Friday, 18 April 2014

A WW1 story that ended happily ever after

Family joy: Jim Granger, centre, returns home from war

It's good to remember that sometimes the First World War did have happy endings - and Jim Granger's was one of them. His story was begun in my previous post and is continued here by his granddaughter Sue Davis.

Jim was an Australian farmer who enlisted in 1915, aged 20, and returned home from the fighting in March 1919. His homecoming is captured in the wonderful photo above, with Jim in the middle and his sweetheart, Marie, next to him in white. Sue Davis takes up the story...

After the Great War and his welcome home, James Charles Granger travelled by train to the Young District of New South Wales where several Soldier Settlements were being offered by the state to discharged soldiers. He rode around the district on a bicycle before settling on Kingsvale to be his future home in 1919. He applied for a double sized block of land as he was soon to be married to his beloved Marie Louise Dobson in Sydney, and would be setting up home at Kingsvale. They were married on the 16 April, 1921. 

Jim settled in well to life as an orchardist with his major crop being prunes that he grew as plums and then dried in rakes in the sun. The prunes were sold under the brand name J.C.G. Prunes. The couple's property was, and is still called The Grange

In early 1922 Marie became pregnant with their first child. The baby was born on the 2 October but announced as a stillborn baby girl. The couple managed to move on from the tragedy and D’Arcy James Granger was born on 18 September, 1923 (my father). Two years later came Amy Catherine, and another two years later came Kennyth Ian.

Life was tough but Kingsvale had a great sense of community and the Grangers became a well respected family in the Soldier Settlement. Jim and Marie were very involved in community activities such as the local primary school parent group, Red Cross, and the Kingsvale Memorial Hall. In the Depression years of the 1930s food was very scarce for the animals and the horses were once fed on the thatch from the barn soaked in molasses.

Jim and Marie were dedicated Christian folk and, along with other Anglican members of the community, petitioned for a church to be built at Kingsvale so they did not have to travel to neighbouring Currawong or the larger towns of Harden or Young. The church was built on the highest point in Kingsvale and was dedicated in 1938.
Sadly, in 1947 Jim fell ill while visiting Sydney on business. He was diagnosed with leukaemia, possibly related to continual wet feet while in the trenches during the Great War. He didn't make it back to his beloved Kingsvale. Many letters were written to Marie (who lived until she was 92) at the passing of James. They told of the great person he was, a firm friend, great sense of humour, community man and dedicated family man.

We were always made to feel very proud of our grandfather, James Charles Granger. His legacy to us has never beeen forgotten. In fact my brothers, Jim and Jeff, still grow prunes and make prune products on the property. A stained glass window was erected in his memory in the little church on the hill at Kingsvale. The church has recently been closed but this Easter the family will re-dedicate the window at the neighbouring Currawong church.

Susan RoseMarie Davis (nee Granger)


Sunday, 13 April 2014

'Yours to a cinder, love from Jim'

James Granger
Many endearing characters are to be found within the pages of my book 'Letters from the Trenches' and some of the most entertaining are the Australians.

Almost without exception, their correspondence was light, bright and humorous although conditions were often far from easy. James Granger was one such soldier and his affectionate missives to Marie, the woman destined to be his wife, feature in a chapter called 'Letters of Love'.

He often signed his cards 'Yours to a cinder, Jim', and when on leave in London he joked that the King was too busy to see him because he was having a bath at Buckingham Palace. Below is a taste of James' style, beginning with a card written when he had just left Australia, aboard a troopship bound for Egypt.

March, 1916

It's 9 o'clock Friday morn. I'm feeling alright. I was sick on Wednesday night and well I might have been for it was as rough as H--. The ship was pitching a treat and waves broke over the bows so you can imagine how rough it was. You were darling to come down on a launch to see me. I shall never forget your kindness in bringing those parcels, contents of which were most acceptable. This is a bonnie boat it's set up so beautifully for troops. Syd has not been sick yet and is skiting [bragging]about it so much so that I like to see him sick. Love to self and everyone else from Jim.

