It makes my blood boil

First Great Western have been one of the main sources of my rage these past few months. Let me list a few reasons why.
They run a truly abysmal service. Trains are frequently late, and I don’t mean just by 2 minutes or so, I mean by 10 minutes or more. Seeing as I use the trains mostly to get to college, and have to catch a connecting train, a mere 3 minute delay to my first train can then fuck up my whole day and make me 45 minutes late for college. [Which then in turn, affects my EMA. If I’m late, I don’t get any. How am I then supposed to afford the extortionate train ticket prices? I have asked this question lots of times and have never received an answer. Also, thanks to Cameron cutting EMA from £30 to £20 a week for the poorest students, because they apparently squander it, “you want to travel to college? how dare you waste your money in such a manner!” I will now have no money left over for college materials, as the whole £20 a week will go on train tickets. But that’s an angered rant for another time.]
FGW never apologise for these ridiculous delays. Of course you get that automated female voice across the grainy tannoy “We’re sorry for the delay” but that means nothing to no-one. FGW never make any effort to make it seem like they are truly sorry. There’s never a “Oh, man, we screwed up, here’s a days complimentary travel” or, “We are truly sorry for ruining the days of everyone who uses our service, here’s an on-time train to prove we’ve seen the error in our ways” That’ll be the day, huh?
The issue of horrendous delays then leads me onto the ticket price. To get to college, I need two stops. Two. The journey overall takes about half an hour, just because I have to wait for the connection. If the trains were one after the other, it would take 15 minutes. But I have to pay the best part of £4 for this journey. This delayed journey. This two stop long journey. £4. I’m using these trains to get to my place of education, but of course, I can afford to waste £4 daily on a crap service. Of course. It’s my pleasure.
If I wanted to get to Reading from my local station, that itself is the best part of £8. That’s a 20 minute long journey. And it would cost me £8. Am I the only one who’s starting to think these prices in no way match the service that FGW provides? And the BEST bit of it all? They want to raise the prices further! Yes! Rob more money from the public in exchange for a shoddy service! Steal ALL the paychecks! That seems to be the FGW way of thinking. £761.2m worth of profits in 2010 obviously is no-where near enough.
The other thing that really pisses me off about FGW, is their staff. They are all rude. All of them. The only nice FGW staff I have ever come across is the cleaners on the trains. All the ticket attendants - especially the one at my local station - are grumpy and rude. They offer you no help when you need it, but are quick enough to humiliate you if there’s a problem with your ticket. Now I don’t want to sound like I’m on a high horse here, I’m not one of those people who believes that the “customer is always right” because the majority of the time the customer is in-fact a moron, but I am using your service and the least you could do for me is keep a civil tongue in your head. I’m a young girl, usually travelling on my own. I don’t need to be mocked by men who’ve let the power of being able to kick people off the train go to their head. I don’t need to be talked down to. I don’t need to be scowled at. I’ll treat you with respect, so you can do the same for me. I’m going to start taking the names of the people I run into, and start reporting them. I once had a gang of ten men surround me because I couldn’t produce my ticket within the first ten seconds, as it was at the bottom of my bag. They were like vultures, it was a sickening sight. It needed one man to deal with it. I wasn’t making a fuss. I wasn’t kicking off. I was just looking for my ticket. I don’t need ten men surrounding and staring, thanks.
The thing about FGW is that when you write to them about these problems, do you know what you get? An impersonal letter that basically says “Thanks for writing, but erm, there’s nothing we can do, so put up with it.”
Well do you know what, FGW? I’m fucking sick of putting up with it. You try to take advantage of me again, and you will fucking hear about it.
Something needs to be done about this. The trains should never have been privatised, as it’s now treated more like a business rather than a service for the people, which is entirely wrong. But I guess we have Thatcher to thank for that. Well done, Tories, it’s another winner. 

German soldiers assist members of the Canadian Medical Corp in transporting Canadians injured in the battle of Vimy Ridge. April 1917.

Original image source: Canadian Library and Archive

First Use of Tanks in Battle

British troops pictured with a Mark I Tank two days after the battle.

September 15 1916, Flers–The day for the introduction of the tank, the supposedly war-changing weapon, had finally arrived.  It was hoped that 49 tanks, sent in ahead of the infantry, could crush barbed wire, cross and clear enemy trenches with machine guns, destroy fortified strongpoints, and generally terrorize the Germans.  Artillery tactics, honed over the course of the Somme, were modified to accommodate the tank, with mixed results.  To allow the slow-moving tanks to precede the infantry, and to avoid creating new shell craters that could impede their progress, 100-yard-wide lanes were left in the bombardments for the tanks.  An aerial observer described:

We found the whole front seemingly covered with a layer of dirty cotton-wool – the smoking shell-bursts.  Across this were dark lanes, drawn as it might be by a child’s stubby finger in the dirty snow.  Here no shells were falling.  Through these lanes lumbered the tanks.

Outside these lanes, the barrage (where it was targeted correctly) was devastating.  One German survivor recalled:

A sea of iron crashed down on all the front…The noise was terrible.  Impact after impact.  The whole of no man’s land was a seething cauldron.  The work of destruction grew and grew.  Chaos!  It was impossible to imagine that anyone could live through it…It was like a crushing machine, mechanical, without feelings; snuffing out the last resistance with a thousand hammers. 

Inside the lanes, however, the German defenders were unscathed.  In some places, the tanks worked as intended and these positions were overrun.  In others, tanks broke down, became stuck on tree stumps or (in one embarrassing case) to each other, leaving the Germans in the lanes free to fire on the infantry advancing on either side.  This caused a complete failure of the right flank of the assault, along with a failure in spotting that left a German position known as the “Quadrilateral” completely untouched by the bombardment.  Lt. Raymond Asquith, the PM’s son, was killed while leading an attack in this area.

Elsewhere, where the tanks worked properly or lanes were not left for them, the attacks succeeded, gaining a few thousand yards and the villages of Flers and Courcelette.  D-17 was the first tank into Flers; her gunner recalled the difficulties of being one of the first tanks in combat:

Having crossed the front German line I could see the old road down into Flers…We made our way down the remnants of this road with great difficulty.  Just as we started off our steering gear was hit and we resorted to steering by putting the brake on each track alternatively…

We were fired on by German machine guns.  First of all they were firing on the starboard side and the impact of their bullets was making the inside of the armour plate white hot.  And the white hot flakes were coming off and if you happened to be near enough you could have been blinded by them.  Fortunately, none of us on the starboard side caught it.  But there was a gunner, Gunner Sugden, on the port side who was wounded that way.  We went on and Percy Boult was rather upset about this machine gunner and he said, “I can spot him, I think, he is up in the rafters!” He was a pretty good shot and he scored a bull’s eye on the target and brought him down.

Having steered the engine by using the brakes up to this point, the engine was beginning to knock very badly and it looked as if we wouldn’t be fit to carry on very much further.  We made our way up the main street, during which time my gunners had several shots at various people who were underneath the eaves or even in the windows of some of the cottages.  We went on down through the High Street as far as the first right-angle bend.  We turned there and the main road goes for a matter of 200-300 yards and then turns another right angle to the left….But we did not go past that point.  At this point we had to make up our minds what to do.  The engine was really in such a shocking condition that it was liable to let us down at any moment.  So I had a look round, so far as it was possible to do in the middle of a village being shelled at that time by both sides.  I could see no signs of the British Army coming up behind me.  So I slewed the tank round with great difficult on the brakes.

They found the infantry soon after that, but the engine gave out shortly after getting it off the road.  The machine guns, mounted especially for the tank, could not be effectively taken out of the tank and used elsewhere.  Note that it had taken quite a lot of damage to put it out of commission, however, which frustrated the Germans considerably.  Lt. Braunhoffer, defending the area around Flers, wrote of his troops’ difficulty with another tank:

A tank appeared on the left front of my company position which I immediately attacked with machine-gun and rifle fire and also, as it came closer, with hand grenades.  These unfortunately caused no real damage because the tank only turned slightly to the left but otherwise just carried on.  He crossed the trenches in the area of the company on my left, caused us heavy losses with his flanking machine gun fire on trenches which had to a large extent been flattened, without my men being able to do anything about it.

Despite the considerable British successes on the day, they still fell short of Haig’s overoptimistic goals, and the troops, having taken nearly 30,000 casualties, were in no condition to push further with anything but sporadic attacks the next day.  The tanks had not opened up the way for the cavalry, but now had made their presence known to the Germans.

Today in 1915: Staff Car of Kemal [Atatürk] Bombed by Allied Plane
Today in 1914: Allied Attacks Slow Along the Aisne

Sources include: Peter Hart, The Somme; Robin Prior & Trevor Wilson, The Somme; William Philpott, Three Armies on the Somme.


WWI Now & Then: 1917-1919

The Guardian has unveiled its second set of ‘now and then’ photographs of sites on the Western Front of World War One.  They range from a bomb damage in Paris, to the destruction of Ypres and the building of the Cenotaph in London in 1919.  A number of the photographs show some of the less obvious impacts instead of a war torn French village one photograph shows wounded British and Indian troops convalescing. Others show the victory celebrations that took place in London and Paris.

Each contemporary photograph is juxtaposed with a recent photograph showing the two sites 100 years apart - some of the landscapes forever changed by war.

Click here to view the part one here and part two here


One of these Photos is not like the other!

It is Christmas time, and that means that we are, once again, going to be overflowing with sentimental posts about the Christmas Truce of 1914. And that’s OK. But what isn’t OK is the fact that, most likely, you will see the photos presented here as illustrations for those posts. This is shoddy work on the part of the poster! Do not believe them! 

While we do have photographic evidence of the Truce, those pictures are, simply put, kind of boring. As you can see with the lower left image, which is actually taken during the truce, it is just the British and German soldiers milling around, and not pictures of a rousing game of football (which don’t exist).

With the other two photos, the soccer picture is plainly just British soldiers, and not a German in sight. While it was taken around Christmas, these Tommies are playing a game in Salonika in 1915! The last photo, as is clear from the wearing of helmets, can’t be any earlier than 1916 no matter what, and it in fact dated to 1918, near the end of the war, and simply a captor and a POW, not two soldiers during the truce.

Last year I was a curmudgeon and reblogged every photo I saw to correct them. I won’t do that this year, but please, when you make your Christmas post, put a little research into it and stop propagating bad history!