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.


How many bombs would a bomb chucker chuck?

2nd January 1915

Firstly, a big thank you to Stephen Potter for sending me a copy of Charles Lilly’s recollection of the first six months of the war. It’s short and lacking in finer details, having been written well after the end of the war (past the 1930s as far as I can make out – although it’s not dated), but it’s very opinionated and honest about his naivety as a young subaltern in 1914. He gives an insight into some of my ideas about the truth behind the official records of the Dorsets’ early months in World War One. I will return to him very soon and explore whether or not he was Frank’s direct platoon commander and we’ll also hear about what he thought of his superiors.

Another wet and windy day greeted the Dorsets as they lined up with the Royal Engineers for training in revetting and bomb throwing. Revetting refers to work reinforcing and developing trenches. This involved digging features like firesteps, dug outs and communication trenches and strengthening walls.

The British Army was scrambling to provide its troops with the requisite weaponry to fight in trenches. Bomb throwing was a vital skill. But first the British Army had to produce a bomb worth throwing. Gleichen explains about how far the Germans were ahead that winter:

Soon came the period of hand grenades, in which he had six to one the best of us in numbers; and then in rifle grenade ditto ditto; and then in trench mortars, flare-lights, searchlights, and rockets — wherein we followed him feebly and at a great distance; for where he sent up 100 (say) light balls at night, we could only afford five or six; and other things in proportion.

The official British hand grenade in 1914 was the No 1 grenade but it was pretty rubbish and even modifications to the unwieldy wooden handle didn’t make it any popular. The Germans could apparently bat them away using a wooden plank.

The Royal Engineers were beginning to make their own bombs out of jam tins. I’m guessing this is what they were showing the Dorsets how to use.

It wasn’t until 1915 that a decent hand grenade became available to Commonwealth troops: the Mark 5 Mills Bomb. It remained the iconic British grenade up until the 1980s. My Action Man never went anywhere without a belt-load of them. I worked in a building in Twickenham that made the detonators for them and I believe that a factory up the road in Richmond (which was later converted into Richmond ice rink) was where they made the actual grenade body. This article gives you a lot more information about the Belgians who worked there.

The development of the British grenade is explored in detail in this article on the Western Front Association website.

Later in the day Bols, and the Brigade Major at the time (possibly Griffiths), rode to Dranôutre and then onto Wulverghem to see the trenches they were going to take over from 14th Brigade. The sectors they saw, C and D, were “very wet, some undercut, parapet not thick enough and communication trenches impossible”. The Dorsets are in for a treat.

Have yourself a Verey merry Christmas

22nd December 1914

Cold rain and some snow fell throughout the day, rendering the ground even more sodden than it was already. One man died today in what is described as light shelling in the Dorsets’ war diary. Alexander Sellers, aged 34, was the last Dorset man to die in Flanders before Christmas day in 1914. What a miserable Christmas for his wife, Ellen, back in Weymouth. What a miserable Christmas for countless families around the United Kingdom, France and Germany.

And what a miserable Christmas for the Dorsets; stuck in freezing, wet, filthy trenches with Verey lights instead of fairy lights, jam tin grenades (last minute Christmas present anyone?) instead of crackers and the ubiquitous bully beef instead of goose and all the trimmings.

But here’s a really long letter from Frank to warm your cockles (I’ve always liked them cold myself, with plenty of white pepper and malt vinegar), filled with positive sentiments as always. Frank and his Bhoys are determined to have as good a time as they can, despite everything.

Envelope – Miss Crawshaw, 29 etc – franked 22 Dec 14
dated 21.12.14*

My Dearest Till

At last I am able to answer your welcome and interesting letters and also parcels which I received on Sunday, and Till which I think was very good of you to send out to me, and also Aunt and Uncle, yes I was ever surprised at the parcels which you sent I never expected all that, it was a proper Xmas gift. Well Till I expect we will be in the trenches on Xmas day, but the Bhoys have made up their minds to make the best of it providing nothing happens although the Bhoys remark it will be a dry one.

So old E Jim as got the bird tell him that is only half his luck, yes he is right there are plenty more gals going. Yes Till I still hear from Jess and she sent me a parcel the other day, which was very good of her.  I have just heard from Bert he said he has a good time at Brixton, he asked if I would like some Cig and I said I would sooner have Choc, No I never had the choc from him, so you can tell him.  It’s about time Bert was out here and some more of Kitchener’s Army. I reckon they are doing a proper laugh, I don’t know what you think. I bet Tom didn’t like going back, but I expect he’s settled by now.

Well Till that was exactly what happened in that letter I wrote to Uncle, only it was very hard and we had to rough it, but we are still alive and kicking, so we can’t grumble. I am surprised at Dolly, for it shows she thinks a lot of you and worries about my safety, I should certainly find the time to go and see her, Till I would like to have her address and hope you will send it in your next letter.

Yes I was reading in the trenches about the Trams, and I wondered how you got on, I said to myself I bet old Till was late that morning, but I see you went by train and got there alright. So the Germans have been giving England a few shells, that’s just what they send over to us and the Bhoys shout out when we hear them whizzing in the air, look out Bhoys. J Johnson and we all duck and chance what happens. I hope they won’t get coming any more of their games, for I expect they will stop it next time I believe there was a very thick fog on at the time.

Well Till I hope you will receive this letter before Xmas, and I hope you will have a good time of it at home, only I know things would be brighter if Tom and I was home but still let’s hope we shall be together again soon.

I am going to change and put on the vest and pants directly I have finished your letter. I am pleased to hear that all at home are well, remember me to Tango and Uncle and I hope you have a drop of lizzie with them soon. Till I am just seeing about my pay and am making arrangements so that you can receive 6d a day out of my pay, but will let you know more about it later on, for you can do with it.

Well I am getting on alright and still in the pink, things are just about the same out here. Now I think this is all the news this time, again thanking you and Aunt for the parcel and also wishing you at home a Merry Xmas, and I hope to hear from you soon.

I remain
Your loving Brother
Frank xxx

We are each getting a Xmas present from Queen Mary. Tell Mattie not forget his sporting letter.

* Eek! I got the date wrong on this letter in my schedule so it should have been posted yesterday. Apologies for that. I am leaving it here as yesterdays’ post is a longish one already. I don’t have time to write about any of its contents today. I shall return to it tomorrow and beyond as there plenty to write about.