To Blog or Not to Blog..?

When I started to write the Tomahawk Films’ Blog at the end of last year it was partly in response to the fact that some of the superb military magazines I once wrote for have either, sadly, bitten the dust in these tough financial climates or have been bought out by new owners and have subsequently undertaken subsequent changes of direction or emphasis, thus leaving me nowhere to offer my military musings & witterings on myriad subjects based primarily, around both The First and The Second World Wars…

It was also suggested by those that know more about Blogs than I do, (being, as I am, one of the last of the dinosaurs constantly spooked or terrified in equal measure by advances in technologies and all things appertaining to websites), that it would also be a good way to attract additional outside interest, from further afield than those existing & very welcome customer friends and professional film & TV colleagues that have long known of our WW-II German Archive and its musical & film products for the past 27 years of its existence… so, not one to pooh-pooh free advice, I started out last December with my first tentative postings on here… but am now somewhat embarrassed when I look back and realise the amount that I have actually penned during the last 10 months or so…

However I contented myself with the fact that nobody would be actually reading them, for heaven knows what actually goes on out there in the ether & internet-land: in truth thousands could be looking in or, more likely, none at all… and so my various articles could simply be a source of personal pleasure for myself on a quiet ,wet afternoon here at Tomahawk HQ… and that has been my continued thought… until recently when a number of our supporters, such as Malcolm at Mist of Time in Filey,Yorkshire, have kindly got in touch to say that they have been reading (and happily enjoying, for which many thanks), my articles-various.

In particular I am also indebted to several generous e-mails received from pals on both sides of the Atlantic, including recently a welcome one from an old contact, Stephen at Juno Militaria, who e-mailed us to say he was particularly enjoying my Channel Islands musings, being a fellow German C.I. Occupation enthusiast and visitor to God’s own islands… and as a result of my recent Blog Review bought himself a copy of the wonderful newly published Guernsey’s German Tunnels book from the lads at CIOS-Guernsey. (They’ll be delighted with that!)

So from a standing start of effectively nowhere, suddenly word is reaching me that my articles are indeed actually proving of some interest to the collecting & enthusiast world and, so encouraged, I think I will continue as & when the muse suddenly takes me or, more likely, an interesting or relative story pops up in front of me… and to this end, that is exactly what has happened over the last couple of days and thus this current Blog update herein:

Continuing on my out-loud thoughts on the theme of ‘to Blog or not to Blog’, a few days ago I opened up a surprising and most welcome letter from a Mr Mark Barraclough, who is Vice President of Princess Louise’s Kensington Regimental Association in which he mentioned the fact that a good friend of his in The Western Front Association had read my recent Blog on the Grave of First World War Soldier buried in my most beautiful local churchyard here in Twyford.

Very generously, Mr Barraclough’s thoughtful letter offered me some fantastic updates on my background information regarding Private ‘Douglas’ Small, some of which  I’d like to paraphrase and share here as I think any students of World War I who may have read that particular Blog might also like to have this additional gen:

In fact this story is all starting to gather a little momentum of its own since I started tending ‘Douglas’ grave all those years ago, as I have now noticed, firstly that a second Royal British Legion Red Poppy has begun to appear on his headstone alongside mine each November. From where & from whom I have no idea, but I find it a lovely thought that somebody else also wishes to spare a thought for Douglas’ short military service, nearly 100 years ago, at this annual time of Britain’s National Remembrance.

Secondly, (and most excitingly for me) several years ago I once again popped up to the churchyard with brush & bucket in hand ready to give Douglas’ headstone another ‘wash & brush up’ only to be met by a glaringly white headstone staring straight back at me.

I had hitherto no idea at all that it was white marble underneath all of the moss & age-corrosion so I am veering towards the believe that word has reached whomsoever officially tends British War Graves in this country and that, as a result, Douglas’ was given a striking make-over by the headstone experts. Indeed I popped up again a couple of days ago to get an updated shot to send to Mr Barraclough and his Association and found this make-over has just been undertaken again, though for the life of me I am unable to find out when this happens and exactly by whom as the cleaners seem to sweep in unnoticed and disappear just as quickly,

However I would  certainly love to find out who it is that has now put Douglas’ grave on an official cleaning roster…. at the moment even the Church appears unaware this work is undertaken on their military headstones.

