Tag Archives: World War I

Lieutenant Maurice Dease Honored

I was either insightful or lucky when I picked Lieutenant Maurice Dease to be the most important infantry solider in The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend. My early research and my knowledge of what a novel needs led me to the conclusion that Dease would be a fine choice for a major character.

This was confirmed over the years. In 2014 I was in Mons for commemorative events around the Battle of Mons. The night of the 24th Sarah and I attended a sound and light show that had been funded by the City of Mons and the province of Hainaut ($500,000) that had been shown since August 4, the date war had been declared. The narrative was in French, so I was especially attuned to the few words in English. Surprisingly, the name Dease was one of the few. (Others were Arthur Machen and Phyllis Campbell, who also are characters in the novel. There were no others, except a few major officers.)

Lieutenant Maurice Dease: A major character in the novel

Lieutenant Maurice Dease: A major character in the novel

A recent article in The Irish News tells the story of Dease again, this time to note a Victoria Cross Paving Stone being unveiled. See it on line or read the article here:

1 BRAVERY: Maurice Dease, who was killed in the Battle of Mons in August 1914

In the late summer of 1914 in Coole, Co Westmeath, the family of Lieutenant Maurice Dease received three telegrams from the British War Office in quick succession.

The first told them Maurice was wounded, the second that he was missing and the third that he was dead.

What the telegrams did not reveal was the extraordinary courage of Maurice Dease that led him to be awarded the first Victoria Cross of the Great War.

Next Tuesday, exactly 102 years after he died at the Battle of Mons, Lt Dease will be remembered in Coole in the country churchyard that stands on a plateau over the Bog of Allen and where his family worshipped for generations.

A Victoria Cross Paving Stone, similar to those in Glasnevin Cemetery, and a small VC cross will be unveiled at an existing cross which was erected by the Dease family after Maurice was killed in 1914.

On August 23, 1914, Maurice Dease was serving with the British Expeditionary Force in Belgium and in charge of a machine-gun section of the 4th battalion of the Royal Fusiliers.

It was the first day of combat and the unit was told to hold a railway bridge over the Mons-Conde Canal at Nimy, outside the town of Mons.

Dease manned a machine gun with a clear line of fire across the canal.

Another gun covered the entrance to the bridge but the British forces were hopelessly outnumbered.

One of the two machine guns jammed. Dease ran through enemy fire to try to fix the gun and was hit in the knee.

He succeeded in fixing the gun and managed to make it back to his post but was hit again in the calf and neck. He continued to man the machine gun until he died.

The citation for his Victoria Cross reads: “Though two or three times badly wounded, he continued to control the fire of his machine guns at Mons on 23rd August until all his men were shot. He died of his wounds.”

Private Sidney Godley, who was wounded and taken prisoner by the Germans, was also awarded a Victoria Cross for his bravery at Mons.

His citation read: “For coolness and gallantry in fighting his machine gun under a hot fire for two hours after he had been wounded at Mons.”

The ceremony on Tuesday has been organised by the Midlands Branch Royal British Legion and the Dease family.

Sunday Independent

An Angel of Mons Cartoon — 1915

I had the pleasure of “bringing coals to Newcastle” when I presented my “sound and light show” about the Angel of Mons at the Mons Memorial Museum in July. I was going through all the tourist material I picked up on our month in Europe and discovered this wonderful piece. When I first saw one, I didn’t realize that it was the front of the promotional material about my presentation. Enjoy, comment, and buy copies of the novel, The Angel of Mons: A World War One Legend. You can figure out who the angel is the soldier is referring to.

A 1914 cartoon and the front of an announcement of my presentation at Mons

A 1914 cartoon and the front of an announcement of my presentation at Mons

The Mons Star. . . And the Angel of Mons

The Mons Star was The 1914 Star was authorized under Special Army Order no. 350 in November 1917 for award to officers and men of the British and Indian Expeditionary Forces who served in France or Belgium between 5 August, the day after Britain’s declaration of war against the Central Powers and midnight of 22–23 November 1914, the end of the First Battle of Ypres. An interesting article appeared in a British newspaper recently, interesting

The Mons Star medal: front image, back has the name and number of the soldier inscribed.

