The week beginning…July 16th

Those interested in history will have seen books or websites devoted to listing the significant events that took place on a particular date or in a particular year.  As someone who has developed an interest in family history I have been fortunate to ‘discover’ two ancestors who, through their own diaries, letters, or contemporary ‘newsworthiness’, have effectively left personal accounts of their own moments in history.  I thought I would share some of these in this and subsequent blog posts, starting with today’s date : July 16th

Chief Inspector George Clarke (1818-1891)

Chief Inspector George Clarke

On 16 July 1870, Clarke ( a senior detective at Scotland Yard) gave evidence at the Old Bailey trial of Michael Davitt.  Davitt had been arrested by Clarke on 14th May at Paddington station while awaiting an illicit delivery of revolvers from Birmingham. As a consequence, Davitt, a Fenian and at that time the arms organiser for that group of Irish republicans, was accused of treason-felony.  Found guilty, Davitt was sentenced to 15 years penal servitude.

Michael Davitt

After his eventual release from prison in 1877, Davitt went on to become the driving force in the establishment of the Irish National Land League and in encouraging penal reform. He became an MP in 1893.  Despite (or perhaps because of!) his encounter with Chief Inspector Clarke, Davitt’s revolutionary fervour was ultimately channelled into  avenues that had a positive outcome.  (More details of the events and personalities involved can be found in my published account of Clarke’s life; ‘The Chieftain‘ pp.135-138)

Charles Frederick Payne (1883-1919)

Charlie Payne, 1918

On 16th July 1918, Private Charlie Payne (235435) was in France; a Lewis Gunner in B Company, 5th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding), Regiment. At 10 am he emerged at Mailly au Camp near Rheims, having spent the last 34 hours on a troop train. Earlier in July, German forces had attacked and pushed back French and Italian forces near Rheims and the Marne valley, in what was the last major operation in the series of battles associated with the ‘German Spring Offensive’ (initiated on 21 March 1918). Sensing a weakening in the German army capability, Ferdinand Foch, Supreme Commander of the Allied Armies, requested the use of four British Divisions (including 62nd Division, in which Charlie’s battalion was located) to help in a counter-attack.


General Ferdinand Foch

Over the coming week, Charlie and his  infantry colleagues successfully attacked German positions south west of Rheims, at Marfaux, in the Bois de Petit Champs, the Bois de Reims and at Bligny.

After his experiences, Charlie wrote to his wife Ida on 2 August 1918: “At last I have an opportunity of writing you, and to let you know that I am quite well.  I trust you got my whiz-bangs [field postcards] as they would relieve your anxiety on my behalf.  I also wrote you a long letter on the 18th ulto., but was “called over the coals” about it by the Censor so do not know whether you would get it.  I had no time to write another. Well, my darling, you will see from the papers that our battalion has been in action again (wood fighting similar to last November).  We have come through very creditably and succeeded in driving back the Huns to some extent.  Of course once more I have lost some very good pals.  [Next three lines crossed out,  by the Censor]”

The events, known as the Battle of Tardenois (within the Second Battle of the Marne) pushed back the German attackers and helped provide confirmation that the German army, though far from defeated, was much more vulnerable than some (particularly UK politicans) had suspected.  Building on this, the Allied Armies initiated further successful attacks on a broad front, that ultimately drove the Germans to request an armistice which was signed on 11 November 1918.

More details of these events will feature in my next book which has the working title ‘Charlie Payne’s Hatbox’. In the meantime if you require further information see: Wyrall, E. The story of the 62nd (West Riding) Division 1914-1919 (Vol 1).


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