Gas! 22 April 1915

Thursday, 22 April, was a beautiful spring day: warm, sunny, with a faint breeze. German guns shelled French and Canadian trenches throughout the morning but fell silent in the afternoon. The brief period of peace suddenly ended at 4:00 p.m. when the Germans unleashed a violent bombardment, first on the salient and then gradually extending to nearby roads and Ypres, turning the town into a flaming inferno and causing its citizens to flee. An hour later an ominous greenish-yellow wall of fumes was seen drifting slowly across no-man’s-land toward the French line.

Cassar, G.H. (2014), Trial By Gas – The British Army at the Second Battle of Ypres; Potomac Press, University of Nebraska Press.
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We Will Remember Them All!

War memorials from the Great War come in all manner of shapes and designs. I recently came across one that struck me as being particularly unusual and moving. Not surprisingly, memorials are usually dedicated to ‘The Glorious Dead’, but this one, in the Lancashire town of Rawtenstall, has a much wider dedication. Entitled Tribute of Honour, it reads as follows:

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Forthcoming Gallipoli Association Conference

Many members and visitors to this website will no doubt be interested in The Gallipoli Association and its invaluable work in keeping the memory alive of that tragic campaign. The Association is holding its Third Regional Conference at Chelmsford on Saturday 5th March 2022 at Chelmsford City Museum (home of the Essex Regiment Collection), Mousham Street, Oaklands Park, CM2 9AQ.

Conference Programme
  • 9.15 Registration (tea and coffee on arrival)
  • 10.00 Peter Hart: Rupert Brooke and the Glitterati of Gallipoli
  • 11.15 Stephen Chambers: The Killing Fields: The Battle of Krithia
  • 12.30 Lunch (not provided)
  • 1.30 Dr. Martin Purdy: Contested Legacies and the Gallipoli Oak
  • 2.45 Clive Harris: The Essex Regiment at Gallipoli
  • 4.00 An opportunity to tour the Museum and view the collection of the Essex Regiment
  • 5.00 Close

The cost is £25 payable in advance.

Further information, including details of how to register, are on the events section of the Association’s website: http://www.gallipoli-association.org

It’s Hutvent Calendar time again!

I’m sorry for my tardiness in reminding you of this but, in truth, December has rather taken me by surprise this year. Anyway, I heartily recommend Great War Huts seasonal Hutvent Calendar. These are short but fascinating films on various aspects of the First World War, released daily on the Great War Huts YouTube channel. Although it’s already the 16th, you can easily catch-up with them and, unlike chocolate-filled advent calendars, they are non-fattening!

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Webinar Talks on WW1

The Western Front Association has a series of webinar talks in December. These are free and open to all. The webinars are all on Monday evenings at 8pm UK time.

‘Tank Corps operations during the German Spring Offensive of 1918’ – 6th December, Geoffrey Vesey Holt

Some 204 tired Mark IV tanks and the 36 new Medium ‘A’ Whippet tanks, manned by just converted crews, would, given their number alone, not be able to make a decisive contribution to the defences during the German offensive in the spring of 1918. Nevertheless, as this talk will show, and thanks to the surprisingly good Tank Corps records, they did play a useful role. To register for this event please click here:  Tank Corps operations

‘The Christmas Day Truce of 1914’. – 13th December, Gordon Corrigan

On Christmas Day all along the Western Front there were sporadic instances of carol singing by both sides, leading to meetings in no-man’s-land, fraternisation, exchange of gifts and even at least one football match. This talk explains what really happened and not only what its affects were, but what they were thought to be. To register for this event please click here: The Christmas Day Truce

‘Big Hands, Little Maps’: Operational Art and its genesis on the Western Front. – Monday 20th December, Lt Col Simon Shepard

This presentation sees the return of Lt Col Simon Shepard who will be exploring the development of the Operational Level of War and in particular the term now known as Operational Art.  Simon will trace its development on the Western Front via the BEF and latterly via the combined conduct of the Allied Armies during later stages of 1918. To register for this event please click here: Big Hands, Little Maps

More talks…

Following on from our last post about an online talk, and listed in chronological order, here are some more opportunities to hear from experts on different areas of the Great War.

From ‘Soldiers of Oxfordshire Museum’

(i) On Wednesday 20th October Patrick Crowley presents on online talk and live Q&A on the Catastrophe at Kut.

Just a simple town in Mesopotamia (now Iraq), between Basra and Baghdad, Kut al Amara was the site of a Great War conflict that is less widely known than others of 1916, such as the battles of the Somme and Verdun, but one which would have a similarly catastrophic human cost.

Though initially successful on campaign in Mesopotamia, as Allied forces pressed towards Baghdad, poor logistic support, training, equipment and command left them isolated and besieged by Turkish forces.
Numerous attempts to relieve those under siege at Kut would fail, and on 29 April 1916 the British Army suffered one of the worst defeats in its history.

Over 13,000 troops, British and Indian, were taken into captivity; many would not survive their incarceration, while others would undertake elaborate schemes to escape.

In this online talk, Patrick Crowley recounts the dramatic tale of the Siege of Kut and its terrible aftermath, while shedding some light on the personal experiences of the men of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry’s 1st Battalion. Hear stories of both the besieged themselves, and those involved in attempts to relieve them.

Patrick Crowley is a historian and battlefield tour guide, now retired from the Army after thirty-four years’ service in the Queen’s Regiment and Princess of Wales’s Royal Regiment. He was awarded the American Meritorious Service Medal for his service in Iraq.

Details on how to register to watch this are available on this link: Catastrophe at Kut.

From ‘Western Front Association’

(ii) On Monday 25 October 2021, at 8.00pm (UK time) Fraser Skirrow will give a talk ‘Ill met by moonlight – British and German raiders clash in the outpost war’.

This talk is the story of a couple of raids, one British (by the 2/6th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment), one German. These took place in the area of ‘The Apex’ near Bullecourt on the nights of 11 and 13 Seotember 1917. What is unusual is that we have the story from the contemporary British account, the results of prisoner interviews and detailed accounts from the German raiders and defenders. Comparing and contrasting these stories gives us a vivid and personal insight into two violent nights in the outpost war, and the circumstances surrounding the deaths of individual soldiers on both sides.

Fuller details and how to register to watch this are available on this link: ‘Ill Met By Moonlight’: British and German raiders clash in the outpost war.

(iii) On Monday 1 November 2021, Dr Emily Mayhew will give a talk entitled ‘Walking quietly away into a hail of lead to carry away a wounded man: Stretcher bearers of the Western Front’.

During the Great War, the battalion and regimental stretcher bearers transformed the medical landscape of the western front battlefield and beyond.  In this presentation, Emily Mayhew will detail how bearers developed extraordinary skills at both the point of wounding and during the casualty evacuation phase that ensured casualties were able to survive complex injuries that would otherwise have been deemed fatal. 

Fuller details and how to register to watch this are available on this link: ‘Walking quietly into a hail of lead to carry away a wounded man’: Stretcher Bearers of the Western Front

Expert talk on the Battle of Verdun by Tim Cockitt on Friday 8th October at 6.00pm via Zoom

This was the longest battle of WW1, from February 1916 through to December 1916.  The British were not directly involved, and the battle is not so well understood in UK, compared to the Somme. 

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Lyn Macdonald podcast

Back in March I noted the death of distinguished First World War historian, Lyn Macdonald. Whilst I have read several of her books I had never heard her speak, so I was delighted when a talk of hers at the 2017 Chalke Valley History Festival was broadcast on the History Hits Warfare podcast. Entitled They Called it Passchendaele it’s a fascinating talk with some interesting thoughts on remembrance.

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The death of Lyn Macdonald

Sorry to hear of the death of Lyn Macdonald, influential and pioneering historian of the First World War. Her book, 1915: The Death of Innocence, really helped me to understand the ten months my grandfather spent on the Western Front with 28th Division, before going to Salonika. You can read her obituary here: