On Your Doorstep

Mention War Graves to anyone & they’ll most likely tell you about the ones to be found in the multitude of cemeteries in France or Flanders beautifully maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), some may mention the fact that there are also many of these Graves equally looked after by the CWGC across the world often in quite remote places & even a single grave at times but very few will say to you there are War Graves down the road in their local cemetery or church graveyard.

But across the UK thousands of CWGC War Graves can be found in your local cemetery or churchyard as well as countless names of the fallen on family headstones with a multitude of information inscribed upon them. The War Graves are looked after by CWGC teams that cover a wide area and recently by volunteers who give reports on their local graves and carry out maintenance including clearing of foilage and light cleaning of the headstones themselves.

I moved to the Heckmondwike, West Yorkshire area over 5 years ago and I became involved in the local branch of The Royal British Legion eventually becoming it’s Branch Chairman for a few years. We got talking at one of the meetings and a fellow member mentioned that they had a relative buried in the cemetery in Heckmondwike.

Heckmondwike Cemetery (Authors Own Photo)

So a few days later I went for a walk in the cemetery and I was surprised at the size of it at first with it’s old chapel in the centre now sadly boarded up. I soon spotted the familiar shaped Portland stone headstones used by the CWGC & walked around & read the inscribed details. There were 23 graves in total a mix of Great War & Second World War. Most of these would have died in war hospitals in the UK and then their bodies brought home to be buried by the family, others died in training/accidents or of sickness/disease, others as a result of the wounds they had received during the war but whom died afterwards within the period of entitlement to a War Grave ( 4th August 1914-31st August 1921 or 3rd September 1939- 31st December 1947). Source: CWGC.org

The condition of the graves was in general pretty good with some even having flowers placed on them recently. However one exception was a grave to 2 brothers Herbert & Wilfred Lambert. Their joint headstone was in a family plot which had sadly fallen into disrepair and was overgrown with weeds, being under a tree it was also rather discolored.

It was sad to see it in this state so I decided that I’d nip home and get some gloves, bags & a rake and try and see if I could tidy it up a little. It was hard work, it being mainly bramble type bushes that stuck to everything with it’s sharp thorns & believe me a few curses were uttered but when I’d finished it was all worth it. A lady who lived in the elderly persons flats nearby must have seen me & she came over and was surprised that she had never noticed this grave before on her daily walk. She pledged to try and look after it herself when she could & she would put some flowers or plants down.

Lambert brother’s Grave before clearance (Authors own Photo)
Lambert Grave after clearance (Authors own Photo)

So looking at the headstone you could see that Herbert Lambert was a Lance Corporal in the Royal Engineers & he had passed away aged just 39 on 24th February 1920. His brother Wilfred of the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry had died on 12th August 1921. Upon checking the CWGC website Wilfred died aged 43 and had been Private 1257 in 12th bn KOYLI whereas Herbert had also served in KOYLI as 3176 in 1/4th bn before joining a Royal Engineers Anti Aircraft searchlight section as L/Cpl 479778.

Those that know me will tell you when I see anything like this I can’t just leave it I have to research & find out more despite usually having little time to do so!

Both Wilfred & Herbert were born in Littleborough, Lancashire, in 1878 & 1880 respectively their father originally from Bingley, West Yorkshire was a Painter & Decorator & had married Harriet Moore from Stockport. They had an elder sister Minnie & a younger sister Edith. The family had moved to the Batley area by 1891 living in Soothill before moving to 40 Blakeridge Lane, Batley by 1911. Both brothers followed their father into the Painting & Decorating trade.

Wilfred was married in 0ct/Nov/Dec 1911 to Carrie Preston , Herbert I can’t find a reliable record of him ever being married at all.

On the outbreak of war both brothers joined up. Wilfred joined the 12th (Service) bn KOYLI (Miners) .Formed by the West Yorkshire Coalowners Association in 1914 they were a Pioneer battalion. After training Wilfred embarked for EGYPT as part of 31st Division in December 1915 until being posted to the Western front in March 1916 as Divisional troops of the 31st Division. They were involved in The Battle of The Somme notably at Serre & later the Battle of the Ancre. July to November 1917 saw them transferred to Fifth Army employed on the construction of Light Railways.

