Tag Archives: Wars and Conflicts

2nd Portsmouth Pals Battalion War Diary located!

For a long time I had been labouring under the misaprehension that only a select few WW1 war diaries had been made available for download via The National Archives Documents Online service. In such a manner I had downloaded a copy of the 1st Hampshire’s War Diary some time ago, and not long ago I posted up a summary of their activities from Le Cateau in August 1914 until the beginning of 1918. It’s a thread that I’m sure I will pick up again some time in the future.

But thanks to browsing on the Grear War Forum, I have discovered that more War Diaries are available than I had originally thought. It works like this – for many Battalions, in particular territorial or hostilities only, the Battalion diaries have been grouped by brigade, hence by a cursory glance, it appears that it is only the Brigade HQ War Diary that is available. But, and here’s the golden bit, they are actually consolidated – so in reality you get four for the price of one!

Of course I have a very keen interest in the Portsmouth Pals, as I will be carrying out a lot of research into their formation, their membership, their battles and their losses. Sadly the war diary for the 1st Portsmouth Pals (14th Hampshires) is not available, and will necessitate a trip to Kew, but that of the 2nd Portsmouth Pals (15th Hampshires) is.

I’ve downloaded a couple of hundred page PDF’s, and although I have only had a quick flick through, it seems like it is unusually detailed for a war diary. Not necessarily in terms of grid references, maps or operational matters, but it does seem to give an unusually high amount of attention to other ranks rather than just officers. Of course this will be priceless for finding out about when Private X died, or when Sergeant Z won his Military Medal.

Let the transcribing begin!

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Filed under Army, portsmouth heroes, western front, World War One

Thoughts on War Memorials

Given my recent work researching names on War Memorials, I have been thinking about the history of War Memorials themselves.

Of course, they are important – anything that helps us remember the sacrifices of generations past cannot be a bad thing. But then again, are there aspects of the war memorial in popular culture that, in a non-intentional way, limit our remembrance? Are they a convenient way of shoeboxing remembrance? Are they a relic of Victorian and Edwardian fascination with grief?

Think about it. A certain place in a town is the place where we remember fallen heroes. Does that mean that we don’t remember them anywhere else? I guess its like Armistice Day – why should we only remember them one day a year out of 365? Does that mean that they don’t matter for the other 364?

In another sense, there is also something quite limiting about war memorials, in that very often they only show the name, or in some cases, only initials. And of course, unless you knew them, can lists of unknown names really be ‘remembered’? Does it encourage us to think ‘thats their names, they’re remembered’ and leave them there, when in actual fact, we can’t remember them if we know nothing about them in the first place?

Of course I’m not suggesting that we tear down war memorials. They are a part of our heritage. But in the modern world, with technology and no end of information at our fingertips, why limit remembrance to names in stone? We say ‘we will remember them’, and that they won’t be forgotten, but surely if all we know is someone’s name and thats about it, then they’re virtually forgotten anyway?

 

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Filed under debate, Remembrance

Sneak peak of the cover!

The History Press have today listed my forthcoming book, ‘Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes’, on their website. And alongside the listing, is also a sneak peek of the cover!

Portsmouth’s World War Two Heroes – The History Press

I’m working through the proofreading as we speak, before I get cracking on the index. Happy days!

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Tracing your Tank Ancestors by Janice Tait and David Fletcher

Some books land on your doormat and you think ‘thank you!’. The Tracing your.. Ancestors series books are most definitely among them, and particularly anything of a military persuasion! This book is published in conjunction with, naturally enough, the Tank Museum in Bovington. The authors are Janice Tait and David Fletcher, resident Librarian and Historian at the Tank Museum respectively.

As we might expect, this book is very strong on the history of Tanks in the British Army.Right from the Corps beginning during the Second World War, its difficult experiences in the inter-war period and the mechanisation of the old Cavalry Regiments, the crucial armoured battles in the Second World War, the era of national service, and then the modern world of the Cold War and the British Army of the Rhine. The history is flawless, as is the coverage of technical issues, tank names and industrial aspects. It is also very good at covering those quirky little historical points that are unique to the British Army – namely the manner in which men consider themselves members of their Regiment rather than the Army as a whole, and the politics of mergers and inter-Corps rivalries.

Each chapter is structured chronologically, looking at the Tank history of a particular era. Then at the end the reader is given pointers towards where to research, be it institutions, documents, websites or books. Even though I consider myself an experience military historian, I learnt a few things here. Perhaps the family history aspect is slightly light compared to the general history, but then again, I’m not sure that there is much more than could be added. I would maybe have liked to have read more about what is held in the Tank Museum’s collections, perhaps some comprehensive listings rather than ‘here are some examples…’

One issue where I feel it does let down the reader, is when the authors allow themselves to become, dare I say it, slightly snobby about family history. Yes, for us experts, we can get frustrated at ‘amateurs’ getting things wrong. But it is their family history, more than it is ours. We shouldn’t expect every person to know the difference between the Tank Corps and the ROYAL Tank Corps. Or fussing over whether someone was actually a ‘Desert Rat’. Such points are not really that important to the reader, I feel. Thats exactly why we ask the experts.

