My most recent book is called Sleepwalking Into War. Fermanagh and Surroundings in 1914. The news items were chosen from three local newspapers who cover Fermanagh and surrounding counties and reflect the war news and local events to give an insight into what people were thinking and feeling at the time. The book costs £12 plus £5 P&P.
Similarly I have read and taken notes from the same newspapers for 1915 and intend publishing them throughout 2015 as a blog reflecting life and death as it was a hundred years ago this year. The items include the Christmas Day truce, the high price of potatoes, feeding Belgian refugees with horse meat, recruiting (or the scarcity of recruits), the purchase of remounts, firsthand accounts of the fighting, optimism that the was would be over by the summer etc etc.
1915 Fermanagh Times, Fermanagh Herald and Impartial Reporter.
Fermanagh Times January 7th, 1915. ONE DAY OF PEACE AT THE FRONT. The following is a remarkable description taken from the Daily Mail by an officer at the front of how the British and Germans ceased hostilities on his part of the line on Christmas Day.
Christmas will remain engraved in the memory of many British soldiers who were in our trenches here as one of the most extraordinary days of their life. For on that day British and Germans ceased fighting with each other for an interval, came out into the open between their respective firing lines, buried their dead and held a short service in their memory.
Our chaplain had come with the colonel to officiate at the funeral in a trench of one of our Scottish soldiers. During the programme of the solemn writes it was noticed that one or two fellows were standing outside. No attention was paid to this to the service ended, when the colonel shouted, “Come inside men!” The reply was that some Germans were standing outside. Gradually more and more of the enemy – some of them officers, by their uniform – appeared, none of them armed.
FOOTBALL MATCH WITH A HARE. At last our commanding officer resolved to get out and see for himself. The chaplain jumped up into the open at his heels, and crossing a ditch which runs down the middle of the field between the lines cried “Does anyone speak English?” As reply a private stepped forward and then to our amazement we saw our chaplain cross the ditch, salute the German commander and his staff, and begin to talk with them. Almost at the same time a hare burst into view and ran along between the trenches. All at once Germans came scurrying from their trenches and British from theirs, and a marvellous thing happened. It was all like a football match, the hare being the football, the grey-tunicked Germans the one side, and the kilted “Jocks” the other.
The game was won by the Germans who captured the prize. But more was secured than a hare – a sudden friendship had been struck up, the truce of God had been called, and for the rest of Christmas Day not a shot was fired along our section. Dotted over the 60 yards separating the trenches were scores and scores of dead soldiers and soon spades were flung up by comrades on guard in both trenches, and by instinct each side set to dig graves for their dead. Our padre had seized his chance and found the German commander and his officers very ready to agreeing that, after the dead had been buried, a short religious service should take place. He told us that the German commander and his officers were as anxious as the British could be to keep Christmas Day as a day of peace. That was quite in keeping with the behaviour of the Germans, who had kept up only an occasional firing on Christmas Eve and were very busy singing carols and glees.
SOUVENIERS EXCHANGED. We did not know all that was being said, but afterwards we asked the padre two questions. The one was, “Why did you and the German commander take off your hats to one another?” What happened, as we learned, was: The German took his cigar case out and offered the padre a cigar, which was accepted. The padre said, “May I be allowed not to smoke, but to keep this as a souvenir of Christmas here and of meeting you on Christmas Day?” The answer, with a laugh was, “Oh yes, but can’t you give me a souvenir?” Then the hats came off. For the souvenir the padre gave was a copy of the “Soldiers Prayer” which he had carried in the lining of his cap since the war commenced, and the German officer in accepting it took off his cap and put the slip in the lining saying as he did it, “I value this because I believe what it says and when the war is over I shall take it out and give it as a keepsake to my youngest child.”
The second question was what was in the notebook the German commander showed you? The answer was that he had been shown the name and address in England of a certain brave British officer. He had been killed, and as he was dying the commander happened to pass and saw him struggle to get something out of his pocket. He went up and helped the dying officer, and the thing in the pocket was a photograph of his wife. The commander said “I held it before him, and he lay looking at it till he died a few minutes after.” Our padre took down the name and address and has been able to pass on the information to the bereaved home.
