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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.”
“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.

A Mobile Memorial

The folks over at Historic England featured 7 unusual war memorials in a blog post last week. My favourite was the Tree Cathedral in Bedfordshire. But they didn’t have a memorial that moved.


This is the Ab class locomotive “Passchendaele”, built in the Addington Railway Workshops, Christchurch, for New Zealand Railways in 1915. It was plain old Ab 608 then of course because the battle didn’t happen until two years later.

New Zealand locomotives didn’t usually have individual names but, in 1925, it was decided to rename the engine in honour of railway workers who fought and died in the Great War.


Time, and the change to a diesel-powered fleet, put an end to Passchendaele’s service in 1967 but, because of her role as a war memorial, she was saved from the scrap yard. Many years later, the dedicated volunteers at Steam Incorporated accepted the challenge to restore the old loco to full working order – a feat they achieved in time for WWI commemorations. You can find more details of Passchendaele’s history and restoration here.



On Active Service

The Belgian village of Watou, on the border with France, lay behind Allied lines during the Great War (WWI) and escaped destruction.

Vintage postcard of a street scene in Watou, Belgium. Message dated 1915.

One soldier was able to send this postcard from there while he was being rested from the front. It is marked “On active service” and was sent from Field Post Office D. 49 to a Miss M. W. “Dalzell” in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Many thanks for letter. All continues to go well. Much rain lately. Have spelt your name wrong as usual! Pardonnez!! Best wishes to all for 1916. May its early days see Britannia gloriously triumphant and the war a thing of the past.
Am still very well.
Best Rgds, A. J.

The message is dated 3rd November 1915. A. J. would have to wait another three years and eight days before his wish came true. We have to wonder if he lived to see it.

Yesterday marked the 100th anniversary of a three-month nightmare called Passchendaele that left over half a million men from both sides of the wire dead, wounded or missing.

Pilots of the R. F. C.


Officers and Men of the Royal Flying Corps with Their Machines

On the right is a sergeant of the R. F. C., wearing the new badge of a propeller on his arm. He is saluting two aviation officers, one dressed for flying, the other wearing the flying certificate badge. On the right is an army B. E. biplane, with its four-bladed propeller and two seats for pilot and observer. This type, it is stated, is becoming more and more the standard pattern of machine for use by the R. F. C. On the left is a Bleriot monoplane and in the air a Henri Farman biplane.
‘Earl Kitchener and the Great War’, 1916.

One of the first honours of 1916, if not the very first, was the Military Cross awarded to Captain W. D. S. Sanday, who went out on January 1 in a very high wind to observe the fire of a battery near Hulluch, and owing to the clouds was forced to fly at a height of no more than between 800 and 900 feet. Nothing daunted by the heavy rifle-fire to which he was continually subjected, he did not return until he had enabled our battery to score several direct hits.

One of the youngest heroes of the Buffs, Second-Lieutenant Frank Hudson, attached to the Royal Flying Corps, was similarly decorated in the early months of this year for skill and gallantry on several occasions. “This young officer”, to quote from the Gazette, “is only eighteen years of age, but has many times driven off enemy machines and twice forced them to the ground.” Once he was severely wounded in the head, but successfully completed his aerial reconnaissance, although after recrossing our line and landing at an aerodrome he at once lost consciousness.

More dramatic still was the magnificent feat of Lieutenant M. Henderson, of the Seaforth Highlanders and Royal Flying Corps, who was struck by a shell from a German anti-aircraft gun [21 Feb 1916]. The shell passed through the nacelle of Lieutenant Henderson’s machine and took off his left leg just below the knee; but in spite of this he succeeded in descending from a height of 7000 feet and landing 3000 yards behind our line, thus saving his aeroplane and the life of his observer as well. For this he received the D.S.O.
‘The Great World War Vol. V.’ The Gresham Publishing Company Ltd, London. c. 1917