Patrick Cassidy

16 December 1914 marked a special day for my grandma. She celebrated her sixth birthday. But this date had another significance for Britain and the Cassidy family.

It was the day trains packed full of people from the Yorkshire coastal towns of Whitby and Scarborough began to arrive in towns and cities across the West Riding. For that morning their homes were subjected to a German naval bombardment, bringing the war directly to British soil.

It was also the day 46-year-old Patrick Cassidy enlisted with the local regiment, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI).1

Patrick even knocked several years off his age to ensure he would be accepted. On his attestation papers he claimed to be 35 years and 11 months.

Born in Hagfield, County Mayo, in March 1868, Patrick was the son of James and Judith Cassidy, whose maiden name was Maye (or Meigh depending on spelling variations). The couple married in the parish of Kilbeagh in 1857 and their other children included Michael (1858), Mary (1865) and John (1871).2 James is recorded as a landholder in the civil registration records of his children.

Patrick had seen previous service with the British Army. This was with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. He described it as the 33rd and 76th West Riding Regiment,3 harking back to 1881 and the Cardwell Reforms when the 33rd and 76th Regiments of Foot merged. A family photo shows him in military uniform with three point-up chevrons on the lower left sleeve indicating 12 years good conduct. So, although now time-expired, he had seen long, satisfactory service.

Patrick Cassidy

By 1904 Patrick was out of the Army and living in the Spring Gardens area of Batley, working as a labourer.4 He married rag sorter Ann Loftus at Batley St Mary’s in July 1906, when his Spring Gardens address was clarified as East Street, and his occupation pinned down further as a mason’s labourer.5 Ann was also from the Hagfield area of County Mayo.

East Street

The couple set up home in Hume Street where daughter Ellen (known as Nellie) was born in December 1907. The following December my grandma, Mary, was born at number 36.

Ordnance Survey Maps – Six-inch England and Wales, 1842-1952, Yorkshire CCXXXII.SE, Revised: 1905, Published: 1908 – National Library of Scotland, under the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International (CC-BY-NC-SA) licence

In 1911 the family were still at 36 Hume Street, with Patrick working for a builder and Ann as a rag picker in one of Batley’s many sorting mills for the woollen industry. The family also had a boarder, 50-year-old Mary Kelly from Kilkelly, County Mayo.6 Both Patrick and Ann knocked years off their ages, claiming to be 40. In fact Patrick had just turned 43, whilst Ann was 46. And compare to their declared ages of 30 and 27 respectively at the time of their wedding less than five years earlier, and you start to get the picture about flexibility with ages.

By 16 December 1914 Patrick was 46, not the 35 years 11 months he claimed to be on his attestation papers. As an ex-soldier, by this stage of the war, the age limit was 45 so he really did go overboard with his age reduction. He really was determined to do his bit.

So why did Patrick decide to enlist on his daughter’s birthday? Why would he choose to leave his wife, children and labouring job in Batley to take this unnecessary risk?

Perhaps the reason is the date, which should not be looked at purely from a family perspective. Perhaps it should be viewed fro a wider historical perspective.

My theory is events on the East coast were the real driver. Wednesday the 16 December 1914, the day the German Imperial Navy ships Seydiltz, Moltke, Blücher, Derfflinger and Von Der Tann bombarded the coastal towns of Scarborough and Whitby, along with Hartlepool. The final toll resulted in over 100 killed and almost 600 injured.7

The attacks occurred from around 8 a.m. to 9.30 a.m. that morning. In the immediate aftermath, in scenes reminiscent of Belgium and France, refugees fled their homes seeking safety inland. Distressed residents from the stricken towns, some still in slippers and nightdresses, disembarked in local railway stations with tales of terror and destruction. Papers carried reports of “grave casualties”, “loss of life and serious damage” and “buildings battered and wrecked” with “churches as targets” as “undefended Yorkshire Coast towns” were shelled by the German Fleet.8 The historic landmarks of Whitby Abbey and Scarborough Castle suffered damage. Famous seaside hotels, like Scarborough’s Grand Hotel, bore shell scars.

From 16 December onwards newspapers the length and breadth of the country carried the stories of this exodus, along with tales of death, injury and destruction guaranteed to tug at heartstrings and engender feelings of outrage and a lust for revenge. This from the Yorkshire Evening Post of 16 December reporting of arrivals in Leeds at 11 o’clock:

One woman who arrived was wearing her bedroom slippers; in her arms was a two-year-old son in her nightdress and an outer garment lent by someone on the train.9

Another refugee was Mrs Knaggs, who lived in the vicinity of Scarborough’s damaged Grand Hotel. She arrived in Leeds on the one o’clock train into Leeds with her eight-year-old daughter and a few hastily packed groceries. She recalled meeting:

…scores of women and children. All seemed unconsciously making for the railway station. Some were half dressed, and carried with them all manner of household articles. Another refugee had a child of a fortnight old in her arms, and with her was another partly-dressed girl of fourteen…..The streets of Scarborough were filled with women. These refugees were without food, money and very scantily clothed.10

Whitby resident Mrs Hogg was another Leeds arrival. Her house was struck by a shell. She recounted:

Outside shells were flying about, tearing up the pavement and damaging houses….In the fields in the outskirts of town big holes were torn in the ground and all the telegraph wires were down. People were hurrying along, some with a few belongings they had managed to get together. One man was carrying a parrot and two bird-cages. My little boy had run out of the house in his slippers. He lost his slippers on the way, and had to walk in his stocking feet.11

The German navy were dubbed the baby-killers of Scarborough, a reference to one of the victims, 14-month-old John Shields Ryalls. In a letter to the Mayor of Scarborough on 20 December 1914 Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty wrote:

Whatever fears of arms the German Navy hereafter perform, the stigma of ‘Baby-Killers of Scarborough’ will brand its officers and men while sailors sail the seas.

Baby Ryall’s picture along with another victim, 15-year-old boy scout George Harland Taylor, featured prominently in the press with inflammatory headings like “Slain by Germans” and “Killed by the Raiders.” Others included 28-year-old Miss Ada Crow, due to be married to her army fiancé, Sergeant G.R. Sturdy, on what turned out to be the day of her funeral.

Some were of the opinion that the attack was the best thing that could have happened – it would give a boost to recruitment, now waning after the initial rush following the declaration of war. Battalions would be filled on the back of the attack.

By 18 December newspapers were reporting a material increase in numbers coming forward to recruiting offices, particularly in the areas affected by the bombardment. And from 18 December a new recruitment appeal made its appearance across the country:

Up and at ‘em now!
The wholesale murder of innocent women and children demands vengeance.
Men of England, the innocent victims of German brutality call upon you to avenge them. Show the German barbarians that Britain’s shores cannot be bombarded with impunity. Duty calls you now.
Go to-day to the nearest recruiting depot and offer your services for your King, home, and country.12

This theme was echoed in subsequent recruitment poster campaigns. This included a depiction of the ruins of 2 Wykeham Street, Scarborough where four died: Johanna Bennett (58), her son Albert Featherstone Bennett (22) a driver in the RFA, and two young boys John Christopher Ward (9 according to newspapers, although General Register Office entry gives his age as 10) and George James Barnes (5).

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My great-grandfather did not wait for these rallying call to arms. He went to the Batley recruiting office on the very day of the attack. Maybe the White Lee picric acid explosion with rumours of German sabotage only a fortnight earlier, which caused death and devastation to Heckmondwike and Batley, also played a part in his thinking.

Though I cannot be absolutely certain, it is plausible that he enlisted because he wanted to protect his family. The bombardment of east coast towns, with the huge loss of life and the streams of refugees which followed, brought the war so much closer to home. The Yorkshire seaside resorts of Whitby and Scarborough were particularly popular local holiday destinations. In fact, when war was declared only four months earlier the local Territorials, the 1st/4th KOYLI, were on their summer camp in Whitby. No longer was it a distant war affecting civilians – women and children – in foreign lands. It was now here in Yorkshire. His family were potentially under direct threat. Would the Germans attempt a landing? He could stand aside no longer.

His attestation papers provide a physical description. My grandma, who adored her father, always gave the impression of him being a tall man. However, according to his army papers he stood at the incredible height of…….5’ 3½ ”.13 It goes to show, do not take all oral family history as gospel!

So what became of him?

The attestation papers indicated his resurrected army career with the KOYLI proved short-lived. On 15 January 1915 he was discharged as unlikely to become an efficient soldier.14 Unsurprising given his age. But the discharge setback did not deter him. It was not the end of his military service.

