Diary of Private Holden: The Remount Depot (24th May – 1st July 1915)

Arriving at Rouen the soldiers faced a 4 mile hike to Base Depot Number 5 where Private Holden was to stay for nearly 6 Weeks. The base at Rouen consisted of different camps, largely firing Infantry, and was the primary hospital centre for the British Expeditionary Forces, in addition to housing the Cavalry Remount Depot. Private Holden describes it:

“like a big canvas city, & the distance round it, would be somewhere about, six miles, so you can form from that the amount of space taken, & very little space was wasted. In our camp alone we had over 50 stables, each one having over a hundred stalls, & about half a dozen lines, & at times these had over a hundred horses on each one”

Example of a British Army Camp ©Duke of Wellington’s Regimental Archive/ Royal Armouries FWWA

Though entranced by the appearance of the ‘canvas city’, the reality of accommodation at the base seems to have left something to be desired.

“The first few weeks, we had three tents between us, but we did not have them long, & we had two between twenty of us, it was so hot …. .after that we spent most of our nights outside, with the stars for a roof. Wet nights we looked for an empty tent.”

During the day the soldiers worked at the Remount Depot. Private Holden describes a typical day:

  • 6 am               Fall in and report to designated stable to groom and take to                                        water about one hundred horses per man
  • 7:30 am          Breakfast
  • 8:30 am          Back to the stables to groom and exercise the horses
  • 12 Noon         Rest period
  • 2:00 pm          (if on Cavalry Depot duty) Saddle horses ready to move out
  • 4:00 pm          Grooming, watering and feeding the horses
  • 6:00 pm          Released from duty

Evenings at the base were typically spent in the YMCA hut writing, playing cards or watching one of the nightly concerts or performances. Private Holden was lucky enough to be at the base when it hosted one of Lena Ashwell’s famous Concert Parties. Lena Ashwell was an actress and theatre manager who organised concert parties for troops as far afield as Egypt during the war, receiving an OBE for her work in 1917.

Interior of a YMCA hut at Rouen © IWM (Q5457)

Interior of a YMCA hut at Rouen © IWM (Q5457)

When not attending camp entertainments soldiers could request a pass to go into Rouen during their free time. Private Holden seems to have been very taken with the city, describing its churches, roads and cafes, and even going as far as to comment:

“I must say that most of their public buildings are much better looking than ours in England, the churches, were all very pretty buildings, the carving being the chief thing”

On 25th June, after 5 weeks at the base, Private Holden and 12 others were warned to prepare to travel to the front, and on 1st July they finally moved out.

“this time we were on the last stage of the road to the fighting line, we again left friends”

A journey to France – the war diary of Private Wilfred Holden: 7th (Princess Royal’s) Dragoon Guards

Unlike those who joined the army to become career soldiers, Private Holden was part of the Special Cavalry Reserve. Volunteers or conscripts who enlisted after the start of the war served with the reserve regiments in England, undergoing basic training before being sent overseas to supply drafts to their affiliated regiments.

Though it has not been possible to locate him in the surviving WW1 records, Private Holden most likely belonged to the 4th Reserve Regiment, based at Tidworth, which was the regiment that supplied drafts to the 7th Dragoon Guards until 1917.

Private Holden does not seem to have taken naturally to soldiering and his diary has few place names or dates and very little mention of enemy action. It does however give a wonderful picture of his everyday worries and wishes and the various mishaps that befell him.

The Journey out (22-23 May 1915)

 “It was on May the 20th, when, along with ten more men, I was warned for France, but it was not until two days later, that we were told the day for leaving. On the evening of the 22nd we got orders to parade at 8 A.M the following morning, when, I should say, about forty eight men & two NCO’s turned out, we marched down to the station, but unlike all other drafts we had no band, at the time they were on leave. At the station we were given a good send off, by our own men & also the 9th Lancers and the 18th Hussars, they were also sending men away and we were all on the same train, & we steamed out of Tidworth station, which to most people, was a thing to be remembered, the two bands of the 9th and the 18th were playing , & the chaps wishing us all good luck, & a few wondering if they would ever see their chums again, then all was left behind and the future talked about”

Cavalry Troops at southampton docks

P.269/2 Cavalry Troops at Southampton Docks ©Southampton Archives

 

Arriving at Southampton Docks, Private Holden had to wait for the troop ship to be prepared for embarkation and spent his time watching the boats come in.

