The Diary of Private Holden: Part Three – The Journey up the Line (1st July – 7th July 1915)

As part of the museums’ ongoing First World War Archives Project, we have been looking into the fascinating diary of Private Wilfred Holden. In our last post Holden described his time in the Rouen camp, and here he goes onto record his journey to the front line.

The train to the line carried 2 men and 8 horses to a compartment, with the men sleeping at the horses’ feet. A precarious place to be one would think, but not Private Holden.

“most people would think this very uncomfortable, but it was much better than riding in an ordinary French 3rd Class Compartment and the truck we had was a fairly large one and that journey was the best railway journey I have ever had”

Holden diary entry 3

The frequent stops made by the train allowed the men to jump out and stretch their legs from time to time. Though the hazard was that the train might move off again without you, as Private Holden found out:

 “ a few of us got some hot water from the engine behind, intending making some tea, but when on the way back to our own trucks, the engine whistled & started off, but we did not like the idea of leaving our tea (we had none since the Thurs morning), we ran along with the water in our mess tins, but the train began to move quicker, so we had to throw the water away, & run for all we were worth, just as we got on again, & settled down the train stopped.”

Album of Thomas Maugham

Soldiers making tea by a train – From the Album of Thomas Maugham © Green Howards Museum (Ref 2005.66.1)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Travelling through France and along the coast, the train journey is made to sound almost idyllic with the French people waving and cheering as the train passed along the line. Passing Bethune however, the mood changes as the sound of the shells and the vision of the damage caused by the Germans is seen for the first time.

Arriving at Aire the train was met by the 7th Dragoon Guards who had come for the horses but knew nothing about the men accompanying them.

“here was a fine how do you do, brought eighteen horses all the way from Rouen, & then no one to own us, so whilst waiting we had some breakfast, one of the chaps going after a loaf and another got some hot water and we cleaned ourselves up to try and look our best and make a good impression when we did reach the regiment”

Holden diary entry 3.5

Finally arriving at the squadrons base near Dellettes, Private Holden was issued with a horse, and put to work caring for the horses and carrying out guard duty before moving out for the trenches on 6th July.

“What part of the line we were going to we did not know, as was the case in all the moves we had, we never knew how long we should be or the name of the place until we got there”

A working party in the trenches_from the Photograph Album of the 1_5th Battalion

A working party in the trenches – from the Photograph Album of the 1/5th Battalion © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/7/5/5)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Holden’s diary shows that his life at the front settled into a monotonous mixture of drills, horse care and digging parties, broken only by the odd mishap or annecdote. Coming back from a stint on the work gang one evening he was surprised to find that the regiment had moved billets in his absence and that his kit was nowhere to be found.

 “next morning we had to look round for our kits that we had to leave behind, but my friend’s and my own was missing & was never found. Among my things was my great coat, & I never had another one given me, & all the nights that I spent in the trenches, I was without great coat”

Arrangement of Kit for Inspection

Arrangement of Kit for Inspection © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/1/1/4/4)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

 

 

APRIL FOOL!

The proposed attack of the ‘Easter bunnies’ was clearly intended – though very well thought out and well planned – as an April Fool. Making this a 100 year old joke!

The Letter was sent to the War Office and was opened by a Major C.P Deedes of the Kings Own Light Infantry, who was working as a General Staff Officer (Grade 3) at the time. Major Deedes wrote in his diary in response to the letter:

Rabbits - Diary Entry

Major Deedes clearly saw the funny side of this correspondence, indeed the letter was found within a collection of his belongings, meaning he had kept it ever since.

General CP Deedes_RabbitsGeneral C.P Deedes, as the Major later became, was a respected figure of his regiment. During the war he was awarded a D.S.O (Distinguished Service Order), mentioned in Dispatches on multiple occasions, and made a ‘Companion of the Most Distinguished Order of Saint Michael and Saint George.’

For more information about the papers and life of General C.P Deedes contact the Museum and Archives of the King’s Own Light Infantry. Their Website can be found here.

Unusual War Efforts: Attack of the Easter-bunnies!

General CP Deedes_Rabbits

General C.P Deedes, Major of the Kings Own Light Infantry at the time. Credits: http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/general-sir-c-p-deedes-18791969-69660

On this day in 1915, the then Major CP Deedes, member of the King’s Own Light Infantry, currently G.H.Q (General Headquarters Staff) at the War Office, received a very unusual letter suggesting a new alternative “method of warfare”.

Rabbits. Around 200-300 Rabbits as a guideline.

