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.

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!
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posted by MaryB @ 1:39 PM  


  • At 2:33 PM , Blogger Walker said...

    Interesting and poignant reading.

  • At 5:01 PM , Blogger MaryB said...

    Holding the real messages in my hands was an incredible experience. Really helped me understand what it must have been like.

  • At 2:58 PM , Blogger Walker said...

    I have four diaries of a great great great uncle of mine written in the late 19th century. I intend to put these on my [or a] blog as though he was writing it. So the same day as he was writing it I will be posting it - just 130 years or so later.

    It might work - we'll see. Got to get it out of the box in the corner which is buried under some more boxes.

  • At 4:12 PM , Blogger MaryB said...

    That's a great idea, Charlie. Let me know when you get it sorted out! I'd love to read them.


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