Tuesday, 27 November 2018

The Soldiers' Peace - Book Review

The Soldiers' Peace
Michael Senior
Pen & Sword Books Ltd, £25

Just when you thought that there could not possibly be another book on the Great War that sheds new light on that awful conflict, along comes one that does. The Soldiers' Peace ticks all the boxes for me, every single one of them: 

  • it covers a topic that has not been done to death
  • it is written in an engaging and free-flowing style that is easy to read
  • the events described follow a logical and chronological path
  • there are useful appendices that augment the text that has gone before
  • there are clear footnotes laid out by chapter
  • there is a useful bibliography
  • there is an index
You'd be surprised at how many of what I regard as these basic must-haves are missing from works of historical fact. Not in this book. Michael Senior has researched his topic well and he writes authoritatively about it. It's a fascinating subject too, dealing with the demobilization of the British Army at the end of the First World War. As the dustwrapper informs us, "In November 1918... the British Army numbered 3.75 million. One year later that number was reduced to 890,000." The Soldiers' Peace tells you how that was achieved.

Sunday, 25 November 2018

Remember our dead in Silesia

An appeal to help remember our British Army dead. I am happy to pass on the following information which has been sent to me by Jim Powrie. Jim writes: 

"In 1921/1922 the 1st Bn Durham Light Infantry (DLI) sent a detachment to Upper Silesia in a peacekeeping role mandated by the League of nations. The DLI were formed part of a larger British force. During the deployment a total of 41 British soldiers died as a result of violent action, accident, illness or suicide. Of the 41, four were serving with the 1st Battalion DLI.

  • Sgt John Thomas Waknell who died of his wounds on 15 July 1921, was shot (accidently) by a French soldier in a scuffle in a cafĂ© in Oppeln during an arms raid. The official report says a Polish insurgent shot him, but evidence from the National Archives suggests it was a French soldier. The French Commander of the force awarded him, posthumously, the Croix de Guerre. His funeral cortege is pictured above.
  • Pte. Lewis Sawyer died in a road traffic accident on 20 August 1921
  • 2nd Lt. Harold Wynn died of pneumonia on 26 September 1921. The photo at the top of this post shows the Honour Guard at Lt Wynn's funeral. His interment is shown in the photo below
  • Pte. William George Raffan died in Lublintz on 17 Jan 1922 as a result of a 35’ fall from a window.

"All four men were buried with military honours in the British Military section of the municipal cemetery. The two who died before 1st September 1921 were considered to be ‘war dead’, and in 1924 their bodies were exhumed from the plot in Oppeln and re-interred in the Berlin Southwestern War Cemetery at Stahnsdorf where they lie today in impeccably maintained surroundings.

Oppeln Cemetery 1931

"The other two men however didn’t fair so well. Today they remain in the cemetery in what is now Opole in Poland (it became part of Poland after WW2) lying neglected and abandoned in unmarked graves along with the 28 other men who died after 1st Sepember 1921."

The same plot in modern day Opole in 2017.

The 30 men still buried at Opole are:

Pte. Frank PORTER, 6192593, 3rd Bn. Middlesex Regiment died 15th September 1921

Pte. Frederick Arthur MARSH, 6192598, 3rd Bn. Middlesex Regiment died 21st September 1921

Signaller Edward Albert IGGLESDEN, 2308631, Royal Signal Corps died 23rd October 1921

Lieut. Harold WYNN, 1st Bn. Durham Light Infantry died 26th September 1921

L/Cpl. Alfred Edward EMONS, 7178715, 2nd Bn. Leinster Regiment, died 26th November 1921

Farrier/Staff Sgt. Harry SMITH, 536333, 14th Hussars died 2nd December 1921 

Pte. Patrick BARRY, 7178489, 2nd Bn. Leinster Regiment died 12th December 1921

L/Cpl. Alfred Edward EVANS, 4437204, 1st Bn. Durham Light Infantry died 14th December 1921

Pte. Martin Francis FRANKLIN, 7110764, 1st Bn. Royal Irish Regiment died 15th December 1921

Pte./Actg. Cpl. Frank Thomas DAVIES, S/8651, Royal Army Service Corps died 18th December 1921

