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

 

 

The Forgotten Dig…

Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections -tells us about the new pilot volunteer project which works with Artefacts from the Tower’s foreshore.

In September 1986, Royal Armouries funded an excavation on the River Thames’ foreshore, in front of the Tower of London wharf to the east of Traitors’ Gate.

The dig on the Tower Foreshore in 1986, the report details the difficult working conditions as the tide flooded the trench twice a day. © Royal Armouries

The dig on the Tower Foreshore in 1986, the report details the difficult working conditions as the tide flooded the trench twice a day. © Royal Armouries

The excavation’s aim was to determine the depth and nature of archaeological deposits in the area with the hope of identifying stratified deposits and finding evidence of the Board of Ordnance’s foundries on the bank of the Thames.

The dig was deemed successful, identifying a series of compacted sloping foreshores dating from the 15th to the 19th centuries, and uncovering a large number of weapon parts – potential evidence of the Ordnance workshops.

A report was written, the artefacts bagged and that was the end of it. Until now…

I recently met some volunteers who are going to start to help repack these artefacts to today’s best practice standards. They are also going to help me start to catalogue them so we have a better, fuller idea of what this collection contains.

How the artefacts are stored today. They are in good condition but we hope the new standards will save space and make objects more accessible. © Royal Armouries

How the artefacts are stored today. They are in good condition but we hope the new standards will save space and make objects more accessible. © Royal Armouries

To get to this stage I have been working with the LAARC (London Archaeological and Archive Centre) which has been indispensable in giving guidelines as to how the collection should be stored. This involved a tour of their amazing store and they have some brilliant literature on their website. They have also sourced some experienced volunteers to help with our pilot project here at the Tower. These volunteers have a range of backgrounds and have experience of volunteering for LAARC or the Thames Discovery Project or sometimes both!

The pilot project runs for six weeks and will hopefully give us an idea of how long it will take to complete the repacking, labelling and documentation for all the artefacts. Armed with this knowledge, we can look to completing the project and realise the full potential of this forgotten dig.

To keep up with the progress of the volunteers, follow one of their blogs.

Blogger: Kathleen McIlvenna, Curatorial Assistant – Tower Collections

What a corker!

XVI.258A – Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s Helmet

Conservation work has recently commenced on a Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s regimental helmet, which will shortly be going on display at the Tower of London. The helmet is of the Home Service Pattern design, introduced in May 1878.

Black and silver helmet with chin strap and spike

XVI.258A – Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteers Officer’s Helmet

The body of the helmet is made of cork, covered in black cloth, with two seams on each side. The chin chain is made of interlocking silver-plated rings, backed with leather and velvet. This was attached to the helmet on two side rose bosses and, when not being worn, the chain would have been attached to a rear hook. All the metal components on the helmet are silver-plated.

There is a metal crosspiece with a spike and base on the top of the helmet and a metal plate badge on the front. The badge’s design comprises an eight-pointed star surmounted by a crown. A Garter belt is around the outside, inscribed with the motto ‘Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense’ (Shame upon him who thinks evil upon it). The centre of the badge features the White Tower in the Tower of London as a symbol of the Tower Hamlets Regiment.

Silver badge with representation of White Tower and the motto Honi Soit Qui Mal Y Pense

Silver badge with the White Tower in the centre

The helmet’s interior has a leather layer and also a pink silk lining. The helmet features two retail labels for the hatters ‘W. Cater & Co. Established 1776, 56 Pall Mall, London’. The silk lining also features a name label for the helmet’s owner, ‘G.E. Colebrook’. George Colebrook was part of the 1st Tower Hamlets Rifle Volunteer Brigade and was promoted to Lieutenant in June 1901. Sadly he is recorded as having died in a motorcar accident in 1903.

Silver chin strap with detached leather backing

Silver chin chain with detached leather strap

The helmet arrived in the conservation lab with tarnished metal components and a partially detached chin strap, where the original thread had broken leaving some of the rings hanging loose from the leather backing. Stay tuned to hear about the conservation treatment and repair to the chin strap, ready for the helmet to go on display.

Blogger: Philippa Beesley, Conservation Student