A cellar full of excellent wine

25th September 1914

The day passed without much excitement. The Dorsets were ensuring that they were well dug in. The occasional shell and snipers continued to keep heads down. Gleichen greedily eyed the Dorset’s headquarters which was “in a really nice house with carpets and big shaded lamps, and a cellar full of excellent wine, and a nice garden all complete, and charming bedrooms—infinitely superior to our pig-sty of a farm”. However, due to tactical reasons, he settles in at Rolt’s farm, the headquarters to the 14th Brigade, who were preparing to leave that evening.

At 5pm the Dorsets were put on a high state of alert. Reports of German counter attacks were coming in the next 48 hours. Tension and stress often leads to paranoia and the night was a quiet one.

Howitzer that!


24th September 1914

The Bedfords joined the Dorsets in the morning along with the remnants of the Cheshires. the Norfolks had been attached to the 3rd Division on the 21st September. To bolster their dwindling ranks, Gleichen had a rag tag mix of troops attached to his command. He recalls “the K.O.Y.L.I., and West Kents (of the 13th Brigade), already holding the eastern edge of Missy, were put under my orders, besides the 15th Brigade R.F.A. under Charles Ballard (a cousin of Colin’s*), and a Howitzer Battery (61st)** of Duffus’s 8th Brigade.”

The History of the 1st Bn. The Dorsetshire Regiment highlights the danger they were in at this time: two battalions totally unprotected from attack with only one bridge to retire across without any supporting troops. This is a bit of a false claim, as there were a lot more than two battalions on the north bank of the Aisne, but the precariousness of their situation cannot be denied. It made everyone very edgy.

The Dorsets busied themselves during the day by developing a better defensive position, connecting support lines with lateral trenches, deepening existing trenches and blockading the streets of the village with anything they could get their hands on.

Perhaps it’s worth drawing back from Missy for a moment to get a better picture of why the 5th Division were here at all. High above the south bank of the River Aisne, in possibly the same cave the Cheshires had hidden in on the 13th September, we find Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the BEF, watching the action unfold over the Chivres spur and Missy. He observed “the clearance of this hill by our high-explosive shells. We found see the Germans flying in all directions to the rear, and we subsequently got reliable information that their losses on this occasion were very heavy.” It was here that he became convinced that observation of the enemy’s position was crucial to success. It was therefore critical, in French’s mind at least, that the 5th Division held onto the north bank of the Aisne in order for the BEF to maintain this supposed superior position over the enemy.

* Brigadier General Colin Robert Ballard was the Commanding Officer of the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment.

** Probably the outdated BL 6-inch 30 cwt howitzer

These Missy nights


23rd September 1914

It had been coming for a few days. But today was the day for the Dorsets to leave the relative comfort of Jury.

Another reconnoitre by Bols, Fraser and Kitchen, paved the way for the rest of the Battalion to return to frontline life. Major Roper and Major Saunders supervised the crossing of the Aisne starting at 6.10pm.

A and B Companies went into frontline trenches, with C and D Companies in reserve. The Battalion had relived the East Surreys.

Colonel Bols inherited No. 2 section of the “Defences” as they are referred to in the diary, and with it the West Riding Regiment. This is the first use of trench-like language that was to dominate the war diary in the years to come.

The fourth reinforcement arrived and remained at Jury, although it’s not clear how many men that brought to the Dorsets.

Captain Arthur Robert Montgomery Roe’s death (16th September) was finally announced in the Telegraph. He had been with the Dorsets since 1900. He was 32.


On the (Ed.)

Don’t forget to send out the Sunday paper every week all of it and don’t leave out the sporting part me old dear.

Read the whole letter from the 17th September.

22nd September 1914

The Dorsets were put on a state of alert for a return to Missy that evening but it was cancelled at the last moment. Colonel Bols, Captain Fraser and Captain Kitchin went to Missy during the day to reconnoitre. The rest of the Battalion spent the day in or near Jury.

Newspapers had gone through a revolution with the publication of the Daily Mail in 1896. New technologies such as linotype, folding machines and photographic reproduction transformed the mainstream newspaper from densely set, narrow-columned broadsheets to a tabloid layout with prominent headlines and photography. They also had the brilliant idea of putting the news on the front page.

Newspapers began to appear on Sunday with mixed success throughout the Nineteenth Century. While the News of the World thrived with its tales of scandal and murder, others like the Sunday Telegraph and The Mail on Sunday failed within a few weeks of their release in 1899.

The Observer was the only established Sunday newspaper but remained a rather Church-pleasing sober publication. Much more exciting to a young man like Frank would have been the Weekly Dispatch, a Sunday photography-led newspaper.

Sport, at the time, was dominated by football and cricket. Popular football teams in London were pretty much the same as they are today. Frank had a wide choice of teams to choose from. Chelsea and Tottenham were in the only London clubs in the top tiered First Division, while Arsenal, Fulham and Clapton Orient (later Leyton Orient) were in the Second Division. West Ham, Crystal Palace and Millwall were in the Southern Football League First Division. Frank was born a stone’s throw away from Crystal Palace, the home of the F.A. Cup final up to 1914.

1914/15 season was not a happy one for London clubs in the First Division. Chelsea finished second from bottom and Tottenham were relegated, replaced by, of all clubs, Arsenal.

Footballers in 1914 enjoyed the notoriety they do today. The 1914/1915 season was famous for a match fixing scandal in which four Liverpool and three Manchester United players were banned for life. Footballers were also accused of shirking joining the army, while the clubs were accused of bribing the players away from their military responsibilities.

After a sombre F.A. Cup final on 24th April in 1915, Lord Derby told the players: “You have played with one another and against one another for the Cup. It is now the duty of everyone to join with each other and play a sterner game for England.” There’s an excellent article about the 1914/15 football season on When Saturday Comes.

Football’s refusal to suspend the league during the first year of the war earned it a reputation as an cowardly and unpatriotic game. Subsequently its popularity as a Public School game plummeted.

Rugby Union was becoming the main sport for the upper classes. Indeed, the Telegraph lists the following article under the heading Football on the 17th September 1914.

Practically all the playing members of the famous Harlequins Rugby Club are on active service, and the captain, A. G. Stoop, has accepted a commission in the West Surrey Regiment.

Nun the wiser

Pleased to hear about Doris, I should love to see her for its such a long time since she saw her Biddy give her my love and I hope to see her soon as she left that school.

Read the whole letter from the 17th September.

21st September 1914

When I first saw the 1911 census result for Doris Crawshaw it was something of a surprise to find that she was at boarding school in Gloucestershire. The Catholic Who’s Who and Year Book 1908 advertises the St Rose’s Dominican Convent Boarding School for  Young Ladies.

This Convent occupies one of the most convenient and health situations in the lovely neighbourhood of Stroud. The School apartments are excellently ventilated, effectually heated by hot water, and well provided with everything conducive to the health, comfort, and convenience of the pupils.

Pupils are prepared for the University Local Examinations, Associated Board and London College of Music, etc. For prospectus and other particulars, apply to the Rev. Mother Prioress.

How was Doris, a child of seemingly working class parents, at a boarding school on the other side of the country? It’s also the first reference to Roman Catholicism I’ve found in the family tree. It’s a mystery to which I have no answer at this time. One of the most compelling answers I can think of is that the grandparents intervened when Frank Senior and Ada separated. Matthew Webster (1839-1921) left £408 2s 4d to his sons when he dies in 1921. This is worth about £9000 in today’s money, so he wasn’t poor by any stretch of the imagination.

The Dorsets enjoyed a rest day in billets in Jury. At 5.30pm C and D Companies were ordered to review trenches. At 7.45pm the rest of the battalion was ordered to move to “Rapreux farm”, where they bivouacked and prepared to move back into Missy the next morning. At 11:30pm the entire battalion regrouped and retired to billets. Whether this was in Rapreux farm or back in Jury the diary neglects to say. There’s a terrain de Ru Preux road near the pontoon bridge so I’m assuming the farm was originally near this location and actually called Ru Preux.