Shrouds of the Somme

Shrouds of the Somme was an art installation created by Rob Heard. It provided a physical and visual representation of each of the 72,396 British and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Their names are etched on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. The majority of those whose names are engraved on the Sir Edward Lutyens designed memorial, the largest Commonwealth Memorial to the missing in the world, died during the Somme offensive of 1916.

The artist created an individual, hand-sewn calico shroud-encased figure to represent each of the missing.

The installation, ultimately located at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park and featuring all the Shrouds of the Somme, was open to the public Between 8-18 November 2018 to coincide with the Armistice centenary.

The Shrouds are now available to purchase, with profits from their sale donated to SSAFA The Armed Forces Charity and the Commonwealth War Graves Foundation. Each Shroud is accompanied by a certificate of authenticity and includes the name and regiment of one of the servicemen commemorated at Thiepval.

My Shroud arrived in January 2019. It is dedicated to 23-year-old Private Leonard Mark Pateman of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, whose death is recorded as 17 February 1917. He is therefore not a Battle of the Somme casualty (1 July to 18 November 1916), which accounts for over 90 per cent of those commemorated at Thiepval. He is one of those who perished after the Somme Offensive ended.

It seemed appropriate that I should research the life of the man commemorated by this artwork, especially as this month marks the anniversary of his death. Here is his story.

Leonard Mark Pateman was born in Hitchin on 24 April 1894, the son of fellmonger’s labourer Mark Pateman and his wife Jane, (née Odell). The couple married at the parish church of St Mary’s, Hitchin, on 20 September 1884. Leonard was the fifth of their 11 children. His siblings included Ellen, born 12 November 1884; Harry, born 13 October 1886; Arthur, born 31 December 1888; Jane, born 21 September 1891; Amelia, born circa 1896; Emma, born 1897; William Sydney, born 1899; Grace Pretoria born in 1900; another child named Harry, born circa 1902; and Herbert, born in 1904.

In the 1891 census, and at the time of Harry’s baptism on 21 February 1894, the family lived at Mill Yard, Hitchin. When Leonard, along with siblings Ellen, Arthur and Jane were baptised in the parish church of St Mary’s on 25 April 1894, the address was Thorpe’s Yard, Queen Street, Hitchin. By 1911 the address was Barnard’s Yard, again in the Queen Street area. This was a notorious slum neighbourhood. Serena Williams in her 2009 Hertfordshire Memories piece about the locality wrote:

The mass of tiny yards dating back to the 1700s developed near St Mary’s Church and became the most densely populated area of the town.  Dotted amongst the tenements were 13 pubs and several slaughterhouses……….In 1902 Queen Street was compared to the worst slums of London. In 1921 Hitchin Urban District Council declared the housing was unsanitary and that they should be demolished so clearance began in 1926…..There was more demolition in the 1950s and when Barnard’s Yard came down, a Tudor half crown was found under the floor.

She quotes a description of the cottages in the Queen Street area by Alice Latchmore, a child in 1919:

Some houses had earth floors.  The windows and doors were small and in a few cases the only window downstairs opened to a passage where there was no light and very little air.  The only bedroom was like a stable loft, reached by a decrepit stairs or a ladder.  Tea chests served as tables and 5 or 6 children in one bed was not unusual.  It was very much survival of the fittest.

This battle for survival was lost by the Pateman’s eldest son, Harry, in 1894 and youngest daughter, Grace Pretoria, in 1901. Leonard’s mother Jane’s death was registered in the March quarter of 1909, age 45.

The school log book for St Andrew’s National School, Hitchin on 27 March 1903 indicates the health problems facing the family and school generally too, stating:

Leonard Pateman & William Dear are in the Hospital. The attendance has not been so good this week owing to sickness.

The school’s Admissions Register entry for what appears to be Leonard (his date of birth here is given as 20 November 1893 but other details match) shows he left school in May 1907, attaining a good level of education in reading, writing and arithmetic, passing Standard V. This was superior to his siblings.

By the time of the 1911 census he was working as a fel[l]monger, that is someone who prepares the skins or hides of animals, especially sheepskins, prior to leather making.

Leonard enlisted in Hitchin. Initially a Private with the 1st/1st Hertfordshire Regiment (Service Number 5077) he transferred to the 6th Battalion Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire Regiment). His entry in the National Roll of the Great War states:

He joined in November 1916 and was almost immediately drafted to the Western Front. In this seat of war he took part in important engagements and was killed in action at Delville Wood on February 17 1917. He was entitled to the General Service and Victory Medals. 13 Barnard’s Yard, Hitchin.

Given the date of his death, which his Soldiers Effects Register entry clarifies took place on or since 17 February 1917, it was the Battle of Boom Ravine not Delville Wood in which he lost his life.

The Battle of Boom Ravine, known officially as the Actions of Miraumont, was named after a system of sunken roads which formed a rugged letter T shape, south of the Ancre River between the villages of Petit Miraumont and Grandcourt. The overall objective of the battle was the capture of Hill 130, the heights of which gave the Germans a valuable viewing point.

Three Divisions were involved (2nd, 18th and 63rd), each deploying a portion of their Brigades. The 18th Division used their 53rd Brigade, of which the 6th Royal Berkshires were part, and 54th Brigade. Each component of the attack had its own specific set of objectives, which when combined would achieve the overall Hill 130 objective. The 6th Royal Berkshires were tasked with taking a stretch of the Grandcourt Trench and, beyond that, three short lengths of newly-wired trenches named Rum, Coffee and Tea. To their right they had the 8th Suffolk’s and to their left the 8th Norfolks.

