February 2017
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Dol Fodha na Grèine

Posted By on February 13, 2017

Private M. Morrison, 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. Son of John Morrison of Cross, Ness, Stornoway. Age 20.

Private M. Morrison, 2nd Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. Son of John Morrison of Cross, Ness, Stornoway. Killed April 25, 1915, age 20.

This Valentine’s Day…at the going down of the sun….

There it stood, at the base of one Scottish soldier’s tablet…here at Seaforth Cemetery, Cheddar Villa.

I am reminded of this image…this day…for its simplicity…its connection to a gravesite without mention of those who brought it here. Though it speaks to one it speaks to many.

Did you know?

Saint Valentine of Rome was imprisoned for performing marriages of soldiers who were forbidden to marry.

Imagery associated with Valentine’s Day includes winged cupids, heart shapes and doves. In context of the Great War angels…love and peace….remember them well.

Private Morrison graveside at Seaforth Cemetery Cheddar Villa.

The marker at Private Morrison’s place of rest.

The Weatherproof Fabric Trench Coat

Posted By on December 29, 2016

Detail from Burberry advertisement, Canada Weekly, January 1, 1916.

Standing in a trench filling with water during a torrential downpour. Detail from Burberry advertisement, Canada Magazine an Illustrated Weekly Journal, January 1, 1916.

Everything the Officer Needs

Every day I visit with my computer and cross paths with a well-known search engine and its equally well-known doodle. Today was a surprise as the doodle has provided the impetus to make use of its content together with some of my own Great War research kept on hand for just such a serendipitous moment.

GOOGLE, today, featured Charles Macintosh whose birthday occurred 250 years ago this day. Macintosh, born in Glasgow, Scotland in 1766 is the inventor of waterproof fabric and today his name, given to the well known men’s garment, is perhaps not as well known as the coat itself. However, where, pray tell, can we take today’s Macintosh doodle and celebration and apply waterproof fabric and the garment to some aspect of the Great War?

Very simply…to bad weather and advertising of the day. In Canada Magazine, an Illustrated Weekly Journal there is amongst its pages several classified advertisements for men’s trench garments including those made by Kenneth Durward (Conduit Street, London); Robinson and Cleaver (Regent Street, London); Morris (Sackville Street, London) and Burberry (Haymarket, London, Basingstoke, also available from provincial agents and of course Paris). There may well be other manufacturers spread intermittently throughout the Canada Magazine’s pages but, for today, these names are a fine gathering of haberdashery, especially for officers on campaign.

Battle in the mud and rain. Scene from the Paul Gross film, Passchendaele, 2008.

The Tielocken advertisements by Burberry are accompanied by much internal and lavish praise from its manufacturer, “Such comprehensive security that every part of the body is kept warm, dry and comfortable during the prolonged exposure that campaigning entails…the favourite weatherproof amongst Officers…Officers wishing their Tielocken Coats to be ABSOLUTELY WATERPROOF, regardless of hygiene, may have them interlined [with] impervious material without extra cost.” The black and white line illustrations of the Burberry ads feature a dapper officer, shown in a distinctive modelling pose with or without trench system, with or without weather hardships. “IMPERVIOUS TO RAIN, SLEET, SNOW, OR WATER WET, BUT NOT AIR-TIGHT. PROOF AGAINST WIND. LUXURIOUSLY WARMING”. Price: £5 5s in serge or £6 6s in whipcord. Apart from the Tielocken other varieties of Burberry all weather gear, included the Trench Warm Burberry and the Trench Coverall Kit.

Competitor Morris, the Civil and Military Tailor established in 1890, spoke equally of their Morris Trench Coat, “Equipped with this splendid garment officers in the trenches are assured of perfect body comfort. Extreme weather conditions, cold, damp or wet cannot affect the wearer.” Featured materials included waterproof oilskin, wool plaid, camel (detachable lining) and cloth. Prices were offered at the same levels as Burberry’s but, Morris included the Canadian conversion prices at $25.50 and $30.65 respectively.

Kenneth Durward offered the Military Raincoat trench coat, made of the “Celebrated All Wool Durwardette” at 3 guineas, and the British Warm lined with camel fleece at 4 guineas. Durward trench coats were made of khaki materials lined with either fleece, sheepskin or fur and interlined with oilskin. In direct correspondence to today’s Macintosh anniversary doodle the Morris trench coat, with detachable camel fleece lining, could be worn as an ordinary Macintosh when the lining was removed. Apart from their premises at Ulster House, Conduit Street, London, visitors were further encouraged to stop by Durward’s Stall, # 113, at the Active Service Exhibition, Knightsbridge, London (March/April 1916). Interestingly although the guinea, had not been in production since 1816, the term remained in use for many years afterwards and 1 guinea represents a value of £1.05 or 21 shillings.

