Category Archives: War Memorial

Batley War Memorial and the War Memorial Fund

It is one of Batley’s most iconic sites. The soldier in the Memorial Gardens looking down solemnly over the names of Batley’s Fallen. But the design, and location, of the town’s War Memorial could have been totally different. And, it may come as a surprise, the town commemorated its Great War Fallen with far more than this Memorial. Here’s the story about the debates which went on in Batley about a suitable form of remembrance.

The Batley War Memorial Figure – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Great War officially ended on 28 June 1919 with the signing of the Treaty of Versailles. It was over a year later, on 9 August 1920, when Batley Borough’s General Purposes Committee resolved that “a representative Committee be appointed to consider and report to a public meeting on the question of the provision of some suitable War Memorial for this Borough.”

The War Memorial Committee was initially made up of the Mayor, Aldermen and Councillors, who were able to add others as deemed appropriate. In addition to these Borough worthies, those involved in the War Memorial Committee, and its offshoots, eventually comprised of representatives from each of the following organisations:

  • Borough Magistrates;
  • Co-opted Members of the Library Committee;
  • Co-opted Members of the Education Committee;
  • Co-opted Members of the Technical School Committee;
  • Chamber of Commerce;
  • Chamber of Trade;
  • Committee of the Batley & District Hospital;
  • Batley Workingmen’s Club;
  • Soothill Workingmen’s Club:
  • Batley Co-operative Society Ltd.;
  • Batley Paxton Society;
  • Temperance Society, Batley;
  • Trades & Friendly Club, Batley;
  • Carlinghow Workingmen’s Club;
  • Liberal Club, Batley;
  • Liberal Club, Staincliffe;
  • Conservative Club, Batley;
  • United Irish League Club, Batley;
  • St John Ambulance Association, Batley Division;
  • Batley Cricket, Athletic and Football. Club;
  • Independent Labour Party, Batley Branch;
  • Primrose League, Batley;
  • Women’s Liberal Association, Batley;
  • Co-operative Women’s Guild, Batley;
  • Teachers Association, Batley Branch;
  • Independent Labour Party Women’s Branch;
  • P.M.E. Batley (Hanover Street Church);
  • British Women’s Temperance Association (BWTA), Batley Branch;
  • BWTA Staincliffe Branch;
  • BWTA Hanging Heaton Branch;
  • Batley Old Band;
  • Batley Nursing Service;
  • Batley Ex-Servicemen’s Social Club; and
  • Batley Branch British Legion.

At the War Memorial Committee Meeting on 11 October 1920, three resolutions were passed:

  1. That they should recommend to a public meeting that a suitable monument be erected in the Borough as one way in which to perpetuate the memory of those from Batley who fell in the War;
  2. That it should also be recommended that a portion of any War Memorial Fund should be go towards the extension of Batley & District Hospital. Alongside this, that a Sub-Committee be appointed to consider and report upon the amount of pensions being paid to widows and other dependents of the men from the Borough who fell in the Great War; and
  3. That subscribers to any arising War Memorial Fund should be allowed to earmark their subscriptions to any one or more of the selected schemes.
Batley War Memorial in Winter – Photo by Jane Roberts

The pension aspect was considered further in January 1922. In this meeting the War Memorial Sub-Committee decided in view of the increased amount of State pensions payable to War widows and War dependents, and the decrease in the cost of living, the Batley war Memorial Scheme should be confined to raising subscriptions to erect a suitable monument. The main Committee accepted this recommendation and, as a result, the establishment of a larger benevolent fund was deferred. Essentially this meant it was scrapped.

The War Memorial Committee then appointed another Sub-Committee to prepare and consider plans for the erection of the War Memorial.

On 20 February 1922 this War Memorial Sub-Committee discussed the siting of the Memorial. One suggestion was part of Batley Parish Church Yard. However it was felt a new Memorial inappropriate for an old church yard. The two remaining options were the park, adjoining Bradford Road; or the Market Place, because of its accessibility. Objections to the latter were raised on the grounds that the market would be too crowded. As an alternative, another portion of the Market Estate was proposed – the open ground at the top of the Market Hill. The Committee voted on the two options, and overwhelming decision was Market Hill. The Borough Surveyor had the task of preparing a rough layout in time for the next meeting.

The Sub-Committee reconvened on 6 March 1922 for further discussions, based on the layout drawn up by the Borough Surveyor. Some did not like the proximity of the Memorial to the police station. Others still argued for a more central market position. But the top of the Market Hill won the day, with the lay-out approved to put forward for main committee sign-off.

The Borough Engineer was asked to obtain sketch models for the Monument and a walled enclosure on the Market Hill site, with the design of the Monument left to the discretion of the artists. A cost of £1,500 was set as part of the design specifications.

The Borough Engineer brought 16 submitted designs to the 15 May 1922 meeting. Two designs were selected – one by Messrs. Wright and Sons Limited of Bradford; and the other by Messrs. R.L Bolton and Son of Cheltenham. The Committee also wanted a third design in the form of another Cross, so the decision was taken to ask Messrs. Kelly of Bradford and Messrs. Scott of Dewsbury to resubmit designs so one of these crosses could also be considered. The rough minutes of the meeting contained rudimentary doodles of the designs. I have reproduced these below. Yes, my sketches are bad. But in my defence they are very good replicas of those in the draft minutes!

Now thoughts turned to names on the Memorial. The Town Clerk was asked to compile a nucleus list consisting of name, rank and unit. This could then be circulated amongst churches, clubs etc, and checked with information from official bodies like the War Pensions Department and Post Office. Once this nucleus list was established, it would be publicly available for consultation in the Town Hall and library, and advertised in the local papers.

June 1922 came and went. The War Memorial Sub-Committee failed to reach a design decision. More designs had come in. More were sought. And the Town Clerk and Borough Surveyor were instructed to obtain photographs of monuments already erected in other towns.

These photographs were presented on the 30 August 1922 War Memorial Sub-Committee meeting. Finally two designs were settled on. As in May it was the design by Bradford’s Messrs Wright and Sons Ltd, at a cost of £2,000. This was a figure on a pedestal. However, the Sub-Committee decided to ask this firm to submit an alternative design for the figure. The second design selected was by Mr L.T. Moore of London. This was a tall pillar on a plinth surmounted by a Cross. Lions were depicted on the sketch, and the Sub-Committee wanted an amended design without the lions.

The Memorial site and designs now went before the full War Memorial Committee on 8 September 1922. They overwhelmingly concurred that the Market Estate site was preferable to the park, 20 votes to 4, with one abstention. But the designs attracted more debate.

The Borough Surveyor outlined the design of Messrs Wright and Sons Ltd. In a pose symbolic of attendance at a funeral, a bronze soldier stood on a Bolton Wood Stone pedestal. But some were dissatisfied with a soldier. Alternate suggestions bandied about included a Winged Figure for Victory. Another suggestion was for a Sailor, a Soldier and an Airman; and taking this combined services theme a step further, a single symbolic figure representing all three services was mooted. But the line was held. This bronze soldier was the design decided upon by the Sub-Committee, and it was this design which the full Committee had to consider.

Mr L. T. Moore‘s design was similarly debated by the Committee. Rather than lions surrounding the cross, could it not be the figure from the first design, came the suggestion? It was confirmed that the Sub-Committee agreed that the lions be removed. The War Memorial Committee choice here was therefore the cross with or without figures.

