What the Godwin Sands Dornier 17 can tell us about the Battle of Britain

Formation of Do17Z Bomber Aircraft in 1940 (wikipedia Commons)
Formation of Do17Z Bomber Aircraft in 1940 (wikipedia Commons)

If asked to name some famous aircraft from the Battle of Britain,  most people would think of Sptifires, Hurricanes, Messerschmits, Heinkels and Stukas  The announcement of the plans to raise   Dornier Do 17Z Werke nr. 1160 from the  bottom of the English Channel has thrown the spotlight on a duel between a pair of aircraft.  This duel touches on the controversy within the RAF about the best way to fight the battle of Britain. It also illustrates the link between the Battle of Britain and the night bombing of Germany.  Hidden in the landscape too are the places that tell this story.

The Dornier 17Z being recovered by the RAF Museum is the only example of its type in the world. This aircraft is also a particularly significant part of our battlefield heritage. It is not simply an example of a mediocre military aircraft from the mid 20th Century. This is a German bomber shot down by the RAF on 26th August during the Battle of Britain; a dramatic episode in our history, ranking alongside 1066, 1588 and 1805. This is on a par with say, a suit of armour worn by a French noble at Agincourt or by one of Richard III’s followers at Bosworth. The project needs support from donors and you can donate here https://support.rafmuseum.org/dornier-17-appeal

According to the information sheet written by Andrew Simpson and provided by the RAF Museum,

Dornier Werke nr. 1160 was 7/KG3 (7 Staffel (Squadron), III Gruppe of KG.3 with fuselage codes 5K+AR, which was based at St Trond in Belgium on 26th August 1940. This source says that this aircraft was part of a combined formation of Dorniers from KG2/3 despatched to bomb Debden and Hornchurch airfields. Seven aircraft of the 7 Staffel started to bomb an aerodrome, probably Debden, causing some damage.

No 264 Squadron Defiants in formation (Wikipedia Commons)
No 264 Squadron Defiants in formation (Wikipedia Commons)

Accounts of its loss vary from source to source; The original PoW Interrogation Report states that before reaching the target, when flying above clouds this aircraft seemingly became separated from the rest of the formation and lost its bearings. It was attacked by fighters, probably one of the RAF Hornchurch, Essex based Boulton Paul Defiants of No.264 Squadron RAF led by Flt Lt Banham, from their forward base at RAF Manston, Kent, which hit both engines and the cockpit as one,  of between one and six, as again published accounts vary – Dorniers brought down by the Defiants, who lost three of their number to defending Bf109s. At around 13.40 hours the aircraft force landed on Goodwin Sands off the eastern Kentish coast at low tide. Of the four crew, two (Wounded Pilot Feldwebel Willi Effmert, and Bomb Aimer Uffz Hermann Ritzel) became Prisoners-of-War in Canada and two (27-year old Wireless Operator Unteroffizier Helmut Reinhardt and 21-year old Bomb aimer Gefreiter Heinz Huhn) were killed, their bodies being recovered later and buried in Holland and the UK (Cannock Chase German cemetery) respectively.

Map showing the locations of the actions on 26th August 1940.  (New Zealand Official History)
Map showing the locations of the actions on 26th August 1940. (New Zealand Official History)

This air battle has some important consequences for the Battle of Britain,and is part of a

Dornier17Z bomber formation with the coastline behind them. (wikipedia commons)
Dornier17Z bomber formation with the coastline behind them. (wikipedia commons)

controversy which has continued ever since. 26th August is roughly half way through the Battle of Britain, at the height of the Luftwaffe attacks on the RAF Fighter Command Airfields. On this day the Germans would lure the RAF forwards to fight in an air battle over Kent and then send in a bomber force to try to knock out Fighter Command Airfields at Debden and North Weald and North of the Thames in Essex. These airfields were beyond the range where the bombers could be escorted by the singe seat Me109 fighters.

No 11 Group RAF, under the command of Keith Park was responsible for defending London and the South East and bore the brunt of the Battle of Britain. Their squadrons were directed towards incoming raids using the sophisticated integrated air defence system developed under Hugh Dowding. Their own airfields would be defended by squadrons from the neighbouring No 12 Group under Trafford Leigh-Mallory. On 26th August this did not work. The cloudy conditions of the day helped the Germans to remain hidden from the RAF, and Debden airfield was bombed at 15.20 hrs killing several servicemen and causing damage. This was one of the incidents which triggered the conflict between Keith Park and Leigh Mallory, the respective commanders of No 11 and No 12 Groups, the debate over the “Big Wings”, and the side-lining of both Dowding, the Commander of Fighter Command  and Park. This is a controversial episode in the story of the RAF which still makes ripples today, and is a fascinating case study of leadership and management which still offers lessons.

The RAF Museum information sheet leaves some questions about the relationship between Dornier Do 17Z Werke nr. 1160 and the raid on Debden. This aircraft appears to have crash landed two hours before the raid on Debden took place and may have been the result of some other engagement. According to the RAF Official History,(1) there were two major day raids on Monday 26th August 1940, not one raid as is the impression given by the information sheet. The first raids took place between 11.35-13.40 and took the form of a series of air raids on towns and airfields in Kent. The raiders included aircraft from III/KG3, and were intercepted by aircraft from, five squadrons including 264 Squadron. 264 Squadron, equipped with Defiant fighters and No 56 Squadron with Hurricanes sighted a formation of twelve Do17s near Deal before noon. The German bombers were flying at 13,000 ft and protected by thirty to fifty Me109s. The seven Defiants succeeded in getting at the bombers and claimed to have shot down six of them. However, the Me109s harassed them continuously shooting down three Defiants. This is the action which appears to fit the circumstances of the loss of the Dornier of No 7 Staffel of III/KG3 as it took place close to the Godwin Sands, a gliding distance from East Kent. The timings don’t quite fit either, but might make sense if the time of the crash was reported by the Germans using French/German time an hour ahead of the local UK time.

The loss of this Dornier to a Boulton and Paul Defiant has a certain historical irony. The connection between these aircraft is an interesting case study in the development of military technology.

The Boulton and Paul Defiant from "Britain's Wonderful Fighting Forces" (1941)
The Boulton and Paul Defiant from “Britain’s Wonderful Fighting Forces” (1941)

The  1930s was a period of technological change in military aviation. New engine designs and the potential of aluminium stressed skinned air-frames offered the potential to fly much faster than possible with fabric and braced struts and stronger structures than could be destroyed by the twin machine guns of contemporary fighter aircraft. The Dornier 17 was specified in 1932 as a “mail carrying aeroplane” but intended for reconnaissance. The resulting aircraft was faster than most biplane fighters and won an speed award in a 1937 air show in Switzerland, its top speed of 255mph was faster than French or Czech fighters. But by 1940 Do 17Z Werke nr. 1160 was already obsolescent. Fighter design had caught up and the Do 17 was slower than the RAF single seat fighters. Its bomb load was much smaller than the Ju88 and He 111 and new versions of the aircraft had already been commissioned. Although KG3 continued to fly this type of aircraft through the Blitz of 1940-41, from May 1941 the Wing converted to the Ju88. III/KG3 was the last to convert, in the following winter returning from the east front to Guetersloh in Germany.

The Bolton and Paul Defiant is often ignored completely in popular accounts of the Battle of Britain, and when mentioned it is usually as an example of a failed aircraft design. Any internet search of “ten worst aircraft of WW2” will find the Defiant high on the list. Yet the idea behind the aircraft had a lot of merit.

The power operated Fraser Nash Turret in this No 264 Squadron Defiant  contained a battery of four .303 browning machine guns, each with 600 rounds of ammunition.(wikipedia Commons)
The power operated Fraser Nash Turret in this No 264 Squadron Defiant contained a battery of four .303 browning machine guns, each with 600 rounds of ammunition.(wikipedia Commons)

No one knew how aerial warfare might be possible with the 1930-40s generation of aircraft. The aircraft of the Great War flew at the same sorts of speeds achievable by a fast sports car, and needed to close to within 50m to achieve a kill. Twenty years later aircraft could fly two to three times faster, raising questions about whether aerial combat would possible at all.   In the 1930s the major threat as perceived by the RAF was of German bombers attacking Britain from Germany. The thinking of the time envisaged aerial bombardment by explosive and chemical weapons which might cause thousands of casualties. This was the era when it was believed that the bomber would always get through. To its credit the British Government and the RAF invested in developing technology to defeat bombers, which paid dividends in 1940. One of the major problems was overcoming the difficulty of deflection shooting with the high speeds of WW2 era aircraft. One solution was to develop a large battery of guns in the wings of a single seat fighter, as adopted with the Hurricane and the Spitfire.

