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    The Herald of Free Enterprise car ferry


    Twenty-eight years have passed since a shocking maritime disaster claimed the lives of more Britons than in any other single event since the Second World War. Many people think that they have not heard of the Herald of Free Enterprise or the Zeebrugge disaster until they see a picture of the stricken ferry lying on its side and then the memories come flooding back: 'Oh yes, I remember now. Terrible. They left the doors open, didn't they?' Well, yes they did. However, there is much more to the story than a simple, if catastrophic, oversight by a single crew member.

    Throughout the 1980s, Britain endured a number of tragedies that became synonymous with the places where they happened: the mass shooting on the streets at Hungerford; the jet bombing over Lockerbie; the train crash outside Clapham Junction; the stadium fire in Bradford and the crush of football fans at Hillsborough, to name but a few. All claimed a terrible number of lives. In terms of the British number of lives lost, the ferry disaster at Zeebrugge overshadowed them all, with almost all of the 193 known victims being from the United Kingdom.

    The P&O - owned Townsend Thoresen car ferry Herald of Free Enterprise was one of three sister ships of the Blue Riband class, the flagships of the company's fleet. The ferry was a roll-on, roll-off (RORO) type on which vehicles embarked at one end and disembarked at the opposite end. This design meant that there was a cavernous space that ran the entire length of the boat. If water was to enter any part of that space it would run freely, making the boat unstable and could threaten a possible capsize.

    This is precisely what happened on the bitterly cold night of Friday 6 March 1987. The Herald, with an estimated 546 people on board, had just departed the Belgian port of Zeebrugge for it's home port of Dover. Hundreds of unsuspecting passengers joined the eighty crew members for what should have been a routine four-and-a-half-hour crossing. For some, they would continue their long journey by road through the night to their destinations. Among them were families and groups of friends returning from day trips, lorry drivers transporting goods for their employers, army personnel and their families on weekend leave, some going home for good. One man was driving home a new car for a friend, three family members had shut up a house in Holland ready to be sold. Another man was travelling on a false passport and had hitched a lift with an innocent lorry driver.

    A combination of procedural errors and oversights and the design of the ferry itself caused the vehicle deck to flood, after the ferry set sail with the bow doors open. The water shifted, tilting the ferry to one side, then the other before capsizing in relatively shallow water onto her port side, just outside the harbour entrance. There she lay on her side at an angle of more than ninety degrees in freezing cold water that swallowed up more than half the ferry.

    The crew of a nearby dredger witnessed the capsize and immediately set in motion an international rescue operation. Co-ordinated by the Royal Navy at sea and the Belgians on land, a flotilla of ships and boats raced to the scene while hospitals sent dozens of medical personnel to assist with injured survivors.

    Meanwhile, inside the half-submerged ferry, people had already been killed outright in the sudden capsize. Some were unconscious and were beginning to drown. Others found themselves trapped in the freezing water in pitch black darkness, shouting and crying for their loved ones. Those still able-bodied scrambled upwards and out of the ferry through smashed windows and joined the rescue efforts of arriving emergency services.

    Ninety Seconds At Zeebrugge is an up-to-date retelling of the disaster as it unfolded primarily from the viewpoint of those that were on board, their families waiting for news, rescue workers and the people of Belgium. The disaster has never been forgotten by those involved. Although very painful at times, the survivors and their relatives' stories are told, sometimes for the first time publicly. Much credit has to be given to them and it is for them, and the victims, that this book has been written.
     


    Iain Yardley is the author of Ninety Seconds At Zeebrugge, a minute-by-minute account of those who lived through the disaster, from the event to rescue, reunion and repatriation. 


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    German prisoners of war disembark from a Landing Ship, closely watched by American troops (Image Source: Hitler's Last Army)

     

    In 1945, when the war in Europe came to a close, 150,000 German prisoners were already being held behind barbed wire in prisoner of war (POW) camps in Britain. Most had arrived within the previous twelve months, following Allied gains after the D-Day invasion. But the end of hostilities did not mean that the Germans were to be immediately sent home. On the contrary, the last ones to be repatriated would not see their own country until the end of 1948 – more than two-and-a-half years after the war’s end. In fact, their numbers increased in 1946, when a further 130,000 were brought to the UK from North America, where they had been held on Britain’s behalf. 

    Britain had several reasons for wishing to keep the prisoners. Most importantly, they provided an indispensable workforce – especially in agriculture. The nation had been forced to double its agricultural output during the war, and the German prisoners accounted for 25 to 50 per cent of all agricultural labour across the country. Others were employed clearing bomb-sites and helping to rebuild the nation’s shattered infrastructure.

    British politicians believed that while the Germans were still in the UK they might as well be taught to reject the Nazi doctrine they had grown up with and converted into peace-loving democrats. 'Re-education' – as it was called – met with some success, though it was later acknowledged to have been a hopelessly over-ambitious plan, with results that were seen as 'patchy and qualified.'
     

    Eden Camp at Malton, Yorkshire, remains in near-original condition and is a major visitor attraction today (image rights: Robin Quinn)


    A distinct shift in public attitudes towards the prisoners became apparent as time passed. Residents of Chatham, Kent, protested at first when they learned that a POW camp was to be built near their homes. But when prisoners were allowed in late 1946 to mix with the public, many of the same local families invited the Germans to their homes for Christmas. 

    POWs engaged in agriculture frequently lived as part of the farmer’s household: to his dying day, one former prisoner referred to the farmer and his wife as 'my English parents'. And the prisoners quickly gained a reputation for being industrious and reliable: ‘We felt that working is good for you,’ one German said. ‘We met the farmers, we met English people and liked them as human beings and there were often really friendly relationships. And we didn’t want to let the farmers down so we worked hard.’
     

    The tractor and threshing machine on this Gloucestershire farm fall silent for a short time as German POWs take a break from work. (Image rights: Patrick Barrett)

     

    There are numerous examples of German POWs meeting local women and falling in love. Although at first fraternisation of this kind was strictly verboten, it eventually became possible for the prisoners to marry their British sweethearts. When this news was announced in the House of Commons it was greeted with loud cheering. Around 800 marriages took place almost immediately, and hundreds – possibly thousands – followed.
     

    Theo and Joan Dengel on the occasion of their engagement in 1948 (image rights: Theo Dengel)


    Britain began to repatriate the prisoners in September 1946, and by mid-1948 virtually all of them had been sent home. But by this time many had forged strong links with the UK, and wanted to stay in the country instead of going back to Germany.  A last-minute change of heart on the part of the government made it possible for 25,000 to remain in the UK permanently.   A famous example was the legendary soccer player, Bert Trautmann, who received the OBE in 2004 for promoting Anglo-German understanding through football. 

    Others have made a valuable contribution to their adopted country in their own individual ways. And to quote the distinguished academic, Dr. J. A. Hellen, Britain’s experience with the German prisoners ‘had the unintended and long-term effect of re-educating the British themselves in their perceptions of and attitudes towards the German enemy in particular, and to Europeans in general.’ 
     

    Hitler's Last Army by Robin Quinn


    Robin Quinn is the author of Hitler's Last Army. 400,000 GERMAN TROOPS ON BRITISH SOIL! In 1940, when Adolf Hitler planned to invade Britain, his greatest wish was to read a headline like this. Yet, five years later, there really were 400,000 German servicemen in the UK – not as conquerors but as prisoners of war. They were, in every sense, Hitler’s Last Army. Using exclusive interviews with former prisoners, as well as extensive archive material, this book looks at the Second World War from a fresh perspective – that of Britain’s German prisoners: from the shock of being captured to their final release long after the war had ended. 


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  • 01/01/15--03:00: New Year's resolutions
  • blank page, coffee cup


    January is named after Janus, the two-faced Roman god who looks backwards into the old year and forwards into the new so it is fitting that the majority of people use the dawning of a new year as both  a moment to reflect over the year gone by and an opportunity to make changes. 

    A new month offers the perfect opportunity to look forward across the year and answer the question ‘How can we keep up our momentum this year in the things that we do?’ There were many significant anniversaries last year and January provides an ideal opportunity to look back at both what you have achieved so far but also to provide the momentum and impetus for the changes that you still want or need to take place. If you have a date to work towards, your motivation and willpower remains on a high and clearly, using special dates and anniversaries can be a powerful motivational tool and can provide the push that is needed to complete your goals. 

    30 days may feel like a long time to give up chocolate but maybe it's just the right length of time to start that book you've been meaning to write, or maybe you have some old photos hidden away that need sorting through? The new year is the perfect time to knuckle down and add some flesh to the bones of that project you have been working on (or putting off!).

    When starting a new project, structure and planning is essential but not very exciting. The difficulty can arise when trying to maintain enthusiasm beyond the first flush of interest, and so we asked our authors how they maintain their enthusiasm when researching and writing their books. We have condensed their experience into 12 top tips on staying motivated and maintaining momentum which are perfect for getting you started on that project that you have been avoiding. 

    Plus, if you do fall off the wagon with your resolutions,  console yourself with the thought that you are not alone. Richard Wiseman, a well-known psychologist,  discovered that 52% of people making New Year's resolutions were confident they'd stick it out. Yet only 12% did. So why bother? New Year's resolutions are ‘a triumph of hope over experience’  and a way of assessing how far you have come.

    If all else fails just remind yourself that giving up stuff for a month, probably won’t do you much good anyway…  


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    Some of the biggest challenges that crop up when making lifestyle changes, however big or small, are related to motivation (or the lack thereof!) and maintaining your momentum can be one of the most difficult things to do. We asked our authors for their tips and they provided 12 top tips, to keep you motivated and on track with your goals. 

    1. Turn off the internet and avoid social networks. Facebook and Twitter are not your friend.

    2. Just start writing. The hardest part is getting started but you can’t edit what isn't there, so get something down on paper or on screen.

    3. Discipline is key. Think about your aims and write goals to reflect them.

    4. Practice makes perfect. Like any skill, writing needs to be done regularly to see any kind of improvement. Writing every day helps to keep you focused and ensures that you don’t stray from your objectives (see above)

    5. Stop writing when you are not quite through with what you want to say. Apparently Ernest Hemingway used this technique which he outlines in ‘A Moveable Feast’; 'I had learned already never to empty the well of my writing; but always to stop when there was still something there in the deep part of the well, and let it refill at night from the springs that fed it'

    6. Enjoy what you are writing about. If you are genuinely passionate about your subject, it will show in your writing and it will be more engaging for your readers.

    7.Share your research with an interested audience and get some feedback. Whether it is positive or critical, it will help to refine your writing and improve your book.

    8. Working to a schedule with firm deadlines helps you focus; it is amazing how much easier it is to write when your deadline is looming!

    9. Being professional makes all the difference. Don’t just sit in your pyjamas to write, however tempting it may be, as your prose could end up as slovenly as your clothes…

    10. Saying that, flexibility is key. If a chapter isn't working, try focusing on another one to shake off that mental block. Doing other exciting things can also help shake you out of a creative stupor; and a visit to a key location can get those creative juices flowing!

