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Need information for my WWI NOVEL


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I am a British writer and have written the first draft of a 1,100 page novel set in WWI. But I have a number of questions to which I have not found the answers.

FYI. My novel deals with the first few months of the war in 1914 only. My protagonist enlists in August, trains in Surrey, graduates mid/late October. He is sent to Ypres from the end of October 1914 to the first couple of days in January 1915. So my questions are within that time period and no further.

Your help in answering any of these questions is much appreciated.

TRAINING

1. What was the most well known, well established Army Training camp in the county of Surrey, England in 1914? Is there an Internet link or a museum there now for research?

2. Civilian clothes. What happens to them when soldiers enlisted and went to training? Do they wear them on days off? Do they even take civilian clothes to war or leave them behind? If they took them with them I presume they were allowed to wear civvies on days off. OR were they expected to be in uniform all the time even on days off?

3. Were British recruits issued rifles or dummy ones at training camp in 1914? Did they use dummy ones for drill and real ones used for bayonet practice and rifle range training? Or real ones all the time?

4. If they were issued Lee Enfield rifles at training camp in UK did they leave them behind for new recruits or take with them to war? In other words did their rifle accompany them from the UK to Europe?

5. Where new soldiers divided into companies, platoons, sections etc. at training camps from the onset or after they graduated OR even when they arrived to replace losses in battle?

6. How big are squads, sections when performing drill at training? 30, 60, 90 men to a squad when performing drill.

7. When did a soldier get issued Dog Tags? When he enlisted or when he graduated? Perhaps when he got to France?

COMBAT

1. Etepes and the ‘Bull Ring’ Any information or better still photographs of Etepes camp in France in 1914 so I can describe more fully in the novel.

2. Were there really 100,000 troops stationed at Estepes at any one time in Oct/Nov 1914 as my research indicates?

3. Were servants of the officers dressed like servants or in military uniforms?

4. I know that the army reads letters home? How strict was their censorship and who did it? Could they post more personal letters outside of the army, like in Poperinge?

5. Not clear what rank officers were on the front lines with their men and what higher ranking officers were further back in the protection of the reserve trenches. Anyone shed light on this?

6. Do the regiment, companies etc have adjuncts or cooks or orderlies in the trenches or do soldiers cook for themselves? (other than eating rations that is) . If so are the cooks also expected to fight?

7. When in combat were there any medical units following behind the soldiers or did the soldiers just look after their own wounds on the battle field with their medical kits?

8. How is a wounded soldier demobbed from the army? Dog tags, papers, pay out etc. Presume that is done back in Blighty.

Thank you one and all

Julian Moss

email : juliantmoss AT gmail.com

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Welcome Julian.

3. Were servants of the officers dressed like servants or in military uniforms? Answer - military uniforms.

Etepes is how the great hospital and traning base camp is pronounced. It is spelt Etaples.

You will find bags of information via the SEARCH button towards the top right of the page. Here are a few for starters:

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...&hl=etaples

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...&hl=etaples

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...&hl=etaples

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...&hl=etaples

PS If you don't mind I'll amend your e-mail, otherwise it might be havested by spammers!

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A word of caution, Julian.

You appear to be searching for a reality basis, so it is highly unlikely that anyone enlisting for the first time in August 1914 would have been sent to France in time to take part in 1st Ypres (Oct/Nov 1914) - the BEF at that time was made up of existing regulars, reservists re-called to the colours and the odd Territorial unit (the Old Contemptibles) - though I may well be corrected by someone on the forum (the knowledge here is broad based and deep); exceptions that prove the rule are always possible.

Good luck with your research.

Cheers-salesie.

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Julian,

I would go with Salesie on this one. A Kitchener volunteer, which I am assuming your protagonist is from your initial post, would not have been fighting in France by 1st Ypres (Oct 1914). The personnel involved would have either been Regular, Reservist, Special Reservist or a miniscule amount of Territorial Force/Yeomanry (1/14 London (London Scottish) is one that springs to mind who deployed to Le Havre on 16 Sep 14 and were in action at Messines on 31 Oct 14).

In answer to specific questions:

Civvies were not taken and ID discs were issued immediately prior to mobilisation.

The figure of 100,000 personnel at Etaples in 1914 is highly suspect considering the size of the BEF at the time, in fact I would query whether the camp at Etaples was established in 1914. Charles Messenger (a Forum Pal) has some good stuff on this in his book 'Call To Arms'. Suffice it to say, at the period you specify there were a small number of camps situated around the main ports of disembarkation. Here the troops were processed, fed, given a bed for the night and then moved onwards usually the next day. What you are describing relates to mid-1915 onwards where training was also carried out but certainly not in 1914 where the situation was very ad hoc and fluid.

With regard to your questions regarding training read as many pamphlets as you can get hold of Field Service Regulations, Field Service Pocket Book and Infantry Training, etc. Read 'Tommy' by Richard Holmes for an excellent overview and as many War Diaries and personal accounts as you can get hold of.

Mail was censored by the soldier's troop/platoon commander. Not sure who censored officer's mail though.

Just some food for thought.

Woolly

PS. Don't forget to look on the parent website here. Sorry, Chris Baker!

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Hi Julian. Good luck with the novel. Museumtom has posted a lot of interesting articles from Irish newspapers, you will find these useful. If you find him in the ' members ' section, then look for his ' topics ' you will find some great stuff.

Read as much as you can on the period you are writing about. If you aim to write FACT with FICTIONAL characters, you won't go wrong.

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...=121855&hl=

Cheers Mike

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I believe that the land was taken over by the British, and the camp at Etaples first started in the spring of 1915.

Sue

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Hi Julian

Although slightly later than your timeframe, as it mentions that the men had only been in training for a few weeks, you might find this article from a local paper interesting (It also features, although not one of the best known, a Surrey barracks as well).

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...showtopic=85261

This gives a strong indication that, because of the pace of mobilization, full uniforms were not immediately available for many (most?) new recruits in the early months of the war with civilian clothing having to be worn for early training. It could well be that uniform was issued in dribs & and drabs as it became available. I would imagine the same situation would have applied with rifles, with priority for the issue of new weaponry being given to the men going off to the front, but will leave further comment on this to those with more knowledge.

NigelS

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...1. What was the most well known, well established Army Training camp in the county of Surrey, England in 1914?

Julian Moss

Does your protagonist enlist in Surrey? It's not "my" county, but in other parts of the country a man might have signed up at a regimental barracks,spent a few days there as part of a new service battalion which was then moved elsewhere to train. In many cases this was Wiltshire, which received new battalions from many parts of the UK (but not, as far as I know, from Surrey). Unfortunately in August 1914 there were no hutted camps there, just a few summer tented camp-sites and other areas of ground that were hastily chosen for camps. For nearly all of 1914, "Kitchener" recruits in Wiltshire were under canvas before moving in to hastily-built huts or billets. Much the same happened elsewhere, but probably not everywhere!

If you settle on an actual camp in Surrey (or anyway else), you may wish to research what went on there in detail. Or it may be easier (and safer, when it comes to possible criticism from pedants) to create a fictional camp.

Good luck

Moonraker

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If you intend your plot to encompass a soldier being caught up in patriotic fervour and getting to France with a regular Army unit and therefore fighting at Mons, Le Cateau etc, I think you'll need a plausible scenario, ie a soldier home on leave, or returning from India/Africa and a hurried replacement for a brother already set to go to France with his unit. Someone fresh from Civvy Street would be unlikely to have sufficient training to be prepared.

No doubt others here could provide you with various plausible plot lines as to how to accomplish this. What you need to remember is that the British Expeditionary Force was only about 100,000 strong in total and was sent from the UK to France and Belgium. There was no trench warfare, nor miles of communications, depots, ammo dumps etc, no such infrastructure existed until the war settled into the static phase after the "Race to the Sea" stopped any possibility of outflanking each other. The BEF held the line and was practically wiped out, leaving only a few of the "Old Contemptibles" whilst the Kitchener Army was being trained. There may have been a real possibility of the British Army being wiped out before the Volunteers were ready, given the costly battles to stem the German attacks, let alone mount their own offensives.

I suggest you do a lot more background research into the early stages of the War, and read up on the Battles of Mons, Le Cateau and the Retreat to the Marne.

I commend you for trying for accuracy, but you seem to be starting from a very limited knowledge base. I'm sure you'll get plenty of help, perhaps share the royalties!! Good luck!

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... I commend you for trying for accuracy, but you seem to be starting from a very limited knowledge base. I'm sure you'll get plenty of help, perhaps share the royalties!! Good luck!

I must say that this was my impression too. Ben Elton had a go at a Great War novel which was generally excoriated, not least because of a number of howlers

see here

but skip the first page which perhaps does not represent the finer debating skills of this Forum.