Bmbr. Henry POWRIE MM., 1026458, 62nd Battery Royal Field Artillery died 21st December 1921

Pte. Nathanial MURDAGH, 6973193, 2nd Bn. Royal Inniskillin Fusiliers died 27th December 1921

Pte. John MURRAY, 2744806, 2nd Bn. The Black Watch died 6th January 1922

Pte. William George RAFFAN, 4435084, 1st Bn. Durham Light Infantry died 17th January 1922

Pte. Michael FORAN, 7111257, 1st Bn. Royal Irish Regiment died 11th February 1922

Pte. James KEATING, 7110968, 1st Bn. Royal Irish Regiment died 11th February 1922

Pte. Martin Joseph MURPHY, 7110952, 1st Bn. Royal Irish Regiment died 11th February 1922

Pte. Patrick SHALLY, 7109064, 1st Bn. Royal Irish Regiment died 11th February 1922

C.Sgt. Maj. Harry Fraser JEBSON, 6188423, 3rd Bn. Middlesex Regiment died 21st February 1922

Pte. James LIGHT, 7178629, 2nd Bn. Leinster Regiment died 19th March 1922

L/Cpl. Andrew KELLY, 6973846, 2ND Bn. Royal Inniskillin Fusiliers died 24th March 1922

Pte. John POWER, 3377056, 2nd Bn. Connaught Rangers died 2nd April 1922

Pte. Alfred Allen SEXTON, 6190250, 3rd Bn. Middlesex Regiment died 7th April 1922

Pte. Digory SALTERN, 5431013, 2nd Bn. Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry died 17 April 1922

Sapper Frederick George CREETH, 1854714, Royal Engineers died 25 April 1922

Actg. Sgt. Joseph William Goulding STORER, 6451065, Royal Fusiliers died 5th May 1922

Farrier/Cpl. Charles THOMAS, 536331, 14th Hussars died 6th May 1922

Pte. Reginald GRANT, 5176415, 1st Bn. Gloucester Regiment died 17th June 1922

Sapper James HUNTLEY, 1849413, Royal Engineers died 4th July 1922

Pte. Arthur William FARRELL, M/19911, Royal Army Service Corps died 6th July 1922.

Jim is campaigning to encourage the MoD to remedy this situation and has set up a petition on change.org to kick this off. Please consider signing the petition here: 


All photographs on this page are reproduced with Jim Powrie's permission.

Thursday, 22 November 2018

Snake oil? Some think it is, others have used their DNA results to drill down and look for others with similar profiles. Findmypast, a recent entrant into the Genealogy market, has teamed up with Living DNA to offer its own testing kit, and if you're quick you can grap one now for £59.

Tuesday, 6 November 2018

1918 - The Decisive Year... Richard Van Emden

1918 - The Decisive Year in Soldiers' Own Words & Photographs
Richard Van Emden
Pen & Sword Books; £30

You can't blame Richard Van Emden for having one last Big Push with First World War non-fiction. Now that the centenary commemorations are drawing to a close, the opportunities to monetise the war will also dwindle. For that matter, Richard VE has authored some cracking books over the years, picking up the mantle where Martin Middlebrook and Lyn MacDonald left off, and cleverly interleaving veteran narratives with his compelling re-telling of the events. He does that very well and he must count himself fortunate to have spoken to so many veterans while there was still time.

For those familiar with Van Emden's work I don't think there will be a lot to be learned from the narrative. Many of the veterans' names will be familiar from other works, and there are also familiar accounts from long-published works by the likes of Stephen Graham, Aubrey Smith, Rudolf Binding, Lancelot Spicer... Admittedly, it takes skill to weave these narratives together and Richard is a past master at doing so.

So much for the words, it is the photographs that really stand out for me in this volume. Just as those of us whose interest was kindled in the Great War decades ago are overly familiar with War Letters to a Wife and A Medico's Luck in the War, so too are we used to seeing those same images of stretcher bearers struggling through mud or a skeleton with its arm across its skull at the bottom of a trench. Thankfully, those images do not get a re-run in this volume. What we do have are many photos that have been published for the first time and that show images not just of allied troops but of German soldiers as well. For the most part these are photographs that were "taken by soldiers on their own illegally held cameras" and they are wonderful - if occasionally shocking - to behold.

