Tag Archives: Private Paul Epstein

Reflections on war

To mark the 50th anniversary of the death of Siegfried Sassoon, this blog will look at a number of collections in the Special Collections reflecting on warfare in the 20th century. These include two poems by the long-time friend of Sassoon, Edmund Blunden.

Edmund Blunden (1896-1974) was the longest serving First World War poet, and saw continuous action in the front line, between 1916-18. According to his friend and fellow poet Siegfried Sassoon, Blunden was the poet of the war “most lastingly obsessed by it”. The period that Blunden served at the front saw some of the most violent and bloody fighting, including the Battle of the Somme and the Third Battle of Ypres. He had very definite views on war writing, insisting that it had to be accurate in detail and  in spirit and he shared with Sassoon a belief that the First World War had been a terrible waste of life.

The Special Collections holds two of Blunden’s poems (MS10): fair copies of ‘Portrait of a colonel’ and ‘The passer-by’. Both were published in Retreat (London, 1928) with the former renamed as ‘On a portrait of a colonel’.

Opening lines of Edmund Blunden's Portrait of a colonel [MS10 A243/2]

Opening lines of Edmund Blunden’s ‘Portrait of a colonel’ [MS10 A243/2]

A more substantial literary collection held at Southampton is MS328, that of Frank Templeton Prince (1912-2003). He is probably best remembered for his collection Soldiers Bathing (1954), the title poem of which is one of the most anthologised poems of the Second World War. His archive collection contains not only notebooks and drafts of poems and prose writing, 1920s-87, but long series of correspondence, including correspondence with Edmund Blunden, 1932-58.

F.T.Prince [MS328 A834/1/11/10]

F.T.Prince [MS328 A834/1/11/10]

The soldier hero has proved to be one of the most durable and powerful ideas of idealised masculinity in western tradition since antiquity. For the poet Martin Bell, however, there was nothing heroic about either soldiering or military service, for him it was a life of crushing boredom. Bell volunteered for the Royal Engineers in 1939, in order, so he claimed, to avoid being called into the infantry. He spent his war service in camp as a hospital orderly both in UK and in the Mediterranean, and later as an instructor. His collection (MS12) of correspondence to Joan Broomfield, who was one of his circle of friends from his days at University College, Southampton, contains scathing comments on army life as well as reflecting his literary progress and including poems he had written. In a letter to Joan Broomfeld, from 1943, he expressed his dislike of army life and the boredom of his duties “we Pavlov’s dogs commended by imperious telephones, we cramp our reluctant flesh into organisation…” [MS12 A767/37]

The collection (MS376) of the poet Judith Lask Grubler provides very different reflections on warfare during the Second World War, drawing as she does a picture from the home front. In her writings, which date from the 1930s onwards, Grubler gives a contemporary account in such war related poems as ‘After the raids’ of the experience of civilians facing bombing raids on London.

This material fits well with a small collection of correspondence of Nora Harvey, a student at University College, Southampton, 1939. She writes of the impact of the war on the University as well as Southampton’s role as a port of embarkation and as a military camp. She noted that: “….Part of the college building is being used for a hospital and ARP depot etc….  The Common is horrid – all roped off, full of soldiers and rest camps. Lorry loads of troops are continually going up and down outside our window, and we can hear troops being drilled at all hours of the day.” [MS310/63 A4028]

Students outside a sandbag protected University College of Southampton, 4 October 1939 [MS310/43 A2038/2]

Students outside a sandbag protected University College of Southampton, 4 October 1939 [MS310/43 A2038/2]

Other papers reflecting on war include: diaries of Revd Michael Adler (MS125); letters and diary of Private Paul Epstein (MS124); correspondence and diaries of Leonard Stein (MS170); correspondence of Fred Salinger, Gallipoli (MS209); and correspondence of Frederick Dudley Samuel (MS336).