It isn’t known when Wilfred was wounded but he was discharged from the Army on 16th June 1919, his pension record showing him having a disability. He received the 1915 Star, Victory & British War Medals

As for Herbert as I said earlier he joined 1/4th bn KOYLI as Private 3176. The battalion itself landed in France on 12th April 1915 before on 15th May 1915 forming 148th brigade of 49th (West Riding) Division. They took part in many engagements throughout the war including Aubers Ridge, Battle of the Somme , Third Ypres & the final battles of 1918.

Herbert himself landed in France on 20th August 1915 so would have been present in December 1915 when the division was subject to the first Phosgene gas attack. Again details of his service are slim and at some point possibly due to him being wounded and not fit for frontline service he was transferred to the Royal Engineers Anti Aircraft Searchlight Section before being discharged on 3rd March 1919 recorded again as having a disability. Again he was entitled to 15 Star, Victory & BWM.

He died on 24th February 1920 at Scarborough on the Yorkshire Coast & was buried in the family plot in Heckmondwike Cemetery. Their mother Harriet had died in 1914 & whilst their father Thomas possibly in 1925.

Another tragic story of one of Heckmondwike’s sons was that of Private 4525 Naylor Keach 3/4th bn York & Lancaster Regiment.

He was born on 11th May 1875 in Heckmondwike and when he left school Naylor followed his father into the local colliery and worked at Liversedge Coal Company as a Coke Drawer. He married Julia Ann Oram on 19th April 1897 at St. Patrick’s Roman Catholic Church in Heckmondwike & they lived in Brighton Street in 1901. Naylor & Julia had 4 children 2 sons 2 daughters by 1906 and the family then moved to Sheffield where another son and daughter were born. By 1911 they had returned the Spen Valley, living in Gasworks Street, Liversedge and Naylor was then working as a Coal Carter.

Tragically his wife Julia Ann died in June 1914 aged just 39 years leaving Naylor with 6 children to look after, the eldest being aged 16 years. 

Naylor had served for 8 years in the Territorial Force with the 6th West Riding Battery of the Royal Field Artillery at Heckmondwike Drill Hall.
In the Great War he enlisted whilst he was working at White Lee Colliery as a Firer in April 1915. Whilst at Clipstone Training Camp in early March 1916 he was given 48 hours leave to visit home. Soon after he’d arrived home he was taken ill with bronchitis. He was attended by a Dr Prior but pneumonia by now had set in and he died on 25th March 1916. A sad reminder that not all casualties of the Great War happened on the battlefields.

His funeral was held on Monday March 27th with full Military Honours. His coffin was draped with the Union Flag and was accompanied by 40 men from the RFA depot in Bradford. A service was held at St. Saviour’s Church prior to his interment at Heckmondwike Cemetery. The family received letters of condolence from Naylor’s commanding officers, Captain S. Reynolds and Captain L.B. Hirst.  His name is found on St. Saviour’s and St. James’s Church Memorials in Heckmondwike as well as on the town’s War Memorial in Green Park. (Source: Spen Valley Historical Society)

Not directly Great War related but of equal interest is the grave of Second World War Flight Officer Herbert J Woodward DFC the last official casualty of Fighter command in the Battle of Britain. He’d been born in Middlesex in 1916 a year before his father was to be killed at Passchendaele with 4th bn Bedfordshire Regiment. Herbert went to Blackpool Grammar School & later attended Leeds University.

He began his air training in 1937 and on completion in July 1938 he joined 64 Squadron RAF at Church Fenton near York & relinquished his earlier RAFO commission in September 1938 as he was granted a RAF short service commission.

