Tag Archives: Great War

Low Cunning and Bidding on ebay

Last week I bid £120 on a medallion. I’ve already had a discussion on thrift, common sense and my sanity with Julia, so we’ll gloss over that. My defence is that collecting is a mental condition rather than a hobby.

It’s like the one in the header picture but the reverse has the coat of arms of Skegness. The one in the picture is the commoner one with the coat of arms of Lincoln on the reverse.

There is a picture of the Skegness medal and much other material here.

I didn’t get it, and was annoyed to be the underbidder to a winning bid of £122. I was a bit shocked to be honest, as I really thought it should only be £80 – £90. The extra was the safety net to ensure I got it.

Ah well, some you win and some you lose.

Then it immediately reappeared for sale, using the same photographs, but this time with a reserve. Curiouser and curiouser as they say. Well, Alice said it in Wonderland, and there’s a lot in ebay that reminds me of life through the Looking Glass.

I watched it. I considered writing to ask what was happening. I thought of reporting it to ebay, because it looked like someone had bid it up and bought it back themselves by accident. Such things have been known, though I can’t say for sure. I can only say that I was suspicious, and that there were certain indications that this was the case.

Anyway, I didn’t bid. I watched, I compared the bidders with the bidders on the previous “sale” and I waited. Eventually I decided what to do and put a bid on it. Someone outbid me. It was the same bidder that had outbid me last time.

This was where my low cunning came in.

I bid again, just another £2.

They bid again and outbid me again.

But, I think they got the message – that there would be no big bid this time – and they didn’t bid again when I added an extra couple of quid. After all, how many times do you want to buy your own stuff back? It gets expensive when you have commission to pay.

Nobody else bid either and I closed the sale at £87. It’s enough, but it’s £33 cheaper than I bid on the previous one. Assuming my earlier suspicions were justified I’d like to think of it as both a result (better price) and a lesson (greed doesn’t pay).

 

The Carus Brothers at War (Part 1)

I just took out a subscription to an internet newspaper archive last week and the first task I set myself was searching for some family history. With one branch of the family it has come up trumps.

You may have heard some of this before as I have mentioned it and have used the photographs before. Sorry for the repetition but with new information, and it being exactly 101 years to the day since his death, I thought it was worth another post.

I have many common names in the family but am fortunate in having one branch with the name of Carus. To make things better, they come from Clitheroe – a small town with its own newspaper.

Harry Carus (1887-1916) was my great grandfather. When I started researching him I knew that he was one of a large family, that he’s on the Clitheroe war memorial and that he left a wife and three daughters when he died. He was a chapel-goer, Sunday school teacher and member of  a self-improvement club called the PSA (I believe that’s Peaceful Sunday Afternoon). He joined up as a volunteer and, on his last leave before going to France, laughed when his irate wife discovered that the three girls had found, and mostly eaten, the special cake baked for his last visit.

It had been on a top shelf in the kitchen and my grandmother had climbed up the lower shelves like a ladder before passing down to my Auntie Peggie – second in age and partner in crime.

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives the information that he died on 10.10.16. He was a Corporal, aged 28, belonged to “B” Battery of the 180th Brigade
Royal Field Artillery. He was the son of H. A. and Margaret Carus, of 27, West View, Clitheroe, Lancashire and husband of the late Ellenor Carus.

This was during the latter, rainy, part of the Somme battle and was probably every bit as hellish as we imagine the First World War to be.

He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the iconic arched memorial that lists the names of  72,396 Somme casualties who also have no known grave. In a later post I may well come back to the phrase “no known grave” as it’s an interesting subject in itself.

As more details became available from the release of records I was able to learn a little more about him.  He had four brothers and two sisters, worked for a grocer and his last known address is still standing. I have visited it using Google Maps.

The army medal rolls show that he went to France on 28.11.15 and is entitled to the 1914-15 Star, War Medal and Victory Medal. They spell his name “Carns”. His family was also given a bronze commemorative plaque and a scroll. On the subject of names, his wife was Eleanor, so even CWGC aren’t perfect.

