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A week ago …

les300jours

 

A week ago I turned 55. I remember writing something similar when I turned 25. Would I keep writing a diary. Thirty years ago I did, it took me through the ‘final encounters’ and misadventures of my youth and into coupledom, marriage and children. The diary died when co-habiting gave me something better to do before my head hit the pillow.

A lifetime later, the children are adults, I crave the daily exhalation of words onto a page. I do this no longer as means to check or reflect on my actions, rather it is simply a record of them.

Any day, let alone any week, will during waking hours involve a good deal of reading, cooking, dog walking, writing, researching, thinking and drawing. It may include sailing, or teaching swimming. It used to include a session at the guitar singing to an empty house … but it is never empty.

I get up within minutes of becoming conscious. This can be instigated by the light (in summer), one of the young adults coming in from a nightclub, the dog trying to get into our bed, or bedroom, or precisely, in winter months, the various aquaria in our neighbour’s house needing a boost of warm anywhere between 4.10am and 5.30am. Deep sleep down my senses are extraordinarily alert.

For the last couple of days, yet again. I make the effort to improve my French. School failed me, an exchange kind of worked, working in France helped a lot, returning to the UK did not … an OU BA in French was a false-start that had me back at school, while I enjoy Rosetta Stone which has given me an accent that suggests I know what I am talking about (I don’t). I have to write French legalese once a year which I am dreadful at. And five nights a week we watch a French movie … even going to the lengths of putting a book in front of the TV to cover the subtitles.

And then along comes ‘Les 300 Jours de Verdun’. It is in French, of course. It is about the First World War. It helps to know the context of the words being used. This, French and ski resorts is the sum total of my French vocab.  My wife ought to be far more fluent, a year in a French speaking secondary school age 13 in Montreal, a year or two working in Fance and 17 years analysing French medical experts on every drug the pharmaceutical industry can muster. Her vocab is no less specialist than mine: she can hold down a meaty conversation with a consultant heart surgeon but struggle to grapple the idiosyncracies of French property law.

Meanwhile, should I ever require conversational French on artillery strategy during the First World War, my vocab is building.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Wanting to hear about the First World War : 1915 ‘The year of trial and error’.

The Western Front Association presents the Fourth President’s Conference – a series of talks through-out the day

Fig.1 Jean-Baptiste Tournassoud Poilus of the 77th Infantry Regiment (1915)

1915: A Year of Trial and Error at the Tally Ho! Conference Centre, Birmingham

Key speakers:

  • “The Breakthrough that never was: German Plans for an Offensive on the Western Front in 1915″ Dr Robert Foley
  • “The Trench Warfare Department 1914 – 1915″ John Sneddon

Booking details

Why I found the “1914: When the World Changed Forever” at York Castle Museum such a worthwhile visit

If I have time on my hands in a town I’ve not visited for a while I might wander by the war memorial. During these centenary years of 1914-18 you might even find a museum: a local exhibition on a regional division or local battalion, or a National Trust property that was used as a hospital. Until 2019 York Castle Museum has the WW1 exhibition:

1914: When the World Changed Forever

York Castle Museum has ample space to spread its narrative. It offers visitors five carefully chosen narratives to follow; we might think of them as ‘personas.’ I wonder if from the start we could be invited to think specifically about a great grandparent or great uncle who may have served in the war. We are invited to think in turn about Alice, Thomas, John, Albert and John; the bookkeeper, the mechanic, woodman, shop assistant and a doctor. I wonder also about a child’s war, or others on the home front.

Who will you follow?

Fig. 1 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather, Jack Wilson, was two weeks short of his 18th birthday when war was declared in August 1914. He’d already been working for four years as office boy then brewer’s clerk for the North Eastern Brewery, Consett, Co. Durham.

Fig.2. Studio Portrait of Private John Arthur Wilson, DLI (before transfer to the Machine Gun Corps) This picture was used by the Consett Gazette in 1917 when Corporal Wilson of the MCG was awarded the Military Medal. 

My grandfather joined up a few months after his 19th birthday; a few of them from the office went along from the office.  Jack’s kid brother Billy joined the RFC shortly after, lying about his age as he wasn’t even 17. He was a pilot within six months.

