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This area is not for queries but for ongoing blogs. if you want to ask for help, please go to the appropriate sub-forum in the main part of the GWF.
You have been asked to make your first post in a specified location. Once you have done that, your query can be raised in the various sections of the forum.
If you previously posted a request for help or information in this area, it is likely to be deleted at some point in the next few weeks or months. So if you have a reply, please make a note of it, If not, can you re-post it in the appropriate part of the forum, which is likely to get you a quick response.
for the GWF team
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5th Divisional Artillery
14th Brigade C.F.A.
60th Field Battery
61st Field Battery
21 May 18 MIKAN 3394955 Funeral of Sister G.M.M. Wake of Victoria, B.C., who died of wounds received in German air raid at Etaples, France. May, 1918
MIKAN 3404038 Desecrated French Civilian Graves. May 1918
MIKAN 3404888 Canadian Artillery getting fodder from a forage dump for their horses. May, 1918
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MIKAN 3329308: Amiens Front - Ecourt St. Quentin, Apr. & May 1919.
Église St.Léger, dating from the twelfth century, Saudemont, 19th April 2018 at 8:49 AM.
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The knowledge of members of the Great War Forum – and their willingness to help – never ceases to amaze me.
In the past few days, I published a picture on the Forum of someone I believed to be one of my ancestors in his Great War uniform.
I had an idea of who he was, but did not know which regiment he was in or where he may have served.
I hoped that someone on the Forum would perhaps identify the distinctive uniform and provide clues to the soldier’s war service.
Within an hour, two members – Squirrel and Frogsmile – confirmed that the soldier was wearing a Royal Marines Light Infantry uniform.
Believing him to be Walter Roberts, of Devon, I checked military records for him on the National Archives – and found his RMLI service record.
It confirmed that he was indeed Walter Roberts, of Mill Lane, Sandford, near Crediton, born on January 1, 1896.
It showed that he initially enlisted in the Army before being transferred to the RMLI in early March, 1917.
Walter was based at the Portsmouth Naval Barracks between April 1917 and December 19 and served with the 1st RM Battalion in France.
His service record was hard to interpret. When I sought help in understanding it, Forum member Max D stepped forward to assist.
He went through it line by line, offering a comprehensive insight into Walter’s years at war.
Another member – Loader – revealed that Walter was awarded the British War and Victory Medals.
Within just a few hours, the mystery over Walter’s war service had been resolved, thanks to the Great War Forum.
Walter was one of three brothers to serve in the war. The others were Archie, who served in the Machine Gun Corps, and Harry, whose war service is still not known.
The sons of Henry and Mary Roberts, of Sandford, they all survived the war and went on to marry and have children.
Walter, Archie and Harry were three of 30 grandsons of retired farm worker John Roberts to serve in the war.
The story of John and his grandsons is told in the new book, History Maker.
The pictures show Walter, Archie and Harry. The photographs have been kindly supplied by descendants of the family.
IWM 319: PONT REMY SPORTS [MAIN TITLE]
Click here for the video.
The competition between Army Forestry Companies from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand at the Forestry Camp at Pont-Remy, France, 15th September 1918.
The soldiers watch several forms of contest. A pillow fight between two men sitting astride a log suspended over water. A tree-stump felling contest, in which the four representatives each have to cut down a stump about three metres high. A similar competition to cut through a short log lying on the ground, won by the Australian whose fellows rush forward to cheer him. He poses in his shirt, shorts and bush hat with his axe beside the trunk. A third contest, including New Zealand Maoris, in chopping down medium-sized trees. Finally a 'log rolling' contest for men keeping balance standing on a log on the river, which they cross by rolling the log forward.
whole: Number Of Items/reels/tapes 1
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Obituary for my Grand Father Company Sergeant Major Fred Seaman No.5572, Of The 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards
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These are the categories that I have on my computer in bookmarks. I will update this page on a regular basis, particularly during the early phase of the "sorting into categories".
These are ONLY for the British cases here on the GWF. They do not include any of the cases on the CEFSG (here).
I was initially posting this information for the benefit of GWF PALS that wanted to investigate the case further and possibly take it to the reporting stage. I was not familiar enough with the Regiments and did not have access to the UK War Diaries, so I could not finish the case. With the assistance of the Long, Long Trail and now with Ance$try Worldwide, I am able to proceed. There are a number of these cases still listed in the final category below ("Other Cases Posted") and I am now in the process of working through these to move them to the other categories. Many may end up in the "Abandon or Hold" category, which I have now split. If you have looked at a report and believe it is in the wrong category, let me know.
I have added a new category today (25 January 2018) for "Short Listed Candidates". Those are the cases where is there is more than one person that fits the characteristics for the grave but the list is very short. The reason for this category is for FAMILY who may be researching an UNKNOWN, so they now know it may be their relative in that grave - but it is not a positive identification. This category has also been used where one or more of the candidates has been identified elsewhere, thus shortening the list.
As always, I appreciate the assistance of any member who wishes to participate in these investigations. If a draft report is prepared, any member is welcome to review the document and provide comments, corrections or criticisms. If the report goes to the Submission Stage, any member that participated in the process can have their name added to the report. For that I need your Real Name, Affiliation (can be as simple as "Private Researcher") and your email address (so the CWGC can contact you directly if they wish).
A list of both the Canadian and Commonwealth reports that I have submitted can be found here, with download links:
Main Page: http://laughton.ca/publications/unknown-project/
- Canadian Reports: http://cefresearch.ca/unknown-reports/
- Commonwealth Reports: http://laughton.ca/publications/unknown-project/commonwealth-unknowns/
The difference between the Canadian and Commonwealth reports is that the Canadian reports go to the CWGC Canadian Agency in Ottawa (Dominique Boulais) for review first. If acceptable to Ottawa, they then go to the Maidenhead CWGC Office (David Avery).
Submitted to CWGC - David Avery: (you can download PDF versions from my web site here)
- Submitted to CWGC Enquiries (Correction Only)
- Draft Reports Posted for Review and Comment
- To be Submitted:
Possible CWGC Reports:
Short Listed Candidates
Abandon or Hold:
Hold for the Moment
- These two are linked investigations as Northumberland Fusilier Officers. If the Unknown Captain is Lockie, then the Unknown Officer is a one of five (5) Second Lieutenants and the case for the Unknown Officer cannot be resolved:
- Hold for the Moment
- Casualty Already Identified:
- Report Being Prepared by Others:
- Report Submitted by Others:
- New Cases Posted (to be sorted):
Corporal Martin Carroll #55818, Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Plot 6 Row D Grave 3
2nd Division, 4th Infantry Brigade, 19th Infantry Battalion
CANADIAN EXPEDITIONARY FORCE
Killed in Action of 8 August 1918
Reported Found 29 May 2015
Rededication Service 1 December 2016
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A number of years ago (January 2010 to be precise) I posted a request regarding a row of graves in Choques Military Cemetery where 12 men from D Battery 251 Brigade were buried.
The origins of the Battery lie with the 5th Durham Battery, 4th Northumbrian (County of Durham) Howitzer Brigade. Prior to the War the Brigade was headquartered in South Shields, on the south side of the mouth of the River Tyne. The Hebburn Battery lay 5 miles upstream on the south bank of the Tyne.
The men were killed in a single incident on the evening of 18th April 1918. This evening it is exactly 100 years since they were killed, so I though it would be appropriate to leave a post to remember those men.
After many years I found what actually happened on that fateful evening from an account in Regimental Archives:
Gronnenhem April 1918
The morning brought sad news from our wagon lines. The bombardment which had provided us with a lively interlude had visited our comrades with disastrous results. A shell struck the barn in which they were sleeping, bursting amongst the sleepers with deadly effect. Many of the survivors rushed for the open, to be met by a second shell, adding materially to the already heavy list of dead and wounded.
The men are buried together in a single row in Plot II Row A in the Choques Military Cemetery.
Grave - Killed 18th April 1918
1. Hillbeck A Driver MM 2555
2. Wilson F Driver 127301
3. Allcott H Driver MM 4678
4. Fewings RT Gunner 52505
5. Harris AS Gunner 10235
6. Hunt JAF Gunner 234324
7. Bennet H Gunner 10315
8. Jewell WS Driver 1288
9. Maidment A Driver 10318
10. Pearce EG Driver 82773
11. Rich WG Driver 4546
Grave - Died 25th April 1918
12. Richardson JH Driver 755887
In March 2018 I was able to visit the Graves of the men.
Northumbria Gunner Blog: Lys - Choques Military Cemetery
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It's been a long time since my last post in this blog, so here is one interesting article.
The Romanian 2nd Army's success at Marasti forced the Central Powers to revise their plans. The offensive planned in the Namoloasa area was abandoned and the bulk of the forces were moved in the Focsani area. The new offensive was going to be launched west of the Siret River, on the Focsani – Marasesti – Adjud direction, with the German 9th Army (general Johannes von Eben) and on the Oituz Valley with the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army (Archduke Joseph). The objective was to encircle and destroy the 2nd Army.
On the other side, the Romanian General Headquarters decided to cancel its attack in the Namoloasa area. The Russian 4th Army had to be pulled out from the front in southern Moldavia and moved north, where it could threaten the flank of the Austro-German forces advancing in Galicia. The Romanian 1st Army was going to replace the Russian troops departing the area.
For the offensive, the German 9th Army was strengthened with units brought from the French (the Alpine Corps, which arrived on 6 August) or Italian fronts. General von Eben decided to deliver the main blow with the German 1st Corps (6 divisions), while to its left the German 18th Reserve Corps (3 divisions) had to pin down the Entente troops opposite it. The right wing of the 9th Army was manned by the Ramnic Group (2 divisions). The reserve was made up of one German and one Austro-Hungarian divisions and the Alpine Corps, which arrived in the area during the first day of the battle. The German forces in the attack sector were 102 infantry battalions, 10 cavalry squadrons, 24 pioneer companies, 2 armored cars, 1,135 machine-guns, 356 mortars, 223 field guns and 122 heavy guns and howitzers.
