The result is an amazing book which, to my mind, is required reading for anyone visiting the cemeteries of the Western Front or anyone who had a relative killed during WW1.

Jeremy takes us on a journey of discovery from the early days of the setting up of the Imperial War Graves Commission (now known as the Commonwealth War Graves Commission) to the end of the Commission’s work on WW1 graves and cemeteries on the Western Front, which was, ironically, completed in 1938.  Also included are extracts from Ivan’s diaries and an account of the personal story of Ivan’s life up to his death in 1979 and, at one stage, he worked as an Orderly at the Field Hospital next to Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery.

Ivan’s work with the Graves Registration Unit was vital for morale, as it gave those people who were unable to visit the graves of relatives who had been killed or died. “His job facilitated a way for families to mourn their loves ones who had lost their lives in the line of duty.   His work provided relatives with something tangible of what remained of their loved one;  a window they could not otherwise have had… (p. 117).  Many of the photographs in the book remind us of those who came from far away to help the Allied cause – Australians, Canadians and the grave of Li Hung Ching, a Chinese Labour Corps worker who died on 21st January 1918 (p.218)

I particularly liked the way Jeremy has blended some of Ivan’s WW1 sepia photographs – which are amazingly clear - with recent photographs he took while re-visiting Ivan’s old haunts on the Western Front.  One photograph, taken on Whit Monday at Ypres during a sports day, shows an orchestra that  “consisted of a party of German prisoners and escort.  The prisoners performed with violins made by themselves out of cigar boxes, etc. They did very well.” (p.254).

I found this book extremely moving and it is surely a wonderful memorial to the work of Ivan and his fellow members of the Registration Unit but also to all those who were killed or died on the Western Front during WW1.

"Photographing the Fallen:  A War Graves Photographer on the Western Front 1915 – 1919” (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2017) £25.  For further information about this book or to find out about other Pen & Sword publications, please see or e-mail and/or







Tuesday 17 October 2017

Fougasse - Cyril Kenneth Bird (1887 - 1965) - British cartoonist, artist and illustrator

I first found out about Fougasse while reading “Dear Turley” – a tribute to Charles Turley Smith the writer who died in 1940.  Fougasse had illustrated one of Turley’s books and wrote a piece for the tribute - "Dear Turley" edited by Eleanor Adlard and published by Frederick Muller Ltd., London, 1942.
Cyril Kenneth Bird was born in London on 17th December 1887.  His father was company director Arthur Bird, b. 1847 and his mother was Mary Bird, b.1852, nee Wheen.   Cyril had a sister, Mary, born in 1885   He was educated at Cheltenham College and King’s College London, where he studied art at evening classes at the Regent Street Polytechnic College.

Cyril married Mary Holden Caldwell (b. 24th June 1889) on 16th September 1914 in Paddington, London.

During the First World War, Cyril joined the Royal Engineers and was badly wounded during the Gallipoli Campaign.  He took the name ‘Fougasse’ for his illustrations, as the name ‘Bird’ was already in use by an artist.  The term “fougasse” referred to a French WW1 mortar.  If you google the word these days, you will find recipes for a focaccia type bread...

While convalescing in Britain, Cyril began contributing cartoons to “Punch” “Graphic” and “Tatler” magazines and after the war he designed advertising posters as well as illustrating books.

During the Second World War, Cyril worked for the Ministry of Information and produced propaganda posters, among them the famous "careless talk costs lives" poster.

Cyril died on 11th June 1965.

Friday 1 September 2017

Book about Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire in WW1 - publication date 2nd October 2017

Well in time for our Christmas Wish Lists here is news of a WW1-related book to be published on 2nd October 2017 by The History Press.  “Sand, Planes and Submarines: How Leighton Buzzard shortened the War” by Paul Brown and Delia Gleave.   To pre-order a copy please see the following link:

I am reliably informed there will be some WW1 poems written by munitions workers and a chapter about local nurses.  Definitely a must buy.

