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 café 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.

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Prisoners of War 1914

You'll find a number of research resources linked from this particular Army Ancestry Research blog, but if you have an interest in First World War prisoners of war you'll need to visit my Army Service Numbers 1881-1918 blog.

Some while ago I transcribed various lists of men held by the Imperial War Museum. These form part of a collection of lists of men who were all captured before Christmas Day 1914 and therefore missed out on Princess Mary's gift tin. Thankfully, these lists of men survive in digital format. The digital quality is not the best in the world but you'll be doing better than me if you can manage to persuade the folk at the IWM to give you access to the original documents.

I'm nearing the end of this particular publication schedule and will have posted all transcriptions by Christmas 2018.

Monday, 17 September 2018

Search 9 billion records on Findmypast

Online family history website, Findmypast, has just launched a handy little widget which enable you to quickly search its impressive database of 9 billion records. Included amongst these, I see, are nearly 31 million indexed military records; indexed mind you, there will be plenty of other records that have not been indexed, not to mention British newspapers as well.

If you haven't already used Findmypast, now could be the time to do so. Just enter the basic details in the box on the right. I searched for my grandfather, Walter Leonard Nixon, who was born in 1893 and I got 530 results! Better still, my grandfather appeared in six results on the first page of results.

Go on, give it a try. Searching is FREE!

Saturday, 15 September 2018

British Army Ancestors - 17th Lancers identified

About a year ago I launched British Army Ancestors, my initiative to provide a vehicle for people to upload army photographs and so, in time, build a useful free resource for others. This week I've been adding my own discoveries and I want to use this post to talk about two of these.

Under the caption, " A dismounted Lancer at a skirmishing display" this photograph first appeared in the The Navy & Army Illustrated that was published on the 6th March 1896.  The article notes "Here we have a picture which will serve to remind many of our readers of the Military Displays at the Agricultural Hall, and to others will explain the kind of fighting which Dr Jameson's troopers made with the Boers at Krugerdorp. It is a pretty idea, teaching a cavalry horse to lie down and serve as a living screen, from behind which his rider can fire in safety, and moreover, has its use in warfare. In the present instance the dismounted horseman (Rough-rider Corporal Long, of the 17th Lancers) is one of a line of skirmishers ordered to use their carbines on foot, against an enemy whom they are unable to get at owing to the nature of intervening obstacles."

The Corporal Long in question can only be 3000 Cpl Henry Long who joined the regiment in December 1885, transferring to the 16th Lancers in November 1905. He was discharged in December 1906 having served 21 years and was entitled to the QSA and KSA for service in South Africa, as well as the Long Service & Good Conduct Medal with gratuity. His character on discharge was recorded as "Exemplary". 

The second photos is actually quite well-known and was subsequently rendered as artwortk for a ciagrette card (see below). This photo originally appeared in The Navy & Army Illustrated which was published on the 21st February 1896. The caption underneath the photo ran,
"Her mother was shot in Cashmere, eight years ago, by Prince Adolphus of Teck, who brought the cub to Lucknow, where the regiment was stationed, and gave her as a present to his troop. Shortly after this the cub was lost for a year. Then one day a man came round with a performing bear, which was recognized as " Lizzie " Since then "Lizzie" has remained with the 17th, with whom she came to England in 1889. She is a great pet with all ranks, for her own part reciprocating the affection, specially in favour of Corporal Baker, her particular guardian, who is shown in the illustration..."
I looked at medal rolls and service records for 17th Lancers corporals called Baker and the only possible candidate is 2881 Shoeing Smith Cpl Thomas Baker. In this photo, the clincher is the horseshoe, just visible on his right arm which marks him out as a shoeing smith. His service record confirms that he held that rank between July 1894 and February 1896 when he was promoted to sergeant farrier.

I am delighted to have identified these two men but was only able to do so as a result of understanding the regimental numbers for the 17th Lancers and, fortuitously in both cases, finding surviving records for them in WO 97.
If you've not already done so, do check out British Army Ancestors. The site is free and evenm if you don't want to upload photos, you can quickly and easily search 11.6m records.

