The myth of the machine gun in the First World War and how it came about.

Mind Bursts

In the final chapter of ‘Machine Gun and the Great War’ Paul Cornish consider those who, in the 75 years after the First World War, ‘seized upon the machine gun as a symbol of both the carnage and the ‘stalemate’ of the Western Front.’ Paul Cornish (2009 : 141)

Debunking myths is my favourite game wherever my command of a subject is such that I feel I can do so with some credibility. I’ve been hooked on the First World War since childhood thanks to a grandfather who served and survived and lived well into his 90s. I’ve also been a sucker for the mythology of the war and too many warped and inventive interpretations of what actually took place. It has taken some serious, postgraduate study of the events of 1914-1918 to find I will chirp along with contemporary historians who are gradually turning the tide: generals were professional and did…

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History And Other Thoughts: Edith Cavell

Originally posted on History And Other Thoughts.

“Brussels will be haunted for ever by the ghost of this noble woman, shamefully murdered. I thought no act of our enemy could surprise me further. I was mistaken. This foul deed will live when great battles are forgotten.”

That’s what King Albert I of the Belgians uttered when he learned English nurse Edith Cavell had been executed. Up to the last, he thought the sentence wouldn’t be carried out. Both he and his wife Elizabeth did all they could to try and get her released since she was arrested, but it was all in vain. The Germans wanted to make an example of her. On 12th October 1915, Edith Cavell was executed in Brussels, an act that shocked the entire world.

Edith Luisa Cavell was born in Swardeston, a village near Norwich, on 4th December 1865. She was the eldest child (she had three siblings) of Reverend Frederick Cavell, vicar of Swardeston. Although the family wasn’t rich, they always shared what they had with those less fortunate than them and, from an early age, the children were taught to care for others. Edith also visited the poor with her mother and even become a Sunday School teacher. This need to help other people had a big influence on her life.

After she finished her education (she was educated at home first and, when she was about 16, attended several local and boarding schools where she learned French), she first became a governess. She worked for several families and they all seemed to like her. In the late 1890s she inherited a small amount of money and decided to take a trip to Austria and Bavaria. Here she visited a free hospital run by Dr Wolfenberg and, impressed with what she saw, donated some money to it. Then, she briefly resumed her governess work before…

via History And Other Thoughts: Edith Cavell.

1914 When the world changed forever. What’s your story?

In this report from Jonathan Vernon, The York Castle Museum exhibition – 1914: When the World Changed Forever – comes highly recommended. Jonathan interweaves his article with the experiences of his grandfather, Jack Wilson. It is these personal stories, the little day-to-day details, which bring the past alive in ways that no amount of text books can possibly do.

I’m off now to discover if Jonathan and I are related!

Mind Bursts

If I have time on my hands in a town I’ve not visited for a while I might wander by the war memorial. During these centenary years you might even find a museum: a local exhibition on a regional division or local battalion, or a house that was used as a hospital. Until 2019 York Castle Museum have the exhibtion:

1914: When the World Changed Forever

York Castle Museum has ample space to spread its narrative. It offers visitors carefully chosen narratives that a visitor might follow. I wonder if from the start they could be invited to think about a great grandparent or great uncle who may have served in the war. We are invited to think in turn about Alice, Thomas, John, Albert and John; the bookkeeper, the mechanic, woodman, shop assistant and a doctor.

Who will you follow?

Fig. 1 1914: When the world changed forever. York…

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The sad story of the soldier Manetto | Alexis Fabbri

Originally posted on Alessio Fabbri. [Google translation]

So far I have focused on the father’s side of my family, about the name they harbor. But there is just as much curiosity and attention on my part against the maternal line, in which individual Manetto Manetti an excellent first step introduction. The reasons for which Manetto gives charisma from beyond are mainly related to the events that have marked the death, including the fact that his life was almost completely silenced by his family after his death, not to suffer, not to remember that wound.

Manetto was born on Dec. 18, 1896 in Villanova di Bagnacavallo, in the province of Ravenna. Formally baptized Manetto Carlo Domenico Manetti , the baby, who was born at 7 pm, receives the name of his uncle of his father, a priest named Manetto Manetti died in 1891. The son of Domenico Manetti and Adele Farini , the young man grows in the town of Romagna soon learning the craft of carter (who system wagons horse). They are hidden in me memories of all kinds: anecdotes, memories of youth, and so still has not managed to recover, conscious that perhaps never will happen. The first information is recordable with the discovery of military documents, which mark the…

via The sad story of the soldier Manetto | Alessio Fabbri

What Happened on May 18th – The Selective Service Act


The United States formally entered the First World War on April 2, 1917 and six weeks later on May 18, 1917, the U.S. Congress passed the Selective Service Act.

The Selective Service Act, or Selective Draft Act, enacted on May 18, 1917, authorized the federal government to raise a national army. The Selective Service Act, or Selective Draft Act, enacted on May 18, 1917, authorized the federal government to raise a national army.

