WW1 Centenary

Great War Centenary 2014-2018 website by Paul Reed


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CWGC: Remember War Dead in the UK

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission have launched a new appeal to the British public to remember the dead buried in more than 12,000 locations across the United Kingdom during the 141 days of the Centenary of the Battle of the Somme. In doing so they have teamed up with British actor, Hugh Dennis, who has a personal interest in the Great War.

The CWGC state on their website:

The CWGC Living Memory Project aims to encourage UK community groups to discover, explore and remember the war grave heritage on their doorstep. The CWGC is looking for 141 UK groups, to hold 141 events, to mark the 141 days of the Somme offensive.

Hugh Dennis, Living Memory ambassador for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, said: “I have a very personal connection with the First World War as both my grandfathers fought at the Western Front. My great uncles also fought and one, my great uncle Frank, died and is commemorated by the CWGC in Gallipoli, Turkey.

“I’d urge everyone to get involved in this initiative so we never forget those who died during the Great War and are buried and commemorated so close to us on the home front.”

The idea is to encourage groups to research and find Somme casualties buried in UK cemeteries and remember them as part of the centenary. CWGC are offering help, resources and some funding as part of the project. Any community group interested in participating in the project can register now by emailing livingmemory@cwgc.org or visiting www.cwgc.org/livingmemory.

This is a really excellent idea and superb project from CWGC and I look forward to reading about some of the results of it during the Somme100 period.

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Book Review: Black Tommies

The story of Black Afro-Caribbean soldiers in the Great War is an often neglected aspect of the conflict: many people know about Walter Tull the professional footballer who became an officer in 1917, but Tull was one of thousands of Black men who served in Khaki.

40914_originalA new book by Ray Costillo helps bridge this gap in our knowledge: Black Tommies: British Soldiers of African Descent in the First World War (Liverpool University Press 2015, ISBN 978 1 78138 019 2, 216pp, paperback, £14.99). The book examines the general subject of Black soldiers in the British Army and the Black presence in Britain in 1914. It then moves on to look at the volunteers who joined in 1914, how conscription affected the Black community, and the wider aspect of the use of Black men in Commonwealth armies during the conflict. The book rightly states that Black soldiers in the British Army was nothing new: Black men had fought at the Battle of Waterloo for example, but it had been forgotten by 1914 and the soldiers who entered the army during WW1 faced a wide range of prejudice and misconception. Walter Tull features in the book but it rightly points out that despite popular belief he was far from the only Black officer, and not even the first. This is a well researched and written title on a forgotten part of the Great War and is highly recommended.


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New Arras Books From Pen & Sword

The Battle of Arras is among one of the more neglected Great War battles and campaigns; while the Somme and Flanders have been swamped with publications, the number of books about Arras can be counted on one hand, so it is good to see Pen & Sword release some new titles in the approach to the 2017 centenary.

11580Peter Hughes’ Visiting The Fallen: Arras South (Pen & Sword 2016, ISBN 978 1 47382 558 1, 335pp, hardback, £25.00) is the second volume in his study of the Great War cemeteries around Arras. This volume looks at the south-south-east area of the battlefield taking in the many small battlefield cemeteries in this area, many of which are well off the beaten track. For each cemetery there is normally some background to the burial ground then the author has selected a number of men buried there who are particularly interesting. Using their stories the book essentially retells the Battle of Arras through the men who fell there. It is a very useful book for visiting the ground and while it is more reference than a good read, it is well put together and superbly researched.

11845Peter Hughes’ latest work is to complete the two books on Arras North and South looking at the cemeteries, by devoting this one to the memorials to the missing that cover the area. Visiting The Fallen: Arras Memorials (Pen & Sword 2016, ISBN 978 1 47382 557 4, 262pp, hardback, £25.00) looks are four of the massive memorials to the missing: the Arras Memorial, the Arras Flying Services Memorial, the Vimy Memorial and the Vis-en-Artois Memorial. The background and history of each memorial is explained and then by regiment and corps particular soldiers of interest are listed with their stories. Again, an excellent piece of research with many fascinating stories told for the first time, but I was surprised that the Villers-Bretonneux Memorial was not included as this includes Australian dead from Bullecourt and the early advance to the Hindenburg Line; a curious omission but it does not spoil an otherwise excellent work.

12180It is not often that books on trains in the Great War are published, or indeed that I read them, but Martin J.B. & Joan S. Fairbrother’s Narrow Gauge In The Arras Sector (Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 118 2, 274pp, large format hardback, £30.00) is an excellent addition to our knowledge of the war at Arras. The Great War not just about bullets and bayonets, it was a war where the winner was the one who master logistics and the British use of trains was all part of the Allied Victory in 1918. The book looks in detail at the railway structure pre-1914 and then how it was expanded and adapted during the war. It is profusely illustrated with many rare images. The numerous excellent network maps show how extensive the use was by 1918. A fascinating ‘Things To See and Do Now’ chapter is also included which helps the battlefield visitor find some most unusual sites, not normally considered. A most unusual and superbly researched book for both the railway and Great War buff.


