Fam­i­lies cop­ing with ‘missing in ac­tion’

Halifax Courier - - The First World War Cen­te­nary Week By Week Au­gust -

The ar­ti­cle on the ‘mys­tery of the Heb­den Bridge sol­dier’ high­lights a re­cur­ring prob­lem ex­pe­ri­enced by many fam­i­lies. The chaos of bat­tle, the sheer num­bers of sol­diers in­volved and the large num­ber of ca­su­al­ties tested the army’s ad­min­is­tra­tive abil­ity to keep fam­i­lies in­formed of the fate of their off­spring. To be told that their son was ‘missing’ from his unit was for ev­ery fam­ily a personal tragedy and a source of great anx­i­ety. ‘Missing’ could mean a num­ber of things in­clud­ing be­ing in a hos­pi­tal some­where wounded, pos­si­bly still ly­ing on the bat­tle­field wounded or be­ing a prisoner of war. Re­gret­tably, the most likely out­come was that their son had been killed and no­body knew his where­abouts. Bod­ies could and did sim­ply dis­ap­pear. It did not help that news of­ten fil­tered back in a con­fused and con­tra­dic­tory man­ner. Pri­vate Tam­blin was such a case. Fam­i­lies would fear the worst and yet un­der­stand­ably still cling to the hope that some ex­pla­na­tion would re­veal that their son was still alive. Pri­vate Arthur Tam­blin of the 8th Bat­tal­ion Lan­cashire Fusiliers was serv­ing in Gal­lipoli and was the son of Wil­liam and Agnes of 1 Clough Hole, Wadsworth, Heb­den Bridge. It was later con­firmed that he had died in ac­tion on 6 June and his body had not been re­cov­ered. Bear­ing in mind that the fam­ily was still hop­ing against hope that their son was still alive on 28 Au­gust it can be seen what an ag­o­nis­ingly slow and uncertain process this could be. Even the of­fi­cial ver­dict of ‘missing pre­sumed dead’ would of­ten leave fam­i­lies with­out closure be­cause of the ab­sence of a pos­i­tively iden­ti­fied body. Pri­vate Tam­blin’s name is now on the Helles Me­mo­rial on the Gal­lipoli penin­su­lar. This serves the dual func­tion of a me­mo­rial for the whole Gal­lipoli cam­paign as well as a place of com­mem­o­ra­tion for many of the servicemen who died there and have no known grave. “But even al­low­ing for the ben­e­fit of hind­sight, one can­not help but won­der whether op­ti­mism, per­haps even des­per­ate op­ti­mism, had been al­lowed to ob­scure mil­i­tary re­al­ity … There were in­suf­fi­cient troops for the at­tack, but an at­tack was un­der­taken.” Lord Kitch­ener at the War Of­fice had been un­will­ing to send re­in­force­ments de­spite the strength­en­ing of Turk­ish forces. The failed of­fen­sive did at least bring about a sea change in Kitch­ener’s think­ing and new am­phibi­ous land­ings were planned fur­ther north up the penin­su­lar at Su­vla Bay. Th­ese be­gan on 6 Au­gust 1915. This whole op­er­a­tion has now be­come a by­word for mud­dle and disaster. Part of the prob­lem was its com­man­der, Lieu­tenant Gen­eral Sir Frederick Stop­ford, who was, to quote Peter Liddle again, “Sadly un­suit­able by age and ser­vice ex­pe­ri­ence for the re­spon­si­bil­i­ties he would have to ex­er­cise”. To the mod­ern reader all of this must have a very fa­mil­iar ring to it. It paints a pic­ture of a mud­dled Bri­tish army staffed by in­ad­e­quate com­man­ders fail­ing their men through their gross stu­pid­ity. 1915 was the year that prob­a­bly most fits this Great War cliche. Like all cliches, how­ever, it has some ba­sis in fact but does not ac­cu­rately re­flect the Great War as a whole. The per­for­mance of the Bri­tish army in tac­tics, pro­ce­dures and com­mand com­pe­tence did mer­ci­fully im­prove con­sid­er­ably. Its evo­lu­tion into a well led ef­fec­tive fight­ing force by 1918 is a largely for­got­ten story. This was of course no consolation to the Arthur Tam­blins of the war who vol­un­teered so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally in the early years and were badly let down. The Bri­tish col­lec­tive mem­ory of the Great War is, re­gret­tably dom­i­nated by the message of the early dis­il­lu­sioned vol­un­teers, rather than the message from those who ex­pe­ri­enced the more com­pe­tent and pro­fes­sional army of the later years. the Hal­i­fax Courier re­mained the same right through to the bit­ter end. For the ma­jor­ity of peo­ple it was far from a mean­ing­less war. sol­diers’ fam­ily depen­dents had been in­creased to re­lieve fi­nan­cial dis­tress. There were many who were sus­pi­cious that the sys­tem would be mis­used. It is clear from the is­sue of a month’s cus­to­dial sen­tence that the au­thor­i­ties were ea­ger to stamp on any fraud­u­lent claims.

Su­vla Bay land­ings 1915

Cape Helles Me­mo­rial

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