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Europe/Great Britain : GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

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Ningpo
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21 Sep 2016
04:35:30pm
The simple and unusual design of this (loosely termed) letter card appealed to me. It was addressed to Brigadier General R.S Oxley of the British Expeditionary Force, in France.


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I'm having difficulty identifying the Division indicated in the flag. It looks like '20' with other characters above and to its right. But I can only find a reference to Brig.General Oxley in relation to the 24th Division for a brief time during 1915.


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doomboy
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21 Sep 2016
05:59:25pm
re: GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

I don't think that it is 20th - looks more like a 'nd' or 'rd' following he numeral. Looked more like 23rd to me.

Interestingly, found a reference to Reginald Stewart Oxley on a University of Birmingham research website ('Lions led by Donkeys'). I'm pretty sure that he's your man:

-took command of 24th Brigade, 8th Div. after Neuve Chapelle (March 1915)
-24th Brigade was transferred to 23rd Division 18 October 1915
-took part in the Somme as part of the 23rd Division
-was dismissed 11 July 1916
-spent remainder of war in staff positions
-retired in 1919

His career was not a distinguished one - seems like he was one of the 'donkeys'.

http://www.birmingham.ac.uk/research/activity/warstudies/research/projects/lionsdonkeys/n.aspx


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cdj1122
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Silence in the face of adversity is the father of complicity and collusion, the first cousins of conspiracy..
21 Sep 2016
09:30:15pm
re: GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

The story of the Battle of the Somme, a river in France northwest of Paris should bring grown men to tears. It is a study of mistakes, incompetence and bullheadedness. The British suffered over 50,000 men the first day when the artillery that was supposed to pin the German troops down while the Tommies attacked, stopped shelling the German defenses some twenty minutes before the troops attacked. That gave the defenders time to reset their men in the trenches. The sound of the British artillery could be heard in London across the English Channel.
It provided proof that simply because a man was born to the extended nobility was no reason to assume that he could command troops in the field. The battle lasted from July to November and over a million casualties were suffered by the British, the French and the German forces. In fact the British lost more men in that extended campaign than the United States lost in all the battles during the four years of WW II. Such things are little noted in the US although there were many US citizens who signed up to serve in British or Canadian divisions. That this brigade general was dismissed from command is probably a good thing.

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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
22 Sep 2016
08:50:16am
re: GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

The Allies seemed to learn little from experience in the war, seldom coordinating artillery and troops effectively. The description of the Somme attack was repeated throughout the war. Worse, for the Allies, was that German defenses were staggered, with the least dense in the front; they preferring to counter attack against the exhausted troops after contact. Still worse, Allies seldom left large reserves to help the troops that did manage a breakthrough. The whole thing was repeated throughout entire conflict, defining the Galipoli campaign as much as the Somme. An entire treatise could be written on this single aspect of the war (well, lots have actually).

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cdj1122
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Silence in the face of adversity is the father of complicity and collusion, the first cousins of conspiracy..
22 Sep 2016
11:55:41am
re: GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

Gallipoli, where the Admirals managed to keep their battleships nice and clean while men dies on the beaches and nothing was gained for their suffering. A story memorialized in a ballad recorded by a folk rock group "The Pogues".


THE BAND PLAYED WALTZING MATILDA

When I was a young man I carried my pack
And I lived the free life of a rover
From the Murrays green basin to the dusty outback
I waltzed my Matilda all over
Then in nineteen fifteen my country said Son
It's time to stop rambling 'cause there's work to be done
So they gave me a tin hat and they gave me a gun
And they sent me away to the war
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we sailed away from the quay
And amidst all the tears and the shouts and the cheers
We sailed off to Gallipoli

How well I remember that terrible day
How the blood stained the sand and the water
And how in that hell that they called Suvla Bay
We were butchered like lambs at the slaughter
Johnny Turk he was ready, he primed himself well
He chased us with bullets, he rained us with shells
And in five minutes flat he'd blown us all to hell
Nearly blew us right back to Australia
But the band played Waltzing Matilda
As we stopped to bury our slain
We buried ours and the Turks buried theirs
Then we started all over again

Now those that were left, well we tried to survive
In a mad world of blood, death and fire
And for ten weary weeks I kept myself alive
But around me the corpses piled higher
Then a big Turkish shell knocked me arse over tit
And when I woke up in my hospital bed
And saw what it had done, I wished I was dead
Never knew there were worse things than dying
For no more I'll go waltzing Matilda
All around the green bush far and near
For to hump tent and pegs, a man needs two legs
No more waltzing Matilda for me

So they collected the cripples, the wounded, the maimed
And they shipped us back home to Australia
The armless, the legless, the blind, the insane
Those proud wounded heroes of Suvla
And as our ship pulled into Circular Quay
I looked at the place where my legs used to be
And thank Christ there was nobody waiting for me
To grieve and to mourn and to pity
And the band played Waltzing Matilda
As they carried us down the gangway
But nobody cheered, they just stood and stared
Then turned all their faces away

And now every April I sit on my porch
And I watch the parade pass before me
And I watch my old comrades, how proudly they march
Reliving old dreams of past glory
And the old men march slowly, all bent, stiff and sore
The forgotten heroes from a forgotten war
And the young people ask, "What are they marching for?"
And I ask myself the same question
And the band plays Waltzing Matilda
And the old men answer to the call
But year after year their numbers get fewer
Some day no one will march there at all *

Waltzing Matilda, Waltzing Matilda
Who'll come a waltzing Matilda with me
And their ghosts may be heard as you pass the Billabong
Who'll come-a-waltzing Matilda with me? ...."


