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Fig. 1. Passchendale was a quagmire
Not like trenches. There was no communication. And you could only walk about in the dark.
(Ypres is at sea level. As the landscape is flat farming is only possible with extensive drainage. The Belgians let it flood when the Germans invaded, then with all the shelling, the place was just a morass of mud. The surrounding ridges are nearly all under 50ft high – but it was dry and gave a view of the area. That was what all the fighting was about).
“You had to watch the gun that it didn’t freeze; it was water cooled”.
We’d cover the barrel with bits of sandbag and an oil sheet – anything you could find.
You couldn’t help but get a bit of dirt on it. The conditions were absolutely serious, almost unbearable. We used to wrap out legs with sandbags right up to the knees. There were no rubber boots or anything then; it was boots and puttees.
This Lance-Corporal George Wannop was in charge of the gun.
He was only 19, another one who’d joined up under age.
It would appear that during the night when they’d given the gun a try, given it a few bursts to see that it wasn’t frozen; it jammed.
You had to do that intermittently, just to give it a burst to reassure yourself that it would work.
Wannop couldn’t get it going; it wasn’t frozen.
So in the dark he changed the lock.
You wouldn’t dare show the slightest light.
We’d been trained to change parts wearing a blindfold in Grantham.
There’s a spare lock in the case. It’s a square piece of metal with a striking pin in it and its worked by a crank inside. You lift the cover on the gun, ease it back, pull the crankshaft back, the leaver is here, ease the gun out and lift the lock out.
(75 years on Jack goes through the precise actions with his hands. His thumbs are like spoon, pressed flat from being pressed against the dual firing buttons of a Vickers Machine-gun)
Wannop did that, all in the dark, and put in a new lock. He tried the gun.
“DakDakDakDak DakDakDakDakDakDak DakDakDakDakDakDak DakDak”
OK and covered it up.
There’s a heavy fog the next morning when it starts to break daylight.
This officer, he could have only weighed nine stone and one or two officers came prowling around. He was a little worm of a man, not more than nine stone, with a great heavy coat on. You’d never get officers coming round on a clear day; this one was a complete stranger to us. They had a chat with the corporal.
“Let me have a look at your spares,” asked the skinny one.
Wannop got the case out which held the spares and low and behold there’s mud and dirt on the lock they’d been fiddling on with in the middle of the night.
He was reprimanded for a dirty lock.
Not only was he reprimanded, but so was I because I was responsible for the two guns. I had my papers going through for transfer so the last thing I wanted was this kind of bother.
“When it broke daylight we were going to examine the gun,” I said to the man. “To see what the fault was, fix it and clean it.”
He’d hear nothing of it. Another “B” that wouldn’t listen … and it was him alright, Montgomery.
He was just a weed of a man … skinny legs there, but no doubt it he was clever with the Eighth Army.
Captain Williams was damn well annoyed about it.
We all resented these men coming to the Front Line. They hadn’t the first idea what it was like. They’d be seven or eight miles back billeted in some French châteaux while our lads were being knocked to pieces. We didn’t lose any pay. Williams reassured me that my papers would still go through.
This Lance Corporal says.
“Jack, they can keep the dog’s leg and put it where the monkey puts its nuts!”
Wannop was a great tall lanky lad. He was disgusted. And I had my papers going through. I was worried it would be on my record and effect my application. Wannop was a quarter mile away from me.
George Wannop was killed the next time he went in. He was killed on the 29th of October.
It was a spot in Houthulst Forest.
He said to me he was a farmer’s son, actually his father was a dock labourer from Silloth, Cumbria – but never mind that. You didn’t get many saying their father or mother were in domestic service either.
(George had six brothers and sisters: Isabelle, Thomas, twins Margaret & Joseph, Dinah J who was my age and a younger sister Sarah).
Years after the Second World War, Norman Taylor, my brother-in-law, who lived at Ryton, bought an autobiography of Montgomery
There was a picture of this skinny little fellow.
Fig. 2 Montgomery on the right here.
Montgomery was in Ypres at the same time as me. He was a serving staff officer in the 2nd Army under Sir Herbert Plumer. (47th (2nd London Division) Montgomery had been moved from Boesinghe on the 7th June after the mines blew under Messines Ridge. He then went on towards Pilckem Ridge, Langemark, Poelcapelle and Houthulst Forrest in October 1917.
