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.

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