Wednesday 13 November 2019

Book Review: “Children at War 1914 – 1918” by Vivian Newman (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019)

Each year, as we near Remembrance Sunday and 11th November, we hear a great deal about the soldiers of WW1 and, occasionally, about the women who also served but I don’t remember hearing anything about the experiences of those who were children at that time, so this book is a very welcome addition to my WW1 collection.

I grew up knowing quite a bit about WW1 because my mother was four years old when her father, a professional soldier, marched away to Belgium in August 1914.  Among other things, Mother, who lived with her Mother and baby brother in south London, remembered seeing a Zeppelin burn and the aftermath of the Silvertown Munitions Factory explosion. She often spoke about her experiences during the First World War, which left a lasting impression on her. Apart from Grandmother’s struggles to keep things together with two young children, two of Mother’s Uncles lost their lives and, although Grandfather returned home, life was never the same.

Through my research for an exhibition of poetry written by schoolchildren, I knew about French and Belgian children who were orphaned during WW1 - the film “Hugo” highlights that rather well.  I also knew of the involvement of British children in the war effort and about the children of Upper North Street School in Poplar, London who were killed during a German Gotha bombing raid on 13th June 1917. However I did not realise the extent to which children from other countries were involved in WW1 until I began reading Dr. Newman’s book.

Drawing on an impressive list of resources, much of which she translated herself, Newman explores how the first global conflict affected children and young people, many of whom left diaries and accounts of what they experienced.  I did not realise there were so many children and young people on board the British Royal Mail and passenger liner  “Lusitania” when she was torpedoed and sunk.  Those accounts are particularly heart-breaking, as are the accounts of those who were killed, badly injured and/or rendered homeless during the devastating explosion that took place at the munitions factory in Silvertown.

I found a great deal in this book about which I was unaware – I was particularly interested to read accounts written by German children of what life was like for them.  All in all this is an excellent book which should be required reading in schools.

“Children at War 1914 – 1918” by Vivian Newman (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019)

Dr Newman has written several other fantastic WW1-themed books – you can find out more about them on the Pen & Sword website:

Sunday 8 September 2019

Book Review “In the Trenches: Those who were there” by Rachel Bilton (Pen & Sword Military, 2016)

“…you have got to go there…”  Jeremy Bowen, BBC War Correspondent

Having read Rachel Bilton’s excellent book “Prisoners & Escape: Those who were there”, I was really looking forward to reading “In the Trenches” by the same author. As far as I’m concerned, it is vital to read reports written by people who experienced the conflict at first hand and in this book, Bilton has compiled seventeen extremely interesting accounts that cover the war on the Western Front, Mesopotamia and Salonika. 

The first excerpt in the book, “General for a Day”, is an account by professional soldier A.P.G. Vivian of his adventures in Flanders in the early days of WW1.  Describing his Blighty treatment after being wounded, Vivian mentions Lady Astor: ”One of the most indefatigable workers in the cause of our comfort was Lady Astor, who was affectionately known among us as ‘Nancy’ and to whom I now record my thanks.” (p.18).

I am interested in the poetry of the First World War, so I was pleased to see pieces by two soldier poets/writers included – Herbert Read and Ralph Hale Mottram – both of whom served on the Western Front.

I must admit that although I enjoyed this book, I was disappointed with certain aspects. Like me, academics and purists would probably lament the absence of some sort of formal Bibliography and even the most casual reader might well appreciate a reading list, in case they wanted to read more of the various memoires from which these excerpts were originally taken.

While Bilton has included brief biographies of some of the authors, I could not help wondering why these were left out – Anthony R. Hossack, Mark Severn (who has two excerpts included), Herbert Read and F. Mitchell.   I would also like to have known the original sources of the fantastic photographs included in the centre pages of the book.

In her biography of Charles Douie (“The Authors”, p. ix), Bilton tells us that “After service on the Somme and in Flanders, he was detached from his Battalion and was in Italy when the war finished”.  As the Italian Front was my inspiration for researching the Artists of the First World War*, this has inspired me to try and read Douie’s account of his service on that Front.   I’m researching Africa in WW1 as well as the Eastern Front and Russia – other often forgotten theatres of the conflict –  and the four writers Bilton omitted from her biographies.

“In the Trenches: Those who were there” by Rabel Bilton (Pen & Sword Military, 2016) available from Amazon and all good book stores.  Further information from

The arrival of the first guns on the Carso Front
painted by Guy Lipscombe

* On the Western Front, the French victory at the Battle of Malmaison (23rd – 27th October, 1917), gave the Allies hope and control of Le Chemin des Dames.  However, as explained in the book “Our Italian Front”, “…it was a rude shock and bitter disappointment to learn of the Caporetto disaster in Italy. The collapse of the Italian second army had left a great gap in the Allies' line, and through it the Austrians, aided by a number of German divisions, were pouring down from the mountains to the plain.” (Chapter One “Our Italian Front” commentary by Warner Allen, illustrated by Martin Hardie.)

Reinforcements were therefore urgently despatched from the Western Front to the Italian Front. The enemy attack was renewed on 15th June 1918 with Austro-Hungarians troops engaging the Allies during the Battle of Piave. After fierce fighting, Austria asked for an armistice on 29th October 1918 and an armistice was signed on 3rd November at Villa Giusti, near Padua.

