Author: Chris Moore

The Great War Bookshop Great War Diary, October 2015 – 1915

Thursday, October 1st

Bitter trench fighting at Loos as the British and Germans seek control of the Hohenzollern Redoubt.

Friday, October 2nd

Bulgaria agrees to enter the war on the side of Austria and Germany in return for territory from its neighbours. Serbia is their first priority.

Saturday, October 3rd

The fight for the Hohenzollern Redoubt ends temporarily with the Germans and the British both in possession of different trenches.

Sunday, October 4th

In an effort to avoid the imposition of conscription, the British government appoints Lord Derby to run a recruitment scheme for men aged 18 – 41.

Monday, October 5th

French and British troops go ashore at Salonika in Greece with the aim of offering assistance to Serbs facing invasion from Germany, Austria and Bulgaria.

Tuesday, October 6th

The Germans and Austrians invade Serbia from the north. The aim is to knock Serbia out of the war once and for all. British planes in Mesopotamia fly over Baghdad.

Wednesday, October 7th

French and British war leaders meet to discuss Gallipoli, Salonika and how to help Serbia.

Thursday, October 8th

Parliament debates the Turkish genocide of Armenians, of whom 800,000 are reported killed so far.

Friday, October 9th

At Gallipoli a storm wrecks landing stages and floods trenches. The abandonment of the campaign is now under active consideration in London.

Saturday, October 10th

Austrian invaders occupy Belgrade after fierce street fighting.

 Sunday, October 11th

The British war cabinet agrees to organise more troops for the Mediterranean without deciding whether they will fight at Gallipoli or Salonika.

 Monday, October 12th

General Sarrail arrives in Salonika and orders the first French contingents to advance. In occupied Belgium, a British nurse, Edith Cavell, is executed after a court martial.

Tuesday, October 13th

The war poet, Charles Sorley, is killed fighting for a trench on the Loos battlefield called the Hairpin. Heaviest zeppelin raids on London so far: 71 killed; 128 injured.

Wednesday, October 14th

Bulgaria invades Serbia from the east. The advance guard of Sarrail’s army advances by rail into the Macedonian hills to link up with the Serbs.

Thursday, October 15th

A new commander for Gallipoli, General Sir Charles Monro, leaves the Western Front to take over from Hamilton, who is replaced with immediate effect.

Friday, October 16th

France declares war on Bulgaria; the British and Montenegrins did it yesterday. The plan to assist the Serbs depends on speed and numbers.

Saturday, October 17th

The British offer the Greeks Cyprus in exchange for helping the Serbs; offer rejected.

 Sunday, October 18th

The Italians launch a third offensive on the Isonzo Front with its first objective the hill of San Michele; frontal attacks fail to take it.

Monday, October 19th

The Serb government leaves its wartime base at Niss as the Bulgarians advance.

Tuesday, October 20th

Women become eligible to apply for jobs as ‘conductorettes’ on British buses and trams. General Botha wins re-election in South Africa’s general election

 Wednesday, October 21st

King George visits troops on the Western Front to bestow awards and rally morale after Loos. He learns that confidence in Sir John French is ebbing away.

 Thursday, October 22nd

A mass exodus of Serb civilians follows the army into retreat as stubborn rear-guards try to delay the German, Austrian and Bulgarian invasions.

Friday, October 23rd

With Monro gone to Gallipoli, Sir Edmund Allenby is promoted to full general on the Western Front. England’s greatest cricketer, W.G. Grace, dies aged 67.

Saturday, October 24th

The Bulgarians get between the Serbs and the French troops in Macedonia who have supposedly arrived to help them.

Sunday, October 25th

Several of Sir John French’s senior generals brief against him as King George visits their headquarters.

Monday, October 26th

The German invasion in the north of Serbia links up with the Bulgarians from the east. More civilians join the Serb retreat towards Macedonia’s blizzard-swept hills.

Tuesday, October 27th

Politicians in London gossip about the imminent sacking of Sir John French. A government committee urges the use of women on the land.

Wednesday, October 28th

King George is thrown from his horse while inspecting his troops in France. He fractures his pelvis and is rushed away in agony.

 Thursday, October 29th

As a new Prime Minister, Aristide Briand, takes over in France, Joffre goes to London to urge strong support for Serbia. British war casualties to date: 493,000

Friday, October 30th

Briand appoints a new War Minister, General Gallieni. South Africa sends a governor to run the conquered territory of South West Africa.

