The last flight of the Red Baron

Baron von Richthofen lands his Fokker DR 1 triplane after a patrol. IWM Q 58047

On 21st April 1918, Baron Manfred von Richhofen – known as the Red Baron due to the garish colour of his aircraft – was shot down and killed. He is credited with 80 ‘kills’ (shooting down 80 planes) during the First World War – these were both single and double seaters and so approximately 84 men were killed, 19 wounded and 22 unhurt. All told, an estimated 125 men (some of the names are in dispute) were shot down by von Richthofen.

In the first part of a guest blog post, Lives of the First World War volunteer Trevor Torkington explores the stories of some of the men who were shot down by one of the war’s greatest air aces.


  • His first ‘kills’

Originally a cavalry officer, von Richthofen became bored with the duties he was assigned, and joined the flying service at the end of May 1915. He started training as a pilot in October and by March 1916 he’d been assigned to a bomber squadron (Kampfgeschwader 2). It was with this squadron that he shot down his first plane on 26 April, believed to be a French Nieuport 11 of Escadrille n.23, piloted by Maréchal des Logis Jean Casale. Casale would be the only French pilot shot down by von Richthofen.


Lieutenant Tom Rees. Image in the public domain


On 1 September 1916, von Richthofen joined Jagstaffel (Jasta) 2 – a fighter squadron under the leadership of the air ace, Oswald Boelcke. Sixteen days later he claimed his first official victory by shooting down an FE2B of 11 Squadron piloted by Second Lieutenant Lionel Bertram Frank Morris with his observer Captain Tom Rees (he was promoted to Captain that day). Von Richthofen reported that Morris was an experienced pilot and did his best to prevent the Baron from getting behind him, but eventually the FE2B’s engine was hit and the propeller stopped. As the plane glided to the ground, Rees continued to fire his machine gun until he was shot and killed. Badly wounded, Morris managed to land the plane at Fesquireres but he too died later the same day. Von Richthofen celebrated his success by purchasing a silver cup engraved with the date and type of aircraft he had shot down, a tradition he would continue up to his 60th victim when silver became scarce due to the British blockade.


  • Lucky escapes

Not every one shot down by the Red Baron was killed. One pilot to survive a crash was the Baron’s 31st victim. Lieutenant Christopher Guy Gilbert was tasked to act as an escort on a reconnaissance mission. He crash-landed in enemy territory following the Baron’s attack and was pulled from the wreckage by what must have been slightly bemused German troops. As it was an early morning ‘short’ mission, Gilbert hadn’t got dressed so was taken prisoner in his pyjamas!

The Baron’s 80th and final victim on 20 April 1918 was a Sopwith Camel flown by Second Lieutenant David Greswolde Lewis. Lewis’ plane was in flames by the time it hit the ground, but he managed to escape from the wreckage and spent the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp. Lewis was from Bulawayo in what was then Rhodesia, and returned to Africa after the war. During the Rhodesian War of Independence he had another lucky escape when his car was ambushed and riddled with bullets. Despite this he managed to walk away unharmed. He died in 1978.


Piece of fabric from the red Fokker triplane in which Manfred von Richthofen was killed on 21 April 1918. IWM EPH 9001

  • The last flight of the Red Baron

Von Richthofen’s last flight was on 21 April 1918. At around 10.40am his squadron attacked a pair of RE8 reconnaissance planes. The allied pilots successfully defended themselves and were subsequently joined by Sopwith Camels from 209 Squadron. Shortly thereafter, whilst in pursuit of a Sopwith Camel piloted by Second Lieutenant Wilfred Reid May, the Baron was hit by gunfire. The question of who shot the Red Baron is still a matter of debate.  The Royal Air Force claimed that Captain Arthur “Roy” Brown of 209 Squadron was responsible for shooting him down (and this was subsequently immortalised on the squadron badge which has an emblem of a red eagle falling). However, others claim that an anti-aircraft gunner with the Australian 24th Machine Gun Company, Sergeant Cedric Bassett Popkin, was the person most likely to have killed the Baron.

Whatever the case, the Baron’s plane made a relatively smooth descent and landed in a beet field where the undercarriage collapsed. The Baron’s body was recovered by Australian troops and transferred to Poulainville airfield where it would remain overnight, under guard.


  • Read part two of Trevor’s blog post, which focuses on those who were involved in Manfred von Richhofen’s funeral
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How to Write a Comparative Essay

How to Write a Comparative Essay

A ccording to comparison and contrast essay is a form of writing that requires you to discuss elements of subjects that are similar and those that are different and analyze them. To learn how to write such an essay in tenth grade, observe the following steps.

The first step is developing your argument. Pick two subjects that are different enough to form the subject of your comparison and contrast. Ensure the subjects you pick can be discussed meaningfully by ensuring it has enough information. Also, come up with the main points to consider.

The second step is organizing your essay. You should select the way to organize your essay. It can be point by point where you compare and contrast based on a single idea such as the health benefits of red and green apples or subject by subject by organizing your points from one subject to the other. Also, you can begin by comparing the subjects then discussing their differences. Whichever method you use, stick to it to the end.

The third step is outlining your essay. Determine all the information you will include in the essay and briefly write it down in a plan of work from the introduction, the body to the conclusion.

The fourth step is writing the essay. Begin by introducing your topic and stating the intention of your writing, which is discussing the differences and similarities of various subjects, for instance, green and red apples. Next, write the body paragraphs. Begin each paragraph with a topic sentence which comprises of the subject and its characteristic, followed by several sentences with evidence and facts to support it. End each paragraph with a sentence that wraps up the whole discussion. Conclude your writing by enumerating that you were comparing and contrasting various subjects. Also, put across the main points you have discussed.

Finally, revise your work for errors, long sentences, complex ideas and correct them or visit custom writing website. Also, check your paper for authenticity.

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100 years since the beginning of the German Spring Offensives

The German Spring Offensive: Troops of 101 Siege Battery RGA attaching nose caps to 6-inch howitzer shells, Merville. IWM Collections Q 354

The German Spring Offensives, which began on 21 March 1918, represented a calculated gamble for Germany in trying to tip the balance on the Western Front once and for all. British and Allied troops were met with a huge concentration of German artillery, gas, smoke and infantry. The German Army initially achieved unprecedented gains, but by August the tide had turned against them.

In our latest blog post, we look at the story of one gunner who was caught up in the events of 21 March 1918 – Thomas Harold Burton. Thomas’ father wrote to the newly-formed Imperial War Museum in 1918 to share his son’s experiences.


  • Early life

Thomas Harold Burton was born on 14 July 1895 in Nottingham, to Thomas and Fanny. He had two older sisters, and was educated at Southwark Street Council School, Basford. After leaving school he became a farm merchant’s assistant.

As Thomas’ father recounted, “at the call of his Country’s need in the Great War, he volunteered in the Royal Field Artillery and was made a gunner.”

Thomas Harold Burton. IWM Collections HU 93371

  • Serving overseas

Thomas completed around 9 month’s training at Deep Cut, Hampshire before being sent to France on 5 June 1916. His father told IWM that,

“During his leave home in November 1917 he marked on our Daily Mail map many places where he had stayed being 7 months during the time at Nœux-les-Mines. He had several narrow escapes during the falling back from Cambrai, about October of 1917.”

After a brief period of leave at the end of February 1918, Thomas returned to France. When the German Spring Offensive began just weeks later, he was injured whilst acting as runner:

“His left leg was shattered and he would have been left behind to fall into the hands of the enemy, who were advancing rapidly, had not 2 of his comrades volunteered to fetch him at great risk.”

Tragically, Thomas later succumbed to his wounds, and died on the morning of 25 March 1918. He was buried in Bac-du-Sud British Cemetery near Arras, which was the location of field ambulances at the time. According to his father, Thomas’ friends made a special cross for him. Today, Thomas has a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone bearing the inscription ‘Until the day breaks’. His father described him as “one of the best of God Fearing Sons a Father and Mother could have”.


Bac-du-Sud British Cemetery. Image taken by Jérémy Bourdon, licensed under Creative Commons.


  • Remembering Thomas

In July 1918, the Imperial War Museum made an appeal in the Daily Express newspaper for families to send in photographs and biographies of loved ones who had died in the war. To accompany his son’s photograph, Thomas Burton wrote a heartfelt letter which not only tells us a great deal about Thomas’ wartime service, but also evokes the immense grief which he and his wife felt.

Our loss is irreparable and he was our only son. Such is the Supreme Price we are compelled to pay for this Terrible War.

Thomas is just one of more than half a million Allied casualties of the German Spring Offensive. Lives of the First World War pays tribute to him on the hundredth anniversary of his death, and remembers all those who took part in this battle – both those who lost their lives, as well as the men and women who survived the war.


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Behind Every Photograph Lies a Story: ‘Where Right and Glory Lead’

119 Battery Royal Field Artillery – Winners of the 27 Brigade RFA Shield 1912-13

Lives of the First World War features thousands of photographs which help to enrich the stories of those who made a contribution to the war effort. From formal portraits and group photos to family snaps, images help us to reflect upon what people’s lives were like before, during and in many cases after the war.