Monday 19 August 2019

Book Review: Jim Smithson “A Taste of Success. The First Battle of the Scarpe, Th Opening Phase of the Battle of Arras 9 – 14 April 1917” (Helion & Co., Solihull, 2017 )

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 the 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 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 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 fromThiepval Visitor Centre and Arras Tourist Centre.

Lucy London

Saturday 17 August 2019

Book Review: “Peterborough in the Great War (Your Towns and Cities in the Great War)” by Abigail Hamilton-Thompson (Pen and Sword, Barnsley, 2018)

Having been born and brought up in Peterborough, I suppose I am – like many other people – somewhat blasé about the various monuments, buildings and other areas of historical importance around my home town. “OK, it’s the cathedral… so that’s Norman Cross… well, that’s the Butter Cross…”.  I was therefore very pleased with my copy of “Peterborough in the Great War” which has told me a huge amount about the place that I lived in for a great many years and I have been astonished to discover many facts that were completely new to me.

The main shopping street in Peterborough was widened and re-built in the 1930s with many new buildings being constructed, so it is quite difficult to imagine what that area of the City had been like during the First World War.  Cathedral Square has been pedestrianised and no longer houses the produce and cattle markets as it did in the old days but many of the buildings remain and can be easily recognised in the wonderful photographs that are reproduced in the book.

I worked for the big City engineering company Baker Perkins at its Westwood works plant for some ten years and, while I was aware of its role in producing armaments during the Second World War, from stories related by the old timers who were still working there when I was there, I was completely ignorant of the fact that Baker Perkins also produced arms during the First World War – although as the whole country turned itself to producing munitions, it should not really have come as any great surprise.

One fact that completely astonished me,  however, was that at the start of the First World War, the company was actually called Werner Pfeiderer and Perkins and – like the British Royal Family – was forced to change its name due to anti-German feeling.

Although I knew vaguely about “bicycle battalions”, I never really appreciated the relevance of them.  However, bearing in mind the fact that motorised transportation was still comparatively rare in the run up to the First World War, and beyond the reach of many for cost reasons, it makes perfect sense that the use of a bicycle to travel around was a huge advantage over “Shank’s Pony” and therefore these local bicycle battalions would have been a very useful mobile unit to have.

While obviously concentrating on the City of Peterborough itself, the book also covers the outlying areas which once again a local lad might not necessarily have given much thought to – particularly bearing in mind that back in 1914 – 1918 the “Great North Road” would have been a much lesser road than the high-speed dual carriageway that it is today and as such places such as Wansford, Nassington and Stilton would have been comparatively far-flung locations compared to today when they take only a few minutes in the car to reach.

Edith Cavell – the famous British nursing heroine – was very well acknowledged in Peterborough when I was growing up and she had a new hospital named after her, as well as a floor in the Queensgate Shopping Centre’s multy storey car park.  Abigail Hamilton Thompson’s book goes into more detail about Cavell’s life and I was pleased to learn more about her time in Peterborough than I previously knew.  In her similarly fascinating pre-war prologue in the book, she also mentions Florence Saunders, who was the Dean of Peterborough Cathedral and did great humanitarian works around Victorian Peterborough.

For anybody interested in the First World War, this series of “Your Towns and Cities in the Great War” by Pen and Sword will be of great interest, as they cover many places that don’t get much of a mention in more generalised history.  I have discovered many things about my home town that I honestly did not know and the “Peterborough in the Great War” book has also helped me to look upon places and things that I did know about in a whole new light.  I would heartily recommend this book and the others in the series.

Paul Breeze, August 2019

Thursday 15 August 2019

Frederick Bertram Bagshaw (1878 - 1966) - British-born Canadian writer, lawyer, politician and soldier

With thanks to Paul Breeze for this post

Merseyside-born Canadian lawyer, writer, politician and soldier Frederick Bertram Bagshaw was born on 15th August 1878 in Southport, Lancashire (Merseyside) to parents John and Mary Elizabeth Bagshaw, and was christened at Holy Trinity Church, Southport on 16th November 1878.

We don’t know what happened to his family but Frederick spent all of his childhood living at the children’s home at Edgeworth near Bolton and is listed on Census records as living there in 1881 (aged 2) and 1891 (aged 12). He appears to have crossed the Atlantic several times, probably due to his contacts at the Edgeworth Home, where the emphasis was on teaching the children useful skills and trades, then helping them find jobs and new lives in the developing countries of the British Empire.

In 1901, Frederick was living as a boarder in the house of Francis J. Bell in Macdonald, Portage la Prairie, Manitoba (Manitoba Census 1901) and from there somehow ended up in Regina, Saskatchewan as a barrister with the firm Anderson, Bagshaw, McNiven & Fraser, Barristers and Solicitors, located in the McCallum-Hill Building, Regina - as listed in the 1914 edition of “Who’s Who in Canada” (International Press Limited, 1914).

Frederick was already a member of the 16th Light Horse Militia Regiment before the war.  When war broke out, the 16th Light Horse travelled to Camp Valcartier in Quebec, where Frederick was posted into the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 18th September 1914, now a member of the “Fighting Fifth” Battalion.   At the time of his enlistment, he gave his next of kin as Nellie Smith, Aunt, of Littlebourne Road, Southport, England.  Frederick served in France and Belgium and was wounded twice.