A FINE SPIRIT OF RESPECT. The whole German staff showed a fine spirit of respect during the service for the dead. On one side of the ditch halfway between the two lines stood German officers with their soldiers about them, on the other the officers of the British regiments in the section with their soldiers about them, and between were our Chaplin, an interpreter, and a German divinity student serving with their army. Our chaplain read the 23rd Psalm in English, the German student reading it after him in German. Then a short prayer which the Chaplin had written on a postcard and the interpreter had turned into German was read sentence by sentence by the student after the English form had been recited.
It was a memorable sight to see officers and men who had been fighting, and as I write are fighting against one another as fiercely as ever, bare headed, reverend and keeping sacred truce as they did homage to the memory of the dead on Christmas Day 1914.
Fermanagh Times January 7th, 1915. HIGH PRICED POTATOES. A NOVEL AUCTION IN BELFAST. 600 bags of specially selected potatoes had been kindly given by members of the Killylea, Killinchy, Kilmood and Tullynakill farming societies, the proceeds of the sale being in aid of the Belgian Relief Fund, and also for the provision of gifts for local battalions serving at the front. Altogether the sale realised the handsome sum of £106 11s 7d of which £78 12s would go to the Relief Fund, while £27 19s 7d will be utilised in providing comforts for men who have left our midst in answer to the call.
Fermanagh Times January 7th, 1915. HORSE FOOD FOR REFUGEES AND OTHERS. To the Editor of the Fermanagh Times, December 29, 1914. Dear Sir – there are many thousands of Belgian Refugees in our midst and it has been announced that others will be arriving in the near future. Many of these are destitute, and as the present widespread distress will tend to increase progressively so long as the war continues, the provision of cheap and suitable food is sure to become an important and an urgent problem.
It is well known that in Holland, Belgium and France horse flesh is used as a staple article of food and in times of peace not less than 1,000 lives horses are exported each week from this country to the Continent. Owing to the war this trade with its attendant hardships is temporarily at least at an end, and strenuous efforts are being made to create a market for the products of the bodies of the horses in this country to save them now, and in the future, from the miseries of the Continental traffic. There is hardly any part of the body of a horse that is not commercially valuable but at the present time in this country the flesh which is the most important item is not used as human food, whereas in Paris and Brussels it is sold for this purpose at an average of one franc per pound. Here we can buy horses at 12 shillings and sixpence per hundredweight and the meat could be sold at a few pence per pound or less than half the present price of beef.
We are extremely anxious to develop a scheme by means of which our Belgian guests could be provided with the form of food which the appreciate; and we think that this provision would be accompanied by an enormous diminution in animal suffering, in that it would enable us to rescue and put to a painless end a far larger number of older horses than is possible to us at present. Those who are willing to combine humanitarianism to horses with benevolence to their fellow men are invited to apply to us for particulars of our work and especially of the scheme adverted to above.
We think that it would not be long before the example of our Belgian guests would be followed by our own people, and bearing in mind the fact that horses are clean feeders whose flesh is wholesome, nourishing and palatable – the meat derived even from older horses is tender owing to the shortness of the muscle fibres and it is regarded as a preventative of consumption and cancer by Continental physicians – the introduction of horse flesh as food into our own country would be a gratifying achievement. HORSE AND DRIVERS AID COMMITTEE, LONDON.
Fermanagh Times January 7th, 1915. EDITORIAL. ULSTER BETRAYED AND SOLD was under no obligation to the Government. Nationalist Ireland having received its wages stood bound in honour to return its services as pledged by Mr. Redmond. What has been the result? From the beginning of the war to the end of the year Ireland sent 40,000 recruits to Lord Kitchener’s army. Of these over 28,000 came from Ulster and about 12,000 from the rest of Ireland. We make no accusation against Mr. Redmond’s sincerity as regards recruiting. But when he is vainly striving to obtain one small Irish Brigade of three or four battalions from the National Volunteers, the Ulster Volunteers within a week or two will have completed the whole of an army Division containing four full brigades, each with four battalions, as well as the proper complement of medical, transport, veterinary, engineering and other necessary services.
Fermanagh Times January 7th, 1915. THE PUPILS OF SEVERAL SCHOOLS IN BELFAST have voluntarily relinquished their prize money this year, as did the boys at Portora School, in aid of kindly public objects. The Methodist College lads devoted theirs to the Belgian Relief Fund. Other Schools have contributed to the U.V.F. hospital. Most excellent self-denial!
