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Posts Tagged ‘ww1’

Teetotallers Unlucky at Sea

In 1914, a month into the First World War, a British ship the Fisgard II was lost in a gale (not through enemy action) in the English Channel. Sixteen of the sixty four abroad were drowned. There followed an inquest and inquiries and, as sometimes happens, the crew began to make sense of things in […]

The Most Exciting School Trip in History: 21 June 1919

School trips are often fairly maudlin affairs: go to a local zoo, don’t pet the lions; walk through a city park, buddy up as you pass the homeless people; polish the sun-washed floors of the local museum with fifty infant feet… But one school trip that any of us would have wanted to be on […]

Interview: Invasion Scares (Harry Wood)

I am very happy today to be able to invite Harry Wood of the University of Liverpool, historian and blogger, to talk about his speciality, British invasion scares, something we looked at last month. Harry, thanks so much for joining us for this brief discussion. You run a very enjoyable blog, Island Mentalities, and you […]

Great WW1 Story

Kent Online has a great story taken from the work of Richard Van Emden. Robert Campbell, a British Captain, was captured in 1914 by the Germans and sent to a prisoner of war camp. Here he remained until 1916, when he heard his mother was very ill, wrote to the Kaiser for permission to return home, and was granted two weeks to do so on the condition he return to the camp. Campbell left, got back to his mother, spent time with her, and then yes, he returned to the prison camp and stayed there until the end of the war.

Jane Austen Prescribed to Treat WW1 Sick

I think we really just need the quote the BBC have from Dr. Paula Byrne, author of a book on Jane Austen: “Jane Austen was prescribed to shell shock victims after the First World War as an antidote to mental trouble. She was read in the trenches. She was a prescribed script for tortured, troubled souls…She was a pioneer and a technician, but I think it does come down to loving those characters and loving that world. And remembering England was a great country to love.”

Diving Archaeologists find over 40 WW1 Submarines

Given how key submarine warfare was in the First World War, from sinking huge amounts of shipping to helping Wilson bring the US into the war, finding any new information about them is important. Now English Heritage archaeologists Mark Dunkley and his team have found an underwater grave site with forty one German and three British submarines. The effects of nearly a century on the bottom, plus the damage which sank them, still has to be dealt with, but the team will discover as much about the subs as possible; it’s a race against time. They also have to deal with finding the remains of the many crewmen killed with their craft.

Haig’s Diary from WW1 called Globally Important

During his time in command of British forces during World War One Field Marshal Haig kept a diary, which is now safeguarded by the National Library of Scotland. Recently Unesco’s UK Memory of the World Register, a list of globally important documents, included the diary. Given that Haig remains a highly controversial figure, despite the pendulum of critical opinion currently swinging back to ‘not a blundering murderer’, you can imagine why his insight into the war is valued.

Notes on British WW1 Food

A curator at the British Royal Logistic Corps Museum has researched a new book on the feeding of their soldiers during World War 1. If you’re interested in the subject, you could just buy his ‘Feeding Tommy’ by Andrew Robertshaw, or take a first look at this Telegraph article

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Hew Strachan Warns Britain over WW1 Commemorations

I’m still forming in my mind how I’d like to see Britain, Europe and the world commemorate the centenaries of World War One, and I have a feeling I’ll be on the opposite side from Hew Strachan, whose article for the Telegraph warns of a “sterile”, even “boring” event. But I think it’s important for me to link to it here because Hew isn’t just one of the leading experts on the war, but a member of the board advising the government.

Old Camera Yields WW1 Photos

People who collect old cameras probably won’t think much of this story, but I thought it was marvellous: Anton Orlov was working on an antique camera he’d acquired – a Jumelle Bellieni stereoscopic – and found eight previously lost photos dating from the World War One era. The contents include pictures of soldiers and planes, and Yahoo has a couple. You never know what you might find…

Historians Builds 60 Foot WW1 Trench in Garden

Andrew Robertson is an ex-history teacher, current head of a museum, and advised on the War Horse  movie… and he’s now built a sixty foot World War 1 style trench in his back garden to help teach how soldiers lived. I’m mentioning this entirely because I’d love to do this myself, but Mr. Robertson has also assembled a group of volunteers to live as troops for twenty four hours, and recorded their efforts for a book. He’s made a video for schools, and is considering the web. The Daily Mail has plenty of pictures.

