Tuesday 25 September 2018

Review: “Pill Boxes on the Western Front - A Guide to the Design, Construction and Use of Concrete Pill Boxes 1914 – 1918” by Peter Oldham, Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2011

In the UK, we still see quite a few pill boxes that were used for home defence during the Second World War but I did not realise that pill boxes were in use during the First World War!  This wonderful book puts that right.  More than that, reading it was like finding some lost pieces of jigsaw puzzle – the history of WW1 now makes far more sense to me.

After the general introduction, Chapter One deals with the history of the use of concrete, which, something else I didn’t know, dates back to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks and Romans.  “With the departure of the Romans … the art of concrete making was forgotten.  The Saxons blended local limestone with burnt lime in about 700 AD…” (p. 9).  The build up of French and Belgian defences  following the Franco Prussian War is also covered. 

Chapter Two deals with the German Schlieffen Plan and ‘the line of trenches from Nieuport on the Belgian coast to Pfetterhouse on the Swiss border.’ (p. 14). 

Chapter Three, entitled “British Findings” explains the British High Command’s attitude to pill boxes, with their constant offensive policy which felt that “good shelter from shell fire would sap the morale of troops, who were better off in their wet trenches.  If British troops must have the luxury of strong concrete blockhouses, let them take them from the Germans”. (p. 21).  But the problem with doing that of course, meant the pill box was facing the wrong way!  The difficulties of supplying both German and British engineers with concrete are also explained in detail. 

Chapter Four discusses different pill box designs, Chapter Five deals with camouflage (ingenious), Chapter Six is about Defence Lines and Chapter Seven Coastal Defences in Britain and Belgium. The book is also full of the most wonderful photographs of pill boxes, with very detailed plans and drawings of how they were made.  Also included is a Glossary of terms and a comprehensive Index.

There is an extremely important Guide to Pill Boxes and Bunkers still in existence on the British Section of the Western Front in a Chapter entitled “Gazetteer”.  This goes from page 119 to page 168 and is a must for anyone visiting the cemeteries and battlegrounds of WW1 from the Belgian Coast to St. Quentin in France. “Visitors to pill boxes, bunkers, observation boxes or shelters are reminded that many are on private land and this should be respected.”  Care should be taken because “… danger lurks about some bunkers through extruding steel bars, difficult exits, slippery footholds and the ever-present possibility of live shells and small arms ammunition.” (p. 120).

I was interested to learn that on 7th April 1918, Roberta McAlpine, daughter of Sir Robert McAlpine, whose construction company carried out a great deal of work for the British in WW1, married Major Richard Lloyd George of the Royal Engineers, whose Father was the British Prime Minister at that time.

Another interesting account quotes German writer, Erich Maria Remarque (“All Quiet on the Western Front”), who sheltered from a bombardment in a concrete shelter which “was able to withstand a direct hit, although cracking along all joints and filling with sulphur fumes.  Remarque was thankful that he and his comrades were not in one of the lighter, more recent dug-outs, in which they would not have survived.” (p. 78)

Peter Oldham has a wealth of experience to bring to the writing of this book, since he worked in the production and supply of aggregates and concrete to the building industry.  That explains his interest in the pill boxes of the Western Front.  I found the book utterly fascinating.  Although Peter goes into a great deal of detail describing the supply and construction of these defence structures, the book is not just about pill boxes.  Peter also explains in detail how the war came to last so long by describing the incredible lengths the Germans went to digging in, constructing and camouflaging their lines of defence.

A review can’t do justice to this fantastic book – I urge you to read it for yourself.  For further details, as well as information about all their wonderful books, check out the Pen & Sword website https://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/

Lucy London, September 2018

Tuesday 18 September 2018

Ernest Bristow Farrar (1885 - 1918) – British composer and musician

Ernest was born in Lewisham, London, UK.  His father, Charles Druce Farrar, was an Anglican clergyman who became Vicar of Mickefield, Tadcaster, Yorkshire in 1887.  Ernest’s mother was Rose Alice Farrar, nee Handyside, originally from Wales.  Ernest had the following siblings: Ethel Rose, b. 1883 and Cecil Francis, b. 1889.   Educated at Leeds Grammar School, he studied the organ and in May 1905 was awarded a scholarship to study at the Royal College of Music. Ernest studied under Sir Charles Villiers Stanford and Sir Walter Parratt.   After studying, Ernest worked as an organist in Yorkshire.

Ernest married Olive Mason in South Shields in 1913.  In 1915, Ernest joined the Grendier Guards. He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant into the 3rd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment on 27th February 1918.  During home leave in the summer of 1918, Ernest conducted the premiere of his final work, "Heroic Elegy", which was dedicated to fallen comrades.

Ernest was killed on the Western Front during the Battle of Epehy Ronssoy, near Le Cateau in the Somme Valley, west of Cambrai, on 18th Spetember 1918, having returned to the Western Front just two days previously.  He was buried in Ronssoy Communal Cemetery, Ronssoy, Departement de la Somme, Picardie, France - Grave/Memorial Reference: 9679560

Musical compositions by Ernest Bristow Farrar include “The Blessed Damozel”, “Celtic Suite”,
"The Forsaken Merman", "English Pastoral Impressions"and a song cycle entitled “Vagabond Songs”.



Photo from Bobb Edwards on https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/9679560

Wednesday 12 September 2018

Ernest Howard (E.H.) Shepard (1879 - 1976) – British artist

Perhaps most famous for his illustrations of the A.A. Milne stories about Winnie-the-Pooh

Ernest Howard Shepard, known as ‘Kip’ (from the musical hall term ‘giddy kipper’ meaning someone who was excitable), was born on 10th December 1879 in St. John’s Wood, London, UK.  He was the second son and youngest child of Henry Shepard, an architect, and his wife, Jessie, nee Lee.  Jessie was a daughter of William Lee the artist who co-founded “Punch” magazine.  Ernest had a sister, Ethel, J., b. 1877 and a brother, Cyril H., b. 1878. As a child he was interested in the Army and in guns and how they worked.

The children’s mother, Jessie, died when Ernest was ten years old.

Educated at Colet Court preparatory school, then St. Paul’s School, London, where his uncle was a master, Ernest studied art at Heatherley School of Fine Art.   He went on to win a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy Schools.  In 1901, Ernest had two works accepted by the Royal Academy for their Summer Exhibition.  He also drew cartoons for the magazine “British Boys”.

Ernest’s father died in 1902.  Ernest met a fellow art student called Florence Chaplin, known as “Pie”, and they were married in 1904.   In 1906, Ernest had his first illustration published in “Punch”.

When war broke out, Ernest volunteered to join the Army and joined the Royal Artillery on 14th December 1915.  He served on the Western Front from 10th June 1916, seeing action during the Somme Offensive.  Ernest wrote letters home and made numerous sketches and took photographs where possible.  Ernest’s brother Cyril joined the Devonshire Regiment and was an Acting Second Lieutenant when he was killed on 1st July 1916 during the Somme Offensive.  Ernest was able to locate his brother’s grave and visited it regularly.

Ernest’s regiment of Royal Garrison Artillery also saw action during the Arras and Passchendaele Battles.  In May 1917, Ernest was awarded a Military Cross for his courage and bravery during an attack on the guns on 23rd – 24th April 1917.

After the Italian defeat at the Battle of Caporetto, Allied troop reinforcements were sent to the Italian Front. Ernest and his 105 Siege Battery were posted to Italy on 12th November 1917 and were initially based on Montello Hill, overlooking the River Piave.   During home leave in May 1918 after attending a gunnery course, Ernest received his Military Cross from King George V at Buckingham Palace.  His leave ended on 24th June 1918 and Ernest returned to Italy, where he remained until March 1919, supervising the exchange of prisoners of war, the return of displaced people to their homes, where possible, and the securing of all arms and equipment.  Ernest was promoted to Acting Major in January 1919.

After the war, Ernest continued working for “Punch” and one day a fellow “Punch” contributor, the poet E.V. Lucas, father of poet Audrey Lucas, (see https://forgottenpoetsofww1.blogspot.com/2017/10/edward-verrall-lucas-ev-lucas-1968-1938.html and
https://femalewarpoets.blogspot.com/2013/10/todays-ww1-female-poet-audrey-lucas.html), approached Ernest regarding illustrations for some verses written by A.A. Milne (https://forgottenpoetsofww1.blogspot.com/2016/07/aa-milne-1882-1956-british-writer-and.html). And so began one of the most successful collaborations in literature.  Initially published in “Punch”, “When we were Young” was published in 1924.

Ernest’s wife Florence died in September 1927.  He went on to illustrate Kenneth Grahame’s “Wind in the Willows”, which was published in 1930.  Ernest and Florence’s daughter, Mary, became an artist and illustrator and illustrated “Mary Poppins”.  Mary married Edmund Valpy Knox (E.V. ‘Evoe’) Knox (see “Arras, Messines, Passchendaele & More: Poets, Writers, Artists & Nurses in 1917 – p. 107).  Ernest’s son Graham, a Lieutenant with the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve, was killed during the Second World War when “HMS Polyanthus” was torpedoed on 19th – 20th September 1943.

Ernest married Norah Carroll, a nurse, in November 1944.   In 1954 he parted company with “Punch” after fifty years as a contributor and 20 years as Chief Cartoonist, when Malcolm Muggeridge became editor of the magazine.  Ernest was awarded an OBE in 1972 and died in Sussex in 1976.

“Shepard’s War: E.H. Shepard "The Man who Drew Winnie-the-Pooh” compiled by James Campbell (Lom Art, London, 2015) Note: pp 100 - 101 has an interesting drawing “Asiago Plateau 2 April 1918”.


Beatrice Ethel Lithiby (1889 – 1966) – British artist

Beatrice was born in Richmond, Surrey, UK on 4th December 1889. Her parents were John Lithiby (1853-1936), a barrister, and his wife Ethel Stewart Lithiby, née Smith (1860-1943), who were married in Brentford, Middlesex in 1888. By 1901, the family had moved to Porchester Square, Paddington, London, UK.  Beatrice had a brother, John S. Lithiby, who was born in 1893. Beatrice studied at the Royal Academy Schools.

During the First World War, Beatrice served initially in the British Red Cross as a volunteer worker from 29th October 1915 until 20th July 1917, in their Head Quarters at The Central Work Rooms, Royal Academy of Art, Piccadilly, London. 

She then joined Queen Mary’s Army Auxiliary Corps as an Assistant Administrator and served in France.   Realising the importance of keeping a record of events, Beatrice wrote to her superiors suggesting that she be permitted to paint some of the things she witnessed.  In February 1919, she was officially commissioned to paint the WAACs in France.  On 3rd June 1919, Beatrice was promoted to Unit Administrator.

After the death of her father on 14th February 1936, by which time he had been knighted, Beatrice set up a studio in Wantage, Berkshire.  By 1939, she was living at The Dower House, Waltham Cross, Essex.

Beatrice served again as an Army Officer during the Second World War.  She was awarded an M.B.E. and later an O.B.E.

As she grew older, Beatrice concentrated on landscape paintings. She died at The Guildry, Belmont, Wantage, Berkshire on 25th July 1966

Sources: Find my Past and


WW1 Painting by Beatrice:
Steam Laundry Abbeville
The Administrators Quarters QMAAC Queen Mary’s Camp, Calais

Photo from the Collection at the Imperial War Museum, London, UK

Tuesday 11 September 2018

Joseph Franklin Kershaw (1884 - 1917) - British Artist

Joseph Franklin Kershaw was born on 2nd May 1884 in Oldham, Lancashire, UK. His parents were Joseph Kershaw, an ironmonger, and his wife, Hannah. Educated at Oldham Hulme Grammar School, Joseph then studied at Stockport School of Art and the Royal College of Art, gaining his ARCA Diploma in 1912. In 1907, he married Effie Gregory, an art teacher and daughter of a sculptor.

On 6th June 1916, Joseph joined the British Army as a Private, serving initially with the Border Regiment. During August he transferred to 126th Company of the Machine Gun Corps (MGC). Joseph was posted to the Western Front and was wounded in the shoulder in May 1917. He recovered, returned to the fighting and was killed on 14th October 1917 during the First Battle of Passchendaele.

Joseph was buried in Coxyde Military Cemetery, West Flanders, Belgium, with the wording on his headstone specified by Effie – ‘Artist, Oldham, Lancashire’. He is also commemorated on the war memorial at Storth, Morecambe Bay, where Effie was living at the time of her husband’s death.


Thursday 6 September 2018

Stanhope Alexander Forbes (1857 – 1947) – British (Newlyn) artist

A founding member of the Newlyn (Cornwall, UK) School of Art: 'the father of the Newlyn School'

Stanhope was born in Dublin, Ireland on 18th November 1857.  His parents were William Forbes and Juliette de Guise Forbes, who was French. Stanhope’s father was British and he worked as a railway manager in Dublin before being transferred to London. Stanhope had an older brother, William, b. 1857, who became railway manager for the London, Brighton, and South Coast Railway.

Educated at Dulwich College in South London, where he was a boarder, Stanhope studied art under John Sparkes. At that time, Alexander’s father was working for the Luxembourg Railway and, as his son was not well, he took him away from Dulwich College and allowed him to study with private teachers in Brussels. When the Franco-Prussian War ended in 1871, the Forbes family returned to London. John Sparkes helped influence William Forbes to recognise his son's artistic talent and Stanhope was sent to study at the Lambeth School of Art (now called The City and Guilds of London Art School). By 1878 he was at the Royal Academy, studying under Sir Frederic Leighton and Sir John Millais. Fellow students at the academy at that time included Arthur Hacker, Henry Herbert La Thangue and Solomon J. Solomon.

In 1889, Stanhope married a fellow artist - Elizabeth Adèla Armstrong, who was born in Canada - in St. Peter's Church in Newlyn, Cornwall. The couple lived in the "Cliffs Castle" cottage, Newlyn, which overlooked the sea. They had a son named Alexander, who was born in 1894 and was known as Alec. They had a house built in Higher Faughan, Penzance. The Newlyn Art School was founded in 1899.

Elizabeth Forbes died in 1912.   In 1915, Stanhope married a family friend – artist Maudie Palmer.

During the First World War, Stanhope's son Alec served in the Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and was killed during The Somme Offensive in 1916.  He was buried in Guillemont Road Cemetery, where his headstone bears an inscription composed by his father: “HE SAW BEYOND THE FILTH OF BATTLE, AND THOUGHT DEATH A FAIR PRICE TO PAY TO BELONG TO THE COMPANY OF THESE FELLOWS”. Stanhope sculpted and erected a memorial to his son in their local parish church with the inscription: "I will get me out of my COUNTRY & from my KINDRED & from my FATHER'S house unto a LAND that GOD will shew me".

Stanhope Forbes died on 2nd March 1947.

WW1 painting “Munitions Girls, 1918”