Ghostly encounters

A subject that comes up every so often is one of people experiencing strange or supernatural goings on whilst visiting the battlefields.

Is it really the souls of the dead, many of whom still lay beneath our feet, reaching out to us? Are we transported back in time due to the events leaving behind like a piece of negative film that we then become a part of? Or is it simply because of our heightened emotions, of knowing what happened in these places, that then causes our minds to play tricks on us?

Whatever you think there’s no doubting that many of us have experienced things that can be difficult to explain or justify.

Of course supernatural links aren’t something new. Many of us have heard the story of the Angels of Mons. In 1914 faced with overwhelming German forces some British soldiers recounted seeing Angels appearing as Archers in the skies above or a cloud descend upon the battlefield keeping the German forces at bay & allowing the British to get away safely.

Angel of Mons by R.Crowhurst

Stories of mother’s & wives back home in blighty seeing their loved ones standing in front of them as clear as day, only days or weeks later receiving the telegram informing them of their sons or husbands death at more or less the same time as the vision had appeared.

Veterans & letters recount stories of men in the trenches before going ‘Over the top’ being overcome with a sense of doom. Somehow knowing that their time was up and that they wouldn’t be coming back. In letters men urging their families to look after the children or each other, to move on with their lives & not to grieve too much in the knowledge that they had died doing the right thing. Men sharing out their belongings or urging their pal to write to their mother’s or to look after their wives & children.

Spiritualism had been around since Victorian times, most notable of supporters being Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, author of Sherlock Holmes. Of course many would unscrupulously seek to make money out of all the grief & peoples losses by holding seances claiming to speak to those who had passed. Or then again were some of them just trying to provide some comfort to the bereaved?

Typical scene of a seance

Some modern day experiences that people recount are the feeling of bring watched, of seeing something in human form either clearly or as dark shadows. Other recount hearing voices,shouts or whispers in their ears when noone else is around. For some they experience overwhelming emotion and physically breakdown in tears or have an immense feeling of terror and they have to get away from the area right away.

Personally I have experienced a couple of things whilst out & about on the old front line that I can’t explain.

The first is at High Wood. I always park up outside London Cemetery & then decide which way to walk around the wood, either starting on the western side, round the back where the switch line came out before walking down the eastern side passing the craters & memorials or I’ll do it in reverse.

As soon as I pull up there always seems to be rooks flying above or in the trees making those distinctive haunting sounds. And there’s that constant feeling of being watched from inside the wood itself. It can be a glorious warm sunny day but the feeling I get is of cold & darkness as I look into the wood. Dark shadows seem to pass across the old trenches & shell holes that are still visible. Again it’s probably my senses & emotions knowing that hundreds if not thousands still lay beneath the ground as High Wood wasn’t cleared fully after the war so in fact it’s a mass grave containing men lost from both sides. My Great Grandfather served here as a Tunneller responsible for digging & laying the mines on the eastern side & was wounded here on 8th September 1916, so I have a connection with this place.But I’m definitely glad when I’m back in my car.

London Cemetery & Extension, High Wood ( Authors Own Photo)

My second experience is rather more a nicer one. A few years ago on a lads only trip myself, my best mate Andy & his dad Brian were at Sucerie Military Cemetery, Colincamps visiting one of our London Road memorial men Driver T.E Fitzgerald , C Bty 211th bde RFA. It was late March and a pleasantly warm day with sun shining and we had a wander as you do around the cemetery. We recounted the story of men marching down the tree lined avenue from Colincamps, which still exists to this day, on the eve of the Battle of the Somme and seeing grave pits being dug & piles of crosses in the cemetery in anticipation of expected losses.

After a while we left the cemetery and were walking back up the lane back to the car that we’d parked by the farm on the main road. The tune of ‘Pack up your troubles’ or ‘Its a long way to Tipperary’ , I can’t recall which, suddenly came into my head and I began to start whistling it. Trust me I’m far from musical at all so it was no Roger Whittaker rendition!

Almost immediately a beautiful red admiral butterfly appeared to my left and followed me as we walked up the path passing in front of me before taking its pamce at my side again. It was a goosebump moment but I didn’t feel any sense of dread or apprehension. As we neared the road it settled on some foilage. Again probably totally a coincidence but it felt so serene and peaceful.

Finally another occurrence was when on a visit to Talana Farm Cemetery with Andy & his family. We were there to visit Andy’s wife’s Great Uncle Herbert Sidebotham. His wife Helen was carrying their daughter Ellla,who was only 1 year old, when a field mouse ran across in front of us on the access path. Nothing unusual there I hear you say it is the middle of a field after all.

Fast forward to 2 years later, Ella is now 3 and of course can now walk herself and talk. As we walked along the familiar track she turned to her mum and said is the mouse still here? Helen and I just looked at each other and thought how on earth does she remember that when she was only 1 years old when she saw it!

Helen at her Great Uncles grave (Authors Own Photo)

Again those with far more knowledge about the human mind will most probably be able to explain it rationally. But how many times have many of us visited cemeteries and found ourselves drawn to a particular grave and found out it has a link to where we live or someone else we’ve researched. Or a family member visiting for the first time walks straight to the grave of their relative without any prior knowledge of where they lay.

I think there are things that we don’t know about that can’t be explained. Some moments can be chilling whilst others feel warming & are meant to be. Thanks for reading

I’d love to hear some of your own experiences so please feel free to share them on twitter @terriermcd


2021 Blog update

Happy New Year everyone!

Well what a year 2020 was and certainly one which many of us will try and forget. It’s been a difficult one on many levels.
But one good thing to come out of it was all the great podcasts, blogs and history groups that many people set up, kindly sharing their knowledge & some amazing images & interesting facts. They have all been a lifeline in 2020 that’s for certain.

I set up this blog back in July after a lot of uncertainty about whether I was up to the job or that anyone would be interested. I have to say the kind comments & support I’ve received have been truly overwhelming. I’m grateful to all the wonderful folk who have agreed to be Guests and for the excellent work they put in. Saying thank you to everyone just doesn’t seem enough.

However as time as progressed I’ve found it more difficult to manage the blog on a weekly basis whist juggling a full time job, spending time with those around me and dealing with the shitshow around Covid. I’ve had too many sleepless nights with ideas or self doubt swirling around in my head, ( I’m to much of a perfectionist & worrier that I’ve got things right) & I’ve spent far too many hours buried in books,on the computer searching out sources instead of spending quality time with loved ones & taking time to look after myself.

So I’ve made the hard decision that for the future I will post blogs on a less regular basis , when time permits basis. Don’t worry Guest Features, which have proved very popular, will continue (And thanks to all the volunteers who’ve stepped forward for 2021) but every couple of months rather than on a monthly basis. I realise that my decision may lose me followers or people will move onto other things but if I’m totally honest it has never been about the amount of followers or likes I get. It was simply about sharing my stories & information and encouraging others especially fellow Amateurs to go out there and to get involved in their own research & share their stories, discover even more through books & with their own visits to cemeteries & the old front line.

Thank you again for all the support and I look forward to sharing some more stuff & welcoming more guests with you during 2021


Festive Guest Feature

Welcome to a special Xmas edition of my Guest Feature where I’m gladly joined by Battlefield Guide, Author & Santa lookalike, Steve Smith, who’s here to dispel the myths & tell the real truths about the Christmas Truce of 1914. Anyone for a game of Footie?

