Remembering the Battle of the Somme

Jaywick Martello Tower and From the Trenches to Tendring will be commemorating 100 years since the start of the Battle of the Somme by holding a special screening of the Imperial War Museum’s Somme film.

The film was created as an official documentary and recorded the preparations for battle, movement of men and artillery and scenes of action.  When the film was shown in 1916, the Imperial War Museum estimate it was seen by 20 million people, many of whom were hoping to catch a glimpse of their loved ones.

The Battle of the Somme took place from 1 July 1916 to 18 November 2016 across a 25km front line in France.  On just the first day nearly 60,000 men were wounded including nearly 20,000 men who were killed.  Relatives of some contributors to our project saw action in this battle and most communities at the time would have been effected in some way.

Signaller Charles Gardiner arrived at Moliens-au-bois in the Somme region with the 7th Suffolk Regiment just before the offensive.  The dates of Charles’ diary entries are uncertain but he does record leaving for the line on 30th June 1916 and that on the 1st July the 8th and 34th divisions had taken “4 lines of trenches near Albert” and the 12th division “goes over the top”.

On 3rd July the 7th Suffolks went into action in an attack on Ovillers.  The battalion war diary records these events:

The first four waves (C&D coy) penetrated to the enemy’s third line and portions of them into the village itself but owing to the darkness touch was lost with succeeding waves and with the 5th Royal Berks on the right so that the leading waves were not supported closely enough thus allowing the Germans to get in between the waves…it was at this 3rd German line that the chief casualties occurred and the assault was brought to a standstill

Charles writes about this attack in his diary, referring to Tuesday but it seems that the events he describes are actually Monday 3rd:

“3.7 am Tuesday morning Battalion goes over the top, C&D first A&B succeeded in getting to German frontline and bombers went to storm village with grenades our men were driven back but dug themselves in between the two lines”

Charles_SommeCasualties for the 7th Suffolks on 3rd July were recorded by the war diary as 479 killed, wounded or missing.  Charles himself records 600 casualties and 11 signallers.  The battalion were immediately relieved  by the Royal Fusiliers and moved into billets at Albert.  They remained in reserve at Varennes until moving back up into the frontline at Auchonvillers on 21st July.  Charles records “heavy bombardment” overnight.

The beginning of August finds Charles in reserve at Bouzincourt and in his diary he writes “bath in R.Somme.”  It was not long lasting though as the battalion diary tells:

Orders received at 7pm [3rd August] that all ranks to sleep in clothes and boots and to be ready to move off at short notice.

On 7th August they were back in the trenches, this time near Pozieres.  Shelling of their position started at 4pm on 7th and lasted throughout the night becoming particularly intense at 2am when the enemy attacked Ration Trench.  On 10th August the Australians made an attack with the Suffolks.  Charles writes:

Our boys and Anzacs go over  at 9.30pm.  Backhouse and I go on the line, tapped in twice after mending several breaks.  3rd time I was buried and lost touch with Backhouse.  Phone blown up, pretty well shaken up, go with Anzacs to dugout stop till morning.

Charles and the Suffolks were relieved on 13th and moved into bivouacs in back in Bouzincourt.

Tim Gardiner’s book East of Arras which tells Charles’ complete story is available to buy at Jaywick Martello Tower and on Amazon.

The 2016 screening of the Battle of the Somme film, which is held 100 years to the day, will take place at Jaywick Martello Tower at 6pm on Friday 1st July.  The event is free but booking is essential.



Voices of the Great War

A5 Flier - Voices of the Great War_smlWhile we have been busily working on From the Trenches to Tendring our colleagues at the University of Essex have been working on a new drama that tells the untold stories of children who grew up in the shadow of the First World War.

Voices of the Great War is based on interviews recorded with people born in Britain in the early 20th Century.  The stories give a deeply personal perspective on growing up in an unprecedented moment of history when damaged young fathers return home from the trenches and family life is changed irrevocably.

Dramatic and heart-breaking reminiscences are fused with compelling physical performance and original vocal compositions to create, Voices of The Great War. This new play is a unique and ambitious theatrical event that brings the past to life with the voices of today’s youth.

