Posted by: mcfinder | February 11, 2012

Great War Heroes Blog Has a New Home!

As of now, the great war heroes blog that resides on this web url: will no longer be updated.

Our new and improved blog on all things WW1 and Military History can now be found on

Please be sure to click through and see our brand new site!

Posted by: mcfinder | January 25, 2012

Cyclng the Line: Part Deux (La Voie de la Liberté)

It’s official. Cycling the Line: Part Deux IS ON!

Longer, tougher and generally more painful than ever, Steve and I are dusting off the panniers and the padded shorts and will be getting back on the bikes for another gentle ride across a large chunk of continental Europe in order to raise a few quid for our service men and women: past, present and future.

This time we will be following La Voie de la Liberté (The Road of Liberty) – one of many routes taken by the Allies in 1944 after the successful sea-borne landings at Normandy in the summer of that year. This particular route is the one taken by General Patton of the US Third Army. It starts just inland from the Normandy coast and winds its way through France, into Luxembourg, and then up to Belgium, taking in the Ardennes, where it finishes at Bastogne. A total of  1,145km, or, in proper distance,  715 miles. (As a comparison the original cycling the line trek was 550 miles).

La Voie de la Liberté (The Liberty Road).

Steve and I met last week to agree on the route and put the wheels in motion, so to speak, on this next adventure. The minutiae are yet to be completely finalised, but here is the general gist: We plan to do the cycle ride over 15 days; 12 cycle days with 3 rest days thrown in so we don’t kill ourselves. That works out to be an average of 60 miles a day for every cycle day. We will also be doing this trip a little bit earlier in the year, probably the last week of September/first week of October. This will mean it wont get dark at 4.30pm like it did when we went out last time – that was a real pain. Trying to cycle on main A roads in the pitch dark during evening rush hour was ‘interesting’ but not something either of us are keen to repeat again if we can help it.

It’s all for charity

As last time, the whole point of us killing ourselves for 15 days is to raise a bit of cash for our soldiers. Last time we raise nearly £3500 – which was absolutely amazing. I wonder how much we can raise this time round? I know times are tough, but if you can spare a couple of quid then we would be incredibly grateful.

This year, our charity of choice is………. Help For Heroes. You can donate at our dedicated Just Giving page:

Thank you in advance!!

Posted by: mcfinder | January 7, 2012

Military Ancestor Stories Wanted for Publication!

I haven’t posted on here for a while, and lots have been going on. My new website is very nearly done – hopefully all will be live before the end of January, this will incorporate an updated version of website, my stand-alone microsite dedicated to enabling kids, teenagers and adults alike to learn about the Great War without having to read 900 page epics.

I have also been asked by The History Press to write a book on ‘Heroes of The First World War’. The contents of this book will be to take 20 soldiers or officers that served in the First World War and write a full profile on them, really getting into detail to understand the individual and their experiences during this conflict. If you have a family ancestor that had a remarkable story, perhaps they won a gallantry medal or fought at pivotal battles such as the Somme or Passchendaele, and you would like them considered for inclusion in the book, please just let me know! Just email me at or contact me via Twitter @military_search

There is also some really exciting news on a new charity bike ride. I can’t say too much, as the details have not been nailed, but ‘Cycling The Line – Part Deux’ will be announced shortly, and it promises to be an absolute dandy!

2012 is already shaping up to be an absolute corker! If you want to come along for the ride, make sure you re-visit this blog regularly!

Posted by: mcfinder | December 4, 2011 Charity t-shirts for sale

To celebrate the soft launch of my new website project – – and to raise some much-needed money for soldiers old and new, I have produced a range of t-shirts (cue wild applause..)

For those that know me, you will recognise the image that is being used on the t-shirt! They have been produced in white (with black logo), black (with white logo) and olive-green (with black logo).

The price of these t-shirts are £15 (incl post and packing). For everyone that is sold, I will donate £5 to Help for Heroes.


Black t-shirt modelled by my daughter Lenka

Black t-shirt modelled by my daughter Lenka


The e-commerce page is not yet ready, it should be live before Xmas, but you can buy these t-shirts from me via email/twitter/blog post:

  • you can email me at
  • you can tweet me at @military_search
  • you can contact me via a post on this blog.

Once I have your order and you have paid the £15 (incl postage and packing) I will donate £5 on your behalf to my dedicated JustGiving page. By doing it this way, you can actually see your £5 donation on the page, and you can give me a note or dedication that you want me to write on your behalf.

Hopefully together we can raise £500 for the Help for Heroes charity.

So, here is your opportunity to buy a great Christmas present with the knowledge that you are helping one of the best charities that our helping our armed forces, both past and present.


close up of logo (white)

close up of logo (white)

What is Help for Heroes all about?

“It’s about the ‘blokes’, our men and women of the Armed Forces. It’s about Derek, a rugby player who has lost both his legs, it’s about Carl whose jaw is wired up so he has been drinking through a straw. It’s about Richard who was handed a mobile phone as he lay on the stretcher so he could say goodbye to his wife.

They are just blokes, but they are our blokes. They are our heroes.”


So if you would to buy one for yourself, or as a present for Christmas, just email me at and together we can Help our Heroes.



Posted by: mcfinder | November 13, 2011

The Great War 100 – website live

I am working on a new pet project aimed at giving, teenagers and adults easier access to information about The First World War. I speak to hundreds of people every month  about both world wars and it is clearly evident to me that there are thousands of people out there that have a real interest in this part of our history, but really know very little about what actually happened. This is down to many factors but one big issue I think is that many ‘normal’ people do not have the time/inclination/desire to sit down and read an 800 page epic on the First World War.

Don’t get me wrong, history books that are meticulously researched and brimmed full of minute detail are vitally important but in reality only us geeks will read them. The bulk of the population are really only interested in getting an overview of what happened, why and to whom. It is one reason why I am writing my ‘everyman’s First World War’ book, which tackles the ‘history book’ genre in a completely different way to how it has been done before. (More on that in a later post).

However, we live in a society that demands immediate results and answers. Whether that is in sport, business or learning. We live in a 140 character society and even short, punchy books are too cumbersome for many. Which is why I am embarking on – a website dedicated to the memory of the First World War that uses infographics to get the main statistics and points across. As far as I am aware it has never been done before for this particular conflict and I really hope that all kinds of readers,(but particularly those who do not have a library full of 800 page epics!) will visit, look, read and appreciate the format and hopefully enhance their knowledge of a war that effected every single British family at the time.

Please have a look at the holding page – the final website is still in production, but the idea is to more content including a day by day account of the conflict, more infographics covering different aspects of the war and I will also be ‘following’ a particular battalion through the war, using their official front line war diary to give readers a day by day account of what it was like being part of a British infantry battalion during the first world war.

There will also be merchandise for sale including t-shirts and posters of the infographics, also individual icons from the infographics can be used to put on t-shirts, cups, caps etc. 20% of the profits from these items will go to The Royal British Legion. I will be setting up a dedicated Just Giving page for this so you can see exactly your contribution to the whole project. You can even give me a message you want to put on the just giving page and I will make sure that is included.

I hope you all think this is a good idea – I would welcome any feedback and ideas. Please visit the website and have a look at the first infographic. If you like it, please share the page via Twitter or Facebook using the ‘share icons’ that are on the page. I would like as many people to see this page and learn a little bit if possible.


The English Football Association are in talks with FIFA to allow the England team to wear a Poppy on their shirts during the game on Saturday against Spain. Evidently FIFA’s regulations do not permit international shirts to carry any ‘political, religious or commercial messages’. This indeed is a very noble pledge by FIFA, but I struggle with the Poppy emblem being either political, religious or commercial.

The problem is, the annual ritual of remembrance is predominantly a British (and Commonwealth) phenomena. Some other countries perhaps see it as a week or two when old guys with medals hang about shopping centres giving out plastic flowers and rattling collection tins; i.e. it is nothing more than a fundraising gimmick. But it is more than that. Much more. The whole act of remembrance is deeply engrained within the British psyche unlike any other nation. It is more than just collecting a few bob for some old soldiers, and it goes beyond watching a few war documentaries on the history channel. It is one of the few times that the whole nation unites as a whole and works together for the greater good. People do wear their poppy with pride (I know I do), it brings us together as a race, it is part of what makes us British.

FIFA are obviously applying the letter of their laws here, but I think they just do not understand how deeply engrained in our society the wearing of the Poppy, and the act of Remembrance during this time is in the British culture.

I had a similar issue at work, a few months ago. I was asked to put on a partner event in November. Great!! To no great surprise for those people who know me, I booked the Imperial War Museum as the venue, I also managed to secure Cpl Johnson Beharry VC as a keynote/motivational speaker. I planned to turn the event into a quasi charity event where our partners would be asked to make a voluntary contribution of £50 to the Poppy Appeal, and what ever total these contributions made at the end of the day, I would match it. I reckon it would have raised about £500 for the British Legion.

However, my VP of marketing (American) heard of it and made it very clear to me that if I valued my job I was to cancel the event. Asking partners to pay to attend an event was an absolute no-no. He (the VP) was outraged – it was an absurd idea! And another thing, who was this guy speaking? We don’t ‘do’ motivational speakers – they don’t work, our partners want to know about our products, Scott. Nothing else. It is not a circus yadda yadda yadda….and so it went on.

I tried to continue with the event without him knowing, but there were too many people involved that couldn’t be trusted to blab…so I had to shelve the project. It annoyed me greatly on many levels…but I need to feed by kids, so I allowed my head to over-rule my heart.

It was a shame really because when i mentioned this event idea to a few partners in London they were really excited about and thought it was a great idea. But of course they loved it – because they get it.

I think both situations are nothing more than a lack of understanding and perhaps a bit of ignorance on the part of the non-British  people involved who don’t  really get the whole Poppy Appeal/Armed forces charity feelings that are incredibly strong in this country and is indeed  part of our national identity.

Let’s hope the FA stand up to FIFA a bit better than I did to my VP and tell them to stuff their rules and regulations where the sun doesn’t shine.

Every November, we pay tribute to the millions who have fought and died for Britain over the last century. This ritual began after World War I, where hundreds of thousands of our ancestors were killed, and many more were injured. With the latest military update from Ancestry, you can discover whether your family’s WWI heroes were rewarded for their sacrifice.

The Silver War Badge Records, 1914–1920, reveal more than 800,000 servicemen who were entitled to one of the Great War’s most distinguished awards. The Badge was given to men who were discharged due to illness or wounds—they wore it at home so they wouldn’t be accused of not doing their duty.

Details included in the database include their rank, when they started and finished in the Forces, the unit they were discharged from, and why they were discharged.

visit for more information.

If you are successful finding your ancestor on the SWB  and want to know more about what was happening on the day he was wounded or made ill, then a search of the relevant battalion war diary around the time of his discharge may unveil more information. The war diaries are held at Kew Gardens and will need a personal visit, but it may well be worth it. If you cannot get down to London for a personal visit, then a researcher such as may be able to help you search on your behalf.


There can be no denying it. The battles of Menin Road, Polygon Wood and Broodseinde were successful. The German army were taking a hammering, were demoralised and there was even talk of tactical withdrawal. Haig sensed the panic in the German ranks and urged Plumer to renew the offensive, he was convinced the Passchendaele Ridge was there for the taking, and capturing that piece of land would enable his army to push then enemy out of Belgium once and for all.

Plumer set about planning for yet another advance, duly scheduled for the 9th October. As he did so the rain returned to Flanders with a vengeance. With it’s complicated drainage system completely smashed to bits, it didn’t take long for the entire landscape to be transformed into a sea of endless oozing mud.

As well as reducing life in the front line trenches to abject misery for the infantry on both sides, the rain completely messed up Plumer’s organisational plans for the new offensive. The rains meant it was almost impossible to re-arrange the artillery and get them in the correct positions to enable the proper support for the infantry. As a result much of the infantry were stuck in their original positions, which meant they were having to fire at their extreme range just to hit the German front line positions. German artillery batteries were out of range, as were their machine guns. Not good.

The same issues of movement affected the attacking infantry. Movement was painful as the troops had to inch forward towards the front line over narrow duckboard paths. Every time a shell landed anywhere near these advancing troops the explosion would knock many of them off the duckboards and into the morass of mud, often sinking up to the waste and needing to be pulled out. It was a nightmare.

While the British and Allied forces struggled to prepare for their next advance, the German army were busy reinforcing their defensive lines. They had rushed reserves from the south to bolster the Flanders front. They may have been broken but with fresh men reinforcing the line, they were far from beaten. The rain continued to pour. Some senior British officers were in favour of cancelling the offensive. But Haig was desperate to seize the moment, and ordered that his forces would attack regardless of the weather.

