Archives for WW1


A Hundred Years Before [Poetry]

War Memorial in Boubers-sur-Canche, France (photo: James Kemp) I wrote the first draft of A Hundred Years Before after visiting a cemetery in France in Boubers sur Canche near Arras. It wasn't one of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries, it was an ordinary French commune cemetery, but it had over a hundred graves of French soldiers killed in action during August 1914. On reflection I realised that British soldiers, and before that the constituent nations fielded soldiers in the same place as the legions of WW1 we're currently remembering publicly. Let's not forget their forebears. A Hundred Years Before Here I stand now, near the border of France and Belgium. The cockpit of Europe. A hundred years before, others stood here. British soldiers who fought, and died, with the French against the Germans on this soil. Le sale Boche.…
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Pte William McColgan MM – Died of Wounds 9th June 1917

Portrait of W. McColgan. Image kindly provided by Marlborough memorial project (2009). Image has no known copyright restrictions. Private William McColgan MM was my great, great-uncle. His older sister Mary married John Kemp in 1900, William would have been ten years old then. Before the War William McColgan was born in 1890 in Old Kilpatrick. His mother was Catherine Mulholland and his father Patrick McColgan. On the 1891 census he had three older siblings, and more were to follow. Sometime before WW1 started he emigrated from Scotland to New Zealand. He worked for a Mr Lucas on Opawa Farm near Blenheim at the north end of the South Island. I couldn't find this on the map, the current Opawa Farm is several hundred miles to the South near Christchurch. I assume that he worked on a farm near the Opawa…
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Education – Using Somme War Diaries

This post is an attempt at education using war diaries to show on what officers did and how that affected casualties at the Battle of the Somme in 1916. This, and its follow ons, was inspired by a Twitter conversation after Friday's post. I was asked about whether other ranks were sacrificed at the Battle of the Somme by officers. It was a form of Alan Clarke's fallacy Lions led by donkeys. Here's the tweet. There are three parts to answering the questions. What did officers do in WW1 battles? What are the relative numbers of officers and other ranks in WW1 infantry battalions? (and how did this change as the battle progressed?) What do the casualties tell us? Method of Education For the first question I went back to my WW1 bookshelves. There are a few relevant tomes. I also drew on…
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Battle of the Somme 1916

Today is the centenary of the first infantry attacks in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Zero Hour was 07:30, and at that point the whistles blew and the infantry began their advance across no-man's land towards the German trenches. The infantry attack was preceded by over a week's artillery bombardment of one and a half million shells. A couple of minutes before H-hour several mines were detonated under the main German positions. Public Perceptions of the Battle of the Somme The Badly Shelled Road to Bapaume (21 Sept 1916) By Lt Ernest Brooks, via Wikimedia Commons This image gives the general public perception of WW1 in general, and the Battle of the Somme in particular. It is from the Battle of the Somme, but from 20th September 1916 rather than 1st July. The Somme battle was what churned…
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Britain’s Worst Rail Disaster – Quintinshill

Quintinshill Conspiracy The Quintinshill Conspiracy: The Shocking True Story Behind Britain's Worst Rail Disaster by Adrian Searle and Jack Richards My rating: 4 of 5 stars This is a forensic examination of Britain's worst train crash, which happened 100 years ago today. The authors got some material released early from the National Archives and also went through all the contemporary newspaper reports to painstakingly re-evaluate what happened. Their conclusion was that justice wasnt really done, and the normal inquiry process was cut short, probably because of the war. This meant that those truly responsible didn't face the consequences, nor were improvements in safety implemented as a result. The situation at Quintinshill was complex, the additional burden of wartime traffic, while still being expected to prioritise civilian express trains made life difficult for the railway signallers. The crash happened because of a…
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