Steve Smith

About me…

I’ve been a battlefield guide since 2004, having left the RAF in 2003, where I served for 18 years as an RAF Police NCO at various bases in the UK and abroad and completed tours in Northern Ireland, the Falklands and in Macedonia on a NATO Peace Keeping mission. At present I assist students in attaining diplomas at various levels of education.

I’ve had an interest in military history since the age of 13 when I was introduced to my Great Grandfather Private G/5203 Frank Smith who served in the 7th and 8th Buffs in the Great War, was killed in the last year of the war and who is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial on the Somme. Since then I have traced his war from 1915 to 1918 and I now assist others in doing the same thing. It is both a passion and a calling to me.

I’m also lucky enough to conduct battlefield tours with school groups and I also specialise in taking adult groups across as well. One of my main areas of focus is taking families on small bespoke battlefield pilgrimages to locate where their family members served. It is something I love to do.

I’m an author having had two books on Norfolk in WW1 and WW2 published in 2012 and 2014 and one of my other passions is learning about Norfolk in both wars where living in the county provides me with access to these subjects. My next book will look at the Norfolk Regiment on the Western Front and will be published by Fonthill Media in 2021. Part of that will look at the Regiment’s participation in the Christmas Truce, where I separate the truth from myth surrounding the stories of football played during that time. Some of this blog comes from that research.

It’s December 2020 and here we are again…

Social Media is already beginning to fill up with duff history images of supposed evidence of football games played on Christmas Day 1914 and the usual suspect photos of Fritz and Tommy lighting up a smoke are doing the rounds.

From 2014 to the present I have made it a personal crusade to try and disprove these attempts of telling a story about the Truce that just did not happen in any massed way. I am not the only one who does this and people like Taff Gillingham and Simon Jones are also great crusaders in trying to put people on the right lines.

First of all, please don’t think that I’m challenging that it never happened, I’m not, I’m just challenging aspects of it.

British and German troops did come out of their trenches and meet in no-man’s land. This is fact and there are numerous accounts from the time that confirm this. One of the main reasons they did it was to bury the dead that had lain out in no-man’s land, especially when the British had launched a very localised attack around Ploegsteert on 18th December which had failed with heavy casualties. They also did it in order to repair their trenches due to the terrible weather they had experienced prior to Christmas Day. These reasons ended up with both sides fraternising and exchanging gifts.

There were also spontaneous meetings such as the one that happened between the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment and the Germans off the Messines-Wulverghem road. This is the report made by Lieutenant George Philip Burlton,

On December 25th I was in command of the right-hand fire trench of the Norfolk Regiment’s position. During the morning I noticed groups of the enemy and British Troops belonging to units if the 4th Division meeting half way between their trenches. At about 1 p.m., one of the enemy left the trench opposite our own and came unarmed toward us. I sent a Corporal to meet him half way. After a time more Germans crossed towards us and I allowed an equal number of my men to meet them. Seeing a German officer also out in the open I went to meet him myself. At about 2.30 p.m. all our men under my command were back in the trench.

But what is not as easy to confirm is the notion that both sides played football against each other. Certainly, many of the veterans who were there that day refute this and there are few primary sources that mention this occurring.

But we do have accounts from German soldiers, written soon after the truce, to state that they played against their British opponents. Johannes Niemann served in IR133 and he recounted his experiences whilst serving in trenches on a frozen meadow at Frelinghien.

… Then a Scot produced a football … a regular game of football began, with caps laid on the ground as goalposts. The frozen meadow was ideal [to play on].  One of us had a camera with us. Quickly the two sides gathered together in a group, all neatly lined up with the football in the middle … The game ended 3:2 to Fritz.

This comes from the History of the Saxon IR 133: Das 9. Koeniglich Saechsische Infanterie-Regiment Nr. 133 im Weltkrieg 1914-18 at p 32

The second account comes from a letter discovered more recently where another soldier from IR133 wrote to his Mother and mentioned, “playing ball with the English so this helps to confirm the account by Johannes Niemann and the position mentioned by Niemann correlates to his regiment playing against the 2nd Battalion Argyle and Sutherland Highlanders.

However, we do not have anything concrete from the 2/A&SH to confirm they played against the Germans and that is perhaps not enough to confirm football being played but there is more!

With that mentioned, it has not been helped because we also have accounts from veterans recorded later on, such as that made by Ernie Williams in 1983, who had served with the 1/6 Cheshire Regiment, where he states,

The ball appeared from somewhere, I don’t know where, but it came from their side – it wasn’t from our side that the ball came. They made up some goals and one fellow went in goal and then it was just a general kick about. I should think there were about a couple of hundred taking part. I had a go at the ball. I was pretty good then, at 19. Everybody seemed to be enjoying themselves. There was no sort of ill-will between us. There was no referee, and no score, no tally at all. It was simply a melee – nothing like the soccer you see on television. The boots we wore were a menace – those great big boots we had on – and in those days the balls were made of leather and they soon got very soggy.

This is now widely considered by experts to be a fabrication of the truth where Ernie Williams was almost prompted into saying what he felt the interviewer, Malcolm Brown, wanted to hear. It is reputed that Malcolm Brown himself did not believe Ernie’s tale. And certainly, when he is trying to intimate that football was played by 100s of soldiers on both sides, surely if that were so there would have been more accounts about that from the time? So sadly, there is the misconception that this event occurred all over the line.

Albert Wyatt

But, with that said, Albert Wyatt’s account comes soon after the Truce occurred and he recounts that they went into the line on 24th December with no firing and began to hear Christmas hymns being sung which came from the German lines and that eventually they joined in with the singing. On Christmas morning with thick fog and frost on the ground the Germans called over to them to come over and that wouldn’t fire and that eventually both sides met up and ended up wishing each other Merry Christmas. To Wyatt’s surprise he noted that they had been facing men old enough to be their fathers. He ended the account by stating,

We finished up in the same old way, kicking footballs about between the firing lines. So, football in the firing line between the British and Germans is the truth as I was one that played.

In order for this to be corroborated, in my mind, you have to have at least one other account to back it up. And luckily, we do. In an interview at the end of December 1914 with Company-Sergeant Major Frank Naden of the 1/6th Cheshire Regiment noted,

On Christmas Day one of the Germans came out of the trenches and held his hands up. Our fellows immediately got out of theirs, and we met in the middle, and for the rest of the day we fraternised, exchanging food, cigarettes and souvenirs. The Germans gave us some of their sausages, and we gave them some of our stuff.

The Scotsmen started the bagpipes and we had a rare old jollification, which included football in which the Germans took part. The Germans expressed themselves as being tired of the war and wished it was over. They greatly admired our equipment and wanted to exchange jack knives and other articles. Next day we got an order that all communication and friendly intercourse with the enemy must cease but we did not fire at all that day, and the Germans did not fire at us.

This came from the Evening Mail in Newcastle on 31st December 1914. So again, soon after the event.

What is significant about this is that Wyatt and Naden would have been serving with the in the same place because the 1/6th Cheshires were attached to the 1/Norfolks to be trained in trench warfare. Naden’s accounts also backs up a lot of what Albert Wyatt stated and to me confirms this aspect of what occurred as being accurate and it has become very apparent that this battalion did play football in no-man’s land between the lines just to the north of the Wulverghem-Messines road.

No-man’s land and the view towards Mittel Farm, site of Truce which occured with 1st Norfolks

But there is one huge myth that still needs to be addressed whenever it rears its ugly head.