Indeed, if you were to take a short walk around this most stunning of graveyards, you would instantly notice that there are several other official War Grave headstones dotted around, including several nestled under a large tree just off the main footpath; judging by the dates on their head stones, (which range from 1916 to 1921, the camp being de-commissioned in the early 1920s), these would also have been of soldiers similarly garrisoned up at Hazeley Camp who also sadly died during their service there.

So perhaps these graves are also known to the authorities and as such, once I uncovered Douglas’ to also be a military in origin, (as it had been, thus far, languishing ignored & unloved looking for all the world to be ‘only’ a civilian headstone), perhaps the War Graves Commission brought his onto their official cleaning programme… and if this is the case, then I am delighted to have brought his grave to prominence and thence also into their additional loving care!

But to return to Mr Barrowclough’s letter, he kindly wrote..

“I am pleased to tell you that Pte Small’s name is included in the Roll of Honour in the history of The Kensington’s; I would therefore expect his name to appear on the Regimental War Memorial in which you will find in the Royal Borough of Kensington & Chelsea’s town hall. I can tell you that there were 3 battalions of the 13th Londons in WW1 and would be pretty certain that Pte Small would have been in the 3rd Battalion.

At the time of his death in September 1916 the 1st Bn were fighting on the Somme and had lost a significant number of soldiers in the preceding three month and the  2nd Bn were on their way to Salonika, having been in France from July to September 1916. The 3rd Bn in England consisted of the ‘reserves’ – old soldiers and recruits under training and I suspect that Pte Small fell into this last category…”

So now we know a little more about how 18 year-old ‘Douglas’ (as he was always known by his young sister Connie - pictured), came to be posted to Hazeley Camp here in my home village, where he sadly died. To round off this story, for now, I am penning a separate letter to the editor of my local Twyford Parish magazine to see if anybody has seen this War Graves cleaning take place and can shed a little more light on who is behind this additional superb support for Douglas’ headstone.

Of course if I hear anything back I will of report this additional info in another forthcoming Blog, (however if anybody else might be in a position to kindly shed any light on the War Grave Commission’s activities I’d be delighted to hear!)

Meantime my sincere and grateful thanks to Mark Barraclough esq. for his very kind letter for which, and in return, I hope to be shortly sending him copies of my original magazine & local newspaper articles on ‘Douglas’ Grave in the hope this will, in turn, add more information to the PLKR Association’s archive…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

A Soldier’s Grave…

I first stumbled across it by chance..!   It was tucked away in the corner of the churchyard surrounding Twyford’s beautiful Parish church and, being off the main pathway, it had long given up the struggle against ivy and long grass. I think it was the shape that caught my eye as I wandered absent-mindedly through that tall grass and I stopped, picked away at some of undergrowth that had attached itself to the headstone and, underneath years of neglect, there appeared some metal lettering affixed to the concrete face…

It read:  ‘Private John Douglas Small of the London Regiment ‘Kensingtons’. Son of Albert and Emmie Small of Elfords, Hastings. Died at Hazeley Down Camp, Twyford September 29th 1916 aged 18’.

The words said everything, yet told me nothing. Who was this young soldier who had been stationed at the big First World War pre-embarkation camp in the village? That, in the third year of that terrible conflict, this soldier, not long out of basic training, had died at such a young age was obvious… but how and why?

Had he made it to the Western Front and returned to die of his wounds? Had he been taken ill awaiting the move to the trenches of Flanders?… or was there a more sinister story behind this innocent headstone? More intriguingly, why did this soldier’s grave have a private headstone whilst other soldiers who’d died at the camp, and were also buried here in Twyford’s churchyard, have the instantly recognised white official military headstone with Regimental badge?  So many questions, but where to begin to find the answers?

