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Land War The First World War: join the Western Front Association, the premier organisation for study, learning and research into all aspects of The Great War 1914-18, and to understanding more about the phenomenon which shaped the 20th century http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land.html Tue, 23 Sep 2014 02:17:06 +0000 Joomla! 1.5 - Open Source Content Management en-gb The First to Fall: Britain's first casualties of war http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3992-the-first-to-fall-britains-first-casualties-of-war.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3992-the-first-to-fall-britains-first-casualties-of-war.html Able Seaman Victor McKey HMS Amphion 1914With the centenary of the start of the First World War now being commemorated, it is appropriate to look at the first British fatalities of this conflict. This is a matter of some debate, as questions arise as to whether military and naval deaths immediately after the outbreak of war at 11pm on 4 August should be considered, or if the first casualties should be those who died as a result of accidents caused by the mobilisation, or if the strict interpretation is those fatalities caused as a result of enemy action.

Although not recorded by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as the individual was a civilian Richard van Emden has made a case for Henry Hadley being the "first casualty". Hadley, a former army officer working as a teacher in Berlin, was aware of the mounting tension in Europe. No doubt the German declaration of war on Russia on 1 August helped him to decide to leave the country. He was travelling from Berlin to Paris with his housekeeper and was shot on 3 August.

... Henry Hadley and his house-keeper were well on their way home and not far from either the Dutch or Belgian border. Their train, though, had stopped at Gelsenkirchen. After the altercation in the dining car, they had returned to their carriage but Henry had ventured into the corridor while the train was stationary. After about a minute, Elizabeth heard loud noises followed by sounds of a scuffle. She rushed outside to find Henry lying on the floor. 'They have shot me, Mrs Pratley, I am a done man,' he gasped. A German officer, later identified as Lieutenant Nicolay, had fired his revolver at point-blank range, hitting Henry in the stomach.

Richard van Emden - Meeting the Enemy: The Human Face of the Great War

Hadley was taken by ambulance to the Evangelical Hospita' in Gelsenkirchen, and died there at 3.15 am local time on 5 August – just three hours after Britain declared war on Germany.

Turning to military deaths, the CWGC database records 4 men who died on 4 August. War was declared in Britain at 11pm (UK time; midnight in Berlin) on that day, it is likely that these deaths took place during the course of the 4th rather than in the one hour between war being declared and midnight. The 4 records on the CWGC database are Private G Davies, Boy Servant Ernest Brackley (aged 16), Private Joseph Viles, and, in India, Staff Serjeant SE West.

HMS Amphion

The first major loss of life was at sea. On the first full day of the First World War, HMS Amphion, a light cruiser under the command of Captain Cecil Fox, was leading the 3rd Destroyer Flotilla, which was tasked with defending the eastern approaches to the English Channel. In accordance with a pre-arranged plan the flotilla was undertaking a patrol in the area of the Thames Estuary, en route to the Heligoland Bight.


Image: HMS Amphion courtesy of Naval-History.net

Some hours earlier the Germans had sent out a holiday ferry, the Königin Luise, which had been converted to lay mines. Disguised in the black, buff, and yellow colours of the steamers of the Great Eastern Railway, the minelayer had been spotted laying mines by a fishing trawler. This was reported to the Amphion, which, together with two destroyers, went to investigate and - at 10.25 in the morning, spotted and then chased down and fired on the German vessel. The captain of the Königin Luise realised that he stood no chance of getting away and decided to scuttle the ship just after noon on 5 August. These first shots of the war were fired by HMS Lance.


Image: A 'Laforey' class destroyer, of the same type as HMS Lance

After picking up a number of survivors, the Amphion carried on with her patrol and in the early hours of 6 August headed back to home waters.

Amphion changed course to avoid a minefield and, by 6.30 am, she was assumed to be clear. However, a mine was indeed detonated, wrecking the fore part of the ship, starting a fire and breaking her back. The order to abandon ship was given. Moments later another explosion occurred, which was either the ship's magazine exploding or a second mine. HMS Amphion went down quickly. Of the men on board, about 174 (including Captain Fox) survived, but a total of 149 crew plus 18 German prisoners of war were lost. Amongst them was Able Seaman Victor McKey.


Image: Captain Cecil Fox of HMS Amphion courtesy of Amazon.com



Image: McKey was from Coventry Road, Yardley in Birmingham. His older brother Corporal Matthew Charles was killed while serving with 1st Birmingham Pals during the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. His nephew and niece (the children of his sister) are still alive but were born after the Great War. Victor McKey is commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial (image courtesy of Mark Hone) 

The explosion was so large that two nearby destroyers were damaged when Amphion blew up. HMS Lark was hit by a 4 inch shell from the Amphion, killing her sole German prisoner and wounding two of her seamen. Meanwhile HMS Linnet was narrowly missed by a 4 inch gun which was thrown in the air. This destroyer was showered with splinters and struck by one of Amphion's bunker lids.


Image: HMS Amphion - the first British Naval loss of the First World War (image courtesy of the Imperial War Museums Q 43259)

The vast majority of the men lost on HMS Amphion are commemorated on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. However, the bodies of four men were recovered and identified; they are now buried at Shotley (St Mary) Churchyard, south of Ipswich.


Image: Shotley (St Mary) Churchyard

Gifted pilot and his air mechanic killed

When the Royal Flying Corps (RFC) was getting ready for its first deployment, even crossing the Channel was fraught with difficulties and dangers. The first deaths of airmen occurred on 12 August in the UK.

The inquest tells the story of what happened.

About a quarter past five o'clock Second-Lieutenant Robin B Skene, of the Third Squadron, accompanied by Raymond Keith Barlow, a first air mechanic in the corps, ascended from Netheravon sheds in a Bristol monoplane which was ready for active service. That the aeroplane was not loaded to a dangerous extent is shown by the fact that several other machines left the school carrying similar weights without accident. The monoplane had not proceeded far on its journey when the pilot in taking a left-handed turn banked sharply. The result was that the machine lost speed and dived vertically to the ground. Lieutenant Skene was found under the wrecked monoplane, while Barlow was pitched clear of it. Both died before medical aid could be obtained....The Squadron Commander of the Royal Flying School said that after the accident he examined the machine, which was completely wrecked. It had evidently fallen almost vertically but not from a great height. The controls were all intact. The machine was heavily loaded for active service, but was able to fly. He understood that Lieutenant Skene was a capable pilot.

Arthur Frederick Deverill, first air mechanic, Royal Flying Corps, an eye-witness, said he attributed the accident to the loss of speed in banking. This was the first time the machine had been so heavily loaded, but if precaution had been exercised flight would have been safe. Several machines left that day with the same load. The monoplane was at the height of about 150ft or 200ft when it dived vertically to the ground. The engine was running at full speed until the fatal turn.

The jury returned a verdict of accidental death (South Wiltshire Coroner's Inquests 1868-1920)


Image: a Royal Flying Corp Bleriot monoplane


Image: 2/Lt Robin Skene

Robin Reginald Skene was born in London on 6 August 1891, and was an eminent pre-war pilot, trained at the Bristol School at Brooklands before qualifying for Royal Aero Club Certificate No 568, issued on 21 July 1913. He gained a measure of fame by being the first British pilot to loop an aeroplane and worked as an instructor at the Bristol School. On 15 November 1913 he was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant in the RFC Special Reserve. As War drew near, Robin continued to instruct pupils on Martinsyde machines, but was ordered to join No 3 Squadron when the Army mobilised.


Image: the Pension Record Card for Barlow from the WFA's Pension Record Archive.

2/Lt R R Skene is buried at Send (St Mary's) Churchyard in Surrey, and AMI R K Barlow is buried in Bulford Church Cemetery, Wiltshire.

First RFC fatalities in France, 16 August

The first three squadrons to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) flew across the Channel without incident on 13 August and, after a stop at Amiens, moved forward to the fortress town of Maubeuge in northern France on 16 August.

The move to Maubeuge was not without cost, as 2/Lt Evelyn Perry and AMII Herbert Parfitt were killed when their BE8 crashed and caught fire at Amiens aerodrome. It is likely that the aeroplane was overloaded and stalled at about 150 feet, too low to permit the pilot to take corrective action.

Evelyn Walter Copland Perry was born in London on 4 December 1890. After leaving Trinity College, Cambridge he joined the Royal Aircraft Factory at Farnborough, where he worked from February 1911 to August 1912 before joining T O M Sopwith's aviation company. Royal Aero Club Certificate No 130 was gained on a Valkyrie Monoplane at Hendon on 30 August 1911. Like many civilian pilots, Evelyn applied for a commission in the RFC Special Reserve, and was gazetted as a Second Lieutenant on 21 March 1913. Hence, on 1 August, he was ordered to report to No 3 Sqn, and went to France with his unit.


Image: 2/Lt Evelyn Perry (courtesy of www.sommebattlefieldpipeband.com)

Herbert Edward Parfitt, from Croydon, was a direct entrant to the RFC on 27 May 1913. He was 21 when he was killed.

2/Lt Evelyn Perry is buried in Grave 7 at St Acheul French National Cemetery at Amiens, and AMII Herbert Parfitt is buried in the adjacent Grave 6.

The next RFC fatality was Frederick Geard on 18 August. Corporal Geard was flying as observer in BE8 No 391 of No 5 Sqn, flown by 2Lt R R Smith-Barry, and he was killed when the aeroplane crashed at Peronne due to 'control failure' with fatal consequences for the observer and two broken legs for the pilot.


Image: a prototype BE8 (note the undivided cockpits)

Frederick John Parsons Geard was born in 1892, the second son of John and Amelia Geard of Dover. He was educated at Herne Bay before joining the Royal Engineers at Woolwich on 1 September 1910. After a course of training at Chatham he was posted to the Balloon Section of the Engineers at Aldershot in January 1911. He then belonged to No 1 Aeroplane Section (RE), was appointed Airman Rigger in September 1911, and the following year transferred to the RFC.

Cpl F J P Geard is buried in Grave No 510 at Peronne Communal Cemetery.


Image: the Pension Record Card for Geard.

First combat fatalities in the RFC

Just four days after the death of Cpl Geard, the first combat deaths were suffered by the Royal Flying Corps. 2/Lt Vincent Waterfall (pilot) and Lt Gordon Bayly (observer) were flying an Avro 504 when their aeroplane was brought down by enemy ground fire on 22 August 1914. The airmen had departed on a reconnaissance mission at 10.15am.


