South Wales Borderers head ‘up the line’, 1916

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Troops of the 2nd Battalion, South Wales Borderers wait in the rain on their way to the front-line trenches near Montauban in October 1916.

It’s a picture that’s worth 1,000 words. The men are laden down with kit: greatcoats, blankets, ammunition. They lean forward to counteract the weight of equipment. The hems of their coats are splattered with mud.

Most of them do not smile at the camera. Even those that do seem to have a certain wariness in their expressions.

Off to the right, at the top of a road, one man carries a brush, as if he’s sweeping mud off the wet road. Behind him is a tractor or traction engine and, beyond that, a muddle of motorised and horse-drawn transport.

Off to the left, amid what could be shell-holes, are two casual observers, one in a cap and greatcoat, one in a tunic and helmet. Judging by their lack of equipment and laid-back demeanour, they’re not part of the column and aren’t about to head up to the front line.

Perhaps they, like the sweeper and the tractor driver, are tasked with working on the road or are related to the trucks and wagons in the distance.

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British prisoners of war, April 1918

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Their faces showing a range of expressions, a group of British prisoners of war look into the lens of a German photographer in April 1918.

The men were captured during the Spring Offensive that began in March 1918 and are about to be sent to prisoner of war camps in Germany.

They display an interesting mix of clothing, including a few greatcoats and leather jerkins and numerous knitted caps amid the helmets. A least one soldier wears the bonnet of Scottish regiment.

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Missing Irish infantryman to be buried as ‘unknown soldier’

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An Irish-born infantryman, killed in 1914, will be buried as an unknown soldier, after attempts to trace his relatives failed.

Researchers believe they have found the remains of private James Rowan of 2nd Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers, who was originally from County Longford.

However, an ‘exhaustive search’ to trace living relatives has so far failed.

Lack of evidence

Lynne Gammond of the Army’s headquarters at Andover, Wiltshire, said: ‘It is very sad actually. There was a huge response but we just couldn’t make the link.

‘We have DNA from the remains, so if anyone can prove a positive link in future then we can still carry out the tests.’

Private Rowan’s suspected remains were among six sets found close to a railway siding near the Belgian village of Comines-Warneton five years ago.

He was killed nearby on 20 October 1914 and his name currently appears on the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing.

Unknown soldiers

The MoD is planning a re-interment and a memorial service for the currently unknown soldier. It will take place on 16 April at the Prowse Point Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery in Belgium.

The suspected private Rowan will be buried next to his five former comrades, who were also designated unknown soldiers after attempts failed positively to identify them.

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WW1 exhibition at University of Leicester

Leicestershire Regiment troops at the Battle of Cambrai, 1917

The University of Leicester is showcasing a selection of items from its First World War collection as part of its commemorations of the Anniversary of the First World War.

University archivist Caroline Sampson said: ‘This exhibition draws on material from our special collections to commemorate the enduring legacy of the war to Leicester and to showcase contemporary artistic and photographic imagery of the world at war.

Wartime insight

‘The exhibition in the David Wilson library is an attempt to give people an insight into a worldwide event seen through a Leicester and Leicester university perspective.’

‘The exhibition will feature a number of iconic and thought-provoking images both of battles scenes and representations of the impact of war beyond the front line.

‘Of particular note is the monthly German publication, Kriegszeit, which showcases images in the expressionist tradition which provoke an emotional response to different aspects of wartime Europe.’

The exhibition runs until 27 April, www.le.ac.uk

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English town axes idea of streets named after WW1 soldiers

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No street: Sergeant major Brooks VC

An English town council has rejected a proposal to name new streets after local men who were decorated for bravery in the First World War.

Milton Keynes, in Buckinghamshire, is due to expand by at least 3,000 houses over the next 10 years, causing a need for new streets – all of which will require names.

Too difficult

The council is of the opinion, however, that it will be too difficult to carry out background checks on individual soldiers – to find out, for example, if they had criminal records before or after the war.

It also suggested the choice of choosing which street to name after which man or woman would be too difficult and that it wasn’t policy to name streets after anyone who hadn’t been dead for more than 100 years and who wasn’t a globally recognized figure.

Local people point out, however that their town already has Hendrix Drive and Marley Grove – named after ground-breaking musicians Jimmy Hendrix and Bob Marley. It also has Boycott Avenue and Shackleton Place, named after cricketers Geoffrey Boycott and Derek Shackleton.

Victoria Cross

One of those who is believed to have been proposed for recognition via a street name was sergeant major Edward Brooks VC of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, who was born close to what is now Milton Keynes in 1883.

He was awarded the Victoria Cross for an action in April 1917 when he captured a German machine gun that had been causing heavy casualties among his unit.