Having lain undetected for so long, the answers were not to be eventually found locally, however a letter to a local newspaper in the Hastings area appealing for information brought a breakthrough for me. Several Hastings residents remembered the family of John Douglas Small, then came the big tip-off: ‘Douglas’, as he was apparently affectionately known, had a younger sister who was actually still alive and living in a nursing home in Battle and, armed with this information, I made my way to Sussex to meet Constance ‘Connie’ Small.  A former school teacher and now in her nineties, this lovely old lady was as bright as a button and, obviously touched that I had taken over the tending her late brother’s grave, she talked to me about his tragically short life.

Douglas was her favourite older brother and on leaving school at 16, he took a job in his father’s motor-vehicle garage. Called up at 18, he enlisted in Chichester as 6120 Private Small in the 13th Battalion, the London Regiment,  a Territorial unit known colloquially as the ‘Saturday Night Soldiers’. Following basic training, his Regiment was despatched to Hazeley Down, Twyford, in preparation for its transfer across the Channel to France and the Western Front.

But on the morning of the 26th September 1916, as the lads were called to muster at 7am ready for the ‘off’, Douglas could not be roused from his bed; the camp doctor was called and he was transferred to the military hospital at Haslar in Gosport down on the South Coast, where meningitis was diagnosed. Tragically he died three days later and his body was returned to Twyford and the Hazeley Down camp.

By his untimely death, Douglas Small  was spared the horrors of the Western Front, but I asked Connie how her brother came to be buried in Twyford: “My father made that decision. In those days getting around the country was not easy and as Douglas loved Twyford and was a popular figure around the village, my family thought it would be fitting for him to be buried there and a private headstone was bought”.

The ‘War Casualties’ listing in the Hastings & St Leonards Observer on 7th November 1916 confirmed her brother’s popularity: “Private John D Small was buried with full military honours in the Twyford Village churchyard. There was a very large attendance at the graveside: about a thousand military and civilians being present, including the Officers, NCO’s and men of the Regiment and the Regimental Band”.

Sadly, today very little remains of the 105 acres of this enormous camp other than a distinct echo of military boots, barked orders, and the long shadows of thousands of young men on their way to an horrific war from which they would never return. A scene belying its previous frantic activity, lines of impressive trees now mark where the camp’s roads once ran, whilst the odd First World War-constructed hut still lines the grassed valley of our very historic village.

The Ministry for War first commandeered this rich farming land, owned by the Best family, in 1915. Work immediately began to build a massive wooden military complex to house the young ‘Pals Regiments’ on their way to the docks at Southampton to join the vast Allied armies at war with the Kaiser’s army in France. To this day some elderly villagers still remember the vast khaki columns as they marched from Hazeley Down into Twyford, either to pick up the troop trains at close-by Shawford railway station or to continue through the village on a full route-march down into the Port of Southampton.

In addition to Douglas’ London Regiment, (known fully as Princess Louise’s Kensingtons), Hazeley Down Camp was also home to the 14th Battalion (London Scottish),  15th Battalion (Prince of Wales Own Civil Service Rifles), 16th Battalion (Queen’s Westminster Rifles), 17th Battalion (Poplar & Stepney Rifles), 20th Battalion, (Queen’s Royal West Kent), the Royal Garrison Artillery, The Tank Corps and, representing the British Commonwealth, Canada’s Royal Newfoundland Regiment.

Finally the Great War came to an end on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918 and Twyford’s Hazeley Down, the scene of much hectic war-time activity, became a holding base, garrisoned by a few ‘old salts’ of the regular army until 1921. Then the entire camp and its contents were sold off by auction on the orders of the Ministry of Munitions in that year and the land reverted back to its peaceful and most beautiful of pre-war farming days.

Hazeley Down briefly hit the headlines again in the Second World War when a Luftwaffe Junkers 88 engaged in bombing Southampton docks, overshot and was attacked by a marauding Spitfire on August 15th 1940, at the very height of the Battle of Britain. Struggling to stay in the air, the pilot, (who, incredibly, studied at nearby Winchester College before the war, so knew exactly where he was!), eventually jettisoned his entire bomb-load across fields around the site of the former camp and crash-landed in the valley, the crew being rounded up by Twyford’s local Home Guard detachment and escorted away as Prisoners of War… their war over!

Having located these impressive bomb-holes in my youth, some years later I was given a large piece of the original perspex from the JU-88’s cockpit canopy; thence a few years on, a former crew member’s summer Luftwaffe flying suit was located in the shed of a former Home Guard member and this was also gifted to me.

Other souvenirs were spirited away at the time, for the Canadian fighter pilot who despatched this German bomber, circled the crash site before carefully landing his Spitfire on the grass-strip alongside where the stricken bomber made its wheels-up landing. Then in front of the astonished Twyford Home Guard members, the fighter pilot jumped down out of his Spit’s cockpit, ran over to the JU-88, leaned inside its now canopy-less cockpit and, with a practiced twist of his wrist & a flick of his fingers, unscrewed the bomber’s dash-board clock, stuck it in his flying jacket pocket, ran back to his idling fighter and took off, never to be seen again..!

In addition, I had long heard that the pilot’s Luger pistol was still lurking somewhere in the village, having been surrendered to the Home Guard; but despite my regularly pumping the elderly locals for gen, ( at least once a week), in our former local, The Dolphin Hill, despite many winks & ‘knowing-nudges’ of each other, I never got a straight answer as to its whereabouts. So one lightly-used Luftwaffe-issue Luger is still sitting hidden somewhere here in my village of Twyford and that, sadly, is how it will probably stay… unless I get lucky and someone weakens under my ceaseless interrogation!

Meanwhile back to Hazeley Camp, where today an imposing cross, erected by the Best family as a memorial to the tens of thousands of young men who passed this way, can be seen, set back from the Hazeley Road amidst the few remaining wooden barracks from the First World War that still dot the hillside…

As for the grave of her brother that Connie never got to see, it is now lovingly cared for in Twyford’s little Parish church, by myself and latterly the War Graves Commission, its sad history now finally known!

Connie died shortly after I visited with my photos of her beloved brother’s grave and I take comfort knowing I was able to show her where ‘Douglas’ was laid to rest and assure her his grave was now looked after and that each November a British Legion Red Poppy is placed upon it…

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Music of the Kaiser’s War 1914-18…

When Tomahawk Films first got involved with the professional restoration, recovery & re-mastery of original pre-1945 German military & civilian music back in way back 1987, I never for one moment imagined that we would eventually go right back to the earliest inceptions of recorded military music… back as far as pre World War One in fact.. .but with our decision to eventually widen out our World War Two German Archive as far back as 1914 (in one direction) and then up to the Fall of the Berlin Wall in the other, to complete the picture and ‘journey’ (awful word!) of German military music, this was exactly what happened… and by a stroke of the most incredible luck possible too..!

Thanks to this lucky break and our friendship with the good folk at Eagle & Lyre, our studio guru Simon ‘Woody’ Wood was given his toughest assignment yet.. an incredible archival sound restoration of perhaps some of the rarest military-music you will ever own on CD… and by the time the maestro’s fingers had finished doing their stuff in the recording studio, certainly our most expensive audio-production to date!!

This lucky find leading to our venture into First World German War sound recordings, all stemmed back to 1997 when Eagle & Lyre’s Tony Dean, (a wonderfully enthusiastic & most knowledgeable fellow German military music enthusiast) found himself in the beautiful and atmospheric  medieval Eastern German town of Quedlinburg, when by an amazing stroke of fortune, he was walking past a very old building that was being renovated and, looking into the builder’s skip slowly filling up outside in the road, he noticed what looked like suspiciously like a folder containing 78 rpm schellack records.

On stopping and carrying out a further inspection, this is exactly what it was… a collection of pre- and early World War One schellacks, (1913 to 1916), and all were, amazingly, fully intact and without a mark on them… and despite his utter amazement at this find, he managed to enquired of one of the workers where the records had been found… the reply coming that the folder had been located up in the attic as they were taking the old roof off this very old German building.

After a few minutes of quiet haggling Tony managed to acquire this wonderful folder of musical treasures that turned out to be a totally unique collection of the earliest-known military 78rpm-schellacks containing the performances of some of Imperial Germany’s finest military musicians. What was even more amazing when you come to consider it, was that here, lying on top of this builders’ skip was a stunning musical record that had also survived the upheaval of the First World War, the Allied saturation bombing of World War II and then the post-war Russian Occupation of Eastern Germany and the Fall of the Berlin Wall..!.

Returning to the UK, clutching his treasure trove close to his chest, Tony alerted us to his find and  now, almost 100 years on, Tomahawk, Tony & myself were able to take these beautiful schellacks over to ‘Woody’ at Dubmaster Studios and, after painstaking restoration using the latest versions of Cedar Noise Reduction and the updated Sadie-DEW audio-editing systems, we produced perhaps one of the earliest & rarest CD collection of recorded Imperial German military music from Kaiser Wilhelm’s Army..!

Now offering the rarest insight into German Instrumental & Bandstand Music of the Great War, these incredible old schellacks were originally recorded before Spring 1916 and so are representative of the 78rpm records that German officers played on their wind-up gramophones in the trenches, so reminding them of the ‘golden years of peace’ before August 1914 and the ensuing horrors of the Western Front in Northern France & Belgium between the years 1914 and 1918! A real testament to history!

Working with such ancient & antique recordings of bands playing ‘live’ into a large horn onto wax cylinders, some very old faults cannot be remedied without physically altering the integrity of those records (something ‘Woody’ & I were certainly keen to avoid!).

So in places the odd, click, hiss or tiny section of distortion will still be apparent, but remembering their true age & rarity of these marvellous recordings, (now almost 100 years old),  true collectors & aficionados of old recorded military music can only marvel at the stunning job that ‘Woody’ has done to bring these recordings back to life!

The Kaiser’s Musikkorps of the Great Warnow offers 16 instrumental tracks including: Marsch des 1. Bataillons-Garde - Mussinan Marsch - König Karl Marsch - Parademarsch im Galopp - Fridericus Rex Grenadiermarsch - Töne Jubel Marsch - Sternengefunkel - Johann Marsch mit Frohsinn - Trabmarsch des 1.Garde-Ulanen and the Kaiser Friedrich Marsch and all performed by a superb array of elite Imperial German army bands, including Musikkorps der Garde Pioniere Berlin, Garde-Kürassier Regiment, Musikkorps des 106. Inf.-Regt.“König Georg”,  Kaiser Franz Garde Grenadier Regiment and the Musikkorps der Kaiserl. II Seebataillons, Wilhelmshaven…

What a find..and what a lucky day for Tony, (who was on his last journey behind the Iron Curtain), in Quedlinburg… for just another few minutes and this wonderful collection would have been finally covered with builder’s rubble and so lost to the collecting world forever… and if only these 78rpm schellacks could actually speak, what a story they would be able to tell..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2013

Converting Nazi-era Military Music to Tomahawk Films’ CDs…

At the risk of ‘teaching Grandma to suck eggs’, not all collectors will be familiar with the art of digitally re-mastering old & highly precious 78rpm schellack records into a modern playable format, (some now actually over 100 years old), and yet, even in today’s digital age, some still believe it is simply a case of whacking a much-loved schellack onto an old wind-up record player, sticking a microphone in front of the speaker..and hey presto..job done!! (…and yes, we have seen that done!).

Happily for us, all of Tomahawk Film’s archival 78rpm German recordings are digitally renovated & repaired, (where needed) and then remastered by the superb archival audio-engineer Simon Wood (or ‘Woody’ as he is known by everybody), at his superb recording studio, Dubmaster, deep in the heart of our beautiful southern county of Hampshire.