Finally it came to a vote. With 23 in favour against nil, and two abstentions, Messers Wright & Sons Ltd Soldier design was the one chosen at Sub-Committee stage for Batley’s War Memorial.

The next step was the approval of these decisions by the General Purposes Committee of the Town Council (28 September 1922), and sign-off by the Town Council itself (5 October). Both passed as stood – the Market Hill area of the Market Estate, and Messers Wright & Sons Ltd were confirmed. Preparations were now taken to enclose and lay out a portion of the Market Estate for the Monument, and to inform the people of Batley.

The town’s meeting took place on 30 November 1922. Even here there was a last-ditch unsuccessful attempt to force a reconsideration of the the Market Estate location for the Memorial. But the plans were finally signed off here, with only three dissentients.

The town’s meeting also saw the newly-elected Mayor, Councillor Hamilton Crothers, formally launch the Mayor’s Fund-Raising Appeal to pay for the Memorial. At the meeting it was announced that an initial £750 had been donated equally by Messrs G. & J. Stubley, Messrs J., T. & J. Taylor Ltd, and Mrs Adeline Stubley. By 1 August 1923 the Mayor’s Appeal stood at £2,248 7s and 6d, with donations coming in from across the town, way in excess of the amount needed.

Batley War Memorial in Summer – Photo by Jane Roberts

In parallel to the fund-raising appeal, collecting the names of the Fallen moved onto the next phase. In February 1923 forms were issued to householders in the Borough asking for the particulars of any relative who was killed or whose death was certified as due to wounds received, or disease contracted in the War. In addition to this house-to-house canvass, names were obtained through the War Pensions Department, Clubs, Institutes, Religious bodies etc. Information poured in, on officially distributive pro formas, in various books placed in the municipal buildings, and by post. Multiple clubs, organisations and churches also submitted names. All this information was used to produce lists, with numerous corrections and iterations leading to multiple versions and refinements. A format of the list was also published in order to receive further names, or any corrections (including spellings). This was an enormous task, in a time when information had to be cross-checked, compared, collated, sorted and organised manually – then typewritten.

By August 1923 a satisfactory draft list showing rank, name, regiment and date of death was produced. This list – 782 names in total – was forwarded to the chosen contractor, Messrs Wright and Sons Ltd of Bradford, for them to prepare the twelve bronze tablets for the Memorial. These tablets would include the men’s Christian and surnames, organised in alphabetical surname order.

On 6 September 1923 the Sub-Committee responsible for the unveiling of the War Memorial met formally for the first time. They had not long to make arrangements for the event, which they set for 27 October 1923. In terms of who would perform the unveiling, the Sub-Committee tasked the Mayor with approaching either Field Marshal Earl Haig, Admiral Earl Beatty, General Ian Hamilton or General Harrington, G.O.C. Northern Command

General Sir Ian Hamilton, commander at Gallipoli, had retired from the Army in 1920. But he subsequently took a keen interest in the work of the British Legion, and he was in great demand as a speaker for veteran organisations. Despite the very short notice he agreed to perform the unveiling of Batley’s War Memorial.

And yet, even at this late stage, there had been no decision as to the War Memorial inscription. Those discussions continued during September. By early October the sculptors finally received confirmation that the inscription would be:

In grateful memory of the men of this town who fell in the Great War 1914- 1918.

Batley War Memorial Inscription – Photo by Jane Roberts

The War Memorial unveiling ceremony commenced at 3pm on 27 October 1923. General Hamilton, in his short address, said it was not enough to raise a memorial to the nearly 800 dead. The people must take their part to prevent the world entering upon another period of war, and to save their children from suffering as they themselves had suffered. The inscription on the War Memorial today, shows this hope did not come to pass.

At the wreath-laying ceremony which followed the unveiling, nearly one hundred relatives of the fallen men laid flowers at the foot of the Memorial.

Batley finally had its War Memorial.

Unveiling of Batley War Memorial

So what of the other proposals for the Mayor’s War Memorial Fund? As explained earlier, there were originally three:

  • The now fulfilled erection of a monument;
  • The augmenting of the pensions received by widows and other dependents of men from the Borough who fell – an aim which was quickly dropped; and
  • Contributing to the Batley Hospital Extension scheme.

From 1924 onwards the move was made to ensure that the surplus of the Mayor’s Appeal Fund be devoted to the urgently needed hospital extension “in such a manner as to help perpetuate the memory of those who fell in the Great War.

In fact, the Mayor’s War Memorial Appeal Fund had been so well-supported by the folk of Batley that £750 was duly handed to the Board of Batley Hospital on 30 April 1926. And there was still a surplus available. Around £100 of this was earmarked for a suitable Memorial Plaque for the hospital to commemorate the gift from the War Memorial Fund. It was mooted that this could possibly be in the new entrance hall of the hospital, but the final decision as to location would be for the Hospital Board. This £136 surplus was still under discussion in 1934.

In 1935 it was resolved at last. A Memorial plaque would definitely be erected. Two choices for wording were considered. The final decision was:

To assist
in perpetuating the memory
of the men of Batley
who fell in the Great War 1914-1918
whose names are recorded on
the town’s War Memorial
the sum of £862 was given
from the War Memorial Fund
towards the cost of the extension
of this Hospital
begun 1924, completed 1928.

There was one other tangible form of remembrance. In 1925 the War Memorial Committee decided to seek tenders for a Memorial Tablet Frame containing the names of Batley’s Fallen. Despite these tenders being commissioned and received in 1925, nothing happened for almost another ten years. Finally in 1935 another set of tenders were requested. The specification decided upon was for two English Oak Mural Tablets, encasing behind glass parchment scrolls containing the names of the 782 fallen. These were to be displayed inside Batley Library. The 1935 tender request was quite specific that this was to be English Oak. Perhaps this was a throwback to 1925 when one of the aborted tenders, from Harry Senior, cabinet maker of Daisy Hill, Dewsbury, showing an astounding lack of awareness, stated his quote was for frames of PRIME QUALITY AUSTRIAN OAK ! (And yes, his quote did have this phrase in capital letters).

Messrs. Osborn Hoyle Ltd, Engravers, Die Sinkers and Stamp Makers of 17 Bond Street, Dewsbury finally won the tender, at a cost of £14 4s for the frames, and £7 10s for the 12 parchment scrolls and glass. There was also an additional cost of supplying and fixing 108 bronze letters on the oak frames, amounting to £4 1s 1d. This work was all complete by August 1935. This firm also won the contract for the Hospital Memorial plaque.

I believe the Oak Memorial Tablets are now in Batley Town Hall. But does anyone recall seeing the bronze Memorial Plaque in Batley Hospital, or know what became of it since the hospital’s closure? It did briefly resurface back in 2014, but I’ve not found out what happened after that. I’ve not noticed it in Batley Town Hall, but since researching the War Memorial history I’ve been unable to go down to check. It may be it is still in storage somewhere. I really do hope it can go on display once more at some point. After all, it is part of our town’s history, and it is a tribute to our ancestors’ efforts to commemorate our town’s Great War Fallen in perpetuity.

Batley Hospital Plaque, on Display at Dewsbury Town Hall in around 2014/15 Photo donated and permission granted to use in this blog

Finally, this Remembrance Sunday will not be like others because of the pandemic restrictions. If you have not been able to buy your usual poppy locally this year, and do feel able to donate to the Royal British Legion, here is the link to the Poppy Appeal 2020.