Saturday, October 31st

The first steel helmets reach British troops on the Western Front. At Gallipoli, General Monro tells London that he is in favour of an evacuation.

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A Long Poem With Numbers

Facts and Figures

 

As much as guns and planes and tanks, the tons of sandbags, wire and planks

That built the Western Front surpassed all normal means of calculation.

So when the War was over, and all the trenches ploughed-in and harrowed flat

And sown again with clover, a new approach was tried to fix the measure

Of the treasure they’d expended fitting out the men who’d died.

And when they’d filled that ledger, and all the facts that fit

Were squeezed in tight and totalled up and classified,

What they ended up with, when the magnitude was listed,

Was damned lies untwisted, in other words statistics.

 

It was found that God, indeed, had been with us.

The number of Church of England chaplains serving on the Western Front at the time of the Armistice, November 11th,, 1918 was: 878.

The number of rabbis serving with the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders at the time of the Armistice was: 8.

We trusted in the Lord. We also kept our powder dry.

The number of artillery shells held ready for use on the Western Front on February 9th, 1918, was: 16, 47I, 165.

The total number of bullets produced in British and American factories during the course of the war was: 8,637,123, 000.

The number of rifles manufactured was: 5,090,442.

War was the mother of necessity; necessity of invention.

The number of Stokes mortars produced in 1914 was: 0.

The number of Stokes mortars produced in 1918 was: 4, 985.

The number of British tanks produced in 1914 was: 0.

The number of British tanks of produced by 1918 was: 2, 818.

The bomb killed more than the bayonet.

The number of hand grenades produced in 1914 was: 2,152.

The number of hand grenades produced in 1916 was: 34, 867, 966.

An army marches on its stomach. It also needs traction.

The number of standard gauge steam locomotives supplied to the Army for use on French railways during the course of the war was: 1,268.

The number of motorcycles in service with the British Army in Italy, November 11th, 1918, was: 615 without side-cars; 150 with side-cars.

Brute force and muscle power carried the day.

The total number of camels treated by the Royal Army Veterinary Corps in camel hospitals in Egypt and Palestine was: 61, 232.

The number of officers’ dogs accommodated in the quarantine section of Hackbridge Dogs Home on November 11th, 1918, was: 500.

The number of animal carcasses disposed of for human consumption in France between the declaration of the Armistice and the end of the financial year, 1920, was: 49,751 at an average price of £20. 5s. 9d. per carcass.

The number of rabbit skins disposed of to approved buyers by the Army Rabbit Skin Committee was: 5,649, 797.

Discipline is the backbone of any Army.

The number of death sentences imposed by Courts Martial in the period between the declaration of war on Germany and the end of the financial year, 1920, was: 3,080.

The number of death sentences carried out in that period was: 346.

The number of officers executed was: 3

The number of soldiers executed for mutiny: 3

The number of soldiers executed for desertion: 266

The number of sentries executed for sleeping at their posts: 2

The percentage of Imperial troops executed after being sentenced to death by Courts Martial was: 10.8 per cent

The percentage of coloured labourers executed after being sentenced to death was: 100 per cent.

 

(To be continued …)

The Golden Virgin, Parts I and II

You can be certain of judging a book by its cover if it has barbed wire and a blood-red poppy on it. As a familiar title, Goodbye To All That summons up the muddy craters of the Western Front as surely as Far From The Madding Crowd brings to mind the woods and heaths of Hardy’s Dorset. The geography of literary England includes Flanders and Artois by virtue of the writers who fought the Great War for possession of the Steenbeck, Hill 60 and the Double Crassier slag heap. By the end of 1915, such names were known throughout the English-speaking world as bywords for blood and battle.

Of the few landmarks to survive the First World War and the tide of forgetfulness that followed the Second, two stand paramount: the Golden Virgin of Albert, which became a defining symbol of the Battle of the Somme, and the Cloth Hall of Ypres, one of the glories of Gothic Europe, the ruin of which represented in British eyes the violation of Belgium and thereby the justification for entering the war as well as the vindication of sticking it out to the bitter end.

The rubble and dust of the ruined Cloth Hall posed an immediate question to the citizens who returned to YPres in 1919: to rebuild or forget? Some proposed that the Cloth Hall should be preserved as it was, a ruin, to memorialise its own desecration for future generations. The French did this with several villages wiped off the map during the battle for Verdun. Winston Churchill too, believed that the despoilation of Ypres should be left untouched as a potent symbol of what had been lost and what had been saved. There was, he said, no place on earth more sacred to the English. Every year since, for nearly a hundred years, the English, the Scots, the Welsh and the Irish have made the pilgrimage.

Virtually every Division in the British Army passed through Ypres during the Great War. The troops called it ‘Eeps’, or ‘Eep-rez’, or ‘Wipers’. Once they had passed through the town into the Salient there was no respite. The Germans occupied all the high ground. They could reach the British trenches from three sides with precisely aimed artillery fire. The Salient, a buffer zone of soggy farmland to the east of Ypres, was where the British Army had made its stand in 1914. One million men were killed or wounded in the subsequent defence of the town as, month by month, the pinnacles and buttresses of the Cloth Hall and St Martin’s Cathedral next door were pulverised by the German guns until only stumps remained. Soldiers who survived, and who returned to Ypres after the War, men like the writer and former infantryman,  Henry Williamson, were astounded to discover the thoroughness of peacetime reconstruction.

‘Ypres is unrecognizable,’ he gasped. ‘Wipers exists in the memory only. The city to-day is clean and new and hybrid English. Its vast Grand’ Place holds enough air and sunlight to give a feeling of freedom and space.’

Henry Williamson made his name as a writer of nature stories, chiefly the children’s classic, Tarka The Otter, published in 1927. He was so profoundly scarred by the Great War he was never able to escape it. When he married in 1925, a visit to the old Western Front formed part of his honeymoon. His postcards home showed the blasted buildings of Arras and Amiens (‘lovely weather, but very hot’) and the wasteland of Messines Ridge (‘comparatively untouched, this part!’). The book that eventually grew out of Williamson’s pilgrimage, The Wet Flanders Plain, contributed to the development of what has since become a highly collectable sub-genre of the Great War book – the Then and Now retrospective.

‘After sunset I walked on the ramparts of Ypres, whose brickwork, upholding a deep bank of earth, is cracked and fallen in places … Below the scarred brick ramparts lay the still water of the moat, with its deep bed of iron and lead. Fish were rising, swallows and swifts taking their last evening sips as they flew. The new Menin Gate rose white and great between two sections of neatly repaired brickwork. Children were running out of the ‘Shannon’ cinema built on the bank across the water … I saw these things, and the wraith with me wondered; for I heard in my mind, farther away than my mind, the marching of the feet of men in sweat and fear, the clatter of wheels, and the hoofs of animals not knowing why they were there in the roar and flash and appalling terror of bursting shells … ‘

Today, no English reader can look up at the Cloth Hall’s tower or the spire of St Martin’s, or the new-fangled facades enclosing the Grand’ Place of Ypres, without seeing in them the ruins they once were. It is the ruins we go to see.

‘Long grasses and wild trees grow on the ramparts. When you walk there at twilight, wary of the broken tops of the sally ports, you see the new houses, all without a chip or a tile missing; but they do not obscure the passing of the men. No, it is not the men; it is a force that is passing, an invisible wind that hurls down the stones and the bricks soundlessly, that fills the Grand’ Place and all the streets with cries and shouts and the last screams of the dying, and yet all is without sound.’

Within the re-built city of Ypres today, Henry Williamson himself is one of those wraiths he once imagined. By day and night he and his comrades are in our thoughts. WE think we can still hear and echo of the rumbling artillery batteries, the grumbling infantry, the mule trains and ambulances. At twilight on the ramparts, and when the mist of a grey dawn rises from the moat, we see the British marching to their fate.

The first ‘Then and Now’ books emerged as tourist guides, among the earliest of which were those published by the Michelin Tyre Company f or motorists. Each Western Front battlefield – Ypres, Arras, The Somme, Verdun – had a slim Michelin volume to itself comprising a series of itineraries designed around a day’s driving.

