The date is August 1914. The British Expeditionary Force is in France and You're in the Royal Field Artillery. You're riding alongside one of the battery's gun limbers on its way to the assigned position on the east side of Mons, Belgium. This begins your journey into the Hell they called World War One. To purchase this historical memoir go to https://createspace.com/3649268

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Up date on free downloads

So far 148 people have downloaded my book for free with just two days to go. Why do authors give free downloads - if they believe in their book then they want to get it into the hands of as many readers as possible so if they like it they will tell their friends and the book's following will increase. Thank you to those that have downloaded it! If you enjoy it - please pass the word around.

Friday, September 13, 2013

The Money Pit - publishing a book

I sent a query to the "Naval and Military Press", "Penn and Sward", and so many others without even a rejection letter to show for my efforts - the question being is no news good news or is it just no news!

The same problem exists with those that agree to post a review of the book if I would send them a copy of the manuscript, but after several weeks not one review has been posted. The book is only 200 pages and several contain photographs so how long would it take to read?

I find it so frustrating to spend four years researching and writing a book that receives five stars by people who read it , but how does one go about getting people to pickup the book and read it. I suppose if I had the answer to this question I would't be complaining, I would be wealthy.

I've taken my mission on the road and told my story to the members of a retirement facility - those of the great generation, and it was well received.

FLASH!! I just received my first rejection - the "Military Press" sent me an email stating that they are not accepting book queries at this time. I guess it wasn't a rejection as much as it was a "I'm overloaded with war books at this time so I don't want to look at another one until the centennial is over."

I've been in contact with the US eastern branch of the Western Front Association to see if I can conjure up some more local interest. They are having a symposium in October in PA which I'll try to attend.

Does any one remember the movie "The Money Pit"? I should write a sequel but it would be a story of trying to publish a book. Hey! It could be a best seller and a possible movie since Hollywood tends to fall back on remakes of old movies.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

99 years ago today

Marched at 6 am, at head of [the] main Body, and was soon in the thick of the fight [that afterwards would be] known as the Battle of the Marne.

We dropped into action in the open, my chum and I deciding to run our telephone wire, over a small ridge from our observing party to the Battery. [Doing so], a French Cavalryman galloped past me with blood running from himself and [his] horse.
I laid out my wire quickly to the guns, and as I was about to connect my instrument, [when] I heard a loud whining sound, [followed by] a horrific explosion, It was our christening of heavy artillery fire. [The bombardment continued] for two continual hours, it was Hell.
I crouched beneath a gun limber, and thought each moment was my last. I was like a jelly man, and must confess my nerves were for the time gone. I wanted to run anywhere, and it was only by the greatest effort of will power, I stood to my work and yelled out the orders to the Battery Leader, for the firing of the guns.
The Northampton and Sussex Regiments retired right through our guns, and drew the enemy’s fire on to us. Their retirement developed into a hopeless rabble and panic, our CRA Gen Finley and Colonel Sharpe with a few more Artillery Officers tried to stop them, and urge them to go forward, but it was no use.
While trying to stop them the genl[sic] was killed and two officers wounded, and both regiments lost very heavily. Nothing was between us and the enemy. The infantry in their mad rush broke my telephone wire [and] I thought my chum at the other end had got knocked over, he thought the same of me. So the Battery for a few moments was out of action, but the orders were passed down by Semaphore by two more chums, and we set out to mend our wire.
[In the] mean time the 60th Rifles advanced where the Northampton’s and Sussex retired, and the enemy continued their retreat, how thankful we [were].

Tom Thorpe - Western Front Association

I met with Tom Thorpe, Jules, and Kathy from the London branch of the Western Front Association on 9/9/2013. We talked about my book, "World War 1 - An Unkept Promise", which is available on Kindle.

Tom invited me back next June to give another speech to his association after he and two of his members, Kathy and Jules take my wife and I over to France and Belgium to visit the battlefields. It will be a memorable trip which should impact me greatly knowing that a century ago my grandfather was involved in a battle whose landscape had changed so greatly.

Each now know the story behind the book and from just a few of the journal entries they agree that the world, especially at thins time, should read the book. However, as an independent writer it is so difficult to get the word out and draw people's attention to the historical importance of the journal the book contains.

In the past few months I seen a large increase in those visiting this site and if each one would pass this information on to others that are also interested in stories of WW1, it might just help interest others in hearing a grandfather's story.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Michelle McGrath

Last night we had dinner with my friend Michelle McGraff and her husband John. This was our first face to face meeting since our conversations previously have all been through email exchanges. Michelle was instrumental in my rewriting my original story and releasing "World War 1 - An Unkept Promise". She is an accomplished author with a background in historical writing. Through the website, Goodreads, she reviewed my first book, "The Great Promise". She only gave it three stars because I didn't have a bibliography to give credit to my sources. I questioned her review because the story was not meant to be non-fiction and I didn't believe that I needed to give credit because my information was obtained from many sources and not limited to a couple of sources. Long story short, we got into a discussion through emails and she convinced me to rewrite the story as non-fiction. She tricked me into believing that it would take long since I was so close anyway - will, eight months later I finally finished it except the last chapter.