I am reliably informed there will be some WW1 poems written by women munitions workers (see photo from the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives) and a chapter about local nurses.  Definitely a must buy.

With thanks to Elise Ward who posted mention of the poems on Debbie Cameron's Facebook Page Remembering Women on the Home Front WW1.

Friday 26 May 2017

HMHS “Dover Castle” sunk by German U-Boat on 26th May 1917

he Steam Ship “Dover Castle” was built by Barclay Curie and Company of Glasgow and launched in 1904.  She was a cargo and passenger liner built for the shipping line Union Castle.  In WW1 the ship was requisitioned by the British Admiralty for refitting and use as a Hospital Ship. 

On 4th October 1916, HMHS “Dover Castle” was able to go to the assistance of the “Franconia” another hospital ship, when she was torpedoed and sunk near Malta on her way to Salonika.   “Dover Castle” was able to save the lives of 302 of the 314 crew members of “Franconia”.

HMHS “Dover Castle” was on her way from Malta to Gibraltar when she was torpedoed and 7 stokers were killed.  The crew managed to evacuate most of the wounded to HMS “Cameleon”.  A skeleton crew stayed on board with the Captain to try and save the “Dover Castle” but she was hit by a further torpedo and sank.


Tuesday 23 May 2017

Book Review: “1001 Fantastic First World War Facts” by Scott Addington, published by Scott on Amazon –

I first heard about Scott Addington when we interviewed him about his book “Heroes of the Line” which is about Scott’s cycle pilgrimage along the Western Front from the coast to Switzerland.  (If you haven’t read that we strongly recommend you do…)

So I was very pleased to see that Scott has recently brought out another WW1 book - “1001 Fantastic First World War Facts”, which is so full of interesting facts it is hard to know which to pick for the purposes of the review. The book is divided into sections which are listed on page 11 – from Prelude to War to Remembrance and Aftermath. The facts are set out in short sentences, easy to read sentences and the book is a paperback and therefore easy to put in your pocket if you are visiting any of the graves and/or battlefields in the theatres of the war.

Scott starts by explaining how the First World War began – fact No. 14 tells us about the German Schlieffen Plan.  As my Grandfather was an Old Contemptible with the Royal Field Artillery, I was particularly interested in No. 401 on page 53, which explains that a Captain John Patrick Denny of the Royal Field Artillery formed the Old Contemptibles Association for Veterans of the British Expeditionary Force in 1925.   

On page 57, No. 445 explains Field Ambulances and Casualty Clearing Stations, while 454 reminds us that there were replica trenches dug in parks, etc. in various towns in Britain designed to show members of the public what the trench system was like.  Visitors were shown round for a small entrance fee which raised money for the wounded.

Fact 715 mentions American nurses and on page 85, Fact 753 tells us of the first use of planes for bombing.  No. 884 answers the question so many people ask as to why War Memorials say “1914 – 1919” and not “1914 – 1918”.

As an introduction to the history of the First World War this is an extremely handy and interesting book.

“1001 Fantastic First World War Facts” by Scott Addington, published by Scott on Amazon –
Follow Scott on Twitter:  @scott_addington and on Facebook:  @ScottAddingtonHistory

A follow-up book is now available as a down-load from Scott’s website - 500 Fantastic First World War Facts and you can get to it via my website -

Thursday 4 May 2017

Book Review “A Taste of Success. The First Battle of the Scarpe, 9 – 14 April 1917”

In loving memory of my Great Uncle James, who was killed on the first day of the Battle of Arras, Easter Monday, 9th April 1917, I have recently completed an exhibition about some of the soldier poets who were killed on that day. Great Uncle James, from Northfleet, Kent, UK, has no known grave but is commemorated on the Arras Memorial in France, so anything I can find out about the initial stages of the Battle of Arras is of great interest to me. 

I was, therefore, particularly interested in reading Jim Smithson’s book “A Taste of Success. The First Battle of the Scarpe, The Opening Phase of the Battle of Arras, 9  – 14 April 1917”, which has recently been published by Helion & Company of Solihull, West Midlands, UK. 

