Monthly Archives: September 2010

Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions in the Great War by Paul McCye

After the outbreak of the First World War in August 1914, it was quickly realised that the relatively small size of Britain’s regular Army would not be enough to fight a long European War. Even after being reinforced by the Territorial Army, the British Expeditionary Force that left for France in 1914 was woefully small compared to the huge French and German Armies. The Secretary of State for War, Field Marshal Lord Kitchener, was under no illusions that the war would be long and bloody. His famous ‘your country needs you’ appeal inspired hundreds of thousands of men to volunteer to fight.

One of the most unique and tragic features of the Great War had its genesis in this recruitment drive. Kitchener promised that men who joined up together would be allowed to fight together, in the same Battalions. This ruling led to many ‘Pals’ Battalions, that were either distinctly in nature, or indeed some which were recruited from whole factories, professions or other social groups. Many towns and cities sponsored their own Battalions, recruited from the local young men. This book by Paul McCue focuses on the Pals Battalions raised by two London Boroughs – Wandsworth and Battersea.

Wandsworth’s Pals Battalion became part of the East Surrey Regiment, and was officially titled the 13th (Service) Battalion East Surrey Regiment (Wandsworth). Battersea’s Pals came under the Queens (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. Their proper title was the 10th (Service) Battalion Queens (Royal West Kent) Regiment (Battersea). After the decimation of the original British Expeditionary Force at the battles of Mons, Le Cateau, the Marne and First Ypres, the demmands of war on the Western Front increasingly fell upon Kitchener’s ‘New Armies’, particularly the Pals Battalions. After a long period of training, most of them reached the front by early 1916, in time for Haig’s planned ‘big push’ on the Somme.

Both the Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions were mercifully spared the bloodshed on 1 July 1916 on the first day of the Somme, but both went on to see active service in the Somme and Ypres sectors, as well as other parts of the front. The Wandsworth Pals fought in several particularly tough battles at Villers-Plouich and Bourlon Wood, and then through the ‘Kaiser Offensive’ in 1918, when most of the Battalion were captured. After this the Battalion was disbanded. The Battersea Pals fought at Devil’s Wood, and in early 1918 were sent to reinforce the Italian Front, returning to Flanders in time for the armistice. The Battalion served in the occupation of Germany, before disbanding.

Paul McCue starts each section with a detailed history of each area in question. This is important, but I would probably give a very bried overview of the early history, with more emphasis on the early twentieth century context of the borough. We then progress onto an interesting history of how each Battalion was formed – in both cases, by the Mayor and Council. There are interesting tales of how the Councils insisted on the Battalion’s being officered completely by local men, and of interesting recruitment drives and fundraising efforts to kit out the units. There are plenty of stories about individual men, particularly Corporal Edward ‘Tiny’ Foster, who won the Victoria Cross. At the end of the book McCue has included a full Roll of Honour for both Battalions, listed by Cemetery and Memorial. This is an excellent resource for researchers.

The ‘Pals’ idea proved to be a dismal failure. If a Pals unit had a particulary tough battle, a whole towns menfolk could be lost in one fell swoop, and the impact on morale, both at home and on active service, was substantial. Whereas if men were dispersed around other units, losses would be more spread out. During the Second World War the Army did not make the same mistake, and dispersed men around Regiments much more.

I applaud Pen and Sword for their Pals series. The Pals units are a uniquely local story – perhaps the most striking example in military history of towns and cities having a shared military heritage, forged through enlistment, training, battle and then losses and casualties. Producing histories of each of the Pals Battalions around the country provides not only something of local importance, but also a rich tapestry of the experience of war for ordinary local men and its impact on communities. It’s seriously got me thinking about the Portsmouth Pals, and what little we know about them.

Wandsworth and Battersea Battalions in the Great War is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Book of the Week, Local History, Uncategorized, western front, World War One

PM and Defence Secretary at odds over Defence Review

Liam Fox, British Conservative politician.

Defence Secretary Dr Liam Fox MP (Image via Wikipedia)

A leaked private letter to the Prime Minister from the Defence Secretary, Dr Liam Fox, has shown that the current Strategic Defence and Security Review is nothing more than a cover for the Government-wide Comprehensive Spending Review. The disagreement also shows the complete disunity within the Government over the Review.

I’ve quoted below some of the most important points in the letter:

Frankly this process is looking less and less defensible as a proper SDSR (Strategic Defence and Strategy Review) and more like a “super CSR” (Comprehensive Spending Review). If it continues on its current trajectory it is likely to have grave political consequences for us, destroying much of the reputation and capital you, and we, have built up in recent years. Party, media, military and the international reaction will be brutal if we do not recognise the dangers and continue to push for such draconian cuts at a time when we are at war.

How do we want to be remembered and judged for our stewardship of national security? We have repeatedly and robustly argued that this is the first duty of Government and we run the risk of having those words thrown back at us if the SDSR fails to reflect that position and act upon it.

Our decisions today will limit severely the options available to this and all future governments. The range of operations that we can do today we will simply not be able to do in the future.

The potential for the scale of the changes to seriously damage morale across the Armed Forces should not be underestimated. This will be exacerbated by the fact that the changes proposed would follow years of mismanagement by our predecessors. It may also coincide with a period of major challenge (and, in all probability, significant casualties) in Afghanistan.

Even at this stage we should be looking at the strategic and security implications of our decisions. It would be a great pity if, having championed the cause of our Armed Forces and set up the innovation of the NSC, we simply produced a cuts package. Cuts there will have to be. Coherence, we cannot do without, if there is to be any chance of a credible narrative.

Specific cuts mentioned in the letter are reducing standing naval commitments in the Indian Ocean, Carribean and Gulf, scrapping amphibious vessels and auxiliaries, the Nimrod MR4A maritime aircraft. Dr Fox implies that we could not re-do the Sierra Leone operation again, and also that we would have great trouble reinforcing the Falklands in an emergency. The ability to assist civil authorities would be reduced, as would the assistance the military could give in the event of terrorist attacks, and security for the 2012 Olympics.

Liam Fox has long been one of the Tory front-bench who I find it possible to respect – more so than most of the public schoolboy Thatcher-worshipping ilk. A former GP, and thus one of the few prominent politicians nowadays who has had a career other than politics or ‘policy’, he’s spent a long time in the Shadow Cabinet in various roles. Having been Shadow Defence Secretary for almost five years might be expected to have some idea of what he’s talking about.

I think the severe lack of senior politicians with any kind of armed forces experience - or for that matter with any experience of knowledge of history - shows. Any decision-maker with any sense would be looking closely at John Nott‘s 1981 Defence Review as a how-not-to-do-it. Yet that is exactly what Cameron and Osborne propose. It’s rather sad to think that the Conservatives came to power after touting themselves as the party of the armed forces. Even their former pet General, Sir Richard Dannatt, has waded in on Dr Fox’s side.

Fox’s reference to the possible reaction amongst the party membership is interesting. Although it is often thought that the Tory is made up of lots of ex-Guards Officers, via Eton and Sandhurst, the only former soldier of note on the Tory front bench is Ian Duncan-Smith. There are more than a few ex-military backbenchers, but how much influence do they have over ‘Dave’ Cameron and Boy George? I can’t imagine them, nor the Tory old guard around Britain, being too happy about the hatchet being wielded over the armed forces.

It is hard to disagree either with the assertion that the safety and security of the nation is the first duty of any Government. If they fail with that, then we’d all might as well give up. It’s no good having wonderful schools, hospitals and a thriving economy if enemies – either other states or terrorists – are able to disrupt our everyday lives at will. When we’re conducting an intervention abroad, say in Iraq or Afghanistan, we get the security sorted first, in order for the reconstruction to start. Why should the principle be any different when it comes to Defence closer to home?

Another thought that is deeply disturbing… if the Defence Secretary is having to write to the Prime Minister explaining his concerns about how the Review is progressing, who the hell is producing the review? It’s not a Defence Review… its a pure and simple cuts package. At least previous reviews made some attempt at sketching out the strategic direction. That somebody in the MOD feels the need to leak such a letter is indicative of how poorly this is being handled.

