Tag Archives: Belgium

Shades of Private Ryan – Britain’s “Bedford Boys”

I recently took a group of businessmen on a visit to the battlefields of the western front.  One of them, Richard Whittemore, told me a fascinating story.  His great-grandfather was one of six brothers who served in the First World War.  Three of them died and are buried in France.   A fourth is commemorated on the Helles Memorial  in Gallipoli.

 Private 6710 Whittemore Sidney JPM 6 Nov 1914

Sydney Whittemore was a regular soldier who served in the 1st Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment. This unit fought at Mons Le Cateau and the battles of the Marne and Aisne before deploying to Ypres. He died on 7th Nov 1914. The battalion had recently deployed to the trenches East of Ypres. According to the war diary, “Enemy broke through line held by Regt about 200 yards to our left, carrying next Regt & some of our men with them. Our supports were moved to left… & assisted in driving enemy back. Qr. Mr.Sergt. Byford [4893 Thomas William BYFORD, DCM] (awarded Distinguished C. Medal) collected about 40 men & captured trench held by 21 Germans, killing or capturing all. Pte. Falla [8095 William FALLA, DCM] (awarded Distinguished C. Medal) ran on in advance, & getting on left of trench enfiladed enemy whilst remainder were rushing the trench. Our casualties about 7 officers & 140 other ranks killed wounded 7 missing. It is likely that Sidney Whittemore was fatally wounded, as he is buried in Bedford House Cemetery, several miles west.

Lieutenant Frederick Whittemore MC

hill60may1915 Frederick Whittemore was a hero. He joined the army, aged 18 in 1896 in the Bedfordshire Regiment. He served in the Boer War as a soldier. There isn’t a His By 1914 he was Company Sergeant Major in the 2nd Battalion the Bedfordshire Regiment in South Africa. On 17th October he was commissioned in the field to replace the officers that had been lost up to that point. 2 Lt Whittemore was wounded on the 29th October 1914 in the first battle of Ypres. On his recovery he joined the 1st battalion and served with distinction in the heroic defence of hill 60. As the sniper Officer he was credited with accounting for over 50 of the attacking Germans, but was wounded again with as bayonet. His actions resulted in the award of the Military Cross in December 1915.

whittemorefj“Following twenty years of service in the regiment and having served through two wars, Lieutenant Whittemore, MC, was mortally wounded during a night patrol on 29 March 1916. His comrades tried desperately to recover his body, but despite several attempts, were unable to reach it. As a result, Lieutenant Whittemore is remembered on the Arras Memorial to the missing. “

It was soldiers like Frederick and Sydney Whittemore who epitomised the “Old Contemptibles” of the BEF.

13657 Private Whittemore G W 9th Bn Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment).

George Whittemore was a member of one of the first Kitchener Battalion of the Nottinghamshire and Derby Regiment which formed in Derby in 1914. It sailed for Gallipoli and landed at Suvla bay in August 1915. He was killed on 15th October 1915 but has no known grave and ius commeorated on the Helles memorial.

G/14877 Private Whittemore F A, (MM and bar) 7th battalion Royal Sussex Regiment

7 R Sussex WhittemoreFrederick Arthur Whittemore served in the 7th battalion The Royal Sussex Regiment died on 26th August 1918 aged 21. This gallant young soldier was killed in an attack on the Carnoy- Montebaun spur, almost on the 1st July 1916 front line. The attack in which he was killed seems to have been casually organised and as fatal to the assaulting infantry as any on the 1st July. as any on the as those ill supported as any in 1916. The total advances was planned to be three miles. There was “some difficulty calculating the barrage, as the position of the leading troops of 35 Brigade was not known and it was not possible to arrange for the barrage to conform with the barrage of the 58th Division, (the other formation attacking.) . Divisional orders were not ready until 11 pm, and did not reach the commander of 36 Brigade until after midnight and 2 AM before he could collect his battalion commanders to issue verbal orders for a 4 AM attack, and there were three miles to march to reach the start point. Further delay took place in consequence of the late arrival of the pack mules with reserve small arms ammunition , and of shelling which forced the battalions to leave the road and march across wire and trenches on a compass bearing, the latter part of the way in single file.

EPSON scanner imageThus the 7th Royal Sussex (and 5th Royal Berkshire) were unable to reach the starting line in time to move off before 4.30 and 4.45 am respectively, and lost the barrage, which in any case dropped too too far ahead, nearly 1500 yards, to be of any use. Both came under machine gun fire. The Royal Sussex were held up in the valley in front of their first objective. The Germans spotted a gap between the two battalions and counter attacked, threatening part of the R Sussex near some old mine craters, (from the pre July 1916 front line). The fight went on all day until the neighbouring formation on the left captured a key village behind the German right at around 4.30 pm. (2) The CWGC records list 24 soldiers from 7th Royal Sussex who died between 26 and 28th August 1918. Three of these men, like Frederick Whittemore were recipients of the Military Medal.

19833 Private Whittemore C Bedfordshire Regiment

whittemore 4th Beds

19833 Private C Whittemore of the 4th Battalion the Bedfordshire Regiment died , aged 23 on the 27th August 1918 and is buried in the AIF burial Ground Flees. He probably died in one of the two attacks made by 190 brigade on Thilloy.4 Bedfords 27 Aug 1918

There is a report on this action here. ttp://www.bedfordregiment.org.uk/4thbn/4thbtn1918appendices.html

He may have served alongside Charles Laughton.

http://www.huntscycles.co.uk/C%20L%201%20Home%20Page.htm

Richard’s grandfather survived the war. The medal cards list a Whittemore in the Bedfordshire Regiment, awarded the Mons star who survived the war. The family tradition is that he was a machine gunner, and suffered such severe shell shock that he spent the rest of his life in mental institutions. His family maintained a fiction that he had run off to India and married someone there. In fact he was incarcerated in a local mental hospital a few miles from where his children were growing up. He died and is buried in an unmarked grave.

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This was the result of some internet work and I am not sure exactly what the family relationships were.  However there seem to have been a lot of casualties, and medals awarded to a relatively small number of brothers or cousins.

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13 MAY 1944 RAF BOMBER COMMAND RAID ON LOUVAIN/ LEUVEN

Aircraft of 419 Sqn RCAF line up

12/13 May 1944
Louvain: 120 aircraft – 96 Halifaxes, 20 Lancasters, 4 Mosquitos – of 6 and 8   Groups.3 Halifaxes and 2 Lancasters lost. The bombing was more accurate than on the previous night and considerable damage was caused in the railways yards.

One the same night the RAF also bombed Hasselt, ineffectively and carried out mining and intruder operations.  The total  effort for the night: 355 sorties, 14 aircraft (3.9 per cent) lost.  This appears to be the Bomber command war diary entry (whatever happened to the  Day by Day Bomber Command  Dairy entries?) pages? 

This was the second night in succession that Bomber Command had raided Leuven (knonw by Francophone Wallons as Louvain) On the night 11-12th the results had not been satiusfactory wioth the bombing scattered and little evidence of damage to the rail infrastructure. On The raid which started shortly after midnight on 13th May caused the following damage.

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Bomb Damage in Leuven.

 474 buildings in Leuven were completely destroyed, including a university building, three churches, two schools, thirty-seven factories, two buildings of city and a monastery. No less than 1300 buildings were severely damaged, including five university buildings, a church, four monasteries, eight factories and six public buildings (including the Palace of Justice and the Little Prison). A thousand buildings were slightly damaged.   In the parish of Wilsele 183 buildings were completely destroyed, 280 severely damaged buildings and 150 mildly affected panden.Te Herent 14 buildings were completely destroyed, 58 severely damaged and 80 slightly damaged. All bombing in 1944 together accounted

Damaged buildings in Leuven
Damaged buildings in Leuven

for the destruction of 634 homes and become uninhabitable for 1,166 homes on a total housing stock of 4,223 homes, about 25%. A large part of Blauwput had disappeared. The 15th century Chapel Blauwput was badly damaged as the Parish Church.

Tedder1943
Air Vice Marshal Sir Arthur Tedder

The Allied Commanders responsible for planning D Day were keen to use the strategic bombers of  Bomber Command and the 8th Air Force against targets which would delay rthe rate at which allied reinforcements could reach the Normandy battlefield.  These attacks would need to take place across Belgium and Northern France to conceal the site of the landings.  British Airman Arthur Tedder was Eisenhower’;s Deputy and credited with leading the transportation plan.  There were two obstacles in persuading the allies to adopt this plan.  Firstly he had to overcome the resistance of the commanders of the strategic air forces to switch from the targets they considered important,  Secondly, Churchill needed to be persuaded that the results would justify the casualties among the allied populations.

Churchill anguished about giving an order which would kill Belgians and Frenchmen.   Churchill made many decisions during the war which would result in the loss of lives which were to  some degree or other “innocent”.  He ordered the Royal Navy to sink the French Fleet in 1940, and the aerial bombing of German cities, containing civilians and foreign workers.  The decisions to bomb key points on the railway  system in Belgium and France bothered him more than most.  Alanbrooke’s diary entry for 5th April mentions “At 10.30, had to attend one of those awful  evening meetings with the PM.  We were kept up till 12.45 a,m. discussing use  heavy bombers to support the invasion. he is opposed to Tedder’s plan”.

The rais d was carried out by No 6 Group with aircraft from 419, 420, 425, 426, 427, 429, 431 and 432 Sqns RCAF.  Five heavy bombers were lost on this raid, two in the route in and one of the return.  One was shot down by flak and four by night fighters, at least three of these were by “Experten” Major Martin Dawes.

05F58694_5056_A318_A8AA986A005F58DF
419 Squadron Lancaster Bomber markings

419 RCAF appear to have the heaviest losses, losing two aircraft and 13 men dead.

Louvain May 12/13th 1944
Takeing off at 2155 and heading out to the target the crew and aircraft were shot down near Sint-Genesius-Rode which was 12 km S of Brussels. None of this very experienced crew survived. 
VR-W KB710
P/O H I Smith Pilot 22nd sortie 
F/O J Moore Navigator
F/O W R Finlayson Bomb Aimer
F/O W W Price Wireless Op.
Sgt. R Bull Field Engineer
Sgt. J C O’Connell Upper Gunner
Sgt. S G Livingstone Rear Gunner
VR-W ‘s crew was a very experienced one with many of them at the 16 operation mark. The Wireless Operator F/O Smith having a total of 22 trips. 
And
The crew of VR-X had P/O Edwards and F/O Campbell who were a quarter of a way through their tours while the other airmen were on their second or third operation. 
VR-X KB713 
P/O B F Edwards Pilot on his 8th sortie
F/O R R Campbell Navigator
F/S P Dewar Bomb Aimer
F/S R S Smith Wireless Op.
Sgt. J R Carruthers Flight Engineer
P/O J A Webber Upper Gunner
P/O H E Oddan Rear Gunner

419 Sqn RCAF were based at RAF Middleston St George.  This is now Teeside Airport. Photos here 

Leuven was rebuilt and its name appears on every can or bottle of Stella Artois beer, which is brewed there.

No one will know whether the Battle of Normandy would have been D Day invasion would have succeeded without the bombing campaign. The civilian and air force losses  are as much a part of the campaign as that of any infantryman storming ashore.

If oyu qwould like to find out more about visiting the heritage associated with Airpower contact info@airpowertours.com

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Where has Napoleon’s Observatory at Waterloo Gone?

Print on sale in various US Fine Art Suppliers attributed to Kelly 1815
Print on sale in various US Fine Art Suppliers attributed to Kelly 1815

 

Extract from sketch map made on the field of Waterloo 1815 (National Army Museum)
Extract from sketch map made on the field of Waterloo 1815 (National Army Museum)

I spent yesterday in the National Army Museum looking for material which would be of interest to the City Lit Summer school I am tutoring on the Battle of Waterloo. The collection is fascinating. It is one thing to read the accounts in books. Its another to hold in your hands the letters and diaries of the soldiers of the time; or to see the some of the paintings in their reserve collection, and the preliminary sketches of the battlefield by the artists.

One intriguing object is a water colour sketch map, with the inscription “used on the battlefield”. The archive staff had no information about the provenance of the item, which had once been framed. The sketch map shows some of the key terrain features visible from the Anglo-Dutch position, including the village of Mont St Jean, the farm of the same name, the villages where the Anglo Dutch Army deployed, Hougoumont, Mon Plaisir and La Haye Sainte and the ridge lines in the French positions. Intriguingly, the map did not have some of the terrain features that appear on battle maps to explain the course of the battle. So the village of Placenoit is not marked. Nor is the track running across the front of the Anglo Dutch position, the famous sunken road. So maybe this map was one produced by Wellington’s staff on the day for orientation purposes. ( “The farm in the dip a couple of hundred paces in front of us is called La Haye Saint and the chateau on our right about a mile away on the right hand side of the walled garden is Hougoumont”)   One distinctive feature shown is an observation tower south of Hougoumont and East of the Mont Plaisir Farm.  Its an obvious feature, and one that also appears in some of the pen and ink sketches made by the painter Richard Dighton of the battlefield after the battle.

Location of Observatory on Craan's map of Waterloo 1816
Location of Observatory on Craan’s map of Waterloo 1816

 This tower also appears on the map drawn up by the Dutch Surveyor Willem Benjamin Craan in 1816 as the “Observatory” (1) and in Wagner’s maps (2) it’s function is labelled as “telegraph”, which may explain its function as part of an optical telegraph system. The tower is also described as 35 feet tall.

This tower ought to be tactically  

Extract from Wagner's Map

Extract from Wagner’s Map

significant. One of the ingredients of Wellington’s success was his use of a reverse slope to hide his deployment from the French. But a man standing on the observation tower above the 135m contour would be at an elevation of around 150m, 15m higher than the crest of the Mont St Jean Ridge. This should have enabled Napoleon and Ney to have seen some way down the reverse slope. Obviously once the battle started the visibility would have been obscured by smoke, but before the battle started Napoleon could have had a much better idea of Wellington’s deployment at the start of the battle than many historians would have us believe.01AGMP83

Besides the sketch map in the National Army Museum, there are several documented mentions of the observatory in a manuscript held by the British Library and in the documents published by Booth as a semi official record.(3) The testimony of Jean Baptise De Coster, a local guide for Napoleon mentioned how he did not see Napoleon make any use of the observatory. A foot note to this account mentions that Napoleon had spent an hour up the tower and that it had been constructed by Dutch engineers six weeks before the battle. A British Visitor to the Battlefield of Waterloo on the 16th July 1815 describes, how after dining at the farm of La Belle Alliance, he “Went to the Observatory, it is thirty -six feet high; I nailed on the pinnacle the Royal Arms of Great Britain” (Booth: Additional Particulars: P 121) I recall seeing this tower depicted in a print distributed in the old Battle of Waterloo Jackdaw. It seemed a very fanciful depiction of the battle with an Observation Tower and the trail of rockets like V2s streaking overhead. The tower doesn’t seem to appear in many of the more modern depictions of the battle. It isn’t mentioned in Andrew Uffendall’s “On the fields of Glory” (4) Nor In Atkins’ otherwise excellent Waterloo Companion,(5) although his panorama from the Lion mound does appear to show a mobile phone mast in roughly the same direction, there is no tower on that site now.  

Napoleon's observation post at Ligny
Napoleon on the observation post erected by sappers at the Bussey Mill

There are several un-answered questions about the tower.  

Who built it?  Was it built by Napoleon’s Sappers?  Napoleon did order sappers to build an observation platform for him at Ligny, but pictures show the observation post at Ligny as scaffolding  around a windmill.  Or was it by the Dutch, as in the footnote to the memoirs published by Booth in 1817?     

Is there any evidence that Napoleon made use of the tower, except for the foot note in Booth contradicting De Coster?

What could a French Observer have seen of the Anglo Dutch positions from the Tower?

Why hasn’t this Tower been mentioned in any recent military histories of Waterloo?   It made enough of an impact on the British for the Tower to feature in the accounts.

(The origins of this post are in the Waterloo Campaign City Lit Summer School.  The class visit to the National Army Museum revealed the sketch map drawn on the battlefield possibly for use during the battle.) 

References:

  1. Craan, W. B. Plan of the battle of Waterloo or Mount St. John [cartographic material] : reduced from the large plan of the same battle, made up and published in 1816
  2. August Wagner’s Plane der Schlachten und Treffen welche von der preussischen Armee in den Feldzügen der Jahre 1813, 14 und 15 geliefert worden, 4 volumes (Berlin: G. Reimer, 1825.)
  3. John Booth, The Battle of Waterloo also of Ligny, and Quatre-Bras, described by the series of accounts Published by Authority, with Circumstantial details. By a near Observer. Printed for John Booth 1817 together with  “Additional Particulars of the Battle of Waterloo etc”   available to download here
  4. Andrew Uffindell and Michael Corum. On the Fields of Glory: The Battlefields of the 1815 Campaign   Greenhill Books, 1991
  5. Mark Adkin, The Waterloo Companion;  Stakpole 2001