Friday, 1 September 2017

Book about Leighton Buzzard, Bedfordshire in WW1 - publication date 2nd October 2017

Well in time for our Christmas Wish Lists here is news of a WW1-related book to be published on 2nd October 2017 by The History Press.  “Sand, Planes and Submarines: How Leighton Buzzard shortened the War” by Paul Brown and Delia Gleave.   To pre-order a copy please see the following link: https://www.amazon.co.uk/Sand-Planes-Submarines-Leighton-shortened/dp/0750983701?SubscriptionId=AKIAJFLQEIYOLULAFUYQ&tag=wwwthehisto0b-21&linkCode=xm2&camp=2025&creative=165953&creativeASIN=0750983701

I am reliably informed there will be some WW1 poems written by munitions workers and a chapter about local nurses.  Definitely a must buy.

I am reliably informed there will be some WW1 poems written by women munitions workers (see photo from the Bedfordshire and Luton Archives) and a chapter about local nurses.  Definitely a must buy.

With thanks to Elise Ward who posted mention of the poems on Debbie Cameron's Facebook Page Remembering Women on the Home Front WW1.

Friday, 26 May 2017

HMHS “Dover Castle” sunk by German U-Boat on 26th May 1917

T
he Steam Ship “Dover Castle” was built by Barclay Curie and Company of Glasgow and launched in 1904.  She was a cargo and passenger liner built for the shipping line Union Castle.  In WW1 the ship was requisitioned by the British Admiralty for refitting and use as a Hospital Ship. 

On 4th October 1916, HMHS “Dover Castle” was able to go to the assistance of the “Franconia” another hospital ship, when she was torpedoed and sunk near Malta on her way to Salonika.   “Dover Castle” was able to save the lives of 302 of the 314 crew members of “Franconia”.

HMHS “Dover Castle” was on her way from Malta to Gibraltar when she was torpedoed and 7 stokers were killed.  The crew managed to evacuate most of the wounded to HMS “Cameleon”.  A skeleton crew stayed on board with the Captain to try and save the “Dover Castle” but she was hit by a further torpedo and sank.

 

Tuesday, 23 May 2017

Book Review: “1001 Fantastic First World War Facts” by Scott Addington, published by Scott on Amazon – www.scottaddington.com

I first heard about Scott Addington when we interviewed him about his book “Heroes of the Line” which is about Scott’s cycle pilgrimage along the Western Front from the coast to Switzerland.  (If you haven’t read that we strongly recommend you do…)

So I was very pleased to see that Scott has recently brought out another WW1 book - “1001 Fantastic First World War Facts”, which is so full of interesting facts it is hard to know which to pick for the purposes of the review. The book is divided into sections which are listed on page 11 – from Prelude to War to Remembrance and Aftermath. The facts are set out in short sentences, easy to read sentences and the book is a paperback and therefore easy to put in your pocket if you are visiting any of the graves and/or battlefields in the theatres of the war.

Scott starts by explaining how the First World War began – fact No. 14 tells us about the German Schlieffen Plan.  As my Grandfather was an Old Contemptible with the Royal Field Artillery, I was particularly interested in No. 401 on page 53, which explains that a Captain John Patrick Denny of the Royal Field Artillery formed the Old Contemptibles Association for Veterans of the British Expeditionary Force in 1925.   

On page 57, No. 445 explains Field Ambulances and Casualty Clearing Stations, while 454 reminds us that there were replica trenches dug in parks, etc. in various towns in Britain designed to show members of the public what the trench system was like.  Visitors were shown round for a small entrance fee which raised money for the wounded.

Fact 715 mentions American nurses and on page 85, Fact 753 tells us of the first use of planes for bombing.  No. 884 answers the question so many people ask as to why War Memorials say “1914 – 1919” and not “1914 – 1918”.

As an introduction to the history of the First World War this is an extremely handy and interesting book.

“1001 Fantastic First World War Facts” by Scott Addington, published by Scott on Amazon – www.scottaddington.com
Follow Scott on Twitter:  @scott_addington and on Facebook:  @ScottAddingtonHistory

A follow-up book is now available as a down-load from Scott’s website - 500 Fantastic First World War Facts and you can get to it via my website - www.scottaddington.com

Thursday, 4 May 2017

Book Review “A Taste of Success. The First Battle of the Scarpe, 9 – 14 April 1917”

In loving memory of my Great Uncle James, who was killed on the first day of the Battle of Arras, Easter Monday, 9th April 1917, I have recently completed an exhibition about some of the soldier poets who were killed on that day. Great Uncle James, from Northfleet, Kent, UK, has no known grave but is commemorated on the Arras Memorial in France, so anything I can find out about the initial stages of the Battle of Arras is of great interest to me. 

