“Old Soldiers Never Die…” 6457 Private Walter Siddons Gerrard, 2nd Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters

 

Walter Siddons Gerrard Old Contemptible

On 6 December 1962 In-Pensioner Walter Siddons Gerrard was photographed at the Royal Hospital at Chelsea enjoying the annual Ceremony of the Cheeses.

Walter Siddons Gerrard was born at New Basford in Nottingham on 8 April 1881, the son of Thomas Siddons Gerrard and Susannah Gerrard. Walter stated that he was aged eighteen years and eight months when he attested as a Regular soldier at Derby on 1 January 1900, on a Short Service Engagement to complete five years with the Colours and seven on the Reserve. He was already serving with the 3rd Militia Battalion, The Sherwood Foresters (Derbyshire Regiment) and was employed as a striker. Private Gerrard was posted to the Regimental Depot at Normanton Barracks and was issued with the regimental number 6457. He then joined a Provisional Battalion on 27 March and was drafted to South Africa to join the 1st Battalion on 27 May. He remained there on active service until September 1902, and was later issued with the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Cape Colony, Orange Free State and Transvaal, as well as the King’s South Africa Medal with clasps for South Africa 1901 and South Africa 1902.

On 8 September 1902, Private Gerrard arrived in Hong Kong with the 1st Battalion, where he was awarded his first Good Conduct Badge on New Years’ Day 1903 and extended his period of engagement to serve eight years with the Colours on 1 April 1904. The 1st Sherwood Foresters moved to Singapore in December 1904, and Gerrard received his second Good Conduct Badge on 1 January 1905. He was permitted to extend his period of engagement to serve for 12 years with the Colours on 13 January 1906 and moved with the 1st Battalion to India on 12 December.  While stationed at Bangalore, Gerrard passed his 3rd Class Certificate in Education on 19 December 1907.

Private Gerrard was posted to the 2nd Battalion in 1909 and returned home, joining them at Fermoy on 26 November. Early the following year, on 28 January 1910, he was transferred to the Regimental Depot at Normanton Barracks to serve on the Permanent Staff of the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, and on 30 March 1911 re-engaged to complete 21 years with the Colours. Gerrard was appointed Lance-Corporal, to complete the establishment of the 3rd Battalion, on 1 July 1911 but reverted to the rank of Private at his own request on 17 February 1912. He was posted back to the 2nd Battalion at Plymouth on 7 October 1912 and at the outbreak of war in 1914 was stationed at Sheffield.

Gerrard sailed to France with the 2nd Battalion on board the S.S. Georgian from Southampton on 8 September 1914 and disembarked at St Nazaire two days later. He was soon in action fighting on the Aisne. Private Gerrard was taken prisoner on 20 October near Ennetieres, when the 2nd Sherwood Foresters were overwhelmed by a numerically stronger German force after holding their positions for two days under constant attacks. Sixteen Officers and 710 Other Ranks of the 2nd Sherwood Foresters were either killed, wounded or captured.

Private Gerrard remained in captivity until after the Armistice. Two comrades of Private Gerrard, 9697 Private George Hallam, and 10114 Lance-Corporal J. H. Smith, managed to escape in 1917 and an account of their experiences while prisoners of war was published in The Derby Daily Telegraph on 29 June. Included in their account is a reference to a punishment received by Gerrard while in captivity:

“Both men report that they individually were not ill-treated, but saw many cases of gross cruelty. Lance-Corporal Smith gave evidence at the court-martial trial of Private Gerrard, another Sherwood Forester, who was accused of attacking a sentry with a spade. Smith reports that Gerrard was attacked and beaten and cut very badly by two sentries, and that it was quite unprovoked. Gerrard was sentenced to ten years eight months in a fortress, but was kept four months without trial so that his wounds would heal.”

Gerrard returned home on Boxing Day 1918 and was posted onto the strength of the Regimental Depot, joining the Permanent Staff there on 22 February 1919, before rejoining the Permanent Staff of the 3rd Battalion on probation on 1 November. He was discharged, on the termination of his period of engagement, on 31 December 1920 and gave his address at 8 Brook Cottages in Long Eaton. His character and conduct on discharge was described as “exemplary” and he was also awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. Walter received the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 16 July 1920. After leaving the Army Walter worked as a general labourer.

In-Pensioner Walter Gerrard died at the Royal Hospital in 1963.

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“My Old Pals Are Around Me” – The Old Contemptibles’ Association Pilgrimage to Mons, November 1927

On 20 May 1928, ninety years ago this year, Captain John Patrick Danny died at his home at 68 Gunton Road in Clapton. His premature death was attributed to the poor health that he suffered as a result of his war service, but another factor that may have contributed was the stress and strain he experienced while organising and trying to raise money for Chums of The Old Contemptibles Association to make a pilgrimage to Mons in November 1927.

Captain Danny Old Contemptibles Association

Captain John Patrick Danny R.A. and The Old Contemptibles’ Association

Born at Stepney in 1878, John Danny was employed as a garage foreman when he was mobilised from the Reserve at the outbreak of the war, and as 82558 Sergeant J. P. Danny landed in France with XXXIII Brigade, Royal Field Artillery on 6 November 1914. He was commissioned on 1 November 1915 and was issued with his 1914 Star on 18 October 1919, the clasp and roses were forwarded to him on 18 May 1920.

It was Danny who conceived the idea of creating an association of those who had served with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914, and who were holders of the 1914 Star with clasp, and on 25 May 1925 he and six other “Old Contemptibles” met at the Hackney United Services Club at Clapton to discuss the formation of such a group. The first general meeting of The Old Contemptibles Association took place on 28 June, and Captain Danny was elected as treasurer. Members of the new Association were to be known as “Chums,” irrespective of their rank, and only those who were holders of the 1914 Star with the clasp – in reality a bar to be sewn onto the ribbon of the medal – that indicated that individuals had “served under fire or who had operated within range of enemy mobile artillery in France or Belgium during the period between 5 August and 22 November 1914” would be eligible to join. The Association was presented with its first banner by Lady Amherst of Hackney later that year.

In May 1926, The Old Contemptibles Association held its first parade, assembling on the Embankment before laying a wreath at the Cenotaph. The first Grand Council of the Association was formed in July 1926, with Captain Danny being elected as Chairman, and on 6 August the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, General Sir George F. Milne, who had been the Commander Royal Artillery of 4th Division in 1914, became the first President.

It was decided to expand the Association in June 1927 other branches began to be formed around the country, the first being at Woolwich. In August the Grand Council of The Old Contemptibles Association decided that the new branches would be issued dispensations to carry their own standards, but unlike the one presented by Lady Amherst these would be mounted on a single pole and the finial would bear the badge of the Association.[1]

Raising Funds

The General Council of The Old Contemptibles Association determined that their embryonic group should make arrangements for a pilgrimage to Mons, the scene of the first clash between the British Expeditionary Force and the German Army in 1914, and also to Brussels. While an itinerary for the pilgrimage was agreed with the Belgian authorities, it was originally hoped to take between 600 and 700 Old Contemptibles to Belgium, but this number was subsequently halved. While those Chums who could pay their fare for the trip would be asked to do so, it was clear that many men were unable to afford to and that they would need financial support if they were to do so. General Milne made a public appeal at the meeting for donations, while Captain Danny clarified why the funds were needed:

“We want to take as many real ‘Old Contemptibles’ as possible. First, we want to consider the Victoria Cross men. There are seven of them, and only a few can pay their own fares. Next will come the blind, and the remainder of available places made possible by contribution will be decided by ballot. We hope to take men from every city in the British Isles.”[2]

The Surrey Mirror of 28 October included an article regarding the appeal:

“OLD CONTEMPTIBLES” VISIT TO MONS.

 “Captain J. P. Danny, chairman of the grand council of the Old Contemptibles’ Association, states that a great number of applications have been received from “Old Contemptibles” who wish to go on a pilgrimage to Mons. The grand council have undertaken to organise a pilgrimage. It is intended that on Armistice Day the “Old Contemptibles” should observe the Great Silence standing on the actual ground of their first engagement, facing as they did in August, 1914. A solemn tribute will be paid to the “Old Contemptibles” who sacrificed their lives, and to those who so nobly carried on the traditions of the old Army. On the Sunday following there will be a drumhead service in the field where the first “Old Contemptible” fell. The grand council feel that if only men who can pay their own fares take part in the pilgrimage it will not be representative of the nation. They, therefore, appeal for funds sufficient to send at least 300, including the earliest V.C.’s, of those who cannot afford the expense. All contributions will be gratefully acknowledged by Capt. Danny at 69, Powerscroft-road, E.5.”

The urgent need for donations was commented on in an editorial piece published in The Western Daily Press of 31 October:

 “It will be a thousand pities if the scheme for a pilgrimage of “Old Contemptibles” to Mons on Armistice Day should fall through for lack of financial support. The Old Contemptibles Association, in the very nature of things, will tend to die out, and there are a good many of the men who are entitled to the distinction of membership who cannot afford the expenses of the fares, and so on. It is estimated that a sum of round about £700 would be required, and surely it ought not to be impossible to raise that amount during the next fortnight.”

From the very start the appeal met with a disappointing response, which was further compounded by the news that The Prince of Wales, who had been was invited to join the Old Contemptibles on their pilgrimage, was unable to attend due to prior commitments.[3] However, the newly-formed Hull Branch of The Old Contemptibles Association received significant support from one benefactor, Major Clifford Harrison Stringer,[4] and an acknowledgement of his contribution was published by The Hull Daily Mail on 3 November:

HULL AND DISTRICT OLD CONTEMPTIBLES’ ASSOCIATION.

TO THE EDITOR.

“Sir, – May I be allowed through the medium of your paper to state that Major C. H. Stringer, an Old Contemptible Officer of the Waterloo Main Collieres, near Leeds, has kindly presented our Association with a cheque for £60, so as to enable some of our members to take part at no cost to themselves in the pilgrimage to Mons on November 11th, 12th and 13th.

Will all our members please try to attend the general meeting on Friday next at 7.45 p.m. sharp to discuss the matter. Thanking you very much in anticipation. – I am, Sir, etc.,

J. E. BARNBY

(Acting for the Hon. Sec.).

Raywell Hotel, Cumberland-street,

Hull, November 1st, 1927.”[5]

The donation made by Major Stringer, and the poor response to the appeal made by The Old Contemptibles Association for funds, was also commented on in another letter sent to the Editor of The Hull Daily Mail that was published a week later:

“SIR, – In the “Mail” cross top column this evening was an admission of failure in the attempt to secure funds to cover the expenses of sending 300 “Old Contemptibles” to Mons for Armistice Day and therefore only half the number will be able to make the pilgrimage even those – I believe I am correct in stating – are drawn from the Metropolitan area. Why so ghastly a failure for so worthy a cause? Is it that the nation is losing its tradition of being open-hearted to worthy causes? It is that these men must consider themselves sufficiently well treated by receiving the Almighty’s deliverance? Or is it that the Nation is too poor to allow the tapping of its pockets any further?

Hardly the last mentioned reason, for I have before me a copy of a weekly paper stating that arrangements have already been made for a pilgrimage to France and Flanders next year in which 5,000 men will take part and that this number may be greatly added to. Such being so, why, one is prompted to reiterate, could funds not be found to take 300?

It is pleasing to note that the London party of 150 men will be augmented by a small body from Hull and I feel compelled to add that this has only been made possible through the benevolence of Major Stringer, who, on learning that so far was known no Yorkshiremen were taking part in the pilgrimage, promptly made out a cheque for £60 and this he handed to the Secretary (Mr E. M. Adams) of the Hull and District Contemptibles that they might be represented at Mons entirely at his expense.

Had the London movement been supported by men of Major Stringer’s type, few, if any, disappointments would have been met. The response to the Metropolitan Fund makes one wonder if it really is a land fit for heroes to live in. – I am, Sir, etc.,

“CONTEMPTIBLE.”

Hull, 7th November, 1927.”[6]

On the eve of the departure of the Old Contemptibles to Belgium, it was clear that the appeal to the public for donations had failed, and that there was a significant financial shortfall that would need to be recovered from another source. Captain Danny remarked that:

“The response to our appeal has been most disappointing. No one seems to care. At present we have collected exactly £174 2s. 6d., practically all in small amounts of 2s. 6d. and 5s. Another £500 is required.”[7]

The deficit, which amounted to over £400, was covered personally by Captain Danny who remortgaged his home at 68 Gunton Road in order to ensure that the debt was repaid.[8]

 

The Pilgrimage: 10 to 12 November 1927

On Thursday 10 November, 212[9] “Old Contemptibles” arrived at Victoria Station in London to take the boat train to Ostend at the start of their pilgrimage. The Dundee Evening Telegraph reported on the assembly of the Chums:

“Victoria Cross men fall in on the right.”

This was the cry that rang out in Victoria Station, London, this morning, and from a large group of men three figures stepped out smartly and took up their places.

“Fall in everybody,” was the next command, and the 212 members of the Old Contemptibles Association – heroes every one – who formed the pilgrimage to Mons, took up their places as if they were on the parade ground.

It was a wonderful spectacle to see them move off. There was no band, by special request. There were blind men, cripples, and every member wore his medals. There was an abundance of distinguished decorations, which told their own tale of valour in the darkest days of the war.”[10]

 The vast majority of the Chums who paraded on the station platform that morning came from in and around London, but Old Contemptibles from other parts of the country had managed to obtain financial support in order to make the journey back to Belgium. Among them were eleven Chums of the Hull Branch of The Old Contemptibles Association who had their expenses covered by the donation made by Major Clifford Harrison Stringer, who also accompanied the party.[11] Five more Chums from Yorkshire were also reported to have made the trip south.[12] Thomas Henry Seager D.C.M., who in 1914 served with the 1st Battalion, The King’s Royal Rifle Corps, was also present at Victoria that morning, and his war service was recounted by The Hampshire Telegraph on 11 November:

 TO JOIN THE MEN’S PILGRIMAGE.

“Ex-Private (sic) Thomas Seager, 1st King’s Royal Rifles, of Botley, who has accepted the invitation of the “Old Contemptibles” Association to join the Mons Pilgrimage leaving London on November 10, holds a fine record of war service. He had the proud distinction of being one of the first men in the British Army to be decorated on the field with the Distinguished Conduct Medal by H.M. the King when he was in France, and afterwards going before the Prince of Wales to have the medal ribbon pinned upon his tunic. He was twice captured by the enemy but made good his escape. Rifleman Seager was also recommended for the French Medalle Militaire for a brave deed rendered to the Allies, which undoubtedly saved a battery of French artillery, which was secreted in a wood, from capture or destruction by the enemy, but the medal was never awarded. He was five times specially mentioned by his officers for good services. Private Seager, who was born at Alverstoke, and is now employed as a postman in the Botley rural district.”[13]

Three holders of the Victoria Cross formed part of the contingent of Chums: Sid Godley V.C., who had earned his decoration at Nimy on 23 August 1914 with the 4th Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers; Job Drain V.C., who had served with 37th (Howitzer) Battery, Royal Field Artillery and was one of three members of the battery who had been awarded the Victoria Cross for their actions during the Battle of Le Cateau on 26 August 1914; and Spencer John Bent V.C., M.M., who was a Regimental Sergeant-Major when he retired from the Army in 1926 and received his honour for several actions that he had performed between October and November 1914 while serving with the 1st Battalion, The East Lancashire Regiment, most notably at Le Gheer on the night of 1/2 November 1914 when he took charge of a platoon though at the time he held the appointment of Drummer.

Also among the party were a few disabled ex-servicemen, including George Bennett A.M., who had served with the 12th (Prince of Wales’s) Royal Lancers in 1914 and was awarded the Albert Medal 2nd Class, for Gallantry in Saving Life on Land, for rescuing a French woman who had been knocked down by a train at Brie on 25 February 1918. During the course of his rescue, Bennett was hit by a train and was severely injured, having to have his left leg amputated below the knee and his right leg above.[14] Two blind Old Contemptibles also accompanied the group. William England, who came from Oxfordshire, had joined the Coldstream Guards on 29 May 1899 and had been severely wounded in the head near Ypres in 1914 while serving with the 3rd Battalion. He had been discharged as physically unfit for service on 1 October 1915 due a cerebral hernia. Another soldier, identified as Macmillan or McMullen in different press reports, was quoted as saying: “I am looking forward to the visit. I shall see everything again although I have lost my sight. I am delighted to know that my old pals are around me.”[15] He added: “Even if we can’t see, we shall be able to imagine what Mons looks like. It’s worth going for. It’ll bring back the old times to us again.”[16]

Standing on the platform at Victoria Station was Captain John Danny, who had been advised against travelling by his doctor. When asked by a reporter why he was not able to go with the Chums on the pilgrimage, Danny replied: “If I go, there will probably be a funeral.”[17]

 After a rough crossing across the English Channel from Dover to Ostend, the Old Contemptibles entrained and arrived at Brussels on the evening of 10 November, where they were received by the British Military Attache, representatives of the British Legion branch in the city and Belgian ex-Servicemen. The Chums were then booked into their accommodation at the Hotel Splendid and some of the party then visited the British Legion Club, where they were entertained for the evening.[18]

Old Contemptibles Mons 1928

On Friday 11 November, the ninth anniversary of the Armistice being signed, the Chums travelled to Mons, where they marched through the town led by their banner, which had been presented to them by Lady Amherst two years previously. One of their number reported on the ceremony that took place at Mons (Bergen) Communal Cemetery:

“From An Old Contemptible.

MONS, Friday.

“There could surely have been no service of greater solemnity or impressiveness than that which took place at Mons Cemetery to-day, when a little company of 225 “Old Contemptibles” stood bareheaded during the silence among comrades and enemies who had gone. The company included three V.C.s, scores of D.C.M.s and men crippled or blinded. The graves in the cemetery were beautifully attended, and on this November day when the clouds overhead were to turn to sleet and snow, roses were still blooming.

The brief ceremony over and the National Anthems of the Allies having been sung, the party marched past the Cross of Sacrifice in the cemetery. Afterwards many a lowered head beside a stone dated 23 August, 1914, testified that a warrior who had come through the fire of war had met a lost comrade. From those gravesides messages were sent to the King, the King of the Belgians, and the Prince of Wales. That to the Prince read:

“Two hundred and twenty-five Old Contemptibles on parade to-day on the historic cobbled streets of Mons, raise the unanimous shout ‘The Prince, our chum, God bless him.’”

The Old Contemptibles’ Association, which has hitherto only permitted one honorary member, the Prince of Wales, has invited the King of the Belgians to accept a similar title, which has also been given to the Mayors of Mons in perpetuity.”[19]

Old Contemptibles Mons 1928 Cemetery

The Old Contemptibles Association paraded in Brussels on 12 November and wreaths were laid on behalf of the Chums and the Lord Mayor of London at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier. Sir George Graham, the British Ambassador to Belgium, addressed the Chums who then observed two minutes’ silence. A short service then took place, directed by the Reverend Owen Watkins, who was Chaplain to the Association, while a Chum accompanied the hymns playing his accordion. Following their remembrance service, the Old Contemptibles were then entertained by the authorities in Brussels and Belgian ex-Servicemen, before departing for England.[20]

The Chums arrived back at Victoria late on the evening of 12 November, and were addressed by Captain Danny and the Reverend Watkins before being dismissed and travelling back to their homes. For those Old Contemptibles who were fortunate enough to have been on the pilgrimage, their visit would prove unforgettable. Three Chums for Dorset later recalled their experiences to a journalist of The Western Gazette:

EXPERIENCES OF THREE SHERBORNE “OLD CONTEMPTIBLES.”

