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Forces War Records Blog

REMEMBER, REMEMBER THE FIFTH OF NOVEMBER… ON THIS DAY WHAT WAS HAPPENING DURING SEVERAL BRITISH CONFLICTS.

In the BOER WAR, Llewelyn Alexander Wright of 1st (Volunteer) Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers wrote his diary in 1877, lamenting the rain but celebrating the return of a comrade: “The kids at home will be enjoying themselves to-day, Guy Fawkes Day. We stood to arms at 4 a.m., in pouring rain, our march was cancelled. In the afternoon the rest of our company arrived and with the Pryce Jones, who I forgot to mention we left behind sick at Potchefstroom when we left that place, glad I was to see him again for we had been staunch chums since coming out.”

In the FIRST WORLD WAR, Britain and France declared war on the Ottoman Empire in 1914 and started preparations for the Invasion of the Dardanelles - the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign.

In the SECOND WORLD WAR, at Sea- Acting Captain Edward Stephen Fogarty Fegen of HMS Jervis Bay, Royal Navy, earned the Victoria Cross. ‘The London Gazette’ included the following tribute on 22/11/1940: “On 5th November 1940 in the Atlantic, Captain Fegen, commanding HMS Jervis Bay, was escorting 37 merchantmen, when they were attacked by the German pocket battleship Admiral Scheer. Captain Fegen immediately engaged the enemy head-on, thus giving the ships of the convoy time to scatter. Out-gunned and on fire Jervis Bay maintained the unequal fight for three hours, although the captain's right arm was shattered and his bridge was shot from under him. He went down with his ship but it was due to him that 31 ships of the convoy escaped.”

In Africa- ‘The Daily Mirror’ reports in 1942 on the “Battle of Egypt: The latest news of the great battle in Egypt (El Alamein) is magnificent. Rommel and his Afrika Korps are fleeing in disorder. That, surely, is the best news we have had since the war began. Whatever difficulties we have yet to face we have cause for great rejoicing today. For rejoicing and for heartfelt thanks. We owe General Montgomery and his Eighth Army, the RAF and the Navy a deep debt of gratitude and pride.

“This time the collaboration between our forces on land, in the air and at sea has been perfect. The battle is being fought as one action, extending, one may say, from Rommel’s supply bases in North Italy to North Africa. The full force of Allied air striking power has been concentrated to prepare the way for the Eighth Army’s gallant struggle. Our light bombers and fighting bombers have ceaselessly harassed the enemy’s transport, while our fighters have provided a protective screen for our advance.

“This battle is not a battle for Egypt. It is not one for territorial gains. It is a battle for the destruction of the Axis power in Africa; by consequence, for control of the Mediterranean; by further consequence, for the relief of Russia. It is therefore no “sideshow,” but a central, a decisive battle of war.

“This triumph – for it would appear to be no less – should inspire everyone concerned with the war effort to still greater achievements. For the first time in this war a German army is really on the run. That should be an inspiration and a challenge to us all. Hitler and his chiefs see today, more grimly marked than ever before, the shadow of their doom. But our powers for work must be intensified. There must be no slacking now. In the factory, the workshop, the shipyard – in all places where victory must be hastened – we must not shame our men in the desert. We are on the move. Let us rejoice – and work as never before.”

On the ground in Europe, 1943- “In the face of steady and increasing pressure along the whole front, the enemy (Italy and Germany) began to pull back his outposts on both coastal flanks. The 78th Division, supported by successful bombardment from H.M. destroyers, “Queenborough” and “Raider”, increased their bridgehead over the Trigno and occupied Vasto on November 5th, while Indian troops farther south pushed forward along the line of the river.”

Finally, above Europe- 749 aircraft took part in a raid on the town of Bochum. According to the ‘Bomber Command War Diaries’, Bochum’s Steelworks and Industrial area were a priority target. This raid in 1944 was so successful that RAF bombers never had to carry out a major raid over it again. 23 Halifaxes and 5 Lancaster bombers were lost, mostly to German Night Fighters.

And what sort of fifth of November were all the men away at war, during any period, dreaming of and fighting for? One of bright colours, fun, and most importantly peace. ‘Eastern Province Herald’ looked forward to just such a one on November 3rd 1948: “The season of ‘”Gunpowder, treason, and plot’ is rapidly drawing near, and the City youngsters are already well prepared to make the night of November 5 bright and hideous if reports on the sales of fireworks made to an East Province Herald reporter yesterday are correct.

“Most shops put fireworks on sale about three weeks ago and today have only a few of the less glorious lines left. Rockets are almost unprocurable but one shop, which has already replenished it counters three times, is expecting another lot of these desirable pyrotechnics soon.

“A very wide variety of colourful lights, squibs, Catherine wheels, jumping jacks and sparklers have been offered and the way they are being snapped up seems to promise that the Guy Fawkes Day celebrations this year will be the most splendid since before the war.”

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