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Howitzer of the Somme

Posted By on April 30, 2022

"Mother" the 9.2 inch Howitzer B.L. Mk. 1 at the Imperial War Museum, London. (P. Ferguson image, September 2005)

“Mother” the 9.2 inch Howitzer B.L. Mk. 1 at the Imperial War Museum, London.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2005)

Mother…Film…

It takes a while…the penny drops…the pictures produce the synapses (the passing of messages to communicate). Having returned to 2005 I find my file of images for the 9.2 inch dazzle painted “gun” at the Imperial War Museum. Surely, at the time, I will do something with these? And surely I did…mind 17 years have passed and Mother has been re-situated in the museum. (Reminder AKA note to self: take the 148 bus from London Victoria to IWM). Soon perhaps soon. (There are the new IWM exhibits to visit and appreciate). Back to the current session. Segues…they interject with the passing of self messages to communicate. One must appreciate the sparks…we are firing on all cylinders today. Yet the best of this….our discovery…not so much a finding…the information was always available. Mother is the original prototype gun that can be seen in the Arthur “Geoffrey” Herbert Malin’s and John McDowell’s 1916 film, The Battle of the Somme.

Malins was born in Hastings, Sussex, England and worked as a photographer and subsequently joined the Croydon, England based Clarendon Film Company before working with the Gaumont Film Company in France. With Gaumont, Malins filmed the Belgian army in action during the fall of 1914. His work continued through 1915 when the British War Department chose Malins as an official cameraman…his technology..,. the Aeroscope Camera, a hinged wood box, with cogwheels and chains driven by a self-cranked external handle…its lens focused on the subject at hand…with or without a sturdy tripod.

Geoffrey Malins at St. Eloi with Aeroscope Camera. (Image from How I Filmed the War, 1920)

Geoffrey Malins at St. Eloi with Aeroscope Camera.
(Image from How I Filmed the War, 1920)

The War Department was initially approached in 1915 by the Kinematograph Manufacturers Association about the possibilities of having two official cameramen attached to the British Expeditionary Force. Malins was one choice, Edward Tong of Portsmouth the second. Some of Tong’s film work of which he shot 3,600 feet in all, was incorporated into Britain Prepared (1915). Tong also worked in France but in December 1915 was invalided home and John McDowell of The British and Colonial Film Company joined Malins in his work. By this time, June 1916, Malins had created 26 films, been wounded twice and gassed. Badly shaken by explosions Malins had at one time been deafened. Together, Malins and McDowell filmed in two different locations on the Somme. McDowell was assigned to the 7th Division near Mametz and Malins to the 29th Division at Hawthorn Ridge. After filming the duo returned to London with 8,000 feet of film for processing.

Hawthorn Ridge mine explosion filmed by Geoffrey Malins, 1916.

The 77-minute film was a tremendous success being seen by more than 20,000,000 viewers. Family and friends hoping perhaps to catch a glimpse of those they knew well…or maybe that fellow they passed by every day on the way to the baker or butcher. Just one glimpse they hoped…and so they came. Malins’ work showed the harsh reality of war including the dead…he reflected on the depictions, I really thought that some of the dead scenes would offend the British public. And yet why should they? It is only a very mild touch of what is happening day after day, week after week, on the bloody plains of France and Belgium. (Malins. How I Filmed the War, p. 183). For his wartime film work, Malins was awarded the Medal of the Order of the British Empire…the citation records, For courage and devotion to duty. Has carried on his work as official photographer in circumstances of great difficulty and danger. (London Gazette, 7 June 1918, page 6897).

Geoffrey Malins filming on the Somme, France. (How I Filmed the War)

Geoffrey Malins filming on the Somme, France.
(How I Filmed the War)

Malins other wartime work included, The German Retreat and the Battle of Arras (1917). By the spring of 1917 Malins had become ill and was required to take sick leave. Returning to the Western Front in January 1918 he remained unwell and was discharged June 1918.  After the war Malins founded the Garrick Film Company (1919-1921). With Garrick, Malins filmed a scene depicting a German air raid on London for the 1919 production Patricia Brent, Spinster. Becoming somewhat of an adventurer after his film company faltered, Malins adventures took him abroad, attempting to fly around the world (ending in India), attempting to motorcycle and sidecar around the world (returned successfully). Malins died in South Africa in 1940.

…and yet there remains our impetus for today…

Mother…so much more than a dusty relic of a bygone age…what can the Great War teach us after all these years? In this instance take heed in all that we have seen…return to it…there is always something that can speak if we choose to hear. Synapes…segues…today we started with the Imperial War Museum’s 9.2in Howitzer and journeyed to the film-makers of the Somme. I have stood at these sites on the France and Flanders where Malins, McDowell and Tong once turned the crank on their moving picture cameras.

Mother remains in static position at the Imperial War Museum…today Mother…has been repainted to its original colour. I have stood before Mother…the engineering…the previous dazzle…now its deep green…and watched others gaze upon the machine…What are they thinking – aged and youth?…and I segue..1977…a novel about a machine…a university study…the spark continues…another day…another day…thanks to one not so dusty, not bygone age but one that continues to speak if we chose to hear it.

Mother in its repainted "original" colour scheme, Imperial War Museum, London, England. (P. Ferguson image, September 2016)

Mother in its repainted “original” colour scheme, Imperial War Museum, London, England.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2016)

Langstaff’s Spirtualist Theme

Posted By on March 29, 2022

Image from a hotel wall, Menin Gate at Midnight by Will Langstaff, 1927. (P. Ferguson image, September 2004)

Image from a hotel wall, Menin Gate at Midnight by Will Langstaff, 1927.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2004)

Presence and Present

Ypres (Ieper) one of my favorite places to visit, not only as the small city is paramount to many of my immediate interests of the Great War, but now having visited often I simply like the town. The square with its shops for browsing, grazing and watering, the canal and the ramparts, good friends and good visits. Just a pleasant wander – the buildings – so to for its other histories – remember there is a city museum here that can take one well beyond the pain of the Great War’s few years.

But, however, it is the Great War that brought me here first – the Menin Gate Memorial, the Last Post, St. George’s Chapel, the Cloth Hall, St. Martin’s Cathedral, the In Flanders Fields Museum…and of course the nearby gatherings of loss. All so very powerful. My first visit here was in 2004…and at our place of temporary residence there, upon the wall, was a copy of the Will Langstaff’s painting, Menin Gate at Midnight. The painting was completed possibly in a single session in 1927 after the artist, Langstaff attended the dedication of the Menin Gate Memorial, 24 July 1927. Langstaff’s vision was that of soldier ghosts wearing steel helmets rising from the nearby cornfields near to the memorial. Similar works by Langstaff, all publicly held, include Immortal Shrine (Spirits at the cenotaph Whitehall, 1928. Australian War Memorial), The Ghosts of Vimy Ridge (Canadian soldiers, 1931. Railway Committee Room, Parliament of Canada), and Carillon (New Zealand soldiers, 1932. New Zealand Archives).

Menin Gate Memorial. (P. Ferguson image, September 2017)

Menin Gate Memorial.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2017)

Menin Gate at Midnight is held by the Australian War Memorial, Canberra having been purchased in 1928 for 2,ooo guineas (~£21,000) by Lord Woolavington. The painting was shown at Buckingham Palace to King George V and members of the Royal Family. Afterwards the painting was exhibited at Manchester and Glasgow before proceeding to Australia where it also toured to large crowds at paid venues. Two-thousand prints were created under the supervision of artist Langstaff of which 400 prints were given to the emergent Australian War Memorial to raise monies for a museum.

