Review – ‘The Christian Soldier’ by Charles Beresford. A biography of Lieutenant-Colonel the Reverend Bernard Vann VC DSO MC and bar. (Helion 2017)

I must own to two things in writing this review. Firstly, I know Charles Beresford; and, secondly, as a historian of WW1 infantry COs, Lieutenant-Colonel Bernard Vann, CO 1/6th Sherwood Foresters, cannot escape being  a hero of mine, and I have been particularly looking forward to this book.

It did not disappoint. Charles is fine writer, which is always a good start.

The author was faced with one central problem – Vann’s wife, Doris, destroyed all his papers. Charles could therefore not build his biography around a series of letters or diary entries. We thus see Vann through the eyes of others, and the biography is almost as much a story of the people around Vann, those who made up his world, civilian and military, as it is about Vann himself.  We thus see Vann in context. For some less skillful, or diligent, the absence of Vann’s voice could have been a problem. Charles manages to turn this into a virtue. We thus have an insight into many things – the middle-class professional Victorian family, the late 19th and early 20th century school system and the importance of sport in that world, to name but a few.

The narrative is carried along on a raft of facts. And facts abound. Charles has been exceptional in his diligence of his research – a work of years.  As a bonus, the last chapter presents his research on clergy who served as soldiers, rather than purely as padres. Vann was the only such to be awarded the VC.

As one finishes the penultimate chapter, however, it is impossible not to be overwhelmed by the towering figure that is Bernard Vann, sportsman, teacher, man of faith, leader, and fighter. The world today seems to possess so few such individuals.

And therein – man of faith and fighter, who killed without being daunted – lies the riddle to modern eyes. It was not the author’s purpose to enter into debate on the nature of the Christianity of the period that allowed this not to be a problem, even if Anglican Canon Law about the shedding of blood by the ordained; and the prescriptions of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Randall Davidson, concerning the incompatability of clergy in combatant roles attempted to make it one. Vann may have thought ‘God is on our side’, but there is no evidence presented that he did. But what he certainly was, and it is not a point that Charles labours unduly, was a shining example of the ‘muscular Christianity’ which had been touched by the the militarism of the late Victorian period. Vann was not doing ‘God’s work’ on the battlefield when he was in action, (although he certainly acted as a padre at times, and fostered the spiritual needs of his men), but he was a man of his time who had no difficulty in enforcing moral right with might. He transcended the bounds of his faith. His life is both to be admired, and a proof of L.P. Huntley’s famous remark: ‘The past is foreign country, they do things differently there’.

There are many good reasons to read this book.

‘They don’t make ’em like that any more’ – Major Conrad Hugh Dinwiddy


Whilst researching my book on battalion commanders I’d often find myself thinking, on constructing a little biography, ‘well, they don’t make ’em like that any more’. This thought would arise in connection men whose lives seemed extraordinary – they weren’t necessarily always individuals you could totally admire, but somehow in a world with fewer restrictions, they’d rattled around the planet having all sorts of ‘adventures’. The constraints of the era, of course, largely meant that it was often only men who could do this.

The man whose private papers I’m currently transcribing was an extraordinary man of a slightly different ilk. Conrad Hugh Dinwiddy was a surveyor working in his father’s London-based architectural practice at the outbreak of the Great War. He was an active local Conservative politician who undoubtedly would have become an MP, a tournament tennis player, an experienced mountaineer, and a journalist. A workaholic, he’d write maybe ten letters before going to bed each night. Three of his brothers had been infantry Volunteer officers, and one brother was a regular major with the Royal West Kent Regiment, taken prisoner at Kut. Two were officers in the navy, one on the Auxiliary Patrol, one on cruisers. His family typifies the contribution made by the professional middle-classes to officering during the war.

In June 1915, when on night-duty as a Special Policeman, and pondering the Zeppelin threat to the capital, he began to devise a range-finder that would allow anti-aircraft fire to be more swiftly and accurately brought to bear on aircraft. The principles were in place by the morning, and he had a full scheme within a week. He then devised a slide-rule which would allow the battery commander to make the calculations necessary for the final fuze-setting to be made. In 1916, when his range-finder came into use in the London defences, he was commissioned into the Royal Garrison Artillery, and in December that year was sent to the Western Front to a 6-inch howitzer battery. Within two months he was a captain, second-in-command, and within six was a major, commanding the battery. His commitment to applying his skills and intellect didn’t stop there – within two months of being in action he had invented a method using lit parallel aiming posts to improve the accuracy of night firing. He submitted a scheme for barge-mounted batteries, and improved methods of ammunition supply. Even under the stress of war and command, Dinwiddy’s intellect remained keen and focussed on problem-solving.

At the end of August 1917, however, he asked to be relieved of his post – reading between the lines of his letters he loved his gunnery but found organising the frequent moves of his battery stressful. He was posted to be second-in-command of a 9.2-inch howitzer battery and on 26 September, during the battle of Polygon Wood, his battery (though not in action) was likely caught by counterbattery fire, and he was mortally wounded.

Some individuals, whose contributions raise them head and shoulders above others are fêted, whilst others are forgotten. We often focus on the action of war, recognise the technological changes, but fail to show curiosity about the how and the who of such change. The intellectual and practical achievements of men like Conrad Dinwiddy should not be forgotten.


