Exhibition focuses on WW1 in Italy


London’s Estorick Collection will reopen in January 2017, after a five-month refurbishment, with an exhibition entitled War in the Sunshine, revealing the little-known role of British forces in Italy during the First World War.

Among the items on show are paintings by official war artist Sydney Carline and some 50 images by war photographers William Brunell and Ernest Brooks.

Carline was remarkable among the artists of the First World War in that his first works were produced while he was serving as a fighter pilot flying a Sopwith Camel in northern Italy.


Insightful photography

Brooks had been an official photographer on the Western Front and had captured iconic images of British forces on the Somme and at Passchendaele.

He was assigned to Italy in 1917-1918 and showed a great ability to portray the plight of front-line combat troops and dispossessed Italian civilians scratching a living behind the Anglo-Italian lines.

Brunell’s works are distinguished by the photographer’s ability to capture the drama of northern Italy’s mountainous terrain and the frontline along the River Piave, north of Venice.

He also produced intimate and sympathetic images of many of the young Italian women who were employed by Britain’s Army Service Corps, unloading railway wagons, washing British army uniforms and preparing meals.


Forgotten campaign

The exhibition recalls a campaign that is often ignored. In October 1917 around 120,000 British troops were shipped to Italy to help stop advancing German and Austro-Hungarian forces.

British soldiers would also play a significant part in Italian victories in the Battle of the Solstice (June 1918) and on the Piave in the Vittorio Vento campaign of October-November 1918.

Five squadrons of the RAF and 40 batteries of artillery were also deployed in Italy.

The Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art is renowned for its core of Futurist works. It comprises pieces by many of the most prominent Italian artists of the Modernist era.

War in the Sunshine runs from 13 January until 19 March 2017.



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British soldiers recovered from Somme battlefield


Private Harry Carter

Two British soldiers will be reburied at 11AM on 19 October at the Albert Communal Cemetery Extension in France.

The pair were part of a group of eight men from the 10th Battalion, Essex Regiment who were killed following the explosion of a massive German underground mine near the Somme village of La Boisselle on 22 November 1915.

First evidence

In 2010 the La Boisselle Study Group (LBSG) began an excavation in an area of land known during the First World War as ‘the Glory Hole’; supposedly because it was notoriously dangerous.

In summer 2013 the team discovered the first evidence of the Essex Regiment soldiers, including shoulder titles and buttons.

The eight men were recorded as having been ‘killed in action’, and had graves and headstones in a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) cemetery in the nearby town of Albert. LBSG historians, however, could find no documented evidence of the recovery of their bodies and it transpired they still lay where they had fallen.


An Essex Regiment shoulder title (courtesy LBSG)

Fixed bayonets

The LBSG team began by recovering the remains of two of the soldiers, who appeared to have been on sentry duty when the mine exploded.

They lay close to rifles with fixed bayonets and also had bags of grenades and flares. The search for their six comrades then continued, but the project became further complicated by the discovery of two French soldiers buried barely half a metre from the British remains.

These men were identified as privates Louis Heurt and Appolinaire Ruelland (of the 118th Infantry Regiment), who had been killed in early January 1915 and buried in the wall of what had been their trench.

Two metres further along the trench the archeologists discovered the timber remnants of the dugout in which the remaining six Essex soldiers were believed to have been sheltering when the mine exploded.

At the entrance were rifles, stacked helmets and boxes of hand grenades waiting to be picked up when the men went on duty.

Unfortunately, time on the dig ran out before the LBSG could agree terms with the landowner for a new contract to complete the recovery.


Private William Marmon

Identity confirmed

The two sentries had been wearing fibre identity discs, but these had long since decayed. However, the Ministry of Defence Joint Casualty and Compassionate Centre (JCCC) managed to locate descendants of all eight soldiers and to perform DNA testing.

This determined the two recovered bodies belonged to 21-year-old private William James Marmon (21) from St Pancras, London, and private Harry Carter (also 21) born in West Ham, Essex.

