“The Very Earth Seemed to Stink of Death”: A Territorials’ Baptism of Fire at Ypres, November 1914 – 2170 Lance-Corporal Reginald “Jack” Evans, “F” Company, 1/1st Battalion, The Hertfordshire Regiment (Territorial Force)

Hertfordshire_Regiment_Capbadge

In 1934, Reg Evans D.C.M., who lived at Armitage in Staffordshire and ran a newsagents in the village, had his wartime memoirs published in The Lichfield Mercury in weekly parts.

In November 1914, he was serving as a Lance-Corporal in “F” Company of the 1/1st Battalion, The Hertfordshire Regiment (Territorial Force), and described his journey to France and his first experience of war near Ypres:

“We were up very early on the morning of November 5th, greatly to the annoyance of our host, who told us plainly that he wasn’t going to have his house upset at that time of the morning, orders or no orders. We cheekily told him he needn’t bother, as we were off to France to keep the Huns away from him; and Charley said bluntly that he hoped if they did land, some of them would be billetted on him for a change. We had to do a certain amount of hanging about once we had reported in the market square, and didn’t finally leave Bury station until half-past eleven.[1] How we pushed out our chests and roared “Tipperary” as we passed through the town – what a scramble for pieces of chalk to mark “To Berlin” on the carriages – and then the train steamed out amid a roar of cheers, and we were started off on the great adventure.

It was night when we reached Southampton and proceeded straight on board an old cattle ship, “City of Chester,” and shortly after midnight, accompanied by warships, we set sail. It was beautifully moonlight, and Charley and I wandered about the boat. To find ourselves actually on board a ship was a new experience to us both, and there was lots to interest us, especially the number of other vessels which, under cover of night, were travelling in both directions. Besides, there was a great want of room for sleeping accommodation. Early in the morning biscuits and tea were served out, and we finally disembarked about two p.m. at Le Havre, where we had a good uphill march along a rotten road till we reached the rest camp.[2] Here we were packed in, sixteen men to a tent, and in spite of the cold only one blanket per man was issued. Reveille was at seven, and though there was a rotten fog we were turned out for P.T. and later a route march and an inspection. I was lucky enough afterwards to get a pass to Le Havre, and went down on a tram to have a look round and air my French.[3]

The sight of a sovereign acted as a talisman to the keeper of an estaminet or beer-house, and he proceeded to supply me with what seemed unlimited drinks and 27 francs in change. When I got back to the camp I found it all in disorder, orders having been received to stand by ready to move at once, but we managed to get a little sleep amongst the baggage. The sounding of the alarm about two o’clock set everybody stirring, and we were soon off to the station, where we had breakfast in the yard, whilst a long line of horse boxes, painted “8 chevaux, 40 hommes” (8 horses or 40 men) were coupled up to form our train. In these, all that day and the following night, in the most cramped positions imaginable, we crawled on through the country, knowing nothing of our destination until we found ourselves at St Omer. Whilst we were detraining rumours flew around that this was G.H.Q. and we were to be General French’s bodyguard, but we were soon disillusioned, and found ourselves once more on the road, where at a dirty little village called Tatenheim (sic), or some such name, we were distributed to find billets in the various cowsheds.[4]

Next morning we were out about seven to receive instruction on the new rifle we had been issued with, as they were very different from those we had used in England. In the afternoon, in pouring rain, we had an inspection by Sir J. French and his staff. The men swore that the Commander-in-Chief hadn’t turned up; and when we got back to the billets the news that we should probably stay where we were for at least a fortnight confirmed the pessimists, who insisted that our sole job would be to furnish guards for G.H.Q.[5]

Next morning we were out in the filthy blackness of a November morning at 5.30, full marching order, to dig trenches the other side of St Omer. About 11 o’clock up dashed an orderly asking for the officer in charge. Back to our billets at once. Off we set, full speed, sweating and swearing. We were to join the 4th Brigade of Guards at Ypres.[6] Only about three-quarters of an hour to spare to get dinner, emergency rations and water, then all aboard a fleet of motor ‘buses.

As we started we could hear the distant mutter of guns, but we had not the slightest idea what had taken place to cause our being sent forward so urgently. Our only official stop was at Cassel, where we all got out for a few minutes to stretch our legs, and some were lucky enough to get hold of a bottle or two of wine. Soon after we resumed our journey it started to rain in torrents. Those on the outside came crowding down for shelter, and before long, such was our state, equipment, rifles and men all crowded in an indescribable heap, I was glad to escape outside to avoid suffocation.

The bad condition of the road caused frequent stoppages to our convoy, and once we had to turn out and help haul one of the ‘buses out of the mud in which it was stuck; but we finally arrived at Poperinghe amid a terrific hail and snowstorm, wet to the skin. Here, after a considerable delay, we were served out with rum and a day’s rations, and then, falling in by companies and sections, we started about midnight our first march to the trenches. By the time we reached Ypres the rain had ceased, and the moon shining brightly showed us our first sight of war. Here and there houses lay in battered heaps across the road, blocking our path, and we occasionally saw a dead body amongst the ruins.[7]

I was too tired to look in the wood for one of the dug-outs which we were told were there, so another man and I, wet through as we were, curled up together in some undergrowth and had a couple of hours’ sleep. When we awoke we managed, after great difficulty, to make a Dixie of tea, and, scrounging round with Gilbert, found a large dug-out just outside the wood which was unoccupied. With the captain’s permission we took our kit over, and we were just making ourselves comfortable when orders came to move. We passed no end of artillery, and at last found ourselves in another wood, where we had to dig ourselves in on account of the shelling which was taking place. It rained incessantly all day, and just as it got dark we had to turn out again and go back to our morning quarters. Gilbert was whacked to the wide, but between us we got him along somehow, and eventually about half a dozen of us shot packs and rifles and equipment into the top of the dug-out in the pouring rain and crawled inside, where we lay in a heap till morning.

When I woke up I was half perished with cold and damp, and had scarcely any feeling in my legs. The rain had been soaking into the dug-out all night, and our equipment and rifles outside were in an awful condition. We made some tea, and fags and bacca were issued, as well as two biscuits per man.

Looking round we could see two or three farms burning, and as we watched a calf wandering near our shelter was killed. Lord! the very earth seemed to stink of death, so fought over has this ground been, and we felt anything but happy over our immediate prospects. Next day we made a set at the unlucky calf and it was not long before it was hacked up and being cooked, but alarms of aeroplanes overhead caused a sudden dousing of fires and a posting of sentries to keep a look out for these unwelcome visitors. Cold bacon was issued, and we were told to eat our emergency rations as there was nothing else come up for us, and about four o’clock Captain Smeatham[8] came round and warned us to be ready to move again at a moment’s notice. Aeroplanes had been seen dropping lights over the wood, and shortly afterwards there was a terrific noise and three or four large shells exploded near us.

This seemed the commencement of heavy firing which shook the earth with the shock. The noise was like a rushing wind, branches came crashing down from the trees, and in the gathering darkness the scene seemed indescribable. We were glad to get on the move again, heavy “coal-boxes” bursting all round us, and the mud on the road, being now knee-deep, made the feeling of desolation complete. Every now and then somebody would disappear with a splash into a shell-hole, but we draggled on, finally landing in what we were told was the reserve line of the wood. Another nightmare night, and feeling pretty rotten in the morning, sought out the M.O.’s cart in the rear. Luckily I fell in with some men of the Worcestershire Regiment,[9] with whom I spent the afternoon, and had a good feed before I wandered back.

The wood was covered with equipment and ammunition of all sorts, British, French and German, and other signs of the severe fighting which had recently taken place there.[10] We moved off about 6.30 to the trenches, which were two or three feet deep in running water, so that rest was impossible. My first turn of duty was from 10 till 12, and about one o’clock, and again later, word was passed along to open rapid fire, as the Germans were attacking. Our new rifles, the working of which we had got only the most elementary knowledge, were all jammed, bolts wouldn’t act, and when they did, and we got a round off, away shot the bayonet over the parapet – and then there was a scramble. “If Jerry only knew,” we told one another, and what with this and the cold we began to realise the true meaning of the saying “Fed up and far from home.”[11]

As it got lighter again we could see heaps of dead just beyond our trench. In a smashed-up farm on our right we found the body of a Prussian Guardsman, and nearby a British Tommy with a gaping wound in his stomach. Just a short distance separated them in death, and all round were other signs of the terrific hand-to-hand fighting which had taken place. The swishing of shots overhead cut our explorations short and we scuttled back to our trench, and shortly afterwards we found ourselves back on the road again with the news that the French were taking over that part of the line.[12]

We met them as we went back, and their straggling column and ours intermingled, but flowing in opposite directions, added to the feeling of being right off the earth and in a strange sphere, the thunder of the artillery in an incessant roll sounding like the efforts of a gigantic blacksmith to hammer things straight.

