Monday, 28 July 2014

Countdown to the Centenary

As the Centenary of the First World War approaches, I am posting extracts from my new book, Bristol in the Great War, which is out in August. Using military events as background, it describes what life was like in the city between 1914 and 1918 and takes a look behind the scenes to see how ordinary people coped. As always on this blog, the extracts include the words of people who were actually there. For more details about Bristol in the Great War and to pre-order, click the link on the left.


BRISTOL IN THE GREAT WAR - 1917
'Mr Wadlow was in  terrible state and fell to the ground'


Harry Wadlow - middle row, right - wasa talented
sportsman who me a tragic end
(Credit: Frenchay Village Museum)

Despite all the advances, flying was still a hazardous occupation for pilots during the Great War, especially as they didn’t carry parachutes. Estimates of life-expectancy at the Front vary considerably but most are measured in days or weeks. The riskiness of it all was brought home to the community of Frenchay in May 1917 when the son of a local headmaster was killed in a flying accident in Kent.
 
As a child Harry Wadlow had been a pupil at the Frenchay National School, where his father Henry was still the head. He went on to Bristol Grammar School where he excelled at sport as well as his studies, and when war broke out Harry joined the Army Service Corps. He served in the Dardanelles and France, where he was promoted to captain, then transferred to the Royal Flying Corps in 1916.
 
The fatal accident happened when he was training to fly a single-seater De Havilland fighter at Joyce Green Aerodrome near Dartford. Situated on marshland, the airfield was not a popular one and Air Vice-Marshal Arthur Stanley Gould Lee, a pilot during the First World War, later explained why: ‘A pupil taking off with a choked or failing engine had to choose, according to wind direction, between drowning in the Thames (half a mile wide at this point), crashing into the Vickers TNT (explosives) Works, sinking into a vast sewage farm, killing himself and numerous patients in a large isolation hospital, being electrocuted in an electrical station with acres of pylons and cables; or trying to turn and get back to the aerodrome. Unfortunately, many pupils confronted with disaster tried the last course and span to their deaths.’

Exactly what happened to Harry is unknown, but he died instantly when his aircraft struck a hut on his landing approach. The news was broken to his father at morning school and the effect was awful. ‘Mr Wadlow was in a terrible state when he got the news and he fell to the ground,’ recalled one pupil. It was the second time tragedy had struck, for in 1901 his wife Laura had died, aged 31, of scarlet fever.  Harry Wadlow was buried at Frenchay with full military honours in a grave shared with his mother. He was 22 years old.
 

(Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Wadsworth)

 
NEXT POST: 'The Tommies were out of luck if one of us Yanks were around' - 1918

 



Friday, 25 July 2014

Countdown to the Centenary

As the Centenary of the First World War approaches, I am posting extracts from my new book, Bristol in the Great War, which is out in August. Using military events as background, it describes what life was like in the city between 1914 and 1918 and takes a look behind the scenes to see how ordinary people coped. As always on this blog, the extracts include the words of people who were actually there. For more details about Bristol in the Great War and to pre-order, click the link on the left.


BRISTOL IN THE GREAT WAR - 1916
'Sewing, scrubbing, scraping and fetching for the British Army'

Nursing often involved scrubbing floors, cleaning sinks
and washing filthy bandages and dressings
(Credit: Frenchay Village Museum)
AS MORE and more men departed for war, Bristol women were now being asked to take on new roles which they did with enthusiasm. Large numbers were recruited for the Land Army and although many had been working in dairies, keeping poultry, and helping at harvest-time for generations, the less experienced girls were thoroughly checked to make sure they would ‘stick at it’. They had to supply three character references and were then interviewed by a panel. Selection boards were held in the city once a week at the Victoria Street Exchange and some 1,400 women applied in total, of whom about 660 were accepted.
It was impressed upon the successful candidates that although they would be wearing smocks and breeches, they were still expected to behave like ladies. For some, however, the freedom of being billeted on farms unchaperoned was too much of a temptation and many a boisterous night was spent at the local pub!
Despite the prominent part women were now playing, many citizens were still more comfortable to see them in supporting, decorative, or even subservient roles. Frenchay’s parish magazine, which was largely written by the rector, revealed an almost aggressive satisfaction in reporting that nurses at Cleve Hill Hospital in Downend were scrubbing kitchen floors, cleaning sinks, cooking for nearly one hundred people, and washing filthy bandages and dressings.
‘It is work that anyone may be proud and thankful to do,’ declared the magazine, continuing in Churchillian style: ‘For there will come the day when those who limped in can march out, when all bandages and slings can be cast off...these men will leave England again for the battlefield, and those Red Cross members who sewed and scrubbed and scraped and fetched and carried for them, and nursed them back into health, will know that they have had a finger in the pie which feeds the British Army.’



(Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Wadsworth)


NEXT POST: 'Mr Wadlow was in a terrible state and fell to the ground - 1917

Monday, 21 July 2014

Countdown to the Centenary

As the Centenary of the First World War approaches, I am posting extracts from my new book, Bristol in the Great War, which is out next month. Using military events as background, it describes what life was like in the city between 1914 and 1918 and takes a look behind the scenes to see how ordinary people coped. As always on this blog, the extracts use the words of people who were actually there. Today's post describes Christmas in Bristol, and in 1915 it was business as usual. For more details about Bristol in the Great War, click the link on the left.


BRISTOL IN THE GREAT WAR -1915
'Electric torches - a most acceptable present for soldiers'

The Bristol Times and Mirror advertise
tempting treats for Christmas
(Credit: Bristol Reference Library)
AS 1915 drew to a close, it was reported by one London newspaper that, despite the war, women were still spending freely as the festive season approached. While shops that depended on male customers were finding business slack, those for women were reporting record sales. The same was true in Bristol, and a look through the local newspapers in the week leading up to Christmas 1915 shows that women had all the encouragement they needed from advertisers.
Alongside a big, bold appeal for army recruits, the pharmacist Henry Hodder, of Wine Street, commanded: ‘Do your Xmas shopping now’. The Misses Weymouth of Corn Street offered their furs as ideal ‘yuletide gifts’ with motor wraps from five guineas and foot muffs at 10s 9d. James Phillips & Sons, a household goods store in Union Street, helpfully let it be known that ‘You cannot do better than inspect our large and choice assorted stock of goods’.

In Clifton, the Alexandra Company proudly advertised its ‘dainty fancy goods’, while in Augustine’s Parade, MW Dunscombe Ltd showed off its ‘Meccano for boys’, and suggested their electric torches and pocket Kodaks were ‘a most acceptable present’ for soldiers at the Front.
Who could blame women for indulging in a bit of retail therapy? They were the ones who were left to bring up families by themselves, who struggled when food and money was short, and who could not forget that their loved ones might never return. 


(Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Wadsworth)

NEXT POST: 'Sewing, scrubbing, scraping and fetching for the British Army' - 1916


Wednesday, 16 July 2014

Countdown to the Centenary

As the Centenary of the First World War approaches, I am posting extracts from my new book, Bristol in the Great War, which is out next month. Using military events as background, it describes what life was like in the city between 1914 and 1918 and takes a look behind the scenes to see how ordinary people coped. As always on this blog, the extracts use the words of people who were actually there. Today's post describes the arrival in Bristol of Belgian refugees. For more details about Bristol in the Great War, click the link on the left.


BRISTOL IN THE GREAT WAR -1914
'Many of the first arrivals were of the peasant class'


Belgian refugees arrive in Bristol,
many looked drained and bewildered
Credit: Bristol Reference Library
AS 1914 drew to a close, the reality of war was becoming clear. Wounded soldiers were now arriving back at Temple Meads Station, filthy, bloodied and bandaged. One Bristol paper published this soldier’s letter which described conditions at the Front: ‘In the daytime it is a butcher shop and at night it is like Madam Tussaud’s, nothing but dead and wounded, dead horses, burning towns and villages, murderers and refugees...It is painful to see women and children seeking a place of safety when shells go over and blow them to pieces. We are in a farm at the present time...and a Belgian refugee is here with three children on his own. His wife got shelled as they were flying for their lives.’

