Families coping with ‘missing in action’
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