Name: Herbert Booth
Rank: Lance Corporal
Unit/Regiment: 9th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)
Service Number: 16960
Date of Death: 1 July 1916
Cemetery: Gordon Dump Cemetery, Ovillers-la-Boisselle, Somme, France
Herbert Booth, born in Batley on 15 May 1885, was the son of John William and Jane Booth (née Gill) of Beck Lane, Carlinghow.1 The Booth family were well-known in Batley with John’s father, James, being a local building contractor and former town councillor. Herbert would have no memories of his grandfather though, as he died in December 1885, within months of Herbert’s birth. Although John Booth did not follow his father into the building contracting business, which was sold off after James’ death, he worked in an associated occupation as a stone mason.
Herbert’s parents married at St Thomas’ church, Batley, on 27 July 1876.2 The Booth family were Church of England and, despite the St Thomas’ marriage, were particularly associated with St John’s church, Carlinghow. It was here that Herbert, alongside older brother James (born in December 1880), was baptised on 16 July 1885.3 In 1902 the church was also the venue for the baptism of another Booth child, Hilda (born in November 1890). Herbert, as a boy, attended this church where he was a member of the choir.
Herbert, along with siblings James and Hilda, were the only three of the Booth children to survive to adulthood. Several others died in infancy. These included the couple’s eldest son George, born in 1878, and who died in June 1885, age five; Leah, born in 1887 but who only lived for one day; Amy, born in 1888 and who died the following year, at the age of 11 months; and Ida, born in 1895 and died, age three, in August 1899.
As mentioned earlier, Herbert was a member of the St John’s Carlinghow church choir. His singing talents also manifested themselves whilst attending Carlinghow Council School. For instance, it appears that in the School Board Annual Concert in 1897 he performed in the operetta Jack and the Giant Killer as King Arthur where he gave “a creditable exposition, and his solos were well rendered.”4 His love of singing continued into adulthood where, as a member of Carlinghow Working Men’s Club, he was very popular with the other club members as a singer.
Herbert’s life was therefore very much intertwined with the organisations in Carlinghow. This, after all, was the area where he spent all of his childhood, with the Booth family living at Beck Lane in the censuses between 1881 and 1901. This was the area where Herbert’s grandfather based his business. It was also the family address in February 1908, when John Booth died.5 Herbert’s widowed mother, Jane, remarried at St John’s church on 8 May 1910, to railway plate layer John Hudson.6 But by now Herbert had left home to start a family of his own.
At St Mary of the Angels, on 28 July 1909, Herbert converted to Catholicism. In the same church months later, on 15 January 1910, he married Ellen Scally. The daughter of Durham-born coal miner James Scally and his wife Mary Prendergast, from Bury, the Scally family lived in Birstall. They were associated with St Mary’s prior to the formation of the Birstall Catholic parish of St Patricks.
Herbert and Ellen’s first child, James, was born on 23 May 1910.7 I have not traced his baptism yet. But this was presumably at the infant St Patrick’s church. Their address less than a year later provides the clue to this. The 1911 census records the young family living at Low Lane, Birstall.8
At this point Herbert worked as a finisher in a woollen mill, and Ellen as a rag sorter. This was the industry with which James had worked in since leaving school, the 1901 census recording his occupation as a cloth cutter. His textile industry employers included the Carlinghow shoddy manufacturers Wildsmith, Carter and Company.
However, before the war, Herbert had a career change, shifting from the town’s staple shoddy trade to work for the Yorkshire (Woollen District) Electric Tramways Ltd.9 The company operated tramways radiating from Dewsbury, feeding the Heavy Woollen districts of Savile Town, Thornhill Lees, Thornhill, Ravensthorpe, Heckmondwike, Batley, Liversedge, Hightown, Moorend and Birkenshaw. The family residence also changed, with a move back to his childhood street of Beck Lane, Carlinghow. Although Herbert worked in the tramway company’s Savile Town depot, Beck Lane was ideally located for transport to his new place of work: one of his employer’s other depots being conveniently placed on the other side of Bradford Road from the Booth residence. The Booth family was complete on 31 May 1913, with the arrival of daughter Hilda Mary.10 And at this point the family were back worshipping in Batley at St Mary’s.