The restaurant was crowed so it was very noisy making it difficult to hear each other's conversations; we did the best we could  under the circumstances.

John was balding and had white hair which matched his beard that was neatly trimmed. Wearing a Navy blue sport coat with an opened collar yellow dress shirt. At first meeting he seemed to be a pleasant man suffering the same problem with hearing as myself.

I inquired about his work and discovered he did something in health and safety. Whatever it was, he stated that he finally found his life's calling after 66 years,

Michelle was sitting across from Lynne, my wife, so it was very difficult to distinguish what she was saying. I did get the message that she was pleased that I decided to rewrite the book because she believed that the journal should was important and should be read by those interested in learning about the war. I also gleaned from our conversation that I should expect to receive criticism from other historians and not to take them to heart. That the journal will stand on its own for what it is and regardless if they agree with what it says, it was written as he experienced it.

She made one comment that I was lucky to be having dinner with them because my grandfather, according to his journal, missed death on several occasions. I replied she was right, but there was the event of my grandfather deciding which country to immigrate to based upon the flip of a coin. Lucky for me it came up America or we wouldn't have been having this conversation.

The restaurant was very popular - I have to say the food was excellent, so they had a two hour time limit in order to turn over tables. Our time was up so I paid the bill - I thought it only fair for the time Michelle had spent on helping me. We left and looked for another place to have some desert, a place a little quieter. I remembered one where Lynne and I had dinner so we went there. The place was so much quieter than where we had dinner, that is until a large group of people came in.

Lynne and I discovered that Michelle and John lived on the island of Man, which is in the Irish sea between Ireland and Scotland. It is a separate country which is a dependent upon the United Kingdom. However, it has its own monetary system, passport, laws and such just like any other independent country. Even though it is a dependency of the Royal Crown, it is not a member of the UK.

Time was growing late so we made plans to meet the following day but Sunday morning Lynne was in pain with a fibromyalga attack and I was having Parkinson's issues so we cancelled. We want to make sure we can make the meeting with the WFA group on Monday.  

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Capt. Fred G. Coxen now resides at

Met this morning with Anthony Richards of the Document and Record Section for the Imperial War Museum in London. It was nice to place a face to the dozen or so emails which have been passed back and forth over the past two years.

I brought with me all of my grandfather's military records, including his journal to donate to the museum. Mr. Richards was kind to sit with me so I could go over some of the more significant documents that pertain to my grandfather's military career, such as when he was seconded to the newly formed Royal Air Force, which Mr. Richards found interesting, and my explanation as to why he was seconded.

He agreed with me that my grandfather's writing and the way he described what was happening around him was unique. Also this was significant because there wasn't a great deal of coverage of the war until after the first year.

I was assured that the museum would keep his papers together under his name and at anytime we could, if we wanted, to have them pulled for our review. Although it saddened me to loose the last physical evidence and reminder of my grandfather, I know it was the best decision. Who knows, if such a collection of documents, and the story they tell, may find its way into one of the exhibits in the up-coming WW1 centennial event in the museum. Right now there wasn't much to see at the museum for it was going through a complete renovation to create all new WW1 displays.

We were invited back next year to visit the museum and Anthony would be pleased if we let him know in advance so we could meet.

Everywhere we gone in this city we have met very friendly people that have gone out of their way to help us. Today we stopped by for a bit to eat and my wife asked our waitress what public transportation we could take to return to where we were staying. She didn't know, but got the entire working crew working on the project so by the time we finished eating they had the route planned for us.

Monday we meet again with the people from the WFA to discuss plans for next year's visit

Friday, September 6, 2013

Can't trust cabies

Last night I was to present my story to the London branch of the Western Front Association. When gave the London cab driver the name of the venue, he entered it into his GPS and off we went. I was going over my speech and didn't pay particular attention to where we were going - even if I did it would not have helped since I don't know my way around anyway.

We left our hotel early and thankfully so because with rush hour traffic in London so it took almost two hours to arrive at the wrong place. I didn't know that there was two Barley Mows and of the two we were dropped off at the wrong one.

Our cellphones were not equipped to be used internationally so they were of no use. Luck would have it that a friendly Londoner was coming out of a building and my wife asked if he know where the Western Front was meeting. Even though  he didn't, he took the time to look up the information on his phone. I must say that everyone we have met while we've been here has been friendly and willing to help us beyond what I would expect. The gentleman suggested that we flag down a black cab and give him the address information he obtained from his phone search, then used Google maps to determine how long it would take us to get from where we were to the correct venue - if we caught a cab immediately - which we didn't.

As we ran down the street trying to locate a cab, which are usually everywhere, not one was to be found. My lovely wife would stop and ask for information from others on the street and found out that we were near a train station and there would be cabs there.