Using the very latest and updated technology available to the world of audio-dubbing, Tomahawk has enjoyed a fabulous 25 year-plus relationship with Woody and on many an occasion we have called on his considerable expertise as both a television location sound-recordist & studio audio-producer to recover, preserve & then re-master some of our original audio material that has come in directly from all four corners of Germany… and some of it quite often in various states of disrepair..!

Whilst some of these beautiful and very rare schellacks have been found by us in Germany in almost pristine condition, (thanks to careful handling by the previous owners), and so often look & sound as if actually produced in recent years and thus need only a minimum of the love & care Woody lavishes on them, nevertheless it is the case that some of our original material now goes back as far as 1910 and has required a bit more in the way of TLC..!

Our unique Imperial German release: The Kaiser’s Musikkorps of the Great War 1914-1918  (for which many thanks to our friends at Eagle & Lyre for their additional help & expertise in this earlier field of German military music), being very much a case in point. This earliest of CD’s in our Archive actually started life as a wonderful collection of some of the first schellacks around that were actually found, by accident, in the former Eastern Germany, when a house was being demolished and a large, carefully bound album of these old records was found amidst the lathe & plaster of the attic as it collapsed around the builder’s heads..!.

When you come to think of it, it really is quite amazing that here was an original schellack record collection that had survived the the 5 years of World War One, the Weimar Republic, the Rise of the Nazis & The Third Reich, heavy Allied bombing of Germany’s cities and her industrial areas in 1943-44 and then, post-war, Soviet Occupation and the ultimate Fall of the Berlin Wall… talk about ‘if only a collection could tell a story’..!

Amazingly these schellack 78rpms also cleaned up beautifully in Woody’s studio and so Imperial German Military music, that would have been played on wind-up gramophones in fox-holes & trenches of the Western Front, can now be enjoyed by collectors & enthusiasts on CD some 100 years later!.

Working with schellacks that have actually been quite this old was something of a nervous one-off for Tomahawk as the majority of our German music releases are from the Third Reich/Nazi-era and so Woody ‘only’ has to go back some 75-odd years. However the recovery & restoration of this wonderful music still requires the same skills & studio equipment and Woody’s professional lightness of touch, (or ‘magic’ as I still call it!), in re-mastering this historical material to CD and so successfully preserving The Tomahawk Films WW-II German Archive of Third Reich/Nazi-era music for many years yet to come..!

As far as the actual sound quality of our original old recordings themselves are concerned, many collectors will know that an original historical schellack 78rpm record had a beautifully inherent and very distinctive low-level hiss & rumble, (even when brand-new in the 1920s, 30s & 40s); and whilst Woody has faithfully brought many of these lovely old records ‘back from the brink’ and digitally cleaned them up to give a markedly enhanced listening experience, in so doing he has also successfully managed a superb ‘historical balancing act’ to leave enough of that original light hiss & rumble in the CD transfer in order to preserve the integrity of the original medium…

The end result is that our listener is happily aware that he is listening to an original & historical schellack recording and not some ‘antiseptically over-worked recording’ that sounds like it was merely lifted yesterday and as such has absolutely no atmosphere left to it whatsoever! With his incredible sense of hearing, (and his hands a blur over a studio dubbing-console that looks more like Concorde’s flight-deck!), Woody has ensured that in Tomahawk Films’ audio recordings you are listening to the high quality that original German audiences would have also listened to on schellack 78rpm, either on their gramophones or on radio via the early radio recording services of The Third Reich..and even earlier!

It also has to be said that Woody himself has a long and very distinguished television & recording studio background, (including television drama & documentaries as well as studio & location recording of anything musical from modern rock bands to classic orchestral ensembles), and such is his expertise in audio-art that this year he found himself much in demand in a supervising audio-recording role on the UK Television sound coverage of the Olympic Games staged here in London in 2013. So Tomahawk Films count ourselves very lucky to still have all of that audio & studio recording  expertise at our command along with Woody’s sensitive ears..!

Copyright @ Brian Matthews 2012