MAY 1917


David Childs

With the arrival of a US Destroyer Flotilla at Queenstown, Ireland, and the appointment of Major General Pershing in command of the US Expeditionary Force, May was the month that American involvement in the war became manifest. In Europe Field Marshal Foch became the Chief of the French General Staff. British troops were in action in the 3rd Battle of Arras while at sea the Austrian navy sank 14 drifters in the Straits of Otranto with Skipper Joseph Watt winning a VC for his attempt to engage the cruiser Heligoland. This was also the month when, at long last and after staggering monthly losses of merchant ships to U-boats, the Admiralty drew up plans to adopt a convoy system. In the sir London suffered its first night attack while a major air raid on Folkestone caused many civilian casualties.


On 3 May Private Francis Howell of the Wiltshire Regiment died and was buried at Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery in Belgium. He was 37 years old, the son of Frank and Ellen Howell and husband of Emily Jane of 56, Newtown, Tisbury.

One of those lost in the fighting around Arras was 34 year old Private Edwin Carter serving in the Devonshire Regiment who died on 9 May with his name being commemorated on the Arras War Memorial. Although a Gillingham lad he spent most of his life in Tisbury. In four attacks at Arras in April and May the 1st Battalion in which Carter was serving was almost wiped out.


In tribute to Francis Howell here is Edmund Blunden's poem Vlamertinghe written a couple of months after Howell's death. Vlamertinghe was just outside the range of the German guns so the chateau served as a HQ but is it the building or the cemetery to which Blunden is referring? Although not in the forefront of the war poets, Blunden's autobiography, Undertones of War, is one of the finest accounts of that time.

Vlamertinghe: Passing the Chateau

'And all her silken flanks with garlands drest'-
But we are coming to the sacrifice.
Must those flowers who are not yet gone West?
May those flowers who live with death and lice?
This must be the floweriest place
That earth allows; the queenly face
Of the proud mansion borrows grace for grace
Spite of those brute guns lowing at the skies.

Bold great daisies' golden lights,
Bubbling roses' pinks and whites-
Such a gay carpet! poppies by the million;
Such damask! such vermilion!
But if you ask me, mate, the choice of colour
Is scarcely right; this red should have been duller.

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