Loos, 25th September 1915

1518179_10152455948219073_7134580376713875590_oA very short update on my next project – a divisional comparison between Regular and New Army divisions in the opening days of the Battle of Loos in September 1915. A change from my work on Henry Wilson as this will focus on the pre-battle planning and look at the evolution of the plans as they migrated from First Army, down through I Corps to the two divisions. 7th Division, commanded by Thompson Capper, were a Regular division while the 9th (Scottish) Division, under George Handcock Thesiger, were the first New Army division to see action. It will be interesting to see if planning and subsequent execution will differ between the two divisions.

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Disquieting news from Fromelles

This disturbing report from Victoria Burbidge, representing the British Memorial Association, Fromelles, via Chris Baker’s Long Long Trail, deserves wider circulation.

National interests from the French & Australian authorities appear to be attempting to airbrush out the entire British contribution to the war in this area as it does not fit within the “scenography” of the new Pheasant Wood Cemetery’s visitor centre.

A very disappointing development – the British Memorial Association, Fromelles deserves all the support it can get to resist this.

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Five things I learnt at the 4th GWF Conference

Richard Van Emden – “Boy Soldiers of the Great War”
BritishArmyWWIMedalRollsIndexCards19141920_124810857The story of Jack Auguste Pouchot, the fifteen year old who won a Distinguished Conduct Medal for attempting to rescue two wounded men lying in No Man’s Land and who subsequently went on to join the Royal Flying Corps. Jack was killed flying a SE5a near Le Cateau on 5th October 1918 and is buried in Marcoing British Cemetery

Peter Barton – “La Boisselle: Archaeology, History, Technology and Genealogy”
Close-up-view-of-British-French-trenches-showing-openings-of-X-Incline-and-W-AditThe fantastic work being carried out by the La Boisselle Study Group in a truly multi-disciplinary study of a unique segment of the Great War frontline situated in the village of La Boisselle on the Somme. The surviving brick floors of the original farm buildings are covered only by inches of turf, while 100 feet underneath, the tunnels cut within the chalk still look pristine.

Peter Hart – “1914 – the French at War”
Screen Shot 2013-04-14 at 10.55.26The true cost paid by the French nation in the Great War – in particular the 27,000 killed on 22nd August 1914 in the Battle of the Frontiers – is an area frequently ignored by those who focus solely on British activities on the Western Front.

Simon Justice – “Drawing the Line: British Plans for Defence of the Western Front 1917-18”
scan0008That Martin Samuels was mistaken when he accused GHQ of an incomplete application of mis-understood & ineffective German defensive principles in the run-up to the Spring Offensive. Papers within the National Archives demonstrate that “defence in depth”, “blobbing” etc were all present in 1916 planning. The role and achievements of “warrior-gurus” such as Ivor Maxse, Cecil Pereira & Richard Haking is emerging through academic research.

Alan Wakefield – “Carry On Up The Tigris – the experiences of British and Indian troops in Mesopotamia 1914-1918”
800px-Maude_in_BaghdadThat the 27,000 “British” dead from the fighting in Mesopotamia could have been largely avoided if we had simply stopped after securing the oil ports and not decided to take the 400 mile distant prize of Baghdad as well.

The 1912 Balance of Power in Central Europe

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This map was found in the 1912 files of the Directorate of Military Operations, a part of the War Office, and shows how Henry Wilson and his staff saw the struggle for overall power. Apart from the obvious colour coding which shows both the Central Powers and the Triple Entente allying against each other – it also illustrates the degree to which Britain was unprepared for war on a continental stage. The six division Expeditionary Force that was envisaged could do little other than play a subsidiary role next to the sixty-six French divisions that would line up along the Western Front.

Of far greater importance was the political significance of the BEF’s involvement which had been summed up in the following conversation between Wilson and Foch in 1909:

Wilson: “What would you say was the smallest British military force that would be of any practical assistance to you in the event of such a contest as we have been considering?”

Foch: “One single private soldier and we would take good care that he was killed.”

Henri Charlier & the Uza “monument aux morts”

On a recent rip to the Landes region of Aquitaine, we came across the village of Uza – a fascinating place with the deserted remnants of an ironworks, dating back to the 16th Century, overlooked by the Chateau des Lur Saluces. The forges were fed by a manmade lake, employed 200 people by the end of the 18th Century but were finally closed in 1981.

Between the lake – L’Etang d’Uza – and the Église Saint-Louis is a beautiful war memorial of carved stone, 1.3m tall. The memorial was erected in 1926 and is the work of Henri Charlier.

In 1915, Charlier volunteered for war service, although he was exempt for reason of health. He was mobilized as a medical orderly. After his military training he was billeted at Épernay where he treated the wounded. There he organized a studio for himself in a spare corner where he could devote himself to painting in his free time. In March 1916, he was transferred to the sixth section of medical orderlies at the hospice of Commercy (in the Meuse region). Charlier was demobilized from the military in March 1919. For more on Charlier, see the Présence des Charlier website which covers the work of both Henri and his brother André, a writer.