The Batley Reporter and Guardian of 27 August 1915 included a small piece of police news. Private Patrick Cassidy of Hume Street appeared in Batley Borough Court charged with being absent without leave from the 3rd/4th battalion Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, who were stationed at Halifax. He had rejoined his old regiment. He pleaded guilty and was remanded to await a military escort.

The 3rd/4th Duke of Wellington’s was formed in March 1915 so it seems Patrick may have remained a civilian for as little as a couple of months after leaving the KOYLI. The battalion remained in England throughout the war, stationed at Clipstone Camp, Rugeley Camp, Bromeswell (Woodbridge) and Southend, training and supplying drafts for overseas service. However, Patrick did not remain with them.

I am not sure when or why he was discharged from service with them. But on 12 July 1918 he signed on with the Royal Air Force. His service number 267675 fits in with June/July intake of civilians.15 It is a tribute to his persistence that he was now trying his hand with the fledgling aerial arm of the military.

The RAF was born out of the difficulties arising from the competing supply needs, including men, of the Army-operated Royal Flying Corps (RFC) and its naval counterpart, the Royal Naval Air Service (RNAS). As a consequence design, technology, tactics and training were not being managed cost-effectively. From 1916, ideas of unification surfaced, with an Air Board being created to attempt to resolve the issues of purchasing and supply.

But the problems continued and increased. Alongside the competition for aeroplanes and aircrew, concerns arose around supplying air support to the Army on the Western Front, dealing with the U-Boat menace at sea and improving the inadequate air defences at home. The latter was initially highlighted by Zeppelin raids. However by late May of 1917 huge German Gotha bomber aircraft began a bombing campaign, particularly targetting London, causing hundreds of deaths.

As an interesting aside to these raids, the accompanying fresh wave of anti-German sentiment engendered by them, with the name of the Gotha aircraft now on lips countrywide, finally prompted the Royal Family name change. George V by royal proclamation on 17 July 1917, announced the dropping of the German Saxe-Coburg and Gotha, to be replaced by the English Windsor.

In the wake of all this General Jan Smuts, a member of the War Cabinet, was tasked to look at air defence and broader air organisation. The South African Boer war opponent of the British, military leader and politician, who after the World War became South Africa’s second Prime Minister, recommended the creation of a united Air Force. On 29 November 1917 an Act of Parliament establishing an Air Force and an Air Council received the Royal Assent. The Royal Air Force came into existence on 1 April 1918.

Recruitment for this new branch of the Armed Forces now began in earnest, desperately required to fuel its rapid manpower expansion. Posters, adverts, newspaper articles and local recruitment rallies appeared appealing to 18-50 year olds, offering attractive pay rates and the promise of no compulsory transfer to the Army or Navy.

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From June 1918 onwards the recruitment tempo increased, as eligibility criteria was correspondingly decreased. The drive also played on the fact that lower grade men would be serving in comparative safety. For example, this from The Midland Daily Telegraph of 6 June 1918:

Opportunity is now offered during the months of June for enlistment in the Royal Air Force of men who are suitable as employment as clerks (in pay offices and stores as shorthand typists), as cooks, as hospital orderlies, as store men and as bat men. The men recruited must be over 35 years of age if in Grade II, or of any age from 18 if in Grade III.

Specially strong men are required as labourers for airship landing parties and for thr Mediterranean Balloon Section. Grade I men over 40, Grade II men over 30 and Grade III men of any age are required. General labourers are also required in Grade II over 30, or Grade III any age.

And, more locally, the pronouncement of the Chairman of an Ormskirk Tribunal was reported in The Yorkshire Evening Post of 10 June 1918. Grade III men were now required for the Air Force because:

…instructions had been received from the Ministry of National Service that owing to the urgent necessity of maintaining all aerial craft, men of all ages and grades were required for the Royal Air Force. Certain branches of this work are being done and must be done by Grade 3 men. Higher grade men were needed for the fighting line.

In the national interest, tribunals must consider the absolute necessity of Grade 3 men for the Air Force.

These pleas obviously appealed to my great grandfather, whose records show his occupation as one of those much in-demand labourers. His RAF attestation papers describe him standing at 5’3½”, with grey eyes, a sallow complexion and dark grey hair. The grey hair is unsurprising. He was no spring chicken. His stated age is 49 and he gives his date of birth as 24 May 1869.16 This, yet again, is a false declaration. But not as wildly out as his 1914 attempts to get in the Army. He had shaved a few months off his age in order to meet the age criteria for enlistment. His papers also show his Grade III category, able to serve at home.

