If Ye Break Faith

This blog is dedicated to the promotion of educating about the Canadian experience of World War One. To discover who we are as a nation in the 21st Century, we must understand our past.

Tuesday, 20 December 2011

A Wide Reaching and Lasting Influence

I began yesterday's column calling out for a more open format for this space.  Already, some of you have begun posting relevant links on our Facebook Page, about which I am quite pleased, and look forward to seeing more.  It is not just the numerical increase in audience that Operation AMPLIFY has set out to achieve, but a more responsive audience overall (as well as the secondary goal of meeting our funding needs, see our campaign at IndieGoGo.)  So, towards a desire to engage in this responsive fashion, I'm once again making an adjustment to our format.  Going forward, beginning today, I will introduce on Tuesdays a discussion topic open to all to comment, debate or opine upon.

The first of these is a big one:  The four years encompassing the First World War is a period of time far more influential than any other event over the same amount of time in human history.

The war, either directly or indirectly contributed to a vast amount of social, political, and economic changes which not only shaped the immediate period contemporary to the war, but well beyond and in some instances is still felt today and will be so well into the future.  Some of these items are: The beginning of the end of Colonial Imperialism (a process which is still under way) and the start of a shift to Corporate Imperialism; The collapse of the last absolute monarchic powers in Europe; inception of Communism as a practical system of government as opposed to a thought experiment philosophy; emergence of the United States as a world power, and the decline of Britain from this position; technological advances and improvements made as a necessity of war; the arbitrary division of the Middle East into nation-states; the empowerment of women; it perpetuated in its immediate wake a series of global economic booms and crises such as never experienced in scale and duration, and one other example that comes to mind.

Which is, of course, the poorly enacted and ambiguous peace which left the door open for the events of the Second World War.

So, why is it that WWI is not more widely regarded as the most influential period in human history?  Why is it that I expect to have many comments taking an opposite view as mine?  It is this:  We have been long sold on the notion that the war is a mistake of history, a preventable error which did nothing but destroy life and waste money.  It is only the inconclusiveness of the peace which lead to the Second World War that usually has any cause to claim historical influence.  That we can pigeon-hole the Second World War along more definitive lines of "good v. evil" is partly due to the nature of the conflict itself, it's clear ending in Allied victory and being more recent takes some of the thunder away from the study of the influence of the First.

  A far more accurate assessment in my opinion is that there is only one World War, fought with a rather long "time-out" period in-between open hostilities.  Agree or disagree, I leave it up to you.  Post your opinions and arguments in the comments section below, or to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.  We will revisit your submissions to this discussion next Tuesday, before introducing the next discussion topic (if you have a suggestion for that, send us your ideas.)

Monday, 19 December 2011

War on Film

It speaks to the long road we've yet to go as far as audience growth when I can take a weekend off and it escapes notice.  Operation AMPLIFY is still in effect, and running until 31January 2012.  We've got that amount of time to drive our audience into the thousands and hopefully collect enough voluntary contributions to register the business and move ahead to achieve the goals of this project as a not-for-profit.  Fortunately, some of the new audience members and Twitter followers we've gained are great additions to the professional network "If Ye Break Faith" is establishing; but I will admit to getting discouraged by the slowness of growth, and the complete dearth of contributions to our IndieGoGo project funding page.  The other part that discourages me is that I want this space to become a bit more interactive than it is now, and I've yet to experience any great level of feedback or participation from my readers.

Is this work even worth continuing?  The goals are worth striving for to be sure; furthering the education of history, preserving the records and artefacts of our past, and giving support to our veterans, interconnected by the means of using the First World War as our focus subject.  I'd like to know your thoughts.  Where am I falling short, and where am I meeting expectation?  Is there a blind spot to the success of this project that I fail to see?  Is there anything in particular you would like me to explore in an essay, or a cause which falls within our mandate that we can help support through this space? Questions, comments, suggestions, complaints should be forwarded to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.  We can also be found on Facebook.  Feel free to post relevant links on our page; some of you have already done so, but I'd really like to see more.

I've been re-watching the 1964 tri-national (UK, Canadian, Australian) production "The Great War".  I've not had it to hand for very long, and already I'm nearly through the whole twenty-odd episode series twice over.  It's difficult to find a good documentary that covers the history of the entire war, and this one is the best of the ones I've seen.  What it brings to mind is in the telling of a story on film, one has to have compelling images to work with.  It is quite remarkable to realise that almost all of the "combat footage" in this series, and in fact in most films and television projects documenting war is largely recreated.  Even to such a psychological level as having the Allies for the most part moving from left to right on screen and the Germans right to left (even if the film negative has to be reversed to do so) so that in our minds eye the Allies are headed east and the Germans west.  One can excuse the lack of genuine front line footage from the First World War, as the technology was new, heavy and cumbersome.  The medium of film was so novel and popular that as soon as was possible the public was being informed on the war through moving pictures.  It hadn't been quite fifty years since the public had seen the first still photographs of war, via the American Civil War, and the appetite for the public to know what a war looked like had just been whetted.

The difficulty that arises is that, due to technology being new to film genuine scenes of action was not always possible, and perhaps most importantly, the public couldn't be shown the whole story.  I've gone over very briefly about press censorship during the war, and the intent was very clear.  The public must be given only the information they need to continue to support their government in pursuing the war.  A civil mind by its nature does not understand the martial, and cannot empathise with the way in which the military operates or the true face of war.  The images the home population were to consume in picture houses would be tailor made to evoke just the right kind of emotive response, and no other.

There then becomes a delicate balance.  It is one in which the public are given the media they wish to see, as close as to the truth as is dared, but not so that the message intended is lost.  As the century unfolded, and our ability to communicate with audio and film improved; as well as the speed at which these ideas could be disseminated, the ability for the government to exercise tight control of the media lessened.  By the late 1960's, daily televised broadcasts, mainly from Indochina were shocking an uninitiated public with uncut spontaneous film of combat actions.  What this did, for the very first time was prove Erasmus' thought: "War is more delightful to those who have never experienced it."  The experience may have been quite vicarious, but the daily dose of difficult images played a large part in developing American public opinion against their government's decision to deploy into Vietnam.

I won't discuss the politics of going to war here.  The point I wish to make is that even though in this day and age we may be able to see unedited footage of war, it is something I believe we are not meant to see.  By and large, the civil mind does not understand war.  It wants to, desires to know, but cannot unless the experience is first hand.  Feeding the appetite for the public to view war does not equate understanding, which is the most important thing.  If we all understood war as well as those who have seen it do, we might not have so much of them.

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Seek and You Shall Find

Keeping up with this site and the project it supports can be done by following our Facebook Page, and Twitter Feed.  Any suggestions, questions or comments, please forward them to me here: ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

Special thanks to GreatWar FouteenEighteen for posting a reading suggestion on our Group Page.  I deeply encourage this type of contribution.  "If Ye Break Faith" is primarily about the perpetuation of the education of history.  If you have something to share, please do so.  It would be a pleasure to see an open dialogue not just between myself and the audience, but all of us as members of "If Ye Break Faith."

