Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine - - CONTENTS - Jad Adams is a writer and Fel­low of the Royal His­tor­i­cal So­ci­ety

1915: The Bat­tle of Loos

Af­ter a year of fight­ing the First World War from trenches, the Al­lies de­cided it was time to break through the lines and re­store open warfare by push­ing the Ger­mans back.

The Bri­tish were to at­tack at Loos, with the French go­ing on the of­fen­sive at Cham­pagne. As the Bri­tish did not have enough ar­tillery to sup­port the whole of their at­tack, com­man­der Gen­eral Sir Dou­glas Haig de­cided to use gas on a large scale for the first time.

On the morn­ing of 25 Septem­ber, Haig waited for a breeze. A batch of 5,000 chlo­rine gas cylin­ders were read­ied in the for­ward trenches, wait­ing for his com­mand. Early in the morn­ing, he saw the leaves of nearby po­plar trees rustling and or­dered the re­lease of the gas. How­ever, the wind was not strong enough and the gas lin­gered in no man’s land, with some blow­ing back into the Bri­tish trenches.

Men grabbed their prim­i­tive flannel gas masks but they were hot and the small eye­pieces misted over, re­duc­ing vis­i­bil­ity. Some of the troops re­moved the masks to breathe fresh air and were sub­se­quently gassed. It was quickly re­alised that the en­tire vol­ume of the gas could not be re­leased

from the can­is­ters be­cause the wrong span­ners for turn­ing the cocks had been sent and the gas-men rushed about try­ing to bor­row ad­justable span­ners from com­rades.

The Ger­mans, who had been us­ing gas all year, put on their masks – which were bet­ter than the Bri­tish ver­sion – and lit bun­dles of cot­ton waste in front of their trenches to pro­tect them. They then re­tal­i­ated against the at­tack and shelled the Bri­tish po­si­tions from which the gas had been sent, break­ing open some of the un­used full cylin­ders and re­leas­ing more gas into the Bri­tish lines. “The gas com­pany stam­peded,” wrote Rupert Graves, who was a ju­nior of­fi­cer on duty at the in­ci­dent.

Four days of ar­tillery fire had pre­ceded the at­tack but there was in­suf­fi­cient am­mu­ni­tion to en­sure the Ger­man lines were clear. Not enough high ex­plo­sive had been used to de­stroy the lines of barbed wire.

With the ex­cep­tion of those who were there, or were told by wit­nesses, your kin knew noth­ing of this fi­asco. The Sec­re­tary of State for War, Lord Kitch­ener, was im­pe­ri­ous and se­cre­tive and did not al­low jour­nal­ists at the front so only of­fi­cial in­for­ma­tion was pub­lished. The re­ports that your fore­bears read were an­o­dyne such as “me­thod­i­cal and de­ter­mined ad­vance... hard fight­ing took place through­out the day with vary­ing suc­cess”.

The main at­tack plan was a frontal as­sault by thou­sands of sol­diers march­ingg throughg no man’s land to the enemmy lines. A Ger­man reg­i­men­tal war di­aryd records the re­sult with chill­ing pre­ci­sion: “Ten col­umns of ex­tended liness could clearly be dis­tin­guished, and each one es­ti­mated at more than 1,000 men, and of­fer­ing such a tar­get as had never been seen be­fore or even thought pos­si­ble. The ma­chine­gun­ners never had such straight­for­ward work to dod nor done it so ef­fec­tively. They tra­versed to and fro across the en­emy’s ranks un­ceas­ingly.”

On one part of the bat­tle­field, the 47th Ter­ri­to­rial Divi­sion went into ac­tion mer­rily drib­bling a foot­ball in front of them. Within an hour, they had lost 15 per cent of their num­ber. The Bri­tish made lim­ited gains be­fore they ran out of shells. Scot­tish reg­i­ments took two Ger­man trench lines in front of Loos then, think­ing their part of the bat­tle was over, pro­ceeded like “a Bank Hol­i­day crowd” to ad­vance. They were cut down by dev­as­tat­ing fire from the Ger­man se­cond line that they had not an­tic­i­pated.

On the se­cond day, more frontal as­saults were halted by barbed-wire en­tan­gle­ments and ma­chine-gun fire. The bat­tle dragged on for an­other two months, and left Loos in Al­lied hands but in ru­ins. Bri­tish news­pa­pers an­nounced Loos as a “Vic­tory in the West” but it was sourly noted by Win­ston Churchill: “Vic­to­ryy was boughtg so dear as to be al­most in­dis­tin­guish hable from de­feat.” The Bri­tish loost 60,000 men and

20,00 0 Ger­man sol­diers died.

Bombs from above

TThe year had be­gun with a ter­ri­fy­ing new ad­di­tion tto the hor­rors of war. For the first time, Bri­tish civil­ians were bombed from the air. TTwo Zep­pelins crossed thhe Nor­folk coast on the evven­ing of 19 Jan­uary andd dropped bombs on Kingg’s Lynn and Yar­mouth. Fourr peo­ple died and a furth­her 16 were in­jured.

TThe mil­i­tary ad­van­tage of such ac­tiv­ity was neg­li­gi­ble. It may even have been counter-pro­duc­tive in that bomb­ing strength­ened civil­ian morale and sup­port for the armed ser­vices. How­ever, it re­in­forced the na­tional opin­ion of Ger­man ‘beast­li­ness’ and made the Bri­tish all the more de­ter­mined to pun­ish ‘the Hun’, which meant even ten­ta­tive re­marks about peace could not be con­tem­plated. This pro­moted ex­treme anti-Ger­man feel­ing – even against those who had been in Bri­tain a long time, as well as their de­scen­dants. The mag­a­zine John Bull, a com­pen­dium of jin­go­ism, threat­ened: “a na­tional vendetta, pledged to ex­ter­mi­nate ev­ery Ger­man-born man in Bri­tain – and to de­port ev­ery Ger­man-born woman and child”.

Un­sur­pris­ingly, many of your an­ces­tors with Ger­man-sound­ing names changed them at this time.

A new type of pass­port

One sur­viv­ing doc­u­ment of your an­ces­tors may be a pass­port, which for the first time this year had to have a pho­to­graph as well as a de­scrip­tion of the holder. The new form of pass­ports was a sin­gle sheet folded into eight with a card­board cover and had to be re­newed ev­ery two years.

Far-reach­ing changes came about as a re­sult of the con­sol­i­da­tion of at­ti­tudes to­wards Bri­tish­ness caused by the war. The Bri­tish Na­tion­al­ity and Sta­tus of Aliens Act 1914 came into force on 1 Jan­uary 1915. Bri­tish sub­ject sta­tus was ac­quired in a va­ri­ety of ways, in­clud­ing through birth within His Majesty’s do­min­ions, nat­u­ral­i­sa­tion and de­scent through the le­git­i­mate male line for one gen­er­a­tion (so the il­le­git­i­mate chil­dren of Bri­tish planters and sol­diers in In­dia, for ex­am­ple, did not au­to­mat­i­cally be­come Bri­tish sub­jects).

It was be­com­ing clear dur­ing 1915 that the sys­tem of re­ly­ing on vol­un­teers to main­tain the armed forces was not work­ing. It failed to keep up with the num­bers that the army needed and re­moved from the work­force those skilled work­ers who felt com­pelled to vol­un­teer out of a sense of duty



but would have been more use had they con­tin­ued in their jobs.

Your an­ces­tors liv­ing at this time would have heard and prob­a­bly par­tic­i­pated in ar­gu­ments over con­scrip­tion, which was op­posed by Lord Kitch­ener and by most of the Lib­er­als, but favoured by the Con­ser­va­tives.

Your fe­male rel­a­tives at this time may have worked in mu­ni­tions, en­gi­neer­ing and ship­build­ing, but the tran­si­tion to al­low women and other less skilled work­ers into highly unionised in­dus­tries was tor­tu­ous. This ‘di­lu­tion’ of skilled labour had sup­pos­edly been agreed be­tween unions and man­age­ment, but a fi­nal agree­ment was not made un­til the Trea­sury Agree­ment presided over by Lloyd Ge­orge in March 1915. ‘Di­lu­tion’ was ac­cepted and strikes were out­lawed, but with safe­guards, and only on the un­der­stand­ing that work­ing con­di­tions wwould re­turn to nor­mal af­ter the war. This was all sweet­ened with wwage in­creases and bonuses but there were still some strikes such as one in the South Wales coal­fields in July 1915.

One of many moral pan­ics in the war pe­riod in­volved women work­ers at mu­ni­tions plants and other wartime in­dus­tries. Women were said to be us­ing the new-found wealth of their wages and do­mes­tic free­dom (with hus­bands away in the forces) to go to pubs to have a good time. Women mu­ni­tion work­ers earned three pounds a week for night shifts and half that for day shifts. The

Times re­ported: “we do not all re­alise the in­crease in drink­ing there has been among the moth­ers of the com­ing race, though we may yet find it a cir­cum­stance darkly men­ac­ing to our civil­i­sa­tion”.

Strict li­cens­ing laws re­strict­ing the hours of pubs to the af­ter­noon and evening were in force un­der the De­fence of the Realm Act of 1914, which aimed at stop­ping drunk­en­ness from ham­per­ing war pro­duc­tion.

This year the No Treat­ing Or­der was in­tro­duced by the govern­ment to fur­ther re­duce con­sump­tion, this was to stop peo­ple buy­ing rounds of drinks – as each per­son in the round was hon­our-bound to do the same.

King Ge­orge V or­dered in April 1915 that no drink should be con­sumed in the royal house­hold un­til the end of the war. Lord Kitch­ener also stopped drink­ing “for the du­ra­tion”, but the Prime Min­is­ter Her­bert Asquith de­cided not to ab­stain. He was nick­named ‘Squiffy’, the 19th-cen­tury ex­pres­sion for slightly ine­bri­ated – a con­di­tion that he was of­ten found to be in.

A for­mal por­trait of Lieu­tenant

Gen­eral Sir Dou­glas Haig

The short white socks and

shoes, worn with a sim­ple

dress were typ­i­cal wear for young girls around this

date. Long hair was drawn

off the face and se­cured

with a large bow of­ten to

one side, al­though this is

not the case here.

The woman wears the new sil­hou­ette

with a shorter skirt, along with a

fash­ion­able wide- brimmed hat and

shoes, which were be­com­ing more

com­monly worn than an­kle boots. The cloth cap of the worker is con­spic­u­ous among the men, the older man still sport­ing a mous­tache. The shorts suit was now worn by boys as quite a for­mal out­fi­fi­fit, with a prom­i­nent white col­lar, here seen with socks and an­kle boots. Around this date, shorts rose to above the knee and fab­rics like jersey were also used to make more prac­ti­cal boys’ cloth­ing.

A fe­male mu­ni­tions worker in Not­ting­hamshire, 1917

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