Postcard from Egypt: 'The
flies would eat you alive'
The following month he sent the following card:

14th April 1916

We are in Cairo in Egypt again. But we are not in love with the situation of it. We landed at Port Said and entrained in open trucks for this part. About six hours run. The flies would eat you alive and the dust would choke you so the sooner we get under weigh for another sight the more contented we will be. The thought of the pictures with us together help to keep me alive. Love from Jim.

James Granger was one of the lucky ones who survived the war and when he returned to Australia he married Marie and they set up home at Kingsvale, New South Wales, one of the new Soldier Settlements established by the state for returning WW1 servicemen.

After a conflict that brought such misery and destruction, James managed to put the war behind him and build a life full of hope and optimism. His story will be continued by his granddaughter, Susan Davis, in a special post this Easter.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Army's shock treatment for those who chose to say 'No'

Karyn Burnham's
new book
The shocking way in which some conscientious objectors were treated by the British Army during the First World War is told in a new book by Karyn Burnham called The Courage of Cowards.

Using unpublished archive material, Karyn, a fellow author of mine at Pen and Sword Books, tells of men like Jack Foister and George Beardsworth who refused to enlist when conscription was introduced 1916. When their appeals were turned down by local tribunals they found themselves conscripted anyway.

Many conscientious objectors were prepared to serve their country as long as they didn't have to fight, which meant they could be more easily accommodated (as stretcher-bearers or in factories, for example) than 'absolutists' like Foister and Beardsworth. But those who wanted nothing to do with the war effort would often find themselves subjected to brutal treatment by an army that wanted to break their resolve.

After being refused exemption, Beardsworth, a 21-year-old trade unionist from Blackburn, was sent to the Cheshire Regiment's barracks at Birkenhead. There he was forced on to the parade ground:

'George was expected to drill with the rest, but again he refused to follow any orders at all. When he failed to mark time, two soldiers kicked first one leg, then another repeatedly, effectively forcing him to mark time. When the order "eyes right" was given he was punched in the side of the head and his head twisted round to the right. Throughout the morning George was made to run round the field, and punched continually if he showed signs of stopping.'

Jack Foister was a young Socialist whose refusal to fight was for political reasons. He was secretly shipped to a camp in France in 1916 with others like him, and his punishment for disobeying orders involved:

'...being spreadeagled and roped onto a barbed wire fence on the perimeter of the site, in full view of all passers-by. The men were tied up so tight that they had to take great care not to cut their faces on the wire when tuning their heads.'

Worse was to come when Foister and his fellow COs were ordered to appear before a court martial. After their cases were heard (described by Foister as a 'rigged affair') the men were sentenced to death by shooting. A long pause ensued before the adjutant finally added that the sentence had been commuted to ten years' penal servitude.

Karyn Burnham uses her skill as a fiction writer (she's already completed a novel) to bring the COs' stories to life and her book is colourful and entertaining. It's also thought-provoking, with all sides of the 'to fight or not to fight' question are aired. The right not to fight might have been enshrined in law, but huge numbers still believed that duty to one's country had to come first.

  • The Courage of Cowards: The Untold Stories of First World War Conscientious Objectors by Karyn Burnham, is published this month by Pen and Sword Books. Click here or to order a copy.

Tuesday, 11 March 2014

Dorset's 'thankful village' in search of answers

Safely home: Langton Herring's honours board
During a recent visit to Dorset, I stayed at the county's only 'thankful village', where all men returned safely from the First World War. Langton Herring is a few miles west of Weymouth and in the porch of its tiny church the names of the men are listed on an honours board.

Included are officers and men from the army and the navy and, as you might expect in a small community, many share the same family name: there are four Farquharsons, for example, and no fewer than five Mowlams.

This summer, to mark the Centenary of the war, there are plans to unveil a slate plaque that was presented to Langton Herring by the Thankful Village Bike Run which passed through last year. In readiness for the event, efforts are now being made to discover more about the men who returned: who were they, where did they live, and what was the village like at the time?

Langton Herring church
At the moment little is known, but if anyone can shed any light on the answers, please contact me at and I will be delighted to pass your details on. The full list of men is given below.

Fifty three civil parishes in England and Wales have now been identified where all soldiers returned from the Great War. None have been found in Scotland or Ireland. Langton Herring is said to be 'doubly thankful' because all of its men returned from the Second World War too.


