There is a small interpretation centre at the entrance to the German cemetery at Langemarck. One of the slides shows Langemarck church as a heap of rubble – with an doorway suggesting at some dug out complex in in the crypt. It’s a striking image to compare with the rebuilt church.
Sure, anything in the “strip of murdered nature” that was the battlefields of the Western Front was going to end up as rubble. But there are RGA War Diaries that record their target as “Langemarck Church” not a strong point in the church, or the village but the church itself. It was repeatedly targeted along with targets such as “trenches u.16.d.76.23- u 16 d.54.14 and “wire u 16 a.52,05 – u16 a.15.16” So why was the church such a popular target?
A week or so ago I was carrying out some research for a guided family history tour to the battlefields of where their relative Bombardier Griffiths had served in 324 Heavy battery RGA. The battery’s war diaries were available, but the diary for March 1918, the month he died , was missing. Furthermore, there was evidence that suggested that Bombardier Griffiths did not join 324 battery until january 1918.
However, the diaries were very legible and full, recording the details of each shoot, including rounds fired and the target.
324 Heavy Battery was formed from 1916 conscripts and deployed to France in May 1917 equipped with four 6″ 26 cwt Howitzers. After a few weeks on the quiet sector of Bois Grenier the battery moved to Woesten, north of Ieper on 14th July 1917. From there it took part in the preliminary bombardment for the 31 St July , then stepping forwards to Elverdinge. The first day of 3rd Ypres 31st July, was successful on Pilckem Ridge, with the British line moving forward roughly along the Steenbeek south west of Langemarck.
A first world war artillery piece aimed at a target some 6km away was probably going to miss with its first round, even if the target had been plotted on a surveyed trench map. The position of the guns and the direction in which they are recorded as pointing may not be particularly accurate. Changes in the wind speed and direction will change the trajectory. An observer with communications to the guns could adjust the fire of the guns until the rounds from the guns were landing in the target area. Of course, by this the enemy will have worked out what was going to happen next and take cover.
A further problem was that the guns in a battery would not all have the same characteristics. Guns may be manufactured to different standards and might have different wear in the barrel. The WD entry for 5th August records that between 2pm and 2.30 pm 324 battery fired 30 rounds unobserved at Langemarck Church as ordered in Operation Order No 23. After this, someone,at Periscope House, probably Major William Orpen Sikottowe Sanders, the battery commander decided to calibrate the guns using the church. Firing ten rounds and watching one hit the church with others plus and minus, the unit could apply a correction for each gun. (Though ten rounds might be few to base a statistically reliable.
It wasn’t always possible to see targets clearly. Pilckem ridge isn’t much higher than the surrounding ground and it would have been quite difficult to pick out specific targets from the ground. Furthermore, the landscape was devastated, with buildings and trees leveled and landmarks obliterated.
One technique which could help is to use a “Witness Point” This was a point some distance from a target, but accurately located in relation to it, which could be ranged without losing surprise against the target and the correction applied to data for the target. If the correction to hit the church was “left a bit and add a bit”, the same correction could ensure that targets in the same area picked off a map could be hit first time.
The entry for 7th August shows that between 3.30 and 6.30pm 324 battery fired a total of 24rounds at Langemarck Church as a Witness Point. Their next shoot 7.30pm to 8.30 an unobserved concentration on trenches straddling the Langemarck-Poelcapelle road was unobserved, but could be expected to be reasonably accurate, as might the shoot at 9pm. a response to a call for the SOS.
The targets on the 8th August were east and west of the German positions which ran through the north end of the German Cemetery at Langemarck, as evidenced by the three bunkers.
The search for the part an individual soldier played turns up some surprising detail about how the battle was fought and the reason why Langemarck Church was shelled. It also explain the rationale that supports the old military axiom to never deploy at an obvious terrain feature. Landmarks are shelled because they are landmarks .
One army has been almost completely absent from any mention in the commemorations of this weekend’s centenary of the start of the 3rd Battle of Ypres. This army is the French 1st Army which also took part in the battle. Although the operation was led by the British, it was an allied operation With 135,000 men and over 1000 guns the French Army that took part was larger than the Australian, Canadian or New Zealander contingents that fought. Yet their role and sacrifices have been ignored.