Voices of the Great War is produced by Lakeside Theatre and the University of Essex Centre for Theatre Studies with funding from the Heritage Lottery Fund. It is directed by Robert Price and written by Annecy Lax based on research by Dr Mike Roper and Dr Rachel Duffett of the Department of Sociology, University of Essex.

Tickets are available from the Lakeside Theatre box office.

From the Trenches to Tendring exhibition opens

PC front

The project exhibition is now open at Jaywick Martello Tower to visit until July 2016.  The Tower is open from Wednesday to Sunday 10am to 5pm.  Admission is £1, children are free.

The exhibition includes some original First World War postcards and a large amount of the items we collected shown on film.  As the exhibition continues we will also be making the collection database available to view.

You will be able to listen to local songwriter Tracie Fox’s musical tribute Tenderly Remembering Tendring, which is also available to listen to again on Soundcloud.

There is also a chance to see contributions by the Jaywick Handicraft Club who have embroidered handkerchiefs following WW1 designs, and postcards created by Tendring Technology College and all our roadshow participants and made into a wreath by project artist Alison Stockmarr.  Alison has also created face books from stories and material collected by the project.

For more details contact Jaywick Martello Tower on 01255 822783.

Created by Alison Stockmarr
Wreath created by Alison Stockmarr
A face book created by Alison Stockmarr
A face book created by Alison Stockmarr


“We are thankful that this longed for day has arrived”



This royal letter was received by Ernest Dowman on his return home to Brightlingsea in 1918.  Dowman served with the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry but was taken prisoner early on in the war at La Bassee and was sent to the German camp at Chemniz, Saxony.

This early part of the war is sometimes referred to as the Race to the Sea with German and Allied forces battling northwards through France towards Belgium and the sea.  Dowman was captured on 21.10.1914.


Ernest Dowman, 2nd left

The letter from King George V was sent to all returning POWs and although the letters look handwritten they are actually duplicates.  There were 180,000 British prisoners of war in German hands who were repatriated after the end of the war.  The message they received from Buckingham Palace reads:

The Queen joins me in welcoming you on your release from the miseries and hardships, which you have endured with so much patience and courage. During these many months of trial, the early rescue of our gallant Officers and Men from the cruelties of their captivity has been uppermost in our thoughts. We are thankful that this longed for day has arrived, and that back in the old Country you will be able once more to enjoy the happiness of a home and to see good days among those who anxiously look for your return

Images by kind permission of Brightlingsea Museum.

The new season at Jaywick Martello Tower

The new spring season of talks at Jaywick Martello Tower has been published.  All talks take place at the Tower on Fridays at 11am.  Admision is £2 per talk or £8 for all five if booked in advance on 01255 822783.

Manningtree Witch Trials, Friday 15 April, 11am

Author and storyteller Jan Williams will talk about the terrible witchcraft trials in Manningtree in 1645. find out what really happened ot the accused women and Matthew Hopkins himself.

The Stomach for Fighting: Food and the Soldiers of the Great War, Friday 22 April, 11am

Dr Rachel Duffett’s research is about the significance of food for the soldiers serving on the Western Front; it looks at the army’s rations from purchase to their storage, distribution and preparation. Food was central to morale and physical performance, but it also had an emotional aspect and the much anticipated food parcels from home provided an important connection between the men and the families who waited for them.

The People’s Photograper, Friday 29 April, 11am

Malcolm Batty will talk about his family’s local photography business, from the beginnings to recent times.More details to follow soon.

From the Trenches to Tendring, Friday 6 May, 11am

In 2015 the project set out to discover correspondence sent between the people of Tendring and those away during the Great War. The talk will present some of the many letters, cards, photos, diaries and souvenirs that were shared and some of the stories they tell.

Trenches to Tendring is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund: Then and Now

Four years, three months and one week: the First World War diaries of a Suffolk farmer’s wife, Friday 13 May, 11am

Using the diaries of Alice Packard, a farmer’s wife in the Suffolk village of Shotley, this talk will explore how the First World War affected both a single family and a wider rural community. From the first appearance of casualties at Shotley Barracks in early August 1914, following the sinking of HMS Amphion off the Suffolk coast, the war became part of daily life for the village, culminating with the surrender of U-boats on the River Stour in November 1918. This paper will consider the diverse nature of the Shotley ‘home front’, as recorded by Alice, and it will reflect upon the various ways in which local people experienced the war, from grassroots charitable initiatives to Zeppelin raids. Talk by Dr Edward Packard, Lecturer in History,University Campus Suffolk.

For more information contact the Tower on 01255 822783 or to see the full events listing visit

Forget me not

Forget me not flowersOne of the early additions to our project collection were the embroidered postcards.  Now we have finished our collecting we have scanned nearly 100 examples of these attractive pieces, with motifs illustrating a range of regiments, family relationships, seasonal festivals and locations.  The cards have also raised questions about how and where they were produced, the choice of designs and how they were used.

Silk embroidered postcards had already become a popular novelty before the war with examples made in 1900.  During the war, French and Belgian women were able to produce and sell these cards to the soldiers stationed near them, providing a way for them to earn money and an attractive souvenir and quick way to send thoughts home for the men serving.

Many of the cards demonstrate high quality craftsmanship.  In An Illustrated History of the Embroidered Silk Postcard, Dr Ian Collins suggests that the designs may have been embroidered from a sketch and worked on strips of fabric repeatedly stitched with the same design.  This stitching was mainly done by hand although some examples produced after 1915 were machine produced.  One woman interviewed by John Laffin (World War 1 in Postcards, 1988) described how she spent between 4 to 8 hours to complete one card when working near Arras from 1916-1918.  The cards were sold for the relatively high price of a few pennies (compared to a printed card selling at a penny).

As demand increased for these “silks” production became more centralised with factories in Paris employing women on an “assembly line basis” (John Laffin, World War 1 in Postcards, 1988).

CockerelTo my fatherWe have collected examples of the different themes and types of card, those with pockets and inserted cards, embroidered and woven.  Many show patriotic symbols, colours and flags, and some with messages such as I think of you, To the End, My best kisses.  We also have examples of cards sent from sons to their family members, including embroidered examples To my dear father and To my brother.

Most of the cards in our collection are not written beyond an occasional date and To/From message which may indicate that they were thought of as something special and also that the sentiment was already integrated in to the card with the motto, design (particularly of flowers) and printed inserts.

We have not found evidence of posting but one contributor to the project remembers that at one time these all had their envelopes with them.  Another contributor has speculated that some of these cards, while purchased in France were brought home and sent or given here.  Could there have been a trade in them in Britain among those returning from France?


An Illustrated History of the Embroidered Silk Postcard, Dr Ian Collins (2001)

World War 1 in Postcards, John Laffin (1988)

The People’s Photographer

We’re looking forward to our talk on 22nd March at Golf Green Hall  in Jaywick, when we’ll be sharing some of the family stories, cards, letters and photos that we have discovered, as well as looking at the collection that started us off, the Daily Mail official war postcards.

We are sharing the bill with Malcolm Batty whose relative John Batty called himself “the People’s Photographer” when he moved from London to Clacton around 1895.  John leased a section of beach and set up a photographer’s studio taking pictures of the holiday makers.

Son Harry followed in the family business establishing his portrait studio at the end of the jetty, but joined up once the war began and was mobilised in 1916.  His skills were put to good use in surveying enemy troops and in documenting the life of the forces.  These shots show local Belgian and French families, officers as well as soldiers at leisure playing sport.  The pictures were passed by the censor and sent back to Clacton.

At the end of the war Harry returned to Clacton and his business, opening a studio in the High Street in the 1920s.


“Somewhere in France”

Somewhere in France

Somewhere in France.  Somewhere that I can’t tell.

This is the message on the back of one of the cards we’ve collected hinting at the censorship of communications between the front and home.  There are several such examples in the collection, either of this self censorship with the writer aware of not giving too much away, or of methods the army came up with to monitor communications including action taken to obscure information already committed to paper.

Sending letters and cards was crucial for families and those serving to keep in touch with each other and played an important part in keeping up morale.  However, all were subject to checking in an effort to keep operational details secret.

Not that all the men we’ve collected letters from were great or lengthy letter writers; Signaller Charles Gardiner in his letter above apologizes for not having written to his cousin Ethel earlier saying “I’m a very bad letter writer”.  It would appear that what he goes on to say was felt to be unsuitable however with 8 words scribbled out, presumably by the officer who read the letter before it was sent.  The letter below to Mrs J Watson in Great Clacton was similarly read but passed, stamped and signed by the censor.

Censor passed envelope
Envelope showing a censor’s stamp

One way to avoid the censor opening and reading letters was to use an honour envelope on which the writer declares that they will not be revealing anything they shouldn’t:

I certify on my honour that the contents of this envelope refer to nothing but private and family matters.

Another way was to use a field service postcard like this one from the Brightlingsea Museum collection.  A field card was a way of sending a quick message home without being able to say very much at all.

By kind permission of Brightlingsea Museum

Brightlingsea postcard



Receiving word from home was obviously important to Ernest Watson who counts how many letters he has sent home in the time it takes one letter from his parents to arrive.  He is well aware of the restriction on his correspondence though, signing off his letter “we are not allowed to say where we are.”  It appears that he finds the restrictions on what he can say difficult, asking his parents to explain to one of his correspondents why he can’t write as often as he would like:DWatson letter

“..I do not care for anyone to read my letter which I send to her”.





Postcards from Salonika

Most of the correspondence we’ve collected has been concentrated on connections between Tendring and the front in France and Belgium, until we came across a series of postcards sent from Salonika.

These cards were sent from Albert Beales (below) of the East Yorkshire Regiment to his family in Clacton-on-Sea.  Albert enlisted with the 2nd battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment in Harwich in 1909.  His regiment landed in France in January 1915, sailing from Marseilles to Egypt in October 1915 and on to Salonika in Greece.

The Salonika campaign was fought in northern Greece, Albania and Serbia from the autumn of 1915 until 1918.  Allied forces were originally invited to the area to assist Serbia, but the Serbs were defeated by the time the Anglo-French force arrived.  The campaign continued with the Allies believing in the strategic importance of the Balkan area.

Some of the cards Albert sent home show images of “The war in the Macedonian Mountains: A bivouac” and “A captured German aeroplane”.

Other cards are dated 18th-19th August 1917 and show pictures of the Great Fire of Salonika when an accidental house fire became out of control and destroyed two thirds of the city.  These postcards show the streets, squares and quayside during the fire with smoke visible, some showing the destruction of the buildings with local people and troops watching.

Once we showed these postcards we were contacted by another contributor to the project who shared with us a card sent to his grandfather Charles Dakin when he was in Salonika probably in 1917.

The card was sent from home by his friend William Rowland (below) who lived just round the corner from Charles in Parkeston.

His message to Charles reads:

Just off on a Ration Fatigue when my mate took this.  Some photo I think.

Is there any young lady in Parkeston you would like to be remembered to if so I would write to her for you.  Any one of your old Fancies I meant.  Hoping you will understand this scribble son.


Kisses for your Greek girl.



Postcards from Tendring


Many of the postcards we’ve seen in the last few months have been fascinating in the way they link home life and the war, whether in messages sent from men away on active service in France or beyond, or messages sent at home between families.

This postcard was sent to a future daughter-in-law by a soldier’s mother in Clacton using a card that her son had brought home with him from France.  The card is postmarked September 1915 when son Albert was already serving with the East Yorkshire Regiment.  The image on the front of the card shows Ypres “the interior of the Markets after the bombardment.”  The message mentions the departure of the Devons from Clacton with “such a lot of people to see them off.”

Beales Postcard1
A French postcard brought back to Clacton

This next postcard was sent from Clacton to Devon in August 1915.  It describes the picture on the front as “our Reg. with others at Church Parade”.  Could it be that the sender of this card Arthur was seen off from Clacton just a month later by Albert’s mother?

From the Roger Kennell collection

Devons Postcard

The last of these postcards from home takes us back to the East Yorkshire Regiment with a series of cards sent in 1916 to Hull from Henry who was based at “The Camp, St Osyth”. The messages are written to Annie over several cards each showing images of the Tendring area including the parish church at St Osyth (“we hold our church service in this one”), the Band Pavilion and West Cliff Clacton.  Henry tells Annie “you would really enjoy yourself.  The views on the cards give you a sense of the place.”

Over the next few months we will be researching more about these and trying to work out if Annie ever made it to Clacton.

Pier pavilion.jpg
“You would really enjoy yourself”