Archive for August, 2010
Just a few lines really singing the praises of the series of books entitled ‘VCs of the First World War’. Whilst visiting the battlefields I have seen tours whose focus is solely to visit the graves of Victoria Cross recipients or look at the sites of VC actions. I have always thought that this was a narrow-minded way to view the battlefields and war. By the nature of their deeds, VC recipients were a breed apart and I feel that by too much emphasis on their actions, the real day-to-day grind of the ordinary soldier, be it PBI or artilleryman is diluted.
However, I must acknowledge there is some contradiction in my above statement as, when guiding for a recent battlefield tour to Arras, I visited the graves or VC sites of three recipients in a single day; Private Horace Waller, 10th KOYLI, Captain Arthur Henderson, 2nd Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and Lieutenant Donald Mackintosh, 2nd Seaforth Highlanders. Clearly, their deeds inspire us all and it seems the least one can do when in a cemetery containing a VC grave to read out their citation. This brings me on to the subject matter – the excellent series from the now defunct Sutton Publishing covering the war.
The excellent and proficient Gerald Gliddon has covered the following:
1914, The Somme, Arras and Messines 1917, Cambrai 1917, The Sideshows, The Spring Offensive 1918, The Road to Victory 1918 and The Final Days 1918
Stephen Snelling’s three editions cover the Gallipoli and Passchendaele campaigns and ‘The Naval VCs’ whilst the ‘The Air VCs’ is compiled by Peter G. Cooksley and, finally, ‘The Western Front, 1915’ by Peter F. Batchelor & Christopher Matson. Each book follows a similar format with a detailed explanation of the VC action and subsequent history of the recipient. There then follows biographical information about the soldier (or sailor) from their birth to death.
I have six of the books listed above and each has proved indispensable in my research or when preparing for battlefield trips. I am currently using the Cambrai volume for some work on local hero, Lieutenant Hardy Falconer Parsons VC (more details to follow in due course). They can be picked up pretty cheaply on the net – try www.abebooks.co.uk. I would heartily recommend them as a study aid or even to pick up and read at any odd moment – the bravery contained therein can only inspire us all.
As a slight aside from the work on the Tunnellers Memorial I am glad to report that I have managed to secure a permanent home for a treasured portrait picture of a young man who lost his life in the Great War.
When I tracked down John Abraham in March 2010 and we met to discuss Thomas Collins and the Tunnellers Memorial he showed me an amazing picture of Thomas which had always hung in the Collins family parlour. Details of this are given on this blog entry.
The full length picture was accompanied by his death scroll, both framed but in need of restoration. Following a conversation with John Abraham who suggested the picture needed lodging in a suitable military museum I am delighted to say that the Royal Engineers Museum at Chatham has agreed to take Thomas’ picture and death scroll to hang alongside William Hackett’s picture. Their stories are inexorably intertwined and I am not alone in feeling that there is a potent symbolism in their pictures hanging alongside each other while they both lie entombed 40 feet below the fields of Givenchy.
However, that is not the end of the story. Thomas was the eldest boy of the family. His younger brother was Daniel who, like Thomas, served his country in its hour of need. Sadly, Able Seaman Daniel Collins, RNVR was killed on 26 February 1918 on “SS Greavesash”, a merchant steamer which was torpedoed without warning by German submarine UB-74 and sunk off the Normandy coast. Daniel was one of eight crew who were killed that day.
On our visit to Swansea John Abraham also presented us with a framed portrait of Daniel along with his death scroll and asked that we secure a home for it too. This presented me with a problem as I knew the RE would be keen on Thomas’ picture because he was so integral to one of the best known VC actions in the war but I had no idea who to approach for safeguarding Daniel’s picture. I have tried the Royal Naval Museum at Portsmouth but sadly, they are unable to take this as it needs some restoration work and their space for storage is limited. I guess it will now have to go back to the family – it would have been nice to have had both brother’s pictures in museums.
On a final and not too wayward note, I can also report that the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour entries for Thomas and Daniel have now been amended. I approached the CWGC in March 2010 as the “Additional Information” field gave different addresses for each man – a fact that threw me somewhat in my research process. I also asked that they acknowledged the loss of each brother in this field. They kindly agreed and the pages now say:
Son of Jack and Rachel Collins, of 58, Colbourne Terrace, Swansea. His brother Thomas also fell.
Son of Jack and Rachel Collins, of 58, Colbourne Terrace, Swansea. His brother Daniel also fell.