In 1915, he collaborated with two other Canadian soldiers and put together a publication called “A Christmas Garland From the Front – Fifth Battalion, First Canadian BEF, France and Belgium” published by G. Pulman & Sons, London.  This was a 96-page book of stories, poems and cartoons – initially published anonymously  - by members of the 5th Battalion that was sent home to family and friends as a type of Christmas and New Year’s greeting

Frederick wrote articles about the actions of the battalion over the course of the year and also included many of his own photos of people and places.

Another Regina man – William Maunsell Scanlan, who had been City Editor of the Regina Morning Leader newspaper before the war - contributed poems and Robert McGavin Eassie from Ontario produced jokes and parodies of well-known rhymes.

In 1917, Frederick was one of three men voted by the Saskatchewan soldiers serving in Belgium to represent them in the Saskatchewan Legislative Assembly for a four-year term and he was allowed breaks from the Front to take up his seat.

After the war, Frederick became a prominent public figure in Saskatchewan.  From 1941 to 1945, he was enforcement counsel for the Wartime Prices and Trade Board. 

Frederick also worked with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind and the Great War Veterans' Association. He was named to the Regina Library Board in 1941 and served for 21 years. He was a Police Magistrate from 1952 until 1958, when he retired.   Frederick was awarded the Order of the British Empire (OBE), and Bagshaw Place in Regina and a lake in northern Saskatchewan were named in his honour. Frederick Bertram Bagshaw died on 19th June 1966.

With thanks to Will Chabun for his help with this biography.  Long-time Regina journalist Will Chabun is a member of the Board of Directors of the Saskatchewan War Memorial.

Researched and written by Paul Breeze.

Gilbert Rogers (1881 – 1956) – British Artist

With thanks to Sally Enzer for use of her research material from 'Gilbert Rogers - A Life'.

Gilbert Rogers was born on 9th November 1881 in Freshfield, Lancashire, then a small
village some fourteen miles north of Liverpool. His father, William Rogers, was a watch
and clockmaker, whose family had migrated to Liverpool from North Wales in the 1840s.
Gilbert’s schooling began at the Liverpool Institute, a short distant from the family
home at 14 Falkner Street. Displaying early artistic talent he went on to study art at the
Liverpool City School of Art where he later became a tutor as well as working as a
professional portrait painter. He exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1909, 1910, 1912
and 1914.

He enlisted into the ranks of the Royal Army Medical Corps on 9th November 1915 (Army
No. 78529) for Home Service and was sent to Eastbourne for his military and medical
training. He eventually became an instructor at the RAMC officer training school at

In 1918 he was called upon to manage a small group of RAMC soldier-artists who had
been commissioned by the Committee for the Medical History of the War to record the
war work of the military and civilian medical services (including the British Red Cross
Society & Order of St John of Jerusalem & the Voluntary Aid Detachment) both at home
and abroad. Rogers travelled to the Western Front in July 1918. The artists worked from
the Avenue Studios, located off Fulham Road in London, and were provided with art
materials, props and staff to assist them. In total they produced some six hundred pieces
of work which included paintings, models and bronzes. He was commissioned as a
Temporary Lieutenant for this role and received the Military MBE in the Peace Gazette of
June 1919. These artworks formed the Medical Section of the Great War Exhibition
which opened on the 9th June 1920 at the newly-established Imperial War Museum at
Crystal Palace, Sydenham Hill. The art works were later distributed to various military
establishments and can now be found at both the Imperial War Museum and the
Wellcome Collection in London.

After demobilisation in April 1920 Gilbert Rogers returned to Liverpool and became a
director of his younger brother’s furniture manufacturing and upholstery company, Guy
Rogers, Ltd. It was a popular local employer and the brothers were a respected and
successful partnership.

In 1922 Rogers became President of the Artists’ Club, a long-established gentlemen’s
business and social club, and maintained close links with the Liverpool artists community,
although there is no evidence that he continued his work as a portrait painter.

In 1924 he married Gertrude Jane Iceton in 1924, the former wife of his friend and art
school tutor, Arthur Baxter. The couple moved out of Liverpool and set up home on the
Wirral Peninsula, where Gilbert Rogers died on 20th May 1956 at their home in Oxton.

A number of Gilbert Rogers’ war-time oil paintings have been included in exhibitions
across the country to commemorate the centenary of the Great War, which has brought
renewed interest in this previously largely uncelebrated.

Sally Enzer <>

Book Review “Supplying the British Army in the First World War” Janet MacDonald (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019)

This is a remarkable and extremely important book.  I have read many books about WW1 over the years but this is the first time I have come across so much detail about the supplies and logistics involved that were vital to the success of the British and Allied armies involved in the conflict.

It is hard for those of us brought up with the Internet, satellite communication, mobile phones, apps, television and radio programes, global travel with roll-on roll-off ferry boats, jumbo jets and so on, to imagine what life was like in Europe in 1914 when none of those facilities existed. “Supplying the British Army in the First World War” is a real eye-opener and will definitely set you on the right track to a greater understanding of the problems encountered during the conflict.

The book highlights the problems involved in getting all manner of supplies to the British and Allied armies in the various theatres of The First World War - and what a headache that caused!   Information is clearly set out in two sections – I. The Western Front and II Beyond the Western Front.

The first section has 12 chapters dealing with Money, Control and Contracts; Supply Depots; Horses; Animal Transport; Mechanised Transport; Railways, Inland Water Transport and Docks; Munitions; Engineering; Food and Drink; Uniforms and Other Supplies; Medicine and Other Supply Activities.

Janet MacDonald’s painstaking and extensive research is truly amazing and there is so much detailed information in the book that it is extremely difficult to pick out just a few snippets for a review.  For instance, I never realised that horses were sent to Gallipoli or that supplies were transported separately to the transport of troops. It is incredible just how much building work had to be undertaken in France in order to unload, store and get all manner of supplies to the front lines.

Another thing I never thought much about was how getting private letters and parcels to the fighting troops was organised: “In the first week of October 1914 1,616 bags of letters, 8,249 registered letters and 8,249 parcels were sent to the Western Front.  Four years later, in the first week of October 1918, those numbers were 44,648 bags of letters, 118,121 registered letters and 479,667 parcels.  By the first week of April 1919 there were still 30,816 bags of letters, 36,268 registered letters and 202,951 parcels.” (p. 116)

Section Two has chapters on supplying Gallipoli, Salonika, Egypt, Palestine, Mesopotamia, East Africa, Italy and Russia - the other theatres of conflict during The First World War.  There is a section containing photographs, a Glossary, an Appendix with information about Weights and Measures, a Bibliography and a comprehensive index.

I would suggest that anyone studying WW1, as well as anyone with an interest in the conflict, really needs to read this book because, otherwise, it is impossible to understand the problems encountered by those in the front line.   If Janet MacDonald has not received an award for this book, to my mind, that should be put right at once.

"Supplying the British Army in the First World War” Janet MacDonald (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019). For further information please visit the Pen & Sword website

Lucy London, August 2019

Monday 24 June 2019

Erskine Childers, DSC (1870 – 1922) – British writer, soldier, RNAS/RAF

Best remembered for his novel “The Riddle of the Sands” (1903), Robert Erskine Childers was born on 25th June 1870 in Mayfair in London, UK.   His parents were Robert Caesar Childers, an Oriental scholar and civil servant, and his wife, Anna Mary Henrietta Childers, nee Barton, who was Irish from Wicklow.  Erskine’s cousin, Hugh Childers, was a member of the British government who advocated home rule for Ireland.

Educated at Haileybury College, Hertfordshire, which was founded to train boys for Colonial service in India, Erskine went on to study classics and law at Trinity College, Cambridge, where he also played rubgy and rowed.    Erskine was slightly injured while hill walking and from then on he walked with a limp and this led to him taking up sailing.

When the Second Boer War broke out, Erskine joined the City of London Imperial Volunteers, an Artillery Regiment, which was funded by institutions of the City of London.  Erskine’s unit sailed for South Africa in February 1900.  That August, suffering from Trench Foot, he was sent to hospital in Pretoria, during which time he came into contact with some wounded infantry soldiers from Ireland and was impressed by their loyalty to Britain. 

During an exchange visit of the Honourable Artillery Company of London to the Ancient and Honourable Artillery Company of Massachusetts in Boston in America, Erskine hired a motorbike to explore.  While there, he broke down and by chance met Mary Aiden Osgood, known as “Molly”, daughter of Dr. Hamilton Osgood, a Boston doctor.  Erskine and Molly were married on 5th January 1904 in Trinity Church, Boston.  On their return to London, the couple lived in Chelsea.

In July 1914, Erskine helped to smuggle guns from Germany to Irish Nationalists.

In August 1914, Erskine volunteered for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and was granted a temporary commission as a Second Lieutenant.  He was posted to “HMS Engadine”, a seaplane carrier, and flew as a navigator and observer.   Erskine took part in a raid on Cuxhaven airship base on Christmas Day 1914 and was Mentioned in Despatches.

In 1915, he was posted to  “HMS Ben-my-Chree”, which was converted into a seaplane carrier, and served during the Gallipoli Campaign and in the Mediterranean.   For bravery during these Campaigns, Erskine was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross.

Erskine returned to Britain in April 1916 and worked at the Admiralty, allocating seaplanes to ships.  He then began training for a new coastal motor boat squadron for service in the English Channel.   In July 1917, he was assigned to the Secretariat of Lloyd George’s Home Rule Convention, based in Dublin.

Appointed as Director of Publicity for the first Irish Parliament in 1919, Erskine wrote and published “Military Rule in Ireland” attacking the British government’s Irish policy.   He stood as a Sinn Fein candidate in the June 1922 general election in Ireland.   He was arrested in November 1922 and court martialled on a charge of posssessing a semi automatic pistol in violation of the Emergency Powers Resolution.  Erskine was tried, found guilty and executed by firing squad on 24th November 1922.  He was buried Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, Ireland.

Sources:  “In the Ranks of the C.I.V.” (Smith, Elder, London 1900) and various Internet sources.

Saturday 22 June 2019

Book Review: “The French Army in the Great War – Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives” by David Bilton, (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019)

Whilst most of us are aware of the involvement of the French Army on the Western Front during the First World War, in the UK we tend to forget they were also deployed in other theatres of the conflict, such as the Balkans and Gallipoli.   In his latest book, David Bilton sets the record straight.

