Friday, 28 November 2014

Stroud Football Poets present
Football in the Trenches
The Christmas Truce 1914 and more ...
Poetry, Music &
JOHN BASSETT (Spaniel in the Works Theatre Company)
The Football Poets & Spaniel in the Works Theatre Company transport you into 'No Man’s  Land'  and  turn  the Albert into Flanders Fields.
A poignant re-creation of the 1914 Christmas Truce, without the use of a Sainsbury’s  Xmas  advert!  
(Straight after the Unusual Carol Singers) Unmissable!
SUNDAY DECEMBER 14th 2014 3pm
Rodborough Hill, Stroud. GL5 3SS
Further info Football Poets 01453 757376 The Prince Albert 01453 755600

Tuesday, 25 November 2014

Sheepscombe to Slad November Walk

It was the time of year when winter walked
Hand in hand with autumn: sere russet leaves,
Many more bare branches than the day before,
Increasingly wet and muddy underfoot,
The first frost forecast for the coming night -
But fifteen of us gathered at Sheepscombe,
Late November at the war memorial,
To recreate its 1921 opening:
‘The people of Sheepscombe and the district assembled on the hillside near the Parish Church on Sunday in memory of the men of the village who did not return from the Great War, and witnessed the simple ceremony of the unveiling and dedications of their Wayside Cross. Those who mourn the loss of the eleven men whose names are inscribed on the Cross, and practically every resident in the village joined in the service, and in the hope that their sacrifice has not been made in vain.’
We then discoursed on Cider with Rosie,
‘Public Death, Private Murder’
(While standing by Albert Birt’s gravestone):
The Christmas attack on the returning
Newly wealthy ‘Vincent’, (colonial boy
Done good) beaten senseless and left to freeze to death,
After a boozy night at the Woolpack.
The truth?
Stroud Journal, April 11th, 1919, microfiche:
‘A man named Albert Birt, a discharged soldier living at Longridge, Painswick, died at Stroud Hospital at 11.45 on Thursday morning. The deceased was admitted to the hospital on April 1st, suffering from severe injuries to the head and in an unconscious condition. He never recovered, and died as stated. The police are making inquiries concerning the case. It appears that Birt and a companion left the Woolpack Inn, Slad, on the night of March 29th. They were both sober, but the next morning Birt, who was 42 years of age, was found lying in the road in an unconscious condition. He was taken to his home and medically attended, and later he was removed to the hospital on the advice of the doctor.’
Albert Birt was not only not Vincent, not only not a Christmas death, but he was no wild colonial boy either – he appears on the local census returns: aged 4, Longridge, 1881; 14, wood turner, Stroud and Slad Road, 1891; 24, wood turner, Longridge, 1891; 34, wood turner, Longridge, Bull’s Cross, 1911.
He married Elsie Hogg in 1918 and was killed a year later, after that night at the Woolpack. He has an Imperial War Grave as ex-servicemen were entitled to such if dying before April 1921.
It seems a crime that would be impossible not to solve …
But we visited the empty parish church, before
Caroline read Sassoon’s ‘The General’:
‘Good-morning; good-morning!’ the General said  
When we met him last week on our way to the line.  
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ’em dead,  
And we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.  
‘He’s a cheery old card,’ grunted Harry to Jack
As they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack’,
Just by Sheepscombe’s hillside Baptist Church
(‘Amazing! It’s not been turned into a home.’),
While Dave Cockcroft gave us a vivid talk
On Albert Birt’s trade, in a woodland clearing:
The job of a wood turner and bodger before the Great War,
An itinerant life among the local beech woods,
Around Bull’s Cross, Sheepscombe, Longridge and Slad –
Did he make enemies on his travels?
Who did for him with his plan of attack?
We heard more poems from Sassoon and Carol Ann Duffy,
Passing poetry posts, deadly woodshade and giant toadstools,
Before reaching Slad’s war memorial,
Where we pondered on that deserter in the first chapter
Of Cider with Rosie:
Hiding in the woods at the end of the war, he could not possibly have been one of the three men of the Glosters who mutinied at Malvern Wells in 1915; could he possibly have been one of the many men who objected to the slow pace of demobilisation after the end of the conflict, and took his action one step further? David Adams in his recent book on FW Harvey has written: ‘ In January 1919 700 men of the 3rd Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, refused to parade, drill, train or work, and marched and demonstrated about work, pay and food conditions – part of a nationwide series of strikes and mutinies hidden by the government from the public.’
Could he have been one of these?
Whatever.  Whoever. Whosoever. Whomsoever.
We marched down to the Woolpack,
Platooned at the table outside,
Drinking ginger beer and Uley Bitter:
How many men had a last drink here or at the Butcher’s or the Plough,
Before marching away from these sequestered villages and cottages,
To clock-in at the world’s first industrial war?
And did someone’s experience of that war
Result in Albert Birt’s death at Bull’s Cross in 1919?
Somebody knew.
Or even knows.
Whatever.  Whenever. Whoever. Whosoever. Whomsoever.

Monday, 24 November 2014

The Deserter in Cider with Rosie: Questions

           A Retrospective on ‘British Army Mutineers, 1914 – 1922’, by Julian Putkowski

At first glance, it must seem obvious
That as there was no explosion of mutiny
Until after the conclusion of conflict,
Then the British Army must have been,
On the whole, loyal to King and Country
(Over half of the army were volunteers);
Admittedly, two hundred and sixty six men
Were shot for desertion in the face of the enemy,
But these were acts of individual insubordination,
Rather than acts of collective, mutinous solidarity,
And few executions resulted at the Great War’s end,
(Nothing like the musket balls in Burford Church,
After the Leveller’s Mutiny in 1649,
Nor the 1797 mutinies at the Nore and Spithead,
When 29 members of ‘the floating republic’ were hanged),
But on the other hand…
The necessities of trench line duty
Prevented the mass meetings necessary for mutiny,
As opposed to acts of individual insubordination,
But when troops did get the chance to meet en masse …
Then sometimes all hell let loose,
So, who, where, when, what, why and how?
Over 2,000 men were charged with mutiny
Between 1914 and 1922
(Only men and other ranks, no officers;
A staggering 90% found guilty),
And there were over 300,000 courts martial cases,
With, again, a similar figure of 90% found guilty:
Officers demanded absolute discipline,
While diffident Tommies were often alone in these courts,
Facing a vehement prosecution …
There were over fifty wartime mutinies at home,
The major ones being at Canterbury,
In July 1915 and January 1917,
Towcester, November 1916,
And Bramshott, November 1917;
There were also 5, 739 conscientious objectors
Who faced charges,
As well as the formation, in June 1917,
Of a workers’ and soldiers’ council
At, of all places, Tonbridge Wells:
Ringleaders were posted to France and elsewhere,
But government spies and agents provocateurs
Could not prevent the ubiquitous unrest in 1919,
When army camps were overwhelmed
By strikes, demonstrations and protest
At the slow pace of demobilization;
Special Branch top toff, Sir Basil Thomson, gloomily intoned
‘I do not think at any time in history since the Bristol Riots
have we been so near revolution’,
So worried was he by the flying of red flags …
But, in the main, motivations for mutiny
Were about dreadful training camps and rations
(Wiltshire, 1914 and 1915, Etaples, 1917),
War weary impatience with demobilization
(Dover, Folkestone, Calais and India, 1919),
Complaints about mistreatment and punishment
(Blargies North Prison, 1916),
But even when taking that into account,
The 1919 mutiny at Poona is an exemplar,
Of how an ostensible protest about demobilization
Was, in fact, a pregnant denotation
About the fragility of Empire,
And its impact upon boss and worker at home:
Soldiers in India were worried about their jobs,
If not speedily repatriated;
The top brass in India were worried that after Amritsar,
There might be insufficient troops to quell rebellion -
But fighting for King, Country and Empire
Would be cold comfort if you lost your job,
A few ‘Homes fit for Heroes’ were not enough,
Strikes, wage cuts and unemployment
Were just around the corner in ‘Dear Old Blighty’,
And as for Ireland and Empire …
And as for war against the Bolsheviks …

                                                  He is a tantalising figure, that deserter.
David Adams in his recent book about F.W. Harvey, The Nightmare Trail, writes of direct disobedient action by soldiers in 1919: 'Indeed, such was the discontent among returning soldiers that in January 1919 700 men of the Third Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment refused to parade, drill, train or work, and marched and demonstrated about work, pay and food conditions - part of a nationwide series of strikes and mutinies hidden by the government from the public.'
Question: Was the deserter one of these? He could not have been one of the three men of the Glosters who mutinied at Malvern Wells in 1915 - could he?