Opposite the German 1st Corps was the Russian 4th Army, which had in contact with the enemy only two corps: on the right the 8th (3 divisions) and on the left the 7th (2 divisions). The reserve was made up of one infantry and one cavalry divisions. These totaled 84 infantry battalions, 52 cavalry squadrons, 280 field guns and 36 heavy guns. The bulk of the Romanian 1st Army was at Tecuci and was getting to cross the Siret River and replace the Russians.
The German 9th Army's offensive was preceded by a powerful artillery preparation, which began at 0430 hours on 6 August 1917. At 0730 hours the 1st Corps (general Kurt von Morgen) started the attack, with the 12th Bavarian, 76th and 89th Infantry Divisions in the first line and with another two divisions in the second echelon. The front defended by the Russian 13th and 34th Infantry Divisions was broken and 10 km breach was created. The Russians started a disorderly retreat east of the Siret River. At the request of the Russian command, general Constantin Christescu, CO of the 1st Army, ordered maj. general Eremia Grigorescu, CO of the Romanian 6th Corps, to intervene west of the Siret with the 5th Infantry Division and with the 9th Infantry Division to defend the river's eastern bank. The 32nd Dorobanti Regiment Mircea and the 8th Dorobanti Regiment Buzau counterattacked and stopped the Central Powers offensive on the line Moara Alba – Doaga – Furceni.
Seeing that the chances to force the crossing over the river are minimal, in the morning of 7 August, the German command redirected the offensive to the north, with four divisions. The effort was concentrated against the Romanian 5th Infantry Division, but the assault was repulsed. However, a bulge was created at the junction with the Russian troops, but the situation was saved by the counterattack of two battalions from the division's reserve. At noon, after a short artillery preparation, the enemy renewed the attack enjoying a 3 to 1 numerical superiority. The 3rd Vanatori Regiment held out in the Doaga village against an entire German division. The same thing happened in the sector of the 32nd Dorobanti Regiment Mircea. The soldiers in this unit made several bayonet charges only in their shirts, because of the suffocating heat, managing to push back the Germans to their positions. In the evening, the 1st Corps attacked and broke through the front of the Russian division on the right flank of the Romanian 5th Division. Threatened with the encirclement, the 32nd Regiment retreated to the Cosmesti Bridge. To fill the gap created, the Romanian 9th Infantry Division was introduced west of the Siret River. It was continuously attacked. In the evening of 7 August, under the cover of darkness, a German group approached and assaulted the 9th Division's flank, engaging into hand-to-hand fights. The Romanians abandoned Doaga and retreated to the outskirts of the Prisaca Forest, where a new defensive line was established. That day the 5th Division lost 44 officers and 1,770 soldiers (dead, wounded and missing). The front moved back 2-3 km.
On 8 August, general von Eben changed the attack sector to the west, on the front held by Russian units. In the evening, during the second assault, they were forced to retreat. A Russian regiment was almost completely destroyed. The Romanian front was bombarded and the attack on the 5th and 9th Infantry Divisions resumed the following day. On 9 August 1917, the German effort was increased. The assault started at 1900 hours, after a powerful artillery preparation, which caused many casualties to the 9th Division. Its troops were only able to dig foxholes, because the ground was very dry and hard to dig. The Germans again took heavy casualties because of the Romanian and Russian artillery situated on the eastern bank of the Siret River, which was firing directing into the attackers' flank. However, the first line of the Romanian defense was pierced in several spots, but reserves intervened and repulsed them after some very violent fighting. The 34th Regiment, which faced the 12th Bavarian Division, held out against three consecutive assaults. Only the 2nd Battalion, under the command of Major Gheorghe Mihail, the future Chief of the General Staff in 1940 and 1944, remained in the first line. It counterattacked and captured 62 prisoners and two machine-guns. The unit's battle flag was decorated later with Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class. The same award was bestowed upon the regiment's CO, colonel Virgiliu Dumbrava, as well the 2nd Battalion's CO. But the casualties were heavy: 35 officers and 1,551 soldiers. The 36th Regiment lost 36 officers and 954 soldiers. Also, the 7th and 32nd Dorobanti Regiments suffered many casualties. During the night, at 0200 hours, another assault took place and the Germans managed to push back for several hundred meters the 9th Division and the right wing of the 5th Division. The neighboring Russian division was also forced to retreat, but the Russian 4th Army counterattacked and captured 2,500 prisoners and recovered the lost ground.
The last failures had weakened the German 9th Army. Thus, general von Eben strengthened the 1st Corps with a new division and the 18th Reserve Corps with the Alpine Corps.
On 10 August, it was the Entente's turn to attack. General Christescu and general Ragoza, the CO of the Russian 4th Army, decided to strike each with a corps of two divisions the bulge in the German line. During the morning, the 9th Army attacked the Russian sector, but gained little ground. At 1700 hours, the allied infantry started the assault, after a long artillery preparation. The 9th Infantry Division took the first German trenches, but because of the losses it had to abandon them. Reinforced with a regiment form the Romanian 13th Infantry Division, it resumed the attack, but again without success. The 5th Infantry Division and a regiment of the 14th Infantry Division managed to get inside the German positions, but could keep them. The 8th Dorobanti and 3rd Vanatori Regiments managed to enter the Doaga village, but were repulsed. The situation was similar in the sector of the Russian 4th Army. However the offensive had reduced the combat potential of the German 76th, 89th and 115th Infantry Divisions, which had suffered the brunt of the assault. These were already exhausted after several days of failed attacks. The report of general von Eben to the Army Group CO, marshal von Mackensen, mentions the fact that the 216th Infantry Division had suffered many casualties because of the flank bombardment of the Romanian artillery yon the eastern bank of the Siret.
For the following day, general Christescu imposed a limited objective to the 6th Corps: the Doaga – Susita Valley. The Russian 4th Army had decided to remain on the defensive. The Germans attacked in its sector at 1600 hours, after a three hour artillery preparation, and again forced the Russian troops to retreat. At 1630 hours, the Romanian 9th Infantry Division began the assault without knowing the situation in the neighboring sector. After the Russian retreat the flank was exposed. The division's CO sent a battalion to extend the line. The Germans were advancing on Marasesti and the situation became extremely dangerous for the Entente.
The 9th Vanatori Regiment, which was in the division's reserve, was quickly brought in and set up positions in the factory north of the town. It managed to stop the German troops that were threatening to encircle the 9th Infantry Division. For this action, lt. col. Gheorghe Rasoviceanu, the regiment's CO, was awarded the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class. A regiment of the 13th Infantry Division, from the 6th Crops' reserve, established the link with the Russians. The 5th Infantry Division attacked in the Doaga area, but the 7th and 8th Dorobanti Regiments failed to enter the village. The same day, maj. general Eremia Grigorescu was named at the command of the 1st Army.
Noticing that the troops of the German 1st Corps were exhausted, general von Eben decided to assign the main strike to the 18th Reserve Corps of maj. gen. Kurt von Wenniger, which had suffered fewer losses and was less tired. Thus, on 12 August, the 9th German Army attacked with small forces the 5th Infantry Division, in order to pin it down, and concentrated its forces against the Russian 4th Army, taking Panciu. Following this failure, general Ragoza wanted to retreat the Russian-Romanian front north of Marasesti., but abandoned the idea at maj. gen. Eremia Grigorescu's pleas. Lt. gen. Constantin Prezan, the Chief of the General Staff, decided to replace the Russian 7th Corps with the Romanian 5th Corps (10th and 13th Infantry Divisions) and to put the Russian 8th Corps under the command of the Romanian 1st Army. The staff of the Russian 4th Army was retreated to Bacau from where it was reassigned to another front.
On 13 August, the 18th Reserve Corps attacked the Russian troops north of Panciu, but failed to make any breakthrough. The following day, general von Eben ordered the 1st Corps to eliminate the Romanian bulge in the area of the Prisaca Forest and take the bridge over the Siret River at Cozmesti. In the same time, the 18th Reserve Corps had to attack on the Zabraut Valley. After powerful artillery preparation commenced the assault on the Russian 8th Corps' positions. Brig. gen. Henri Cihoski, CO of the 10th Infantry Division, sent the 10th Vanatori Regiment as help. It surprised the Alpine Corps and caused it important casualties, some in vicious hand-to-hand combat.
The vanatori managed to take Hill 334, but were forced to retreat following a powerful artillery bombardment. The 38th Infantry Regiment Neagoe Basarab also intervened and its CO, col. Gheorghe Cornescu, received the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class for the counterattack that stopped the German offensive, which threatened to penetrate in the Susita Valley, behind the Romanian 2nd Army. The Russian 8th Corps was forced to pull back north of Iresti and Straoani.
The 5th Infantry Division, at the other end of the front, had been reduced to one third of its initial size during the last days of fighting. The positions in the Prisaca Forest were heavily bombarded by German artillery. At 1700 hours the assault began with two divisions and forced the Romanian troops to retreat. The division's reserves, as well as a regiment form the 14th Infantry Division, in the army's reserve, intervened and stopped the German advance north of the Prisaca Forest. The bridge at Cozmesti was blown up, as the Romanian engineers had built another two to the north. The exhausted 5th Infantry Division was pulled out of the first line.
On 15 August, the 18th Reserve Corps continued the offensive and managed to create a breach at the junction between the 10th Infantry Division and the Russian division to its right. The 10th Vanatori Regiment, supported by 10 Romanian and 3 Russian batteries, counterattacked and reestablished the situation. However, with its left wing, the 18th Corps took Muncel, forcing theRussians to pull back. Thus the link between the two Romanian armies was threatened. The 2ndArmy attacked with the "Colonel Alexiu" Detachment made up of 2 vanatori battalions, 2 infantry battalions and 3 artillery batteries, which, together with a Russian cavalry division, retook control of the village. The following day, the Germans occupiued half of Muncel, but were again forced to retreat after the assault of col. Alexandru Alexiu's men.
