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Remembered Today:

St Helens, South Lancs and the Great War

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some of you may remember that I previously posted a link to a timeline I was running on another site. As I don't spend as much time at that site these days, and the focus there is more on general military and political matters it seems appropriate to move it to here. I will post it in several chunks over the next few days, starting in from June 1914, then keep it updated as best I can.



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28th June 1914

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife are assassinated, at the hand of the Serbian nationalist Gavrillo Princip.

The Kiel naval regatta - with a Royal Navy squadron visiting - is still in progress.

AJP Taylor, writing in 1956:



No one has ever managed to show that the Serb government had any connexion with the plot. Indeed, it was easy to guess that an Austrian Archduke would be shot if he visited Sarajevo on 28 June, Serbia's national day.


The visit has also been likened with a visit from th Prince of Wales to a nationalist part of Belfast on the anniversary of the Battle of the Boyne. The person, timing and location were hardly a shining example of the art of risk management.

29th June 1914:

News of the assassination begins to spread across the world. Many European royal families are affected; if not by blood links, no royalty likes to contemplate the murder of their fellows.

The wider implications are not apparent - yet.

30th June:

The German ambassador to Austria-Hungary advises against haste in responding to the Serbs.

1 July:

As a member of the 1914-1918.net forum kindly pointed out, on this day in 1914 the Royal Naval Air Service was formed. Although co-incidental to the 'July crisis' that was to follow the assassination, it illustrates the changes gradually overtaking the British forces at the time. For the first time the Army and Navy would take to the field (and, eh, waves) supported by powered aircraft; the Navy would maintain an independent air arm right until the formation of the Royal Air Force in 1918.

3rd July:

The St Helens Newspaper and Advertiser carries a report from the Lancashire Yeomanry, in camp at Rufford Park, near Ormskirk. The volunteer cavalry were part way through their 15 day annual training when General McKinnon, in command of the NW District, paid them a visit of inspection.

Other Territorial and Yeomanry units going to camp later in the month were to have camp cut short by mobilisation. Summer camps were a big attraction for civilians, many of whom would get no similar opportunity to spend two weeks away from home and work.

Meanwhile, in Austria, the bodies of Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie lay in state in the Hofburg Chapel. They had arrived in Vienna late in the evening of 2nd July.

4th July:

Archduke Franz Ferdinand and his wife Sophie are laid to rest in Vienna.

5th July:

Count Hoyos delivers a personal message from Emperor Franz Joseph to Kaiser Wilhelm, seeking assurances of German support. The Kaiser assures the Austrian representative that they can rely on such support, even if the Russians become involved. This became known as the 'blank cheque'.

Safe in the knowledge that their powerful ally is on board, the Austro-Hungarians begin to plan punitive measures against Serbia.

7th July:



Sir R. Rodd to Sir Edward Grey


Rome, July 7, 1914

It has been curious to study here the effect of that abominable assassination at Serajevo. While ostensibly the authorities and the press have been loud in their denounciations of the crime and full of sympathy with the Emperor, it is obvious that people generally have regarded the elimination of the late Archduke as almost providential. I heard from two bankers here that at Trieste when the news was received Hungarian stock rose from 72 to 80. He was almost as much disliked it seems in Hungary as in Italy.


The above was kindly posted over at www.1914-1918.net by Chris - thanks to him for highlighting this aspect of the 'July crisis'.

The Austro-Hungarian Council of Ministers considered Berlin's reply. Count Tisza (Hungarian Premier) expressed reservations about punitive action towards Serbia; nevertheless, the decision was taken to take some sort of action. Discussions continue...

The St Helens Newspaper and Advertiser carries notification that the Band of the West Lanacashire Royal Engineers are to play a programme of martial music in St Helens' Sutton Park, that night.


"Sir H. Rumbold to Sir Edward Grey (Received July 13)


Berlin, July 11, 1914




I have had the honour to receive your Despatch No.214, Secret, of the 6th instant, recording the observations made to you privately by the German Ambassador in respect, amongst other matters, of the situation arising for Germany out of the murder of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand....When the news of the murders at Serajevo became known there was evidently anxiety in official quarters lest the Austro-Hungarian Government might take some precipitate action against Servia which would have far-reaching consequences....The practical absence at first of detailed speculation in the German Press as to what might happen between Austria-Hungary and Servia was an indication that the situation was difficult for Germany. The papers merely printed telegrams from Vienna, reporting that some immediate steps were in contemplation at Belgrade. When, however, it was announced that the Austro-Hungarian Government were going to await the results of the investigations at Serajevo before taking action, a feeling of relief was noticeable...

The Press have discussed the situation much more freely within the last day or two. The general upshot of their remarks is that Austro-Hungary cannot indefinitely tolerate the state of things prevailing on her Servian frontier. Hard things are said about Servia and the Servians, and it is freely assumed by some papers that the latter will shelter themselves behind the big Slav brother. There is a consensus of opinion that Germany will and must stand by her ally in this matter. I aked Herr von Jagow at his weekly reception what news he had from Servia. He replied that he had none, but added that if the Servian press continued to use the language it did, matters would become serious.

I have & c.

Horace Rumbold"


Thanks again to Chris at www.1914.1918.net for supplying this interesting correspondence.

14th July:

The Austro-Hungarian government agree a draft ultimatum to be sent to Serbia. It demanded agreement to a number of conditions:



...including the suppresion of anti-Austrian propaganda in Serbia, the dissolution of Serbian Nationalist organisation Narodna Odbrana, the purging of officers and officials who were guilty of propaganda against Austria, the arrest of names officers suspected of aiding and abetting the conspirators who murdered the Archduke and the tightening up of controls on the Serbian-Austro-Hungarin border. It also demanded the representatives of the Austro-Hungarian government should participate in the enquiry which the Serbs were to carry out into the origins of the assassination plot, as well as in the suppression of subversive activities directed against the Austro-Hungarian state.


From James Joll, The Origins of the First World War, p 12.

My local newspapers had yet contained no mention of the dispute in Europe.

15th July:

Poincare and Viviani leave France to undertake an official visit to Russia. Not wanting to allow the two Allies to confer closely whilst together, Austro-Hungary would decide to sit on their ultimatum to Serbia until the French statesmen departed on their return journey.


18th July:

The combined fleets of the Royal Navy assemble at Spithead, following a test mobilisation which had replaced the annual manouevres.

19th July:

The Austro-Hungarian government finally approve the text of the ultimatum to be sent to Serbia.

The quotation below is from S.R. Williamson's article, 'The Origins of World War I', in: Journal of Interdisciplinary History, vol.XVIII no 4 (spring 1988), p809/10.



Vienna used the hiatus of mid-July to mislead the other European governments about it's intentions. After 12 July Berchtold restrained press comment about Serbia, and the journals in Vienna and Budapest recounted little about the adjoining state. Conrad went hiking in the mountains; Franz Josef stayed at Bad Ischl; and the other Habsburg leaders carried out their customary duties. The Danubian monarchy appeared to have returned to normal.

Berchtold had another motive for his deception. In mid-July he discovered that on July 11 Berline had informed Hans von Flotow, its ambassador in Rome, sbout the possibility of Habsburg action against Serbia. Shortly afterwards, Flotow conveyed this message to Antonio San Giuliano, the Italian Foreign Minister; not surprisingly, San Giuliano cabled the information to Vienna. When the telegram reached Vienna, the Austrian codebreakers duly deciphered it, thereby exposing the indiscretion of both Germany and Italy. Berchtold could only assume that San Giuliano had sent the same message to St Petersburg and Belgrade. Henceforth, he gave Berlin no further details about his plans, including the text of the ultimatum, until the very last moment. Later, this secrecy would be held against Berchtold as a sign of duplicity; at the same time, it appeared to be the only way he could maintain his options.

The Common Ministerial Council met secretly in Vienna on July 19 to review the ultimatum. Although non present believed Belgrade could accept it, the ministers approved the ultimatum and concurrently affirmed their acquiesence to Tisza's demand that there would be no territorial annexations, only modifications of strategic boundaries in cas of victory. Conrad reportedly said, when leaving the meeting, "We will see; before the Balkan war the powers also talked of the status quo - after the war no one worried about it."


[My emphasis].

The full text of the Ultimatum can be read here:


20th July:

Franz Josef gives final approval for the ultimatum, during a visit from Berchtold to his holiday retreat at Bad Ischl.

Russian Foreign Minister Sazonov warns the German Ambassador Count von Pourtales that Russia will not allow Austria-Hungary to take military action against the Serbs.

23rd July

Von Giesl (Austro-Hungarian ambassador in Belgrade) delivers the ultimatum at 6:00 pm, with a 48 hour deadline. The Serbian cabinet are called back to Belgrade.

Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, on his thoughts after a meeting with Count Mensdorff, Austrian Ambassador:



The possible consequences of the present situation were terrible. If as many as four Great Powers of Europe - let us say Austria, France, Russia and Germany - were engaged in a war, it seemed to me that it must involve the expenditure of so vast a sum of money and such an interference with trade, that a war would be accompanied or followed by a complete collapse of European credit and industry. In these days, in great industrial states, this would mean a state of things worse than that of 1848, and , irrespective of who were the victors in the war, many things would be completely swept away.


Friday 24th July:

Ambassador Giesl begins preparations to leave Belgrade.

Russia advises Pasic to "proceed with extreme caution."

Serbia publishes the ultimatum text to the watching world.

The British cabinet meets, with Irish issues dominating the agenda. Churchill later recalled:



...turning this wqay and that [we] toiled around the muddy byways of Fermanagh and Tyrone...The discussion had reached its inconclusive end, and Cabinet was about to deparate, when the quiet grave tones of Sir Edward Grey's voice was heard reading a document which had just been brought to him from the Foreing Office. It was the Austrian note to Serbia. He had been reading or speaking for several minutes before I could disengage my mind from the tedious and bewildering debate which had just closed. We were all very tired, but gradually, as the phrases and sentences followed one another, impressions of a wholly differenct character began to form in my mind. This note was clearly an ultimatum; but it was an ultimatum such as which has never been penned in modern times. As the reading proceeded it seemed absolutely impossible that any State in the wolrd could accept it, or that any acceptance, however abject, would satisfy the agressor. The parishes of Fermanagh and Tyrone faded back into the mists and squalls of Ireland, and a strange light began immediately, by perceptible gradations, to fall and grow upon the map of Europe.


Quoted in Gilbert, M., The Challenge of War: Winston S. Churchill, 1914-1916.

25th July

The Germans press Vienna for immediate military action, because:



Any delay in commencing military operations is regarded...as a great danger because of the interference of other powers.'


[Joll, p17]

The Serbian reply is very conciliatry, conceding almost all points. Pasic delivers it to Giesl just a few minutes before the dealine was due to expire at 6pm. You can read the reply here:


The Serbs had ordered mobilisation at 3:00 pm.

Giesl and his diplomatic staff promptly departed Belgrade. Franz Josef signs the mobilisation order just before 7.30pm.

Upon hearing of the Serbian reply, Kaiser Wilhelm said: 'A great moral victory for Vienna, and all grounds for war disappear.' Quoted in Peter Vansittart, Voices from the Great War, p11.

26th July

Admiral Louis Battenberg, First Sea Lord, orders the fleet not to demobilise at the end of their exercise:

'Admiralty to C in C Home Fleets. Decypher. No ships of the first fleet or flotillas are to leave Portland until further orders. Acknowledge.' [Gilbert p6]

The Royal Navy would therefore approach the coming conflict at an advanced state of readiness.

The Austro-Hungarian government orders mobilisation on the Russian border.

Russia orders pre-mobilsation, covering the districts of Kiev, Odessa, Moscow and Kazan. Actual mobilisation orders were delayed.

27th July

The French Ambassador to the Russian Court, Maurice Paleologue, published his memoirs in 1923. They give a detailed account of events at the Romanov court during the 1914 crisis, which is now available online at: http://www.alexanderpalace.org/mpmemoirs/2.html

His entry for the day includes:



Throughout Russia public feeling is becoming exasperated. Sazonov is trying hard and is still successful in restraining the press. But he is obliged to give the journalists a sop to assuage their hunger and has had to tell them, " If you want, go for Austria, but be moderate towards Germany


Clearly, Sazonov is fully aware of the perils of provoking Germany into direct support of her ally.

Joffre (French Chief of Staff) and Messimy (War Minister) press Russia to take the offensive immediately should war break out. Aware of the 'France first' nature of the Schlieffen plan, they recognise that speedy Russian action could divert German forces from the offensive in the west.

28th July:

Austria declares war on Serbia - by telegram.

Bethmann-Hollweg, shocked by Austria's actions, offers his resignation to the Kaiser, who turns it down by saying: "You have cooked this broth, now you will eat it.".

The 'Nicky - Willy' telegrams:



In this most serious moment I appeal to you to help me. An ignoble war has been declard to a weak country. The indignation in Russia shared fully by me is enormous. I see that very soon I shall be overwhelmed by the pressure brought upon me and be forced to take extreme measures which will lead to war. To try and avoid such a calamity as a European war, I beg you in the name of our old friendship to do what you can to stop your allies from going too far.




With regard to the hearty and tender friendship which binds us both from long ago with firm ties, I am exerting my utmost influence to arrive at a satisfactory understanding with you. I confidently hope you will help me in my efforts to smooth over difficulties that may still arise. Your very sincere and devoted friend and cousin.



Quoted in Vansittart. Joll has 'to induce the Austrians to deal straightly' in between 'influence' and 'to' in the Kaiser's first sentance.

Captain Alan Brooke and Jane Richardson marry, at Ballinmallard, Fermanagh. 'At the church door, one of the ushers, Commaner Archdale of the Royal Navy, approached the Bridegroom. "I won't be able to come to the reception after the service", he said. " I've been recalled to the Admiralty.'

David Fraser, Alanbrooke, p30.

29th July:

Bethmann Hollweg sends a telegram to the German ambassador in Moscow: 'Kindly impress on M. Sazonov very seriously that further progress of Russian mobilisation measures would compell us to mobilise and that European war could scarcely be prevented.' [Joll, p20.

Suspecting that the Germans were seeking to steal a march, this prompted the Russian War Minister, Chief of Staff and Foreign Minister to press for general mobilisation at once but the Tsar still hesitated.

30th July:

Churchill decides to give Jellicoe sealed instructions, making him C-in-C of the fleet should war be declared. Jellicoe, supported by Rear Admiral Sir David Beattie, would protest in the next few days that such a hurried change (the incumbent, Sir George Callaghan still had 3 months to run) would put the fleet at grave risk, at least till Jellicoe had a firm grip of the situation.

The Admiralty also learned that the Goeben, armed with 11 inch guns, was set to leave Pola (Austria) for the Mediterranean. Churchill therefore signalled to Admiral Sir Berkeley Milne, commander of the Second Battle Cruiser Squadron:



Should war break out and England and France engage in it...your task should be to aid the French in the transportation of their African army, by covering, and if possible, bringing to action individual fast German ships, particularly Goeben, which may interfere with that transportation... Do not at this stage be brought to action against superior forces except in combination with the French as part of a general battle. The speed of your squadron is sufficient to enable you to choose your moment...


[Gilbert, p14 & 18].

The Prussian Cabinet meets. Bethmann Hollweg says: 'Hopes of England are precisely nil...The great majority of the peoples are in themselves peaceful, but things are out of control (es sei die Direktion verloren) and the stone has started to roll...' [Joll p23]

My Darling Mother...



Sheppey Union Minster



I am sorry I haven't written to you sooner but have not had a moment to spare in the last few days. We have been expecting the order to mobilise and it came yesterday. I was out playing tennis in Folkestone and at about 6pm an officer rushed down to summon us back to barracks...While we are mobilising for war at Shornecliffe we have to furnish a battalion to guard te Sheerness defences and watch the coast in case of a hostile landing; each regiment at Shornecliffe furnishes 350 men. I have been appointed Adjutant of my battlaion so am very busy...I don't think the whole army is mobilising although certain brigades certainly are. I think it is just a precautionary move so as not to be caught napping...

Don't be anxious about me if I don't write. I shall let you know if we are ordered abroad, but I don't think myself that the war will involve us. We may be here for a week if it does not; but if we declare war we are relieved here by Territorials and we return to Shorncliffe and go from there.

Best love to all at New Park from

Your loving son



'Bernard' is the 26 year old Lieutenant Montgomery. Quoted in Nigel Hamilton's Monty: The Making of a General - 1887-1942.

Friday 31st July:

Russia, Austria-Hungary and Turkey order full mobilisation. 11:55 am: Germany declares Kriegsgefahr Zustand: 'Danger of war' - a state of pre-mobilization.

Germany issues an ultimatum to Russia: demobilise in12 hours or face German mobilisation and a declaration of war.

and to France: declare neutrality within 18 hours and hand over the forts at Liege and Namur.

17:15: French cabinet agrees full mobilisation.

Britain asks both France and Germany for a guarantee that they will respect Belgian neutrality. France accepts immediately. Germany evades giving a straight answer.

'The Conquest of Berlin...'

So runs a sub-headline in the St Helens Reporter. With unintended relevence, the paper charts the success of Thomas Beecham, a local conductor, working with orchestras in the German capital.

More seriously, the Reporter covers the European crisis for the first time:

'The War: Europe All Anxiety - Fierce Fighting.' The piece goes on to explain Russia's protective attitude to 'Servia'. News from Germany is 'anxiously awaited.' Liverpool docks and the Menai bridge are reportedly under military guard, and the 18th bn Gordon Highlanders had to withdraw from its scheduled performance at the Royal Lancashire Show on 30th July.

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August 1914

Saturday 1st August:

A misunderstanding:

A meeting between Sir William Tyrell - Private Secretary to Sir Adward Grey - and Lichnowsky, leads to erroneous conclusions in Berlin. Tyrell said that Grey would make a suggestion, after Cabinet, that might avert war. Licnowsky interpreted this to mean Grey would propose English neutrality if the French were not attacked, and telegraphed Berlin to that effect. Three hours later, he reported that Tyrell had said that Grey also had proposals for English Neutrality even in the event of a Franco-German war.



The news was recieved with jubilation in Berlin. The Kaiser called for champagne, sent an enthusiastic personal message to King George V...But when he demanded that the troop concentration in the wst should be stopped and the entire force of the German armyused against Russia, he was obliged to learn the limits of his power. Moltke told him this was impossible and that, 'If His Majesty insisted on leading the whole army eastwards, he would not have an army ready to strike, he would have a confused mass of disorderly armed men without commissariat.'


[Joll p25]

The Schlieffen plan was Germany's sole means of executing general mobilisation. As a consequence, the army was pointed irreversibly westwards.

Grey had not thought through the implications of his vague proposals, and conversations withthe British ambassador in Paris soon disabused him if the notion that British neutrality would be possible, even if the Germans stayed within their frontiers in the west.

The British Cabinet meets twice.

In the first session, Grey introduces the question of Belgian neutrality, so important to the members of the Liberal administration. Churchill calls for full naval mobilisation. He also attempts - with some force - to persuade Chancellor of the Exchequer Lloyd George of the urgent need to support France.

At 15.40 hrs, the French proclaim general mobilisation.

Meanwhile, in Austria:



Awkward young soldiers were being pelt with flowers by women and girls. The streets of Graz were full of excited people marching towards the Sudbahnhof. Their patriotism reeked of alcohol. Over and over came the roar: 'Death to all Serbs! Long live the Emperor! Down with traitors!' Outside the station, in the middle of a know of howling, screaming, insane people, a man was dragged to the ground, torn limb from limb. 'A Serbian spy!' someone called out. 'A Serbian spy!' went the cry from one mouth to another as the remains of a human being were retrieved from the murderous mob.


[Ernst Fischer, quoted in Vansittart, p16]

The Goeben is refused coal at the Italian port of Brindisi.

Back in St Helens:

Officers of the local Territorial infantry - the 1/5 Bn South Lancs Regiment - make final preparations for the annual summer camp. They are due to depart for Hornby in north Lancashire on Sunday, the following day. Many of the men spend part of Saturday at their jobs, as was usual, before making their own preparations and perhaps having a pint or two of beer in their local pubs across St Helens, Prescot and Widnes. These scenes were happening across the country, as Territorials and Yeomanry made ready for camp - for many, the highlight of the year.

Sunday 2nd August:

The Cabinet creaks:

At the afternoon meeting of the British Cabinet, Edward Grey asked for permission to fulfill the terms of a naval understanding with France: that in the event of European war, the Royal Navy would cover the North Sea and Channel, whilst the French concentrate in the Mediterranean. After a long debate, Grey is able to give Cambon, the French ambassador, a written commitment to this effect, but explains that it does not commit Britain to sending an Expeditionary Force.

Lord Morley and John Burns resign from the Cabinet in protest.

The Goeben is refused coal at Taranto.

At the evening Cabinet, Ministers learn that Germany has invaded Luxembourg. It becomes clear that the decision for war will rest upon the issue of Belgian neutrality. Ministers agree that a substantial violation of it by Germany would justify Britain going to war. Asquith authorises mobilisation of the Army, and for the Royal Navy to confer with their French colleagues.

A growing mood of expectation:

An anti-war speaker at the Trafalgar Sqaure peace meeting:



I speak as the man in the street. Doubtless I am an abnormally dense one, because I cannot for the life of me see why on earth this country should be dragged into war. How can it possibly matter to us whether or not a strong Serbia ia a menace to Austria, or whether Russia feels compelled to intervene and Germany to follow suit? It is not worth the life of a single British Grenadier!...


Boos, cheers, verses of the Red Flag and the National Anthem largelt drowned the speeches. [Quotation from Lynn MacDonald: 1914].

The St Helens Territorials leave for summer camp:

Unaware of the details of the brewing crisis, the 1/5 bn South Lancs Regiment leave St Helens under the command of Colonel L.E. Pilkington, to join other units of the West Lancashire Division. After marching from the Volunteer Hall to the station, watched by the traditional crowds, the troops board 2 special trains bound for Hornby. They arrive in the early hours of Monday morning.

The West Lancashire Division is composed of the following:

Major-General Walter Lindsay

Divisional Troops

The Lancashire Hussars - Divisional Cavalry

1st West Lancs Bde RFA - Liverpool

2nd West Lancs Bde RFA - Preston

3rd West Lancs Bde RFA - Liverpool

4th West Lancs (How)Bde RFA - Liverpool

West Lancs Div Royal Eng. - St Helens

West Lancs Army Service Corps

Royal Army Medical Corps

1st West Lancs Field Ambulance - Liverpool

2nd West Lancs Field Ambulance - Liverpool

3rd West Lancs Field Ambulance - St Helens

North Lancs Infantry Bde

4th King's Own R. Lancasters - Barrow

5th King's Own R. Lancasters - Lancaster

4th Loyal North Lancs - Preston

5th Loyal North Lancs - Bolton

Liverpool Infantry Bde

5th King's (Liverpool)

6th (Rifle) King's (Liverpool)

7th King's (Liverpool)

8th (Irish) King's (Liverpool)

South Lancashire Infantry Bde

9th King's (Liverpool)

10th (Scottish) King's (Liverpool)

4th South Lancs - Warrington

5th South Lancs - St Helens

Meanwhile, on the evening the War Office orders all units currently away at training to return to their peacetime stations.

Pressure on Brussels:

At 7pm, Germany requests permission to pass troop through Belgium, ostensibly to forstall a French invasion. No one is convinced by this argument.

'If we are to be crushed, let us be crushed gloriously.'

Baron de Bassompierre, Under-Secretary of the Belgian Foreign Office, quoted in Tuchman, August 1914.

Monday 3rd August

A bank holiday. Workers across the country are to have their relaxation disturbed. Many day-trippers are disappointed, as a number of trains are cancelled.

An unexpected return...

Upon arrival at the training camp in Hornby in the early hours of the morning, Colonel Pilkington addresses the men of 1/5 South Lancs, and instructs them not to unpack, as they may be called upon to move at short notice. Some of the battalion's supplies had already been requisitioned for the use of Regular reservists. The men have barely retired when the 'dress for parade' sounds. At 0430 they march from the camp back to the railway station, and at 0500 the first of two trains departs southbound. The first train reaches St Helens at 0800, where the troops march back to the Volunteer Hall led by their band.

The War Office telegrams are issued to mobilise Territorials and Reservists, later that morning.

'The return of the Territorials was totally unexpected and caused great excitement, the people rushing into the streets and eagerly enquiring the cause.' [St Helens Newspaper and Advertiser 4.8.14].

The men are then dismissed, but warned to stay in the area, as recall could come at any time.

At around the same time, the German ultimatum to Belgium runs out, having been stoutly rejected.

In the afternoon, the German ambassador in France receives instructions to issue a declaration of war.

The Lamps are going out:

At 2pm Edward Grey telegraphs the ambassador in Berlin, repeating the request that Germany should state their intention to respect Belgian neutrality by midnight. 'If not you, you are instructed to ask for your passports and to say that His Majesty's Government feel bound to take all steps in their power to uphold the neutrality of Belgium and the observance of a Treaty to which Germany is as much a part as ourselves.'


At 3pm the Foreign Secretary makes the first official Government statement on the crisis, in the House of Commons - with 100% attendance since Gladstone introduced the Home Rule Bill in 1893. Speaking of Belgian neutrality, he summoned the words of his great Liberal forebear: 'Could this country stand by and witness the direst crime that ever stained the pages of history, thus become perpetrators in the sin?' [Tuchman p121]

Two hours later, the German ambassador in Paris delivers the declaration of war.

Looking out of a window in the Foreign Office at dusk, Grey says:

'The lamps are going out all over Europe. We shall not see them lit again in our lifetime.'

Tuesday 4th August

The British ultimatum

Careful not to provide a pretext for German action, the French army is ultra cautious not to cross the border with Belgium. The Germans do so at 8.02 am, at Gemmerich.

The British Cabinet wait nervously for news of the violation.

At noon, finally convinced that the German miltiary threat was real, King Albert appealed to the guarantor powers for military aid.

Sir Edward Goshchen, British ambassador to Germany, delivers two uccessive ultimatums to Germany. His interview with Chancellor Bethmann-Hollweg is stormy, as he reflected in his report:



What we had done was unthinkable; it was like striking a man from behind while he was fighting for his life against two assailants. He held Great Britian responsible for all the terrible events that might happen. I protested strongly at that statement, and said that, in the same way that he and Herr von Jagow wished me to understand that for strategical reasons it was a matter of life or death to Germany to advance through Belgium and violate the latter's neutrality, so I would wish him to understand that it was, so to speak, a matter of "life or death" for the honour of Great Britain that she should keep her solemn engagement to do her utmost to defend Belgiums neutrality if attacked... His Excellency was so excited, so evidently overcome by the news of our action, and so little disposed to hear reason that I refrained from adding fuel to the flame by further argument.


Goschen's report can be read at: www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/1914/paperscrap.html

At 4.40 pm the War Office sends out the mobilisation telegrams.

As the evening progresses HM Ships Indomitble, Indefatigable and Dublin pursue the Goeben and Breslau cross the Mediterranean. The Goeben makes all efforts to outdistance her pusuers, such that four stokers die during the night.

The ultimatum expires at midnight. At 00.20 on August 5th, the War Telegram 'War, Germany, act' was transmitted. [Tuchman p136].

St Helens answers the call...

Crowds begin to gather in the town centre, around the post office, and especially about the two Territorial Halls, (Engineers and Volunteers).



From early in the afternoon til late in the evening the approache to the halls were thronged with people, and the crowds soon became so dense that it was no easy matter for the police who were on duty to keep the way clear...Church Street was alive with people and a group of Territorials, uniformed and carrying rifles, caused a feeling of mild excitement to run through the crowd...From the time of the mobilisation summons was received until these men were marching to the station could not have been many minutes. Yet they were ready.


[Reporter, 4.8.14]

Regular Reserves made their way to the Post Office in Church St, where they collected their 3/5 'subsistence' before taking trains to their various regimental depots around the country.

Rumours spread that the local Territorials, part of the West Lancashire Division, will head for Ireland to relieve Regular troops bound for France and Belgium. The 1/5 battalion South Lancs are ordered to parade at 0900 on Wednesday morning.

Local members of the 3rd (Special Reserve) bn South Lancs are mobilised and proceed to war station at Crosby, near Liverpool. Men of the Special Reserve were usually recruited directly, did 6 months full time training at the Regimental Depot (Warrington) and then attended the annual summer camp. Many former Regulars chose to join upon completion of their normal reserve service.

Local enterprise:

A Church St cobbler was one of the first to recognise the potential business opportunities offered by the conflict, taking out a new advertisment: 'Scales & Sons - Boots for Peace or War.'

However, the news was not all good for trade. Pilkingtons glass firm - a major employer in St Helens - express concern about the dislocation of exports.

Messrs Balshaw Bros, of Bridge St, start the war in rather more promising fashion. The 1/5 South Lancs order for 2,000 pairs of socks, 2,000 shirts, 2,000 pairs of pants and a variety of other kit. This hints at fortunes to be made by those fortunate enough to receive contracts from the armed forces for the forseeable future.

[Newpaper & Advertiser, 4.8.14]

Wednesday 5th August

As dawn breaks, the Goeben and Breslau are out of range of the Royal Navy. The German ships soon reach Messina in search of coal.

'Rally round the flag...'

Prime Miniser Asquith, in the House of Commons:



No nation has ever entered into a great struggle - and this is one of the greates in history - with a clearer conscience and a stronger conviction that it is fighting not for aggression or the advancement of it's own interests, but for principles whose maintenance is vital to the civilised world.



Although Asquith is a little disingenuous, the nation goes to war convinced of the cleanliness of its collective conscience.

War for three years?

The Prime Minister convenes a Council of War at 10 Downing St. Having been appointed as Commander in Chief of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF), Sir John French attends, accompanied by - amongst other Generals - Sir Douglas Haig. Kitchener, freshly appointed Secretary of State for War, astonished the others by declaring that the war will last for three years. He also proposes that the BEF concentrate at Amiens - 70 miles behind the planned point at Mauberge.

Churchill reports the Straits of Dover sealed.

The first men of the British Expeditionary Force go 'on active


The War Council decides to send an Expeditionary force of four - not six - infantry divisions, plus cavalry.

Joffre refuses to alter his deployment to send help to the Belgians, focussing instead on the more direct route to Germany through the lost territories of Alsace and Lorraine - Plan 17. Monilisation proceeds smoothly: almost 2,000,000 men are conveyed by 4,278 trains - only 19 ran late. [Horne, Price of Glory, p17.]

A town gears up...

