Private John Condon 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment during WW1

6322 Private John Gordon of the 2nd Battalion Royal Irish Regiment was killed in action at the age of 14 on 24 May 1915 and is believed to be the youngest battle casualty of the Great War. He is buried at the British war grave at Poelcapelle, Belgium

Alan Malcher

Two Minutes’ Silence by Charles Spencelayh 1928.

Two Minutes’ Silence by Charles Spencelayh 1928.
The clock marks the eleventh hour as the elderly gentleman prays for the son lost in the war, whose portrait hangs above the clock and a jar of garden flowers that have been arranged in his memory. Spencelayh was staunchly patriotic and deeply affected by the war. (Charles Spencelayh 1865-1958)

John Ripley VC, Black Watch during WW1.

Corporal Ripley was the first man to climb an enemy barricade before leading his section under fire through enemy barbed wire (entanglements) and held the position until all his men were either dead or wounded during which he was badly wounded in the head and at the age of 47 is listed as the oldest recipient of the VC during the Great War. After being classified unfit for active service Ripley became a recruiting sergeant in Edinburgh. He was discharged in 1919 and returned to his trade as a slater. In 1933 he was fixing slates when he fell from a ladder and injured his spine and later died in hospital.

John Ripley VC

Alan Malcher

Sergeant Arnold Loosemore DCM, VC. Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment 1917

Arnold Loosemore enlisted into the army on 2 January 1915 at the age of 18 and after completing training was posted as a private soldier to the York and Lancaster Regiment and served during the Gallipoli Campaign.

After returning to England he underwent training as a Lewis Machine Gunner and in July 1916 was posted to the 8th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment and at the age of 21 his battalion was posted to the Somme in France.

Arnold Loosemore VC

On 11 August 1917 his platoon came under intense rifle and machine gun fire from German trenches and were pinned down when Private Loosemore decided to attack the enemy trench alone. After crawling towards enemy barbed wire under fire he found a section which was partly cut and after crawling through with his Lewis gun he continued crawling to higher ground before engaging a German trench and killing around twenty enemy soldiers.

After his Lewis Gun jammed three German soldiers rushed his position which he killed at close range with his revolver before clearing his jammed gun and continuing his lone firefight. Later that day he also killed several German snipers and carried an injured British soldier to safety. For his bravery he was promoted to Corporal then to Sergeant and was awarded the VC.

At Zillebeke in Belgium, on 19 June 1918 his officer was seriously wounded, and his platoon became widely scattered during an enemy bombardment. Whilst disregarding his own safety under machine gun fire Sergeant Loosemore organised his platoon and brought them back along with the wounded to the British lines. It was later recognised it was his leadership which resulted in his platoon later capturing the enemy position and was awarded the DCM (Distinguihed Conduct Medal).

On 13 October 1918 Sergeant Arnold Loosemore DCM, VC was shot in the leg by machine gun fire near Villiers-en-Cauchies, France and his leg had to be amputated above the knee after which he returned to England and was discharged from the army. Due to various health problems associated with his war injury he was unable to find work and died from tuberculosis on 10 April 1924.

His wife Mary who had a young son also called Arnold was refused a War Pension from the government because her husband died after the war and found herself destitute. With no money to pay for a funeral Mary was forced to bury her husband in an existing grave with three other bodies whose families could not pay the funeral costs at All Saints Churchyard, Ecclesall, Sheffield.

John ‘Barney’ Hines also known as the ‘Souvenir King’ during WW1

Photograph of John Hines surrounded by some of his stolen and liberated souvenirs whilst serving on the Western Front.

John Hines was a British-born Australian soldier who served on the Western Front during the Great War who became known for looting whatever he could get his hands on but was also noted for being an aggressive soldier. In June 1917 he captured 60 German soldiers during the Battle of Messines after throwing hand grenades into their pillbox.

Although he was brave in battle his behaviour was erratic and when away from the front line he was court martialled on nine occasions for drunkenness, impeding military police, forging entries in his pay book and being absent without leave. It is also thought he was caught robbing the safe at a bank in Amiens and because of these convictions he lost several promotions he gained for acts of bravery.

In mid-1918 he was discharged from the Australian Army for being unfit due to haemorrhoid problems and arrived back in Australia on 19 October 1918. For the next 40 years he lived near Mount Druitt in a small shelter made of old clothes which was surrounded by a fence on which he hung German helmets and the local people were afraid of him. Despite being a recluse and pennyless he travelled to Concord Repatriation Hospital each week to donate a suitcase of vegetables from his garden to veterans being treated there.

At the start of the Second World War he attempted to enlist but was rejected, at that time he was 60 years old. After being rejected it was widely claimed he attempted to stow away on a troop ship but was caught before the ship sailed.

