Third ‘Digitizing The War Illustrated’ Workshop Roundup

While our third workshop covered various areas, I’d like to focus on one specific aspect – our researching of Noel Whittles. We were very pleased that news of our project prompted Noel’s grandson, David Burrows, to contact us. David told us that Noel, who was also an artist, served in the army during World War I.  David was interested to know if Noel appeared on the pages of The War Illustrated and very kindly sent us additional material. This included photographs of his grandfather, as well as a booklet for a theatrical production of Blackadder Goes Forth which was staged at the Altrincham Garrick Playhouse from the5th to the 10th of November 2018. (You can see the Altrincham Garrick Playhouse’s page on the production here: https://www.altrinchamgarrick.co.uk/shows/blackadder-goes-forth/)

The booklet includes images of some of Noel’s drawings. It also provides a short biography of Noel, with much of the focus on his army service. Noel was born in Altrincham on the 25th of December in 1890. He joined the territorial army before World War I broke out, serving as a Lance Corporal with the 6th Battalion Manchester from 1909 to 1915. Noel then joined the 19th Lancashire Fusiliers as a 2nd Lieutenant, seeing action in France and being promoted to Lieutenant in Autumn/Winter 1916. In 1917 Noel’s bravery while in Belgium was rewarded with the Military Cross. Noel continued fighting in Belgium, until he was wounded in the arm in April 1918. He was then evacuated to Britain and admitted to the London General Hospital so that he could recovery from his injury. Later the same year Noel, now unfit for service overseas, was a Captain with the 53rd Young Solider Battalion in the Royal Warwickshire regiment. In the Spring of 1919 Noel served with this regiment in Germany as part of the Army Occupation.

We began by searching for the term ‘Whittles’ in each section of the archive of The War Illustrated on the Internet Archive (see a link to all the sections here: http://www.normmanetwork.com/links-to-the-war-illustrated-on-the-internet-archive/ ). This did not fetch any relevant results. This does not necessarily mean that Noel did not appear. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) is not infallible, with the typeface of a more than hundred-year-old magazine especially difficult to read. We decided to widen out our search, aided by the information provided in the Blackadder Goes Forth booklet.  We searched for the regiment Noel spent most of his time serving – the 19th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers. ‘19th Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers’ is a very specific term and may exclude relevant results. We therefore used the search term ‘Lancashire’, and because abbreviations often appear in the magazine, included the terms ‘Lanc’ and Lancs’.

‘Lancashire’, ‘Lanc’ and ‘Lancs’ brought up several results in each section of the archive of The War Illustrated. Some of these were not especially relevant as they related to the county of Lancashire, rather than the regiment. Of the more relevant results, some of the references to the Lancashire Fusiliers mentioned regiments. A photograph of the machine gun section of the 5th Lancashire Fusiliers, who were at the time stationed in Cairo, appeared in the 10th of July 1915 issue of The War Illustrated.  Two weeks later, an illustration of heroic Private Lynn of the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers was placed on the inside front page of the magazine. Private Lynn later died of injuries sustained in battle and was awarded the Victoria Cross. 

This coverage gives an idea of the context in which Noel was serving, but specifically relates to Lancashire Fusilier Battalions other than that in which Noel served. On other occasions, more general references to the Lancashire Fusiliers appeared. For example, Captain R.Y. Sidebottom of the Lancashire Fusiliers was one of the 21 men who were pictured on the ‘Britain’s Role of Honoured Dead’ page on the 17th of April 1915. It might be possible to find out whether a soldier, such as Captain Sidebottom, was in the same battalion as Noel by researching a soldier’s name. Even if the regiment is not listed, if details of where a soldier was serving were provided this could be cross refenced with information known about Noel. (The Blackadder Goes Forth booklet provides more details than mentioned here, including locations at which Noel was present at particular times.)

Our main discovery was a two-page article, by A.W. Holland, about the Lancashire Fusiliers (20th of November, 1915). This included two pictures. The first is a photograph of 23 men, in uniform, seated and standing, with the caption identifying them as the 12th Battalion and naming the individuals. On the next page is an illustration of uniformed soldiers, rifles raised above their heads, as they wade through the water, approaching a beach.  The caption notes that these are from the 1st Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers during their ‘assault’ on the shores of Gallipoli on the 25th of April 1915. The main text of the article provides more information on this event. It also gives a potted history of the regiment, which was founded in 1688. It notes that its soldiers saw service in Ireland and Portugal, and in 1726 defended Gibraltar, also later fighting at Culloden.  After giving more details about the regiment’s part in the Peninsular and Crimean Wars, the article turns to its story during the Great War. This includes its presence in Flanders in October 1914, and its heavy involvement with the Battle of Ypres in the Spring of 1915. The 2nd Battalion’s Private Lynn’s heroics of April (previously featured on the inside front page of the 24th of July 1915 issue) are again mentioned.

This article was part of an ongoing series, Records of the Regiments in the War, which provided information about different regiments. A further research project could explore how articles in the series had similarities or differences  While they gave the history of a regiment which was only relevant to that regiment, there may have been interesting constancies, and divergences, in terms of how The War Illustrated wanted to present regiments.

We also searched for some of the locations given in the Blackadder Goes Forth booklet in the relevant sections of the archive of The War Illustrated. Many of these were general, and indeed small, mentions, but one especially caught our interest. During the Spring of 1918, Noel was in Belgium, and his battalion was defending Kemmel Hill, until he became wounded.  The battle for Kemmel appeared briefly in two articles by Lovat Fraser which were part of his ‘The Mighty Battles For Amiens’ series (‘Menacing the Channel Ports’ on 27th April 1918, and ‘The New Struggle For Calais’ on 4th May 1918). The loss of Mont Kemmel on the 28th of April was dealt with in more detail by Fraser in ‘The Epic Battles For the Hills’ (4th May 1918) and ‘The German Repulse in the North’ (18th May 1918). The battle for Kemmel also appeared in the Diary of War in the 18th May 1918 issue, with events on the 25th and 26th of April referenced.

While it was disappointing not to find Noel himself in the pages of The War Illustrated, we were pleased to find more context for his regiment and the battle for Kemmel.   It must be remembered that this was the view the magazine wanted to give of the conflict in which 6 million British men fought. Lists of the killed were a regular feature of the magazine, but with around 20 in each issue this is unlikely to have passed 5000 – a fraction of the men engaged in the fighting. Individuals were not only mentioned in these lists, but much of the other coverage references well-known figures like Generals in the Army, authors commentating on the war, and members of the royal family. This again reinforces the magnitude of the war, as well as the matters of class and privilege which we have previously noted in relation to other areas in the magazine.

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