Revd Adler was one of a small number of Jewish chaplains attached to the forces in France. He, along with his colleagues worked tirelessly to visit the camps, training areas and hospitals to fulfil their pastoral duties. The four diaries that Adler kept for this period provide a brief record of his activities during his tours of duty rather than an analytical or personal account of his experiences as chaplain. They are detached and sparse in their detail and tone, as befits the type of record they represent, but also perhaps representing the need for detachment in dealing with a traumatic situation.

Private Epstein was a Russian conscript to the Royal Fusiliers (the Jewish Regiment) who served in the Palestine campaign. He suffered greatly from home sickness and this is recorded in his diary and correspondence. His letters describe daily events in great detail and he maintained his diary, even when he had nothing to record. Sometimes he summarises the content of his letters home in his diary. He used his letters as a means to maintain some sense of normality and create a strong link with home. As he noted in a letter to his parents of 16 March 1918: “A line to inform you that I received your second letter last Fri[day] March 13th and the sight of it was worth to me untold wealth…” [MS124 AJ 15/2]

Major Frederick Dudley Samuel [MS336 A2097/1]

Frederick Dudley Samuel [MS336 A2097/1]

Frederick Dudley Samuel, CBE, DSO (1877-1951) served in the South African war of 1901-2 and then with the British Expeditionary Forces in France, 1915-18. His archive consists mainly of correspondence written on an almost daily basis to his fiancée, later his wife, Dorothy, 1909-18. His letters from France depict the grim detail of life at the front line. In a letter of 5 April 1917 he talks of the “frightful waste of men, material and time it all is, all devoted to distruction when it should all be devoted to production”. [MS336 A2097/8/2/31]

Envelope of letter from Fred Samuel to his wife, 1917 [MS336 A2097/8/2/31]

Envelope of the letter from Frederick Samuel to his wife, 5 April 1917 [MS336 A2097/8/2/31]

The collections at Southampton provide a range of material and of experiences of 20th-century warfare and the reflections they contain still speak to us as loudly today as they ever did.


Reflections on war and warfare: Week 31 (29 September – 5 October 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

29 September 1918 British and Arab troops conquer Damascus
Commanded by Edmund Henry Hynman Allenby, the British-led Egyptian expeditionary force broke through the Ottoman line at the Battle of Megiddo. This led to them being able to block the Turkish retreat. Damascus was occupied on 1 October, was followed by Homs on 16 October and Aleppo on 25 October. This eventually led to the surrender of Turkey on 30 October 1918.

The reference to Turkey in the quote below as “Johnny Turk” is an example of Digger slang, first used by the Australian armed forces during the First World War.

“The past week has passed away very quietly with nothing important happening except the great offensive, which has begun on our front. We have given Johnny Turk a wonderful surprise and it is really marvellous how we have taken such big hills with such a small amount of casualties.”

MS 124 AJ 15/3 Letter from Private Paul Epstein to parents, Aby and Frieda, 29 September 1918

3 October 1940 Evacuated students from University College London come to Southampton
The Principal reported that he has been asked by the provost of University College, London, to accommodate a number of his students who had been compelled to evacuate from London, and that he had once agreed to offer them hospitality. There were approximately thirty-four of these students, mostly in the Faculty of Arts, who had accepted the offer and had now joined the College.

Resolved: “That the action of the Principal be confirmed, and that a cordial welcome be extended to these London students”

MS 1/MBK/2/1/6 University College Southampton Senate minute book 1937-45, p.87

5 October 1813 The Siege of Pamplona continues
Following Wellington’s decisive victory at the Battle of Vitoria, on 21 June 1813, the French army in northern Spain withdrew over the Pyrenees. As Wellington’s forces laid siege to the city of San Sebastián, a Spanish army, under Captain General Enrique O’Donnell, laid siege to a French garrison at the fortified city of Pamplona. While the Siege of San Sebastián reached a successful conclusion in early September the garrison at Pamplona held out. However, having eaten all the dogs and rats they could find in the city the French troops were eventually reduced to starvation and surrendered to the Spanish on 31 October.

