Similar but different…

Richard Maddox

THE UNIFORMS ARE DIFFERENT. The featureless mud and wet has been exchanged for featureless sand and heat.

But taken almost 90 years apart by British Army photographers, these images show that for the infantryman – or PBI meaning for ‘Poor Bl**dy Infantry’ – some things never change…

Men of the 8th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment going up to the line near Frezenberg, Belgium during the Third Battle of Ypres, 5 October 1917. Image by Ernest Brooks. Image copyright IWM. IWM catalogue reference Q 2978. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194704

Men of the 8th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment going up to the line near Frezenberg, Belgium during the Third Battle of Ypres, 5 October 1917. Image by Ernest Brooks. Image copyright IWM. IWM catalogue reference Q 2978. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205194704

Men of 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment, 16 Air Assault Brigade, are silhouetted against the sun as they move along a ridge during a patrol in Iraq, March 2003. Image by Giles Penrose. Image Crown copyright. IWM catalogue reference OP-TELIC 03-010-17-145. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205219130

Men of 1st Battalion the Royal Irish Regiment, 16 Air Assault Brigade, are silhouetted against the sun as they move along a ridge during a patrol in Iraq, March 2003. Image by Giles Penrose. Image Crown copyright. IWM catalogue reference OP-TELIC 03-010-17-145. Original source: https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205219130

Note

The Third Battle of Ypres (also known as Passchendaele) lasted from 31 July to 10 November 1917.

Operation TELIC was the over-arching name for the British forces involvement in the Iraq conflict from 2003 to 2009.

More information on the career of Ernest Brooks can be found at a variety of sources, some of which are listed below:

(1) https://www.mirror.co.uk/news/uk-news/world-war-one-mirror-pictures-3376515

(2) http://www.historiccamera.com/cgi-bin/librarium2/pm.cgi?action=app_display&app=datasheet&app_id=3580

(3) https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ernest_Brooks_(photographer)

(4) https://pdnpulse.pdnonline.com/2016/10/world-war-photography-ernest-brooks.html

… This I plucked while I was convalescent. A souvenir from France …

RICHARD MADDOX

With preparations well in advance for IWM London to present the well-known art installation ‘Weeping Window’ by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper before it and  ‘Wave’ (also by the paur and currently  on view at IWM North) become part of IWM’s collection, it seems appropriate to look at some poppies already in the IWM’s custody.

IN THE UNITED KINGDOM YOU CAN ALWAYS TELL WHEN IT IS NOVEMBER. The days are shorter, the sun is wintery – almost watery – and heavy clothes find their way out of the wardrobe.

And great swaithes of  Poppies make their annual appearance – not staining the fields as they do in summer but individually on the lapels of coats and jackets.

Sold by the British Legion charity they are worn by everyone – from chauffeured royalty to jostling commuters – as people remember the dead of two World Wars and other armed conflicts since.

While the fundraising and organised remembrance can be dated from the early 1920s via the efforts of American Professor Moina Michael and Frenchwoman Anna Guérin, the popularity of  John McCrae’s poem ‘In Flanders Field’ and the Earl Haig Fund  founded by British military commander Douglas Haig in 1921 to aid ex-serviecmen, the poppy was being used as a memory token even while the war was raging.

Servicemen themselves were sending back poppy blooms to their families and loved ones.

The flowers – which have the ability to lie dormant in the earth until they are disturbed. – were awakened by the  vast military trench digging and camp building projects and emerged perhaps as reminders of other simpler times as well as symbols of enduring fortitude.

DRIED POPPY PICKED FROM THE AREA OF THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES by George Palmer, a Lance Corporal Pioneer in the Machine Gun Corps. He appears in the accompanying photograph. Image copyright IWM. IWM catalogue reference EPH 3938. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30083470

DRIED POPPY PICKED FROM THE AREA OF THE THIRD BATTLE OF YPRES by George Palmer, a Lance Corporal Pioneer in the Machine Gun Corps. He appears in the accompanying photograph. Image copyright IWM. IWM catalogue reference EPH 3938. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/30083470

George Palmer’s poppy and photograph. Picked sometime in the later half of 1917, George’s poppy is framed with his picture and has faded to almost white.

