I’d like to see the numbers in such exhibits complemented so that using augmented reality on a Smartphone or Tablet you get to see the exhibit in situ, with commentary, even drama reconstruction.
Archive for June, 2012
Tags: exhibits, ww1
Tags: joseph fiennes, jude law, rachel weisz, stalingrad, ww2
There are many great war movies, ‘Enemy at the Gates’ is one.
Tags: 75th anniversary, egypt house, Houthulst Forest, john arthur wilson, john Terraine, langemark, lord french, passchendaele, poelcappelle, war cabinet, Ypres
Fig 1 Sketch of the movements of Corporal John Arthur Wilson, MCG, October 1917.
My grandfather drew a version of this in biro when in his 97th year; his eye-sight was very poor. I redrew it as you see, with him adding comment and annotations. Houthoulst Forrest is a bit out, there is a rail track and I haven’t drawn it strictly North-South.
From Haig’s despatches:
After the middle of October the weather improved, and on the 22nd October two successful operations, in which we captured over 200 prisoners and gained positions of considerable local importance east of Poelcappelle and within the southern edge of Houthulst Forest, were undertaken by us, in the one case by east-county and Northumberland troops (18th and 34th Divisions), and in the other by west-county and Scots battalions (35th Division, Major- General G. Mc. Franks) in co-operation with the French.
My goal, my pleasure, reliving stories he first started telling me on his knee after Sunday Lunch age 6 or so is tp be there with him, to time travel and by following closely in his footsteps survive as he did (just).
A scratch is all he suffered during the 1 1/2 years he was out there (April 1916 to December 1917).
Fig. 2. The silver ID bracelet Jack had made in Grantham. 13203. 104 MGC.
Courtesy of published maps and Google Earth I am gradually picking out the spots. In 1992 he attended the 75th anniversary of Passchendaele and marked the spots where he buried Dick Piper and Harry Gartenfeld. Even after those years, however ‘dull and featureless’ the landscape, and however broken it had been in his time, he was able to pick out the exact spot where these men died.
Is it feasible that the Jerry Prisoner who took can be identified? Handed over to Captain Blair in early October? Somewhere out by International Corner?
His papers came through at the end of December 1917, around the 27th I believe. A couple of officers gave him pictures of themselves, but who could this be?
Fig 3. A senior officer of the Machine Gun Corps who gave this picture to Corporal J A Wilson on 27th December 1917 as he headed home to train with the Royal Flying Corps.
Who is it?
‘After the middle of October the weather improved, and on the 22nd October two successful operations, in which we captured over 200 prisoners and gained positions of considerable local importance east of Poelcappelle and within the southern edge of Houthulst Forest, were undertaken by us, in the one case by east-county and Northumberland troops (18th and 34th Divisions), and in the other by west-county and Scots battalions (35th Division, Major- General G. Mc. Franks) in co-operation with the French’. Haig’s Despatch
Scanning ‘The Road to Passchendaele’ John Terraine 1977 I am struck by the statement that has Haig wanting to take Passchendaele Ridge in order to have command of the open land to the east in order to use cavalry. Also Lord French’s criticism to the War Cabinet that Haig keeps making the same mistakes. From Birdwood ‘Khaki and Gown’ p 316.
British Army Maps:
Tags: richard holmes, tommy atkins
As I read Tommy as an eBook both on a Kindle and iPad I shared notes to Twitter.
Note: The idea of poor leadership amongst senior officers in WW1 is based on evidence.
The want of preparation, the vague orders, the ignorance of the objective & geography, the absurd haste, and in general the horrid bungling were scandalous.
Note: The stalemate that cost millions of lives. Imagine reporting that today – like a weather forecast.
The logic that encouraged the Allies to attack on the Western Front, to recover friendly territory, worked in reverse for the Germans, and persuaded them to remain on the defensive, holding gains which would prove useful bargaining counters if there was a compromise peace.
Note: Reduced to the ‘daily grind’ of surviving.
We just live for the day and think of little else but our job, the next show, and our billets and rations.
Note: True or apocryphal?
‘A bridge, composed of a compact mass of human bodies over which I stepped gingerly. I was not at all squeamish; the sight of dead men having long lost its terror for me, but making use of corpses, even enemy corpses, for bridge-building purposes seemed about the limit of callousness’.