His rank was Private 2nd Class. This RAF rank was changed on 1 January 1919 from Private to Aircraftman to emphasise the difference between Army and RAF wings of the military. He was assigned by the RAF Reserve Depot (Blandford) to No.1 (Observer) School of Aerial Gunnery at Hythe, in Kent, as a batman: in other words a personal servant to a commissioned officer. This fits with the story my dad told me about his grandad being a batman – but according to my dad it was in the Army. My grandma recalls an officer once coming to the house in a car seeking her dad. Was this linked to his RAF days?

His service record goes on to show his character as very good and his degree of proficiency satisfactory. However, on 6 November 1918, days before the Armistice, he was recategorised as Grade E. In other words permenantly unfit for service. He was finally discharged on 22 January 1919.17

His service record also shows that he apparently received a modest pension for his service. This is confirmed by pension records. And on 1 May 1919 he was awarded a Silver War Badge, Number 7162.18

Silver War Badge – Photo by Jane Roberts

The Silver War Badge was instituted in September 1916. British and Empire service personnel honourably discharged due to old age, wounds or sickness received or contracted at home or overseas, received this medal. To qualify, the recipient had to have served for at least seven days between 4 August 1914 and 31 December 1919. Therefore those discharged before the badge’s institution date received the honour retrospectively.

The badge was worn on the right lapel of civilian clothes, an indication of the recipient’s loyal war service. This visible display aimed to put a stop to men discharged as no longer fit, but without any obvious physical injuries, being publicly humiliated, harassed and accused of cowardice and refusal to serve. No one could accuse Patrick of that, given his repeated attempts to serve.

After his spell in the military, Patrick returned to his home at 36 Hume Street. The 1921 Census described him once more as a mason’s labourer, in the employ of Sir Robert McAlpine working on the Batley House Building Scheme. Besides wife Ann, and daughters Nellie and Mary, boarder John Nixon from County Cavan was in the household. In this census Patrick claims to be 54 years and two months old.19

Patrick died as a result of cancer and bronchitis on 20 October 1938 at his home, which was now 3 Hume Street.20 He is buried in Batley cemetery. In keeping with his age confusion, his death certificate states he was 66. The mass card for his death however finally records his correct age – 70.

Although I never met him, from my research I’m immensely proud of my great grandad on a number of levels:

  • His steadfast determination to do his duty despite his age;
  • His refusal to let age hold him back;
  • His never-give-up attitude, in the face of repeated rejection; and
  • His willingness to embrace modernisation and progress, taking a leap into the future by joining the newly created RAF.

1. The National Archives (TNA), WO364 Soldiers; Documents from Pensions Claims, First World War.
2. John according to his birth registration, but James according to the Kilbeagh baptismal register.
3. TNA, WO364 – Ibid.
4. Batley News, 12 February 1904.
5. Marriage Certificate.
6. 1911 Census, TNA Ref RG14/27244/179.
7. Some sources put the number at 137 dead and 592 injured.
8. Yorkshire Evening Post, 16 December 1914.
9. Ibid.
10. Ibid.
11. Leeds Mercury, 17 December 1914.
12. Leeds Mercury, 19 December 1914.
13. TNA, WO364 – Ibid.
14. TNA, WO364 – Ibid.
15. RFC and RAF Service Numbers:
16. Airmen’s Records, TNA Ref AIR 79/2361.
17. Ibid.
18. Ibid.
19. 1921 Census.
20. Death Certificate.

Other Sources not referenced:
• Air Force Records: A Guide for Family Historians – William Spencer.
• Batley Borough Court Records – West Yorkshire Archives.
• Batley Register of Electors – 1918.
• BMD Certificates.
• GRO Indexes.
• Irish Civil Registration.
• Parish Registers, various – England and Ireland.
• Pension ledgers and Card Indexes.
• Short History of the Royal Air Force:
• Silver War Badge, Worcestershire Regiment:
• The Birth of the Royal Air Force – Wing Commander (Retired) Ian Phillpot.
• Tracing Your Air Force Ancestors – Phil Tomaselli.
• Wikipedia Silver War Badge: