A Raft of Apples

Friday, 17 October 2014

The Indians Arrive

I inherited a bound set of The War Illustrated from my paternal grandparents. One hundred years after its publication I'm exploring its pages to discover the people and their times.

Part of the largest volunteer army in the world arrived in Marseilles on 26th September 1914.  The European war was starting to encompass the globe.  The Indian soldiers were poorly equipped for the cold and still wore khaki drill uniforms more appropriate for warmer climates.
Marseille under the snow 1914. - The Cannebière.
The winter of 1914/15 would be the coldest of the decade and Indian soldiers froze to death while they stood as sentries.  Winter uniforms did not arrive at the front until the Spring. As the caption says on the first photo it was  "...not long before they were bearing their part in the hard fighting in Northern France".  In fact the Lahore and Meerut infantry division were selected for the fierce fighting of Ypres and their losses were heavy.  One soldier wrote home "this is not war; it is the ending of the world".
All the hard times were in the future as the War Illustrated of 10th October shows them marching through the city of Marseilles in September 1914.  (The Germans would have the first sight of them at Hollelbeke on October 31st)
There must have been a lot of photographers on the streets because marching Indian troops in Marseilles is an image which appears in a number of postcards and publications but it does highlight those light weight uniforms. Over a million Indian soldiers would fight in World War One but those who were injured might  find themselves in the more congenial surroundings of
From the Royal Pavilion Museums of Brighton and Hove collection
the ornate Royal Brighton Pavilion which had been turned into a military hospital for Indian soldiers.  I would love to know who thought of using the Brighton Pavilion, certainly an inspired choice
Royal Pavilion at Dusk from Wikipedia
Just as the soldiers were settling down for another winter on the western front and might have been thinking that they were a lot warmer than the winter of 1914/15 in their late arriving uniforms the early months of 1916 saw the infantry divisions withdrawn (the cavalry remained behind)
Indian Cavalry from Europeana 1914-18 (Netherlands National Archive, Den Haag)
  and redeployed in Mesopotamia which henceforth would form their main scene of action.

 Indian perspectives of World War One:-
 "The Indian Sepoy in the First World War" by Santanu Das article on the British Library 'World War'
"The Last Post: letters home to India in the First World War" - Guardian 21 February 2014

Tuesday, 14 October 2014


Part of the fun for the spectators of the Tour de France is the the long caravan  that precedes the race and whose advertising vehicles are all sorts of shapes and sizes, the vehicle occupants also throw various objects out to the waiting crowds.  I never expected to see Miffy motoring down the road towards me this year when I was standing on the street of York  ready to watch Stage Two of the Tour.
She is riding along with her proper Dutch name of Nijntje ( a diminutive of konijntje meaning "little rabbit"), although the English speaking world knows her best as Miffy.  Being Dutch of course Nijntje rides a bicycle
but I wondered why she was in the Tour, then I found out that next year's start is from Utrecht, the home town of Miffy's creator, Dick Bruna.  The 2015 Stage One (the Grand Depart) on the 4th July will be a individual time trial through the city and Stage two will also start out from Utrecht.  I wonder if they will take in the square named after her Nijntepleintje which in Dutch rhymes, like the verses in Dick Bruna's Nijntje books.  Although he is most well known for the little rabbit (which he famously drew as female because he wanted to draw a dress rather than trousers) he has published many other children's books and produced book covers and illustrations for his family's publishing company, Bruna and Zoon.  Now well into his eighties he announced his retirement this year although I believe he is still riding his bicycle around Utrecht.