His forces duly attacked at dawn on the 9th October. The accompanying creeping barrage was woefully inadequate, and for the first time since August, failed to establish any kind of dominance over the battlefield. Ironically, as the advance began the weather cleared. The rain stopped an d in perfect visibility the German machine-gunners cut the advancing infantry to pieces. With little or no artillery support the Allied advance didn’t stand a chance. Anyone who somehow avoided being blown to bits by artillery or cut to ribbons by machine gun fire found that the defensive belts of barbed wire placed in front of the German trenches were largely untouched.  As a result, the offensive was an unmitigated disaster. Only in the very north of the line did the British and French enjoy slight success, but it was hardly significant.

However, not deterred by the artillery disaster, the continuing rain, the formidable defensive fortifications of the enemy, the thousands of wounded still laying out in No Man’s Land, the atrocious conditions and the slaughter, Haig and Plumer decided to have another go at the Ridge in three days time. Yet again preparations were practically impossible. Senior Artillery officers approached GHQ and admitted they couldn’t guarantee any artillery cover for the planned assault due to the extreme range and the instability of the ground making firing the guns practically impossible. Yet again the assault troops had a torrid time getting to their forward positions. Yet again Haig was asked to re-assess the planned offensive. Yet again he refused to waver. The attack would commence as planned.

As zero hour approached the rain fell again. Along a six mile front the assaulting troops advanced in a sea of mud. Once again there was little or no artillery support. For the assaulting troops struggling across No Man’s Land in direct view of the enemy, having no artillery support was suicide. They were attacking elevated defensive positions riddled with pill boxes and other fortifications, they had no cover, they had no place to hide, they were sitting ducks. The result was inevitable; they lost 13,000 casualties in just a few hours.

And so ended the First Battle of Passchendaele. A distinct case of mandatory suicide.


Posted by: mcfinder | September 24, 2011

War Horse Exhibition at NAM

 The National Army Museum are planning a brand new exhibition exploring the true story behind the epic stage production and novel called ‘War Horse’. The touching real life stories of the horses, and the men who depended on them will be illustrated throughout the collection, encouraging visitors to think about the ‘patient heroes’ who supported the British Army in their time of need.

The exhibition will open on October 22nd and entry to the museum is free! Why not visit to find out more?

I will definitely be going – might see you there!

Posted by: mcfinder | September 16, 2011

Cycling the Line Videos!

It has taken him the best part of 2 years, but finally Steve, my buddy with whom I cycled the WW1 Western Front back in 2009 has uploaded some video snippets from our trip onto YouTube.

They are small, taken with an iPhone, completely random and contain some tasty language, but they bring back some wonderful memories and watching them I do have the urge to do it all again…we have been throwing around the idea of cycling from Normandy to Aachen or maybe all the way to watch this space.

But back to the videos. There are 12 of them, they are not in any kind of date order (for example the first one you will see is Steve explaining our trying day to Verdun when my back wheel collapsed and we had to walk 10 miles to find a shop to fix my wheel) also, Steve got one or two of his historical dates/facts mixed up in his commentary –  he doesn’t pretend to be a history buff, but he did however cycle the best part of  600 miles to raise a bucket load of cash for our old soldiers, so don’t give him a hard time about it!

Also, there is fair amount of…erm…naughty language, so if you are easily offended please do not watch!! (You have been warned!)

So, here they are, happy viewing!


Posted by: mcfinder | August 21, 2011

The Battle of Mons

Just a matter of weeks after declaring war on Germany, 80,000 members of the BEF, along with 30,000 horses and 315 guns of assorted size were in France and unwittingly marching straight towards an enemy who had already passed through Luxembourg and was now putting Belgium to the sword. The Schlieffen plan was working beautifully.

On the 22nd August, a forward patrol of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards encountered the Germans for the first time. While conducting a reconnaissance along the road heading out from Maisières, four enemy cavalrymen of the 2nd Kuirassiers emerged from the direction of Casteau. They were spotted by the British and turned around, whereupon they were pursued by the 1st Troop under Captain Hornby and the 4th Troop. Corporal E. Thomas of the 4th opened fire near the chateau of Ghislain, the first British soldier to do so in the Great War. He was uncertain whether he killed or wounded the German soldier that he hit. Meanwhile, Hornby led his men in hot pursuit and charged the Germans, killing several. He returned with his sword presented, revealing German blood.

Meanwhile, to the rear, having got an inkling that things were about to get a bit heavy, the BEF decided to dig in a loose line along the Mons-Conde canal. They didn’t really know how many Germans were on the other side of the canal, but they would find out soon enough. Suffice to say, it would not be a fair fight; less than 80,000 British troops with 300 odd guns, against around 160,000 German soldiers and 600 guns. Ouch.

Although they were facing huge numbers of men and guns on the other side of the canal, the BEF did have two distinct advantages: Firstly, they were professional soldiers, highly skilled and probably the best exponents of the noble art of rifle fire on the planet. Secondly, the German 1st Army, whom they were facing, were under strict orders not to risk outflanking the British, thus potentially losing touch with the German 2nd Army, so they had to launch a more difficult frontal attack. Which they duly did at dawn on the 23rd August 1914. The war was most definitely on.

The artillery opened up at dawn and at 9am the first waves of German infantry attacked, their objectives were the bridges that crossed the canal leading them to the British lines. They advanced across open country in close formation and made a perfect target for the trained British riflemen. It was carnage. The Germans suffered terribly, and by noon had made next to no progress at all.

The BEF held on for 6 hours before the sheer numbers of the enemy meant they had no choice but to blow the bridges over the canal and retreat to a pre-established second line position a few miles away. The Germans were tired and disorganised and failed to press home any advantage despite their huge numerical advantage. German reserves were called up and massed for a new attack in the evening, It was here that the British commanders finally realised the size of the enemy, and they promptly ordered the retreat. They had already lost 1,600 men and didn’t fancy losing too many more, so the men were organised, rounded up and the order was given: a fighting retreat towards Maubeuge and then down the road from Bavai to Le Cateau almost 20miles away.

At 19:00 CET today, a ceremony will be held at the Commission’s newest cemetery at Fromelles in northern France, to dedicate the newly erected headstones of 14 Australian soldiers who died 95 years ago, during the Battle of Fromelles.

This public event forms the latest chapter in the Fromelles story, which has seen the discovery of 250 Australian and British soldiers, who were killed on 19 July 1916.

arial view of Fromelles cemetery

arial view of Fromelles cemetery

Exactly one year ago, the last of those 250 soldiers was buried in a ceremony to dedicate Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery. Over the past 12 months, evidence to help identify more of those buried at Fromelles has been successfully gathered, enabling the Australian and British governments to name 14 more Australian soldiers in April 2011, adding to those 96 Australian soldiers already identified by name.  This painstaking work has been possible by using a combination of DNA testing and the careful analysis of historical, archaeological and forensic information

Tonight’s ceremony will see family members of many of the 14 newly identified soldiers being given the chance to pay their respects to their loved ones.  Also in attendance will be various dignitaries and the people of Fromelles, who have shown tremendous support over the past few years, to enable the project to reach such a successful conclusion

However, this is not the end of the Fromelles story, as any new evidence pertaining to any of those soldiers not yet identified will be examined at a yearly Board of Identification, which will be held once every year until 2014.  More information can be found at  (This text was taken directly from CWGC).

Want to know a bit more about the Attack at Fromelles? Well, today is your lucky day..


Fromelles – The worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history

An attack in and around the villages of Fleurbaix and Fromelles was initially pencilled in as part of a widening of the Somme offensive. However, the successes on the Somme were not forthcoming and the relevance of an attack around Fromelles was dismissed by the Army’s High Command on July 16th. However, Lieutenant-General Sir Richard Haking (GOC XI Corps), the local commander of the area was still keen to press ahead with the operation, despite no clear objective or plan.

The rough idea, hastily modified from the original plan, was to stop the Germans moving troops from this sector, south to re-enforce the Somme area. This attack would also be the first to involve the Australians. Their 5th Division had landed in France just days before, and would be thrown in right at the deep end. Assisted by the British 61st Division.

The attack would centre around a salient – nick named ‘Sugar Loaf’ due to its size and shape. Sugar Loaf was relatively small but commanded all the high ground in the area and had unrestricted views on all sides. Sugar Loaf was held by the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division, and they had built a very solid and intricate defensive position. Taking the Loaf would not be easy, and would need some clever tactics, perhaps a surprise attack under darkness using a small number of elite troops.

After careful consideration, the clever chaps of the Army High Command decided that a huge artillery bombardment, followed by a full frontal mass infantry attack in broad daylight, would be the best way to go. The artillery bombardment would definitely smash the defenders to little pieces, and the infantry would be able to amble up the hill, cigars on the go, and take the positions.

Sound familiar? Unfortunately it seems that the lessons of July 1st were not fully heeded.

For seven odd hours before zero, the German lines were shelled to bits. The problem was, the maps that the British Officers had that showed the position of the German lines were out of date. The German had actually pulled back a few hundred yards to a new defensive line. Those shells, all 200,000 of them, fell on empty earth and reduced the landscape to a muddy bog, devoid of cover – which would prove disastrous.

Men of the 53rd Battalion, AIF waiting to 'go over the top' at Fromelles 19 July 1916 (Courtesy AWM).

Men of the 53rd Battalion, AIF waiting to 'go over the top' at Fromelles 19 July 1916 (Courtesy AWM).

After the bombardment the Australian and British troops advanced. Some elements of the Australian contingent actually made it to their first objective; however there were no Germans there, just mud and more mud. From their new positions the Germans made easy work of the attackers. With no cover, they didn’t stand a chance.

The British and Australian troops who advanced on the right flank of the attack didn’t even have the chance to reach their objective – they were literally cut to pieces by machine guns as they crossed No Man’s Land.

Later in the evening, the British asked the Australian 15th Brigade to join up with a renewed assault on the German lines at 9pm. However, this attack was cancelled, but someone forgot to tell the Australians, who advanced again, alone, and suffered terribly.

During a German counter attack the Australian forces were split into two, each side becoming increasingly isolated and vulnerable to complete encirclement. The order to retreat at daybreak was given, however by the time the retreat had begun; those Germans had set up even more machine gun posts and inflicted devastating casualties on the retreating Australian troops.

It was not a good introduction to battle for the Australians. After a little over 24 hours of fighting, they had suffered 5,533 casualties (killed, wounded or prisoners). The British had fared slightly better, but still, 1,547 casualties were not insignificant. Not one inch of ground had been one. It was a complete disaster.

The Australian War Memorial describes the battle as “the worst 24 hours in Australia’s entire history.”


For more information, why not visit these dedicated websites on the Attack at  Fromelles.

Posted by: mcfinder | July 18, 2011

The Plugstreet Archaeological Project

Exploring, through forensic archaeology, the human story of the Battle of Messines

The Plugstreet Project is a non profit project lead by No Man’s Land Archaeology Group, a multinational team of volunteers specialising in the study of the First World War though archaeological excavations, historical research, map work and aerial photography. Working with academic departments, local and international partners, cutting edge techniques are being employed to gain a greater understanding of life in the trenches and the effect of the war on the local population.

The Great War of 1914-1918 took place barely a century ago, at the start of the Plugstreet Project, men who had taken part in these battles were still alive and the memories of numerous others live on in their letters, memoirs and in some cases oral history recordings. Across the world archives hold thousands upon thousands of documents, maps and photographs. What could we possibly learn from excavating the landscape upon which such well documented events took place? The Plugstreet Project is the first attempt in any period of archaeology to follow a military unit from formation through training, to a baptism of fire, in an attempt to establish whether their training had indeed been successful. In addition it aims to examine the ongoing effect of the conflict, over a lifetime ago, on the residents of the area and also the families of over half a million men who fought in these fields. By combining the findings on site with documentary evidence, academic and scientific investigation, the team set out to discover the story of the Battle of Messines, one of the least know but perhaps one of the most decisive battles of the Great War.

This website tells that story and provides an opportunity for the families of those who lived and died in these fields, to share their own little slice of history, so helping to build the true picture of this landscape and the lives it has touched.

Go and check out their website, buy their books and watch their videos!

After the Boer War, Richard Haldane, the War Minister, spearheaded a reform of the British Army. Hindered by a nation obsessed with its Navy, and a political system opposed to conscription, the opportunity to grow the army was limited, so instead Haldane concentrated on modernisation and training, with the aim of building an elite force of 6 infantry divisions and 1 cavalry division, all available for rapid mobilisation as a British Expedition Force (BEF) in mainland Europe. Backed, if needed, by a reserve of 14 Territorial divisions of volunteers.

The overseas portion of the British Army – specifically those armies in India, Egypt, South Africa and the Middle East lost out big time in this re-structure and overhaul. Despite the fact that over half of the total strength of the army was stationed overseas, these forces were often starved of men, equipment and resources in order to bolster the BEF.

At the outbreak of war in August 1914 the BEF was about 120,000 strong and ready to go. They had seen the European heavyweights poke each other in the eye and were ready to get stuck in. Unfortunately, whilst they were expertly trained – especially in the use of the rifle, in which they were probably the best in the world, they were trained for a mobile war, and did not have huge numbers of artillery, machine guns, mortars or grenades.

So, with big smiles and a sense of adventure, the BEF boarded trains and headed off to Belgium. The sentiment of the time was that it would ‘be all over by Christmas’ and it will all be a jolly good escapade. However they marched straight towards an enemy that had already forced the armies of Belgium and France to run and hide. Germany was hugely superior in numbers, had more artillery, more bombs, and more shells, she also knew how to ‘dig in’ and form strong defensive positions.

However despite the odds, the BEF put up a huge fight and frustrated the on rushing German army. This can be seen clearly in the famous “Order of the Day” given by the Kaiser, Wilhelm II, on the 19th August, 1914:-

“It is my Royal and Imperial Command that you concentrate your energies,
for the immediate present upon one single purpose,
and that is that you address all your skill and all the valour of my soldiers,
to exterminate first, the treacherous English,
walk over General French’s contemptible little Army.”

With typical British humour, the BEF gladly embraced being called contemptible, and from that day on they would be forever known as ‘The Old Contemptibles’.

The BEF fought heroically, In an after-action report, one Prussian officer estimated that the British had at least 28 machine guns per battalion. In reality, they had only TWO machine guns per battalion. All that firepower came from bolt-action rifles in the hands of men well-trained in their use.

Despite lacking men, guns and ammunition, the BEF  managed to halt the German Army and put a very large British spanner in the wheel that was the Schlieffen Plan. The German advance had been stopped. Paris had been saved. It came at a cost though. By the end of 1914, the original BEF had been practically wiped out.

The survivors of The Old Contemptibles were rightly proud of what they had achieved between August 5th and November 22nd 1914. In 1925, Captain John Patrick Danny, RFA, founded the Old Contemptibles Association for veterans of the BEF. At its height it had 178 UK branches and 14 overseas and produced its own magazine.

Posted by: mcfinder | June 30, 2011

The Battle of the Somme (1916) in 833 Words.

The Somme offensive was the main Allied attack along the Western Front in 1916. Launched on July 1st along a 19 mile front line north of the River Somme between Amiens and Péronne, it eventually ended on 18th November due to bad weather.

Originally intended to be an offensive dominated by French forces, with the British in support, it’s primary objective would be to smash the German army and deplete their manpower reserves. This was never going to be a nimble, clever campaign. Oh No. Just brute strength and attrition please waiter.

As it was their show, the decision to launch the offensive in the Somme region was down to the French high command, and it was down to the location of available manpower and resource rather than any grand strategy or plan. Haig preferred an attack in the north of Belgium to check the growing U-boat problem emanating from the Belgian ports but the politics of the situation forced him to comply. So everything was agreed. Hands were shook, backs were patted and cigars lit. The ‘big push’ was pencilled in for August 1916.

But, being the party poopers they are, the Germans messed up all the plans when they launched their own offensive at Verdun at the beginning of 1916. Suddenly France was the one being ‘bled white’ and within a few months it was clear that France would not be in any fit state to lead a major offensive. In fact it was touch and go as to whether they would survive as a fighting unit. They needed help from Britain to relieve the pressure at Verdun, and they needed it fast.

So, the date of the attack was brought forward to the beginning of July, and it was now a large scale British diversionary attack, with only minimal French support. Planning passed to Haig, and it was game on.

The plan was simple: Mass more guns than have ever been massed before to fire more shells than had ever been fired before, for longer than had ever been done before. This would completely smash the German defences, cut their wire to smithereens and shatter the resolve and morale of the enemy soldiers. Then, the infantry, some 750,000 men (of which a large portion were made up from Kitchener’s new Pals Battalions), would advance and consolidate the positions, with cavalry at the ready in order to attempt a complete breakthrough if the opportunity arose.

Despite a monster 8 day bombardment, a mixture of poor quality ammunition and world class underground German bunkers resulted in failure. Wire was not cut, morale had not been broken, defences were still intact and when the infantry attacked the German positions at 7.30am the German machine gunners and artillery were ready and waiting.

Soldiers waiting to go over the top - Somme 1916

Soldiers waiting to go over the top - Somme 1916

The result was carnage. The British Army suffered almost 58,000 casualties on this one day. A third of these were killed. To this day it stands out as the blackest moment in the Army’s illustrious history. Apart from the odd isolated success the large bulk of the British infantry were either cut down in No Man’s Land or forced back to their own lines. Ironically it was the French, that made the best progress towards the south of the front.

Despite everything, Haig persisted with the offensive in the following days.  Advances were made, but these were limited and often ultimately repulsed.  On the 11th July the first line of German trenches were secured.  On that day German troops were transferred from Verdun to contribute to the German defence, doubling the number of men available for the defence.

Like punch drunk boxers, both sides thought they were one decisive blow away from total victory, so they kept smashing each other in the face, time and again. There were minor successes such as the Australian capture of Poziers on July 23rd, but these were isolated victories and could not be capitalised upon.

On the 15th September, the British attacked again in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. It was here that the tank made its operational debut, and although it scared the hell out of the enemy, these early ‘land ships’ failed to make a great impact and the advance only gained a few kilometres.

The sparring carried on until the November snow forced the final suspension of operations. Allied forces had gained a slither of tortured landscape 12km across at the deepest point.

Over a million men became casualties during this bitter struggle, with Britain and her Empire suffering to the tune of 419,654 men, wounded and killed. However, the Germans suffered terribly too (around 500,000 casualties), and they were forced to stop attacking Verdun allowing the French army to dust itself down and regroup. So while the tactics of Haig remain controversial even to this day, the offensive achieved the desired effect: Relieve the pressure on the French at Verdun, and inflict huge casualties on the Germans. So from a purely military point of view, he could be excused for saying ‘job done’.

As I was taking part in the annual event that is clearing out my garage yesterday, I came across one box of my book  – For Conspicuous Gallantry…Winners of the Military Cross During The Great War (Volume 1: 2 Bars and 3 Bars). As well as possibly having the longest book title in the world, it consists of military biographies of all officers who won 2 or 3 Bars to the MC.

More than just a list of winners, this book looks in detail at the men behind the medals and provides a unique insight into the military careers of these gallant men, who up until now have been largely overlooked.

If you want to have a look at some content then you can see an example of Major H W F B Farrer MC and 2 Bars here

I had actually thought that all copies were sold, and I was surprised to see the little box of books stashed in the corner, buried beneath a heap of toys, tents and bikes…so the world has another opportunity to grab a distinctly average book, by an average chap, at a non-average price. Cover price for these beauties is £20, but for this last box (about 20 of them I think) the price will be £9.99 with free UK postage.

This book will not be re-printed, so this is it, the last opportunity to own a book that works wonderfully as a leveller for a table or chair with a wonky leg. Once they are gone….they are, er…gone.


So, if you want to take advantage of the £9.99 special offer then either email me at, or twit me @military_search and I will reserve you one.

Posted by: mcfinder | June 6, 2011

9 D-Day Facts

To celebrate and remember the Allied landings on the Normandy beaches, here are a few interesting facts about this most historic and heroic day.

  • The codename given by the Allies for the overall  invasion was ‘Operation Overlord’.
  • The invasion took place over 61miles of beaches. The beaches were split into 5 sectors and given the following code names: Omaha, Sword, Juno, Gold and Utah.
  • In total 156,115 Allied troops landed in Normandy (83,115 of these were British and Canadian troops)
  • Operation Neptune was the code name given to the channel crossing phase of the invasion.  Operation Neptune consisted of  6939 vessels and 195,700 personnel.
  • By the end of 11th June (D + 5), 326,547 troops, 54,186 vehicles and 104,428 tons of supplies had been landed on the beaches.
  • It is estimated that about 17 million maps supported the mission.
  • At 0537, a group of German E-boats made the only ‘Kriegsmarine’ attack on D-Day when they moved in as close to the allied convey as they dared and unleashed a volley of torpedoes. The only ship that was hit was a Norwegian Destroyer called Svenner, which sunk.
  • When the D-Day forces landed, Hitler was asleep. None of his generals dared order re-enforcements without his permission, and no-one dared wake him. Crucial hours were lost in the battle to hold on to Normandy.
  • Having been given his top-secret mission to attack the Merville battery on D-Day, Terence Otway had to be certain his men wouldn’t spill the beans ahead of 6 June 1944. He sent 30 of the prettiest members of the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force, in civilian clothes, into village pubs near where his soldiers were training. They were asked to do all they could to discover the men’s mission. None of the men gave anything away.
  • One of the greatest feats of military engineering was Operation PLUTO (Pipeline Under The Ocean) which was an ambitious joint project between British scientists, oil companies and the armed forces to lay an undersea oil pipeline from England to France to enable the invasion force to be fueled. It fed the force with over a million gallons oil daily.


These are just a few snippets, but there are hundreds of facts and interesting stories about D-Day and the Normandy invasion, if you have a factoid or story, why not add it here?

Here is another ‘hero of the line’. This is a series of researched officers and men who were killed during the First World War and whose gravestone we photographed during our ‘cycling the line‘ trip in 2009.

Today’s hero is Lt. Col. Randle Barnett Barker, DSO & Bar. Royal Fusiliers.

Record of Service:

  • Born London, 19/6/1891
  • A career soldier, he gained his first commission to 2/Lt on 17/1/1891
  • Served in India from 11/11/1892 until 10/8/1895
  • Promoted to Lt on 22/7/1893
  • Returned to India on 2/12/1896 and stayed until 30/12/1896
  • Married Elinor Gertrude on 2/6/1897
  • Appointed Adjutant, 1st Royal Fusiliers on 1/10/1898
  • Promoted to Captain on 19/7/1899
  • After 15 years service, Barnett Barker retired from the Royal Welsh Fusiliers on 5/5/1906
  • Appointed Captain in the Reserve of Officers 21/8/1915
  • Embarked for the Western Front 11/12/1915

Barnett Barker was appointed as a Captain in the Reserve of Officers on 21/8/1915 and had a prodigious war, being Mentioned in Dispatches 5 times and being awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO) and Bar. He gained the DSO during fighting at Delville Wood in late July/early August 1916, and the Bar to the DSO for leadership and bravery at Arras in 1917.

During the War, he was present during the following actions: Vimy Ridge (1916), Delville Wood (1916), Beaumont Hamel (1916), The Ancre advance and Miramont Battle (1917) and Arras (1917). As well as the second Battle of the Somme (1918).

  • Assumed command of 99th Infantry Brigade on 24/1/1918

Lt. Col. Barnett Barker fell in action at Guendecourt during the second Battle of the Somme on 24/3/1918, when he was commanding 99th Infantry Brigade. The Brigade HQ diary records the day as such:

Shells began to fall in and around Guendecourt at 5.45pm. Brigadier General R. Barnett Barker, DSO and Captain E. I. Bell, MC (staff Captain) were killed by a shell.

This shell fire was part of a German offensive that started on 21st March 1918. The diary summarises:

The German offensive began at 4.45am and the events of the following days are summarised in the Narrative of Operations (Appendix VI). Special record must however be made of the serious losses sustained by the Brigade during the fighting. Foremost amongst these were Brigadier General R. Barnett Barker. General Barker had served in the Brigade continuously since it came out to France, except for 3 months when he commanded the 3rd Infantry Brigade in Flanders. As Commanding Officer if the 22nd Royal Fusiliers he had won the respect and affection of everyone in the Brigade and when he succeeded Brigade General R .O Kellett in Command of the Brigade it was with the happiest auguries for the future. (WO95/1370).

He is buried in Albert Communal Cemetery Extension.

Gravestone of Lt Col R Barnett Barker DSO & Bar

WW1 Medal Entitlement:

  • Distinguish Service Order (LG: 20/10/1916)
  • Bar to the Distinguished Service Order (LG: 14/7/1917)
  • Mentioned in Dispatches: 22/5/1917, 4/1/1917, 15/5/1917, 11/12/1917, 20/5/1918.
  • 1915 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal


DSO Citation – 20th October 1916

Capt. (temp. Lt-Col.) Randle Barnett Barker, R. Fus.

For conspicuous gallantry during operations. He took over and organised the defences of a wood with great skill, after making a personal reconnaissance of the whole wood under shell and machine gun fire. He has done other fine work and has displayed great personal bravery.

During the fighting that raged in and around Delville Wood during 24th July and 6th August, 1916 Barnett Barker’s regiment (22nd Royal Fusiliers) suffered 267 casualties, killed and wounded.

Bar Citation – 24th July 1917

Capt. And Bt. Maj. (Temp. Lt. Col.) Randle Barnett Barker, DSO., R. Fus.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. During an assault his battalion was compelled to withdraw from its objective owing to heavy casualties and to its flank being unsupported. At this most critical moment he reorganised and rallied all the men of his brigade who were within reach, and by his promptitude and fine leadership won back most of the objective, and maintained it until relieved.

Posted by: mcfinder | May 11, 2011

More Little Known Facts on WW1.

The blog post I did a while back: 9 Little Known Facts of WW1 has been very popular, so I thought I would add a few more bite sized nuggets…so here we go:  Little Known WW1 facts, Chapter 2…

When the British mines laid under the Messines Ridge near Ypres were exploded on 7th June 1917, they not only changed the landscape, but could also be heard as far away as Dublin, Ireland. About 10,000 German soldiers died instantly in the blast.

Officers carried revolvers, not rifles, as a result they were easy for the enemy to spot and targetted specifically by the enemy.

From July to December 1917 (commonly referred to as the Battle of Passchendaele) 1 British officer was killed for every 19 men. In the German army during the same period, It was 1 German officer for every 38 men.

The first reported use of gas was by the Germans on the eastern front on 3rd Jan 1915. It was a tearing agent dispersed by artillery shell. The first use on the western front came several months later on 22nd Apr 1915 at the village of Langemarck near Ypres. At 1700 hours the Germans released a 5 mile wide cloud of chlorine gas from some 520 cylinders (168 tons of the chemical). The greenish-yellow cloud drifted over and into the French and Algerian trenches where it caused wide spread panic and death. The age of chemical warfare had begun.

One of the most famous big guns of the Great War is the infamous Paris Gun. Also known as Lange Max, or Big Bertha. In this case size was not everything, although the gun could fire a shell 70 miles in 170 seconds, it didnt have a great deal of explosives and accuracy was non existent.. it was used for propaganda rather than serving any real military tactical advantage.

The youngest casualty of WW1 was  6322 Pte John Condon of the 2nd Royal Irish Regiment who was just 14 when he was reported missing, presumed dead on 24th May 1915.

The first use of tanks (or land ships as they were originally known) on the battlefield was the use of 49 British MK I tanks during the Battle of the Somme on 15th September 1916

634 Victoria Crosses were issued during WW1.

Horses were the main means of transportation for all sides in the War. As such, almost 8 million horses were killed during the conflict with another 2.5 million wounded.

The first German air raid on London took place on 28th November 1916. The Germans hoped that by making raids on London and the South East, the British Air Force would be forced into protecting the home front rather than attacking the German air force.

Posted by: mcfinder | May 6, 2011

Don’t Let Veteran’s Stories Fade Away…

With the sad but inevitable news that Claude Choules, the last surviving veteran from WW1 passed away earlier this week, I guess the press will be full of articles about their lives, television programmes dedicated to their memory and a renewed interest, for a while, in the “Great War”.

That we remember those who fought and died, or who survived is of course only right and proper but as I read about Claude Choules passing I did start to wonder if we aren’t in danger of losing those from World War II before we know it.

If you think back over the last 5 or 6 years, the last dozen or so surviving Tommie’s from WW1 had almost reached celebrity status… Men such as Harry Patch and Henry Allingham were inundated with historians, television crews, radio pundits etc. all wanting to squeeze every last drop of memory out of them before it was too late. Numerous books and documentaries detailed their stories and revelled in the horrors that they had witnessed firsthand.

I wonder though, as we have read with awe, and listened intently to the stories of these undoubtedly brave and remarkable men, have we failed to notice that those soldiers who fought in WW2 are also leaving us. Another brave and heroic generation are slowly fading away right in front of us and it will not be long before we repeat the circus act that has surrounded the last WW1 soldiers in recent years.

I wonder how many veterans of Dunkirk are left? And what about El Alamain? River Plate?  Tobruk? How many people are left that can actually tell us firsthand what it was like at Monte Cassino, or trying to cross the Rhine in Operation Market Garden.
The simple fact is that World War II ended 66 years ago and so any survivor from that conflict must now be in their 80s. Of course, they could go on for another 20 even 30 years but sadly many of them won’t and as they do leave us so their story will fade too. That’s part of the cycle of life of course, their passing really is inevitable, but as they become fewer and fewer so I am struck again by the social responsibility we all have to ensure they memories, stories and experiences live on, because one day there just won’t be any one left—after that there really is no going back.

WW2 Veterans

WW2 Veterans

So, if you know someone in your family who fought in WW2, then see if you can talk to them about it, do some research on where they fought and what they experienced. It is likely they have artefacts such as letters or medals or uniform that will bring these stories to life. Very soon this will all we will have left of these heroes, so let us all ensure we do our bit to keep the memories and stories alive. We owe it to our kids and future generations.

Posted by: mcfinder | May 3, 2011

John Alexander McCrae (1872-1918)

Lieutenant Colonel John Alexander McCrae (November 30, 1872 – January 28, 1918) was a Canadian poet, physician, author, artist and soldier during World War I and a surgeon during the Second Battle of Ypres. He is best known for writing the famous war memorial poem “In Flanders Fields”.

Born in Guelph, Ontario, on November 30, 1872, John McCrae was the second son of Lieutenant-Colonel David McCrae and Janet Simpson Eckford McCrae. He had a sister, Geills, and a brother, Tom. John studied medicine at university, graduating in 1898 from University of Toronto Medical School.

John McCrae

With encouragement from his father, John always had a keen interest in the military, and when the South African War broke out in 1899, he felt a duty to fight. He sailed to Africa in December that year with the Canadian Field Artillery. He resigned in 1904 after being made Major and would not be involved in military dealings until 1914.

Within three weeks of the outbreak of the First World War , almost 50,000 Canadians had rushed to volunteer, including McCrae who was appointed brigade-surgeon to the First Brigade of the Canadian Field Artillery with the rank of Major and second-in-command. Just before his departure, he wrote to a friend:

It is a terrible state of affairs, and I am going because I think every bachelor, especially if he has experience of war, ought to go. I am really rather afraid, but more afraid to stay at home with my conscience. (Prescott. In Flanders Fields: The Story of John McCrae, p. 77)

It is thought that McCrae began the draft for his famous poem ‘In Flanders Fields’ on the evening of the 2nd May, 1915 in the second week of fighting during the Second Battle of Ypres.  Earlier that day, his good friend, Lt Alexis Helmer was killed by shell fire and McCrae asked to conduct the burial service owing to the chaplain being called away on duty elsewhere. It is believed that after the service, during the evening of the 2nd May, 1915 he sat down and began the draft of one of the most iconic war poems ever.

In Flanders Fields was first published in England’s Punch magazine in December 1915. Within months, this poem came to symbolize the sacrifices of all who were fighting in the First World War. Today, the poem continues to be a part of Remembrance Day ceremonies in Canada, Britain and other countries throughout the world.

In Flanders Fields (John McCrae, 1915)

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

On January 28, 1918, while still commanding No 3 Canadian General Hospital (McGill) at Boulogne, McCrae died of pneumonia. He was buried the following day in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission section of Wimereux Cemetery, just a couple of kilometres up the coast from Boulogne, with full military honours. McCrae’s gravestone is placed flat, as are all the others in the section, because of the unstable sandy soil.

Posted by: mcfinder | April 21, 2011

Holocaust ID Project Launched.

A project to trace hundreds of children who were displaced by the Holocaust has been launched by am American museum.

The campaign, run by the U.S Holocaust Memorial Museum is calling for information about more than 1100 children, depicted in a series of photographs which can be seen online. The photos were taken at refuge camps and children’s homes across Europe at the end of the Second World War. Each photo shows the child holding a placard with their name on, there is also an index of all the children which can be searched by surname.

The hope is to track as many of these children down and capture their memories and testimonies before they fade away. The number of people who witnessed this tragic era of history first hand are rapidly diminishing, and it is important to capture as many memories as possible, before it is too late. So future generations can learn from humanity’s past mistakes.

Posted by: mcfinder | April 8, 2011

What are your favourite WW1 books?

I read a lot. Mostly history (which is a yawn for most people, I know), and mostly WW1 related. However, after reading my last book ‘In Flanders Fields – The 1917 Campaign’ my WW1 bookcase is dry… So here is a heart-felt plea to the 1500 or so people who read this blog every month (Thank you to all of you by the way!), to give me some inspiration for my next batch of WW1 literature…What books have you read on this part of history that you would recommend to me and to others? Let me have your top ten, top five or even top one…I will even except blatant plugs from authors and/or publishers…cos I am a nice guy like that..

To start the ball rolling, here are a few of my faves (in no particular order):

In Flanders Fields – The 1917 Campaign (Leon Wolff). A brutal, and opinionated view of the battle of Passchendaele. Wolff leaves the reader in no doubt who he think is to blame for this (in his view) un-necessary part of the war. It is very bias, certainly no sitting on the fence here!

Somme Mud (E P F Lynch).  Lynch was an Australian, fighting with the 45th Battalion AIF from late 1916 to the end of the war. This is his memoirs. It may not be the best written book in the world, but it picks you up by the throat and throws you into the trenches like no other book I have read. It will make you laugh out loud as well as shed a tear. A brilliant, brilliant book.

Any book by Lyn MacDonald. Lyn MacDonald is probably the best writer/author on the First World War ever. That is just the way it is. Her books (including 1914, Somme, They Called it Passchendaele) tell the tale of the war through the eyes (and voices) of the soldiers that were there. For each book she has interviewed hundreds of soldiers, of all ranks and regiments and weaves in sharp historic facts with their personal, intimate story. The First World War was about individuals. Unassuming men who were working in shops or offices one minute and fighting for their lives in the trenches the next. MacDonald’s books ensures their voices are heard.

The First Day on The Somme (Martin Middlebrook) The finest account of the blackest day in British military history. immensely detailed, it is an epic book that has been meticulously absolute classic.

Tommy: The British Soldier on the Western Front (Richard Holmes). Want to know what it was really like in the Trenches on the Western Front? Then this is the book for you. This war was about the people, which is why this book is so important. It doesn’t explain grandiose battle plans or military strategy and it doesn’t spit out endless statistics on every aspect of everything. This book is about the men. The people who actually did the fighting. What was it like to live in the front line trenches, what did they eat, how did they clean themselves and their kit, what did the private soldiers think of the officer ranks? Taken from thousands of first hand accounts, this is a great piece of work.

Forgotten Voices of the Great War (Max Arthur). I love the Forgotten Voices…series of books, again because it allows the ordinary man and woman to have their say. Using the War museums oral history archive this is a remarkable compilation of memories and anecdotes of the men and women who were actually there. Including front line soldiers, school children, objectors, and factory workers…

1914-1918: The History of the First World War (David Stevenson). Quite simply a staggering accomplishment. To coherently describe the events of such a complex and wide-ranging event is an enormous task. But Stevenson has done it brilliantly. Relatively easy to read (although it is 600 pages of small ish font), engaging and genuinely interesting – this is the book to read for a ‘soup-to-nuts’ overview of this war.

Right, there you go, that’s my 2 penneth, and I resisted the urge to blatantly push my own book! Now it is over to you. What are your favourites? Help fill my book shelf. Pleeaase!

Today, April 1st, sees the anniversary of the birth of the Royal Air Force (RAF).  The RAF came about from the amalgamation of the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service and announced in the London Gazette on April 2nd 1918.

All Officers serving with the Royal Naval Air Service and Royal Flying Corps on the 31st March, 1918, or in connection with those Services in certain Government Departments, in other than the undermentioned capacities, are granted temporary commissions in the Royal Air Force, with effect from the 1st April, 1918, in ranks which will appear in the Royal Air Force List.

In celebration of this, I thought it pertinent for today’s ‘Hero of The Line’ to be a member of the RAF. But not any old member, no sir. What we have here, if you have a minute, is a proper hero. A pure gold nugget of an airmen, who conquered a fear of flying to become arguably the greatest Allied flying Ace of WW1 and second only to Baron von Richtoffen as the greatest Ace of the war.

So, without further ado, I introduce to you Major Edward Corringham ‘Mick’ Mannock VC, DSO and Two Bars, MC and Bar.

The outbreak of the war found him working as a telephone engineer in Turkey. Those pesky Turks took him prisoner and put him jail, where he suffered very poor health. Knocking on death’s door, he was repatriated and, in 1915, joined the colours. By 1916, he had become an officer in the Royal Engineers and in August 1916 was transferred to the Royal Flying Corps.

After training, he joined No. 40 Squadron but found it difficult at first to settle in. His unease was shown in his flying, to the extent that his colleagues thought he was a coward. He admitted he was scared, but on May 7, he shot down an observation balloon which would prove to be the start of a prolific air career.

By the end of July, Mannock had been awarded the Military Cross (MC) and was a flight commander. On August 12, 1917, he shot down and captured Leutnant Joachim von Bertrab. Both flyers were aces – Mannock had shot down a balloon and four aeroplanes; Bertrab was his sixth “credit”.

He kept flying and conquered his fears, working tirelessly at gunnery practice and forcing himself to get close to the German aeroplanes. After one kill, he coldly described it. “I was only ten yards away from him – on top so I couldn’t miss. A beautifully coloured insect he was – red, blue, green and yellow. I let him have 60 rounds, so there wasn’t much left of him.” His determination, flying skill and sense of teamwork earned him a promotion to Captain and a Bar to his MC in October 1917.

In February 1918, Mannock was appointed flight commander of the newly formed No. 74 Squadron. The squadron was posted to France in March 1918. He continued shooting down Germans, but never hogging credit, letting newer pilots get credit for kills. In three months, he claimed 36 more, bringing his total to 59. He was an excellent patrol leader; he took a very protective attitude toward his fliers and lectured them on survival and success. “Sight your own guns,” he told them, “The armourer doesn’t have to do the fighting.”

Mannock was awarded the Distinguished Service Order in May 1918, and received the Bar to the DSO just two weeks later.

On 26 July, Major Mannock offered to help a new arrival, Lt. D.C. Inglis, obtain his first victory. After shooting down an enemy  two-seater behind the German front-line, Mannock is believed to have dived to the crash site to view the wreckage. However, while crossing the trenches, the fighters were met with a massive volley of ground-fire. The engine of Mannock’s aircraft was hit and immediately caught fire and crashed behind German lines.

Mannock’s body was never officially found and he is commemorated on the Royal Flying Corps Memorial to the Missing at the Faubourg d’Amiens CWGC Cemetery in Arras.

A year after his death, he was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.

Major Mannock was awarded the undermentioned distinctions for his previous combats in the air in France and Flanders:

  • Military Cross. Gazetted 17th September, 1917.
  • Bar to Military Cross. Gazetted 18th October, 1917.
  • Distinguished Service Order. Gazetted 16th September, 1918.
  • Bar to Distinguished Service Order (1st). Gazetted 16th September, 1918.
  • Bar to Distinguished Service Order (2nd). Gazetted 3rd August, 1918.

Citation for Military Cross

T./2nd Lt. Edward Mannock, R.E. and R.F.C.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. In the course of many combats he has driven off a large number of enemy machines, and has forced down three balloons, showing a very fine offensive spirit and great fearlessness in attacking the enemy at close range and low altitudes under heavy fire from the ground.

Citation for Bar to Military Cross

T./2nd Lt. (T./Capt.) Edward Mannock, M.C., R.E. and R.F.C.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He has destroyed several hostile machines and driven others down out of control. On one occasion he attacked a formation of five enemy machines single-handed and shot one down out of control. On another occasion, while engaged with an enemy machine, he was attacked by two others, one of which he forced to the ground. He has consistently shown great courage and initiative.

Citation for Distinguished Service Order

T./2nd Lt. (T./Capt.) Edward Mannock, M.C., R.E., attd. R.A.F.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty during recent operations. In seven days, while leading patrols and in general engagements, he destroyed seven enemy machines, bringing his total in all to thirty. His leadership, dash and courage were of the highest order.[13]

Citation for Bar to Distinguished Service Order

T./2nd Lt. (T./Capt.) Edward Mannock, D.S.O., R.E., and R.A.F.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. In company with one other scout this officer attacked eight enemy aeroplanes, shooting down one in flames. The next day, when leading his flight, he engaged eight enemy aeroplanes, destroying three himself. The same week he led his patrol against six enemy aeroplanes, shooting down the rear machine, which broke in pieces in the air. The following day he shot down an Albatross two-seater in flames, but later, meeting five scouts, had great difficulty in getting back, his machine being much shot about, but he destroyed one. Two days later, he shot down another two-seater in flames. Eight machines in five days—a fine feat of marksmanship and determination to get to close quarters. As a patrol leader he is unequalled. (D.S.O. gazetted in this Gazette.)

Citation for Second Bar to Distinguished Service Order

Lt. (T./Capt.) Edward Mannock, D.S.O., M.C. (formerly Royal Engineers).

This officer has now accounted for 48 enemy machines. His success is due to wonderful shooting and a determination to get to close quarters; to attain this he displays most skilful leadership and unfailing courage. These characteristics were markedly shown on a recent occasion when he attacked six hostile scouts, three of which he brought down. Later on the same day he attacked a two-seater, which crashed into a tree. (The announcement of award of Distinguished Service Order, and First Bar thereto, will be published in a later Gazette.)

Citation for Victoria Cross

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of the Victoria Cross to the late Captain (acting Major) Edward Mannock, D.S.O., M.C., 85th Squadron Royal Air Force, in recognition of bravery of the first order in Aerial Combat: —

On the 17th June, 1918, he attacked a Halberstadt machine near Armentieres and destroyed it from a height of 8,000 feet [2,400 m].

On the 7th July, 1918, near Doulieu, he attacked and destroyed one Fokker (red-bodied) machine, which went vertically into the ground from a height of 1,500 feet [460 m]. Shortly afterwards he ascended 1,000 feet [300 m] and attacked another Fokker biplane, firing 60 rounds into it, which produced an immediate spin, resulting, it is believed, in a crash.

On the 14th July, 1918, near Merville, he attacked and crashed a Fokker from 7,000 feet, and brought a two-seater down damaged.

On the 19th July, 1918, near Merville, he fired 80 rounds into an Albatross two-seater, which went to the ground in flames.

On the 20th July, 1918, East of La Bassee, he attacked and crashed an enemy two-seater from a height of 10,000 feet [3,000 m].

About an hour afterwards he attacked at 8,000 feet [2,400 m] a Fokker biplane near Steenwercke and drove it down out of control, emitting smoke.

On the 22nd July, 1918, near Armentieres, he destroyed an enemy triplane from a height of 10,000 feet [3,000 m].

Major Mannock was awarded the undermentioned distinctions for his previous combats in the air in France and Flanders: —

Military Cross. Gazetted 17th September, 1917.
Bar to Military Cross. Gazetted 18th October, 1917.
Distinguished Service Order. Gazetted 16th September, 1918.
Bar to Distinguished Service Order (1st). Gazetted 16th September, 1918.
Bar to Distinguished Service Order (2nd). Gazetted 3rd August, 1918.

This highly distinguished officer, during the whole of his career in the Royal Air Force, was an outstanding example of fearless courage, remarkable skill, devotion to duty and self-sacrifice, which has never been surpassed.

The total number of machines definitely accounted for by Major Mannock up to the date of his death in France (26th July, 1918) is fifty—the total specified in the Gazette of 3rd August, 1918, was incorrectly given as 48, instead of 41.

Mannock’s Victoria Cross was presented to his father at Buckingham Palace in July 1919. Edward Mannock was also given his son’s other medals. Soon afterwards, Mannock’s medals were sold for £5. They have since been recovered and can be seen at the RAF Museum at Hendon.

Major Edward Alexander Chisholm, MC and 2 Bars, RFA

Record of Service:

  • Born in Canada 26/7/1892
  • Previous to the outbreak of war had served with the 18th Battery, Canadian Garrison Artillery, rising to the rank of Captain.
  • Volunteered for service as part of the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force on 27/11/1914
  • Transferred to the 161st Brigade, Royal Field Artillery in November 1915 and embarked for France on 25/12/1915, and as part of the 32nd Division saw action on the Somme, Arras, Amiens, and Sambre
  • Appointed Acting Major on 16/9/1916
  • Appointed Acting Major once more on 1/10/1918

Major Chisholm was killed in action in the last week of hostilities, on 7/11/1918, aged just 26. He is buried at Grand-Fayt Communal Cemetery, in Northern France. His Military Cross and 2 Bars were sent to his family on 7/7/1919. The Brigade Diary recalls his last brave action:


KLI advanced through the Borders and A&S. Highlanders at 8.30am this morning. A/161 moved in close support. B/161 and C/161 received orders to move into positions to cover the objective or line established, with a range of approximately 3000 yards…C/161 moved through LE GRAND FAYT, and was delayed until a bridge was constructed, crossing about 11am. A/161 engaged hostile machine-guns throughout the day. Major E.A. CHISOLM (C/161) accompanied by B.S.M. LAY endeavoured to work round a hostile machine gun to capture the crew. Major CHISOLM was killed by a machine-gun bullet.

National Archives: WO95 2380

WW1 Medal Entitlement:

1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal

Military Cross and 2 Bars:

  • Military Cross listed (no Citation) in Gazette issue 30340 (16th October 1917)
  • 1st Bar listed (no Citation) in Gazette issue 30507 (1st February 1918)
  • 1st Bar Citation published in Gazette issue 30780 (2nd July 1918)
  • 2nd Bar listed (no Citation) in Gazette issue 31266 (1st April 1919)
  • 2nd Bar Citation published in Gazette issue 31680 (9th December 1919)

1st Bar Citation – 2nd July 1918

T./Capt. (A./Maj.) Edward Alexander Chisholm, M.C., R.F.A.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. He displayed magnificent gallantry in preparing a forward position, in getting all his guns into action there, and bringing up a large amount of ammunition in a very short time. Though the position was in full view of the enemy and approached by a single road, which was in very bad condition and was continually shelled, he personally organised every detail of the work under constant heavy fire and great difficulties. The success of the battery was due to this officer’s untiring zeal, fearless example, and determination to succeed, which were worthy of the best traditions of the regiment.

2nd Bar Citation – 9th December 1919

T./Capt. (A./Maj.) Edward Alexander Chisholm, M.C., C/161st Bde., R.F.A.

Near Ora, on 4th November, 1918, he went forward to reconnoitre a position for his battery, and found the infantry held up. He went forward by himself, and captured ten prisoners and an enemy field gun. He sent back the ten prisoners by an orderly from his battery, and then went back and led up a party of infantry to secure the gun which he had captured. He was constantly under machine-gun fire.



Taken from ‘For Conspicuous Gallantry: Winners of the Military Cross During The Great War – Volume 1’ by Scott Addington.

Posted by: mcfinder | March 17, 2011

The Origins of the British ‘Tommy’

The name Tommy or Tommy Atkins has long been used as a generic nickname for the British Soldier for hundreds of years. There are many opinions as to where/how/why this name came about, my favourite is the one that suggests it was chosen by the Duke of Wellington…

The Duke was standing on a path which ran around the ramparts of Walmer Castle on a sunny summers day in July 1843. Near him, standing to attention, was a young Staff Officer of the Adjutant-General’s Department. He had just asked a question on a small matter of detail which the War Office thought should, as a courtesy, be referred to the Commander of the Forces. A name typical of the British private soldier was required, for use on the model sheet of the soldiers’ accounts and to show them where to sign.

The Duke stood gazing out to sea while the young officer waited, searching in a long memory stored with recollections for a man who typified the character of Britain’s soldiers. He thought back to his first campaign in the Low Countries where he had fought his first action with his old Regiment, the 33rd Foot.

When the battle was over and won, Wellesly rode back to where little groups of wounded men were lying on the ground. At the place where the right of the line had been lay the right-hand man of the Grenadier Company, Thomas Atkins. He stood six foot three in his stockinged feet, he had served for twenty years, he could neither read or write and he was the best man at arms in the Regiment. One of the bandsmen had bound up his head where a sabre had slashed it, he had a bayonet wound in the chest, and a bullet through the lungs. He had begged the bearers not to move him, but to let him die in peace. Wellesly looked down on him and the man must have seen his concern. ‘It’s all right, Sir’ he gasped. ‘It’s all in the day’s work.’ They were his last words.

The Old Duke turned to the the waiting staff officer. ‘Thomas Atkins,’ he said.

From the Ypres Times April 1929.
Posted by: mcfinder | March 7, 2011

£50 fine for burning poppies

As I was driving home this evening, I heard on the radio that a man who was found guilt of burning poppies and singing ‘British Soldiers burn in hell’ on Armistice Day has been fined £50 (fifty pounds). Now, I don’t know about you, but I find this disgusting. £50 is a desultory amount for such an inflammatory act of ignorance and hatred.

(Taken from the BBC website) District Judge Howard Riddle said: “The two-minute chanting, when others were observing a silence, followed by a burning of the symbol of remembrance was a calculated and deliberate insult to the dead and those who mourn or remember them.”

Now £50 is a joke, I wonder if the tables were turned and ‘westerners’ were caught chanting anti-muslim slogans during a time of national remembrance what their punishment would be? I bet you it would be a good deal more severe than £50 (plus costs – don’t forget those…).