Last Known WW1 Service Member Dies

Florence Green, a British woman, was the last known surviving service member of World War One. She joined the Woman’s Royal Air Force aged 17, and worked for them in UK air bases for two months before the war ended. Sadly, she had now died aged 110. While it is possible that other service members of the war might come forward – Green was only recognised in 2010 after a search – she is the last currently known, and represents a break with one of key events of the twentieth century.

CIA declassify WW1 espionage documents

The CIA is currently engaged in declassifying and rereleasing a mammoth amount of documentation, and among it are six of the oldest confidential documents that remained in the US archives. They relate to the diplomacy and espionage of the First World War, including how secrets and messages were sent between the powers. Obviously the US is the primary player in these files, but I’m mentioning it here because, according to this Telegraph article, the documents contain a French file which explained the formula for the German’s invisible ink (and thus the fact they could read some German communications.)

The Football Charge of the Somme

                    Beachcombing found himself thinking about sport and war last night. Polo teams racing at machine guns came flitting into his mind. Then there were the cinematic surfing scenes from Apocalypse Now, Empire thugs walking around ‘taming’ the natives with cricket bats (there was a post-war [...]

Toasting Poland

Beachcombing has always had a bit of a thing about the Poles: a nation of warriors and survivors. It is difficult not to get a little teary-eyed then when, in 1918, Poland officially becomes, after 120 years of dreaming, a nation again. Unlike Italy’s pretend risorgimento – to have a ‘resurrection’ you need to have originally existed – here there really was a return to life. There had been a Poland in 1000 and there had been a Poland as recently as 1795 – before it was butchered by the Russians, Prussians and Austrians – and now, until 1939, there would be a Poland again.

The anecdotes about the rebirth of Poland are as delightful as the event itself. Padereweski playing Chopin to Wilson in the White House in 1916 and so, according to legend, convincing Wilson to include Poland in the 14 points. The tale of the Polish patriot who climbed up on the statue of Bismarck in Posen and placed a fourth-class train ticket in the great Prussian’s brass hand. The Polish establishment going to an official British shindig in Warsaw in 1919, but boycotting the dance in protest at the lack of British support over huge portions of ‘Czech’ Poland: duelling challenges shot back and forth. But best of all, surely, is the reminiscence of the English diplomat Esme Howard concerning an unusual wine-drinking experience on the night that independence was celebrated. A Polish noble family had been keeping by a bottle of wine from 1772 the date of the first of the shameful partitions that had destroyed Poland.

‘We were given a bottle of Tokay wine which had not left the cellar since 1772… and drank it to a resurrected Poland. Strange to say it was drinkable.’ 342, n.1.

It must be an extraordinary experience to drink grapes that had grown in your great-great-great-great grandfather’s childhood and still be able to enjoy them. Are there other examples of such historic toasts: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com? Wine bottles preserved on sunken ships (another post, another day) are not quite the same thing.   

In any case, almost as soon as the toasting ceased the fighting began. Poland’s notorious anti-Semitism was somehow kept in check at the beginning, but in the Baltics, on the Czech border and with its new German minorities Poland would now find reasons for arguments. Then already in 1919 and 1920 Poland’s very existence would be tested as the Poles joined that select group – essentially Mannerheim’s Finns and Bin Laden’s jihadists – to have met and to have defeated the Soviet Union in the field.  An act that, of course, the Soviets would revenge in their own characteristic way at Katyn in 1940…

Epiphany: War In Dollyland

As Beachcombing noted yesterday (click here, if you dare, for Beachcombian reflections) he has prepared a gift for the WWW this snowy epiphany: War in Dollyland in all its glory.

Textual notes: the following was copied from the 1915 original with some care leaving eccentric or antiquated spellings in place. The only change that Beachcombing has made is in the name of the cat now called Black, (who originally had a name that is prosecutable across the western world). Beachcombing just can’t be bothered to explain source integrity to WordPress’s lawyers (sorry).

Beachcombing is making up about ten  hand-stitched copies of this books for friends. Any readers who have ever appeared in a Beachcombed and would like a copy, Beachcombing can offer them at cost and should, unless there is a stampede, be able to cover postage.

Exegesis: Beachcombing loves the combination of Waterloo style uniforms and more contemporary references to mud – many of the older children who read Dollyland in 1915, the year of Ypres – will have ended their lives in that unpleasant substance. Flatheads = squareheads?

Beachcombing would kill for any information on the author or on this book more generally or, indeed, any German, Austrian, Russian, French, Italian or, hell, Serbian equivalents: drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com  





 War in Dollyland (A Book and a Game)

By Harry Golding illustrated from photographs by Albert Friend

(Ward, Lock and co. Limited 1915)


To Little Readers

This is at once a book and a game. The book has been made for you: the game you can make for yourselves. Nearly all the toys required you probably have or can model from plasticene; the other odds and ends Mother or Nurse will be only too glad to get you, especially it is a wet day and you are to be kept ‘out of mischief’

You want:

Some dolls or soldiers of two different kinds.

Some toy canon.

A ship and a boat or two.

Some crinkly paper (old newspapers will do).


Some paste (not too much).

A fountain-pen filler.

Some pencils (used matches will serve).

A Noah’s ark or a dolls’ house (for the hospital)

An air ball (for the balloon).

A bottle (for the submarine)

A few odds and ends of cardboard, cotton, toy wheels, rings, chains, string, etc.

If you haven’t any of these, it doesn’t matter; other things will answer almost as well.

You also want (and cannot do without):

Brains (a few)

Patience (a fair amount)


The war fever is catching – awfully catching. You’d never think it would spread to Dollyland, but it does, for dolls are just as stupid as human beings, which is saying a good deal.

The Flat Heads began it, but you couldn’t blame them. Their heads were not flat really, though their caps were, so you can hardly be surprised that they objected strongly to being known as ‘Fat Heads’. After that the Flat Heads said the Wooden Heads were ‘Pudd’n Heads’ and everybody knew that war was bound to come. It only made matters worse that really all their heads were precisely the same, so there was nothing whatever to quarrel about. But these are always the worst sort of wars.

The Wooden Heads were first in the field. Indeed it was the proud boast of their two famous regiments of Guards, the Wonder Brigade, that they were always ‘Red and Ready’. But the Flat Heads had a very fine force of cavalry and could move more quickly.

‘We’ll wait for them’, said the Wooden Head General. So he lined up his men behind a spiked barricade, and placed his artillery so that they could fire without killing their own side, which was a very clever thing to do, and led all the newspapers to say he was beyond doubt the greatest general since Napoleon Bonaparte. What he relied on chiefly was the great water-canon, a new invention that had been carefully kept secret from the enemy. There were two of them really, but ‘canon’ may mean either one or many. The word was purposely used to deceive the enemy.

The Flat Heads were rather careful at first, being afraid of a trap. Although they had only one cannon, they hade a great advantage over the Wooden Heads in being armed with long, sharply-pointed pencils. After they had marched some way through the Wooden Heads’ country without seeing a soldier, the General grew more and more nervous, and finally sent the Sergeant Major up a hill to have a good look round with the telescope.

‘Ship ahoy!’ reported the Sergeant-Major, who had once been in the Navy and could never sort out the proper terms.

‘Ship be bothered,’ said the General, charging up the hill at such a rate that the wind blew off his cap and he nearly capsized.

The Sergeant-Major was purposely looking through the wrong end of the telescope which of course made everything smaller.

‘Very tiny force, sir’, he reported. ‘They’ll run directly.’

‘Then forward!’ cried the General, and waved his arms so violently that he nearly fell off his horse again.

What had made him so uneasy was that he had sent out a spy two or three days before and the spy had not returned.

You can see why.

Perhaps the spy’s life might have been spared under other circumstances. But he had been caught in the very act of looking down on the secret water-cannon, and the Wooden Heads rightly felt that no mercy could be shown.

The spy was led out at dawn…

He died as a brave man should.

Soon after the Sergeant-Major had reported, the whole army of Flat Heads declared that they could see the enemy with their naked eyes. That is the worst of red. If only the Wooden Heads had been less vain they would have worn khaki and avoided the bitter loss that now befell them. For the Flat Heads managed to approach quite unseen and instead of attacking from the front worked round to the flank and even contrived to get their big gun in position before the Wooden Head sentry was aware of their presence. The fact is, it had started to rain and the poor boy was afraid his paint would run, so he had taken shelter in the sentry-box and of course couldn’t be expected to see out of the side, especially as the door was in the way.

