Category Archives: The Great War

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

The Confessions of a Blogger: Review of 2018

I’ll start with an admission: My 2018 blogging year was not as prolific as usual. In fact it was nowhere near the efforts of previous years. But I’m far from downhearted. In fact I’ve thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope you have too.

Here are the details.

The Statistics. My blog saw a noticeable decline in output, with 25 posts during the year, down from 33 in 2017 and in excess of 60 in 2016. This was entirely due to other commitments such as completing my genealogy studies and publishing a book. Neither was it unexpected – I did forecast this in my 2017 blogging review post. And it is pretty much in line with what I promised: two posts a month.

However onto the positives. Despite the downturn in posts, my blog has grown from strength to strength numerically. Views increased from 20,649 in 2017 to well in excess of 21,000 in 2018. Thank you to all those who have taken the trouble to read my random family and local history outpourings.

My blog has now well and truly developed its character with core themes of my family history, interspersed with local history tales from Yorkshire, alongside news from – and my musings on – the genealogy world’s latest developments.

Most Popular Times? Monday proved my most popular blogging day, with 21% of views. And my golden hour shifted to the slightly earlier time of 6 pm. I suspect this shift is as much a result my blog posting times as anything more profound.

How Did They Find You? Search Engines took over as the key engagement route accounting for around 7,000 views.

Where Did They Come From? The global reach of WordPress never fails to amaze me. Going on for 100 countries are represented in my list of views. The UK accounted for well over 10,000 of these which was almost double the number of my next most popular country, the United States. Australia came third with over 1,000. But all corners of the globe feature with readers extending to Cambodia, Tonga, Peru and Tunisia. A huge thank you to you all! You’re what makes it worthwhile researching and writing these posts.

And it’s fantastic to receive so many comments either indirectly via Facebook and Twitter, or directly on my blog site. They’ve added new information, context and connections. Thank you for getting in touch.

Top Five Posts of 2018: Other than general home pages, archives and my ‘about’ page, these were:

General Register Office (GRO) Index – New & Free. This was actually posted in 2016 but, as in 2017, it continued to perform well in 2018 . This post was about a new free source for searching the GRO birth and death indexes (note not marriages) for certain years, one which gives additional search options. It also covered the initial £6 PDF trial, an alternative and cheaper source than buying a birth or death certificate. Note the PDF option, a copy of the register entry rather than a certificate, still continues. However the cost will rise to £7 on 16 February 2019. The cost of a certificate increases from £9.25 to £11.

Living DNA: I’m Not Who I Thought I Was. This was another 2017 post which continued to prove popular. It is testimony to the importance with which genetic genealogy is now seen. lt dealt with my shocking DNA results. I’m 100% from Great Britain and Ireland. No drama there. But it indicated that I’m not entirely the Yorkshire lass I thought – the ethnicity pointed to some genetic material from the dark side of the Pennines. I reckon this could be linked to a potential 5x great grandmother from Colne. I really do need to push on with my Abraham Marshall New Year’s Resolution.

Cold Case: The Huddersfield Tub Murder. Yet another 2017 offering, and in last year’s “one that got away” category as being one of my favourite posts which failed to reach the Top 5 that year. Well it proved immensely popular in 2018. It dealt with the unsolved murder in Huddersfield of a Dewsbury woman of ‘ill-repute’ whose tragic life and abusive relationships ultimately resulted in her death.

“Historical Vandalism” as more Archive Services Come Under Threat. Published in December 2018 its appearance in the Top 5 for the year shows the importance with which any threat to these vital services are seen. It covered some recent swingeing funding cuts to archives and corresponding proposed (and actual) major reductions to these services across the country. Some of the consultations, Surrey (4 January 2019) and Kent (29 January 2019), close imminently. So I would urge you to have your say.

Tripe Tales – Food Nostalgia. My childhood memories of food led me to focus on this particular northern ‘delicacy’, which was very popular when I was growing up. It covered some early 20th century local tripe stories including theft, death and prodigious eating feats, as well as recipes to try. I was also inundated via social media with suggestions of where I could still buy it. I’ve yet to confront once more this culinary challenge.

So yet again this was a mixed bag of popular posts, ranging from topical family history issues, to DNA and general history and local history tales – which sums up my blog perfectly.

The Ones that Got Away: These are a few of my favourite posts which didn’t make the top five:

Fur Coats Can Prevent Flu – The 1918/19 Pandemic looked at how to use various information sources to build up a picture of the impact of the Spanish Flu “plague” on local communities. In my example I focused on Batley.

How the Western Front Association WW1 Pension Ledgers May Have Solved another Family History Mystery. I used this newly available online record source to prove a family tale and discover more about my great uncle.

Irish DNA Breakthrough and Don’t it Make My Brown Eyes Blue covered how DNA led to the demolition of one of my family history brick walls and helped me find out more about two of my Irish grandpa’s sisters who emigrated to the United States.

A Family Historian on Holiday: A Whitby Cemetery and WW1 Shipwreck was about the sinking of the Hospital Ship Rohilla off the Whitby coast in 1914. With links to the Titanic, heroic rescue attempts and a disputed will it illustrates how a family and local historian is never off duty, even on holiday!

Finally there was Published: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of The Northern Union. This marked my greatest achievement of 2018 and the culmination of around two years’ work, the publication of my book co-authored with husband Chris. It has been described as the definitive book about those Rugby League players who fell in the Great War.

What Does 2019 Promise? Well, as in 2018, I aim to do two posts a month. These will be on the same type of themes as usual – family and local history tales, plus topical genealogy offerings when anything big hits the headlines. I will also be including some Aveyard One-Name Study stories.

I anticipate my major challenge this coming year, as ever, will be time. I also have the added concern of keeping things fresh and relevant. I now have two other writing roles to add to my blog. At the end of 2018 I took on the role of editor as the Huddersfield and District Family History Society quarterly Journal, the first edition of which came out in January. And I now write a regular family history column in Yorkshire nostalgia magazine “Down Your Way.” So clearly I want to ensure my blog posts are separate and distinct from my other writing commitments. However, my head is buzzing with ideas so I don’t think that will be too much of a creative dilemma.

But whatever direction my blogging year takes, thank you for reading, engaging and supporting.

Wishing you a happy, peaceful 2019 filled with family history fun!

Fur Coats Can Prevent Flu – The 1918/19 Pandemic

A century ago England, along with most of the world, was gripped by the flu pandemic. As far as I’m aware none of my immediate ancestors, or their families, died as a result of it. But the mortality rate was the tip of the iceberg as whole communities struggled to cope with the infection and its effects.

In this blog post I will give a national overview, before looking at its effects locally on Batley to try give a feel for the impact on the day to day lives of my ancestors. The sources I will use can be adapted to look at the effect of the pandemic on other localities in England.

In 1920 the government published a Supplement to the Registrar-General’s 81st Annual Report on Births, Deaths and Marriages in England and Wales. It covered mortality from influenza during the 1918/19 epidemic in these two countries. Its severity is starkly conveyed in the myriad of statistics contained within the report. It stated in 1918 influenza accounted for 112,329 deaths split between 53,883 males and 58,446 females. 7,591 of the male deaths were non-civilians. So, in total, 104,738 influenza deaths were amongst the civilian population. This corresponded to a death rate of 3,129 per million civilian population. The report continued:

No such mortality as this has ever before been recorded for any epidemic in this country since registration commenced, except in the case of the cholera epidemic of 1849, when the mortality from that cause rose to 3,033 per million population.

It was recognised this was not representative of total mortality as a result of influenza, as other causes of death could also have an underlying influenza link. These causes included other respiratory diseases, chiefly pneumonia and bronchitis. Phthisis and heart disease were also cited as other possibilities where influenza may have impacted. Attempts to quantify influenza-linked mortality from these were made, but the results varied depending on methodology and were acknowledged to be unsatisfactory. One estimate put it at around 200,000 deaths from influenza and influenza-linked illnesses. As many as a quarter of the population caught the disease.

One other factor which skewed results when looking at the influenza statistics was the depletion of the male population due to war service. One way to deal with it was to look at the female population in isolation. This methodology was notably used to examine the age distribution of mortality due influenza and comparing it to the age distribution normally expected of influenza. It was here the difference between the 1918/19 flu strain and previous epidemics was most notable.

Deaths at [ages] 0-15 and especially at [ages] 15-35, which had formed since 1889 a fairly uniform proportion of the whole number, with a tendency of late years to decrease in relative importance, suddenly increased from 7-11 per cent. at [ages] 0-15 to 25 per cent., and from 8-10 per cent. at [ages] 15-35 to 45 per cent. In middle age, [ages] 35-55, the proportion was comparatively little affected, but shows some increase over the years immediately preceding. At [ages] 55-75 and at ages over 75, which together had for many years provided 60-70 per cent. of the total deaths registered, the proportion fell to 10 per cent. at [ages] 55-75, and 2 per cent. at 75 and upwards.

The report then went on to look at the course and local distribution of the epidemic in England and Wales. Three definite waves were identified:

  • Wave 1: Week ending 29 June 1918 to week ending 17 August 1918;
  • Wave 2: Week ending 12 October 1918 to week ending 14 December 1918; and
  • Wave 3: Week ending 1 February 1919 to week ending 12 April 1919.

The weekly death rate was examined in various localities, including regions, county boroughs, and other towns with populations greater than 20,000. This was extrapolated to give a corresponding annual death rate per 1,000 of the living population using the 1911 census as a population baseline. Batley fell into the category of towns with a population over 20,000. The peak mortality weeks for Batley in each wave were:

  • Wave 1: Week ending 13 July 1918 – 19.3 annual mortality per 1,000 living;
  • Wave 2: Week ending 23 November 1918 – 33.7 annual mortality per 1,000 living; and
  • Wave 3: Week ending 8 March 1919 – 33.7 annual mortality per 1,000 living.

Other statistics included ranking areas according to numbers of deaths. There were 161 towns who were not county boroughs falling into the over 20,000 population category. Batley over the complete period of the epidemic was ranked the 18th most affected. In terms of the individual waves it was 27th in Wave 1, 71st in Wave 2 and 8th in Wave 3.

Looking at county boroughs close to Batley, Dewsbury ranked the 11th most affected of the 82 county boroughs (in terms of the individual waves it was 15th in the first, 17th in the second and 15th in the third). Huddersfield was 65th, (2nd, 82nd and 21st in the respective waves).

The West Riding of Yorkshire was over the course of the epidemic the 5th worse affected of the 61 counties (position in the respective waves 4th, 11th and 8th).

Local level reports were also compiled. In Batley the Medical Officer, G.H. Pearce, submitted a full report to the Town Council in January 1919 about the incidence of the disease locally and the steps taken to combat it. His 1919 Annual Report also covered the epidemic locally.

These Annual Reports by the Medical Officer give a useful overview of the town. The 1919 report includes the following description:

PHYSICAL FEATURES AND GENERAL CHARACTER OF THR DISTRICT. – Batley is a municipal borough constituted by Royal Charter, December 8th, 1868, consisting of four wards and governed by a Mayor, seven Aldermen and twenty Councillors. The borough has a separate Commission of the Peace. Geologically Batley is situated mostly upon clay, under which is sandstone through which is various beds of coal. The situation is hilly, the highest point being 475 feet above sea level and the lowest 150. Batley is entirely an industrial town the chief occupation of the inhabitants being the manufacture of heavy woollen goods, shoddy and mungo. The Rag trade also employs a large proportion of the inhabitants. The majority of the population not working in the numerous mills earn their living in the coal mines, at ironworks, on the railway, as teamers, general labourers, etc. More females than males are employed in the textile mills…..As rags from all parts of the world are brought into the town it would be reasonable to expect that risk of infection would be likely to arise therefrom, but practical experience does not prove such to be the case. Apart from the dust in connection with this and similar trades, also the risk of contracting anthrax, run by workers in wool, there appears to be no particular occupation in Batley exercising an exceptionally adverse influence on the public health.

Batley’s population growth from 1851 is illustrated in Table 1 below. The 1911 population of 36,395 compared to the 3,227 acres for the town gives a population per square mile of 7,218. Mortality in any district is adversely affected when there are more than 400 people to each square mile.