Image: the Shuttleworth Collection's Avro 504K. Taken at old Warden's Summer Show 2009.

Charles George Gordon Bayly was born in Rondebosch, Cape Colony, South Africa, on 30 May 1891, the only son of Brackenbury Bayly of the Cape Civil Service, and his wife Beatrice. He was the great-nephew of Major-General Charles George "Chinese" Gordon, the great British soldier who died in the Sudan when Khartoum was overwhelmed by Madhist forces in 1885. Gordon, as Bayly was known, was first educated at Diocesan College School, South Africa, before moving to England to attend St Edmund's Preparatory School at Hindhead before gaining a scholarship to St Paul's School at Kensington, where he represented the school at rugby and played in the second eleven at cricket. In addition, he boxed and shot for his house, winning the shooting prize for his house in his last year at school.


Image: Gordon Bayly. Image courtesy of Ancestry.com. Great Britain, Royal Aero Club Aviators' Certificates, 1910-1950 [database on-line]. (Royal Aero Club index cards and photographs are in the care of the Royal Air Force Museum, Hendon, London.)

After school he joined the Army as a Gentleman Cadet at the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, His first posting with the Royal Engineers was to Chatham. It was while he was at Chatham in 1912 that he decided to learn to fly.

After Chatham, Gordon was posted to the 56th Field Company at Bulford Camp, Salisbury Plain. While stationed there he was promoted to Lieutenant on 31 July 1913. In May 1914 he successfully applied for a transfer to the Royal Flying Corps and was selected to join a course at the Central Flying School at Upavon. Here, Gordon studied the emerging use of wireless telegraphy from aeroplanes.

Gordon's time at the flying school was cut short by the declaration of war against Germany on 4 August, after which training was curtailed and the airmen then stationed at Upavon were sent to RFC squadrons. Lt Bayly was posted to No 5 Sqn at Gosport (Fort Grange), with excellent comments in his confidential report including the line: "Very good indeed as a pilot and his capabilities as an officer being above average."

Vincent Waterfall was born in Grimsby on 25 May 1891. He was commissioned in the 3rd Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment, on 27 January 1912 after service as a Corporal in the Brighton College Contingent, Officers' Training Corps. He trained as a pilot at the Vickers School in 1913 and gained RAeC Certificate No 461 on 22 April 1914. The pages of Flight for 1913 and 1914 trace his flying career, as he evolved from performing simple straight flights and circuits to more complex manoeuvres. In many ways, his progress was very similar to that of Gordon Bayly and his education can be regarded as that typical of a pre-war pilot. By April 1914 he was described as being "thoroughly at home on the new Martinsyde monoplane" and went on to become the Martinsyde Company's pilot.


Image: 2/Lt Vincent Waterfall (courtesy of Ancestry.com)

The bodies of Lt Bayly and 2/Lt Waterfall were initially hastily buried by the Germans in 10 centimetres of soil, but they were later exhumed by M Louviau, the owner of the land on which they had fallen. Their bodies were placed in zinc coffins which were then hidden in his distillery cellar to await a more suitable burial. Both airmen are now buried in Tournai Communal Cemetery, Belgium; Lt C G G Bayly in Grave III.G.3 and 2/Lt V Waterfall is next to him in Grave III.G.4.

First infantry fatality

It is widely reported that the first British soldier (as distinct from sailor or airman) to be killed on the Western Front as a result of enemy action in the First World War was Private John Parr of the 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. Although Parr's claim is unlikely to be challenged, there are a number of earlier fatalities - commemorated or buried in France - who are worthy of mention. The earliest French commemoration on the CWGC's database is for Private George Gooch who is noted as being killed as early as 11 August (a week after war broke out and before any significant numbers of troops had crossed to France). It is almost certainly the case that this date for Gooch is incorrect. Data held by the CWGC can shed no further light on this.


Image: Unfortunately, and unusually, the date of death of George Gooch is not clarified on his Pension Record Card. The space for "date and cause of death" simply notes "missing (notified 20/11/15)" from the WFA's Pension Record Archive.

The first 'correct' French commemoration is for Private Duncan MacDonald who died on 13 August. It is likely that his death was as a result of falling overboard from the transport vessel (the battalion landed in Le Havre on 14 August). His Pension Record Card (below) indicates him as "missing". He has no known grave and is commemorated on La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial.


Image: the Pension Record Card for MacDonald from the WFA's Pension Record Archive


Image: La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial.

Just three days after the death of Private McDonald came the death of the first medium ranking officer to be commemorated in France by the CWGC.

The story of Major Arthur Hughes-Onslow is fascinating. He has an obituary in Wisden, the cricket publication:

Born in 1862, died on August 17, whilst on service with the British Expeditionary Force. He was in the Eton XI in 1880, when he scored 41 and 0 v. Winchester and 24 and 6 v. Harrow. He was then described as A good bat, hitting well and hard; a fair field. He was also well-known as a steeple-chase rider, an Association footballer, and a rider to hounds, and three times rode the winner of the Grand Military Steeplechase at Sandown.

Details courtesy of ESPNcricinfo.com


Image: Major Arthur Hughes-Onslow (courtesy of John Fergusson)

Major Arthur Hughes-Onslow is now buried at Ste Marie Cemetery, Le Havre. How he met his end whilst crossing to France is detailed in this web article: these details are confirmed by the CWGC exhumation report.


Article and images contributed by David Tattersfield, Development Trustee, The Western Front Association



My thanks to Gareth Morgan of Australian WWI Aero Historians - www.ww1aero.org.au - for details of the first RFC casualties. Also to John Fergusson for the background to Arthur Hughes-Onslow and to Mark Hone for his contribution of the Victor McKey image and information.


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Britain and Allies Sun, 31 Aug 2014 00:00:00 +0000
The composition of the British Expeditionary Force in 1914 http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3994-the-composition-of-the-british-expeditionary-force-in-1914.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3994-the-composition-of-the-british-expeditionary-force-in-1914.html In 1813 the Duke of Wellington, angered by incidents of looting amongst his army, wrote sourly 'We have in the service the scum of the earth as common soldiers'. The words were harsh, but not altogether inaccurate, for the British Army had a long tradition of recruiting primarily amongst the poorest and most desperate of society.

 the black watch bulletin supplement 99

Image: the Black Watch

Very little had changed a century later. Despite the earnest efforts of various committees and reformers to improve the lot of the soldier and make the military a more appealing career, the all-volunteer army remained perennially short of recruits. In the Edwardian period the phrase 'it's the workhouse or the Army' was analogous to 'between a rock and a hard place'. Writing in the 1930s, disillusioned cavalryman Arthur Osborn of the 4th Dragoon Guards commented:

In England the ranks of the Regular Army had always been a refuge for the man out of work, the man with no friends and no prospects, for the boy who could not find a job and had neither energy nor initiative to make one for himself, for the healthy man who was not a blackguard but a failure in civil life because he could not fight successfully against his fellows in a sternly competitive world. So it followed that many 'fighting men by trade' are anything but 'fighting men by temperament'.

Indeed, in 1913 less than half of all enlistments had any form of trade.

Furthermore, contrary to popular (and contemporary French and German) belief the ranks of the British Army were not filled with hardened, long service veterans. The majority of private soldiers were relatively recent enlistments, with a high proportion having less than two years' service at the outbreak of the war. More experienced soldiers tended to be reservists who were recalled to the colours in 1914. Many of these men had been out of the army for years and their standards of fitness and military knowledge varied wildly, from proud veterans such as Frank Richards of the 2nd Royal Welch Fusiliers, who was still capable of 20 aimed shots per minute with a Lee-Enfield, to other men who were deemed so unfit that they were initially rejected for service.

Yet from this unpromising material the British Army was able to shape a famously effective force. This pays testament to the quality of training during the pre-war period. As well as possessing advanced tactics, the army was hugely experienced in moulding unhealthy, ill-educated young men into soldiers. Writing after the war, John Lucy of the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles looked back aghast at the miseries of his first six months of training but took immense pride that by the end of it he and his comrades were a 'crack squad' who were 'superbly fit'.

British training was enhanced by the experience of officers and NCOs. The junior officers of the British Army possessed a huge fund of combat experience gained in the hard school of colonial warfare. In 1914, 138 out of 157 infantry battalion commanders had been on active service. Company commanders were similarly experienced, and a substantial number of senior NCOs had seen action in the Boer War (1899 - 1902). Young soldiers loved and feared these 'old sweats' in equal measure. At the outbreak of war many veteran NCOs warned their men of the dangers that lay ahead, although, as A P G Vivian of the 4th Middlesex recalled, this failed to dampen the youthful enthusiasm of most of the private soldiers.

the grenadier guards bulletin supplement 99

Image: a large crowd welcoming the Eastern Column at the corner of Commercial Road, London, marching in full uniform during the first months of the war (courtesy Mary Evans Picture Library)

Another important element to British training was the strength of the battalion system. The fierce loyalty held by soldiers to their battalion was largely incomprehensible to contemporary foreign observers, who felt that the men's loyalty should lie with their nation. But the battalion provided something far more tangible than the abstract concept of national identity. The battalion was both a 'home' and a 'team' for the men. They came to know their officers and formed deep friendships with their comrades. In the words of historian Richard Holmes, it 'bestowed an expectation of courage' and provided 'something to look up to, something to admire, even something to worship.' Field Marshal Bill Slim, a junior officer in the First World War who rose to command 14th Army in Burma in the Second World War, commented that the battalion system is 'the foundation of the British soldier's stubborn valour'.

The combination of battle hardened leaders and the iron bonds of battalion loyalty provided the British Army with the tools it needed to forge its unpromising raw material into the force would come to wear the name 'Old Contemptibles' with such pride. In closing, it is worth recalling the second, lesser known part of the Duke of Wellington's quote that began this piece: 'it really is wonderful that we should have made them to the fine fellows that they are.'

 Article contributed by Spencer Jones.

