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Fig.1 Grab from a BBC Horizon programme on the brain. 2014.
The courses I’ve done with FutureLearn over the last 18 months.
- World War 1: A history in 100 Stories: Monash University
- Medicine and the Arts: The University of Cape Town
- The Mind is Flat: University of Warwick
- Understanding Drugs and Addiction. King’s College, London
- World War 1: Changing Faces of Heroism. University of Leeds
- Explore Filmmaking: National Film and Television School
- How to Read a Mind: The University of Nottingham
- Start Writing Fiction: Fall 2014. The Open University
- Word War 1: Trauma and Memory: The Open University
- World War 1: Aviation Comes of Age: University of Birmingham
- World War 1: Paris 1919 – A New World: University of Glasgow
- How to Succeed at: Writing Applications: The University of Sheffield
- Introduction to Forensic Science: University of Strathclyde, Glasgow
- Shakespeare’s Hamlet: University of Birmingham
- Climate Change: Challenges and Solution. University of Exeter
- Managing my Money: The Open University
- Community Journalism: Cardiff University
- Developing Your Research Project: University of Southampton
Those I’m on or have pending
- World War 1: A 100 Stories: Monash University
- Start Writing Fiction: Spring 2015: The Open University
- Monitoring Climate From Space: European Space Agency
- Behind the Scenes at the 21st Century Museum: University of Leicester
- Hans Christian Andersen Fairy Tales: The Hans Christian Andersen Centre
John Arthur ‘Jack’ Wilson MM
Born 20th August 1896, at his grandmother’s home, Dalston, Cumberland.
Died 3rd December 1992, at home, Gosforth, Newcastle on Tyne.
Christened Dalston, Cumbria
Raised and schooled at Benfieldside, County Durham, England.
Age 14 he left school and joined the Northeastern Brewery (September 1910) as the Office Boy at the company’s head office in the Royal Hotel.
Joined the Durham Light Infantry as one of Kitchener’s volunteers in late 1915 or early 1916
Transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, training on the Vicker’s Machine Gun at Harrowby Camp, Grantham from February to March 1916
13203 104 MGC 35th Division
Served in France at Neuve Chappel, Arras
Based on the Somme in 1916 from June to November.
Moved to the Ypres Salient in 1917 serving next to the French, billeted near Popringe and fighting the over the Ypres Canal towards Langemark, Poelcapelle, Houthulst Forest and then Passchendaele.
Made a Corporal.
Awarded the Military Medal ‘in the field’ by Brigadier Sandilands for keeping the gun in action for a week without relief. This occurred in the pillbox called Colombo House on the edge of Houthulst Forest at the end of October 1917 (20/10/17)
Transferred to the Royal Flying Corps at the end of December 1917. There are photographs of his RAF experiences.
Interview and medical at the Hotel Cecil, Hampstead then training in Hastings, Bristol, Uxbridge and Crail.
Jack flew Avro Trainers and Bristol Fighters.
He saw no action though he qualified before the Armistice, flying over the German fleet when it came north to Scapa Flow.
He stayed on at RAF Crail to help with demobbing.
Jack returned to his job at the Northeastern Brewery in 1919 and bought himself a BSA motorbike with the collection that had been made for him.
He stayed with the Northeastern Brewery until 1931.
Redundancy when Vaux took over the Northeadtern Brewery saw him move to the Scottish & Newcastle where he remained until retirement in the early 1960s
In 1992 Jack Wilson visited the Imperial War Museum and attended Machine Gun Corps and RFC/RAF commemoration events.
He took part in the 75th Anniversary of the Battle of Passchendale attending at the Menin Gate and being introduced to the King of Belgium.
He also did a moving battlefield tour guided by the author Lyn Macdonald. He was able to mark the spot were he buried two of his mates from his machine gun company. There are photographs of this.
Three hours of audio interviews conducted when Jack was 96 are available as MP3 files.
It started for me, Jack’s grandson, with my sitting on his knee after Sunday lunch at my parent’s home in Gosforth, Newcastle-on-Tyne in the mid 1960s.
And so he told and retold stories of his going along to the recruiting office in Consett, the medical and kit, basic training with the Durham Light Infantry, and transfer to the Machine Gun Corps followed by MCG training on a Vicker’s Machine Gun. He knew what the five main stoppages were. He then did two and a half years on the Western Front surviving Arras, the Somme and the worst of them all – Third Ypres and the mud of Passchendeale. At the very end of 1917 he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps and during 1918 he undertook training with the soon to be renamed Royal Air Force: military training in Hastings, navigation in Bristol, bombing at Uxbridge then flying at RAF Crail in Scotland.
