Field Dressings by Stretcher Bearer – a new book

Field Dressings by Stretcher Bearer

We have recently been contacted by the Ellis family to let us know about a new World War One book that they are officially launching today.

Called Field Dressings by Stretcher Bearer this is a book of poetry written by Alick Lewis Ellis between 1916 and 1919 while he was serving in France, little is currently known about his war service apart from what can be learned through his poetry.

Alick’s was born in Terrington St. Clement here in Norfolk and was one of 10 children, for several generations the family had been shopkeepers, butchers and grocers and it is thought that the children attended the local school.

The census of 1911 shows that Alick had gone in to the family trade but in Kent rather than in Norfolk. In 1915 he volunteered for Territorial Army service with the 3rd London Field Ambulance.

The family were unaware of Alick’s poetry until they were contacted by the Herts at War Society in 1917.

You can read more about Alick’s life, war and poetry on the dedicated website http://www.fielddressings.co.uk/ where you can also buy copies of the book.

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Mud, Mud Glorious Mud?

Trench Warfare and mud appear to go hand-in-hand when World War One appears in books, on film and in photographs which lead me to wonder what the weather was like during the first year of the war.  Was it really extraordinarily wet?

A working party in the rain.

A working party in the rain.

Weather forecasting as a science was very much in its infancy during the war, although it did improve rapidly as advance knowledge of the weather proved to be essential when planning aerial or gas attacks.  However detailed records of the daily temperature, pressure, rainfall and hours of sunshine were recorded all over the UK.

These detailed UK records have been made available thanks to the Met Office and I have found it fascinating to read through the monthly reports for the first year of the war to see what the weather was like.

Walking the trenches

Walking the trenches

Below is a very simple table of the month, the weather in the South East of England and also major events on the Western Front.

Month and Year Weather report Western Front Activity
August 1914

 

After the first 8 days of the month it was warmer and drier than average, some thunderstorms but little rain.

 

BEF arrive in France

Battle of Mons

September 1914

 

 

Windy, slightly warmer than normal but much wetter than average.

 

Battle of the Marne

Trench network started

October 1914

 

Rainfall much below average and temperatures above normal.

 

Trench network continued

Start of 1st Battle of Ypres

November 1914

 

 

Above average rainfall, often occurring in torrential downpours. As a whole temperatures above average.

 

Trenches reach the coast

1st Battle of Ypres continues

December 1914

 

Wettest December since 1876. Mainly mild for first half of the month then cold.

 

 

Isolated skirmishes but no major battles.

Both sides digging in to trench system

January 1915 Rain fell on every day of the month and it was also windy. Generally mild but the worst frosts were in the South of East of England. Battles in the Champagne area of France
February 1915

 

Wetter and windier than average with isolated heavy snow showers. Temperatures around normal.

 

Battles in the Champagne area continue
March 1915

 

Rainfall was below average, the month ended colder than it started. Battle of Neuve Chapelle
April 1915

 

 

A mostly dry and sunny month although cooler than average. 1st use of poison gas

2nd Battle of Ypres

May 1915

 

Heavy downpours at the start of the month make the month wetter than average overall but the second half of the month dry and warm.

 

2nd Battle of Ypres
June 1915

 

Exceptionally dry (no rain is recorded in Dover for 37 consecutive days in May/June). Heavy thunderstorms at the end of the month. Temperatures average but not much sun recorded.

 

No major battles or offensives on the Western Front although isolated action/fighting does take place
July 1915

 

Windy, heavy and thundery downpours push the rainfall figures above average, not very warm or sunny for the time of year.

 

No major battles or offensives on the Western Front although isolated action/fighting does take place

 

August 1915 Again heavy isolated storms push up the average rainfall totals but the month is not consistently wet. Temperatures and hours of sunshine around or just above normal. No major battles or offensives on the Western Front although isolated action/fighting does take place

Although this is a highly unscientific and rudimentary comparison of the weather it can be seen that during the autumn and early winter of 1914, when the initial battles were being fought and the trench network on the Western Front was being dug, the weather reports do show that it was wetter than average. This analysis is backed up by reports given by members of the Royal Meteorological Society in 1915 and thus perhaps the iconic image of a muddy trench is accurate and not an over used trope.

Knee deep in mud

Knee deep in mud

A disclaimer to all of this: relying on weather reports from England to make comparisons with conditions on the continent may not give an accurate representation at all.  However close Dover maybe to France the weather patterns that affect the two areas can be very different.  The British weather is controlled by a maritime climate pattern  whereas just across the channel the weather is influenced by the continental pattern .

It must also be noted that the soil in Northern France and Belgium also played a role in the creation of the muddy trenches as it was it often drained poorly and quickly became waterlogged. Being churned up by the constant movement of men and equipment also worsened the muddy conditions.

Norfolk Stories: George Roberts MP

george roberts          george roberts.a

George Roberts was born in Chedgrave in 1869, the son of the local shoemaker.  In 1906, he was elected Labour MP for Norwich, one of the first thirty men who formed the Parliamentary Labour Party.  He remained MP for the city for almost twenty years.  He soon diverged from the official Labour Party in his view of the defence question.  In spite of his position as Chief Whip, he was one of eight Labour MPs who rebelled against their party line by voting against a proposal to cut spending on re-arming the navy in July 1912

When the First World War broke out, the Labour Party was split: many members, including its leader, J Ramsey Macdonald, opposed the war.  Roberts immediately and unhesitatingly declared his support for the war, thereby earning himself many enemies in the Norwich party, where the anti-war movement was strong.  He said:

  I made up my mind that my country was in the right, and being in the right, I determined to support it until peace comes.

Roberts played a full and varied part in the war.  He accepted office in the wartime coalition governments, visited the Western Front and wrote articles about his experiences, and inspected the camps for German prisoners of war in Britain.

After the war, Roberts moved to the right, eventually taking the Conservative whip: he was defeated in the 1923 election, dying five years later.