Famous Verdun photographs which are not what they seem

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A dramatic photograph was prominent in media reports of the centenary of the opening of the Battle of Verdun on 21 February 1916, apparently showing a French soldier caught in the moment of death. It is usually licensed from Getty images who have now altered their caption to acknowledge that it is in fact a film still from 1928.

Embed from Getty Images

The French film maker Léon Poirier produced a remarkable feature Verdun, visions d’histoire, shot on the old battlefields and inside the forts, using veterans wearing original uniforms and equipment.

Leon Poirier Verdun_visions_d_histoire

(Poster source)

Another famous photograph of stretcher bearers under shell fire is also from the film but Getty have yet to alter the caption.Embed from Getty Images

Watch Verdun, visions d’histoire on YouTube:


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Understanding the 1914 Christmas Truce


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The Lochnagar Mine


German grenades in Rossignol Wood

The Secrets of Rossignol Wood


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Rossignol Wood

Rossignol Wood

Rossignol Wood, shell craters and trenches.

It is more than thirty years since I first stumbled across this wood on the northern part of the Somme battlefield. Rossignol, or Nightingale, Wood seldom features in the usual histories or battlefield itineraries but it clearly showed evidence of fierce fighting: deep trenches running along the edges, smashed concrete bunkers and collapsed dugouts, shell holes and heaps of German grenades, while in the adjacent ploughed field lay British shell fuses.  Two small British cemeteries are close by and one, uniquely for a Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery, holds more German burials than British. Subsequent visits and research over the years have revealed the story of the fighting at the wood and also its association with some of the most remarkable personalities of the war.

Rossignol Wood view from German trench

Rossignol Wood, the view from German trench.

Fighting came to the wood in February and March 1917 when the Germans withdrew from the old Somme battlefield to the Hindenburg Line. Strong German rearguards caused heavy casualties to the North and South Staffords and the Bradford Pals.  Immediately to the west, the 18th Durham Light Infantry captured the German line. For his part a young Second Lieutenant, James Barker Bradford, received the Military Cross but died of his wounds. He was the third in age of the four famous Bradford brothers, two of whom went on to receive the Victoria Cross but both were also to lose their lives.

German grenades in Rossignol Wood

German grenades in Rossignol Wood.

The Germans withdrew later in March only to retake the ground a year later during the 1918 spring offensive when they were halted a short distance away at Hébuterne. In April 1918 the Lincolns and the Somersets attempted to capture the wood but were forced out. Their chaplain, Theodore Hardy DSO MC, went into the wood and, with the help of a sergeant, managed to bring a man back. For his actions, including tending a wounded man near a German bunker which still survives in Rossignol Wood, Hardy was awarded the Victoria Cross. He died of wounds in October 1918, the most highly decorated non-combatant of the First World War.

Rossignol Wood German bunker

Rossignol Wood, German bunker.

In July 1918 the German infantry officer Ernst Jünger came to Rossignol Wood. The author of The Storm of Steel,  the most famous German memoir of the First World War, Jünger also wrote an account of the period that he spent at the wood, entitled Copse 125 after its German name. The book culminates in a grenade attack immediately to the south of the wood against New Zealand troops among whom was Sergeant Dick Travis DCM MM of the Otago Regiment. Travis helped beat off the attack and captured two machine guns but was killed the following day; he received a posthumous Victoria Cross and is regarded as New Zealand’s greatest soldier.

Rossignol Wood Cemetery

New Zealand graves in front of German burials in Rossignol Wood Cemetery. The cemetery contains 41 Commonwealth and 70 German burials.


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Walking the Somme Tour 15th-18th April 2016

I designed this 2016 tour for The Cultural Experience.

Click here for my 2018 Battlefield Tours.

German front line Beaumont Hamel

The German front line, Beaumont Hamel.

From the preserved old front line to woods still scarred by trenches and bunkers, to walk the chalk downlands of the Somme battlefields is to understand the past through the landscape. After a catastrophic opening day, the 1916 Battle of the Somme was a deadly crucible in which modern warfare was forged. With our popular guide Simon Jones, we combine eyewitness accounts with scholarly insight to gain a deep understanding of the five-month battle and its impacts. We also include fighting on the Somme from 1915 through to the final ‘Hundred Days’ of 1918.