Table 1Flu Batley Population Census

The Registrar-General also made an estimate of Batley’s 1919 population, which was included in the Medical Officer’s report. Based on the birth rate he put it at 36,593 and death rate resulted in a figure of 35,128. An analysis of mortality and the annual death rate per 1,000 of civilian population for 1919 gave a figure of 16.1 for Batley, higher than the national England and Wales figure of 13.8.

Table 2 shows the causes of death in Batley between 1912 and 1919 attributed to influenza, as identified in Batley’s Medical Officer’s report. I have also included those causes which may have influenza as an underlying issue, as identified in the Registrar-General’s Supplementary Report.

Table 2Flu Batley Death Causes

Influenza was the direct cause of 104 deaths in Batley during 1918, with a further 83 deaths in 1919 attributed to it. In 1920, according to the following year’s Batley Medical Officer’s report, influenza was certified as the cause of 7 deaths.

So how did all this impact on everyday life in Batley? I decided to focus on the newspapers for the period. From July onwards the Batley News began to carry local reports, including Council updates. Batley Borough Council minutes are therefore an alternative source of information. Bound yearbook copies are at Batley Library (as are the Medical Officer reports), with original Batley Borough documentation held at West Yorkshire Archives (Kirklees Office) in collection Reference KMT1.

One huge factor in reporting the epidemic was censorship. When flu struck Britain, the Great War was still far from won and censorship was in full force. Reporting of anything which may impact on morale and signify any form of weakness to the enemy or difficulties in pursuing the conflict was banned. Reporting restrictions similarly applied in other combatant nations. This was why the pandemic was incorrectly attributed to Spain. As a neutral country the same press restrictions did not apply and news of the epidemic there was freely reported from May 1918. It meant that this country was wrongly assumed to be the origin of the illness – not the likely source country, the United States. The first reference to the ‘Spanish disease’ was in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) in August 1918, and ‘Spanish Flu’ was what it became commonly known as. The same reporting restrictions therefore mean that newspaper reports may have underplayed the full impact of the illness.

First mentions of influenza locally noticeably began to appear in early July 1918 with the 6 July edition of the Batley News reporting a Council exchange that it was hoped the schools would remain open as although a number of teachers were ‘down’ with influenza there had been no serious report from any one school.

The 13 July edition of the newspaper, when reporting the death of Harry Boyes, Royal Field Artillery, at Staincliffe Hospital indicated that Colonel Russell believed the pneumonia which has stricken him after his initial injury had been caused by influenza “of which the Hospital is full.

This edition of the newspaper coincided with the peak week for the first wave of the flu epidemic in Batley. The newspaper reflected this. Despite the optimism of the previous week, Batley schools were closed on 10 and 11 July; with 1,900 absences on reopening on the 12 July they were once more shut on the 13 July. The paper published the advice of Dr. Pearce, Batley’s Medical Officer as follows:

Influenza is caused by a minute bacillus found in the sputum and nasal discharge of persons suffering from the disease. It is conveyed by the breath. The disease is highly contagious. One attack does not confer immunity from another. The onset, after exposure to infection, may be as short as a few hours, and is characterised by a sudden rise of temperature, severe headache, pains in the back of the eyes, muscular aching and pains in muscles of both arms, legs, back, and other parts of the body, rapid pulse, much thirst, furred tongue, redness of inside of throat, which may or may not be sore. The skin is generally dry, but sometimes there is perspiration. The temperature generally falls in 24, 36, or even 48 hours as rapidly as it rose. The pains in the limbs continue longer, together with a sense of prostration for several days. There may be a relapse.

Influenza is rarely fatal, excepting through one of its inflammatory complications such as pneumonia.

The Medical Officer went on to advise that those stricken should at once have a hot bath, go straight to bed and send for the doctor. They should be isolated to prevent, as far as possible, the spread of the disease. The best way to escape infection was to avoid badly ventilated places such as picture palaces and theatres, and public meetings. Those displaying symptoms of bad colds should similarly be avoided.

Regular life, with the avoidance of all excess, plenty of fresh air and sunlight, with free ventilation of  rooms, together with open air exercise and a proper number of hours in bed, is advised.

Despite the Medical Officer’s assertion that the disease was rarely fatal, the number of deaths reported in that week’s newspaper must have given readers pause for thought. These deaths included what was believed to be the first one locally from “the mysterious influenza epidemic,” that of 34-year-old Sarah Elizabeth Driver, wife of Sam Wiloughby Driver, a warehouseman, of 12 Calder Bank Road, Dewsbury. She died on Sunday 8 July 1918, after being taken ill suddenly the day before. By Sunday, when spitting what appeared to be blood, her husband went to see Dr. Pritchard who refused to visit the patient on a Sunday, saying he had hundreds of cases of this complaint [influenza] lately, and not one had caused him anxiety or worry. Despite Mr Driver saying he would not have come had he thought it not serious, Dr. Pritchard sent him away with some medicine. By 6pm that evening Sam Driver returned to Dr. Pritchard’s, but the doctor was out. Before he was able to call another doctor, Sarah Elizabeth died. Dr. R. Beattie, who undertook the post mortem, thought Mrs Driver may have recovered if she had received prompt medical aid. But he also added doctors were so busy at the moment with the influenza outbreak they did not “know which way to turn.” The inquest verdict was she “Died from acute influenza and heart failure.

By  20 July 1918 the town was still dealing with the effects of influenza, with interments in Batley cemetery for the week numbering around 20, double the normal average. However the illness itself was on the decline with far fewer local death reports featuring in that week’s edition of the paper, which quoted:

…..a prominent local practitioner yesterday stated that so far as his experience goes the disease is rapidly declining. Where he used to have a score of patients he has now about two.

The 27 July 1918 paper declared the influenza epidemic practically over, although the occasional death report continued to appear, including that of Mr George Richard Whiteley or Purlwell, age 30, described as a champion Batley swimmer. His death on 29 July, from double pneumonia and pleurisy following influenza, was reported in the 3 August edition of the paper.

The respite was short-lived. By the end of October 1918 flu was once more hitting the local headlines. The 26 October 1918 edition of the Batley News, whilst admitting not too many local victims as yet, was not complacent:

Influenza, which in some parts of the country is raging in virulent epidemic form, has not many victims in this locality. In view, however, of the remarkable rapidity with which whole districts are affected, and of the large percentage of deaths reported from pneumonia following influenza, it is wise that everybody should take simple precautions against contracting the disease and to avoid communicating it to others. These precautions are precisely the same as against catching cold, and the most important are warm clothing and plenty of fresh air. “Weak persons and those suffering from colds should,” says one of the Medical Officers of the Local Government Board, “avoid badly ventilated buildings and overcrowded assemblies. A person who has contracted a severe cold should keep away from work, if he is employed with others, for the first three or four days, as it is during this stage that the complaint is most infectious. If people did that and were less neglectful of personal hygiene and more careful not to cough or sneeze without covering the mouth, there would be far fewer colds and far less spread of influenza.”

The warning about how quickly the illness could assume epidemic proportions was proved correct. By 2 November 1918 it had returned once more to the town with the Batley News reporting four deaths, many school children affected and the Medical Officer deeming it necessary to close all but four schools. Those shut included Purlwell, St Mary’s R.C., Carlinghow (all deparments); Gregory Street (both departments); Mill Lane Mixed, Warwick Road Girls’ and Infants’, Park Road Girls’ and Infants, Hanging Heaton C.E. Mixed and Infants’ and Field Lane Infants’.

At the same time notices were issued to all places of amusement in Batley that, until the 11 November, the period during which the majority of schools were to be closed, no children under fourteen must be allowed to attend. Parents were warned about “gossiping from house to house” and told not to let their children go to households were members were stricken by the illness. With the 11 November Armistice, it was particularly difficult to heed this advice about public gatherings and gossiping with neighbours. The crowds celebrating the Armistice clearly exacerbated the spread of the disease by bringing large groups of people into close proximity.

And whilst mentioning the Armistice it is worth noting the effects of influenza on the local men serving in the military. I know from my St Mary of the Angels, Batley, War Memorial research five of the 76 men (6.5 per cent) died as a result of influenza-related illnesses. Tony Dunlop of Project Bugle, the Batley and Birstall First World War Commemoration Project, estimates around 75 per cent of those who died and were buried locally in the last three months of 1918 were flu or pneumonia related deaths; of the others overseas, flu and pneumonia accounted for possibly around 30 per cent. These epidemic victims included Gunner Edward Chadwick, Sergeant Fred Greenwood and Deck Hand Harold Gaunt.

Centenary Wreath Laying Ceremony for Harold Gaunt – Photo by Jane Roberts

But back to the education situation. The school closures continued, despite attempts to re-open. On the days when schools did open, attendances proved thin because some children were themselves stricken with the illness, or their parents kept well children at home for fear of contagion. At the end of November Batley’s Medical Officer once more decreed schools would remain shut until 9 December.

At the end of November 1918 the Local Government Board, the national body which oversaw Local Authorities who at this time were largely responsible for health care, issued a special regulation. It meant if any public elementary school was temporarily shut because of influenza, no children were to be allowed to visit cinemas or places of public entertainment. Another regulation stipulated that no public entertainment was to be carried on for more than four hours consecutively, and an interval of not less than thirty minutes between entertainments must be observed during which time the venue was to be effectively ventilated. The penalty for any breach was £100.

But, seemingly at odds with the general discouragement of public gatherings, the 30 November Batley News announced that Batley’s Medical Officer had arranged for the showing in local picture halls of “Dr. Wise on Influenza” telling people what to do, or avoid, in the current epidemic! The film, commissioned by the Local Government Board and described as hard-hitting, can be viewed here.

Bored children not occupied by school did find other ways to amuse themselves, some not entirely legal. In February 1919 three boys appeared in court for stealing indiarubber piping from heating apparatus at St John’s Sunday School, as well as six cart lamps. Described as being from respectable families, a mother of one of the boys voiced the opinion that the lads got into mischief whilst the schools were closed for influenza. Courts were affected in other ways too with cases adjourned due to illness . For example in March 1919 a case about alleged breaches of the Rationing Order was halted as two of the defendants, Robert Spedding senior (butcher, of Clark Green) and Grace Reid (milk dealer of Purlwell), were unable to attend Batley Police Court

School closures also had a financial impact. Around 890 schools governed by the West Riding County Council (so not Batley Borough) were closed on average three times during 1918 as a result of the influenza epidemic, involving a loss of grants of around £16,000. The Council also paid over £100,000 to teachers when they were not teaching because of school closures.

It also impacted on those wishing to leave school to take up employment – in March 1919 it was reported that 147 children in Batley failed to attend school the requisite number of days to obtain Labour Certificates. Some Councillors felt that these children were entitled to special consideration given the circumstances. However, the Board of Education forbade them to take into consideration any possible attendances the children may have made if the schools had not been closed on account of the influenza epidemic. This was particularly vexing for some because at this point in time when a child reached the age of 13 and had made 350 attendances for each of five years they could apply for a Labour Certificate, allowing them total or partial exemption from school in order to work. The 1918 Education Act changed the law – from 1 April 1919 all children remained in school until the next holiday after their 14th birthday and Labour Certificates for leaving school before this age were abolished.

The week ending 23 November 1918 saw the peak of the second wave in Batley. By now the illness was impacting on medical services, and the end of the war provided a possible solution.  In view of its prevalence in Batley at the end of  November, the local Council made an application for the return of two local doctors serving in the Forces. However, the problems with doctors unable to meet the demands placed on them was still evident well into February 1919, as indicated in another inquest where two doctors failed to attend the victim, Mrs. Ann Elizabeth Senior (46) of Earlsheaton. Again this was in the neighbouring town of Dewsbury, and it was Dr. Beattie who once more conducted the post-mortem, saying if she had been seen her life may have been saved.

Proposals to treat influenza patients in isolation hospitals such as the one at Oakwell proved tricky due to the difficult staffing situation – by the end of January the hospital only had six nurses to keep five wards operational, and obtaining extra staff was proving impossible. The pressure on Oakwell to change policy increased though when, from 1 March 1919, the Local Government Board made primary pneumonia and pneumonia following influenza notifiable diseases. The aim was now to treat such cases in isolation hospitals if arrangements could be made, as this would save lives. Finally Oakwell was made available for pneumonia cases at the end of March 1919 for those patients where suitable nursing and accommodation was not available at home. These suitable cases were decided by the Medical Officer.

Remedies for influenza proliferated and included gargling morning and night with a solution of potassium permanganate and salt in water. It was also recommended that the solution be inhaled. Adverts appeared in the papers too, including for Crosby’s Cough Elixir, Lifebuoy Soap and, in March 1919, the claim from Ward’s (a clothing store) that you could protect yourself against flu by wearing a fur coat! This presumably based on the wear warm clothing advice.

img_0598

Because of the heavy death toll throughout November 1918, (54 due to influenza and 13 to pneumonia) gravediggers were in short supply.  In the five weeks to 30 November there were 95 funerals at Batley Cemetery, compared to 39 in the same period in 1917. The Registrar and cemetery staff came under particular pressure, resulting in distressing delays to burials. As a consequence the Council secured the services of four privates from a Labour Battalion to work in Batley Cemetery to try alleviate the problems.

By the end of December the second wave was over. The Medical Officer reported of the 62 Batley deaths that month, 16 were from influenza, seven were from bronchitis and four due to pneumonia. But once more it was only a temporary lull.

By the end of February  the influenza scourge was back again in Batley – the third wave of the disease. That month Dr. Pearce, the Medical Officer for Batley, reported 26 deaths from influenza, 20 from bronchitis and 8 from pneumonia. The Batley News of 1 March 1919 reported its comeback, but stated it was of a milder type with elementary school closures unnecessary and only six deaths attributed to it the previous week.

That same edition shone a spotlight on Batley’s housing conditions. Dr. J H Wood, J.P., whilst giving a talk to the Batley District Nursing Service ‘musical’ afternoon, touched on the three severe influenza epidemics over the previous eight months. Describing the disease as a plague, he claimed that although fresh air and face masks were all well and good, the problem was people attempting to fight the disease instead of going to bed and making the best of things. He then turned to the acute housing problem in Batley. He knew of one house consisting of one room downstairs and two bedrooms occupied by 12 people, one of whom was a chronic invalid. This was not an isolated case. Some of the housing conditions were a menace to public health, yet the health authorities were helpless to resolve them.

It was certainly true that overcrowding posed a public health problem. Influenza affected multiple family members during the epidemic, and true isolation from the rest of the household proved impossible when space was so limited. The newspapers are full of examples of multiple stricken family members – the same edition as reported overcrowding also mentioned five members of a Mount Top family in Birstall affected by influenza. Other examples included Mrs Senior, referred to earlier, who was one of six in her household to be laid low by the flu. The inquest into the death of Lewis Gomersall (47), a coal miner from Hanging Heaton who died on 21 February 1919, heard that four or five other members of his family were afflicted. One report which struck me was in the 30 November 1918 Batley News as follows:

Healey

Two Deaths in One Family from Influenza

Deep sympathy will be felt for Mr. John Edward Barber, rag merchant, 6, Mortimer Avenue, Healey, whose wife and daughter [Cecilia (60) died on 24 November and Nellie (26) died on 28 November]…..have this week died from influenza. Five members of the family have been attacked by the complaint, and Alice, another daughter, has been at death’s door and has not yet heard of the loss of her mother and sister. A double funeral takes place at Batley Cemetery tomorrow.

It is the street on which I grew up.

However, arguably the most ‘famous’ family in the town to be affected by the flu, and one that did not come into the class of overcrowded households, was that of Mr Theodore Cooke Taylor, J.P., of Sunny Bank, Batley. He was the head of the woollen manufacturing and profit-sharing firm of Messrs. J. T. and J. Taylor Ltd. He too suffered a double blow, but at a time when the epidemic was finally waning. He contracted flu along with his wife and daughter in early April 1919.  Whilst he recovered, his daughter, Evelyn Sara Taylor (43), died on 27 April 1919 from bronchial pneumonia complications; his wife Sara Jane (67) died two days later on 29 April 1919. Their burial took place in Batley Cemetery on 1 May 1919.

By the end of May 1919 Batley and District Insurance Committee were able to declare that the pneumonia plague, arising from influenza, was finally subsiding.  But it was at a cost of almost 200 lives directly attributed to influenza, not to mention those who succumbed to the subsequent respiratory complications.

Sources:

  • Supplement to the Eighty-First Annual Report of the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages in England and Wales, Report on the Mortality from Influenza in England and Wales During the Epidemic of 1918-1919
  • Borough of Batley Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health 1919 – G.H. Pearce M.D. (Durh.), D.P.H. (Camb.) Of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-Law
  • Borough of Batley Annual Report of the Medical Officer of Health 1920 – G.H. Pearce M.D. (Durh.), D.P.H. (Camb.) Of the Inner Temple, Barrister-at-Law
  • Various editions of the Batley News, June1918 to June 1919
  • Project Bugle – http://www.projectbugle.org.uk/
  • The Flu That Wasn’t Spanish – https://history.blog.gov.uk/2018/09/13/the-flu-that-wasnt-spanish/

From Berlin to Batley and Beyond: A Tale of Four Brothers

22 August 1918 marks the centenary of the death of Guardsman Clement Manning. The 22-year-old lost his life whilst serving with Number 1 Company of the 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards. His Soldiers Died in the Great War record gives his birthplace as Batley, Yorkshire. This was stretching the truth – by over 600 miles. Whilst he did live in the town in the years leading up to the outbreak of war, he was actually born on 13 November 1895 at Niederschöneweide, a German industrial town which subsequently assimilated with Berlin.

Clement’s parents were Michael Manning from Kilkenny and Mary Eliza Manning (née Waterson), also known as Muriel, from Triangle, Yorkshire. The couple married in 1881 and had 12 children in total, seven who were still living by the time of the 1911 census. Their eldest son, John Tynan, was born in Batley in April 1883. The other children listed in the 1911 census included Michael Wilfrid (born March 1886), Cecilia (born January 1889), Hester (born February 1891), Cecil Tynan (born July 1893) and Walter Nicholas (born August 1900). All these younger children shared the same birthplace – Niederschöneweide (written as Nieden Schonweide in the census). Of the five children who had died before the 1911 census I have traced three to Germany: Lillian (born October 1887 and died April 1889); Henriette (born October 1894 and died February 1903); and Helene (born March 1897 and died the following month).

The key to the Manning children’s German birthplace was their father’s occupation. In the 1881 census, prior to his marriage, Michael worked as a rag grinder (woollen). Batley mill owner John Blackburn opened a shoddy mill in 1869 in Niederschöneweide. Another woollen factory, Anton Lehmann’s, followed in 1881. English employees with expertise in shoddy manufacturing were employed in these factories and they, along with their families, moved into the community.  Consequently hundreds of Batley people are said to have left their native town and found very lucrative employment here. By the mid 1880’s there was quite a substantial Yorkshire colony in Berlin, with Yorkshire men working for either John Blackburn or Lehmanns, so it is probable that this was the magnet which pulled the Mannings to Germany. Education was at the village school, the Gemeinde-Schule, but English was spoken at home and at Sunday School, so the children would have had the advantage of being bi-lingual. Batley Feast was celebrated, as were festivities for Queen Victoria’s Jubilees in 1887 and 1897.

Clement spent the first seven years of his life in Germany.  When the family came back to Batley they returned to worship at St Mary of the Angels R.C. Church and Clement attended the associated school to complete his education. Their 1911 census Batley address was on Bradford Road with 15-year-old Clement described as a butcher boy.  He continued in this field of employment because, before enlisting, his employers were the Batley branch of the Argentine Meat Company.  He also played football with the Batley shop assistants team.

Clement enlisted with the Grenadier Guards in February 1915, the third of the Manning boys to enter military service. Cecil attested with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in February 1908 but proved unsatisfactory and was discharged days later. Perhaps it was the fact he was not yet 15, rather than his declared age of 18 years and six months, which played the deciding factor in his swift departure. Undeterred, in July 1911 he tried his hand again joining the Royal Navy, and in this pre-war era once again gave his birthplace as Berlin. His service records show at the age of 18 he already stood at 5ft 11½ inches. During the war he served on ships including Cruisers HMS Berwick and HMS Endymion, seeing action in the Dardanelles on the latter. He ended the war serving on the Dreadnought battleship HMS Orion.

Michael Wilfrid enlisted with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry at the beginning of September 1914 but quickly switched to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve to serve with the Royal Naval Division (RND). The RND was formed because there was a surplus of Royal Navy and Royal Marine reservists and volunteers. With insufficient ships to accommodate these men they were not needed for service at sea, so the men who served in the RND fought on land alongside the Army. Michael’s Record of Service has no birthplace recorded, but it shows he too was a tall man, standing at just under 6ft 1in. His war came to an abrupt end in the RND’s hastily prepared and ill-equipped part in the Defence of Antwerp in early October 1914. By 9 October he was a Prisoner of War, along with around 1,500 other RND men.

Doberitz POW


Döberitz Camp PoWs

Letters home from Michael appeared from time to time in the local newspapers.  On 8 May 1915 the Dewsbury District News reported that he was being held at Döberitz, acting as an interpreter in a German military hospital.  Ironically this camp was a little over 20 miles from where Michael spent his childhood. His letters show a desperate need for food and other provisions.  This proved a recurring theme in his letters home.  In one to his parents he wrote:

“Please don’t leave off sending cocoa, bread, cakes, bully beef, and other things”.

In another letter he says:

“I have got all your parcels but no cigs.  You know, if you cannot get food or cigs through, you can always send money, and then I can buy what I am short of.  With the money you have sent, I shall be able to last another month, and then perhaps you will send some more.  In good health.  Please send cocoa and biscuits”.

The Dewsbury District News published a further letter on the 24 July 1915, Michael again writing from Döberitz:

“Please send me each week one loaf, quarter pound of cocoa, a tin of milk, and a few cigarettes.  There is no charge for sending them, and you will never miss them in your weekly bill.  We are having plenty of warm weather, and a little rain.  I suppose it will be the same at home.  How are our local Terriers feeling the strain?  Are the county or local cricket matches played?  I have just got 8 marks 50 pfennigs.  That is what your 7s 6d postal order is worth here.  I hope you will send me some more money and parcels every week – tea, cocoa, and one loaf of bread and biscuits.  Salmon, or a tin or two of lobster, would not be amiss.  I have a little garden were I grow radishes, lettuce and tomatoes.  I live a very quiet life.”

On 25 October 1915 Michael Manning (senior) died, five days after Clement embarked for the Western Front with the 3rd Grenadier Guards. A couple of months later a fourth Manning brother, John Tynan, signed his attestation papers under the Derby Scheme.  He too inherited the family tall genes, being another 6 footer. A mechanic by trade he eventually received his call up to join the Army Service Corps (Mechanical Transport) in March 1917, going out to France the following month. But as John was going overseas Clement was back home in England after taking part in the 3rd Grenadier Guards’ action on the Somme in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.

The summer of 1916 was a particularly anxious time for the Manning family, who were receiving a series of updates from the captive Michael Wilfrid. These coincided with another wave of countrywide reports about the neglect and ill-treatment of Döberitz prisoners as illustrated by the case of Pte Tulley, a Royal Marine captured at Antwerp. 14 stone when taken prisoner he was sent back to England to die weighing only 5 stone. His case was widely reported in April 1916. His death, two weeks after arrival home, was attributed to exposure and insufficient food and clothing whilst held prisoner in Germany.

Extracts from Michael’s letters featured in the 12 August 1916 edition of the Batley News and supported the claims, by revealing more about the conditions he was enduring with a particular focus on the need for food. In one dated May 1916 he wrote:

“I hope you are sending my parcels every week.  Please send everything – bread, meat, sugar, tea, milk and fish.  I hope this beastly war will finish before long.  Are you getting ready for my coming home?  I hope to see everyone I know then”.

A sarcasm-laden letter postcard dated June 1916 revealed he had indeed undertaken a move – but further east to German-held territory in Russia. The move was a direct German reprisal against the British who in April 1916 had sanctioned the use of around 1,500 German POWs to work in France.

