Thursday, 30 June 2016

Charles Moss: Hendon beaches

Charles Herbert Moss was from Chester-le-Street. He enlisted enlisted as 18/544 Private in the 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry. By 1 July 1916, he had been promoted to a Lance Corporal and was party of the C Company Lewis machine gun team. He survived both the Battle of the Somme, and the First World War, after which he wrote ‘My part in the Battle of the Somme' from which the quotes below are taken.
Charles Moss, 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, 1915 (D/DLI 7/478/6)
D/DLI 7/478/6 Charles Moss, 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, 1915
Somme - Barbed Wire
“Despite the terrific bombardment by our artillery, most of the German barbed wire entanglements were still as strong as ever… Those barbed wire defences were a great wonder to me… They were a great massive rusty wire wall built along the whole of the Western Front. They were about 5 or 6 feet high, and 3 to 4 yards deep in most places, built up on strong wooden and iron stakes.”

Evening before the attack, 30 June 1916 
“During the evening our CO, Lieutenant Colonel Hugh Bowes, give us instructions for our conduct during the battle. There was to be no turning back, every man must advance at a steady pace. All officers had the authority to shoot anyone who stopped or tried to turn back. The wounded had to be left to be attended to by the stretcher bearers and RAMC. The grimmest order to me was that no fighting soldier was to stop to help the wounded.”

Extra Equipment, June 1916
“Over and above our ordinary equipment, rifle and bayonet and ammunition in our pouches, I had a khaki bandolier full of .303, six loaded Lewis Gun magazines – carried in a horse’s nose bag because we hadn’t enough proper containers available – two Mill bombs, and a pick with the shat stuck down my back behind my haversack, and we were called Light Infantry!”

Bombardment, 1 July 1916
“I wanted to see how our attack was so going so I moved some of the chalk on the front of the trench in such a way that I would be protected from German sniper fire, and took a good look at the German line in front of me. But all that I could see was fountains of chalk and smoke sent up by our artillery. It was like watching heavy seas rolling and roaring on to Hendon beaches… during winter storms.”

Walking wounded, 1 July 1916
“We got the word to move to our ‘jumping off’ trench to be ready to go over the top… As I got into this trench I nearly bumped into a soldier who seemed to be carrying a big piece of raw meat resting on his left arm. He was doing a sort of crying whimper… Then I realised it was the remains of his right forearm he was carrying… Many more soldiers were making their way back up the trench, they were the walking wounded.”
Charles Moss, taken a few years after the first photograph (D/DLI 7/478/8)
D/DLI 7/478/8 Charles Moss, taken a few years after the first photograph
Night, 1916
“The darkness of the night was often broken by the brilliant light from the arching Verey Lights being fired across No Man’s Land. As each light died out we were blinded by the darkness being blacker than ever, and the sudden changes from the blackness to such weird and ghostly light… made the place such a terribly eerie sight, that I felt as though I was no longer on the civilised world.”

Young soldier, 1916
“While we were in the shelter the talk amongst the team became very morbid and downhearted. They would persist in talking about the cruel and gruesome sights they had seen, and how easily such things could happen to them. One of the youngest, a lad of about 17, was becoming very distressed as the despondent talk continued. I realised I would have to get their minds on to other and more cheerful things, so when one of them passed the remark… “It’s a bloody good job we’ve got a navy,” I took this as my cue… so I got them interested in some of my trips in the Merchant Navy especially my holidays on the continent with the Londonderry boats out of Seaham Harbour. It was marvellous how they responded to the change of subject, the young gunner brightened up considerably and the rest of them stopped their depressing gossip.”

Durham miners, 1916
“The Kitchener’s Army Pit Lads proved themselves to be ‘born soldiers.’ What a great pity it is impossible to estimate how much the country owes to the miners for the ultimate victory, and the good hearted manner of it. All the world ought to know how many miners there were in the regiments that broke through the German Front at Contalmaison and Fricourt and repulsed the enemy counter attacks at Martinpuich, Butte de Warlencourt and Flers. It was their contempt of danger and death that won them through.”

You can read the full story of Charles Moss on Durham at War and a transcript of his memoir:

Friday, 24 June 2016

Washington Men at the Somme

To commemorate the centenary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on Friday 1 July at 12:15pm and 1:15pm in the search room at Durham County Record Office, we are showing a short film made by the Wessington U3A First World War research group, with Lonely Tower. The group has made several films, funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund.  All are welcome to come and see it.