Can you think of someone from your family, or from your family history who joined up? Or who would have had a story such of those above? Do you know if someone from your street joined up? A typical street during the Great War would have seen most men, some far younger, some far older joining up and lying about their age. It can be a shock to discover just how many from your local school lost their lives.

The York Castle exhibition uses objects that would have been familiar to the typical recruit. For example, an eye-test as part of the medical.

Fig. 3 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather Jack, age 19 did this at Mortimer Road School, South Sheilds, in November 1915. He repeated it at the Hotel Cecil at the beginning of 1918 as part of his transfer to the Royal Flying Corps over three years later. I took him for an eye test in 1989 when sadly he couldn’t even see the first letter and age 93 it was suggested that he didn’t drive any more. Whilst you could lie about your age, many 15 year olds got through, you couldn’t lie about your height. In 1914 you had to be 5ft 6in, though this soon dropped to 5ft 3in. To join the Guards you had to be 6ft … unless you were the Prince of Wales. Edward was 5ft 6in … he looks diminutive and childlike next to far taller, and fall older men. He had an interesting war which I am researching to cover his travels and travailles day by day.

Fig. 4 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

On 22nd October 1917 my grandfather buried the 42 year old Henry Gartenfeld. ‘He shouldn’t have been there. A married man with three kiddies.’ That’s how he talked about it. ‘It didn’t matter about me, not being a married man.’  The reality is that older men not only joined for patriotic reasons: they joined because they thought it a better alternative, than say working in the cotton mills or down a mine. 

Fig. 5 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

Here the exhibit in the York Castle Museum talks about the bible. Jack Wilson, who was transferred from the DLI to the ‘Suicide Squad’ the just forming Machine Gun Corps, prized matches about everything else. He swapped his cigarettes for matches whenever he could. He never smoked. One reason he lived to be 96 then. He didn’t drink much either, though worked in the brewery business for the better part of fifty years. He wasn’t a Quaker, but many were.

Fig. 6 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

I recognised this clasp knife because my grandfather had his and still used it 75 years after it was issued. I have it somewhere. A little oil and it is what I take sailing with me. As well as photos, a watch, a paybook, his Vicker’s Machine Gun manual, and his RAF Log Book and medals he had a couple of harmonicas from the war.

Fig. 7 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather would play a few tunes when we were little; he was quite good. He could also do tricks with coins. These, and many other minor skills, such as repairing watches, he picked him in the trenches or out on reserve where for the bulk of the time you were looking for something to relieve the boredom. He often spoke of finding smashed up cars they would fix, or taking bits on one occasion from a plane that had come down near to their pill-box.

Fig. 8 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

Were these the standard issue? Great for a swap according to my late grandfather John Arthur Wilson MM. We’re asked to consider where each of our feature characters have got to by the end of 1914. A map of Western Europe pinpoints them. 

Fig. 9 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

If you haven’t caught any of the episodes yet it is worth listening to BBC Radio 4’s drama serial ‘Homefront.’ It’s back from the 25th May.

The choices have been carefully made for this exhibition. It is intimate. My ticket gives me entry for a full 12 months. Unfortunately I live 261 miles away at the other end of England. All the more reason to make these notes and to have all these pictures to remind me what I saw.

Fig. 10 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

Some of the most harrowing stories I heard from my grandfather were of the soldiers who took a long time to die. Dick Piper, a machine gunner like my grandfather, took a piece of shrapnel in the belly on the 21st October and died the following day. There was nothing to do for him other than put on dressings and make him comfortable by wedging bricks against his feet so that he could keep his legs pressed into his stomach. My grandfather described it as very matter of fact to wait until the body stiffened up before dragging it out and ‘burying’ it under rumble. 75 years later he marked the spot with a Commemoration Poppy. Imagine that. Returning to the very spot, where, on that occasion, two of his mates had died.

Fig. 11 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

On the edge of Houthulst Forest in late 1917 – he returned to pillboxes north of Poelcapelle repeatedly in October, November and December, my grandfather took a prisoner – this German soldier got lost in the early morning fog and simply wandered into the pillbox they’d taken from the Germans a few weeks earlier. He was with the MGC crew for the entire day showing off photograph, a Mausser Pistol that was taken off him and looking at the odd looking currency.