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Could the Allies have bombed Auschwitz?

Photo of the Nazi extermination camp at Auschw...

An aerial photograph of Auschwitz-Birkenau, taken by the US Air Force (Image via Wikipedia)

Somebody asked me recently what I think about the debates about whether the Allies could have bombed Auschwitz, in order to prevent the mass murder of millions of people during the Second World War. Theres always been a very heated debate about the subject, quite understandably given the massive number of victims, and the tragedy that we now know the Holocaust to be.

Historical Debates tend to align into two points of view. Firstly, the ‘Abandonment of the Jews’ – that the Allies knew what was going on, that they could have bombed the death camps, but for whatever reason they chose not to. On the other hand, many historians feel that the Allies only had patchy intelligence about the exterminations; that wartime propaganda made it difficult to know what was true and what was embellished; and that the long range and the risk of killing the prisoners in particular made it impossible to do anything.

The strategic situation in 1943-4

Whilst draconian measures against the Jews in German occupied Europe had begun as soon as the Nazis came to power in 1933 (the 1934 Nuremberg laws, Reichkristallnacht in 1938, the ghettos in the East), it was in 1943 and 1944 that the ‘Final Solution‘ – the extermination of the Jews – was put into action. In particular, 1944 saw the extermination of the large population of Jews from Hungary.

By 1943 and 1944, the Western Allies had received enough intelligence to know that mass murder was taking place in occupied Europe. Reports had reached Britain and the US from prisoners who had escaped from Auschwitz, particularly the Vrba-Wetzler report which surfaced in 1944. Earlier in the war Britain had received intelligence from Polish sources, and later in the war Auachwitz was inadvertantly photographed by the US Air Force, although analysts failed to realise the sites significance. There was no doubt that seriously unpleasant events were taking place in eastern Poland, the only arguments seem to have been focussed on the number of victims, where they were taking place, and what if anything could be done about them.

The Death Camps

One problem with our understanding of the Holocaust is that for many people, Auschwitz IS the Holocaust. Over a million people are estimated to have been killed there, but millions of people died in other extermination camps elsewhere in Poland – Sobibor, Chelmno, Madjanek, Belzec and Treblinka for example. But in the debate about Bombing Auschwitz, these camps are always overlooked. The Holocaust was taking place on such a wide scale, with a thorough administration, stretching back to the SS and the Reich Main Security Office in Berlin, and with people such as Heydrich, Eichmann and Kaltenbrunner involved. Simply bombing one camp would not have ended the whole programme of murder: persecution of the Jews was a fundamental tenet of Hitler and the Nazi party, it would have been akin to chopping one tentacle off a squid. Given the lengths the Nazis were willing to go to, and the complexity of the mass murder machine, the only way the Holocaust could be totally stopped would be to defeat Nazi Germany once and for all.

The problem of precision Bombing at long range

We also need to bear in mind the problems of bombing such a precise target. We assume that the RAF would have been able to drop bombs on a sixpence, neatly destroying the administration block, the gas chambers, and the railways lines, without harming any of the inmates. Cruise missiles with GPS and laser guiding might be able to achieve that level of accuracy, but in 1943 and 1944, the picture was somewhat different. The RAF and USAAF were bombing Germany by night and day throughout 1943 and 1944, but suffering huge losses in aircraft and crews in the process. Even with advances such as GEE, Oboe, H2S, and pathfinding tactics, the only way that the Air Forces could seriously damage targets was to area bomb them – to drop huge amounts of explosives and incendiaries over a wide area. This was clearly a tactic that could not be used against Auschwitz or any other camps, as it would have resulted in the deaths of thousands of prisoners, and might not have been sure to succeed in any case. Some precision bombing raids did take place in the war – the Dambusters raid on the Ruhr Dams, for example. However this involved a Squadron spending much time and resources working on a specficially designed bomb, with countless hours of scientific research and special navigational aids. And although the raid succeeded, it suffered high losses.

If it was not possible to bomb the camp itself, might it have been possible to bomb the railway lines going into the camp? Railways lines were a very difficult target to hit – being extremely narrow, even more so from 10,000 feet up. It would have taken an awful lot of planes, dropping many bombs, to give a good chance of destroying the railway lines. But even then, railways lines were relatively easy to repair – they consist pretty much of aggregate stone, sleepers and the track itself. Even if the line was hit and cratered, it would take little time for the Germans to make slave labourers fill in the craters and re-lay the lines.

Auschwitz was at the very extreme limit of the range of Bombers such as the Lancaster and the Flying Fortress, flying from Britain. The bombers were not able to fly from anywhere in liberated Europe until virtually the end of the war, although some bases in southern Italy were available, these were at about the same range. Whilst it would have been possible to fly Bombing missions of that range - the US Air Force did carry out a few small raids on industrial targets in Southern Poland - it was at the very extreme range of what was possible. Flying to Bomb Auschwitz would have entailed an extremely long flight across Germany itself, and – in all likelihood – massive losses from flak and nightfighters. The distance might have limited the bombload that could have been carried. And we should not underestimate the challenge of bombing accurately after such a long flight.

The long range might have not been such a problem, had British and American aircraft been able to land in Soviet occupied territory to refuel. However, the Soviet authorities were not keen to allow the western allies to do so. When the British and Americans wanted to land planes in soviet-held territory in order to drop supplies to the Polish Resistance during the uprising in August 1944, Stalin refused to help until it was too late.

There have also been suggestions that Britain and the US could have dropped the 1st Polish Parachute Brigade on the camp. This would have entailed a flight of the same distances of a bombing raid, in C-47 Dakota’s with less range, which were also unarmed and unarmoured. The lightly armed Polish Paras would have been hundreds of miles behind enemy lines, and would have had to fight a well prepared SS Guard, who probably numbered the same as them, with the ability to call in reinforcements quickly. They might even have liquidated the prisoners more quickly. In any case, even if the Polish Parachute Brigade had landed and liberated the camp, what then? Auschwitz was almost certainly going to be liberated by the Red Army, who were not happy for the British-supported Parachute Brigade to be used anywhere in their sphere of influence.

The Soviets

Whilst the British and Americans might be seen to have had the means to take action over Auschwitz, the Soviet Union was fighting on the Eastern Front, and was much closer to liberating Auschwitz. In February 1945, it was soldiers of the Red Army who discovered the camp, it having been abandoned by its SS Guards. They also liberated the other extermination camps in the East. But the Russians possessed a negligible Air Force compared to Britain and the United States.

Although Bombing might be able to impact upon the enemy, the only way to completely end the atrocities of the Holocaust was to defeat the Nazis, liberate occupied Europe and Germany itself – only by doing so could the mass-murders really be stopped. Anything else could only have a short-term effect, and as we have seen, even as the Third Reich was collapsing, the Nazis were still determined to exterminate the Jews.

Neither should we forget that the Soviet Union under Stalin was capable of committing some terrible crimes. With the Great Purges, the liquidation of the Kukaks and the massacre of Polish Officers at Katyn, it has been argued by some historians that Stalin is ultimately responsible for more crimes than Hitler was. This is an important point to consider. Whilst some might feel that the western allies did not do enough, all the evidence suggests that Stalin and his subordinates, if they knew about the Holocaust, in all probability did not see it as a priority to stop it. Such was the disregard for human life that Stalin had. Indeed, when photographs appeared of what the Red Army had found, many refused to believe it, seeing it as Communist anti-Nazi propaganda.

Final Thoughts

This is such an emotive, and, difficult subject to write about. No matter what conclusion you come to, you are bound to upset somebody. But on the balance of history and evidence, for that is what we must deal with, I do not think the Western Allies could have done much to prevent the Holocaust by bombing the camps. I feel that the possiblity was looked into, but rightly the planners concluded that it was just not possible to enact. Winston Churchill, a long-time supporter of Jewish groups, even at one time ordered the RAF to look into launching a bombing raid, offering his own personal influence if others tried to prevent it. But Churchill himself accepted the problems that his officers had come up against. I believe that any historian would want the allies to have been able to do something, and would want them to have done it. But it just could not be done. Of course, now it would be impossible, with high-tech sattelite observation, for such genocide to take place on such a scale unhindred, and with precisiom bombing and advanced special forces, we have more options for prevention.