Bruce Bairnsfather

Bruce Bairnsfather was serving with the 1st Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment and provided a detailed account in ‘Bullets & Billets’ which gives a very clear account of what happened at St Yvon on and around Christmas 1914.

On Christmas morning I awoke very early and emerged from my dug-out into the trench. It was a perfect day. A beautiful, cloudless blue sky. The ground hard and white, fading off towards the wood in a thin low-lying mist…. Walking about the trench a little later… we suddenly became aware of the fact we were seeing a lot of evidences of Germans. Heads were bobbing about and showing over the parapet in a most reckless way, and, as we looked, this phenomenon became more and more pronounced…. A complete Boche figure suddenly appeared on the parapet, and looked about itself….

This was the signal for more Boche anatomy to be disclosed, and this was replied to by our men, until in less time than it takes to tell, half a dozen or so of each of the belligerents were outside their trenches and were advancing towards each other in no-man’s land. I clambered up and over our parapet, and moved out across the field to look. Clad in a muddy suit of khaki and wearing a sheepskin coat and Balaclava helmet, I joined the throng about half-way across to the German trenches.

Bullets & Billets

Note there is no mention of football and this is backed up by all the other accounts recorded from the Royal Warwickshires, men like Captain Robert Hamilton who noted that ‘A’ Company of the 1/R.Warwicks would have played the Saxons but were relieved, or CSM Beck who noted in his diary that the Germans shouted across a challenge to play football on Christmas Eve, but he doesn’t mention football again.

We know that ‘C’ Company of 1/R.Warwicks played a game among themselves before going to meet the Germans. This is almost certainly the game mentioned by Lt Kurt Zehmisch of IR134 whose diary actually says,

The English brought a soccer ball from the trenches, and pretty soon a lively game ensued.

And sadly, that one observation is where others keep on pushing that football was played at St Yvon between British and German soldiers.

But as Taff Gillingham notes,

On 20th March 2002 I was very fortunate to be able to meet with Rudolf Zehmisch and Barbara Littlejohn, the daughter of Bruce Bairnsfather, and show them the spot where their Fathers spent Christmas Day. The two men may have met but there is no evidence for that. However, both Rudolf and Barbie were very clear on one thing – that there was no football between 1/R Warwicks and IR134 at Plugstreet. Rudolf made it very clear that his Father’s diary refers to British soldiers playing a game amongst themselves. At no point does he refer to a game between the Warwicks and his own men. The German military historian Rob Schaefer agrees with Rudolf. The passage from Zehmisch’s diary has been continually misquoted (as at the National Memorial Arboretum’s new football memorial) to twist his words into saying something he did not write. Barbie was equally adamant. As she pointed out, had there been any football there her Father would have mentioned it in his book and almost certainly drawn a cartoon of it as, in her words, “My Father loved the absurd things in life”. Both were at St Yvon to be filmed for a documentary I was working on that was shown on Channel 5. As both were adamant that there was no football there, neither mentioned it in their interviews.

For me, there is one word that is used in another account and that’s the word ‘proposed’. Henry Williamson wrote about the Christmas Truce several times. He mentions football once in a fictional novel, ‘A Fox Under My Cloak’, published in 1955.

…a football was kicked into the air, and several men ran after it. The upshot was a match proposed between the two armies, to be held in a field between the German lines.

As we have seen all efforts to play football between the two sides at St Yvon were suggested or proposed but never actually happened. And yet all of these accounts have been leapt upon by others to prove that football was played at St Yvon. So much so that UEFA placed a memorial to this fictitious act at Prowse Point in 2014.

‘Rusty Bollard’

This memorial was put there against the advice of an expert and has now become a tacky shrine for people to lay footballs and team scarves at a site where no football was actually played and it has been given the nickname of the ‘Rusty Bollard’.

So, what we now have to do is challenge these duff history memorials and accounts about football and if this is mentioned then it goes to the accounts where we know it was played.

I have written about it purely because we must try to get this out to a wider audience. That, to me, is now predominantly football fans and teachers. The reason I say those two is because they seem to be the largest groups who still post up images of where they have either taught their class unwittingly duff history, or where a football fan or group post up the infamous picture of soldiers playing football in Salonika in 1915, or they post up a picture of the Rusty Bollard at Prowse Point as they proudly wrap a scarf around it or place a football in the tray below it.

Soldiers playing football in Salonika in 1915

This has to stop because as Taff Gillingham noted last year,

This year, football has totally hijacked the true story of the Truce and the men who took part. In 1914, of the 30,000+ men who may have taken part in the Truce, maybe 20-30 may have had a kickabout with the Germans. After this December, the 1914 Truce will never be remembered for anything other than football, all the true stories will be totally wiped out and the participant’s real history robbed forever. That is utterly disgraceful.

I am sure the debate on all of this will rage on but ultimately as a battlefield guide and author I must try to ensure that what I am writing about this accurately and showing my groups what is the truth and myth about football and the Christmas Truce. So, I have every intention of doing that as much as I can.

Editor: Well wasn’t that a superb piece, so what some of you may have thought was true isn’t but as Steve has said some aspects did indeed occur and other bits have become twisted or embellished over the years

Thanks again to Steve for taking the time to share his work & for agreeing to take part in this blog. If you want to know more this blog links in nicely with daily posts that Steve has been doing on his twitter feed. Please do follow him @stevesmith1944

I’ll be taking a slight break over the festive period so until we meet in 2021, A very Merry Christmas to you all & your loved ones


December Guest Feature

Welcome to this month’s Guest Feature, How on earth has it come to December already?

I’m immensely happy to be joined this month by fellow enthusiastic Amateur Historian Sandra Gittins who many of you will know from twitter @ypreswoman . Sandra regularly posts amongst other things information on employees of Great Western Railway lost in the Great War & also enjoys sharing the latest additions to her incredible postcard collection of original images of stations & railways on the Western Front, which I’m rather envious of I must say!!

So it’s over to Sandra with a great feature on the Railways on the Western Front & she shares some fantastic information that you may not have previously known.

Sandra Gittins

I was surprised, and somewhat flattered, when Wayne asked me to put together something for his guest feature so here goes.

Although I live in Devon I was born near Orpington Kent, and brought up listening to stories of Kent life during WW2, and I have had an interest in the Battle of Britain ever since. Other periods of history I find fascinating are the Tudor period and the English Civil War, but the First World War has taken precedence which came about, as it has with many others, by tracing my family history.  When I was a Pharmacy Technician at the Welsh Regional Burns and Plastic Surgery Unit at Chepstow a colleague and I worked on our respective family histories, and both of us had relatives who served in the First World War, which began our lifelong interest in the Western Front. At this point I should add that my head of department was an active member of the Monmouthshire Railway Society, and it was through him that I was introduced to the world of railways. It was during this time that I found details of relatives who had been employees of the Great Western Railway, and served in France and Belgium in the infantry and the railways.

My deep interest in the railways on the Western Front grew after writing the history of the Great Western railway in the First World War as so many of the men were working on the railways out there, but it wasn’t only the GWR as many employees of all the home railway companies found their way into the railway companies of the Royal Engineers.

At the start of the war the Royal Engineers had two regular railway companies and three reserve companies, which was considered sufficient prior to hostilities, but after the first couple of months it was realised that this was woefully inadequate, and there was no capability for expansion, coupled with the pre-war agreement with France that they would be responsible for the upkeep and running of the railways. In October Kitchener sent Sir Percy Girouard, who had been the Director of Railways during the South African War, to France to report on the situation and see what could be done to rectify the problem. Space here does not permit me to go into the outcome of the report and the negotiations with the French, suffice it to say that this was the beginning of what would be a fascinating period of railways and engineering.