We lay that night as best we could in our old dug-out, and the next day as well. We had been over a week without a wash or shave and were plastered with filth, and the news we received of the death of Lord Roberts seemed quite in keeping with the state of our feelings.[13]

After a day or two of this existence, short of water and rations, with no light of any kind, so that we were forced to stay in our dug-outs soon after 4 o’clock because of the darkness, we had orders to be ready to move at once. There was a sharp frost by now, and this made the roads a bit better, though they were still in an awful state, and our legs seemed almost unable to support us.[14] To our surprise we found ourselves once more passing through Ypres, but there was practically no shelling, and only the lights from the burning debris to guide us.”[15]

Footnotes:

[1] Bury St Edmunds.

[2] No. 2 Rest Camp.

[3] The 1/1st Herts suffered their first loss on active service when 2682 Private Charles Castle, a painter from Ware who had attested at Hertford on 5 September, died while at No. 2 Rest Camp on 7 November, aged 35. He was the son of Francis and Elizabeth Castle and is buried at Ste. Marie Cemetery: Division 14, Row D, Grave 3. His widow, Emily, is recorded as living at 21 West Street in Ware after the war.

[4] The 1/1st Herts arrived at St Omer at 7 o’clock on the morning of 9 November, after travelling through the night. They then marched to billets at Tatinghem, where they remained until 11 November.

[5] Field Marshal Sir John French had in fact inspected only one company of the Battalion.

[6] The 1/1st Herts were not formally attached to 4th (Guards) Brigade until 20 November at Meteren.

[7] As the 1/1st Herts marched through Ypres, the Battalion came under artillery fire. One Officer and one Other Rank were hit by shell fragments, but were only slightly injured and only the Other Rank required any medical attention.

[8] Captain Lovel Francis Smeatham.

[9] Probably soldiers from the 2nd Battalion, which served with 5th Brigade of 2nd Division.

[10] Lichfield Mercury, 6 July 1934.

[11] The 1/1st Herts had relieved the 2nd Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on the evening of 14 November in positions between Polygon Wood and Nonne-Bosschen. Three companies were deployed in the front line and five were in reserve. The fighting that Lance-Corporal Evans saw the evidence of had taken place on 11 November.

[12] 153e Regiment d’Infanterie de Ligne. The relief took place on 16 November.

[13] Field Marshall Frederick Roberts V.C., 1st Earl Roberts, was taken ill with pneumonia while on a visit to France to meet troops of the Indian Corps and died at St Omer on 14 November 1914, aged 82.

[14] The 1/1st Herts took over trenches from 6th Cavalry Brigade a mile south-east of Zillebeke on 17 November. 2270 Corporal Ernest Boardman and 2238 Private Frederick James Darlow were killed on 18 November, and 2504 Private William Butts, 2747 Private George Haslear Catlin, 2518 Private George Edward Ellis, 2426 Private Walter William Flanders, 2428 Private Joseph William Johnson, 1911 Private Frank Pulley, 2636 Private Phillip James Robinson and 2746 Private Henry West all died on 19 November. The Battalion was relieved by the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards and marched via Ypres to billets at Meteren.

[15] Lichfield Mercury, 13 July 1934.

Another extract from the memoirs of Reg Evans D.C.M. can be found on this blog via this link: https://ourwar1915.wordpress.com/2017/08/07/a-month-in-the-brickstacks-a-herts-guard-at-cuinchy-february-1915-2170-corporal-reginald-jack-evans-no-2-company-11st-battalion-the-hertfordshire-regiment-territorial-f/

52445 Sergeant Joseph Bertram Glover M.M., 80th Battery, XV Brigade, Royal Field Artillery

Born at Chadsmoor in 1888, Joseph Glover, who was known as Bert to his friends and family, was the son of John and Louisa Glover. He was aged twenty years and two months when he attested for 2nd North Midland Field Company at Norton Hall on 18 May 1908 and was employed as a miner by W. B. Harrison and Son Ltd. Bert lived with his parents and siblings on Hednesford Road in Brownhills at the time of his enlistment. Issued with the regimental number 1064, Sapper Glover was adjudged as “good” when his skills as a labourer were assessed for his Certificate in Trade Proficiency on 27 July. He also attended Annual Training at Towyn between 2 and 9 August. Joseph obviously enjoyed military life, as on 15 September 1908 he was discharged from 2nd North Midland Field Company on joining the Royal Field Artillery as a regular soldier.

After being posted to Portland for training, Gunner Glover served with 80th Battery at Jullupore in India. He had been promoted to Corporal and appointed a Bombardier by 1914 and was still serving with 80th Battery, which formed part of XV Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, stationed at Kildare when war was declared. Bombardier Glover landed in France on 19 August 1914, and his experiences at the front were expressed in a verse which was printed in The Walsall Observer on 30 January 1915:

A LAY OF THE TRENCHES.

“Lines by Corporal Glover, one the composers. The party are in the Royal Field Artillery, and have been at the Front since the commencement of the war.

Our happy family consists of three –

The Corporal, the Bombardier, and me.

In various climes it’s been our fate to roam,

Till here together we have found a home;

It isn’t finished in the latest mode,

But, then, we trust it ain’t a permanent abode.

 

The roof was once, I think, a stable door;

Of straws the carpet, that adorns the floor;

The walls are of quite superior clay,

That sticks to one and won’t be lured away.

Adown these walls the melting snow is trickling,

And down the Corporal’s neck – his comments are most tickling.

 

We’re somewhat limited for space, ‘tis true,

If I turn round so must the other two.

And getting in and out becomes a bore,

When one is rather wider than the door.

But still we’re not too slow in taking cover

When those confounded German souvenirs come over.

 

In reminiscent mood we sip our tea –

The Corporal, the Bombardier, and me.

We hearken back to Mons and Le Cateau,

I wonder what’s become of so-and-so.

I hear that Nobby Johnson sent a letter

To say they took a leg off – but he’s better.

 

Pass up the “pozzey,” if it’s not all done,

But, hark, “Eyes front, turn out and man your gun.”

There goes the tea, the jam is on the floor,

I’ve stuck again my blessings on this door.

Three thousand yards, corrector 1-6-2,

And “Fire,” my German friends, a souvenir for you.

 

Down falls the night, and also falls the rain,

The sentries mourn, we seek our home again.

And, clinging close, the blessed warmth to keep,

Seek brief oblivion in a dreamless sleep,

Till dawns the day upon the sodden trenches,

And calls again to “Action front” our Army, known as French’s.

 

CORPORAL GLOVER

BOMBARDIER MARR

GUNNER SMITH

Composers.”

Promoted to Sergeant, Bert Glover was wounded during the fighting on the Somme in 1916 and information that he had been admitted to hospital was printed in The Walsall Observer on 12 August:

“News has been received by Mrs J. Glover, of Hednesford Road, Brownhills, that her son, Sergeant Bert Glover, No. 52445, Royal Field Artillery, has been wounded in France, and is now an inmate of Lansdown Road Hospital, Cardiff. At the outbreak of the war he had completed his term, but was sent out with the First Expeditionary Forces, and has taken part in many engagements.”[1]

It was later announced in The London Gazette on 27 October 1916 that Sergeant Glover had been awarded the Military Medal. He was issued with the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 13 March 1920.

Footnote:

[1] Also reported in The Lichfield Mercury on 11 August 1916.