The book begins with a comprehensive explanation of the background to the French Army, leading up to the events of August 1914, with mention of the troops from French colonies, and a year by year account of the French Army’s WW1 involvement.  Although I had heard of the Zouave Regiments, I had not heard of the Spahis.

The main body of the book is given over to the most amazing photographs from official archives, beginning, on page 25 with photographs of reservists – every Frenchman was required to do military service, after which he was transferred to the Territorial Army, or Reservists. 

Each photograph is accompanied by a detailed explanation and there is much to learn.   The final photograph in the book, on page 221, is very poignant, captioned simply “the wooden cross”.

Although I had seen several of the photographs in this book, most of them were new to me and I found them fascinating – for instance on page 190 “Fort de la Macedoine” – an Allied fortress in the Balkans.

Another fascinating book from Pen & Sword publishers, Barnsley – I urge you to read it.

“The French Army in the Great War – Rare Photographs from Wartime Archives” by David Bilton, (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019).  For further information, please see the Pen & Sword website

Lucy London, June 2019

Erich Maria Remarque (1898 – 1970) – German writer

Author of "All Quiet on the Western Front"

Eric in uniform c. 1917
Erich was born Erich Paul Remark on 22nd June 1898 in Osnabràch, Germany. He was the only son of Peter Franz Remark, a bookbinder, and his wife, Anna Maria.  Erich began writing in his teens and attended the University of Münster, where he studied to become a teacher.

Called up to military service in the German Army during WW1, Erich was posted to the Western Front in June 1917 and was wounded in the leg, arm and neck by Shrapnel. He was hospitalised in Germany for the remainder of the war.

After the war, Erich worked for a time as a primary school teacher, as well as having a variety of other jobs, including being a librarian, journalist and editor. His first novel was published in 1920 and around that time he changed his name to Erich Maria Remarque.

In 1925, Erich married the actress/dancer Jutta Ilse Ingeborg Ellen Zambona, who was of Italian-Danish origin. In 1927, drawing on his war experiences, Erich wrote his most famous work “All Quiet on the Western Front”, a novel about the First World War, which was published in 1929 and later made into a film.

Jutta and Erich were divorced in 1930 but continued to live together. They fled to Switzerland in 1933 when Erich’s literature was condemned and burnt by the Nazis and re-married to prevent Jutta being sent back to Germany. In Erich’s absence his younger sister, Elfriede, was arrested, tried and executed by the Nazis.

Erich and Jutta went to live in America and became naturalised citizens in 1947. The couple were divorced again in 1957 and Erich married the American actress Paulette Goddard in 1958. They returned to live in Switzerland where Erich died on 25th September 1970. When Paulette died in 1990, she bequeathed US$ 20 million to New York University for the creation of an Institute for European Studies in memory of Erich. Erich was buried in Ronco Cemetery, Ronco, Ticino, Switzerland and Paulette was buried alongside him.


Tuesday 14 May 2019

Prince Maurice, Victor, Donald of Battenberg (1891 – 1914) – British Royal Prince

Prince Maurice, Victor, Donald of Battenberg, called after his father Prince Henry Maurice of Battenberg and his great-grandfather, Count Maurice von Hauke, Victor after his grandmother, Queen Victoria, and Donald in honour of Scotland, was born at Balmoral Castle on 3rd October 1891. His mother was Princess Henry of Battenberg (née Princess Beatrice of the United Kingdom), the fifth daughter, and youngest child, of Queen Victoria and Albert, Prince Consort.

Educated at Wellington College, where he was in Benson House, Prince Maurice served as a Lieutenant in the King's Royal Rifle Corps and was killed in action at Zonnebeke, in the Ypres Salient on 27 October 1914.

Prince Maurice was buried in the main city cemetery of Ypres in October 1914. His mother appealed for the right to repatriate his body, which she followed up with a concerted campaign to erect a headstone of her choice over his grave. These demands coming from such an influential person made Prince Maurice’s body, and the memory of him as a person, a test case for the authority of the newly-forged Imperial War Graves Commission. Determined to uphold the principles of non-repatriation and equality of treatment, the IWGC had to fight a delicate battle in which an individual’s body was subsumed into wider arguments about class, identity and the very meaning of the war itself.

(Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission)

Photos:  Prince Maurice of Battenberg

King George V visits Prince Maurice's grave in Ypres Town Cemetery which is situated at Zonnebeekseweg 14, 8900 Ieper (Ypres), Belgium

  1. Grave of Prince Maurice – Photo by Mark Bristow

2. Grave of Prince Maurice – Photo by Eddy Lin

Monday 22 April 2019

Blackie and Peggy – two horses who went to war in WW1 and returned safely to Britain

Blackie was the horse that belonged to the poet Leonard Comer Wall, who was born in West Kirby in 1896.   Leonard’s father, Charles Comer Wall, was a grocer and a Director of the firm G. Wall and Company of Liverpool.  Leonard’s mother was Kate Wall, nee Earle, from Newfoundland.  Before her marriage, Kate had attended a boarding school for girls in West Kirby.

