When so many rushed off to war
As we commemorate the centenary of the signing of the Armistice in November 1918, which brought an end to First World War, it is difficult to understand the spirit of nationalist fervour and jingoism with which countries rushed to war in 1914.
The Kaiser apparently assured his troops, “you will be home before the leaves have fallen from the trees”.
In Britain there were some realists like Sir Edward Grey who famously remarked: “The lights are going out all over Europe”, and Lord Kitchener himself foresaw a prolonged and costly conflict. But many men rushed to volunteer, fearing the war would be over by Christmas and they would miss out on an exciting overseas adventure.
Lord Kitchener, remembered for his iconic, stern-faced “Your Country Needs You” recruitment poster, issued his first recruitment poster a ‘Call to Arms’ in August 1914, appealing for 100,000 men to volunteer and by the end of September more than half a million had answered the call. Many were encouraged by friends, families and sweethearts who could never have imagined the carnage that would develop in Flanders Fields.
The Fine Sale at Keys in November had an interesting selection of old gramophone records from the start of the Great War, including Christmas in Camp with Kitchener’s Boys, Landing of British Troops in France and Fire
Alarm onboard a Troopship.
The recording entitled Kitchener’s Boys Christmas in Camp with Kitchener’s Boys captures the spirit of adventure and nationalistic fervour very well. The recording was made on the Regal label and a royalty on sales was paid at the time to the Prince of Wales Funds, a charity set up to support families whose men had volunteered for military service.
A recruitment poster ‘Women of Britain Say GO’ was typical of the way men were encouraged to volunteer and an example was sold at Keys earlier this year.
Also at the sale was an item called Great War OBE, MC Group of seven medals belonging to Major General Arthur William Purser, Royal Field Artillery. These included the most excellent order of The British Empire Officers (OBE), first type Military Division breast badge, frosted silver, London hallmarked 1919, Military Cross, engraved ‘Major A W Purser, 1st January 1917’, 1914-15 Star engraved ‘Capt A W Purser, RFA’, British War Medal, engraved, ‘Major A W Purser’, Victory Medal, engraved ‘Major AW Purser’, Jubilee medal 1935, Coronation medal 1937, plus set of silver miniatures, both groups mounted as worn, and, each housed in Spink & Son leather cases.
They were together with various related items, 1903 appointment as an Officer in Land Forces, 1913 Certificate of Signalling, 1919, OBE document, 1922 Gunnery Staff course certificate, 1937 Coronation Medal document, 1937 list of his saddlery, photograph of Purser in military uniform, Panoramic group photo of 19th Field Artillery, Bulford Camp, 1919, (Purser is seated in middle of front row, wearing his medals, a dog at his feet), photo/scrap album covering the period 1904-’06 with seven mounted photos of RFA manoeuvres and other relevant items, and the Royal Artillery News of February 1954 which includes an appreciation of Major-General Purser (1884-1953).
There was also a Great War family group of medals, comprising three to Major Cecil Frank Wightman, being the British War Medal, Victory Medal and Territorial Force Medal to Major Wightman (1870-1937). General Surgeon with a practice in Royston, Herts, co-author with Sir John Collie of ‘First Aid in Accidents’, Wightman’s signed and well-worn copy of the fifth edition was included with the lot, together with some associated items including two manuscript notebooks, his copy of ‘A History of Royston’ plus a pair of medals to his adopted son, 2nd Lieutenant Walter Peter Westwood, Suffolk Regiment, comprising British War Medal and Victory Medal.
At the battle of Passchendaele he was severely wounded by a shell burst and then killed by a second shell. He died on September 16, 1917, aged 23 and is commemorated at Tyne Cot Memorial.
There was also a poster showing ‘Go! It’s your duty lad, join today’ (pictured here), a First World War chromolithograph recruiting poster circa 1915.
A Great War OBE, Military Cross and seven medals belonging to Major General Arthur William Purser.
Old records from the start of the First World War..
A Great War family group of medals.