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, May 31, 2014

Book Review

As an author I am always interested in reading reviews of my work. Even though five star reviews are desirable, the three or lower star reviews offer insight into ways I can improve. However, there are some lower reviews which make me wonder why the person even bothered reading the story. One case in point was a review written by one person who admitted that they did not like non-fiction and especially books about war - so they rated my book, 'World War 1 - An Unkept Promise' three stars. So I asked myself, 'Did they give it three stars because the story was not written well, or because they did not like that type of story?'

Here is one that I received recently: 'Now a promise fulfilled. An excellent early war diary that brings one man's war into stark relief. While it stops in 1915 after Second Ypers, the story and context is compelling and altogether human.' It was written by  Walter J. Helm who lives in Frankfurt am Main, Germany, which to me is important for obvious reasons.

World War One - An Unkept Promise

Monday, May 26, 2014

Memorial Day 2014

From Notes and Well Remembered Incidences

My thoughts this day turn to those who have given their lives for the freedom of others. Although I was born an American, half of me is British, and there for this Memorial Day is also dedicated to three Royal Field Artillery soldiers, Percy Bramwell, William Glew and Frank Taylor, who paid the ultimate sacrifice one hundred years ago.

They were friends of my grandfather and Percy died in his arms, while William Glew was in a dugout that received a direct hit by German artillery. Using his hands, my grandfather dug for his friend and when he found his boots, he tried to pull him out but only the lower portion of his body came out.

After my grandfather moved his family to America in 1922 he walked in Memorial Day parades in Detroit, Michigan. The attached photos are from one of those parades.

My grandfather, Fred G. Coxen, is leading this parade

My grandfather is in the first row - last man on the right 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

May 1915

[We were] still in same position. The hostile shelling never ceases, day or night.
 We fire mostly by aeroplane wireless – attacks and counter attacks twice daily.
Batteries on our left seem to get it jolly hot, but in spite of the gases and their preponderance of artillery, we are informed that we have stopped the march on CALAIS.
[We] were ordered to move with Lahore Division, (which was now sadly depleted in numbers) to move on [the] night of [the] 4th.
I was billeting and Mr Donahue and I left about 5 pm, and eventually, after a hard ride, found billets some 1.5 miles from Ypres in a village I never knew the name of. I left at midnight to conduct the Battery.
 It was raining all night and I tied my horse to the railings of a churchyard, determined to get a drink somewhere and something to eat. After a while I came on an establishment and vigorously knocked, which was opened by a Staff Officer. I told him I wanted something to eat and drink. He was very good and took me inside and fixed me up.

 I left refreshed, [While it was] still raining and cold; I eventually met the Battery about 6 o’clock.
I got some breakfast from the Officer’s cooks of the Ammunition Column and then had a sleep about 10 am.

May 5th

Was awakened after a couple of hours and went on again as billeting party with Mr Woods, in [the] direction of ESTAIRS. [Due to] a long ride, [we] could not fix up billets before about 7 pm. Had a little trouble with a farmer, but after a threat and help of [an] interpreter, managed to secure [a] place I had selected for [the] Battery.
 [I] was very tired and went in a barn, after fixing up the old charger, and dropped just as I was, sound asleep.
The Battery arrived at dawn, and after fixing this up, was informed that the Battery was to take up the old position at CROIX BARBETTE that night for an attack in the region of FESTABERT.

May 6th

Was a beautiful [day], which I spent mostly in much needed sleep; I was elated to find my mattress still there. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Imperial War Museum

Neil, a friend a got to know through the 'Great War Forum', contacted me about a new website created by the Imperial War Museum titled Lives of the First World War . I checked it out and found it very interesting. They are posting basic information on WWI soldiers obtained from the National Archives and give the general public the opportunity to input information they may have on a soldier. Their desire is to put the pieces of each soldier life together, beyond that of the basic military details.

Because I have my grandfather's WWI journal, I have stories on several soldiers who served with my grandfather. So I accessed the IWM site and did add stories on at least two soldiers I could locate on their site - Percy Bramwell and George Millington. I also corrected facts on my grandfather's information and added several stories as well as photos.

