Posts Tagged ‘World War 1’

Lest We Forget.
I heard a story on the Tv yesterday about a quartermaster who left his regiment the day before the battle began to bring up supplies from the rear. He returned on the evening of the first day and was unable to locate his men. Eventually, he found his way to a command post and asked an officer where his unit was to be found. The reply he received was ‘It no longer exists’. Almost the entire unit had been killed on the first morning of the battle.

Stephen Liddell

For the last three years or so, I have been post occasional extracts from my WW1 concise history book Lest We Forget, published by Endeavour Press of London.

July 31st marks the centennial of yet another of the landmark actions of the First World War, namely the dreadful Third Battle of Passchendaele.

Passchendaele is another of one of the epic battles that shook the western front between the British and Allied soldiers against the Germans. It all took place on the low ridges to the south and east of Ypres, in the Belgian region of Flanders between July and November 1917.

British High Command hoped to take the vital railway junctions at Rosslare, only 5 miles away but it was an objective that would go unmet until 1918. Though the Battle of Passchendaele is a distinct event in itself, it was just part of the wider and endless conflict in…

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St Laurence Church is a 1960’s church in SE London.  As you walk from the main church into the Lady Chapel you see on  your right a stained-glass window the major components of which are the shield a white horse and two wreaths. If you pause to read the text you will find that this is a Memorial window to the 11th Battalion Queen’s Own Royal West Kent Regiment. In fact this Memorial window is the one remaining item which was taken from the old St Laurence’s church (demolished in the 1960s). In the case beneath they used to be a Memorial book but tragically this was stolen some years ago.

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The history of the 11th Battalion dates back to the beginning of World War I.  Alderman Jackson, the Mayor of Lewisham received a letter from Lord Kitchener, suggesting that the Borough of Lewisham might consider raising a brigade of artillery towards the war effort. He agreed, but suggested that it was more likely that he would find volunteers if it was an infantry battalion. Thus, the 11th (Lewisham) Battalion was formed. Initial recruits stayed at home, although the borough paid for their rations uniform and equipment. They trained on what is now the Sports Ground at the junction of Catford Hill and Canadian Avenue. The first recruitment drive was at Catford ice rink on 21 May 1915 and the Battalion finally departed Catford for Aldershot in  December of the same year. It numbered 34 officers and 941 other ranks. Along the way they had acquired a band and a regimental mascot (a huge borzoi hound called Invicta).

The Battalion arrived in France in May 1916 and was assigned to the trenches at Ploegseert Woods. It saw its first major action in September with the attack on Flers. The Battalion suffered heavy casualties during this attack. Of the 610 officers and men who began the attack, 15 officers and 328 other ranks were listed as casualties by its conclusion. In October the Battalion took part in the attack on Le Sars, where is sustained a further 300 casualties. After this they found themselves back in the trenches at Ploegseert Woods.

In 1917 the Battalion found itself at Ypres, before they were eventually withdrawn first to the French coast and then into Italy to spend the winter.  By the spring of 1918, they had once again returned to France and in March a reorganisation of the Regiment , now much reduced in size, occurred. Because of the large casualties it had sustained this meant that the 11th Battalion was disbanded and the remaining soldiers were incorporated into other units.

The 11th Battalion had only existed for 22 months. But during that time 3000 men had passed through its ranks and of these 507 had died; 307 were missing presumed dead and 1250 had sustained injury as a result of the campaign – a staggering 68% of its total compliment. Members of the Battalion are to be found buried in the cemeteries at Flers, Warlincourt, Dickebush and Lissenthoek.

WEST KENTS

The memorial in St Laurence’s reminds us of the amazing sacrifice made by those who volunteered to join up to help ensure a just and peaceful Europe. I remember when I was a young boy at St Laurence, every Remembrance Day a few old veterans from the Battalion would attend the service. As the years went by this attendance declined until there were no more of them left to remember their fallen comrades on the fields of Belgium, France and Italy.

 

We will remember them

Posted: November 11, 2014 in History
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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.

 

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“When you go Home, tell them of us and say,
For your Tomorrow, we gave our Today”

John Maxwell Edmunds
1916

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Truly a World War

Posted: November 10, 2014 in History
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When you hear about World War One, it is likely that it will conjure up images of trenches in Western Europe, or of the battles of the Somme or Ypres. These did of course form a major part of the action that occurred during the war. But it is not the whole story. If it were then World War One would have only been a European affair. The media fascination with the horrors of trench warfare tends to blind us to all the other areas where there was conflict.

In the Pacific, where Japan, Australia and New Zealand fought with forces based in German territories. In Africa, where allied forces based in British, French and Belgian territories battled with those from German governed colonies. Indeed some of the fiercest fighting was on the border of South Africa, when German forces from German South-west Africa (now Namibia) invaded into that country.

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Cameroonian troops in World War I

By New York Times, Co. [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

 

There was also a major campaign against the Ottoman Empire in the Middle East to prevent them advancing into Egypt to block transport of allied ships through the Suez Canal. This is perhaps best remembered for the exploits of T.E. Lawrence (famed as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’) and his mobilization of Arab forces on the side of the allies, but otherwise is usually forgotten. Finally back in Europe there was the eastern front. The war had begun over political tensions in the Balkans and fighting there continued with the Russians and Romanians fighting the combined forces of Austro-Hungary, Germany and Bulgaria. This front was severely affected by the Russian revolution of 1917 after which the Russians withdrew from the war.

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“WWIRussianTroopsReview”. Licensed under Public domain via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:WWIRussianTroopsReview.jpg#mediaviewer/File:WWIRussianTroopsReview.jpg

So World War One was truly a world war fought upon a global stage. It should be remembered when we think about the commemoration of the war and those who died in it at this time. Whilst few of these conflicts realised a death toll like the western front, the numbers of dead are still staggering: 16,000 from Ghana, 32,000 from Kenya and 85,000 from Nigeria died fighting during the African campaigns. This is without considering the casualties on the German side or the horrendous civilian casualties in this campaign. The Oxford History of World War One notes that “In east and central Africa the harshness of the war resulted in acute shortages of food with famine in some areas, a weakening of populations, and epidemic diseases which killed hundreds of thousands of people.

So when we stop to remember the fallen of World War One in this commemoration year, let us spare a thought and a prayer for the forgotten war that was fought around the world and for its fallen and its victims.

 

In Flanders Fields

Posted: November 7, 2014 in History
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In Flanders fields the poppies blow

Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

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We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

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Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

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by Canadian physician Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae

May 1915

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Yesterday Sue and I took the opportunity of being in central London with a free afternoon to visit the World War one memorial at the Tower of London. The design which consists of 888,246 handmade ceramic poppies (one for each British Military death during WW1) takes up the entire moat. The last poppy will be added at 1100 on the 11th November the date and time of the armistice signing in 1918.

 

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People have added their own personal memorials to the railings surrounding the moat

People have added their own personal memorials to the railings surrounding the moat

The work, Blood swept lands and seas of red, by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper is a truly moving sight and has captured the imagination of both Londoners and Visitors alike and such has been the demand to see it that it has at times strained the capacity of the site to cope.

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After 11th November the poppies will be removed. Each has already been sold and has raised millions of pounds for armed forces charities.