Leonard was educated at Clifton Academy in Bristol.  He joined the 1st West Lancashire Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery and was commissioned as an officer.  The Regiment was posted to the Western Front with A Battery, 275 Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery in September 1915.  During that period, Leonard was Mentioned in Despatches. His horse, Blackie, served with Leonard in several of the major battles of the First World War, including the Somme Offensive, Arras, and Ypres, where he suffered severe Shrapnel wounds when Leonard was killed on 9th June 1917. Leonard is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery in Belgium.   At the time of his death, Leonard was engaged to be married to a young lady from Kent.

Leonard left instructions in his Will that his medals should be buried with his horse, Blackie.   He must have left more than that because “Blackie” was apparently among the few horses repatriated after the end of the War.  "Blackie" lived on until 1942 and when he died at the age of 35 in an RSPCA facility in Hunts Cross in Liverpool, he still bore the scars of the Shrapnel that killed his master.

In 2017, Blackie’s grave (see photo) at the RSPCA in Halewood, Merseyside, became the first ever war horse grave to be given heritage protection by Historic England.  The grave is one of more than 1,000 historical sites given heritage protection in 2017.

Peggy was the horse that belonged to Bevil Quiller-Couch, son of the poet Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, known as “Q”.

May Wedderburn Cannan was born at 34 St. Giles, Oxford on 14th October 1893.  Her Father was Charles Cannan, Dean of Trinity College Oxford, who also managed Oxford University Press and her mother was Mary nee Wedderburn. At the age of 18, May joined the Voluntary Aid Detachment and trained as a nurse, attaining the rank of Quartermaster. In 1913, she was instructed to set up a small hospital of 60 beds but when war broke out she had to step down in favour of a higher ranked officer and worked as an auxiliary nurse.

May went to Rouen early in 1915 to help run the canteen at the railway station known as the Coffee Shop.   Her most famous poem ‘Rouen’ recalls this period of her life.  In 1918, May went to work at the War Office Department in Paris for the intelligence department.   She met up with and became engaged to Bevil Quiller-Couch in Paris in December 1918.  Bevil, who was in the Royal Artillery and survived the war, died of influenza in Germany in 1919.  After his death, Bevil’s horse “Peggy” was returned to England to his father, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, a poet, writer and lecturer at Cambridge University, who had made arrangements for the horse to be returned to his home.   May’s poem “Riding” describes her feelings when riding the horse in Cornwall and is extremely moving.

May published three volumes of poetry – “In War Time” in 1917, “The Splendid Days” in 1919, which she dedicated to her fiancé, and “The House of Hope” in 1923, which she dedicated to her father.   May also wrote a novel based on her life experiences – “The Lonely Generation” - and in her 70s wrote her autobiography “Grey Ghosts and Voices”, which was published after her death.

With thanks to Clara Abrahams, May’s Granddaughter and for  her  help and for sending me the photograph of Peggy.

May’s most famous poem “Rouen” recalling the time she spent working at the Lady Mabell Egerton Coffee Stall at St Sever Station can be found on  This has been set to music with Clara’s permission by north-west composer Chris O’Hara and was performed for the first time by the Manchester Chorale on Saturday, 2nd July 2016 at St. Ann’s Church, Manchester M2 7LF.

Dame Lucy Innes BRANFOOT, who also served at the Coffee Stall in Rouen, died of bronchitis on 16th March 1916 aged 52 and is buried in St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen, Seine-Maritime, France.

Saturday 6 April 2019

Andrew (Sandy) Comyn Irvine (1902 - 1924) – British Mountaineer

Sandy Irvine was born Andrew Comyn Irvine in Birkenhead, Wirral on 8th April 1902, one of six children. His parents were William Ferguson Irvine (1869–1962), and his wife, Lilian Davies-Colley (1870–1950). He was a cousin of journalist and writer Lyn Irvine, and also of pioneering female surgeon Eleanor Davies Colley and of political activist Harriet Shaw Weaver.
A schoolboy during The First World War, Sandy attended The Birkenhead School on the Wirral Peninsula - the school was just around the corner from the Birkenhead Institute school, where Wilfred Owen was educated.

Sandy, who also attended Shrewsbury School, had an aptitude for all things mechanical and when his school acquired a machine gun, he stripped it down and re-assembled it.  He then came up with a design for a contraption allowing pilots to fire machine guns in propeller-driven planes without damaging the propeller blades.  He also designed a gyroscopic stabiliser for planes and submitted the plans to the War Office.  A keen sportsman, Sandy also demonstrated an aptitude for rowing and climbing.

Sandy Irvine joined Mallory’s fourth expedition to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1924. Mallory and Irvine disappeared while trying to reach the summit in June 1924. The two men were last seen only a few hundred metres from the summit. In 1999, Mallory's body was discovered, only partially decomposed, close to the summit. Debate and research still continues as to whether they reached the summit and whether it was in fact Mallory and Irvine rather than Sir Edmund Hillary who were the first to conquer Mount Everest.

Photograph from World-Pass Magazine - photographer unknown.

Wednesday 3 April 2019

The Stanley Cup (French: La Coupe Stanley) – Canadian and North American Ice Hockey Trophy

The trophy was not awarded in 1919 because of a Spanish flu epidemic.

Commissioned in 1892 and called the Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup, the trophy is named after Lord Stanley of Preston, who was appointed Governor General of Canada and Commander in Chief of Prince Edward Island on 1st May 1888 until 1893. Frederick Arthur Stanley, 16th Earl of Derby, KG, GCB, GCVO, PC (15th  January 1841 – 14th June 1908), was known as Frederick Stanley until 1886 and as Lord Stanley of Preston from 1886.