Herbert enlisted in the Army shortly after the outbreak of the war. He joined the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI), with whom he served overseas. His 11 September 1915 disembarkation date fits in with the date the 9th KOYLI arrived in Boulogne from Witley Camp, Surrey.11
According to newspaper reports after his death, Herbert took part in a number of engagements, including the Battle of Loos in September 1915. Again this battle would fit with him serving with the 9th KOYLI. This battalion, made up of men who had answered Kitchener’s call for volunteers a little over a year before, saw their first action overseas during this battle. It proved a difficult introduction. On the night of the 20 September, within days of arriving in France, they began a series of marches setting off from billets at Zutkerque. They arrived at trenches north east of Loos in the early hours of 26 September – a distance of about 50 miles. The Unit War Diary’s description of subsequent events is brief:
25-9-15, 7.15pm. Battalion left bivouac and marched through VERMELLES and on to the trenches running NE from LOOS reaching the trenches about 1am on the 26th. The Battalion deployed from the road running from VERMELLES to LOOS and advanced in double column of Companies for a distance of about 2½ miles being under heavy artillery fire during the advance.
TRENCHES NE of LOOS, 26-9-15, 1.30pm. Battalion took part in the attack on hill 70….Battalion lost 215 rank and file killed, wounded and missing. Battalion returned to the trenches after the attack.12
The brevity of this entry hides the reality of the difficulties they encountered at Hill 70. Newly arrived in France, the men of the 9th KOYLI endured a gruelling series of marches – some at night – and with the latter stages through heavily congested roads and trenches to get to their assembly point for the forthcoming battle. Without any recovery time these novice troops then participated in what were described as hastily organised attacks with half understood orders. The 9th KOYLI, “who were faced by an enemy position which they had not seen before in daylight, much less reconnoitred” were initially held in reserve.13 There then followed total confusion when the 9th KOYLI independently launched a failed counter attack, with the origin of these orders never discovered. Casualties were heavy. But Herbert survived.
There is a curious medical record surviving for a Private H Booth which casts doubt that Herbert’s military service overseas was entirely with the 9th KOYLI.14 This record states that on 21 November 1915 he was admitted from the 69th Field Ambulance, who were operating in the Fort Rompu area at this time, to No3 Casualty Clearing Station at Bailluel suffering from a gun shot wound to the left thigh. He was one of 60 patients admitted that day. On the 23 November 1915 he was one of 16 men discharged from that Casualty Clearing Station to No11 Ambulance Train. This then made its way to Étaples.15 The oddity is that although the service number is correct, 16960, and there are no other H Booths who could match this service number, the battalion in the medical record is 8th KOYLI. Unfortunately neither local newspaper, the Batley News or the Batley Reporter, mentions any injury to Herbert Booth in this period to shed any further light on this. In the absence of any other evidence to the contrary, the conclusion is this medical record is accurate and he did, at some point, serve with the 8th KOYLI. 16
What is clear, though, is that by the early summer of 1916 Herbert was serving as a Lance Corporal with the 9th KOYLI.
Towards the end of June 1916 he wrote what was to be his final letter to his brother James. Given his love of singing, the letter fittingly opened with a musical reference, quoting lines from the Irish ballad Kathleen Mavourneen. The commonly held interpretation of the song, popular during the American Civil war, is it concerns a man leaving his beloved to go off to war. He does not know when, or if, he will return.17 This theme naturally struck a chord during the Great War. Herbert’s chillingly matter-of-fact letter in the face of death read:
Well, old boy I do not know when I shall be able to write you another letter after this. In fact I will tell you the truth, it is like the song “It may be for years, or it may be for ever”; but never mind lad, whatever happens to me you can depend on me meeting it with a brave heart. I will tell you this kid, it is going to be one of the biggest scraps that has ever been known, and I have not the slightest wish to withdraw. If the worst happens, it is only death, and that comes to everybody at some time or another. I understand by your letter that you have been rejected. I know that you would like to have a smack at the Huns, but never mind, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you offered your services to your King, and that is what a lot of single young men have not had the pluck to do. If things turn out right, and I have luck enough to come through this job safely I shall be able to tell you as much as anyone here can. This is my tenth month out here and I have not been away from the battle area one month out of the ten. Perhaps by the time you get this you have read all about this affair in your papers. If I have the good luck to come out alive I will drop you a field card or a line of some sort at the earliest possible convenience, and let you know how I have gone on.18
Herbert never sent that field card. He was killed on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, along with over 19,000 other British troops. He was 31.
That July day, the 9th KOYLI were involved in the 64th Brigade attack north of the village of Fricourt, with a position known as Crucifix Trench being an initial objective. Its name derived from the crucifix which stood just above it between three tall trees. The original assault, scheduled for 29 June, was delayed for 48 hours due to bad weather. As the bombardment of the German lines continued, on the evening of the 30 June the battalion proceeded to their assembly positions, a move completed by 11pm. It was now a case of waiting for Zero Hour, set for 7.30 the following morning. The War Diary notes one piece of relief to the tension – the arrival of tea and rum for the men in the early hours.
Indications are that Herbert served with A Company who, along with C Company, were to lead the 9th KOYLI attack.
At 7.25am, during eight minutes of intense bombardment, the leading platoons of A and C Companies emerged from their assembly point and crawled forward under the heavy barrage. As the barrage lifted at 7.30am the attack commenced and the men moved forward in waves across no-mans land.
As Herbert left the trenches he would have carried the following:
- Steel helmet.
- Equipment in fighting order.
- Haversack on back containing (a) Complete iron rations, (b) unused rations, bread, cheese, chocolate.
- Waterbottle full. (Cold tea or coffee recommended).
- Gas helmets (two) and goggles.
- Waterproof sheet, securely rolled, 16 inches long.
- 220 rounds S[mall] A[rms] A[mmunition.
- Two Mills Bombs, detonated.
- Two sandbags.
- Entrenching tool & haft.
- Wirecutters , as detailed.
- Field dressings, and Iodine Ampoules.
- Paper & pencil for writing messages if necessary.
- Full oil bottles & pull through.
This all weighed around 66lbs.
The Operation Orders instructed the men to move in quick time towards their objective. It also notes:
The use of the word RETIRE is absolutely forbidden in this Division. All ranks are distinctly to understand that if such an order is given, it is either a device of the enemy, or is given by some person who has lost his head. In any case, this order is never to be obeyed.20
Withdrawal was only allowed via a written and signed order.
In another part of the discipline instructions, the natural tendency of men to pick up souvenirs was discouraged in the strongest terms:
The attack is not going to be a curio hunt. Any tendency to waste time in looking for, or picking up, curios, is to be checked AT ONCE. Positions are to be immediately consolidated, and troops made ready to meet enemy counter-attack. Any Officer, N.C.O., or man found in possession of any curio or souvenir will be tried by Court Martial.
Souvenirs will be collected under Divisional arrangements, and distributed to the Units taking part in the attack.21
It is a revealing order, with the perception that men might have the time and inclination to hunt for souvenirs during the attack and when reaching their objectives, indicating the belief that opposition could be minimal enough to allow it. The possibility of curio hunting by the 9th KOYLI was quickly quashed by what happened next.
The unit war diary goes on to record the initial assault as follows:
When the leading platoons had crawled forward about 25 yards into NO MAN’S LAND, they were greeted by a hail of Machine Gun and Rifle Fire; the enemy, in spite of our barrage, brought his Machine Guns out of his dug outs and placing them on the top of his parapet, opened rapid fire. A and C Companies suffered chiefly under this, while B and D Companies endured chiefly a heavy artillery barrage. When the leading troops were close enough, the enemy also employed cylindrical stick bombs against them.
The battalion suffered heavily in NO MAN’S LAND…22
The 9th KOYLIs advanced crawling and dashing from shell hole to shell hole until they seized the German front-line trench north of Fricourt, then the Sunken Road about 600 or 800 yards behind the front line, and then they finally occupied Crucifix Trench, another 200 or 300 yards further on.21 But the War diary was correct. They did suffer catastrophic losses. The Unit War Diary for the day records that 22 of the 24 Officers of the Battalion had either been killed or wounded as a result of the action. In addition the diary notes there were 475 casualties in the other ranks, about 145 of whom were killed.23
Herbert’s wife initially received a letter from an officer confirming her husband’s death. It stated:
I have your postcard enquiring after your husband, Lance-Corpl. Herbert Booth, and I am extremely distressed to have to tell you that the news I have to give you is the very worst, and that your husband was killed in action on the 1st of July. He took part in the magnificent advance made by this battalion at such a terrible cost. I am sorry that I did not know your husband personally, but I have only just come to command this company from the transport which I looked after during the attack. None of the officers of “A” Company who took part in the advance are here now; they were all either killed or wounded. Nothing I could say in a letter could possibly help you, I am afraid, to bear this terrible blow, but I can honestly say that you have my deepest and sincerest sympathy.24
She was given a faint glimmer of hope when she subsequently received a communication from the Territorial Record Office in York stating that her husband was posted missing after an engagement on 1 July.25
However, final official confirmation of his death came in the middle of July. Further corroboration came from a Pte. W. H. Fisher in hospital in London which set out the circumstances.
Corpl. Booth was one of my best pals. We went “over the top” on the morning of July 1st, like two brothers, and we had only got about thirty yards out when he was hit right through the temple. I had to leave him, and had got about another 150 yards when I was wounded. I spoke to him, but he never spoke.26
Pte. Fisher was obeying orders. The men were instructed that it was the duty of the Battalion to get forward and seize the first objective. Wounded must be left to be picked up by those in the rear.27
One final poignant postscript occurred on 3 July when the battalion, after their part in the attack, received orders to proceed to Dernancourt. Lt Basil Liddell Hart wrote of the march:
As soon as we got out on the road, near Méaulte, it was unforgettable to see the way in which the men pulled themselves together through that village singing ‘Pack up your Troubles in your Old Kit Bag’ – just as the full battalion had sung it on their march up to the trenches four days before. It brought a lump to our throats and we thought of the scores of good comrades who had sung it then and would never sing it again.28
One of those absent voices belonged to Herbert Booth, whose talent for singing had been renowned locally from his childhood through to adulthood at church, school and club, and who was now amongst those missing 9th KOYLI voices.
Herbert Booth’s final resting place is at Gordon Dump cemetery. The Burial Return though shows his body was brought to this location for burial after the war. The Burial Return form from No21 Labour Company, dated 2 August 1919, gives the map reference for where his body was found.29 Like so many other of the 9th KOYLI dead, it appears he died in no-man’s land, with the burial team finding his body just in front of what were the German front line trenches on 1 July 1916.
Like many families Herbert’s wife, mother, brother and sister continued to remember him on the anniversary of his death in the local newspapers. Here are a selection, which started within weeks of his passing.
Notices section, Batley News, 12 August 1916
BOOTH. —On July 1st, 1916, killed in action in France, Lance-Corpl. Herbert Booth, K.O.Y.L.I., of 6 Beck Lane, Carlinghow.
His King and country called him,
The call was not in vain;
And on England’s Roll of Honour,
You will find our hero’s name.
From his dear Brother and Sister-in-Law, James and Cissie.
3, Crow Nest, Burnley, Lancs.
Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the Batley News, 26 August 1916
BOOTH – Lce.-Corpl. Herbt. Booth, K.O.Y.L.I., killed in action on July 1st
We little thought when we said good-bye,
We parted forever and you were to die,
But the unknown grave is the bitterest blow,
None but aching hearts can know.
From Father, Mother, Sister and Brother-in-Law
Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the Batley News, 30 June 1917 (also repeated on 7 July 1917)
BOOTH. – In Loving Memory of a Dear Brother, Lance-Corporal Herbert Booth, 9th K.O.Y.L.I., Killed in Action, July 1st, 1916
You’re not forgotten, brother, dear,
Nor will you ever be,
As long as life and memory last,
We shall remember thee.