“During the time we were waiting for the order to fall in, we saw a few hospital ships come in dock, then the question how long should we be out before we should stop one, as it is called. About 4:30 we got the welcome order fall in, then we marched on the boat, the name I have forgotten, it was some Irish name, & was an old cargo boat, & was fitted up for cattle, we all marched on, & three hundred horses were taken on. At 5:30 the boat steamed out, but, unlike the pictures of a ‘departure of a troopship’, all was quiet, no cheering and goodbyes. No one was on the dock, only workmen, & a few soldiers, & many looked longingly at old England’s shores as we went slowly down the channel”

Private Holden Diary Entry

Newsreel films of the departures of troop ships from Britain and Overseas were common during the early years of the war and presumably it is one such film that Private Holden refers to within his diary. Examples of such films can be viewed in the British Pathé online Archive, including this film of Russian Relief troops departing from London.

http://www.britishpathe.com/video/look-out-trotsky-departure-of-russian-relief-force/query/troop+ship

Many of the ships used to carry British and colonial troops during the war had been requisitioned and were fitted up as best they could be for the process of carrying large numbers of men and horses across the sea. Horses were often winched onto the ships and confined in small quarters for the voyage, with many dying from disease and injury.

Even the short journey across the channel was dangerous for both man and beast, with submarines targeting the troop ships. Only a month after Private Holden’s voyage, in June 1915 the SS Armenian was torpedoed off the British coastline and 1,400 mules and horses were left to perish while the remaining men abandoned ship.

Conditions on the troop ship were cramped and most of the soldiers took the welcome chance to sleep while they could but Private Holden stayed on deck watching the sunset.

 Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides  ©Sea Power Centre, Australia


Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

I smile often when I think of the crowd, & picking your way over them was a very difficult task, for with the swaying of the boat, & the different positions of the men, you had a hard task, & more than one man had a rude awakening, through someone falling on the top of him.”

Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides  ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

Passing Le Havre signalled the completion of the channel crossing and the ship turned to sail down the river towards Rouen.

“We passed several villages on the river side, some of the people seemed to be just getting out of bed, but the noise made on the boat, was enough to awake the dead, & before we reach Rouen, half the chaps could not shout, the people cheered us all the way down, but when nearing Rouen, we had to cease shouting, to give the sailors a chance to hear the orders given from the bridge.”

 

Conservation Live! Siborne’s Waterloo model: Treating a corroded figure

Conservation of Captain William Siborne’s large-scale Waterloo model is nearing completion ahead of the upcoming exhibition Waterloo 1815: The Art of Battle, opening at the Royal Armouries on 22 May 2015.

While most of the lead/tin figures on the model were in excellent condition, it was evident that some had corroded in the past. A small number were actively corroding – a few quite severely. One such figure was a soldier lying in the road. Voluminous, powdery corrosion products could be seen encompassing the figure. At this point it was not clear how much of the figure had survived.

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The first step was to remove the corrosion products mechanically and assess the level of loss.

2

Fortunately, the figure was in better condition than expected. Much of the paint had flaked off, the top surface of the body had corroded away and the left foot had been lost completely, but the surviving metal was fairly solid and the figure as a whole was still recognisable.

3

As much corrosion as possible was cleared away and the surface was cleaned with alcohol.

4

The next step was to consolidate the affected areas by applying a dilute acrylic adhesive in a solvent mixture. This accomplished two things: it lent the figure strength by filling any porous gaps in the metal and it sealed and protected the surface.

5

Following consolidation I made a replacement foot for the figure using Milliput epoxy putty. When freshly mixed it was the consistency of modelling clay, but within a few hours it set into a hard, durable fill.

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After the Milliput had set the final step was to touch in the paint. The colour is slightly different than the original – this is intentional so that my touch-up will not be confused with original paint in the future.

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The final result is below. My goal in this treatment was to preserve as much of the original figure as possible, stabilise it and make some cosmetic improvements so that the damage was not readily visible. While the figure is not exactly as it was before it corroded, it is still clearly identifiable and now in a stable condition.

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The newly conserved Siborne model will be a key element of our Art of Battle exhibition, which opens 22nd May.

Cymbeline Storey
Waterloo Model Conservator

Marking 70 years since VE Day – The Big Guns of WWII: 25 pounder self-propelled gun

To mark the 70th anniversary of Victory in Europe day, our Portsmouth site Fort Nelson will be firing the impressive 25 pounder self-propelled gun at 1pm and 3pm today. Also known as the Sexton, the gun was developed to support rapidly advancing forces in later stages of World War Two. The gun will be fired at at 1pm and 3pm today.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun pictured on the Parade at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries

The Royal Artillery experimented with a number of designs in their attempted to improve the mobility of artillery. Self-propelled guns on tracked mountings gave much better cross-country mobility. The ‘Flanders Mud’ of the First World War made it difficult and sometimes impossible to move heavy guns. Early tanks showed the way forward, leading to the gradual introduction of self-propelled guns [SPGs]. The towed 25 pr gun, examples of which can be seen on display in the Voice of the Guns gallery and the Artillery Hall, required a towing vehicle and limber and had limited off-road ability.

