Thursday, 23 January 2020

The Rats

Life in the trenches was a world away from drill halls and every day life. Rats were one of the Front line's most unpleasant guests.

The 11th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment crossed to France via Southampton on 5th/6th March 1916, landing at Havre.

This letter from Private Wenham of the 11th appeared in the Eastbourne Gazette on 14th June 1916 and gave the people back in Eastbourne a taste of what was happening.

“Lowthers Lambs” and the Rats

'Mr and Mrs H. Wenham, of Meads Street Eastbourne, have received a letter from their son (Private F.P. Wenham) in which he says,

“We are doing another four days in the trenches, but as we have already done two we shall soon be out again. Then we shall go back a little way for eight days rest.

We are like the rats which infest this place – we only get active at night! When in the front line we have a fine game with the rats. When the rifles are placed on the parapet we stick a piece of toasted cheese on the bayonet, then when ‘Nibs’ comes along, pull trigger, and exit rat! The advantage of this means of execution is that there is always a chance of the bullet finding its way into the German trench and making Fritz nervous. You can take it from me, there is no need to worry on my behalf. The grub is pretty good, I am absolutely fit, and Fritz is far too busy to make a bullet with my number on it.”'

Private Frederick Peter Wenham served in the 11th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment (1st Southdowns). Service number SD/261.

He was subsequently transferred to the 9th Battalion. He died on 30th July 1917, aged 21 and is buried in LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY, Belgium.

Tuesday, 21 January 2020


The age old problem of roads catering for cyclists was evident at the being of the war. This letter published in the Eastbourne Gazette, is from a concerned cyclist highlighting the dangers of the edge of the road.



May I through you columns direct the attentions of the Highway Committee to a very serious danger to cyclists, which I am sure they will gladly remove. The danger arises from leaving a ridge, sometimes nearly two inches in height, between the gutter and the roadway.

An example, of which there are plenty, may be found in the gutter facing the London City and Midland Bank, in Terminus Road. Owing to the congestion of traffic, especially motor cars, the easy-going cyclist is driven to take the extreme edge of the road and sometimes even the gutter.

The gutter is generally slippery enough in itself, but when there is a ridge, as is too often the case, the cyclist in attempting to regain the road is in serious danger of sideslip and of being thrown under the wheels of the quick moving car.

The edge of the gutter ought to be levelled off so as to allow the cyclist to regain the road without difficulty of danger. I notice that in some places an indifferent attempt at such bevelling has been made, but in many other places no bevelling at all has been done. In case a cyclist were injured though such carelessness who would be responsible?

Motcombe Lane

Wednesday, 15 January 2020

Dogs In The Trenches

This was originally published in  'From All the Fronts' by Donald Mackenzie (1917).

'Dogs in the Trenches'

The dog has long been called "the friend of man", and in this great war it has proved itself to be a friend indeed. Many stories are told of dogs leaving home and tracking their masters to the trenches, and of their wonderful courage under fire. But it is not as a pet alone that the dog has proved itself a "friend", but also as a worker, whether doing red-cross work, sentinel duty, or hauling sledges with supplies over snow - clad hills.

One of the famous French army dogs is "Marquis", which did splendid service carrying dispatches. This faithful animal showed great intelligence, and ran and crept through bullet-swept zones carrying important messages when no human being could venture to do so. More than once Marquis helped whole companies to get out of tight spots by bringing them warnings in time, and it also kept officers in touch with their superiors, when heavy bombardments cut telephone wires, by scampering from point to point with messages.

One morning Marquis was sent out on his last journey with a dispatch in his mouth. The Prussians were attacking heavily at the time. Shell-fire burst above and behind the French trenches, and it was impossible for a soldier to attempt to leave cover. Marquis ran off - going briskly so long as it was under cover. Then he had to cross an open track of country where the bullets pattered down like hailstones. He crept low, and made short rushes from bush to bush, while anxious eyes followed its movements. For a time all went well. Then, when it seemed as if the dog would succeed, it was struck by a bullet and fell on the ground. An officer, who had been watching through his field-glasses, uttered a cry of regret, and began to sorrow for poor Marquis. For a time the dog lay very still. Then he began to come back. Slowly he crept on, suffering pain and very weak from loss of blood. At length, after a great effort, Marquis returned to his master, and, dropping the blood-stained dispatch at his feet, fell over and died. That evening the French soldiers, with bared heads and heavy hearts, buried the faithful dispatch dog, and set up a little monument to mark his grave.