CF Bailey, R Sussex

CE Case, Wilts

T Carter, RN

JP Farquharson, Comm RN OBE DSO

FA Farquharson, KGO Sapper MC

KR Farquharson, Lt Comm RN DSC

ER Farquharson, Lt RN

C Ferns, CG

EW Garrett, L Corps

HM Greenhill, Maj Dorsets

FJ Hansford, RGA

A Harris, RN

AJ Thatcher, RFA

W Larcombe, R Inniskillings

F Matthews, CG

E Mowlam, L Corps

G Mowlam, RN

J Mowlam, RN

SC Mowlam, MGC

WE Mowlam, Worcesters

HJ Penfold, CG

S Peach, Wilts

R Randall, RGA


BO Smythe, Capt Northants OBE

C Stone, RN

C Stone, RN

W Stone, RN

AJ Taylor RNR

S Wederell, Dorset

WJ Whittle, RAVC

Sunday, 2 March 2014

'I have seen a school blown all to the ground'

Destruction became the new 'normality' at the Front 
It is often thought that, when writing home, soldiers spared their families the more difficult details of life at the Front, preferring to concentrate on 'safer' matters like food parcels and the weather. But from what I have read, this was certainly not always the case.

Indeed, some of the things described in letters made me flinch and feel quite sorry for the women and children who would have read them.

Each man had his own reason for revealing all, of course, but perhaps one of the most pervading was simply that life under fire in trenches had become normal. Describing infestations of rats and lice probably seemed no worse that talking about the cat's fleas at home. And destruction and shell-fire was part of everyday life that simply had to accepted and got on with.

Below are extracts from two letters written by Private Philip Luxton, of Abertillery in South Wales, whose story is told in my book. Although he was loving husband and a father of two daughters, the letters he sent home from France in 1915 were matter-of-fact and pulled no punches.

22 March

'Dear Wife, you can tell the children that I have seen a school as big as theirs blown all to the ground and it seems as if they had to leave it all in a hurry for they left their little coats and hats. The Germans did not leave one single house standing for they are all blown to the ground. I went through a public house and there was the beer barrels in the cellar but the beer out here is not worth drinking, one pint of our beer is worth a barrel of this out here.'

23 March

'This is the fourth day for me to go without washing my face and hands for it is very dangerous to get about here at night and I have been sleeping under God's skies for this last five nights without no shelter from the cold and I may say it is very frosty here this last week but it is not so bad in the day.

'The sights where I am at present is most awful to witness for there are hundreds of dead Germans all round us chaps, for there was a terrible battle fought here last week and you will see by the papers we have captured a French village from the Germans and they were trying their best to get the village back.

'Dear Wife, while writing this letter the Johnsons [a type of shell] are flying over our heads and they make a awfull [sic] noise when they explode but I may say they are like a dog, for their bark is worse than their bite without you get too near them.'

With thanks to Anne Holland for the letter extracts, and David Clark for the postcard illustration.

Saturday, 22 February 2014

Army service with a smile!

Humorous hymn sheets kept the soldiers smiling 
Following my previous post's theme of faith at the Front, here's a hymn sheet that must have raised a few chuckles among the troops.

Entitled 'Daily routine of a soldier's life told by a few well-known hymns', it belonged to Stanley Goodhead, a Manchester soldier whose vivid letters from France and Belgium are included in my book.

Most men would have known these hymns well, but even in today's more secular times when they may not be as familiar, they still make an amusing read:

3.30am Reveille - 'Christians Awake'
6.45am Rouse Parade - 'Art Thou Weary, Art Thou Languid'
7am Breakfast - 'Weekly Wait and Murmur Not'

8.15am Company Parade - 'When He Cometh'
8.45am Manoevres - 'Fight the Good Fight'
11.15am Swedish Drill - 'Here We Suffer Grief and Pain'
1pm Dinner - 'Come Ye Thankful People Come'

2.15pm Rifle Drill - 'Go Labour On'
3.15pm Lecture by Officer - 'Abide With Me'
4.30pm Dismiss - 'Praise God From Whom All Blessings Flow'
5pm Tea - 'What Means This Eager Anxious Throng'

6pm Free for the night - 'O Lord How Happy We Shall Be'
6.30pm Out of bounds - 'We May Not Know, We Cannot Tell'
10pm Last Post - 'All Are Safely Gathered In'
10.15pm Lights out - 'Peace, Perfect Peace'
10.30pm Inspection of guards - 'Sleep On Beloved'

A rather different mood was struck by this hymn that was written specially for men at the Front. The words certainly pulled no punches, for example: 'For those who weak and broken lie in weariness and agony'. But at least the truth of war was confronted, and support was offered in the form of faith.

