The Price of War

A red commemoration poppy for ANZAC Day on the tiled floor of a war memorial.

Tomorrow is ANZAC Day when Australians and New Zealanders at home and abroad remember their countrymen and women who died in war, and honour those who returned. It’s a uniquely Australasian event first held in 1916 and is commemorated in addition to, not instead of, Armistice Day.

This poem, written at the time of the First World War by English woman Lorna Fane, pays tribute to the casualties we don’t hear about very often.

The Price

‘Tis women who have to stay at home,
Alone with their aching heart,
To wipe the tears from the children’s eyes,
To smile, and to play their part:
While the men-folk fight, and the deed is done,
In rivers of blood ‘neath the setting sun –
And the price is paid.

‘Tis women who have to face the world,
With never a glance ahead;
To lie awake through the midnight hours,
Praying for living or dead:
While the men go down to the gates of hell
To face the thunder of shot and shell –
And to pay the price.

‘Tis women who have to laugh and jest,
With courage that will not fail,
To earn the bread for the children’s mouths,
And trust, though their stout hearts quail:
While the brave men fight, and, if needful, fall,
To answer the cry of the bugle call –
And to pay the price.

‘Tis women who mourn, unheard, unseen,
While the cruel war goes on,
Who weep with anguish for what has been,
Yet hide it all ‘neath a song,
While their loved ones ride to the jaws of death,
To fight for their King with their last, last breath –
Then the price is paid.

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Lieutenant Grider’s New Machine

John McGavock Grider was an American pilot attached to the Royal Air Force in World War One. After months of training, and impatient for action, he was finally given orders to fly to France. He collected his brand-new S.E.5a fighter from the Brooklands depot and wrote in his diary “it certainly is a beauty.”

SE5_ground

May 14 1918. I gave my new plane a work-out in the air to-day. It flies hands off; I put it level just off the ground and it did 130 [m.p.h.]. Then I went up high and did a spinning tail slide. Nothing broke so I have perfect confidence in it. I’ve been cleaning and oiling the machine-guns, tuning up the motor and testing the rigging. The best part of it is that it’s mine – no one else has flown it and no one else ever will. It’s painted green and I have named it the Julep and am having one painted on the side of the fusilage.

SE5_flight

To-morrow, I’ve got to synchronize my gun-gear, set my sights, swing my compass and then I’m ready. Death bring on your sting, oh, grave hoist your gold star!
The bus certainly is plentifully supplied with gadgets. The cockpit looks like the inside of a locomotive cab.

SE5_cockpit

It has two guns: one Vickers and one Lewis. The Vickers is mounted on the fuselage in front of your face and fires through the propeller with a C.C. gear to keep from hitting it. The Lewis is mounted on the top wing and fires over the top of the propeller. It has two sights: a ring sight and an Aldis telescopic sight. I set both sights and both guns so that they will all converge at a spot two hundred yards in front of the line of flight. When you aim, what you really do is to aim the plane and the guns take care of themselves. The Vickers has a belt of four hundred rounds and the Lewis has a drum of one hundred and we carry three spare drums.

SE5_Lewis gunTo change drums you have to pull the gun down on the track with your hand and then take off the empty drum and put on the full one. It’s not hard to do unless you let the wind get against the flat side of the drum, then it will nearly break your wrist. We’ve practised changing until we can do it in our sleep. The Vickers is the best gun by far.
‘War Birds’, Cornstalk Publishing Company, Sydney, Australia, 1928.

Grider was well aware that the life of a fighter pilot at the Front could be short. He mentions the possibilty of death several times. Training could be almost as dangerous. His diary is a catalogue of dead and injured pilots who never made it to the fight. He arrived in France on 25th May – “Here’s where we sober up and get down to real serious work.” John Grider was reported missing in action on 18th June.

The photographs show S.E.5a aircraft built by the Vintage Aviator in New Zealand. These are “reproductions”, made to original specifications, not “replicas” which may have modern components under the skin.

A Parisian Boulevard

This hand-coloured postcard image of the Boulevard Montmartre in winter is very evocative of time and place. It was probably made between 1906 and 1913 but, unfortunately, there is no record of publisher or photographer so I can’t give well deserved credit where it’s due.

B_Montmartre

A message on the back adds to the time capsule effect. It’s number 2 in a series of cards posted together as a letter so we have no beginning, no end, no idea who wrote it or to whom. What we do know is that he was a soldier and it was a remarkably upbeat, chatty letter in the circumstances.

“…. to Mick a few weeks ago and he was also quite well. We are now in billets, having come out of the trenches about a week ago and having a good time. We are having showery weather at present and it is pretty muddy but it isn’t very cold yet. I didn’t know that Mrs Hynes had moved up to…..”

It’s like turning the dial on a time machine radio. A fragment of conversation drifts in from the Great War and then fades out again as we search for the station we’re trying to find.

Out of Action

Today’s image comes from a WWI postcard.

Image from WWI postcard of captured German Pfalz DIII aircraft.

The original is a very dark sepia with almost no detail in the shadows so although this isn’t perfect, it’s an improvement, believe me. It shows a group of British military personnel gathered round what is left of a German aircraft. I think we can see a mixture of army and Royal Flying Corps uniforms there.

The wreck on the trailer used to be a Pfalz DIII, probably a DIIIa which dates the photograph to sometime between November 1917 – when the type was introduced – and the end of the war twelve months later. The shape of the cross on the fuselage suggests it might have been prior to April 1918. Two R.F.C. men are standing in front of the aircraft’s number which makes it difficult to be any more specific.

Although over a thousand of both variants were made, no originals have survived. There are only two replicas to show what the DIII would have looked like in one piece. This is one of them.

A replica Pfalz D.III German WWI fighter aircraft.

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It was made in 1965 for the movie ‘The Blue Max’ so, at 53 years old, it’s edging towards veteran status.

The Red Cross at the Front

These cards were issued in 1916 by a British cigarette company so we can safely assume there was an element of morale-boosting propaganda involved.

Image of WWI motor ambulances from a cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1916.

The Rulers and Princes of India have vied with each other in showing their patriotism and devotion to the British Empire, freely offering their services and lavishly contributing to the expenses of the great war. The Maharajah of Scindia presented to H.M. King George V., 41 Siddeley-Deasy ambulance cars, 5 motor cars for officers, and 10 motor cycles – a timely and munificent gift. Men, money, and material have been generously offered by the Indian Princes, and freely accepted by our Government.

Image of WWI motor ambulance from a cigarette card by W.D. & H.O. Wills, 1916.This Motor Raft, or Flying Bridge, is used for conveying motor cars, &c., across a river. The raft, on which the car is securely fixed, is attached to a long buoyed cable, longer than the width of the stream, and fastened to a rock or tree further up the river. A lighter rope is tied to the cable, close to the raft, and taken over to the opposite bank; the raft is pulled across and unloaded. The rope is then played out, the force of the stream swinging the raft back to its starting place ready for another load.

RC_NZEDNumbers of these splendidly equipped Motor Ambulances accompanied our brave New Zealand forces to the Eastern theatre of the war. The strongly built cars were eminently suitable for the very rough roads on the Eastern front. The chassis is a 20 h.p. extra strong Colonial Napier. The men were all thoroughly trained, and rendered splendid service during the historic Gallipoli operations, when our Colonial troops earned undying fame through their almost superhuman bravery.

RC_mcAmboThe Red Cross organisation of the French Army has been carried to a high state of perfection. Motor vehicles of all descriptions are adapted and used in different districts. In the mountainous Vosges, where in many places the roads are so narrow and steep that ordinary Red Cross Ambulances cannot be used, these small sidecars have proved most useful for quickly transporting the wounded from the field of battle to the hospitals, where everything is done to alleviate their pain and suffering.

RC_disguised

These cars have been painted to represent the surrounding scenery, and to harmonise with the country in which they work. In the Vosges, where they are doing excellent service, the French first used the ordinary ambulances with the Red Cross painted on each side, but owing to the frequency in which they were shelled by the enemy – regardless of the Geneva Convention – protective colouration had to be adopted, as the cars have frequently to work within range of the enemy’s guns.

While on the subject of non-combatants in WWI, I can recommend this post from Heritage Calling about the almost forgotten men of the various Labour Corps recruited by the British army from all over the world.

On the way to war

This card was posted from Cape Town, South Africa, by a New Zealand soldier on 23rd February 1917.

CTparliament

Dear M.
Just a note. We have had a fine time here, and think it is a fine place. We have had the best part of a days leave and have made the best of it. The gardens are fine.
Frank Berg and I have had afternoon tea today in the Parliament Buildings. We were invited by a gentleman we met in the gardens, and who is interested in N. Zealanders. His name is Mr. Van de Reif M.P. Grahams Town.
I am sending two small ostrich feathers they are fairly cheap here. We had a good trip over and expect to leave here tomorrow.
I am doing A1. With love from Fred.

Without a second name, Fred’s identity must remain a mystery and I’ve been unable to trace a Grahamstown politician called Van de Reif so far. If you can help, please leave a comment. His generosity towards two young New Zealand soldiers must have been a real treat for them after weeks crammed into a troop ship; a last brief encounter with civilized life before the trenches of the Western Front.

Frank Berg was born in Devonport, Tasmania, on 26th August 1896 to parents Isaac and Elizabeth and moved with the family to Sheffield, west of Christchurch, New Zealand. At the time of his enlistment on 19th September 1916, he was working as a labourer at Greendale, south of the city. His father, a bootmaker, must have died soon afterwards because his estate notice appears in the Press in mid-October. There is no mention of compassionate leave in Frank’s army record.

Private Berg, Frank Lewis, 33679, was 5ft 6in tall, 140lbs., 32 inch chest, brown hair and eyes. The Mister Average of his generation, one of thousands like him who volunteered to fight in a European war under conditions they could never have imagined in their worst nightmares. After basic training, he and Fred and the 21st Reinforcements NZEF sailed from Wellington on the troop transport Ulimoroa, 21st January 1917.

TePapa_SS-Ulimaroa

The Ulimaroa leaving Wellington. Photo by J. Dickie. Te Papa collection.

They disembarked at Devonport (Plymouth), England, on 27th March and arrived at Sling Camp the same day. After more training to prepare them for what was to come, they left for France on 26th May. Frank’s record is silent for seven months until, on 26th December, he was sent to hospital suffering from enteritis and enemia. Disease was almost as deadly as the enemy in the Great War but Frank recovered quickly and was back with the 1st Battalion Canterbury Regiment by 12th January 1918, just in time to be sent to England on leave a week later.

Back with his unit by early February, Frank managed to keep his head down and was sent to a School of Instruction in late September. Where, and for what purpose, is not known. He returned to the Front on 15th October.

Frank Berg was reported killed in action on 23rd October 1918, just 19 days before the ceasefire.

A Triple Tragedy

Aboukir_vThe image at left comes from a postcard by Raphael Tuck and Sons, published around 1908, and features the British armoured cruiser H. M. S. Aboukir. She was launched in 1900 by Fairfields of Govan, Scotland and, on completion two years later, had a short career in the Mediterranean before being withdrawn from service and laid up in reserve in 1912. The rapid development of warships at the time had made her, and the rest of the “Cressy” class to which she belonged, practically obsolete.

She was recommisioned on the outbreak of war in August 1914 and sent on patrol with the 7th Cruiser Squadron to guard the eastern approaches to the English Channel. On the morning of 22nd September, she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-9 and when Cressy and Hogue closed to rescue survivors, they were dispatched in the same way. Three cruisers and over 1400 men were lost in less than an hour. You can find the crew list here. Writer Antoine Vanner gives a thorough description of the disaster on his blog.

Aboukir

This image by artist, Norman Wilkinson, was printed in ‘Earl Kitchener and the Great War’ (1916). Captions in the book claim “one of the sailors described the last moment as follows: “The captain sings out an order just like on any ordinary occasion, ‘If any man wishes to leave the side of the ship he can do so, every man for himself,’ then we gave a cheer and in we went.”
and
“The horrors of modern warfare are illustrated by the notice issued after this disaster by the British Admiralty, which reads in part, ‘no act of humanity, whether to friend or foe, should lead to neglect of the proper precautions and dispositions of war, and no measure[s] can be taken to save life which prejudice the military situation.'”

Translated into plain language – in the event of this situation being repeated, commanders must put their own ships’ safety first and leave men in the water to their fate.