These wonderful, poignant photographs have come to us via the Keep Military Museum in Dorchester.
Curator Captain Colin Parr MBE is eager to put names and histories to the soldiers pictured to tie in with the museum’s centenary commemorations of the start of the First World War.
“If you find a story or part of a story or there is something you want to find out or someone you want to know more about, then do, please, get in touch with me,” said Capt Parr.
“I am trying to get people interested by publishing photographs that people might see and think ‘there’s a family resemblance to that man’. If your grandfather or great-grandfather fought, or your grandmother was a nurse in the Great War and you want to find out more or share the information you have, then please get in touch.”
The Dorsets were initially made up of two battalions of regular troops plus a third training battalion. The fourth battalion was the Territorial Army and the fifth and sixth were service battalions put together in the second half of the war.
“The regular army was pretty much dead by 1915 and the TA was being pretty badly pounded by that time,” said Capt Parr. “This was the time of ‘your country needs you’ and Kitchener’s Army and as a result of that many more troops came forward in every town in the country.”
They came from all walks of life, apart from the ‘reserved occupations’ such as fireman, police and certain agricultural trades.
“You have to remember that there wasn’t the militancy there is now and communications weren’t as they are now,” said Capt Parr.
“It was also just 14 years after the Boer War and young men could remember their fathers going off to fight. There was also the knowledge that if you didn’t go, you’d be handed a white feather and pilloried by your neighbours.”
At the same time, the Army was literally running out of horses as so many were being killed or injured as they carried men, munitions, armaments and supplies to and from the Front Line.
Horse ambulances and vets were enlisted to bring horses back, heal them and then return them to the fray.
More than 4,000 men from The Dorset Regiment died during the First World War, with 181 killed from the Queen’s Own Dorset Yeomanry.
One of the worst atrocities was the aftermath of the Siege of Kut in Mesopitamia, where 350 of the 2nd Dorsets were captured by the Turks, and only 70 survived.
“When they signed up in August 1914 they had no idea,” said Capt Parr. “They were told it would all ‘be over by Christmas’ and everyone genuinely believed it would be.”
This batch of photographs are a snapshot of wartime life. In one, we see the medical staff at the military hospital in Miller’s Close, Dorchester, preparing for Christmas, the unsuspecting turkey tucked under an orderly’s arm. Another shows the Imperial Camel Corps, made up of men from the Queen’s Own Dorset Yeomanry, with their animals in Egypt.
The most chilling photograph shows the Germans unleashing waves of chlorine and phosgene gas towards the British lines at Hill 60. The Dorsets were the first British regiment to suffer a gas attack and this photograph shows the sheer horrific scale of what they were up against.
Capt Parr said: “The gas would drown you from the inside out and to start with, gas attacks came when troops had not yet been issued with gas masks. Because the gas was heavier than air it clung to the ground and filled the trenches. The troops could not come out from their trenches because of enemy snipers so there was no escape from the gas. Thousands died later from the effects.”
Over the next four years, the Keep will be collecting material from the First World War and Capt Parr and his staff and volunteers are hoping people will come forward with their family’s stories.
- The museum is in Bridport Road, Dorchester, Dorset DT1 1RN and can be contacted on 01305 264066. Until September 30 it is open Monday to Saturday, 10am to 5pm.
- Find more stories on the First World War centenary at bournemouthecho.co.uk/ww1