Brentwood and The Great War

For those of you that have enjoyed our exhibition and maybe want to dig a little deeper, we’d like to bring your attention to the following book written by Stephen Wynn which is now available for pre-order.

Brentwood and The Great WarBrentwood in the Great War tells the remarkable story of Brentwood and its surrounding areas from the outbreak of the Great War, to the long-awaited the peace of 1918.

The presence of war was never far away from Brentwood, which had its fair share of military hospitals during the Great War. Forty-three local graves commemorate the young soldiers who were patients of nearby Waverly Barracks’ hospital but died from their war wounds.

At least eighteen other war memorials and rolls of honour dotted around the district highlight just how important village life and a parish existence were back then, when on a Sunday everybody dressed up and went to church. From each of these locations, the individual stories of some of the men who paid the ultimate sacrifice for King and country are closely looked at to outline the sacrifices they made and why.

As the war progressed, local Military Tribunals became more and more utilized. Here, young men could attempt to obtain a certificate of exemption from military service. Some of the men were conscientious objectors; some were genuine, whose families would be met with hardship if their men left to fight overseas; some worked in munitions factories and were already doing their bit for the war effort; and others simply just didn’t want to fight.

Unique primary resources provide a true picture of what life was like in wartime Brentwood, as the town is looked a through the eyes of the local press. The book reveals a strange combination, of people deeply affected by wartime restrictions and their relentless struggle to achieve the normality of everyday life amongst the madness that was unfolding around them.

Available from




Exhibition: From Monday 22nd February…

In a change to the published schedule, from Monday 22nd February 2016, the touring exhibition will now be on show at Loughton Library (open from 9am – 5pm Mon – Fri) until around 17th March. It will be brought to Chelmsford in time for our concluding showcase of works produced during the project, on Wednesday 23rd March at Chelmsford’s Civic Theatre. The evening of poetry, dance and music will be a fitting ending to an insightful project. Tickets are free but must be ordered through the Civic Theatre box office on 01245 606505.


The Story of Captain Charles Fryatt

charles fryattHarwich Born Charles Fryatt joined the Great Eastern Railway as a seaman on the SS Ipswich. In 1913 he was master os SS Newmarket. maintain the route between Harwich and Rotterdam. In 1915 , his ships SS Wrexham and SS Brussels were both attacked by German submarines, the latter entering Rotterdam with burning funnels. For this he was given a watch by the company engraved with the words ” in recognition of the example set by that vessel when attacked by a German submarine on March 28th 1915″.

The SS Brussels , with Fryatt as Master, was pursued by a large U33 submarine, giving him no option but to ram it. A marked man, he was captured in 1916 identified only by the watch he had been presented with. He was charged with what the German Naval High Command considered an illegal act of war, stating “Although not a member of the combat force, he made an attempt on March 28th to ram the submarine U33 near the Maas lighthouse”.  He was sentenced and, just two hours later, was shot.

Prime Minister, H.H Asquith, declared “His Majesty’s Government have heard with the utmost indignation of this fryatt-funeral with coffinatrocious crime against the law of nations”.  Even the King himself took to writing to his widow

Captain Fryatt was buried at All Saints Church , Upper Dovercourt and posthumously awarded the Belgian Maritime War Cross. A memorial of him can be found at Liverpool Street Station (placed there by the Great Eastern Railway) and the local hospital was re-named the Charles Fryatt  Memorial Hospital in his honour.


Conscription Introduced

100 Years ago this month conscription was introduced for the very first time. Winston Churchill was an early advocate of introducing a form of conscription in 1914 but it wasn’t until January 1916 that the British government introduced the first of a series of Military Service Acts which set out call-up regulations.

The introduction of the bill comprised a tacit acceptance on the part of the government that the previous approach to military service – the voluntary registration Derby Scheme – had failed to generate sufficient new recruits to stem the flow of losses on the various British battlefronts around the world.

WW1 posterIn the face of opposition from such groups as the No-Conscription Fellowship – which actively encouraged men of service age to reject military service – the Act of January 1916 specified that men from the ages of 18 to 41 were liable to be called-up for service unless they were married (or widowed with children), or else served in one of a number of reserved professions (usually industrial but which also included clergymen).

Within four months a revised version of the Act was passed; this enabled the War Office in London to extend the service of time-expired servicemen and brought within the terms of the Act all men – regardless of marital status – from the ages of 18 to 41.  The government also gained the right to re-examine men previously declared medically unfit for service.

Between August 1914 and the introduction of the first Military Service Act as many as three million men volunteered for military service.  From January 1916 until the close of the war a further 2.3 million men were formally conscripted into service.

Men who could demonstrate genuine conscientious objection to wartime participation – COs as they were termed – could feasibly escape front-line service, although most were expected to serve in non-combatant positions (which included such highly dangerous posts as front-line stretcher bearers).

Men who could not satisfactorily demonstrate a conscientious objection, and who persisted in their refusal to serve (the ‘absolutists’), suffered financial penalties, with many men also sent to prison

Did You Know?

Westbury Press based in Brentwood printed the recruitment posters for WW1. The company existed until just a few years ago. recruitment poster

Lt Norman Holbrook from Frinton was the first submariner to be awarded the Victoria Cross after he steered his submarine through a minefield and sank the Turkish battleship ‘Mesudiye’ in December 1914.

norman holbrook

Images courtesy of the Imperial War Museum


 Trant Luard – Life in the Navy

The story of Kate Luard, a real Essex heroine during the First World War, is incredible. Hopefully you have followed Caroline Steven’s posts about her on our blog. Tim Luard now tells us about his grandfather, Trant Luard, brother of Kate.

“Think of your brother in the long night-watches with his marines guarding the sailors tossing on the deep blue sea”.  So begins one of many letters written by  my grandfather, Trant Luard, to his sister Kate and now stored, along with the rest of the family archives, at the Essex Record Office.  Kate’s own letters about her life as a nurse on the Western Front were collected at the time into two books — one of which, Unknown Warriors, was republished last year.  Both she and another of her six brothers — Frank, a Royal Marine colonel killed in action at Gallipoli — have already featured on this website.

Trant Luard aged 17 in 1890, shortly before joining the Marines

My grandfather’s role in the Great War, as a naval intelligence officer, was less obviously heroic than theirs, but it is still worthy of attention, if only because the far-flung places in which he served remind us of the often overlooked global nature of the war.  And on a personal level,  reading through his many letters home over his long years of service has given me the chance to learn far more about the character and day-to-day experiences of  a man whom I knew only in my childhood as a delightful but very elderly retired colonel with twinkly blue eyes and a walking stick.

Trant Bramston Luard was born in 1873 at Grays, Essex — the eleventh of 13 children of the Reverend Bixby Garnham Luard,  vicar of Aveley, and his wife Clara (nee Bramston, another old Essex family, boasting several MPs and a Lord Chief Justice to its name).    As the youngest boy, Trant soon got used to being served last at meals, and until the day he died aged 102 he preferred his food — and even his coffee — to be on the cool side.   The traditional career choice for the male Luards was either the church or the army. It seemed obvious which path the teenaged Trant would take, being small and somewhat frail and inclined towards music,  religion and the arts.  So it came as a surprise to all when at the age of 19 he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the Royal Marine Light Infantry.

2. Luard family at Birch Rectory.

Luard family outside Birch Rectory, c 1900; Trant standing back left (in dark suit); Kate standing back right (in nurse’s uniform); Frank on far right (in hat).

In January 1901 he left  Portsmouth for China as a Royal Marine captain on HMS Blenheim.  He would not return for almost four years, and his letters home  provide a fascinating picture of life at sea, on the Yangtze River  and in ports such as Hong Kong, Yokohama and Tientsin at a time when Britain’s gunboats still ruled the waves.  In Peking he toured the Forbidden City soon after British and other Western troops had invaded the Chinese capital to raise the siege of the foreign legations and quell the Boxer Rebellion.  Sadly, he was not immune from claiming his own small souvenir. You go through three magnificent gates & courtyards & you come to a series of equally magnificent Halls, each one more splendid and impenetrable than the last… I’m afraid it will be rather a shock to their Imperial Majesties when they come back because most of the place has been looted on a pretty comprehensive scale inside, chiefly by officers I believe.  The Emperor’s throne of gilded wood was fearfully hacked about, which enabled us all to break off little bits as a  memento with a clear conscience… We sat on the Emperor’s throne & on the Empress Dowager’s bed & overran the place generally in the best style of the British Cockney Tourist”.

It’s clear from his letters that Trant found life on board a single ship for four years in the close company of his fellow officers something of a strain. He describes his mess-mates in the wardroom as being  absorbed in their “own little world of routine and shop and mild diversions”.   He preferred to mix with the midshipmen, finding them less stuffy and old-fashioned and with a keener interest in the world at large.  “I like some of them immensely”, he wrote.  “I never let them ‘sir’ me off duty. I’d much rather they smacked me on the back like a subaltern. But they’re much nicer than our subalterns.”

Trant in uniform, date unknown

Trant in uniform, date unknown

Back in England, Trant Luard served for a while at Chatham as an instructor of musketry and in 1911 was promoted to major.  He was on his way back to Hong Kong as a senior naval intelligence officer in July 1914 when his ship, HMS Triumph, put in at Colombo. “We were astounded to hear when we arrived  that we were at war with Germany,” he wrote.  “The local intelligence officer asked for some help, so I stayed”. One of his first tasks was to  track down the elusive German cruiser,  SMS Emden,  which had sunk or captured nearly two dozen ships in the Indian Ocean.   It turned out to be the Australians rather than the British who eventually succeeded in blowing the Emden out of the water and bringing her exploits to an end.  But Trant’s family back home in Essex (his father was now rector of Birch, near Colchester) loyally gave him due credit when they came to write their annual Christmas rhyme, rounding up family news for 1914:

Of Trant we cannot give much hist’ry,

since all his work is wrapt in myst’ry.

The Navy in the Eastern Main,

 had need of Trant’s inventive brain;

The elusive Emden’s  wily trix

had placed them in an awful fix.

But after Trant’s arrival there,

 accounts were settled fair and square!


Trant  remained in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) until early 1915, before spending the rest of the war in the Middle East, as a staff officer of the Naval Commander in Chief, East Indies and Egypt. Given the family’s strong military tradition — his uncle, William Luard, was an admiral and his great grandfather,  Nicholas Trant, had been a general in the Peninsular War — there seems to have been a sense that he was “missing out” by being so far from the centre of the  fighting.  His father writes to Trant’s sister Kate in France in March 1915: “Isn’t it sickening for poor old Trant to be kicking his heels in Colombo, when every one of his friends and relations is in the thick of things in Europe and the North Sea?”  A few months later, after the publication of Kate’s Diary of a Nursing Sister on the Western Front, Trant sends her a letter to say her book has moved him to tears. He wishes he could serve on the front with her but thinks it unlikely they’d let him go, so he will carry on with his naval intelligence work. This includes “submarine matters”, but the censor wont let him say more.

After he is moved to Port Said and later Alexandria, Trant writes that he feels “funny” at having had two brothers killed  while serving in the Mediterranean.    (One, Alexander, had fallen from the rigging as a 17-year-old midshipman in 1880; the other,  Frank,  died at Gallipoli on 28 Apr 1915 while holding a machine gun post alone to allow his men to retreat).  As he hears more news of men he knew in Essex dying in battle,   Trant even goes as far as to say he feels “ashamed to be alive sometimes”.    There was certainly a stark contrast between his comfortable lifestyle in the Middle East, with unlimited food and luxuries and servants, and  the hardships and horrors of Kate’s life at the Front or the straitened circumstances and rationing  faced by his various other siblings left at home with their elderly father in Birch Rectory.

In October 1915, at about the same time as Kate’s colleague Edith Cavell is being shot in Brussels on the order of a German court martial, Trant is sauntering out to make a drawing of the Pyramids by moonlight, which he sends to one of his sisters.  His office in Port Said, next to the Suez Canal, is next to the Rear Admiral’s (“a curious old bird”) in the airy and palatial Navy House. This he describes as “an immense 2-storied building with about 25 large windows and a verandah all round, like what I imagine an Italian palazzo to be, on the edge of the water on two sides, so from the dining room we look out in two directions on the water,  a quarter mile from the canal entrance”.  A typical day’s intelligence work ends at four or five in the afternoon, “when we all go out and either play tennis or mud golf or go for a walk on the beach and then on to the club to read the papers”.

But  Trant was, after all, already 42 when the war began,   so it’s perhaps not so surprising that like other senior officers he was allowed to enjoy a comparatively  easy time of it. And his big moment of action did come, when in late 1917 he played a part in the Third Battle of Gaza.  During the operations of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) against the Turks from August to November of that year, he landed in Palestine as officer in charge of observation of naval gunfire and communications with HM ships. General Allenby had assembled seven infantry divisions to fight alongside the Desert Mounted Corps.  The entire force, including Arab workers, comprised 200,000 men,  46,000 horses, 20,000 camels and 15,000 mules and donkeys. The bombardment of Gaza that preceded the infantry’s attack was the heaviest bombardment of World War One outside European theatres. The sixth night’s shelling from onshore and offshore guns is said to have produced an even heavier concentration of fire on a small area than had been put in on the first day of the Battle of the Somme.   Crouched in his dugout, Trant found the noise  “simply appalling”, but it was an experience he “wouldn’t have missed  for anything”.

On November 11th he entered the enemy’s captured trenches and became the first officer of the naval services to enter Gaza itself.  “Hardly a house had a roof on”, he wrote. Once again, there were trophies to be had. “I found a copy of the Koran — about the size of the big bibles on the reading desk in church — and brought it back under my arm on a pulling horse.”

Trant received the Order of the Nile, Class 1,   and  a personal message of commendation from General Allenby.   Cooperation between staff and fleet had been “better than I could have believed possible”,  Allenby wrote, and that was due to the “good staff work” of Trant and another officer.

Trant receiving medal at Plymouth Barracks c.1920

Trant receiving medal at Plymouth Barracks c.1920

In 1920, after returning home and being promoted to colonel, Trant married Helen Cockburn, a 24-year-old British war widow whom he’d met in Port Said.  Together they had four children.   He retired in 1924, but lived on happily for another 50 years. Even in his 90’s he was completing the Times Crossword every day after taking Helen her breakfast in bed. As well as keeping up his frequent correspondence he wrote a number of small books including , at 96, a treatise on human relations entitled “The Challenge of Becoming”.  When the Marines asked if he wanted a present or a party to mark his 100th birthday, he replied firmly “A party, of course — what good is a present at my age?”

Tim Luard

Last Poppy Songs

We are pleased to announce that the songs that were especially written for the project by our commissioned artists, Georgia Strand, Vo Fletcher and Ric Sanders are now up on the site.

You can view the lyrics and listen to the tracks, just to click on the song title

Going Home

Ben Cobey

Back Home to Billericay

Three Sons

Poppies In The Rain

The South Primrose Hill Boys

A huge thank you to Georgia, Vo & Ric for their hard work and for producing six fantastic songs


The Battle of Ctesiphon Nov 22 – 25 1915

Yesterday saw the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Ctespihon. Following an extended run of good fortune at Basra, Qurna,Shaiba, Amara, Nasiriyeh and Kut within the space of a year, British forces finally ran out of luck in spectacular fashion. With the occupation of Kut in November 1915 regional British Commander-in-Chief Sir John Nixon ordered Sir Charles Townshend – commander of 6th Indian (Poona) Division – to further advance upon Baghdad.

Townshend argued against further extending the tenuous British supply line – already some 600km from the sea – without first consolidating supply lines from Basra, with specific requests for supplies of extra transport and trench warfare equipment.  Nixon disagreed and instructed Townshend to proceed. In this Nixon was backed with the eager support of the Indian government – who had appointed him in the first place – and, more reluctantly, by the British government in London, whose initial opposition was overcome when the extent of India’s eagerness and confidence became apparent.

ctesiphonThe Turks meanwhile, following further defeat at Kut, had retired to carefully prepared defence positions among the ancient ruins of Ctesiphon.  This formed the Turks’ forward defence of Baghdad, Nixon’s real aim.By the time Nixon gave the order to advance to Townshend the Turks – under Nur-Ud-Din – had constructed two lines of deep trenches either side of the River Tigris, defended by some 18,000 largely experienced troops.

Facing them Townshend brought approximately 11,000 Anglo-Indian troops, a force unlikely to be further boosted save for two Indian divisions promised from the Western Front for the purpose of occupying Baghdad. The reality was that the British government were willing to be convinced of the possibility of a major victory on the Mesopotamian Front.  While the capture of Baghdad had no great strategic value in its own right, it would nevertheless undoubtedly prove of great propaganda value, being one of the four great cities of Islam: a matter of some importance in the light of continuing failure at Gallipoli.

Thus Townshend’s force initiated operations against Nur-Ud-Din on 22 November 1915.  Aware of the impracticality of launching a dual attack on both sides of the river at once – not only due to shortage of men but also on account of poor ground conditions on one side – he decided to concentrate his attack on the east bank. Specifically he chose to repeat his earlier success at Kut-al-Amara and issued orders for night-marching, his aim being to surprise the Turk defenders in a flank attack. Unfortunately many of his force got lost in the dark, thus losing all element of surprise, and the British attack foundered while negotiating the Turkish second-line defences.

Townshend, unlike earlier encounters, was unable to call upon naval support given the Turks’ extensive deployment of mines and artillery. The following day, 23 November, Turkish forces launched a mild counter-attack intended at reclaiming their front-line positions and although it failed Townshend’s casualty rate was increasing at an alarming rate. With no reserves to call upon he ordered a retreat

The Ottoman forces encircled Townshend at Kut and laid siege to Townshend’s forces. The end result was the surrender of Townshend and his ten thousand remaining soldiers, who were all marched into captivity. Four thousand soldiers would die while in captivity. The result was embarrassing for the British and refocused attention on the Middle East.