In the first of this guest blog post series, Paul Bourton of the Unknown Soldier Military Archive & Soldier Research Service introduces his study of the stories revealed through a photograph taken shortly before the First World War.


  • Discovery

I recently purchased a group photograph (above). I found it while rummaging through the contents of one of the darker and less explored recesses at the back of an antiques shop in the Gloucestershire town of Lechlade – the sort of recess where gems are hidden.

A small brass plaque at the bottom of the frame bears an inscription which points to the fact that the photograph once belonged to one of the men in the picture. The sepia image, held in a stout but beautifully gilded wooden frame, captures the pose of thirteen men arranged in a typically military formation of three ranks; unsurprising really, given that the men in the photograph are all soldiers.

The men are unsmiling at the instant the camera records a moment of the year 1913 for posterity. Instead of smiles they wear expressions of pride in achievement and of quiet satisfaction in a job well done.  Placed on the ground in front of the men is the source of that pride and the purpose for the photograph; a shield contested on the playing fields of Ireland by the men of 27 Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery and won in the 1912/13 season by these thirteen men of 119 Battery.


Cap badge of the Royal Field Artillery, featuring the motto Quo Fas et Gloria Ducunt – ‘Where Right and Glory Lead’. IWM Collections INS 16500


  • Advent of war

One year later, the men pictured in sepia would exchange the playing fields of Ireland for the battlefields of Flanders

One year later, the men pictured in sepia would exchange the playing fields of Ireland for the battlefields of Flanders as they marched off to war with the British Expeditionary Force in August 1914. Upon those fields they would face the ultimate test of their sporting prowess, athleticism and team spirit. 119 Battery Royal Field Artillery would enter the crucible of war at Mons where it was centre-stage in one of the most conspicuous acts to be played out during that epic battle.  From that baptism of fire, the crucible would forge the Battery into a battle-hardened unit that was in the thick of the action throughout many of the major campaigns and actions of the war.


  • Researching using Lives of the First World War

Over the next few months, the results of my research into the role of 119 Battery RFA in the First World War and the thirteen men of the photograph will reveal stories of courage, dedication and honours gained by ordinary men in extraordinary circumstances.  These were men at their best and in the prime of their lives who were touched by the hand of war and whose achievements were tempered by tragedy, loss and sacrifice.


  • Look out for future Lives of the First World War blog posts by Paul
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How to make an essay

Grade 5 students have already learned how to connect sentences into a paragraph and an essay as well. Therefore, the main focus is on their writing and critical thinking skills. A good 5th-grade essay has minimal grammar and spelling mistakes. It should also show an excellent comprehension of the topic. In a situation whereby the learner is expected to write my essay, then they should choose one that circulates on the daily activities so that they can have ideas to talk about.


The initial step to a fifth grader writing a good essay is by brainstorming the allocated topic or choosing one. As a result, they will be able to arrange the ides with ease when writing the essay. The brainstorming involves thinking across several ideas regarding the topic and determining which of the ideas best suits the topic.


The essay of a fifth grader ought to have five sentences in each paragraph. Among them is the topic sentence which states the idea to be discussed. As well, this is followed by an explanation, example, and a conclusion. The essay has at least five paragraphs which include the introduction, body paragraphs, and a conclusion. The introduction paragraph shows what will be discussed in the essay and contains a thesis statement.


Once the student has completed the essay, it is important to read it out loudly. This helps in the identification of spelling and grammar mistakes. It also allows the students to add details to incomplete ideas. Personal correction of mistakes is an important memory enhancing techniques for ensuring that they do not repeat the same mistakes in the future. In addition, attention should be paid to the rubric to ensure that the essay meets all the requirements. Also, ideas that do not fit the essay are eliminated.

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Marking 100 years since political change

1918 Election poster. IWM (Art.IWM PST 12177)

6 February 2018 marks 100 years since the Representation of the People Act was passed, which extended the right to vote to all men over 21 and those over the age of 19 serving in the armed forces. For the first time, women over the age of 30 who met specific criteria could vote – this enfranchised 8.5 million women, although many more would have to wait until the Equal Franchise Act of 1928.

In this blog post, we look at the stories of mother and daughter Mary and Kathleen Duckworth – both of them worked as nurses during the war but only one of them received the right to vote in 1918.


Mary Elizabeth (left) and Kathleen Duckworth. IWM Documents.15144

  • The Duckworths

Mother and daughter Mary and Kathleen Duckworth lived in the mill town of Heywood, Lancashire. At the start of the war, Mary was aged 38 and Kathleen just 13 years old – they would both go on to make valuable contributions to their local war effort.