2076 Squadron Corporal-Major Tom Brooks Cluney, 2nd Life Guards

Born in 1878, Tom was the son of Samuel Brooks Cluney and Annie Cluney, and was baptised at Holy Trinity Church in Kilburn on 6 October of that year. He was aged eighteen years and seven months when he attested for the 2nd Life Guards at Regent’s Park Barracks in London on 24 March 1897, and at the time of his enlistment was employed as a barman. He passed his 3rd Class Certificate in Education on 27 September 1897. Awarded Good Conduct pay on 24 March 1899, Private Cluney went on active service with the 2nd Life Guards Squadron of the Household Cavalry Composite Regiment, and sailed for South Africa on 4 December. Landing at Cape Town on Christmas Eve, Cluney was received a gunshot wound to his right thigh in action against the Boers at Vredefort in the Orange Free State on 7 August 1900 and was admitted to hospital at Wynberg. He returned home on 29 January 1901 and was later issued with the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for Johannesburg, Diamond Hill, Wittebergen and the Relief of Kimberley. In October 1901, Cluney was treated in hospital for scabies.

Cluney was appointed a Lance-Corporal on 1 December 1901 and on 19 December 1902 passed his 2nd Class Certificate in Education. On 3 January 1903 he was sent to the Cavalry Depot at Canterbury on an equitation course. On his returned to the regiment Cluney was promoted to Corporal on 10 February. He was sent on another course, at the Army School of Signalling at Aldershot, on 31 May 1904. Promoted to the rank of Corporal of Horse on 15 March 1906, Cluney was sent to the School of Musketry at Hythe on 4 September and, on his return to Regent’s Park Barracks, extended his period of engagement to serve twenty-one years with the Colours on 24 September. Tom married Clara Sharpe at St Mary’s Church in Walthamstow on 16 December. Corporal of Horse Cluney attended a refresher course at Hythe in May 1912 and was promoted to Squadron Corporal-Major on 24 August of that year.

At the declaration of war, S.C.M. Cluney was stationed at Combermere Barracks in Windsor. He did not go to France in August 1914 with the 2nd Life Guards Squadron that formed part of the Household Cavalry Composite Regiment, but the regiment, having absorbed large numbers of Reservists from regiments of the Cavalry of the Line in order to bring it up to its War Establishment, was called upon to serve on the continent and moved to Ludgershall on 1 September to join 7th Cavalry Brigade of 3rd Cavalry Division. The 2nd Life Guards disembarked at Zeebrugge on 7 October.

Two weeks after arriving in Belgium, S.C.M. Cluney and the 2nd Life Guards were in action at Zonnebeke in support of the infantry of 7th Division. The War Diary of the 2nd Life Guards records the course of the days’ fighting:

“Marched at 5.30 a.m. to EHRSTERNST remaining idle till midday and rear regiment. Ordered to support the Infantry at ZONNEBEKE – the Blues and 1st Life Guards being already there. Considerable sniping from houses in the village and from outside. Brigadier Lawford pointed out our place and we were very thankful to find a roadside ditch and bank ready made, as the shell fire was severe for 2 hours. The Staffords[1] were in front of us, so we could not fire in spite of being constantly sniped from intervening ground. Our horses were left in the street and 1 shell fell among them killing 4 – a horrible sight – I was told. Captain V. Montgomerie got a shrapnel bullet in the back and 1 man was killed. I sat in a puddle in the ditch and felt grateful. The arrival of some of our Infantry – Cavan’s Brigade I believe – enabled us to be withdrawn about 4 p.m.

The following order was issued the next day:

“The Brigadier has much pleasure in telling the Regiments of the Brigade that before he left ZONNEBEKE today General Lawford command of the 22nd Infantry Brigade asked him to express to the Regiments of the Brigade his thanks for the assistance they gave him and his admiration for the way they behaved in saving what might have been a critical situation.”

(4 p.m.) We marched weary miles to VOORMEZEELE and after a long wait got into billets in that town – they say in orders to link up Haig’s force with Gough’s Cavalry Division.”

During the action at Zonnebeke, S.C.M. Cluney had received a gunshot wound to his left buttock. Admitted to 22nd Field Ambulance, he was evacuated to No. 7 Stationary Hospital at Boulogne for treatment.

On 28 January 1915, Cluney was promoted to Warrant Officer, Class II and later the same year was awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal. He remained on Home Service with the 2nd Life Guards Reserve Regiment at Combermere Barracks in Windsor for the rest of the war, and on 8 May 1919 elected to draw his pension while still serving. He was discharged at the termination of his period of engagement on 25 August 1919. At the time that he left the 2nd Life Guards, Cluney and his family lived at 1 Dunboyne Villas, on Elm Road in Windsor.

Tom Cluney was serving as a Volunteer with the 6th Middlesex Battalion of the Home Guard when he died in a tragic accident on 31 December 1940, and his death was reported in The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette on 17 January 1941:

“Parishoners will learn with regret that Mr Tom Brooks Cluney, when going on Home Guard duty on New Year’s Eve, was knocked down by an ambulance on the Great West Road and fatally injuried. Mr Cluney was for some years the landlord of the Seven Stars Hotel, South Tawton, and one of the founders of a Buffalo Lodge. He was afterward a newsagent at South Zeal before going to London. He was aged 62. He saw service in the South African and the last war, and his family have carried on the tradition. He retired on pension soon after the last war with the rank of sergeant-major (sic) from the Life Guards. He was also a member of the Old Contemptibles Assocation, and took a great interest in the British Legion. He is survived by his wife, daughter and two sons. His eldest son was lost in the submarine Thistle in the summer.[2] The “Last Post” was sounded at the graveside by trumpeters of the Life Guards.”

Tom Brooks Cluney is buried at Richmond Cemetery in Surrey: Block 1, Grave 7270.

Footnotes:

[1] 1st Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment.

[2] D/J 108613 Able Seaman Tom Sharpe Cluney was reported as missing, later presumed killed in action, aged 32. Born on 10 November 1907 at St Pancras in London, Tom was working for his father in his newsagents at South Zeal in Devon when he enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1928. Married to Hannah Margaret Cluney, Tom was lost when H.M.S. Thistle (N24), a T-Class Submarine launched in October 1939, was sunk in action by the German submarine U-4 off Skudenes in Norway on 10 April 1940. Able Seaman Cluney is commemorated on the Plymouth Memorial: Panel 37, Column 2.

“Remember, King and Country Come First, or Should do, with Every Man”: 4609 Serjeant William Henry Fossey, 2nd Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

002

“Just to let you know, that we have got our orders. We parade Friday night at 11 o’clock, leave Aldershot at 1 o’clock on Saturday. Don’t know yet where we go, but think direct to France. Whatever you do you must not worry about me; you must be proud to think you have a son fighting for your country. I hope it won’t last long, but we shall not have to give in until the Germans are properly crushed this time and put back for 100 years at least, as it will only have to be done over again in a few years time. If we had not started now they would probably have beaten us shortly, and then we should have had to bow to the Kaiser, which none of us ever intend to do. It is up to every able-bodied man now to do something. Remember, King and country come first, or should do, with every man. So do as I tell you, don’t worry and I shall be alright. Love to all.

Your loving son

Will.”[1]

Serjeant William Fossey wrote his letter to his parents, William and Maria, who lived at Dunloe Cottage on the Beeches Estate near Crowborough, while the 2nd Ox and Bucks were mobilising at Albuhera Barracks in Aldershot. He embarked with the battalion on board the S.S. Lake Michigan at Southampton on the evening of 13 August and landed at Boulogne the following afternoon.

041

Other Ranks of the 1st Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry who had been awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal in 1912. Serjeant Fossey is third from the right on the middle row of the group.

William Fossey was born at Sherrington in Buckinghamshire in 1875 and had attested for The Oxfordshire Light Infantry at Oxford on 1 November 1893. At the time of his enlistment was employed as a groom. Fossey held the India General Service Medal with two clasps, for Punjab Frontier 1897-98 and Tirah 1897-98, for his service with the 2nd Battalion on the North-West Frontier. He had spent most of his service in India and Burma and qualified as a instructor in signalling. Awarded the Long Service and Good Conduct Medal, with gratuity, under Army Order No. 104 of 1912,[2] Fossey had returned to England from the 1st Battalion in India shortly before Christmas 1913 as he was coming to the end of his service after over twenty years with the colours. He was serving with “D” Company of the 2nd Battalion when war was declared.

001

Warrant Officers and Non-Commissioned Officers of the 2nd Battalion at Aldershot in 1914. Serjeant Fossey is fourth from the right on the second row from the top of the group. 

Serjeant Fossey was killed on 13 November 1914 during shelling of the battalion’s positions between Nonne Bosschen Wood and Polygon Wood. His fiancé later received a letter for Company Quartermaster-Serjeant William Whitton, who informed her of the circumstances in which William had died:

“Just a line to you, knowing that you will excuse me doing so, but I am sorry to tell you that poor William Fossey was killed by a shell on coming out of his trench. He died at once, so I am pleased to say he had no pain. He died a brave soldier’s death.”[3]

Serjeant Fossey is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. The register for the memorial records that his mother, Maria Fossey, lived at 7 The Haven Homes on the Beeches Estate at Crowborough in Sussex. His father, William, had died by the time the details were collated.

Footnotes:

[1] Buckinghamshire Standard, 9 January 1915.

[2] Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry Chronicle 1912, p. 62

[3] Buckinghamshire Standard, 9 January 1915.

Black Country Jocks: 9483 Bandsman Joseph William McDivitt and 9484 Bandsman Archibald Wilkins, 1st Battalion, The Royal Scots Fusiliers

 

 

Joe McDivitt and Archie Wilkins

Bandsman Joseph McDivitt (left) and Bandsman Archibald Wilkins (right). The photograph was taken at Robert’s Heights in Pretoria in 1913, and is from a larger group of members of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Scots Fusiliers who were members of the Royal Army Temperance Association.

Born at Walsall in 1892, Joseph McDivitt was the son of Ruth McDivitt and lived, together with his mother, aunt and younger brother Harry, with his grandfather William, who was born in Glasgow, at 103 Teddesley Street in Walsall. His friend Archibald Wilkins was born in 1892 at Walsall, the son of Joseph and Minnie Wilkins, and resided with his parents, brothers and sisters at 3, back of 8 Court on Stafford Street. Joe and Archie had enlisted in The Royal Scots Fusiliers together on 7 October 1907 at Bristol and served initially as Band Boys.[1] Joe played the cornet in the Band of the 1st Battalion, while Archie was a clarinettist. They served together in India, Burma and South Africa, before the 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers returned home to Gosport in April 1914. While stationed in South Africa, Joe and Archie had joined the battalion’s branch of the Royal Army Temperance Association and had gained a number of medals, which all bore the legend “Watch and be Sober”. They also played football for the battalion.

RSF RATA

RSF and Bedfords 1913

Bandsman of the 1st Battalion, The Royal Scots Fusiliers and 2nd Battalion, The Bedfordshire Regiment at Robert’s Heights in 1914. The Bedfords were relieving the Fusiliers, which returned to Gosport.

When the 1st Battalion returned home, Archie Wilkins came home to Walsall on leave and stayed with his mother, Minnie, at the family’s home in the backs on Green Lane. He made a promise to his mother, who worked as a char-lady, that he would try and get her a better house when he had the opportunity. Archie also won a gold pocket watch at the fair, and gave it to his mother to look after for him.[2]

RSF Band 1914

The Band and Pipes of the 1st Battalion at New Barracks in Gosport, preparing to lead the battalion on Church Parade. Joseph McDivitt is indicated with a cross on the photograph.

On the declaration of war, the 1st Battalion, The Royal Scots Fusiliers was mobilised at Gosport in preparation to be sent to fight on the continent as part of 3rd Division. Archie wrote to his mother asking for her to send the watch to him so he could wear it in action and both he and Joe disembarked at Le Havre on 14 August 1914. On 23 August, Bandsman McDivitt and Bandsman Wilkins were acting as stretcher-bearers while the Fusiliers were in action along the Mons-Conde Canal at Jemappes. They served together at Le Cateau and the Battle of the Marne before reaching the Aisne in September 1914.

On 27 September, Archie was evacuating a wounded soldier to the Regimental Aid Post at Courcelles when he was hit in the abdomen by a bullet. He was alive for about an hour but died with his pal Joe McDivitt by his side. Joe and his fellow bandsmen helped to bury Archie near the Regimental Aid Post. Joe later described how he had buried Archie in a letter home:

“He was one of the battalion stretcher-bearers who went forward in the midst of shell-fire, and fell while trying to save a wounded comrade. I made a simple cross, and placed it over his grave just before we left Vailly a few days afterwards.”

To mark the first anniversary of his death, Archie’s family placed a notice in The Walsall Observer, which was printed on 25 September 1915. Little did they know at the time that his younger brother, Joseph, would be killed in action on that day in Belgium:

WILKINS. – In loving memory of Private Archibald Wilkins, of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, who was killed in action on September 27th, 1914. “To memory ever dear.” – From his Mother, Brothers, and Sisters.

In 1921, Archie’s remains were initially recorded as those of an unknown British soldier, Joe’s makeshift cross having long since been destroyed. However, records confirmed that he was buried nearby and a headstone was erected at Vailly British Cemetery: Plot I, Row B, Grave 11 bearing the inscription “Their Glory Shall Not Be Blotted Out.” The register for the cemetery records that Minne Wilkins had moved to a better house, as Archie had promised he would help her to do, and she resided at 63 Hatherton Street in Walsall in the years following the war.

In December 1914 Joe McDivitt wrote a letter to The Walsall Observer, he wrote about his experiences during the fighting around Herlies in October 1914, while serving as a stretcher-bearer:

“It was firing and firing from morn till night, but the “coalboxes” they sent over did little damage. I have seen some of their ammunition cases dated as far back as 1897, and many of their shells land, but fail to explode. If the Germans want to make us shaky, then it will take a lot more than these; we simply smile at them. My worst experience was at La Brassee (sic), where two comrades and myself lay under continuous fire for eight hours in a shallow ditch. We were very lucky to escape, for if we had moved a trifle over came a shower of lead. Lying there in a cramped position, I managed to scrape, with my friends, a hole in which to rest my head for the bullets were hitting the ground only a few inches away. Well, the day wore on – it seemed like a day and a half – but when darkness came we thought it would provide a good chance to escape. But no. The Germans have a habit of searching the ground with their gunfire. Not knowing what to do, we lay still. The shells kept bursting nearer and nearer, until at last there was a flash but a few yards away, and I could hear the fragments flying over. We decided to make a run for it, but no sooner had we started amid a hail of bullets and shrapnel, then over came their searchlight, and down we dropped to avoid being seen. The light must have been shining for a full five minutes, and all the time there was the roar of the cannon and the crack of rifle fire. Luckily, not one of us was hurt, but many pieces of shrapnel were buried in the earth not far from where my pals were laid. We waited until the searchlight went, and then made good our escape.”[3]

In the same letter, he described his impressions of the fighting at Ypres:

“For weeks now it has been raining, and terribly cold; it is wonderful how the chaps stick it in such weather. We have had snow also. Our general, Smith-Dorrien, gave us a grand name, and said we had done our work splendidly. Ours is one of the regiments that has been in the trenches day in and day out for the last two and a half months, and he thought it was past human nature to stand it so long. But we did it. General French, he said, felt downright ashamed in not being able to come down and shake each one of us by the hand. The people in England, he said, will soon know of our work in the field. But he could not let them know yet on account of the great secrecy necessary. Supposing it was published now – well, the enemy would say. “Hello! the Royal Scots are in so-and-so brigade and so-and-so division,” and would soon discover all they required. So (he said) we must be very careful. Three of our men who have been greatly honoured are Lieutenant Mann, Captain Mack and Private Graham. That the rifle fire of the Germans is not a patch on our deadly aim is proved by the piles of dead and wounded the enemy leave when the British soldiers have been at work. Our troops out here think the war won’t last much longer than early next year, but the French soldiers are of the opinion it will continue till April. We have received more very large field guns, and since these have come into action, the Germans have been rather quiet.”[4]

In early January 1915, Joseph McDivitt decided that he would rather carry a rifle than a stretcher and transferred to a platoon in the front line. On 12 January he was shot by a sniper while in the line near Spansbroekmolen and was evacuated to No. 2 Casualty Clearing Station at Bailleul, where he died the following day. His widowed mother, Ruth McDivitt, received notification of his death a few days later at her home at 51 Bescot Street. His death was widely reported in the local press, including The Walsall Advertiser on 13 February:

“Bandsman Joseph William McDivitt (23), of the Royal Scots Fusiliers, is another Walsall man to give his life for his country, his parents, who live at 37, Bescot-street, having been officially informed that he succumbed, on January 13th, to wounds sustained during the Flanders fighting. He joined the army seven years ago, and had served in India and South Africa.”

Joe McDivitt’s family placed several notices in The Walsall Observer printed on 13 February:

McDIVITT. – In loving memory of my dear son Bandsman J. W. McDivitt, who died in action near Bailleul, January 13th.

No loved ones stood beside you,

To hear your last farewell;

Not a word of comfort could you have

From those who loved you well.

Mother.

McDIVITT. – In loving memory of my dear brother, J. W. McDivitt, who died, in action, a noble hero, January 13th.

Trooper H. McDivitt.[5]

Trooper H. McDivitt wishes to thank, on behalf of his mother, all friends for their kindness and for sympathy in her loss.

McDIVITT. – In loving memory of our dear nephew, Bandsman J. W. McDivitt, who died in action on January 13th. “Peace, perfect peace.” – Aunt Mary, Bella, and Florrie.

McDIVITT. – In loving memory of our dear cousin, Bandsman J. W. McDivitt, who died in action on January 13th.

In the bloom of his life God claimed him,

In the pride of his manhood’s days.

None knew him but to love him,

None mentioned him but to praise.

Cousins Elsie and Rose Payne.

Joe is buried at Bailleul Communal Cemetery: Row G, Grave 14 and Ruth McDivitt paid for the following epitaph to be carved beneath his name on the headstone erected over his joint grave:

“Peace, Perfect Peace.”

Mother.

Ruth McDivitt died at Walsall in 1923.

Joe McDivitt Grave

The Grave of Bandsman Joseph McDivitt at Bailleul Communal Cemetery, taken in April 1993. I had placed the glengarry there instead of a more usual wreath or poppy cross as a tribute to Joe.

Archie’s brother, 11021 Private Joseph Wilkins, also served with the 1st Battalion, The Royal Scots Fusiliers. He was the youngest son of Minnie Wilkins, and had joined the same regiment as his brother, Archie, on 14 February 1914 and had been drafted to the front on 3 December 1914. It is possible that on arriving at the battalion he sought out his brother’s friend Joe McDivitt. Joseph Wilkins was killed on 25 September 1915 during 3rd Division’s diversionary attack at Hooge, which was planned to draw German reinforcements away from the main offensive at Loos many miles to the south in France. News that Joseph had been killed was first reported in The Walsall Observer on 13 November:

“News has been received from the Regimental Record Office that Private Joseph Wilkins, of 19, Long Acre Street, was killed while taking part with the Royal Scots (sic) in the big advance on September 25. He was 19 years of age, and had served two years in Scotland before the outbreak of war.”

His death was also recorded in The Walsall Advertiser on 20 November:

“Pte. Joseph Wilkins, of 19, Long Acre-street, is reported to have been killed in action whilst fighting with the Royal Scots (sic). He was 19 years’ of age, and had served in Scotland for two years before the outbreak of the war.”

The Walsall Observer of 30 September 1916 carried a family notice remembering the brothers on the anniversary of their deaths:

WILKINS – In loving memory of our dear Brothers, Bandsman Archie Wilkins, and Private Joseph Wilkins, who fell in action on September 25th (sic) 1914, and September 25th, 1915.

Too far away thy graves to see, 

But not too far to think of thee.

Not forgotten by Daisy and Arthur.

Joseph is commemorated by a Special Memorial at Sanctuary Wood Cemetery. His grave was destroyed during the fighting around Mount Sorrell and Tor Top in June 1916 but he was known to have been buried in the original cemetery. Curiously, unlike his brother Archie, there is no record in the register regarding his next-of-kin. Minnie Wilkins, the mother of Archie and Joseph, died at Walsall in 1942.

Joseph Wilkins Grave

The Special Memorial to Private Joseph Wilkins at Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, taken in September 1992.

Footnotes:

[1] The entry for Bandsman Wilkins in the Register for Soldiers’ Effects records that he attested at Walsall, while the information provided by Ruth McDivitt which is included in the cemetery register entry for Joseph McDivitt states that he joined the Army in 1906.

[2] Walsall Observer, 12 December 1914.

[3] Walsall Observer, 26 December 1914 & 6 February 1915.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Harry McDivitt served with the 1/1st Staffordshire Yeomanry (Territorial Force).

“Chums”: The Old Contemptibles Association

 

Photographs taken by the Author at Westminster Abbey on 15 July 1993 of Chums attending the unveiling of the memorial to The Old Contemptibles by Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother.

They were (clockwise): Basil Farrer, Joseph Armstrong, Nicholas Keating M.M., George Jameson M.C., George Hatton and Frank Sumpter.

To be an “Old Contemptible” was to be part of an exclusive fellowship, forged by fire and blood during the first months of the Great War in 1914. The story of how the epithet came to be adopted by the men who served with the British Expeditionary Force during the early fighting is well known, but the men who bore the nickname were regarded as being of a particularly special quality. As the war continued, and their ranks thinned, a soldier who had been “Out since Mons” was often held with a similar high regard by his less-experienced comrades as the “Waterloo Men” of a century before.

This distinction was more formally marked in November 1917, when the 1914 Star was instituted. The qualification date for the medal was those who had served with the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium between 5 August and midnight of 22 November 1914. In October 1919, a “clasp” – in reality a bar to be sewn onto the ribbon of the medal – and two silver rosettes, to be borne on the medal ribbon bar for occasions when orders and decorations were not worn, were authorised.

Eligibility for the “clasp and roses” was determined by the qualification 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.” The devices were not automatically issued, but had to be applied for and the criteria of qualification verified before they were sent out.

Those men (and several women) who wore the 1914 Star and clasp were considered to be true “Old Contemptibles” by their peers. Their near-legendary status also bred certain myths regarding the composition and role of the British Expeditionary Force that were, and still are, frequently perpetuated.

The common bonds of service, shared experience and comradeship between the survivors of the battles of 1914 prompted Captain John Patrick Danny[1] to found The Old Contemptibles Association on 25 June 1925 at the Hackney United Services Club. On a wall of the former club, at 69 Powerscroft Road, is fixed a plaque 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.’

At its peak, The Old Contemptibles Association had 178 branches throughout the United Kingdom, and a further fourteen overseas. The Associations’ members were known as ‘Chums’ and it published its own journal, ‘The Old Contemptible.’

Old Contemptibles Association Membership Card

The Old Contemptibles Association Membership Card issued to Chum Leonard Shelton, who was a member of the City of Birmingham Branch.

In 1914 Shelton was a Special Reservist serving with the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion, The South Staffordshire Regiment and was drafted to France on 9 November 1914, joining the 1st Battalion at Merville. He was issued the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star on 24 May 1921. (Courtesy of Lee Lewis)

As well as fostering the bonds of comradeship, The Old Contemptibles Association was also dedicated to providing support to its members who suffered hardship through ill-health or unemployment. This appeal printed in The  Birmingham Daily Post on 27 July 1939 is one of many examples:

THE “OLD CONTEMPTIBLES”

TO THE EDITOR OF THE BIRMINGHAM POST

“Sir, – The twenty-fifth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War is approaching, and I want, on behalf of the Birmingham Branch of the Old Contemptibles’ Association, to make an appeal to the generosity of your readers for donations to augment the charitable funds of the Branch.

Membership of the Old Contemptibles’ Association is confined to survivors of the first four battles of the war – Mons, Marne, Aisne, and the first battle of Ypres. Readers need no reminding of the gallant fight put up against overwhelming odds by our First Expeditionary Force which left England in 1914, and whose efforts saved the Channel Ports, and thereby enabled the country to arm and prepare for the ensuing four years of warfare.

The funds are needed to make provision for distressed members in their declining years. Many of the members are still doing what they can for the defence of the country: and are enrolled in the National Defence Company, A.R.P. and Balloon Barrage, &c. But others, through illness after the result of war conditions or wounds, are unable to carry on their ordinary work, and it is for these especially that I make this appeal.

Subscriptions may be sent to me, or to the Honorary Secretary, Lieutenant E. H. Richardson, 20, Elmdon Road, Selly Park, Birmingham. Donations or gifts of clothing will be gratefully acknowledged.

W. SHAW,

President, Birmingham Branch,
The Old Contemptibles Association.

159, Portland Road, Edgbaston, July 25.”

 

The anniversary of the Battle of Mons was commemorated annually by the members of the Old Contemptibles Association, and was later used as the focus of “Mons Week”, where the branches of the association raised money in order to help their comrades in need. The Bedfordshire Times and Independent reported on the Association and its fundraising activities on 20 August 1954:

“To-day, the Old Contemptibles Association, founded by the late Captain J. P. Danny R.A., on 25th June 1925, still closes its depleted ranks, stills forms a front to life, and, through its 200 branches, keeps touch with its old Comrades and Chums. Of these, there are between 12,000 and 13,000 alive to-day; over 70 per cent have no pensions; many are bedridden, and they die at the rate of some 500 a year.

The Old Contemptibles Association Annual Parade Memorial Service Booklet of 1948 pictured in stark and simple lines the position of the rearguard of that gallant army as it is to-day. To quote from this source:

“They have been told by the Government this year (1948) that, although they may have saved England in 1914, England can do nothing for them now.” Those of them who are able to give as generously as they can to help their less fortunate comrades. Four or five thousand pounds in this way every year from their own meagre resources – no mean effort for a handful of impoverished old soldiers.”

Mons Week OCA poster

A poster publicising “Mons Week” (Courtesy of Stu Kidson)

The Old Contemptibles’ Association held their last national parade at the Garrison Church of All Saints in Aldershot on Sunday 4 August 1974, sixty years after the outbreak of the Great War. Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, who attended the service, later wrote to the each of the “Chums”:

“I was very pleased when your late President, Brigadier Roupell, invited me to join in your Diamond Jubilee Service, and I am glad to have been able to talk to so many of you.

It is fitting that the last National Service of the Old Contemptibles Association should be held in Aldershot, in the Royal Garrison Church. This was the peacetime home of the 1st and 2nd Infantry Divisions who mobilized here in August 1914, and who, as part of that Contemptible Little Army which you so proudly took your name, earned their place in history in the great battles that began on 23rd August 1914 on the line of the Mons Canal, and in the months that followed. Today’s moving Service will have brought back memories of that time 60 years ago when you stood together with your comrades and for three months held the enemy against overwhelming odds. It was a feat of arms unparalleled in our history. This was indeed your finest hour.

I am happy to have this opportunity as your Sovereign to thank you personally, on behalf of myself and our country, not only for what you did on the field of battle to keep us free and independent, but also for the example you set in courage, fortitude and comradeship.

We shall always remember those who lost their lives and those who were disabled. We should also remember that the qualities displayed by the Old Contemptibles have inspired many other afterwards – in the 1914-1918 war, in the last war, and for over half a century. These qualities have never been more needed than they are today, and although this is your last National Service, I can assure you that the courage and self-sacrifice of you and all your Chums will never be forgotten.”

On 15 July 1993, a memorial to The Old Contemptibles was unveiled in the West Cloister of Westminster Abbey by H.M. Queen Elizabeth, The Queen Mother, who was the patron of the Old Contemptibles Association.

 

The London and South-East Branch of the Association continued until 1994, its final act being a service of commemoration at the Chapel of the Royal Hospital, Chelsea on 4 August, marking the 80th Anniversary of Britain’s declaration of war on Germany.

With the death of the last living holder of the 1914 Star and clasp in 2005,[2] the Old Contemptibles passed into history.

Footnotes:

[1] In 1914, John Danny was serving as a Sergeant with XXXIII Brigade, Royal Field Artillery and arrived in France on 6 November, his regimental number being 82558. Commissioned on 1 November 1915, Danny was issued with his 1914 Star on 18 October 1919, and the clasp and roses were forwarded to him on 18 May 1920. Captain John Patrick Danny died at his home in Clapton in May 1928, aged 49.

[2] Alfred Anderson, who had served with the 1/5th (Angus and Dundee) Battalion, The Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) (Territorial Force). Albert was born on 25 June 1896 and died on 21 November 2005.

“Walsall’s Handsomest Soldier”: 1054 Corporal of Horse James Clement Harris, The Royal Horse Guards (The Blues)

James Clement Harris RHG

James Clement Harris was born at Handsworth in Staffordshire in 1884, the son of John and Emma Eliza Harris. The family lived at 5 Galton Street in Smethwick, where he attended Wattville Street Board Schools, but later moved to Walsall.

James was an apprentice engineer at C. B. Partridge and Sons in St Paul’s Square at Hockley when he was attested at Birmingham on 21 May 1903. He saw service in London and Windsor and served as an orderly to King Edward VII and the Prince of Wales (later George V), as well as a drill instructor. Appointed Lance-Corporal on 3 April 1906, Harris was promoted to Corporal on 22 September 1909 and advanced to Corporal of Horse on 1 February 1913. Although his service record was for the most part exemplary, his medical notes show that he was twice sent to hospital to be treated for gonorrhoea and he had also been found guilty of assaulting a police constable while stationed at Windsor on 7 May 1904 and was sentenced to serve two months’ hard labour at Reading Gaol.

Corporal of Horse Harris was described by an officer as a “first-rate character” who showed soldierly spirit, and The Walsall Observer of 23 January 1915 added:

“Whenever Corporal Harris visited Walsall he always attracted a great deal of attention by his smart military bearing and appearance. It is no flattery to say he is Walsall’s handsomest soldier.”

Harris landed at Zeebrugge on 7 October 1914, serving with the Machine-Gun Section of The Royal Horse Guards. Under the command of Lieutenant Charles Sackville Pelham, Lord Worsley, the machine-gunners of the Blues were in support of the 1st and 2nd Life Guards near the village of Zandvoorde. The trenches held by the Household Cavalry came under heavy bombardment and were then attacked by 39th Infantry Division. The cavalrymen tried to beat the Germans back and then engaged in desperate hand-to-hand fighting. Corporal of Horse Harris was in charge of one of two Maxim Guns of the Blues. As the Germans entered his position, he was reported to have drawn his revolver, presented to him by an Officer of the Blues, and to have been last seen alive holding the locking bolt of his Maxim in his bloody hands, denying his gun to the enemy.[1]

Corporal of Horse Harris was listed as wounded and missing following this action. In the absence of news regarding the fate of his son, James’s father wrote to the 4th Earl of Yarborough, the father of Lieutenant Lord Worsley, on 30 December 1915:

lord worsley rhg

“My Noble Lord,

May it please your Lordship that you not deem it to be presumptuous in writing to you.

I have been & am in great anxiety concerning my only son, 1054 James Clement Harris, Corporal of Horse, His Majesty’s Royal Regiment of Horse Guards, who went to France (sic) on October 4th 1914 with his Maxim team, being reported wounded and missing October 30th 1914 at the battle of Zandvoorde, nothing been heard of him since that date.

Although I have been in constant correspondence with the War Office it was reported by Trooper D. Jones of the same regiment, who was fighting in the same battle, being wounded, that my son was blown to pieces at the same time that the gallant Lord Worsley was killed.

My son had the honour of being orderly to His Most Gracious Majesty when Prince of Wales for which duties he received personally the thanks of His Majesty. It is now fifteen months since his death, and something should I think be done after so long a time, and in fairness to me as his father, the War Office should presume his death. I should therefore be glad if you could use your valuable assistance with a view of successfully clearing up this painful case, as the War Office informed me on Oct. 3rd/15 that they would shortly presume his death.

Their reference is G2 Casualties M.3 97682.

Thanking you in anticipation, at the same time craving your indulgence for the liberty I take in writing to you.

I am my Noble Lord,

Yours obediently,

John Harris.”

The Walsall Observer of 18 March 1916 published a report stating that the fate of Corporal of Horse Harris was still unknown, but later that month his parents finally received notice that it was presumed that he had died on 30 October 1914. They lived at 8 Borneo Street in Walsall and had renamed their home “Combemere” in honour of the Household Cavalry barracks at Windsor.

Shortly after the official confirmation that Corporal of Horse Harris was presumed to have been killed at Zandvoorde, his parents received hopeful news that he was a prisoner of war in Germany, following an enquiry they had made to the British Red Cross Society. On 21 April 1916, the Record Office for the Royal Horse Guards sent a memorandum to the Officer Commanding of the Reserve Regiment:

“The Officer Commanding,

Royal Horse Guards,

Regent’s Park,

N.W.

With reference to your memorandum of the 10th ulto. enclosing copy of a letter, the writer of which stated that she had been informed by the British Red Cross Society that No. 1054 Corporal of Horse J. Harris, Royal Horse Guards, was alive and a Prisoner of War at Soltau, this report referred to the British Red Cross Society, who in reply now state that their information was probably incorrect, and that the above N.C.O. had been confused with another man of similar name. This view is borne out by the Records of this Office, and there appears, therefore, to be no reason to question the acceptance of the death, as already notified to you.

The writer of the letter referred to should be informed accordingly.”

Nearly four years after her son had been killed, Mrs Harris became aware of a rumour that her son was alive and well and had been posted to the Royal Horse Guards Reserve Regiment at Regent’s Park Barracks. She wrote to the regiment requesting authentication of the information:

“Dear Sir,

I am informed by a soldier serving in France that by asking at Queen’s Park Bks. (sic) for Corp. of H. Jim Harris, B Squadron, I should find my son, who was reported wounded & missing Oct 1914 since presumed killed. Will you please ascertain if this is correct & reply as quickly as possible. My son’s number, name & rank are as follows: No. 1054 Corp. of Horse James Clement Harris, if alive he would be 33 yrs. Will you kindly reply to the following address (I am leaving home tomorrow).

Mrs Harris

Woodside Cottage

Oakamoor

Stoke on Trent

Thanking you in anticipation.

Yours faithfully

E. Harris.”

His parents were informed that the rumour was false and therefore had their hopes of James still being alive dashed for a second time.

On being officially declared dead, the personal effects of Corporal of Horse Harris were sent to Grace Tigue, who lived at 12a St Mary’s Terrace in Paddington, who he had declared to be his beneficiary in his will completed shortly before embarking on active service. This was to be the cause of further heartache for his parents.

On 11 January 1919, his father wrote to Combemere Barracks requesting his sons’ 1914 Star. His address was given as 20 Station Street in Walsall:

“Dear Sir,

Re: Corpl. Of Horse 1054 deceased James Clement Harris R. H. Gds.

With reference to the above late N.C.O. who was my only son & who fell in battle at Zandvoorde I am very anxious to have in my possession his war medal which by law I am entitled to & now that the war has ended I shall esteem it a favour if you will be kind enough to forward it to me at your earliest convenience, as a last memento of one who lay down his life for his King and country.”

James’ mother, who still lived at Borneo Street, also made a request for her son’s 1914 Star:

“Sir,

I beg to make application for the “1914 Star” to which my late son 1054 C. of H. James C. Harris was entitled.”

Lieutenant-Colonel Ricardo replied to Mr Harris, and he wrote a response on 16 January:

“Gallant Sir,

I am in receipt of your favour of the 15th inst. re. My son C. of H. James Clement Harris 1054 R. H. Gds. deceased.

I am astounded at its content as no one is authorized to make application for my son’s decorations & being his next of kin I am the only one entitled to receive it.

I shall be glad therefore if you will forward same to me at the above address at your earliest convenience & oblige.”

The clasp for his 1914 Star was sent to his mother in Walsall, but a letter, sent by the Record Office for the Royal Horse Guards at Regents Park Barrack on 15 January 1921, shows that it had been despatched in error:

“Dear Madam,

It is with much regret that I have to inform you that the “Clasp to the 1914 Star” recently forwarded from this office, was sent to you in error; in this case it is not the next-of-kin, but the legatee under a will who is legally entitled.

As I am responsible that the Clasp is delivered to the individual entitled to receive it, I am completed to request you to return it to this office in the enclosed addressed registered envelope.

The Clasp is intended for attachment to the riband of the 1914 Star; I received the exact number from the War Office for distribution, and am therefore not in possession of a duplicate.

I regret that you have been troubled in this matter.”

034

Larch Wood (Railway Cutting) Cemetery, July 1998.

Corporal of Horse Harris had been buried by Germans after the fighting at De Voorstraat German Military Cemetery and on 30 October 1924, exactly ten years after he had been killed, his remains were exhumed and were re-interred at Larch Wood (Railway Cutting) Cemetery: Plot III, Row F, Grave 11.

Footnote:

[1] Walsall Observer, 23 January 1915.

Hodden Grey in France: 1931 Private Charles Alexander Scott Dewar 1/14th (County of London) Battalion, The London Regiment (London Scottish) (Territorial Force)

London Scottish 1914Troops of the London Scottish washing “Somewhere in France” shortly after arriving at the front in September 1914 (The War Illustrated)

“When we left Havre six signallers, of whom I was one, were detailed to go with three companies to a certain base which I may not name. We travelled in what we were told was fourth class – viz. covered – in horse boxes. We had over 40 in ours, and entrained about 7 p.m., reaching our destination the following morning at 10.30. It was by no means a fast journey, and although we were not too comfortable we managed to get some sleep. At the stations the natives very kindly supplied us with food, drink and fruit, which we were glad enough to have, for we had only some dog biscuit and bully with us. At this place some of us slept in a chapel. It had a stone floor, and as we had no blankets we found it none too warm. Latterly we were shifted to the stage of a theatre – by the way it was not a London one – and laid hands on some carpets and scenery and made ourselves fairly comfortable. Last Thursday we moved off, and came to another base just before noon, this time in an ordinary train, but it was just about as fast – I think 10 miles an hour is a good average. We got there shortly after midnight, and joined another party from the battalion which had come direct from London.

We have a huge shed, quite clean, for quarters, and straw to lie on, so are much more comfortable. We lay down as soon as possible, and had the best night’s rest we have had since we landed in France. We are doing no signalling here. The men are taking turns as orderlies at the different offices, and the non-commissioned officers go on shell shifting – unloading and re-loading the trucks before they are sent up to the front. We are thinking of trying the London docks for jobs as navvies when we get back! I am going into the town now; we don’t need passes here.”[1]

Born at Moulin, Alexander Dewar was the son of William Dewar, who lived at Tinghnalinne, near Pitlochry. He attested for the London Scottish at their headquarters at 59 Buckingham Gate on 1 November 1913. Stating that he was aged 20 years and one month, Alexander was employed as a stockbroker’s clerk by Messrs Lyall Anderson and Co., and was lodging at 83 Milson Road in West Kensington.

Embodied on the outbreak of the war, Private Dewar signed the “Imperial Service Obligation,” undertaking to serve overseas, on 12 September 1914 while billeted at St Alban’s, and arrived at Le Havre with the London Scottish four days later.

London Scottish Messines 2

Dewar was reported as wounded and missing following the fighting near Messines on the night of  31 October/1 November, but was later confirmed to have been taken prisoner. His capture was reported in The Dundee Courier on 28 November:

“Information has been received by Mr Wm. Dewar, Tinghnalinne, Pitlochry, that his son, Private C. A. Dewar, of the London Scottish, was wounded in one of the recent engagements in which the regiment took part in Flanders, and captured by the enemy, being now in hospital in Germany. The particulars of his wounds are not stated. The news was contained in a postcard written by Private Dewar himself to his sister.”

Suffering from wounds to his abdomen and leg, Private Dewar was taken to a hospital at Lille by his German captors for treatment, and on being considered to be fit to travel was transported to the Prisoner of War Camp at Limberg on 14 May 1915.

Dewar remained in captivity until after the Armistice and on his repatriation was posted on attachment to No. 55 Territorial Force Depot at 59 Buckingham Gate on New Years’ Day 1919.  He then returned home to Tingnalinne on two months’ leave, granted to former prisoners of war on their return from Germany. On 9 February 1919, Dewar wrote to the Infantry Record Office at 4 London Wall Buildings E.C., requesting that he be demobilised on the termination of his leave. Alexander Dewar was eventually disembodied on 31 March 1919.

Charles Dewar is recorded to have travelled to Singapore in August 1934, on board the M.V. Christiaan Huygens, and lived at 38 Elms Road at Clapham Common. He died at Brompton Hospital on 10 December 1936.

Footnote:

[1] Perthshire Advertiser, 7 October 1914. The writer of the letter is unidentified in the original article, but subsequent reports printed in local newspapers indicate that it was Private Dewar.

 

A “Cheshire” Cat at the Front: 1425 Private George Furness, 1/6th Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment (Territorial Force)

Manchester Evening News – 19 November 1915:

CAT IN THE TRENCHES.