On the 15 December 1914 Cecil Paget, Superintendent Midland Railway, was serving as a Lieutenant Commander in the Royal Naval Air Service, and was transferred to the Royal Engineers becoming Deputy Assistant Director of Railway Transport; his RNAS Commission wasn’t terminated until January 1915.

Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Walter Paget (Hyla Cockram Collection) supplied by Trevor Edmonds

He was influential in the birth of the Railway Operating Division (ROD), and became the commanding officer of this often overlooked and efficient unit, and although he would eventually be commanding over 18,000 men, he declined any promotion above the rank of Lieutenant Colonel.

When the ROD first went to France in May 1915, they only had 35 Belgian engines that had been rescued and in an appalling state, and machinery to repair these was thin on the ground, so Paget went back to England and ‘borrowed’ what he could from the Midland Railway. Those were the early days, and by the end of the war depots and workshops had been built to service and build locomotives, of which there were 1,205 together with 54,000 wagons, and maintain ambulance trains, light railway tractor units, locos and wagons on the Western Front. The Broad Gauge (what we know as Standard gauge) traffic consisted of troop trains, leave trains, the transportation of Tanks, water, coal, horses and the running of Ambulance Trains. Divisional Supply Trains ran daily, with each one carrying all the supplies for two divisions, which amounted to around 40 wagons containing food, forage, petrol, coal/coke, ordnance and mail, and reached 30 of these supply trains running every day in the latter half of the war

There was a considerable amount of railway construction carried out during the war, which was not foreseen at the beginning as, again, the French were to carry out all of the work but as the war progressed the number of French railwaymen available diminished owing to their enlistment into the military, plus the expansion of British Military Lines, especially in Belgium, meant that many more lines had to be constructed for future engagements. The BEF also found themselves in a similar situation to the French, as it was becoming difficult to release any more experienced railwaymen from home without having a detrimental impact on the railways in the UK, and even with the arrival of Canadian construction companies more men were urgently needed. In February 1916 the Adjutant-General sent out some 6,000 application forms to railwaymen serving in the Army, and suitably qualified men such as platelayers, riggers, carpenters, blacksmiths, fitters, rivetters, electricians and machinists were transferred from regiments to the Royal Engineers. At the same time volunteers from the home railway companies were called for to form civilian companies of platelayers to work in France for three months, although the eight civilian companies raised, with an average of 250 men in each, were not sent to France until March 1917; some Irish companies also went to France. To give you some idea of the manpower required in the construction of a new railway line, in April 1916 the 110th Railway Company employed 1,350 infantrymen while constructing a line from Bray sur Somme.

The question of transportation on the Western Front came about after the Battle of the Somme when many weak areas needed urgent attention, and Lloyd George sent a three-man team headed by Sir Eric Geddes to investigate. Geddes had been the Deputy General Manager of the North Eastern Railway before leaving to become Deputy Director General of Munitions, and had a reputation of getting things done. Geddes arrived in France on the 7 August 1916, and with his knowledge, influence and power, things were done, and it was the ideal opportunity to tackle the pre-war French railway agreement, and the outcome, basically, was that the BEF would help and assist the French during their time of difficulty by supplying locomotives, and the BEF would repair and improve lines, and build all their own military lines within their area of control.

Geddes established various Directorates, one of which was the Director of Light Railways. Light railways were proving themselves indispensable by diverting heavy loads away from the crumbling roads, and although originally the domain of Corps commanders, this was to change. At this point I might add that, as far as I am aware, that there is no comprehensive list of the men of this directorate. The higher ranks are easy to find, but whenever there is a mention of one of the lower ranks in a war diary it is usually as ADLR etc, followed by a number and infrequently by a name, and I took on the challenge to list every man of the directorate…. Well, as many as I could find which is around 45 so far, but this is very much an on-going project.

Each Army was allocated an Assistant Director of Light Railways, who was responsible for the running and maintenance of the light railways within his allocated Army. The First Army one was known as ADLR 1, Second Army ADLR 2 and so on. 

Most ADLR’s moved around within the directorate, or left to be replaced by lower ranks. The ranks below ADLR were Deputy ADLR, and Assistant Deputy ADLR.  Some of the Army areas were divided into north and south, and when this happened two ADLR’s were allocated.

From the 26 August 1918 the responsibility for light railway construction and maintenance, in all Army areas, was transferred from ADLR’s to officers of the Canadian Railway Troops.

Light railways were important to carry ammunition, stores, troops etc forward towards the front line, and casualties and troops on the return trips, and connect to the broad-gauge lines to have continuous lines of communication from the rear to the front. As indispensable as these were it was calculated that, financially, the cost was nearly four and a half times of that incurred on broad-gauge lines.

Geddes ensured that locomotives, wagons and track, of both gauges were arriving in France; Metre gauge lines were common in France and Belgium before the war, and some were used during the war, together with the upkeep of rolling stock and track.

1917 was a year of rapid railway expansion on the Western Front, and was a contributory factor in the success of operations that year, but the spring of 1918 found the construction companies having to destroy many lines and bridges to stop them being of any use to the advancing Germans.

The 260th and 268th Railway Construction Companies constructed the line from Colincamps to Serre in March 1917during bitterly cold weather and hampered by shelling. The line was demolished by the Canadian Overseas Construction Corps on the 25 March 1918 as the Germans approached the area

When the Germans retreated it meant that all the destroyed British lines had to be rebuilt, and rebuild the German’s own railway lines as the BEF advanced. 1918 was the most intense year for railway work, and the total lines rebuilt or new lines built amounted to 1,298 miles of Broad-Gauge track, compared to 789 miles in 1917. In contrast, the miles of 60cm Light Railway track in 1917 was 1,022, and 768 miles in 1918, but 580 miles were reconstructed during the months of July to December.

It was often said that life in the railway companies was an easy one, and compared to Front Line infantry it was probably true, but railways are dangerous places, and in war time even more so. Railways were a target for enemy bombing and shelling, and many sappers laying lines during shelling suffered from shell-shock as they were working in the open and easily observed, with nowhere to take cover, and deaths in comparison to the infantry were low, but these were railwaymen doing railway work, and that was their mission. A sad example of enemy attacks, and there are many, was that of Albert Gainsford. Employed as a shunter with the South Eastern and Chatham Railway, was wounded while at Mons, gunshot wound and suffering from gas exposure in 1915, and in January 1918 transferred to the ROD, and was with the 47th Broad Gauge operating company. In July he was working on the line to St Pol, which was frequently shelled, and unfortunately Gainsford died of a bomb wound to the chest on the 18th.

Enemy damage and accidents that occurred is another area I have been working on, and they give a good idea of what it was like to work on the railways on the Western Front, and here is a small example:

The engine driver of this train must have been astounded when he stopped at the destination and found what had happened:

The story of railways on the Western Front isn’t just about locomotives, it’s about the phenomenal engineering which was carried out quickly and under difficult conditions. The British RE’s were not alone as they worked alongside Canadians, Australians, New Zealanders, South Africans, Portuguese and Americans, as wells as the Pioneer and Labour Battalions, which all makes for a multinational and complex history, but they are all unsung heroes of the First World War.

EDITORS NOTE: Well wasn’t that a brilliant article, being a Railwayman myself I find that incredibly fascinating & one of those subjects not often discussed despite it’s importance.