What have you discovered? 

Fig. 12 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum 

Every story you hear of the First World War fascinates. Everyone who took part, whether the volunteered or were conscripted, is a story where someone who last all that was familiar and near to them behind. 1/7th were killed.

Fig. 13 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum 

At the very end of 1917, have survived all of Third Ypres, my grandfather’s papers came through to transfer to the Royal Flying Corps. It was 27th December. The officers wished him well, and gave him pictures of themselves. The company Sergeant gave him a Webley Revolver, just like this one. Saying he’ed have to buy one otherwise once he joined the RFC. He had this gun until there was a weapon’s amnesty in Britain and being a law-abiding man he handed it in.

Fig. 14 Kodak Box Brownie 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum 

As a flight cadet my grandfather had several months of training to get through. He started with military training at RAF Hastings, then to Bristol to learn aeronautics billeted in Haig’s alma mater, Clifton College. on to Uxbridge for bomb training and finally up to Scotland for flight training He bought a Kodak camera though and made a visual record of his RAF training between June 1918 and November 1918.

Fig. 15. Flight Cadet John Arthur Wilson MM. RAF Crail, September 1919, age 23. 

He stayed on with the RAF until February 1919 to help demob. Very sadly, in June 1919, his kid brother, who at 19 was a Flight Sergeant piloting bombers crashed over Belgium delivering mail.

We come to the end of the exhibition and are asked to think about our featured characters and what happened after the war.

 Fig. 16 1914: When the world changed forever. York Castle Museum  

My grandfather was lucky. He had survived unwounded. He returned to the job he had started as a boy of 14. He’d been away for over 3 1/2 years. Money put aside to him by work colleagues bought him a motorbike. Things weren’t to run smoothly though, recently married and with a one year old he was made redundant in 1932 when the North Eastern Brewery was sold to Vaux. He had 22 years service if you include the war years. He joined Scottish & Newcastle Brewery the following year and put in nearly 30 years with them. His war never ended. Growing up I was the grandchild who listened to his stories. How I envisaged these stories changed as my knowledge of the war grew. Out of the blue he’d say things like, “have I told you about the time … ?”

Fig. 17 John Arthur Wilson MM meeting Belgian dignitaries with his daughter, during the 75th anniversary commemoration of Third Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele in July 1992 at the Menin Gate.

Jack attended the 75th anniversary of Third Ypres, Passchendaele in 1992 – one of five veterans that year. He also attended events marking the formation of the Machine Gun Corps and the formation of the RAF.

Fig.18 Memorial to the fallen of the York Law Society

At the end of the York Castle exhibition on the First World War visitors are invited chalk up a thought or memory on a series of large black boards. And finally we pass through an ante-room which features a couple of memorials to the fallen. These are made all the more heartbreaking when you think they could be your brother, son or father, where this 100 years ago. I find such memorials in schools harrowing. These days online you can find where everyone lived: it is a shock to learn that a father and so may have served and died who once lived in your house.

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.

How has our image of heroism changed over the last 100 years in the context of the 100th anniversary of the First World War?

World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism. University of Leeds [Three Weeks] (4 hours a week) 72% completed

Another interesting take on the First World War that is able to be very broad in it its reach as participants work together to understand what heroism does and has meant. There is an interesting exercise to curate our own galleries of images and share images and information about memorials that have resonance to us.

WORLD WAR 1: A HISTORY IN 100 STORIES

WORLD WAR 1: A HISTORY IN 100 STORIES: Monash University [Six Weeks] (4 hours pw)
6% [Just started]

With its heart in Australia and the experience of ANZAC combatants and families this course has a rich variety of contributors and approaches. There are the mandatory short ‘pieces to camera’ by academics and contributors, but also short films, further reading to follow and a modest written assignment – to write an epitaph.

5 Free Online Courses on the First World War from FutureLearn

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.1 The Response, Newcastle

There are several ways to enter thinking relating to the First World War courtesy of Open University subsidiary FutureLearn. Each of the First World War courses takes a different tack: aviation, Paris Treaty, idea of heroism and coming up soon, through one hundred personal stories.