On 31st May 1940 he destroyed an enemy Do17 over Dunkirk in his Spitfire. Then flying over Dover on 19th July his plane collided with an Me109 & suffered a damaged wing tip he just managing to return to base safely. On 5th, 8th & 12th August 1940 he destroyed several Me109s & on the 13th he shot down what would be his 2nd Do17.

He then joined 23 Squadron, a night fighter squadron, on 12th September as ‘B’ Flight Commander & as Acting Flight Lieutenant moving to flying Bristol Blenheim’s. On 1st October 1940 he was awarded the DFC for “Destroying 5 enemy aircraft & displaying Leadership & courage of a high order” (Source London Gazette Issue 34958)

However on 30th Oct 1940 he was the captain of Blenheim L6721 on a routine night patrol when they crashed in bad weather at Orchard Way Road, South Bersted near Bognor Regis. Sadly all the crew perished along with Herbert (Source: Bbm.org.uk)

F/O Herbert J Woodward ( BBM.org.uk)

There are many more stories still to be found on personal family graves as well with often an incredible amount of detail on them.

One I found in passing was to the Walker family. John Edward had died on 4th March 1901 Aged just 40 leaving his widow Emily to look after their 3 sons Fred, Harry & Arthur. As you read the headstone you soon realise the tragedy.

Walker family Grave (Author own Photo)

Emily would lose all 3 sons in the Great War. Firstly Fred Aged 28 a Private in 2/6th West Yorkshire Regiment killed on 15th February 1917 ( Family grave strangely states 1st March) and is buried at Serre Road No 1, then a few weeks later Arthur the youngest Aged just 21 would be killed on 9th April whilst a Private with 8th bn York & Lancaster Regiment & remembered on the Menin Gate & finally Harry Aged 24 Private ‘A’ Coy 10th bn Sherwood Foresters ( Notts & Derby Regiment) buried at Acheux British Cemetery. What sorrow must their poor mother of had to endure?

I pledged to visit all her sons for her on my next journey to the battlefields and I’m happy to say I fulfilled my promise, although Acheux took me a while to find down the side of a supermarche!

Fred’s Grave (Authors own Photo)
Arthur’s name Menin Gate (Authors own Photo)
Harry’s Grave ( Authors own Photo)

There are dozens more stories waiting to be found in Heckmondwike Cemetery as well as 2 more burials that I know of in the Upper Independent Chapel Graveyard but they are for another day!

My message to everyone is to go out there and explore your own local cemeteries and churchyards, find those War Graves, the personal inscriptions on family graves and tell their stories & thereby remember them. Now is an ideal time to go out there as many of us are doing alot more walking so enjoy the fresh air & breath in the history around you.

Genealogy, History, Military History, WW1

A Lancashire Fusilier

Serjeant 240768 James C Lucas

I thought I’d share with you the story of one of my relatives (x3 Cousin) whom I discovered a few years ago. Anyone who has researched their family tree will know ‘back in the day’ how large families were. Not uncommon to find the average family with 9 children or more! So with this in mind the branches of your tree can be quite long once you begin to research your own family.

So it was back in 2016 when I decided to take a look at one of these branches of my own family tree on my maternal Great Grandmother’s side of the family. They were all based around the Rochdale area of Lancashire, those industrial towns with an abundance of cotton mills that dotted the local landscapes.

James Carter Lucas was born in 1892 in Castleton, Rochdale to his namesake father James Carter & his mother Eliza Ann Lucas. They already had a son Frank who had been born in 1889 and a year later a daughter Beatrice was born. James’s father was a plumber & his mother worked in a cotton mill.

By 1901 the family had moved to Middleton living at 4 Booth Street, a terrace house which no longer exists but for those who know Middleton its location now sits under the car park of the Arndale Centre built in the 1970s. The family attended the nearby church of Holy Trinity, Parkfield where James was an active member of the Sunday school. He must have been quite sporty as he was a member of both the football & cricket Sunday school league

Old Grammar School, Middleton. (Authors own photo)

James attended the Old Grammar School in Middleton, built in 1586 by patent from Queen Elizabeth I & originally named after her. After his time in this quite remarkable school however he seems to have followed the path of so many in the area as he went to work in a mill in nearby Moston as a cotton mule piecer, someone who would lean over the spinning machine to repair broken threads & a role most often carried out by children due to their small hands.