I don’t think the myth of an allied abandonment of the Jews holds water. The Jewish lobby had great influence in both Britain and the US before, during and after the war. Britain had been the main instigator, via the Balfour decleration, of the call for a Jewish homeland. British forces liberated Belsen, and US forces liberated Dachau, and both camps saw considerable disaster relief efforts. If the western allies were guilty of anything regarding the holocaust, it is of not doing enough when they had the chance, prior to 1939 when all the signs were there that the persecution of the Jews was not going to stop and was likely to get worse. More effort to help Jews escape mainland Europe would have lessened the number who ended up in the death camps. Or, better still, standing up to Hitler in the first place might have prevented him having the opportinity to commit mass murder.

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Filed under debate, Holocaust, Uncategorized, World War Two

Argentinian President thanks Uruguay

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, President of A...

Cristina Fernández de Kirchner (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve only just picked up on this story, having been away last week, but I think its shows the dubious quality of politics in South America. It would be hilarious if it wasn’t so worrying. The story appeared in the Portsmouth News last week.

President Cristina Kirchner – in a wonderful show of democracy, the wife of the previous President – launched a video thanking the President of Uruguay for ‘respecting all Argentinians’ for not allowing HMS Gloucester into Montevideo. Unbelievably, Kirchner then went on to suggest that Argentina and Uruguay should form a ‘joint defence’ against Britain. If only Mrs. Kirchner would show some respect for the people who elected her by not patronising them.

“We know they are coming to exhaust our natural resources. They may come for the oil, they may come for the fish. They are after Argentina today, maybe they will be after Uruguay tomorrow if they feel they are lacking something up there. I appreciate the eternal solidarity Uruguay has showed towards the Malvinas (Falkland Islands). For this is a question that belongs to the whole of South America.”

I doubt very much whether, in real terms, the rest of South America is bothered about the Falkland Islands – this is just powerplay. Argentina have only started making a big deal out of the issue since the discovery of oil reserves in the area, and economic problems in Argentina. The Malvinas issue is being used for domestic reasons, which is not only offensive to the people in Argentina but also the Falklands. The idea of Britain being an agressor ‘after Uruguay tomorrow’ is ridiculous – history tells us where the agression comes from. The sad fact is that if a British minister were to talk like that there would be hell to pay.

On the one hand we might wonder why HM Government has not said anything about this, but its probably better not to dignify such posturing otherwise we would get tangled up in a real mess. There is a problem with third and second world countries pleading to be taken seriously, but still behaving like bannana republics.

But… again, with such chest-beating emanating from Buenos Aires, will the ConDem Government still go ahead with their plans to decimate the armed forces, and abandon all ability to defend the British citizens on the Falklands. The Argentine Government is probably watching the Strategic Defence Review more closely than the British public. And lets remember, Argentina is currently negotiating with France to purchase a Landing Ship. It doesn’t take too much to work out what Argentina would like to use it for…

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Portsmouth WW2 Dead: Foreign Fields

I’ve been working on a list of the Cemeteries where Portsmouth’s WW2 Dead are buried. Now I’ve completed the database of names, the idea is to try and build up as much information about each person as possible. I know some people might think that grave photographs are slightly macabre, but I’ve heard some really touching stories. In one case, a woman had never seen her fathers grave as it was on the other side of the world, and somebody who collected grave photographs of his Regiment was able to forward her a picture of her fathers grave. Hopefully I might be able to do something similar for the men and women from Portsmouth who died in the Second World War.

This is a list of all of the Cemteries ABROAD where men are buried, and the Memorials where men with no known grave are commemorated. I would be very grateful indeed if anybody would be able to help in obtaining photographs from some of these locations. I appreciate of course that some of the countries – Burma, Libya, Iraq, Zimbabwe etc – are slightly inaccesible! I can produce a list of the men buried in each of the Cemeteries, along with names, grave reference and all other information.