Walking at a fast panic pace, we arrived at the station without spotting a cab that didn't already have a passenger. Nothing was working out until fortune would have it an empty cab came by. We hailed him down.then explained out misfortune and asked if he could get us to the correct location as quickly as possible, which he did, but it was too late.

We arrived at the meeting as it was breaking up, so I was unable to give the speech I had been working on for months. I introduced myself to Tom Thorpe, the chair, and explained our failed attempt. He was apologetic - fancy that! He introduced us to some of the people still at the meeting, then invited us to join them for a drink so they could get to know us.

I presented some parts of my speech when they asked questions. An older gentleman sitting next to me, his name was Charles - I believe he was the same Charles that turned down writing my book's foreword. He was very pleasant chap and was interested in several of the documents I had brought with me, some items he had not seen before so he was pleasantly surprised. Perhaps he would have written the foreword if we would have had a chance to meet.

The others were very pleasant individuals that were truly interested in what I had to say. Tom even wanted me to return next summer and give my speech. In fact, he and the others offered to take us over to the battle fields in France to show us around. There were two ladies that I didn't get a chance to talk to, but my wife Lynne did and they befriended her like old friends. One of the ladies worked for a large London newspaper and reviewed books - Tom suggested I get to know her. They all wanted to meet with us again so we made plans to meet at 6:30 pm on Monday.

So even though my big moment was a disappointment, the night wasn't a total bust. I believe we have met kindred  souls that seem more than please to help me in anyway they can to launch my book.

Perhaps God opens a window when he shuts a door.

Monday, September 2, 2013


Although World War 1 - An Unkept Promise is based upon my grandfather’s journal, it does not follow the same pattern as most journal based stories. It is different in several ways; first it has a storyline, which is supported by the journal. Another distinction is how the journal entries were written. Although in first person, they describe more of what is happening around him, which is similar to how a journalist would report the action. However, the major difference is that the story begins during the Second World War, which sounds strange being a WW1 story.

It was during WW2 that he wrote a letter titled “I had a dream the other night”, and it was this letter that altered my life’s journey:

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Free PDF Manuscript

I have many followers on this blog and would like to offer them a free PDF copy of my manuscript in exchange for a written review of my book on Amazon Kindle.

If interested, please use the blog's comment section to let me know what email address to send the manuscript to.

Thank you

Frederick Coxen - author of World War 1 - An Unkept Promise

Saturday, August 17, 2013

I Corps - Skirmish At Landrecies


August 25th, 1914

I Corps’s retirement route consisted of a meandering road, which crossed the River Sambre several times. It was jammed with a mass of humanity trying to escape the advancing Germans, including French soldiers, mixed in with vast quantities of refugees.
The British troops did their best to constrict their movement on the single lane road, while dealing with the unrelenting August heat. At best, the Corps could only maintain a two mile an hour pace, eliminating any chance of meeting up with II Corps at Le Cateau.
By evening, the fatigued troops reached their billet area outside Landrecies, while General Haig established his headquarters in the town.
The VI Brigade billeted in Maroilles, a town just a few miles away.  
 Refugees arriving in Landrecies reported seeing advance portions of the German III and IV Corps heading towards both Landrecies and Maroilles.
 With advanced warning, the British created defensive positions around both towns.
When the Germans secretly approached the British line at Landrecies, they received a verbal challenge. By replying in French, the Germans were able to slyly proceed close to the British lines before the British could respond. The two armies clashed, and at times there was savage hand-to-hand fighting. Finally the Germans retreated to the southern edge of the Mormal Forest.[i]

Get your copy and learn more about the war and the Royal Field Artillery

World War 1 - An Unkept Promise  - available on 


Thursday, August 15, 2013


Historian  Michael Paris, Emeritus Professor of Modern History has written the foreword for my book!!

All wars are terrible, but the Great War seems particularly so.  In 1914 almost a whole generation of very young men were thrown into a conflict for which they were ill-prepared.  Romantic tales of daring cavalry charges and valorous knightly combats on the field of battle were scant preparation for a war where death was on an industrial scale and came from the unseen sniper, the howitzer miles away, or a creeping cloud of poison gas.  Yet men endured in the squalor of the trenches, and some survived; survived to come home to the ‘Land fit for Heroes’ of the politicians promised.  But those that came home came with the unending memories of what they had seen and suffered.  Many could not even tell their closest loved ones of what they had endured and took their memories to the grave. Now their lived memory of the Great War is no more, the last veterans have passed on and we are left with only the flimsy evidence of their passing.  That is why now, almost a hundred years after the event it is so pleasing to have found an unpublished account of one man’s experience of that most terrible war.

