Posted by: mcfinder | February 8, 2011

Ypres and south of the salient

You may remember several months ago I re-visted some places in and around the Ypres Salient, specifically to the north around Passchendaele, as we hadn’t had much time to properly visit some of these areas during our Cycling the Line trip in November 2009.

Well, today I was able to get back to the Salient again, and this time spent a bit of time in Ypres itself, and then I headed south to have another look at some other areas of interest, most notably Hill 60 and Messines.

I started the day in the town of Ypres. This town is mostly famous for being almost totally destroyed, and the images of it’s once great Cloth Hall in ruins are pictures that all of us have seen. Today the Cloth Hall has been rebuilt and is truly magnificent. It also houses the fabulous ‘In Flanders Fields’ museum which walks visitors through how Ypres and the surrounding region was affected by the War. Ypres is a lovely town, with delightful shops, and plentiful parking and it is always nice to see the odd UK number plate in amongst the cars parked in the main square! Walking up the hill towards the Menin Gate there are 2 shops of specific interest, both on the left hand side and deal in battlefield tours and books, militaria. I visited Salient Tours, unfortunately the battlefield tour I wanted to go on was not running today, however as I looked around the bookshop I noticed they has some copies of my Military Cross book – so I duly held an impromptu book signing ‘event’ (I use the word event in its loosest possible sense)…!

Onwards to the Menin Gate, which is quite possibly the most remarkable and awe-inspiring memorial in the world..ever. It has the thick end of 58,000 names of soldiers from Britain and the Commonwealth that died in and around the Ypres Salient during WW1, but have no known grave. The scale of this building needs to be seen to be believed, and the endless panels filled with names of the missing soldiers is very sobering.

I then got in the car and drove south and soon came upon a couple of CWGC cemeteries known as ‘The Bluff’ (Hedge Row, 1st DCLI, Woods). They are quite remote, set smack in the middle of acres of farm land, but Hedge Row cemetery is quite unusual because all the grave stones are set in a circle with the cross of sacrifice in the middle, and they all  have the inscription ‘known to be buried in this cemetery’ on them, as well as the usual name, regiment inscription. This is because this part of the front endured almost continuous shell fire from March 1915 until August 1917 and all this shell fire kept churning up the graves that were in this area…the men were known to be buried here, but, the bodies were all destroyed or moved.  Standing in this cemetery today, there was not a sound, completely quiet. It is not often you get complete stillness in life these days, and it was fabulous. So fabulous that I took some video with my camera – when I get home I shall upload it to share.

Next stop was Hill 60. I have been wanting to visit for a while, and I was not disappointed. The preserved area of this battle is remarkable. The 2 craters can be seen easily and the whole area is riddled with big (some deeper than me – 6ft plus) shell holes. It is a landscape that shouts at you, it is chaotic, angry and tangible. Bunkers still remain, their reinforced concrete twisted and contorted from the shell fire they endured. Even 90+ years on you can quite easily envisage the complete bedlam and chaos that would have been going on in this area when those mines were let go and the artillery rained down on the defenders. It is a truly amazing place, and a must for any visitors to the area. One thing that struck me was how small the area actually was. It is not really a hill, more an over-spill of land from the nearby railway cutting, and it can be measured in hundreds of metres..it is not big at all, which would have only concentrated the effects of all those shells and explosions.

From the chaos of Hill 60 I drove to the peace island of Ireland which is a beautiful monument to the Irish Divisions perched high upon Messines Ridge. I remember this ridge well, it is on top of a bloody steep hill, and I remember cursing the whole of Belgium as I pedalled up to it, and everyone in the world who had said Belgium was ‘flat’. It isn’t. Fact.

Last main stop on my mini tour was the British Cemetery at Messines. This again is perched up on the top of the ridge. It is a large cemetery with over 1500 graves, however only 577 are identified. A testament to the frightful result of (what was then) modern mechanised warfare, and the continued battering this area of land had over 3 years of fighting. By this time of the day the light was fading and I needed to head back. The day had been beautiful and sunny, and as I sat on the steps of the cemetery, high on the ridge looking down to the valley below, watching the sun slowly disappear below the horizon, I was reminded of the immortal poem from Laurence Binyon:

“They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them”.

