Category Archives: Great War

The Carus Brothers at War (Part 3)

W D Carus (2)Only one of the other three brothers seems to have served in the war.

Thomas, the oldest brother, was a Labourer in a Print Works in 1891, a Cotton Mill Oiler in 1901 and a Corporation Labourer in 1911. According to his obituary (September 1938) he joined the Clitheroe Fire Brigade in 1911 and served for 26 years. I’ll leave that for another post.

Albert, who was unmarried, and a Print Works Labourer in 1911, died in 1913. I don’t know anything about the circumstances, so that’s another avenue of research. In 1911 there was someone else in the Carus household too – Margaret Evelyn, a grand daughter aged seven. She was born in Aldershot, and that is part of Walter’s tale.

In 1911 Walter was living with wife and two younger children in Aldershot, where he was working as a carman for a furniture company.

There is little military paperwork, just an index card (pictured above) for a Walter Carus indicating that he went to France on 18th August 1914. On the back of the card is a Clitheroe address.

Adding Aldershot to a soldier who went to France within two weeks of the start of the war, I decided that it was likely that Walter had been a regular soldier before the war, and he had been called back from the Reserve (they mainly signed on for seven years in the army and five in the Reserve).

And that, as I often say, was that.

Looking through the papers, I was able to find this article in the edition for 3rd August 1917. The superimposed blue frames are part of the search process.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

From the mention of artillery, it looks like he may have been in an artillery ammunition column, delivering shells to the front. I can see that three years of that would produce “some exceedingly narrow escapes”.

The next time he appears in the paper is in 1955, when 50 members of the family took part in a reunion, when a son and a daughter, and their respective spouses, returned from overseas military postings. The full family was three sons, seven daughters, 34 grandchildren and 3 great grandchildren. Plus in-laws. One of the sons-in-law produced cakes for the party – he was a prize-winning member of the Army Catering Corps so they were in safe hands.

His final appearance in the paper is a short obituary in 1957, which reveals the additional details that he served in the Army Service Corps for 19 years and was an Old Contemptible and member of the British Legion. He was a joiner by trade and retired from his last job, at the Ribblesdale Cement Co Ltd when he was 65.

I had three other relatives working there around that time, all from different branches of the family tree.

An Old Contemptible, in case you aren’t familiar with the term, is a soldier who served in France and Belgium with the British Army in the first phase of the war – 5th August 1914 to 22nd November 1914. They were referred to as a “contemptible little army” by the Kaiser.

It’s true they weren’t a very big army, and they didn’t have great equipment. If you subscribe to traditional views of history they may even have been badly led.

But they did what was necessary.

 

The Carus Brothers at War (Part 2)

I didn’t really know anything about the rest of the Carus family – my Grandmother had been brought up by her mother’s family after she was orphaned and her uncles had all  died before I was born.

Using census records I was able to reconstruct the family – Susannah (b 1872), Thomas (b 1876), Isaac (b 1879), Walter (b 1882), Albert (b 1884), Harry (b 1887) and Charlotte, who seems to have become Margaret (b 1890). I must spend a few minutes sorting out her details. There were also three children who died in the gaps between censuses. In the 1911 census they asked how long a couple had been married, how many children they had had and how many of the children were still living.

30850_A000296-00834

Because Isaac was Isaac Newton Carus and Walter was Walter Dugdale Carus, which were both distinctive, I checked them out through the army records – there were only 16 entries for Carus in the medal record cards so I thought I had a good chance. Isaac N Carus popped up – entitled to the British War Medal and Victory Medal with the Lancashire Fusiliers. There was a note on his card that he had enlisted on 8th December 1915, several months before conscription, and had been discharged on 12th September 1918 under King’s Regulations 392 xvi. This is a catch-all regulation – “No longer physically fit for service”. It could be through wounds, disease or other causes. The next step was to check what they call the Silver War Badge Roll – it provides the additional information that I N Carus served overseas, was 39 on discharge and was issued with badge number B6.

wo329_3077-00072

The Silver War Badge was first issued in September 1916 to servicemen who had left the service for a variety of reasons and was meant to show that they were not shirkers, deserving of a white feather. The first 450,000 men were given badges with no prefix, then they started the badges with the B prefix. Great Uncle Isaac was 6th on that list.

That was where I had to leave Isaac for the time being.

I was, however, able to pick him up quite easily when I took a look at the papers as he was the first Carus reference to come up. He died in Blackburn Royal Infirmary on 17th May 1947 at the age of  68. He is called “one of the best known Clitheronians” and had been badly disabled after being wounded with the Lancashire Fusiliers in 1917.

He worked as a printer, ending up with the Clitheroe Advertiser, but had to retire in 1925 due to his war injuries. He was active in the Oddfellows, the Weslyan Church (a Sunday School teacher for over 20 years) and the cricket club. He played football in his youth and was a regular in the cricket team (mainly as wicket keeper for the seconds) until his wounding, after which he became scorer and joined the committee.

He was survived by his wife, two sons and two daughters. The sons both served in the Second World War and survived to play in many post-war cricket matches.