Henry Williamson felt affronted by the naked commercialism of battlefield tourism. He found Ypres’ re-paved market square full of souvenir sellers and charabanc touts hawking for passengers. M. Rolander’s half-day tour took in Zonnebeke, Sanctuary Wood, Hill 60, Shrapnel Corner and the Canadian monument at St Julien, all for 12 shillings and sixpence. It must have been a bone-shaking ride. Many roads had not been re-laid. Photographs of the post-war Salient show a moonscape scored by trenches, pitted with over-lapping shell holes and littered with wire, wrecked tanks and other rusty debris. Many of the serene British cemeteries familiar to modern visitors, the so-called ‘silent cities’, were still in the process of being reclaimed from the swamp.

The early guidebooks were produced for those who hadn’t fought, the bereaved, the non-combatants and the curious. Returning veterans like Henry Williamson knew where they wanted to go. They went by foot, with their old trench maps to guide them. Williamson describes in The Wet Flanders Plain how he cadged a lift with a party of brass hats returning to the Salient for the dedication of a battlefield memorial.

‘We passed Zouave Villa, and Joffre Farm to the left and Foch Farm to the right – both with new red-brick walls and red-tiled roofs. “Nothing left,” said a man in mufti. “Hello, here’s Iron Cross Roads. No, it can’t be. That must be the Pilkem Ridge in front. Then where is this?” We passed other farms, which were identified only with the help of the map – Mackensen Farm, Gallwitz Farm, Boche House, Villa Gretchen, Jolie Farm. “This is the Pilkem Ridge.” We looked backwards, and down the line of “pill-boxes” among the corn … They remembered awhile, silently. Apparently the division had made an attack over this country during Third Ypres. “Ah, that’s Stray Farm on the right there. Then Iron Cross Roads is in front of us. Yes, I remember now.” We drove on for another couple of minutes, and stopped just before a culvert carrying the road over a large ditch. About two inches of water meandered in the ditch, which was strewn with roots of trees. Fifty yards from the road, at the edge of the northern bank of the beke, stood two squat, square, heavy concrete blockhouses. “Great Scott, this must be the Steenbeke! It’s a bit smaller today!”’

Ten years later again, there was even less to see. By the mid-Thirties, a note of desperation was creeping in. Returning veterans, seeing how completely Peace was effacing the evidence, began to fear for posterity’s understanding of the suffering they had gone through. Their anxieties were not eased by a prevailing mood of disillusion. The best selling Great War books of the Twenties and Thirties were antiwar books, persuasive dramatisations of futility and waste. Ex-subalterns like R.H.Mottram, who wrote a minor masterpiece in his Spanish Farm Trilogy, felt the need to redress the balance. Nine years after his trilogy was completed and more than 20 years after he first crossed to France with the Norfolk Regiment, Mottram returned to the battlefields for a final valediction. It was called, Journey To The Western Front, published in 1936.

‘Our War, the War that seems the special possession of those of us who are growing middle-aged, is being turned by time and change into something fabulous, misunderstood and made romantic by distance as it recedes into the Past. For half the people alive to-day it might almost as well be something that happened to the Ancient Egyptians, so little can they, who did not experience it, conceive what it was really like. So it seems opportune to record what the present reconstructed landscape has replaced, and what traces remain of our Great War, before they are obliterated or overlaid … I am moved to go over the same ground again, if only to assure myself that it is really true and that we did do the things that seem to have changed the way of life of most of the world … It is an attempt to recapture the past in the present.’

Mottram was plain stylist, simple in method, unshowy in his effects. Journey To The Western Front is probably the best book of pilgrimage in English because it seeks to capture  ‘the past in the present’ – the character of that specifically British sector of the Western Front from the Salient southwards to the Somme.

‘[Bailleul] had a comfortable happy spirit that never seemed to me to be found in its northern counterpart “Pop” [Poperinghe, near Ypres]. Bailleul was the less bombarded, and stood on a pleasant slope above the plain of the Lys. But I don’t think that made the difference. It was rather that “Pop” was too war-worn, too many units had been rushed through it on desperate occasions … Somehow, that feeling never overhung Bailleul, although it was a good 2000 yards nearer the line than “Pop” … It had also, on the road to the station, a very fine horticultural establishment, where Cordonnier Freres used to grow grapes for Lille and I don’t know what other towns. In early days, long before the glass of their greenhouses was all shattered, an Indian Division billeted in the town was brought into this establishment, where the temperature must have been a comfort to the troops after the rigours of a Flanders winter. They thankfully took off their equipment and hung it with their rifles on the budding vines. The damage done produced a lengthy litigation that must have been hastened if not concluded by the complete destruction of the town in 1918.’

