The Wildgoose Chase

I met Chelsea Pensioner Walter Wildgoose in 1977 when he was 87 and I was 26. Through a series of letters written over the last year of his life, he passed along his life story - the workhouse children's home, a life in the British Army witnessing the opening battles of World War I and life in India, a remarkable family surviving the bombs of World War II London. This blog will document my research and progress on the novel I'm writing about this amazing man.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Remembrance Day 2011: For The Fallen


For The Fallen by Laurence Binyon

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children,
England mourns for her dead across the sea.
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit,
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill; Death august and royal
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres,
There is music in the midst of desolation
And a glory that shines upon our tears.

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted;
They fell with their faces to the foe.

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again;
They sit no more at familiar tables of home;
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time;
They sleep beyond England's foam.

But where our desires are and our hopes profound,
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight,
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known
As the stars are known to the Night;

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust,
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain;
As the stars that are starry in the time of our darkness,
To the end, to the end, they remain.

Labels: , ,

Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 11:28 AM   0 Comments

Sunday, June 12, 2011

War Horse

I've been trying to get tickets to the play "War Horse," currently running at Lincoln Center's Vivian Beaumont Theatre, for a couple of months. It's the story of a horse named Joey, taken for duty in World War I, and his young master, Albert, who spends the war trying to find him. The play, which originated in London, is based on a 1982 book by Michael Morpugo.

I listened to the audio book recently, which made me want to see the play even more. Friends who've seen it say it's an incredible experience. Elaborate puppets represent the horses, but puppetry is soon forgotten, as the horses become as lifelike at the human actors.

There are two problems with seeing the play right now. One, it's very hard to get a ticket to this sold-out masterpiece. And, two, any available tickets are well beyond my price-range. Alas. Sigh. This kind of thing is right up my alley. But as soon as I scrape up the funds and wrangle one of those hard-to-nab tickets, I'll write a review.

What are other good resources for studying the role of horses during World War I?
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 5:58 PM   0 Comments

Sunday, November 14, 2010

An Autumn Day at the Royal Hospital Chelsea


The Royal Hospital Chelsea on Sunday 31, October 2010.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 12:26 PM   0 Comments

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Remembering: November 11, 2010

Remembering and honoring all veterans, but especially the ones who survived for that first Armistice Day, November 11, 1918.

A couple of weeks ago, I was in London and paid a visit to the Royal Hospital Chelsea, where Walter was a resident at the end of his life. The grounds were lovely and peaceful (I didn't go inside) and reminded me of the times I'd sat with Walter in Ranelagh Gardens or walked toward the Chelsea Embankment listening to him recount events of his long life.

I still feel very privileged to have known Walter. His story enriched my life and my appreciation of the role the common man plays in history.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 6:31 AM   0 Comments

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

In Remembrance


For Walter who made it through World War I to live a nice, long life, and for his brother Bert, who died at the Battle of Aubers Ridge in 1915.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 3:45 PM   4 Comments

Thursday, August 06, 2009

Farewell to the Last Tommy

Harry Patch, the last survivor to have served in the trenches in World War I, died July 25, 2009.

Born in 1898, he was eight years younger than Walter. Patch was injured in the battle of Passchendaele.

Read more about him here, here and here. Rest in peace, Sir.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 8:51 AM   0 Comments

Thursday, March 12, 2009

I think Walter would approve

Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 2:27 PM   1 Comments

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Wildgoose's 119th Birthday

Walter would have been 119 today. In commemoration of his birthday, I want to celebrate three things I learned from this special guy.

Don't grumble (at least, not for long), whatever the situation. Here's a man who took life as it came full-force at him: the split up of his family, life in the Sheffield Children's Home, diphtheria, hard work on the training ship and the Oropesa, World War I, army life in Iraq, Afghanistan, the Northwest Passage, India, and Sudan, World War II, the deaths of three sons and his dear wife. He was pragmatic, but cheerful, whenever I encountered him.

Trust your instincts. Even if put in untenable circumstances, your gut will tell you whom to trust and whom to shy away from, what you want to be a part of, and what you should avoid.

See the humor in life. Sometimes, it's the only way to get through it.