Unprompted his desire to talk always begin with, ‘Have I told you about the time that … ‘
My understanding of his experience will be enhanced as I take a Masters in First World War studies with the University of Birmingham. I can imagine being at his side as I share insights he’d have found fascinating. There are still, in the world, a few people who may remember the conflict. We live still with its consequences.
Can we do justice to the memory of that generation – those who served as well as those who lost their lives. Can an unbiased debate over the causes and outcomes invigorate European and World Institutions to find ways to resolve more conflicts without the deaths and injury of combatants and civilians?
In the meantime I have three hours of interviews I conducted with my grandfather John Arthur Wilson MM between 1989 and 1992 to edit, refresh and put online. These MP3 files will be available in due course both as podcasts and as videos. As well as a verbatim transcript the approach will be to break it into 30 or more themed anecdotes – in chronological order. These will feature his photographs too, though these are essentially of his RAF training only. At this stage the highest resolution images will be put online. In due course these will be put under a computer controlled rostrum camera. By way of illustration I will seek out appropriate maps, archive photographs and appropriate additional contemporary video or stills. I have at some stage visited all the locations of this story, from Crail to Caix, from Fenham Barracks to Poelcapelle, from Hastings to Grantham. Where I can establish the copyright position I will include, reference and link to images and film from national archives. Newspapers from this era often contain many photographs.
I am a filmmaker with a broadcast credit as a director, writer and producer for a short film I made. Where and when I can I hope to recreate moments from his story on the tightest of budgets using actors, shooting in a studio or at night to envisage the claustrophobic horror of a pillbox under fire on the frontline during ‘Third Ypres’ or ‘Passchendaele’.
As my academic credentials kick in I will not only be better able to correctly reference and qualify this story, but I would hope to add further detail and illustration.
This is a labour of love – my memory of my grandfather is kept alive in this way. Where I can contribute to a regional or national story I am happy to do so providing access both to the interviews and photographs. I also welcome enquiries from schools or others, grandchildren or great grandchildren who are interested in tracing and telling a relative’s story.
As a boy, after sunday lunch, I recall sitting on my grandfather’s knee and he would start off with the line ‘have I told you about the time …’ and he’d then add, ‘we were gassed, or we took a German prisoner, or I was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps‘.
Perhaps this started my interest in history.
In his 96th year he returned to Passchandaele with Lynn Macdonald and I recorded some three hours of interviews, all transcribed here. We even visited the armoury at the Imperial War Museum where he immediately squatted down behind a Vicker’s Machine Gun and started to set through a routine of checks.
Watching the First Iraq War on TV, as a contemporary member of the Durham Light Infantry was interviewed he said, ‘That’s nothing compared to Passchendaele‘ which I turned into a TV script of the same name.
Since then I’ve used this memoir and library of references to write ‘Get Jack Back’ relating to the week in late November 1917 when he was stuck in Houlthoust Forrest and ‘Angel of the North‘ about his imagined younger sister who gets herself onto the Western Front. With the centenary nearly upon us now is the time to remember. Jack died in his 97th year. Through various quirks I found myself the guardian of his ashes in 2014. When I research and write about the First World War today, I often think what the man in the urn in the garden shed would say.
- The men from Lewes who died in the First World War (machineguncorps.com)
- Third Ypres and the Battle for Poelcapelle October 1917: A Machine Gunner’s Story (machineguncorps.com)
- Cycling in The Ypres Salient: Tyne Cot Cemetery (socyberty.com)
- Lest We Forget … Remembrance Sunday, November 11th (theepochtimes.com)
- Weekly Photo Challenge: Geometry (photographworks.wordpress.com)
Leveraging mobile technologies and Web 2.0 tools to engage those with an interest in the centenary of the First World War in the stories of the people of the era
A conference presentation for H818: The Networked Practitioner
In relation to the First World War, during its centenary commemoration, there are many places, such as war memorials, cemeteries, historic houses and battlefields that are bereft of quality, supporting information. With consideration for the needs and interests of visitors to such sites rich, multimedia information, such as audio guides and photographs, links to databases and to others with a similar interest can be provided through the use of Quick Response (QR) codes. Of interest here is to personalise commemorisation through the use of a self-generated QR code and content with the code put onto a British Legion Poppy.
This opens up the possibility of providing information at war memorials, large and small, even down to the single name, as well as at sites, buildings and on battlefields, for example informing walkers and cyclists that the old airfield was once a training area for the Royal Flying Corps showing them photographs of what it looked like or that that council building that was a convalescence home or that part of the Downs that had trenches dug in it for training or the concrete pill-box on the former Western Front where it is known an officer and two of his men died.
QR codes, orginally the creation of a supplier to Toyota, have grown in popular use in Japan and China in the 1990s, then the US, Canada and Germany. They are now used at point of sale for marketing purposes, and increasingly in libraries and museums were research is indicating how they can best be used. Implementation issues relate to the percentage of the population that do not have smart devices, the possible cost of 2G and 3G away from free Wi-Fi and adequate support for the use of QR codes which are not yet ubiquitous in the UK.
The purpose of this paper is to pull together current experiences of the use of QR codes in order to consider ways they could add to the our collective understanding of the events of the First World War. QR codes offer multiple potentials, not simply providing rich mobile multimedia content, but letting people create their own content and QR codes, to share, form hubs of like-minds and respond in their own way whether by contributing to the historical debate, offering their own family stories or being inspired or angered by the events as described and wanting to express their views in prose, poetry, painting or performance.
A campaign though collaboration and networked eLearning to put names to faces in First World War photographs, even to put faces to names on British and Commonwealth War Grave memorials. Through the use of the iconic Poppy with a unique QR code viewers are taken to material that invites them to help solve a puzzle – who are these people? What is their story? And to add content of their own: photographs from the era, pictures of artefacts, transcripts of hidden memoirs and buried letters. By connecting across multiple sites new insights of the collective experiences of those who took part in the First World War will be gained and their memories will be given new life.
Jack Wilson talks about his time doing military training with the RAF in Hastings in 1918. Born in 1896 Jack joined the Durham Light Infantry in 1915. In 1916 the Machine Gun Corps took him and her served on the Western Front at the Battle of the Somme and Third Ypres, the Battle of Passchendaele. At the end of 1917 he successfully transferred to the Royal Flying Corps where his younger brother Billy was already flying bombers. Jack completed training as a flight cadet, passing out as a Fighter Pilot on Bristol Fighters in September 1918. The complete interview runs to three hours. In due course about 30 minutes, illustrated like this, will be offered online.
Fig 1 Sketch from Jack’s Description of the movements of Corporal John Arthur Wilson, MCG, October 1917. (Excuse the note related to a fictional story called ‘The Time Telescope’ (TT) which I imagined in an adventure story to be an item that saved Jack’s skin).
My grandfather drew a version of this in biro when in his 97th year; his eye-sight was very poor. I redrew it as you see, with him adding comment and annotations. Houthoulst Forrest is a bit out, there is a rail track and I haven’t drawn it strictly North-South.
From Haig’s despatches:
After the middle of October the weather improved, and on the 22nd October two successful operations, in which we captured over200 prisoners and gained positions of considerable local importance east of Poelcappelle and within the southern edge of Houthulst Forest, were undertaken by us, in the one case by east-county and Northumberland troops (18th and 34th Divisions), and in the other by west-county and Scots battalions (35th Division, Major- General G. Mc. Franks) in co-operation with the French.
My goal, my pleasure, reliving stories he first started telling me on his knee after Sunday Lunch age 6 or so is tp be there with him, to time travel and by following closely in his footsteps survive as he did (just).
A scratch is all he suffered during the 1 1/2 years he was out there (April 1916 to December 1917).
The silver ID bracelet Jack had made in Grantham. 13203. 104 MGC.
Courtesy of published maps and Google Earth I am gradually picking out the spots. In 1992 he attended the 75th anniversary of Passchendaele and marked the spots where he buried Dick Piper and Harry Gartenfeld. Even after those years, however ‘dull and featureless’ the landscape, and however broken it had been in his time, he was able to pick out the exact spot where these men died.
Is it feasible that the Jerry Prisoner who took can be identified? Handed over to Captain Blair in October? (Later October: 20th – 27th)
His papers came through at the end of December 1917, around the 27th I believe. A couple of officers gave him pictures of themselves, but who could this be?
A senior officer of the Machine Gun Corps who gave this picture to Corporal J A Wilson on 27th December 1917 as he headed home to train with the Royal Flying Corps.
Who is it?
‘After the middle of October the weather improved, and on the 22nd October two successful operations, in which we captured over 200 prisoners and gained positions of considerable local importance east of Poelcappelle and within the southern edge of Houthulst Forest, were undertaken by us, in the one case by east-county and Northumberland troops (18th and 34th Divisions), and in the other by west-county and Scots battalions (35th Division, Major- General G. Mc. Franks) in co-operation with the French’. Haig’s Despatch
Scanning ‘The Road to Passchendaele’ John Terraine 1977 I am struck by the statement that has Haig wanting to take Passchendaele Ridge in order to have command of the open land to the east in order to use cavalry. Also Lord French’s criticism to the War Cabinet that Haig keeps making the same mistakes. From Birdwood ‘Khaki and Gown’ p 316.
British Army Maps:
- Poelcapelle – the smell from the bodies was dreadful (machineguncorps.com)
- EDGAR MOBBS DSO (Distinguished Service Order) (northantsrugby.wordpress.com)
- Looking for your family hero (bbc.co.uk)