You may like to consider getting someone with a reasonable knowledge of the war to look at an early draft - or even a synopsis - and eventually at a draft that is almost ready for publication. If you do decide to have your man training in Surrey there's probably someone in this Forum who knows of a real soldier who did. If he ends up in Wiltshire I could advise on local accuracy and the sort of training that a recruit would have had there.

Moonraker

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I'm going to suggest a sort of answer to COMBAT Q7. The Medical Units question.

I think with this (and several other questions) it won't be possible to give simple one or two sentence answers because you are working within a tight time frame at the very beginning of the war, in a very specific geographical location, when arrangements and systems were still gradually evolving.

This thread (which you may have already seen) has a couple of direct references to 1914, but only a couple. However, if you speed read through it you will get a feel for the (pretty complex) systems which were in place by the end of the war, and the purpose of each stage (facility) in the system.

Then, if you find references to medical treatment in any of the accounts of the battles, the war diaries etc you read you should be able to understand what sort of facility was involved, and the sort of treatment provided.

See Medicine on the Western Front. Also some of the links may help you to research the early part of the war. I'm not familiar with them though, sorry. The Army Medical Services Museum at Aldershot, as mentioned, may be able to help too.

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/i...howtopic=128272

(Thank you for the link Diane, I've found it very interesting!)

I'm sure it's very frustrating, shadowing your protagonist as he makes his way through his story and coming to a halt as you uncover so many questions at every stage - Could this / would this happen? Was this how it really was?

Good luck !

Regards

CGM

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Thank you for that link from me as well as Julian, Andrew. I must try and remember to look at forum members websites. There's such a wealth of information in them!

Regards

CGM

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It's always worth reading people's signatures and bookmarking stuff. There's a lot of talented people out there in Forumland.

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In terms of the possibilities re. getting out to the Front quickly, early in the War -

I know of a solicitor (1519 Pte A.V.Jones) who enlisted in the Honourable Artillery Company (Infantry) in London on 25 August 1914, with no previous service mentioned in his obit. (though he was Public School and Cambridge University educated, and might conceivably have joined their Cadet/OTC units).

He landed in France on 18 September and was killed by a sniper at Wulverghem on 25 November 1914, three months to the day after enlisting (Ploegsteert Memorial).

So possible, if unlikely.

LST_164

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Thank you each and every one of you for your speedy and informative responses.

I am a Brit living in Los Angeles so apologies for the tardy reply due to the time difference.

Thank you so much for the knowledge base you guys have and for correcting me on timeline and reality of places and times. I will look into all your suggestions and links to sites.

Yes I do want to keep it as factual as possible, although it is a fictional story and one that intends to leave the reader with a sense of the horror and futility of trench warfare as well as its effects on loved ones and family members back at home (Wales in this case)

I want the avid WWI buff to enjoy the factual accuracy as well as the less knowledgeable to enjoy the story of one man's experiences.

FYI - My protagonist enlists almost in the first batch of volunteers within a week of the war being declared. He is Welsh but living in London. He completes his training in 8/9 weeks and is immediately sent to the area around Ypres first calling in at Poperinge. He arrives on the front lines within the first week of November (Is that plausible?) If not plausible then what would be the earliest that he could be in the trenches fighting?

The reason I need him there within that time is that about 10% of the novel also follows Adolf Hitler and the List regiment that fought in and around the battles of Becalaere, Gheluvelt, Wytschaete etc in late October through to January when the novel ends.

The Christmas truce is crucial in the story and my protagonist HAS to be there at that time.

I have kept my protagonist's Regimental name anonymous so that I can move him around and have kept the actual trench locations vague as well for the same reason.

If you have any more suggestions or links then feel free to post them and I thank you in advance.

This site rocks!!!

Julian

(in LA LA land!)

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This would shorten the unlikely timeline still further, but the following may provide you with a nice set-piece for the novel.

Many Welshmen in London (i.e. your character) attended a big recruiting speech given by Lloyd George at the Queens' Hall on 19 September 1914. In this rousing speech he called for a Welsh Army (the soon to be 38th Division) and spoke of the 'five foot five nations', a quote that today would have been latched upon as a clasic soundbite.

His influence over the decision to enlist of many Welshmen in the early months of the war was significant. Robert Graves lamented the initially slow reaction of many Welshmen due to the Chapels declaring the war to be sinful. Shortly afterwards Lloyd George 'worked on' (my words) the chapels who came round to calling it a 'crusade' (Graves' word) and recruitment increased.

There are a number of forum-folk with significant knowledge of Welshmen in the war, and should you wish to know more about such things a new topic with the word 'Wales' in the title will tempt them in like a moth to a candle.