In 1916, Mary and her husband Walter set up the Heywood Auxiliary Hospital in a church hall. Mary oversaw the day-to-day running of the hospital, which cared for wounded servicemen.


Photograph of hospital beds in Heywood Auxiliary Hospital. IWM Documents.15144

The hospital facilities included an operating theatre, ward, dining room and snooker room. Whilst the medical wellbeing of the patients was the priority, the hospital staff and local community also found time to put on plays and entertainment for the convalescing troops.

From 1918, Kathleen also worked at the hospital as a Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurse. Records show that she worked almost 2,000 hours at the hospital until it closed in April 1919.


  • The Representation of the People Act

After a long campaign to extend the right to vote to women, the 1918 Representation of the People Act was an important milestone on the road to full democracy. However, in order to be eligible to join the electorate, women had to meet these criteria:

  1. Aged 30 and over
  2. Owners (or the wife of a man who were owners) of land or property worth £5 or more OR graduates of British universities

Although 8.5 million women met this criteria, this only represented 40 per cent of the total population of women in the UK. Within the Duckworth family, Mary was granted the right to vote and appears on the 1921 Electoral Register – however, under these rules 17 year old Kathleen would not even be considered for inclusion for another 13 years.


A crowd of women listening to a speech by another woman, who is likely a suffragette or women’s rights activist. IWM Q 107105

  • Limitations of the Act

Case studies such as these challenge the notion that women were granted the right to vote in recognition for their role in the First World War – indeed, many young women such as Kathleen had ‘done their bit’ but were excluded. There are different theories as to why this may have been the case. It was felt that that women over 30 were more likely to be traditional in their political views – many would be married with children, and so would most likely vote in the same way as their husband.  Research on voting patterns in the 1920s does indicate that women tended to vote for the Conservatives. Furthermore, many pre-war suffragettes may have met the age criterion but did not necessarily meet the property requirements, and so this Act may have been intended to curb radical political views.

Nevertheless, this Act was a significant moment in the history of British politics. In December 1919, Lady Astor became the first woman to take a seat in Parliament. In 1928 women over 21 were finally granted political equality to men – Kathleen Duckworth appears on the 1929 electoral roll under her married name, Kathleen Hollinrake.


100 years on, we pay tribute to the men and women who made a contribution during the First World War – browse stories on Lives of the First World War.

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Chairs that Stand Empty: The men behind the names on the Hulme Hall First World War Memorial

Hulme Hall is a Hall of Residence for students at The University of Manchester. Founded in 1870, the Hall has changed constantly over the past 148 years to meet the changing landscape of university life. Over 250 current and former students fought during the First World War. 40 were to lose their lives, with 33 remembered on the Hulme Hall War Memorial.

After research taken over a period of seven years, former resident James Hern has pieced together the lives of the 40 men who lost their lives between 1914 and 1919. In this guest blog post, James tells us about the research that led to the publication of his book Chairs that Stand Empty: The men behind the names on the Hulme Hall First World War Memorial

  • Stories behind the names

Names that once would have stirred memories of friendship, academic success or endeavours on sports pitches had become simply another unknown name on a memorial plaque.

It took me three minutes to read the names of the 33 names of men on the Hulme Hall War Memorial during the 2002 and 2003 Remembrance Services. Names that once would have stirred memories of friendship, academic success or endeavours on sports pitches had become simply another unknown name on a memorial plaque. Lives remembered for a fleeting moment.

James Henderson won the MC in 1915 for holding off waves of enemy attacks during the Battle of Frezenberg. He was wounded twice before being killed in August 1916. Photo: The Manchester University Magazine, held at the University of Manchester Library

In 2010, during an unscheduled brief visit to the Somme, I decided to look into the stories of the men on the memorial, my primary purpose being to help me understand the narrative of the First World War and what made the undulating and barren landscape of this part of France worth the lives of hundred of thousands of men.

I certainly was fortunate. The Hulme Hall archives provided a rich source of information, with photographs, obituaries, administration records, magazines and yearly reports by the Warden. Through cross-referencing the administration records against the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, I identified a further seven men who died but were not listed on the Hulme Hall War Memorial. The reasons for their omission haven’t been confirmed.

With the majority of the men receiving a commission at some point, their service records held at the National Archives at Kew provided a key glimpse into their army life. Howard Harker wrote passionately to the War Office, requesting the opportunity to join the Royal Flying Corps. His work in the experimental department of the Royal Aircraft Factory was considered a reserved occupation. Receiving a commission in 1916, he became a gifted fighter pilot, fighting against Manfred von Richthofen’s squadron during the Battle of Arras in 1917.