As far as history education goes, I may actually be doing more than I realise without doing anything in particular.  Let me explain that.  One of the great tools at my disposal with this blog site is a fairly comprehensive statistic counter.  I can see where my site traffic is coming from, even to Google search terms that netted in a visit.  I really get a kick out of some of the searches that have wound people up on our shores, sometimes the connection to subject matter and search term is quite tenuous, and other times intent is clear.  Students needing to research certain aspects of the war have been, little by little, drawn to our work here.  The most popular search parameters this week have to do with the Home Front during the war; and in the past hot topics have been medical treatment of the wounded, the dissemination of what countries were involved in the war and on which side, along with a host of other subjects I've touched upon.  Occasionally, I have found people coming to IYBF while searching for a particular bit of history, information on a family member usually.  It's a shame that I can't trace who made the searches, because I'd like to be able to help them with their quest.  Remember, IYBF was initiated to tell personal stories, to bring humanity to history, so it feels a bit of a failure when this site cannot provide information being sought.

The delight is that somewhere out there might be a student writing an essay on the Great War who has used information I've imparted to help formulate their thoughts.  In a way, I'm teaching.  Which is kind of cool because I really haven't had opportunity to teach in the formal sense since I left the army (where I was an instructor) and I enjoy the idea of spreading knowledge.

You see, I once (very briefly) tried to market myself as a "Freelance Historian."  It sounds a bit of a strange concept, but what I was finding was that people keen on their genealogy were now able to receive huge amounts of documented information via "Ancestry" sites.  The problem was that most of these people had no understanding of the context or relevance of some of the information they had come to possess.  Someone was needed to interpret for them the significance.  A case in point if a friend's mother-in-law receiving a box of memorabilia from her father who had just passed away.  He had been with the Essex Scottish (2nd Canadian Division) at Dieppe in 1942, where he was taken prisoner.  There was a treasure trove of items, from the correspondence between the soldier's mother and the Red Cross for six agonizing months trying to determine if her son was a prisoner of war or worse, to lapel pins and badges, one of them a Hitler Youth button celebrating "FurhersTag" (Quite a different way to spend the 20th of April back then, eh?) It was a very rewarding afternoon, as I got to handle a wide assortment of physical history and be able to piece a little of this man's story together which I hope helped his daughter to better understand what he went through.

What I like is that I really do gain a sense of satisfaction by believing that something I may have written has helped to foster understanding of the past.  That this so far has been on a very small scale makes me anticipate the opportunity to address a wider audience as the reward of a feeling of worth will be proportional, and how fantastic would that be?

Let me encourage you then, to submit questions, topic suggestions or anything you'd like for us to look into.  I look forward to this space becoming far more interactive than it is now, even to the point of members helping members with research, interpretation and understanding; making this site an open forum to discuss the historical relevance of the First World War with the power to spread that message through further education, efforts to preserve the physical links we have to our past and keeping the gratitude for our veterans present throughout the year.  That is what "If Ye Break Faith" is meant to do, what it definitely has the potential to to do so, and needs your help in order to enable it to do so.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Time Keeps on Slipping

Keeping up with this site and the project it supports can be done by following our Facebook Page, and Twitter Feed.  Any suggestions, questions or comments, please forward them to me here: ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

Perhaps I'm just not good at self promotion.  I do believe in what we are doing, and the best opportunity to fulfil those objectives are through a campaign like AMPLIFY, but I'm much more of a writer and lover of history than a marketer, and I just can't do this alone.  So, a big thanks to the efforts made already, and a pre-emptive thanks for the continued drive to success.  Let's all work together to make this happen.

A friend of mine is relaunching his business, an executive coaching venture, and has invited me to take a look at some of his supporting documents.  For me, this is an opportunity to do some copy writing work, an exciting prospect.  To that purpose, I've been thinking a lot about the symbolic nature of his own logo, a brush painted circle.  It makes sense for his work as it speaks towards the personal journey one embarks upon to find the qualities in oneself which have been neglected to the detriment of success.  The circle, or ring, has a deep an abiding significance throughout our history, and it is along those lines that I was developing some introductory copy for my friend's site.  Of course, I tried relating some of the observations I intended to make to my project.  It works, but after a fashion.

Time, or at least our understanding and imposed method of measuring this dimension is linear.  We are forever in the present, the past is what has happened and the future yet to be.  Exploring the theoretical edge of time in a metaphysical way, what with the expansion and eventual retraction of the universe it could possibly be circular, we just don't know it.  There is nothing we can do to alter what has happened and only a best guess can be made as to what will happen.  This is both what makes the study of history relevant and frustrating at times.  Once an event has moved into the past, we can only use what evidence we have on hand to evaluate the event and the effect it has on the present or will have on the future.  The real trick, in order to delve deep into the past to extract it's lessons is objectivity.  To say that the objective study of history is difficult is mastering understatement.  Since our own identity, as individuals, is tied into familial, cultural and social factors, we are more inclined to be subjective.  Thinking about our story, and the past that it has come out of is an emotionally driven prospect which can lead us to observe the past more perhaps as we would wish to see it rather than it actually was.  Any evidence that challenges perception of our past is often treated with contempt at first, because it threatens to take away from an identity we've made for ourselves.

British Recruits, August 1914
Where the First World War is concerned, it is still widely viewed as a conflict that shouldn't have happened, a waste of lives and money in a futile event which didn't seem to change anything.  Even writing that sentence, it mystifies me that there are those who think this way about World War One.  More than likely, they'll be people willing to talk about how much WWII changed the face of history.  I no longer point out the irony in their thinking.  My own thought is that the events surrounding the onset of the Twentieth Century, of which the most prevalent is the war come from a long and interlinked history, and has shaped the course of political and social movement in ways that are still apparent today.

It is our goal here, using the First World War as our touchstone, to best extract what lessons can be imparted from our collective story, and how best to apply those lessons to encourage a peaceful future for us all.  Time may well be linear, but the cause and effect of past events which continue to impact us should be the encouragement we need to plumb the depths of our stories to evaluate a potential course of following events.

Friday, 9 December 2011

Notes for a Weekend In

For the first five days, I am really quite pleased at the early results from Operation AMPLIFY.  These numbers notwithstanding, there is a lot more yet to achieve, so I know that time over the weekend for me means time to think on how I can improve the reach scope and response of this project.  If anyone has any input, now would be the time.  I have yet to have a single respondent to my request for volunteer logo design.  I wouldn't ask if I could do it myself.  I leave only a link to our Promotional Video to prove my inadequacies at design.  Contributions are also behind.  Please visit our funding project at IndieGoGo and give if you can.  Don't be put off by the lofty goal I've set on that site, by the way.  Our immediate concern is the $1 000 prudent reserve needed to push through our registration documents. Regardless, show your support for If Ye Break Faith and Operation AMPLIFY by joining the Facebook Event Page.  It's an open invite, so all are welcome to join.  Important news and updates with regards the development of the operation will be posted through there.

I had wanted to engage in a bit of an interview with someone in my network to have that as today's update, but I think I need to allow a little more lead time.  I wanted to discuss the great work being done to assemble The Great War's Essential Reading List; found here.  It contains a catalogue of nearly 1400 titles pertaining to study of the First World War, on a wide variety of subjects and selection of languages.  The list is quite comprehensive, the books within it described well and is updated surprisingly often.  Prior to Remembrance Week, they held a user poll to determine the top twenty-five books within the list.  Many books I have gone to to make reference, or may have read for my own enjoyment found their way to that top twenty-five, and I always have opportunity to learn about aspects of the war my focus of study tends to overlook.

I love books.  I don't own a lot of fancy things, I haven't terribly posh tastes- in my estimation I own nothing more valuable than my books.  The enjoyment I get by looking at them, happily organised in their ranks on my shelves is something I fail to explain adequately to others that doesn't leave them with quizzical looks and questions of my sanity.  About fifteen years ago, my great-uncle gave me a gift of a book that detailed the organisation of the Scottish regiments.  He added a dedication to me in which he mentioned that he hoped this book would make an excellent addition to my library.  I looked at my shelves bulging with titles, and realised for the first time that a library is what I had.  I'd rarely felt so fulfilled.  While I do own an e-reader, and like the fact that I can cram ten times as many books as I now own onto the thing, I don't think I will ever be prepared to give up on the aesthetic quality of a weighty leaf of bound pages; something to be pulled from a shelf, admired, thumbed through with a look, feel and smell of its own.

To that end, I'm looking out my window at a steel-grey December sky.  Occasionally a lone flurry will break loose and gravitate wistfully towards the earth, each one carrying the threat that more will follow.  It is still and cold and spare.  Along with thinking on how to bring AMPLIFY through its second week, I imagine that I shall spend a great deal of time this weekend with one of my favourites: "The Western Front" by Richard Holmes.  Brig. Holmes is one writer of history I particularly admire.  His narrative style and desire to tell personal stories from contemporary sources is one I would wish to emulate.  His career was quite prolific, and there are a number of titles he wrote on a wide variety of historical subjects.  Of any I have read, they are all fantastic.  Brig. Holmes passed away just this last April, but he's left a respectable body of work to be fondly remembered for.  "The Western Front" could best be described as a 'primer' on the war as it was in Europe from 1914-1918.  It is simple without being simplistic, and in my opinion, a great starting point for someone interested in the war who hasn't studied it extensively.  Brig. Holmes doesnt' just relate fact, though.  He often brings up points of contention or long standing controversy, explains them and possible conclusions in an understandable fashion.  When I speak of having history appeal to a wider audience, it's to writers like Brig. Holmes I look to for inspiration.  Have a good weekend, folks, I shall see you all here (and with luck a whole bunch of new followers, too) Monday.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Shrapnel and Mettle

Well, friends, I do apologise for the delays in updates.  Interruptions in the water service to my building have required me to be a bit flexible in my timings, and the unfortunate thing means that posting to my column here has had to be held off in interest of making time for other items on my agenda.

I was, though, very saddened this morning upon receiving the news that a friend of mine had just lost his best cat friend.  It got me thinking about loss and how we cope with it; and how very different it must have been to cope with the volume and type of loss common to the Western Front.  More on that shortly.

Keeping up with this site and the project it supports can be done by following our Facebook Page, and Twitter Feed.  Any suggestions, questions or comments, please forward them to me here: ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

Death rarely comes neatly in war.  The human body is fragile and the instruments of war are designed with the intent to to do as much harm as is possible.  That may seem a bit of an obvious statement, but one that requires a bit of reflection.  The main cause of casualties on the Western Front, perhaps not surprisingly, was via the artillery.  Shrapnel and shell-splinters accounted for the majority of combat injuries which is reasonable considering the environment of trench warfare and the role artillery had in dislodging defensive forces.  This particular way in which the First World War was fought actually lent a lot to the disturbing number of men who's remains were never found, or conversely the ability to identify remains once discovered.  A shell burst might bury men within a trench, completely obliterate a casualty by force of explosion or even displace bodies buried from previous attacks.  Ground was contested time and again over the length of the war, and the danger of no-man's land often made removing the dead from the field an impossible task.  There were incidences where temporary cease-fires were arranged, such as between ANZAC and Ottoman forces during the Gallipoli campaign to attend to casualties.  More often it was reliant upon medical staff to put themselves at great risk to bring casualties in for treatment. Sometimes, it was just not possible to be done.

Let's also keep in mind the kind of society from which the combatants of the war came from.  Disease and deformity were by far a more common sight; and many men, even if they were more town than country would have had more first hand experience with slaughter of livestock than today.  This might mean that they would be perhaps more inured to death and blood.  Even taking that into account, though, the sheer industrial scale of destruction was quite beyond any event could have prepared them for.  The human desire for closure, especially towards a tragic event as death would have been as strong then as it is now.

There are thousands of families who even today have no definitive knowledge of how, when or exactly where a loved one was killed.  To this end there have been small victories through the diligent work of researchers and volunteers who take great pains to identify the remains which become disinterred from time to time all along where the Front used to stand.  Sadly, there are not enough people to do this type of work, and sometimes there is just not enough evidence found with a body to even hazard a guess as to whom the person was.  The "unknown soldier" of the First World War is a testament to those who will never be identified, as well as being symbolic of the anonymous slaughter of industrial warfare.

The fact that despite losses, death and wounds which would have had an effect on an emotional level, men on both sides carried on.  There was no immunity from this, as even Field Marshal Haig was advised by his staff to stop visiting wounded in hospital because of the melancholy effect it was having on the Commander-in-Chief.   It's hard, if not impossible to understand the motivation, the sheer force of will that was required of the combatants of the First World War to carry on in the face of their own mortality.  It gives us pause to think about how a decision give up on something in this day and age might seem terribly trivial in perspective.

Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Broken Telephone

Keeping up with this site and the project it supports can be done by following our Facebook Page, and Twitter Feed.  Any suggestions, questions or comments, please forward them to me here: ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

In thinking on that, I'm reminded of the aphorism that "no plan ever survives the first contact."  It's a good reminder to have contingent options available; that one's plans should never be too rigid and allow for some flexibility.  Of course, get me started thinking about military analogies and I could go on.  In this case, I was just last week caught up in a bitter fight with my mobile phone provider.  I had switched to this company after finally being fed up with the other.  Initially, I was very pleased with the deal.  Just a little more per month for service, but a lot more options, a better phone wider coverage and more flexibility.  The phone itself, though, turned out to be defective and from Tuesday on until Friday over multiple attempts I was finally offered a solution that I found satisfactory.  The difficulty is that mobile phone companies have set their policies so rigidly that they have no ability to make exceptions, even when they want to, and in my opinion really should.  The process was exhausting.  The upshot is that until I receive the replacement phone, I'm considerably out of the loop.  I feel lost and disconnected in such a way that would have been impossible to imagine not ten years ago; and I arrived late to the cellphone party.

I've spoken in a fashion about methods of media communication in Messages of War, but I haven't much discussed the importance of military communications.  Which in itself is a heck of an oversight being that I'm a former radio operator.  Lines of communication are absolutely crucial to the conduct of battle, and have been so always.  Sun Tzu makes several mentions of using flags, drums and horns for methods of signalling, our own traditional reverence for "colours" (read military flags) comes from the period in time when it was crucial to keep them flying and visible to help organise men in the thick smoke that black powder battles created.  In Wellington's day, it might well have been possible for the Iron Duke to be in visual contact with his regiments, at the very least by their colours.  Should he need to send a message, a rider could be out and back in short order.

