Wellington’s elite: The 5/60th rifles in the Peninsular

The 5/60th rifles fire a volley at the French

The 5/60th rifles fire a volley at the French

The men in green worked their way forward in pairs, firing fast and accurately as they skirmished towards the French entrenchment. Thick smoke quickly obscured the battlefield as the French returned fire, forcing Sergeant Wright to rally the survivors for a final charge. My heart pounded as I ran to keep up with them. . .These were the men of the 5/60th rifles re-enactment group based in the Midlands and I was out with them to learn a little about the history, tactics and equipment of the Regiment.

The 5/60th were the 5th battalion 60th (Royal American) regiment and were mainly recruited from Germany, Switzerland and the low countries. They were hunters and sharp shooters who used their Baker rifles to deadly effect, causing havoc amongst the French during the Peninsular war (1808-1814). Two of the most decorated British soldiers of that war, Brevet-Major John Galiffe and Private Daniel Loochstadt served in the 5/60th, a unit considered to be one of Wellington’s most elite regiments.

Rather than conducting a long written interview I decided to film Steve Davies and Peter Wright and turn the footage into the two short films below. In the first film Steve and Peter talk about the history and tactics of the regiment.In the second film Peter talks me through the distinctive uniform and demonstrates how the Baker rifle was loaded, cleaned and fired.

If you want to find out more about the 5/60th or are interested in joining them then they have a website here http://www.5th60thrifles.co.uk

A Rifleman firing his Baker rifle

A Rifleman firing his Baker rifle

Buried at last: 15 soldiers laid to rest at Y-Farm cemetery

A surprisingly warm October sun bathed the graveyard in its orange light. Between rows of white headstones a crowd was gathered to watch the burial of fifteen British soldiers whose bodies had been missing for almost exactly a hundred years.

The soldiers reburied at Y-Farm cemetery

The soldiers reburied at Y-Farm cemetery

Filming from the press area I had a privileged view as the last of the fifteen coffins was lowered into the ground by the men of the 4/Yorkshire regiment. A lone bugler played the last post and the mens descendants laid wreaths for them.

The men were all from the 2/Yorks and Lancs and were killed during the fluid and confused fighting of the 18th October 1914. This was before the western front became a long series of trenches and rival units still had space to manoeuvre and try to and outflank one another.

(Below is the preview film that the team and I made for BBC breakfast news)

The British III Corps was tasked with participating in anglo-French offensive along the Lys valley. After moving up from Fleurbaix and Bois-Grenier, the 2/Y&L was ordered to carry
out a ‘reconnaissance in force’ southwards towards Radinghem.

The war diary of the 2/Y&L (National Archives WO95/1610 – which is reproduced in the October edition of the Commonwealth war graves newsletter ) tells the story:

“18 October 1914. 8 AM. Battalion paraded and marched to Touquet [a hamlet half a mile
south of Bois-Grenier] and there received verbal orders from the Brigadier-General. Battalion to make a reconnaissance in force in conjunction with the Buffs… French cavalry to act
dismounted on our right and companies to be extended on a line running SW from Bridoux,
1 mile SE of Touquet. ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies extended accordingly – ‘A’ on the left with its left resting on the main road. ‘B’ Company in support to ‘C’ Company…. Having reached the line Hau de Bas with little resistance, [the battalion] received verbal orders… to advance and take the village of Radinghem and having done this push on and take high ground on the approach to Chateau de Flandres.”

[By early afternoon,] Village [Radinghem] taken without difficulty by ‘A’ Company. Line held
up for short time by shelling of French and our guns. Centre of line on reaching high ground
East of Radinghem came under heavy shell fire from southerly direction, but continued the
advance with the remainder of the line across the Radinghem – Fromelles Road. Right of line
coming under heavy cross fire of machine guns and shrapnel in the open, was forced to
return back to the road. At the same time the remaining companies, having got into the
woods of Chateau de Flandres tried three times to advance but were each time driven back
by cross fire of machine guns, situated at southern boundary of the wood, and shrapnel and
fire. They eventually took up positions on the Radinghem – Fromelles Road, in
conjunction with the Buffs.

(5.10 PM) General line of above road taken up and entrenched with rear line of defence of 1
Company (this company was formed of men who had been rallied by Major Clemson to form
a 2nd defensive line) in our right rear. Occasional shrapnel fire from enemy, but machine
gun fire and rifle fire had ceased.

(6 PM) Order received to hold on to the ground gained. Remainder of night occupied in
entrenching and reforming companies. During the night, French cavalry who were in
position on our right withdrew.

The Battalion lost thirty-four men killed in that action,, thirty two of men remaining undiscovered and unburied (two men were identified and are buried in Bois-Grenier
Communal Cemetery).

But in 2009 excavations for a soak-away pit behind a property at the cross roads at Beaucamps Ligny , less than a quarter of a mile north of the site of the former Chateau de Flandres, lead to the discovery of multiple human remains.

The Commonwealth war graves committee then quickly got to work, and after years of comparing DNA with the ancestors of those missing managed to discover the identity of fourteen of the fifteen bodies. A staggering achievement. (The information below is courtesy of their October newsletter)

They were:

Pte. Herbert Ernest Allcock, 6774

Born in Leeds in 1882 and married Ethel Bloomfield in 1911. The couple had two
young daughters. Winifred and Ellen in April 1914. The family lived at
Greenhow Avenue, Burley, Leeds. Ethel never remarried and she died at the age of 91 in 1975.

Pte. John Brameld, 7208

A Sheffield lad, the eldest of a family of five children. He followed the family
trade as a grinder in the cutlery industry before signing up with the York and Lancasters on 7 January 1903. On enlisting, it was noted he had “several scars” on the left side of his face and “some bad teeth”. He served three years with the Colours, including seventeen months with the 1st battalion of the regiment in India. Following his transfer to the Reserve, John settled back into civilian life and resumed his old trade as a table blade grinder. He married Rachel Forster in 1908 and the couple had two children. Although more than eight years had elapsed since his regular service, John – along with other reservists in the same situation – mobilised immediately upon the declaration of war. He was 30 years old when he was killed.

Pte. William Butterworth, 8175

William was born in Wakefield in 1878, his father was from Barnsley and
his mother from Dundee. He was the eldest of eleven children who survived into adulthood.
He enlisted into the York and Lancasters on 13 December 1904, aged 23, declaring
he had already had service of some two years in the army. His enlistment papers tell
us he was 5 feet 2¾ inches tall and weighed just over 9 stones. Extending his service
from the initial three years to seven, he served in India for virtually all of his pre-war service. He married Margaret Clegg little more than six months before the war and the couple had a baby daughter, Beatrice, who he never had the chance to meet. (As a recent Father stories like this still manage to choke me up- Chris)

Cpl. Francis Carr Dyson, 9159

Francis was from Wakefield, the second eldest in a family of six children. Enlisting with the York and Lancasters in 1908 for a term of seven years with the Colours, he was a regular serving in Limerick when war broke out. Francis had already been appointed Lance Corporal by the time of the 1911 census but very little else is known of him as his service papers didn’t survived.

Pte. Walter Ellis, 8272

Walter was a coach builder from Doncaster. He enlisted on 20 July 1905 at the age of 22 years for a period of seven years with the Colours, subsequently extended to nine. The service records show a benefit of joining the army – after just six months he had gained 1½ stones, up from the less than 8½ stones he weighed when he signed up. Walter had issues with discipline and was sentenced to 21 days imprisonment in February 1911 by a District Court Martial for contempt of court and further punishment by a subsequent court martial that resulted in the loss of pay and pension entitlement for 112 days. Walter was transferred to the Reserve on 20 July 1914 but enjoyed little more than two weeks of civilian life before he was mobilised at the outbreak of the war.

Pte. John Willie Jarvis, 7164

John, from Rotherham, was a miner before enlisting in the York and
Lancasters on 18 November 1902. Having previously served in the military during the Boer War and having been awarded the Queen’s South Africa medal with Cape Colony Bar, he evidently decided that the army life was not for him. John deserted on 21 February 1903 but re-materialised on 9 July. He avoided a trial by forfeiting pay and pension entitlements.
He was then transferred to the 1st Battalion and shipped to India. Upon completion of three years with the Colours (excluding the period of the desertion) he was transferred to the Reserve on 9 July 1906 and resumed his pre-enlistment occupation as a miner.

Pte. Leonard Arthur Morley, 8678

Leonard was born at Boxhill, Surrey in 1892 into a family with ten children. On enlisting at Stratford his stated employment was a labourer. He was a tall lad and managed to pass himself off as being 18. Leonard is the youngest of the men to have been identified. He was 22 years old when he was killed.

Pte. Ernest Oxer, 8502

Ernest was born at Swinton near Rotherham in 1886 into a mining family. He enlisted with the York and Lancasters in October 1906. He served with the 1st Battalion, including a stint in India, before he was transferred to the Reserve in 1913, after seven years with the Colours.
He settled back into civilian life and married Ada Hakin in the spring of 1914. The couple had a baby boy who was born on 16 November (another man who never had the chance to see his child) He was named Ernest in honour of his father.

Pte. John Richmond, 7969

John was born in 1886 in Nottingham and enlisted in October 1904 at the age
of 18. He served three years with the Colours, including a spell of nearly two years in India, and was transferred to the Reserve on 28 October 1907. His service record indicates his conduct as having been “very good”. John married Mary Elston in December 1909 but the couple had no children.

Pte. William Alfred Singyard, 7318

William was born in Newcastle and initially worked as a tanner before
enlisting in May 1903, having just turned 19 years of age. His original
enlistment was for a term of three years but this was extended by a further five years. His conduct sheet indicates his character as having been “very good”. He was transferred to the Reserve in May 1911 and eventually found a job with the North Eastern Railways as a goods porter, a position that he held until his mobilisation in August 1914. Recalled on the outbreak of war, he had to leave his wife Margaret, who he had married in 1913, and infant daughter, Elizabeth, at their home in Shieldfield.

L/Cpl. William Henry Warr, 6822

he was born at Lyme Regis in 1887, the eldest son of a family of
fifteen children, twelve of whom survived infancy. He enlisted as a boy soldier at the age of 15 in 1902. William was tiny, he was just 4′ 9″ tall, and weighed in at less than 5½ stones. He declared his “trade” as a musician and was appointed as a Drummer in November 1902. William served the full term of his 12 years engagement with the Colours in the UK and extended the same to a full 21 year term in February 1914 whilst stationed in Limerick. Just before the extension of his term, William had been appointed as Lance Corporal with pay. William is one of only two of the identified men in the group who was not a recalled reservist.

It was the 22nd October 2014 when the men were finally reburied at Y-farm cemetery, a small picturesque spot close to the village of Bois Grenier.

It was a touching service that reminded me how important it is that we never forget our war dead. And that no matter how many years after the conflict their bodies are discovered we make every effort to give them the dignified send off that they deserve.

(below is our film of the service)

Forgotten Soldiers of Empire

I’ve just finished watching the first episode of the “Forgotten Soldiers” – the BBC’s new documentary series examining the stories of non-europeans who fought and died in the Great war.

I’m from a family that includes West Indians, my Wife is South African and my soon to be born son will be mixed race. Therefore I am always keen to learn more about the part played by non-white soldiers in the first and second world wars.

This episode opened in west Africa with a beautifully shot sequence of the Presenter, David Olusoga, explaining that the first shots fired by the British during the war were by Alhaji Grunshi an NCO of the Gold Coast Regiment.

Alhaji Grunshi who fired the first British shots of WW! Source - Wikipedia

Alhaji Grunshi who fired the first British shots of WW! Source – Wikipedia

I would have liked to have heard more about this incident but quickly the narrative moved on to the Indian Corps arriving in Europe. A hefty chunk of the programme was dedicated to the battle of Neuve Chapel and an explanation of the “Martial races” theory which explained how the Indian army was recruited and why certain ethnic groups were favoured over others. Interestingly it seems that this theory still effects the modern Indian army – http://morningmedia.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/the-shadow-of-the-martial-race-theory-in-the-indian-army-does-it-still-exist/

What I hadn’t realised was that the French had a similar set of theories regarding their West African troops. Olusoga travelled to Verdun and explained how France’s black colonies were heavily leant upon for manpower. In the same way that the British relied on the Punjabis and Pathans the French military focused on recruiting from the Wolof tribe of Senegal, Mali and Mauritania. What disturbed me to learn was that many of these soldiers were recruited by local middlemen who had quotas to meet and would often raid villages and force men to join the army, bringing them for training in chains.

In conclusion I was pleasantly surprised by the depth, detail and nuance explored by David and the production team. Olusoga is a remarkably good presenter who clearly knows his stuff (not bad for a guy who is a producer by profession). I would highly recommend the programme to both the first world war specialist and the casual viewer with an eye for a well told tale.

British army kit in 1914 and today

British army kit in now and in 1914

British army kit in now and in 1914

British army kit in 1914 and today:

Last week I reported to Sir John Moore Barracks in Winchester for a fascinating assignment. Along with colleague Robert Hall we were tasked with putting together a film showing the type of kit a soldier would have marched to war in in 1914 and comparing it with todays infantrymen.

The Army were incredibly welcoming, a couple of willing “volunteers” were found from amongst the NCO’s and with the help of historian Andy Robertshaw we got to play dress-up.

And below are our two films on the BBC website:



What struck me was that despite all the tech developments essentially the type of kit an infantryman carries hasn’t fundamentally changed that much: ammunition, water, food, entrenching tool, spare clothes and a personal weapon. As the first world war developed soldiers were issued with steel helmets and gas masks that made them even more similar to their modern day equivalents.

Me with our volunteers

Me with our volunteers

This assignment was one of my most enjoyable and I hope that you find our films informative and fun.

The women of world war one

The Abbey of Royaumont is a charming, peaceful and beautiful thirteenth century building thirty kilometers north of Paris. Now it serves as a museum, a hotel and a cultural centre but during the first world war it was transformed into a hospital for wounded soldiers.

Royaumont abbey, north of Paris

Royaumont abbey, north of Paris

I came here to film a story about the women of world war 1 and whether their services and sacrifices helped or hindered them in the post war years. What makes the story of the hospital here particularly interesting is that it was staffed entirely by women.

At the start of the war the Scottish women’s hospital had offered their services to the British war office but had been turned down. Undaunted they made the same offer to the French who accepted. After taking over the Abbey they found it to be filthy, bitterly cold and short of every amenity. Through sheer hard work the women eventually got it up and running.

A sense of the difficulty they experienced can be gained from this description of conditions by Dr I. Hutton:

“It was bitterly cold. The patients who were not in a raging fever shivered and tried vainly to adjust their tattered uniforms to gain a little warmth. Their clothing crawled with maggots and bugs and their bodies with lice. Dying men lay huddled so closely together on the floor that they touched each other. Others sat up gasping and blue in the throes of pneumonia. Blood and pus oozed from the wounds. A few of the patients feebly extended their hands but most of them were too ill to care what happened. Seventy-odd soldiers, in the last stages of dysentery lay crouched along the walls, emaciated, dying. They crawled outside from time to time. There were no sanitary arrangements and the grass plot was foul.”

Travelling with the team and I to the abbey was the great great niece of Frances Ivens, one of the surgeons. Evelyn Benson, herself a nurse, said of her relative: “She wanted to use her skills to help the war effort as well as using her personality and that force to push women to the front and show that they had an important role to play.”

Etaples military cemetery, France.

Etaples military cemetery, France.

After filming at the abbey we visited Etaples military cemetery. It is a vast place that contains 10,771 Commonwealth burials of the First World War, the earliest dating from May 1915. 35 of these burials are unidentified. There are also a number of women. Like Betty Stevenson – Betty was killed by an air raid and was given a military funeral she was also posthumously awarded the Croix de Guerre avec Palme by General Petain, for courage and devotion to duty. The personal inscription on her headstone reads simply, ‘The Happy Warrior’.

This trip was eye opening for me. I had been vaguely aware that some women had served as nurses in the first world war but I had underestimated the tough conditions they experienced and the sacrifices that they had made. I hope our film helps to tell their tales and bring to life the story of women on the western front.

Follow this link to watch our film on the BBC website http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-28321729

Sarajevo: The shot that echoed around the world

The next four years promise to be very exciting. For those of us fascinated, dare I say obsessed, with the first world war there should be a plethora of films, documentaries and news reports to fuel our passion.

As a BBC journalist and cameraman I am lucky enough to be at the forefront of the coverage. My first assignment of the centenary was to travel to Sarajevo. It was here that a young Serbian called Gavrilo Princip assassinated Archduke Franz Ferdinand (1863 – 1914) and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg (1868 – 1914).

The spot where the assasination took place in Sarajevo

The spot where the assasination took place in Sarajevo

The spot where it happened is on the corner of Appel quay and Franz Josef Street next to the Miljacka river which runs through the heart of the city. What struck me is how little the site has changed over the decades. It is still possible to stand exactly where Princip would have stood. The only difference is the bullet holes that pock mark the buildings near by – a legacy of another, later war.

The team (Allan Little, Jim Bucahanan, Ruth Levis) and I had two tasks. Firstly we had to shoot a series of Pieces to camera in a such a way that they felt like breaking news – To make it appear that the Archduke was visiting Sarajevo and his assassination was happening now, in our time. It was a great way of trying to make history feel fresh and to bring it to life. As Jim says in his BBC Editor blog:

“BBC News is used to reporting breaking news around the world. It’s what we do, part of the reason for our very existence. So if there were to be an assassination of a prominent European leader today, we would want to be there, reporting live. And audiences expect to consume breaking news in a live blog environment which is why we wanted to experiment with revealing history in this way. This was the idea behind 1914 Live as the BBC’s First World War season reaches the first significant anniversary. We would use all the techniques of breaking news in 2014 to report on events from Sarajevo 100 years ago, particularly the BBC’s Live format used to great effect during the World Cup and Queen’s Baton Relay. And we would do it by using BBC correspondents in their familiar role.”

If you want to watch the clips we shot and see them in context then follow this link – http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/live/world-27978407 - you can also watch the trailer at the top of this page to get a sense of what we did.

Secondly we wanted to examine how modern Bosnia has been shaped by the event and how Princip’s legacy is remembered very differently depending on a person’s ethnicity. To the Serbs he is a hero who was doing his patriotic duty, to the Bosnian Muslims he was a terrorist guilty of plunging the world into war. The film we made is below. . .

It was fascinating for me to make this film and to try and understand a little of the history of Sarajevo. A place that is still haunted and shaped by its past.

Sarajevo: A city still scarred by its recent past

Sarajevo: A city still scarred by its recent past