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a journey through the alphabet this week sojourning at N here

Friday, 10 October 2014


I inherited a bound set of The War Illustrated from my paternal grandparents. One hundred years after its publication I am delving into its pages to discover the people and their times.
The War Illustrated of 29th August 1914 (above) says "the French fleet are the most skilful and daring airmen in the world".  I think the British were rather in love with the dashing French airmen who flew in the skies before the Great War and their admiration continued into conflict. There is a dispute to whether the1909 Paris (Le Bourget) or the 1909 Berlin Air Show was the first in the world but the first British Air Show was at Blackpool in Lancashire on 18th October 1909 and it was a French aviator, Henri Farman. that came away with the prize for the length of his flight.  Here is a photograph by Walter Doughty, the Guardian's first ever staff photographer, of the event:-
 This year of 1909 also saw Louis Blériot made the first flight across the English Channel. 
Commemorative Poster of Blériot landing at Dover from Wikipedia
The Wright Brothers had only made the first powered flight in 1903 and a mere six years later air shows were taking place, suddenly all eyes were on the sky and the Blackpool event was attended by 200,000 spectators to be amazed at the marvels of flight.  They were not too overawed as they also managed to consume 36,000 bottles of beer, 40,000 dozen bottles of minerals, 500 cases of champagne, 600 cases of whiskey and just to keep body and soul together ate 500 hogshead, 1000 hams and 2000 pork pies. It is sad there will be no air show at Blackpool today as the recent owners, Balfour Beatty, have put it up for sale and from this month closed the airport down.  It is suspected that they do not expect a buyer and their ultimate interest is the land that will be more profitable for their house building interests.  Its a shame that the UK does not have a joined up transport policy, and it would be admirable if Blackpool retained commercial flights, but the airport has gone through many changes in its lifetime. Following a Flying Carnival in 1910 it changed into a racecourse (an unsuccessful venture) and during the First World War the land and buildings were used by the King's Lancashire Military as a Convalescent hospital.
The early aviators on outbreak of war turned their thoughts away from record breaking flights to reconnaissance flights and how to drop bombs from planes.   
and the War Illustrated of 3rd October 1914 showed one of their objectives as "Daring Raid on Düsseldorf by British Airmen"
The objective was the Zeppelin sheds and the magazine portrays two British airmen.  The one on the right is Captain Robin Gray but so far I have been unable to find a mention of him on the raid and only a question to whether he was called Grey or Gray (there are a number of Royal Flying Corps named Robin Grey/Gray).  I suppose an answer would be to consult the French National Archive on the Legion d'honneur recipients but they have not digitised their collection. We are on happier hunting grounds for Flight-Lieutenant Charles H Collet because the London Gazette of the 23rd October 1914 (p8509) reported:
"On 22nd September CH Collett, Royal Naval Air Service (Naval Wing of the Royal Flying Corp) flying a Sopwith Tractor biplane made a long flight and a successful attack on the German Zeppelin Aircraft Shed in Düsseldorf.
Collet's feat is notable - gliding down from 6,000 ft, the last 1,500 ft in mist, he finally came in sight of the Airship Shed at a hight of 400 ft, only a quarter of a mile away from it. 
Flight Lieutenant Matrix, acting under the order of Squadron Commander Spenser Grey, carried out a successful attack on the Düsseldorf Airship Shed during the afternoon of 8th October.  From a hight of 600 ft he dropped two bombs on the shed and flames 500 ft high were seen within thirty seconds.  The roof of the shed was also observed to collapse"
 The "map showing the country traversed" in the raid on both the Düsseldorf and Cologne sheds, for its time an amazing feat of navigation in unreliable aircraft and  in bad weather which obscured the target for three out of four pilots, in fact Spenser Grey couldn't find the sheds and bombed the railway station instead. Flight Lieutenant Reggie Matrix destroyed the Z9 and a dirigible but his machine was struck and damaged then he ran out of fuel 20 miles short of Antwerp on his return.  It is said he got back "by bicycle he got from a peasant and a car he took".  
Charles H Collet (4 Feb 1888-19 Aug 1915) received the DSO for his Düsseldorf raid but died in an aircraft accident on Imbros, Turkey and is buried on the Gallipoli peninsula.

For an informative and entertaining read on the "wildly optimistic" raids on the Zeppelin sheds see the article
"The Royal Naval Air Service in Antwerp, September-October 1914"  by Bridget Pollard (pdf here) on the British Commission for Military History site.

"100 Year of Flying from Blackpool " BBC Lancashire, 24 September 2009


Tuesday, 7 October 2014


Ah, life on the open road chugging along on 'Billy' the steamroller built in 1903
and still steaming at Blists Hill Victorian Town. Having done its rolling for the day it was time to manoeuvre it into the shed for the night
Through the gate, oh no, just too much to the right
Better reverse back to take another run at it. Left hand down a bit and then
full steam ahead with room to spare.