During the recent course on heroism we were asked to share images of out favourite First World War Memorials.

Born and raised in Newcastle my late mother went to the Art School on the other side of the road, then King’s College, Durham. She often talked of this memorial, knew its history and had done studies of it as a student.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.2. Lewes War Memorial

I know Lewes War Memorial as I have lived here for nearly 15 years. As a member of a bonfire society we stop at the memorial every 5th November … so whether there is a centenary or not, we make a lot of fuss about it. This memorial features online where Steve George has pinned every name to an address in the town. This make for very painful viewing as you realise how many households lost husbands and sons to the war.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.3 My late mother and grandfather at the Tynecot Cemetery marking the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Passchendaele (Third Ypres).

If I were to add a couple of other memorials it would be the extraordinary First World War memorial to mariners at Tower Hill with sumptuous stone carvings around the miniature garden where it is set, and the oddly incongruous memorial to the Machine Gun Corps at Hyde Park Corner which shows the figure of Boy David. I was a standard barer at a memorial to the 75th anniversary of the formation of the Machine Gun Corps in which my late grandfather had served … he was there too, age 94.

From WW1 FL Memorials

Fig.4. The Tower Hills memorial to mariners of the First World War

And most recently, at my daughter and son’s school, I came across this extraordinary mural that fills the assembly hall of the old Grammar School. Surely this achieves its goal of creating a lasting memory amongst students?

Fig. 5 Brighton Grammar School First World War commemoration mural

My First World War Future Learn (MOOCs) … online courses:

Coming up:

World War 1: History in a 100 Stories Follow at #FLww1stories  Starts 13th April. Duration Five Weeks. Study time: Four hours a week.

Completed with repeat dates:

World War 1: Trauma and Memory Follow at #FLTrauma15  Starts 25th May. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Two hours a week.

World War 1: A New World Order (The Paris Treaty of 1919) Follow at #FLtreaty Starts 22 June. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Five hours a week.

World War 1: Aviation Follow at #FLaviation Starts 13th July. Duration Three Weeks, Study time: Three hours a week.

World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism Follow at  TBA. Duration Three Weeks. Study time: Four hours a week.

Having completed all but World War 1: History in a 100 Stories my sincere suggestion would be to set aside seven hours a week. I aim to do an hour a day during the week and complete on Friday. I generally achieve this unless I get deeply engrosses in the conversation, or have to go over a point a few times to understand it. Maybe 45 minutes every day then. Skip the discussions and these are easily done: then it becomes akin to watching a bit of TV and reading a few leaflets – not the same as testing your thoughts, and having your ideas tested, turned around, built upon and altered.

First World War related links

The British Library First World War Resource

Imperial War Museum

World War One Centenary

WW1 Shellshock film

Commonwealth War Graves Commission

1914 IWM Centenary Projects

National Archive

Department of Culture, Media & Sport

University of Birmingham WW1 : Beyond Blackadder

French Embassy Announcement on investment in remembering the La Grande Guerre

Arras – Real Time Tweet

Ypres

Gas attack at Ypres

BBC World War One

The War of the World Professor Niall Ferguson

Red Cross Fickr Stream

First Hand Accounts of WW1

Learning Resources for Teachers

Europeana

Paul Read : Research, photos and battlefields

Infographics of WW1

In Act of Remembrance

Woman of WW1

Love to Learn with Pearson Education

The Open University

Open University WW1

OU History BA

OU History MA

OU History MA Part One

OU History MA Part Two

Total War and Social Change

What is Europe? Free learning from The OU

History as commemoration

Centenary Flickr Wall

In Flanders Fields Museum

In Flanders Fields Educational Activities

What’s a MOOC from FutureLearn life? It’s as easy as turning the pages of a book

Fig.1 Alice in Wonderland pOp-Up.

FutureLearn MOOCs are as easy and as pleasurable to do as a child turning the pages of pop-up book on Christmas morning surrounded by friends and family.

Engaging. Puts a smile on your face. Teaches you something. Leaves you wanting more. What content is presented and the way it plays out changes things. The interaction with others matters massively.

