I’d like to see augmented reality used to reveal a photograph of everyone named on memorials such as these – putting a face to a name, a life lost.
Archive for the ‘Passchendaele’ Category
Tags: memorials, remebered
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: 75th anniversary, imperial war museum, lyn macdonald, Machine Gun Corps, military medal, passchendaele
The Military Medal awarded to Corporal John A Wilson ‘Jack’ in late 1917 while serving in the Machine Gun Corps during the Third Battle of Ypres. His journey through the trenches and up and down the Western Front is plotted in this blog, alongside his detailed memoir recorded when Jack (my grandfather) was in his 97th year.
Recorded on a Sony Digital recorder and will in due course be available as a podcast.
Transcript with the Imperial War Museum and author Lyn Macdonald who Jack joined at the 75th Anniversary of Passchendaele with a visit to the spots where he served and so many of his friends and colleagues died.
Tags: dick piper, First World War, gartenfeld, memorial
In 1992 Jack Wilson MM, a former Machine Gunner, visited the Western Front for only the second time in 75 years. (In 1919 he had gone to the grave of his younger brother Flight Lieutenant William Nixon Wilson ‘Billy’ who had died a few months AFTER Armistice delivering mail across Belgium in his RAF DeHavilland Bomber. He as only 19 or 20 a the time.
Here Jack is with the author Lynn Macdonald in front of the name of Gartenfeld, a fellow machine gunner who Jack had seen die in late October 1917 out on the edge of the Passchendaele Front; later this day he finds the spot where he ‘buried’ both Gartenfeld and Dick Piper.
Tags: 1917, First World War, MCG, officer
Tags: boesinghe, courage post, duckboards, egypt house, First World War, gas, great war, Houthulst Forest, jack, jack wilson, jerry, Machine Gun Corps, MCG, paschendaele, rats, shell-holes, steenbech, vickers machine gun, western front, world war 1, ww1, Ypres, yser
On the way in I came across these guardsmen, eight or nine, lying in a shell-hole as though they were asleep.
(They were Gough’s XIV Corps. Guards. From the 38 Division commanded by General Lord of Cavan. They’d been held up on the west bank of the Steenbeck. Gas had been used by Jerry on as attacks had been made on Houthulst Forrest)
Get a dose of that and your lungs were ruined.
They were not like an ordinary shell.
Gas came over like a dud.
You could see down this path from Courage Post right into the forest. It was facing the wood where Jerry was. There was no barbed wire, just all shell-holes and mud.
It had been raining heavily since the beginning of October.
The ground was like porridge. Parts of the front and turned into a lake. Simply getting to a front position was exhausting as you had to wade through this ooze and negotiate the rims of shell-holes.
(The rainfall in August 1917 over Northern France and Belgium was twice the August average. In fact, there were only three days that entire month when there was no rain).
Streams pushed their way through the crumbling banks of the craters and linked into impassable lakes of liquid mud. On the surface of the water there’d be an iridescent smear of oil. or it was green from gas on a puddle.
If you saw a film of red streaking the surface it didn’t take much imagination to guess what else was down there.
And the smell. It made you wretch.
There was no getting used to the stink from all the mess, body parts, rotting away … a lads inside, heads, limbs, hands … you can’t imagine the horror of it.
Even if you buried them it didn’t take much to blow them out of the ground.
Jerries, Tommies, mules and horses. The only thing that lived out there were rats and they had a feast of it.
This was when I heard this kid in this dung heap by the stream shouting for his mother.
I don’t know if he’d been hit or fallen in but it stopped me in my tracks.
There was a bit of an embankment down to the stream. When it rained it was like a river, full of frogs and all this filth. On the other side there was this shell hole. All I could see was his head and shoulders sticking up above the mud.
Shell holes could be 30-50ft deep.
They quickly filled with water which formed a muddy sludge of body bits, broken equipment and what not. This was behind the pill-box they named Egypt House 200-300 yards short of Houthulst Forest.
I leant down to get this lad, mind you with all that mud I might have slipped in myself. The remnants of the Belgian army were nearby.
The line faced the Ypres Canal with Houthulst Forest on the other side
There’d been this attack to try to get around Houthulst forest which the French had taken on the 9th October. Doomed to failure from the start. That July the French had held a short piece of the line between Boesinghe and the Yser after which the remnants of the Belgians took over.
“Mother, mother.” He was saying.
So I grabbed this lad’s shoulder-belt and told him to help himself.
“Kick man, kick. You’ll have to get yourself out of this one.” I said.
He kicks about and I get him onto the duckboards.
“I can’t wait.” I tell him.
You couldn’t stand around out there with all the shooting going on.
And off I went.
Tags: blair, blighty, First World War, great war, haig, Houthulst Forest, jack, jack wilson, Machine Gun Corps, MCG, paschendaele, vickers machine gun, western front, williams, world war 1, XIV Corps
We had another casualty, a Birmingham lad who was in charge of that gun.
The engineers would rig up a bit of a dug out on a dry spot and make a bit of shelter with corrugated sheeting.
They’d been trench mortared.
This Birmingham lad had been hit in the shoulder with a trench mortar fragment. They brought him to my gun as the duckboard led back from it. Other than that you were walking through the mud.
There were meant to be four in a team, but it never got up to scratch, it was more like two. We were organised in four sections: A,B,C,D. The joke was they had us training in teams of Five at Grantham; that was never going to happen, not the need and not the man power.
I said to this Birmingham lad, “You’ve got a Blighty.”
I kept him there ‘til late. Blair had him taken away.
I saw Blair a few days later. He told me this lad had died.
Blair was the Section Officer; Williams was the C.O.
(The edge of Houthulst Forest was reached by XIV Corps and the French in an attack on the 9th October 1917.
On the 12th October the XIV Corps entered the forest. Haig wanted to force the enemy to evacuate the Forest; an objective he continued to push for throughout October 1917).
As machine-gunners we were sent in to hold the position.
This is what I learnt after the war, the whys and wherefores; what I was doing in that stink.
I was in the spot at least four times.