Many of you may read my blog for the articles on military history, journalism or travel. What you may not know is that I also Direct, Shoot and Edit music videos. I find making promo films for bands a fun way to experiment with different ideas and to push myself to become a better Cameraman and film maker. Below are the three I have made so far, two for top Rockers Hell’s addiction and one for Leicester based soul singer Justene Whyte. Please watch in HD and Enjoy!
I first read Captain Pollard’s book “Fire-Eater” while on a visit to Lashkar Gah in Helmand during the summer of 2007. While there I shared a room with a veteran Infantry Major, when he saw the book I was reading he laughed, “Pollard was a bloody nutter,” he said, “anybody who enjoyed the war that much must have had a screw loose.”
There’s no doubt that Pollard VC was a special man. His combination of medals was very rare and his memoir, with its exciting and triumphant description of World War one trench fighting, is almost unique. In the Forward to “Fire-Eater” he writes: “I enjoyed the war, both in and out of the line. . .I found pleasure in wandering around no-mans land at night.” Later in the book he quotes a letter that he sent from the front to his girlfriend, he signs it off with the line: “I have killed another Hun. Hurrah!” It’s this perspective of the First World war that makes “Fire-Eater” such an excellent read. It offers a different narrative to many books of the period and dwells more on the comradeship, bravery and excitement of war rather than the horrors.
Pollard was born on 4th May 1893 in Wallington, Surrey and was educated at St Olave’s Grammar school in Orpington and at Merchant Taylor’s school in the city of London. After school he worked as a Clerk at an insurance Company (Alliance Assurance Comapnay), a job he didn’t enjoy. When war broke out in 1914 he was quick to enlist, as he says: “The opportunity of freedom from the slavery of desk routine was probably almost as big a contributory factor as patriotism in the shaping of my destiny.”
He joined the same Regiment as his elder brother Frank, The Honourable Artillery Company, which was formed in 1537 making it the second oldest military unit in the world behind the Vatican’s Swiss guard. He quickly moved through the ranks serving as a Corporal and a Sergeant before gaining his commission.
On 30th September 1915 during fighting at Sanctuary Wood near Ypres Pollard (then a Sergeant in the HAC’s 1st Battalion) lead a bombing fight against the Germans and continued to throw bombs at the enemy despite being severely wounded himself. In his own words: “A Hun bomb exploded right in front of me hurling me back. . .I sat up and shook myself like a dog. All over my body were little prickles where splinters of the bomb had pierced my flesh.” For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.
Fighting with bombs was something of a specialty for Pollard. After he recovered from his injuries he was commissioned and returned to France where he began training a platoon of bombers. In the book he gives a good description of bombing tactics: “(A bombing party) consisted of eight men. Two ordinary Riflemen with bayonets fixed lead the way – their job was to protect the bomb throwers from surprise and tackle any of the enemy they come across. Behind them came the first bomb thrower followed by a man carrying a supply of bombs for him to throw. Then came another bomb thrower and another carrier. Then the leader of the party and lastly a spare man who acted as an extra carrier.”
In 1916 the HAC joined the 63rd Royal Naval Division and in bitter winter fighting around Grandcourt Pollard was awarded his first MC for his successful command of dangerous reconnaissance patrols. Two months later in April 1917 he won the bar to his MC at Arras.
Despite an impressive set of ribbons Pollard still wasn’t finished. On 29th April 1917 he and his close friend and fellow HAC Officer 2/Lt Bill Haine both won the Victoria cross for their actions at Gavrelle. The fight was a bitter, confusing struggle in a maze of trenches against tough German troops of the Prussian Guard. Pollard, with just three other men, was tasked with forming a defensive flank against a German counter-attack. They moved cautiously along the trench for about 100 yards until they encountered the Germans. A vicious grenade battle then followed with Pollard and his men putting captured German bombs to good use. His citation reads: “The enemy retired in disorder, sustaining many casualties. By his force of will, dash and splendid example, coupled with an utter contempt of danger, this officer who had already won the DCM and MC, infused courage into every man who saw him.”
Reading “Fire-Eater” it is hard to tell whether Pollard ever experienced fear. He relished the fight and welcomed any opportunity to kill Germans. Part of this may have been due to the death of his brother in September 1916. In his own words: “I felt that never again would I pity the enemy. Rather I would do my utmost to kill as many as possible.” Later when his friend Percy Lewis was killed he admitted: “I did not feel as much as I expected. I think my brothers death had hardened me. . .My nature was becoming callous.”
On 21st July Pollard and Haine attended their investiture at Buckingham palace alongside sixteen other VC’s. It was a grand affair and Pollard was thrilled to receive the medal from the King himself.
As the war drew to a close Pollard found himself training American troops who he found to be inept and arrogant, unwilling to listen to those who’d learnt trench warfare the hard way.
Like many brave warriors Pollard struggled to come to terms with his return to civilian life after the war. He married twice and drifted between a number of jobs, including a short service commission in the RAF. Eventually he fell into writing. As well as his memoirs he wrote over fifty other books including thrillers and detective novels. But life was still tough, in the Dundee Evening Telegraph he wrote an article called “VC’s don’t help to get jobs,” the subtitle read: “War heroes are distrusted now: Even the pawnbrokers set a low value on decorations.”
Pollard eventually died in Bournemouth on Monday 5th December 1960, aged 67. His medals are kept with the HAC.
I highly recommend Fire-Eater to anybody interested either in World War one or the psychology of warriors. Was he a “nutter”? Well in my opinion he was a certainly a man who hid any fear that he felt and he thought of the war as a grand adventure. Perhaps his drive and bloodlust were simply his way of dealing with the bitter reality of violence and death that dominated every second of life in the trenches.
If you are interested to hear more then I highly recommend this wonderful audio recording with Captain Pollards good friend and fellow VC “Bill” Haine.
I have also just discovered another book available about Pollard Valour in the Trenches!: ‘Bombo’ Pollard VC MC* DCM HAC in The Great War – I haven’t read it and there are no reviews yet on Amazon but it does look interesting.
I’ve always been fascinated by military conflict. As a child growing up my favourite pass time was reading divisional histories, the first holiday I remember was when I badgered my Father into taking me to the Somme, Ypres and Verdun. My university degree was in history and my dissertation was about the German Spring Offensives of 1918.
The First World War has always been an obsession for me and for years I have toyed with the idea of writing a series of stories set in the trenches. With the centenary of the outbreak of war rapidly approaching I’ve decided that now is the time to turn my hand to Great war related fiction.
The First world war was such a vast, brutal struggle that narrowing down exactly what stories I want to tell and why is a difficult task. What I do know is that I want my tales to be historically accurate, as detailed as possible and based on real events. I also want to tell the war from the perspective of the PBI – the poor bloody infantryman and so I have created the character of Harry Blake and the imaginary Royal North Leicestershire Regiment. I will follow them from the opening shots of the war through to the armistice and possibly beyond. . .My plan is to write numerous short stories that I will publish for your perusal on the blog. I would love it if you used the comments section below each story to offer any advice and criticism or simply to point out a silly spelling error.
They say that you should always write the book you’d like to read and that is exactly what I am hoping to do. Growing up I loved the Sharpe books by Bernard Cornwell and also the Wotan series by Leo Kessler (aka Charles Whiting) – My stories will tip their hat tip to these inspirations while hopefully offering something unique in the realm of Great War fiction. It should be a fun journey and I hope you’ll come along for the ride.
As you may have read recently British troops have now deployed to Mali to help train the Malian military. The conflict in Mali is complex and the British will certainly have a tough job on their hands.
I’ve been following the French intervention in the country with interest but was disappointed by the lack of genuine combat footage emerging from the conflict. This morning though I came across an article from Vice magazine that included the two films that I’ve posted below. They show the Malian militaries complete lack of combat skills and decent equipment. I think military men may be surprised at the tactics they employ while room clearing and how they mill about with no co-ordination, randomly firing in what they hope is the right direction.
I enjoyed the film below until the Reporter quite calmly announces in the script that at the key point in the story he ran out of space on the camera! It’s a shame as I would have liked to have seen the French Infantry in action.
In 2006 I backpacked through northern India and into Pakistan. My route included stops in Abbotabad, Gilgit, Hunza, Chitral and Peshawar. It was an amazing trip through a country that I really loved. The Pakistani people were wonderful and incredibly welcoming wherever I went. The biggest problem I had was being allowed to buy dinner as strangers were so hospitable that they would often settle the bill on my behalf.
There were a few awkward moments, I was often asked what religion I was, what I thought of George Bush and whether I thought Jesus was literally the son of God or simply a prophet. I seemed to negotiate the minefield of religion successfully and had no issues even when I found myself on an overnight bus journey through the tribal areas with a group of twenty something maddrasah students. Despite their roguish appearance and cold manner they eventually relaxed and even shared their food with me.
I took a lot of photos during the trip and wanted to share some of them with you now. They may be of interest to those who love both current affairs and history. I apologize for the lack of detailed information in the captions, unfortunately I was a little slack in keeping a comprehensive photo journal and so have had to rely on memory. Comments and feedback are very welcome.
If you read my last post then you’ll know that I have recently returned from an assignment in the Falkland Islands. It is a beautiful and fascinating place with a great population. While there we made a number of films for the BBC News including the two below. The first previews the referendum and the second was broadcast after the result (as always you may enjoy them more by watching in HD).
Finally, just for fun, I have posted a short video of Penguins that I filmed at Bluff Cove. A stunning place that is just a short drive from Stanley.