Image of George Hebblethwaite, taken in 1912/1913 when he was an Arts Student at Manchester University. Image added to Lives of the First World War by George’s relative

  • Family stories and memories

Whilst the archives at Kew and Manchester provided an insight into the lives of the men, it was making contact with families and discovering letters that brought the research to life and changed it from a personal project to one where I felt I had an obligation to publish the stories I had uncovered. Photographs of the men provided an insight into their character and lives; from family gatherings, weddings, school photographs and in active service.

Harland Watts was studying History at the outbreak of War. He married Sarah Johnson
shortly before leaving for France with the South Lancashire Regiment. Photo: Michael Watts

Of the letters written by the men, the most powerful were those written by Robert Bedford, Harry Pickles, William Wildblood and Harland Watts to their History tutor at Manchester, Professor Tout.

Robert Bedford fought in Gallipoli, Sinai and the Western Front between 1915 and 1918. He wrote eight letters to Professor Tout through this time; his emotions clearly displaced from the horrors of seeing his friend’s bodies lying out in no-man’s land after failed attacks in Gallipoli in 1915, to the boredom of life in the Sinai desert the following year whilst fighting raged in France.

Robert’s humour shines through as he describes dealing with newly qualified junior officers, his men berating their mates who received ‘Blighty’ wounds and the cynicism of the British press reporting on the progress of the War.

Arriving in France in 1917, Robert was subsequently wounded on two occasions; the first during a gas attack that led to him being temporarily blinded for a week and the second when being struck on the foot by shrapnel. In March 1918 he was killed during a German offensive on the Somme.

  • Remembering the men 100 years on

Some day the war will be over and we shall meet again – or we shall meet if we can bear to face the chairs that will stand empty – Reverend J H Hopkinson, Hulme Hall Warden

The lives of the 40 men from Hulme Hall captured unique stories that cover most aspects of the War, from the sea, land and air; Gallipoli, France, Belgium, Greece and Africa. It is my hope that future generations of Hulme Hall students will pause and remember the men behind the names in future years.

Discover the stories of men from the Hulme Hall Memorial, in this Lives of the First World War Community

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“Cruiser Afire!” – The loss of HMS Natal

HMS Natal. IWM Q 39678

Cruiser Afire!” Commander Gregory Gonville Cuff Wood-Martin was crossing just in front of the X turret of the Battleship, HMS Superb, when he heard the boat signalman’s shout. He immediately rushed to the port rail and could see two columns of smoke and fire rising from HMS Natal. The Superb’s boats were hoisted out to help but all too quickly Wood-Martin heard the cry, “She’s gone”.

30 December 2017 marks 102 years since this incident, in which many hundreds of people lost their lives. In this guest blog post, Lives of the First World War Volunteer Trevor Torkington tells the story of HMS Natal and those who were caught up in the tragedy.


  • HMS Natal

HMS Natal was a Warrior-class armoured cruiser and on that fateful day was at anchor in the Cromarty Firth. Her Captain, Eric Percy Coventry Back, had allowed a number of the ship’s crew to take shore leave – many of them to watch, and play, in an inter-ship football match.

For some of his officers however, Captain Back had invited them and their wives to a film show on board. He had also invited a family friend, John Henry Dods – a former Scottish International rugby player – his wife Annie and their children Dorothy, Marcus and John.  Captain Back’s wife (their own children were ill) and three nurses from the nearby hospital ship HMS Drina (including Caroline Maud Edwards, pictured below), completed the party.

IWM WWC H21-32-1

At around 3.20 pm the Natal was rocked by an explosion, followed by a further three blasts in short succession. Flames shot throughout the ship but the true seriousness of the situation wasn’t fully appreciated, with injured seaman were being sent to sickbay to have their burns dressed. Orders to flood the magazines couldn’t be carried out and although hoses were rigged no water was obtainable through the fire main system. Within three minutes of the first explosion the ship started to list heavily to port and after another two minutes, she had completely settled down with the forward end of the starboard bilge keel clear of the water.

422 men, women and children lost their lives in this disaster – this Lives of the First World War Community pays tribute to them.