The days of 17 and 18 August were calm. The losses suffered by both sides, forced the commanders to reorganize their units. Maj. gen. Eremia Grigorescu replaced the 14th Infantry Division, which was deployed east of the Siret River, with the 1st and 6th Rosiori Brigades and the hard pressed 5th Infantry Division with the 2nd Cavalry Division. The latter and the two brigades formed the Cavalry Corps. The 14th Infantry Division was moved on the northern bank of the Siret River in the Cozmestii de Vale area. Also, the army's heavy artillery was redeployed so that it could better cover the sector of the 5th Corps (10th, 13th and 9th Infantry Divisions). The 1st Army's reserve was made up of the 15th Infantry Division and of the 5th Infantry Division, under reorganization. On the other side, at the intervention of marshal von Mackensen, general von Eben grouped 7 infantry divisions under the command of the German 1st Corps and subordinated almost all the heavy artillery of the 9th Army to it. These forces totalized 55 battalions and 95 batteries.
On 19 August, the Germans resumed the offensive, attacking with the 1st Corps towards Marasesti and with 18th Reserve Corps on the Panciu-Muncel direction. The main effort was concentrated in the sector between Marasesti and the Razoare Forest, defended by the Romanian 9th and 13th Infantry Divisions, the latter being assaulted by three enemy divisions. The artillery preparation started at 0630 hours in the area of the trenches of the 47/72nd, 51/52nd and 50/64th Infantry Regiments, from the first line of the 13th Infantry Division, and at the western outskirts of Marasesti, where the 9th Vanatori Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division was located. It lasted for two hours and was the most violent artillery bombardment of the entire battle. At 0900 hours the first assaults small scale began and were easily repulsed. After 1100 hours a very powerful attack started. The main blow was delivered north of the Razoare Forest, at the junction of the 13th and 10th Infantry Divisions. The 10th Infantry Division was attacked by the 13th Austro-Hungarian Division, which failed to breakthrough the Romanian lines.
The 13th Infantry Division, commanded by brig. gen. Ioan Popescu, was the Romanian unit that saw the most action that day. It occupied a front 6 km wide, with the 47/72nd Infantry Regiment at the south-western edge of the Razoare Forest, the 50/64th Infantry Regiment in the Negroponte Vineyards and the 51/52nd Infantry Regiment in the middle. The reserve was made up of one battalion of the 50/64th Regiment and the 48/49th Regiment. 15 Romanian and 15 Russian batteries provided artillery support.
The attack started at 0900 hours. In the sector of the 47/72nd Infantry Regiment, the German assaults failed one after another. The 1st Battalion was situated on the left wing, south of the Razoare Forest. It was attacked by the 28th Bavarian Infantry Regiment (from the 12th Bavarian Division) and by units of the German 89th and 115th Divisions. The 2nd Battalion, on the right wing, was assaulted by the Austro-Hungarian 13th Infantry Division. The 3rd Battalion was kept in reserve. The regiment's CO, lt. col. Radu Rosetti, the former chief of the Operations Bureau of the General Staff in 1916, was wounded at a leg during the fighting. At the center, the 51/52nd Regiment was situated in an open position ands was also powerfully attacked. It had to pull back. The Germans tried to use the momentum and infiltrate behind the positions of the two regiments on the flanks of the Romanian 13th Infantry Division. The 3rd Battalion/47/72nd Infantry Regiment, under the command of maj. Draganescu counterattacked and stopped their advance. The reserves of the 51/52nd Regiment joined the fight directed by the unit's CO, lt. col. Ioan Cristofor, buying time for the reinforcements sent by the division to arrive. The 1st Machine-gun Company commanded by cpt. Grigore Ignat, stubbornly held its position, being almost totally destroyed. Its CO was posthumously awarded the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class. However, the Germans advanced towards Hill 100, behind which the allied artillery was situated. The 50/64th Regiment had to pull back its right wing, because of the enemy advance in the sector of the 51/52nd Regiment. Lt. col. Diamandi Genuneanu, the 50/64th Regiment's CO, organized the defense south of Hill 100 and managed to hold out against two Bavarian regiments for two hours.
General Popescu organized the counterattack against the German forces closing in on Hill 100. The 2 battalions in reserve, together with the 3rd Battalion/47/72nd Regiment and other units attacked from several different directions the German 115th Infantry Division, which had infiltrated between the Razoare Forest and the Negroponte Vineyards. The artillery of the 10th Infantry Division also intervened in the fighting at that moment, at the orders of the army's CO. The 1st Battalion/50/64th Regiment, commanded by cpt. Nicolae Miclescu, emerged from the Negroponte Vineyards and surprised the German infantry in the area and pushed it back to towards the Razoare Forest. Cpt. Miclescu was wounded during the action. He was later awarded the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class. The 3rd Battalion/47/72nd Infantry Regiment and the 2nd Battalion/48/49th Infantry Regiment joined the battle. The resistance at the edge of the Razoare Forest was broken following a violent bayonet charge. The Germans started a disorderly retreat. The entire 47/72nd Infantry Regiment started a counterattack, followed soon by the 39th Infantry Regiment (from 10th Infantry Division). The German troops retreated towards the Susita Valley, dragging along the units of the Austro-Hungarian 13th Division. The Romanians captured the first line of the enemy positions, but the advanced was stopped by maj. general Eremia Grigorescu, because von Eben had already started to deploy his reserves.
The 10th Division and, especially, the 13th Division had achieved a great victory. The commanders of the two divisions, as well as the commanders of the 47/72nd, 50/64th and 51/52nd Regiments were awarded the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class. Another 7 officers received this high distinction for the fighting on 19 August. The 39th Infantry Regiment Petru Rares captured 376 POWs and 7 machine-guns and advanced 500 m on a 4 km wide front. The 47/72nd Infantry Regiment took 209 POWs and 4 machine-guns. But the losses were high. The same regiment lost 880 men (99 killed, 300 wounded and 481 missing). The regiment's flag, as well as those of the other hard pressed units on 19 August were also decorated with the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class.
The same day, the Germans attacked the sector of the 9th Infantry Division, situated south of the 13th Division. It had been reduced to 4,500 men in the previous days of hard fighting. In the first line were the 9th Vanatori Regiment on the right wing and the 40th Infantry Regiment Calugareni on the left wing. After a powerful artillery preparation, two German infantry divisions started their attack. Following some heavy fighting in the ruins of the factory north of Marasesti, the 9th Vanatori Regiment was forced to fall back towards the city. The 40th Infantry Regiment also abandoned its first positions. The 9th Division reformed the front on the line south Negroponte Vineyards – Marasesti Railroad Station – south Marasesti, which it held against the enemy assaults, with the help of the artillery of the 14th Infantry Division from the eastern bank of the Siret River, firing directly in the German flank.
Because of the failure of its army to take the objectives on 19 August, general von Eben decided that the continuation of the offensive was no longer possible. A week of pause followed, which both sides used for reorganizing. The 9th Army again changed the attack sector. The 18th Reserve Corps was strengthened with 3 divisions and the entire heavy artillery at the army's disposal. The Romanian 1st Army received the 11th Infantry Divison. Maj. general Eremia Grigorescu redeployed his forces. Thus, the Russian 8th Corps formed the army's right wing in the Muncelul area. It had two divisions in the first line and another two reforming in the back. The Romanian 5th Corps (10th and 15th Infantry Divisions) held the front all the way to Marasesti Railroad Station, where it linked up with the 3rd Corps (14th Infantry Division), situated between Marasesti and the Siret River. East of the river was the Cavalry Corps (1st and 6th Rosiori Brigades, 2nd Cavalry Division and one brigade of the 5th Infantry Division). The army's reserve was made up of the 9th, 11th and 13th Infantry Divisions and the other brigade of the 5th Division.
The offensive of the 18th Corps started in the sector of the Russian 8th Corps on 28 August. At 0900 hours the German troops infiltrated between the two Russian divisions and forced them to retreat. Two regiments of the Romanian 3rd Infantry Division from the 2nd Army intervened and managed to stop the German advance together with the Russian reserves. The following day, general Grigorescu prepared an attack in the Muncelul area, aimed at eliminating the bulge created by the Germans. He put at the disposal of the Russian 8th Corps another Russian division, as well as the Romanian 9th Infantry Division, a regiment from the 13th and another from the 15th Division. The two regiments from the 2nd Army were also supposed to participate in this action.
The assault started at 0800 hours, from the north and west, but found the Germans ready for an attack of their own and it was repulsed. The second one, around 1700 hours, was also repulsed. The Germans forced the right wing of the Russian 124th Division to pull back. Two battalions from the 2nd Army intervened and managed to stop the enemy advance during the night. The 11th and 13th Infantry Divisions were brought behind the threatened areas. The 5th Division crossed to on the western bank of the Siret River. On 30 August, the German 18th Reserve Corps resumed the attack and its troops managed to get between the 18th Dorobanti Regiment Gorj and the 2nd Vanatori Regiment of the 2nd Army. The 34th Infantry Regiment Constanta, belonging to the 9th Division from the 1st Army, counterattacked and plucked in the breach.
The Russian 8th Corps was strengthened with the 13th Infantry Division on 31 August, when, because of the weather, there was no fighting. General Eremia Grigorescu subordinated the 9th Infantry Division and a Russian division to the CO of the 13th Division, brig. general Ioan Popescu. This group attacked on 1 September. The artillery preparation started at 0600 hours, with all the artillery available to the group, as well as with the artillery of the other two Russian divisions and the army's heavy artillery. After one hour, the 9th and 13th Divisions attacked from the west and the 3rd Infantry Division (belonging to the 2nd Army), commanded by brig. general Alexandru Margineanu, from the north. After some heavy fighting, the 13th Division advanced up t o200 m of Muncelul. The 18th Corps counterattacked in the sector of the 3rd Infantry Division, but was repulsed. The following day, the same 3rd Division suffered the brunt of the 9th Army's strike. The main objective was the Porcului Hill, defended by the 30th Dorobanti Regiment Muscel. It lost the positions, but they were retaken following the counterattack of the division's reserves and of a Russian regiment. It was the last major operation of the German 9th Army in the Marasesti sector.
The offensive of the 1st Army in the Muncelul area was resumed on 3 September. The 11th Infantry Division was subordinated to the General Popescu Group, entering the first line beside the 9th and 13th Divisions. The Russian division and the regiments of the 2nd Army formed the reserve. The plan was to attack frontally with the 9th Division and a brigade of the 11th, while the 13th Division and the other brigade of the 11th Division were going to attack the Muncelul village, threatening the enemy flank. The artillery preparation started at 0630 hours and at 0800 hours the 13th Infantry Division started the assault, but could not make any progress. The same happened in the sector of the 9th Division. A second artillery preparation, which lasted for an hour and a half, and some violent hand-to-hand fighting were necessary for the 13th Infantry Division to occupy the eastern edge of the Muncelul village. But the Romanian losses that day were heavy: about 2,700 men.
This was the last day of the battle of Marasesti, both sides deciding to adopt a defensive attitude on the entire front. The Romanian 1st Army had lost 610 officers and 26,800 NCOs and soldiers, while the German 9th Army had lost about 47,000. Forty Mihai Viteazul Orders 3rd class were awarded for deeds accomplished during the fighting around Marasesti. Maj. general Eremia Grigorescu received the Mihai Viteazul 2nd class. Also, the flags of no less than 9 regiments were decorated with the Mihai Viteazul 3rd class. The fighting continued with little intensity the following days, with local attacks and counterattacks. In one of these clashes, on the Secuiului Hill on 5 September, the volunteer Ecaterina Teodoroiu was killed by machine-gun fire, while leading her platoon. On the other side, on 8 September, maj. general Kurt von Wenniger, CO of the German 18th Reserve Corps, was killed by an artillery shell in the Muncelul area.
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Robert Romanis was stationed near Ypres in Belgium when the Kaiser Slacht started but his Division, the 35th received orders on the 22nd of March to reinforce the British line south near the Somme. The Division was taken the 100 miles or south to Heilly station on trains. Each of the 9 battalions on a separate train. The trains consisted of 1 carriage for the officers, 17 flat wagons for carts and stores and 40 covered wagons which would either contain Soldiers or Horses. The 12th Highland Light Infantry (HLI) Roberts Battalion left Proven at around 9pm on train No. 7 and arrived at their destination at about 1 pm the next day. A 16 hour trip. They were then bussed 10 miles or so to Bray sur Somme where they marched to the village of Maricourt arriving in the early morning of the 25th and took up position along the D197 north from Maricourt as far as a Brickworks near Bernafay Wood (the brickworks is gone but it’s location is marked by patch of rough ground alongside the road which can be seen on google maps). The Germans attacked from the east at 7:45am on the 25th and at multiple times during the day using artillery, rifle and machine gun fire. The attacks finally ceased at 8pm but the 12th HLI had suffered a number of casualties including Robert. His body was never identified and he is remembered on the Poziere memorial but at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemetery in Maricourt there are over 150 graves of unknown soldiers – one of these may well be the grave of Robert Romanis
Robert Hope served in the Highland Light Infantry as well as Robert Romanis but he was in the 2nd Battalion which was part of the 2nd Division and stationed further North near Baupame. He started the battle in reserve but by the 22nd of March was in the front line just to the south of where Gordon Tait and George Frier were serving. His unit then began a long retreat to maintain the British line. On the night of the 24th they were allowed 2 hours sleep in the village of Ligny Thilloy. They continued to retreat the next day over the old Somme battlefield, the shell holes covered in long grass did not make for easy going. During the retreat they formed the rearguard and came under enemy fire just North of Le Sars and it likely that this is where Robert was killed, his unit then continued their retreat. He left a wife in Edinburgh who was paid a war gratuity of £8 10shillings
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I am now the very proud owner of the Royal British Legion commemorative Poppy pin to remember those that sadly lost their lives 100 years ago at the 3rd battle of Ypres, known as Passchendaele.
The details of how this project came about and what went into the making of these commemorative poppy pins can be found on the attached video link.
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"AN ANZAC'S FAIR."
Have I been a soldier long sir? Aye, it
seems like twenty years
Since we sailed away from Melbourne
to the time we took Pozieres.
We lobbed at dirty Suez and entrained
for Mena Camp,
Right underneath the Pyramids, where
we soon got something damp.
We marched around the desert until our
feet were sore,
But soon took a jerry and filled our packs
We went down to Ismalia, to meet old
But the only thing we found there was
work, and then more work.
At last we sailed from Egypt and arrived
at Lemnos Isle,
We rehearsed all the landing in good
We heard at last the dinkum about the
Then all of us were pining to get quickly
to the front.
We got there, no time wasted, and on
that forsaken brink
We fought and starved and sweated when
you couldn't buy a drink,
We stuck it for eight blooming months,
when the heads made up their minds
To do the quiet, cunning trick - but we
left a lot behind.
We retreated back to Lemnos, the mob
was worn and pale,
I tell you sir, it was just like one coming
out of gaol.
They shipped us on to Alex, so the boys
couldn't spend their dough,
And they put us in the desert - we never
had a show,
In time we got near water, heard the
order, "He that hath
"In his harness soap and towel, may go
and have a bath."
We were thankful for small mercies, and
dropped in there with glee,
Its wonderful the dirt we dripped did not
stain the blooming sea.
At last there came along the news and we
did a dinkum dance,
Our Colonel said, "If you're good boys,
I'll take you all to France."
The trip across was lovely, the sea of
The only thing that marred it was ever-
But what a sight for sore eyes when we
landed at Marseilles!
The people there were civilised - we had
no eyes for males.
The girls all looked just lovely, as we
went north in the train,
And when this war is over I'm coming
They dropped us in a quiet spot to get
our second wind;
The Boche pulled nasty faces, but we just
sat there and grinned.
We stayed there for a month or so, then
things began to hum,
They took us quietly by the hand and
dumped us on the Somme.
"Now lads, this is the dinkum joint,
you've got to keep your name!"
But I guess the boys of Anzac earned
their undying fame.
We thought the place called Anzac was
pretty rough for shells,
But blime, down there on the Somme, was
two or three large hells.
Well, I think we did our little bit, and
we're now out for a rest;
I think the German won't be long before
he gives it best.
Our little British Army has got him
He's feeling pretty sorry he started up
But we are getting weary of looking
round for fight,
We'd like those clouds to turn around
and show us of the light.
I often in the dugout dream of "Home,
And I'm sure if I get back, sir, I never
more will roam.
But when I lob in Melbourne, and by the
I'll be proud that I in truth can say,
"Thank God, I did my bit."
The poem “An Anzac’s Fair” was sent home by Hector [soldier on left in above photo], and published in his local paper the Inglewood Advertiser on the 5th January 1917. Hector was killed 9 months later in the Battle of Passchendaele, and is commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres.
Hector Leslie DESLANDES was the youngest son of John DESLANDES and Catherine MUNRO and had been born at Inglewood, Vic, in 1894. Hector lost his eldest brother in 1910 (age 23) and his father in 1913, so when he enlisted on the 3rd February 1915 with his remaining brother George, they left their mother virtually on her own, as their only sister had married in 1912. Also enlisting with them was their mother’s brother, their uncle George Munro, and 3 other Inglewood boys, Thomas Murray and brothers’ Charles and William Roberts.
All six sailed with A Company of the 22nd Battalion on the Ulysses at the beginning of May, reaching Alexandria on the 9th June. Another local boy, Phillip Thompson, also made the journey with them, but as a member of B Coy.
They continued on to Gallipoli on the 30th August on board the Scotian, minus the Deslandes’ uncle George, and Tom Murray (‘Nip’), who were both ill. As a part of the 6th Brigade convoy, they were lucky to avoid the lurking submarine UB14 which managed to cause severe damage to one of their companion ships, the Southland.
Eventually landing at Anzac on the 5th September, they moved into trenches opposite Johnson’s Jolly the following day, where ‘Nip’ joined them a couple of weeks later, and there they remained until the evacuation. George parted company with his brother on the 8th October when he transferred to the 4th Field Coy Engineers, but both Deslandes boys returned safely to Egypt in January 1916.
Later that month, their uncle, who had remained in Egypt on guard duty after his illness, was invalided home after a bout of enteric fever – his war over before it had really begun. Charles Roberts also left them. He’d found himself in a spot of trouble after falling asleep on sentry duty at Anzac, and after the return to Egypt began a sentence of imprisonment, which was soon suspended. However, by April he was in hospital with Tachycardia and Valvular Disease, and the following month was shipped home medically unfit. His brother Willie, Phil Thompson, Nip and Hector made the move to the Western Front towards the end of March. It was during their stint in the nursery sector at Fleurbaix that they suffered their first casualty in action, when Willie received a bomb wound to the neck. He had been discharged from hospital to a convalescent depot, and Hector and his unit were taking over the reserve line at Bois Grenier, when George landed in France with the Engineers in early June.
By July Hector was on the Somme and on the 25th moved into the fighting at Pozieres. For four sleepless days he and his mates endured the horror of the attempted obliteration of Kay Sap, which was raked with enfilade and frontal fire, gas and high explosive shells. As noted in ‘With the Twenty-Second’: “The shells, malignant and relentless, killed wounded and buried living and dead together.” Phil Thompson was the next casualty of the group, he sustained a head wound on the 27th, and also suffering from shell shock, was sent through the hospital system to Blighty. Nip, operating as one of the Battalion runners, (described as ‘supermen’ during this time) received a Military Medal for his efforts.