In his spare time he was in the Church Lads Brigade where he held the rank of Staff Sergeant which probably held him in good stead once he had joined the Army being firstly a Corporal & then being promoted to Serjeant.

Middleton had always been a patriotic town & had its own Drill Hall on Manchester New Road, demolished in 1987 & now the site of a BP petrol station, where the approx 250 Terrirorials of the 6th bn Lancashire Fusiliers held their training sessions. At this stage the role of territorials was Home Defence whilst the regular army battalions went overseas. But it was quickly realised by the War Office under Lord Kitchener that some territorials would be needed to fight overseas quickly.

On the outbreak of war the Terrirorials met at the Drill Hall on 4th August 1914 & the men marched to Rochdale to join up with the 500 Rochdale & 250 Todmorden territorials. The majority who signed up for overseas service became part of the First Line units (1/6th) bn Lancashire Fusiliers and were sent for training on August 20th at Turton where after completing training they became part of 42nd (East Lancashire) Division and were shipped to Egypt before in 1915 heading to Gallipoli.

Meanwhile those who hadn’t volunteered for foreign service were quickly formed into Second Line units for Home Service. Like so many the Service Record of James doesn’t survive so the following accounts are details obtained from the 66th Division HQ War Diary (WO 95/3120/1-5) and the later war diary of 6th bn from March 1918 (WO 95/3140/3)

James Lucas as a Corporal (Photo courtesy of Ian Dawson, Great War Forum member)

Formed in September of 1914 at Mossborough, 2/6th bn Lancashire Fusiliers ( as known from 1915) began their training & on 8th February 1915 they became attached to 197th Brigade, 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division. In May 1915 they moved to Crowborough Camp in East Sussex before moving to Tunbridge Wells, Kent on 21st October 1915.

Whilst in training the war diary records an interesting moment on 5th December when the men were issued with their Lee Enfield rifles & ammunition having previously having had to use Japanese rifles & ammunition.

March 1916 saw the brigade move to Colchester where it would remain until February 1917. On 25th February H.M King George V inspected the whole of 66th Division before their embarkation to France. At Southampton on the 2nd March 1917 the division began its journey to France landing the day after at Le Havre. After being detrained at THIENNES they were marched to ST VENANT. On the 6th orders were received to move the 197th Brigade to VIEILLE CHAPELLE but further orders were received to move to near Béthune to relieve 5th Division.

The 66th Division occupied the sections known as Cambrin, Canal & Givenchy. On their first night in the trenches 197th brigade had to repulse an enemy raid which they did successfully but what an introduction to the trenches they had! The rest of the following weeks was the usual routines of trench warfare, patrols, raids & reconnaissance.

At the end of June 1917 197th Brigade were moved to the coast and in July 1917 were near NIEUPORT BAINS where they would remain until October 1917.

Orders were received that the division would be moving to the Ypres area to take over from 3rd Australian Division & New Zealand Division and they began to move on 4th October ready to play their part in an offensive plan which became known as The Battle of Poelcapple. On 8th October 197th brigade together with 198th moved forward behind FREZENBERG RIDGE. They would be part of II Anzac Corps. On their left would be 49th (West Riding) Division & on their right 2nd Australian Division. The right boundary of the 66th would be YPRES- ROULERS railway line. Their first objective (Red Line) would be AUGUSTUS WOOD ,HEINE HOUSE & WATERFIELDS with their final objective (Blue Line) being VIENNA COT & HAALEN COPSE. The 197th sector was straight through where Tyne Cot Cemetery now stands with it’s objective being just South of the village of PASSCHEDAELE. The heavens opened & heavy rain were to make conditions deplorable for the upcoming battle.

