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The war to end all wars: the centenary of World War One (LINKS)

Please offer your suggestions for additional links

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

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Passchendaele: unseen panoramas of the Third Battle of Ypres

Jack Wilson, a Machine Gunner, served in Third Ypres going in against the French line north east of Ypres up to Houthulst Forrest. These panoramas and maps allow me, with his memoir, to track his movements. Stories he told me as a boy and visualised as a six or seven year old look very different on seeing the reality.

 

Missing in Action

In 1992 Jack Wilson MM, a former Machine Gunner, visited the Western Front for only the second time in 75 years. (In 1919 he had gone to the grave of his younger brother Flight Lieutenant William Nixon Wilson ‘Billy’ who had died a few months AFTER Armistice delivering mail across Belgium in his RAF DeHavilland Bomber. He as only 19 or 20 a the time.

Here Jack is with the author Lynn Macdonald in front of the name of Gartenfeld, a fellow machine gunner who Jack had seen die in late October 1917 out on the edge of the Passchendaele Front; later this day he finds the spot where he ‘buried’ both Gartenfeld and Dick Piper.

 

RIP

 

Henry Godilph Gartenfeld, born in Edinburgh, home Barnsley. Service No. 13144., 104 Company.

Richard Harvey Piper, . Service No. 22890, 104 Company.

Decorated ‘in the field’ with the Military Medal by Brigadier Sandilands

Fig.1 Brigadier-General J W Sandilands From The History of the 35th Division  in the Great War. L-C H.M. Davson

Brigadier-Gneral Sandilands decorated Jack Wilson with the Military Medal – ‘in the field’ along with three others. He received the Military Medal. Jack described the scene as ‘a square’ with a table in the middle.

There are a couple of likely times for the week long stop in a pill-box without relief – around 11th October when the Steenbeck flooded, after the initial attack on Houthulst Forest when the heaven’s opened, or in November when once again the Broembeck was flooded. He describes the Steenbeck as a ‘lake of mud’ and to reach Egypt House at one time as requiring you to wade through ‘the puddle’.

Fig. 2. A studio photo taken soon after joining the Durham Light Infantry, March 1915 at Billy Wilson’s Photography Studio, Consett before transfer to the Machine Gun Corps or ‘Suicide Squad’

This picture used in the Consett local paper when Jack Wilson was awarded the Military Medal

Fig. 3. Clip from the Consett Gazette in late 1917

(This photograph from a faded original cutting from the paper originally kept by Jack’s mother Sarah Wilson nee Nixon)

Gerald Woods, Machine Gun Corps

Lieutenant Gerald Woods, Paschendale 25th December 1917

John Arthur Wilson MM 1896-1992

95 years later Houthulst Forest is used to first store then detonate the 200,000 bomb a found in the Ypres area every year.

http://wikimapia.org/4103376/Quarters-Bos-van-Houthulst-EOD-Houthulst-Forest

Henry Gartendfeld & Dick Piper R.I.P OCT 1917

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Fig.1. North of Poelcappelle approaching Houthulst Forest, 22nd October 1917.

(This action takes places around the pill boxes of Egypt House, a three compartment German concrete block house and Courage Post. It was becoming chilly – 13 C, and was overcast with a little rain).

When I arrived at the pill box (Courage Post) there were four of them.

‘Gartenfeld’s head was split right down the middle as if he’d been hit with an axe’.

They’d dragged him out round the side.

(Henry Godliph Gartenfeld died on Monday the 22nd October 1917)

Dick Piper was in the pill box.

‘Dick must have been standing with his head ducked down just outside the pill box’.

A piece of shrapnel had dented his helmet, scraped his face and gone into his guts.

Blair had dragged him into one corner of this pill box and put him on his trench coat. When I found him he had a sandbag tucked up under his legs so that his knees were up over his elbow.

“What’s wrong with him?” I asked and took a look.

His guts were hanging out all over the place.

“How are things?” I asked Dick.

“Pull my legs up, Jack.” He said, “Pull my legs up.”

So I packed another sandbag under his legs to stop his guts falling out.

You had a bandage and a tube of iodine fixed into the tunic. Never much use.

He died some time in the afternoon.

I left him a bit ‘til he stiffened up; that’s what you did. They were easier to move like that. I got his pay book and credentials, dragged him out of the pill box and covered him up with some bits of rubble – whatever I could find. That’s all you could do. Imagine – having to bury your friends like that.

Terrible.

Dick Piper was 45 years old. He shouldn’t have been there.

He was from the Lancashire Fusiliers. Another one who died on the 22nd October 1917. His body was never found. I knew the spot though. It broke my heart to stand there 90 years on, dwelling on the lives they had missed, their families and how they had died like that all those years ago.

Such a waste.


Fig.2.  August 1992. Mr John A Wilson MM ‘Jack’ – recalling events north of Ypres on the Passchendaele Salient. He marked the spot where Henry Gartenfeld and Dick Piper died. He was a corporal in charge of two guns, one in a pill box constructed against Egypt Farm, known as Egypt House, the second called ‘Courage Post’.

Further north there were the remnants of the Belgium army … there had been this attack to try and get this forest. It was doomed to failure from the start.

Some Horrible Ways to go – October 1917

Two weeks before there’d been a lad stuck in one of these shell-holes; they couldn’t get to him. It was too exposed.

He must have drowned or died of his wounds.

A horrible way to go that. Not being able to help yourself and slipping into the mud. I wanted a clean end to it – a bullet through the head.

Your rations were mainly corned beef and a few dog biscuits.

When I say dog biscuits they were dog biscuits, they were like bricks. No bread. Your tea and sugar was tied into a corner of a sandbag. No milk. There might be two or three tins of beans and some jam. And you took your water in a two gallon petrol can.

Two days was the limit in there; I was in for a week.

You only went in with two day’s rations. It was so bad, the conditions, they couldn’t get anyone out … the shelling, the conditions …

We finished up there filtering shell-hole water through handkerchief.

They couldn’t send anyone in to relieve us.

The only thing that lived out there were rats and they had a feast of it – October 1917

Mother! Mother!

On the way in I came across these guardsmen, eight or nine, lying in a shell-hole as though they were asleep.

(They were Gough’s XIV Corps. Guards. From the 38 Division commanded by General Lord of Cavan. They’d been held up on the west bank of the Steenbeck. Gas had been used by Jerry on as attacks had been made on Houthulst Forrest)

Get a dose of that and your lungs were ruined.

They were not like an ordinary shell.

MGC 1915

Gas came over like a dud.

You could see down this path from Courage Post right into the forest. It was facing the wood where Jerry was. There was no barbed wire, just all shell-holes and mud.

It had been raining heavily since the beginning of October.

The ground was like porridge. Parts of the front and turned into a lake. Simply getting to a front position was exhausting as you had to wade through this ooze and negotiate the rims of shell-holes.

(The rainfall in August 1917 over Northern France and Belgium was twice the August average. In fact, there were only three days that entire month when there was no rain).

Streams pushed their way through the crumbling banks of the craters and linked into impassable lakes of liquid mud. On the surface of the water there’d be an iridescent smear of oil. or it was green from gas on a puddle.

The Morass of the Battlefield - Flanders

If you saw a film of red streaking the surface it didn’t take much imagination to guess what else was down there.

And the smell. It made you wretch.

You’d vomit.

There was no getting used to the stink from all the mess, body parts, rotting away … a lads inside, heads, limbs, hands … you can’t imagine the horror of it.

Even if you buried them it didn’t take much to blow them out of the ground.

Jerries, Tommies, mules and horses. The only thing that lived out there were rats and they had a feast of it.

1914-1918 (11)

This was when I heard this kid in this dung heap by the stream shouting for his mother.

I don’t know if he’d been hit or fallen in but it stopped me in my tracks.

There was a bit of an embankment down to the stream. When it rained it was like a river, full of frogs and all this filth. On the other side there was this shell hole. All I could see was his head and shoulders sticking up above the mud.

Shell holes could be 30-50ft deep.

They quickly filled with water which formed a muddy sludge of body bits, broken equipment and what not. This was behind the pill-box they named Egypt House 200-300 yards short of Houthulst Forest.

I leant down to get this lad, mind you with all that mud I might have slipped in myself. The remnants of the Belgian army were nearby.

The line faced the Ypres Canal with Houthulst Forest on the other side

There’d been this attack to try to get around Houthulst forest which the French had taken on the 9th October. Doomed to failure from the start. That July the French had held a short piece of the line between Boesinghe and the Yser after which the remnants of the Belgians took over.

“Mother, mother.” He was saying.

So I grabbed this lad’s shoulder-belt and told him to help himself.

“Kick man, kick. You’ll have to get yourself out of this one.” I said.

He kicks about and I get him onto the duckboards.

“I can’t wait.” I tell him.

You couldn’t stand around out there with all the shooting going on.

And off I went.

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You’ve got a Blighty One – October 1917

We had another casualty, a Birmingham lad who was in charge of that gun.

The engineers would rig up a bit of a dug out on a dry spot and make a bit of shelter with corrugated sheeting.

They’d been trench mortared.

This Birmingham lad had been hit in the shoulder with a trench mortar fragment. They brought him to my gun as the duckboard led back from it. Other than that you were walking through the mud.

There were meant to be four in a team, but it never got up to scratch, it was more like two. We were organised in four sections: A,B,C,D. The joke was they had us training in teams of Five at Grantham; that was never going to happen, not the need and not the man power.

I said to this Birmingham lad, “You’ve got a Blighty.”

I kept him there ‘til late. Blair had him taken away.

I saw Blair a few days later. He told me this lad had died.

Blair was the Section Officer; Williams was the C.O.

(The edge of Houthulst Forest was reached by XIV Corps and the French in an attack on the 9th October 1917.

On the 12th October the XIV Corps entered the forest. Haig wanted to force the enemy to evacuate the Forest; an objective he continued to push for throughout October 1917).

As machine-gunners we were sent in to hold the position.

This is what I learnt after the war, the whys and wherefores; what I was doing in that stink.

I was in the spot at least four times.

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