After a short rest at Sausage Gully the 22nd then took part in an attack on the German trenches on the 5th August. Unfortunately, before the attack even commenced, they had lost approximately 20% of their men to enemy shellfire, and as they advanced, A Coy ‘were practically annihilated by machine gun fire.’ However, they took their objectives and held them until they were relieved later that night by the 24th Bn, and after leaving the front line, Nip was admitted to a rest station for a couple of days with shell shock. Later that month they played their part in the attack on Mouquet Farm, and the battalion was then moved on to a quieter sector in Belgium.
Hector then left his mates in the 22nd Bn, and transferred to the 6th Machine Gun Coy on the 7th September.
By winter he was back in France, and after a stint at Flers, was in billets at Flesselles when a fully recovered Willie Roberts, joined him and the machine gunners on the 8th December. Christmas was spent in the line amongst the cold and fog and slush, and the following few months were spent in and out of the line as they followed the German withdrawal towards the Hindenburg Line.
The Battle of Bullecourt on the 3rd May 1917 brought both glory and sorrow for the boys from Inglewood. Willie and Nip both operating as runners for their units met with completely different fates this day. Willie, following in the footsteps of Nip at Pozieres, earned himself a Military Medal. Pinned down in a shell-hole by machine gun fire with a badly wounded Lieutenant Palling, he and another man made a dash back to Company HQ with a report and to collect a stretcher. He then endeavoured to guide a stretcher party back until casualties prevented further progress. Meanwhile, Nip went missing and was later declared killed in action.
From a letter to their parents from Nip’s brother Frank (Murray):
I am writing to you to-day to tell you some bad news - "Nip" is missing. He may be in hospital, or he may have been taken prisoner - they don't know for sure where he is. His battalion was over here to-day, and I hunted round until I found his cobbers; that was the first I heard about it. He was bringing a message back to headquarters with a couple of mates, and they were hopping from shell hole to shell hole when he was hit in the leg and arm. His mates tried to pull him to the hole by pushing out a rifle, but he said, "I'm beggared; I can't hold it." His arm was broken, I think. They did their best to get him in, but couldn't at the time. They reported it when they reached headquarters, and two stretcher-bearers went out to get him. One came back carrying the stretcher - the other was killed. Two more tried and another was knocked, and they couldn't get him in just then. Another mate of his said that later on one crawled out and gave him a drink out of his bottle. They looked for him after but could not find him, so there is still a chance that he may have been picked up and taken to hospital, or he even may have been made a prisoner. ………………
Nine days later, the last of the group remaining with the 22nd Bn, Phil Thompson, joined Hector and Willie in the 6th MG Coy. Less than a month later however, he moved on to the VetHospital. After Bullecourt Hector’s unit went out for a long rest, which actually involved moving from camp to camp for the next few months. During this time Hector was promoted to Lance Corporal. Finally at the end of July they left the Somme area and headed north once more, where they went into billets at Wardrecques. From here they traveled to Ypres and began preparations for the Battle of Passchendaele, beginning withMenin Road on the 20th September, followed by Broodseinde Ridge on the 4th October.
Fighting was resumed on the 9th October, and Hector was a member of one of the 6 gun teams under the command of Lieutenant Wright, that were positioned behind the ruins of Broodseinde to provide indirect covering fire. They were shelled continuously; two guns being destroyed and two put out of action, whilst Hector and five of his comrades lost their lives. In the words of Lieut Wright; “…we were all dazed and ducking involuntarily at every burst and shaking at every sound, waiting for our ‘issue’ with just a sheet of tissue paper – it seemed – between us and sheer lunacy.” By next morning “When word came to abandon the cursed spot, I had some difficulty in inducing the boys to stay long enough to bury their comrades.”
Hector’s body was either never recovered or not identified.
A year after his death Hector was remembered by his mother and sister in verse:
He has done his best along with the rest
And marched with the brave old boys,
Inscribed his name on the scroll of fame
As one of Australia’s boys.
Hector’s brother George, along with Willie Roberts and Phil Thompson, returned home in 1919.
Endnotes: Menin Gate Photo taken by author. Photo of Hector & mate AWM PO8120.003.
Hector Leslie Deslandes (1894-1917) L/Cpl 145, KIA 9/10/1917; George William Deslandes (1885-1949) Pte 144 / Spr 4222, RTA 9/3/19; George Alexander Munro (1873-1935) Pte 214, RTA 21/1/16; Thomas James Murray ‘Nip’ (1893-1917) Pte 216, MM, KIA 3/5/1917; Charles Frederick Roberts (1894-1947) Pte 238, RTA 11/5/16; William Henry Roberts (1881-1937) Pte 239, MM, RTA 5/4/19; Phillip Louis Thompson (1887-1956) Pte 476, RTA 19/4/19.
Frank Murray (1895-1918), Pte 6314, 7th Bn – who wrote to their parents when Nip went missing, was KIA 27/4/1918 Meteren.
Heather ‘Frev’ Ford, 2010
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Previously numbered 1 - 9999, the Territorials were to be allocated a new (and in most cases) 6 digit number.
The changes were to be implemented by the 1st of March 1917.
In the case of the 5th Black Watch the number block given over to them began at 240001.
With few exceptions the renumbering followed the previous order, with the lowest numbered men recieving the first of the new batch.
240001 went to 5 Pte. Allan Christie (later awarded the D.C.M.). Christie attested on the 3rd of April 1908, shortly after the creation of the Territorial Force from the old local militias.
241258 went to 3842 Pte. James Forbes. Forbes attested on the 16th of November 1915.
On the 15th of March 1916, almost a year before the new numbering regulations were to be in place, the 1st/5th Btn amalgamated with the 1st/4th Btn to form the 4th/5th.
Looking at CWGC post amalgamation casualties, it is interesting to see there's mixtue of old and new soldiers numbers jumbled together in a 7 month period, starting from 03/09/1916 when the first renumbered man is recorded, until 01/04/1917, a month after the new numbering was supposed to be in use the final casualty was recorded using an old number.
Of 155 other rank casualties in this period, 101 are recorded under their old number with 54 under their 6 digit one.
Considering the even application of the new numbers to the old, it's odd that there's not a clean cut off where the new numbers take over in the casualties on CWGC from the old.
There's no pattern to the two number groups in this time frame. Neither is based on the previous Btn. a man belonged to, 4th or 5th, or if he's remembered on any particular memorial, or has a grave.
So why there's a large overlap in usage of the two numbering systems remains, to me at least, a mystery.
A medal recently came into my hands with an intensely human story behind it that I feel compelled to share. It is just one of the 6.5 million British War Medals that were produced at the end of the Great War of 1914-19, and is therefore nothing special in itself. As with so many of these, it’s true value can only be found by discovering the story that lies behind it.
As always, my start point came from the meagre details that the mint had punched into its rim, telling me that the medal was issued to recognise the service of “950. PTE. A. COOK. NOTTS & DERBY”. The actual Medal Rolls proved to be much more informative, revealing to me that he had in fact served with their 1st/8th battalion. Alfred Cook was therefore a member of the newly formed Territorial Force which had emerged from the reorganisation of the old volunteers units that came about with the implementation of the Haldane Reforms in 1907.
Born at Sutton-in-Ashfield (near Mansfield), in November of 1891, he was the fifth surviving child in a family of six. His older siblings were Annie Elizabeth, Hannah, John William and Harold, whilst Robert, the final addition to the family, had been born when Alfred was two. It is however the special relationship which seems to have existed between Alfred and Harold that will occupy much of our story. He was just a year older than Alfred, and they seem to have been very close.
So far as is known, Harold was the first member of the family to join the Territorial Force, which he must have done around the year 1909. In those days Sutton-in-Ashfield had its own Company of what was then simply known as the 8th Battalion. Still organised on the old “8 Company system” until after war was declared, their unit had several bases scattered around north Nottinghamshire. There was “A” Company at Retford, “B” at Newark, “C” at Sutton-in-Ashfield, “D” at Mansfield, “E” at Carlton, “F” at Arnold, “G” at Worksop and “H” at Southwell. It would seem that Harold enjoyed the experience enough for some of his enthusiasm to rub off onto Alfred, who followed in his footsteps and joined in his own right on 22nd August 1910. The battalion had actually returned from their annual summer camp earlier in that same month, and perhaps the tales of Harold’s 2 week adventure had been a major factor in influencing Alfred to sign up himself.
The boys were however growing up in other ways too, and it was not long before Harold had both found himself a bride and started a family of his own. This young couple would go on to have 3 children before the war, who they named as Lilian, Alice and, perhaps significantly, Alfred. It is easy to see that, with a young wife and growing family, Harold may have begun to find his commitment to the Territorial Force a little irksome and, despite their training being part-time, it would certainly have eaten into the time that couple had for each other. Whatever the reasons that lay behind it, we do know that Harold did not extend his contract with the unit, and handed back his uniform when his 4 years were up.
The two brothers would still have had lots of time together with “C” Company before then, and doubtless went on several annual camps in each others company. If Alfred at all missed his brothers’ presence in the unit, perhaps he consoled himself with the thought that his own contract would terminate at the end of August in 1914. Unfortunately however, by that date the Kaiser already had other plans for both of them.
The 4th August 1914 actually found Alfred at summer camp with the entire Territorial Brigade of the Sherwood Foresters, where the outbreak of the European war apparently took very few of their number by surprise. In fact, it is recorded that the men were so gripped by “war fever” that it rendered any prospect of them following their planned training schedule completely impossible. Once the formal declaration of war became known to them, their summer camp at Hunmanby near the Yorkshire coast was broken up and the men were sent home. Alfred would doubtless have been exceptionally eager to talk things over with Harold as soon as he arrived back at the family home in Park Street.