This is a featured article from the special supplement to the WFA's Bulletin 99, entitled "August 1914: Britain goes to war".


webmanager@westernfrontassociation.com (Web Editor) Britain and Allies Sat, 30 Aug 2014 10:02:58 +0000
Here come the girls! The women volunteers at the Army Pay Office Woolwich from August to October 1914 http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3856-here-come-the-girls-the-women-volunteers-at-the-army-pay-office-woolwich-from-august-to-october-1914.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3856-here-come-the-girls-the-women-volunteers-at-the-army-pay-office-woolwich-from-august-to-october-1914.html Women 7Abstract

August 2014 will witness the centenary of the start of the First World War. It is considered that much of the historical aspect will be focused on the all-male fighting army, with little attention being paid to the women's contribution during the course of the war. Yet also in August 1914 the first women to volunteer for the war effort made their presence felt in perhaps the least researched part of the British Army, the Army Pay Services, which has remained merely a footnote in history. The role played by the women volunteers at the Army Pay Office, (APO), Woolwich during the early months of the Great War is evidenced by the expansion of a Regular and Regular Reserve Army from a peacetime strength of 200,000 in August 1914, to nearly 1 million by November 1914.

The deployment of women volunteers at APO Woolwich was totally unofficial and was not part of any directive from the War Office. However, there had been a tradition of voluntary philanthropic assistance during the 19th century from military officers and their wives that supported the families of soldiers. This influence of regimental philanthropic assistance increased during and after the Crimean War. The women volunteers who assisted at the Army Pay Office Woolwich as it reorganised from peace to war were an extension of the tradition of regimental philanthropy.


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Britain and Allies Mon, 21 Jul 2014 00:00:00 +0000
Languages and the First World War http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/general-interest/3763-languages-and-the-first-world-war.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/general-interest/3763-languages-and-the-first-world-war.html The problem was that 2014 would bring a rush of books, TV programmes and websites about the First World War, discussing, analysing, arguing and, that by the time 4 August 2014 came round, it would feel like everything had been said. So we are pleased to announce that the British Library and the University of Antwerp are hosting a two-site conference on what seems to be a new way of looking at the conflict – how the war influenced language and how languages influenced each other as a result of the war.

'Languages and the First World War' (18 and 20 June 2014) will bring together a host of international scholars and researchers, who will be presenting papers on how languages changed, how languages influenced other languages and how soldiers, their families and their officers, journalists and politicians all influenced each other through their words. The London day (20 June) at the British Library promises a feast of ideas on the subject, with a particular focus on English. Keynote speaker Lynda Mugglestone, University of Oxford Professor of the History of English, will be giving a paper on the work of the Rev Andrew Clarke who, right at the beginning of the Great War, set about collecting what he saw as 'ordinary words' – the words used in reporting the war, in advertising and in people's conversation as they experienced the fear, grief, relief and stress of the conflict.

languages fww img1

His collecting of words was not an isolated example. All through the conflict the home press commented on soldiers' slang, often to the annoyance of the soldiers, who resented this sometimes inaccurate appropriation of their linguistic representation of their experience. French soldiers, just as much as their British comrades resented the imposition of slang – a popular-song writer coined the name Rosalie for the bayonet but it never caught on amongst the troops. Trench journals, written by soldiers for soldiers, regularly contained their own 'trench glossaries' and pastiche alphabets, which show soldiers playing with words and enjoying language.

languages fww img2

In Antwerp Julie Coleman will be presenting on "Lingo of No Man's Land", a trench glossary compiled by Lorenzo Smith and published in 1918, which was used for recruiting purposes in North America, while Odile Roynette will be speaking about French trench slang, and the comparison of German and British trench slangs will be the subject of a paper by Peter Doyle and Rob Schaefer.

The relationship between junior officers and other ranks led to a spread of terms up and down the social scale – many newspapers noted how by the end of the war slang terms were being used openly in Parliament. And the mixing of soldiers from different parts of the country in 1917 and 1918 led to a sharing of local dialect words. Junior officers' schoolboy French filtered down to the other ranks, creating mangled French expressions such as 'sanfairyann' and 'napoo' (ça ne fait rien, and il n'y a plus), and may have created 'plonk' (vin blanc). Arthur Tildesley sent to his parents a postcard with the news that he was 'tray bon', and you can almost sense the smile on his face as he wrote it.

languages fww img3

Across the hell of no-man's-land British and German soldiers were united in their disdain for margarine, one side calling it 'axelgrease' and the other side 'Wagonschmiere'. German soldiers could find themselves using a phrasebook that told them how to say in French both 'I am confiscating the money' (schè kongfisk larschang) and 'Waiter, bring me half a litre of wine' (garsong, donneh moa öng dèmih litr dè wäng). It all looks very like an English schoolboy's attempt to pronounce French but then many of the British soldiers fighting in France were not long out of school themselves.

The London day will be offering, besides a thorough examination of the linguistic experience of English-speaking soldiers, papers on the problems of censorship of letters home in Indian languages and Welsh, Italian war propaganda, the language of espionage, a German collection of sound-recordings of British prisoners-of-war, analysis of soldiers' letters and diaries and much more. The conference promises to reveal some exciting finds (some are being saved up for a 'conference trench journal', a conference magazine in homage to the publications created by soldiers). Conversations in progress and the pre-conference blog are bringing to light ideas and examples hidden away in provincial newspapers and soldiers' letters home.

The conference is open to all. Regular updates and information will be posted on the tumblr blog, which carries the full programme for both sites; and see also the twitter feed @LanguagesFWW. Tickets for the London day can be booked on the British Library website and for the Antwerp day via the link on the tumblr site.

Article and images contributed by Julian Walker



3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) General Interest Sun, 08 Jun 2014 00:00:00 +0000
The Battle of Rafa http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/other-war-theatres/3569-the-battle-of-rafa.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/other-war-theatres/3569-the-battle-of-rafa.html The battle at Rafa, (or more accurately "Action at Rafa") which took place on 9 January 1917, was a small affair that rarely receives any mention in accounts of the First World War. It was, however, a victory that ended the Sinai campaign of 1916.

During 1915 British and Commonwealth forces under General Sir Archibald Murray began pushing eastwards across the Sinai Peninsula from their defensive positions adjacent to the Suez Canal. Due to the desert climate, the advance was dependent on the construction of a water pipeline to support the troops. Reaching El Arish, mounted forces captured Turkish fortifications at Magdhaba on 23 December.

battle rafa jan 17

Image: 'Camel corps at Magdhaba.' The painting depicts mounted troops of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade with the Egyptian town of Magdhaba in the distance, 23 December 1916.

Keen to push on, Murray decided to attack the Turks at Rafa, on the Egyptian-Palestinian border. Murray assigned this task to the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division which was led by Major General H G Chauvel, accompanied by Brigadier General E.A. Wiggin's 5th Mounted Brigade and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade led by Brigadier General C.L. Smith, VC.

Order of Battle

The Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division included the 1st Australian Light Horse Brigade (comprising 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th Australian Light Horse) and 3rd Australian Light Horse Brigade (comprising 8th, 9th, 10th, and 11th Australian Light Horse) and the New Zealand Mounted Rifles Brigade (comprising the Auckland Mounted Rifles, Canterbury Mounted Rifles and Wellington Mounted Rifles). The 2nd Australian Light Horse Brigade was not engaged in the action.

The 5th Mounted Brigade comprised 1/1st Warwickshire Yeomanry; 1/1st Royal Gloucester Hussars; 1/1st Queen's Own Worcestershire Yeomanry.

The Imperial Camel Corps comprised two Australian battalions, one British battalion and a mixed Australian/New Zealand battalion.

The Action at Rafa

Just three miles south of Rafa the 2,000 strong Turkish force had constructed a defensive position at El Magruntein, on a rise known as Hill 255. Approaching Rafa on the morning of 9 January the Australian and New Zealand Mounted Division and the 5th Mounted Brigade, together with three battalions of the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade, isolated the garrison by cutting the telegraph lines to Gaza. The New Zealanders were sent to the south with instructions to attack the Turks from the east and north. Meanwhile the 5th Mounted Brigade moved in from the west. At 7am artillery opened fire on the Turkish redoubts.


Map: depicting the Battle of Rafa.

Advancing across open ground, the assault was held up as the Turks were able to maintain a high rate of fire; the British and Commonwealth forces began to run low on ammunition early in the afternoon.


Image: Part of the firing line at Rafa.

Aware of the approach of a Turkish relief force, plans were made to fall back to El Arish. As evening approached several units launched final efforts against the Turks. Charging from the north, three New Zealand regiments attacked the main redoubt on Hill 255, supported by the Imperial Camel Corps and the regiments of the Australian Light Horse. These attacks succeeded in overcoming the Turkish opposition who began surrendering.

Turkish losses

The Battle of Rafa cost the Turks about 200 killed, with possibly nearly as many again wounded and about 1,500 taken prisoner. Still concerned about the Turkish relief column, orders were given to begin falling back towards El Arish. The Turks became wary of leaving isolated garrisons on the Sinai frontier, which resulted in them abandoning their positions outside Gaza.

British and Commonwealth losses

Although most accounts suggest that the Allied losses were only around seventy, research undertaken for this article suggests the figure is in fact over one hundred. The Western Front Association is pleased to be able to honour these men for the first time in full on the 'Rafa Roll of Honour' available as a download below.

Although five of the men listed are detailed as belonging to the Cheshire Yeomanry, Pembrokeshire Yeomanry and Lanarkshire Yeomanry, these men were all members of the Imperial Camel Corps. The Imperial Camel Corps contained the 26/Machine Gun Squadron, which was made up of men from the 1/3rd Scottish Horse; one man from the Scottish Horse being killed at this time.

There is one error on the CWGC database: Private PG Holmes was not at the time a member 32nd Battalion AIF but was part of the Imperial Camel Corps. A useful searchable database exists here.

The most senior officer to be killed in this action was Major Henry Clifford of the Royal Gloucester Hussars. Further details of him are available here.

Amongst those killed were two brothers from New Zealand, Thomas and John Graham who died on 9 and 10 January respectively.

It has been impossible to say with certainty that the men from the Herefordshire Regiment and the British West Indies Regiment were killed during this attack. The balance of probability is that they were not. However, these men are named on the Roll of Honour.


The British War Cabinet postponed the invasion of Palestine until later in 1917 because of commitments on the Western Front. Notwithstanding this policy, the British commander in Egypt, General Murray, decided to make an early attempt to capture Gaza, to clear the way for the main invasion. This led to three Battles of Gaza in March and April of 1917.

The War Graves Photographic Project

It is not easy to visit the area, but using The War Graves Photographic Project the last resting places of men commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission can be seen. Links to these photographs are provided in the Rafa Roll of Honour below. Of note are the headstones of Harry Linford and Sidney Onions which show the Imperial Camel Corps badge.