From first sight this book is wonderful and it is not easy to do justice to it in a brief review. No expense has been spared in the production of the book which compliments the time, meticulous research and dedication of the author. It is beautifully presented with copies of original photos, maps, colour photographs and a hard, coloured cover with a photograph of a tank.  I had no idea tanks were in use in WW1 before the Battle of Cambrai but now have a greater understanding of the first use of these weapons.

The Foreword has been contributed by a writer who has already written about the Battle of Arras, Jonathan Nicholls.  Written on Remembrance Sunday 2016, the Foreword sets the tone of the book.  Nicholls’ book was published during the 1980s when many of the WW1 survivors from both sides were still alive and he was able to interview then and walk the battlefields with them.

The Preface of “A Taste of Success” begins with a quotation from a poem by Siegfried Sassoon. Chapters 1 to 9 begin with quotations from poems by Edward Thomas, who was one of the poets killed on 9th April 1917 during the Battle of Arras.  Jim Smithson starts by explaining in detail the background to the Battle of Arras in 1917, going right back to the early stages of the conflict before the trenches were dug.  Detailed maps are included, as well as photographs of some of those who took part.   I was particularly interested to read the accounts of the German and French regiments involved, for instance the Moroccans in May 1915 and the New Zealand Tunnelling Company who were involved in the preparation of the tunnels made when the Allies built upon the quarries and caves underneath Arras.

I was also interested to read about the German use of bobby traps when withdrawing from areas.

On page 95 is a very comprehensive guide to the different first aid posts and hospitals to which the wounded were taken.

Smithson also goes into detail about the difficulties encountered by the British due to the sharing of the command with the French and the logistical problems of transporting and supplying the British Army’s 1.4 million troops who were based in France by 1917.  Also explained are the political arguments behind the army commanders, such as the Rome Conference in early 1917. The final chapter, “Epilogue and Conclusions” is particularly revealing.

In the Appendices you will find copies of official documents, reports and memoranda, copious notes on Sources, Bibliography and detailed lists of all the units involved in the preparations beforehand and in the Battle itself.

This compelling book is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the history of the First World War.

“A Taste of Success - The First Battle of the Scarpe, The Opening Phase of the Battle of Arras, 9  – 14 April 1917” by Jim Smithson is published by Helion & Company of Solihull, West Midlands, UK. On sale at £29.95, the book is available from Amazon, from Foyles Bookshop in London and from Thiepval Visitor Centre, and Arras Tourist Centre.

"Commemorating 1917" is an exhibition on display at The Wilfred Owen Story, Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 6AE, UK in 2017.  Opening times are 11 am till 2 pm Tuesdays - Fridays and entry is free.  If you plan to go please check with the website first so as there is someone to welcome you:


Monday 24 April 2017

The Steam Ship “Ballarat” torpedoed on 25th April 1917.

Remembering on ANZAC Day 2017 all those who lost their lives when the SS. "Ballarat" was torpedoed on 25th April 1917.

The steamship S.S. “Ballarat” was a cargo and passenger liner built in 1911 by Caird & Company in Scotland for the P & O Company and sailed the route from Britain to Australia.

The “Ballarat” was one of the many passenger liners requisitioned by the British Admiralty and converted for war service during the First World War.   The ship initially served as an Indian transport vessel before becoming a troopship, carrying Australian troops to Britain.

In February 1917, the “Ballarat” left Melbourne in Australia en route for the port of Devonport in the UK, with 1,602 Australian troops who were reinforcements from Victoria for the 2nd and 4th Australian Brigades.  She also carried a general cargo which included copper and bullion. The voyage was the ship’s thirteenth, which caused concern amongst some of the troops on board.

On 25th April, as she reached the English Channel, the Australian officers arranged a memorial service to commemorate Anzac Day.  At 14.00 hrs, as preparations were underway, a massive explosion tore a hole in the starboard side of the ship and the “Ballarat” started taking water. Despite a number of lookouts and an escorting destroyer, nobody saw the U-boat UB-32 approach and fire a torpedo.

