musings while allatsea

Musings of a curious individual

Tag: First World War

Lives of the First World War

Regular visitors to the blog may be thinking that I have given up on the blog. Be rest assured I have not, and this post will explain why.

Recently I started submitting images to “Lives of the First World War”, and it is a lot of work. I have over 8000 images of war graves, and a large number of War Memorials  in my collection. The majority of graves have been photographed in the United Kingdom and most have been submitted to the British War Graves Project. This is really an opportunity to marry up a grave with a record, and it is really a decision  that I decided to take seeing as I had all these images that have never really seen the light of day. 

Lives really is a series of templates that are populated from a variety of records, ranging from CWGC right through to British Census records up to 1911. However, there is no real consistency as to what records will be available for each casualty. In some cases even the CWGC record is missing, which is odd considering that technically there is a CWGC record for every casualty. Lives does not only touch on casualties, but on survivors too, and in that department I am totally clueless as my photography has been about casualties and not survivors. The one thing I do like is that many of the private memorials that I have photographed can now be linked to an individual and that record can be further fleshed out with the data on the private memorial. Unfortunately these can make for very sad reading. The one PM I did yesterday involved three brothers that were all killed in action, they were able to be linked because of a simple typed piece of paper stuck to a tree above the grave of one of them  (Sgt Evan Victor Joseph DCM, MM).

The other PM I have found today concerns Ernest Lute and Alfred Morgan. The latter had a sister called Amy who married Ernest Lute, who was killed in action on 25 October 1918, while Alfred died on 05 October 1918 in a Berlin hospital after being a POW for 4 years. Amy did not live long after that, as she passed away on 15 December 1918. The war ended on 11 November 1918, and she was the only one to see it, although having lost a brother and husband it is possible that she died from a broken heart. This particular memorial sums up a lot of what the war was about for those who were left at home. 7 people were involved in this case, and they are all remembered on this forgotten memorial. Whether Albert or Doris are still alive I cannot say, but loosing their parents within such a short period of time must have been very traumatic and life changing.  

At the time of writing I have “remembered” 1958 individuals and have created 53 “communities” where I have my images sorted into. The biggest being for Netley Military Cemetery with 528 “lives” in it. The nice thing about the project is that I am revisiting those places that I photographed in 2013 and 2014, seeing pictures that I had really forgotten about completely. 

Unfortunately the project is not that great a design, in fact I could rip it to shreds given how rigid it can be in the way it does things.  A good example would be the cause of death field that does not include a “died at sea” option. With so many naval casualties you would think that it would have occurred to them to have that option available.

And on the subject of naval casualties, it is shocking to see how poor the records are for the merchant navy men. Trying to find the correct record for a “John Smith” who served in the merchant navy is almost an impossibility. Just out of curiosity, there are potentially 113007 occurrences of the surname Smith, of which 1917 served with the merchant navy.  The merchant navy has always been an odd many out amongst the many services and corps that served in both world wars, and that is true even today. They lack the glamour of a uniform, but when courage was handed out they stand right near the front.

Amongst the Dominions; Canada, New Zealand and Australia stand out, with the Canadian records being the easiest to make sense of. There are lamentably few South Africans to research. I know from our time doing the record cards way back in 2012  the military records are sparse for our men and women, and even sparser for those who served in the South African Native Labour Corps.  The only real sources for information about our casualties is the CWGC and of course the South African War Graves Project

There is a community for those who drowned in the HMT Mendi and that constitutes the biggest grouping of South Africans in the project. I was recently able to have 151 South Africans added that are buried in Brookwood Cemetery, most of them died of Spanish Flu in 1918, although amongst the millions who were taken by the epidemic this is really a small group. Unfortunately only certain people are able to add in new lives, and that really leaves me with no real way to increase the coverage of our men. 

I will be busy with this for a long time; looming in my future are 778 naval casualties in Haslar Royal Naval Cemetery, and I am currently busy with Arnos Vale in Bristol and the 363 casualties commemorated there. I can do roughly 20 in a day, although I am having a lot of fun with private memorials in Arnos Vale and they tend to take more time. I dread Haslar though because even the Royal Navy tended to confuse everybody with how they did things. One of the biggest problems in my opinion is that the British Army did not allocate service numbers to the officers, and you can realistically only search with a surname and a service number. 

So, if things are quiet that is why. I do get some sort of enjoyment out of something like this, one day they will probably start a World War 2 version, but the odds are I won’t be alive to see it.

View this as part of my legacy for the future, I may not have achieved much worthwhile in my life, but I have certainly ensured that a small portion of those who never came home are remembered.

‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.”
 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 17/09/2017

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 17:03

Bad teeth no bar

Many years ago when I was photographing the WW1 Record cards for the South African War Graves Project I was puzzled by the notation on some of the cards “May be rendered dentally fit in 7 days”.

When I first saw “Discharged: Dentally Unfit” I thought there was typo on the card, but later on I found more like it, and on a few occasions servicemen being discharged for refusing dental treatment. 

That phrase stuck in my head because I could not really fathom what was going on. I do remember that prior to us going up to the Border in December 1980 our whole infantry company was marched off to the dentist up the road in the military hospital, and those who had dodgy teeth had them treated before we flew out to South West Africa (now Namibia) .

This past week revealed another link in the chain when a recruiting poster for WW1 popped up on facebook. Emblazoned in a largish font at the bottom was the advisory “Bad teeth no bar”.

Jokes abounded about how you cannot have a bar if you have bad teeth or can only visit a bar if you have good teeth.

Each time I was called up for a camp we visited the military dentist in Potch too and he noted the condition of your teeth, the reason being that if you were a casualty identification may be possible through your dental records. There was method in that madness after all. I do not know whether this was also true way back 1914,  or if it was just a ploy to gain more cannon fodder for the generals to throw into badly planned and executed attacks. I do suspect that the military back then was more concerned about not having their soldiers all going on sick leave with dodgy teeth. Dental hygiene was quite poor back then, a cavity would not be given a temporary filling followed by an even more expensive permanent one. The dentist just grabbed his biggest set of pliers and let rip! 

Military dentists were not known for their compassion, and for that matter the same could be true of some “civilian dentists”. They were doing a job and they probably saw some horrible things during the course of their day, although a mouth of rotten teeth on a living soldier was much preferable to that of the corpses that were left after a bloody battle. I believe in earlier wars the teeth of dead soldiers became the source of many pairs of false teeth. There were people who picked through the corpses and extracted teeth which they then sold off to the dodgy false teeth creator. It was a perfectly respectable way to earn a living.

My current reading matter is all about Victor/Viktor Capesius, a Romanian who served at Auschwitz and who was put on trial for his part in the “selections” alongside “men” like Josef Mengele. Mention is made in the book of the inmates who were given a pair of pliers and sent to extract the gold filled teeth of the dead, and how Capesius allegedly stole of that ill gotten gold. Given how many people died in Auschwitz the amount of gold obtained from fillings was a large amount, and while most ended up in the coffers of the Third Reich, the unscrupulous nature of the perpetrators of the horrors of genocide in the camps certainly extracted their cut too.  (The Pharmacist of Auschwitz: The Untold Story, by Patricia Posner)

My curiosity is suitably satisfied for now, but you never know what else will pop up in the future. 

© DRW 2017-2018. Created 07/07/2017. Image of the military dentist was taken in Winchombe during the Wartime Weekend on the GWSR,and he most certainly was a decent fellow just doing his bit. 

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:57

Armistice Day 11/11/2016

Shortly after October ends we enter the period where we remember “The Fallen”. That encompasses mostly those who lost their lives during the First and Second World Wars, as well as conflicts that may have affected your own country or yourself. In the case of South Africa it is mostly “The Border War” and to a lesser extent the Korean Conflict. But often we forget those that get caught up in these conflicts, and who suffer the results of the madness that we get caught up in.

Millions of civilians have lost their lives in the last century through bombing, occupation by the enemy, being used as hostages, deliberate extermination and all manner of other things that are too horrible to contemplate. That continues to be true even as I peck away at this keyboard. Civilians are really the pawns stuck in the middle.

And then there are those who lost siblings or parents, or friends or neighbours. Those stories of suffering never really came out, and sadly in many cases the families never really came to terms with their losses. Just as many of the combatants came home with horrific wounds or PTSD.

War does not only touch soldiers, but almost everybody around them. The only group that is seemingly unaffected by war seems to be those who send the troops off in the first place, the politicians and their governments very rarely see the front line unless it is to inspect rows of smartly turned out squaddies who were really canon fodder for the puppet masters.

The recent election in the United States is going to have interesting consequences for the world as it totters once again on the edge of a potential World War Three. Will we step back from the brink? will the troops be sent home leaving the battlefield that is Syria and the Middle East simmering and imploding after so much meddling by “superpowers”? I cannot answer that. 

If/when peace breaks out will the people of Syria remember their dead? will anybody mourn their innocents? Mothers probably will, but the powers that be? probably not. 

Cross of Sacrifice: Arnos Vale Cemetery, Bristol.

This year I will wear my poppy with pride and remember those who I can relate to. My Grandfather, my Father, my Uncle, the boys from Bravo Company, the boy from Echo Company, the crews of merchant ships, the men of the navy, the soldiers and airmen, the nurses and VAD’s, the civilians, the animals, the children, 6 million Jews, the Men of the Mendi, the conscience objector, the policemen, the mothers, daughter and sisters, and so many more that I could be here till next year and never cover them all. However, we must always be mindful to remember: 

‘When You Go Home, Tell Them Of Us And Say,
For Your Tomorrow, We Gave Our Today.’

 

I do not however remember the politicians and dictators who create this horror, they are not worth remembering. 

©  DRW 2016-2018. Created 11/11/2016

Updated: 01/01/2018 — 16:32

Christmas Gravehunting

Yes it is true, I will even go gravehunting on Christmas.
 
Early on Christmas day I packed my goodies and headed off to Monk Sherborne, to photograph two more CWGC graves at the All Saints Church.  It was not too far away, in fact I was not too far from Sherborne St John which I had visited on the 13th of December. 
  
My route had taken me on a bit of a detour as I was not able to use the shorter route I had researched before, but it is pretty country around here, so the view was of rolling English countryside and pretty houses. 
 
The Church is an old one, dating somewhere between the 10th and 14th century, and is built of flint with a clay tile roof. The churchyard is not a very big one and does not have as many graves as I would have expected. However, these things are deceptive because while there may be no headstones does not mean that there are no graves, or how many are on top of each other. 
  
My CWGC graves were easy to find, and once I had photographed them I wandered around the grounds. 
  
The one grave is particularly sad, as the soldier died on 26 November 1918, 15 days after the Armistice. It may be that he was a Spanish Flu victim, or died of wounds. However, the thought of going through that terrible war only to die shortly after it ends is especially sad.
 
Unfortunately the church does not have a lytchgate, but there is a beautiful wooden entranceway to the church which I suspect is very old. Its a really beautifully made wooden structure, but there was no indication as to its age. 
 
Behind the church and on one side are some fenced graves, and I believe there is a very nice wooden effigy of a knight inside the church. Unfortunately though, I could not get into the church to verify if this is true. 
 
This side of the church is easier to photograph because the sun was behind me.
 
I had completed my circuit of the grounds and theoretically was ready to head off home. 
 
There were a few graves I wanted to capture first and quickly did those before I started on my long walk home and my Christmas lunch.
 
  
On my way to the church I had passed the village War Memorial, and wanted to get some pics of it, although the sun was behind the memorial, making it very difficult to photograph the inscription. 
 
I took the right hand road to get back to where I wanted to be, and that was a nice walk, punctuated only by the occasional car and grouse catching fright at my passing.
 
I was finished with the Sherborne St John and the Monk Sherborne graves; 4 more have been photographed, and who knows where my next meandering would take me. In the meantime though I headed back to Sherborne St John to see about getting into the church, which means please follow the link to see my comments at the end of the Sherborne St John blogpost.
 
© DRW 2014-2018. Images recreated 21/04/2016
Updated: 31/12/2017 — 08:34
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