Belgian refugees were now seeking refuge in Britain and Bristol would accommodate 2,000. They were found homes and jobs, education was provided for the children, and money was raised to support them. The first Belgians arrived in the city on 22 September and were cheered by waving crowds. But as they paraded through the centre by tram many looked drained and bewildered.

For some like Maude Boucher, a mother of four from Clifton, the culture difference took a bit of getting used to. ‘Many of the first arrivals were of the peasant class and most of the women wore large shawls and no hats, and were generally standing at the gates and doors of their homes,’ she wrote in her journal. ‘The family which came later on to Tyndall’s Park were of the better class but had been obliged to leave their homes and had buried most of their possessions and treasures somewhere in Belgium. (That is as the story goes.) They had been able to bring practically nothing with them and as their family consisted of from ten to fifteen children in number, they were very glad of such a comfortable home as was provided for them.’

 
(Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Wadsworth)
NEXT POST: 'A most acceptable present for soldiers' - 1915

Saturday, 12 July 2014

At last, the Centenary of the Great War is in sight!

 
After two years of writing books about the First World War, I can finally see the Centenary coming into view - and what a welcome sight it is! For at last it means the publication of my first two books: Bristol in the Great War, which will be out in August, and Letters from the Trenches, out in November, A third title, Dorchester, Weymouth and Portland in the Great War is still being written and that will be published next year.

CLICK HERE TO ORDER
In the run-up to the start of the Centenary on August 4th, I shall be posting extracts from Bristol in the Great War as a tribute to those who lived through those awful years. Using military events as background, the book describes what it was like to live in Bristol between 1914 and 1918, and looks behind the scenes to see how ordinary people coped. As always on my blog, the extracts will use the words of people who were actually there.

The book is arranged in five chapters, covering the five years of war, and I shall be posting an extract from each one, along with illustrations (the book is packed with 100 photographs, many of which have never been published). I hope you enjoy them, even if you're not familiar with Bristol, and if you feel inclined to buy a copy of the book, simply click the link on the left.

Things have changed enormously in the two years since I began my writing projects, In 2012 it wasn't unheard of for children to confuse the two world wars, or simply not know the 1914-18 conflict existed. There's little chance of that now, with schools very much involved in the Centenary. Some even have their own WW1-themed blogs and twitter accounts.

Interest in the war has also inspired people to investigate their own family histories, and I have listened to some moving accounts by people who have discovered exactly how their relatives were involved in the conflict. A huge amount of research is now being published - from sweeping tomes to local stories - and it's noticeable that information about Britain during the Great War is now being pulled together in books and on websites. Two years ago it was often scattered among many different sources and hard to find.

I hope my books will play their own small part in ensuring that, long after the Centenary is forgotten, those who lived through the Great War are always remembered.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

Soldiers never forgot that 'home is where the heart is'

Private Tom Fake
(Photos:Jackie Carpener)
Letters written by Tommies from the Front reveal just how important their lives at home still were despite everything that was going on around them. Duties on the battlefield obviously came first, dictated as they were by military orders that couldn't be ignored and an enemy that always always had to be watched. But when men settled down quietly with their pencils and paper, family life came alive again and domestic details took precedence over mud, exhaustion, barbed wire and the incessant roar of guns.

One man for whom home was tremendously important was Private Tom Fake, who served in France with the Rifle Brigade. When he wrote to his wife Charlotte in Bristol, it was almost as if she were standing next to him, as shown in these snippets from letters he wrote during June 1917. Conversation often centred on their young son, Tommy, and also the garden Tom had loved so much during peace time:

4th June


Charlotte and Tommy Fake
'Thank Tommy for his nice letter and tell him my next letter will be to him. I am also glad he has had a bible as a prize from his Sunday school and I hope he will take care of it...How are those rose trees this year, did Bert Freke [a family friend] prune them for me? And how about my gladiolas are they alright, or are they gone the same way as the begonias. I should like to hear a bit about the garden when you answer this, did you pot out the echeverias?'