James Buchanan, philanthropist. Vanity Fair 1907. Caricature by Spy. (Wiki Image)

James Buchanan, philanthropist. Vanity Fair 1907. Caricature by Spy.
(Wiki Image)

The philanthropist James Buchanan, 1st Baron Woolavington, was born in Brockville, Ontario, Canada but raised in Larne, County Antrim, Ireland. A successful businessman he had made a considerable fortune bottling Scotch whisky, beginning in 1884, known as the Buchanan Blend or Black and White Whisky. Buchanan’s success was known to the tables of the British House of Commons, Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York and by 1909 was the best selling Scotch whisky in England. Apart from his original blend and other whisky ventures Buchanan invested in bottle manufacturing, tea chest manufacturing and was a racehorse owner and breeder. His land holdings included properties in Kenya, Argentina and a 20,000-acre British Columbia fruit farm that he co-owned with Lord Abderdeen. Married to Annie Eliza Bardolph Pounder in 1891, Annie served as a nurse in London during the Great War and died in October 1918. No record of her burial was found in Commonwealth War Graves records.

Spiritualism became an important post-war movement in Britain following the Great War as the nation struggled with its collective grief. Most families had suffered loss and two well known Spiritualists were Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Rudyard Kipling. Both men lost a son in the Great War. Captain Arthur Alleyne Kingsley Conan Doyle, 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, died 1 November 1918 and Lieutenant John Kipling, 2nd Battalion Irish Guards, died 27 September 1915.

And so one always wonders, as one does, when they allow themselves to free-form through the connectiveness of history – that one chance of happenstance – spirits on a wall – to Langstaff – to Buchanan – to nurses and the wounded, to fathers and their lost sons, whisky and cornfields – so long ago and yet here we are…one painting on an Ypres hotel…whether spirts roam or not…the communication is in the presence and present.

The cornfields near Ypres (Ieper), Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, August 2018)

The cornfields near Ypres (Ieper), Belgium.
(P. Ferguson image, August 2018)

 

Great War Honours to the Canadian Scottish

Posted By on February 27, 2022

Canadian Orchards, Festubert, France. Captured by the 16th Battalion CEF, 20 May 1915. Image by Lieutenant Colonel William Rae DSO a veteran of the battle. (Canadian Scottish Museum)

Canadian Orchards near La Quinque Rue, Festubert, France. Captured by the 16th Battalion CEF, 20 May 1915.
Image by Lieutenant Colonel William Rae DSO a veteran of the battle.
(Canadian Scottish Museum)

1915 and the 16th Canadian Infantry Battalion

Distinguished Service Order

Major Gilbert Godson-Godson DSO
London Gazette: 22 June 1915
Awarded on the occasion of His Majesty’s Birthday. No citation.

Occupation: City of Vancouver. Department Head.

Prior service: Second Boer War (Corps of Guides and South African Constabulary. Awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal and Mentioned in Despatches). Natal Rebellion 1906 (Royston’s Horse,), Canadian Militia:  72nd Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada).

Wounded: 24 April 1915. Gun shot wound face and neck.

Awarded the French Officier Ordre du Mérite Agricole (7-10-1919) and brought to notice of the Secretary of State for War for valuable services rendered in connection with the war (7 August 1917). Later Lieutenant Colonel (23 January 1916). Died (7 June 1954).

Major Gilbert Godson-Godson DSO. (Imperial War Museum image, London).

Major Gilbert Godson-Godson DSO.
(Imperial War Museum image, London)

See also Godson-Godson Canadian Military Police Virtual Museum

Captain Frank Morison DSO
London Gazette: 25 August 1915

For conspicuous gallantry and ability May 20th 1915 when he commanded the leading Company in the attack on the Orchard at La Quinque Rue. He captured the enemy’s position which was of primary importance under heavy shrapnel, rifle and machine gun fire.

Occupation: Barrister at Law.

Prior Service: 91st Regiment (Canadian Highlanders “Argyles”).

Mentioned in Despatches (1 January 1916). Awarded the French Médaille d’Honneur avec glaives en Vermeil (5-11-1920). Later Major (3 November 1915) and Lieutenant Colonel (Date Unknown).

Distinguished Conduct Medal

29519 Sergeant Bernard Charles Lunn DCM
26 June 1915

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty near St. Julien on the morning of 23rd April 19115, following a night attack, in twice going out under fire and dressing a man who was badly wounded in the arm and covering him with a blanket.

Occupation: House Decorator (Painter).

Prior Service: British Army: Hants Territorials and possibly Royal Garrison Artillery. Canadian Militia.

Wounded: Shrapnel wound left foot and knee (4 September 1916).

Died: Vancouver, B.C. (27 August 1976).

28874 Company Sergeant Major John Dougall DCM
22 June 1915

For conspicuous gallantry at St. Julien on night of 22nd-23rd April 1915 during an attack on a wood – this Non-Commissioned Officer placed himself at the head of a party of men belonging to another Battalion who had no Officer or leader with them, and cleared a farm beyond the wood of greatly superior numbers of the enemy.

Occupation: Moulder.

Prior Service: British Army (1st King’s Own Scottish Borderers).

Wounded: Ypres. Shrapnel wounds (Rifle Grenade) right shoulder and neck. (19 April 1916).

Missing presumed killed 8/9 October 1916.
Medals and decorations, memorial plaque and scroll, memorial cross forwarded to wife. Mrs. Margaret Dougall, 24 Stewart Road, Falkirk, Scotland.
Commemorated on the Vimy Memorial, France.

Kitcheners' Wood 22 April 1915 Memorial to the 10th and 16th Battalions CEF. Created in 1997 by the Vrjie Basisscheool, St. Juliaan, Belgium. (P. Ferguson image, September 2013)

Kitcheners’ Wood 22 April 1915 Memorial to the 10th and 16th Battalions CEF.
Created in 1997 by the Vrjie Basisscheool, St. Juliaan, Belgium.
(P. Ferguson image, September 2013)

Mentioned in Despatches [No Citations]

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gilmour Edwards Leckie
London Gazette: 22 June 1915

Occupation: Consulting Engineer.

Prior Service: Royal Military College, Second Boer War (2nd Canadian Mounted Rifles), 75th Regiment (Lunenburg Regiment), 8th Hussars (Princess Louise New Brunswick Regiment of Cavalry), 72nd Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada).

Wounded: Gun shot wound both thighs (17 May 1916).

Created a Companion of the Order of St. Michael and St. George (15-June-1916) and awarded the Volunteer Officer’s Decoration (1918).  Later Brigadier General (12 August 1915), Major General. Commanded Military District 11, Victoria, B.C. Died Vancouver, B.C. (22 June 1923).

Robert Gilmour Edward Leckie holding a German pickelhaube. (Image courtesy Canadian Scottish Museum).

Lieutenant Colonel Robert Gilmour Edward Leckie holding a German pickelhaube.
(Image courtesy Canadian Scottish Museum).

Captain Cecil Mack Merritt
London Gazette: 22 June 1915

Occupation: Broker.

Prior Service: 10th Regiment (Royal Grenadiers), 72nd Regiment (Seaforth Highlanders of Canada).

Killed in Action 24 April 1915
Commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium.
Medals and decorations, memorial plaque and scroll, memorial cross forwarded to wife Mrs. Sophie Almon Merritt, 2050 Barclay Street, Vancouver B.C. Second memorial cross forwarded to mother Mrs. Mary B. Merritt, 8 Summer Place, London, S.W., England.

Father of Cecil Ingersoll Merritt VC.

Captain Cecil Mack Merritt. (Canadian Virtual War Memorial)

Captain Cecil Mack Merritt.
(Canadian Virtual War Memorial)

29524 Corporal Gerald Coussmaker Heath
London Gazette: 22 June 1915

Occupation: Bank Clerk.