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FYI - My protagonist enlists almost in the first batch of volunteers within a week of the war being declared. He is Welsh but living in London. He completes his training in 8/9 weeks and is immediately sent to the area around Ypres first calling in at Poperinge. He arrives on the front lines within the first week of November (Is that plausible?) If not plausible then what would be the earliest that he could be in the trenches fighting?

Unsure if this timeline is plausible. One of the shortest I know of is my Great Uncle (see signature) who enlisted in August 1914 without any prior military service. He landed in France in the first week of December 1914 as part of a replacement draft for a regular battalion (even though he himself was a volunteer)

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There are a number of forum-folk with significant knowledge of Welshmen in the war, and should you wish to know more about such things a new topic with the word 'Wales' in the title will tempt them in like a moth to a candle.

Flutter, flutter....

Julian, is your character "Chapel" Welsh or "Church" (or even Catholic) Welsh? The former were, as Andrew says, a little less likely to enlist in the first few days than the latter, who printed recruiting adverts in Y Llan A'r Dywysogaeth - the Welsh language Anglican weekly - from the very start. My own rough reckoning is about three weeks or so after the start before the Welsh Nonconformist weekly papers generally come on board in support of the War. This mirrors Lloyd George's own dilemma as to whether to back the Government, though in his case the hesitation only took several days.

Someone enlisting in response to LG's stirring Queen's Hall speech in September about "a Welsh Army in the Field" and choosing to join his Welsh Army Corps (aka 38th Welsh Division) wouldn't have got out to the Front until December 1915 - too late. Any similar "Kitchener" volunteer unit would be too late for your timeline, that's certain.

He would more plausibly join the Territorial Force, who (as my previous post re. Albert Victor Jones from Caernarfon shows) did manage to get some units out in time for the First Battle of Ypres. The were no Welsh units as such raised in London until towards the end of the year, but I'm sure that numerous expatriate Welshmen joined London or Home Counties TF formations.

As your background reading may show you, there was a hiatus at the very start since the TF (conceived as a Home Defence force) were not obliged to serve overseas en bloc. Personnel who wished to do so signed up for "Imperial Service" and were given a badge to show their status. Many, however, didn't want to do so for family or other reasons, and until 1916 could not be forced to go abroad. This led to the formation of "Second Line" Home service TF units, which also incorporated those unfit. It also became clear in the first couple of days, when Lord Kitchener took the temperature of TF units re. service abroad, that there were significant blocs of unwillingness within some battalions. This persuaded him to launch the "Kitchener" volunteer movement in which overseas service was automatically incorporated.

Your character may choose to join a TF unit because it is the local one where he lives or works; or because it has a "name" for smartness and a slightly superior social composition. Don't underestimate this factor - there was a world of difference in status between, say, the crack 5th London (London Rifle Brigade) and the 24th London (Lambeth & Southwark) Regiments! "Desirable" units such as the 14th London Scottish, who even in peacetime exercised choice in who they allowed to enlist, were swamped with applicants. Joining with your (socially equal) friends or workmates was a great incentive which the TF and more especially the "Kitchener" units traded on, and "local" formations of any kind would be regarded more favourably than the Regulars or Special Reserve. Your character, after all, can't come out of a social vacuum.

If your character chose to join the Regular Army I'm not sure whether that would have got him out to France in time for your plot to work, but his contract commitment wouldn't have been for the TF's four years: twelve years (including Reserve) service would have been the norm. Likewise the Special Reserve (the Militia before 1908), whose role was effectively to supply the Regulars with reinforcements I think had a seven year contractual obligation. But both these formations were definitely looked down on in 1914, socially speaking, whatever the media might print about heroic British soldiers.

So your fictional unit might well be a Territorial one, with whatever social makeup you wish to endow it, and a decent "history" of service to the Country going back through the Boer War to about 1859. It can be as "crack" or amateur as you wish, given its mixture of long and short-serving volunteers, and the newer men just joined who fill the gaps left by those not wanting to serve abroad - for the unit must be up to reasonably full strength before it can proceed overseas. There may be pressure from officers & others to take the Imperial Service obligation (either on joining or in the course of unit parades). There may well be under-age soldiers - see Richard Van Emden's Boy Soldiers of the Great War.

Just read more background - personal accounts; general accessible works such as Lyn Macdonald's 1914 and 1915; Beckett & Simpson's A Nation In Arms(reprinted 2004 by Pen & Sword books); and the other works already cited by other Forum members. Hope this helps,

LST_164

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4. I know that the army reads letters home? How strict was their censorship and who did it? Could they post more personal letters outside of the army, like in Poperinge?

I'm sure I have read a personal memoir which mentions carrying letters from comrades for personal delivery / posting in Britain, when going home on leave, thus avoiding the censor.

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Thanks again LST_164,

My character is neither. Back in Wales he and his family were one of the few 'non religious' types, although his young girlfriend is Methodist like most Welsh folk. Part of my plot structure and characterisation. He's agnostic.

This is (very briefly) why I am trying to make my timeline work for the novel. If this really can't happen then I need to make the changes, but if it can.......

My Protagonist is in banking, moves from Wales to London in the last days of July 1914 to make a life for himself (and Welsh girlfriend) war breaks out, banking collapses and he is sucked into the patriotism and fervor of joining up in the first week. He goes straight to a training camp (hence somewhere in South England) Upon graduating, he is immediately shipped over to France. He has new training in a place like Etaples (but not Etaples as it obviously didn't exist until 1915) marches to Poperinge. Few days there and then into the reserve trenches in the first days of November. He is involved in 3 rotations to the front lines, is involved in the Christmas truce, is forced to fight an enemy he now knows to be just like him in January 1915, is wounded and demobbed back to Blighty as a changed man.

Question is.... is this an impossible time line as some have hinted at or is there any way he could be amongst the first 'volunteers' (as I want him to be) to arrive at the new stalemate of war - the trenches? Hence your comment about "signed up for "Imperial Service" and were given a badge to show their status." I can try and make that work in the novel somehow. Especially if he is arriving at the front as the first set of 'volunteers' due to heavy losses with the regulars. That would add some flavour to the mix - the old dogs and the new pups.

Thanks yet again for your tireless help. Currently my story and timeline work very well in the novel that is why I am trying to find a way for this to work logically and plausibly rather than change the timeline and hence the 'feel' of the novel. But if I have to change it I will for the sake of realism and logistics.

Cheers

Julian

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Why does he have to train in southern England? Is it to enable his girlfriend to see him? Home leave was granted during training, and usually embarkation leave too, though you would need an expert to confirm that.

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Question is.... is this an impossible time line as some have hinted at or is there any way he could be amongst the first 'volunteers' (as I want him to be) to arrive at the new stalemate of war - the trenches?

Cheers

Julian

I've cut your post down, Julian, to save on bandwidth.

As I suspected, LST_164 in post #15 has found an exception that proves the rule - so your time-line is not impossible, just highly unlikely, and seeing as writing fiction is, in part, an art of stretching the possible then the your time-line could stand untouched if you feel it's realistic enough.

Just a little more caution from me; depending on your prospective readership, you may care to look at your terminology i.e. British soldiers, whether regular or volunteers, do not (did not) "graduate" from training, they "pass-out" from it - hence the term "passing-out" parade, meaning that particular bit of training has been successfully negotiated i.e. a man trained as a British soldier would instinctively say, for example,"I passed out of basic training in October 1914". Consequently, if a man was trying to pass himself off as a British soldier and said, "I graduated from basic training in October 1914," then a squaddie (or ex-squaddie) would immediately smell a rat. Of course, if a non-British and/or an uninformed readership is your aim then terminology is not so important, but if searching for realism then the use of appropriate language is vital.

In saying this, I hope you don't think that I'm trying to re-write it for you? I wouldn't dream of patronising you to that extent - it's just that your repeated use of the word "graduate" in the context of British army training vividly stands out to a sad old ex-squaddie like me.

Cheers-salesie.

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Hi Salesie.

Not at all taken personally. I like being corrected. I want to get this right so that people who are fanatical about WWI (like those on this site) will know that I have done my research and taken time to get it right. So correct away.... and thank you for pointing that out. This is EXACTLY what I need and appreciate the feedback.

J

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Why does he have to train in southern England? Is it to enable his girlfriend to see him? Home leave was granted during training, and usually embarkation leave too, though you would need an expert to confirm that.

Hi Kate,

Well, he is in London when the banking system fails. He doesn't want to go home with his tail between his legs. He enlists and (I thought) he would be sent to the most local camp seeing as he was one of the frist few thousand in August to enlist. The sub story with his girlfriend is that she does leave home to see him and work locally until he 'passes out'. Then she goes to London and works in Woolwich Munitions factory.

So I would like him to be somewhere in South England. No reason why it could not have been Kent, Hampshire or even Hartforshire. It is not crucial to the story, just convenient to keep it local.

Julian

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