The film focuses on men from the Washington area (100 years ago, Washington was in County Durham), but in doing so it also paints a broader picture of experiences of the Battle of the Somme. It is worthwhile seeing this.  A trailer can seen at the bottom of the page.

There are other screenings happening the same day, organised by Wessington U3A.
Washington Men at the Somme

Friday, 17 June 2016

Munitionettes football: "decadence of womanliness and burlesque"

We have had a number of newspaper articles published on Durham at War recently about Munitionettes football. The following is a series of letters sent to the Evening Despatch, about whether women should be allowed to play football. They were contributed to the website by Darlington Centre for Local Studies.
To the Editor of the “Evening Despatch.”
Sir, – I see from your columns we are to have another exhibition of the unsexing of the fair sex in Darlington tomorrow. I refer to the munition workers’ football match. Is it not time a protest was made against this decadence of womanliness and burlesque of a national game? I am the first to admit that women have taken a noble part in the prosecution of the war. I would raise my hat to a girl in overalls or the habit of a land worker, for it is the insignia of a duty to the country nobly performed. But it is a different thing when a girl consents to run about before a crowd clad only in knickers and jersey, simply for what amusement she may get out of it. Such conduct is most reprehensible.

I suspect that it is not enthusiasm for football as a game which has brought these girls’ teams into existence, but the youthful and foolish desire to be daring. Little do they suspect the dangers to which they are exposing themselves, morally and socially. – Trusting you will find room for this protest, I am, yours etc.
Father of Daughters
28 September 1917, Evening Despatch p. 2

To the Editor of the “Evening Despatch,”
Sir, – I think “Father of Daughters” is very nasty and impolite. It is evident he is no “ladies’ man” and still more evident that he is no sportsman. Probably he has never seen a football match. I invite him to come and see our game today, and if the sight of the football girls adding to their health and strength by playing one of the healthiest of sports does not make him change his mind, then I must class him as prejudiced and old-fashioned.

I should like to know where the moral danger comes in. Girls have played cricket and hockey for years past. Have they become less womanly? On the contrary, their womanhood by their improvement physically has been raised to a higher degree of perfection. As to social degradation, the process so far has been mighty slow?

In deprecating a girl “running about before a mixed crowd clad only in knickers and jersey,” “Father” makes himself very prudish. Has he never seen mixed bathing?

I am afraid poor “Father” is horribly “off-side.” In trying to “score a goal” he has run his head against the post and is now seeing “stars.” – Yours etc.
One of the Unsexed
29 September 1917, Evening Despatch p. 4

To the Editor of the “Evening Despatch,”
Sir, – I am a munition worker and footballer, and on behalf of the girls among whom I play I wish to repudiate the statements of “A Father of Daughters”. He is a footballer himself, but because of his narrow ideas on the sex question he grudges the sport to the girls. Is there any reason why girls should leave football out of their sports simply because the men have monopolised the game for so many years?

We certainly do not pretend to give it the prestige that, as the national game, it has always had from the men – those men with whom we ourselves are linked with regard to our work. We have taken up their work (we do not want to boast), and there is no reason why we should not take up their games.
Is the absurd question of “clothing” to stop us? Some of us are working in trousers among a mixed crowd. That goes down all right. Why such a sudden change of opinion because we wish to play in trousers in front of a mixed crowd? Personally, give me a football rig-out to a bathing dress, and a mixed crowd watching us playing football, to a mixed crowd watching us bathing – and the latter is carried on year after year with never a word of protest.

But the main thing I would like to point out to “A Father of Daughters” is this: Sound in body, sound in mind, a little more of the football, and there would be a great deal less of the ever-growing and absolutely apparent lack of morality among the girls of today. I consider myself a modern girl, and I place the very highest value on the part that sports have played in my life.

A real sporting girl who plays games – hockey, cricket, lacrosse, and football – plays for the love of it, appreciating at the same time the good she knows it is doing her, even if she does happen to be wearing shorts in front of a mixed crowd. The wish to “show off” seems to me a statement which is purely the outcome of a narrow-minded and prejudiced person who grudges his national game to the girls. –Yours etc
A Munition Worker and Footballer
1 October 1917, Evening Despatch p. 2 

You can read more about Munitionettes here:

Friday, 10 June 2016

The Tyneside Irish and the Somme part 5: Raiding parties

The fifth part in John Sheen's series following the Tyneside Irish Brigade of the Northumberland Fusiliers to the Somme.

In the last blog we left the 103 (Tyneside Irish) Brigade on their way to the Somme Front at the end of May 1916.

Captain George Swinburn also recorded the march from the station.
'We marched through a large town with the Pipers at the head of the Battalion, under the command of the Major [Prior] because the Colonel is away sick. It is the best reception we just have ever had and the streets and avenues were lined with hundreds of people on both sides. The residents seemed to be greatly impressed by the fitness of the men. We are all sunburnt and look absolutely in the pink. There were shouts of "Vive La France and Vive Angleterre" and the scene was thrilling. I felt quite proud riding at the head of my company. It took us a good hour to march through the town and when we halted in one of the suburbs the people were most kind to the men.'
Men of the 25th Battalion , Northumberland Fusiliers, on the line of march. This photo was taken in Wiltshire but they would have looked very similar on the Somme. From Tyneside Irish by John Sheen.
Men of the 25th Battalion , Northumberland Fusiliers, on the line of march. This photo was taken in Wiltshire but they would have looked very similar on the Somme. The John Sheen Collection.
The battalions took their turn in the trenches in front of the village of La Boiselle and the 25th Battalion had only been in the line a short while when on the night of 21 May, a German raiding party tried to enter the British trenches on the right, held by D Company of the Battalion. They were forced back after a desperate bombing fight around a post held by six men commanded by Lance Corporal Tom Hilton of Hebburn. After all of his men were either dead or badly wounded, Lance Corporal Hilton kept throwing bombs at the raiders until they were compelled to retire. For this brave action he was awarded the Military Medal.

These German raiders came from Wurttemberg and came from II/RIR 110 - that is 2nd Battalion Reserve Infantry Regiment 110 - who had been holding the area around La Boiselle since 1914. Unlike the British the Germans, in the early years of the war, tried to keep their units fairly static so they got to know the ground they were defending. This would prove costly for the men of the British 34th Division on 1 July 1916.

The writing on the right of the card shows the senders unit to be II/RIR110. The man marked X is named Carl and is the sender of the card.  The John Sheen Collection.
The writing on the right of the card shows the senders unit to be II/RIR110. The man marked X is named Carl and is the sender of the card.  The John Sheen Collection.
On 20 May, Brigadier Cameron attended a conference at Divisional Headquarters, and was warned to prepare 103 Brigade to carry out a series of trench raids on the enemy near the village of La Boisselle. Accordingly, the battalions were warned to form and start training raiding parties, in preparation. The parties from the 24th and 26th Battalions were selected to carry out the operation, the 24th to be on the right, and the 26th on the left. Meanwhile the officers and non-commissioned officers [NCO] of both parties visited the front line several times to reconnoitre the objective. 

The raid was postponed, initially to 3 June and then to the night of 5/6 of June. Meetings were held at Divisional Headquarters to ensure that the Artillery programme was fully understood by everyone concerned. Meanwhile the raiders kept practising. Special stores required for the raid by the 24th Battalion were supplied by Division as follows: 
140 Mills Grenades
4 Grenade waistcoats
19 Small hand axes
18 Traverser mats
6 Torch rifles
6 Small electric torches
6 Whistles
40 Pairs of wire gloves
300 Yards White tape
3 Sets silent signalling apparatus
4 Wire cutters large
2 Wrist watches

102 (Tyneside Scottish) Brigade were holding the front line. The passwords were chosen as follows:
A soldier of the Scottish, challenging, would say 'SCOTCH',
A soldier from the Irish would answer, 'GEORDIE'.
A soldier of the Irish, challenging, would say 'IRISH',
A soldier from the Scottish would answer, 'GEORDIE'.

The 24th Battalion raid was to be commanded by Major J P Gallwey and would be in two squads, each commanded by a subaltern, comprising:
1 Officer
1 Sergeant
7 Bayonetmen
4 Bombers
3 Carriers
2 Scouts
2 Signallers
2 Stretcher bearers

No 1 squad would come from D Company and No 2 squad from C Company. In each party there would be at least one corporal and one lance corporal. Raid HQ would be made up of the officer commanding the raid and two telephone operators.

The plan was for the raiders to leave the British Front Line at the same spot and pass through the British wire. They would then spread out and on reaching the German wire, two bombers and one
carrier would throw their traversing mats over the wire and quickly cross, followed by the remainder of the squad, except for one scout, who would return to raid HQ and report that the enemy wire had been crossed. Two signallers would remain outside the wire and send a signal reporting the wire crossed.