My thanks to Sandra again for being my guest and if you’d like to learn some more then Sandra has two books out which you can see below & are available on Amazon or other retailers

Also maybe of interest to you Leger Holidays Battlefield Tours have a new railway themed tour planned for 2021 ( Covid-19 Permitting!) Click for details War by Timetable | Leger Holidays

Thanks for joining me again and till next time keep researching & engaging everyone!!


Sharing my photographs of the Old Front Line

It’s been another difficult week in lockdown but hopefully better news will come in the New Year. Then maybe (Brexit Permitting!) we can all start planning our travels & pilgrimages to the Old Front Line once again. Until then we find that our minds continue drifting back to better times so I thought that I’d share with you just a few of the photos that I’ve taken on some of my visits over the past few years. I’m certainly no Paul Reed, Andrew Holmes or anyone else of you talented folks who take amazing images for that matter when it comes to my photography and I’ll be honest all of my images were just taken on a mobile phone without filters

But here below is a selection of my images. Please do enjoy them but don’t reproduce anywhere without permission (I know I shouldn’t have to ask but you know what some people are like!!)

First up we’re in Ypres with the ever magnificent Menin Gate as well as the beautifully restored Cloth Hall

Menin Gate, Ypres 2019
Cloth Hall, Grote Markt, Ypres 2016

Staying on the Salient a pilgrimage wouldn’t be complete without a visit to Tyne Cot Cemetery & Memorial, there are 11,961 burials here,mostly unknowns, whilst just under 35,000 missing are named on the memorial

Storm clouds gather above Tyne Cot, 2016

Just South of Ypres, as we head on the N336 road towards Sint Eloi, we pass Bedford House Cemetery. Always a favourite place to wander around with it’s different sections of burials around the old Chateau & moat..it’s alot bigger than you first think!!

Bedford House, 2017

On my visits I always stay on the Somme but I always try and spend a day on the Salient. After a meal & the Last Post ceremony at the Menin Gate it’s a drive back across the border into France and it was on one of these evening drives that I just had to pull up at the side of the road outside I think Oosttaverne Wood (Please correct me if I’m wrong) and capture the most beautiful sunset. Definitely one of those right place,right time moments

Sunset on the Salient, 2018

West of Ypres in 2019 I found myself near Poperinge at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery,my first visit here. The site of several Casualty Clearing stations, Remy Sidings named after the railway here, and that’s why of the 9,901 commonwealth burials here only 24 are unknowns with a further 883 other nationalities mainly French & German buried also

Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, 2019

Vimy Memorial to the Canadian missing is vast & certainly impressive. On a windy, showery day in March 2016 Mother Canada, mourning for her lost sons seemed even more sorrowful

Mother Canada, Vimy Memorial, 2016

Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery with it’s backdrop of the memorial is simply breathtaking. The stonework & sculpturing I think is certainly at its very best here

Vis-en-Artois, 2017

Whilst in the same area I visited for the first time the battlefields around Arras, especially Rouex & Monchy Le Preux. And I captured some of the iron harvest that had been left on the wall at Monchy British Cemetery

Monchy British Cemetery, 2017

Heading down to the Somme it wouldn’t be complete without a photo of the mighty Thiepval, but I don’t think I’ve ever managed to take an impressive photo of it that does it justice. Either the lights wrong or someone wanders into shot at the wrong time

Thiepval, 2018

Off the usual track that people take at Montauban I found myself in Quarry Cemetery many years ago on an errand for Conor Reeves who needed a photo of a particular headstone after researching the man who now rests there. I returned on a wonderful Summers day in 2018, a very peaceful location

Quarry Cemetery, Montauban, 2018

Not far away is Bernafay Wood, which I’ve featured in a Cemetery Focus blog and is most definitely a personal favourite

Bernafay Wood, 2019

Devonshire Trench, close to Mametz, is especially moving as those who fell here on 1st July 1916 are buried in literally the trench that they unsuccessfully started their advance from. With those immortal words inscribed on the entrance to the Cemetery ” The Devonshires held this trench, the Devonshires hold it still”

Devonshire Cemetery, 2018

Adanac Military Cemetery (the name was formed by reversing the name “Canada”) was made after the Armistice when graves were brought in from the Canadian battlefields around Courcelette and the small cemeteries surrounding Miraumont

One of the many Canadian Unknown soldiers in Adanac, 2019

And finally I’ll end our nostalgic trip to the old front line with two images that mean something personal. The first is at Roye New British Cemetery, South of Peronne and the place where my relative, Sjt James Lucas 6th Lancashire Fusiliers is remembered. A very rarely visited cemetery & close to a busy road with several HGVs passing on their way to nearby industry around Roye. The entrance I find is incredibly beautiful, very reminiscent of dry stone walling

Roye New British Cemetery, 2017

And the final one is of my best mate Andy & his dad Brian visiting their relative Edward Partington at Éterpigny British Cemetery. Edward was killed on 2nd September 1918 whilst serving with Kings Own Royal Lancashire Regiment. He was just 18 years old

Brian & Andy Partington,Éterpigny, 2018

As I said a the start of this blog these visits are pilgrimages and what more says that than the photo above

I hope you’ve enjoyed seeing some of my images of the last few years and I hope it doesn’t cause any heartache for anyone. Enjoy until you can be there for yourself and see with your own eyes the beauty of these sacred places


Cemetery Focus: Guillemont Road

Welcome to another of my blogs where I focus on a particular cemetery & you might have noticed a recurring theme so far, they are all on the Somme. I spend most of my time there on my visits to the old front line and it’s become almost a second home to me over the last 20+ years. It’s an area I feel comfortable in and I know about many of the events that took place here. But as ever I’m still learning and something new out there is always waiting to be discovered!

So this week we find ourselves at Guillemont Road cemetery, located by the side of the road on the D64 which runs from Combles-Guillemont-Montauban-Mametz to Albert. It was on this road that on 29th August 1914 the German 4th Reserve Corps, part of Von Kluck’s First Army, passed through, quickly dealing with any of the French Army that were encountered. Interestingly this would be repeated in May 1940 as General Guderian’s XIX Panzer Corps, specifically 2nd Panzer, motored down this road heading towards Albert where a small unit of British soldiers had been left to put up some kind of defence as the main bulk of the British Army moved back towards the coast. The 7th Royal West Kent’s a Territorials unit lasted less than an hour, lacking both training & anti tank weapons. 20 would give theirs lives with the remainder surrendering or managing to escape

Back to Guillemont Road of course and as we look at the magnificent entrance if we peer down the road to our left we see Trones Wood & to our right the village of Guillemont itself

Guillemont Road Cemetery entrance ( Authors Own Photo)

The village was taken briefly on 30th July 1916 by 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers of 90th Brigade, 30th Division but couldn’t be held due to high number of casualties & prisoners taken in a counter attack by the Germans. On the 8th August it would be the turn of 55th (West Lancashire) Division to attack & again after a brief occupation of the village they were pushed back. An attack by 2nd Division took place on 18th August & again they initially captured parts of the village. It wouldn’t be until 3rd September 1916 in what became known as the Battle of Guillemont that elements of 20th (Light) Divison as well as 16th (Irish) Division captured & cleared the village & pushed on to the Ginchy Road. Casualties again were high especially to the South with over half of the Irish battalions becoming casualties as well as losses by French forces further to the South around Hardecourt-aux- Bois. The objective was Leuze Wood but it would see days of fierce fighting before the tip of this would be taken

