Text Box: APRIL 2016

REFLECTIONS ON OUR SOMME TRIP [Part 1]

Major and Mrs Holt in their excellent guide to the Somme Battlefields recommend leaving your vehicle on the D919 and walking along the rough track towards Sucrerie Military Cemetery.  We were in fact walking in the footsteps of the soldiers who walked along the same track on their way to the front line on 1st July 1916, and later Somme Battlefields.  Where the cemetery is now they had already prepared a mass grave for the soldiers to see, and contemplate their fate.

 

Among the 894 burials is Lt. Col. The Hon. L C W Palk DSO Commanding Officer 1st Hampshire’s. The Battalion lost all 26 of their officers and 559 of their men on 1st July 1916. He is purported to have said to another man while lying mortally wounded ‘If you know of a better ‘ole go to it’.  It is striking that even senior officers were inspired by Bairnsfathers’s cartoons.

 

Nearby is the grave of Private James Perkins 1st/6th Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was killed in action on 1st July 1916 aged 16. Paul placed a cross at his grave and I read from Sergeant. William Streets poem  ‘A Soldiers Grave’.  Streets, of the 12th (Sheffield Pals) Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, is buried at the nearby Euston Road Cemetery.

 

Also at Sucrerie, is the grave of Private James Crozier 9th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles ‘shot at dawn ‘in the garden of a small Chateau at nearby Mailly- Mallet on 27th February 1916.  He had disappeared from his front line trench and was found five days later some five miles away.  He had admitted he was a deserter but claimed he did not know what he was doing at the time and had pains throughout his body.  After a Court Martial where the Medical Officer claimed he could find no physical or mental issues he was convicted of desertion and sentenced to death.  He was carried unconscious through drink to the place of execution, blindfolded, and had to be tied to the execution post.  He was not killed by what was described as a ragged volley of shots from the firing squad and had to be shot in the head by the Officer Commanding the firing squad.

 

The wall surrounding the Chateau prevented the Battalion from witnessing the execution but as they stood to attention, they would have heard the fatal shot. It was reported that ‘feelings ran high amongst the ranks and the Military Police feared a mutiny, with the firing squad refusing to shoot.  A transcript of Private Croziers Court Martial can be seen on line at:

blindfoldandalone.wordpress.com

 

These are just three stories of the men who are at rest in Sucrerie Military Cemetery where surrounded by the fields and trees and the sounds of birdsong, we were left alone with our thoughts.

 

A Soldier’s  Cemetery  {by Sgt. Will Streets}

 

Behind that long and lonely trenched line

To which men come and go, where brave men die,

There is a yet unmarked and unknown shrine,

A broken plot, a soldier’s cemet’ry.

 

There lie the flower of youth, the men who scorn’d

To live (so died) when languished Liberty:

Across the graves flowerless and unadorned

Still scream the shells of each artillery.

When war shall cease this lonely unknown spot

Of many a pilgrimage will be the end,

And flowers will shine in this now barren plot

And fame upon it through the years descend:

But many a heart upon each simple cross

Will hang the grief, the memory of its loss.

 

(With thanks to Paul Jaques who led our visit to Sucrerie War Cemetery]

 


JOHN WILLIAM STREETS

 

Better known as Will Streets he was a soldier poet of the Great War, but unlike many of the poets we associate with the war he was neither an Officer or received a public school education.  He was born in 1886 in Whitwell, Derbyshire, the eldest of 12 children.  He was the son of a miner who followed his father into the mines at the age of 14.

 

Streets was a talented and gifted boy who played the piano and did well at school. He also enjoyed sketching and writing about the Derbyshire countryside he loved. He turned down a place at grammar school to help support his family although he continued his studies after his shift at the mine.  He was supported in this by a local man, John Mills who mentored his studies in French and the Classics. He also became a Sunday School teacher at Whitwell Wesleyan Chapel.

Further Reading:  ‘A Dream Within the Dark ‘by Victor Puick.

 

FORTHCOMING EVENTS

 

Midlands Arts Centre (MAC) Cannon Hill Park, B12 9QM

SHOCK and AWE:  23rd April to 3rd July

In collaboration with the Herbert Art Gallery and Museum, The MAC will present a major new exhibition of drawings by Birmingham artist, Barbara Walker.  It concentrates on the contribution of Black servicemen and women to the British Armed Forces and war efforts from 1914 to the present day.

 

‘IN PARENTHESIS’

The Welsh National Opera production, based on the epic poem by David Jones will be on at The Birmingham Hippodrome on June 10th.  It tells the story of a group of Royal Welch Fusiliers in Mametz Wood.  We met the Librettist, David Antrobus at Thiepval. The Company were on a tour to visit sites associated with the poem.

 


CHARLES DE GAULLE AS A PRISONER OF WAR

 

Charles de Gaulle who became President of France was captured in the fighting at Verdun.  He was one of few survivors of his Battalion after fierce fighting near Douamont.  They were attempting to break out from a positon when surrounded by the enemy he was wounded in the thigh and suffered from the effects of gas.  He spent 32 months in German POW Camps.

He had learned German at school and in various camps he read newspapers and gave talks to his fellow prisoners on the progress of the war.

 

While in captivity he met Mikhail Tukhachevsky, a future Red Army Commander whose theories about a fast moving mechanised army closely resemble De Gaulle’s.

He made five unsuccessful attempts at escape, and after each one he would have been moved to a Camp with a higher level of security.  His punishments would have included long periods in solitary confinement,   and withdrawal of privileges such as access to tobacco and newspapers.  He was held at one point at Ingolstadt, which also held prisoners from the U.K. and Russia. Officers here were provided with German orderlies at this Camp.

 Many of the Officer Camps had a wide range of facilities and activities on offer.  One prisoner Horace Gilliland constructed a toboggan run which coursed down the ramparts of the interior earthworks.  It is doubtful if De Gaulle took advantage of this, as during his time as a prisoner he wrote his first book, The Enemy and The True Enemy, published in 1924. It analysed the issues and divisions within the German Empire.  He regarded his time as a prisoner as a ‘shameful misfortune ‘and he remained in captivity until the Armistice, returning home on December 1st 1918. He returned to the family home in the Dordogne, with his three brothers.  All had fought in the War and all had survived.    

  

 

Richard Lloyd

 @LlanbadarnsRL


 

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Text Box: The Bulletin of the Birmingham Branch of the WFA
April 2016
Compiled by Richard Lloyd