Wednesday 7 August 2013

Posters of The Great War

This review first published on The Great War Forum on 6th August 2013:

Title: Posters of The Great War
By: Frederick Hadley & Martin Pegler
Published by: Pen & Sword
ISBN: 978-1-78159-289-2
Published on: 20th May 2013
Price: £19.99

In my own personal library of military literature there are some books that I delve into time and time again and generally come away having learnt (or re-remembered), something new. Martin Middlebrook’s Your Country Needs You, covering the formation of the British Army’s divisions during the First World War is one such book whilst The Army Book for the British Empire (published in 1893) is essential (and highly readable) reading for anyone wishing to understand the late Victorian British Army. To these titles and in the category of “essential reading”, I would unhesitatingly add Posters of The Great War.

Frederick Hadley has been the curator of the Historial Museum in Peronne since 2001 and has written a number of books on the Great War. Martin Pegler, a former curator of firearms at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds has also written a number of books on 1914-18 and is a leading authority on the history of military sniping. Together, the two men have come up with an absolute cracker of a book which, lavishly-illustrated throughout with images from the Historial’s poster collection, is an absolute bargain at £19.99.

Chapters are arranged by theme rather than as an evolutionary run through the war years and so the reader can dip into Recruiting, Loans and Money, The Enemy, The Home Front, and so on. This is most certainly a book to be dipped into, and dipped into again and again; a coffee table book in one sense but also a fantastic reference source teeming with little nuggets. Page 57, for example displays a poster for the Charity for the devastated Somme which lists the destroyed villages and their populations. It’s an absolute gem, made even more interesting by the accompanying text which ends with this little cameo of the obliterated village of Maurepas:

“The first donations here after the war were a cow and a bicycle. For months the inhabitants had to live in abandoned bunkers and crumbling cellars. A cow provided vital milk, butter and cheese, while a bicycle allowed access to nearby markets.”

The reproductions of the posters are first class and of a standard that book lovers have come to expect from Pen & Sword. Nor is the scope of the work confined to those familiar recruiting posters that are so symbolic of the war. Kitchener and his pointing finger are here, as are the women of Britain saying “Go!” and the ashamed father having been questioned what he did in the Great War. For that matter, no book on Great War art would be complete without these posters, but there are plenty of other lesser known artworks displayed here from across the world. This was, after all, a world war, and the talented artists and their equally talented copywriters whose work is on show here, came from across the globe.

Posters of the Great War is, I would argue, an essential addition for libraries and school libraries alike and could be just the thing to excite interest in a new generation of curious enthusiasts or re-kindle a passion in those of us who have been studying the conflict for decades . As far as this somewhat wizened reviewer is concerned, I still found much to intrigue and delight and I know I shall be re-visiting this work again and again. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.         

Thursday 11 July 2013

Aisne 1914 - Jerry Murland

Book Review
With 2014 fast approaching, we can expect a flood of books commemorating the efforts of the BEF in 1914, and Jerry Murland’s analysis of one of the lesser known battles of the First World War will be a welcome addition to most military enthusiasts’ libraries.  As the book’s blurb acknowledges, this title is the latest in a series of over one hundred Battleground titles and like its companions it follows a tried and tested format: an analysis of the events followed by some suggested tours to take in the battlegrounds; key events and personalities picked out for the intrepid traveller.  The book is published in a handy-enough format to be able to sit inconspicuously on a bookshelf or be slipped into a Barbour (or these days, Super-Dry) coat pocket.

Jerry Murland has obviously done his homework well and if I do have a niggle it’s the usual one about a paucity of footnotes pointing to the very many direct quotations and images.  Helpfully, and indispensably, an Order of Battle for the BEF is given as an appendix, but that Order of Battle could have been even more helpful if it had indicated the dates on which the troops arrived.  Those with an interest in the movements of a specific BEF Division will be pleased that chapters have been allocated to each.  This will suit the family historian who is looking to see what Great Uncle Alf did (and they’ll know that Great Uncle Alf was in the 4th Division because they’ll have seen in the appendix that the 2nd Seaforths were part of the that Division). For those who simply want to read a chronological account of the battle and re-live it as it unfolded, this format may not suit them as well.  But on the scale of things these are small matters.  The book is well illustrated and the tour itineraries are detailed and helpful.  A good bibliography rounds off a thoroughly researched topic.
Aisne 1914 is published by Pen & Sword at £12.99

Monday 21 January 2013

India 1912 - a hot-weather ballad

In these cold-weather days, here's what an unknown soldier of the 1st HLI, then based in Lucknow, wrote about the soldier's lot in India in 1912

A hot-weather ballad

When the west wind blows scorchin’ and fierce o'er the plains,
When you sit 'neath a punkah and pray for the rains,
When your body is burning with prickly heat,
And insects devour both your ankles and feet-
What a glorious country is India!

When you think of your friends in a healthier land,
Far from the scalding heat, dust-storms, and sand,
While you're sweating and cursing and shouting "Kinsho!"
And wondering whether it's hotter below
What a beautiful country is India!

You have read of the wonderful nights in the East,
Of the moonlight and peace when the day's work has ceased.
Well, this may be all very nice in its way,
But it's not my experience, I'm sorry to say,
Of a hot-weather night here in India.

For you find, when you lay yourself down on your bed,
That the brain-fever bird sends you half off your head,
While the jackal and pie-dog persistently howl,
And the chokidar coughs when he's doin' his prowl.
Oh, the joys and blessings of India!

When you rise in the morning at four forty-five
You're as weak as a rat, and more dead than alive.
And you’re soaked to the skin ere your toilet is done,
Whilst you're dreading the rise of the glorious sun.
Oh, why did I come out to India?