Unfortunately I have no photographs, but am working on that.

 

Bicycles and the Military Cyclists

Today, the image of soldiers on bicycles seems incongruous, but in the late 19th century we were not blessed with quite so much technology. We take personal transport for granted, but at this point in history you either walked or, if you were rich enough, used a horse. Bicycles, in their way, were a quiet revolution.

The earliest cycle design dates back to 1534 when Caprotti, a pupil of Leonardo da Vinci, sketched a design. The first modern cycles, without pedals, were used in the early 19th century and pedals appeared in 1863. The Scots were at the cutting edge of bicycle design at that time (a fact I throw in for Tootlepedal). Designs moved on to the “ordinary” or “penny farthing” design.

Thomas Stevens used a penny farthing on his trip when he became the first man to ride round the world on a bicycle in 1884-6. Annie Londonderry was the first woman to travel round the world with a bicycle, in 1894-5.

The first British military cyclists to see action were the messengers attached to the Jameson Raid in 1895-6. They appeared again during the Second Boer War of 1899-1902, when one unit was equipped with specially adapted tandems to ride along railway lines and guard them from sabotage. Both sides used bicycle troops as couriers, scouts and raiders.

Unlikely as it may seem to a generation that needs four wheel drive to cross open country, bicycles were seen as the solution to moving quantities of troops rapidly across open ground and in Switzerland they were able to travel on terrain that horses could not. With a network of roads available to them bicycle troops were seen as cheaper, quieter and easier to train than cavalry.

Both sides used bicycles in the Great War and they were also a feature of the Second World War (the Japanese using 50,000 bicycle troops in Malaya),  Vietnam and the Tamil Tigers’ uprising in Sri Lanka. The Swiss disbanded their bicycle troops in 2001, whilst the Sri Lankan army still has bicycle troops.

At the beginning of the Great War the British Army had 14 battalions of bicycle infantry ready for use. Many were used on coastal defence in the UK, and others served on the Western Front, though they were not particularly useful until the resumption of open warfare at the end of 1918.

Although this may not seem like good value it was at least as effective as the cavalry, and bikes, unlike horses, didn’t need food or stables and didn’t produce manure.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Painted enamel brooch of the Northern Cyclists – about three times life size, which is why some of the detail looks a bit blurred.

The Kent Cyclists served on  the North West Frontier during the war and, along with the 25th (County of London) Cyclist Battalion served in the Third Anglo-Afghan War.

The 2/10th (Cyclist) Battalion, Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment) served in the North Russian campaign.

The Army Cyclist Corps was disbanded in 1920 and all the units were redeployed by 1922.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Sweetheart brooch of the Huntingdonshire Cyclist Battalion. They spent most of their war guarding the Yorkshire coast. The fact that it is still there speaks highly of their efficiency and a job well done.

Military Sweetheart Brooches

The brooch in the featured image is one of the earlier ones you will see about. It is a hollow silver horseshoe with the dates of the Boer War on the front and a Victorian crown at the top of the badge. It’s actually hallmarked 1904 on the back, but sweethearts can be a bit like that, and aren’t always as accurate as you would like.

The earliest sweethearts date from the 1890s but the first surge of popularity took place during the Boer War (1899 – 1902) then in the Great War things really took off. This is logical when you think there were millions of men in the army, and consequently millions of wives and girlfriends to buy the brooches for.

At this time they also became cheaper and less well made. Brass and enamel sweethearts from this time are very common, as are the ones with plain mother of pearl surrounds.

There were other styles, including ones mounted on rifles and swords (though you’ll have to settle for rifles at the moment as that’s all the photographs I have).

The next step up in terms of quality were the silver rimmed mother of pearl brooches, often stamped “Sterling Silver Rim” on the back. There were also silver badges and silver-rimmed tortoiseshell brooches. The silver ones are often stamped “Silver” or “Sterling” on the back, but the silver rimmed tortoiseshell brooches are usually hallmarked.

These two brooches demonstrate another feature of collecting – the Machine Gun Corps was a war-raised unit and existed from 1915-22. Their brooches are sought after by collectors of Great War memorabilia, despite the fact they shouldn’t be rare –  over 170,000 men served in the corps during the war.

By contrast, the Royal Engineers aren’t a sought after unit as there were so many of them – in August 1917 there were 295,668 men serving in the RE. Despite being common, and made from tortoiseshell, the RE brooch does have a significant advantage over the more desirable MGC brooch – it is hallmarked on the back.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hallmarks on the back of the brooch

This allows us to tell that it is sterling silver (the Lion), was hallmarked in London (Leopard’s head) and dates from 1916 (letter a). The maker’s mark “C Bro” is the mark of Corke Brothers and Co.

This is just a brief view of sweethearts – there are other types so, as my photography catches up there may be other posts on the subject.

They have a much closer connection to the men of the Great War than medals, for instance. At least you can be sure that most of these brooches were bought by soldiers and worn by mothers or girlfriends. Sometimes you find one still pinned to its original card, where it has been stored in a drawer for years, but most seem to have been worn.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Notts and Derby – still on original card

Contrast this with the medals from the Great War. Many, when sold by families, are still in the boxes, having never been worn. My grandfather kept his in a drawer and never showed them to anyone. We all thought that his mother had thrown them out when she threw away his brother’s medals. Having lost a son and a son-in-law, got rid of everything connected with the war and refused to discuss it until the day she died in 1930. Those who died in the war, of course, never even saw their medals.

 

 

 

Book Review – Some Desperate Glory

Some Desperate Glory

Max Egremont

Picador (2015)

Paperback 335 pp  £9.99

ISBN-10: 0374280320

ISBN-13: 9780374280321

This book is trying to do too much at once. It’s a history of the Great War, a book of biographies, a poetry book and, cynically, a book to take advantage of the centenary.

As eagle-eyed readers will have deduced from the £1 sticker in the picture, booksellers obviously found it difficult to shift.

My first observation, before even opening it, is simply that I can’t think why any writer would re-use such a well known title. I know it’s a good quote, but when I hear it I always think of Edwin Campion Vaughan’s memoirs. It’s confusing, to say the least.

It was heavy going to start, though it did get easier towards the end, and proved to be worth the effort. Trying to fit history, biography and poetry into a flowing narrative is tough, and it isn’t helped when you have to fit the origins of the war in too. It flows better towards the end: by then the history is simpler and many of the poets are dead  or recovering from wounds.

There are eleven of them in the beginning – in the army, joining the army or thinking about joining the army. By the Armistice there are five left. It’s a tragedy, but it does help the flow of the book.

Finally, why just eleven poets? The eleven selected subjects are all listed on the War Poet Memorial in Westminster Abbey. What’s wrong with the other five? No Aldington, no Binyon, no Gibson, no Jones and no Read.

Then of course, there is the question of the war poets who weren’t amongst the 16 on the memorial. I won’t try to address the question, as it would double the length of the review and the internet is already bulging with material of dubious worth.

Anyway, to cut to the chase. I enjoyed it in the end, though I did struggle at first. It felt like I was being lectured at times, and the way the narrative was interwoven made it difficult to get into a reading rhythm. It was worth reading for the information and context, but wasn’t really a pleasurable read.

I’m currently halfway through reading And All Roads Lead to France. It concentrates on Thomas and poetry preceding the war, so it isn’t a direct replacement for Egremont’s book. But it is a pleasure to read, and proves that it is possible to cover a broad area and still keep it readable.

I’d recommend Some Desperate Glory as an overview of some of the poetry of the Great War with the proviso that it is limited in scope and you will have to work at it.

 

 

What’s in a Name?

I have often thought that it would be fun to change my name by deed poll.  The change I would make would be to alter my middle name to Danger, then I could honestly say “Danger is my middle name,”.

It’s not the strongest joke in the world but it would amuse me, even though the most dangerous thing about me is my full fat diet.

The first site I looked at rather put me off, as they revealed that they have at least one application a week to add Danger as a middle name. I was hoping to be a trail blazer rather than join a movement.

Then I read this article and started to think of the downside of a novelty name.

The original draft used the expression “final nail in the coffin”. I cut it in the final version, but it reminded me of an unusual name I once saw.

Pine-Coffin is the name. There are three Pine-Coffins listed by the Commonwealth Graves Commission, which is where I first saw the name. One was killed in the Second World, a second is commemorated on the Archangel Memorial to those killed in the North Russia campaign who have no known grave. The third died at home in 1919 aged 52 – his son had an interesting career in WW2.

The Great War List

The Great War List

Captain W E Johns

Percy Toplis

Charles Lightoller

Ernest Hemingway (Nominated by https://salmonbrookfarms.wordpress.com/ )

John Francis Cecil Knight (Nominated by https://derrickjknight.com/ )

C.E.Montague (Nominated by https://beatingthebounds.wordpress.com/ )

Walter Tull (Nominated by https://johnknifton.com/ )

Leslie Buswell (Nominated by https://pacificparatrooper.wordpress.com/ )

After thinking of Harry Patch and General Arthur Currie I’ve decided to leave them for a bit and see how things develop while as they are both quite well known, in fact Harry Patch had a book written about him.

Any more nominations?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Hedd Wyn – poet

The picture is the Hedd Wyn statue at Trawsfynydd. He’s probably best described as a poet who served in the war, rather than a war poet. He was killed on the same day as the Irish poet Francis Ledwidge, who probably can be described as a war poet. I can see a lot more books ahead, as I need to correct a deficiency in my reading in this area. They are both buried in the same cemetery.

Neither of them appear on the War Poets’ Memorial in Westminster Abbey, so they are going on the list.

I’ve also thought of Edith Cavell and Captain Fryatt, but I’m not sure. Edith Cavell is very well known (she even has a car park in Peterborough named after her) and Captain Fryatt also seems pretty well commemorated for an “unknown” hero.

I may list Marie Depage, who I only knew because she was on a commemorative medal with Cavell.

And Thomas Dinesen VC. He was one of three Danes to be awarded the Victoria Cross, but the only one who tried to join the British, French and American armies before being accepted by the Canadians. He’s also the only one with a famous sister.