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Remembered Today:

Winston Churchill on the Western Front


WilliamRev
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On the day that we are marking the 50th anniversary of the funeral of Winston Churchill, it is interesting to remember that he served on the Western Front: from 25th December 1915 until 7th May 1916. 6th Battalion the Royal Scots Fusiliers was commanded by Lieut.-Colonel the Right Hon. W. S. Churchill.

There is a photo of him with his officers HERE, and Captain Andrew Gibb's 36-page memoir of this time "With Winston Churchill at the Front, by Captain X" is available online [google "Winston Churchill at the Front" to find an online copy that you can download]. It is both witty and fascinating,

William.

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I think Captain Andrew Dewar Gibb is sitting to Churchill's immediate left - but I haven't permission to post a later photo of him for a second opinion. Is that an adjutant by his uniform?

Meanwhile, here's another photo of Winston in his favourite blue French helmet

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William

Though not an expert on Churchill I believe he was attached to the Guards Division from 20 November 1915 and served with 2nd Grenadier Guards as 2IC prior to going to 6th RSF.

The below document is in the Guards Div Admin War Diary; I presume written by Cavan, the Divisional Commander.

Lord Chandos described a trench relief;

'... the main room [in the dugout] was lit only by two candles stuck in bottles. They made no more than a pool of light round the table, and the rest of the room was in darkness. 'Ma' Jeffreys, by then commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion, said to me, 'Oliver, I don't think you know Churchill do you?' I knew that their medical officer had been wounded or gone sick, and I thought I was to be introduced to his successor. Out of the darkness, however, emerged that well-known domed head and stocky figure. It was Winston. It was a great surprise because we has thought that he was still a member of the government....'

According to the same officer '... Winston's charm overcame the handicap of being an Harrovian, a Yeomanry officer and a Liberal'

Kind regards

Colin

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I think Captain Andrew Dewar Gibb is sitting to Churchill's immediate left - but I haven't permission to post a later photo of him for a second opinion. Is that an adjutant by his uniform?

Yes, I think that it is probably Gibb on his left, (although initially Archibald Sinclair was 2nd in command of the battalion, according to Gibb, but there are leaves appearing on the trees, so photo taken in spring 1916, not earlier I deduce) - he became adjutant, and as Major Gibb, took command of 6th RSF for the short period after Churchill left the battalion, before it was amalgamated with 7th RSF.

Beyond him is the medical officer - Jo Dunbar or more likely his successor. I think that we have speculated about the chap on Churchill's right - impeccably dressed but with no insignia, he was probably Churchill's secretary.

I can see why Churchill liked his french helmet - more elegant than the (in early 1916) brand-new Brodie, it had a grenade badge which resembled both the Grenadier Guards and the Scots Fusiliers cap badges.

Colin - it has been speculated that since the Grenadier Guards were essentially "dry", Churchill found the prospect of 6th RSF, whose officers had a plentiful supply of whiskey, a welcome one.... :whistle:

William

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Churchill crossed to France on 18th Nov intending to join the Oxfordshire Hussars and was then surprised to get an invitation to dine with French at GHQ. French offered Churchill either to become one of his ADCs, or to take command of a brigade. Churchill opted for the latter, but requested time to first gain some experience of trench warfare, preferably with the Guards.



French agreed, and on the 19th he arranged for this with Cavan. By the 20th Nov Cavan had arranged for Churchill to join the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards under Jeffreys, and by the evening of the 21st Nov Churchill was in the front line with Edward Grigg's No.1 Company



Alas, Asquith vetoed French's offer to Churchill of a brigade; this news reached Churchill mid-December (16th?).


Asquith having at first agreed, changed his mind a few hours later and wrote to French “with regard to our conversation about our friend - the appointment might cause some criticism” and should therefore not be made – adding “Perhaps you might give him a battalion.”



The matter was settled on the 18th Dec when Haig (in the process of taking over from French) offered Churchill a battalion which he accepted. His appointment to the 6th RSF came through on 1st January 1916



details from Gilbert's biography, Vol.III


regards


Michael


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The matter was settled on the 18th Dec when Haig (in the process of taking over from French) offered Churchill a battalion which he accepted. His appointment to the 6th RSF came through on 1st January 1916

details from Gilbert's biography, Vol.III

regards

Michael

Buchan's History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers has Churchill's command of the 6th RSF commencing on 25th December 1915. The battalion's War Diary makes no mention at all of the date of Churchill's arrival, which is no help. Gibb's memoir says that word came through (that Churchill was taking command of the battalion) in December 1915, not January 1916, although of course Gibb was writing this a while after, so details may not be accurate.

William

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Buchan's History of the Royal Scots Fusiliers has Churchill's command of the 6th RSF commencing on 25th December 1915. The battalion's War Diary makes no mention at all of the date of Churchill's arrival, which is no help. Gibb's memoir says that word came through (that Churchill was taking command of the battalion) in December 1915, not January 1916, although of course Gibb was writing this a while after, so details may not be accurate.

William

William,

With nothing to do until the Army had sorted out his posting, Churchill left France on 22nd Dec 1915, for England and Christmas with his wife and family.

27th Dec he was already heading back and had reached Dover, from where he wrote to LG

28th Dec he was at St Omer

30th Dec Churchill wrote to his wife “Meanwhile no battalions have yet become vacant....”

1st Jan 1916 again writing to his wife “I expect in a day or two to hoist my pennant in one of them (battalions). The most likely is the 6th Royal Scots Fusiliers – in the IXth Division......”

That same evening he was already with IXth Div

2nd Jan Churchill went round front line trenches with Lt-Col R White

3rd Jan Churchill wrote to his wife “I think the battalion will be settled tomorrow......”

4th Jan 1916 Churchill to his wife “At last after much waiting I have been made Colonel of the 6th Royal Scots Fusilier; and tomorrow at noon I take over command.”

5th Jan writing to his wife Churchill says “I have now taken over the command ….......”

Presumably the date previously given [1st Jan 1916] relates to the official date of departure of the acting CO, Lt-Col J H Dutton [31st Dec 1915]?

As prev. details frm Gilbert Vol.III & 'Companion to III', vol.I

I hope that this is of help

Michael

edit to add:-

Perhaps also of interest, Gilbert agrees with your & Langdon's placing Captain Gibb on Churchill's left in the group photograph, which he dates from April 1916.

One other young officer identified by Gilbert is sitting on the ground, second from the left; 2nd Lt E Hakewill Smith

Edited by michaeldr
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Strange thing with his MIC as a "Major, Oxfordshire Hussars", the NA's seem to have it http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D1798835 but Ancestry don't even list it, they do have 4 http://search.ancestry.co.uk/cgi-bin/sse.dll?MS_AdvCB=1&db=MedalRolls&rank=1&new=1&so=3&MSAV=2&gss=ms_r_db&gsfn=j+s+s&gsfn_x=XO&gsln=churchill&gsln_x=XO&_F00061C3=yeomanry&dbOnly=_F00061C3%7C_F00061C3_x&_F00061C3_x=1&dbOnly=_F8007A65%7C_F8007A65_x&uidh=qoe for his Brother John as "J S S Churchill" matching the NA's listings but only 2 are available to view, both for M.I.D's, the other 2 are "Index only".

Either the NA's have kept it, they've sent it to a Churchill exhibition, someone from Ancestry has an interesting conversation piece at home or I can't find it on Ancestry's woeful cataloguing.

Sam

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it has been speculated that since the Grenadier Guards were essentially "dry", Churchill found the prospect of 6th RSF, whose officers had a plentiful supply of whiskey, a welcome one....

Yes, WSC was fond of a dram (who isn't?)

however the GG were not as dry as is supposed.

“Edward Grigg, whom he had known before the war, was commanding the Battalion's Number One Company in a forward trench. Churchill asked Grigg if he could spend the night in his dug out. Grigg was delighted, as indeed was Churchill, for among the other contrasts with Ebenezer Farm [the signals office] whisky was allowed in the forward trenches as a comfort in such cold conditions. Churchill spent the night of 21 [Nov] with Grigg's Company.”

as before, frm Gilbert Vol.III

regards

Michael

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If you look at the correspondence between WSC and Clementine (his wife), you will see that he regularly writes asking for things to be sent to him whilst he is in France - items requested include brandy, a typewriter - which he insisted was bought from the Army & Navy stores - , a periscope and a copy of Burns' poems. The brandy requests were frequent - this may give some indication of his consumption rate (although, to be fair WSC may have been sharing it round Battalion HQ). Many of these letters have already been published, but for anybody who is interested further, the Churchill archive has a very good searchable online index.

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teabreak

Many thanks for the recommendation of the Churchill Archives; I've found a few useful items in relation to other matters on there.

Kind regards

Colin

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. I think that we have speculated about the chap on Churchill's right - impeccably dressed but with no insignia, he was probably Churchill's secretary.

William

The chap on Churchill's right is the same chap with him in the photo in post #2, surely: viz, Archibald Sinclair.

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Well spotted - seems he was second-in-command (Major?) to Winston and became his PS in 1919. Originally in the 2nd Life Guards..

Thanks for posting the Lavery painting BTW - do you know when it was painted?

Mike

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Roy Jenkins quotes Gibb in his biography of Churchill, and also quotes Edward Hakewell Smith, the battalion's only regular officer. Jenkins tells us that Churchill, on his first day with the battalion, summoned all the officers to lunch and made a short speech: "Gentlemen, I am your Commanding Officer. Those who support me I will look after. Those who go against me I will break."

Jenkins: "Then he attempted to drill a parade of the whole battalion, but as he gave cavalry commands, and fairly archaic ones at that, there was more farce than precision about the result."

Edward Hakewell Smith became a Second war divisional general, and later a Lieutenant-Governor of Windsor Castle.

Well spotted - seems he was second-in-command (Major?) to Winston and became his PS in 1919. Originally in the 2nd Life Guards..

Thanks for posting the Lavery painting BTW - do you know when it was painted?

Mike

Painted in 1916.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/arts/yourpaintings/paintings/winston-churchill-18741965-wearing-a-french-poilus-steel-218598

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The chap on Churchill's right is the same chap with him in the photo in post #2, surely: viz, Archibald Sinclair.

Yes, you are right, he is the same chap isn't he. But he's not wearing a Royal Scots Fusiliers uniform - indeed he has no visible rank on his cuffs, nor does he seem to have a cap-badge (I used to have a much higher resolution version of this photo, and remember carefully looking for such clues, and found none). So who is he? Surely Sinclair would have a RSF uniform? Did Churchill take an assistant/secretary with him to the front? He certainly looks an important man.

William

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Yes, you are right, he is the same chap isn't he. But he's not wearing a Royal Scots Fusiliers uniform - indeed he has no visible rank on his cuffs, nor does he seem to have a cap-badge (I used to have a much higher resolution version of this photo, and remember carefully looking for such clues, and found none). So who is he? Surely Sinclair would have a RSF uniform? Did Churchill take an assistant/secretary with him to the front? He certainly looks an important man.

William

The photo posted by Langdon in post #2 appears in Jenkins' biography and is captioned "WSC with his second-in-command, Sir Archibald Sinclair ..." (Sinclair of course became the Leader of the Liberal Party and Secretary of State for Air during the Second war.)

Jenkins describes Churchill's first day with the battalion: "He and Sinclair arrived, unconvincingly wearing the glengarries of the regiment (to escape from them was no doubt part of his reason for his attachment to his French helmet)..."

We can surmise that Sinclair escaped from HIS glengarry by simply reverting to his cap.

EDIT: it took me so long to write this it was overtaken by Mike's of 7.01pm

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Here's Churchill on the day he acquired his Adrian, 5 December 1915: before he learned that his battalion was to be the 6th RSF. So he's carrying his cap, not his glengarry.

The chap standing third left as we look at it is Louis Spiers (he changed his name to Spears in 1918). Churchill wanted Spiers as his brigade major, and then as second-in-command of his battalion. His role in December 1915 was to take Churchill on visits to the French armies.

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From 'Edward Louis Spiers and his association with Winston Churchill':

Churchill, forever ambitious, was now expecting to be given a Brigade to command and he wrote home to his wife Clementine, … ‘I hope to get Spiers as Brigade Major & Archie (Sinclair) as Staff Captain… Please order another khaki tunic for me as a Brigadier General. Let the pockets be less baggy than the other 2 & let the material be stouter.’ It did not happen.

Spiers was completely bilingual, having been brought up in France, but he was much more than an interpreter. He was almost as good a talker as Churchill himself. On 8 December 1915 Churchill wrote (somewhat self-regardingly but probably also accurately): ‘I like him very much and he is entirely captivated.’ The captivation was both ways, for it led to Churchill, when the brigade was beckoning, as we have seen, to want Spiers as brigade major, and, when he had to lower his sights, as second-in-command. To both of these posts Spiers, a quintessential headquarters and liaison officer if ever there was one, would have been totally unsuited. That December Spiers’ more practical role was to take Churchill on two visits to the French armies, an experience curiously alien to most British officers, even those senior to Churchill. The first visit, to General Fayolle and the Tenth Army in front of Arras on 5 December 1915, was the more visually memorable. They gave him (Churchill) a bluish French steel helmet, the shape of which much suited his martial scowl… He wore it when subsequently in the trenches (and quite often out of them)…. It became in a minor way…. a symbol.

Mike

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I think Captain Andrew Dewar Gibb is sitting to Churchill's immediate left - but I haven't permission to post a later photo of him for a second opinion. ]

Here's a later photograph.

According to 'Fascists in Scotland' by Gavin Bowd, "When war with Hitler inevitably came, many prominent nationalists, such as Andrew Dewar Gibb and Douglas Young, either supported neutrality and appeasement or privately hoped for the defeat of England."

http://www.thinkscotland.org/thinkpolitics/articles.html?read_full=12083

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On the day that we are marking the 50th anniversary of the funeral of Winston Churchill, it is interesting to remember that he served on the Western Front: from 25th December 1915 until 7th May 1916. 6th Battalion the Royal Scots Fusiliers was commanded by Lieut.-Colonel the Right Hon. W. S. Churchill.

There is a photo of him with his officers HERE, and Captain Andrew Gibb's 36-page memoir of this time "With Winston Churchill at the Front, by Captain X" is available online [google "Winston Churchill at the Front" to find an online copy that you can download]. It is both witty and fascinating,

William.

The photo posted by William in post #1 includes a hand-written 'Matthew H-J' and an arrow pointing to the chap sitting second-right. A look at 'Forces War Records' suggests that this is M Hackforth-Jones.

http://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/313/royal-scots-fusiliers/

Further research awaits a free Ancestry weekend...

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