Welsh castle reveals WW1 secrets


Troops undergo training in trench warfare techniques, 1915 (IWM)

A range of artefacts from the First World War have been unearthed during a development project at Bodelwyddan Castle in north Wales.

Among the items unearthed are wooden duck-boards, .303 rifle cartridges and a uniform button which appears to be from a Canadian unit.

Practice trenches

The castle itself was used as a hospital during the First World War, but the grounds became a trench warfare training area for troops from the nearby Kinmel Camp.

Richard Cooke, senior archaeologist at Aeon Archaeology, told the Rhyl Journal: “This is the first time these World War I practice trenches have been investigated so extensively and they have given us an exciting window into this most fascinating part of our past.

“The work has shown that, despite ploughing, the bases of the trenches survive well and that they were not being excavated to full depth, but rather would have been reinforced with the addition of sandbags and upcast soil.”

Mr Cooke added: “Other finds include the butt of a flare cartridge showing that they were practicing night-signalling, as well as the priming cap from an artillery shell, suggesting that field artillery guns were also being used at the site.”

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Book focuses on Sikh soldiers’ role in the First World War


Wounded soldiers at Brighton (IWM)

A London-based IT manager has written a book detailing the experiences of Sikh soldiers during the First World War.

Sukwinder Singh Bassi researched hundreds of letters written by and to Sikh troops, before publishing around 700 extracts under the title Thousands of Heroes Have Arisen: Sikh Voices of the Great War 1914 – 1918.

The author told the Ilford Recorder: “It was a time-consuming project but a real labour of love. The overall Indian contribution in terms of manpower was over one million people but most people don’t know that.”


A working party on the Western Front (IWM)

Freedoms the Sikhs lacked at home

He added there was a poignancy to much of the information he discovered. “There was a feeling of helplessness to their situation that came through in many of the letters. The soldiers were also exposed to freedoms Europeans had that they were denied at home.”

He also discovered that many Sikh soliders who fought in the First World War went on to take important roles in the Indian independence movement.

The role of Sikhs during the conflict has been highlighted following actor Laurence Fox’s comments about the presence of a Sikh infantryman in the acclaimed film 1917.

Singh Bassi commented: “What Laurence Fox said was factually incorrect but he didn’t know it at the time. There’s no way people didn’t fight together then. It’s not revisionist history, it’s telling the truth.”


Troops at Gallipoli (IWM)


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A British officer who served with Sikhs at Festubert in 1914


The recent furore involving actor Laurence Fox, the film 1917 and the role of Sikh soldiers during the First World War reminded me of a plaque in the Grosvenor Chapel on South Audley Street in London’s Mayfair.

It is dedicated to 29-year-old Captain James Mackain, of the 34th Sikh Pioneers, who was killed in action at Festubert on 23 November 1914.

Despite its name, the 34th were an infantry unit that also had engineering skills. They had been mobilised in August 1914 and had arrived in France the following month. No sooner had they been deployed to the Western Front than they were in action, fighting off a determined German assault on 22 October near Bailleul.

By the end of October the 34th Sikh Pioneers had lost one British officer and 15 other ranks killed and more than 190 wounded.


Captain Mackain (IWM)

Battle of Festubert

On 22 November the unit was back in the front line when the Germans launched another fierce assault. Captain Mackain was integral to the defence, continuing to direct his men despite being wounded he was then shot in the head and his body was carried back to the first aid post by Sepoy Ishar Singh amid a general retreat.

The trenches were retaken during the course of that night, but the 34th had been badly mauled, with the battalion losing 161 killed and missing (including the commanding officer) and 105 wounded.

Captain James Mackain was the son of the Reverend William James Mackain, who was the vicar of Little Waldingfield and Posingford in Suffolk. He had studied at Clifton College and had joined the Indian Army in 1904, serving for a time with the Gordon Highlanders at Sialkot and Peshawar before he was posted to the 34th Sikh Pioneers in 1905.

