WW I Commemoration

By Ken Porter

As you are probably aware the 4th August 2014 is the hundred years anniversary of the beginning of the First World War.

We are working with the Basildon Council and other groups on projects/events/exhibitions to commemorate those that fought in the war on our behalf.

We are therefore looking for artefacts, photographs and family memories that depict this period in our history (1914-1918).

If you have any such items, memories and are willing for us to exhibit please get in touch.

EDITORS NOTE

Reading the comments below clearly shows that even though at the time the then powers to be thought it was justified, they did not take into account that the cost in life and suffering it would cause could never be justified.

The comments show clearly how these terrrible events affected and continue to effect the members of the community. The Archive is here to record the Social History of the Community and the way local, national and even international events affected the lives of its members.

The justification or cause of these events needs to be discussed in a different forum. But please continue to provide us with your memories of the effect the events had on you, your family and friends.

This page was added by Ken Porter on 26/01/2014.
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Tales from the Trenches by Mary Cole is now available from Amazon or Lulu at £4.99 (plus p&p). The stories of a long time resident of Laindon & Langdon Hills.

By Mary Cole
On 07/10/2014

Reading Alan's comments in respect of the poets and WW1, I was surprised he did not mention  Rudyard Kipling.  The patriotic fervour of those days infected the population and the son of Rudyard Kipling to appease his father attempted to join up but was rejected due to severe visual deficiency.  This did not sit well with Rudyard who appealed to the king and gained him a commission which resulted in the death of his son in France.    It was only then that Rudyard realised he had condemned his son to death.

By W.H.Diment
On 23/02/2014

There are unanswered questions surrounding Sidney Lewis which have been gnawing at me for a few days. I have attempted a little further research. Some questions will never be answered but at least now there is a little more flesh on the bones.

When full grown Sidney was six feet two inches. Extremely tall for that age and certainly one factor in why he was accepted for enlistment at twelve years of age. There were many examples of under age males accepted for enlistment in WW1. What is not widely known is that enlistment sergeants were paid a bounty for each man they signed up for enlistment. Obviously this was an encouragement to sign up as many as possible without too much attention to mundane details such as age!

Sidney signed up in August 1915 aged twelve years and six months. The fact that it was August infers he may have had the free time from school to sign up, take a physical, and whatever else was necessary. Countering this speculation is the fact that surely in that era a boy did not have the summer off. He had to get a job to help set food on the table.

Asked about Sidney enlisting, a now ninety four year old brother in law said Sidney "just sort of disapeared." The speculation has to be that it was without  family permission. Did the family immediately report Sidney to the police as missing? We do not know. We learn later of a mother and daughter (given that Sidney had a brother in law) but the scant records make no mention of a father.

After some months of training in England, Sidney arrived in France in May 1916. Two months later, in July 1916, he was heavily involved in the meat grinder known as the battle of the Somme. Very shortly thereafter Sidney's mother heard of her son's whereabouts from an older comrade home on leave. She petitioned the War Office for his release and a short time later Sidney was sent home to England. He remained in the army, stationed somewhere in Lincolnshire for some weeks or even months, before being demobbed. We have no dates for any of these happenings beyond the July 1916 battle of the Somme.

One puzzle is what happened to Sidney's wages during this roughly year and a half period? Were they sent home to his mother? Presumably he had to give a home address upon enlistment. If his family had benefit of his wages does this infer that his mother was content enough to have her son in the army until she learnt his life was in danger at the Somme? At which point she blew the whistle? Alas we can only speculate.

It is difficult to objectively think of the events of 1914. The image of an idyllic summer bringing to an end the golden Edwardian age is a myth. It was a typically wet and unpredictable English summer as a glance at the meteoroligical records prove. The advent of war with Germany was abrupt and unexpected. Three national themes seemed much more important at that time. Multiple strikes throughout the country had occurred in 1913 and 1914 looked set to be even worse. Difficulties that the Home Rule for Ireland bill faced from Protestant dominated northern Ireland proved to be much greater than expected by the Liberal government. The suffragette movement had escalated to violence  as a painting in the National Gallery was slashed by a suffragette protesting the imprisonment of Emmaline Pankhurst. Forced feeding was imposed on those suffragettes in prison who went on hunger strike. Suffragette Emily Davidson died as a result of throwing herself under George V's horse at Epsom. When war came on August 4 1914 these issues were put aside.

An industrial truce was called by the unions and strikes virtually disapeared. The Home Rule bill was shelved for the duration and both Irish Protestants and Catholics enlisted in great numbers each seeking to outshine the other in their patriotism. Mrs Pankhurst told her supporters "With that patriotism which has nerved women to endure endless torture in  prison cells, we ardently desire that our country should be victorious." The sufragettes put aside their demonstrations for equal votes for women and turned their attention to the alternate, at the time no doubt seemingly worthwhile, endeavour of distributing white feathers to men who had failed to answer the call of king and country!!

