An example of

3rd February 1915

There was grenade practice for the 15th Brigade. Gleichen watched from the sidelines. At the same time a rather grim G.C.M was being held in Bailleul. G.C.M. stands for General Court Martial.

Early in the morning of the 28th January 1915 panic had coursed through the Cheshire’s forward trenches when two Germans penetrated their defences in Trench 11b, having slipped past the sentries.  This kind of thing had been happening throughout January and O.C.’s had had enough.

According to the 15th Brigade’s diary, eleven men were arrested but it was the senior man, 24 year old Corporal George Henry Povey, who was singled out to be made an example of. His Corporal rank is mistaken as Lance Corporal in the 15th Brigade’s war diary. The diary also states, rather bluntly, that he was shot and the others were sentenced to serve between 5 and 10 years penal servitude. There’s absolutely no mention of the original event in the 15th Brigade’s diary entry for the 28th January.

The CWGC records that he died on 11th February 1915. But looking at the register it records 10th February as his date of death. Everywhere else I can find on the internet cites the 11th February as his date of execution. So why did the 15th Brigade’s war diary say he was shot. Perhaps the diary was written at a later date?

This article explains the story in much more detail and claims he was sentenced on the 8th and shot on the 11th February 1915. The account also contradicts the of number men quoted by the 15th Brigade’s diary – it claims there were only 4 men as well as Povey who were arrested. I’d like to see more primary evidence as the website this article quotes as its source is no longer in existence.

Povey was one of the 306 men executed for desertion or cowardice in the First World War, all of whom were pardoned in 2006 by the British Government.


A bad moon rising

29th January 1915

The Dorsets remained in billets. A and D Company remained in the trenches. The 15th Brigade’s diary notes that they  made good progress today working on the trenches and that more wire was laid in front of them. A bright night, lit by a gibbous moon, led to “considerable sniping”.

I’ve missed a couple of things lately and so I apologise. Time is very, very limited at the moment. Firstly I missed a footnote which give us a bit more information about the fascinating Frederick Morley. I’ve added this detail as a comment to the 26th January post. Find out about his nickname and capacity for Anglo Saxon profantities.

I also missed a death yesterday and I’ll list it here to flesh out this post. Welshman Rees Harris, a former collier from Aberdare, was killed in action. There’s no record of how he met his death in the Dorsets’ diary; not even a mention, but the Norfolk’s diary entry records one death from sniping which could have been him. The only death from the Norfolks listed by CWGC for the 28th January was interred in Thame, Oxfordshire, so he presumably died of wounds at home.

Harris was attested into the 3rd Battalion Dorsets having served for 10 years in the Cardigan Royal Garrison Artillery Militia. He’d only arrived in France on the 4th December. Intriguingly he signed up with his age as 37 years and six months. The cut off for regular army was 38 and the Special Reserve was 40. He was 36 in 1911, according to the census, which made him 40 in 1915. It appears that Harris had told a little white lie to go to war. It wasn’t uncommon, but it was uncommonly brave. His mother, Martha, signed for his effects with the mark of a cross.

Up periscope

12th January 1915

The clipped “situation unchanged” in the Dorsets’ diary sounds like a British Rail announcement and described, with economy, another day of monotony in the trenches.

The Dorsets’ Captain Partridge features in the 15th Brigade’s diary entry for today. He’s been busy with an unnamed Royal Artillery officer, sending intelligence back to Brigade HQ. Major General Thomas Morland’s report for the 5th Division bears this activity out the following day, with the line “observations from front trenches show the great value of powerful periscope binoculars.” Presumably Partridge was using something like this through which to observe the enemy lines:

Image showing Captain J C Scott, 2nd A & SH. using box periscope with binoculars. Rue de Bois, February 1915
Using box periscope with binoculars. Rue de Bois, February 1915. Captain J C Scott, 2nd A & SH. Image from Imperial War Museum website.

One Dorset man died today, according to the CWGC: His name was Francis James Harwood and he was 34. Intriguingly, he served under the surname of Westlake. He’s listed as having been killed in action in the medal rolls. There’s also evidence that he served with the Somerset Light Infantry, which makes some sense as he was born in Bridgewater, Somerset. Quite why he’d transferred to the Dorsets is a mystery. It requires more time, and I have run out of minutes in the day, so I will leave poor Francis James alone and return to him another time perhaps.

Water, water, everywhere


7th January 1915

The wet weather destroyed much of the hard work done to the trenches by the East Surreys and the Dorsets. Water ran freely up over the bottom of the trenches. At some points men stood up to their waists in freezing water. The left hand end of Sector C, to the left of the Dorsets in Sector D, was totally flooded.

So, for Frank and his “Bhoys”, it would have been a godsend to hear that, at the end of a quiet day, they were being relieved by the 1st Bn Bedfords. This was completed by 7.45pm. The Dorsets marched to billets in Dranoutre.

One man is listed on the CWGC as having been killed today. James Griffiths was another territorial reinforcement; a proper cockney, hailing from Bow in the East End of London. His death is not listed in the war diary.

The winter rain was affecting people back in Britain too. Like last year’s flooding, much of the Thames burst its banks between Marlow and Windsor, and all the way down to Chertsey and Teddington, leading to widespread damage and overblown prose from journalists.

Rain and Abel

6th January 1915

Today was a very quiet day, according to the Battalion’s war diary. However quiet it was to the diary’s author, German shelling still claimed the lives of two men from the Dorsets: George Kenway, from County Cork, and Frederick Abel (spelled incorrectly as Able on the CWGC records) Skinner, from Poole in Dorset. He was only 17.

The 5th Division writes that “a good proportion of the enemy’s shells were blind”. Some of them clearly weren’t.

The weather got even worse throughout the course of the evening with heavy rain making work on the trenches very difficult. It looked like all their previous hard work was going to be washed away.