The Missing – a tale of two families

Alison Shannon, IWM North

Alison Shannon is a Museum studies graduate student at University of Manchester completing a work placement to digitally document the handling collection related to First World War soldiers at IWM North.

Here she shares one of the moving stories that she has encountered.

A SOLDIER’S DIARY is both a challenging and exciting task for a museum studies student. It is an object that is so symbolic and representative of an individual’s experience.

THE FIRST PAGE OF WILLIAM COCHRANE'S DIARY instructing that it should be returned to his wife, Harriet at their address if found.

THE FIRST PAGE OF WILLIAM COCHRANE’S DIARY instructing that it should be returned to his wife, Harriet at their address if found.

The challenge lies not only in the practical difficulty of deciphering 100 year old faded pencil handwriting, but the emotional weight of reading about those difficult experiences. Especially when you know the writer will not survive the war.

In the IWM North handling collection I had the privilege of encountering the diary of Corporal William Joseph Cochrane with entries from the beginning of his service, July 31st to October 22nd, 1915.

One particular entry led me on a journey.

The entry for Sunday 29 August 1915 reads:

“A beautiful morning very quiet. Heard about Bob Leake. Bled to death unable to bury him owing to shrapnel. Died sat up. God Bless his soul.”

In the handwriting you can see that he had crossed out the word ‘your’ before he wrote ‘Bob Leake’.

Later while searching for records, I found that Cochrane was married to a woman called Harriet and her  maiden name was Leake.

I wasn’t sure what the relation was but the inclusion of the word ‘your’ was touching, meaning that he was thinking of writing to his wife before he realized it was only his diary.

WILLIAM AND HARRIET and their young family. He wears his Army uniform and proudly shows his Corporal's stripes.

WILLIAM AND HARRIET and their young family. He wears his Army uniform and proudly shows his Corporal’s stripes.

With this information I took to the archival records armed with only a name and death year.

But I was able to find him.

Sergeant Robert Francis Leake of the 1/8 Battalion Manchester Regiment was killed in action in Gallipoli on June 4 1915 not far from where Cochrane himself was stationed. His name is recorded with 20,905 others on the Helles Memorial on the Gallpoli Peninsula.

Following that, I was able to find a census record which identified Robert Leake as Harriet Leake’s oldest brother. Cochrane was imagining writing to his wife, with her heavy on his heart, perhaps desperately wishing he could be there to console her about her brother’s death.

Robert Leake is commemorated on the Helles Memorial in Turkey. He was 36 years old.

While transcription can be difficult and searching through records can be extremely frustrating, moments like this make it so rewarding and fulfilling.

To be able to empathize with two people long gone; Cochrane, writing in his diary about the death of his brother-in-law, and Harriet, feeling the grief of losing a brother.

Reading the diary was made even more tragic as I knew that one year later Harriet would lose her husband as well.

Corporal William Cochrane was killed in action on the Somme on 7 October 1916 while serving with the 12 Battalion The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment.

This knowledge made it incredibly painful to read entries like, “Heard about the terrible nature of the battles from our boys most of whom are killed, wounded or missing. It is awful hope + pray we come through alright.” and “Always thinking of home sweet home. It will be sweet when we get home which I hope to do + I pray every day to our maker to guard my life as he is the only one who can”.

His is one of the 72,338 names commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing in France.

Tracing back through records, following the connections between people (wife, husband and brother) is a profound reminder of the bonds we all form as human beings and the immortality of those relationships that endure over 100 years later through the brief and simple words of a diary.

Further information

More details of the lives of Robert and William – and almost eight million others – can be found at IWM’s Lives of the First World War project.

The project has now closed, but we will preserve all the wonderful contributions made as a free-to-access permanent digital memorial, available from June 2019 on iwm.org.uk.

In addition the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has details of the respective Memorials to the Missing where each man is commemorated.

In addition the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has details of the respective Memorials to the Missing where each man is commemorated.

William can be found by searching https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/761073/cochrane,-william-joseph/ and Robert’s details are at https://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/690227/leake,-robert-francis/.

All links retrieved 5 March 2019.

Linda Kitson – IWM’s official artist during the Falklands Conflict 1982

RICHARD MADDOX

IN MAY 1982 illustrator Linda Kitson became the first female artist to officially accompany men into battle and record the experience.

'MY FIRST FLIGHT WITH 825 SQUADRON' May 1982. An aerial view of the QE2 from the cockpit of a Sea King helicopter. The pilot is seated facing out to the ship below. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference Art.IWM ART 15530 10. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/15358.

‘MY FIRST FLIGHT WITH 825 SQUADRON’ May 1982. An aerial view of the QE2 from the cockpit of a Sea King helicopter. The pilot is seated facing out to the ship below. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference Art.IWM ART 15530 10. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/15358.

Commissioned by the Imperial War Museum’s Artistic Records Committee to produce work for the Museum and the Royal Navy’s Fleet Air Arm.

On 12 May she was embarked on the liner MS Queen Elizabeth II and sailed with men of 5 Infantry Brigade to the conflict between the Argentinian military government and the UK in the Falkland Islands (Islas Malvinas). (1)

The ship had been ‘taken up from trade’ (requisitioned) to serve as one of the transports that would carry British forces to re-take the Falkland Islands from Argentine control who an operation that had begun 2 April 1982.

The original plan was for Linda to travel only as far as Ascension Island a major staging post for the British forces on their way south to the Falklands but still some 8,000 miles away. Instead she continued on the voyage. (2)

Linda’s journey would take her from Southampton in the south of England to South Georgia in the southern Atlantic Ocean – which by that time she arrived had been recaptured by British forces. There she transferred by Royal Navy Sea King helicopter to another liner, the SS Canberra on May 28 for the 800 nautical mile journey from South Georgia to the Falklands.

Linda’s pilot on that occasion was Lieutenant Commander Robin Everall, RN of No. 825 Naval Air Squadron, Fleet Air Arm.

She states in her book that ‘On May 21 he left quite suddenly. It was later said that he delivered the ceasefire papers to Port Stanley on the night of June 14. (3)

It is stated by another source that on that same day he and his crew flew continuously for 10.5 hours in support of the British Army’s Welsh Guards and the Gurkhas as they advanced on Port Stanley the Falkland Islands capital in the final stages of the conflict. (4)

As notable as this sortie is it was of course only part of the Squadron’s effort. One source states that in a two week period during the conflict No. 825 Naval Air Squadron flew 1700 hours – the equivalent number of hours they would have amassed over six months flying in the UK. (5)

The world-famous Queen Elizabeth II was deemed to be too prestigious – and too valuable a target – to risk getting too close to the Falkland Islands.

The ship would remain in the area of South Georgia until a nearby British ship was attacked. It then evacuated casualties back to the UK, arriving at Southampton on 11 June. (6)

SS Canberra would return to the UK after a hectic time spent landing British troops in the face of sustained Argentine air force attacks in San Carlos Water.

Although the 250 metre long liner (nicknamed the ‘Great White Whale‘ because of her colour) would enter the landing area three times to transferring troops. (7)

Miraculously it was not hit.

This may be because – in addition to being briefed to attack the warships in preference to the transports – the attacking pilots mistook the ship’s predominately white colour scheme for that used by hospital ships.

After the conflict had ended the ship repatriated Argentine prisoners of war. On 11 July Canberra entered Southampton at the end of its voyage home.(8)

THE INSTRUCTIONS on Kitson's portfolio of work. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference Art.IWM ART 15530 63. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/15413

THE INSTRUCTIONS on Kitson’s portfolio of work. Image copyright © IWM. IWM catalogue reference Art.IWM ART 15530 63. Original source https://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/15413

Aftermath

Linda Kitson is still a practising visual artist – although no longer using traditional media.

Following an attack of serious depression after her marriage came to an end she did not draw traditionally for more than a decade. (9)

She then started experimenting and creating artwork on mobile electronic devices. (10) Examples of her work can be found on her website. (11)

SS Canberra was sold for scrap in 1997, the operation – which took place in Pakistan – took a year to complete. (12)

MS Queen Elizabeth II is now a floating hotel and conference centre in Dubai. (13)

It is believed that Commander Everall RN commanded No. 771 Naval Air Squadron before taking at least one staff job with the Ministry of Defence in London. (14)

He was awarded the Queen’s Commendation for Gallantry in the Air – an award for specific actions during non-active service. The award was published on 14 June 1986. (15)

SIX OF LINDA KITSON'S DRAWINGS on display at IWM London showing events during the Falklands Conflict. Starting with British soldiers boarding the liner QE2, landing craft alongside Canberra, the burning wreck of the Sir Galahad landing ship and Scots Guardsman after the capture of Mount Tumbledown. Image copyright © R Maddox 2019.

SIX OF LINDA KITSON’S DRAWINGS on display at IWM London showing events during the Falklands Conflict. Starting with British soldiers boarding the liner QE2, landing craft alongside Canberra, the burning wreck of the Sir Galahad landing ship and Scots Guardsman after the capture of Mount Tumbledown. Image copyright © R Maddox 2019.

Sources

(1) https://rusi.org/publication/rusi-journal/drawing-falklands-julian-thompson-and-linda-kitson-discuss-war-artists-art – retrieved 8 February 2019

(2) https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/art/features/women-at-war-the-female-british-artists-who-were-written-out-of-history-2264670.html – retrieved 8 February 2019

(3) The Falklands War: A Visual Diary, Linda Kitson. Published by Michael Beazley in association with Imperial War Museum (1983) – page 19.

(4) https://issuu.com/navynews/docs/198210 – retrieved 8 February 2019

(5) The Falklands: Air War, Rodney Burden, Michael Draper, Douglas Rough, Colin Smith and David Wilton. Published by Arms and Armour Press (1986) – page 247.

(6) http://www.beyondships4.com/queen-elizabeth-2-falklands-2.html – retrieved 8 February 2019

(7) http://www.sscanberra.com/hist4finest.htm – retrieved 8 February 2019

(8) https://www.cruiselinehistory.com/the-great-british-liner-the-ss-canberra-the-last-gasp-of-the-british-empire/ – retrieved 8 February 2019

(9) https://www.studiointernational.com/index.php/linda-kitson-interview-drawings-and-projects-house-of-illustration-london – retrieved 8 February 2019

(10) https://www.londoncalling.com/features/linda-kitson-ipad-pictures-of-the-scalpel-the-city – retrieved 8 February 2019

(11) http://www.lindakitsondrawings.co.uk – retrieved 8 February 2019

(12) http://www.sscanberra.com/hist6fweek.htm – retrieved 8 February 2019

(13) https://www.theqe2story.com/aboutQE2/QE2Today.php – retrieved 8 February 2019

(14) https://www.royal.uk/military-honours-and-awards – retrieved 8 February 2019

(15) https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/50551/supplement/25/data.pdf and https://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issue/50551/supplement/26/data.pdf – retrieved 8 February 2019

Further information

You can hear an hour-long interview with Linda about her work in general (made in April 2016) at: https://royaldrawingschool.org/lectures-events/linda-kitson-conversation-william-feaver/ – retrieved 8 February 2019.

In addition she talks about her Falklands work in a (approximately) 10 minute segment of a longer programme at:
https://www.bbc.co.uk/sounds/play/p03m0mwl – retrieved 8 February 2019.

A number of her illustrations are in the IWM collection and can be found at the IWM Collections online webpage. In addition a selection of others can be seen at: https://illustrationchronicles.com/Linda-Kitson-s-Falklands-War – retrieved 8 February 2019.

There is a wealth of information on the Falklands Conflict both in print and online, including: https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/30-photographs-from-the-falklands-war – retrieved 8 February 2019.

https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/30-photographs-from-the-falklands-war