Note: The first use of computing techniques in 1917.
Gun positions were precisely surveyed, and the development of flash-spotting and sound-ranging meant that German batteries could also be plotted with accuracy.
Note: Kill and be killed.
In York Cemetery near Haspres, between Cambrai and Valenciennes, lie a company’s worth of the York and Lancaster regiment, with, up by the back wall, most of the machine-gunners that killed them.
Note: Just like a British public school boy to believe that his code of conduct should be everyone’s.
Captain Robert Graves recalled his CSM, a Birmingham man, giving a stern talking-to to a German prisoner caught with pornographic postcards in his pack.
Note: Death was all around them even before they were sent to the trenches.
Thomas Atkins was no stranger to death. His siblings died in infancy from illnesses which would now be prevented by vaccination or cured by antibiotics. His workmates perished from a variety of accidents and diseases, and the prevalence of infection meant that even a simple cut could prove fatal.
Note: ‘Tommy’ knew how to misbehave and hate. Send a soccer hooligan to the Western Front?
Drunkenness and its frequent concomitant wife-beating were common, and there was frequent violence, often on a small scale but sometimes, especially in Glasgow, where Catholic versus Protestant riots occurred, on a much larger scale.
Note: It was this technical transition from horse to motor, from rifle to machine-gun and to the air.
The overwhelming majority pulled guns or wagons, just as they did in the French, German and United States armies at that time. In December 1918 the BEF fed a total of 394,443 animals. Of these just 25,414, riding and draught horses were in the Cavalry Corps, and 48,822 served on the lines of communication. The number of motor vehicles on the Western Front grew enormously: in August 1914 the Army Service Corps had just 507 motor vehicles at its disposal, and in January 1918 it had almost 22,000 trucks in France alone.
Note: Haig and everyone who promoted him reflect an era where connections overcome stupidity
Haig (how we hated him and all his lot) had certain disastrous failings. An optimist of optimists he refused to acknowledge failure. In a daft way he was an inspired man, with the dire conviction he was never wrong. ‘The well-loved horse,’ he said, years after the cataclysm of the Kaiser’s war, ‘will always be important in war.’ … Stupid sod, he should have been up to his navel in mud and water, with nothing but chlorinated tea to drink and dog biscuits and bully beef to eat, and have to piss in the place where he slept. He might then have noticed that the men under his sad command…
Note: Personality clashes then, as now, depending on where the power lies can have a marked impact.
In fact French’s dislike of Smith-Dorrien went back before the war. French was a flamboyant cavalryman and Lothario, and Smith-Dorrien a strait-laced, happily married infantryman.
Note: Haig was devious, a trait gained at Clifton, developed at Brasenose and exploited at Sandhurst.
French himself was replaced in December 1915, and Haig’s leaking of papers on the handling of the reserves at Loos played its part in bringing him down.
Note: There’s one aspect of WW1 life they never try to recreate: the smell or rotting bodies.
‘My worst memory was the stench of putrefying bodies, for I could smell them still, and though death may be sublime on a battlefield, it is certainly not beautiful.’81
Note: Such was life and death during WW1
Life in the world of earth and wire was generally uncomfortable and dangerous, but it was made more tolerable by the pattern of rotation that kept soldiers on the move between front and rear. And although men were killed in their trenches, by shells, mortar bombs or sniper-fire, as well as by the myriad accidents that assail folk working outdoors with heavy equipment in all weathers, severe casualties came, not in the drudgery of line-holding, but in the inferno of battle. Walter Nicholson believed that: ‘Trench fighting goes on throughout the war; but a battle comes like a hailstorm, mows down…
Note: Four distinct elements that made the WW1 Army
There were three distinct elements to the challenge, and theorists would now term them the components of fighting power. The first was physical, involving the weapons and equipment used; the second, so closely related, was conceptual, and concerned the evolution of military doctrine; and the third was human, and centred on the myriad of complex factors that made men fight. Finally, the army’s medical services had to contend with problems of their own, as new weapons and tactics proved their terrible capacity to damage body and mind.
Note: The awfulness of high explosives on WW1 troops.