Mr J.C. Balshaw sets about his order from the 1/5 South Lancs with zest. Having received the request at 8pm on Tuesday, he leaves for Manchester early in the morning, and arrives by 8am. Immediately the warehouse opens, he purchases the socks, shirts, pants and other items, before loading them onto a waiting ‘char-a-banc’, supplied especially for the occasion by ‘County Couriers (St Helens) Ltd’. The kit arrives at the Volunteer Hall by 3.30pm, to be distributed at 8.pm. This is a remarkably speedy piece of procurement.

'Its all in the game...'

The Territorials begin to colonise the Town Hall and Gamble Institute, as the Volunteer Hall is not large enough to accomodate the whole battalion, now mobilised. NCOs are billeted in the Advanced Art room of the Gamble, 'surrounded by casts of classic sculptures', prompting ribald remarks from the hirsute tenants. Officers enjoy the more luxurious surrounds of the Mayor's parlour.

Asked how he is enjoying having to sleep on bare boards, a Private replies: 'Its all in the game.'

A journalist from the Reporter seeks entry into the Volunteer Hall, but meets with unexpected resistance from a zealous sentry. He witnesses the distribution of some stores, including 'trenching tools...with which a trench might swiftly be prepared', little realising the labours that lay ahead.

In a sign of things to come, the Army approach number of businesses and private individuals seeking to purchase their horses for military use.

The editor of the Newspaper & Advertiser strikes a thoughtful tone:

‘German civilisation, minus the military autocracy, is a splendid thing for the world. The Germans are a great people. If the Kaiser leads them to defeat, they will put an end to autocracy and then can begin a new ear of friendship between the great peoples of the west.’

St Helens Council meet, in circumstances the Mayor describes as more serious ‘than any since the Spanish Armada.’ The Council agree to the formation of a War Committee at borough level, and Ward Committees in each local area. Alderman Forster pays tribute the men of St Helens who have joined the colours, and extols the town to great efforts: ‘It devolves upon the members of this Council…to do our duty, in seeing that those they have left behind do not suffer as a result of their absence.’

Only 'Sintelliners'...

Councillor Forshaw praises the local spirit: we ‘are at war quite irrespective of party or class.’

It is doubtful that he knows of the Kaiser's recent words: ‘I see no parties – only Germans.’ The similarity refelects the common initial impact upon both societies, where public support for the war is broad, speedy and vocal.

[N&A, and Reporter 4/7.8.14]

Thursday 6th August

The Germans before Liege:

The investment of the Liege forst continue. Some accounts say that Forts Barchon, Chaudefontaine and Evequee submit today.

Zeppelin L-Z drops bombs on the city, in what is probably the firs air-raid of the war.

The Goeben and Breslau leave Messina and head east, in the early evening.

HMS Amphion hits a mine and sinks, one day after sinkning the minelayer responsible. One British officer and nearly 150 men - largely the prisoner crew of the minelayer - are lost.

Swings of opinion:

Ambassador Paleologue notices a change in the attitude of extreme Russian conservatives:



The very men who last week were protesting most loudly that it was necessary to strengthen orthodox Tsarism by a close alliance with Prussian autocracy are now swearing that the bombardment of Belgrade is an intolerable insult to the whole Slav world and showing themselves as warlike as any.



Recruitment continues

Many former Volunteers and Territorials having come forward over the previous 48 hours, the 1/5 South Lancs reaches near full establishment by this morning. By evening, more than 150 men have joined the battalion since mobilisation.

When the old Volunteers became Territorials under the Haldane reforms of 1908, those who chose to join the new organisation signed up for a period of 5 years, to expire in 1913. A number of them did not re-engage for a second term, and left the 5th btn just over a year before the war broke out. However, the vast majority of these men rushed to re-engage upon mobilisation, as did a number of former Volunteers who had not chosen to join the Territorials.

Concerns begin to grow that the town's grocers are using the crisis as a pretext to hike prices. Trade is brisk as citizens guard against uncertainties by laying in stocks of victuals.

Gentlemen, a toast:

Winston Churchill surprises members of a dining club by breaking their ule that toasts must only be drunk to th King. At the end of the dinner he rises and proposes: 'Success to British Arms'. The diners drank the toast in silence. [Gilbert p35].

In Vienna...

Almost as an afterthought, Austria-Hungary finally declares war on Russia.

Friday 7th August

Tributes to Belgian resistance pour in. According to The Times she has won 'immortal renown' [Tuchman, p177]. The shelling of the Liege forts continues, and German forces enter the city, to the Kaiser's great delight.

Joffre and the French continue to execute the early stages of Plan 17, unconcerned about the huge 'hook' that is to plunge around their left flank.

Kitchener appeals to the nation for 100,000 volunteers.

Saturday 8th August

Rumours of the 1/5's departure continue to circulate around the town. The men are allowed out of barracks on Saturday evening. Those who live close to the town centre rush to visit family and friends. Some who live further away manage to borrow bicycles and 'career madly' across the town to snatch what could be a last visit before entraining. [Reporter 11/8]

A German communique announces that Liege has fallen. Many citizens flee to the west. However, a number of forts remain in Belgian hands and the Germans do not have uncontested passage through the area. See www.geocities.com/~brialmont/ for a detailed account.

The French continue to advance on the south of the front, in accord with Plan XVII. They occupy Altkirch and Mulhausen.


Ernest Shackleton and the Imperial Trans-Antarctic Expedition leave London on the first stage of their journey to Antarctica. Mindful of the war, Ernest Shackleton offers his ship and men to the government. Winston Churchill replies from the Admiralty with a one word telegram: 'Proceed'.

Sunday 9th August

The BEF begins to move...

Elements of the Expeditionary Force begin to arrive in France. Each is issued with a message from Kitchener:



You are ordered abroad as a soldier of the King to help our French comrades against the invasion of a common enemy, you have to perform a task which will need your courage, your energy, your patience. Remember that the honour of the British Army depends upon your individual conduct. It will be your duty not only to set an example of discipline and perfect steadiness under fire, but also to maintian the most friendly relations[with those whom you are helping in this struggle.


He ends on a patriotic, if optimistic, note:



In this experience you may find temptations both in wine and women. You must enitrely resist both temptations, and while treating all women with perfect courtesy, you should avoid any intimacy.

So your duty bravely

Fear God.

Honour the King.

Kitchener, Field Marshal.


[Pollock, Kitchener, p385]

Spiritual preparation...

150 men of the 1/5 South Lancs attend a service at Lowe House Catholic Church, in North Road, St Helens. The service concludes with the hymn Faith of Our Fathers. Several hundred of the battalion are Catholic, relflecting the local society. Whilst not usually a problem, this is to cause some minor friction in the coming weeks.

In the afternoon, the battalion undertake a route march around Carr Mill and Haresfinch.

Germany offers peace terms to Belgium. They are rejected.

Panic Buying continues...

The Tottenham and Edmonton Herald reports the case a lady who spent £17 in a grocer's shop in Palmers Green. The shop remains closed for three days until it can acquire sufficient new stock to reopen. [van Emden and Humphries: All Quiet on the Home Front, p16].

My darling Mother...

The young Bernard Montgomery writes to his mother about some of the difficulties of supply in recent days. He diplays signs of the forcefullness which will go on to make his reputation.



The people of England are all learning that they must each do their little to help. We are mobilised and a state of war exists and if you ask anyone for something and the refuse it, we can take it. Of course, we ask nicely first, & generally get it without going further. But twice at Sheerness I had to use force. I asked a farmer for some water to fill my men's water bottles, he refused and said he was short of water. So I brought my men in and took it. The second time I wanted breakfast for 8 officers at a hotel; they had had a lot of work & no food for over 24 hours. It was only a small inn & they refused ans said they never provided meals. I said we must have it & I would lock them all in one room while we took it, if they refused. We were willing to pay whatever they asked. We got it. That wouldn't happen now I think; it was just starting then; now people seem to realise better...

yr very loving son



[Hamilton p71]

Monday 10th August

France declares war on Austria-Hungary. Plan XII continues, as de Castelnau presses ahead in Lorraine, although the French meet setbacks in Alsace. Herbert Sulzbach, a young German recruit notes the 'victorious battle at Mulhouse' in his diary. He is to go on to become an officer in the British Army in the Second World War. [sulzbach,With the German Guns, p24]

Active service?

This evening the 1/5 South Lancs Regiment are asked to volunteer for active service overseas. Under Haldane's scheme for the Territorial Force, men were not required to serve overseas, but instead would be used for home defence, and promised six months of training upon embodiment. Before the Territorial Force was created (1908), part time infantry had been provided by the Volunteer and Militia battalions, which sent volunteers to South Africa during the Boer War.

The response to the request is 'unanimous' according to the Newpaper & Advertiser. There are 'cheers and cheers again..."To the front!" is the cry, "and let us settle it!" [N&A 11.8.14] Despite the enthusiasm of the response, the decision to volunteer causes anxious moments in households across the borough. Many families unexpectedly faced losing their main breadwinner to overseas service - not previously expected of Territorials.

The Providence Free Hospital is reported to have telegraphed the War Office to offer its service. J.B. Leach, Chairman of the hospital, is a prominent local property agent. The company bearing his name will go on to a long and successful future: www.jbbleach.com/

In Australia:

Recruiting for the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) begins. 1st Australian Div consisted of 1 Brigade(1,2,3 & 4Bns from New South Wales), 2 Brigade (5,6,7 & 8 Bns from Victoria) and 3 Brigade (9,10,11 & 12 Bns from "Other States) Each Bn included 1,023 Officers & Men. 4 Light Horse Rgt was the Divisional Cavalry Unit. [Jeffro]

Tuesday August 11th

The Germans begin a counter offensive in Lorraine.

French a problem?

King George V inspects the Aldershot Command. Speaking of the choice of Sir John French as commander of the BEF, Haig expresses 'grave doubts...whether either his temper was sufficiently even or his military knowledge sufficiently thorough' for the job at hand. In his diary he writes: 'In my own heart, I know that French is quite unfit for this great command at a time of crisis in our Nation' history. But I thought it sufficient to tell the King that I had "doubts" about the selection. [Terraine, Haig: The Educated Soldier]

Meanwhile, French visits the Intelligence section of the War Office, accompanied by General Callwell. Much to French's surprise, the intelligence chief gives a sermon on the German reserves. 'He kept on produing fresh batches of Reserve Divisions and Extra-Reserve Divisions like a conjuror producing glassfulls of goldfish out of his pocket. He seemed to be doing it on purpose - one felt quite angry with the man.' [Callwell, quoted in Tuchman, p 200]

Lieutenant Alan Brooke embarks for Egypt aboard the transport ship Somalia. His ultimate destination is India, where he aims to rejoin his battalion. Many other officers on home leave from units in India are ordered to remain in Britain to raise the New Armies.

'Your King & Country Need You'

The St Helens press carry large notices of Kitchener's appeal for the first 100,000 men.

Feminine encouragement...

One Margaret Fielding has a letter published in the local press, expressing delight at recent female interest in men wearing khaki. She exhorts the locals to:



enlist still further the influence of young women and girls of St Helens n the cause of King & Country, by asking them to withhold their favours from those who have declined to assist their country in its hour of greatest need...[the] class of collared cads and cuffed cowards.


[Reporter 11.8.14]

Unfortunately, she doesn't elaborate upon her personal contribution to boosting recruitment.

A Citizen Army?

Foreshadowing the development of Kitchener's New Army, Mr Joseph Callan, of Redgate House, Blackbrook, suggests the formation of a local volunteer corps. 'We can stand with our Territorial Forces to guard our shores, or liberate them to our best advantage.' He is clearly aware of both the TF's stated purpose of home defence, and the possibility that their role could involve active service abroad. [N&A 11.8.14]

Wednesday 12th August

Turkey announce the purchase of the Goeben and Breslau.

General Samsonov, returning from sick leave, reaches his Second Army headquarters.

Almost as an afterthought, and with no little regret, Britain declares war on Austria-Hungary. Churchill writes to Count Mensdorff, the Austrian ambassador:



'Altho' the terrible march of events has swept aside the ancient friendship between our countries, the respec & regard wh springs from so many years of personal association cannot pass from the hearts of your English friends.'


Mensdorff replies:



My dear Churchill,

please accpt my sincerest thanks for the great courtesy with which you placed a boat at our disposal to get home and for all the trouble the Admiralty is taking about the arrangements...I shall never forget the happy years I have spent in this country and all the kindess shown me by my English friends.

Hoping that in future happier quieter days we may meet again...


'Churchill arranged for over two hundred Austrian subjects, who might otherwise have been interned, to leave on the same boat.' [Gilbert, p46]

Churchill sets up an Admiralty Committee to supervise a blockade Germany and Austria-Hungary.

Mauberge?...or Amiens?

Kitchener argues with French and Wilson about the destination of the the BEF. He prefers Amiens, whilst the plan says Mauberge. Wilson writes in his diary that:



K...was incapable of understanding the delays and difficulties of making such a change, nor the cowardice of it, nor the fact that either in French victory or defeat we would be equally useless. He still thinks the Germans are coming north of the Meuse in great force and will swamp us before we concentrate.


[Pollock, p386]

The old warrior displays his sagacity and disregard for staff work in equal measure, as the BEF embarkation from the Channel Ports picks up speed.

To Edinburgh...

At 11.30 pm, the news arrives that the 1/5 Battalion are to leave for Edinburgh early the next morning. Those able rushed to visit friends and family. 'Soon every available bicycle in the regiment was utilised and one could see the Territorials flying about on their machines.' The town centre is a hive of activity as the men ferry kit to the railway station. [N&A 14.8.14]

Thursday 13th August

The Germans occupy Neufchateau. The Austrians invade Serbia. The British bombard Dar-es-Salaam.

On the right tracks...

The 1/5 South Lancs entrain for Edinburgh early in the morning, and spend the day chugging north to the Scottish Capital. The journey is the longest that many of the men have ever made. Upon arrival, they are billeted in the Castle - the first time in over 100 years that a non Scottish regiment has garrisoned the stronghold.

The Divisional Engineers and medical staff are left behind, wondering when their call will come.

Friday 14th August

Units of the BEF continue to arrive in France. They include the 2nd Battalion South Lancs, part of the 7th Inf Bde, 3rd Division, II Corps (Smith Dorrien). Under the system of 'linked' battalions, the 2nd had been based in England since shortly after the South African War, providing drafts for the 1st Battalion iin India. Upon mobilisation the 2nd battalion had been brought up to strength with recalled reservists. It is one of the disadvantages of a system designed to provide an Imperial police force that the battalions serving abroad were likely to be closer to full strength than those at home destined for the BEF. Those abroad, such as 1 South Lancs, contain just full time serving soldiers, wheras around 60% of the men in the battalions of the original BEF are Reservists and Special Reservists, mindful of their training, but grown used to the habits of civilian life.

At 5.15pm Sir John French, comander of the BEF, lands at Boulougne, accompanied by Wilson and Murray. They visit units already in the port, then continue to Amiens.

Extraordinary secrecy...

Bernard Montgomery and his Warwickshires have reached Strensall Camp, near York.



Why we are her I haven't the least idea, nor have any of us; but we don't think it will be for long. The main idea is I think that the East Coast must be thoroughly guarded until a naval battle has taken place; we are doing it now until the Territorials are quite readt and then they will take over from us...

The extraordinary thing about this campaign is the way everything is kept secret and even we know nothing. Nothing is published in the papers about the movements of our troops. But I know for a fact that some of them are even now over in Belgium; and even when we go you will probably see nothing about it in the paper. Of course, it will be when we start fighting over there, but not before. We shall probably go through the war knowing absolutely nothing, not even where the enemy is until we bump up against him. we shall be moved about just like we are being now, as a machine. This is the outcome of our experiences in South Africa when the papers were allowed to publish all our plans and everything we were doing.