‘Halt! Who goes there?’ he shouted, but by this time the Wooden Head General had seen the danger and given the order ‘Left Turn!’ The Wonder Brigade turned as one man, in spite of the fact that they were half asleep. (you must remember they had been standing a long time and standing is very tiring).

‘Present arms!’ shouted the General, but before the order could be obeyed Bang! went the Flat Heads’ cannon.

The aim was deadly. The stout Wooden Head Corporal made a first-rate target and the whole front rank fell with him.

‘Hooray!’ shouted the flat heads.

‘Charge! My brave Pencillers’, cried their General.

The gun was rushed to the rear and the Flat Head cavalry surged over the barricade. It seemed that nothing could withstand them.

But the Wooden Heads were now fully awake and poured volley after volley into the attacking ranks. Their coolness in battle, considering how warm were their coats, was amazing, and won the admiration even of their enemies.

None the less, the whole regiment would have been wiped out had it not been for the prompt action of Little Billy, who was described in the War Office List as the ‘Royal Flying Corps’. He didn’t really fly but ballooned. Anyway, he was soon high in the air, and to his great delight had no sooner focussed the telescope than he caught sight of the reserve battalion of the Wonder Brigade resting behind a hill. By frantic signals he made them understand the danger, and they rushed to the assistance of their sorely-tried comrades.

What were the obstacles and dangers to men of their spirit? A wide stream separated them from the field of battle, but the engineers seized a wash-tub from a cottage close by (it was washing day, too, and the lady badly wanted the tub), and in a very few minutes made a strong bridge, across with they passed in safety, Gunner Jim bravely leading the way with other water-cannon. Unfortunately, the Commanding Officer got stuck in the mud, and couldn’t be pulled out in time for the battle, though it would have made no difference if he had been.

Meanwhile the gallant first division of the Wonder Brigade were still holding their own against fearful odds. Man after man was bowled over, and at one time the General himself was in danger of being killed or captured. Although badly wounded in the left leg, one of his gallant men bravely jumped to the rescue, while another fired in the nick of time and in two rounds killed both the Flat Head General and the Sergeant Major.

Imagine, if you can, how busy the Hospital was all this time! A good stock of new arms and legs had been laid in, but it was soon seen that the paste would run short. The Medical Officer was in despair, when a few drops from the famous water-cannon fell in the paste-tub and the situation was saved. Yet the story that got into the Flat Head newspapers was that the Wooden Heads had actually fired on the Red Cross Hospital. A special word of praise should be given to the nurses, and the ambulance men were simply wonderful.

Just when things were at the worst the Wooden Head reinforcements rushed on the scene. They would have arrived sooner only they had forgotten (or never learnt) that a water-cannon is no good without water, and they had to go back to the stream for it (the CO – you know of course that CO is short for Commanding Officer and sounds much grander – was still stuck in the mud at that time).

‘Charge!’ shouted all the Wooden Heads together (they had agreed to do this to save quarrelling as to who should take the CO’s place).

The noise alone struck terror in the Flat Head ranks, but when it was followed by a full discharge from the powerful water-cannon and a heavy volley from the entire second division of the Wonder Brigade, and hearts of even the bravest Pencillers sank within them.

It must be remembered that they had been fighting for fully five minutes, while the second Wooden Head division was quite fresh. The Flat Heads tried one final onslaught, but nothing could stand against that fearful cannon. Of all the brave host who had invaded the Wooden Head country but two returned to tell the tale.

The Wooden Heads rightly felt that so glorious a victory should be commemorated. A special medal was struck and given to every member of the Wonder Brigade. The few surviving members of the first division were also given a new coat of paint.

As for the fallen a grateful country could only erect a worthy monument to their memory. To this day the Wooden Head children salute it as they pass.

Although so soundly beaten on land, the Flat Heads still had their navy, and fondly hoped that victory would yet be theirs. It is true that there was only one ship, but that ship was no other than HMS Terror, a super-Dreadnought of the very super-superest sort. She mounted a quarter-inch gun in the fore, which was not only capable of discharging a pea a distance of twelve inches but served another useful purpose by keeping in place the battery of six smaller guns (three a side) for dealing with torpedoes. There were no guns aft, because Captain Saltem said they were unnecessary – the Terror would never show her stern to an enemy.