Batley War Memorial in Autumn – Photo by Jane Roberts

Footnotes:
• For more information about those on the War Memorial see Batley’s Roll of Honour;
• I am gradually uploading mini-biographies for the St Mary of the Angels Catholic Church parishioners on the One-Place Study section of my website.

St Mary of the Angels War Memorial: Thomas Curley

This is another updated mini-biography of one of the men on the War Memorial of St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley: Thomas Curley. Significantly more records and information are available for him since my initial research, which I started over a decade ago.

Thomas’ parents, Anthony Curley and Mary Rush, originated from County Mayo but married locally in 1895 [1]. Anthony is shown in various records working as a labourer [2], with Mary’s employment (when mentioned) a rag sorter [3].

St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley – Photo by Jane Roberts

Thomas was born on 28 July 1896 and baptised at St Mary’s less than a fortnight later [4]. I have not obtained his birth certificate, but some sources indicate a Batley birthplace, others Heckmondwike. It is clear though that the family lived in Heckmondwike by the time of the 1901 census [5]. Given that sons John (born 12 January 1898 [6]), Anthony (born 8 August 1899 [7]) and Willie (born 1 May 1904 [8]) were not baptised at St Mary’s, but at St Patrick’s in Heckmondwike, (now the Holy Spirit parish), it is likely the move to this neighbouring town took place before John’s birth.

By 1911 the family had returned to Batley, living at what would be their home for life, 25 Villiers Street [9]. This was in the well-known Skelsey Row vicinity of town, popular with the Irish Catholic community. This census also indicates Anthony and Mary had another child, as yet untraced, who died at an early age. Mary though was once again pregnant when the family filled in their census form. The the couple’s sixth child, James, was born on 26 July 1911 [10]. No further children are recorded.

Extract of OS Six-inch map, Yorkshire CCXXXII.SE, Revised 1905, Published 1908 – Shows the location of Villiers Street

By the time of this 1911 census, 14-year-old Thomas had put school well behind him and was already working as a coal mine hurrier. A working life down the pit all changed with the declaration of war on 4 August 1914.

Thomas enlisted in Dewsbury as a Private with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. His Service Number, 3/1578, indicates he joined the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, a depot/training unit. They were based at Pontefract at the outbreak of war, subsequently moving to Hull. Although his service papers have not survived, his number indicates he enlisted around the mid-point of August 1914, at just 18 years of age. He was clearly keen to do his bit.

His disembarkation date overseas, in the France and Flanders theatre of war, was 26 January 1915. Technically, at 18 years of age, he was too young to serve overseas – the minimum age being 19. His Medal Index Card or Medal Award Rolls do not indicate which King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry battalion he first went out to serve with. However, investigating others with similar service numbers and medal qualifying entitlement dates, does give clues. Pte. James William Bollington, Service Number 3/1577, had the same disembarkation date and died on 1 April 1916. He served with the Regiment’s 2nd Battalion. It was based at Bailleul, on the French/Belgium border at the end of January 1915. It received drafts of 98 and 72 men respectively on 28 and 30 January [11]. Perhaps Thomas was amongst these men.

Confirmation that this was indeed the battalion Thomas served with overseas comes in the form of a Daily Casualty List. The War Office produced these grim rolls. A version of these was also published in the newspapers, in particular The Times. Column upon column, densely packed with the names of the dead, missing and wounded, appeared day after day after day. Although published some time after the event, these lists would be poured over by families up and down the country, checking to see if relatives, friends and neighbours were listed, praying they were not. In the 4 October 1915 list Pte. T Curley, 1578, of the 2nd King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, was reported wounded.

This battalion’s Unit War Diary is scant on casualty details, with lots of ‘Quiet Day’ reports. In the weeks leading up to this 4 October list, the men rotated their time in trenches, or supplying digging and mining parties, around the Bray and Carnoy areas of the Somme. The only significant activity was the Germans detonating two mines on 4 September, blowing in some of the British listening posts [12].

Looking at Commonwealth War Graves burials for the battalion in the period 1 September to 4 October 1915, there are only six recorded. Five of these are in Carnoy Military Cemetery, the latest being 18 September, again indicative of nothing dramatic or large scale. Neither is there any report in the Batley News for the period to shed any further light on how Thomas sustained his injuries [13].

Thomas returned to action, possibly by now with the 8th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. For it was with this battalion that he sustained wounds which proved fatal.

Their Unit War Diary does not provide specific name details about Other Rank casualties; and again neither the Batley News or Batley Reporter and Guardian carried any report of Thomas’ injuries or subsequent death.

In terms of major action, the nearest time-wise to when he died was the Somme Battle of Le Transloy. Taking place between the 1-18 October 1916, the 23rd Division, which included the 8th KOYLI, assisted in the capture of Le Sars. This is a possibility. But in terms of it definitely being when Thomas was injured, it is speculation on my part.

The circumstances surrounding the 8th KOYLI involvement here is detailed in their Unit War Diary.

On 1 October, when in trenches near Martinpuich, the 8th KOYLI were tasked with the capture of two lines of German-held trenches. The diary account of the attack reads:

Battalion took up its position in assembly trenches behind DESTREMONT FARM just before dawn. The attack was timed for 3.15pm and the objective was the two lines of German trenches over a frontage of 300 yards in front of LE SARS. The advance was across 600 yards of open ground. At dawn our position was revealed and the assembly trenches were shelled continuously. About 25% of strength were then lost in casualties before the attack. At 3.15pm our artillery put up an intensive barrage and A. & D. Companies left their trenches clearly followed by C. Co[mpan]y in support. B. Co[mpan]y remained in reserve. The objective was gained easily despite a counter barrage by German artillery and work of consolidation on the two lines began. The objective was held all night against small counter attacks and at 2am B Co[mpan]y reinforced. At 4 am two companies came up from Brigade Reserve and took over O.G.2. While the remainder of the 8th K.O.Y. L.I. were withdrawn to O.G.1. [14]

By the time the O.G.1 contingent were relieved the following day, the battalion’s casualty count stood at 1 Officer killed, 2 missing, 8 wounded, along with 248 Other Rank casualties.

Despite this the operation was deemed a success. Major General Babington, the General Officer Commading the Division, sent his personal congratulations to them, writing as follows:

My dear Colonel. Will you please tell all ranks of your battalion how very pleased I am at their behaviour on Oct[ober] 1st. I congratulate them most heartily on their success which was due to their gallantry and the fine spirit they showed. Good luck to you all.
Yours Ever (Signed) J. M. Babington [15]

Additionally, a number of officers and men of the 8th KOYLI collected gallantry awards for the parts they played.

There then followed a period of quiet days resting, and undertaking working and carrying party duties before moving to billets prior to heading up to Ypres in mid-October. The only casualties mentioned in the period after 1 October are an accidental one on 19 October in the line at Zillebeke; and 1 Other Rank wounded at Ypres on 24 October 1916, where they were either bathing or assigned to working parties. But Thomas’ burial location makes these less likely options.

