WW1 whistle stop


16 July 2014
aug-cover-214x300-04925.jpg The August issue cover of Family Tree showing a 1914 whistle.
When we were wondering how to illustrate the cover of August issue of Family Tree, a trench whistle seemed to be the perfect imag

When we were wondering how to illustrate the cover of August issue of Family Tree, a trench whistle seemed to be the perfect image – evoking those last sunny, sporting days of our ancestors of 1914, before the First World War obliterated their era of innocence, as we often view it.

The shrill call of the officers’ (and NCOs) whistles urging the men over the top through the clamour of battle is a ‘memory’, handed down, that we’re all familiar with, and the whistle we show is a typical example. Stamped ‘J Hudson & Co’ it was made by the principal manufacturer of WW1 whistles for the British and Commonwealth forces (De Courcy being another popular supplier). If you look carefully you might be able to see that ‘NZ’ has been scratched out, showing that it was decommissioned, as whistle guru Leif Bailey explains. And there also seems to be the ‘broad arrow’, indicating that it was used by the military. The addition of the date, ‘1914’ makes this a particularly appealing example – as a quick look at ebay prices will demonstrate:  undated Hudson whistles go for just a few pounds, but add the WW1 military aspect and they are heavily sought after.

In the trawl for a suitable whistle, it became clear that they were used in all sorts of environments – the police and scouts, for instance, as you’d expect. But if you find a whistle stamped ‘MH’, just reflect again on the age of ‘innocence’. MH stands for mental hospital. And quite what whistles were used for in that environment is a thought-provoking thing for sure. But that’s the thing about history and family history there is always something new to learn - if you're stoical enough for the journey into the past.

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The whistle on the cover of the August issue of Family Tree is from whistle enthusiast Leif Bailey’s collection on whistleshop.co.uk. Leif was a police officer for 30 years mostly in uniform duties and carried a whistle in his tunic pocket, but it wasn't until around 25 years later that he began collecting them.

"With regards to WW1 whistles, my interest stems from a grandfather who served in the Great War," said Leif. "So I took it upon myself to get one from each of the years during the war. Dated whistles go back to the late 19th century therefore another project is to try to find one for each year. This is a difficult task because a few dates have either not been made or have not yet surfaced amongst the collecting world. To date I have many of the years from as early as 1889 until around 1970. In WW1 the whistle was used to 'Command men to go over the top' from the trenches, and is often referred to as the Trench Warfare Whistle."

Find out more about your First World War ancestors in the latest issue of Family Tree: Click here.