Saturday 8 November 2014

Armistice - November 1918

From Sarajevo to Compiègne

When Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated in Sarajevo on the 28th July 1914, and Austria-Hungry declared war on Serbia, which then caused the allies of Serbia, including the British Empire, to declare war on Germany and Austria, no-one knew that the next four years would see millions dying during hard-fought battles on the Western and Eastern Fronts.

During that time millions died, were wounded, taken prisoner,[1] until on the 11th November, 1918 at 5.00 a.m. an armistice was signed in Ferdinand Foch’s railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne, which is approximately 37 miles north of Paris. The location was chosen due to it being discreet and quite remote.

The Armistice was signed by: 

Britain - First Sea Lord Admiral Wemyss (in recognition of the fact that the Royal Navy blockade had forced the German surrender). 

France - Marshal Ferdinand Foch (commander of the Allied armies). 
and General Weygand. 

Germany - Matthias Erzeberger (on behalf of the German Socialist Party, which had formed a government following the abdication of the Kaiser on the 9 November).
Count Alfred von Oberndorff (German Foreign Ministry). 
Major-General Detlof von Winterfeldt (German army). 
Captain Ernst Vanselow (German navy).

A total cease-fire was to come into effect at 11.00 a.m. that day, so the killing continued throughout the morning.

After the British Forces had joined the hostilities on the 4th August 1914, the first man to die was Private John Parr of the Middlesex Regiment, who was killed in action on the 21st August 1914 aged just 17.

After the Armistice had been signed, the last British soldier to die was Private George Edwin Ellison of the 5th Royal Irish Lancers. He was 40 when he was killed in action on the 11th November 1918, just ninety minutes before hostilities ceased. Eight hundred and sixty one died that day. The last soldier to die was Private George Lawrence Price who was shot just ninety seconds before the total cease-fire. He was 25 and served with the Canadian Infantry.

These three men, along with 161 others, are buried in St Symphorien Military Cemetery close to Mons in Belgium. Private John Parr lies to one side and Private Ellison opposite, on the other. The short distance between those two headstones represents over one million Commonwealth lives lost.

At 18.50 on the 22nd June 1940 another armistice was signed in the same railway carriage in the Forest of Compiègne. On this occasion it was France being forced by Germany to stop fighting against them, which was effectively a French surrender. Adolf Hitler sat on the same seat as Marshal Ferdinand Foch had in 1918 seeing this as revenge and deliberate humiliation.

Three days later, the Armistice site was demolished by the Germans on Hitler's orders and the carriage taken to Berlin as a trophy of war. In 1945 it was taken to Crawinkel in  Thuringia and burnt by SS troops.

The carriage now on show at the museum in the Forest of Compiègne is the one that was behind the original one. It is presented in exactly the same way as it was set out on the 11th November 1918.

 © Karen Ette
November 2014

To see more about The Armistice, the location and superb photographs, please follow this link to a brilliant and informative website: Pierre's Photo Impressions


Friday 24 October 2014

Leicestershire Regiment and a Gurkha VC

The Leicestershire Regiment, its India connection and a Gurkha VC
The Royal Leicestershire Regiment was raised on the 27th September 1688 and was known as the 17th Regiment of Foot. In 1804 the Regiment embarked for India and served there for over eighteen years. Here they saw challenging times in some of the most remote parts of the country. In 1807 they fought in Bundelkund, in 1808 on the Sutlej and against the ferocious Gurkhas in Nepal during 1813-1814. Ironically, one hundred years later, the Leicesters were fighting with the Gurkhas.
 The Regiment left India in 1823 and as the service of all its ranks was considered so valuable and abounding in courage and endurance, it was granted that they could carry the Green Tiger and the word ‘Hindoostan’ on their colours. In 1825 the Regiment was awarded the Honour of wearing the insignia of the Royal Tiger superimposed with the word Hindoostan, in recognition of its exemplary service and conduct during its campaigning and long tour in India from 1804-1823. Since that time the Regiment has always proudly been called "The Tigers".
The 2nd Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment was raised in 1858. They too had a gruelling period of service in India and Burma from 1874, and eventually returned home in 1890.  In 1881 the 17th Regiment of Foot became The Leicestershire Regiment. It was made up of two Regular battalions and two Militia battalions, and the Headquarters of the Regimental District was at Glen Parva Barracks, in South Wigston

At the outbreak of the First World War the 2nd Battalion was once again in India and were brought to France as the British Battalion of the Garhwal Brigade of the 7th Indian Division. [1]

At the Battle of Neuve Chapelle in March 1915 the Garhwal Brigade’s Indian battalions were held up by uncut wire, but the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment were able to attack and quickly overwhelmed the enemy and held the trenches. There were many ‘gallant deeds’ reported that day by the “Tigers”, the most notable being that of Private William Buckingham who was awarded the Victoria Cross.

On the 25th September 1915 the Battle of Loos began and another Victoria Cross was awarded, this time to a Gurkha soldier, Kulbir Thapa.

Kulbir Thapa was born on the 15th December 1889 in Palpa, Nepal. When the Battle of Loos began on the 25th September 1915 he was 26 and serving as a Rifleman with the 2nd Battalion of the 3rd Queen Alexandra’s Own Gurkha Rifles. The Allied Infantry assault began at 6.00 a.m. and under the cover of thick smoke Kulbir Thapa was in one of the leading companies who tried to break through the German wire at Fauquissart.
Kulbir was wounded and became stranded on the German side when he came across a wounded soldier of the 2nd Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment behind the first-line German trench. The ‘Tiger’ was Bill Keightley from Melton Mowbray,[2] and despite his injuries Kulbir Thapa stayed with him all day and all night. A mist had formed the following morning and Kulbir was able to drag Bill Keightley through the German wire and take him to a place of relative safety. He then went back and in broad daylight, fetched two wounded Gurkha soldiers and took them, too, to safety.[3]

His courageous act attracted a great deal of attention and it is reputed that when he brought yet another wounded soldier to safety, carrying him over his shoulder, that the Germans applauded him.
In the February 1915 Parish Magazine of St Peter and St Paul, Syston, there was a letter from a Leicestershire soldier, Percy Pollard. He had written to his mother on Christmas Eve, 1914 and said:  “We saw an Indian soldier do a brave deed. He went right out in front of our trenches to get one of our wounded in. He carried him about twenty yards and then got wounded. Then another Indian went out and brought them both safely in. It was worth a VC.” 
Percy Pollard may well have been speaking of Kulbir Thapa, when they were both at Loos in September 1915. Rifleman Thapa was indeed awarded the Victoria Cross for the Battle of Loos and was gazetted on the 18th November 1915.
Kulbir Thapa rejoined his battalion in Egypt on 4 January 1916 and he later achieved the rank of Havildar, which is equivalent to the rank of Sergeant. His Victoria Cross is displayed at the Gurkha Museum in Winchester. [4]

Darwan Negi of the 39th Garwhal Rifles was also awarded a VC for his brave action 23-24 November 1914 at FestubertFrance.

Karen Ette  


[2] [accessed 20 October 2014]  NO LONGER AVAILABLE
[3] [accessed 20 October 2014]  NO LONGER AVAILABLE

Saturday 27 September 2014

Soldiers' Songs and Slang of the Great War by Martin Pegler

Immaculate timing to up-date and expand the excellent 1930’s book Songs and Slang of the British Soldier by John Brophy and Eric Partridge.

Martin Pegler embraces their earlier work, which, due to censorship, had to omit much of the slang verses of songs, which had been considered at that time too crude for inclusion - even a revised 1965 version was heavily edited. This doesn’t mean that Martin Pegler’s up-dated version is crude, it isn’t, it’s a fascinating journey that gives an honest, true-to-life collection of songs, fabulous illustrations and, of course, a dictionary of slang used by the soldiers who endured trench life.

The alphabetical list of Military Slang, Terminology and Popular Phrases encompasses an enthralling lexicon from AAA – Ack, Ack, Ack – ‘Stop’ on a Morse buzzer, to a Zig-Zag – a drunk - from the wobbly walk of a man full of alcohol. There are almost two hundred pages of discovery.

Part two is a spiffing collection of songs; so important to the serving soldiers of 1914-1918. Singing raised morale, and a good marching rhythm helped Regiments move around the countryside of France and Flanders, and indeed Blightly. A further one hundred and fifty pages of songs are included in part two; anyone reading this book will end up singing along – so it might not be a good idea to read it on the train. Most know the chorus to It’s a Long Way to Tipperary, but few will know the verses, or the alternate version: That’s the Wrong Way to Tickle Mary.

There are, interspersed throughout the text, a number of images from Punch Magazine and Bruce Bairnsfather cartoons, postcards and posters, many from the author’s private collection.

As a writer and researcher of this era, I have found Soldiers’ Songs and Slang of the Great War to be a treasure chest of enlightenment and would like to thank Martin Pegler for sharing his knowledge in this wonderful book.

Do you know what ‘mongey’ means? Or where the word ‘plonk’ comes from, or what a Silent Percy was? You will if you buy this worthwhile book.

By Martin Pegler

Published by Osprey available in paperback or Kindle

Monday 11 August 2014

The Unknown Soldier at Paddington Station

On Platform 1 of Paddington Station stands the statue of an unknown soldier.

On the 28th June, 2014, the anniversary of the Sarajevo assassinations a website was launched called 14-18Now and letters were sent to the soldier, who stands at Paddington reading his letter, an oversized scarf around his neck and greatcoat slung over his shoulders. The 'post box' closed at 11.00 p.m. on Monday, 4th August 2014 one hundred years to the moment when the then Prime Minister, Herbert Asquith, announced in the House of Commons that Britain had joined the war.

The site has received over 21,000 letters and will remain open until 2018 when they will be archived with the British Library as a permanent memorial, accessible online.

He stands above a casket bearing the names of 3,312 men and women railway workers who died in two world wars.

You can access the website to read some of the letters, and listen to the sounds, by clicking here

My letter to him reads:
Dear Tommy

I never knew you, but I wish I could talk to you now.

At Paddington you stand, day trippers pass you; tourists, commuters, guards, ticket collectors, cleaners, parents and children go by.
They rush past, always in a hurry, somewhere to go, someone to meet. Never a sideways glance towards you, until one of them stumbles and grumbles.
            “Get out of my way.”
            “Watch where you’re going!”
They don’t even know who you are.

Once in a while someone will stop and look up. Usually tourists, stamping their representation on film. Out comes the camera then one or two stand beneath you and put their arms around each other, smiling. They block out the plaque, hide wording, for a personalised canvas, then leave without a backward glance. And they don’t even know who you are.

You hold your letter, and read it every day amidst the noise. Those whistles reminding you of your pals in the Rifles, its signal a call to fight on.  Flags are waved, doors slammed and the next train from Paddington slides past you, faces looking through grimy glass, but they don’t even know who you are.

Then every night, when it’s quiet, I stand and look up into your eyes, giving a little wave - a greeting, or is it farewell? I say “thank you my son.” You are the one, you are all - three thousand, three hundred and twelve. Railway workers who died for King and Country in two World Wars - names listed in a casket you stand over. On your shoulders you carry the grief of those who mourn.

Looking up to you is the recognition you warrant; you look down on me, you on a higher plane.  Deserving respect of all those who pass by, for without you they might never have taken their liberty.

I never knew you and each day you guard my name in a casket with the others, but you remain “A Soldier of the Great War, Known unto God.”