The Curator @ War: 15 March 1915 “Foreman Buckingham: the Last Post” (part I)

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Buckingham’s departure for war had been recorded in the Minute Book entry of 5th September 1914.  Technically he had retired from the Territorial Army in April 1912, but on the outbreak of war he re-enlisted aged 45 and his eighteen years experience as a Volunteer Artilleryman – including a year’s active service in South Africa in 1900 – were to be put to good use training volunteers. Bidding farewell to his wife of 3 years, Buckingham set off to serve King and Country in Peterborough.  As Dillon commented in his appreciation of Buckingham published in the Ilford Recorder of 26th April 1915 “He was a most enthusiastic soldier and devoted much time to the making of soldiers”.

Buckingham fell sick in February 1915 and was given 3 weeks home leave. He died on the “very hour” he should have returned to duty according to one newspaper account. Cause of death? Phthisis – for keen scrabble players a useful archaic term for tuberculosis (apparently pronounced Tie-sis for those of us not fluent in classical Greek).

Dillon, Curator of the Tower Armouries from 1892 to 1913, was fulsome in his praise of his former colleague. “As a servant of the Government he was essentially one of the “Queen’s good bargains”, and his place will not easily be filled up” Dillon told the press. “As Foreman of the Armouries he displayed much zeal, and his intelligent and tireless work materially assisted in the classification and instructive arrangement of the treasures of the national collection.  He became a good judge of the genuineness or otherwise of objects in his charge and was a most willing pupil of those who could instruct him”.   Above all else he was innately a “gentleman”. The latter judgement was re-enforced in Dillon’s letter of 29 May 1915 to Buckingham’s widow, Daisy (formerly Miss Clarke) where he assured her “I knew your husband for some 20 years and always had the warmest regard and respect for him” adding “I’m sure that anyone whom he married would be of the same high standard as himself” – not perhaps a judgement one would expect to find openly expressed today.

Ffoulkes in his autobiography Arms and the Tower (John Murray, 1939) ascribed Buckingham’s death to “a chill caught in drilling Territorial Artillery”, and provided practical help when the family made enquiries as to the arrangements for a military funeral. It transpired that there were no suitable guns left in London to bear the coffin – all serviceable ordnance was in action on the Continent. However ffoulkes pulled some strings, and although he was vague as to which department of the War Office obliged “with commendable speed a dummy gun and carriage were made” which went on to be frequently used for funerals in the early war years.

Buckingham’s funeral was set for Saturday 20th March 1915, arrangements with Messrs Dyer & Sons of Forest Gate and Ilford, with the interment announced for 3.30 pm. Look out for part two of this post – coming next week – to learn more of the event, which according to the local press aroused much interest and attracted an enormous crowd of spectators.

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!

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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…!

Otley War Memorial research

As part of our project on the history and memory of the First World War our team of adult learners, pictured above, is researching some of the names from the Otley war memorials.

Adult learners

There are several memorials in Otley to those who served in the First World War: a memorial plaque in the Parish Church; a memorial in Otley Methodist Church on Boroughgate and one in Our Lady and All Saints Catholic Church on Bridge Street. We’ve chosen six soldiers from the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment who are listed on the Otley memorials to find out more about. Most of our soldiers served on the Western Front and none survived the war.

In researching our soldiers we’ve made use of battalion war diaries, official records and memoirs of men who served in the same battalion at the same time to try to reconstruct their war service and the circumstances of their deaths. We’ve also investigated their family backgrounds using online census data and parish records. However, we know next to nothing about what kind of people they were. We don’t have photographs of any of them. While most of them died unmarried and therefore don’t have descendants that we know of, we are aware that there might be families in and around Otley who have connections to some of these men.

Do you recognise any of the names below? Do you have a family connection to any of them? If you have any information, anecdotes or family stories that could help our research we’d love to hear from you.

Joseph Bona was a Company Sergeant Major in the 10th battalion Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. He was killed on 18 October 1917 aged 25 and is listed on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

Fred Chippendale served at Gallipoli with the 8th Battalion. He was injured and subsequently died of dysentery on 22 September 1915. He is buried in the Cario War Memorial Cemetery.

Edgar Mudd is the only one of our soldiers for whom we’ve been able to find regimental records online. When he attested for the army in december 1915 he stated he was willing to serve “for any service where my being blind in one eye is not detrimental”. Edgar served with the 1/7 Battalion and was killed in action in France on 3 July 1916. He is named on the Thiepval Memorial.

Walter Rollin was born in Halifax and served with the 2nd Battalion Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. He was killed on 3 March 1917 and is buried in Fins New British Cemetery, Sorel-le-Grand.

William Simpson served with the 2/5th and later the 5th battalion. He was killed in action aged 33 on 7 November 1918, just days before th war ended. He is buried at Maugeuge-Centre cemetery, having been exhumed from his original resting place in Mecquigeines churchyard and reburied there in 1950. The exhumation report includes his dental records and states that William’s size 9 leather boots and a jerkin insignia of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment were still on his body, together with a pocket knife and various coins.

William Swainston served with the 9th Battalion and was killed on 2 March 1916. He was originally buried in Zillebike and was exhumed and reburied in Sanctuary Wood Cemetery in 1927.

 

 

War memorials

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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.

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

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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 Curator @ War: “Bah Humbug – stripping the Armouries decorations for Christmas” December 1914

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.

In 1914, as the rest of the country prepared for the festive period and the realisation began to dawn that the war would not be over by Christmas, ffoulkes continued on his mission to modernise the White Tower displays, following on from the work started by Dillon. Having judiciously pruned some of the more exotic elements of the collection in November, despatching Oriental, Classical and Prehistoric material to the British Museum, and with the prospect of the small arms stores being removed from the Entrance floor of the White Tower, he began to clear the decks – literally.

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The photographs below give an impression of the ebullient displays from the later 1880s after the demolition of the New Horse Armoury. They come from The Photographic View Album of the Tower of London published by Valentine and Sons of Dundee but sadly undated.  This specific copy was annotated by ffoulkes and presented to HMS Tower 27th April 1917. Built by Swan Hunter and launched 5th April 1917, HMS Tower was an R class destroyer and is probably most famous for having the first modern ship’s badge, co-designed by Mr George Richardson, director of the shipyard, and Major Charles ffoulkes. The badge consisted of the White Tower and motto “God Save King George and his Tower” within a rope border, topped with a naval crown and with the ship’s name beneath.

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This is the Council Chamber (today more prosaically titled second floor west gallery) before the removal of the sword railings (1913) and the filling in of the light wells in the floor. Perhaps the lights installed in 1884 were somewhat unsubtle – in his autobiography ffoulkes described them as “great arc lights like a modern railway station” (p.64) – and obviously space was at a premium as the exhibits crowded together in their new home.

At the Northern end Queen Elizabeth I and her page found temporary refuge before moving back to the crypt and thence to pastures new. Both look resigned to their lot – perhaps recognising worse was yet to come after their move to the Museum of London. Today the only survivor of this tableau is Queen Elizabeth’s head.  The rest were consigned to a museum store room in the 1930s where they remain immured (if not shattered) by enemy action during the Second World War.

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However it was the Banqueting Hall (today’s first floor) that ffoulkes was targeting in December 1914. Finally he could be rid of the “elaborate trophies ….. and geometrical patterns of composed of tortured swords, bayonets and gun-locks bent and twisted in the Ordnance forges to conform with the lines of required designs. These were produced by Mr Stacy, Armoury Keeper, as a feeble imitation of the wonders produced by one Harris in the Storehouse which was burnt in 1841”. A little harsh on Mr Stacy, but ffoulkes had very determined views on the subject regarding “these typical products of nineteenth-century military art”  as “symptomatic of a period which could not produce simple railings without designing them as cast-iron spears with iron tassels”.

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So the scrolling motifs of re-formed gun-locks around the light wells, pendant bayonets and other trophies of arms attached to the ceilings were removed, and the great flower heads (a little something for the lady visitor?) seen here flanking the opening in the North face of the White Tower were swept away.  A few decorations lingered on in more inaccessible places, but ffoulkes had placed his finger on the continuing dilemma of how best to display the interior of the White Tower? As he put it “Firstly it is a magnificent specimen of eleventh-century architecture, and secondly it houses a collection of arms and armour, many pieces having been exhibited here since the sixteenth century, if not earlier.”   Finding a satisfactory balance continues to exercise the minds of curators and architectural historians to this day, as these two aspects can at times be mutually exclusive.

(A footnote for the pedants among us – this view is of the first floor east leading to the Chapel of St John, while traditionally the Banqueting Hall refers to the west side of the floor. Even ffoulkes had to think twice – but it is clear from the new Guide Book produced in 1916 when the whole of the White Tower was given over to Armouries displays that the Sword floor was on the east side , with the Weapons room on the west. Happy Christmas!)