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Snipers shot British soldiers on Christmas Day 1914

Private Huggins (left) and his temporary grave, following his death on Christmas Day 1914

The Centenary of the Christmas Truce of 1914 is receiving much media coverage, but it was not universally observed.

At one point of the British front line, near the French village of Festubert, there was no fraternising and the war progressed just as it had in the previous weeks.

Christmas morning 1914

Private Percy Huggins, a 23-year-old soldier in 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment, had spent Christmas morning on sentry duty at a forward listening post just 20 yards from the enemy. Briefly taking a moment to peer over the top of the trench to check on enemy movements he was shot through the head by a sniper and killed.

His platoon sergeant, 36-year-old Tom Gregory, asked for permission to take Huggins’ place in a bid to avenge his comrade’s death. This he duly did, shooting the German sniper when he rose up to scan for another shot.

Gregory then located a second sniper and was just about to take a shot when his intended quarry opened fire and instantly killed the Briton.

The two men’s fate has been uncovered by the Herts at War project, an exhibition to mark the Centenary of the First World War.

Project researcher Dan Hill said: ‘Less than a mile to the north of [the shootings], we know the men of the 1st North Staffordshire Regiment took part in a truce and one also seems to have taken place to the south as well.

‘The truce probably bypassed the Hertfordshire Regiment because they were with the Guards Brigade who were incredibly professional and were highly unlikely to have fraternised.

‘The story Percy and Tom’s tragic demise on that day serves to highlight that December 25, 1914, was just another day on the Western Front for some.

Seven children left fatherless

Sergeant Gregory was a veteran of the Boer War, who had been working as a postman in Watford before rejoining the army in 1914.

He and his wife Jeanette had seven children; the youngest of whom, Lille, was born on December 18 1914, a week before her father’s death.

Private Huggins, from Ware, had worked in his family’s upholstery business before he joined the army.

In his last letter to his mother, Agnes, who was a widow bringing up seven children, he wrote: ‘I know you all must miss me and no doubt can to some extent realise what my feelings are for I cannot express them.

‘I long for the day when this terrible conflict will be ended. You consider war a terrible thing but imagination cannot reach far enough for the horrors of warfare that can be seen on the battlefield are indescribable and I pray this may be the last war that will ever be.

‘I have already asked [God], dear mum, that you will spend as happy a Xmas as possible and I will do the same.’

One soldier who was nearby, Corporal Clifford Lane, also of the Hertfordshire regiment, later recalled how at dawn on Christmas morning the Germans lifted lanterns above the trenches and called out to the British in the hope of a temporary truce.

The British responded by shooting at the lights, putting an end to any prospect of a ceasefire and effectively sealing the fate of Huggins and Gregory.

Witness to history

Speaking in an interview in 1983, Corporal Lane said: ‘There was a great deal of commotion going on in the German front line 150 yards away. After a few moments there were lighted objects raised above the German parapet, looking like Chinese lanterns to us.

‘The Germans were shouting over to our trench. We were ordered to open rapid fire, which we did.

‘The Germans did not reply to our fire and carried on with their celebrations. They ignored us and were having a very fine time indeed and we continued in our wet trenches trying to make the most of it.

‘They did make overtures but the Guards Brigade had the highest discipline in the army and you couldn’t expect them to fraternise at all and that is why we were ordered to open fire.

‘Apparently regular troops did respond to their overtures and engaged in this truce.

‘I greatly regretted it afterwards because it would have been a good experience.’

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Peace Collective releases Christmas Truce single ‘All Together Now’

Well-known musicians have joined forces with young footballers from the UK and Germany to create a single that recalls the Christmas Truce of 1914.

The song – a version of All Together Now by The Farm – is sung by the Peace Collective and features youngsters from Premier League and Bundesliga Clubs who appear in its video wearing their football shirts.

The song was originally written to tell the tale of the 1914 Christmas Truce, when British and German troops laid down their arms and may have played football in no man’s land.

Proceeds to charity

Among the artists appearing on the record are: Alexandra Burke, Gorgon City, Gabrielle, The Proclaimers, Engelbert Humperdinck and members of The Farm themselves.

All profits from the release will go to the British Red Cross and the Shorncliffe Trust.

Peter Hooton, lead singer of The Farm, said on Facebook: ‘It [the Christmas Truce] is a story of hope and peace which should be told over and over again.

‘I’m so very proud that so many artistes from all styles of music and the football authorities have come together to promote peace and reconciliation this Christmas and raise funds for the brilliant work carried out by the British Red Cross and Shorncliffe Trust.’

To hear the song, click here.

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