‘One of the Best’ Private W.Vincent Rumbelow – Kantara War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.

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A few months ago I was lucky enough to find the Great War medals belonging to 240221 Private William Rumbelow of the 1st / 5th Bn Suffolk Regiment for sale on E Bay.

I was really pleased to be able to purchase the medals and began to undertake some research into the life of their owner and the circumstances surrounding his death.

After the Second Battle of Gaza the Palestinian campaign settled into a stalemate along a line of entrenchments from Gaza on the Mediterranean to the water wells of Beersheba at the foot of the mountains thirty air miles to the southeast. In his book ‘The Egyptian Expeditionary Force in World War I’  Michael J Mortlock wrote:

‘There was considerable bitterness amongst the front line soldiers over what had transpired. The troops were bitterly disillusioned  and very angry as General Murray had no idea how to break the dead lock and kept his headquarters in the comfort of the Savoy Hotel in Cairo, giving awards for gallant services  to members of his large headquarters staff – many of whom had never even see the front line’

Actually Murray did temporarily move to a train carriage at El Arish so as to be closer to Generals Dobell and Chetwode quartered at In Seirat. It was during this period that Private W. Vincent Rumbelow ‘D’ Company of the 1st / 5th Suffolk’s was mortally wounded by a 5.9 shell burst on the 1st of May 1917 while on ‘light duties’ as his comrades were detailed for a wiring party. Murray reported

‘They directed artillery fire on the rear of our positions on the Mansura ridge, doing a certain amount of damage among the transport animals, and making any movement of camel transport during the day impossible’

Although urged by his pal, Private Jake Mortlock, to come with their wiring party ‘as the Turks will send over a few shells and we shall be lying about most of the day’ he could not be convinced and a 5.9 ‘Jack Johnson’ shell mortally wounded him. His sister, Marjorie, remembers the fateful day the Postman delivered the news to his Parents who up until  that day had prayed nightly for his safe return – she never again saw them kneeling by their bed.

Private Mortlock’s grief was not readily discernible in the letter he penned in the rear of the Sheikh Abbas ridge – but the loss of his best pal was a terrible blow to him – not to mention his sister, Gwen, who had been engaged to be married to ‘Vinnie’.

‘One of the Best’ was Jake’s tribute written on the back of a photograph he sent to Gwen.

Michael J Mortlock wrote that ‘W Vincent Rumbelow’s premature death also had unforeseen repercussions regarding the family ownership of the ancient Freckenham manor, as his surviving brother was described as a ‘cripple’ and not up to such an onerous task’ I will research this statement further as although William has an entry on the Soham Grammar School war memorial on the 1911 census he is listed as the son of William W and Mary Rumbelow, aged 15, a Farmer’s Son working on farm, born Freckenham, resident Freckenham, Soham, Cambridgeshire.

For now Williams medals are safe in my keeping.

 

 

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‘To collect or not to collect that is the question’ – The purchase of War Souvenirs

Evidence of looting (private property taken from a combatant or a third party, dead or alive, in war), and trophy taking (anything serving as a token or evidence of victory, valour, or skill) on Egyptian territory can be found today in museums and archives all over Britain and its former dominion territories.

Attitudes to looting and trophy taking in 1882 were as complex as the socio-economic climate in which Britain found itself militarily engaged. In the face of a nationalist insurrection and a perceived threat to the Suez Canal, a British fleet first bombarded then captured Alexandria’s forts. Landing parties then pulled down Egyptian flags, which were taken as trophies. Less significant artefacts were looted by European sailors and soldiers on the ground.

Prior to the establishment of the Australian War Records Section (AWRS) in May 1917, the collection of war trophies and relics by Australian units was carried out in accordance with British War Office (BWO) regulations. In late 1916 BWO established a committee to deal with the disposal of trophies and relics: the best trophies would be selected for a British National War Museum (later to become the Imperial War Museum) and the remaining trophies distributed to the dominion countries. However, the Australian government, along with other dominion countries, resisted the idea, insisting trophies claimed by their troops should be made available to them. The AWRS was initially responsible for the collection, preservation, and classification of all official documents relating to the AIF. This was later expanded to include photographs, trench and regimental magazines, sketches, personal memoirs, relics, and war trophies. By the end of 1917 AWRS controlled the administration of all war trophies captured by Australian units.

In October 1917 Henry Gullett sailed for Egypt, where he established an office of the AWRS to coordinate the collection of trophies. Items were to be clearly labelled, contain the name of the unit that had captured the item, the town or area it was from, the time and place the item was found, and the unit’s wish for its ultimate disposal. The information was transferred to a history sheet or card for each item.

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‘Skull Fragment’ Image Source: The Australian War Memorial REL 33592 refers

This partial skull fragment was picked up by an Australian soldier, Trooper George David Burns* in Egypt during the Second World War. The year ‘1882’ has been carved into the top of the fragment with the place name ‘TEL EL KEBIR’ carved beneath. This indicates the origin of the skull is likely to be from the Battle of Tel el-Kebir. The carving is believed to have been done by an Egyptian and the later date ‘1916’ that is carved beneath the words ‘TEL EL KEBIR’, suggest that it was carved for, sold or passed on to, a British or Australian soldier during the First World War. How the skull fragment came into the possession of Trooper Burns during the Second World War is unknown.

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Acquisitive acts,  such as the taking of the spoils of war, were commonly regarded as an unexceptional aspect of armed conflict.  The different items people brought or sent home influenced the way Egypt and the Egyptian Soudan were perceived and laterly understood in Britain.

Sources & Notes:

Fox, Paul: Taking trophies and collecting loot: Cultures of acquisition on Egyptian territory during nineteenth century armed conflict (2015)

The Australian War Memorial, REL33592 refers

*Burns was born in Wondai, Queensland in 1916. Prior to his military service he worked as a farm labourer, enlisting in the army in November 1939. He embarked for the Middle East in January 1940, serving with 6 Australian Division Calvary Regiment in Egypt and Palestine (including Gaza). Trooper Burns was killed in action during the Battle of Bardia on 3 January 1941, age 25. He is buried in Knightsbridge War Cemetery, Acroma in Libya.

2/1st East Lancashire Field Ambulance 42nd Division

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This week I managed to purchase a wonderful image of the 1st / 2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance which was taken at Giza, Egypt in October 1914. Assistance to identify the unit shown in the image was generously given by Andrew Mackay, co-Author of Burnley & the Royal Edward Disaster – ‘The Story of Callam’s Own’. 

The 1/1st, 2/1st and 3/1st East Lancashire Field Ambulances which in total consisted of 30 officers and 665 men left with the 42nd Division in September 1914 for Egypt and the defence of the Suez Canal. Disembarkation began at Alexandria on 25 September, and with the exception of the Manchester Brigade concentrated around Cairo, where acclimatisation and further training commenced.

The 1st / 2nd East Lancashire Field Ambulance was the first of three Field Ambulance units belonging to the 42nd Division to be mobilised for action abroad. The East Lancashire Field Ambulance units were staffed by some of the most highly qualified medical men from Manchester and the District. When the call for Imperial service came they, and their men, responded swiftly and were to endure great hardships during the course of their Gallipoli service.

Its a superb image and one Ill be taking with me to the Cardiff ‘Views of an Antique Land’ conference for scanning on the 20th May.

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For further details on the Cardiff project and upcoming conference please see the links listed below.

 

References & Links: 

‘The Lancashire Territorials in Gallipoli – An epic of Heroism’ George Bigwood

‘Burnley & The Royal Edward Disaster – The Story of Callams Own’ edited by Denis Otter & Andrew Mackay

The Official Facebook page for the Cardiff University HLF funded project: https://www.facebook.com/ww1imagesegypt/

https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/views-of-an-antique-land-conference-and-keynote-lecture-tickets-33212993959

 

 

 

I do love a nice research mystery …

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This week, knowing my research interests, my Dad presented me with a set of postcards which he felt may be of interest.

The first image, taken by S Sarkis, Garrison Photographer from the Kasr-el-Nil Barracks in Cairo is of a funeral procession described as ‘Fusiliers’.  Now I’m going to make some assumptions here with regard to the cemetery. I’m 90% certain that this is the Cairo War Memorial cemetery – from other images I have dating to the Great War period the type of cross assemblage in the background would fit, as would the presence of Mr Sarkis to document the occasion within the environs of central Cairo. The cemetery at Heliopolis in Cairo did not open until 1941 so Its reasonably safe to assume this is indeed Cairo.

The pall bearers are wearing tropical field service dress and two of them appear to have red roses on their helmets which may indicate that they are Lancashire Fusiliers. The Lancashire Fusiliers wore red roses on their helmets to commemorate the Battle of Minden in 1759. Searching the Commonwealth War Graves database for Cairo yields the following results:- 20 graves belonging to the Lancashire Fusiliers dating between the period 1914 -1919, 11 graves belonging to the Royal Fusiliers dating between the period 1915 – 1919 and lastly 12 graves belonging to the Northumberland Fusiliers dating between 1917 – 1919.

The image is undated, however the presence of two female mourners behind the coffin may indicate a post war date and if that were the case it could be a photograph related to a very small number of men. However, thats quite a large leap to make so for now  all I can say is that I have a list of 43 candidates from a register of 2393 men.

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So, more research is required but isnt it amazing which direction a single postcard can lead you?