Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: A. Hertz
Born: 5 September 1895
Date of Death: 3 July 1917
Age at death: 21
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: London Regiment
Unit, Ship, etc: 1st/15th Battalion (Civil Service Rifles)
Enlisted: February 1915 in London
Rank: Sergeant (Service no. 531269)
Decorations: Victory Medal and British War Medal
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Killed in action
Family Details: Son of Isaac and Annie Hertz of 1 Cranley Buildings, Holborn, London
Residence: 40 Wenlake Buildings, Old Street, London
Home Department: Board of Trade – Labour Department (Central Office)
Civilian Rank: Assistant Clerk (Abstractor)
Cemetery or Memorial: Menin Gate (Panel 54); Civil Service Rifles Memorial, Somerset House, London; Memorial to Staff of the Ministry of Labour (located in Caxton House, Tothill Street, London); and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London); British Jewry Book of Honour

Biography:

“LET THOSE WHO COME AFTER SEE TO IT THAT HIS NAME BE NOT FORGOTTEN” (Memorial Scroll in memory of Abraham Hertz) 

The Board of Trade War Memorial contains men of all faiths and from diverse social backgrounds. A handful of the men were of Jewish descent and one of those was Abraham Hertz, who was born on 5 September 1895 in Whitechapel, London.

BritishJewryBookHonour

British Jewry Book of Honour (first published in 1922 (Araham Hertz is one of approximately 50,000 men named in the book)

The contribution of the Jewish community to the First World War effort in the UK, until recent years has not been widely known or studied. This is changing thanks to the “We Were There Too” community research project and other insights (for instance in a 2014 exhibition For King and Country? held at the Jewish Museum, Camden). The experience of the war from a Jewish perspective mirrored that amongst the wider British population but was also in many ways very different, especially due to changing attitudes to “aliens” and outsiders. For instance at the start of WW1, there was a level of anti-German feeling which resulted in London East End Jewish shops with German sounding names being attacked and Yiddish speakers confronted. Within days of the declaration of war, the Aliens Restriction Act was passed by Parliament on 5 August 1914 which impacted on all foreign nationals.

Forty to fifty thousand British Jews served in Britain’s armed forces in the First World War. Thousands more were also involved in war work and support roles behind the front line and on the Home Front. Per capita, more British Jews were involved in the war effort than the wider population. When the call came, the Jewish community stood up to be counted. Abraham was one of those.

The Board of Trade War Memorial Research Group is very fortunate to be in contact with one of the relatives of Abraham Hertz, his great nephew, David Hertz. The following biography is mainly based on information pulled together by David, with much thanks.

AbrahamHertz

Abraham Hertz (copyright: David Hertz) 

“Abraham’s parents were Isaac Hertz (1869 – 1939)  and Annie Fanny Sophia Sharp (1876 – 1936). He was the eldest of their seven children. Like many other people of Jewish origin living in London’s East End, his father worked in the tailoring business as a tiemaker (cutter). An insight into the tiemaking business in Spitalfields can be found in an article about ‘Drakes of London, Tiemakers‘.  Abraham was named after his grandfather, who was originally from Amsterdam in Holland and who had emigrated to London with his whole family in 1852, moving to 2 Artillery Passage in Spitalfields, London.

We can trace the younger Abraham’s story through historical records. For instance, in both the 1901 and 1911 censuses, Abraham is recorded as living at the family home at 2 Artillery Passage, Spitalfields with his parents and his younger siblings.

We also know thanks to surviving school admission records that Abraham started primary school aged 3 on 3 July 1899 at Gravel Lane School. From 1907 to 1911, he attended the University College School, Hampstead, an independent school which was originally founded in 1830. The school relocated to its current located in Hampstead in 1907. There is a possibility that Abraham might have been present when the school’s new purpose-built buildings were opened by King Edward VII and the Archbishop of Canterbury on 27 July 1907. The school was highly prestigious and was in the tradition of other schools, colleges and educational institutions which were open to those from diverse religious beliefs. It would however have been a very different environment from the East End of London and also a great foundation and experience for Abraham, who was clearly talented and who the family were keen to support in succeeding in life.