In his war message to Congress, President Woodrow Wilson pledged all the nation’s material resources to help the allies (France, Britain, Russia and Italy) defeat the Central Powers.  The Allies needed fresh troops to relieve their exhausted men but when the United States entered the war, Wilson had no means to provide what was needed.

During 1916, Wilson made effort in war preparedness but at the time of Congress’s war declaration, there were only 100,000 troops and they were not trained or equipped for the war in Europe.  Wilson pushed congress for military conscription which they passed on May 18, 1917.  The Act called for all…

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The Italian Naval Convention 10 May 1915

War and Security

Italy, although a member of the Triple Alliance with Austria-Hungary and Germany, had remained neutral in 1914. It had not been consulted beforehand and the treaty did not require it to participate in an attack on Serbia. Austria-Hungary was Italy’s traditional enemy and incorporating the 800,000 Italian speakers around Trieste and in the Trentino region of the Hapsburg empire into Italy was the main objective of Italian nationalists.

Italy had joined the Triple Alliance in 1882 for defensive reasons: it was too weak to fight Austria-Hungary on its own and it considered the German army to be the best in Europe. However, Italy and Austria-Hungary both strengthened their navies and the fortifications on their mutual frontier whilst supposedly allied.

Once war between the Central Powers of Germany and Austria-Hungary and the Entente of France, Russia and the United Kingdom had begun, neutrality was the obvious and most popular course for…

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Airships over London – in war and peace

Flickering Lamps

Many people walking past the wall of St Bartholomew’s Hospital on West Smithfield, close to the memorial to William Wallace, stop to look at a series of craters and marks on the wall that look as though they were caused by an explosion of some sort.  It’s easy enough to assume that this damage was caused by a German bomb dropped during the Blitz, but in fact the damage to the wall is older than that.  This damage was caused by one of the very first air raids on London, a terrifying Zeppelin raid in 1915.


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Gallipoli: Tom’s Story

History Geek

This post is dedicated to the memory of my great great uncle Thomas Alexander Gillanders, who was killed in action one hundred years ago today, and to those who fought alongside him at Gallipoli.

Tom was a native of Inverness and the eldest of eleven children. He was a much-loved brother of my great-grandmother who fondly recalled the time he took her on a trip to Edinburgh when she was thirteen years old. He had recently spent some time working on a farm owned by cousins in Winnipeg but had returned announcing that he did not want to face another Canadian winter and had decided to try New Zealand. His father decided that the whole family would emigrate, as the other sons would likely follow Tom eventually anyway.

Thomas Alexander Gillanders (8 April 1881 - 25 April 1915) Thomas Alexander Gillanders (8 April 1881 – 25 April 1915)

The family left for New Zealand in 1908 and in 1910 they…

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Playing the Cello in the Trenches

An Account of the First World War ‘Trench Cello’ of Harold Triggs


Harold Triggs was born in 1886 in Eastbourne, where his father was for many years the managing director of Devonshire Park and Baths. He and his two sisters, Theodora and Grace, would have been surrounded by music from an early age, but Grace, who played the violin, was the only one of the three to choose it as a career and she gave various concerts in the area that were well-reviewed.

Harold first worked as an insurance clerk, although he kept up his musical activities by joining the Oxford and Cambridge Musical Club in 1906. He was to remain a highly-regarded and active performing member of the Club until at least 1954, and Laurence Pettitt, one of the Club’s regular accompanists, wrote of him in the Club’s “80th Anniversary History” that he was “a very fine player in some of the best chamber ensembles.”

Early in the War Harold joined the Royal Sussex Regiment, and in October 1915 was promoted to the rank of Temporary Second Lieutenant. At some point he acquired a “holiday cello” of a type made by W.E. Hill and Sons around 1900, and it was this instrument that he took to France, where a number of young French players had already taken up the idea of playing in the trenches. On the front of this cello are painted the Royal Sussex Regiment’s insignia.

The look of Harold Triggs’s cello when seen from the side is more-or-less normal except for the lack of arching, but from the front or back it is rectangular, as an ammunition box would be. The neck is secured to the body with a normal mortise joint before being fixed to the button at the top of the back with a brass bolt. After that it is simple, the fingerboard slides into place on the neck and the top nut…

Continue reading: The Royal Academy of Music

In the clip below, cellist Steven Isserlis plays on this cello. My connection is still too slow to be able to listen to it except in incoherent snatches but I have no doubt the experience is immeasurably moving.

The First VC Awarded to a Submariner

War and Security

The first submariner to be awarded the Victoria Cross was Lieutenant Norman Holbrook, captain of HMS B11. He received Britain’s highest award for gallantry after his boat sank the elderly Ottoman pre-dreadnought battleship Messudieh (alternatively Mesudiye) on 13 December 1914.

The British Admiralty, keen to move as many ships as possible to the Grand Fleet, had proposed that the blockade of the Dardanelles be left to the French. However, the threat from the German battlecruiser Goeben, now flying the Ottoman flag, meant that the French insisted that the British battlecruiser HMS Indefatigable should remain.

