To whet your appetite, here is our first ‘Treasures from our Archive’ piece, which showcases some compelling albums capturing a Tommy’s life at Ploegsteert, Belgium, in WW1.
Treasures from our Archive.
Forces War Records has a database of over 7 million records, but did you know that we also have over 2,000 rare books, postcards and papers in our Historic Documents archive?
Each issue we will be examining some highlight from that archive, and this month it is the turn of a unique collection contributed by one of our members. Beryl Robinson was kind enough to send in several albums detailing her late father Frederick Stransom Robinson’s service in WWI. Her father was born on the 13th of February 1891, then went on in 1914 to serve in the 1/5th (City of London) Battalion of the London Rifles.
The first album starts with original uniform overseas strips from Sergeant Robinson’s service, then goes on to display newspaper cuttings containing pictures, maps, drawings and information from May 1915 onwards, as the London Rifle Brigade enters the fields of the Western Front and moves into Ploegsteert. Ploegsteert, simplified to ‘Plug Street’ by soldiers stationed there, was a Belgian village controlled by the British and commanded by Winston Churchill. It was also one of the sites where a truce was called at Christmas 1914; one contemporary newspaper cutting from the album states: “We were in the trenches all Christmas, but not a shot was fired by either side and we walked in front of our trenches and exchanged souvenirs with the Germans half way. It really was the most remarkable experience.”
After many pages of these wonderful clippings there can be found a letter from a Lieutenant Colonel of the London Rifles Brigade to Sgt Fredrick Robinson. The letter informs him that he has been recommended for the Military Medal after his gallantry and devotion to duty while in action on the Cambrai Front. It seems that, during the attack on the 22nd November, the N.C.O was in charge of battalion signalling arrangements. Within a few hours of the objective being reached, telephone communications were established with all the Front Line companies. Regardless of shell and machine gun fire, the lines were kept open, and on subsequent days (until the battalion was relieved) Sergeant Robinson displayed conspicuous bravery and disregard of danger and repaired the lines as fast as they were broken by the heavy shelling. The album also includes several periodic postcards sent from Belgium to Sergeant Robinson’s loved ones, describing his life in Ploegsteert.
One of the highlights of the collection is two albums of stunning original photographs depicting the London Rifle Brigade’s tenure in Belgium. Despite the harsh conditions that the men had to contend with, it is hard to find an image where a ‘Tommy’ is seen without either a smile on his face or a ‘stiff upper lip’.
The collection finishes with several unique items, from divisional and London Rifles Christmas cards to signed Reunion Dinner invitations and post-war information. The final document is a small periodical celebrating “The Unveiling of the Commemorative Tablet in the London Rifle Brigade Cemetery at Ploegsteert on Sunday, June 19th, 1927”. The tablet, honouring the sacrifice of 91 officers and 1,831 other ranks of the regiment during the war, was unveiled by Lt-Gen Sir H.F.M. Wilson. The London Rifle Brigade Cemetery, Hainaut, Belgium, was begun by units of the 4th Division during December 1914, and was also used by the Field Ambulances until March 1918. It was named for 22 London Rifle Brigade men buried there in the first few months of 1915.
As for Sergeant Fredrick Robinson M.M., he survived the war after being wounded by a gas attack and sent home in April 1918. He later re-joined the Forces at the outbreak of World War Two, though he was discharged by 1941, after which he joined the Home Guard to watch over munitions factories at the Woolwich Arsenal and Enfield.
Whether you are related to the author or not, these albums make extremely interesting viewing and could introduce you to experiences and events that your very own military ancestors may have witnessed. If you wish to take a look at this entry in our Historic Documents archive, please click the link below.