The attack was scheduled for 5.45am on 17 February 1917, but as the troops began assembling the Germans, said to have been tipped off by one or more British deserters, began a heavy barrage. The night was particularly dark and a thaw had set in over the frozen ground creating a rising mist. All this combined to make the going tricky. Despite the problems the 18th Division official history by Captain G.H.F. Nichols records the Berkshires “assault was carried out with fine impetuosity.

The Unit War Diary of the 6th Royal Berkshires provides an in-depth narrative of their involvement that morning:

At about midnight the enemy opened a slow barrage on all our lines of approach. The line to the GUNPITS was barraged all night. At 4am a slow barrage was opened on all our forming up line. At 5am this increased in intensity and caused some casualties……Our barrage opened and attack launched in the dark [5.45am]

The attack progressed in accordance with programme but owing to the darkness troops became somewhat disorganized. Casualties in the actual advance were not very serious. The final objective was reached but owing to the line taken up on the right the right of the B[attalio]n had to be withdrawn…..Casualties were mostly walking cases….

There then follows an account of the actions by each of the Companies. The West Berkshire War Memorials site quotes the recollections of an unidentified Sergeant who summarises these events in the Berkshire Chronicle of 24 April 1917 as follows:

The attack was launched at 5.45am and three companies went over with A Coy in support. First of all three trenches which were named Rum, Coffee and Tea, had to be captured and this task was soon accomplished, the enemy putting up but little opposition. But a different story has to be told when it comes to taking the final position, viz the Ravine. Here the Germans were very strongly entrenched. They had machine guns galore and dug-outs that could be counted by the dozen. The fighting was of a fierce character with plenty of bombing. We ultimately occupied all the dugouts, our bombers doing splendid work. In fact bombing formed the chief part of the fighting. We lost some men through them going beyond the position without clearing the enemy……

The 18th Division history mentions an event not referred to in the Unit War Diary:

The bodies of two platoons of men belonging to the Berks were found in a trench taken by the 2nd Division, showing that they had fought to the last.

By 8am the 6th Royal Berkshire assault was over and consolidation of the line continued throughout the remainder of what was described as a quiet day, as was the following day (18 February). They eventually came out of the front line in the early hours of 19 February. However, the overall goal of the attack by the three Divisions, the vantage point of Hill 130, remained in German hands.

In summarising the losses incurred during the attack, the 6th Royal Berkshire’s unit War Diary records 6 officers wounded (1 died of wounds); 19 other ranks killed and 169 wounded or missing.

Leonard Mark Pateman was amongst those losses, and he has no known grave. He is commemorated in his home-town of Hitchin on the War Memorial outside St Mary’s Church, the church where he was baptised.

Sources:

  • GRO Birth and Death Indexes accessed via https://www.gro.gov.uk/gro/content
  • Hertfordshire Marriages at St Mary’s Hitchin, accessed via FindMyPast. Original source Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies. No reference supplied
  • Hertfordshire Baptisms at St Mary’s Hitchin, accessed via FindMyPast. Original source Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies. No reference supplied.
  • Hitchin St Andrew’s Admission Register & Log Books, accessed via FindMyPast National Schools Admission Registers and Log Books 1870-1940. Original source Hertfordshire Archives & Local Studies, References HED2/6/1 and HED2/6/7
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission https://www.cwgc.org/
  • Soldiers Effects Register entry for Leonard Mark Pateman, acccessed via Ancestry.com. UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original data, National Army Museum; Chelsea, London, England; Soldiers’ Effects Records, 1901-60; NAM Accession Number: 1991-02-333; Record Number Ranges: 617501-619000; Reference: 36.
  • WW1 Medal and Award Rolls, entry for Leonard Mark Pateman, accessed via Ancestry.com. UK, WWI Service Medal and Award Rolls, 1914-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014. Original Records at The National Archives, Class: WO 329; Piece Number: 1442
  • Medal Index Card for Leonard Mark Pateman, accessed via Ancestry.com. British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2008. Original data: Army Medal Office. WWI Medal Index Cards. In the care of The Western Front Association website.
  • L.M. Pateman, National Roll Of The Great War 1914-1918, Volume V, Luton, accessed via FindMyPast
  • Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-1919, accessed via FindMyPast
  • Slum Housing in Hitchin, 1850s – 1930s by Serena Williams, accessed via Herts Memories, http://www.hertsmemories.org.uk/content/herts-history/towns-and-villages/hitchin/slum-housing-in-hitchin-1850s-1930s
  • The Biscuit Boys, Section 246, Interlude II, The 6th Battalion – September 1916 to March 1917http://www.purley.eu/RBR3246.pdf.
  • Boom Ravine – Trevor Pidgeon, part accessed via Google Books
  • The 18th Division in the Great War – Captain G.H.F. Nichols, accessed via Google Books
  • Lance Corporal 15400 Albert Nailor, 6th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment, West Berkshire War Memorials websitehttp://westberkshirewarmemorials.org.uk/texts/stories/WBP00886S.php
  • Unit War Diary, 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment, 18th Division, 53 Infantry Brigade, accessed via Ancestry.co.uk, originals at The National Archives Ref WO 95/2037/1

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