Things then began to move very quickly, and as early as Friday 7th August, the entire battalion had been mobilised and concentrated at Newark, where their men were briefly billeted in the local schools. With their strength recorded at 29 officers and 852 other ranks, a Church Parade and official send-off was held for them in the market square on Monday 10th before they marched off to their designated war station.
Harold also acted quickly, and signed a new attestation document with his old unit on August 9th. It would appear that, despite his family commitments, he may have been determined to take part in what he perhaps thought promised to be a great adventure. It is also possible however that he was equally motivated by wanting to try to look after his younger brother.
Alfred’s destiny actually became sealed on 3rd September, when he signed Army Form E624 and volunteered for overseas service. As with many other battalions of the Territorial Force, the issue of overseas service had not been given much emphasis in the 8th before the war, though 80% of their men readily accepted the commitment shortly after they had been mobilised. The brothers would almost certainly have discussed this issue, and we know that Harold also stepped forward to join the majority.
Part of the first full Division of the Territorial Force to be sent to France, the brothers landed at Le Harvre in early March of 1915. After moving up country towards the front line they engaged in an intensive training programme that culminated in them being sent into the trenches near Messines at the end of that month under the watchful eye of seasoned regulars. Despite the deep seated and widespread suspicions held about the Territorial Force amongst many of the full time professionals of the regular army, who frequently disparaged them as “Saturday night soldiers”, the 8th were judged to have performed well. So well in fact that, from the beginning of April, the battalion were detailed to take over a stretch of the front at Kemmel in there own right.
Up to this point the 8th had been lucky. Whilst 3 of their number had been wounded, their familiarisation had taken place in a quiet sector where they had not yet been exposed to the full grim reality of the war. All this began to change with the death of 18 year old Jack Hyde on Tuesday 6th April. Originating from Arnold but serving in “A” Company, he was shot through the head by a sniper and buried at the nearby Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery. In fact, as the days passed, and their casualties grew in number, Rows D and E in this cemetery began to assume the appearance of a plot reserved purely for the men of the 8th battalion. By Monday the 14th June, and after several tours in the trenches, it had already become the final resting place for no fewer than 43 of them.
Tuesday the 15th should have brought relief for the battalion, who were due to be replaced by anther unit thereby affording the 8th an opportunity to spend some time in one of the safer rear areas. It was reported as a quiet day until 21:00 hrs when, quite suddenly, with the unexpected detonation of three huge German mines, all hell broke loose. These acted as a signal that started a hail of artillery shells, trench mortars, rifle grenades and machine gun fire that then swept across the British trenches for over an hour. The enemy infantry proceeded to use this covering fire to advance into one of the mine craters that had been created within feet of where Alfred Cook had been standing, though they were swiftly driven out of this new position at the point of the bayonet. Major John Becher (a native of Southwell) was then able to supervise the reconstruction and reorganisation of the British defences, the coolness and efficiency with which he completed the task contributing towards him becoming the first man of the battalion to receive the DSO. By 23:00 hrs the situation had stabilised enough for the battalion to carry on with its planned relief but, by that time, both Alfred and another man from “C” Company, Oliver Bryan, were missing.
When greeted by this news, it would appear that Harold became beside himself. Joining forces with two of Oliver Bryan’s brothers, who were also serving with the battalion at that time, the three of them together swiftly sought and received permission from one of their officers to go back and search for their missing kinsmen.
In the darkness however they soon found that they were unable to conduct a proper search and, being in close proximity to the enemy, were at last reluctantly forced to abandon the enterprise. A court of enquiry later came to the conclusion that both Alfred and Oliver must have been buried under the front wall of their trench at the very start of the attack, when the German mines had been detonated. Neither of them were ever seen again and, having no known graves, they later became the first 2 soldiers from the 8th battalion to be remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial to the missing.
The story however does not end on that particular date, there being an equally sad postscript. Harold would lose his own life just 4 months later, during the same action which also saw Major Becher become fatally wounded. In a cruel twist of fate for the Becher family, two of his brothers-in-law, who were also serving as officers with the 8th battalion, were also killed on that same date. Becher eventually lost his own struggle for life at one of the base hospitals on the 1st January 1916, eleven weeks after he had been injured. The remaining Bryan brothers fared better, Charles went on to both win the MM and be promoted to the rank of Corporal, before being invalided out due to sickness in August of 1917. Stanley Bryan however was perhaps the most fortunate of them all, he was the only one of the 5 brothers that went on to serve until the end of the war, and was finally demobilised from the Labour Corps at the end of February in 1919.
Having completed my transcription and posts on the 801st MT Coy, I am now looking at the units they supported, particularly the Yeomanry, in this case the Surrey Yeomanry and the Derbyshire Yeomanry. I have acquired copies of their regimental history books, read the Surrey one and I have started a new thread 'Yeomanry in Salonika' on the 'Salonika and Balkans' sub forum, if anyone is interested.
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My step-grandfather served in 5th Bn. The London Rifle Brigade. He kept a diary from 2nd August 1914 until he was wounded and repatriated on 1st July 1916. I am publishing it as a series of day-by-day entries on www.robinlodge.com He refers as much to how he spent his time outside the trenches as to time spent in the front line.
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I have a picture of my Grandad when he served in the great war.......It is a group picture He served i believe with the 17th Yorks & Lancs Which were a labour corp.......In the group picture there seems to be a mixed bag of regt's looking at the cap badges...I was wondering if any member's had maybe seen this picture before or could give any idea's on it.....
The transition from CEF Sergeant to civilian father of two boys was at first fairly smooth. Three years of soldiering had accustomed John to broken sleep, so rocking fretful babies back to sleep was easier for him than many other a new father. And it was some months before he ceased to look at Marie as she slept beside him and wonder in awe at how they had come together at last.
Very different he thought from the few British and Canadian soldiers he met who had married in France. Apart from a few men from Quebec regiments, they were still struggling with the language - and most of the locals had difficulty with the French-Canadian dialect and pronunciation.
Still, John was relieved when his mother asked if he could return to Canada for a week to tie up the loose ends of his father's estate, and sell the family home. Marie was included in Madame's offer, but now pregnant again she decided to stay behind.
Toronto had changed, John decided. Everything seemed to be moving much faster, and the ever-intrusive American culture delivered from radio, magazines and newspapers made John long for the pre-war days.
He visited his Captain, now back to civilian life, but still serving in the Militia, which had changed greatly since before the War. The old numbers and the scarlet uniforms had vanished.
John was relieved to return to France.
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The following extract is taken from “MI 7b, the discovery of a lost propaganda archive from the Great War”.
A Trench Raid
At last, after what seemed years of waiting, the long-expected signal came, and we filed into the sap, and then crawled cautiously across No Man’s Land to the shelter of some friendly shell-craters about forty yards from the Boche wire. The signal for the final rush was to be an intensive bombardment on the flanks of the position we were to attack.
We did not have to wait long. Punctual to the second, the artillery strafe commenced and simultaneously a blinding sheet of flame and an earth-shaking roar told us that H.E. had completed the work of our wire cutters in blasting a gap in the entanglements. The next few minutes were crowded in the extreme. The whole party made a dash for the opening in the wire, scrambled over the parapet, and, as had been arranged, divided their forces, and bombed their way, right and left, down the trench. A sentry, who had been posted quite close to the point of entry, had been blown backwards off his perch by the force of the explosion, and was no longer in a condition to dispute our passage. The only real resistance we encountered was on the right where a machine gun team hurriedly dismounted their gun from its emplacement, and directed a stream of bullets down the trench in the hope of catching the attackers unawares when they rounded the traverse. But the Bombing Sergeant, crawling along the parapet, dropped a couple of Mill’s Bombs in the middle of the party, and then jumped down afterwards lest there should be any mistake. So it was that a battered machine-gun, plus a pair of stout Bavarians, very much the worse for wear, were shortly being passed to the rear.
Naturally the time is limited on a raid, and it is prudent to get back to the shelter of your own trenches before the enemy has time to recover from his surprise, and starts to retaliate. But before we turned back we lighted the fuse of an “infernal machine” which had been part of the R.E.’s contribution to the night’s entertainment, and placed it in an unobtrusive position at the foot of the traverse, with the object of discouraging any Huns from annoying us in our retirement. We returned to the original starting point to find the “moppers-up” had lured several unwilling captives from their under-ground funk-holes, and had already started to shepherd them across No Man’s Land on the first stage of their journey to England. As we picked our way through the shell-holes on our way home, our machine-guns were sweeping the Boche parapet on our right and left to restrain any vulgar curiosity on their part as to the fate of their brethren. The last of the excursionists dropped over our friendly parapet just as two infernal machines, in quick succession, rent the night with the roar of their explosion, and a salvo of “woolly bears”, the first fruits of retaliation, burst high up in the air over the ground we had just vacated.
The article, “A Trench Raid” was written by Lt J.P. Lloyd of the Welch Regiment in September 1917, and is one of 150 or so articles and stories he wrote. His work is the sole surviving archive of military propaganda from a secret outfit designated MI 7b. All the official documents of MI 7b were thought to have been destroyed at the war’s end.
Lt James Price Lloyd was my paternal great uncle and as a Second-lieutenant, he had been shot and wounded in the first Battle of the Somme in the fighting at Mametz on Friday, the 7th July 1916. Whilst recuperating, he responded to a War Office trawl for officers to write articles about the war. His work was accepted and on 7th July 1917, a year to the day since he had been wounded, he reported for duty with MI 7b.
He thought he was joining a unit set up to counter Hun propaganda, but that was just a cover story. Although he didn’t know it at the time, he was joining a strategic propaganda offensive aimed directly at the Home Front, and the home fronts of the Empire, her dominions and colonies. Allied nations too were targeted, as were neutral nations who needed to be swayed towards our cause.
