Saturday, 12 November 2011

Lest we forget . . .

Those who lost their lives in the War to end all Wars . . .

My husband's grandfather, Private Bertie Harrison, who died on the Somme in 1916, aged 27 - just as a gypsy had once foretold . . . He was wounded on the 4th July and died a day later. A letter home to his wife mentions seeing her brother, George Bird (below) whilst they were in France, and one of his eldest daughter's last memories of him was the tears in his eyes as he said a final farewell and then stepped onto the troop train, reluctantly handing back little Edie, barely a toddler, and knowing that he might well never see them again. He was right. The final insult to his widow was the Army billing her a shilling for the blanket to bury him in . . .

And his brother-in-law, Captain George Bird of the 2nd Warwicks, (and formerly of the 17th Lancers, the "Death or Glory Boys"). He had been in India until just beforethe outbreak of the war, where the 17th Lancers formed part of the Sialkot Cavalry Division in the 1st Indian Cavalry. They left Bombay on 14th October 1914 under the control of Major-General Hew Dalrymple Fanshawe. His military career had begun when he joined the 17th Lancers as a Drummer Boy, and he accompanied them to the 2nd Boer War. Music was the love of his life, and he was an accomplished musician (this love of music is borne out elsewhere in our family, as my husband's brother also lives for music). He had been offered the position of Conductor to one of the important London orchestras and would have taken the position up and married his young lady on the Isle of Wight, but war intervened. He was already in France before the rest of his former regiment arrived, as he had been in England on a music course.

He quickly rose through the ranks, and his bravery earned him a Military Cross (he took around 300 Germans prisoner), and was recommended for a DSO, but as he was only a Leiutenant, this was commuted to a bar to his MC, as it was frowned upon giving DSOs to ordinary ranks . . . He rose to Captain, but was killed within 3 weeks of his brother-in-law, on the 30th July on the Somme. His body was one of those never found.

Even those who never put a foot on foreign soil, paid the price of helping in the war effort. My husband's other grandfather, Sapper Frederick Craine, who was in the Royal Engineers, but damaged his knee in training and never got sent to the Front. A tailor in civvy street, he spent part of his war service sewing Army uniforms, but unfortunately for him, was also one of those who was involved in testing gas warfare in Britain, probably testing the earliest gas masks which were terribly inefficient. He was gassed and his lungs weakened and he subsequently died of TB in 1919.

And from my family, my great-Uncle Ben Bolt, Hampstead born and bred but with the red soil of Devon in his blood. A shadowy figure, never mentioned by my dad - so I wonder if he even knew of him? He was a chauffeur in Kent before the War, and his widow never remarried. He died in the final months of the war but I don't know where he is buried in France.

I thought of them on Friday, and I shall think of them today.


  1. My grandfather on my mother's side was a Desert Rat. Under the careful Auchinleck rather than the arrogant command of Montgomery, a fact I think saved him. They travelled on to Kenya, and were due to go to Malaysia, but Auchinleck delayed their departure while he waited for news. Malaysia fell while they were waiting in Mombassa, and they slowly made their way back through Africa and Europe, "mopping up" trouble along the way.

    My other grandfather never mentioned his war record. I only found out recently that he was a fireman in London throughout.

    I never knew of any family members lost during WWI. But I do wonder if my Welsh grandfather lost brothers. Most valley families at the turn of the century were fairly large, but there were no great aunts or uncles from his side.

  2. Yes, I agree BB - it is important to think of their sacrifice. How awful it was that the army treated their families so badly - they really went like lambs to the slaughter. My father in law was wounded on the Somme and eventuall, in old age, went blind because of his wound. So many were killed and so many suffered from their wounds. Lest we forget indeed.

  3. It's important to remember the deeds and the incredible sacrifice and that they were just ordinary people from all walks of life who wanted to live themselves.

    Remembrance means a lot to me as you know. Today I'm posting a conversation with dad about his time in Bomber Command in '44 and '45.

  4. A wonderful post the photos that illustrate it.

  5. We should never forget, but I fear that many do, our press hardly cover Veteran's Day any more, and our President only took part in ceremonies at Arlington Cemetery because he's up for reelection, he's skipped it in previous years.

  6. There is a quiet despairing ache when I read or share these stories. Wars are 'created' in high places, yet most of the lives lost or shattered are those of 'common ' folk, scarcely known beyond their own family or village. From each war the names of a few 'heroes' emerge, who no doubt earned their medals. So little has been done to commemorate and honor the countless thousands of ordinary men [and women] who were absorbed into the war efforts. Their names on a local memorial may at least spur others to learn something about them.

  7. Such sad stories and so many deaths. If your gt uncle was Sgt Ben Thomas Bolt of the Army Service Corps then he died on March 3rd 1918 and is buried in Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No 1 in Grave VI. G. 59. This was the only B Bolt on the CWGC site who died in 1917/1918 so I think it must be him. There's some additional info which I'll put in an e-mail.

  8. Thank you for all your comments. Rowan - yes that would be him, and many thanks for looking this up for me. i think i have the date scribbled down somewhere, but it is nice to know where he is buried.

    Mac 'n' Janet - I think that your comment tells you all you might wish to know about the calibre of your President . . .

    MM - I was reading the reports of George's death last night - we have a black covered book with gilt edged pages - I dare say they sold millions of these to grieving families during and after WW1. His sister (Keith's grandmother) wrote a long letter to his commanding officer, asking for the details of her brother's death. He was apparently shot "in the heart" but still alive when his compatriots had to leave him. When those who survived returned, there was just a shell hole where he had been . . . "Their names on a local memorial may at least spur others to learn something about them." If you check out Rowan's blog you will find that she has done just that.

    Angie - we treasure our photographs as they keep the memories alive. We have bigger portraits of George and Bertie in the main hallway here.

    Al - my husband said last night that there was usually little animosity between the soldiers of different warring countries - they know they are there just doing their job. I very much enjoyed your blog post by the way.

    WG - That particular war had SUCH an impact of the entire population. I should scarcely one family wasn't touched by it in some way, and of course there was a whole generation of women for whom marriage was not an option as their men had been killed and few left to replace them.

    Blueshed - your grandfather was definitely with the right man. It sounds like he had some fascinating travel and destinations - but he probably didn't pay much attention to the scenery at the time!