Sunday, 13 November 2011

Remembrance Sunday

Two friends, photographed one after the other in front of an improvised sheet backdrop, somewhere in Northern France, probably Noeux-les-Mines, 1914. Both recently promoted to sergeant in the 1st/1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment, a territorial regiment that went over to France in the British Expeditionary Force of 1914, the so-called "Old Contemptibles" who fought at the retreat from Mons.

This is my grandfather, Douglas William Chisholm, a bookbinder, who moved from Edinburgh to the Elephant & Castle in London, and then to Letchworth in Hertfordshire to work at the Temple Press of the publishing firm J.M. Dent.

This is his friend, Frank Edward Young, also of North Hertfordshire. Eventually, as the army ran out of proper gentlemen, Douglas and Frank were both promoted to 2nd Lieutenant -- "temporary gentlemen", as such promotions were known. Amusingly, the form for admission to officer training asks, amongst other things, for "Schools or Colleges at which educated" and "Whether able to ride". Grandad's answers were "Sayer Street, Southwark" and "No".

Frank won a medal, in the last year of the war. His citation reads:
On 18 September 1918 south-east of Havrincourt, France, during an enemy counter-attack and throughout intense enemy fire, Second Lieutenant Young visited all posts, warned the garrisons and encouraged the men. In the early stages of the attack he rescued two of his men who had been captured and bombed and silenced an enemy machine-gun. Then he fought his way back to the main barricade and drove out a party of the enemy assembling there. Throughout four hours of heavy fighting this officer set a fine example and was last seen fighting hand-to-hand against a considerable number of the enemy.
The medal was the Victoria Cross. Frank died, aged 22, and is buried at Hermies Hill British Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais.

Here they are, waiting for the train at Letchworth station at the very start of the war (the woman in the white hat is my grandmother, the amazing Daisy, also a bookbinder and an active trades unionist). It looks like a renactment club outing, doesn't it? Funny how the "real thing" can look so banal. Even the caption is misspelled (or perhaps it's a feeble pun).

Apparently grandad (who died the year before I was born) would never talk about Frank's medal, except to say, "He earned it, boy, he earned it". Like my father after him, he had no patience with the sentimental, militarist aspects of Remembrance Day. Perhaps it sounds odd, but I always don't wear a poppy, in remembrance of him, Frank, and all the other poor devils, British, French, German, Austrian, Italian, Russian, and whoever else, who set out in uniform from stations at little towns all over Europe. It seems the least I can do.


Poetry24 said...

It doesn't sound odd to me. I share the same view, Mike. My late step-father was still fighting the war, one or twice a week, in horrific night-time reenactments, captured and bound, each morning, in his saturated bedclothes.

In later years, he was encouraged (not by me) to attend remembrance services, but I know that these were hollow occasions for him.

Would you believe, the word verification is thearmi?

Mike C. said...

"Would you believe, the word verification is thearmi?"

The slightly random mystic power of word verification is beginning to worry me... Is the internet trying to speak to us? If so, it needs to try harder!


alex said...

For your information the originals of these photos, are in the Hertfordshire Archives (HALS) in Hertford. Plenty of other information and pictures on the Hertfordshire Regiment in WW1.

Frank Young came from Hitchin and his father was also a pre war territorial soldier. In the foyer of Hitchin town hall up on the left as you go in is a large plaque with all of the Hitchin men who won awards in the Great War.....dozens of them!

The Letchworth Company of the Battalion was the first to sustain casualties in the Regiment in November 1914.

Although the Hertfordshire Regiment only fielded one Battalion their 1914/18 record was exceptional including 2 VCs, plus plenty of DCMs and MMs...recruited mainly from Hertford, St Albans, Ware, Hitchin, Baldock, Watford etc.

If you are interested in the regiment during the war email me