Tag Archives: France

By office volunteer, Annette Gaykema.

Further to Frances Casey’s blog post of July 2009, records held at the Australian War Memorial and the National Archives of Australia can shed further light on Sidney Frank William Harold Green.

Like all First World War Australian service records, his file has been digitised by the National Archives. In this file there is no notification of a promotion to the rank of Sergeant, so it appears that his last rank was Corporal, as is consistent with information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. This differs to the rank he is given in the Peterborough Book of Remembrance, and it suggests that an error may have been made when the Book was compiled. 

Front page of Cpl. Green's service record

Front page of Cpl. Green's service record

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article by UKNIWM Project Officer, Frances Casey

The anniversary of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July has made me think recently of that equally disastrous attack, intended as a diversion and strategic support to the main Somme offensive, which took place at Fromelles on 19th July 1916. In the news, following the discovery of a burial pit containing the bodies of approximately 400 Australian and British soldiers in 2006, the Attack at Fromelles was the first engagement on the western front for the newly arrived Australian Imperial Force, and for many it was also to be their last. The attack is characterised by a catalogue of errors and poor judgement, for the plan of attack assumed that an assault in force in broad daylight would take the enemy by surprise, without allowing for the possibility of the advance being held up. In the event, the Australian 8th and 14th Brigades were caught above ground as, horrifyingly, they encountered trenches flooded with rainwater on their advance. They were trapped, unable to retreat or to move in either direction due to quick encirclement by German machine gun posts. Elsewhere, poor communication caused a futile and doomed one-pronged advance by the Australian 58th Battalion who were unaware that the British had cancelled their side of the assault.

The nature of the attack, which completely failed in its objective to divert the Germans from the Somme front and capture the German-held salient at Fromelles, explains the gravity of the Australian losses at over 5,000 men. These losses, made over just one day and night, led to the establishment of the only cemetery in France dedicated solely to Australian soldiers of the First World War.

V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles

V.C. Corner Australian Cemetery Memorial, Fromelles

Unlike the usual format of Commonwealth War Graves cemeteries, the V.C Corner Australian Cemetery near Fromelles does not have headstones. In the battlefield searches carried out by the Imperial (later Commonwealth) War Graves Commission in the 1920s, over 400 bodies were found at Fromelles, but none could be identified and as a result, they lie buried in unmarked plots.  Each man killed in the attack at Fromelles is instead commemorated on an imposing memorial, designed by Sir Herbert Baker, in the V.C Corner Australian Cemetery.  

According to the charter of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, every individual casualty is entitled to be commemorated by name, either on a headstone or, if their body was not found or identified, on a memorial to the missing/ unidentified. The CWGC does not commemorate individuals in more than one place. So, it does seem likely that, with the planned identification of individuals from the Fromelles mass grave using DNA, the names will slowly be removed from the Memorial and transferred to headstones in the new cemetery, planned outside the town of Fromelles for 2010. Certainly, a precedent for this exists with the Menin Gate.  What will be interesting to see, is whether the wish to identify individuals in the newly discovered mass grave will inevitably lead to a desire to identify the nameless interments in the V.C Corner Australian Cemetery.

Thinking about the unidentified and missing men of the attack, I wondered whether there might be memorials in the UK or Australia commemorating individuals killed at Fromelles in 1916. A search of the UKNIWM Channel4 names database brought up seven memorials which referred specifically to Fromelles. Six of these were to the battle of the same name, which had taken place just over a year previously on 9th May 1915. One memorial, a Roll of Honour in Peterborough District Hospital, commemorates Sgt Sidney Green, of the 59th Bn Australian Imperial Force, ‘Reported Killed in Action 19th July 1916 at Fromelles’.  Sidney Green was 26 when he died, and in the 1920s the IWGC received a returned casualty form from his family. This told them that he was the son of Patience and the late James Green and the husband of Irene Elizabeth. Described as ‘Native of Staines, Middlesex’ he was recorded as living at 7 Manningham Street, West Parkville, Victoria, Australia. Peterborough is not mentioned, although the Roll of Honour also has an address for him at Fletton Avenue, Peterborough.

Sgt Sidney Frank William Harold Green, from The Bond of Sacrifice

Sgt Sidney Frank William Harold Green, from The Bond of Sacrifice

I did not find Sidney Green named on Staines War Memorial, and it may be that when this memorial was erected, there was no longer anyone living in the town who knew him. What was more surprising was that he is not on the Parkville War Memorial on Royal Parade in Melbourne. This memorial, a statue of an Australian First World War soldier, has 30 names on it and stands just across the park from where Sidney Green lived. There are numerous potential explanations for why his name is missing: by the time the Parkville memorial was commissioned and then unveiled in 1929, Irene Green may have moved away, or since her husband was technically missing she may not have wished to submit his name; there may have been some accidental, social or personal motivation. That he is on the Peterborough memorial shows that his life was not a straightforward case of born and died and represented in these areas: that his life touched that of others in the different places that he lived and was known.  An unexpected discovery was a photograph of Sgt Sidney Frank William Harold Green, 59th Bn, Australian Imperial Force in the First World War Bond of Sacrifice, a published photographic biographical roll of honour. This photo and entry would have been another means of commemorating the life of Sidney Green.  

In looking into the memorials to one individual lost in the horror of Fromelles in 1916, I realised that although these men have been missing for over 90 years, there are traces of their complex life paths in the memorials, traces that have been made manifest by those who knew them. I was also left with the question of whether, when a name is missing from a memorial, is this not just as vocal an indication of the movements, hopes or errors of those they left behind?

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.

Read more from The Times

Today’s blog post was written by one of our volunteers, Richard.

‘I am the enemy you killed, my friend…’

Wilfred Owen ‘Strange Meeting’

The reference in an earlier blog post to memorials to nationals of enemy countries may seem strange, although in recent times new memorials have been erected with inscriptions intended not to cause offence by referring to all victims of war or conflict.

While such inscriptions may seem colourless, if well-intended, they do recognize that the advance of technology during the twentieth century rendered civilian populations in wartime vulnerable to an unprecedented extent. So for example small children killed in Dresden or Hiroshima were as blameless as their counterparts in a Poplar school killed in a German air raid on London’s docklands in 1917. (Click to see memorial record)

Distinct from this, there is the recognition that it’s advisable for all concerned for there to be some constraints on the conduct of war, and part of this is the respect, including war memorials, paid to the enemy’s dead: some examples were quoted previously.

Another example is the memorial to French prisoners of war at Norman Cross on the A1 in Cambridgeshire. Significantly this was not unveiled until nearly a century after Waterloo, not long after the Entente Cordiale and shortly before the outbreak of the First World War. Some Napoleonic memorials, however, are rather earlier such as the one at HM Prison, Dartmoor, and one now at Chatham. On this one part of the inscription refers to ‘...many brave soldiers and sailors who…have been laid in an honourable grave by a nation which knows how to respect valour and to sympathise with misfortune.’

From the First World War a German teacher is commemorated on a memorial at Manchester Grammar School. At Oxford at the insistence of the Warden of New College, Dr Spooner (he of the spoonerism), a tablet to three German students was unveiled in the 1920s, amid some controversy. 

Recent research has established that Gerhard Brumund, included on the Great Central Railway’s memorial at Sheffield was born in Germany. He was killed when that company’s steamship SS Leicester hit a mine in the English Channel and sank in 1916.

The last moments of the the German Army's airship, SL 11, in flames above HertfordshireSome enemies died in the skies over Britain. In the First World War, SL11 a German Army airship, was shot down over Cuffley in Hertfordshire in 1916 by Lt William Leefe Robinson. He was awarded the VC for ‘most conspicuous bravery’ in attacking the first German airship destroyed on British soil. The crew of SL11 were buried with full military honours at Potters Bar, the vicar of Cuffley having refused them burial. The photo opposite shows the last moments of SL 11, in flames above Hertfordshire. In 1967 the graves of Germans who died in Britain during the two world wars, including the crew of SL11, were concentrated at the Cannock Chase German War Cemetery in Staffordshire.

At King’s Somborne in Hampshire is a small memorial to the crew of a Luftwaffe plane downed in 1940. A more substantial Second World War memorial at St Peter’s Italian church in central London commemorates enemy aliens, both Italian and German, lost when the Arandora Star carrying them to internment in Canada was torpedoed in 1940 by the German submarine U47. As a reminder that political alliances are not necessarily unchanging, the same church has a memorial to its members in the war of 1915-1918 (sic) killed at a time when Italy was one of Britain’s allies.

On this day 25 years ago, Henry VIII’s flagship the Mary Rose was raised from the bed of the Solent where it had lain for 437 years.  The Mary Rose had capsized on 19 July 1545 as it sailed out to meet the French fleet.

A few days earlier, hundreds of French troops had invaded the Isle of Wight.  A memorial plaque at Seaview  records this action and how it was subsequently “bloodily defeated and repulsed by local militia, 21st July 1545.