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And in that dust a richer dust concealed


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A reminder of the links of blood between France and Britain.

Today is the anniversary of the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Almost 60,000 British and Empire soldiers were casualties in the first few hours; over 20,000 were killed. By the end of the battle the casualties on all sides had reached 720,000.

 

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old...

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A sobering post Dick.

Whilst planting out in some newly delivered topsoil the other week I found a medal from WW1. It is rather worn but on the front is an engraving of soldiers, the one in the foreground kneeling with a bugle to his mouth. Also on the front 1918 inscribed at the bottom, the words at the sides almost unreadable, but possibly Journee du Poils. On the reverse is the inscription La Marne 1914, Yser 1915, Verdun, La Somme 1916. Does anyone have any info on this medal?
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The Soldier

Rupert Brooke

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.

And think, this heart, all evil shed away,

A pulse in the eternal mind, no less

Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;

Her sights and sounds; dreams happy as her day;

And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,

In hearts at peace, under an English heaven.

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My grandad saved a french family from certain death by himself and was awarded the MM but he never spoke about it. I tried to find out about decoration for bravery and the records are still being kept confidential even today. That poem is very thought provoking and conjures up all sorts of images of WW1
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Hi Val

Your grandfather's MM (Medals for non-commissioned ranks, Crosses for commissioned) would have been in the London Gazette, which is fully indexed by name.

Alsi, The Times carried many of the citations for bravery awards (although there were many awarded during WW1) and if you know the year in which it was awarded, there are excellent indexes for The Times also.

Also, if you know where he lived at the time (can usually work that out through family papers and you should be able to get his service record as a direct descendant, if the records survived WW2) it's almost certain that the award would have been well reported in a local newspaper which means that there is every chance that the paper would be at the National Archive's/British Library's Newspaper Centre at Colindale, North London.

If you still want to find more about his award, pm me, I may be able to help you.

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Some of the records from WW1 have been digitised though I'm not sure whether they are online. The problem is that many of the records were either destroyed or badly damaged during the second round and many letters of the alphabet are missing.

And, there are still restrictions on Joe Public getting hold of some of the records, nothing to do with secrecy, just the Archive's legal restrictions.  In theory, the records will only be made available to the direct descendants of the person concerned though that (I think) is out of time for WW1.

If you wanted to do the hands-on yourself, it's online and if not there, the Guildhall Library in London is the easiest place to get the information as it has all the London Gazettes and The Times on micro film on the open shelves which can be printed out for a small cost.

Problem with Kew (now the National Archives rather than the PRO) is that for first timers it can be rather daunting.

The military records also tend to be a little bland and if they have been 'weeded' some of the detail may be missing.  There may be a copy of the officer's citation but there may also be just a list of awards of which the MM would be just one of at least 4.

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At dawn the ridge emerges massed and dun

In the wild purple of the glowring sun,

Smouldering through spouts of drifting smoke that shround

The menacing scarred slope; and one by one,

Tanks creep and topple forward to the wire.

The barrage roars and lifts. Then, clumsily bowed

With bombs and guns and shovels and battle-gear,

Men jostle and climb to meet the brisling fire.

Lines of grey muttering faces, masked with fear,

They leave their trenches, going over the top,

While time ticks blank and busy on their wrists,

And hope, with furtive eyes and grappling fists,

Flounders in mud. O Jesus, make it stop!

 

Siegfried Sassoon 1816 - 1967.

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Tony - I was going to mention Wilfred Owen. We studied his poetry for A level and it left a lasting impression on me. Especially a poem in which he dreams that he meets a German soldier ?in the afterlife?  and they realise that they are both humans and only separated by the enforced barrier of war. I think he died during WW1. Pat.
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Owen joined up in 1915 and initially served in the Artists Rifles, doing his training in Gidea Park, not far from where I lived prior to moving here, after which he was Commissioned into the Manchester Regiment.

He was wounded twice and after suffering shell shock was sent to Craiglockhart Hospital in Scotland where he met Sassoon and where both of them wrote some of their most beautfiful - and bitter - war poetry.

He returned to active service in June 1918 and was awarded the Military Cross for bravery at Amiens, but was killed on the 4th November whilst attempting to lead his men across the Sambre Canal on 4th November.

The irony is that his parents were informed of his death on Artistice Day. Pro patria mori indeed.

As an aside, during the 1960s,  a mentally unwell young man tried to burn down the Imperial War Museum by throwing an incendiary device into what was then the reading room of the Library and all he did was suceed in burning some original papers and poems of the war poets.  Very sad.

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I can recommend the anthology "In Flanders Fields: Poetry of the First World War", editied by George Walter (Penguin Allen Lane, 2004).

The Herefordshire village of Dymock, near Ledbury was home for a time to several of the "war poets": Robert Frost, Edward Thomas, Rupert Brooke, Lascelles Abercrombie, John Drinkwater and Wilfrid Gibson. The parish church has a permanent display about their lives there, and of course about their work. The Dymock Poets produced a journal, in which Brooke's "The Soldier" was published for the first time.  More info on http://www.dymockpoets.co.uk/

Not poetry, but another recommendation is "Les Croix de Bois" by Roland Dorgelès, a profoundly moving novel based on Dorgelès' own experiences as a "poilu" in the trenches.

Angela (85 and UK)

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What an interesting and thought provoking thread!, mention of Great War poets has caused a last line to round and round in my head, "And he did for them all with his plan of attack" Eventually, I put it in the search engine and of course it turned out to be Sassoon's 'The General'

'Good morning; good morning' the General said,

When we met him last week on our way to the line.

 Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of 'em dead,

And we're cursing his staff for incompetent swine.

 'He's a cheery old card,' grunted Harry to Jack

 As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack...

But he did for them both with his plan of attack.

Re; the MM winners details, can't help much there but some of the regimental web-sites are quite helpful, and example of one

is that of the Worcestershire Regt.

http://www.worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/welcome

Another Dave

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To keep on with a French theme (though the Englsih language war poets are magnificent they don't always represent the views of the average Tommy) French radio some years ago made a collection of letters from poilus from the front. They are fascinating, and very moving. Available for as little as €1.90 from Amazon France

http://www.amazon.fr/exec/obidos/search-handle-form/171-7910027-1191410

The best book on the experiences of British soldiers I have read in recent years is 'Tommy' by Richard Holmes, very highly recommended.
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That link didn't work for me, Dick.  From searching amazon.fr for +lettres +poilus I have found the following, which must be the one:

Paroles de Poilus : Lettres et carnets du front, 1914-1918 (1 décembre 2003)
de Jean-Pierre Guéno, et al -- Poche
Habituellement expédié sous 24 h
Notre prix :  EUR 1,90
Neuf et d'occasion à partir de EUR 1,90 
       
Yes, "Tommy" is wonderful.  And also Malcolm Brown's "Tommy Goes to War".

 

Angela

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That's the one. Have you read 'The War the Infantry Knew' by JC Dunn? It was recommended to me by a friend as the best book on the war - and it gices a great insight into the attitudes of the men who fought, which as I hinted earlier doesn't always come across in the work of the war poets.
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