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13 albums of images and grabs relating to the First World War

‘Grabbed’ and curated for a multitude of reasons I compile these albums while researching a topic, to put family photographs in one place, to pull together a theme that interests me and often to remind me of great TV and films on the First World War. Links are easily made from these to blog posts.

WW1 – Bite and Hold

‘Bite and Hold’ pulls together charts and book covers, and images from the Third Battle of Passchendaele used to put together arguments for the actions taken by the British Army in 1917 as something less than futile.

WW1 – On Film & TV

‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ was my grandfather’s favourite film of the First World War. I was able to take a portable TV and VHS cassette player to show him the film in his my 90s.

WW1 – Talbot House, Poperinge

Talbot House is remarkable spot today as it was 100 years ago. As well as the museum and gardens you can stay there a few nights too. There’s a health contemporary link to local schools and colleges with a curious studio full of artworks themed from the war.

WW1 – Why did Great Britain go to war in 1914

A question that everyone must have regarding the First World War is what caused its outbreak. The BBC TV series got close, though for academic answers publications of many original documents courtesy of the likes of Annika Mombauer make it clearer still.

WW1 FL Memorials

For decades I have stopped to read war memorials across the UK and even when working in France. I didn’t always photograph these, but those I have photographed recently I have added here. I have boxes of slides somewhere that need to be digitised. These were pulled together to share in a recent online course on FutureLearn on Trauma and Memory.

WW1 Heroism

These were pulled together to share in a recent online course on FutureLearn on Trauma and Memory.

WW1 Ypres 2013

96 years after my grandfather passed through here I spent a few days between Poperinge, Ypres and Houthulst Forest walking in the paths he took and establishes where the piillboxes where he operated a machine gun could have been.

WW1- Great War Diaries

Grabs recalling the very best series of war diaries reconstructed I have yet seen during these centenary years.

WW1-First World War

A bulk collection of everything I have on the First World War, some 800+ images from books, albums and magazines.

WW1-In Flanders Fields – Ypres 2013

The wonderful ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum in Ypres is an inspiration.

WW1-IWM BBC WW1

Thinking through ideas related to how the First World War is commemorated.

WW1-Jack Wilson MM

Everything I have from my late grandfather: his photographs, as well as photographs of his medals, logbook and other bits and pieces. Here are every map and image I’ve thus far found that could help to illustrate his story from Shotley Bridge, County Durham to northern France, the Somme, Ypres and then through training with the Royal Air Force in 1918.

WW1-Passchendale DbyD

Of all the battles this is the one where my grandfather served in key events: Langemark and Passchendaele in particular going in and out of the line on several occasions – surviving where many of his friends died and receiving the Military Medal for keeping the gun in action over a week in Courage Post on the front looking into Houthulst Forest in late October 1917.

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Sir Douglas Haig by J P Harris (2008)

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Created in SimpleMinds. get in touch if you’d like a copy. Download the SimpleMinds App for free.

Douglas Haig and the First World War (2008) J P Harriss

Nearly 600 pages that follow a chronology that is familiar. Insights on Haig are limited – perhaps reading Haig’s diary and a biography at the same time would help. This is written by a military historian with judgement of Haig’s command key. We get little insight into the man – if there is much a a personal life to probe. His diary appears to reveal little. What does come over is how often Haig was to blame for actions that were unlikely to succeed in doing much other than expending a good deal of munitions and men – time and time again he planned an offensive that would lead to a break-through, require cavalry support and put tens of thousands of men against barbed wire, machine guns and shrapnel. His greatest skill was to climb and keep climbing the ladder of promotion and to tread carefully around events which might have led to his being passed over for promotion … or his resignation asked for, or accepted.

My first read. A second read possibly to follow unless I can be pointed to a biography.