Wherever sustained, his injuries were sufficiently serious for him to be moved down the line to Rouen. The southern outskirts of the city had a number of military camps and hospitals. These included eight general, five stationary, one British Red Cross and one labour hospital, and No. 2 Convalescent Depot. Almost all of the hospitals at Rouen remained there for practically the whole of the war. The great majority of those who died in these hospitals were buried in the city cemetery of St. Sever. In September 1916, it was found necessary to begin an extension, and it was here that Thomas was buried when he succumbed to his wounds on 28 October 1916.

Thomas Curley’s Headstone, St Sever Cemetery Extension, Rouen – Photo by James Percival

Thomas was awarded the 1914/15 Star, British War and Victory Medals. In addition to his parish church of St Mary of the Angels in Batley, he is also remembered on Batley War Memorial.

The family remained in the 25 Villiers Street home in the years following Thomas’ death. This is Anthony and Mary’s recorded home in Batley cemetery’s burial registers when they died in 1937 (Anthony was buried on 29 March, and Mary on 21 November). It is also where William and James are living in their 1939 Register entry. The streets went in Batley’s slum clearances in the 1960s period.

Villiers Street – unknown source

Notes:
[1] GRO Indexes, September Quarter 1895, Dewsbury, 9B, Page 1182, accessed via Findmypast;
[2] 1901 and 1911 Censuses England and Wales, Labourer for Building Contractor in 1901 and Mason’s Labourer in 1911 Censuses, accessed via Findmypast, originals at The National Archives (TNA), References RG13/4261/141/28 and RG14/27245;
[3] Rag Sorter in the 1911 Census England and Wales, as above;
[4] St Mary of the Angels, Batley, Baptism register, accessed 2010;
[5] 1901 Census England and Wales, as above;
[6] Birth date obtained from 1939 Register, living 19 Villiers Street, Batley, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG101/3608B/008/22 Letter Code: KMEX
[7] Birth date obtained from 1939 Register, living 91 New Street, Batley, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG101/3608A/011/44 Letter Code: KMEW; and GRO Death Indexes January Quarter 1984, Dewsbury, Register 384 Volume 4
[8] Birth date obtained from 1939 Register, living 25 Villiers Street, Batley, accessed via Findmypast, TNA Reference RG101/3608B/008/32 Letter Code: KMEX; and GRO Death Indexes, January Quarter 1970, Bradford, 2B, Page 735;
[9] 1911 Census England and Wales, as above;
[10] St Mary of the Angels, Batley, Baptism register, accessed 2010, also his GRO death registration in 1974. Note the 1939 Register gives the date as 27 July;
[11] 2nd Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Unit War Diary, 1 August 1914 – 31 December 1915, TNA Reference WO95/1551/1
[12] Ibid;
[13] The Batley News editions between 9 to 30 October 1915 have been checked to date. Earlier dates and the Batley Reporter for the period have not been examined;
[14] 8th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry Unit War Diary, 1 August 1915 – 31 October 1917, TNA Reference WO95/2187/2
[15] Ibid

Sources (other than mentioned in the notes):
• 1905 OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html;
Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, https://www.cwgc.org/
Daily Casualty Lists, The Genealogist website;
History of The King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the Great War 1914-1918 ; Bond, Reginald C. London: Lund, Humphries, 1929.
Soldiers Died in the Great War, accessed via Findmypast;
Soldiers’ Effects Registers, accessed via Ancestry, original record
National Army Museum; Chelsea, London, England; Soldiers’ Effects Records, 1901-60; NAM Accession Number: 1991-02-333; Record Number Ranges: 367001-368500; Reference: 197;
• WW1 Pension Ledgers and Index Cards 1914-1923
, accessed via Ancestry and Fold3, original record Western Front Association; London, England; Pension Record Cards, Reference: 055/0235/CUN-CAR and PRC Ledgers, Reference: 687/04D;

Michael Horan: St Mary of the Angels War Memorial, Batley

Several years ago I researched the men on the War Memorial of St Mary of the Angels RC Church, Batley. The resulting booklet was sold in aid of the Royal British Legion and the church roof appeal. Over the subsequent years I’ve continued to add to this research – somehow I’ve not been able to let them go.

In May 2020 a medal came up for sale in a military auction in Ipswich. The nearest thing to an auction I’ve participated in is eBay. But this medal was one awarded to a St Mary’s man. I felt compelled to bid, so signed up to do so online. And to my relief I won. The Victory Medal of Michael Horan is now back in Batley, after spending time in Hereford and Anglesey, before its sale at the Ipswich auction house.

Auction Win – Michael Horan’s Victory Medal and his Headstone Photos

Here is Michael’s story, significantly updated since my initial St Mary’s research.

Michael’s parents, Irish-born James Horan and Annie Gollagher, wed in late 1875. As anyone who researches family history knows, spellings of names can be notoriously inconsistent. The Irish accent adds to the confusion. Annie’s name in particular varies depending on records. Her maiden name is occasionally spelled Gallagher, and even her Christian name is inconsistent, with some documents recording it as Honora. The Horan surname is occasionally written as Horn.

The couple settled to married life in Batley. Plentiful employment opportunities in the shoddy industry, and a growing County Mayo community, of which James and Annie belonged to, were the town’s major magnets. James was an integral part of shoddy industry, working as a rag-grinder. It was a filthy, hard, dust-ridden, unhealthy job, which involved grinding down the rags in preparation for them to be mixed with fresh wool in order to produce shoddy fabric.

The couple had six children of which, to date, I have identified five. Only two survived to adulthood. These were Mary and Michael. All the Horan offspring were baptised at St Mary of the Angels, and the infant burials are all recorded in Batley cemetery, within sight of the newly built Catholic Church.

In order of arrival, Mary was born on 4 June 1876; Michael followed on 7 November 1878; Others included Ellen, born on 5 November 1880 and buried on 11 May 1881; John Patrick, born on 23 January 1883 and buried, age two, on 1 February 1885; and Thomas, born on 4 January 1885, just a month prior to his brother’s burial. He also died age two and was buried on 15 May 1887.

The Horan’s family addresses are reflective of ones associated with the Batley Irish community. They included New Street, Fleming’s Buildings, Newsome Fold, Scargill Fold and latterly Hume Street. The Horan’s lived at 64, whilst my Cassidy great grandparents lived at 36.

In 1891, when the family were living at Yard 2, Commercial Street, 12-year-old Michael was already working, as a hurrier in a coal mine. This was the first rung of the ladder to a career as a miner. In 1901 he was lodging along with another Batley man, Patrick Brett, in the home of Margaret Dawson in Winlanton, Durham, and working as a coal hewer [1]. But he was back home in Batley by 1911, still working as a hewer.

There are other references to Michael in Batley in the first decade of the 20th century, minor brushes with the law, two of which resulted in stays at Wakefield Prison. On 8 April 1904 the Batley Reporter and Guardian carried the following piece:

ASSAULTING THE POLICE – Michael Horan, collier, of Batley, was charged with being drunk and riotous in Commercial Street, on the 2nd inst., and further with assaulting Police-constable Harris. – Police-constable Moore stated that at ten minutes past seven on the date mentioned he was on Commercial Street, accompanied by Police-constable Harris, when they saw defendant fighting with another man. He was very drunk, and used bad language. They asked him for his name, which he refused to give, and after walking about 40 yards Horan commenced to kick Police-constable Harris. – The defendant pleaded guilty, and was fined 2s. 6d. and costs for being drunk and riotous, and 5s. and costs for the assault on the policeman.

The Wakefield Prison records show both his imprisonments resulted from similar offences – 10 days for being drunk etc., on 11 April 1904 [2]; and 7 days for obscene language on 24 May 1907 [3]. In the absence of a photograph of Michael, at least from these records we have a brief physical description. He stood at 5’2” and had brown hair. His education was the basic Standard I.

Michael enlisted in September 1914. At the time he was employed as a miner at Batley’s West End Colliery. In the ownership of the Critchley family, who were associated with Batley Hall, the workings of this mine were between Cliff and Spring Woods, near the bottom of Scotchman Lane, close to the Batley/Morley boundary.

Extract of OS Six-inch map, Yorkshire CCXXXII.NE, Revised 1905 to 1906, Published 1908 – Shows the location of West End Colliery

Briefly with the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (Service Number 16939), it appears Michael quickly transferred as a Private to the 10th (Service) Battalion of the York and Lancaster Regiment, with the revised Service Number 19681. His date of arrival overseas fits with him setting sail with the battalion from Folkestone at 10.30pm on the night of September 1915 on board the Duchess of Argyll. They arrived at Boulogne in the early hours of the following morning. With him was a fellow-St Mary’s parishioner Pte James Groark, Service Number 19677.

After entraining for Watten on 11 September 1915, arriving there at 11pm that night, there then followed a series of punishing marches, mainly in the evening and early hours of the morning. These equated to a distance of around 50 miles as the crow flies, until they arrived at Vermelles at 10pm on 25 September [4]. Exhausted before they started, they went straight into action, forming part of the reserve for an attack on the Hulluch-Lens Road. It was a true baptism of fire for the pair. They were being thrown into the Battle of Loos. This was the first time the British used poison gas during the war. It also witnessed the first large-scale use of New Army or ‘Kitchener’s Army’ units. And given their rapid approach, no wonder the casualty toll proved to be so heavy for these new troops. More details about the York and Lancaster Regiment at Loos can be found in the Online Diary of Eric Rayner blog [5].

The battle commenced on 25 September 1915. The British were able to break through the weaker German trenches and capture the town of Loos, mainly due to numerical superiority. However, the inevitable supply and communications problems, combined with the late arrival of reserves, meant that the breakthrough could not be exploited. A further complication for many British soldiers was the failure of their artillery to cut the German wire in many places in advance of the attack. Advancing over open fields in full range of German machine guns and artillery, British losses were devastating.

The 10th York and Lancasters were no exception. By the time they were relieved at 3.30am on 27 September their casualties stood at 14 officers and 306 other ranks killed, wounded or missing [6]. James Groark suffered a thigh wound in action on the 26 September. It was sufficiently serious for him to be evacuated to England for treatment in a Cambridge hospital.

From October 1915, the 10th York and Lancaster unit war diary is one of those beloved by family historians. Its appendixes name not only officers, but other ranks casualties too. It includes dates and, even better, other details. For example some month’s lists state if death or injury occurred in the trenches, in working parties (including those with the Brigade Mining Section) or resting etc. Some have other information, such as “wounded accidentally” or “self inflicted.” This extends right through to the end of July 1916, with a separate list devoted specifically to casualties incurred during fighting between 1 and 3 July 1916, the first days of the Battle of the Somme.

This Somme list is broken into sections, identifying those killed in action, men who died of wounds, and pages of the wounded who were evacuated to England, along with the date. There is also a list of others wounded but not evacuated to Blighty, along with the source of this information, e.g. 64th Field Ambulance. Then follows the missing men, and finally a section with amended casualties. This primarily includes updates on those initially posted as missing.

Michael’s name is in the unit war diary amongst these lists. So, what happened to him?

At 9pm on 30 June, the eve of the attack [7], the 10th York and Lancasters left their billets in Ville, making for their assembly trenches north east of Becordel and just west of Fricourt. They fell under the 21st Division, who would be taking part in the attack around the heavily-defended German-held village of Fricourt. As they made their way up the line, did memories flash back to the previous September’s march? Or was hope held of the “possibility of a collapse of the enemy’s resistance…”, brought about by the prolonged period of preparatory bombardment which commenced on 24 June? [8]

British Plan Somme 1 July 1916 (21st Division north west of Fricourt), Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain

On 1 July 1916 the plan for the 21st Division was that on the left side of Fricourt village would be the 63rd Brigade (which included the 10th Yorks and Lancasters), and beyond them the division’s 64th Brigade, would together carry out an outflanking move to the north. They would join up beyond the village with units of the 7th Division carrying out a similar manoeuvre to the south. Attached to the 21st Division for the attack was the 50th Brigade (taken from the 17th (Northern) Division). Their battalions were designated to attack closest to the northern edge of Fricourt, in an area known as the Tambour. This area was a series of craters, the scene of heavy underground warfare since 1915. The 10th West Yorkshire Regiment would lead off here, followed by the 7th East Yorkshires [9]. Later in the day, when the flanking manoeuvre was complete, the plan was battalions from this brigade would take Fricourt.

Looking towards Fricourt in 2017, the Tambour Mines (to the left) and Fricourt New Military Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

Before the attack a final heavy bombardment of the Fricourt area began at 6.25am on 1 July. Gas was released between 7.15am and 7.25am, during which period a Stokes bombardment was also launched. At 7.28am two mines were exploded to the right of the Tambour [10]. Two minutes later the 63rd Brigade assault commenced with the 4th Middlesex Regiment and 8th Somerset Light Infantry in the initial wave. The 10th York and Lancaster were following up as part of the second wave of the attack, along with the 8th Lincolns. The York and Lancaster’s unit war diary for 1 to 3 July goes on to say:

At 8.30 a.m. [1st July] 10th York and Lancs. and 8th Lincoln Regt. advanced from Assembly Trenches and passed through the Middlesex Regt.and 8th Somerset L.I. respectively, coming under very heavy machine gun fire from FRICOURT and FRICOURT WOOD. After very hard fighting (in which heavy casualties occurred) the Battalion consolidated in LOZENGE ALLEY and later in DART LANE. Battalion remained in this position till about 2 p.m. third day when it moved up to SUNKEN ROAD and took up Support Position in DINGLE TRENCH, with H.Q. in SUNKEN ROAD. [11]

The 10th York and Lancasters were relieved at 4 a.m. on 4 July. The diary, in its appendixes, contains a more detailed account:

OPERATIONS
July 1st 1916 – July 4th 1916
The Battalion advanced through 4th Middlesex Regt, who were in German front line, and came under heavy machine gun fire from FRICOURT and FRICOURT WOOD. The leading wave got some distance in advance of DART LANE, when they were held up by machine gun fire from FRICOURT WOOD. At the same time three large parties of Germans attempted to bomb their way up all the trenches South of DART LANE. Also at the same time the Battalion Bombers were having a hard struggle with a large bombing party in LONELY TRENCH. They had three barricades in this, which we destroyed. We then placed a barricade at North end of LONELY TRENCH near junction of LOZENGE ALLEY. A party of D. Company with stragglers from other Units were sent into ARROW LANE to protect that flank, with the assistance of one gun of Machine Gun Corps. This party came under heavy fire from the South, the enemy making several strong attempts to bomb up EMPRESS SUPPORT and the remains of EMPRESS TRENCH. The remainder of Battalion were then in LOZENGE ALLEY with the Lincolns and parties of other Units. This we were consolidating. About 5.0 p.m. I re-organized the Battalion to take them to DART LANE, which I consolidated. I had also a holding party of Bombers at corner of DART LANE, EMPRESS SUPPORT and LONELY LANE. I had also a party in ARROW LANE: with this party were about 30 men of the 10th Yorkshire Regiment. The Battalion remained in this position until about 2.0 p.m. on the second day, during which time the Battalion was working very hard in passing up S.A.A., [12] Bombs, etc. to 62nd Brigade, who were calling for supplies very urgently. This work went on continuously till about 2.0 p.m. when I was ordered to move up and join 62nd Brigade. I took Battalion up SUNKEN ROAD and put them in DINGLE TRENCH from D 21 Central to about junction of DINGLE TRENCH and PATCH ALLEY, with my headquarters in SUNKEN ROAD at South end of ROUND WOOD.
Whilst here we were under a shell fire from 2 heavy enemy guns. We remained here till relieved by one Company of 12th Manchester Regt at about 4.0 a.m. on morning of 4th. The blocking party ordered to follow immediately in rear of 4th Middlesex Regt did not reach their objective, as all the men were knocked out with the exception of about six men, the Officer being wounded just after getting over the parapet. I also collected what spare bombers I had and sent them up to 62nd Brigade, who were calling for more men. The party protecting our right collected a fair number of prisoners from the dug-outs in DART LANE, EMPRESS SUPPORT and various small communication trenches.
One Officer and a small party of men actually reached the hedge running on outside of FRICOURT FARM, but were compelled to fall back owing to a large bombing party coming down LOZENGE ALLEY from FRICOURT FARM.
Lieut-Colonel.
5th July 16. Comdg. 10th (S) [13] Bn. York & Lancaster Regiment [14].

Extract from Trench Map 57D.SE.4 (Ovillers), Scale 1:10000, Edition 2B, Published 1916, Trenches corrected to 27 April 1916 – Illustrates some of the locations mentioned in the 10th York and Lancaster Unit War Diary Operations Report (above)

With elements of the 21st Division now behind them, the Germans began to abandon Fricourt during the night of the 1/2 July. British troops entered the village on the 2 July.

As a result of the part they played and their consequent heavy losses, the 63rd Infantry Brigade swapped with the 110th Brigade, to become part of the 37th Division. At its departure it received the following communication on 8 July from Major-General David ‘Soarer’ Cambell, commanding the 21st:

I cannot allow the 63rd Brigade to leave my command without expressing to all ranks my immense admiration for their splendid behaviour during the recent fighting.
No troops in the world could have behaved in a more gallant manner.
I feel sure that the 63rd Brigade will uphold the reputation of the 21st Division in the Division to which they are attached.
Whilst deeply deploring your heavy losses, I feel that these gallant men have willingly given their lives to vindicate the character of the 21st Division.
Hoping that our separation may be of short duration only, I wish you Good Luck [15].

Michael was amongst the heavy casualties. His name appears in the 10th York and Lancaster unit war diary. It is amongst the list of 24 other ranks listed as killed in action between the 1 and 3 July 1916. Officially his death date is 3 July.

News of his loss reached Batley later that month. According to reports he was carrying ammunition when a shell exploded in his immediate vicinity causing his instant death [16].

Michael is buried at Becourt Military Cemetery, Bécordel-Bécourt, in the Somme region of France. He is commemorated at home on the Batley St Mary’s War Memorial and Batley War Memorial.

Becourt Military Cemetery, Final Resting Place of Michael Horan – Photo by Jane Roberts

Michael’s parents survived him. His father (age 75) was buried in Batley cemetery on 7 April 1923. His mother (age 72) was buried in the same cemetery plot on 24 December 1925.

Whilst his sister Mary did marry John Owens at St Mary’s on 24 July 1915, the couple had no children. John died in December 1926 and Mary in November 1933. Mary’s death brought to an end the direct relations of Michael and helps explain why the medal went out of the family.

Michael was also awarded the 1914-15 Star and British War Medal. Those I have not traced. But at least his Victory Medal is back in his hometown. And although he is not buried in the same cemetery as his family, he is commemorated in the church just across the road.

St Mary of the Angels RC Church Batley – War Memorial Panel Commemorating Michael Horan – Photo by Jane Roberts

Notes:
[1] 1901 census, England and Wales, surname written as Horn, accessed via Findmypast, original records held at The National Archives (TNA) Reference RG13/4763/99/27;
[2] West Yorkshire Prison Records 1801-1914, accessed via Ancestry, original records at West Yorkshire Archives, Wakefield Prison Records, Reference C118;
[3] Ibid;
[4]
The route according to the unit war diary was Watten, Nortebecourt (Nortbécourt), St Omer, Campagne [Les Wardrecques], Aire [Sur la Lys], St Hilaire [Cottes], Auchel, Sailly la Bourse (Labourse) and Vermelles.
[5] For more on the 10th York and Lancasters at Loos see Eric’s Daily Diary, 2 September 1915, The Battle of Loos – how Haig tried to kill my grandfather, http://ericsdailydiary.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-battle-of-loos-how-haig-tried-to.html
[6] Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
[7] The attack was originally planned to start on 29 June. However, summer storms and heavy rain which led to the decision being taken on 28 June (less than 21 hours notice) to postpone until 7.30am on 1 July.
[8] Addition to Operation Order No. dated 23 June 1916, H Broadbent, Lieut. & Adjt. For Lt-Col. Cmdg. 10th (S) BNA. York & Lanc. Regt., 29 June 1916
[9] The 10th West Yorkshire’s suffered in excess of 700 casualties. According to Gerald Gliddon in Somme 1916: a Battlefield Companion their casualties were higher than any other British battalion on 1 July. Martin Middlebrook in The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916 stated their losses was probably the highest battalion casualty list for a single day during the war.
[10] The 178th Tunnelling Company laid three mines which were due to detonate that morning, but only two explosions occurred, with the largest mine failing to detonate;
[11] Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
[12] Small Arms Ammunition;
[13] Service;
[14] Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
[15] Ibid;
[16] Batley Reporter and Guardian, 28 July 1918

Sources:
1881 to 1911 England and Wales Censuses, accessed via Ancestry and Findmypast, originals at TNA;
• Batley Cemetery Records;
Batley Reporter and Guardian, 8 April 1904 and 28 July 1918;
Capture of Fricourt, Wikipedia https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Capture_of_Fricourt;
• Cooksey, Jon, and Jerry Murland. The First Day of the Somme. Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Pen & Sword Military, 2016;
Commonwealth War Graves Commission Debt of Honour Database, https://www.cwgc.org/;
• Gliddon, Gerald. Somme 1916: a Battlefield Companion. Stroud, Gloucestershire: The History Press, 2016;
• General Register Office birth, marriage and death indexes
• Hart, Peter. The Somme. London: Cassell, 2006;
• Middlebrook, Martin. The First Day on the Somme: 1 July 1916. London: Penguin Books, 2016;
• OS Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html;
Parish Registers, St Mary of the Angels;
Soldiers Died in the Great War, accessed via Findmypast;
Soldiers Effects Records 1901-1960, accessed via Ancestry, original records National Army Museum Accession Number 1990-02-333, Record Number Ranges 322001-323500, Reference 167;
• Stedman, Michael. Somme: Fricourt-Mametz. Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1997;
• Trench Map is reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence. https://maps.nls.uk/index.html;
Unit War Diary, 10th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, TNA Reference WO95/2158/4;
• Reed, Paul. Walking the Somme. Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2011.
Wakefield Prison Records, accessed via Ancestry, originals at West Yorkshire Archives;
War Office and Air Ministry Service Medal and Award Rolls, accessed via Ancestry, TNA Reference WO329 Reference 1590 and 2787;
Western Front Association Pension Record Cards and Ledgers, References 102/0462/HOP-HOR and 686/04D;
WW1 Medal Index Cards, accessed via Ancestry, originals at TNA.

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

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/

The Tale Behind a Tin: A Soldier’s Story

I was undecided when to write this post: Christmas-time or October 2017. It is about a Christmas present I received from mum and dad a few years ago – a Princess Mary Gift Fund box. So, on the face of it December would be the obvious choice. Instead I’ve decided to do it now as a tribute to a local soldier, for reasons which will become apparent.

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Princess Mary Gift Fund Box

The embossed brass Princess Mary tins were given as Christmas presents for those serving at Christmas 1914. The gift was the idea of Princess Mary, daughter of King George V. A public fund was established to raise money for the boxes and their contents, which were tailored according to smokers, non-smokers and the religious sensibilities of minority groups such as Sikhs. Subscriptions raised over £162,590, far surpassing the amount required. Originally intended for those soldiers and sailors serving overseas, the eligibility was extended to include those serving at home, prisoners of war and the next of kin of those who died in 1914 – over 2,620,000

The smokers box contained pipe tobacco, cigarettes, a pipe, a lighter as well as a Christmas card and photograph of Princess Mary. The non-smokers version had acid tablets and a writing case with contents, instead of the tobacco-related gifts. However, supplies of these original gifts proved insufficient to fill the boxes, so alternative gifts were provided, including bullet pencils, tobacco pouches, cigarette cases, shaving brushes and combs. Whatever the contents, many tins were kept or sent home even when emptied, as they were useful cases. Many survive to this day.

My tin is minus its contents. But what I find particularly special about mine is it is purported to have belonged to a named soldier – George Henry Sorby of the 9th Battalion the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI). Accompanying the box is a picture postcard of him. I vowed to research his life. This post is a result of that research. In the course of doing this work I discovered George lived fairly local to me, in a place I used to visit regularly with my husband. 

George Sorby was born on 28 August 1894 at Warmfield, near Wakefield and baptised less than a month later at Sharlston St Luke’s. His parents were James and Ann Elizabeth Sorby (née Tweedle). They married in the other church in the parish, St Peter the Apostle at Kirkthorpe, on 25 December 1889. George was the third of the Sorby’s four children, and their only son. Eldest daughter Sarah Ann was born on 21 June 1890 whilst the family lived at New Sharlston. By the time Mary Emma was born on 18 July 1892 they were back in Warmfield. Mary died in December 1893. Their youngest daughter Martha Jane was born on 21 December 1896. She too died in infancy, in September 1900.

This was an area rich in coal, and James worked as a miner in the pits around Sharlston and Warmfield. The 1911 census shows George following his father in the industry, being employed as a pit pony driver below ground. This involved transporting the tubs filled with coal mined by the hewer to the pit bottom ready to be taken to the surface, then returning with the empty tubs. In this period, it was often the first coal mining job a boy undertook after leaving school, before eventually progressing to become a hewer. The family were now residing at Frobisher Row in Warmfield, and this remained the family address for the duration of the war.

George’s service records have not survived, so I’ve pieced this together from other sources. 

Shortly after Britain joined the conflict, George enlisted in Normanton, becoming a private with the 9th Battalion of the KOYLI, service number 15766. The KOYLI had its traditional base in the heart of the West Riding of Yorkshire and a massive recruitment drive in the locality took place in the early weeks of the war. The 9th Battalion was formed as part of the K3 phase of Kitchener’s New Army – the third batch of 100,000 recruits who answered the call to arms. They came under the command of the 64th Brigade in the 21st Division.

Initially based in Pontefract, they moved for training to Berkhamsted, then went to Halton Park near Tring in October 1914, from there on to Maidenhead, back to Halton Park in April 1915 and finally Witley Camp in Surrey in August 1915. 

Their Commanding Officer as of June 1915 was the deeply unpopular Lt-Col. Colmer William Lynch, a former regular officer, on the reserve officers list at the outbreak of war. It is said that before the Battle of the Somme, the officers in the battalion had a mess toast where tradition was to include a toast to Commanding Officer’s good health. Captain Gordon Haswell stepped up, but he omitted Lynch’s name, instead saying:

“Gentleman, I give you the toast of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, and in particular the 9th Battalion of the Regiment……Gentleman, when the barrage lifts.”

Both Lynch and Haswell were killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme and are buried in Norfolk Cemetery, Becordel-Becourt. But this was all in the future.

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Norfolk Cemetery – Headstones of Lt-Col Colmer William D Lynch and Capt Gordon Haswell – by Jane Roberts

On 10 September 1915 the battalion’s first line transport and machine gun sections left camp for Southampton and sailed to Le Havre. The following day, the main body of the battalion left Witley Camp to catch the train from Milford station to Folkestone. They sailed on the SS St Seiriol at 11.15pm that night, bound for Boulogne. They arrived at 1am the following morning and, after a brief rest, made their way via Pont de Briques to billets at Zutkerque where they remained until 20 September. Over the subsequent few days they marched in quick succession, interspersed by one-night stops, from Arques to Fontes, onto Amettes and Four-A(ux)-Chaux, finally arriving at a bivouac between Philosophe and Vermelles on 25 September.

It was a hike of around 47 miles, the urgency designed to get them into position for their first action of the war. For the 9th KOYLI, including George Sorby in ‘A’ Company, were destined to participate in a major autumn attack, a baptism of fire for the men of the New Army: The Battle of Loos. This battle took place in the industrial, coal-mining area north of Lens in the north-east of France. It was the first large-scale British offensive of the war, and marked the first use of poison gas by the British Army. The attack commenced on the 25 September.

The initial phase did not involve the 9th KOYLI, who were part of the 21st reserve Division. They were deployed on day two.

Getting to their assembly positions for the day two attack on Hill 70 to the north of Lens was a lengthy, arduous process in the dark, over unfamiliar and difficult ground. They left their bivouac at around 7.15pm on the 25 September and did not reach the original British front-line trenches until about 1am the following morning. They then had to proceed another two and a half miles under artillery fire to the assembly position to the east of the original German front line positions.

The attack commenced at 9am on 26 September, with the 9th and 10th KOYLI still held in reserve. It was a confusing battlefield picture marred by miscommunication and misunderstanding. It culminated in 9th KOYLI independently committing to an attack at around 12 noon, whilst Brigade HQ desperately tried to get orders to them to halt any further advance and concentrate on consolidating.  It was carnage. The 9th KOYLI were quickly forced to retreat to the trenches. The Unit War Diary notes that by 1.30pm they had lost 215 rank and file, either killed, wounded or missing. Final figures indicate 47 killed. By 3am the following day they left the trenches and were on their way back to a bivouac between Vermelles and Nouex les Mines. Their first taste of battle was bloody, short-lived and costly.

George’s initiation typified it. He suffered a gunshot wound to the neck in this very first encounter with the enemy. He was evacuated to Number 2 General Hospital at Quai de Escales, Le Havre where he underwent treatment for 2 days before being shipped back to England on the Hospital Ship HMHS St David. The former steamer was requisitioned at the outbreak of war and commissioned into service as a ship to transport patients back to Southampton.

George did recover and returned to serve once more with the 9th KOYLI. His war finally came to an end during 3rd Ypres, otherwise known as Passchendaele. This offensive lasted from 31 July to 10 November 1917. He survived the Battle of Broodseinde Phase on 4 October, where once more the battalion suffered heavy losses. The Unit War Diary indicates in the period 1-8 October casualty totals were 20 officers and 360 other ranks.

Sorby - George Henry Trench Map 2

Trench Map Showing Location of the 9th KOYLI on 22 October 1917: Source – National Library of Scotland  http://maps.nls.uk/index.html
under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence.

Now an Acting-Corporal, on the evening of the 21 October the battalion were once more in front line trenches, near Reutel to the east of Polygon Wood. The above trench map shows the location, circled in green. Early the following morning, the 22 October, the Unit War Diary notes:

“Enemy shelled trenches heavily between 4 A.M. and 7 A.M. the shelling being particularly severe in reply to our barrage at 5.30 am. C Coy. in support suffered several casualties.”

Nine men, including George, were killed.

Sorby - George Henry Casualty

The Men of the 9th KOYLI, Killed on 22 October 1917 – Source: Commonwealth War Graves Commission

George has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing. He is also remembered on the Warmfield cum Heath War Memorial in the Churchyard of St Peter’s, Kirkthorpe. He was awarded the 1914/15 Star, the British War and Victory Medals. Unmarried, the soldiers effects registers list his father as legatee. No soldier’s will exists for George.

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George Henry Sorby , the Princess Mary Tin and his Inscription at Tyne Cot – by Jane Roberts

George’s parents eventually moved to Normanton. His mother died in around late October 1929. His father died in February 1939. Their burials are recorded in the Warmfield Burial Register. His sister Sarah Ann, who married Henry Rann on 23 February 1913, had two children – Margaret Kathleen in March 1917 and Cyril born in 1923. She died in 1977.

Warmfield-cum-Heath War Memorial – by Jane Roberts

We Will Remember Them: Contemporary Parish War Register Books

War Memorials can be found in churches, towns and villages the length and breadth of the country, inscribed with the names of those who paid the ultimate sacrifice. Years later researching those named can prove problematical, as all that exists on the Memorial is a name.  I know this only too well from my Batley St Mary’s research!

However some Parishes and Districts went a step further and, in addition to these Memorials, they produced registers and books containing more details about their war dead.

This Christmas my parents bought me a limited edition reproduction of one such book, the Upper District of Soothill War Register and Records of War Service 1914 to 1920.  Soothill War Book

The original was compiled by the Rev W.E. Cleworth, Vicar of St Paul’s, Hanging Heaton. Printed by E.F. Roberts in Batley, it was based on a War Service Register kept by the Vicar from the start of the war. The Soothill Upper War Memorial Committee subsequently assisted. When the war ended 1,000 Record Forms were printed, information inserted from the Manuscript Register and then these were distributed to households in the area for correction and additions. Over 900 were returned and these were used in the production of the book, which was truly a parish effort. Copies of the original book are held at St Paul’s Hanging Heaton and Batley library.

It is particularly noteworthy that this book contains the names of not only those who gave their lives in the course of the conflict; it includes information about all those from the District who served. So a wonderful record of those who came home and are all too often overlooked.

It contains addresses, Units, age when war service commenced, places served, promotions, distinctions and other points of interest about the service careers of those featured.

Details of the limited edition reproduction organised by Margaret Watson, including more about the original, can be found in October 2014 editions Batley & Birstall News. However I understand the reprint has now sold out. The book includes a number of men linked to my family tree, including Jesse Hill, so I am so pleased to now own a copy. And I am indebted to Margaret and all those who worked on putting the reprint together.

On a recent visit to Lavenham, Suffolk I popped into the local Parish Church of St Peter and Paul to look at their War Memorial. To my surprise and joy beneath their Memorial they too had a book.

Lavenham Church

Lavenham Parish Church – Jane Roberts

This one commemorated those who died in both World Wars. A handwritten Book of Remembrance dating from 1922, it was compiled with the specific intention that those who died would have more than their names remembered.

Lavenham War Memorial

Lavenham War Memorial – Jane Roberts

There appeared to be a page devoted to each man, giving name, age and address alongside service details and even extracts from letters informing families of their loss. A wonderful lasting legacy for generations to come.  Lavenham book of remembrance

These books are particularly poignant because of their “of the time” nature. I wonder how many more are out there? And how many are being reprinted to ensure these men’s memories are perpetuated?

King’s Cross War Memorial for Railwaymen

This week was a full-on working week with two long London trips. Although I didn’t have time to do any family history research, I did take the opportunity to visit the War Memorial at King’s Cross station.

Over 20,000 railwaymen died in the First World War and there are various memorials to them dotted around the country. The one at King’s Cross is dedicated to employees of The Great Northern Railway (GNR) who lost their lives in that conflict. It contains 937 names. Originally erected in 1920, it was further dedicated to employees of the London and North Eastern Railway who gave their lives in World War Two. Their names are not listed.

The memorial was re-designed and re-dedicated in 2013. Its 11 tablets are reminiscent of John Singer Sargant’s painting “Gassed“.

I had a particular reason for wanting to stop off at the memorial. Amongst those named is William Colbeck. He was a parishioner at St Mary’s, Batley, and someone whose life I researched as part of my St Mary’s War Memorial book.

Born in 1887, William was the son of David and Catherine Colbeck (neé Garner). He initially followed his father’s trade as a woollen spinner before switching to become a platelayer employed by the GNR at Batley station.

William enlisted in March 1916, serving as a Sapper with the 264th Railway Company, Royal Engineers. The Royal Engineers by the end of the war numbered over a quarter of a million officers and men. Amongst a myriad of other construction roles, they built and maintained the railways. These were a vital part of the war effort, essential for moving men, supplies and equipment. So Williams specialist skills, developed in civilian life, were utilised during his military service.

He died from pneumonia in the 41st Stationary Hospital, France on 6th November 1918 and is buried at Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery.

At the time of his death his family placed a number of “In memoriam” notices in the “Batley News”. The one below is from his fiancée Elsie:

No one knows how much I miss him,
None but aching hearts can tell;
Forget him, no, I never will,
Loved him here, I love him still.
“Ever in my thoughts”
From his loving fiancée Elsie.

More information about railwaymen who died in the First World War can be found at the National Railway Museum (NRM) website. It includes a searchable database on the fallen.

I’ve included a series of close-up photos of the names of the men, which hopefully will be of use to those connected with the men commemorated.

Kings Cross 1

Close up of the names on the first two tablets

 

Kings Cross 2

Close up of third and fourth tablets

 

Kings Cross 3

Close up of marble tablets five to eight

 

Kings Cross 4

Close up of the names on the final three tablets

 

However, as with many War Memorials, not all those names you expect to find are included. Michael Lydon, another St Mary’s man, is one such example. According to newspapers he was employed as a goods porter by the GNR at Batley station. He lost his life on 1 September 1918. He does not feature on the GNR memorial or on the NRM database.

It would be good if both men (and any others with connections) could be remembered at Batley Railway Station.  

Colbeck and Lydon