Robinson and Cleaver offered similar gear to the above manufacturers. Their three trench coats were available in Mark I, II and III formats not unlike model numbers of a Lee-Enfield rifle or bayonet! However, their pricing structure in contemporary advertisements likely left much to be desired by officers unfamiliar with guineas, pounds and shillings. At one time goods were priced in England with the pre-decimal currency of pounds, shillings and pence and further complicated with terms such as guineas and farthings. Although the value of a pound may have been mathematically easier to comprehend, the representation of Robinson and Cleaver prices in shillings at 75/- and 55/- must have raised a few eyebrows trying to work out the trench garment’s value in pounds and further converted into Canadian dollars [12 pence in a shilling, 20 shillings or 240 pence in a pound. 1 pound equal to about $5.00 Canadian].

It is also of interest to contemplate the per diem pay of the following ranks to estimate the time it may have taken to pay off accounts. Colonels $6.00 plus $1.50 field allowance; Lieutenant Colonels $5.00 plus $1.25 field allowance; Majors $4.00 plus $1.00 field allowance; Captains $3.00 plus .75¢ field allowance; Lieutenants $2.00 plus .60¢ field allowance. Although some serving officers certainly had the means to pay for these private purchases, without placing themselves “on account”, other officers must have taken time to pay once outfitted with the latest in goods.

Charles Macintosh (1766-1843), Scottish Chemist,  inventor of waterproof fabric.

Charles Macintosh (1766-1843), Scottish Chemist, inventor of waterproof fabric.

So thanks to Mr. Charles Macintosh and especially thanks to today’s Google Doodle for choosing to celebrate Macintosh’s 250th birthday I have been able to rustle through my research and pull together a bit of corresponding trumpery for our musing. However, as always, I reiterate the value of returning repeatedly to valuable resources. There are gems in these journals and newspapers of the day, perhaps a line or two, a feature story or advertisement that just might encourage your hand within your fields of interest. Happy Birthday Mr. Macintosh and to all – Happy New Year no matter the weather and wherever you may be.

Christmas: There Rang a Bell

Posted By on December 21, 2016

Some While Ago

Rutherglen Town Hall (Lanarkshire) was first built in 1862 and after falling into disrepair was reopened in 2005 following a £12.5 million refurbishment. For some it may be a familiar landmark and for the Richardson family, whose son James is commemorated on the nearby Rutherglen War Memorial, the town hall was a landmark seen and heard each day.

It is this familiarity of being seen and heard that draws me in this day as Christmas approaches. Christmas, methinks, is about people, place and family, goodwill and cheer, song, food and so too many other joys. Yet this year it is the steady and heralding sound of bells that I am drawn to this day, while I seek something slightly different.

Some while ago, David Francey, a Scottish-born Canadian singer-songwriter came to play on Vancouver Island. I saw him twice on his western tour and while listening to Saints and Sinners, a song about bells and Ayr’s Cliff, Quebec I reflected upon the lyrics and his town and how the familiar anchors us to time, place, and memory.

There is something in these words…these lyrics about bells and of a war on the left and the right.  Perhaps it is the mention of Bethlehem that intrigues me at this time of year, the bright star of the night sky that brought forward the magi…and so with the Christmas season upon us I reflect upon the bells, the familiar, their sound and record of personal events, visits to churches and cathedrals, towns and villages on my adventures in many different places, Christmases elsewhere, friends and family, events of joy and so too of sorrow.

“At one time most of my friends could hear the bell, but as years passed it fell silent for all of them. Even Sarah found one Christmas that she could no longer hear its sweet sound. Though I’ve grown old the bell still rings for me, as it does for all who truly believe.”

Chris Van Allsburg, The Polar Express, 1985

Hello Darkness…

Posted By on December 14, 2016

Men of the East Yorkshire Regiment, Frezenberg, 1917.  Ernest Brooks, photographer. (IWM Q3014)

The silhouette. Men of the East Yorkshire Regiment, Frezenberg, 1917. Ernest Brooks, photographer. (IWM Q3014)

…my old friend

The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing”.
(Often attributed to Edmund Burke, Irish Statesman, circa 1770).

The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them lit again in our life-time.
(British Foreign Secretary Sir Edward Grey, British Foreign Secretary, 1914).

We are not here to curse the darkness, but to light a candle that can guide us through the darkness to a safe and sane future…For the world is changing. The old era is ending. The old ways will not do.
(John F. Kennedy, U.S.A. Presidential Nominee, 1960).

The Sound of Silence – a recent steady investigation of an old tune, now a new tune, from the unlikeliest of sources. Written by folk musician Paul Simon this 1960s song represents an era of desired change and questioning and yet with its re-recording, by Chicago-based heavy metal band Disturbed, that change and questioning now echoes and resonates in a true haunting of the historical and the present.