CWGC Burials and Commemorations of those killed at Rafa

The majority of those killed during the Action at Rafa are buried at the Kantara War Memorial Cemetery. The missing from the New Zealand forces are commemorated on the Kantara Memorial (also at this site is the Kantara Indian Cemetery Memorial; however, this memorial does not relate to Battle of Rafa). Those men from the Australian and British forces with no known grave are commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial.

Within Kantara War Memorial Cemetery there are also 341 war graves of other nationalities, many of them from a Polish hospital that was here in the Second World War. These are concentrated in a distinct Polish extension. Click here for photographs of this Polish extension.

Selected further reading


Article courtesy David Tattersfield

Images courtesy Wikimedia


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Other Theatres of War Thu, 30 Jan 2014 18:11:21 +0000
The Suffolk Regiment at the Battle of Loos http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/battlefields/3132-the-suffolk-regiment-at-the-battle-of-loos.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/battlefields/3132-the-suffolk-regiment-at-the-battle-of-loos.html Ned 3The assault launched by British forces on the German army at Loos on 25 September 1915 was one of the great set-piece battles of the war - indeed the largest up to that point - but also one of the least successful. It is well-known that the decision to participate in a joint attack alongside French forces was taken at the insistence of General Joffre and thus to maintain the unity of the Allies. Joffre had far greater manpower and material at his command and believed firmly in the capacity of an offensive to remove the German occupiers from French soil.

Kitchener, Field-Marshall and a member of the Cabinet as Secretary of State for War, did not share this optimism and preferred to wait until the outcome of the Dardanelles campaign was clearer and the New Army battalions were trained up and capable of strengthening the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), whose Regular forces had been grievously reduced in the first months of the war. Moreover the British supply of equipment of all kinds, and notoriously of ammunition and artillery shells, was at this stage of the war not adequate in either volume or potency to support a major offensive. But Gallipoli and the weak position of Russia prompted a changed calculation and, in spite of his earlier misgivings, on the eve of the battle Kitchener instructed his army commanders in the field to "take the offensive and act vigorously".

1 Loos 1915

Map: Loos 1915 general map

Relations between the two principal commanders at Loos, Sir John French (Commander-in-Chief of the BEF) and Sir Douglas Haig (whose First Army held the front northwards from its border with France's Tenth Army opposite Lens to south of Ypres) were not good. French believed, correctly, that earlier failures had weakened his authority in London and certainly Haig had secured direct lines of communication with Kitchener and the monarchy. Nonetheless neither man welcomed the prospect of an offensive at Loos, in which the British role would be essentially to support the simultaneous Tenth Army attack in the Artois. Sir John feared that another tactical defeat would be fatal to his command of the BEF, as indeed it was, while Haig regarded the battle-ground over which his forces must make their assault as highly unfavourable, compared with sectors of the front north of the La Bassée canal. But Haig now pinned his hopes on surprising the enemy with the deployment of a new weapon, which Germany had first used against British troops the previous April: poison gas.

6 attack to 11.30 26 Sept

Map: Loos attack of 21st and 24th Divisions up to 11.30am, 26 September 1915

Militarily, if not morally, the use of gas at Loos on 25 September was contentious. The advantage of surprise only applies to the first use and at Loos it was wasted. Because the attack had to be coordinated with the French assault, it could not be delayed until the wind was strongly from the west and on 25 September the breeze was at best light and variable. Casualties due to gas were experienced by both sides, but crucially even where the German front line was affected, the gas did not penetrate far enough to disable the reserve line and artillery fire had little impact on German defensive wire. Where reports indicated that there had been some success, on the right of the British attack at Loos village and Hill 70 and more centrally in front of Hulluch, any possibility of a breakthrough depended on the prompt use of reserve divisions to press home the attack or at least to consolidate any gains. But to add to the predictable problems of poor communication between advancing troops and Army and divisional staffs and a tendency to prioritise good news where there was any to report, was the extraordinary fact that at dawn on the first day of the battle, the First Army had no reserves under its command to call up.

The General Reserve, XI Corps, comprised three divisions (Guards, 21st and 24th), three brigades to each division, and four battalions to each brigade. For whatever reason - perhaps fear of German counter-attack, or ambition to play a crucial role in a successful breakthrough - French did not release XI Corps to Haig's command until probably the early afternoon of the 25th (the exact time was disputed, and there was a time lapse between an order and its receipt). This error was compounded by French's decision to hold the lead divisions (21st and 24th) eleven to sixteen miles from the front line, so that it was not until mid-morning on the 26th after an exhausting and difficult night march from Lillers that these divisions were in position to move in support of the previous day's offensive.

What converted this mismanagement into a shocking waste of lives and opportunity were a series of extraordinary decisions taken in preceding days. The 21st and 24th were New Army divisions which, like the other formations composed of civilian volunteers, had not been expected to contribute to the fighting strength of the army until they had spent time in front-line trenches, acquiring the routines and habits which would transform them into hardened and battle-ready soldiers. Indeed, the first K1 divisions had been arriving in France since the end of May 1915 and were three months into the learning process. But the 21st and 24th (K3 divisions) were the rawest of the raw. They were not issued with their service rifles until July, arrived in France on the last day of August and were billeted a few miles from the coast until 20 September. But Sir John French, who in January had expressed the view that such inexperienced troops "might easily become a positive danger", now saw it as an advantage that they had not acquired the "sedentary habits of trench warfare". He evidently believed, and allowed the divisions to believe, that their role would be vigorous pursuit of German units in retreat, though if that possibility had ever existed, it did not survive beyond 9am on the 25th. But in any case it was bizarre preparation for the intended role of the New Army divisions, to require them to march the seventy miles over three nights from the Montreuil area to Lillers. After a rest day on 24th they then had an appallingly difficult march to the front line on the night of the 25th through the congestion and carnage of the battlefield.

How bad this final march was is confirmed in the autobiography of Harold Macmillan, future prime minister but then a junior officer in the Guards Division composed mostly of war-experienced troops, which was following the 21st and 24th divisions a day later. Added to the exhaustion, hunger and thirst was the first experience of shelling and machine-gun fire.

"I can still remember vividly this march from Vermelles to Loos. I must confess that for many months and even years I would dream of it ... What was distressing for our men was that the whole ground that we covered in our march was filled, or seemed to be filled, with the remnants of troops who had attacked in the earlier days of the battle ... [There] were the men of the 21st and 24th. Some were dead, some wounded, some broken and having lost all discipline or order. I have often wondered since why the decision was made to put in these divisions, who had never seen a shot fired and come straight from England, ahead of the Guards Division. It seemed a fatal error."

The 21st and 24th divisions whose remnants Macmillan and the Guards encountered had attacked the German second line on 26 September, the second day of the battle. Exhausted after their march, thirsty for lack of water, and hungry being separated from their 'cookers', they found that the gains of the previous day had already been lost and the defenders of the line were now strongly reinforced. Casualties (killed, wounded or captured) in the two divisions were heavy: over 8,000, or a third of their complement. The open area in front of the German reserve line between Hulluch to the north and Chalk Pit Wood and Bois Hugo to the south became known to the German army as the "field of corpses". Attacking troops who reached the line found that the defensive wire was untouched by British artillery fire and impregnable, and indeed after 2pm the German machine-gunners ceased firing, "nauseated by the sight of the massacre" according to a German regimental history. Astonishingly, but confirmed by the Official History of the Great War, German medical personnel came out to assist the wounded to return to the British lines.

It should be borne in mind that 24th Division, whose performance on the 26th was called into question, (though more in the immediate aftermath of the battle than on later reflection) entered the field with only half its strength. Of its three brigades, 73 Brigade had been reallocated to support 9th Division in front of the Hohenzollern Redoubt. The attack by 24th Division was led by 72 Brigade (8/Queen's, 8/Buffs, 9/East Surrey, 8/Royal West Kent), whose losses were particularly heavy and 71 Brigade, two of whose battalions (9/Norfolk, 8/Bedfordshire) had been detached to support 7th Division facing the Quarries. 71 Brigade thus consisted of just two battalions, 11/Essex and 9/Suffolk. (Whether or not the 24 battalions of the two divisions were casualties on the "field of corpses" itself, all were badly mauled wherever they fought on 26 September).

6 attack to 11.30 26 Sept

Map: Loos 13 October 1915, attack by 7/Suffolk at the Quarries

By September 1915 there were six battalions of the Suffolk Regiment on war service, either at Gallipoli (5th Territorial Force) or on the Western Front. Of the latter five, 1st and 2nd were Regular battalions, 4th was TF, and 7th 8th and 9th were Service (New Army) battalions. Three of these - 1st, 7th and 9th - were engaged in different phases of the battle of Loos, and in the ranks within each was one of three brothers; Arthur, George and Edmund Leonard (Ned) Goodchild. All three brothers were Kitchener volunteers who in August/September 1914 had left the family home at Grundisburgh near Woodbridge. Like their father Joe, all the sons were farm labourers who supplemented their meagre wages with what they could make from keeping pigs. The Goodchilds were a close and affectionate family and this was reflected in some 300 letters that they wrote to their mother Etta between enlistment and July 1916. She kept their letters, and they form the basis of a website (www.goodchilds.org) which reconstructs their experiences in training and on active service in the light of what they wrote, as well as of the general literature on the Great War. The full collection of letters is also available on the website in transcribed and searchable form.

Ned served in 9/Suffolk, 24th Division. He thus participated in the 'long march' from Alette (near Montreuil), which began on 20 September and culminated in the debacle of the attack on 26th. He had enlisted during the first ten days of September 1914 and arrived in France on the final day of August 1915 with the last New Army division to reach France before Loos. Ned survived Loos, but 71 Brigade was then transferred to 6th Division and moved to the Ypres sector. It was there, during the first German phosgene gas attack on 19 December 1915, that Ned was killed. 

Ned 3

Image: Ned Goodchild’s platoon, 9/Suffolk, February 1915.  Ned is standing in the back row, on the extreme right 

Ned's letters, like those of his brothers, were not written to give posterity a glimpse of what it was like to live and die in the trenches - indeed, a month before he was hit by a shell he wrote that "people in England who have never been out here will never realise what it's like, they can read papers till their eyes drop out, if they never experience it". His main aim was to reassure his parents and his young sister - my mother - that he was coping and they were not to worry, but he did admit that "We have all had very narrow escapes, and can think ourselves lucky we are still alive ... I wonder us three have got through as far as we have."

