June 2013

The Bulletin of the Birmingham Branch of the WFA

Compiled by Bob Butcher

 

THE WESTER FRONT ASSOCIATION

Birmingham Branch

BRUMRATION

June 2013     Compiled by Bob Butcher

RIP

On the battlefield the dead were buried near where they fell by their comrades with little, if any, ceremony, but casualties dying in casualty clearing stations or base hospitals were buried nearby, usually with rather more ceremony. The late Corporal Harry Fellows of the 12th Northumberland Fusiliers took part in both kinds of burials. In 1916 his section was ordered to bury the bodies of dead British and German soldiers who lie thick on the ground in Mametz Wood. Many were so mutilated that some of the party vomited so they resorted to the crude method of dragging the bodies by ropes round their ankles and dumping them into a grave improvised by connecting and deepening several shell craters.

The man's equipment was removed and any personal effects, his pay book and his identity disc were tied together on his bayonet which was then stuck in the ground at the head of the grave and his steel helmet placed over it. There was not even a mumbled prayer over the grave. Harry was not proud of the manner in which they had buried their fallen comrades but we can see that he really had no need to reproach himself.

Harry was later wounded and medically downgraded upon which he was posted to the Base Employment Depot at Etaples. Here he found himself on burial parties of which there was a constant need in view of the number of hospitals in the base. These burials were very different from those in which he participated back on the Somme.

At the appointed hour the burial party would report to the mortuary but where the dead bodies were laid out on trestles, each with an identification label tied to the big right toe. This label was removed and handed to an NCO who kept a meticulous record of the proceedings. Each body was then wrapped in a blanket, placed on a stretcher litter, covered with the Union Flag and, accompanied by a padre, a bugler and a firing party with arms reversed, slow marched to the cemetery where the graves were already dug. Here, after the identity of the dead man had been carefully recorded, the padre conducted the appropriate service, the last post was sounded and three blank cartridges fired over the grave. Then it was back to the mortuary but for the next funeral.

I imagine that burials at casualty clearing stations were rather more formal than in the front line but less so than those at the base. Originally the Royal Engineers were responsible for registering war graves but such were the demands trench warfare made upon their services that when the Red Cross offered to undertake the task, its offer was readily accepted.

It has been said that in the early months wealthy and influential families brought back their dead sons for burial at home. I don't know of any particular case but it was soon decided that the fallen should rest upon their comrades near where they fell.

After the war when it was decided to concentrate the smaller cemeteries and isolated graves, the French and Belgian governments donated the ground and the Army invited ex-soldiers to re-enlist into a special section of the Labour Corps to undertake the exhumation work. The term of service was until no longer needed but in any case not beyond 1930.    In addition to the standard Labour Corps pay including war bonus, they would receive a special allowance—but only on the days during which they were actually performing exhumations! It was decided that the name of every man who fell should be recorded either on a headstone or on a monument to those 'with no known grave' The remains of many of those would be buried in graves of an 'unknown soldier'. Of course many battlefield graves were lost in subsequent fighting and some believe that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the remains of British soldiers still lie undetected in the soil of Northern France and Flanders. In many cases the bodies recovered could not be positively identified so were buried as an unknown soldier and the name recorded on an appropriate memorial.

In the grounds of St Michael's, Boldmere, there are a number of Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones from both World Wars. They do not indicate that the men had been killed in action or died of wounds so I assume that they died as the result of illness or accident while serving in the UK. Each year a CWGC representative visits the graves to check on their condition and tidy them up. Recently I noticed that flowers had been placed on the grave there of 10984 Corporal F B Ward of The King's Royal Rifle Corps. He died on 25 April 1915 so I suppose that the flowers were to commemorate the anniversary of his death. Bob Butcher

WHAT IS A GERMAN

 

 

WHAT IS A GERMAN
The        introduction        to       Kevin        Brazier's              into various independent states. Hanover's

magnificent The Complete Victoria Cross                  king was our George IV and there were close

states that two Germans won the VC.           I              links between the British and Hanoverian

decided to investigate research this. Stoker                 armed forces. As for a man born in Britain to

William Johnston was born on 6 August 1823                   German parents, under British law he was

in either Hanover or Sweden. On growing up                   British if he wanted to be! Our own Royal

he joined the Royal Navy and won the VC in                    Family was of a German dynasty. Even in the

August 1854 in the Baltic naval campaign                 First and Second World Wars many people of

during the Crimean War. On 20 August 1857                  German descent served in our armed forces.

while serving in the Caribbean he several                  Britain's traditional enemy from the Middle

times stabbed a leading seaman and then cut                  Ages to the Napoleonic period was France.

his own throat to avoid being punished. He                   At various times we had fought some German

died later that day aged thirty-four.                                  states but others were our allies. German

Sergeant Charles Wooden of the 17th Lancers                    mercenaries had served on a large scale in our

was born in London to German parents on 24                 armed forces notably the Hessians in the

May 1826. He won his VC on 26 October                  British Army during the American War of

1854 for helping to rescue a British officer                 Independence.

who had been wounded during the Charge of                   We still live in the shadow of the First World

the Light Brigade the day before. On 25 April                   War and the Second World War is within

1876 he got drunk and tried to shoot out a                  living memory.               These two wars and

bad tooth with a shot from a small pocket                 countless books, TV programmes and war

pistol. The shot deflected into his brain and                  films mean that Germany replaced France as

killed him. He was fifty-one.                                           the traditional enemy. This was not so in the

So what is a German?             There was no such             early nineteenth century.             Beware of

country as Germany until 1871 when it                  anachronisms! J P Ledwith

became one nation. Like Italy it was divided

 

 

case not beyond 1930. In addition to the

standard Labour Corps pay including war bonus, they would receive a special allowance—but only on the days during which they were actually performing exhumations! It was decided that the name of every man who fell should be recorded either on a headstone or on a monument to those 'with no known grave' The remains of many of those would be buried in graves of an 'unknown soldier'. Of course many battlefield graves were lost in subsequent fighting and some believe that hundreds, perhaps thousands, of the remains of British soldiers still lie undetected in the soil of Northern France and Flanders. In many cases the bodies recovered could not be positively identified so were buried as an unknown

soldier and the name recorded on an appropriate memorial.

In the grounds of St Michael's, Boldmere, there are a number of Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones from both World Wars. They do not indicate that the men had been killed in action or died of wounds so I assume that they died as the result of illness or accident while serving in the UK. Each year a CWGC representative visits the graves to check on their condition and tidy them up. Recently I noticed that flowers had been placed on the grave there of 10984 Corporal F B Ward of The King's Royal Rifle Corps. He died on 25 April 1915 so I suppose that the flowers were to commemorate the anniversary of his death. Bob Butcher

 

WHAT IS A GERMAN
The introduction to Kevin Brazier's into various independent states. Hanover's

magnificent The Complete Victoria Cross king was our George IV and there were close

states that two Germans won the VC. I links between the British and Hanoverian

decided to investigate research this. Stoker armed forces. As for a man born in Britain to

William Johnston was born on 6 August 1823 German parents, under British law he was

in either Hanover or Sweden. On growing up British if he wanted to be! Our own Royal

he joined the Royal Navy and won the VC in Family was of a German dynasty. Even in the

August 1854 in the Baltic naval campaign First and Second World Wars many people of

during the Crimean War. On 20 August 1857 German descent served in our armed forces.

while serving in the Caribbean he several Britain's traditional enemy from the Middle

times stabbed a leading seaman and then cut Ages to the Napoleonic period was France.

his own throat to avoid being punished. He At various times we had fought some German

died later that day aged thirty-four. states but others were our allies. German

Sergeant Charles Wooden of the 17th Lancers mercenaries had served on a large scale in our

was born in London to German parents on 24 armed forces notably the Hessians in the

May 1826. He won his VC on 26 October British Army during the American War of

1854 for helping to rescue a British officer Independence.

who had been wounded during the Charge of We still live in the shadow of the First World

the Light Brigade the day before. On 25 April War and the Second World War is within

1876 he got drunk and tried to shoot out a living memory. These two wars and

bad tooth with a shot from a small pocket countless books, TV programmes and war

pistol. The shot deflected into his brain and films mean that Germany replaced France as

killed him. He was fifty-one. the traditional enemy. This was not so in the

So what is a German? There was no such early nineteenth century. Beware of

country as Germany until 1871 when it anachronisms! J P Ledwith

became one nation. Like Italy it was divided

 

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