During the Great War, there were moments when the thunder of guns and explosions ripping across the Western Front were so intense the sound could be heard as far away as London.
100 years ago, at 11am on Monday November 11th 1918, these hellish weapons finally fell silent when the Armistice (a word combined of two Latin phrases- ‘arma’ meaning weapons and ‘sistere’ for ‘to come to a stand’) which had been signed by the warring parties at Compiègne in France came into affect.
In London there were jubilant scenes as people took to the streets.
King George V and Queen Mary appeared on the balcony at Buckingham Palace and, the following day, attended a service of thanksgiving at St Paul’s Cathedral.
Once the celebrations had cooled, it was time to reflect upon the war’s devastating impact: overall, the four-year long conflict had claimed approximately 37,500,000 lives.
Britain and the Empire nations- which included countless troops from Africa, Australia, Canada, the Caribbean, India and New Zealand- had seen 908,371 servicemen killed with many more missing or imprisoned.
Practically every town and village in Britain had lost men.
The grim statistics worsened by the ‘Pals Battalions’; a system which had encouraged friends, neighbours and work colleagues to sign up and fight together. It did not take long for memorials to begin appearing across the nation.
Although the slaughter had ceased, it was not until the 28th June 1919 that the Great War officially concluded with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles– a controversial document whose harsh treatment of Germany can be blamed in part for sowing the seeds of the Second World War.
The war’s formal end was marked on the 19th July with a bank holiday dubbed Peace Day, marked in London with a victory parade in which over 15,000 troops marched (please click below to view footage):
On that day a number of wooden memorials were erected along the route, one of which was the first incarnation of the Cenotaph (click below to view):
Meaning ‘Empty Tomb’ in Greek, the Cenotaph was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, the Kensington born architect whose work is most prominent in Delhi, India- including the grand India Gate, which itself serves as a war memorial to the 70,000 Indian troops who lost their lives between 1914-1918.
Like the other structures that day, the Cenotaph- which, like today, stood on Whitehall– was fabricated from from wood and plaster and was intended to remain in place for just a short time.
Its solemn simplicity however proved immensely popular, with over one million people coming to visit and swathe the structure in wreathes.
It was decided therefore that a permanent Cenotaph should be created and this was unveiled by King George V on November 11th 1920.
The permanent Cenotaph has provided the main focal point for Britain’s annual Remembrance Day ever since.
Built from Portland Stone, the Cenotaph features no religious symbology; a deliberate choice based on the fact that those who’d fought alongside each other in the British and Empire Forces came from all manner of backgrounds and creeds.
Although it’s not immediately clear on first glance, every edge on the Cenotaph is subtly curved. If the trajectory of these lines were to be followed, the vertical edges would converge exactly 1,000 feet above ground whilst the horizontals would arc into a broad circle with its radius 900 feet below ground; a technique known as ‘entasis’.
As well as enhancing the Cenotaph’s height and solidity, the invisible trajectories projected by these angles invite a broader interpretation; the connection of the earth to the heavens perhaps?
On the 11th November 2018, German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier will take part in the annual remembrance service; the first time that a German statesperson has done so.
On the same day the permanent Cenotaph was inaugurated, so too was the Tomb of the Unknown Warrior.
Such was the chaos and ferocity of the Great War that many of those who died were unidentified and as such could not be granted a named grave.
The idea of laying one of these unfortunate souls to rest inside Westminster Abbey as a symbol of all those who’d suffered a similar fate was first suggested by Reverend David Railton who’d served on the Western Front as an army chaplain.
Reverend David’s idea was agreed upon and in early November 1920 six unnamed bodies, each taken from one of the six major battlefields (The Aisne, Arras, Cambrai, Marne, The Somme and Ypres) were carefully exhumed, draped in flags and placed in a chapel near Arras, France.
Brigadier General L.J Wyatt then entered the chapel alone, closed his eyes and selected one of the bodies. The remains of the soldier selected were placed in a coffin- constructed from oak trees grown at Hampton Court Palace– and transported back to the UK with full military honours.
After crossing the Channel the coffin was transported by rail to London’s Victoria station where it arrived at platform 8 on the morning of the 10th November 1920.
A plaque at Victoria marks the site.
The Unknown Warrior was laid to rest in Westminster Abbey the following day, his tomb topped with a slab of black, Belgian marble.
The memorial remains a profound site to this day.
Of those who’d survived the war, many had done so with appalling injuries, ranging from facial deformities to lost limbs and lungs ravaged by poisonous gas.
In Roehampton, south-west London, men who’d had arms and legs blasted off were treated at Queen Mary’s Hospital which specialised in manufacturing prosthetics.