He was promoted Lieutenant on 9 April 1906 and Captain on 9 January 1913.

“A fine Christian soldier”

Writing to Captain Mackain’s parents, a fellow officer of his battalion described the events of their son’s final hours: “He was commanding his company (No. 4) at the time, and was shot through the head in a very gallant attempt to stem an attack in great force by the enemy through breaches blown in our trenches. The enemy were armed with hand-grenades, which they threw into the trenches.

“Your son, while shooting down the grenadiers with his revolver over the top of the trench, was unhappily himself shot dead through the head. His loss to us personally, and to us as a regiment, I cannot yet realise. He was such a fine stamp of Christian soldier, and we looked on him as one likely to go a very long way.”

There is another commemorative plaque to Captain Mackain in Lahore Cathedral.

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Wreck of First World War German cruiser found near Falkland Islands


SMS Scharnhorst: she was sunk by the Royal Navy in 1914 with the loss of more than 800 men

Divers have discovered the wreck of a First World War German cruiser close to the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic.

SMS Scharnhorst was sunk by the Royal Navy on 9 December 1914 with the loss of more than 800 men.

Among those who died was German Vice-Admiral Maximilian Graf von Spee, who was using the Scharnhorst as his flagship.

Marine archeologist Mensun Bound said the find was astonishing. “Suddenly she just came out of the gloom with great guns poking in every direction. As a Falkland Islander and a marine archaeologist, a discovery of this significance is an unforgettable, poignant moment in my life.”


The wreck today (photo: Falklands Maritime Heritage Trust)

Loss of life

Scharnhorst was part of the Imperial German Navy’s East Asia Squadron and she had already taken part in the Battle of Coronel off the coast of Chile. That encounter ended with two of four Royal Navy ships sunk with the loss of more than 1,600 men. Not a single German sailor died.

Five weeks later, however a British force led by HMS Invincible and HMS Inflexible attacked and sank Scharnhorst, before pursuing the remainder of the German squadron.

Vice-Admiral von Spee’s two sons were also killed, Heinrich on board SMS Gneisenau and Otto aboard the light cruiser SMS Leipzig. Around 2,200 German sailors lost their lives in the battle.

Wilhelm Graf von Spee, the current head of the von Spee family, said: “We take comfort from the knowledge that the final resting place of so many has been found, and can now be preserved, whilst also being reminded of the huge waste of life.

“As a family we lost a father and his two sons on one day. Like the thousands of other families who suffered unimaginable loss during the First World War, we remember them and must ensure that their sacrifice was not in vain.”


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Welsh school seeks WW1 relatives

Captain Angus Buchanan VC MC (left) Photo: IWM

A Welsh school is looking for relatives of 76 pupils who lost their lives during the First World War.

Monmouth School for Boys plans to re-dedicate its war memorial on Armistice Day, Monday, November 11. It hopes to trace as many of the descendants of the fallen and invite them to the ceremony.

The war memorial was originally unveiled in 1921 by former Monmouth pupil and Victoria Cross (VC) winner Captain Angus Buchanan.

Captain Buchanan won his gallantry award while serving with 4th Battalion, South Wales Borderers in September 1916.

The VC citation reads: “During an attack an officer was lying out in the open severely wounded about 150 yards from cover. Two men went to his assistance and one of them was hit at once. Captain Buchanan, on seeing this, immediately went out and, with the help of the other man, carried the wounded officer to cover under heavy machine gun fire. He then returned and brought in the wounded man, again under heavy fire.”

Buchanan was shot in the head by a sniper in 1917. Although blinded by the wound, he went on to study law at Jesus College, Oxford, rowing in the college VIII in 1919.

Anyone who has a relative listed on the memorial should email: boys.headsPA@habsmonmouth.org

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Two unknown Royal Fusiliers to be buried near Ypres


Troops in a wood near Ypres in May 1915 (Imperial War Museum)

Two unknown soldiers from the Royal Fusiliers will be buried at the Commonwealth War Graves Commission’s New Irish Farm Cemetery on 9 October.

