Appeal launched to find remains of VC winner of Vimy Ridge

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Canadian machine gun teams at Vimy Ridge, 1917

The remains of a VC winner and those of more than 40 of his comrades may have been discovered close to the Canadian Memorial at Vimy Ridge in France.

The Battle of Vimy Ridge took place in April 1917 and witnessed Canadian troops take strategic heights in a series of bloody attacks they saw fierce hand-to-hand fighting.

Buried where they fell

Historian Norm Christie believes he has located the last resting place of a group of 44 Canadian soldiers who were buried close to where they fell in 1917.

Among them, he suggests, may be private William Johnstone Milne VC of Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan.

Milne was born in 1892 in Lanarkshire, Scotland before moving to Canada in 1910. A farm labourer, he joined the army in September 1915.

On 9 April 1917 he was serving with the 16th (The Canadian Scottish) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force during the Battle of Vimy Ridge.

His VC citation reads: ‘On approaching the first objective, private Milne observed an enemy machine gun firing on our advancing troops. Crawling on hands and knees, he succeeded in reaching the gun, killing the crew with bombs, and capturing the gun.

‘On the line re-forming, he again located a machine gun in the support line, and stalking this second gun as he had done the first, he succeeded in putting the crew out of action and capturing the gun. His wonderful bravery and resource on these two occasions undoubtedly saved the lives of many of his comrades. Private Milne was killed shortly after capturing the second gun.’

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Canadian troops and German prisoners, Vimy Ridge 1917

Secrets of crater CA40

Christie is convinced Milne and many of his comrades were hastily buried in shell craters close to where they fell. His researches suggest their remains may lie in a former crater known as CA40.

In the years following the First World War, the crater was supposed to have been dug up and the bodies exhumed, but this did not happen and the men’s names remain on the Memorial to the Missing at Vimy.

Christie has now set up a fundraising effort with a goal raising enough to explore the site and discover its secrets. To find out more about the project go to https://fundrazr.com/campaigns/4zeCb

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Canadian troops on the march near Vimy, 1917

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Restored Mémorial de Verdun to re-open

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A German soldier takes cover at Verdun, a dead French soldier lies to his left

The restored Mémorial de Verdun Museum will open its doors on 22 February; prior to the official centenary of the battle in May this year.

The renovated building, by Brochet Lajus Pueyo architects, has added 1,900sq m of space at a cost of €12.5m.

‘Mincing Machine’

Visitors will follow in the footsteps of a French soldier on his way to the front – the so-called ‘Mincing Machine’ that cost many thousands their lives.

It is unclear how many soldiers were killed at Verdun. Latest estimates suggest there were around 377,000 French casualties and around 337,000 German.

All the museum’s original founders had fought at Verdun. Their plan was to create a replica of the battlefield as the central exhibit. This has now been extended with an extensive audiovisual display.

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French troops, their faces etched with anxiety, in a trench at Verdun in 1916

Poignant objects

Also on show are the everyday objects that the ordinary soldiers carried into action – providing an evocative link with the men who found themselves caught up in a hellish situation so far removed from their normal lives.

In many cases, these unassuming items were all that remained of the men who went missing in the terrible, churned-up mud of the battlefield or were blown to pieces during its bombardments.

Curator Edith Desrousseaux de Medrano said: ‘A tour of the Memorial Museum leaves a lasting impression. Visitors are brought face to face with history, and with those who shaped it beneath the shells and in the mud of Verdun.’

The official ceremony marking the centenary of the Battle of Verdun is scheduled for 29 May 2016. For more on the commemoration go to www.verdun2016.org

For more about the Mémorial de Verdun, go to http://memorial-verdun.fr/

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A German infantry platoon prepares to march to the front at Verdun, 1917

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Lost German U-boat found in North Sea

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German sailors in the conning tower of a U-boat during the First World War

The wreck of a World War One German U-boat has been found in the North Sea. Windfarm developers discovered the submarine lying about 55 miles east of Caister-on-Sea in Norfolk.

Historians believe the wreck to be that of U-31, which went missing in January 1915. All 35 men on board died and, as an official military maritime grave, the wreck will remain where it lies.

Unexpected discovery

Scans of the seabed in the vicinity have uncovered more than 60 wrecks over a two-year period. While some of these were already known, the windfarm developers were not expecting to find a missing U-boat.

U-31 probably hit a mine while patrolling the North Sea and would have sunk in a matter of minutes. Of the 17,000 German sailors who served on board U-boats in the First World War, more than 5,100 lost their lives.

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British WW1 women appear on Serbian stamps

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Six British women who took on humanitarian roles in Serbia during the First World War are to be honoured on the Balkan country’s stamps.

Scots Evelina Haverfield, Dr Elsie Inglis, Dr Elizabeth Ross, Dr Katherine MacPhail and Dr Elmslie Hutton and Englishwoman Captain Flora Sandes were among a group of around 600 British women who travelled to Serbia to serve as doctors, nurses and drivers.

Heroic actions

Haverfield died in Serbia in 1919, having set up one of the country’s first orphanages.

