In June 2016, Museum Director, Lynda Powell profiled a delicate map of The Somme, drawn by a Texan Tommy, which we have in our collection. It formed part of the special exhibition we were showing at the time.
Now, thanks to the power of the internet we’ve been able to properly meet the man who drew it, and get to know something of his personality. Read through our original story, then get to the update at the bottom of the page…
“It’s the 100th anniversary of the start of the Battle of the Somme. With that in mind it seems only fitting to select an object associated with the battle – one of the most infamous in British military history.
I’ve chosen this sketch of the battlefield around Fricourt as it is such an unusual view of the Somme. We are all familiar, perhaps over familiar, with photographs of the battle-scarred landscape.
But this is another view.
It’s almost shocking to see the beauty of the area; the rolling hills, the hamlets and woods that existed before the battle began on 1 July 1916.
It is unclear if the sketch was drawn before the 1st July or was created later as a personal act of remembrance.
It is drawn on the back of a trench map and, as the inscription describes, it was based upon personal observation and artillery photographs.
Trenches, features and woods are all carefully annotated.
Many of the places marked have become infamous, forever associated with the desperate struggle and sacrifice of hundreds of thousands of men that marked the Battle of the Somme.
The sketch was drawn by Captain Philip George Alexandre who joined the 10th Battalion in France on the 24th April 1916.
The only record in the Regiment’s archives for Alexandre is a reference in the Green Howards Gazette that he joined the 10th Battalion.
Frustrated by finding no other information, I began to look through census returns and other records, and after many hours of searching I was able to piece together a fascinating life story.
Alexandre’s family were originally from the Channel Islands, but his father emigrated to America.
Philip was born in Texas on the 2nd February 1883, but by 1891 he had returned to the UK and the 1911 census shows him living with his uncle in Leeds.
Looking for records of Philip’s marriage, I was astonished to see the same distinctive signature, which is on the sketch, appear on St Mary’s church register, Rochdale on the 21st September 1911.
Here he is recorded as working as a Chartered Accountants clerk. His new wife, Mary E Gartside is a nurse. Their son Philip Gartside was born in Leeds on the 18th April 1916. A few days later, Captain Alexandre left for the front.
He survived the war and returned to the Leeds area, living in Pudsey in the 1920s, before moving to Ripon around 1924.
He died in Surrey in March 1946.
We have no photograph of Alexandre, but his sketch, now one hundred years old, is a fitting way to remember a Texan who joined the thousands of Yorkshire men who fought at the Battle of the Somme.”
May 2019 update…
Charlette Edwards, Alexandre’s granddaughter, read our article online, then got in touch with further information, which brings him even more vividly to life.
Charlette also sent us a short account, we think written by Alexandre, of the 7th Battalion’s experience during the opening days of the Somme offensive. He wrote the account on July 31st, 1916. Having survived the disaster the befell the 7th Battalion at Fricourt on 1st July 1916. One of the Company Commanders, Major Kent had taken his men over the top prematurely; resulting in heavy casualties. A subsequent attack also met with disaster with 300 men becoming casualties in 3 minutes – Alexandre was expecting to be taken out of the line for rest…
…but to our surprise we were rushed up to consolidate and retain a wood [Mametz Wood], which is now world famous. Oh we had a terrible time, and every ghastly horror of war was displayed in defence of that wood, which was vital position. On one occasion, for 63 hours without a minute’s stop my headquarters were bombarded with huge high explosives and tear gas shells….we were in that wood 6 days – felt like a month……
Alexandre reflected on the randomness of fate, his faith and sense of responsibility.
Everybody in great danger prays a lot, and I did constantly. Your life in these big pushes is not worth the flick of a match. And as regards bravery – an officer cannot be anything else.
After the fight to hold Mametz Wood, Alexandre and the rest of the 7th Battalion were rotated out of the line, and he was able to allay the fears of his loved ones.
But now we are a great distance from the Somme, and are in a part of the line where there is hardly a shot fired. And I have been ordered a rest, so I am with the transport 10 miles from the line, in a pretty little village, lounging in a camp chair with nothing whatever to do except eat and read. It is absolutely delightful.
Despite all he had been through Alexandre had no doubt about final victory.
We are absolutely on top of the Germans. We have them beaten man to man, and only time is required to bring a great victory and lasting peace.
He was right about it taking time to win the war; it would be two more long years. Sadly, he was wrong about the finality of the peace.