They That Are Left: the Royal Armouries hosts a stunning Remembrance photographic exhibition

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…They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.

Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.

At the going down of the sun and in the morning

We will remember them…”

from Laurence Binyon’s ‘The Fallen’ (first published in The Times, 21 September 1914)

Last week the Royal Armouries hosted the opening of photographer Brian David Stevens’ ‘They That Are Left’ exhibition, an inspiring ten-year project comprising of portrait photographs of war veterans, taken each Remembrance Sunday at the Cenotaph from 2002 to 2012. The project consists of 100 portraits, a selection of which is currently on display at the Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds until 1 February, as part of our First World War Centenary commemorations.

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As with each passing year our war veterans do grow older, and age both wearies them and condemns their valuable memories, they are thus at risk of becoming unknown. With this in mind, Brian took inspiration from Binyon’s famous poem, saying “the viewer is given no information, just a portrait. These faces then are as of unknown soldiers; no cap badges, no ribbons of spooling medals, no insignia for military rank. They are faces only. Each deep-etched with who they are and what they did, that we might look, and think – and thank them.”

“As the years pass, the number of veterans from World War I has dwindled to nothing and the number from World War II is steadily reduced, but their places are taken by other veterans from newer conflicts, who are also included.”

They That Are Left

Below is a short interview with Brian at the Royal Armouries about his collection, currently showing until 1 February.

The exhibition – which forms part of Royal Armouries’ ‘Inspired by…’ programme – transfers in March to Fort Nelson, Portsmouth, home to the national collection of artillery. For more information about Brian David Stevens’ work, please see his website here; http://briandavidstevens.com/ .

 

Christmas Box

At Christmas 1914, the teenage Princess Mary, daughter of King George V and Queen Mary, wanted to send a ‘gift from the Nation’ to all who were away from home for Christmas, fighting for our freedom. An advertisement in the national press invited contributions for a ‘Sailors & Soldiers Christmas Fund’.  Following a generous response from the public, the money was used to produce an embossed brass box, with various contents for the recipients.

The standard contents were 1oz of tobacco and 20 cigarettes, with a separate pipe and lighter. Non-smokers were alternatively offered a bullet pencil, writing paper and sweets.  Spices and sweets were provided for Indian troops, and chocolate for nurses. Most boxes also contained a Christmas card and a small photograph of Princess Mary.

The fund stayed open until 1920, and over 2.5 million boxes were delivered. Many of these survive, including one on display on the War gallery mezzanine, on loan from ex-senior curator of firearms at the Royal Armouries, Martin Pegler.

The Christmas Box on display in the War Gallery

The Christmas Box on display in the War Gallery

Martin writes:

In the 1980’s my wife and I were interviewing WW1 veterans. [We were given the tin by] Albert Edward Lee, though he was universally known as ‘Nick.’ He had been in the Machine Gun Corps in 1915, then was transferred to the Tank Corps in 1916. I don’t recall what regiment he served in prior to 1915, but do recall him saying that then he was a non-smoker and teetotal, so he never used the tin, and sent it home as a souvenir. Oddly, he became a confirmed pipe-smoker later in life, and always had a pipe puffing away when we visited him.

Nick Lee

Nick Lee

He won the Military Medal in 1916 with the tanks, was badly gassed in 1917, invalided out of the war, and told he had two years to live. So he became a medical experiment and lived in the open for three years, in his parents back garden in a sort of garden shed with only three walls. His lungs began to heal, and when we met him he was a robust 80-ish, and laughed at having outlived all the doctors who said he’d never survive!

The Christmas boxes for troops were revived in 2004 by the charity ‘uk4u thanks’! http://www.uk4u.org/charity

Trench biscuit

Trench biscuit

Very nearby in the gallery can also be seen a hardtack biscuit also on loan from Martin Pegler, inscribed ‘SOLDIER’S TRENCH biscuit, 1915, FRANCE, European WAR’. Renowned for being tooth-breakingly hard, in almost 100 years no one was desperate enough to eat it!

Blogger: Victoria Adams, Curatorial Assistant

Pretty lucky wasn’t it?

This letter from the Royal Armouries archives contains an eyewitness account of the battle of Jutland fought between the British Grand Fleet and the German High Seas Fleet on 30May – 1 June 1916.

HMS Invincible sinking

HMS Invincible sinking

It was written by George Slade, a seaman aboard HMS Inflexible, to his mother ten days after the battle to reassure her that he was safe. HMS Inflexible came through the action without any casualties and undamaged, although Slade describes one dangerous moment when ‘four torpedoes were fired at us. One passing across our stern, another passed along our port side about 10 yds away + the fourth actually went under us!! Pretty lucky wasn’t it?

Wartime letters were normally censored, and Slade intended to give no more details of the action, but he was then allowed to write a fuller account (presumably as reports of the battle had been published in the press) which he does so in the form of a journal or log.

During the battle Slade was stationed in the foretop and on the bridge, and so he had an excellent view of the action. He records all of the major events, including the dramatic loss of HMS Invincible:

‘6.30 The Invincible was blown up. She went up in a tremendous cloud of yellow cordite smoke. She broke in half + her bows + stern were left floating but I saw no survivors. Apparently a salvo pitched amidships + blew up her P+Q magazine. Huge pieces of steel + iron were falling everywhere but none touched us. We have heard that six were picked up afterwards + I think were all part of the Fore Top’s crew. (52 4 N, 6 6 E)’

George Slade's letter

George Slade’s letter

His account is unusually precise and it is likely that Slade copied the main details from the log kept on the bridge of HMS Inflexible during the action, and then added his own personal observations. The result is a fascinating description of one of the great battles of the First World War.