Happy Birthday, Walter!
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 1:18 PM   1 Comments

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

90th Anniversary of Armistice: November 11, 2008

A tribute to the 90th anniversary of the end of World War I on this 11 day of November 2008. According to Walter's letters, he was "in Rugeley Camp in Staffordshire when the Armistice was declared."

Thank you for serving your country and the world, Walter. I'm glad you survived it all.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 11:55 AM   2 Comments

Monday, January 21, 2008

Connections


It’s astonishing to me the way that Walter’s stories and experiences find their way to others who have an interest in a particular topic. For example, within the last couple of months, I’ve heard from three people who have a connection with:



These kind folks take the time to either comment on the post or email me. I truly appreciate any comment or suggestion about specific events, people, or experiences.

Michael H. let me know that Wadhurst in East Sussex is twinned with Aubers because Wadhurst lost 25 men at Aubers Ridge on 9 May 1915, the same battle that took the life of Walter’s beloved brother, Bert. In honor of the 60th Anniversary of the Battle of Aubers Ridge, Michael gave a talk to the Wadhurst History Society and provided me with a link to a website that has a copy of his speech. Thanks for this, Michael! I’ve added the site to my resource list.

JR made a request for photos of the 1911 Delhi Durbar and information about the film mentioned on my post. Anyone out there have anything for JR? I hope that someone comes forward with more about this event. I’ve had a hard time tracking down specifics. Thanks for putting out another call about this, JR.

And I recently heard from Carla, whose great-grandfather emigrated to Holland from Chile aboard the Oropesa in 1903, four years before young Walter worked as a cabin boy aboard the ship. I’ve asked Carla if her great-grandfather left behind any photos or letters about the Oropesa – I’d love to see them.

So to all who send comments and emails – thank you. Whatever information or sources you have is always welcome and helps me understand Walter’s world a little better.

Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 2:16 PM   0 Comments

Sunday, November 11, 2007

In Honor of Walter: November 11


"Yes Mary, when you mention World War I. Fancy being now 65 years ago, and yet I can remember many things that happened. I laid in hospital having been brought home from France in 1915. I went to Clopton War Hospital near Stratford on Avon. I picked up the morning’s paper to read the casualty list which was issued each day. It was on the 9th May 1915, that I read of my poor brother Bert had been killed in action. I was 25 years old at the time and Bert was 26 years old. He was a Lance Corporal in the Black Watch. His regiment went straight to France from Meerut in India, the Meerut Division. I was very sad for weeks over reading the news. We had been great pals at school in Sheffield as school boys. It happened at the Battle of Aubers Ridge in Festubert. Poor Bert! So if he had lived he would now be 90 years of age. The flower of Youth was squandered away of the all the participants. And still they are remembered after all these years despite another war has taken place, not counting all the little side shows around the British Empire (as it then was) which is no more."

- From a letter dated 26th November 1979


Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 6:48 PM   1 Comments

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Oropesa Postcard

I've already written about Walter's adventures aboard Pacific Steam Navigation Company's steamer Oropesa. Thanks to the internet, it's easy to track a bit of the ship's history. Here's a bit from the PSNC website:
Orissa (1895-1918)
Oropesa (1) (1895-1914)
Oravia (1897-1912)

These three sisters were built for the Valparaiso service. They were inferior to the ships built for the Australian route which preceded them. They were 5300 gross tons, 421 feet long, and had single funnels. Oravia was wrecked in Port Stanley in 1912. Oropesa became an armed merchant cruiser in 1914, and was passed to the French Navy in 1915. She was sunk by a submarine in 1917. Orissa was lost to a submarine in 1918, having remained in commercial PSNCo service.
According to Walter:

I sailed from Liverpool one cold, misty and drizzly morning. I was shewn where I was to work and where I was to sleep. I had to look after the Quarter Master, the Baggage Master, the Lamp Trimmer, the Donkey man (who looked after all the winches), the Boatswain Mates. I had to see to their meals, and to clean the cabin after that, I would then report to the Bo’sun for any work I had to do (which was plenty). First trip at sea was awful. I was seasick what with the smell of the newly-painted ship, and the rolling of the ship, I was proper groggy. We sailed to France, picking up emigrants, then we crossed the Bay of Biscay to Spain and Portugal, collecting more emigrants going to South America. We finally called at Lisbon and then we made the eight days’ sail to the Falkland Islands. It was very cold now, and we had to put warm clothes on.