Frederick Coxen was a professional soldier, enlisting in 1905 and serving until 1911 in the Royal Field Artillery.  But being in the Army Reserves he was recalled in 1914, and went on to serve until his final discharge in 1920. His war service makes for interesting reading – serving through the early battles of Mons, First Ypres and Neuve Chapelle, he saw a war of movement stagnate into a statis as trenches and barbed wire brought all movement to an end. Commissioned in the field, Coxen also served in home defence with an anti-aircraft battery, and later back in France, as one of the defenders of Paris.  At war’s end he was attached to the Royal Air Force, and ended his military career as a captain in February 1920. To have survived the war might well be considered lucky, but that sort of luck comes at a price, and for Fred it was to see the horrors of war close-up, his friends killed and injured and all the suffering that battle brings.  Fred lived a long and full life but as the memoir he wrote in …… demonstrates, his Great War experience
never left him.  Like so many veterans of 1914 -1918 war was a constant presence. 

These valuable memories might never have seen the light of day had it not been for Fred’s grandson and name sake, Frederick L. Coxen, it is through his tenacity and commitment that his grandfather speaks to us today. 

Michael Paris

Emeritus Professor of Modern History



I received the first two reviews on my new book, "World War 1 - An Unkept Promise" now available on Kindle.

This is a very important book, containing a historical document which throws a new light on the events of 1914 and 1915. The book is essentially in three parts: the journal of Frederick Coxen (the author's grandfather and namesake), an explanation of the events taking place as the journal was written and the author's quest to find the relatives of his grandfather's friends.

The journal is important for two reasons. It details the work of the men who kept the lines of communication open to direct bombardments at a time when the war had not yet settled into trench warfare. This is unusual if not unique. Additionally it touches on an important historical controversy - that of the crucified soldier. There has been debate about whether or not the Germans crucified a soldier. Frederick Coxen was an eye-witness to the retaliation the Canadians took - crucifying a German and pinning a notice to him saying "Canada does not forget." It seems to me unreasonable that such an action would take place without some provocation. For this reason alone, students of the period should read this book or, indeed, the diary itself, which the author intends to present to the Imperial War Museum in London.

The quest for the relatives of Coxen's dead friends is also worth reading if only to show how difficult it is to find information even today. We had a similar experience looking for my father-in-law who received his fatal wound at Dunkirk and died from it over twenty years later. The Middlesex Regiment has no record of him although we have all his badges, buttons and medals. The author did very well to find out as much as he did.

This is a book for serious historians and also for those who want to know more about this period of history or to work through the bureaucracy of searching any database for relatives.


Although I do like to watch war movies, I had never read a war story, fact or fiction. I read this one because a friend said I would like it. I'm glad I read the book because I liked it immensely.

First, let me just say this book would make an excellent basis for a movie.

It was amazing to see action through Fred's eyes. What was even more amazing was how Fred maintained a lighthearted attitude while shells and bullets were flying all about. It is much different to hear someone explain what's happening in his own words as it happens, rather than many years later through memory. It almost makes you feel as though you're right there with him. I would love to watch a movie based on the journal.

The author did an excellent job in filling in details to give context to the journal entries. Knowing what happened, why it happened and how many casualties for the battles Fred talks about makes it even more amazing that he was able to not only remain cool and collected but was able to write down what happened in his journal.

For war buff and historians, this book provides many first hand details which you don't see very often.

Abbie (Milford, PA USA) 