The Stanley family first saw an ice hockey match at Montreal's 1889 Winter Carnival, where they saw the Montreal Victorias play the Montreal Hockey Club. “The Montreal Gazette” reported that Lord Stanley "expressed his great delight with the game of hockey and the expertise of the players". During that time, organized ice hockey in Canada was just beginning and only Montreal and Ottawa had anything resembling leagues.  Lord Stanley donated the trophy as an award for Canada's top-ranking amateur ice hockey clubs. Stanley's sons became keen ice hockey players, playing in amateur leagues in Ottawa, and Lord and Lady Stanley became staunch hockey fans.

The first Stanley Cup was awarded in 1893 to Montreal HC, and subsequent winners from 1893 to 1914 were determined by challenge games as well as league games. Professional teams first became eligible to challenge for the Stanley Cup in 1906. In 1915, the two professional ice hockey organizations, the National Hockey Association (NHA) and the Pacific Coast Hockey Association (PCHA), reached a gentlemen's agreement in which their respective champions would face each other annually for the Stanley Cup. After a series of league mergers and folds, it was established as the de facto championship trophy of the NHL in 1926 and then the de jure NHL championship prize in 1947.

Since the 1914–15 season, the Cup has been won a combined 101 times by 18 active NHL teams and five defunct teams. The trophy was not awarded in 1919 because of a Spanish flu epidemic. Joe Hall, who played for the Montreal Canadiens, died on April 4th 1919.

Joseph Henry "Bad Joe" Hall (3rd May 3, 1881 – 4th April 1919) was a Canadian professional ice hockey player who played senior and professional hockey from 1902 to 1919.  Joe was in a Stanley Cup winning team three times - twice with the Quebec Bulldogs and once with the Kenora Thistles.
Born in Staffordshire, UK, Joe grew up in Brandon, Manitoba. He aquired the nickname "Bad Joe" due to his aggressiveness on the ice.

Joe was a member of the Montreal Canadians team in the Stanley Cup Finals of 1919. The Finals were interrupted and eventually cancelled due to an outbreak of Spanish Flu.

Another Canadian ice hockey player was Frank McGee who was born in Ottawa on 4th November 1882. When he left school, Frank joined the Civil Service, working for the Canadian Pacific Railway.   He was an accomplished sportsman having played lacrosse and rugby and was a keen rower and boxer.  He began playing ice hockey for the Ottawa Aberdeens.

In 1900, Frank’s older brother was serving with the Canadians in the Boer War. The Canadian Patriotic Fund was an organisation that raised funds to help the war effort and an ice hockey game was arranged against a team from Hawkesbury.   Frank sustained a cut over his eye that prevented him from joining in the after match party.   His eye did not heal and he lost the sight of his eye, which meant that he retired from ice hockey.

Incidentally, the Aberdeen Pavilion in Ottawa was the muster point when the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry were formed in 1914.

When Canada declared war on Germany, Frank joined the 21st (Eastern Ontario) Battalion of the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 9th November 1914, having managed to hoodwink the medical examiner who declared his vision ‘good’.   Frank’s Battalion went to France in September 1915 where he was blown up and wounded in the right knee.  He was sent back to England for treatment and attached to the Canadian Training Headquarters in Shorncliffe, Kent, where he instructed in machine gunnery.  He re-joined his old Regiment in March 1916 and was then seconded to assist the Director of Railways and Ordnance in the building of railways across Flanders and France.  By 29th August 1916, Frank was back with his old regiment again and took part in a battle to take the sugar refinery at Flers-Courcelette on 15th September 1916, in which the tank HMLS “Crème de Menthe” also took part.

On 16th September 1916, Frank was killed in a heavy artillery attack.  His body was never identified and he is remembered on the Vimy Ridge Memorial.

Saturday 23 March 2019

Cecil Lewis (1898 - 1997) – British WW1 aviator, writer, journalist and BBC pioneer

Cecil Arthur Lewis was born in Birkenhead, Wirral, UK, on 29th March 1898. His parents were Edward William Lewis, a Nonconformist Church Minister, and his wife Alice Lewis, nee Rigby.  In 1901, the family lived in Shropshire and by 1911, they were living in Hampstead in London.

Educated at Oundle School, Cecil left in the spring of 1915, and lied about his age in order to enlist in the Royal Flying Corps.

After initial trianing at Brooklands – Cecil’s mother Alice was superintendent of a hospital in nearby Weybridge – Cecil was posted to France.  Cecil’s book “Sagittarius Rising” is the account of his wartime experiences.

Cecil explains that in preparation for the Somme Offensive in July 1916, Contact Patrol was carried out by planes and was designed to provide aerial liaison between the Front Line and the Battalion and Brigade Headquarters during battles when other means of communication became impossible.  In spite of endless practice before the big day, this initially proved less effective than hoped, due to the necessity for ground troops to use flares to signal to their planes which also meant giving away their position. 

However, later on Cecil Lewis tells us, “… we got used to the dangers of low flying over the front line, and used to go right down to a few hundred feet and find the position of our men by actually seeing them in their trenches.”

