Whiz-Bangs Krumps and Coalboxes

5th December 1916 Tuesday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“Needless to say, the next fortnight was very pleasantly spent. I found all well at home and enjoyed the change of food and the comfort of clean, cool sheets and open fires again. I paid visits to many friends, and also to the Infirmary where I watched operations, and attended clinics, and my old school Watson’s, where I got a great reception.

On December 5th I reported at Scottish Command Headquarters. I was sent to the Castle, and saw the senior medical officer there – Col. Perry – who handed me over to a Major Wilson for duty in the Board Room. Here we medically examined men up for commissions and disabled soldiers for pensions. The work was not heavy but was confining. Then I got the job often of visiting sick soldiers on leave at their homes. This was better for I was able to get out for a walk. Every third night I had to go on night duty at the small hospital in the Castle. I never got any work to do and was made very comfortable.”

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

 

21st November 1916 Tuesday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

Today in what seems like an act of either folly or extreme bravery, Lt Douglas Page presented himself once more to the War Office and signed on again for another tour of duty. He was not alone in this act of loyalty, many young men having survived the term of their contract, volunteered yet again to serve their country. This time though there was a distinct difference from November 1915. Douglas was under no illusion of what war would be like. He had already been through a year of horror. Clearly it wasn’t all terrible. Even in the midst of adversity there were some fun times. The pretty girls, Madame Zeppelin, Christmas dinner and Hogmanay in the trenches. He felt slightly torn leaving his comrades behind and obviously  felt he had more to offer, saving lives on the battlefields.

“Next day – November 21st – I reported at the War Office, and signed on for another year’s service in Egypt this time, just for variety, I was granted leave until December 5th.

After visiting old billet friends at Epsom, I left King’s Cross for Auld Reekie at 11.30pm in a very crowded train which was 1½ hours late in getting into Edinburgh.”

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

20th November 1916 Monday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“… the boat was crowded, and the crossing was a bad one.  I wasn’t at all well! Folkestone was reached about 9 o’clock and I got a seat in the Pullman for London. Victoria was reached at about 11am. Great! I drove across London in style in an old growler!* There were no taxis. I put up at Morley’s Hotel** in Trafalgar Square. After lunch saw the official war films at La Scala Picture Theatre.# At night I went to “the Bing Boys”## at the Alhambra. George Robey was in great form.”

The Channel crossing was a perilous  affair at this time. On the 26th October 1916 only three weeks before Douglas’s voyage the regular Boulogne /Folkestone steamer “Queen” had been sunk by a German destroyer.

* A Growler was a four wheeled horse drawn taxi, so called due to the noise made by the wheels on the cobbled streets.

** Morley’s Hotel, favoured by Douglas on more than one occasion,  stood on the spot now occupied by South Africa House,

# La Scala Picture Theatre  was a largely unsuccessful theatre situated on the corner of Tottenham Street and Charlotte Street in Fitzrovia. It was used to show the very earliest of colour films in a process known as Kinemacolour. It was also used for the theatre scenes in the Beatles’ film “A Hard Day’s Night”. The site is now occupied by various buildings amongst which is Scala Court.

## “The Bing Boys are here” was a very popular revue that ran from 19th April 1916 at the Alhambra Theatre in Leicester Square until 1917. It was also produced on Broadway and was still in production in the 1930s. Probably the best remembered song from the show is “If You Were the Only Girl in the World” Douglas’s granddaughter Elizabeth remembers him often singing that tune. The Alhambra itself was originally built with minarets which by this time had been removed. After undergoing various rebuilds since it first opened as a theatre in 1856 it finally closed its doors in 1936 and was demolished soon after.  The space today is occupied by a very drab building, Alhambra House.

screen-shot-2016-11-16-at-10-54-13Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

19th November 1916 Sunday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

A significant  day in young Douglas Page’s life and war. His contract  had come to an end. It was almost a year since he departed on the train  from  Edinburgh on December 2nd 1915 and made the  rough crossing to Le Havre  aboard the Huanchaco and eventually to the Western Front. Having already survived numerous close calls with shells exploding just behind him at Richebourg church, the devastation of his Division the 38th Welsh at the Somme,  the recent dud “archie” falling beside him, plus various  “wind-up” occasions when he could so easily have been blown to pieces. All of these would have been enough to make the toughest of men feel that a chance to escape the horrors of the front would be welcome relief.  He had done his stint and served his King, country and comrades well and he could have easily felt justified in being one of the lucky ones able to return home to tell his amazing tale.

“On November 19th I left Proven for ‘Blighty’ on the expiry of my year’s service. I was sorry to leave but wanted to get home to see how everything was going with Mother and the others. I got a train at Poperinghe at 2pm. I got to Boulogne about 7 o’clock, going via Hazebroucke, St Omer and Calais. I stayed at the ‘Hotel Metropole’ overnight and left France at 7am next day….”

Today there is still a hotel in Boulogne  bearing the name Hotel Metropole but the original didn’t survive, Boulogne being heavily bombed in both World Wars.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

14th November 1916 Tuesday

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“On the 14th we were made happy by the news of a great British victory on the Somme – the capture of Beaumont Hamel with 4000 prisoners and 60 guns.”

Some good news at last of progress on the Somme. Beaumont Hamel had been the subject of a failed attack on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme way back on the 1st of July. It had become regarded as an almost impregnable German stronghold, so news of a welcome victory was heart-warming to Douglas and his compatriots.

Beaumont Hamel fell to the Allies in what is now known as the Battle of Ancre on the previous day 13th November. Originally scheduled for the 24th October, there were numerous postponements due to terribly wet conditions. Finally, the go-ahead was given for Monday 13th and four divisions of the 5th Army with another division in reserve successfully took the village of Beaumont Hamel and the heavily defended “Y” shaped ravine leading down to the British lines.

Beaumont Hamel is also close to the location of the Hawthorn Crater caused by the massive explosion that at 07.20 on July 1st signalled the start of the Battle of the Somme.

The famous picture of the mine exploded on Hawthorn Ridge. Taken by 2nd Lt. Ernest Brooks.

The famous picture of the mine exploded on Hawthorn Ridge. A still from the movie by Geoffrey Malins.

Further information on the battle can be seen here.

More useful information of the area can be found here.

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

8th to 11th November 1916

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“On November 8th, I motored up to Trois Tours Chateau to take medical charge of the 14th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, whose own doctor was on leave. Next day the battalion went into the trenches – my luck as usual! We took on from the 13th Royal Welsh Fusiliers, and I met Col. Campbell, Major Lloyd and all the old gang up there during the handing over. On going round the trenches next day I found them very muddy, and full of water in parts. There was no artillery activity, but lots of aeroplanes were up, it being a lovely clear sunny day. I got a fright when a ‘dud’ anti-aircraft (archie) shell fell  quite close to me. I had to rush up to Lancashire Farm in the afternoon to a man who was badly hit, and burned by a shell which burst in the dug-out! He wasn’t killed either! We had a great trench-mortar stunt at night. Fifteen-hundred rounds were fired and the artillery butted in too. The din was terrific.

I was relieved on the 11th, and got back to Proven that night.”

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

7th November 1916 Tuesday

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

“On Tuesday November 7th 1916, I went via ambulance car to the Corps Rest Station at Mont des Cats with some patients. It rained heavily all day, and thus spoiled what would have been a pleasant trip through interesting country. The Corps Rest Station was situated in the ancient monastery on the top of the Mont des Cats. After leaving our patients there I took the car on to Bailleul where I visited the Headquarters of No 1 Squadron RFC.  Here I had hoped to get some news of Gordon Sturrock (my future wife’s brother) who had been missing for some days. But at that time I got no further information. Later on we heard that the aeroplane in which he was acting as observer had been shot down by the enemy, and that Gordon had been very grievously wounded. He died later and was buried at Lincelles in Belgium.”

sturrock_letter-pt1Gordon Sturrock reported missing

Letter confirming Gordon Sturrock's death and burialFind out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

3rd & 4th November 1916

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“A concert given by the 4th Motor Ambulance Corps pierrot troup – the “Merry Macs” – on November 3rd, was very good.

Next day I nearly gassed myself. A gas bomb exploded prematurely, and I got a nasty burn on one arm, and felt seedy all day.”

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

23rd to 26th October 1916

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

Rather oddly it would seem, Douglas Page although nearing the end of his contract and so approaching the end of his term of duty, was sent on a training course. Despatched to the 2nd Army Gas School at Oxelaëre near Cassel on the French side of the Franco Belgian border he was to receive valuable instruction of the latest defences against gas attack.

Douglas takes up the story:

“From October 23rd to 26th I attended a course of instruction in gas at the 2nd Army Gas School, Cassel. I went in a motor ambulance via Poperinghe. It was a lovely run on a sunny warm day. The actual school of instruction was about a mile out of Cassel – at the foot of the hill on which Cassel is situated. Oxalere was the name of the place, and here assembled about 9.30am a dozen of us – all doctors – from various Field Ambulances in the 2nd Army. Capt. Macalister – a Scot – was the Gas Officer, and he started off by giving us a 2 hours’ lecture on Cloud Gas etc. Afterwards we all went up the hill to Cassel, and were allotted our billets. I had a lovely room in a big chateau – quite the homeliest billet I’ve had since coming to France. After lunch at the  ”Hotel Sauvage” some of us had a stroll round the town – a beautifully clean place on the top of a hill. We got lovely views of the surrounding country.

Hotel du Sauvage

Hotel du Sauvage

Cassel showing the Church & market place complete with band-stand & electric tram. X is the Hotel Sauvage where I had my meals whilst attending the Army Gas School

“Cassel showing the Church & market place complete with band-stand & electric tram. X is the Hotel Sauvage where I had my meals whilst attending the Army Gas School.”

The large building marked X is the casino at Cassel & was used as 2nd army Headquarters

“The large building marked X is the casino at Cassel & was used as 2nd army Headquarters”

Below is the path we took on our way from Cassel to the Gas School at the foot of the hill.

“Below is the path we took on our way from Cassel to the Gas School at the foot of the hill.”

Cassel is in the south west of this map and Oxelaëre is just to the south west of Cassel. Poperinge can be seen to the east.

Cassel is in the south west of this map and Oxelaëre is just to the south west of Cassel. Poperinge can be seen to the east.

For three days we were instructed in gas warfare and were put through attacks during which chlorine, phosgene, and lachrymatory gases were used. It was most interesting work. We were supplied with new box respirators which acted admirably. On our last night we gave a dinner to our instructor. It was a most hilarious evening.

When I got back to the Field Ambulance I was kept busy for several days lecturing to the men on “Gas Warfare”, and instructing them in the use of the new respirator. I also put them through the test chamber – a hut filled with “tear” gas, and gave demonstrations of smoke and gas bomb attack. The latter demonstrations were most amusing affairs, and were very popular!”

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here

Gordon Sturrock’s Vanquisher, Leutnant Alfred Ulmer of Jasta 8

All material produced or reproduced here and throughout this work is the sole copyright of the author and the family of Doctor D.C.M. Page MC.

Following the remarkable tale of the shooting down of Gordon Sturrock, here now is the story of his German adversary Leutnant Alfred Ulmer.

Two young men trying to achieve the same goal, but on opposite sides of the divide. Both were to come to a tragic end at such a young age.

Thanks must go to Mark Lubienski, a fellow Westminster Guide, for his interest and help. Mark also guides at Hendon’s R.A.F. Museum so I knew he could point me in the right direction and his help proved invaluable.

It was as recent as 1903, when famously the Wright brothers took to the skies in North Carolina on Dec 17th, in what was the first controlled, powered flight by a heavier than air machine. It was very soon realised that such aircraft could have a very important military role to play.

The British Army had realised the usefulness of powered aircraft and the Royal Flying Corp had emerged from a branch of the Royal Engineers, being formed in February 1912.

Having utilised lighter than air balloons as far back as the Napoleonic Wars, Germany’s hierarchy were quick to embrace the new fixed wing powered aircraft. Their fledgling air force Fliegertruppen des Deutschen Kaiserreiche or the Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte (Imperial German Airforce), was developed from both the German Army and Navy and had acquired its first fixed wing aircraft in 1910. Referred to as Die Fliegertruppe, both Army and Navy were responsible for observation balloons and the new fixed wing aircraft. Both the Navy and the Army took to the skies in “airships” which became known as Zeppelins though in 1915 the Zeppelins that launched the first air raids on England were crewed by Navy men complete with Navy uniforms. The Zeppelins were named after one of the two companies that developed them.

Leutnant Alfred Ulmer of Jasta 8.

Alfred Ulmer was born in the southern German town of Reutlingen, just south of Stuttgart, in the same year as Gordon Sturrock on September 15th 1896. Twenty years later, Alfred was the young man flying the “hostile machine” described by pilot Second Lt. C.M.Kelly.

Like so many young men Alfred was keen to grab the chance of the very new activity of flying. Just as Gordon had signed up with many others to defend King and Country, so did Alfred along with many compatriots keen to do their duty for the Kaiser and the Fatherland.

Leutnant Alfred Ulmer posing in front of a captured British Sopwith Pup

Leutnant Alfred Ulmer posing in front of a captured British Sopwith Pup

By October 1916, the German airforce had become known as “Deutsche Luftstreitkräfte”. Some sections were formed into hunter squadrons called Jagdstraffels, or simply Jastas. Lt. Albert Ulmer became a pilot in Jasta 8, flying an Albatros D.V F.E.2d, where he claimed a total of 5 kills including that of Gordon Sturrock. The only kill he had to his name before Sturrock and Charles Kelly was a couple of weeks earlier on the 1st October when he shot down an observation balloon at Oostviederen. After the Sturrock/Kelly victory, he went on to claim another three kills. On December 26th 1916 over Railway Wood near Ypres, he shot down a Nieuport 12 ser. no. A3294 flown by Capt. J.W.W. Nason and Lt. C.A. Felix-Brown of 46 Squadron. This was 46 Squadron’s first combat casualty.

http://wingsofhistory.org/images/stories/Museum/QRphotos/Nieuport_12_Model/Nieuport%2012%20flight.jpg

A Nieuport 12

Then on 24th January 1917, a freezing cold day with the ground covered with ice and snow from heavy snowfall in the previous week, Ulmer struck twice. At about 15.30 Royal Aircraft Factory B.E.2e number 6308 of 53 Squadron, crewed by Lt. T.F.Preston and Lt. C.M.Buck was shot down north of Warneton and later at about ten to five another Royal Aircraft Factory plane, this time F.E.8 number 6417 flown by 41 Squadron’s Sgt. Cecil Stephen Tooms (1678) aged 22, was brought down west of Wytschaete.

Royal Aircraft Factory BE2

Royal Aircraft Factory BE2

Ace Ulmer was then himself seriously wounded when on the 5th February 1917, 46 Squadron got their revenge when one of their Nieuport 12’s managed to shoot him down over Dranouter, Belgium. He survived the crash and slowly recovered enough from his injuries to terrorise the skies again. His reign came to an abrupt end on 29th June 1917 when he was shot down and killed over Houthem by Canadian ace Harold W. Joslyn, flying a Bristol F 2b for the RFC 20 Squadron.

https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bristol_F2b_Fighter_D8096_D_(G-AEPH)_(6736638149).jpg

Lt. Ulmer ultimately perished at the hands of a Bristol F 2b

An F.E.8 with a pusher propeller behind the pilot

An F.E.8 with a pusher propeller behind the pilot

An Albatros D.V similar to the one flown by Ulmer

An Albatros D.V similar to the one flown by Ulmer

Find out about our connection with Dr Page and an introduction to his diary here