Route of Can Scots 8 Aug 1918 looking west, Vallee d'Amiens on left

The route of the Canadian Scottish, Battle of Amiens, 8 August 1918.

The 1916 Battle of the Somme was the first battle in which the British citizen New Armies fought en mass; the catastrophic losses had a profound impact on the British psyche. The disaster of 1 July 1916 was followed by a series of mainly failed attacks against a well-prepared adversary. At enormous cost the British Army began to learn how to defeat its opponent. Innovations such as a night attack, tanks and, above all, coordination between infantry and the creeping artillery barrage, pointed to the future of warfare. But the Germans also evolved a flexible, in-depth, defence, to which the British would again have to adapt their attack tactics. Only in the last months of 1918 did revolutionary changes in fighting methods bear fruit for the Allies.

Gunners on the Somme 1916

Gunners on the Somme, 1916.

ITINERARY

Day 1 – Serre

Depart London St Pancras for Lille with Eurostar. Drive to the Somme where we begin with an exploration of the Serre front where the British attacks failed on both 1 July and on 13 November 1916. Less well-known are the desperate French assaults of 1915 and the dramatic halt of the German advance by New Zealanders in March 1918, all fought over the same battlefield. Group dinner in Arras.

Hawthorn Crater, Beaumont Hamel

Hawthorn Crater, Beaumont Hamel.

Day 2 Gommecourt – Rossignol Wood and Tanks at Flers

In the morning we walk from Hébuterne to follow the attack by the Rangers during the ill-fated Gommecourt diversion.  At nearby Rossignol Wood the Germans inflicted heavy British casualties during their withdrawal of early 1917; when they retook the ground in 1918, VCs were gained by the most decorated British Chaplain of the war, Theodore Hardy, and ‘New Zealand’s greatest soldier’, Dick Travis. After a picnic lunch, we walk the route of tank ‘Dinnaken’ through the village of Flers during the first ever tank attack on 15 September 1916.  Group dinner in Arras.

Rossignol Wood German bunker

Rossignol Wood, German bunker.

Rossignol Wood view from German trench

Rossignol Wood, the view from German trench.

Day 3  – Beaumont Hamel – Bazentin Ridge – Flers

In the morning we walk through the preserved battlefield of the Newfoundland Memorial Park, into Beaumont Hamel village and on to the Hawthorn mine crater and the famous Sunken Road, comparing failed and successful attacks. After a group or picnic lunch, we follow the advance of the remarkable night assault on Bazentin Ridge on 14 July 1916 and the cavalry charge at High Wood. Group dinner in Arras.

British Grenade Bazentin Ridge

British Grenade on Bazentin Ridge.

Day 4 – The Battle of Amiens

By following the Canadian Scottish in the epic battle of 8 August 1918 we discover how this technological and highly orchestrated all-arms attack drove deep into the German position, an advance however still dependant on the heroism of an Orkney piper. Return to Lille for our afternoon Eurostar return journey to London St Pancras.

Rossignol Wood

Rossignol Wood, shell craters and trenches.

German grenades in Rossignol Wood

German grenades in Rossignol Wood.

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The men who laid the Lochnagar Mine

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‘A German Attack on a Wet Morning, April 1918’ by Harold Sandys Williamson

IWM ART1986 (c) Paul Williamson; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

IWM ART1986 (c) Paul Williamson; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation

This remarkable depiction of a German attack in 1918 is by the artist Harold Sandys Williamson. He served in the ranks of the 8th King’s Royal Rifle Corps and portrayed himself as the wounded man on the right of the painting. It shows the final German attack of the March 1918 offensive which was finally halted on 4 April just outside Villers-Bretonneux.  As a result of the action the already depleted battalion ceased to exist. The artist wrote a description when the picture was exhibited at the Royal Academy later the same year:

The remains of the 8th Battalion KRRC, not a hundred strong, who had been on the retreat since March 21st, were hastily reorganized, and sent up in reserve the night before, to hold a sunken road, not a shot being heard from the Germans. Before dawn, an intensive bombardment of our lines opened up, and was maintained for a couple of hours. In the gloom and rain the storm troops then came over, and smashed through our two first lines. The picture shows them moving with exact discipline and just appearing to the few men in reserve. The shell holes in the foreground show the accuracy of the preceding bombardment. The British are hopelessly outnumbered, but training and discipline keep them going, without thought of retirement. Two men are firing a Lewis gun. The wounded man has a poor chance of getting away; he must cross much open country swept by enemy fire, and go through a heavy barrage. At the last the few left were surrounded, but fought their way out, some wounded, some being taken prisoner. [1]

The sunken road was known as Accroche Street, seen today looking northeast; the Germans advanced from the right (GoogleEarth).

The sunken road was known as Accroche Street, seen today looking northeast; the Germans advanced from the right (GoogleEarth).

The artist’s son is an actor and accompanied my 2013 ‘Ypres Salient Literature and Art’ battlefield tour as the reader. In one of the most moving parts of the tour, we visited the spot where his father had been in the line north of Passchendaele at Christmas 1917 when two company commanders were been killed on consecutive days. This inspired several works by the artist, including ‘Removing the Wounded, 60 Yards from the Enemy’. Paul Williamson read his father’s account of the incident and we visited the graves of the two officers.

[1] Imperial War Museum website/ archives.


Käthe Kollwitz sculptures, Vladso German Cemetery

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Where and how was Edward Brittain killed? The death in action of her brother Edward, in Italy in June 1918, forms the final tragedy of Vera Brittain’s memoir Testament of Youth

A Rifleman at Waterloo

This post is more personal than most as it is an account of an ancestor who served at the Battle of Waterloo. Until my father researched our family history, we had no idea that a relative had served at the battle, or that his name had been commemorated down the generations, up to my brother.

Discharge record1

No. 100 Private Richard Jones is listed on the Waterloo medal roll as having served with Captain Eeles’ Company of the 3rd Battalion, 95th Regiment, and his service record states that he served two years in ‘Holland, France and the Netherlands.’ There are no accounts by him of his experiences at the Battle of Waterloo but they may be pieced together from a description left by his company commander, William Eeles.

Richard Jones was born in 1796 in the parish of Whitfield, near Dover, Kent. On 22 May 1813 he enlisted at Deal for the 95th Regiment; he was aged 18 and his occupation was given as labourer. Unlike most other infantry regiments, the 95th was armed with the Baker rifle, a more accurate and longer range weapon than the smooth bore Brown Bess musket. Riflemen were usually employed in advance of the infantry, in more widely dispersed ‘skirmish lines’ and were trained to act independently. Rather than the traditional red coat, they wore dark green.

British Riflemen, 1812-NAM-6139

British Army Riflemen of the 60th and 95th Regiments, 1812. J C Stadler, from Charles Hamilton Smith’s ‘Costumes of the Army of the British Empire’ (National Army Museum).

In November 1813, as Napoleon retreated into France, the British tried to secure possession of the Scheldt estuary and two companies of the 3rd Battalion of the 95th, commanded by Captains Fullerton and Eeles, left Shorncliffe to form part of an expedition to Holland under Sir Thomas Graham. Richard Jones will have seen action at the capture of Merxem on 2 February 1814, when three officers of Eeles’ Company were wounded, including William Eeles himself. In March, the Allies captured Paris, Napoleon abdicated and was exiled to the island of Elba. Fullerton and Eeles’ Companies formed part of an Anglo-Hanoverian force which remained in the newly-established Kingdom of the Netherlands.

In April 1815, however, following Napoleon’s escape from Elba, the two companies, under the command of Colonel Ross, were sent to join the army of the Duke of Wellington in Belgium which was preparing to halt a march by Napoleon and his army on Brussels. The two companies were posted to the 3rd (Light) Infantry Brigade, commanded by General Sir Frederick Adam, which comprised the 52nd Light Infantry, the 71st Light Infantry (Glasgow Highlanders) and also the 2nd Battalion of the 95th. Eeles’ Company was to work in concert with the 71st. Part of Sir Henry Clinton’s 3rd Division, Adam’s Brigade was to fight on the on the right (west) of Wellington’s line in the coming battle of 18 June 1815.

Throughout the morning it remained in reserve behind a ridge. At about midday Napoleon’s guns opened fire and Wellington’s responded. Adam’s Brigade moved forward through dense smoke from the artillery fire but waited behind the ridge, just out of sight of the French, while the artillery bombardments continued. Some of Adam’s Brigade were hit by cannon balls coming over the crest but Eeles’ riflemen suffered no casualties and could see nothing of what was going on. They were unaware that Napoleon’s infantry were advancing against their left and pushing the British line back, only to be themselves forced back by a British cavalry charge.

At about 4pm, the French Marshal Ney renewed the attack, sending first cavalry and then infantry to try to break Wellington’s centre. Wellington ordered Adam’s Brigade forward over the ridge. Moving ahead in column, the 71st and Eeles’ riflemen could see nothing amidst the smoke until, suddenly, it cleared and the 71st found itself facing a very large number of French troops formed in line. The 71st immediately had to form line in order to bring its musket fire to bear. Eeles, who had never seen troops engage one another at so close a distance, also successfully got his Company into line on the right of the 71st but both units suffered severely from the French fire. Immediately they were formed into line, however, they repulsed the French who disappeared into the smoke. But Eeles’ men and those of the 71st were still falling from musket shots and so Eeles moved his Company forward and found a considerable number of French firing at them from a depression in a rye field. Eeles and his men immediately opened fire on them, driving them back to their main position on a hill but, at that moment, he noticed a mass of French cavalry advancing towards them. At the sight of the cavalry, the units of Adam’s Brigade formed into squares and Eeles men were just able to retreat to safety behind the square formed by the 71st before the French cavalry attacked it with, Eeles recalled, ‘much impetuosity and determination.’ However, the 71st received the charge ‘with the utmost coolness and gallantry.’ The French horsemen repeatedly tried to break the squares but each time were repulsed ‘without the least loss or disorder.’ Other units of Adam’s Brigade suffered during these attacks and when Colonel Ross, commanding the 3rd Battalion 95th, was badly wounded, Major Fullerton took over command; when Fullerton was severely wounded about an hour later, Eeles found himself in command of both companies. During one of the attacks, when French cuirassiers charged against the right of the 71st’s square, Eeles moved his men out in line with the rear face so that they could bring their accurate rifle fire to bear on the attackers. He stood in front of his men and made them hold their fire until the cavalry were within thirty or forty yards, then ordered the volley. Instantaneously the charge was completely halted as the leading horses and riders collapsed to the ground and those behind tumbled over them. It seemed to Eeles that half of all the horses and men came down: ‘by far the greater part were thrown down over the dying and wounded. These last after a short time began to get up and run back to their supports, some on horseback, but most of them dismounted.’ This, he said, proved that it was impossible for cavalry to charge infantry ‘if the Infantry will only be steady, and give their fire all at once.’

Map from Siborne's Waterloo Letters, showing the movements of Adam's 3rd Infantry Brigade.  The positions of 3rd Bn, 95th Regiment highlighted in green.

Map from Siborne’s Waterloo Letters, showing the movements of Adam’s 3rd Infantry Brigade. The positions of 3rd Bn, 95th Regiment highlighted in green.

After beating off the cavalry attacks, Adam’s Brigade remained in squares. The riflemen’s position to the right of the 71st placed them immediately next to the outer perimeter of a farm called Hougoumont, for which there was heavy fighting for much of the day. However, once the French cavalry withdrew, their guns opened fire on the squares while a large mass of French cavalry waited on the hill opposite. Eventually, Adam’s Brigade was moved back behind the shelter of the ridge and formed in line ready to fire into the left flank of an expected attack by Napoleon’s infantry against the centre of Wellington’s line. Eeles’ men, behind the 71st on the far right, could again see nothing of what was happening but heard the British guns open fire. Then the infantry of Adam’s Brigade fired off a musket volley and moved forward to the advance, with Eeles’ men following.

What they could not see was that Napoleon had sent his Imperial Guard to attack. It had never been defeated in battle and no troops were supposed to be able to withstand its advance. Advancing in a column sixty men abreast, it veered towards Adam’s Brigade and, to meet it, the 52nd Regiment moved out to bring its muskets to bear on the left flank. The Imperial Guard column halted, turned its left sections to face them, and opened fire, causing heavy loss to the 52nd but the Colonel of the 52nd then ordered his men to charge. General Adam galloped to the right of his line to order the 71st and Eeles’ riflemen also to move into line and open fire. But by this time the 52nd was already charging and, according to one of its officers, within ten second the Imperial Guard column broke into the ‘wildest confusion’ and began falling back.

As the 52nd and 71st Regiments advanced, Eeles was able to bring his riflemen forward into a gap which opened between them. When the smoke cleared a little, he saw that they were moving between the two armies and ‘driving some French troops before us in the greatest disorder.’ He was quickly ordered to take his riflemen out in front to form a skirmish line and advanced until cavalry, English, German and French, forced them back between the 52nd and 71st, where they were squeezed in with Fullerton’s Company. They continued the advance in ‘close and compact order’ for half a mile until Adam’s Brigade reached troops of the Imperial Guard formed in three squares. Wellington ordered Adam’s Brigade to attack the squares whereupon the Imperial Guard fired, then retreated once more.

As the French retired, the two companies now commanded by Eeles were again sent forward as skirmishers and pursued the fleeing French ‘as fast as they were able’, eventually reaching houses a mile away at Rossomme Farm. Eeles was wary of a French attack but found no enemy left: ‘They had all gone off in the dusk of the evening…’ The battle was won.

Only later would Eeles discover that his brother Charles had been killed during the battle while serving as Brigade Major to Sir James Kempt. The 3rd Battalion of the 95th was amongst the first troops to enter Paris in July 1815, and remained encamped on the Champs Elyseés until October when it moved to Versailles. In 1816 the 95th Regiment was renamed ‘The Rifle Brigade’ in recognition of its performance of its specialist role.

Discharge record2

Richard Jones continued to serve with the 3rd Battalion on its move to Dublin, until its disbandment in 1818 when he transferred to the 2nd Battalion. In 1826 his battalion sailed for Malta, where he spent six years, followed by two years in the Greek or Ionian Islands. His discharge was set in motion while he was at Corfu and he left the army on 30 April 1834. He had served 20 years and 344 days, just short of the 21 years needed to qualify for an army pension. However, soldiers who had served at the Battle of Waterloo had their pensionable service increased by an extra two years, thus rendering him eligible. His rank remained that of private and so his pension would not be great. On leaving the army he was 39 years of age, five feet nine and three-quarter inches in height, with brown hair, grey eyes, a fresh complexion and was described as in good health. He returned to his place of birth, Whitfield, just outside Dover, to join his brothers and sisters at Pineham, where they worked as farm labourers. He never married, but resided with the family of his younger brother William. He outlived many of his brothers and sisters and, after William’s death in 1857, lived with his brother’s widow Harriet until she died in 1874. In the 1861 census he was described as a Chelsea Pensioner, (that is, an army out-pensioner) and Harriet was listed as a ‘pauper’. Only in the last two years of his life, shortly before Harriet’s death, was there any increase to his pension, stated variously in newspaper reports as having increased from six or ten pence a day to one shilling and six pence or ten pence but according to his service record it rose in 1874 to one shilling and six pence. By the time of his death, age 81 on 11 November 1876, veterans of Waterloo were rare enough for the event to be widely reported in the press across Britain.

The Luton Times and Advertiser, 11 November 1876.

The Luton Times and Advertiser, November 1876.

On 18 November The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald printed a tribute which paints a picture of the aged veteran still proud of his service, joining with soldiers as they marched to and from the Dover garrison:

DEATH OF A WATERLOO VETERAN.- Death has just carried away, at the ripe old age of 81, the only Waterloo veteran Dover possessed. His name was Richard Jones, living in Peter Street Charlton. He had served in the Rifle Brigade, and besides being present at the battle of Waterloo, was in many other engagements. Until recently the old gentleman might be seen taking part in the marches of the troops of the garrison whenever they passed through that district, and it was pleasant to see him striding along erect and martial like with the younger soldiers. The sound of the band was sufficient to draw him from his house, and he might be always seen at the corner of Peter Street waiting for the approach of the troops. His pension was originally 10d. a day, but through the kind offices of Mr. John Clark, of High Street, it was increased to 1s. 9d. Deceased was brother of Sergeant Jones, formerly of the South Eastern Railway.

The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, 18 November 1876.

The Whitstable Times and Herne Bay Herald, 18 November 1876.

That the name Richard recurs in the descendants of his siblings cannot be a coincidence: every alternate generation of descendants of his brother James has been named Richard. However, by the time my elder brother was named Richard after his grandfather in 1962 the association with his 3rd great grand uncle had been forgotten. Only with the family history research of our late father was this continuity rediscovered.

Simon Jones, 17 June 2015

Sources:

National Archives WO97/1081 Army discharge record

National Archives WO100/15b Waterloo medal roll

Cope, The History of the Rifle Brigade, (London, 1877).

T. Siborne, Waterloo Letters, (London, 1891).


Join me on a battlefield tour with The Cultural Experience:

Simon Jones Battlefield Tour Somme Poets 2019

Tunnellers 4th – 7th June 2021

The War Poets: Words, Music and Landscapes Summer 2021

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British and German mine systems at La Boisselle. (c) GoogleEarth and Simon Jones

The Lochnagar Mine

British_55th_Division_gas_casualties_10_April_1918[1]

Yellow Cross: The Advent of Mustard Gas

The Italian Front in the First World War at Redipuglia and Monte Sei Busi

Sacrario di Redipuglia Alpini Memorial

Sacrario di Redipuglia La Mazza FerrataThe Sacrario di Redipuglia, Alpini Memorial and ‘La Mazza Ferrata’ (‘the mace’).

Sacrario di Redipuglia 1

Sacrario di Redipuglia 2

Mantrap and trench clubs in the museum at the Sacrario di Redipuglia.

Trincea Blindata 1

Trincea Blindata 2

Trincea Blindata (armoured trenches) June – July 1915 (1st and 2nd Battles of the Isonzo), Sacrario di Redipuglia.

Dolina Dei Bersaglieri

Restored trenches at the Dolina Dei Bersaglieri (Valley of the Bersaglieri), Monte Sei Busi.

Monte Sei Busi 3

Monte Sei Busi 1

Monte Sei Busi 2

Italian concrete trenches of the San Martino line, 1916-17, Monte Sei Busi.


Monte Zovetto OP 2

The Italian Front in the First World War at Asiago: Monte Zovetto  and Magnaboschi.


Edward Brittain's grave, Granezza British Cemetery

Where and how did Edward Brittain die?


Monte San Michele Schönburg Tunnel

The Italian Front in the First World War at Monte San Michele.


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Join me on a battlefield tour with The Cultural Experience:

Simon Jones Battlefield Tour Somme Poets 2019

Tunnellers 4th – 7th June 2021

The War Poets: Words, Music and Landscapes Summer 2021

First & Last Shots Summer 2021

Medics & Padres 29th July – 1st August 2021

The Ypres Salient War Poets 30th September – 3rd October 2021

Walking Ypres Autumn 2021

Walking the Somme Spring 2022

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The Italian Front in the First World War at Asiago: Monte Zovetto and Magnaboschi

Monte Zovetto OP 2

Monte Zovetto Italian and British observation posts and shelters.

Monte Zovetto trench 2

Monte Zovetto trench

Monte Zovetto OP 3

Monte Zovetto inscription OP 4

Monte Zovetto OP 1

Monte Zovetto inscription 1

Monte Zovetto  inscription left by British artillerymen in June 1918.

Monte Zovetto inscription left by British artillerymen in June 1918.

Magnaboschi British Cemetery

Magnaboschi British Cemetery

Magnaboschi British Cemetery

© Simon Jones


Join me on a battlefield tour with The Cultural Experience:

Simon Jones Battlefield Tour Somme Poets 2019

Tunnellers 4th – 7th June 2021

The War Poets: Words, Music and Landscapes Summer 2021

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Medics & Padres 29th July – 1st August 2021

The Ypres Salient War Poets 30th September – 3rd October 2021

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Setsas from Monte Sief

Col di Lana: the First World War in the Dolomite mountains


Where and how did Edward Brittain die?

The Italian Front in the First World War at Monte San Michele.

The Italian Front in the First world War at Redipuglia and Monte Sei Busi.

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The Italian Front in the First World War at Asiago: Granezza and Barenthal Road

Photographs of the battlefields and cemeteries in the British sector of the Asiago plateau, Italy.

British bunkers, Barenthal Road 2

British bunkers, Barenthal Road 3

British bunkers, Barenthal Road.

British bunkers, Barenthal Road.

Memorial to Italian underground hospital, Barenthal Road.

Memorial to Italian underground hospital, Barenthal Road.

Barenthal Military Cemetery graves

Barenthal Military Cemetery.

Barenthal Military Cemetery.

Barenthal Road, April 2015.

Barenthal Road, April 2015.

Granezza British Cemetery.

Granezza British Cemetery.

Edward's grave at the end of the row buried with men from his Company.  In September 1921 Vera visited the cemetery and planted rosebuds and a small asparagus fern beside her brother's grave.

Edward Brittain’s grave at the end of the row buried with men from his Company, Granezza British Cemetery. Follow this link for more about his death in 1918.

Grave of Lt Col J M Knox, Granezza British Cemetery.

Grave of Lt Col J M Knox, Granezza British Cemetery.

Memorial to Lt Col J M Knox, 1/8th Royal Warwicks and 143rd (Warwickshire) Infantry Brigade, near Granezza British Cemetery and Tattenham Corner.

Memorial to Lt Col J M Knox, 1/8th Royal Warwicks and 143rd (Warwickshire) Infantry Brigade, near Granezza British Cemetery and Tattenham Corner.

Site of Tattenham Corner.

Site of Tattenham Corner.


EB-Literary Executors for the Vera Brittain Estate, 1970 and The Vera Brittain Fonds, McMaster University Library-CropBWenh

Where and how did Edward Brittain die?


Join me on a battlefield tour with The Cultural Experience:

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Tunnellers 4th – 7th June 2021

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The Ypres Salient War Poets 30th September – 3rd October 2021

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Monte San Michele Schönburg Tunnel

The Italian Front in the First World War at Monte San Michele


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The Italian Front in the First World War at Monte San Michele

The heights of Monte San Michele dominated the Carso battlefield on the north-eastern frontier between Italy and Austria-Hungary.  The Italians attempted to take the hills five times between June 1915 and August 1916 until they were finally successful in the 6th Battle of the Isonzo. They were forced to give them up in November 1917 during the retreat following the Battle of Caporetto.

Entrance to the Austro-Hungarian Schönberg Tunnel, named after Gen. Alois von Schönburg-Hartenstein, Commander of the 6th Infantry Division which held Monte San Michele during the 4th Battle of the Isonzo.

Entrance to the Austro-Hungarian Schönberg Tunnel, named after Gen. Alois von Schönburg-Hartenstein, Commander of the 6th Infantry Division which held Monte San Michele during the 4th Battle of the Isonzo.

Memorial to the Austrian 6th Carinthian Infantry Regiment in the 4th Battle of the Isonzo, November 1915.

Memorial to the Austrian 6th Carinthian Infantry Regiment in the 4th Battle of the Isonzo, November 1915.

Battle debris on Monte San Michele.

Battle debris on Monte San Michele.

Recently excavated trenches.

Recently re-excavated trenches.

The heights dominated the front line and became the tactical headquarters of the Italian IIIrd Army, 1916-17. This is the view from Cima (Summit) 3 looking east across the Carso plain towards the line of Sept 1917 of the 6th -11th Battles of the Isonzo, before the Italian retreat.

The heights dominated the front line and became the tactical headquarters of the Italian IIIrd Army, 1916-17. This is the view from Cima (Summit) 3 looking east across the Carso plain towards the line of Sept 1917 of the 6th -11th Battles of the Isonzo, before the Italian retreat.

Tunnelled artillery positions were constructed by the Italians beneath Cima 3 between September 1916 and June 1917 to house 149mm guns.

Tunnelled artillery positions were constructed by the Italians beneath Cima 3 between September 1916 and June 1917 to house 149mm guns.

Underground casemate for an Italian 149mm gun.

Underground casemate for an Italian 149mm gun beneath Cima 3.


Dolina Dei Bersaglieri

The Italian Front in the First World War at Redipuglia and Monte Sei Busi


Slovenia P1000723

Trenches and Memorials on the Italian Front around Caporetto – 1


Join me on a battlefield tour with The Cultural Experience:

Simon Jones Battlefield Tour Somme Poets 2019

Tunnellers 4th – 7th June 2021

The War Poets: Words, Music and Landscapes Summer 2021

First & Last Shots Summer 2021

Medics & Padres 29th July – 1st August 2021

The Ypres Salient War Poets 30th September – 3rd October 2021

Walking Ypres Autumn 2021

Walking the Somme Spring 2022

Simon Jones Battlefield Tour bear gryllsMore Information about Battlefield Tours


‘We were simply blown to pieces.’ The Patricia’s stand at Bellewaarde, 8th May 1915

In its first major battle, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry suffered eighty percent losses during fighting at Ypres.  My great grandfather, No. 29 Sergeant Walter Stamper, survived but was taken prisoner.  He described in a letter to his wife and daughter his experiences of battle, captivity and deliverance to Switzerland where he was interned. Walter Stamper Letter 1

15th August 1916 My Darling Girls, I hardly know how to write to you, I seem to have so much to tell you. I must start at the beginning and try to tell you my experiences in Germany. First of all there was our capture, of course you know that was on the 8th May 1915. We were simply blown to pieces. There was just ten of us left in our Company, most of us unable to help ourselves; those that were to badly wounded to walk they shot and bayoneted them. These, they made us lay on the ground beside them whilst they dug themselves in. All the time the shells and bullets were flying around us, and I can tell you I never expected to see any of you again. To amuse themselves they threw stones at us and called us swine, one of my men could not keep still as he was suffering so from a wound in the head, got up and was promptly shot by them through the stomach he died about two hours later in great agony. We laid there from ten o’clock in the morning until six at night when we were fetched into the trench and robbed of everything we had. We were then taken back and threatened if we did not give information about our troops we should be shot. We were lined up three times for that purpose. At last we reached Roullers [Roulers], where we were put into the church with a lot more of the 28th Division. We had nothing to eat from Friday night until Sunday morning, when they gave us some sour bread and a drink of water. At three o’clock they gave us a slice of raw bacon and put us on the train for Germany; at Courtran [Courtrai] the Belgians gave us a good meal of Sausage, bread, butter and coffee, after that we got nothing only kicks and went on until we arrived at Giessen where the whole town turned out to insult us. We arrived in Giessen about 1 o’clock Tuesday morning and then started our starvation diet, soup made from maize, horse beans, chestnuts. We were supposed to be getting meat but you could not find it in your soup and the potatoes were so bad you could not eat them. You can guess we were pretty well starved until our parcels started to arrive. Now that is all altered here in Switzerland, we are practically free with the best of food and beds; we are staying in Hotels, you cannot realize the reception we received, as soon as we crossed the border it started, and it was nothing but one triumphant journey until we arrived here. We were smothered in flowers, chocolates, tobacco and cigarettes. We stopped at all the principal stations enroute. We had a splendid breakfast at Montrean [Montreux] and another here. I am feeling better already and hope to be myself again. I will tell you more next time you can write as often as you like now, fondest love and heaps of kisses. From Dad.

Q 54694 SimonJonesHistorian

Soldiers taught bookbinding while interned in Switzerland. The Sergeant on the left is my great-grandfather. © IWM (Q 54694)

In 1917, judged to be of no military value, he was returned to England for medical treatment. Even though he was by this time 47 years of age, he sailed back to Canada and re-enlisted at the first opportunity.

StamperSimonJones

Walter Stamper in Switzerland with the children of internees who have come from the United Kingdom, including my grandmother age 17 (left), 22 July 1917.


Join me on a battlefield tour with The Cultural Experience:

Simon Jones Battlefield Tour Somme Poets 2019

Tunnellers 4th – 7th June 2021

The War Poets: Words, Music and Landscapes Summer 2021

First & Last Shots Summer 2021

Medics & Padres 29th July – 1st August 2021

The Ypres Salient War Poets 30th September – 3rd October 2021

Walking the Somme Spring 2022

Simon Jones Battlefield Tour bear gryllsMore Information about Battlefield Tours

Walking Ypres Autumn 2021 (includes the location where Walter Stamper was taken prisoner)


H15258

The Lost Mines: how many unexploded mines remain beneath the Messines ridge battlefield?


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