Posted by: mcfinder | January 27, 2011

Some Holocaust / Auschwitz facts on Holocaust Memorial Day

Today is Holocaust Memorial Day, on this day in 1945 Russian soldiers finally liberated the Nazi extermination camp of Auschwitz. To mark this anniversary here are a few interesting facts about Auschwitz and the Holocaust.

Auschwitz II – Birkenau, was built in October 1941. It held more than 100,000 prisoners and housed gas chambers capable of disposing of 2,000 people a day. By 1944 some 6,000 people a day were being killed;· Auschwitz III – Monowitz, supplied forced labour for the nearby IG Farben plant, the company which made the Zyklon-B gas used in Nazi death camps;

No one really knows how many people died during the four and a half years of Auschwitz’s existence; Estimates range from 1.1million to 1.5million people.

Only an estimated 11% of Jewish children who were alive in 1933 survived the Holocaust.

In total 90% of the Jewish population in Poland died: some 2.8 million people.

Out of a total of about 7,000 guards at Auschwitz, including 170 female staff (the most infamous was Irma Grese, the 20-year-old daughter of a dairyman), 750 were prosecuted and punished after Nazi Germany was defeated.

More people died in Auschwitz than the British and American losses of World War Two combined.

A unit in Auschwitz where valuables snatched from incoming prisoners were kept was known as Canada, because Canada was thought to be a land of untold riches.

Nazis at Auschwitz offered some non-Jewish female prisoners the option of ‘light work’. As the women soon discovered, ‘light work’ meant prostitution.

Josef Mengele’s scientific experiments at Auschwitz often involved studies of twins. If one twin died, he would immediately kill the other and carry out comparative autopsies.

Denmark was the only Nazi-occupied country that managed to save 95% of its Jewish residents. Following a tip-off by a German diplomat, thousands of Jews were evacuated to neutral Sweden.

Some Jewish prisoners secretly wrote eye-witness accounts of the atrocities of the gas chambers and hid them in bottles or metal containers buried in the ground. A number of these accounts were discovered after the war.

These facts were taken from the brilliant Holocaust Survivors and Remembrance Project: “Forget You Not”™

http://isurvived.org/AUSCHWITZ_TheCamp.html

Posted by: mcfinder | January 14, 2011

Boer War records now online

Details of thousands of Boer War soldiers have been digitised and compiled into a single on-line collection, making it much easier for family historians to search for their family heroes. The records are at www.findmypast.co.uk  and list more than 260,000 soldiers, nurses and civilians who served with the British Imperial Forces between 1899 and 1902. Included in the collection are a series of medal rolls, a casuality list and a gazette of the conflict. You have to buy credits from the website to access them but there is no need for an annual membership, researchers can pay as they go to look at these files.

Another great example of technology making it easier to understand and discover your family heroes.

Posted by: mcfinder | January 2, 2011

Great War Heroes Weblog: 2010 in review

The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads Fresher than ever.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

A Boeing 747-400 passenger jet can hold 416 passengers. This blog was viewed about 7,900 times in 2010. That’s about 19 full 747s.

In 2010, there were 36 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 87 posts. There were 19 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 5mb. That’s about 2 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was November 9th with 111 views. The most popular post that day was Help The British Legion Become Number 1 in the Charts!.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were military-research.co.uk, twitter.com, revoltoftheplebs.wordpress.com, en.wordpress.com, and mail.live.com.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for facts about ww1, ww1 facts, great war heroes, facts on ww1, and ww2 propaganda posters.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Help The British Legion Become Number 1 in the Charts! November 2010

2

10 Little Known Facts of WW1 March 2010

3

Sunk Australia WWII hospital ship Centaur: first images January 2010

4

Auschwitz-Birkenau: Walking in the shadow of death November 2009
1 comment

5

Researching Your WW2 Ancestors August 2009

Posted by: mcfinder | December 23, 2010

Christmas in the Trenches

The lyrics below are from a wonderful song from John McCutcheon. It describes the Christmas Truce of 1914 where British and German soldiers put aside their hostilities for one day as a spontaneous truce was recognised up and down the Front Line.