Map of attack from 66th Division War Diary WO 95/3120 1-5 Ancestry. Com

At 6pm the 197th commenced their approach march using the tracks JACK & JILL. The plan showed them reaching the start positions in 5 hours. But slow progress was made due to the darkness & the men of the brigade had to wade waist deep through mud. James as an NCO would have been urging on his men to keep going. I can’t imagine the conditions and the struggle this must have been with the heavy rain still falling. By 3am on 9th Oct it was evident that all battalions of 197th wouldn’t be in position in time for the attack set at 5.20am. Staff officers were sent out to urge the men forward & collect as many as they could muster. The attack therefore began at 5.20am with 198th brigade & some battalions of 197th who’d started the horrendous journey almost 12 hours ago together with support from 2 battalions of 199th Brigade taking the place of the missing 197th battalions. They must have been exhausted and how they then found the strength to begin attacking straight away is beyond comprehension.

The stragglers eventually caught up tired wet & exhausted they began following their fellow comrades who had gone on before,but they were way behind the creeping barrage, yet they advanced & took many German prisoners immediately. At 6.40am their first objective the Red line was taken without much of a struggle & by 10am they had taken the Blue line. Patrols were sent out to PASSCHEDAELE village and reported back that it was empty. On their right flank however German machine guns & artillery opened fire & by 12 noon the brigade flanks turned to find neighbouring units but on seeing this those in the centre thought it was a general withdrawal and followed with the brigade now ending back at the Red line.

The Germans counter attacked late in the afternoon but this was repulsed. 66th Division then moved back to link up with 49th Division on their left and to take cover from the machine guns firing from the BELLVUE SPUR. Another attack was commenced at 7pm a few gains were made on both sides but after several German counter attacks during the night the British were back on their original start lines.

It had been a costly battle hampered by the weather, this then causing a lack of artillery & air support. Wounded were drowned in shell holes which quickly filled with rain or picked off by snipers as they lay in the mud. The 66th Division reported 3119 casualties (Source Perry, R. A. (2014). To Play a Giant’s Part: The Role of the British Army at Passchendaele)

On 10th October 66th Division had to repulse a further German counter attack but that night they were relieved by 3rd Australian Division

When I visit Tyne Cot Cemetery now it gives it all the more meaning than it ever did before knowing that I am literally standing in the place where James led his men on over 100 years ago but he in unthinkable conditions rather than the peaceful surroundings of now.

Tyne Cot Cemetery (Authors own photo)

Over the winter James would remain with the 2/6th bn in the PASSCHEDAELE area until February 1918. A reorganization took place across the British Army and the 1/6th bn Lancashire Fusiliers transferred from the 42nd Division into the 66th Division & became amalgamated with the 2/6th bn from therein known as 6th bn Lancashire Fusiliers.

In March 1918 66th Division moved to the SAINT QUENTIN area as part of XIX Corps in Fifth Army. On their right was 24th Division & on their left 16th (Irish) Division. The British knew a large scale attack by the Germans was about to begin but as to when exactly wasn’t known. At this stage in the war a defensive scheme was adopted by the Army which saw forward zones of small outposts used to delay & disrupt any attack by the use of machine guns and the main part of a Division stayed in the battle zone ready to go forward to assist in the forward positions or as part of a rear zone. However due to a lack of manpower many of these rear defensive positions hadn’t had the necessary work done to them by Fifth Army.

The 6th bn now found themselves at TEMPLEUX LE GUERARD on 2nd March taking over from 9th Bn Royal Sussex Regiment at the Quarries. 2/7th bn Lancashire Fusiliers occupied the forward positions with 6th bn in support. A company held 3 posts whilst B & C held the quarries & tunnels with D company in reserve back at ROISEL with 2/8th bn Lancs Fus.

On 6th March the Germans shelled TEMPLEUX QUARRIES with about 300 shells causing slight wounds to 4 men. On 8th A,B & C companies took over the forward positions from 2/7th. A raid was made on the German lines on the 10th whereby 2 German prisoners were captured. Tensions were high at this point and on 14th the battalion received a wire of an impending attack & they manned their battle positions from 1245am until 6am. No attack took place. Again on 16th at 7am they received the warning order prepare to attack, again a false alarm.

