My act of remembrance

 

11th February 2015

I wrote today’s post from a hotel room in Ypres. I’ve got a nice little office set up in my hermetically sealed corporate bolt hole (how I like my hotels. i.e. no baths in the middle of the room for me, thank you very much), free wifi and a Lemsip in a branded mug (battling severe man-flu). The iPad has just thrown up the first song in my Spotify collection: Act of Remembrance by the Proclaimers. I promise you that’s true.

My act of remembrance has been the last six months writing over 180 posts for this blog. I’ve written about chickens, cross-dressing aristocrats, psycho engineers, trench warfare, VD, buses, flowers and beer. Every day, mostly nights, I’ve sat writing a post about a time I didn’t know much about, about a man I never knew, about a place I know even less about. I’ve stuck to my initial rules: No made up stories, facts only, all researched and written the same day. Admittedly some posts have taken me over into the early hours of the next day. Some I forgot to post. One I lied about forgetting to post. But I’ve stuck to my original plan and for that I’m proud. Am I a better writer? Certainly not – I haven’t had time to hone any of these posts to a level I’m happy with, but I’m a better researcher than I was, for sure.

My proofreader, Kitty Anne Elliman
My proofreader, Kitty Anne Elliman

I’m not sure anyone cares, but coming here is something of a milestone for me. I do not travel well. Think of a cross between B.A. Baracus and a barrel of English bitter. I get a nosebleed crossing into Surrey, let alone leaving the country. I do hope that this is the start of an annual pilgrimage to Ypres for my family. And, although Frank actually never came here himself, it’s such a great centre from which to explore the nearby battlefields. The Belgians are extremely hospitable, brew incredible beers and their food is excellent. What’s not to like? It’s also less than an hour from Eurotunnel. A no-brainer for stay-at-homes like me.

I’d like to thank my ever-patient wife, Jessica. She’s my absolute rock and I love her. And Kitty, my daughter, for proofing all my posts (sorry about all those tyopoze – she’s seven months old). I won’t be posting as much on this blog from today but thank you for reading. I hope you had as much fun reading it as I did writing it.

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Incessant

31st January 1915

The Dorsets remained billeted in Dranoutre for the day.

The 5th Division’s diary makes special note of the work that had been done on the trench system in front of Wulverghem after the destructive storms at the beginning of the month. The word it uses is incessant.

I’ve certainly found that I’ve been writing incessantly about trench digging and marching to and from billets this month. January 1915 is the first full month of a routine that would become familiar to troops on both sides of no man’s land all the way up to near the end of the war in 1918.

I would have liked to have expand upon how trenches were developed but I just haven’t had the time and for that I apologise. In fact there are many subjects I’ve touched upon over the last six months I would like to expand upon. If you are a regular reader of this blog (all three of you) then you’ll be relieved to know that my daily update is drawing to an end. After that, I will only be updating the site every couple of weeks. I will be revisiting those subjects I’ve touched upon in more detail and exploring new ones too. Subjects that continue to document the world of Frank and the Dorsets.

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Unlucky Dorsets join the 13th

 

16th October 1914

As ever, the Dorsets were not left to rest. At 6am they rendezvoused along the Rue de Béthune and were put under orders of the 13th Brigade as Divisional Reserve with the West Riding Regiment. They marched into Festubert and went into billets.

I’m not sure being attached to the 13th Brigade would have been a popular decision among the tattered ranks of the Dorsets. After all, it was the failure of the 13th Brigade to get along the south side of the canal that had ultimately led to them getting cut up so badly in the beet fields.


I have been researching on the day I write a post. I want this blog to feel like a voyage of discovery rather than an authority on the subject, which I will never be. The learning experience for me is what’s keeping me going. Some days I get more time than others and mistakes have and will continue to be made. But it’s only when you turn thoughts and ideas over and over in your mind that patterns begin to emerge.

I didn’t want to spoil the narrative, but we’ve now reached a short gap in the action, and so I thought I would share my thoughts on the last few days of Frank’s war.

When I was writing the post for the 13th it was pretty depressing. I knew vaguely what had happened beforehand, but it’s hard to visualise these battles until you actually pull the facts apart and piece them back together again. Not all so-called facts are accurate. I keep going back to the strange reasons given for their failure of the attack on the 13th October. In the back of my mind is the idea that tremendous errors were made by the Dorset officers and they didn’t go unnoticed.

It’s easy to be an armchair general and I can’t for a second imagine what these men went through a hundred years ago. But I don’t think the truth is in the war diaries or the stories that came back with the men who survived the Battle of La Bassée.

Tomorrow I am going to try to see what really happened by looking at a higher operational level.

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For Love and Courage

1st October 1914

Another quiet day ended at 9:30pm with the news that the Battalion would be relived by the Essex Regiment and that they would be returning to Jury.


I was talking to my Father-in-Law a couple of weeks ago about a book of letters from Lieutenant Colonel E. W. Hermon to his wife, which we both thoroughly enjoyed. It’s called For Love and Courage.

It’s moving and heart breaking. But it’s also an insight into the impact the First World War had on class in the United Kingdom. It also features photographs of his beloved Jack Russells. What’s not to love?

I also read today with surprise that it was edited by Anne Nason, who turns out to be mother of James Nason, my old next door neighbour at boarding school. He must be very proud of his Great Great Grandfather and, of course, his mother for producing such an excellent book.

I’ll be adding more pages to this site this week, including a reading list and a Frank page for all your Frank facts in one handy place.

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A frank update

A pause of 3 years on this project elicits many excuses: The old blog host closing down, moving house to the middle of nowhere, starting a business, having a baby. Life can get in the way of the best meaning projects.

There’s lots still to tidy up, design and layout, but I’ve managed to import the old Posterous blog into this new WordPress site without too much trouble.

I’ve been meaning to resurrect this project in time for the 100 year anniversary of the start of the First World War. I’ve left it very late. Nevertheless, we pick up where I left off in 2011, with Frank writing to his sister exactly 100 years ago.

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