When Ernest Shephard’s company was hit by heavy howitzers in July 1915 the effects were appalling. We found two machine gunners belonging to our company who had been blown from the trench over the railway bank into a deep pool of water, a distance of 70 yards. One man, Pte Woods, was found in 8 pieces, while others were ghastly sights, stomachs blown open, some headless, limbs off, etc. Up to the present we have found 17 and buried them.76
Note: Do the horrors of war make a horror story impossible? This was the context not the storyline?
An Irish medical officer fainted when the wounded man on his stretcher had his face sliced neatly off and hurled, like a rubber mask, against the side of the trench.
Note: The noise of WW1 we can recreate but what about the smell?
Think of the loudest clap of thunder you have ever heard, then imagine what it would be like if it continued without stopping. That was the noise which woke us at 4.40 am on Thursday, 21 March. I have never before or since heard anything like it.83
Note: Surely as soon as rules are introduced to War it becomes a game? Ban it!
Gas was first used on the Western Front by the Germans at Second Ypres in April 1915.
Note: Death was rarely the fear, but the manner of dying.
If a tank began to burn, as it so often did, men faced an urgent scramble to escape. The sight of terribly burned tank crew persuaded even infantrymen out in the mud that theirs was likely to be an easier death.
Note: The Lord of the Rings should be used when teaching about WW1
J. R. R. Tolkien, author of The Lord of the Rings, served on the Western Front with 11/Lancashire Fusiliers, and wrote that Sam Gamgee, Frodo’s sturdy and long-suffering companion on his journey to Mount Doom, was a portrait ‘of the English soldier, of the private and batman I knew in the 1914 war, and recognized as so far superior to myself’.
Note: Was The First War ‘great’ as in heroic or big?
It was regarded as degrading, primitive and wholly out of place in a citizen army fighting a great war. Lieutenant F. P. Roe was amongst the many young officers shocked by their first encounter with it.
Note: We used this to refer to editing poor video footage into a programme.
‘You can’t make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear; you can make a good leather one.’
Note: Here’s a story, WW1 from the perspective of Lice.
Front-line soldiers were almost invariably infested with the body louse, pediculus vestimentii. The fully grown female of the species was about 4mm long, and the male slightly smaller: they were generally grey, sometimes with a bluish streak in the middle, though sharp colour variations caused great interest to their victims.
Tags: editorial plan, editorial policy, great war, hammerton, heligoland, part-works, Reshadieh, sir john hammerton, triple alliance, triple entente, war one, world war
In the Editorial from Sir John Hammerton written in 1936 we learn that during the Great War there were 15 part works published each week to follow the war as it played out but only 4/5 stayed the course (two of them published by him).
The answer, if readers need persuading is to have
An Editorial plan:
1) Does it have a market?
- Based on experience and instinct
2) Choice of letterpress
- Choice and placing of illustrations
- Taking pains, described as genius.
- Well produced.
3) Keep promises.
4) It must be well advertised.
- (The £15,000 Sir John Hammerton mentions spending in 1934 might be £825,000+ ! in 2012)
- The right balance between pictures and text or “harmonious proportions”.
‘War on the grand scale’
I am reminded that just as we look back 100 years authors looked back to conflicts of the previous century.
In the 50 years between 1864 and 1914 there had been far more changes in the mechanism of naval warfare than in the 4,000 years that elapsed between the time when the first Greek galleys hugged the rugged shores of their homeland and the encounters of St.Vincent, Trafalgar and Navarino. (1936:95)
Triple entente vs Triple Alliance
Stories that intrigue me include the 500 Turks waiting to board the battleship Reshadieh at the Armstrong yard on the Tyne at the outbreak of war. What happened to them and the ship?
What’s the history of Heligoland the tiny islands in the North Sea. Weren’t they British for a period?
Did Germany really feel threatened? Was it a trade war with England?
‘The more our young people of today get to know of the nature of that world disaster, the less will they be eager to welcome or take part in any other international conflict’.Posted: June 25, 2012 in 1912, 1914, World War
Tags: international conflict, politics, sir john hammerton, world disaster
‘The more our young people of today get to know of the nature of that world disaster, the less will they be eager to welcome or take part in any other international conflict’. Hammerton (1936)
The unknown war against Serbia in 1912 that set the scene for 1914. Come 1914 what do we know of the Battles of Shabatz and Jadar?