“I have just finished a 2½ day railway journey, and after travelling that time it is a pleasure to rest and be able to stretch your limbs again.  You will no doubt wonder why I have had to leave the hospital.  Well, you see 2,000 of the prisoners are required for work, and I with the other five sanitates at Rohrbeck Hospital had to come with the party to act as sanitates here.  I am pleased I could come with them.  It is a splendid change, and we get to see the world.  In years to come I and others will look back upon these times and thank the Germans for these trips”.

And, in addition to Michael Wilfred’s move, there was the Flers-Courcelette injury to Clement. Commencing on 15 September 1916, this engagement during the Battle of the Somme marked the first use of tanks. The 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards unit war diary recorded prior to zero hour on 15 September:

“the ‘tanks’ which were allotted to the Division could be heard making their way up in rear of us”.

It also recorded the numbers of killed, wounded or missing when roll call was taken at the end of 15 September 1916: 413 officers and men. This was the largest single day’s loss for this battalion in the war. Amongst their dead was Lt Raymond Asquith, son of Prime Minister Herbert Asquith. It appears Clement was amongst those injured, receiving what was recorded as a gunshot wound to his left arm. He was evacuated back to England on board the HMHS Asturias on 17 September 1916.

Incidentally six months later, on 20 March 1917, en route from Avonmouth to Southampton this hospital ship was torpedoed by a German U-boat. Fortunately she had already unloaded her cargo of wounded, otherwise the casualty count would have proved far higher. Nevertheless in excess of 30 crew, including two nurses, perished. The ship was declared a total loss.

Back in England Clement recovered from his Battle of the Somme injury and was assigned to the Regiment’s home-based 5th (Reserve) Battalion to recuperate. This proved longer than anticipated with three further hospital admissions recorded whilst with the Reserve unit. On 28 November 1916 he suffered an accidental foot injury and concussion. He was not discharged from hospital until 14 February 1917. A week later he was admitted once more, this time suffering from rheumatic fever. It was a shorter stay, with his discharge date recorded as 21 April 1917 – three days prior to brother John going overseas. There was a further admission on 20 June 1917 when enteritis struck Clement down. He was able to undertake light duties from the end of July 1917, but it was not until 5 September 1917 that he was considered fully fit to return to duty, ultimately going back to the Front to rejoin the 3rd Battalion once more.

Clement was killed in action in the last 100 days of the war, with the Germans in retreat. The 21 August 1918 marked the start of the Second Battle of the Somme. From the 21 to the 23 August 1918 the 3rd Grenadier Guards were involved in what became known as the Battle of Albert, a phase of this battle, as part of the Third Army under the command of General Byng. The battalion were part of the Guards Division, VI Corps.

The official history of the Grenadier Guards describes the events of the battle, as does Reminiscences of a Grenadier by E.R.M. Fryer, who was in command of 1 Company, the company with which Clement served, for the crucial period.

On the 20th August 1918 they took up its assembly positions East and South East of Boiry. Their orders were to attack Moyenneville. The attack commenced in the early hours of an initially extremely foggy on 21 August.  The fog veiled the Guards Division as they advanced towards their first objective.  However, later it lifted, exposing the attack to enemy artillery and the inevitable accompanying hail of German machine gun fire.  Surprisingly, the Guards reportedly incurred few casualties during this stage of the battle.  By midday they had secured all their objectives, including Moyenneville, the 3rd Grenadier Guards taking a chalk pit to the south east of the village, whilst a platoon belonging to the battalion had advanced as far as the outskirts of Courcelles. By noon on the 21st V1 Corps had attained almost all of its objectives and were positioned along the Arras—Albert railway line where they came under intense artillery fire.  At this stage of the battle it had been intended for tanks and the cavalry to take over from the infantry to exploit the situation, but none had appeared. Unexpectedly Number 1 Company of the 3rd Grenadier Guards, who were intended to have a reserve role that day, played a key part in events.

Captain Fryer described the aftermath of the 21 August and the events of the 22 August as follows:

That night passed off fairly uneventfully; we were content with our day’s work, the Commanding Officer had praised us, and we heard that the higher authorities were well pleased, and so we were contented. It is hardly necessary to say the men were wonderful they always were. Were it possible to mention them all by name in this book I would do so…..No one was more loyally served by the men under him than I was, from the C.S.M. to the youngest guardsman;…….

On the morning of the 22nd at dawn we were just getting ready to stand to arms in the ordinary way when the Germans opened a terrific barrage on us, and a messenger arrived from the front line to say the Germans were coming over; we raced out from our quarry, ran the gauntlet of innumerable shells, and reached the railway safely;…….

Someone on our right sent up the S.O.S., our artillery put down a very good and accurate barrage, and all was quiet; it was impossible to get communication with our front platoon during this time, and we had no idea how they were faring……it was an organised counter-attack with the idea of [the Germans] regaining all they had lost the day before. It failed completely, …..

The rest of that day was very trying; we were all tired, and the Germans shelled us relentlessly all day, and also trench-mortared us; they got on to our quarry, and it became far from healthy….

Sometime during the day of 22 August 1918 Clement was killed. At the time the local newspapers reported Clement’s death, his brother John was serving with the ASC in France; Michael was still a prisoner of war; Cecil was in the Royal Navy on board HMS Orion.

John, Michael and Cecil all survived the war. Michael was the first to return to his home in Providence Terrace, Bradford Road, Carlinghow after more than four years captivity.  He arrived in Leeds on Christmas morning 1918, having come from Copenhagen via Leith.  An account of his time as a prisoner of war appeared in the Batley Reporter and Guardian on 3 January 1919 as follows:

“…..of his stay in Germany Seaman Manning says the German doctors treated them well, and he believed they would have been treated even better if the authorities would have allowed it.  The doctors bandaged and attended British soldiers in a similar manner to their own.  Seaman Manning, who was acquainted with the German language, often performed the duty of interpreter between the doctors and his fellow-prisoners.  As for the rest of the Germans, Seaman Manning says they behaved like uncivilised creatures.  A favourite trick of the German nurses was to first spit into a glass of water and then hand it to the prisoners.  At other times when a glass of water was asked for by the prisoners the nurses would hold it just out of reach, then either dash the water into the prisoners face or pour it on the floor.  About 5,000 prisoners were sent on a reprisal party to Russia and made to work behind the lines in range of the Russian guns.  The reason for this was that the Germans alleged that the Allies were [using] the German prisoners behind the lines on the Western Front.  The “reprisal party” were working behind the lines for 18 months, three months of that time being spent in some of the coldest weather ever known.  Complaints of poor food and clothing and frost bite etc received no attention.  At the time of the signing of the Armistice many prisoners were working in coal mines, and the Germans told them they must continue working in order to provide coal to work the trains.  The conditions of the mines was most terrible and the prisoners refused to work.  Threats were used, and finally machine guns were brought up in a vain effort to frighten the prisoners into submission.  In regard to food, Seaman Manning says that it was often not fit to eat, and often when the prisoners were starving they refused to eat the food.  When parcels began to arrive from home German food was rarely eaten, all the prisoners required at this time was sufficient air, light and cooking accommodation and this was often lacking.  During the time he was in the internment camp Seaman Manning came across prisoners of all allied nationalities.  The camps were often overcrowded and in a filthy condition.  Asked his opinion of the [revolution] Seaman Manning says that he thinks it is a humbug meant to throw dust into the Allies eyes.  The German people are trying to make it appear, he says, that it was all the rulers fault, [whereas] all the German people were “for” the war.  When Seaman Manning left Germany the Germans said they would soon be in England on business.  Seaman Manning adds that he would like to [meet some] of the brutes in England”.

John was demobilised in October 1919 whilst Cecil left the Navy in June 1921.

Clement was awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal.  In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on the Batley War Memorial and the Memorial at St John’s Carlinghow. He is now laid to rest at Bucquoy Road Cemetery, Ficheux, France. This is a concentration cemetery with graves being brought in from the wider battlefield and smaller cemeteries in the neighbourhood post-Armistice. These re-burials included Clement.

Sources:

  • Soldiers Died in the Great War
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission
  • Medal Index Cards & Medal Award Rolls
  • General Register Office Indexes
  • 1881 and 1911 Census (England & Wales)
  • Dewsbury District News
  • Batley News
  • Batley Reporter & Guardian
  • Landesarchiv Berlin; Berlin, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Geburtsregister; via Ancestry.com. Berlin, Germany, Births, 1874-1899 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
  • Landesarchiv Berlin; Berlin, Deutschland; Personenstandsregister Sterberegister ; via Ancestry.com. Berlin, Germany, Deaths, 1874-1920 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2014.
  • Oswego, New York, United States Marriages via FindMyPast and FamilySearch Film Number 000857423 (Walter Nicholas Manning)
  • The National Archives at Washington, D.C.; Washington, D.C.; Manifests of Alien Arrivals at Buffalo, Lewiston, Niagara Falls, and Rochester, New York, 1902-1954; Record Group Title: Records of the Immigration and Naturalization Service, 1787 – 2004; Record Group Number: 85; Series Number: M1480; Roll Number: 090 via Ancestry.com. U.S., Border Crossings from Canada to U.S., 1895-1960 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2010. (Walter Nicholas Manning)
  • The National Archives, Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services, Ref ADM 188/654/3883 for Cecil Tynan Manning via FindMyPast
  • The National Archives, Admiralty and War Office: Royal Naval Division: Records of Service, Ref ADM 339/1/23549 for Michael Wilfrid Manning via FindMyPast
  • 1914-1918 Prisoners of the First World War, ICRC Historical Archives: https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/
  • The National Archives War Office: Soldiers’ Documents, First World War ‘Burnt Documents’ Ref WO 363 – John Tynan Manning via Ancestry.co.uk
  • 3rd Battalion Grenadier Guards, Guards Division, 2nd Guards Brigade, 1 July 1915 – 31 January 1919 – TNA WO 95 1219/1
  • The National Archives War Office: First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen MH106/955, MH106/1609 and MH106/1623 – extracts via Forces War Records
  • Fryer, E. R. M. Reminiscences of a Grenadier: 1914-1919. London: Digby, Long & Co, 1921.
  • Ponsonby, Frederick. The Grenadier Guards in the Great War of 1914-1918. London: Macmillan and, Limited, 1920.
  • The Long, Long Trail – The British Army I’m the Great War 1914-1918: https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/

Book Update: The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union

The final countdown is on and I can finally reveal the title and cover of the book I’ve been working on with my husband Chris for what seems like forever. ‘The Greatest Sacrifice – Fallen Heroes of the Northern Union‘ about rugby league players who were killed during the 1st World War will be published towards the end of August.

Seeing the cover has made it all seem very real.

If anyone tells you writing a book is easy, don’t believe them. It’s been month upon month of hard work. I didn’t realise how it would take over my life. From the endless research to redraft upon redraft and then the proof reading stage which went on for an eternity. The final version was never actually the final as each time we read it we’d make changes. I’ve gone through it that many times I was even reciting it in my sleep! Pregnancy and giving birth was far quicker and easier.

But it has been a labour of love. The more I researched the lives of these men the more I wanted to learn about them and my determination that this should be a fitting tribute to their lives increased. I hope the final version does them justice.

The Rohilla Privileged Will Dispute

What may seem a straightforward document can be far more contentious than first appearances suggest. This proved the case with the will of a man who perished in the wreck of the Hospital Ship Rohilla in October 1914. It led to the High Court.

William Edward Anderson was one of the 15 Barnoldswick St John Ambulance Brigade men on board, serving as part of the Royal Naval Sick Berth Reserve. Only three of these men came home.

Born in the then West Yorkshire town on 11 February 1891, he was the eldest child of Carleton-born cotton weaver Ralph Anderson and his wife Jane Elizabeth Wakefield, originally from Coventry. The couple married on 18 October 1890 in the parish church of St Mary le Gill, Barnoldswick. Their other children included Sarah, Walter, Florrie, George, Mary Ann and Ernest. An eighth child, Jane, died in 1905 aged three.

Like his father, William became a cotton weaver, cotton being the town’s predominant industry. His naval records describe him as being 5’6″ with light brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion.

William Edward Anderson

William was engaged to Edith Eliza Priscilla Downes. The daughter of joiner and builder James Downes and his wife Elizabeth, she was born on 22 July 1891 at Morton Banks near Keighley, and baptised St Mary’s Church, Riddlesden in September that year. The family address in the baptismal register was given as Barley-Cote, Riddlesden. Sometime between the 1901 and 1911 censuses the Downes family moved to Barnoldswick. In the latter census they were living at Gisburn Street and Edith had employment as a cotton spinner.

On 2 August 1914 John William Thompson, superintendent of the Barnoldswick Division of the St John Ambulance Brigade, received a telegram ordering the mobilisation of men, including William, in advance of any war declaration. The Brigade was a voluntary movement which the Army and Navy used as a recruitment source. It’s members knew they were liable to be called up for military service. Thompson contacted William and told him to hold himself in readiness. He was ordered to catch the 3 August 12.08pm train from Barnoldswick to Chatham.

3 August was Bank Holiday Monday. That morning, after finishing packing his kit at his family home alongside Edith, he made a soldier’s will leaving everything to his fiancée. He placed the will in an envelope with instructions for it to be opened one month after his death. He wanted Edith to take it for safe-keeping but she refused so he put it in a drawer saying to Edith “No one knows where this is, only you.” The will was made at 11am, just over an hour before his departure. Once he left Edith never saw him again.

William’s naval record shows him as a Senior Reserve Attendant, under Service Number M/10066, assigned to Pembroke I from 2 – 17 August 1914. This was the shore-based Royal Naval barracks at Chatham. From 18 August 1914 he was with the Rohilla. When she struck the rocks off Saltwick Nab it appears he was one of those who made it to the bridge, but subsequently lost his life attempting to swim to shore. His body was never recovered. He is commemorated in a number of locations including on the Chatham Naval Memorial, the Rohilla Memorial in Whitby’s Larpool Cemetery and on the Barnoldswick War Memorial.

His naval record includes the notation:

Papers dealing with an action in the High Court relating to this man’s will.

The case of Anderson v Downes was heard in the Probate Court in January 1916 before Mr Justice Bargrave Deane. The plaintiff Ralph Anderson, represented by Mr W.O. Willis, claimed his son had died intestate and he sought administration, being next-of-kin and heir-at-law. The defendant Miss Edith Downes, represented by Mr Pridham-Wippell and Mr Acton Pile denied this and counter-claimed William had made his last true will on 3 August 1914, it being made in accordance with the Section 11 of the 1837 Statute, namely William had been actively engaged in the service of the Crown on military and/or naval duties. In response Ralph claimed the will had not been executed according to the Statute.

Edith Downes

Those serving in the military had, for centuries, held a unique position in Probate law being entitled to make what was known as a Privileged Will. In 1914, Section 11 of the Wills Act 1837 specifically stated “that any soldier being in actual military service, or any mariner or seaman at sea, may dispose of his personal estate” without restrictions applicable to other wills. It meant they could dispose moveable goods, money, credits and leases without the restrictions which normally applied – the testator could be under 21, there was no need for witnesses to attest, for the testator’s signature, or even for it to be in writing. These privileges were conferred because of the unique nature of their employment. They could face the imminent danger if death; also because they were on service they may not have the same access to legal services as a civilian so would have less opportunity to make a properly executed will; and minors served in the armed forces.

The case of Anderson v Downes honed in on the key phrase “any mariner or seaman at sea.” Mr Mynett, supervising assistant clerk at the Admiralty was called to provide clarity. He produced William’s original engagement setting out he was to serve in the Navy for one year from 2 August 1914. He also had the original contract William made with the St John Ambulance. It was signed on 17 October 1914, but backdated to 2 August. Therefore it was dated from his mobilisation and covered his time at HMS Pembroke, the name by which the Admiralty recognised Chatham Barracks.

Staff-Surgeon Stewart RN also gave evidence stating when William arrived at Chatham he would be a naval rating, liable to serve from mobilisation for a period not exceeding one year, and he would be subject to the Naval Discipline Act for the year from 2 August 1914. Effectively he was on active service from the date of the mobilisation order. Under cross-examination he said William was qualified to serve when he left home.

A third Admiralty official, acting superintendent clerk Mr Drake, confirmed William was payed be the Admiralty from 2 August 1914.

Mr Willis held firm with his view that for the will to be valid in accordance with the Act, William needed to be at sea when he made it. Nothing else mattered. Mr Prichard-Wimpell differed in his view – he asserted that soldiers and sailors were treated in the same way in time of war for which mobilisation had taken place.

In summing up Mr Justice Bargrave Deane disagreed – the Act was not the same for soldiers and sailors. The will would have been perfectly good if made at sea. However he could not say in this case that William ever went to sea until he joined the Rohilla. He certainly had not joined any ship when he made the will. Whilst Mr Justice Bargrave Deane felt there was no doubt William’s wishes were that his sweetheart should have his money, regretfully the will did not hold good in law. In effect he died intestate and Administration was granted to William’s father. However the Judge decreed the costs of both parties should come out of the estate.

The entry in the National Probate Calendar for 1916 reads:

Anderson William Edward of 20 School-terrace Damhead-
road Barnoldswick Yorkshire died 30 October 1914 at sea
on H.M. Hospital Ship Rohilla Administration London 18
March to Ralph Anderson factory operative.
Effects £245 5s. 10d.

Interestingly, due to the sharp focus of war and the subtle changes in types of military service this brought, in February 1918 the law changed with the Wills (Soldiers and Sailors) Act 1918. It affirmed that:

“In order to remove doubts as to the construction of the Wills Act 1837, it is hereby declared and enacted that section eleven of that Act authorises and always has authorised any soldier being in actual military service, or any mariner or seaman being at sea, to dispose of his personal estate as he might have done before the passing of that Act, though under the age of 21”

Furthermore, the ability to make privileged will was judged to extend to any member of His Majesty’s naval or marine forces not only when he is at sea but also when he is so circumstanced that if he were a soldier he would be in actual military service within the meaning of that section. The Act was also extended to cover real estate, that is lands and buildings. And soldier included any member of the Air Force.

So what became of Ralph and Edith, the protagonists in this case? Ralph’s death, aged 62, is recorded in the Skipton Registration District (which covered Barnoldswick in this period) in the March Quarter of 1929. Edith’s marriage to Harry Whiteley is recorded in the Huddersfield Registration District. The 1939 Register shows the family living in the Colne Valley village of Linthwaite. She lived well into her 80s.

If you want to know more about the Rohilla sinking, please see my earlier blog post, here.

Sources:

  • 1939 Register – via FindMyPast
  • 1891-1911 Censuses – via Ancestry.co.uk and FindMyPast
  • Burnley Express and Advertiser – 4 November 1914 via FindMyPast
  • Burnley Express and Advertiser – 22 January 1916 via FindMyPast
  • Burnley News – 4 November 1914 via FindMyPast
  • Burnley News – 22 January 1916 via FindMyPast
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commissionhttps://www.cwgc.org/
  • Craven Herald – 6 November 1914, transcript via Craven’s Part in the Great War http://www.cpgw.org.uk/
  • Craven Herald – 21 January 1916, transcript via Craven’s Part in the Great War http://www.cpgw.org.uk/
  • GRO Indexes – via FindMyPast
  • Lancashire, England, Church of England Marriages and Banns, 1754-1936 via Ancestry.co.uk (originals at Lancashire Archives)
  • Leeds Mercury – 21 January 1916 via FindMyPast
  • National Probate Calendar – via FindMyPast
  • Privileged Wills: A Timely Reminder – Christopher Parker takes an in-depth look at the history of privileged wills and also reviews application of the law by C20th courts (taken from Issue No 21  – October 2002) http://www.tact.uk.net/review-index/privileged-wills-a-timely-reminder/
  • The Globe – 20 January 1916 via FindMyPast
  • The Times – 21 January 1916 via The Times Digital Archive
  • The National Archives (TNA) Royal Navy Registers of Seamen’s Services; Class: ADM 188; Piece: 1038 – via Ancestry.co.uk
  • TNA UK Royal Navy and Royal Marine War Graves Roll, 1914-1919 Class : ADM 242/7; Scan Number: 0082 – via Ancestry.co.uk
  • The Wills of our Ancestors – A Guide for Family & Local Historians – Stuart Raymond
  • Wills Acts of 1837 and 1918
  • Wills and Probate Records – A Guide for Family Historians 2nd Edition – Karen Grannum & Nigel Taylor
  • Yorkshire Evening Post – 20 January 1916 via FindMyPast
  • West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910 via Ancestry.co.uk (originals at West Yorkshire Archive Service; Wakefield, Yorkshire, England)

A Family Historian on Holiday: A Whitby Cemetery and WW1 Shipwreck

What does a family historian with an obsession with the Great War and local history do on holiday? Take a break isn’t the answer, as my recent Whitby visit illustrates.

I’ve no Whitby ancestry to hunt, so I didn’t intend doing anything history-related other than a few evenings working on my neglected One-Name Study. But a walk to Saltwick Bay put a halt to that. A scramble down the steep and unforgiving cliff path to the isolated beach and I was hooked. Apparently there is the wreck of a trawler, the Admiral Von Tromp. However the tide was too high for it to be visible, so I decided to revisit at low tide.

Before returning I decided to pinpoint the wreck location. In doing so I discovered it wasn’t the only shipwreck on that stretch of coastline: at around 4.10am on 30 October 1914 the Hospital Ship Rohilla ran aground on an area of rocks by Saltwick Nab with 229 people on board. That was it. I had to find out more.

The Scar and Saltwick Nab – photo by Jane Roberts

The SS Rohilla, launched in 1906, was owned by the British India Steam Navigation Co. Ltd. Initially a passenger liner operating to India, by 1908 she was working as a troopship. Throughout, she was captained by David Landles Neilson, and he continued in post when, in August 1914, she was requisitioned by the government and converted to a hospital ship. Later that month she was on her way to the Scapa Flow to complete training in her new role. One of HMHS Rohilla’s first patients was Prince Albert, who developed appendicitis whilst on board the HMS Collingwood. At the end of the month the future King George VI was safely transported, along with around 43 other ill servicemen, to Aberdeen where he successfully underwent an appendectomy the following month.

Training complete, on Thursday 29 October 1914 the Rohilla left Leith on the Firth of Forth in late afternoon good weather tasked with her first France and Flanders hospital run, to pick up wounded soldiers from Dunkirk. Captain Neilson had to contend with an unfamiliar route and the threat of mines, using dead reckoning techniques because of the wartime restrictions around usual navigational aids: so no lighthouses, buoy lights and sounds, shore lights etc. As they reached St Abb’s Head, north of Berwick upon Tweed, the weather began to deteriorate. They passed the hazardous Farne Islands Longstones at a distance of seven miles according to the dead reckoning calculations. The ship’s course was altered at just after 10pm to clear minefields, and again at 1.50am. Depth soundings were taken at midnight showing the Rohilla was still on course. The next set were not taken until 4am, by which time the impending catastrophe was unfolding before the eyes of Albert James Jeffries in the Whitby Coastguard Station.

Coastline from Whitby to Saltwick Nab OS six inch to the mile, 1910-1911, Published 1919 – Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland https://maps.nls.uk/index.html

It was filthy weather with squally rain, the wind ranging between near gale to strong gale and a heavy sea when, at around 3-40am on Friday 30 October Jeffries saw the Rohilla. He realised she was heading for the rocks near Saltwick Nab, with no alert from the buoy bell muffled due to war, and no lights to warn her. He tried to contact her via the Morse Lamp and sounded the foghorn, but received no reply.

Back on board the Rohilla, the Morse had been seen but not decoded, the assumption being made that it was from another ship as those on board still thought they were way out at sea. The 4am sounding revealed the ship was far nearer shore than thought, but before anything could be fully reported to Captain Neilson and acted upon, there was an almighty shock as the ship struck something. Officers afterwards reported a lifting sensation, and Captain Neilson’s automatic response was “Mine, by God”. He immediately ordered the vessel to be driven full speed towards shore in a bid to get closer to land and rescuers. She ran aground on the Scar rocks by Saltwick Nab at around 4.10am. She was stuck only 500 or so yards away from the shore.Despite the Rohilla’s proximity to land, the severe weather conspired against the would-be rescuers, whose heroic attempts to save those stranded on board spanned three days and over 50 hours. Some of these efforts were captured on film. The dramatic British Pathé footage can be viewed here. The aftermath is shown in British Film Institute footage here.