    11. Have a genuine desire to share stories and remember history.

    12. Perhaps most importantly, reward yourself with good food and drink. Our authors suggest coffee, cookies or hot chocolate with a Flake…

    Join the discussion on Facebook and Twitter and share your tips for getting, and staying motivated.


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  • 01/07/15--11:00: Jazz and Dark Briggate Blues
  • Jazz. To some it’s beautiful, to others it’s a dirty word...

    Jazz.

    To some it’s beautiful, to others it’s a dirty word. For Dan Markham, the main character in Dark Briggate Blues, it’s the staff of life.

    He discovered the music in the late 1940s, thanks to an American PFC he met in Germany while performing his National Service, and it was love at first listen.

    The angular piano of Thelonious Monk, the haunted voice of Billie Holiday, the kick of the Basie Band on “One O’Clock Jump,” the smoothness of Ella Fitzgerald; all the facets of the music resonate deep inside him.

    In 1954, when the book is set, it was music that few in England knew. Even fewer cared. The country had its own jazz stars, like Ken Colyer, but their music looked back to the New Orleans birth of jazz with Dixieland or Trad Jazz (as it was often known). The newer stuff was simply for the strange. It was difficult to find. Nowhere in Leeds would have stocked more than a disc or two; for anything worthwhile, mail order from Dobell’s in London was the only way to buy. It was slow and it was expensive.

    One thing Leeds did have, though, was a jazz club. The Studio 20 of Dark Briggate Blues did exist, in a cellar – and let’s face it, all the best music clubs are in cellars – at 20, New Briggate. It was run by a jazz aficionado called Bob Barclay and open seven nights a week. Some well-known names, like singer George Melly, did make appearances. Musicians who worked in the pit orchestras at City Varieties or the Grand, and others from local dance bands would have come to jam once their paying gigs were done for the evening.

    In New York, jazz had been a staple of nightlife since the days of the speakeasies in the 1920s. The Cotton Club in Harlem had sophistication (and was, incidentally, owned by some born in Leeds, the gangster Owney Madden), which the clubs along 52nd Street in midtown Manhattan had style an ambience.

    From photos of the place, Studio 20 had none of those things. No special lighting, no bandstand. No one in evening dress. It was simply a very provincial English jazz club, a place not only for faithful listeners, but for a jazz community, where the musical outsiders could feel at home. And in his love of jazz, Markham is an outsider.

    So many, certainly in the mainstream, thought it was nothing more than noise, much the way they’d view rock’n’roll just a short time after this. It was never going to bother the pops charts, which had only begun two years before. And it was unlikely to be played on the Home Service, although they’d develop a taste for a few morsels of trad jazz. If you wanted jazz, or blues, on the radio, you had to find a Voice of America broadcast.

    The music is vital to the book. It’s vital to Dan Markham. It defines him more than anything else. He enjoys his job, but work comes and goes. A case is a case; when it’s over, it’s time to move on to the next one. But jazz is always there in his life. It’s the constant. It’s home.

    And Studio 20 is home away from home.

     

    Dan’s music:
     

    * Miles Davis – Round Midnight

    * Ella Fitzgerald – Blues In The Night

    * Bud Powell – Un Poco Loco

    * Count Basie – One O’Clock Jump

    * Billy Eckstine – Stormy Monday

    * Charlie Parker – Donna Lee

    * Sarah Vaughan – Someone To Watch Over Me

    * Thelonious Monk – Blue Monk

    * Duke Ellington – Prelude To A Kiss

    * Tubby Hayes – Round About Midnight

    * Ella Fitzgerald – Do Nothing ‘Til You Hear From Me

    * Coleman Hawkins – Body And Soul

    * Dexter Gordon – A Night In Tunisia

    * Lester Young – A Foggy Day In London Town

    * George Shearing – How High The Moon

    * Art Tatum – I Got Rhythm

    * Billie Holiday – God Bless The Child

    * Thelonious Monk – Round About Midnight


    The list is available to play on Spotify here and is also available on YouTube here.


    Dark Briggate Blues: A Dan Markham Mystery by Chris Nickson

    Chris Nickson is the author of Dark Briggate Blues, which is set in Leeds 1954. When Joanna Hart came into his office, enquiry agent Dan Markham thought it would be an easy case. All the blonde with red lips and swinging hips wanted was to know if her husband was unfaithful. But when the man is killed, Markham’s involvement makes him suspect number one. As the evidence piles against him, he realises someone has set him up. In a deadly game, Markham has to battle to keep his client and himself alive. All he can rely on are his wits and the rusty skills he acquired during his National Service in military intelligence. But can he hope to be any match against a killer who has spies on every corner of Leeds and a reach that goes all the way to Whitehall?


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  • 01/09/15--05:00: The Friday Digest 09/01/15
  • THP Friday digest

    Happy new year from The History Press! This week's update features the beautiful and mysterious Lady of Elche, the 'unkillable soldier' who fought in three major conflicts and some 2015 digital publishing predictions. 


    Stonehenge

      

    2014: the year in archaeology 


    The remains of Herod's Palace, the site of Jesus' trial, has been discovered near the Tower of David in Jerusalem.

     

    * The remains of Herod's Palace, the site of Jesus' trial, has been discovered near the Tower of David in Jerusalem.


    Caistor Collage ©D. A. Edwards, Norfolk County Council, Norfolk

     

    * Six sites that help us better understand Roman entertainment.

     

    Constance Wilde in Heidelberg in 1896


    * The sudden death of the wife of Oscar Wilde at the tender age of 40 has long been a mystery but private family letters have unearthed medical evidence which point towards the likely cause of her death


    The mysterious Lady of Elche


    * The beautiful and mysterious Lady of Elche.

     

    5000 medieval coins - photo from Weekend Wanderers Detecting Club 

    Over 5,000 medieval coins were discovered on a farm in Buckinghamshire last month, thought to be one of the largest hoards of Anglo Saxon coins ever found in Britain. 


    The remains of Herod's Palace, the site of Jesus' trial, has been discovered near the Tower of David in Jerusalem


     * If you knew you were unexpectedly leaving your home for the very last time, what would you take with you?


    De Wiart


    * Adrian Carton de Wiart: the unkillable, one-eyed, one-handed war hero who fought in three major conflicts across six decades


    Bernard Jordan served in the Royal Navy


    D-Day veteran 'escapee' Bernard Jordan has died at the age of 90


    Evacuation was voluntary, but the fear of bombing, the closure of many urban schools and the organised transportation of school groups helped persuade families to send their children away to live with strangers. The schoolchildren in this photograph assembled at Myrdle School in Stepney at 5am on 1 September 1939. The adults accompanying them are wearing arm bands, which identify them as volunteer marshals. D 1939A

     

    * The evacuated children of the Second World War


    Presley, mutton-chopped and fuller-faced, sings into a handheld microphone. A golden lei is draped around his neck, and he wears a high-collared white jumpsuit resplendent with red, blue, and gold bangles. Presley in Aloha from Hawaii, broadcast live via satellite on January 14, 1973. The singer himself came up with his famous outfit's eagle motif, as "something that would say 'America' to the world."


    * The King at 80: why America couldn't let Elvis go ... 


    Creative Review Your Life On Earth


    Your life on Earth: how you and the world have changed since you were born


    Ugly Animals


    * We can't all be pandas! Meet the world's ugliest endangered animals and the campaign to save them ... 


    samsung-self-portrait-selfies-1

     

    * Famous self-portrait paintings turned into selfies


    Chatsworth House, Derbyshire. Flickr: alpharich / Creative Commons


    Sixteen gorgeous locations from Pride And Prejudice that you can actually visit


    Which Classic Literary Heroine Are You?


    * Which literary heroine are you?

     

    The Bennets take the country air in the 2005 film adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, but is this the classic read for you? Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex

     

    Which classic book would be perfect for you?  

     

    All the joy has been sapped out of English GCSE. Photograph: George Blonsky/Alamy


    * 'I love books so why do I hate studying English GCSE?' 


     A Year of Books


    Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has set up a book club on the social networking site, which attracted more than 120,000 likes in three days.

     

    Kate Saunders, who has won the Costa Children's Book Award for Five Children on the Western Front

     

    * Kate Saunders's son Felix committed suicide in 2012. A year later she began to write Five Children on the Western Front, a children's book about the First World War.

     

    E-reader and books. When you include 'digital audio books, book apps and digital academic textbooks, and we see a sector broadening not wilting'. Photograph: Martin Argles for the Guardian 

    Do you agree with Philip Jones that ebooks are champions of the printed word?  

     

    Your 2015 digital publishing predictions and questions for Seth Godin and Mary Ann Naples


    James Patterson

    World Book Day launches inaugural award with £50,000 donation from bestselling author James Patterson.

     

    Best of 2014


    A ranking of the best literary moments of 2014.

     

      Which history and publishing stories have you enjoyed reading this week?


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    Marshal Michel Ney. Proud and argumentative, over the course of more than twenty-five years in the army he frequently bickered with fellow officers on matters both tactical and strategic.

     

    Charismatic, courageous, temperamental, passionate, quick-tempered, brilliant and brave beyond question, Ney was so determined to place himself in the thick of battle at Waterloo that he denied the army the ‘eyes and ears’ of its de facto battlefield commander, thereby allowing events to move beyond his immediate control. Ney doubtless inspired his troops in the assault, but in so doing reduced himself at best to another corps – or probably more accurately, a divisional or even brigade – commander. Possessing brash manners and displaying unpredictable behaviour, he was not entirely trusted by a number of generals during the campaign of 1815 – and perhaps for good reason – for after boasting that he would bring Napoleon home in a cage, Ney famously changed sides, a problem highlighted by the fact that he had only held command for three days before Waterloo and therefore did not know his subordinates, many of whom resented his sudden appointment.

    Unlike Napoleon, Ney possessed personal experience of confronting Wellington, having served in the Peninsula for three years, most notably in 1810 at Busaco where he rashly launched his forces against a well-defended and formidable ridge. But he later served brilliantly in Russia and Germany until, after Allied forces occupied Paris in April 1814 and thus rendered all hope of further resistance futile, he led a group of marshals who insisted upon Napoleon’s abdication. When the emperor refused, declaring ‘The Army will obey me!’, Ney disarmed him with a flourish of reality: ‘Sire, the Army will obey its generals’.

    During the Hundred Days’ campaign Ney committed a number of mistakes at Quatre Bras, attacking late, launching attacks in piecemeal fashion and failing to use combined arms to break Anglo-Allied resistance.

     

    Battle Story Waterloo

     

    Gregory Fremont-Barnes holds a doctorate in Modern History from the University of Oxford and serves as a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. A prolific author, his books on this period include Waterloo 1815, The French Revolutionary Wars, The Peninsular War, 1807–14, The Fall of the French Empire, 1813–15, Nile 1798 and Trafalgar 1805. He also edited Armies of the Napoleonic Wars and the three-volume Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. As an academic advisor, Dr Fremont-Barnes has accompanied several groups of British Army officers and senior NCOs in their visits to the battlefields of the Peninsula and to Waterloo. 


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    Despite being 72 in 1815, Blücher exhibited boundless energy,prompting his men to nickname him ‘Marschall Vorwärts’ (‘Marshal Forwards’) in recognition of his relentless commitment to offensive action.

     

    Aggressive, excessively driven, hard-drinking and affable, Blücher displayed more the traits of an NCO than of an officer – much less a field marshal. Yet he was the right man for the job: Prussia needed an offensive-minded commander-in-chief during the years 1813–15 and Blücher deserves considerable credit for honouring his promise to assist Wellington during the Waterloo campaign. In light of the Prussians’ severe mauling at Ligny, the determination of the man becomes all the more apparent.

    Blücher began his military service in the 1750s, serving in the Seven Years War (1756–63) and later in the Revolutionary Wars, mostly on the Rhine. He commanded a cavalry corps under the Duke of Brunswick during Prussia’s ill-fated campaign of 1806, in which Blücher displayed an ill-advised, impetuous keenness to attack at Auerstädt, so contributing to Count Hohenlohe’s abject defeat. Undaunted, he not only held the line to enable the bulk of the army to retreat, but managed through sheer force of character and a driving will to lead 22,000 survivors to Lübeck, on the Baltic coast, earning the eternal admiration of his countrymen in his capacity as the last Prussian field commander to capitulate to the French, for whom Blücher possessed a particular loathing – a view he openly expressed. As a consequence, during the long period of his country’s occupation – formalised by the Treaty of Tilsit in July 1807, Blücher was deliberately excluded from senior command.

    When King Frederick William III joined the Sixth Coalition in early 1813, Blücher enthusiastically accepted command of Prussian forces and, despite suffering initial defeats at Lützen and Bautzen, pressed on remorselessly to participate in the colossal struggle at Leipzig. He played an instrumental role in numerous engagements during the campaign in France which followed, confirming throughout these years his reputation as an inspirational leader.

     

    Battle Story Waterloo

     

    Gregory Fremont-Barnes holds a doctorate in Modern History from the University of Oxford and serves as a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. A prolific author, his books on this period include Waterloo 1815, The French Revolutionary Wars, The Peninsular War, 1807–14, The Fall of the French Empire, 1813–15, Nile 1798 and Trafalgar 1805. He also edited Armies of the Napoleonic Wars and the three-volume Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. As an academic advisor, Dr Fremont-Barnes has accompanied several groups of British Army officers and senior NCOs in their visits to the battlefields of the Peninsula and to Waterloo. 


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    The main gate which the French took by surprise was defended by the Coldstream & Scots Guards. On the closing of the gate, the Duke said afterwards, the whole battle had depended. From late C19th Gibb painting


    A typical British soldier


    British soldiers tended to hail from the lowest social strata, though the popular image of recruits taking the king’s shilling as an alternative to prison does not entirely stand up to scrutiny, for many gave up work as artisans, petty tradesmen, millers and agricultural workers. Nor did Wellington’s oft-quoted condemnation of his men as the ‘scum of the earth’ actually represent his broad view of the common soldier – or indeed reflect anything more, when the remark is examined in its full context – than a criticism of those elements who drank to excess and looted. There is no denying that heavy drinking and outright drunkenness figured high amongst the vices characteristic of the common British soldier, who faced flogging as a consequence. A dozen lashes was not an uncommon sentence, though a man might endure many dozens at the whim of his colonel. The British soldier viewed this seemingly inordinately harsh practice with equanimity, for life in the army reflected life in society at large: imprisonment for debt, widespread criminality, no social welfare to speak of, hard living, a poor prospect of longevity, and little in the way of personal comforts. The common soldier intensely disliked arbitrary, unjustified or excessive punishments inflicted upon himself or his  comrades, but not the practice of harsh punishment per se. So long as an officer used his power judiciously, with the punishment fitting the crime, his men respected his position of authority.

    The British soldier was a particularly tough breed, for while he enjoyed a reputation for grumbling, he accepted his fate with resignation – and frequently with good humour. With proper training he ranked amongst the best soldiers in Europe. Certainly at Waterloo he was at least the equal of his French counterpart, with a stalwart attitude to defence and a keen readiness to engage his opponent once committed to the fray by the sword-wielding lieutenant of his platoon. Unlike his French counterpart, the British soldier was less willing overtly to express enthusiasm or anger; yet his quiet disposition belied a determination in battle which rendered him formidable indeed, particularly when skilled in the use of his musket, for whatever his shortcomings, no infantry in Europe could deliver a rate of fire to equal his. 

    *


    A typical French soldier


    A French infantryman, or fusilier, carried a knapsack supported by straps which extended over the shoulder and under the armpit, plus a leather cartridge box suspended on a belt slung over the left shoulder. Often he wore a second belt over the right shoulder which carried a bayonet or a short sword. He invariably carried a canteen, plus a rolled greatcoat or blanket either fastened on top of his knapsack or slung diagonally across his front or back. He usually also carried a mess tin and haversack. The burden of all this equipment, including several day’s supply of rations, changes of clothes and various personal effects, could weigh as much as 60lb – quite apart from his musket. Soldiers probably valued their boots above all other items of clothing and equipment, for unless well-shod he was destined to the miserable experience of marching barefoot. During the Waterloo campaign he lived in a bivouac with nothing more to protect him than the shelter of his blanket or greatcoat.

    A soldier passed his time in camp with letter-writing, gambling, playing music and telling stories. His lot generally consisted of marching, establishing camp, cleaning his weapon, and drill. Officers expected strict discipline and although they had largely long since ceased to strike their soldiers in the ranks to ensure the proper alignment of the ranks, flogging remained the principal corporal method of punishing serious infractions, such as sleeping on duty or, above all, desertion. Rations varied according to availability, but a typical infantryman could expect a sufficient quantity of bread, cheese, meat and wine on a daily basis, particularly during the Waterloo campaign, when the shortness of the operations caused no shortage of supplies. If not actually conscripted, a soldier might join the ranks for a number of motives, usually a combination of several: the desire for comradeship and a sense of belonging to the extended ‘family’ which the army represented; a chance for adventure and possibly even ‘glory’, however an individual chose to define that elusive but well-respected concept; promotion within an institution famous for its egalitarian culture; as an alternative to prison, if a magistrate offered such an option; but, above all, an escape from poverty, for the army provided regular food, pay and accommodation, even if on a rudimentary scale. 

     

    Battle Story Waterloo


    Gregory Fremont-Barnes holds a doctorate in Modern History from the University of Oxford and serves as a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. A prolific author, his books on this period include Waterloo 1815, The French Revolutionary Wars, The Peninsular War, 1807–14, The Fall of the French Empire, 1813–15, Nile 1798 and Trafalgar 1805. He also edited Armies of the Napoleonic Wars and the three-volume Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. As an academic advisor, Dr Fremont-Barnes has accompanied several groups of British Army officers and senior NCOs in their visits to the battlefields of the Peninsula and to Waterloo. 


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    The duke in characteristic semi-civilian dress: a dark blue coat covered by a cloak and cape of the same colour, completed with a white neckcloth .

     

    The most successful of the many commanders who fought the French over the course of a generation, he was the fourth son of the Earl of Mornington, a minor member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. Wellesley joined the army in 1787, fighting his first action in Flanders in 1794 before being sent to India four years later. Thanks to the position of his brother, Richard, as governor general, he commanded troops at the great siege of Seringapatam in 1799, demonstrating remarkable skills in staff work. Thereafter Wellesley fought in successive campaigns in southern India, most notably the campaign against the Mahrattas in 1803 when, massively outnumbered at Assaye, he defied the odds and routed his opponents.

    By the time he commanded the expeditionary force to Portugal in August 1808 Wellesley possessed a reputation for a high degree of efficiency, particularly on logistical matters. He immediately proved himself fit for so important a command, achieving success at Roliça and Vimeiro, where he began the long series of virtually unbroken Peninsular victories down to 1814 for which he is justly celebrated.

    Raised to the peerage as Marquis (and eventually Duke of) Wellington in 1809, his many achievements in Iberia included the training of Portuguese units and their successful integration into divisions of the British Army; the establishment of the formidable defensive lines at Torres Vedras which protected Lisbon; and the groundwork laid for the offensive into Spain undertaken in 1812.

    Wellington maintained strict discipline within the ranks, in so doing establishing a first-rate, highly proficient fighting force which perfected methods for overpowering French columns through a combination of sustained musket fire and bayonet charges. After ousting French forces from Spain, he crossed the frontier and took Toulouse, shortly after which the campaign ended when other Allied armies took Paris in March 1814.

    Wellington served as one of the British delegates at the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15, assuming command of Anglo-Allied forces in Belgium upon Napoleon’s return from Elba.


    Detached and inaccessible, if the duke did not enjoy his soldier’s affections he certainly earned their respect – and for sound reasons. Always present to lend an air of calm and to set an example of steadiness during a crisis in battle, he invariably issued prompt, exact, laconic orders and seldom spoke except to issue a command. Oblivious to shot and shell, the duke displayed no concern for his own safety. Proof of his regular presence near the frontline manifested itself in stark terms, for more than half of his staff officers were killed or wounded during the course of the day. Wellington disliked delegating responsibility to subordinates when he could handle a matter personally. Unlike nearly all his subordinates, the duke shunned the ostentation of senior officer’s dress, preferring to wear a simple, unadorned cocked hat, blue frock coat and cape. Nor did he insist on smartness within the ranks. Rather, he demanded a high state of fighting discipline and proficiency in musket fire, since the principal ingredient of success in battle lay in a unit’s ability to stand fast while delivering – as well as receiving – fire. 

     

    Battle Story Waterloo


    Gregory Fremont-Barnes holds a doctorate in Modern History from the University of Oxford and serves as a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. A prolific author, his books on this period include Waterloo 1815, The French Revolutionary Wars, The Peninsular War, 1807–14, The Fall of the French Empire, 1813–15, Nile 1798 and Trafalgar 1805. He also edited Armies of the Napoleonic Wars and the three-volume Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. As an academic advisor, Dr Fremont-Barnes has accompanied several groups of British Army officers and senior NCOs in their visits to the battlefields of the Peninsula and to Waterloo. 


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    The greatest commander since Alexander the Great, Napoleon led forces at more than sixty battles between 1796 and 1815, with some of his most impressive fought during the Allied invasion of France little more than a year before the Waterloo campaign.

     

    Few military or political figures have stamped their impression so strongly on an epoch than Napoleon, who rose from fairly humble origins on Corsica to the throne of France at the age of thirty-five. After schooling in France in the 1780s, he established a name for himself during the siege of Toulon in 1793. He played an instrumental role in protecting his political masters two years later when with his guns he swept the streets clear of a Royalist mob, in recognition for which in 1796 the government appointed him commander-in-chief of the army in Italy. In the course of his campaign against the Austrians Napoleon demonstrated both strategic and tactical brilliance, securing an exceptionally favourable peace settlement for his country – not to mention an enhanced military reputation for himself.

    After an abortive campaign in Egypt and Palestine in 1798–99, the young general returned to France and instigated a coup d’état. After crossing the Alps in 1800 and drubbing the resurgent Austrians in a lightning campaign, he promulgated the Napoleonic Code and other social and political reforms before crowning himself emperor in 1804. His subsequent successes in the field – in which he decisively defeated the forces of Austria, Prussia and Russia in a series of brilliant campaigns between 1805 and 1807 – marked the high-water mark of his military career.

    Blind ambition, however, soon got the better of him, and his ill-fated adventures, first in Iberia from 1808 and then in Russia four years later, opened cracks in Napoleon’s hitherto seemingly invulnerable empire, and in the campaigns fought successively in Germany and France in 1813–14, the beleaguered emperor found himself on the defensive, eventually overwhelmed by an irresistible coalition which captured Paris and forced the emperor’s abdication – albeit temporarily – for he returned briefly to power during the ‘Hundred Days’, when comprehensive defeat at Waterloo put a definitive end to the era that aptly bears his name.

     

    Battle Story Waterloo

     

    Gregory Fremont-Barnes holds a doctorate in Modern History from the University of Oxford and serves as a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. A prolific author, his books on this period include Waterloo 1815, The French Revolutionary Wars, The Peninsular War, 1807–14, The Fall of the French Empire, 1813–15, Nile 1798 and Trafalgar 1805. He also edited Armies of the Napoleonic Wars and the three-volume Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. As an academic advisor, Dr Fremont-Barnes has accompanied several groups of British Army officers and senior NCOs in their visits to the battlefields of the Peninsula and to Waterloo. 


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  • 02/27/15--03:00: The Friday Digest 27/02/15
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features Harry Potter cocktails, nineteenth-century medical fraudsters and the rise and fall of Diana Mitford.


    Wellington


    * Six reasons why France should salute the Iron Duke.


    Mein Kampf Hidajet Delic / ASSOCIATED PRESS


    Hitler's Mein Kampf is to be republished in Germany for the first time since the Second World War


    Diana Mitford. Picture: Daily Mail /Rex Features

     

    * The rise and fall of Diana Mitford


    VE Day


    * The BBC plans to mark the 70th anniversary of VE Day and honour the 'Greatest Generation'


    Painting of Lady Margaret Douglas from 1560-1565. Unknown author.


    * Lady Margaret Douglas: the other Tudor princess  ...  


    (BBC/Company Productions Ltd)


    * The truth about the Wolf Hall codpieces: an interview with costume designer Joanna Eatwell


    Great Pyramid of Giza. Egypt. © Olgakostenko | Dreamstime.com


    * Ten of the most surprising numbers in history


    The medieval city of Carcassonne © Alamy


    My favourite place: Sean McGlynn


    Edmond O'Brien with Grace Kelly in 1955


    * Are these the best Oscars dresses ever?  


    ‘With Bewick on my knee, I was happy’ … Charlotte Brontë and pages from British Birds. Photograph: Getty/Bernard Quaritch

     

    * The rarity that inspired Charlotte Brontë – and her pseudonym ... 


    Interview with writer Laura Quigley by Nicole Melanson - photo by Benjamin Borley

     

    * An interview with author Laura Quigley


    Leeds Mercury – Saturday 10 December 1892 Image © THE BRITISH LIBRARY BOARD. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.


    * The nineteenth-century medical fraudsters who got caught out


    The book is now on display at the Selkirk Pop Up Community Museum (SWNS)



    * The lost Sherlock Holmes story discovered in an attic


    The Killing of Olga Klimt by R.T. Raichev


    * Reviewing The Killing of Olga Klimt by R.T. Raichev


    In “Webster Two Point Oh” (2008), Dettmer connects two dictionaries to expose a new architecture to the books, creating "random poetry."Image courtesy of the artist and Kinz + Tillou Fine Art.


    * Books as you’ve never seen them before ...


    Null

     

    * These are the best novels of the past twenty years, according to the experts, but do you agree


    The end of celluloid might be near, but this devoted cinephile keeps the old movie magic alive in his east London shop

     

    The end of celluloid might be near, but this devoted cinephile keeps the old movie magic alive in his east London shop

     

    authors Lydia Syson and Helen Grant

    * Why writing doesn't have to be a lonely struggle


    The imprint of meaningful things


    * The imprint of meaningful things

     

    Women in publishing -- achievements and challenges


    * Women in publishing: achievements and challenges.

     

    Butterbeer

     

    * Eight magical Harry Potter cocktails to try this weekend ...   


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    In February 2015 the UK Ministry of Defence announced that 77 Brigade is to be reformed. This new unit will specialise in cyber warfare, social media and other unconventional tools in conflict situations. It also announced that the new unit will take its inspiration from the Chindits – specially trained troops who fought behind Japanese lines in Burma during World War Two. The new 77 Brigade’s shoulder flash is a design based on the Chindits’ famous Chinthé badge, using the motif of the 'fabulous lions' which guard the entrances to Burmese pagodas.

    The 3,000 men of the original 77 Brigade were the first of the Chindits. Led by General Orde Wingate, they marched into occupied Burmain 1943 and destroyed Japanese supply depots and attacked rail and other communication targets. They paid heavily: around one-third were lost and wounded and sick who could no longer march had to be left behind. The health of 600 of the survivors was so poor that they were unable to regain combat fitness and rejoin the fight.

    This first Chindit campaign caused little material damage overall, but the ease with which these troops infiltrated North Burma had a profound effect on Japanese thinking. After Operation Longcloth, the 1943 Chindit expedition, the Japanese decided that their defensive posture in Burma was no longer viable. Accordingly, they decided to mount an offensive against Assam, aimed primarily at Imphal and Kohima. This led to their eventual defeat and undoing in Burma, during 1944 and 1945.

    Despite the heavy casualties suffered by 77 Brigade’s Operation Longcloth columns, Wingate considered his visionary concept of 'Long Range Penetration' (the infiltration of jungle fighters behind Japanese lines, supplied entirely by air) had been fully vindicated.

    Wingate’s plans for a second Chindit campaign – Operation Thursday – caught the imagination of Churchill, who ensured that he got more than he wanted for this much larger expedition. Six Brigades (including a refitted 77 Brigade) were trained as Chindits and became 'Special Force'. The 23 Brigade was deployed to disrupt communications behind the Japanese attacking Imphal and Kohima. Another Brigade, the 16 Brigade, marched in but the other four Brigades became an air landing force. The Chindits now had a private air force – the American No. 1 Air Commando – with gliders for assault landings, C-47 transports to airlift in the main force, light planes for casualty evacuation and a force of Mustang fighter bombers and B.25 bombers trained in ultra-close air support.

    The men of 16 Brigade opened Operation Thursday in the early weeks of 1944, when they began a long penetration march into Burma. This involved some of the worst country on earth. A Chindit carried his home on his back. The typical weight of a Chindit heavy pack, small pack and weapons was around 72lb (80lb for a Bren Gunner).  The men were carrying half their body weight. The weight increased when their equipment was wet – which it was for most of the time, as North Burma is the wettest region on earth (with the exception of dry teak jungle, which has no water at all). They operated, for the most part, in the dim green light under the jungle canopy, with visibility often 30 ft or less. They lived with the constant fear of ambush. Most ambushes were, in effect, accidents – with a Chindit column and a Japanese force 'bumping into' each other. The men also lived with the fear of disease, such as the deadly cerebral malaria and scrub typhus.

    Typical temperatures were 110-112 deg. F., with extreme humidity. Clothes and webbing rotted in the rain and sweat. A Chindit required 12 pints of water daily, but often had to go without. They subsisted almost entirely on air-dropped K rations. Each man was supposed to receive three meal packs per day for five days (i.e. 15 packs). Airdrops were often cancelled or were unsuccessful, with stores missing the drop zone, and five days’ rations had to last eight days or longer. The author’s father, Rifleman and Bren Gunner Jack Redding (of 41 Column, King’s Own Royal Regiment, 111 Brigade), lost three stone in 18 weeks while behind the lines.

    Jack Redding was among several hundred troops who set out from Lalaghat airfield, Assam, in assault gliders on Sunday, March 5, 1944. Dual-towed behind C-47 transports, they flew on in bright moonlight over occupied Burma. Their destination was 'Broadway', a rough jungle clearing 150 miles behind Japanese lines. Many gliders were lost but the landing was unopposed. The advance party worked round the clock to improve the clearing, allowing C-47s to land late the following day.

    The second Chindit campaign unfolded, marred by the tragic loss of Wingate in an air crash, only three weeks into the operation. Nevertheless, the men of 77 Brigade put a highly effective block on the main railway supplying the Japanese armies in the north. This 'stronghold' was held for seven weeks, despite daily attacks by Japanese forces determined to penetrate the wire and kill everyone inside.

    The Japanese never captured White City, which was abandoned only at a time of the Chindits’ choosing. Special Force columns headed north and put a new block on the railway. This was known as Blackpool. It was sited too close to the Japanese front line; within three weeks the enemy broke in, having made the re-supply of the block impossible by bringing up AA guns. The garrison of around 2,000 men escaped with their lives by a miracle, although some of the most seriously wounded were shot, to prevent them falling into Japanese hands.

    With Wingate gone, the Chindits came under the command of the American anglophobe General Stillwell. They were misused as assault troops and kept in during the monsoon. Eventually, most of them could hardly stand, let alone march. It is generally accepted that the Chindits experienced probably the worst sustained infantry fighting experience of the Second World War. Many men lost one-third of their body weight whilst in Burma. Everyone went to hospital on coming out; the majority could no longer take solid food. Most were suffering from 'Chindit Syndrome', a condition in which the individual soldier had two or three conditions – typically malaria, dysentery and septic jungle sores – any one of which required hospitalisation.

    Today, the new 77 Brigade inherits a proud legacy. That Chindit flash, the 'fabulous lion', means more today, to the handful of surviving veterans, than words can possibly express.
     

     

    Tony Redding is a former journalist and the author War in the Wilderness: Chindits in Burma 1943-1944, Flying for Freedom: Life and death in Bomber Command and Best Endeavours: Inside the World of Marine Salvage. He is a Member of the Institute of Public Relations. He was inspired to write this book by his father’s time as a Chindit in the Second World War. He lives in Canterbury.


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  • 03/06/15--04:20: The Friday Digest 06/03/15
  • THP Friday digest

    This week's update features unusual libraries, a brief history of pin-ups and the Napoleonic Dad's Army.


    Joseph Beaume, Napoleon Bonaparte leaving Elba, 26 February 1815.

     

    Why the anniversary of Napoleon's escape from Elba is a bigger deal than Waterloo.

     

    Volunteer Corps in Action.

     

    'Dad's Army' in the Napoleonic Wars.

     

    Remembering the Red Army soldier. Jonathan Noden-Wilkinson/Shutterstock

     

    Why doesn't Russia make a big deal about its role in liberating the Nazi Holocaust death camps

     

    The gates of Auschwitz

     

    A 94-year-old man has been charged with 3,681 counts of accessory to murder after serving in the Auschwitz death camp during the Second World War.

     

    Marie had fake ID, in the name of Johanna Koch, after she evaded capture by the Nazis in wartime Berlin

     

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin and how I outwitted the Gestapo

     

    Screen-shot-2015-03-04-at-12.29.43 Images captured from the MY Octopus, Allen's megayacht.

     

    Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen has claimed that he has found the wreckage of one of Japan's largest battleships in the Sibuyan Sea after an eight-year-long search for the vessel.

     

    Brief Encounter, 1945

     

    Did films reflect or shape gender roles in the Second World War?  

     

    Vogue, May 1939. Photo: IWM

     

    How the Second World War finally let women wear the trousers

     

    Colour tells the story, as well as the script. BBC/Company Productions Ltd

     

    Wolf Hall was intelligent, subtle and artistic but it was the meticulous costumes which stole the show

     

    UNESCO status: a mill stone round Edinburgh’s neck? Vaidotas Mišeikis, CC BY-SA

     

    How World Heritage status can be a poisoned chalice for cities ... 

     

    You don’t wanna mess with crooked King John. BBC/Lions TV

     

    Thoughts on Magna Carta, inspired by Horrible Histories.

     

    A great gerbil in Central Asia’s Karakum Desert.* CREDIT PHOTOGRAPH VIA ARTERRA PICTURE LIBRARY/ALAMY

     

    Of rats, gerbils, and men ...  

     

    A “were-jaguar” effigy, likely representing a combination of a human and spirit animal, is part of a still-buried ceremonial seat, or metate, one of many artifacts discovered in a cache in ruins deep in the Honduran jungle.  PHOTOGRAPH BY DAVE YODER, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC


    The lost city discovered in the Honduran rainforest.  

     

    Incomplete mandible with teeth was found by Ethiopian graduate student Chalachew Seyoum

     

    A fossilised jawbone found poking out of the ground in Ethiopia pushes the birth of humanity back by 400,000 years, to a time when early man shared the vast grassland plains of eastern Africa with a rich variety of prehistoric animals.

     

    Why early humans reshaped their children’s skulls.


    Why early humans reshaped their children’s skulls.


    Dreamliner: man’s fascination with flight.

     

    Dreamliner: man’s fascination with flight

     

    An unexpected lift by Gil Elvgren

     

    * A brief history of pin-ups

     

    Icelanders celebrate the legalisation of beer, 1 March 1989


    * Why Iceland banned beer until 1 March 1989.  

     

    Lambert Simnel: Richard III’s heir who 'had a stronger claim to the throne than Henry VII'


    * The 'pretender' Lambert Simnel was in fact Richard III’s heir who 'had a stronger claim to the throne than Henry VII' according to historian John Ashdown-Hill


     Charles Darwin


    * Eleven famous Britons who British people don't know anything about ... 

     

    Famous Crimes- The Murder of Polly Nichols

     

    * Jack the Ripper and our obsession with serial killers.  
     

    E. B. White's drawings of the vectors of the web-spinning process. Click image for more.

     

    * Author E.B. White on how to write for children and the writer’s responsibility to all readers.


    Null

     


    * The fifty books every child should read

     Celebrate a love of reading and get 15% off any book from The History Press with code HPBOOKDAY


    Celebrate a love of reading and get 15 per cent off any book from The History Press with code HPBOOKDAY.


    Penguin celebrates its 80th birthday – and cashes in on its past

     

    * Penguin celebrates its eightieth birthday – and cashes in on its past


    Which Brontë are you?

     

    Which Brontë are you?


    Source-y questions ... Ernest Hemingway at his typewriter. Photograph: AP


    * Where do these literary titles come from?  


    Null


    * The words and phrases that have just been added to the dictionary.


    In 2009, in the mountains of Trujillo state, Venezuela, the University Valle del Momboy started an unusual service – biblio-mules, These mobile libraries on mules' backs deliver books to the peasant children.


    * Ten very unusual libraries. 


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    The duke in characteristic semi-civilian dress: a dark blue coat covered by a cloak and cape of the same colour, completed with a white neckcloth .

     

    The most successful of the many commanders who fought the French over the course of a generation, he was the fourth son of the Earl of Mornington, a minor member of the Anglo-Irish aristocracy. Wellesley joined the army in 1787, fighting his first action in Flanders in 1794 before being sent to India four years later. Thanks to the position of his brother, Richard, as governor general, he commanded troops at the great siege of Seringapatam in 1799, demonstrating remarkable skills in staff work. Thereafter Wellesley fought in successive campaigns in southern India, most notably the campaign against the Mahrattas in 1803 when, massively outnumbered at Assaye, he defied the odds and routed his opponents.

    By the time he commanded the expeditionary force to Portugal in August 1808 Wellesley possessed a reputation for a high degree of efficiency, particularly on logistical matters. He immediately proved himself fit for so important a command, achieving success at Roliça and Vimeiro, where he began the long series of virtually unbroken Peninsular victories down to 1814 for which he is justly celebrated.

    Raised to the peerage as Marquis (and eventually Duke of) Wellington in 1809, his many achievements in Iberia included the training of Portuguese units and their successful integration into divisions of the British Army; the establishment of the formidable defensive lines at Torres Vedras which protected Lisbon; and the groundwork laid for the offensive into Spain undertaken in 1812.

    Wellington maintained strict discipline within the ranks, in so doing establishing a first-rate, highly proficient fighting force which perfected methods for overpowering French columns through a combination of sustained musket fire and bayonet charges. After ousting French forces from Spain, he crossed the frontier and took Toulouse, shortly after which the campaign ended when other Allied armies took Paris in March 1814.

    Wellington served as one of the British delegates at the Congress of Vienna in 1814–15, assuming command of Anglo-Allied forces in Belgium upon Napoleon’s return from Elba.


    Detached and inaccessible, if the duke did not enjoy his soldier’s affections he certainly earned their respect – and for sound reasons. Always present to lend an air of calm and to set an example of steadiness during a crisis in battle, he invariably issued prompt, exact, laconic orders and seldom spoke except to issue a command. Oblivious to shot and shell, the duke displayed no concern for his own safety. Proof of his regular presence near the frontline manifested itself in stark terms, for more than half of his staff officers were killed or wounded during the course of the day. Wellington disliked delegating responsibility to subordinates when he could handle a matter personally. Unlike nearly all his subordinates, the duke shunned the ostentation of senior officer’s dress, preferring to wear a simple, unadorned cocked hat, blue frock coat and cape. Nor did he insist on smartness within the ranks. Rather, he demanded a high state of fighting discipline and proficiency in musket fire, since the principal ingredient of success in battle lay in a unit’s ability to stand fast while delivering – as well as receiving – fire. 

     

    Battle Story Waterloo


    Gregory Fremont-Barnes holds a doctorate in Modern History from the University of Oxford and serves as a Senior Lecturer in War Studies at the Royal Military Academy, Sandhurst. A prolific author, his books on this period include Waterloo 1815, The French Revolutionary Wars, The Peninsular War, 1807–14, The Fall of the French Empire, 1813–15, Nile 1798 and Trafalgar 1805. He also edited Armies of the Napoleonic Wars and the three-volume Encyclopedia of the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars. As an academic advisor, Dr Fremont-Barnes has accompanied several groups of British Army officers and senior NCOs in their visits to the battlefields of the Peninsula and to Waterloo. 


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    Women in Worcester in a potato queue


    History is important for women, a sense of the: limitations, opportunities, challenges and expectations of women in the past gives women a sense of who they are now. One hundred years ago women were experiencing disruption and disturbance in their everyday lives caused by the First World War. Some women from this period have made it into the history books; women such as Emmeline Pankhurst, the suffragette who organized thousands of  women’s participation in The Right to Work March on 17 July 1915, or Edith Cavell the British Nurse who having been found guilt of treason was shot by the German army in Belgium on 12 October 1915. This year many of us will see the film of Testament of Youth based upon the life of Vera Brittain, the young women from Buxton who in summer 1915 left her studies at Oxford to work as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD), training in London before she worked in a field hospital in France. 

    There are familiar iconic images of less well-known women who contributed to the war effort and are portrayed in the media and museums; women who worked in munitions and the land army, who drove trams, worked as clerks and even played football. There were also many more millions of women who still remain hidden, housewives and mothers whose everyday life was heroic as they struggled to look after their homes, worry and care for their families and at times cope with grief. On this 2015 International Women’s day and for the next three years of the First World War commemoration my plea is that the lives of these women in wartime receive more attention.

    So let us remember the mothers and wives who wrote letters, sent parcels of food, stationery, socks and other clothing items to their loved ones on the front line, in training, hospitals or prisoner of war camps in the First World War. Some wrote to their men once a week, others wrote nearly everyday. Cakes were a particularly welcome inclusion in any parcel, as were cherries; strawberries did not travel well whilst rats occasionally nibbled bread before it reached its destination. One Worcestershire housewife sent her husband a Christmas pudding to share with his colleagues on Christmas day. Such actions kept the idea of the home firmly in men’s imagination; reassuring them they were not forgotten. Feeding the family at home was also an increasingly onerous task, which women had to cope with in wartime. The outbreak of war led to panic buying, prices rises and shortages and housewives over the four years of conflict found feeding their families on limited incomes difficult.

    In 1914 the majority of sugar consumer in Britain had been imported from the Austrian - Hungarian Empire and wartime became an increasingly scarce resource. The Home Economist Mrs Peel suggested that salt could be substituted for sugar when making jam and that if kept a few months the salt tastes was no longer discernable. In one Worcestershire town when in 1917 supplies of sugar arrived from Canada they were handed out at the police station, an indication of the struggle for sugar could lead to a public disturbance. By 1916 as the naval war intensified, prices rose, shortages occurred, food queues lengthened, newspapers carried warnings about fines for wasting bread in 1917 and in 1918 rationing was introduced. Diaries, local newspapers and letters tell of women queuing for 6 hours for a tub of margarine, people apparently began to look thinner and by the summer of 1918 some had even lost their double chins ...

     

    Professor Maggie Andrews is a cultural historian whose work covers the social and cultural history of nineteenth and twentieth century Britain and the representation of that history within popular culture.  She is the author of a feminist history of the Women’s Institute movement and co-editor of a collection of essays exploring on the Home Front in Britain in C20 and Co I on the Voices of War Peace WWI Community Engagement Hub.    

     

    WHN


    The Women's History Network Community History Prize
    (sponsored by The History Press) is an annual prize of £500 which is awarded for a Community History Project by, about, or for Women in a particular locale or community which has led to the production of a documentary, pamphlet, book, exhibition, artefact or event completed between the 1st of January 2014 and 31st May 2015. Individuals or groups can nominate themselves or someone else up to 31 May 2015. For more information on the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) First World War small grants scheme, please click here.


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    Emily Hobhouse. (Photograph from official German files 1916)


    On 4 August 1914, a surge of patriotic fervour swept the nation, Germany was marching through Belgium: young men rushed into war. But not everyone was happy. Emily Hobhouse believed in her country. She believed in it as the leader that had kept the peace in Europe for a hundred years and she loved it dearly. She believed that it should do the right thing. She had strong ideas of what had to be done and she did not waver.

    Some considered her a traitor for her actions but her country's enemies never considered her anything other than English.

    True, some officials in South Africa in the Anglo-Boer war 1899-1902 had considered her too sympathetic with the women whose homes had been destroyed in Lord Kitchener's sweeps across the countryside. Thousands of homes had been burnt, including their contents, barns and equipment; stock had been captured or destroyed, and women and children herded into camps where conditions were so unpleasant that a quarter of the inhabitants, mainly children died. Emily had gone to South Africa to bring relief but what she found made her realise that large scale improvements could only be had with an immense push from the home governement in London. Finally a Ladies Commission was sent out and at last sufficient nimprovements were made that the death-rate fell.

    Emily Hobhouse believed international disputes had to be solved through dialogue. In the journal she wrote following her remarkable journey to Belgium and Berlin in June 1916. She said: 'Holding as I do, that War is not only wrong in itself, but a crude mistake I stand wholly outside its passions … My small means are devoted entirely to help non-combatants who suffer in consequence of war and in supporting every movement making for peace. I believe it useless to soften or civilize war – that there is no such thing as 'civilized war'; there is war between civilized peoples certainly but as we now see that becomes more barbarious than war between barbarians. I believe that the only thing is to strike at the root of the Evil and demolish War itself as the great and impossible Barbarity...

    To Emily, war had to be seen as realism. One had to be truthful. Exaggerations by the press of atrocities said to have been commited by the advancing enemy in Belgium were not helpful. War needed no help. She wanted to see the places believed destroyed for herself and the picture of those wretched homes in South Africa was ever in her mind. It was in the cause of realism and truth that while in Switzerland in the Spring of 1916 she asked the German authorities to let her go to Belgium to give a clear and accurate acount of the damage done. At the same time she wished to go to Berlin to see the conditions of the camp for interned British civilians to report on the conditions she would find, and she wished to see for herself the effect of the British food blockade on the German population. In her mind, if the hype could be taken out of the war it would make it easier for negotiations to start, to restore peace in Europe.

    By June her request was granted. And she was able to do more. While in Berlin she saw the Foreign Minister, and realised that he was willing to talk peace - on humanitarian grounds. She produced a plan of how talks could get started without loss of face to which he agreed, but he did not want the British to know he had agreed as it could be taken as a sign of weakness. She returned to Britain in a fervour of excitement but try as she might she was unable to get the Government to listen to her and even her writing was turned against her. She was not imprisoned – or worse – as some hoped, but she had no opportunity to rebut the stigma that remained with her till her death. It was a noble effort. She deserved better.


    Agent of Peace


    Jennifer Hobhouse Balme is the author of Agent of Peace: Emily Hobhouse and Her Courageous Attempt to End the First World WarIn the Anglo-Boer War (1899–1902) Emily Hobhouse championed the cause of the women and children herded into camps by Kitchener’s army. By 1914, a confirmed pacifist, she felt passionately that civilians suffered more than combatants and she was anxious for a negotiated peace. Her ‘Open Christmas Letter’ of January 1915, calling for an end to hostilities, was answered by 155 prominent pacifist and feminist German and Austrian women. Emily continued in her mission to relieve the suffering caused by war, working tirelessly for the release of civilian prisoners and to secure better food for Belgium. The story of this extraordinary woman and her battle to secure peace is told here by her grand-niece largely through Emily’s own letter, journal and diary extracts. 


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    Harry Daniels of Wymondham, who received the Victoria Cross.

    'Act as soon as I think. Sometimes sorry after, sometimes not… Impulsive. Born in me. Been like it all my life.' So said Harry Daniels when speaking about a colourful and courageous army career that was very nearly cut short almost 40 years earlier. Indeed, according to some reports he had actually been dead since 1915! That was when newspapers carried the erroneous news that he had been killed in action while serving on the Western Front. Those same accounts presented eulogies in honour of a man whose adventurous life already read like a real-life ripping yarn. Born in Norfolk, the 13th of 16 children, he had been orphaned and sent to a boys’ home in Norwich.

    A spirited lad nicknamed ‘Spitfire’, he ran away to sea once and joined the army at 18. Rising quickly through the ranks, he was a company sergeant major in the 2nd Rifle Brigade when he earned his Victoria Cross at Neuve Chapelle in March 1915. Confronted by a seemingly impenetrable  barrier of barbed wire, he called out to his great friend, Cpl Tom Noble, to 'get some nippers' and off they dashed straight into a storm of fire. Working valiantly in broad daylight in full view of the enemy trenches a few yards away, they cut a short part way through the wire, before first Daniels was wounded, with a bullet through his left thigh, and then Noble was shot dead.For all their desperate courage, the subsequent attack came to nothing and it was not until nightfall that Daniels was able to drag himself to safety. Lionised in his home county, he survived further wounds and his premature obituary to add a Military Cross to his hard-earned VC.

    The humble baker’s son rose to the rank of lieutenant colonel and added to his exceptional cv participation in the 1920 Antwerp Olympics as a member of the British boxing team. After retiring from the army, he became a popular manager of the Grand Theatre in Leeds. On the Royal guest list for the  Queen’s Coronation in 1953, Daniels was not able to take his place among the great and the good. Shortly before the ceremony, he suffered a heart attack. A few weeks later pneumonia set in and, in December the same year, newspapers carried the sad news that the man known as ‘Dan VC’ was dead  - and this time there really was no mistake.


    Stephen Snelling is the author of three books in The History Press series, VCs of the First World War, a biographical survey of the men awarded the country’s highest award for bravery in every theatre of war on land, sea and in the air. 


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    2nd Rifle Brigade fighting on the streets of Neuve Chapelle. (Source: Paul Kendall).


    The operation at Neuve Chapelle in the Artois region of northern France during 10 to 12 March 1915 was significant because it was the first planned offensive strike upon a German trench system on the Western Front conducted independently by the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) during the First World War. The battles fought during 1914 were classified as encounter battles, defined as a series of actions which were unforeseen where local commanders on the ground had to react. By the end of 1914 the war of movement had transcended into a stalemate where opposing sides were entrenched in a line of trenches that stretched from the Swiss Border to the Belgian Coast, a line that would be known as ‘the Western Front’. A narrow expanse known as No Man’s Land separated these lines and these trenches were protected by barbed wire, machine guns and heavy artillery, which meant that opposing Armies would prevent each side from penetrating each side’s defences.  To peer above the parapet during the day or attempt to cross this stretch of ground meant certain death and the opposing forces were unable to breakthrough into their opponent’s lines.

    With their troops frustrated because they were forced to live underground in the muddy, waterlogged trenches during the harsh cold winter of 2014/15, the challenge for Generals on both sides in 1915 was how to get their troops out from those trenches, across No Man’s Land into enemy trenches and consolidate ground without being mown down by machine guns or obliterated by heavy shellfire.

    During early 1915 the French were considering launching offensives in Champagne and on the Arras sector, while the British were planning to launch an assault at Neuve Chapelle with the objective of capturing the village and Aubers Ridge. This ridge was strategically important as a launching position for further initiatives to capture Lille, which was used by its German occupiers as a major transport hub and a key link in the rail network which was used to transfer German forces from north to south along the Western Front. A breach in the German line on this sector would interfere with the German communications and transport network.

    Field Marshal Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the BEF designated General Sir Douglas Haig’s First Army to carry out the offensive at Neuve Chapelle. Haig had directed I Corps during the 1914 campaign, but the operation at Neuve Chapelle as First Army commander was his first experience of controlling an attack. Haig and his sub-ordinate generals who were planning and organising this operation had joined the Army decades earlier during the Victorian era. They had been trained to fight colonial wars and the strategy of advance and attack were indoctrinated within that training, but this proved to be an ineffective tactic during the 1914 campaign once the war of movement ceased and trench warfare had begun. This training would not equip these Generals to deal with static trench warfare and the weapons of modern industrialised war in 1915 and the Neuve Chapelle operation marked the beginning of their attempt to develop strategies to break the stalemate. Sir James Edmonds commented in the Official History:

    ‘Those responsible for planning the preliminaries for a battle which was the first trench offensive were faced by problems for which neither their training nor experience had actually prepared them: and consequently much of their work at this period was experimental.’ (‘The Official History of the War Military Operations: France & Belgium 1915 Volume 1’, by Sir James Edmonds, published Macmillan & Co 1927).

    Despite being a soldier from the Victorian era, fighting a modern war, Haig was not afraid to be experimental as he embraced new technology and strategies in his approach to tackling the challenges of getting his infantry across No Man’s Land and penetrating the German lines. The operation at Neuve Chapelle saw innovations in the first effective use of infantry and artillery working cohesively in a British offensive, together with aeroplanes belonging to the Royal Flying Corps. Although he did not understand how aeroplanes could be used in warfare during early 1915 he was keen to investigate their potential use at Neuve Chapelle, where development in aerial reconnaissance techniques in photographing enemy positions from the sky provided infantry commanders on the ground the first glimpse from the air of enemy targets to be assaulted before they attacked. Trench maps were drawn from these photos and this intelligence would aid infantry on the ground. During the Battle of Neuve Chapelle the Royal Flying Corps also took part in bombing of strategically important positions and observers were able to direct artillery batteries to targets behind the German lines. Although primitive this form of warfare would develop throughout the war.

    The operation at Neuve Chapelle marked the first employment of a planned artillery barrage and the largest concentration of artillery firepower to date by British artillery. The sudden intensive bombardment lasting 35 minutes on German targets commenced at 7.30 a.m. on 10 March 1915 demonstrated the awesome potential of concentrated artillery fire upon a confined area could blast a breach in what was believed to be an impregnable German trench system. Providing secrecy was maintained the enemy could be overwhelmed by such a bombardment and be too surprised to offer any effective resistance. Major-General Davies wrote in the 8th Division report:

    ‘The artillery fire on the 10th of March was nothing less than devastating in its effects: that it was so, is due to skilful placing of the batteries by the artillery commander and to the patient and careful preparations made by the batteries themselves. It is to be noted that those preparations, including registration, were carried out without apparently arousing the suspicions of the enemy.’ (National Archives: 8th Division War Diary).

    Lieutenant Malcolm Kennedy, 2nd Cameronian (Scottish Rifles), witnessed the awesome spectacle of this intensive bombardment as he waited for the signal to advance. He recalled: ‘There was a deafening roar as our batteries in the rear opened fire. Heralded by a deep toned vibrating sound over-head, as though hundreds of express trains were rushing through the air. Hell then seemed to break loose as shell after shell, from guns of all calibres, burst with ear-splitting explosions on the German positions opposite…. But from time to time great masses of earth could be seen hurtling through the air as shells struck the ground to our front and tore it to bits.   From time to time, too, huge, jagged chunks of metal, fragments of a bursting shell, would be seen spinning through the air, while the thick yellow fumes of lyditte rose high above the German trenches and came drifting towards us.’ (IWM P392: Papers of Captain Malcolm Kennedy / University of Sheffield Library)

    As soon as the barrage lifted to German positions beyond Neuve Chapelle at 8.05 a.m., whistles were blown that signalled the infantry advance, when IV Corps, commanded by Lieutenant-General Sir Henry Rawlinson and Indian Corps commanded by Lieutenant General Sir James Willcocks attacked this salient in a converging attack on a 2,000 yard front to seize the village prior to an assault on Aubers Ridge.

    2nd Middlesex assaulting a German fortified house at Neuve Chapelle. (Paul Kendall).


    The British artillery bombardment had succeeded in subduing the German occupants holding Neuve Chapelle and enabled British infantry belonging to British 8th Division to cross No Man’s Land and capture German trenches. Sergeant William Siddons, 2nd Middlesex Regiment was in the first wave, but was wounded as he got close to the German first trench.

    ‘As we dashed forward, we saw the heads and bayonets of the Germans in the nearest trench, which was less than a hundred yards away. One of the enemy’s officers jumped up in an effort to lead his men to the attack, but he was shot down and fell. The fighting at close quarters was terrific. Our men fought like demons possessed, and they were met by a determined enemy, but our bombardment had shattered the nerves of many of them, and we gave them a real taste of what can be done by roused British soldiers.

    Of course we lost a great many men, but the slaughter amongst the Germans was awful. The enemy’s trenches presented a horrible spectacle, and dead and dying men lay all around us. The 2nd Middlesex suffered severely, but I would really not put a figure on the losses sustained by the Germans. If they were as heavy all along the front as they were where my regiment was attacking, then their casualties must have reached an appalling total’. (The Sunday Post, 21 March 1915).

    The British artillery bombardment at Neuve Chapelle demonstrated the necessity to confirm that the wire was cut before sending infantry to advance towards the German lines. The artillery barrage was not a total success on 10 March on the sector held by 2nd Middlesex Regiment. The two 6” Howitzers that were designated the task of destroying the German wire before their advance failed because they arrived in position during the afternoon on the day before the attack, the artillery officers in command were unfamiliar with the territory and they had arrived too late to register their guns due to poor light. As a consequence, the left flank of 2nd Middlesex Regiment and some sections belonging to the 2nd Cameronian (Scottish Rifles) were caught in the German wire and suffered heavy casualties. Brigadier General A. Holland reported on wire cutting in the post operation report:

    ‘To ensure this being a success I consider the guns should be within 1,700 x of their objective. It may be possible to successfully cut wire at ranges considerably beyond that stated above, but I think a large element of luck enters into the question if guns are kept back at long range.

    If an attack is launched and is unsuccessful very heavy losses will have to be endured, and I am of opinion that no chances should be taken and that an Artillery Commander should be able to confidently assure his General that the wire will be cut within 15 minutes of fire being opened.’ (NA: WO 95/1683: 8th Division: Royal Horse Artillery & Royal Field Artillery Commander Royal Artillery)

    Arrival of Indian soldiers at Marseille, September 1914. (Source: Paul Kendall).


    Despite some of the wire not being cut 8th Division were able to breach the German trenches and enter the village of Neuve Chapelle which had now been reduced to ruins and debris. It was here that house to house skirmishes took place as they searched for German survivors sheltering in underground cellars and neutralising German resistance. They were able to meet soldiers from the Indian Corps inside the village who were fighting a similar battle during their advance from the south west. Within two hours after the attack began the objective of Neuve Chapelle had been captured.

    It is important to note that the assault upon Neuve Chapelle marked a change in the components of the British Army that were deployed on the Western Front. The BEF had suffered severe casualties during the 1914 campaigns and it was difficult to replace those experienced officers, NCO’s and soldiers that were lost. Those civilians who answered Field Marshal Earl Herbert Kitchener’s call for volunteers to enlist would need weapons, uniforms, equipment and training and it would take two years for them to be ready for active service. In early 1915 when Field Marshal Sir John French considered the prospect of launching an assault upon Neuve Chapelle his resources were limited. Regular soldiers who had been swiftly transported from garrisons in the colonies to Britain would form the 7th and 8th Divisions and would not be sufficient to carry out IV Corps attack alone. The British Army had no choice but to use Territorial soldiers whose primary role was home defence and not intended to serve overseas, and the Indian Army, a colonial force, because they were the only fully trained organisation within the British Empire available at that time. These Territorial and Colonial soldiers had been fed into the line piecemeal during the later stages of the 1914 campaign and had received their baptism of fire. The BEF therefore became reliant upon the Territorial Army and the Indian Army to bolster their ranks. They would form General Sir Douglas Haig’s First Army, comprising of IV Corps and Indian Corps and they would prove their effectiveness as fighting soldiers at Neuve Chapelle during March 1915. The BEF would not have been able to have conducted the operation at Neuve Chapelle without reliance upon the Indian Corps and the Territorial Army.

    Lieutenant-General Sir James Willcocks praised the conduct of the Regulars, Territorials and Indian soldiers as they worked together to capture Neuve Chapelle:

    ‘I desire to bring to notice the fine spirit and soldierly conduct of the troops engaged. British, Territorials and Indians, all vied with one another and have received the commendation of the Army Commander and the Field Marshal Commander-in-Chief.’ (National Archives: WO 158/258: Neuve Chapelle Operations: Memorandum & Reports).

    Willcocks also singled out the important role conducted by the Territorials:

    ‘The Territorial Battalions engaged, behaved with extraordinary steadiness, and in one case - the 3rd London Regiment - successfully carried out a direct attack and charge under conditions which might well have tried veteran troops. (National Archives: WO 158/258: Neuve Chapelle Operations: Memorandum & Reports).

    The artillery were unable to replicate the successful bombardment carried out on 10th March during the two remaining days of the operation. There were not sufficient supplies of munitions and the poor visibility caused by the morning mists made accurate observation of potential German targets impossible. Precise positions of the German defences were unknown and there was not sufficient time for registration of the guns for the operations on 11 and 12 March. The British had failed to exploit the successful capture of Neuve Chapelle and the German counter attack to retake the village on 12 March, marked the resumption of trench warfare.

    Although Neuve Chapelle was successfully captured by IV and Indian Corps, the overall operation had failed because the capture of Aubers Ridge had not been accomplished. It is uncertain whether 8th Division could have reached Aubers Ridge on 10 March if they attempted to push forward, because there were still German forces that could have opposed them in between Neuve Chapelle and the ridge. Even if they had secured the ridge it would be doubtful whether the exhausted British and Indian troops would have been able to defend it against fresh German reinforcements that had been swiftly brought into the region. They would not have had a chance to consolidate the ridge amidst German counter attacks and supplies of ammunition to provide continued artillery support were limited.

    The high casualty figures sustained at Neuve Chapelle highlighted the human cost of carrying out an offensive upon trenches during World War One. British, Indian and German dead and wounded lay amongst the devastation and it was too dangerous to recover those that lay in No Man’s Land. German casualties at Neuve Chapelle were estimated at 108 officers and approximately 8,000 men. Most of these casualties, 70 officers and 6,000 men were believed to have been sustained by 6th Bavarian Reserve Division during the counter attack upon British and Indian occupied lines on 12th March. (‘Official History of the War: Military Operations France & Belgium 1915 Volume 1’ by Brigadier-General J.E. Edmonds, Published 1927). German prisoners captured at Neuve Chapelle included 30 officers 1,657 German who were transported across the English Channel to Southampton where they were boarded on trains and some of those were taken to internment camp near Dorchester.

    The Indian Memorial stands as an imposing monument amongst the French fields close to Port Arthur, south of Neuve Chapelle and it is fitting that it was located where Indian Corps launched its assault upon the Bois du Biez during March 1915. 8,557 Indian soldiers were killed during World War One, and 4,657 of those men have no known grave. 468 of those soldiers listed on this memorial died at Neuve Chapelle. (Source: Paul Kendall).


    The British and Indian casualty rate during the three day offensive at Neuve Chapelle was high. Haig’s First Army lost 544 officers and 11,108 men casualties totalling 11,652.

    Despite the failure to secure Aubers Ridge the first planned British offensive of World War One at Neuve Chapelle proved that German lines on the Western Front could be penetrated under certain conditions. Providing support troops could be assembled in secrecy, they could surprise an unsuspecting enemy after a short intensive bombardment whose wire would be cut, trenches levelled and nerves shattered. However the operation underlined the difficulties of trench warfare in terms of attack and defence, as well as highlighting problems of command during a battle. The operation at Neuve Chapelle showed weaknesses in communications when German artillery had severed many British telephone lines throughout the operation, which denied British commanders the ability to accurately assess and report the progress of the battle. They were able to cut communication wires that were laid exposed above ground and were able to severe lines buried underground.

    Commanders became reliant upon runners and horse dispatch riders to transfer messages. Some were able to cross over country when roads were congested with troops, but during German artillery barrages many messages were either delayed or never received due to runners being killed or wounded. This resulted in a communication not being delivered and in other instances seriously delayed by several hours which meant that by the time it reached divisional HQ, the situation had changed at the front line, and that any decisions and orders being made by divisional commanders might not be appropriate for the current situation on the battlefield. Divisional commanders were making plans to continue the offensive based on outdated information. During those hours of delay the situation would change drastically. As a consequence a regular system of messenger orderlies for communication between battalion and advanced Brigade Headquarters were established in each battalion after the battle of Neuve Chapelle.

    There were misunderstandings at battalion level where attacks were disjointed, some units attacking alone, without support from their flanks to no effect. Some casualties were the result of friendly fire where British shells fell upon their own soldiers. Although the German line had been breached at Neuve Chapelle, the BEF were unable to exploit the breakthrough due to lack of resources, poor communication and brigades being unable to work in cohesion to maintain the momentum of the advance. The problems experienced at Neuve Chapelle would be confronted in future offensives and it would take three years to find a strategy to break through the German lines and achieve a decisive victory that would end the war.

    The operation was an important step for Haig in regards to his career, for this was his first operation conducted as commander of First Army. Haig partially succeeded in achieving the operation’s objectives. Although Aubers Ridge had not be captured, his First Army had successfully crossed No Man’s Land after the arranged 35 minute barrage, were able breach the German trenches to capture Neuve Chapelle and straighten the British line east of the village. Although the operation did not have a major strategic impact upon the course of the war, it marked the beginning of planned British offensive operations and formed a template for how future operations would be conducted during the war using infantry, artillery and aeroplanes. The abilities and potential of the Royal Flying Corps were realised at Neuve Chapelle demonstrating their capabilities to gather intelligence and provide aerial photographs of ground to be attack. The first use of aerial photos had provided commanders with detailed information about positions of enemy wire, trenches and strongpoints. This was the first time in the history of warfare that attacking forces could see beyond the lines that they were assaulting. They also proved useful in attacking railway hubs and communications behind the lines disrupt the ability for German reserves to be brought forward. Artillery would be used to soften and weaken enemy defences and positions prior to an infantry assault, aided by forward observation officers on the ground and Royal Flying Corps observers in the skies above.

    Furthermore, German commanders were placed under pressure and had to deploy re-enforcements from other sectors of the Western Front from Ypres in the north and from the battle being fought against French forces at Notre Dame de Lorette to Neuve Chapelle to prevent British First Army including Indian Corps from gaining further ground. The action at Neuve Chapelle raised Haig’s profile and that of First Army. Haig was confident that the offensive at Neuve Chapelle bode well for the future. He wrote:

    The losses sustained by the 1st Army, though heavy, are fully compensated for by the results achieved, which have brought us one step forward in our efforts to end the war; and the British soldier has once more given the Germans a proof of his superiority in a fight, as well of his pluck and determination to conquer.

    The spirit and energy shown by all ranks augur well for the future, and I feel confident that the success achieved by the 1st Army at Neuve Chapelle is the fore-runner of still greater victories which must be gained in order to bring the war to a successful conclusion’.(National Archives: WO 95/1089: The action taken by the Indian Corps in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle).

    Haig had shown that soldiers belonging to the BEF could attack as well as defend.  Both German and French commanders were compelled to change their negative view of the British Army. They would no longer be regarded as a force limited to holding sectors of the line in a defensive capacity. The BEF had shown that they could break through the line and capture ground and hold it. The capture of Neuve Chapelle instilled confidence in French commanders and proved that the BEF was not a token force, but an effective fighting force, which improved relations between British and French commanders.  Joffre sent French Corps Commanders to visit Haig at his headquarters to learn how First Army achieved the accomplishment of breaking through German lines and capturing Neuve Chapelle. During April 1915 Joffre asked the British Army to play a more prominent role in future offensives alongside the French Army. Although Britain was a junior partner in the Allied coalition they were now being taken seriously by the French. Personally for Haig the experience of commanding an Army at Neuve Chapelle and overseeing the planning and implementation of further operations carried out during 1915 would assist Haig’s development as a commander and assist his military career, for when it came the decision of finding a suitable successor to replace French as Commander-in-Chief later that year, Haig was the strongest candidate available.

    Although he was not credited for the success of capturing Neuve Chapelle in the post operation report, Haig eventually received recognition for his role in the planning of the operation from Field Marshal Sir John French’s dispatch on 5 April 1915.

    ‘Whilst the success attained was due to the magnificent bearing and indomitable courage displayed by the troops of the 4th and Indian Corps, I consider that the able and skilful dispositions which were made by the General Officer Commanding First Army contributed to the defeat of the enemy and to the capture of his position. The energy and vigour with which General Sir Douglas Haig handled his command show him to be a leader of great ability and power.’ (London Gazette - 14 April 1915 – Field Marshal Sir John French Dispatch dated 5 April 1915).

    Kaiser Wilhelm’s opinion of the BEF changed when news reached him in Berlin confirming the capture of Neuve Chapelle. They were no longer a contemptible little army as viewed by Kaiser Wilhelm, a mere token force to hold sections of the Western Front with just a defensive capacity, they had proved that were able to launch offensive operations. Furthermore the British offensive at Neuve Chapelle caused panic in Lille enforcing the German occupants to relocate their headquarters and military hospital to Tournai. It persuaded him to think that the BEF would play an effective role in the war and it brought Haig to the attention of the Kaiser as a general to be respected. Brigadier-General Charteris commented:

    ‘Moreover, the fame of the achievements of the British was not restricted to the fighting front, but had reached Berlin itself; and Haig, always appreciative of praise, received from Lord Esher the flattering news that the Kaiser had stated in an interview with an American that the British I Corps under Haig was the best in the world. Haig, always anxious to give due credit to others, relied that the success of his command was due to entirely to the excellent staff, which had worked together in peace, and which had trained the troops with him at Aldershot. “It was” he said, “a compliment to Aldershot methods and Aldershot training, rather than to my own command in battle.’ (‘Field Marshal Earl Haig’ by Brigadier-General John Charteris, published Cassell & Company Limited 1919).

    If this comment was made by the Kaiser after Neuve Chapelle, his intelligence gatherers had failed to note that Haig was in command of First Army, not I Corps. British, Belgian and French Generals were not the only commanders learning lessons from past offensives in trying to decipher how they were going to break through the German lines in order to expel the army of occupation from Belgium and France. Their German adversaries had gained territory in these countries, lost heavily and were determined not relinquish any ground. Haig’s First Army’s capture of Neuve Chapelle demonstrated that it was dangerous to continue to underestimate the capabilities of the BEF and that German strategy had to change. German commanders had to readjust their opinion of the BEF and learn from their failure to prevent a breach in their line. Before Neuve Chapelle German lines opposite British trenches were occupied with few troops for they did not expect the British to attack. They were not regarded as offensive troops and thought that they posed little threat but the penetration of their lines and capture of Neuve Chapelle forced them to change their strategy. The British breakthrough of the German line and capture of Neuve Chapelle during March 1915 shocked German commanders to the extent that they could no longer place reliance upon a single line of defence. If Germany was to retain the land that they had conquered during 1914 and solidify the stalemate they would need to improve and strengthen those defences. Going forward in order to hold onto the ground that they had conquered, second and third German defensive lines had to be constructed along the Western Front.

    During the months after Neuve Chapelle it was evident that German defences continued to be strengthened making the job of entering the German lines more difficult. Instead of one trench line to assault and breakthrough, they would have two trench systems to tackle. A second line was established, protected with another line of barbed wire, three thousand yards behind the first line linked by a series of communication trenches. The Western Front was rapidly becoming more formidable and increasingly difficult to breakthrough.  The chroniclers of ‘The Indian Corps in France’ Lieutenant-Colonel Merewith and Sir Frederick Smith thought in hindsight that it might have been better not to have attacked at Neuve Chapelle during March 1915 for it shocked their opponents in expanding their defensive trench system, which was apparent at the battles of Festubert and Loos in 1915 and would also be applied on the Somme during 1916, making the ability to breakthrough German lines that much harder:

    The first day of the operation on 10 March 1915 with the breakthrough of German lines and the capture of Neuve Chapelle was deemed as a success, however the failure to exploit those gains by bringing up reserves to push forward the advance meant that the pace of the operation lost momentum and the failure to capture Aubers Ridge.

    The Battle of Neuve Chapelle had no impact upon the strategic situation on the Western Front. However it showed that after several months of static trench warfare, the BEF could break the stalemate and penetrate the German lines to capture and consolidate ground. The operation highlighted that the German lines on the Western Front were not impregnable and a breakthrough could be made. The capture of Neuve Chapelle was widely reported as a great success in newspapers weeks after the operation and nine Victoria Crosses were awarded to individuals relating to this action, five of which were awarded posthumously. This successful breach in the German line helped Field Marshal Sir John French to reinforce the notion that the Western Front was where the war should be fought and where defeat of Germany would eventually achieved; especially when some politicians and generals were considering other theatres such as Gallipoli to initiate operations in order to avoid confronting the problems of breaking through the Western Front. It proved to troops of the BEF that the stalemate of trench warfare could be broken. The capture of 2 miles of strongly defended German trenches and the village of Neuve Chapelle together had demonstrated that the BEF were an effective fighting force and instilled confidence in British commanders and their French allies. The operation at Neuve Chapelle provided a set piece template for British, French and German commanders. However, opposing Generals would still face the same challenges after Neuve Chapelle for in order to achieve ultimate victory their infantry still had to advance across No Man’s Land, breakthrough the barbed wire, evading machine gun bullets and shellfire to enter enemy trenches and consolidate captured ground. Neuve Chapelle was the beginning of the learning process to find a strategy that would lead to a decisive victory over Germany. It would take the Allied Generals three years of war and bloodshed to find a solution to achieve that overall aim.

     Neuve Chapelle from Neuve Chapelle Farm Cemetery. The 2nd Royal Berkshire Regiment followed by the 2nd Rifle Brigade charged across this field towards the German trenches to capture Neuve Chapelle on 10 March 1915. (Paul Kendall)


    Paul Kendall is the author of The Zeebrugge Raid 1918Aisne 1914 and Bullecourt 1917


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    The Herald of Free Enterprise car ferry


    Twenty-eight years have passed since a shocking maritime disaster claimed the lives of more Britons than in any other single event since the Second World War. Many people think that they have not heard of the Herald of Free Enterprise or the Zeebrugge disaster until they see a picture of the stricken ferry lying on its side and then the memories come flooding back: 'Oh yes, I remember now. Terrible. They left the doors open, didn't they?' Well, yes they did. However, there is much more to the story than a simple, if catastrophic, oversight by a single crew member.

    Throughout the 1980s, Britain endured a number of tragedies that became synonymous with the places where they happened: the mass shooting on the streets at Hungerford; the jet bombing over Lockerbie; the train crash outside Clapham Junction; the stadium fire in Bradford and the crush of football fans at Hillsborough, to name but a few. All claimed a terrible number of lives. In terms of the British number of lives lost, the ferry disaster at Zeebrugge overshadowed them all, with almost all of the 193 known victims being from the United Kingdom.

    The P&O - owned Townsend Thoresen car ferry Herald of Free Enterprise was one of three sister ships of the Blue Riband class, the flagships of the company's fleet. The ferry was a roll-on, roll-off (RORO) type on which vehicles embarked at one end and disembarked at the opposite end. This design meant that there was a cavernous space that ran the entire length of the boat. If water was to enter any part of that space it would run freely, making the boat unstable and could threaten a possible capsize.

    This is precisely what happened on the bitterly cold night of Friday 6 March 1987. The Herald, with an estimated 546 people on board, had just departed the Belgian port of Zeebrugge for it's home port of Dover. Hundreds of unsuspecting passengers joined the eighty crew members for what should have been a routine four-and-a-half-hour crossing. For some, they would continue their long journey by road through the night to their destinations. Among them were families and groups of friends returning from day trips, lorry drivers transporting goods for their employers, army personnel and their families on weekend leave, some going home for good. One man was driving home a new car for a friend, three family members had shut up a house in Holland ready to be sold. Another man was travelling on a false passport and had hitched a lift with an innocent lorry driver.

    A combination of procedural errors and oversights and the design of the ferry itself caused the vehicle deck to flood, after the ferry set sail with the bow doors open. The water shifted, tilting the ferry to one side, then the other before capsizing in relatively shallow water onto her port side, just outside the harbour entrance. There she lay on her side at an angle of more than ninety degrees in freezing cold water that swallowed up more than half the ferry.

    The crew of a nearby dredger witnessed the capsize and immediately set in motion an international rescue operation. Co-ordinated by the Royal Navy at sea and the Belgians on land, a flotilla of ships and boats raced to the scene while hospitals sent dozens of medical personnel to assist with injured survivors.

    Meanwhile, inside the half-submerged ferry, people had already been killed outright in the sudden capsize. Some were unconscious and were beginning to drown. Others found themselves trapped in the freezing water in pitch black darkness, shouting and crying for their loved ones. Those still able-bodied scrambled upwards and out of the ferry through smashed windows and joined the rescue efforts of arriving emergency services.

    Ninety Seconds At Zeebrugge is an up-to-date retelling of the disaster as it unfolded primarily from the viewpoint of those that were on board, their families waiting for news, rescue workers and the people of Belgium. The disaster has never been forgotten by those involved. Although very painful at times, the survivors and their relatives' stories are told, sometimes for the first time publicly. Much credit has to be given to them and it is for them, and the victims, that this book has been written.
     


    Iain Yardley is the author of Ninety Seconds At Zeebrugge, a minute-by-minute account of those who lived through the disaster, from the event to rescue, reunion and repatriation. 


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