We passed on to the Tierra Del Fuego and the Straits of Magellan.
This southernmost part of South America was bitterly cold. While passing through the Straits, the albatross used to gracefully alight on the deck for a rest, and as usual for a feed from the cook. There are many incidents I could enlarge upon but on to the progress of the voyage. We rounded the Straits and called in at a port called Sandy Point, then on to Coronel and Talaquanha, finally to Valparaiso. We stayed here for two weeks for unloading and loading, as we boys were not allowed to go ashore but was employed working the winches on the ship, for which we received 4d and hour overtime.

We returned the same route, back to Liverpool, and the voyage lasted three months.
I completed four trips, and then I decided I would like to come home and see my mother. . .

At 17, Walter had lived through more adventures than most people can claim in a long lifetime. And his adventures were just beginning.

Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 4:47 PM   0 Comments

Monday, April 16, 2007

After the Army, a civilian job

After 22 years in the Army, Walter returned to civilian life in 1930. It was a chance to settle down after all the years of living overseas. Finding work was top of the list, and May's brother Charles came to the rescue:

My brother-in-law Charlie (who I assisted in his window cleaning business in 1919 for four months, which enabled him to get established) called round to see May and I to see how we were faring. He told me there was an advertisement in the Barnes and Mortlake Herald for a school caretaker. £2-5-0 per week at the Mortlake Boys’ and Girls’ Central School, and he advised me to apply for it. He suggested that I go and see Mr. Blake, a well-known jeweler in East Sheen who was also a great friend of Charlie’s family. I did so, and Mr. Blake took me to the Bull Hotel where he asked me to have a drink and then wait for him, as he was going to see someone in the Lounge about my intention to apply for this caretaker’s post. After a while, Mr. Blake came out, and told me to write out an application enclosing my references to the Divisional Officer, and I was to await for a reply.

A few days later, I was informed to attend a Selection interview at the East Sheen Junior School where the school managers were present. There were twelve applicants, and we were interviewed in alphabetical order, so I was last to be seen. Many questions were asked of me, but one question nearly got me “stumped.” Did I have any experience of central heating boiler work? “A little,” I said, “but I would soon overcome that difficulty.” I was selected to be the caretaker, commencing on the 29th April 1930.


The work that had to be done was very exacting. I had two women cleaners who were not very co-operative. They had apparently been employed for several years, but that didn’t deter me to adopt a new system of hours they must perform. I used to go home at night, very tired with sweeping classroom floors, and stoking four boilers, but I gradually got into the way of things. The Headmaster, a Mr. Hill, he was a Captain in the East Surrey Territorial Army. I used my cycle to great extent around the playground. When the Whitsuntide holiday arrived, the boilers were not required, so the work became much easier. Whitsun holidays came along, and the school had to be cleaned throughout. I was gradually getting used to the many tasks that my job entailed.


A couple of months ago, I heard from a woman whose father had been a student at Mortlake when Walter was caretaker. Though her father never mentioned Walter, she was kind enough to send along a couple of sports certificates her dad earned while at the school. Note the signature of Headmaster Hill, whom Walter mentions.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 12:00 PM   0 Comments

Monday, January 01, 2007

Winter in the Khyber Pass

After the war, Walter's 204 Battalion Machine Gun Corps shipped out to India and the Northwest Frontier. After a few months at Rawal Pindi, his battalion was sent to the Jamrud Fort area, one of the main gateways of the Khyber Pass. According to Walter:

After a few weeks in Mhow, we left to go to the North West Frontier. We were sent to Rawal Pindi, and the other battalions went to Quetta, Lahore, Peshawar. The Afghan troubles were taking place in the Kyber Pass at the time. We stayed in Rawal Pindi for a few months, then we were posted to the Jamrud Fort area, including the Kacha Ghari area, which was a perimeter camp. There was an Indian regiment quartered in this perimeter camp besides our battalion. It was like a concentration camp, surrounded by barbed wire with blockhouses situated all around it, so as to afford security.