After leaving school, he left to work at the Board of Trade, Labour Department. The London Gazette (dated October 1911) records his appointment as a Temporary Boy Clerk.and then in May 1913 his promotion to Assistant Clerk (Abstractor).

He enlisted in February 1915 and joined the 1st/15th Battalion of the London Regiment (also known as the “Civil Service Rifles”).

He was promoted to Sergeant Instructor, specialising in musketry.

He was posted to serve in France in February 1917. The regiment’s first major military engagement was at the Battle of Messines in June 1917. This action is described in “The History of the Prince of Wales Own Service Rifles” (pages 140 – 144).

After Messines, the Division spent 12 days resting and recuperating in Ebblinghem near St Omer. On 28 June 1917 the men marched back to the front line, staying overnight at Meteren and Voormezeele on their way.

At the beginning of July 1917, according to the Battalion War Diary, the men were at Spoilbank in Oak trench which had been captured during the attack on 7 June. The regimental history describes this period as “three very unlucky days”.

The Civil Service Rifles history states, “The weather was bad, the trenches were in a perfectly rotten state of repair and the men had no protection against persistent shelling……Three unlucky days were spent here, during which time the losses from shell fire amounted to about forty all ranks……”. These events are also described in Jill Knight’s book, “The Civil Service Rifles in the Great War“. (The late  and much missed, Jill Knight, was the founder of the Board of Trade War Memorial Research Group).

CivilServiceRifles-WarMemorial-July1917

Civil Service Rifles War Diary – includes reference to the casualties in month of July 1917 (including Abraham Hertz) 

Abraham was one of eight other casualties on 3 July 1917. He died aged only 21 years old.

MeninGate

Menin Gate, Ypres, France

He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial (panel 54). This memorial, designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield, records the names of more than 54,000 soldiers who like Abraham died before 16 August 1917 and have no known grave. He is also commemorated on the scroll stored within the Civil Service Rifles Memorial located at Somerset House, London (which was the Civil Service Rifles regimental parade and drill ground). Additionally he is named on two Civil Service War Memorials – the memorial to staff of the Ministry of Labour (located at Caxton House, Tothill Street, London) and the Board of Trade War Memorial (located at 3 Whitehall Place, London). He is also named in the Roll of Honour and War List 1914-1918 of University College School, Hampstead (on page 48a along with a photograph) and in the British Jewry Roll of Honour. Sadly the University College School war memorial was destroyed in a fire so no longer survives.”

In 2018, the Board of Trade War Memorial Research Group were delighted and fortunate to meet Abraham Hertz’s relatives. Together we collectively continue to remember his sacrifice. Abraham’s story is one of integration and he is a symbol of how war impacts on all communities and individuals in all their diversity.

Remembrance cuts across all faiths, beliefs and origins. It is not about jingoism or blind patriotism. It is a time for quiet reflection, the giving of thanks and an open-ended invitation to reflect, pray, meditate, and contemplate.

AbrahamHertz-memorial

“Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten” – Memorial Scroll in honour of Sergeant Abraham Hertz (copyright: David Hertz)

 

Read Full Post »

Name recorded on Board of Trade Memorial: C. Carruthers
Born: 19 February 1890
Date of Death: 31 March 1918
Age at death: 28
Service, Regiment, Corps, etc: Durham Light Infantry
Unit, Ship, etc: 15th Battalion (64th Brigade, 21st Division) and previously 10th Battalion
Enlisted: South Shields
Rank: Private 39971
Decorations: British War Medal, Victory Medal
War (and theatre): WW1 (France and Flanders)
Manner of Death: Killed in action
Family Details: Son of John Thomas and Annie Marie Carruthers. Wife was Sophia Carruthers (nee Dennis)
Residence: South Shields
Home Department: Board of Trade – Mercantile Marine Department
Civilian Rank: Messenger and Outdoor Officer
Cemetery or Memorial: Pozieres Memorial (Panel 68-72); and the Board of Trade War Memorial (now located at 3 Whitehall Place, London);

Biography:

CuthbertCarruthers

Cuthbert Carruthers (copyright: N J Fordham)

Cuthbert Carruthers was born and raised in South Shields, Durham. From baptism records we know that he was born on 19 February 1890 and baptised a month later on 9 March 1890 at St Hilda’s Church in South Shields. His parents were John Thomas Carruthers (1858 – 1939) and Annie Maria Carruthers (nee Meredith) (1867 – 1936) and he had one surviving sister named after her mother and also called Annie Maria Carruthers (1892 – 1972). His father was a ship sea steward and subsquently a river policeman presumably in the River Tyne Police which was formed in 1845 and became a police force with full police powers under the Police Act 1919.