Obituary in Kent Messenger, 29 January 1916. Photograph uploaded by Stephen Morris


  • Notifying Next of Kin

The loss of the ship was soon announced to the press. Various photographs of the Natal, her crew and the ship’s cat (with the caption “Rudolph, it is feared, was on board at the time”) appeared on the front page of the Daily Sketch two days running. And although they attempted to notify next of kin as quickly as possible, the Admiralty was inundated with letters from family members of the crew, desperate for news. One such example was from Mrs Bush of Latham Road, East Ham who sought information about her nephew:

The suspense is making me ill so if you could possibly give me any information I should be very thankful

“Will it be asking you too much for information about Wilfred Albert Trim Roberts… I am his aunt I took him when 3 years of age when his mother died so of course feel anxious…… the suspense is making me ill so if you could possibly give me any information I should be very thankful…..Trusting I am not giving you too much trouble

Sadly, Wilfred, a Boy Servant, was not among the survivors. He was seventeen when he died.

There were also cases of next of kin being told about deaths incorrectly. Mrs Nelson of Belfast was just one who later received a telegram stating that her son was in fact safe along with the sentiment that “any distress which the receipt of the official intimation that he was lost may have caused you is regretted”. Mrs Nelson responded:

“I received your letters alright and I assure you they caused me no anxiety whatever, my son sent me a telegram to say he was alright on Friday last and he has just arrived home”


  • Court Martial

Although not immediately ruled out, the idea of a submarine attack was soon dismissed. In order to carry out a torpedo attack, a U-boat would have needed to have passed two other ships: another cruiser and an even more tempting target – the battleship Emperor of India. Having talked to survivors personally, and from divers reports, Vice-Admiral Jellicoe was of the opinion that the foundering of the Natal was due to an internal explosion.

As was traditional in the loss of a Royal Navy ship, a Court Martial into the loss of the Natal was held at Chatham between 18th and 20th January 1916. As the highest surviving officer, Lieutenant Commander John Spencer Tyndall was the first to give evidence. He was in the Mail Office under the after shelter deck at the time of the explosion, and in the immediate aftermath directed the crew to rig fire hoses. His testimony, along with that of others, in particular the divers William Russell and Charles Lambert, confirmed the opinion that the loss of Natal was due to an internal explosion caused by faulty ammunition. (The divers reported that the explosion had blown both sides of the ship bodily outwards). A similar conclusion was found for the loss of HMS Bulwark in 1914 and would again be the conclusion for the loss of HMS Vanguard in 1917. The Court Martial confirmed that the loss was not due to the design, carelessness or the negligence of officers and men.


  • Alternative Theory

Because of his severe injuries, only written evidence was taken from the Officer of the Watch at the time, Lieutenant Denis Quintin Fildes, son of the artist and illustrator Sir Luke Fildes.

According to the account given in ‘They Called it Accident’ by A. Cecil Hampshire, lying in his hospital bed Fildes had some anxiety about an incident which occurred on the afternoon of the accident. He’d heard a strange sound emanating from a ventilator shaft and had sent one of the crew to investigate. Fildes began to wonder whether the noise he had heard was in fact caused by a fire in the magazine. After the sinking Fildes became more inclined that the explosion had been caused by an incendiary device. He was more convinced this was the case when he attended a book tour by a former German officer Kapitan Lieutenant Franz von Rintelen who gave a lecture on the various acts of sabotage he had carried out, including sinking ships through the means of incendiaries.


Chatham Naval Memorial. Photograph uploaded by Vincent Stuart

  • Legacy

Today, a buoy marks the spot where Natal sank – the remains of the wreck designated under the Protection of Military Remains Act 1986. Many of those who died are remembered on the naval memorials at Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. Of the bodies recovered only 17 were identified and were buried in the local cemeteries of Cromarty and Rosskeen. More than 100 years later her memory lives on in the local community, with a garden created in her honour at Invergordan, museums in Cromarty and Invergordan remembering the sinking and a memorial in Durban erected in 1927.


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The Half‐Shilling Curate – the story of the Rev. Herbert Butler Cowl C.F. M.C.

Herbert with his sister Muriel who helped nurse him back to good health. Courtesy of Sarah Reay

On Christmas Eve 1914, Reverend Herbert Butler Cowl began his service with the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department. He became the only known Army Chaplain during the Great War to be awarded the Military Cross medal for exemplary gallantry on a ship. In this guest blog post Herbert’s granddaughter Sarah Reay shares his story with us, which she has published under the title The Half-Shilling Curate, A personal account of war & faith 1914-1918

  • The role of the Army Chaplain

The Army Chaplains not only provided spiritual guidance and sustenance to the men, but they became major contributors to general morale. They also gave invaluable assistance in the Field Ambulances at the frontline, helping medical staff, from doctors to stretcherbearers. Army Chaplains worked in the Army Camps and the Garrisons too, helping to prepare men for what they had to face at the front in battle and also supporting the wounded and sick who returned home.