Stalybridge Soldier and His Pet.

“There are plenty of pet animals with our soldiers at the front, but it is doubtful whether many of our heroes’ pets have gone through the experience which a white cat belonging to Private George Furness, of the Stalybridge Detachment of the 6th Battalion, Cheshire Regiment, has undergone. Private Furness has just returned to his home in Brierley-street, Stalybridge, from France, on a weeks’ furlough, and he has brought the cat with him. When at Shrewsbury last August or September of last year a lady gave him a kitten three weeks old, which could not even lap, and he has cared for it ever since. When the kitten was about four months old the Stalybridge Territorials went to France and in Private Furness’s own words the kitten, which has now grown into a cat “has been under artillery fire and bombardments for 48 hours, has been within 150 yards of the Germans, has been in the first line of trenches, and in the dug outs with me.”

“The cat was tied to my haversack,” Private Furness said to a representative of the “Evening News,” who interviewed him this morning, “and it went through the ordeal just as well as any of us. It is a peculiar animal in one respects, as it has four ears, two large and two small ones. It will follow me anywhere. When I arrived in Stalybridge I walked through the streets with the animal comfortably seated on my shoulder, and of course it attracted much attention. It is a favourite with the soldiers.”

“I think the cat has been through enough now, and I intend to leave it at home with my mother. I return to France on Monday.”

George Furness was the son of George and Puleana Furness, and lived at 66 Brierley Street in Stalybridge. Aged 21 years and eleven months, he was employed as a labourer by  Taylor, Lang & Co. at their Castle Iron Works on Grosvenor Street when he attested for the 6th Battalion, The Cheshire Regiment at the Drill Hall on Astley Street on 4 April 1913. Embodied at the declaration of war, Private Furness trained at Shrewsbury, Church Stretton and Northampton before he embarked on the S.S. Honorius at Southampton with the 1/6th Cheshires for France, landing at Le Havre on 10 November 1914. His first experience of the front line was in the front line in front of the village of Wulverghem in December 1914, and the battalion were attached to 15th Brigade of 5th Division on 17 December. On Christmas Day, Private Furness reported sick and was admitted to 15th Field Ambulance before being evacuated to No. 8 Casualty Clearing Station at Bailleul on Boxing Day. Diagnosed as suffering from myalgia, he was transferred to No. 11 Ambulance Train and admitted to No. 11 General Hospital at Boulogne for treatment. Furness was released from hospital on New Years’ Eve and posted to the Base Details at Boulogne, being drafted back to the 1/6th Cheshires on 29 January 1915. On 1 March the 1/6th Cheshires left 15th Brigade and came under the command of General Headquarters and were deployed for duties on the Lines of Communication. Furness was appointed an unpaid Lance-Corporal on 11 April, but was deprived of his stripe on 21 July for “drunkenness.”

On 18 January 1916, Furness was deprived of ten days’ pay for failing to comply to an order, but was again appointed an unpaid Lance-Corporal on 11 March, by which time the 1/6th Cheshires were serving with 118th Brigade of 39th Division. He became a paid Lance-Corporal  on 1 April and on 21 April was appointed an Acting Corporal. Furness was promoted to Corporal on 3 June 1916.

Furness was posted on attachment to 174th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers on 25 August 1916. While serving in the north of the River Ancre, he was received an injury to his ankle on 26 November and was evacuated to No. 45 Casualty Clearing Station before being admitted to No. 1 Australian General Hospital at Rouen on 28 November. Following treatment, Furness was sent to No. 2 Convalescent Depot on 30 November before being sent to No. 4 Infantry Base Depot on Boxing Day. He was posted to 175th Tunnelling Company on 5 January 1917 and joined the unit two days later. However, Furness had not fully recovered from his injury and was again sent to hospital, being admitted to No. 49 Casualty Clearing Station on 11 January before being admitted to No. 1 Stationary Hospital at Rouen on 20 January.

Discharged from hospital on 8 February, Furness was posted to No. 9 Infantry Base Depot on 8 February and was posted to No. 9 Infantry Base Depot on 17 March. He was issued with a new regimental number – 265217 – under the provisions of Army Council Instruction 2414 of 1916. Furness returned to No. 4 Infantry Base Depot on 17 April before being drafted back to the 1/6th Cheshires on 27 April. On 21 May 1917, Furness was again posted on attachment to the Royal Engineers and joined 177th Tunnelling Company before transferring to 255th Tunnelling Company on 15 June. He rejoined the 1/6th Cheshires on 2 August and five days later was appointed a paid Lance-Sergeant.

On 28 October, while serving in the Tower Hamlets sector in front of Ypres, Lance-Sergeant received a gunshot wound to his left arm. He was evacuated to No. 10 Casualty Clearing Station, which he reached the day after he was wounded, before being admitted to No. 3 General Hospital at Le Treport on 31 October. After his wound had been treated, Furness was sent to recover at No. 3 Convalescent Depot on 6 November, but the following day was posted to No. 4 Infantry Base Depot and drafted back to the 1/6th Cheshires, arriving back at the battalion on 10 November. On 12 November, Furness again reported sick and, following treatment, returned to the 1/6th Cheshires on 6 December. However, his condition flared up again the following month and on 6 January 1918 he was admitted to 134th Field Ambulance before being transferred to No. 12 Casualty Clearing Station. He rejoined the battalion on 20 January.

Lance-Sergeant Furness was again hurt, while on a working party, on 6 March 1918, sustaining injuries to both of his knees. Sent to 132nd Field Ambulance, he was moved to No. 3 Casualty Clearing Station on 7 March before being admitted to No. 12 General Hospital at Rouen. Furness was transferred to England on board the H.M.H.S. Carisbrooke Castle on 26 March. He was subsequently admitted to Edinburgh War Hospital for treatment, before moving to Bangour Village Hospital in West Lothian. The injury that he had suffered in France had caused the cartilage in his right knee to have become loose.

On being discharged from hospital, Furness was posted to the Western Command Depot at Heaton Park on 27 June 1918 and was posted to the 4th (Reserve) Battalion at Whitstable on 26 October, supernumerary to the establishment of the battalion. He was taken onto the strength of the 4th (Reserve) Battalion on 11 November and remained with the unit until 7 February 1919, when he was posted to the Dispersal Depot at Prees Heath. He was disembodied on 8 March 1919 on being demobilised.

George Furness died in 1949.

Wounded Soldiers at Clevedon, 9 November 1914: The Story Behind A Photograph

004

Over 20 years ago I purchased this photograph postcard from a junk shop at Lichfield in Staffordshire. Fortunately, written on the back were details of the locations and the circumstances in which it had been taken. Many years later I came across a reference to the arrival of the wounded at Clevedon Red Cross Hospital in the local press:

Western Daily Press – 10 November 1914:

WOUNDED SOLDIERS AT CLEVEDON.

“Much excitement was caused in the neighbourhood of the Great Western Railway station at Clevedon, yesterday afternoon, by the arrival of 18 wounded soldiers from the front, of whom six were Belgians. Quite a large crowd assembled to meet the train due at 4.0, including a number of young ladies, who threw flowers at the soldiers as they alighted. Several motor cars were in readiness to convey the wounded to the local Red Cross Hospital, formerly a private residence, known as Oaklands, which has been generously placed at the disposal of the local Red Cross Society by Mr and Mrs E. S. Wills, of Ramsbury Manor, Wiltshire. The hospital is pleasantly situated on the Green Beach. Oaklands has been fitted up as a Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital, and is entirely at the disposal of the War Office. There are 45 beds, and with each is every accommodation for the patients’ comfort and welfare. As the number of beds exceeds 30, the hospital is known as a double aid detachment, with over 20 nurses and the full number of qualified Red Cross men, under Mr J. J. Manley (section leader), who will act as hospital orderlies, taking day and night duties as convenient. Among those who were at the railway station to meet the train were Major A. B. Trestrail, who has recently been appointed Commandant of the hospital in place of Colonel Lyons Montgomery, C.B., who has left the town, Dr Hill, and Dr Visger, the medical men attached to the hospital, and others. Upon arrival at the hospital the patients were received by Mrs Furlonger (matron) and the nurses, who bestowed every attention upon the wounded heroes. Another batch of wounded, numbering 20, were expected last night.”