Monday, August 12, 2013


Available on Kindle now


The date was 1887. Richard and Alice Coxen were adding a son, Frederick George, to the four children that already filled their house. Living in Battersea, Richard was a sail-maker whose trade was vanishing due to Britain’s Industrial Revolution. (Figure 3) The modern vessels were propelled by coal fired steam engines that bellowed out dark black smoke.
Little is known about Fred’s childhood, until he turned eighteen in 1905. That is when he enlisted in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA), assigned to the 55th Battery. His reasons for enlisting are unknown, but it could be argued that he did so in order to further his education. Even though the law of 1870 provided schooling for all children, it was common that children of working class parents were given only a rudimentary education at best; many never had an opportunity to attend school beyond the age of 12.
   When children turned the age of eighteen, the British military offered soldiers a basic education in return for six years of active and six years of reserve duty. In 1907 Fred earned both his third and second class education certificates in composition (Figure 4) – leading one to believe that his desire to obtain an education may have been a major inducement in his decision to enlist.
   Along with a classroom education, he was also trained in all aspects of operating artillery, yet he selected Signalling as his specialty. When new field telephones were introduced, Fred was sent to Ireland in 1909 for training (Figure 5). Communications between the artillery batteries and the forward observation post were extremely vital for shelling accuracy and target selection.
In 1911 he was awarded the “Assistant Signal Instructor” certificate, just prior to his departure from active duty to begin his RFA reserve obligation. (Figure 6)
 Serving in the RFA Reserves allowed Fred more time to pursue his training as an electrician. During this period of time he lived in Westminster, at 28 Berkley Street, an address which proved to be romantically significant. The attractive Lillian Turner, who lived with her parents at 32 Berkley Street, provided an alluring and convenient dating arrangement. It did not take long for Lillian to put a twinkle in Fred’s eyes. After a brief courtship, they were married on October 12th, 1912, at the Parish Church, in the Parish of St. Mary, Lambeth (Figure 7). By 1913 the young couple moved to 93 Rectory Lane, Tooting Bec Common, where Lillian gave birth to a baby girl they named Doris.
It could be assumed that Fred would have kept abreast of what was happening in Europe, after years of escalating turmoil. Rising political strife between Germany, France, and Russia, fuelled by the escalating tensions between Austria– Hungary and Serbia produced whispers of war.
Otto von Bismark, a German ambassador, predicted that “some damn foolish thing in the Balkans,” would ignite the next war[i]. On June 28, 1914, the assassination of the Austrian heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, by Serbian nationals, brought his prediction to fruition. The house of cards, constructed of alliances between key countries in Europe, was beginning to collapse.
This descent into the abyss of war resembled the tumbling of a row of dominoes, when one falls the rest will follow.
It started when Austria–Hungary attacked Serbia in response to the assassination of the Archduke. Russia had an alliance with Serbia; therefore Russia declared war on Austria-Hungary. As Austria-Hungary was allied with Germany, Germany declared war on both Serbia and Russia. Russia and France had an alliance, so France slid into the abyss alongside the others. This cascading effect would continue as other countries entered the war, with the exception of Britain. 
Britian was not involved in alliances with other countries; however she did have a loose agreement with France, although not politically binding. It was an agreement that they would openly discuss providing mutual aid should either country be attacked. However, under the existing circumstances, this agreement took on deeper meaning and greater importance to Britain once she considered the consequences if France should lose the war. Parliament was debating this issue when the game changed.
Germany declared that they were going to use Belgium, a neutral country, as an avenue for attacking France. This outraged Britain since she had strong ties with Belgium. Britain sent an ultimatum; if Germany invaded Belgium, Britain would enter the war.[ii]
Germany’s Kaiser Welhelm was unconcerned by the threat, and ordered his army to invade Belgium on August 4, 1914. When the German Army crossed over the Belgian border the British Parliament signed the General Mobilization Decree; Britain was officially at war with Germany.
 Within a few hours after the decree was posted, Fred received his orders to report for duty on August 5th at Newcastle upon the Tyne. The forces that had been put in motion prior to this date would forever alter Fred’s life.

Fred’s first journal entry:

August 4th

“General Mobilization”, will it be declared? was the thought with me all day. My dear wife first gave me the news, but then I could not believe it, until, we walked to the post office and saw the Official Declaration. [iii]

And then I knew that, I should have to leave my home and dear ones — for “Where”, that was my one great thought. And until then I never realized what it all meant; with the conflicting thoughts, of my dear ones, and the fascination that I was going to participate in a real scrap. My mind was in a real whirl, and was so until I left home next day, for Newcastle-on-Tyne.[iv] And then — “Where?”

August 5th

I do not dwell on the thought of leaving my dear little wife, my mother, and baby — the journey up north was one of enthusiasm, for the train was packed with reservists, rejoining the Colours, as I, and all seemed absolutely mad to go and obliterate Germany!

August 6–7th

Drawing kit, passing Doctors, etc: - was detailed to join the 39th Bde R.F.A Surplus Details, as acting Q. M Sergt, at Borden Camp, [I] was very disappointed, for this meant that I should, not go to the front yet.

As I was informed that we should form the nucleus of a Reserve Brigade at Shorncliffe.[v]

 August 8th – 14th

Arrived at Borden, gave great satisfaction to C.O. - and volunteered for immediate Service.

After a little trouble and help of Brigadier Clark, I was detailed to join 43rd Bde RFA. At Deepcut[vi] – I joined them late on night of 14th, and was glad to meet a couple of chums in the Battery. I joined – 40th Btty RFA.

August 15th

Getting ready to embark – “Where”, that was the burning question for all orders were secret. [vii]

August 16th

Embarked at Southampton on the SS City of Chester - uneventful trip – disembarked at Boulogne next morning - I knew well that I was in France, grand reception.

[i] Tuchman, Barbara W. The Guns of August pp 85

[ii] Marshall, S.L.A. World War 1  pp 50-53

[iii] Coxen, Fred G. World War Journal 1914-1915

[iv] By the time of the First World War, existing coastal batteries on the east coast, most of which had been built during the nineteenth century against the perceived threat of France, had been adapted or new batteries created to take the new breech-loading guns. At the outbreak of hostilities, it was the Admiralty that was responsible for overseeing the home shore defences, as the Army was overstretched providing men and equipment in France, Belgium and the Middle East. Because of the concentration of strategic factories and installations (in Tyne and Wear for example, twelve armaments factories) the North-East coast was one of the most heavily defended areas in the country; the perceived threat was initially against bombardment or invasion from the sea, but by 1916, when the Army took over command of the home defence, the aerial threat from Zeppelins and, in southern Britain, heavy bombers, was the most pressing concern, fuelled by panic among the civilian population, who were under attack from the enemy for the first time. In 1916 a network of searchlights was established 25 miles inland from Sussex to

[v] Shorncliffe is located on the coastal plain where the North Downs meet the Straits of Dover. The British government purchased a large piece of land at Shorncliffe in 1794 and fortified it in preparation for the expected French invasion. The Shorncliffe Redoubt is significant as the birthplace of modern infantry tactics.

