Monthly Archives: March 2010

World at War event at Fort Nelson this weekend




Fort Nelson

Originally uploaded by dalyhistory2010

Theres a World at War event going on at Fort Nelson, near Portsmouth this weekend on Sunday and Monday.

British, American, Russian and German soldiers will battle for control of the ramparts, featuring Machine Guns, Pyrotechnics, Artillery and gun firing and Armoured Vehicles. I’m a big fan of these kinds of events, they’re great for bringing history alive.

At £5 per adult, £2.50 for children and £12 for a family ticket, its a bargain.

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Youtube picks

Heres my latest selection of interesting clips, courtesy of youtube:

Sailor – The 1976 TV series on the old HMS Ark Royal

The Tank Museum featured on BBC’s The One Show

Archive footage of The Battle of the Somme

Bruce Springsteen (featuring Tom Morello) – The Ghost of Tom Joad

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Sapper Charles Cuff

Hot on the heels of my review of Underground Warfare 1914-1918 by Simon Jones, I’ve been doing some research into the only Portsmouth tunneller that I have discovered so far.

Sapper Charles Cuff was 22 and from 22 Chance Street, Landport. He was serving with the 250th Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers. He was killed on 17 June 1916, and is buried at Lindenhoek Chalet Miliary Cemetery in Belgium, a few miles South West of Ypres.

The 250th Tunnelling Company was formed in Rouen in October 1915, and dug the deep-level mines (Petit Bois, Peckham and Spanbroekmolen) under the Messines ridge in the winter of 1915 and Spring of 1916. Its hard to tell whether Cuff was killed in action, by an accident or illness. There are documented collapses in 250th Company’s tunnels in Jones’s book. If Cuff has been killed in a collapse, its probable that he would have no known grave.

Out of almost 1,000 men I have analysed so far, Cuff is the only Sapper-Tunneller I have found from Portsmouth. Does his suggest that most of the tunnellers came from traditional mining areas? It should be interesting to find out.

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70 years ago this year: Churchill, Dunkirk, the few and the blitz

We’re coming up to the time when a lot of Second World War 70th anniversaries will be taking place. As usual you can expect to read about all the anniversaries, books, and special events right here. I will also be looking at local stories, and the experiences of local people, including my own family.

April marks 70 years since Nazi Germany invaded Denmark and Norway. In May 1940 Winston Churchill became Prime Minister, and the very same day Germany invaded Belgium, France and Holland. After being outwitted the British fell back to Dunkirk and were evacuated, and France reached an armistice with the Nazis. As a prelude to the planned invasion of Britain, the Luftwaffe fought Fighter Command in the Battle of Britain. Ater the Germans failed to gain air superiority the Luftwaffe resorted to Bombing towns and cities, in what became known as the Blitz. So many momentous events in such a short space of time. How I tend to think of 1940, is that although winning the war came much later, in those dramatic days we didn’t LOSE the war. And if you lose a war, you’ve no chance of winning it in the end at all!

There are some fantastic books due to be released later this year to mark the anniversaries. As always you can expect to read reviews here on Daly History.

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Underground Warfare 1914-1918 by Simon Jones

Underground

We’ve all heard of the Hooge crater – an explosion that could be heard from London. But this book by Simon Jones sheds new light (pun not intended) on the countless other underground activities during the First World War, most of which remain little known to the general public.

While it was only really in the twentieth century that warfare expanded to fighting in the air, fighting underground has a much longer heritage. There are countless examples of medieval armies tunnelling underneath enemy fortresses in attempts to break the deadlock of siege warfare. And once the war on the Western Front settled down into stalemate in 1914, taking the war underground soon became an option for breaking the deadlock. It’s a common theme in military history that when maneouvre warfare beds down into stalemate, commanders invariably look for leftfield options to re-energise the offensive.

The British Army began the First World War with less experience and expertise in underground warfare than France and Germany, both of which had more experience of continental siege warfare. Apart from a few experimental exercises in the early years of the twentieth century, the only expertise in underground warfare was that borrowed from the north-east mining community. Jones tells us of an amusing encounter where a north-east MP demonstrated to Lord Kitchener – himself an Engineer, who might have been expected to understand more than most – what a mole was. The British mining operations were, essentially, learnt on the job. The BEF did very well to control mining at Army level, ensuring that effort was concentrated and not wasted, and the military made good use of civilian capabilities. On this last point, Jones argues that the British tradition of amateur military service enabled civilians to contribute more to the military than in the rigidly professional German army.

Mining itself is a pretty hazardous profession at the best of times, but in a wartime context the dangers were multiplied. There was always the risk of collapses, and on occasion British and German tunnels inadvertantly merged, resulting in underground firefights. Sapper William Hackett was awarded the only tunnelling Victoria Cross of the war, for a deed on 22 and 23 June 1916, near Givenchy. In a collapse Hackett was trapped along with several other sappers. When rescuers managed to finally reach them, Hackett refused to leave the remaining seriously injured tunneller, saying, “I am a tunneller, I must look after the others first”, a phrase that epitomises the spirit of miners. According to Jones the military authorities initially feared the socialist tendencies of the miners, but found that they had extremely strong values of cameraderie and dedication.

There were frequently misunderstandings between different Corps about the strengths and weaknesses of underground warfare. In particular the infantry and engineers seem to have found it difficult to find a consensus on how to co-ordinate exploding mines with infantry attacks. In some cases infantry officers feared that falling debris would injure their men – fears that were largely unfounded. In fact, delaying infantry attacks until long after the explosions lost the vital element of surprise – much the same as lengthy and heavy artillery barrages merely alerted the enemy to an impending advance.

As well as mines and offensive tunnelling, engineers also went underground to build secure accomodaton and communications – I can remember visiting Thompson’s Cave at Arras, a huge underground area that housed a main dressing station.

Jones makes ample use of original trench maps, and in particular some illustrations taken from contemporary publications – British, French and German – that demontrate mining tactics, equipment and instruments. Some impressive research has obviously gone into this book. This is not purely a ‘history of first world war tunnelling’, but places it in the larger context – historically and geologically – of military history.

Underground Warfare 1914-1918 is publised by Pen and Sword

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Connected Histories: a new search engine for historians?

The Institute for Historical Research has launched a new project, dubbed a new search engine for historians. Connected Histories will create a joint search facility for a wide range of sources relating to early modern and nineteenth century British history.

Reading between the tecno-speak on the IHR’s website, it looks like the project will create a catalogue that remotely links sources from other sites. A collabarative workspace will allow users to document the connections between documents. In total, Connected Histories will provide access to 14 major databases of primary source texts, containing more than 412 million words, plus 469,000 publications, 3.1 million further pages of text, 87,000 maps and images, 254,000 individuals in databases, and over 100 million name instances.

A large amount of sources have been made available online by universities, archives and the commercial sector. Many are under-exploited, simply because historians are not aware that they exist. In the first phase Connected Histories will incorporate sources from the Old Bailey Online 1674-1913, Plebian Lives and the Making of Modern London, the Burney Newspaper Collection, the Origins Network, Parliamentary Papers, Clergy of Church of England Database 1540-1835, Strypes Survey of London, the Charles Booth Online Archive and Collage.

I have used several of these sources myself, especially the Old Bailey Online, Parliamentary Papers and the Charles Booth Archive. Its good to see that the Historical community is finally waking up to the possibilities that the internet presents – its funny how history can be so slow to evolve and adapt! I can imagine I will make a lot of use of it, whereas without the search facility, I might not bother. The ability to ‘tag’ linked documents sounds interesting too – almost like a wiki.

Connected Histories is definitely a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go. Several years ago the Access 2 Archives project did a lot of good work in producing an online catalogue of the holdings of virtually all of the archives in Britain. You could search them all in one place, and see what documents were held in what archives. Then the funding ran out, and the search engine was moved to the National Archives website. The search engine is not as powerful, and it is much harder to use. Definitely a step backwards.

Another aspect where the historical community is slow at using technology is making documents themselves available online. The National Archives has seriously curtailed its digitisation programme on the grounds of cost. Which means that if you want to look at a document, chances are you will have to go to Kew. Even if its commonly used. Plenty of documents are becoming availabe on sites such as Ancestry and findmypast, but personally I think it is quite sad that you have to pay to become a member to access our heritage. Other countries manage it.

I can’t wait to see the Connected Histories project progress. But lets hope that it is sustainable, and that more historical institutions take note and up their game.

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RSM Frederick Frampton and Gunner George Frampton

Given the large number of men who died in the First World War, sadly its not surprising that in some cases fathers and sons were killed in action.

Frederick Frampton, 46 and from North End, was Regimental Sergeant Major of 65th Heavy Group of the Royal Garrison Artillery. He was killed on 24 August 1917, and is buried at Bard Cottage Cemetery in Belgium. Bard Cottage is located in the Ypres Salient, and Frampton was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele. At the time of his death more heavy Artillery was being brought up in order to support the attack. To reach the rank of RSM Frampton was almost certainly a career soldier.

His son, Gunner George Frampton, must have followed his father into the RGA. He was 19 when he died on 29 September 1918, serving with 355th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Siege Batteries were equipped with large, heavy Howitzers in order to take on the enemy’s artillery. Gunner Frampton is buried at Doingt Cemetery, France. Doingt was captured by Australian forces on 5 September 1918, during the 100 Days offensive leading up to the Armistice. The front line had moved on by the time of Frampton’s death. It would seem therefore that he died whilst at either the 20th, 41st or 55th Casualty Clearing Stations, which were near Doingt at the time.

Marion Frampton, of 291 Chichester Road, North End, would have received two War Office Telegrams in just over a year. She may in fact have received more than one, as an S.H. Frampton appears on the Portsmouth War Memorial. There is no trace, however, of anyone with this name on the CWGC database.

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