In the summer of 1914 Britain’s armies were on the move. Not the regular forces but the men of the Territorial Force, Britain’s ‘Saturday Night Soldiers’ who were departing all over the country for their annual summer camp.
This image from a century ago shows men of the the 15th Battalion London Regiment (Civil Service Rifles) at their annual camp on Salisbury Plain. But this camp was not to last. As July moved into August the road to war now looked almost inevitable as the battalion returned to London and most convinced they would be moving to War Stations in only a matter of days; and they would indeed be proved right.
As Christmas approaches thoughts turn to trench life on the Western Front during the Great War. This image dates from a small private collection relating to the 1/13th Battalion London Regiment (Kensingtons) and was taken in France near Fleurbaix during the winter of 1914/15. The men are dressed informally as was typical of that early period of the conflict and aside from a great deal of personal kit being worn to keep the cold out, the man on the left has a typical goat/sheep-skin jerkin of this first winter. At least the rum ration is close at hand! The fact that the men are standing up and the parapet of the positions behind is low, would indicate this was in a reserve trench some distance from the actual front line.
It has been an amazing first year with Great War Photos; the site started in January and as we come up to the festive period more than 130,000 people have visited the site in that time. So thank you all for your support, your re-Tweets, your comments and likes on the site. It is very much appreciated.
This Christmas Card was sent by a soldier of the 58th (London) Division at Christmas 1917, at the end of their first year of active service which had taken them from Bullecourt to Ypres. It is decorated with the badges of all the different units which made up the division, including the different London Regiment battalions.
More Great War Images coming in 2013 – see you all in the New Year!
This image is from the autumn of 1915 and shows men of the 2/4th Battalion London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers), then part of the Royal Naval Division, in the front line trenches at Gallipoli. This weapon these Territorial soldiers are employing is typical of the makeshift weapons being used not only in the trenches of Gallipoli but the whole Western Front in France and Flanders.
Catapult guns were employed from 1915 to allow soldiers to fire hand grenades or small explosive charges (often contained in jam tins) over much greater distances than they could throw them, or more often fire them from positions of safety as seen here. The weapon could be set up and loaded, then fired at the enemy positions. In most cases the sort of distance they were firing projectiles was only measured in tens of yards, which was also typical of conditions on the battlefield in 1915 when both sides often lived almost on top of each other. In this photo the officer on the left has a grenade in his right hand about to load it while the Private on the right has the contraption used to tighten the catapult. In his other hand is a box periscope, no doubt used to observe the enemy targets safely before firing.
The 2/4th Londons stayed at Gallipoli until evacuated in late 1915 and then went to Egypt where they were disbanded, most personnel going to France to join a re-formed 1/4th Battalion which would go on to fight on the Somme.
We had a Somme week last week and we begin this week with a Flanders themed series of posts.
This image shows men of the 1/5th Battalion London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade) on the eve of leaving for Flanders in November 1914. They are already in the winter garb that would serve them well in the trenches of Flanders. Their war would take them first to the village of Ploegsteert – ‘Plugstreet’ to the British Tommy. In a typically flat lying area of Flanders, the trenches here were half trenches and half breastworks – positions built above ground level – and they soon became clogged with water and mud as winter set in. A brief respite came on Christmas Day 1914 when the men of the London Rifle Brigade took part in the now famous Christmas Truce and came out of their trenches into No Man’s Land for the first time since they had arrived at Plugstreet.
All but one of the men in this photo survived Plugstreet but the 1/5th Londons were very much a Middle Class battalion and several were commissioned and died as officers. But caught in time these ‘mud men of Flanders’ about to enter winter quarters south of Ypres looked relaxed, calm and prepared – at least for the weather.
There is something haunting about the face of this soldier; the image was taken while he was serving in the Loos sector, wearing his uniform slightly stained with gun lubes. This photo was possibly shot in one of the photographic studios at Bethune. It shows Sergeant William George Clive, a 26 year old from Tooting in London. Clive joined the 1/15th Battalion London Regiment (Civil Service Rifles) in 1914 and by the time he went to France in March 1915 he was a Corporal. Before the Somme he was promoted to Sergeant and was killed on 15th September 1916 when his battalion took part in the attack on High Wood, suffering heavy casualties. Originally buried on the battlefield with other members of the unit, his grave was moved to Caterpillar Valley Cemetery after the war.
Following on from the first of the images from the Kensingtons published yesterday, today we have two images showing the reality of living in the trench system they were shown digging in the previous image. Above is a 1915-style dugout being used by men of the 13th London Regiment whose trenches these were. It shows how basic such constructions were in early 1915. Inside the men have an array of comforts – many ordinary soldiers in this battalion were from well off London families and one wonders how many treats from top London stores are among them! – and they are pretty informally dressed; the man on the right has Wellington boots on and they are all wearing Gor Blimey hats. A bucket with punched out holes serves as a make-shift brazier.
Below is a close up another dugout again showing its flimsy construction, with one wall being a propped up piece of wobbly tin or ‘elephant iron’ as it was known at the time. The Balaclava helmet being worn by the man in the dugout is a good example of another piece of cold-weather gear worn by troops at this time; many of these came from home knitted by mothers, wives or sisters.