The French First Army’s deployment on the British left was a commitment to the alliance, despite the strikes and mutinies afflicting their army after the failure of the Nivelle offensive April 1917. Their tactics were designed around using artillery fire to destroy and neutralise defences and seizing limited objectives to minimise infantry casualties. The tactics used on 31st July were the first use of those methods that Petain would use to rebuild the confidence of the French Army.
The two divisions of the 1st Army attacked on a 4 km frontage. Particular attention was paid to artillery support. The artillery included 60 batteries of 75mm guns, 240 pieces, 277 pieces of trench artillery – mortars, 164 heavy howitzers, 148 long ranged guns (105- 240mm) for counter battery fire and 64 heavy guns (305mm,320mm and 370mm) to smash concrete bunkers. This artillery train was supported by aircraft detachments for heavy artillery and counter battery fire, bomber, and reconnaissance squadrons and the elite Cigognes fighter squadron.
The French were faced with the problem of assaulting across the Yser canal against defences based on concrete bunkers. The French thought the concrete bunkers were less of a tactical challenge than the deep shelters capable of protecting entire platoons the Germans dug is drier country. The assaulting troops were preceded by a creeping barrage of shrapnel 150m ahead of the infantry.
On the 31st July the French First Army was tasked with protecting the Northern flanks of the British 5th Army. They succeeded in this mission, advancing 2500 metres, almost as far as the Guards division to their right. The French took part in several attacks in concert with the British , until the end of October.
The French had advanced some 10 km, capturing 1,500 prisoners. Their casualties were low, 1,625 killed or missing and 6901 wounded or taken prisoner. These are very light compared to those suffered by British formations, and raise some questions about British tactics.
The French army of Flanders was deployed to support the British led operation “as a matter of honour.” It is a shame that their gesture has not be remembered a century later.
Blackadder goes Forth was the final series of the Blackadder BBC TV comedy programme. “The series placed the recurring characters of Blackadder, Baldrick and George in a trench in Flanders during World War I, and followed their various doomed attempts to escape from the trenches to avoid certain death under the misguided command of General Melchett.” The six programmes in this series were a satirical comedy set in the trenches of the Western Front. The characters were grotesque and funny, but the series ended with the poignant death of most of them in a hail of bullets in 1917, in slow motion with a final scene cutting into a shot of a field of poppies.
This was the “Oh What Lovely War” version of the First World War, with a heavy handed moral slant, but it is also glorious comic satire. And being funny is one of the core values of the British Army. Not the official Core Values of the British Army , which are Courage, Discipline, Respect for others, Integrity, Loyalty and Selfless Commitment. All worthy ideals but they do not round out the character of the British Army. There are at least three other unofficial core values –“ Sense of Humour”; “BS Baffles Brains” and above all “Don’t get Caught” all come to mind.
There is a grain of truth in each episode of Blackadder Goes Forth. Starting with the existence of a Captain Blackadder in the Royal Field Artillery, as reported by the Radio Times in 2014. The Imperial War Museum (IWM) has a copy of his diary. This is listed as providing details of his service in 151 Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery. However, Peter Hart and Nigel Steel, both senior staff members of the IWM, record his unit as the 152 Battery – so I am not sure which is right. Both of these batteries were raised in Scotland, equipped with four 8″ Howitzers and deployed to France in August 1916. Blackadder took part in the major battles from the 1916 battle of the Somme to the end of the war and his observations are a primary source for these battles. During this time he rose from lieutenant to major and decorated for gallantry for organising the withdrawal of his guns , ammunition and stores under heavy fire.
The real Blackadder, with his accounting background looks a little more like Tim McInnerny’s Captain Darling.
However, the extracts from his diary from summer 1917 in the 3rd battle of Ypres make it clear that he was far from a pen pusher with a paper-clip fetish.