Friday, 17 August 2018

Measuring success in 1917

I've just completed a research project and was struck by the following passage in the battalion diary which covers the actions during which my research subject was killed.

"Z Day, The Raid. A most successful undertaking... Casualties: Captain J E Day (died of wounds), Lieutenant Williams (wounded), 2nd Lt R E W Burke (wounded), 6 killed, 7 missing, 66 wounded. Whole battalion greatly elated at our success..."

Thus was success measured in April 1917. The extract is from the war diary of the 6th Royal Irish Regiment on the 5th April 1917 and I've manipulated the information somewhat because after "successful undertaking" the diarist had written, "21 prisoners of the 4th Grenadier Regiment, from whom inestimable information was gained."

We must take the diarist at his words and hope that it was of some comfort to the relatives of those who died that day. My research subject was one of the seven men missing. His body was never found and he is commemorated by name on the Menin Gate Memorial at Ypres.

The image comes from the Vimy Foundation website and shows Canadian soldiers from the 78th (Winnipeg Grenadiers) surrounding a rather forlorn looking German captured during a trench raid.

Saturday, 7 July 2018

Rifle Brigade Chronicle

I mentioned the other day that I have added a Books for Sale tab to my Army Service Numbers 1881-1918 blog, I am currently selling a large number of Rifle Brigade Chronicles - and they're going fast - bit it did prompt me to pay more attention to the covers of these books and note the changes in the regimental badges as published on these volumes.

The image above was what graced the cover of the first volume, published in 1890. The crown is the St Edward's Crown with the hunting horn below. This image only appeared on the first published issue and was replaced with the image below on the 1891 edition.

The following year there was a further change, with the badge being rendered in silver rather than gold, quickly reverting to gold again for the 1893 edition.

This version was then used until 1910, replaced that year with new battles honours for the Boer War, and The Tudor Crown which had been introduced by King Edward in 1902.

The 1916 edition saw the crown devoid of the detail within it which had appeared on previous crowns. 

But by1917 that detail had re-appeared bigger and bolder than before:

And by 1929 the battle honours for the First World War finally appeared:

The final change that I'm aware of appeared on the 1955 edition and harked back to an earlier time:

At the time of writing, editions of the Rifle Brigade Chronicle from 1902 to 1932 are still available for sale.

Embarkation Table, 1914

I was looking through the war diary for the 1st Battalion, Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders earlier today, and came across some fascinating detail concerning the battalion's embarkation from Southampton in December 1914.

The 1st Battalion had been stationed in Dinapore, India in August 1914 and didn't arrive back in the UK until the 17th November 1914. It was one of the units recalled from the British Empire's far-flung outposts and was assigned to the 81st Brigade in the newly-formed 27th Division. The embarkation notes and table in the battalion war diary give a fascinating insight into the way in which troops were organised.

I suppose I'd never thought about how the actual embarkation would have been organised, but of course it makes perfect sense to have allocated serial numbers to units and to mark up everything with those numbers. The four infantry battalions in the 81st Brigade were the 1st A&S Highlanders, the 1st Gloucestershire Regiment, the 2nd Cameron Highlanders, and the 1st Royal Scots, and again it is interesting to note that they each sailed on different ships, presumably a cautionary measure to guard against an entire brigade being sent to the bottom of the English Channel by a German U-Boat.

The extract above, whilst included in the War Diary for the 1st A&S Highlanders, also includes similar levels of detail for other brigades; as I say, completely fascinating.

I was checking the war diaries on the Naval & Military Archive which offers access to millions of records and over 4.500 individual war diaries for as little as £10. Photo above, showing British troops embarking at Southampton in 1915, is from the Alamy website.