Another famous dog was named Lutz. It won its reputation near Verdun. One dark night a force of Germans were stealing towards a French position all unknown to the sentinels. Lutz, however, scented them and began to growl. "Hush! lie down!" a sentinel said in a low voice, but Lutz only grew more restless and excited. The attention of an officer was drawn to the dog's behaviour, and a warning was issued. The French soldiers were roused from sleep and stood ready to deal with any unexpected danger. Ere long they became aware of the near presence of Germans, and a withering fire broke out from the French trenches. The German surprise attack failed completely because of the warning given by Lutz. A large number of this raiding force were killed at point-blank range, and most of the survivors were taken prisoners.

Dogs like Lutz are trained to act as helpers of sentries. They do not all growl and bark when danger is near, however. Some simply "point" like "pointer dogs" used by sportsmen on the moors. When these wise animals scent the enemy, they thrust their noses forward, stiffen out their backs, and signal with their tails, keeping perfectly silent. One dark night a pointer, named Paul, stood beside a sentry. Suddenly the dog began to sniff and grow restless. Then he pointed stiffly towards a point where he had scented the enemy. An officer was informed that the dog was "pointing". He shrugged his shoulders and said, "The dog can't be trusted." Paul was taken down a trench and led to another sentry post. There he sniffed again and "pointed" in the same direction as formerly. "Now, Paul," the officer said, "we shall put you to the test." He ordered rockets to be sent up. Flares of vivid light cut through the darkness, and three Germans on "listening post" duty were seen crouching on the ground less than twenty yards distant.

Their duty was to spy on the French position and find out whether any preparations were being made for a night attack. This they could do by listening to hear words of command and the movements of soldiers getting ready to creep out in the darkness. If such preparations were being made, it was their duty to creep back and give the alarm. Having been pointed at by Paul, this particular "listening post" party was rounded up by the French, the three men being brought in as prisoners. The officer patted Paul, and calling him "a treasure", said: "I shall see, good dog, that you are mentioned in dispatches."

The dogs that do ambulance work have saved many lives by going out in the darkness over "No-Man's- Land", after an attack had taken place, finding wounded soldiers, and carrying food and stimulants to them. The intelligent way in which these animals behave is very wonderful. When a red-cross dog finds a stricken soldier, it runs back and leads a party towards him. On the outbreak of war the French had only a few dogs trained for ambulance work, but these proved to be so useful that their numbers were speedily added to. In less than two years' time there were nearly 3000 dogs at work, and it is estimated that owing to their help about 10,000 lives have been saved.

Among the Vosges mountains large numbers of dogs from Labrador and Alaska have been used to pull sleighs loaded with food or ammunition over trackless wastes, and also to drag small trucks on narrow lines of railway. When snow lies heavily on the ground, and a crust is formed on it by the hard frosts, the dogs can scamper up and down the mountain slopes at great speed. Long teams are yoked to the sledges, and the drivers have exciting enough spins. Sometimes it takes them all their time to keep the animals under control. Running in packs, they often become greatly excited, and scamper at such a rate that there is always the danger of an accident taking place. More than one sledge has been overturned during a wild rush down a steep snowy slope. The dogs follow a leader, who picks out a track by instinct, and occasionally swerves this way and that to avoid a danger spot, such. as a piece of jutting rock, or a deep hollow over which the snow lies thinly. But the bounding animals never swerve if there should happen to be men or mules in front of them. One day a company of French soldiers were crossing a little valley, when a team of carrier dogs swept down the long sloping hill-side and ran pell-mell towards them.

In another minute three or four soldiers found themselves struggling in the snow with foaming and excited dogs tumbling over them. The sledge was overturned, and the driver thrown a dozen yards into a heavy snow-wreath, from which he came out shouting protests, and shaking himself like his dogs to get rid of the sheets of snow that clung about his shoulders and neck. Fortunately no one was seriously hurt. When the sleigh was righted again, and the dogs were got in hand, the driver set his team scampering merrily down the valley. Much more trouble is caused if the dogs should happen to run into a group of pack mules. The mule is never, as a rule, too good-tempered, and if he is tripped up, he bites and kicks so much that it is dangerous to go near him. One evening, just as the sun was setting in a blaze of red over the snow-clad hills, a mule, which was thrown over by a scampering dog team, kicked out so fiercely as it sprawled in the snow that it killed three dogs and injured another half-dozen. The sleigh was loaded with ammunition, but by good luck ran down a sloping bank clear of the animal's hoofs. The dogs' traces had to be cut, and three of them escaped, and scampered away out of sight in a few minutes, but they were found next day to have returned to the camp from which they had set out.

As a rule, these sleigh dogs are somewhat wild. They are greatly given to fighting among them-selves, and if one of them should happen to escape from a kennel, they bark and howl at a great rate, and cannot be silenced until the comrade who has won freedom is caught and taken back again. It takes a skilled driver to deal with them when they grow fierce and excited.

They are, however, very obedient to, and even quite gentle with, those who feed them readily, and, being most intelligent, answer readily to their names. But for these dogs, the problem of sending supplies of food and ammunition through the passes of the Vosges during winter would have been a very difficult one. Often when the light railways were buried in snow and rendered quite useless, and teams of pack mules were hardly able to make their way through the wreaths, the northern dogs scampered along, hauling the sleighs and keeping the soldiers well supplied with all they required.

Monday, 13 January 2020

If Germany Gad Won The Great War

Published in December 1918 it lays out for all to read the territorial ambitions of the Kaiser.

If Germany Had Won

I saw a leaflet the other day which the German Bolshevists, known as the Spartacus group, had issued. (Spartacus was the leader of a revolt of slaves against the oppression of their Roman masters.) This leaflet sketched the conditions which would be created for Germany by a German victory. The firmer fixing of the Junker yoke upon the people's neck, the intensifying of the "Imperial madness," the triumph of reaction in every form, militarism all-powerful, Germany an armed camp, "holding down conquered Europe by blood and iron," bankrupt in purse, too exhausted by military effort for industry of the wholesome kind, with no shipping, no trade — these were the consequences foretold if Germany should win. Foretold by Germans who had the sense to see through the lies with which the ruling class deluded the people. No one who has studied Pan- Germanism can doubt that the prophecy was well founded.

But while the interest of the Spartacus group was in the German conditions which would follow a victory for the Old Gang, we are more interested in the terms of peace which they would have imposed upon us and our Allies. Field-Marshal Hindenburg calls the armistice conditions "hard." The "women of the new Fatherland" have sent out an appeal to the women of all lands, urging that "the innocent victims of an infamous system" ought not to be punished. Prince Lichnowsky has protested against a "peace of violence." Have they all forgotten ?

The Kaiser's Boast

Up to a few-months ago the German leaders were boasting about the peace they would make. "Not an easy one," crowed the Kaiser in March last. "No peace until we have impressed our will upon the Entente Powers !" was Hindenburg's reply when he was asked by a correspondent at the end of 1916, "Are you willing to make peace ?"

What would "impressing their will" upon us have meant ? We have ample means of judging. The leaders of German opinion have on various occasions during the war announced what they considered to be the least that Germany could expect in the way of "compensation" and "guarantees for the future." In a statement circulated in large quantities by the " Committee for a German Peace," and sanctioned by General von Stein, War Minister, these demands were set forth :
"Belgium must remain dependent upon Germany in a military, economic, and political sense.
"We must have the French mineral districts of Briey and Longwy, and improve our frontiers, especially in the Vosges.

"We must possess the old German Baltic Provinces, rich soil for German peasant colonisation.
"Our enemies must pay the cost of the war in raw materials, ships, money, and territory,"
That was the programme of the Fatherland Party. It was against this that, in a fit of depression during the summer of 1917, the Reichstag passed its "No annexations, no indemnities" resolution. But that mood did not survive the March offensive. "War aims," the Vice-President of the Prussian Ministry avowed, "are bound to change with the political and military situations. We are the victors, and we feel ourselves the victors." So down came the "No annexations, no indemnities" placard. Up went the demands for vast sums of money, large and valuable increases of territory.