The road to the new position is a mere apology for a road and as we are taking down the first gun at night the road surface collapses and the gun sinks to its cradle. It has lain there for three days now and we have not been able to shift it — two caterpillars failed to move it. Now we have had heavy rain so it is very doubtful if we will get the guns to their new place at all. The result of three nights’ work is to get one gun into a hole and another off to a workshop. Tonight I am to get the gun out of the ditch and another to the workshop if possible. The Hun shelled the battery all afternoon, broke another limber and badly damaged the road again. About midnight he again shelled and set off more ammunition but all the men got clear. I got the gun out of the ditch with two engines and into the new position. It was difficult to get the gun away to the workshop owing to the road being cut up but we succeeded without mishap about 3 a.m.”
29 July (1917) At night, about 11 p.m., the old Hun began to strafe us and all around. The guns got it first of all so I ordered all to clear out. Then he worked up towards the fighting post, a concrete erection left by the Hun. Several of the gunners had come up here for shelter some very badly shaken. The shells were falling very near now, the concussion putting out the lights several times, then, all of a sudden, a tremendous crash and all darkness and smoke almost suffocating us — a direct hit on the post! We lit the candles again, but could hardly see for the smoke.
After ascertaining all were untouched I tried to get out, the shelling having moved to the guns again, but found the entrance blocked with debris. All wires had been broken too so we were out of touch with the guns and headquarters. We soon worked a passage out and set to work to get into communication. Meantime some of the ammunition on No. 3 gun had been set on fire and the limber and stores were burning merrily: I got this gunner to come with me to put the fire out, this we did without mishap and returned to the concrete post. About 2 a.m. the shelling stopped and at dawn we reckoned up the damage done. Casualties, nil, material destroyed, very little. The fighting post was only slightly damaged and will stand many more hits thanks to the excellent work of` the Hun.”
Once again, it is ‘Der Tag’ and again we are nibbling at the Bosche line. Our Battery is busy closing up the Hun guns and during the day in addition to carrying out our programme during the attack, we received many calls from aeroplanes who saw Hun guns active. The Hun strafed the Battery area just before zero hour and broke all the communications to the guns, but we got these put right just in time. He did little damage though he hit No. 2 gun pit twice. During the day too, he endeavoured to neutralise the Batteries about our area with shrapnel and high velocity guns, but we got off with no damage.
Lieutenant Robert Blackadder 152nd (sic) Siege Battery Royal Garrison Artillery. (Steele and Hart Passchendaele: The Sacrificial Ground)
1. Steele and Hart Passchendaele: The Sacrificial Ground – on e of the best histories of this battle, drawing heavily on personal accounts and one of the few that tells the story from the Gunner’s perspective.
2. https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/lifestory/366252 The entry credited to Paul Evans look like the work of Firepower’s archivist
3.http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=101508 The pictures of 152 Seige battery, triggered by someone’s family research.
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 J
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
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.
“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
Frederick 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.
Thus 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
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.
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.
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.
Gunner Tours have launched the 2015 public tour programme. They tell the story of the key battles with a focus on the role that the artillery played, and the stories of those who served the guns. Around 25% of the British Army of the First World War served in the Royal Field, Garrison or Horse Artillery, and a similar proportion in the Second World War.
First World War
The First World War was an artillery war. Success and failure was largely determined by how artillery was used and how well the guns were served.
Somme and Arras 19-22 June 2015 A long weekend of four days
and three nights to two of the largest battles of the First World War. The 1916 battle of the Somme was the largest and most costly battle fought by the British Army. The Arras battles of April-May 1917 were the most intense of the war. This area was also where the war on the western front was decided in the open warfare of 1918. £319
Verdun, Somme and Ypres 10-14 August 2015. Five days and four nights. We will visit three of the most important battlefields on the Western Front, and look at the British French and German gunners. The battle for Verdun in 1916 was the first of the huge battles of attrition. The Somme offensive of 1916 was designed to relieve the pressure on the French army at Verdun. The battles for the Ypres salient were the longest and bloodiest battles fought in Belgium. £379
“Wipers” 11-14 September 2015 Four days and three nights. The Belgium city known as Ieper in Flemish and Ypres in French was known to British soldiers as “Wipers.” It was the main seat of British Army’s operations in Belgium from October 1914 to the end of the First World War, and a focus for Remembrance since then. Our tour will look at the artillery side of the story and of the gunners who served and suffered there. £319
BEF Western Front 9-13 November 2015 Five days and four nights, covering the sites of the major battles of the British Expeditionary Force from Mons in 1914 to victory in 1918. £349
Second World War
Gunner Tours is offering two tours to Normandy, based on the specialist knowledge and expertise of our chief guide Frank Baldwin who has written about the role of artillery on D Day and in the Normandy campaign as well as providing the written guide to the D Day Beaches for the Royal Artillery for the 70th Anniversary of D Day.
D Day and the Battle for Normandy 6-10 July 2015 This is five
days and four nights expedition to the D Day sites and some of the battles inland. £359
D Day Beaches and Landing Sites 2-5 October 2015, A visit over a long weekend to the D Day beaches and Landing sites. There is a gunner story on each beach and landing site. £329
For details on each tour click the link in the date or check the details on the Gunner Tours website
The Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) scheme for small community projects for the First World War Centenary announced on 16th May 2013 can be used to support travel to battlefields and memorials outside the UK.
This was not highlighted in the launch announcement nor in the newspaper reports. However, it is clear from the Heritage Lottery Fund’s own website that projects which meet certain criteria will be eligible for for HLF funding. The HLF recognises the value of travel to battlefields and memorials in deepening people’s understanding of the war and its impacts. However, any visit must be linked to activities in the UK, must enhance peoples experience and learning, while not being the main focus of a project. HLF also expects a bidder to demonstrate that the cost of the activity abroad is as reasonable as possible, that there is a genuine need for the funding, and that travel will deliver outcomes in proportion to the funding requested.
Here are the relevant paragraphs from the HLF Q&A page . (Note this page has been replaced and briefing information is now here )
Can our application include costs for travel and activity outside the UK?
Yes, if your project is based in the UK.
We will fund the cost of travel and activity outside the UK (including the cost of bringing people to the UK) if there is a clear rationale for it in the project, it contributes to outcomes for heritage, people and communities in the UK and offers value for money.
What costs can you cover outside the UK?
We can consider any costs that are associated with your project activities – this could include for example, travel, accommodation, insurance, or activities in museums or heritage sites involving people from the UK.
We ask that you explore how you can make the cost of your activity abroad as reasonable as possible. For example, you could send a small group of people to explore the heritage on a research trip who could then come and feed back to the rest of the group, or you could pay to bring people to the UK to share their expertise and insights. In order to fund travel and activities abroad, you will need to demonstrate that there is a genuine need for the funding, and that the additional outcomes achieved are in proportion to the funding requested. Some questions we might ask are:
To what extent does the travel outside the UK enhance people’s understanding and learning, or broaden their perspectives of the war?
Could this level of understanding be achieved in a lower-cost way?
Will the travel and activity abroad enhance the long-term outcomes of the project? For example, will it result in long-term relationships which will result in new understandings of the war and its impacts?
Are you contributing any partnership funding?
Can we get a grant to take a group to visit the former battlefields and cemeteries in Europe?
We recognise the value of visiting a site, and that this can deepen people’s understanding of the war and its impacts. You should show that a visit is linked to activities in the UK, and that it will enhance people’s experience and learning. The visit should not be the main focus of a project.
If the main activity and cost in your project is visit abroad, then the project is unlikely to offer good value for money.
Can HLF provide funding for projects outside the UK?
No. Money raised through the National Lottery can only be invested in projects based in the UK.
This is very welcome news and should enable communities to draw on the battlefields themselves as a resource for the centenary commemorations. The Observation Post has been making the case for this funding ever since the Great War Commemorations were first discussed in 2011 and established the Men Behind the Memorial project to draw attention to the potential of the battlefields to develop our understanding of the War and its context.
Baldwin Battlefield Tours is developing a Centenary Advisory Service to support Community Groups with military historians and other resources to enable them to make the most of the Battlefields as part of their First World War Centenary Projects.
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.
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.
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
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).
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 .
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?
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.
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)
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.
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.