Sunday, 27 April 2014

'Just a short note to let you know I am A1 and happy as ever'

Charles Alderton shortly before leaving for the Front
Welcome to 'Letters from the Trenches' and I hope you like the new look I've given my blog! Nearly two years after my first post went up I thought it was time to freshen things up in time for the Great War Centenary. The content hasn't changed though, my posts will still be describing life during the First World War through the eyes of those who were actually there. And in the coming months there will also be news of my two books which are being published this year, 'Letters from the Trenches' and 'Bristol in the Great War'.

This week I thought I'd complement my new look with the correspondence of Charles Alderton, a young officer of the Gordon Highlanders, who always wrote to his family in London home with energy and enthusiasm. Charles had waited months to be posted to France after volunteering, and his wish finally came true in the summer of 1917. Despite the mud and guns his letters were happy and chatty and below are two that he wrote to his sisters.

'31 August, 1917

Dear Amy,

My life here has been full of interest, we have been on the move ever since we landed, we never stayed more than 3 nights in one place so far, but I am happy and comfy with plenty of food etc. The last two nights I have been billeted in a very comfy billet with a good bed and tonight I have a new billet as well...We are fairly near the line but seldom hear any guns but at night the flashes are very plain. If you can let me have Trevor's number and address I will endeavour to look him out on my travels. Of course there are many troops here but otherwise it is not very different to England.'

'Sunday, 4 November, 1917

Dear Lucy,

Just a short note to let you know I am A1 and happy as ever. I have not received any parcels yet but am looking forward to some today as I have heard what is in them. I received Anna's letter and am replying very shortly. We had a church parade and a presentation of colours by the Colonel in honour of his birthday which was last week...I had a very interesting time at tea with the Colonel and the Brigadier was there also, you can guess I saw the funny side of everything.

We have had very fair weather lately but have been very busy hence only a few letters this week. This is the first decent writing paper I have had since I have been out and they charged me 4 francs for it - some charge.

It looks very much as if I am going to spend Christmas here, if I do I will of course write and tell you all we do. I am always thinking of you all round the fire on Sundays but still as I said once before, we have a fire also. Our Colonel is a very nice fellow but awfully energetic, he is always using our spare!! time with some kind of competition. Well never worry I am as happy as ever and will now be closing. With heaps of love to all, your loving brother Charlie.'

What sort of Christmas did Charles Alderton have? You can follow his fortunes in my book 'Letters from the Trenches'.

Friday, 18 April 2014

A WW1 story that ended happily ever after

Family joy: Jim Granger, centre, returns home from war

It's good to remember that sometimes the First World War did have happy endings - and Jim Granger's was one of them. His story was begun in my previous post and is continued here by his granddaughter Sue Davis.

Jim was an Australian farmer who enlisted in 1915, aged 20, and returned home from the fighting in March 1919. His homecoming is captured in the wonderful photo above, with Jim in the middle and his sweetheart, Marie, next to him in white. Sue Davis takes up the story...

After the Great War and his welcome home, James Charles Granger travelled by train to the Young District of New South Wales where several Soldier Settlements were being offered by the state to discharged soldiers. He rode around the district on a bicycle before settling on Kingsvale to be his future home in 1919. He applied for a double sized block of land as he was soon to be married to his beloved Marie Louise Dobson in Sydney, and would be setting up home at Kingsvale. They were married on the 16 April, 1921. 

Jim settled in well to life as an orchardist with his major crop being prunes that he grew as plums and then dried in rakes in the sun. The prunes were sold under the brand name J.C.G. Prunes. The couple's property was, and is still called The Grange

In early 1922 Marie became pregnant with their first child. The baby was born on the 2 October but announced as a stillborn baby girl. The couple managed to move on from the tragedy and D’Arcy James Granger was born on 18 September, 1923 (my father). Two years later came Amy Catherine, and another two years later came Kennyth Ian.

Life was tough but Kingsvale had a great sense of community and the Grangers became a well respected family in the Soldier Settlement. Jim and Marie were very involved in community activities such as the local primary school parent group, Red Cross, and the Kingsvale Memorial Hall. In the Depression years of the 1930s food was very scarce for the animals and the horses were once fed on the thatch from the barn soaked in molasses.

Jim and Marie were dedicated Christian folk and, along with other Anglican members of the community, petitioned for a church to be built at Kingsvale so they did not have to travel to neighbouring Currawong or the larger towns of Harden or Young. The church was built on the highest point in Kingsvale and was dedicated in 1938.
Sadly, in 1947 Jim fell ill while visiting Sydney on business. He was diagnosed with leukaemia, possibly related to continual wet feet while in the trenches during the Great War. He didn't make it back to his beloved Kingsvale. Many letters were written to Marie (who lived until she was 92) at the passing of James. They told of the great person he was, a firm friend, great sense of humour, community man and dedicated family man.

We were always made to feel very proud of our grandfather, James Charles Granger. His legacy to us has never beeen forgotten. In fact my brothers, Jim and Jeff, still grow prunes and make prune products on the property. A stained glass window was erected in his memory in the little church on the hill at Kingsvale. The church has recently been closed but this Easter the family will re-dedicate the window at the neighbouring Currawong church.

Susan RoseMarie Davis (nee Granger)

Sunday, 13 April 2014

'Yours to a cinder, love from Jim'

James Granger
Many endearing characters are to be found within the pages of my book 'Letters from the Trenches' and some of the most entertaining are the Australians.

Almost without exception, their correspondence was light, bright and humorous although conditions were often far from easy. James Granger was one such soldier and his affectionate missives to Marie, the woman destined to be his wife, feature in a chapter called 'Letters of Love'.

He often signed his cards 'Yours to a cinder, Jim', and when on leave in London he joked that the King was too busy to see him because he was having a bath at Buckingham Palace. Below is a taste of James' style, beginning with a card written when he had just left Australia, aboard a troopship bound for Egypt.

March, 1916

It's 9 o'clock Friday morn. I'm feeling alright. I was sick on Wednesday night and well I might have been for it was as rough as H--. The ship was pitching a treat and waves broke over the bows so you can imagine how rough it was. You were darling to come down on a launch to see me. I shall never forget your kindness in bringing those parcels, contents of which were most acceptable. This is a bonnie boat it's set up so beautifully for troops. Syd has not been sick yet and is skiting [bragging]about it so much so that I like to see him sick. Love to self and everyone else from Jim.

Postcard from Egypt: 'The
flies would eat you alive'
The following month he sent the following card:

14th April 1916

We are in Cairo in Egypt again. But we are not in love with the situation of it. We landed at Port Said and entrained in open trucks for this part. About six hours run. The flies would eat you alive and the dust would choke you so the sooner we get under weigh for another sight the more contented we will be. The thought of the pictures with us together help to keep me alive. Love from Jim.

James Granger was one of the lucky ones who survived the war and when he returned to Australia he married Marie and they set up home at Kingsvale, New South Wales, one of the new Soldier Settlements established by the state for returning WW1 servicemen.

After a conflict that brought such misery and destruction, James managed to put the war behind him and build a life full of hope and optimism. His story will be continued by his granddaughter, Susan Davis, in a special post this Easter.

Saturday, 5 April 2014

Army's shock treatment for those who chose to say 'No'

Karyn Burnham's
new book
The shocking way in which some conscientious objectors were treated by the British Army during the First World War is told in a new book by Karyn Burnham called The Courage of Cowards.

Using unpublished archive material, Karyn, a fellow author of mine at Pen and Sword Books, tells of men like Jack Foister and George Beardsworth who refused to enlist when conscription was introduced 1916. When their appeals were turned down by local tribunals they found themselves conscripted anyway.

Many conscientious objectors were prepared to serve their country as long as they didn't have to fight, which meant they could be more easily accommodated (as stretcher-bearers or in factories, for example) than 'absolutists' like Foister and Beardsworth. But those who wanted nothing to do with the war effort would often find themselves subjected to brutal treatment by an army that wanted to break their resolve.

After being refused exemption, Beardsworth, a 21-year-old trade unionist from Blackburn, was sent to the Cheshire Regiment's barracks at Birkenhead. There he was forced on to the parade ground:

'George was expected to drill with the rest, but again he refused to follow any orders at all. When he failed to mark time, two soldiers kicked first one leg, then another repeatedly, effectively forcing him to mark time. When the order "eyes right" was given he was punched in the side of the head and his head twisted round to the right. Throughout the morning George was made to run round the field, and punched continually if he showed signs of stopping.'

Jack Foister was a young Socialist whose refusal to fight was for political reasons. He was secretly shipped to a camp in France in 1916 with others like him, and his punishment for disobeying orders involved:

'...being spreadeagled and roped onto a barbed wire fence on the perimeter of the site, in full view of all passers-by. The men were tied up so tight that they had to take great care not to cut their faces on the wire when tuning their heads.'

Worse was to come when Foister and his fellow COs were ordered to appear before a court martial. After their cases were heard (described by Foister as a 'rigged affair') the men were sentenced to death by shooting. A long pause ensued before the adjutant finally added that the sentence had been commuted to ten years' penal servitude.

Karyn Burnham uses her skill as a fiction writer (she's already completed a novel) to bring the COs' stories to life and her book is colourful and entertaining. It's also thought-provoking, with all sides of the 'to fight or not to fight' question are aired. The right not to fight might have been enshrined in law, but huge numbers still believed that duty to one's country had to come first.

  • The Courage of Cowards: The Untold Stories of First World War Conscientious Objectors by Karyn Burnham, is published this month by Pen and Sword Books. Click here or to order a copy.