Having crossed the enemy wire, No 1 squad would work to the right and No 2 to the left, and enter the enemy trench. Immediately the second scout would return to Raid HQ and report that the trench had been entered, and the signallers would also report by sending the prearranged signal. 

The bombers and bayonetmen, accompanied by a carrier, would begin working along the trench protecting the rest of the squad. The remaining bayonetmen, along with the officer and sergeant, would try to capture a prisoner, and if possible, obtain identification. The second party of bombers and bayonetmen would protect the rear of the squad and one stretcher bearer would remain on top of the parapet, whilst the other would enter the enemy trench to assist with the evacuation of any wounded. A late addition to the plan was the inclusion of a Lewis gun team of an officer and two men, who would go out and protect the flank. This was the plan then for the 24th Battalion raid but what actually happened was something quite different.

The raiding party left Franvillers in a motor bus at 6:30pm on the evening of 5 June, and were conveyed to Albert, reaching the town at about 8pm. By 10pm they were assembled in the large dugout at the enemy end of Mercer Street. By the same hour the Brigade and Battalion Commanders were in their respective positions, and communications had been tested and found to be in working order. 

At 11pm (zero hour), the bombardment started according to the plan, and during this, the raiders left their dugout and made their way along the trench. At the time the barrage was supposed to lift, it did not. With British shells landing all around their location, Major Gallwey waited for an opportunity to leave the and cross No Man’s Land, but time ran out. By now, the party had several casualties. Private Joseph Hughes of Spennymoor was killed. Lance Corporals Stockhill and Blades, and Privates Brierley, Cain, and Brown, along with Major Gallwey, were wounded by the British shellfire. Sergeant Patrick Butler and four others were awarded Divisional Cards of Honour for the part they played in the raid.

Seated Private Jack Reardon of Thornley took part in the trench raid as a bayonetman but was to lose a leg on 1 July 1916.  From Tyneside Irish by John Sheen.
Seated Private Jack Reardon of Thornley took part in the trench raid as a bayonetman but was to lose a leg on 1 July 1916.  From Tyneside Irish by John Sheen. 
But what of the 26th Battalion's raiding party?
Their raid was planned slightly differently, for, although there were two bombing parties, an NCO with nine men would provide a covering force. Things went better for this raid, and as the barrage moved forward, they crossed No Man’s Land and entered the enemy front line, where some dugouts were bombed, but no prisoners taken before it was time to withdraw.

More successful than the 24th Battalion raid, it resulted in the award of the Military Cross to Captain Harold Price, the officer commanding the raid. Captain Price was born in Vancouver and had travelled half way around the world to enlist and receive his commission in the battalion. 26/389 Lance Corporal Joseph Lee of Craghead was awarded the Military Medal in the same action and promoted to full Corporal.

After the somewhat unsuccessful raids on the night of the 5/6 June, Divisional HQ decided that the raiding parties should try again, on the night of 25/26 June. The plan was identical to the previous one with hardly any changes except to the personnel involved; even the objectives in the German trenches remained the same.

This time the Germans were well and truly ready for them. On the right, the raiding party under Major Prior reached the enemy parapet but then met with very intense rifle and machine-gun fire and very effective bombing. Forced to retire, they had two men wounded; one managed to walk in under his own power, but the other had a more serious wound, and was carried in by Lieutenant Brady and Private E Hedley of Newcastle. Private Hedley had been constantly absent, while the Battalion was training in England, but he was a good soldier when in the line. He was to be killed in action the following year.

Meanwhile, not far to the left, the Germans were playing a more cunning game. As the raiders approached all was quiet and they were allowed to enter the German trenches, but as soon as they were in, they were met with a shower of bombs from each flank and from behind the fortifications. A hand-to-hand fight ensued in which it was estimated that the enemy suffered more casualties than the raiders. The bombers, moving quickly, fought their way along the enemy trench and the leading man, 26/73 Private William Bullock, of Blaydon, had a fierce struggle with a German soldier, who had no desire to be taken prisoner. Unable to capture the man, Private Bullock threw him down the steps of a deep dugout, then threw a grenade after him.

During the withdrawal another bomber, 26/850 Private John Clark of Newcastle, assisted those of the raiding party who were wounded. Looking back he spotted two Germans about to open fire, so he threw his last bomb at them, then opened fire with his rifle, before helping the wounded through the German wire. As they crossed No Man’s Land, the covering party under the command of 26/1386 Sergeant John Connolly of Jarrow, headed off a German flank attack, and remained in position until the main party had withdrawn. 