I was, therefore, particularly interested in reading Jim Smithson’s book “A Taste of Success. The First Battle of the Scarpe, The Opening Phase of the Battle of Arras, 9  – 14 April 1917”, which has recently been published by Helion & Company of Solihull, West Midlands, UK. 

From first sight this book is wonderful and it is not easy to do justice to it in a brief review. No expense has been spared in the production of the book which compliments the time, meticulous research and dedication of the author. It is beautifully presented with copies of original photos, maps, colour photographs and a hard, coloured cover with a photograph of a tank.  I had no idea tanks were in use in WW1 before the Battle of Cambrai but now have a greater understanding of the first use of these weapons.

The Foreword has been contributed by a writer who has already written about the Battle of Arras, Jonathan Nicholls.  Written on Remembrance Sunday 2016, the Foreword sets the tone of the book.  Nicholls’ book was published during the 1980s when many of the WW1 survivors from both sides were still alive and he was able to interview then and walk the battlefields with them.

The Preface of “A Taste of Success” begins with a quotation from a poem by Siegfried Sassoon. Chapters 1 to 9 begin with quotations from poems by Edward Thomas, who was one of the poets killed on 9th April 1917 during the Battle of Arras.  Jim Smithson starts by explaining in detail the background to the Battle of Arras in 1917, going right back to the early stages of the conflict before the trenches were dug.  Detailed maps are included, as well as photographs of some of those who took part.   I was particularly interested to read the accounts of the German and French regiments involved, for instance the Moroccans in May 1915 and the New Zealand Tunnelling Company who were involved in the preparation of the tunnels made when the Allies built upon the quarries and caves underneath Arras.

I was also interested to read about the German use of bobby traps when withdrawing from areas.

On page 95 is a very comprehensive guide to the different first aid posts and hospitals to which the wounded were taken.

Smithson also goes into detail about the difficulties encountered by the British due to the sharing of the command with the French and the logistical problems of transporting and supplying the British Army’s 1.4 million troops who were based in France by 1917.  Also explained are the political arguments behind the army commanders, such as the Rome Conference in early 1917. The final chapter, “Epilogue and Conclusions” is particularly revealing.

In the Appendices you will find copies of official documents, reports and memoranda, copious notes on Sources, Bibliography and detailed lists of all the units involved in the preparations beforehand and in the Battle itself.

This compelling book is essential reading for anyone seriously interested in the history of the First World War.

“A Taste of Success - The First Battle of the Scarpe, The Opening Phase of the Battle of Arras, 9  – 14 April 1917” by Jim Smithson is published by Helion & Company of Solihull, West Midlands, UK. On sale at £29.95, the book is available from Amazon, from Foyles Bookshop in London and from Thiepval Visitor Centre, and Arras Tourist Centre.

"Commemorating 1917" is an exhibition on display at The Wilfred Owen Story, Argyle Street, Birkenhead, Wirral, CH41 6AE, UK in 2017.  Opening times are 11 am till 2 pm Tuesdays - Fridays and entry is free.  If you plan to go please check with the website first so as there is someone to welcome you:http://www.wilfredowenstory.com/

 

Monday, 24 April 2017

The Steam Ship “Ballarat” torpedoed on 25th April 1917.

Remembering on ANZAC Day 2017 all those who lost their lives when the SS. "Ballarat" was torpedoed on 25th April 1917.

The steamship S.S. “Ballarat” was a cargo and passenger liner built in 1911 by Caird & Company in Scotland for the P & O Company and sailed the route from Britain to Australia.

The “Ballarat” was one of the many passenger liners requisitioned by the British Admiralty and converted for war service during the First World War.   The ship initially served as an Indian transport vessel before becoming a troopship, carrying Australian troops to Britain.

In February 1917, the “Ballarat” left Melbourne in Australia en route for the port of Devonport in the UK, with 1,602 Australian troops who were reinforcements from Victoria for the 2nd and 4th Australian Brigades.  She also carried a general cargo which included copper and bullion. The voyage was the ship’s thirteenth, which caused concern amongst some of the troops on board.

On 25th April, as she reached the English Channel, the Australian officers arranged a memorial service to commemorate Anzac Day.  At 14.00 hrs, as preparations were underway, a massive explosion tore a hole in the starboard side of the ship and the “Ballarat” started taking water. Despite a number of lookouts and an escorting destroyer, nobody saw the U-boat UB-32 approach and fire a torpedo.