To me, this is borderline treason. This guy gets (according to the BBC) the thick end of £800 in state benefits. I am sorry, but I am of the opinion he doesn’t deserve these benefits. Someone in the government should take the decision to rescind all state benefits of this guy, and people like him who behave this way (muslim, catholics, french, english, it doesn’t matter) – if they cannot show some respect for this country’s history, the sacrifice soldiers and their families have gone through, and continue to go through, so they can have their iPhone and cheap Nike trainers – then the have no right to live in this country and be supported by English tax payers.

And here is another thing. The lawyer who was defending him (english guy by the way – a Mister Daniel Breger) had the audacity to try and defend his client on national radio, by saying he had the right to express his ways in what ever way he desired, and that because the poppies he burnt were not the proper ones, just orange replicas, that it was alright. I am sorry mister I-will-take-money-from-anyone-who-will-pay-me-because-I-am-a-blood-sucking-scumbag-of-a-layer-who-has-no-morales-or-principles-and-will-do-anything-for-money, but you are just as bad. You are scum just like the **** you were defending. Any lawyer with even a smidge of decency and moral code would have walked away from this case and refused to work it. But no, you will do anything for money. How can you sleep at night? You should be ashamed of yourself.


Posted by: mcfinder | February 28, 2011

Some famous (and not so famous) quotes from WW1

Here are a selection of  quotes (both well known and slightly more obscure), from people who lived and fought through the First World War. These are just a few of my favourites, I hope I have quoted them correctly (I am sure I will get told if I haven’t!) If you have a favourite quote that is not in this list, then why not let me know!

PS – If you are interested in learning more about WW1 then why not check out my new Great War 100 app which is now out on iOS and Android. The Great War 100 app tells the story of the First World War using infographics. 


So, in no particular order…here are some interesting, amusing, sad, and ultimately, historic, quotes from the war to end all wars…


‘It is my Royal and Imperial command that you exterminate the treacherous English and march over General French’s contemptible little army.’ (Kaiser Wilhelm II, 1914)

The machine gun is a much over rated weapon..’ (Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1915)

‘It takes 15,000 casualties to train a major general.’ (Ferdinand Foch)

‘Hard pressed on my right. My center is yielding. Impossible to maneuver. Situation excellent. I attack.’  (Ferdinand Foch during the First Battle of the Marne, Sept 1914)

‘Everything depends on whether we have for opponents those French tricksters or those daring rascals, the English. I prefer the English. Frequently their daring can only be described as stupidity. In their eyes it may be pluck and daring.’ (Baron Manfred von Richtofen).
‘The idea that a war can be won by standing on the defensive and waiting for the enemy to attack is a dangerous fallacy, which owes its inception to the desire to evade the price of victory.’ (Field Marshall Douglas Haig).

‘You will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees.’  (Kaiser Wilhelm II speaking to German troops in August 1914).

The nation must be taught to bear losses. No amount of skill on the part of the higher commanders, no training, however good, on the part of the officers and men, no superiority of arms and ammunition, however great, will enable victories to be won without the sacrifice of men’s lives. The nation must be prepared to see heavy casualty lists.’  (Written by Haig in June 1916 before the Battle of the Somme began).

Very successful attack this morning… All went like clockwork… The battle is going very well for us and already the Germans are surrendering freely. The enemy is so short of men that he is collecting them from all parts of the line. Our troops are in wonderful spirits and full of confidence.’ (A report by Haig on the first day of attack, 1st July 1916).

“Ils ne passeront pas!” – ‘They shall not pass!’ (Henri-Philippe Petain, during the Battle of Verdun, 1916).

‘I hate to shoot a Hun down without him seeing me, for although this method is in accordance with my doctrine, it is against what little sporting instincts I have left.’ (James McCudden, VC, RFC, 1917).

‘Inaction is atrophy, paralysis, death.’ (Ferdinand Foch).

‘The spell of Trafalgar has been broken.’ (The Kaiser after Jutland).

‘There was not a sign of life of any sort. Not a tree, save for a few dead stumps which looked strange in the moonlight. Not a bird, not even a rat or a blade of grass. Nature was as dead as those Canadians whose bodies remained where they had fallen the previous autumn. Death was written large everywhere.’ (Private R.A. Colwell, Passchendaele, January 1918).

‘Fight on and fly on to the last drop of blood and the last drop of fuel, to the last beat of the heart.’ (Baron Manfred von Richtofen).

‘I died in hell – (They called it Passchendaele).’  (Line from Memorial Tablet, Lieutenant Siegfried Sassoon, November 1918).

“…pretty mechanical toy but very limited military value”. (Lord Kitchener upon overseeing trials of the tank).

‘Retreat? Hell, we just got here!’ (US Marine Captain Lloyd W. Williams).

‘This is not peace, it is an armistice for 20 years.’ (Ferdinand Foch. After the Treaty of Versailles, 1919).

And perhaps my favourite WW1 quote: A poem called ‘The German Guns’ from a certain Private Baldrick…

Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom,
Boom, Boom, Boom,
Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom,
Boom, Boom, Boom.

Posted by: mcfinder | February 20, 2011

Heroes of the Line: Major H W F B Farrer MC and 2 Bars.

Major Henry Wyndham Francis Blackburne Farrer Military Cross and 2 Bars, RFA

Record of Service:

  • Born  Salisbury 10/8/1894
  • Volunteered for service on 12/8/1914 and joined as a 2nd Lieutenant with the 39th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery
  • Left for France on 17/10/1914 from Southampton on SS Winifriedan.

The 39th Brigade was part of the 1st Division. One of the earliest Divisions to move to France, the First Division remained on the Western Front for the whole duration of hostilities and took part in many major actions; including Mons, Marne, the First Battle of Ypres, Somme, Passchendaele, and the Hindenburg Line.

  • Promoted to Lieutenant on 12/8/1914
  • Mentioned in Dispatches: 22/6/1915
  • Invested with the one of the first Military Crosses to be awarded on 30/7/1915
  • Mentioned In Dispatches: 1/1/1916
  • Invested with the Bar to the Military Cross on 20/6/1916
  • Appointed Acting Captain from 28/7/1916 until 13/1/1917
  • Mentioned in Dispatches: 4/1/1917
  • Appointed Acting Major from 14/1/1917 until 24/9/1917
  • Invested with the Second Bar to the Military Cross on 19/10/1917

Major Farrer was Killed in Action less than 2 weeks from the end of the War, during fighting at Mazinghein on 30/10/1918. The battalion war diary recalls this unfortunate event:

Mazinghein, 30/10/1918

At 0530 hours S.O.S. was signalled by our infantry and immediately responded to by us, but the enemy managed to penetrate our lines S.W. Cattilon. At 1200 hours an attack was made under cover of our barrage, and the ground captured by the enemy in the morning was retaken. At 1415 hours a single gun from the 54th battery was sent forward to deal with an enemy M.G. emplacement. The gun moved up but before coming into action our infantry had captured the gun.

Further serious loss of officers was inflicted on the Brigade the following being killed in action:

            Major H.W.F.B. Farrer MC   30th Battery

            Lieut. F.A.H. Sharp                 51st Battery

            2/Lieut. W. Dunlop                  51st Battery

 National Archives: WO95/1249

  • Major Farrer was buried the next day at Vallee Mulatre Cemetery, France


WW1 Medal Entitlement:

1914 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal

Mentioned in Dispatches: 22/6/1915, 1/1/1916, 4/1/1917

Belgium Croix de Guerre (Listed in Gazette issue 30631 – 12th April 1918)

Military Cross and 2 Bars:

  • Military Cross listed (no Citation) in Gazette issue 29202 (22nd June 1915
  • 1st Bar Citation published in Gazette issue 30023 (17th April 1917)
  • 2nd Bar listed (no Citation) in Gazette issue 30308 (25th September 1917)
  • 2nd Bar Citation published in Gazette issue 30466 (8th January 1918)


1st Bar Citation – 17th April 1917

Lt. (A./Capt.) Henry Wyndham Francis Blackburne Farrer, M.C., R.F.A.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when a gun team became casualties.  He went to the gun and rendered assistance to the wounded under very heavy fire. He has at all times set a splendid example of courage and determination.


2nd Bar Citation – 9th January 1918

Lt. (A./Maj.) Henry Wyndham Francis Blackburne Farrer, M.C., R.F.A.

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when a cottage full of ammunition had been set on fire by enemy shells close to the battery. He took a party and saved some 400 rounds by pulling away the boxes. Some of the shells, however, exploded, killing one man and wounding four, causing his party to retire. This officer, hearing cries from a man who had been left behind wounded, gallantly ran back into the middle of the burning cottage, pulled him to the door and, with the help of two others, got him away in spite of the exploding shells. He was much bruised by falling masonry, and his hands were scorched and his hearing damaged. His example of self-sacrifice and devotion was beyond all praise.

The information in this blog post has been taking from the book ‘For Conspicuous Gallantry…The Winners of the Military Cross During the Great War’. (Vol. 1) by Scott Addington.
Posted by: mcfinder | February 15, 2011

War Medals and Militaria As An Investment?

I was on the phone today with a good friend of mine and the discussion got round (inevitably) to military stuff, specifically this time, the investment potential of militaria and medals. I have been collecting medals and militaria on and off (more off than on recently, to be honest) for the last 20 years. And as we discussed various things, I thought that the topic of militaria and medal investment potential would be a splendid blog topic. So here we go…

So, is militaria a good investment? The short answer is yes. And there are a few reasons for this:

  • More and more people are collecting
  • The is a limited supply, and this supply is not going to get any bigger
  • Programmes such as WDYTYA, and the antiques roadshow have made more people more aware of their family history and see it as an opportunity to mix a hobby with an investment.

In terms of appreciation, the value of medals & militaria has increased about fivefold in the last two decades.

For example, a Victoria Cross was worth around £100,000 in 1990. Today, the record price for a single VC is £491,567. and in 2009 the Chavasse Double VC was sold for £1.5million.

Meanwhile, an 1815 Waterloo medal, the first British campaign medal, cost £350 in 1990. Today, it sells for around £3,500 and I have seen some priced at £5000 plus.

Second World War memorabilia can offer plenty of gains; however First World War medals generally remain the best investment. And with a significant anniversary on the horizon (2014 will mark the 100th anniversary of the start of the Great War)  prices for this period at least are set to go up even further.

At the lower end of the price scale (why I play), the general WW1 medal market pricing is increasing at around 10-15% a year, depending on what  you are collecting. For example, I collect (among other things) single 1914 stars. 5-7 years ago, £60 would get you a good star, with ribbon, to an infantry regiment or maybe even a guards regiment if you were lucky. Nowadays, these are going for £80 – £90.  

Other examples: A single Military Cross in 2011 will be a minimum of £500. 10 years ago these were £350.

With WW1 medals, the research is the key. All WW1 medals were named, therefore it is relatively easy to research the recipient of the medal. Factors that can severely affect the price include:

  • Rank of the soldier (officers command much more money than rank and file soldiers)
  • Regiment (‘Corps’ such as Royal Engineers, ASC, RFA etc. Are more common, and therefore less valuable than infantry regiments or guards/cavalry)
  • History of the individual. For example, medals to soldiers that were killed in action are worth double or even treble those of soldiers of similar rank/regiment who survived the war. Why? The personal story is more interesting, the medal is rarer, and the opportunity for research is greater. Medals to soldiers that were killed on specific dates (such as the First day of the Somme), or during specific battles (Mons, Passchendaele) also can command significant premiums, and will always be required by collectors, and even though they are more expensive to buy, will often offer the best investment.
  • Type of Medal. Some campaign medals are more scarce than others (1914 Star), also gallantry medals are obviously worth more as they are rarer and have a significant story attached to them, which can be researched further.

And it is not just British WW1 medals that are going up, I am trying to buy a good WW1 Iron Cross First Class, these seem to be going through the roof, 10 years ago they were £90-£100 now you get an average one for £150.

Another area of medals to consider (in my opinion) for investment purposes are Second World War medals. Currently there is only limited research potential for these medals, because service records of soldiers and officers are still with the MoD. Because of this, and the fact that the campaign medals for this conflict are not named, the cost for groups are lower – demand is not as high. However, if you can get a nice group of 3 or 4 campaign medals, with their paper work (boxes of issue with name and address) then, when the service records are released, the research potential rises, as will the price. And who knows what interesting information the research will through up to make the group more interesting and valuable. For me, named WW2 groups are a good investment, especially those that were killed in action or attached to an interesting regiment.

Third Reich medals have always had a strong collectors market, especially in America,  and prices have risen steadily. Iron Crosses (2nd Class) are being sold for £80 these days, a few years ago they were £50-£60. First class awards were £100 10 years ago, now they are almost double. The problem with Third Reich medals, is that because of the difficulty in privately buying/selling you are forced to go through dealers. Now, I have nothing against dealers, and with Third Reich medals, I would always buy via a reputable dealer because of the high number of fakes, but you do tend to pay a high premium because you cannot buy from ebay or other places. Also, if you decide to sell, you have to either sell at auction or back to a dealer, where you will not get the full market price (a bit like buying a car). For this reason, unless you are in it for the long haul, these kind of medals may not be as much an investment as Allied medals.

So there you a nutshell, WW1 stuff is always going to steadily increase, but it is best to look for specific medals – gallantry medals, rare regiments or medals awarded to soldiers that died in action are good bets. WW2 medals have great potential if you can get attributable groups, and Third Reich medals/militaria will always have a good market of buyers, but the restrictions on buying/selling could limit investment potential. And there is a large risk of fakes in the market place – so be careful.

I hope that this article has been helpful, let me know what you collect and if you agree that medals can be an alternative pension! For my sins, I collect single 1914 Stars, any medals to the Northamptonshire Regiment (family regiment), Passchendaele casualties, and if I am feeling really rich, which isn’t often, Military Crosses. I also dabble in WW2 attributed groups and some Third Reich medals and paperwork.

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 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”™

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  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 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,,,, and

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.


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


10 Little Known Facts of WW1 March 2010


Sunk Australia WWII hospital ship Centaur: first images January 2010


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


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.


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

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.

Posted by: mcfinder | November 8, 2010

Help The British Legion Become Number 1 in the Charts!

What a great idea – the British Legion has released an iTunes track to raise money for this years Poppy Appeal, and many music experts think it could reach number one in the charts — despite being two minutes of silence.

The track “2 minute silence” is being released by The Royal British Legion on iTunes and contains no music or speaking at all.

A ‘music’ video has even been produced which features a host of celebrities including Bruce Dickinson, Andy Murray, David Tennant and Mark Ronson, all not singing.

Money raised from the £1 downloads of the single — which each come with the video — will go towards furthering RBL work in supporting serving and ex-Service personnel.

It’s hoped the silent single will be a poignant reminder of Remembrance Sunday… and not just make people think their iPod is broken when it comes up on shuffle.

So show your support and purchase your copy now at or from iTunes.

Join us in our mission to make chart history by reaching number 1 by Remembrance Sunday and show your support by joining the official Facebook™ page

You can access a preview of the video and behind the scenes footage at:
So Come on! Download your copy of the single now from itunes and let’s get the Legion to Number 1 in the charts! It’s got to be better than that dross that is being churned out from Xfactor!?!

Posted by: mcfinder | October 23, 2010

Somme Ceremony for Football Battalions

A couple of years ago I wrote, on this blog, about the famous ‘Football Attack’ on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, and how some of the war diaries for these football battalions were now available online to view.

The Footballers’ Battalions were formed partly in response to criticism that the 1914-15 league season had not been cancelled despite the outbreak of war, with many members of the public suggesting strongly that players should be drafted to the army instead of continuing to play football.

In remembrance of these football battalions, on Thursday just past, more than 100 people gathered in Longueval on Thursday morning to attend the unveiling of a memorial. You can read a description of this service on the BBC website – a very good blog post written by Paul Fletcher.

Football is hugely popular, and rightly so, it is still the ‘beautiful game’, however in a week where the media went into meltdown because Wayne Rooney said he may leave his club, and the hysteria continues to envelope Liverpool because they have lost a couple of games, let’s take a second to take stock of life and put a few things into perspective…these old footballers swapped football boots for Lee Enfield rifles and the trenches, many of them paid the ultimate sacrifice on the Somme. Soldiers are still putting everything on the line and are being wounded and killed in Afghanistan.

When a footballer gets injured or throws his toys out of the pram to get a few extra ‘noughts’ on his already huge contract, or your club loses a few games…let’s put it into perspective. It isn’t exactly life or death now is it?

Posted by: mcfinder | October 17, 2010

How will you raise money for the 2010 Poppy Appeal?

This time last year I was in the final preparations for my cycle ride along the entire WW1 Western Front  trench lines. Steve and I raised about £3500 for the Royal British Legion’s Poppy Appeal, of which we are both very proud.  This year, unfortunately I have not been able to repeat such a feat, however from now until the end of November, for every sale of my book, For Conspicuous Gallantry: Winners of the Military Cross and Bar During the Great War, I will donate £5 (25% of the cover price) to this year’s poppy appeal.

You can find out about my book by clicking on the ‘For Conspicuous Gallantry’ tab at the top of the page. If you want to purchase a book, just email me at or DM my twitter account @military_search

In addition to this I will be running a repeat of the cliche tax I ran a few months back in the office to raise some money for the appeal too, last time it was successful, so I hope to have a repeat performance from my office colleagues!

So, what are you doing to raise awareness and money for the 2010 poppy appeal? Leave a comment on this blog and I will retweet it to all of my followers and try and get you some additional interest and awareness.

Let’s help each other make this Poppy Day one to remember!

Posted by: mcfinder | September 26, 2010

Using the Internet to search for Militia Ancestors

If your ancestors served in the Militia it may seem that trying to trace their careers is significantly more difficult than those men that served in the regular army. But there are some great websites that can help you in your search.

What is the Militia?

The Militia was a part-time voluntary civilian force organised county-by-county, which was formalised by the Militia Act of 1757. The list of able-bodied men that were drawn up under this act can serve as a kind of census. The militia was widely embodied at various times during the French and Napoleonic Wars. It served at several vulnerable locations,  particularly the South Coast and in Ireland.  The militia could not be compelled to serve overseas, but it was seen as a training reserve for the army, as financial incentives were offered to men who opted to ‘exchange’ from the militia to the regular army.

In general the best advice to trying to find ancestors who served in the Militia is to go local and talk to the local records office, family history society or regimental museum. However there are a number of websites that may also be of use..So, in no particular order here are some good websites to help you in your search.

Genuki (

This is a great place to start your search. Type in Militia to the Genuki search box and you will get 1066 matches. All of which are links to other sites that have Militia relevant information on them. These could be the Militia lists and Musters for Cambridgeshire, or it could be information on Sir John Reresby’s Militia Troop

The National Archives (

As always, the National Archives is a great source of information. Their specific webpage for the Militia is The Archives hold a great deal of information on various aspects of the Militia including soldier and officer papers, commission books, muster rolls, casualties and medal rolls.

Militia Attestations Index (

This Index currently contains the names of over 110,000 recruits to militias in Cheshire, Cornwall, Devon, Dorset, Durham, Essex, Hampshire, Kent, Lancashire, Lincolnshire, Middlesex, Norfolk, Northumberland, Suffolk, Surrey, Wiltshire and Yorkshire, and in south and central Scotland; the Irish Origins database contains an index to a further 12,500 men who applied to militias in Ireland. These recruits came from all over the British Isles. 

They also have a digital archive of the complete WO96 section from TNA. Available for search and download at £10 per soldier. Or you can use the information here to access the documents in person at the Archives.

As I have already said, the best place to start your search maybe your local records office. Once you have an idea of where/when your ancestor served you can go through the Access to archives and the National Register of Archives to fins records held in local offices. Some of these archives may provide online indexes while others will demand that you visit in person. Many regimental museums will also hold relevant information, and while most offer a visit-by-appointment, many do offer research services. The best place to track down your regimental museum is at

Posted by: mcfinder | September 7, 2010

Why The Bomber Command Memorial Matters.

Now, I don’t normally read too many newspapers, firstly because I don’t get a great deal of time to do so, but mainly because I am not that interested in which footballer is bedding which whore, or if Paris Hilton is partying in Vegas without any knickers…

But today is different, because as I was perusing the front pages of the dailies in my local Tesco Express, I came across the headline of the Daily Express. ‘DON’T MENTION THE WAR’ with the sub headline stating that German politicians are trying to stop Britain building a memorial to honour the heroes of Bomber Command.

I have to say I find this incredulous. Firstly it is a memorial to 55,573 aircrew who bravely took to the skies during World War 2 to defend our island from the Nazis and never returned home to their families. It is NOT a celebration or some crass gesture to Germany to say ‘we bombed more cities than you’, and it is certainly not a tasteless gesture aimed directly at towns such as Dresden, Cologne, and Frankfurt that suffered so terribly during the war. Despite what some German politicians might think.

In face, not having a memorial to Bomber Command is tasteless. These guys suffered huge casualties, indeed 10% of all war casualties were from Bomber Command, and it is the only sector of the armed forces to not have a formal memorial dedicated to their memory. Surely we owe it to them, the airmen and airwomen, to remember their brave deeds and actions?

According to the Daily Express, Helma Orosz, the Mayor of Dresden, is quoted as saying “A memorial like the one which is planned in London would not be part of the culture of reconciliation.” She also added: “The emotions of the people in Dresden are running high. It is against our culture of remembrance.”

Well excuse me, but surely if Britain chooses to build a memorial to British airmen and women, who fought and died for Britain, and to build it in London, then isn’t that down to us? Without being rude….it really is none of your business, love.

If they (The Germans) were to succeed in ensuring this memorial wasn’t built, then what next? Are they going to tell the Jews to tear down their memorials of the Holocaust? Should we then tear down all the memorials and statues in London? The Cenotaph would have to go…Nelson’s Column would probably be on the list, plus thousands of town and village memorials up and down the country. While we are at it, let’s close down all the museums, burn all the books and pretend it all didn’t happen. That’s a sure-fire way of our kids making the exact same mistakes again, and WW3 would be on us in a jiffy.

To not build this memorial would be a huge injustice for all the heroes of the RAF and Bomber Command. We should be proud of them, not hide them away incase they embarrass us or another country. Let us celebrate their actions, remember their memories and make sure that we don’t need to build any more memorials in memory of another 55,000 hero’s.

So, with that, I am going to stick 2 Churchill-esque fingers up at those damned German politicians. Keep your noses out of our business. The Bomber Command Memorial needs to raise £2 million by the end of 2010 to enable it to be built, I am going to donate £20 right now. I ask all of you that read this to donate a small amount too…let’s show the world how proud we are of our history, our heritage, and our RAF.

You can read more on the Bomber Command Memorial, and donate to the cause at

Posted by: mcfinder | September 6, 2010

Finding War Graves and Memorials on the Internet

The are literally ‘some’ splendid websites out there where you can find details of the final resting place of your family hero who made the supreme sacrifice so we can eat cheeseburgers in peace…here are a few of my faves. 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (

In my opinion, this is the daddy of them all. Their Debt of Honour Register is the single most important registry of war dead that exists and should the first stop for anyone searching for fallen ancestors from the two World Wars. It contains details of some 1.7 million men and women who died during these conflicts as well as information on the 23,000 cemeteries and memorials around the world where they are commemorated. 

You can search the register by surname, initials, year of death, conflict, area of service and nationality. This will give you a number of possible matches, once you have found your ancestor another mouse click will give you extra information such as regiment, age, cemetery or memorial, date of death and often details such as address and next of kin. 

cwgc example

cwgc example

The website is not just a database of the war dead though, there is a great ‘histories’ section which gives a good overview of some of the major conflicts including The Somme and Ypres. There is a section for schools and a great audio/video section with some excellent videos especially on the new Fromelles Cemetery. 

One thing that there isn’t, is individual images of headstones, memorials. They (the CWGC) do not offer that service. But that doesn’t matter because, my next website of choice, The War Graves Photography Project, does. 

The War Graves Photographic Project (

The guys behind this project are working towards the not insignificant task of putting together a photographic record of every single CWGC headstone and memorial. To use this site simply input your ancestors name into the search box and see what appears. If nothing is there it may be that the chaps with the camera has not got to that particular cemetery/memorial yet, so it is an idea to return to the site every now and again to check their progress. Once you have found your person, there is a small charge (£3 for electronic, £5 for printed copy) to order your photograph. 

So, what happens then, if your ancestor was killed in action during one of the World Wars, but for some inexplicable reason he or she is not on the CWGC ‘Debt of Honour Register’? Well, fear not my lovelies, a great little project called In From the Cold will help you out. 

In From the Cold (

This project is dedicated to tracking down those names missing from the CWGC ‘Debt of Honour Register’. So, if your search brings up a blank, get in contact with these chaps and they will do some digging on your behalf with the aim of getting official commemoration of the ancestor in question. Splendid. is a terrific site that acts as a comprehensive guide to all the memorials and military cemeteries in France, Belgium, UK, and worldwide. With easy to use indexes of all French, Belgian and Gallipoli cemeteries, a WW2 index, a VC index and a shot at dawn index this website is well researched and of great use. There are also thousands of photographs throughout.

Finally, We have all driven, walked or cycled past war memorials in or near our home towns, sat on benches  or visited churches and schools which house memorial plaques and such like. The UK National Inventory of War Memorials ( is an ongoing project to compile a record of all war memorials across the UK, regardless of type. Covering all conflicts, more than 60,000 war memorials have been transcribed so far. The only downer on this site is there is no name search facility, however that will be added very soon. And there is a nice blog too. 

These are just a few interesting websites, there are many more including regional registers, regimental sites and others…So have a quick ‘Google’, you never know what you might find.

Posted by: mcfinder | August 20, 2010

‘The Few’ 70 years on.

Today, at 15.52BST to be precise, marks the 70th Anniversary of the famous ‘So Few’ speech from Sir Winston Churchill as he paid tribute to the RAF as they threw everything they had against the mighty Luftwaffe in The Battle of Britain.

To commemorate this anniversary, the speech will be replayed outside Churchill’s war-time bunker in Whitehall, at 1552 BST – precisely 70 years since Churchill stood up to give the address in Parliament. It will be followed shortly afterwards by a Spitfire and Hurricane fly-past over Whitehall.

In his speech that day, Churchill encapsulated the heroism of the RAF Fighter Command and the gratitude of a nation in one memorable, succinct sentence…

Never in the field of human conflict, was so much owed by so many to so few.

Victory in The Battle of Britain almost definitely put pay to a Nazi invasion of our island, without air superiority such an invasion would never have been successful. So, today, 70 years on from that remarkable speech, let us quietly say thank you to those 3000 or so RAF boys (and girls)who did so much for us…there are not many of them left now, they are fading quickly, but let us make sure that their memories and their brave deeds live on.

They should not be forgotten.


A full transcript of Churchill’s famous speech can be seen here. Also, the BBC has a wonderful microsite dedicated to all things Battle of Britain.


Posted by: mcfinder | August 11, 2010

Re-visiting some old friends on the Ypres Salient

Perhaps the only disappointing thing from ‘Cycling the Line’ was the fact that we couldn’t really spend much time looking around the places we were travelling through. This was especially true when we hit Ypres at the very end of the trip. My bike was in such a bad state I dared not do a metre more than was absolutely necessary, and as a result we missed out on a couple of areas that I wanted to visit – namely Tyne Cot cemetery and the area to the west of Ypres…Passchendaele. 

So, on a business trip to Belgium this week I decided to take a day’s holiday, hire a car and re-visit some of the places we cycled to, or just missed, at the very end of our trip. I had only 1 day so decided to  take in Tyne Cot cemetery, the village of Passchendaele, Polygon Wood, Sanctuary Wood, Hooge Crater, Langemark, Zonnebeke, and the Menin Road… 

My first stop was the largest commonwealth cemetery in the world – Tyne Cot –  with 11,908 individual graves and 34,927 names of soldiers who have no known resting place…near on 46,000 soldiers…There are many different emotions when you visit a place such as this. I was awe-struck, humbled, sad and proud all at the same time. There is a small information centre in front of the cemetery with artifacts and personal stories from soldiers that are resting in the cemetery near by. Th letters, photo’s, pieces of uniform and equipment, and medals are a stark reminder that each white stone and each name on the vast walls of the memorial represents a man; a son, husband, lover, father. And that 46,000 families were shattered when they received that telegram…‘it is with deepest regret…’ In the background while you visit the centre there is a female recorded voice reading a roll call of the officers and men that are in the cemetery. Benjamin Thomas Robins, aged 19; John Gibbs, aged 23…It is very haunting. 

Graves and Memorial: Tyne Cot

Graves and Memorial: Tyne Cot

The cemetery itself is vast. It is a remarkable place. I walked up and down the rows of graves of men…boys I never knew, are not distant relations,  but yet I found myself whispering a few words to the headstones and wondering what kind of people they were. Sitting on the steps of the cross of sacrifice (built on top of a German bunker) and looking out over the thousands of pristine white stones, I don’t mind telling you there was a tear. 

Next stop was Polygon Wood, the scene of bitter hand to hand fighting. The Polygon Wood cemetery is in stark contrast to that of Tyne Cot. Tiny in numbers and the graves are not set in neat rows, but rather randomly set. This was a front line cemetery and I guess it is difficult to bury your comrades in neat and straight lines when you are being shot at and shelled! In the garden in front of the cemetery was a donkey, obviously a pet of a nearby house… I couldn’t help thinking about the common feeling of the Lions being led by Donkeys. 

After a few hours visiting other cemeteries and the village of Passchendaele (including the memorial museum which is a must if you visit the area) I ended up on The Menin Road. I have strong memories of manically cycling up this iconic road, but desperately wanted to take time out to visit Hellfire Corner, Clapham Junction, Sanctuary Wood and the Hooge Crater. 

The preserved trenches at the Sanctuary Wood museum are unbelievable. They are one of the few places left where you can actually get some kind of idea as to what a real trench looked like…although the thousands of visitors to the site over the years have eroded the grass and moss that originally covered the ground – it is still an eery and remarkable place, even more so as I was the only person there at the time (one advantage of visiting during the school holidays!). 

So all in all a magnificent and moving day on the Ypres salient…I have taken lots of photos but am having trouble uploading some of them..I will upload them asap and link to them from here…

Photographs now uploaded to Flickr. You can see them here:

Posted by: mcfinder | August 7, 2010

Tank-tastic day at Bovington

Took the kids the other day to the tank museum at Bovington – Had a wicked time, I hadn’t been there for many years. The museum has under gone a very nice new facelift, including new exhibitions and facilities, and is a wonderful day out. From the very first tank ever (Little Willy – which has now got a beer named after it!) to the modern-day 21st century vehicles there are over 200 tanks and armoured vehicles that have seen action in every major conflict since 1915. 

I wanted to visit the Trench exhibition which allows you, the visitor, to follow in the footsteps of a ww1 army recruit. From recruiting office in England to mud and blood of the front line trenches. But my young boy, Honza, was scared of the exhibits and we didn’t go in…which is a shame, but I am sure we will get to go again! What has this got to do with a tank museum you may well ask? Well, actually, everything. The tank (or land-ship as it was originally called) was primarily invented (by the British) in an attempt to break the stalemate of trench warfare, and made its world debut in September 1916 near Delville Wood during the later stages of the Battle of the Somme. 

Another great exhibition is the Tank Story which follows the evolution of the tank from Little Willie in 1915 up to modern-day tanks and all in between. Including the daddy of them all – the Tiger.. 

After spending 4 hrs shouting ‘Daddy look at that big gun!’ my two lovelies dragged me to the souvenir shop where we purchased 2 (talking) soldier hats. Jan and Lenka both then ran to the car pretending to be tank soldiers, shooting imaginary baddies. We had a great day which ended up with both of the proclaiming loudly ‘Daddy, we LOVE tanks!’ 



So, why not get down to Bovington this summer – it looks like the sun has gone for the summer so you will probably be looking for somewhere indoors to take the kids…the tank museum is a great choice! 

Honza taking on 'the baddies'

Honza taking on 'the baddies'

The dedication of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) Fromelles (Pheasant Wood) Military Cemetery, Fromelles, northern France, will take place on Monday 19 July 2010. During the dedication, an un-named soldier will be buried.  He is the last of the 250 Australian and British soldiers found at the Pheasant Wood site to be laid to rest.     

Access to the site will be controlled, for security and safety reasons.   

Most invited guests will receive their invitations by post.  In the case of the families of Australian soldiers, they will receive their tickets direct. In addition to invited guests, members of the public are welcome to attend, and can apply for tickets for the event, under the following conditions:  

 – Tickets are free and must not be sold or used commercially.  

 – Applications must specify the names of all those who wish to attend.  

 – Unless travelling as part of a tour group, all applicants must apply individually and will be issued with a separate ticket.  Tickets will be issued in the name of the applicant.  Anyone who has received an invitation to the event does not need to apply for a ticket.  

 – Tour groups or associations may apply in bulk, as long as the application is accompanied by a list of the names of their party members.   

 – Tickets will allow access to the public area reserved for spectators and should be carried at all times.  

 – The field has a capacity for about 4,500 spectators.  Plots on the field can not be reserved.  

 – Spectators are permitted to bring lightweight folding seats or picnic blankets.  However, umbrellas, banners or other items that may block the view of others are not to be used during the ceremony.   

 – The consumption of alcohol is not permitted before or during the ceremony.  

 – Parking areas will be available, on the outskirts of Fromelles, for those travelling to the ceremony.  Access to Fromelles, and the parking areas, will be restricted to ticket holders/tour groups (other than local residents).  

 – The ticket will allow free use of the shuttle bus between the parking area and the village of Fromelles.  There will be a short walk from the drop-off point to the Cemetery and public viewing area.  

Placing a Gravestone at Fromelles War Cemetery

Placing a Gravestone at Fromelles War Cemetery


 Other than invited guests, and the families of Australian soldiers, anyone wishing to attend, including members of the public who may have already registered their interest elsewhere, is requested to order their free ticket from the Service Personnel and Veterans’ Agency (SPVA) by email.   

The email address for applications is:  


Those who do not have access to email may apply in writing to the SPVA at the following address:  

Service and Veterans Support Team, Service Personnel and Veterans Agency, Room 6108, Tomlinson House,   Norcross, Thornton-Cleveleys, Lancashire, FY5 3WP  

Timings – 19 July  

0930                   Park and Ride opens
1130                    Guests requested to be seated
1200                   Official ceremony starts
1300                   Official ceremony finishes
1500 – 1800    Private ceremony for families of named soldiers only
1900                   Cemetery closed for removal of event infrastructure  

Timings – 20 July  

0900 – 0945    Private reflection period for UK families
1000                   Cemetery open to public – see below  

Getting There  

Due to the limited capacity of the local roads, the Gendarmes will establish a traffic control zone on all the approach roads to Fromelles and access to the village will be restricted.  

By Car. If you plan to travel to Fromelles by car you will need to use the Park and Ride facility (see map).  

By Taxi. There are multiple taxi companies in Lille which may be able to take you to Fromelles. Prior to the event Taxis will be given access to Fromelles for drop off only and will not be allowed to wait in the village. For guidance the approximate fare from Lille to Fromelles is €50. Please do not pre-book your taxi for your return journey from Fromelles as taxis will not be allowed into the village after the event. A shuttle bus will be provided to take you to Beaucamps-Ligny where a taxi rank will be established for your onward journey.  

By Tour Bus. Tour buses are required to park at the coach park (see map) . The walk from the coach park to the entrance of the public event site is approximately 600 metres.  

All guests will need to show tickets at all Gendarme control points.  

Disabled Access  

There is a disabled parking area close to the village for those with Disabled Car Badges.
There will be spaces for wheelchairs in the public event area and, if required, disabled transport will also be available for the 200 metre distance from the vehicle drop-off point.  

The Event  

Background information about the Battle of Fromelles and the work leading up to the day’s events will be shown on a large screen at the site. The ceremony will also be shown on the screen. The dedication ceremony will include the re-interment, with full military honours, of an un-named soldier by a joint burial party from the Australian and British Armies.  


Toilets (including disabled toilets), a First Aid post, information displays and catering facilities where food and beverages can be purchased will be available in the public area, which is a field adjacent to the cemetery. These will be available both prior to, and after, the ceremony.  


The weather in Fromelles in July can be difficult to predict, ranging from very hot and sunny to cool and wet. Please note this is an outdoor event; the public viewing area is in a field and you may be there for over two hours, so please dress and prepare accordingly. The ceremony will proceed regardless of the weather. There is no overhead protection from the elements in the public viewing area.  


All guests are to carry photographic identification (eg passport or national ID card) in case of security checks at the site.  

Mobile Telephones and Photography  

Please ensure that all mobile telephones are switched off during the ceremony. Photography during the ceremony is permitted but guests are reminded to pay due respect to the activity being undertaken.  

Access to Cemetery and Wreath Laying  

On 19 July, access inside the cemetery itself is limited to those participating in the ceremony and to the families of named soldiers buried within.  

Visitors wishing to lay wreaths on 19 July may do so near the entrance gate to the cemetery after 1315. At the end of proceedings all wreaths will be taken up to the Cross of Sacrifice.  

On Tuesday 20 July UK families will have an opportunity for a reflection period from 9am – 9.45am.  

The cemetery will open to the general public at 10am on Tuesday 20 July. Event infrastructure will be being dismantled at this time, but there will be pedestrian access to the cemetery. Safety of visitors is of utmost importance. The parking area will remain closed – visitors will have to park in the village and walk into the cemetery.  

Disabled Access – special arrangements  

If you think the arrangements above for disabled access may not meet your specific needs please contact SPVA in UK ( or the Australian Fromelles Project Group on (freecall) 1800 019 090 or email  

Details and image taken from the official CWGC Fromelles website:

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