Saturday, 10 November 2012

We Will Remember Them : Lest We Forget

It's that time of year again. Poppies are everywhere and it is a time of reflection for many people all over the world. Those with ancestors who fought in the war that was meant to be over in less than four months. Men (and women) all over the world, leaving their homes, their families, their lovers, their friends. Off to fight for a war they either wanted no part of or wanted initailly because of a fire in their bellies. I would bet none of them anticipated the repercussions, the legacy, the pain and tears, or the sorrow that it would leave behind and instill in our hearts and souls even today, 98 years on.

For my distant cousins Sidney Preston, James Jolly, William Waters and for those ancestors that came home to their loved ones and their beloved home soil. To those that raised families and struggled daily with their own personal nightmares and private hell, I thank each and every one of you. One of my favourite war poems was written by Rupert Brooke (1887-1915):

The Soldier

If I should die, think of me:
That there's some corner of a foreign field
That is forever England. There shall be
In that rich earth a richer dust concealed;
A dust whom England bore, shaped, made aware,
Gave, once, her flowers to love, her ways to roam,
A body of England's, breathing English air,
Washed by the rivers, blest by suns of home.
And think, this heart, all evil shed away,
A pulse in the eternal mind, no less
Gives somewhere back the thoughts by England given;
Her sights and sounds; dream happy as her day;
And laughter, learnt of friends; and gentleness,
In hearts of peace, under an English heaven.

James Jolly, Bungay War Memorial
William Waters, Beccles War Memorial
Sidney Preston, Holt War Memorial

"My subject is War, and the pity of War. The Poetry is in the pity."
                                                          ----- Wilfred Owen

Monday, 5 November 2012

Family History Through The Alphabet Blog Challenge : Z is for...

Here we are, the last post (bugle sounds) for the Alphabet Blog Challenge and once again I have to credit somebody else for the topic of the most baffling letter of all. My amazingly perceptive daughter came up with Zeppelin. How could I refuse when I've already blogged about my 4xgreat-grandfather Zachariah Rudd?

It makes perfect sense to write about the Zeppelin raids which affected my ancestors, not least because my ancestors lived in London and along the East Coast of England (the counties of Suffolk, Norfolk, Essex and Kent were repeatedly raided from 1915-17) but because my paternal grandmother Freda often spoke of her parents who saw the Zeppelins as they came across the North Sea.

Before the First World War, Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin developed an airship specifically for long-distance passenger flights. When the war broke out in August 1914, these airships were taken over by the German army. Throughout the war the Germans were prepared to try new forms of warfare and in January 1915 they mounted the first airship raid on England.

On the night of 19 January, two Zeppelins bombed the docks at King's Lynn and Great Yarmouth (county Norfolk) which killed four people. The East Suffolk Gazette reported that a Mr T W Holmes of Denmark Road, Beccles "believes he heard an airship coming over the town, possibly on its way back after its tour in Norfolk". Other raids followed and much damage was inflicted across the Eastern Counties. In the Autumn of 1915 a raid on the City of London killed 38 people and caused extensive damage.

A Zeppelin over Cuffley, county Kent
They look eerily like Alien space-craft

During my research into the Zeppelin raids I was amazed to discover how they were made. Zeppelin airships had a metal frame containing large bags of hydrogen gas, which lifted the craft into the air. They were powered by engines mounted outside the craft. Crew and bombs were carried in a gondola which hung underneath the craft. There was no protection which meant the men were exposed in all weather conditions, and there was nowhere to sit in the gondola which meant long periods of having to stand up. In the early part of the war the bombs had to be dropped by hand!

Most Zeppelins flew too high for British aircraft to catch and attack them but by the autumn of 1916 British airplanes were equipped with explosive shells (and later, incendiary bullets) and on 2 September the first Zeppelin was shot down by a British pilot. After two more unsuccessful raids, the Zeppelins stopped coming. By 1917 most German airships were restricted to reconnaissance work at sea. According to the Illustrated History of the First World War by John Keegan, "Germany flew a total of 115 military Zeppelins during the war, of which 77 were destroyed, 7 captured, 22 scrapped and 9 surrendered to the Allies".

Raid on Great Yarmouth, Norfolk 1915
Zeppelin Raid on Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk 1915

My great-grandparents may not have been directly affected by the Zeppelin raids of 1915-17 but they were certainly witness to its overall destruction and reign of terror across England. I know that my great-grandparents would have seen continual wreckage through both the Zeppelin raids and the Gotha Raids in London.

During the early part of the First World War my great-grandmother Elizabeth was living in Fulham, raising four children alone whilst her husband, my great-grandfather Albert, was fighting off the coast of Turkey with the Royal Navy Reserve. It is known that areas nearby to Fulham were repeatedly targeted and bombed in the 1917 Gotha Raids. I believe that is why Elizabeth and my great-aunts and great-uncles subsequently moved to Edmonton around 1917-18.

My paternal great-grandparents were living close to the coastline of Suffolk during the First World War. My great-grandfather Arthur Ward may have been on the Western Front serving his King and Country but his wife, my great-grandmother Barbara, was living in the heart of London with four of their children, including my grandfather Herbert. It is no small wonder that following 1917, they moved back to Suffolk.