Blogger: William Longmate, Student Work Placement – Archives Department

Collections Up Close – Remembrance Special

The Royal Armouries Archives contain a collection of letters between Jack and Gert Adam, written during the First World War. The letters poignantly show their loving and often humorous relationship, including letters from their three young children. However, in August 1918 Gert’s letters to Jack, posted overseas to France, began to be returned unopened and the remainder of the letters reveal Gert’s endeavours to find out exactly what happened her husband, who never returned. Official records of the war, photographs and War Office correspondence surrounding the events reveal the true impact of war on his wife and family back in Doncaster, an experience undoubtedly shared by thousands of families at this time.

Jack and Gert Adams

Jack and Gert Adams

The letters have their own remarkable story, after being purchased form a house sale by the Museum in 2006 they were written into a play performed at the Royal Armouries. One day an audience member recognised the names and it transpired the family were living in the area. Once in touch the family were relieved the letters had been found as they had been accidentally lost during a house move. Later, in 2009, the family found a further collection of letters between Jack and Gert and kindly donated them to the Museum to be kept with the rest of the collection.

A short film about these archives can be found here on YouTube, the film was previously shown by the BBC for Remembrance in Trafalgar Square.

Blogger: Angela Clare, Researcher

Battle of Mons, 1914 – a Personal Account

The First World War erupted in August 1914, as German troops drove across Belgium meeting the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) based around Mons on the 23rd. The battle raged for several days as British and French forces were initially driven back until they held the Germans in early September and regained some lost territory.

The cover of the diary; ‘In case of accidents please forward to: - Mrs. E. Stone, 4 Lansdowne Place, Blackheath, London’.

The cover of the diary; ‘In case of accidents please forward to: - Mrs. E. Stone, 4 Lansdowne Place, Blackheath, London’.

Housed in the Royal Armouries archive’s collection in Leeds is the diary of Captain Edward Stone. Captain Stone began the war as second-in-command of B Company 2nd Dragoon Guards one of the cavalry regiments that were part of the BEF, but soon rose to commanding officer. His diary covers the period of 14 August – 28 October 1914 and vividly portrays the fast-paced action of the early weeks of the war.

A page from the diary of Captain Edward Stone

A page from the diary of Captain Edward Stone

The German army drove French troops to the right of the BEF into retreat and the British were forced to withdraw to ensure they were not outflanked as the Germans advanced. Stone coveys the confusion of the withdrawal as the BEF pulled back from the enemy:

‘On arriving at Le Cateau the place was swarming with infantry and artillery and cavalry, and there was absolute chaos. Finally we pulled off the road and camped in another wet turnip field; the horses and men were just about done in and wet through…’

Stone goes on to describe the British counter-attack at Le Cateau, and following actions at Nery, Aisnes and Messines as the German advance was gradually halted and the battle front stabilised into the lines of trenches that remained in place until 1918; the Western Front was born.

Officers of the 2nd Dragoon Guards, Captain Stone is on the front row, third from the left. This picture was taken in August 1914, only a few days before the Regiment went into action.

Officers of the 2nd Dragoon Guards, Captain Stone is on the front row, third from the left. This picture was taken in August 1914, only a few days before the Regiment went into action.

Edward Stone survived the horrors of the First World War. He was promoted to Major in 1917 and after a long career retired in 1926.

Blogger: Stuart Ivinson, Library Assistant

A Quite Interesting Outing

As the National Museum of Arms and Armour we regularly get asked to share our expert knowledge on all kinds of items in our vast collection. The BBC’s QI boffins recently contacted us to find out if during WWI soldiers had been known to urinate on their hot machine guns to keep them cool – rather unpleasant business!

qi-logoWe were able to confirm that soldiers did indeed collect urine to refill the water jacket of their guns in emergencies: “…Often, in a pinch, when water was short we were forced to fill the barrel jacket with urine – it helped make the war a bit personal…” Cpl John Young, 12th Machinegun Company, 4th British Division, First World War. It’s often said that soldiers used their machine-guns to boil water for tea when fresh water was scarce. This was first suggested by war poet Robert Graves in his memoirs and is now thought to be untrue, though one soldier did report using cooled ‘greasy’ water for his tea! In any case, you would want to give the water jacket a very thorough wash before considering a bit of a brew… To ‘demonstrate’ this quite interesting fact we took a Vickers machine gun to meet Stephen Fry and the QI gang, making sure that no one put history into practice!

 

 

Vickers Machine Gun on the QI set with Curators Angela Smith, Jonathan Ferguson and Conservator Nyssa Mildwaters

Vickers Machine Gun on the QI set with Curators Angela Smith, Jonathan Ferguson and Conservator Nyssa Mildwaters

 The Vickers machine gun was the British First World War version of the Maxim gun, which was named after its designer, Hiram Maxim. The Vickers gun wasn’t declared obsolete until April 1968, seeing over five decades of military action.  The Maxim was the first practical design for a machine gun and fired at a rate of 600 rounds per minute. However, belts contained only 250 rounds, and machine guns were generally fired in short bursts to conserve ammunition and prevent overheating. The popular idea of machine guns mowing down enemy soldiers point blank was the exception, and in fact they were used mainly at long range, like miniature artillery pieces. Blogger: Jonathan Ferguson, Curator of Firearms