[Hamilton, p72.]

Saturday 15th August

Prodded by General Lanrezac, Commander of the French Vth Army on the extreme left flank of the front, Joffre and GQC begin to realise the threat presented by the German 'wheel' through Belgium. Lieutenant Charles de Gaulle is wounded defending a Meuse crossing.

The French worried...by French

Sir John French visits the French President, Premier and Minister of War in Paris. He seriously disturbs them by announcing that the BEF will not be ready to take its place in the line until August 24th.

Not like the Boer War...



The spirit in the country is splendid, and it has never been like this before, everyone is ready to help in any way he can and the recruits are pouring in by thousands a day...Kitchener will not allow any to go to the front until they are properly trained. I think he is right, a European war is not like the Boer war.


King George V, in a letter to the Duke of Connaught. [Pollock p389].

Embarkation continues...

Haig and Grierson, in command of the two Corps of the BEF, sail from Southampton this evening. Haig is replete with a luncheon basked, a farewell present from his wife. He continues to harbour concerns about Sir John French's fitness to command the Expeditionary Force.

Sunday 16th August

At 0930 the last of the Liege forts surrenders. The garrison are taken captive, allowed to march out with military honours.

The German OHL arrives in Coblenz, approximately 80 miles behind the front. Moltke is beginning to become concerned about his left flank; reports suggest that the French are transferring troops to the west, although activity continues in Alsace.

The formation of a Royal Naval Division is announced.

Church parade in Edinburgh

Making the best of their new surroundings, the Church of England contingent in the 1/5 South Lancs are given a service on the parade ground, whilst the Roman Catholic members were marched to a local church. Overall, the British Army was traditionally a Protestant organisation, but sensitive attention to spiritual welfare could be an important issue in units including other deminations. Lancashire had been a bastion of Catholicism for centuries and 19th century immigration from Ireland had strengthened their representation. To some Territorials, Regular army methods could seem unsympathetic towards dissenters.

Monday 17th August.

OHL becomes conviced that Joffre is switching troops from the east to the west. Moltke still believes that the British Expeditionary Force has not yet landed in France.

In the East, the Germans fall back towards Gumbinnen in the face on powerful Russian Advances.

Heart attack

Sir John French's mini-tour continues, with a visit to the French Fifth Army HQ. He manages to confuse, worry and bemuse Lanrezac in equal measure. French then moves on to his own HQ, at the town of Le Cateau.

General Grierson, in command of the BEF's II Corps, dies suddenly in a train after suffering from a heart attack. French receives the bad news shortly after arriving at Le Cateau. He quickly telegraphs Kitchener: 'I recommend that Lieutenant-General Plumer be appointed..' His message crosses with one from Kitchener, appointing Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien to the post. [Powell p102.]

In Bavaria...

Having volunteered on 5th August, A young recruit named Adolf Hitler is summoned to report to Recruiting Deopt VI in Munich for service with the Second Reserve Batalion of the Second Infantry Regiment.

Tuesday 18th August

Smith-Dorrien or Plumer?

Sir John French writes to Kitchener:



I had already wired asking you to appont Plumer in his place, when your wire reached here...I very much hope that you will send me Plumer...Plumer. Do as I ask you in this matter.


French's dislike of Smith-Dorrien is wideley known, and could have arisen after French left the Aldershot Command in 1907. Smith Dorrien replaced him and instituted a series of reforms, which French took as a reflection on his tenure. In these circumstances it was unusual for the Secretary of State for War (Kitchener) not to consult the C-in-C of the BEF. [Powell 102]

The USA declares neutrality

From President Woodrow Wilson's Message to Congress:



The people of the United States are drawn from many nations, and chiefly from the nations now at war...Some will wish one nation, others another, to succeed in the momentous struggle. It will be easy to excite passion and difficult to delay it...

Such divisions amongst us would be fatal to our peace of mind and might seriously stand in the way of proper performance of our duty as the one great nation at peace, the one people holding itself ready to play a part of impartial mediation and speak counsels of peace and accomodation, not as a partisan, but as a friend.


Wilson's choice of words forshadow the role he will try to play in the coming years, even once the USA is at war. You can read a longer quotation from the speech here: www.lib.byu.edu/~rdh/wwi/1914/wilsonneut.html

Wednesday 19th August

' A contemptible litte army'

Kaiser Wilhelm's Order of the Day:



It is my Royal and Imperial Command that you concentrate your energies, for the immediate present upon one single purpose, and that is that you address all your skill and all the valour of my soldiers to exterminate first the treacherous English; walk over General French's contemptible little Army.


Rennenkampf's First Army continues its advance into East Prussia.

Thursday 20th August

Pope Pius X dies, causing mourning throughout the Catholic World.

Friday 21st August

The BEF commences its march to the Belgian frontier, as yet uncertain of the direction of the German thrust.

Saturday 22nd August

The 2nd Btn South Lancs arrive at the village of Frameries. They are told that the Germans have captured Brussels and that they will advance to meet them on the morrow.

Sunday 23rd August

After breakfast, the 2nd South Lancs head for the village of Ciply. They are told to collect all available picks and shovels before resuming their march. Breasting rising ground, they see shells bursting over Mons in the distance. 5.30pm finds them entrenched, holding the left sector of 7 Inf Bde's front, in divisional reserve.

Monday 24th August

The 2nd SLR is heavily engaged from approximately 04.30 am, as the Battle of Mons enters its second day. The German 6th Division, part of their III Corps attack in strength twice in the vicinity of Ciply-Frameries.

As the British begin to withdra 2nd SLR provide the rearguard at Ciply. Lieut-Col Wanliss, C.O., describes the events:



...German infantry lines the railway embankment on our left, and swarmed under the railway bridge and formed up behind to or three houses on our side of it. At this time our two machine guns and 'D' Company simply mowed down the enemy, but they still came on...

Travis Cook with 'D' Company and Fulcher with the machine guns both behaved magnificently; the former was wounded in seven places and got a bullet in the neck and another in the chest, and was on the point of ordering a counter attack when he fell. Fulcher shouldered one of the machine guns and his Sergeant the other. The latter was killed and the former had the gun blown off his back and both were lost...

However, they did their work and probably accounted for somthing like 1,000 Germans. Our retirement was covered by 'A' and 'B' Companies; in spite of the tremendous losses they had suffered, they retired in perfect order as if on parade.


[Whalley-Kelly, Ich Dien: The Prince of Wales's Volunteers (South Lancashire) 1914-34, p16]

Infantry battalions have 2 machine guns organised into a section with 16 men. The 2 SLR have lost both and 12 of the 16 men on the first day of contact with the Germans. Many other battalions are in a similar position.

Casualties are heavy.

Tues 25th August

Training continues for the 1/5 South Lancashires. An officer writes home with an update on their progress: 'You would scarcely recognise either the men or officers now. The way they are getting "licked into shape" is remarkable. They are very smart and fit.' [Reporter, 25/8/14]

Interestingly, he refers to the officers as having made progress along with the men. It should not be forgotten that the majority of the officers are part timers like the men, so the rigours of full time military life are as novel to them.

Thursday 27th August

Politicians unite to boost recruiting

The Parliamentary Recruiting Committee holds a preliminary meeting. It is a cross party group designed to unite MPs behind the drive for recruits, and to mobilise party machines to this end. With their detailed knowledge of the population, skill at running meetings, advertising and public speaking, the political parties were to play a great part in getting men into the army.

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September 1914

Tuesday 1st September

Kitchener heads to France...and French

During the very early hours of the morning Kitchener decides to go to France and confront French. He is increasingly concerned about the plans of the BEF C-in-C and thinks personal intervention is needed to ensure that he conforms to the Cabinet's wishes. After hurriedly getting the Foreign Secretary out of bed, Kitchener sets off, wearing khaki service dress.

Asquith later writes:



We came to the dreaded conclusion that the only thing to be done was for Kitchener to go out there, & unravel the situation, & if necessary put the fear of God into them all.


[Gilbert, p60].

Kitchener meets French at the British Embassy in Paris. French appears irritable and resentful, especially as the Secretary of State - a civlilian post - was in uniform as a Field Marshal of the British Army. The two retired to a private room. What passed between them is not known, but French emerges having agreed that the BEF will stay in line and conform to Joffre's movemnts - and not withdraw to rest and refit, as he had wanted.

St Helens to Arms!

Th St Helens Newspaper and Advertiser runs a huge front page appeal for recruits, advertising that Lord Derby will address a rally at the Theatre Royal this night. Crowds pack Bickerstaffe St, Victoria square and approaches, eager to hear his words.



I ask you who are in the actual area that furnishes the South Lancashire Regiment, who will come to the St Helens battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment, a regiment composed of friends, who, when they were at peace at home, or when they are at war, will feel they have common interests, and common interests at home, and will feel that they are amongst friends. I believe that this is the great secret of getting a good battalion. You cannot get in a new battalion the feeling of espirit de corps that can in a battalion of a regiment that has existed for years. But you can get the feeling I want to get and every one of you feel 'I am a St Helens man fighting alongside another St Helens man and I am not going to let him go home and say "I have not done my duty".


[Reporter, 4.9.14]

The crowd is so big that not everyone can squeeze into the theatre. Therefore Derby and the borough dignitaries proceed to the Town Hall for another dose of speeches to another audience. Other speakers appeal to the men of St Helens to avenge the dead of the South Lancashire Regiment. Men leave the meetings amidst great cheers to go and sign on at the Gamble Institute across Victoria Square.

Thursday 3rd September

Citizens of Paris!



The Members of the Republican Government have left Paris: they will give fresh impetus to the National Defence. I have been empowered to defend Paris against the invader. This task I shall carry out til the end.

Gallieni, Military Governer of Paris.



Giacomo della Chiesa becomes Pope Benedict XV.

Austaralia continues to rally:

On 3 Sept a further Infantry Brigade was raised, 4 Brigade with 13 NSW, 14 Vic, 15 Qld & Tas & 16 SA & WA Bns (led by Monash)

1 Light Horse Brigade was part of the 1st Contingent with 1 NSW, 2 Qld & 3 SA & Tas Light Horse Regiments with 2 Light Horse Brigade raised on 3 Sept with 5 Qld, 6 NSW & 7 NSW L H Rgts. [Jeffro]

Friday September 4th

The St Helens newspapers run extensive coverage of Tuesday night's recruitment rally. The Pals battlion now seems complete, and it is estimated that the town has contributed 4,000 men to the Regulars, Territorials and Pals.

Saturday 5th September

General Maunoury's hastily formed 6th Army strikes Kluck's I Army on the flank as it passes across the northern face of Paris. A dangerous gap begins to grow between Kluck and von Bulow.

'Haig keeps his head'

Brigadier General Ivor Maxse, of 1st Guards Brigade, I Corps, records his impressions as the retreat comes to an end:



Haig keeps his head better than any other and remains unusually cool in his judgement. He stops to talk to me occasionally on the line of march and I must say he is the only superior officer who appears to me to grip hold of the essential points. Sir J.F. has not been seen by anyone in this Army Corps since we started! He lives in a head quarter camp containing 300 people and goodnes knows what they are all doing!


[baynes, Far From a Donkey: A Life of General Sir Ivor Maxse, p115]

Your Country Needs You!

Today's London Opinion run with an inspiring front cover: an Alfred Leete drawing of the head of Lord Kitchener, the index finger of his gloved hand pointing at the reader, above a now famous inscription. It is an instant hit, and the War Office quickly ask permission to use it.

Sunday 6th September

Joffre strikes back

General Joseph Joffre, encouraged by Maunoury's successful check of the German right wing the day before, orders the whole French line to counter attack.

Friday September 11th

The most recent estimate suggests that St Helens has 7,000 men with the colours to date. 4,100 have enlisted at the Town Hall in four days.

The flood of volunteers across the country is causing administrative problems; the system has simply not been designed to cope with such a rush and many men are being sent home to await orders. The War Office today announces a new height qualification, and 10,000 men are sent home as being too short, despite havng been accepted initially. [Pollock p403].

Not everyone is happy with Kitchener's decision to create new armies. After the war, Lord Haldane - creator of the Territorial Army - wrote:



He insisted on raising, not Territorial Line after Territorial line, each of which would have stepped into the place of one in front as it moved away, but new 'Kitchener' Armies through the medium of the Adjutant General's Department of the War Office. The result was the confusion which arises from sudden departures from settled principles.


[Haldane, quoted Reader, At Duty's Call].

The War will be Long and Sombre...

Churchill Addresses the National Liberal Club, London:



...It is quite clear that what is happening now is not what the Germans planned [laughter], and they have yet to show that they can adapt themselves to the force of circumstances created by the military power of their enemies with the same efficiency that they have undoubtedly shown in regard to plans long preferred, methodically worked out, and executed with the precision of deliberation.

...We did not enter upon the war with the hope of easy victory; we did not enter upon it in any desire to extend our territory, or to advance and increase our position in the world; or in any romantic desire to shed our blood and spend our money in Continental quarrels. We entered upon this war reluctantly after we had made every effort compatible with honour to avoid being drawn in, and we entered upon it with the full realisation of the sufferings, losses, disappointments, vexations, and anxieties, and of the appaling and sustaining exertions which would be entailed upon us by our action. The war will be long and sombre. It will have many reverses of fortune and many hopes falsified by subsequent events, and we must derive form our cause and the strength that is in us, and from the traditions and history of our race, and from the support and aid of our Empire all over the world the means to make this country overcome obstacles of all kinds and continue to the end of the furrow, whatever the toil and suffering may be.


[Churchill, (ed) Never Give In: the best of Winston Churchill's Speeches, London 2003]

Monday September 14th

Spiritual cleansing?



It may be - I do not know and I do not profess to understand - that this is the great Audit of the Universe, that the Supreme Being has ordered the nations of the earth to decide who is to lead in the van of human progress. If the British Empire resolves to fight the Battle cleanly, to look upon it as Something More than an ordinary war, we shall realise that it has not been in vain, and We the British Empire, as the Chosen Leaders of the World, shall travel along the road of Human Destiny and Progress, at the end of which we shall see the patient figure of the Prince of Peace pointing to the Star of Bethlehem which leads us on to God.


Horatio Bottomley at the London Opera House


Tuesday September 15th


The 2nd battalion South Lancs occupy shallow trenches north of Vailly. This is the Regiment's first experience of trench warfare in the present conflict.

Saturday Septmeber 19th

The wages of decadence?



We have been living in a sheltered valley for generations. We have been too comfortable, too indulgent, many perhaps too selfish. And the stern hand of fate has scourged us to an elevation where we can see the great everlasting things that matter for a nation; the great peaks of honour we had forgotten - duty and patriotism, clad in glittering white, the great pinnacle of sacrifice pointing like a rugged finger to heaven.


David Lloyd George.


Sunday 20th September

My Dearest Mother...



We get letters in strange situations; I eat the peppermints with a dead man beside me in the trench. I have been awfully lucky so far, as I have had some very narrow shaves; on two occasions the man standing up next to me has been shot dead. The weather is perfectly vile; they say Sept is a very wet month in France. It is getting cold too and they will have to send out warm things soon for our men if they are to keep well. Any warm things you like to send out for the men of my company would be very acceptable...

I had an awful night in the trenches last night; it poured with rain all night & the trenches became full of water. I had to go forward visiting sentries etc all night to see they kept alert. Some were very far out to the front towards the German trenches & I crawled about on my stomach in mud and slush & nearly lost myself. The advanced German trenches are only 700 yards from us, so I might easliy have been captured by one of their patrols. But good luck pursues me and I am quite safe. My clothes are in an awful state of mud & of course wet through. But it doesn't seem to matter much as I haven't even a cold after it; I came straight in in my wet clothes, threw myself down and slept as I was, without taking off anything. I find that rum is a great standby; they guive us some every day...


Bernard Montgomery, letter to his Mother

2nd Btn South Lancs in the trench line...

The battalion are still in position north of Vailly. German attacks took place yesterday, and continue today, leading to 'a god deal of confused fighting'. [Whalley Kelly p20] A body of Germans approaches the front line indicating that they wish to surrender. Lieut F.A. Sutton and four men leave their trench to meet them, whereupon the Germans open fire, killing him and one soldier, capturing the three others.

The Battalion lose 6 officers killed and wounded, along with around 58 NCOs and other ranks killed.

Monday 21st September

The 2nd Battalion South Lancs are withdrawn from the line and go back to billets at Augy, to rest, refit and absorb new drafts. Fighting on the Aisne has reached a deadlock, and the front is extending ever more towards the sea. The BEF began on the left flank but now finds itself in the centre of the line.

Tuesday 22nd September

The St Helens Reporter prints an appeal for more volunteers for the reserve battalion of the 5th SLR. 400 men are still needed to complete it.



The rush of recruits for the Pals may, for the time, have had the effect of temporarily eclipsing the needs of the 5th South Lancs, but now that the former are complete it is 'up to' St Helens, for credit's sake, to see that the old home Regiment gets all the men it requires.


[Reporter 22/9/14, p1.]

A concert is to be held at the YMCA tomorrow, to stimulate recruitment.

Piratical harrassment on land...

Winston Churchill cofers with the French on a visit to Dunkirk, and is insistent that all opportunities to harras German communications be taken. Armoured cars and aircraft based around Douai are to adopt an almost piratical policy.

Four RNAS aircraft take part in a raid on Zeppelin sheds at Dusseldorf and Cologne. They achieve total surprise but inflict minimal damage.

The Cabinet discuss the New Zealand Expeditionary Force. Their government refuse to allow it to sail without a full destroyer escort. The First Lord of the Admiralty - Churchill - is unable to take part in the discussion. Frustrated, Asquith writes to his confidant Venetia Stanley:

...and in Cabinet:



Unfortunately, on this day, when of all others he was most needed, Winston is away, on one of his furtive missions - this time to Dunkirk: and is not expected back till evening.


[Gilbert p90]

Wednesday 23rd September

Following an earlier announcement of intention, the 2/5th Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment is offically constituted, following the decision to raise a 'second line' of Territorial Battalions to support the first.

Sunday September 27th

Sir John French makes a request of Joffre: 'to disengage from our present position as soon as possible and put us on the left flank of the Allied forces.' This will simplify the BEF's line of communications and allow its cavalry to operate against the German flank.

Joffre agrees, with some concerns about having the BEF so close to embarkation ports for Britain.

[Holmes, The Little Field Marshall: A Life of Sir John French, (London 1981, 2004 edition)].

Tuesday September 29th

South Lancs 'K1' men.

Following Kitchener's appeal for the first 100,000 volunteers, a 6th (Service) Battalion of the South Lancashire Regiment was formed. Many of the officers are pre-war Regulars, but the ranks are much more representative of society as a whole than the Regular or Territorial units. The battalion has recently begun training at Tidworth, filling the barracks occupied until recently by the 2nd Battalion of the Regiment.

Pte T Chisnall has a letter published in the St Helens Reporter. He says they are still without uniforms, but have finally been issued with rifles. The work is hard, but - worse still - alcohol is very difficult to obtain.

Wednesday September 30th

Battle Honours

As we reach the end of the month the South Lancashire Regiment have added some notable battle honours:


Retreat from Mons

Le Cateau

Marne 1914

Aisne 1914

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October 1914

Friday October 2nd

War on German Spies!

The St Helens Reporter advises vigilance against German espionage: 'the time has come for this country to discard the kid gloves of false sentiment for the mailed fist of common sense and downright preservation'.[Reporter 2.10.14, p4].


3 Light Horse Brigade is raised, with 8 Vic, 9 SA & Vic & 10 WA LH Regiments. [Jeffro]

'Shiploads of Wounded' - War comes to St Helens

Both the Reporter and Newspaper and Advertiser are beginning to carry reports of local casualties amongst the Regulars. Private Sutherland, a recalled reservist who lives in Duke St, is reported as wounded. The news comes through his friend, the landlord of the Turks Head.

Pte Taylor, of the 3rd West Lancs Field Ambulance, is interviewed by a journalist whilst on leave.



There have been some terrible cases...Sgt Brown, of te Scots Guards, who I believe lives in Denton's Green Lane...was suffering from rheumatic fever, caught through lying in the trenches for a week, and that without had a shot at the Germans and being shelled the whole time


Nevertheless, he reamins optimistic:



All the men say we have got the Germans practically surrounded. There is only one small place through which they can they can escape, and if they try it they will lose half their army. They may hold the position for a few weeks, but the end is sure.


[N&A p8]

To provide relaxation and relief, the Broad Oak Conservative Club Bowling Green is opened for use. The Reporter carries a photograph, showing in the background the row of houses my family will move into in 80 years time.


From Joseph Hafield Smith, of 159 Station Road, Haydock, nr St Helens.



Your Royal Highness - May it please your Majesty to read the following:- In my mind you are an unmerciful villain, a hypocrite and a murderer. You have caused the war which is now raging fiercely, when by one single word you could have stopped ot, whereas you have caused the death of many thousands of brave men. The reason why you have caused this war is known to everybody...you wanted to make your country a world famed power, but you have failed. Now you are trying to wreak your vengeance on less powerful but happier lands than your own. In this you almost succeeded, and are trying to get your army into the British Isles and throw your cousin - King George - off the throne, but you are boiling over with rage at your failure. You are 'over your head and ears' in debt with other nations. Your army is being driven back from Paris. While your back was turned the Russians crossed the frontier, and as you turned to meet them the French played havoc with their big guns. You have dug your own grave, so get ready for it.

I remain,

Your young but bitter enemy



Thursday October 8th

General Headquarters of the BEF moves from Fere-en-Tardenois to Abbeville.

Friday October 9th

The Nation's Duty!

A local editorial exhorts wavering volunteers: 'A man has no right to refuse his services as a combatant because those services are ill paid , or because his dependents will be the worse off for his patriotic action.'

He goes on to argue that society must, however, look after those dependents in the soldier's absence. [N&A 9.10.14]

The Newspaper and Advertiser reports that Privates G.Crippen and Dudley Nesbit, of the City Battalion, King's (Liverpool) Regiment, have been appointed 2nd Lieutenants in the 5th Battalion South Lancs. Nesbit will go on to write to my Great Great Grandmother when her husband is killed in 1917.

At Edinburgh:

A local gentleman writes of his visit to the 5th Battalion's camp at Holyrood:

The 'camp is situated on a lovely green sward on the south side of Holyrood Palace, immediately underlying the majestic Arthur's Seat.' The correspondent is impressed with the change that has overtaken th men since they left St Helens, remarking that it would be 'difficult to perceive any difference between them and the regular army.'[N&A 9.10.14 p5]

Arthur's Seat is an extinct volcano. Click here for photographs of the area: www.geo.ed.ac.uk/arthurseat/

Wounded arrive in St Helens

Private Travers, Lancs Fusiliers, is now at home at number 13 Waterloo Place on one month's leave recovering from a shrapnel wound in the knee. He isn't keen to say too much about his experiences.



If I were to talk about things that are happening in France and what it is like to be under bursting shrapnel and "Black Marias" it would read much worse than what it actually is and might frighten those who are now thinking of enlisting.


Patting his wound he says 'I am going to get a bit more of my own back for this. The only thing I am glad of is that it has given me a month's leave to come home and be with the missus and youngsters for a while. But I shall go back cheerfully, for it is my duty.' He expresses admiration for the German artillery, whose marksmanship he says is 'splendid', but has less time for their infantry - 'poor fighters', as he puts it.

Private Travers has been wounded before, having served with the King's Regminet througout the South African War. He was hit by a Boer bullet when outside Mafeking. He was recalled from the Reserve on the outbreak of war. [Reporter 2.10.14]

Monday October 12th

The 2nd Battalion South Lancs, part of 3rd Division, march out of Hinges, heading for Givenchy. They soon becaom engaged with German, cavalry and cyclists, but having taken their objective they dig in at Lacoutre. The fighting has been difficult, as the countryside is divided by endless hedgerows, offering excellent cover and opportunities for ambush.

The Allies evacuate Ostend and Zeebrugge. The Germans occupy Lille; no serious opposition is mounted.

Tuesday 13th October

The 1st Battalion Royal Warwicks, including the young Bernard Montgomery, are in the thick of the action at the village of Meteren. Montgomery later described the events, in inimitable fashion:



Two companies were forward, my company on the left being directed on a group of buildings on the outskirts of the village...When zero hour arrived I drew my recently sharpened sword and shouted to my platoon to follow me, which it did. We charged forwards to the village; there was considerable fire directed at us and some of my men became casualties, but we continued on our way. As we neared the objective I suddenly saw in front of me a trench full of Germans, one of whom was aiming his rifle at me.

In my training as a young officer I had received much instruction in how to kill my enemy with a bayonet fixed to a rifle. I knew all about the various movements - right parry, left parry, forward lunge. I had been taught how to put the left foot on the corpse and extract the bayonet, giving at the same time a loud grunt...But now I had no rifle and no bayonet; I had only a sharp sword, and I was confronted by a large German who was about to shoot me. In all my short career in the Army no one had taught me how to kill a German with a sword. The only sword exercise I knew was saluting drill, learnt under the serjeant-major on the barrack square.

...An immediate decision was clearly vital. I hurled myself through the air at the German and kicked him as hard as I could in the lower part of his stomach; the blow was well aimed at a tender spot. I had read much about the value of surprise in war. There is no doubt that the German was surprised and it must have seemed to him a new form of war; he fell to the ground in great pain and I took my first prisoner!


[Montgomery, Memoirs (London 1958)]

Later that day, Montgomery fell wounded with a bullet through the chest. He had ordered his platoon to take up defensive positions and was inspecting them from the front when hit through the lung by a sniper. A private soldier rushed to his assistance but was shot through the head, collapsing on top of Montgomery, who shouted that no one else dhould attempt his rescue. He was collected, barely conscious, after dark.

Montgomery was awarded the DSO for his part in this action.

The Long Arm of the Law...

The St Helens Reporter proudly announces that Ptes Horace Atherton and Francis Anthony Murray, 5th South Lancs, have been awarded £2 each by the local Provost Inches in Edinburgh for assisting the police to convey a violent and disorderly prisoner to the station on Sept 22nd.

Atherton, from Widnes, will rise to Company Serjeant Major, before being killed in action on 2nd August 1916.

Rumours are beginning to spread that the Battalion will soon head for France or Egypt, via Kent. Tunbridge Wells is mentioned.

GHQ moves to St Omer.

Wednesday 14th October

An advance guard of the 7th Division, BEF, reaches Ypres. They discover that the Germans have been there already, one week before, but having engaged in some minor pilfering they had moved on.

Ypres is one of Europe's architechtural gems, a Vauban walled town with striking 17th century streetscape around a medieval core. The Cloth Hall and St Martin's Cathedral are outstanding landmarks, with towers visible for miles around, and from which one can see the sea on a clear day. Save for a few bullet and shell marks, so far it is untouched by war.

The Belgian Army halts on the River Yser. The 'Race to the Sea' has ended.

Thursday 15th October

To Kent?

Rumours grow stronger that the 1/5 South Lancs will be ordered to Kent to complete their training. Tunbridge Wells is mentioned. A camp in the South East suggests subsequent deployment to the western front. However, the latest news, at noon today, is that the Battalion are still at Edinburgh.

The Germans occupy Ostend and Zeebrugge. The Allies extend their line to the coast. The Western Front is beginning to take firm shape.

Ypres today...

Gunner C.B. Burrows, 104 Battery, Royal Field Artillery, 22 Bde, 7th Division:



3am: March out of Ypres, north-east, wait in a field. Recieved our first mail at noon. Move again about 1 mile to another field. Thousands of French infantry with us. Would sooner be with our own boys. All quiet. Nothing doing. We billet in a factory which has been closed. No slep for me, I'm on picket!


[MacDonald, 1914]

Friday 16th October

Belgian resolution:

The Belgian Army prepares to stem the manoeuvre of the German 4th Army, holding their line on the Yser. In a mood of stiff resolve, King Albert issues a firm order of the day, warning that any men quitting the field will be shot, staff officers will be posted to the firing line, and officers reporting sick will face courts martial.

Sunday 18th October

French strongly encourages Rawlinson and IV Corps to advance from Ypres on Menin, and presses Haig to march on Roulers. The extent of the opposition they may meet east of Ypres is unclear. Rawlinson is concerned about a yawning gap on his left flank, and chooses to make haste slowly.

Monday 19th October

German columns descend from IV Corps left flank. Rawlinson extracates his commans at a cost of 150 casualties.

Tuesday 20th October

The 2nd South Lancs are on the right of 7th Brigade holding water-logged trenches near Le Transloy. The Germans mount a spirited attack in the afternoon.

Wednesday 21st October

Five fresh German corps are identified between Menin and Ostend. This come as a huge shock to the GHQ. It seems that the Germans are employing reserve formations already, as part of their invasion plan.

By contrast, the British Territorial Force has been organised on the basis of six months full time training from the onset of hostilities before being asked to serve overseas. This period may have to be shortened dramatically in some cases.

It becomes clearer that further advance on Menin and Roulers is practically impossible. At 20.30 GHQ orders that 'action against the enemy will be continued tomorrow on general line now held, which will be strongly entrenched.' [Holmes, Frenchp246] Rawlison and Haig begin to dig in before Ypres.

A battlion of the Gloucesters report Germans singing whilst attacking at Koekuit about a mile north of Langemarck. Another report comes in from Zonnebeke of German volunteers advancing down Passchendaele ridge:



singing and waving their rifles in the air...As fast as we shot them down, others took their place. Even when their own artillery barrage caught them by mistake, they kept on advancing. They were incredibly, ridiculously brave.


[Quoted by Robert Cowley, http://history1900s.about.com/library/prm/blmassacre1.htm - see this article for a detailed exploration of the fact and myth surrounding the 'Kindermord bei Ypern'.]

South Lancs forced back:

2nd Btn South Lancs again come under severe attack. The Germans force entry to the left of the position and successively take each company in enfilade, forcing the whole unit back. Regimental histories report 7 officers and over 200 other ranks killed, wounded and missing.

Friday October 23rd

From Ypres...

Reports arrive of German troops wearing student caps, attacking whilst singing. Field artillery firing over open sights and rapid rifle fire halts their advance in its tracks.

The 1/5 South Lancs in Kent

The first accounts of the Battalion's move to Tunbridge Wells are beginning to reach St Helens. One of the men writes to his priest, Fr Hayden, of Lowe House church. He says they left Edinburgh at 4.50pm on the 19th, arriving in Kent at 4.30pm on the 29th. It was a long, but pleasant journey, with people waving and cheering when the train passed through towns and villages.



The country is very fine. One village we went through called Woldingham, not far from London, was a sight for sore eyes. The fields, trees and villas were beautiful. The leaves of the trees were all colours. Sometimes when I have seen landscape pictures I have thought them a bit far fetched, but I do not think anyone could paint a nicer picture than I saw.

On Sunday afternoon in Edinburgh I went, as you told me, to see Fr G----. I had quite a pleasant chat with him. He said he was very pleased to see me, and that he would recommend me in his prayers. He also took my name.

Captain Nott-Bowen, who used to be the Chief Constable for Liverpool, lives next door but one to us. He said if we wanted for anything we could call at the house for it.



[N&A, 23.10.14]

You can see just what the countryside around Woldingham looks like by visiting: www.woldingham.com/around-woldingham/mardenpark1.html

Mr William Holbrook, licensee of the Vulcan Inn, Sutton, (St Helens)has been reported as a prisoner of war, having been missing since the 24th August. He is a recalled reservist of the Royal Scots. The Vulcan is one of a number of pubs bereft of a landlord, the licensed trade being popular amongst former Regulars.

This is bit one example of the many ways in which St Helens is being affected by the war. In recent days 5,000 troops have left by train, Belgian refugees have arrived and the Providence Hospital has received its first casualties from the front. These were greeted by a crowd which had gathered to welcome them.

Saturday 24th October

The German 4th Army assaults the Belgian line repeatedly, gaining a lodgement across the Yser by nightfall.

SDGW and CWGC give long lists of 2nd Btn South Lancs soliders KiA for this day. Comparison with regimental histories show that they were more likely sustained in the fierce fight three days previously.

Tuesday 27th October

German plans in Flanders...

Despite their numerical superiority, the German 4th and 6th Armies have failed to break through. Falkenhayn has hurriedly assembled 'Armmy Group Fabeck' and makes plans for it to strike.

Rudolph Binding, a German staff officer, makes notes in his diary about the predicament of reserve forces usd around Ypres:



...these young fellows we have, only just trained, are too helpless, particularly when the officers have been killed...[a battalion of light infantry, or Jäger]...almost all Marburg students...have suffered terribly from enemy shell-fire...In the next division, just such young souls, the intellectual flower of Germany, went singing into an attack on Langemarck, just as vain and just as costly.


[Quoted by Robert Cowley, http://history1900s.about.com/library/prm/blmassacre1.htm The truth about the so-called 'Kindermord bei Ypern' would remain obscure for many years; the Cowley article is most informative]

Still unaware of the full gravity of the situation, Sit John French continues to think of an offensive.

The Belgians opern the lock gates at Nieuport, beginning the inundation of land adjacent to the Yser.

A uniform response...

A correspondent to the St Helens Reporter expresses outrage that troops not yet issued with unforms aren't being cheered and applauded when marching through the town. The Editor agrees that this is part of a worrying trend:



St Helens people who have come to regard the passing of troops with a disconcerting indifference; while the other night we saw, in a certain place of amusement in St Helens, a whole row of young men remain seated while the Allies National Anthems were played, and one of their number actually wore his hat.


[Reporter 27.10.14]

All the latest patriotic records...

Business is not slow to respond - and help create - patriotic fervour, by supplying all manner of trinkets, whajamacallits and doo-daas in suitably Imperial colours. Advetisments are at pains to stress the British origin of their wares, and to deny any links with German suppliers or nationals.

'British made, 1/6 each, including "ITS A LONG WAY TO TIPPERARY". MJ Peters, Hall Street, St Helens.'

WAR PHILANTHROPY - Shall it be exploited by cranks??

Sections of local opinion are becoming concerned that ardent teetotalers are using the current patriotic fervour as a moral stick with which to beat those who ejoy a drink. This could have unfortunate consequences. [Reporter ]

Wednesday 28th October

The London Gazette has announced that Major D Bates, well known as a works manager at BICC in Prescott, has been promoted Lieut-Col, and will command the Reserve Battalion of the 5th South Lancashires.

Tonight GHQ order that offensive operations should comtinue around Ypres. Haig, in command of I Corps, is unconvinced, and takes steps to strengthen his line as well as preparing to attack.

2nd Btn South Lancs:

Despite having only been withdrawn last night, the battalion are returned to the line this afternoon in support of dismounted cavalry.

Thursday 29th October

Haig's concerns prove well founded as the Germans launch a probing attach after dawn. His Corps hold on throughout the day, despite losing some ground.

Sir John French appears not to appreciate the gravity of the situation, and once again orders the 'attack' to continue. He is, however, becoming concerned about shortages of artillery ammunition, and expresses this to Kitchener.

Withdrawl and re-organisation of 2nd Btn South Lancs:

The men are finally withdrawn to billets at Richebourg, only to be shelled out of them at about 4pm, the battalion HQ receiving a direct hit severly concussing the CO and others. They retire to Lacouture, where re-organisation takes place - Captain LW Herbert of 3rd Btn assumes command, and two companies are formed from the renmants of the unit. No company officers are left, so two CSMs take command.

The battalion has changed and depleted almost beyond recognition in just a few short weeks. The same thing is happening to most of the BEF; the Regular Army is dying.

Friday October 30th

The struggle for Ypres...

Fabeck's attack goes in this morning, advancing slowly, despite the dogged resistance of I Corps and the Cavalry Corps, which is fighting dismounted.

Patriotic entertainment...

The GRIFFIN PICTURE THEATRE, Ormskirk St, St Helens, is proud to present two new productions:


Parr's bank has unfortunately had to announce reduced opening hours, such has been the patriotic response of their young male employees, who have flocked to the colours. [Reporter 30.10.14]

The newly formed 'St Helens Battalion' of the South Lancashires, who responded to Kitchener's call, are photographed at their temporary barracks in Sutton. The NCOs include a Lance Sgt Lingard.

Saturday 31st October

The overnight fighting sees a notable first: the 1/14 London Regiment (London Scottish) see heavy action in the Messines / Wytschaete area. They are the first Territorial battalion to engage the enemy.

You can see a photography of the battalion memorial on Messines Ridge by clicking here: www.hellfire-corner.demon.co.uk/jacky2.htm

A German shell strikes the Headquarters of 1st and 2nd divisions at Hooge Chateau; a number of staff officers are killed, disprupting control at a key moment. The position north of the Menin Road becomes most precarious; the 2nd Worcesters save the day with a desperate bayonet charge. Further cracks appear elsewhere along the British front. At Wytschaete, the London Scottish come to action; they are the first Territorial unit to do so.

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November 1914

Sunday 1st November

The first contingent of AIF & New Zealand Expeditionary Force (NZEF, NZ Infantry Brigade & NZ Mounted Rifles Brigade) sails from Albany, Western Australia. [Jeffro]

Tuesday 3rd November

Private Adolf Hitler is promoted to Corporal, with effect from November 1st.

Army Group Fabeck has lost 17,250 mem in the last five days; the German onslaught around Ypres is losing momentum.

The British Aegean squadron bombard the forts at the mouth of the Dardanelles. They succeed in exploding a magazine, which cripples many of the heavy guns in the fort batteries.

Friday 5th November

The Germans renew the offensive on the shoulders of the emerging salient, seeking to gain commanding positions for artillery observation over Ypres itself and its road network.

Fri 6th November

The 2nd Btn South Lancs at Ypres:

After just one week out of the line the Battalion take up positions near Zwarteleen, not far from Hooge, relieving a unit of the 7th Division. Pte Albert Jenkins dies of wounds in England; from Worcester, he is buried at Brompton Cemetery adjacent to Stamford Bridge, home of Chelsea FC.

The Second Line of Territorials

It has been announced that the reserve battalion of the 5th South Lancashires is to be commanded by Major Bates, transferred from the 5th. Several of the officers of this new battalion are well known locally. Herbet Cleaver, a respected Boer War veteran who had fought at Spion Kop, has been promoted from Sgt Maj in the 5th Battalion to 2nd Lieutenant and Quartermaster in the new battalion.

It is suggested that the battalion will winter at the popular holiday resort of Blackpool.

The Forgotten Sixth?

A concerned member of the 6th Battalion writes to the local newspaper:



We are getting tired of hearing so much about 'pals' and other battalions you have got in St Helens. I don't suppose you know there is a 6th battalion South Lancashire Regiment, and about 150 St Helens men in it. I have never seen it mentioned in your paper. Out of sight, out of mind...If our pay does not alter it will be a poor lookout for a lot of us ever seeing St Helens again.



The Editor is quick to deny any suggestion of favouritism: 'We are, of course, always gald to hear from St Helens men who are serving in the forces.' [N&A 6.11.14, p5.]

Meanwhile, in Tunbridge Wells, a dinner is held in the Bridge Hotel to mark the 21st birthday of Lieut John Dowling.

Tuesday 9th November

HMAS Sydney sinks German Cruiser Emden off the Cocos(Keeling) Islands

Wednesday 10th November

The Reserve Battalion of the 5th South Lancs leave St Helens for Blackpool at 2pm. Between 150 and 170 men presented themselves at the Volunteer Hall between Friday and Monday. An appeal is issued for 200 more to complete the battalion.

Wednesday 11th November

South Lancs deaths:

Lieut (QM) Herbert Leonard Cleaver dies whilst with the 2/5 Battalion at Blackpool aged 46. He was the husband of Frances Cleaver, of "Ormeau," Old Lane, Eccleston Park St Helens.

Lieutenant Cleaver had been recently commissioned and appointed to the post of Quartermaster with the Reserve Battalion of the 5th South Lancs. He had been with the 5th Battalion for about ten years, from during its years as the 2nd Volunteer Battalion (South Lancs Regiment) before the formation of the Territorial Force in 1908.

Thursday 12th November

Sad losses:

1st (Guards) Brigade, 1st Division, arrived in France in August with a strength of 4,500 men. Its strength today is as follows:

1/Scots Guards - 1 officer and 69 men

1/Black Watch - 1 officer and 109 men

1/Camerons* - 3 officers and 140 men

1/Coldstream - 0 officers and 150 men

*Replaced Royal Munster Fusiliers in early Sept, which had almost ceased to exist after rearguard action at Etreux on 27 August. [Ascoli, The Mons Star, The British Expeditionary Force 1914, page x, (London 1981)]

2nd Btn South Lancs:

Lieut Col MCA Green, who was in command at the Regimental Depot in Warrington upon the outbreak of war, takes over command of the Battalion, as Captain Herbert has been invalided.

Friday 13th November

Lieut Cleaver's death is reported in the local press. It is also reported that recruitment for the Reserve Battalion has increased significantly snce it was announced to be training in Blackpool. The unit is now at full strength.

1/5th drunk?

Captain Guy Pilkington reports from Kent that alcohol is to blame for about one quarter of incidents leading to punishment for men if the 1/5 South Lancs. There have apparently been several cases of men falling out because they were hung over.

Sunday 15th November

Sir John French, having reached agreement with Foch, the I Corps begins to withdraw from the Ypres area to concentrate the whole BEF further south. It is replaced in the Salient by French troops.

Tuesday 17th November

The local press report the funeral of Lt(QM) Herbert Cleaver, the Boer War veteran who died recently. There is a huge list of attendees, including many members of his family, also in khaki: Sgt Edward Cleaver (WL Div Engineers), L/Cpls Herbert and Alfred Cleaver and Bugler Arther Cleaver (5th SLR), and others. Floral tributes included wreaths from the Sergeants of 1/5 and 2/5 SLR. (The grave is marked with a large obelisk bearing the family name, situated in a prominent plot in the St Helens Cemetery, close to the cross of Sacrifice. I visited it this week, finding that someone had placed a poppy wreath on it. Email me if you'd like to see a photo).

1st Battalion South Lancs in India - the 'Anxious Fortieth'

The outbreak of war found the 1st Btn - the old 40th Foot - stationed at Quetta, India, due for relief by the 2nd Btn in 1916. Officers and men are keen to head for the Western Front to join their sister battalion in action against the Germans. A troubled member of the 1st Btn writes to the St Helens Newspaper and Advertiser pleasding that 'the senior battalion' may be allowed home to fight 'side by side with their other battalion, as they did at Waterloo'. It is signed 'Anxious Fortieth'. [N&A 17.11.14]

2nd Battalion:

Lieut Col MCA Green, who only took over command of the Battalion on the 12th of the month, is killed by a shell, along with Lieut Bernard Fulcher, who is awarded a posthumous Military Cross for consistently inspiring leadership.

Captain Pirrie, the Medical Officer, takes temporary command of the Battaltion.

Friday 20th November


A soldier with the 5th South Lancs at Tunbridge Wells reports wome worrying remarks made by 'our Colonel': 'there is only one Church in the Army...he could not see the reason why Catholics, Wesleyans, Congregationalists etc, could not go to the one church'. The correspondent is very concerned



Are we going back to the penal days again, we who boast so much of our free country? There are more things than this to complain of, but they had best be ledt over til after the war, so that it cannot be said we tried to stop recruiting...



The 5th Btn has a high proportion of Roman Catholics; minstering to their spiritual needs is important for the morale of the battalion.

Saturday 21st November

Beating the drum:

Lord Derby and other local notables address a mass rally at the St Helens Stadium. Archbishop Whiteside gives the war his blessing, calling the Kaiser the 'Bully of Europe'.



He concluded by remarking that if any of his co-religionists had previously held back from joining the colours because of the lack of sufficient Catholic chaplains, they might now be satisfied to answer the call to arms for they had the assurance of the War Office that the reason was now removed (cheers).


Mr Sexton, previously a devout anti-militarist, announces his support for the war, commending the aristocracy for 'paying the death toll with every other class in proportion to their members'.[N&A 24.11.14]

Sunday 22nd November

The I Corps of the BEF completes its move to the south as the Battle of Ypres grinds to a halt. The intensity of the fighting around Ypres subsides a little; 22nd November will subsequently be recognised as the official end of the Battle for Ypres. Sporadic exchanges and casualties continue, as both sides lick their wounds and dig in, having literally fought each other to a standstill.

Since 12th October the BEF has suffered 58,155 casualties; 3th, 3rd and 1st Divisions have suffered disproportionately. [Figure from Ascoli, The Mons Star: The British Expeditionary Force 1914]

To date, 6 Territorial infantry battalions are serving in the line.

Tuesday 24th November

Captain Pilkington again speaks on drink:



I don't want anyone to get the impression that the majority of the 5th South Lancs are heavy drinkers - far from it; but there are a few, and and amongst them, some of my best men in other ways, ho go wrong from time to time, generally because some so-called friend treats them to drink.


[Reporter 24.11.14]

He adds that he personally enjoys a drink, but has given up for the duration. The Pilkington family generally have strong Non-Conformist links, and are no strangers to promoting temperance.

Friday 27th November




We have let our wives and children

Our company is the 5th South Lancs

We have passed for foreign service

And we mean to go to France

So when the word is given

And the bugles sound aloud

We then spring to attention

And fall in pleased and proud

To the front we march along

With our battalion armed and strong

Left and right we mean to fight

That is a British man's delight

And when the war is over

You will hear the people shout

'God bless those Territorials,

They're the best lads thats been out'


71 Central Street

St Helens


Lizzie's entry to the Reporter's Children's Circle poetry section wins her a story book.

Religious freedom?

Despite the patriotic encouragement from home, not all is well in the South Lancs camp at Tunbridge Wells. Colonel Pilkington has written to the St Helens press angrilyy denying charges published in the Newspaper and Advertiser that he is not even handed when dealing with Roman Catholic troops. He publishes battalion orders showing church parades for the several denominations.