Algeria

Bone War Cemetery, Annaba

Dely Ibrahim War Cemetery

El Alia Cemetery

La Reunion War Cemetery

Le Petit Lac Cemetery

Australia

Sydney War Cemetery

Rookwood Crematorium, Sydney

Austria

Klagenfurt War Cemetery

Bahamas

 Nassau War Cemetery

Bangladesh

 Maynamati War Cemetery

Belgium

Aaigem Communal Cemetery

Adegem Canadian War Cemetery

Assesse Communal Cemetery

Avelgem Communal Cemetery

Brussels Town Cemetery

Chievres Communal Cemetery

Comines (Komen) Communal Cemetery

Coxyde Military Cemetery

Dinant (Citadelle) Military Cemetery

Enghien (Edinghen) Communal Cemetery

Florennes Communal Cemetery

Gosselies Communal Cemetery

Heverlee War Cemetery

Leopoldsburg War Cemetery

Ooike Churchyard

Oostduinkerke Communal Cemetery

Schoonselhof Cemetery

Burma

Kohima War Cemetery

Rangoon War Cemetery

Rangoon Memorial

Taukkyan War Cemetery

Thanbyuzayat War Cemetery

Canada

Grand Prairie Cemetery

Yarmouth (Mountain) Cemetery

Halifax (Camp Hill) Cemetery

Halifax Memorial

Goderich (Maitland) Cemetery

Ottawa Memorial

Saskatoon (Woodlawn) Cemetery

Czech Republic

Prague War Cemetery

Ethiopia

Addis Ababa War Cemetery

Egypt

El Alamein War Cemetery

Alamein Memorial

Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery

Alexandra (Chatby) Military Cemetery

Cairo War Memorial Cemetery

Fayid War Cemetery

Heliopolis War Cemetery

Ismailia War Memorial Cemetery

Kantara War Memorial Cemetery

Moascar War Cemetery

Port Said War Memorial Cemetery

Suez War Memorial Cemetery

France

Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension

Argenta Gap War Cemetery

Banneville-la-Campagne War Cemetery

Bayeux War Cemetery

Bayeux Memorial

Ryes War Cemetery, Bazenville

Boulogne Eastern Cemetery

Bretteville-sur-Laize Canadian War Cemetery

Brouay War Cemetery

Cambrai (Route des Solesmes) Communal Cemetery

Candas Communal Cemetery

Champignol-lez-Mondeville Churchyard

Chehery Communal Cemetery

Choloy War Cemetery

Janval Cemetery, Dieppe

Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery, Hautot-sur-Mer

Dinard English Cemetery

Dunkirk Town Cemetery

Dunkirk Memorial

Equilly Churchyard

Essars Communal Cemetery

Fontenay-le-Pensel War Cemetery, Tessel

Giverny Churchyard

Guilers Churchyard

Haguenau French National Cemetery

Hermanville War Cemetery

Hottot-les-Bagues War Cemetery

Houdan Communal Cemetery

Houdetot Churchyard

La Bernerie-en-Retz Communal Cemetery

L’aiguillon-sur-Mer Communal Cemetery

Lavannes Churchyard

Le Doulieu Churchyard

Ste. Marie Cemetery, Le Havre

Les Moeres Communal Cemetery

Liesse Communal Cemetery

Lignieres-Orgeres Communal Cemetery

London Cemetery and Extension, Longueval

Magny Churchyard, Eure-et-Loir

Malo Le Bains Communal Cemetery

Marigny-en-Orxois Communal Cemetery

Marquise Communal Cemetery

Mazargues War Cemetery, Marseille

Nantes (Pont-du-Cens) Communal Cemetery

Pihen-les-Guines Communal Cemetery

Pihen-les-Guines War Cemetery

Pont-de-Metz Churchyard

Pornic War Cemetery

Ranville War Cemetery

Rennes Eastern Communal Cemetery

Romescamps Churchyard

St Charles de Percy War Cemetery

St Desir War Cemetery

St Hilarion Communal Cemetery

St Manvieu War Cemetery, Chieux

Tilly-sur-Seulles War Cemetery

Ugny-sur-Meuse Communal Cemetery

Vieux-Conde Communal Cemetery

Vignory Communal Cemetery

Gambia

Fajara War Cemetery

Germany

Becklingen War Cemetery

Berlin 1939-1945 War Cemetery

Cologne Southern Cemetery

Durnbach War Cemetery

Hamburg Cemetery

Hanover War Cemetery

Kiel War Cemetery

Munster Heath War Cemetery

Reichswald Forest War Cemetery

Rheinberg War Cemetery

Sage War Cemetery

Gibraltar

 Gibraltar (North Front) Cemetery

Greece

 Athens Memorial

Phaleron War Cemetery

Suda Bay War Cemetery

Holland

 Ameland (Nes) General Cemetery

Amersfoort General Cemetery

Amsterdam (Oud Leusden) General Cemetery

Apeldoorn (Ugchelen-Heidehof) General Cemetery

Arnhem-Oosterbeek War Cemetery

Bergen-op-Zoom General Cemetery

Brunssum War Cemetery

Cadzand General Cemetery

Druten (Puiflijk) Roman Catholic Churchyard

Eindhoven (Woensel) General Cemetery

Gaasterland (Bakhuizen) Roman Catholic Cemetery

Goirle Roman Catholic Cemetery

Groesbeek Canadian War Cemetery

Groesbeek Memorial

Harderwijk General Cemetery

Heemskerk Protestant Churchyard

Jonkerbos War Cemetery

Mierlo War Cemetery

Mook War Cemetery

Noordwijk General Cemetery

Overloon War Cemetery

Raalte General Cemetery

Schoorl General Cemetery

Staphorst (Rouveen) New General Cemetery

Uden War Cemetery

Valkenswaard War Cemetery

Venray War Cemetery

Voorburg Eastern General Cemetery

Wieringhen (Hippolytusheof) General Cemetery

Zelhem General Cemetery

Zwollerkerspel (Voorst) General Cemetery

Hong Kong

Sai Wan Cemetery

Sai Wan Memorial

Stanley Military Cemetery

India

Madras War Cemetery

Delhi War Cemetery

Kirkee War Cemetery

Calcutta (Bhowanipore) Cemetery

Imphal War Cemetery

Ranchi War Cemetery

Gauhati War Cemetery

Indonesia

Ambon War Cemetery

Jakarta War Cemetery

Iraq

Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery

Habbaniya War Cemetery

Israel

Khayat Beach War Cemetery

Haifa War Cemetery

Ramleh War Cemetery

Italy

Ancona War Cemetery

Beach Head War Cemetery, Anzio

Anzio War Cemetery

Arezzo War Cemetery

Argenta Gap War Cemetery

Assisi War Cemetery

Bari War Cemetery

Caserta War Cemetery

Cassino War Cemetery

Cassino Memorial

Catania War Cemetery, Sicily

Coriano Ridge War Cemetery

Faenza War Cemetery

Florence War Cemetery

Foiano Della Chiana War Cemetery

Forli War Cemetery

Gradara War Cemetery

Meldola War Cemetery

Milan War Cemetery

Minturno War Cemetery

Montecchio War Cemetery

Moro River Canadian War Cemetery

Naples War Cemetery

Orvieto War Cemetery

Padua War Cemetery

Ravenna War Cemetery

Rome War Cemetery

Salerno War Cemetery

Sangro River War Cemetery

Syracuse War Cemetery, Sicily

Udine War Cemetery

Japan

 Yokohama War Cemetery

Kenya

Mombasa (Mbaraki) Cemetery

Kisumu Cemetery

Nairobi War Cemetery

East Africa Memorial (Nairobi)

Libya

Knightsbridge War Cemetery, Acroma

Tobruk War Cemetery

Tripoli War Cemetery

Benghazi War Cemetery

Malaysia

 Labuan War Cemetery

Malta

Imtarfa Military Cemetery

Malta (Capuccini) Naval Cemetery

Malta Memorial

Pembroke Military Cemetery

Morocco

Ben M’sik European Cemetery

New Zealand

Auckland (Waikumete) Cemetery

Nigeria

 Kaduna Civil Cemetery

Norway

Bergen (Mollendal) Church Cemetery

Sola Churchyard

Stavanger (Eiganes) Churchyard

Trondheim (Travne) Cemetery

Pakistan

Karachi War Cemetery

Papua New Guinea

Lae War Cemetery

Poland

Krakow Rakowicki Cemetery

Serbia

Belgrade War Cemetery

Sierra Leone

Freetown (King Tom) Cemetery

Singapore

Kranji War Cemetery

Singapore Memorial

South Africa

Johannesburg (West Park) Cremation Memorial

Cape Town (Maitland) Cemetery

Cape Town (Plumstead) Cemetery

Durban (Stellawood) Cemetery

Pietermaritzburg (Fort Napier) Cemetery

Spain

St George’s British Cemetery (Malaga)

Sri Lanka

Colombo (Liveramentu) Cemetery

Colombo (Kanatte) General Cemetery

Trincomalee War Cemetery

Kandy War Cemetery

Sudan

Khartoum Memorial

Syria

Damascus War Cemetery

Thailand

Chungkai War Cemetery

Kanchanaburi War Cemetery

Tunisia

 Beja War Cemetery

Enfidaville War Cemetery

Massicault War Cemetery

Medjez-el-Bab War Cemetery

Medjez-el-Bab Memorial

Oued Zarga War Cemetery

Sfax War Cemetery

Tabarka Ras Rajel War Cemetery

Thibar Seminary War Cemetery

Uganda

Jinja War Cemetery

USA

Asheville (Riverside) Cemetery [North Carolina]

Everett (Woodlawn) Cemetery [Massachussets]

Long Island National Cemery, Farmingdale [New York]

Miami (Woodlawn Park) Cemetery [Florida]

Montgomery (Oakwood) Cemetery Annexe [Alabama]

Philadelphia (Northwood) Cemetery [Pennsylvania]

Portsmouth (Cedar Grove) Cemetery [Virginia]

Seattle (Washelli) Cemetery [Washington]

Zimbabwe

 Harare (Pioneer) Cemetery 

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Filed under portsmouth heroes, Remembrance, World War Two

The National Archives: Day Three

Last day at National Archives in Kew. I’ve managed to look at everything I wanted to, and more besides.

I started off with looking at the Operational Record Books for 10 and 35 Squadrons RAF while Sergeant Francis Compton was serving with them. The ORB’s for each Squadron list what missions the Squadron flew on each night, which crews went, and what happened to them – what aircraft they were flying, when they took off, what bombload they carried, what they saw on the target, when they dropped their bombs, if they were engaged by any enemy aircraft, flak or searchlights, and if any damage was experienced. I don’t want to pre-empt what I’m going to write, but Francis Compton had a short but eventful flying career.

I managed to copy some very interesting documents about V Force, a clandestine guerilla force fighting in Burma. Major Maurice Budd won a Military Cross. I found the minutes of a conference, chaired by Bill Slim, the commander of the 14th Army in Burma, about the organisation of V Force. I also have copies of documents that show the war establishment of V Force – how many men and officers, and in particular they show how V Force was a mixed British and Indian unit, with some Indian officers commanding white troops, and british soldiers serving alongside Burmese and Indian men. Theres also a very useful official history document about the activities of V Force, written shortly after the war, with a view to learning lessons – possibly fearing a war against communists in the jungles of the Far East.

Finally, I discovered that Captain Bernard Brown, the Medical Officer who won a Military Cross in North Africa with an armoured unit in 1942. I originally thought that he then went to serve at a Base Hospital in Egypt, and from there back to serve as a Medical Officer with the 1st Royal Welch Regiment, where he was killed in early 1945. Not only have I found out that he died in his sleep of natural causes, for some unknown reason he left the 1st Royal Welch in September 1944, went to serve with the 1/7th Battalion of the Queens Regiment for less than a week – why, their war diary does not say, and it doesn’t say where he went to. Very strange indeed.

So all in all, a very interesting and useful trip. I’ve got plenty of information now to write some sample chapters – I’m thinking about CPO Reg Ellingworth, Major Robert Easton and Flight Lieutenant John Coghlan. I’ve also got lots of useful stuff about Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey, Major Maurice Budd, and Sergeant Francis Compton. There will probably be a few more trips to Kew before I’ve finished writing the book, but I’ve got enough now to get started on a few sample chapters, and the basis for a few more.

I do fear about the future for the National Archives, however. Since I’ve been going there they have already closed on Mondays and cut their opening hours on other days. Their digitisation programme for putting documents online has also been drastrically curtailed, with only third parties like Ancestry and FindMyPast making records available on the web. And with the current Government’s philistine and ideological desire to slash public spending at any price, who knows what draconian measures might happen?

Despite its penchant for Political Correctness, I’ve got a real soft spot for Kew. Even though it tends to put on talks about things like ‘the history of reducing the Carbon footprint of bisexual ethnic minorities’, I think its such an amazing place and an amazing resource. I know a lot of  ‘serious researchers’ sniffed when they moved the Family Research Centre to Kew, but I think it works – theres something very refreshing about professors and historians rubbing shoulders with Mrs Jones studying her family tree – the two should go together.

Now, off to start transcribing some 300+ digital images of documents!

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The National Archives: Day Two

Another hectic day in the National Archives at Kew. After my wise words about being prepared etc yesterday, I somehow managed to sleep in a little bit later than I planned… but didn’t lose too much time thankfully.

I’ve managed to look at the war diaries for all of the units that Robert Easton was with – the 1/6th Lancashire Fusiliers from 1939 until 1941, and then the 109th Regiment Royal Armoured Corps (Lancs. Fus.) until they were disbanded in 1942, and then with the 142nd Regiment Royal Armoured Corps in North Africa and Italy until he was killed in September 1944. A regular officer, he was posted to the 1/6th Lancs Fusiliers early in the war. A territorial battalion, most of the officers – including the C.O. – were part-time soldiers. So as Adjutant and a regular soldier, Easton would have been the backbone of the Battalion. I’ve also found out that he was mentioned in despatches for Dunkirk, which I hadn’t previously known. I’ve also got details for all of the courses that he went on, especially during the Battalion’s conversion to armour in 1941.

I found a real gem in Flight Lieutenant John Coghlan’s original leather-bound pilot’s log book. Only a small number of these remain, so it was a great find. It lists every flight he took in RAF service, from training in Tiger Moths up to flying Hurricanes in the Battle of Britain in 1940, and also his instructors and commanders comments on his progress and abilities. I now know how many flying hours he had, and in what types. Sadly, his log book simply finishes on 3 August, with no clue as to what happened after that. Neither does 56 Squadron’s Operations Record Book shed much light, other than that he was posted to the Parachute Practice Unit at Ringway, Manchester.

I found time to take a look at some war diaries related to Captain Bernard Brown, the Medical Officer who died serving with the 1st Royal Welsh in Italy in February 1945. As soon as I flicked through the diary, I was perplexed… they had gone to the rear to rest in early February. Brown even went to Rome on leave for a week. All became clear, however, when the war diary recorded that Brown died in his sleep on the night of 24-25 February – it seems that he died of natural causes. There is of course something tragically ironic about a decorated Medical Officer, and a qualified surgeon, dying of natural causes in his sleep.

I also took a look at some documents related to Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey. I’ve found damage reports for when his ship – HMS Lively – was shelled in the Mediterranean in 1942, and then from when it was sunk off Tobruk later in the same year. I also found a document recommending officers and ratings for awards after HMS Lively was sunk – including some very detailed descriptions of what happened, how the ship sank, and the circumstances in which Hussey went down with her.

Finally, I had a look at a few documents about Major Maurice Budd, who won a Military Cross in Burma in 1945 with V Force, a special forces unit. I found a document containing the minutes of a conference, chaired by General Bill Slim, about the role V Force was to play in the war in Burma, and how it was to be constituted – how many men – Indian and English – and how the unit was to be structured.

All in all a very succesfull day – apart from dropping Fl. Lt. Coghlan’s log book while queuing up for the photocopier, and getting a crick in my neck looking at the microfilm reader – why do they scan documents onto film, and then set them up landscape instead of portrait? And why dont the microfilm readers have a rotate option? Even the one in Portsmouth Central Library does!

So far I haven’t found anything truly earth-shattering, but plenty of useful material none the less – it all goes towards building up the bigger picture. Last day tomorrow, then back to reality!

Tomorrow: More about Captain Bernard Brown and Lieutenant-Commander William Hussey, plus (hopefully) Wing Commander John Buchanan and more.

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The Fighting Fourth: No.4 Commando at War 1940-45 by James Dunning

One of the lingering misconceptions of the Second World War is that ‘Commando’ = ‘Royal Marines‘. True, the Royals might sport the green berets nowadays, be called Commando’s, and even serve in a Commando Brigade. Over the past 60 or so years they have very much made the name their own.

But the birth of the Commando is slightly more complicated than that. The first Commandos were in fact formed in 1940, during the invasion scare. And whats more, the first units were formed from Army personnel – volunteers who were bored and looking for action. Realising that the country was going to be on the defensive for some time, and had a paucity in regular troops, Winston Churchill ordered the raising of Commando special forces, based on the Boer Kommando he had encountered in South Africa years before.

No 4 Commando had an impressive list of battle honours during its short life. Lofoten Islands, Dieppe, D-Day and Walcheren are impressive honours for any unit. But upon reading this history by a veteran of No. 4, its impossible not to admire these fine men. They were clearly trained to a high pitch – sniper training, amphibious training, mountain training, general physical fitness, field craft – these really were some of the best men Britain had to offer.

After opening their account in the daring Lofoten raid in 1941, destroying a fish oil processing port in Northern Norway, No 4 then guarded the left flank of the ill-fated Dieppe raid. Although the raid was nothing short of a disaster, No 4 did extremely well, putting a gun position out of action, and Captain Pat Porteous won a Victoria Cross for repeatedly leading attacks while seriously wounded. I certainly dont agree that Dieppe gave valuable lessons – it shouldn’t have taken such a disaster to learn such elementary lessons. Then on D-Day No.4 Landed at Ouisterham, and hot-footed it across the Orne at Pegasus Bridge. They spent much of the Normandy campaign in the line in the Orne Bridgehead with the 6th Airborne Division, including in the Mosquito-riddled Bois de Bavent. After being withdrawn from Normandy, No.4′s final operation was the little-known but bitter fight to clear the Scheldt, where they carried out an amphibious landing at Walcheren Island. In early 1946 they were disbanded, after ending the war in Germany.

Some very famous men came from No 4 – none other than Lord Lovat, who went on to Command the Special Service Brigade that landed on D-Day and marched to reinforce the Paras at Pegasus Bridge, complete with personal Bagpiper Bill Millin. The spectacle is immortalised in the Overlord Embroidery. The unconventional nature of the Commando’s clearly attracted a lot of ‘individual’ officers and men, who were no doubt misfits to conventional military thinking. But unconventional was the norm in units such as the Commandos – in fact, they had their own organisation, with HQ commanding a number of troops (roughly equivalent to infantry platoons), with no Company level command in between. This meant that the command structure was flexible, and junior officers and NCO’s had to show initiative. In Normandy and Walcheren French Troops were also attached.

I found this a really interesting book to read. A few things really jumped out at me – it was interesting to read that No 4 Commando trained for a long time in the Purbecks region of the Dorset coast – at Worbarrow tout, Arish Mell gap and Chapmans pool. I walked over them all last summer, and its very rugged terrain to say the least. Also, I could not help but be impressed by the rigorous training that the Commando’s went through. Sadly, I have to compare it to the impression I have of the 1st Airborne Division‘s training before Arnhem, and it strikes me that they weren’t as well prepared as the Commandos. A salutory lesson – even in modern warfare, with remote-control fighting, first class training and fitness – healthy mind, healthy body and all that.

I’ve often wondered which unit, if any, could be called the ‘British Band of Brothers’. C Company of John Frost’s 2 Para have always been foremost in my mind, but the story of No.4 Commando is also a very fine one indeed.

The Fighting Fourth: No.4 Commando at War 1940-45 is published by The History Press

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Filed under Book of the Week, special forces, Uncategorized, World War Two

National Archives: Day One

The National Archives, Kew 3

The National Archives (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m at the National Archives in London for a few days doing some research for my Portsmouth’s Second World War Heroes book project. The NA is such an enigma (inside a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, to quote WSC!) that I thought it might be interesting to write a short diary of each day and what I get up to.

I’ve been to TNA plenty of times, right back to when I was a keen undergraduate at uni, happy to ignore the ‘you dont have to do original research’ pleadings of the ever-so-adventurous tutors. Ever since then, any excuse I can think of I find a way to look at Documents at Kew. Odd days up to Kew are pretty un-economical and time-consuming, especially by train. What I try and do nowadays is get some time off work, stay over somewhere and make a few days of it. That way you can get there for opening time, and leave at closing time.

Today I’ve been looking at documents related to Chief Petty Officer Reg Ellingworth GC, the mine warfare rating who was killed in September 1941. I didn’t find anything directly related to Ellingworth, but I did find plenty of background material relating to Parachute Mines – a minute from Winston Churchill, reports about the threat that they posed, and a detailed list of every Parachute Mine that landed in Britain in 1940, and a similar list for the London area for the whole of the war. I also found some useful photographs of the kind of mine that killed Ellingworth.

I got that over and done with quicker than expected, so I managed to get a look at some documents relating to Major Robert Easton DSO MBE, who was killed serving in an Armoured Regiment in Italy in 1944. He turns out to have been an even more formidable soldier than I thought – he saw action in 1940 when his Battalion went to France just before the German attack, and were constantly in action until they were evacuated. Easton played a crucial role keeping the Battalion together as Adjutant, and he was awarded the MBE. Then, after being converted to a tank Battalion, in late 1943 Easton transferred to 142nd Regiment Royal Armoured Corps, acting as second in command, then serving as a Squadron Commander, and finally permanent second in command when he died of wounds in September 1944. He certainly saw plenty of action.

Part of the knack of TNA is making the best use of your time. If you can, order documents in advance – you can order up to 6, so they will be there waiting for you to start work on straight away. As it takes up to 40 minutes for documents to arrive in the reading room, try and juggle ordering documents so you’re not left twiddling your thumbs at any point. And always go with a big long list of documents you want to look at, so if you get through them quicker than you expect, you can get more in. I’ve started taking a digital camera with me to take pictures of documents, so I can look at them when I get home – its certainly easier than scribbling everything down by hand. The only problem is, I’ve found, that if you dont get the resolution right, or if its wartime economy paper with typewriter ink, you dont get a very clear image. Its also heavy on batteries, and memory – so I’ve got my laptop to decant pictures to.

TNA is a nice place to spend time even if you’re not studying seriously – theres a great Cafe, coffee bar, shop and museum. Its diversity week there this week, and at lunchtime they had an actor dressed up in ‘negro slave’ garb, giving a performance as a freed slave. A bit PC, but very interesting – why not extend it further, and have Churchill, or Nelson? Its also fun for people watching – from the tweed wearing, old-school tie traditional historians, to the ‘sunday driver’ family historians and the academics and professionals, and not forgetting the UFO hunters, you get all sorts at TNA.

Tomorrow: More on Easton, and hopefully some stuff about Flight Lieutenant John Coghlan and some other Portsmouth Heroes.

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HMS Gloucester barred from Uruguay

HMS Gloucester docked on Portsmouth harbour.

HMS Gloucester in Portsmouth Harbour (Image via Wikipedia)

According to today’s Portsmouth News HMS Gloucester has been barred from calling in at a Uruguayan port.

The Type 42 Destroyer, on her way to the South Atlantic for her stint as Falkland Islands Guardship, had originally been granted permission to stop in Montevideo for supplies and fuel, as Royal Navy warships in the South Atlantic have frequently done for decades. When Gloucester arrived in Montevideo last week, however, she was informed that she was not welcome and asked to leave. An anonymous Uruguayan source even referred to the Falklands as the ‘Malvinas’.

Argentina had previously requested that all South American countries refuse to allow British warships or aircraft to use their facilities, in an attempt to blockade British Forces and make their job much more difficult. In 2007 HMS Nottingham was also barred from Montevideo, while also heading to the Falklands. On that occasion a specific request was made by the Argentinian Foreign Minister. Apparently that was not the case with HMS Gloucester. The barring of ports in South America is a very serious issue. In 1982 Argentina was a virtual pariah, as a military dictatorship. Although most countries did not give Britain open support (apart from perhaps Chile), neither did they support Argentina.

In the past year or so Argentina has been slowly ratcheting up pressure over the Falklands, brought to a head by the discovery of oil reserves in the South Atlantic near the Falklands. Funnily enough they were not so bothered about them until oil was discovered. I’ve written before about my views on the Falklands. British soveriegnty of the islands is something of an oddity of empire, but its by no means the only one - after all, most of the continent of South America is populated by – and ruled by – people who originally came from Spain. What happened to the indigenous people there? Yet the Falklands had no native population. The British people there now have been living there for hundreds of years, which in anyones book, makes them pretty settled. The arguments have been raked over over and over again. If there are issues, they should be raised in the United Nations.

The parallels with 1982 are rather alarming. An unpopular Argentinian Government with economic and social problems, a Thatcherite British Government looking to slash British Armed Forces, a decision pending over a South Atlantic Ice Patrol Ship, and fears that the Royal Navy might lose Aircraft Carrier and Assault Ship resources. Against that background, a lack of support – and, indeed, ambivilence to Britain in South America – is something we could well do without.

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Kiel Week – Germany’s Navy Days/Cowes Week/Boat Show

F221 Hessen "open ship" during the K...

FGS Hessen during Kiel Week 2007 (Image via Wikipedia)

Regular readers will be well aware that I was slightly disappointed with Navy Days this year – no major warships, no foreign warships, sadly a bit of a damp squib. Of course, its east to understand why we didnt have any carriers or assault ships there – Invincible in mothballs, Illustrious and Bulwark in Refit, Ark Royal, Ocean and Albion on exercise in the US – but why no visitors from overseas? Its almost unheard of.

When I was browsing on Seawave’s archived list of Port Visits, I stumbled upon a large gather of German and foreign warships in Kiel in Germany every June. With a bit of digging, it transpires that this is Germany’s answer to Navy Days, Cowes Week and the Southampton Boat Show rolled into one. Sounds like quite some event! It started in the early twentieth century, when Kaiser Wilhelm wanted to imitate the traditional British event of Cowes Week, combined with displays of German naval might.

Every year the US Navy in Europe organises a series of exercises in the Baltic, known as BALTOPS (Baltic Operations). A large contingent of US vessels take part, and of course other NATO and non-NATO countries, and after the exercise has finished most of the visitors call into Kiel Week. These are the ships that were at Kiel Week this year:

Germany: FGS U-24 (Submarine), Sachsen (Frigate), Frankfurt Am Main (auxiliary), Bayern (Frigate), Ammersee (Tanker), Fehmarn (Tug), Spiekeroog (Tug), Lutje Horn (tug).
Russia: RFS Kaliningrad (landing ship)
Denmark: HDMS Viben, Glenten, Svanen (patrol vessels), Thyra, Alholm, Ertholm (sail training ships), Budstikken (patrol ship)
Poland: ORP Kaszub (corvette)
US: USS Mount Whitney (HQ Ship), Simpson (Frigate), Stephen W. Groves (Frigate)

The year before in 2009 there was an even bigger turn-out -

Latvia: LVS Virsaitis (minelayer)
Germany: FGS Gorch Fock (tall ship), Frankfurt An Main (auxiliary), Lachs (landing craft), Wische (auxiliary), Spiekeroog (tug), Mosel (auxiliary), Rhein (auxiliary), Oker (electronics ship), Frankenthal (minehunter), Bad Rappenau (minehunter), Kulmbach (minehunter), Auerbach (minesweeper), Ensdorf (minesweeper), Passau (minehunter), Spessart (tanker), Uberherrn, Laboe (minehunters), Siegburg (minesweeper), Herten (minesweeper), Puma, Nerz, Zobel (attack ships), Hameln (minesweeper), Elbe (auxiliary), Bottsand (oil recovery ship), Eisvogel (tug), Langeness (tug), Lutje Horn (tug), Sylt, Karlsruhe (Frigate)
Russia: RFS Kaliningrad (landing ship)
Denmark: HDMS Budstikken, Sabotoren, (patrol ships) Ertholm, Alholm (sail training ships), Ebsern Snare (Frigate), Thyra, Svanen, (sail training ships) Havkatten, Makrelen, (patrol/MCMV) Glenten (patrol vessel), Peter Tordenskhold (corvette)
Lithuania: LTNS Suduvis (minesweeper)
France: FS Pegase (minesweeper), Sagittaire (minesweeper)
Finland: FNS Hamina, Hanko (fast attack craft)
Poland: ORP Jamno (minesweeper)
Netherlands: HNLMS Zeeleeuw (submarine), Maasluis, Haarlem (minehunters) Mercuur (torpedo recovery ship), Van Kinsbergen (training ship)
Britain: HMS St Albans (Type 23 Frigate)
US: USS Mount Whitney (HQ Ship), USS Forrest Sherman (Destroyer)

It makes for an interesting comparison indeed. This year at Navy Days we had two Destroyers, three Frigates, one hospital ship, one minesweeper and a landing craft. All from the Royal Navy. Of course, if theres a big event on, such as a Fleet Review, then there are more ships in for Navy Days. Plymouth Navy Days always seem to have more ships – probably because the authorities know that there is nothing else to see in Plymouth, whereas in Portsmouth the Historic Dockyard is also a pull. On the other hand, Plymouth frequently hosts foreign warships for Operational Sea Training and the Thursday wars.

Another example of how the Royal Navy could do with being a bit more savvy – if you want to put on a good Navy Days, try organising an exercise just before or after, and theres more chance that people will turn up because there will be something new and interesting to see.

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Researching First World War Soldiers

Vis en Artois British Cemetery and Memorial, F...

Vis en Artois Cemetery and Memorial (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve now entered over 2,000 names into my database of Portsmouth men killed serving in the Second World War. So far this covers 4 panels of the War Memorial in Guildhall Square, and these are only the men who fought with the Army. I have one more panel of Army names to enter and analyse. And then its on to the Navy, who have about the same number of names again!

The process goes like this – look up the names on the War Memorial (handily transcribed  by Tim Backhouse on Memorials in Portsmouth), enter the names onto my Access Database, then search for them on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Of course, when you start with just initials for forenames, its quite difficult – especially if all you have is ‘A. Smith’, which there are hundreds of – it would take days searching through that to find the right person. Fortunately, quite a few of the names on the CGWG have their house number, road name and area listed – which makes it much easier to find the right person – if you’re looking through a list of 20 or so names, its heartening to find one listed as ‘…Twyford Avenue, Stamshaw’, cos odds are you’ve found your man. But when there are 4 or 5 names, and none of them have any details, its so frustrating – its got to be one of them, surely? But sometimes the sheer number of names can be daunting.

Its going to take some serious research to track down the several hundred men who are remaining elusive – but by using Street Directories, Register Office Records, the 1901 and 1911 Census, and electoral registers, it should be possible to slowly but surely fill out the gaps.

Another problem can be when you enter the name into the CWGC and NOTHING comes up – they must have been a real person, surely? Otherwise why would their names have been put forward for the memorial? The only thing I can suggest is that mistakes were made in compiling the names for the memorial, or perhaps people had different given names – someone registed officially as Harry James, for example, might have been known as Jim, and thus entered on the Memorial as J., and not H.J… it takes a bit of imagination to ferret these things out.

Another difference with researching First World War soldiers, is that it is much harder to trace details of any medals that they won. With the Second World War, more often and not you can find their award listed in the London Gazette. But for the First World War there are just so many, its like trawling through a haystack. You have to use some cunning, such as typing in a mans service number in the search, rather than their name. The problem there, of course, is that prior to 1920ish the Army didnt have an Army-wide numbering system, so if you’re looking for a Military Medal awarded to Private Jones 14532, there might be scores of 14532′s in the Army. Also, whereas many Second World War medal citations have been made available online on the National Archives website, the only information we have for First World War soldiers are their medal cards – relatively spartan in detail.

But on the flipside, one other source we have readily available for the Western Front are the War Diaries. Select War Diaries have been made available on The National Archives, such as the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, which I have been serialising on Daly History for the past few months. Although these rarely mention individual soldiers – especially not other ranks – they do give you the wider picture of what was hapenning day to day. If you know that someone died on a particular day, you can look up what was happening – if they were in the front line undergoing heavy shelling, maybe the man was killed that way. Or if there was a raid and he is listed on a memorial to the missing, he might have been killed in no mans land. Alternatively, if he died somewhere away from where the Battalion was, or on a day when they were not in action, he probably died of wounds or illness in a hospital behind the lines.

Another useful source is the National Roll, a publication produced after the war, the lists not only men who died, but other men who survived. Its not comprehensive – men or their families put their details forward, meaning that only a percentage of men are listed – but none the less, for the men who are included, it is a gold mine of information. Most entries tell you when a man joined the Army, and whether he was a regular, mobilised with the territorial force, volunteered in 1914, attested under the Derby Scheme, or was conscripted. This fact on its own builds up a veritable social history of the manpower situation. Some men have more information than others – most entries tell us where a man fought, if he was wounded, or if he won medals. Some tell very interesting stories – such as the Hampshire Regiment soldier who was captured at Kut, fell ill with Dysentry and fell out of the march to captivity and was left to die on the side of the road; the Sergeant killed in a Grenade accident at a training school in the New Forest; or the Sapper serving with Grave Registration unit after the war who drowned in a Canal. Without these details, they would just be names. But with their stories, we are so much closer to knowing who they were and what they went through.

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Port Visits – useful website

HMS Diamond in the Clyde. Radar and gun fitted.

HMS Diamond at the builders yard (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve stumbled on a pretty interesting website, called Port Visits. I can see it being one of those websites that I frequently visit!

Some intrepid person has taken it upon themselves to compile a website of warship movements around the world, from virtually every navy on the seas. Its interesting to see what’s going on around the world – courtesy visits, exercises, reviews, for example. Theres always a lot going on at Plymouth – because its the base for Royal Navy Operational Sea Training (FOST). Foreign warships call in too, such as this Monday coming the German FGS Bayern (Brandenburg class Frigate), FGS Hamburg (Sachsen class Frigate), FGS Berlin (auxiliary) and the Dutch HNLMS De Ruyter (De Zeven Provinicen Class Frigate). I’ve got to admit, I wouldn’t mind getting some pictures…

The US Navy survey ship USNS Henson is calling in to Portsmouth, as well as the British Hospital ship RFA Argus. On Wednesday the third Type 45 Destroyer, HMS Diamond, arrives in Portsmouth for the first time. The Portsmouth based Type 42 Destroyer HMS Manchester is calling in at St Kitts and Bermuda in the Carribean on Disaster relief duties during the Hurricane season (no doubt keeping an eye out for drug runners too).

Further afield, theres a big fleet review taking place at Valparaiso in Chile for the 200th anniversary of the Chilean Navy. Britain is represented by HMS Portland, the Plymouth based Type 23 Frigate. She’ll be meeting up with her old Type 23 sister ships, Almirante Condell, Almirante Cochrane and Almirante Lynch. Also attending are ships from Argentina (GC Mantilla, patrol ship), Brazil (Barroso, Corvette), an un-named ship from Iran, Canada (HMCS Protecteur, auxiliary; and HMCS Algonquin, Iroquois class Destroyer) and the US Navy (USS Jarrett, Oliver Hazard Perry Class Frigate). The presence of an Iranian warship will be interesting, alongside the US Navy, and also a Royal Navy ship taking part in a review alongside an Argentinian vessel. It also shows how times have changed – whilst the UK and Chile have long been allies, Chile and Argentina have always had a difficult relationship, but at present are enjoying cordial relations.

Further into the future, you can see what port visits are scheduled in the long term – Chinese warships visiting Sydney sometime in September, Japanese ships visiting Jakarta, China and South Korea, USS Mount Whitney calling in at Murmansk, and so on. Its really useful, because port visits in Portsmouth – and a lot of places nowadays, I suspect – only get announced a day or two before they take place.

Another very useful resource, is that you can dig back through the archives back to January 2000, to see whats been going on over time. I’ve found it really interesting seeing what ships arrived in Portsmouth for the International Fleet Review in June 2005. There was also quite a big event at Kiel in Germany that month too, with ships from the Royal Navy, Spain, Ireland, Poland, Russia, France, Egypt, Latvia, Belgium, Finland, Norway, Holland, Canada and the US.

O.K., call me a warship nerd!

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – the Kaiser Offensive continues

After the hard-fought battle on 28 March 1918, the 1st Hampshires went back into Brigade reserve trenches. March 1918 closed relatively uneventfully. On 1 April the Hampshires went into Brigade support, relieving the Somerset Light Infantry north of the River Scarpe, 3.5 miles east of Arras. Their spell in support was quiet, until the Germans began shelling on 5 April. The adjutant, writing in the war diary, felt that this was a ‘demonstration’ connected to the attacks being made at the same time, further south on the Somme. That evening the Hampshires went into the front line in Fampoux, holding Stoke Avenue, Pudding and Port trenches. The next few days saw intermittent shelling, until the Battalion was relieved on 8 April.

After being relieved the Hampshires marched back to St Laurent Blangy, and from there boarded buses to ‘Y’ Huts, about four miles north west of Arras. The next few days were spent in the usual clean up after the front line, and on 9 April it was announced that six other ranks had been awarded the Military Medal for their part in the battle on 28 March. On 10 April the Battalion moved again, marching to camps near Haute Avesnes. During the same day a draft of 159 other ranks joined the Battalion. A rare treat was enjoyed on 11 April, when the Battalion were treated to baths. Also that day Lieutenants Edwards and Evans were awarded the Military Cross for their part in the battle on 28 March.

The Battalions time away from the front was short lived, however, for on 12 April they boarded buses, and proceded to Bethune. Once there, the 11th Brigade took over a section of the line to the south of La Basse Canal, with the Hampshires being billeted for the time in Gonnehem. An attack was clearly imminent, for the next day certain personnel were detailed to remain with the transport. Sure enough, on 14 April the Battalion marched up from Gonnehem, and formed up. At 6.30pm the advance began, covered by artillery support and with the Somersets on the right. The Somersets took the village of Riez du Vinage, taking 120 prisoners. The Hampshires met no opposition, and after advancing 1,500 yards dug in on a line level with the Somersets. During the day only one man was killed, and four wounded. The next day orders were received to continue the advance. Attacks were made by the Ox and Bucks on the flank, and although they were initially succesful and the Hampshires pushed out patrols to keep in touch with them, they were eventually forced back to their start line. At 4.30am on 16 April the Hampshires were relieved, and went back to billets at L’Ecleme.

Although the 17th was spent in billets, as the situation was still very unstable the Hampshires were soon put on alert to return to the front. On 18 April a German attack on the 4th Division led to the Hampshires being recalled to Gonnehem to stand by. The attack was unsuccesful, and the Hampshires returned to L’Ecleme. This attack was part of the Germans Operation Georgette in the Lys Sector. The next day the Battalion went into the front line, holding a section south of La Basse Canal, south of Bois de Pacaut. That night a patrol led by 2nd Lieutenant Clegg crossed the canal and captured a prisoner from the 471st Regiment. Prisoner snatch patrols were a hallmark of an agressive unit. The next day brought heavy shelling. During the night C Company pushed three platoons across the Canal and occupied the Bois de Pacaut, capturing two wounded prisoners. 21 April was relatively quiet.

On 22 April the Battalion launched another attack on the Boise de Pacaut. The plan was to clear the southern portion of the Pacaut Wood, and establish a line on the road junction at La Pannerie. The attack was to be on a three Company front, with each being alloted its own objectives, and with the remaining company in support. Zero hour was to be at 5.15am, with the troops assembling south of the Canal by 5am. Three bridges were to be erected across the canal by the Royal Engineers. Stokes Mortars and Machine Guns were attached to give fire support. Supporting artillery fire was also planned, including the use of Gas if the wind was favourable. A Special Company of the Royal Engineers was also attached, to project ‘burning oil’ onto a house thought to be an enemy stronghold. Troops were reminded of the importance of consolidating captured ground. At 7am an aeroplane was tasked to fly over to observe progress.

The attack began as planned, but the heavy artillery barrage alerted the enemy almost at once to the impending attack. Enemy artillery fell as the Hampshires were crossing the Canal bridges, causing casualties. The centre bridge in particular received heavy fire, with the leading officer being killed whilst crossing the Bridge. The right and centre companies came under machine gun fire from the wood almost at once, but the left met no opposition. The right hand company pushed Lewis Guns out front, and managed to overcome resistance. By 5.35am the left flank company had reached its objective, and by 5.40am platoons of the right company were on their objective. The centre company, however, had taken heavy casualties in officers and NCO’s, but after being held up for a short time they managed to make progress and link up with the other Companies. At 9am a platoon of the support Company was ordered up to fill a gap in the Battalion’s line. After daybreak heavy Machine Gun fire was directed on the wood, and the Canal area received heavy shelling. At 1.30pm Lieutenant-Colonel F.A.W. Armitage, who had commanded the Battalion since shortly after the Somme, was killed. At 5.30pm the Germans launched a counter-attack south-west through the wood, with the intention of clearing the area and pushing the Hampshires back. This counter-attack was beaten off with machine gun fire. The centre Company were still struggling to make progress to their objctive. 12 men were detached from the support Company as reinforcements, but it was not possible to attach any more men as the Support Company themselves were suffering heavy casualties on the Canal Bank, and if the Canal Bank were to be lost the rest of the Battalion might have become cut off. Any further attacks were impossible, as the whole Battalion was heavily committed fighting off German resistance. The Battalion was finally relieved the next day.

The battle of Pacaut Wood was part of a larger counter-offensive, the battle of Bethune, was designed to hit the Germans hard after the failure of Operation Georgette. The Hampshires paid a high price, however. During the attack on 22 April three officers were killed, including Colonel Armitage. Five officers were wounded, two dying later. 22 men were killed, one died of his wounds, 147 were wounded, eight were wounded but remained at duty, and 20 men were missing.

A number of Portsmouth men were killed during this period. 2nd Lieutenant Eric Reid, aged 19 and from Lennox Road in Southsea, was killed on 29 March 1918. He is remembered on the Arras Memorial. Lance Corporal G.H. Lacey, 33 and from Clive Road, Fratton, died on 31 March 1918. He evidently died in a Base Hospital or on his way home on leave, for he is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery. Several men were killed on 3 April – Lance Corporal P.O. Lawrence is buried in Roclincourt Valley War Cemetery, and Private Frederick Henwood, 21 and from Bishop Street, Fratton, is buried in Athies War Cemetery. Four men were killed During the Battle of Bethune and the attack at Pacaut Wood. Corporal S. Metcalf, 40 and from Orange Street, Portsea, was killed on 21 April and is buried in Mont Bernanchon War Cemetery. Private Harry Reeve, 29 and from Rivers Street, Southea, was killed on 22 April, and is buried in St Venant-Robecq Road Cemetery. Also killed on the 22nd was Private C.F. Jerome, who is buried in Mont Bernanchon Cemetery. Finally, on 23 April, Private W. Brockway, 22 and from London Road, North End, who is buried in Lapugnoy War Cemetery.

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Another Day, Another Landmark

A few days ago hits on Daly History went through the 50,000 barrier… it seems like only a few days ago that we notched up our first 10,000!

Just a quick post to everyone who has visited to say thank you for your support – a blog is nothing without the people who visit it. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoy writing it. Its incredible to think that the ramblings of a history nerd can be so popular.

Heres to the next 50,000!

~James

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