November 11th And Giving Thanks To A Small Statue And Many, Many Men And Women #remembranceday

Artefact - Joan of Arc

My brother, the Archaeologist wrote this piece for my blog back in 2014 when we were thinking about the 100th anniversary of the start of that god-awful conflict. On this day of days, a unusually mild and beautiful November here in South London I feel sure this piece deserves a repeat, the story of a little statue that, in part, I like to think, means I am here today, writing these posts. Thank you, Bruv for this post and thank you Joan

In a display cabinet, a few feet from where I am sitting is a small porcelain statue of Joan of Arc. Whilst it is over one hundred years old, it is of no particular value, especially as the head has, at some time, been knocked off and crudely stuck back on. But it has been treasured in our family for many years – and this is her story.

Percy Francis Officer - perhaps before graduation

Percy Francis was fascinated by flying. Today it would not be unusual, but this was 1911. Powered flight was only a few years old and the primitive machines that clawed their way into the sky were incredibly dangerous. But Percy loved it. By 1911 he was by his own account ‘involved in aeronautical research’, and in 1912 he was an official of the London Aero Club helping to run the first London Air Show.

Forward two years and when war was declared he naturally wanted to join the embryonic Royal Flying Corps. However hardly anybody had any idea of what aircraft could do in war and he was told to wait. But all his friends were joining up so he decided to join the army anyway. When one friend bet him he would never wear a kilt, he joined the Seaforth Highlanders – one of the ‘Ladies from hell’ as the Germans were to call them.

Percy Francis Seaforth Highlander 1

By November 1914 he was in France and, during the cold winter of 1914-15 he turned his ingenuity to making underwear – as the uniform didn’t include any to wear under the kilt. This was perhaps his only failure. More successful was the film projector he found, and for many month he ran the ‘Only Cinema at the Front’, as it was called on the posters. French films could easily be played as, in the days of silent film, all you needed was someone to translate the titles when they appeared.

Cinema poster

In the spring of 1915 the Seaforth’s were one of the regiments involved in the battle of Neuve Chapelle, one of the first big trench battles of the war. The regiment played a particularly gallant part, so they commissioned a war artist, Joseph Gray, to depict the scene when the Seaforth’s advanced. Percy was chosen to be the model for all the soldiers depicted, walking, shooting, shouting encouragement. We still possess a sketch of Percy, the highland soldier, that Joseph Gray gave him, and he is recognisable at least four times in the finished paintings!

(c) The Highlanders' Museum; Supplied by The Public Catalogue Foundation
Joseph Gray

Towards the end of that year he took part in intelligence gathering, creeping out after dark into no man’s land to map German positions, the compass he used lives in my study.

Artefacts - Compass and Binoculars 2

For one particularly hazardous expedition he was offered the choice between a military medal or immediate commission, he chose the latter and became Lieutenant Percy Francis. He didn’t remain long as an officer in the trenches but rapidly managed to get transferred to where he had long wanted to be – the Royal Flying Corps.

It was while he was back in England, doing his pilot training (he didn’t need to learn to fly, but rather become acquainted with the military aircraft of the day), that he was arrested as a spy. Officers didn’t need to wear uniform when not on duty and he was sitting in a London park reading a magazine. He had fair hair, close cropped to fit under his flying helmet, and someone thought he looked German. A crowd gathered and a policeman had to take him into protective custody.

Leave - Fishing party Brendon

Back in France he joined his squadron, whose job was mapping enemy positions. Flying low and slow over the trenches, whilst the observer took photographs. The average life span of a pilot in those days was thirteen weeks; he did it for over eighteen months. He was never shot down – he seemed to have regarded the enemy as a minor irritation and the aircraft he was flying were much more dangerous.

He was right, in early 1918 he was going home on leave and was offered the choice between taking the troop ship home or flying a plane back to England. He naturally chose the latter and set off across the Channel. Then the fog came down.

For three days there was no news, it was assumed that his aircraft had been lost at sea, then a gamekeeper walking on the cliffs near Dover found the crashed aircraft. Though he was badly injured, Percy made a full recovery.

Convalescing - Larking around

Much to his irritation the Army wouldn’t pass him fit for flying, but gave him another promotion and a desk job, and so he survived the war. He went on to race at Brooklands,

Percy in 3 Wheeler

and fly with his friend Geoffrey De Havilland and design a Flying Bicycle!

Artefact - RAF Badge

But what, you will be asking yourself if you remember the beginning of this tale, has Joan of Arc got to do with it all. Shortly after arriving in France, Percy found the statue of St. Joan in a shelled church. He repaired it and took it with him wherever he went as a good luck charm. As you may have realised his career in the war, from ordinary soldier at the front – to officer at the front – to officer in the Royal Flying Corps, took him into more and more dangerous situations.

Artefact - Flying helmet 1

In protecting our grandfather, Percy Francis, St. Joan worked overtime.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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38 Responses to November 11th And Giving Thanks To A Small Statue And Many, Many Men And Women #remembranceday

  1. Sadje says:

    You have confused me so much by the starting sentence of this post. Is it 1914 or should be 2014?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well worth repeating

    Liked by 1 person

  3. trifflepudling says:

    Thanks, Geoff. Well worth a repeat. Sadly there have been more and much worse wars than this since. World War II was the most destructive war in history. Estimates of those killed vary from 35 million to 60 million. The total for Europe alone was 15 million to 20 million—more than twice as many as in World War I. So I always remember my father’s cousin, who I never met and who was killed in 1942 piloting a Lancaster, and also think of my dad and all those like him whose mental health was completely ruined by serving in WWII.
    My maternal grandfather served in the Royal Artillery in WWI and survived and my paternal grandfather was training as a doctor at that period so only did local service. I am so delighted that Percy made a full recovery!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Darlene says:

    I enjoyed reading this again. So wonderful you still have the Joan of Arc figurine in the family. I’m sure she is still watching over you.


  5. gordon759 says:

    Thanks for reposting this, Joan still sits in the cabinet watching over us.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. gordon759 says:

    I have just reposted the original, on my site.


  7. willowdot21 says:

    I remember reading this before, I enjoyed reading it again 💜

    Liked by 1 person

  8. noelleg44 says:

    What a story and what an adventurous life your grandfather had. I can see you are very proud of him!


  9. I missed the previous posting of this story and am very glad you reprised it.
    Excellent !

    Liked by 1 person

  10. This is an excellent post, Geoff, and a fantastic story.

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Marvellous family history Geoff. Thanks for sharing again.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. ThingsHelenLoves says:

    What an amazing bit of family history, and a thoroughly enjoyable read!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. JT Twissel says:

    It’s great that you know so much about your grandfather’s war experience. I only know that my grandfather went over to France and came home a very changed man.

    Liked by 1 person

  14. KL Caley says:

    What a fantastic bit of family history, definitely worth a second outing (and many more). It’s wonderful you still have the Joan of Arc figurine in the family. She sure sounds like a lucky charm. KL ❤

    Liked by 1 person

  15. Such a wonderful tale. I just wish we would start getting leaders who shed false tears at the cenotaph then rush out to send more to war for a short term boost in popularity.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      I doubt we will ever think we have anything other than donkeys in charge sadly. We avoid worthy causes and stick with the crapulous ones


  16. Jennie says:

    My goodness, your grandfather lived a full and devoted life. You must be very proud, indeed. You’re fortunate to have so many of his artifacts. If you had to rush out of your burning house, you would certainly grab the Joan of Arc statue. Thank you for telling us the story of your grandfather, Geoff.


  17. Chel Owens says:

    Amazing, Geoff. I had forgotten about this story and statue and think he’s a very notable ancestor, indeed. I do wonder why his first business venture didn’t take off. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • TanGental says:

      He was apparently a man of ideas with no business sense. My grandmother, by contrast was a ferocious businesswoman who ensured his later ideas were turned into hard cash. They met when he set up as an electronics engineer (building cat whiskers radios in the early 1920s for the well heeled) and motorcycle builder. She did his accounts, as my great-grandparents ran two businesses nearby and Gran did the accounts for them. One day she had a fight with her father, so much so she packed her bags and left. She was about 27 and had no where to go. She stopped at his workshop to say she was leaving. When he heard why he proposed to her. She accepted but said they couldn’t live together until married and three weeks of reading the banns meant timing was difficult. However, one of grandfather’s fellow officers from the war had become the private secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Grandfather obtained a special licence which allowed marriage in exceptional circumstances without three weeks of banns. They married in days and he flew her to Paris in a plane for a honeymoon. No, my family has no romance…

      Liked by 1 person

  18. It sounds to me, Geoff, as if your grandfather lived a jolly good life. An interesting story of his exploits.

    Liked by 1 person

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