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I picked up 'The Shell House' in the local Red Cross Shop, simply on the strength of the cover and blurb. I rarely read young adult books, nor do I often read this sort of 'relationship' fiction but this one was a worthwhile exception. It's an interesting exploration of sexuality and faith in two parallel stories set the best part of a hundred years apart.
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When we were at Twickenham on Tuesday for a stadium tour, I got very excited. Not just at sitting in the royal box or in the England changing room, but in the reminders of those players who gave their lives in the Great War.


This is a painting on display near the royal box, a reproduction by Shane Record of a famous photograph of the England team of April 1914, about to play France. The players with their roses 'greyed' rather than red died during the war.

The guy in the natty headgear is Arthur Harrison, VC, who volunteered for hazardous service and died in the Zeebrugge raids. Almost hidden in the back row is Robert Pillman, who was shot during a night raid near Armentieres. A contemporary photo of Pillman shows a remarkable resemblance to the current England captain, Dylan Hartley.

Also in that row is Jimmy Dingle, who died retaking Scimitar Hill near Suvla bay (having already taken it and been ordered to relinquish it.) Right at the end is James Watson who was a doctor (I wonder if he was ever heaved into touch at Old Deer Park). He served as naval surgeon on the Hawke when she was torpedoed and sunk. Down on the front row is Francis Oakeley, a submarine lieutenant on the HMS D2, which disappeared at sea after being rammed by a German patrol boat.

And who's that in the middle? Has to be the lovely Ronnie Poulton Palmer, who was shot by a sniper near 'Plugstreet' Wood. My favourite quote from "The Greater Game" concerns RPP, and his friend, the army chaplain Dick Dugdale who said he loved Ronnie more than anyone else and told his sister, 'each year passing merely means one year less to wait for Ronald'.



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I'm sure there are a number of mystery/crime books set in WWI but my poor old brain can only think of one, but it's a good 'un.

I read Andrew Martin's The Somme Stations a couple of years ago and enjoyed it hugely. He writes a cracking mystery, does Mr. Martin, and the Jim Stringer books are always entertaining.

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I'm a great fan of the series of books which started with "Where the Poppies Now Grow", so I was both delighted and moved to find this gem from the creators:

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How on earth did I not know about this splendid group - thank goodness the Royal Star and Garter Home magazine had a feature about them.

Shame they're not local to me - I really fancy some of the events listed here, especially Carols in the Trenches.
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This wasn't the post I'd planned, but after England's stunning victory today, including a hat trick by Jonathan Joseph, I had to commemorate another Calcutta cup hat trick three quarter, Cyril Lowe. Not only an ace of the Royal Flying Corps, Lowe is also one of the names in the frame for the original of Biggles.

And funny how RAF pilots seem to feature heavily among England's record scorers...
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Some of you may have noticed I like rugby. Just a bit. So I was delighted to discover this site, dedicated to preserving the stories of Saracens players and their contribution to the Great War.

I've been discovering all sorts of stuff about players I'd never heard of. Norman Brabazon Dick, Frank Pilley (from my old neck of the woods, Stoke Newington), the adorable Charles Dearing and many others. It's a fantastic resource - I hope you enjoy it as much as I have.

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Appropriate to the day, remembering some of the great rugby internationals who died in the Great War (the ones I haven't yet mentioned at length).

What about Dave Gallaher? His All Black shirt is among the memorabilia at the Saracens stadium.

Or Jimmy Dingle, one of several internationals from the England team who never made it home.

And the marvellous David Bedell-Sivright who once held up the traffic in Edinburgh by laying down on the tram tracks - nobody dared to shift him.

Check out some of the other heroes of battle, whether it be fifteen man a side or millions.

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I put Code Breakers (by James Wyllie and Michael McKinley) on my Christmas list because while I'd read loads of stuff about the codebreakers of Bletchley, I'd not delved so deeply into the world of Room 40, and the feats of the redoubtable Blinker Hall. I have learned so much, not just about the volume and nature of decoded material that was produced - and the usual inter departmental squabbles about who should be in charge of making use of it - but also about the events across the Atlantic that drew the USA into the conflict. Highly recommended book.

Of course, Jonty and Orlando both spent some time working for Room 40, thanks to Mr. Stewart's friendship with Blinker. Both of them have been very cagey in terms of telling me exactly what they did, but this book has given me some definite clues. Part of Jonty's role had to be acting as the sort of decoy MIib also had, somebody who could provide a front to the office and give 'the impression of a typical British idiot'. Orlando would have been doing the decoding, no doubt irritated by being surrounded by linguists and classicists.

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One of my WWI 'heroes' is Wilfred Jesson; local Southampton lad, rugby player and cricketer (played against Ranji at Lord's). Like one of my other lads, Wilfred Owen, Jesson was hardly any taller than I am, and he features in one of the best (IMHO) books about the war, Stephen Cooper's The Final Whistle. As I was doing some further research on Jesson, I discovered this from the Sherborne old boys, which details a number of those who feature on the school's roll of honour. His private papers are listed on the Imperial War Museum site.

BTW I love connections; Sherborne was Turing's school and the writer of the flyer has links to the local Remount depot.

charlie_cochrane: (jury of one)
Sometimes 100 years ago seems very close, especially when the news this last week has been full of related stories.

A soldier at last is granted war grave recognition.

An actress's medals are auctioned.

And a poignant remembrance of a young bandsman goes on display.
charlie_cochrane: (jury of one)
I quite often point out good WWI related non-fiction works when I do my commemoration posts, but this time I'm going down the fiction line, mainly because I just finished [ profile] jaylewistaylor's Across Your Dreams.

And that's my first recommendation. Beautifully bitter sweet, pulling no punches, it's a story of loss, hope, pride and pain.

Strange Meeting, by Susan Hill, was one of the first books I read that was set in this era, and it's haunted me ever since. The same themes of loss and hope are there (they're clearly going to be an ever present for any books set 1914 to 1918) although if you expect a happy ending this may not be the book for you. Wonderfully written, nonetheless.

I couldn't not mention A Pride of Poppies, even if I have a story in the anthology, not least because it introduced me to Jay's work and to other authors I'd not come across before. Some of the stories would grace any volume of war related shorts.
charlie_cochrane: (jury of one)
This film needs no annotation, speaking volumes for itself.

We will remember them.
charlie_cochrane: (jury of one)
I've made reference before to John Nichol's excellent book about the Dambusters, and how much it spoke not just of WWII but of the universals of conflict. One such thing was the guilt felt by survivors that they've got through when their comrades have gone. I've seen and heard that from veterans time and again, from WWI through to the Falklands conflict, and I have no doubt it was felt in Nelson's Navy, among Henry V's Agincourt band of brothers and in every battle since the dawn of time.

I can't begin to imagine how it must feel to be in that situation, and this is where resources such as personal accounts and poetry become vital. I understand the realities of trench warfare much better from reading the poems of Wilfred Owen, or some of the diaries soldiers kept, than I do from any dry as a bone textbook. I recently discovered the work of Simon Armitage and his poem Remains is a chilling, modern reminder of that universal guilt.

Remains by Simon Armitage.

charlie_cochrane: (jury of one)
Who won the first rugby world cup? New Zealand. Yes.

When was the first rugby world cup? 1987. Wrong.

1919 saw the King's Cup being played - a post war exhibition/celebration of the great game. Stephen Cooper's excellent book After the Final Whistle tells the story of that event, mingled with the incredibly moving stories of players who travelled half way across the globe to claim some corner of a foreign field. Highly recommended.
charlie_cochrane: (jury of one)
Have just finished the excellent "Return of the Dambusters" by John Nichol. Now, before you say, "Charlie, you've lost it gal. Dambusters were WWII!" bear with. Reading this book provoked all sorts of thoughts about those two conflicts.

It's easy to forget how close they were chronologically. WWII began 21 years after WWI ended. My youngest girl turns 21 this month, and it seems no time at all since she was born. Memories - and concerns - would still be vivid in people's minds, especially those who might be called to serve their country once more given that "the war to end all wars" had failed to do so.

The conflict itself was entirely different, due in part to the great technological advances seen in those 20 odd years especially in mankind's conquest of the skies. This was no trench based warfare, with most of the action concentrated in a relatively small land area. Civilians, cities and infrastructure became targets in a way that would have been impossible in WWI. The sea change was as great - if not greater - than had been seen going into that earlier conflict compared to, say, the Boer campaign.
charlie_cochrane: (jury of one)
I love Andrew Martin's beautifully atmospheric Jim Stringer novels. This is an era whose fiction (written at the time or set then) I devour avidly. Not all stories written now and set then work; it's not just a case of getting the details right, it's about atmosphere, cadence of language, and a dozen things you can't get from textbooks.

The Somme Stations is set during WWI and presents an intriguing set of characters involved in a not-as-well-known-as-it-should-be aspect of this conflict; the laying down of railway lines. I am constantly amazed at how much I don't know about The Great War and it's great to combine education and entertainment.
charlie_cochrane: (jury of one)
Romsey is well blessed with book provision - by which I don't mean the WH Smith branch. The Oxfam second hand bookshop is an Aladdin's cave as is Superbook, where I picked up a copy of Trench Talk.

This combines two of my interest - WWI and the history of language - so I found it a fascinating read. There were words I'd never come across alongside words I knew very well, not only from my reading but because my dad used them. Clearly they were still in army vogue in WWII. What particularly struck me was the instances of the British newspapers telling their readers what slang the soldiers used - and getting it wrong. Plus ca change.
charlie_cochrane: (jury of one)
The anniversary of The Somme has been in my mind greatly this last week, so I had to write something about it. I wrote this.
charlie_cochrane: (jury of one)
The Somme is a region which has seen a number of significant battles: both Crecy and Agincourt are in the vicinity. Today I remember the lads named on our local war memorials who died there.

Edward Wallace Hancock, was in the RHA (Royal Horse Artillery) where he served with F battery. He died aged 23, on 5th September 1916. This day was marked by fierce fighting and artillery duels near the village of Guillemont, a fortified German position to the south of Delville Wood. The battle which began on 1st July, 1916 was to continue until the November.

Charles Townsend Cobbold was at Caius College, Cambridge, where he won his oar in the Lent races in 1913 and graduated in 1914. He rowed for his college at Henley in 1913, the year the Marlow and Cauis boats had a dead heat. He joined the Hampshire Carabineers yeomanry as a trooper and was commissioned into the Royal Field Artillery in August 1915, joining a battery at the front (as an officer of 32 brigade) in the November of that year. Some of his letters home have survived and they speak vividly of life at the front – the wet, the rats, his horse, his men. He was killed in action on 3rd October 1916 near the village of Lesboefs and buried near the village in a marked grave but as the tide of battle twice more swept over the area in the following two years his grave was not found at the end of the war. His Commanding Officer had written of him: ‘We all liked him so much. He had an extraordinary disregard of danger, and always set an excellent example to the men, with whom he was very popular. His last words to his men were, “Don’t take any notice of the shells, they’re only strays and not meant for you.” Charles is listed among the “missing” of the battle and his name is engraved on the Thiepval Memorial.

Corporal Sidney Thomas Pressley, served with the 2nd Battalion Hampshire Regiment. He was killed in action on 18th October 1916, having previously been wounded. The regimental history states that on 18th October 1916 the 2nd Hampshires attacked German trenches north of Gueudecourt, going “over the top” at 3.40 am. Casualties were 35 killed and over 100 wounded. Corporal Pressley has no known grave and is also named on the Thiepval Memorial. The memorial lists a further 610 men from the Hampshire Regiment.

George Henry Gray joined the 14th Hampshires in 1914, serving in France from March 1916. He was killed in action on 3rd September 1916, near Hamel and is listed on the Thiepval memorial, having no known grave.

Alfred C Wise enlisted in 1915 and served with the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, taking part in engagements including the Battle of Hill 60. He rests near the village of Bertrancourt, having died of wounds on 30th June 1916, the day before the first Battle of the Somme started; one of 1st Battalion platoons had been hit by “friendly fire”, possibly as part of the prelude to the battle. The German positions were heavily shelled prior to the British assault, although with little effect.

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