The camel convoys come to pass through on their way to Peshawar, 12 miles away, but they are denied admittance after sundown. It was situated in the Afridi country, as warlike tribe, who tended their flocks of goats and sheep by day, and went marauding by night, mainly to steal rifles. We always kept ours locked up with a chain passing through the trigger guards. There was a “camel cemetery” just outside the camp. When the camels die, they are dragged along the ground by two other camels, to this cemetery, and just left lying there. Soon, the vultures begin operations, and what they do not eat, the jackals come at night to have their supper. I might say there is a very unpleasant smell pervades the air for miles around!!


Today, Kacha Ghari (or Gari) is one of the main refugee centers for Pakistan/Afghanistan. According to the Afghan Women's Resource Center, "Kacha Gari is the oldest refugee camp in the Peshawar area being founded in 1979. There are approximately 150,000 people who live in the camp with the majority of women coming from Jalalabad and Laghman."

Walter's letters give a personal and time-stamped view of a region that was troubled in 1919-20 and is still roiling in 2007. I wonder if this would surprise Walter Wildgoose?
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 3:21 PM   0 Comments

Saturday, November 11, 2006

"Poppies whose roots are in man's veins"

Break of Day in the Trenches
by Isaac Rosenberg

The darkness crumbles away.
It is the same old druid Time as ever,
Only a live thing leaps my hand,
A queer sardonic rat,
As I pull the parapet's poppy
To stick behind my ear.
Droll rat, they would shoot you if they knew
Your cosmopolitan sympathies.
Now you have touched this English hand
You will do the same to a German
Soon, no doubt, if it be your pleasure
To cross the sleeping green between.
It seems you inwardly grin as you pass
Strong eyes, fine limbs, haughty athletes,
Less chanced than you for life,
Bonds to the whims of murder,
Sprawled in the bowels of the earth,
The torn fields of France.
What do you see in our eyes
At the shrieking iron and flame
Hurled through still heavens ?
What quaver--what heart aghast?
Poppies whose roots are in man's veins
Drop, and are ever dropping;
But mine in my ear is safe--
Just a little white with the dust.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 8:59 AM   2 Comments

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Poppies

I was in England last week. Since I was there on business and most of my time was well and truly scheduled beyond my control, I had no chance to nip into the Imperial War Museum or British Army Museum for more research on the book I'm writing about Walter's life. I'm also disappointed that there was no time to go by the Cenotaph.
I did stop and take a photo of the Animals in War monument on Park Lane across from Hyde Park. "They had no choice," the sculpture says.

I also bought a couple of poppies, which I proudly wear in remembrance of Walter and Bert. Bert lost his life at Aubers Ridge in May, 1915. And Walter lost his brother.

We won't forget.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 4:12 PM   0 Comments

Monday, October 09, 2006

Walter and May's 91st Wedding Anniversary

Here's the story according to Walter:

. . . I had a letter from May, asking me what was my intentions regarding her future, as she wanted to know how she was situated. I was quite perplexed, and I sought the advice from one of our older soldiers who was a married man, and he simply told me that I had been courting long enough (by letter) and I had to decide upon marriage. This was quite a “shocker.” I found May to be a very nice young lady, domesticated, in service with some titled people, so I wrote and told her I would put up the Banns in Weelsby Parish Church. The date of the wedding was from the 9th October 1915.

I went to a jewelers in Grimsby with a comrade of mine to choose the ring according to a ring card which May had sent me. I bought the ring. I was granted four days leave. I went to London Earls Court, as there where May was staying with her sister and her husband Doc[?]. The next afternoon, I was speaking to Violet, I was rather shy on these matters, and I was rather anxious to find out if the ring was suitable. Violet took the ring to May who was in another room, and to my horror, the ring was much too small. May came out, and we hurried out to go over to Richmond to buy another ring. May chose a nice one, and it was quite a relief. This obstacle had been removed.


The wedding took place the next day, and all May’s relations and her friends were to be there. I didn’t have anyone of my side, I was a proper “lone wolf.” A soldier friend came to the wedding to be my best man. Taffy Roberts. There was a nice church service in St. Johns Church in Kew Road, and I was thrilled with all the people who attended and they came to the reception held in May’s mother’s boarding house. Of course, I was in khaki uniform, I was confused among all those people. I sought refuge in the garden to be quiet, but May’s father and her brothers sought me out, and made me at home. I have never been used to such “high jinks” before. I never smoked of drank those days.

Walter and May had a long, loving marriage, in spite of enormous trials and tribulations. It lasted until May's death March 1, 1971 - her 81st birthday.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 6:27 PM   0 Comments

Monday, September 18, 2006

New Clio Pictures

Every few months, I revisit the internet to see if any new information or pictures have shown up about the workhouse or training ships or British Army in India, etc. I came across several new (to me) images of Walter's training ship, Clio, the other day, though I haven't found much additional information about it beyond what I already have (see previous posts "Training Ship Clio" and "8s a week").

If you know of any good resouces on training ships in the period from 1905-07, pass them along. Thanks!




Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 6:44 AM   0 Comments

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

August 1914

Battle_Mons_map1914

Right now, I'm still flitting from subject to subject with Walter's story. I think it's just too hot to settle on anything. But looking at the timeline I've constructed based on Walter's letters, there's only one August that stands out: 1914. I've completed the first draft of this part of the story. It certainly needs more attention, but I've moved on to other years in his life. Nevertheless, according to Walter, these were the August 1914 dates that stand out:

  • August 4, 1914: England declares war on Germany – all units put on “mobilization alert”
  • August 13-14, 1914: Walter’s unit leaves Southampton and arrives in La Havre around 2am
  • August 22, 1914: Reaches Cuesmes
  • Aug 23 – Sept 7th, 1914: Walter now in C Company, Lincolnshire Regiment; BEF withdraws from Mons
  • August 26, 1914: The Battle of LeCateau; Walter wounded in the leg during battle.

It's during this time that his unit camps on the convent grounds and he's given the ebony rosary by the Mother Superior. Read the story here.

If anyone has specifics on weather, terrain, etc., that pertain to this area of Begium during August/September 1914, I'd love to hear from you. Thanks!

Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 2:34 PM   0 Comments

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

On a Wildgoose Chase: Solving the Mysteries

As I work my way back in to Walter's world after my hiatus, the list of little mysteries in the story keeps begging for attention. I don't know how many of them are solvable. Some things need bloodhounds and some just need perseverance.

Where's Harry? Will we ever find out what happened to Walter's older brother Harry who ran away from the Sheffield Children's Home?

Where was little Annie during the Sheffield years? Walter believed her to be in Whitley Bay the whole time, but there is some evidence that she, too, was in Sheffield for at least a while.

What's the story behind the family picture and the date (above)? It's dated 1887 but shows three sons. Bert wasn't born until 1889, Walter 1990, and yet Bert (we assume) is shown in the picture. It could be just a matter of mis-dating. Still, where's young Walter? From the looks of Bert, Walter would've been 1 or 2 years old when this was taken. Probably a simple explanation, but it makes one wonder.

What was the relationship between father John and his family in Sheffield? Did the boys ever see their grandparents and cousins while they were in the children's home? We know John's parents and some of his siblings lived in Sheffield when he was in the Workhouse Hospital. Walter never mentions any of his Wildgoose relatives.

Why did the family decide to split when John went to the workhouse? Was it simply a matter of money and/or healthcare for John? Why did Fred stay with his mother while the little ones were sent away? If little Annie was at Whitley Bay, why so far away from the rest of the family?

Why was Walter's injury at Le Cateau mentioned in his discharge record but no mention of the foot injury at 2nd Ypres that got him back to England in 1915?

Well, those are some of the loose ends I'd love to tie up. I have my work cut out for me.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 5:40 PM   3 Comments

Sunday, June 25, 2006

Wildgoose Vacation Over: The Junes of Walter's Life

Sorry I've been away from this site for so long. It has taken longer than I thought to close down my life in Atlanta and move it up to New York.

However, Walter and his story are never far from my thoughts. To jump-start my writing again, I decided to go over the timeline I've created from his letters and from other research I've done. Though the month is almost behind us, I thought I'd pull out the important events noted by Walter that happened during June. Seems like a good place to start!

1919 June: Walter reports back to his unit in Grantham after a bout with quinsey (complications of tonsillitis) lands him in Grove Road Hospital, Richmond, for two weeks.

1920 June: Walter's C Company goes to Basra to quell the uprising in Mesopotamia (now Iraq).

1926 June 24: Third son, Ronald Leslie, born in Chaubattia, India.

1930 June 6: Walter's final discharge from the army after 22 years' service.


I'm not sure of which aspect of Walter's life I'll focus on next. The Sheffield Workhouse days was where I left off, so maybe I'll pick up there.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 6:01 PM   0 Comments

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Walter takes a holiday

The next few weeks are going to be very busy for me, as I prepare for a new job and move from Atlanta to New York City. Alas, my writing and research for my book about Walter has had to take a back seat to getting things settled in the midst of great change.

In the meantime, feel free to peruse the archives of this site to find out about this remarkable man. I'll be back before you know it!

Some of my more interesting posts (in my opinion):

Did you ever know a goose that wasn't?

Sailing the World at 17

Sunstroke and the Army's Exit Process

The Workhouse and Firvale Infirmary

The Lincolnshire's New Recruit

Aden and the Delhi Durbar

The Ring and the Clock

The Disadvantage of a Uniform

1939 - Preparations and Changes

Walter and Bert
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 1:34 PM   0 Comments

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Dealing with Incorrigibles at Sheffield Union Homes

Found an interesting resource at the Sheffield Central Library/Local Studies Center that discussed the ways the Homes handled problem children. From Sheffield Union: The Scattered Homes for Children Historical Sketch, presented by the Children’s Homes Committee to the Sheffield Board of Guardians, 20th March 1907, Sheffield Independent Press LTD:

Other Methods of Dealing with the Children. . . Four other methods are in use, viz – a) boarding out; b) emigration; c) training ships for boys; and d) special Homes and training institutions.

Walter always speculated that older brother Harry was sent to Canada after he ran away from the Homes. Haven't been able to verify this, but we're still working on it:

b) Emigration – Within the last five years some 44 children have been emigrated to Canada, either through Dr. Barnardo’s Homes or the Catholic Emigrating Association (Father Berry’s Homes), and in reference to the large majority of these children we have encouraging reports.

Wonder if Harry was among the 44?

Walter and Bert, of course, were sent to the training ships - Walter to the "Clio" and Bert to the "Southampton" (picture above is of the Southampton boys):

c) Training Ships – In the case of boys who appear to require a more rigorous discipline than our Homes provide, and especially with those given to absconding, we have found training on ship-board a useful expedient. Within the same period of five years six boys have been sent to the “Southampton,” on the Humber, four to the “Clio,” at Bangor, and one to the “Wellesley” on the Tyne. The authorities of these ships undertake the responsibility of placing the boys out on their discharge.

Still hard for me to imagine Walter as requiring a "more rigorous discipline" since he was the model of respectability when I knew him.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 4:45 PM   0 Comments

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

1st Ypres via field messages

One of the most intriguing resources I uncovered while researching at the Imperial War Museum was a 2-volume set of actual field messages from the first battle of Ypres in autumn 1914. Well, truthfully, I didn't uncover it on my own; the outstanding staff at IWM pulled it for me when I requested sources for the battle. At any rate, it gave me a new perspective on what was happening on the ground for the 9th Brigade, 3rd Division, 1st Corps.

The messages, encased in protective sleeves, come in a variety of formats. The higher up the chain of command, the more likely the messages are to be typed or written on official forms. Down in the trenches or on the run, the troops had to make do with whatever scraps of paper they could find. But to see the real messages - not reproductions - was an incredible way to follow the battle.

Some excerpts:

Nov. 12 2:30pm. From 9 Bde To Linc. R: “North. Fus being heavily shelled and expect attack. In event of their being driven in which hope will NOT be the case you could if compelled fall back on new trenches by farm and hold on there at all costs warning Bedfords before doing so. Reconnoitre and see slate of preparedness of trenches.”

Nov. 13 9:30am. From 9th Bde to OC Amb Vlamertinge: “The Battns at present in 9th Inf Bde are as follows: 1st N Fus, 4th Royal Fus, 1st Lincolns, 1st royal Scots Fus.”

Nov. 13 9:50am: From OC Lincolns To Bde Major 9th Bde: “The enemies trenches are getting very close to my line. ? a trench near the house opposite the Bedfords left, a small gun of some sort appears to be throwing shells very close to the front of my fire trench. Is there any means of tackling this? ?? artillery would be dangerous to our firing line. Have we any rifle grenade or anything of that sort? The big guns are commencing to shell again here. Can our artillery get on to them?”

Nov. 13. 10:40am: From 9 Bde To Linc Rgt: “Please report your fighting strength.”