“From what we can make out of an intercepted letter in cipher from the Governor of Pamplona I judge that he can hold out till the 20th or the 25th and till that time we certainly cannot move our right. But the heights on the right of the Bidasoa command such a view of us that we must have them and the sooner we get them the better.”

MS 61 WP1/377 Copy of a letter from Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, to Lieutenant General Sir Thomas Graham, 5 October 1813

3 October 1851 Post from home
For many of those serving on military campaigns communication with their loved ones and family back home was something they clung to and which sustained them, as the following extract from Captain Wellesley indicates.

“I received your letter of the 25th and all the newspapers and the mail from the Retribution… The people from the Retribution have not yet arrived as the bar at the Buffalo mouth has been impracticable for landing so Reeve with your parcel has not yet made an appearance. How lazy they are in England not to write even one line….”

MS 63 A904/3 Letter from Captain Edward Wellesley, King William’s Town, to his wife Annot, 3 October 1851

Reflections on war and warfare: week 10 (5 – 11 May 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

6 May 1810 Standoff across the Portuguese frontier
The Second Battle of Porto, in May 1809, put an end to the second French invasion of Portugal. Further victory followed in July when a combined allied force, under General Wellesley and General Cuesta, repulsed French attacks at Talavera in Spain. However, friction with their Spanish allies, combined with a lack of supplies and the threat of French reinforcement, led to the British deciding to retreat into Portugal. During 1810 Wellington held a defensive position, waiting until the French crossed the Portuguese border and reached terrain advantageous to his forces. In the following passage General Henry Fane writes to Lieutenant Colonel Denis Pack reporting on the current position of the Anglo-Portuguese force in anticipation of the French advance.

“…the British and Portuguese army are all upon the frontier. We moved up in consequence of an apparent intention on the part of the enemy to attack Ciudad Rodrigo or Almaida [Almeida], and in either case I believe it is the determination of our commander to fight him, provided it can be done under tolerable circumstances. Upon our advancing however the French have halted, between Salimanca [Salamanca] and Ciudad Rodrigo, and we are therefore halted also. Head quarters are at Celorico. I don’t expect we shall have any tilting at present, for we have too many old foxes to deal with for me to entertain any hopes they will allow us an opportunity of assailing them with advantage; and unless it is to evident advantage, I don’t suppose Lord W[ellington] will venture upon offensive war. Here we are however, ready.”

MS 296/1 Letter from General Henry Fane, Viseu, to Lieutenant Colonel Denis Pack, regarding the current position of the Anglo-Portuguese army, 6 May 1810

7 May 1918 Hopes for peace
On 7 May 1918, the Treaty of Bucharest was signed: a peace treaty between Romania on the one side and Austria-Hungary, Bulgaria, Germany and the Ottoman Empire on the other. This followed the standstill after the campaign of 1916 to 1917 and Romania’s isolation following Russia’s departure from the war.

“We get many rumours of peace here, but none of them seem to turn out to be true. But we all live hopes, a soldier living without hope, may as well shoot himself for he is no use to his comrades, he worries and naturally makes other worry.”

MS 124 AJ 15/2 Letters of Private Paul Epstein to parents, Aby and Frieda, 7 May 1918

8 May 1854 The bombardment of Odessa
On 22 April 1854, the Anglo-French squadron arrived at Odessa and began a bombardment of Russian position. A shot on the Imperial Mole, which exploded, caused great damage and about 24 Russian ships in the military port were set on fire. Major Edward Wellesley writes to his wife of the devastation the bombardment caused to the town.

“My first opinion of the attack on Odessa by the navy is confirmed and in trying to destroy the Mole and forts the shots and shells set fire to the suburb of the town.”

MS 63 A904/4/20 Letter from Major Edward Wellesley to his wife, Annot, 8 May 1854

8 May 1945 VE day
On 8 May 1945 the Prime Minister, Winston Churchill, officially announced the end of the war with Germany. Tens of thousands arrived outside the gates of Buckingham Palace whilst the King’s speech was broadcast by loudspeaker to those who had gathered in Trafalgar Square and Parliament Square. Many remained to catch a glimpse of the King, Queen and two Princesses on the Buckingham Palace balcony.

