Saturday, January 21, 2012

History, World War I Diaries and British Money


Dear Family and Friends,

You can’t be in London and not be aware of the history around you at every turn. Sometimes I feel as if we are living in the past. We spend much of our time searching out those who lived in times past and are surrounded by buildings and other reminders of the past. One such reminder is our project at The National Archives working on the World War I war diaries. As we sort through the archive boxes, we gain an insight into what conditions were like for those in the British military fighting in the trenches in France and in other places.

I am always interested to go through a diary that includes November 11, 1918, the day the armistice was signed between Germany and the Allies. The signing took place in a railway carriage in the Compiègne Forest and took effect at eleven o'clock in the morning—the "eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month" of 1918.

clip_image002                    Railway carriage in the forest of Compiègne

Sometimes in a diary entry for November 11 it simply says “Armistice signed” or “cessation of hostilities at 11.00”. The other day I ran across a longer entry. “Hostilities will cease at 11.00 hours today. Troops will stand fast at the line reached at that hour…defense precautions will be maintained. There will be no intercourse with the enemy until receipt of instructions… These tidings were immediately communicated to all ranks, being received quietly and without expression. Duties were carried out as usual, discipline being relaxed in no way by reason of the cessation of hostilities.”

Ken found one entry for 11 November that said, “At 8.30 a telephone message was received from Brigade to say that hostilities would cease at 11.00 hours.” The following day the entry read “The Battalion was occupied in cleaning up and drill practices.” It seems as though they were carrying on as usual. Another diary had an interesting entry for the day after cessation of hostilities. “Reorganizing, preparing for the march to Germany as part of the Army of Occupation” and on the next day, “March to Germany began.”


When we celebrate Veteran’s Day in the US it is because of that armistice signed at the closing of World War I in the forest of Compiègne. John McCrae, a Canadian doctor serving in the Armed Forces, was so touched by what he saw in northern France that, in 1915 he wrote  the poem "In Flanders Field”.


In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved, and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.



In the UK on Remembrance Day, the 11th of November, most people wear poppies to remember those who gave their lives in war. I have a couple of those poppies that I will bring home with me.


The diaries are either handwritten or typed and contain a daily account of the operations of a particular military unit. The kinds of information vary with the type of military unit. For example, in the diary of a Field Ambulance unit you see numbers of causalities. Mostly, they have names of the officers who were killed or wounded but sometimes they mention the names of enlisted men.

John Robertson came across a description of the food rations given to soldiers. “No fresh vegetables, dried figs issued in lieu, occasional rice issues in lieu of bread. Other rations, Bacon M+V. Spanish Onions. Chestnuts, Jam Tinned beef. Tinned Pork+Beans. Milk. Rum. A small quantity of the Milk ration saved in the day, is heated up at night + served mixed with Rum. Ration to men at tattoo.”

Ken found some drawings of hand held bombs containing small bits of metal. One was called a “hair brush bomb” because of its shape. There are also detailed drawings of the trenches.


In the Veterinary Corps diaries, much is said about the horses. At the beginning of the war there was apparently a large cavalry but trench warfare made cavalry charge impossible and the horses were later used mostly for transport of materials and equipment. The road conditions made travel very difficult. John Robertson said that in one diary it said that motor transport had made the roads like glass and the horses were unable to stand.


It also appears that there was a lot of mud. In the veterinary reports, conditions as mange and glanders were commonly reported among the horses.

John Robertson found an entry from medical unit that read, “Owing to wet weather and the saturated condition of the new trenches which are being dug, 25 cases of ‘Trench foot’ have been admitted. Anti-frostbite grease was asked for by me through A.A. & Q.M.G…”

Trench foot was a condition caused by the damp, cold condition in the trenches. By late 1915, the soldiers were told to carry 3 pair of socks with them, change them at least twice a day and cover their feet with grease. It is estimated that about 20,000 in the British military suffered from trench foot which could result in gangrene and amputation of the limb.

What an interesting project is is but it includes a lot of sadness. 

We have quite enjoyed getting to know one of our regular patrons, an English gentleman, Mr. Hale.


The other day he brought in some old English money to show us.


At the top is a pound note; in the center is a copper pence; at the bottom are a farthing, ha'penny, penny, thrupenny bit, sixpence, shilling, florin and a half crown. The oldest coins have an image of Queen Victoria and the newer ones the monarchs who followed her. Mr. Hales pointed out that every time a monarch changes, the direction of their profile on the coin also changes.

After the Norman Conquest in 1166, a pound was divided into 20 shillings or 240 pennies. This remained the case until decimalization in 1971, when the pound was divided into 100 pence.

Today in the UK the currency is the pound sterling. The symbol is £ .There are coins and bank notes. The coins are 1 penny, 2 pence, 5 pence, 10 pence, 20 pence, 50 pence, 1 pound, and 2 pounds. The bank notes are the 5 pound note, the 10 pound note, the 20 pound note and the 50 pound note. We are getting really good with the money as we have to balance our cash box every day. I’ve stopped saying dollars when I mean pounds. The exchange rate today is 1 British pound = 1.5525 U.S. dollars.


Birthdays at Home

We have 2 grandsons having birthdays the first week of February.

Happy 14th, Joseph!


Happy 13th Nick!


These guys are both very active and adventuresome teenagers. We are proud of you Joseph and Nick!


Our best to all of you!

Love, Elder and Sister Fugal (aka Cheryl and Ken, Mom and Dad, Grandma and Grandpa)

1 comment:

  1. Well nothing new in western front... but eastern had a more harch reality... Nice foto of a Patron I must say