Monday 18 September 2017

A last look at the White Cliffs of Dover and the battlefields of the Somme

Leaving from Newhaven and looking back - not sure at all whether World War One troops left via this route. (The idea is to follow up some of the stories featured in our WW1 project, Heart of Conflict).
But what a last view of home.
From Dieppe, follow up very modern motorways to Amiens and beyond.
First stop: Albert, the heart of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1016. What do people who live here now think of this?
The town - and all the villages around - are totally reconstructed. This was the Front Line for so many years.
The crater at Lochnagar moved me to tears. It is so huge - the scale of the trees on the far edge show just how big it is. However: the explosion was just short of the German lines. British generals had hoped that this huge crater (still one of the biggest non-nuclear explosions ever) would blast the Germans from their trenches. It killed many - but didn't ensure a successful attack. Far from it. More than 6,000 British soldiers were mown down by German bullets as they advanced.

Many years later, an eye witness said that he had entered packed German trenches soon after the explosion and seen many many men killed by concussion, due to huge tremors caused by the explosion.
But the German line held in many places. The inscription on this bench is poignant: 'From Friends Who Visit To Friends Who Remain'.
An Englishman bought the crater site so that the French farmer who owned it wouldn't fill it in. It is now a hugely moving and endearing monument to the dead.

Loved the inscription on this: added flowers to the hook someone
had screwed on to the board

In nearby Pozieres  - a German stronghold - we find a memory of a soldier from Camborne. H.Y. Buscombe, who  - from memory - was at Camborne School of Mines.
There are only (!) 2,000 graves here, but it seems as if there are many, many more.
For the first time the scale of the slaughter becomes clear. All around the area are cemeteries, sited where battalions killed their dead. So many.
The memorial at Thiepval, designed by Edward Lutyens, is extraordinary.
Arrived during a thunderstorm and downpour so did not take photos. But am sure that professionals have done better (a quick Google search will demonstrate, am sure).
Pozieres cemetery: British dead during the Somme

H.Y. Buscombe of Camborne (I believe) on the Pozieres memorial

Sunday 17 September 2017

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

Just off to visit the World War One battlefields in France - so fitting to walk past the tomb of the Unknown Soldier in Westminster Abbey yesterday. A soldier 'unknown by name or by rank' - burried ' among the Kings because he had done good toward God and toward his house'.
In France, we'll try to find the graves of the soldiers that we've featured in our World War One project, Heart of Conflict.

Wednesday 13 September 2017

On the trail of Captain Blackwood

More on Captain William Blackwood, mentioned in our last post, who led a party of Cornish miners to the Western Front in 1914.  He was held in such respect in the town for so many years after the war that it's surprising so little is known of him now.  But 100 years have passed, after all.
This entry in the British Medical Journal bears witness to his heroism:

The British Medical Journal
Vol. 2, No. 3012 (Sep. 21, 1918), pp. 328-331

Monday 11 September 2017

Captain William Blackwood and his brother

Another lead to follow: Dr William Blackwood, later Captain Blackwood, led a group of Cornish miners from Dolcoath mine, near Redruth, to the Front in 1914. The men had been members of the St John Ambulance brigade at the mine.   Capt. Blackwood survived the war, and was a prominent figure in Camborne, the neighbouring town, for many years afterwards.
We've been trying to track down his family history and so far drawing a blank - apart from his brother, Col. F.S Blackwood, who drowned 'while saving life' in British Guiana. Reported in the press on 25/8/1926.

Volunteer World War One nurses in Cornwall

 'Back to School' ... and sorting through notebooks after this last stage of Heart of Conflict, our project on Cornwall during World War One.
We found so many leads and stories - it's a shame if they go to waste.
Noting down details of these women who were attached to Redruth Officers Auxiliary Hospital at Scorrier House - before they disappear again into lost time ...
All were VADs - Voluntary Aid Detachments, all trained in First Aid and some in nursing, cooking, hygiene and sanitation.  The majority of VADs did volunteer with the hope of being nurses, and were trained by the Red Cross.  Voluntary Aid Detachments were formed by the Red Cross and the Order of St John (the St John Ambulance Association).

World War One nurse's uniform created at
the Royal Cornwall Museum, Truro 
for  Heart of Conflict

  • Philippa Grylls Permewan, Chapel Street, Redruth.  Period of service 22/10/1917-18/1/1919.
    Worked one whole day/ week.  There was a doctor called William Permewan in Redruth at the time - and many other doctors in fact of the same name. Perhaps Philippa was a relation.
  • Mrs May Jago, Marazion. Assistant cook. 24/1/1918- 6/3/1918
  • Miss Ethel Olds, Letcha Vean, St Just. 5/1917-8/1917. Head cook, VA Hospital, Penzance
  • Miss Geraldine Peacock, c/o 112 Harley Street.  Truro Infirmary, March 2-November 15 1917. At Scorrier from 9/1/1918-31/12/1918
  • Helen Dorothy de Cerjat, engaged as a Red Cross volunteer 2/12/1917-20/2/1918
  • Margaret Rich, Lenfred House, Redruth - 7/1/1918-28/2/1918. Previously engaged at Camborne Auxiliary Military Hospital. Staff maid - 7/1/1918-30/11/1918 - at Scorrier. In charge of staff rooms. Worked 555 hours.
  • Mary Florence Willians, staff maid. 2/10/1917-18/1/1919. Collecting ward furniture and returning same. Staff maid one day/week
  • Elsie Mills, Torfrey, Par Station. March 2 1918-April 3 1918. Parlourmaid. Waiting tables etc. (This may be the T Mills in the photorgaph with L. Opie).
  • Mrs Lucy Opie, Penrose, Clinton Road, Redruth. 22/10/1917-13/4/1918. Matron, Nurses' hostel.
  • Sybil Molesworth St Aubyn
  • Major John Williams, Commandant. 22 October 1917- 11 January 1919.
(Sources: Red Cross WW1 archives).

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