The story of the Great War tends to be told from the perspective of large-scale historical events – more personal stories are often overshadowed by the strategy, the battles, the victories and defeats.
It has been touching, then, to find and read the efforts of Charles John Huskinson and his son Patrick, who collated a huge ephemera album filled with fragments of wartime experiences. The range of material collected in this family album is astounding: caricatures of comrades, christmas cards, commendations and telegrams, newspaper clippings and an abundance of photographs, sketches and poems.
In 1899, Colonel C. J. Huskinson (1865-1932) entered the war having been commissioned to the 4th Battalion of the Nottinghamshire and Derby regiment. By 1913, he had become commanding officer of the 1/8th (TF) Battalion, but before they could leave for France, Huskinson was appointed Commandant in Lines of Communication. In March 1915, he was relocated to the British base at Étaples, where he remained until the armistice.
The album provides particularly rich detailing of Huskinson’s life at Étaples and the workings of the camp. For instance, a detailed map is accompanied by numerous photographs of Huskinson’s hut, funk-hole, the mess and his colleagues. The album also includes numerous camp orders, including ones issued by commandant Brigadier-General Andrew Graham-Thompson, along with a typed roll of officers in the military district.
Charles John Huskinson’s son, Patrick (1897-1966), also served during the First World War. He was commissioned to the Sherwood Foresters in 1915, but was almost immediately seconded to the Royal Flying Corps.
In 1916 he was awarded the Military Cross in 1916 for descending to an altitude of 800 ft. to bomb a military train and station. A year later, he added a bar to the military cross by taking down nine enemy planes in six months, as well as supporting infantry attacks. Among the material relating to Patrick, there can be found a personal congratulation from General Henry Rawlinson, commending Patrick on his achievements.
One touching letter from Patrick to his father details the 1917 events which saw him shot down over Ypres; the album includes photographs of the crash site and newspaper clippings. Material in the album relating to Patrick includes portraits of him in uniform, group photographs with officers in squadrons he served with, as well as several marvellous photographs of his plane in aerial action over Andover.
After the armistice in 1918, Patrick remained with the RAF, and In 1940 was appointed Director of Armament Development. A year later he was blinded during a blitz air raid, but despite his injury went on to become the President of the Air Armament Board, and consequently became “Britain’s best known bomb designer”.
The album also brings an insight into the day-to-day particulars of wartime. Pasted to its pages are numerous programs for concerts and dances, photographs of sporting events and pictures of concert troupes, as well as Christmas cards from various battalions, brigades and divisions. Aerial photographs depict the devastation and destruction caused by modern combat, and Hague’s special orders of the day bring an awareness of the larger picture. Touchingly, the album also includes numerous comical poems and caricatures of colleagues, testament to the determination of soldiers to find relief and creative outlets as antidote to the frustrations of living in conflict, and the pain of being far from home. A remarkable find.