In response to various (and largely unpublished) allegations of bad food, overwork, desertions, enforced teetotalism the Reporter publishes the results of enquiries it has made with officers of the battalion. The result is a rosy picture of unity and commitment, and a strenuous denial of the rumours. [Reporter 27.11.14]

It is also announced that Sgt Neale will begin recruiting in St Helens for 'bantam' soldiers who do not meet the usual height qualification.

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December 1918

Tuesday 1st December

'Unofficial sources'...

Father Reginald Riley, of St Mary's Lowe House Church, North Road, St Helens, seeks to sooth troubled waters in the 5th Battalion:



I have heard from 'unofficial sources' thath the officer who is supposed to have made the extraordinary remarks reported by 'La Victoire' has since made it clear to Catholics under his command that his words were misunderstood. Let the matter rest at this.


[N&A 1.12.14 p3]

Clearly, not every detail is known, nor printed by the local press; harsh words have perhaps come to pass in Tunbridge Wells. Fr Riley is local celebrity, having won many friends in his parish since his arrival in 1912. He has helped set up the Catholic Temperance Club, and is known to advise wives to slip a few drops of holy water into the beverages of errant husbands.

The St Helens Reporter carries a piece about an unnamed local member of the Liverpool Scottish who has been returned to England 'with nerves nearly shattered and his eyesight in a precarious position'. The emphasis on 'nerves' seems rather unusual.

Wednesday 2nd December

A 'mere skeleton' of a battalion: 2nd South Lancs

The fighting over the last four months has reduced this fine unit to just two officers and approximately 150 other ranks. Reinforcement drafts are expected any day. Officers will come from several regiments, but the men will all be from the South Lancs, including a number of old soldiers who have rejoined the colours.

Along with the rest of 3 Division the battalion has recently been postd to Messines Ridge, where it now holds a line east of Kemmel. The war has gone to earth, taking on the aspect of a gigantic siege operation but with no possibility of a complete blockade. New and unusual weapons come into regular use, such as bomb catapults, trench mortars and hand grenades. Captain E Robson is killed by the expolision of a grenade in his dug-out; 2nd Liuet Shaughnessey and two Corporals are injured in the same blast.

Such accidents are common, as the manufacturing standards of grenades are rudimentary and the fuses unreliable.

Thursday 3rd December

The South Lancashire Brigade give a concert in the Great Hall at Tunbridge Wells.

Friday 4th December

The Australian Imperial Force & New Zealand Expeditionary Force arrives in Cairo.


Stories of unrest in the 5th South Lancs continue to circulate in St Helens. The editor of the Reporter has made enquiries and moves to scotch the rumours, stating that the 'suggestion is absolutely false', and that only two cases have been suspected. Apparently, both turned out to be AWOL, not deserted, having wanted to join the Regulars. He ends on a sombre note:



'Those who have been disseminating these rumours ought to be warned as to the seriousness of their conduct in view of the Defence of the Realm Act.'


[Reporter 4.12.14]

The Act, known as DORA, was passed on 12th August. It gave the Government wide powers to commandeer goods and equipment, suppress criticism, control movements and to imprison without trial. You can see extracts from it by clicking here: http://www.firstworldwar.com/source/defenceoftherealm.htm

Father Reginald Riley of St Mary's Lowe House Church has a letter designed to sooth the recent tensions published in the Newspaper & Advertiser.



I have the most grateful recollection of the exceedingly kind way in which the Colonel met all my requests on behalf of the Catholic soldiers during their sojourn in Lowe House grounds and schools. I hear from "unofficial sources" that the officer who is supposed to have made the extraordinary remarks reported by "La Victoire" has since made it clear to the Catholics under his command that his words were misunderstood.

Let the matter rest at this,

Yours etc.


Lowe House

St Helens

28th November 1914.


In a further attempt to sooth the nerves, the N&A also publishes a robust extract from a letter from a Pte George MacDougall (Camerons) to his Father in Edinburgh:



I used to be as hard as anyone at home against the Romans, but after what I have seen out here you can count on me when there's anything to be done in the way of knocking out men who say that Roman Catholic priests aren't among the finest Christians there are.


The editors of the St Helens press clearly feel it to be their duty to promote harmony within the ranks and the town.

Saturday 5th December

Since the heavy fighting around Ypres settled down about two weeks ago, the front has stabilised into a line of trenches. The armies of all nations in the western front have to some extent exhausted their first wind, and keen to rest, refit and absorb replacements. In Flanders, the BEF are laboriously fighting a continual battle with the elements. The water table is only a couple of feet below the surface and trenches are suffering from flooding. The miserable conditions, shared by both sides, and the effective end of the first campaign of the war has lent itself to a measure of 'live and let live' between the Tommies and the Germans. Reports of nocturnal meetings in no-man's land have reached the brass, who are quick to respond.

Accordingly, General Smith-Dorrien issues a new set of instructions to II Corps, written by Brig-Gen Forestier-Walker, his Chief of Staff:



It is during this period [of waiting] that the greatest danger to the morale of the troops exists. Experience of this, and every other war proves undoutedly that troops in trenches in close proximity to enemy slide very easily, if permitted to do so, into a 'live and let live' theory of life. Understandings - amounting almost to unofficial armistices - grow up between our troops and the enemy, with a view to making life easier, until the sole object of war becomes obscured, and officers and men sink into a military lethargy from which it is difficult to arouse them when the moment for great sacrifices again arises...

The attitude of our troops can be readily understood and to a certain extent commands sympathy. So long as they know that no general advance is intended, they fail to see the object in undertaking small enterprises of no permanent utility, certain to result in some loss of life, and likely to provoke reprisals. Such an attitude is, however, most dangerous, for it discourges initiative in commanders and destroys the offensive spirit in all ranks...

The Corps Commander, therefore, directs Divisional Commanders to impress on all subordinate commanders the absolute necessity of encouraging the offensive spirit of the troops, while on the defensive, by every means in their power. Friendly intercourse with the enemy, unofficial armistices (e.g. 'we won't fire if you don't etc.) and the exchange of tobacco and other comforts, however tempting an occasionally amusing they may be, are absolutely prohibited.


[brown and Seaton: Christmas Truce (London 1994)]

Monday 7th December

Pope Benedict XV makes a plea to the belligerent nations to cease hostilities for the Christmas period. The Germans accept, but no one else appears to take much notice.

Tuesday 8th December

5th South Lancs notices:

Lieut Frederic Crooks is promoted to temporary Captain, effective 15th November.

2nd Lieut Sydney Bullock resigns, due to ill health.

A.C. Willis and J.L. Hadfield are to be commissioned as 2nd Lieuts.

A further group of wounded soldiers arrives at the Providence Free Hospital, including Cpl Grundy of the 2nd South Lancs, who has been wounded at Ypres.

Foch formally requests British help for a coming French attack. Sir John French agrees. The support is likely to take the form of some local British attacks before Christmas.

Thursday 10th December

US Senator William S Kingston proposes that the belligerent nations should hold a 20 day truce over the Christmas period. The idea is not considered seriously by those involved.

Friday 11th December

Come over and help us!

Sgt J Cowan of the 6th Advanced Horse Transport Depot writes to a friend in St Helens:



I think our troops are still in the same position that they occupied the last time I wrote you, and I think they are likely to stick there; they will just about tire the enemy out.

I am delighted to hear that St Helens has responded so nobly to the call, and if I had a thousand voices I should shout it with every one "come over and help us". We are fighting for a glorious cause...the cause of liberty. The price is high, blood every time, but better pay the price in blood than our wives and children and homes should suffer at the hands of the enemy like the people out here are suffering...it is not warfare as we understand warfare, it is sheer murder.


[N&A 11.12.14]

Recent appointments in the 5th South Lancs.

Lieut Frederick Crooks to temporary Captain (15th Nov)

2nd Lieut Sydney Bullock has resigned due to ill health.

A.C. Willis and J.L. Hadfield to 2nd Lieuts.

Christmas Shopping with Messrs Balshaw Brothers:



Those who desire to send shirts, socks, gloves, underwear, caps, comforters and mufflers to their friends who are serving with the British Expeditionary Force can not do better than visit the establishment of Messr Balshaw Bros who undertake to despatch purchases made by their customers. There is a fine display of these articles in our windows, and one can imagine how welcome any of these comforts would be to the gallant fellows who are fighting in a great cause under such terribly trying conditions. Messrs Balshaw Bros know exactly what is wanted, as they have taken quite a large part in equipping the local Territorials.




The 2nd Battalion South Lancs is udergoing a period of re-organisation after the trials of recent months. During December it will receive drafts of almost 1,000 men from the 3rd Battalion (Special Reserve) back at the Depot in Warrington. Reserve Battalions and Depots are performing sterling work at this time, although it frequently goes unacknowleged. Ther purpose is to receive and process new recruits, and hundreds of thousands of men around the country are getting their first taste of army life under the guidance of the overworked staff at Regimental Depots.

Around 75% of the men drafted to the 2nd Battalion in December are from Lancashire, although many of the replacement officers are transferred from a variety of British Army regiments. Many Lieutenants find themselves in command of companies, as the high casualty rate amongst officers has caused a sever shortage at the regimental officer level.

Back at the depots, retired officers are being 'dug out' in droves to support the overworked Regulars. Former NCOs and veterans of Victorian wars have found new fame and status in leading the training of a new generation, long after their last service.

One such 'dug out' is Colour Sergeant W.J Milligan, of the 2/5 Battalion (reserve to the 5th Battalion). The Territorial battalions formed reserve formations to fulfill for them the same function that Special Reserve units performs for the Regular battalions. Milligan joined the 21st Lancashire Rifle Volunteers in 1881 and soon became known as an excellent marksman. He won the Pilkington cup as best shot in the unit and represented the Battalion at Bisley shooting contests on many occasions, three times reaching the last shoot in for the King's Prize. He rose to Colour Sergeant and finally retired in 1913 after a distinguished career.

Upon the outbrak of war Col-Sgt Milligan rejoined and helped organise the St Helens Pals (11th Battalion South Lancs) before being transferred to the Reserve to the 5th Battalion, where he was quickly appointed President of the Sergeant's Mess. He has two sons with the colours.

The 2/5 Battalion, Milligan and all, are finding their new military rigours somewhat mitigated by an out of season stay in Blackpool, the working man's resort of choice. In recent days, men of 2 months service with that battalion have been asked to volunteer for active service with the 1/5th. One officer and 117 other ranks were required, and they were found without difficulty.

Monday 14th December

The first of a series of local British attacks takes place in Flanders. The 2nd Battalion Royal Scots and 1st Battalion Gordons attack after a bombardment. They make little progress and lose heavy casualties. The rushed natue of the attack without full reconnaissance seems to have contributed to its failure.

Similar attacks are ordered to continue for the next few days, as Sit Jon French is under pressure from the French to support various schemes they are planning.

Tuesday 15th December

Captain Billy Congreve, ADC to Maj-Gen JAL Haldane in 3rd Division, makes a bitter note in his diary about yesterday's attack.



Imagine sending a battalion alone to attack a strongly wired position up a hill and over mud a foot deep, under frontal and enfilade fire. it was a regular Valley of Death. The losses were, of course, very heavy. They were very, very gallant. Some almost reached the German trenches, where they were killed. One or two even got into the enemy trenches, where they were killed or captured. A few lay in little depressions in the mud til darkness and then called back...The [a sinlge battalion] lost seven out of nine officers and 250 men.


[brown and Seaton, p41/2]

The attacks are to continue.

Wednesday 16th December

The war comes to England...

Elements of the German High Seas Fleet bombard Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby on the east coast of England. Over 100 civilians are killed.

Captain Sparrow, recruiting officer for St Helens, tours the town's picture houses to encourage young men to volunteer.

Friday 18th December

Another small British attack, this time at Ploegsteert Wood, ends in costly failure. Captain Congreve's father, Brig-Gen Walter Congreve VC, 18 Bde, 6th Division, comments: 'these small isolated attacks seem to me deadly...Horrid losses and nothing done with them.' [brown and Seaton, p42]

Further attacks take place at Bois Grenier, Laventie, Givenchy and elsewhere, running into the early hours of tomorrow. Casualties are high, failure universal.

Local pubs...

The following St Helens pubs have had their licence transferred due to the previous licensee now being in the services:

The Nelson (Bridge St): from Herbert Sydney Turtill (a native of Christchurch, New Zealand) to Mabel Edith Turtill. [Herbert was subsequently killed as a Sergeant in the Royal Engineers, on the 9th April 1918, aged 38, when his unit - 422nd Field Company, then part of 55th (West Lancs) Division, along with the 1/5 South Lancs - faced the German Spring Offensive. He is buried at Brown's Road Military Cemetery, Festubert]

The Brown Edge Vaults: Job Edwardson to John Jolley.

Bird in Hand: William Gillis to Margaret Gillis.

[Other pubs are listed as having transferred their licenses at the same time; I include the three above because they are still going strong under the same names 90 years later, aided and abetted by my custom. Edwardson and Gillis can be plausibly - but not definitely - identified at www.cwgc.org where men of the same name with local connections are listed as having being killed. A Sgt Job Edwardson is buried in a cemetery in Wigan, and a Sapper William Gillis is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, having served with the 2/2 West Lancs Field Coy of the Royal Engineers, a unit which recruited locally.]

Saturday 19th December

Near Givenchy, some confused fighting continues well into daylight from the previous day's attacks.

A most extraordinary thing...

Elsewhere, more unusual matters are afoot:



The next morning a most extraordinary thing happened - I should think quite one of the most curious things in the war. Some Germans came out and held up their hands and began to take in some of our wounded and so we ourselves immediately got out of the trenches and began bringing in our wounded also. The Germans then beckoned to us and a lot of us went over and talked to them and they helped us to bury our dead. This lasted the whole morning and I talked to several of them and I must say they seemed extraordinarily fine men...it seemed to ironical for words. There, the night before we had been having a terrific battle and the morning after we were smoking their cigarettes and they smoking ours.


Letter from Lieut Geoffrey Heinekey (2nd Queens) to his Mother, written 20th Dec.

Tuesday 22nd December

Territorial Troops Praised...

Officers and men of the Territorials defending Hartlepool have been inspected by General Herbert Plumer, of Northern Command, in the aftermath of the recent bombardment by the German Fleet. 'Englishmen, he said, did not exaggerate, but they had come through a trying experience, and he desired to express his appreciation of the coolness and courage with which they had faced the ordeal.' [st Helens N&A, 22.12.14]

Wednesday 23rd December

Lieut Malcolm Kennedy, 2nd Cameronians:



...While my platoon was engaged in the never-ending task of baling water out of my trench, one of the men on sentry duty called my attention to the fact that the German troops opposite were clambering into the open, waving their arms in the air and making friendly gestures in our direction. As they were unarmed and showed no sign of hostile intentions, I was wondering what to do when a message came along from the Company Commander saying, 'Don't shoot, but count them!'


[brown and Seaton p51]

Thursday 24th December - Christmas Eve

The Manchester Guardian prints a prophetic piece:

It will be strange if one of those truces arranged tacitly by the men and winked at by the commanders does not occur tonight in order that, if possible, the Germans may find something to take the place of Christmas trees and the English something to take the place of holly in the trenches...Tomorrow to, the boards which have been used for signalling 'hits' on either side willvery likely bear more or less chaffing greetings. For the longert [the] troops lie over against one another in the trenches the more there grows up a certain friendly interest. This however, does not interfere with the business of fighting.

Rifleman Graham Williams is on sentry duty in the British front line at Ploegsteert. This is his account of events:



I was standing on the firestep gazing towards the German lines, and thinking what a very different sort of Christmas Eve this was to any I had experienced in the past...here was I, standing in a waterlogged trench, in a muddy Flemish field, and staring out over the flat, empty and desolate countryside, with no signs of life. There had been no shooting by either side since the sniper's shot that morning, which had killed young Bassingham. But this was not at all unusual.

Then suddenly lights began to appear along the German parapet, which were evidently makeshift Christmas trees, adorned with lighted candles, which burned steadily in the still, frosty air! Other sentries had, of course, seen the same thing and quickly awoke those on duty, asleep in the shelters, to 'come and see this thing that had come to pass.' Then our opponents began to sing Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht. This was actually the first time I had heard this carol, which was not then so popular in this country as it has since become. They finished their carol, and we thought that we should retaliate in some way, so we sang The First Nowell [sic] and when we finished that they all began clapping; and then they struck up another favourite of theirs, O Tannenbaum.

And so it went on. First the Germans would sing one of their carols, and then we would sing one of ours, until when we started O Come all ye Faithful, the Germans immediately joined in singing the same hymn to the latin words Adeste Fideles. And I thought, well , this was really a most extraordinary thing - two nations both singing the same carol in the middle of a war.


Major Arthur Bates - also at Ploegsteert - writes a short note to his sister:



Dearest Dorothy - just a line from the trenches on Xmas Eve - a topping night with not much firing going on & both sides singing. It will be interesting to see what happens tomorrow. My orders to the Coy are not to start firing unless the Germans do.


[Quotations from Brown and Seaton].

The 2nd Battalion South Lancs are inspected by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, who compiments them on their performance over the last few months.

A German aeroplane attempts to attack Dover Castle, inflicting heavy damage to a cabbage patch.

Friday 25th December - Christmas Day

The isolated incidents of fraternisation reported over the last few days have developed into a more widespread pheonomenon.

Sergeant George Ashurst, 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers:



There was still 200 yards between us and the Germans. we did not intermingle until some Jerries came to their wire waving a newspaper. 'What's that lads?' ' Are you going for it?' 'I'm not going for it!' Anyway a corporal in our company went for it. Well, he got halfway and he stopped. I don't know if he'd changed his mind or not, but the lads shouted 'Go on! Get that paper!' He went right to the wire and the Germans shook hands with him and wished him a merry Christmas and gave him the paper.

...There were still fellows walking about on top of our trench at 5, o'clock, at teatime, ad not a shot had been fired...It was so pleasant to get out of that trench, from between those two clay walls, and just walk about. It was heaven. And to kick this sandbag about, but we did not play with the Germans. Well we didn't, but I believe quite a lot did up and down the place.


Similar events are reported in patches across the British sector. Many accounts refer to a football match - a score of 3-2 to the Germans is a common theme - although usually 'from the next battalion along'; no direct witnesses have been found.

For a detailed look at the Christmas Truce visit Chris Baker's excellent site: http://www.1914-1918.net/truce.htm


Sir John French re-organises the BEF into two Armies:

First, under Douglas Haig (I, IV and the Indian Corps); and Second, under Horace Smith-Dorrien (II, III and V Corps).

Another German aeroplane raids southern England.

Saturday 26th December - Boxing Day

An almost surreal atmosphere pervades the trenches of the British sector, following the fraternisation of Christmas Day. In some places there is a disctinct reluctance to resume hostilities and troops are seen walking about above ground. Officers begin to exert pressure for a return to normality, and some spasmodic artillery action begins. General Smith-Dorrien visits the trenches and is disturbed by signs that distinctly unmilitary activity has been taking place.

Sgt John Cross, of 86 Baxter's Lane, Sutton, St Helens, is killed in action in Flanders serving with the the 2nd Battalion South Lancs. He is 36 years old. Cpl Patrick Heyes, aged 25 is also killed.

Sunday 27th December

Sir John French visits Joffre and expresses concern at reports that the Germans have transferred large numbers of troops to the Eastern Front. A German victory in the east would allow almost their whole army to concentrate in the west, threatening to place the Allied line in serious peril. Joffre professes himself unconcerned, convinced that the Russians will hold.

Tuesday 29th December

One of a series of reports from Tunbridge Wells is published in the local press, each extolling then manliness and soldierly qualities of the South Lancs Brigade billeted there: 'they are soldiers from head to heel...the real genuine article made in England.' [N&A 29.12.14]

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January 1915

Friday 1st January 1915

HMS Formidable is torpedoed by U-24 in the English Channel, off Portland. 547 of the 780 men are lost, due to the bad weather conditions. [see http://www.battleships-cruisers.co.uk/hms_formidable.htm for photographs of the ship].

The Fighting Fortieth are fighting keen...

Lance Corporal Quinn of 1 Battalion South Lancs writes from Manara, near Karadi in India. He says that he and his comrades are desperate to be involved in the fighting on the Western Front, and they are 'all expecting to be at the storming of Berlin.' [Reporter 1.1.15] Nevertheless, there is no sign that the old 40th Foot will be shipped to Europe, as India still demands a substantial British garrison.

Second Lieut A. Lewis has recently been promoted Lieutenant in the 1/5th Battalion.

'Fit to Fight...'



The Merseyside Territorials are now fit to fight for an Empire. Before the war it was said that the Territorial Force in general, said by a very distinguished soldier indeed, that the German conscripts would go through them like a hot knife through butter. The boys of the London Scottish, of the gallant Welsh Regiment, of the Hertfordshire battalion and of other Teritorial units now at the front, have already given the lie to this prophet of disaster.'


[Reporter 1.1.15, extract from recent letter to the Liverpool Daily Post]

Given the growing numbers of Territorial units being shipped to the front, and that the 1/5 South Lancs have now been mobilised and at training for four months, it seems likely that their time is not far away. The people of St Helens, Prescot and Widnes wait for any news with keen expectation.

Labour shortages:

The rush of men to the colours has caused problems for local industry, and especially the coal mines. 'The position has become so acute...that it is even now a question, should there be a rush of recruiting, whether some of the pits will no be closed down.' [N&A]

Saturday 2nd January 1915

Lor Kitchener writes to Sir John French:



I suppose that we must now recognise that the French Army cannot now make a sufficient break through the German lines to bring about the retreat of the German forces from Northern Belgium. If that is so, the German lines may be looked on as a fortress that cannot be carried by assault, and also cannot be completely invested, with the result that the lines may be held by an investing force, whilst operations proceed elsewhere.


[Official History, 1915 vol 1, p61]

This state of affairs, with a fortified frontier growing stronger by the day, denying much of Belgium and north eastern France from to the Allies, was to prompt great strategic debate about the possibilities of outflanking the Western Front altogether.

It is becoming increasingly apparent that the BEF is not equipped for extended siege operations of this type, lacking as it is in heavy artillery, trench mortars, grenades and artillery ammunition. The French Army is only a little better off in these regards.

The Russian Government expresses concernabout the Caucasus Front and requests that the Allies make a demonstration against the Turks with the aim of relieving the pressure. In the context of the emergin strategic debate, this offers significant possibilities.

Sunday 3rd January 1915

The first Sunday of the new year proves a time for reflection for many. King George V suggests that it be dedicated to a 'solemn intercession' across the Empire in rememberance of the fallen.

In St Helens the Reverend J. Gwilym Jones preaches a sermon at the Ormskirk St Congregationalist Church, on the theme that men may be made better 'for the discipline and sacrifice of this war'.



We pray that the Belgian people, and the dark record of the Congo atrocities against them, may come out of the fiery furnace into which they have been cast, purified and refixed as pure gold. And we pray that the French people, with their easy Athiesm...may come out with a deep consciousness of God and a new devotion to religion...

We pray for the German and Austrian peoples, with their passion for militarism and their lust for power, and with their open and confessed antagonism to the introduction of Christian ethics into affairs of state...that they may emerge from this orgy of blood and iron into which they have wantonly plunged sober and repentant.


[N&A 5.1.15]

The reaction of Belgian refugees housed locally is not recorded.

The First Sea Lord, Admiral Fisher, proposes an immediate attack on Turkey, using old battleships supported by land forces. Churchill likes the idea and begins to investigate.

Monday 4th January

Life in Tunbridge Wells...

The 5th South Lancs are still in training in Kent, where they have been billeted at Tunbridge Wells since the middle of October. Colour Sergeant Edward Johnson tells us something of what it is like:



[We are] billeted in huge empty houses (which - by the way - there seem to be in unlimited number down here) sleeping on the bare room floors, with one blanket to lie on, and another (not in all cases) to cover oneself with.


The troops rise at about 0700 and do a 'thousand yards double before breakfast', followed by six or seven hours training, with bread and cheese during a break and a hot meal on return. Sometimes the sessions are split into two, with a hot dinner being served in between.

The men do all their own cleaning: ' I sometimes wish the wives and mothers could see their boys down on their knees scrubbing away for dear life on a Saturday afternoon instead of bawling at the top of their voices "Go on Saints!"'

Despite the discomforts, Colour Sergeant Johnson recognises that others have it worse: 'We fully realise that compared with our comrades in the trenches, we are favourably situated.' [N&A 5.1.15 p5]

Tuesday 5th January

St Helens' contribution:

The Newspaper and Advertiser has endeavoured to acertain the numbers of local men currently with the colours. Here is the result:

10,624 men, composed thus:

West Lancs Divisional Engineers: 900

5th South Lancs: 1,000 (2,300 including reserves)

3rd West Lancs Field Ambulance: 450

Lancashire Hussars: 200

Kitchener's Army: 3,114 (figure from Town Hall sources)

Reserves called up: 600 (approx the number who collected vouchers from the Postmaster)

Liverpool Regiments: 500

1,000 men are said to have attested at Warrington during the rush)

[some of the above figures seem accurate, others less so. Regular soldiers aren't considered, beyond those recalled as reservists, and some men may have been double counted. Nevertheless, a figure of approximately 10,000 seems reasonable.]

Labour shortages

It is becoming apparent that the exodus of so many thousands of men from local industry is beginning to cause difficulties for local firms, and there is an especial problem with replacing the skilled men upon whom so much depends. In this sense, corporate patriotism comes at a price for the business. The Pilkington company has set a lead in this sense by encouraging men to enlist and arranging support for wives and families. Indeed, several members of the Pilkington family and partners in the company have themselves enlisted. However, for some time the firm have had to use motor buses to ferry workers into St Helens from neighbouring towns and villages.

This situation could have severe consequences for British industry if it is allowed to run unchecked, although there isn't yet an obvious solution as everyone recognises the primary need to expand the army.

The BEF expands...

The 27th Division, composed of Regular units returned from overseas stations, begins to take over the section of line held by the French 32nd Division, extending the British line towards St Eloi. The process will be completed tomorrow night.

The 28th Division (also formed from units back from overseas) is likely to reach the continent in the next two weeks.

Wednesday 6th January

Not everyone is convinced that Kitchener's policy of creating whole New Armies out of the recent volunteers is the most prudent course of action. Sir John French, Sir Douglas Haig and Winston Churchill are all opposed. Churchill writes to Asquith:



I can quite understand the misgivings of a Commander-in-Chief who contemplates one portion of his forces consisting entirelyof new troops and inexperienced staffs, while the other consists entirely of tried and seasoned units...The sound and accepted principle of military organization is undoutedly that young troops should be brigaded with seasoned troops.


Thursday 7th January

The War Council meets in London. Amongst the topics for discussion is the possibility that the BEF might be better employed elsewhere than on the Western Front. The meeting is to continue tomorrow.

At the Elysée Palace in France, Joffre meets with President Poincaré, Briand and Viviani. They suggest an Anglo-French expeditation to assist Serbia, landing at the Greek port of Salonika. He opposes the idea in the strongest terms

Friday 8th January

Colour Sergeant Edward Johnson, of the 5th South Lancs, reflects on the contrasts between life in billets in Tunbridge Wells and Saturday afternoons at home:



I sometimes wish the wives and mothers could see their boys down on their knees scrubbing away for dear life on a Saturday afternoon instead of bawling at the top of their voices 'Go On Saints!'.


N&A 8/1/15 p5]

Rumours that the battalion are to ship abroad continue to circulate.

Wednesday 13th January

The War Council decides to respond to the Russian request for a demonstration against Turkey (see Jan 2nd) by proposing a naval attack on the Dardanelles.

Friday 15th January

Patriotism and industry...

It is widely known that the firm of Messrs Pilkington Bros has played a large part in encouraging recruiting in St Helens. Lionel Pilkington commands the 5th South Lancs, in which Major Norman and Captain Guy Pilkington also serve; the whole of A company is recruited from the company's works, and many other employees serve in the other companies.

However, this notable patriotism is having a negative impact on production at the works; in particular, a shortage of skilled labour is dislocating operations. The company has had to search a wider pool of labour to meet its needs, and 'have for some time used motor buses to carry boys from neighbouring towns to and from the glassworks'. [N&A 15.1.05]

Tuesday 19th January

The British Government communicate with their Russian and French counterparts, proposing an attack on the Dardanelles. Both respond enthusiastically; preparations begin. The expedition may be ready as early as mid February.

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February 1915

Sunday 7th February

Spirtiual preparation

Aware that their departure for the front line is impending, the morning Church Parade takes on a special significance. A number of familiar faces from St Helens have made the long journey to Kent to bid the men Godspeed. Rev. A Baines, of Parish Church, has travelled to give a farewell sermon. He writes:



I think I have never seen so many tears shed as at that service...at the Holy Communion, the Colonel of the regiment came and knelt at the altar rails as the words 'here we offer and present ourselves, our souls and our bodies' etc were uttered.


[N&A 16 Feb 1915, p2]

Friday 12th February

Told only that they are heading for Southampton, the Fifth depart Tunbridge Wells by train.

Saturday 13th February

The Fifth are on their way...

The Fifth Battalion South Lancashires embark at Southampton, bound for the Western Front. Departing at 18.30, he crossing is smooth, much to the relief of the Landlubbing Lancastrians, most of whom have never set foot aboard a craft of any description before - save for home made rafts piloted with more enthusiamn than skill on the calm waters of Car Mill Dam and Eccleston Mere.

Councillor Heaton, who had travelled to Tunbridge Wells to see the men off, addresses the gathered crowd at the opening of the new Peasley Cross Conservative Club, adjacent to the hospital:



...The spirit with which those men went away, the earnest desire to accomplish the object they were going out for was one that, as a St Helens man, I felt proud of.


[N&A 16.2.15, p2]

Sunday 14th February

The Battalion disembark at Le Havre and are marched swiftly to a camp on a hill outside the town, affording sea views and sea breezes in equal measure. Rain and wind pose singular challenges for life under canvas, and sleep will prove almost impossibe tonight.

19th February

Naval operations against the Dardanelles forts begin; the political impact is huge, as Greece and Russia make preparations for military action against Turkey, Bulgaria breaks off negoatiations with Germany, and Italy seem more keen to join the Allied cause. The bombardment is scheduled to be resumed tomorrow.

20th February

Poor weather forces the postponement of further operations against the forts.

25th February

The bombardment of the forts is renewed, but with little demonstrable effect. Tactical surprise has been well and truly lost, as the Turks have had a full week to repair the damage from the previous bombardments. Nevertheless, the forts are steadily reduced, and parties of marines are landed. The work continues.

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