Tuesday, 21 February 2017

The Steam Ship “Mendi”  was built in 1905 and launched in the June of that year. She belonged to the British and African Steam Navigation Company which was managed by Elder Dempster Lines.  Requisitioned as a troop ship during WW1 by the British Admiralty she sank on 21st February 1917.
At 05.00 a.m. on 21st February 1917, the Steam Ship “Mendi” collided in thick fog in the English Channel with the Royal Mail Packet Company’s Cargo Ship “Darro”.   646 lives were lost when the “Mendi” sank rapidly, being the smaller vessel.  The dead were mostly South African Soldiers.   WW1 Poet Samuel Edward Krune Mqhayi wrote a poem about the disaster.  “We will remember them…”

Monday, 20 February 2017

Book Review: "Manchester Remembering 1914-18" by Andrew Simpson (The History Press, 2017)

I was very interested indeed in the book “Manchester Remembering 1914-18”, because I began my research for a series of commemorative exhibitions with female poets of the First World War and among the first I found was Winifred Mabel Letts, who was born in Salford.   Due to her service with the Almeric Paget Military Massage Corps team as a remedial masseuse in Manchester, Winifred also comes into the category Inspirational Women.  So I found the descriptions of the temporary hospitals set up in the Manchester area to cope with the huge influx of wounded soldiers extremely informative.

I enjoyed reading about, among other things, the descriptions in the chapter entitled Out on the Town on page 20 of the entertainment on offer in Manchester during the early part of the twentieth Century.  It is all too easy for us to forget that, back then, there were no television or radio broadcasts and not every home had a telephone.

I was also interested in the social aspects of Manchester’s WW1 history – the role of women and the workers’ strikes (p. 76) which resulted in acts of parliament preventing strikes during the war years.  And a conscientious objector’s opinion on the film “Battle of the Somme” which premiered in London in August 1916, went on general release in August of that year and was seen by 20 million people in the first six weeks.

“Manchester Remembering 1914-18” also has a detailed timeline of the war years, beautiful illustrations with contemporary photographs – I had never seen a Wound Badge (page 84) - copies of posters, cameos about individual women and about soldiers in the Manchester Regiments (soldier poet Wilfred Owen was in the 5th  and 2nd Manchester Regiments), private letters and postcards sent to soldiers and civilians, chapters on the Armistice and aftermath, the legacy of the war and a postscript, plus notes on sources and a bibliography.  The book, written by former school-teacher Andrew Simpson, has been extremely well researched and is full of information about England’s second city, the very heart of the Industrial Revolution.  

“Manchester Remembering 1914-18” by Andrew Simpson, published by The History Press, Stroud, Gloucester, 2017 is on sale at £12.99 and is available from all good bookshops and online at www.thehistorypress.co.uk

To find out more about Andrew Simpson’s work, check out his weblog on  www.chorltonhistory.blogspot.co.uk#

Thursday, 19 January 2017

January 2017 marks the Centenary of the Silvertown Munitions Factory explosion

When she was growing up, our Mother lived with her Mother and Brother in Eltham during The First World War.  Mother and Uncle often spoke about the Silvertown factory explosion in January 1917. They told me that the windows of houses were blown out - even as far as The Savoy Hotel in the centre of London - and the air was filled with burning paper.

The Silvertown Factory was built in Silvertown, West Ham, Essex in 1883 for the manufacture of soda crystals and caustic soda.  The ending of the production of caustic soda in 1912 left part of the factory idle.   In 1916, due to the shortage of shells in the British Army, the War Office took over the available part of the factory to purify the explosive TNT.

On Friday, 19th January 1917, a fire broke out at around 6 pm which, in spite of efforts to extinguish it, caused explosions the effect of which was felt for miles around. 73 people were killed, more than 400 injured and thousands left homeless.