Most writer-pilgrims shared Mottram’s wistful, elegaic tone but lacked his sensitivity in selecting their human details. More typical of the predominant tone was Pilgrimage, by Lt.-Col. Graham Seton Hutchison, published by Rich & Cowan in 1935. It is a journalistic summary of the main battles on the Western Front spiced with personal recollections and bits of French history lifted from guidebooks.

‘Corbie knew nearly every man who served on the Somme … The town with its neat streets clung around the cathedral, huge Gothic architecture, and beneath the shadow of the Cathedral stood the Café de la Poste, and the Café Alexandre, happy meeting places…. It is most interesting to remember that the ancestors of the inhabitants of Corbie, five hundred years earlier, had received English soldiers. Certainly they are descendants of those same people who witnessed the march of King Henry V of England, for very tenaciously, generation after generation, do the peasants cling to their soil …’

Corbie was mainly familiar to those who served on the Somme as a staging post. Far more important to the English were the towns of Amiens and Albert. Amiens was the favourite resort of young subalterns in search of a spree, distant enough to be safe from shelling, big enough to be able to supply most needs. Throughout the Somme offensive of 1916, wine, women and poetry books could all be procured in Amiens. But grubby little Albert was not only within range of the German guns, it was a constant target, being a well-known bottleneck in the British supply chain. It served the Somme as Ypres served the Salient. It was the last place on earth for tens of thousands of young men.

(To be continued. To browse for books by any writer whose works have been quoted, click here

The Great War Bookshop Great War Diary, September 2015 – 1915

Monday, August 31st

The first air ace of the war, the French pilot Adolphe Pegoud, is killed on the Western Front. Total ships sunk by German submarines in August: 107.

Tuesday, September 1st

The superiority of German Fokkers over Allied aircraft persuades the French to suspend long-range bombing during daylight.

Wednesday, September 2nd

Politicians and generals wrangle in London about Gallipoli. The Army wants to concentrate on the Western Front; Churchill and Lloyd George want to fight on in the East.

Thursday, September 3rd

Two British ocean liners reach Mudros with reinforcements for Gallipoli. A zeppelin crashes in flames in Germany after being struck by lightning.

Friday, September 4th

The British and French send a mission to America to negotiate the first of a series of war loans.

Saturday, September 5th

Czar Nicholas, reeling from the rapid German and Austrian advances into Russia, takes over supreme military command.

Sunday, September 6th

Rumours circulate in Paris that Joffre’s delayed offensive is due to start on the 25th. Germany and Austria reach a deal with Bulgaria to finish off Serbia.

Monday, September 7th

British trades unions, at their annual conference, unite to oppose the idea of military conscription.

Tuesday, September 8th

Consecutive zeppelin night raids on East Anglia and London set buildings on fire: 44 killed; 133 wounded.

Wednesday, September 9th

Lloyd George rallies the trades unions to the war effort – ‘With you victory is assured, without you our cause is lost.’

Thursday, September 10th

Winston Churchill threatens Asquith with resignation. He says he’d rather fight on the Western Front than stay in the cabinet without a proper job.

Friday, September 11th

Unfavourable winds prevent zeppelins reaching London. Allied war leaders meet to hear Joffre’s plans for his offensive.

Saturday, September 12th

The French general, Ferdinand Foch, confers with General Haig who’ll have to fight the battle at Loos that will be the British contribution to Joffre’s big attack.

 Sunday, September 13th

A British plan to drop a secret agent behind enemy lines on the Western Front is foiled when the aircraft being used is located by the Germans and captured.

 Monday, September 14th

In temperatures reaching F.110 degrees, Townsend’s men in Mesopotamia advance up the Tigris towards the town of Kut.

 Tuesday, September 15th

Asquith goes to parliament to seek more finance for the war. The total voted so far amounts to £1,262,000,000. Current expenditure: £3,500,000 per day.

Wednesday, September 16th

The Turks shoot down a British plane scouting the defences of Kut. Lloyd George moves to limit the scope for profiteering in the munitions industry.

Thursday, September 17th

Parliament debates compulsory military service. MPs speaking for the trades unions remain strongly opposed.

Friday, September 18th

The German navy reins in submarine attacks, except in the Mediterranean, as Berlin seeks to assuage repeated protests from neutrals.

Saturday, September 19th

On the Eastern Front, the Germans start withdrawing troops to fight in elsewhere as Russian resistance crumbles.

Sunday, September 20th

British infantry and artillery move into position for their battle at Loos.

Monday, September 21st

French artillery open their bombardment for Joffre’s offensive in Champagne. Britain’s third Budget of the war raises income tax again, plus postal charges.

Tuesday, September 22nd

Czar Nicholas orders stern discipline in the Russian armies to counter desertions. Australian casualties at Gallipoli to date: 19,000, including 4,600 killed.

Wednesday, September 23rd

Order of the Day from Joffre his troops– ‘your spirit will prove irresistible.’

Thursday, September 24th

Intense artillery bombardments in Champagne and at Loos warn the Germans that an attack is imminent. The British plan to use chlorine gas.

Friday, September 25th

The Allied infantry attacks along the Western Front. At Loos the gas cloud proves ineffective and German machine guns reap the British infantry in swathes.

Saturday, September 26th

British troops held in reserve at Loos are sent in too late to effect a breakthrough and the Germans counter attack. The Socialist leader, Keir Hardie, dies aged 59.

Sunday, September 27th

The Guards are sent in at Loos to steady the British line. In Champagne, the French lose momentum against strong German defences.

Monday, September 28th

The British fight to hold their tactical gains at Loos. In Mesopotamia, General Townshend’s troops capture Kut after a night march.

Tuesday, September 29th

The Germans retake the trenches in Champagne reached by the French in their first wave of infantry attacks.

Wednesday, September 30th

Joffre shuts down his failed ‘Big Push’. Sir John French hails the capture at Loos of 3,000 prisoners and some 25 guns.

Thursday, October 1st

Bitter trench fighting at Loos as the British and Germans seek control of the Hohenzollern Redoubt.

Friday, October 2nd

Bulgaria agrees to enter the war on the side of Austria and Germany in return for territory from its neighbours; Serbia is the main target.

Saturday, October 3rd

The fight for the Hohenzollern Redoubt ends temporarily with the Germans and the British both in possession of different trenches.

Sunday, October 4th

In an effort to avoid the imposition of conscription, the British government appoints Lord Derby to run a recruitment scheme for men aged 18 – 41.

 

The Great War and Trench Lingo (Part One)

 

This article offers a survey of trench lingo and indicates some of its main sources. It is based on research for a dictionary of jargon and slang published under the title, Roger, Sausage and Whippet, available from the Great War Bookshop. Jargon refers to the specialised vocabularies of sports, trades and professions, in this case soldiering on the Western Front. Jargon was the language by which the Army regulated its internal affairs and exerted authority over its volunteers and conscripts. Slang was the retort from the ranks, derisive and vulgar. Slang rejected authority and defiantly asserted the personal values of groups and individuals. In this article, examples of trench lingo appear in bold type. Much of it has long withered into obscurity: wet and a wad; four-by-four; dump; dug-out. Other words remain accessible because Tommy’s lingo went with him on his return to Civvy Street and some of it is still in use in daily conversation, such as: over the top; dig in; Blighty.

Trench lingo persists in English vernacular speech because of the sheer quantity of British men forced to serve in the Army during the Twentieth Century. Twenty years after the Armistice of 1918, the rudiments of trench lingo were put back into circulation during the Second World War, 1939 – 45, after which came Korea, 1950 – 53, Cyprus, 1955, the Suez Crisis, 1956, the Malayan insurgency, 1948 – 60, and the Aden emergency, 1963 – 67. Military conscription, known as National Service, continued in Britain until 1964. A majority of the adult male population by that time would have certainly known the difference between a sergeant major and a corporal, a gunner or a trooper. Imposing the jargon was a necessary part of homogenising Cockneys, Taffs, Micks and Jocks into British fighting men. Jargon penetrated deep because it regulated every aspect of a soldier’s life. The Army’s training method was to command and drill. Individuality was subjugated to the chain of command linking the C-in-C at G.H.Q to the lowliest lance jack in the Line.