Rabbits at War-1

Credits: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

Rabbits at War-2

Credits: King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry

This is a real letter, sent to the war office in April 1915, suggesting that rabbits be used as a weapon in trench warfare.

The unique idea was to train the rabbits to enter the trenches of the Germans by “feeding them at night on a diet, similar if possible, to what the Germans have.”

These bunny warriors would then be able to carry either smelling or sneezing gas, or even bombs on their “errand of destruction”.

The aim of this – “to play havoc with the enemy” and therefore “put the men out of action for a time, and enable us to attack”.

This may sound incredibly insensitive to us now, however the unknown author justifies this by writing “the above idea is not very humane, but at these times one has to drop sentiment, and adopt all sorts of ideas”. He even goes further to say if the plan proves ineffective, the rabbits could be used for a more savoury suggestion…!

War memorials

warmem

Why do war memorials look the way they do?

The War Memorials Trust estimates that there are 100,000 war memorials in the UK, and many of them follow a similar range of designs. There’s the statue of an infantryman, as in the memorial in Otley. There’s the Cenotaph style memorials that mimic the original design created for London by Edwin Lutyens in 1919. Some places, such as Victoria Park in Leicester, have an archway reminiscent of the Menin Gate in Ypres. Many smaller towns and villages have a memorial in the form of a simple cross.

The First World War defined remembrance for the 20th century. Wars had been commemorated before, but the sheer scale of the conflict and its impact on towns and villages across the country sparked a response to anniversaries beyond anything seen before. The BBC has a great summary of how the response to conflict ‘set the blueprint’ for commemoration. Now, at nearly a century’s remove from the events of 1914-18, it seems appropriate to reflect on how the formal commemoration events that began in 1919 have influenced who and what we remember in our commemoration events today, and how they are enacted. Who is remembered, and who is not? More importantly, why? We’ll return to this topic in future posts.

As part of our project we’re researching seven names from the war memorial in Otley, West Yorkshire. All were soldiers with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment and all had different experiences of the war. We’re using a range of sources including medal indexes, service records, battalion war diaries, death and burial records and personal memoirs of soldiers who served with those battalions to build up a picture of their war service and how they died. We’ll report back as our research unfolds.

The Curator @ War – January 1915 : Three cheers for the back-room boys!

1915 appears to have dawned with business very much as usual – in fact ffoulkes only made 2 entries in the Minute Book. The arrival of W. Spooner RN as new Armouries cleaner was noted on the 11th January (presumably in place of H Evans who had died on 23rd December 1914), and the move of Charles I’s armour to the “centre of the small room” was recorded on the 12th.  The latter refers to the sub-crypt in the White Tower Basement where the Curator had moved the “valuable armours” in October 1914 as a precautionary measure against air raids – still to materialise.

This is hardly the stuff of an exciting blog- but Spooner’s appointment made me think about the unsung heroes of the Minute book and Diary – the Armouries back-room boys without whose support neither ffoulkes nor Dillon could have affected the modernisation of the collections and displays they achieved.

In 1913 Joubert’s new horse for Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour ascends to the top floor of the White Tower thanks to the muscle power of the Armouries’ team.  Identifying the individuals is unfortunately impossible – although the onlooker to the far right may be ffoulkes (prominent high white collars are a distinguishing part of his wardrobe in other photographs), and the supervisory, flat- capped gentleman in front of him may be Foreman Buckingham.

In 1913 Joubert’s new horse for Henry VIII’s silvered and engraved armour ascends to the top floor of the White Tower thanks to the muscle power of the Armouries’ team. Identifying the individuals is unfortunately impossible – although the onlooker to the far right may be ffoulkes (prominent high white collars are a distinguishing part of his wardrobe in other photographs), and the supervisory, flat- capped gentleman in front of him may be Foreman Buckingham.

Glimpsed occasionally in the background of unofficial photographs and recorded in the Receipts and Issues Books of the 1860s for payments due to them, the first comprehensive listing of the Armouries staff appears in the front of the Minute Book in 1913.  Employed by H M Office of Works, they were responsible for the maintenance of the displays and cleaning of the collection.  If objects were loaned out – and these were the days of gentleman’s agreements as well as formal loans when the military and diplomatic services could turn up and decorate their respective messes and embassies with material from stores – they would set up and dismantle selected displays off site. The high spot of this service was the decoration with Tower arms and armour of the annexe built onto the front of Westminster Abbey for the coronations of Edward VII and George V.  There were also annual trips to dress the Guildhall for the Lord Mayor’s festival in November.