You can see a you tube video of John singing his song here

 

Christmas in the Trenches

My name is Francis Tolliver, I come from Liverpool.
Two years ago the war was waiting for me after school.
To Belgium and to Flanders, to Germany to here
I fought for King and country I love dear.

‘Twas Christmas in the trenches, where the frost so bitter hung,
The frozen fields of France were still, no Christmas song was sung
Our families back in England were toasting us that day
Their brave and glorious lads so far away.

I was lying with my messmate on the cold and rocky ground
When across the lines of battle came a most peculiar sound
Says I, “Now listen up, me boys!” each soldier strained to hear
As one young German voice sang out so clear.

“He’s singing bloody well, you know!” my partner says to me
Soon, one by one, each German voice joined in harmony
The cannons rested silent, the gas clouds rolled no more
As Christmas brought us respite from the war

As soon as they were finished and a reverent pause was spent
“God Rest Ye Merry, Gentlemen” struck up some lads from Kent
The next they sang was “Stille Nacht.” “Tis ‘Silent Night’,” says I
And in two tongues one song filled up that sky

“There’s someone coming toward us!” the front line sentry cried
All sights were fixed on one long figure trudging from their side
His truce flag, like a Christmas star, shown on that plain so bright
As he, bravely, strode unarmed into the night

Soon one by one on either side walked into No Man’s Land
With neither gun nor bayonet we met their hand to hand
We shared some secret brandy and we wished each other well
And in a flare-lit soccer game we gave ‘em hell

We traded chocolates, cigarettes, and photographs from home
These sons and fathers far away from families of their own
Young Sanders played his squeezebox and they had a violin
This curious and unlikely band of men

Soon daylight stole upon us and France was France once more
With sad farewells we each prepared to settle back to war
But the question haunted every heart that lived that wonderous night
“Whose family have I fixed within my sights?”

‘Twas Christmas in the trenches where the frost, so bitter hung
The frozen fields of France were warmed as songs of peace were sung
For the walls they’d kept between us to exact the work of war
Had been crumbled and were gone forevermore

My name is Francis Tolliver, in Liverpool I dwell
Each Christmas come since World War I, I’ve learned its lessons well
That the ones who call the shots won’t be among the dead and lame
And on each end of the rifle we’re the same.

 

And with that, may I wish you and your family a truly wonderful and safe Christmas and New Year!

Posted by: mcfinder | December 21, 2010

A charitable alternative to Christmas Cards

Each year, I am amazed at the amount of money people waste on Christmas cards. Most people wander into Clintons, or if they are trying to look posh, M&S, buy a gazillion cards and send them to all and sundry. They send them to the person they sit next to at the office, they send them to their aunt/uncle who they haven’t spoken to all year, they send them to their Mum, dad, brother, sister…anyone. Millions of pounds are wasted as Mr Clinton Cards gets a bit richer and a bit fatter.

I don’t ‘do’ Christmas cards. Not because I am an old miserable git (although some people would probably agree with that). But I refuse to give my money to some greedy suit without getting any tangible benefit back from them. Call me old fashioned, but If there is someone I want to say Merry Christmas to, I call them. The person I sit next to in the office..guess what…I turn around and say, ‘hope you have a great Xmas’. Why do I need to send them a card? My Mum and Dad? I call them, actually, they come over to see us, so I tell them to their face.

So, the money I would normally spend on Christmas Cards goes to charity. Normally the British Legion, or Help for Heroes. In my humble opinion, the soldiers who are going to be away from their families this Christmas, so we can spend a safe Christmas at home with our own families, deserve the money more than Mr Clinton Cards.

 

Posted by: mcfinder | December 4, 2010

A Christmas poem from the front line.