The family are traceable in the 1891 census living at 29 Thomas Street, South Shields, then in the 1901 census living at 40 Derby Terrace, South Shields and in 1911 living at 14 Mowbray Road, South Shields. By 1911, Cuthbert is aged 21 and working as a Butchers Shop Assistant. His connection to the Board of Trade comes via his appointment after an open competition  on 10 January 1910 as a Messenger and Outdoor Officer at the local  Mercantile Marine Office which formed part of the Board of Trade. The South Shields office was only a short distance from where he grew up in the town.

Cuthbert enlisted in South Shields as a Private (Regimental No 39971) in the 10th Battalion and subsequently the 15th Battalion (64th Brigade, 21st Division) of the Durham Light Infantry. Presumably he would have enlisted alongside many of his local friends and colleagues.

Durham_Light_Infantry_cap_badge_(Kings_crown)

Durham Light Infantry Cap Badge

According to the history of the Durham Light Infantry Battalions published on the Long Long Trail website, both Battalions were formed in Newcastle in August/September 1914 and landed in Boulogne in the autumn of 1915.

CWGC-Spring-Offensive-DYpM4BcWkAApbW0.jpg-large

Map of Operation Michael region showing locations of Commonwealth Grave War Memorial locations (Copyright: Tutbury Book of Remembrance)

We know that Cuthbert was killed in action during “Operation Michael”. This was a major German military offensive that began during the German Spring Offensive on 21 March 1918. The British knew of the planned offensive since the Germans positioned 65 divisions and more than 6600 pieces of artillery along their front line stretching 46 miles from Arras to Le Fere.

The goal of the German offensive to break through Allied lines and advance and seize the Channel ports, thus driving the British Expeditionary Force back. Two days later, the plan was adjusted by the Chief of the German General Staff to push the offensive westwards along the whole of the British front north of the Somme. The offensive lasted until 5 April but ultimately failed and turned to German disappointment and loss of morale, ultimately leading to the beginning of the end WW1. Germany lost 239,000 men, many of them specialist shock-troops.

21 March 1918, the first day of the offensive, was the second worst day in terms of casualties in British military history (with only the Battle of the Somme having more casualties). To give some understanding of the scale of the event, the German attack began with a 5 hour artillery barrage in which 3,500,000 shells were fired (and over 190 shells per second). By the end of 21 March, the British suffered 7,512 dead and 10,000 wounded and almost 21,000 taken prisoner. 

Cuthbert was reported missing on 21 March 1918 (although his military record states he died on 31 March 1918) and was named in the Shields Gazette on 24 March 1918.  His body was not recovered and so he is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial (Panel 68-72).

SophiaDennis

Sophia Dennis (Copyright: N J Fordham)

By the time of his death, Cuthbert was a married man of 28 years old with one child. He had married in October 1914 to a Sophia Dennis (1889 – 1932). His daughter Vera Carruthers (1915 – 1988) was only three when her father died. We also know that his wife, Sophia, was pregnant at the time that Cuthbert died and she gave birth to a little girl Bertha Carruthers (1918 – 2017) who was born posthumously on 21 April 1918, sadly to never know her father. She was not alone as over 500,000 children had a father who was killed in WW1.

Because his daughters basically never knew their father, we don’t know much more about what Cuthbert was like in personality or character, but we can imagine he was a typical South Shields man of his generation – loyal to his friends, family and local area – and making his way in the world.

A letter kindly shared with us by a relative of Cuthbert’s dated 14 November 1917 sent from No 3, Rest Camp, Shorncliffe at 4.30am and addressed to his wife, hints at the love and tenderness between them both as he writes “P.S. tell my dad I know where Finsbury Park + Ludgate Hill + Circus is. We stopped at both places had a look at Big Ben but that was all we saw. Heaps of love, keep your heart up. Think of the song: ‘I’ll be back some day and kiss those tears away when the war is over mother’.”

These lines are undoubtedly from the popular song “When the War is Over, Mother Dear” which was originally sung by a number of popular singers of the WW1 generation such as Ernest George Pike (under one of his pseudonyms of Herbert Payne) and George Baker (also known as Walter Jeffries). Both Baker (1885 – 1976) and Pike (1871 – 1936) had long careers and were hugely popular singers of their era with varied repertoires including opera, light opera, ballards and many other popular WW1 songs. Pike was the house tenor for HMV  and according to Wikipedia was “England’s most recorded tenor”.  The song was composed by popular music composers of the time, Arthur J Mills (1872 – 1919) and Bennett Scott (1875 – 1930).

Listen to the very poignant words of the song here:

When the War is Over, Mother Dear – lyrics

Soldier laddie, somewhere in France
In the trenches at the close of day
Writes a letter to someone he loves
In the home town, far away
Cheer up, mother, you needn’t sigh
There’s a good time coming bye and bye
When the war is over, mother dear

When the bands all play and the people cheer
And the boys come marching through the dear home town <
The joy bells ringing gaily as the sun goes down
Though your heart is aching, mother dear
For your soldier boy never fear
I’ll come back some day, and kiss your tears away
When the war is over, mother dear

Soldier laddie, dreaming of home
Sees the light in mother’s dear eyes shine
All in fancy he’ll list to her prayer
‘God protect you, son of mine’
How he longs for dear England’s shore
And to clasp her in his arms once more
When the war is over, mother dear

When the bands all play and the people cheer
And the boys come marching through the dear home town
The joy bells ringing gaily as the sun goes down
Though your heart is aching, mother dear
For your soldier boy never fear
I’ll come back some day, and kiss your tears away
When the war is over, mother dear

With these song lyrics in our hearts we give thanks to Cuthbert for his sacrifice in WW1.

Cuthbert Carruthers is also remembered on the Board of Trade War Memorial located at 3 Whitehall Place as well as in South Tyneside where he grew up and lived.

NOTE: With deepest thanks to the great grand-daughter of Cuthbert Carruthers, N J Fordham who has contributed to this blog and kindly shared the family photos of Cuthbert and his wife and the family letter. 

 

 

Read Full Post »

On this day

104 years ago to this very day – on 4 August 1914 – Britain declared war on Germany in what was known as the Great War and is now more commonly known as World War One.

Today also marks 100 days until the end of the conflict on 11 November 1918.

In early November, the Board of Trade War Memorial Research group is planning a small exhibition about the war memorial and the 305 men named on it who gave the ultimate sacrifice of those lives.

The exhibition will take place in the Business  Lounge of 3 Whitehall Place – the current headquarters building of the Department for International Trade.

The intended exhibition is part of wider national commemorative events such as the Royal British Legion’s “Thank You” campaign – https://www.britishlegion.org.uk/remembrance/ww1-centenary/thank-you and the There But Not There campaign – https://www.therebutnotthere.org.uk.

saying-thank-you-to-the-wwi-generation-1-editThe exhibition is also part of the Board of Trade War Memorial Research Group’s ongoing work (both during the 100th commemorative year since the end of WW1 and into the future) to remember the lessons learnt from the conflict.

The research group has existed for around 15 years, in both the current Department for International Trade and also its predecessor departments including the Department for Business and Department for Trade and Industry. Throughout this time the group’s aims are to consistently remember, raise awareness and share stories about the war memorial and those named on it, as well as the wider history of the department. Whilst research is at the core of the group’s activities, so equally is communicating stories to both staff, relatives and the wider public. Over time the group has communicated in different ways – first through the DTI staff newsletter and dedicated department pages on the former DTI website and now more recently via this blog and @tradememorial Twitter feed

“We will remember them”

world-war-i-by-the-numbers_final

 

 

 

Read Full Post »

Today on 10 July 2018 as the country officially recognises 100 years of the Royal Air Force (RAF) with 100 planes taking part in a massive and spectacular flypast over the Mall and Buckingham Palace along with a parade, the Board of Trade War Memorial Research Group remembers the nine men named on the war memorial who served in the RAF or its predecessors.

