Agincourt 600: Triumph of the longbow?

As part of our 600th commemoration of the battle of Agincourt, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique temporary collection of arms, armour, art, music and manuscripts at the Tower of London.To accompany the exhibition, the Royal Armouries has produced a catalogue with Yale University Press, edited by our Curator of Tower History and Tower Special Collections Malcolm Mercer and trustee Professor Anne Curry. Here, one of the contributors of the publication, Thom Richardson of the Royal Armouries, writes about the iconic longbows of the battle.

© His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library

The battle of Agincourt from the Brut Chronicle (Chronicle of St Albans), English, late 15th century. © His Grace the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Trustees of Lambeth Palace Library

The accounts of the privy wardrobe, the fourteenth century organisation which ran the armoury at the Tower of London and the earliest ancestor of the present-day Royal Armouries, give incredible detail about the manufacture, storage and issue of armour and weapons, especially longbows and arrows, throughout the first half of the Hundred Years War. Unfortunately the records run out after 1410, so the details about what went over to Harfleur with Henry V for the Agincourt campaign don’t survive. But we have a pretty good idea of all the processes from what went on before.

On the whole, each archer in an English army was issued for each campaign with a bow, between two and five bowstrings and two ‘sheaves’ of arrows (each of twenty-four arrows tied up with hemp cord, which they reused to tie the arrows round their waists for battle, no quivers).


An example of an ‘arrow bag’ as used at the battle in 1415.

Ordinary arrows were of poplar, fletched with goose feathers and fitted with a single type of low-barbed head. The best bows were painted, and supplied with ash arrows with steel heads, fletched with peacock feathers.

Though hardly any medieval longbows survive either, we now have an amazing group of them from the Mary Rose, which have revolutionised our understanding of the weapon in the last twenty years. We now think they ranged in draw weight between 65–160 lb, with an average about 110 lb, double what we thought a generation ago.


Bow, from the wreck of the Mary Rose sunk in 1545, English, mid-16th century.

Odd that this change in understanding should have taken so long, as we have had two of the Mary Rose bows, excavated from the bottom of the Solent by John Deane and William Edwards using their newly invented diving apparatus in 1840, on display at the Tower ever since.

Anyway, the ‘new’ high-powered bows have been reconstructed, experimented with, and enabled the rediscovery of a medieval style of shooting ‘in the bow’ which had been lost through centuries of target archery with much lighter longbows. One of these experimental archaeologists, Mark Stretton, who is one of the best exponents of this rediscovered style of shooting, undertook a fascinating experiment with a bow, some arrows and a radio-controlled lawnmower, which showed that a skilled medieval archer could shoot just three aimed arrows into a charging French knight (or lawnmower). See below a clip of Mark shooting a 140lb self yew bow made by Pip Bickerstaffe.

Filmed at the shooting at Malestroit Medieval Festival 2011, by bowyer (longbow-maker) Ian Cootes (40bowyr).

While the bows have ‘become’ more powerful than we used to think, the ‘arrowstorm’ beloved of English archery enthusiasts has diminished. We used to talk about resupply of arrows as if it was a natural and simple process, but the privy wardrobe accounts show otherwise. Each archer had two sheaves of arrows to last a campaign, and would probably go into battle with just one of them. So all the statistics of how many arrows an archer can shoot in a minute are very much put into perspective by realising that such an arrowstorm could last just three minutes, then the arrows were gone. Once we are aware of that, we can see it happening in the sources: at Poitiers in 1356 the English archers ran out, and tried to recover spent arrows. At Towton in 1461 the Lancastrian archers ran out of arrows, and suffered the indignity of having the Yorkists shoot their own arrows back at them. So the vision moves away from darkening the sky with arrows like the Persians’ at Thermopylae towards a smaller number of accurately aimed arrows shot from very powerful bows by highly skilled and practised professional archers.

The Battle of Agincourt catalogue and exhibition present a whole new way of looking at English medieval archery, derived from the study of actual objects, experimental archaeology and medieval documents, all working together to provide a new understanding of the past. And we have acquired a large group of English arrowheads of the period, mostly from the River Thames, to go in the exhibition. Sadly Westminster Abbey, who own the only fifteenth century arrow in England, couldn’t lend it to us, but our bows and arrowheads will join forces with the Mary Rose bows and arrows (no heads, iron hardly survives at all on the Mary Rose) to present in the catalogue and exhibition the most comprehensive display about English medieval archery ever staged.


Broadhead (arrowhead) European, 15th c. Royal Armouries collection.

To discover more from our ‘Agincourt’ publication, please see further posts via this link, or pick up a copy for yourself via the Yale University Press website. The Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition is open at the Tower of London from 23 October until 31 January. For more details please visit our website.

Agincourt 600: An introduction to the battle


Battle of Agincourt (1415) Chroniques. d’Enguerrand de Monstrelet (early 15th century) – H. W. Koch: Illustrierte Geschichte der Kriegszüge im Mittelalter, S. 133,

The battle of Agincourt took place on St Crispin’s day, Friday 25 October 1415, between the armies of King Henry V of England and King Charles VI of France. For the 600th anniversary of the battle, the Royal Armouries is exhibiting a unique collection of arms, armour, objets d’art, and manuscripts at the Tower of London, as well staging a family events programme and publishing a book commemorating the battle in association with Yale Books.

To introduce you to this battle and the Hundred Years War period, we’ll have to take you through some family history of Henry V.

The background

Henry V was the son of Henry Bolingbroke (later Henry IV of England). Edward III was Henry V’s great-grandfather;his grandfather was Edward’s third son John of Gaunt (1st Duke of Lancaster). Henry V inherited the ‘Hundred Years War’ from his great-grandfather after Edward III challenged Phillip VI’s right to the French crown.

When Charles IV, the French King, died in 1328 he left no male heir. His nearest male relative was his nephew Edward III;Charles IV’s sister Isabella was Edward’s mother.The French nobility did not want to be ruled by an English King, and there was already recognition that femailes could not succeed to the throne. Therefore they agreed that the heir would be Phillip of Valois, Charles IV’s first cousin. Despite this Edward III argued that although a woman was unable to inherit , it did not  prevent inheritance through the female line – which formed the basis of his claim.

100 years war family tree

There were many other factors that contributed to  outbreak of  the Hundred Years War: including England’s relationship with Scotland, France’s disruption of the English wool trade, and England’s complicated land ownership history of Gascony and Aquitaine (regions of South West France) – but it was his claim to the French throne that Edward III’s campaigns, and those  of his descendants, would be later justified.

The Battle

Agincourt was one of three major land battles of the Hundred Years War (1337–1453), which in fact lasted 116 years. On 26 August 1346 Edward III defeated Philip VI at Crécy. On 16 July 1356 Edward’s eldest son, Edward of Woodstock (the Black Prince) captured Philip VI’s successor John II at the battle of Poitiers. He was subsequently imprisoned in the Tower of London. Yet it is hard to imagine national celebrations of these battles or a major exhibition devoted to them.


Battle of Crécy, 1346. Copiste inconnu – Grandes Chroniques de France, British Library Cotton MS Nero E. II pt.2, f.152v


Battle of Poitiers, 1356 (miniature from the Chronicles of Froissart).

Agincourt is a well-documented battle. 1415 was the first occasion since 1359 that an English king had invaded France in person. It was also the largest army taken to France since the battle of Crécy 69 years previously. His preparations indicated that Henry V was planning to conquer the kingdom in what would be a long campaign. Despite this, Agincourt was a swift victory; one chronicler suggesting it was over in half an hour, while others suggest that it lasted between two and three hours.

Henry V set sail for France on 11th August, landing near Le Havre on the 13th. He then laid siege to Harfleur from  17th August until the 22nd September when the town surrendered. Despite his intention to conqueror France, this would be Henry’s one and only capture of his campaign.


A map of Henry V’s campaign route

On the morning of Friday 25th October both English and French armies met in battle at Agincourt.  In the early afternoon, fearing a renewed French attack, Henry famously ordered the French prisoners to be killed. This has generated controversy in more recent times, even to the extent of asking whether Henry V should be deemed a war criminal. Contemporaries, however, saw the battle as distinctive primarily for the high number of French casualties and prisoners, and for the exceptionally low number of English casualties.

There was no ‘standing army’ (a permanent, often professional, army composed of full-time soldiers that is not  disbanded in times of peace) in either France or England in 1415. Troops were raised on a campaign-by-campaign basis. There were many similarities between the armies in terms of their recruitment, armour and equipment, but one crucial difference: the English brought relatively few men- at- arms on campaign (soldiers who wore full plate armour in battle) but a much greater proportion of archers. The significance of archers in the battle was noted at the time. Their ‘arrowstorm’ disrupted  the French advance, thereby undermining  their numerical superiority. Henry’s deployment of his archers has been a contested area in modern historical work, alongside the sometimes heated debate on the size of the armies.


Images of the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt diorama, made by model maker David Marshall and Perry Miniatures, which forms part of the exhibition at the Tower of London. To find out more about how the model was made, please click this link.

This takes us to the nub of historical study of the battle. Despite pioneering work in the mid nineteenth century by Sir Joseph Hunter, one of the founders of the Public Record Office, and the extensive but antiquarian narrative of the campaign in James Wylie’s Reign of Henry the Fifth (1914), there was no full- scale study of the financial records of Henry’s army until Professor Anne Curry (trustee of the Royal Armouries) published ‘The Battle of Agincourt: Sources and Interpretations’. There are many documents to draw on, especially the muster lists which provide names and details of pay. Records for the French army also exist but are less extensive and await fuller analysis.

Narrative sources are numerous, as Curry’s study outlines. The most well-known English sources include the Gesta Henrici Quinti (‘Deeds of Henry V’) written by an English priest present on the campaign, plus battle narratives in two eulogistic Latin lives of Henry V written in the late 1430s, and insights into ‘popular’ views through English poems and chronicles – especially the vernacular chronicle known as the Brut. On the French side, the most influential account has been that of Enguerrand de Monstrelet, who sought to continue the earlier chronicling begun by Jean Froissart in the late fourteenth century, but there are many others – testimony to the impact of the battle on the French. Many studies of the battle have drawn on the sixteenth- century English histories of Edward Hall and Raphael Holinshed, which informed Shakespeare, rather than on narratives written closer to the period.

The battle’s legacy

Why should there be so much interest in commemorating this battle today? Agincourt was not a decisive battle. The French suffered heavy losses in terms of dead and captured but politically these were not significant enough to force the French to the negotiating table. Henry’s victory made his later conquest of Normandy easier, as the French were reluctant to meet him in battle again. But his final triumph in May 1420 – acceptance as heir and regent of France by the treaty of Troyes – was the result of political divisions in France rather than simply military success.


Title page of Q1 The Chronicle History of Henry Fift (1600)

The simplest explanation for the special place of Agincourt is Shakespeare. His Henry V (1599), probably the first play performed at the Globe Theatre, provides the image of a charismatic individual and his great victory that still predominates today. Had Shakespeare’s involvement in the writing of the play Edward III (1590–94) been greater, we might have been celebrating Crécy and Poitiers too, but its language comes nowhere near the memorable and inspirational speeches of Henry V (for more on this topic please see this link). Over the centuries Shakespeare’s Henry V has come to stand for Englishness and for triumph in the face of adversity Nowhere is this more evident than in Laurence Olivier’s famous film of the play released in 1944, dedicated to the commandos and airborne troops who made D- Day possible.

Poster of Henry V. British Film Institute.

Poster of Laurence Olivier’s Henry V, 1944. British Film Institute.

The dominance of Shakespeare explains why we have included the play, the Olivier film and the musical legacy in this exhibition. The Agincourt Carol, which may have been composed only weeks after the battle for Henry V’s triumphal entry to London, was used to good effect by William Walton in his film score. It was also played when the announcement was made that London had pipped Paris to the 2012 Olympic Games. A fifteenth century manuscript of the Agincourt Carol is included in our exhibition at the Tower of London.

Performance of the Agincourt Carol by the Alamire.

The frequency of conflict with France until the Entente Cordiale (peace treaty between England and France) of 1904 helped to keep Agincourt in the public gaze. It is not surprising that families, from the sixteenth century onwards, have been keen to find (or invent) ancestors who distinguished themselves at the battle, or that objects should be forged to provide a tangible link with the glorious victory.

The first serious study of the battle by Harris Nicolas in 1827 was coloured by the Napoleonic Wars. Even though it publicised important sources it also perpetuated myths, including the notion that we did not know the names of the archers in Henry V’s army. Excavations at Azincourt in 1818, initiated by Lt- Col. John Woodford – who commanded the army of observation in the region after Waterloo, clouded rather than extended knowledge of the battlefield. Current efforts to apply modern standards of battlefield archaeology are starting to advance our understanding, but as yet the location has not been confirmed.

The aim of the Royal Armouries’ Agincourt exhibition, events programme, and publication, is to set the battle in context as well as to explore the event itself. The aim is to enhance understanding of the proceedings leading up to the battle, including the military preparations made by each side, the immediate consequences of Henry V’s victory, and finally the influence that Agincourt has exerted on historical and cultural memory in the centuries following the battle. The Tower of London provides an ideal starting point since it played a crucial role in preparations for the campaign as well as its aftermath. The Royal Armouries were not formally established until 1984, but as the successor body to the Tower Armouries and, before that, the Ordnance Office, we have enjoyed a continuous presence at the Tower of London since the establishment of the privy wardrobe in the early fourteenth century. The privy wardrobe managed the supply and logistical requirements for the military campaigns of English kings from the reign of Edward III onwards. The 1415 campaign was no exception.

The Royal Armouries Agincourt exhibition will run at at the Tower of London from 23 October 2015 until 31 January 2016, please visit our website to find out about the objects on display and our half term events programme. Further posts on the content of our ‘Agincourt’ catalogue, in association with Yale University Press, can be found as they are published via this link.


Henry VIII (1540): at large


A coy II.8 mounted for foot combat.

Despite reports in the press, Henry VIII’s 1540 garniture – recently  identified as one of Britain’s most valuable hidden museum treasures – far from hiding away has been flaunting himself happily about the Tower for the last three and half centuries.

As part of the Horse Armoury, the Tower’s oldest display, Henry has been a mainstay of the monarchs posing for the public. Unfortunately there are only written descriptions of the exhibit for the 17th and 18th centuries when it was at its most raunchy.  The Stuarts and Georgians had no problems with displaying the armour in its entirety – codpiece and all. There are even suggestions that the Yeoman Warder guides rigged up a device to make a greater spectacle of the latter.

By the 19th century illustrations of the display and its various armours become more commonplace.


This illustration of the line of monarchs parading in the Horse Armoury from 1830, shows the display after Sir Samuel Meyrick’s reorganisation of 1826 in its purpose built gallery attached to the south front of the White Tower. At number 4, Henry’s armour is not really that distinguishable from the others.  His previous medieval companions who had been kitted out from Store and therefore sported largely 16th C and later armour, had been culled by Meyrick in the interests of authenticity.


The Penny Magazine of 1840 sports a jovial Henry, visor raised to show his 17th century sculpted wooden head clearly atop the 1540 harness.   He has acquired a horse – perhaps to spare  delicate   Victorian sensibilities the embarrassment of the codpiece?

Eight years later, Henry shows signs of succumbing to the good life.


The 1848 Illustrated London News has a markedly rotund Henry, mace in hand.  A similarly broad John Bull figure stands  in the foreground.

In photographs of the 1870s Henry rides a grey horse and has donned a sword belt. Unfortunately the belt girdles his waist with difficulty, looking suspiciously like a recycled  old school tie pressed into service.

With the demolition of the New Horse Armoury building in 1882, the displays and Henry moved into the White Tower colonising the top floor.


This post card shows the display in about the 1890s – early 1900s and Henry can be seen clearly to the right. His horse seems to have lost its glowing paleness and may even have moved towards the dun.

But perhaps it’s just the overall tone, as the Wrench postcard shows it even more clearly pre 1906 glowing white again.


HenryVIII-1540-blog-post_Postcard2After the First World War, Henry moved back to a central display line riding a new horse.


Henry acquired his final horse, with distinctive curling lip, in 1951.


In the 1980s, Henry parted company with his horse, regained his codpiece and was joined by a modern American Footballer, to compare and contrast sporting armours. The face is the same as the one illustrated in The Penny Magazine, but seems to have acquired a resigned air.


Underneath it all he remains the figure we have known and loved for so long – with underpinnings revealed –HenryVIII-1540-armour_Internal-frame
A very merry and public monarch indeed.

Bridget Clifford, Keeper at the Tower and present custodian of the king’s suit. 7.09.2015.


The Curator @ War: 8 September 1915 “Cometh the hour, cometh the man – ffoulkes to the fore!”

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.


If ffoulkes had wondered how best he could contribute to the War effort, his involvement with London’s anti-aircraft defences saw him thrust him into the frontline on the evening of Wednesday 8th September 1915.

The threat of air raids hung over Britain from the outbreak of hostilities, finally materialising on 19th January 1915. The intention was for German naval Zeppelins L3 and L4 to attack military and industrial buildings on Humberside, while L6 targeted the Thames estuary under strict instructions to avoid London (and the Kaiser’s relations there). Engine problems forced L6 to turn back, while bad weather caused the other pair to bomb Norfolk coastal towns. As a result, Samuel Alfred Smith, shoe maker of St Peter’s Plain, Great Yarmouth became the first civilian victim of an air raid, closely followed by Martha Taylor. In King’s Lynn 14 year old Percy Goate and 26 year old Mrs Alice Gazely (recently widowed) perished.

Further raids on the East Coast followed, and on May 31st Army Zeppelin LZ.38 attacked Greater London reportedly killing 6 (nowadays revised to 7 dead with 35 injured).

At the Tower ffoulkes was already beginning to turn his thoughts to the collection and preservation of material from the conflict, and attempted – unsuccessfully – to secure examples of this new form of warfare as this letter of 8th June reveals.


The Imperial German Navy’s Zeppelin L13 commanded by Kapitänleutnant Mathy (follow this link to see his photograph was a comparatively new addition to the fleet, and its raid on Eastern Counties & London District on the night of 8th September 1915 – the 15th   raid  on England – was probably the most costly. The Times of 10th September reported 20 dead (including children and babies) and 86 injured. Damage to property was reckoned to be £500,000. More decisively it struck at the heart of the nation’s capital.

Recalling the events of that night in his 1939 autobiography  ffoulkes admitted that realising a historic moment was approaching he ordered the anti-aircraft gun he commanded to fire before receiving official orders.   “I was questioned as to why I had fired without orders, and on giving my reasons, which were mainly of a historical nature, after a mild ‘reprimand’, was told by a sympathetic retired naval captain that I could keep the two first cartridge-cases provided that my return of used cases was complete. This was effected by judicious negotiations in the proper quarter, known as wangling, and the historic first rounds repose, the one in the Tower and the other in the Imperial War Museum”.


ffoulkes cartridge case accompanied by one from Tower Bridge anti-aircraft gun and the remains of a German incendiary device from the raid on display in the Basement of the White Tower today.

There was much debate about the effectiveness of the raids. The British press asserted it merely raised anti-German feeling stiffening the home front’s resolve to resist the enemy. Much was made of the abandonment of the “honourable practice of civilized warfare to exempt from attack” civilians. The German press trumpeted British vulnerability in the face of “successful attacks, conducted with endless technical superiority” (Cologne Gazette) while stressing the raids sought to spare “the Royal Palaces, homes of art and science, monuments, churches and buildings which serve benevolent purposes” (Vessiche Zeiling).

L13 made her stately withdrawal to fight another day. On the night of October 1st 1916 while part of an 11 strong attack on the Eastern Counties she was shot down in flames at Potters Bar.  Mathy, described as “incomparably the best of all the airship commanders” perished with his crew.

London’s last Zeppelin attack was on 19th October 1917.



The Curator @ War : April 1915 –An exercise in equine detection.

Keeper of the Tower Armouries, Bridget Clifford, continues her posts on Charles John Ffoulkes, who was Curator of the Armouries from 1913-1938 – during which he took part in the World War I civil defence of London, completed the first and last complete modern printed catalogue of the Tower collection, and created a museum infrastructure within The Tower. After his retirement, he was awarded an OBE in 1925 and a CBE in 1934 in recognition of his work on the Imperial War Museum.


After the traumas of March 1915, the Minute Book has a single entry for April dealing with the more humdrum concerns of everyday life in the Tower Armouries.  The continuing fight against woodworm and decay has featured in this blog before, and this month a further three wooden horses succumbed. Only one of them is readily identifiable thanks to Ffoulkes noting its association with James II.

James II reigned from 1685 – 1688 and archival records suggest that he was actively engaged with exploiting the line of kings’ display at the Tower commissioning new horses for the figures of his brother, Charles II (1685) and his father (1686). He may also have had a hand in initiating the ordering of 17 new horses and 16 new figures with faces received into Store between 1688 -1690, but he did not remain long enough to reap the reward.  In December 1688 James fled the country with his wife and 6 month old son whose birth had precipitated the crisis.  His son in law and usurper, William, was the beneficiary, using the revamp of the monarchist display to bolster his position.

James would not have satisfied the criteria (never fully defined) for inclusion in the early line, but he did leave behind a very fine harquebusier’s armour.



By 1826, the antiquarian Sir Samuel Meyrick intent on making a more historically accurate display of this line of equestrian figures had no compunction in including James together with a new horse as can be seen in the accompanying illustration of 1830.


The 1827 guide book noted that James’s abdication was reflected by his position leaving “the company of his brother sovereigns and the enclosure assigned to them … stealing cautiously along, close to the wall… with his horse’s head towards the door”. As none of the horses are coloured, the new steed may indeed have been white, but it is distinguished by its odd posture.

Unlike the earlier 17th century beasts who give the impression of solidity in their stance even with the occasional leg lifted, James’s mount is poised on the tips of three of its hooves with only its offside foreleg extended to meet the ground more firmly. Unfortunately 2 illustrations of the figure published in 1842 seem to show a completely different horse – the Penny Magazine one having also changed its colour.


A photograph in a private album of the 1870s shows James back in line with his fellow kings reunited with the impractical prancing white steed in the New Horse Armoury.

With the clearance and subsequent demolition of the New Horse Armoury in 1881, the equine figures moved into the White Tower colonising the top floor.  Once again James found himself displayed adrift from the parade, riding across the south wall of the gallery while his fellows processed northwards along the length of the floor.


Interestingly, the magazine engraving of the display from the Graphic of 1885 has reversed James and omitted the splendid electrical globe lighting installed by the Royal Engineers in 1884.  It does however show the decoration of the roof light surrounds in great detail.


The final image of the group so far identified is this postcard dated 1903 showing the later configuration of the displays issuing out from the walls towards the central light wells with their surrounds of Land Transport Corps swords.  The latter were gleefully disposed of by ffoulkes in February 1914.


Perhaps James’s horse pined with the destruction of the Victorian displays and weakened, crumbled under the dual assault of worm and fungus.

Dismounted, James’s  armour was shown near to the  Stuart Prince’s armours according to the Guidebook of 1916.  As the guide notes the more highly decorated armours had “recently been placed under glass owing to the injurious effects of the river mists upon their surfaces”. It was only rehorsed – using one of the original 17th century stallions – in July 2013, complete with new 21st century body, and original wooden head of Charles II. Today the full figure can be seen in all its glory on the East side of the Entrance floor – cased of course to guard against mists and visiting fingers.

James’s armour will be on its travels again this autumn, moving down river to Royal Museums Greenwich to appear in the exhibition “Samuel Pepys and the Stuart Age” (November 2015 – April 2016).









Letters at the Front

A number of small personal archives from the York and Lancaster Regiment were recently digitised by the First World War Archives Project. Joe Williams, a remote volunteer for the project, explores the importance of soldier’s mail in light of these.


Cartoon from the Friendship Book of J Smalley © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/8/2/412)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Life on the Western Front could be deadly, but it could also be dead boring. Waiting around for orders, marching to new locations, digging trenches :- when the fighting ceased, there was little to do. Moreover, it was an isolated life: men were separated from their families and jobs for long periods. Consequently, morale could be low. Soldiers coped with this by engaging in a variety of activities but letter writing was perhaps the principal way of staying “in the pink”, as can be seen from the sheer volume of surviving letters sent and received by certain soldiers of the York and Lancaster Regiment. As Allan Simpson put it in his letter to his mother, “It’s a soldiers privilege to grumble.”


Extract from the Personal Papers of Allan Simpson © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/8/2/402)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Military officials were obviously aware of this. A cursory glance at the dates of letters to and from soldiers indicates, perhaps surprisingly, a rough delivery time of four to five days. Despite a significant disruption to traffic across the English Channel, the quick processing of mail was prioritised to ensure soldiers never felt cut off from their home lives.

Surrounded by battalions of other men, correspondence, in essence, was a means of keeping in touch with and reassuring loved ones they were “still alive and kicking” (Allan Simpson to his mother). Simpson derived great enjoyment making light of his seemingly dire circumstances in observations to his mother, while Charles Spurr sent home gifts to his children in letters from “Your Dada”.


Letter from the Personal Papers of Charles Edward Spurr © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/8/2/426)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Indeed, the idea of persons “waiting” was a major theme of soldiers’ correspondence, particularly in letters received. Mail sent by wives and girlfriends reminded soldiers of who exactly was “waiting” for them. One postcard sent to JE White is subtitled “To my dear Soldier Boy…”. Letters could therefore be a comforting reminder that, in spite of the boredom and destruction, men still had a stake in their families.


Postcard from the Personal Papers of JE White © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/8/2/840)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

As livelihoods were put on hold, letter writing also allowed soldiers to maintain a semblance of involvement in their professions. As a village mechanic, Fred Bluck’s correspondence with his sister allowed him to make important business decisions in absentia. Similarly, information pertaining to “the pit” was frequently relayed to Bluck. As normal life was so profoundly disturbed by war, these letters provided soldiers with a reassuring alternative reality. The sending and receiving of “things” was a further boost to trench morale. Fred Bluck sent washing regularly while at training camp in England and in return was the recipient of money, mended equipment and birthday presents (a signet ring on one occasion). Others received consumables in scarce supply in France and Belgium, such as cigarettes and cakes. Without these items, soldiers’ only possessions were their indistinguishable military provisions and their only income their meagre army wage. With them, however, they could not only live a little more comfortably, but also feel somewhat more individual, and thus happier.


Letter from the Personal Papers of Fred Bluck © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/8/2/40)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Written correspondence was not merely a means of passing the time. It created a bridge with a real past and a possible future which made their military existence a fraction more tolerable.


The Personal Side of Transcription: Remote Volunteering for the First World War Archives Project

By volunteer Samantha Woods-Peel

The Royal Armouries ‘First World War Digitalisation Project’ has recently taken on a dedicated group of remote volunteers from all over the country to help with the transcription and indexing of the archives. Below, one of these volunteers describes how transcribing can be a very personal experience inspiring an often unfulfilled need for closure.

Diary of AS Lanfear – Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Diary of AS Lanfear – Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Transcribing someone’s diary is an intense experience. After all, it was meant to be private. Arthur Sydney Lanfear was from Doncaster and served in the 12th Battalion York & Lancaster Regiment in 1916. This is the Sheffield City Battalion, so my ‘home regiment’. Call me soft, but I felt a connection to Arthur straight away. The diary covered two and a half months of his life as he left England and arrived in France to serve his country.

It was a window on his life as a soldier. Billets were uncomfortable and there were lots of parades. I was quite surprised he had plenty of training once he got to France – for some reason I thought soldiers got off a boat and went straight to the trenches. I felt comforted there was some preparation before battle, but obviously there could never be enough.


Mon. 8th         Parade 9am-12am Gas Helmet Drill

Parade 2pm-4pm and Bayonet work. Musketry

Evening listening to Band.

Tue. 9th           Parade 9am-12am Bayonet, Musketry

2pm-4.30pm Field practice

Evening at Bus (1m).

Wed. 10th       Parade 7-7.30am Physical Drill

Parade 9-12am [sic.] Helmet Drill and Extended order Drill. Inspected at work by General Sir Douglas Haig and staff attended by Colour bearers and six Lancers with lances.

Leisure time was important and evenings were spent in local villages and listening to regimental bands and concert parties. Arthur was also concerned about the weather, as he commented on it every day – British to the end.


documentApril 1916

Wed. 19th       Parade 6am Roll Call.

Heavy hailstorm covering ground

Parade 9.30am Rifle inspection

2-5.30pm No. 2 Training Ground making

at top of Training ground.

Tea and evening at Tipperary Hut.

[Down side of entry] Hail rain sleet.

Reading his diary I felt a sense of impending doom, as I had already looked him up online and knew he was killed on 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Arthur was transferred to the 94th Brigade Trench Mortar Battery two weeks before his death and stopped writing his diary at that time, however I couldn’t help doing a little more research as I wanted to know more – I wanted to know more about those two weeks. Sadly, not everything can be discovered online, and I could find no further mention of Arthur. I did find a quote from Private Bartram of the 94th Trench Mortar Battery who said of the 1st July that ‘from that moment, all my religion died’. The fighting was particularly fierce where Arthur’s battalion went into battle at Serre, but unlike many of his comrades also killed on that first day whose bodies were never identified, Arthur’s body was recovered and buried at Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps, close to the front line.

The internet truly is a marvellous thing and while researching Arthur’s end I came across an organisation called The War Graves Photographic Project and it felt like a fitting end to my work on Arthur’s diary that I get a copy of the photo of his grave.

Arthur’s story did not have a happy ending, but it was a story worth knowing.

Arthur’s grave in France – Courtesy of the War Graves Photographic Project (

Arthur’s grave in France – Courtesy of the War Graves Photographic Project (


#Gallipoli 100 – The Suvla Bay Landings

100 years today the Suvla Bay landings, a major milestone in the Gallipoli campaign, commenced. Material digitised from the York and Lancaster Regimental Archive by the First World War Archive Project shows a fascinating glimpse of the campaign, as explored by the project’s Placement Student Aidan Peel.

The Gallipoli campaign lives infamously in British military history as having cost many lives and resources in the attempt to re-open the straits of the Dardanelles in Turkey, which Britain’s Russian allies relied on for access to aid. The amphibious offensive at Suvla Bay in particular was a military failure, plagued with poor judgement and planning from senior officers. Despite the failures of the offensive the many courageous men involved deserve to be remembered with honour

The British 11th (Northern) Division, who were to participate in the landings under Major General F. Hammersley, consisted of three Brigades, numbering 13,700 men and 12 guns. These brigades included voluntary ‘weekend soldiers’ such as the 32nd Brigade, comprised of four Yorkshire regiments under Brigadier General H. Haggard which included the 6th York and Lancaster Regiment.

Extract from the 6th Bn York and Lancs Scrapbook  © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/8/1)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Extract from the 6th Bn York and Lancs Scrapbook © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/8/1)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

The Suvla Bay landing was initially planned to be a support operation for the offensive on the Sari Bair straights, however the scale and situation of the enterprise forced the high command to re-adjust the aims. Suvla Bay offered a great deal of space to amass troops and the landings would provide the additional forces needed for an assault on the Sari Bair Ridge from which they could secure a position across the narrow point of the peninsula. For those involved with the landings the primary objectives were to capture the Turkish artillery and secure the hills surrounding the Suvla plain from which an offensive to take the Sari Bair ridge could be progressed. Each regiment was to focus on their own specific objectives which were to be achieved in a strict time frame in order to maintain the initiative and advance before the enemies reserve could be brought up from Bulair. The whole operation itself was kept in upmost secrecy, to the extent that even the officers themselves had little knowledge of the undertaking.

 Extract from Report on Operations at Suvla Bay  © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/4/2)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Extract from Report on Operations at Suvla Bay © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/4/2)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

“Bde [Brigade] orders were recd [received] at mid-day on 6th. Till then not a soul below C.O’s [Commanding Officers] had the slightest idea of what was intended as maps of the ASIATIC side had been issued (as a blind to the swarm of spies placed in Egypt) it was thought that a landing was intended here.

The landings themselves took place just before 10pm on the night of the 6th August in perfect conditions, with minimal resistance from Turkish forces upon initial landing. Many of the landings went disastrously as Lighters transporting the troops ran aground far from the beaches and the soldier’s weapons becoming waterlogged as they swam to shore. Nevertheless, the 32nd Brigade landed successfully at Beach B (one of three beaches) with the objective of  capturing the settlement at Lala Baba and advancing to Hill 10 to merge with the 34th Brigade and proceed to take Chocolate Hill by first light on 7th.

Extract from the 6th Bn York and Lancs Scrapbook  © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/8/1)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Extract from the 6th Bn York and Lancs Scrapbook © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/8/1)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

The success of the landing could not be repeated however, with the 32nd suffering heavy casualties at Lala Baba and becoming hopelessly intermingled with other Brigades milling around on the beach after the confusion of the night landing. The 32nd Brigade therefore failed to join the 34th Brigade upon Hill 10, slowing the British offensive considerably with the result that Hill 10 was eventually captured, although six hours behind schedule.

Extract from Report on Operations at Suvla Bay  © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/4/2)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Extract from Report on Operations at Suvla Bay © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/4/2)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

The capture of Chocolate Hill at first light on 7th had been given upmost importance, but failed to materialize until much later than originally planned. Due to problems landing supplies the men had only the water they had landed with and Hammersley had confused matters by issuing 3 different orders in quick succession, each cancelling the other. These orders arrived at their recipients in varying orders adding to the confusion. The attack was temporarily suspended until 5:30pm.  By 7pm the British were able to prise Chocolate Hill away from the hands of the small Turkish force that occupied it, the main Turkish force having withdrawn some time ago. Rather than advancing the high ground gained in the attack, a number of regiments pulled back to the beach and remained there through 8th August.

Extract from Diary of J Crabtree © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/8/2/594)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Extract from Diary of J Crabtree © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/8/2/594)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

“Aug 8th Set out about 8am in reserve for 33rd Bde and 10th Div. Things are rather sedate just now.”

Tekke Tepe, lay undefended before them and with the Turkish reinforcements earliest possible arrival estimated as the evening of the 8th it was vital to press forward. Despite this a day of rest was ordered and orders to attack Tekke Tepe were only issued late on 8th.

Extract from Report on Operations at Suvla Bay  © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/4/2)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Extract from Report on Operations at Suvla Bay © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/4/2)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

 “Although Hammersley realized that TEKKE TEPE was the key to the situation he never mentioned it in his orders nor did he stress the vitality of pressing on as quickly as possible to the highest point of  ANAFARTA RIDGE, whatever happened his orders contained the fatal words, ‘if possible’”                                           

The orders to attack Tekke Tepe contradicted a previous order and caused a frantic scramble to locate and consolidate the various regiments of the 32nd Brigade. The assault on Tekke Tepe eventually began at 4am on 9th. By daylight on the 9th the Turkish reinforcements had arrived, beating the British to the top of the ridge by approximately two hours. Tekke Tepe, undefended since the landings, now proved to be a challenging obstacle which would cause devastating losses for the Allied Forces. The men assaulting Tekke Tepe were already tired and exhausted and stood little chance facing a fierce Turkish force which decimated the 6/ East Yorks and came within 40 yards of 32nd Brigade’s HQ. The Brigade would be unable to establish itself on Tekke Tepe.

Extract from Report on Action at Suvla Bay by Captain VTR Ford © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/4/2)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Extract from Report on Action at Suvla Bay by Captain VTR Ford © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/4/2)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

The situation in Suvla and the subsequent defeat at Scimitar Hill would prove to be the final blow to British morale in the Gallipoli Campaign. The weather would also deteriorate dramatically, turning to snow and ice within a few months finally forcing the Allied Army to evacuate Suvla in December 1915.

6th Battalion in the Trenches at Gallipoli  © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/8/3)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

6th Battalion in the Trenches at Gallipoli © Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K/7/1/8/3)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP


750th Anniversary of the Battle of Evesham

The 4th of August is the 750th anniversary of the Battle of Evesham. Evesham was the second and final pitched battle of the Second Barons’ War (1263-67).


Henry III’s mismanagement of the realm through failure in foreign wars, rebellion in Gascony, poor distribution of patronage and increasing financial and judicial grievances, had led to increasing baronial dissatisfaction. This culminated in the Provisions of Oxford (1258) and Westminster (1259) where the barons forced reforms on the King. These covered three broad areas of grievance. The first was to check his favouritism of his foreign relatives. The second involved restructuring a judicial system which had become increasingly unjust, and the third was an attempt to force the royal finances to be better managed, reducing the need for constant, excessive taxation.

However this watershed moment in English constitutional history, which forced the King to have a privy council partly elected by the nobility, was soon undermined.  Fracturing in the baronial party meant that the King was able to secure a Papal Bull in 1261, declaring the provisions as null and void.  But the royal faction was similarly disparate, and infighting caused by political manoeuvring for power surrounding the Lord Edward (later Edward I) and Queen Eleanor alienated several keys nobles from the King’s cause. When Simon de Montfort returned to England in 1263 to lead the baronial faction, the scene was set for a civil war. This began with both sides raiding the lands of their rivals, with side neither gaining a clear advantage.

Soon both sides attempted to end the troubles peacefully at the Mise of Amiens (1264) when Henry III and Earl Simon de Montfort’s parties agreed to the arbitration of the King of France, Louis IX.  Perhaps unsurprisingly Louis ruled heavily in favour of his fellow royal, which far from ensuring peace left no option to the baronial faction but full scale civil war. A series of sieges (the mainstay of medieval warfare) ensued with neither side gaining significant advantage, and it was not until the Battle of Lewes (14 May 1264) that the two opposing forces met in strength.

Sword, probably English, about 1250. IX.5614

Sword, probably English, about 1250. IX.5614


Despite having fewer troops, perhaps as little as half the King’s number, the baronial army under Simon de Montfort won a significant victory.  A seasoned campaigner experienced from the Crusaders and fighting a series of rebellions in Gascony, Simon de Montfort was able to outmanoeuvre the much larger royal army with a forced march in darkness, overwhelming royal sentries and deploying his force on the high ground.

By way of contrast to the Earl Simon, King Henry was no warrior but a scholarly and pious man, who contemporaries said was better suited to a hair shirt than a mail one. De Montfort not only demonstrated his strategic superiority over his King by his forced march and domination of the best ground, but he also showed tactical shrewdness in the disposition of his forces.  Drawing his army into four divisions (known contemporarily as ‘battles’) he deployed three of these to his front and, crucially, kept the fourth under his own command as a reserve.

The royal right was commanded by the Lord Edward. Wishing to avenge the insult that the Londoners had given his mother Queen Eleanor, the Lord Edward led his cavalry against the left wing of the baronial army  – where the Londoners were deployed.  Although the heavily equipped royal knights routed the London levies, the protracted pursuit took Lord Edward and the cream of the royal army from the battle.  By the time they returned de Montfort had, using his command of the ground and tactical reserve, defeated the King’s larger army.  Lord Edward returned only in time to witness defeat.  The battle was a baronial victory against the odds, which resulted in the capture of King Henry, his brother Richard Earl of Cornwall and Lord Edward. Henry III was forced to comply to the Provisions of Oxford once more, with de Montfort effectively a ‘quasi-king’.

[DI 2013-0611] Lance head, European, 12th-14th century. VII.3048.

Lance head, European, 12th-14th century. VII.3048.


Nevertheless, a little over a year later the reforming baronial movement was dealt a fatal blow at the Battle of Evesham. The barons’ once again fractured over patronage and self-interest, with important nobles such as Gilbert de Clare deserting de Montfort’s cause.  By 1265 the Marcher lords Roger Mortimer and Roger Leyburn were in open rebellion against de Montfort, and when Gilbert de Clare orchestrated the escape of the Lord Edward, the Marchers had a royal figurehead to lead them.  Their cause was given added legitimacy by Papal support for Edward to rule in the captive King’s stead.  Running out of powerful allies, de Montfort looked to the Welsh king Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, a move that whilst adding men to his cause, made him more unpopular with English barons and only steeled the Marchers against him.

Whilst de Montfort’s Lewes campaign demonstrated strategic and tactical shrewdness, the events leading up the fateful battle of Evesham showed no such brilliance.  A large portion of his forces, under the command of his son Simon the younger, were ambushed and seriously weakened by a dawn raid by Lord Edward at Kenilworth.  Unable to join his forces, the elder de Montfort found himself outmanoeuvred by Lord Edward’s Marcher army.  When the two opposing forces met at Evesham Simon de Montfort was trapped between the river Avon and the much larger Marcher army.  Lord Edward had totally outmanoeuvred de Montfort, whose escape over the bridge to the east was guarded by the Marcher lord Roger de Mortimer.

Realising the hopeless of his situation, being out numbered and surrounded, Simon de Montfort prayed for God to have mercy on his soul – realising the enemy would soon have his body.  Forced to attempt to fight his way out, de Montfort ordered a central attack on Lord Edward’s army, hoping to break through the encircling force.  However, Humphrey de Bohun refused to led the baronial infantry in the assault, with de Montfort instead having to lead with his cavalry, uphill towards the Marchers.  Before battle was even joined de Bohun’s infantry quit the field, only to be caught and slaughtered in the rout that followed the battle, leaving de Montfort to a similar fate.

Cresting the hill, de Montfort’s contingent fully saw the task that confronted them and the Earl had his outnumbered force form a circle.  From this point the battle descending into a bloody slaughter, with Simon de Montfort, after being unhorsed eventually falling to the lance of Mortimer, who’s contingent  probably advanced from below, through the routing infantry of de Bohun to encircle the remains to de Montfort’s army.

Although the discrepancies between the various chroniclers mean the details of the battle will likely never be known for certain, all agree on its bloodiness. Lord Edward’s Marcher army secured victory swiftly, probably in less than two hours, and showed little mercy even to fellow knights.  Robert of Gloucester termed it the ‘murder of Evesham (for battle there was none).’ Such was the ferocity that the captive King Henry, taken forward by de Montfort when he advanced, only escaped being slain by his would-be rescuers by crying out ‘I am Henry of Winchester, your King. Do not harm me!’

After the battle de Montfort was stripped of his armour, and was found to be wearing a hair shirt underneath it.  A righteous and pious man, he had been convinced of the legitimacy of his cause and was prepared to die for it. But de Montfort’s righteousness did not dampen the ferocity of his opponents, who in the rout slaughtered so many in the local abbey as they attempted to escape or gain sanctuary, that the crypts ran with streams of blood.  Nor did de Montfort’s famous piety and self-conviction stop his enemies from mutilating his body. His killer, Roger de Mortimer sent de Montfort’s head and testicles, the latter draped over the dead Earl’s nose, to his wife as a trophy, whilst his hands and feet were cut off for public display.

With their leader slain, the survivors of the baronial faction fled to late Earl Simon’s stronghold of Kenilworth castle. The siege that ensured was much more typical of medieval warfare than the swift battle of Evesham, although the siege of Kenilworth was more protracted than most – being the longest in English history. The war eventually ended in October 1266, when the Dictum of Kenilworth brought peace to the realm and allowed the remaining Montfortians to buy back their confiscated lands.

The baronial reforming movement was over, and for the remaining six years of Henry’s reign there existed an uneasy peace.His successor Edward I went on to rule with a royal strength that his father had never possessed.  However, the seeds of reform had been sown, and in the 1275 Statues of Westminster Edward himself had enshrined elements of the Provisions of Oxford.  De Montfort was brutally slain at Evesham, but his legacy perhaps lived on.


Image from the ‘Morgan Bible’

Although depicting a crusading scene, this image from the near contemporary Morgan bible shows some of the types of arms and armour that would have been used during the Second Barons’ War.  It also show the potential brutality  of medieval warfare that manifest itself at Evesham.

Arms & Armour at the time of Evesham:

The main form of armour of the knightly classes was mail, which by this time completely covered the body, including hand and feet defences.  Helmets ranged from the conical nasal helm, to the wide-brimmed kettle hat, to the fully enclosed great helm.

However, this level of protection would have only been available to the social and military elite.  Infantry would typically be more lightly equipped with less armour, perhaps of fabric rather than metal.  The padded gambeson, worn under mail, could also serve as armour in its own right, but even this level of protection would have not been available to all.

During this period knights still predominately fought mounted, as heavy cavalry dominated the battlefield. The lance was their primary weapon of shock, which when couched with the weight of horse and fully armoured rider behind it could cause immense damage in a charge.  Swords, axes, maces and daggers would have been carried for close combat and the melee or pursuit that followed. Larger, two-handed weapons were also known, but the shield was still an important part of defensive equipment at this time, so most weapons were wielded in one hand.


[DI 2010-1561] Sword, probably English, about 1250.

Sword, probably English, about 1250.

[A8.47] Sword, European, about 1260.  IX.1107.

Sword, European, about 1260. IX.1107.

The primary arms of the infantry would have been staff weapons or missile weapons.  The most common form was the spear which if not excessively long could be used in conjunction with a shield, but heavier forms of two-handed staff weapons were also in use.

[DI 2012-1576] Spear head, European, 11th-14th century. VII.1650.

Spear head, European, 11th-14th century. VII.1650.

The infantry of the period also used bows and crossbows.  And although English and Welsh archery had no yet gained the fame it massed use was to win in the next century, they still featured in armies of the period. However at a battle such as Evesham which was decided by a single charge, their opportunity to influence the battle would have been limited.  Crossbows, although also used in the 13th century battlefield, were particularly favoured in sieges. Not yet having reached their full power potential, with prods of the period primarily being wooden rather than composite or steel, they were still potentially deadly to even armoured men.

BL MS Nero D ii –  Detail from f. 177v – The Mutilation of Simon de Montfort,

BL MS Nero D ii – Detail from f. 177v – The Mutilation of Simon de Montfort,



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