The men were as good as the ship and perhaps a trifle better. Whether at the wheel, or in the crow’s-nest, or even doing the dirty work of coaling, they were never known to grumble. All they asked was that when off duty they might be allowed to fish.

You will notice that the ship had all the latest improvements including wireless telegraphy.

You are now permitted to see the wireless room, to which no one but Willie Sparks, the operator, and Captain Saltem himself was ever allowed to go. Willie was one of the brightest boys in the service and always said the Morse code was as easy as winking. His only fault was a weakness for sending the SOS signal whenever he thought that dinner was due and the cook had forgotten him.

Shortly after war had been declared with the Wooden Heads the Terror had a very exciting experience. It was the Bo’sun’s turn to fish, and he had just thrown in the sprat to catch a mackerel when the look out shouted ‘Whale Ahead!’

Captain Saltem sprang to the wheel and by a fine feat of seamanship slung the vessel past the dangerous object in the water.

‘It ain’t a whale,’ said the Bosun, ‘it’s a critter, and I’m going to hook it’.

This he did in the cleverest manner possible, but every man aboard except the Captain and Willie Sparks had to lend a hand with the rope. Even at the last moment the critter would have broken away had not the Bo’sun thoughtfully prodded it in the eye with the stern flag-pole.

After this the look-out’s nerves became so jumpy that you never knew what he would do next. On one occasion he even fell head-foremost out of the crow’s nest. There was some excuse for him as a strong wind was blowing out at the time and no one likes to lose his hat (especially if his hair is only painted on).

The Captain was so surprised that he swung the ship the wrong way altogether and shouted ‘Whoa!’ as if the engines were horses. Fortunately the Bo’sun grasped the situation and a lifebelt at the same time, and poor Ben Bowling was plucked from a watery grave just as he was about to go under for the third time, but it is not correct to be saved until you have been under twice at least, as any book of adventures will tell you.

The incident was not important in itself, but it had fateful consequences. For it so befell that at the very time the crow’s next was unoccupied (Ben Bowling, of course, had to have first-aid and ‘a drop o’ summat ‘ot’) at that very time an enemy submarine appeared in the offing. It didn’t really ‘appear’, because it was careful not to, and there wasn’t any ‘offing’ worth talking about, but as this is a nautical story we must use terms that any sailor-man can understand.

The submarine was one of the very latest type. In reality it was the only one the Wooden Heads possessed, but to conceal that fact they carefully called it the Z99, so that the Flat Heads should imagine there were a hundred of them for each of the other letters of the alphabet and another 98 of the Z’s. In shape it resembled a bottle, the periscope and the conning-tower being carefully stuck on with plasticine. The most important feature, however, was the projectile – that deadly-looking thing the crew are handling.  

Poor Ben Bowling, who was very rheumaticy, had scarcely clambered up to the crow’s nest again when the crash came. Silently and stealthily, like some huge fish, the torpedo slid through the surging waters (you can see they were made of crinkly paper, but they surged for all that).

Too late, the gallant Captain realised his danger. Crash! came the torpedo amidships and all was dire confusion for the second time that day. Ben Bowling turned a s somersault and this time there was none to help, for the Bo’sun himself was floundering in the water.

‘All ‘ands to the guns!’ cried the Captain, but the big gun had already toppled overboard and the little ones were too wobbly to work. They would have made no difference anyway, for the submarine had already disappeared, and it was evident that the Terror was doomed.

Luckily, the disaster had been witnessed from the lighthouse, and in little more time than it takes to tell a lifeboat had been launched. The brave rower (there was only one of him) pulled for dear life and was soon alongside the sinking vessel.

‘Save those in the water first’, cried the Captain. The very first to be rescued was the Bo’sun and he was able to lend a hand (or at least two arms and two hooks) in helping the others.

Meanwhile, the ship had drifted near the dangerous rocks from which the lighthouse flashed its friendly beams. After many attempts, the lighthouse-keeper was able to throw a clothes-line to the sinking vessel, and to haul in the remaining members of the crew. It was even possible to land one of the guns. Only at the very last moment would Willie Sparks leave the post of duty, and he would have gone on sending the SOS even then had not the Captain told him there would be no dinner anyway.

