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Stories behind the names

article by UKNIWM office volunteer Gabrielle Orton

Last weekend, I visited Ypres in Flanders, to see various museums, cemeteries, battlefields and memorials.  One of the most striking features was the Menin Gate, at the Eastern exit of the town, built on the road along which hundreds of thousands of troops passed on their way to the front during 1914-1918.  The triumphal arch designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield and opened on 24 July 1927, is one of five memorials to the missing soldiers who died in WWI and whose bodies were never recovered.  There are 54,896 names incised in the memorial’s ‘Hall of Memory’, including British, Canadian, Australian, Indian and South African troops who died before 16 August 1917.  A further 34,984 missing servicemen killed after that date are recorded on the Tyne Cot memorial.

I wanted to make my visit to the Menin Gate and my remembrance of the missing WWI casualties more personal.  So from the vast list of names, I chose to look for information on one soldier, Captain Frank Charlton Jonas of the 1st Battalion, Cambridgeshire Regiment.  For this I used the CWGC website, UKNIWM search and the Channel 4 website’s name search.

The Menin Gate

Captain F C Jonas is commemorated twice in Duxford, the village where he lived with his wife in the old rectory and where his parents, George and Jane Jonas, owned a farm.  The Duxford village memorial celtic cross was unveiled in 1920 (before the Menin Gate was completed), and can be found on the village green.  The names on this memorial are ordered by rank and as Captain Jonas was the highest ranking casualty from the village, he is listed at the top.  There is also a plaque within Duxford Church, dedicated solely to Captain Jonas, which informs us that he was killed aged 36, on 31st July 1917, near St Julien.  St Julien, just North East of Ypres, was recaptured on 31st July 1917, by the 13th Royal Sussex Regiment, during the third battle of Ypres as part of the Flanders offensive.  During the offensive, heavy rains and shelling destroyed the drainage system in the Ypres Salient, creating a swamp-like terrain.  This meant that over 125,000 casualties, including Captain Jonas, were never found.

Captain Jonas has also been commemorated on several memorials in Ely Cathedral, including on one of the 16 beautifully painted oak panels in the Chapel of St George.  Here his name can be found under his home village.  Within the chapel is a window dedicated to all ranks of the Cambridgeshire Regiment.  The corresponding roll of honour, placed on a bracket just inside the chapel, contains 864 names, one of which should be Captain Jonas.

It was interesting to discover so much detailed information about Captain Jonas from the selection of war memorials commemorating him here in the UK.  Perhaps it is underestimated how much war memorials contribute to keeping memories of the casualties of war alive.

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In this Olympic year I have been asked if there are war memorials to Olympic performers. This is rather difficult to answer as their careers at the top level, Sir Steve Redgrave apart, tend to be quite short by comparison say with cricketers, and they disappear from the layman’s consciousness. We do know that many sportsmen of all levels of ability were recruited into the British forces in the First World War, one notable one being Siegfried Sassoon. We have many records of memorials in golf and other sports clubs, while among the individual memorials are two in Northampton, to the black footballer Walter Tull  and to Edgar Mobbs the rugby international.

I have been able to identify some British Olympians who fell in the First World War:

•2nd Lt G.R.L. ‘Twiggy’ Anderson, The Cheshire Regt, died 9 Nov.1914 aged 25. He was a hurdles finalist at the Stockholm Olympics in 1912.
Captain H.S.O. Ashington, East Yorkshire Regt, died 31 Jan.1917 also aged 25. He was educated at Harrow and Cambridge, and was in the English team at Stockholm.(See 11163)
•2nd Lt A.E. Flaxman, South Staffordshire Regt, died aged 36 on the first day of the Somme.
Captain Wyndham Halswell, (25256)  Highland Light Infantry, died 31 March 1915. A professional soldier who had served in the Boer War, he won a gold medal at the 1908 London Olympics in controversial circumstances. In the final of the 400 metres he was blocked by one, or two, American opponents and the race declared void. The Americans refused to take part in the re-run and Halswell won by a walkover.
•Serjeant G.W. Hutson, Royal Sussex Regt, died aged 25 on 14 Sep. 1914. A regular soldier, he came 3rd in the 5000 metres at Stockholm.
•Private Kenneth Powell, Honourable Artillery Company, died 18 Feb. 1915, aged 29. A celebrated hurdler, he was an unplaced finalist at Stockholm and represented Cambridge both at hurdles and lawn tennis.
•I have also found a reference to another hurdler called Cubitt, but have not yet identified him among the 36 of that name on the CWGC Debt of Honour Register.