The power of Disturbed frontman’s voice, David Draiman, brings a new darkness to The Sound of Silence. That darkness – a constant old friend that one can find in the contemplation of military history its causes and effects, its people – its ghosts, its darkness and light. Perhaps it is my familiarity with another song by Disturbed, Down With the Sickness, that first attracted me, the contrast between the two songs, however, cannot be further apart. And yet it is my continual interest in point – counter-point, dark-light, and the “on the other hand” of history, that has made me want to re-investigate these words by Simon as a present day observer of the historical tangle of trenches and wires, the wreckage of man’s mirth with industrial and scientific slaughter.

As I read through the lyrics and cast myself in my adaption I see our veteran survivor, not necessarily alone, not necessarily haunted, but one who must live with what they have seen. The constant reminder being darkness who our soul visits on occasion, and where in the night the subconscious becomes tangled with memory and reality. Always pondering those recollections, keeping the silence…

And still, fresh with these visions and the creeping, our friend sees these things that disturb his silence – the reminders and the triggers – the neon light, perhaps a flare – the capture of movement leading to the constant “duht-duht-duht” of an all-searching machine gun’s voice.  As I continue to envision the lyrics I see 10, 000 people talking but without speaking – observers hearing without listening. I can only grasp at those lost voices now below the earth, within the darkness, in search of light, in search of one that might…hear their voice…

It is the shadowy ache of this song, the dark that we all know and the desire to find the light that I find entrancing. Dark-light, folk-metal, Simon-Draiman all fuses together as witness and sage to the silence in each one of us and beckons for peace to be with you and for all. As one who has silently contemplated the carved markings of soldiers in their habitats, one can only hope that their chiseled record, within these halls, will resonate within the silence of our observations and that perhaps as we whisper our thoughts to ourselves, we will find that the light that rises each day – our more than equal friend to the darkness.

The Sound of Silence (Lyrics as sung by David Draiman)

Hello darkness, my old friend
I’ve come to talk with you again
Because a vision softly creeping
Left its seeds while I was sleeping
And the vision that was planted in my brain
Still remains
Within the sound of silence

In restless dreams I walked alone
Narrow streets of cobblestone
‘Neath the halo of a street lamp
I turned my collar to the cold and damp
When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light
That split the night
And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw
Ten thousand people, maybe more
People talking without speaking
People hearing without listening
People writing songs that voices never share
And no one dare
Disturb the sound of silence

Fools, said I, you do not know
Silence like a cancer grows
Hear my words that I might teach you
Take my arms that I might reach you
But my words, like silent raindrops fell
Echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed
To the neon god they made
And the sign lashed out its warning
In the words that it was forming
And the sign said, the words of the prophets are written on the subway walls
And tenement halls
And whispered in the sound of silence
[Written by Paul Simon, 1963-64. Performed by Simon and Garfunkel]

Screenshot from the official Disturbed video "The Sound of Silence". 2016.

Screenshot from the official Disturbed video The Sound of Silence. 2016, featuring a silhouetted landscape.

Piper John MacLeod: Indian Mutiny

Posted By on December 11, 2016

The Calgary Highlanders playing Haughs of Cromdell, the tune Pipe Major John MacLeod played at Secunderbagh.

The Unearthly Visitant

Not everyone in action is considered for an award of valour or bravery. At times soldiers who we might think of as deserving are overlooked, although no end of writings, reading and re-reading of their actions offer us any explanations. Still these accounts of soldiers in action provide us with context for those who were recognized. In one such account of the Indian Mutiny, Pipe Major John MacLeod’s actions with the 93rd Regiment during the Relief of Lucknow, India were recorded. Although MacLeod received no award for valour, six Victoria Crosses were awarded to the 93rd Regiment of Foot (Sutherland Highlanders) of whom five were Scottish born. The sixth, Lance Corporal John Dunlay was born in Douglas County Cork, Ireland.

The 93rd Highlanders entering the breech at Secunderabagh, Lucknow, India, 16 November 1857.

The 93rd Highlanders entering the breach at Secunderabagh, Lucknow, India, 16 November 1857.

There was no pause, no halting hesitation of a moment. The men saw their enemy in front, and, obeying the sharp and ready words of command, dashed forward. They neither thought of the enemy’s greater numbers nor of their advantages of position. Instantly rifle and bayonet were at work, and the battle raged hand to hand. This was no conflict of a few minutes. For two whole hours it continued — the Highlanders, courageously supported by the Punjaubees [sic], performing prodigies of valour. Above the roar of battle was sounding the wild war notes of the bagpipes — sweetest music in a highland soldier’s ear — for John MacLeod, the Pipe Major of the 93rd, remembered well his duty in the turmoil. He has been among the first to force his way though the breach, and no sooner was he within the building then he began to encourage the men by vigorously playing his pipes. The more hot and deadly the battle became the more high strung became the piper’s feelings, and the more loudly did the bagpipes peal and scream — John standing the while in positions perfectly exposed to the fire of the enemy, to whom doubtless he appeared as some unearthly visitant.

Cromb, James. The Highland Brigade: Its Battles and Its Heroes, published 1886. pgs. 202-2