In Memoriam: Thomas Cross

In Memoriam

In the past, it was common for institutions such as schools, railway companies, post offices and even private businesses to create their own war memorials. They remembered those staff who had fallen in the service of their country.

This year, as part of the Royal Armouries commemoration of the Armistice, we decided to research the history of our own families. We wanted to find out how the lives of our grand-parents and great grand-parents were shaped by the two world wars.

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Arran Cross, Retail Special Projects and Buying Manager, Royal Armouries © Fern Merrills

Arran Cross, Retail Special Projects and Buying Manager

I have always had an interest in military history, particularly the First World War and Second World War.

For this project, I researched what both of my great-grandfathers did during the First World War. The things I found out about Cecil Darling are on display in the Royal Armouries museum at Leeds.

I knew that many of my ancestors had served in both wars and wanted to know more about the medals and battlefield trophies I have inherited.

It was interesting to learn about the battles that both Thomas and Cecil fought in. Reading the war diaries of their units was fascinating. Family stories of how of how badly Thomas was affected by his experiences are explained by the horror of what he experienced at the Somme.

I want my relatives to be remembered because they both have fascinating stories and the battles they fought in across the different theatres played a key part in winning the war.

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Private Thomas Cross © Arran Cross

In Memoriam: Private Thomas Cross

8th (Service) Battalion, Yorks & Lancaster Regiment

Thomas Cross was my great grandfather.

He grew up in Sheffield and was a Hot Roller in a metal strip mill before he joined the Army. Thomas volunteered to join the Sheffield Pals Battalion as a private and served the entirety of his war as part of the 8th Yorks and Lancs.

He saw action at the battle of the Somme, near the village of Ovillers where only 68 of the 680-strong battalion survived. He also saw action at Passchendaele in the battle for Messines and with the Italian resistance effort, fighting on the Asiago Plateau and at the Battle of Vittorio Veneto where he served until the end of the war.

To discover more stories, visit the In Memoriam exhibition at the Leeds museum and at Fort Nelson.

In Memoriam: Lawrence Austen Impey

In Memoriam

In the past, it was common for institutions such as schools, railway companies, post offices and even private businesses to create their own war memorials. They remembered those staff who had fallen in the service of their country.

This year, as part of the Royal Armouries commemoration of the Armistice, we decided to research the history of our own families. We wanted to find out how the lives of our grand-parents and great grand-parents were shaped by the two world wars.

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Edward Impey, Director General and Master of the Armouries © Paul Cockerill. Light Space Photography TM

Edward Impey, Director General and Master of the Armouries

Impeys have always been interested in family history as we have all heard a lot about it. Both my paternal grandparents wrote engaging memoirs, but these are full of tantalising gaps…

This project offered an opportunity to discover some firm facts through access to official documents, while reading around the subject added a lot of context. Lawrence’s First World War experiences were unusual and certainly interesting, but not conventionally distinguished.

In relation to the First World War, I would like Lawrence to be remembered mostly for what he represented rather than for himself. He was a good example of the British young men of the period, particularly in the early part of the war, who were desperate to get to the Front and tried any means to do so, but for whom delusion was so rapidly followed by disillusion.

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Lawrence Austen Impey © Impey Family Archive

In Memoriam: Lawrence Austen Impey

Private in French Army, July 1917;
Second Lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards, from July 1918.
Captain, Coldstream Guards, 1940

Lawrence was my father’s father. He was born in January 1900, the son of an Eton schoolmaster. The year of his birth meant that he served in both wars, though doing very different things.

Lawrence was fourteen at the outbreak of war and so remained at school. In 1917 he heard of a scheme whereby boys of seventeen or over who could drive a car could serve at the front as ambulance drivers . In the teeth of parental resistance, he absconded to France. From July to December 1917 he served as a driver for the British Committee of the Red Cross, a unit which was commanded, paid, fed and clothed by the French Army. Lawrence wrote numerous letters home, many of which survive, but after the war he rarely spoke of his experiences.

His unit of about twenty men – mostly under- or over-age and from all corners of the Empire – lived in the trenches or behind the lines, wherever their work took them. They drove in pairs; Lawrence’s co-driver being an Englishman of his own age called Knight. Their ambulances were Model T Fords. Long overhanging bodies were added to the rear, making room for ten sitting wounded (‘assis’) or five stretcher cases (‘couchés’). Red crosses were painted on the sides and roofs to discourage enemy fire but which ‘served the Germans nicely for target practice’.

The unit transported wounded soldiers from the trenches or front-line dressing stations to the clearing stations behind the lines. They almost always drove at night, without lights and on tracks pitted with enormous shell-holes and busy with other traffic. They suffered regular breakdowns, were frequently under shell fire, and occasionally strafed by ‘boche’ aeroplanes.

The Model T’s crude suspension did little to ease the jolting of the roads, and the cries and agonies of the wounded left a lasting impression. Amidst all this, working 24-hour shifts and more, they often fell asleep at the wheel, and had to take turns to shake each other awake.