The RAF was formed on 1 April 1918, and was the world’s first independent air force. Before its formation,  the aircraft used by Britain during the First World War were operated by the Royal Navy as part of the Royal Naval Air Service, (RNAS) and by the army as the Royal Flying Corps (RFC).

In the early days of conflict, flying machines were few and far between, and their importance to the war effort was not yet well understood. By the summer of 1917, the concept of air superiority was being discussed, and the suggestion of merging the RNAS with the RFC to create an independent air force was made.

The nine Board of Trade men who served in the air were as follows.

  • Stewart Bence (aged 20 when he died) and Bertram Venn (27) served at the Patent Office.
  • George Bryars (19) and Harry Vine (32) both served at the Seamen’s Registry.
  • Leslie Thorowgood (23), Percy Woodhouse (20), and Roy Angus (23) who all served in regional Labour Departments.
  • Herbert Good (19) was employed at the Establishments Department.
  • Harry Boyles (18) was employed at the Statistical Department.

Among the nine men, there was a variety of flying experience despite their young ages and they flew in a variety of machines, such as the Airco DH4 or the Bristol F2b.

The Statistical Office’s Harry Boyles was just 17 when his plane was shot down over the Western Front, and had only just turned 18 when he was killed in an accident while landing in Greece.

Herbert Good, although only 19 himself, was classed as a ‘fighter ace’ with 5 enemy aircraft defeated in battle. Herbert was shot down near Cambrai and presumed killed. He was never found, but is commemorated at the Arras Flying Services Memorial at Pas de Calais in France.

Corporal Stewart James Bence of 211 Squadron was killed in action on 14 August 1918.

2nd Lieutenant Percy Wilfred Woodhouse on the 5th Squadron (RFC) who crashed after combat on 28 March 1918 whilst flying a Royal Air Factory RE8 plane.

Lieutenant George Leonard Bryars was killed in action during aerial combat and reported missing on 16 September 1918 aged just 19. He was in a Bristol F2b C878 flown by 2nd Lieutenant Arnott who was also killed in same combat.

Flight Sergeant Henry Charles Land Vine reportedly died on 3 November 1918 of pneumonia. He was based at the RFC Wye airfield in Kent.

A large proportion of those who served with the RAF in the early years died in aircraft accidents and the men of the Board of Trade did not escape.

2nd Lieutenant Bertram Joseph Venn of 5 Training Squadron died on 11 July 1917 while flying a Shorthorn A2493 which he was force-landing in a field adjoining Castle Bromwich aerodrome near Birmingham after the engine stopped.  The machine struck a hedge, the nose hit the ground and Venn was thrown out and died. This was his fourth solo flight as a pilot.

Captain Leslie Vernon Thorowgood who died in an accident at Lake Down on 22 March 1918 whilst flying. According to:

http://www.rcawsey.co.uk/Acc1918.htm Captain Thorowgood’s flight in his DH9 – D5560 ended in disaster when its wings broke away mid-dive.

Lieutenant Roy William Fred Angus from Newport, Gwent, Wales died on 13 August 1918 also as a result of an accident.

Each of their deaths serves to illustrate the perils of flying particularly in the early years of flying.

cof

Royal Aircraft Factory BE2 replica plane at RAF 100 tour at Horseguards Parade in London, 9 July 2018

A full list of 305 Board of Trade men can be viewed on this website.

You can find out more about the RAF 100 Flypast and you can also continue to go and see the RAF 100 Tour in a variety of UK cities until September 2018.

 

IMG_20180710_082709

Read Full Post »

Excited to say that the Department of International Trade’s War Memorial Research Group now has a brand new Twitter feed – take a look at the BoT War Memorial Group’s Twitter feed @TradeMemorial

This site will be used to communicate and commemorate in new ways and to new audiences the lives of the 305 men listed on the Board of Trade’s WW1 Memorial as well as related Civil Service Memorials including in the Patent Office Memorial 1914- 1918 now hanging in Concept House, Newport, Wales and the Department for Work and Pensions WW1 Memorial hanging in Caxton House , Tothill Street, London.

With great thanks to @JasonPawlin for setting up our Twitter presence.

IMG_20180211_191332Please get in touch with the War Memorial Research Group if you have any questions – war.memorial@trade.gsi.gov.uk

Read Full Post »

poppies-650x250

Commemorating Armistice Day

11 November, 2016

Earlier today, at 11am, BEIS and DIT staff observed two minutes’ silence to remember those who have fought and died in conflicts since the First World War.

Permanent Secretaries Alex Chisholm and Sir Martin Donnelly and Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox were among those who laid wreaths at the base of the Board of Trade memorial in the foyer of 1 Victoria Street. Around 900,000 British military personnel lost their lives in the First World War, among them over 300 Board of Trade employees.

Catherine Raines (Director General of International Trade and Investment, DIT) laid a wreath on behalf of BEIS ministers; Rt. Hon. Dr Liam Fox MP laid one on behalf of DIT ministers; Alex Chisholm laid one on behalf of BEIS staff; Martin Donnelly laid one on behalf of DIT staff; one was laid by Colonel John Ogden, in memory of those with no known grave; Richard McDonald-Webb (a serving member of the Royal Auxiliary Air Force) laid a wreath in memory of our fallen colleagues; Simon Tapson (retired Corporal from the Royal Military Police) laid one on behalf of Retired Service Personnel; Caroline Jacobs (great niece of a fallen WW1 serviceman) laid one on behalf of Relatives and Friends of the Fallen and Sara Wheeler MBE (Prime Minister’s Trade Envoy Relationship Manager) laid one on behalf of the war memorial research group.

lineup

Left to right: Sara Wheeler, Col John Ogden, Caroline Jacobs, Richard McDonald- Webb, Liam Fox, Simon Tapson, Alex Chisholm, Martin Donnelly and Catherine Raines

The BEIS and DIT choir also sang at the ceremony.

choir

Remembrance is part of modern British life, culture and heritage. The poppy is the symbol of remembrance and hope. During the First World War, on the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the guns of the Western Front fell silent after more than four years of continuous warfare.

The first two minutes’ silence in Britain was held on 11 November 1919, when King George V asked the public to observe a two-minute silence at 11am

 

Read Full Post »

Somme centenary: Let’s not forget the outstanding civil servants who braved the trenches.

Written by Christopher Jary on 1 July 2016 in Feature.

Christopher Jary remembers the civil servants who volunteered to fight for their country in the Great War as recalled in Jill Knight’s book, The Civil Service Rifles in the Great War: ‘All Bloody Gentlemen’

The civil service is not strong on remembering its own history. How many of us, serving or retired, know about our regiment’s part in the Great War? Until I read this book, despite 35 years in the service and an active interest in military history, I thought that the Rifles were created in 1914 to encourage civil servants to enlist and that they formed a single battalion of the London Regiment. I was wrong on both counts – as this excellent book, written in 2004 by Jill Knight of the Foreign Office and the Department of Trade and Industry, has shown me.

The Civil Service Rifles were not creatures of Kitchener’s or Derby’s recruitment appeals. They made up a London volunteer unit that traced its origins to the mid-19th century – and beyond – and that drew its part-time recruits from young men in the public service. The Rifles sent 136 soldiers to fight the Boers in South Africa and some Boer War veterans also fought in the First World War.

Such was the flood of new recruits in August 1914 that the regiment formed a second battalion. A third battalion followed but did not go overseas: its role was to supply trained men for the two fighting battalions. The 1st Battalion went to France in March 1915 and fought at Festubert, Loos, Vimy Ridge, the Somme, Messines, Cambrai, the retreat of March and April 1918, and the advances from August 1918 until the Armistice. To their chagrin, the 2nd Battalion stayed in England until April 1916. They even wrote a song about it:

We’ve been to Dorking, Watford, Ware, Old Saffron Walden, we’ve been there, One of these days, so please the Lord, If we’re in luck, we’ll go abroad

But, after an uneventful spell in Ireland following the Easter Rising, they caught up with their foreign travel. Three months on Vimy Ridge between June and October 1916 were followed by six months fighting Bulgarians in Salonika and a year fighting Turks in Egypt and Palestine, capturing and defending Jerusalem, before returning to France to take part in the final advances of 1918. Jill Knight’s very human account tells the whole story, often most touchingly and lucidly in the riflemen’s own well-chosen words.