Vessels were summoned to take the Australian soldiers and crew off the sinking vessel and within an hour all of them had been safely rescued. The “Ballarat” was taken in tow but sank in the early hours of the following morning, approximately 9 miles south of Lizard Point, Cornwall, UK, where the wreck still lies.

The Captain of Ballarat, Commander G. W. Cockman, RNR, DSO, received the congratulations of the Admiralty and the Australian troops were congratulated by the King.


Monday 17 April 2017

April 1917 was "the most disastrous month for British Merchant Shipping" due to Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

On 31st January 1917 the German Emperor, in a message to the Chief of the Naval Staff, issued an order that changed the course of the war by sea and land:  ‘I command that the unrestricted U-boat campaign shall begin on February 1st in full force’.

“The month of April 1917 was the most disastrous to British Merchant Shipping in the War.  No fewer than 997 lives were lost…  The torpedo attacks were in nearly every case without warning. (From Chapter 1, "History of the Great War The Merchant Navy Volume III", by Archibald Hurd, published by John Murray, London in 1929).

Hospital Ships sunk in April 1917 included the “Salta” (10th April), “Arcadian” (15th April), “Donegal” and “Lanfranc” (17th April).

The Steam Ship “Donegal” was a British passenger ferry.  She was built in 1904 by Caird & Co., Greenock, Scotland, for the Midland Railway Company and operated on the Heysham to Belfast route.  During WW1, the British Admiralty requisitioned several British passenger ferries for conversion into ambulance ships to carry wounded personnel from France back to hospitals in Britain.

Ambulance ships were classified as hospital ships under The Hague Convention of 1907, which dealt with the adaptation to Maritime Warfare of the principles of the Geneva Convention of July 1906. Ambulance Ships had to be clearly marked and lit to make them easy to identify. As the shipping losses grew, the UK Government announced that it would no longer give hospital ships special marking, alleging that German vessels had used their markings and lighting to target them. 
On 1st March 1917, a German U-boat attacked “Donegal” but she managed to outrun the submarine. On 17th April 1917, the “Donegal” was sunk by a German U-boat while taking 610 lightly wounded British soldiers across the English Channel from Le Havre to Southampton..  The ship sank with the loss of 29 soldiers and 12 crew members. The wreck of the SS “Donegal” is located off the coast of South-east England in the English Channel.

Lieutenant Harold Holehouse, a Royal Naval Reserve Lieutenant from the “Donegal” jumped into the sea to rescue a wounded soldier.  Unfortunately, the soldier did not recover, but the Royal Humane Society awarded Lieutenant Holehouse a Bronze Medal.

 Two of the crew members of the SS “Donegal”, Archie Jewell and John Priest, were seasoned shipwreck survivors, having served on the RMS “Titanic” and survived her sinking on 15th April 1912.  Archie Jewell had been one of Titanic's lookouts (although he was not on watch when she struck the iceberg) and John Priest was a stoker. John Priest had been on the liner RMS “Asturias” when she foundered on her maiden voyage in 1907, and on the RMS “Olympic” when she was damaged in a collision with HMS “Hawke” in 1911.

John Priest then served on the armed merchant cruiser “Alcantara” when she and the German armed merchant cruiser SMS “Greif” sank each other in February 1916. 

Jewell and Priest went on to serve on one of the sister ships of the “Titanic”- the White Star Liner  “Britannic”, which was requisitioned by the British Admiralty for conversion into a Hospital Ship.  They were both among the survivors when HMHS “Britannic” was sunk in November 1916.

John Priest survived the sinking of the “Donegal” but, sadly, Archie Jewell was killed.  John Priest was awarded the Mercantile Marine Ribbon for his service in WW1.

The S.S. “Lanfranc” was built as a passenger liner for the Booth Steamship Company of Liverpool by the Caledonian Ship and Engineering Co. in Dundee, UK.  She sailed regularly from Liverpool to Manaus in the north of Brazil.

Requisitioned and converted by the British Admiralty into a Hospital Ship during the First World War, “Lanfranc” (named after the Benedictine Monk Lanfranc of Canterbury) was ferrying wounded from Le Havre in France to Southampton in Britain on 17th April 1917 when she was torpedoed and sunk without warning.  22 British soldiers and 18 German soldiers lost their lives.

Tuesday 21 February 2017

The Steam Ship “Mendi”  was built in 1905 and launched in the June of that year. She belonged to the British and African Steam Navigation Company which was managed by Elder Dempster Lines.  Requisitioned as a troop ship during WW1 by the British Admiralty she sank on 21st February 1917.
At 05.00 a.m. on 21st February 1917, the Steam Ship “Mendi” collided in thick fog in the English Channel with the Royal Mail Packet Company’s Cargo Ship “Darro”.   646 lives were lost when the “Mendi” sank rapidly, being the smaller vessel.  The dead were mostly South African Soldiers.   WW1 Poet Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi wrote a poem about the disaster.  “We will remember them…”

Monday 20 February 2017

Book Review: "Manchester Remembering 1914-18" by Andrew Simpson (The History Press, 2017)

I was very interested indeed in the book “Manchester Remembering 1914-18”, because I began my research for a series of commemorative exhibitions with female poets of the First World War and among the first I found was Winifred Mabel Letts, who was born in Salford.   Due to her service with the Almeric Paget Military Massage Corps team as a remedial masseuse in Manchester, Winifred also comes into the category Inspirational Women.  So I found the descriptions of the temporary hospitals set up in the Manchester area to cope with the huge influx of wounded soldiers extremely informative.

I enjoyed reading about, among other things, the descriptions in the chapter entitled Out on the Town on page 20 of the entertainment on offer in Manchester during the early part of the twentieth Century.  It is all too easy for us to forget that, back then, there were no television or radio broadcasts and not every home had a telephone.

I was also interested in the social aspects of Manchester’s WW1 history – the role of women and the workers’ strikes (p. 76) which resulted in acts of parliament preventing strikes during the war years.  And a conscientious objector’s opinion on the film “Battle of the Somme” which premiered in London in August 1916, went on general release in August of that year and was seen by 20 million people in the first six weeks.

“Manchester Remembering 1914-18” also has a detailed timeline of the war years, beautiful illustrations with contemporary photographs – I had never seen a Wound Badge (page 84) - copies of posters, cameos about individual women and about soldiers in the Manchester Regiments (soldier poet Wilfred Owen was in the 5th  and 2nd Manchester Regiments), private letters and postcards sent to soldiers and civilians, chapters on the Armistice and aftermath, the legacy of the war and a postscript, plus notes on sources and a bibliography.  The book, written by former school-teacher Andrew Simpson, has been extremely well researched and is full of information about England’s second city, the very heart of the Industrial Revolution.  

“Manchester Remembering 1914-18” by Andrew Simpson, published by The History Press, Stroud, Gloucester, 2017 is on sale at £12.99 and is available from all good bookshops and online at

To find out more about Andrew Simpson’s work, check out his weblog on

Thursday 19 January 2017

January 2017 marks the Centenary of the Silvertown Munitions Factory explosion

When she was growing up, our Mother lived with her Mother and Brother in Eltham during The First World War.  Mother and Uncle often spoke about the Silvertown factory explosion in January 1917. They told me that the windows of houses were blown out - even as far as The Savoy Hotel in the centre of London - and the air was filled with burning paper.

The Silvertown Factory was built in Silvertown, West Ham, Essex in 1883 for the manufacture of soda crystals and caustic soda.  The ending of the production of caustic soda in 1912 left part of the factory idle.   In 1916, due to the shortage of shells in the British Army, the War Office took over the available part of the factory to purify the explosive TNT.

On Friday, 19th January 1917, a fire broke out at around 6 pm which, in spite of efforts to extinguish it, caused explosions the effect of which was felt for miles around. 73 people were killed, more than 400 injured and thousands left homeless.