My name is Blücher


24th January 1915

The Dorsets marched, with the rest of the 15th Brigade, back to Wulverghem, back to the trenches. On the way they were inspected by Major General Morland and General Sir Charles Fergusson. The Dorsets, 1st Cheshires and half of the 6th Cheshires went into the front line. The rest: The Norfolks, Bedfords and the rest of the 6th Cheshires remained in Dranoutre in reserve. The 15th Brigade’s diary even tells us that the Dorsets went into trench 10. The Dorsets’ diary tell us nothing more than there were no casualties. I will draw these new trench maps soon, I promise.

With Tom’s injury in mind today’s date is the 100 year anniversary of the Battle of Dogger Bank. This engagement, between British and German squadrons, ended with the German Cruiser, SMS Blücher, at the bottom of the North Sea. It was a shot in the arm for the Royal Navy but, although they didn’t learn from their mistakes unlike the Germans, the British continued to dominate the North Sea.

Top spin lob, smash and POW!

18th January 1915

Monday morning and back to work for the Dorsets. Route marches and musketry training was the order of the day with bomb throwing chucked in for good measure. That must have gone down like a lead barrage balloon.

I find myself reading only one newspaper these days. I take the Daily Telegraph. The Daily Telegraph 1915 that is. In today’s paper, 100 years ago, there’s an interesting story about the internment of Germans in the UK. It will please the great niece and nephew of Frank Crawshaw very much – my mother and uncle respectively.

In 1914 tennis fans were treated to a five set thriller in the Wimbledon Championships Men’s final. The winner was Norman Brookes of Australia. He beat Otto Froitzheim, German tennis champion and World Number Four, 6-2, 6-1, 5-7, 4-6, 8-6. Leaving England, Froitzheim travelled to America to play in Pittsburgh. When war broke out he returned to the Motherland but his steamer was intercepted off Gibraltar by the Royal Navy and he was taken prisoner on the Rock.

Froitzheim was then taken back to the UK and interned in a German prisoner of war camp. The Telegraph states that it was in Bray, Maidenhead. I would suggest this is actually Holyport, perhaps less than a mile to the north of Bray. My mother and Stepfather lived at the end of Holyport Street until recently, and, in the field next door, was the ruins of an old POW camp, half-hidden in an old unkempt orchard overrun by brambles and nettles. The camp spilled out into the grounds of Philberd’s house, now, I believe, converted to rather swish flats.

Image showing The Eagle in Holyport
The Eagle in Holyport before 1916. Subsequently renamed the Belgian Arms.

The pub on their street is called The Belgian Arms. A local story, possibly apochryphal, claims that the pub, named The Eagle prior to World War One, changed its name because the German POWs saluted the pub sign every time they marched past.

Now that story should please my mother and Uncle John!

Tram Blam thank you ma’am

23rd December 1914

The weather continued to be cold. Dawn brought a white frost and fog which gave way to snow showers later in the day.

Any silence that usually accompanies such a crisp winter’s morning was shattered when British shells landed dangerously close to the Dorset trenches. The rest of the day was quiet, although the 5th Division’s diary notes that the Dorsets inflicted casualties on a German patrol. There’s no mention of that engagement in the Dorsets’ diary, although the diary’s entries have become rather succinct of late.

Yesterday’s letter from Frank was a long one. So let’s start with family and friends. It’s the time for all that you know. Now then, don’t be like that. It’s only once a year.

Frank is very, very grateful for his Christmas parcels sent by Mabel and Aunt Carrie and Uncle Matt. But he only describes one present: a pair of vest and pants, which would have been very welcome I’m sure. What ever else he received presently remains a mystery.

There’s a new character introduced in yesterday’s letter: “E. Jim”. It’s going to be impossible to trace his origins with such a cryptic and common name, but it looks like his luck has run out with his current girlfriend. No so lucky Jim. Frank’s girlfriend, Jess, has written again but I’m no closer to discovering her identity, much like E Jim and Tom.

