Category Archives: World War One

HMS Britannia

Cape Trafalgar

Over the centuries, many ships have foundered in bad weather off Cape Trafalgar on the rocky southern coast of Spain, where in 1805 the Battle of Trafalgar was fought. In this same area during World War One, HMS Britannia was hit by a torpedo fired from a German submarine.

Cape Trafalgar


Built in Portsmouth, HMS Britannia was launched in December 1904 as a battleship of over 16,000 tons, with four 12-inch guns, four 9.2-inch guns and ten 6-inch guns, and was completed in 1906. That same year saw HMS Dreadnought enter service, a new type of battleship Continue reading

Christmas Tweets

We end 2015 with Christmas cards used for greetings. Internet communications have been with us for only a few years, and Twitter is a relative newcomer, but the concept of Twitter – writing a message in a few words – is much older. The General Post Office in Britain (which became ‘The Post Office’ in 1969) once provided a next-day delivery (in some places a same-day delivery) of letters and postcards without levying an extra charge. It was not uncommon for someone to post a postcard around midday to warn that they would be late home – and for the postcard to be delivered that afternoon. For much of the 20th century, there were relatively few telephones in Britain and mobile phones were a sci-fi dream, so postcards were the tweets of their day.

A 1905 greeting

At Christmas, cards became the main form of seasonal greeting, but festive postcards were used as well, especially for last-minute communication. The one below is a postcard of Queen Victoria’s statue at Southend-on-Sea in Essex, overprinted with ‘Best Wishes for Xmas and the New Year’ in embossed red lettering. It was posted with a halfpenny stamp in January 1909 at Sacriston in County Durham to an address at Wolsingham about 10 miles away. Agnes was writing to her uncle ‘to thank you for your cards which were very much admired especially those with the tinsel on. I am sending you this, which is not very nice, Continue reading

Arlington to Paris Wireless

As we have said in previous newsletters, history has not organised itself very well for 2015, with its surfeit of anniversaries. Amongst them has been the 100th anniversary of the first successful transatlantic wireless telephone call, which took place during World War One – in October 1915 – between the wireless towers at Arlington, Virginia, and the Eiffel Tower in Paris.

Arlington towers, USA

The wireless towers at Arlington, Virginia, in 1916 or 1917 (Library of Congress)

London calling

In 1932, the London writer and journalist Albert Gravely Linney commented that ‘the abodes of the wealthy’ in Chelsea had ‘electric lights, frigidaires, radio gramophones, vacuum cleaners, telephones, Continue reading

Souvenirs of the Great War


August 2014 is the centenary anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War, or First World War as it was later known. Fighting that began in the Balkans in July 1914 spread through Europe, involving some nations spoiling for a fight and others unprepared for conflict. By the beginning of August the madness had reached the Channel coast, with Germany threatening both France and Belgium. This sucked Britain into the war, when the British ultimatum to Germany demanding that military operations against Belgium must cease was ignored. The ultimatum expired at midnight on Tuesday 4th August, and from then on Britain was at war.

By mid-August the first troops of the British Expeditionary Force were disembarking on the Continent. By the third week in August they had reached the frontier between Belgium and France, but like the other troops already stationed at the border their role was to delay the enemy advance as much as possible, not stop it. Soon they were involved in a measured retreat as the allied forces fell back to the outskirts of Paris in order to regroup. The German advance was halted by the Battle of the Marne, which started on 5th September, and the Germans were forced to withdraw west of Verdun. This eventually led to the establishment of the Western Front and the notoriously static trench warfare that caused so much carnage during the First World War.


In Britain, from September 1914, there was a massive drive to recruit men for the army, and soldiers poured across the Channel Continue reading

Subversive Hymns of World War I

At the moment there is a great deal of interest in the First World War, because the summer of 2014 marks the 100th anniversary of the start of the war. We were recently given a folded sheet of paper dating from that time, and on it an unknown serviceman had copied down a wry version of a soldier’s daily routine.

Soldier's Life

Part of the ‘soldier’s daily routine’

The original author of this humorous piece is unknown, Continue reading