The next Goodchild brother to go into action at Loos was Arthur, the youngest of the three. His strange progression through four battalions of the Suffolk Regiment had much to do with his underage enlistment (16 years 10 months) and the fact that since childhood he was very deaf. He attested in Ipswich a few days after Ned but began his training at Shoreham alongside Ned in 9/Suffolk. His disciplinary record was not good, mainly, though not always, because he could not hear what was said to him. From December to March 1915 he (and Ned) were billeted in Brighton, refugees from the rain, mud and ill-constructed huts at Shoreham, and while there he met and fell in love with Dolly, who wrote to him faithfully at least until July 1916. In March 1915 he was transferred to 3/Suffolk, a Special Reserve battalion stationed at Felixstowe - close to home but a long way from Brighton - causing him and his relieved mother to believe that he was designated fit for home service only. But not so. At the end of July he arrived in France, a month ahead of Ned and his old battalion, in a draft intended for 1/Suffolk.

Arthur 2

Image: Arthur Goodchild (left), Sutton Smith (neighbour from Grundisburgh, killed March 1917), Ned Goodchild (right)

This battalion was one of two Regular battalions in the pre-war Regiment. At the outbreak of war in August 1914, 2/Suffolk was stationed in Ireland at the Curragh; before the end of the month as part of the BEF it had held up the advance of the German army, sustaining very heavy losses at Le Cateau. Almost a quarter of all 1914-18 deaths in the Suffolk Regiment were in the 2nd battalion. 1/Suffolk, by contrast, was in Khartoum when war was declared and did not arrive in France until mid-January 1915. In April-May it was heavily engaged in the second battle of Ypres and approximately two-thirds of all 1/Suffolk deaths during the war were sustained in those two months.

Doubtless Arthur's draft was to plug the gap left by those losses but on arrival at Rouen on 28 July he was sent to 4/Suffolk (TF) (according to its postal address an Entrenching Battalion) and spent the next six weeks digging trenches and felling trees for timber to reinforce the trenches, probably in the area of Neuve Chapelle, north of La Bassée. But on about 22 September he finally joined 1/Suffolk and almost immediately the battalion was sent to the Loos sector, reaching Sailly-Labourse on the 28th. Four days later they moved into support trenches opposite the 'Little Willie' trench at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, which the battalion as part of 84 Brigade was ordered to attack on 2-3 October. The attack failed, according to the regimental historian, in somewhat farcical circumstances but the close fighting was intense and the battalion sustained about 160 casualties in this brief visit to the front line.

On his own reckoning Arthur's involvement at Loos lasted a week, a terrifying experience but one which was not to be repeated. On 7 October 1/Suffolk was 20 miles from the front line and by the end of the month with the rest of 28 Division was in Egypt en route to Salonika, in northern Greece. Arthur remained there, bored but not endangered, until invalided home for surgery on his ear in mid-1916. The surgery failed and Arthur was discharged from the army as unfit for further service.

The third Goodchild brother to see action at Loos was George, whose 7/Suffolk battalion (K1) arrived in France with the rest of 35 Brigade, 12th Division on the last day of May 1915, exactly three months before Ned. After many weeks of rotating with 9/Essex in front-line trenches at Ploegsteert the battalion was redeployed to Loos on 30 September (and remained in this sector until the end of April 1916). The first task of 7/Suffolk was to relieve 1/Coldstream Guards at Chalk Pit and to complete the extended trench system begun by the Guards, under heavy fire. "We suffered fearful losses and I shall never forget the sights I saw." The commanding officers of both 1/Coldstream Guards and 35 Brigade were killed in this perilous location. The battalion was relieved on 3 October by 1/Gloucestershire, and was reintroduced into the line on 12 October in front of the Quarries, where it relieved the 1st Guards Brigade. The following day all four divisions of 35 Brigade attacked the Quarries with partial success, but at great cost, 1/Suffolk losing 160 killed and wounded (George believed the number to have been 400).

George 2

Image: George Goodchild, with Kitchener, George V, and French

A week after the attack the battalion came out of the front line, but on 25 October they returned. "[We] had only ten officers and there weren't above two hundred of us. If Kitchener had seen us and he knew we were the 7 Suffolks, I will swear he would have wept at the sight of us." But there was now only sporadic fighting at Loos, and the battle was formally declared over on 4 November. Ironically, on that day George was working in the Hohenzollern Redoubt repairing a parapet when he received a leg wound. "When I got hit there were four of us standing close to each other, talking and smoking, Ford and Palmer they were on my left and they both got killed by the same bomb [grenade] that hit me, the other fellow was on my right and he escaped." Invalided home, George was treated at Graylingwell Military Hospital near Chichester. But after he was discharged in February 1916 he successfully resisted pressure to be returned to the trenches, and completed his war service in Britain and Ireland.

Letters from their mother at home kept each brother informed about the welfare of the others and rumour - not always accurate of course - let them know about the activities of the other Suffolk battalions. But the brothers did not see each other at Loos. After the 26 September attack and retirement, Ned's 9th Battalion was withdrawn from the front line. Arthur, heading towards the front, wrote on 29 September: "We went within half a mile of the 9th batt, and I saw my Capt who was over me there. I wish I had seen Ned, I hope he is alright." The next day Ned expressed the same disappointment: "I have seen the First Suffolks, but am sorry to say I never saw Arthur." George was at Chalk Pit from 30 September to 3 October ("I have been wondering how Ned got on, his lot were cut up [on the 26th] next to us on our left"), and went back in on 12 October opposite the Quarries. Arthur's brief involvement, also near the Quarries, came during 2-7 October. Before the end of December George was in hospital in England, Arthur was in Salonika, and Ned had been killed at St Jean.


Article and images contributed by Henry Finch


3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Battlefields Thu, 30 Jan 2014 00:00:00 +0000
‘A Holocaust of Flame and Death’ The Explosions at Achicourt - 8 April 1917 by Colin Taylor http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3560-a-holocaust-of-flame-and-death-the-explosions-at-achicourt-8-april-1917-by-colin-taylor.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3560-a-holocaust-of-flame-and-death-the-explosions-at-achicourt-8-april-1917-by-colin-taylor.html The-Memorial-Plaque-to-56-London-Division-arrasIntroduction

The Great War was a conflict on an industrial scale with ammunition, from small arms up to heavy artillery, being expended at a considerable rate on a daily basis. This did not come without considerable hazards in terms of transport and storage of this ordnance. During large offensives massive quantities of artillery ammunition had to be stockpiled near the artillery batteries that would fire it but also stored nearby to allow for expended ammunition to be replaced. Obviously significant dumps of ammunition were very vulnerable to both enemy action and accidents. Sadly, all too often, the worst happened which led to disastrous results.

[this is the featured article from edition 99 of Stand To!, the WFA's acclaimed journal]

'... as busy a spot as ... anywhere on the Western Front.'

As a result of the Battle of Arras (which commenced on 9 April 1917) the village of Achicourt, a suburb of Arras, became a major logistics hub for storage and distribution of artillery ammunition. This was due to its proximity to the many artillery batteries bombarding the German defences. These batteries would support the attacks by VII Corps (Third Army) on the Hindenburg Line from the junction with the established German front line to near Croisilles. Achicourt itself was about 5km from Neuville–Vitasse and 2km from Beaurains and was therefore considered to be of sufficient depth behind the lines to be relatively safe from artillery observation and accurate bombardment. In early April 1917 the five–day bombardment of the Hindenburg Line (Siegfried Stellung) was underway prior to the infantry assault. An officer of the 1/13 Battalion London Regiment (The Kensingtons) in the forward trenches recalled:
'On this Easter Sunday [8 April 1917], we were invited, as infantry officers, to a front trench view of the artillery barrage prepared for the following day. It was no private view from either side, as may well be imagined, as it extended across our front as far as we could see from our position. There was a complete line of shell bursts in colours varying from white to cream, all shades of brown, up to and including black. Shades of pink where a building was hit. This line of shell bursts was complete and continuous all along the ground, and in the air above it, and the accompanying noise was actually deafening.'(1)

webmanager@westernfrontassociation.com (Web Editor) Britain and Allies Fri, 24 Jan 2014 16:27:37 +0000
Major General Arthur Solly Flood http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/the-generals/3486-major-general-arthur-solly-flood.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/the-generals/3486-major-general-arthur-solly-flood.html Solly Flood 1925The first publication of the South Lancashire Regimental Chronicle (SLRC) in July 1925 contains a photograph and short summary about their Colonel who performed in number of significant roles during the Great War.

Major General A Solly Flood was appointed to the South Lancashire Regiment in 1891, becoming Adjutant of the 1st Battalion in 1895. On promotion to Major he was transferred to the 4th Dragoon Guards being promoted Lieut. Colonel in November, 1914. He became Brevet Colonel in January, 1917, and was promoted to his present rank in June, 1919, having served as (Temp) Major General for two years during the war.

He saw service in South Africa during the war of 1899-1902 and for distinguished service in that campaign was awarded the DSO.

The opening months of the Great War saw him in command of his Squadron of the 4th Dragoon Guards in France, and later in the year he commanded that Regiment until promoted Brigade Commander of the 35th Infantry Brigade, early in 1915. In 1917, after nine months as Brigadier General on the General Staff at General Headquarters, British Armies in France, he was given command of the 42nd Infantry Division, which command he retained until March 1919, when he took over command of the 3rd Brigade, Lancashire Division, British Armies of the Rhine.

He was wounded in France, was mentioned in Despatches seven times, awarded Brevets of Lt Colonel and Colonel, and was decorated with both the CB and CMG for distinguished service. In addition he was awarded the following foreign orders: The Belgian Order of the Crown, the Belgian War Cross, and the French War Cross.

At present he is Divisional Commander of the 42nd (The East Lancashire) Division T.A., his old division.

He became Colonel of the Regiment on May 1st, 1921, in succession to Major General S. H. Sartorius, V.C., C.B. (since deceased).

In 1927 he was appointed Deputy Adjutant-General, Army Headquarters, India and from 1927 to 1931 (when he retired) was Major General of cavalry in India and Commandant of the School of Equitation.

He was born 28 January 1871 (son of Maj-Gen Sir F R Solly Flood) and he died on 14 November 1940.

