Sunday, 11 November 2018

Remembering my grandfathers, both of whom served in the Great War.

"They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old: Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. At the going down of the sun and in the morning, we will remember them."

Joseph William Burnett was born on the 19th November in 1900.

His Discharge Book shows his first trip was aboard the merchant ship, Inea then aged just 15 and 1 month - his first trip took him to the USA and lasted over 6 months.

For his role aboard merchant ships he was awarded the service medal and the Merchant Navy service medal.

"The bronze Mercantile MarineWar medal was awarded by the Board of Trade to members of the Merchant Navy who had served at sea for at least six months or sailed on at least one voyage through a war zone.
The front depicts George V and the back shows a merchant ship in stormy seas, an enemy submarine sinking and a sailing vessel with the words 'For War Service - Mercantile Marine - 1914-1918'.
The ribbon has two bands of green and red separated by a thin white stripe. The colours represent starboard and port lights with the masthead light in the centre. A total of 133,135 were issued."

His name is inscribed on the side of both medals.

In 1917 he was one of 3,964 merchant seaman who attended a gunnery course at Crystal Palace in London.

Sheaf Holme built in 1929.

After the war he continued to sail on different merchant ships as Chief Steward, whose role was to provision and look after the welfare of the ships crew. The longest trip was on the Sheaf Holme, saw him circumnavigate the globe, a trip that lasted for 2 years and 10 months. In those days, such were the length of the trips, the nomadic life of the ships and the lack of air travel, by the age of five he had only seen his daughter twice, both times for a matter of days..

He left the merchant Navy in 1939 to work for the Glacier Metal Company, London and died in June 1980.

RIP Grandpa Burnett.

Claude Noel Hartwell

Born in 1889, Grandpa Hartwell joined the regular army in 1914.

He was cited for bravery and given a commendation but, family legend has it that to carry out his act of bravery he disobeyed orders and which prevented him from being awarded a medal!

This is his Royal Field Artillery uniform jacket with the Mons Star ribbon bar. As a member of the British Expeditionary Force, also known as the Old Contemptibles, who landed in France soon after the outbreak of the War and who took part in the Retreat from Mons, hence the medal's nickname "Mons Star". He served for all four years of the war including the Somme and Paschendale though seldom talked about his experiences. 

Here's an transcript from a piece written by one of his sons, Bernard Hartwell:


Germany invaded Belgium on 4th.

"August 1914. Before that, there were all manner of territorial ambitions coupled with alliances and treaties between countries within Europe, the Balkans and Russia which are too complicated to go into here but suffice it to say that The Kaiser's Germany had planned for years to get at France via Belgium so, after the assassination of Austrian Archduke Ferdinand by Serbian dissidents, the whole thing blew up. 

Everyone declared war on everyone else and, because Belgium had some sort of pact with Britain, we found ourselves at war with Germany within hours of the invasion. As usual, we weren't prepared for war although we had a well trained but small Regular Army and it was this that we sent to Belgium to try to stem the German advance.

This British Expeditionary Force was described as a “contemptuous little army” by Kaiser Bill (short for Kaiser Wilhelm) but they gave such a good account of themselves in Belgium that they took pride ever after in being called “The Old Contemptibles” With stupid old Generals and ambitious politicians in charge of everything and lots of patriotic gung-ho propaganda going on in the newspapers, the general attitude in the Country was “lets get at 'em boys and it'll be all over by Christmas''. Thousands of young men believed it all and were convinced that it was their duty to King and Country to volunteer to fight, and so they did, including Claude Hartwell, a 25 year old tailor's cutter from Ilford in Essex. 

He first went to a training camp to learn the basics of how to be a soldier; marching, drilling and discipline, etc. Whilst there he expressed a preference to join the Essex Regiment (an infantry unit who were by no means considered to be amongst the elite) because he thought it might be easier to get promotion than in a more illustrious outfit. 

However, the Army had its own ideas (as they always do) and they selected him for the Royal Field Artillery instead. Up to then he had been training in his own clothes as the manufacturers hadn't been able to keep up with demand for uniforms but he got one soon after he arrived at his new unit in (I think) Aldershot. He had never ridden a horse in his life but he had to learn quickly as the field gun used by the RFA in direct support of the infantry had to be mobile. 

So it was horses, horses all the way with teams of them being used to pull the the 18-pounder guns and ammunition wagons. Many of the men had been drivers in civvy street (everything was still horse drawn in those days) so they were naturals for the teams. Others, like Dad, were more suited to learning the techniques of gunnery and specialised in that. Well, Dad was keen to learn and he also didn't want to remain a “squaddie ” so he soon worked his way up the promotion ladder. By the time he arrived in France with his Regiment in 1915 he was a Sergeant and had his own horse and in charge of a Battery within the Regiment.

The Allies (Belgium, France and Britain) were busy playing chess with their armies and the many commanders all had their own ideas as to how they should conduct their campaigns, so it was a pretty chaotic and competitive attempt to defend France whilst the German army pushed on making ground along the front line which extended from Belgium down to the Swiss border. In the north the Belgians and the "old contemptible" had held up the German advance quite successfully while to the South the German army was pushing into France. This left a 'salient' centered on Ypres in Belgium with the most easterly point being the small town of Passchendale which was at . the end of a long ridge. The German army occupied the high ground on top of the ridge with the British
forces holding the plain below. In between was ground that had a permanent propensity to flood and did so whenever it rained so it became the 'no man's land' between the opposing forces."

After the War he attended a course run by the Tailor & Cutter magazine and took employment with a large tailors, Puddicombes in Leytonstone. He opened his own business at 636 High Road, Leytonstone in competition with Puddicombes. They subsequently gave him the goodwill of their business. 

During the Depression his business ceased. He then worked for MacLeods in Fore Street Avenue in the City of London. Both the premises and business were destroyed in the Blitz of 1940/41. At this time the family were living in Romford, East London but the house was also bombed in the Blitz and they then moved to Harrow in North West London. In 1941 he went to work for Nancarrows, Tailors in Amersham, Bucks. Unfortunately he suffered ill health (phlebitis) and retired to work from home at an unknown dat. When his wife died in 1947 he was working from home left to bring up and support four sons and a daughter. He died on 21 March 1972. It is a wonder how on earth he travelled to Amersham in those days as the line was only electrified to Moor Park after that it was a steam train. Nancarrows was still in existence in the 1960s.

100 years later, videographer Tom Hartwell, whom if Claude Noel Hartwell was still alive would have been his great great grandson created this tribute to that everlasting symbol of the Great War, the poppy.

RIP Grandpa Hartwell