When I searched the newspapers I was able to find the memorial notices posted a year after his death, and pin down a couple more family addresses. The family was still together in those days – the remarriage and death of Eleanor  and the separation of the girls was still to come, as Harry’s death continued to affect them in the coming years.

I was also able to find a mention of his death in the “25 Years Ago” column, when it was noted that he had been in a gun pit with six others when a shell landed in it and killed five of them. Presumably this was what had been contained in a letter at the time of his death – my grandmother had always said he was hit by a shell that killed him instantly and left nothing for burial. It’s nice to have corroboration but I’m not sure it’s true, it was just what people wrote home to parents and widows to hide the truth.

That, in a nutshell, is the life and death of Harry Carus.

Poppies

Roadside Poppies

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.

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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.

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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.

Book Review – Now All Roads Lead to France

Now All Roads Lead to France – Matthew Hollis

Paperback: 432 pages

Publisher: Faber & Faber; Main edition (5 Jan. 2012)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 057124599

ISBN-13: 978-0571245994

Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance:

Roads – Edward Thomas

 

It’s a book about the final years of Edward Thomas, covering the rise of Georgian Poetry, modernism, war poetry, Dymock and Robert Frost.

It also covers the question of his punctuation. I don’t know about you but in some of Thomas’s verse, like the quote at the top of the page, the punctuation seems at variance with the natural rhythymn of speech. This is intentional, though my personal feeling is that it doesn’t improve the piece.

The “Georgian” refers to George V and was meant to show the modernity of the new poetry as it emerged from the time of Victoria. It may have done at the time, but it always makes me think of George III. The fact that the modernists took over after the war also tends to make the Georgians look old-fashioned, despite their intentions.

You’ll need to read the book to get the full details – Matthew Hollis is much better at explaining than I am.

To summarise, as the war came, Thomas was a well-known (and over-worked) literary critic and a difficult husband. He moved to Dymock to be amongst the poets who had congregated there and under the influence of Frost (who had come to England to advance his poetry career) started writing poetry. After much soul-searching, he joined the army, bacame an instructor and, instead of staying in the UK instructing, applied for a commision and went to France . I don’t think I’m giving too much away if I say it didn’t end well.

Hollis covers a lot of ground in this book, and does so in depth. Despite this it’s almost always interesting and moves along at a decent pace.

The exception to this is several of the passages dealing with the theory of poetry. However, they aren’t long and don’t hold things up too much. That’s what happens when you have a book about poets written by a poet – the style is good, the information is well handled and you get all the passion you could ask for. But you do get a bit too much discussion of poetry.

It’s an excellent book, with an interesting in-depth view of Thomas’s poetry career and family life set within the literary life of the UK in the lead up to the Great War.  You can read it as history or biography or literary criticism.

If you get a chance do read it. I mean, how often do you hear me being this enthusiastic about a book?

Of course, if you aren’t interested in the Great War or poetry, it might not be the book for you.

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Photo of books – it fills a space. 

 

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.

 

 

Who Would You Include?

I was just answering a comment on a previous post – the review of Famous 1914-18 when a question crept up on me. The question is – who would you include?

The authors included A A Milne, George Mallory, Arnold Ridley, Ralph Vaughan Williams, John Reith, Dennis Wheatley, John Reginald Halliday Christie, C S Lewis, Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce, Alexander Fleming, R C Sherriff, B L Montgomery, Ned Parfett,Tom Denning, J R R Tolkien, Winston Churchill, Henry Moore, J B Priestley, Harold Macmillan and Peter Llewelyn Davies.

It seems that the over 35s do best when asked if they recognise the names. Teenagers do worst, but it would, to be fair, be a well-informed teenager who recognised more than Tolkien. I recognised all except Ned Parfett and Peter Llewelyn Davies (which was embarrassing as I’d only just read about him in The Final Whistle as the nephew of Guy du Maurier).  But I am over 35, and I do spend too much time reading about the Great War.

The rules of selection are simple – they need to have been involved in the Great War and they need to be reasonably interesting. It would probably help if they survived.

I’ll start with three to consider.

Captain W E Johns – wrote about Biggles though he wasn’t a fighter pilot or a Captain. He landed at Gallipoli in 1915 and saw a variety of active service before being shot down and wounded whilst on a bombing mission in 1918. After the war he was the recruiting officer who signed Lawrence of Arabia up for the RAF.

Percy Toplis – better known as the Monocled Mutineer, though that is probably inaccurate. He was born near Alfreton so is reasonably local, and was once arrested by the ancestor of one of our neighbours for attempting to defraud a jeweller in Hucknall.

Charles Lightoller joining the Merchant Navy as a thirteen-year-old apprentice Lightoller endured shipwreck, fire at sea and malaria. His career started to look up when he went to sea again, ending up on the RMS Titanic. He was played by Kenneth More in A Night to Remember.  For those of you wondering who played him in other films, don’t bother – they aren’t worth it.

 

Rather than run on, I’ll let you click the link to read about his exploits in the war, and at Dunkirk in 1940.

 

 

Book Review: Famous 1914-18

Famous – 1914 – 18

by Richard van Emden and Victor Piuk

Pen & Sword Military (2009)

Paperback 352 pp  £10.99

ISBN-10: 1848841973

ISBN-13: 978-1848841970

Sorry it’s another Great War book, I’ll try something lighter for the next review, I promise.

It’s a slightly misleading title, as the people in the book weren’t really famous between 1914 and 1918. With two exception they were famous after the war, and this is what they did in the years of the war. The exceptions are Ned Parfett (the newspaper boy from the Titanic picture – who was famous in 1912) and Peter Llewelyn Davies, known as the boy who inspired the character of Peter Pan. Davies, after the death of his parents was brought up by four guardians, including J M Barrie and Guy du Maurier (see previous review).

I have to admit I was also thrown by the name Tom Denning, before it clicked that this meant Lord Denning, one time Master of the Rolls. I’m not really sure how famous he is these days, though he was hardly out of the news at one time. That’s the problem with this sort of book, where do you draw the line?

The subjects need to have been reasonably famous after the war, but quite a few people with post-war fame have been left out. That’s because they need to have left information about their wartime exploits – there’s not been a great deal of digging out original material here. So, post-war fame and memoirs seem to be the requirements.

That means Jack Warner has been left out, as has Victor McLaglen and Victor Silvester. I suppose they just aren’t famous enough, despite interesting wartime careers. To be honest, I didn’t realise how much Silvester had packed in until I just checked the reference. I knew he’d participated in a firing squad, which was why I looked him up: the rest was all new to me.

To be fair, I don’t want necessarily want a lot of original research, I’m happy with an entertaining book, and that’s what I got.

It also helped me out with a question hanging over A A Milne, who was criticised for his unsoldierly manner in a book of war poetry I was reading recently.  It left me feeling he’d been a bit of a slacker, but it’s clear from Famous 1914 – 18 that he did his share, and did it well.

It’s not a fault of the book, but if like me you were interested in reading more about John Laurie (who served in the Honourable Artillery Company during the war) you will, like me, be disappointed. He isn’t in, despite the write-up in the Amazon blurb. I wrote to tell them, using the button for reporting inaccurate content but so far it’s still there.

So, as long as you don’t want information on John Laurie, it’s a good read, and, because of the length of the chapters, easy to dip in and out. For the Dad’s Army fans out there, Arnold Ridley and his service in two World Wars is covered.

Amongst others it covers C S Lewis, J R R Tolkein, Basil Rathbone, Nigel Bruce (next to each other in the book as they were in the post-war Holmes films) and Christie of Rillington Place fame.  I won’t give you a list of all the names, as it will spoil the surprise…