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Observation Balloons Observation balloons were commonly adopted by all sides and considered ideal in the static trench warfare conditions largely peculiar to the First World War. Gas or hot-air propelled, such balloons were by no means a new innovation in terms of military adoption, having been put to use as early as the 18th and 19th centuries. However they were deployed extensively along the Western Front in particular. Winched into the air, seldom alone, they were usually accompanied by one or two others for comparative observation purposes. Observation readings were passed down via the use of flags or occasionally by radio, and balloon operators would generally remain in the air for hours at a spell. It was regarded as a dangerous job, for although observation balloons were invariably heavily protected by anti-aircraft and machine gun fire and by wire meshes dangled between groups of balloons, they were often the irresistible stationary target of enemy aircraft. So far as the various air forces were concerned, bringing down an observation balloon was regarded as a valid victory and were added to each pilot's list of 'kills' in the same manner as enemy aircraft. This was because downing balloons was considered something of a hazardous occupation, although some pilots established reputations as 'balloon busters' (such as the Belgian Willy Coppens, who brought down 35 balloons, the highest single total of the war). Bringing down balloons was deceptively problematic. Standard bullets were usually insufficient in themselves, passing directly through the balloon's fabric without setting it alight. When under attack operators on the ground would hastily winch down the balloon and unless the attacking aircraft could succeed in setting the balloon alight - by the use of incendiary or explosive bullets - he would have failed in his mission. Many pilots were careful not to pursue balloons beneath 1,000 feet for fear of the devastating consequences of anti-aircraft fire. British servicemen were permitted to don parachutes to escape should the balloon come under successful enemy fire, although the chances of a safe escape once the balloon was ablaze was slim. Balloons were additionally used for home defence purposes and were flown in groups via cables in major cities such as London, each balloon dangling steel cables to form a kind of apron into which attacking enemy aircraft could find themselves entangled and so be brought down. To evade such defences attacking aircraft were obliged to fly at ever higher altitudes, reducing the likelihood of a successful, accurate bombing raid. Image A returning German observation balloon
December 14th, 1914 - Special Camp Established in Germany for Irish POWs Pictured - Irish nationalist leader Sir Roger Casement. In both World Wars, Germany tried to stir up nationalism throughout the British Empire, especially in Ireland. On the 20th of November, 1914, Berlin issued a proclamation in support of “national prosperity and national freedom” for Ireland. They hoped not only to encourage tensions on the island itself, but also to recruit troops to fight against the British on the Western Front. That autumn a special camp for Irish prisoners of war was set up in Limburg, in an attempt to get the POWs to form an Irish Brigade to fight alongside the German army. In December, Sir Roger Casement visited the camp three times. Casement, a former consul of the British Empire, was a leading member of the Irish nationalist movement. Traveling in the Belgian Congo, Casement had grown disgusted with colonialism and returned home to fight for Irish independence. He traveled to the camp along with a German prince, Emrich von Leiningen, to rally the prisoners to his cause. The Irish POWs were not at all impressed. Out of 2,000, only fifty-five enlisted to fight Britain, and only ten of them were considered reliable enough to be sent back to Ireland. Casement refused to return to Limburg again, huffing in a letter to a friend that he would “not return to Limburg to be insulted by a handful of recreant Irishmen.” Casement’s appeals to Irishmen in the United States met with a similar lack of enthusiasm. Only one American traveled over to join the nationalist movement. In spite of this failure, Casement would go on to sign an agreement with the German secretary of state, von Jagow, that the troops of his little brigade would be landed in Ireland with an equal number of German soldiers. Image Source: National Library of Ireland
On 16th December 1918 the role of flying boats in defeating u-boats was the subject of an article in the local press. “OUR FLYING BOATS. “HOW THE PIRATES WERE BEATEN FROM THE AIR. “From official information now available we learn how great a part our coastline aircraft service played in defeating the U boat campaign. But for the labour of our aerial coastguards we should long since have lacked bread. “Day after day, winter and summer, from dawn to dark, the coastal patrol was sustained, only dense fog or a full gale interrupting it. When the results are considered, it should be observed that the effectiveness of the Royal Air Force anti-submarine patrol is not to be gauged the number of submarines sunk — notable as that was — but by the fact that attacks on shipping during flying hours were reduced to a minimum. “In the campaign against the German submarines the large flying boats were a natural development of the seaplane. They made their first appearance on the East Coast in the early part of 1917, and were used for the same type of work as seaplanes, but had the advantage of greater power and greater endurance in bad weather. Like the seaplane, the flying boat can alight on the water, and plans were made for fitting them with hydrophones, so that whilst sitting on the waves their occupants could listen for submarines. “It was not until the submarine menace became exceedingly grave that land machines were brought generally into operation against the U boats. That was in the early months of 1918. “From April 1st to October 31st this year the R.A.F. anti-submarine patrol flew 39,102 hours, attacked 189 submarines, and dropped 15,313 bombs, weighing 66½ tons.” ‘Nottingham Evening Post’, 16th December 1918. Image: https://c2.staticflickr.com/4/3377/3260252093_ae47c53f95_z.jpg?zz=1
Truce in the trenches was real, but football tales are a shot in the dark | World news | The Guardian “It was not war, but it was certainly magnificent.” That was one officer’s description of the Christmas truce of 1914 in which British and German troops along many parts of the frontline briefly stopped killing each other and wished the enemy the compliments of the season. It was an extraordinary event, but also one that now comes wrapped in muddy layers of mythology. In this centenary year, the truce is ubiquitous. Sainsbury’s made it the centrepiece of its Christmas ad campaign, following the narrative laid out by Paul McCartney in 1983 in the video for his hit single Pipes of Peace: sodden trenches; letter from home prompts moment of high emotion; two plucky soldiers on opposing sides forge an intense meeting in no man’s land; a game of football breaks out (lucky someone remembered to bring a ball); gifts are exchanged; artillery fire brings a hasty end to the festivities. Short, sharp, tear-jerking. The McCartney take on history has hardened into orthodoxy, but the notion of a single meeting in no man’s land on Christmas Day culminating in a football match between Brits and Germans is false. “I can understand why the symbolism has emerged,” says Chris Baker, former chairman of the Western Front Association and author of a book on the truce. “It’s a positive, uplifting kind of view. But the reality is rather different.” Fraternisation did not begin with the Germans singing Stille Nacht on Christmas Eve, as the symbolists – and Sainsbury’s – would have it. It started much earlier – Baker cites one example of soldiers from the second battalion of the Essex regiment meeting German troops in no man’s land on 11 December. “Men’s curiosity was becoming an important factor in their day-to-day lives,” he says. “They could hear the other side. They could smell their cigarettes. They could occasionally glimpse them.” Trenches in this early phase of the war were rudimentary – Baker calls them “scratches in the ground” – and, in places, less than 100 yards apart. The two sets of troops were living in each other’s pockets. The weather in December had been wet, but a cold snap began on 23 December and the ground froze. The snow-flecked portrayals of the truce are accurate. “You start getting men hearing soldiers across the other side of no man’s land singing and showing lights,” says Baker. “Men started singing back and passing messages across – putting a piece of paper in a tin can and throwing it. Finally, some men started leaving their trenches, waved on by the other side, and meeting in the middle.” A few would-be fraternisers were shot by snipers – not something you will see in the Sainsbury’s ad or at the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Christmas Truce show. As for a game of football between the two sides, there is little hard evidence. “It comes down to one or two areas on the line where there are reports in men’s letters or things written very shortly after the event,” says Baker. “The most likely place is near the village of Messines [on the border between France and Belgium], where the first battalion of the Norfolk regiment played something with the 16th Bavarian reserve infantry regiment. There are two references to a game being played on the British side, but nothing from the Germans. If somebody one day found a letter from a German soldier who was in that area, then we would have something credible.” A sculpture depicting a Christmas truce football match inside the remains of St Luke’s Church, Liverpool. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images One of the shards of evidence comes from a much-quoted letter that appeared in the Manchester Guardian on New Year’s Eve 1914: “One officer met a Bavarian, smoked a cigarette, and had a talk with him about halfway between the lines. Then a few men fraternised in the same way, and really today peace has existed. Men have been talking together, and they had a football match with a bully beef tin, and one man went over and cut a German’s hair!” A kickabout with an old tin which may or may not have involved Germans is, however, a far cry from the fully fledged game often imagined. Military specialist Taff Gillingham advised Sainsbury’s on its Christmas ad and lobbied hard to keep the kickabout in perspective. “Football played an insignificant role in the 1914 truce,” he tweeted recently. Not least, as Baker points out, because it would have been impossible to play any kind of organised game amid the barbed wire and bomb craters of no man’s land. None of these historians’ caveats worry the football authorities. The Football Association coordinated events in schools and football clubs to commemorate the ceasefire; the Football Remembers project financed a memorial to the truce, unveiled last week at the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire by the Duke of Cambridge; and teams from the British and German armies will recreate the famous “match” tonight in a centenary game at Aldershot Town’s stadium. Uefa has also been keen to get in on the act, and last week Michel Platini, its president, unveiled a memorial to the truce and football’s role in it at Ploegsteert – known as Plug Street to British troops in 1914 – in Belgium. “I pay tribute to the soldiers who, 100 years ago, showed their humanity by playing football together, opening an important chapter in European unity and providing a lasting example to young people,” he declared. The Daily Telegraph reported last week that the Germans had won the game 3-2. That happens to be the scoreline in Christmas Truce, the 1962 short story by Robert Graves, who served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers in the first world war and wrote Goodbye To All That. “We provided the football,” he wrote, “and set up stretchers as goalposts; and the Rev Jolly, our padre, acted as ref. They beat us 3-2, but the padre had showed a bit too much Christian charity – their outside-left shot the deciding goal, but he was miles offside and admitted it soon as the whistle went.” Graves’s fiction has been incorporated into fact. The fraternisation almost immediately made headlines. “Since Christmas there has come over in the soldiers’ letters home from the trenches in Flanders the news of all those spontaneous little groups of truces which on Christmas Day and its Eve sprang up at intervals all the way down those trenches,” reported the Guardian in early January 1915. “It was the simple and unexamined impulse of human souls, drawn together in face of a common and desperate plight.” An officer wrote in a letter quoted by the Guardian: “I found a large party of Germans and our people hob-nobbing together, although an armistice was strictly against our regulations. The men had taken it upon themselves. It was the strangest sight I have ever seen.” In another letter cited in the paper, Corporal TB Watson writes: “We were all standing in the open for about two hours, waving to each other and shouting, and not one shot was fired from either side. This took place in the forenoon. After dinner we were firing and dodging as hard as ever; one could hardly believe that such a thing had taken place.” Though the memories of that glorious, icy interlude stayed with the participants, the truce had no legacy. It was largely quiet on Boxing Day and in the run-up to New Year but, after that, it was back to bloody business as usual. “Some people on the left have written up the truce as a kind of revolutionary act on the part of the poor old tommy,” says Baker, “but nothing could be further from the truth. It wasn’t in any way organised or political, and as far as I can see there was no attempt to stretch it out or use it as a basis to question the war in general.” There were brief truces in some areas in other years, but nothing on the scale of 1914. Attitudes hardened, the trenches became more systematic, the artillery more accurate, the generals less forgiving. How could soldiers, they reasoned, embrace one day and kill each other the next? As casualties mounted, memories of this pause in the slaughter receded from public consciousness, to be replaced by numb horror. The truce was largely forgotten for the next 50 years. “It was not really on the radar right through to the 1960s,” says Baker. It took the 1963 stage show (and later film) Oh! What A Lovely War, with its extended sequence about the truce, to bring it back to public attention. With its message of peace and overturning of orders, it appealed to a counter-cultural generation remoulding notions of the war. The final episode of the 1989 series Blackadder Goes Forth alludes to the truce and the inevitable football match, with Edmund Blackadder complaining about having had a goal disallowed for being offside – another echo of Graves?
NO REVELRY IN GERMANY EMPRESS FROWNS ON CHRISTMAS FESTIVITY I learn that a person described as a ”high authority,” which means the German Empress, has given instructions that lavish dinner parties are not to take place in Germany for Christmas, New Year, or January 27, the Kaiser’s birthday. The Empress, who spends most of her time caring for the German wounded, is said to have been indignant at the report that great festivities were contemplated by the German “smart set” for these three celebrations. She is, therefore, anxious to prevent such a fresh illustration of German tactlessness. The Kaiser’s birthday, which is the greatest celebration in the German calendar, is to be kept quietly throughout the country. The Kaiser himself has cancelled all the usual demonstrations. It is generally remarked in Berlin that though the Kaiser has been in the capital for the last three weeks he has never shown himself in public, though there have been numerous demands and opportunities. It is obvious that he has not recovered from his illness. People who have seen him recently agree that he looks like a man of seventy. Another thing he fears is the possibility of dying before the end of the war. The least indisposition, especially anything affecting the throat, which has always been delicate, makes him nervous to an extraordinary degree. All news about the Kaiser’s health is now submitted to a special medical censorship.
Letter of the Week Maude Walters · Letter · 15th December 1914 From Miss Maude Walters, a nursery governess, who was in Scarborough during the shelling on Wednesday morning, had to flee from Belgium before the Germans in August. Mrs Walters, writing to her sister says: “We had to fly from Scarborough this morning. Oh how horrible! I never expected a repetition of our experience in Belgium, but I suppose I’m fated. We had a marvellous escape this morning. I was dressing when the Germans began to bombard the town. At first I thought the warships were at practice, but I soon realised it was a more serious business. The next minute my mistress shrieked, and a shell struck one of the houses in our road and burst. How our friends escaped being injured I cannot tell. I hurriedly dressed, or partially dressed, and, taking the children in my arms, we made for the lower part of the house. Then we rushed out and met our chauffeur. Before he could get the car ready other shells burst within 100 yards of us and did more damage, and I saw a number of men and children knocked over, while several women ran out of their houses screaming. Just as we got in the car a piece of shell or some masonry struck the wheels. Fortunately it did little damage and we got away. As we went through one of the streets I saw a man killed. It was horrible. As we left the town we could hear the cannonading, and I need hardly tell you the chauffeur paid no regard to the speed limit. It was an exciting half-hour getting out of the place, and we did not feel the cold until we were well away in the country.”
Jewish German soldiers at religious service. Jewish Europeans made up large numbers of soldiers in the Great War, especially in the German Army. In 1916, the German High Command conducted a census of Jewish citizens, or a Judenzählung, to try and confirm anti-Semitic beliefs that Germany’s Jews were unpatriotically avoiding military service. Instead, the census found that 80% of male Jewish Germans of age were serving on the front line. Despite this, the High Command published a pamphlet with false numbers, accusing Jews of shirking duty, an example of already awaking anti-Semitism in Germany.
A description of the harsh conditions on the Eastern Front was printed on 17th December 1915. “WINTER CAMPAIGN ON THE RUSSIAN FRONT. “GERMAN PREPARATIONS. “DISTRESS IN COURLAND. “In a despatch dealing with the situation on the Russian northern front, the special correspondent of the Central News in Petrograd says: “The general situation may be summed up thus. The Germans, at the end of November, sought to press the Russians near Berzemundy, and attempted, after suffering enormous losses, to break through to the island of Dalen, in the Tukkum district. In this neighbourhood the Russian troops cut wedge-like into the enemy's positions. “The most strenuous efforts of the Germans have hitherto proved vain, thanks largely to the Russian heavy artillery, which is now able to reach places where formerly the German guns were able to work undisturbed. It was evidently the purpose of the enemy to utilise the River Bergen for transporting pontoon sections, but his attempts were paralysed by a steady fire. “Absolute reliance can now be placed on the work of the Russian artillery, which is supplied with an abundance of shells. Frequently the boxes of ammunition bear such inscriptions as “Don’t spare the shells, comrades! There are many more." These words inspire both artillery and infantry with enthusiasm, and the messages from the munition works are placarded along the lines. The quality of the gunnery is excellent that, on the average, the gunners attain their objective after two or three shots. “Following the abortive operations already mentioned the Germans are working night and day to fortify, with the aid of earth, iron and cement, positions which they deemed inaccessible, Some of these they are giving up step by step. It would seem that at Tukkum the Russians have succeeded in doing what the Germans failed to accomplish at Berzemundy, and that the Germans are preparing to evacuate the place. “NEW GERMAN RESERVES. “At Berzemundy the enemy’s efforts have calmed down somewhat, owing no doubt to the enormous losses by sustained him. It is reported that the Germans are hastily bringing new reserves, as they are convinced that the force necessary for the occupation of Berzemundy must be an exceedingly strong one. Reserves composed of Landsturm troops have been brought to Olai and Kekkau from Germany. “In bringing up these men, the Germans, course, are keeping their eyes the main object — the occupation of the Dvina line, and according to the views of refugees another operation is imminent. “Snowstorms are howling throughout the cold nights and the frosty days have set in. The ground is frozen hard and you can do nothing without a pick. The smaller rivers and ponds are covered with thick ice; only the waters the beautiful Dvina rush along impetuously ever, carrying on their besom large masses of tiny ice crystals. “Preparations for the winter are being made with feverish haste by the Germans in the neighbourhood of Illust. The enemy is evidently preparing to spend the winter here, because trenches are being constructed in which special floors have been laid. South of Illuxt, in the marshy forests, there is a second line of fortifications, formed of logs piled to a height of more than six feet. In the marshy sections the Germans have erected special riflemen’s shields. “Prisoners report that an effort is being made to send “strong men” to the Riga front. The regiments that have been recently formed, however, are styled “invalids’ regiments.’’ Among the German troops on this front at present are lame, deaf, and short-sighted men, for the most part men in the fifties or youths eighteen. “After the occupation of the Dvina, the Germans devastated Courland, and turned the country into a desert, in the hope that they would find rich booty in Riga. Now they will be compelled to remain in Courland throughout the winter. The prisoners ask more and more frequently whether the Germans have not fallen into a trap, and what will happen if the events of 1812 are repeated, and the enemy is forced to retreat over the bare, desolated plains of Courland during the icy winter months. “Meanwhile on the abandoned and destroyed estates, in the farmhouses and country mansions, there nothing that meets the eye save strenuous preparation for the winter campaign. The whole country of Courland cut across by long lines of trenches. About six weeks ago traffic was opened on the new narrow-gauge line from Memel to Libau, which used solely for the conveyance of troops and war material. Military transports move in apparently endless procession from Libau and Goldingen to the front. Carts and men are taken by compulsory order — every peasant who owns a horse is forced to work one day in each week for the German army and receives l½ roubles and his food for this service. Those who disobey are severely punished; there are cases which men have been exiled from Courland for this reason. “In July and August the mobilisation of all the men between 17 and 58 was announced three times. They were divided into parties of 200 and were sent, some to Kovno and others to the Courland front, where they were compelled to dig trenches and bring forage. In the beginning of October, a party of Belgian prisoners arrived at Mitau. “They have all been working on the iron and concrete fortifications that are being constructed all along the coast to a distance of 20 versts from the town. Their appearance is dejected in the extreme, and their clothes are ragged. Some of the men have no boots or shoes, and are obliged to wrap their feet in rags. “A big aeroplane station has been organised in Libau, and work is proceeding energetically on the construction of an enormous hangar where Zeppelin parts, brought from Germany, will be put together. Some of the Libau factories have been working for the Germans in the preparation of war material for months, with Von Wolfstrau, an engineer, at the head. “The general situation of the people is painful to a degree, and they wait with anxiety for their liberation.” ‘Nottingham Evening Post’, 17th December 1915. Image: Imperial War Museum.
Frank Herbert Marsh, a member of the Sherwood Rangers, wrote a letter home on 18th December 1917 with details of his service in Salonica, Egypt and Palestine, including the occasion when his troopship, the ‘Cestrian’, was torpedoed. “E.E.F., c/o G.P.O., “London, “December 18th, 1917. “Dear Mr. Weldon, “It is some time since you last heard from me, but since then things have been happening “some,” and I will try to give you a short resumé of the doings of our regiment, which may prove of interest to the Mansfield folk, as it was principally raised in the locality. Practically the last shell “Johnnie Bulgar” favoured us with on the Struma front wounded an officer and nine men, not to mention about eight horses killed and wounded. After a lengthened trek – marching by moonlight – down the line, we embarked June 23rd, and set sail the same night. After a night’s sail we were congratulating ourselves on having passed what we thought was the danger zone, when our pleasant sail was interrupted by the unpleasant attention of the ubiquitous “U” boat . For a few moments all was confusion, and the decks sounded with the scurrying of feet as men made for their respective boat stations. It was splendid to see the calmness with which the men treated the situation: they stood about smoking and talking, and in some cases helping while the crews launched their boats. In the meantime one of the escorting destroyers had pluckily come up alongside the sinking ship, and taken off some 700 men. I myself got off in a small boat, and after 2½ hours bobbing up and down on the “briny,” was picked up by the other destroyer and landed at about 7 p.m. on the island of Lemnos, where we were treated with great kindness by the garrison, and here I should just like to give a few words of praise to the Y.M.C.A., whose hut was like a “home from home.” I might mention that I was one of the few who saw the end of the torpedoed transport. She sank stern first, amidst a shower of spray caused by a violent explosion. “After a week on Lemnos we were transhipped to Alexandria, where we boarded a waiting train, and were taken to Ismaillia. We spent about six weeks in the vicinity of that place, being refitted out with horses and equipment (all of which we had lost on the boat), and then trekked across the Syrian Desert to Palestine. “You have no doubt read of the advance in this country. I cannot go into detail, but our brigade has seen no small part of the fighting, our first encounter with the Turk being at the fall of Beersheba, where after a night march we attacked the hills on the right of the town and added our quota to the number of prisoners taken. Since then we have been in several stiff encounters, and our last fight, which was a dismounted action in the hills not far from Jerusalem, was the hardest of the lot, for after a forced march by night, we arrived just in time to save the situation, and I can confidently say that our brigade earned for itself a good name, being congratulated by the Corps Commander in person. During this action we lost some of our best lads, a few of whom, as you will know by now, hailed from Mansfield. “We have passed over much ground of Biblical interest, and are now resting behind the lines on the land over which Sinacharib’s army passed – the land of the Philistines. “Trusting that yourself, and the rest of the staff are in the best of health; personally, am in the pink, but quite ready for a spell in “Blighty.” Yours, etc., F.H. MARSH “P.S. Should like to hear how A. Bee, F. Searson and E. Stanhope are faring these times.”   The Cestrian was torpedoed four miles south of Sykros with the loss of three lives.  ‘Mansfield Chronicle’, 24th January 1918. Image: Imperial War Museum.
18th December 1914 Western Front Indian troops begin an attack on the Germans round Givenchy (La Bassee); a five days' battle commenced. French pressure towards Peronne. Eastern Front Galicia: Austrians recover Lupkow Pass over the Carpathians. Naval and Overseas Operations German cruiser "Friedrich Karl" reported lost in Baltic. Political, etc. Egypt: Hussein I proclaimed Sultan. Meeting of three Scandinavian Kings at Malmo. Great Britain: Conviction of Ahlers quashed.
As the referendum on Scottish independence moves ever nearer, the debate over the viability of a standalone Scottish economy continues to …