Review – ‘Attack on the Somme’ – Meleah Hampton (Helion, 2016)


In a year which saw many pointless rehashes of the Somme campaign on its hundredth anniversary, Meleah Hampton’s book on 1 ANZAC Corps on the Pozieres Ridge was one of exceptional worth.

It charts the Australian effort between Pozieres Village and Mouquet Farm, a six-week struggle between the end of July 1916 and the start of September, securing a mile and a half of advance at the cost of terrible casualties.

It is not a corps history, rather an in depth operational study, the sort of military history that is regrettably too thin on the ground. It also reflects what John Terraine called ‘The True Texture of the Somme’, the 138 days which fell outside the big thrusts of 1 July, 14 July and 15 September.

Whilst never being a book about ‘butchers and bunglers’, what Hampton recounts is, at one level, shocking. The whole mini-campaign had no operational purpose whatsoever. Progressed in parallel to the enemy’s front, it could never have contributed to the fall of the Thiepval ‘fortress’, nor could it have even been been classed as an exercise in attrition – friend suffering greater attrition than foe. Nor was the much celebrated Mouquet Farm ever an objective, in fact, it was avoided. It was a frightful exercise in doing something for the sake of doing something. The responsibility for this lies mainly with Hubert Gough commanding Reserve Army, and William Birdwood as ANZAC Corps commander. In contrast with later stages of the war, corps level seems to abrogated much responsibility in the planning process, leaving much to a very unevenly skilled group of divisional commanders. Their disparate methods of attack lie in an era pre-dating SS135 ‘Training of Divisions for Offensive Action’ and SS143 ‘Training of Platoons for Offensive Actions’. Most importantly, Hampton reflects the failure to integrate artillery and infantry. Artillery barrages were so planned to offer virtually no protection to the foot soldier. Attacks were over such short distances that the Australians were often withdrawing from their front line to avoid inaccurate shelling and then assaulting to re-take the very trenches they had just left.

If the book highlights the failure of operational planning of 1916, then rather than wallow in celebrating the incompetence of senior BEF officers, it serves as counterpoint to British offensive operations at the start of the Hundred Days, 24 months later. If as Hampton observes, 1st ANZAC Corps demonstrated absolutely no learning on the Pozieres Ridge during operations, it is a reflection that military learning is only accrued and assimilated over much longer periods of time.

Whilst the book is engagingly written, and its concluding chapter is good, the number of textual errors suggest it could have done with a closer check, and the repetitiveness of the conclusions at the end of each chapter (sometimes the same thing being restated only several paragraphs apart) suggest a firmer hand in copy-editing would have been desirable.

This does not, however, detract from a book that is well worth digesting, and yet another in Helion’s excellent stable.

Disaster at The Kink, 11 May 1916

We approach, with mounting sentimental preoccupation, the 100th anniversary of 1 July 1916, a day that has come to represent the the weight of death suffered by the nation in the Great War. As many historians have pointed out, there were four more months of fighting on the Somme beyond that day during which the British Army laid the groundwork for many of the techniques that would bring victory in 1918. But the British Army did not begin fighting that year on 1 July. The largely unknown first six months of 1916 hide their own tragedies and minor triumphs.

At 08.30 on 11 May the 13th Royal Scots took over the trenches of a salient opposite the Hohenzollern Redoubt at Loos. The fighting of September-October 1915 had left the British in possession of part of the west of the redoubt, and between 2-18 March 1916 mining and further fighting had left a small outcrop in the German lines (Bill’s Bluff) around the edge of craters opposite two small outcrops in the opposing British salient, with a slight re-entrant between. The lefthand outcrop was Hussar’s Horn, the righthand The Kink.

At 16.15 that day the enemy opened a very heavy bombardment, and at 17.00 a shell entered the battalion HQ dug-out, killing or wounding the entire battalion HQ.

Those killed included:

  • Lieutenant-Colonel Richard Bassett Cockburn Raban. Aged 35, Raban had been born at Clifton in 1881 and was the elder son of the late Reverend R.C.W. Raban, vicar of Bishop’s Hull, Taunton (formerly Army chaplain in India), and grandson of Captain Richard Raban of the 48th Native Regiment, who was killed in the Afghan War, and great-grandson of Lord Cockburn, author of “Memorials of My Time”. Raban was educated at Temple Grove, Malvern College, and Sandhurst. He passed out fourth, and was commissioned to the Somerset Light Infantry in 1900. Three years later he joined the Indian Army and was appointed to the 1st Duke of York’s Own Lancers. In 1914 he qualified psc from the Indian Staff College, Quetta. Shortly after the outbreak of the war Captain Raban was selected to accompany a squadron of native troops to the front. In November 1915 he was appointed second-in-command to the 7th Battalion Cameron Highlanders, with the rank of major. On 1 April 1916 he was made temporary Lieutenant-Colonel commanding 13th Royal Scots. (Obituary, The Times 26 May 1916).


Raban’s grave at Vermelles British Cemetery (

  • Major Hugh Ferdinand Mansfield Worthington-Wilmer, the 27 year-old second-in-command, was commissioned into the 2nd Royal Scots from the 4th Battalion on 26 May 1908, promoted Lieutenant in February 1912 and was seconded to the Royal Flying Corps in April 1914. Appointed second-in-command to the 13th he had commanded the battalion between 16 March and 1 April 1916 after the death of Lieutenant-Colonel Harry McClear.