It was an article in the WFA's eNews in July which sparked my interest in him and resulted in this item (initially published in the WFA Lancashire North's Despatch). The article was entitled "Haig and the Implementation of Tactical Doctrine on the Western Front" by Dr Christopher Pugsley of the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst. In it Pugsley describes how Haig assessed the calibre of commanders at every level, was central to tactical doctrine and how Haig's GHQ took a leading role in the dissemination of information. This was given special impetus with the appointment of Brigadier General Arthur Solly Flood to command the new Training Directorate of GHQ on 30 January 1917.

On reading the article I recalled from my digitisation of the Regimental journals at the Lancashire Infantry Museum in Preston the many references to Solly Flood in the SLRCs. A Google search revealed that Alistair Geddes had given a presentation in 2009 to the Yorkshire branch of the WFA about him and the presentation had been usefully summarised by Peter Palmer and posted on the WFA's website.

From Palmer's summary I learned that in late 1916 he was appointed acting Commander of Third Army School and went, along with a party of British officers, to investigate French methods at their Fourth Army training school at Chalons in November 1916. On his return he worked with the French approach to develop SS143, 'Instructions for the Training of Platoons for Offensive Action', the most important tactical manual for the BEF of the whole war. On 30 January 1917 Haig appointed Solly-Flood to command the new Training Directorate at GHQ. In addition to codifying the BEF's tactical doctrine, Solly-Flood unified the training which had been carried out by the separate army schools, abolished the divisional training schools and put the newly emerging Corps schools on a sound footing.

According to Geddes (and Palmer) when Solly Flood moved to command 42nd Division in October 1917 his "contribution to training was consigned to a dusty corner; his name was forgotten and he was lost in the shadow of Ivor Maxse. The contrary should be the case: he should be remembered as the man who preceded Maxse in authorising SS143, unifying the BEF's schools system and promulgating good practice with the excellent training manuals he was responsible for.

For convenience of readers copies of the articles by Dr Christopher Pugsley and Peter Palmer have been placed as links above. In both articles Arthur Solly Flood is wrongly indicated to have been created a Knight*.

Article and image contributed by Terry Dean, WFA North Lancashire "Despatch" Editor.


* For which fault only the Editor can be considered culpable, not the contributors. In mitigation, we have all been confused by Major-General Sir Frederick Richard Solly-Flood KCB (1829 – 1909), a British Army officer who became Commandant of the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.


webmanager@westernfrontassociation.com (Web Editor) The Generals Sun, 22 Dec 2013 14:06:19 +0000
November 1917: The Battle of Cambrai - why did it succeed and what went wrong? http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/battles-of-the-month/2977-november-1917-battle-of-cambrai-why-did-it-succeed-and-what-went-wrong.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/battles-of-the-month/2977-november-1917-battle-of-cambrai-why-did-it-succeed-and-what-went-wrong.html Bundesarchiv Bild 146-1984-059-02A Westfront englisches Panzerwrack

 Image: a destroyed British tank with, possibly, one of its former occupants dead in front.

The Battle of Cambrai in November 1917 turned out, for both Britain and Germany, to be a major signpost showing how to break the trench deadlock of the previous three years. The lessons of the operational successes and failures would be digested by both sides over the forthcoming winter. For the British, especially, the battle failed to live up to the initial expectations but lessons were learned by both sides. Although the Germans would apply what they had learned first, it was to be the British who were to be the more successful at putting the new developments into practice.]]> 3135lish@gmail.com (Editor) Battles of the Month Tue, 19 Nov 2013 00:00:00 +0000 Unknown Soldiers – a 1918 Draft http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3331-unknown-soldiers-a-1918-draft.html http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/3331-unknown-soldiers-a-1918-draft.html typical-KOYLI-recruit-late-1917Introduction

By late 1916 the British Army in France and Flanders was made up of four distinct types of soldier – described by the late Professor Richard Holmes as 'the old, new, borrowed and blue'; the 'old', professional pre–war Regulars; the 'New Army' men of Kitchener volunteers; the Territorial Force (TF) men 'borrowed' from home defence duties and, finally, those 'blue' soldiers conscripted under the various Military Service Acts.

In all, some 4,970,902 men enlisted into these widely diverse elements of the British Army between August 1914 and November 1918 and, of these, 2,504,183 were enlisted after the introduction of compulsory service in January 1916 – a number greater than all other types of soldier combined so that by 1918, the bayonet strength of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) on the Western Front was dominated by teenage conscripts as it launched the final offensives of the last 100 days. [1]

Despite their overwhelming numbers, the men of this conscript army have been at best ignored and at worst deliberately snubbed in the historiography of a war widely presented as being fought as a patriotic endeavour to defend the nation and empire.

Against this backdrop of the war as a patriotic duty, the issue of the 1914/15 Star medal to men serving in operational theatres before the implementation of the first Military Service Act, served as a clear distinction between those regarded as willing volunteers, giving their lives for their homeland and the coerced conscripts forced against their will to do their duty, a distinction with far reaching consequences for the study of those who served. Put simply, the existence of the need for conscription did not fit with the public perception of the war to the extent that when, in 1964, researchers for the BBC's landmark Great War documentary series began interviewing veterans, contributions were only sought from holders of the 1914/15 Star. [2]

Memoirs written by conscript veterans are remarkably rare with a literature search showing just one study of conscription between 1916 and 1918 and, by way of comparison to illustrate the low priority afforded the group, that 242 page book stands alongside a 176 page biography of the war experiences of General Seely's horse and a 352 page study of pets in the trenches.

Negative stereotype

The result of this lack of general interest in the late war army is a skewed and incomplete understanding of the BEF in the Great War and, in particular, a poor understanding of the factors affecting combat motivation and performance in 1917–18. Despite the negative stereotype of the conscript as one reluctant to serve and thus poorly motivated to fight aggressively, the men enlisted into the army in this period were not, in the main, those for whom volunteering in 1914–15 had been an option but rather teenagers, who started the war as children and had come of age after three years on the home front. They were not the naive volunteers of 1914–15, rushing to the colours fearing the war would be over by Christmas but men who knew about the trenches, the gas, the shelling. They were certainly aware of the casualties because they had seen the names of male family members and friends listed in the local papers week after week for several years.

From the oral and social histories available, the impression is quickly gained of the conscript as one helplessly adrift in a sea of khaki bureaucracy without any sense of belonging to the regimental family that had sustained generations of soldiers before him. F A J Taylor, a widely-quoted late-war recruit, for example, complained later that:

'We were regrouped and parted with our insignia identifying us with the 19th City of London Regiment or St. Pancras Rifles for ever. Our cap badges, shoulder names, fancy buttons we all discarded to be replaced by insignia linking us now to the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. As I had never developed any particular loyalty for the London Regiment, into which I had been unceremoniously thrust a few months previously, and no–one had taken time or trouble to tell us anything about the traditions or battle honours of the regiment it was not difficult to transfer to a new regiment equally unknown'. [3]

Captain J C Dunn of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers reported:

'A rumour, which time proved to be true, was dismissed as a silly joke. Some hairy–eared theorist, in whom the new War Lord trusted, had told him that the way to win was to destroy the Regiment, the immemorial foundation of armies, and nationalise the army.' [4]

Anecdotal material like this suggests that by 1918 the very foundations of the British Army's unit cohesion and combat effectiveness had been deliberately undermined and had reached a state of virtual collapse. So how accurate is this impression of the 1918 army?

Typical draft

On 3 June 1918, 136 men newly arrived from training in the UK paraded at the 'F' Infantry Base Depot at Étaples for assignment to their new unit. Half would be assigned to the 5th Battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (5/KOYLI), the second group to the same regiment's 2/4 Battalion, both forming part of 187 Infantry Brigade of the 62nd (West Riding) Division, a second line TF formation which had arrived in France in January 1917 and which had recently been hard hit during the German March offensive. Forming a typical draft of reinforcements, closer study of this group challenges much of the received wisdom, prevalent today, about the late war army .

The loss of many thousands of military service records as the result of bombing in 1940 means that only sixteen sets of War Office documentation for members of the group have survived but by using Volume 54 of 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' (SDGW), Absent Voter Lists, Census information and local newspaper reports, it has been possible to positively identify 122 members of the draft and to find likely but unprovable matches for a further ten. As might be expected, Private Harry Smith has so far eluded any clear identification and variations in the spelling of Laurence or Lawrence Wright has also prevented confirmation of the most likely candidate. Vagaries in the transcription of the surviving records further complicated matters with KOYLI being interpreted by geographically challenged transcribers as the 'Kent Ordnance Yorkshire Light Infantry' or even the 'Royal Canadian Yorkshire Light Infantry'! Consequently, other documents may be extant but lost in the database. However, a detailed picture has been created of the individuals making up a typical draft of late war reinforcements. So what can a study of the draft tell us?


In any discussion of enlistment during the Great War the emotive topic of underage soldiers is inevitably raised. Figures between 250,000 – 360,000 underage soldiers have been widely circulated but the number raises the question of how to interpret 'underage' in this context.[5] Sources agree that military law prohibited the overseas deployment of men under the age of 19 until the manpower crisis created by the 1918 German offensives forced a temporary reduction to 18½ years but confusion arises in determining at what point a recruit might be viewed as underage. Enrolment into the TF began at 17 and into the Regular Army at 18 but in both cases with the expectation that no man would proceed overseas until he was fully trained and 19 years of age.

Famously, many thousands of young men flocked to join the military in the early days of the war, many still children who lied about their age to recruiters struggling to cope with the tide of paperwork. Under military law, giving a false statement as to age could result in criminal action including a severe fine but, in a time when literacy was relatively poor and documentation scarce, one expert explained,

'It is recommended that as a rule a man should not be tried for making a false answer as to age, as it is considered that his age is not a fact within his own knowledge, and therefore it could not be proved that the answer was willfully false.' [6]

Indeed, the medical inspection report on enlistment referred only to 'apparent age' rather than actual age for the simple reason that many recruits were unable to provide evidence of their birthdate. In other words, many may have been underage without knowing it, their status becoming apparent only in later years. By 1917, the military had had time to develop a more streamlined system for processing potential recruits, which included the completion of a national registration programme in 1915. As a result, the study of the draft shows the degree to which age entry had become controlled.

