Friday, 25 July 2014

‘This is their week of destiny’

Extract from the diary of Captain PHB Lyon, June 1918 (D/DLI 7/424/3)
D/DLI 7/424/3 Extract from the diary of Captain PHB Lyon, June 1918 
In 1918, Captain PHB Lyon, 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, was taken as a prisoner of war, arriving at his first camp at Karlsruhe on 11 June (he was soon moved to Graudenz where he spent the remainder of the war).  He kept a diary of this time, 'A Diary - Seven Months of Captivity', much of which focuses on eating and reading.
‘…at seven o’clock we were initiated into the unofficial regulations by a tall philosopher-browed subaltern, who was apparently the permanent staff of the place – a prisoner of some standing. He told us all the tips about getting parcels from home; also about the library – an excellent one where books can be changed twice a day… I wrote home this evening, and read ‘His Last Bow’ till it was time to turn in.’ (Captain PHB Lyon, ref: D/DLI 7/424/3)
His Last Bow is a Sherlock Holmes story by Arthur Conan Doyle, one of only two stories written in the third person. It was initially printed in The Strand magazine in September 1917 before being published in an anthology of the same name with six other stories, in the October. It is not indicated in the diary whether it is the magazine or book form that Captain Lyon is reading, though the fact that it came from a library suggests the latter. It is interesting that someone is reading what is considered to be Conan Doyle’s British morale booster in a prisoner of war camp in Germany, less than a year after its release.

Sherlock Holmes was evidently popular among soldiers.  The Wipers Times and its subsequent incarnations featured the serial adventures of Herlock Shomes and his companion Dr. Hotsam, RAMC, centred around such locations as Typers, and the Denin Gate.

After the image is a summary of Conan Doyle's wartime contribution that reveals key plot details.

The Strand Magazine, vol. 65, no. 321, September 1917, Magazine Rights: Public domain, Courtesy: Toronto Public Library, Wikimedia Commons
The Strand Magazine, vol. 65, no. 321, September 1917, Magazine Rights: Public domain, Courtesy: Toronto Public Library, Wikimedia Commons
His Last Bow begins on 2 August 1914 with a German Baron, Von Herling, visiting the coastal home of another German, Von Bork, and discussing Von Bork’s success at infiltrating British society and government. Though Von Herling wonders if Britain will take arms, ‘This is their week of destiny’, Von Bork knows it is likely and is preparing to leave the country. First though, he is expecting another visitor, an Irish-American by the name of Altamont, who is bringing some British naval intelligence. 

The Baron leaves and soon after Altamont arrives. He expressed concern that so many of Von Bork’s informants have been arrested, and worries that he will be next. If the reader has not already guessed the true identity of Altamont, he hands Von Bork the intelligence copied into a book titled ‘Practical Handbook of Bee Culture’. As Von Bork looks at it, he is chloroformed by John Watson. 

Whilst other papers may contain real intelligence, papers supplied by Sherlock Holmes as Altamont are ‘…thoroughly untrustworthy. It would brighten my declining years to see a German cruiser navigating the Solent according to the mine-field plans which I have furnished.’ As Von Bork is bundled, bound, into the car to be taken to London, Holmes looks out to sea and speaks those poignant words to Watson: 
‘There’s an east wind coming all the same, such a wind as never blew on England yet. It will be cold and bitter, Watson, and a good many of us may wither before its blast. But it’s God’s own wind none the less, and a cleaner, better, stronger land will lie in the sunshine when the storm has cleared.’

Friday, 18 July 2014

Durham's ‘Edwardian Golden Summer’ of 1914?

This week we have a guest post by David Butler on what the country was like in the run up to the war.

National Unrest

From 1906 the Liberal government, which had been elected after a long period of Conservative rule, introduced many social reforms.  However by 1914 it was dependant on Irish Nationalist support, the price being Irish Home Rule.  By late July Ireland was on the brink of civil war the paramilitary Ulster Volunteers were planning armed opposition and a number of army officers in Ireland were not prepared to follow orders to enforce the legislation.

The leader of the Women's Suffragette movement, Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst is arrested by Superintendant Rolfe outside Buckingham Palace, London while trying to present a petition to HM King George V in May 1914.  This image was created and released by the Imperial War Museum on the IWM Non Commercial Licence
The leader of the Women's Suffragette movement, 
Mrs Emmeline Pankhurst is arrested by 
Superintendant Rolfe outside Buckingham Palace
London while trying to present a petition to HM 
King George V in May 1914.  This image was 
created and released by the Imperial War 
Museum on the IWM Non Commercial Licence
From 1905 the Women’s Social and Political Union began a confrontational campaign for electoral reform.  This included disrupting political meetings, breaking windows and setting fire to empty houses, which resulted in arrests and inhumane treatment in prison.

Between 1910 and 1914 there were widespread industrial problems, with strikes in the coal, engineering, building, transport, and iron & steel industries.  Some of the strikes led to riots, with troops being deployed to support the police.  All was building up to the strong likelihood of a General Strike occurring in September 1914.

Local View

How far the citizens of Durham were aware of the international situation is difficult to assess.  One window into the concerns of Durham’s inhabitants in the summer of 1914 is to examine the Durham Advertiser for the weeks before the outbreak of war.   Interestingly, there are only two references to the international situation:

On 3 July the paper carried a brief account of the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand at the bottom of page 7, although the report of prices paid for cattle and sheep at Lanchester occupied more space.

At the end of the month a short piece entitled ‘The Outbreak of War’ referred to Austria-Hungary’s declaration of war against Serbia.  The paper claimed that diplomacy ‘is straining every nerve to preserve peace’ and that ‘the situation of extreme gravity will continue for weeks’, but re-assured its readers that the Royal Navy and British Army were ‘in a state almost equivalent to mobilisation’.

The Irish crisis did get more coverage in the paper, usually in editorials, and on 24 July there was a report of the attempt by George V to settle the Irish crisis peacefully, however, although there was some progress, events were overtaken by the worsening international situation.

What else was concerning the inhabitants of Durham in July 1914?

There is very little in the Advertiser about the women’s suffrage agitation.  However there was a letter from Maurice Drummond of Lanchester which stated that he was ‘astonished and filled with indignation to think … that any Government should be so unfortunate in a country like ours … to hesitate giving the franchise … to women …  No matter about [her] standing, education, intelligence, health, money, land, property, profession, income, she is doomed to be kept out, defied and ill-treated, as if she was a mere tramp, vagabond and out-lawed.  … But Jack, Tom, Dick, Bob and Harry, can have all the pleasure of life as he likes, and a vote into the bargain, simply because he is a man.’

However, the Big Meeting (the 43rd Durham Miners Gala) which took place on 25 July 1914, did provide a platform (literally) for the suffragettes.  The National Union of Women’s Suffrage Societies was allowed to hold a non-militant meeting following the main meeting, at which the speakers were Dr. Ethel Williams, Muriel Matters and Margaret Robinson.  The paper reported that the majority of the crowd remained to listen, and few interruptions took place.

Photograph of a Royal Flying Corps officer seated in the cockpit of a biplane, n.d. [1917] (D/DLI 7/880/1(61))
D/DLI 7/880/1(61) Photograph of a Royal Flying Corps officer seated in the cockpit of a biplane, n.d. [1917]

On Saturday 18 July Major Charles Burke of the Royal Flying Corps landed his biplane in a field at Easington following a petrol stoppage.  He continued his journey to Scotland on the following Monday, in the presence of a large crowd which had assembled early in the morning, but owing to fog he did not take-off until 4.00 p.m.  However, after two miles the fog forced him to land near Haswell.  He left the next morning, again with a large crowd, and was ‘last seen proceeding northwards’.

Since this was the height of summer, it is not surprising that there was an advertisement for the Canvastown Holiday Camp, Whitley Bay, where you could have a tent with a wooden floor, and use of a pavilion with a dining room, lounge and billiard room, for £1 per week, including four meal a day.

Copy photograph, from a postcard, of the rocky beach at Whitley Bay, Northumberland, looking south-east, n.d. [ c.1920] Clayport Library reference 138A; Durham Record no. DR 02299 (D/CL 27/277/370)
D/CL 27/277/370 Copy photograph, from a postcard, of the rocky beach at Whitley Bay, Northumberland, looking south-east, n.d. [ c.1920] Clayport Library reference 138A; Durham Record no. DR 02299

The beginning of August was a Bank Holiday weekend (Friday 31 July - Monday 3 August), and events in Durham included the 12th Annual Northern Cyclists August Meet, with participants arriving in the city from Newcastle on Saturday, and attending a service at the cathedral on Sunday afternoon; the annual gala of the United Irish Land League of Great Britain at Wharton Park on Monday addressed by Joseph Devlin MP; a swimming gala in the Wear by the Racecourse organised by the city swimming club; and the North Eastern Railway’s Saturday excursion trains from Durham to destinations including York, Scarborough, Barrow, Windermere, and London.

One  reflection of the international situation can be seen at the Durham County Agricultural Show held at Dryburn Park in Durham on Wednesday 29 July which had special classes for hunters suitable for cavalry purposes and foals likely to be suitable for artillery purposes.

I will finish with a surprisingly accurate prediction published in July 1914 for 100 years in the future:

"[Houses] … will be without chimneys, will have an elevator in the centre instead of a staircase, will be heated electrically from strips put in during building construction, lighted from hidden strips around the walls, and will have simplified electric cookers and other utensils.   The gardener will not only use electricity for stimulating his plants but as a source of power for pumping and cutting the grass, and the … garage will use it for charging automobiles, driving small repair tools, inflating and vulcanising tires, and probably for compressed air cleaning.   As all coal will be burned at the pit’s mouth to generate electricity, towns will be practically dustless and smokeless.   All transportation will be by electricity, factories and business places will depend upon … electrical appliances, the telephone will be universal, wireless telegraphy will play a great part in communication, and electricity will serve in medicine and surgery …, for sterilising food, for purifying and ionising the air … making the world healthier and speeding it up marvellously."

Friday, 11 July 2014

Apples of chicken

When frequenting the estaminets of France, it was an opportunity for the men to try out their French.  Anyone who has tried to cobble a sentence together from the fragments of a language they know may feel some sympathy with the following extract.

This is from an anonymised account that was published in The Bede, the magazine of Durham's teacher training college for men (June 1915 vol. XI no.3): 
“One did not like the wine but one bought some just to air a bit of French.  Some people’s French was limited and Private X smiled at recollections.  ‘Pommes de poulet’ was not bad for the man who had forgotten what the French for eggs might be, and ‘Café au lait without milk’ still tickled him, and he remembered how the French waitress who told him the story enjoyed the joke, especially as she knew far more English than the Englishman did French.” (E/HB 2/579)
The literal translations of these terms are ‘Apples of chicken’ and ‘Coffee with milk without milk’. 

Colour sketch of a soldier drinking cider, drawn By Reverend Birch [1918] (D/DLI 7/63/4(5))
D/DLI 7/63/4(5) Colour sketch of a soldier drinking cider, drawn By Reverend James Birch [1918]
Life was a little different for the officers.  The first of these extracts is from a letter written by Colonel HHS Morant to his wife in April 1918 whilst he was commanding the 3rd Infantry Brigade.  The second is from a diary entry by Major JA Crosthwaite of 2nd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry written in December 1914.
“The only advantage of this Warfare is that one gets a certain amount of luxuries…We had salved Champagne last night.  The troops of course get drunk occasionally on the drink they find.  We have to smash bottles and bottles as it can’t be carried or controlled, it does seem wasteful but can’t be helped.” (Morant, D/DLI 7/1230)

“We got a bottle of light Bordeaux from the cellar of our farm to drink the health of the Colonel’s father Major McMahon late 14th Light Dragoons (which regiment he joined in 1842) whose 89th birthday it was.  Incidentally it may be noted that this belonged to one of our allies, it was paid for, not looted.” (Crosthwaite, D/DLI 7/153/1)

Drawing of a soldier by Private T McCree, possibly Captain Pickering, at a table in a dugout, eating, Hill 70, France, [1917] (D/DLI 7/956/3(41))
D/DLI 7/956/3(41) Drawing by Private Thomas McCree of a soldier, possibly Captain Pickering, eating at a table in a dugout, Hill 70, France, [1917]
To round off this series of posts, Lieutenant Fred Rees found an alternative use for food as a means of getting rid of unwanted trench buddies of the furry variety:
‘A great trick with these rats is to put a bit of cheese on the bayonet and rest it on the parapet and when a rat starts nibbling, pull the trigger – result no rat.’ (D/DLI 7/560/4)

Friday, 4 July 2014

Ambrosia, thou art become

Photograph of an open area surrounded by fences with various officer prisoners, Lieutenant Farquharson is indicated on the far left, Graudenz, West Prussia, Germany, October 1918 (D/DLI 7/424/3(16))
D/DLI 7/424/3(16) Photograph of an open area surrounded by fences with various officer prisoners, Lieutenant Farquharson is indicated on the far left, Graudenz, West Prussia, Germany, October 1918
In 1918, Captain PHB Lyon, 6th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (The Second Battle of Ypres - 6th Battalionwas taken as a prisoner of war.  After moving around for a while, he eventually stopped at Graudenz [now GrudziądzPoland] on the Vistula River.  He kept a diary, written up in 1919, ‘A Diary – Seven Months of Captivity’ [D/DLI 7/424/3].  One of the most common topics covered is food.  The lack of it, and the poor quality (and difference) of what was provided led to a lot of effort being made to improve it and eke it out. 

27 June
“By all agreed to be a wonderful day; the wonder being of course eatable and drinkable.  …[Received emergency parcels for Ruhleben camp] and as a result we today have issues of biscuits (15 per head), sugar (lump, fairly plentiful), & tea.  Also tins of sardines, one between 2, are forthcoming from the canteen.  In the evening the Ruhleben cases actually disgorge BULLY, and the mess gets 4/15 of a 7lb tin!  “Oh Bully, in our hour of ease, Too brackish dry and hard to please, When pangs of hunger rack the tum, Ambrosia thou art become!”

D/DLI 7/424/3(24)  A mess food menu 
captioned: 'One of the first of the 
daily menus of 'mess 94'!, Graudenz
West PrussiaGermany, 29 July 1918
 18 July
“In the evening we get a jam issue from the canteen, nearly a pound a man, at 1 mark apiece.  Quite good stuff too, though highly fermented & very ‘turnipy’…”

19 July
“…a red-letter day in the food line, for the room as a whole and for me especially.  I was asked to tea by Waydelin, the OC parcel [officer commanding the incoming parcels], who messes with Colonel Corfe & Major Jiminez.  They were all getting parcels & produced butter, English marmalade, ‘Vi’ cocoa, white bread, toast, & Garibaldi biscuits.  They finished tea in about ¼ hour, and then sat round and delightedly watched me feed!  I made a real pig of myself, and felt absolutely full for the first time since capture.”