Dr Inglis – one of the first female graduates at the University of Edinburgh – founded the Scottish Women’s Hospital project in Serbia, while Dr MacPhail opened the first paediatric ward in Belgrade in 1921.

Dr Ross, who had previously worked in Iran treating women in an Islamic harem, arrived in Serbia in January 1915. She immediately volunteered to work in a typhus hospital which was in a state of chaos with patients dying at an alarming rate.

Despite her colleagues pleading with her not to linger at the hospital, Dr Ross continued to treat patients while attempting to bring some order and hygiene to the place. However, three weeks after arriving in Serbia, she fell ill with typhus and died shortly afterwards.

Captain Sandes, the only British woman to bear arms in the First World War, served as an officer in the Serbian Army. Originally from Yorkshire, she remained in Belgrade after the war and also served during the Second World War.

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Vandals deface London war graves

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War graves in a London cemetery have been defaced by vandals using spray paint.

The graves – of Australian soldiers who died during the First World War – are in Harefield churchyard in the Hillingdon area. They are some of 120 First World War graves on the site, mostly commemorating soldiers who died at the Australian Auxiliary Hospital at nearby Harefield Park.

‘A disgrace’

Jane Palmer, a Conservative councillor for Hillingdon, said such a callous act of vandalism had brought tears to her eyes. One local resident, 67-year-old Albert Gordon, added: ‘I was shocked to see the graffiti. It’s some sort of blue squiggles or possibly writing, but either way it’s a disgrace. These men died to help Britain and this is how the country’s modern-day residents repay them.’

Local newspaper the Uxbridge Gazette reports this is the second case of vandalism directed at First World War graves this year. On the eve of the Gallipoli centenary, a memorial in the cemetery was sprayed with paint and an Australian flagpole was hacked into with an axe or cleaver.

The 1st Australian Auxiliary Hospital opened in June 1915. It contained around 1,000 beds and was used to treat soldiers who had been wounded in France and Belgium. The cemetery at Harefield contains unusual, scroll-shaped headstones – a design chosen by staff and patients at the hospital.

For more about the hospital, click here.

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Charity takes on Reading University to save First World War building

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The Victorian Society has launched a campaign to try to stop Reading University from knocking down St Patrick’s Hall – a building that was used by air cadets during the First World War.

Among those who lived there was William Earl Johns, creator of the Biggles books, who may have based the book Biggles Learns to Fly on the time he spent at St Patrick’s.

Poignant symbol

The university says the existing halls are obsolete and cannot fulfill the needs of 100s of today’s students. It added: ‘What was appropriate for air cadets in the First World War is inappropriate for students in the 21st Century, who rightfully expect high standards.’

The Victorian Society said the proposed redevelopment was ‘especially poignant’ as 2015 marks the centenary of the establishment of the No 1 School of Military Aeronautics in the university’s buildings. Royal Flying Corp planes were kept on the university playing fields nearby.

Biggles’ creator

Captain WE Johns served in the trenches before joining the RFC. He first brought Biggles to his readers in a story entitled The White Fokker in 1932. The character eventually featured in almost 100 books and remained popular for decades. In more recent times, Biggles – white, middle class and not averse to a bit of Edwardian-style language – has fallen victim to the rulings of political correctness.

To find out more about the Victorian Society’s campaign, click here.

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UK government unveils Battle of Jutland centenary plans

Jutland ships

Warships from Britain and Germany will lay wreaths in the North Sea to mark the commemoration of the centenary of the Battle of Jutland on 31 May 2016.

Fought off the Danish coast, the battle was one of a relatively few full-scale naval engagements to take place during the First World War.

It cost the lives of around 6,000 British sailors and almost 2,500 of their German counterparts.

Events across the UK

Other events for 2016 include a memorial service at St Magnus Cathedral in Kirkwall (Orkney) and commemorations at the Royal Navy Cemetery at Lyness, on the island of Hoy.

In Belfast, the light cruiser HMS Caroline, the last surviving Jutland warship, will open as a visitor attraction.

Speaking about the plans, UK Culture Secretary John Whittingdale said: ‘These commemorations will be an opportunity for the country to come together to honour those who lost their lives during the Battle of Jutland.

‘Behind the scenes of conflict there are also the contribution of Scotland and the people of Orkney who supported the war effort – we must remember their sacrifice too and ensure their stories are told for generations to come.’

Clash of Dreadnoughts

Admiral Sir George Zambellas, First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, added: ‘The First World War remains characterised by imagery of the trenches of the Western Front. Yet the sea was Britain’s lifeline and the supremacy of the Royal Navy was crucial to national survival.

‘Today, the strategic effects of navies are just as relevant across oceans and onto the land. So, the Royal Navy works in close partnership with navies around the world to keep the seas safe for trade and to uphold security, stability and the rule of law.

‘It is right, a century after Jutland – the largest and last clash between Dreadnoughts, that we join together to remember those lost from both sides.’

To read more about the restoration of HMS Caroline, click here.

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