His photograph is typical of the many soldier portraits that were taken either in studios or by travelling photographers in behind the lines in towns in France, Belgium or at home in Britain.

In this image George sits in a clean and pressed uniform against a painted backdrop, his rank chevron and specialist badges clearly visible.

With photography gaining popularity, the whole idea of photographic portraits at this time is a little mixed. While undoubtedly many loved ones welcomed the small hand-printed tokens it is possible that some saw it as ‘bad luck’.

Whoever received Lance Corporal Palmer’s picture clearly saw it and the poppy as a treasured memento.

Bill’s letter to Mrs Louise Fletcher:  Anyone who has read the letters of First and Second World War servicemen will be familiar with the sentiment, one of a mixture of tired resignation, wanting the war to be over and a longing for family that can’t be expressed easily together with a desire to reassure.

Bill – his surname is not given but the way in which he writes indicates that the person he was was writing to was either his wife, sister or similar – does  all this but also tells the reader of his feelings.

Writing on 10 July 1918 he had spent two weeks in a hospital and is now back with his Battalion. He is writing to ‘Louise Fletcher’ living in Regent Road, Salford Manchester, at the time a very working class area.

He tells her that he was too sick to write and thanks both Louise and her father for the parcels they sent him.

A first glance the contents of these may appear strange. He doesn’t thank them for foodstuffs or tobacco.

Louise’s father sent two boxes of ‘Soldier’s Friend’ metal polish. (1)

It was much appreciated as by Bill as ‘we can not get that polish around here and we must shine up. They must think it will help win the war‘.

Louise apparently sent some ‘Lux’ (soap flakes) as well as a ‘rose’.

Towards the end of his letter he writes that the unit is expecting to move:

… I suppose we are going back to where we came from, the Land of Hell, for it’s nothing no more than Hell on Earth. Of course we are used to it. Your Dad said that we had not killed them all, ‘no’ and a long way from it. I wish we had for we could then have our leave…

But he ends his letter on a different note.

This I plucked while I was convalescent. A souvenir from France.

LETTER FROM A SOLDIER SERVING ON THE WESTERN FRONT TO MRS LOUISE FLETCHER enclosing a pressed Poppy flower, Copyright WM. IWM catalogue reference Documents. 8251, Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1030008110

LETTER FROM A SOLDIER SERVING ON THE WESTERN FRONT TO MRS LOUISE FLETCHER enclosing a pressed Poppy flower, Copyright WM. IWM catalogue reference Documents. 8251, Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/1030008110

NOTE

What became of George and Bill is not recorded.

There is a possibility that Bill is a Canadian as the Poppy bloom enclosed with his letter bears a label that may read ‘Sent from France by a Canuck July 9th 1918’, the term ‘Canuck’ being an informal one for a Canadian.

If he were serving with a Canadian unit his letter could be describing events leading up to the Canadian Corps role as a major participant (with the Australians) in the Battle of Amiens, part of the One Hundred Days Offensive which in turn ended the stalemate on the Western Front in favour of the Allies. (2)  

The Corps had been withdrawn from the front line to rest, reorganise and train for the Amiens battle which started on 8 August.

Bill’s comments about the ‘shining up’ could point to re-organisation and an attempt to re-invigorate pride while his comments about the Battalion moving back to the front would fit, as the Canadian Corps returned to the front in mid July.

Details of the Poppies Tour at IWM London and IWM North can be found at: https://www.iwm.org.uk/seasons/poppies-wave-and-weeping-window

If you can add any more information about either George or Bill, please see the Lives of The First World War project which is endeavouring to remember each of the 8,000,000 men and women from Britain and the Commonwealth who served in the First World War.

Just follow the link immediately below to learn more.
https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/

Sources

(1)  https://hatchfive.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/the-soldiers-friend-metal-polish-tin/ – retrieved 19 September 2018

(2)  https://www.canadiansoldiers.com/history/campaigns/westernfront/westernfront.htm – retrieved 19 September 2018

HMS Zubian – a union made in Chatham Dockyard

RICHARD MADDOX

large_© IWM (Q 61101)_HMS Zubian

HMS ZUBIAN, a Royal Navy Torpedo Boat Destroyer of the ‘Tribal’ class photographed from the air while underway. Image Copyright IWM. IWM catalogue reference (Q 61101). Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205026970

WHEN HMS NUBIAN WAS TORPEDOED IN THE ENGLISH CHANNEL on 27 October 1916 she became just another war casualty after a number of German Imperial Navy destroyers of the 17 Flotilla attacked British transports and naval auxiliary vessels in the English Channel.

The ship – a ‘Tribal‘ class destroyer – was serving with the Dover Patrol and had gone to the aid of six British vessels being harried by the enemy.

The Patrol was formed to deny German vessels access from their bases to the Atlantic Ocean and consisted of a variety of armed and unarmed surface vessels and submarines supported by aircraft and airships.

In doing so HMS Nubian ran straight into a torpedo attack by the German vessels.

Two torpedoes missed but the third hit the ship below the forward superstructure, damaging everything from that point forward. (1)

With the bow section threatening to break away, the it was decided to take the ship was taken in tow from where it was attacked off the Kent coast near Folkestone. Severe weather would blow up as the crippled ship was being moved.

When the tow lines parted, the ship was driven ashore, finally losing the damaged bow section and grounding at the base of cliffs at South Foreland near Dover on Britain’s south coast.

Just twelve days later on 8 November 1916 another ‘Tribal‘ was damaged. HMS Zulu struck a mine, this time damaging the ship’s stern.

But like Nubian before her, Zulu was able to be taken in tow, initially to the French port of Calais.

Equipment is usually scarce in times of war and this was no exception.

HMS Nubian was refloated and eventually both ships were brought to Chatham Dockyard in Kent for a bold experiment – make one ship from the two hulls.

Although the ships were built to the same basic design, they were constructed in different shipyards.

There were differences in the length, beam (that is width) and tonnage of both ships – Zulu was longer and wider but Nubian heavier.

This made the task of forging one ship this way – the first time it had been attempted – even more difficult.

HMS Zubian would see the two ships successfully grafted together – despite the fact that Zulu was approximately 18 inches wider than Nubian.

The resulting vessel – the thirteenth of the ‘Tribal’ class – was launched on 7 June 1917 and commissioned a month later on 2 July. (2)

It served with the Royal Navy’s Sixth Flotilla as part of the Dover Patrol for the rest of the war and is credited with the destruction of the German mine-laying submarine UC-50 on 4 February 1918. (3)

Caught on the surface, the submarine was rammed and then depth-charged by HMS Zubian. (4)

However German records only indicate that the vessel was lost on its ninth patrol and there is a suggestion that it was UC-79 that was attacked but not fatally as this submarine would be lost in April 1918. (5) (6)

The ship also took part in the Zeebrugge action on 23 April 1918, an attempt to blockade German naval forces within the Belgian port by the use of block ships – obselete British ships – deliberately sunk in the shipping lanes.

This objective failed and resulted in a high number of casualties amongst the attacking forces as well as eight Victoria Crosses (the highest award in the British honours system and given for gallantry in the face of the enemy) awarded. (7)

It was struck off charge after the war, sold in December 1919 before being broken up at Sunderland on the north-east coast of England. (8)

The ‘Tribal’ name would be revived during the Second World War and carried by a class of fast well-armed destroyers. These ships served with great distiction in the Royal Navy, the Royal Australian Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy during a variety of operations and in a number of theatres.

SOURCES

(1) https://thewreckoftheweek.wordpress.com/tag/hms-zubian/ Retrieved 8 September 2018 (Battle of Dover Straits)

(2) http://www.dreadnoughtproject.org/tfs/index.php/H.M.S._Nubian_(1909) Retrieved 8 September 2018

(3) https://uboat.net/forums/read.php?3,10377,10384 Retrieved 8 September 2018

(4) https://uboat.net/wwi/boats/?boat=UC+50 Retrieved 8 September 2018

(5) https://issuu.com/navynews/docs/201802/12 ‘Navy News’ February 1918, page 12. Retrieved 8 September 2018

(6) https://uboat.net/wwi/boats/?boat=UC+79 Retrieved 8 September 2018

(7) https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/community/5180 Retrieved 8 September 2018

(8) http://www.the-weatherings.co.uk/pccship0351.htm Retrieved 8 September 20180