Friends of the Centre for First World War Studies

Illustration of army officers with the title 'Join the brave throng'The Centre is not just for ‘experts’ but is also open to interested lay people. Friends of the Centre will receive regular up-dates, they will have their own newsletter they will be eligible to attend the Centre’s Day Schools and other activities at discounted rates.

They will be invaluable in fulfilling the aim of establishing the Centre as the best of its kind in the world.

Application forms can be obtained from: firstworldwar@bham.ac.uk

or by filling in the Friends Application Form

The following profiles contain information on some Friends the Centre - their, interests, publications and contact details. Please click a name below for more information.

Dr Glenda Abramson 

I'm a retired academic whose field is Hebrew and Jewish Studies. I became interested in the Great War when I read a poem by a Hebrew poet about his experience in the Battle of Cer on the Sava river, which led me to read all the standard works on the Great War. Subsequently I wrote a book about other works in Hebrew - including memoirs and diaries - by soldiers serving on the Eastern Front and in Palestine. Not very much has been written about the Jewish experience on either side in this war.

Edwin Astill

My interest in the Great War stems from having a grandfather who was an Old Contemptible - 7th Field Coy RE.  In 2005 my account of 1st Battalion Wiltshire Regiment was published by the Regimental Museum in Salisbury.  In July 2007 Pen & Sword will publish the diaries of Alexander Johnston, which I have edited.   Johnston went to France in 1914 as signals officer with 7 Infantry Brigade, rose to be Brigade Major with them, before commanding Officer 10th Battalion Cheshire Regiment.  On 14 September 1917 he took command of 142 Infantry Brigade, but was seriously wounded only two days later.

John Bailey

I retired from GEC Alsthom and spend much time working as Hon. Secretary of the Normandy Veteran's Association, North West Leicestershire Branch No 101.  This takes up quite a lot of my time, writing the newsletter called '101 News' as well as dealing with the correspondence etc. In addition I am their Standard Bearer.  This all fits in with my former life as a Lance Corporal Telemech (Radar Mechanic) in REME as part of my National Service (February 1948 to December 1949).

I am also a member of the Middle East Forces Veterans Association (they persuaded me to join as I had been with them to El Alamein for the  50th Anniversary), the Leicestershire Combined Ex-Services Group (Vice Chairman), the REME Association and the Western Front Association (just joined).

My interest in the First World War stems from my father, who was in the 10th Royal Fusiliers and was injured on the Somme on 10 July 1916.  He says it was at Mametz Wood, but the historians state that 10th RF were not in that area until two weeks later.  Having checked his story against the Regimental Record, it tallies.  I understand that most historians only deal with Regimental records and do not deal with Company Records, which in part may be the reason why there is no information about his whereabouts on 9 and 10 July.

I find it hard to believe that his story tallies apart from two days (the day before he was injured and 10 July); he was picked up by the medics on 11 July).  I have found one reference (but have lost it) which states that a group of the 10th RF were at a cross roads about half a mile from the nearest point of the wood.  Half a mile?  I ask you.  That is neither near nor there.  If one had been at a place for just three days humping gas cylinders up to the front line (there were no trenches since they had been blasted apart and Mametz Wood was just match-sticks then you would have no idea where you are unless someone told you).  If an officer or an NCO says over there is Mametz Wood, then that is where you are.  Half a mile is 'just down the road'.

Well that is where I am up to at the moment. Unfortunately most of the Regimental records were destroyed in the Blitz, but I obtained his Medical Records from the National Archive, which gives some Regimental details as well as his medical history subsequent to his injury.  There are 17 A3 pages of it.  I have a similar amount of the regimental record too.

In addition to all the military activities I am a Level 4 Athletics Coach, which for the last 50 years has taken up most evenings, although nowadays I only do just two evenings per week.  There are other things in life I wish to do.  Athletics has taken me all over the World both as an International Team Coach (49 Teams) as well as a Tutor for the IAAF on Coaches Training Courses in Hong Kong, Singapore, Kenya (twice).  At the moment I am training coaches and athletes for the Saudi Arabian Special Needs Federation and have been there six times as well as organising three courses in the UK for them.

As if that is not enough I attend a weekly Water Colour Painting Class, concentrating on portraits.

Stephen Barker

I have spent over fifteen years researching the history of the Great War.  I have written for Battlefields Review and for Stand To! The Journal of the Western Front Association, of which am a member and was a Trustee of the Battlefields Trust and Secretary to its midlands branch for many years. 

I played a leading role in the development of the Edgcote to Edgehill Battlefield Trail, opened with the support of Professor Richard Holmes on 24 June 2006.

I am currently the Education Officer at Banbury Museum.  I visit the National Archives and the Imperial War Museum on a regular basis and go to the Great War battlefields each year. I am currently researching the 37th Division during 1914-18.

In November 2008 my first book, 'Nobody's Heroes', 8th East Lancs 1914-18, is to be published. 

I host a website: www.8thEastLancs.co.uk  and in my spare time I carry out Great War research.

Geoffrey Blades

While I have always had an interested in history, the day job as an electrical engineer and family responsibilities have meant that it was restricted to ‘private study’. However, things change and like many others I came to the military branch through researching my grandfather’s Great War service. There had always been a family story that he had gone into action, and at the end of the day there were only three men left alive in his battalion - 3rd Coldstream Guards. Of course, by the time I began my researches, both grandparents were dead, and no one had any memory of discussing the action with him. So began my interest in the defence of Hazebrouck and the Battles of the Lys in 1918. As a footnote I should say that the family story turned out to be completely wrong; yet another Great War myth!

Now, to most people a hobby is something that they do on quiet winter evenings - not me. I had caught a bad dose of the disease called military history, for which there is no known cure. As part of the therapy I did an MPhil at King’s College London, which has alleviated the symptoms somewhat, and my family are now able to live with my affliction.

What has surprised me is the number of non-academics who have a considerable knowledge of all aspect of the war. I believe that this Centre will give an opportunity for we lay people to increase that knowledge and keep up-to-date with academic thoughts and trends.

Michael Blank

I was at Birmingham University from 1975 to 1978, in the Commerce and Social Science Faculty, graduating with a B Soc Sc in Economic and Social History. I found out about the Centre by chance, a few years ago, while surfing the net.

My interest in the First World War dates back to my childhood, when my father bought me A J P Taylor's The First World War, An illustrated Hiistory. At the time when I first read it, I didn’t understand AJPT's frequently humorous self-written photo captions, but later came fully to appreciate them. I think AJPT was the most accessible and in some ways the best of all British twentieth-century historians, even if I didn't by any means always agree with what he said, did and wrote.

I am not an academic or professional historian, simply an interested amateur, having practised as a Chartered Surveyor for nearly twenty-seven years. I live in Manchester, attend the Centre's day schools regularly and my other interests are twentieth-century history generally (social and political rather more than pure military), propeller-driven airliners of the 1940s to 1960s, photography and Bridge.

Martin Brown

Martin is an archaeologist working for the MOD, based in Wiltshire and responsible for the historic environment/archaeological matters on MOD sites and Army training areas in southern England and Wales, including a number of Great War sites.

Outside work Martin is a founder member of No Man’s Land - The European Group for Great War Archaeology and has directed Great War excavations at Serre, which was televised on BBC2’s Ancestors, and in the UK on a training camp at Cannock Chase and on training trenches at the Army Training Area at Otterburn.  

In addition he has been involved on projects at Auchonvillers, Thiepval Wood and a number of other sites.  This summer he will be co-directing a project near Plug Street Wood.  He was part of the core team for the TV series Finding the Fallen and Trench Detectives, which looked at the contribution archaeology can make to the study of the Great War.

Martin has published on Great War Archaeology in Current World Archaeology, British Archaeology, Sanctuary - The MOD Conservation Magazine, and in a series of Routledge volumes on Material Culture of 20th Century Conflict edited by Nick Saunders and Paul Cornish.  He has articles forthcoming in Journal for Conflict Archaeology and Archaeological Review from Cambridge. 

Martin is particularly interested in the impact of the conflict on the landscape of the UK and on the contribution archaeology can make to the study of the battlefields and the men and women involved.

http://www.no-mans-land.info  

http://plugstreet.blogspot.com

John Dangerfield

My professional life and the history and traditions of the British Army first coincided when I became project architect for the rebuilding of the barracks for the Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment in London. I was involved in this for many unforgettable years and had frequent contact with Field Marshal Sir Gerald Templer who at that time was establishing the National Army Museum. I would have loved to have been involved as well - but had to wait for many years before I could devote my career to the world of museums.

In the middle of the 1980s I became leader of the design team responsible for the Historical Exhibitions, which were part of the redevelopment of the Imperial War Museum. I have innumerable vivid memories of this extraordinary project; for example, suspending aircraft and deploying armour and ordnance in the atrium - the day we lifted the Camel into place, Tommy Sopwith died - and on a different scale the creation of the ‘Trench Experience’. I felt very diffident about undertaking this but, encouraged and guided by none other than Peter Simkins, my doubts were assuaged. Together we went to Ypres and the Somme, my invaluable and unforgettable introduction to the battlefields of the Great War - the first of many visits.

Since that time I have designed and, on occasions, curated permanent and temporary exhibitions with military and naval contents in museums in many parts of the Far East; and, working with the National Maritime Museum, an exhibition in Malta to commemorate the French occupation of the island in 1798. Nearer to home, the Royal Armouries and the National Museum of Scotland were clients and among non-military projects during this period were the new Exhibition Room at the Bodleian Library and the redevelopment of the Museum of the History of Science, both parts of the University of Oxford. My practice was also responsible for the National Science Museum in Thailand - this was quite an experience!

Out of all these ventures, there is one that I regard with a particular affection - the museum of the regiment which was once the family for men such as Sassoon, Graves, David Jones and Frank Richards, and the estimable Capt. J. C. Dunn. Having completed the redevelopment of the Royal Welch Fusiliers Regimental Museum in Caernarfon Castle in 1999, I continue to advise the Trustees and the Curator on the maintenance of its fabric and the display of their remarkable collection - a long-lasting pleasure.

After many years in London I now live in Shrewsbury: my interests are Shropshire, France, my profession and everything related to it, art and music and, of course, history in many guises: that of the 18th and 19th centuries continues to exercise a particular fascination - the latter embodying, as it does, the root causes of the war of 1914-1918.

Martin Marix Evans

Martin Marix Evans was born in Southport, Lancs, UK in December 1939 and soon moved to New York where both his parents worked for British Intelligence under the Canadian, Stevenson. They returned to the UK in late 1945 and his father moved back to the family business in 1946 having reported, in the meantime, to one Kim Philby!

After completing his secondary education Martin spent a year as a Foreign Scholar at Wesleyan University, Middletown, CN where he first encountered history as a fascinating subject rather than as a chore. He was taught by the young David Trask who went on to a distinguished career as an historian in US Government service. He then read law at Cambridge and wandered into book publishing in 1963. In the space of nearly twenty years he held editorial and marketing posts at Longman, Pitman and Frederick Warne before co-founding a book packaging company creating highly illustrated and colourful books for the general publishing markets in the UK and the USA. At the end of that venture, and after a brief period in the employ of others, Martin set up his own book packaging and publishing consultant business which he ran until 2007.

A chance conversation in 1995 led to an invitation to write a book to mark the anniversary of the Somme and The Battles of the Somme (Weidenfeld & Nicolson) appeared the following year. Another chance find, of contemporary trench maps annotated by the men who used them, at the Tank Museum stimulated one of Martin’s continuing interests: the terrain fought over, the data available to the combatants and the impact of the landscape on the attempted action. The maps led to walking the ground and trying to make photographs to show a combatant’s-eye view of the terrain. This has proved to be much harder than he ever expected and the importance of such illustration in works of military history, while appreciated by his readers, commands less respect amongst reviewers and academics. Books on the Ypres salient and on the American fronts of the First World War followed, the latter drawing on previously unpublished material found in the World War I Survey archives in the US Army Military History Institute in Carlisle, PA. Maps from the Bodleian Library, Oxford, inform his work on the Boer War and on the planned invasion of England, Invasion! Operation Sealion 1940.

The same interests, terrain and personal memoirs, still dominate and have informed Martin’s work on the Boer War and on World War II, while the legacy of his legal training can be seen in his Encyclopedia of the Boer War (ABC-CLIO, 2000) and The Vital Guide to Battles of World War II (Airlife, 2002) and World War I (Airlife, 2004) all demanding ruthless boiling-down of information to make concise entries. He is now working on Somme 1914-18: Lessons in War, to be published by History Press in 2010. Martin lives in Northamptonshire, which explains his interest in the Battle of Naseby and the books published by Pen & Sword and by Osprey, as well as his work as an adviser to the BBC’s 2004 Battlefield Britain series coverage of Naseby and of Boudicca’s defeat by the Romans. He is a trustee of the Battlefields Trust, former Chairman and now Deputy Chairman of the Naseby Battlefield Project (www.naseby.com ) and a founder member of the Guild of Battlefield Guides, and an Honorary Visiting Fellow in the Centre for English Local History, University of Leicester.

Charles Fair

My interest in the Great War began in 1991 when I started to gather together my family’s archive of contemporary material. This consists of a large number of letters, dairies and photographs left by various male relatives (all of whom served in the BEF) and my grandmother. I am working on a long-term project to weave this mass of material into a coherent story.

Meanwhile, I am currently researching and writing a paper "The Social History of a Battalion - Recruiting, Reinforcement and Casualties in the 19th London Regiment 1914-18".

This is a case study of my grandfather’s regiment, the 19th Battalion London Regiment (St. Pancras), which raised an additional battalion for foreign service as well as a depot battalion. It is based on a detailed analysis of a database of men who served overseas with the 19th Londons. The data base draws on medal rolls, casualty lists etc and is supported by evidence drawn from first hand accounts. It starts by looking at the recruiting for the regiment and the formation of the 2/19th and 3/19th battalions in 1914-15, and setting this in the wider context of the expansion of the British Army.

It also looks at the social make-up of the 19th Londons and how this changed as a result of casualties and reinforcements. It concludes by showing how the very different experiences of the 1/19th and 2/19th battalions were reflected in the post-war activities of the Old Comrades Association.

I have been a member of the WFA since 1991. Time spent as a student in France allowed me to get to know much of the Western Front and sparked a strong interest in the French Army 1914-18. Travels since then have led me to Great War sites and memorials in other parts of the world, such as Canada, Japan and Australia. I have a strong interest in war memorials, particularly in the differences in commemoration between the UK and Australia.

My other main interest is in the tactical development of the BEF, a result of former service as an infantry officer in the TA.

Michael George 

Living on the south Kent coast, the gateway to the Kingdom, I am surrounded by evidence of past conflicts. The county has been on the frontline during wars and threats of invasion for over 2000 years. One thing led to another and, in 2004, I was fortunate to have my book, Coast of Conflict, published. Written with my son, Martin, who is now a PhD student in law at Birmingham University, the book spanned the period from the Napoleonic Wars to the end of WW1.

In Coast of Conflict, one chapter was devoted to the Great War. There are books covering almost every aspect of the Great War, but very few describing the home front and the key roles played by the towns and ports of Dover and Folkestone. Three years ago my wife, Christine, and I began our research. The result is our new book, Dover and Folkestone during the Great War, which was published by Pen & Sword in October 2008.

My background is in the law. Starting out in the police, I then qualified as a solicitor. For 18 years I have been a Crown Prosecutor. One day I might even turn my pen to writing a crime novel!

I am looking forward to learning more and meeting other Friends.

 www.coastofconflict.com

Peter Gower-Adams

I was born in Kingston-upon-Thames in 1944. Actually, I should have been born in Margate - to where I returned two years ago after an absence of some forty-six years - as my mother and the family had been evacuated as a result of Herr Hitler’s ambitions.

My interest in the First World War started about fifteen years ago, when I was attempting the family history, and discovered that Granddad (on my fathers side) had served with the Royal Artillery as a Battery Sergeant-Major on the Western Front, and had been sent home after being gassed. Then I discovered that my mother had an uncle who was drowned off Le Harve when the ship he was serving on as Chief Stoker, HMS P26, sank.  All this information ‘set me off’. I researched Granddad as best I could, and then turned to Great-Uncle. But I struggled. Then I ‘discovered’ The Western Front Association (and joined up), and this led to finding the real usefulness of the internet. Now I am researching my wife’s Great-uncle, who was killed during an attack on a small village (Vierstraat) on 4 September 1918 (Hampshire Yeomanry).

But I was hooked. My wife and I have made quite a few trips to the Western Front, have been to the areas where my grandfather was gassed, visited the CWGC site where my wife’s Great-Uncle is buried, been to Le Harve to where my Great-Uncle is buried along with the other bodies that were recovered after P26 sank. 

But to say I was hooked is not quite right. The more I visit the Cemeteries, British, Commonwealth, French, Belgium etc. the more I realize the depth of obligation we have today to those men and women who fought - and in too many cases died - for freedom. Not just theirs, but mine, my family’s - indeed, for all.

I also visit the German cemeteries, because I now understand that the average German soldier also believed that he was fighting for same reason.

And after attending the Last Post at Ypres many times, I have to confess that I still have a lump in my throat and a tear in my eye by the time the ceremony is over.

Stan Grosvenor

At age about 11 years, during particularly boring sermons, I would look up at a plaque in memory of the three Hawdon brothers died in the Great War, and idly wonder what they had done to deserve their own special memorial. I didn’t connect them at all with the two minutes silence on November 11, although I always observed it.

When I was 14 years old I was given a tatty poetry book by my cousin; it had been used as a cigarette card album.  It included a number of poems that I particularly liked.  One day, a year or so later, I picked it up again but before it could be opened, it was taken from me and thrown into the fire.  I was unhappy, but soon forgot and maybe the war poetry and the memorial influenced my decision to join the Green Howards detachment of the school CCF.

Over thirty years later, by chance I had to stop overnight in Péronne.  A waiter thought my map reading for the route home was an interest in battlefields and pointed out the location of nearby cemeteries.  I was so affected by the subsequent five minute visit to Dantzig Alley, that I determined to find out more about this Battle of the Somme, and the cemetery, when I returned home.  Thus I came across AH Farrar-Hockley’s ‘The Somme’ [an excellent book] and started to read the war poets, particularly Owen.  During this period I remembered the burned poetry book, but only the last line of a poem that ended “And far away the thudding of the guns”, and not the name of the author.  The poem was Sassoon’s ‘The Death Bed’.

Returning to Yorkshire from Lancashire in the 1980s, I discovered the Western Front Association, becoming a founder member of Cleveland branch and active first as Treasurer and editor of local newsletter ‘Roll Call’ and later also as Secretary and Acting Chairman.  In 2001 I became editor of the WFA Bulletin, distributed world wide, relinquishing this post in 2006.

I can thus claim to have had an interest in the Great War for about 60 years.  In the recent past I have enjoyed helping others to research their relatives killed in action and this year, through his medal index card, discovered that Grouser Bone, my maternal Grandfather, was entitled to the 1914/15 Star also.  I am proud to wear his three medals when I read the Roll of Honour at the war memorial in Ormesby churchyard each Remembrance Sunday.

I am currently contributing to the Great War section of the Green Howards’ website - www.greenhowards.org.uk  through photographing memorials that include Yorkshire Regiment names.

Giles Guthrie

I will try to keep this short as my family and friends tell me that I have a tendency to go on a bit when I talk about the Great War!

I currently work as a curator at Maidstone Museum in Kent where I can be found in the Human History department, which is made up of archaeology, ethnography and local history.  (I also curate a very nice carriage collection!)  I appreciate that I am very lucky to have a job that allows me to pursue my many historical interests and I thoroughly enjoy working with the museum collections.  However, my historical passion has always been and will always remain the Great War.

This passion started at a very young age when my grandmother, Stella, showed me her collection of letters, photographs and postcards that were sent to her from the western front by her father Frank Williams.  (Frank served with the North Staffordshire Regiment and was listed as missing on 25 March 1918.)

These wonderfully detailed and personal letters of an ordinary soldier to his family led me, again from a very early age, to my main area of interest, which is the experience and attitudes of the ordinary soldier, particularly on the Western Front.  I find almost all aspects of First World War history fascinating, but I am continually drawn back to the personal experiences of ordinary people.

I am delighted that I am able to offer a little support to The Centre for First World War Studies by becoming a Friend and I look forward to meeting Members, Friends and fellow enthusiasts at future seminars and events. 

James Hamilton

I’m a theatre nurse, with an academic background in the social sciences, based at University Hospital, Birmingham, now host to the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine. Although I’ve read and enjoyed history all my life. I’ve only really begun to develop my interest in the Great War in the last two or three years, and I’m working hard to make up for lost time! It’s an interest that has lain dormant since my school days when the long list of names on the school war memorial provoked my initial curiosity, a curiosity I indulged by managing to read twenty Biggles books in one term.

My current areas of interest are the 24th Division and the Battle of Loos, particularly the 8th Battalion, QORWK, and the development in medical services on the western and home fronts.

Rob Hatch

I have been a Great War enthusiast since I was a young boy, brought up on the stories of my Great Grandfather who served in the 1st Battalion Cheshire Regiment at Second Ypres and on the Somme. My interest led me into teaching and the collection of artifacts and visual sources that clearly demonstrates the ‘learning curve’ of the BEF in the Great War. I am a regular visitor to the Battlefields of the Western Front and conduct school visits. I am also a regular contributor to Emma Gee, the magazine of the Machine Gun Corps Old Comrades Association. I have also been a member of the WFA since 1988 and lecture on the development of uniforms and equipment in the Great War.

Valerie Hawgood

I live at Formby, in Lancashire, where we have a good community spirit and many societies. After my early retirement as a School Secretary in 1990 I joined the local branch of the U3A (University of the Third Age) and several groups, including Local History, Italian Art and water colour painting.  I became particularly interested in the First World War after discovering the letters of my uncle when my mother died. I edited them and published them under the title War Letters of Bernard Long.

Bernard Long graduated from the University of Birmingham in 1915 and was killed at Langemarck in August 1917 while serving with 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment.  His name is on the University of Birmingham War Memorial.  I have been on two visits to the Battlefields of France and Flanders. I enjoy reading and still keep up my interest in history. I have also travelled a great deal in the last few years.

Dr Paul Jackson

I have always had an interest in history of all kinds, but being brought up within walking distance of Hadrian’s Wall influenced me to read a lot of military history. Since my youth wandering along the wall thinking about what on earth an Armenian auxiliary would have made of the spectacular but somewhat bleak scenery, I have developed an interest in warfare and conflict in the broader sense.

Currently, I work as a lecturer at the University of Birmingham in the International Development Department, where, amongst other things, I teach and research conflict in the developing world. This is reinforced by my status as a Visiting Lecturer in War Studies in the University, where my main function would appear to be depressing everyone on the course. The subjects I cover here, mirror my research interests of the drugs and arms trades, warlords, conflict in Sub-Saharan Africa, bush wars, insurgencies and counter-insurgencies, the military-industrial complex, peacekeeping in Africa and Private Military Companies - all cheery stuff! In this field I am currently finishing a book on warlords in Africa, guaranteed to give everyone nightmares, but also drawing on my historical interests in pre-colonial and colonial African history.

This is all enhanced by the fact that my department is self-financing and earns its own money by designing, evaluating and running overseas aid programmes for organisations such as the UN, World Bank, etc. This means that I spend around 2-3 months each year trolling around Africa and, latterly the Caucasus and South East Europe. Perhaps unsurprisingly I am well known amongst my colleagues for dragging them to see castles, battlefields and military museums. I count myself fortunate to be able to visit some of the most interesting and most obscure sites in the world, most of which are well off the beaten path.

Historically, I have a wide range of interests and I write on a number of subjects for magazines, journals, etc. These include many of the historical examples of warlordism, including the Border reiving families of my own area. Incidentally, my family were originally from Simonburn in Northumberland and the family name was ‘Herdman’. No prizes for guessing who the victims were, then.

I also have an abiding interest in the English Civil War and the Russo-Turkish struggle. The latter has been spurred on by travelling around Armenia, Romania, Georgia and the Ukraine in the last 3 or 4 years.

So what about the First World War? Well, needless to say much of my interest is in the more obscure bits of it, particularly in Africa, but also in the Caucasus, but I also go along with John Bourne’s premise that the First World War in many ways continued until 1939 and so I would include my general interest in insurgency and counter-insurgency in there somewhere. In short, I would say that my interest is very broad, the best evidence for this being the fact that I manage to ask a question at every single one of the War and Society Seminars, whatever the subject and usually prefaced by ‘I don’t know anything about this, but...!

Vic John

I became interested in the Great War at an early age; we lived with my grandparents until I was five years old, my Grandfather had served in the Glamorgan RGA TF before the war but enlisted as an infantryman in K3 and served in France (briefly) and Salonika with 7th South Wales Borderers.  This explains my interests in artillery and the Salonika campaign.  Service in the TA as a rifleman and machine-gunner then as part of the battalion’s intelligence section honed my other interests in tactics and the order-of-battle.  Finally, the Birmingham MA in British First World War Studies helped to put everything into perspective.  I’ve currently got a growing interest in the French Army.

I’ve always worked in the chemical industry, as a lab technician straight from school and then after obtaining an institutional degree by day release as a polymer chemist.  After retiring from full-time work I now consult for my last company. I have been a member of the Western Front Association since 1986 and secretary, vice-chairman and then chairman of the South Wales branch before reverting to the ranks again.  I’m also the secretary of the Salonika Campaign Society. 

Kathy Johnson

I first developed an interest in World War One Studies whilst teaching the War Poetry for GCSE and A level a few years ago.  I found it fascinating.  I also marked the exam scripts for AQA.  I became even more interested after visiting the graves at Ypres and the surrounding area.  I love the poetry and I believe it should remain on the GCSE and A level syllabus to inform and educate young people, so the lives of those who fought or died in this war are not forgotten. My grandfather served at Ypres in the Yorkshire Regiment and fortunately for him, he was shot in the stomach after only a few weeks and so was sent home.  My interest was further renewed when I read Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks.  I enjoyed it so much that I read it a number of times.  I live in Edgbaston and when I discovered the existence of the Centre for World War studies I was only too pleased to become a friend.

Malcolm Johnson

I retired from teaching in1990 and set out to find what had really happened to an uncle killed while serving with the 6th (Service) Battalion, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) on 15 September 1916. Somewhat predictably, I wrote a book about the part played by that battalion in WWI and Doncaster Museum Services kindly published Unceasing War in 2000; Doncaster Museum also houses the Regimental Museum of the KOYLI. This led to my concentrating exclusively on the KOYLI and its history. The Regimental Secretary asked me to compile a Photographic History of the KOYLI 1857-1968 for the Images of England Series published by Tempus, and this was followed by my writing Saturday Soldiers, a history of the four KOYLI Territorial battalions 1908-1919, which was published by the museum in 2004. The Regiment’s history, 1755-1945, was contained in six volumes, but the final period had yet to be written and I was asked to write Volume VII 1945-1968.

Writing about events in the distant past, and commenting on the actions of long dead heroes can be a daunting task, but writing about more recent events, when most of the main characters are still alive – and many of them Yorkshire men, too – promised to be a severe challenge. I did, however, survive, and the book Yield to None (Regimental motto Cede Nullis) was published in September of 2005. Future projects include condensing the Regimental history 1755-1968 into one, hopefully readable, volume.

As an untrained amateur, I have always tried to avoid becoming what a late friend of mine (a real historian) used to call ‘a one war historian’. Although I was too young to engage in meaningful conversation with the my three uncles who survived The Great War (two did not return), I was and still am, and I suspect always will be, fascinated by what they – ordinary young men from Yorkshire – experienced during the period 1914 to 1918.

Murray Johnson

My interest in military history started many years ago as a small schoolboy.  Sparked into life following a visit to my local cinema to see a film with Laurence Olivier as Admiral Viscount Nelson.  There could not have been many boys my age with nelson as a role model!

My father, Harry Johnson, served through World War One in the RAMC.  At home the war was not spoken of.  Only much later did we learn that he had spent most of the war in Blackpool.  However, one of my uncles, Sydney Jackson, had served in the KSLI through the war only to arrive in France from Singapore during 1917.  In these remaining months he was awarded the Military Medal for bravery in the field, wounded, gassed in 1918, invalided home and died of influenza during the great pandemic later in the year.  This concentrated my interest on the Western Front.

I have visited most of the battle sites of the Western Front, including also Verdun and the little visited front lines in Alsace.  Over many years I have attended lectures and day schools on World War One and other British campaigns.  I am a founder member of the Sutton Coldfield Branch of the Western Front Association.

I served two years from 1948 to 1950 in the Parachute regiment.  My career was set in metallurgy.  My other interests include running, cycling and hill walking.

Tim Lannon

Apart from my long time general interest in the Great War, I would like to discover more about my own family's involvement. I know my father went to war in 1917 at the age of 17, having been in the 8th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment (Territorials) as a bandsboy since the age of six. (Family legend says he was the smallest member of the British Army.) My grandfather was Bandsmaster. Although my father enlisted in the Warwicks his war medals show him in the Hampshires. I recall him mentioning Menin Road and Italy. He also claimed that he was involved in accidentally setting fire to a troop train. (Peter Caddick-Adams has confirmed that the event happened).