Notes as iPhone/iPad pictures with  annotations (Studio) and a mindmap (SimpleMinds)

Britain had been preparing for war with Germany as is clear from manoeuvres, in this instance with both France and Russia, in 1912 (Harris, 2008:51). Perhaps the re-organisation of the Army to have the Expeditionary Force, however small, was part of an anxiety and vulnerability – had Britain not also contemplated conscription?

As the nature of artillery changed – longer range, great accuracy and a diversity of shells types from high explosives to shrapnel it is staggering that proper thought wasn’t given to how destroyed the land was over which the armies would have to travel.

Typo alert! Actually there are a couple more but I so no value

 

Where tactics have failed to deliver why did Haig persist? How could more of the same possibly get better results next time? What part of his mindset made him stick to this? Does he lack imagination? He appears emotionally dry or aloof – his relationship with his wife and family hardly suggests a person with a close emotional attachment.

Haig’s greatest skill and purpose was to climb to the top of the Army ladder – what he did or could do when he rose to the top was another matter. This isn’t what makes a great leader – he is like a career civil servant. But what would a hot headed, womanizing, gambler of a man done with this power? If Haig made mistakes they need to be considered and compared with other leaders on the Western and Eastern Fronts. Had Britain a leader like Foch, Neville, Falkenhayn or Holweg … or the Russian aristocrats would we have fared better or differently? And if we’d had Robertson rather than Haig?

History written by a military historian is different to history or biography – the audience here is expected to learn and potentially apply at staff level the lessons from past battles. Haig’s diary is revealing because in this supposedly private moments he is reveals so little: statements of the weather, not what this could mean, statement of events without reflection on what he did well or badly. Self-control in both his public and private life.

To understand Haig then we need to know who the alternatives might have been and whether in reality they could or would have behaved differently: Robertson, Du Can and Rawlinson are different men.

My impression is of a deluded fantasist with no one able or willing to stand up to him … not even Lloyd George. Haig, with Royal patronage and few competing for his role, could and would do as he pleased. He resented having to play second fiddle to the French. In the early stages of the war he ignored orders or requests with potentially dire consequences yet he got away with it.

Haig’s tactics: more munitions, human dynamism and officers of the ‘thruster’ type – people who would risk all regardless. Is there anything we can learn from Haig’s achievements as a polo player from this? What does it require to win at polo?

 

 

Haig pressed on with tactics that would leave many thousands dead for little gain and he wasn’t able or willing to question what he could or should do differently.

How clear did failure have to be to get Haig to change his tactics?

Failure of this kind should surely have seen Haig replaced? To what extend did his ‘moral fibre’, his otherwise untarnished character, make it less easy to remove him?

Overexcited, overoptomistic, blind to failure, forever looking beyond the horizon, convinced cavalry had a role, yet able to try gas and tanks … anxious for his peers and superiors to shower him in praise and his subordinates to be fawning …

Self-righteous and self-assured – did his religious beliefs permit his unstinting view of the world? He had the image of someone who deserved authority and respected it. He was fit, sober and in a stable marriage. He worked hard and played the game well. Born into a different age could he have survived? He lacks the flair of Montgomery or Churchill. Described as taciturn, to what degree might or could his asthma have been a controlling influence?

He looked the part and was fastidious about his health – what else could as asthmatic do in the early 20th century? Did he know what the triggers were, or had he learnt from experience to avoid certain foods and situations – not least smoking? Was he prone to chest infections?

Whilst those around him realised all talk of a ‘break-through’ was unrealistic, this is what Haig constantly planned for and expected. Or was it simply wishful thinking?

Step by step is what occurred … as a result from efforts to breakthrough? A case of shoot for the stars and hitting the moon? That in Haig’s eyes step by step would have equated to inconsequential nibbling?

Obsessive, selective, fixated, God-guided, controlling, cavalry-orientated, driven obdurate, blind … consistent, controlled, tempered, magisterial … aloof and with tunnel-vision.

Able to comprehend, but unable to bend? Unable to think of any alternative. The world around him changed, but Haig stayed resolutely in the 19th century.