Advance time on a century and things had changed a great deal.  Mostly we can ascribe culpability to technological advances, but what needs to be taken into account is the sheer scale of the First World War in numbers of men.  Britain especially struggled with this as her pre-war army was designed to be a small professional force for colonial administration.  To fight a European war would require her to grow in size beyond anybody's first estimation, and operate in organisational sizes (Corps, Armies) and structures it had no practice with.  Now a headquarters was responsible for directing battles for elements its commander couldn't possibly see all at once even if lines of visibility allowed.  The trenches and the stagnant nature of defensive warfare allowed for the establishment of incredibly complex telephone networks between the front, headquarters and the artillery on the gun line, by and large bringing effective and timely communication between elements.  The wires were delicate and easily cut by shrapnel.  Teams of signalmen were employed full time in finding and repairing damage to the wiring, often "laddering" cables with multiple connections so that one blast might not knock out the 'phones.  When in one place, a wired network is acceptable, but an army will need to advance sooner or later.

To their credit, signallers would try to bring telephones and cables forward during an attack, but it was usually better to wait until a position had been consolidated before doing so.  In the meantime, in the heat of battle, there were only more traditional methods to rely upon.  Some units may have had pigeons or even dogs to take messages back to the rear; most would rely on the runner to facilitate communications.  It is in that where a lot of things can go wrong.

A runner or dispatch rider can only carry the message as fast as he can run or ride; and that's not taking into account the conditions of the ground over which he must travel.  Each message, whether to confirm a taken objective or to ask for further instructions has a longer way to go the higher up the chain it has to get.  The delay could be several minutes at the least, when several seconds may be too much time before the situation changes.  The opportunity for misunderstanding the situation using this form of communication is rife, one example which comes to mind is the breakdown during Second Ypres in which fighting units of the 3d Canadian Brigade didn't receive the orders from their commander to fall back to a defensive line around Brigade headquarters.  That they didn't do this was fine as the situation was such that General Turner believed his command to be in a more dire situation than it was.  Not having instantaneous communication with higher headquarters also meant that artillery couldn't be used on demand.  There were pre-arranged signals using coloured flares to call shelling down on established targets, but most bombardments were planned in advance and fairly inflexible once begun.  

The nature of communication and the fluidity of the situation on the firing line necessitated some solution so that commanders who by necessity had to be well back from the front could better control their men in the field.  Setting limited, shorter to reach objectives and moving units through in a leap-frog fashion meant that units fighting were in close contact from time to time with units coming in from the rear; hopefully with news or updated orders.  The other solution was to give more autonomy to junior officers, and encourage initiative; allowing company commanders and platoon leaders to deploy their men as the situation they saw (and their commanders couldn't) dictated.  It wouldn't be for another generation that wireless communication would be reliable or portable enough to go into the field.  It's not a great leap of logic to understand that the military's need for instantaneous communications has led us to the point where we panic each time we leave the house without our phones.

Remember, it's up to all of us to get this project to its objective.  I've sent a news release to some media contacts in hopes of generating publicity, and informing our social networks will get the word out.  Contributions to the project can be made through IndieGoGo.  We really don't need much to get started, but it would be nice to reach our $1000 goal quickly so that we can make donations of anything we receive beyond that reserve.

Let people know that we are on Facebook and Twitter.  We still need a volunteer with some artistic skill to help out with our new logo, and to take a crack at improving our promotional video.  If you think you can help, or if you have any ideas, thoughts, suggestions or questions, post them here.

I shall see you all (and hopefully more) tomorrow!

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Such Pleasant Company Being Right Beside Dedicated Comrades Always

Three things about the title of today's post.  It's perhaps the longest one yet; it is a true statement and it's once again an attempt at being clever.  As I illustrated in an earlier post, "Order of Battle" the organisation of armies can be confusing to initiates.  Fact is, sometimes I have trouble remembering which one goes where.  So, I invented a mnemonic device as an aide-memoir for the order Section, Platoon, Company, Battalion, Regiment, Brigade, Division, Corps and Army.  Pretty neat, eh?  I'm not 100% happy in using "Company" for "Company", it feels a bit like cheating.  If you can come up with something better, I'd love to see it and feature it in this column.  Send your mnemonics to our email; along with other suggestions, comments and questions.

As many of you know, "If Ye Break Faith" is gearing up to (hopefully) go live 01January 2012.  In my estimation, we're well behind where we need to be to meet that goal.  I've gone back to ones to figure out where I was falling short.  To that end, there are a number of upcoming changes.

Before I get into details, I want to credit someone who recently inspired me to re-invigorate my approach to my work.  I ran into a young fellow called Tyler whom I know through his friends, neighbours of mine.  He was wearing a poppy on his jacket as late as the 28th of November.  I remarked my pleasure at seeing this display. "It shouldn't be for just one day," he said by way of explanation, "we should always remember what our veterans have done for us."  I don't think I could have put it better, and knowing that there are folks out there that value these sentiments that this project hasn't reached yet means I need to work much harder.

Beginning Monday, this site will update daily from Monday to Friday.  Posts inclusive of the short subject essays on the Great War will be available on Tuesdays and Thursdays.  Mondays and Wednesdays will feature links and media to other First War resources.  On Fridays, taking a page from Twitter, posts will help promote sites with which IYBF have common goals.

Keeping up with this site and the project it supports can be done by following our Facebook Page, and Twitter Feed.  Any suggestions, questions or comments, please forward them to me here: ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

I enjoy bringing this work to you, and look forward to the project reaching it's potential.  I shall see you all (and hopefully some of your friends, too) on Monday, ready to dig in and carry on.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

To Arms! To Arms!

To my right is a clip from the BBC series "Blackadder Goes Forth."  It's a fairly tongue-in-cheek approach to the beginnings of the war.  I happen to like it, and was thinking about it for something to do with today's post. When searching YouTube for this segment, I couldn't help notice the comments section in which many people admit to being first exposed to this series in history class.

That stopped me in my tracks.  Certainly Blackadder's (Rowan Atkinson) explanation of the genesis of the Great War is fairly correct and entertaining, but lacks a great deal in a complete understanding.  I don't fault the show, as it's intention is to entertain; I find fault with an education system that can't engage students by means other than showing videos from old situation comedies in order to impart the lessons of history.

One thing I run into often enough is people who have no interest in history because it is "boring."  I rail against that.  If I can say so without sounding too vain, I'd like to think I challenge the notion of history being boring twice a week.  Without the study of history, we cannot understand the present.  If we don't "sing our own songs" we loose a sense of who we are as a collective community.

There are hundreds of thousands, if not millions of individual artefacts and remains yet to be recovered from the battlefields of our past; and not nearly enough people to find, preserve and interpret these leavings.  Some risk never being found, others might be destroyed or lost by our present day impact on the surrounding environment.

We've sent young men and women off to war, asked them to do difficult things and put their lives at risk so that we at home can feel safe.  There's an obligation we owe to them, and in my opinion, not enough being done, especially with recent "clawbacks" being discussed.

Keeping up with this site and the project it supports can be done by following our Facebook Page, and Twitter Feed.  Any suggestions, questions or comments, please forward them to me here: ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

I'll leave you all with that for now, and I thank you in advance for your efforts at helping us achieve our goals.  Regular posts will return on Monday, with an update on how well this appeal was received.  If you have any questions, comments or suggestions, please post them to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com

Monday, 21 November 2011

It's Not a Straight Line

Well, it's been a busy week.  Traffic to this site is down significantly since Remembrance Week, but on average higher than before, so the net gain is ours.  Much of the time over the past week has been dedicated to projects and meetings to help spread the ideals that this project is setting itself up to support.  To that end, there is some great progress to report.

For most of the rest of my day today, I'm putting the final touches on a detailed proposal for Iron Spirits, a process that I will touch on in more detail during the essay below.  A proposal, mind, is not an acceptance to publication, but a very important step along the way; I'm very pleased by the opportunity.  I held a meeting with a local politician on Friday, a man who enjoys my work and sees some value in my writing.  The opportunities to network with his business colleagues will certainly not harm any prospect of freelance work they might have, while being able to promote "If Ye Break Faith" to people who may be able to aid in corporate sponsorship.  It's very win-win at the moment.  I also have an article prospectively submitted to The Laurier Centre, but haven't had word on its publication yet, I shall keep you informed as that develops.  While we're on the topic, if any of you out there would like me to guest blog or submit a piece I'd be open for that, as well as the idea of doing so with this space in exchange.

The big news is that "If Ye Break Faith" has re-launched a crowd funding campaign on IndieGoGo.  The first time we went live with a campaign was really premature; the project hadn't the direction and scope that it does now.  The funds raised by this campaign will go towards the start-up and maintenance of the business as well as providing the initial funding for two bursaries "If Ye Break Faith" will be awarding annually.  These awards will be both at the undergraduate and graduate level for students of history.  Qualification for the bursary will be contingent on GPA as well as an essay competition.

Hand in hand with the IndieGoGo campaign is "If Ye Break Faith's" first ever promotional video.  It was hammered together using Power Point and good intentions, but I admit it's pretty bloody awful.  Don't watch it, even though it fairly well explains what it is we intend to do.  As usual, spread the word through Twitter and Facebook.

Have a suggestion, question or submission?  They can all be sent through to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

In putting together my sample chapter for the submission of "Iron Spirits", I found myself for the first time having to describe the notion of a "salient."  Admittedly when I was younger, the word was so often paired with Ypres that I took it to be descriptive of a natural geographic feature alone.  The difficulty isn't in defining the military context of a salient, but doing so in a way that balances ease of understanding without being insulting to intelligence.  Since it is my goal to make military history more accessible, I'd best learn how to write in such a way that the concepts required to be understood which may not be familiar to the average person can be expressed in an engaging way.

The reasons why salients become important here is tied into that primary question, the inspiration to curiosity and understanding and the foundation of historical study: Why?

By the spring of 1915, the war had been deadlocked on the Western Front since before the previous winter.  The catch phrase used by almost every historian I've consulted, and is so ubiquitous I've used it myself is "a line of trenches stretching from the North Sea to the Swiss Border."  Of course, we know that it's a bit more complicated than that, and I think I disabused certain notions (like the one continuous line running North-South) in my two piece work In The Trenches I & II.

Take a look at the map above.  The red line (representing the Germans) curves around the blue line in a gentle arc.  We are looking at the Ypres Salient circa April of 1915.  Formed by necessity of terrain, or by a successful advance on a narrow front, salients both large and small developed all along the Western Front as the war of movement stalled out and trench warfare took over.  What I hadn't thought much about, until I began doing background work on the little known Battle of Festubert in May of 1915, was the existence of salients and their tactical difficulties for forces on either side. The existence of little bulges along the line dictated much of the offensive work by both sides during 1915, which for the Western Front would be a year of adjustment and building strength prior to the grand campaigns the following year.  One very crucial part of that would be to eliminate salients as much as possible.  For the blue people above, they are constantly watched over and can be fired upon from three directions, the red people, while they have that advantage, are really quite a ways away from their friends to the left and right of the curve, making mutual support difficult.  Any advance made from them would have to take a fair amount of enemy ground before even reaching the start line for flanking units.  For either side there are advantages, but ideally in a static position, you desire to have as straight a line as possible.

Which is why (partially) the British decided to fight at Festubert.  Ostensibly it was to reduce a salient in the area, but that in itself was a trade off for failing to take the high feature of Aubers Ridge.  Like most offensives in the second year of the war, small gains were being made at the cost of unforeseen numbers of casualties.  From this and from a fundamental misunderstanding of tactical necessity comes the long held notion of "slaughter for no gain."  Without meaning to be too glib, there is some truth to that as '15 was a real learning year from top to bottom, an analogy of eggs and omelettes would be apt.  Though the real issue is that both the Allies and the Central Powers were not in a position, materially or in manpower to achieve victory.  The public impression is that the army should have been working towards a decisive end, but was proving incapable at doing so.  Reality was that the small gains that were being made were necessary to shore up the line, straighten it out and afford the best possible jump-off point for the upcoming grand offensive.

As a side note, the work done by the British in 1915 to gain position having been done in Flanders was motivation for Haig to plan for the 1916 offensive there.  It was pressure from his French allies that dictated he attack along the Somme.

I'll leave you with a quote from the sample chapter of "Iron Spirits"

"The desire to cause a large breakthrough was present, but 1915 could not be the year for it.  Opportunities based on political flights of fancy would keep a great deal of British and French assets pinned down in other theatres.  Kitchener's Armies, the erstwhile civilian volunteers for the war were at the front, with numbers steadily increasing as the year unfolded.  They would not be either numerous or experienced enough for a large scale offensive until midway through the following year at the earliest.  Small offensives for limited objectives would achieve three goals: Put allied forces in the best possible starting position for the anticipated offensive in 1916; units new to the front would have opportunity to learn while doing, and hopefully keeping pressure along the line at different points would help "fix" the Germans to their present locations."

Any thoughts?

Thursday, 17 November 2011

Lost in the Woods

Keeping up with this site and the project it supports can be done by following our Facebook Page, and Twitter Feed.  Any suggestions, questions or comments, please forward them to me here: ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.

To carry forward the notion of a continued spirit of Remembrance,I’m going to digress from my usual style of offering a discussion piece on the First World War, and tell one of my own stories.  On the most part, my military background is merely anecdotal, but the majority of my experiences in this environment seem to involve to some degree my Company Sergeant Major, now Captain Ron Alkema.  It seems his name has been coming up recently as there is an effort under way to help find a photograph of him and his son taken at a rather precious moment during the Regiment’s Remembrance Parade. 

CSM Alkema was a wiry, tough man who had a long service of experience and great knowledge of his trade.  He was assigned as the Platoon Warrant (a Warrant Officer serving as second in command to the platoon’s officer) to QL2 9411, my basic training serial.  My first day in the army, the first words Warrant Alkema said to me were “fix your fucking headdress, troop.”  Over the course of my training, and beyond when I was assigned as a rifleman in A Company, where he was the Sergeant Major, there developed a number of times in which our interactions are cause for thought.  A running joke about chicken stew or the incident where I went into the field wearing a pair of puttees come readily to mind
However, it was a force on force patrolling exercise that I address this public column as until now, much like a certain Douglas Adams story involving cookies, the other half has never heard the punch line.  I was tasked to bring my three man reconnaissance (recce) patrol to a particular patch of a distant grid square.

My navigation, I would like to think, is tight.  I’ve taught lectures on use of map and compass, so to figure a route based on a staggered approach, with way-points including the ruins (MTSC Meaford near Collingwood, Ontario has a wealth of stone foundations left from the farm buildings that used to dot the area) where we would hold up until dark, with a separate return route was an easy affair.  On paper.

Soon after we set out, the man I had assigned as the pacer (an independent counter of distance) told me he didn’t know how to pace.  That was a minor concern as it quickly became apparent that despite shooting proper bearings we had come off course somehow.  Two problems could be to blame.  The map might be sufficiently out of date so as landmarks and features may be different, or the compass might be set to a different magnetic declination than the area calls for. (there is a difference in declination between Meaford and CFB Borden, the two bases we went to for exercises, enough to require an adjustment.  If a compass is set for when while at the other, it’s fair easy to get lost.)

My little band never quite made it to our objective.  Even after cheating by closely following roads and trails in a fashion known as “handrailing”, we got close, but had to turn back due to time concerns and the fact that besides all else, the radio wasn’t working.

Turns out that the “enemy” was exactly where I was supposed to be looking for them.  As our two other patrols had made their objectives and found nothing, process of elimination put them in my patch.  Our objective was to move out as a platoon, lay up in the woods down a slight rise about fifty meters from the supposed position and assault at first light.  Small problem being we didn’t know how they were laid out and what assets they had, as it would have been my job to provide that information.

All things considered the assault went well, having caught the enemy after they had gone into morning routine following the first light “stand to.”  After the exercise was called over, Sergeant-Major Alkema pulled me aside to have a word.
“I understand you had some problems getting to your objective, Corporal Harvie.” He said by way of prodding me to give my input.

“I can’t figure it Sar’nt Major, could be an old map, or the compass declination.”

“It’s a poor navigator who blames his map and compass.” And that, to him is the end of the story, as he walked away after making that statement. 

The real problem, I found out later, had to do with the fact that I am left handed.  Now, CSM Alkema is left handed himself, so just on the face of it, the explanation requires further background.  When I was fourteen, I broke my left arm in a spectacular fashion.  A metal plate affixed to the ulna with six screws was required to properly set the fractures.  Years later, attempting to shoot bearings with a compass in my left hand would result in a seemingly unfathomable inconsistency between my class work and field craft.

If you see Captain Alkema, could you please set him straight on this?

Friday, 11 November 2011

Remembrance Week Special Collection: Cpl H G Munro

Our Remembrance Week Special Collection concludes today with the biography of Cpl H G Munro, written by Kathleen Minkowski.  I'd like to express a deep thanks to all who took time from their days this week to read these contributions. Keeping that in mind, I would like to appeal to you all to keep the memory of the loss of life in war with you beyond the moment of silence at 11 this morning.

The founding principles of "If Ye Break Faith" were based in the belief that the sacrifices made on our behalf by those who went to war is something that should be more present in mind throughout the year.  This is why we intend to initiate our first long running campaign "Give A Minute of Your Time" over the next twelve months to not only drive support for the causes of perpetuating history education, preserving physical history and supporting veterans, but keep the memory of sacrifice more present.  Only through understanding our past can we understand our present.

Today, I will be at the ceremony held at the war monument on Trafalgar Rd in Oakville, Ontario.  I certainly hope that many of you will take some time to remember in your own way.  On Monday, our regular posts return, as I hope you all will.  You can keep up to date with all the latest news and developments via Twitter and Facebook.

Hugh Gordon Munro, Corporal
15th Battalion, Central Ontario Regiment
3rd Infantry Brigade, 1st Infantry Division
Canadian Expeditionary Force

Not many of us can remain optimistic in our darkest hours. Not many of us are able to realize that our misery won’t last forever. Hugh Gordon Munro experienced war, death, and a lot more misery that any of us have every experienced in our lives. Despite all of this, Munro was able to remain optimistic throughout the war, no matter what happened. He would always dream of the future because he was so determined to tell his story. Munro made so many contributions to the war effort and they must be remembered…

Personal Information: Hugh Gordon Munro grew up with his loving parents Rev. J. E. and Jessie Munro and an enthusiastic brother, Arthur Melville, in the town of Gladstone, Manitoba. They were devoted members of the Presbyterian Church. Munro’s family later moved to Oakville, Ontario, and Munro’s father became the reverend at Knox Presbyterian Church. As a young unmarried man in Oakville, Munro took a job as a bank clerk.

On May 26, 1915, with having no previous military experience, Hugh Gordon Munro enlisted with the Canadian Over‐Seas Expeditionary Force in Niagara, Ontario. After a brief, but thorough examination, Munro was seen fit to be a part of the Canadian army. Munro was lean and above average height, described as 5 foot 10 inches and weighing 165 lbs. He had a fair complexion, grey eyes, and brown hair. Munro left his post as a bank clerk to represent his country overseas in World War I.

Military Movements: Hugh Gordon Munro was an Acting Corporal with the 37th Battalion. He was later taken on strength by the 15th Battalion of the Canadian Infantry (Central Ontario Regiment) in the 3rd Infantry Brigade and 1st Infantry Division. The 15th Battalion was organized at Valcartier, Quebec and was composed of recruits from the Toronto area. During the summer of 1915, Munro set sail with his battalion to Europe where their theatre of operation was in France. Some of the major battles Munro may have fought in are the Battle of Mont Sorrel and the Battle of the Somme.

The Final Days: During mid‐September, the 15th Battalion was resting and training in Vadencourt, France at a camp. Then, the battalion left Vadencourt for Brickfields but rain slowed them down and many of the soldier’s uniforms got wet. Training was limited due to the constant rainy weather. However, when the weather looked promising, practice attacks were carried out and gunners were trained.
On September 24, 1916, the 15th Battalion marched to the trenches in Albert, France to relieve the 14th Battalion. On September 26, 1916 the Canadian and British troops attacked and the Battle for Thiepval Ridge began. It was a very successful invasion for the 15th Battalion as hardly any lives were lost and they strategically avoided enemy shelling.

In early October, 1916, the 15th Battalion was in Warloy, France sleeping in billets and training with guns and bombs. The days went by slowly. Companies and Units held inspections and gas helmet inspections. Rain delayed the battalion’s plans so tasks were carried out in the soldier’s billets. The days would go by with normal enemy artillery activity, but here and there some
shelling would occur and the enemy would attack. The Canadian and British troops tried to advance further near Courcelette, France but the enemy attacked and regained some trenches.

Medical Records: Three vaccination marks were found on Hugh Gordon Munro’s arms when he was examined before he enlisted with the army. He was also inoculated on May 29, 1915, by a Dr. Thompson, just after he enlisted. Munro also spent 11 days in the hospital in 1916. He was admitted on August 7, 1916. In his unit base report, it states that rejoined his unit on August 18, 1916.

Lest We Forget: Hugh Gordon Munro died in No. 49 Casualty Clearing Station on October 9, 1916 from gunshot wounds to the arms and legs while fighting on the front lines when the enemy attacked with shelling and gunfire. He received three medals to honour his actions: the 15th Battalion Star, the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal. He had received $15 monthly while being a Corporal during the war. He was 19 years of age at the time of his death. Munro is buried at Contay British Cemetery in Somme, France. The cemetery was designed by Sir Reginald Bloomfield in August 1916 and was used for burials by the 49th and 9th Casualty Clearing Station. It was not until after the Germans withdrawal from the Hindenburg Line in the spring of 1917, when the Germans advanced on Albert, that the 38th and other Divisions used the cemetery. Today, the Contay British Cemetery holds 1,133 First World War soldiers.

Conclusion: In his letters home to Oakville, Hugh Gordon Munro was always optimistic. He would write about what tomorrow would bring, and he always hoped that he would eventually be able to go home. Munro demonstrated determination, courage, and strength. Despite the cruelties of war, Munro was able to remain fearless, confident, and brave. He can be a role model for so many people; he showed us that we should cherish the little things in life and to always remain positive.

Written by: Kathleen Minkowski

On behalf of "If Ye Break Faith", I would like to dedicate our Remembrance Week Special Collection to all my fallen comrades; in particular Cpl. Ainsworth Dyer and Major P D Hess von Kruedener.  Dileas Gu Brath.

Christopher J Harvie
Project Director, If Ye Break Faith.

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Remembrance Week Special Collection: Capt. D R Mackay

Our Remembrance Week Special Collection continues today with the biography of Captain D R Mackay, written by Stephen Im.  Again, the response we've had is wonderful, and we are enjoying bringing you these stories, and hope that they give cause for reflection on the human cost of war.

On Remembrance Day itself, most of us will observe the two minutes' silence to make those reflections.  We at "If Ye Break Faith" encourage this practice, and in keeping with that we announce today our first fund-raising program.  The logistics are a bit touch and go as NFP status hasn't come across any desks yet, but running from 11/11/11 to 11/11/12 will be our campaign; appealing to our audience worldwide to "Give a Minute of Your Time."  In our contemporary climate of financial unrest; money is tight all over.  Concerned with meeting the needs of the day to day, thoughts tend to be less towards extra expenditures.  The suggested level of donation to each person would be the equivalent of one minute's worth of earnings.  For the average Canadian, that works out to .40-.60 cents depending on what statistics one starts with.  Individually it is not much at all; but the underlying idea of this campaign and "If Ye Break Faith" itself is a collective effort.  

Having a broad mandate of promoting history education, preserving physical history and supporting veterans past and present means that money gained from the "Give a Minute of Your Time" campaign, and other fund raising events upcoming will be spread amongst a network of associated charitable organisations.  This gives the prudent contributor the ability to stretch their donation across a wider scope.  While we'd like to encourage you to make donations along these lines, we'd prefer to have our business status confirmed before accepting any funds. (We won't stop you, though, so if you really can't wait, go ahead.)

In other news, "If Ye Break Faith" has been nominated for the Cliopatria Award for Best New Blog.  If you like, head on over to History News Network to cast a vote.  We're still seeking reader contributions of their own Remembrance Day stories.  Submission deadline is Friday, so if you haven't yet, please post your story to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com.  As always, keep up to date with news and developments via Twitter and Facebook.

Ancestry.ca has announced a limited promotion for free access to military records.  The promotion ends on the 13th, so take advantage of this offer soonest!  The Ottawa Citizen has just announced the creation of a new Twitter feed, We Are The Dead, which is set to automatically tweet the names of Canada's fallen, at the rate of one an hour.  It's estimated that the 'bot will need to work continuously for thirteen years to complete its task.

Donald Roy Mackay, Captain
4th Canadian Mounted Rifles
8th Brigade, 3rd Division
Canadian Expeditionary Force

It was December of 1914, and Donald Roy MacKay was enlisting at the Toronto office. He was an 8 year veteran of the militia and felt that it was his duty to go to war. But little did he know what was about to happen.

Personal Information: Donald Roy Mackay was born on June 30th, 1883, in the city of Oakville, Ontario. He was the first son of John and Elizabeth Mackay and the eldest sibling of three younger brothers and one sister. When he enlisted he was 31 and married to Evelyn Marjorie MacKay. He and his family were strong believers in the Presbyterian faith. Before the war started, he had been a member of the active militia for eight years. Mackay enlisted at the recruitment office in Toronto on Dec. 3rd, 1914. His medical exam did not note any previous diseases or current ones and he had no obvious disabilities or impediments. He was in peak physical condition; he was 5 ft. 10 inches and weighted 155 lbs. He had a fair complexion with brown eyes and brown hair. His original trade, or calling, was as a farmer.

Military Movement: Donald MacKay was part of the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles, 8th Brigade, 3rd Division, Canadian Expeditionary Force. Although MacKay had enlisted on December of 1914, he did not arrive at France until October 24th of 1915. Even before he arrived in Europe, in July, he was promoted from the rank of Lieutenant to Captain.

On November 4th of 1914, soldiers were taken from the Governor General's Body Guard, the 2nd Dragoons, the 9th Mississauga Horse and the 25th Brant Dragoons to form the 4th Canadian Mounted Rifles. They originally trained in Toronto, however they were soon asked to give up their horses to be used as chargers by the officers of the 2nd Canadian Division which was heading overseas to Europe. However, the regiment accepted an invitation to volunteer as a dismounted infantry unit. They were moved to Niagara‐on‐the‐Lake and later on to Valcartier to continue their training. In July of 1915, they departed to continue further training in England. In October they sailed to France to receive final training in trench warfare and to enter the war. They received their first casualties on Dec. 1st. Their second wave of casualties happened two days later when a raiding party got spotted and received fire on the 3rd of December. Captain MacKay was part of the second group of casualties of three dead and four wounded.

The Final Days: MacKay did not see much action before he was killed. The 4th C.M.R had been sent to Belgium and had trained and moved around a short time there. They finally settled down in the Aldershot Huts near the small town of Neuve‐Eglise, Belgium. Captain MacKay, another officer, and ten soldiers were part of a raiding party when a nearby artillery explosion killed him and two others.

Medical Records: Donald Roy Mackay was a healthy man both at the time of enlistment. Artillery fire was the cause of his death when a shell exploded nearby and fragments pierced his body.

Lest We Forget: His father, J.A Mackay, who was his closest of kin, was informed of his death by cable. His total earnings while in the war were $954.55. His wife, Evelyn MacKay, received a monthly allowance from the government. MacKay received the Plaque and Scroll for his war efforts. He also received the 14‐15 Star, the Victory Medal, and the British War Medal. At the time of his death he was 32. He was buried in Belgium, and now rests in the Berks Cemetery Extension.

Reflective Response: Donald Mackay was one of the thousands of people who helped preserve our freedom. It is extremely interesting to know that he went to OTHS (known as Oakville High School). He was a committed soldier who was caught in the line of fire and sadly never returned home to friends and family in Oakville.

“All we have of freedom, all we use or know – our fathers bought for us long and long ago.” Rudyard Kipling

Written By: Stephen Im

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Remembrance Week Special Collection: LCpl H M Gorman

"Poppy Field" by Steve Thoms

Our Remembrance Week Special Collection continues today with a biography of Lance Corporal H M Gorman, written by Sabrina Shrestha.  So far, these posts have received a great amount of attention, and it's very pleasing that so many of you are reading, and hopefully enjoying these stories.