I recommend this website to all those who interested in WWI and would like to read about the lives of those that served.

My e-book World War 1 - An Unkept Promise contains my grandfather's compelling journal.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Battle on Aisne

Sir John French:

The Aisne Valley runs generally East and West, and consists of a flat-bottomed depression of width varying from half a mile to two miles. The river follows a winding course near the southern slopes of the valley.
The high ground on both the north and south sides of the river is approximately 400 feet above the valley bottom. It is very similar in character on both slopes of the valley, which are broken into numerous rounded spurs and re-entrants. The most prominent of the former are the Chivre spur on the right bank and Sermoise spur on the left. [i]

The plateau on the south is divided by a subsidiary valley of much the same character is found on the small River Vesle, which flows into the main stream near Sermoise.

The slopes of the plateau overlooking the Aisne on the north and south are of varying steepness, and are covered with numerous patches of wood, which stretch upwards and over the edge on to the top of the high ground.

There are several villages and small towns dotted about in the valley itself and along its sides, the chief of which is the town of Soissons. 
The Aisne is a sluggish stream of some 170 feet in breadth and measures15 feet deep in the centre; it is unfordable. Between Soissons on the west, and Villages on the east (the part of the river attacked and secured by the British Forces) there are eleven road bridges across it.

On the north bank a narrow-gauge railway runs from Soissons to Vailly, where it crosses the river and continues eastward along the south bank.

 From Soissons to Sermoise a double line of railway runs along the south bank, turning at the latter place up the Vesle Valley towards Bazoches. 

The position held by the enemy is a very strong one, either for a delaying action or for a defensive battle. One of its chief military characteristics is from the height of our plateau only small stretches of the enemy’s plateau can be seen. This is chiefly due to the woods on the edges of the slopes. Another important point is that all the bridges are under either direct or high angle artillery fire.[ii]

Fred’s journal entries:
Sept 13th    (Battle of the Aisne)

[We] marched at dawn [in the] pouring rain, no food, or time to get any.
Took up position near PAISSY, from there [we marched] to CHIVY VALLEY to meet a German counter attack. [iii]
Our infantry suffered heavily, many wounded being near me.

The battery dropped into action, and we found an observing point on a high hill, directly in front.

In running our wire, old George and I were very lucky to escape the bullets, for we were in full view of the enemy – they all but got us once, a bullet coming between our noses as we were deciding the best way to run our wire. We laid down, for they were shelling very heavy all around. This was in the afternoon and the sun was very warm. I couldn’t move, I must have been tired for I actually went to sleep, [until] a Staff-Officer later was talking near by [sic] he must have thought I got bowled over. 

We made our observing station under the shelter of a small rock, which undoubtedly saved us from getting completely wiped out of existence.

We fired heavy all day, and in the night the Battery moved a little to the right.

I remained on the hill on guard, and posted double sentries with order to shoot anybody, who approached without giving prompt reply to challenge. Towards dawn I lost two sentries and had very uncomfortable time searching for them, for the enemy was again very active.

Sept 14th

[There was] heavy fighting all day. Our little rock proved a haven of refuge, all day we were heavily shelled by ‘ coal-boxes’  .

Major Johnson was killed near by [sic] and Major Madocks slightly wounded.

Some chaps dodged under our rock for shelter and gave us some tobacco; we were smokeless and foodless, my feast being that day a half biscuit, left from emergency ration. [iv]
Sept 15th

[Today was the] same as yesterday. The 113th and 46th Batteries on our left were heavily shelled [and had] many casualties, we were more fortunate.

[There was] very hard fighting all day – was by this time [I] quite used to the thunder like clap of the coal-boxes, and other a sundry missiles the Germans were flinging about wholesale.

Their artillery was superior, we had no heavy guns to compare to them, nor anything like their number – and we suffered greatly, for sometimes it was like Hell let loose.

Sept 16th

Heavy scrapping [all day].

In the afternoon we took up another position on top of MOUNT GOURTONNE, which commanded a good view of the enemies [sic] lines.

I galloped hard from our little rock and was sickened to see the dead horses lying around.

As soon as the guns left the old position the enemy peppered it with shell[s], for we had been spotted by aeroplane.

We took up position at night, [it] was raining hard [and I] was wet through, but had got used to that now. [I] slept under a gun limber [and] would have given anything for something hot to drink, and a good fire.

Sept 17th – October 13th

We have effectively formed our battle line known as the AISNE RIVER. [v]

This long period of fighting all day and almost every night, seems to come to one as a second nature.

We fire an average of 250 rounds per day – it is really siege warfare.

Night attacks take place almost nightly [and] I have dug a hole at the back of a limber, as my home.

All days seem to be alike [except that] some days the fighting is more severe than others. They shell us occasionally and it is never safe to move from one dugout or the shelter of the guns.

Our wagon line are in the great caves,  which are a wonderful work of nature, but even there we have had quite a few men wounded, and several horses killed.

At times when they shell us severely, we have had to desert the guns and take refuge in an adjacent cave, which undoubtedly has been the means of saving some lives.

I slept in this cave one night, and on going to the guns before dawn next morning [I] lost my way and wandered towards the enemy’s lines. When it became light, I was lost and in a valley between us and the Germans. I was confused, and hardly knew what to do.
I could hear rifle bullets whipping uncomfortably near. The ground was full of great holes caused by the German heavy artillery. I knew that when it became light, [I] would be [in] a veritable death trap.

I was hopelessly lost and worse, unarmed, so I decided to take refuge in a shell hole and await throughout the day. [I would wait] until nightfall and try to make my way back. After a while, I decided I would chance it and rather get to our own lines or meet whatever came my way.

After a deal of wandering and exciting moments, I met an officer who was forward observing, and he directed me to where he thought our guns were. [vi]
I reached them without further mishap, and my off man and the others thought I had got swallowed, for nobody saw me go. Strangely the path I took from the cave, took me within 10 yds of the guns, by which I could see now daylight had well advanced – well! I laughed.

On the 20th
I managed to get a bit drop of water to wash my face, for it had not seen water for 8 days and I had not shaved for over a fortnight. I looked at myself in somebody’s little pocket mirror – and thought what a picture I was.

October 9th

Was [going to] be [a] well remembered day of this period.

During the morning things were a little more quiet than usual, we were sitting around the guns. I left my telephone, which was beneath [a] gun limber. We were having a feast of Bully Beef [1]and potatoes - (potatoes did not come our way often), [when] a battery of German artillery found us with shrapnel. The first round burst directly over our No 3 gun, which was just by me, we [all] scattered. 
 Poor old Bramwell, who was by my side, ducked, and got it in the head. 

I dived under the limber to phone my chum Collins, [while] two more gunners dragged Bramwell to the limber, for what shelter it gave. [Then] the two gunners were hit. Collins and I did what we could to poor Bramwell, but it was useless.

The [shell] bullets[2] simply hailed on the limber, and we expected to be hit every second, but it saved us. [vii]
After the shower stopped, we removed poor Bramwell, it was an unpleasant sight to see a chums brains by ones [sic] side.

A shell case was stuck in the ground 2 yards from where I lay – lucky it didn’t splinter for Collins and I. would have been bowled over.
Everything seemed to bear marks of that lively hour excepting we two. We dug a hole that night and many times while there the hole saved us, for when it was most quiet, inevitably they would switch over on to us.

Several were wounded at different times when it was least expected, and about this time, night attacks were very frequent and severe, often 3 attacks during the night.

My wire often got broken by shell fire, through a wood of the observation point, in spite of a double line and was unhealthy at times to repair.  

On the morning of the 8th October a ‘ coal-box’  dropped by No 5 gun – killing one gunner and wounding four. We were shelled in the afternoon [and] they flung no fewer than 40 ‘ Dud’  shell [sic] over us in an hour. It was amusing to feel the thud when they struck the earth, and no explosion ensuing.

We lost several horses and a couple wounded in Wagon Line.