Remains of the two men were discovered in 2014 during building work near Ypres. Researchers think they have narrowed down the pair’s identity to four soldiers who were reported missing in June 1915, but they have been unable to positively identify them.

The four possibles were private Henry Wolf (22) of Bethnal Green, Private James Hodges (25) of Islington, Private George Smith (29) of Bromley and private Louis Walker of Hackney.

It’s thought all four would have been reservists or members of the Territorial Army prior to entering 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers, with which they were serving in June 1915.

CWGC will install headstones on the graves commemorating them as soldiers of the Royal Fusiliers ‘Known unto God’.

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New WWI memorial for London suburb


Troops from the London Regiment on the Western Front (Imperial War Museum)

A memorial commemorating local people who lost their lives in the First World War is to be unveiled at Herne Hill station in south London.

Funded by Southeastern railway, the monument is due to be on show before Remembrance Day this November.

Created by calligrapher and stone-carver Mark Brooks from Welsh slate, the memorial will be placed in the ticket hall.

According to the Hearne Hill Society, the suburb currently lacks a dedicated war memorial commemorating all those from the local area who lost their lives.

In addition, many soldiers would have passed through Herne Hill on their way to the south coast and the Western Front.


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Welsh church seeks families of local WWI soldiers


Members of the South Wales Borderers on the Western Front (Imperial War Museum)

Members of the congregation of a Welsh church are looking for relatives of two former parishioners who served in the First World War.

Llanmerewig Church in Powys is hoping to trace family members to attend a service to unveil a new memorial that commemorates the pair.

Private Thomas Clement Evans served with the South Wales Borderers and died aged 35 on 14 February 1919. He was the husband of Mary Ann Evans, of Brook Cottage, Llanmerewig.

John Albert Edward Parry died on 9 September 2020. He was a member of the Montgomeryshire Yeomanry during the war.

For more information email: cwmmule@hotmail.co.uk

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Missing British soldier reburied in Belgium

Eric Henderson burial-1.png

The body of a British infantry officer, missing for more than 100 years, has been reburied in Belgium.

Second lieutenant Eric Henderson was serving with the 8th Battalion London Regiment (Post Office Rifles) on 7 June 1917, when his unit went over the top on the first day of the Battle of Messines.

The battalion was tasked with attacking a portion of the German front line and a blockhouse known as the Dammstrasse. However, many were hit by machine gun fire both from this objective and also from German troops dug in within the grounds a large house known as the ‘White Chateau’.

Eric Henderson portrait.png

Identity disk

Second lieutenant Henderson’s remains were discovered during road works. Several distinctive items helped with his identification, including a silver coin engraved with his name, rank and unit.

He was born on 10 November 1895 in Heckmondwike, Yorkshire, the son of Reverend Joseph Graham and Emily Alice. He had a brother, Charles and a sister, Elsie. The family lived in Barnet, Hertfordshire and Charles also served in the First World War.

Judith Leyman, Charles’ grand-daughter and Eric’s great niece, said on behalf of the family: ‘Being here in Ypres, and knowing Eric’s resting place, means an awful lot to us. He wasn’t a dusty memory in our family, but part of our mental landscape.’

The newly placed headstone bears a moving personal inscription: ‘Tread softly o’er my beautiful Eric’s grave for a mother’s love lies here.’

Eric Henderson burial.png

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War Horse to return to London stage


War Horse, the widely acclaimed stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s First World War novel, is scheduled to return to the National Theatre later this year.

Productions are due to coincide with the centenary of Armistice Day (in November) and are set to run from 8 November until 5 January 2019.

War Horse charts what happens to a farm worker and his horse when both are drafted into the army during the First World War. Its innovative stage sets and props have seen it hailed as one of the most innovative shows of the century.

The production is currently on tour. For dates and venues, click here.


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