“The war below us was a spectacle. We aided and abetted it, admiring the tenacity of men who fought in verminous filth to take the next trench thirty yards away.

Echoing the feelings of WW1 soldier poet Wilfred Owen, Cecil described the “horrible futility of war, the mountainous waste of life and wealth to stake a mile or two of earth.  A caricature of common sense, both sides eager, when they had licked their wounds, to fly at each other’s throats again.” (p. 93).

After the war, Cecil travelled to China for the Vickers Aviation Company to teach new pilots to fly and establish a Peking-Shanghai air service.

Cecil went on to help set up the British Broadcasting Company - the forerunner of the state owned British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC).  The Company was founded in 1922 as a private company by a consortium of radio manufacturers who wanted to create a market to encourage the sale of wireless sets.

During the 1930s, Cecil wrote and directed numerous cinema films and won an Oscar in 1939 for his screen adaptation of G.B. Shaw'’ play "“Pygmalion”.

Cecil served in the Royal Air Force (RAF) during the Second World War.

He died on 27th January 1997 at the age of 98.

Source:  “Sagittarius Rising” by Cecil Lewis (1898 – 1997), published by Warner, London 2000 with a new Foreword by Cecil Lewis;  first published by Peter Davies in 1936.

Tuesday 19 March 2019

"Futility" Statue Hamilton Square, Birkenhead, Wirral commemorating the 88 Pupils of the Birkenhead Institute who lost their lives in WW1

Several of us attended an extremely interesting talk held at The Wilfred Owen Story in Birkenhead, Wirral, UK on Monday, 18th March 2019 – the 126th anniversary of the birth of Wilfred Owen, WW1 soldier poet.  The talk was given by Jim Whelan, sculptor of the "Futility" statue in Hamilton Square commemorating the 88 pupils of the Birkenhead Institute school, among them Wilfred Owen, who lost their lives in WW1. The statue replaces the WW1 Memorial Playing Field that was the sports field for the school, which was sold for housing recently.

Jim also told us that he also made the amazing model of a WW1 Western Front Trench, which is on display at the WOS.

Jim brought along some of the models he used when he started his work on the statue, which took two and a half years to complete, and talked us through the complicated procedure involved. Cast in bronze at a Liverpool Foundry, the statue represents an exhausted World War One solider after a gas attack.  It was produced using a sketch drawn by a former pupil of the Birkenhead Institute who went on to become an art master at the school.  His name was Dave (D.S.W.) Jones and he drew the soldier to illustrate Wilfred Owen’s poem “Futlity” specially for Jeff Walsh’s book “A Tribute to Wilfred Owen”, published in 1965. Wilfred was a pupil at the B.I. from 1900 – 1907. 

Jim Whelan has also produced completed works to commemorate the Everest climbers George Malory and Sandy Irvine who disappeared on the North-East ridge during their attempt to make the first ascent of the mountain in 1924.

Afterwards, we walked over to the statue, which is set slightly apart from the main commemorative area in Hamilton Square, and Jim answered our questions about the statue.  You really have to try and see the statue – there is so much detail

Get the train to Liverpool Lime Street, then take the Ferry across the Mersey from Pier Head to Woodside.  Hamilton Square is a short walk up the hill, past the Hamilton Square Station. Obviously if you don't like the idea of the river crossing you can take the train from Lime Street to Hamilton Square station. 

The statue has its own Facebook Page

Sunday 17 March 2019

Book Review: “The Channel Islands in the Great War by Stephen Wynn” (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019)

To the best of my knowledge I have never come across a reference to the Channel Islands during the First World War, though their involvement in the Second is well documented.  This fantastic book puts that right.

In the Introduction, Stephen explains the geography and history of the Islands, which are closer to France than to England. They are British Crown Dependencies and inhabitants are British citizens.  Chapter One sets the scene and goes into detail about the different regiments, corps and units with which the men of the Channel Islands served, with biographies of those who died.  There is also a section on the Women of the Channel Islands and their part in the war.

I was fascinated to learn in Chapter two that there was a Prisoner of War Camp for German prisoners on the Island of Jersey at Les Blanches Banques.  The camp had running water, and electric lighting – facilities that many of the neighbouring houses did not have at that time.  It opened on 20th March 1915 and closed in October 1919.

Chapters three, four and five deal with 1916 – when Conscription was introduced – 1917 and 1918.  Chapter six is entitled “Red Cross nurses from the Channel Islands”, Chapter seven covers War Memorials and lists all those from the Channel Islands who lost their lives during WW1. Chapter eight those who died after the Armistice.

Stephen Wynn gives detailed biographical information about many of those from the Channel Islands who were involved in WW1.  He mentioned that in his opinion there is sufficient material about the Women of the Channel Islands in the Great War to merit another book and I do hope that comes to fruition.  With illustrations throughout and an index, Stephen’s book is a fitting tribute to the men and women of the Channel Islands during the First World War.  He also raises an interesting question in the final chapter of the book – “what criteria was used to decide who should be included as a casualty of war?”

I found a great deal of interesting facts for my weblogs and Facebook pages and will spread the word about this book which is a must for anyone interested in the history of the First World War.

“The Channel Islands in the Great War by Stephen Wynn” (Pen & Sword, Barnsley, 2019). For further information please see

Lucy London, March 2019