‘Der Tag’ – The Day the German High Seas Fleet Surrendered

A Photograph Album held in the Archives of the Royal Armouries holds a fascinating glimpse of a surrender often forgotten in the wake of the armistice. Alina Morosanu, a placement student for the First World War Archives Project, tells us more about this album and the strange naval events it chronicles.

On the 21st November 1918, 10 days after the Armistice had been declared, the German High Seas Fleet surrendered to the Allies at the Firth of Forth. The anchorage at the Firth of Forth was merely the first stop for the fleet to ensure complete disarmament; the fleet would subsequently be interned around the Scapa Flow a few days later. Nearly one hundred years ago today the crews of the British ships sent to escort the fleet would have observed the historic sight of the diminutive H.M.S Cardiff leading a convoy of 70 magnificent German battle cruisers and destroyers into Internment around the Scottish Isles.

H.M.S Cardiff leading German battle-cruisers into Rosyth ©IWM Q19288

H.M.S Cardiff leading German battle-cruisers into Rosyth ©IWM Q19288

A Bit of Historical Insight

While the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at Sarajevo on 28 June 1914 was the strike that lit the match and ignited the Great War, the increasing rivalry between the great powers of Europe at the time was also a contributor to the outbreak of the wide-scale conflict. One such rivalry was the Anglo-German naval arms race, provoked by the massive expansion of the German navy during the 1900’s. The intense German naval expansion programme was a threat to British defence policy which held that the British navy should be at least the size of the next two largest navies. 1914 found Britain with forty nine battleships, compared to Germany’s twenty nine, and despite the latter’s efforts; Britain continued to maintain naval supremacy throughout the duration of the war. The battle of Jutland (or Skaggerak) in 1916 was the only full-scale clash of the British and German fleets during the war and resulted in both sides claiming victory. Despite increasing German U-boat raids from 1916 to 1917, the German Navy’s hope of defeating the British by June 1917 failed. There would be no other contact between the two fleets until the signing of the Armistice and the subsequent German surrender on 21st of November, 1918.

Photograph Album of Lieutenant-Commander Wright

The Surrender of the German High Seas Fleet is immortalized in Lieutenant-Commander Geoffrey Thomas Wright’s photograph album, held in the Archives of the Royal Armouries. G.T. Wright was born on 24th of July, 1886 in Hellifield, Yorkshire. He joined the navy in 1901 and subsequently worked his way up to the rank of Lieutenant-Commander on 31st of December, 1916. The album holds a number of photos of the German Ships entering the Firth of Forth, many of which are captioned as having been taken from the British ship H.M.S Seymour. At the time of the surrender, Wright was serving on H.M.S Ajax so it is unclear whether he is the photographer or just a collector of these images, some of which match official photographs. A correspondent from The Times was also aboard H.M.S Seymour and described the sight of the German Ships being led into the Firth of Forth by the H.M.S. Cardiff as ‘a school of leviathans led by a minnow’.

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Photograph Album of Lieutenant Commander G.T. Wright

“Paragraph Eleven. Confirm.”

After months of internment at Scapa Flow, during which the German sailors were banned from going ashore, the situation changed dramatically. On 21st of June 1919, Rear-Admiral Ludwig von Reuter issued the secret code word ordering all German ships at Scapa Flow to scuttle themselves. The decision taken by von Reuter led to the world’s largest naval suicide, but with growing concern that the allies would divide the fleet between themselves without ratification by the German Government; it was the only option left. The British were aware that the possibility of a scuttle was high but by the time the ships began to visibly list and start to sink, it was almost impossible to stop the events, with only a handful of the ships being successfully beached and fifty two sinking to the bottom of the ocean.

Two remarkable sets of newsreel footage survive in the Pathe archive picturing both the surrender and the scuttling of the German fleet.

The upper-works of the German battle-cruiser Hindenburg after it was scuttled ©IWM SP 1635

The upper-works of the German battle-cruiser Hindenburg after it was scuttled ©IWM SP 1635

Over the next few decades many of the ships were salvaged from the sea bottom but there remain remnants of the High Seas Fleet even today, laying on the seabed at Scapa Flow. Scapa Flow has now been designated a historic wreck site and divers can admire the engine room of the SS Konig which still has most of its component parts (http://scapaflowwrecks.com/wrecks/konig/).

Thus, November marks not only the remembrance of the Armistice in 1918, but for naval enthusiasts, it also marks the beginning of one of the grandest naval defeats in history. After all, not many Admirals consider the deliberate sinking of their own fleet as a “great performance!” as von Reuter exclaims in his book ‘Scapa Flow – Das Grab der Deutscher Flotte’.

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 www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205303848) 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.



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 (http://www.twgpp.org)

Arthur’s grave in France – Courtesy of the War Graves Photographic Project (http://www.twgpp.org)


#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


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



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.


‘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 Diary of Private Holden: Part Two – The Remount Depot (24th May – 1st 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 the journey to France and has now crossed the channel.

Now arriving at Rouen, the soldiers faced a 4 mile hike to Base Depot Number 5 where Private Holden was to stay for nearly 6 Weeks. The base at Rouen consisted of different camps, largely firing Infantry, and was the primary hospital centre for the British Expeditionary Forces, in addition to housing the Cavalry Remount Depot. Private Holden describes it:

“like a big canvas city, & the distance round it, would be somewhere about, six miles, so you can form from that the amount of space taken, & very little space was wasted. In our camp alone we had over 50 stables, each one having over a hundred stalls, & about half a dozen lines, & at times these had over a hundred horses on each one”

Example of a British Army Camp ©Duke of Wellington’s Regimental Archive/ Royal Armouries FWWA

Though entranced by the appearance of the ‘canvas city’, the reality of accommodation at the base seems to have left something to be desired.

“The first few weeks, we had three tents between us, but we did not have them long, & we had two between twenty of us, it was so hot …. .after that we spent most of our nights outside, with the stars for a roof. Wet nights we looked for an empty tent.”

During the day the soldiers worked at the Remount Depot. Private Holden describes a typical day:

  • 6 am               Fall in and report to designated stable to groom and take to                                        water about one hundred horses per man
  • 7:30 am          Breakfast
  • 8:30 am          Back to the stables to groom and exercise the horses
  • 12 Noon         Rest period
  • 2:00 pm          (if on Cavalry Depot duty) Saddle horses ready to move out
  • 4:00 pm          Grooming, watering and feeding the horses
  • 6:00 pm          Released from duty

Evenings at the base were typically spent in the YMCA hut writing, playing cards or watching one of the nightly concerts or performances. Private Holden was lucky enough to be at the base when it hosted one of Lena Ashwell’s famous Concert Parties. Lena Ashwell was an actress and theatre manager who organised concert parties for troops as far afield as Egypt during the war, receiving an OBE for her work in 1917.

Interior of a YMCA hut at Rouen © IWM (Q5457)

Interior of a YMCA hut at Rouen © IWM (Q5457)

When not attending camp entertainments soldiers could request a pass to go into Rouen during their free time. Private Holden seems to have been very taken with the city, describing its churches, roads and cafes, and even going as far as to comment:

“I must say that most of their public buildings are much better looking than ours in England, the churches, were all very pretty buildings, the carving being the chief thing”

On 25th June, after 5 weeks at the base, Private Holden and 12 others were warned to prepare to travel to the front, and on 1st July they finally moved out.

“this time we were on the last stage of the road to the fighting line, we again left friends”

The Diary of Private Holden: Part One, a journey to France

As part of the museums’ ongoing First World War Archives Project, we have been looking into the fascinating diary of Private Wilfred Holden

Unlike those who joined the army to become career soldiers, Private Holden was part of the Special Cavalry Reserve. Volunteers or conscripts who enlisted after the start of the war served with the reserve regiments in England, undergoing basic training before being sent overseas to supply drafts to their affiliated regiments.

Though it has not been possible to locate him in the surviving WW1 records, Private Holden most likely belonged to the 4th Reserve Regiment, based at Tidworth, which was the regiment that supplied drafts to the 7th Dragoon Guards until 1917.

Private Holden does not seem to have taken naturally to soldiering and his diary has few place names or dates and very little mention of enemy action. It does however give a wonderful picture of his everyday worries and wishes and the various mishaps that befell him.

The Journey out (22-23 May 1915)

 “It was on May the 20th, when, along with ten more men, I was warned for France, but it was not until two days later, that we were told the day for leaving. On the evening of the 22nd we got orders to parade at 8 A.M the following morning, when, I should say, about forty eight men & two NCO’s turned out, we marched down to the station, but unlike all other drafts we had no band, at the time they were on leave. At the station we were given a good send off, by our own men & also the 9th Lancers and the 18th Hussars, they were also sending men away and we were all on the same train, & we steamed out of Tidworth station, which to most people, was a thing to be remembered, the two bands of the 9th and the 18th were playing , & the chaps wishing us all good luck, & a few wondering if they would ever see their chums again, then all was left behind and the future talked about”

Cavalry Troops at southampton docks

P.269/2 Cavalry Troops at Southampton Docks ©Southampton Archives


Arriving at Southampton Docks, Private Holden had to wait for the troop ship to be prepared for embarkation and spent his time watching the boats come in.

“During the time we were waiting for the order to fall in, we saw a few hospital ships come in dock, then the question how long should we be out before we should stop one, as it is called. About 4:30 we got the welcome order fall in, then we marched on the boat, the name I have forgotten, it was some Irish name, & was an old cargo boat, & was fitted up for cattle, we all marched on, & three hundred horses were taken on. At 5:30 the boat steamed out, but, unlike the pictures of a ‘departure of a troopship’, all was quiet, no cheering and goodbyes. No one was on the dock, only workmen, & a few soldiers, & many looked longingly at old England’s shores as we went slowly down the channel”

Private Holden Diary Entry

Newsreel films of the departures of troop ships from Britain and Overseas were common during the early years of the war and presumably it is one such film that Private Holden refers to within his diary. Examples of such films can be viewed in the British Pathé online Archive, including this film of Russian Relief troops departing from London.


Many of the ships used to carry British and colonial troops during the war had been requisitioned and were fitted up as best they could be for the process of carrying large numbers of men and horses across the sea. Horses were often winched onto the ships and confined in small quarters for the voyage, with many dying from disease and injury.

Even the short journey across the channel was dangerous for both man and beast, with submarines targeting the troop ships. Only a month after Private Holden’s voyage, in June 1915 the SS Armenian was torpedoed off the British coastline and 1,400 mules and horses were left to perish while the remaining men abandoned ship.

Conditions on the troop ship were cramped and most of the soldiers took the welcome chance to sleep while they could but Private Holden stayed on deck watching the sunset.

 Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides  ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

I smile often when I think of the crowd, & picking your way over them was a very difficult task, for with the swaying of the boat, & the different positions of the men, you had a hard task, & more than one man had a rude awakening, through someone falling on the top of him.”

Seasick Soldiers on SS Euripides  ©Sea Power Centre, Australia

Passing Le Havre signalled the completion of the channel crossing and the ship turned to sail down the river towards Rouen.

“We passed several villages on the river side, some of the people seemed to be just getting out of bed, but the noise made on the boat, was enough to awake the dead, & before we reach Rouen, half the chaps could not shout, the people cheered us all the way down, but when nearing Rouen, we had to cease shouting, to give the sailors a chance to hear the orders given from the bridge.”


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.