Saturday, 30 June 2018

Songs & Stories of the Great War 1914-1918

My thanks to Rob Barnes for notifying me of an event - Songs & Stories of the Great War 1914-1918that he is organising at Sage Gateshead on the 11th November this year. This from the Sage Gateshead website:

In this tribute, the journey starts when war is declared in 1914, with the enthusiasm and high humour of the soldiers, through the realities and unimaginable horrors of trench warfare, to the prospect of a better world to come, with the signing of the Armistice in 1918.
“ ‘…uplifting yet a very emotional experience‘…‘a brilliantly judged programme and excellent performances‘…‘This was a wonderful concert‘…very well-judged and performed and very thought-provoking‘…‘blown away by all the talent in the room’” (comments received following performance in Newcastle upon Tyne, March 2018)
In an evening of both laughter and tears, we will be honouring all those involved in this ‘War to end all Wars’, with well-known songs from the trenches, war stories from The Wipers Times and Punch magazine, and poems by such as Wilfred Owen, Cicely Fox Smith and Woodbine Willie. 

Princess Louise Scottish Hospital

Somewhat belatedly, considering it was digitised in 2016, I came across a fascinating archive of admission register entries for the Princess Louise Scottish Hospital for Maimed and Limbless sailors and soldiers.

Hospital admission registers for the First World War do not, as a rule, survive but here we have admissions recorded between 1916 and 1936. There is a lot of useful information on the Erskine Archive Project page but of course the real gems are the entries themselves which have been competently digitised (thanks to a grant from the Wellcome Trust), and comprehensively indexed (thanks to volunteers from the Glasgow and West of Scotland Family History Society).

It is not clear exactly how many names appear in these registers but certainly in excess of 9000. Early entries tend to be for men who had received amputations whilst later entries in the 1930s (like the one above) are just as likely to note conditions such as nephritis, bronchitis, asthma and rheumatism. 

The registers give good detail, recording a man's name, age, trade, home address, regiment, regimental number, rank, religion, details of amputation, date of admission and date of discharge. Deaths and other notes may also be recorded in the remarks' column. 

Searching is free of charge and images can be downloaded. It is a terrific resource.

Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Sgt F R G Moore's autograph album

Autograph albums kept by nurses or soldiers can be an intriguing starting point for further research into the Great War. It was an album kept by a nurse at Chailey in Sussex which got me hooked onto a particular theme some thirty-odd years ago, and I still don't consider I have completed the task yet. You can see some of the output here: http://chailey1418.blogspot.co.uk/

This blog entry is courtesy Roger Moore who has transcribed entries in an autograph book given to him by his grandfather, late Sgt F R G Moore, 1st Tank Brigade. Roger notes that the album was probably signed as the men were about to depart for England; the location is probably Écoivres, a hamlet in the commune of Mont-Saint-Eloi. This ties in well with a pen and ink sketch of Mont St Eloi which appears in the album.

Further information about any of the men noted below would be welcomed. Men's names in bold. BWM and VM indicates medal entitlement to the British War & Victory medals. Roger's notes in italics.

Aubrey John Bosworth poem 7.1.18
Aubrey John Bosworth (1892 – 1966); MGC Sgt 2979; Royal Engineer 301516 or 310516. Went on to win numerous motorbike events in Kettering from 1921 onwards.

D Pyott comic 5.1.19
RFA Gunner 310517 (9.3.15)
Royal Engineers to 10.2.1919

F Bentin CSM RE poem and sketch 5.1.19

W G Holmes poem 5.1.19

M Lane “The Bold Bad telephonist” poem 6.1.19

J Weir poem 6.1.19

H Potts II Cpl short poem 6.1.19

A J Jeffels poem 7.1.19

E J Rosenberger Box car driver poem and detailed ink sketch of warship 10.1.19
Absent Voter Roll shows Eddie John Rosenberger as ASC 351566. Born 7th June 1892 in Brussels. Died December 1977. BWM & VM; Army Service Corps 351566, 1st Tank Brigade Signal Coy, RE.
1911 census records him as the stepson of Fred. Vincent Thickens at Tooting. 