Of the 122 positively identified members of the draft, it has been possible to establish exact dates of birth for sixty–six individuals and the quarter in which the births of another fifty–six were registered. The oldest member appears to have been born on 24 August 1897 but otherwise all the identified members of the draft were born in 1899, with the youngest being a date of 1 November. In all, some thirty–eight have birthdates in September, another twenty–six in October with a further thirty four births registered in the October–December quarter. In the group of sixty four men born in September – October, thirty two have birthdates between 27 September and 3 October with 28 and 29 September providing no fewer than seven birthdates each. Another six individuals can be traced to July and August 1899. Bet–El (2003) shows that call up took place at the age of 18 years and one month, a fact supported by the available records for this draft. Consequently the vast majority of the draft (104 of the 122 identified) arrived in France under the previously imposed minimum limit of 19 years of age but having reached the age of 18½ and completed at least six months of training. Whilst reports of poorly–trained conscripts are common, it follows that from 1917 onwards the majority of reinforcements had completed a minimum of six to eleven months of training before deployment.

A further complication to the definition of underage comes from the use of the military term 'immature'. Whilst widely used to denote one who was underage, it could also be used in a different context to refer to one who was of age but physically underdeveloped. Two members of the draft, after being given new regimental numbers and assignments, were rejected for frontline service and sent instead to No. 5 Convalescent Camp at Cayeux where a dedicated holding facility had been set up to manage 'immatures' of all types.


It has been noted above that only sixteen sets of records have so far been found relating to the draft. However, in fact, seventeen records have been found but two relate to the same man. Private John Warwick first attempted to enlist illegally shortly after his 16th birthday in September 1915. Discharged when his true age became known, he tried again at a different depot in January 1916 with the same result. At least seven members of the draft have records that show they completed enlistment in the period 1915–16 but were discharged a short time later when their true age became known. How many of the recorded enlistments in 1914–15 relate to such experiences will never be established.

Pic 02

 Recruits at No 5 Convalescent Camp, Cayeux, July 1918. Recruits Tom Hall and Joseph McNulty were at the camp at this time

Contrary to widespread belief, voluntary enlistment did not stop after 1916 and the authors of the few available conscription period memoirs are at pains to explain that they volunteered before receiving their call up papers. Frederick Hodges, for example, recalled that he and his friend volunteered at the age of 17 years 8 months in the hope of obtaining commissions. Likewise, R H Kiernan's description of volunteering for the same reason and F A J Taylor's application to become an officer cadet in the Royal Flying Corps. [7]

Whatever the reason, in addition to those who enlisted illegally, another ten members of the draft show enlistment dates before their 18th birthdays. Typical is Private Norman Bundy, who enlisted on 4 February 1917 and turned 18 on 23 March. Private Albert Gillman shows an enlistment date of 13 September 1916 but a birthdate in the April-June quarter of 1899, hence joining shortly after his 17th birthday, presumably into a TF unit. The others show a similar pattern of enlistment shortly before becoming eligible for call up. The evidence, then, shows that a significant number (at least seventeen) of the draft not only chose not to resist conscription but to pre–empt it, suggesting that despite the mounting casualties, motivation to serve remained strong amongst a significant portion of the population.


With reference to the 1901 and 1911 Censuses, it is possible to build up a picture of the civilian status of the draft. They were, as one might perhaps expect, overwhelmingly working class. In all, the occupations of the fathers of 107 men were recorded of whom only one is listed as having a managerial role in an ironworks, one an insurance agent, two as commercial travellers, one as a Church Officer (Registrar) and one a Trades Union official. Amongst the draft itself, the pre–military occupations of forty men have been noted. Of these one is recorded as a clerk and one (the Trade Union official's son) as a Technical College student.


The area of origin of the members of the draft was identified from Census details and birth registries and showed that the majority (99 of 122) were associated with the West Riding of Yorkshire and, more specifically, an area bounded by the towns of Keighley, Bradford, Leeds, Halifax and Huddersfield – a roughly triangular area measuring 15 miles on each side.

Small contingents of fewer than six each were drawn from Sheffield, Durham/Middlesbrough and North Nottinghamshire. Only five individuals showed no connection with any of these areas. In all, 104 (85 per cent) of the known individuals show addresses within a 25 mile radius of the KOYLI depot at Pontefract and less than 20 miles from the 4 /KOYLI headquarters at Wakefield.

Pte F Sutcliffe Hebden Bridge

 Private Fred Sutcliffe

The home addresses of the West Riding group were located from sources such as Absent Voter Lists, the Commonwealth War Graves database and contemporary local newspapers and plotted using a 1930s A–Z atlas of the county to explore what, if any, kinship patterns might emerge. It was noted, for example, that SDGW showed Privates 62578 Fred Sutcliffe and 62579 Clement Smith had both been killed serving with 2/4 KOYLI. It further showed that they had previously served in the 8 /Training Reserve Battalion as 93712 and 93714 respectively. The close similarity in army numbers can easily be dismissed as coincidence but plotting their home addresses shows that they were also near neighbours.

Pte C Smith

 Private Clement Smith

This again may be coincidence, although seeming increasingly unlikely as further examples emerged, such as that showing George Spencer to have a home address of 629, New Hey Road, Huddersfield whilst Irvin Darlington's family were three doors away at number 635. A third man, Private Crosland lived at number 257 and yet another, Joseph Hainsworth at number 165.

Map 1

 The West Riding of Yorkshire and the recruitment area for the draft

Private Ben Crawshaw was traced to 207, West Lane, Keighley – where his family's tenancy overlapped with that of the Meeking family at 229, whose son John would join Ben as part of the draft. John Meeking's older brother, Harry, had been killed serving with the Canadian army in 1915 but in 1913 had been a member of the local TF company of the 6 /Duke of Wellington's Regiment (6/DWR), where he served alongside Ben's older brother. Also joining the draft was Harold Wiseman whose home was just a few minutes walk away. Harold's brother James was also a prewar member of the 6/DWR, had also served with Meeking and Crawshaw before the war and was still serving with Ben's brother. Another Keighley man, Ernest Carter, also lived nearby and is found to have had a similar Training Reserve number and birthdate, as did Wilfred Berry, thus placing five members of the draft within an area of less than a quarter of a square mile, three of whom can be confirmed as joining the 8 /Training Reserve Battalion at the same time.

Map 2 V2

 Homes of Privates Sutcliffe and Smith

Repeating the exercise with other men showed that some close geographical link with another member of the draft was commonplace and it appears highly likely that social connections through school, work, youth organisation or family could be established between individuals.

The available evidence shows that on reporting for duty a recruit would be offered at least some measure of choice in his assignment. Describing his call up in June 1917, F E Noakes recalled that his companion asked for, and was given, a posting to the Army Service Corps whilst he himself was invited to join the Guards. [8] The evidence gathered from the progress of the members of the draft from enlistment to training and deployment therefore shows that friends or even groups of friends could potentially remain together during enlistment and throughout their service. Captain Dunn of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers even describes the bartering of drafts of men between divisions so that local men reached the most appropriate unit, suggesting at least some measure of sympathy in ensuring men served alongside people with whom they felt some connection. [9]


A total of thirty–seven men are known to have entered service through the 8th Training Reserve (TR) Battalion of 2nd Training Reserve Brigade at Brocton Camp in Staffordshire, all showing regimental numbers in the range 5/93631 to 5/93833. Using these numbers, a further seven recruits discharged during training were located along with other recruits who would form part of later drafts to the frontline KOYLI.

Pic 04

 Brocton Camp, Staffordshire. Home to the 8th Training Reserve Battalion

Listing the numbers sequentially and matching them to the few available records showed different intakes arriving at ten day intervals from 2 to 22 November 1917 inclusive. From here recruits graduated to the 51st Battalion of the KOYLI and/or the 52nd or 53rd Young Soldier battalion, also of the KOYLI between February and March of 1918. Here they underwent specialist training for roles within the platoon – as Lewis gunners, scouts, bombers and so on. Embarkation took place after a period of leave with the draft arriving in France on 2 June 1918. From Boulogne they marched to Étaples and were placed at the 'F' Infantry Base Depot for processing and in–theatre training before joining the battalions in the field on 15 June.


The draft was assigned to the 2/4 and 5/KOYLI on 15 June 1918 and therefore served 149 days on active service before the Armistice. During that period it suffered thirty four fatalities, averaging one every 4.4 days. Wounded rates were determined from the award of the Silver War Badge and/or reports in the local papers of an individual's injuries. Less serious injuries or illness, following which a man might be medically downgraded to another unit, are indicated by moves recorded on the Medal Index Card.

In all, seventeen men were awarded the Silver War Badge whilst a further nine were reported wounded. Another seventeen are recorded as having been transferred to other units. Consequently, at least 77 of the 136 men became casualties at some point during their service.

Regiment and identity

With its subtle distinctions of dress, rank and traditions, the British Army's regimental system has frequently been described as 'tribal', yet, oddly, virtually no attempt has been made to study it as such. War is undeniably a social activity, in which soldiers join a closed society that completely dictates their existence, creating a distinct subculture of the society from which the army is drawn. Key to membership of the subculture, though, is a personal sense of being part of it – the "esprit de corps" for which the British regimental system has become famous.

The experience of F A J Taylor quoted above, in suddenly finding himself transferred from one regiment to another, echoes other examples of the phenomenon but raises the question of whether this represented the norm for late–war recruits or was a short–term crisis management measure to deal with pressures at the front. His description of himself as never having developed any loyalty to the London Regiment also begs the question as to whether his comments reflected a majority view, or simply his own lack of engagement. Taylor had, after all, volunteered for an officer cadetship in the Royal Flying Corps specifically to avoid being conscripted into infantry service but had been rejected as unfit for flying duties. The fact that he did not wish to serve in any infantry battalion must have had some bearing on his attitude towards both of the units with which he later served. We cannot know how many of the draft presently under study made the KOYLI their first choice of regiment but we can track the progress of significant numbers of them through training with the 8/TR battalion in November/December 1917.

At the start of the war, the British Army relied on its existing system of recruitment and training through regimental depots. Geared towards the needs of the small pre–war army, these depots rapidly became overwhelmed by the sheer numbers involved. The system struggled on but the introduction of conscription brought new challenges and, in September 1916, a more centralised TR was created. Initially this focused simply on creating a pool of trained infantrymen without specific regimental affiliations to replace the losses of that summer but by the spring of 1917, the regimental system began to reassert itself. The 8/TR Battalion, to which so many of the draft were sent for basic training, had previously been designated the 11th (Reserve) Battalion of the KOYLI and by the time the recruits arrived in November, the KOYLI link was firmly re–established with newly commissioned Lieutenant Gilbert Hall being 'posted to a training battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry' [10], having been gazetted into the regiment from officer training.