Newspapers commemorated the end of the war in Europe, as extracts from these, collected and kept by L.A.Burgess, demonstrate.

The Daily Telegraph and Morning Post:
“Germany capitulates! Today is VE Day: Complete and Crushing Victory.”
“After a heroic fight of almost six years of incomparable hardness, Germany has succumbed to the overwhelming power of her enemies. To continue the war would only mean senseless bloodshed and a futile disintegration.”

MS 73 A643 Papers of L.A.Burgess, May 1945

Reflections on war and warfare: week 7 (14 – 20 April 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

14 April 1918 Letter about the military service bill responding to the manpower crisis
As a result of the German troops breaking through the Allied lines in numerous sectors of the Western Front in France, the British Army was left critically short of troops. This led to the drafting of a new military service bill, where conscription would be expanded to Ireland and the age limit would be raised to 50. Auckland Geddes, Director of National Service, argued that such measures would result in 150,000 more recruits for the army.

“Just now I’m following Lloyd George’s new bill which he introduced in the House of Commons on Thursday April 11th which embodies compulsion for Ireland raising the age limit to 50 years. Of compulsion for Ireland, I could write a great deal, but what will the old fogies who sat on the Tribunals say to this measure. They certainly made mockery of us when we appeased before them, and I think it is about high time they themselves should do their bit for king and country.”

MS 124 AJ 15/2 Letter from Private Paul Epstein to parents, Aby and Frieda, 14 April 1918

17 April 1939 President Roosevelt tries to avert war
On 15 April 1939, the American President Roosevelt read a message that he had sent the previous day to the German Chancellor Adolph Hitler imploring him to avoid any action that would result in the outbreak of war. Sadly the meeting of the Reichstag eleven days later suggested otherwise.

‘’It seems possible that Hitler may not entirely reject Roosevelt’s offer – he’s calling the Reichstag which meets in 11 days”

MS168 AJ 217/35 Journal of Samuel Rich, 17 April 1939

18 April 1814 Armistice agreed bringing an end to the Peninsular War
The Convention of Toulouse took place on 18 April 1814, suspending hostilities between the Anglo-Allied forces, under Field Marshal Arthur Wellesley, first Marquis of Wellington, and French forces, under Marshal Nicolas Jean-de-Dieu Soult, Duc de Dalmatie, and Marshal Louis Gabriel Suchet, Duc d’Albufera. A general order outlining the articles of the convention expresses appreciation for the efforts of the officers and troops of the Allied forces.

“Upon congratulating the army upon this prospect of an honourable termination of their labours, the Commander of the Forces avails himself of the opportunity of returning the General Officers, Officers, and troops, his best thanks for their uniform discipline and gallantry in the field, and for their conciliating conduct towards the inhabitants of the country, which, almost in an equal degree with their discipline and gallantry in the field, have produced the fortunate circumstances that now hold forth to the world the prospect of genuine and permanent peace.”

WP9/1/2/7 General orders issued by the Adjutant General’s department of the army in the Peninsula and Southern France, Toulouse, 21 April 1814

20 April 1791 Fighting Tipu Sultan

Tipu Sultan, the rule of Mysore, and his father before him had previously fought the British East India Company army in the first and second Anglo-Mysore Wars. In 1789, he sent forces onto the Malabar Coast to put down a rebellion causing many people to flee to Travancore and Cochin. Lord Cornwallis, the Governor General of India, viewed an assault by Tipu Sultan on the Nedumkotta, a fortified line of defence built by the Rajah of Travancore, in December 1789 as a declaration of war. This marked the start of the third Anglo-Mysore war, which dragged on until 1792. The British and their allies had made considerable advances on Tipu Sultan’s forces by 1791 , although Lord Cornwallis was eventually forced to withdraw his troops, due to Tipu Sultan’s efforts to break the British supply system.

“I agree with you perfectly about Indian politicks and cannot discover either the necessity, policy or justice of this desperate war we are waging against Tippo. If the success of it should prove as problematical … we shall have made a fine job of it.”