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Book Review: Visiting The Fallen – Arras North

Arras-North-Book-CoverVisiting The Fallen: Arras North

by Peter Hughes (Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 556 7, 319pp, photos, £25.00)

As the author points out in the introduction to this book, Arras is something of a neglected battlefield. It sits within easy reach of the Somme and Ypres, but gets far fewer visitors compared to these areas of the old Western Front. The author, a former police officer who has been visiting the battlefields for over thirty years, hopes to redress this with this as the first of a trilogy of books looking at those buried and commemorated around the city of Arras.

The book is formed of a number of chapters and in each one several cemeteries are examined. These range from small communal cemeteries with only a handful of graves to large burial grounds like Cabaret Rouge with several thousand. The author has broken up the Great War battlefields around Arras into several areas which will form the trilogy of books and this volume looks at locations north/north-east of Arras itself. As such it covers the Vimy Ridge area in some detail and along with it the Canadian contribution to the 1917 battle.

For each cemetery background detail is given, often in some greater depth that the online Commonwealth War Graves Commission entries, which is to be welcomed. The author has picked a number of soldiers per cemetery and then discusses their life and war history. For some cemeteries there are a few such ‘cameos’ but for the larger ones, it can run to dozens. There are some great stories looking at men like Harvey-Kelly, the first RFC pilot to land in France to better known people like war poet Isaac Rosenberg. It really does give a good cross-section of the sort of men who fought and died at Arras in 1917.

This is a very interesting book and one I am sure I will look at often when visiting the cemeteries here, and the entries are all well written and full of detail. But I have to wonder at exactly who it is aimed at? Will the general public really buy three of these volumes to cover Arras? It will interest WW1 specialists and no doubt battlefield guides, but it surprises me that a publisher would publish several of them, when in some respect it is a book of ‘lists’ and not history as such. There is little context here, and I found the arrangement of chapters hard to fathom. The lack of maps is a serious omission in my mind as most people will have no idea where these cemeteries are or how the ones in the different chapters relate to each other. I hope they may think again on that aspect in future volumes as well as index of the names mentions as it is difficult to go back and find entries in some of the larger cemetery descriptions.

Having said that, this sort of publication certainly has its place. It adds a voice to the many white headstones in the silent cities around Arras and will be of benefit to anyone visiting the battlefields in this area. I look forward to future volumes, and perhaps some covering areas beyond Arras too.

The book can be purchased from the Pen & Sword website and the author also has a Visiting The Fallen website.


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Book Review: New Gallipoli Titles

10928A Marine At Gallipoli and on The Western Front by Harry Askin

(Pen & Sword 2015, ISBN 978 1 47382 784 4, 248pp, illustrated, hardback, £25.00)

Harry Askin was a 22 year old Sheffield lad when he joined the Royal Marine Light Infantry in 1914 and he then served with them at Gallipoli and on the Western Front with the Royal Naval Division. Later in the war he was commissioned in the RMLI having fought on the Somme, at Arras and then Ypres. This is a very well written account and the chapters on Gallipoli are superb; they describe in some detail conditions on the battlefield and the terrible fighting around Krithia in June/July 1915. One of the best of the ‘new’ memoirs that have been published during the WW1 Centenary.

10981Fatal Charge at Gallipoli (Front Line 2015, ISBN 978 1 84832 902 7, 280pp, illustrated, hardback, £25)

This is the first of three new excellent Gallipoli books by Australian author John Hamilton. This title tells one of the most iconic Australian stories of the 1915 – the charge of the Light Horse at the Nek, as depicted in the famous film Gallipoli. It is a highly detailed and obviously minutely researched account, which adds much to our knowledge of this part of the Gallipoli campaign.

10984Gallipoli Victoria Cross Hero (Front Line 2015, ISBN 978 1 84832 903 4, 304pp, illustrated, hardback, £25)

This next title by John Hamilton looks at the story of Lieutenant Hugo Throssell who was awarded the Victoria Cross for his bravery at the Nek and Hill 60 while serving with the 10th Light Horse. Throttles survived the war but had been wounded on several occasions. After the conflict he became vehemently anti-war, and quite outspoken on the subject. The book charts his gradual decline as because of his views he was unable to get work, and was forced to pawn his Victoria Cross for the pathetic sum of 10 shillings. Hugo Throssell committed suicide in 1933; as much a casualty of the war as those who had died beside him in the trenches. This is a really fascinating book and illustrates the price of heroism which men like Throssell had to pay. Highly recommended.

10982Gallipoli Sniper (Front Line 2015, ISBN 978 1 84832 904 1, 255pp, illustrated, hardback, £25)

This final book from Ian Hamilton tells the story of Billy Sing who was one of the most famous of the Australian Gallipoli snipers. The static nature of trench warfare at ANZAC brought sniping to the fore and Sing, an Australian of Chinese descent, quickly became known as the ‘ANZAC Angel of Death’ because of his skill with the rile. He was later awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and also fought on the Western Front as a sniper. Having survived the war he died in poverty in 1943, a forgotten man and his grave went unmarked for many years. Again, like the Throssell book, this is a fantastic story and a sad one, showing how men like these struggled to cope when the war was over. Once more, highly recommended and I hope the author will be writing some more books in the near future.

 


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WW1 Book Review – Gallipoli in Soldiers’ Words & Photos

 Gallipoli: The Dardenelles Disaster in Soldiers’ Words and Photographs 

by Richard Van Emden & Stephen Chambers 

(Bloomsbury 2015, ISBN 978 1 4088 5615 4, 344pp, illustrated, hardback, £25.00)

This fantastic book, packed with previously unseen images of the campaign in Gallipoli, is not just a photo book, it is a consice and fascinating insight into the events in 1915 packed with first hand accounts of those who were there. The authors are jointly known for their work on the Great War: Chambers the author of numerous battlefield guides to Gallipoli and Van Emden one of our most gifted oral historians of WW1. So they both bring great value to this book, which despite the huge number of previously published works on Gallipoli, brings a fresh perspective to a fascinating and haunting part of the Great War. The photographs themselves are well chosen and highly absorbong: the very rare image of the boats rowing the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers into W Beach kept me spellbound for quite some time as somewhere in there is my grandfather. And this is what will appeal to many readers: these are extraordinary photographs of ordinary men in the madness of the Gallipoli campaign and as such open a new door to our understanding of events a century ago.

The book is available from the Bloomsbury website.


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Gallipoli Centenary: What Gallipoli Means To Me

Today is the centenary of the landings at Gallipoli. There will be a Dawn Service at ANZAC where Australian and New Zealand troops came ashore on 25th April 1915 and perhaps some UK media attention to remember the British troops who landed with the French at Cape Helles.

V Beach, Gallipoli

V Beach, Gallipoli

Gallipoli is part of my earliest known memories connected to the Great War. I grew up on my grandmother’s stories of WW1 and her brother Dan fought at Gallipoli. As a child she used to tell me how after he had been sent home following a wound at Ypres, the family took him to a shop in Colchester to buy him a ‘tropical helmet’ to take with him to the Dardanelles, as she always called it. Not long after he got to Gallipoli he was wounded by a Turkish sniper; shot clean through the elbow while drinking a cup of tea. She used to take my arm and show me where his scar had been.

The Sphinx, ANZAC

The Sphinx, ANZAC

Bringing home a Victor comic one day which had a Gallipoli story in it, my father picked it up and related the story his father had told him about the landings in 1915. I never knew my paternal grandfather and this was one of the first times I ever remember my father talking about him. A boy sailor, he had joined the Navy in the early twentieth century and was serving on HMS Implacable at Gallipoli. He worked as a Leading Stoker in the boiler room and had volunteered to row troops from the ship into shore, just to have a break from his world of darkness, heat and soot. In fact his boat was taken off to bring in some of those from 1st Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers into W Beach and he recalled the water there running red with the blood of the Lancashire Fusiliers.

Lone Pine, Gallipoli

Lone Pine, Gallipoli

When I was a teenager my local cinema showed the Peter Weir film Gallipoli. I must have gone to see it a dozen times and although I now know it was flawed historically, it still rates as a magnificent piece of cinema and made me even more interested in the campaign.

Poppies at Suvla

Poppies at Suvla

When my travels to the Western Front began, my immediate thought was what about Gallipoli? I tried when I was Inter-railing as a student but in the end I didn’t get there until 2000 when I spent a fabulous week staying at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission base camp on the peninsula. Located right on ANZAC, we spent each night on the beach watching the sun come down and the amazing colours as the sun reflected on the cliffs above. All my reading, and all my interviews with Gallipoli veterans which I had the chance to do in the mid-80s, came together on that trip. I stood where my grandfather had been, I saw where my uncle Dan had been wounded by the sniper and saw my great uncle’s name on the Helles Memorial.

Walking Gallipoli

Walking Gallipoli

And ever since I have been going back: revisiting, filming with the BBC and taking battlefield tours. Gallipoli gets under your skin; you never quite forget it: its beauty, its tranquility, its wildlife. A wondrous landscape full of memory but tinged with the sadness of 1915. Having spent so much time there over the years you feel a great kinship with the men of that campaign. When up and down the Western Front I often come across the graves of men who had fought at Gallipoli and spend a few more moments than usual at their grave, thinking of that Gallipoli sun melting into the Aegean sea and wondering if they saw it too.

Hugh Quinn's grave - one I always visit at Gallipoli.

Hugh Quinn’s grave – one I always visit at Gallipoli.

In this centenary year I am not at Gallipoli for ANZAC Day… sadly. But I will be there later in 2015. Once more back with the ‘Men of Gallipoli’, in the gullies and on the shores, and thinking of those words of Gallipoli poet Leon Gellert.

I sat there long, and listened – all things listened too
I heard the epics of a thousand trees,
A thousand waves I heard; and then I knew
The waves were very old, the trees were wise:
The dead would be remembered evermore-
The valiant dead that gazed upon the skies,
And slept in great battalions by the shore.