John ‘Barney’ Hines died at Concord Repatriation HospitaL on 28 January 1958 and buried in a grave which was unmarked until 1971, when a charity paid for a headstone. The council renamed the street on which he lived to John Hines Avenue and a monument commemorating him was built at Mount Druitt Waterholes Remembrance Gardens in 2020.

Historian Peter Stanley said Hines was a man whose skills in fighting were needed and whose knack of souveniring was admired, but he had few gifts that a peaceful society valued.

Walter Chibnal who fought with the Australian Army during WW1 and his son William who fought during WW2

Walter Chibnall was a miner living in Beaufort, Victoria, Australia before enlisting into the Australian Army on 15 March 1916 to fight during the Great War. This photograph of Walter and his son William is thought to have been taken during the last time they saw each other before his father was posted to Europe to fight on the Western Front. Walter was promoted to Corporal on 14 September and posted to the 1st Reinforcement Regiment, 39th Battalion Mortar Battery.

On 12 October 1917 his father, Walter, was killed during the Battle of Passchendaele, Ypres: during an artillery bombardment Walter was taking cover in a shell crater when it took a direct hit from an artillery shell and has no known grave. At the time of his death he was 32-years-old.

During the Second World War his son, William, enlisted into the Australian Army and died in a Japanese prisoner of war camp at Amon on 20 February 1942. He is thought to have been executed and like his father has no known grave and died at the age of 30, 2 years younger than his father when he was killed. (Photos, The AIF Project UNSW Canberra Australia)

Walter chibnal

William Chibnal taken during WW2

Adrian Carton de Wiart VC, whose war service sounds like fiction but is all true!

Adrian Carton de Wiart fought in the Boer War, World War One, World War Two and during his military service from 1899 to 1947 he survived being shot in the stomach, groin, head, ankle, hip and leg. He also survived two air crashes, five escape attempts from a prisoner of war camp and after a doctor refused to amputate his fingers he bit them off. He also lost an eye and in 1915 was awarded the VC.

Adrian Carton de Wiart was born in Belgium in 1880 to an Irish mother and a Belgium aristocrat but it was widely rumoured he was the illegitimate son of the King of Belgium, Leopold II.

In 1899 he was sent to England to study at Oxford University but quickly dropped out and enlisted into the British Army under a false name and was known as Trooper Carton and was sent to fight in South Africa during the Boer War. He was shot in the stomach and groin and sent back to England but after recovering he rejoined the army under his real name and after being commissioned returned to South Africa in 1901.

During the British campaign against the ‘Mad Mullah’ in Somaliland whilst attacking an enemy fort Carton de Wiart was shot twice in the face and lost his left eye.

For a short time he wore a glass eye but whilst travelling in a taxi he threw it out of the window and put on a black eye patch which he wore for the remainder of his life.

Whilst serving on the Western Front as an infantry commander during the Great War he was wounded seven more times and after a doctor refused to amputate his mangled fingers he bit them off.

During the Battle of the Somme he was shot through the skull and ankle, at the Battle of Passchendaele he was shot through the leg and whilst fighting at Arras he was shot through the ear.

His citation for his VC during the Battle of the Somme States:“For most conspicuous bravery, coolness and determination during service operations of a prolonged nature. It was owing in a great measure to his doubtless courage and inspiring example that a serious reverse was altered. He displayed the utmost energy and courage in forcing an attack home. After three other battalion commanders had become casualties, he controlled their commands, and ensured that the ground won was maintained at all costs. He frequently exposed himself in the organisation of positions and of supplies, passing unflinchingly through fire barrage of the most intense nature. His gallantry was inspiring to all.”

Carton Medals Rotated

Despite losing various body parts Carton de Wiart said, “Frankly, I enjoyed the war”

From 1919 to 1921 he saw further action in Poland during the Polish-Soviet War and whilst on a train being attacked by the Soviet Cavalry he fought them off with his revolver from the running board of the train and at one point he fell onto the track and quickly jumped back to continue the fight. He later survived an air crash and spent a brief time in captivity.

He retired from the British Army in 1923 with the rank of Major-General (said to be honorary) and spent the next 16 years hunting on a friend’s 500,000 acre estate in Poland a few miles from the Soviet border. At the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 he was recalled as head of the British Military Mission in Poland and later escaped Poland with his staff whilst being chased by German and Russian soldier and despite being attacked by the Luftwaffe they made it to the Romanian border. Carton de Wiart then travelled back to England by aircraft after obtaining a false passport.

In 1940 he commanded Anglo-French forces in Norway with orders to take the city of Trondheim and with little support managed to move his troops over the mountains during which they were attacked from the air by the Luftwaffe, shelled by German navy destroyers and machine gunned by German troops and was eventually ordered to evacuate and board Royal Navy transports which were heavily attacked during their withdrawal.