“Messrs W. H. Etheridge, J. Drake, and A. T. Collings were members of a party of 225 “Old Contemptibles” who went on a pilgrimage to the Mons battlefield during the week-end. They left Victoria Station at 10 o’clock on Thursday night, and at Dover, where light refreshments were provided, the Mayor wished them a pleasant voyage and a safe return. The crossing to France was rather rough, and had its effects even on some of the “old boys.” The party stayed at the Hotel Splendide in Brussels, and on the evening of their arrival fifty of them were invited to the British Legion Club, and entertained for a few hours.

In a record of them experience the Sherborne “Old Contemptibles” state:-

“On Friday we entrained for Mons, where we were met by some officers and men of the Belgian Army. After a welcome and speeches, we marched, headed by the Trumpet Band to the Town Hall, where the Burgomaster made a speech which revived many memories of the war. We proceeded to the Mons Town War Memorial headed by a Military Band and representatives of the Belgian Legion and municipality. The National Anthems of Belgium, France and England were played, and wreaths were placed on the memorial. At the Cemetery of the British soldiers who fell in the war, a short service tool place round the British memorial, and after a visit to the memorial of the 1st R. Irish Regiment, we returned to Mons Town for a few hours’ grace. It was remarkable how well the graves of the fallen are kept. The motor-‘busses (sic) brought us back to our hotel after a good day of marching on the cobble stones of Belgium.

On Saturday we paraded and marched round the city to the Belgian Unknown Warrior’s Grave, where a ceremony took place, the British Ambassador gave an address, wreaths were laid on the grave by the blind and disabled British soldiers present, and at the Grand Place, Old Brussels Town Hall, we were addressed by the deputy to the famous Burgomaster Max. The afternoon was spent souvenir hunting and viewing the city. On Sunday we again visited Mons for a service round the Belgium (sic) War Memorial, which was conducted by the Rev. Owen S. Watkins, C.M.G., C.B.E., K.H.C., Deputy Chaplain-General to the Forces. The hymns were accompanied by one of the “Old Contemptibles” on a melodian. After a short address by the Chaplain and prayers, we were dismissed for a few hours and returned by train to Boulogne via Lille, Armentieres, Hasbrock (sic), St Omer, to Calais, where we embarked for Folkstone, which was reached at 11.20 p.m. An address was given by Captain J. P. Danny, the founder of the “Old Contemptibles Association,” and also by the Chaplain, and each old contemptible made his own arrangements for getting home.”

The party spent a really enjoyable time and were greatly pleased at the reception given to them.”[21]

Chums of The Old Contemptibles’ Association continued to make regular pilgrimages to Mons up until 1990 when the final visit, organised by the London and South-East Area of the Association, took place.

As for Captain John Patrick Danny, the Chums of The Old Contemptibles’ Association did not forget him.

Captain Danny was buried at Abney Park Cemetery in Stoke Newington, and on 26 May 1935 a memorial headstone for his grave was unveiled by Field Marshal George Milne, 1st Baron Milne of Salonika and Rubislaw. The band of the 10th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (Hackney) (T.A.) played at the service and subsequent march past of the Chums, while Trumpeters of the Royal Artillery Depot at Woolwich sounded the Last Post and Reveille.

On 29 August 1948 Lieutenant-General Sir James Ronald Edmonstone Charles K.C.B., C.M.G., D.S.O., President of The Old Contemptibles Association, unveiled a plaque fixed to the wall of the Hackney United Services Club at 69 Powerscroft Road, commemorating the formation of the Association. It reads:

‘IN THIS BUILDING ON THE 25th JUNE 1925 THE OLD CONTEMPTIBLES ASSOCIATION WAS FOUNDED BY CAPTAIN J P DANNY R.A. TO THE GLORY OF GOD AND TO THE IMPERISHABLE MEMORY OF “GENERAL FRENCH’S CONTEMPTIBLE LITTLE ARMY.” AUGUST 5th TO NOVEMBER 22nd 1914.’

189

Chums of the Founder Branch (Hackney Branch) of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, photographed on 23 May 1964 outside the Hackney United Services Club and the memorial to Captain Danny. 

Newsreel film of the pilgrimage by The Old Contemptibles’ Association to Mons and Brussels in 1927 can be viewed on YouTube via the following links:

 

Footnotes:

[1] Yorkshire Post, 22 May 1928 & The Old Contemptible: The Official Organ of The Old Contemptibles’ Association, No. 434, March 1970, pp. 15-16.

[2] Leeds Mercury, 28 October 1927.

[3] Gloucester Citizen, 29 October 1927.

[4]  Clifford Harrison Stringer (1892-1967) had been a Second-Lieutenant of the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers in 1914 and had disembarked at Le Havre from the S.S. Kingstonian on 18 August. He was sent his 1914 Star on 20 September 1919 and was issued with the clasp and roses for the medal on 1 July 1920.

[5] Chum John Edward Barnby was born at Hull on 1 November 1896 and was employed as a labourer at a colour works before joining The East Yorkshire Regiment in early 1914, his regimental number being 10190. He had been appointed a Lance-Corporal by the time that he was drafted to France to join the 1st Battalion on 2 November. Wounded in March 1915, Barnby was transferred to the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) on 29 November 1916 and issued with the regimental number 30773. He was subsequently transferred to the Machine Gun Corps (Motor Branch), being issued with the service number 191964, and saw active service during the Third Afghan War in 1919. On being demobilised, John returned to Hull and married Cecily Snee in 1921 and was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 1 October of that year. He joined the Hull Branch of The Old Contemptibles Association on its formation in 1926 and was elected Chairman at the first branch meeting held on 12 October.[5] Chum Barnby later served as honorary secretary of the Hull Branch during the 1930s and was also involved with organising reunions of Old Comrades who had served with the 1st Battalion, The East Yorkshire Regiment in 1914. In 1939, John is recorded as living with his family at 40 Temple Street in Hull and was employed as a temporary telephonist. Barnby moved to Birmingham after the Second World War and lived at 24 Guthrie Street in Lozells, and was finally sent his India General Service Medal with clasp for “Afghanistan 1919 N.W.F.” on 17 January 1954. He also joined the Birmingham Branch of The Old Contemptibles Association, and in March 1955 was appointed Area Delegate for the branch before being elected as its Chairman. Chum John Barnby died at Birmingham in 1965.

[6] Hull Daily Mail, 9 November 1927.

[7] Leeds Mercury, 7 November 1927 & Birmingham Daily Gazette, 10 November 1927.

[8] Yorkshire Post, 22 May 1928.

[9] Some reports state that the party numbered 225.

[10] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 10 November 1927.

[11] Hull Daily Mail, 10 November 1927.

[12] Leeds Mercury, 7 November 1927.

[13] Born at Alverstoke, Thomas Henry Seager was aged eighteen years and five months when he attested as a Regular soldier with The King’s Royal Rifle Corps on a Short Service Engagement at Gosport on 14 May 1910. At the time of his enlistment he was employed as a porter and was serving with the 1st Wessex Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (Territorial Force). Issued with the regimental number 9739, Rifleman Seager was posted to the 1st Battalion and passed his 3rd Class Certificate in Education on 26 April 1911. He was awarded his first Good Conduct badge on 14 May 1912 and qualified as a First Class Signaller the same month. At the declaration of war, Rifleman Seager was stationed at Salamanca Barracks in Aldershot and embarked for France, attached to Battalion Headquarters of the 1st K.R.R.C. as a signaller, on 12 August, disembarking at Rouen the following day. On 30 September, while in the line near Beaulne on the Aisne, Seager performed acts of gallantry while acting as a runner for which he subsequently received the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The citation for the award was published in The London Gazette on 17 December 1914:

“For conspicuous good work on 30th September in carrying messages under rifle and shell fire, and for good work of a similar nature on several previous occasions.”

Rifleman Seager was wounded in the left shoulder and right wrist during the Battle of Festubert in May 1915, and was evacuated to hospital in England on 25 May, being posted onto the strength of the Rifle Depot on that date. On 28 August he was transferred to the 5th (Special Reserve) Battalion at Sheerness and was appointed an unpaid Lance-Corporal on his arrival. Seager returned home on furlough in November, and this was reported by The Hampshire Telegraph on 19 November:

“Lance-Corporal T. H. Seager, King’s Royal Rifles, the Gosport lad upon whose breast the King pinned the Distinguished Conduct Medal, for bravery at the battle of the Aisne, is now in the signalling branch. He has been spending a few days leave at home this week. At the battle of the Aisne, Seager volunteered to cross three-quarters of a mile of open country, to obtain help for a British force that was being hard pressed in its defence of advanced trenches. He also holds a French medal for gallantry in the first fighting at Ypres, when he was the means of helping to save a French battery of artillery from being cut up by a superior German force.”

Awarded pay for his appointment as Lance-Corporal on 25 April 1916, Seager was transferred to the 2nd (Home Service) Garrison Battalion, The Northamptonshire Regiment, which was stationed on the Isle of Grain near Sheerness, on 21 June, and was given the regimental number 25814. He was also appointed an Acting Corporal on the date of his transfer.  On 15 January 1917, Thomas married Lilian Mary Hawkins at Brentford. The 2nd (Home Service) Garrison Battalion became the 13th Battalion, Royal Defence Corps on 10 August 1917 and Seager was transferred to the Corps, being issued with the service number 48534.  He was discharged as physically unfit on 26 November 1917 and was permanently excluded for liability to be medically re-examined for further service under the terms of the Military Service (Review of Exemptions) Act of 1917. Thomas returned home to 2 Roundswell Gardens in Southampton with his wife Lillian, and was sent a Silver War Badge and awarded a pension of 30/6d. for four weeks, reduced to 15/-. for 48 weeks, to be reviewed at the end of that period. He received his King’s Certificate of Discharge on 17 October 1918, by which time he and Lillian resided at 6 Sir George’s Road in the Freemantle district of Southampton. Seager was sent his 1914 Star by post on 12 June 1919 and issued with the clasp and roses for the medal on 5 February 1920, and on 21 April was appointed as a postman in Southampton.