“Given the disparity between the popular stereotypes of civil servants and soldiers, would you expect a regiment of faceless bureaucrats to be outstanding? Well, they were.”

Now seems a good moment to consider their story because a century ago, two battalions of Civil Service Riflemen were serving in the trenches.

Today we will remember the Somme Offensive, which began on 1 July and ground to its murderous, muddy halt on 18 November 1916. A million men were killed or wounded in one of the bloodiest battles in the history of war. A turning point in modern history, this was the beginning of industrialised, total war. Battle was no longer a clash between regular armies reinforced by volunteers; it was now a grinding campaign of attrition between the industrial muscle and manpower of two groups of nations. After the Somme, Great Britain changed socially, politically and spiritually. A proud, confident nation now bore a painful scar.

Given the disparity between the popular stereotypes of civil servants and soldiers, would you expect a regiment of faceless bureaucrats to be outstanding? Well, they were.

The Rifles won 27 battle honours, 329 gallantry awards and 116 mentions in Despatches. So good were they that 967 of their men – 14% of those sent overseas – were commissioned. Educated men – hence the book’s title – they excelled as soldiers. From the outset, as the book describes “Many… were work colleagues and friends; a lot had attended the same schools; and a number were related, either directly or by marriage. These relationships crossed all ranks and there was no deep divide between officers and men.”

Later, a regular commanding officer tried unsuccessfully to introduce pre-war regular Army relationships into the 2nd Battalion. “There was general relief when… he was succeeded by an informal, cheery young regular captain on promotion… Overnight friendly officer-man relations were restored, without detriment to military discipline.” One veteran remembered: “He realised very early the type of men of whom the battalion was composed, and was content to lead and guide rather than to drive. Destructive criticism had no place in his armoury.”

Much of their leadership was home-grown. The last commanding officer of the 2nd Battalion was Lieutenant-Colonel Augustus Benké, a Home Office official who joined the Rifles in 1910. After service in France with the 1st Battalion, he fought with the 2nd in Salonika and Egypt and rose to command the battalion in the last months of the war. After the war he was appointed OBE for his service as a prison governor, adding the decoration to the DSO, MC and mention in Despatches he had received during a dazzling career as an infantry officer. That leadership permeated all ranks.

Take sergeant-major FC Robertson of the 1st Battalion (once Board of Education), who won a DCM, or Corporal Francis Martin, previously a local government official in Reading and later commissioned into another regiment. These were typical of the men of all ranks who together created the regiment’s unique culture.

Siegfried Sassoon saw the reinforcements arriving before the Somme as “drafts of volunteers” and afterwards as “droves of victims”. Impressively, despite heavy casualties and huge numbers of reinforcements – most of whom were not civil servants – the Rifles maintained their own character and discipline to the end. Reinforcements were absorbed who in turn subtly absorbed the brave and democratic spirit created by the early volunteers.

On a terrace on the Thames embankment side of Somerset House, stands a column. Designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, it commemorates 1,240 Civil Service Riflemen killed in the First World War. Next time we’re near the Strand, let’s pop along and spend a minute – or perhaps two – thinking about these predecessors of ours who confronted the horrors of world war and did their duty.

And, while we’re there, we can also remember Jill Knight who, having told their remarkable story, died much too young.

About the author

Christopher Jary spent half his 35-year career in the Employment Department/MSC and the other half teaching at the Civil Service College.  He wrote Working with Ministers and Joining the Civil Service and co-wrote (with Paul Grant) Understanding British Government.  He now writes – mainly military history books – and lives in Dorset.

Jill Knight worked in the FCO and then in the Department of Trade and Industry.  She was the driving force behind a new war memorial plaque which was unveiled in (what is now) BIS headquarters on Armistice Day 2002 as a replacement for a Roll of Honour of staff of the Board of Trade who fell in the First World War. Civil Service Rifles was then published in late 2004 before Jill very sadly died of cancer at the age of 55 in April 2005

The Civil Service Rifles in the Great War: ‘All Bloody Gentlemen’ (2004) by Jill Knight is published by Pen & Sword Books.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »