Daily Archives: 9 February, 2010

All Quiet On The Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque

In all honesty, this is a book that I probably would not have read, had my brother not bought it for me for Christmas. But, as I have found recently, sometimes the most enjoyable books are the ones that would not think of buying for yourself, but when someone else does, you’re sure glad that they did!

The title of this book has passed into everday usage. In 1930, the film adaption of the book won an Oscar for Best Picture. Originally published in 1929, it came at a time where the patriotism of the Great War was a distant memory, and hindsight could be applied. Never the less, it was still recent enough to recall the conditions of the time. The author himself was wouded serving in the German Army on the Western Front, and it would be naive to think that his experiences did not shape the tone of the novel.

We follow the life of Paul Baumer, a young German who along with the rest of his class volunteers to fight shortly after the start of the First World War. Along with his friends he is sent to the Western Front, where they experience frequent battles, and endure dangerous and squalid living conditions. This is not a story of heroism or bravey, but of the monotony of war, and its many costs.

First-person fiction is a brave choice for any writer to pursue – I talk from experience here. While third person historical fiction calls for a lot of research, first person is a whole different ball game. We do not rely on a narrator to buffer between the story and the reader; the thoughts, mannerisms and language of the primary character have to be spot on, or the whole plot founders. It is a brave choice, and Remarque pulls it off here with aplomb.

This is a very useful book for trying to get to grips with the human experience of the soldier on the Western Front. It also adds another dimension to our understanding: we hear a lot about Tommy, but what about Fritz? From a psychological and sociological point of view, it is also fascinating to observe the attitudes towards the war, and the loyalties that develop in the crucible of front-line service. Reading this book made me think, which can never be a bad thing,

But what really strikes me the most about All Quiet On The Western Front, is that if you were to change the German names, the German food and other cultural references, these could be any solders, anywhere. If their names were Bill, Tom and Fred and they were to eat Bully Beef instead of Sauerkraut, they could quite easily be British. And I think that is the salient point about this classic book – that the fortunes of the average soldier are almost always the same, and that despite the attempts of Propaganda, very often the men facing eah other in the front line have more in common than they do with their own Generals.

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Filed under Book of the Week, World War One

Coastal Forces at War

With the recent news that an RAF Rescue Launch and a Motor Torpedo Boat are to be moored at Gunwharf Quays, I thought it might be appropriate to take a look at men from Portsmouth who died whilst serving on these kinds of craft in the Second World War.

Coastal Forces had a very eventful time during the war. Hundreds of small powerboats were operated by small crews, often reservists, who engaged in a swashbucking kind of war, conducting hit and run raids on occupied Europe, patrolling the Channel and the North Sea, escorting convoys, and guiding the invasion fleet towards Normandy on D-Day. Their war was the kind of what that Nelson was surely have approved of.

Lieutenant Oliver Manning was serving on HM Motor Launch 156 when he was killed on 7 November 1941. 28 and from North End, he is remembered on the Plymouth Naval Memorial. ML156 was a Fairmile B Class Boat.

Chief Petty Officer Frank Hopkins, 38 and from Southsea, was serving onboard HM ML133 when he died on 11 May 1943. He is buried in Port William Cemetery, Scotland. She was also a Fairmile B Class Boat.

Leading Seaman William Warren died on 16 September 1944 while onboard HM ML258. 23 and from Portsea, he is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. Once again, she was a Fairmile B Class.

Motor Mechanic John Ladmore, 19 and from Southsea, is buried in Highland Road Cemetery. He was a crew member of HM Motor Torpedo Boat 201, and died on 15 June 1942. MTB201 was a 71ft Craft built by JS White. She was badly damaged by gunfire from German surface craft off Dover and foundered whilst under tow on 15 June 1942.

Petty Officer Arthur Wright died on 14 September 1942. A crew member of HM MTB38, he was 25 and from Buckland, and is remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. MTB38 was an early Vospers Motor Motor Torpedo Boat, and was 71 feet long. Interestingly, she had been built at Portchester.

Stoker 1st Class Bernard Bartlett, 28 and from Portchester, died on 17 July 1943. He was serving onboard HM MTB316. He is also remembered on the Portsmouth Naval Memorial. 316 Was a Fairmile C Class Boat, much bigger at 110 feet long. She was lost after a direct hit from the Italian cruiser Africano Scipione in the Strait of Messina on 17 July 1943.

Lieutenant-Commander John Cole, 32 and from Wickham, was commanding HM MTB41 when he was killed on 14 February 1941. He is remembered on the Portsmouth Memorial. MTB41 was sunk by a mine in the North Sea. 41 was a 72ft craft built by JS White.

Finally, Chief Motor Mechanic Wilfrid Gitsham DSM was the only Coastal Forces man from Portsmouth to win a gallantry award in the Second World War. He died on 8 May 1943, when he was on the crew of HM MTB637. His DSM was gazetted on 7 January 1944 for gallant and distinguished services in a daylight sweep against enemy shipping in the Mediterranean while serving in light Coastal Craft. MTB637 was a Fairmile D Class Boat, one of the famous ‘Dog’ Boats. The were 115 feet long. MTB637 survived the war, only to sink between Malta and Alexandria in 1946.

The role of Coastal Forces has been largely forgotten, so hopefully the protection of these two important boats should go some way to giving these little ships the credit that they deserve. And perhaps it is just me, but wouldn’t these fast, hard-hitting ships put the fear of god into pirates?

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Filed under Navy, News, portsmouth heroes, World War Two