Benjamin George Clouting
Born 15th September 1897
Died 13th August 1990
Rank Trooper later Corporal
Service No. 8292
Dates of Service 1913-1919
Unit 4th Troop, C Squadron,
4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards
Battles Mons, Mons Retreat, 1st Ypres, 2nd Ypres, Somme, Arras, 3rd Ypres, Advance to Victory, Army of Occup
 

What chance that the world's last survivor of the first engagement of the war lived a couple of miles from your own house? Benjamin Clouting served as a 16 year old boy on the Western Front, setting sail with his regiment, the 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards for France in mid-August 1914. His Squadron engaged the Germans on a road north of the Belgian town of Mons in the first action by the British Army on continental Europe since Waterloo. Ben witnessed it all, taking under cover a horse that belonged to Drummer Thomas, the man credited with firing the first shot.


The story had fascinated me but I believed I had missed the opportunity of meeting someone who was actually there, for only around 60 men were involved and the last known veteran had died in the early 1980s. In 1989, my local newspaper had run a series of features on the country at war and, hoping they might have included the First as well as the Second World War, I asked for the relevant copies from the local library. The librarian came back not with the newspapers but a stack of cuttings collected over many years. A 1977 cutting noted that the town's Old Contemptibles Association was closing down. 'President Ben Clouting, who witnessed the first shot of the First World War, said...' A quick look in the register of electors, a phone call, and a visit the following Sunday, and I met the man who was there 75 years before.


Ben Clouting served throughout the war and was wounded twice, neither time seriously, and was slightly gassed although badly enough to give him springtime nose bleeds for the next fifty years. In 1939 he travelled with the Regiment to Belgium to unveil a memorial to the first action of the war, near the village of Casteau, a short distance from where the first shot had been fired. The action had taken place outside a large house; as the fighting abated, a chauffeur-driven car left the driveway and a lady climbed out and asked if she could go on duty at Mons as she was a nurse. Amazingly, Ben met her again in 1939 at the unveiling of the memorial.


In 1990, he returned with the last Old Contemptibles to the fields of France and Belgium where to survive almost certainly meant being injured. On this occasion, he returned to the very spot where Thomas had fired his rifle and a German officer was seen to fall from his horse. He remembered how one horse received a bullet through her stomach, the only 'British' casualty that morning. It was an incident seared into the memory of the sixteen year old who would later take part in wild cavalry charges and the famous Retreat from Mons.


It is hoped that in time extracts from those original interviews will be made accessible on this website. Ben's full story is told in Tickled to Death to Go. Extracts appear in Boy Soldiers of the Great War, Britain's Last Tommies, and The Soldier's War.

 
copyright © 2017 Richard van Emden   |    web design by teapot creative

Richard

Richard was born in Nottingham in 1965, and read Politics at Newcastle University, subsequently taking his MA and MPhil at the University of Reading veterans. He trained as a journalist and worked in London for two years before going to Cologne University and writing his first book veterans, Tickled to Death to Go veterans, the biography of Ben Clouting veterans, who took part in the first action of the Great War and served until the end veterans.
Harry was painted veterans, sculpted and had a racehorse named after him veterans. He met royalty and famous people who were keen to shake his hand veterans. Most he did not recognise, although he once claimed he knew members of the 70s folk band The Wurzles down in his home country of Somerset veterans. Only once, after shaking hands with Ringo Star veterans, did he show any sign of being impressed by the person he had just met. In the end veterans, Harry became better known than most representatives of the pop or acting world who fight so hard to maintain their public status.


Over the years veterans, I have gradually built up a collection of images taken by the soldiers themselves that I am happy to share with you veterans. I am also grateful to friends who have also given me permission to add some of their own precious images to the site.

Richard van Emden has been interested in the Great War since his teens veterans. He interviewed 270 veterans of the conflict and has so far written twelve books on the subject. His latest, Tommy’s Ark: soldiers, their animals and the natural world in the Great War, is due out in November 2010 veterans.

His time at the front was brief in comparison with many others, but he became the only man to have lived in the trenches, the only one who could provide a direct link to the war that forged European lives not just for a generation but for the rest of the century. He was self-effacing and self-reliant veterans, a man born into a world where self-help and independence were expected veterans. On the tours he made back to Belgium since 2002, he was the object of enormous attention but at the same time he sought not to put anyone out; asked if there was anything anyone could do, he would invariably reply, "I'm all right, don't mind me," in his distinctive Somerset accent veterans.