Submissions are still being accepted for our post concluding Remembrance Week on Sunday 13 November.  If you have a story about a veteran in your life you'd like to share, please post it to ifyebreakfaith@gmail.com before Friday, 11 November for inclusion.

If you haven't yet, please check out History News Network to place your vote for "If Ye Break Faith" in the "Best New Blog" category.  You can always keep up to date with all the latest news and announcements through Twitter and Facebook.

Howard Mahoney Gorman, Lance Corporal
26th Battalion, New Brunswick Regiment
5th Infantry Brigade, 2nd Infantry Division
Canadian Expeditionary Force

Personal Information: Howard Mahoney Gorman was born on April 21, 1894, in the town of Simcoe, Ontario, 45 kilometers southwest of Brantford, Ontario. He was brought up in a family of Methodist by his father, Robert J. Gorman and his mother, Estelle Gorman. Later, Howard and his family moved to Oakville, Ontario.
He was an unmarried 21 year old farmer who enlisted on June 19, 1915 in Niagara to go to war with the Canadian Over‐seas Expeditionary Force. After the medical check up, he was considered fit and was of good health to fight.

Military Movements: Howard was a member of the Canadian Army Service Corps (CASC). The CASC departed for England in May 1915 and went to a military training camp in Shorncliffe, England, on the coast of Kent.
On September 9, 1915, Howard was struck off strength and transferred to the 2nd Division by train; he embarked for France on September 14, 1915. The Canadian Corps was formed on September 15, 1915, at the Ypres Salient in Belgium, when the 1st Division was joined by the 2nd. Howard was struck off strength again on April 25, 1916, and was transferred to the 26th Battalion of the New Brunswick Canadian Infantry in the 2nd Division. On June 26, 1916, Howard was taken on strength by the Canadian Casualty Assembly Center (CCAC). On August 9, 1916, he was struck off strength from the CCAC to the 40th Battalion of Nova Scotia in the 2nd Infantry Division of the Canadian Expeditionary Force (CEF).(These movements are indicative of a wounded man moving back through lines.  Examining the War Diary of the 26th Bn reveals that they were subject to intermittent and heavy enemy bombardment throughout the17-18 June 1916.  This reconciles with Gorman’s movements at the time. CJH Ed.) On September 21, 1916, he transferred to the 26th Battalion, taking the place of a man whose health condition was failing. Howard remained with the Canadian Corps in the 26th Battalion until his death.
Howard was promoted to Lance Corporal on November 6, 1917. Unfortunately, he was killed in action on the same day, during the Second Battle of Passchendaele.

The Final Days: LCpl Gorman lost his life fighting in the Third Battle of Ypres during the third stage of the Second Battle of Passchendaele, on November 6, 1917. The First Battle of Passchendaele had begun early on October 12, 1917, and the Second Battle of Passchendaele started on October 26, which lasted until November 10. Many Canadian soldiers including the 26th Battalion (5th Brigade) were involved in this battle. The Canadian Corps were under the command of Lieutenant‐General Sir Arthur Currie. Throughout this Battle, the
Canadians, British, French, and the Australians worked together and fought against the Germans to gain control of the village of Passchendaele.

The 1st assault was done by the 2nd Anzac Corps on October 12; due to terrible weather, further attacks were delayed. The Canadian Corps presented a plan to capture Passchendaele on October 23, 1917. Moving through the Zonnebeve Road (southwest of Passchendaele), Gravenstafel, and Mosselmarkt (northwest of Passchendaele) were the only ways for the soldiers to advance towards Passchendaele. As the weather improved, the Germans shelled/bombed during the night injuring many Canadians; the Germans also used Yellow Cross gas (mustard gas) and Blue Cross Gas (sneezing gas) to weaken the enemy’s army.
As the 1st and the 2nd Division were held in army reserve, the 3rd and the 4th Division, at 5:30 a.m. on October 26th did the attack of the first stage. By the 27th, about 300 yards were gained and on October 28th, the first stage ended with heavy casualties on both sides.
At the beginning of November, the 1st and 2nd Divisions moved from an area east of Cassel to take over the exhausted 3rd and 4th Division. They arrived at the ruined station of Ypres after a tiring three‐hour train ride. On the night of November 5th and 6th, they prepared to fight in their positions and were ready to attack by 4:00 a.m. During the third stage, the mission for the 26th Battalion (5th Brigade) was to attack Passchendaele from the south, while the 1st and 2nd Battalions advanced to Meetcheele‐Mosselmarkt road and the 3rd Battalion were on the left of the 26th Battalion. The 2nd Division was in pillboxes attacking from the north of Passchendaele.

 (An appendix to the 26th Battalion War Diary for November 1917 includes an after-action report for the attack on 06 November.   Despite the Battalion receiving 200 casualties, objectives were reached and held; with individual Companies linking up in good order with flanking units.  The report is quite comprehensive, and available through Library and Archives Canada. I think it's worth a read: Page 1 Page 2 Page 3 CJH Ed.)

On November 6, at 6:00 a.m., a barrage exploded and the battle began. There were low flying aircraft but due to visibility, it did not go well. On all of the sides, the plan went like expected. Unfortunately, there were heavy loss again; 464 Germans captured, 2,238 casualties and 734 men died on that day and one of them was Howard Gorman.

Medical Records: On June 20, 1916, Howard was admitted to the Red Cross Hospital in Pembury because he was wounded on his left arm by a shrapnel shell. On July 12, 1916, Howard was admitted to Mill Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom for the shrapnel wound on his left arm. He was again admitted to Mill Convalescent Hospital, Woodcote Park, Epsom on August 8, 1916, because he had a left arm discharge due to the Shrapnel wound from June. Howard was killed in action on November 6, 1917, and his body was never found. There are no records of how or what he actually died from.

Least We Forget: LCpl Gorman wrote his will on October 21, 1915; he left $15 to one of the soldier friends and the rest of his money to his mother, Mrs. Estelle Gorman. Mrs. Gorman received the Memorial Cross and Mr. Gorman received the Military Plaque and Scroll Memorial identified by his serial number 778782. During the time of his service, he earned $550 in total earnings from the CEF (Canadian Expeditionary Force) from November 1, 1915, to January 9, 1918. From November 1, 1915, to April 30, 1916, he was paid $25/month and from May, he was paid $20/month. After two years of service, he died at the age of 23.

Howard Mahoney Gorman is one of the soldiers listed on the Menin Gate (Ypres) Memorial in Belgium during the defense of Ypres Salient in World War I. This memorial is in the eastern side in the province of West Flanders, which has the names of over 54, 000 officers and men who died without a trace. Sir Reginald Blomfield designed this memorial, which was created by the War Grave Commission. Inside the memorial, there are names of the soldiers on the panels inscribed by regiment and corps. These soldiers are still remembered today. Every evening at 8:00 p.m., the traffic is stopped at the Menin Gate.

 “Never, never, never believe any war will be smooth and easy, or that anyone who embarks on the strange voyage can measure the tides and hurricanes he will encounter. The statesman who yields to war fever must realize that once the signal is given, he is no longer the master of policy but the slave of unforeseeable and uncontrollable events.”
‐Sir Winston Churchill
Written by: Sabrina Shrestha