These members of the 26th Battalion Raiding Party received the Military Medal for their actions during the raid, and Sergeant Connolly was eventually commissioned in the Leinster Regiment. Captain Price was killed as he came back over No Man’s Land, and other casualties were Captain BD Mullally and six other ranks wounded but they remained at duty. Second Lieutenant I Russell and two other ranks were evacuated wounded and one other rank was missing - 25/1458 Private William Burgess of Blyth. Of the two Royal Engineers who accompanied the raiding party, one was wounded and one was missing so that again the results of the raid were somewhat disappointing. 

The raiders did not get much rest, for on the 27th and 28th the battalions began to move forward, in preparation for the opening of the big attack. For the previous four days the British artillery had been pounding the German trenches, and every man in the Brigade was aware that the opening of the offensive was very close.

Friday, 3 June 2016

'A Jutland Hero'

This week we have another blog post by Steve Shannon.

In early June 1916, the bodies of over sixty Royal Navy sailors were washed up on the west coast of Sweden. Many were wearing life jackets and many could be identified from the metal identity bracelets they wore. All were casualties of the most important naval battle of the First World War, the Battle of Jutland, when the British Grand and German High Seas fleets clashed in the North Sea off the coast of Denmark.

One of these bodies came ashore on the small island of Styrsö, south of Gothenburg, and was buried with full naval honours in the local churchyard. Swedish sailors and two hundred islanders attended the burial and many wreaths were placed on the grave. This was the grave of James Brown from Sunderland.
Styrso, from the sea, taken by Adbar, 2014, (via Wikimedia) Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike
Styrsö, from the sea, taken by Adbar, 2014, (via Wikimedia) Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 
James had been born in Aberdeen in 1878. Later he moved to Sunderland and, in 1911, was working in Doxford’s shipyard and living in Hendon with his wife, Cecilia Ann, and three young children. On 15 March 1915, James joined the Royal Naval Reserve and, after training, was posted to Scapa Flow, the Grand Fleet’s main base at Orkney. There he joined HMS Shark as an Engine Room Artificer, helping to maintain the oil-fired turbine engines of this small, but fast, torpedo boat destroyer built by Swan Hunter in Wallsend in 1912.

The fighting at Jutland began late afternoon on 31 May and, within hours, two Royal Navy battlecruisers had exploded, killing over two thousand men. By early evening, as the main British battleships hunted the German fleet, Royal Navy destroyers, including HMS Shark commanded by Captain Loftus Jones, were ordered to attack. After firing one torpedo, Shark was hit by German shells and stopped dead in the water. The doomed destroyer was then pounded by German shells, but, before the destroyer sank, about one third of her ninety man crew clambered aboard two life rafts. Only six, however, were still alive, when they were found just after midnight by a Danish steamer. All the others had died from their wounds or the cold.
HMS Shark, IWM non-commercial licence © IWM (Q 75119)
HMS Shark, IWM non-commercial licence © IWM (Q 75119)
Cecilia Brown was informed by the Admiralty of her husband’s death on 6 June 1916 and a brief account, under the heading ‘A Jutland Hero’, was printed in the Newcastle Journal on 20 July. In the early 1920s, Mrs Brown was given almost £70 by the Admiralty (worth about £3,500 today) as her husband’s share of the prize money for the German ships sunk at Jutland. She also received his three campaign medals. 

In 1961, James Brown’s remains were moved by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission from Styrso, along with all the other Jutland casualties who had washed up on Swedish shores, and reburied in Kviberg Cemetery in Gothenburg. It is unlikely, however, that Cecilia Brown was ever able to visit her husband’s grave in Sweden.

Commander Loftus Jones, Shark’s captain, is also buried in Kviberg. In March 1917, he had been awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross for his bravery and leadership at Jutland, despite being horrifically wounded. After the war, his widow was able to visit her husband’s grave and was there given the life belt that had been recovered from his body. That life belt is today in the Royal Navy Museum in Portsmouth, whilst his medals, including his VC, are in the Imperial War Museum. The whereabouts of James Brown’s medals are, however, unknown.

As for Jutland, despite the Royal Navy’s disastrous losses of men and ships and despite German claims of victory, the battle was not a British defeat. At Jutland, the German High Seas Fleet had failed to break the British blockade that was starving Germany of food and vital raw materials, and the Royal Navy’s control of the North Sea was never again challenged during the First World War.