S W Taylor Spr RE poem per R Burns 12.1.19

J A Hutcheson heading for “Bonnie Dundee” 12.1.19

A Wood Sapper RE poem 12.1.19

W H Cottam sapper poem 12.1.19

G Naylor poem 12.1.19

J Thompson Spr 12.1.19

John R Olson poem 20.1.1919
BWM & VM; MGC gunner 32298, RE sapper 313417

F Milligan pioneer poem emphasising pride in Signals co of Premier T Bde
25.1.19(Durham LI 1787 > RE 471988)

J Day 2Cpl poem 3.2.19

W K Cartwright poem “from one to another ... long before conscription” 3.2.19

R Sawyers l/cpl RE poem about where and when FRGM and he met 3.2.19

S Stuart “one of the old Seaforths” pro Scottish 4.2.19

Rupert Hudson “one of the old 48th territorial div”4.2.19
Possibly the man below. <18 1913.="" br="" old.="" yr="">Died at Shrewsbury in December 1982
<18 1913.="" br="" old.="" yr="">
<18 1913.="" br="" old.="" yr="">
[Unclear] Ayres QMS HQ 1st Tank Bde poem about leaving for UK 9.2.19
Possibly Frederick A Ayres; BWM & VM; Tank Corps 97022

J G Allott Spr RE long poem & poem plus comic drawing10.2.19
BWM & VM; RE Sapper 325518

J Cammack
RE RASC SS/14288 embarked 8.8.15

P O Smith Pioneer poem 10.2.19

Read Spr sketches 12.2.19

Read Spr coloured sketch 17.2.19

Howse Spr poem 18.2.19

H A Handford Spr RE poem 1.3.19

E J Miles Spr RE poem 3.19

A Smith pioneer poem 11.3.19

H Harrison 1st Tank Bde Sig Coy RE lengthy poem Ecuvier 12.3.19
1914-15 Star, BWM & VM. Entered France 29.8.15; RFA Gunner 30801; later Tank Corps Private 307063

H Cooper sapper poem en route to Rhine 12.3.19

Goldman poem re The signallers “one of them” 20.3.19

T Ball Cpl poem – Blighty for FRGM, onward to Rhine for Ball 21.3.19

W D Gibbs poem in Scottish form 21.3.19

E J Spears Capt. RE long poem & short poem Ecoivres, France 24.3.19' RE (TF) 1648 Sergt.

J A Richmond (69204 1st TB, Sig Co, RE) )poem and “Passed by Censor” stamps 24.3.19

James Dickson in format of telegraph message from Ecqoivres, 25.3.19

Goodwin, Spr HQ 1st TB poem re tanks leaving for Rhine 1.4.19

A Mumford “Ponsonby” Cpl 1st Bde Tank Corps Sig Coy RE poem and sketches 25.3.19

J W Hunt poem 20.7.19

A Barker poem St Leonards 31.8.19

George Boles; poem 31st August 1919
BWM & VM; MGC Sgt 10676, later Tank Corps Sgt 201777

William H Cottam
BWM & VM; MGC gunner 69947, King's Own Royal Lancaster Regt 24935; later Royal Engineers 313428

poem 19.5.1921

P A Welsford short poem 28.7. 1921

Cliff Welsford cartoon 1921

R G C poem 11.12.1921

W Wain poem 24.5.1922

Undated Donald M Fraser two long poems about the Armistice (in France 1917 – 1919)

Born 30 May 1869 in Edinburgh. Enlisted 24.7.1915. Transferred to HLI in France, served with MGC from Dec 1917. Demobbed Ripon May 1919 .Wrote letter to Under-Secretary of State 10.2.1938. His “Armistice” poem is long and well written and significantly has “copyright” on it. The article below possibly refers to the same man:

Undated J P Hatch, Spr RE BEF detailed pen and ink sketch of ruins at Mont St Eloi 1919

Undated Spr F Honnor map showing him on IoW and FRGM back in Bristol after war.