My interest is e-learning. A decade ago it was web-based learning and before that it was online learning … as compared to ‘offline’ learning on an intranet or in a computer learning centre. Across this period, whether on Laser disc, CD-rom, DVD, or online the key words to describe a successful piece of learning might include: easy to use, intuitive, effective, measurable results, gamified and impressive. ‘Impressive’ for a corporate client has always been important – they want to see how their money is spent. It matters to jazz a thing up, to find a way to deliver exception creative qualities in both the ideas and the execution of these ideas. In H.E. this ‘impressiveness’ has been thin on the ground the experience and view of H.E. that someone talking to camera with a slide show or whiteboard will do the job; it doesn’t, not any more.

At the risk of writing a list I want to think about the ‘enhanced learning’ experiences that have impressed over the last 15 years:

Audi Shop DVD – Gold Award Winner at the IVCA awards. Stunning animated 3D animations of the engine. Like a 3D animated Dorling Kindersley

What are you like? – Gold Award Winner at the IVCA awards. An interactive life and career guide for teenagers done in the style of ‘In Betweeners’ and ‘Some Girls’ – nailed the audience with creative tone and visual effects. This won BAFTAs, the IVCA Grand Prix and NMA Effectiveness Awards.

Ideafisher – first on floppy discs, then a CD. It did in the 1990s what various websites do today by linking vast collections of aggregated ideas and concepts that it filters out and offers up. The closest I’ve felt to AI for creativity.

MMC – online marketing courses. These were, for me, in 2010, an early example of stringing the face to camera lecture together with course notes to create a course. Still more like a self-directed traditional lecture series but the volume of content was admirable and some of the tools to control the viewing and reading experience were innovative.

TED Lectures. Are they learning? Or are they TV? Are they modelled on the BBC’s Annual Reith Lecture series? Top of the Pops for the lecture circuit so tasters and Open Education Resources for grander things.

Rosetta Stone – iPad App

Pure simplicity. I love these. I gave a year to an intermediate course in French, learnt some grammar and fixed several problems with my pronunciation. Like that game ‘Pairs’ you play as a child: a pack of cards with pairs of images on one side that you pair up. With considered, only sometimes over art-directed photography. Repetitive, always in the language you are learning. The next best thing to being dropped in amongst native speakers as an infant. It just works.

iTunesU – The History of English in One Minute.

Not so much a course as a series of stunning and memorable cartoon pieces that galvanise your interest. The next step is to follow through with a free trial course through OpenLearn and perhaps a nudge then towards a formal course with the Open University proper.

FutureLearn – the entire platform.

As easy as reading a book. I’ve done eight of these and have another three on the go (two for review rather than as a participant). Across the myriad of subjects and offerings there are differences, all gems, but some are more outstanding than others. It is no surprise that those MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) produced by the Open University are some of the very best; it’s what you’d expect with their experience. Other university’s shine through for their confidence with the the platform too, for example, ‘How to read a mind’ from the University of Nottingham.

MOOCs I love enough to repeat:

Start Writing Fiction: From the Open University

I may have been through this a couple of times in full and now dip back into it as I get my head into gear. I’ll do this as often as it takes to get the thinking to stick. It’s working. I read as a writer. I will interrupt a story to pick out how a succinct character description works.  I’m also chasing up a myriad of links into further Open University courses and support on creative writing. For example: next steps, creative writing tasters, and audio tasters on iTunes. 

MOOCs I may repeat next year … or follow similar topics from these providers:

Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: From the Open University with the BBC

World War 1: Paris 1919 – A New World: From the University of Glasgow with the BBC

MOOCs I admire that target their academic audiences with precision:

How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham

Shakespeare’s Hamlet: From the University of Birmingham

Web Science: How the Web is changing: From the University of Southampton

 

World War 1: Paris 1919 A MOOC from the University of Glasgow

World War 1: Paris 1919 – A New World: University of Glasgow [Three Weeks]

100% Coming out of the MA in British Military History with a Postgraduate Certificate and 60 credits after one year it was good to take part in something carried by a leading academic. A challenge is worth taking on when there is something new to learn and understand. The WW1 theme hooked the interest and most students expected to stay there. Even if off my brief I was nonetheless happy to go the distances stretching out through WW2 and the creation and early history of the United Nations.

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