MS 62 Broadlands Archive BR 11/16/4 Letter from Henry Temple, second Viscount Palmerston, to his brother-in-law, Benjamin Mee, a merchant in India, 20 April 1791

Reflections on war and warfare: week 4 (24 – 30 March 2014)

As of March 2014, we are posting weekly extracts of writings on war and warfare drawn from our manuscript and printed collections. Ranging from items on the Maratha wars to the Second World War, the extracts will reflect opinions both from the battle front and from those at home.

24 March 1918 Letter concerning the advantages of war on medical advances
Reflecting his experiences of war and personal opinions on several topics, the letters of Private Paul Epstein to his family depict his time as a Russian conscript in the Palestine Campaign. He was first a member of the Thirty Ninth and Forty Second Battalions, and served later as a member of the Thirty Eighth Battalion of the Royal Fusiliers (the Jewish Regiment).

“Despite all this carnage that has been going on since the war, surgery has certainly advanced in greater strides than it would have done in fifty years of peaceful life. After all said and done this war can’t last forever, and when it does finish it will leave behind new forms of surgical skill, which will go towards building up a more pleasant world.”

MS 124 AJ 15/1 Letter from Private Paul Epstein to parents, Aby and Frieda

25 March 1813 Discipline in the army II: murder in the 42nd Regiment
Maintaining discipline was not always an easy task for regimental officers, particularly following periods of extreme hardship. The latter part of 1812 had proven a difficult period for Wellesley’s forces and by 1813 an exhausted British Army had retreated to the Portuguese border in order to rebuild its strength.  The 42nd Regiment, under Lieutenant Alexander Dickenson, was ordered to the village of Aldea de Ciera. There a relationship developed between Corporal Michael Macmorran and a young woman from the village. Lieutenant Dickenson was displeased with the situation and, on 22 March, confronted Macmorran in the presence of the company, threatening him with a flogging. In response Macmarron returned to his quarters where he retrieved his musket.

At a General Court Martial, held on 25 March 1813, Corporal Michael Macmorron, of the 42nd Regiment, was arraigned upon the below charge. He was executed three days later on 28 March 1813.

“For Mutiny, in wantonly, deliberately, and wilfully murdering Lieutenant Alexander Dickenson, of the 42d Regiment, his superior Officer, by discharging his piece at him, and shooting him through the body, between the hours of five and six o’clock on the evening of the 22d day of March, 1813, at the village of Aldea de Ciera, near Cea, when he, the said Leiutenant Dickenson, was in the execution of his duty.

General Orders from the Adjutant-General’s Office – Ward Collection 124 v.5, p.115

March 1885 Battle of Tofrek
Fought on 22 March 1885, near Suakin, eastern Sudan, the engagement was between the advance guard of General Graham’s field force and Muslim Mahdist forces under Osman Dinga. At first the British response was hampered by confusion, dust, and smoke form their rifles, but gradually they rallied and the opposing forces, armed with spears and swords, withdrew.

“Battle near Suakin… we lost 90 men killed and 140 wounded; the nation 1500 killed and wounded; enemy beaten off.”

MS 62 Broadlands Archives BR85/3 Diary of W.W.Ashley, later Baron Mount Temple, 26 March 1885

29 March 1940 Food rationing
A significant quantity of Britain’s food supply had been imported before the outbreak of war in 1939. Enemy submarines however, sank many cargo ships carrying food to the UK resulting in food shortages. As a result food rationing was introduced in 1940.

Typically a customer would hand over a coupon from their ration book, as well as money when they went shopping. Coupons for certain foods such as meat, cheese of milk etc. could only be used once a week. The rules were strict and below Samuel Rich expressed his amazement that his local butcher didn’t take his coupon for the lamb he received that week;

“We had a nice ‘Friday eve’ meal. Roast lamb – mushrooms. The butchers took no coupons!”

MS168 AJ 217/36 Diary of Samuel Rich, 29 March 1940