Archive for the ‘WW1’ Tag

A Box update

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The good & knowledgable folk at Great War Forum have teased out a few details from this one including so far:

  • more than one regiment is represented – Fusiliers, RAMC, Artillery, possibly Norfolks
  • there are men in hospital blues – sitting in front on the right, right end of the first row and second right in the middle row; possibly also middle right of the back row
  • it might be that the civilian couple are home-owners who let their home be used as a convalescence facility

 

Dive into The Box

Here are the first three photos from The Box

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The photos and documents in The Box seem to belong to both Ian Harris (my maternal grandfather) and Samuel ‘Choc’ Harris (his father). Ian was born in 1915. Choc in 1886. As a child, I did get to meet Choc and his wife, Marie. He died in 1977; Ian died in 2004.

Neither of the dapper young men in this photograph remind me facially of any family members. They are evidently on a camping trip, probably in England, given the tent is supplied by Smith & Co. They seem to be part of a club or team in light of the casual uniform they are sporting. I’m not sure when those huge collars, thin belts and high-waisted trousers were in vogue – I guess the interwar years. The shoes are similar to a rather eccentric pair of Adidas my younger son has just acquired online – that’s fashion for you, round and round.

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This one has a hand-written note in ink on the reverse.

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The 3rd Eleven football team. October 1930 – Ian would have been 15 so it could well be his team. U Coopers? There’s a school called The Coopers’ Company & Coborn School in St. Marys Lane, Upminster just 6 miles from where Ian grew up in Becontree or Dagenham, East London. However in 1930 it was still located at 86 Bow Road in the East End (Bow, London E3) which is 18 miles further into the city, due west. It’s possible Ian went to school there.

I’m pretty certain that is Ian front row, 2nd from right with his right foot almost touching the ball. The 1930s boots make a stark contrast with his great-grandson’s boots who plays for Fulham FC. The goalie’s polo-neck is also charmingly period. Choc must have trained Ian up although the 3rd Eleven status indicates football was not his passion – as an adult I only ever saw him swim to keep fit.

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This is a curious find. On the back my grandfather has written his name in pencil in what looks like his childhood script:

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So presumably he was given this around 1920 which makes sense, in the immediate aftermath of the Great War. Choc was 28 at the outbreak of the war – I’m not sure if he served. He was a cabinet maker and quite slight of build when I knew him in his old age. I guess somewhere among these 21 is a blood relative.

Why the two civilians at the heart of the military unit? Perhaps they were patrons or sponsors of some kind? Perhaps they headed an institution or school associated with the unit?

The man doesn’t look that much older than the soldiers. The pair of them have clearly dressed up for the occasion of a formal photograph session at Empire Studio(s).

There’s still an Empire Studio located between Hackney and Bethnal Green, East London, on the top floor of the Empire building. Both Empire Studio and Empire Studios are listed on this Photographers of Great Britain and Ireland (1840-1940) website.

Details that stand out include the cane or swagger stick (front, 2nd from L); the corporal with the darker complexion (front, 2nd from R); the uniform with the wide lapels and broad ties (front, far R); the jaunty angle a number of them wear their cap, something we tend to think of as American.

Postcard No. 4 & Coincidence No. 294

old postcard 1914 WW1 kings royal rifle corps

old postcard 1914 WW1 kings royal rifle corps

This is what is written in ink on the postcard:

Dear Aunt & Uncle,

I suppose you know by now I have enlisted. I am at present stationed at Aldershot, where we are busy training. I’m quite well, and worked hard, but quite content. In peace time we are dressed in the dress shown on the card.

Love to all, your loving nephew, CWW/GWW

The card was sent to:

Mr & Mrs Whitney
5 County Road
March
Cambs

So that makes him CW/GW Whitney.

He sent the card on 12th September 1914 from Aldershot, a big army town obviously, and just two months after the declaration of war. There are also the words Malborough Lines(?) on the postmark. Lines seems to be military jargon for something to do with barracks, probably lines of or between buildings. It was postmarked at 8.15pm across its Half Penny stamp bearing the head of George V.

The destination of the card, March, is a Fenland market town in the Isle of Ely area of Cambridgeshire. In 1914 it was the county town of the Isle of Ely (a separate administrative county from 1889 to 1965). March was once an island surrounded by Fenland marshes, the second largest in ‘the Great Level’, a 500 square mile area of The Fens.

On the front of the card is a watercolour illustration of a soldier from The King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Signed JMN. The front includes a list of the regiment’s Battle Honours including “Martinique 1762, 1809” and “Defence of Ladysmith”. The summary of History and Traditions mentions “the Afghan War, 1879-80, including Roberts’ famous march to Kandahar, and the Battle of Kandahar”. There seem to have been subsequent Battles of Kandahar in 2001, 2006 and 2011. Plus ça change.

A quick search online has revealed: Charles William Whitney

A/3092 Cpl, 7th King’s Royal Rifle Corps. Killed in action 15-9-16, age 26. Son of Charles & Elizabeth Whitney, 4 Station Rd, Chatteris; husband of Alice Whitney. Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

So our man only survived two more years and three days. 15th September was the day my wife was in labour with our first-born son.

Chatteris is only 9 miles away from March, being one of the four market towns in the Fenland district of Cambridgeshire, alongside Huntingdon, March and Ely.

The regimental badge on the front of the card shows the motto “Celer et Audax”. I’m going to guess that means Speed & Boldness – and now I’m going to ask Prof. Google… yup, close – Swift & Bold, now the motto of The Royal Green Jackets. Their badge is similar, just with a circle of laurels around the cross. They were formed in part from The King’s Royal Rifle Corps in January 1966.

The card was “British Printed” by G&P which seems to stand for Guards Posted, military being their specialism.

I wonder how Charles felt when he was first posted as a guard? and whether he ever got to see his uncle and aunt again?

A bit more googling and I found a photo of Charles…

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…and this information:

Corporal Charles William Whitney 7th Bn, A Coy, A/3092 King’s Royal Rifle Corps

Died 15 September 1916

Charles William Whitney was born in around 1890 in Bury Huntingdonshire England. In 1901 he lived with his parents Charles and Mary Elizabeth Whitney and his brother Laurie Stonecliffe (who also died in the war) in Station Road, Chatteris. His father was a mining engineer by trade.

In 1911 Charles boarded at 15 Church Road in Erith and was a school teacher at Dartford Elementary School. Before the war Charles had been an assistant master at King Edwards School.

By the time of his death Charles was married to Alice and lived at 24 Topsfield Parade in Crouch End, London, his parents still lived in Chatteris. Charles enlisted in Hammersmith in August 1914, having only held his current teaching post for 3 months, and joined the 7th Bn King’s Royal Rifles Corps, going out to the front on May 1st 1915. His battalion were part of the 14th Light Division in 1916. They, along with The New Zealand Division and 41st Division were successful in capturing the village of Flers on 15.9.16. English Newspapers reported that ”A tank is walking up the High St of Flers with the British Army cheering behind.” Sadly Charles wasn’t amongst them. A letter in the Cambs Times, 6th Oct 1916 records a letter from his Captain stating that Charles was instantly killed by a shell. He was a signaller. Charles has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial.

Project File contains: • CWGC certificate • Cambs Times 29 Sep 1916, 6 Oct 1916, photo • 1901, 1911 Census • Soldiers Died • Medal Card • Picture of name on Thiepval Memorial

I can’t recall where I bought this card for 50p. It might have been in Ireland, at an antique fair in England, not sure. But the weird thing is this man lived only 2 miles away from where I am sitting in my backroom, his last address being in Crouch End, despite his origins in The Fens.

What are the chances – a postcard posted in Aldershot to Cambridgeshire by a man from Cambridgeshire should end up two miles down the road from his final address in London?

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Charles William Whitney on the Thiepval memorial

Charles William Whitney on the Thiepval memorial

His younger brother Laurie (three years his junior) ended up in Ealing before he left for the war. Laurie Stonecliff Whitney was Company Quartermaster Serjeant for the 1st Huntingdon Cyclist Battalion (The Fens are good for cycling being as flat as it comes so probably have a strong bicycle tradition). Laurie died two years after Charles on 11th July 1917. He had been born at Bury in Huntingdonshire (in 1893) but breathed his last (age 23, the age I met my wife) in Scarborough, where he would have been in hospital wounded.

