Army and Navy Leave Club Paris Visitor's Book Winston Churchill signed 1917-18
Privately compiled by the Lieutenant Commandant of the club (1917-1918)
This important first world war visitor’s book is signed by a considerable number of serving soldiers and a host of important dignitaries including the then munitions minister Winston Churchill, David Henderson and the President of Portugal, Bernardino Machado. It has been recently rebound in burgundy cloth. 108 pages (54 leaves) filled with signatures, inscriptions, photos, sketches, and ephemera dated 1917-1918.
The Paris and Etaples Army and Navy Leave Club offered an oasis of peace and calm to soldiers and sailors mainly of Lieutenant rank or higher - where the horrors of war could, for a short time at least, be forgotten. The Manager of this Club was Edward Williams (The dapper Moustachioed gentleman on the far right in the photo above) and he kept this visitors’ book, asking soldiers and dignitaries passing through, if they would like to contribute to it. A signature, an inscription or a sketch as the mood took them. He then added several ephemeral items and photos of the club and the staff (some are shown here).
There are many signatures from soldiers, politicians, journalists along with stars of the screen packed into this book. Fortunately, the previous owner has diligently carried out many hours of research and has identified the vast majority of signatures. The research carried out can be sent over with the visitors’ book. I will attempt to summarise some of the individuals that have signed the book.
Starting with Portugal, In October 1917, the club was visited by the President and Prime Minister of Portugal and they have both signed the visitors’ book. Portugal was in a state of turmoil at this time and its entry into the war was met with violent episodes especially in more rural areas due to rising inflation and a lack of foodstuff. Bernardino Machado would not hang onto power for too much longer after his visit to the western front, a military coup led by Sidonio Pais put paid to that and he and his government went into exile.
Perhaps the most sought-after signature is from Winston Churchill (see photo above) who visited the club in Paris in August 1918 as Munitions Minister. After spending some time at the club, he then went on to a dinner at Versailles. On the same page is the signature of Lieutenant General David Henderson who at the outbreak of the war was the senior leader in charge of the Royal Flying Corp. He is regarded as being the father of the RAF and was responsible for writing much of the smuts report that recommended its formation.
Geoffrey Kennedy or Woodbine Willie as he was known, for his ‘Rough Rhymes’ was a published poet and army Chaplain. He was awarded the military cross at Messines Ridge, running into no mans land to assist the wounded. In the leave book he writes an unpublished poem “O broke roofless village, O Disembowelled hun. Six barkless silver tree trunks, in a sudden burst of sun.”
Of the many soldiers signatures are Colonel Oswyn Leger Davies of the Lancashire Fusiliers who was killed in action after leading a counter attack in the village of Bucquoy in April 1918 along with Lieutenant Harry Green of the Royal Munster Fusiliers killed in action also in April 1918. Captain William Fisher of The Royal Fusiliers was wounded shortly after visiting and signing, defending the line in Berne from a German offensive with heavy casualties for both sides.
Captain Robert Templeman of the Middlesex Regiment has written a lengthy inscription about the Club Manager and the club. He was awarded the military cross for conspicuous gallantry in action for leading his men in repulsing an enemy counterattack. He also received the bar to the cross for leading the formation of a defensive flank of his men and repelling a further attack. His deeds were gazetted in December 1916.
There are also signatures from renowned French surgeon Jean Pozzi, writers Morton Fullerton and Rene Moulin along with French actress Madame Rejane and actor George Shelton who all paid a visit to the club during 1917-18.
This is a unique and important first world war item with many items and signatures crammed in. The in-depth research explaining each signature or item carried out by the previous owner identifies the vast majority of the signatures. Further details can be supplied on request.