When the Great War began for Britain, August 4th, 1914, the British Army was recognisably the one portrayed in the works of Rudyard Kipling. It was ridiculously small – scarcely 450,000 men, including reservists — by comparison with the millions-strong levies being mobilised by France, Germany, Austria and Russia. But it was well-trained and led by an officer caste that was proud of its achievements during two centuries of imperial expansion. Wars of conquest and pacification had brought the British infantryman, Tommy, into contact with every variety of culture and language. Frank Richards, a private in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, described in his memoir, Old Soldiers Never Die, what it was like to land in France with the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914. Booze and fillies were the priorities when Frank and his mate, Billy, reached the city of Ruin (Rouen).

‘The landlord [of the café] was very busy, the place being full of our chaps. Billy used to boast that no matter what new country he went to he could always make the natives understand what he required. He ordered a bottle of red wine, speaking in English, Hindustani and Chinese, with one French word to help him out. The landlord did not understand him and Billy cursed him in good Hindustani and told him he did not understand his own language, threatening to knock the hell out of him if he did not hurry up with the wine … I remonstrated with Billy and told him we could not treat the French who were our allies the same as we treated the Eastern races. He said: “Look here, Dick, there is only one way to treat foreigners from Hong Kong to France and that is to knock hell out of them.” ’

Within months of Frank and Billy’s arrival in France, English jargon and slang had flooded the Western Front; firstly from regulars and reservists, many having served in India; then from their Canuck, Springbok and Aussie cousins; then from the Yanks. There had never been a war like it. New weapons inflicted new horrors. Mechanised warfare brought slaughter on an industrial scale. For the English language, it was the most violent clash of cultures since the Norman invasion of 1066.

 

(to be continued)

 

*

 

The Great War Bookshop Great War Diary, August 2015 – 1915

Saturday, August 1st

The German pilot, Max Immelmann, scores his first kill flying a Fokker plane equipped with a machine gun that can fire through its propeller.

Sunday, August 2nd

Final preparations are made at Gallipoli for the Suvla Bay landing which is intended to outflank the Turks and relieve pressure on the British hemmed in at  Cape Helles and the Australians hanging on at ANZAC.

Monday, August 3rd

The second Italian offensive on the Isonzo front ends: 42,000 Italian casualties. The British Treasury urges the wider use of paper money instead of gold.

Tuesday, August 4th

The Archbishop of Canterbury preaches on the British anniversary of the war – ‘Watch ye, stand fast, quit you like men, be strong.’

Wednesday, August 5th

The Germans capture Warsaw. Russian forces retreat. The French appoint an ardent Socialist, General Maurice Sarrail, to command at Gallipoli.

Thursday, August 6th

The first British troops land at Suvla Bay under cover of a Royal Navy bombardment. The British commander of the operation, General Stopford, stays in bed on his ship.

Friday, August 7th

Further troops land at Suvla but there is confusion and delay. British units make tea while awaiting orders.

Saturday, August 8th

General Stopford lands at Suvla. The Gallipoli C-in-C, General Hamilton, encourages him to advance but without ordering him to do so. The Turks rush in reinforcements.

Sunday, August 9th

Fierce fighting inland from Suvla as Colonel Mustafa Kemal organises against the tardy British advance. Zeppelins raid East Anglia: 17 killed; 21 wounded.

Monday, August 10th

Germany and Austria seek to persuade Czar Nicholas of Russia to make a separate peace.

Tuesday, August 11th

The British dig in at Suvla Bay, having lost the initiative. The Russian withdrawal on the Eastern Front continues.

Wednesday, August 12th

Work begins on building the first proper tank (‘Little Willie’) in Lincoln. Zeppelins bomb East Anglia and Essex: 6 civilians killed; 24 wounded.

Thursday, August 13th

Three German prisoners of war are recaptured in Wales after escaping. Losses in sick and wounded at Gallipoli in the past week: 22,000.

Friday, August 14th

A British troopship, the Royal Edward, is sunk by a German submarine at Gallipoli : 800 killed.

Saturday, August 15th

Registration of civilians aged between 15 – 65 renews concerns about compulsory military service in Britain. At Gallipoli, General Stopford is sacked and replaced.

Sunday, August 16th

Lord Kitchener visits the Western Front and urges a strong summer offensive from Joffre now that the Russians in the East are in full retreat.

Monday, August 17th

As 8,500 more troops land at Suvla Bay, General Hamilton tells London he needs ten times as many. Zeppelin raids on East Anglia and London: 10 killed; 48 wounded.

Tuesday, August 18th

London police raid an anti-war Socialist newspaper , The Labour Leader, and charge its editor with sedition, of which he is eventually cleared.

Wednesday, August 19th

Colonel Hugh Trenchard is promoted and made Commanding Officer of the Royal Flying Corps on the Western Front.

Thursday, August 20th

The war cabinet meets to discuss Gallipoli with particular reference to Hamilton’s performance as C-in-C. Italy declares war on Turkey.

Friday, August 21st

Another attack by the British at Suvla is driven off with more than 5,000 British casualties. Hamilton rejects the idea of a withdrawal.

Saturday, August 22nd

The Russians retreat all along the Eastern Front. In Greece, the anti-German, Eleftherios Venizelos becomes Prime Minister again.

Sunday, August 23rd

New generals arrive at Gallipoli as Hamilton decides he cannot afford any more attacks and must stay on the defensive.

Monday, August 24th

The Paris newspaper, Le Figaro, launches a campaign against censorship of war news.

Tuesday, August 25th

The Germans install a military governor as Poland comes under occupation following the Russian withdrawal. Welsh coalminers strike for a war bonus.

Wednesday, August 26th

French planes bomb a poison-gas factory inside Germany.

Thursday, August 27th

General Townsend returns to Mesopotamia from sick leave with orders to advance up the Tigris towards Baghdad.

Friday, August 28th

With the Germans swarming into Russian territory, Russia again rejects any idea of peace and sets about raising more men for the army.

Saturday, August 29th

A shipment of gold bullion worth £55,000,000 arrives in New York to pay American manufacturers for British munitions.

Sunday, August 30th

British fatalities from 14 zeppelin raids to date: 92 civilians killed; 263 wounded.

Two Poems

Lines On An Exhibition At the Imperial War Museum, London

The curators who designed this trench

Have managed to evoke the sights and sounds, but not the stench

Inevitable where a single bucket per platoon

Had to last from midnight through till noon.

This wooden front line, sawn off nice and square, is nothing like the torn off

Strips and ragged gougings in the earth that passed for trenches when

The British first dug in at Ypres and built their parapets with dead men.

Materials used to build the trench have been treated to make them fire retardant. If you have very sensitive skin please avoid touching the structure.’

The purpose of this trench is not to teach the crude,

Uneven, hard-edged kind of lesson based on verisimilitude.

This is the modern kind of learning based on a flame-retardant semblance

Of a trench – great-grandad’s war turned into a heritage experience.

The video of the series is available in the Museum shop. It also stocks a wide range of books and other materials on the subject, some of which are displayed here.

The men I’ve read about in books who built the Western Front were not the kind

To make an exhibition of themselves. I wonder if they’d mind,

After all these years, seeing the trenches that they dug to fight and die in

Reproduced in plywood to take advantage of a TV tie-in?

 

     What We Found, Boesinghe, 2001.

 First up, a rum jar full of clay stamped SRD, ie. Service Rum Diluted,

The sort of stuff that seldom reached its destination undisputed.

Next up, barbed wire, a damp coil of solid rust.

The sort of trophy that, when dried in years to come,

Will flake and crumble into piles of orange dust

In some forgotten corner where my wife will find it and despair

Of my obsession with Boesinghe and the treasure we found buried there.

The rotten duckboards told us where the trench was laid.

The twisted rifle pointed to an unexploded hand grenade.

The bayonet was one of five million made

By Wilkinson Sword, the name on the world’s finest blade.

No scabbard, of course. Nothing leather could survive those years of damp and frost.

No belt nor webbing bound our sentry, found still crouching at his forward-looking post,

Stubbornly anonymous despite his mortal scatterings –

His un-initialled pipe, his spoon, his pocket change of unspent pence,

His nameless, dateless wedding ring, his toothless comb,

The tarnished nib that wrote his last words home.

No positive identification could be made. His compressed fibre name tag having rotted

All the rest was guess-work based on some regimental buttons knotted

In a mulch of sticky thread, and the canister of his gas mask —

Smashed inside his rib-cage.

So all we could say for certain was he died before the gas blew clear;

He was a husband; he was a Royal Fusilier.