The driver took more than one run at the gates but I admired his manoeuvring ability on a machine that was built to go in a straight line.  I also rather liked the handle on the wheel that you spun it around with.   

The Steamroller was built by Wallis and Steevens of Basingstoke in Hampshire who started manufactured agricultural machinery from the 1840s and then expanded into road making equipment, it ceased to trade in 1981.  The steamroller's home is now Blists Hill, an Open Air Museum on an old industrial site recreating a Victorian town in the late 19th and early 20th century located near the Shropshire Canal.

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a journey through the alphabet, this week parking at M here.

Friday, 3 October 2014

Submarine E4 to the Rescue

The War Illustrated, 26th September 1914
Caption reads  -  "One incident in the naval action off Heligoland on August 28th reads more like a Jules Verne romance than cold fact.  The Defender, having sunk an enemy, lowered a whaler to pick up her swimming survivors.  An enemy's cruiser came up and chased away the Defender, who was forced to abandon her whaler.  Imagine the sailors feelings, alone in an open boat twenty-five miles from the nearest land, and that land an enemy's fortress with nothing but fog and foes around them! Suddenly, a swirl alongside, and up popped submarine E4, which opened its conning-tower, took them all aboard, dived, and carried them 200 miles home to Britain"
 Part of the E4's fame is that it carried out the first major rescue by a submarine.  I assume the incident shown is that rescue, the picture the writer paints is dramatic and combined with the cutaway by the artist, fascinating.  The "enemy fortress with nothing but fog and foes"
"German Fortification of Heligoland circa 1916" from The British Empire site
is Heligoland, inhabited since prehistoric times with ownership switching over the years, the last alteration in 1890 when Britain did a colonial swap with Germany -  Heligoland for Zanzibar which sounds rather like an imperial game of Monopoly.  Queen Victoria was not amused and railed  - what next, Gibraltar?  Today the population is just over a thousand.  I don't know what it was in 1914 but the inhabitants were all taken off the islands for the duration of the war and it became a German military fortress, part of the battle for the naval supremacy of the North Sea, of which the Battle of Heligoland Bight on 28th August 1914 was the start in World War 1.
The task for E4 in this battle was to attack retreating or reinforcing German ships.  As mentioned in the captioned drawing HMS Defender was attempting to rescue British sailors from the water but the light cruiser SMS Stettin appeared and opened fire making Defender retreat, however E4 had observed the action and launched a torpedo at Stettin, which missed.  Stettin then attempted to ram the submarine which promptly dived to escape.   When E4  eventually resurfaced the battle had moved on and she went to rescue the British crewmen still afloat  in small boats (also containing German sailors).  The Germans were left behind with a compass and directions to the mainland as the submarine was too small to take them all.

Built by Vickers at my local shipyard, Barrow in Furness, and launched in 1912 the E4 may have been lucky for the rescued seamen and lucky in battle but ironically its own disaster took place when least expected. Participating in an anti-submarine exercise in the North Sea in 1916 it collided with another submarine of the same class, the E41, took in water, and sank with all the crew (30).  (The Submariners Association Roll of Honour list here). The E4 was raised, repaired and recommissioned then after the war sold in 1922 to the Upnor Shipbreaking Company in Kent.

For an excellent illustrated history of the Battle of Heligoland Bight see the British Battles website which also mentions E4's participation thus : "British submarine HMS E4, one of the vessels from 8th ‘Oversea’ Submarine Flotilla, based in Harwich, that routinely patrolled in the Heligoland Bight, and that acted as ‘bait’ in the Heligoland operation on 28th August 1914.  E4 was commanded by Lieutenant Commander Leir .  She rescued the crew from HMS Dolphin’s whaler"

 Aerial view of Heligoland with the islet of Düne  in the background (from Wikipedia)

Tuesday, 30 September 2014


I love the seashore and so too do the people who own this beach chalet at Silecroft as they have woven it in fishing line and string on their fence. I took this looking out to sea
but had to give the photograph the 'lomo' treatment to boost the colour viewed from the 'right' side. The full sentiment is Peace and Love, the mantra of the sixties which the world could do with more of right now.