Do not imagine that the demands were advanced only by the wild men of the Fatherland Party. In January, I917, Mr. Gerard had a talk with the Imperial Chancellor, Herr von Bethmann-Hollweg, who told him frankly: "We must have Liege and Namur, and other Belgian forts and garrison towns. We must have railroad lines, ports, and other means of communications in Belgium. We must keep a large army there. And we must control the commerce of Belgium."

Exactly the Fatherland Party's programme — military, economic, and political domination. Yet this was the same Bethmann-Hollweg who confessed at the beginning of the war that Germany had done wrong to Belgium, and who promised that the wrong should be repaired. No thought of repair was in his mind in 1917.

He proposed that the wrong should be made permanent for Germany's benefit.

Further, he claimed annexations from France, Russia, and Italy, with indemnities from all Germany's opponents, and "all ships back." Thus the Imperial Chancellor accepted the claims formulated a few months after war began by the six leading German associations. In March, 1915, they sounded the key-note to which from that time all German voices were pitched. "Victims of an infamous system," the German people now call themselves. How was it not a voice was raised among the German people against their "infamous system" and greedy and domineering aims ?

The six societies, representing all classes, were : the Landlords' Union ; the Central Association of German Manufacturers ; the Middle Classes' Association (consisting chiefly of Government officials); the- German Peasants' Society; and the League of Christian Peasants. Their memorandum to the Government declared that: "As the indispensable condition of German sea-power, Belgium must be subjected to German Imperial law, in both military and in tariff matters, while the industrial undertakings and landed property in Belgium must be transferred to German hands."
Belgium, then, if the German will had been impressed upon the Entente Powers, would have ceased to exist as an independent State. That is as clear as day.

Next, the six associations explained what they would do with. France. The coastal districts must be in German possession as far as the Somme. Look at the map to see what this meant. The mines of Briey and Longwy must be taken from France, with the fortresses of Verdun and Belfort, and in this neighbourhood all "industrial establishments" of any importance must remain in German hands.
The anxiety to secure the Briey and Longwy districts was caused by the existence of very valuable iron-ore deposits, discovered since the annexation of 1871, and for at least seven years past coveted by the German iron-masters. The Germans had no possible claim to them, beyond the claim of the burglar to the silver forks and spoons which, he. steals. No more shameless admission of the objects to be attained by successful war has ever been made public. And this was not the admission of the men at the head of "the infamous system" by which Germany was governed, but that of the representatives of the German people.

They added that, as industrial Germany would thus be extended in the west, so agricultural Germany should be given the chance to extend eastward. This meant the annexation of "at least part" of the Baltic Provinces and of Poland.

German Popular Approval

These remained Germany's war-aims until the summer of this year. The German people, as a whole, approved of them until it became clear that the world would never allow them to be realised.
What would it have meant if they had been realised ? We should have had a German coast-line opposite to our coast-line, not only on the east, but on the south-east as well, as far as Hastings. Belgium would have been added to Germany. Down through Central Europe there would have been a wide belt of German territory, for what belonged to Germany's allies would soon have belonged to Germany. This would have stretched across the Dardanelles. into Asia, and thence German domination would have continued as far as the Persian Gulf.

Two well-known writers on Colonial subjects brought out a book as recently as June last in which they advocated the forming of a German Mohammedan block in Africa and Asia, and the forcible annexation of the western half of Morocco and Senegambia, the French Sudan, Dahomey, the Ivory Coast, the Portuguese Colonies, and Nigeria. And until Britain evacuated Nigeria, said the authors, "Germany will hold the Suez Canal as an armistice hostage."

Can it be said that there is anything in the allied-intentions as to peace terms which will even approach the harshness of the sacrifices which Germany would have exacted from us all if she had won ? A German peace would have left Europe bleeding and bitterly resentful, would have made another war certain. The allied peace shall, we intend, heal all. wounds and smooth away all anger, and leave the world with a League of Nations to guarantee it against further outbreaks of madness of the Imperialist type.
How Great Britain Would Have Fared

There will be no such country as Great Britain in existence at the end of the war. In its place we shall have Little Britain, a narrow strip of island territory, peopled by loutish football kickers, living on the crumbs that Germany will deign to throw to them. Certain it is that the laughable and childish military system of Britain will shortly fall to pieces. Then the once-mighty Empire, with her naval strength represented by the few old tubs which Germany will have left her, will become the laughing-stock of the nations, the scarecrow at which children will point their fingers in disdainful glee.
"Cologne Gazette," Sept., 1914.