On his 60th birthday he arrived at Scapa Flow in the Orkney Islands, Scotland and after returning to his London home it was bombed out during the blitz and all his medals were destroyed and he had to apply to the War Office for replacements.

In 1941 he was appointed head of the British-Yugoslavian Military Mission and whilst on an aircraft flying to Cairo both engines failed and crashed in the Mediterranean off the coast of Libya which was controlled by Italy. After being knocked out during the crash he was revived by the cold water and he along with the crew swum a mile to the shore where they were captured by the Italians and sent to a POW camp in Italy.

Carton de Wiart was involved in five escape attempts, including spending seven months tunnelling with other prisoners. After one escape he spent eight days disguised as an Italian peasant but was easily recognised because he had one eye, one arm and could not speak Italian.

In 1943 he was released from prison and acted as a negotiator for the Italian surrender after which he returned to England and became Churchill’s personal representative in China until 1947. Whilst returning to England he stayed at a guest house and whilst walking down the stairs he slipped on coconut matting and fell, knocked himself out and broke his back. After eventually arriving back at England it has been said a doctor successfully extracted an incredible amount of shrapnel from his old wounds.

Lieutenant-General Sir Adrian Paul Chislain de Wart VC, KBE, CB, CMG,DSO eventually moved to County Cork, Ireland, where he died in 1963 at the age of 83.
After his death one commentator said: “With his black eyepatch and empty sleeve, Carton de Wiart looked like an elegant pirate and became a figure of legend”

Lance Corporal William Agnus VC, 8th Royal Scots during WW1

On 12 June 1915 at Givenchy-Lés-la Bassée, France, Lance Corporal Angus saw Lieutenant James Martin lying a few yards from German trenches after being injured by a landmine.

After leaving the safety of his trench Agnus run over 209 feet across no-man’s land under heavy rifle fire during which he was hit 40 times and lost an eye but continued towards the injured officer who he dragged back to the British trench whilst still under heavy fire.

After two months in hospital he was awarded the VC by King George V at Buckingham Palace on 30 August. When the king commented on his 40 injuries Agnus replied “Aye sir, but only 13 were serious.

Each year until his death in 1959 William Agnus received a telegram of thanks from the family of the officer he saved.
He is buried along with his wife Mary at Wilton Cemetery in Carluke, Scotland and his VC is displayed at the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh Castle.

Manfred Von Richthofen (Red Baron) the greatest fighter ace?

On 2 May 1892 Manfred Von Richthofen was born in Kleinburg near Breslau which is now part of Warsaw, Poland, and his family were influential members of the Prussian aristocracy.

At the start of World War One in 1914 Von Richthofen was serving as a cavalry officer and in 1915 he decided to transfer to the German Air Force which had been founded in 1910 and already this new branch of the Imperial Germany Army was noted for upholding the honour of Prussian military tradition.

Manfred Von Richthofen wearing the Blue Max which was Prussia’s highest military order

At the age of 23 Richthofen’s mentor was German Fgher Ace Hauptmann Boelcke who was one of the most influential patrol leaders and was described as the ‘Father of Air Fighting Tactics’. Boelcke officially had 40 aerial victories but his student Manfred Von Richthofen later more than doubled this and became a legend throughout Germany and among his enemies whilst Boeleke became widely forgotten as Von Richthofen’s celebrity status as a fighter ace increasingly grew.

Richthofen was one of the first members of fighter squadron Jagdstaffel 2 in 1916 and in 1917 became the leader of Jasta 11, which later formed the larger fighter wing Jagdgeschwader 1 which became better known as the ‘flying circus’ because all the aircraft were brighly painted and by the way the fighter wing moved throughout allied areas like a travelling circus.

(source unknown)

Manfred Von Richthofen’s red aircraft became famous and his 80 air combat victories earned him the nickname the ‘Red Baron’.

Photograpth taken in 1916 early during his flying duties.

On 23 Novemeber 1916 Richthofen shot down British Fighter Ace Major Lanoe VC during a long dog fight during which Lanoe was eventually shot through the head and Richthofen immediately showed his respect by publicly describing Hawker as the ‘British Boelcke’.

Major Lanoe Hawker VC.

Who Shot Down and Killed The Red Baron?

(source unknown)
Body of Manfred Von Richthofen (aka The Red Baron)

The RAF credited a pilot named Arthur Roy Brown who was a Canadian serving with the Royal Navy Air Service with shooting down the Red Baron but most historians agree this was not the case and Manfred Von Richthofen was killed by machine-gun fire from the ground.

As fighters pilots were taught to attack the rear of enemy aircraft the autopsy report which states the fatal bullet penetrated Richthofen’s right arm pit and exited next to the left nipple, due to the angle supports the ground fire theory.

Machine gun being used to fire upon aircraft

It has also been claimed the fatal shot came from a soldier named Cedric Popkin who was an anti-aicraft gunner with the Australian 24th Machine Gun Company who fired at Richthofen on two occastions with a Vickers machine gun: first as he approached his position and then at long range to the right side of the aircraft and this second engagement supports the angle of the fatal bullet.

In 2002 it was suggested Gunner ‘Snowy’ Evans a Lewis machine gunner with the 53rd Battery, 14th Field Brigade, Royal Australian Artillery killed Richthofen, but this claim has been rejected due to the angle. Other sources suggest Gunner Robert Blue also of the 53rd Battery may have fired the fatal shot and although the Sydney council erected a plaque near his former home which states he shot down Manfred Von Richthofen the Red Baron this is also unlikely. The fact is, the person who shot down the Red Baron remains unknown.

Theories: Why did Manfred Von Richofen (Red Baron) fly dangerously close to enemy trenches?

Richthofen was a highly experinced and skilled pilot who followed the lessons from his mentor Boelcke among which was the basic rule of never flying close to enemy trenches and there is no logical explanation why he broke this rule on 21 April 1918 and was shot down.

Some historians suggest he may have been suffering from cumulative combat stress which made him fail to observe basic precautions. I find this theory quite persusasive becuase comparisons may be made with the shooting down by ground fire of British Fighter Ace ‘Mick’ Mannock VC who always warned new pilot to never fly low near German trenches but on 28 July 1918 Mannock broke his own rule and was shot down by a massive volley of ground fire from a German trench. (see further Mick Mannock the Irish Fighter Ace of WW1 an Malcher)

Richthofen in hospital recovering from a gun shot wound to the head. (source unknown)

Other historians suggest Manfred Von Richthofen was not fit to fly after receiving a bullet wound to his head during combat on 6 July 1917 and this theory is supported by unsubstantiated accounts of his personality having changed after being wounded. The fact remains, the person who shot down and killed Manfred Von Richthofen ‘The Red Baron’ and why he broke the basic rule of never flying in range of enemy tranches may never be known.

19 January 1915: The first aerial bombardment of civilian targets

The German blitz on cities during the Battle of Britain is well documented but the first aerial bombardment of Britain took place 25 years previously and according to some historians was the first ‘modern’ military attack which breeched the traditional boundary between soldiers on the battlefield by targeting civilians.

On the morning of 19 January 1915 two Zeppelins, L3 and L4, took off from their base in Hamburg and headed towards Yorkshire in northern England but due to bad weather over Norfolk L3 turned towards Great Yarmouth and L4 headed towards Kings Lynn.

Whilst flying over what newspapers called “the working-class district of St Peters Plain in Great Yarmouth,” L3 dropped its bombs and two civilians were killed:  Samuel Smith, a 53-year-old shoemaker, became the first British civilian to be killed during a German air raid and the subsequent enquiry said he was standing on the street when the bombs were dropped.  Martha Taylor, 72, was the next to be killed after her home was hit and the area was extensively damaged.

Martha Taylor and Samuel Smith

Meanwhile, whilst L3 was bombing St Peters Plain L4 was dropping incendiary bombs over Sheringham, Brancaster, Dersingham, Grimston before arriving over Kings Lynn at 10.50 pm where it released its bombs.

There was no air raid warning before 26-year-old Alice Gazeley whose husband had been killed three months earlier whilst fighting in France, and Percy Goate aged 14 were killed in their homes.

The mother of Percy Goate later told the inquest, “I saw a bomb drop through the skylight and strike the pillow where Percy was lying… I tried to wake him but he was dead… The house fell in. I don’t remember anymore”

St Peters Plain

13 others were also injured during this raid which was the start of a twelve-month bombing campaign mainly against civilian targets consisting of 52 raids across the country.

On 13 June 1917 during a daylight raid a bomb hit Upper North Street School in Poplar London. The school building was full of children when a bomb fell through the roof, crashed through the top floor classroom which was being used by girls, then crashed through the second floor which was a boy’s classroom before exploding on the ground floor which was a classroom full of infants.   

Eighteen children were killed, sixteen of which were aged between 4 and six and 15 children who could not be identified were later buried in a mass grave at the East End Cemetery, the other three had private graves and national newspapers called the German Air Force the baby killers.

During 1917, 163 civilians were killed and 432 injured

According to official statistics this first strategic bombing campaign caused 5,000 civilian casualties of which1, 413 were killed.

On 7 March 1918, 4 houses were destroyed in Warrington Crescent London W9 during which 12 were killed and 33 injured.