[vi] Deepcut: Military barracks were started in the late 19th century near Surrey Heath village Deepcut.

[vii] Coxen, Fred G.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

World War 1 - An Unkept Promise

Available on Kindle

This is a very important book, containing a historical document which throws a new light on the events of 1914 and 1915. The book is essentially in three parts: the journal of Frederick Coxen (the author's grandfather and namesake), an explanation of the events taking place as the journal was written and the author's quest to find the relatives of his grandfather's friends.

The journal is important for two reasons. It details the work of the men who kept the lines of communication open to direct bombardments at a time when the war had not yet settled into trench warfare. This is unusual if not unique. Additionally it touches on an important historical controversy - that of the crucified soldier. There has been debate about whether or not the Germans crucified a soldier. Frederick Coxen was an eye-witness to the retaliation the Canadians took - crucifying a German and pinning a notice to him saying "Canada does not forget." It seems to me unreasonable that such an action would take place without some provocation. For this reason alone, students of the period should read this book or, indeed, the diary itself, which the author intends to present to the Imperial War Museum in London.

The quest for the relatives of Coxen's dead friends is also worth reading if only to show how difficult it is to find information even today. We had a similar experience looking for my father-in-law who received his fatal wound at Dunkirk and died from it over twenty years later. The Middlesex Regiment has no record of him although we have all his badges, buttons and medals. The author did very well to find out as much as he did.

This is a book for serious historians and also for those who want to know more about this period of history or to work through the bureaucracy of searching any database for relatives.

Friday, August 2, 2013



When war was declared, the Regular Army comprised 247,432 men (all ranks), of which 79,000 were in India. The ‘Special Reserve’ and the Territorial Force totaled 270,859 men. It was intended that the defence of the homeland would be carried out by the fourteen divisions of the Territorial Force, which was created in 1908 by then Secretary of State for War, Richard Haldane.
      “County Associations were established, to organise and administer the Territorial Force, the infantry battalions being established at 29 officers and 980 non-commissioned officers and men.  The Force establishment was 312,000 men, but this target was never reached and recruitment peaked, probably, in June 1909 at 270,000.  By the beginning of that year, each Territorial unit had been assigned a specific role, either in coastal defence or as part of a central force.  Much of the Territorial Force’s equipment was obsolete and the Force never fulfilled Richard Haldane’s intention of being immediately available for service overseas. In 1910, members of it had been invited to accept a liability to serve abroad in the event of mobilisation, but barely seven per cent had made the ‘Imperial Service’ pledge, by September 1913.
      Prior to Britain declaring war, her small, all-regular, professional army was designed to police the Empire, therefore at the outset only capable of fielding, in Europe, only six infantry and one cavalry divisions, totaling 162,000 men. Virtually all of the Regular Army available in Britain, in 1914, numbered about 160,000 men, of whom a little over 100,000 were front-line troops. 
Each infantry division numbered three brigades of four infantry battalions with supporting artillery formations. The entire British Army, worldwide, did not amount to more than eleven Regular divisions.
     There was an ongoing debate around the decision to send all six divisions to France and Belgium, or hold back one or more to protect the homeland until the Territorials had additional time to train. In attendance at the August 5th meeting of the War Council, was Prime Minister Herbert Henry Asquith, Sir Edward Grey; who served as Foreign Secretary from 1905-1916, Winston Churchill; First Lord of the Admiralty, and Lord Richard Haldane; War Minister, and served as Lord Chancellor from 1912 until he left office in 1915.
     Also present were eleven Army general officers, including Field Marshal Sir John French and two of his corps commanders, Sir Douglas Haig and Sir James Grierson, among others.
    At the last minute there was an invasion scare that altered the War Council’s decision to send only four of the six divisions, along with one cavalry division. This was to take place immediately – embarkation was to begin August 9.
      Field Marshall Lord Kitchener had reluctantly accepted his appointment as Secretary of State for War. He passionately wanted to protect Britain’s Regular Army. He believed that Britain’s professional army, especially the officers, should be used for training new recruits instead of throwing them away fighting battles.
He wasn’t involved in the original planning process for fighting a war in Europe, which offered him a different perspective on the impact six divisions of the Expeditionary Force would have on the outcome of the war, especially in contrast to Germany and France’s seventy divisions each. 
     Lord Kitchener disapproved of the French offensive strategy, he ordered Sir John French, if he was asked to participate in any “forward movements” in which the French army wasn’t present in large numbers, and in which the British might be “unduly exposed to attack,” to consult his government first.
That Sir John must “distinctly understand that his command would be an entirely independent one and that he will in no case be under the orders of any Allied general.”
     In this one stroke, Kitchener negated the principle of unity of command. His motive was the preservation of the British Army. Given Sir John’s temperament, the order practically nullified the order to “support” and “cooperate” with the French. This was to haunt the Allied war effort long after Sir John was replaced and Kitchener himself was dead.
       Lord Kitchener wanted the BEF’s staging area to be Amiens, which offered a safe distance from the advancing German Army. However, at the last minute it was changed to Maubeuge, where the BEF would experience the full weight of the German forces.
     On August 6-10, 80,000 troops of the BEF with 30,000 horses, 315 field guns, and 125 machine guns, were gathered at the Southampton and Portsmouth embarkation ports.


Field Marshal John Denton Pinkstone French, 1st Earl of Ypres (28 September 1885 – 22 May 1925)
He distinguished himself by commanding the Cavalry Division during the Second Bore War. Sir John French became Chief of the Imperial General Staff in 1912, before serving for two years as the first Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force during World War I.
      After being promoted to Chief of the Imperial General Staff (‘CIGS’) on 15 March 1912, then promoted to field marshal on 3 June 1913. French had neither staff experience nor studied at Staff College in order to excel in his position. As CIGS he forced through some controversial changes to infantry battalions, first changing the composition of a battalion from eight small companies commanded by captains, to four large companies commanded by majors.
He also ensured that cavalry would continue to be trained to fight with sward and lance rather than fight dismounted with firearms. These changes caused concerns that French lack of intellect and knowledge for the position he held. 

Field Marshal Douglas Haig, 1st Earl Haig (19 June 1861 – 29 January 1928) was a British senior officer during World War I commanding the 1st Corps until he replaced Sir John French as commander-in-chief of the BEF.
     Some have criticized him for the number of British casualties that occurred during his command, and regarded him as representing class-based incompetent commanders unable to grasp modern tactics and technologies.

General Sir Horace Lockwood Smith-Dorrien (26 May 1858 – 12 August 1930)
Smith-Dorrien commanded the British II Corps during World War I and is best known for his successful defensive action in the Battle of Le Cateau. He commanded the British Second Army at the Second Battle of Ypres before being relieved of command by Sir John French.

Marshal Joseph Jacques Cesaire Joffre 12 January 1852 – 3 January 1931 was a French general and commander-in-chief of the Allied army during World War I best known for regrouping the retreating allied armies in order to defeat the Germans at First Battle of the Marne in 1914.
     Joffre was a career officer and saw active service in different theaters and was serving in the colonies when he was asked to returned to France to be appointed commander-in-chief of the French Army in 1911.
     He purged French officers which were, “defensive-minded” and replaced them with those believing in the offensive “Plan XVII”.
     Like French, Joffre was selected to command despite the fact he never commanded an Army, and “having no knowledge what so ever of how a General Staff works.”
Charles Lanrezac (July 31, 1852 – January 18, 1925) was a French general, formerly a distinguished staff college lecturer, who commanded the French Fifth Army at the outbreak of World War I.
At the Battle of Charlerol he intended to strike the Germans on their western flank, but before he could act, the German 2nd Army struck first. After experiencing heavy casualties, he ordered the French Army to retreat. He recovered from his embarrassment at Chalerol by launching  a successful counterattack at the Battle of Guise. He was relieved of his command by Joffre before the Battle of the Marne.

Ferdinand Foch Was born in 1851. He fought in the Franco-Prussian War of 1870-71 and became an artillery specialist in 1907. When war broke out in 1914, Foch commanded the French Second Army until the Battle on the Marne when he headed the French Ninth Army.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Royal Field Artillery


During World War One the British Army used two mobile artillery units, The Royal Field Artillery (RFA) and the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA). Both units used horse-drawn gun limbers; however the RHA limbers were navigated by two drivers, each riding one of the six light-draughts horses, whereas the RFA drivers sat on the limber while handling the horses.
     Since the RHA used smaller caliber guns they were mobile and served with Cavalry brigades, whereas the RFA used heavier calibre weapons and served with Infantry Divisions.
     When supporting infantry divisions, the RFA batteries would position their guns behind the infantry to support either their advancement or protection if under attack. If the infantry were attacked, the guns would continue their support until the very last minute, before being withdrawn.