Chance the way the leaders played off against each other? Men like so many bullets or sandbags, simply a resource to count then stack in the knowledge that there would be great losses but that these could be shored up?

He didn’t like to have his feather’s ruffled. He wanted the game played in his way with him in charge.

A hypocrite who would fail to come to the aid of others … yet others to come to the aid of him. Too good or important to warrant risking his men, or putting his men under another’s control and willing only at the last minute to seek help when things looked desperate and he had no choice.

Haig was no hero

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Fig.1. In Flanders Fields

It was fashionable to demonise the British leaders of the First World War in the 1960s and it was Alan Clarke who coined the sentence, ‘Lions lead by Donkeys. The media contunies to mock them still in the 1980s with the likes of ‘Blackadder Goes Forth’ then along came revisionist and social historians to say that they were a product of their time and did the best of a bad job. Ghandi came from this era – he didn’t need to send hundreds of thousands to war and likely maiming and death.

Haig wad a product of the times: unable to get in otherwise he chose Brasenose College, Oxford that didn’t require academic credentials – Haig had none. Because Haig went to Oxford he didn’t require to take any exams to get into Sandhurst. There’s a pattern forming here. And he didn’t complete all his exams at Sandhurst, but as he played polo and knew the King he got through.

Soldiers on the ground reaaly did think that their leaders were clueless idiots. I don’t need to take my grandfather’s word for it, though you can hear the genuine anger in his voice when he talks about it, not least concerning the conditions around Ypres in the second half of 1917 and the suffering of his friends, many of whom died a horrible death.

Much had changed in a hundred years – let’s hope it continues to move in a direction that respects life, inclusivity and both moral and ethical guidelines that see that people are rewarded on merit, not by birth or deviousness.

My rapidly growing reading list is largelly thanks to Niall Ferguson who in ‘The Pity of War’ who cites everybody under the sun.

Further reading

Courtesy of Christopher Clark’s ‘The Sleepwalkers: how europe went to war in 1914’ I have been prompted to seek out further books – this reading stack thus far amount to six books and half a dozen eBooks. Like a school-boy I feel it is necessary to take notes as I read.

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Who caused the First World War? Which men, not nations, are to blame?

The Sleepwalkers: How Europe went to war in 1914 by the Australian historian Christopher Clark is the most thorough, balanced and I therefore believe accurate assessment of what took Europe and the world to war in 1914 – repurcussions froms which we still feel to this day, not least in the current impasses in Syria, a product of the collapse of the Ottoman Empire and in its use of chemical weapons first used and condemned in the First World War. Blaming a nationa is foolish – the blame, if we are to pick people, begins with the Serbian plotter, assin and gangster Dragutin Dimitrijevic – a regicide who planned and successfully executed the assasination of archduke Franz Ferdinand – without him none of this would have happened. In HIS hands is the blood of 9 million from the First War and 20 million from the Second. He wanted to bring things to an impasse between Serbia and Austria-Hungary so that a Great Serbia could be forged. Next in line to blame is Tzar Nicholas II of Russia who turned any advice on what had caused or who had instigated the assasination of the Archduke on its head and in pushing to support Serbia knew an attack on Austria- Hungary was needed and doing this would expose a flank to German so would naturally have to include an attack on Germany too. Next I blame the French for siding with Russia and knowing that they would need to attack German or defend an attack from Germany. Tucked in here somewhere blame must go to Conrad and Franz Josef of the Austro-Hungarian Empire – who deserved and required retribution for what all knew to have been a plot from Serbia if not from the Serbian government – the problem here was the tangled mess that was the Serbian government – too weak to oppose terrorist groupings (there are two) such as The Black Hand, who like a secretive group of Free Masons or the ‘old school tie’ and artistocratic links that controlled politics in the British Empire, could not be policed, managed or held to account. Austria-Hungary should have asked, “what would Franz Ferdinand” have done? He would had trodden carefully, always having wanted to give greater autonomy to ‘nations’ within the empire. And, on the list, but lower down, blame needs to go to Gavrilo Princip. As various opportunities presented themselves to assasinated the archduke and some of the seven assasins had their go, two go cold feet on seeing the duchess Sophia – did she need to die too? Had Princip shot only the archduke then the response from Vienna, though tough, may have been less than all out war with Serbia. I do not blame Germany at all, indeed I see how they suddenly found themselves hemmed in by aggressors. Germany, like Russia, were then simply chancing their arm, believing each had the adequate military muscle to prevails and itching to settle all kinds of unresolved scores and national and empirical ambitions that a battle or two would resolve. None could see the scale. It became, and has been, a hundred year’s of war …