Tom confides in his wife about problems that he may have felt he had to keep quiet about around the other men: 'I am going on fairly well, but I still get the rheumatics, today again it nearly crippled me on the march,' he wrote on 14 June. Four days later things still hadn't improved: 'I have still got the rheumatics, the marching pulls me all to pieces, but still I can only do my best.'

Charlotte had problems of her own - namely bad teeth - and was awaiting an operation (fairly common at the time) to remove them: 'I shall be glad to hear when you have had all your teeth out and I do hope you will feel better after it,' wrote her husband comfortingly. By the end of June she had had them extracted, and Tom must have wished he could have been with her: 'I am sorry the operation you have been going under has made you so weak and hope that you will soon get strong again, well I suppose it will be finished by the time you get this, I suppose it will be some time before you get new teeth.'

Private Fake's letters also reflect how difficult life was becoming for those at home, with the war causing shortages in food and fuel: 'So they have stopped runing the buses have they? I suppose that is on account of using petrol,' he wrote on 22 June.

A funeral procession for pupils killed in the
bombing raid on London in June 1917
Fortunately for the Fakes, their home in Bristol was far enough west not to suffer enemy air attacks. However, when the Germans launched their first major heavy bombing raid over London on 13 June 1917, killing 162 people and injuring 432, Tom was full of sadness for his friends who had lost loved ones:

13 June

'They say the 13th is an unlucky number, whether that be true or not it was unlucky for some poor devils that suffered from the air raid. It has affected my two mates. One has had the front of his house wrecked and a bird killed, but no one inside was injured. The other one's sister had a child about six years old killed at school and one injured.'

http://www.pen-and-sword.co.uk/bristol-in-the-great-war-paperback/p/6116/?aid=1126You can read more of Tom Fake's letters in my book 'Letters from the Trenches', which is out in November, and also in 'Bristol in the Great War' which is out this August. This will my first book and I'll be telling you more about it as publication approaches. In the meantime here's a sneak preview of the cover - click here for more details or to pre-order a copy.

Thankyou to Jackie Carpenter for allowing me to use the material relating to her great-uncle Tom Fake.

Saturday, 24 May 2014

A soldier's poignant thoughts of his children at home

A token of love, sent from the Front by a father missing his children
It's another rainy bank holiday weekend here in South West England and how my spirits sank when I pulled the curtains this morning and saw rain falling from grey skies with puddles coalescing in the garden.

How much worse it must have been, though, for Hannah Luxton in 1915 who, for the first time, was facing the Whitsun break alone with her two young girls at home in South Wales. Her husband Philip had just left for the Front and his poignant letters from France reveal that he was missing them just as much as they were missing him. In the trenches he imagines them preparing for the traditional Whitsun parade, with new dresses that had been bought specially for the occasion:

16 May, 1915

Just a few lines to let you know I am alright and I hope you and the children will enjoy yourself on Whitsun for I am sure I will be thinking of them for I wish I was able to be with them. I think this will be the first Whitsun for me to be from them and I hope it will be the last. Dear Wife, I am afraid I won't be able to write quite so often as we are moving about very often but I will write as often as I can. I hope it will not stop you writing for I will be able to receive your letters alright.

Whitsun May 23, 1915

Just a few lines in answer to your letters and fags and I am glad to hear you and the children is quite well...You can tell the children I will send them a French coin as soon as I gets some but I won't be able to send them any Belgium coins for we only get French coins here. Dear wife we had a fearful night here last night I never seen thunder and lightning in my life like I seen then and it lasted for about one hour. Dear wife while I am writing this letter I am thinking of the children dressing, for it is now eleven o'clock for I expect they will want to put their new dresses on. Don't forget to have your photos taken for I should like one very much.

25 May, 1915

Hoping you and the children had a good time yesterday for just at the time the schools was parading I was thinking of the children and wishing I was there to see them and I hope they had a fine day for it is very hot out here now by day.

  • My thanks to Anne Holland for the letters and Lorraine Judge for the postcard. You can read more of Philip Luxton's letters in my book Letters from the Trenches which is out in November.