They were relieved on 17th by the 2/7th and moved back to the reserve in ROISEL on working party duties.

On 20th March at 10pm the battalion received ‘Stand To!’ orders with being prepared to move to battle positions at 10 minutes notice. At 4am on 21st March they received the order to move to the Brown Line of the battle area arriving there at 6am. The battalion was heavily shelled by High Explosive & Gas as they made their way to these positions.

This was the start of the German Spring offensive or Kaiserschlact (Kaiser’s Battle) and this part codenamed Operation Michael was the first stage.

The 6th bn took up positions around an area called George Copse just outside of TEMPLEUX LE GUERARD with the forward positions in the quarries held by 2/7th Lanc Fus & 1/5th Border Regiment. Shrouded in thick fog it was very difficult to see anything.

GEORGE COPSE Trench Map (Source Maps NLS Scotland)
Site of GEORGE COPSE Today ( Authors photo)

The Germans attacked in front of TEMPLEUX LE GUERARD at approx 10am and quickly surrounded and bypassed the men in the Quarry who would later be mopped up by other units with only a few managing to escape. It was now the job of the 6th bn ,together with a Artillery battery, to defend the village and after receiving reports at 11am that the Germans had been spotted in TEMPLEUX LE GUERARD A,B & D companies under Major Wike counter attacked and cleared the village but were pushed back by overwhelming forces to the SUNKEN LANE area on the edge of the village and their Artillery battery was destroyed.

By nightfall they were hanging on but the Germans attacked at dawn the next day overwhelming their positions and forcing those who could get way back in the direction of ROISEL.

At some point on 21st March Serjeant James Lucas was wounded & probably taken to the A.D.S of the 2/3 East Lancashire Field Ambulance in TEMPLEUX LE GUERARD which had been set up in an house in the village. As the Germans advanced the reserve A.D.S was opened further back at the crossroads of the HESBECOURT-TEMPLEUX-ROISEL Road by 3.30pm, this then later having to be closed and moved back further to ROISEL. At 3am on 22nd March the first evacuations of casualties to the Casualty Clearing Stations began and James was evacuated to the 32/34 CCS at MARCHELPOT. I will never know how badly injured he was or if he was alive when he arrived there or not. He was recorded as dying of his wounds on 22nd March. He was just 25 years old. His body was buried on the opposite side of the road to the CCS in MARCHELPOT BRITISH cemetery at MITRE POINT.

MARCHELPOT CCS, Red flag shows site of Cemetery ( Image courtesy of Paul Reed)

Records show that on that day alone 66th Division saw 711 men killed, 1000 wounded & upto 2000 taken prisoner.

On Saturday April 6th 1918 an obituary appeared in The Rochdale Observer newspaper announcing James’s death as well as a further one in The Middleton Guardian.

The Rochdale Observer April 6th 1918 (The British Library)

Frank Lucas, the brother of James , also served in the Great War in the Machine Gun Corps being wounded he received the Silver War Badge. In 1924 his third son was born & he named him James Carter Lucas. I like to think he named him after the brother whom he had lost.

Sadly James’s story doesn’t end there. In July 1920 the cemetery was identified as one of those that would be concentrated into another larger cemetery this being ROYE NEW BRITISH some 18km away. The cemetery had suffered damage in the spring offensive and indeed the IWGC (now CWGC) on their memorial inscription actually states that it was destroyed by the enemy. James’s grave along with approx 114 others was now lost but in ROYE NEW BRITISH cemetery those who were known to have been buried were all given their own individual headstone in Plots 1 & 2 as well as the identified & unknowns moved here from MARCHELPOT.