© Eric Bogle





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Guthrum
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22 Sep 2016
04:09:05pm
re: GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

Or possibly the Irish group, The Pogues?

Eric Bogle, an émigré (to Australia) Scotsman, wrote the song, covered by (among many others) The Pogues.

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doomboy
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23 Sep 2016
11:54:52am
re: GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

Here's a little known bit of music trivia ....

The Pogues aren't actually Irish - the band was formed in London in the late 70s - early 80s. Who'd a thunk?

The song is definitely written by Eric Bogle, who had quite a number of anti-war songs in his catalogue. One of my all time favourites has to be 'No Mans' Land' (aka 'Green Fields of France').

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cdj1122
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Silence in the face of adversity is the father of complicity and collusion, the first cousins of conspiracy..
23 Sep 2016
10:00:32pm
re: GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

Well I posted the words of "The Band Played Waltzing Matilda" so with November q1th rushing on, in fairness, since it was mentioned, here are the lyrics to

The Green Fields Of France.

Eric Bogle
Well, how do you do, Private William McBride,
Do you mind if I sit down here by your graveside?
And rest for awhile in the warm summer sun,
I've been walking all day, and I'm nearly done.
And I see by your gravestone you were only 19
When you joined the glorious fallen in 1916,
Well, I hope you died quick and I hope you died clean
Or, Willie McBride, was it slow and obscene?

Did they Beat the drum slowly, did the play the pipes lowly?
Did the rifles fir o'er you as they lowered you down?
Did the bugles sound The Last Post in chorus?
Did the pipes play the Flowers of the Forest?

And did you leave a wife or a sweetheart behind
In some loyal heart is your memory enshrined?
And, though you died back in 1916,
To that loyal heart are you forever 19?
Or are you a stranger without even a name,
Forever enshrined behind some glass pane,
In an old photograph, torn and tattered and stained,
And fading to yellow in a brown leather frame?

The sun's shining down on these green fields of France;
The warm wind blows gently, and the red poppies dance.
The trenches have vanished long under the plow;
No gas and no barbed wire, no guns firing now.
But here in this graveyard that's still No Man's Land
The countless white crosses in mute witness stand
To man's blind indifference to his fellow man.
And a whole generation who were butchered and damned.

And I can't help but wonder, no Willie McBride,
Do all those who lie here know why they died?
Did you really believe them when they told you "The Cause?"
Did you really believe that this war would end wars?
Well the suffering, the sorrow, the glory, the shame
The killing, the dying, it was all done in vain,
For Willie McBride, it all happened again,
And again, and again, and again, and again.

Since from my perspective the youngest generation
is so ignorant of history books
perhaps these ballads are their only connection
to the horrendous slaughter of WW I.

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malcolm197
28 Sep 2016
02:28:12am
re: GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

In fairness to the "Donkeys" the military conditions in WW1 were beyond anyone's previous experience. Perhaps "Colonial Wars" as practiced by the many experienced senior British ( and French ) officers prior to WW1 were not the best preparation for a war on an industrial scale. A lack of preconceived notions as a result of no experience might have been better at producing original thought. It also is a fact that original thought by junior officers in peacetime was not encouraged.

It has to be said that even very experienced and competent Generals were out of their depth during World War 1. It is a given in war that only the experience gained on the current battlefield or in the immediate past is relevant, and the only generals who survive are the one's who learn "on the hoof". Different mistakes were made in WW2 under the same circumstances.

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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
28 Sep 2016
08:46:07am
re: GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

actually, any general officer could have studied the American Civil War to see exactly what they might face: entrenched positions causing immense casualties against the attacking side even with heavy bombardment prior to the attack. Petersburg probably gives the best sense of this (and even had mining and countermining, with gruesome consequences), and Fredericksburg probably the most devastating example; but one sees this clearly by the second year of the war. There were British observers, including the colonel from the Coldstream Guards at Gettysburg who watched the ineffectiveness of massed bombardment.


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ikeyPikey
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28 Sep 2016
09:32:01am
re: GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

I would like to offer that the WW1 generals get a bad rap.

They clearly understood the attack-the-trench problem, they just did not know what to do about it, or have the means to do much about it.

The ever-increasing bombardments (which eventually reached one thousand guns per kilometer for 72 hours) were one of the few means at-hand.

One tactical adaptation was tunneling great distances, and planting explosives under enemy positions. Months of work for each attempt, so not something you could do every day, but it could get you a gap in the trench line.

Another tactical adaptation was poison gas ...

When something useful became available (tanks), they got on with it.

Cheers,

/s/ ikeyPikey

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amsd
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Editor, Seal News; contributor, JuicyHeads
28 Sep 2016
01:31:46pm
re: GB: Unusual WWI B.E.F. 1916 Christmas letter card

IP,

I don't quite agree. Some of the solutions were there, including commanding from the front rather than the rear, which would then allow for better combined arms coordination, and better use of reserves to capitalize on initial break throughs.

attacking on a single point rather than across a long expanse worked (and was oddly abandoned) during the Civil War; i don't believe it was tried in France.

David

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