Saturday, August 09, 2014

War Game 2

We continue our look, started on Monday (the 100th anniversary of the British declaration), at chess played - on all sides - in the conflict of the "Great War" of 1914-1918.

Chess During the Gallipoli Landing
Our readers will remember that a few weeks ago we quoted a story, told by a Cairo correspondent of the “Times” in an account of the landing of the Australasian forces on the Gallipoli Peninsula, about a New Zealand chess enthusiast in one of the boats “working out” the last moves in a problem. The “Auckland Weekly News” says: “It happens that we are able to throw a little light on this incident. The Cairo correspondent is slightly mistaken. The chess enthusiast was not working out a problem; he was playing a game with his chum. The players were Private W.A. Grierson, of the Third Auckland Regiment, son of our veteran player, Mr. J. C. Grierson, and Corporal F.G. Hall-Jones, son of the Hon. W.Hall-Jones, M.L.C. Both men were subsequently wounded. The pocket board mentioned was a parting gift from Mr. Grierson to his son.” – “Western Daily Mercury” American Chess Bulletin Vol XII (1915) 

General Joffe and Chess.
Paris is said to be smiling at a story which is going the rounds concerning General Joffre. During a visit to the trenches he came across two soldiers deep in a game of chess, a pastime at which, needless to say, the famous general is adept. The men were absorbed in the game and failed to notice their distinguished spectator. Suddenly be broke out. "Move that Pawn," he ordered, and then, "Push up that one." The startled player looked up. What could he do but obey the orders of his commander-in-chief, which turned out to be the winning tactics. – 'Glasgow Citizen.' American Chess Bulletin Vol XIII (1916)
Since General Joffre was, so it was said, an accomplished player, chess and otherwise, who better to write about him than another chess player:
One unusual contribution to the war effort was made by Charles Dawbarn of Liverpool, a regular member of the county team, who was to win the Lancashire Championship in 1921…
He wrote a series of books on France which led him to being described as “The Literary Ambassador of the Entente.” His publishers, which seems surprising now, were Mills and Boon!  After Dawbarn retired from county chess he disappeared completely….
Mike Conroy; History of Lancashire Chess (2012), who also gives the frontispiece below.
...and Dawbarn's book Joffre and His Army (published in 1916) has all but disappeared with him, though you can now read it on line here. It comes over (to me at any rate) as rather uncritical of Joffre and the general staff, but recognises, honours, though perhaps idealises, the poilu - as the French common soldier was popularly called. It is especially interesting at page 194 for its description of French trench journals (remembering the Wipers Times in the British ranks.) This is the frontispiece...

 ...and here are some poilus in action at the board:      

Exhibition poster, with poilus jouant aux échecs
(Use of the exhibition poster with kind permission of the Centre Mondial de la Paix at Verdun) 
So far I have not been able to trace the original of the above poilu photograph, or date it, but The Chess Amateur of May 1915 has this note reporting on "The Daily Mail...[which]...[d]elighted chess players with a charming picture of “A Game of Chess Behind the French Lines.” The players evidently enjoyed their game – each face us depicted beaming with interest and pleasure." I wonder whether, if we discount The Daily Mail's hyperbole, it might have been the same picture.
Chess in the German Trenches.
A problemist, says the Falkirk “Herald”, has sent us the following extract from the London “Evening News” of October 13, with a few impromptu lines suggested by this remarkable incident: Check mate. – When we captured the German trenches over the Asne one of the strangest things we found was a chessboard, with the pieces arranged in the middle of a game and the two players lying dead beside it. They had been hit by fragments of shell, but the strange thing was that the board should not have been disturbed by the explosion. Near by were the bodies of other men who had probably been watching the game. – A Private of the Royal Fusiliers at Nottingham. American Chess Bulletin Vol X11 (1915)
Surprised in the Middle of a Game 
A correspondent in the 1st East African Brigade mentions the following...As a result of a sudden attack in a small German post in the Moschi area, the German commandant was surprised in the middle of a game of chess, and a British officer collected the scattered men and brought them along as a souvenir...The Chess Amateur July 1916
And here is an image of German combatants playing - but not this time, as the reports above have it, in the past tense.

Officers of the England Squadron (Kagohl 3 or "England Geschwader") relaxing during a midday break at their Ghent headquarters in the spring of 1918. Captain Ernst Brandenburg, right foreground, plays his daily game of chess with lieutenant Stoefr, the squadron's engineering officer. Lieutenant Georgii, the weather officer, is seated in the background at the extreme left.  (Caption given by IWM) © Imperial War Museum (Item ref Q 73548)
Distinction for Lieut. E. A. Grieg, Chess Author.
“In our issue of June 9,” says ‘The Field,’ “we mentioned that Lieutenant E. A. Grieg, a strong chess player of the north of England, and author of ‘Pitfalls in Chess,’ had been promoted to the rank of captain and had also gained the Croix de Guerre for some military service done with the French. The following week we gave a blindfold game he played with Major Edmondson in their billets during a heavy bombardment. Captain Greig is now home from the front wounded, but we are happy to say his injury is not serious.” The following game was played in their billets between two officers of siege batteries during a heavy bombardment, one of them (Captain Greig) playing without seeing the board: 
Here is the game with the original notes, but in algebraic notation.

Which, in spite of the obvious difference in strength, was a pretty decent demolition job at blindfold - and played in "the awful din of battle" (a phrase used by The Chess Amateur in September 1915 when reporting on another reader who "indulged in a game or two" at the front). Perhaps the sporting Major Edmondson might then have shelled out his shilling for Lt. Grieg's "Pitfalls" so as to improve his game.

R & R
Wounded Soldiers at Chess
In the course of the entertainment given by the Imperial Chess Club to wounded soldiers from the Fulham Military Hospital, Mr. C. D. Locock played six of the visitors simultaneously, defeating them all…The Chess Amateur March 1916
Now, to mention some determined women: 

Mary Rudge was one of the strongest women players in late Victorian England. She ended her days in "The Home for Incurables" in Streatham, but in spite of her advanced years did her bit for the war effort. Here she is telling her friend Mrs Rowland about it, as reported in The Chess Amateur August 1915:
Lady Champion Chess Players and the Wounded Soldiers
“Mrs. Rowland writes: “It is an ill wind that blows nobody good,” and here is our old friend, Miss Mary Rudge, enjoying playing “good chess” with the wounded soldiers. Her letter will interest many readers.”
British Home, Streatham, S.W.
Dear Mrs. Rowland, - I am wondering how you are after all this long time. When last I heard you were threatened with civil war in Ireland, now things are greatly changed and we are the ones in danger from the Zeppelin raids. I should like to hear how you are all getting on, and if you do as much chess as you used. I have had some right good games lately with one of the convalescent soldiers staying here. He is a sergeant and as very gentlemanly young fellow. He is expecting to leave shortly. I hope the doctor will give him a little longer. I get other chess, but not so good as a rule.    

She seems of bygone era with that "right good games"; and one wonders about the age of the "gentlemanly young fellow" (Miss Rudge was by then in her 70s), and whether, when fully recovered, he was sent straight back to the front. Mrs Rowlands, by the way, devised the signals code used by the Navy, and other services, to play their moves - a practice that had aroused the suspicions of the alert citizens of Golders Green mentioned in the last episode. She had, said The Chess Amateur in November 1915, explained it all, with illustrations, in her new chess column in the Irish Weekly Mail - which, evidently, wasn't widely read in the aforementioned district of north west London. 

And talking, as Miss Rudge was, of Zeppelins:
On the night of the recent Zeppelin raid a match was in progress at the National Liberal Club between that institution and Hampstead, and one of the games was finished on a pocket board in the cellar, Mr R.C.Griffiths making a draw with Mr. E.Morgan. The Chess Amateur December 1917 
This is the second remarkable woman:

The "Reading Observer" Says 
Sergt.-Major Flora Sandes is a plucky Irish woman who has served the Serbian army with distinction and has secured the highest honours which Serbian soldiers are eligible. This lady in an enthusiastic chess player, and an illustrated paper recently published a picture of her playing chess with a Serbian officer quite close to the firing line.  The Chess Amateur February 1918 

This could well be the picture: 

The extract below, telling more about this "plucky Irish woman", and the photograph, comes, with thanks, from the website of the Parachute Regiment:
In 16 November 1916, a soldier of British nationality was seriously wounded while fighting for the Serbs, allies of the British, in some of the harshest conditions of the First World War. Two weeks later, this soldier was awarded the Karageorge Star, the equivalent of the Military Cross and, by the end of the war, would be twice Mentioned in Dispatches for exceptional bravery. But this record, impressive by any standard, was not that of one of the millions of young men who thronged to the ranks of allied armies. It belonged instead to Flora Sandes, a woman from Suffolk, the courageous daughter of a village rector. While other women fought in the Serbian army and elsewhere along the Eastern Front, Flora is the only Western woman known to have enlisted and fought as a member of a regular army in the First World War.  
Finally, in a faint echo of the alien internment item from the previous episode, I'm grateful to St. Michael's Benedictine Abbey at Farnborough in Kent for permission to use this photograph from their blog of April 11th on the Abbey in the First World War.    

A Farnborough monk playing chess with wounded soldiers 
Their blog describes how, in the maelstrom of the war, the Frenchmen in this multi-national fraternity in Kent received their conscription papers from their native country although officially unsympathetic to their Order - several brothers nevertheless served at the front to be awarded two Croix de Guerre; how the one German brother was interned within a 5 mile radius Farnborough (he was 80 years old); and how others ministered to the wounded in the field and at the Abbey....       

The French cubist painter Jean Metzinger was opposed to war but also served as a medical aide to the poilus in the French lines (info from here). This is his "Soldat Jouant aux Echecs" from 1916, painted apparently during his mobilisation, but sparing us a depiction of the horrors he would have witnessed.

Poilu jouant aux échecs (1916) Jean Metzinger (1883-1956)
(from here)
This episode will sign off (the trilogy will complete next Saturday) with the conclusion of the "Surprised in the Middle of a Game" story, above, in which a British Officer made a souvenir of a German chess set captured in a raid. It seems possible that the set may have continued in service - which might be some kind of posthumous consolation for its original owners:
...our correspondent also mentions that to relieve the weariness of the long days in hospital, he was successful in inducing some of his fellow patients to take up a study of chess, and expresses the hope they will continue the study in more peaceful times.  
With thanks to Dom Cuthbert Brogan at St. Michael's Abbey.   
There are some atmospheric vintage photographs of military personnel, not British, playing chess on this page at - but there appears to be no further information on the site about who or when.     

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