Prior Service: Canadian Militia (Unit not known).

Education: Wellington College, Berkshire, England.

Killed in Action 22 April 1915
Commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium.
Son of Susan Wilhelmina Heath and the later Colonel Lewis Forbes Heath (Indian Army), “Failand”, Paignton, Devon, England.
Medals and decorations, memorial plaque and scroll, memorial cross forwarded to mother Mrs. Susan Wilhemina Heath.
Brother of Sir Lewis Macclesfield Heath KBE, CB, CIE, DSO, MC (British Indian Army).

29047 Lance Corporal Alfred William Minchin
London Gazette: 22 June 1915

Occupation: Deliveryman.

Prior Service: Nil.

Wounded: Gun shot wound thigh and leg (21 May 1915).

Awarded Military Medal (11 October 1916). Died Vancouver, B.C. (13 May 1974).

29418 Private John William Bizley
London Gazette: 22 June 1915

Occupation: Electrical Contractor.

Prior Service: British Army: 5th Battalion East Surrey Regiment. Canadian Militia: 91st Regiment (Canadian Highlanders “Argyles”).

Wounded: Hill 60 severe shrapnel wound left buttock. Severed sciatic nerve (4 August 1916).

Later Lieutenant (24 July 1916)

Foreign Awards 

Order of St. Anne (4th Class), Russia

Lieutenant Victor Alexander MacLean
25 August 1915

Occupation: Broker.

Prior Service: Six weeks civil aide force, Nanaimo, B.C. coal miners’ strike.

Wounded and Missing: Ypres right buttock (26 April 1915). Later Reported Prisoner of War at Crefeld, Strohen Kreis Sulingen, Holzminden, arrived Holland for internment, repatriated and arrived Ripon , Yorkshire 18 November 1918.

Awarded the Military Cross announced in Supplement to the London Gazette 30 January 1920, page 1219.
In recognition of gallant conduct and determination displayed in escaping or attempting to escape from captivity which services have been brought to notice in accordance with the terms of Army Order 193 of 1919. To be dated 5 May 1919. Later Captain.

Great War Canadian officers interned in Holland.

“Interned in Holland.”
Photo taken at Schevenigen of Canadian officers taken prisoner of war at the Second Battle of Ypres. Captain B.L. Johnston (3rd Battalion CEF), Major R.Y. Cory (15th Battalion CEF “48th Highlanders”), Lieutenant V.A. MacLean (16th Battalion CEF “Canadian Scottish”), Lieutenant F.W. MacDonald (15th Battalion CEF “48th Highlanders”).
From Canada Magazine, an Illustrated Weekly Journal.

You Cast Thy Shadow Upon My Head

Posted By on January 29, 2022

From the water looking towards the Siege Bell Memorial. (P. Ferguson image, April 2005)

From the water looking towards the Siege Bell Memorial.
(P. Ferguson image, March 2005)

Malta’s Siege Bell Memorial

With commanding views of the Grand Harbour, Valletta, Malta’s Siege Bell Memorial is located at the lower part of St. Christopher Bastion. The Siege of Malta occurred between June 1940 to November 1942 became one of the most heavily bombed areas of the Second World War. The island of Malta was of strategic significance to the Mediterranean, being located between Italy and Africa. In recognition of the courage of its citizens and defenders the island was awarded the George Cross, now exhibited at the National War Museum, Fort St. Elmo, Valletta, Malta.

The Siege bell and resting soldier. The Grand Harbour in the background. (P. Ferguson image, April 2005)

The Siege bell and resting soldier. The Grand Harbour in the background.
(P. Ferguson image, March 2005)

In 1992 Queen Elizabeth II unveiled the memorial. The memorial’s rotunda houses a great 13-tonne bronze Santa Maria bell ornamented with the Madonna in flames. A bronze soldier rests upon another pedestal symbolizing the losses of the second great siege. Every day at noon the bell rings for two minutes in remembrance. Several commemorative plaques are also on site of which a memorial tablet in Latin references Psalm 140, You cast thy shadow upon my head during the time of war 1940-1943.