A party was sent out to prepare a new position, but [they] were shelled out. The Major asked us at night would we prefer to move as the position was warm, but we decided at once to stop, for our place was as good as another.

October 12th, was the anniversary of my wedding and the thoughts of my dear wife and child, were more to me than the scrap that day. [I] had a long chat that night, with Lieut Marshall on the duration of the war – we thought ‘ about Xmas’ . [viii]

[1] Bully Beef: Canned corned beef that was the principal protein ration of the British army.
[2] Shell Bullets: When a shrapnel shell explodes it splinters and releases round balls  called bullets

[ii] Ibid

[iii] Coxen, Fred G.

[iv] Coxen, Fred G.

[v] Ibid

[vi] Ibid

[vii] Ibid

[viii] Ibid

Thursday, May 8, 2014

June 1914

Europe – Spring 1914
By the twentieth century Europe had reached a pinnacle of knowledge, wealth and power. Although Europe is one of the smallest continents, by the end of the nineteenth century most of the earth’s land was under the rule of just a few European countries, namely Austria-Hungary, France, Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Russia.
However, these countries were not equal in either size or strength, which led to instability among rivals, thus forcing weaker countries to seek protection agreements. These agreements unnerved a few rulers, such as Kiser Wilhelm of Germany who was concerned about France’s growing military strength and its alliance with Russia. Since the three countries shared common boarders, the Kiser decided to build the largest and best equipped army and a navy to rival the sea supremacy of Great Britain.  
By the spring of 1914, rising political strife between European countries reached a critical point where there were whispers of war.
    Otto von Bismarck, a German ambassador, predicted that ‘some damn foolish thing in the Balkans, would ignite the next war.’
German military strategist Alfred von Schlieffen had been working on a strategic plan whereby Germany could successfully fight on two fronts if a future war occurred.  The spark that offered the opportunity to test Schlieffen’s plan happened on June 28, 1914, when Austrian heir apparent, Archduke Franz Ferdinand was assassinated by Serbian nationals the house of cards built 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.

    This chain reaction commenced 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 had a partnership with Germany, Germany declared war on both Serbia and Russia. Russia and France had an agreement, so France slid into the abyss alongside the others. This cascading effect would continue as other countries entered the war, with the exception of Great Britten.  

Saturday, May 3, 2014

May 1914

It was late in the afternoon on May 2nd 1914 and Fred Coxen’s work day was almost over. He was working with other electrician’s rewiring an old building. During their lunch break conversation centered on events taking place over the channel.
Fred was particularly interested because he still had three more years of service in the Royal Field Artillery reserve and if Britten decreed General Mobilization he would be recalled to active duty. Having been married for just two years he would have to leave Lillian and their baby girl Dorothy.
Little did they know that within a month Archduke Franz Ferdinand would be assassinated, which would start the downward slide towards the abyss of war.

With the possibility of returning to active duty, Fred recalled that it was 1905, soon after he turned 18 when he joined the Royal Field Artillery. He was assigned to the 55th Battery and two years later, 1907, he had earned both his third and second class education certificates for composition. He decided to become a RFA signaller and graduated in the 168th Class, School of Signaling, at Aldershot.  

He had obtained the rank of bombardier, which can be seen in the 1909 photograph of Fred and another signaller demonstrating the new field telephones during a training exercise.
By 1911 Fred’s six year commitment of active duty was coming to an end and he decided to leave active service to begin his RFA reserve requirement. However, prior to leaving active duty he was awarded his ‘Assistant Signal Instructor’s Certificate’.

Now that he had more time he became an electrician and joined the Electrical Trade Union in Manchester. With a decent paying job he proposed to Lillian Turner and they married in 1912. The newlyweds moved to 93 Rectory Lane, Tooting Bec Common and by 1913 they started their family with the birth of a baby girl.

On the way home from work Fred relived the past eight years and realized how many changes had taken place in his life. But he had no way of knowing that in three months he would be recalled to active duty and over the course of less than a year he would be exposed to so many horrific events that would forever visit him during the night.