Early prototypes included the ‘Bishop’, combining a mounted 25 pounder quick firing gun to chassis of a Valentine tank. The Royal Artillery also used the American M7 self-propelled 105 mm which was known as the ‘Priest’, as its gun mounting resembled a pulpit. However, the British needed a self-propelled gun which incorporated the 25 pounder.

The answer, which came to be known as the Sexton, was created by adapting a Canadian Kangaroo chassis, based on the M3 American tank, to carry a 25 pounder field gun. Manufactured at the Montreal Locomotive Works in Canada, over 2150 Sextons were produced between 1943 and 1945.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

The 25 pounder self-propelled gun on display in the Artillery Hall at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson ©Royal Armouries.

This example on display at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson is painted in the colours of the 90th City of London Yeomanry, which landed in Normandy on D–Day, 6 June 1944. On the final run into the beaches they fired their guns from the landing craft in support of the troops already ashore. This example was transferred to Portugal after the Second World War and reimported in the 1980s and  has been restored to running order

See the mighty 25 pounder self-propelled gun fired at the Royal Armouries at Fort Nelson on Friday 8th May to commemorate the 70th anniversary of VE Day. Firings take place on the Parade at 1 pm and 3 pm.

Bleatings from the Tower: Sheep may safely graze…

Spring is upon us. As the grass in the Tower moat begins to perk post – Poppies and in the countryside lambs are rushing towards adolescence, this year London too has its very own personalised Spring flock.

Shaun in the City features 50 bespoke statues of Aardman’s cheeky lamb scattered about the metropolis gathering funds for Wallace and Gromit’s children’s charity and two have come to rest on Tower Hill.

Shaun as Yeoman of the Baaard

Shaun as Yeoman of the Baaard

At first sight there might seem little to link sheep to the Tower but as so often delve a little deeper and out pops a historical precedent. The oldest connection lies with the Constable of the Tower and his right to claim any cattle passing the Tower by means of the Thames as his own. Unlikely as he is to exercise this privilege one of the privileges of a Freeman of the City of London today remains the right to drive sheep across London Bridge.

Moving forward to the 19th century  in 1845 the Tower moat was finally drained on the orders of the Constable – at the time the Duke of Wellington –  as it had become more a stagnant cesspit than defensive barrier and  the resulting ditch was turfed.

sheepmoatpic

John Warrender’s oil painting from about 1870 views the Tower from the gardens NW of the site.  11 sheep graze or loll about the moat while a 12th stands, feet squarely planted as if on guard, under Legges Mount.  Further down the moat adjacent to the Beauchamp Tower a disproportionally large horse rests from bringing in stone to repair the outer wall.

Odd as it might seem, our ovine friends on Tower Hill are not the first.

Come July a further 70 Shauns will colonise Bristol until October when the whole flock is due to be auctioned to raise funds to support children in hospital.

 

The Curator @ War: 20 March 1915 “Foreman Buckingham: the Last Post” (part II)

280415_Ffoulkes_Part 2

Battery Sergeant Major William Henry Noble Buckingham of the Royal Field Artillery was laid to rest with full military pomp and ceremony on the afternoon of Saturday 20th March 1915 in Ilford County Council Cemetery.  His death while training volunteers at Peterborough was not in the heat of battle as he may have imagined, but at home where he had been sent three weeks earlier to recover from a chill.  The fact that the official records give the cause of death as phthisis or tuberculosis suggests there may have been a pre- existing condition or that he had contracted the disease after re-enlisting at the outbreak of war in 1914.

The general consensus seems to have been that he was a good chap –both as Foreman of the Tower Armouries and as an Artilleryman – and his colleagues were warm in their praise of him. His death was announced locally – in the Ilford Recorder and The Stratford Express – and nationally in the Daily Telegraph.

The funeral attracted much local interest, and an enormous accompanying crowd. The Tower Curator Charles ffoulkes representing HM Office of Works had already written to Mrs Buckingham to say that he would be attending, and that he would walk with the military part of the procession (at the time he was a Lieutenant in the Royal Naval Reserve, manning London’s air defences). His predecessor Lord Dillon also attended, as did a number of local military representatives. The procession was lead by mounted policemen and included a firing party of 22 men, while the band of the late Essex Volunteers provided musical accompaniment.  A dummy gun and carriage to carry the coffin had had to be hastily assembled as all functioning ordnance had been commandeered for active service, and ffoulkes had had to pull some strings with the War Office to overcome the deficiency.  It went on to do further service for other families requesting a military funeral.

Among the floral tributes were those from the Yeoman Body and Chief Yeoman Warder at the Tower of London, and another from “his fellow workmen A.O Corps, Tower of London”.  His sisters Nellie and Louie had sent wreathes as had his mother Ellen.  His wife’s scrapbook had a picture of the grave taken three days later showing it buried under an impressive mountain of flowers including a wreath in the form of the Royal Artillery insignia– unfortunately we only have a rather faded and blurred photocopy of the original in the Armouries archives, but it is still spectacular.

Interment had been announced for 3.30 but had to be delayed as the cortege was so large that it was past 4.00 o’clock when it finally reached the cemetery.

Mrs Daisy Buckingham survived her husband and lived through another world war, dying in 1952. Today Buckingham’s memorial has lost its Celtic cross which originally rose out of the three step plinth and now lies in front of it, and some of the metal lettering has become detached. But viewed in the spring sunshine, sprigs of early white blossom above, it provides a tangible link with the First World War and the Tower Armouries of a century ago.  I hope that Buckingham would approve of our commemorative exhibition in the South West corner of the first floor of the White Tower which this year has showcased some of his memorabilia gifted to the museum in 1997.

280415_Ffoulkes_Part 2_TOW

Catch it while you can – it will be changing soon.  2015’s topic will be  “The Enemy Within”, with  material relating to Fernando Buschmann, the Brazilian convicted of spying and shot at the Tower in October 1915.

 

#Gallipoli100: Captured moments from the campaign

One of the major events of the First World War to be commemorated this year will be the 100th anniversary of the Gallipoli campaign. The Allied plan was to seize the Dardanelles, the narrow straights between the Mediterranean and the Black Sea, and re-open the southern supply route to Russia, which had been cut after Turkey’s entry into the war on the side of the Central Powers. An attempt to force the narrows by warships of the Royal Navy and the French fleet ended disastrously in the loss of three battleships sunk, and three more disabled by mines and gunfire, and so an expeditionary force was hastily put together.

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The troops, including the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (Anzacs), the 29th British Division and the Royal Naval Division, landed on Gallipoli on 25 April but they failed to capture the key heights dominating the rocky peninsular, and were restricted to two narrow beach heads some 15 miles apart. The Allies soon found themselves engaged in the same kind of trench warfare as on the Western Front. A second landing by three further divisions on 6-8 August was followed by a co-ordinated attempt to break the deadlock, but this also failed and in January 1916 the force was evacuated.

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The Royal Armouries archives contain a rare photograph album containing photographs of the Gallipoli campaign. It begins with a number of pictures showing the troops arriving at Port Said in Egypt, and there subsequent training at El Kantara on the Suez Canal, as well as photographs of visits to Mohamed Ali Mosque in Cairo and the Pyramids – please see the images below.

The scene then shifts and there are dramatic images of the warships and troop transports off Gallipoli dated April 1915, and of troops being landed on the rocky shores of the peninsular from small boats at W Beach (Lancashire Landing). There follow several photographs of trench scenes captioned ‘Near the White House’, ‘Lancaster St’, ‘Fig-tree Dug out’, ‘Backhouse Post’ and ‘Essex Knoll’ and several of troops behind the lines.

 

The name of the photographer is not known, but there are several photographs of the same young man in the album, and the dates and locations would indicate that he was in one of the battalions forming the Royal Naval Division.

  • When the Division landed in Egypt the 2nd Brigade (Howe, Hood, Anson and Nelson battalions) were sent to El Kantara on the Suez Canal – there are photographs of troops at El Kantara in the album.
  • On the 25th April the Division made a diversionary landing at Bulair in the Gulf of Xeros. – there are photographs of two of the transport ships, the Franconia and the Minnetonka, landing troops.
  • On the 29th April the Hood Battalion, the Howe Battalion, the Divisional and Brigade Head Quarters landed on W Beach – there are close up photographs (as if taken from a small boat) of W Beach.
  • On 6th May the Hood Battalion, the Anson Battalion and A Company of the Howe Battalion took part in the Second Battle of Krithia, and Hood captured a section of the line known as the ‘White House’ – there is a photograph captioned ‘near the White House May 15’.

The Royal Armouries purchased this amazing photograph album from an antiquarian book dealer in September 2010.