Only one of the Rohilla’s lifeboats was launchable but, due to conditions, it proved impossible for her to bring a line ashore. Neither could the shore-based rocket brigades establish a viable line to the ship, thus ending any hope of setting up a breeches buoy by which to bring those aboard to safety one-by-one.

Rescue by Breeches Buoy, Popular Science Monthly Volume 15, 1879 – Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

So what about shore-based lifeboats? This was still an era predominated by the rowing-boat lifeboat. Petrol-powered motor vessels only just started to make an appearance from 1905. Six lifeboats tried valiantly to battle the elements in what Coxswain Langlands of the Whitby Lifeboat described as the hardest job he’d experienced in almost 40 years’ service. It was impossible to launch the heavier Number 1 Whitby Lifeboat, the Robert and Mary Ellis, due to the severity of the weather. That left the lighter Number 2 boat, the John Fielden. Again the weather meant it could not be rowed out of the harbour, so an alternative plan was successfully undertaken to lift and lower the craft over the breakwater, carry her under the East Pier Spa ladder and then drag her across the Scar, the rocks which run from Whitby to Saltwick Nab.

John Fielden rescue attempt on 30 October 1914

She was badly damaged in the process, but still managed two trips to the Rohilla rescuing 35 people before it was decided conditions were no longer safe and she was abandoned on shore to be smashed to pieces by the ferocious storm, no longer seaworthy.

Whitby Lifeboat Museum Rohilla Exhibition – by Jane Roberts

Amongst the first batch of those rescued were the five women aboard the ship: four nurses and the stewardess. The Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Services (QARRNS) nurses were 38-year-old Margaret Muriel Benington who had been a QARNNS nursing sister since June 1910; Mary Barbara Bennet, from Glass in Aberdeenshire, age 36, who joined as nursing sister in November 1910; Margaret Brand Paterson, age 34 whose seniority date as a nursing sister was 1 August 1911. She was known as Daisy and from Terrona, Langholm in Dumfriesshire; and Devon-born vicar’s daughter Mary Louisa Hocking, age 26, who joined as a probationary nursing sister in December 1913, who was only promoted to nursing sister in June 1914. The older three joined the Rohilla on 18 August 1914, whereas Mary Louisa only joined the ship on 23 October. Letters from two of the nurses appeared in the Whitby Gazette on 13 November 1914, and give a flavour of the help they received. These are as follows:

Muriel Benington: Dear Sir, Please allow me to thank through you, all the people of Whitby who did so much for me and the other survivors of the wreck of the Rohilla. I simply cannot express my gratitude for the kindness which was shown to us from beginning to end by everyone with whom we came in contact. I shall write to thank specially some of the ladies who supplied us with clothes and other things, but I do not know the names of the men who helped me along the shore, or of many who did things for me. Again thanking you for the help and sympathy of your townspeople.

And:

Mary B Bennet: Dear Sir, I shall be so glad if you will express my thanks and gratitude to the crew of the Whitby lifeboat. We sisters realise that they endangered their own lives to save ours, and we cannot be thankful enough to them for the excellent work they did. May I also thank you for the trouble you took over us? It was marvellous the prompt way in which we were fitted out with clothes. I shall never forget he kindness of the Whitby people during our short time there.

After their ordeal the nurses were granted 14 days leave, with Mary Hocking given an extension of seven days. The admirable conduct of all four was acknowledged. Sister Bennet received the Royal Red Cross, the decoration awarded to ladies for exceptional services in nursing the sick and wounded in the army and navy. She received her award from the King at Buckingham Palace in May 1915. That was not the only award she received in her nursing career. In 1920 she was presented with the O.B.E. by the Governor of Hong Kong.

Sister Mary Barbara Bennet

Of the others, Sister Paterson was granted the Royal Red Cross 2nd Class in 1918 (by this stage the decoration could be either 1st or 2nd class) in part for her Rohilla efforts; and Sister Hocking was awarded the Royal Red Cross 2nd Class in 1919.

The fifth woman was stewardess Mary Kezia Roberts. This was not her first shipwreck. In April 1912 she was one of those saved from the Titanic. She described her Rohilla experience as even more trying than when the great liner went down. Her trunk, which would have contained her belongings on the Rohilla, was discovered recently on eBay and is now on display at the Royal National Lifeboat Institution (RNLI) museum at Whitby. The museum is housed in Whitby’s former Number 2 lifeboat station.

Mary Kezia Roberts’ Trunk at Whitby Lifeboat Museum – by Jane Roberts

In addition to the Whitby lifeboats, ones from other North East coast stations were asked to assist. In an echo of the John Fielden efforts, the Upgang lifeboat, the William Riley, over a mile away from Whitby, was brought overland and lowered more than 200 feet down the sheer cliffs on Friday afternoon. However, the ferocity of the weather prevented any launch until Saturday. Even then the weather was such that the rescue was aborted. The Scarborough lifeboat, towed by trawler to the vicinity, was similarly unable to get anywhere near. A trawler also assisted the Robert and Mary Ellis out of Whitby Harbour and to the wreck, but she too was unable to get close enough to affect a rescue. These were all rowing lifeboats.

Help from a couple of motor lifeboats further north was also sought. The Tees-mouth lifeboat, the Bradford, was prepared to set off on Friday, but the weather prevented her launch. She finally set off at around 7am on Saturday morning but broke down in the severe weather off the coast at Redcar shortly after departing her South Gare base. She had to be towed back to port by a fortuitously accompanying tug. That left the Tynemouth motor lifeboat, the Henry Vernon. She put to sea during the late afternoon of Saturday 31 October, arriving in Whitby around nine hours later. With a mind to safety, her rescue attempt was scheduled for daylight.

Throughout these various rescue attempts townsfolk were helping from shore, going into the freezing, swirling sea to assist the lifeboat crews and any survivors fortunate to be saved by them, or those souls attempting to swim from the stricken vessel. That Friday morning they had witnessed the horrific site of the stern breaking away from the Rohilla and disappearing under the waves, men still visible on it – some even strapped to the structure. This was followed by the bows being similarly swallowed by the merciless sea, leaving just the bridge section above water. By now bodies were washing ashore.

Hospital Ship Rohilla grounded at Whitby, Popular Mechanics Magazine January 1915 – Wikimedia Commons Public Domain

As time wore on conditions were becoming desperate for those left on what remained of the Rohilla, exposed to the elements with no food or water, and no immediate prospect of rescue. On Saturday morning, as the tide ebbed, Captain Neilson semaphored to prepare for swimmers. Men jumped – some made it, others were swept away and dashed on rocks. Makeshift rafts were also fashioned and men lashed themselves to them. By the evening of 1 November, 50 men remained on-board awaiting their fate. With the impending arrival of the Henry Vernon the signal went to them to hold fast, help was at hand.

At around 6.30am on Sunday 1 November the Henry Vernon, captained by 50-year-old Royal Engineer Herbert Edgar ‘Bert’ Burton, left Whitby harbour. As she approached the wreck she discharged oil on the swirling waves. It had the desired effect, temporarily calming the waters enabling the rescue of all 50 men in one journey. The last man off the Rohilla was its Captain, carrying the ship’s black cat, an action for which he was later awarded the Bronze Medal by the RSPCA. They returned to the haven of Whitby, wet, battered, bleeding, exhausted, bare-footed, ill-clad, some still in pyjamas given the timing of the wreck, but safe at last. In all they had endured over 50 hours of hell. The crew of the Henry Vernon returned home to a heroes’ welcome.

The inquest on the initial bodies of the victims concluded on 5 November 1914. As published in the Whitby Gazette the following day, the unanimous verdict of the jury was that:

“…..the steamship Rohilla undoubtedly struck something a little time before she grounded on the rock at Saltwick, and they think that in the stormy weather which prevailed, and in the absence of lights and all usual safeguards, and in view of the special risks of navigation in the North Sea since the war, the master navigated the ship with all reasonable care, and is entirely free from blame for her loss.”

Given the comparative ease with which the Henry Vernon completed the rescue, the inquest jury also recommended strongly that a motor-lifeboat be provided for Whitby. The Margaret Harker Smith was launched in June 1919.

The logical next step for me was to visit Whitby (Larpool) cemetery. What holiday for a family historian doesn’t include a sneaky cemetery visit? The ‘Rohilla Plot’ is a trench grave in which 33 victims, 19 of whom are unidentified, are buried.

One side of the ‘Rohilla Plot’ at Whitby (Larpool) Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

At the centre of the trench is the Memorial. Erected by the ship owners, it is dedicated to the 91 officers and men who lost their lives in the tragedy.

Rohilla Monument at Whitby (Larpool) Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

RohillaMonument at Whitby (Larpool) Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

RohillaMonument at Whitby (Larpool) Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

Rohila Monument at Whitby (Larpool) Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

There is actually some confusion around the total number lost on the wreck. It seems to range between 83 to 92. The Rohilla Monument lists 91 but the actual number of names on it total 92. The final name etched in the Monument image above is that of F. Randell. Frederick Randell (or Randall) was a coastguard boatman based at H.M. Coastguard Station, Whitby who was killed whilst on duty during the German Naval bombardment of the town on 16 December 1914. He too is buried in the ‘Rohilla Plot’. I have covered the naval bombardment in a couple of other blog posts. Shrapnel and Shelletta looks at war-associated baby names, including George Shrapnel Griffin born during the bombardment of Whitby. The events of 16 December 1914 are covered in more detail in another post as they prompted my great grandfather to lie about his age and enlist on my grandma’s 8th birthday.

’92 LIVES LOST’ is also etched into the ship’s bell from the Rohilla which is on display at the Whitby Lifeboat Museum.

Rohilla Ship’s Bell at the Whitby Lifeboat Museum – by Jane Roberts

The loss impacted on communities from all corners of Britain. The then West Riding of Yorkshire (now Lancashire) town of Barnoldswick was particularly hard hit. 15 members of the Barnoldswick St John’s Ambulance Brigade were members of the Royal Naval Sick Berth Reserve on board the vessel. Only three survived. Amongst the dead were brothers Thomas and Walter Horsfield.

One name which struck me on the Rohilla monument was that of a Catholic priest. The Very Rev. Canon Robert Basil Gwydir O.S.B. was born on 20 January 1867 in County Longford, but of a family with Welsh origins. Educated at Douai and ordained in 1891 he began his ministry at St Augustine’s, Liverpool before transferring to St David’s, Swansea. There he was prominent in religious, social and educational circles in the city. His work included being a member of the old Swansea School Board and the Board of Managers at Swansea General Hospital. He had also been admitted to the circle of Welsh Bards.

Canon Gwydir volunteered for service with the Fleet at the outbreak of war and was appointed to the Rohilla only a short time before the disaster. When she struck the rocks he ran below deck, towards danger but also to the assistance of the only patient aboard the vessel, a naval gunner with a fractured thigh. This was in the stern portion of the ship which was soon overwhelmed by the sea and subsequently broke off. Canon Gwydir’s body was washed ashore and recovered, being one of those identified in the initial inquest. He is buried at Belmont Abbey Churchyard, Herefordshire. There is a stained glass memorial window dedicated to him at St David’s Priory Catholic Church, Swansea. He was the first Chaplain of any faith or denomination in all the Allied services to be killed in the Great War.

My final visit on the Rohilla trail was the RNLI museum at Whitby. I was thrilled to discover an exhibition devoted to shipwreck and rescue. As mentioned earlier, exhibits included Mary Kezia Roberts’ trunk and the ship’s bell. But there were so many other artefacts and lots of information about those involved, including the incredibly brave lifeboat men whose efforts I have not done justice to in this post. The pair of oars (below) are from one of the Rohilla’s lifeboats. The museum is well wort a visit, and rounded off my Whitby holiday perfectly.

Part of the Rohilla Exhibition at Whitby Lifeboat Museum – by Jane Roberts

For far more information about the Rohilla than I can convey here, this is a link to an excellent website devoted to its history.

