Desperate measures.

One evening in 1849, a British soldier stationed in Wellington, New Zealand, robbed a man at gunpoint. The villain, strangely, did not run off with his booty, which amounted to little more than loose change, but insisted – at gunpoint – that his victim report him to the authorities immediately. The soldier was arrested, tried, and sentenced to 17 years transportation to an Australian penal colony.

We could assume the soldier had a mental breakdown and this outrageously disproportionate sentence was the tragic result. But then it happened again. Different soldier, similar crime.

From the New Zealand Spectator and Cook’s Strait Guardian. Wednesday 4 July 1849.
On Monday night, Connolly, a private in the light company of the 65th regiment, having armed himself with his musket, proceeded about 10 o’clock to Mr. Townsend’s house on the Tinakori Road and having obtained admittance demanded money from the inmates. With the view of intimidating them he discharged his musket, and eventually obtained from Mr. Lowe, a lodger at Mr. Townsend’s, a coat and the sum of four shillings.

He then went to Te Aro, between 12 and 1 o’clock to the house of a carpenter named Levy, in the neighbourhood of the barracks on Mount Cook where he obtained a pair of trousers and two shillings. Information was given to the police the next morning at daylight, and on sending to the barracks it was found that Connolly, who had committed the offence for the avowed purpose of getting transported, had given himself up and was in custody of the guard.

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Te Aro Flat with army barracks on the hill in the background.
Stock, Arthur Henry (Rev), 1823-1901. Te Aro, Wellington. Crawford family :Photographs of James Coutts Crawford and family. Ref: PA1-f-019-17-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23023083

It appears that some months ago some soldiers belonging to the regiment were transported to Van Diemen’s Land [Tasmania, Australia] and shortly after their arrival received tickets of leave ; these men have written to their comrades representing their present way of life as being in every way so preferable to their former condition, that several soldiers have lately committed offences with the express intention of getting transported.

This is a subject of grave importance and one that calls for strong representations from the proper authorities to the governor of Van Diemen’s Land. In the administration of convict discipline, it is understood that tickets of leave are usually granted to criminals who, after having served a portion of their time, have shown themselves, by their good conduct, deserving of this indulgence. But if convicts are to receive tickets of leave almost immediately after their arrival in a penal settlement, transportation ceases to be a punishment, and in cases of this kind the practice becomes subversive of military discipline by holding out a premium on insubordination and a temptation to the commission of crime.

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Early Wellington. Perhaps not the most popular outpost in the British Empire.
From Hobson Street, Wellington. Crawford family :Photographs of James Coutts Crawford and family. Ref: PA1-f-019-13-3. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. /records/23071258

 

The treasures of conquest

When visiting museums we’re often so impressed by the exhibits that we don’t stop to think how they came to be there. Sometimes they were “acquired” as “spoils of war” or, to put it more bluntly, by looting – although the guardians of the treasure haven’t always been keen to advertise the fact. Artifacts “came into the possession of…” or (my favourite) “fell into the hands of…”, as if from a tree or upper balcony.

treasure 1These cigarette cards issued by Churchmans in 1937 are a good example. All the loot was in the care of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, at the time. If you aren’t familiar with the period or its Imperialist wars, just follow the links.

The Golden Throne of Ranjit Singh.
The ambitious nature of the Maharaja Ranjit Singh [1780-1839], combined with his forceful character and military genius, earned him the title of “The Lion of the Punjab.” The throne illustrated was made for him after his accession to the throne of Zaman Shah, King of Afghanistan, whom he defeated in 1799. It is made of wood covered with richly-chased gold plates, analysis showing the metal to contain 97-75% of pure gold. The throne later came into the possession of the East India Company, becoming the property of the British Government after the Indian Mutiny [1857].

Gold treasures from the Burmese Regalia.
treasure 2After the third Burmese War of 1885-6, in which King Thibaw was decisively defeated, the Burmese Regalia were taken from the Royal Palace at Mandalay, passing into the possession of the Secretary of State for India and thence, in 1890, to the Victoria and Albert Museum. We illustrate two of the many magnificent objects from the Regalia on view there : left, a gold food-vessel in the shape of a duck, elaborately chased and set with diamonds, rubies and emeralds; right, a gold salver, 23¼ inches in diameter, bearing a 9-stone ornament in the centre.

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Gold Crown and Chalice from Abyssinia [Ethiopia].
When the British military expedition to Abyssinia, under Sir Robert Napier, entered Magdala on April 13th, 1868, several of the Emperor Theodore’s treasures fell into Sir Robert’s hands. We show two interesting items of this treasure. The gold crown (on right) belonged originally to the Abuna or Head of the Abyssinian Christian Church, being subsequently appropriated by the Emperor Theodore [Tewodros II]. The chalice, of hammered gold, bears incised inscriptions recording that it was given by King Joshua (1682-1706) to the Sanctuary of Quesquam.

A few of the looted treasures have been returned to Ethiopia over the years. An association was founded in 1999 to lobby for the rest.

Mulberry ‘B’

Continuing from my last post, D Minus One ….

Captain (later Vice-Admiral) Harold Hickling was involved with the enormous Mulberry artificial harbours, so vital to the D-Day invasion of Normandy, from the planning stages until his appointment as Naval Officer In Charge, Mulberry ‘B’, in June 1944. A fascinating insider’s account of the whole operation was included in his book ‘Sailor at Sea’ (1965). Here are some excerpts, beginning with his specifications written in 1943. Images from the Imperial War Museum.

“Each harbour is to be approximately two miles long and a mile wide and must be capable of berthing the largest Liberty ships and discharging stores at the rate of 11,000 tons a day. The breakwaters must give protection in winds up to Force 6 (half a gale). Inside the harbour floating pier-heads connected to the shore must enable ships to discharge at all states of the tide…… Each harbour is to be completed by D+14 and is to last for ninety days.”

The various units comprising the harbours….. were to be prefabricated in the United Kingdom, assembled on the South Coast of England, towed seventy miles across the Channel and put down on an enemy coast, possibly under fire, in a couple of weeks. …nothing of the sort on so gigantic a scale had ever been done before….. new and untried devices would have to go straight from the drawing board into mass production. There would be no time for tests and trials.

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Concrete caissons to be used as breakwaters, under construction at George V graving dock, Southampton. © IWM (A 25793)

There were to be five craft shelters known as Gooseberries, consisting of sunken blockships (code name Corncob), to be finished by D-day +4 and were a British Naval commitment. Out of two of them was to grow a Mulberry, the American Mulberry ‘A’ at St. Laurent, the British Mulberry ‘B’ at Arromanches. Each harbour was to consist of:
(1) A floating outer breakwater – code name Bombardon.
(2) A concrete breakwater – code name Phoenix.
(3) An assortment of piers – code name Whale.

It was a strange procession that moved southwards from Selsey and the Solent…. The Phoenix looked like blocks of flats being towed by a taxi, while the Pier heads with their ninety foot high spuds might have been Battersea Power Station taking a sea trip from Ryde; then came sinister shapes, low in the water, making the most awful grinding noises in the choppy sea; these were the 500-foot-lengths of pier roadway though they might have been the Loch Ness Monster.

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Phoenix caissons for Mulberry Harbour off Selsey Bill. © IWM (A 24115)

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A Spud pierhead unit parked awaiting D Day. These were fitted with legs to enable adjustments to be made according to the state of the tide. © IWM (H 39297)

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A section of the roadway being towed into position. © IWM (A 24160)

As each unit arrived off its Mulberry it was pounced upon by small harbour tugs and manoeuvred into its pre-arranged position…. [Lieutenant Commander] Lampen [a.k.a.] the ‘Planter’ took over the blockships and one by one sank them, the bows of one just overlapping the next.

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Block ships for a ‘Gooseberry’. © IWM (A 24683)

By D + 4 the Gooseberry at Arromanches was planted….. Lampen then started extending the Corncob breakwater with the Phoenix. It was no easy matter to hold these 6,000-ton rectangular concrete ships in a tideway with a cross-wind on their high sides, during the twenty-two minutes which, with all flooding valves open, they took to sink….. Yet with skilful handling of tugs and cool judgment our ‘Planter’ placed them not to an accuracy of feet but of inches, while experienced civil engineers looked on at this young sailor, an amateur, with mingled feelings of admiration and professional jealousy…… you couldn’t see daylight between one caisson and the next.

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A line of concrete caissons [Phoenix] forming the inner breakwater. © IWM (A 24168)

On 1st August 1944, we were working twenty-nine ships, nine of which were large Liberty ships; 11,000 tons were discharged on that day….. In addition 5,000 personnel and 600 vehicles were landed. We had reached our target.

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Ships unloading onto a Spud pierhead at the British prefabricated harbour, Mulberry B at Arromanches. © IWM (B 7236)

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 Group of Officers responsible for planning and execution of Mulberry; left to right: Lieut Cdr A M D Lampen, RN [the ‘Planter’]; Capt Hickling, DSO, RN, NOIC Arromanches; Rear Admiral W G [‘Bill’] Tennant, CB, MVO; Capt J H Jellett, RNVR; and Commander R K Silcock, RN. © IWM (A 24857)

General Eisenhower in his official report wrote…..
Through the summer of 1944 the Mulberry and beach installations represented an essential factor in the success of our operation. Without them our armies could not have been adequately supplied in the field. The men who worked them with so much gallantry and devotion deserve the gratitude of liberated Europe for their share in the Victory.

D Minus One

It was June 5th 1944. In twenty-four hours the biggest invasion in history was due to start, an invasion that had taken two years to prepare and which, if successful, would mark the beginning of the end of the war; if it failed hostilities might drag on for years.

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© IWM (A 24096)

Early next morning, the 6th June, I said to Bill*: ‘They’ll just be touching down, let’s go up on to Portsdown Hill and see if we can hear the gunfire.’

We stood near Fort Southwick on that lovely summer’s morning, looking down on Portsmouth, on the harbour and the ebbing tide with Whale Island in the foreground and the Isle of Wight sleeping in the ground mist across the Solent.
‘Do you hear anything?’ I asked.

Bill strained his ears. ‘Yes, I can hear a woodlark singing.’
Bill was a great bird watcher. And there in the blue sky was a tiny speck happily indifferent to the sound and the fury of two powerful forces coming to grips less than a hundred miles away.

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© IWM (EA 26941)

That evening of D-day, as the armies fought their way into the bridgehead, the first units of the two prefabricated artificial harbours started on their slow and hazardous journey across the English Channel.
‘Sailor at Sea’, Vice-Admiral Harold Hickling C.B., C.B.E., D.S.O.
A.H. & A.W. Reed, 1965.

*Bill – Rear Admiral W.G. Tennant.
Hickling was put in charge of the Mulberry B artificial harbour.
More about that later…

The news that’s fit to print.

It is estimated (says the London correspondent of the “Age”) that there are over 300 war correspondents attached to the armies now in the field in Europe, but they are under strict supervision, to prevent them despatching to their papers any information which might prove of use to the enemy. Most of the war correspondents of the English Press are with the French army, but some have been sent to Russia. Of course, no English, French, or Russian correspondents are allowed into Germany or Austria.

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French Engineers building a pontoon bridge. From a stereo card by the Keystone View Company.

The regulations issued by the French War Office with respect to newspaper correspondents forbid any message being sent by telegraph. All despatches must be written in French, and must be submitted to the military censor before being sent off by post. None of the correspondents will be allowed to go to the front. They will be placed in charge of an officer, somewhere on the lines of communication, and the information they obtain regarding the actual fighting will be supplied by staff officers.

The regulations regarding Press photographers are even more severe, as the military authorities are even more anxious to discourage photographers than correspondents. They will be kept under supervision, and their pictures will have to be shown to the censor.

The expectation of film manufacturers, that they would be allowed to film a great war in all its details has been shattered.
‘Christchurch Press’, New Zealand. 16 October, 1914.

A Survivor’s Story

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Hilder’s Military Hospital, Haslemere, England, photographed in 1915.
Postcard by Francis Frith.

Dear Pat
This is the hospital I am in [at] present. I am still in bed Nov 11th 1918. But getting on alright.
Jock

It was Armistice Day and John (a.k.a. Jock) Eastwood of ‘A’ Company, 3rd Battalion New Zealand Rifle Brigade had survived the Great War. Damaged but still alive.

Jock didn’t fit the popular modern image of a WWI soldier – a naive 20-something who thought it would be an adventure and all over by Christmas. It was 1917 when he pulled on the uniform by which time all such romantic notions had disappeared, along with the supply of 20-somethings to recruit or conscript. Armies involved in the conflict had been forced to raise their age limits. Jock was a 37 year-old self-employed “merchant” when he was called up.

Described as having fair hair, blue eyes and standing 5 ft 7 inches tall, he was a bachelor who lived with his unmarried sister (two years his senior) in Collingwood Street, Ponsonby, Auckland. She was not his “dependent” so may have been a partner in the business. Her given name was Martha but Jock always greeted her as Pat.

In an undated postcard of Featherston Camp he wrote, We were marched to Featherston on Saturday for shower bath. We have had no leave yet.

E_Featherston

At the time of writing it is blowing like the devil. The place is the last created. The food is very good. We expect to leave here in 2 weeks.

Jock had been passed “fit for service” on 8th June with no problems except for his teeth. Their condition was stamped “For Treatment”, a fairly common ammendment to army medical forms at the time.

With military training behind him and, evidently, minus several teeth, he boarded the troopship Tahiti on 16th November 1917 and left Wellington as part of convoy 97 next day.

E_Tahiti

Alls well
Having good trip. Have not been sea sick. Getting teeth when we land.

The voyage lasted seven weeks and Tahiti disembarked her passengers at Liverpool on 7th January 1918. They went straight to Brocton Camp in Staffordshire, which was no great improvement on Featherston if these postcard images are any indication.

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Jock wasted no time sending this card to his sister, posting it on the day he arrived.

E_Brocton N

Both cards look like they were produced quickly and cheaply. No message on either, just his name, army number – 62527 – and new address.

This would be luxury accommodation compared to what lay ahead. Jock was sent to France in late March, “attached Strength” at Abeele, and assigned to ‘A’ Company on 5th April. Ten months after signing up, he had finally arrived at the front.

Six months later, on 8th October, Rifleman John Eastwood suffered a gunshot wound to the head and was evacuated to the 83rd military base hospital at Boulogne where he was put on the danger list for over a fortnight. When judged well enough to travel, he was transfered to Cambridge Military Hospital at Aldershot in England. Hilder’s isn’t mentioned in his army record but it was an auxiliary hospital under the control of Cambridge and we know from Jock’s own hand that he was there when peace broke out.

Hilder’s had been a private house before the war, the residence of Lady Aberconway who donated it for the benefit of war casualties. She converted her London home to a hospital as well. Ironically, given the Ottoman Empire was on the enemy side, that building now houses the Turkish Embassy.

Jock was moved once more, to Walton-on-Thames in December, before being sent home on the ship Maheno in March 1919. His official discharge papers didn’t arrive until August, bearing the standard rubber stamp “No longer physically fit for war service on account of wounds received in action”. It seems like a heartless way to end the relationship. A simple “thank you” or “we appreciate your sacrifice” would not have gone amiss, but in 1919 Rifleman Eastwood was seen as just another British subject who had done his duty for the Empire.

Jock and Pat tried to return to normal life, now in a different house a couple of blocks away from Collingwood Street, at 34 Franklin Road. It was not to be. Pat died there on 27th December 1921, aged 44.

Jock died at Auckland Hospital on 7th July 1941 “in his 62nd year” leaving two brothers, a niece and two nephews to mourn his loss.

John/Jock Eastwood, and others like him, is unlikely to feature in history books. He was one of the faceless thousands given a number and a rifle and shipped off to a battlefield on the other side of the world, to endure conditions most of us can’t even imagine. A middle-aged man literally minding his own business who was plunged into a nightmare.

Jock was one of the lucky ones who managed to cheat death, but should be no less remembered for that on Armistice Day.

Text © Mike Warman.

Sources: NZ Army records, 5 postcards in my collection, Auckland Star and New Zealand Herald of various dates.

Note: Jock was a stranger to punctuation, and capital letters popped up at random. I have edited his words to make them easier to follow.

 

 

Sacrificial Horses

So overwhelming has been the thought of human suffering in Europe, so anxious has the world been to relieve it, that little thought has been bestowed on the dumb sufferers. Various war photographs have shown us the novel sight of the dogs of Belgium impressed into service for dragging the smaller guns; but all contestants use horses, and when we reflect that the average life of a cavalry horse at the front is not more than a week, if that, we gain some idea of the sacrifice of animals which modern warfare demands.

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King Albert of Belgium at the Front, 1914. Image from a vintage postcard.

One of the pleaders for the horse is John Galsworthy, the English novelist, who gives in the London Westminster Gazette this moral aspect of the use of the horse in warfare, with the attendant obligation:

H_cavalry“Man has only a certain capacity for feeling, and that has been strained almost to breaking point by human needs. But now that the wants of our wounded are being seen to with hundreds of motor ambulances and hospitals fully equiped, now that the situation is more in hand, we can surely turn a little to the companions of man. They, poor things, have no option in this business; they had no responsibility, however remote and indirect, for its inception; get no benefit out of it of any kind whatever; know none of the sustaining sentiments of heroism; feel no satisfaction in duty done. They do not even – as the prayer for them untruly says – ‘offer their guileless lives for the wellbeing of their countries.’ They know nothing of countries; they do not offer themselves. Nothing so little pitiable as that. They are pressed into this service, which cuts them down before their time.”

That the European war threatened to deplete the stock of horses even in the United States is emphasized by a careful computation which fixed at 185,023 the number of horses shipped to the warring nations from July 1, 1914, to March 31, 1915.

Buyers representing the British, French and Russian governments were reported as searching the country for more, and, according to estimates made by shippers, at least 120,000 animals were to be shipped to Europe during the summer of 1915.

Shippers were deeply interested when it became known for a certainty that the German government had representatives purchasing horses in the West. Wood Brothers, the largest horse dealers in Nebraska, were asked to bid on a 25,000-head shipment. Ruling prices for the grade of horses desired by foreign buyers have ranged from $175 to $200 per head.

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A German postcard of a munitions train.

The last step before placing the horses on shipboard was to adjust special halters to them, so that, as in the case of many horses purchased by France, it was only necessary, when the animals reached the other side, to snap two straps to his head-stalls and make him instantly ready to be hitched to a gun limber or a wagon of a transport train.
‘Earl Kitchener and the Great War’, Captain Logan Howard-Smith. John C. Winstone Co., Limited, Toronto Canada. 1916.