A British Chaplain and army medic bringing back a wounded man from the Somme. IWM Q 721

Most of the Army Chaplains had no experience of working with soldiers before the First World War. This conflict was considered to be a righteous war and the churches responded with a supply of suitable candidates. Suitability ranged from being physically fit, to the ability to preach ‘extempore’ (‘off the cuff’), an ability to ride a horse and to speak a foreign language. Herbert Cowl was one of the youngest Wesleyan Army Chaplains in 1914 ‐ despite being in his 20’s, he had all of the qualities that the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department were looking for.

  • ‘The Half-Shilling Curate’

Born in 1886 in Leeds, Herbert finished his training to become a Methodist minister in 1910. He was affectionately known by his family as ‘The Half‐Shilling Curate’ – his lack of experience led him to feel he was “not the full shilling”. Herbert’s descriptive account of his experiences as a young Army Chaplain, from his own personal letters and writings, illustrated the value of faith during the war ‐ the balance between serving God and carrying out his duties as a captain in the British Army.

Rev Herbert Cowl. Courtesy of Sarah Reay

Sometimes as I cross a bit of rising ground between here and Headquarters, where the country is open, and the road only lined by an endless avenue of huge polled witch‐elms, I stand in the darkness; watch the probing searchlights flicker on to the clouds and hear those grim far off voices speaking death. It is a new sound; it is another world; and it calls to unprecedented scenes and experiences. God grant as we march into it all, that there may arise a man in me that is sufficient to this new occasion!

(Extract from a letter written to in France to Herbert’s parents in 1915)

  • Comforting the sick

No man wanted to be forgotten and left behind in the mud of Flanders. It was comforting for the soldiers to know, and be re‐assured, that if the worst fate should come to them, the padre, a good man would inter them and send them to Heaven with the full blessing of God.

One of the most important duties for an Army Chaplain was to comfort those who had been injured or fallen ill during their service.

For all their … ghastly wounds, they were the gayest company I remember meeting.

One evening I entered that room for some week night meeting and there covering the floor and propped up against the walls, packed from end to end, side to side were wounded men just unloaded from the Western Front. They were the heroes of the hour and very well they knew it, but for all their pathetic disfigurements and their ghastly wounds, they were the gayest company I remember meeting.

(Observations from Rev Cowl whilst at Portsmouth Garrison in 1917)


  • The dangerous reality of war

Herbert was severely wounded on the frontline in November 1915 and was sent home to Britain on board the hospital ship ‘Anglia’. Unfortunately, she became the first Red Cross ship to be lost due to enemy action in the war off the South East coast of England. Herbert handed his life belt to someone who he thought needed it more than himself, for which he was awarded the Military Cross.


The sinking of HMHS Anglia. Courtesy of Sarah Reay

My initial memory of my ‘Grandad’ when I was about 5 years of age: He was a very old man of average height with a fine bronze-coloured weather-beaten complexion and a full head of thick snow white hair. His spoken words were delivered in a very mellow peaceful manner. His voice was soft, husky and vibrant with almost an air of magic – I had never heard anyone speak so distinctively before. I learnt later in life that this was due to a piece of German shrapnel that had slashed through his jaw and voice box during a war that had taken place many years before I was born.

The Rev. Herbert B. Cowl C.F. M.C. considered himself no hero, but this is his story –one of many stories that had never been told before. The Army Chaplains who served so gallantly during the Great War have been largely over looked. However, let us hope now that their selfless courage is never forgotten.


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The Battle of Cambrai – ‘Use tanks boldly, press success and demoralise the enemy’

A British Mark IV tank at Wailly. © IWM Q 6284

As the Third Battle of Ypres drew to a close in the Passchendaele mud, Sir Douglas Haig gave his approval for General Sir Julian Byng, Third Army, to prepare for an attack on Cambrai in late November 1917. This would be the first time that tanks were used successfully en masse to spearhead the attack. In this blog post, we examine the objectives and success of the attack, and share the testimony of a tank commander who survived.


  • Objectives and preparations

The objective was the town of Cambrai and beyond. Six infantry and five cavalry divisions, along with three tank brigades, would be used. Surprise and rapidity of action were of the utmost importance, as it was calculated that no large hostile reinforcements were likely to reach the scene of action for forty-eight hours after the commencement of the attack.


British Mark IV Female Tanks being loaded aboard flat-bed railway trucks in preparation for the Battle of Cambrai. © IWM Q 46933

Unlike the quagmire of Passchendaele, the ground at Cambrai was, on the whole, favourable for the employment of tanks which were to play an important part. Facilities also existed for the concealment of the necessary preparations for the attack. In efforts to transform stasis into movement, the tank was developed under rushed conditions with the hope of breaking the entrenched stalemate of the Western Front.