Friday, 10 January 2020

The KIng and Soldiers Gloves

This letter appeared in the Eastbourne Gazette on 23rd December 1914. It is interesting how the expectation of the writer was that every recruit would wear gloves and carry a cane when off duty.

The King and Soldiers Gloves.


I notice the King has sent £25 to the fund for supplying gloves and mittens to the troops, which was started by the Grand Duke Michael, Lieutenant-Colonel Sir. F. Ponsonby, Keeper of the Privy Purse, in forwarding a cheque to the Grand Duke, writes; “The King is glad to hear what a success the fund has been and how grateful the troops are for the gloves which have been supplied to them.”

May I express a hope that all recruits will make a point of wearing gloves and carrying canes when they are off duty, it is the custom for the troops in garrison towns to do this and we want the new soldiers of the King (Kitchener’s Army) to cultivate briskness and smartness in every detail.

Yours faithfully

Eastbourne, Monday.

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Syrup from White Beetroot

With sugar in short supply and rationing taking effect novel ways of creating your own sweeteners were published. The Times published this letter which gives full instruction of how to cook your own sweet syrup from white beetroot.

It all seems rather long winded and time consuming today but in the middle of the war any method of beating rationing was welcomed.


Sir, - Those who have had any difficulty in keeping down to the prescribed amount of sugar or in getting that amount and have some garden space beyond what they need for potatoes, may be glad to dispense with sugar altogether till the end of the war. This they can do by making in their kitchen a strong aqueous solution of sucrose or syrup from white beetroot. Such a syrup, rightly made, has scarcely any taste but the sweet taste and can be used not only for cooking but even where the sense of taste is daintier, with tea and coffee.

Here is a recipe for the right making on a convenient scale which any cook can follow and needing only the use of ordinary kitchen appliances. First, grow or, for immediate use, get your beetroot. Any of the well-known seedsmen will supply seeds of the best sugar variety. Cut off most of the green top and wash without breaking the outer skin. Boil for an hour, more or less, according to the size of the beet. Remove the rest of the top and the outer skin, which now comes off easily, with the fingers. Weigh out 1 lb. Scrape each beet in turn with vegetable grater. The heap thus formed must be handled lightly so that little strips may remain separate. Heat 2 ½ pints of water to boiling in a saucepan about 6ins across and drop the beet into it. Heat again and boil gently for half an hour. Keep the cove on guarding against frothing over. Filter the contents through a jelly-bag and squeezes them, collecting the syrup in a bowl. Repeat the operation; or take 2 lb of beet and 4 pints of water. The 5 pints of week syrup got thus will be acid and must be made alkaline. A thimble full of bicarbonate of potash dropped into the syrup effects this. Return the liquid to the saucepan and heat to boiling. At first there is frothing. When this is past boil strongly with the saucepan uncovered till half the water is boiled away. Take the temperature with a cook’s thermometer and let it rise to 217 deg Fahr. It is then to be poured while still hot into a wine bottle which has been heated with water or in the oven to a similar temperature. Cork well. The syrup is then sterilized and will keep. A dessert spoonful is equal to a lump of sugar.

Yours faithfully,

A. Vernon Harcourt.
St. Clare,
Isle of Wight.

Saturday, 4 January 2020

A Certain Nostalgia

Looking back to the days before and after the Great War , C.E, Montague, in his published work of 1940, ‘Disenchantment;’ casts a longing eye over those days of hope and expectation.

“Those who tried to put the clock back merely found that it no longer told the time. The Edwardian Epoch, which continued in essentials until the First World War, was found when hostilities had ceased, to have receded into the background of history. It was as remote as the ‘Ancien Regime’ after the Napoleonic Wars.  In many ways our own world is a better one, and yet it is hard to resist a certain nostalgia for a period when a least some people took it for granted, that the world was a pleasant place to live in a saw no reason why the ‘good time’ should not go on forever.”

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