Thomas Henry Seager D.C.M. died in 1967.

[14] George William Bennett was born at Bermondsey in 1886 and had attested for the Lancers of the Line on 25 February 1907. Issued with the service number L/114, Bennett was posted to the 5th (Royal Irish) Lancers, but was subsequently drafted to the 12th Royal Lancers and served with that regiment in India and South Africa before returning to England in 1913. Private Bennett embarked for France on 16 August 1914. The citation for the award of the Albert Medal was published in The London Gazette on 26 August 1918:

“A woman who was crossing the line in front of a troop train at a railway station in France, to reach a passenger train, was caught by the buffer of the engine. Private Bennett, 12th Lancers, hearing the woman’s screams, and seeing her position, rushed to help her and pulled her into the six-foot way between the two trains. Unfortunately a basket which the woman was carrying was struck by the troop train and knocked Bennett against the passenger train, with the result that he was badly injured and suffered the amputation of both his legs. Had it not been for his presence of mind and courage the woman probably would have been killed.”

As well as being awarded the Albert Medal, which Bennett received from the hands of George V at Buckingham Palace on 18 September 1918, he was also awarded the Médaille d’Honneur pour acte de Courage et de Dévouement, First Class, in Silver Gilt, by the French Government on 4 October 1918. George was discharged as a consequence of his injuries on 16 January 1919 and was issued with a Silver War Badge. He was living at the Disabled Soldiers’ Home on Wattisfield Road in Hackney when he was sent the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 12 November 1920. Chum Bennett can be seen prominently on a Pathe newsreel taken during the visit, when he was filmed on crutches going down the steps to the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Brussels. Bennett’s medals were sold at auction on 1 March 2017 for £7,500.

[15] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 10 November 1927.

[16] Dundee Courier, 11 November 1927.

[17] Dundee Evening Telegraph, 10 November 1927.

[18] Leeds Mercury, 11 November 1927, Western Morning News, 11 November 1927 & Western Gazette, 18 November 1927.

[19] Birmingham Daily Gazette, 12 November 1927.

[20] Belfast News-Letter, 14 November 1927 & Gloucester Citizen, 14 November 1927.

[21] Western Gazette, 18 November 1927.

Leaving Their Mark

This article is based on my research into two men who served with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914 who left their mark in different ways – one by writing on a wall inside one of the bunkers at Essex Farm on the bank of the Ypres-Yser Canal, the other signing his name inside a book given as a gift.

Graffiti

Graffiti inside the concrete Advanced Dressing Station at Essex Farm, taken in 1984 (Courtesy of Ian Everest)

Inside the concrete bunkers that were constructed at Essex Farm, a number of pilgrims signed their names and left messages as they revisited the former battlefields. One of the “vandals” was an Old Contemptible, 7158 Sergeant (Acting Company Sergeant-Major) Charles Robert Foster D.C.M., who landed with 54th Field Company, Royal Engineers, at Zeebrugge on 7 October 1914 as part of the divisional engineers of 7th Division. He visited the bunker on a pilgrimage to the former battlefields eleven years later.

Born at Newry in County Down on 22 June 1881, Charles was the son of a soldier and joined the Royal Engineers in 1901, qualifying as a skilled carpenter. He married Jesse Nash at Canterbury in 1906.

On the night of 24/25 November 1914, Acting C.S.M. Foster took part in an operation to destroy a house that overlooked the British trenches in the Fleurbaix sector and was used by German snipers. The events were briefly recorded in the War Diary of 54th Field Company:

“Lieut. MORRIS, C.S.M. FOSTER and party blew up a house in front of the lines, the demolition was a complete success. The party were congratulated by the G.O.C. 7th Division.”

A report regarding him being awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal, as well as his own account of the operation, was printed in The Middlesex Chronicle on 27 February 1915:

HONOURS FOR BRAVERY.

“Company-Sergt.-Major Charles Robert Foster, of the 54th Field Company, Royal Engineers, brother of Mr H. Foster, of 154, Cromwell-road, Hounslow, is another of our local warriors who has gained special distinction on the battlefield. He has been awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal on the recommendation of Field-Marshall Sir John French for a gallant exploit in which he took a prominent part, and which he thus described in a letter he sent home before he was aware of the honour it would bring:-

“About 100 yards from our trenches and 60 yards from the Germans stood a farm in which their snipers used to get and pick off our men by the score; so one night we were ordered to blow it up. A lieutenant and myself and 4 sappers were picked out for the job. It was a very risky job, as the snow was on the ground and we could hardly get any cover. However, we made up the charges in the trenches, then crept out very cautiously to the house (under fire all the time), and fixed up the charge, which was a terrible job as it was pitch dark and we could only feel what we were doing. Any way, we did the thing all right, and as we were coming back we saw a German running away, and found out he had cut our wires. The officer and I had to search all over the place for the cut ends and join them up. We eventually got back to our trenches and blew up the place, made a good job of it, and had no casualties except a bullet hole through the officer’s cap. Just before the house went up we saw a German running into the place, so he went up too.”

In another letter dated February 4th our brave townsman tells of the dangerous work to which the Engineers are put in the trenches:

“The weather is greatly improved lately, and the trenches are drying up fine. I don’t expect it will be long before we get a move on. I have had a few narrow escapes since I have been back. I am employed on the second line of trenches, about 800 yards from the first line, with a hundred French labourers. We very often get a shower of shells over us. One burst within 30 yards of me yesterday; the concussion knocked me down, but I was quite unhurt. I had to knock off work, as it shook me up a bit. Yesterday afternoon the Germans dropped 30 shells into a village near here, and killed a few civilians. Our artillery last night fired 30 rounds each gun in retaliation. Talk about an inferno! We have 50 or 60 guns round about here, so you may guess what it was like. We have had several German aeroplanes over us to-day, so we shall have some shells to-morrow.”

Coy.-Sergt.-Major Foster is one of the sons of Mr T. Foster, who was for many years Army Scripture Reader at Hounslow, and who now resides in Jersey. He has been 14 years in the Royal Engineers; one of his brothers, Sergt.-Maj. Thomas Foster, has served for 22 years in the Royal Artillery; and his youngest brother, Frederick, joined the Northamptonshire Regiment at the outbreak of war.”

The citation for the award was published in The London Gazette on 1 April 1915:

“For gallant conduct on 25th November, 1914, when, in company of an Officer, he succeeded in blowing up a house containing German snipers who were causing many casualties.”

Foster was also Mentioned in Despatches, the award being gazetted on 18 May 1917. He finished the war holding the appointment of Temporary Warrant Officer Class I and in 1920 was stationed in Palestine.

Charles Robert Foster D.C.M. died in Kent in 1973.

In 1972, In-Pensioner John Cusack M.M., an Old Contemptible who had served with the 1st (Royal) Dragoons in 1914, presented a copy of his autobiography, Scarlet Fever, to a member of the Royal Hospital staff as a leaving present. This book is now in my possession.

Among the In-Pensioners who signed the book with him was Francis Quilter, formerly of the 1st Battalion, The East Surrey Regiment.

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Born at Battersea (some records state on 11 April 1888), Francis had been educated at the Foundling Hospital at Grays Inn Lane in London and attested for The East Surrey Regiment, aged fourteen, on 12 March 1903. Issued with the regimental number L/7824, Quilter served as a Band Boy with the 1st Battalion, and remained with the Band on converting to adult service at the age of eighteen. He was stationed at Dublin on the outbreak of the war and disembarked at Le Havre with the 1st Battalion on 15 August 1914. Quilter was discharged, on the termination of his period of engagement, on 20 March 1916, but joined the Royal Naval Air Service on 15 June. He stated at his attestation that he was employed as a musician. He was promoted to Aerial Gunlayer Class I on 7 November 1917.

On 1 April 1918, Quilter was transferred to the Royal Air Force as a Private on its formation, being issued with the service number 214936. At the time of his transfer he was serving at Dunkirk and was employed as an Aerial Gunner. He was transferred to Blandford Camp on 19 May, and moved to No.1 (Auxiliary)School of Aerial Gunnery at Hythe on 8 June, where he attended a course to prepare to qualify as an observer. On qualification, Quilter was promoted to Sergeant Mechanic Observer on 17 July and was posted to Stonehenge Aerodrome before being sent back to France on 29 August with 110th Squadron of the Independent Air Force.

Reclassed as a Sergeant Observer on 1 January 1919, Quilter was posted to Uxbridge on extended leave before returning briefly to 10th Squadron, before being transferred to Baldonnel Aerodrome near Dublin on 11 December. He was sent his 1914 Star by post on 22 August 1919 and was issued with the clasp and roses on 3 March 1922.

Quilter was discharged from the Royal Air Force on 27 January 1922 and re-enlisted as a Regular soldier in The East Surrey Regiment at Kingston-upon-Thames the following day, being issued with the regimental number 6135564. He was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in Army Order 368 of 1926.

In-Pensioner Francis Quilter died at the Royal Hospital on 13 March 1976.

“I Received the Pork Pie and Cigars Safe”: Christmas 1914 – 5661 Lance-Corporal John Egbert Espin, 3rd Battalion, Coldstream Guards

Born at Normanton in Derbyshire, John Espin was a reservist at the outbreak of the war and had been working as a butcher in Hednesford. On mobilisation he was posted to the 3rd Battalion and disembarked at Le Havre on 13 August 1914.

A letter that he wrote describing how he had spent his Christmas in 1914 in the line near the Rue de L’Epinette, was printed in The Lichfield Mercury on 15 January 1915:

FEASTS OF PORK IN THE TRENCHES.

 Hednesford Guardsman Goes Pig-sticking.

“Writing to his former employer at Hednesford, Private J. Espin, of the Coldstream Guards, (who is married to a Lichfield girl, Miss Catherine Clarke, of Sandford Street, Lichfield, says:-

“I received the pork pie and cigars safe. The pie was very nice, much nicer than the place where I had to eat it. I got it in the trenches, and you might not believe it, but they are over the knees in water. Our trenches are not more than fifty yards from those occupied by the Germans. We can walk out of our trenches into theirs. What is now our trench was the Germans’ until we got them out of it on Christmas Eve. They didn’t seem to mind, however, for they wished us a merry Christmas next morning, sang a song or two, and then threw hand bombs into us.”

Espin is a pork butcher by trade, and he tells some interesting stories of how he has found scope for his pig-sticking propensities. On one occasion a loitering pig got its jaws blown off by portions of a “Jack Johnson.” Espin stuck the creature, carried it into the trench, and prepared it for the feast – “the best we had since leaving England.” The lid of a biscuit tin served the purpose of a frying pan. A fire was made, the roast pork “soon began to talk,” and a glorious meal followed.

On another occasion the Coldstream were entrenched in a deserted farmyard, where half a dozen fine porkers were running loose. One by one they fell victim to Espin’s knife, and he and his fellow Guardsmen experienced with pleasant recurrence some of the delicious sensations which inspired Elia of old to write a “Dissertation on Roast Pig.”

Espin Coldstream Guards

 The Grave of 5661 Lance-Corporal John Egbert Espin (Courtesy of Scott Brand)

Espin went to the front at the commencement of the war, and has so far gone through the thick of the fighting without receiving a scratch. A fact worth mentioning is that many parcels have been sent to Espin by his friends, and all have been received by him within four or five days of leaving Hednesford.”

John Espin died of wounds on 26 April 1916 at No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station. News of his death was reported in The Staffordshire Advertiser on 13 May:

“Information has been received at Lichfield to the effect that L.-Corp. John Egbert Espin, Coldstream Guards, was wounded in action on April 24, and died two days later in hospital. He leaves a widow and two young children, who live in Sandford-street. Lichfield. He was 33 years of age. The Rev. A. B. Brooker, chaplain to the Forces, has written to his widow saying the deceased was buried in the Military Cemetery with the Church Service, and his grave is marked with a cross bearing his name.”

Lance-Corporal Espin is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery: Plot VI, Row D, Grave 11A. He left a widow, Catherine, and two children, who lived at 37 Sandford Street. John Espin is commemorated on the war memorials at Hednesford and Lichfield, and also on the memorial inside the former St Mary’s Church in the city.

 

A Soldiers’ Grave: The Story Behind a Photograph Found in a Junk Shop

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During the early 1990’s, I purchased this snapshot of the grave of 185302 Sapper Fred Nocks, who served with 87th Field Company, Royal Engineers, from a junk shop for 10p. Fortunately, his service record has survived and it was therefore possible to find out more information on him.

Born at Pleck in Walsall in 1890, Harold George Fred Nocks was the eldest son of George, who was a baker and confectioner, and Harriet Nocks. Known as Fred, he lived with his parents and eight brothers and sisters at 261 Aston Lane in Perry Barr and was employed as a sawyer at a brewery. Aged 25 years and eleven days, Fred attested for the Royal Engineers under the Derby Scheme on 2 December 1915 at Aston. He was placed on the Army Reserve on 3 December and was mobilised eight months later, being ordered to present himself at Birmingham Recruiting Office No. 3 in Curzon Hall on Suffolk Street at 9 o’clock on the morning of 7 August 1916. Fred was examined for his Certificate in Trade Proficiency on mobilisation, and was assessed to be “skilled” as a sawyer. Nocks was posted to the No. 1 Provisional Company at Chatham to commence his training, and from there was transferred to No. 6 Depot Company at the Dismounted Training Centre in Newark on 29 August. On 11 February 1917, Sapper Nocks was placed on the following charge by Company Sergeant-Major Stevens:

“While on active service, having his bed made down at 11.15 a.m. contrary to orders.”

For his infraction, Nocks received two days’ confinement to barracks.

Sapper Nocks embarked for France on 21 March 1917 and on landing at Rouen was sent to the Royal Engineers Base Depot. From there he joined No. 2 Reinforcement Company on 20 April and was drafted to 87th Field Company, which formed part of 12th (Eastern) Division, arriving at the unit on 25 May 1917.

Fred Nocks was killed on 28 March 1918 and is buried at Bouzincourt Communal Cemetery Extension: Plot I, Row J, Grave 12. His parents had the following inscription carved at the base of his headstone:

“Thy Will be Done.”

An Infantry Platoon “Somewhere in France”: No. 5 Platoon, “B” Company, 1/6th Battalion The South Staffordshire Regiment (Territorial Force) – September 1916

No. 5 Platoon

In 1994, on a visit to Oxford, I purchased a number of photographs from an antiques shop. Among them was a postcard of a group of soldiers of The South Staffordshire Regiment, taken “somewhere in France.” On the back of the card, written in indelible purple pencil, were the surnames of each soldier and their position in the group, together with the information that it showed the men of No. 5 Platoon of the 1/6th Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment. From subsequent research that I carried out, I determined that the photograph was taken sometime in September 1916, when the battalion was serving with 137th Brigade of 46th (North Midland) Division in the Berle-au-Bois/Ransart sector.

On the night of 2/3 September 1916, and again on 25/26 October, “B” Company of the 1/6th South Staffords undertook two very successful trench raids on the German trenches facing them, and two of the men who are in the photograph received awards for their part in the operations.

Over the years I have managed to find more detailed information on some of the soldiers in the photograph, and it provides a useful glimpse into the composition of an infantry platoon in 1916,and the backgrounds of the men. The 1/6th South Staffords had taken part in the failed assault on Gommecourt on 1 July, and several of the soldiers were recent reinforcements who had been drafted to the battalion to replace casualties. The image also includes much interesting detail, such as the Lewis Gun being christened “Sylvia” for the benefit of the photographer.

Lewis Gunner No. 5 Platoon

The postcard had been sent home by 20071/242516 Private William Henry Whittingham, who had indicated himself on the photograph with a cross over his head. I also found and purchased another photograph of William from the antiques shop in Oxford at the same time.

001

William Whittingham was born in Ironbridge in 1878, the eldest son of John and Mary Whittingham. The family later moved to West Bromwich, living at 3D Sams Lane. Before joining the army in January 1916, he had worked as a house painter and decorator with his brother. Whittingham was drafted to the 1/6th Battalion in July 1916, shortly after the action at Gommecourt. On his arrival, he was posted to No. 5 Platoon of “B” Company.

On 1 July 1917, 46th Division attacked the western defences of Lens. “B” Company were detailed to provide carrying parties for the assaulting battalions of 137th Brigade, but soon became embroiled in the street fighting around Lievin. William Whittingham was killed during this action and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

No. 5 Platoon, “B” Company, 1/6th Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment

September 1916

TOP ROW (From Left to Right):

Private Constable

3154/240666 Private (later Lance-Corporal) Ernest Gregory (Wolverhampton)

Ernest Gregory had been drafted to France on 28 June 1915. Later appointed Lance-Corporal, he died of wounds on 10 May 1918 and is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery: Plot LXVII, Row B, Grave 16. Ernest was 26 years old at the time of his death and had been employed as a locksmith at the time of his enlistment.

Private Allmark

Private Cobley

2755/240485 Private Sidney Herbert Shinton (Wolverhampton)

119

Sidney came from Blakenhall in Wolverhampton and was employed as a clerk when he attested for the “Non-Manual” Section of the 6th Battalion on 3 September 1914. He had disembarked at Le Havre with the 1/6th Battalion on 5 March 1915 and was wounded 13 October 1915 at the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Posted back the the 1/6th Battalion on his recovery, Shinton was promoted to Sergeant and was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal on 1 January 1918. He was disembodied on 3 March 1919. Shinton rejoined the Defence Force in 1920 and transferred to the Territorial Army on its formation in 1921. He died at Wolverhampton in September 1966, aged 71.

Private C. Taylor

5198/241701 Private Leonard Fownes (Coseley)

121

Leonard Fownes was born on 1895 and lived at 41 Upper Ettingshall Lane in Coseley. He was employed as a hairdresser when he was attested at Bilston on 12 December 1915. He been drafted from the 6th (Reserve) Battalion at Catterick to France on 30 June 1916 and joined the 1/6th Battalion after the failed assault at Gommecourt, which had taken place on 1 July. Fownes later transferred to the 7th (Service) Battalion and was serving with 295th Prisoner of War Guard Company of the Labour Corps when he was demobilised on 18 September 1919. Leonard died in March 1928, aged 32.

Private Brookes

5673/242003 Private Frank William Lancaster

Frank joined the army on 28 March 1916 and was posted to the 6th (Reserve) Battalion at Catterick before being drafted to the 1/6th South Staffords in France shortly before the photograph was taken. He was discharged due to sickness on 24 November 1917 and issued with a Silver War Badge.

Private Davis

3276 Private Seth Allcock (Short Heath, Wolverhampton)

Seth Allcock had been drafted to France on 28 June 1915 from the 2/6th Battalion. He was killed on 13 December 1916, aged 19, and is buried at Bienvillers Military Cemetery: Plot III, Row D, Grave 8.

His brother, 7670 Private Joseph Allcock, served with “D” Company of the 1/5th South Staffords and had been killed in the assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt on 13 October 1915. Joseph is commemorated on the Loos Memorial.

Seth and Joseph were the sons of Thomas and Phoebe Maria Allcock.

Private Thompson

 

SECOND ROW:

Private Baggott

5242/241728 Private Charles Bradshaw (Lower Gornal)

Born at Barrow in Lancashire, Charles had attested at Stourbridge in early 1916. At the time of his enlistment he was employed as a brickyard labourer. Private Bradshaw was severely wounded during the fighting on the outskirts of Lens on 1 July 1917 and died of his wounds on 4 July, aged 30. He is buried at Choques Military Cemetery: Plot I, Row L, Grave 2.

Private Hanlock

20183/242626 Private Charles Heaton (Handsworth)

Charles had joined The South Staffordshire Regiment at Birmingham in January 1916 and at the time of his attestation was working as a general labourer. He was killed in action on 1 July 1917 at Lievin and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Private Molineux

20071/242516 Private William Henry Whittingham (West Bromwich)

Private Whittingham was killed on 1 July 1917 at Lievin and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Private A. Taylor

Private R. Taylor

5504/241921 Private Marcus Catchpole (South Lowestoft)

Marcus Catchpole was born on 15 April 1891 and came from South Lowestoft and lived at 107 Carlton Road. He worked as a shoe repairer when he was attested at The Suffolk Regiment Depot at Bury St Edmunds on 10 March 1916. Although he stated his preferred choice of regiment as The Suffolk Yeomanry, Catchpole was allocated to the 3/6th Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment. He was drafted to the 1/6th South Staffords on 25 June 1916. Private Catchpole suffered severe gunshot wounds to his legs on 1 July 1917 during the fighting at Lievin. On recovering from his wounds, he was posted to the 7th (Service) Battalion.

Marcus Catchpole died during December 1977 in Buckinghamshire, aged 86.

20060/242505 Private Edward Thomas Turner (Penkridge)

Born at Wolverhampton, Private Turner was reported as missing on 23 July 1917, but it was later established that he had died while in German hands. He was originally buried at Oignes Communal Cemetery, but in 1920 his remains were exhumed and he was re-interred at Cabaret Rouge British Cemetery near Souchez in Plot VII, Row J, Grave 11. His widow, Alice, remarried and lived at Yew Tree House on Boscomoor Lane in Penkridge, and she had the following inscription carved at the base of his headstone:

 “Peace Perfect Peace.”

Private Reece

Private Simmons

 

THIRD ROW:

Frederick Wilson 5 Platoon Sniper 2

4760/241403 Private Frederick Wilson (left) was the sniper of No. 5 Platoon. Born on 10 April 1896, Frederick was the son of William Foster Wilson and Louisa Maud Wilson. He was employed as a plumber and living at 34 Shepherd Street in Wolverhampton when he attested for the 3/6th Battalion on 22 November 1915 and embarked at Southampton for France on 17 March 1916, arriving at Rouen the following day. Private Wilson joined the 1/6th South Staffords at their billets in Ecoivres on 14 April and the next day was posted to No. 5 Platoon. He later trained as a sniper, for which he was given proficiency pay.

Private Wilson took part in the failed assault against Gommecourt on 1 July 1916, and he also participated in successful two trench raids mounted by “B” Company while the 1/6th South Staffords were serving in the Ransart sector, on 2/3 September and 25/26 October. It was around this time that he, together with the rest of No. 5 Platoon, posed for a photograph in which he displayed his specially adapted rifle with its telescopic sight. He was issued with the regimental number 241403 in March 1917, in accordance with the provisions of Army Council Instruction 2414 of 1916.

Following the fighting around Hill 65 and the outskirts of Lens in June and July 1917, Private Wilson was granted leave and returned home between 8 and 18 July. While serving in the Gorre sector on 2 May 1918, Wilson was treated at 1/1st North Midland Field Ambulance before being evacuated to No. 22 Casualty Clearing Station at Pernes. From there, Private Wilson was sent to the St John Ambulance Brigade Hospital at Etaples, being admitted on 3 May. He remained in hospital until 11 May, when he was discharged and sent for recuperation to No. 6 Convalescent Depot, moving to No. 14 Convalescent Depot four days later. On being considered fit enough to return to duty, Private Wilson was posted to “K” Infantry Base Depot at Calais on 18 June. He rejoined the 1/6th South Staffords on 1 September and was posted to “A” Company.

Private Wilson took part in the successful crossing of the St Quentin Canal at Bellenglise on 29 September 1918 but was wounded for a second time during the fighting at Ramicourt on 3 October, where he received a gunshot wound. Evacuated to No. 12 Casualty Clearing Station at Tincourt, he was evacuated to England on 6 October and admitted to the Albert Hall Military Hospital in Nottingham for further treatment. During these operations, Private Wilson performed acts of gallantry for which he would later be awarded the Military Medal. The announcement of the award was published in The London Gazette on 17 June 1919.

Private Wilson was granted furlough between 23 and 29 November 1918, during which he married Kate Fox in Derby, before being posted to No. 2 Command Depot at Ripon. He was disembodied on 25 January 1919, on his demobilisation, and gave his home address at 219 Abbey Street in Derby. They later returned to Wolverhampton and had three daughters together.

Frederick Wilson M.M. died at Wolverhampton in 1986, just short of his ninetieth birthday.

Private Webb

8344/200242 Lance-Corporal John Kendrick (Walsall)

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John Kendrick lived at 37 Brace Street, Walsall, and worked as tube finisher at Gill and Russell Ltd. He had joined the 5th Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment in 1912 and arrived in France on 5 March 1915 with “C” Company of the 1/5th Battalion.

Kendrick was wounded on 13 October 1915 during the assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt, and again on 11 June 1916. On recovering from his second wound, he was drafted to the 1/6th Battalion during August 1916 and was posted to No. 5 Platoon of “B” Company.

Appointed a Lance-Corporal and issued with the regimental number 200242 in March 1917, John Kendrick died at No. 7 Casualty Clearing Station on 2 July 1917, after being mortally wounded during 46th Division’s attack against the German defences on the western outskirts of Lens, and is buried at Neoux-les-Mines Communal Cemetery: Plot II, Row D, Grave 19.

2129/240222 Sergeant William Washington (Wolverhampton) 

William Washington was drafted to France from the 2/6th Battalion on 25 June 1915. He was awarded the Military Medal for his actions during a trench raid on German positions at Berles-au-Bois on the night of 25/26 October 1916. The recommendation for the award states that:

“During the reconnaissance of the gap and the attack on the German trenches he behaved with conspicuous gallantry, fearlessly entering dugouts, and when his party was being hard pressed formed up a blocking party which effectively kept back a hostile bombing attack.”

The announcement of the award was published in The London Gazette on 6 January 1917.

Washington was disembodied on being demobilised on 26 April 1919.

Second-Lieutenant Sidney McGowan  – 5th (Dumfries and Galloway) Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers, attached 1/6th Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment (Territorial Force)

Born on 18 October 1892 at Girvan, Sidney was the son of WilliamMcGowan, who lived at Broomholm Place at Langholm. He was educated at Langholm Academy and on leaving school became an apprentice designer at the Langholm Woollen Factory. Sidney also achieved a First Class Honours in Weaving and Designing from the London City and Guilds Institution. He had joined The Lanarkshire Yeomanry in 1910 and was embodied at the outbreak of the war, serving at the regiment’s war station at Cupar in Fife. On 5 April 1915, McGowan was commissioned as a Second-Lieutenant in the 5th (Dumfries and Galloway) Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers (Territorial Force), and was posted to the 2/5th Battalion at Galashiels. He remained with the battalion until July 1916, when he volunteered for service in France.

McGowan was one of several junior officers from Lowland Territorial battalions who were posted to the units of 137th (Staffordshire) Brigade of 46th (North Midland) Division to replace officer casualties suffered by the Staffords at Gommecourt on 1 July. Second-Lieutenant McGowan was posted to “B” Company of the 1/6th South Staffords and soon distinguished himself during raids carried out against German trenches at Berles-au-Bois in September. For his actions on a raid carried out on 2 September, Second-Lieutenant McGowan was awarded the Military Cross. The citation for the award was published in The London Gazette on 20 October 1916:

“For conspicuous gallantry during a raid. He handled his portion of the raiding party with great skill and determination, and contributed largely to the success of the operation.”

McGowan was appointed Acting Captain on 1 November 1916. He was transferred to the 1/6th North Staffords on 26 January 1917 and on 24 May McGowan was the Officer Commanding of “C” Company, leading his men as the Left Assaulting Company during the attack on “Nash Alley,” a German trench to the south-east of Loos. McGowan’s company fought hard to secure their objective but soon came under heavy German counter-attacks. He was reported to have been “blown to pieces” by a German bomb during the early hours of 25 May, his last words being recorded as “The Boches shall NOT have this post.”

Sidney McGowan was posthumously Mentioned in Despatches in November 1917 and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

242561 Lance-Corporal Thomas Samuel Baker (Walsall)

Thomas Baker lived at 18 Rowland Street in Walsall and worked as a whip maker for Goddards in Farrington Street before he joined the army in February 1916. Appointed a Lance-Sergeant, he was killed on 21 August 1918, while serving in the Gorre Sector, and is buried at Fouquieres Churchyard Extension: Plot IV, Row C, Grave 17. His parents had the following inscription carved on the base of his headstone:

 “Thy Will be Done.”

Lance-Corporal Astbury

Private Lloyd – Stretcher Bearer

 

FRONT ROW:

Private Wardle

Private Weyman

8296/242492 Lance-Corporal Fred Mills (Walsall)

Fred Mills

Fred Mills was born at Pelsall. A Regular soldier, he joined The South Staffordshire Regiment in 1908 and landed in France with the 2nd Battalion on 14 August 1914. Mills was invalided home during 1915 after suffering paralysis to his face and shell-shock. He  was posted to the 1/6th  Battalion in July 1916, following the failed assault at Gommecourt, and joined No. 5 Platoon of “B” Company, being placed in command of the platoon’s Lewis Gun section.

Lance-Corporal Mills was wounded on 27 May 1917 at Loos-en-Gohelle. He was evacuated to England but contracted pneumonia and died on 15 June at Ampton Hall Hospital near Bury St Edmunds.

Fred Mills is buried in Ryecroft Cemetery in Walsall – Grave Reference: 7. 3. 607.

Private Knowles – Lewis Gunner

Private Leonard

2122/240220 Private James Evans (Heath Town, Wolverhampton)

Private Evans had landed at Le Havre with the 1/6th South Staffords on 5 March 1915 and died of wounds on 18 October 1918. He is buried at Tourgeville Military Cemetery: Plot IV, Row E, Grave 2. James was the son of Emma Evans, who lived at 2 Bennett’s Buildings on Prestwood Road in Heath Town.

“Treu und Fest”: The story of 4323 Squadron Sergeant-Major Harry William Baker – 11th (Prince Albert’s Own) Hussars

SSM Baker 11th Hussars

Harry Baker attested for the Hussars of the Line at Gosport on 6 November 1899, and at the time of his enlistment stated that he had been born at West Ham and was employed as a confectioner. He was stationed with the 11th Hussars at Marlborough Barracks in Dublin when he married Joan Mowat Breadalburn Sutherland Campbell at St John’s Church in East Dulwich on 3 March 1908. Their entry in the marriage register states that Baker’s father, Harry George William Baker, was deceased at the time of their wedding but had been an architect. Their daughter, Kathleen Joan Baker, had been born at Tunbridge Wells on 23 September 1907.[1]

At the declaration of the war, Baker held the rank of Squadron Sergeant-Major and disembarked with “B” Squadron from the S.S. Munificence at Le Havre on 16 August 1914.

Squadron Sergeant-Major Baker was killed on the morning of 31 October[2] when the 11th Hussars were fighting dismounted at Messines. The circumstances in which he had died were recounted in the regimental history published in 1936:

“At about 9 a.m. the squadron leader sent a report to the Colonel’s shelter to say that the enemy could be seen advancing from the direction of Warneton. The adjutant was at once dispatched to Br. Genl. Briggs with this information. Shortly afterwards Squadron Sergeant Major Baker came to the headquarters dug-out to say that he had located two guns in action down by the Douve stream. He was desperately keen to point out their exact position to our gunners and although warned of the danger which he ran – for the shelling was now intense – he set off on his task; he had only gone a few yards from the trench when a heavy shell burst close to him and killed him.”[3]

S.S.M. Baker’s body was recovered and taken to Wulverghem, where he was buried in the churchyard.

Some months following his death, his widow received the shocking news that S.S.M. Baker was a German by birth and had not been naturalised. A report published in The Surrey Mirror of 7 December 1915 records the story:

GERMAN-BRITISH SOLDIER.

HOW HIS WIFE LEARNED HIS NATIONALITY.

“After he had served 19 years in the British Army, and died on the field in France (sic), it was discovered that Squadron Sergeant-Major Harry William Baker, 11th Hussars, was a German. Recently, the Home Office granted a certificate of naturalisation to his widow, Mrs Joan Mowat Bredalbane Sutherland Baker, of The Bungalow, Peper Harow-road, Godalming, declaring her to be a British subject. Mrs Baker was born at Loch Fyne, in Argyllshire, but her marriage created her a German, and according to law an “enemy alien.”

A remarkable fact is that although she had been happily married since March 1908, it was only a few months ago, after her husband had been dead eight months, that the discovery was made that he was a German. It became necessary for Mrs Baker to register under the Aliens Restriction Order, and she also for a time forfeted her pension. Now her nationality has been restored, together with her pension and the arrears which had accumulated during the suspension.

To an interviewer Mrs Baker said that in 1900 she was head nurse in the service of Mrs Webber, wife of Colonel Webber, Dublin Fusiliers, at 92, Elm Park-gardens, South Kensington. In that year Colonel Webber was detailed at Brookwood, and the soldier in charge of his escort was Acting-Sergeant Baker. For three years his regiment was abroad, but they corresponded, and on his return to England they became engaged, and the wedding took place at St John’s Church, East Dulwich, on March 3rd, 1908.

“I never had the remotest idea that my husband was a German,” said Mrs Baker. “In fact, he hated anything German. Before the war he never liked me to get any toys for our little girl that bore the words ‘Made in Germany.’ After my husband was killed at Messines, France (sic), on October 31st 1914, I received the official notification from the War Office. Eight months later I read in a paper that a Mrs Leibold, a German, had been prosecuted for failing to register.

In the report of the case it was stated that Mrs Leibold came to England from Germany 33 years ago, and that she had a son, a squadron sergeant-major in the British Army who, in the name of Baker, had served in the 11th Hussars and had been killed in action.

It startled me when I read it,” continued Mrs Baker, “for I felt that there could only be one Squadron Sergeant-Major Baker in the 11th. The inquiries I made established beyond all doubt that it was my husband. I had understood from him that he was born in East Ham. It now appeared that he was born in Germany and that his mother brought him here when he was 2½ years old.”

Baker’s grave was destroyed during the war and he is commemorated by a Special Memorial erected at Wulvergem Churchyard in Plot B, Grave 2. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission state that he was killed on 30 October. The register for the cemetery records that he was the son of Harry George Baker, but no mention of his mother is present. His widow, Joan, lived at Springfield Gordale, at Halkirk in Caithness after the war, and she had the following inscription carved at the base of the headstone:

 “God Be With You Till We Meet Again.

Harry’s mother, Martina Leibold, died at 24 Lime Hill Road in Tunbridge Wells on 12 December 1929. Her funeral was reported by The Kent and Sussex Courier on 20 December:

“Mrs Leibold, of 24, Lime Hill-road, who passed away on Thursday week, was laid to rest at the Borough Cemetery on Monday. Floral tributes were sent by Mrs Baker and Grand-daughter; Mr and Mrs Berry; Mr and Mrs Clark; An Old Friend; Messrs Wood and Pannell; Mr and Mrs Hammond; A Friend; Miss Cole; Messrs Wood and Lowe; Mr and Mrs Smith; Miss Morgan. The funeral arrangements were carried out by Mr T. Potter, Southborough.”

Footnotes:

[1] Kathleen died in Buckinghamshire in 1991.

[2] Some records state that S.S.M. Baker was killed on 1 November.

[3] Captain L. R. Lumley: History of the Eleventh Hussars (Prince Albert’s Own) 1908-1934 (London, Royal United Services Institution, 1936), p.159.

A Face from the Somme: 17830 Corporal William Ratcliffe – 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh Fusiliers

William Ratcliffe

William Ratcliffe was born in 1896 at Northwood. He was the son of Edward Thomas and Martha Ratcliffe, who lived in Armitage, and William was employed as a mould maker at the Armitage Ware Works. He attested at Tamworth for The Royal Welsh Fusiliers and was drafted to France on 3 May 1915, already having been appointed a Lance-Corporal, being posted to the 2nd Battalion.

William was killed on 24 October 1916, when the 2nd Battalion, The Royal Welsh Fusiliers were holding positions at Lesboeufs, and his death was reported by The Lichfield Mercury on 17 November:

“Much sympathy is felt for Mr and Mrs E. Ratcliffe, of Ricardia Terrace, Armitage, in the loss of their second son, Corporal W. Ratcliffe, Royal Welch (sic) Fusiliers. The sad news was received on Tuesday and was soon known all over the neighbourhood, the flag flying half-mast on the Potteries where the corporal was employed before the war. He was 20 years of age. It is just two years since Ratcliffe joined the forces, and he was rejected at three separate recruiting offices before being finally accepted. He was a leading member of the local Boy’s Club and before the war was Assistant Scoutmaster. His elder brother, Edward Ratcliffe, is seriously wounded and in hospital at Blackpool. A memorial service will be held in St John Baptist’s Church on Sunday, Nov. 26th, at 6-15 p.m.”

Corporal Ratcliffe has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial: Pier and Face 4A, and he is also remembered on the war memorial at Armitage with Handsacre. His parents lived at 8 Greenfields Avenue in Armitage after the war.

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In 1992, I bought this postcard for 20p from a junk shop in Lichfield. In their front window, stapled to shelves, were William’s mourning cards and other photographs taken in France. My offer to buy them was refused, so they faded and crumbled in the sunlight and were lost.

1902 Private William Millett – 2nd Battalion, The Royal Warwickshire Regiment

 

William Millett

Born at Walsall on 13 November 1892, William was the son of John and Caroline Millett. He was baptised at St George’s Church on 30 November.[1] William’s father was employed as a gold and silver plater and his family lived at 17 Lower Walhouse Street. Millett attested for the Special Reserve and later enlisted as a Regular soldier with The Royal Warwickshire Regiment in 1911. After training at the Regimental Depot at Budbrooke Barracks near Warwick, Millett was posted to the 2nd Battalion and served on Malta and in Albania shortly before the declaration of war. He was also appointed a Lance-Corporal and had earned a Good Conduct badge.

