Brew ha ha


14th December 1914

You may have noticed yesterday, but we finally have a name to put to one of the censors. E. Rogers is revealed to be Censor No. 1611. He’s the Second Lieutenant who drew the map of the trenches on the 2nd December. We are pretty sure he’s an officer in A Company and here he’s probably revealed as being Frank’s platoon officer. That’s an incredibly granular piece of information and if I can find some history about E.Rogers it will help fill out more of Frank’s journey. But I cannot find anything about him, other than a name on a medal roll.

How the censor numbers were organised, I can only guess at. The officers weren’t always reading the letters though. Sometimes the officer in charge of censoring letters would leave them unread. This is explored in this Spartacus Educational article. Other times the censor stamp was passed onto an NCO to take care of the duty. I don’t have the originals of Frank’s letters but I am sure Geoff would have written a note if any of them been edited by a censor.

The main thing Frank has to complain about, in his second letter from yesterday, is the price of beer. Beer had increased to 3d a pint in 1914, mainly due to the huge jump in duty imposed on a barrel of beer by the government in November of that year: up from 7s. 9d to 23s per barrel. All these facts are taken from the European Beer Guide website.

By 1920 beer was was 6d a pint. Interestingly, the average strength of beer reduced in that time by a quarter, from a strong 1051 OG in 1914 to 1038 OG in 1920 (about the average for today’s dreary lagers.)

All of this change conspired to reduce drunkenness. In fact convictions for drunkenness fell from 183,828 in 1914 to just 29,075 in 1918.

At 6am the Dorsets marched with the rest, or what the war diary rather tellingly describes as “the remainder”, of the 15th Brigade. Their destination was a field just to the west of Dranoutre.

Here they waited until it got dark before moving to Neuve Église. But they didn’t leave the field without some difficulty. Such was the state of the wet ground that over time they must have sunk into the Flanders mud and they struggled to get anywhere. It must have been a miserable day for Frank.

Why were they even moving? I think it had to do with II Corps launching an offensive alongside the French against Wytschaete, Messines and Petit Douve farm. It came to nothing but 264 deaths over the next couple of days, according to the CWGC.

Had Frank been in the trenches, the day would have been even more miserable.

The Wytschaete line man


7th December 1914

The Dorsets remained in Dranoutre for another day but at 4.15pm A Company, along with Frank and a single platoon of B Company marched via Lindenhoek to relieve the Bedfords in trenches south of Point 75. Here they came under orders of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers of the 13th Division. No mention is made of this in the 13th Brigade nor the 5th Division’s war diaries. The fact that just over a single company of the Dorsets could replace the strength of an entire regiment of the Bedfords (who report in their diary that their strength of 200 men and  three officers) tells the story of the shortages faced by many British regiments up and down the line.

I only have limited internet access for now, but I think that their new position is just to the right of the Dorsets’ last location. So that’s where I’ve put them for now. Apologies if I am woefully wrong.

Post cartography

Field Service Post Card franked 2 De 14 to Miss Crawshaw, 29 Strathleven

“I am quite well. I have received your letter, parcel. Letter follows at first opportunity” signed Frank and dated 2-12-14

2nd December 1914

Another service postcard means only one thing: Another letter is winging its way to Brixton.

A map of the Dorsets' trenches
Dorsets trench map – just north of Wulverghem – 2nd December 1914

The Dorsets were now in trenches just north of Wulverghem. It’s only a little way south east from where the Dorsets were last week. I found a map drawn by E.Rogers 2nd Lieutenant on the 2nd December 1914 and have done my thing to it. He’s written A Section at the top. I wonder if this means he is an officer in Frank’s A Company? If Frank is still in A Company that is.

E. Rogers remains a mystery. I have found his medal roll on Ancestry but I cannot find anything else about him at this time. Not even his first name. It’s the same with Captain R.E. Partridge. It’s a shame because it’s not the last we’ll hear from either of them.

The Dorsets’ diary reports a quiet day except heavy shelling in front of C Company’s trenches.

Super furry animaux


1st December 1914

The Dorsets didn’t enjoy a very long rest but, if the East Surrey’s war diary is anything to go by, they might have stocked up on winter clothing which had arrived at Dranouter the previous week. This included fabulously bushy fur jackets made from goatskins.

Image showing men of the 11th Hussars in the trenches at Zillebeke during the winter of 1914-1915
Not a yeti. Men of the 11th Hussars in the trenches at Zillebeke during the winter of 1914-1915. IWM Q 51176

In the afternoon they marched via Neuve Église and relieved their old friends, the East Surreys. The Dorsets were now in trenches, according to the diary, to “the north of Wulverghem-Messines Road”. I’ve indicated it on the map. Frank and the rest of A Company went into the reserve trenches alongside the Battalion HQ dugouts.

The 15th Brigade’s war diary documents that I’ve downloaded from the Public Records Office, although it’s meant to include August to December, only goes up to September. I wonder if the papers are lost or if they are just not digitised yet. Luckily some of the Dorsets’ trench maps for early December are tucked into the 14th Brigade’s records.

British to the Backbone

PC to Miss Crawshaw, 29 Strathleven franked APO 24 No 15 still censor 137 – ‘No stamps available’ written on top of address side. Card dates 23-11-14

Dear Till

Many thanks for your welcome letter, and how glad I was to receive the parcel, which was very good of you and Aunt to send me out. Will Till I am getting on alright and still in the pink, it is getting terrible cold out here and I have had a heavy fall of snow.

Tell Mattie I would sooner be getting 18 pence and in the warm not much tell him. I have not heard from Tom yet. Jess dropped me a few lines and said she had heard from you. Well Till we are still in the thick of it but we are holding our own and even more.

Well Till Xmas will soon be here and I expect we shall have a cold time of it. Now I will conclude and will write a letter later on Love to all Bid.

23rd November 1914

The Dorsets moved HQ and A Company during the day due to shellfire. But there’s no indication in any records I can find today of where they were or where they moved to.

It seems to me that the fighting has died down a little bit and this is back up by reports in today’s edition of The Daily Telegraph, however unreliable as it has been in the past. Whether the quiet period is due to the freezing weather is hard to gauge. It’s certainly implied in the Telegraph. The ferocity of the recent fighting is undoubted, however. The casualty list runs over two pages today.

The postcard from Frank really doesn’t tell us anything, other than confirm the cold weather reported elsewhere. He has received a parcel from home but it doesn’t even say what was in it. I wonder if it was that cake promised by his Aunt Caroline. Whether it contained Bovril or not is debatable but I can’t resist quoting their fabulous advert copy from page 5 of the Daily Telegraph.

The duty of everyone, whether in the firing line or at home. is to keep fit. This is no time for cheap substitutes. Remember

It must be Bovril.

Bovril is British to the Backbone.