It is difficult to imagine that, having (potentially) consciously chosen the regiment and served in it for around eight months, those men arriving via this route would not have identified themselves as KOYLI. However, the group also includes a number of men from other areas. The contingent from the north–east might have been destined for the Durham Light Infantry, whilst those from Sheffield may have been intended for the York and Lancaster (which shared its regimental depot at Pontefract with the KOYLI). The group from North Nottinghamshire could perhaps have been earmarked for the Notts & Derbys Regiment. All three regiments were also represented within the same Training Reserve Brigade as the KOYLI and it may be that these were the waifs and strays of earlier drafts to parent regiments.

Evidence for this last comes from the presence of five individuals from Manchester, Oldham, Tamworth, Wolverhampton and Bridlington. Again, all are areas represented at Brocton Camp in late 1917. Of particular interest is the note in SDGW that Lance Corporal William Fay of Manchester was 'formerly 48400 Lancashire Fusiliers'. Like the majority of his comrades, Fay was born in October to December 1899 and his medal index card shows no previous service. Similarly, John Davis of Sheffield is listed as formerly of the West Riding Regiment and it is interesting to speculate on whether these are examples of men from outside the main group, maintaining their sense of regimental identity after transfer.

In the popular imagination, the narrative of the Great War has become inextricably entwined with the story of the New Army 'Pals' battalions, based on a strong regional or occupational identity. In a great many histories of the army of 1914–18 the introduction of conscription is seen as eroding the presumed link between regional and regimental identity, frequently implying that this brought with it a deterioration in the quality of the units affected. Evidence for this corrosion of the regiment comes from historian Charles Carrington, who served for a period in early 1918 as an instructor at a Training Reserve unit in the UK, and recalled; 'By these days the regimental system had quite broken down. [Recruits] came from any part of England and might be sent to any regiment'.[11]

So entrenched is this view today that, taking just one example, when writing of General Bernard Montgomery's career, Peter Caddick–Adams comments on the Regular battalions of 19th Brigade and writes that '[i]nto all these battalions trickled conscripts, who might have come from anywhere; certainly the Cameronians were obliged to welcome Cockneys from London's East End and the 2nd/Royal Welsh were compelled to take conscripts from Edinburgh or Glasgow'. [12]

Pic 05

 Postcard showing a typical draft receiving news of their deployment

Dr. Caddick–Adams' passing comment clearly assumes that neither unit welcomed the arrival of these outsiders and typifies the belief that conscription was a negative experience for all concerned but as such it merits closer inspection. The two units to which he refers were Regular battalions which arrived in France in 1914. The 1/Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) suffered some sixty five fatalities in the period August to December 1914. According to SDGW, sixteen of these men - although perhaps not technically 'Cockneys' - were born in London, whilst at the same time, only fourteen appear to have been born in Scotland. Repeating the exercise in September 1918, the battalion shows seventy four casualties, for whom sixty eight birthplaces are recorded, with London accounting for one man, England for a further eleven, with two Irishmen and one New Zealander – a total of fifteen non–Scottish soldiers. In other words, taking the SDGW record as a snapshot of the battalion, the proportion of Scots serving in the Scottish Rifles rose from 21.5 per cent in 1914 to 88 per cent after the introduction of conscription.

Likewise the other battalion mentioned, the 2/Royal Welsh Fusiliers underwent a similar transformation with its medical officer, Captain J C Dunn, later reporting:

'The battalion which arrived in France was largely English, the 'Birmingham Fusiliers', as it was chaffingly called, with a sprinkling of Irishmen for good measure (of those killed in 1914–15 there are about two English for one Welshman). By the beginning of this summer [1918] it had become about 85 per cent Welsh and there were fewer Irish. Three officers and two or three men, in my time, were Scots.' [13]

In fact, SDGW shows four results for Glasgow, one of whom was a Welshman who had enlisted in the Highland Light Infantry in the city. The pattern is repeated elsewhere with David French [14] reporting that in the pre–war Regular Army, those soldiers actually originating in the county associated with a particular regiment were likely to be the minority. So, far from diluting the Regular Army's regional flavor, conscription appears to have potentially significantly increased it, at least in terms of new drafts from the UK.

Whatever the situation in the Regulars, the New Army is perhaps best remembered for its strongly localised 'Pals' battalions. Taking that most iconic of all those battalions, the losses of the 11/East Lancashire (Accrington Pals) in July 1916 again show a reality very different to the mythology. SDGW shows 244 fatalities throughout July 1916, including the infamous experience of the first day of the Somme. Of these, 237 birth locations are listed showing that forty three of the Accrington Pals were born in the town or, conversely, that 194 (81.9 per cent) were not. Indeed, twenty four (10.1 per cent) were Yorkshiremen – not exactly enjoying a county association with Lancashire!

Of all the units sent to France, those of the TF were, by their nature, perhaps the most 'local' of all, due primarily to the practicalities of part–time soldiering, which required the men to live within an easy commute of their company headquarters. Certainly a search of SDGW for TF battalions in the early war shows losses concentrated into very small geographical areas as a result. Space here does not allow for an examination of the various types of units within the British Army and the effect of the war on establishing or eroding local identity. However, the evidence clearly points towards the need to reconsider some widely and sometimes deeply–held assumptions about the relationship between region and regiment both in 1914 and again in the latter stages of the war.

Cohesion and motivation

Central to the effectiveness of any army is the ability to create and maintain cohesion in the face of enemy action. At its simplest, cohesion refers to a sense of united purpose and is usually described on two axes – vertical and horizontal. The first of these can perhaps most easily be defined as having identified a common goal and accepting the need to work together towards it. Alongside this, 'horizontal' cohesion bonds people to others like them, into the 'band of brothers' so familiar in representations of war from Shakespeare to Spielberg.

Pic 07

 Soldiers of the 5/KOYLI clearing trenches near Courmas, July 1918. For the draft, this was their first set–piece battle

Accounts of the late–war period frequently refer to a deterioration in morale brought about by the erosion of the 'regimental family' yet, as we have seen, conscription appears more likely to increase rather than decrease regional links. As a result of studies conducted in the US Army in the Second World War, by 1950 the practice of posting men individually to their first operational unit ended, to be replaced by a 'buddy system' intended to cushion the stress of becoming integrating into an established group, by sending men forward in pairs or small groups with whom they had something in common. [15] By plotting the homes of the draft, we can see such a system in place by 1917, as shown by evidence that in virtually all cases, members of the group arrived at Brocton with at least one other man from within a few miles of home. By tracking Tom Hall and Joseph McNulty, we can see that these two men, classified as 'immature' at Etaples, would be posted together to the Royal Fusiliers five months later, along with a draft of specifically Yorkshire–based immatures from the Convalescent Camp at Cayeux. Evidence such as this suggests that this was a common practice, intended to create conditions that would enable and encourage bonding and with it, a sense of being part of a cohesive whole.

John Bourne has argued that the 'British soldier of the Great War was essentially the British working man in uniform' [16] and that the strictly hierarchical nature of the Edwardian workplace and society socialised the population in a way that made the transition from worker to soldier a simple one – the soldier is, after all, simply a man paid to complete a task. To 21st Century sensibilities, accounts of rats running over sleeping men exemplifies the squalor and hardship of the trenches, yet to conscripts drawn from the poverty of urban slums, such sights were a part of their everyday homelife. It is notable how often the writers of negative accounts of the conscript experience are middle class observers encountering the poor for the first time.

The men of the draft were overwhelmingly men who shared a common dialect, had mutual friends and family connections, who lived in towns known to other members of the group and worked in similar occupations. All these factors helped to create common ground. They were not men who avoided their responsibilities to their country but instead formed part of a highly-motivated, highly-trained and, most importantly highly-effective fighting force that for the first and only time in British military history defeated the main body of a European army in the field – only to become the true unknown soldiers.


My thanks to Dr John Bourne, Alison Hine and Professor Peter Simkins for their help and support in preparing this article.


Article and images contributed by Tim Lynch.

This is the website featured article from Stand To! No 98, published in September 2013.



[1] Statistics of the Military Effort of the British Empire in the Great War, (HMSO: 1922), p.364.

[2] Ilana R Bet–El, Conscripts: Forgotten Men of the Great War, (Sutton Publishing: 2003), p. 203.

[3] F A J Taylor,The Bottom of the Barrel, (Chivers Press: 1986), pp.63–4.

[4] Captain J C Dunn, The War the Infantry Knew, (Abacus Books: 2003), p.245.

[5] John Oakes, Kitchener's Lost Boys, (The History Press: 2009), p.27.

[6] Lieutenant Colonel S T Banning, Military Law Made Easy. 11th Ed., (Gale & Polden Ltd: 1917), p.298.

[7] F J Hodges, Men of 18 in 1918, (Arthur H. Stockwell Ltd: 1988), R.H. Kiernan, Little Brother Goes Soldiering, (Constable & Co: 1930), F. A. J Taylor, Bottom of the Barrel, op. cit.

[8] F E Noakes, The Distant Drum, (Frontline Books: 2010), p.7.

[9] Dunn, op. cit., p.245.

[10] P W Turner & R. H. Haigh, Not For Glory, (Robert Maxwell: 1969), p.82.

[11] Charles Carrington quoted in Max Arthur, Forgotten Voices of the Great War. (Ebury Press: 2003), p.135.

[12] Peter Caddick-Adams, Monty and Rommel: Parallel Lives, (Arrow Books: 2012, p.91.

[13] Dunn, op. cit., p.429–30.

[14] See David French, Military Identities: The Regimental System, the British Army, and the British People, c. 1870–2000, (Oxford University Press: 2005).

[15] See S A Stouffer, Studies in Social Psychology in World War II: The American Soldier, (Princeton University Press:1949), or S. L. A. Marshall, Men Against Fire: The Problem of Battle Command, (William Morrow: 1947).

[16] John Bourne, 'The British Working Man in Arms' in H Cecil and P Liddle (eds) Facing Armaggedon, (Leo Cooper: 1996), p.336.



webmanager@westernfrontassociation.com (Web Editor) Britain and Allies Mon, 07 Oct 2013 21:44:24 +0000