Lance-Corporal Millett returned to England from Malta with the 2nd Royal Warwicks on 19 September and moved to a camp at Lyndhurst in the New Forest, where the battalion joined 22nd Brigade of the newly-formed 7th Division. The following month, he landed at Zeebrugge and was soon in action near Ypres, where he was wounded. Millett was admitted to 4th Northern General Hospital at Lincoln on 3 November, and his condition was described as serious.[2]

In spite of his wounds, he recovered sufficiently early the following year to return home on furlough. Lance-Corporal Millett gave a detailed account of the circumstances in which he had been wounded to a journalist of The Walsall Observer while resting at home at Dale Street in Palfrey:

PALFREY SOLDIER’S EXPERIENCE.

Lay Wounded on Battlefield Five Days and Nights.

“Lance-corporal William Millett (22), Royal Warwicks, is at home at Dale Street, after suffering extreme hardship on the battlefield in Flanders. The Royal Warwicks has been several days in the trenches under heavy shell fire, when one morning the German gunners seemed to get a better range of the position. At any rate, a “Jack Johnson” dropped in front of the trench and, bursting, scattered heaps of earth in all directions. Several “Tommies” were completely buried, but others were more fortunate. With shells dropping all round in quick succession, the position became too hot to hold, so the officer in command gave the order to retire. No sooner had the “Tommies” scrambled out of the trench than a volley resounded from the Germans about 200 yards away, and Lance-corporal Millett felt several sharp stings.

The bullets were coming over like hail, and several comrades dropped dead beside him. Though badly wounded, he managed to struggle on, but was unable to keep pace with others who had been lucky enough to escape injury. At a moment such as this, it was a case of every man for himself, and, although it was hard to leave chums behind, he knew that to have remained would have served little good purpose and been courting death.

“They could do no other,” says Lance-corporal Millett, “and were quite right in looking after themselves.” Suffering intense pain, he scrambled along alone until, reaching a field, he joined another comrade, who had just been hit in the back, and was staggering about. Weakened by loss of blood, and in a dazed condition, Lance-corporal Millett was so exhausted that, being unable to proceed further, he lay down in a slight declivity beside his chum.

“The aggravating part of it,” he told the “Observer” representative, “was that we were then within fifty yards of the British lines, but, try how we would, we could not get along, and I was so proper dead beat that I was unable to move.” Even if they had been strong enough to make further progress, the going would have been risky business, for between them and the British trenches was a space fully exposed to the enemy’s fire, and to have crossed it would have afforded a splendid target for the German snipers. In that field between the two lines of fire Lance-corporal Millett and his comrade were obliged to lie for five days and five nights without sustenance.

Every day, from morning till dusk, there was a continual cannonade – bullets and shells went whistling overhead with scarce an abatement, and one or two dropped so close to the huddled pair that they marvelled they were not further wounded, and lay there in an agony of suspense, not knowing which minute might prove their last. At times they tried to keep their spirits up by carrying on a quiet conversation, but often periods of semi-consciousness came over them, and they suffered intensely from exposure, and shock.

“It was a terrible experience,” said Lance-corporal Millett, one which he shuddered to recall, but, nevertheless should remember throughout life. “I thought we should die of starvation,” he says, “and marvel how we stuck it so long. Even in the daytime it was bitterly cold, and, lying there, scarcely daring to move, we got numbed and clung together the closer. One night it rained heavily, and how we came through it all I don’t know.” Seeing that they had only recently returned from a warm climate, they felt the cold all the more keenly.

Found by the Germans.

Growing desperate, the comrade determined to try his luck at reaching the British lines, but had only gone a few yards when he was again wounded, and returned to where Lance-corporal Millett had remained. Every day the British went further away, and the enemy drew closer, so that at the end of the fifth day the two comrades had given up all hope, when they saw the Germans slowly advancing across the field. This they thought meant their doom, but instead of accounting for them there and then, as they half expected would have been their fate, the Germans treated them very well, and one told them in English that they would be removed to the nearest field hospital. This was done, and at the hospital the German medical staff found that Lance-corporal Millett had sustained five wounds, one in each knee, another in the muscle of the right arm, a fourth in the shoulder just above, whilst one of his thumbs had been badly damaged. Evidently he had been hit by bullets from a machine gun, and his wounds were sadly in need of proper attention. In this field hospital there were some twenty wounded.

One morning, on looking through the hospital window, a “Tommy” had a pleasant surprise. “Why,” he cried, “the French are in the German trenches.” And so it turned out that during the night battalions of “piou piou” (sic) had driven the enemy back and were triumphantly occupying their positions. It had been noticed that the majority of the German orderlies had quitted the hospital, and the few who remained were taken prisoners.

The fighting in this area of the battlefield was evidently of a ding-dong character, for the next night the Germans came up in great force and re-captured their old positions. Thus once again, the British wounded in this hospital were in the hands of the enemy. Then, nothing daunted, the French came on again, and, after a desperate encounter, got the better of matters and put the Germans to flight.

The wounded were then taken from the hospital, and Lance-corporal Millett was among those to be conveyed by motor to Ypres, where they was accommodated in a convent. It was when removed to Boulogne that he became separated from the comrade with whom he underwent the terrible experience on the battlefield. Later, while in hospital and reading a newspaper, he was grieved to see in the list of those who had died from wounds the name of his comrade. When sufficiently well to undertake the sea voyage, Lance-corporal Millett came to England, and spent some time in a convalescent home in Lincoln.

Before joining the Regulars several years ago he was in the Special Reserve, and on enlisting in the line was drafted to Malta. When war broke out the regiment was in Albania, but had twenty-four hours’ notice to leave and were recalled to England for the Front. Remarking that he was lucky to be alive, Lance-corporal Millett said he was growing tired of being continually asked to recall his war experiences, and, if only to stop him from further trouble in this direction, we have pleasure in giving publicity to this account.”[3]

William Millett ChristmasItems that belonged to Lance-Corporal William Millett. The Princess Mary Gift box, together with the card and photograph, he received at Christmas 1914 while at hospital in Lincoln recovering from his wounds. He also had a pipe and a hand-drawn regimental crest of The Royal Warwickshire Regiment, displaying the battle honours awarded to the regiment as well as the legend “European War 1914, 1915, 1915, 1917”, mounted in a frame and displayed in his home after the war.

Millett later reverted to the rank of Private and earned a second Good Conduct badge before being transferred to the 2/6th Battalion, The Essex Regiment (Territorial Force) on 7 April 1917. He was issued with the new regimental number 37608. Private Millett was stationed at Welbeck when he was discharged on 9 October 1917 as physically unfit for service. He was issued with his Silver War Badge on 11 July 1919.

William Millett 2

William married Rose Malpass in 1922 and died at Walsall in 1970, aged 77.

Footnotes:

[1] St George’s was demolished in December 1964 after the building became unsafe.

[2] Warwick and Warwickshire Advertiser, 14 November 1914.

[3] Walsall Observer, 23 January 1915.

A Poppy Seller: 4742 Private Henry Ernest Day, 15th (The King’s) Hussars

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On 11 November 1938, an Old Contemptible and former cavalryman, Henry Ernest Day, was photographed selling poppies on behalf of the British Legion at the Field of Remembrance outside Westminster Abbey.

Born at Market Harborough in 1885, Henry had joined the Hussars of the Line on 23 November 1905 and served with the 15th (King’s) Hussars in India and South Africa. He landed in France on 16 August 1914 and was reported as missing in the official Casualty List released by General Headquarters of the British Expeditionary Force on 2 November.  His fate was uncertain for some time and his wife sent an appeal for information to The People, which was printed on 7 March 1915:

“DAY. 4742. Trpr. H. E. Day, 15th Hussars. – Last heard of wounded and a prisoner at Louvain Oct. 16. Any news will be gratefully received by his wife. – Write, Mrs Day, 3, Freshford-lane, Redcliff Hill, Bristol.”

It was officially confirmed that Private Day was a prisoner of war when his name was included in a list which was published by the German Government in May 1915.  His right leg had to be amputated due to his wounds and he was later repatriated. He was discharged on 13 March 1916 while on the strength of the No. 5 (Southern) Cavalry Depot at Horfield Barracks, near Bristol, and was later issued with a Silver War Badge.

Henry was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 31 January 1920 and died in 1965.

Sadly the misappropriation of the red Flanders poppy, and its exploitation for commercial gain, are not recent phenomenons, as demonstrated by this letter which was published in The Sheffield Daily Telegraph on 3 November 1927:

“Sir, – With the approach of Remembrance Day, November 11th, may I once again ask the hospitality of your columns to repeat our warning to members of the public with regard to spurious poppies.

As everyone will know, November 11th is set aside each year for the sale of Flanders Poppies in aid of Earl Haig’s British Legion Appeal Fund for distressed ex-Service men, their dependants and the widows and children of the fallen, but it is a lamentable fact that both on and before that day each year poppies are sold for commercial gain, by certain firms and individuals who choose to ignore the fact that the public demand for the Poppy was created by Lord Haig in 1921, when he instituted his Appeal for ex-Service men.

The Flanders Poppy is essentially an emblem of remembrance and service – remembrance for those who fell in the War, and service for those they left in our care, and the men who returned and are now in distress.

It is with these two objects in mind that members of the public purchase poppies, but unless they are sure the poppies they buy are those which are made by disabled ex-Service men in the British Legion Factories, these objects will not be achieved.

The true Haig poppy may be distinguished by the special metal centre on which stand out in relief the words “Haig’s Fund.” Further proof may be obtained by the purchaser observing that the seller is using one of the official collecting boxes and is also displaying in a prominent position one of the official sellers’ badges issued by the Fund.

The sale of spurious poppies cannot be regarded too seriously, as we are sure that each year a very great deal of badly needed money has been lost to the Fund, and consequently to distressed ex-Service men, by the ungenerous action of those who have sold them. – Yours, etc.

W. G. WILLCOX, Captain.

Organising Secretary, Appeal Department,

British Legion.”