Fermanagh Times January 7th, 1915. THE PROGRESS OF THE GREAT STRUGGLE. CONTINUED GOOD NEWS FROM THE FRONT. ENEMY REPULSED AT EVERY TURN. SPLENDID WORK BY THE FRENCH AND RUSSIANS. WHAT THE BRITISH TROOPS ARE DOING. NOTES, INCIDENTS, AND STORIES FROM THE FIRING LINE.
Fermanagh Times January 7th, 1915. IN THE TRENCHES AND ON THE RETREAT many of the soldiers lost their hats, and the various headgear called into use was most curious, nearly all contributed by local inhabitants. Some were woolen sleeping caps, then there were straw hats, slouch hats, green “trilbies”, and one soldier went as far as a glossy top hat. The latter was too much for his officer, who ordered him to discard it. So it was thrown into the ditch, only to be seen later on, badly concertinaed, on the curly head of a kilted Scotsman. The climax came when the same Scotsman went to the aid of one of the thousands of refugees that were marching with us. A poor greybeard was wheeling his old wife along the road in a wheelbarrow, and the next thing I saw was the Scottie in his top hat wheeling her along, pathetic and yet ludicrous.
Fermanagh Times January 7th, 1915. THE ENNISKILLEN COUNCIL AND THE VICEROY. LORD ABERDEEN’S RESIGNATION AND AN EXPRESSION OF REGRET PAST BY A SMALL MAJORITY. The chairman Mr. J.F. Wray, LL.B proposed that “We, the Enniskillen Urban Council have heard with extreme regret the announcement of Lord Aberdeen’s decision to resign and we desire to place on record our keen appreciation of the invaluable services rendered to our people by His Excellency and the Countess of Aberdeen in their untiring and self-sacrificing labours for the improvement of the health of the people and for promoting the welfare of the industrial working classes and alleviating the lot of the poor and the destitute. They had been the first in Ireland to take up a position like that and they had come into close contact with the people of Fermanagh. To carry on the work of fighting the scourge of consumption had been met by Lady Aberdeen by the establishment of Rossclare Sanatorium. Since the establishment of that institution many a victim of that scourge had received treatment and attention there which would have been unavailable to them otherwise.
The proposal was opposed by Mr. Trimble who said that there was a weakness and inefficient Irish Administration. They had Dublin itself, seething in crime, labour was held up, ship stopped, strikes in the city and in some of the railways and during this they had a feeble, weak, old-womanly administration in Dublin Castle. In regard to the local associations referred to by the Chairman, Mr. Trimble continued, the town of Enniskillen received the Lord Lieutenant in silence. He had not been invited and he came without been asked. With reference to the Lady Aberdeen he recognised the great energy she threw into the movement for the prevention of consumption and it was through her efforts that the country people had learned the value of fresh air. It was letters written by Lady Aberdeen however, that contributed largely to the removal of the Lord Lieutenant. For the very little Lord Aberdeen had done, and for the great deal that he had left undone, he was adequately compensated by the salary he received which was equal to that of the President of the United States. In conclusion Mr. Trimble said – “I am delighted to hear of his departure from Ireland.”
Fermanagh Times January 7th, 1915. THE DURATION OF THE WAR. OVER BEFORE SUMMER CHANGES INTO AUTUMN. Quite the most comforting New Year’s message that I have seen (says a London Correspondent) is in the speech of Sir George Buchanan to the British and American colonies in Petrograd. He spoke of the war being over “ere summer has changed to autumn.” As the British ambassador is doubtless fully acquainted with what is going on in the eastern theatre, and is also pretty well posted as to the progress of the Allies on this side, his hopes may be assumed to have a substantial basis, or he would not have given utterance to them.
Impartial Reporter. January 7 1915. THINGS MILITARY. One of the many mistakes made by the War Office was in not adopting the offer of the town of Enniskillen to accept the old prison premises. The offer was not favoured, and now when the County Council have demolish the old prison, and converted the new prison into a fine hall and the old prison hospital into a Technical School – all heated with hot water pipes, lit with gas, and newly floored, the War Office are only too glad to make use of the premises which might have been their own. These premises now house 270 men of Captain Sproule Myles’s Donegal Company of the 11th battalion of the Royal Inniskillings comfortably. There is need for more room to accommodate more men and it has been proposed to put 150 more men within the walls of the old prison, or 420 men in all. If the County Council had allowed the second gallery to remain in the building (and it could be replaced) it would accommodate two full companies, or over 500 men. The probability is that the She Barracks in Queen Street, which have been undergoing repair, may be utilised to house the 150 men, and the surplus room of the County Building kept available for the incoming recruits till the battalion reach the 1,150 standard.