Marmon had been carrying three small ceramic figurines, usually found in cakes traditionally served in France at the festival of Epiphany, a French bullet head finely-carved with a heart symbol, a metal slot-machine token, some French coins and the remains of a pipe and lighter.

Carter was wearing a ‘trench-art’ ring on a finger of his right hand and was carrying a lighter, coins and writing paper.


A fragment from a rifle marked 10th Essex and dated 1915 (courtesy LBSG)

The eight La Boiselle soldiers

Private Harry Carter, b. 1894, West Ham, estate agent’s assistant

Private Harry Fensome, b. 1896, Luton, moulder

Lance corporal Albert Huzzey, b. 1897, West Ham, errand boy

Private William J. Marmon, b. 1894, St Pancras, London

Private George Pier, b. 1890, Dagenham, Essex

Private Charles Ruggles, b. 1892, Halstead, Essex, farm labourer

Private Edward Toomey, b. 1889, Walworth, Surrey, restaurant kitchen porter

Private Charles Aldridge, b. 1888, Caxton, Cambridgeshire, farmer

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Jutland casualty found in North Atlantic


A Danish expedition team has located the wreckage of British warship HMS Warrior, a casualty of the Battle of Jutland.

The cruiser was badly damaged during the 1916 battle and 71 of its crew were killed. The remaining 743 men were transferred to HMS Engadine, which then tried to tow HMS Warrior back to England. The attempt was abandoned as the weather worsened and the Warrior was allowed to drift and sink.

Wreck discovered

The team was led by Sea War Museum Jutland founder Gert Normann Andersen, who said. ‘The first task of the expedition was to analyze the route it was towed and the official positions of where it sank.

‘In total, 30 wrecks were found and investigated along the route and Warrior turned up as number 27. It was located 19-27 sea miles from official positions. Multibeam measurements were taken of the wreckage and video recordings were made using a ROV – a remotely operated underwater vehicle.’

The wreckage lies 83 metres below the surface, with the ship’s keel facing towards the surface. Compared to other wrecks from the battle, HMS Warrior is in deeper water and in reasonable condition, its interior entombed within its armoured hull.

To watch ROV footage of the wreck, click here.


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Lost Cambrai tank reveals its secrets


In 20 November 1917, during the Battle of Cambrai, a British tank nicknamed ‘Deborah’ was hit by a shell from a German field gun and came to a grinding halt. Five of her crew were killed and the remainder were forced to bail out under fire and make a hazardous retreat on foot.

Eighty years later, the tank’s rusted remains were rediscovered and excavated. They are now preserved in France as a memorial to the battle and to the men who fought in it.

‘Gallantry and skill’

The tank’s commander, second lieutenant Frank Heap, was awarded the Military Cross for his efforts during the battle and for leading his surviving two crew-members to safety.

His MC citation reads: ‘In Cambrai operations near Flesquieres on November 20th 1917, he fought his tank with great gallantry and skill, leading the infantry on to five objectives. He proceeded through the village and engaged a battery of enemy field guns from which his tank received five direct hits, killing four [as was believed] of his crew. Although then behind the German lines he collected the remainder of his crew and conducted them in good order back to our own lines in spite of heavy machine gun and sniper fire.’

Author John Taylor has explored the human story behind the tank in his recent book Deborah And The War Of The Tanks.

Human cost

Deborah’s commander, second lieutenant Heap, was a graduate of Cambridge University who would later return to his native Blackpool to run the family hotel and catering business.

Among those of his crew who were killed were the tank’s driver, 20-year-old private George Foot from Great Missenden in Buckinghamshire.

Second lieutenant Heap wrote to his parents: ‘We all feel his loss very deeply, for his cheery spirits and unfailing good nature had endeared him to all. It is impossible that a soul like George’s should not go on living. I feel convinced I shall meet him again.’

Deborah and the War of the Tanks, 1917 is published by Pen & Sword Books, price £25.

Click here to watch a film about the discovery of Deborah.

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Missing WW1 medal found on Welsh beach


A First World War medal belonging to a soldier who lost his life in Belgium in 1916 has been recovered from the sands of a Welsh beach.

Private Martin Tierney of the 2nd Battalion, the Leinster Regiment was killed in May 1916 and is buried at the CWGC Ration Farm Cemetery near Ypres.

Lost in the sand

Metal detectorist Tom Tummuscheit discovered the medal on the beach at Burry Port, Carmarthenshire, in April. A local newspaper then launched an appeal to find any surviving relatives. Remarkably it managed to track down the soldier’s great nephew, Donald Tierney, who lives in Ireland, and the medal was returned to him.

Private Tierney’s father lived in a house (now demolished) at Burry Port. The family believes the medal went missing in the 1960s or 1970s when it was dropped on the beach by children who were playing a game of soldiers.

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Historian identifies missing sailor from Battle of Jutland


Wounded sailors on board HMS Castor following the Battle of Jutland

Researchers have identified a missing British sailor who lost his life in the Battle of Jutland in 1916.

Able seaman Harry Gasson from Hastings in Sussex served as an able seaman on board HMS Castor and was one of 10 members of the ship’s crew to be killed during the battle on 31 May 1916.

Crucial clue

The 32-year-old’s body was discovered on the Danish coast shortly afterwards. At the time he could not be identified and was buried at Esbjerg New Cemetery with a headstone inscribed, ‘A British Seaman of the Great War’.

Some 100 years later, Bob Cobley, the representative for the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Denmark, discovered a note in the burial records of Esbjerg’s Church of Zion that provided a crucial clue.

The documents recorded that the name ‘H Gossom’ was written in the lining of the unidentified sailor’s trousers. While that name delivered no matches among CWGC records, Cobley found Harry Gasson’s name on the list of missing sailors from the Battle of Jutland.


A photo showing damage inflicted on HMS Castor during the Battle of Jutland

Identity restored

‘I was very moved. I have come very close to the man, and now we have finally been able to identify him,’ said Cobley.

A new gravestone featuring Gasson’s name and rank will be put in place during a rededication ceremony to take place in Esbjerg on 31 May, the 100th anniversary of the sailor’s death.

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War Horse raises funds for threatened WW1 stables


A soldier of the Army Remount Service with a convalescent horse of the Army Service Corps

The final London production of Michael Morpurgo’s play War Horse on 12 March raised funds for the Shorncliffe Trust, which is trying to preserve original First World War stables near Folkestone in Kent.

The charity is attempting to raise money to preserve the site of the Shorncliffe stables and remount school, run by the Canadian Veterinary Corps at Shorncliffe Camp during the First World War.

Due for demolition

Morpurgo said: ‘Shorncliffe contributed hugely to the war effort, providing care, veterinary attention and alleviating the suffering. It is a place that played a significant part in the story of the First World War, and that is a story that must be told in all its aspects and passed onto the next generation.’

The stables on the former MOD-owned site are soon to be demolished by the new owners Taylor Wimpey.

Chris Shaw, founder of the Shorncliffe Trust, says the charity is trying to raise £2m to lease the land from the new owners and turn the buildings into an educational centre. ‘We thank Michael Morpurgo and the National Theatre for supporting our charity and giving us a chance to tell the story of these magnificent animals, who bravely worked and died alongside their soldiers from all countries during the First World War,’ Shaw said.

On the way to the front

‘We hope the work and educational programmes we are planning at Shorncliffe are a fitting legacy to the thousands of men and horses that came through the gates of the camp during the First World War.’

More than three million men were present at Shorncliffe Camp at one time or other during the First World War, making it one of the most important staging posts on the way to the front line in France and Belgium.

For more about the Shorncliffe Trust, click here.

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