Major H.F.M. Worthington-Wilmer (photo

  • Captain Ian Alexander Grant Ferguson, aged 18, had been commissioned on 2 September 1914. He was the battalion machine gun officer.
  • Captain Arthur Cyril Albert Jekyll MB RAMC, commissioned on 15 March 1915, was a 27 year-old Australian born at Emmaville, New South Wales, son of George Jekyll, a farmer. He had studied at Newington College and obtained his degree in medicine at the University of Sydney in 1914.
  • Captain Charles Whitehead Yule, was an ex-OTC cadet commissioned on 14 November 1914 from private 17276 of the ‘Edinburgh Battalion’ of the Royal Scots. He was born in 1888, son of James Yule, a builder in Kinghorn, Fife, who had died when he was two.He was educated at Clifton Hall school in St Andrews and Kirkcaldy High School. He gained a first class MA degree in classics in 1910 from St Andrews University , and in 1911 a first class degree in economic science. In 1912 he received a B.Litt degree. In 1914 he was working in the Historical Department of Register House, Edinburgh, as an Assistant Curator.


Captain C.W. Yule (From University of St. Andrews Roll of Honour)

The wounded included:

  • The adjutant, Captain Christopher Thomas Francis (B.Sc London School of Economics), commissioned from private in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, who would die of wounds in hospital at Calais on 26 May.


  • The signalling and intelligence officer, Second-Lieutenant Alexander Linton, (commissioned on 5 January 1915). Linton had won the MC at Loos: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and determination on “Hill 70 ” on 26th September, 1915. He repeatedly rallied his men and held on to his position with a few men till midnight, 26th-27th September, when practically everyone else had withdrawn’. (Edinburgh Gazette, 6 November 1916). Linton would survive the war.

The bombardment slackened off at 17.15 and the enemy could be seen crawling into the craters of The Kink. The bombardment resumed and at 18.10 the attack began. The Germans advanced in ‘lines and waves’, the first line throwing bombs, behind them ‘thick lines of infantry’ 20-50 yards apart. Despite repelling some of the enemy with rifle, Lewis Gun and artillery fire, Major David Mitchell Tomlinson, now commanding, withdrew his men into Sackville Steet, two trenches behind the front line which had been obliterated. A vicious bombing fight ensued, continuing to midnight, at which point it was noted ‘it appeared certain that the lost ground could not be regained by bombing alone’.

Between 19.00 and 20.00 the second command disaster occurred. Major Tomlinson, going forward to reconnoitre, was mortally wounded, dying the following day. A 38 year-old New Zealand mining engineer, Tomlinson had graduated from the University of Otago in 1904 with B.Sc in metallugical engineering. He was commissioned from lance-corporal in the Royal Engineers in May 1915.

The battalion was now under the command of Captain Harry Samuel Eaton Stevens of D Company . At 01.25 on the 12th, a five minute artillery bombardment opened and an attack went forward to heavy losses, failing on the right in the direction of The Kink but being more successful on the left. By 02.00, the existing line was consolidated, but The Kink was lost.

In addition to losing battalion HQ and two commanding officers, the war diary (TNA WO95/1946) noted on the 12th that casualties amongst the other ranks were 14 killed, 60 wounded and 152 missing, mostly buried by shellfire. By the end of that day the total casualty list was reckoned to be an estimated 300.

In adddition to those officers already listed, Captain Malcolm Halcrow MC (commissioned September 1914) and Second-Lieutenant Andrew Wemyss MC (commissioned from sergeant in December 1915) had been wounded, both of whom survived the war; Second-Lieutenant Lionel Drummond Kyrle Collins was missing (commissioned in May 1915 he had been killed on the 11th); and Captain Andrew Moffat Macdonald (commissioned October 1914) was dead.

On 14 May 7/8th King’s Own Scottish Borderers unsuccessfully tried again to regain The KInk, and at that point it was accepted by First Army that Sackville Street should remain the front line, as it was less exposed. The Germans had captured an area of 600 by 400 yards, whilst 15th Division suffered 935 casualties from 11–15 May of which the Germans claimed to have taken 135 prisoners.

On 19 May Lieutenant-Colonel George Martin Hannay, a 45 year-old officer of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers, took over command of the battalion from Captain Stevens, and he would command until 15 April 1918, Stevens commanding as Lieutenant-Colonel from 26 July until the Armistice. On 24 May seven officers joined for duty, and on 4 June Captain J.T.R. Mitchell joined as second-in-command. Command was being rebuilt. On 20 May Brigadier-General Allgood commanding 45 Brigade ‘expressed himself highly pleased with the behaviour of the battalion’ during the operations. On 5 June the battalion was notified that Captain H.S.E. Stevens, Second-Lieutenant W.A. Henderson and Second-Lieutenant J.R. McLennard had been awarded the MC for their actions on the 11th/12th, and Lance-Corporals McKinley and Parker had been awarded the MM.

On 1 July 2016, remember too the courage and sacrifice of these men.

(Thanks to Dr Trevor Harvey of Heart of England WFA for drawing my attention to these events).

Thoughts on Verdun 1916

I have just returned from three days walking on the Verdun battlefield, guided by the inimitable Christina Holstein. I first went to the battlefield when I was 18, 44 years ago.

It is an eerie place, covered in pines, astonishingly pock-marked by shell craters. Where there is natural growth it is stunted, a testament to the poison in the ground. Unlike the Somme, the 13 villages ‘mort pour la France’ were never rebuilt (as agricultural communities they would have foundered in the polluted landscape). One does not have to go and peer through the ground level windows of the Douaumont ossuary and contemplate the piles of femurs, ribs and skulls to understand that Verdun is about death. It is all around you. Nowhere on the Western Front is like it. The preserved landscape speaks to us more about the reality of attritional warfare than any other of the now sanitised battlefields of Flanders, Artois or Picardy. It is misery and brutality incarnate.



On the appropriately (but coincidentally) named Mort Homme on the left bank stands a monument facing the German advance – a partially fleshed skeleton. In many ways it is like the abris, ouvrages and forts cracked open by artillery shells. Partly dead but surviving still, and purposeful … the enemy did NOT pass.

Falkenhayn believed that he could grab the heights on the right bank of the Meuse, move his heavy guns up and draw the French into a deadly sacrificial pit on the slopes below, martyred to save Verdun. Once they had seen the futility of this wastage, the French would give up. In the end the Germans suffered perhaps as many casualties as the French, some estimates suggesting over 370,000 on each side. What the Germans hoped to achieve in a week they could not achieve in eleven months. To stand on the crest of the German advance at Verdun is to know that Clausewitz’s maxim is absolutely true – war is always fought against ‘an enemy with an independent will, that never passively submits, and that constantly seeks to outwit, deceive and destroy’ (T. Waldman, War, Clausewitz and the Trinity, p.182).

Certain places at Verdun unavoidably remind you that this independent will is born on the backs of flesh and blood. The Tavannes Tunnel swept by fire at the cost of perhaps a thousand French dead; the 650 plus dead Germans still entombed in Douaumont, victims of an accidental explosion, some killed by their comrades as they emerged from the bowels of the fort burned and blackened, mistaken for French colonial troops who had somehow entered the fort. The nightmare of the nature of the cost of the titanic struggle at Verdun is appalling.

Verdun is a testament to the reality of the part that topography plays in defeat. Yet it is hard to perceive it. The tactically crucial ridges and the valleys in between that cruelly exposed human beings to hecatomb by shellfire can now hardly be seen among the tall pines, visible only to the experienced eye. The forts that ring the town now lurk in innocuous stands of trees. To walk in the forest is to be in some ways like the soldier of 1916, lost without any idea of what any feature actually is. As Holstein points out, Ouvrage de Thiaumont on the Douaumont dominated ridge is supposed to have passed from French to German hands many times. In reality, when troops thought they had taken Thiaumont they had in fact taken some other concrete edifice.

To stand on top of Douaumont is to be temporarily lifted above the fog of war. Standing similarly on top of Vaux and looking over the valley it took the Germans from 25 February to 2 June to cross, one becomes painfully aware that the conduct of the battle also reminds us that the supposedly superior German army was prone to operational and tactical error (which certain American historians would have us believe as being the prerogative only of the British army), long before March 1918. The German high command fought itself into the same trap as Haig has been so criticised for on the Somme or at Ypres in 1917 – once embarked on a course of action it is hard, given the losses sustained and the political and reputational commitment implied, to give it up and seem to acknowledge failure. It is also testament to how operational aims can become distorted – instead of slaughter of the French by artillery, the goal mutated once opportunity had passed into the capture of Verdun itself, something never intended. The battle reminds of other realities of the First World War. As William Philpott in his recent book ‘Attrition‘ points out, the key to victory on the Western Front was availability of reserves. In a war of attrition the army left standing that could deploy its reserves would be victorious. The Germans never had the reserves to create the schwerpunkt required at Verdun, a result in itself of the dissipation of resources stemming from the failure of the Schlieffen Plan, and certainly not after the  Somme offensive began.

The battle also demonstrates that whilst 1916 was the year of crucial learning for all the combatants, the Germans had as much to learn as any of their enemies. Their artillery was massed like never before, just as was that of the British in the preliminary bombardment on the Somme, yet it never achieved the initial destructiveness intended. The complex creeping barrage that might have made the difference to many of the suicidal German attacks was a thing of the future, and a technique never fully mastered by them. The same may be said of logistics. The Germans intended to bring forward their heaviest guns without a thought as to how they might do so over ridges and valleys in winter. Rob Thompson draws our attention to the fact that Third Ypres was essentially an engineering failure for the British. Verdun absolutely was for the Germans.

Leaving the battlefield and heading back towards the town one emerges from the forest of pines into farmland. Something akin to dark into light. One leaves behind a magical, ghostly place. Yet one in which all the ghastly conundrums of the Great War are laid out. It repays study.

Loos 25 Sept to 15 Oct 1915: A Bloody Battle for COs

The Battle of Loos was an extraordinarily bloody battle for infantry battalion COs. 28 were killed and 26 wounded (one further CO being captured).

The following COs were killed in action or died of wounds:

Major John Gerrard Collins, 8th Black Watch, was born in 1867 and was a major in the reserve of officers in August 1914. He took command on the first day of the battle, when Lt-Col J. Forbes-Sempill was wounded, and was killed two days later.

Lt-Col Harold Duke Collison-Morley, 1/19th London. Born in 1877, Collison-Morley had been a regular captain of the Buffs in August 1914. He had commanded since 26 May 1915 and was killed in action at Tower Bridge on 25 September.

Major Alfred Hamilton Connell, 2nd Royal Scots Fusiliers, was born in 1881, and was a captain in the regiment in August 1914. He had commanded since 22 September when Lt-Col J.H. Pollard was promoted to the command of 2Brigade. He was killed by a shell inspecting the trenches.

Lt-Col Arthur Falconer Douglas-Hamilton, 6th Cameron Highlanders, was born in 1863, and was a major in the Reserve of Officers of the Cameron Highlanders in August 1914. He was the unit’s second CO from 1 October 1914. He was killed on Hill 70 on 26 September, beating off 4 enemy counterattacks, for which action he won the VC.

Lt-Col Richard Charles Dundas, 11th Royal Scots, was born in 1879, and was a major of 2nd Royal Scots in August 1914. He was the unit’s second CO from 10 October 1914. He was killed on 25 September somewhere near the junction of Pekin Trench and Haisnes Trench, attempting to deal with uncut wire.

Lt-Col Arthur George Edward Egerton, 1st Coldstream Guards, was born in 1879, and was a captain in the battalion in August 1914. He served as CO from 26 August, and was killed on 29 September when a shell hit 2nd Guards Brigade HQ.

Lt-Col Frederick Howard Fairtlough, 8th West Surrey, was born in 1861 and was a retired Miltia Colonel, born in 1860. The first CO of the battalion from 1 October 1914, he was killed on 26 September near Vermelles, and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial. His son Gerard, Royal Engineers, was killed in 1918.

Lt-Col George Herbert Fowler, 1/8th Sherwood Foresters, was born in 1877 and was a major in that unit in August 1914, taking over command on 19 February 1915. He was killed on 15 October in front of the Hohenzollern Redoubt, victim of a sniper.

Lt-Col Walter Thomas Gaisford, 7th Seaforth Highlanders, was born in 1871, and was a major of the 2nd Battalion, acting as depot commander in August 1914. He commanded from 19 August 1914, being the unit’s first CO, and was killed on 25 September. He is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

Lt-Col Richard Davies Garnons-Williams, 12th Royal Fusiliers, was born in 1860, and was a Welsh rugby international (the inaugural 1881 match). Late Lt-Col of the South Wales Borderers, he was killed on the same day that he took command of the battalion, 25 September 1915, attempting to beat  off repeated enemy counterattacks.

Lt-Col Alexander George William Grant, 8th Devonshire, was a Lt-Col in the West African Regiment. The unit’s first CO, he commanded from 19 August 1914, being killed on 25 September. He is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

Lt-Col Arthur de Salis Hadow, 10th Yorkshire, was born in 1878, and was a Lt-Col of the Reserve of Officers, Yorkshire Regiment, in August 1914. He was the unit’s first CO from October 1914. He was killed with his 2ic, Major W.H. Dent and 11 other officers attacking Hill 70 on 27 September.

Lt-Col Archibald Samuel Hamilton, 14th Durham Light Infantry, was born in 1865 and was a retired Indian Army major. He had commanded the 4th (Extra Reserve) Sherwood Foresters since January 1914 and was transferred to be CO of 14th DLI on 22 June 1915. He died on 13 October 1915, having been mortally wounded on 26 September on Hill 70.

Lt-Col Maurice Gordon Heath, 2nd West Surrey, was born in 1873 and was a major in the 1st Battalion in August 1914. He was promoted to command of the 2nd Battalion on 10 June 1915 and was killed in the Hulluch Quarries on 25 September.

Major William James Seymour Hosley, 6th Kings Own Scottish Borderers, was born in 1875 and was a captain in the 1st Battalion in August 1914. He took over after Lt-Col Henry Maclean was wounded on 25 September by shrapnel in the assembly trenches. Hosley was wounded going over the parapet by machine guns at Mad Point. He remained at duty, refusing to have his wounds dressed, and died  later that day.

Lt-Col John Hall Knight, 1/5th North Staffordshire, was born in 1865 and was commanding the battalion at the outbreak of war. On 13 October 1915 he lead his unit towards The Dump with shouts of “Forward the Potters” and “Up the Potters”. Over 500 casualties were sustained, mostly within yards of the front line, Knight being one.

Lt-Col Bertram Henry Leatham, 2nd Wiltshire, was  a captain of the Yorkshire Regiment in August 1914. He took over command of 2nd Wiltshire on 2nd June 1915. He died on 26 September, mortally wounded in the enemy attacks on Gun Trench in the early hours of the morning.

Lt-Col Bertram Percival Lefroy, 2nd Royal Warwickshire, was born in 1878. A captain of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, in August 1914 he was a GSO3 on the General Staff, serving as a GSO2 from November 1914 until he took over command of the 2nd Battalion on 14 July 1915. He was one of the first to fall, with his adjutant Captain Duke, as the unit attacked the Hohenzollern Redoubt on 25 September.

Lt-Col Edward Townshend Logan, 15th Durham Light Infantry, was born in 1865, and was commanding 3rd Cheshire (Special Reserve) in August 1914. One of the few SR COs to be given an active command, he took over 15th DLI on 24 August 1915. He was killed on 26 September in the attempts to retake Bois Hugo and Chalet Wood.

Lt-Col Gerald Hugh Charles Madden, 1st Irish Guards, born in 1872, was a major in the Reserve of Officers of the Irish Guards in August 1914. He had assumed command on 16 August 1915. On 11 October 1915 he was wounded when a shell on his HQ broke both his legs. He died on 12 November 1915.

Lt-Col George Henry Neale, 3rd Middlesex, was born in 1869, and was a major in the battalion in August 1914. He took over command on 24 April 1915, and was killed at The Dump on 28 September as his battalion withdrew.

Lt-Col Arthur Parkin, 7th Northamptonshire, born in 1862, was a major in the Reserve of Officers of the Northamptonshire Regiment in August 1914. He was the first CO of his unit from 1 October 1914, and was killed on 27 September at the Hohenzollern Redoubt, one of 350 casualties in the unit.

Lt-Col Charles Edward Radclyffe, 11th Essex, born in 1864, was an unemployed Lt-Col of the Rifle Brigade in August 1914. He was the first CO of 11th Essex, from 18 September 1914. He was killed on 26 September when his unit was supporting an attack by 72nd Brigade on the German second line trenches at Hulluch between Puits and Stutzpunkt IV. 18 officers, including Radclyffe, and 323 men became casualties, held up by uncut wire. He is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

Colnel Frederick Charles Romer, 8th Buffs, was the oldest CO fatality of the war at the age of 63. He was born on 15 February 1853 and had become a Lieutenant in the Essex Rifles at the age of 20. He had served in South Africa 1900-1, and had retired as Lieutenant-Colonel of the 6th Lancashire Fusiliers in 1908. In 1914, he raised and trained the 8th Buffs. As Honorary Secretary of Boodles Club, he brought with him two fellow members as Majors, three as Captains, and one as a Lieutenant, as well as two of the club waiters. Romer died leading his battalion against the German second position on 26 September. Wounded in the shoulder he insisted on staying with his men, and was then shot through the heart.

Lt-Col John Raymond Evelyn Stansfeld, 2nd Gordon Highlanders, was captain and adjutant in his unit in August 1914. He took command on 17 December 1914. He was wounded at Neuve Chapelle, and mortally on 25 September, dying three days later.

Lt-Col George de Wet Verner, 7th Kings Own Scottish Borderers, was born in 1859, and was a Lt-Col of the Reserve of Officers of the KOSB, and was the unit’s first CO from 22 August 1914. Famously piped into action by Piper Laidlaw VC, Verner was one of 575 casualties, dying of wounds on 10 October.

Lt-Col Harold Ernest Walter, 8th Lincolnshire, born in 1865, was a captain of the Reserve of Officers of the Lincolnshire Regiment in August 1914. He was the unit’s second CO from 9 September 1914. He was killed in action on 26 September, near Bois Hugo, urging his men forward.

Lt-Col Claude Arthur Worthington, 2nd Buffs, was born in 1874 and was a captain in the battalion in August 1914. He took over command on 6 June 1915. He was killed in action on 28 September, and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

37 Brigade Advanced HQ, Arras, 9 April 1917

On 9 April 1917, the opening day of the Battle of Arras, 37 Brigade (12th Division) under the command of Brigadier-General Abemarle Bertie Edward Cator, was at its advanced HQ, 51b NW3 Arras G.29.c.7.7, now No. 1 Rue du Temple. The brigade advanced over 1000 yards, took 8 lines of trenches and strongpoints including Hotte and Holt Werks that day.

Given its proximity to the then front line, it is extraordinary that the building stands intact today.

IMG_0862It had clearly been used by a range of units. On the right of the ground floor, in black paint, is written ‘1st DCLI’.

IMG_0856_FotorOn the left is the legend ‘Haircutting Saloon’.

IMG_0855_FotorThis essential (!) activity was re-enacted in 2007.

post-1565-1254358418Around the door are a number of graffiti etched into the brick.

IMG_0858_FotorGeorge Ernest Mustill was born in 1878 in Northampton, married his wife Rose Louise Harding in Plymouth in 1907 where he worked as a furniture shop assistant, and enlisted in Leicester, Gunner 167250 323 Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery. He died 8 days after scratching his name, on 1 September 1918, aged 39. His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Vis en Artois memorial. His wife did not remarry and died in 1969.

IMG_0860_FotorJohn Bertie Montague King was a labourer living in Clevedon, Somerset, but had been born in London in 1894. He enlisted Private 16579 in the 12th Battalion, but also served in the 1st, 13th, and 2/4th Gloucestershire Regiment. He entered France on 21 November 1915 and was killed in action on 3 December 1917. His body was not recovered and he is comemmorated on the Cambrai memorial.

IMG_0857_FotorAlbert Edward Bellett, a printer of Hackney, London, attested Private 20064 in the 12th Gloucestershire Regiment on 17 April 1915, aged 19 years 6 months. He returned home on 6 August 1916, sufficiently badly wounded to be discharged in 1917.

Other clear grafitti include (

‘R Stamp 13th NF Aug 10/18/19th 1916′
Robert Stamp, Private 32/367, 13th & 12/13th Northumberland Fusiliers. He survived the war.

Private 17010 LCpl E Altham, 18 Batt Lancs Fus 6/9/16 BEF’                                    Lance-Corporal 17010 Ernest Altham, 18th Lancashire Fusiliers. A calico print works labourer who enlisted at Blackburn. Killed in action 15 April 1917, aged 22. His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial.

‘E Taylor 67th D’ – Not identified.

‘Pte Hargreaves’ – Not identified.

‘Sgt Booth’ – Not identified.

‘W or IN Searl’ – Not identified.

‘F Wide, 15 Platoon, D Company, 12 Glosters’
22652 Private Frederick Wide, 12th Gloucestershire Regiment, landed in France 24 December 1915. He survived the war.

‘Pte F S Hine E S Regt 1916’                                                                                          Lance-Corporal Frederick Hine, enlisted Kingston-on-Thames no. 2014 9th East Surrey Regiment. He landed in France 6 October 1915 but was Killed in Action 3 September 1916. His remains were not recovered and he is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial.

’12 Gloster Pte R I Brayley‘                                                                                              Born in Swansea in 1884, Richard Isaac Brayley was a married fish merchant with 2 children. Private 260417 12th Gloucestershire, ex 202173 Monmouthshire Regiment. Killed in Action 4 October 1917, at Ypres aged 34. His body was not recovered and he is commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial.

‘RD Oliver 26 MGC’                                                                                                                   Richard D Oliver enlisted Private S/2533, Seaforth Highlanders and entered France 10 May 1915. He was transferred to the Machine Gun Corps Corporal 17395. He survived the war.

‘A Newsom 223825 Vive la France’ – Not identified.

Thus, of the nine identified, five died and none of their bodies were recovered. Eerily, only about 2 deaths might be expected by chance and in terms of unrecovered bodies, less than 2 of the 5 might be expected by chance.The graffiti are truly their memorial.

Review – ‘Ring of Steel – Germany and Austria-Hungary at War 1918’ – Alexander Watson

Anyone familiar with Alex Watson’s book on morale, ‘Enduring the Great War’, will know that this book will be written to a high standard of scholarship. It is not a military history, rather an exploration of what motivated the Central Powers into War and what kept its armies and civilians going once they had embarked on that course. It is a particularly important correction to the Britocentric approach to the recognition of the centenary of the war, a period which is producing a particularly disappointing crop of books, many of which are less than worthwhile.

It is particularly interesting in its attention to Austria-Hungary. Indeed, in Watson’s slant on the outbreak of war, the Habsburg Empire was truly the key player, its need to go to war driven by its internal incoherence. Similarly of particular interest is the very clear account of Germany’s war aims, what happened in the East behind the front lines, and the examination of the collapse of German morale. If there was any ‘stab in the back’ it was the criminal incompetence of the Central Powers’ management of their own food supplies, a far more potent problem than the allied blockade. Watson draws clear pointers as to both the similarities of the techniques of the the military dominated German regime’s attitudes to the lands it conquered and those of the Nazi regime, but also the limitations of drawing such similarities.

A significant section of the book focuses on the food issue, and there is a danger of the reader disappearing under the sheer weight of facts. This is the section of a long book which is particularly lengthy. If one was to make any other criticism then it would be that the discussion of Austria-Hungary seems more rounded than that of Germany, but that may be an artefact of the issue that readers will be more familiar with the former than the latter. However, Watson is a fine and engaging writer, and the detail is  testimony to his mastery of areas of which many historians of the British Army remain in ignorance.

Review – Suzie Grogan “Shell Shocked Britain” (Pen & Sword History, 2014)

This is a disappointingly frustrating book. It is well-written and bounces along through a number of interesting topics in an engaging way, but it is misleading. The title is really the give-away. The author reassures us on one page that not everyone was traumatised by the experience of the First World War, yet gives the impression on another that indeed they were. Nowhere is this more clear than in her inclusion of the statement of Dr Peter Heinl: ‘Unless proof has been provided to the contrary, I regard anyone who has survived the war as having been traumatised in some way or another. Neither Heinl nor Grogan seemingly understand that it is inherent on the proposer to disprove the null hypothesis, not to presume it, without evidence, to be untrue until others prove it correct. Science isn’t done this way. Further, this statement denies those who experienced the Great War the dignity of having applied their coping skills and survived psychologically intact. As many did. The implied scorn of the attitudes of society of 100 years ago is based on 20-20 hindsight. You don’t do history like that.

There is heavy reliance on references from novels, the usual inclination towards the war poets whose supposed monopoly of truth is so rarely challenged, and psychoanalysis. Grogan’s style is notable for its absence of footnotes. Although there is a bibliography, there is little indication as to what statements are supported by what evidence. One suspects that a good proportion of that which is written is the author’s assertion rather than any research-based fact and goes through on the nod as a given based on the ‘fact’ that everyone nowadays knows that trauma is everywhere. Don’t they? As John Bourne and Bob Bushaway have noted:  ‘It is a modern conceit that soldiers must necessarily be traumatised by war’. (in G.R. Husbands, Joffrey’s War, p.20).

The book is also full of irritating errors. The British Army did not “identify and treat approximately 80,000 young men for shell-shock”.  That was the maximum total supposed in retrospect for all “nervous disorder” and we don’t know their ages. (Grogan never refers to Peter Leese’s conclusion that the true figure is 200,000 of over five million who served – the unspoken impression is that it is many more than that.). “Many”, it is asserted, had apparently “succumbed” to shell shock “within the first 12 months”. A contemporary report in fact suggested that by the end of 1914, 7 to 10 per cent of all officers and 3 to 4 per cent of other ranks had been sent home ‘suffering from the effects of nervous and mental shock, due to strain, stress and exhaustion’. (McPherson, ‘Medical Diseases of the War’ Vol Two p.9). The American Civil War ended in 1865, not 1875. Edmund Blunden’s surname is not spelled Blundon. The “bank balance hypothesis” of a finite amount of fortitude did not inspire forward psychiatry during the war – the notion first appears in the evidence of William Tyrrell in the 1922 “Shell-Shock” report. “50 per cent of all those killed had no grave”? No – 50% have a known grave, 25% of burials in graves are unknown, 25% were never recovered. One could go on.

Another review says that this book is a “perfect introduction to the subject” of shell shock. This reviewer does not believe it is. The area is complex – it requires a grasp of psychology, psychiatry, sociology, and military and social history to truly do justice to such a broad topic. Go read Peter Leese “Shell Shock”, or Edgar Jones and Simon Wessely “Shell Shock to PTSD”.

The Lauries – A Military Family

Browsing in the church of St Mary, Northiam, I came across a stained glass window.

Laurie Window

The first question was why was it there. Captain (John) Hallibuton Laurie died fighting for a Canadian Regiment – The King’s Own Rifles of Canada – and both he and Lt-Col George (Brenton) Laurie had no known association with Northiam. No information concerning the church could shed light. The answer comes from the stained glass window that was the Laurie inscription window’s twin. This celebrated Lt-Col Charles Bradford-Brown, died 1909. He, it transpires, had married Helen Laurie, the daughter of John Laurie (1797-1864), a saddler and sometime MP for Barnstaple. Helen’s brother was John Wimburn Laurie, the father of the men in the window. Helen was thus honouring her nephews.

Investigating the Lauries throws up the issue of military families in the British Army. George Brenton Laurie rose to be CO 1st Royal Irish Rifles, and 23% of colonels during this period came from a military background. George’s father, John Wimburn (1835-1912), served in the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, seeing action in the Crimea, the Indian Mutiny, the First Boer War (1881) the North West Frontier Campaign of 1885. In 1861 he was one of 5000 troops posted to Canada, Nova Scotia in his case, to protect Canada in event of war with America. He saw service in the Fenian raids of 1866 and 1870. He became Inspecting Field Officer of the Nova Scotia Militia and a member of the Canadian and British Parliaments (the latter on return to the UK for Pembroke & Haverfordwest). He became a Lieutenant-General in 1887, being the highest-ranking officer in Canada.


John Wimburn Laurie is seen here with his three military sons. John Halliburton Laurie (standing centre) was killed in action at Philippolis, South Africa on 12 April 1901, aged 38, rescuing a wounded patrol. The son standing right is currently unidentified. George Brenton Laurie is seen standing left. He graduated from RMC, Kingston, Canada, and was commissioned in the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles, then stationed in Halifax. He went with them to Gibraltar in 1886, and on to Egypt in 1888. He took part in the Nile Campaign in 1889, but, contracting smallpox at Assouan, he was sent home to recover, and spent two years at the Depot at Belfast,
rejoining his battalion in Malta. He was promoted Captain in 1893, and when the Rifles came back to home service he obtained an Adjutancy of Volunteers in Devonshire in October 1896 until  March, 1901 when he was appointed a special service officer, including the command of a mounted infantry battalion for the South African War. He was present at operations in the Transvaal, Orange River
Colony, and Cape Colony, between April, 1901, and May, 1902, having been Mentioned in Despatches for his services (London Gazette, July 29th, 1902). He then served in Ireland, and in October, 1904, obtained his majority. Afterwards he served in England till, becoming Lt-Colonel in 1912, he went out to India to take command of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. He wrote the History of his Regiment, having previously written a history of ” The French in Morocco,” compiled from many sources during his years in the Mediterranean. His battalion was in Aden in August 1914, arriving in France in November.

GB Laurie

On March 10th, 1915, his unit took part in the attack on Neuve Chapelle. 
A sergeant-major wrote : " Our Colonel was every where, encouraging his men, and seeming to bear a charmed life. He knew no fear, and walked quietly in front of us as if no bombardment were going on." On Friday evening, March 12th, a fresh 
assault was ordered. Laurie rallied his exhausted men, and, calling out 
"Follow me! I will lead you!" he sprang over the parapet, revolver in hand. A 
moment later he fell shot through the head.

It is difficult to imagine that George Laurie would not have progressed to brigade 
command if he had not been one of the 40 out of 157 regular infantry COs of 
August 1914 killed in action or died of wounds.