Thinking about Portsmouth’s WW1 Army Heroes

Join the brave throng that goes marching along...

Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

I’ve started thinking about how I’m going to write up the stories of Portsmouth’s World War One Heroes. So far I have analysed something like 2,672 soldiers, and almost 300 sailors and Royal Marines, out of a total of more than 5,000 servicemen and 3 women.

There are so many names and stories, its really difficult having any idea knowing where to start. In an ideal world, I would write a full chapter on all of them. But with space constraints, I’m really interested in hearing what people would like to read about, or which stories you think are really important to ‘get out there’. Particularly with the 100th anniversary of the start of the war coming up in 2014.

  • The Portsmouth Pals – the 14th and 15th Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment, recruited solely from Portsmouth men who volunteered after the start of the war to join Kitcheners Army. Their story has never really been told before, but by my reckoning over 300 men were killed serving with both Battalions
  • Portsmouth’s Commonwealth Soldiers – how did young men from Portsmouth end up serving with the Imperial Armies? According to my research 43 men died serving with the Australian, African, New Zealand, Canadian and Indian Forces.
  • Lt-Col Dick Worrall – a Portsmouth man who had served in the ranks of the British Army, emigrated to America and joined the pre-war US Army, then once war was declared went to Canada and volunteered. He was quickly commissioned, and ended the war as a Lieutenant Colonel, and the holder of a DSO and Bar and MC and Bar – a remarkable story.
  • The Old Contemptibles. 156 men from Portsmouth were killed in 1914, before Britain had fully mobilised. Hence many of them were probably regular servicemen.
  • The Royal Flying Corps. Four young men from Portsmouth were killed serving with the Royal Flying Corps, at least two of them either in flying accidents or in action.
  • The Tank Corps. The First World War saw the advent of the tank as a major force in warfare. 10 Portsmouth men died serving with thee Tank Corps.
  • Brothers in Arms. Many families lost more than one son in the war – many lost two, some three, and one poor family lost four sons in action. I would like to take a look at this element of the human cost.
  • Gallipoli. At least 91 men from Portsmouth were killed in Gallipoli, a campaign beset by disaster which has perhaps not had as much attention through history as it should have.
  • Mesopotamia. 94 men from Portsmouth were killed in Iraq, many at the disastrous siege of Kut in 1916. Many more were captured, and suffered terribly in captivity. Again, I feel that its a campaign that has been much ignored in history, particularly given how the British Army has found itself fighting in Iraq at least three times since!
  • Oddities. I would like to be able to write about the interesting little stories that perhaps don’t fit in anywhere else, or don’t quite warrant a chapter on their own. Like the elderly Royal Engineer who was sent on grave registration duties after the armistice, and died after drowning in a Canal in Belgium.
  • Prisoners of War. We don’t ever hear much about WW1 Prisoners of War, yet at least 12 servicemen from Portsmouth died in Germany whilst being held as prisoners.

Any thoughts at all would be very welcome!



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

6 responses to “Thinking about Portsmouth’s WW1 Army Heroes

  1. x

    Are the Pompey Pals battalions covered in the Pen & Sword series? If not there might be an avenue there just to write one specialised volume.

    Writing any book that talks about the RN and Portsmouth should be an easy sell to publishers and book sellers.

    As they tell you at uni’ you can’t write about every aspect of every topic so I would be more selective.

    I don’t think you will do the subject justice if you try to cram everything into one book. And I think it would limit sales.

    • James Daly

      Pen and Sword haven’t done a Pompey Pals book yet. It’s something I’ve considered, but there are all kind of contractual issues – ie, my current publisher is The History Press, who I am working on a proposal for Pompey’s WW1 Heroes in general. Would a Portsmouth’s WW1 Heroes book be incomplete without the Pompey Pals in it? Plus, do I have the time to commit to both, considering that 2014 is probably the optimum for publishing? Or maybe 2016 for the pals, as they didn’t go into action until later in the Somme at Flers and Guillemont.

      I’m going to follow the same format as my WW2 book – subdivided into Army and Navy, with equal weighting given to – individuals, units, battles. I want to try and shed light on stuff that hasn’t been written about before. Publishers also like things that have pazzazz – ‘the first’, ‘the only’ or ‘the most’ etc. In general, its a case of what people want to read and what will sell books.

      Given the source information available – 1901 and 1911 census, and personal details in naval service records in particular – I hope to take more of a look at Portsmouth society in 1914, than was possible for the WW2 book. For example, how many Pompey sailors were born in Portsmouth? If not, where?

  2. John Erickson

    An alternate might be a timeline-style of layout. Cover the early war with the regular Army forces, then move into the middle period with the Pals. Maybe detour for Navy, then have a wrap-up of a more high-level overview of the losses going into the Armistice, with a few “examples of bravery” sidebars.
    Any chance of splitting the book into volumes? you could get the 1914-early 1915 time frame out in time for the 100th anniversary, then cover the rest later.

    • James Daly

      I could do that, John. Actually a chronological focus lends itself better to WW1 as it is split into more manageable phases than WW2.

      I tend to find that writing chronologically is really taxing when you’re trying to weave together more than a few threads. It’s hard to read and keep track of, and even harder to write!

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