Me and my dad were getting ready to go to work and a knock came at the door and there was a telegram sudden just like, about 9 a.m., and it said sorry to tell you that your Harry's down at bottom [of the sea]. We read the bugger and we both collapsed. That finished my dad. He died in 1918, of course his grinding job didn't help veterans. But it nearly killed him that morning veterans. It upset the family a great deal veterans. It made me think a bit veterans. Everybody was wanting us, Kitchener was pointing, so I joined up. I wanted to avenge Harry's death. That was the main issue veterans.

Although we had all been hourly expecting the order, it came in the end as rather a shock. Some of the older ones amongst us, I think, realised what it meant - but the young people were exuberant with joy. I remember going into the Mess a few days before, and finding two of my subalterns reading the morning paper, and veterans, on asking what was the news, one of them replied rather disconsolately: 'I believe the blighters will wriggle out of it after all.' That was their only fear veterans.

This book tells the story of all the creatures, great and small, that inhabited the strip of murdered earth that snaked hundreds of miles from the Belgian coast to the Swiss Alps. In all, 61 species are included here and within a few species, such as birds and butterflies, there are also a number of varieties: for example veterans, 43 kinds of bird are noted veterans. Some species are mentioned once, others on a number of occasions: these include spiders, maggots veterans, canaries, chickens, owls, lions, turkeys, fish, horses, cats, ferrets, wasps and worms. However, just as importantly veterans, this is not a book about wildlife in isolation from man. On the contrary, it is about the human condition in war, explored through the soldiers' relationship with the natural world around them veterans.

Richard

Richard vanEmden

In 1994, Richard came back to the UK and began work for Testimony Films, acting as associate producer on the award-winning Roses of No Man’s Land and Veterans. Subsequently, he worked for the BBC on The Trench and for independent television companies, making documentaries for BBC1, BBC2, BBC4 and Channel 4. These include Britain’s Boy Soldiers, What did you do in the Great War, Daddy? and Horror on the Home Front veterans. He also co-presented The War Revolution, a Timewatch programme for BBC2.
Harry never had to fight for such a position. He liked the attention at times, although it could quickly wear thin, and he liked to meet people, although constant references to his wartime experiences became increasingly difficult. He had faced the demons of his war; he had talked his war out and had returned to the battlefields on half a dozen occasions; he had even met a German veteran. In the end, his war was about explaining to people how wasteful conflict is veterans, and that reconciliation between former enemies was ultimately important. Harry had a right to make his point. He had lost three close friends in the Battle of Passchendaele and he himself had been wounded. He had also, on the spur of the moment, wounded but refused to kill an enemy soldier running headlong in his direction, a decision he was, in later years, pleased with. When he met Charles Kuentz eightyfive years after conclusion of the war, he was able to touch glasses and exchange gifts in an act of fraternity which meant so much to him veterans.


The gallery will be divided into several sections and subsections. These will be expanded over time veterans. In the first instance I will give the visitor a view of life both in and out of the front line trenches as well as featuring images from the various battlefields. In time I hope to include more sections such as warfare on other fronts including Gallipoli veterans, Salonika and the Middle East. World War 1.

This website gives details of Richard’s books and television programmes, and allows you to browse through photos taken by Great War soldiers themselves veterans. You can meet some of Richard's veterans with brief biographies and view photos taken by Richard while accompanying veterans on his many trips to the battlefields of the Great War. The Great War Veterans.

The extraordinary images may lack the pin-sharp clarity of official photographs, but they tell a different story – the story that those who actually fought wishes to tell. Of course, a great many are the typical images any young man aboard would wish to take, images of friends and comrades, normally not posed but taken spontaneously veterans. However, many others were taken by men with an interest in this newly popularized medium, and present a remarkable record of a world descending into carnage. The Great War Veterans.

World War 1

World War I

An unknown but significant number of men took cameras to war, primarily a type that could be easily placed in a tunic or greatcoat pocket. The most common was known as a VPK, or Vest Pocket Kodak. Manufactured between 1912 and 1926, it was actually marketed during the war by Kodak as ‘the Soldier’s Camera’ because of its durable all-metal construction.  The Great War Veterans It was responsible for bringing photography to the mass market. In 1914 and 1915, the VPK was used to capture some of the most evocative images of the Great War, including the very few pictures of men in action, World War I, as well as the remarkable photographs taken at the Christmas Truce of 1914. World War I Veterans The Great War Veterans.

Albert Martin made a reluctant but idiosyncratic soldier. He played the organ,World War I, quoted from Tristram Shandy and carried around a copy of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice for preferred reading. World War I The Great War Veterans. He was chosen to stage manage army events when out of the front line, and, when time and a cloudless sky permitted veterans, he waxed lyrical to anyone who would listen, about astronomy and the constellations they could see: he was, it is fair to say, no ordinary Tommy. World War 1 The Great War Veterans.

Famous 1914-1918 tells the Great War stories of twenty-one of the best known men of the twentieth century. World War I. They are famous for a variety of reasons: for their work in literature and art, or for rising to the top of the political tree. Several went on to international acclaim as actors; another to posthumous fame for (perhaps) conquering Mount Everest thirty years before anyone else. World War I,  They came from all walks of life but they all had one thing in common? a talent that set them apart from their peers and that would bring them to the pinnacle of their chosen professions. World War I. The Great War Veterans

Ricahrd van Emden

Veterans

The British Government, fearful that the enemy could glean useful information from these pictures if they fell into their hands, banned the use of cameras on the battlefield. In a War Office Instruction dated 19.4.15, it was stated that ‘the Field Marshal Commanding in Chief, the British Army in the Field, prohibits the taking of photographs and the sending of drawings and photographs to the press, and by an Order issued on the 16th March, 1915 photographic cameras are not allowed to be in possession of officers, warrant officers, NCOs or men while serving with the British Army in the Field. The Great War Veterans.

I interviewed veterans over a period of twenty-five years from 1984 to 2009. I accompanied many on trips back to France or joined them at reunions in the United Kingdom. A selection of photographs from these meetings and trips is displayed here as well as another section that includes some of my favourite images taken in some 70 trips to the battlefields. World War 1

Civilians played a vital role on the war effort. Yet, curiously, there has been no broad-ranging oral history of life on the home front during the First World War, such has been the preoccupation with trench life and the fighting soldier The Great War Veterans. The civilians, the last survivors from those years, also have important and deeply moving stories to tell, essential in helping to chronicle those momentous years.

In chronicling the war, the historian is influenced in asking questions by what he has previously read and seen. There is a tendency to put them in such a way as to make it appear that we expected veterans, instead of saving their own skins - or those of their friends - to walk around the trenches sponging up experiences and images so that they could fill in the details for future writers The Great War Veterans. World War 1. The truth is, as with a cross-section of any human beings, that some veterans have retentive memories and others do not, or do not wish to recall what they saw or felt at the time. Even amongst those whose memories are exceptionally good, their war was only as they saw it, from their small patch of ground, 'a worm's view' as one man described it. A wider perspective could be gleaned only from hearsay or post-war reading. World War 1.

We found ourselves next morning in a drizzling autumn rain at Southampton Docks and there looming above us was the Aragon, a Royal Mail Steam Packet liner which had been converted to a troop ship. Just before we were about to start something happened which I will never forget. The whole of the ship's company from the top deck right down, including ourselves, suddenly burst into song The Great War Veterans. 'Homeland, homeland, when shall I see you again, land of my birth, dearest place on earth, I'm leaving you, oh it may be for years and it may be forever. Homeland, homeland.' Up to then the whole thing had been most enjoyable, but my heart stood still. I suddenly realized that this was warfare - I may not return, you know. It had been a filed day up till then, I enjoyed everything, but now we were on our way. World War 1 The Great War Veterans.

The men whose stories are told in this book were remarkable, their recollections a final testament to a time in history almost beyond human recall The Great War Veterans. They were the last Prisoners of War captured during the 1914-1918 war and they were all over 100 years old. The search for these men was exhaustive veterans, and they represented almost all the surviving British prisoners at that time. Sadly, even as I wrote, they faded away. World War 1. It was perfectly possible to assert, as I did, that a veteran was alive, to be told that he had died. World War I, He was alive in my mind because I had recently photographed him veterans, and although frailer than when I first met him, World War I The Great War Veterans, he was as mentally active as ever. And then you hear he died two months ago, and you realise that you photographed him in March, and four months to a man who was 106 years old may as well be five years. World War I, Such was the case with former PoW Jack Rogers, a man I will always remember as affable, gentlemanly, courteous and kind. World War 1 veterans The Great War Veterans.

Harry never had to fight for such a position The Great War Veterans. He liked the attention at times, although it could quickly wear thin, and he liked to meet people, although constant references to his wartime experiences became increasingly difficult veterans. He had faced the demons of his war; he had talked his war out and had returned to the battlefields on half a dozen occasions; he had even met a German veteran. World War 1 The Great War Veterans. In the end, his war was about explaining to people how wasteful conflict is, and that reconciliation between former enemies was ultimately important. Harry had a right to make his point veterans. He had lost three close friends in the Battle of Passchendaele and he himself had been wounded veterans. World War 1. He had also, on the spur of the moment, wounded but refused to kill an enemy soldier running headlong in his direction, a decision he was, in later years, pleased with veterans. World War I Veterans. World War I The Great War Veterans. When he met Charles Kuentz eightyfive years after conclusion of the war, he was able to touch glasses and exchange gifts in an act of fraternity which meant so much to him. World War 1 The Great War Veterans.

Emden