Seventy-six years ago, on the evening of 29 December 1940, a German bombing raid caused what become known as the ‘Second Great Fire of London’. Taken in the aftermath of this raid, the iconic photograph of St Paul’s Cathedral in the blitz came to symbolise London’s defiance. The attack on 29 December targeted the City of London where the high explosive and incendiary bombs started a firestorm that swept all before it. The area destroyed was more than that devastated by the Great Fire of 1666. It cost the lives of over 160 civilians and 14 firemen.
St Paul’s Cathedral, 29 December 1940
The attack and the response to it by the emergency services and the people of London is explored in detail by Margaret Gaskin in her excellent book Blitz: The Story of 29th December 1940—a most thorough description of the night’s events told largely through the memories of those who were there. Although Gaskin describes in some detail the bravery of those responding to the fires, she only alludes to the gallantry awards that were made in consequence of those acts. In all, the fierce bombing raid and firestorm of 29 December resulted in 44 gallantry awards—one MBE, eight George Medals, 22 British Empire Medals and 13 Commendations for Brave Conduct—more than for any other single event during the blitz. Continue reading
The interior of the 36th (Ulster) Division card for 1917
As we approach Christmas, I thought I would share a selection of the First World War Christmas cards that have been sent to me, for one reason or another, over the years.
These cards are of two types—those commissioned with an appropriate theme for a unit or formation, and those produced locally for soldiers to buy. The locally produced cards were made to a very high standard and were not confined to Christmas greetings. Made year-round as general souvenirs and to commemorate specific events, many were embroidered in rich colours with patriotic designs. Early in the war the embroidery, on silk organza or similar fine material, was done by women as piecework for companies who then mounted the embroidery on cards with printed messages. Later, the popularity of the cards resulted in machine embroidered cards assembled in factories. It is commonly estimated that as many as 10 million such cards were produced during the war, mainly in France. Continue reading
It is always a great pleasure to help someone out with research and then be contacted sometime later to be told that their project has come to successful fruition. A new book—Names Carved in Stone—tells the story of 69 men from The Mall Presbyterian Church in Armagh, Northern Ireland who served during the Great War. It is an excellent, small community, commemorative work that has been produced to the very highest standards. The layout and illustrations are beautifully done by Jason McFarland at ArtworkArmy. I’m very pleased to host this piece by the author, Fiona Berry, who describes the inspiration behind the project and a little bit about the men it commemorates.
The Memorial Tablets in The Mall Presbyterian Church, Armagh
The book began with the more modest ambition of an article for the Church magazine, profiling the story of one of the soldiers named on the War Memorial. In many projects like this the inspiration often comes from a family story. I had grown up hearing of three great-great uncles who fought in the First World War—William, Joseph and John Johnston of Disraeli Street, on the Crumlin Road. Joseph’s death at Gallipoli in August 1915 was a devastating loss for the family. The next generation of the family were to suffer again during the Belfast Blitz of 1941 when their house in Duncairn Gardens suffered a direct hit and was completely destroyed. Our family left Belfast for Newtownards and the connection with their Belfast community was broken. Continue reading
The letters written by Lieutenant Colonel Blacker in November 1916 have now been published and they can be read on the project’s website. The letters cover a wealth of subjects from equipment and clothing, to promotion and the award of medals, and, of course, the weather. In a few days Lieutenant Colonel Blacker will go home on leave and we won’t hear from him again until early January 1917/2017.
The Thornton Trench Coat – “New Thornton coat and long gum boots kept me quite dry in spite of rain and flood.”