Foreman Buckingham started life at the Tower as a Carpenter, and his involvement with the Volunteer Artillery undoubtedly proved useful. We have a number of his trophies  from repository exercise competitions showing his prowess in manoeuvring artillery over difficult terrain using minimal equipment – handy skills when relocating cannon about the site.  Both Dillon and ffoulkes praised his care and involvement with the collection, albeit a tad patronisingly.

A rare behind the scenes illustration from the Graphic of 1893 shows the team at work cleaning exhibits before opening, and is the only other illustration of this period showing the staff we have so far uncovered.

The tradition of facial hair among male members of the Armouries collections staff continues today, although the practice of wearing hats indoors has been discarded.

The tradition of facial hair among male members of the Armouries collections staff continues today, although the practice of wearing hats indoors has been discarded.

So what else do we know of these men?

Ffoulkes lists Foreman Buckingham, and cleaners T. Bishop, W. Williams, H. Evans, W. Brown, T. Riddles, G. Stewart and F. Davey; A.H Prince is noted in the Ticket Office, D. Nash in the parcels office (set up after the Suffragette outrage of February 1913 to accommodate visitors’ larger hand baggage during their visit) and W. Johnson as lavatory attendant.

Evans had served 20 years and reaching the age limit for employment received a 12 month extension on the 9th December. Following his death two weeks later he was awarded a “bonus” of £32-5-8d. Buckingham and Williams went off to war in September 1914.

Nash moved from the Parcels office and was appointed Foreman in July 1915. In April 1916 ffoulkes thanked Foreman Nash and cleaners Bishop, Davey, Riddles, Moncks and Stewart for their hard work arranging the new displays as all the White Tower floors were finally opened to the public. In October the Armouries staff was formally placed under the Curator’s control and Nash departed on active service with the London Regiment. He was replaced by T. Bishop.

From 1917 Nash was detailed to the War Trophies Section at G.H.Q in France collecting material for the War Museum. He returned from France early in 1919 and was promoted Armoury Supervisor enjoying an Armouries career of over forty years.  Bishop is recorded as leading man in 1922, resigning in April 1923.

F. Davey transferred to the National War Museum as Storekeeper in October 1917. Stewart remained at the Tower and retiring in April 1923 aged 71 years, while cleaner Moncks is first appears in the Diary in May 1915 gifting books to the Armouries.

And Mr Spooner?  He was suspended on 9th February 1915 “thro’ intemperance”.

Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red, aka the Tower Poppies

poppies

Image: the poppies, and the crowds, at the Tower of London, 7 November 2014.

The art installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’, by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, is to date the UK’s most viewed and probably most controversial commemorative act of the First World War centenary (though it could yet be surpassed: there are still nearly four more years to go!). The work consisted of 888,246 ceramic poppies, each representing one British or Colonial serviceman killed in the war, which were installed progressively in the Tower of London moat between July and November 2014. The installation has been well documented in the press. The debate over whether it is in appropriate way of commemorating and memorialising the First World War offers and insight into contemporary attitudes towards the conflict and much food for debate. We focused on two contrasting articles:

It’s hardly surprising that the Mail and the Guardian should differ in their views (and it amused me that Hardman should claim the First World War as a chapter in the country’s history that ‘transcend(s) the petty squabbles of Left and Right’ while at the same time using his article to take pot shots at ‘Lefties’). The debate begs a number of questions. Is it ever possible for commemoration to transcend politics? Who does this installation represent, and who (by definition) does it exclude? Does it matter? And what alternative ways can we find of remembering and commemorating the First World War?

 

The Christmas Truce

fadfa

Image: soldiers of the 12th Bn East Yorkshire regiment pass through a communications trench, 1918. © Imperial War Museum, Creative Commons

Preview post

 

Did you see the Sainsbury’s Christmas television advert featuring the legendary Christmas truce that happened at various locations along the Western Front in December 1914? Whether you saw it or not, you probably will have heard some of the controversy it aroused. The advert, and more importantly the discussion around it, provided a great case study for our first class examining the history and memory of the First World War and generated a lot of debate. Here are the links we used, with a couple more we didn’t have time for:

Do you think Sainsbury’s ‘went too far’ with this advert? Was it a fond, well-researched tribute to an important historical event, or a cynical, emotive ploy to boost flagging profits? Or something in between? And what does this advert, and the debate it generated, tell us about the way we remember the First World War one hundred years on?