MI 7b (1) had been set up in response to the perceived threat that support for the war was waning, that revolution was in the air, that there was discontent in the factories, and saboteurs active amongst us! In the autumn of 1916, through to the dread dark days of early 1917, disaster loomed. The nation, traumatised by the horrendous losses on the Somme front, faced insurrection in Ireland, revolution abroad, and was in danger of losing the battle at sea. The fear of losing the war and the prospect of famine brought home the reality of a modern, total war. To have any hope of preparing the nation not only to accept the huge losses that the strategy of attrition would inevitably demand, but also to sustain their faith that the cause was just and noble, and the sacrifice necessary, there had to be a counter-balance to the Roll of Honour.
The authorities recognised that they had to seize the agenda, set the tone, improve and sustain morale. To that end, the War Office trawled for officers with some time on their hands to write about the war, especially the human interest side. Capt Alec Dawson (Border Regt) fielded their submissions and set up what became MI 7b (1).
It attracted some of the finest literary talent of the day, many of whom were serving in the Army and had connections to the popular newspapers and magazines of the time. Similarly illustrators and artists were recruited and so it was that MI 7b (1) was able to produce high-grade propaganda material in both graphic and text media from the outset. Given its connections and the newspapers’ insatiable appetite for war news, MI 7b (1) became a major source of news that was then reported by the press all over the English speaking world.
From August 1917, Lt James Lloyd wrote first-hand accounts of battles and daily life in the trenches, and Captain Bruce Bairnsfather provided cartoons and illustrations that gave the imagination a visual hook. It is clear that their work was integrated as a result of a clearly developed editorial strategy. Bairnsfather’s cartoon character “Old Bill” and his “Fragments from France” were a national sensation – Old Bill became the archetypal “Old Contemptible” and a much loved figure world wide. Lloyd’s retrospectives on fighting in France, along with Bairnsfather’s illustrations, allowed those on the world’s home fronts to identify with the men at war, and get that much closer to what they thought the war may be really like.
Lloyd had much to learn about writing propaganda as many of his drafts were too close to reality to have been passed fit for publication. Some of the most poignant and moving accounts he wrote, never made it beyond the manuscript. These “rejected” articles contain much that would otherwise remain hidden. In my view, these articles are that much more interesting and shed a truer and brighter light on events that went unreported.
As the propaganda agenda moved on, Lloyd was tasked with producing “Tales of the VC”, and so that his reports on the fighting in France weren’t stale, he was sent back to the Western Front to observe first hand. It is clear that Lloyd wasn’t the only MI 7b officer to undertake such travels, as A A Milne, too, undertook secret work in France at some time during 1918. Officers from MI 7b travelled the Western Front extensively witnessing, as opposed to taking a further active part in, the battles and major campaigns of the war from early 1917 onwards. Those accounts were their main source of war news reporting and were then distributed for publication around the globe. There are examples of newspapers carrying 2 or 3 articles sourced from MI 7b on a single page.
With War Office support, what had started out as a “one man and his dog” operation in early 1916, became a highly successful broadcast medium with global reach within 18 months or so, producing an estimate of 7,500 articles for syndication world wide. Had the “Green Book” – the secret valedictory house journal of MI 7b (1) - not been discovered by chance, those writing for MI 7b (1) would have remained incognito, and its secret work only imagined, as so little of its official archive is known to exist. A A Milne is now the best known member of MI 7b, and the current media interest in his role risks eclipsing the wider story. Milne was not the only surprise to be found on the inside cover of the Green Book, posted elsewhere on this forum. The list of members and their literary achievements is truly astonishing.
The 150 remaining articles in the archive are of a high literary standard and the articles and stories each stand on their own merit. They would be interesting enough on their own, but in the context of their being examples of a secret campaign, they are an invaluable source. Written by someone who had served and been wounded in the front line trenches, Lloyd’s stories provide a fascinating glimpse into the realities of the fighting, and of life in France. His published work for MI 7b (1) is extensive, and I am very grateful to everyone who has helped me find examples. However, not everything was published, and the unpublished drafts provide tantalising glimpses into the realities as perceived at the time and written in the lingua franca of that era with its richness of slang, its wry observations on the detail of daily trench life.
It is also fascinating to view the propaganda production process in action; from idea to pencil draft, to manuscript and green-ink correction and censorship, to the typing pool and beyond to the higher echelons of the War Office food chain where it may be “Passed for publication.” Then, the article is there on the page of a Tasmanian journal, sitting alongside other articles from MI 7b. Each of the articles are under the name of the serving officer who wrote them giving no indication that they are the principal parts of a highly secret and sophisticated propaganda offensive.
If the newspaper articles indicate the scale and reach of the operation, the discovery of the Green Book indicates the calibre of its operatives and like the Rosetta stone, unlocks some of the mystery.
Why were so many talented and intelligent men willing to write propaganda in support for a war that each of them knew would result in further widespread slaughter? I believe that that they knew it to be their duty. They were recruited ostensibly to take part in a counter-propaganda offensive, and although that may have been plausible for a while, it is clear from what is written in the Green Book, that by the war’s end, some of these were men who felt that their integrity had been compromised.
If all their work was meant for publication, what was the secret? The real secret of MI 7b (1) was that the Crown and Parliament had a very great need for it, far greater than history may yet have acknowledged.
Why was it disbanded so quickly? The rapid disbandment of MI 7b did not affect its role and function, for that carried on. I think that Lords Northcliffe and Beaverbrook recognised that MI 7b (1) was a first class news agency with global reach, in effect, the information superhighway of its day. They took control of its infrastructure to further their newspaper interests, and MI 7b’s role and function morphed via the Ministry of Information through to the BBC.
From Adelphi House to Bush House!
With its records destroyed, and all its members bound by the Official Secrets Act, the story of MI 7b (1) might have remained an interesting, but obscure, footnote in history. With any luck, this discovery may yet inform our thinking about the First World War, and play a significant role in our understanding of the true nature of the conflict and the context in which it was reported.
“Tales of the VC”, 96 of the 150 or so articles can be found on:
 21 September 1917
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I have decided to begin blogging on my research which I started a couple of years ago. The journey has been interesting and taken many twists and turns and I would like to keep a record of what have done and what I intend to do.
In order to do this I must first back-track to the very beginning...
My mother in 2007 and at that time in her 69th year and in seemingly good health asked me to find out 'what happened to your granddad in the First World War', my granddad being her father. My responses were:
We already know what happened, he was a 6th Seaforth Highlander, under-age, reported and made to be a stretcher bearer, was wounded and captured as a POW. He also joined up as a runaway about two weeks after the war started.
And, as she insisted she wanted to know how he was captured, where he had been as a soldier and POW - I don't have time to find this stuff out right now.
I had asked tons of questions as a child and got the answers. I didn't think there would be anything more to find out. However, she didn't let it drop and in 2009 I began to do some searches on the internet based on what she (and my grandma previously) had told me. 'He was captured at Arras in 1917'. I couldn't really make sense of the information I found and the truth was, I still didn't really have time - always too busy.
In 2010 my mother died unexpectedly from an undiagnosed heart condition/disease and in amongst all of the grief and torment, I also felt I had let her down. For I had loved and worshipped my granddad while he was alive because to me he had always been a hero and yet as a grown-up, I no longer had time for him or my mother who wanted to know what her father really did.
After the funeral a cousin asked me to take her to another kirk so we could visit her mother's grave too and on that visit she told me she knew where our old family graves were and would show me. As it turned out she couldn't find them and so some weeks later, I returned to look alone. I had almost given up after quite a while of looking and started to walk away. On reaching the gates, I checked my watch and decided to allow another 15 minutes but doubted I would be successful. Some of the grave stones were completely illegible due to the erosion. I only went another row down when I found two of them, side by side.
My attention was caught by an inscription on the grave of my great, great grandparents 'and also their grandson William Proctor Duncan who was killed at Beaumont Hamel November 13, 1916 aged 31. Buried in Maillet Wood cemetery...' I asked myself several questions. Who was he? How had I not heard of him? How did he tie into granddad and the war? He must have been highly thought of but now forgotten. He needed, like granddad, to be remembered once again.
That was the start of the journey in the summer of 2010 when I began some serious ancestry research on my granddad's side of the family and in particular, the enigmatic William Proctor Duncan.
Six weeks after my mother died, my father died. He had emigrated to Cape Town in the late 1980s and had remarried my step-mother died ten months after him. Because of the distance and circumstances of funerals taking place immediately, I could not attend either. Instead in the spring of 2011, I found myself on a train to London having taken 3 days unpaid leave from work, to collect the belongings of my father that were being brought back from South Africa after the death of my step-mother, by her granddaughter whom I had never met.
I had managed to accumulate quite a lot of information on my great, great grandparents, their ten children and their grandsons William and George (my granddad). The day before leaving for London, I did something quite strange, I typed the words William Proctor Duncan into the Google search engine, not really expecting anything at all. What a shock I got. I found he was being discussed on something called The Great War Forum...
There was a conversation on the Forum and as I recall, it was entitled A Service Number on a Spoon.
It appeared that a spoon had been found by an amateur archaeologist near what had been the sight of a CCS at Poperinghe. It had been engraved with the letters SEA. and a number 3936. The feeling was that the letters denoted a Seaforth and the number was a service number. They had identified that William Proctor Duncan, a Seaforth, had that service number. However, it appeared from the conversation, he was not the only Seaforth with that number.
I must admit, I was very shocked that a relative of mine was being discussed on the Internet. When the initial shock subsided it was also quite exciting that having found out nothing about my granddad, here I might be able to find out more about the war service of his little known cousin. I checked what I had found out about him again. Just to make sure there was no mistake and they were actually discussing the right man.
So far, I had found him on two census aged 5 and 15 at the home of his grandparents at the Tugnet, Spey Bay. He had been born in Corstophine, Edinburgh the illegitimate son of the eldest child and daughter of the 10 Duncan children, according to his birth certificate. She was at lodgings and gave her usual address as Tugnet. She had been a servant in Fochabers but how she had ended up in Edinburgh, I didn't know at that time. I thought that his name, William Proctor Duncan was a nod to who his real father might be, a clue to be followed later.
The CWGC had yielded more information and his service number. It was definitely him. I needed to make contact...
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William Smith was my grandfather. Of course now I wish I had spoken to him about his life when he was alive. And I wish I had asked my dad questions too. Too late. In the unlikely chance someone can help me, I thought I would put up what information I have on my Pop and see if anyone happens to know anything about him.
William Smith was born in Maryton on 23.8.1896. He was married to Jane (aka Jean) Cameron from Dundee. He went off to war at a young age I believe. I have been told he was a Corporal Machine Gunner in the Black Watch and I remember him talking a lot about Mesopotamia. He was a broken man and never recovered from whatever he experienced there. I do not know any more about his war years but would love to find out.
He did survive the war and later worked for Glasgow Transport as an Inspector on the trams and buses.
If anyone could give me any idea on where to start looking for information, I would be most grateful.
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The Long Walk (Western Front)
My adventure started back in 2004 on an organised tour to the First World War battlefields. Not sure whether the seeds were sown on a wet weekend hopping on and off a bus, huddled in groups, staring at names on crosses and digesting events etched into memorials.
On reaching home, I began to think about my trip and wondered if it could be done in a more personal way.
I met Val in November 2004 and discovered her passion for walking, which over time began to make a huge impression on me. We would walk for hours across the Chilterns, trying to recognise the little brown things that flew across our path.
As confidence grew we walked further and further and then the penny dropped. One day in the early spring of 2005, I asked Val if she would be interested in walking the Verdun battlefields having read the excellent book titled the Paths of Glory. Val was not one to turn down a challenge and the rest is history …….
Oh I forgot to say my ambition is to walk the Great War, from every battle, skirmish that occurred from day 1 to the conclusion. Here is my story
April 2005 – Verdun(1916) Walk No 1
Flight to Paris - Train from Paris to Chalons sur Champagne - Train from Chalons to Verdun
We met Georges the train conductor on the train to Verdun. His nephew was on the train and was introduced to us so that he could improve his English. I told him of our quest but I’m not sure he either understood or believed me.
Verdun station set the trend, my mind wandering back to Feb 1916 and those first salvos that rained down, turning the tracks into twisted metal.
Who needs public transport or taxis when you can walk everywhere, saying that the walk to the Hotel Tigre complete with luggage was a slog. The Hotel Tigre sits on the Voie Sacree the most revered road in the whole of France and an important supply artery for the French Army in their hour of need.
Ok, Val and I like a drink and we didn’t disappoint, in fact we got pretty hammered by the end of the evening. It would set a precedent, a relaxed evening preparing for the unexpected.
Early rise, routine much the same now as it was then. We head to the supermarket to stock up. We stretch and go!!
Absolute rookies at this stage, not sure of distances, how much water to take and whether we had the correct walking gear. We didn’t look like stereotypical walkers that day and still don’t 8 years later. As long as you’ve got a decent pair of shoes and an umbrella, you’re good to go. Yes, you did read right an umbrella rather than waterproofs. If you are prepared to spend decent bucks on a breathable cagoule then fine but don’t go the cheap option as I assure you, you’d rather get wet on the outside then on the inside – catch my drift. Umbrella’s rock!! J
Anyway, we set off following the River Meuse past Bras, turning right at Samogneux. Three hours of walking on tarmac – ouch! Off-road for the first time following the path to the village of Haumont, where we had lunch and wondered what this village would have looked like. Haumont was blown off the face of the earth by the heavy fighting endured for 10 long months and was never re-built. I recall a long path called the Chemin des Americaines, meandering through the re-generated woods, which was signed off with a high five. High fives should be used sparingly, or they become worthless and they can be a tad geeky as well. We arrived at the Bois des Caures famous for a certain Colonel Driant who is immortalised here and his bunker (HQ) was soon reached. If I can take you back to that February morning when the German bombardment was at its most intense, French soldiers in the rear could see their comrades in the front trenches being systematically annihilated, then realising that that same bombardment was working its way towards them – now that’s a thought.
We followed the German attack through Beaumont en Verdunois, coming across some random guy with his dog looking for truffles, down through Louvemont-Cote-de-Poivre, another decimated village (village detruit), along the aptly named Ravin de la Mort, ending up at the Tranchee des Bayonettes.
An American was so moved by the story of a group of French soldiers who were interred by an explosion leaving only their bayonets visible that he built a memorial which enshrouds this moving site.
We had run out of water and boy was it showing. I took a drink from a stream, Val thought otherwise preferring hallucinating to dysentery. We finally found a place near Thiaumont to grab some water, which Val ordered in Spanish, which she doesn’t actually speak – interesting!
The Ossuaire is an incredible place, 15,000 headstones in front of a mausoleum. All along the length of the building are arches, atmospherically lit, displaying the names of many of the places we had walked through. Take a peep around the back and you are met with a macabre sight of bones found on the battlefield, stacked in huge piles in numerous crypts.
The walk back to Verdun took us through Fleury, flirting with the grounds of Fort de Souville, past the Lion de Souville commemorating the furthest advancement of the German army. I remember Val or myself spotting a dead Hawfinch in pristine condition on the side of the road.
We paid our respects to the Unknown Soldier at Faubourg cemetery and sat down at a bus stop gathering our strength for the final stretch.
Once in Verdun (no high 5), we collapsed in a restaurant that we have visited many times since. Neither of us found it easy to walk the final stint back to the hotel. But on reflection our day, which totalled 11 hours of walking (43.8km) and I hasten to add has never been surpassed in the 20 plus trips since, was a walk in the park compared to what those brave soldiers endured 99 years ago.
Woke up surprisingly fresh, both given the thumbs up, we’re good to go.
Stocked up at the same supermarket just by the railway station, had a good stretch and headed off in the same direction along the Meuse before taking a right up through Belleview, the goal being Belleview Fort on top of the hill. The house at the top of the hill had an interesting garage, from memory was definitely WW1, possibly a pill box or observation bunker. We ventured into the Fort, very eerie, noticed empty wine bottles – this was Fort Hoboville, not Fort Belleview. We walked the entire circumference of the Fort marvelling at the condition, although subject to German artillery bombardments never saw hand to hand combat, the German advance stuttering to a halt a mile or so away.
Retraced our steps back down the hill, chucking a right across fields (little farm on right), appreciating great views of woods in front and the top of the Ossuaire just visible. Descended onto the Sentier de Froideterre where we were not disappointed coming across various French fortifications. One of these being the Ouvrage de Froideterre, a defensive work, where we met some English lads who had a torch – bonus! Through dark corridors we inched, until we came to a gun turret. To reach the turret we had to ascend a ladder, which was missing several rungs. I and another lad climbed to the top, where I cast my mind back to the mind-set of a French gunner firing shell after shell at the approaching hordes. What discipline these men must have had to see so many attackers flowing like ants over the immediate terrain and the defenders refusing to leave their positions.
Following the path we soon reached the Ouvrage de Thiaument, tortured land, frozen in time. The remains of what was once an observation cupola, lying on its side where it had been hurled almost 100 years ago. Jagged barbed wire and undulation or should I say shell hole after shell hole, resembled the peaks and troughs of waves.
Adjacent to Thiaument is the Ossuaire, which we had visited briefly the day before. Rather than re trace our steps (standing joke between Val and myself, mustn’t tread over trodden ground, well at least on the same trip), we picked our way through the 15,000 graves, noticing the Muslim graves pointing towards Mecca. The Sentier De Douaumont led us to the biggest and most famous of the forts at Verdun - Fort de Douaumont. I must quickly say the path leading up to the fort should not be over-looked, with trenches visible either side.
Well, we went in, under, over and all around the fort. To think a handful of Germans, took the fort without a struggle, the French expending 100,000 men to re-claim the fort months later. Standing on top of Douaumont does not do the surrounding area justice, if you are trying to imagine the battlefields of 1916. Nature has a knack of re-claiming what man has endeavoured to obliterate. Check out the chicane’s within the fort, to thwart the enemy and buy time for the rest of the defenders. In one of the many dormitories, young swallows perched on the rusting bedsteads being fed by their parents.
Tiredness particularly after the previous day’s exertions was beginning to take its toll. At Fleury, we followed the mazy paths around the village that is no more. Names of the previous tenants, etched onto plaques mark out the original plan of the village. Fleury museum probably came at the wrong time for the both us and we crept around the exhibits like Flamingos, resting each leg in turn. Half-heartedly we flirted with Fort Souville, knowing full well that we would be back in the not so distant future.
Felt fresher than day 3, the last day of this trip. We headed out towards Fort St Michel, through the suburbs of Verdun towards the railway track. We trudged up and down looking for a path that would take us up to the fort; all we achieved was setting off a pack of dogs on at least three occasions. Fort St Michel like Fort Souville would have to wait for another day. Making our way to the Tunnel de Tavannes became only visible by scrambling down an embankment towards the railway line. Here in 1916 a huge explosion apparently caused by explosives attached to a pack mule resulted in 500 French dead.
We had lunch at Fort Tavannes. Not venturing too close to the damaged stronghold as the bombardments of 1916 had made light work of its structure.
Rain greeted us at Fort Vaux, no sign of humanity other than ourselves. We huddled on top of the fort for this quick visit, Fort Douaumont’s French flag on the horizon. The rain eased off and our trek continued on to Damloup, yet another of the villages destroyed although a mile or so up the road the re-built Damloup village very much alive and kicking. We ended up walking a complete circle thinking we were at Douaumont in fact we were back in Damn Loop... I mean Damloup. A tad dispirited we set off again for Douaumont, this time successful in our efforts. Our first trip was coming to an end.
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