In April 2017, as the first of my family ever to do so, I retraced James’s last day through TEMPLEUX LE GUERARD, then down to MARCHELPOT laying a cross at the site of the former cemetery, now sadly used as a dumping ground by the locals and then onto ROYE NEW BRITISH cemetery where I laid a cross, said a few personal words, shed a few tears & finally placed a framed photo of James at his headstone. I never knew him but I wanted him to know that he had not been forgotten and that his family would continue to remember his story and his sacrifice. I made a promise to return and I did so just after the Centenary of his death in 2018 .

To the memory of 240768 Serjeant James C Lucas 2/6th Lancashire Fusiliers ( Author’s Photo)

James is also remembered on the War memorial in the Garden of Remembrance in his hometown of Middleton

Garden of Remembrance, Middleton ( Author’s Photos)
Genealogy, History, Military History, Research, WW1

Guest Spot

Welcome to the first of our monthly Guest Spot Q & A features. I’m very happy to be joined by Chris Baker author of The Long, Long Trail website, Military Historian, Researcher & founder of the Great War Forum

Chris Baker

Firstly Chris, Welcome to Great War Refections & Thank You for agreeing to be my first guest! Can you start by telling us about yourself & your background?

I’m from a working class Birmingham family but we moved to Lichfield in Staffordshire when I was in my teens and since 1986 I have lived in Leamington Spa in Warwickshire. Looking back, I must have been a bit of a whizzkid in my chosen profession of manufacturing engineering, as I became a Chartered Engineer when I was 25 and by 30 I was Operations Director of a large automotive company. It also took me into industrial use of computing when that was all in its infancy, and that began for me when I was an undergraduate at the University of Nottingham and developed in a Masters at Birmingham. I later moved into consultancy and was privileged to work worldwide and advise some of the largest names, like Ford, General Motors, GKN, Massey-Ferguson, Volkswagen and Nokia. It was a terrific and lucrative life but took me away from my home an awful lot. By then I was married and had two children. In 1999 I had a business idea and started a new company that, as things turned out, made me financially very secure. Without that I would certainly not have done what I do today.
My Great War interest began with family but really only got going when I was an adult. In the early years it seemed to me that I was the only person interested in the Great War. I then found the Western Front Association and a few years later I became its Chairman. That coincided with a period in which I was working in the USA more than here and something had to give!
It was a little odd to return to the University of Birmingham where I gained another Masters, this time the MA in British First World War Studies, in 2007.

What inspired you to create the incredible resource website The Long, Long Trail & how did that then lead to the Great War Forum?

 Military history and my technical interest of fiddling about with computers came together! Today’s LLT traces its roots directly back to my first website which began in 1996. I’ve added something to it most days since. I think it was 1998 I added a discussion forum, which was quite a new thing then. Technology was shifting fast and I moved it onto different software at least twice, the last being onto Invision which the Great War Forum uses to this day.  This was all while I was still doing my day job and not even in the country half the time! Later on, as the membership and traffic at the Great War Forum continued to grow, I just did not have the time it needed to run it. The group of volunteer moderators at the time agreed to take it over and from that time it became a separate resource. It’s great to see it continuing to flourish.

How do you manage to find the time? The level of detail is truly immense.

It’s always been a hobby. Just bits and pieces being added or corrected, over a long period. Every now and again I think of a new section or larger article, and I have from time to time revamped the site technically. I’ve always tried to ensure it is all completely accurate in terms of the facts presented. But overall, the site itself probably only occupies an hour or two each week. I spend more time on it as a user!

You’re also a successful author as well. Could you tell us about some of your books?

I’ve just written my fifth and it is with the publisher now. A departure for me as it is mainly about the Belgian Army. Three others are about the Battle of the Lys in April 1918 and one, which I did slightly reluctantly after being asked to consider it, is on the 1914 Christmas Truce. They have all been good to work on and create, but there is no doubt that they have cost me money rather than make me rich!

Now that you’ve become a full time researcher, Did that start also as a hobby? And of the thousands of individuals stories that you’ve unearthed is there one in particular that sticks in your mind & you can share with us?

Visitors to the Long, Long Trail kept on asking for help. I would not have gone down this road otherwise. It is because of that I have never needed to advertise yet am continually fully booked up. I did my best for them while I was employed in a day job, but moved into it full-time 13 years ago now. Every story interests me and I think I learn something new with every single project. There have been many fascinating stories, both good and bad. Men who turned out to be decorated heroes and the family knew nothing. Men seen wearing impressive medal sets that never actually qualified for them. Men who saved lives. One man who caused the death of himself and two comrades. Men who served 25 years without ever seeing action. Men killed before they had even reached the front. All sorts.
The most unusual was the story of Walter Lancelot Merritt. His story was later expanded and turned into a book, “A German Tommy: The Secret of a War Hero” by my client Ken Anderson. I won’t tell you too much here as I want you to buy Ken’s book, but it is the most fabulous story of how an Australian boy of German background eventually absconded after he found he was being kept back by the army from fighting, falsified his details to re-enlist, became an officer, was decorated for gallantry – and then had to appeal to the King for a pardon so he could get the free ride home after the war!

Is there any advice you can give to people when they are beginning research projects themselves? And what would you say is a common mistake people make?

Do your homework first on who the soldier was. His age, addresses, next of kin, his job: they all had a bearing on his military story. The commonest mistake is to assume. For example, to assume that a man served with a local regiment. It can lead you a merry and fruitless dance.

Outside of all the work, What do you like to do in your spare time?

I am a big basketball and football fan. My son and I are season ticket holders at Leicester Riders, Britain’s oldest pro basketball club. I don’t go to football anywhere as often as I used to (mainly as surgery has left me unable to stand for long periods) but continue to follow Hereford FC and my boyhood and family tradition of Aston Villa. For the last year I have also been a volunteer Governor for our local NHS Foundation Trust. Oh, and I have to do stuff with my wife too!

If you could meet anyone from the Great War who would it be & why?

When writing my MA dissertation I discovered Brigadier-General (as he was then) Hereward Wake, a Baronet from Northamptonshire. I was very grateful for his son (also a soldier who earned the MC in WW2) who gave me permission to see his private papers. Wake was an officer of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps; a long-term staff and intelligence officer. He was appointed by Henry Wilson to become part of the staff working at the Supreme War Council. His views on the progress and strategy of the war are fascinating. I’d love to have a chat with him. Maybe once I pass through the pearly gates!

 Is there a particular period of the Great War that interests you the most?

1918. Simple as that

Looking back on your life is there anything that you’d tell your younger self?

“Believe nothing you hear, and only one half that you see” (Edgar Allen Poe). It stood me in great stead during my consultancy work and still applies to my research work today. 

What book are you reading at the moment? And what’s your favourite ever?

Right now, Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, actually. Favourite ever is “The Tin Drum” by Günter Grass. A little odd I should choose these as I do not read a great deal of fiction!

Do you have any further projects planned in the future?

I have a cracking idea for a book – a work of fiction, as it happens. Whether I will ever do anything with it is another matter.

And some quick fire questions

Beer, Wine or Spirits?

I don’t drink a great deal these days but when I do it is beer. 

Book or Kindle?

Book. I tried Kindle a couple of times but found it completely soul-less.

Full English or Fruit Salad?

I love both but have taught myself to go fruit salad.

Dog or Cat?

Dog, definitely. My best friend, our fox terrier Jenkins, passed away just over a year ago and I miss him terribly. He was my close and affectionate companion when I was recovering from cancer and serious surgery four years ago.

Favourite film?

You may not believe this, but for me “Paddington 2” has beaten all others out of sight!

Your best holiday destination?

Not being one for sun, I’d say the Netherlands. Absolutely love it for its history, art, architecture, and way of life. Failing that, Germany.

Some absolutely brilliant answers Chris, I’m sure I echo everyone’s thoughts when I say it was really interesting hearing your story. I’d like to take this opportunity to thank you again for agreeing to do this Q & A .

Please do take a look at The Long, Long Trail at www.longlongtrail.co.uk , for Chris’s research services www.fourteeneighteen.co.uk or follow him on Twitter @1418research

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