But I applaud Pen and Sword for collaborating with the Tank Museum. It makes sense, in terms of accessing unparalleled expertise, and also gaining access to an unrivaled collection of photographs. This book will be of interest to all military historians, not just in terms of family history – I can imagine it coming in handy when researching any tank-servicemen. It’s going to stay on my bookshelf thats for sure.

Tracing your Tank Ancestors is published by Pen and Sword

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Filed under Army, Book of the Week, Family History, Uncategorized, western front, World War One, World War Two

Memorial plaques to Portsmouth’s Blitz dead stolen

I’ve just read something pretty disappointing on the Portsmouth News website. Apparently thieves have stolen plaques from a memorial in Kingston Cemetery, remembering victims of the Blitz in Portsmouth.

http://www.portsmouth.co.uk/news/local/east-hampshire/i_hope_and_pray_the_thieves_see_the_error_of_their_ways_1_3005015

The memorial is granite, and around 1.5 metres high, with four plaques listing over 120 names, including many whose bodies could not be identified. The inscription reads:

“Erected to the memory of those men, women and children both known and unknown who died as a result of enemy bombing on this city and whose last resting place is near this spot.”

What really makes me sad about this is that either the thieves managed to prize the metal from the memorial in broad daylight (you can drive around the cemetery, so perhaps they took a van right up to it), or they did it at night when the Cemetery is closed. It is locked at dusk, because I have almost been locked in before (my Grandad was once years ago). I doubt very much whether people who are willing to go to those lengths will be too bothered about defacing a war memorial, sadly. Many of my family were in Portsmouth during the blitz, they could very easily have been killed and their names ended up on these plaques. A memorial is the same as a grave, and to steal a memorial is like grave-robbing.

It’s by no means the first time that metal has been robbed from a war memorial – perhaps the most high profile case is that of the Naval Memorial in Portsmouth, where one large bronze plaque was taken from the memorial on Plymouth Hoe. We are told that the price of scap metal is at an all-time high at the moment, and certainly there have been a lot of thefts of lead from School, museum and church roofs in the last couple of years. And then theres the theft of copper railway signal cabling.

One has to look at scrap metal dealers in this kind of situation. Someone, somewhere, will be no doubt receiving some big lumps of metal that are quite obviously from a war memorial. If scrap metal dealers had more scruples about what they accepted from dodgy characters out the back of vans, then people wouldn’t bother going out and nicking it in the first place. For me, it is time legislation got tough with the scrap metal industry.

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Filed under Remembrance, Uncategorized

Ian Daglish

I was very saddened to hear of the tragic passing of Ian Daglish yesterday.

Ian was the author of the Over the Battlefield series of books looking at the Normandy battles of Operations Epsom, Goodwood and Bluecoat. These took a very refreshing view of the battlefields and helped me a great deal in my understanding of the battle of Normandy. Ian was also very helpful to me personally when it came to researching Portsmouth’s World War Two dead, in particular a couple of men killed in those battles that he had written about himself.

The Second World War military history field is a lesser place for his passing. I’m sure the military history community will join me in offering my condolences to his family.

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Europe in Flames by Harold J Goldberg

Writing a ‘History of the ….war’ is always an ambitious idea, and one that is very rarely pulled off. There’s just so much to cover, it can only ever really be a framework at best. Not since Basil Liddell Hart‘s History of the Second World War has a historian really gone close to covering this vast conflict in one volume. In any case, it’s all been so well written about, what is there that we can add anyway?

I’m not what exactly the purpose of this book is. It gives an overview of the Second World War, year by year, in pretty basic fashion. But it also interweaves some oral history quotes. There doesn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason as to why these quotes have been chosen and not others. There are, after all, millions of oral history testimonies relating to the Second World War, and choosing one or two relating to each major event in history does seem a bit minimalist and arbitrary.

However, if you know absolutely nothing about the Second World War in Europe – and, dare I say it, this might apply to a lot of budding historians stateside – I guess this isn’t too bad a place to start. It does focus very much on geo-political and strategic affairs, but then I guess that is what most history syllabuses tend to begin with anyway. It is telling that the bibliography includes mainly american historians, which would seem to point readers in that direction, rather than the more considerable – and, in my opinion, more scholarly – works that have come from Europe.

Europe in Flames is published by Stackpole Books

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Filed under Book of the Week, politics, World War Two