Shortly after this the cemetery was begun an Advanced Dressing Station had been set up here to treat the wounded of this battle & from further afield at Ginchy & Lesboefs where the Guards Divison were in action and initially 121 men were buried here when it was closed in March 1917

In March 1918 this area was lost in the German Kaiserschlacht before being retaken by the 18th Division, returning again to this area after spending the Summer of 1916 near here, & 38th (Welsh) Division on 29th August 1918

It became after the war a concentration cemetery,having been designed by Sir Herbert Baker, and it now contains 2,263 Commonwealth burials and commemorations. 1,523 of the burials are unidentified but there are special memorials to 8 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. That’s just an incredible 744 identified! Many bodies were brought in from the surrounding fields where they had lain since July-September 1916

In April 2019 I was very privileged to attend the reburial service of an Unknown soldier of the Sherwood Foresters, Notts & Derby Regiment in this cemetery whose body had been found with, if I recall rightly, 12 others whilst building the new wind turbines just North East of Guillemont towards Ginchy. He was the 4th to be reburied I think. Attended by the modern day ancestor regiment, The Mercian Regiment, the Military Attaché from Paris & CWGC staff the coffin draped in the union flag was carried by pallbearers of the regiment and a beautiful service was conducted and the unknown laid to rest. It was an incredibly humbling experience & the first & up to now the only reburial I’ve attended

Burial Service of Unknown Soldier April 2019( Authors Own Photo)
Unknown Sherwood Forester later that day after headstone installation (Authors Own Photo)

Of course many of you will be aware that Lieutenant Raymond Asquith 3rd Grenadier Guards, the son of the then Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, who on 15th September 1916 was shot through the chest whist attacking between Ginchy & Lesboefs and who died before reaching the ADS here at Guillemont. His story can be found in several places so I won’t reproduce it here but what is interesting is on the same row is buried Lieutenant Honourable Edward Wyndham Tennant, 4th Grenadier Guards killed a week after Raymond Asquith and related by marriage. There are suggestions he was buried here on purpose but it could have just been coincidence

Two graves that I always visit and raise a smile at, which you may find strange in a cemetery, are those of Private G/79064 H J Claus 9th bn Royal Fusiliers & Private 781529 Thomas Edward Christmas 29th bn London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) who both were killed on 28th August 1918 and buried in Hardecourt French Military Cemetery before being concentrated here by 3rd Labour Company in the 1920’s

Grave of Pvt HJ Claus (Authors Own Photo)
Grave of Pvt TE Christmas (Authors Own Photo)

Between the cemetery and the village Captain Noel Chavasse would win his first Victoria Cross whilst serving as Medical Officer in 10th bn King’s Liverpool Regiment ( Liverpool Scottish) when he rescued wounded men from the battlefield after an unsuccessful attack. Of course less than a year later whilst near Ypres he would win his second VC sadly awarded posthumously

If we look to the North we can see Delville Wood and the Western edges of the village of Longueval and moving our eyes across the landscape to the West we can see some modern day farm silos where the railway line that came out of Trones Wood passed this farm into Guillemont Station a short distance away

If we leave the cemetery & head down the road towards Guillemont turning off to our left down a track, where the German front line later known as Park Lane was, there is a wonderful walk that takes you up literally following the old German front line to Delville Wood & Longueval. As we walk we pass the site close to the old Quarry of Guillemont we see on our right what is now a water overflow area. When this was dug in 1938 3 bodies were found and one of these was identified as Captain Charles Hindley Walton 19th bn Manchester Regiment killed on 23rd July 1916. He was identified by a engraved cigarette case and is now buried with the other 2 men in London Cemetery & Extension, High Wood. Below can be seen concentration report showing the other unknowns were also 4th City 19th Manchesters. My good friend Andy Partington with interest also from Jonathan Porter have tried to confirm the identity of one of these other men for a few years now

Burial return © CWGC
Captain Charles Walton’s grave (Image Andy Partington)

We follow the track to the left,Hoop Trench, and a little further on as we look towards Trones Wood we see a private memorial in a field surrounded by a brick wall. This memorial was placed here by the family of 2nd Lt George Marsden-Smedley of 3rd Rifle Brigade who aged just 19 & in his first action was killed near here on 18th August 1916. He was seen to have been shot by a German Officer on the parapet if a German trench near here. His body like so many was never identified

Marsden-Smedley Memorial (Authors Own Photo)

The railway line ran close to this memorial as it headed into Guillemont with a branch off to the left to Waterlot Farm, a sugar refinery, and into the centre of Longueval. The front line was above the slight embankment on our right before it jutted out slightly around the chimney from the old refinery. As you can see again the Germans had the advantage with this slightly elevated position. There are remains of old buildings at the site of Waterlot with some newer farm buildings still in use. Remember as ever this part is private land

Trench map 15/08/16 (Memory Map/Great War Digital)

As we go on further we’re at the back of modern day houses with a peek of Delville Wood & it’s cemetery just behind it. Entering the village down the D20 road now if you’re lucky you may find a stop at the Calypso II bar/ Tabac for some liquid refreshment is in order

Guillemont Road is certainly one of my favourite cemeteries with its wonderful views of the battlefields & villages and being in what was no mans land it gives you a real birds eye view of both the British lines in Trones Wood & the distance they had to cross to get the German lines. Although cleared after the war I’m sure that this area still has many secrets to reveal

Thanks again for joining me I hope you’ve found it informative or if you knew the stories & the area I hope it managed to somehow transport you back there until we can all return. As ever feel free to comment here or contact me via twitter @Terriermcd . Especially if you have any personal stories & connection to Guillemont




Andy Partington

The Middlebrook Guide to the Somme Battlefields

IWM Resource


A Week of Reflection

This year to say it’s been a strange Remembrance time due to our current Covid-19 situation would be an understatement

But having said that many of us have adapted this year in the way that we choose to remember

My usual Remembrance Sunday would be attending the service around the War Memorial in Green Park, Heckmondwike & sometimes, but not every year, later in the afternoon I’d be going to nearby Cleckheaton for the parade and service in the Memorial Park

However this year saw me watching the service at the Centotaph live on BBC TV of what was of course a scaled down version. How strange & sad to not see the many veterans & organisations able to proudly march past the Centotaph, medals gleaming, shoulders back and wreaths in hand

As I listened to the strains of Elgar’s Nimrod as ever it never fails to bring a tear or two to my eyes as the band played so beautifully. The 2 minutes silence was held and observed by myself whilst Stacey, my partner, observed it on the doorstep as suggested by the Royal British Legion. A few selected people, I believe 26, were representing those who couldn’t attend and HRH Prince Charles with members of the Royal Family laid their wreaths and on behalf of HM The Queen who watched from a balcony in Whitehall. As usual Politicians old & new laid theirs and a religious service was held

I had decided later to take my dog Loki out for an afternoon walk and headed towards Heckmondwike. I reached the park and there was just myself there so I sat quietly on the bench opposite the War Memorial. I noticed 2 crosses had been laid on the memorial with personal messages written on them which was wonderful. A few wreaths had been laid as well earlier in the day by the local branch of The Royal British Legion & other organisations who had attended individually not in the usual numbers of around 150 that normally attend

Family of Rhodes Lister DCM Cross & message
Personal Message (Authors Own Photo)