One thing that strikes me as unique is the impact that poets have on our collective memories of WW1. There is no equivalent in WW2, or indeed any other war, where our memories and emotions are so impacted by poetry. Who is not familiar with, or has not read, the wonderful poetry of Siegfried Sasson, Wilfred Owen, Herbert Reid, and (my favourite) Rupert Brooke? Who cannot be moved by:

"If I should die, think only this of me;/That there's some corner of a foreign field/That is forever England. There shall be/In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;/A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,/Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,/A body of England's breathing English air,/Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home."

We shall never know much more about Sidney Lewis but some things we do know for certain. As a young twelve year old he sought to serve his country and successfully enlisted in the army. He is the youngest authenticated British soldier to serve in WW1. At thirteen he served in one of the most bloody battles of WW1 at the Somme. He served with such distinction that he was awarded two medals.When of legal age he re-enlsted and served in Austria in the army of occupation. Later he served in the police force. In WW2 he served as a bomb disposal expert. He died in 1969.

By Alan Davies
On 23/02/2014

The story of Sidney Lewis is truly incredible and one wonders how a12 year old boy could pass himself off as an adult.  The adults of 100 years ago were of considerably smaller stature than today which may have helped to disguise the true age plus the fact that the recruiting officials of those days were more concerned with recruiting than rejection of applicants.  It is well known that a large number of very young served  with distinction in the WW1 forces, especially in the Royal Navy  . One example was that of Jack Cornwall, who at the age of 16 died at his post in the Battle of Jutland and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross, the highest military award of the British military.

By W.H.Diment
On 18/02/2014

Incredibly, Sidney Lewis was twelve years old when he successfully joined the East Surrey regiment in 1915. He fought in the Battle of the Somme, serving in the 106 Machine Gun Co. It was only when his mother produced his birth certificate and appealed to the War Ministry that he was sent home and demobbed. He was subsequently awarded the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. He re-enlisted in 1918 and served in the army of occupation in Austria. Subsequently he joined the police force. Later yet he ran a pub in Frant, East Sussex. In WW2 he served in the bomb disposal squad. He died in 1969.

Sidney Lewis is the youngest, authenticated, English soldier to serve in WW1.

By Alan Davies
On 17/02/2014

I can understand and accept that Alan was simply suggesting that there are differing places for presentation and discussion of varying points of view and suggest that possibly an archive  might  offer precedence to the historical events which affected where we live and that if there were sufficient volunteers available that a new website be instituted as possibly a Scrapbook of Laindon and District and the Personal Memories of its Inhabitants Past and Present to record the many personal memories which have not in any way changed the area, but fall within the area of Alan's  'Saloon Bar' discourse.

I would also like to respond to Nina and say that I had already accepted that there was conflict between animals, other than humans for perceived territorial rights or the acquisition of food held by others, but suggest there has never been any incidence of these preplanning or organising groups to effect the death or extermination of other species including the "innocent" creatures who have nothing an aggressor would want. Non human animals have an instinct which calls for survival of the fittest and often results in the demise of lesser creatures, but some humans seek to destroy others due to their beliefs or the way they govern their countries or simply to acquire dominance over resources and also to deny them access to military technology which they themselves have.

War is evil and a planned and practice of humans, but non human animals are simply following a behaviour over which in the wild state they have no control. As it is written, "Only man is vile". 

By W.H.Diment
On 14/02/2014

I can assure Bill Diment that there was no intention to trivialise in my posting of 12/02/14. Clumsy wording perhaps. Mea culpa. What I was attempting to convey was that such a complex, emotional and multifaceted subject lends itself more to a comfortable setting without undue time constraints where, through a back and forth, different points of view can be exchanged verbatim.

By Alan Davies
On 13/02/2014

Whether or not it was intentional, I believe Alan trivialises the subject by suggesting it would be more suitably discussed in a saloon bar rather than an archive yet it probably has been one of  the greatest factors in the history of the area.   He further suggests that chimpanzees have emulated humans, yet I have never before heard any suggestions of chimps forming armies to attack other creatures apart from defending their so called territorial areas, their young or there food sources.

Some people seek to justify the terrible carnage caused by invasive warfare by claiming it intended to be necessary for our wellbeing. It is said "The road to hell is paved with good intentions", similarly, I suggest that every invasive infringement of another country's sovereignty sows the seeds for future  and  greater conflicts..

Is it not possible that the present day Islamic military factions arose from the seeds planted by the British invasions of Afghanistan in 1839.. 1878..1919 and 2001 when the west decided that the Taliban, a religious student faction who had taken over the vacant administration after the Russians withdrew in 1996 and ruled as a de facto government until 2001 when the west decided to invade an action which caused many militant Muslims to decide this was an attack on their religion and go to support the Taliban.    It was Tony Blair who in 2006 decided to attack Iraq, when there was no evidence they were a threat to the UK and resulted in the deaths of tens of thousands  innocent civilians, increasing the rift between west and east.

In 1918 an initiative led by Lord Balfour decided to allocate areas of Transjordan as a homeland for the Jewish people which led to an explosive situation which may not resolve itself in the lifetimes of any living today, but may cause future devastation. Then there was Korea. None of these actions were of any danger to the UK.

As a small nation, the British have caused more conflict than any other nation and should not enter into more fighting other than in defence of this country and its people.  

By W.H.Diment
On 12/02/2014

We aren’t the only animals that go to war.  Monkeys, Lemurs and Meercats for example live in troops and sometimes have tremendous battles with neighbouring troops who encroach on their territory, resulting in bloodshed and death. Apparently monkeys can be very strategic in their battles. Even ant colonies sometimes raid and take over other ant colonies.   However, whereas animals fight shoulder to shoulder, humans in general have leaders who give the orders and send the troops out into the fray while remaining in relatively safe places themselves.  Although motives may differ, many animals ‘war’, not only humans. 

By Nina Humphrey(née Burton)
On 12/02/2014

I agree with Alan's comment that we need to concentrate on the effects of WW I on the members of our community rather than the the cause and effect of the war.  

I would add that the reasons given for going to war can always be justified by the authorities committing those who serve and die for the cause. However the original causes of the conflicts is usually the striving for power over others by the leaders of political or religious groups, who feel repressed.

By Ian Mott
On 12/02/2014

Bill Diment's posting of 11/02/14 makes interesting reading. It is the sort of exchange best suited to a couple of hours in the The Bear in Stock or Ye Olde King's Head on the B.1007 north of Billericay rather than in the columns of these archives. Aided by a few pints of Newcastle of course! Nonetheless perhaps I may be allowed to venture a few points.

Myriad books on WW1 are planned for publication this centenary year. The ground they will cover has been well ploughed previously and we can expect any new viewpoints to be nuanced. No doubt the same topics will be intensively researched. Was the war avoidable? Was it simply the result of multiple entangling alliances where, once one was breached, they were all invoked? Was it the result of Germany's emerging ambitions with the demand for colonies in Africa and the aim of rivaling Britain's naval dominance? Would Russia have continued its slow and unsteady march toward a more democratic form of government without its defeat by Germany and the humiliating Brest-Litovsk treaty which ushered in Lenin and the communists? Did the onerous and humiliating demand for reparations and the loss of Alsace and Lorraine imposed upon Germany at the Versailles peace treaty make WW2 inevitable? Was the war avoidable? This counter historical history is always of great interest and I look forward to reading some of the contributions.

Unfortunately I expect most of the writings to be by British and French writers and therefore almost exclusively from their perspectives. The Russians have no great desire to re-visit their humiliating defeat by Germany and the downfall of the Tsars. In any case theirs is still not a fully open country with universal access to records. Germany, as the defeated country cannot be expected to exhibit the same interest. Indeed there is still great guilt and embarrassment over their role in WW2. The Americans were only in the war for the last six months and, although their contribution may well have tipped the scale for the allies, their losses were comparatively light and the war has nothing like the resonance in the USA or remembrance that it has in Europe.

No doubt some of the leading figures will come in for re-appraisal. Was Haig a callous butcher unmindful of his troops losses? Were the British soldiers in the trenches accurately portrayed as "lions led by donkeys?" Was the Gallipoli fiasco the fault of the young Churchill or that of the navy who failed to clear the minefields?

The lesser known events will no doubt be visited. For example the high number of Irish who volunteered for the British army despite the seething unrest for independance from Britain in Ireland itself. The incredibly high losses suffered by the Anzacs in the Gallipoli campaign. So high that it is still commemorated annually in Australia and New Zealand while forgotten elsewhere.

I was glad to see Bill Diment's wording in "It is war that makes the human race sadly different to the OTHER animals that inhabit this planet." Most people would have omitted the word other--- but we are of course also animals. Having said that I think there are other animals, particularly chimpanzees, who do a pretty good job of mimicking their human cousins in the war and killing department.

By Alan Davies
On 12/02/2014

Last Saturday, I saw the re-make of the film of "all quiet on the Western Front" and while much of it would appear to have diluted the actual and continuous horror of living for years in mud filled trenches while underfed and infested with lice with the feet rotting away as a result of gangrene and trench foot, it did show that the ordinary soldier on both sides were remarkably similar as to their outlook and demonstrated that war is not a glorious event but where ordinary people were placed in situations where human feelings were suppressed by the aspirations of men who attained positions which they considered gave them the  ultimate power over life and death of others most of whom were innocent victims.

It is war that makes the human race sadly different to the other animals which inhabit this planet. I was pleased to note that the film showed a headline that it should be shown to children.

War should only be conducted in defence of oneself and not to attack those who have differing ideas as to how a country should be governed.

By W.H.Diment
On 11/02/2014

We are hoping to have "Tales from the Trenches" the stories told by my father Corporal Alexander Norman 2nd Essex Battalion to us as children, available soon. If you are interested I will send more details soon.

Editor: Mary we would be very interested to give the community the opportunity to read your fathers tails from the trenches.

By Mary Cole
On 29/01/2014