Next Meeting: Friday 16 Oct
(Note: in the Sports Hall - see below)
Friday 16 Oct: Bryn Hammond - The 501-piece Jigsaw: Tanks in the All Arms Battle
Bryn Hammond's interest in the First World War was first awoken when an undergraduate student over twenty years ago. He has since completed a doctoral thesis on the theory and practice of co-operation between British tanks and other arms on the Western Front. He is an Honorary Research Fellow in the Centre for First World War Studies at the University of Birmingham, and a member of the British Commission for Military History and the Western Front and Gallipoli Associations. He is also Joint Convenor of the Imperial War Museum's History Group. He is a regular speaker at conferences (including our seminar last year) and to special interest groups. Last year he published the widely acclaimed Cambrai 1917 - The Myth of the First Great Tank Battle, which was the first balanced study of the technology and planning of that battle.
Tonight Bryn moves on to the year 1918 and examines the use of the new weapon, especially at Amiens in August.
More information about Bryn can be found on his website: www.brynhammond.moonfruit.com
September Meeting Report
The AGM business was conducted speedily and we then moved on to three talks by branch members.
Aerial Reconnaissance & Mapping
(report by Tony Fleetwood)
Unfortunately Brennan Hiorns was unable to give his planned presentation on The Great War and Modern Art, as his slides had gone "missing in transit". However, he substituted with a very interesting talk, illustrated with many items from his personal collection, on aerial reconnaissance and mapping, as developed during WW1. Among his collection was a rare copy of "Shooting the Front", probably the most informative and valid publication on this subject.
The French were in the forefront of this development, with their first aerial reconnaissance taking place in 1911. A very hazardous venture, taking account of the flimsy nature of their machines. At the commencement of the war, there was a great deal of scepticism in British military circles concerning the value of this technique. However, these views began to change early in the war, especially when reconnaissance revealed the presence of three German Army Corps opposite the British line at the first battle of Mons. Similarly, on the German side, aerial reconnaissance was deemed to have contributed significantly to their victory over the Russians at Tannenberg.
By 1915, again led by the French, the practice of transposing photographs to maps was started, leading to the highly familiar artillery maps. The French General Joffre was reported to be most enthusiastic and very supportive of this new "weapon", including photomontages. The science of photographic interpretation advanced rapidly, and by the end of the Somme battles aerial reconnaissance and mapping were totally integrated, becoming hugely significant for the duration of the war. These techniques, updated with technology advances, were essentially employed during WW2.
A very enjoyable talk, greatly enhanced by the rare publications and photographs displayed and explained by Brennan.
(report by Tony Fleetwood)
Reggie Fair gave us a fascinating insight into the work he, and his son Charles, are undertaking, on four families, whose lives intermingled and overlapped before, during and after the Great War. The title of the talk invokes the name of his mother, an extraordinary and determined lady, who became the prime link between these families. The story is based on his mother's comprehensive and fascinating diaries, and the preserved and extensive correspondence between members of the families, mostly generated during the war. A huge resource exists of around 800 documents, illustrating how close these families were.
The four families, the Secretans, the Dodgsons, the Fairs and the Champions, included nine of the "younger generation", including Charles Fair, Reggie's father, who married Marjorie Secretan. These families were already close friends, with links forged at school, university and shared social activities. All nine "boys", aged in 1914 between 18 and 29, volunteered for the Army. All went to France, the first to reach the Western Front being Reggie Secretan, seeing this as an opportunity to indulge his love of motorcycles, which he did indeed achieve!
The "boys" served throughout the war, mostly in infantry Regiments, and, between them saw action at most of the major battles, including Loos, the Somme, Messines, Passchendaele, Cambrai, the "March Retreat" and the "100 days". Five survived, none of them staying in the army after the war. However, this was not the end of their service to their country. All of them, including Reggie's father, enlisted in the Home Guard during WW2.
A truly inspiring and enjoyable story, of family, friendship, loyalty and service, together with a wonderful picture of life during the first half of the twentieth century.
The Maurice Letter
(report by Charles Harvey)
Recent "off message" comments by senior British military officers on the situation in Iraq and Afghanistan reminded Andrew Gould of an earlier clash between generals and politicians. In May 1918, Major-General Sir Frederick Maurice, Director of Military Operations at the War Office, wrote to several newspapers accusing Prime Minister David Lloyd George of misleading the House of Commons as to the numbers of troops on the Western Front. Following the successful German attack in March, Lloyd George told the House that the BEF was "considerably stronger" at the start of 1918 than a year earlier. However this overlooked the fact that the number of fighting men to hold an increased front was actually lower.
This prompted the "Maurice Debate" in the House of Commons in which Lloyd George defended himself in a masterly but deceptive speech. Maurice was retired from the army but was not, as he expected, court-martialed (when he could have made his case). He began a second career as the military correspondent of The Daily Chronicle which had generally supported Lloyd George up to then. However the paper was bought up by supporters of Lloyd George and both Maurice and his editor, Robert Donald, were obliged to resign. Maurice was then military correspondent of The Daily News before going on to a third career in education as a biographer, lecturer and college principal. He died in Cambridge in 1951, aged 80.
Maurice's action remained controversial. Sir Douglas Haig felt that Maurice had made a mistake to act as he did, although Haig regarded Lloyd George's speech as "claptrap". As for politicians trying to mislead the public with dodgy statistics, it couldn't happen now......
Answer to quiz 197: Harry Patch. Only three answers although his death had been headlines news and was mentioned in the last newsletter! Well done Barry Cobb, who sets quiz question no. 198: After the war a number of villages became known as "thankful villages". Why was this?
New Venue: Sports Hall
With effect from the October meeting we shall meet always in the St George's School Sports Hall (room SP101 on the 1st floor). We took this decision after we had our July meeting there and many present commented on the superior facilities in a modern building. The acoustics are better, there is an excellent cafeteria next door for our refreshments, and there is also a lift! Please use the school's Sun Lane entrance, just round the corner from Carlton Road. The Sports Hall is located behind the main school buildings and the car park is right round the back, by the sports field. Postcode: AL5 4EY.
"My Real War 1914 - ?"
My Real War 1914 - ? is the title of a new play which a number of WFA members have recommended. It is on at the Trafalgar Studios, in Whitehall, London, until 31 October. The play is based on the privately published letters of 2nd Lt. Havilland le Mesurier (related to the actor John) who was killed in 1916. His almost daily letters home contrast the conditions of trench life with comforts behind the lines.
13 Nov: Matt Brosnan - Hall of Remembrance
11 Dec: Mark Honigsbaum - Living With Enza: The Forgotten Story of Britain and the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918.
Venue: Room SP101, 1st Floor, Sports Hall, St George's School, Sun Lane, Harpenden, AL5 4EY. Doors open 7.30pm, 8.00pm start. Requested donation min. £3.00. Tea/coffee/biscuits.
2010 dates: 8 Jan, 12 Feb, 19 March, 23 April, 4 June, 9 July, 3 Sep, 8 Oct, 12 Nov, 10 Dec.