QQ Why should war have rules? It isn’t a game. The attitude to the wounded, especially towards the enemy, is bizarre, where the desire to kill becomes a wish to save.
Yet atrocities against Serbia were condoned.
By the end of August 1914 300,000 Austro–Hungarians who had crossed the Drina and Save Rivers, not more than 200,000 returned; it was estimated that 324 officers and 41,215 men were taken prisoners, while the casualties in killed and wounded amounted to approximately 60,000 men.
Hammerton, J (1936) World War
Tags: Aisne, battle of the aisne, german monarchy, hgwells, history, sir edward carson, tango, tangoism, trenches, War Illustrated
Fig 1. Cover. World War. Part 2.
This makes easy reading 75+ years after publication. The editor has to justify the mismatch between pictures and text. The text is a chronology of events through the war, while the pictures, sometimes in sets, present an eclectic mix of events and horrors, chosen to provide a parallel journey and insight.
This part includes an essay from H G Wells from the ‘War Illustrated, February 1915′
‘It is no less instructive in the instances where the forecast fails than in the many where it is uncannily correct’. Writers the Editor, Sir John Hammerton.
Will war change Britain? Asks H G Wells
- In fashion (servants, busbies, coachman with a cockade)
- And impoverishment
- English character
- Irish more like Russians
- Welsh as Indians and Ruthenisns
- Scotch (sic) more Northern and Protestant
‘Aristocratic parliamentarianism and the rule of influential families under our present German monarchy’. Wells (1915. reprinted 1936:47)
Wells has it in for the Tango too, at which point I lose sympathy.
‘Tangoism, the diseased growth of nightclubs and the ‘violent last hysteria of the feminist movement’. HGWells
‘Men who would still gamble for a party advantage if they were starving upon a raft’. HGWells (1914, reprinted 1936:48)
Battle of the Aisne, September 1914 when opposing lines became locked.
He describes Sir Edward Carson s a ‘disgruntled mischief maker ready to declare his irreconcilable obstructiveness to peace in Ireland between English and Irish’.
The Song of Hate taught to little children in Germany.
Wells calls for an overhaul of the education system in England. 90 years on we could still do with alternatives to the three or four tier system of public schools, grammar schools and state schools that are on the way up or on the way out.
The story of the Portsmouth dentist who gained intelligence while extracting teeth is worth a short story or film.
Tags: austro-hungary, First World War, origins of war, princip, the kaiser, war one
Fig. 1. Mind Map on factors to consider regarding marking the centenary of the First World War
I put this together after visits to the Imperial War Museum and the WW1 display at Newhaven Thought, by way of a lecture at the IWM on Observers taking photographs over the Western Front and several books and part-works, the ‘World War’ series from the 1930s for example and ‘Tommy’ by Richard Holmes.
This is a tough call. Someone remembered the 50th anniversary last night and how people harked backed to Waterloo a hundred years before that, something I caught in the first paragraphs of World War with a caption for soldiers embarking trains for the continent at Waterloo Station.
Are we capable of repeating such folly on such a grand scale?
Of course we are, from the small beginnings of the mess that is Syria, to the rumblings of 9/11 and our relations with Russia, China, Iran and others.
A shame all nations couldn’t simultaneously have leaders with the attitude of Gandhi or Mandela.
Least we forget. War is a horrible business.
Fig. 2. The editor of World War published in 1936/37 said he would not hold back from showing horrendous pictures; this from part one published on 8th November 1936
He didn’t care once he was dead, but he crawled into this thicket with a wound and may have taken days to die and then weeks to rot.
It isn’t hard to find shocking images from our own era.
Reconstructions of a trench give only a tiny sense of it.
Fig 3. Trench reconstruction, Imperial War Museum
Where is the mud?
Where the smell of rotting flesh, of gas and urine?
Where is the black hand sticking out of the trench wall? The torso in No Man’s Land?
Where the fear, something that might be best recreated in a horror film.
My grandfather spoke to me about his experiences at length and I pass these on to my children. A blog, a podcast and photos go towards this memory of one of my ancestors. Not all of us do this, but some of us do, as if we have a need to reflect on the experiences and exploits of our forebares.