Nov. 13. From Lincolns (Pte W. Warner) To 9th Bde: “2 killed, 14 wounded.”

Nov. 13 1:16pm From 9th Bde To 2nd Echelon 3rd Div: “Issue of rum tonight is very desirable.”


Nov. 14. 3:25pm From OC Lincolns to 9 Bde: “the West Riding machine gun was knocked out by a shell. I have now no machine gun on my right flank. Both mine are out of action. Is it possible to obtain one as I think there should be one on my right flank.”

Nov. 14 3:35pm: From OC Lincolns to Mde Major 9th Bde: “ I should like more wiring on front communication trenches and drainage to existing trenches. I am afraid my men cannot do much digging as they are done up and must sleep if possible. Some arrangement must be made for water supply as the pump is not now available.”

Nov. 14 4:20pm From Lincolns to 9th Bde: “I have no men in reserve or support but 20 men in the rallying ?(redoubt??)”


If you're ever at the Imperial War Museum, request to see: First Battles of Ypres 1914 Messages of 9th Brigade, 3rd Division, Attached 1st Corps, Volume I & II. Fascinating stuff!
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 1:39 PM   4 Comments

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

More on Hill 60

Back in September I posted an excerpt from Walter's letters concerning the Battle of Hill 60 in April 1915. At that time I'd had a hard time finding much about the Battle of Hill 60, though I could find quite a bit about Hill 62. In the original post I questioned whether perhaps Walter had meant "62" instead of "60." I should've known better since he rarely got any detail wrong.

I've recently come upon a couple of good sites about Hill 60, including this one from firstworldwar.com and this one with map and pictures.

Any good resources on Hill 60 (April 1915) out there in addition to internet sites?
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 3:57 PM   0 Comments

Thursday, February 16, 2006

Blast from the past

Walter and Me
Royal Hospital Chelsea, 1977
(Love my "mushroom" hair-do - yikes!)
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 8:21 PM   0 Comments

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Revisiting the rosary story

Last August I posted about the run up to Mons and the rosary given to Walter by the Mother Superior of a convent near Cuesmes. I'm working on that part of his story right now, so the details are roiling around in my head of late.

When I was in England last year, I found a terrific resource at the National Army Museum. A day-by-day accounting of the Lincolnshire Regiment during World War I documented actions and events of the troops and filled in a lot of gaps in Walter's story for me. And knowing Walter's experience with the Mother Superior, I found Simpson's inclusion about the "rather picturesque incident" with the nuns particularly interesting.

Here are a few of my notes from the Simpson book:

From The History of the Lincolnshire Regiment 1914-1918, edited by Major-general C.R. Simpson, The Medici Society LTD, 1951, London.

Mons. At 4am on 22nd orders were issued from Brigade HQ to continue the march northwards . . . It is somewhere about 7am when the 1st Lincs set out along the Blaregnies-Frameries road, from Riez de l’Erelle. They had been about an hour on the way when the Obelisk which marks the side of the Battle of Malplaquet came into view . . . 9th Brigade HQ, two companies of Northumberland Fusiliers, 1st Lincs Transport B, 23rd Bridge RFA, and ammunition column, however, moved to Cuesmes in reserve. (p7)

It was at Cuesmes that Captain Ellison of the Lincolnshire fired the first shot by the Regiment in the war, at a German aeroplane which flew over the village. (p8)

The night of 22nd / 23rd August passed quietly enough and in the morning the troops in Cuesmes were permitted to walk about the town. It was Sunday morning and most of the inhabitants were out in the streets fraternizing with the troops or on their way to mass. (p8)

A rather picturesque incident was afforded by a party of nuns from the neighbouring convent, who proffered and did many kindly services for the men and presented many of them with small pieces of ribbon of the Belgian national colours for good luck. (p8)

The Lincolnshire, in accordance with orders, marched off rapidly for a distance of three miles through cobbled streets along the road to Mons. They took up their position astride a long straight avenue which ran northwards to the centre of the town. Here they set to work to build barricades. Four were erected across the avenue at intervals of 100 yds. Paving stones were pulled up, trees sawn down and placed across the road and with the help of piles of logs and iron piping lying by the roadside, effective obstacles were erected. (p9)


I mentioned in the August post that the ebony rosary and its cross got separated years after the war. One of Ron's children has the rosary; Ron can only guess what happened to the cross.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 10:18 AM   1 Comments

Friday, February 10, 2006

Happy 116, Walter!

Section of Walter's Birth Certificate, registered in Canterbury

Walter, May, Baby Walter 1917


Walter, Ron, May 1936


Walter, Royal Hospital Chelsea c. 1978

Walter Wildgoose, born 10 February 1890. Happy 116th Birthday, you great man!
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 5:41 AM   3 Comments

Friday, February 03, 2006

A workhouse weekend

Children's Homes located lower left.

Walter's time at the Children's Homes on the grounds of the Sheffield Union Workhouse was heavily structured. Weekdays were scheduled with school, chores, and walking back and forth between Ivy Cottage and Owler Lane School. Weekends, too, were designed to keep the boys busy, according to Walter. A farm attached to the workhouse afforded more than enough work for Saturday mornings:

When Saturday came, and there was no school, we all had to go on the farm. Some boys cleared the cowsheds, others would clean the stables and supply them with fresh hay and straw for bedding, but the task I did not like was weeding between the long rows of cabbages. It was a damp and cold job. The turnips had to be sliced in a machine for fodder. Some boys would work in the shoemaker’s shop. Mr. Leeming (our foster father) was the cobbler. It was a large area which included the cottage hospital and the sports field together with the market gardens. We would all return to our home for lunch and in the afternoon we were allowed to go on the playing fields.

Sunday was our special day. We put our best suits on to go to Church, we were marshaled to this place of worship in Sheffield, and we would all be accommodated in the gallery overlooking the congregation. The service used to get so boring that Bert and I devised some fun by rolling pellets of paper and flicking them over the gallery rails on the people below. We got some fun from this, but not for long. This habit was reported to the foster father, and he punished us all by denying us to go and play in the afternoon, and we had to stay around the home compound. Discipline was strict here, so as the days were dragging on, we paid more attention to our lessons.


The theme of discipline - starting at the Children's Homes and carrying through the training ship, the merchant ship, and the military - carries right through Walter's letters. As noted a couple of posts back, he had no problem with proper discipline, as it had been ingrained in him at an early age.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 2:11 PM   2 Comments

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Walter and Bert

Many of Walter's letters talk about the relationship between Walter and his brother Bert. Once the family was separated and the boys sent to Sheffield, Bert represented family to Walter. With father John in the workhouse infirmary, mother Annie and brother Fred in Folkestone, Harry off who-knows-where, and little sister Annie in Whitley Bay (or was she??), the "two Goslings" had to fend for themselves where family ties were concerned.

The only picture we have of Bert is this one taken in India before the devastating sunstroke and the family split-up. And the earliest photo we have of Walter is this one taken in 1912 at age 22. Wonder if they ever had a picture taken together? It's a pity we don't have it.

Early in our correspondence, Walter gives his first account of Bert's death to me:

Yes Mary, when you mention World War I. Fancy being now 65 years ago, and yet I can remember many things that happened. I laid in hospital having been brought home from France in 1915. I went to Clopton War Hospital near Stratford on Avon. I picked up the morning’s paper to read the casualty list which was issued each day. It was on the 9th May 1915, that I read of my poor brother Bert had been killed in action. I was 25 years old at the time and Bert was 26 years old. He was a Lance Corporal in the Black Watch. His regiment went straight to France from Meerut in India, the Meerut Division. I was very sad for weeks over reading the news. We had been great pals at school in Sheffield as school boys. It happened at the Battle of Aubers Ridge in Festubert. Poor Bert! So if he had lived he would now be 90 years of age. The flower of Youth was squandered away of the all the participants. And still they are remembered after all these years despite another war has taken place, not counting all the little side shows around the British Empire (as it then was) which is no more. I thought I would recount this incident to you Mary, although it was hard to do so.

Walter mentions Bert's death no fewer than six times in his letters to me, more than any other single incident of his life. What happens when half of a two-against-the-world partnership dies? Walter was deprived of growing old with his dear brother, of being uncle to Bert's children, of countless conversations and reminescences. After all they'd been through together, he felt the loss of Bert keenly throughout his life.
Bookmark and Share
posted by MaryB @ 11:15 AM   5 Comments