Brave Captain Saltem was of the course the last to leave. By this time other boats had reached the scene, and he thought it would be more seaman-like to be rescued by one of these rather than in ‘that there fish basket’ as he contemptuously termed the lighthouse-keeper’s cute contrivance.

With the ship’s log and the chart-book under his arm he was about to step aboard when a loud wail of distress rent the air. It would have rent anything. Poor  Black, the ship’s cat had been forgotten!

Many men in such circumstances would have thought only of themselves, but Captain Saltem saw the path of duty clear. ‘Old ‘ard!’ he shouted (the bravest sailors always drop their aitches, even when they belong to the Royal Navy) and scrambled back abroad.

Hardly had the trembling  Black been safely stowed in the boat when the proud ship Terror gave a great lurch to port and disappeared for ever. With her went the last hopes of the proud Flat Head nation.

Night had come and the moon was shining when, some hours later, the captain the crew were brought ashore. Some, alas! (you see the sheet), had died from the effects of shock and exposure, and others were badly injured.

You will be glad to know that in the hour of victory the Wooden Heads were merciful and remembered that, after all, they and the Flat Heads were members of the same great Doll Family.

‘Forget and forgive’, they said and soon the blessings of Peace came again to the two distracted peoples.

Years afterwards, Captain Saltem’s grandchildren loved to gather round and listen again and again to his wonderful experiences in the good ship Terror. But never was he allowed to start until one of the children had collected  Black so that he could listen too. It was not the  Black of old, but one of his great-great-great-grand-children; but he always seemed to understand, and made a point of miaowing whenever the Captain came to the part beginning ‘old ‘ard’ I says, ‘old ‘ard’.

Prelude to Epiphany: Fitzgerald in the trenches

For Beachcombing a canonical text on the First World War is chapter thirteen of Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night. Here FSF gets as close as anyone ever has to explaining why European civilisation committed suicide in 1915 and 1916. Dick and his party, including the vapid Rosemary have come to visit the First World War trenches mere years after the end of the conflict.

‘This western-front business couldn’t be done again, not for a long time. The young men think they could do it but they couldn’t. They could fight the first Marne again but not this. This took religion and years of plenty and tremendous sureties and the exact relation that existed between the classes. The Russians and Italians weren’t any good on this front. You had to have a whole-souled sentimental equipment going back further than you could remember. You had to remember Christmas, and postcards of the Crown Prince and his fiancée, and little cafés in Valence and beer gardens in Unter den Linden and weddings at the mairie, and going to the Derby, and your grandfather’s whiskers.’

‘General Grant invented this kind of battle at Petersburg in sixty- five.’

‘No, he didn’t — he just invented mass butchery. This kind of battle was invented by Lewis Carroll and Jules Verne and whoever wrote Undine, and country deacons bowling and marraines in Marseilles and girls seduced in the back lanes of Wurtemburg and Westphalia. Why, this was a love battle — there was a century of middle-class love spent here. This was the last love battle.’

Suicide then, but suicide with incense burning…

Beachcombing can’t offer this is as a WIBT moment given that it is fictional. But he will offer it as an introduction to a gift that he intends to give the WWW for epiphany.

This Christmas there came tumbling into Beachcombing’s hands a book on the First World War from 1915, a book that is both poignant and, bizarrely, hilarious by turns. Beachcombing has spent the last hour typing said book out – it is short, 3000 words – and with greater difficulty has scanned its extraordinary pictures into his dandy computer. The result is Dick’s love battle as Beachcombing never hoped to see it, up close and personal.

It is also a text that only the British could have written: hints of the Edwardian master race, pontificating about animals rights amidst Armageddon and a deliberately lame if irresistible (at least to Beachcombing) sense of humour.

Tune in this time tomorrow. Beachcombing promises a walk on the wild side, 1915 style.

WW1 from the Air?

Recently the BBC screened a TV show featuring footage from World War 1 of battlefields, taken after the war from the air. In the course of promoting this, they did a little video piece on their news site featuring some of the video which anyone on the web can watch. The devastation is, if you’ve read about the war, much as you might imagine it.