Slipping over the edge …

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In my youth, like an idiot, I would sometimes ski off trail heading towards a seemingly tame gully. There was this time as I descended with too much confidence into a steep funnel that I realised there was no safe way back … the snow was too deep, on too steep a slope so I had to go on. Worse, I knew that I would have to take a leap of faith to clear the edge and any rockfalls below. I love to ski but prefer to keep them on the ground whatever I do having smashed a leg badly in my teens doing this kind of thing.

A hundred years ago the world slipped over the edge, nations gathered on this slope and many ventured down to the edge to try and peak over, others took the brash view that whatever happened they’d be fine or that the shake up was necessary.

No book, of some 100 or more I must have read over a three decade period does more to set the scene – the mutiple players, the ambitions, the intrigues and affairs, the plots, plotting, murders, the arms race, the arrogance, the empire building, the lack of consideration by any of the players for the people they represented, claimed to represent, ruled or brutally exploited. Here we have an authoritaive and informed voice looking down from the moon observing as best as possible the events over the centuries, decades, then months and weeks that led to ‘Total War’. God forbid that we can ever be so foolish, collectively, again. Yet here we are about to take a part in Syria. Any action or in-action has consequences. So what is it to be? I wonder if now, as a hundred years ago, the wrong people, as ever, are running things.

In a move from WW1 enthusiast to subject matter expert I begin a Masters Degree in First World War studies with the University of Birmigham next month. Over the next two years and during the duration of the centenary events to mark the 1914-18 conflict I hope to build this blog into a valuable resource with an emphasis on the lot of the person on the front line, man or woman, from all sides with a focus all the same on the British Machine Gun Corps and Royal Flying Corps.

1908 Olympics

My late grandfather, Jack Wilson MM, clearly remembered Key events that impinged on his life from the Relief of Mafeking in 1902, celebrated in the fringes of the British Empire on the Spa Fields, Shotley Bridge – but he said nothing of the 1908 Olympics, yet his father, the source of all news through the Penny Pictorial must have been aware of the Games. Jack would have been 12. Not a Dicky Bird.

Over 100 years ago I believe to the Olympics were far more exclusive, both geographically and economically isolating – a working class lad from the North East was never liekly to travel to London for an event such as this.

Another thought, of course, is how many 1908 competitors fought and died in the 1914-1918 War?

Canon Ross Lewin looked after the Church

Canon Ross Lewin

1902

There was Tatty Walton’s the Grocer’s and Addison’s the Newsagents. These supermarkets have killed all of that.

The pubs were the ‘Kings Head’ and ‘The Commercial’.

Canon Lewin lived at the Vicarage at 1 Church Bank.

He was in sixties and lived with his two sisters. They had two domestic servants. St. Cuthbert’s was designed by John Dobson, which says something about the money that could be raised in Shotley Bridge at the time.

I noticed in the Homemaker section of the Journal a house for sale by the riverside for £330,000 with twelve stables and lodges and fishing rights.

That was Lois Priestman’s House.

There were three brothers, another one was Jonathan Priestman, a long time MD of Concert Iron Works; he lived at Shotley Lodge. And one of them lived up at Snow’s Green.

The Spa Fields Fair, Shotley Bridge and the fatal accident involving a char-a-banc c.1902

Spa Fields Fair and the Char-a-banc

1902

Every year there was a fair down at the Spa Fields by the river

The Spa was noted for its waters which came out of the rocks by the swings; it was icy cold. The bath house and saloon still remain.

I remembered a Char-a-banc coming down from Blackhill to Shotley Bridge Spa grounds that crashed. That was on 26th August 1911. Those killed belonged to the Consett Co-Operative Choir. There was a couple that died a John Joseph Person and his fiancée Ettie Stokoe. I held her hand while we waited for the Doctor. It was shortly after my 15th birthday. There were many I say die after that, but she was the first. A lovely woman. Full of ideas and hopes. There were a lot that missed out.

Every year there was this fair and the Choir had come down for that

There was a Toll Gate. You paid once and there were swings attached to these huge trees with heavy steel bars and hooks and roundabouts and a Flower Show. Carriages carrying twenty people would come in from Newcastle. I won a First Prize for a handwriting competition and for my drawings. I did one of a Roman Soldier and another of a tulip.

I remember in 1902 going down to the Spa where they had a huge fire to celebrate the Relief of Mafeking. My father used to get a magazine, ‘The Black and White Budget’ on the Boer War.

The fair in Shotley Park was stopped eventually by a Quaker family who owned the land.

He was a banker, this Jonathan Richardson, a Quaker Banker. That was a rum deal. One of his sons refused to fight in the Great War. He stayed out until conscription came in then refused. He lived by his bible, he said and obeyed the Fifth Commandment, ‘Thou Shalt Not Kill.’ They had him shipped out to France all the same and put under military command; they might have been shot for that, but Parliament stepped in and gave them hard labour.

William Lubbock – Photographer – Shotley Bridge 1902-1910

Fig. 1. Shotley Bridge, above the Flour Mill.  The boys on the road are brothers John Arthur Wilson (Jack) and William Nixon Wilson (Billy) … and by the pavement ‘a boy called Moffat whose family ran the baker’s’. Cutler’s Hall Road. 

William Lubbock – Photographer

1902

There was a teacher called Lubbock; he was a good amateur photographer.

His name was William. He was born in 1871 and had a wife called Thomasine and a daughter Marion who was two years younger than me. Lubbock taught Standard Seven so I had him in my final year. He didn’t half wallop you with a cane.

He got out to take pictures of these real winter scenes.

I was thought to be a bit of a strapping lad, all the Wilson’s were big lads, we have the blood of Blacksmiths running in our veins which explains why we last so long. I’d go out to help him carry his equipment, trudging out onto the fells through snow that came up to your waist – the drifts could cover a barn.

Talk about winters. It went on for weeks, nothing like now.

Lubbock was Chairman of the Tyneside Photography Society.

He used a box camera with all these brass fittings a tripod, a large wooden affair that weighed a few stone.

The camera used glass plates.

He took a photograph of me and Billy in 1903 or thereabouts.

We wore these wide brimmed straw hats against the sun and I was carrying a cane and jam jar. We were off to fish for tiddlers in the Derwent by the Papermill. It was in front of what is now the King’s Head, with the bank running down to the flour mill and bridge at the bottom. The road back then was wide enough for carriages to pass but was no good for motor cars. A whole row of houses were knocked down for the motorcars and wagons to get through as that was the main route to Newcastle.

Lubbock turned up at the Chancellor Pub once. I filled him with beer and walked him back to the train.

There was another teacher called Evans and a woman teacher whose name I don’t recall.

I took part in Aladdin, a Chinese Play and I was a bugler in the Boy’s Brigade.

They were masterminded by Baden-Powell around 1900.

He who went on to establish the Boy Scout movement. One time we went camping up to Allen’s Ford.

There was a Saturday Matinee in Dally’s Hall.

We’d see these cowboy films and someone would play the piano.

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