Roy Larkin

My interest in the Great War is based almost entirely on Motor Transport and leads on from a long held interest in road transport history in general. An article on the Subsidy Schemes was discussed and then commissioned by the editor of Vintage Roadscene and the research began. That was years ago and has been continuing ever since with several articles published.

Initial research soon spread into the war years and how the motor lorry was used in day-to-day operation and it wasn't long before more questions were being posed than answered.

The Great War was the first where the motor lorry had been used in any number. How did the military come to terms with it? How did the motor lorry come to terms with the military? How does any organisation cope with expanding from less than 150 owned lorries in 1914 to owning over 65,000 just 4 years later? Especially with very little previous experience to relate back to. How did the makers cope with such expansion in what was still the earliest days of motor manufacture? What affect did the Subsidy Schemes have on the early development of the lorry and what of the huge affect war surplus vehicles and men had on the road transport industry immediately post war? Did the use of mechanised transport lengthen or shorten the war? Could the battles at the Somme, in Flanders and particularly Verdun have lasted so long without the ability that mechanisation provided to replenish huge tonnages of supplies and men? How was day-to-day management affected by differences in military and civilian mindsets or agendas?

Just some of the questions that have arisen without definitive answers as yet, despite an increasingly bulging filing cabinet and sagging bookshelves.

My interest is very much the everyday life during the war years rather than particular battle histories.

I feel it would be totally remiss not to acknowledge the help and enthusiasm given by both Andy and Gareth at the Royal Logistics Corps Museum. It is entirely due to their enthusiasm that I now work as a volunteer at the museum.

Peter Lavis

My father was fifty-eight years old when I was born in 1948. I was twenty-one when he died in 1969.

In those intervening years he said nothing of his service during the Great War, a reticence shared by so many of his generation.  Would I have been interested even if the subject had been raised? I somehow doubt it, but now regret missing the opportunity to hear at first hand whatever stories I may have been able to elicit from him.

My mother, twenty-eight years younger than my father, passed away eleven years ago. It was only then, whilst sorting through family papers, that I found his medals and other assorted paraphernalia from the First World War. I have been enthralled by the subject ever since.

Father was a cavalryman, joining the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers in 1912. At the outbreak of war he was amongst those first soldiers of the BEF to embark for France, sailing from Dublin on 15 August. He served for the duration of the hostilities, his only injuries coming when his horse, shot from under him, rolled, breaking several of his ribs.

My burgeoning interest took me down many of the usual avenues. Visits to the Regimental Museum, at the time ensconced in Belvoir Castle, and then abroad with Maggie, my wife, to see the battlefields and cemeteries of Mons, Ypres, the Somme and Verdun.

But then, sixteen months ago, fate took me down a different path.

A television programme featuring the Lost Gardens of Heligan briefly touched on their gardeners who died in the Great War. I live quite close to Heligan and sent a letter asking if any research had been carried out into the circumstances surrounding their deaths. By coincidence, Candy Smit, the garden’s Creative Director, was in the embryonic phase of writing a general Heligan history. My offer to build on existing research relating to the gardeners was accepted and the booklet Heligan History - Lost Gardens, Lost Gardeners has now been published.

The whole exercise culminated in a very moving tribute on the evening of 8 November 2008, when a hundred invited guests remembered both the 90th Anniversary of the Armistice and the ten gardeners whose history has been traced so far. Eight of those ten served King and Country, six did not return. The search for others goes on.

There is no sign of my obsession diminishing. Maggie is standing, looking over my shoulder as I type this account. It will not be long before there is a knowing smile, a pat on the head and a quiet reminder that dinner has been on the table for the last ten minutes!

Obsessions can be like that - can’t they?

John Lethbridge

I studied at Saltley Grammar and at St David’s College, Lampeter, and have an upper second class honours history degree.  A former local government officer I took early retirement for health reasons and research and write as a hobby.  My main interests include the First World War.  I self-published three books about Birmingham’s role in it, of which More about Birmingham in the First World War is still in print.  It can be obtained for £4.95, post and packing inclusive, from me (tel. no. 0121 783 0548).

I have written many articles about the First World War for Stand To! The Journal of the Western Front Association; and other journals.  My most recent major published article was a study of General Maude who led the force that captured Baghdad in March 1917.  It appeared in the January 2009 Stand To!  My other articles have looked at other Generals, crime in the First Word War, Birmingham life during it, and when Armistice Day became Remembrance Sunday.

Bill MacCormick

In the early 1990s I started to visit the battlefield sites on the Somme on the way back from holidays in France. Two things changed my visits from being just ignorant wanderings around empty French fields: buying Martin Middlebrook’s The First Day on the Somme and discovering my grandfather’s pencil written diary from the autumn of 1915 to May 1916.

Middlebrook’s book changed my vague interests into an obsession with the Battle of the Somme. My grandfather’s diary forced me to start visiting the Public Record Office, as it was then, to find out more about his life and his war. He was a pre-war Territorial with the 1/20th London Regiment (Blackheath and Woolwich), fighting at Loos. He was then commissioned into the 1/4th London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) to replace casualties caused on 1st July 1916 at Gommecourt. He won the MC at Leuze Wood and, ten days later, nearly died at Bouleaux Wood. The later discovery that a distant relative, Rfn Charles Tompson of the Queen Victoria’s Rifles (and my mother’s cousin), had died on the first day of the Somme attacking Gommecourt persuaded me to investigate further this rather ignored part of the opening attack.

In 1997 I was forced to retire through ill health. To keep the brain vaguely ticking over I started to visit Kew and, over the years, I built up an increasingly large body of research on the 56th Division’s attack on Gommecourt. It merged into an incomplete narrative of events in May-July 1916. Eventually, in the autumn of last year, I had a computer file of 260,000 words and a lot of maps.

I approached some publishers with a proposal. The answers were: No reply at all, ‘Thanks but no thanks’, ‘Yes, but it’s too long and not until 2007’ and then, staggeringly, ‘yes, go sort out the photographs, we’ll have it out for July 2006’. That was just before Christmas. A week into the New Year they changed their minds. No matter, I did it myself and the book emerged last month. The result is ‘Pro Patria Mori - the 56th (1st London) Division at Gommecourt, 1st July 1916’ and a web site: www.gommecourt.co.uk .

Over the years I have done a fair few things: a rock musician for ten years; in politics for twenty years helping elect a fair few MPs (and myself as a local councillor for twelve years); but nothing has made me feel more proud of an achievement than to see this book in print and see the names of the men who fought and died at Gommecourt recorded and their achievements recognised.

I have now started to research the ‘other half’ of the Gommecourt story and I hope this one will take less than seven years to complete. My intention is that ‘A Lack of Offensive Spirit? - the 46th (North Midland) Division at Gommecourt, 1st July 1916’ will see the light of day soon. Even more than the 56th Division, these men need their story told. The only division subject to a Court of Inquiry, the only division whose commander was summarily dismissed, their reputation was unfairly slandered and sullied by senior officers whose own performance should have been more closely scrutinised. I hope to do the officers and men who died that day outside Gommecourt some justice when their story is told.

Alasdair McIntosh

I spent my working life in engineering after leaving school in 1976 to take up an aircraft apprenticeship in the Royal Navy.  Over the years I have moved from shop floor management to staff management and – more recently – project management at my current employer, Perkins Engines.  This culminated in my receiving a Diploma in management Studies from Nottingham Trent University in 2000.  I have been a member of the WFA for over 10 years now, joining the committee as Commodities Officer in January 2003.  I was elected Commodities Trustee for the WFA in September 2003 and my wife and I share the duties.

My interest in the Great War really started with the death of my maternal grandfather in 1970, when my mother gave me his medals.  Unfortunately, I was too young to be aware of what he, and all my other relatives, went through.  This understanding has come after years of collecting medals and researching the people behind them and what they died for.

Jane McIntosh

I work as a Customer Services Manager for HSBC bank.  My interest in the Great War stems from my husband, Alasdair, and his hobby of collecting and researching medals.  I now help select which medals he purchases, mainly with a view to their research possibilities.  I have recently become Commodities Officer for the WFA, joining the WFA Committee last summer.  My other interests are astrology, astronomy, Egyptology and family history.

Barbara Meredith

I am American born and bred, have lived in this country for 46 years, and had no prior knowledge of or interest in World War One until I discovered long-forgotten letters and field message books belonging to my late father-in-law, carefully stored (long ago, by me ‘for safe keeping’) in an unlabeled box file.

The letters span his time with 7th Royal Scots in Gallipoli at the end of 1915 and all of 1916 and the early months of 1917 in Egypt, first as machine gun officer with the Royal Scots and then with 156 Brigade Machine Gun Company in the newly-formed Machine Gun Corps.  The letters stopped early in 1917, when I believe he went to Grantham and Clipstone as a trainer for the Machine Gun Corps.  The letters begin again from France in July 1918, where he reports events with the 50th Battalion Machine Gun Company, ‘getting the men into shape’ for the subsequent Battle of Amiens and then progress east, culminating, for him, with the Battle of the Selle, where he was awarded the Military Cross. (His further involvement in battle was curtailed by a bad tooth abscess.)

I began by transcribing the letters and three field message books (which span July to October 1918).  I have prepared a table of all the names mentioned in the field message books, which I have sent for inclusion in the database held by the Machine Gun Corps Old Comrades Association.

However, it was difficult to see the ‘story’ from just the rather low-key reporting in letters which he censored himself to his maiden aunts in Scotland (his parents having died when he was still very young).  Thus, I started to research some of the history, and am increasingly drawn into the detail of battles and strategy as a means of learning more about his experiences.

I have had the first article published about my late father in law in the First World War.  The reference is as follows:

Meredith, Barbara.  'Two Farms in October 1918: Lieutenant Philip R Meredith MC, 50th Bn MGC'  Stand To, Journal of the Western Front Association, 87, December 2009/January 2010, pp. 33-39

I am currently  working on an article about the last hundred days.  When I have mastered that, I plan to work backwards, to look at the time spent in Egypt and the advance across the desert in the latter half of 1917. 

I regard myself as a complete novice, and am bemused by this absorption with war, when I am a pacifist at heart.

Roger Payne

My name is Roger Payne.  I am a fifty year old Birmingham-born GP (Birmingham graduate, 1981) who has had a passionate interest in both World Wars ever since childhood. My father served in North Africa (including Tobruk) during the Second World War and my paternal grandfather was an Old Contemptible, serving in the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, including being at Gheluvelt. He was killed in action on 1 November 1916 in an attack made by the Worcesters on the meteorological trenches in the area of the Le Transloy ridge on the Somme. As far as I can ascertain the bar to his MM was awarded in the action that cost him his life. His name was (Sergeant) William Francis Brookes.

 Whilst I cannot claim to have written any books as have many of the friends, I have written articles for several magazines, including the Australian Lee Enfield rifle guru Ian Skennerton’s International Collector magazine, and the UK militaria collector’s magazine The Armourer. I have also been lucky enough to have been able to help several authors of books on the subject of the First and Second World War era military small arms, and have been mentioned in their acknowledgements. These include Ian Skennerton, Peter Laidler and Martin Pegler. My particular area of interest is in Lee Enfield rifles, with an emphasis on sniping equipment used by British & Dominion forces, though underpinning this is a deep interest in both World Wars (more so the Great War). I am a member of the Lee Enfield Rifle Association, The Lovat Society, and The Historical Breech-loading Smallarms Association. I have been a registered firearms dealer since 1980.

 I can recall from the time I bought the first edition of Rose Coombs’ Before Endeavours Fade in about 1976, that I passionately wanted to get ‘over there,’ to walk the battlefields of the Western Front, but it took me until the mid-1990’s to do so. Once I found out how easy the journey was I couldn’t help myself and I now grab as many long weekends as I can each year to get over, mainly to The Somme. In 2005 the inevitable happened & I persuaded my long-suffering wife to allow ‘us’ to buy a small derelict house suitable for renovation in the village of Martinpuich (just a kilometre away from High Wood). After lots of anxieties and considerably more money than we had originally envisaged spending, the project is now nearly finished, and the house habitable. At the risk of sounding maudlin I hope to retire in a few years and spend much of the year ‘over there’ with those fine young Tommies who now sleep forever under Portland stone (the exact amount of time being subject to negotiation with my wife!).

Tom Phelan

On Remembrance Sunday in 1999, my wife and I had just flown from Manchester to Dublin Airport. Each of us had a paper poppy pinned to our jackets. But shortly after we stepped off the plane, a woman stopped us and said, "We don't wear those here." 

During the preceding weeks we had visited the sad battlefields and cemeteries and monuments on the Somme and around Passchendaele, as I did research for The Canal Bridge, a novel about Ireland and World War I.  As November 11 approached, we moved on to England, where every town, village, city and hamlet has erected a memorial to their children lost in the war.

In Manchester Airport, as we neared our gate, a voice on the public address system announced that it was 11 a.m. The airport came to a standstill, and for two minutes everyone stood in silence. All over Great Britain the living were pausing to remember the men and women who lost their lives in war. 

Standing in the terminal, I thought of some of the old soldiers who had populated my childhood in Mountmellick, County Laois, Ireland--the postman with the wooden leg, the neighbor in shellshock, the laborer with the limp who had pulled his commanding officer out of no-man's-land.  It is said that during the Great War every house in our small town had a relative in the trenches; over 500 Mountmellick men joined up and 54 died. 

A few hours later my wife an I were in Ireland--a country that had sent a quarter of a million young men to Europe between 1914 and 1918, that had lost 35,000 on the battlefields, that had persuaded its youth, for various reasons, to enlist.  Yet, here we were in this Ireland being told, "We don't wear those here". 

I wrote The Canal Bridge to put a spotlight on the service of Irish men and women in the Great War, and to honor the men of Mountmellick and throughout Ireland who fought with honor, only to come home and find themselves pushed to the margins of society, shunned, and even murdered for what they had done, because the political Ireland they had left was no more.  I believe it is time for the Irish to demand that the guards at the gates of the pantheon of Irish heroes stand aside and admit their grandfathers and great-grandfathers who fought in the Great War. It is time for Ireland to wear the poppy on Remembrance Day. 

For information on THE CANAL BRIDGE, please go to www.tomphelan.net

To see "The President Will Now Place a Wreath on the Cenotaph" by Tom Phelan in the newsletter for the Great War Society, November 2006, please go to www.worldwar1.com/tripwire/smtw1106.htm

Vic Piuk

It was with great delight but some trepidation that I received the missive from John Bourne asking me to get things underway for the “Friends” page of our website. I note some illustrious names in Great War study circles amongst us and I wish that some of them might have been asked to go first - if only so I could have seen what they had written! But someone always has to be the first “over the top” and so here goes. I’ll keep the writing the way that reflects my personality - simple.

My name is Victor Piuk, Vic to my friends, of course, and I hope I am among friends here. I was born in Mansfield, Nottinghamshire in 1960. My father was born in what is now Slovenia - hence my surname. My mother was English. History was always my great love at school and it was here I made my first acquaintance with the period 1914-18. My father lived through the Second World War and would tell me tales of life in occupied Europe. My mother’s father served in that war with the RAF. His father died on the Somme. This must be fairly typical of many a family but something of their stories stirred me. I’ve always thought that people make history.

University - or Trent Poly as it was in those days - followed school and the Great War again featured in my studies. Then I became a journalist working in Bedfordshire before returning to my native Notts. Sympathetic editors allowed me to share my passion with readers. It also introduced me to many veterans, whose memories I recorded. I became aware of the Western Front Association and joined, eventually chairing the East Midlands branch. It was a chance to learn more and share the interest - something which has always been very important to me. Tours to the battlefields followed, some with veterans, and I was well and truly hooked. It changed my life and I wanted to be more involved.

 

So in 1999 my wife, Diane and I, left Blighty and moved to the Somme to set up a bed and breakfast and operate battlefield tours (Les Alouettes:www.lesalouettes.net).  It had been seven years in the planning and, thankfully, to date, all has gone well for us. We’ve welcomed guests from all over the world and the numbers of visitors to the battlefields seem to grow yearly. There have been no regrets. The only things I really miss are curry, real ale, bookshops and Mansfield Town Football Club. It’s sad, isn’t it? But once a year we cross the Channel to get a fix.

 

I consider it a privilege earning my living from the Great War. There is nothing finer than discussing it with people who want to learn. I warn guests and clients that they will get tired of talking about it before I do. We might not always agree, but the argument is part of the fun. And that is why the Centre of First World War Studies is so important. For too long the “myths” of the war have dominated the public perception. It is also a reflection that our subject is still a living and vital one. I tell everyone on my tours that if we are going to remember these men, and they obviously want to or they wouldn’t be out with me on the battlefields, that we owe them the justice of remembering them honestly. They deserve far better than clichés.

And what of the future? We hope to continue to welcome visitors to Les Alouettes. The name was chosen from the story I had heard many times from Somme veterans of how they had heard, and loved to hear, the skylarks singing between the barrages. In spring and summer their song still fills the sky here and it is always most evocative. I know I will never tire of standing in the fields, cemeteries or at memorials and explaining what it was all about. Or trying to find out myself what it was all about.

Michael Pugh

I was an electrical engineer, and when I retired in 1989 I became interested in family history. My father was in WW1 but my mother would never let him talk about it, but he did say he volunteered for the “suicide corps” because the pay was much higher. I managed to get his army number from the medal rolls and eventually from the MOD his service record, which indicated that after joining the Gloucester regiment as a volunteer he transferred to the machine gun corps as a transport driver (mules) in 1916. I managed to find the war diaries of his company at Kew and pieced together his service life. Many years ago I found out about the WW1 day schools and attended nearly all, avid to find out more but found deep thought about his experience rather harrowing – one of the few things I do remember him saying was that when the war ended there were only two others alive from the original members of his company. I have not studied the subject at an academic level as my main interest is Dipterology (study of flies).