Consequently, the blockading force consisted of Indefatigable, the light cruiser HMS Dublin and the French pre-dreadnought battleshipsGaulois, Vérité, St Louis and Charlemagne, the armoured cruiser Amiral Charner and seaplane carrier Foudre. Each navy also contributed six destroyers and three submarines.[1]

The British submarines were B9, B10 and

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The History Girls: CHOCTAW CODE TALKERS by Tanya Landman

At the end of the ‘Indian Wars’ in the 19th century many Native American children were taken away from their parents and sent to school to become ‘civilized.’  The policy – ‘kill the Indian to save the child’ – meant cutting their hair, putting them in white people’s clothes, forbidding them to speak their own languages.

When the First World War broke out in Europe American Indians were not citizens of the country they lived in (in fact, they were only granted US citizenship in 1924).  Their languages were considered obsolete.  But then, in 1917,  a group of 19 young Choctaw men arrived in Europe as part of the US Expeditionary Force.

Their story is told in the following memorandum:

Headquarters 142nd Infantry, A.E.F.

January 23, 1919, A.P.O. No. 796

From: C.O. 142nd Infantry

To: The Commanding General 36th Division (Attention Capt. Spence)

Subject: Transmitting messages in Choctaw

In compliance with memorandum, Headquarters 36th Division, January 21, 1919,to C.O. 142nd Infantry, the following account…

via The History Girls: CHOCTAW CODE TALKERS by Tanya Landman.

The First Zeppelin Raid on the United Kingdom 19 January 1915

War and Security

On 3 September 1914 the Admiralty was put in charge of the defence of the United Kingdom against air attack. Its strategy was to use its limited number of aircraft in attacks on airship bases rather than on defensive patrols.[1]

A seaplane carrier raid was launched against the airship base near Cuxhaven on 25 December 1914. An attack on the Emden base was planned, but was postponed on 14 January 1915 because the weather was unsuitable for seaplanes.[2]

Night attacks were expected in 1914, so some restrictions on lighting were introduced in London, Birmingham and coastal towns. These did not entail a full blackout because of the potential effect on road safety and business. Major thoroughfares and bridges had their lighting broken up and parks were given lights in order to stop enemy airmen using them to find their targets. Lights on public transport were reduced to the…

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Blockade 7: Coal – Digging For The Enemy?

First World War Hidden History

Thanks to the secret Contraband Committee, trade between neutral nations and Norway, Sweden and Denmark flourished as never before. Despite the blockade that nominally operated in the North Sea, the scandalous decisions of the Contraband Committee in London meant that trade in the supplies, commodities and material vital to the continuation of the war continued virtually unchecked for over two years and Scandinavia prospered. From the very first days of war, merchants and importers in Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Helsingborg and Malmo found themselves inundated with orders from Germany to supply thousands of tons of animal feed, foodstuffs, ores, cotton and coal. Purchased from the Americas, North and South, from Britain and the British Empire, from other neutral countries world-wide these imports literally bounced from the quay-sides and dockyards to the goods trains and canal boats that ferried them to their final destination. Germany.

Map of Scandinavia showing major portsScandinavian merchants made profits beyond their wildest…

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Submarines in 1914

War and Security

Previous entries in this blog have dealt with the several sinkings of British cruisers by German U-boats: HMS Pathfinder by U21 on 5 September 1914, HMS Aboukir, Cressy and Hogue by U9 on 22 September and HMS Hawke on 15 October 1914, also by U9.

British submarines also scored successes in the early stages of the war, with E9 sinking the German cruiser SMS Helaon 13 September and B11 the Ottoman pre-dreadnought battleship Mesudiyeon 13 December 1914. The first loss of a submarine to a warship had come as early as 9 August, when HMS Birmingham rammed and sunk U15.

The main impact of submarines in the rest of the war and in the Second World War was against merchant shipping, although they continued to sink warships. In the early stages of the First World War, however, they were used mainly against warships.

The rules…

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The Battle of the Falkland Islands 8 December 1914

War and Security

Vice Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee’s East Asia Squadron of the armoured cruisers SMS Scharnhorst (flag) and Gneisenau and the light cruisers SMS Dresden, Leipzig and Nürnberg arrived at the Falkland Islands on the morning of 8 December. Their intention was to destroy the local facilities and wireless station

These were the ships that had won the Battle of Coronel on 1 November. The previous entry in this series described the intervening events, including the despatch of the battlecruisers, HMS Invincible (flag of Vice Admiral Sir Doveton Sturdee) and Inflexible to the South Atlantic.

The Falkland Islanders had expected to be attacked by Spee since they learnt of Coronel on 25 November. They had formed a local defence force in case of invasion, whilst Captain Heathcoat Grant had deliberately beached the pre-dreadnought battleship HMS Canopus on mud to protect the harbour. A signal station had been established on…

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