Vessels were summoned to take the Australian soldiers and crew off the sinking vessel and within an hour all of them had been safely rescued. The “Ballarat” was taken in tow but sank in the early hours of the following morning, approximately 9 miles south of Lizard Point, Cornwall, UK, where the wreck still lies.

The Captain of Ballarat, Commander G. W. Cockman, RNR, DSO, received the congratulations of the Admiralty and the Australian troops were congratulated by the King.

Sources:


Monday, 17 April 2017

April 1917 was "the most disastrous month for British Merchant Shipping" due to Unrestricted Submarine Warfare

On 31st January 1917 the German Emperor, in a message to the Chief of the Naval Staff, issued an order that changed the course of the war by sea and land:  ‘I command that the unrestricted U-boat campaign shall begin on February 1st in full force’.

“The month of April 1917 was the most disastrous to British Merchant Shipping in the War.  No fewer than 997 lives were lost…  The torpedo attacks were in nearly every case without warning. (From Chapter 1, "History of the Great War The Merchant Navy Volume III", by Archibald Hurd, published by John Murray, London in 1929).

Hospital Ships sunk in April 1917 included the “Salta” (10th April), “Arcadian” (15th April), “Donegal” and “Lanfranc” (17th April).

The Steam Ship “Donegal” was a British passenger ferry.  She was built in 1904 by Caird & Co., Greenock, Scotland, for the Midland Railway Company and operated on the Heysham to Belfast route.  During WW1, the British Admiralty requisitioned several British passenger ferries for conversion into ambulance ships to carry wounded personnel from France back to hospitals in Britain.

Ambulance ships were classified as hospital ships under The Hague Convention of 1907, which dealt with the adaptation to Maritime Warfare of the principles of the Geneva Convention of July 1906. Ambulance Ships had to be clearly marked and lit to make them easy to identify. As the shipping losses grew, the UK Government announced that it would no longer give hospital ships special marking, alleging that German vessels had used their markings and lighting to target them. 
                                                                                                                                                                         
On 1st March 1917, a German U-boat attacked “Donegal” but she managed to outrun the submarine. On 17th April 1917, the “Donegal” was sunk by a German U-boat while taking 610 lightly wounded British soldiers across the English Channel from Le Havre to Southampton..  The ship sank with the loss of 29 soldiers and 12 crew members. The wreck of the SS “Donegal” is located off the coast of South-east England in the English Channel.

Lieutenant Harold Holehouse, a Royal Naval Reserve Lieutenant from the “Donegal” jumped into the sea to rescue a wounded soldier.  Unfortunately, the soldier did not recover, but the Royal Humane Society awarded Lieutenant Holehouse a Bronze Medal.

 Two of the crew members of the SS “Donegal”, Archie Jewell and John Priest, were seasoned shipwreck survivors, having served on the RMS “Titanic” and survived her sinking on 15th April 1912.  Archie Jewell had been one of Titanic's lookouts (although he was not on watch when she struck the iceberg) and John Priest was a stoker. John Priest had been on the liner RMS “Asturias” when she foundered on her maiden voyage in 1907, and on the RMS “Olympic” when she was damaged in a collision with HMS “Hawke” in 1911.

John Priest then served on the armed merchant cruiser “Alcantara” when she and the German armed merchant cruiser SMS “Greif” sank each other in February 1916. 

Jewell and Priest went on to serve on one of the sister ships of the “Titanic”- the White Star Liner  “Britannic”, which was requisitioned by the British Admiralty for conversion into a Hospital Ship.  They were both among the survivors when HMHS “Britannic” was sunk in November 1916.

John Priest survived the sinking of the “Donegal” but, sadly, Archie Jewell was killed.  John Priest was awarded the Mercantile Marine Ribbon for his service in WW1.

The S.S. “Lanfranc” was built as a passenger liner for the Booth Steamship Company of Liverpool by the Caledonian Ship and Engineering Co. in Dundee, UK.  She sailed regularly from Liverpool to Manaus in the north of Brazil.

Requisitioned and converted by the British Admiralty into a Hospital Ship during the First World War, “Lanfranc” (named after the Benedictine Monk Lanfranc of Canterbury) was ferrying wounded from Le Havre in France to Southampton in Britain on 17th April 1917 when she was torpedoed and sunk without warning.  22 British soldiers and 18 German soldiers lost their lives.

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…”