I’m sure Montgomery was our brigade machine gun officer or director of guns.
GSO2 in Plumer’s IX Corps from June 1917 onwards. (Powell, 1990)
Fig.3. Lieutenant-Major Montgomery – Front Row. Sitting. Five from the left.
RIP Lance Corporal George Wannop.
Service No. 13210, 104 Company.
Died 29th October 1917. Born 1897.
From Bletterlees, Cumberland
Parents: Robert and Dinah Wannop, of Clement House, Blitterlees, Silloth, Cumberland.
Poelcapelle British Cemetery
West Flanders (West-Vlaanderen), Belgium
Plot: VIII. D. 6.
The Five Wilson Boys
I had five brothers.
Percy, who was born in 1893. He was born over in Dalston, and christened over there. His name was Twentyman, but we called him Percy; he died of TB in his twenties. Then me, I was born in 1896.
Billy was born in 1899
His full name was William Nichol Wilson. His birthday was 23rd August. He died in June 1919 when his plane, a De Havilland Bomber (DH9), crashed over Belgium. He was delivering mail to Cologne. He was a Flight Lieutenant in the RAF. He’s buried in the a civilian Cemetery, Belgium. Flight Lieutenant William Nichol Wilson. RAF 103 Squadron. Died 8th June 1919. Age 19. I went out to visit the grave the next year.
By then the family were living out at Castleside, at 25 Consett Road
Like everyone the Murray’s had to cut back with the War and they had to let go of most of the staff, my father included.
“Why don’t we have a sister?” We kept saying to father.
I think he tried his hand but it didn’t come off.
Spencer was born in 1909. Then Stuart in 1911.
Percy went into a nursery as a gardener
He was a real gardener, not a half inch one. He trained with people called Kidd. The place was established by Walter Kidd of Ashfield, Shotley Bridge, to sell produce into Newcastle. Things were booming then around Consett & Shotley Bridge.
Billy worked at the solicitors J Ainsley & Sons on Tailor Street, Consett.
Like me he left school at 14 and joined them as an office boy. He had lovely writing so they made he a clerk. He did the copywriting. Everything was written out by hand in those days; there weren’t even typewriters, let alone computers to take your words down. You used a piece of copying paper that you dampened and laid across the paper to make a copy.
After the War I was shown some graffiti on a wall at J Ainsley & Sons. Billy had written his name there behind a picture that had been up on the wall. Beautiful handwriting. J Ainsley & Sons were owned by the Murrays. Your Great Auntie Pegg, she’s an Ainsley girl and your mother was at school with one of them.
Spencer was more or less an unqualified architect working for Murrays, Hoyles and Aynsley’.
They were all intermarried the Hoyles and Anandales, Murrays and Ainsleys. Spencer become a draughtsman in Billingham, then a manager to a concreting firm in Birmingham. He was like an architect, but an unqualified one.
Which are my ‘Twelve Books that changed the world?
Help me decide.
According to Melvyn Bragg the Twelve Books that Changed the World ( BBC TV Series) are those that follow – then I give you mine. And then you can offer yours !
Melvyn Bragg deliberately limited himself to British books
- ‘Principia Mathematica’ by Issac Newton (1687)
- ‘Married Love’ by Marie Stopes (1918)
- ‘Magna Carta’ by Members of the English Ruling Classes (1215)
- ‘Book of Rules of Association Football’ by a group of Former English Public School Men (Etonian’s I believe) (1863)
- ‘On the Origin of Species’ by Charles Darwin (1859)
- ‘On the Abolition of the Slave Trade’ by William Wilberforce in Parliament, immediately printed in several version (1789)
- ‘A Vindication of the Rights of Woman’ by Mary Wollstonecraft (1792)
- ‘Experimental Researches in Electricity’ by Michael Faraday (3 volumes, 1839, 1844, 1859)
- ‘Paten Specification for Arkwright’s Spinning Machine’ by Richard Arkwright (1769)
- ‘The King James Bible’ by William Tyndale and 54 scholars appointed by the King (1611)
- ‘An Inquiry into the Nature and Causes of the Wealth of Nations’ by Adam Smith (1776)
- ‘The First Folio’ by William Shakespeare (1623)
I don’t see me reading any of these, though I made read Melvyn Braggs book available from Sunday Times books 0870 165 8585 for £17.99.
A week later the Observer has an article with the crash title ‘Writing to Bragg about’ with a ridiculously posed shot of the aging TV presenter, LWT Million wannabe novelist author man. (It costs 99p less from the Observer).
As a reader at the Bodleian Library (I renewed my reader’s ticket) I could walk in next week, find a seat and order each of these books, in turn, from the shelves. I dare say there’d be a cue as I might not be the only person indulging myself in this way – going to the original sources, always better than taking it second hand, and preferably done BEFORE reading Bragg’s book, rather than afterwards. ‘ ‘Eh lad, there’s an academic in ye struggling te get out.’
I don’t see anything from the 21st century which surprises me; although only a few years in, in matters of fact and science in particular, much has moved on.
Something on warfare, 21st century politics or Global Warming?
Or medicine, on genetics?
On electronics or Information Technology?
On the bursting of the Web in 2001?
At least here we’re invited to make up our own list of a dozen books and to email in our choices with our reasons.
I’m likely to read ‘Twelve Books’ though I’m unlikely to read any of the books themselves. They read like a list for Oxford & Cambridge hopefuls, pack this lot in between Jan and the exams in June and you would have been able add a fourth A’ Level in the form an A Level in General Studies. I took a fourth A Level in Art. I got a B. I wasn’t going to push it by attempting a fifth A Level in General Studies.
My interest in any subjects beyond art, history, english, geography and sex were myopic in my teens.
Melvyn Bragg has made his selection the way a writer would – it is both personal and contained. What would a panel of worthies come up with? or a TV vote? A right joke. My choice These books, Melvyn Bragg adds, do not need to make a good read to be on his list. Who after all is going to ready Michael Faraday’s three volumes of ‘Experimental Researches in Electricity’ ? I think he is wrong here – the influence was outside the book, if the book could not be read or was not widely read.
The book was a mere expression of an idea that had a better life beyond its pages.
My twelve books that changed the world … that is, until it becomes the twelve or more books that have had an impact on me. Not very academic. But this is a blog after all.
1. ‘Rights of Man’ by Thomas Paine, (Part I in 1791, Part II in 1792)
Written by a man who lived here in Lewes, became a local councillor, complained a lot about the local landed gentry and then ran off to America where he joined in enthusiastically to have the ‘colony’ seek independence from Britain and a parliamentary democracy that had a monarch as the head of state. Still relevant today. I’m all for a Republic. The Monarchy needs to go.
2. ‘Utopia’ by Thomas Moore (c 1515)
A must read during my History A’ Levels, or the Oxbridge Exams. Interesting Sci-fi – the first ‘Brave New World.’ Insightful. We’re clever people us humans, when we thin, then get it down.
3. ‘The Prince’ by Nicolo Machiavelli (1513)
Another must read. Probably on some A’ level reading list, which is when I read it. Explains the word ‘Machiavellian.’ How many of those do we know? I’ve not much of any of the following, just read about them and a bit of each: Arthur C Clarke A prodigious writer of fact and fiction
4. The Manual for the Vickers MKII machine gun. (c1910)
This given to all members of the Machine Gun Corps. I have my grandfather’s copy. He was selected for what was ‘nicknamed’ the suicide squad in 1915, then saw action in Arras, on the Somme, at Passchendale and Ypres. He must have been considered good with the weapon, he said he never saw any of the thousands of Germans he must have killed – spraying bullets was his trade. It was ticket into the Royal Flying Corps where he would continue to fire a Vicker’s Machine Gun, this time through the propeller blades of a Bristol fighter. What a weapon, what a book – how they put their stamp on the 20th century and history and many millions lives. A piece of English History or on English History? Churchill?
5. Eden by Tim Smit (2001)
How to get something done in this country against the odds and especially against the obstructive councillors and characters in our councils whose response fed by activists in minority groups is generally ‘ no you can’t.’
6. French Country Cooking by Elizabeth David (1987)
Gorgeous, a great read, wonderful to cook. A piece of mid 20th century history too.
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins (1999)
Something Historical by Neil Ferguson
Good non-fiction reads I’d recommend though would be: These are not only a must read. They are books you should keep if you enjoy, sprawl with notes and share with others. They may not have defined the world we now live in, but the help explain it. When an OXford undergraduate he wrote something called ‘The Labours of hercules Sprout’ which we shot as a film … on video. 90 mins. I should know, I was the cameraman.
7. The Hite Report by Shere Hite (1982)
Informative, red with a voracious appetite by men and women and super fun to put into practice! There’s nothing a studied harder or with more gusto, or shared around (or for whom I bought copies) than this gem, this bible for those who are new to sex (or just thinking about it a lot, which is what I did when I first got my hands on this one age 15 or 16).
8. Tropic of Cancer by Henry Miller (1934)
And Capricorn, and Plexus, Nexus and Sexus. A good male read, not a wank … not porn or erotica, just a man and his stiffy.
9. Henry and June : from a Journal of Love
+ the Unexpurgated Diary of Anaïs Nin, 1931-1932
The film Henry & June introduced me to this pair when I was living in Paris. I bought Tropic of Cancer, and Anais Nin’s erotica. Then I started to read the diaries. All of them. Then everything Henry Miller had written … and their correspondence, as well as biographies.
10. What’s Going on in there? How the brain and mind develop in the First Five Years of Life by Lise Elliot Ph.D (September 2000)
Because all parents want to know, and this is intelligent and fact-based, written by a neurosurgeon but not a science text. No parent should be tempted by the popular twaddle that publishers try to make them real. Babies are creatures, extraordinary vehicles of potential. They should be understood.
11. Mother Tongue. The English Language by Bill Bryson (1991)
Amazing. Insightful. Sell it to the world.
12. A short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2004)
Had I read this in my teens, had it been available in my teens, I may have read Natural Sciences at Cambridge and followed a different, more academic and cerebral career. Brewer’s Dictionary of Phrase & Fable Roget’s Thesaurus
The Human Brain by Robert Winston
Alistair Cooke by Biography A history book?
‘Read everything you can until you can hear the people speak.
My mother bought much of what I need on my modern history reading list pre-Oxford and sent it out. Nothing stirred me, otherwise I may have been more keen to stick with history Tocqueville, in French. Gibbon on the Rise & Fall of the Trigan Empire … or should that read Roman Empire?
Can’t think what else.
The geography reading list was equally turgid; I should have thought hard about either subject earlier in at Oxford and swapped out. An art book? A geography book? Pre-teens did I read at all if it wasn’t a school text book? I draw, I didn’t write. I looked at pictures, I didn’t read. I had a collection of from the TV series by Nigel Calder, such as ‘The Weather Machine’ and ‘The New Ice Age.’
There was the ABC of Space by Peter Fairly
How Things Work parts I & II
From my godparents, ‘How things works I’ for one birthday and ‘How things work II’ for the next.
The Chambers Dictionary of English
Something from my father which I had asked for, more to please him than for the amount I would use it, though I still have it and will at times still prefer this over Dictionary.com on the Internet.
How to Ski was a book from the Sunday Times
We took on our first ski trip, when I was 13. I broke my leg, so I hadn’t really anything about common sense. But what young teenager ever has common sense.
Designing Web Usability by Jakob Nielsen (2000)
Still practical, if dull. Writing for the web and its lay-out needs to follow some simple rules if it is to be readable and scannable.
Hidden France by Richard Binns (1982)
12. Detecting Lies & Deceit. The psychology of lying and the implications for professional practice. Aldert Vrij (2001)
There are too many deceitful liars in the world. Read this to get a handle on who they might be, how you might or might not get away with lying, whether it matters and whether it does and knowing the difference. We should all be honest liars.
And some others I’ve thought of
‘Ogilvy on Advertising’ by David Ogilvy (1999)
The men who created modern advertising, aiming for hearts, not just minds.
Or ‘How to become an Advertising Man’ by James Webb Young (1963)
Given to all graduate trainees of advertising agency JWT.
The Beatles Song Book by John Lennon & Paul McCartney
Iconic Art, a band that changed the nature of modern popular music, a book that so many wannabe guitarist, lyricists, pianists and buskers must buy and browse through. But which one?
Go. Off the top of your head. Give me twelve.