and another thought……


Oswestry Visitor and Exhibition Centre

A great comment from Meryl to The Passing-Bells post, warranting yet further comment:

Lovely review – many thanks. Coincidentally, I just saw this show – I was prompted by the Dunkirk trailer.
The young Scotsman (Jack Lowden) who played the German soldier (who was also rather good in War and Peace) is in the upcoming Dunkirk.
I really enjoyed The Passing Bells- especially the final scene, and I have especially enjoyed finding out recently that the two sides played more than one game of football and swapped food and cigarettes on numerous occasions – all details scrubbed from the official unit war diaries.
Wilfred Owen was from Oswestry – where I went to boarding school for 5 years. His legacy is beloved and never forgotten there xx M

“Wilfred Owen (1893-1918) is widely recognised as one of the greatest voices of the First World War. He was born in Oswestry, and brought up in Birkenhead and Shrewsbury. Although he spent only a few years of his life here in Oswestry, his family history goes back generations and his grandfather was once mayor of the town. Oswestry Visitor & Exhibition Centre has a permanent display of Wilfred Owen’s letters to his mother and visitors who want to know more about his life in the town can download the Wilfred Owen Town Trail which will show you places in his life. “


I agree with the ending being true to the reality of war, but dramatically poignant and elevating, then commemorating.

Loved hearing that you went to school in Oswestry, and that his legacy is beloved and never forgotten. I enjoyed reading a few of his letters to his mother online, and noted that he did not go out of his way to hide detail of the war from her, as some of the other characters dissembled the awful reality to their parents in their letters, to spare them worrying.

It seems timely to mention your incredible skill, M, with Ancestry family history research which has revealed amazing tree branches and depth of history.

One such extension to the Frederick family tree was Henry Frederick Williams. Fredericks, as much or more than any family of those days, commemorated their forebears by using their names far and wide in the following generations. My grand-father, Bernard, had six sisters, two of whom were older, Elizabeth and Anna (Annie). Elizabeth married Henry (Harry) Williams, in Ballarat, where the Frederick siblings had largely grown up, except for an early stint on the near-by goldfields at Rocky Lead. Lizzy and Harry’s second son, Harry also, enlisted from Ballarat within weeks of declaration of World War 1, spending the next few weeks only in training, before embarking with his 6th Batallion (exclusively volunteer from Victoria) in Company C, arriving on the troopship Galeka, into Alexandria, in April 1915. (Lizzie and Harry had relocated to farming areas east of Perth, and were accompanied by Lizzie’s sister Annie, (who later married there at the age of 38, never having children). I imagine that they went there for the farm labouring work, but wonder if some cousins, Jacob’s children, had also relocated there.)

Twenty-one year old Harry, has on his archival war record all of the famous names of Gallipoli and Anzac Cove ( Mena, Abbassia, Dardanelles, Pembroke Camp Malta, Mustapha Barracks, Alexandria, Lemnos, Serapeum, as well as troop and hospital ships, Galeka, Braemar Castle, Seeang Bee, Megantic, Empress of Britain, and finally, Ballarat to Marseilles!). He spent an early week ill with enteritis, as many did, then presumeably was in the 6th Batallion’s second wave onto Anzac Cove on 25th April, to receive a GSW (gun-shot wound) to the shoulder on 3rd April. A few months later, he rejoined his unit, including a rest on Lemnos for a few weeks, before going to France and Belgium. At Étaples, he received a severe GSW on 21st Aug 1916, shattering the tibia of one leg, requiring treatment in York, England, including removal of infection and sequestered bone, and six months convalescence before rejoining unit in July 1917. On 20th September, he received a GSW in chest. It would appear that this was during the battle for Glencorse Wood (Belgium), and Sergeant Harry received the DCM. Second Lieutenant Birks famously received the VC posthumously.

On the right flank, Lieutenant William McIntosh, along with Sergeant Harry Williams and a few men, attacked and captured the blockhouse called Fitzclarence Farm, taking an officer, and about 50 Germans as prisoners as well as two machine guns.*

Following a brief recovery period from his GSW to the chest, Harry rejoined his Unit again in early  October.

The rain stopped on the 9th, and the battalion boarded buses at Shrapnel Corner for a tented camp outside the village of Reninghelst. Despite the extremely muddy conditions, training continued with most attention being given to the specialist sections. Enemy aircraft flew frequently overhead, dropping bombs. The increase in bombing raids led to special precautions being taken, such as the camp lights being screened at night. The fine work done by Lieutenant McLachlan and the batallion’s Intelligence Section in collecting enemy documents during the October battles, was recognized when Major Butler of 1st Division HQ, sent a congratulatory message to Colonel Day on 15th October.

A brief respite from the constant training occurred on 20th October when the 6th Batallion played and defeated its “sister” batallion, the 58th, at football. On the next day, General Birdwood presented medals to some members of the batallion. Although medal presentations were often made by senior officers on a formal parade, when the batallion was in the front line, it was not uncommon for the medals to come up with the nightly rations.

Detailed orders came out on 25th October.*

Harry was killed in action on 28th October 1917.

Here ends the war for our Harry Williams, my father’s cousin. Dad was four and a half when he died. John has commented that these days, soldiers are not so repeatedly sent back to the front following so many injuries. Harry was 4th time unlucky.

He is buried at Tyne Cot Commonwealth War Graves Cemetery and Memorial to the Missing, a Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) burial ground for the dead of 1917-1918 in the Ypres Salient on the Western Front.  The cemetery and its surrounding memorial are located outside of Passchendale, near Zonnebeke in Belgium.