I received an email this evening from one of my military research customers. The content of the email was a poem and a message from the soldier who penned it. Both are transcribed below…

This poem was written by a Peacekeeping soldier stationed overseas. The following is his request. I think it is reasonable. Would you do me the kind favour of sending this to as many people as you can? Christmas will be coming soon and some credit is due to all of the service men and women for our being able to celebrate these festivities. Let’s try in this small way to pay a tiny bit of what we owe. Make people stop and think of our heroes, living and dead, who sacrificed themselves for us. Please, do your small part to plant this small seed.

T’WAS THE NIGHT BEFORE CHRISTMAS,
HE LIVED ALL ALONE,
IN A ONE BEDROOM HOUSE,
MADE OF PLASTER AND STONE.
I HAD COME DOWN THE CHIMNEY,
WITH PRESENTS TO GIVE,
AND TO SEE JUST WHO,
IN THIS HOME,
DID LIVE.
I LOOKED ALL ABOUT,
A STRANGE SIGHT I DID SEE,
NO TINSEL, NO PRESENTS,
NOT EVEN A TREE.
NO STOCKING BY MANTLE,
JUST BOOTS FILLED WITH SAND,
ON THE WALL HUNG PICTURES,
OF FAR DISTANT LANDS.
WITH MEDALS AND BADGES,
AWARDS OF ALL KINDS,
A SOBER THOUGHT,
CAME THROUGH MY MIND.
FOR THIS HOUSE WAS DIFFERENT,
IT WAS DARK AND DREARY,
I FOUND THE HOME OF A SOLDIER,
ONCE I COULD SEE CLEARLY.
THE SOLDIER LAY SLEEPING,
SILENT, ALONE,
CURLED UP ON THE FLOOR,
IN THIS ONE BEDROOM HOME.
THE FACE WAS SO GENTLE,
THE ROOM IN DISORDER,
NOT HOW I PICTURED,
A TRUE BRITISH SOLDIER.
WAS THIS THE HERO,
OF WHOM I’D JUST READ?
CURLED UP ON A PONCHO,
THE FLOOR FOR A BED?
I REALISED THE FAMILIES,
THAT I SAW THIS NIGHT,
OWED THEIR LIVES TO THESE SOLDIERS,
WHO WERE WILLING TO FIGHT.
SOON ROUND THE WORLD,
THE CHILDREN WOULD PLAY,
AND GROWNUPS WOULD CELEBRATE,
A BRIGHT CHRISTMAS DAY.
THEY ALL ENJOYED FREEDOM,
EACH MONTH OF THE YEAR,
BECAUSE OF THE SOLDIERS,
LIKE THE ONE LYING HERE.
I COULDN’T HELP WONDER,
HOW MANY LAY ALONE,
ON A COLD CHRISTMAS EVE,
IN A LAND FAR FROM HOME.
THE VERY THOUGHT BROUGHT,
A TEAR TO MY EYE,
I DROPPED TO MY KNEES,
AND STARTED TO CRY.
THE SOLDIER AWAKENED,
AND I HEARD A ROUGH VOICE,
“SANTA DON’T CRY,
THIS LIFE IS MY CHOICE;
I FIGHT FOR FREEDOM,
I DON’T ASK FOR MORE,
MY LIFE IS MY GOD,
MY COUNTRY, MY CORPS..”
THE SOLDIER ROLLED OVER,
AND DRIFTED TO SLEEP,
I COULDN’T CONTROL IT,
I CONTINUED TO WEEP.
I KEPT WATCH FOR HOURS,
SO SILENT AND STILL,
AND WE BOTH SHIVERED,
FROM THE COLD NIGHT’S CHILL.
I DID NOT WANT TO LEAVE,
ON THAT COLD, DARK, NIGHT,
THIS GUARDIAN OF HONOR,
SO WILLING TO FIGHT.
THEN THE SOLDIER ROLLED OVER,
WITH A VOICE SOFT AND PURE,
WHISPERED, “CARRY ON SANTA,
IT’S CHRISTMAS DAY, ALL IS SECURE.”
ONE LOOK AT MY WATCH,
AND I KNEW HE WAS RIGHT.
“MERRY CHRISTMAS MY FRIEND,
A ND TO ALL A GOOD NIGHT.”

I don’t think any more needs to be said, except why don’t you tell as many people as you can about this, and lets share this message of courage, hope and sacrifice.