From his Brother and Sister-in-Law, Mr. and Mrs. James Booth, 3, Crow Nest, St. James’ Street, Burnley, Lancashire
Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the Batley News, 7 July 1917
BOOTH. – In Loving Memory of My Dear Husband, Lance-Corporal Herbert Booth, who was Killed in Action, July 1st, 1916.
We often sit and mourn for him,
But not with outward show,
For the heart that mourns sincerely
Mourns silently and low.
We think of him in silence,
His name we oft-times call,
But there is nothing left to answer
But his photo on the wall
From His Wife and Children, 6, Beck Lane, Carlinghow
BOOTH. —In Loving Memory of Our Dear Son and Brother, Lance-Corporal Herbert Booth, K.O.Y.L.I., of Carlinghow, who was Killed in Action on July 1st, 1916.
We never knew what pain he had,
We never saw him die,
We only knew he passed away,
And never said good-bye.
His cheerful ways and smiling face
Are pleasant to recall,
He had a kindly word for each,
And died beloved by all.
From his Dear Mother, Father, Sister and Brother-in-Law (Somewhere in France).
Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the Batley News, 6 July 1918
BOOTH. —In loving memory of our dear son, Lance-Corpl. Herbert Booth, No 6, Beck Lane, Carlinghow, Killed in Action July 1st, 1916.
It’s only a mother that knows the sorrow,
It’s only a mother that knows the pain,
Of losing a son she loved so dear,
And knows she will never see him again.
From his loving Mother and Father, Mr. and Mrs. John Hudson, 13, Carlinghow Hill, Batley.
BOOTH. —In loving remembrance of our dear brother, Lance-Corporal Herbert Booth, 9th Batt. K.O.Y.L.I., who was Killed on the Somme, July 1st, 1916.
Brother of ours on the grim field of battle
Died fighting for honour, and all that is true;
Broth of ours, you’re a man and a hero.
From his Brother and Sister-in-Law, James and Cissie, 3, Crow Nest, St. James’ Street, Burnley.
BOOTH. —In loving memory of our dear brother, Lance-Corpl. Herbert Booth, Killed in Action July 1st, 1916.
Though he’s gone, he’s not forgotten,
’Tis sweet to breathe his name;
In life we loved him very dear,
In death we do the same.
From his loving Sister and Brother-in-law (Somewhere in France), Mr. and Mrs. G. W. Graham, Carlinghow.
Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the Batley News, 3 July 1920
BOOTH. – In loving memory of a dear son and brother, Lance-Corporal Herbert Booth KOYLI, killed in action July 1st 1916
Only a wooden cross,
Only a name and number,
O God let angels guard the spot,
Where our dear one doth slumber.
From his dear mother and father, sister and brother-in-law, 13 Carlinghow Hill, Batley,
Herbert’s widow married Joseph Molineux in November 1917.30 She went on to have two more children, Eileen and Mary. Ellen died in 1949. Her funeral took place on 2 September, followed by her burial in Batley cemetery.31
Herbert Booth was awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal. In addition to St Mary’s, he is also remembered on the Batley War Memorial and those of St John’s Carlinghow, and Carlinghow Working Men’s Club.
1. Carlinghow St John’s Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS), Ref: WDP132/1/1/1;
2. Batley St Thomas’ Marriage Register, WYAS, Ref: WDP22/1/3;
3. Carlinghow St John’s Baptism Register, West Yorkshire Archive Service (WYAS), Ref: WDP132/1/1/1;
4. Batley Reporter and Guardian, 3 December 1897;
5. Batley Cemetery Register, Consecrated;
6. Carlinghow St John’s Marriage Register, WYAS, Ref: WDP132/1/2/2;
7. WWI Pension Record Cards and Ledgers, Western Front Association, Ref: 026/0094/BOO-BOR;
8. 1911 Census England & Wales, The National Archives (TNA), Ref: RG14/27257;
9. Dewsbury Reporter and Batley News newspapers, 12 August 1916
10. WWI Pension Record Cards and Ledgers, Western Front Association, Ref: 026/0094/BOO-BOR;
11. Medal Index Card;
12. 9th KOYLI Unit War Diary, TNA, Ref: WO95/2162/1;
13. Bond, Reginald C. History of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the Great War, 1914-1918. London: P. Lund, Humphries, 1929;
14. First World War Representative Medical Records of Servicemen, Hospital admission and discharge registers, TNA, Ref: MH 106/309;
15. Ibid; supplemented by 3 Casualty Clearing Station, 11 Ambulance Train and 69 Field Ambulance Unit War Diaries;
16. I did undertake some further investigations looking at the 69th Field Ambulance and the locations of the 8th and 9th KOYLI during this period of November 1915. The 69th Field Ambulance was attached to the 23rd Division of which the 8th KOYLI were part. However, by November 1915 the 8th KOYLI had temporarily transferred to the 8th Division. They were based around the Neuf-Berquin area of northern France, close to the Belgium border, in this period of November 1915; the 9th KOYLI were at Houplines, again in northern France close to the Belgium border. Both these are 13km either side of Fort Rompu. The investigation was therefore inconclusive;
17. Another interpretation of the song is the singer is making his parting farewell to his homeland and deceased lover;
18. Batley News, 12 August 1916;
19. Operation Orders No36, 9th KOYLI Unit War Diary, TNA, Ref: WO95/2162/1;
22. 9th KOYLI Unit War Diary, TNA, Ref: WO95/2162/1;
22. Spiers, EM, Yorkshire and the First Day of the Somme. Northern History, 2016, https://eprints.whiterose.ac.uk/99480/;
23. 9th KOYLI Unit War Diary, TNA, Ref: WO95/2162/1. Subsequent analysis of CWGC records show that 177 men from 9th KOYLI died on 1 July 1916 (includes one attached to another battalion and one from another battalion attached to the 9th KOYLI). This basic analysis does not account for those who died on a later day from wounds incurred on 1 July. Neither does it account for those 1 July deaths as a result of earlier received wounds. But it does give a rough guide to the scale of losses;
24. Dewsbury Reporter, 12 August 1916 (a similar, but not identical, version of this letter also appeared in the Batley News of the same date);
25. Batley Reporter & Guardian, 18 August 1916, and Batley News, 19 August 1916;
26. Batley News, 26 August 1916;
27. Operation Orders No36, 9th KOYLI Unit War Diary, TNA, Ref: WO95/2162/1;
28. Clayton, Derek. From Pontefract to Picardy: the 9th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the First World War. Tempus, 2004, quoting from papers of G. F. Ellenberger, IWM. Fragment from When the Barrage Lifts, B. Liddell Hart, 1920;
29. Concentration of Graves (Exhumation and Reburials), No. 21 Labour Coy. Burial Return, 2 August 1919, Commonwealth War Graves Commission;
30. WWI Pension Record Cards and Ledgers, Western Front Association, Ref: 026/0094/BOO-BOR; and
31. Batley Cemetery Register, Unconsecrated.
Other Sources (not directly referenced):
• 1939 Register;
• 1881 to 1911 England and Wales Censuses;
• Batley Blogs website, The Dewsbury, Batley and Birstall Tramway Company Founded 1874, https://batleyblogs.myfreesites.net/home/the-dewsbury-batley-and-birstall-tramway-company;
• Bond, Reginald C. History of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the Great War, 1914-1918. London: P. Lund, Humphries, 1929;
• Clayton, Derek. From Pontefract to Picardy: the 9th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in the First World War. Tempus, 2004;
• Commonwealth War Graves Commission website;
• Geograph website;
• GRO Birth, Marriage and Death Indexes;
• The Long, Long Trail website;
• Medal Index Card;
• Medal Award Rolls;
• National Library of Scotland maps;
• Parish Registers;
• Soldiers Died in the Great War;
• Soldiers’ Effects Registers; and
• Unit War Diary – 3 Casualty Clearing Station, TNA Ref WO95/412/2
• Unit War Diary – 8th KOYLI, TNA, Ref WO95/2187/2;
• Unit War Diary – 11 Ambulance Train, TNA, Ref WO95/4133/5;
• Unit War Diary – 69 Field Ambulance, TNA, Ref WO95/2179/1