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

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

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

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

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

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.

 

One Man’s War – Major Tom Goodall’s Papers

Earlier this year, the First World War Archives Project was at the Duke of Wellington’s Regimental Museum in Halifax continuing to scan material from their collection.

In a stroke of luck the project’s first visit to the museum occurred just after a suitcase brimming with material had been deposited by a member of the public. Looking through the suitcase it was found to contain the amazingly detailed personal archive of Major Tom Goodall. The papers and memorabilia follow Goodall from his enlistment in 1914 as 2nd Lieutenant in the 2/5 Battalion (Territorials) Duke of Wellingtons Regiment, all the way through the first world war and his time as Major in the Home Guard during the second world war.

WWI case

Goodall’s collection is a goldmine of information comprising of his personal journals, trench maps, aerial photographs, battalion orders, medals, certificates, press cuttings, items captured from German Trenches and other ephemera. The collection is an invaluable new resource into the history of the 2/5 Battalion, in particular ‘D’ Coy, and the day to day running of the British Forces.

A personal favourite from the collection has to be this note found pinned at the Entrance to a German Dugout near Achiet-Le-Petit 17th March 1917.

adaw

‘Good Neight Tommy! Auf Wiedersehen!’

Get Involved

Can you read Shorthand or German? If you can then we need your skills!

Tom Goodall’s Archive contains 4 small diaries written primarily in shorthand along with a few bits of correspondence also in shorthand. We would welcome volunteers who would be willing to transcribe these diaries for us so that we can make this resource accessible to all.

The archive also contains a book captured from a German trench which appears to contain a list of code names and some sort of journal or company diary. This is a fascinating item and would be an exciting transcription project for a volunteer.

Volunteers do not need to live in West Yorkshire and anyone interested should contact caroline.walter@armouries.org.uk

And Finally…

I’ll leave you with a few examples of the Battalion Orders which made the British Army the pride of the empire. Each one is a genuine order issued to the 2/5 Duke of Wellingtons Regiment during their time on the Western Front.

Battalion Order 293: Each company having been issued with a Flat Iron, Officers commanding companies will arrange that ironing of the seams of S.D. Clothing is carried out once a week and will forward certificate to Orderly Room every Saturday by 9 am stating that this has been done.

Battalion Order 294: Companies will arrange to inspect their sick before coming down to hospital and see that their men are properly washed and shaved.

Battalion Order 397: The practice of cutting down trousers to turn them into ‘shorts’ is prohibited. ‘Shorts’ are not to be worn in the VI Corps Area. (Vide. C.R.O. 2486 of 8-8-17)

Battalion Order 686: Companies will ensure that Haircutting is carried out as quickly as possible. All men must be completed by 9am 8-12-17.

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

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.

280415_Ffoulkes_Part 2

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

280415_Ffoulkes_Part 2_TOW

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

 

#Gallipoli100: Captured moments from the campaign

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

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

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.

170415_Ffoulkes Buckingham part 1.jpeg

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.

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.