Sources:

  • Benedictine Military Chaplains in the First World War – James H. Hagerty: http://www.monlib.org.uk/papers/ebch/1998hagerty.pdf
  • British Film Institute: http://www.bfi.org.uk/
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission: https://www.cwgc.org/
  • Craven’s Part in the Great War, John T Clayton, 1918 – e-book via Project Gutenberg: http://www.gutenberg.org/ebooks/52157
  • HMHS Rohilla Website: http://www.eskside.co.uk/ss_rohilla/index.htm
  • Ireland Civil Birth Indexes via FindMyPast
  • Ireland’s Own, Canon Gwydir – A Heroic Cleric of WW1, Margaret Smith https://www.irelandsown.ie/canon-gwydir-a-heroic-cleric-of-wwi/
  • National Library of Scotland Maps: https://maps.nls.uk/index.html
  • Newspapers via FindMyPast including: Burnley News 4 November 1914; Daily Record 31 August 1915; Dundee Evening Telegraph7 May 1915; Leeds Mercury 31 October 1914, 2 November 1913; Sheffield Daily Telegraph26 June 1919; Western Mail 7 May 1915; Whitby Gazette 6 and 13 November 1914; Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer 31 October 1914, 2 November 1914, 4 November 1914, 5 November 1914
  • RNLI, 1914-1918 The Great Warhttp://www.eskside.co.uk/ss_rohilla/rohilla_history.htm 
  • RNLI, Whitby Lifeboat Station, Station History: https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/lifeboat-stations/whitby-lifeboat-station/station-history-whitby
  • Teesmouth Lifeboat Supporters Association – History: http://www.teesmouthlifeboat.org.uk/html/history.html
  • The National Archives Reference ADM 104/161 Nursing Service Register 1894-1929
  • The Tablet 7 November 1914 via the Tablet Archive: http://archive.thetablet.co.uk/
  • The War on Hospital Ships 1914-1918, Pen and Sword Maritime 2008: Stephen McGreal
  • Whitby Lifeboat Museum https://rnli.org/find-my-nearest/museums/whitby-lifeboat-museum
  • Wikimedia Commons: https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Main_Page
  • Redcar.org past and present – People, Thompson James, Tees-Mouth Lifeboat http://www.redcar.org/thompson-james-tees-mouth-lifeboat/

Forever England, Forever Yorkshire. One Small CWGC Cemetery in Belgium

To paraphrase Rupert Brooke’s immortal words, “there’s some corner of a foreign field that is forever” …….. the Colne Valley. Or more precisely Colne Valley Cemetery. I stumbled upon this small cemetery in Belgium on my March 2018 visit to the Ypres Salient.

When visiting the Great War Battlefields I prioritise walking over driving, and my latest visit was no exception. I clocked up in excess of 120 miles on foot. It’s by far the best way to see the battlefields and get a real feel for the lie of the land, the high ground, the open expanses over which the troops attacked, their vulnerability and visibility to defending forces, and the distances involved. I tend to mix and match walks from various books. I also use a Linesman, with its GPS and trench map overlays, to plot exactly where I am in relation to the trenches and front lines of a century ago. For more details about the Linesman, please read my earlier post.

One of the books I used on my latest visit, Paul Reed’s ‘Walking the Salient’, included an Yser Canal walk in Chapter 3 which referenced the intriguingly named Colne Valley Cemetery. The walk actually stopped short of it, but I pushed on.

Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

The cemetery is located near the village of Boezinghe (or Boesinghe as it was known during the War). For most of the War, the east side of the village directly faced the German front line. Holding the British line here was dangerous, with regular casualties from German artillery and sniper fire. The cemetery, just south of the protruding German trench known as Caesar’s Nose, was started by men of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) in July 1915. Territorial battalions of this regiment formed part of the 49th (West Riding) Division. In a nod to their Yorkshire home, Colne Valley, Skipton Road and Huddersfield Road were names given to nearby 49th Division trenches. The cemetery was in use until February 1916. Of the 47 First World War burials here, 30 of the graves are of officers and men of the West Riding Regiment.

Colne Valley both

Trench Maps of area from July 1915 (L) and July 1917 overlaid against modern map (R) showing location of Yorkshire named trenches in 1915 and Colne Valley Cemetery (green highlight)

Looking at the burials, three of the men were from the Huddersfield area, all serving with the 1/7th (Colne Valley) Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). Two of these, Pte Fred Clough (service number 7/1913), and Pte Ernest Butterworth (service number 7/2165), were the first men to be buried in the cemetery, which fittingly bears the Colne Valley name by which their Territorial Battalion was commonly known. Perhaps the fact these first two burials were of Colne Valley Battalion men played a part in the naming of the cemetery, as much as the nearby trench name?

Official records note their deaths as taking place on Monday 12 July 1915. However, the confusion of record keeping in war can be gauged from other sources. The Battalion’s Unit War Diary, a daily record of their overseas activities, names other ranks as well as officers who were killed in action in these early days. The majority of Unit War Diaries (but by no means all) only name officers who died. It indicates both Fred and Ernest’s deaths took place on 11 July 1915, the Sunday. Newspaper reports add another twist, referring to Pte Clough’s death as taking place on the Sunday (‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ 16 July 1915, ‘Yorkshire Post & Leeds Intelligencer’ and ‘Sheffield Daily Telegraph’, 17 July 1915 editions), and Pte Butterworth’s on the Monday (‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ 15 July 1915 edition).

Fred Clough was born in the Quarmby area of Huddersfield on 12 September 1890, and baptised the following month at St Stephen’s, Lindley. His parents were woollen weaver Harry Clough and his wife Sarah Jane (née Marsden). The couple’s other children included Lily (born 1888), Minnie (1892), Florence (born 1895, but died the following year), Herbert (born 1898, died 1912) and Marian (1905).

By 1911 the family were living at East Street, Lindley, with Fred now working as a small wire drawer. This occupation involved drawing metal through a series of dies or templates to produce wire. At the time of signing his 7th West Riding Regiment Territorial Force attestation papers at Milnsbridge on 3 September 1914, Fred was employed by Messrs. Joseph Sykes Bros., a wire card clothing manufacturer, in their Acre Mills at Lindley.

Territorial Forces were usually exempt from serving overseas but days later, as part of his enlistment, he agreed to serve outside the U.K. if a national emergency so required. After home training, he and the rest of the Battalion left Doncaster on 14 April 1915 bound for Folkestone. They set sail for Boulogne on board the ‘Manchester Importer’, arriving at 4.30 a.m. the following day.

Their early weeks were spent in France, before they moved to Belgium arriving at St-Jan-ter-Biezen on 30 June 1915. They, along with the rest of the 49th Division, were to take over trenches in the area north of Ypres around Boesinghe, along the Yser Canal.

The diary for July 1915 records active enemy trench mortar and regular shelling including, on 10 July, a gas shell hitting a dugout which affected 29 men from ‘C’ Company. Fortunately none of the gas-affected men were classed as ‘very bad’. These days of noted enemy activity were interspersed by others recorded as ‘quiet’, or having ‘no incident’.

Fred was killed in action on a day described in the Unit War Diary as ‘fairly quiet’. In addition to Fred, it was the day Pte Butterworth lost his life, and an officer plus two or three other ranks were wounded. The officer, 2nd Lieutenant Beckwith from Huddersfield and of the local firm Messrs. Beckwith and Co., suffered a broken leg as a result of a shrapnel injury. Fred died instantly after being shot through the head and, according to the newspapers, he was buried on Monday (12 July 1915). As mentioned earlier, Monday is the day of his death according to official records. He was 24-years-old.

At the end of July, a Memorial Service was held at the Lindley Zion United Methodist Church, which was attended by many of his former work colleagues.

Fred Clough’s Headstone at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

Ernest Butterworth was the son of Holmfirth woollen manufacturer Alfred Henry Butterworth and his wife Alice Annie (née Hobson). He was born on 10 May 1889 and baptised the following month at the Holmfirth Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, which he remained associated with for the rest of his life. Alfred and Annie’s eldest child, Robert, was born in 1887, but he died in 1892. Their other children were Annie (born 1890), Norman (1892), Frank (1894), Marion (1897) and Herbert (1900).

In the 1911 census the family address was Park Riding, Holmfirth. Ernest followed his father into the family business of Messrs. H.S. Butterworth, at Lower Mills. He was also an active member of Holmfirth Liberal Club. Described as ‘of a homely and genial disposition’ he enlisted with the local Territorials a few days after Fred Clough, on 7 September 1914. He then followed the same path as Fred, arriving in France on 15 April 1915 and being killed in action in identical circumstances on the same day – dying instantaneously after being shot through the head. Corporal J.R. Bower and his Commanding Officer wrote to his family with details. The family also received his personal effects, which included his disc, belt, letters, pipe, photo, diary and pouch.

The Butterworth family suffered a further blow in 1917, when another son, Norman, lost his life whilst serving King and country. 2nd Lieutenant Butterworth, of the Royal Flying Corps, was killed in action on 9 May 1917 during a dogfight with German aircraft.

Headstone of Ernest Butterworth at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

The third Huddersfield and District burial in Colne Valley Cemetery is that of Pte Herbert Lionel (Bertie) Broadbent, (7/2240), killed in action on 30 July 1915.

The ‘Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ of 3 August 1915 reported his death. It included a letter to his parents at their Woodfield Terrace, Bankfield Road home, from Captain C.H. Lockwood. He was the officer commanding Bertie’s ‘C’ Company of the 7th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment), the Company affected by the 10 July gas shelling incident. The letter read:

“Dear Mr. and Mrs. Broadbent, It is with the greatest regret that I have to inform you of the death of your son, who was killed early this morning whilst on duty. He was shot through the head by a sniper and death was instantaneous. I wish to convey to you on behalf of the officers, N.C.O.s, and men of this company our deepest sympathy in your great loss. Your son was an excellent and an efficient bomber; he was one who will not be easily replaced. It will be some consolation to you when you remember that your son died doing his duty for King and country. He is to be buried tonight by the side of some of his comrades. Lieutenant Netherwood, our bombing officer, wishes me to convey his sympathy to you.”

Bertie was just 16 years old.

He was born in Huddersfield on 5 January 1899 and baptised the following month at Christ Church, Moldgreen. His father, Arthur, was a police Detective Officer, who by the time of Bertie’s death had risen to the rank of Superintendent, and Deputy Chief Constable of Huddersfield. His mother was Sarah Ann Broadbent (née Lodge). Their seven other children were Marion Drusilla (born 1891), Harry Arlom (circa 1893), Nellie Evelyn (1894), Charles Hartley (1896), Norah Kathleen (1901) and Richard Norman (1904) and John Arthur (1906).

Bertie enlisted on 14 September 1914, with an apparent age of 19 years and three months. His 6’1″ height abetted the blind eye of the recruiting officer to sign up as many men (and boys) as possible. He was 15. What struck me was the 1911 census for the Broadbent family. It showed 12-year-old Bertie still at school. Yet a little over three years later he was a soldier.

By the time of his attestation he’d been working for around 18 months in the Lindley-based Acres Mills wire drawing department of Messrs. Joseph Sykes Bros., Ltd. This was the same firm which employed Fred Clough. He was one of a number of youths apprenticed with the firm who enlisted at the same time. Like Fred and Ernest, Bertie signed the Territorial Force forms committing him to four years U.K. service, then signed the waiver form allowing overseas posting.

After training, initially in the Colne Valley, then Riby in Lincolnshire, and finally Doncaster, on 14 April 1915 he left for France with the rest of his Company.

Again the Unit War Diary described the day on which Bertie died as ‘quiet’. In addition to his death, 30 July 1915 saw only one other rank wounded.

Herbert Lionel (Bertie) Broadbent’s Headstone at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

Colne Valley cemetery is full of headstones with poignant inscriptions. I wish I had time to research all the men buried there. For instance one man is 38-year-old Sedbergh-born John Middleton Morphet of the 1/6th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment). The Lance Corporal was killed in action on 22 August 1915. In civilian life he had a multi-faceted sporting career. The school attendance officer, who latterly lived in Settle, included playing cricket for Hawes and Settle, and football for Burnley, Lincoln City and Aston Villa amongst his sporting achievements.

