A glance through some old school work turned up a project I thought appropriate to this blog. I think the choice of topic for me and my fellow pupils was entirely our own choice and so I went for the obvious.
The work was a surprisingly lengthy compendium of narrative, illustrations, maps, bibliography and index all on the Battle of Waterloo.
“An excellent project, very well researched and written. A+, Commendation” – it appears that all my hard work was rewarded!
My list of sources for my project included (amongst a number of other books) Aubrey Feist’s “The Field of Waterloo” and “Military Uniforms of the World in Colour” by Preben Kannik and W.Y. Carman. I also included some “Information sent by the Wellington Museum” at Apsley House in London. Aside from the general information sent by the museum, a glance at their list of books, postcards and transparencies (and jigsaws) available makes for interesting reading. There was a great range of photographic reproductions of famous paintings or other features within Apsley House.
It’s clear that I put a lot of energy, time and passion poured into my pet topic as an 11 year old.
That enthusiasm understandably wasn’t always matched by total historical accuracy but did include some rather splendid illustrations, apparently carefully copied from other sources.
Older, more knowledgeable, perhaps a little wiser, I still carry that same enthusiasm for the subject today and the project is a nice connection with the schoolboy who poured so much effort into that school work.
It’s the anniversary of VJ Day (Victory over Japan) today. The end of hostilities in August 1945 has sometimes been overshadowed in popular consciousness in the UK by VE Day and the fall of Nazi Germany. The 15th August marks the 75th anniversary of this crucial event and I didn’t want to let it pass without remembering my grandad, who served in the far east theatre as 4864372 Private Laurence ‘Nobby’ Clark. He enlisted in the 7th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment and was later drafted to the under-strength North Staffordshire Regiment, serving in India and Burma.
I recall hearing from my grandad a number of comments and seeing some mementos of his time there. As is the way with eager but ignorant schoolboys, I would often press him to tell me more of his wartime experiences, and – as is the way with veterans who encountered the reality of war – he was reluctant to go into too much detail about the actual combat. He would occasionally recount how he and his comrades would be subjected to Japanese psychological warfare in the jungle. At night, the unseen enemy would call out in English the first names of soldiers, saying such things as “Nobby, go back home to your mother, she’s worried about you“, etc. etc.
One story that I remember most clearly was his recounting a time when he encountered some Indian jungle wildlife. He was used as a ‘runner’, sent on his own to carry messages through the jungle between lines, often at night. This must have been a terrifying experience for a working class city man from the midlands of England. On one occasion he ran straight into the path of a tiger running towards him! The shock of the encounter was shared by both tiger and soldier, and both turned and ran in the opposite direction. My grandad told me he thought it might have been a juvenile. The badge of both The Leicestershire Regiment and the 26th Indian Infantry Division (to which his other regiment the N. Staffs was attached) is a tiger, so perhaps he was forewarned of this eventuality!
My mother sent me this below she’d discovered about the 7th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment. Perhaps he was transferred in 1944 to the N. Staffs after serving with the Chindits, I need to find out more:
I imagine that tropical diseases, privations from extended lines of communication, plagues of insects and other exotic wildlife, the heat and humidity, the extreme stress of fighting far away in such alien and difficult conditions, all must have made the experience incredibly gruelling.
After VJ day, he understand that he felt part of a forgotten army. No cheering crowds or wild celebrations in the streets greeted his return in a nation already months into adjusting to life after the Nazi threat had been destroyed. I recall he was disillusioned also by the issuing of his medals without any engraved name and number of the recipient. The impersonal nature of these awards meant that they mattered little to him as a consequence and, I believe, he simply lost them or threw them away.
He returned home with some locally bought Indian metalwork crafts and a kukri, the famous bent knives of the Gurkhas, which he subsequently used to trim his lawn with. Nearly a very literal case of from swords to ploughshares! I believe he maintained a good friendship through correspondence with at least one of his senior officers for some years after the war and leaving the army.
Even 75 years on, and over 20 years after he passed away, this blog post affirms that he’s not a forgotten soldier from a forgotten army.
I received some interesting information yesterday regarding the brother of my paternal grandmother. This man, John Neal, was part of a family tree recently researched by my mother and going as far back as his namesake, another John Neal(e) born in 1654. The John Neal that caught my attention had apparently died on 25th September 1915, as Lance Corporal J T Neal of the 2nd Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment.
I did a little on-line research and noticed that the date of his death coincided with the first day of the Battle of Loos. Further research confirmed that the 2nd Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment was indeed part of the attacking force (see below) and I assumed that he was one of the casualties of this battle.
You will notice that he was part of the Indian Corps, Meerut Division, “The Garwal Brigade” serving alongside Gurkhas and the commander was a Brigadier General Blackader. Leicester has a long shared history with India, the city today being home to a large Indian population. The regiment’s nickname “The Tigers” is a reference to the considerable time it spent in India. It seems that this connection continued into the First World War. The Garwhal Rifles, the 8th and 9th Gurkhas all remain Indian army regiments to this day.
The Battle of Loos (pronounced loss in French) was a terrible slaughter for the British army. The French pronunciation of “Loss” here seems somehow grotesquely appropriate to anglophones for this dreadfully wasteful encounter of human life. The battle was notable for being the first time that the British deployed poison gas. It was also a test of Kitchener’s new volunteer army (“Lord Kitchener Needs You”) and I suspect that my relative John Neal could have been one such volunteer.
However, I then discovered that the 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment was actually involved not in the main battle that day on the 25th September, but took part in a diversionary attack at Pietre in support of Loos, instead. The British Commander in Chief, Sir John French said of this action:
“The Indian Corps attacked the Moulin du Pietre… These attacks started at daybreak and were at first successful all along the line. Later in the day the enemy brought up strong reserves, and after hard fighting and variable fortunes the troops engaged in this part of the line reoccupied their original trenches at nightfall. They succeeded admirably, however, in fulfilling the role allotted to them, and in holding large numbers of the enemy away from the main attack.”
So, I therefore assume that my ancestor was killed at some point during the day’s fighting at Pietre, drawing German troops away from the main action at Loos. Ironically, even the slaughter at Loos itself was only really another supporting action to the large French attack in the 3rd Battle of Artois. Such was the scale of the mass killing on the Western Front.
Lance Corporal Neal’s is buried in the Guards Cemetery, Windy Corner, Cuinchy in northern France. This cemetery is on a site once used at the front as a dressing station and HQ by the army (near to a crossroads known to the British as Windy Corner).
Like many soldiers, his body was exhumed from elsewhere and moved to be consolidated with others in the Windy Corner cemetery early in 1920. When he was taken from the original location, the means of identity was listed as being a ‘disc’. It sounds like his identification was fortunate as most others appearing on the same reburial form, and therefore alongside him in the cemetery, were listed simply as being “unknown soldiers”.
It seems quite a pleasant spot, John Neal’s grave, surrounded by fields and trees. It would be nice and very appropriate to visit one day, I think.