Now, you people at home who complain of the cold,
Don't get huffy and cross when the truth you are told,
For you're far better off than the soldier-man bold
In the plains in the summer in India.

The image on this post has been borrowed from Bharat Rakshak and shows British officers and Sikh soldiers from the 45th Sikhs after the relief of Chakdara Fort in 1897.

Friday 11 January 2013

The role of the cavalry defined

According to Punch, a General inspecting the officers of a cavalry regiment... asked a subaltern, "Now, sir, will you please tell me the role of cavalry in war." The subaltern replied: "Well, I suppose to give tone to what would otherwise be a mere vulgar brawl."

Quoted by General Sir H Hudson in History of the 19th King George's Own Lancers, 1937 and re-printed in the Marquis of Anglesey's A History of the British Cavalry 1816-1919, volume III.

Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

Thursday 10 January 2013

Soldiers' Policies - Norwich Union

Spotted this advertisement in the Army List for 1909.  I wonder how many polices were actually taken out and how many were paid out.  Was this policy still an option from 1914?  I'm guessing it probably wasn't.

Wednesday 9 January 2013

Army Returns 1871-1876

Some very useful stats here for the European Army of India and the Native Army between 1871 and 1876.  Saving the material is not an easy matter, and saving the images doesn't really work because they pixelate too much when you try to enlarge.  My tip would be to download the relevant page/s as a webpage text file and then copy the information into Word or Excel.

Tuesday 8 January 2013

A soldier's change of heart

From Hansard


HC Deb 20 February 1893 vol 8 cc1860-1
MR. E. H. BAYLEY(Camberwell, N.)
I beg to ask the Secretary of State for War whether his attention has been called to the case of Susan Bennett, a widow, who spent her entire means in purchasing her son's discharge from the Army in April last, and the fact that, although the man re-enlisted within a month, the War Office refuses to refund any portion of the money; and whether there is any Regulation against the repayment; and, if so, whether he will abolish such Regulation, and in the meantime exercise the power he possesses to suspend it in the case of Susan Bennett?
I have no power, under existing Regulations, to make any refund of purchase-money in case of a man who re-enlists. The discharge and re-enlistment give rise to public charges from which the soldier should certainly not be relieved; but the subject generally is under consideration, and it is possible that some modification may be made in the present Rides.

Sunday 6 January 2013

1st Bn HLI - I Coy Football Team - India 1909

Not the best quality photo in the world, but better than nothing I suppose, particularly if your ancestor happens to be one of the men captured above, and listed below:

This photo of the I Company football team was published on page 21 of the January 1910 issue (Volume X, No 1) of the Highland Light Infantry Chronicle, and many of the men pictured here would go on to serve with the Battalion during WW1. I've not researched all of the names here but Lt Alston was Captain Alston by 1915 and was killed in action at Chateau Redoubt near Neuve Chapelle on the 18th August that year. 5337 Col-Sgt Robert Brisbane, a prisoner of war by April 1915, survived the war as Warrant Officer Class II (and with a silver war badge to accompany his QSA, Delhi Durbar Medal 1911 and 1914 Star trio).

The names of the squad are:

Pte Smith, Pte Corrigan, Pte Docherty, Pte Schwerin, Pte McGeechan, Pte Wiseman, L/Cpl Lawson, Pte Passfield, Pte Reddy, L/Cpl Geake, Captain H T C Singleton DSO, Lt R C W Alston, Col-Sgt Brisbane, Pte Metcalfe, Pte Turner, Pte Olden, Pte Henderson, Pte Bruce.

Saturday 5 January 2013

11538 Private A H Ball - a re-constructed service history

The Highland Light Infantry Chronicle, in its October 1919 issue, reports an undisposed of balance of £119 7s and 11d for a Private A H Ball; a considerable sum for a man drawing a shilling a day.  So how did a private soldier amass such a large amount?

My first step was to see when he died.  Soldiers Died in The Great War shows that he was Arthur Henry Ball, that his number was 11538 and that he "died" on the 18th July 1918.  "Died" is significant in that it implies he was neither killed in action nor died of wounds.  I checked the Commonwealth War Graves site and this shows that Private Ball was 24 years old at the time of his death and his buried in Berlin South-West Cemetery.  Dying in Germany, obviously suggests that he was a prisoner of war and again, the Highland Light Infantry Chronicle notes in its January 1915 issue that Private Ball is missing.

My own database of regimental numbers suggests that Arthur Ball joined the HLI in April 1910 and the HLI Chronicle supports this.  Arthur is noted as one of a party of 21 recruits who proceeded from the regimental Depot on 20th June 1910 to join the 2nd Battalion in Cork. He subsequently obtained a 2nd Class Army Certificate and on the 9th October 1912, was drafted to the 1st Battalion which was then stationed in India.

Arthur's medal index card shows that he arrived in France on the 1st December 1914 and The Long, Long Trail website confirms that on this date the 1st Battalion landed in Marseilles having travelled from Ambala in India, via Egypt.  That Arthur appears as missing in the January issue of the HLI Chronicle obviously suggests that he was captured soon after arriving in France.  As for his undisposed balance, I suggest that this was back pay accumulated during nearly four years' captivity in Germany. 

Finally, a word about Arthur Ball's age.  As noted, CWGC records his age in 1918 as 24.  If he joined the regiment eight years earlier, this suggests that he was born in 1894 and therefore enlisted as a boy soldier aged 16.  I think this is unlikely.  The HLI Chronicle (fastidious in its reporting), makes no mention that Arthur was a 'Boy'.  Furthermore, it was not British Army policy (pre 1914 anyway) to send soldiers younger than 20 years of age overseas, and we know that Arthur sailed for India in 1912.  I could almost certainly resolve the age question by checking census returns (SDGW gives his place of birth as Bristol) but as yet I've not had time to pursue this line of investigation.