Lord God of hosts, Whose Mighty Hand
Dominion holds on sea and land,
In Peace and War Thy Will we see
Shaping the larger liberty.
Nations may rise and nations fall,
Thy Changeless Purpose rules them all.

When death flies swift on wave and field,
Be Thou and sure defence and shield!
Console and succour those who fall,
And help and hearten each and all!
O, hear a people's prayers for those
Who fearless face their country's foes!

For those who weak and broken lie
In weariness and agony -
Great Healer, to their beds of pain
Come, touch, and make them whole again!
O, hear a people's prayers and bless
Thy servants in their hour of stress!

For those to whom the call shall come
We pray Thy tender welcome home.
The toil, the bitterness, all past,
We trust them to Thy Love at last.
O, hear a people's prayer for all
Who, nobly striving, nobly fall!

For those who minister and heal,
And spend themselves, their skill, their zeal -
Renew their hearts with Christ-like faith,
And guard them from disease and death.
And in Thine own good time, Lord, send,
Thy Peace on earth till Time shall end!

With thanks to Barbara Rosser for the hymn sheet, and Jackie Carpenter for the hymn.

Thursday, 13 February 2014

'The guns were firing all through the service'

'Church service before the battle'
'God' is a words that crops up frequently in WW1 soldier's letters, which is not surprising for men who grew up in a world in which Christianity was part of everyday life. Some were more devout than others and one particularly moving letter was written by 19-year-old Private Ernest Adams of Leeds, to be read by his mother and father in the event of his death. (He was killed in action near Ypres in September 1917):

'Dear Parents, I know how you will grieve and my heart aches for you, but I beseech you to think not of me as dead, but just gone home to God, there to dwell in peace and rest, freed from all earthly strife. Think too of how much pain and sin might have been mine had I lived. But now I am pure and white in God's own house. Well, goodbye, and may you find peace and joy that comes from God alone.'

Not all were quite as religious, but faith gave strength to far more men than is probably the case today. 'Thank God he has brought me through,' wrote Private Tom Fake, of Bristol, to his wife on Armistice Day. During two years in the trenches he had ended every letter to her with 'God bless you'.

Services were often held in the trenches, frequently before battle, and many found great comfort in hymns they would have sung in church at home with their families. This diary entry was written by Sergeant George Fairclough during fierce fighting on the Western Front in September 1914:

'The big guns were firing all night. We had a regimental service with the hymns: 'O God Our Help in Ages Past', 'Fight the Good Fight', 'Heavenly Father in the Mercy', and 'Lead Kindly Light', the guns were firing all through the service.'

Very often prayer books and bibles are found tucked away amongst soldiers' letters, and inside a prayer book belonging to Private Edwin Wood, a signaller with the Gloucestershire Regiment, are printed notes about the way to conduct services for troops:

The Lessons selected should be very short.
Hymns may be sung at the commencement and end of the Service,
and after the Sermon.
The Sermon should also be short.
'God save the King' should be sung before the Blessing at the end
of the Service.
Special Prayers may be added at discretion.

On the facing page is a Morning Prayer which begins:

'We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts. We have offended against thy holy laws. We have left undone those things which we ought to have done; And we have done those things which we ought not to have done.'

The prayer then asks God for forgiveness and for help in following a more 'righteous, godly and sober life'. Let's hope someone passed on the message to the politicans and generals.

(With thanks to Sandra Lambert, Jackie Carpenter and Andy Goodenough for the letter extracts; the Wood family for prayer book extracts; and Bob Griffin for the postcard illustration.)