Research is continuing into other Olympic casualties for the First World War and later conflicts, so if you know anything, please let us know.

Barbara McDermott, one of the two remaining survivors of the RMS Lusitania, died on 12 April.

A poster featuring Justice, personified by a full-length figure of a woman wearing robes and a cloak, holding a sword, in its scabbard, in her extended right hand. She stands above the sea in which drowning figures are visible. In the background right, the four funneled ocean liner, RMS Lusitania, sinks.The British ocean liner, Lusitania, was sailing to London from New York when she was torpedoed by a German submarine on 7 May 1915.  Over half of the nearly 2,000 passengers on board were killed.  The sinking was condemned in Britain and America and considered significant in the later decision of the US to declare war on Germany.

This poster, showing the figure of Justice offering a sword and the stricken Lusitania in the background, is one of many that used the outrage at the sinking to encourage people to join up and fight.

Barbara, who was nearly 3 years old, and her mother, were travelling to visit relatives in England.  Both survived the loss of the Lusitania and spent the rest of the war living in England, although Barbara’s mother sadly died in 1917.  Barbara eventually returned to her father in America after the war.

We’ve recorded a number of memorials commemorating the sinking of the Lusitania, mostly to individuals who lost their lives, such as Annie and Dorothy Lancaster (commemorated by a plaque in St Bartholomews Church, Keelby, Lincolnshire) and 22 year old Tertius Selwyn Warner, son of Thomas and Agnes, whose name was added to their gravestone in Whetstone, Leicestershire.

There’s an interesting article on the BBC News website today about a mountainous region of North West Pakistan called Waziristan.  Bordering Afghanistan, Waziristan is known to be occupied by pro-Taleban and al-Qaeda militants and is believed by some to be the hiding place of Osama Bin Laden.

Back in 1919, when a young officer in the British Army, Captain Francis Stockdale, was stationed in the region, Waziristan was no less dangerous.  Stockdale wrote a book about his experiences called ‘Walk Warily in Waziristan‘, which was published by his family in the 1980s.  Many of the local tribesmen were hostile and regularly attacked British troops and encampments.  Unfortunately they were also renowned as excellent shots.  The area was remote and inhospitable, a terrain of barren mountains and ravines, where temperatures could rise as high as 55°C (131°F).  Not without reason was it known as ‘Hell’s door knocker’.

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Running up the engine of Bristol F2B Fighter Mark II at Dardoni, before taking off on a bombing sortie to Spinwam in North Waziristan, early 1923.The British employed modern warfare techniques  against the tribesmen, using planes such as this Bristol F2B MkII fighter to drop bombs.

We have a good number of memorials that refer to Waziristan.  17 have been recorded so far, dating between 1894 to 1937, which indicate just how dangerous the region could be. 

A plaque in St Giles Church, Wrexham, remembers 18 men of the 1st Battalion The Royal Welch Fusiliers who lost their lives on active service in Waziristan between 1920 and 1923.

Others, like Captain Stockdale, lived to tell the tale.  One such was Major Charles Davies Vaughan DSO, who served in Waziristan in 1894, as well as in South Africa during the Boer War, but died at Gallipoli in April 1915, at the age of 46.  A memorial to Major Vaughan can be found St Michaels Church, Ystrad, Wales.

It’s 90 years to the day that the Royal Flying Corps and the Royal Naval Air Service were merged to form the Royal Air Force (RAF).   There are a great many war memorials that commemorate the members and actions of the RAF – over 800 if we search the database for ‘RAF’.