The hospital had been established in 1915 by Mary Eleanor Gwynne Holford who’d vowed to help the injured after meeting Private F.W Chapman; a young man who’d lost both his arms.
During the war, Queen Mary’s treated 11,000 patients and created so many false limbs that it came to be nicknamed the ‘Human Repair Factory.’
Following the Armistice the hospital continued its important work- by the end of 1918 it had a waiting list of over 4,000.
As well as the prosthetics workshop, Queen Mary’s also had a gym and other facilities where patients were able to master control of their artificial body-parts, as well as undergoing training to help them secure future employment.
Please click below to view footage of patients at Queen Mary’s Hospital in 1916:
Queen Mary’s Hosptial remains open today and has a small museum on its grounds dedicated to its history.
Other soldiers suffered devastating facial wounds which were often so awful it was a miracle they’d survived at all.
A number of these patients were treated by the artist, Francis Derwent Wood who crafted delicate masks to cover such deformities.
A longer article I wrote a few years ago about Francis’ work can be read here.
Not all injuries of course were physical.
Throughout the war, around 80,000 soldiers were admitted to military hospitals with what was then dubbed ‘Shell Shock’ or ‘War Neurosis’.
Today of course we call this PTSD: ’Post Traumatic Stress Disorder’.
In 1918 it was estimated a further 20,000 men were suffering shell shock- and many more would succumb to mental illness in later life as their memories of wartime returned to haunt them.
Those suffering displayed all manner of distressing symptoms from severe facial ticks and night-terrors, to internal pain, an inability to walk or carry out other functions and, in some cases, a complete obliviousness to the world around them.
Sadly attitudes at the time were largely unsympathetic to those suffering from these disturbing mental traumas.
One exception however was Dr. Hugh Crichton Miller, a Scottish neurologist who’d pioneered treatment for mental illness by opening Bowden House; a nursing home for sufferers- the first of its kind in Britain- at Harrow on the Hill, north-west London in 1912.
When the Great War broke out, Dr Hugh enlisted with the Royal Army Medical Corps and got to witness the severe affects of shell shock first hand. He quickly came to realise that pioneering new methods were required to treat such cases. One such technique involved having doctors treat patients whilst dressed in civilian clothes as opposed to traditional white coats; an idea which was revolutionary for the time.
After the war, in 1919, Dr Hugh along with a number of donors and supporters founded the Tavistock Clinic (orginally located at 51 Tavistock Square) to continue the work and offer support to civilians.
The Tavistock remains open today and is now located on Belsize Lane, Hampstead.
Amongst the many national treasures held by the British Library on Euston Road is the personal notebook of the war poet, Wilfred Owen.
Wilfred enlisted in 1915 and suffered both physical injury and shell shock.
Despite these traumas he returned to the trenches and was killed in action on the 4th November 1918, just days before the war ended.
As his mother back in Shropshire received news of her son’s death, the church bells were ringing out in celebration of the Armistice.
I would like to leave you with Wilfred’s masterpiece- Dulce et Decorum Est, the words of which speak for themselves.
Dule et Decorum Est
Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
Knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
Till on the haunting flares we turned our backs,
And towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep. Many had lost their boots,
But limped on, blood-shod. All went lame; all blind;
Drunk with fatigue, deaf even to the hoots
Of gas-shells dropping softly behind.
Gas! GAS! Quick boys!- An ecstasy of fumbling
Fitting the clumsy helmets just in time,
But someone still was yelling out and stumbling
And flound’ring like a man in fire or lime-
Dim through the misty panes and thick green light,
As under a green sea, I saw him drowning.
In all my dream before my helpless sight,
He plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.
If in some smothering dreams, you too could pace
Behind the wagon that we flung him in,
And watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
His hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
If you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
Obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
Of vile, incurable sores on innocent tongues-
My friend, you would not tell with such high zest
To children ardent for some desperate glory,
The old Lie:
Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori.
Pictured below is Craig’s Court, a tiny dead-end street tucked away off of Whitehall.
Although located just yards from Trafalgar Square, this cramped little cul-de-sac is often overlooked by the thousands of tourists and commuters who stream past every day, completely unaware of the site’s quirky history.
Little is known about the origins of Craig’s Court, other than it was laid out at some point in the 1690s by Joseph Craig, a vestryman of St Martin’s. When inaugurated, Craig’s Court lay at the northern tip of the Palace of Whitehall, a vast royal residence which had been expanding ever since Henry VIII pinched it from Cardinal Wolsey in the 16th century.
The palace was destroyed by a huge fire in 1698. Today, only the Banqueting House on the corner of Horseguards Avenue remains.
