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Birsay War Memorial

From Marwick Head we travelled on up the west coast of mainland Orkney (though the road is not actually right by the sea) heading for Birsay which lies towards the northwestern tip.

Before we got there I spotted a War Memorial in what turned out to be Birsay Cemetery.

Birsay War Memorial

The inscription reads, “In memory of those natives of Birsay who died for us and truth in the nation’s service in the war 1914-19.”

The lower plaque towards the base reads, “Also those who died in the Second World War,” including Edith Carson, NAAFI.

Birsay War Memorial WW2 inscription

The other sides contain plaques for 1916:-

Birsay War Memorial (1916 names)

1917:-

Birsay War Memorial (1917 names)

and 1918:-

Birsay War Memorial (1918 names)

Two graves in the cemetery commemorate Great War deaths.

George Robertson, CEF, killed in action Oct 1916, aged 35:-

Memorial Stone at Birsay

L/Cpl William A D Flett, 5th Seaforth Highlanders, 51st Division, killed in action Cambrai, France, 21/3/1916, aged 21 years:-

Birsay Commemoration Stone

Kitchener Memorial, Marwick Head, Orkney

We were motoring more or less up the west coast of mainland Orkney after visiting Skara Brae and Skaill House (of which more later) when I saw an imposing tower on a hill top overlooking the sea. Then I spotted a brown (site of interest) signpost saying “Kitchener Memorial” pointing off the road towards it. I immediately turned onto the one-track road indicated.

Kitchener made his name at the Battle of Omdurman – machine guns against spears; not an equal contest – during the punitive expedition against the Mahdi after his followers (Dad’s Army‘s “fuzzy-wuzzies”) killed General Gordon at Khartoum. He later took over the conduct of the South African War (the Second Boer War) instituting the measures that made sure the Boers could not live off the land, by taking their supporters/suppliers into the original concentration camps, before becoming head of the army and featuring on the famous Great War recruiting poster.

I knew Kitchener had been drowned at sea when the ship carrying him on a mission to Russia, HMS Hampshire, hit a mine recently laid by a German submarine but hadn’t realised it had been so close to Orkney. I also hadn’t known the memorial was there so this was a serendipitous discovery.

We managed to squeeze into a space at the very small car park and contemplated the long walk up to the memorial. I discovered later that the memorial lies on Marwick Head, the westernmost point of mainland Orkney. This Vickers pattern 31b Recoil Mk 2 gun salvaged from the deck of HMS Hampshire lay at the beginning of the path:-

Deck Gun from HMS Hampshire

Memorial from path at top of cliff:-

Kitchener Memorial, Orkney From Path

Memorial close:-

Kitchener Memorial

Kitchener Memorial Plaque:-

Kitchener Memorial Inscription

Much more recently a memorial wall to those who died on HMS Hampshire has been erected on the site. This shows its proximity to the Kitchener Memorial:-

HMS Hampshire Memorial Wall

Unfortunately the memorialised names do not stand out well in this photo:-

HMS Hampshire Memorial Wall

The HMS Hampshire memorial wall also commemorates the HM Drifter Laurel Crown lost off Marwick Head in June 1916:-

HMS Hampshire + HMS Laurel Crown Memorial

Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery, Hoy, Orkney (i)

Panorama from road:-

Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery, Hoy, Orkney

Entrance and Cross of Sacrifice from road:-

Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery, Hoy, Orkney

Graves (WW2):-

Graves at Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery, Hoy, Orkney

More WW2 graves:-

Graves at Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery, Hoy, Orkney

Johannes Thill. Despite the fact more German sailors and one soldier are buried elsewhere in the cemetery this grave stands in splendid isolation well away from all the others. It can be seen in the background to my photo of the HMS Vanguard Memorial (previous post):-

Johannes Thill, Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery, Hoy

A German Soldier. The other Germans in the cemetery were all sailors:-

A German Soldier, Lyness Royal Naval Cemetery, Hoy

A Norwegian Seaman (Norsk Sjømann) called Ivar Jacobsen, 1941:-

A Norwegian Sailor (Norsk Sjømann)

The Great War Generals on the Western Front by Robin Neillands

Robinson, 1999, 557 p (including ii p Contents and List of Maps, iv p Acknowledgements and Dedication, 19 p Index, 4 p Select Bibliography,) plus 8 p Photographs.

 The Great War Generals on the Western Front cover

The common perception of British generalship in the Great War – as put forth in many depictions of the conflict from at least Oh, What a Lovely War! through “lions led by donkeys” to Blackadder Goes Fourth and beyond – is of cavalry officers with little knowledge of infantry tactics in charge, of widespread incompetence and callousness, of throwing men rather than competence at the enemy, of safely staying well behind the lines. In this book Neillands sets out the evidence for and against these assertions and as a result comes down in favour of the generals. In many respects for me he was pushing against an open door. It has always struck me that if the British generals were so incompetent and useless how come we didn’t lose the war? Add to that the fact that the British (and Empire) force was the only major Allied combatant (setting aside the short – but still bloody – sojourn of the US Expeditionary forces) that did not suffer a large mutiny or rout and the questions ought to be why, if their leaders were so useless, were British soldiers so steadfast? Why were they so willing to follow orders – and keep doing so?

Despite its all-encompassing sub-title the book is chiefly focused on the British generals on the Western Front, though French and German generals are of course dealt with as necessary. Overall, however, it is more of a complete history of the British sectors of the Western Front rather than a summary of the doings of the generals who directed the efforts there.

Neillands states that it is only British generals that have been subjected to such criticisms as a group. No such opprobrium has been heaped on the French or German generals as a whole despite similar propensities to life squandering, particularly the Germans at Langemarck and the French in Nivelle’s offensive. Plus there’s always Verdun.

For all sides this was a new kind of war (though slightly prefigured by aspects of the American Civil War and the Russo-Japanese War.) None of the European agonists had been subjected to industrial war of this kind before, though in terms of numbers the French and Germans were prepared for it, the latter also in terms of artillery. All expected a war of movement – and a quick resolution. As it was the trench system came about by accident; in the attempts of both sides to outflank each other in the “Race to the Sea.” And throughout defence held the upper hand.

Like all British armies at the start of a war the BEF was inadequate to the coming task in numbers and equipment; lacking in machine guns and especially artillery. Its astonishing proficiency in rifle fire could not make up for this. It would take time – years – to provide enough artillery ammunition, to recruit, to equip and to train not only the soldiers but also the staff officers necessary for the army to function efficiently (and of these the staff officers take much longer to train.) Until that came about the generals, like the soldiers, had to do the best with what they had, and to learn the techniques and tactics required to succeed. Plus they were fighting Germans; dogged professional soldiers who never gave in easily, the best army in the field – certainly until the end of 1916 (when the British perhaps took over the mantle.)

Among other beliefs Neillands describes as myths is that all British troops on the first day of the Battle of the Somme moved forward in line and at walking pace. There was in fact a large variation in tactics, the generals on the ground being largely responsible for their own formations’ procedures. The sentence attributed to Lieutenant-General Kiggell, after Passchendaele, “Good God, did we really send men to fight in that?” has no provenance and is likely to be apocryphal. Neillands finds it incredible that any general faced with all the reports from the front, aerial photos, requisitions etc could have been unaware of the conditions. Quite why Third Ypres was nevertheless persisted with is a question harder to avoid.

Some criticisms are easily dispatched. Much fewer than half of the British generals were originally from cavalry regiments while an average of one general a week was lost to enemy action, hardly indicative of distance from the front. They were not hidebound tactically but learned from earlier reverses. However, in response to British innovations in attack the Germans continually adopted new defensive tactics and provided new problems to solve.

Neillands contends that the difficulties of prosecuting such a war have not been sufficiently acknowledged by the critics. The generals were from the outset instructed by the British Government to co-operate closely with their French allies. This in many respects tied the hands of both British Commanders-in-Chief, Sir John French and Sir Douglas Haig. Sometimes this necessary support, as at Loos, led to attacks the British generals did not favour. At the Somme and Third Ypres the necessity to divert German resources to relieve pressure on the French (from Verdun and the consequences of the French mutiny respectively) more or less demanded action.

The static nature of the trench system, the opportunities it gave the Germans to develop defence in depth (from Second Ypres in 1914 till their spring offensive in 1918 the Germans did not launch a major attack on the British Army anywhere along the line,) was a large factor in preventing a breakthrough. Allenby was not a notable success on the Western Front but in a war of movement in Palestine was able to show his capabilities more readily.

The main problem affecting the war’s conduct, though, was communications; which could not be relied on. Amid the smoke of battle, lines of sight were obscured; wireless technology was neither robust nor portable; telephone lines – even buried metres deep – were prone to severance by shellfire; carrier pigeons inadequate. The problem was never properly solved even by the war’s end.

Nor are any alternative strategies entirely obvious. Short of abandoning the war (so allowing Germany to keep its gains) – a course which the Allied Governments never contemplated – there was little option but to carry on.

Another factor affecting the generals was that Prime Minister Lloyd George never trusted them, Haig in particular. Neillands holds Lloyd George partly responsible for the British being forced to retreat by the German “Michael” offensive of March 1918 as he had held troops back in Britain rather than reinforcing the front. The overwhelming force of their initial attack would have caused problems in any case but even in its unstrengthened form the army, though it retreated, nevertheless did not break; the Germans were held.

In passing Neillands decries the “Pommie bashing” of latter day Australian and Canadian historians who variously claim the British “establishment” was biased against their own commanders and treated colonial troops as cannon fodder. While acknowledging the quality of these troops and the abilities of the Canadian General Currie and the Australian General Monash in particular, he shows most British divisions – and not a few generals – were equally effective.

Some criticisms are harder to defray. Typically there was a failure to exploit initial success quickly (in the case of Cambrai a disbelief in the extent of that success and a lack of preparedness for it) and an all too prevalent tendency to keep bashing away when an attack slowed down, in the belief that the Germans were weakening and “one more push” would prevail.

Yet the final victories – and they were victories, the Hindenburg line was breached, the British Army ended up as far advanced from the trench lines as Mons (where its participation in the war had started) – are not given nearly as much attention as the earlier “failures”. That is an indictment of those who give more weight to the generals’ shortcomings than to the achievements of the men under their direction. It was the war, and its continuation, plus the inability of the technology of attack to overcome that of defence that was the problem.

This is a book that, while not ignoring their faults, attests to the good faith of the British generals of the Great War, men doing their best amidst adverse circumstances.

Pedant’s corner:- “Field Marshal Sir William, Robertson’s father” (no comma,) “Seventy-eight British generals were lost their lives” (no “were”,) “led to the way it in which it was conducted (the way in which,) “over 9, 000,000” (there were frequent occurrences in the text of this extraneous space when a large number was cited and the practice wasn’t consistent,) a missing comma before a quote (x 5,) mache timetables (march timetables?) “we have go back” (have to go back,) “the infantry were mustered” (was mustered,) “Lieutenant-General Sir, Henry Grierson” (no comma,) “including the German and Soviet armies” (Soviet armies? Pre-1917?) ulster (Ulster,) “The force of France were already in trouble” (forces,) “and and” (only one required,) “in orders to denigrate” (in order,) “Readers are invited to look again at the message French sent to Smith-Dorrien again” (only one “again” needed,) “the true state of affairs were brought to the attention” (was brought,) General Franchet d’ Espery (d’Espery, x2,) “gave Haig time assess the situation” (to assess,) “just how grievously the Haig’s command had suffered (no “the”,) “the artillery … were…. their stocks of ammunition” (was…. its stocks,) Bellewaarde (Bellewaerde?) “the BEF were now set upon” (was set upon,) “smoke screen screen” (only one “screen” required,) to cut of the wire (off,) earlier in his book (this book,) any battalions fire plan (battalion’s,) “might wander of their axis” (off,) “that the Rawlinson’s attack” (no “the”,) a missing comma. “This family were not wealthy” (His family was not wealthy,) a missing full stop x 5, XV Corps’ (Corps’s,) with with (only on “with” needed,) “and the defences the Germans were building…… was like nothing seen before” (were like nothing seen before,) “four-battalions-to-a-brigade. Dominion division” (“four-battalions-to-a-brigade Dominion division”,) “the bombardment rose to a crescendo” (a crescendo is the rise, not its climax,) “First Army were …. Third Army were …. Fifth Army were …. (in each case “was”,) “to be launched to on” (no “to”,) “force their forces along the coast, either to withdraw eastwards” (no comma.) “Zero hour for was set” (Zero hour was set for.) “Given his a well-earned reputation” (no “a”,) “three years earlier. Currie had been” (no full stop,) Lieutenant General Sir Kavanagh (Lieutenant General Sir Charles Kavanagh.) “The cavalry were to be commanded” (was to be,) “Tuesday 20, November” (no comma,) Hidenburg Line (Hindenburg, elsewhere correct,) the Middlesex Regoment (Regiment,) General Cardona (Cadorna,) “the main theatre in this war the Western Front” (war was the Western Front,) “that the he had always wanted” (that he had,) “the enemy were preparing an attack” (was,) narrow-gange track (gauge,) “the German armies in west” (in the west,) “for the politicians understand” (politicians to understand,) the United State (States,) “to wait and attack, again in 1919” (no comma.) “This is not the say” (not to say,) Austrain (Austrian.) “The learning curve …. and only starting to rise” (started,) “against the Bolshevik” (Bolsheviks,) “he was named. Presidential Chief of Staff” (no full stop.)

Crawford

Crawford is a village in South Lanarkshire, Scotland. We passed through on a trip with the good lady’s blog friend, Peggy, last summer.

Its War Memorial is in the form of a Celtic Cross with embossed sword. Its front bears names from the Great War, “In grateful memory of those who gave their lives in the war for civilisation”:-

Crawford War Memorial

On the side are listed names for World War 2, “Brave young men who died for their country 1939-45”:-

Crawford War Memorial Side View

Eyemouth

Eyemouth, in the Scottish Borders Region, just a few miles north of the border and of Berwick, is the town where my mother spent most of her childhood before her family then moved to Dumbarton.

It’s a typical Scottish fishing village/town where a river (the River Eye) flows into the North Sea via a harbour.

I’ve been there several times before, as a child with my mother, and later as an adult but it was many years ago now. When the good lady’s blog friend, Peggy, was here last summer we took the opportunity to visit as she wanted to see it.

I hadn’t remembered this decoish set of windows:-

Art Deco Style in Eyemouth

The statue in front of the shop is of William Spears who in the 19th century led a revolt against the tithes on fish levied by the Church of Scotland.

This is the War Memorial, “Sacred to the memory of officers, NCOs and men of Eyemouth who fell in the Great War”:-

Eyemouth War Memorial

The reverse names the second war’s dead and the column’s inscription reads, “Sacred to the memory of officers, NCOs and men of Eyemouth who gave their lives in the Great War II, 1939-45.” Note also Merchant Navy, Fishermen plus Egypt 1952 and Iraq 2005:-

Eyemouth War Memorial

The original Jack Deighton, my grandfather, was the minister at the local Episcopal Church, St Ebba’s, named after a local saint, the Abbess of Coldingham. The Lifeboat at Eyemouth was also named for her as this lifebelt in the museum attests:-

Eyemouth St Ebba Lifebelt

Honfleur War Memorial

From over the street:-

Honfleur War Memorial

Honfleur is a relatively small town. Just look at all those names. “To her children of the armies of the land and sea killed for the homeland 1914-1918.” A measure of what France lost between 1914 and 1918:-

Honfleur, War Memorial Close

World War 2 names are at the base of memorial. In front is a stone poilu’s helmet above crossed swords with the inscription, “Gloire au Soldats Francaise”.

Honfleur, War Memorial Detail

Off to one side was this plaque to Albert Manuel, “heros de la résistance, croix de guerre”:-

Honfleur, War Memorial, Resistance Plaque

This plaque commemorates “The veterans of Indo-China in Normandy. To their lost and disappeared 1945-54.”

Honfleur War Memorial, Indo-China

Another notes “19th March 1962. End of the war in Algeria.”

Honfleur, War Memorial, Algeria Plaque

Porto War Memorial

Porto’s War Memorial is an imposing structure with a statue of a soldier reminiscent of many British War Memorials, set in a large square with a lovely pavemented approach:-

Porto War Memorial

Porto War Memorial Close

Plaque to those fallen in subsequent conficts:-

Porto War Memorial Plaque

Plaque to commemorate 100 years since the start of World War 1:-

Porto War Memorial Anniversary Plaque

The base of the Memorial pedestal is decorated with representations of artillery shells:-

Porto War Memorial Detail

Sadly there was some grafitti on the base of the Memorial, a piece of which can just be seen to the right above.

Dedication to those who died in defence of overseas provinces. (If my deciphering of the Portuguese is correct):-

Porto War Memorial Further Dedication

There are three cartouches on the Memorial, to the sides and rear. This one commemorates Angola, Naulila, Inhoga, Mongua, Ngiva:-

Porto War Memorial Cartouche

As best as I can make out this one says Franca, La Lys, Laventie, La Couture:-

Porto War Memorial Second Cartouche

And this one Mozambica (Mozambique,) Necomano? Sirra Micula? Namacourra?

Porto War Memorial Third Cartouche

Portugal and the Great War

It is one of the less remembered aspects of the Great War that Portugal was one of the Allies and sent troops to fight on the Western Front.

Germany declared war on Portugal on 9/3/1916 though before that there had been tensions over sea trade embargoes and border clashes in Africa. 12,000 Portuguese troops died and 82,000 civilians due to food shortages.

In São Bento Railway Station in Porto we found a commemorative display of photographs of Portuguese involvement in the war.

Grande Guerra (the Great War):-

WW1 1 Display in Porto Railway Station

Declaração de guerra (Declaration of war):-

The Great War:  Portuguese Involvement

A caminho das trincheiras (Portuguese trenches?):-

The Great War, Portuguese Trenches

A retaguarda (Training?):-

Portuguese Great War Photos

A vida nas trincheiras (Life in the trenches):-

Life in theTrenches

Destruição e desoleção (Destruction and desolation?):-

WW1 Destruction and Desolation

Campos de prisoneiros (POW Camps):-

WW1 POW Camps

O desfile da vitoria (Victory parade?):-

WW1 Portuguese Victory Parade

Lorient War Memorial

Lorient has an airy feeling with relatively open streets lined with trees. Its War Memorial lies to the edge of an open area off the Quai des Indes opposite the Parc Jules Ferry and is flanked by trees. It is an imposing structure with stylised figures.

The inscription reads “Lorient, A Ses Morts, 1914 1918, 1939 1945. There is an additonal plaque for Indochina, Tunisia, Morocco, Algeria 1952-62.

Lorient War Memorial

Close-up:-

Lorient War Memorial Close-up

Reverse:-

Lorient War Memorial Reverse

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