Clifford Lone’s view of World War I — James Clark — 17 November 2014

This is basic­ally a true storey based on the diar­ies of two Chesterfield lads called Clifford Lone and Jimmy Tate.  Jimmy was 15 years old when he lied about his age and signed up.

James Clark donned the uni­form of an army private of WW1 and demon­strated the basic equip­ment and weapons issued to a “Tommy” in front of a spell bound audi­ence.  He gave a back­ground indic­a­tion of the crude pro­pa­ganda cir­cu­lat­ing in the press at the begin­ning of the War that was believed by much of the British pop­u­la­tion.  So Clifford and Jimmy volun­teered to fight to stop the Germans from bay­on­et­ting babies and then roast­ing and eating them.  They had little idea where Belgium was but sought adven­ture beyond the con­fines of a Chesterfield foundry.

James explained how sol­diers were rotated from about a day in the front trenches to 1 to 2 weeks in the sup­port trenches (250 yards behind the front) to 1 to 2 weeks in the reserve trenches fol­lowed by a month in a train­ing area before return­ing to the front.  He demon­strated the early gas mask that steamed up so that vision was very poor and the later small box res­pir­ator that was better but meant that beards were unpop­u­lar because a tight fit was needed around the neck.

James accep­ted that ini­tially the British Generals did not change their tac­tics in the face of appalling loses of men because this was a new type of war­fare and altern­at­ive approaches were not obvi­ous.  As the war pro­gressed how­ever better tac­tics were developed and totally new organ­isa­tion, train­ing and equip­ment were used.  At the start of the war, Germany adop­ted a defens­ive strategy for the Western Front whilst they attacked in the East.  This meant that they dug deep and their sleep­ing quar­ters were pro­tec­ted from heavy bom­bard­ment whereas the Allies were attack­ing so regarded their trenches as only tem­por­ary and there­fore more sus­cept­ible to German bom­bard­ment.

James gave moving accounts of the actual battles in which Clifford Lone fought.  It was a very inform­at­ive and enjoy­able, thought pro­vok­ing talk.