One notable, recent memorial (unveiled in 2005) is the Battle of Britain Memorial on Victoria Embankment, London.  It features friezes cast in bronze depicting scenes from the Battle, during 1940.  These include: pilots at rest; members of the Observer Corps watching for an attack; ground crews arming hurricanes; pilots scrambling; pilots sharing stories in the mess hall; hop pickers in Kent watching an aerial battle; anti-aircraft gunners; women working in an aircraft factory; a pilot closely pursued by a Luftwaffe plane; St Paul’s Cathedral surrounded by smoke from the Blitz; people searching the ruins after an air raid; and a family making tea in an Anderson shelter.   The memorial also lists the names of 2935 members of the RAF who served or died during the Battle of Britain.

Battle of Britain Memorial

Also in London, you will find many RAF memorials in St Clement Danes church.  The church was gutted by fire in 1941 and rebuilt by the RAF to become their central church, commemorating personnel killed on active service.

Another very significant memorial is the Air Forces Memorial to the Missing at Runnymede, built and managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.  It is a large shrine that commemorates over 20,000 airmen by name, who were lost in the Second World War during operations from bases in the United Kingdom and North and Western Europe, and who have no known graves.

On a window of the shrine, is a poem written by Paul H Scott.

The first rays of the dawning sun
Shall touch its pillars,
And as the day advances
And the light grows stronger,
You shall read the names
Engraved on the stone
Of those who sailed on the angry sky
And saw harbour no more
No gravestone in yew-dark churchyard
Shall mark their resting place
Their bones lie in the forgotten corners
Of earth and sea.
But, that we may not lose their memory
With fading years, their monument stands here,
Here, where the trees troop down to Runnymede.
Meadow of Magna Carta, field of freedom,
Never saw you so fitting a memorial,
Proof that the principals established here
Are still dear to the hearts of men.
Here they now stand, contrasted and alike,
The field if freedom’s birth, and the memorial
To freedom’s winning.

As the evening comes,
And mists, like quiet ghosts, rise from the river bed,
And climb the hill to wander through the cloisters,
We shall not forget them. Above the mist
We shall see the memorial still, and over it
The crown and single star. And we shall pray
As the mists rise up and the air grows dark
That we may wear
As brave a heart as they.

The Castle and Regimental Museum, Monmouth, is a small volunteer-run museum which tells the story of the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia). The museum displays a wide range of artefacts relating to the Regiment, which can trace its origins back to the militia of the sixteenth century. It also holds the records of the Regiment, which cover the
period 1786-1976, and contain much fascinating information on the Regiment and on the men who served in it.

Among the records in the archive are several Regimental rolls and some very detailed enlistment registers, which record not just names and ages of recruits, but where they came from and their height and physical appearance and occupation. Information from these has been put online as a searchable database, so that family historians and others can look for individuals who they think may have been members of the Regiment or its predecessor, the Monmouthshire Militia.

So far, information from an enlistment register for 1786-1816 and a (much less detailed) Regimental Roll for 1914-1916 is online – over 3000 names in all. A further 3500 should be available shortly.  It’s worth noting that members of the Regiment didn’t just come from Monmouthshire.  Those listed in the early enlistment register came from various parts of south Wales and the West Country; by the First World War, the Regiment was drawing recruits from all parts of England and Wales.

The website can be found at http://www.monmouthcastlemuseum-archives.org.uk.  As well as the database of members of the Regiment, it has information on the archive and a selection of some of the fascinating photographs in the museum’s collection.

Lazare Ponticelli, the last surviving French veteran from the First World War, has died at the age of 110.  He is expected to received a state funeral and France will declare a national day of remembrance. 

Italian troops, 1916Ponticelli was born in Italy in 1897, but moved to France as a child.  At the outbreak of the First World War he lied about his age in order to join the French Foreign Legion, however by 1915 – when Italy entered the war – he was forced to join the Italian Army. 

He served as a machinegunner, fighting on the Austrian front where he was both wounded and gassed during the course of the war.  He eventually took French citizenship and remained there for the rest of his life, running a successful piping business.

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