The memorial and sculpture were designed by Michael Sandle, R.A.

Projice umbram tuam super caput meum. (P. Ferguson image, April 2005)

Projice umbram tuam super caput meum.
(P. Ferguson image, March 2005)

 

Christmas Day 1918…a story

Posted By on December 24, 2021

...and three bells sounded...

…and three bells sounded…

The bells had fallen…hum, prime, tierce and quint…

It was well past Remembrance Sunday. MacKendricks sat at the small round table and reattached each medal to the fabric backing. These were his medals, each ribbon with the small brass pins his wife had sewn on many years ago. How long ago was it he thought…her face passed by his eyes again and again… the same glow, the eyes he once knew and still recognized in his memories.

First, he raised a trophy of arms with the Queen – China he mumbled – centered at the top. He raised the bronze star to its place on the left, then the silver one in the middle and next the brass angel on the right…the one whose rainbowed ribbon still held the stitch remnants that once held an oakleaf long since slipped away. MacKendricks screwed up his nose as he often did, held it there briefly and released. Finally, he raised, both medals to the bottom of the frame, the purple and white ribboned one and a cross from Belgium…oh that one…oh yes, the other one too.

MacKendricks sat back, the frame resting on its support until he stood up, picked up the frame, hand to either side, and placed them on the wall’s nail. That nail, the one slightly bent that always fell the wrong way round when he took the medals down. MacKendricks stood back, chuntering away, and drew from the pottery mug a long taste of stout…it was good.

Somewhere in Flanders…Vlamerhoek…after the barrage…a town once shaken and still vibrating to its core the bells had fallen. And it is here where MacKendricks met the church bells…fine specimens they were that once called this town’s people together. There they laid…and MacKendricks watched over them removing the litter of war from their profiles and immensity. For the while he remained in the area, he visited the bells every day. MacKendricks was a bellfounder…and these works of sound, now dormant, called to him in their mute silence. And so, each day MacKendricks found a way, he rose them from the ground to wooden supports he fabricated. He raised them as he screwed up his nose, arms in the air supporting the beam into position and once placed released his facial pressure and snorted. MacKendricks visited each day for weeks and there they stood together again…three bells. Two soldiers of the regiment assisted him…one soldier for each bell…he was pleased…an extra rum ration for good work done.

A treasured card sent to Geof from Uncle Dick, December 1918.

A treasured card sent to Geof from Uncle Dick, December 1918.

With orders to move to Armentières, MacKendricks visited the bells one last time – Christmas Day 1918. The war over for some five weeks and as he struck the bells to hear their sound, town folk who had only just returned heard their voice…the distinct call of bells once wounded now on the rise. Once, twice, three and four times…then five and six until folk arrived with the striking of MacKendricks last great dense pound of the swinging wooden beam. He stood unknowingly to those who stood behind. And as the bell’s hum, prime, tierce and quint began to fade, he heard their voices, the town’s folk rise in chorus…in joy…these were their bells…this was their song – for him.

Now to the Thistle he thought…it was not Christmas 1918 it was Christmas some other time or other, after another great war…great war two he felt. Could they not have learned from the other? MacKendricks closed his eyes and saw his Emily, looked at his one Christmas card from 1916…together again one day we will be. MacKendricks screwed up his nose, the memories continued…what will I do with them he wondered…these medals…where are my friends who make winter warm? He padded the weeping eye dry and closed the door stepping into the dark towards The Thistle, where his chuntering was well known to others on this, the day of days and three bells sounded in Belgium.

…to be continued…Christmas 2022…

—————◊—————

Merry Christmas to one and all.
MacKendricks and associated characters are from the imagination of the author.
See also…
MacKendricks and the Thistle
December 2017