Posted by: mcfinder | November 23, 2010

New visitor centres to be built in Flanders by CWGC

Earlier this month (Remembrance Day to be exact) the Commonwealth War Graves Commission signed an agreement with the Flemish government which will mean closer working ties between the two parties in the run up to the centenary of the Great War (2014-2018). The result of which will be brand new visitor centre in or near the Flemish town of Zonnebeke and a shed-load more visitors to the region to learn and understand how and why Europe went to war, to provide additional interpretation on the key events of the war.

The Commission’s Director General, Alan Pateman-Jones said: “The Commonwealth War Graves Commission owes a debt of gratitude to the Flemish and Belgian governments and the people who do so much to enable us to honour the memory of those who died. Their vision and efforts have helped make this partnership possible.

The new centre will create a visitor landmark in the heart of the First World War battlefield region of Flanders. It will provide the public with a fascinating insight into the work of the Commission and the importance of this work in remembering the fallen of two World Wars.”

The centre will also house a purpose-built headstone manufacturing operation which visitors will be able to view in action. The Commission’s main headstone production centre is, and will remain, near Arras in France, but with an extensive programme of headstone replacement and repair taking place over the next 20 years. This additional manufacturing capacity will be invaluable.

It is proposed the new centre will be operational in time for the centennial commemorations of the First World War.

For more information visit www.cwgc.org

Posted by: mcfinder | November 14, 2010

Remembrance Day Thoughts

Today is Remembrance Sunday, the day where we should all take a few moments to say our silent thank you’s to those family members, friends and comrades who have fought, and in many cases, died for Britain and for freedom. For me, there are a few people who I ‘remember’. My Grandad, who passed away when I was 3. He was a driver in the RFA in WW2 and saw action in Africa and Italy. I don’t remember him, but I have a picture of him on our wall, along with his medals.

Then there is Charlie Addington. He and his wife had 5 children at the outbreak of the first world war, and as such he was allowed to stay at home instead of joining the army. However, every 6 months or so, the call up papers came, and he went to the local courts to put his case forward – in late 1917 his wife, Alice, had just given birth to their 6th child, and was very ill, however the British Army had lost so many men on the Somme and at Passchedaele that his case was rejected and he was called up. On the 12th June 1918 Charlie was killed in action by shell fire, a week later, his wife Alice also died, leaving their 6 children, one of them my Grandfather, orphans.

Every British family has a similar story, every British person has similar silent thank you’s they wish during those 2 minutes silence. That is what makes this day so special for so many people.

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England’s foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Laurence Binyon (1869-1943)

Posted by: mcfinder | November 9, 2010

fashion store bans shop assistant from wearing a poppy

First of all, you will have to all excuse my language in this post – because reading this story from the Daily Mail has really pissed me off.

So, some trumped up, self important shop keeper has told 18 year old Harriet Phipps that she cannot wear a RBL Poppy to work as it is not part of the uniform. Who the <inster swear word here> does that person think they are? Their excuse is that it is not company policy. Well I say sod corporate hoity-toity bloody policy and show some damn respect. Soldiers are fighting and dying so you can keep your shitty shop open without the threat of being bombed and you wont let your staff wear a little poppy? It makes me sick.

So. The shop in question is Hollister in Southampton. I am in half a mind to go to Southampton and paint the whole f@*@ing shop poppy red. If anyone is passing by the store, go in and ask why none of the staff are wearing poppys – see what they have to say. Better yet, take a war veteran in with you and get the pompous, self centred, ignorant jumped up little shit of a shop manager to tell the veteran why none of the staff are allowed to wear a poppy.

What a bunch of fuckers.

Oh and here is another thing…those people that have commented on the Daily Mail story about ‘times are changing’ and the Poppy Appeal is out dated etc…you tell that to the veterans of the Falklands, Iraq and Afghanistan that are looked after by the Legion. You tell that to the soldiers who can’t walk any more because of land mines. You tell that to the widows of the soldiers that have been killed. You tell that to the kids who no longer have their Dads.

Get some respect.

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