Category: britain in war

Authorbritain in warCanadaCanadian HistoryFlanders Fields

Flowers of the Forest – The story behind the story. A young man’s journey to War.

Farquhar Mclennan
My Great-Uncle, Pte. Farquhar McLennan, killed in action, June 13, 1916

Join me, if you will , on a journey in time – a journey back 100 years!

I have designed this website as a media supplement to the novel “Flowers of the Forest”. The novel is a historical/fiction rendition of my Great Uncle, Pte. Farquhar McLennan’s time in the Canadian Expeditionary Forces in the Great War. This site gives the reader of the novel, the opportunity to see photos of the vivid characters and amazing places that live in the pages of the novel. The reader will also have access to background information and research that went into writing the story.  The Library and Archives in Ottawa provided a wealth of digital data that are displayed in this site. The project started out as my curiosity but soon became my passion. Read on as I update the site and find out why. Here is a chance to view some compelling  photos and documents. Travel back in time 100 years and feel the vibe!

800px-58_Bn_CEFBattalion Colours of the 58th Battalion, CEF

Light blue rectangle – 9th Brigade

Dark blue triangle- 58th Battalion

Brown background  – 3rd Division

Canadian Expeditionary Force

Badge 58th

Cap Badge, 58th

 

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W.M. McPherson Bakery as it looks today in downtown Aberdeen.

This is the Bakery that Farquhar Mclennan worked in until April 1914. It is located at 15 Fountainhall Rd., Aberdeen. He worked as an apprentice for 5 years and then became a journeyman. Google Earth is a great tool for doing this kind of background research and providing photos of current locations in street view. I try to imagine what the bakery looked like in 1914. Later, I will demonstrate how to use Google Earth for overlays on Trench maps.

Farquhar's Bakery

15 Foutainhall Rd., Aberdeen

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Football Players and the War

On the 25th March, 1918, Walter Tull was killed by machine gun fire while trying to help his men withdraw.

Second Lieutenant Walter Tull was the first black British Army Infantry officer.
Walter Tull, the son of a joiner, was born in Folkestone on the 28th April 1888. Walter’s father, the son of a slave, had arrived from Barbados in 1876. In 1895, when Walter was seven, his mother died. Walter’s father remarried but he died two years later. The stepmother was unable to cope with all six children and Walter and his brother Edward were sent to a Methodist run orphanage in Bethnal Green, London.

Walter was a keen footballer and played for a local team in Clapton. In 1908 Walter’s talents were discovered by a scout from Tottenham Hotspur and the club decided to sign this promising young footballer. He played for Tottenham until 1910, when he was transferred for a large fee to Northampton Town. Walter was the first black outfield player to play professional football in Britain.

When the First World War broke out, Walter abandoned his football career to join the 17th (1st Football) Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment.

During his military training Walter was promoted three times. In November 1914, as Lance Sergeant he was sent to Les Ciseaux in France. In May, 1915 Walter was sent home with post traumatic stress disorder.

Returning to France in September 1916 Walter fought in the Battle of the Somme, between October and November, 1916. His courage and abilities encouraged his superior officers to recommend him as an officer. On 26 December, 1916, Walter went back to England on Leave and to train as an officer.

There were military laws forbidding ‘any negro or person of colour’ being commissioned as an officer, despite this, Walter was promoted to lieutenant in 1917.

Walter was the first ever Black officer in the British Army Infantry, and the first black officer to lead white men into battle.

Walter was sent to the Italian Front where he twice led his Company across the River Piave on a raid and both times brought all of his troops back safely. He was mentioned in Despatches for his ‘gallantry and coolness’ under fire by his commanding officer.

He was recommended for the Military Cross but never received it.

After their time in Italy, Walter’s Battalion was transferred to the Somme Valley in France. On the 25th March, 1918, Walter Tull was killed by machine gun fire while trying to help his men withdraw.

Walter was such a popular man that several of his men risked their own lives in an attempt to retrieve his body under heavy fire but they were unsuccessful due to the enemy soldiers advance. Walter’s body was never found and he is one of thousands of soldiers from World War One who has no known grave.

(courtesy ww1 Colourized Photos)

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Europe, here we come!

On November 15, 1915, the 58th boarded a train at the Exhibition grounds and headed for Halifax, Nova Scotia. The men used this time to play cards, sleep, eat and enjoy themselves. Two days later they arrived. Not much time was wasted transferring them to the city port and to the ship that they were to sail on – the HMT Saxonia.

click for more information on the Saxonia

Saxonia loading for England.

Saxonia loading for England.

The ship had just arrived from a 4-day stay in New York City. The 58th was to share the ship with the 54th Kootenay Battalion and the 1st Siege Battery of Halifax. The Saxonia could accommodate about 1100 troops in relative comfort. For this trip, she would be carrying 2400.

A last glimpse of Canada for those destined to die.

3rdclassroom

3rd class accommodations

3rdclasssmrm

3rd class state room

Saxoniaimages

On deck

Boatoct1914

Scenes taken by Col. Lamb when 1st Division crossed the Atlantic in Oct. 1914. The Canadian Press/HO, Dept. of National Defence/Library and Archives Canada

The Saxonia was originally a Royal Mail Ship of the Cunard Line. She was now one of His Majesty’s Troop Ships. She was painted in camo to make detection more difficult.

Saxonia1900

HMT Saxonia, troop ship in WW1

Saxoniacamo

Saxonia in Camo

It certainly doesn’t take much imagination to picture the living conditions aboard ship. To make matters worse, they shared the vessel with a couple of dozen horses. There were many complaints about the amount of food that was served to the men. On November 29, some of the men raided the food canteen and this resulted in the Captain of the ship relenting, and increasing the portions given to the men.

Off the coast of Ireland the Saxonia picked up a destroyer escort for the duration of the journey. She arrived safely in Plymouth Harbour on December 1, 1915. For many of these men, it was a return home.

 

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Bramshott, England (Paradise – not)

Our valiant travelers, the men of the 58th, felt lucky to arrive in Plymouth in one piece and alive. German U-boats had been taking a toll of troop ships off the coast of Ireland. Their escort probably deterred such an attack. A large contingent of locals greeted the ship as it entered the harbour.

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Soldiers at Plymouth, England, waiting for the train to Liphook.

On December 3, 1915 the 58th boarded a train for Liphook, in the Salisbury Plain. Along the route, townspeople gathered at track side to cheer the men and treat them like heroes. The terrain was low and flat, providing something more akin to the Ypres Salient. In other words, there was plenty of mud and gook. At Liphook, they disembarked and proceeded on a 12 km route march to Bramshott Camp.

Many of the men in the 58th were mostly of English, Scottish or Irish birth, so the arrival back in Britain gave them an opportunity to visit friends and family when they went on leave.

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Soldiers marching to Bramshott Camp.

 

Bramshott-Camp

The story gets better! To be continued.

 

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