The Mons Star medal: front image, back has the name and number of the soldier inscribed.

because it brings into current thought the Angel of Mons:

Appeal for missing Angel of Mons World War One medal

A Leek resident is appealing for anyone who may have come across a missing war medal.The woman, who wished not to be named, has contacted the Post & Times to appeal for anyone who may have found her father’s ‘Angel of Mons’ First World War medal.The gold medal is described as thick and round and has the picture of an angel on it. It also has the name Private Ernest Proffitt inscribed on it as well as a

A second image of a Mons Star medal

A second image of a Mons Star medal

colourful ribbon attached.

What is interesting is that the Angel of Mons had nothing to do with the Mons Star. There is no image of an angel on it, as you can see. This mention of it shows that the idea of the Angel of Mons stays deeply in the thought of the British.

Today Fulfilled a Great Wish.

Sarah, Jerred, Mons friends Rosaline Debake and Christian Massy.

Sarah, Jerred, Mons friends Rosaline Debake and Christian Massy.

Today fulfilled a great wish. Since last August, when the new Mons Memorial Museum opened, I had hoped to present a program about my novel, The Angel of Mons: A World War I Legend. Realizing that many if not all of the people attending knew the legend, I took the approach of presenting the novelist’s problem of converting the legend into a novel. As it turned out, this was the ideal way to share something new with the audience.

This was my fourth visit to Mons. Now we have several friends who we enjoy seeing each time we come. Christian Massy is a professional guide who set aside all four days of our visit to take us to places not on the usual tourist agenda. Since I don’t want to turn this into a “here is what we did on our summer vacation” I will be happy to tell anyone who asks.

Me and Angel of Mons expert Marie Cappart, who came from Brussels to hear my presentation. We had a fine time sharing our insights.

Me and Angel of Mons expert Marie Cappart, who came from Brussels to hear my presentation. We had a fine time sharing our insights.

We plan to return to Mons in November, 2018 to commemorate the end of World War I. Mons has the motto Mons: The first. . .the last.” The idea is that the first British soldier who was killed in World War I was killed in Mons. The last British soldier killed in World War I was shot in Mons. The two soldiers are buried at Saint-Symphorien Military Cemetery, their gravestones facing one another. Standing between them, I am reminded that between the first and the last, ten million soldiers died. Sobering and moving. The folly of man.

Maybe we will get some of you to join us for the ceremonies.

More on the role of quarries and caves in WWI

I have mentioned in the past that a good part of my novel, The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel, (not the complete title) will take place underground.

Part of a quarry complex the Germans used as a hospital in France.

Part of a quarry complex the Germans used as a hospital in France.

The extent to which caves, underground quarries, tunnels, and dugouts deep in the earth were used by the several armies that fought in World War I. They were fine places to hide soldiers from the enemy’s view, store ammunition, guns, and supplies. Several battles depended on them for the success (on the one side) and failure (on the other.) Two more images from an underground hospital add to an appreciation for the way the terrain and the earth itself served in the war.

Another picture of the same quarry used for a hospital.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_St._Quentin_CanalAnother picture of the same quarry used for a hospital.

Many of the buildings throughout the region, churches, palaces, and businesses, used the stone quarried underground from the Middle Ages on. Their presence was well known to local inhabitants.

The 1916 Documentary: The Battle of the Somme

British soldier carrying a wounded comrade, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916.

British soldier carrying a wounded comrade, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, July 1, 1916.

While I am not writing about the 1916 Battle of the Somme, one of the fiercest battles of the war, I can’t help bumping up against material about it, and, truly, about a good deal that does not have to do with The Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel which is the subject of the book. As you have seen already, the blogs travel into elements of the war and warfare that are not part of battles. HOWEVER, this is the one hundredth anniversary of the filming of the 1916 documentary, The Battle of the Somme. It is an amazing feat of filmmaking. This is considered the most important documentary of the war. At the Imperial War Museum in London the 75 minute film is shown almost constantly. It has its own screen and seating area. I watched it when I was there last year. This year I will buy a copy. There is another contemporary documentary about the documentary’s making. I will buy that one, too. Soon after we get home in August we will have a showing of the two at our house. They won’t be on the same evening. Look forward. I see that Amazon has a 47 minute version that can be downloaded. Those of you with Prime can see it for free.

Who Dug the Trenches for the British?

