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Tales from the Treasure House – a Tommy’s weapon notes

A German hand grenade illustration

With more than 17 million dead, and 20 million wounded; the scale of the tragedy created by the First World War is perhaps indescribable.  It is hardly surprising that portrayals of this conflict are almost always affected by the sadness and emotion that follows with such an enormous loss of life – and rightly so.

However, this also means that, save maybe for the academic historian, many people rarely get the chance to see anything from this time that is totally objective and not tinged with emotion, which is what makes a new collection, recently deposited for permanent preservation at the East Riding Archives in Beverley, strangely fascinating.

A set of military notebooks and associated illustrations, made by a local man from Ganstead towards the end of the war, offer a rare insight into the more technical aspects of the life of a British soldier fighting on the Western Front between 1914 and 1918.

Corporal Stanley Butler lived at Old Hall in Ganstead, and served with the East Yorkshire Regiment, and later the Durham Light Infantry during the First World War.  Like any soldier, he received military instruction in the use of various weapons and munitions and made detailed notes.  Fortunately, these notes still survive and are now preserved at the East Riding Archives on Champney Road, Beverley.  Among the notes, taken while attending the 222nd Brigade School of Instruction, and the 23rd Hotchkiss Gun course, are technical details such as the theory of rifle fire, how to aim at moving targets, and the main objects for taking cover:

“..Get there without been seen… Get as close against the cover as possible… make as little movement as possible … Watch your front closely… Keep your head still…”

Archivist Sam Bartle said:  “Corporal Butler was clearly very diligent in the notes he took when undergoing military training, and thanks to his family, we can now offer them to the public, and  I’m sure many people will be fascinated to read these and find out more about the more technical details of  fighting during the First World War.”

As well as copious notes there are also a couple of hand-drawn illustrations of French and German grenades, which was presumably to help Corporal Butler to recognise them in the field.

Anyone wanting to take a look at them  in the Archives, should call (01482) 392790, email archives.service@eastriding.gov.uk, or just pop into the Treasure House on Champney Road, Beverley.