Undated S J Humport poem

Undated Sapper J or T Watt RE

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Sunday, 29 April 2018

Life in the British Army in 1899 - the Fizzer Man

This article, written by Callum Beg, appeared in the Navy & Army Illsrrated published on the 17th June 1899

The soldier of past ages was content to invest what little surplus money remained to him, after paying for his regimental and other necessaries, in tobacco and ale. Not so the youthful warrior of today. Frequently fresh from school when he takes service under the Union Jack, it is not a matter for surprise that he has no appetite for either the one or the other. From time to time one hears of the prevalence of the “liquor habit” in the ranks and its dire results- crime and disease. Now it can not be denied that an abnormal love for “the flowing bowl” has been the ruin of many a promising soldier. It is equally true that no small proportion of our modern soldiers, although displaying no tendency to indulge in alcoholic liquors, is busy sowing the seeds of future disease connected  for the most part with the digestive organs.

Lest either the Army reformer or the agitator against armament of every description should for one moment suppose that the Government rations are responsible for the cultivation of dyspepsia among the defenders of the Empire, it may be well to clear the character of the “regulation” bread and meat before proceeding further. Let it be understood, then, that the provisions supplied free to the soldier are in no sense calculated to injure his "internal economy". On the contrary, were he to satiate his appetite with the rations provided for him, he would in all likelihood develop into a useful fighting man. Nowadays, however, he too often prefers to fill the "aching void" with a mixture of jam-tarts, cakes, and "fizzers".  A fizzer, as its name implies, is strictly speaking, a drink of an effervescent nature, but the term is in reality applied indifferently to almost every kind of temperance drink.

The demand for this species of liquor has within recent years become so great that it has provided a number of persons in the vicinity of every garrison town with a visible (and sometimes exceedingly lucrative) means of subsistence. Needless to say, the camp followers referred to are made up, like every other trade and calling, of honest men and rogues, although the latter, when discovered, are very quickly deprived of "Tommy’s" patronage. A few years ago, when the Fusilier Brigade - the old 5th (now Northumberland) Fusiliers, the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and the Inniskilling Fusiliers - marched
out of Shorncliffe Camp on its way to Ashdown Forest for manoeuvres, it was closely followed by a veritable host of what those who had "soldiered" in the East were pleased to term "fizzer-wallahs" of varying degrees of respectability. Some, sufficiently well endowed with this world’s goods, carried their wares in carts or wheelbarrows. Others in groups of two or three were, perforce, charged with the conveyance of the ingredients necessary for the carrying on of their trade.

All that is required to manufacture the fizzer proper is aqua pura and a proportionate amount of sherbet. During the first few miles of the first day’s march it may be assumed that the former commodity was to be had in abundance, but the thirsty young soldiers, unaccustomed to self-control, had soon exhausted the water supply of the smaller dealers. The capitalists who had a sufficient supply of Adam’s wine on their carts were overjoyed to see their trade suddenly increased; but those who lacked transport were not wanting in resources. The Hythe Canal lay along the route, and ere long the cans of the "small fry" were again filled - but with what? A greenish stagnant fluid rich in bacilli.

Regardless of this fact, the younger men of the brigade continued to drink; but before "lights out" had sounded in camp that night there was "weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth" not to mention work in plenty for the Army Medical Staff.

"It’s an ill-wind that blows nobody any good." So said the wiser "fizzer-wallahs" the following day; for the mandate went forth that soldiers were to purchase their refreshments from none but those provided with passes. Needless to say, the vendors of bacteria were "unprovided with a pass" and wended their way homewards, sadder and wiser men. In barracks and camps such as Aldershot strict rules obtain regarding hawkers and their wares. None can follow their calling within the hallowed precincts of Government property without the necessary pass, and before permission is granted a strict investigation is made into the character of the applicant.

Generally speaking, the privileged dealers are either pensioners or soldiers’ widows. The discovery of any illegal practice on their part leads to the immediate loss of licence, but unfortunately there is no regulation by which the authorities can control the appetite of growing lads who are accustomed to leave all their pocket-money with these denizens of barracks.

Militia training in 1899

The following extract - and the illustration above -  are taken from an article published in the Navy & Army Illustrated on the 17th June 1899:

"To commence with, the Militia, when disembodied, as has been the case since Crimean days, is liable to be called out for training every year for any number of days not exceeding fifty-six, the normal period being arranged for the various arms as follows: artillery, infantry and medical staff corps twenty-seven days, engineers forty-one, and submarine miners fifty-five. 

"The force is of a strictly territorial character, and a recruit on enlisting, which comprises a term of service lasting six years, is at once posted to the unit that includes his place of residence within its scope; that is to say, a man cannot join any corps he likes, unless he "fakes” his residential qualification accordingly. But this system does not apply to the officering of the force, though the appointment of subaltern officers to the same is still based on the old-fashioned method which gives the Lord-Lieutenant of the county the first offer of recommending the name of a gentleman for submission to Her Majesty. Such candidates must be not less than seventeen years of age, nor under 5-ft 4-in in height and 33-in. in chest measurement. But if this opportunity be not taken within thirty days after the Secretary of State has notified the Lord-Lieutenant of the vacancy, the power of the latter in this respect lapses, and is then transferred to the officer commanding the unit. As a matter of fact, Lord-Lieutenants nominate but very few; and owing to the lack of suitable candidates in some parts of the country, a kind of Militia exchange, or register of officers willing to do duty with foreign battalions, has had to be instituted. 

"The connection between the Lord-Lieutenant and the county regiment of Militia is, indeed, a relic of Constitutional feudalism; and this magnate, when taking up his residence near the place of training, can claim to be provided with a Militia guard of honour, while his presence on the parade ground entitles him to the salute before the territorial Military authorities."

Monday, 16 April 2018

Enlistment advice in 1897

I'm not convinced that the following 'advice' from "one who has tried it" would have persuaded many a likely lad to join the army. The extracts below are from a larger article published in the Navy & Army Illustrated in 1897. Entitled "To those about to enlist", the anonymous author who, reading between the lines, was almost certainly a cavalryman, was certainly frank.

On pay...

"You will not be overpowered at the extent of your wealth as a private soldier. Month in, month out, you will be lucky to draw five shillings a week after deductions for mess allowances, barrack damages, renovation of kit, etc. How you will invest all this great sum is a matter on which I shall not presume to offer you any advice. You can easily get rid of it at the canteen, and will find a considerable number of jolly fellows to assist at that operation. You can expend it in improving your menu, or can put it in the regimental savings bank. You can gamble it away, or perchance increase it at cards - I do not recommend either— or send it home to your friends. Personally I found I required all my pay, and a little more, to keep me in grub. A beneficent nation allows you three-quarters of a pound of meat and one pound of bread per diem, and anything else you require you must pay for yourself. The meat varies as to quality— occasionally it is excellent, less often it is not fit for human consumption. As a rule the bread is fairly good. Groceries and vegetables come out of the mess fund, to which you pay a certain sum from your pay, whether you wish it or not."

On promotion...

"Don’t be in too big a hurry for promotion. If you merit it, you are bound to gain it in the Army, sooner, perhaps, than in any other walk of life; and remember that when it comes it will not be a bed of roses. Every step higher incurs certain responsibilities and the first step of all is the most important.

"A lance-corporal is the hardest worked, most abused, and unhappiest man alive. Remember when you get that stripe sewn on your sleeve that yesterday you were plain Private Tommy, and don’t fancy yourself Adjutant-General all in a moment. You will have a roughish time at first, especially with the men who were your equals yesterday, and now is the time to show what you are made of. You will require courage, tact, firmness - in a word, a strong heart - if you are to be a success as Lance Jack. The men watch you, and those above watch you, and you had better watch yourself closest of all."