One of the great pleasures of writing historical novels about World War I is

Chinese laborers in training to work in France and Belgium

Chinese laborers in training to work in France and Belgium

meeting people who have an answer at the tip of the tongue to innocent questions that occur to me. A second great pleasure is in the answers to the questions. While thinking about the extent of the trenches all sides in the war in Europe, I wondered who did the work of building them. Digging, excavating, building inside the hundreds of miles of trenches took more than the work of the soldiers at war. I asked military archaeologist Jim Legg who did the work for the British. His answer surprised me, and then made sense.

In 1916 the British began recruiting Chinese because so many British had died in the war that there was a shortage of men to do the work. Ninety-five thousand Chinese farm laborers volunteered. They left remote villages to work for Britain in the First World War! Ninety-five thousand! Who would have thought? They made up the Chinese Labor Corps.

Two graves of Chinese workers were pointed out to me in the American cemetery in Bony, France, where rest the remains of Americans who fought in the Battle of Bellicourt Tunnel.

Truly, their work in the war is unacknowledged and forgotten. They are not recognized in any of the British war memorials. They were not permitted to settle in Britain after the war.

They did dirty, dangerous, vital work behind the lines on the western front. How they reached France and Belgium is itself fascinating. They went by ship across the Pacific to Canada. They crossed the country in sealed trains—six days travel. Then they went by ship from Liverpool, train to Folkestone, and ship to France and Belgium. Not surprisingly, many died in making the journey.

In addition to digging trenches, they unloaded ships and trains, lay railroad tracks and built roads, and repaired vehicles and tanks.

They worked 10-hour days, seven days a week, and had three holidays a year including Chinese New Year. They stayed until 1920, clearing live ordnance and exhuming bodies from battlefield burials and moving them to the new war cemeteries.

 

 

The Gravediggers’ Work

Naturally, everything connected with World War I had to be done on a massive

Graves being prepared to receive the bodies of soldiers

Graves being prepared to receive the bodies of soldiers

scale. Everything we could think of used in the war came in huge quantities and numbers.

Today, not many Americans visit many of the cemeteries that populate the landscape where battles were fought in the war. Thus, it is likely that the work that went into creating those final resting places for the soldiers of many nations is barely known. While burial had its gruesome parts, it also expressed the nobility of those who keep the cemeteries to honor the sacrifices the man who lay in them made.

Naturally, having visited many World War I military cemeteries, and, since I am writing about the war again, I will have my Gravedigger out of Hamlet guide us through the tragedy of the burial fields.

The military museum in Peronne, France, where much fighting took place, it being part of the Somme battlefield, shows a motion picture, maybe eight minutes long, of a burial squad working just outside of the battlefield. I was touched by both the “everydayness” of the work, and the solemn way it was carried out.

For more, see World War I Cemeteries.

The Carrier Pigeon as Communications Link

In my latest blog of three weeks ago I wrote about the varied and specialized uses

A pigeon with camera. The Germans used the photographs to see French and British deployments and dispositions.

A pigeon with camera. The Germans used the photographs to see French and British deployments and dispositions.

of lorries and buses in World War I. The picture I included was of a lorry equipped as a pigeon cote. Homing pigeons played an important role in communications for all sides in the war.

As a novelist (and just my own preoccupations) I am interested in the little thought of aspect of whatever I write about. Thus, small matters, ephemera, details make up what become major subjects in my writing. So, this note is to pay homage to the lowly pigeon. I am intrigued by the pigeon photographer that the Germans put to use.

Pigeons have a unique ability to navigate their way from wherever they are released to their home cote. The fly high and swiftly. They are difficult targets to hit.

A canister containing a message would be attached to a carrier pigeon's leg.

A canister containing a message would be attached to a carrier pigeon’s leg.

Follow this link to learn more. Befriend a pigeon and thank it for its species’ service.

Women at Work Manufacturing Ammunition

Last week I posted a blog about a memorial built to commemorate the work of people producing rubber boots for soldiers who spent much time in the trenches of France and Belgium. This week I am giving a glimpse into the work life of women who manufactured ammunition.

Factory workers -- all women in this illustration--manufacturing artillery shells for the British Army--The Great War

Factory workers — all women in this illustration–manufacturing artillery shells for the British Army–The Great War

The picture gives an idea of the extent of the factory in which the women labored. Once the Great War got under way, the scale of everything dedicated to the conduct of the war grew by many magnitudes. The pressure of all these efforts had a monumental effect on the way of life of the countries engaged. These changes were permanent.