In order to preserve secrecy up to the moment of attack it was decided to dispense with previous artillery preparation and depend, instead, on tanks to cut lanes through the enemy’s wire for the advance of the infantry.


  • Into action

At the start of the battle forces were equally matched, with 250,000 German and British soldiers facing each other along a 6 mile front. The initial attack carried out by the tanks proved effective, and within three hours a line had been broken in the German defences.

Captain Joseph Gordon Hassell commanded the tank ‘Harrier’, one of 378 fighting tanks that took part in the battle. He wore a tank mask (pictured below), designed to protect the tank crew from ‘splash’ – flying metal splinters caused by the impact of bullets hitting the outer steel of the tank’s body.


In action if the tank was hit, slivers of hot steel began to fly – bullets hitting the armoured plates caused melting and the splash, as in steel factories, was dangerous to the eyes.

Anti-splinter tank crew face mask, belonging to Joseph Hassell.
© IWM EQU 1654

Hassell successfully advanced beyond the second Hindenburg line on to the village of Ribecourt and on to his final objective the third Hindenburg defence line; however, later that day ‘Harrier’ became one of 179 tanks that were put out of action by German artillery fire or mechanical failure.

Hassell described going into action:

‘I was in the second wave … we just managed to swing the tank through 90 degrees and start off downhill on our right, when the first shot took off my right… had we been broadside on, we should all have been done for.  We received three direct hits – tank completely put out of action. This was after we had reached all our final objectives… Apart from the scratches we had no casualties…

Whilst the Harrier crew emerged unscathed, there were many casualties on the first day of the battle – one of those who lost their lives on 20 November 1917 was Captain the Honourable Cecil Edwardes. His service history is interesting as he enlisted in December 1914 under the name of Thomas Lloyd, only confessing to this fabrication of identity in March 1917:

‘I, Cecil Edwardes, 3rd son of the 4th Lord Kensington, born May 31st 1876, do solemnly and sincerely declare that I was enlisted on the 28th day of December 1914, under the name of Thomas Lloyd, which name I now declare to be incorrect. The name of Cecil Edwardes, I now declare to be my true name, and I make this solemn declaration’

By way of explanation he wrote:

When war was declared I returned to England from South America but owing to financial matters I was unable to apply for a Commission and so enlisted in the 3rd Regiment of Scottish Horse in December 25th 1914… I was granted Special leave to forward to England to settle my affairs – which has now been done and I should now like to be known by my real name – now that I am in England, not bearing my real name is causing me a great deal of inconvenience.’

Edwardes was immensely popular and eight officers went up the day after his death, got his body out of the tank and carried him back for burial.

Hassell recalled that Edwardes ‘had a premonition of his death [at Cambrai]. He told us the day before the action of this – settled up all his affairs. He was immensely popular and eight officers went up the day after his death, got his body out of the tank and carried him back for burial. In the absence of a Padre, I conducted such a burial service as was practicable.’


  • Counter-attack

This first day marked a decisive success for tank warfare, with five miles gained and 4,000 German soldiers taken prisoner – church bells were rung in Britain for the first time since the start of the war, to celebrate the advance. However, by 23 November , the tanks had lost their strength and the element of surprise. Haig had insisted that the woods were to be taken to enable a wider plan of attack. On November 27, the British attempted to take Fontaine, and the tanks were running into trouble in hemmed-in movements and technical malfunction. British war correspondent Philip Gibbs wrote: ‘no human being could stay alive there for a second after showing himself in the village.’ The British troops who had not entered Cambrai withdrew.

On 30 November the German Second Army counter-attacked, advancing almost three miles and capturing 6,000 British soldiers and 158 guns. Their combination of gas shells and close air support was as effective as the tanks had been for Britain at the start of the battle. On 2 December 1917 Haig instructed Byng to choose a secure winter line, withdraw and protect it – within a few days the battle drew to a close.

A Mark IV (Male) tank of H Battalion ditched in a German trench, 20 November 1917. © IWM Q 6433

  • Impact of the battle

Cambrai had failed to be the much hoped for turning point. The battle had resulted in 44,000 British and Canadian and 53,000 German casualties. However, the use of tank, infantry, artillery and cavalry in the Battle of Cambrai ultimately paved the way for combined arms operation of 1918. It was when these components – technology and man power – came together in tactical manoeuvres that success was finally achieved.

A century later, we pay tribute to all those who took part in the battle.


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