It’s Armistice and Remembrance day today, something which has had a particularly raised profile this year because 2014 marks the centenary of the start of the First World War.
We went to London yesterday to see the spectacular and moving exhibition of poppies at the Tower of London “Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red”, as we both felt it was something very important to take our son to see. They have placed a poppy for every British and Commmonwealth soldier who died fighting during WW1 and there are a staggering 888,246 of them, something which brings the scale of sacrifice home, even to an 8-year-old.
The poppies carpet the moat surrounding the Tower of London on 3 sides and it really helps you to understand the scale of the slaughter when you realise that every poppy represents a dead soldier (see photos below).
As a parent, something I find particularly difficult to come to terms with is how young some of the soldiers were. The legal age that a soldier could be sent overseas to fight was 19, but many children as young as 13 and 14 lied about their age and signed up to fight without their parents knowledge. The youngest soldier whose age has been authenticated was Sidney Lewis who was a shocking 12 when he signed up and who fought in the battle of the Somme.
I have no idea how this was allowed to happen; if you look at the photo above 2 of the soldiers pictured are clearly younger than 19 (see the close-up photo below) I can’t imagine the horrors they must have experienced. An estimated 250,000 underage children went to war in WW1. This article explaims more about why and how this happened.
Above and below: Postcard photo of a group of Royal Fusiliers of the City of London Regiment, during World War I. The photo would have been taken in Herne Bay or Canterbury, presumably during training before the soldiers were sent to fight.
British soldiers at play [France], 1915.
Highland Territorials in a trench [La Gorgue, France], August 1915. I know these soldiers would have been very proud of their uniform, but a kilt just doesn’t seem like the most practical uniform to wear in a trench.
Scene at an estaminet in France [Estaires]. 28 Aug 1915
Royal Field Artillery (attached Royal Garrison Artillery) Lt Lawson was killed, aged 41, on 5 February 1918. He is buried at Montescourt-Lizerolles Communal Cemetery. Photograph presented by his wife, Mrs H Lawson of Tunbridge Wells.
Private Jack Thomas Counter VC. Unit: 1st Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment), photographed in 1918. Death: 1970. He was awarded the Victoria Cross during the German Spring Offensive on the Western Front for the following action: “On 16 April 1918 near Boisieux St. Marc, France, it was necessary for information to be obtained from the front line and the only way to get it was over ground with no cover and in full view of the enemy. A small party tried without success, followed by six men, singly, each one being killed in the attempt. Private Counter then volunteered and, going out under terrific fire, got through and returned with vital information which enabled his commanding officer to organise and launch the final successful counter-attack. Subsequently he also carried five messages across the open under heavy artillery barrage to company headquarters.” Private Counter was born at Blandford Forum, Dorset in 1898. He survived the First World War and subsequently worked as a postman on Jersey in the Channel Islands. He died in 1970.
British infantry [2nd Leicesters] resting in a field in Flanders [Bout de Ville]. September 1915.
Portrait of David Ferguson Hunter, awarded Victoria Cross: France, 16/17 September 1918.
Title: FIRST WORLD WAR: VICTORIA CROSS HOLDERS’ PORTRAITS (GENERAL). Dorrell, George Thomas, L Battery, Royal Horse Artillery: Place and date of deed, Nery, France, 1 September 1914
Photograph of British World War I Victoria Cross recipient Thomas Whitham, Coldstream Guards.
Casualties after a charge [France]. September 1915.
Note: It’s very difficult to know how many of the group photos above could be posed reconstructions rather than front-line photography.
Image source and copyright: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11 This artistic work created by the United Kingdom Government is in the public domain.