Frank still hasn’t received the chocolate from my Great Grandfather. Perhaps I can trace my inability to reply to letters back to Carl Robert Debnam. If my Grandfather Bob was a chip off the old block then he’d have already eaten the chocolate. Especially if they were Ferrero Rocher. Frank clamours for Kitchener’s Army to come out to France. It was to be a while before any of Kitchener’s Army made it to Belgium. Tom has gone back to his ship, somewhat reluctantly.

Frank has written to Uncle (Matt?) about his experiences. “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.” It appears that Frank has been sparing Mabel any horror stories but she’s found out anyway and asked him about it in one of her letters. I wonder whether Frank’s referring to a specific action. It’s probably the retreat from Mons.

Franks’ ex, Dolly, continues to enquire after him and he promises Mabel to visit her when he returns. I should certainly find the time to go and see her”.

Frank then refers to the trams in London which ad delayed Mabel’s journey across London. What happened to the trams? I luckily found this story in the Telegraph’s archives on the 12th December 1914. At just after 5pm on the 11th December there was an explosion at Greenwich generating station which, unbelievably, powered the entire London tram network. London’s commuters endured a sodden journey home. Some women apparently shared a taxi – fancy that! For once the Germans aren’t blamed. Further explosions are alluded to with:

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.

This refers to Germany’s daring raid on the 16th December when three of their battlecruisers shelled Scarborough, Hartlepool and Whitby on the east coast of England. Despite the Royal Navy’s prior knowledge of this raid (they had already broken German signals), a series of misplaced confidence and incompetence allowed the Germans to fire several thousand shells (many failed to detonate) and slip away without any significant losses. The three towns suffered extensive damage and 137 fatalities and 592 casualties. The attacks sparked outrage around the globe, especially America. Frank’s incredibly blasé about the raid’s success. He blames the fog. The British Press weren’t convinced and neither am I.

Frank ends the letter with his unfailing kindness by giving some of his pay to his sister. 6d is a third of what he earns so it’s an incredibly generous gesture. I also can’t help but think that Frank is a man who knows he has nothing left to lose.

I haven’t found any Thomases yet

You say you haven’t heard from Tom yet, well you can take it from me that he is alright thats what we have heard, that we have beaten the Germans quite easily as sea. I wish we could say that out here.

Read the whole letter from the 17th September.

18th September 1914

This is a snippet from the letter Frank sent home yesterday. Frank is referring here to the Battle of Heligoland Bight. This was a raid by the British Grand Fleet on German patrols in the North Sea on 28th August 1914. It very nearly didn’t succeed and communication between Royal Navy senior staff was very poorly handled. But it, nevertheless, resulted in a British victory and severely curtailed Germany’s willingness to move their fleet into the North Sea for some time.

Tom is obviously out with the British Fleet. They had moved to Scapa Flow, a natural harbour in the Orkney Islands,  at the outbreak of the war. Quite who Tom is remains a mystery. Was he a cousin of some sort? I am still expanding the Crawshaw/Webster family tree but I haven’t found any Thomases yet. That said, his first name could be anything. I’ve got Alexander as Frank, Maud as Till, Doris as Ginger, Walter as Mattie and Caroline as Carrie or, possibly, Muff (although I am starting to think she’s a different aunt). The Crawshaws certainly love to obfuscate.

Franks ends this section of his letter with the rather downbeat “I wish we could say that out here”. It was obvious to the British troops in France that they were really up against it. The German Army was held in the same high regard on land as the British Fleet was on the open seas. Then again, as he sits sniffing in a damp barn, having spent the last month fighting and roughing it, with only memories of a pint of mild to draw from, you can somehow forgive Frank his gloominess.

The Dorsets continued to dig trenches along the southern section of the Aisne. Larger calibre guns were arriving at this new frontline all the time and began to assault the heights to the north.

Gleichen recalls, “It was a nice time for the Artillery; for guns were there in large numbers, and they had some good targets to shoot at, over Vregny and Chivres way, in the shape of the enemy’s batteries and lines, when they could be seen.” But the downside was that this attracted the attention of the German guns.