Headstone of Lance Corporal John Middleton Morphet, Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

I am so glad I found this cemetery. It is off the beaten track and the surroundings are slightly off-putting. It is near an industrial estate. The sound of bird scaring shots cracked thorough the air at regular intervals. It also appears to be located next to a composting area, with mounds of steaming, stinking compost clearly visible on the first day we visited. These are seen in the photograph below. I returned the following day, and the aroma was not quite so pungent. And perhaps in summer the tree foliage will blot out the view of these mini mountains.

Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

But it is a cemetery which the CWGC, supported by Province of West Flanders, spent a great deal of money, time and effort restoring in 2014. The industrialisation of the surrounding area resulted in the cemetery being the lowest point in the area and consequently affected by serious, regular flooding. The restoration work included raising the ground level by some 1.2 metres and installing pumping. Thankfully, it seems to have worked. And, as the headstone of Corporal G.W. Lloyd of The Rifle Brigade indicates, in another take on Rupert Brooke’s poem “This Spot is Forever England’s

img_7824-1

Headstone of Corporal G.W. Lloyd, The Rifle Brigade, at Colne Valley Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

UPATE
Thanks to David for sending me some photographs of Colne Valley Cemetery taken in June 2018. The tree cover has indeed worked wonders and it looks absolutely beautiful.

Sources:

  • Walking Ypres’ – Paul Reed
  • Trench Map 1:10000 28NW2 – NoEd – 210715 – St Julien – S
  • Trench Map 1:10000 28NW2 – Edn 6A – Pub July 1917 – Trenches corrected to 30 June 1917
  • Commonwealth War Graves Commission Website – https://www.cwgc.org/
  • 1891-1911 Censuses – various for each family, via Ancestry and FindMyPast websites
  • GRO Indexes for birth registration of various children, via GRO website
  • Soldiers’ Documents, Fist World War Burnt Documents for Fred Clough, Ernest Butterworth and Herbert Lionel Broadbent – The National Archives, TNA Ref WO 363, via FindMyPast
  • Baptism Register for Lindley St Stephen’s – Fred Clough’s baptism,via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910. Origianals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP 129/1/1/1
  • Baptism Register for the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, Holmfirth Circuit for Ernest Butterworth’s baptism, via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire Non-Conformist Records, 1646-1985. Originals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref C73/11/1
  • Baptism Register for Christ Church Moldgreen – Herbert Lionel Broadbent’s baptism, via Ancestry’s West Yorkshire, England, Church of England Births and Baptisms, 1813-1910. Originals at West Yorkshire Archives Ref WDP 206/1/1/1
  • ‘Huddersfield’s Roll of Honour 1914-1922’ – J Margaret Stansfield, Edited by Reverend Paul Wilcock BEM
  • Unit War Diary for the 1/7th Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment) – The National Archives, TNA Ref WO 95/2802/1 – via Ancestry
  • Huddersfield Daily Examiner’ – 15 July 1915, 16 July 1915, 28 July 1915 and 3 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer’ – 17 July 1915 and 4 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Leeds Mercury’ – 4 August 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Sheffield Daily Telegraph’ – 17 July 1915, via FindMyPast
  • Craven’s Part in the Great War Website – John Middleton Morphet, http://www.cpgw.org.uk/soldier-records/john-middleton-morphet/
  • Family Marks the Centenary of the Death of one of Craven’ Greatest Sportsmen’ by Lindsey Moore, 27 August 2015 – Craven Herald Website Article http://www.cravenherald.co.uk/NEWS/13630003.Family_marks_the_centenary_of_the_death_of_one_of_Craven_s_greatest_sportsmen/

Z Day Minus 6 Months: Book Update

This is the latest update about progress on my Great War Rugby League book. And it is positive. The admin logjam of January has been broken. There are still issues, but not on last month’s scale.

As January drew to a close, I called a temporary halt on player research. Instead, as planned, during February I once more concentrated on a mixture of family history research for others and Pharos Advanced Certificate coursework. I still have about 15 men left to research for the book. This work is now scheduled for late March/early April.

That’s not to say my book work was shelved entirely. February included three notable book-related pieces of work.

The major event was a mid-month visit to London, which included time at The National Archives. As you can see from the picture, on my days there I didn’t leave until late. But even here, my visit was a combination of book research, coursework and research for others. Chris accompanied me, and he focused on the officers’ records. I chipped in as and when required. And yes, the list was drawn up in advance and the appropriate files pre-ordered.

I was also keen to look at the records associated with the HMS Osmanieh, torpedoed off Alexandria on 31 December 1917, with in the loss of almost 200 troops, sailors and nurses. One of those to loose his life was a player we are researching.

I’ve also been busy helping source photographs. I’ve had a lovely response from families linked with the men. I’ve also had fantastic help from those with no personal connection, but who are simply keen to ensure those men whose lives were cut so tragically short a century ago are still remembered today.

The final notable event was a talk at the Huddersfield RL Heritage Group to gauge what people felt about the direction we were taking. The response was extremely positive and confirmed we were doing the right thing in embarking on this project.

Brothers-in-Arms 

Sometimes we overlook more recent family history, concentrating on the more distant past. Currently events of 100 years ago are dominating the news, with national commemoration events for Battles such as Jutland and The Somme, to more individual and personal remembrances for the centenary of the death of a family member.

But here I will focus on a more recent conflict, World War II. We are moving towards a time when this too will disappear from living memory. Sadly those in my family with direct knowledge of this tale are long gone.

This post concerns the fate of Albert Edward Hill, or Ned as he was known: My grandad’s cousin.

Finding out the circumstances surrounding death in conflict can be challenging: Which battle; location; precise cause of death; time; even date; and perhaps there is no known burial place. World War II in many ways presents a bigger challenge than its predecessor, with the public availability of records.

However in Ned’s case it’s all fairly straightforward. He is buried locally at St Paul’s churchyard, Hanging Heaton. His death is well documented. It was not caused by some battle injury. It was the result of a totally avoidably, foolishly tragic accident following a night out.

Ned was born on 2 February 1901, one of the seven children of Albert Hill and Sarah Ann Summerscales. These included Harry who died shortly after birth in 1890; Percy, Annie, Lilian, Doris and Arthur.

Ned never married. The 1939 Register, the population list compiled at on 29 September, as a result of the outbreak of war, shows him living at Wood Lane, Hanging Heaton. He is in the household of his brother-in-law Harry Robertshaw along with Harry’s two young sons. Harry’s wife, Ned’s sister Annie died that summer, her burial taking place at St Paul’s Hanging Heaton on 6 July 1939.

In the 1939 Register Ned is recorded as working as a willeyer in a woollen mill. This was someone who operated what was termed a willeying machine. Fibres were fed into this machine, which separated and combed them ready for carding. Newspaper reports at the time of his death, however, indicate prior to his army service he worked as a builder’s labourer, employed by Hanging Heaton-based building contactors George Kilburn and sons. 

I do suspect some confusion in the report though, and this occupation possibly applied to his brother Arthur. In the 1939 Register he was a public works contractor’s labourer. 

Whatever the true facts are war changed all this, and some two-and-a-half years before his death Ned joined the Army, as a Gunner.

Albert E Hill Batley News July 28 1945 8 (2)

Gunner Hill

His death came entirely out of the blue. Summer 1945, and war in Europe over, Ned returned home to Batley on leave. He finally managed to meet up with his younger brother Arthur, a driver with the RASC, similarly on leave. This was the first time they had seen each other since Ned’s military service. Arthur had been in the Army for four years at this point, serving in Germany, Belgium, France and Holland.

Things must have seemed hopeful. They had survived so far. All being well they would be home soon permanently. The past tragedy of the family would not repeat itself….

Little could they have envisaged that this meeting would be their last, and in three weeks Ned would be dead.

Leave over and Ned returned back to his Unit, the 397 Battery, 122 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, stationed at Walberswick, near Southwold in Suffolk. This was part of the network of coastal defences, established in response to the threat of German invasion from May 1940 after their rapid victory in Western Europe. That German threat was now gone.

On 20 July 1945 he and another soldier from the same unit, Gunner Leonard Lomax, had evening leave. They left camp at 6pm that Friday for a night out in Southwold. The ferryman took them over the River Blyth and said he would return for them at 10-30-11.00pm.

An interesting aside is the ferry service from Walberswick had featured in Parliament only weeks earlier on 8 June 1945. There had been a seam steam-driven chain ferry which was discontinued in World War II, and it seems a rowing boat service replaced it. The ferry was privately owned and there had been problems in maintaining a regular service. Suffolk County Council was negotiating to acquire the ferry rights to ensure an adequate service.

Walberswick Ferry circa early 1940s Postcard, F Jenkins, Southwold

Ned and Leonard visited three public houses in Southwold and consumed about six pints of mixed beer. They left town at 10.15pm for the return ferry but there was no sign of the man with the boat. As they were debating whether to return to Southwold to catch the liberty truck to camp, a boat containing two soldiers came from the Walberswick side of the river.

These two soldiers, Lance Bombardier Edward Davis and Bombardier George Rennie were from another Battery. They heard shouts from the Southwold side of the river and thought some men from their Company were stranded as it appeared the ferry service had stopped. Despite having consumed three pints, or maybe because of it, seeing a boat moored in the water they decided to cross to collect their companions, but when they arrived found they were strangers. Nevertheless they offered Ned and Leonard a lift back. 

They clambered in the small boat, which turned out to be a yacht’s dingy and using the home-made paddles which were aboard the boat, Edward and George set about rowing back. About halfway across Leonard became aware of his feet feeling wet, water sloshing over the top of his shoes.

George and Edward were now having difficulty controlling the craft and stood up to paddle. They were about eight yards from the Walberswick side when the boat got into trouble with the tide and started to drift back towards Southwold and then seawards. The boat was filling up with water, either the result of a leak or overloading.  At this point Ned grabbed a paddle from Edward and the boat turned over throwing all four men into the river.

Leonard and George managed to get hold of a step ladder running down the harbour wall and climb ashore. They could not see the other two men, so made their way to Southwold to inform the police.

Meanwhile Edward, realising that Ned could not swim, tried to keep him up despite not being a strong swimmer himself. He managed to get them both to the concrete wall where Ned grabbed some weeds. Unfortunately they broke away. Edward continued to hold onto Ned but eventually became too exhausted and he had to let him go. Edward then managed to get hold of the ladder and escape.

In summing up the Coroner censured the boat’s occupants. The accident, he said, was the result of four “landlubbers” knowing nothing whatever about boating. The two soldiers should never have taken Leonard and Ned aboard because they overloaded the boat. There must have been some movement with the result that the boat capsized.

He went onto say that he hoped the tragedy would be a warning to others not to take boats without leave, and not to go on a swift running river like this one unless they were experienced persons who know how many a boat would take. “It is difficult to blame anyone because it is pure ignorance” he added.

A verdict of “Death through drowning through the upsetting of a boat” was recorded.

The Commanding Officer of the Battery wrote to Ned’s sister Doris extending his and the Battery’s sympathies as follows:

On behalf of the ranks of this battery wish to express to you our horror at this tragedy. Gunner Hill was a grand soldier and a man well-known and loved by the men of this unit”.

Ned’s body was brought back to Batley and he was buried in the church yard at St Paul’s, Hanging Heaton, just weeks before VJ Day and the war effectively ending.

Arthur survived the war. But Ned’s fate echoed that of another brother in another conflict, Percy. He died almost 29 years earlier in The Great War, during the Battle of the Somme.

Memories too of the newspaper “Roll of Honour In Memoriam” notices which the Hill family, including the then teenager Ned, placed in the papers all those decades before, mourning the loss of Percy.

Batley News – 5 October 1918
Hill – In sad but loving memory of our dear son and brother, 1736 Sergt Percy Hill, 1st-4th KOYLI (Batley Territorials) who died from wounds at Warloy Baillon, West of Albert, France, September 30th, 1916, aged 24 years.

When last we met, and fondly parted
Our hopes were high, our faith was strong,
We trusted that the separation
Though hard to bear would not be long 

We often sit and think of him when we are
all alone
This memory is the only thing we can call
our own;
Like ivy on the withered oak, when other
things decay
Our love for him will ever live, and never
fade away 

Ever remembered by his sorrowing mother, father, sisters and brothers, 92, Back Bromley Street, Hanging Heaton 

A family which had now lost a brother in both World Wars.Albert and Percy Hill Headstones

Sources: