TRAGIC CASUALTIES OF WW1
On 20th September news emerged of the death of Lieutenant George Hutton of the Royal Engineers. He received orders to urgently establish a phone link with the troops dug in on the opposite bank of the River Aisne, but there was no bridge or boat to get it across. At this point the river was only 60 yards wide but it was a raging torrent. A private volunteered to swim across but as the man was married, the officer turned him down. Instead Lieutenant Hutton picked up the end of the cable himself and dived into the river. He swam strongly and almost reached the bank before the current took him down. The 23 year old from Clevedon in Somerset is buried in Braine Communal Cemetery.
Heroism of Signals Officer
Wilbert Awdry, author of ‘Thomas the Tank Engine’ lost his half-brother - Second Lieutenant C. E. V. Awdry - during the retreat from Mons. Wilbert was only three years old when his 20 year old sibling was killed while fighting a heroic rearguard action on 27th August 1914. For 12 hours, Second Lieutenant Awdry’s unit – the 2nd Battalion Royal Munster Fusiliers - successfully obstructed the German columns advancing from Landrecies towards St. Quentin. Their final stand was in and around an apple orchard on the northern end of the village of Etreux.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 27th August 1914
Tragic Loss for Author of 'Thomas the Tank Engine'
Image: Memorial to crew lost in the Titanic disaster.
In September 1914, the Hume family from Dumfries, Scotland received another body blow. Having lost their son ‘Jock’ in the Titanic disaster of 1912, they learned that their eldest daughter – Grace - had been mutilated and murdered in Belgium by the Germans. Despite the pain she was able to write a last letter home in which she described her ordeal and conveyed her last goodbyes. She closed by stating that the hospital was now on fire. The news of this tragedy was broken to her parents by Kate Hume (17), the youngest member of the family, who supported the story by producing a letter that had been hand delivered by a nurse who had worked alongside Grace. Kate was able to add a piece of detail not in the letter; Grace had ‘died in agony’. The story turned out to be a hoax created by Kate who was promptly arrested and charged with creating a false story, forging a letter and contacting the press.
Double Blow for Tragic Titanic Family
On 27th October 1914, the youngest grandson of Queen Victoria, Prince Maurice of Battenberg was killed at Passchendaele. Kaiser Wilhelm sent a message of condolence to his British relatives through an intermediary - the Crown Princess of Sweden who, unsurprisingly, was another grandchild of Queen Victoria.
Throughout his life the 23 year old Lieutenant was known by his German name as it was not until 1917, that our royal family changed their surnames. The Battenbergs chose to call themselves ‘Mountbatten’ while the monarchy became the house of Windsor instead of ‘Saxe-Coburg-Gotha’.
Prince Maurice of Battenberg is Killed
Image: Territorial soldiers of the 51st (Highland) Division
On 28th December 1914, 17 year old John Giels died. He was one of 135 soldiers from the 51st Highland Division who lost their lives in Bedford, England. Their killers were diseases that were unknown in their highland and island homes. These included measles, scarlet fever and diptheria and it is estimated that more than 1,000 men from this division suffered severely from these infections.
Highlanders Cut Down - In Bedford!
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 17th September 1914
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 20th September 1914
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 27th October 1914
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 28th December 1914
By the end of 1914 the British army had suffered 90% casualties with some battalions (nominally 1,000 men) down to 30 soldiers and 1 officer. The British Expeditionary Force that had been rushed across to Belgium in August had ceased to exist and so the war would now be fought by the Territorial Army and millions of volunteers. In a spirited defence of their homeland, France had suffered most with a casualty total of 955,000. In four months of fighting Germany had suffered around 800,000 casualties and leading military figures such as Moltke and Falkenhayn believed the war was already lost.
1914 - The Shocking Cost
In January 1915 Jack Pouchot attempted to rescue a wounded comrade and became the first man in his regiment to receive the D.C.M. He crawled to the aid of Corporal Roche who was lying wounded in No-man’s land and calling for help. Pouchot was followed over by Rifleman Tibbs who was only 17. Both Tibbs and Roche were shot but Jack was able to return to his trench. In April 1915, Jack (now 16) was evacuated from France suffering from jaundice and exhaustion. As his service record illustrates, he subsequently returned to the fighting and served in the Royal Flying Corps as an officer. He was killed in action on 5th October 1918, just over a month before the armistice.
Heroism of 16 Year Old
On Sunday 22nd May 1915 a troop train collided with an express train near Gretna on the Scottish border. The death toll has never been precisely established but was probably 226, with an additional 246 injured. All but 13 of those killed were territorial soldiers of the 1/7th Royal Scots bound for Gallipoli. Survivors had to resume their journey to the port of Liverpool where they were stoned by local children! Many questions remain unanswered such as; did one of the signalmen suffer an epileptic fit and why were there 4 unidentified children on board?
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 22nd May 1915
Britain's Worst Rail Disaster
On May 24th 1915, Robert Graves recorded a story in his diary about a soldier of the Royal Munster Fusiliers. The man could endure the war no more and was convinced that the only way to escape this hell alive was to be wounded. In his desperation to receive a ‘blighty’ (a wound that resulted in repatriation) the Irishman exposed first his hands and then his legs above the parapet of his trench. The story did not end well. When his acrobatics didn’t attract enemy fire, the fusilier reckoned that Fritz must have abandoned his trenches and in order to check, he popped up to take a look. Instantly there was a crack of a rifle and the soldier tumbled to the floor of the trench, shot through the head.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 24th May 1915
Another One Bites the Dust
Second Lieutenant Louis Broome from Brighton was killed 100 years ago today. In 1914 strings were pulled to enable the lad to be commissioned into his uncle’s regiment – the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots. His death was a huge blow to his family who had proudly waved him off to war. When he died, Louis Broome was only 15 years old and his grave is in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery (shown). The war graves here are unusual in that headstones are laid flat due to the sandy soil and the likelihood of subsidence.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 5th June 1915
Young Broome Swept Away
Short of ammunition, the British launched no offensives during the month of June 1915. However routine fighting and dying continued unabated and in a letter home soldier/poet Robert Graves described events in his sector on June 8th. Only 30 yards of No-man’s land separated the British and German front lines and so sniping was a real and present danger. Graves wrote, ‘I saw a group bending over a man lying at the bottom of the trench. He was making a snoring noise mixed with animal groans. At my feet lay the cap he had worn, splashed with his brains’.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 8th June 1915
Not At All Quiet on the Western Front
The war created such numbers of crippled men that support services were severely strained. New types of therapy were explored and the results were surprising. On this day in 1915, a military band played at the Heritage School, East Sussex to entertain convalescent troops. This was a commonplace event but what was knew was the enlistment of disabled children as counsellors to demonstrate to crippled soldiers how to cope with their new physical state. The advice of the children and their positivity was deemed to be of enormous value and ‘educative convalescence’ was described as bearing ‘the mark of genius’.
Image: A soldier who has lost both arms is taught by a child how to write with his feet!
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 11th June 1915
Crippled Soldiers Supported By Children
On 17th June 1915, Reginald Warneford was presented with the French Legion d’honneur to accompany his Victoria Cross. Both awards were for the exceptional gallantry he displayed 10 days earlier (see previous posts on our website www.westernfrontwitness.com). He enjoyed a celebratory lunch with General Joffre (Commander in Chief of the French Army) before setting off in his plane to give a lift to an American journalist. A few minutes later he suffered a calamity when the right wing collapsed and the plane went into a spin in which both men were thrown out. Warneford died of his injuries en route to hospital.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 17th June 1915
A Tragic End to the Perfect Day
On 24th June 1915, Captain Harold Hirst (24) of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry was shot and killed by a German sniper. Harold had lived under a cloud after a tragic training ground exercise earlier that year in which he saw 7 of his men drown. The unfortunate soldiers were part of a group of 40 who were crossing a deep pond on a raft they had built by hand. Several other men were rescued and resuscitated but the official inquest criticized the inexperienced young officer.
On This Day - 100 Years Ago - 24th June 1915
Captain Hirst's Agony Ends
In July 1915, the 1st Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers recorded their first case of a self-inflicted wound (S.I.W.) and soon more and more cases were being identified. Doctors were asked to be vigilant and to report any suspicious wounds. The strangest case involved men of the 15th and 47th Sikhs where, in one 11 day period, 1049 soldiers were found to have wounds to one hand, mostly the left. This lead their commanding officer to deduce that many of these wounds were self-inflicted. However a study conducted by Captain Esler of the R.A.M.C. concluded that many of the injured Sikhs had simply been standing in the trench with a hand raised above the parapet. The wounds were therefore not self inflicted and no action should be taken. For more on this story please check out ‘Strange Times! 1915’.
Image: Injured Sikh soldiers being treated in the Royal Pavilion, Brighton.
Hands Up for Home
Illness and injury generally meant a spell out of the trenches and so the temptation to self-harm was strong. The army was vigilant in these matters and a soldier could be punished for neglecting his own health to allow problems such as ‘trench foot’ to develop. In the summer of 1915, British army Medical Officers learned that prostitutes known to be infected with venereal disease were commanding higher fees than those known to be clean. They suspected that men were visiting certain brothels hoping to contract diseases that would ensure a hospital break. The army was forced to consider such S.T.D.’s as self-inflicted wounds and afflicted soldiers were fined and denied leave. One in nine Canadian soldiers contracted V.D. – the highest proportion in any army. One explanation was that the highly paid Canadian soldiers had more disposable income and could afford more visits.