I played Elgar’s Nimrod through my earbuds, yes it did raise a tear again! And I just sat looking at the memorial trying to convey to those named that I was here & hadn’t forgotten them on this day nor any other day. At its end I stood with the national anthem in my ears just to give these lads some kind of ceremony I guess, then I bid my farewells until next time. As I walked home I felt a sense of pride that at least I’d done something & I strangely felt content

Heckmondwike War Memorial (Authors Own Photo)

Wednesday was of course Armistice Day and it was the centenary of both when the Centotaph, as we know it the permanent Portland Stone version, was unveiled by HM King George V on 11th November 1920 & also of the internment at Westminster Abbey of the Unknown Warrior

So I was working Wednesday on the train to London arriving at about 10.15am but I had a couple of hours break before working back. So randomly I decided to hop on the underground to Embankment station and head to the Centotaph. I’ve never actually been before either on Remembrance Sunday not Armistice Day. I arrived outside Horse Guards on Whitehall at about 10.45 but couldn’t get any closer to the Centotaph as the Police had cordoned off the footpaths with barriers. I stood with a small group of people. A mix of veterans, office & construction workers & the general public. Everyone kept well apart & most wore face coverings as well. Members of whom I now know to be from the Western Front Association paraded out from Horse Guards followed after by General Officers towards the Centotaph. The chimes of big Ben could be heard from Westminster at 11.00 and like many across the country we all stood in silence. The Last Post was sounded by a bugler and shortly afterwards the dignatries returned to Horse Guards and the barriers were lifted and everyone could head towards the Centotaph

As I walked I past statues of past Generals lining Whitehall such as Field Marshal The Earl Haig, Viscount Slim & of course Monty

Haig’s Statue on Whitehall ( Authors Own Photo)
Monty (Authors Own Photo)

Upon reaching the Centotaph you could clearly see the wreaths left by The Royal Family & others on Sunday. Some people were walking around it but I felt somehow as though it wasn’t right for me to do so, not on this day at least. A group of recent veterans proudly stepped forward, bowed in silence & saluted. Who were they remembering I wonder & what had been their experiences of war?

Veterans remembering their comrades ( Authors Own Photo)

A number of news agencies were crouched busy uploading photos and reports on their laptops and some were talking to a WW2 veteran from the RAMC who was nearby in his wheelchair. I wanted to go say something even just Thank You to him but he had moved on and was chatting to someone else. So I turned to leave but I saw another smartly dressed gentleman walking slowly along the pavement alone with his walking stick in hand and Korean War & General Service medals on his chest

Sir Michael King (Authors Own Photo)

I approached him and asked him if he was ok and said that I’d noticed his Korean War medal and I just wanted to say thank you & that he & his comrades were not forgotten by me at least. Of course he replied that sadly he felt that he and his comrades had been forgotten, that no one either knew or wanted to know about that conflict. He said he was heading to the Embankment memorial garden and as I was heading that way I asked if he’d mind if I walked with him. As we walked he told me that his name was Sir Michael King and that he’d been a Sergeant in the REME. He described the conditions on Korea as horrendous -40 degrees Celsius in the Winter +40 in the Summer and I won’t print what he thought of the Koreans on both sides!

We eventually reached the gardens, after a few passers by had asked Sir Michael if they could take his photo, and we passed the new memorial to Iraq & Afghanistan and came to the Korean War Memorial. I said my goodbyes and that I would leave him in peace now to remember his comrades privately & thanked him again but if I’m honest I could hardly get my words out I was almost a blubbering wreck. How some of you manage to have interviewed veterans over the years I don’t know, I’d be in a right state!

No words needed

So all in all a very different Remembrance week for me this year but one who’s memories will stick with me for a longtime. A humbling experience & certainly a week of reflection

Thanks again for joining me this week


Remembrance Sunday

‘When you go home, Tell them of us and say, For your tomorrow we gave our today’

Ovillers Military Cemetery (Authors Own Photo)

Let us never forget all those who paid the ultimate sacrifice & all those who served & the many families & innocents who were affected by the cruelty of war, regardless of their nationality

Necropole Nationale Serre-Heburterne (Authors Own Photo)
Maissemy German Cemetery (Authors Own Photo)
Ayette Indian and Chinese Cemetery (Authors Own Photo)



What is Remembrance?

Blue skies above Heckmondwike War Memorial ( Authors Own Photo)

Always a question that causes huge controversy & debates, especially so as we approach Remembrance Sunday which lets face it is going to seem incredibly strange this year. Most local services of remembrance will be cancelled or scaled back as the country continues to battle with Covid-19

Every year the nation gathers to remember its war dead on Remembrance Sunday, the 2nd Sunday of the month & the closest to the 11th November. The tradition originally began in 1919 a year after the end of the Great War where Mothers & Fathers who’d lost sons ( In some cases a daughter), Wives a Husband, Children a Father & Sweethearts a companion & lover joined veterans remembering their comrades at what was originally a temporary cenotaph in Whitehall, London on 11th November 1919. King George V had issued a proclamation calling on the whole nation to pause and observe a two minute silence in remembrance of those who had been lost in the Great War. Such was the popularity of the service in Whitehall that the cenotaph was made permanent in 1920 and continues to be the centre of our national commemorations to this day

King George V unveils the Centotaph in Whitehall 11th November 1920 (Image © IWM Q 31513)

War memorials were built in almost all cities, towns & villages up and down the country over the following years & these became the focal point of local remembrance services on 11th November

It wasn’t actually until 1939 and the beginning of the Second World War that it was decided that the Sunday closest to the 11th November would become the day of remembrance. The reason being that letting people pay their respects on a Sunday, their day off, would not disrupt important wartime production. Known as a day of dedication it lasted throughout the war & afterwards the government decided that this should continue & eventually it would become known as Remembrance Sunday with the 11th November becoming Armistice Day, the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice which ended hostilities in the Great War

But for many families & veterans it would be all too much & too painful to remember loved ones & comrades at these large gatherings and many would prefer to remember in the comfort of their own homes alone or with family and even for some to try and forget their loss & experiences

I remember as a child watching on TV the service on Remembrance Sunday with my Grandad, who had served in WW2, transfixed with tears in his eyes & standing upright as they played the National Anthem

On 15th May 1921 The British Legion was formed and began selling it’s first Poppies as part of the Earl Haig fund and raised £106,000 which was used to help find employment & housing for veterans. Hardship for families who had in many cases lost the main bread winner of the family saw the Legion continuing it’s efforts to raise vital funds to support them as well as for veterans and this is something that continues to this day after years of supporting veterans & their families from the Second World War right up to more recent conflicts where most of their funds now go

The wearing of a Poppy after a donation to the fund became a well known tradition over the years but one that has been sadly hijacked by some. From the so called ‘Poppy Police’ who seem to seek out and are disgusted at anyone that doesn’t wear one or when they find somewhere wearing one tell them they are wearing it incorrectly to those that spread false stories to condone their own twisted views that somehow if you wear a Poppy you support & glorify war or that you’re racist

As an ex Chairman of my local Royal British Legion branch I can say it doesn’t matter how you wear one or even if indeed you wear one at all. People have that choice and it isn’t upto me or any organisation to say otherwise and the Legion have never said otherwise

Royal British Legion Poppy (Daily Mirror)