Another solution was for the fighter to fly a parallel course and eliminate the need for deflection shooting. The Boulton and Paul Defiant, like the Hurricane and Spitfire was a monoplane fighter powered by a Rolls Royce Merlin engine. However, the Defiant had a crew of two with a gunner in a Fraser Nash power operated turret to provide a battery of four 303 calibre machine guns which could shoot down a bomber by engaging it from any angle, ideally from some blind spot where the bombers could not engage. The RAF hedged their bets in defensive technology. Alone of all combatants in 1939, it had developed aircraft like the Defiant and the similar Blackburn Roc to use this method of fighting, as well as single seat fighters like the Spitfire and Hurricane.

One of the assumptions made at the time the Defiant was specified was that a German attack would be launched from Germany, outside the range of any single seat fighters. No one predicted that France would fall and the air attack would be from France and within range of single seat fighter escorts, which would find the slow and heavy Defiant easy prey. Although the Defiant could spring a nasty surprise on a German fighter which misidentified it as a Hurricane, the limitations and vulnerability of their aircraft had been identified before the Battle of Britain started. 264 Squadron had taken heavy losses in May over Dunkirk and had been withdrawn to the Midlands beyond the range of German single seat fighters. The fact that this squadron was in the air over Deal on 26th August 1940 shows the limits to which Fighter Command had been stretched.

The Bravest of the Few?   A group of aircrew from No 264 Sqn, the  unit with the highest aircrew mortality in Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. (wikipedia Commons)
The Bravest of the Few? A group of aircrew from No 264 Sqn, the unit with the highest aircrew mortality in Fighter Command during the Battle of Britain. (wikipedia Commons)

This air battle on 26th August is one of the few occasions where the Defiants were used against a bomber formation.  According to the 264 Squadron records the Squadron shot down seven Do17s for the loss of three Defiants.

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission records show that on that day two sergeants from 264 Squadron died. 26th August was a relatively good day for the Defiants as a total of fourteen men died between 24-28th August 1940, just under half the number of aircrew established for the Squadron, and more than lost by single seat fighter unit in the battle. One of the advantages the RAF had over the Germans in the Battle of Britain was that many RAF aircrew could bail out of a stricken aircraft and return to the fight, while any Germans shot down would be a prisoner of war.  The RAF reported 324 single seat fighter lost in August for the loss of 126 of the pilots killed. Just under two thirds of the pilots parachuted to safety.  That isn’t the case with the Defiants of 264 Squadron who appear to have lost two aircrew for each aircraft.  There are enough first hand accounts of the experiences of “The Few”, to know of the fearful experience of being attacked by a German fighter with only the armoured seat for protection and then bailing out from a crippled and burning machine falling from the sky. How much harder was it for a Defiant gunner, unprotected by armour to survive an attack, or to bail out of a Fraser Nash Turret if the power failed or the mechanism was damaged by cannon splinters?  RAF losses for August. I wonder too, whether the presence of a crewman inhibited Defiant pilots from jumping rather than stay with their  stricken machine to try to maintain control for as long as possible?

Two days after the action on 26th August, 264 Squadron were withdrawn from No 11 Group to No 12 Group and were tasked with operating as night fighters. The although the Defiant was heavier and less manoeuvrable aircraft to fly than either the Spitfire and had a landing speed over 100mph, it was a stable aircraft which made it more suitable as a night fighter. In Autumn 1940 the RAF had no means of finding the enemy other than the Mk1 eyeball and 264 Sqn struggled in this role through the Blitz. In 1941 they received Mk II Defiants which included a Mk VI Airborne interception radar operated by the pilot This seems less efficient than an arrangement allowing the pilot to concentrate on flying the aircraft and keeping visual look out while a second person on board operated the radar, as in the Beaufighter and Mosquito night-fighters. 264 Sqadron soldiered on with the Defiant until 1942 when the Squadron was converted to the Mosquito, a much better night fighter and the air gunners were posted out and replaced by navigator radar operators.

This isn’t quite the end of the story. In the mean time the Germans had found themselves

Prey Turned Hunter.  Dornier 17Z fitted with SN2 airborne Interception radar. Lieutenant Ludwig Becker used an aircraft like this fitted with the prototype of this radar to shoot down five bombers in August 1941.
Prey Turned Hunter. Dornier 17Z fitted with SN2 airborne Interception radar. Lieutenant Ludwig Becker used an aircraft like this fitted with the prototype of this radar to shoot down five bombers in August 1941.

considering the defence of the Reich from nocturnal air attacks. An interest sharpened by the raid on Berlin on the night of 25-26th August and whose raiders would be tucking into their breakfast about the same time that 7./KG3 would be waking up to theirs. Night air defence was low on Luftwaffe priorities and the night fighter force used the aircraft they could. Given that the Do 17 was becoming obsolete as a day bomber, the German night fighter force started using the Dornier as the basis for a night fighter. It had a sufficient margin of speed over the RAF’s Hampden,Wellington and Whitley bombers. Replacing the perspex nose with a fairing with a 20mm cannon and three machine guns and, or a gun pack under the nose gave the Do 17 as much fire-power as a day fighter. On 2nd October 1940 a Do17Z of NJG 1 (Night Fighter Wing 1) command by Lt Ludwig Becker made the first successful German radar controlled interception on 2nd October 1940, shooting down a Wellington Bomber.  The Germans too were developing airborne radar, and in August 1941 the same Lt Becker using the prototype Lichtenstein BC (FuG 202) airborne interception radar shot down five British bombers. Over the next two and a half years the Do17 and its redeveloped versions the Do 215 and Do217 were one of the mainstays of the German night fighter force, until replaced by better machines, such as the Ju88 R1, a faster machine.

Junkers_Ju_88_RAF_Hendon
This Ju88 R1 was flown to England by a defecting crew, on 9th May 1943 bringing with it the secrets of the SN 2 (Fu202) airborne Interception radar.

The RAF Museums JU88R-1 W/Nr 360043, served with IV/NJG.3, coded D5 + EV is anachronistically  displayed in the Battle of Britain Hall, as it is part of the story of the air offensive on Germany told alongside the RAF Bombers it once stalked in the Bomber Hall.  While this aircraft is a version of the Ju88 which flew in the Battle of Britain, it is the sleek fighter version without the bulbous crew crew compartment or the glazed “beetle Eye” nose of the bomber version, and antennae sprout from its nose.   This is also a very special aircraft with a provenance which gives the same significance as, say a machine flown on the dams Raid. This is an aeroplane which made an individual difference to the war, and saved many allied lives. The Ju88 R1 is not the bomber version which flew over Britain in 1940. but a night fighter variant with a sleek shallower fuselage and a crew of three rather than four, equipped with a battery of 20mm cannon, an average of ten shells from which would destroy a heavy bomber like a Lancaster or Halifax. Most important this version has a fairing covered in radar aerials of the production version tested by Lt Becker.  This particular aircraft was obtained by the RAF when a Luftwaffe night-fighter crew defected to England, on 9th May 1943 bringing with it the secrets of the Lichtenstein SN2 airborne interception radar, enabling the British to develop counter-measures. 

The Germans too thought about the problems of deflection shooting at night. British heavy bombers like the Wellington, Sterling Halifax and Lancaster all had a power operated Fraser

Diagram showing the  installation of two 20mm cannons to fire obliquely above the cockpit of an Me110G2.  The  Me110 G2  anachronistically displayed in the RAF Museum Battle of Britain Hall is fitted with this Schräge Musik  "Jazz Music" for shooting down RAF night bombers.
Diagram showing the installation of two 20mm cannons to fire obliquely above the cockpit of an Me110G2. The Me110 G2 anachronistically displayed in the RAF Museum Battle of Britain Hall is fitted with this Schräge Musik “Jazz Music” for shooting down RAF night bombers.

Nash rear turret mounting four machine guns, and manned by a gunner whose warning could initiate evasive manoeuvres which could throw off an attacker. Some Germans thought about the idea of oblique fire, approaching a bomber from underneath. Ober Leutentant Schoenert, a 23 kill “experten” from from NJG 1 had a Do 217 modified to include two upward pointing 20mm cannons. With this machine he achieved the first German kill using this technique in May 1943. The technique was widely adopted by the German night fighter force. So the technique which the RAF dropped, was adopted by the Luftwaffe and became a great success under different operational circumstances. Thus the Do17 became the hunter rather than the prey. 264 Sqn’s Air gunners left the squadron in mid 1942. I do not know what happened to them, but it would be an unfortunate irony if the RAF had posted these experienced air gunners as rear gunners in the Bomber squadrons,

There is a lot to see relating to the events of the Battle of Britain and the battle on 26th August. Of course the RAF museum has a lot of the aircraft involved, including the only surviving Bolton and Paul Defiant and at some point in the future, Dornier 17z. Here are some other places associated with the stories in the battle:-This could be the focus for people with an interest in wider aviation heritage.

  • Bentley Priory Museum (Currently being redeveloped) where the information from different sources was filtered and passed to Groups as plots of raids.
  • No 11 Group Command Bunker Uxbridge, where the Group Controller made the decision to commit No 264 and 56 Sqns to intercept 7./KG3.
  • RAF Northolt Restored Sector Control Room, the only No 11 Group Control Room in existance.
  • The reconstructed Sector Control room at the Imperial War Museum Duxford IMW, is where the No 12 Group aircraft were scrambled to intercept the raiders at Debden – but arrived too late.
  • The underground control room at Dover Castle, where the AA defences on that day were controlled.
  • RAF Debden, the target for the raids in the afternoon is a very well preserved Battle of Britain airfield, but is now Carver Barracks and home to No 33 Regiment Royal Engineers.
  • RAF Manston, the airfield where 264 Sqn used as a forward base on 26th August 1940 is now Kent International Airport, and there an RAF Manston History museum next to the Spitfire and Hurricane museum at Kent International Airport.
  • RAF Hornchurch, where 264 Squadron were based for their costly week in No 11 Group is now Hornchurch Country park. Most of the administration and technical areas of the airfield are now a housing estate. It was the subject of a Tv archaeology programme in the “Two men in a Trench” series. Some buildings have been preserved, includign the Offciers Mess, now a medical centre. The local pub, the Good Intent, which served airmen from the base has in recent times had a collection of photographs.
  • St Trond Airfield became a Belgian Airforce Base after the Second World War. It is now Limburg Regional Airport.
  • Gefreiter Heinz Huhn is buried in Cannock Chase German Military Cemetery alongside about 5,000 other German and Austrian war dead from the World Wars.
  • The names of the eight of the fourteen men killed flying for No 264 Squadron whose bodies have never been recovered are commemorated on the Runnymede Memorial for the missing, overlooking London. A fitting place to remember and reflect.

Contact Air Power tours if you would like to find out more about visiting the sites associated with this air battle.

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Join the Christopher Duffy Fan Club – a chance to meet a Historian’s Historian

Dr Duffy in the footsteps of the soldiers of Louis XV assulting the Duke of Cumberland's defences near Hastenbeck
Dr Duffy in the footsteps of the soldiers of Louis XV assulting the Duke of Cumberland’s defences near Hastenbeck

“The historian’s historian” is how the late Professor Richard Holmes once described Dr Christopher Duffy, a fellow member of the academic staff of The Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, in a department headed by David Chandler and also including John Keegan and Dr Paddy Griffith.

Christopher Duffy’s main academic and published work has been the wars of the 18th Century, which means that his name may not be familiar to an audience whose interests do not stray beyond the twentieth century. However, all of his work seems to have something new to say.

I first heard of Christopher Duffy when I was a teenager at school  in the 1970s. His books on the battles of Austerlitz and Borodino were amazing, and a rare chance to read an analysis of any battle other than Waterloo or the rather dubiously sourced works of Jac Weller.  He had been the military adviser to the BBC TV mini series War and Peace and I suspect these books were  a digression into the populist world of the Napoleonic Wars away from his passion – the wars of the mid 18th Century.

Christopher Duffy’s books on the armies of Frederick the Great and Maria Theresa are essential reading for anyone interested in the Seven Years War. His book of the Irish Wild Geese tells the story of the expatriates who served in the armies of Europe. His military biography of Frederick the Great was regarded by many Germans as the best appraisal of this Prussian Great Commander.  It is hard to imagine a German historian writing the best biography of, say the Duke of Wellington or Marlborough.

For the last few years he has been an active member of the Jacobite Society and campaigned for the preservation of the heritage of Scotland’s military heritage. While Scotland does at least have a strategy to make use of its battlefields for heritage tourism some of its heritage is neglected and unprotected, such as the crumbling remains of the fortified barracks in the highlands. He has written the definitive military history of the 1745 rebellion.

Although the 18th Century has been a focus of Christopher Duffy’s interest, everything else he has done seems to have added something significant to our understanding of what happened.  He managed to say something completely new about the Western Front, analysing the British army in the Battle of the Somme through the German sources. The picture that emerges of the British army challenges many assumptions.  His book, “Red Storm on the Reich: The Soviet March on Germany, 1945” was probably the first English language work on this aspect of the campaign, and pre-dates the works emerging from the Soviet archives. Heinz Guderian’s “Achtung Panzer!” was a highly influential work by the “father of the panzer divisions”. originally published in German in 1937.  It describes the thinking behind the panzer arm and explains what the author would do if in command of panzer troops. The first English language edition not published until 1992 until Christopher Duffy had translated the work.  His scholarly annotations provide an informed and commentary on Guderian’s sources and thinking that are a mini essay of its own.

One of the advantages of organising the Battlefields Trust’s programme of events hosted by the Fusiliers Museum is the chance to choose the speakers.  You can meet  Dr Christopher Duffy and hear him talk about Red Coats and Highlanders at lunchtime on 17th April 2013 at the Royal Fusiliers Officers Mess, in the HM Tower of London.   The Booking details are here.

 

Why Walter Tull matters: why he should not get an MC – and a better cause for the campaigners

Walter Tull Map

Walter Tull was a man who is famous for being the first black outfield footballer to play in the Football  league and for overcoming the barriers of race and class to be commissioned as an officer in the Infantry in the British Army in the Great War.

In recent decades he has been championed as a historic hero and a role model for young black Britons. Philip Vassili has championed his memory, written a biography and a play and led a call for him to be awarded a posthumous Military Cross.
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I first spoke to Philip Vassili in 2007 when I was researching Walter Tull for a­ visit to the battlefields of the Western Front by Henry Compton School, Fulham. This school had won funding from the TV show “Fortune: Million Pound Giveaway” to visit the Battlefields of the Great War. Duncan Bannatyne had said that these students would get nothing from a visit to the battlefields, but the deciding support was from Lord Archer.

Here is the show


And here is a video made by the boys themselves.  The video originally had an audio soundtrack – but its been disabled for copyright reasons.

Bishop Henry Compton School in Fulham was a school for boys aged 11-16. It was founded as a board school in the last quarter of the nineteenth century. The then Head of History Dan Lyndon showed me the records from the Great War. In the early years of the 20th Century the school educated boys to start their working lives in crafts and trades. Dan told me that he wanted to follow the stories of the ex pupils and teachers from their school. (One of the school’s alumni was awarded a VC for his actions in Burma in 1944, but that is another story). Dan also wanted to follow the story of Walter Tull, who the boys studied in Black British Month, as a focus for the key stage 3 topics on trench warfare.

Henry Compton School was a school that white middle class parents would spend tens of thousands in school fees or hundreds of thousands on a house to avoid. 30 different languages were spoken by the students attending the school, which had no sixth form. Many of the boys were refugees from across the zones of modern conflict, including four Afghans, a Palestinian and a Libyan. The boys were not angels. One came with a personal minder. However, this was not a failing school. The staff were very impressive. The teachers were committed and passionate about their subjects and students. Mr Ranji the Headmaster came on the tour and had a way of saying something very quietly that turned some boisterous or stroppy teenager into docility itself – a kind of “thug whisperer”.

The personal stories of some of the boys made an impression on me. The mother of one the Afghan boys clearly hadn’t understood what the trip offered and dispatched her son with a four day supply of kebabs and rice. I asked another whether his family were planning to go back to Afghanistan. The boy told me that his uncle had been and said that all was there was the trace of the house in the dust. When one boy asked me why the big hole in the ground was called a mine because where he was from mines are things you mustn’t stand on. I had to turn away for a minute. It brought it home to me how fortunate I am as a British parent that whatever dangers my children face growing up in London, anti-personnel mines aren’t one of them.

We visited the Western front to look at the soldiers’ experience of the war. We visited museums and trenches, did a bit of re-enactment. The school played along and organised themselves as sections of “the Fulham pals” platoon. We played a bit of military discipline with sections competing to be the first “On parade” We made some local connections to Fulham. We found the graves of a student and a teacher who were on the school’s roll of honour. We visited Hill 60 where a Fulham boy, Edward Dwyer, born a few streets from the school, had carried out the deeds for which he was awarded the Victoria Cross.

The one question that everyone wanted to know the answer to was “What did people like me do in the First World War?” The Menin Gate supplied a lot of answers with the names of soldiers from all over the Indian subcontinent and the West Indies. The Indian army memorial to the missing, the Portuguese cemetery at Neuve Chapelle and Russian graves in Arras supplied other links. Some boys made a bee line for the computer terminals at the Thiepval memorial to search for their own names on the Commonwealth War Graves Database. The Libyan boy proudly showed me the record that revealed that someone of his name had died serving Britain in the Libyan Frontier force in 1941. Was this tokenism? It was obvious that these were only tiny exceptional examples among the massed ranks of the Great War dead. No one can pretend that Britain of the Great War was as diverse as it is now, but there is a big psychological difference between “someone like me” and “no one like me”.

The boys were fascinated by Walter Tull. They had learned about him in lessons. As a footballer and soldier he was a hero and they obviously identified with him and his story. We visited the memorial to the Missing at Arras, and found Walter Tull’s name. They held a minute’s silence and one of the boys read the details of the CWGC reference.

 

We also found the area where he was killed in March 1918. The Regimental History mentioned that his unit was sited around the monument to the 1870 battle.

 

1870-71 memorial near Bapaume
1870-71 memorial near Bapaume

We held an act of Remembrance in a field across the road from the memorial. It is not a precise location, but it has to be within a few hundred metres and Tull’s body has never been discovered. The boys laid crosses, stars of David and crescents, which were still there  a couple of years ago

ww1 battlefields 28-31.3
Students from Bishop Henry Compton School prepare for an Act of Remembrance close to the spot where Walter Tull fell on 25th March 1918. Note Headmaster in Foreground and the “Platoon Sergeant” in the background distributing crosses, stars of David and crescents.

Did they get much from the tour? They were certainly engaged and asked some very lively questions of me and local guides and speakers. Some of the discussion put me as the guide on the spot. I vividly recall being asked about whether the Germans were anti-semitic in the Great War and the part that the Great War played in the rise of Hitler and the Nazis. One of the major benefits was in terms of citizenship objectives. Taking part in an trip to a foreign country behaving yourself in restaurants and hotels is all part of being a good citizen. These boys were good ambassadors of their school and created a positive impression with the people they met. Individual identity is an issue, and one of the objectives was to explore the story of Londoners in the Great War. At the end of the Tour the answer to the question “are you proud to be Londoners” was answered with a massive roar. Had this been 1914 this generation of “Fulham Pals” would have done their bit.

These boys didn’t ask to be brought up in London, yet must live in a society where at least some people are asking the question “what is your right to be here?” The answer “Because someone like me died for this country” is a powerful argument, and one that these boys had witnessed. These boys will now be in their twenties. Many of them are young black or Moslem men, two groups that are perceived as being most at risk of falling under the influence of criminal subculture or of Islamic extremism. The story of Walter Tull matters because he is a symbol and a role model that shows it is possible to succeed and cross the barriers of race and background.

You can see the boys and their tour for yourself. Only the first part of this video is available on Youtube. The film was shot by the boys themselves and edited by Dan Lyndon. The second half which included the visit to the site of his last action and the Arras memorial isn’t available publicly.

Walter Tull in the Great War

During the First World War Tull served in both Footballers’ Battalions of the Middlesex Regiment, 17th and 23rd, rising to the rank of sergeant and fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. When Tull was commissioned as Second Lieutenant on 30 May 1917 (still in the Middlesex Regiment),he became the first black/mixed race combat officer in the British Army, despite the 1914 Manual of Military Law specifically excluding Negroes/Mulattos from exercising actual command as officers. He fought in six major battles: Battle of Ancre, November 1916 (first Battle of the Somme); Battle of Messines, June 1917; 3rd Battle of Ypres, July–August 1917 (Passchendaele, Menin Road Bridge); September 1917; Second Battle of the Somme, St.Quentin, March 1918; Battle of Bapaume, March 1918 (2nd Somme).

Walter Tull is remembered at the Arras Memorial, Bay 7, for those who have no known grave.

Another interesting fact about Walter Tull is that his brother also triumphed over barriers of class, birth and race. The two brothers were separated on the death of their father. Their mother died, and the father remarried. On his death the step-mother put both boys into orphanages. Walter ended up in the East End of London, Edward in Glasgow. Walter became England’s first professional outfield footballer while Edward became Glasgow’s first black dentist. Its remarkable that both brothers joined the officers mess/professional classes having a background in an orphanage, without any consideration of race. The Tull boys’ success says much about them and for the care offered by the orphanages which brought them up. That is the story which has been missed.

Why Walter Tull Should Not be Awarded a Posthumous Military Cross

The campaign for him to be awarded a posthumous Military Cross is misguided and misplaced. Walter Tull was an admirable man and is deservedly a role model. He was a victim – but principally of violent death at the hands of the Kaisers Army. Portraying him as the victim of racism because he did not get a gallantry award is a slur on his parent Regiment. The Middlesex Regiment deserve credit for making an exception to the discrimination institutionalised in Kings Regulations and commissioning him.

It would be a mistake to retrospectively honour Walter Tull because of his race. .Walter Tull is far better known than any of the 37,000 officers awarded the Military Cross during the Great War. How many people can name any MC holders?  There was no bar to non European officers or soldiers from receiving awards, such as the DFC awarded to  Lieutenant Indra Lal Roy, the Indian air ace or the VC to Mir Dast, the Indian Army Officer. Walter Tull was one of the countless brave men who were not awarded a medal for bravery.  It is far better, in our celebrity obsessed times, to use Tull’s story as a reminder that the awards systems are imperfect. The exhortation is to Remember them –   all and unreservedly .   

Old symbols of remebrance

Some Better Causes for Moral Outrage

There are other more notable victims of racism from the Great War than Walter Tull. The Chinese and South African labourers, recruited on contractual terms which bordered on slavery. The non-European students in England denied the opportunity to serve as British officers are more deserving of sympathy. These include Fijian hero Ratu Sir Lala Sukuna Rahave, wounded while serving in the French Foreign Legion and Lt Hardutt Singh Malik, initially refused a commission in the Royal Flying Corps.

The campaigners should also consider some other aspects of the Walter Tull story. Walter Tull lived at a time when only a small proportion of the population could vote, and before there was much of a welfare state. What proportion of the alumni from Britain’s modern care system currently join the officers mess, university or the professions?

A second issue arises from the comparison between the Board school that stood in Kingwood Road, Fulham and the schools on that site now.  The Board school was geared towards a technical education that would send its alumni into craft and mechanical jobs in the working world.  To what extent have the changes of the last decade done anything to help the boys who do not expect to go to university?  Or has the drive for parental choice through Academies and Free Schools make it easier to ignore them?

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“King” Louis and the battles for Magna Carta 1214-67

 

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The Battle of Lincoln – A defeat for “King” Louis

King Louis the First of England!

Prince Louis of France was invited by the rebel barons to become king of England following King John’s refusal to accept the Magna Carta he had sealed at Runnymede. Over 200 castles in England were besieged, by the rebel barons or King John’s forces, in what became the First Barons’ War. This aimed to safeguard the rights, privileges and liberties of the clergy and the nobles as enshrined in the Magna Carta, but spilt out into a dynastic war for the English throne. This was only settled with the death of King John, and his succession by King Henry III. Even then, the dispute continued until the end of the century.

The Battles and Sieges

There were dozens of battles and sieges between 1214 and 1267.  This was an era of castles and sieges. Many of the castles still stand. At Rochester you can still see the damage caused by John’s army when it undermined the corner of the keep using the fat of 40 pigs to create a fire fierce enough to burn the props.    These are events populated by heroes, heroines and villains that could have been created by Hollywood.  There are princes fighting for their kingdom, wicked sherriffs, heroines, callous mercenaries, treacherous pirates and outlaws.   A summary of the main military events are here.

http://magnacarta800th.com/history-of-the-magna-carta/key-magna-carta-locations-1214-1267/

The Capture of Eustace the Monk: Mercenary, Pirate and Outlaw
The Capture of Eustace the Monk: Mercenary, Pirate and Outlaw

The Battlefields Trust is planning to create a Battlefield Trail covering the battles and sieges of the barons wars. This will be a major project and be timed to coincide with the 800th anniversary of Magna Carta as well as the 750th Anniversary of the Siege of Lewes. The Battlefields Trust is a member of Magna Carta 800. One of the most exciting developments is the inclusion of battlefields in the Magna Carta 800 Trail being developed for Vist England. This is the first time it has been possible to promote Britain’s Battlefield heritage as part of a tourism strategy.

There is a chance to hear military historian Julian Humphrys talking about the military history of Magna Carta on Tuesday 19th March 2013 between 12:30-14:00. This will be hosted by The Fusiliers Museum London in the Officer’s Mess of The Royal Regiment of Fusiliers HM Tower of London

In his talk Julian Humphrys will focus on three key episodes in the Magna Carta War: King John’s dramatic capture of Rochester in 1215, Hubert de Burgh’s stubborn defence of Dover in 1216 and William Marshall’s crushing defeat of the French at Lincoln in 1217.

For details and to book check the Jkust Giving Page here. – See more at: http://www.justgiving.com/Magna-Carta-Lecture-19th-March#sthash.kYTSq5zP.dpuf

British Battlefields has been set up to promote and organise visits to British military heritage. It will be offering battlefield tours to the battlefields of Magna Carta.  Brit_Bat_logo_lores

 

The Forgotten Anti Tank Gunners of St Pierre

 

The climax of the film “Saving Private Ryan” is set in a village in Normandy, a few days after D Day. A small group of American paratroops are under attack from all directions by German heavy tanks, and are saved by an air attack. Saving Private Ryan is fiction. However, on 9-10th June, four days after D Day, in true life, a similar drama took place in the village of St Pierre separated by the river Seulles from the town of Tilly Sur Seulles.

On 8th June the 8th Armoured Brigade seized the high ground North of St Pierre, Point 103 in a rapid move. The reason for the significance of Point 103 is that it gives good visibility to the South, despite the hedges of the bocage country. This move coincided with the attack North by the Panzer Lehr division, the best equipped of the German Panzer divisions. This formation had 250 tanks and assault guns and could mount all its infantry in the 635 armoured half track APCs it possessed. Over the next five days the fighting would rage around St Pierre and point 103.

Map showing the fighting in the St Pierre area 9-10 June 1944. (1) the attack by 8th DLI supported by 24L 1745-2100 hrs 9th June (2) German counter attack 0615-0800 hrs 10 June (3) Counterattack 0845-1100hrs 10 June.(4) German attack on Pt 103 evening 10 June
Map showing the fighting in the St Pierre area 9-10 June 1944. (1) the attack by 8th DLI supported by 24L 1745-2100 hrs 9th June (2) German counter attack 0615-0800 hrs 10 June (3) Counterattack 0845-1100hrs 10 June.(4) German attack on Pt 103 evening 10 June

During the evening of 9th the 8th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, supported by the 24th Lancers and 147 Field Regiment captured St Pierre where they were joined by two troops of 288 Anti Tank Battery equipped with 6 Pdr guns. The route to St Pierre South from Point 103 was over bare slopes and the troops in the village were subject to attacks from three sides.

On 10th June the Germans attacked St Pierre shortly after first light at 0700 hours. This was beaten off by 8 DLI with the support of 24 L and 147 Fd Regt. St Pierre was partially overrun, one of the FOO’s Lt Sayer, was killed and Maj C H Gosling, BC 511 Bty and three other FOOs were wounded. The tanks of the 24 Lancers withdrew up to Point 103 to take up hull down positions.

288 ATk Bty’s guns withdrew, some of the gunners fighting on as infantry. When ordered to withdraw by the infantry company which they were supporting Sgt Down (1), from Ashington Northumberland, refused to leave his gun as “his duty was to kill tanks”. Keeping LBdr Gilmour, his layer, with him, he sent the rest of his detachment back and then proceeded to knock out the only tank that appeared on his front, for which he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and LBdr Gilmour the Military medal (MM). The citation to Sgt Down’s DCM states that his courage and example helped to restore the confidence of the infantry at a critical moment, enabling them to re-establish their position. Later the same day Sgt Down was ordered to take his gun forward and destroy an enemy armoured SP gun. He appears to have carried out a recce on foot then manoeuvred his gun forward unseen and destroyed the enemy. Sgt Down had already made his mark as an aggressive soldier by undertaking several patrols hunting snipers on the night of the 8th June. The next day an enemy tank closed into a covered position where it could not be engaged by Sgt Down’s 6 Pdr. He then stalked the tank with a hand held PIAT and hit it at 30 yards range forcing it to withdraw. (2)

On the other side of the village, Sgt Seaton had to move his gun forward to engage the tanks that were troubling him and after being wounded, had to leave his gun; but he and his layer, Gnr Beresford, later returned to the gun and hit a tank which stopped firing then withdrew; they were both awarded the MM, as was Bdr Hinder who knocked out one tank and forced another to withdraw.(3)

Throughout, Lt Brameld, the troop commander had remained forward, giving advance warning of the approach of tanks. At one point Brameld found that there were enemy tanks out of range of his 6 pdrs. He borrowed a 17pdr Sherman from a neighbouring armoured regiment and directed its fire from outside the tank whilst under small arms fire, until at least one and possibly two enemy tanks were destroyed. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO). (4) At 1130 hrs, to prevent the counter-attack being resumed, 147 Fd Regt surrounded St Pierre with defensive fire, while Air OPs directed the fire of HMS Orion and Argonaut on to targets in the area Tilly-Juvigny-Fontenay-le-Pesnel and fighter-bombers attacked German reinforcements moving towards Tilly.

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6 Pdr (57mm) Anti Tank Gun of the type used by 288 Battery at St Pierre.This gun could penetrate German Mk IV tanks and SP guns as well as the side armour of Mk V Panther tanks. The anti tank gunners of 50th Division preferred it to the much heavier and larger 17 Pdr(76.mm) anti tank gun in the bocage country south of Bayeux

Later the same day 10 June the Panzer Lehr division launched an armuored attack on point 103, leaving 8 DLI surrounded in St Pierre and engaged the battalion from the North before returning South.  The fighting stabilised with the British holding St Pierre and the Germans holding Tilly with the river Seulles dividing the armies.

Unteroffizier Petrov of the Panzer Lehr Division described the effect of the artillery fire: “Early this morning we put in our attack. We had three SP guns under command. We attacked a village … as soon as we got beyond the village the artillery opened up and I’ll say there was some confusion. Oh, that certainly was not much fun … Then came a counter-attack by the English … After a long search we found our vehicles but the enemy planes found us and the artillery fire came down on us again. We proceeded in short bounds to Regimental Headquarters and await further orders … Shall I have to go forward again? Thank God we are staying here overnight.” (5)

The story of the anti tank gunners at St Pierre is largely missing from accounts of the battle of Normandy. The fighting around St Pierre is one of the battles covered in the battlefield studies undertaken by the Cadets at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst, but the anti tank gunners have not formed part of the story. They aren’t in the history of 8 DLI. They aren’t even in the war diaries of 8 DLI or 102 Anti Tank Regiment, which illustrates the fallibility of war diaries. The author of the cabinet history of the Normandy campaign (CAB 44/246)collated from war diaries refers to the uncertainty about the identity of the anti tank battery in support of 8 DLI only mentioned as 288 battery in the 8th Armoured Brigade War Diaries. The citations for the awards for Lt Bramald, Sgts Down and Seaton, Bdr Hinder, LBdr Gilmour and Gnr Beresford were all recommended by the CO 102 Atk Regiment commanders and supported by the CRA 50 Div, and approved by the GOC 50 Div and Corps commander.

There is a need for the story of the anti tank gunners to be told properly. There has been an academic debate about the proportion of anti tank gunners and their role started by the paper by Dr John Peaty entitled “Ubiquitous and Unnecessary? Anti-tank and anti-aircraft artillery in the NW Europe campaign.(6) That is a question which is loaded in the absence of a proper account of their contribution.

The action at St Pierre was controversial. Brigadier James Hargest, the New Zealand observer to 21 Army Group, wrote a report before his death in action in August1944 which was very critical of the British infantry. He wrote that 8DLI ran away and ther village had to be retaken. The report is heavily quoted by Carlo ‘Este and Max Nastings in their books on the Normandy campaign. It is obvious from the citations that there was an unauthorised withdrawal by some infantry, and this would have been known by the divisional and corps commanders. This does not mean that the story in the DLI Regimental history wrong, merely that it isn’t the whole truth. The fact that some infantry ran, does not detract from the deeds of those who stayed to fight or counter attacked.  8 DLI took nearly 200 casualties in the battle. Eight MMs and an MC were awarded to the battalion for this action..

This article arose from research undertaken to complete the Official History of the Royal Artillery in the Normandy Campaign started by the late Major Will Townend.  

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If you would like to visit the site of this battle or other places and hear the story from the Gunner point of view visit www.gunnertours.com

Notes:

1  London Gazette 31 August 1944  The Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) was (until 1993) an extremely high level award for bravery. It was a second level military decoration awarded to other ranks of the British Army and formerly also to non-commissioned personnel of other Commonwealth countries. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distinguished_Conduct_Medal)

2  London Gazette 31 August 1944

The Military Medal (MM) was (until 1993) a military decoration awarded to personnel of the British Army and other services, and formerly also to personnel of other Commonwealth countries, below commissioned rank, for bravery in battle on land.  The MM ranked below the MC and the Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM), which was also awarded to non-commissioned members of the Army.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Military_Medal

3  London Gazette 31 August 1944

4  London Gazette 31 August 1944.  The Distinguished Service Order tended to be awarded to officers in command, above the rank of Captain. A number of more junior officers were awarded the DSO, and this was often regarded as an acknowledgement that the officer had only just missed out on the award of the Victoria Cross.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Distinguished_Service_Order)

5.  Panzers in Normandy

6.  BCMH Summer Conference 2009:

 

Philip Fullard: The“highest scoring” footballer of the Great War.

055 Nieuport 17 Scout Replica G-BWMJ

Nieuport 17/23 Scout Replica in the markings B’3459 Captain Philip Fletcher Fullard No.1 Sqn RFC Bailleul Aerodrome September 1917. Fullard shot down 17 enemy aircraft in this aircraft. Photographed at IWM Duxford. Source http://www.airmuseumsuk.org/

Philip Fletcher Fullard was born in May 1897. As a school boy he played as a centre half for Norwich City’s reserve team, but by 17th November 1917 at the age of , aged 20 he was one of the leading British fighter aces serving in No 1 Squadron RFC. Since joining No1 Squadron RFC in May 1917 he had shot down forty enemy aircraft. At that time only four fighter pilots had shot down more aircraft. Baron von Richthofen had shot down 60, Georges Guynemer 53, Werner Voss 48 and Albert Ball 44.

Philip Fletcher Fullard
Philip Fletcher Fullard (Image courtesy The Aerodrome)

He joined the army in 1915 after leaving King Edward VI’s Grammar School school Norwich and qualified as a pilot in December 1916. He was a natural athlete who captained his school’s Hockey and football teams. He had an aptitude for flying which was reflected inhis first appiontment as a newly qualified pilot – to instruct others during the spring of 1917. He joined No1 Squadron RFC in May 1917. His squadron flew what was by 1917 an an obsolescent aircraft, the Nieuport 17. With this he took on faster and more heavily armed enemy aircraft. Overt the Summer of 1917 he was part of the Allied air effort to secure air superiority over the Ypres Salient. Without air superiority Allied spotter aircraft could not find the enemy or spot artillery fire. Whatever the failings and costs of the 3rd Battle of Ypres, the air battle was a success for the Allied air forces.

His achievements as a fighter pilot did not go unrecognised. (1) He was awarded a the Military Cross, (MC) twice, and the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) The citations for these awards refer to his “conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when engaged in aerial combat.” The number of occasions on which he attacked and destroyed enemy aircraft; his fine leadership, great dash and determination to close with the enemy. His DSO recognised that “as a patrol leader and scout pilot he was without equal” and mentioned that “the moral effect of his presence in a patrol is most marked.” Not merely a fighter ace, but also a good leader.

Flying was difficult and dangerous, Fullard had some narrow escapes.(2) When fighting a German two-seater, his goggles were shot away from his eyes. The signalling lights in his machine caught fire and set the woodwork of the aeroplane alight. Fire must have been one of the nightmares of the era before parachutes were worn, and faced with the choice of jumping to your death or being burned alive. On this occasion Fullard managed to get his burning machine back to the British lines

On the 17 November 1917 he broke his leg playing football for the squadron against an infantry battalion and took a year to recover. This compound fracture ended his career as a footballer and as a fighter pilot. By the end of the war his total of 40 kills had been eclipsed by British pilots such as Mannock, 61 kills, McCudden; 57 kills , McElroy; 47 kills and Hazell, 43 kills. (3)

nieuport_17_B3459_02_500
Another photograph of replica Nieuport 17, B3459

However, even by the time his fighting career had ended Guynemer, Voss, Ball were already dead and by the end of the war, von Richthofen, and November 1917 by the end of the Great War von Ricthofen, Mannock, McCudden , McElroy were all dead as well. Philip Fullard was the second highest scoring British ace to survive the Great War. The footballing injury which ended his career, it also may have saved his life. While Fullard does not attract the same attention as other sportsmen who fought in the Great war, flying as a fighter pilot was statistically more risky than winning a VC.

Fullard stayed in the Royal Air Force after the end of the Great War and rose to be an Air Commodore, serving as a staff officer and commander in the Second World War. He retired form the RAF in 1949 and died in 1984. This may make him unique footballing statistic for a second reason. As well as being the only man who have played football for a for a second reason. As well as being the only fighter ace who played football for an English League club, he might also be the footballer who has achieved the highest rank in the armed forces.

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Airpower Tours

One Man Went To Meaux…

 

Interior Museum of the Great War
Interior Museum of the Great War

The Museum of the Great War, Pays de Meaux, is in the Town of Meaux, pronounced “mow”- to rhyme with “toe”. This, the first French National museum dedicated to the Great War 1914-19, is one of the big investments by the French government to commemorate the Centenary and cost 28 million Euros.

It is sited a short distance East of Paris, close to Disneyland, on the 1914 battlefields of the Marne. Close by are the places where French troops deployed by Paris Taxis. The BEF withdrew through Meaux towards the end of the long retreat from Mons. It’s a short distance from the sites of the scattered engagements that made up the 1914 battle of the Marne and not too far from where the French and American troops halted the Germans in 1918.

 

French infantry in 1914
French infantry in 1914

The battles that take place in the Marne are very important parts of the Great War. They are the turning points of the war, where the Germans were beaten back in 1914 and in 1918. There are narratives to be told about how the British Army saved Paris, France and Europe in 1914 and how the Americans saved Paris , France and Europe in 1918. It is also a place to hear about the French Army of 1914 and the battle to save Paris, to contemplate the French sacrifices for their country from 1914-18.

The Great War Museum at Meaux is very good as a “Museum of History and Society”. It is a museum about the Great War as seen by the French. It is not an interpretation centre for the battlefields in the area. It is based around the collection of Jean-Pierre Verney, which is particularly strong in the artefacts from the American Army, the AEF. It has a few big pieces of equipment, mainly selected to illustrate the contrast in technology between 1914 and 1918; pigeons and wireless, a Paris Taxi and a Renault tank. A lot of thought has gone into the interpretation, and I was particularly impressed by the way they have designed the exhibits to be experienced by the blind. Thus there are handling collections throughout the museum. Cases with manikins displaying uniforms and equipment are supported by statues extending out of the display case for people to feel the the shapes.

It’s not without its limitations. It is not geared towards telling the story of the British or Americans in France. and while exhibits are labelled in French English and German, there is no English language guide book or supporting materials for British or English speaking schools visitors. The collection lacks many of the kinds of pieces with historic provenance that are the highlights of the Imperial War Museum. It has no equivalent of the battered gun and limber from F Sub of L Battery, nor the gun served by Jack Cornwall.

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Charles Péguy

One of the casualties of the battle was the French philosopher and poet Charles Péguy, killed in action on 5th September 1914 by German rifle fire near Villeroy. He is buried in a mass grave on the battlefield. One account says that he was killed because he would not take cover but stood up encouraging his men in the firing line. He was an established poet like Rupert Brooke. He had been a protester, socialist, anti-cleric, catholic, philosopher and poet. T. S. Eliot commended him as “one of the most illustrious of the dead who have fallen in this war,… a national, a symbolic figure, the incarnation of the rejuvenated French spirit.” It is claimed that he influenced Mussolini and Graeme Green. Much of his work has not been translated into English. Read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_P%C3%A9guy

David Campbell
David “Soarer” Campbell

If Charles Peguy was a special type of intense, intellectual Frenchman hard to envisage as a British hero, then David Graham Muschet “Soarer” Campbell is a Briton straight out of an Edwardian adventure story. A professional solider and amateur sportsman, he played cricket and polo well and won the 1896 Grand National riding “The Soarer”, from which he gained one of his nicknames. Twice wounded in the Boer War, he was the commanding officer of the 9th Lancers in 1914. On 24th August at Elouges, he led his Regiment in a charge over sugar beet fields in the industrial landscape outside outside Mons at the start of the Retreat. On 6th September 1914, the day after Peguy died, at Montcel 35km south east of Meaux, Campbell led two troops of the 9th Lancers to overthrow a squadron of the German1st Guard Dragoons, in what was the start of the BEF’s advance on the Marne. The Regiment’s doctor found Cambell “sprawled in a patch of clover a revolver wound in his leg, a lance wound in his shoulder, and a sword wound in his arm”. Despite this, Campbell told the doctor “I’ve just had the best quarter of an hour I’ve ever had in my life! Four months later Campbell returned to the BEF to command a cavalry brigade and was wounded a further time in May 1915 by the same shell which mortally wounded the poet Julian Grenfell. He survived his wounds to command the 21st New Army division on the western front, as a far from stereotypical British general officer.

The Marne area was never as devastated as the Somme, Aisne or Artois and many of the villages retain buildings from the time. One of the village cemeteries has the loopholes where the soldiers of the 45th Algerian Division fortified themselves. It is easy to see how the fighting unfolded. The fighting in the Marne was very different from the trench warfare that is normally associated with the Great War. It was a war of manoeuvre and cavalry charges. There are great stories about the people who fought that can make this tale of interest to a general British or American audience. But it needs a battlefield guide who can bring history to life from a British or US point of view.   

Villeroy Mass Grave

The Other British “Private Ryan” – Meet Fred Dancocks and His Brothers

Private Fred Dancox VC
Private Fred Dancox VC

Private Fred Dancocks of the Worcestershire Regiment was an unlikely hero. He was a middle aged man in 1917, a father of five children, from a large family of labourers who lived in the poorer parts of Worcester City. He was baptised in 1878, the middle of three sons. Two years later his father died and his mother remarried a William Whittle, who already had two sons from his first marriage, and they had further children. From the age of 18 Fred lived with Ellen, and they had five children, one which died in infancy. His occupation was “Hay Trusser” which seems to have been seasonal labouring work. When war broke out he joined the army, and shortly afterwards married Ellen, enabling her and the children to access the benefits, such as they were of an army wife. When he joined his name was recorded as “Dancox” in error, which is the name entered which he is referred in the military records. (1)

There seems to have been no reason for him to have been preparing to go over the top with the 4th Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment on the 9th October 1917 near Langemarck in Belgium. Fred had already done his bit, joining the battalion in Gallipoli in September 1915, and since then serving for over a year in France. His battalion formed part of the “Incomparable” 29th Division, which had participated in many of the most bloody battles of the Great War. After Gallipoli the 29th Division, and the Worcesters with them served two tours on the Somme. Their red triangle is prominent at Newfoundland Park on the Somme and the Division had already taken part in two “big pushes” in 1917; at Arras in the spring and at the capture of Langamarck in August.

Private Fred – known by his nickname of “Dando” was the HQ Company sanitary orderly – the man who emptied the lavatories. This was an essential   but undistinguished task, and one which could have kept him from the worst dangers. However, Fred Dancock had apparently volunteered to join the attack and was to the “mopping up party”. This party of ten men would search each captured position to make sure that there were no enemy hiding and able to shoot the advancing allies in the back.

As the battalion advanced it came under fire from a machine gun in a bunker, which had not been hit by the barrage, close to the railway bridge over a road at Namur Crossing. A belt fed machine gun could fire 550 rounds a minute, nine shots a second, creating a wall of steel across the front of the battalion. By 1917 the army had learned lots of lessons, and the battalion halted while mortars were brought up to deal with the bunker. But before the mortars could be brought up, the fire of the machine-gun suddenly stopped. A minute later every man within sight was on his feet cheering and laughing, for stumbling through the mud towards the British line came a little crowd of the enemy with hands raised in surrender, and behind them came a solitary British soldier, labouring along under the weight of a machine-gun—the machine-gun. The cheering grew as he was recognised: “Dancox!” the troops shouted, “Good old Dando !”(2) Fred hadn’t heard the order to halt. He had continued to advance, working his way from shell hole to shell hole until he was behind the German bunker. He then went to the back door and walked into it holding a hand grenade and motioning for the Germans to leave – which they did.(3)

The above painting by Gilbert Holiday shows Private Dancox holding his bomb ready to throw as he orders his prisoners off to our lines. This painting is in the possession of the Regiment
The above painting by Gilbert Holiday shows Private Dancox holding his bomb ready to throw as he orders his prisoners off to our lines. This painting is in the possession of the Regiment

Fred Dancocks’ courage was recognised with the award of the Victoria Cross. His was the first VC to a man from Worcester. He wrote home to say that he was given leave to return home and receive the medal from the King on the 30th November. Worcester prepared to celebrate the homecoming of the local hero in style: bunting was put up and alongside the Dancox family waited civic dignitaries, reporters, and hundreds of local people. He did not arrive.

Only a few weeks after the attack on 9th October, his unit took part in the attack at Cambrai on 20th November, and before he could take his leave, the Germans had counter-attacked. Fred Dancocks was killed by a a shrapnel ball to the head. His body was never found and hie is commemorated on on Panel 6 at the Cambrai Memorial, Louverval. (4)

Fred was not the first of his family to die in the Great War. His older brother William Dancocks was a regular soldier in the 3rd Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment and was killed on the 23rd October 1914, in the fighting East of Neuve Chapelle, one of six men from that unit to die on that day. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Le Touret memorial to the Missing . (5) His younger step-brother, Thomas Whittle was killed on the Somme on 21st August 1916, serving with 1/7th Battalion The Worcestershire Regiment. He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial a few hundred metres North of where his battalion fought on the day he died.(6)

Four months after Fred died his younger stepbrother, William Whittle was killed in the battle in defence of Amiens on 31st March 1918, serving with 2/8th Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment. This was another bad day for his battalion, as 37 men died that day in the less known 1918 battle of the Somme.. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Pozieres memorial on the Somme.  (7)

Another brother, Henry Dancocks, survived the war having served alongside Fred in the 4th Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment.

That left Ellen with three dependent children in a world before the welfare state. King George wrote to Ellen to express his sincere regret that Fred’s death had denied him “the pride of presenting to him in person the Victoria Cross.” The City of Worcester established a public fund for Ellen Dancox, and made an initial donation of £50. In February 1918 the council minuted that ‘subscriptions were not coming in very satisfactorily’, but eventually a total of £451 was subscribed (which, in 2007, would have had the purchasing power of over £15,000). .The city council bought the medal from the family. Their house in Bull Entry was demolished in a slum clearance programme during the 1930s.

Besides the VC, Fred Dancocks and his brothers represent a loss as significant to their families as the Johnson’s reported in the Mail or the Niland Brothers whose story inspired the plot of Saving Private Ryan or the fighting Sullivans. The fact that none of these men has a known grave makes their fate particularly poignant. Yet relatively few people hear of or commemorate the Fred Dancocks and his brothers.

Dancox House, a sheltered accommodation facility in Worcester city centre, is named after him. In 2006 the Worcester and Herefordshire branch of the WFA erected a memorial to Fred Dancox VC close to Namur Crossing. It is only a short detour from the German cemetery at Langemarck. I first heard the story of Fred Dancocks and his brothers from Major John Cotterill who has championed the cause of the memory of the Worcesters for as long as I have known him and am grateful to him and for the work carried out by the Regiment by the local community for the information in the links which are the sources for this tale, which is worth telling and sharing.

Walter Flex and his Rushing Wild Geese

Walter Flex (wikipedia)
Walter Flex (wikipedia)

Poetry and music are very much part of the British story of the Great War. But what did the Germans sing?

I found Walter Flex in “The Lost Voices of Word War One, An International Anthology of Writers, Poets and Playwrights,” by Tim Cross. (Bloomsbury) ISBN 0-7475-0276-5 Flex said he wrote it whist on sentry duty in Lorraine, and it was first published in 1916  in his book “Between two Worlds“

1.Wildgänse rauschen durch die Nacht
Mit schrillem Schrei nach Norden –
Unstäte Fahrt! Habt acht, habt acht!
Die Welt ist voller Morden.

2.Fahrt durch die nachtdurchwogte Welt,
Graureisige Geschwader!
Fahlhelle zuckt, und Schlachtruf gellt,
Weit wallt und wogt der Hader.

3.Rausch’ zu, fahr’ zu, du graues Heer!
Rauscht zu, fahrt zu nach Norden!
Fahrt ihr nach Süden übers Meer –
Was ist aus uns geworden!

4.Wir sind wie ihr ein graues Heer
Und fahr’n in Kaisers Namen,
Und fahr’n wir ohne Wiederkehr,
Rauscht uns im Herbst ein Amen

This is translated as

1. Wild geese are rushing through the night,
With shrill cry, northbound rangers.
Hazard awaits, take care your flight
And world is full of dangers.

2. Fly through the night-filled air my friends,
You squadron grey and mighty.
Dawn breaks as battle cry extends
Far o’er the lands below ye.

3. Fly on, rush on, you grey-winged flight,
Rush on to Northlands safety.
When you fly south again some night,
What will my fate have made me?

4. We are, as you, a gray-clothed pack,
The Kaiser’s fighting yeomen.
Should our flight end with no way back,
Fly south and sound our Amen.
Tr. Frank 2002 http://ingeb.org/Lieder/wildgans.html

There are parallels with Flanders Fields in that it was written in the field and contrasts the war with nature. It touched a Germanic nerve for romanticism when coupled with the tune by Gotz and is claims to be the most popular soldiers song of the German army of the Great War.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LO6fSDZbXUQ

After the Great war the song was adopted by the Wandervogel movement of ramblers and hikers and other youth organisations – and the the Hitler Youth. It was a standard of the German soldier-songbooks of the Wehrmacht – with the references to the Kaiser changed..

The same song passed across frontiers. and has been adopted by French youth movements and the French Army’s airborne forces

and the school of quartermasters!

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KQSX5NRZ7d4

French Lyrics here:-  http://musique-militaire.fr/parachutistes/les-oies-sauvages

Of course the song fits the ethios of the Franco-German Corps

Is there any other song of the Great War which is still sung?

The Gunners who supported the Bayonet Charge that saved the British Army

The Defence of Gheluvelt. - The Critical Day 31st October. Detail of a map compiled for the Official History of the War to accompany Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1914, Volume II
The Defence of Gheluvelt. – The Critical Day 31st October. Detail of a map compiled for the Official History of the War to accompany Military Operations, France and Belgium, 1914, Volume II

For ten years from 2000 -2010 every soldier who joined the army as an senior entry soldier took part in a Realities of War Tour to Ypres (modern Ieper) in Belgium. A whole generation of soldiers will have heard of the story of “the bayonet charge that saved the British Army.”, made by the 2nd Battalion the Worcester Regiment,  Far fewer will be aware of the gunners who supported them.

On the 31st of October the Germans Army nearly won the First World War. They had assembled an overwhelming force of artillery and battered a hole in the British front line East of Ypres at a village called Gheluvelt, on the road between Ypres and Menin, the Menin Road. The only British reserved were the 2nd Battalion the Worcester Regiment, and they mounted a gallant bayonet charge which stopped the Germans and allowed the British line to recover, but at the cost of one third of their number.

But they did not do this alone. They were supported by the Gunners, and in particular by a heroic and skilful action by 54 Dragon Battery, which was one of the batteries which became 129 Dragon Battery, currently part of 4th Field Regiment Royal Artillery.

The map from the Official History of the War in France and Flanders shows a part of the battle of Gheluvelt. It shows German guns at the Western end of Gheluvelt and the position of 54 Battery ­

According to an infantry officer nearby “Lt Blewitt of 54 Battery came up to say to his battery commander that the Germans appeared to be bringing a gun to the barricade in the middle of Gheluvelt and asked permission to take an 18 pounder onto the road and deal with it. Having got permission, he manhandled the gun onto the road. The German gun fired first and missed. Blewittt did not give them a second chance. He put a stop to any trouble from that quarter for the rest of the afternoon. If the Germans had pushed home their attack during the afternoon there was nothing to stop them.”” Lt Blewitt was awarded the DSO for this action. His letters are in the Imperial War Museum archives. At the time his letters home gave no hint to his family and fiancé of the dangers he ran or his heroic and skillful acts.

Three years later, while a Gunnery instructor on England, he was persuaded to write about the circumstances which led to his award for gallantry. He wrote “My layer at the time was Bombardier Steel, whose efficiency I think solely we all – the detachment and I , owe our lives. The detachment as far as I can remember was: Sergeant, now (1917) BSM Howes, a sturdier man than whom never stepped, as No 1, Bombardier Steel, layer,. Bombardier Priestley, (killed a few days later1), No 6, while think Gunners Hobson and Delamere,(Both at later times my servant, the first wounded by a French battery few days later, and the latter gassed as a sergeant in the battery this year). Made up the crew. Who the last man was I can’t remember, but a damn fine crowd they were, every one of them.”

The German infantry in Gheluvelt. was the 16th Bavarian Reserve Regiment, most famous for one its soldiers, the 19 year old Adolf Hitler. . .

1Gunner (Local Bombardier?) Alfred Priestley, husband of Nancy Priestley of Preston is commemorated on the Menin Gate.

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