WW1 vintage champagne sells for £5,600


A bottle of Pol Roger 1914 – Winston Churchill’s favourite vintage of his favourite wine – which has lain undisturbed in the cellars of the champagne house for 100 years, was sold at auction house Bonhams’ Fine Wine Sale in London on 24 October for £5,640.

The proceeds will be donated to the Imperial War Museum to support the refurbishment of its First World War Galleries.

Fine vintage

Pol Roger 1914 is regarded as one of the finest vintages of the 20th century, but the grape harvest that year nearly didn’t take place. The German offensive at the beginning of the war came through Épernay where the Pol Roger vineyards are sited.

On the evening of 4 September the commander of the French forces, General Joseph Joffre, issued the order: ‘The hour has come to advance whatever the cost and to die where we stand rather than retreat.’

The subsequent battle of the Marne established the front line about 10 miles north of Épernay. The adversaries dug in for the years of trench warfare and the grape harvest was saved.

Saving the harvest

All able bodied men in France under the age of 45 had been called up so the harvesting of the grapes was done by women, children and men who were too old or unfit to fight. There was no guarantee the Germans would not return and the harvesting was accompanied by the sound of constant gunfire in the distance.

In the words of Pol Roger’s head winemaker at the time, the wine was, ‘harvested to the sound of gunfire but [would] be drunk to the sound of trumpets.’

‘Special wine’

Some of the grapes were picked earlier than usual because the champagne house feared the Germans would renew their offensive. This made the wine acid to the taste when young, but as it matured the flavour blossomed and the initial acidity contributed to its unusual longevity.

Bonhams’ Head of Wine, Richard Harvey MW said: ‘I’m delighted that this very special wine made such a good price and that the proceeds are going to benefit such a worthwhile cause.’

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Queen and Duke of Edinburgh visit WW1 artwork at Tower


HM The Queen and HRH the Duke of Edinburgh have visited an art installation that marks the Centenary of the First World War.

The Royal pair toured the exhibit, featuring thousands of ceramic poppies, at the Tower of London.

A poppy for a casualty

The Queen laid a wreath at the Blood Swept Lands And Seas Of Red exhibit, where each poppy commemorates a fallen First World War serviceman.

By 11 November, Armistice Day, there will be 888,246 ceramic poppies, one for each British and colonial death.

More than 1,600 men enlisted at the Tower of London and it also served as a military depot and the execution spot for 11 German spies.

Poignant memorial

Artist Paul Cummins, who created the ceramic poppy field, said: ‘I approached the tower as the ideal setting as its strong military links seemed to resonate.

‘The installation is transient, I found this poignant and reflective of human life, like those who lost their lives during the First World War.

‘I wanted to find a fitting way to remember them.’

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French soldier’s bedroom preserved for almost 100 years


A First World War French dragoon officer’s bedroom has been preserved for almost 100 years exactly as he left it in 1918.

Second Lieutenant Hubert Rochereau lived with his parents in the village of Bélâbre in central France. When he was killed in 1918, they kept the room just as it was the day he left them after his last period of leave.

Eerily complete

Rochereau died on 26 April 1918 in Belgium after being wounded in fighting near the village of Loker. He was awarded a posthumous Legion of Honour for bravery and his name is on the war memorial in his home village.

According to a report in La Nouvelle République newspaper, the young man’s room is eerily complete. His blue jacket still sits on a stand. His books rest in piles on the mantelpiece and his bed is still covered by the same lace spread as it was nearly a century ago.

Kept unchanged for 500 years

When the Rochereaus sold their home in 1935, they made the new owners sign a clause stating that the bedroom where their son was born in 1896 could not be changed for 500 years.

On the desk is a vial with a label saying it contains ‘the earth of Flanders in which our dear child fell and which has kept his remains for four years’.

The current owner of the house in the village in central France, Daniel Fabre, said the clause on maintaining the bedroom has no legal value but that he intends to honour it. Mr Fabre, a retired civil servant, and his wife inherited the large family home from her grandparents.

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Lawrence of Arabia map for sale at Sotheby’s


A map drawn by First World War desert commander TE Lawrence will go on sale at Sotheby’s in London on 4 November 2014.

The hand-drawn map shows an area of Saudi Arabia that Lawrence and his men crossed in May 1917 as they approached the Red Sea port of Aqaba.

Recently on show

The map was recently shown in major exhibitions at the Imperial War Museum in London and at the Australian War Memorial Canberra. It is estimated to reach £70,000-100,000 at Sotheby’s London auction of Travel, Atlases, Maps and Natural History.

On 9 May 1917, Lawrence and the Arab armies set out from the Red Sea port of al Wejh to capture Aqaba. They reached the Hejaz railway on 19 May and continued across the desert towards Wadi Sirhan – the route that’s recorded in this map. The journey was particularly gruelling and Lawrence recorded it in his notebooks, now in the collection of the British Library, and later in his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

‘Only drawn copy’

Lawrence was well aware that his travels towards Aqaba had cartographical significance. Having met the explorer and cartographer Douglas Carruthers in the latter stages of the war, Lawrence created this map for him sometime between 1918 and 1922.

Using his notebooks, he plotted the map on a single sheet of tracing paper, signing it and annotating it with the words: ‘This is the only drawn copy so please do not lose it prematurely.’

In 1962, Carruthers donated the map to the Royal Society of Asian Affairs, in whose collection it has remained until now.

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Coldstream Guards VC winner remembered


A soldier who won the Victoria Cross (VC) in the First World War has been remembered at a special service in his native Northumberland.

Guardsman Frederick William Dobson of the Coldstream Guards risked his own life in a bid to rescue two wounded comrades in France in 1914. This involved crossing a large expanse of open ground under fire and then returning with a stretcher and two other soldiers to help him carry it.

He was unable to save private Albert Haldeby, who had died of his wounds, but managed to bring in private Butler who had been wounded in three places.

A memorial stone was unveiled during the service at St Mary’s Church in Mr Dobson’s home village of Ovingham.

The 27-year-old soldier won his VC Chavonne in France on 28 September 1914. He was later promoted to lance-corporal and died in 1935.

His Victoria Cross is on show at the Colstream Guards HQ at Wellingon Barracks in London.

During the First World War, 628 Victoria Crosses were awarded – 454 to UK-born recipients and 173 to servicemen born overseas.

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Missing First World War soldiers to be reburied in France


Some 15 British First World War casualties are to be reburied at the Y Farm Cemetery at a ceremony in France on 22 October, 100 years after they were killed during an offensive close to the border with Belgium.

The soldiers were serving with the 2nd Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, when they were killed during an attack.

Some 835 men who died in the First World War are currently buried or commemorated at the Y Farm Cemetery, named after nearby Wye Farm in the village of Bois Grenier.

The 15 men have, up until now, been commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial near Ypres, Belgium. Now, with the use of DNA, 11 of the men have been identified by the UK’s Ministry of Defence.

The ceremony begins at 11.30am on 22 October and is open to the public.

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Memorial to Royal Leicestershire Regiment at National Arboretum

Capbadge R Leics gold

A memorial to the Royal Leicestershire Regiment will be dedicated at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire on Saturday 27 September 2014 – the 326th anniversary of the founding of the Regiment.

India service

The Regiment was conferred with the title ‘Royal’ by King George VI in 1946 in recognition of its services during World War II, where it was represented by a battalion in every theatre: an almost unique distinction.

The regiment takes its nickname – ‘The Tigers’ – from its badge, which incorporates a Royal Tiger and the inscription ‘Hindoostan’. King George IV awarded the badge to the regiment in 1825 in recognition of its service in India.

The Royal Leicestershire Regiment was awarded 73 battle honours ranging from the battle of Namur in 1695 to the campaign in Korea in 1952.

VC winners

Four members of the regiment won the Victoria Cross. Among them was lieutenant-colonel Philip Bent of 9th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment, who won the medal near Ypres on 1 October 1917.

His VC citation read: ‘For most conspicuous bravery, when during a heavy hostile attack, the right of his own command and the battalion on his right were forced back. The situation was critical owing to the confusion caused by the attack and the intense artillery fire.

‘Lieutenant-colonel Bent personally collected a platoon that was in reserve, and together with men from other companies and various regimental details, he organised and led forward to the counter attack, after issuing orders to other officers as to the further defence of the line.

‘The counter attack was successful and the enemy were checked. The coolness and magnificent example shown to all ranks by Lieutenant Colonel Bent resulted in the securing of a portion of the line which was of essential importance for subsequent operations. This very gallant officer was killed whilst leading a charge which he inspired with the call of “Come on the Tigers”.’

The memorial will comprise a large Irish blue limestone plinth topped by a tiger.

To find out more about the Leicestershire Regiment, click here.

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