Today marks the 1st Day of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. The 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment, serving as part of 4th Division, were assigned to attack north of the heavily fortified village of Beaumont Hamel. Today also marks the worst day for the regiment in terms of casualties, as all 26 officers were either killed or wounded, and 559 Other Ranks were killed, wounded or taken prisoner. As a result, there are few detailed accounts of the battle.
We do have this letter in the collection, written by 21271 Private Albert Blaber who was one of the wounded from 1st July. In it he describes the horrors of the opening day of the Battle to his wife. The letter text is below:
No 9 A Ward West. Lord Derby’s War Hospital
Warrington, Lancs. Saturday July 8th
My own darling Rosie.
I am further away from home than I was when I were in the firing line but thank God I am on the right side of the water, darling I can hardly believe that I am in Hospital, for it was like coming from hell to heaven, for only those that went through the awful fight on Saturday July 1 and the next day, could describe what I mean by coming out of the gates of Hell.
My darling you have no need to worry about me for you can rest contented now that your hubby is safe for a while at least. We are in one of the finest War Hospitals in England, lovly rooms, everything for the comfort of the Wounded, and the sisters are very nice, do anything for us. I think we deserve everything in the way of comfort after what we had been through. I suppose you have read about us in the papers for I see that our regiment is mentioned and we deserve it, for we had very heavy losses. Our division lost over 8,000 men, we were mown down like corn by Machine Gun fire and shell fire, our dead lay in front of our barbed wire in hundreds. I shall never forget the awful sight We never took any prisoners on our part of the fight for the simple reason we killed every german we came across. Our Brigade the 88th were the third line to go over the 86th and 87th we suffering heavy losses, and the Germans shot any amount of our poor wounded men, that got our blood up, so we spared neither wounded or otherwise after we saw what had happened.
My darling it was a frightful sight to see our wounded laying in front of the trenches at the mercy of heavy shell fire, so plenty of us were eager to volunteer to bring them in. Some we had to leave after we had made them comfortable for we were losing men heavily and it broke the heart to have to leave them, for it was an order for us to do so for we were told to leave the wounded to get on the best they could as all the men who were up to then unhurt were needed for another attack. We took the first line of trenches, but owing to heavy losses we were unable to hold on, but while we were there we done great slaughter to the Germans, for we found there were dug outs full of them, so we bombed them out of it we showed no mercy for anybody, for what I described earlier in the letter, for a lot surrendered to us, holding up there hands, shouting ‘Mercy Kamard’ which means comrade in English and they got it in the shape of a bomb or a bayonet. Our part of the line was in Thiepal [Thiepval] Wood, where the germans had command over us for we had to attack about 700 yards of no mans land. You would have laughed to see us running from one shell hole to another, of course darling it was no laughing matter for I do not want to go through it again.
I was wounded on Sunday night while bringing in our wounded and up to yesterday I only had a temporary bandage on. We looked awful sights when we arrived at the hospital, for I had not had a shave for 15 days and not even a wash, and my clothes was covered with mud and blood, and I also was lowsy as I could be. We were packed like sardines on the hospital boat as there were hundreds still waiting in France. What a treat to lay in a nice bed. I had not taken off my boots for 23 days up to yesterday so you can quite understand how I felt. My darling I have lost everything pipes cigs tobacco shaving soap, not a thing did I bring away. I brought a birthday card for little lily, and also some cards for Dick and Dolly and I have lost them so you can relize how I am fixed, do not trouble about sending anythink until I know how things are going. I have not a penny in the world to help myself with.
You can send a 2/.. P O if you can spare it for I can manage with that then I shall be able to get some stamps, how funny it will seem to have to stamp our letters. You can write to the address, but only send letters or papers, do not send parcels for we are not allowed them. Will you kindly let Mr Browne know where I am and tell him I apolygize for not writing to him at present but will do so at the first chance I get.
I wish little Lily a happy birthday, I am sorry I shall not be able to send her a card as I have no money to get one. Perhaps you could send her one, and say it is from her daddy. Remember me to all at home.
I must close hoping to see you and the children before long sending my fondest love and kisses from your ever loving hubby Bert, you can show father this letter if you like.
Today is the anniversary of the Battle of Jidballi in 1904. This campaign was part of the Somaliland offensive, which had started in 1901 when the Mullah Mohammed Abdullah proclaimed himself the Mahdi and started raiding British Somaliland. Repulsed twice in 1901 and 1902, it became clear that more substantial operations were necessary in the interior of the country. British Mounted Infantry, Indian and African regular soldiers, together with local volunteers were used to launch simultaneous attacks to try and drive the Mullah from his stronghold and into the desert.
There were some successes and some failures amongst these operations; a lack of water, food and transport had severely hindered the British forces’ advances in 1903, and by the autumn they were forced to wait and regroup, and resupply via a coastal road they had built themselves. Operations started again at the end of October 1903, although there was little action, despite the allied forces trying to tempt the Somalis into attacking their column in December.
By January 1904, General Egerton, now commanding in Somaliland, decided to advance on Jidballi, which was 40 miles east of Eil Dab where the Mullah’s men were gathering. The ensuing battle for the Hampshire Regiment lasted only 40 minutes from the opening fire, as the trained soldiers were more accurate shooters than the Somali troops, who retreated with British mounted troops in pursuit.
Today’s museum treasure is this fabulous shield made from Hippo hide. It was brought back after the Battle of Jidballi, and donated to the museum by Major SCF Jackson DSO, who later went on to command the 1st Battalion. The shield is decorated on both sides – the reverse has a painted design. It is smaller than may be expected however, measuring only 35cm in diameter.
On this day 95 years ago, officers and soldiers from the Hampshire Regiment gathered at the War Memorial in Winchester to lay wreaths on Armistice Day. They were among the first to lay wreaths there when the War Memorial was unveiled in 1921, and yesterday, on Remembrance Sunday 2019, Veterans of the Regiment laid wreaths there again in an unbroken commitment spanning 98 years.
What many people do not realise, is that it was Major George Howson, a WW1 veteran of the 11th (Service) Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, who started the Poppy Factory in London in 1922 to provide employment for disabled ex-soldiers. He used his own personal money to start the enterprise, later taken on by the British Legion, and to move it to larger premises a few years later when demand for the poppies had outstripped the supply. Without the vision of Moina Michael in America and Anna Guerin in France who pressurised the Governments to adopt the poppy as an official symbol of Remembrance, together with Major Howson’s factory, the poppy as an emblem would not be so prevalent today around the world.
In Flanders’ fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place: and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.
We are the dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders’ fields.
Take up our quarrel with the foe;
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high,
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders’ Fields.
Historical Huzzahs – Interactive History in the Museum’s Memorial Garden 22nd September 2019
The museum is pleased to announce that it will be hosting the Historical Huzzahs for Heritage Open Days on Sunday 22nd September. Do pop along and join in with this immersive history event, and then visit the museum. The museum is open 11-3, Historical Huzzahs will be there from 11-4.
More details are at the link: https://www.winchesterheritageopendays.org/events-turn-up/2019/9/22/home-fires
We look forward to seeing you there.Taku Forts – 21st August 1860 – 2nd China War
This medal is the 2nd China War Medal from 1860. It’s silver, and has been made into a menu holder which was then presented to the Regiment in 1899 by Lt. Savage. The medal should have the Queen’s head facing outwards on the front.
The 2nd China War (formerly known as the Opium War) is one of the campaigns of the Victorian Army that is lesser known. However, for the Royal Hampshire Regiment, it was one of our most famous battles and led to the award of four Victoria Crosses to the Regiment at Taku Forts on 21st August 1860.
Following a dispute over trade routes between China and Great Britain, it was agreed that a peace treaty would be signed between the two nations at Pekin (now Beijing). Unfortunately when Sir Frederick Bruce attempted to sail up the Pei-ho River to Pekin for the negotiations, three of his gun ships were sunk by fire from the Taku Forts.
Subsequently the Chinese Expeditionary Force of 16000 men was raised, in which the 67th Regiment was part, and sailed from India and landed at Talien Bay (now Dalian Wan) to the north of the Pei-ho River in early June 1860. It was realised that although the forts protected the river mouth, and were heavily defended, it would be possible to land troops further along the coast, so they could approach the forts from behind, and hopefully enjoy an element of surprise.
The 67th landed carrying 3 days’ rations, 56 rounds of ammunition in their pouches – together with the ammunition belts these rounds weighed 11 pounds, and their great coats. They had ‘wicker helmets’ and ‘summer frocks’ – a lightweight red shirt which had replaced the heavy and tight fitting tunics a few years previously. It took 10 days to land the horses, guns and other supplies, during which time a safe route had been planned through the marshes.
