The Dragon’s Voice

Hello and welcome!  In this issue, we have an article by Keith on the group tour to the Cambrai area, an article by Caroline on blood transfusion and a book review.  As ever, we owe many thanks to Jim Morris for allowing us to use his WWI day by day material on the Facebook page. 

I would just add that there will not be a July issue as we will be away in late June.  Normal service will be resumed for the August issue.


The Programme for 2017

Jun 3rd : Stuart Hadaway : RWF and the Battles of Gaza and the Thomas Brothers

July 1st : Colin Walker : Scouts in the Great War

Aug 5th : Steve Erskine: Prison of Conscience - Richmond Prison in the Great War

Sept 2nd : Taff Gillingham : Daddy what did you do in the Khaki Chums; and Development of Uniforms and Equipment.

Oct 7th : John Stanyard : Under Two Flags, the Salvation Army in WW1

Nov 4th : Jane Austin: News from Nowhere: a talk based on her recently-published book about family letters sent from the Western Front back to Bangor

Dec 2nd : Branch Social

Last month’s speaker

Jon Bell came to talk to us about the medical treatment of casualties in 1914-1918 compared to the modern treatment regimes.  He and his partner Lesley both have first had experience of treating casualties today and both of them work in the NHS where Jon is an operating theatre technician and Lesley is a senior nurse.

Jon explained that before WWI, orthopaedics was really only concerned with treating conditions such as clubfeet in children.  It was because of the work done in WWI that orthopaedics became a speciality in its own right.  A major, but simple, development was the Thomas splint which has a Welsh connection as Huw Owen Thomas was from Anglesey. It consists of two iron rods held together by a number of leather straps and is used for treating a broken thigh bone (“femur”).  Before this was used in WWI, the fatality rate from broken femur was 80%, whereas after its introduction it was an 80% survival rate.  The Thomas splint has been used into the modern era.

Jon explained the pioneering work of Harold Gillies who introduced new surgical techniques including the use of saline solution for disinfecting wounds, and pedicle tubes for keeping grafts alive.  (Skin grafting had been used by French and German doctors in the years leading up to WWI). His work was continued in WWII by Archibald McIndoe who was also Gillies cousin.

Blood transfusion was an area which saw rapid development during WWI, and it was an American doctor who began using group-matched transfusions.  Today, the medics use a “shock pack” of a unit of red cells and a unit of plasma.

In diagnostics, X-rays had been used in the Boer war but were greatly developed in WWI, including by Mme Curie who had her own mobile X-ray units.  Today, ultrasound can be used, and mobile CT and MRI scanners are used in military field hospitals, resulting in a lot of targeted information being provided to the medical teams treating the patients.

Anaesthetics has developed from the age of ether and a cloth mask to nerve blocks which can be put in under ultrasound to treat specific injuries without the need for, and danger of, a general anaesthetic.

Evacuation has progressed from the use of hospital ships to the use of heavy-lift aircraft to transport casualties and the medical teams to treat them, even extending to airborne intensive care units.

All in all, a very interesting afternoon.

The North Wales Branch of the Western Front Association on Tour

26th to 30th April 2017

Keith Walker

Day One

The tour started at Chester railway station at 6.30 am. We were met by the minibus. Our passports and documents were checked. From Chester, we made our way to the motorway for the journey down to Folkestone. First stop was the M6 toll services for a comfort break and a big breakfast, which set us up for the rest of the day. From the services we made our way along the M6, A14, M25, and M20 to Folkestone and the channel tunnel. We got quickly through the passport controls and boarded the train and had a quick and safe journey to France.

At Calais we joined the A26 and made our may down to the Somme.  At Bapaume we stopped to pick up supplies at the supermarket.  It was at the supermarket we had our first surprise. An English lady approached the group and introduced herself. Her name was Mrs Fiona Tabray. She said “she came to France many years ago on a school exchange trip where she met a young French boy. After many letters, cards and visits they eventually got married and settled in France”. She now works for the CWGC at Albert.Image00005

From Bapaume, we went to visit the memorial at the Butte de Warlencourt. The memorial is on top of an ancient mound which coincidentally marks the furthest advance of the British troops at the battle of the Somme.

From here it was a short ride to Longueval and Snowdon House, our base for the next couple of days. Here we were met by Steve and Nancy who had the kettle on. We settled into our rooms, then had a meal, after which Steve give us a presentation on the battle of Cambria. So ended a long but interesting day.

Day Two 

After a good breakfast, and lunches packed, we set off to look at the Battle of Cambrai (November 20th to 3rd December 1917).

Our first stop was at the village of Fontaine which was one of the furthest points of advance of the British troops. From the position of what was Fontaine railway station, we could overlook the battlefield. We could see the size of Bourlon wood. From Fontaine, it was a short drive into the village of Bourlon. From there, we walked into the wood itself which was the scene of heavy fighting. Today, the woods are a peaceful place. They are on a hill and at its highest point we came to the position where the 19th battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers fought. The 19th was a “bantam” battalion. At this point, Anne laid a poppy cross and told us some of their story. From Bourlon, we drove to Marcoing to look at the old railway bridge where the tanks crossed the canal.

We ended the morning at Masnieres cemetery. It was time to reflect and have lunch.  At Masnieres we made our way to the road bridge that crosses the canal. It was here that the tank “Flying Fox” ended up in the canal when trying to cross it. On the canal bank is a memorial to the Canadian Calvary, the Fort Gary Horse, and one of its officers Lt Harcus Strachan VC, MC (b 7th November 1887, d 1st May 1982) who was awarded his VC for an action in this battle. At Masnieres, we saw the Newfoundland Caribou Memorial, the first of two we would see on this tour (photo right).Image00006

From the canal we drove to Flesquieres to meet Mr Philippe Gorczynski and his famous tank “Deborah” (D51). This was for some of us the highlight of the tour. Philippe told us the story of the tank and his quest to find it and dig it out, and put it on display as a memorial to all the men of the Tank Corps. We spent some time looking at the tank and the museum that Philippe has built up over the years. The tank is now in a barn but it is hoped that it will be moved to a purpose-built museum during this year. After a memorable few hours, we started back to Lougueval stopping on the way at Bois-des-Angles cemetery so that Peter could make a personal visit to a relative. Peter is the first member of his family to visit:-                                   

Griffith Owen Jones s/n 87487 RWF, DoD 8th Oct 1918.

We ended the day at Bellicourt British Cemetery.

Back at Snowdon House, we enjoyed our evening meal and reflected on another long but informative and interesting day.

Day Three

Today was the day we were going to walk the battlefield. So after breakfast and lunches prepared, we were given a kit inspection - had we got on proper walking boots, waterproofs etc.

First, we drove to the village of Ytres and the old railway station situated there. This is where the tanks detrained. From Ytres, we drove to the village of Trescault. This village was just behind the British front line. It was from here we started our walk following in the tracks of the tanks and the 51st Highland Division. Behind us and to the left is Havrincourt Wood where the tanks where hidden before the attack. Looking to our left in the distance the village of Havrincourt and to our right the village of Ribecourt and on the high ridge in the far distance the village of Flesquieres.Image00007

It is hard to describe the feeling one has when walking over the battlefield. We had not been walking far when the first pieces of shrapnel were found, and when we got to the first German line, the infamous Hindenburg line, we found some of the barbed-wire. After walking for an hour or so, we came to the area known as the Grand Ravine which turned out to be nothing more than a drainage ditch. We had our lunch at the Grand Ravine cemetery (photo above right).

From this cemetery, we started to walk up the ridge towards Flesquieres.  On the way, we passed through the second line of the Hindenburg line. At this point, we found more evidence of the battle shrapnel, part of a shell, shell base and more barbed-wire. We continued up the ridge to the Memorial to the Nations at Flesquieres where some of us needed a well-earned rest. From this point, we could look back and see a lot of the battlefield we had walked across. From the Memorial, we walked to the Flesquieres Hill British Cemetery to pay our respects to the crew of the tank Deborah who are buried here.

A short walk took us to the cemetery at Orival Wood. This is where the walk ended. From here, we drove to the Cambrai Memorial and cemetery at Louverval. We spent some time looking at the memorial which has 2,283 names to the missing on it. It was soon time to return to Snowdon House.

That evening, during and after our meal, there was such a lot to talk about and compare our findings from the battlefield. The day ended with a glass of beer which was richly deserved after a tiring day that will live in our memories for a long time.

Day Four    

This was the day Steve called our request day where members of the group had requested places they wished to visit for personal reasons or research. So, after breakfast and lunches packed we went just a mile away to our first stop at Caterpillar Valley Cemetery. Here, we saw a unique headstone it read:


The Former Grave of a

  New Zealand Soldier

  Who was Laid to Rest

  in The Tomb of

  The Unknown  Warrior

  at The National War

  Memorial in Wellington

  New Zealand

  on 11th  November 2004Image00008

From this cemetery we drove to the Albert to Bapaume road. As we travelled along the road, we looked at the memorials on the way. The tank memorial at Pozieres and the windmill, for example.

At Bapaume, we turned and started to cross the battlefield of Cambrai, then on to the battlefield of Arras. Our next stop was at Monchy-le- Preux to look at the Newfoundland Caribou Memorial, one of five on the Western Front.  Also at Monchy-le-Preux is the memorial to the 37th Division, one of the finest divisional memorials on the battlefields. We then drove through the village of Pelves to our next stop at Windmill British Cemetery. From here, we headed to the  HAC Cemetery for lunch.

After lunch, we proceeded to the next visit at the Thiepval Memorial.  We spent some time here. One of the benefits of this tour for me was the time given to look and reflect. From Thiepval, it was a short ride to Flatiron Copse Cemetery where Philip was able to do some research on the 13th and 14th battalion RWF.  At Mametz Wood, we had plenty of time to look at the memorial to the 38th Welsh        division. Some of the group went into the wood.

We then made our way to Guillemont Road Cemetery for a personal visit. The day ended for me at Highwood London Extension Cemetery. It was here I wanted to pay my respects to one of our local lads killed in action in WW2. He was concentrated here September to October 1944.

In the evening, some of the group went for a walk through Delville wood and to look at the cemetery.  At the evening meal there was so much to discuss. It never fails to amaze me how much knowledge and information is in our branch and which is freely shared.

Day Five

After breakfast we said our goodbyes to Steve and Nancy and made our way to the tunnel and home. The memories from the tour will remain for a long time. Thank you to the group for their very good company.

WWI and the History of Blood Transfusion

Caroline Adams

In 1628, William Harvey described the mechanism of blood circulation and shortly after that, scientists and physicians started to experiment with blood transfusion. Initial attempts with dog to dog and animal to human transfusions had limited success and many problems.  During the 19th century, however, there were a significant number of reports of human to human transfusions being performed in routine medical practice. By 1900, the 3 main blood groups, A, B and O, were identified and over the next 15 years their relevance to transfusion reactions became widely appreciated.

One of the biggest problems with transfusion was that blood clots. Initially, transfusions were ‘direct’, ie directly from one person to another so donor and recipient had to be side by side and the logistics of this were impossible in casualty clearing stations and difficult even in base hospitals. Many British doctors preferred to use saline or ‘Bayliss gumy solution’, finding this simpler and safer.

During the early 20th century, a lot of transfusion research had been done in Canada and the United States. Canadian military doctors introduced a system storing blood in glass cylinders coated with a film of paraffin, which significantly slowed clotting, and administering it rapidly using syringes to keep the blood moving. This was a definite improvement, but the biggest advance came when America entered the war.

Roger Lee and Oswald Robertson had been researching blood transfusion techniques before they were mobilised to Europe and were up to date with research from around the world. In France, Robertson was attached to the British 3rd Army Casualty Clearing Station to work with them on transfusion. He set up the first blood bank, using only group O blood, which can be given to any recipient without further testing. Blood was mixed with citrate to slow clotting and kept in 1 litre glass bottles stored in old ammunition boxes packed with sawdust and ice. Later, he used citrate plus dextrose which allowed the blood to be stored for up to 4 weeks. Robertson’s methods were so successful that he was requested to set up a ‘transfusion school’  and towards the end of the war, medical forces were carrying standardised transfusion kits in the field so that, in some cases, transfusions were being given even before casualties reached the clearing stations. Where time and facilities allowed, mainly in base hospitals, some cross-matching took place so that donors other than group O could be used. While most transfusions were given to major surgical cases, the technique was also used in carbon monoxide poisoning, chronic wound infection and septicaemia.

The rapid development of techniques and the efficient spread of knowledge through the military medical services meant that blood transfusion saved many lives during the latter part of WW1 and became incorporated into civilian medical practice when temporary commissioned medical officers returned home.


University of Kansas Medical Centre: Blood Transfusion in the First World War. Steven R Pierce SBB (ASCP)

AABB: Highlights of Transfusion Medicine History

The Making of the First World War

Ian FW Beckett

Yale University Press

New Haven and London


This is a book by a heavyweight historian.  It does not attempt to deal with the whole war but rather selects twelve key events which are analysed in detail.  Some of these are not the normal fare for British books on the era.

The events examined are:

  1. The Silent Killer – the flooding of the Yser, 21st October 1914
  2. The Widening of the War – Turkey’s entry into the war, 29th October 1914
  3. The Making of a Nation – Australia’s coming of age, 25th April 1915
  4. The Man and the Hour – the appointment of David Lloyd George as Minister of Munitions, 26th May 1915
  5. The Power of Image – the first public screening of “The Battle of the Somme”, 21st August 1916
  6. The Death of Kings – the passing of Kaiser Franz Joseph, 21st November 1916
  7. The Ungentlemanly Weapon – the German declaration of unrestricted submarine warfare, 1st February 1917
  8. The Path to Revolution – the abdication of Tsar Nicholas II, 15th March 1917
  9. The Shadow of the Bomber – the first Gotha air raid on London, 13th June 1917
  10. The Promised Land – the Balfour declaration, 2nd November 1917
  11. The Moral Imperative – Woodrow Wilson’s fourteen points, 8th January 1918
  12. The Last Throw – the opening of the German Lys offensive, 9th April 1918

Each event is accorded its own chapter and is dealt with in detail.  The writing style is lucid and accessible, which is not always the case for academic historians. The author’s views are analytical and to the point.  For instance, the chapter on Australia and Gallipoli deals with the development of an Australian national identity and a line of thought independent of the British government.  This is illustrated by the refusal of Australia and Canada to countenance military action against Turkey in 1922, which de facto stopped the British government of the day in its tracks. Indeed, the chapter on the entry into the war of the Ottoman Empire, and its internal political history, deals with an uncommon subject in British books and is most welcome.

Overall, this book is to be highly recommended.  Just realise that it deals with selected events that turned out to have more major ramifications than was perhaps thought at the time.