Fred was assigned to the RFA 43rd Brigade, which was formed prior to the British Expeditionary Force’s deployment to France. The 43rd included the 30th, 40th and 57th(Howitzer) Batteries, which were equipped with 4.5 inch Howitzers[i] Upon formation, it was attached to the 1st Infantry Division, I Corps; which was commanded by General Haig. [ii]
    The 1st Infantry Division was under the command of Major-General S.H. Lomax, and comprised of a number of brigades, each containing multiple infantry regiments. The following list displays the brigade’s number, then the quantity and name of the regiments, such as, 2nd Brigade: 2/ Royal Sussex Regiments, denotes that two Royal Sussex Regiments served in the 2nd Brigade:
1st (Guards) Brigade : 1/Coldstream Guards; 1/Scots Guards; 1/Black Watch; 2/Royal Munster Fusiliers
2 nd Brigade: 2/Royal Sussex Regiment; 1/Loyal North Lancashire Regiment; 1/Northamptonshire Regiment; 2/King Rifle Corps
3rd Brigade: 1/Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment); 1/South Wales Borderers; 1/Gloucester Regiment; “A” Squadron, 15th Hussars
5th Brigade: 2/Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry; 2/Worcester Regiment; 2/Highland Light Infantry; 2/Connaught Rangers
6th Brigade: 1/King’s (Liverpool Regiment); 2/South Staffordshire Regiment; 1/Royal Berkshire Regiment; 1/King’s Royal Rifle Corps; “B” Squadron, 15th Hussars

 In 1914 each RFA brigade contained three artillery batteries. Each battery included two gun sections with six guns. There were a total of 198 men, who included a battery commander, who held the rank of Major (or Captain), a second-in-command with a rank of Captain. Others who served within a battery included: a Battery Sergeant-Major, Battery Quartermaster, who held the rank of Sergeant, a Farrier-Sergeant, 4 Shoeing Smiths, 2 Saddlers, 2 Wheelers, 2 Trumpeters, 7 Sergeants, 7 Corporals, 11 Bombardiers, 75 Gunners, 70 Drivers and 10 Gunners acting as Batmen[iii]. Each battery section had 3 Lieutenants (or 2nd Lieutenants) in charge. [iv]
      A battery also had a small contingent of men trained as signalers / telephonists, which were responsible for maintaining open phone lines between forward observation posts and the battery, which was critical for reporting fire accuracy or target locations. Lines were repeatedly severed by shellfire, forcing signallers to crawl along the wire in order to locate and repair the break, usually while under shell and or rifle fire. Their lives were often placed in jeopardy in order ensure the battery’s ability to continue firing. As a signaler, Fred’s journal accurately describes the hazards faced by this small contingent of men.
     Howitzer brigades used a 4.5 inch gun, which were manned by a six man crew and could fire 4 rounds per minute; with a maximum range of around 7,000 yards.
     Loading a shell required the shell to be loaded first and rammed home with a short wooden rammer, then cartridge case was placed into the chamber and the breech closed then the gun fired. 
     Mounted on the inside of the gun shield near the top was a slide-rule- like fuse indicator. The indicator was used for setting the time on shrapnel shell fuses made them burst at the ideal point for greatest effect. Each shell contained 480 lead alloy balls, which would be released when the shell exploded.


When a battery arrived at a battle position, the signallers were responsible for immediately running wire to a forward observation post, each battery section, and to headquarters. When messages from the forward post were received at headquarters, assessments were made before sending firing instructions to the gun batteries.
    Two signallers were always on duty serving as operators Inside the Battery Telephone dug-out.
     The most commonly used field phone was the Fullerphone called the D3 (pronounced Don 3) telephone, as well as the Fuller Four-plus-three exchange[v].  Both of these phones were invented by Captain Fuller.[vi]

The lines to each station would be tested by sending a Morse code ‘OK’;  if a station didn’t respond it meant that the line was broken – termed ‘Dis’. A break in a line required two signallers to be sent out immediately to find and repair the break. During a battle this task was extremely dangerous for signallers were exposed to both artillery and rifle fire.

During a battle, and contrary to their training, signallers would run phone lines over open ground, hang them in trees or bury them.
 Because weather impacted the flight of shells, a weather reports would be sent to each battery twice a daily; then artillery officers would use various calculations and adjustments before ordering the guns to fire.
When the batteries were firing, observers in forward observation post would watch where the shells landed and report back to the Battery the range, and degrees left or right[vii] of the intended target.

[i] a cannon with a bore diameter greater than 30 mm and a maximum elevation of 60 degrees
    that fires projectiles in a curved trajectory

[ii] The Long, Long Trail, The British artillery of 1914-1918 http://www.1914-1918.net/whatartbrig.htm

[iii] [iii] Batman: A soldier that takes care of everyday life so that an officer could concentrate on    commanding.

[iv] The Long, Long Trail, What was an artillery brigade http://www.1914-1918.net/whatartbrig.htm

[v] This portable field telephone exchange created in miniature the same service rendered by an ordinary permanent exchange. The exchange could take four incoming lines, all of which could be connected to each other by the exchange operator, who could also send and receive calls on each of the four lines

[vi] Hanson, Ivor J., Plough & Scatter Haynes Publishing, Sparkford, Yeovil, Somerset, UK pp 175-176   

[vii] Hanson, Ivor J., pp 175-176