Saturday, 31 December 2016

Lise Rischard, a housewife from Luxembourg, British Secret Agent in WW1

Among the inspirational women of the First World War on my list is Lise Rischard, an 'ordinary' housewife from Luxembourg.   Officially neutral in WW1, the people of Luxembourg had suffered greatly during the wars that ravaged Europe in the previous years.   Lise's son by her first marriage - Marcel Pelletier - was a member of the French Olympic Team send to the Olympic Games held Stockholm in 1912.

During a visit to her son who was in the French Army and in Paris before being sent to the Front, Lise was recruited to help the Allied cause. Her story is amazing as she travelled from the area  held by the Germans via Switzerland to Paris, which remained a free city during WW1 and then set up a network to provide vital information to the British.

I mention Lise in "No Woman's Land" but you can find out the whole amazing story in the book 'The Secrets of Rue St. Roch' by Janet Morgan (London: Allen Lane, 2004).

Wednesday, 28 December 2016

Harry Lauder's son John was killed on 28th December 1916 in France

Harry Lauder, the Scottish comedian and singer, was in Australia on one of his tours when war broke out in 1914.  He returned home, began to raise money for the war effort and organised recruiting concert tours.  Harry also took his piano to the Western Front to entertain the troops.  He set up a charity called the Harry Lauder Million Pound Fund to raise money for seriously wounded Scottish servicemen.

On 28th December 1916, Harry's only son John Lauder, who was a Captain in the Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders, was killed at Pozières.   Harry wrote the song "Keep Right on till the end of the Road" in memory of his son.   Captain Lauder was buried at Ovillers, France and his father had a memorial placed in his son's memory in Glenbranter, the Lauder family home in Scotland.

Photo:  Captain John Lauder

Monday, 21 November 2016

Centenary of the sinking of the Hospital Ship "Britannic", sister ship to the R.M.S. "Titanic"

Today marks the Centenary of the sinking of the Hospital Ship “Britannic” on 21st November 1916. There is still speculation as to whether she was torpedoed or hit a mine.   RMS “Britannic” was built by Harland and Wolf, Belfast, as a sister ship to the White Star Line liners RMS “Titanic” and RMS “Olympic”.  “Britannic” was launched in February 1914 then laid up until the British Admiralty requisitioned her for use as a Hospital Ship in 1915.

“Britannic” was steaming from Southampton to Mudros in Greece with 1,065 people on board – 77 nurses, 315 Royal Army Medical Corps personnel and 673 crew members.   An explosion caused her to sink in the Kia Channel near the Greek Island of Kia with the loss of 30 lives, the bodies of 5 of whom were found and buried.

There is a Facebook Group dedicated to the memory of the Hospital Ship “Britannic”: https://www.facebook.com/groups/331189576917380/1179513172085012/?notif_t=group_activity&notif_id=1479580714338389

Sunday, 6 November 2016

The Roses of No Man’s Land a song written during WW1 by Jack Caddigan and James Alexander Brennan

Many thanks to Sue Robinson of the Group Wenches in Trenches The Roses of No Man's Land for bringing the song "The Roses of No Man's Land" to my attention.  The song was co-written by Jack Caddigan the lyricist (1879 - 1952) and James Alexander Brennan the song-writer (1885 - 1956). The lyrics were translated into French by Louis Delamarre and the song became popular during the First World War.

It was written as a tribute to the women who went to all the theatres of the conflict to nurse the wounded. The song is still in copyright but you can read both sets of lyrics - English and French - here https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rose_of_No_Man%27s_Land

Sue Robinson is campaigning for recognition of all the women of WW1 and a special memorial is to be unveiled at Lochnagar Crater.   The Women of War Memorial will be unveiled at Lochnagar Crater, La Boisselle, France at 2.30 pm on 11/11/2016, just after the main ceremony.  All welcome.

To find out more about Sue’s work please see the website http://www.wenchesintrenches.co.uk/

Photo: The cover of the sheet music to the song.