Impartial Reporter. January 7 1915. PICTURE HOUSE ENTERTAINMENT. On Tuesday night the proprietors of the Picture Theatre placed their entertainment at the service of the local reception committee, with the result that the hall was crowded with soldiers. Canon Webb, in a short address wished the men God speed and a safe return and told them that when they got to Berlin to let the Germans know where they came from, a sentiment that evoked loud cheers. He also on behalf of the committee and the men of the 11th battalion thanked Mr. Casey of the Picture Company for his kindness and generosity in placing the pictures at their disposal.
Impartial Reporter. January 7 1915. PURCHASE OF REMOUNTS. On last year I sold a horse for £36 10 shillings to one of for local dealers from whom the army purchases, and delivered him next morning as arranged at this gentleman’s stables, just as one of the Government gentlemen who was there purchasing mounts was viewing his other horses. He requested me to give him a ‘show’ which I did and had the ‘pleasure’ and satisfaction of seeing him put up with the other horses purchased at £50.00 each. Not a bad profit of £1310 shillings – more than he made me for 12 months care and feeding. I am quite satisfied that this is not an isolated case. Some may say I was a duffer to sell him at the price. Well, I sell a few horses, and generally know what I’m about but when it is impossible for me to meet the Government purchaser we are obliged to sell to the middleman, and worse still, at his price. No wonder we have given up horse breeding, nor will any scheme induce us to rejoin it so long as we cannot get the value of our horses by selling direct to the Government. Let the Government appoint places and dates in each county, same as they did at the beginning of the war last August where their purchases will attend, and I assure you they will be able to buy cheaper and still give a much better price. CABALLUS.
Impartial Reporter. January 7 1915. WHAT A PLUCKY SOLDIER SAYS. Writing to Mrs. A. Taylor, Druminchin, Newtowngore, Co., Leitrim, Trooper Thomas Bryson, North Irish Horse, says – the first of the sad sights I saw when I landed in Belgium was of the Germans shelling a town. I went about not thinking or fearing, picking up bits of shell for curiosity. Then our officers shouted to get into the house. We had no sooner obeyed orders when a shell burst in the yard and smashed the windows of the house where we were standing. The bullets and shells were falling as quick as hailstones on the three roads leading from the town. I saw one shell bursting which killed two of the Lancers, eight horses and three others. We could not leave until it got dark, and then we were riding over men and horses lying dead as thick as they could be.
I often heard and read of war never expecting to take part in it! But, now, when I have taken part in this great struggle I am not sorry for doing so, although it is a bit hot sometimes. Neither am I tired of it. I never was as happy in all my life as I am at present helping to hold up the old flag, and I believe I could not die happier than to die for it. And I must say that any man or boy fit to hold or help to hold up that flag which we all should love and does not his duty, is a coward and should be deemed a coward. The friends at home and around are so kind in sending me such good things that I want for nothing and trusting in God, I expect D. V., to see you all. (Ed. D.V. Deo Volente i.e. God Willing.)
Fermanagh Herald 9th January, 1915. HAVOC IN HOLLAND. Amsterdam, December 29. A violent storm raged last Monday and Tuesday morning over Holland and for hours all communications with the Provinces, with England and with Germany were cut off. Even now – on Tuesday afternoon – only one single wire is working with London. At Amsterdam the rough weather was especially felt.
Fermanagh Herald 9th January, 1915. THE SECRETARY OF THE ADMIRALTY makes the following announcement: the battleship “Formidable” was sunk this morning in the Channel, whether by mine or submarine is not yet certain. Seventy-one survivors have been picked up by a British light cruiser, and it is possible that others may have been rescued by other vessels. The “Formidable” was a third class battleship of 15,000 tons, and was launched in 1898 at Portsmouth and completed in 1902 at a cost of over one million pounds sterling. She was 400 feet long and her complement was 718 men, and she was a sister ship of the Irresistible and Implacable. She was a heavily armoured and designed to give a speed of 18 knots. An additional 70 men have been rescued by a Brixham trawler.
Fermanagh Herald 9th January, 1915. THE INNISKILLINGS AND HOW OFFICERS AND MEN FOUGHT AND DIED. Private Francis Conway, now a convalescent and on furlough in Sixmilecross, tells the following tale of his two months active service from Mons to Armentieres. Mons – at 6.00 (dawn) we were having some tea in a farmhouse garden when a shell burst among us killing and wounding several. We seized our rifles and advance towards the enemy’s lines. There was terrific firing. Artillery, machine-guns, rifles and cavalry all in action. After half an hour we had to retire 700 yards. We then reformed and advanced again, but somehow both sides had ceased firing, and we brought our wounded to a farmhouse, the ambulance being far in the rear. My cousin, Sergeant McCrystal, Glenhordial, fell in that action having both legs broken. The horrible artillery fire from the enemy drove us back 3 miles. In this fight we lost 500 out of 1,300. The general retreat then began. We were covering that the retreat; we had a bad day at a certain village. The Germans were about 300 yards behind, and as we retreated up the main street they were really get a field gun into position, and began to Moore’s down when halfway up the street. We wheeled and returned the fire, but were being badly cut up. There was confusion owing to orders advance and Retreat, sure that for a time we were mesmerised so to speak and the gun did horrid execution. We then retreated outside of the village, and concealed ourselves as best we could in a turnip field expecting the enemy to come in pursuit but they did not come. After this we were relieved, and did not come into action again till the enemies retreat began. Before the battle of the Aisne we were ambushed by a battery concealed in a wood; Lieutenant and Boyd and several men were killed; when we reach the wood the battery was gone, leaving dead and wounded horses and men behind. The battle of the Aisne lasted several weeks.
Fermanagh Herald 9th January, 1915. LIFE IN THE TRENCHES AND FIGHTING IN A SEA OF MUD. 31st of December –Monday, the 28th of December was a day of pelting rain. Towards the evening this give way to a hurricane of wind, followed during the night by a violent thunderstorm. On Wednesday the 30th gradual progress was maintained. The Germans again bombarded Armentières and shelled our frontline. On the left to our north, their aviators displayed more activity than they have latterly been, dropping bombs on Dunkirk and Furness. The day was bright and frosty, favourable to reconnoitring. The last day of 1914 passed equally uneventfully all along our front. The fighting is now taking place over the ground where both sides have for a week past been excavating in all directions, until it has become a perfect labyrinth.
A trench runs straight for a considerable distance and then it suddenly forks in three or four directions. Sometimes when new ground is broken, and the spade turns up the long-buried dead ghastly relics of former fights, and on all sides the surface of the earth is ploughed and furrowed by fragments of shells and bombs. From a distance this apparently confused mass of passages crossing and recrossing one another, resembles a large irregular gridiron. The life led by the infantry on both sides at close quarters is a strange cramped existence, with death always near either by means of some missile from above or some exploded from beneath –a life which has one dull monotonous background of mud and water.
Fermanagh Herald 9th January, 1915. THE PASSING OF THE HORSE IN MODERN WARFARE. One of the innovations of this war has been the substitution of the motor for the horse. A horse it is a rare sight now except at the stabling stations near the front. Armoured motor cars and motor cycles for scouting, motor wagons and lorries for ambulance and transport work and almost the only branch of activity in which the horse is still indispensable is for rushing field artillery into action, for motors cannot smashed through hedges and over broken ground as our splendid horses can.
Fermanagh Herald 9th January, 1915. NEW LABORATORIES AT MANCHESTER. The new radium laboratories of Manchester Infirmary, which contain radium to the value of £20,000, raised by public subscription a few months ago were formally opened by the Lord Mayor of the city. A staff of experts will specialize in efforts to apply the radium for the arrest and elimination of cancer. The equipment of the laboratories is second to none in the kingdom and in the 16 rooms allotted to the special work there is ample provision for administering the treatment to patients. There is accommodation at the infirmary for the treatment of the 15 patients a day, and although no one has been accepted until this week some 8 or 10 names have already been entered.
The method by which the treatment is administered at Manchester is both bewildering and fascinating to the lay mind. First one enters a strong room guarded by a massive safe door and there on two shells are four glass bulbs containing some £14,000 worth of radium. Already Dr. Borrows, who has charge of the scheme, has discovered a method of measuring the quantity he requires that admits of no error.