There is no doubt that over the years more & more people have donated to the Poppy Appeal and raised huge amounts of much needed funds. Some of this in part is due to more people researching their family trees and discovering long lost ancestors who had served as well as the Centenary of the Great War which was featured in many media outlets as well as in special events across the world. And like many other charities The Legion have had to adapt over the years to stay relevant, long are the days of just giving paper poppies away for a small donation they need to sell a wide variety of items from clothing, homeware, kids items, Pin badges, commemorative items & yes even cuddly toys. Remember the successful Tower Poppies that so many people bought? But in my opinion this isn’t disrespectful or cashing in on Remembrance it’s about learning,dare I say, who your audience are & ensuring that you stay relevant and that your charity can continue to have a future & continue with it’s amazing work

Similarly the Commonwealth War Graves Commission have modernised over the last few years and I believe become more open & engaging with the wider public. They haven’t always got it right of course but name me someone who has everytime. The recent Shine On/Name a star has provoked some debate but again I say it’s an example of trying to find ways of appealing to a modern audience

The amount of people that have been attending local Remembrance Day events over the years as also grown and it’s been heartwarming to see many younger generations involved ensuring that hopefully the act of remembrance will continue long into the future. Again on 11th November the scenes of people pausing in the supermarket, at railway stations & even in the streets to observe the 2 minutes silence is incredibly heartwarming

Poppy wreath at Heckmondwike War Memorial (Authors Own Photo)

We mustn’t forget the many veterans who also attend these events either. Of course all Great War veterans have now passed and sadly most of those who served in WW2 are sadly fading fast so today’s events tend to be filled with National Service, Korean, Falklands,Balkans, Northern Ireland & Iraq & Afghanistan veterans remembering their comrades. I’ve never served myself in any of the forces but have friends who have and I know that many of them have their own particular days or dates that they pause to remember lost comrades or a battle or incident that took place. Indeed the wonderful Harry Patch, the last surviving Tommy to serve on the Western Front, always said that his day to remember was the 22nd September when he lost his comrades in his Lewis gun team & was wounded himself

Harry Patch (Image Memoria.com)

I think what’s important for me is to recognise that we all can remember in our own way, for most of us with an interest in the Great War remembering is something I’d say we do everyday and also in our research and visits to the old battlefields. But for others it’s just one time a year. We all remember differently as well & we shouldn’t just focus on those who lost their lives but also on all those who served & came home many of them scared physically & mentally by their experiences. We should also remember the happy times we spent over the years with family members, friends or comrades

These are as ever just my opinions & observations and some of you will agree & others will disagree with me but I think in answer to the question that gives this blog it’s name it’s that we all need to approach remembrance with an open mind and respect each others thoughts,views & ways of remembering. The sacrifices over the years of those whom we are are all remembering was to ensure that we all have the choice to be freethinkers



Imperial War Museum Collection

The Last fighting Tommy by Richard van Embden & Harry Patch


November Guest Feature

Welcome to another of the regular Guest Spots where this month I’m happy to be joined by Dr Irfan Malik, a Nottinghamshire based GP with an keen interest in the important contribution that troops from undivided India made in the Great War & who ensures that their memory lives on. He has a nice collection of Great War items that he takes with him when he goes to give presentations at schools or to other interested groups

Dr Irfan Malik (Own Photo)

Many thanks Wayne,
My name is Dr Irfan Malik, I was born and bred in Nottingham and have worked in the city as a GP for 25 years. I have an interest in India’s contribution during the First World War. I’d like to share with you all the amazing story of a small village which is now in modern day Pakistan

‘The Village with the Gun’

Dulmial Village is located in the Salt Range, Punjab, 100 miles south of Pakistan’s capital city Islamabad. It is my ancestral village, populated by the Malik Awan clan, a former ‘martial race’

Dulmial has been a military village for many generations and evidence exists that local soldiers had supported the British Army since the Indian Mutiny in 1857.
This small, dusty village is well known as in the First World War it supplied 460 men, a record for any South Asian village. Basically all the able bodied men joined the British Indian Army. Of these more than 100 were Viceroy Commissioned Officers. They were posted to all theatres of war around the globe

Soldiers of Dulmial (Dr Irfan Malik)

Both of my Great Grandfathers Subedar Muhammad Khan and Capt Ghulam Muhammad were part of these 460. The former was with the the 33rd Punjab Regiment and was fortunate enough to be invited to visit London in 1911 for the Coronation of King George V

During the Great War undivided India provided 1.5 million soldiers, of these 680,000 were Hindus, 400,000 Muslims and 124,000 Sikhs. 75,000 Indians died, of these 9000 on the Western Front

Indian soldiers were awarded the Victoria Cross 11 times and overall received 13,000 medals for gallantry

Naik Shahamad Khan VC (© IWM Q36964A)

In addition to the men, 180,000 animals and 3.7 million tonnes of supplies were exported from the Indian Subcontinent & the financial cost to undivided India was a staggering £479 million (in today’s currency £19 billion!)

In the Second War War Dulmial contributed more than 800 men. After partition in 1947 the soldiers became well established in the Pakistan and Indian Armies. Both of my Grandfathers Capt Lal Khan and Subedar Habib Khan were Burma Star veterans

In recognition of Dulmial’s military services in the Great War the British asked Capt Ghulam Muhammad Malik, the village’s most highly decorated officer, ‘What award did the village want?’ He replied ‘a cannon’.
This was because the retired Captain was a lifelong artillery man, starting his career with the Derajat Mountain Battery on the Lord Roberts’ famous march from Kabul to Kandahar in the 2nd Afghan War of 1880

So in 1925 Dulmial was presented with an impressive 12 pounder, Blomefield design cannon. The former British Naval cannon weighed 1.7 tonnes and was made at Carron Ironworks, near Falkirk, Scotland in 1816, serial number 84049. It took 2 weeks for the cannon to be transported by train and oxen cart from the 1st Punjab Regiment base in Jhelum to Dulmial

The cannon itself in Dulmial (Dr Irfan Malik)

In the early years the cannon was referred to as the ‘Birdwood Gun’ as Field Marshal Lord William Birdwood, Commander in Chief of India had visited Dulmial and saluted at the cannon

Nowadays Dulmial is also known as the ‘Village with the Gun’.
In the village primary school a marble stone memorial or tablet is still proudly displayed on an impressive obelisk. It states ‘From this village 460 men went to the Great War 1914 -1919 of these 9 gave up their lives’

Village Memorial Tablet ( Dr Irfan Malik)

The lost soldiers are remembered at memorial sites all around the world, in Dar Es Salaam, Tehran, Delhi (India Gate) and Basra. One soldier, Lance Naik Ismail Khan, of the 33rd Punjab Regiment was killed in battle on the Western Front at the Battle of Loos, in France on 25th September 1915 and his name is engraved on the Neuve Chapelle Memorial

It is indeed unusual for a small Punjabi village to have such a well documented military history, giving it an international profile. It has given me great pleasure researching my ancestral villages history since 2014


The Evening Telegraph and Post, Dundee (30.10.1914) ‘A Cradle of Soldiers’
War Speeches of Sir Michael O’Dwyer, Jhelum Darbar (1.11.1917)
The Punjab and the War, M.S.Leigh (1922)
Wisdom and Waste in the Punjab Village, M.L. Darling (1934)
The History of the Indian Mountain Artillery, C.A.L. Graham (1957)
For King and Another Country. Indian Soldiers on the Western Front 1914 -1918, S. Basu (2015)
The Indian Empire at War, G.Mortan-Jack (2018)

I’d like to thank Dr Irfan Malik for sharing this wonderful story and for highlighting, rightly so, the huge contribution as well as sacrifice that Indian soldiers gave in both World Wars

If you’d like to follow Irfan on twitter he can be found @dr_irfan_malik