As the remains lay smouldering, one William Stanhope, 1st Earl of Harrington convinced himself that the palace would be rebuilt and so, not wishing to miss out on the opportunity to shack up beside the royal family, purchased a plot of land on Craig’s Court and built the splendid Harrington House which was completed in 1702.
Unfortunately Whitehall Palace was never reconstructed. The royals migrated westward, depriving Stanhope of the opportunity to call the monarch his neighbour and rendering his grand home an isolated white elephant (although the family remained there until 1917).
Today, the 18th century building houses a telephone exchange…and allegedly harbours an entrance shaft to a large, top-secret government bunker dubbed ‘Q Whitehall‘- although you didn’t hear that from me…
Paving the way
Despite its diminutive size and association with folly, Craig’s Court can be thanked for blessing London with a major innovation.
In the mid-18th century, the then speaker of the house, Arthur Onslow decided to pop by Harrington House for a visit.
In those days London’s streets were not paved, leaving many thoroughfares boggy and treacherous.
Craig’s Court was no exception and the sodden road, coupled with the dead-end’s narrowness resulted in Onslow’s coach becoming lodged as he approached Harrington House. So tight was the squeeze that a hole had to be cut in the coach’s roof so that the flustered and infuriated speaker could drag himself out.
When he returned to Parliament, Arthur Onslow pushed through a bill which required London householders to ensure kerbstones were laid outside their door- thus giving birth to ordered pavements.
Craig’s Court was also once home to Teresia Constantia Phillips, a woman who caused great scandal in the 1740s when she published shocking series of accounts detailing her numerous affairs.
In the 1760s, a fashionable artist named George Romney also set up house here.
Romney was noted for his relationship with Emma Hart- the woman who would later become Lady Hamilton and mistress to Lord Horatio Nelson, the celebrated admiral whose infamous memorial stands just around the corner on Trafalgar Square…
Although Waterloo Station was developing in a haphazard way throughout the 19th century, Victorian engineers were striving to build an organized system deep below the terminal.
Waterloo’s Lost Tube…
As we’ve seen in part one, the board of the London and South Western Railway originally envisioned their line terminating in the heart of the capital with a major station based on the southern side of Trafalgar Square.
When the Duke of Northumberland stubbornly refused to release the land however, the LSWR were forced to decamp to the opposite side of the Thames, meaning that passengers wishing to visit Westminster or the City had to continue their journey on foot, crossing the river via either Waterloo or Hungerford Bridge- both of which demanded a toll.
In 1865 the LSWR’s directors made an attempt to overcome this obstacle by linking their Waterloo terminal to their favored Whitehall spot via an early underground route dubbed the ‘Waterloo and Whitehall Railway.’
Inspired by a recent demonstration at the newly located Crystal Palace in Sydenham, this early tube link was intended to be a pneumatic railway- “noiseless and free from vibration”- which would see 25-seat carriages whooshing every 2 to 3 minutes through a pipe deep beneath the river.
The path of the tunnel was destined to run from a point below Waterloo’s York Road, under the now vanished Vine Street and College Street and out beneath the murky waters of the Thames before reaching the north bank where it would terminate under “the Parish of St Martin’s-in-the-Fields in the County of Middlesex in the street or Place known as Great Scotland Yard…”
The section beneath the Thames was to consist of several 1,000 tonne pipes which would be sunk into a riverbed trench, bolted together and smothered in concrete.
The manufacture of these iron tubes was contracted to Samuda Brothers; a ship building company based on the Isle of Dogs; the idea being that the hefty sections could be shipped the short distance along the Thames before being plunged into the water.
Work on the scheme began in October 1865, encouraged by a general consensus that the pneumatic railway could be “laid in twelve months for a comparatively small sum.”
However, within a few short months investors were struck by a financial crisis and the project ground to a halt, leaving a jumble of “unsightly stacks of wooden piles” jutting out of the river’s construction site.
In December 1866 it was suggested that the tunnel could perhaps be completed and downgraded to a pedestrian walkway, but the idea never received support and the Waterloo and Whitehall Railway was officially abandoned in 1870.
Two years later, an auction was held on York Road outside Waterloo Station in which left over equipment from the defunct scheme was flogged off.
Lots included “pile-driving engines and monkeys…a centrifugal pump…warehouse cranes….scrap iron…timber….an anvil…skips….nuts and bolts….and navvy barrows.”
No doubt some lucky bidder clocked a bargain that day!
In the early 1960s, remnants of the partially built tunnel were unearthed during the construction of the Shell Tower… a building perched between Waterloo Station and the London Eye, which harbors another subterranean secret- its own, underground, Olympic sized swimming pool.
It is also said that the excavations carried out in the vicinity of Scotland Yard on the northern bank of the Thames now form the National Liberal Club’s wine cellar….