The steps to the chalet from the beach  are decorated with the flotsam and jetsum of the tide - nets, floats and lifebuoys;
including one lifebuoy from an old  fishing boat the Gertrude Ann which plies its trade in the Irish Sea and must have lost this on one of its trips.  September has been an unusually warm and calm month so the beach had little of interest for the beachcomber but the rougher winter seas will bring all manner of items.  You may have noticed that the windows of the hut have their protective boards on so no-one was in residence. I hope they notice this mound of string next time they visit
because a bit of sunshine yellow would add to their pallet of colours and perhaps this balloon tag the theme.
 Peace and Love

An entry to ABC Wednesday, a journey through the alphabet, this week sojourning at L here

Sunday, 28 September 2014


I have visited Antwerp twice, once by accident when taking the wrong exit off the ring road and once by intention for a longer stay because I was fascinated by what I saw on my first unintentional visit.  In my last War Illustrated post our French dragoons were looking for Germans and a few pages on in the same 29th August 1918 edition it was probably where they should have been galloping.
As the article implies Antwerp was considered the great redoubt built by the one of the leading fortification engineers of his time.  After Belgian independence in 1830 the city of Antwerp was proclaimed the National Safe Haven of Belgium, the last bastion of Belgian army in case of invasion by enemy troops and a safe haven from which to wait for help from allies.

As planned, the government, royal family and civil service in 1914 had decamped to Antwerp from Brussels to hold fast and the War Illustrated reported

"Gay, bright, picturesque Brussels has bravely prepared for the greater Waterloo.  The Government has been shifted to Antwerp, and the unfortified capital has opened to the enemy without a struggle. It had become a city of hospitals.  King Albert gave his splendid palace for hospital work and big hotel-keepers and large shop-owners turned their buildings into Red Cross institutions..."
"The immense fortress town, with triple belt of forts where the Belgians prepared for their last heroic stand"
The Gothic cathedral spire with its carillon bells still dominates the Antwerp skyline today as it does in the photograph and map. The optimism of holding the city for a year was ill founded as the Germans attacked with heavy artillery and on September 28th captured many of the outer ring forts.   The Belgian troops fought a rear guard action but were heavily outnumbered.  On October 1st the Belgium government sent a telegram to the British saying they would retreat in three days time.
Two more photographs of Antwerp and the Scheldt River that could be taken today.  In the background of the photograph on the right is Steen Castle
Steen Castle, Antwerp
where next month on the 3rd October 2014 a reconstruction of the pontoon footbridge across the River Scheldt to the Left Bank (Linkeroever) will be built by the Belgian and Dutch Engineering Corps and named the Peace Bridge. (See the Flanders Today article here)  Its purpose in 1914 was to be able to fortify the city with supplies and as a last resort be quickly evacuated. This was the route that the inhabitants would escape.
Belgians fleeing Antwerp to avoid entrapment (from 1914)
I have not found any pictures of that original pontoon bridge but the War Illustrated shows the rear guard in action
"Belgian rear-guard covering retirement"
And a reminder that after perfect weather the harvest of 1914 had been especially good
"Fighting Amongst the harvest. The Belgians and their black helmets with wheat-stalks to escape notice until they fire"

The pictures of the fleeing populace down tree lined avenues remind me that a hundred years later civilians are still fleeing violence in huge numbers in the Middle East.  Lets hope that in a hundred years time they too will live on a continent of peace. 
Antwerp surrendered on 9 October 1914 and one in five Belgians fled the country some to the Netherlands, France or Britain.   The Germans had a scorched earth policy because of the fear of guerrilla action.
"The rear of the German Army leaving Mouland burnt and sacked"

The village of Mouland or Moelingen in the photograph is near the Meuse river and was rebuilt after the war when the streets were widened and the central square enlarged.
"The railway from Landen to St Trond, destroyed by the Belgians to hinder the German advance".
(This was 6 miles of a single line of track first opened to traffic on 6 October 1839 )