WWI: A brief history closer to home

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Hello and welcome to my first blog for WU History! With the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War being commemorated this summer up and down the country, I decided to investigate a little deeper; my Great-Grandfather, Thomas Holderness’s involvement in “the Great War” and the legacy of the conflict in my local area.

Some time ago I was told that my Great-Granddad signed up for the Royal Fusiliers from my own father, intrigued with the knowledge I had obtained I wished to know more. Luckily his medals were kept in my uncle’s attic along with his honourable discharge certificate from King George V. From this discovery I found out that my Great-Granddad was awarded four medals, for his services for the war effort. The badge I was most interested to examine was the Silver War Badge. This badge was issued to servicemen who were discharged from the military as a result of sickness or injuries and was introduced in order to avoid confusion with members of the public, so that they did not think the men who returned from war were not cowardice. From this information I found out that my Great-Granddad was injured, to be precise I learnt that he was seriously wounded to the shoulder. In addition my family kept the original discharge certificate, confirming that he took no further part in the final stages of war in 1918 due to injury. However, I wanted to be sure that I could obtain all the information available about my Great-Grandfather, so in September 2012 I decided to visit the National Archives at Kew to see if I could find out any more…

This proved to be an extremely insightful visit as I managed to obtain a copy of a very crucial document (the War of decorations list) that reveals when my Great-Granddad was enlisted, it actually happened to be before the war started and he was in enlisted on 29th March 1911 and not in 1914 as I previously thought. After reading the document I was able to know his regiment details, I found out he was; a Corporal in the 2nd Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers, an infantry regiment throughout the war as well as his specified identification number, 14570. This was an interesting find, as this was one page of a huge book that explains to me more clearly than words ever could about the true nature of the horrors of war. Only two men listed on that page survived the war, all the others were either killed in action or died as a result of their wounds. Looking more closely at one of the dates of death of one of his comrades, 25th April 1915 and when he first saw action told me that he must have landed on the first day of allied landing at the beaches of Gallipoli, now modern-day Turkey.

In spite of the high causality numbers of this campaign I found out that my Great-Granddad took part in the campaign and that his regiment landed at X beach in Cape Helles, on the southern tip of Gallipoli during the early stages of the campaign. Gallipoli was fought on the peninsula of the former Ottoman Empire, which is now modern-day Turkey during the First World War. The campaign was proposed by Winston Churchill (First Lord of the Admiralty) and Lord Kitchener (Secretary State of War), in order to relive the fighting that was taking place on the Western front. Many allied servicemen lost their lives during the Gallipoli campaign, some of whom were Australian and New Zealanders. To many historians it was regarded it to have been one of the worst military disasters in modern history. The campaign was a failure as the Ottoman forces knew of the assault and were fully prepared in terms of tactics and defence by limiting the allied powers to the beaches.

After reflecting on this particular campaign and other battles as a whole I thought “it is amazing that I am lucky enough to be here today” as so many servicemen died in action or on account of their wounds. If the document I requested from the archives was replicated to others, as a whole it can be argued that two in ten servicemen died.

In addition, I thought it was also appropriate to include a snippet of history at a local level, focusing on the small village of Harefield, a few miles outside of my home town. Harefield contains the graves of Anzac servicemen from Australia and New Zealand who fought and died during the First World War, many of whom at Gallipoli. I first visited the site whilst on my Duke of Edinburgh expedition back in 2009. This too reinforces the severity of the First World War and as the Anzac graves represent, it affected many people in the world on a global scale and still can be argued so to this day.

Further reading-


Tim Travers., Gallipoli, 1915.


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