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Charles’ brother Laurie – buried at Chatteris Meeks Cemetery

On the last Remembrance Day I wrote a post about a local casualty of the Great War, John Parr, who had the tragic distinction of being the first British soldier killed in action. He was from one mile down the road from this back room. By coincidence, he too was in a cycle brigade, a reconnaissance cyclist.

Join Hands 11.11.1918-11.11.2018

In 1979 I went to see Siouxsie & The Banshees playing at Hammersmith Odeon – it remains one of the best gigs of my life. Just before the tour half the band had gone AWOL so new musicians had to be drafted in including Budgie on drums (formerly the token man in The Slits, one of my favourite drummers – Stewart Copeland considers him one of the most interesting drummers for his “very economical and offbeat” playing, that offbeat being what I most like about him) and John McGeoch on guitar (formerly of Magazine). That tour marked the release of the LP ‘Join Hands’. The hands joining are those of four bronze WW1 Tommies on the war memorial between Horseguards Parade and St James’s Park (the Guards Memorial) – I passed it regularly when I was working at Channel 4 and it always brought me back to that music and excitement. The LP opens with the tolling bells of a 2-minute track called Poppy Day.

In the same way that Punk (especially The Clash) introduced me to reggae, through this track it introduced me to the First World War poetry of John McCrae, a typical example of the less known poets who emerged in the Great War, the one-hit wonders and offbeats. McCrae was a high-ranking Canadian army doctor serving on the Western front. In Poppy Day the resonant bells give way to the distinctive driving guitar wailing of The Banshees and then just a few short lines, delivered in a distorted Siouxsie voice:

In Flanders fields
The poppies grow
Between the crosses
Row on row
That mark our place
We are the dead…

I don’t think McCrae is credited for the lyrics which are very close to the opening of his In Flanders Fields, in fact every word is derived from the poem:

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie,
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

Siouxsie & The Banshees filtered out the patriotic and the warmongering/cheerleading to open their record with the zombie or heroic or haunting dead, we don’t know which. What we do know, two years after the Silver Jubilee and the Pistols’ God Save the Queen (the Fascist regime), with rubbish piling up in the streets of strike-bound London, is that these dead were neither glorious nor patriotic in the establishment way.

The band were inspired not only by the chaos and crapitude of the late 70s Home Front but also by conflict witnessed on their suburban Kent TVs, particularly in Iran. (Plus ça change).

siouxsie and the banshees join hands vinyl record album LP cover design

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The LP cover was extracted from this shot – L to R Steve Severin (bass), John McKay (guitar), Siouxsie Sioux (vocals), Kenny Morris (drums) – before McKay and Morris went AWOL

Banshee stalwart, bassist Steven Severin in the wake of watching the two minutes of silence in memory of the war dead on TV on Sunday 12th November 1978 explained about Poppy Day: “We wanted to write a song that would fittingly fill that gap”. On the inner sleeve of the record (which sits still in the room just below me, alongside its vinyl sisters The Scream, Kaleidoscope, Juju and A Kiss in the Dreamhouse) beside the lyrics of the song is specified (with echoes of John Cage): “2 minutes of silence”.

So here we are on Sunday 11th November 2018, 40 years after Severin watched that broadcast, 100 years after the world watched that bloodbath, that futile wiping out of a generation, and we are still all struggling to join hands. The irony of The Banshees brooding in the studio while recording this masterpiece of an LP and splitting up in its aftermath is as nothing to the irony that we mark this centenary at a time when the world’s international institutions are being deliberately dismantled, Europe re-fracturing and the zombie voices of patriotism, nationalism and fascism wailing more discordantly than John McKay’s guitar. We are the Dead. We are turning in our graves row on row between the poppies.

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Reinforcements arrive: L to R John McGeoch (guitar), Budgie (drums), Siouxsie & Steve – Paris (1980) where 70 world leaders are arriving this morning to mark the centenary of the Armistice including Macron (accordion), Merkel (tuba), Trump (mouth organ) and Putin (triangle)

 

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