As with Rudyard Kipling, Harry’s father had to have repeated letters spanning about 7 years to find where his son’s grave was and between whom he lay. Elizabeth was the beneficiary of his Will, consisting of disc, wallet, notecase, photos.

Elizabeth died in 1959 aged 91, outlasting all her younger siblings. Harry’s older brother, John (Jack) wrote to my Auntie Bell to inform her of his mother’s death:

“She is the last of the Frederick family. A very distinguished family and one of which mother was very proud. Mother had a very simple faith. She was convinced that when her time came, her little daughter Belle and Harry (killed in 1914-1918 war) together with the entire Frederick family would be gathered there to meet her as she entered the pearly gates. I mention this because when I went to the funeral parlour to take a last look at mother it did seem as though there were others there. There was no quesion of an apparition or anything like that, but there definitely was a feeling of the presence of people. Years earlier, mother used to say a few lines of a poem,

“Oh, for the sound of a voice that is still

Oh, for the touch of a vanished hand”

As I stood there, those words came back with a wonderful clarity. These experiences I mentioned to a friend who put it down to overwrought nerves and emotional tension. Maybe, but it was a comforting experience.

Just recently, Joy Wood, Aunt Carrie’s daughter, called on us. She had lost Aunt Nellie some months ago. So now the whole family has passed away. My memory of them all is very vivid. I knew them all as early as the days when Nellie and Sophia went to school. They were wonderful people – I only hope that mother’s faith was fulfilled.”………



Many years later, in her latter days, Aunty Bell expressed anxiety to my mother that, on entering Heaven, she would not be able to find her parents and brothers (Bell, too, had outlived all her younger brothers). My mother reassured her fully to her satisfaction, with her authoritative certainty, that she need have no concern whatsoever,  that they would all be standing there, waiting, at the Entrance on her arrival!


The Passing-Bells

Over the last couple of years, I have deeply enjoyed various contributions of the BBC to the Centenary Commemorations of WW1. One was the movie Testament of Youth, the powerful true story of Vera Brittain, from her memoir of the same name. The cast was very strong, including the increasingly recognized and lovely Swedish actress Alicia Vikander (her English accent is perfect).


As we are only halfway through the Commemoration years, I decided to pass the recent 34 degree C (feels like 40!) weekend heat in our front room air-con, knitting and watching the BBC’s series, now on SBS, The Passing-Bells.

The title required a little investigation, as it is not directly explained…….passing bells are those (usually Church) bells which might call hearers to awareness of, or prayer for the passing of a soul, commonplace in British villages a hundred years ago.

The author of the television drama The Passing-Bells, Tony Jordan, wrote this drama specifically for the young. It needed to suit a 7pm time-slot, and be true to the theme but not so gory as to make it unsuitable for that time-slot. He was inspired by Wilfred Owen’s poem:

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries for them from prayers or bells,
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,—
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.
What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys, but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmers of good-byes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of silent maids,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds.

Wilfred also wrote that other remarkable poem, Dulce et Decorum est (pro patria mori), which calls out ” the old Lie”, it is sweet and right to die for ones country.

We follow a British and a German youth and their respective families, from their enlistments from their home villages, and through each year of the war. It is interspersed with real film and audio at times. The experience offered is that of this war on Youth and these youths, not the politics of the war, or rights or wrongs. One of the aims was to draw for today’s youth some understanding of the inexplicable awfulness of war. We feel that the honour of dying for one’s country may be a lie, especially as, in this particular war, it was significantly inflicted by vain ego’s on both sides; and, by the middle and end of the war, we see the futility of terrible human losses.

A great watch, taken in it’s full context. The music by is haunting as it suggests the hope and aspirations of these teenage youth and the lightness of home, which they lost……for so many, life ended in the slime and mud of the Somme and Paschendale.

I think it drew enough of the facts, without being excessively traumatizing, to give modern youth a glimpse of that reality.

Poet, Wilfred Owen was killed Nov 4, 1918, a week before the end of WW1, at the age of 25.


Thoughts seguay to Rudyard Kipling, who via his contacts helped, his son, John, enlist as an officer. John was killed after leading (leading at 18?) his troops into battle at the Battle of Loos, France, disappearing in September 1915, six weeks after his 18th birthday. Rudyard never really recovered from this loss. John’s body was not recovered at the time, Rudyard searching for the next four years for him, tracking down his battalions survivors, his military contacts, the Red Cross, Swedish contacts and German ambassadors, before finally accepting that he had been killed, rather than taken prisoner.

Having been a keen supporter of the war, Kipling became critical. His haunting poem Common Form reads: “If any question why we died, / Tell them, because our fathers lied.”

In 1992, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission changed the inscription of an Unkown Soldier to John Kipling……he had lain those years un-named due to clerical errors:

He had been promoted in the field to First Lieutenant, not the original assumed Second Lieutenant, confused with another Lieutenant who had died in the field hospital, and, freshly geographically pinpointed due to a clerical error with the grid reference of the day. We now know on Rudyard’s behalf, where his son’s body lies.

(I did not previously know that it was Kipling’s idea that all war graves have equivalent headstones and crosses, there to be no distinction according to rank….and, Also, on war graves everywhere “Known unto God” is written, rather than “unknown”, again, Kipling’s words…..)

I want to re-see the movie My Boy Jack, now.

Kipling Poetry I have noted

The Thousandth Man


My Boy Jack

Jane’s Marriage – in this poem, Kipling gave to Jane (Austen) in Heaven, that which she had missed in life -the love of her ideal man.

This latter was my Aunty Bell’s favorite poem. She was born in 1901, so at coming of age, the flower of Australian youth had been killed in WW1. She never married.