In late summer 1917, the unit was sent to Verdun. It participated in the actions at Fort Douaumont, Fort Souville, and the French recapture of Le Mort Homme. Lawrence described the living and fighting conditions as they overran the German positions. He admired the sophistication of the German dug-outs, complete with underground railways, electric light and hospital wards. His main impression, though, was of the attack; hand-to hand fighting in the dark tunnels, with flares, bayonets, clubs and grenades, and its horrific aftermath:

“As we got within 200 yards of it the stench of old blood and dead Germans became unbearable…the clothes and bodies of the dead… were lying each side quite saturated…. and if you slipped off the duck boards …it came over your boots”.

Lawrence and other Englishmen were awarded the Croix de Guerre for their actions at Verdun. The award ceremony was memorable for Lawrence because the French officer, who kissed him on both cheeks, hadn’t shaved. He was later also awarded the Victory Medal, ‘for service as ‘Driver’’ (although the dates covered his whole war service)

Towards the end of 1917, Lawrence fell victim to Phosgene gas. A barrage of gas shells was intermixed with explosives to mask its arrival and delay its detection. This, coupled with inadequate and worn-out gas masks (‘…a wad of absorbent material soaked in some useless chemical’) made the French troops hopelessly vulnerable. The family story relates that Lawrence was left for dead by the roadside, only later attracting attention by faint, unconscious stirrings. Months of recuperation followed, first in French hospitals, and finally in England. Miraculously, he recovered.

Lawrence was then drafted into an Officer Cadet Unit, and on 31 July 1918 was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the Coldstream Guards . The Armistice came before he could be posted abroad, and he was demobilised on 30 December, when he took up a place at Oxford.

Between the wars, Lawrence worked as a Director of a mining company and was a County Commissioner for the Scouts.

At the outbreak of the Second World War he was considered too old for active service. In 1940, though, he reported for duty as a 40-year old ex-soldier keen to do something useful. On 4 March1941 he was re-commissioned as Second Lieutenant . He soon became aide-de-camp to Robert Bridgeman, first Director General (1941-44) of the Home Guard (familiar to many as ‘Dad’s Army’). This involved gruelling if often hilarious tours of inspection to all corners of the British Isles.

In his last years, with the onset of dementia, he suffered nightmares, reliving his experiences in the trenches and the hospital he was taken to in 1917. Like many of his generation he felt that the First World War had a bigger impact on the world than the Second, and recognised, if underestimated, the impact on himself and other survivors.

He died in 1989.

To discover more stories, visit the In Memoriam exhibition at the Leeds museum and at Fort Nelson.

In Memoriam: Commemorating our family’s contributions to the First World War

In Memoriam

In the past, it was common for institutions such as schools, railway companies, post offices and even private businesses to create their own war memorials. They remembered those staff who had fallen in the service of their country.

This year, as part of the Royal Armouries commemoration of the Armistice, we decided to research the history of our own families. We wanted to find out how the lives of our grand-parents and great grand-parents were shaped by the two world wars.

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From all walks of life and from all over the country, our relatives fought. Students, mechanics, doctors, bank clerks, textile workers, accountants, publicans, gardeners, lovers of cricket and chess, all found a role to play.

They became ambulance drivers, pipers, commanders, nurses and soldiers. Each of these men, in their own small but significant ways shaped the course of the First World War.

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Some of our research is on display at the Royal Armouries museums at Leeds and Fort Nelson, but not all of our research would fit onto these walls. Over the next few months, we will share this extra research here.

A series of eight posts will focus on an underage ambulance driver, a dispatch cyclist who embodied the ‘Keep Calm and Carry On’ attitude of the day, a commander in the navy, a member of the Sheffield Pals battalion, a man who joined up with his older brother, a chess lover who finished his training just as the War ended, a private who saw action at the Battle of Paschendale, and another soldier who refused to talk about the amputation of his leg.

Please join us in remembering these men, and many other people like them.

If you have been Inspired By… this exhibition, why not start researching your own family history?

Starting to find out more about your relatives can be challenging. Here are some hints and tips that helped us to research our own family histories.

  1. Write down everything you know.

Jot down everything you can remember about your family. This will remind you of what you know, and reveal the gaps.

  1. Speak to your family.

Family members can be a wealth of knowledge. Watch out for pet names. ‘Uncle Jack’ may have been born ‘Michael John Smith’, and non-relatives may be awarded ‘aunt’ or ‘uncle’ status.

  1. Look for physical clues.

You can uncover a lot by looking through drawers and boxes. Certificates, wills, military service papers, books, photographs and letters can all be really helpful.

  1. Make your family tree.

Start with your name near the bottom, and work upwards through the generations. A family tree will highlight gaps in your knowledge, and help you develop a research plan.

  1. Develop a research strategy.

Make a plan before you start. Don’t just rush straight in!

  1. Start to search for more information.
  • The National Archives has lots of free guides.
  • County archives and local record offices might help if your family are from a particular place.
  • Regimental or corps museums might have information if you had relatives in the armed services.
  • The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website can help locate servicemen who lost their lives.
  • Websites such as Find My Past, Ancestry and Family Search hold transcriptions of censuses and Birth, Marriage and Death records among other useful information.

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/ .

 

Editing, a labour of love…

Sound Artist Amie Slavin talks about the trials and tribulations of editing Other Ranks and how every stutter, mumble and pause must be considered.

At the end of the process of collecting sounds, I gathered them all up and began the massive labour of love, which is the editing process. I had to listen to every moment of every recording, snipping and making tidy cuts of usable sounds and filing them for inclusion in the piece.  I had to spot what’s especially good and excise anything off-topic, contaminated or unusable for any other reason.

At this point I had a big pile of files, each still quite lengthy, containing the best of each location and/or voice.  This is where it gets tricky…

The toughest part of editing for a project like this one is that you end up with more material than you have space.  You are, if you are me, now in love with every sound, every voice, and getting really scratchy about losing anything anyone has said.  Tough!  Man-up, whining arty-person!

From here on, each sound file has to stand up and justify its inclusion in the piece.  Every voice gets edited further as each one is snipped and placed, with extreme delicacy and care, into position within the mix.  Each must overlap its surrounding sounds correctly. A fraction of a second alters where the listener’s attention is – and this has a very real impact on which parts of which voices actually get heard.  I like to have voices criss-crossing each other, like old chaps in a pub, each philosophising into his pint, they chime, coalesce and weave gently around each other.  They also cut across each other, sometimes agreeing and sometimes not.  They reinforce and contradict each other.  One voice adds to another from a very different experience or perspective.

Throughout the process, my preference is to preserve the participant’s own speech rhythms and style of articulation.  I don’t like to begin by cutting out their stumbles and stutters.  I like the emotional elaboration we get from the way someone speaks, as well as the words they say.

At every point the priority is to pay central attention to what each person was trying to say.  I warned participants that their voices would be edited.  I also promised to represent them fairly.  This was a most serious and sincere pledge and, at the end of the production process I am equally concerned with how each participant will feel about his treatment within the edits and the piece, as well as the effectiveness of the whole mix.  This creates an additional complexity which has served to keep me awake and pacing the floor through many nights in the past four years.

The end product contains literally hundreds of sounds and dozens of voices, as well as several hundred participants who contributed their marching feet and PT exertions.  In many places the voices are edited into fluency.  Many, are of course, fluent to begin with.  Where necessary, I have removed stumbles and mumbles, which make a particular piece of speech too long for the gap it’s heading for.  Did it work?  Well that’s your call, isn’t it?

Blogger: Amie Slavin

Other Ranks is now open in the War Gallery at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds until March 2013. For more information, visit our website.

Creating Other Ranks…

Sound Artist Amie Slavin has been creating the installation, Other Ranks, for the past four years. She tells us about her journey; travelling to Army camps to record soldiers’ stories, witnessing a mocked-up Afghan war zone and trying to instigate a good old dressing-down.

Artist, Amie Slavin

Other Ranks owes its existence to many contributors and friends. A project of this scale and scope requires a lot of research and preparation. The bulk of the work, in terms of the time it has taken, has been spent in pursuing every sound, every voice, every piece of proffered advice or wisdom and seizing ruthlessly on anyone not quick enough to stay out of reach!

I’ve been on three different Army camps and visited a TA veterans’ group.  I’ve recorded in the street, in fields, backrooms and a mocked-up Afghan Forward Operating Base.

At the beginning, notwithstanding meticulous and painstaking planning, there’s little predicting the sounds that’ll make it into the studio.  I roughed out lists of questions for interviewees and plans for sounds.  In the event, though, people say what they want to say and the best conversations are those where I’ve facilitated the participant to lead me in his chosen direction.  Some guys will talk about almost anything and are eager to do so.  Others are wary of speaking out of turn or of causing me distress with what they say.  For example, I spent some considerable time and effort attempting to find and persuade someone to give me a good old-fashioned Army dressing-down.  I wanted to show how the rigorous standards of behaviour and training are applied to the soldier on the ground. Two chaps very kindly had a crack at it for me but one eventually admitted it was just impossibly difficult to stand in front of a female civilian (my gender was more inhibiting than my disability they told me, to my delight) and deliver a proper telling-off.  Both spoke to me in gently firm and moderate language about my slipshod turnout on parade or my drunken behaviour off camp (how did they know?)

Upshot was I had to rethink the inclusion of a dressing-down, whereas a thoroughly slick and fluent explanation of the history of the Drill Parade flowed onto tape without hesitation or preparation.  I couldn’t have guessed that this would be the case.  Planning a production of this nature is a deeply imprecise science.  This is, of course, one of the greatest joys of it.

Other Ranks, opens in the War Gallery at Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds today (1 November) and runs until March 31, 2013.

Blogger: Amie Slavin