Progress to the forts was slow due to thick mud and the need to build causeways, but by early August preparatory artillery actions were taking place. There were 3 forts at Taku, by capturing the southern one, it was thought the others could be taken.
On the 21st August 1860 the forts were carried by storm by Major General Sir Robert Napier’s 2nd Division with the Colours of the 44th and 67th being simultaneously placed onto the ramparts. The attackers had had to swim the ditches, and use scaling ladders, all the while under fire from the Chinese defenders. The walls of the fort had been badly damaged by the bombardment and Lieutenant Burslem and Private Lane succeeded in widening a hole and forcing their way through.
Much gallantry was shown and seven Victoria Crosses were won, four by the 67th, two by the 44th and one by the India Medical Service. The 67th casualties were 8 officers wounded and 6 men killed, with a further 63 wounded.
The Victoria Crosses awarded on this day are on display in the museum, and there is an interesting blog post from the University of Bristol on the campaign here:
Andrew Hillier on Images of War and Regimental Memory
Summer Holiday Activities 5-11th August 2019 at Winchester’s Military Museums
Happy Minden Day – 1st August
Happy Minden Day everyone!
Minden Day has been celebrated throughout the years by the regiment, and is still celebrated by the PWRR today with parades, dinners and the wearing of roses in their headgear. It is the major Battle Honour of the 37th Regiment of Foot, later the Hampshire, Royal Hampshire and now PWRR regiments.
The Battle of Minden was fought on 1st August 1759, during the Seven Years’ War. Minden is in Northern Germany, 6 British Infantry Regiments were sent to Germany, where the French were trying to take Hanover to recompense for their losses in Canada. The British, Hanoverians, Hessians and Prussians, numbering some 41,000 men with 170 guns were fighting the larger French and Saxon armies of 51,000 men.
The British Regiments of the 37th, together with the 20th, 23rd, 25th, 51st all marched up to Coesfeld, near Münster to become part of the army of Ferdinand of Brunswick. Horses were used to carry the tents and the regimental medicine chest, carriages were hired locally to transport blankets and 2 days’ bread, with all men carrying another 2 days’ worth. As the troops advanced forwards, new waggons and horses were requisitioned and the old ones sent back. There were few reports of the British troops looting along the way, bullocks were provided for their meat supplies.
The British troops were encamped to the north west of Minden Heath. The French forces had started moving into position very early, but this news was not passed on swiftly, so it was some time before Ferdinand’s troops were ready to move at 5am. By 7am they were already occupying various areas of ground, while the ‘indisciplined French troops’ and their conflicting orders caused confusion and delayed their advance, allowing the German and British forces to drive them out of some strongholds.
There was supposed to be British Cavalry supporting the Infantry, but due to delays, they had not yet reached Minden. There were nine battalions facing the French Cavalry, and the advance of the infantry completely surprised the cavalry, who could do nothing except charge at them. 12 cavalry squadrons swept down towards the infantry, who held their fire until the horses were within ten paces, and then let fly, with devastating effect. The remaining cavalry withdrew, and successive cavalry charges met the same fate. The French Cavalry were driven back three times completely, before deciding to send in their infantry.
17 French Infantry Battalions now advanced on the British Infantry, who wheeled around to attack again; the superior British weaponry and training killed a great many, and others ran away. The battle continued with further attacks, and a large scale onslaught from British guns caused Contades’ French force to beat a hasty retreat, leaving behind 40 guns, and nearly 20 colours and standards, as well as losing nearly 11,000 men by some accounts.
The 37th Regiment of Foot suffered heavy losses too – 4 officers and 69 men were killed, and another 12 officers and 188 men were wounded, (another 33 subsequently died of their wounds). This was nearly 54% of the 37th Men.
The soldiers picked wild roses from the battlefield to wear in their hats and uniforms, a tradition that continues to today.
The museum shop sells copies of the Battle of Minden Print by Dawn Waring:
Museum Medals #1 – Battle of Minden Medal
The museum has hundreds of medals in its collection, and this is most definitely one of the rarest we hold.
This beautiful silver-gilt oval medal is from 1779, awarded to commemorate the Battle of Minden on 1st August 1759 by the Commanding Officer of the 37th of Foot, General Sir Eyre Coote. No official campaign medals were awarded for Minden, so Coote designed his own, to be awarded to any men still serving in the 37th in 1779, who had provided distinguished service during the battle. We only have 1 in the museum; we sadly do not know how many were awarded. The front has a portrait of Coote, surrounded by laurel wreaths, the reverse depicts the 6 British Infantry Regiments and Royal Artillery regiment lined up ready for battle. The Latin on the reverse translates as ‘ small in number, but a brave band to wage war’. The detail on this is fantastic, but it’s really hard to photograph without reflections – hence why it looks round on the first picture. For anyone interested, more on the Battle of Minden will follow on Minden Day – 1st August.
15th of July 2019 saw the granting of a new county flag, purposefully coinciding with the county patron saint’s day of St Swithun. This new flag, designed by Jason Saber and Brady Ells, now bears the Saxon crown in recognition of the long history Hampshire and Winchester especially bears with the ancient Saxons. Winchester was Alfred the Great’s capital city, and St Swithun is thought to have tutored him when he was young. The Saxon crown is necessary because of the Royal Decree necessitating a Royal Warrant to have a royal crown on a flag.
The two-coloured rose has every bit as much background as the crown, as the Hampshire association with the rose as a heraldic symbol goes back to 1485, when Henry VII, first Tudor king of England, unified the two crests of of the rival of houses of York and Lancashire into one two-coloured rose.
The Royal Hampshire Regiment used in it’s crest a version of the rose with gold instead of white elements, stemming from the gold and red uniforms of the forebear regiments, the 37th (North Hampshire) Regiment and the 67th (South Hampshire) Regiment. These colours are also similar to the Wessex flag colours.Missing Presumed Dead – a Poem written on D-Day
This moving poem was written by Dennis Hawes, of the 1st Battalion on 6th June 1944 and added to on 6th June 1984.
Missing presumed dead
I searched for you my friend,
The morning after the invasion,
As I listed the dead and wounded
Of our depleted battalion, for the adjutant.
Searching in first aid stations, bunkers,
Field ambulances, makeshift mortuaries,
Temporary graves, but you were not there.
Then I could not search the sea
Which entombed so many beneath its choppy swell
And only with capricious arrogance,
Deigned to deposit back some sodden, waxen corpses,
Among the detritus of the wreck littered shoreline.
We faced the dawn of D-Day together
For after all it was our third seaborne assault
Wakeful as the steely light, broke over the slate coloured sea,
Picking out the straining shapes of the vast invasion fleet
Moving relentlessly towards the flaming shoreline.
Orange, black belching tongues of the battleships,
Awesome sight and sound of the drenching rocket ships,
Tanks blasting from the bellies of their flat craft.
All drawn inexorably to the fiery vortex of the beaches
Overhead aircraft weaved, criss cross in ceaseless motion.
Then we climbed about our tank to storm ashore,
But the Churchill only trundled forward a few yards,
Before being drowned by the incoming tide,
Swept over by the cold and greedy waves,
Dashing and foaming over the slippery hull,
Clawing and clutching at its overladen victims,
Now clinging fearfully with a tenuous hold.
In range shells hit out parent craft,
Fountained the water, as it drew back.
My friend I did not see you go,
As I went into the icy waves,
Nor think of you in my frenzied swimming
And the dangers before my final beaching.
In my panic to survive the sea,
The call of friendship went unheeded.
Then on the beach, all thoughts were lost,
In the savage whine of bullets,
The whistle and thud of mortars and shells.
Sights of incoming craft shattered on stakes and mines,
Ships nearing the short, exploding with direct hits,
The mutilated, eyeless, shocked and dying,
The dramatic and pathetic dead.
I finally got back to the battalion,
Was reprimanded to taking so long to reach them,
But the MO calmed down, when I said,
I believed you were all lost.
No 40 years later, I stand in the Bayeux cemetery,
Close to where we marched, the day after the invasion
Now listening to the poignancy of the last post
And after searching for you, in the beach head cemeteries,
But of course you were not there.
Only a name among those missing presumed dead.
As the last notes of the bugle died away,
I tried to comfort myself, you were spared,
The horrors of the bridgehead battles,
Or later, life’s inevitable disappointments.
In vain, I stand tearful as the sound fades.
So, I went to Bayeux Cathedral, with a French family,
Lit a candle for you and the mothers of the fallen,
On their suggestion
And felt at last, I had found some part of you.