There will be those who buy this book for whom this is an entry into the Great War, and for those people this will be a terrific introduction: top authors, previously unseen photos, first hand veteran accounts and a skillful narrator in the shape of Van Emden. It has it all. I'm only giving my copy away because after four and a half years I feel somewhat battle fatigued. I can't wait for Peace to descend.

Sunday, 4 November 2018

The Badges of Kitchener's Army - David Bilton

The Badges of Kitchener's Army
David Bilton
Pen & Sword Books Ltd
£30 / $60 US

Just when you thought that after four and a half years of relentless publishing, there couldn't possibly be anything new to be said about the First World War, along comes David Bilton with The Badges of Kitchener's Army. I suspect that this book will quickly become a classic.

I remember correspondence with the author back in the mid-eighties. I had already interviewed a lot of Great War veterans and David was also trying to meet men in order to ask them about the cloth badges they had worn. We exchanged details and I corresponded with men David had met, and he corresponded with men I had met. I remember thinking at the time that he had set himself a difficult task; time was running out and  many of the veterans I had met had already died. Nevertheless, looking at the roll-call of veterans referenced in the book, he obviously spectacularly succeeded.

This is a book that has been many years in the researching and it will be an extremely important reference resource for anyone with an interest in the Great War and in particular those pedantic individuals like me who want to analyse every last pixel of a military photo.

Chapter by chapter the author dissects the Kitchener units, detailing known instances of insignia specific to the unit in question. The book is comprehensively illustrated and the author has referred to multiple reference sources on what has, up until now, been a little-understood topic. In fact he has written THE reference source on this subject and I hope that there will be revised editions in future once additional information has come to light.

This is a book that earns its place next to titles about regiments, uniforms, cap badges and collar badges and mine is already handily within arm's reach. Well done, Dave Bilton, on producing a real cracker - and thanks for the acknowledgement on page 345.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

The Territorial Year Book 1909 & 1910

Some years ago I bought the Territorial Year Book, published in 1909. The Territorial Force, of course, came into being in April 1908, and the year book, published the following year, ran to nearly 300 pages and chronicled the birth of the new Force and published details of those were running the county associations and details about the various Territorial Force units. As a reference work of the Territorial Force at that particular time, it is unmatched. The book is also uncommon and I think I bought mine from a bookseller in Australia or the US, I can't quite remember now. I subsequently had the book re-bound in green cloth (to match the original green soft cover wraps) and it sits within arm's reach on one of my bookshelves.

This week I was fortunate enough to pick up the volume for 1910 which has 100 fewer pages than its predecessor but which nevertheless follows the same format and gives useful information about the TF in that year. In due course I may digitise both volumes which will undoubtedly increase their usefulness.

The image above is from the 1910 volume and shows the type of information recorded. This is also a rare opportunity to see part of my left thumb.

Thursday, 25 October 2018

MoD references on medal index cards

I've been meaning to write this blog post for a while. What follows may not be rocket science but because the information scrawled on medal index cards is important, I thought I'd draw attention to two of the particular annotations here.

The medal index card above is 'busy'; lots of information here concerning the regiments that James Murray served with, his medal entitlement, the award of his MM which was gazetted on the 19th November 1917, and the re-issue of these campaign medals in 1934. What I want to draw attention to though is the dates that appear in the remarks section. There are two dates here: 24/1/64 and 14/12/53. These are the dates on which an enquiry about this man's service was received by the MoD at its Hayes office in Middlesex. I don't have any background on the 1953 enquiry but I do have a copy of the response that was returned in 1964. Here it is:

This particular response was returned on the 5th February 1964, quite a quick turnaround considering the enquiry had only been received on the 24th January 1964.

And so the first point to note is that the dates expressed thus, are the dates on which the enquiry was received by the Ministry of Defence (MoD):

The second point to note, ruefully, is that in 1964 this man's records were still extant. The information about his enlistment, transfer and discharge can only have come from an attestation paper (or similar document), whereas the entitlement to medals could conceivably have come from medal rolls. At some point after 1964 therefore, the MoD finished what the Luftwaffe had started in 1940 and destroyed James Murray's records.

Saturday, 13 October 2018

The Skinner brothers of Wimpole

Last Saturday was such a beautiful day that we decided to pop over to Wimpole Estate in Cambridgeshire. Within the estate grounds is the Anglican parish church of St Andrews and in the churchyard, very close to the entrance is a family grave that contains the mortal remains of Charles Skinner, his wife Ellen, and two of their grandchildren.

The headstone must have been erected when Charles died in 1926, but the focus is very much on Charles and Ellen's three sons, all killed in action during the First World War whilst serving with the Suffolk Regiment. I suspect that their names were added at the same time as Charles' details, a suitable gap left between to accommodate Ellen in due course. Note too, the Suffolk Regiment cap badge at the top of the stone.

13644 Pte Frank Skinner, standing on the right in the photograph above, was the first of Charles and Ellen's four boys to die. He was killed in action on the 1st July 1916 whilst serving with the 11th Battalion and is buried in Gordon Dump Cemetery, Ovillers La Boiselle. Just over five weeks later on the 9th August 1916, his elder brother, 15628 Pte Edward Skinner was killed in action whilst serving with the 7th Battalion. Edward, seated right, has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval War Memorial. Finally, on the 5th April 1918, 23312 Pte Harry Skinner, also serving with the 7th Battalion, was killed in action. He too has no known grave and is commemorated on the Pozieres War Memorial. Harry is the man standing in the centre of the photo which dates to about 1912.

Juging by their regimental numbers, Frank Skinner joined the Suffolk Regiment in September 1914, Edward in October 1914 and Harry, who would only have been about 17 when Britain went to war, in November 1915. All three brothers were volunteers.

The photograph I have used on this post comes from Wimpole Past, a local history and genealogy site for Wimpole in South Cambridgeshire. It shows Charles and Ellen Skinner in happier times with their six children I have added this photograph to the brothers' pages on my British Army Ancestors website. 

Sunday, 30 September 2018

King's Royal Rifle Corps - Chronicles for sale

For sale, King's Royal Rifle Corps chronicles 1901 to 1920 (missing 1915 and 1919). These books are essential reading for anyone with an interest in this regiment (and worth the investment if you have an interest in British Army regiments generally). I am downsizing my book collection hence the reason for selling these now. More details here: Military books for sale.

UPDATE. These books have now all sold but there is still a complete run of Rifle Brigade Chronicles 1901-1920 up for grabs.

The chronicles that cover the First World War period will be of particular interest to anyone who is studying that conflict as they give good (summary) detail on battalion activities as well as officer casualties. The 1914 Chronicle also gives other rank casualties to November 1914, detailing those killed, wounded and missing or prisoners of war. Maps and photos of some officer casualties are included.

For those whose interest is in pre-1914, the earlier editions detail where each battalion was located at any given point in time and included reports on sporting successes, often giving names - and sometimes photos - of team members. The team photo below, for instance, shows members of the 4th Battalion obstacle team which was published in the 1907 Chronicle. All men are named and for some, this may be the only surviving evidence of their service in the British Army. For others, it will be possible to match their faces to names in service records or medal rolls; something I'll be doing in due course on my British Army Ancestors site.

The photograph at the top of this post was published in the KRRC Chronicle for 1904 and shows the scenes in Winchester when the regiment returned to the town after the new barracks had been opened.

Tuesday, 25 September 2018

1st Cadet Battalion, The Essex Regiment

I came across this headed paper this morning whilst researching a soldier who had served in this cadet battalion. I was not aware of this particular battalion, although the detailed headed paper itself makes its affiliation quite clear.

Headquartered in Canning Town, the "London-over-the-border" stipulation was obviously quite lenient. Chelmsford (home of the battalion's bank) is 34 miles from Canning Town and would have seemed like the back of beyond in the early 1900s. Ingatestone is only marginally closer at about 29 miles.

The 6th Battalion, Essex Regiment was headquartered at West Ham, with A to G companies drawing recruits from West Ham, and H company drawing men from Prittlewell. There was a drill station at Grays. The man who is referred to on this paper is George Ryan who would later serve in the Royal West Kent Regiment and die as a prisoner of war in January 1917 just three days after his 18th birthday. You can see a photo of George on my British Army Ancestors website.