Sunday, 31 August 2014

King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment - 31st August 1914

Remembering the four men of the King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment who died one hundred years ago today on the 31st August 1914.

Captain Henry Clutterbuck, 1st Battalion
A veteran of the Boer War, Henry Clutterbuck was the son of James Jacques Clutterbuck and the husband of Cora Gwendoline Clutterbuck. He is buried in the Haucourt Communal Cemetery. A detailed biography appears in De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour from where the portrait on this blog is taken.

7893 Private John William D'arcy Rigg, 1st Battalion
Aged 27, the husband of Mrs M Rigg of 8 Albany Street, West Gorton, Manchester. Buried at Argentan Communal Cemtery. His regimental number indicates that he originally joined the battalion in late October or early November 1903 and this being the case, he would have been on the reserve when war was declared.

Lieutenant Cyril Steele Steele-Perkins, 1st Battalion
Aged 27, the son of George C. Steele-Perkins, MD, and Alice E. Steele Perkins (nee Chapman) of 6 Weymouth Street, Portland Place, London. Educated at St. Paul's School, University of London, and Sandhurst. A detailed biography appears on De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour (below).

1988 Lance-Corporal Thomas Ward, 4th Battalion
Aged 28, the son of William and Sarah Ward, of Winderwath, Temple-Sowerby, Penrith, Cumberland. Died at home and buried in Cliburn (St Cuthbert) Cemetery, His regimental number indicates that he originally joined the battalion in May 1913.

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Holy Trinity Church, Long Melford

I visited Long Melford in Suffolk this afternoon and after a trip to Melford Hall, continued to Holy Trinity Church. Walking around the somewhat overgrown graveyard I spotted a number of Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) headstones from the First World War and photographed them. What follows is a very brief toe-in the water research on the men who are buried there.

241209 Private Fred Charles Middleditch, Suffolk Regiment; died 18th August 1919. CWGC notes 1/5th Battalion. Next of kin: mother, Mrs H Middleditch of Hall Street, Long Melford. Medal index card gives Fred H Middleditch and an earlier number: 3718. Fred served overseas, arriving there on or after 1st January 1916. His numbers indicate that he enlisted around November 1915. No service record appears to survive. Census records show that Fred was born in 1891 (he was three months old when the 1891 census was taken) and must therefore have been 28 years old at the time of his death in Long Melford.

27387 Private George Henry Sansum, Royal Fusiliers; died of wounds 9th February 1918 aged 24. CWGC notes next of kin: father, H Sansum of The Green, Long Melford. CWGC also notes that he served as SARNSUM. Medal index card gives GS/27387 George H Sarnsum. George served overseas, arriving there on 24th July1916 and returning to England as a result of wounds on 2nd March 1917. No service record appears to survive. Sansum and Sarnsum appear to be well-known Suffolk names.

2263 Private Bert Duce, 5th Suffolk Regiment; died 3rd September 1916 aged 28. Enlisted early September 1914. Medal index card notes arrived Gallipoli 10th August 1915. Card also notes discharged and 1914/15 Star medal roll confirms discharged 18th May 1916, presumably as a result of wounds or sickness. No service record appears to survive. CWGC does not give next of kin but notes residence as Smaley Meadow, Long Melford.

180137 Sapper H Parmenter, Royal Engineers; died 21st August 1917 aged 31. Could find no medal index card which suggest that this man did not serve overseas. No service record appears to survive. CWGC gives next of kin as wife, M Parmenter of St Catherine's Road, Long Melford.

I have no explanation (unless there is a family connection) for why the two men, who died a year apart, are buried in a single grave.

240830 L Codling, 5th Suffolk Regiment; died 9th July 1919 aged 22. Medal index card gives 2989 and 240830. Could find no service record for this man although number indicates that he joined the regiment around 10th January 1915. Arrived overseas on or after 1st January 1916. CWGC indicates he was born in Long Melford, the son of Edward Walter and Beatrice Elizabeth Codling of The Laurels, St Catherine's Road, Long Melford.
229485 Private Frederick Martin, 1st London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers); died 10th July 1918 aged 21. Resident of Poslingford, enlisted Sudbury. Died at Home. Medal index card also gives 290195 Cambridgeshire Regiment. Arrived overseas on or after 1st January 1916. Son of George Martin of 6 Windmill Hill, Long Melford.

G/80938 Private James Ford, 1st London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) died 7th June 1919 aged 38. Medal index card shows entitlement only to silver war badge. Enlisted 28th December 1916, discharged due to sickness on 2nd September 1918. Did not serve overseas. CWGC gives next of kin as wife, F Ford of Bull Tap, Long Melford. Fanny Ford, is also interred in this spot. She died two years later on 23rd May 1921.
The war poet, Edmund Blunden, is also buried in this churchyard but I did not locate his grave.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The East Surreys at Mons, 23rd August 1914

I wrote the following piece some years back when I was researching men who had a connection with Chailey in East Sussex. Charles Sabourin, a favourite of mine over the years, was a regular soldier with the East Surrey Regiment. This is his story, 100 years to the day after he was wounded at Mons.

Opening Shots

Charles Sabourin, old sweat, accomplished rifleman and Private in His Majesty’s 1st East Surrey Regiment, the old 31st (Huntingdonshire) Regiment of Foot, crouched low on the North bank of the Mons-Conde canal. It was August 23rd 1914 and only eight days since the battalion had arrived in France from Dublin.  Already though, if Sabourin and his companions never had to see another pave road in their lives, it would not be a day too soon.  The long, straight cobbled avenues of Northern France and Belgium, coupled with new boots for some of the men, had wreaked havoc on their feet.  Now, to make matters worse, sprawled amongst the slag heaps of unlovely Mons on a hot Sunday afternoon, they were waiting for the might of the Kaiser’s armies to fall upon them.

C Squadron of the 4th Royal Irish Dragoon Guards had fired the first shots of the war the previous day.  An hour later, patrolling along the Mons - Soignies road, they had encountered a party of horsemen from the German 9th Cavalry Division and given chase.   At close quarters, the Dragoons’ swords had proven to be more than a match for the Cuirassiers’ unwieldy lances and C Squadron had come out clear victors; not a single casualty and prisoners to boot. 

An encouraging start for the British Expeditionary Force it may have been but it was of little consequence to a hungry Sabourin and the men of the 1st East Surreys.  Whilst the Dragoons and other cavalry contingents were engaging in minor skirmishes on the 22nd, the battalion was sore-footedly marching towards Mons along Belgium’s unforgiving roads.  It had already suffered its first casualty four days earlier.  Despite the rescue efforts of two men who were almost over-powered themselves, and the Medical Officer who rendered First Aid at the scene, 8108 Private A Walters had ignominiously drowned during a platoon bathing parade before the East Surreys had even seen their first German.  Now though, it would be a different matter.  That they would soon be in the thick of the fighting was inevitable.  For even as the men of the 3rd and 5th Divisions of the BEF’s II Corps marched to take up positions around Mons, the massed ranks of Von Kluck’s First Army and Bulow’s Second Army were sweeping down through Belgium towards them.

Arriving along the canal at around three in the afternoon, the East Surrey’s had immediately begun strengthening their positions.  The canteens were still somewhere to the rear and as they were without supplies, the order was given for the men to eat half of their iron rations.  It was a welcome command.

The BEF at Mons

Along the length of the South side of the canal, from Conde to Mons and forming a small salient facing Nimy and Obourg, the East Surreys and the rest of the soldiers of II Corps, BEF were holding a line twenty-one miles long and bisected by eighteen road and rail bridges.  Situated on the extreme right of 14th Brigade’s two and a half mile frontage between the railway bridge of Les Herbieres and the Pommereoeul road bridge, the East Surreys held the railway bridge itself.  Sabourin and the men of C Company had been pushed forward to make up an advanced party on the north of the canal and they were now busy building barricades.  To their right, a company from the 2nd Kings Own Scottish Borderers of 13th Brigade were doing the same.  All along the line, wherever a bridge afforded the opportunity to fashion a defensive outpost - and still provide a means of retreat - pockets of infantrymen scraped together as much shelter as the slag heaps and waterways of the bleak Belgian landscape would allow.  The work continued through the night.

To the east, desperately trying to stay in touch with the extreme left of the French General Lanrezac’s Fifth Army, I Corps BEF commanded by General Haig also prepared for battle. 

The following morning at 5:30am, General Sir John French, Commander-in-Chief of the British Expeditionary Force called a conference with his Generals and issued orders for the outpost line to be strengthened and for the bridges over the canal to be prepared for demolition.  In fact, Lieutenant General Sir Hubert Smith-Dorrien, commanding II Corps, had already issued an order to that effect some three hours earlier.  Later he would issue an order directing them to be destroyed if retirement became necessary but for the time being, apart from sinking all the barges in the canal with gun-cotton charges, all his men could do was improve what entrenchments they had managed to construct, and wait for the attack which was expected the following morning. 

By 9am, well to the east of Sabourin’s position by the bridge at Les Herbieres, the first German shells began bursting along the extreme right of the line held by the 4th Middlesex and 4th Royal Fusiliers. And as the southward wheel of Von Kluck’s Army progressed westward along the canal during the course of the morning and early afternoon, what faced the BEF were not the two enemy corps and a cavalry division that General French had intimated to his generals earlier that morning, but two entire German Armies.

And yet, as vastly outnumbered as the British were, Von Kluck had little idea of either the composition or the strength of the force opposing him.  Despite the encounter with the Dragoon Guards the previous day and despite the fact that a British aeroplane had been shot down coming from Maubeuge, south of Mons, Von Kluck was convinced that the BEF had landed at Ostend, Dunkirk and Calais.  So convinced was he that the British force would arrive on his flank rather than already be in position ahead of him, that a sighting of troops detraining at Tournai to the west caused him to halt his march southwards for two hours.  In fact, the soldiers were not British but French, yet even when it was clear that there were enemy soldiers in and around Mons, Von Kluck believed that they might be “only cavalry” and deployed only two of the six infantry divisions at his disposal.   He was soon to be dispelled of his notion.  Vastly outnumbered by the eight German battalions advancing towards them, the four companies of the 4th Middlesex and further to the west, the 4th Royal Fusiliers, greeted the approaching formations with concentrated rifle and machine-gun fire that cut swathes through the massed ranks of field grey.

Meanwhile Charles Sabourin and the 1st East Surreys were still strengthening their defences.  In fact it was not until around 1pm that the German advance, still panning out westwards along the canal and meeting stiff resistance from the British troops at every turn, approached the East Surrey’s positions.  At this point, the battalion war diary notes, “all work had to cease.”

The soldiers of the German 6th Division signalled their arrival at Les Herbieres by opening up with a machine gun about a mile and a half from the barricade put up by the East Surreys.  Though the Official History states that this was ‘instantly silenced’ by one of the East Surrey’s machine guns, a deadly game of cat and mouse then commenced with the German artillery directing its fire at the houses round the railway bridge in an attempt to find it.  This they followed up with shrapnel and machine gun fire directed against the East Surrey’s defences before launching an attack with two battalions at around 1:30pm.  “At this point,” The Official History reports, “the Germans were decisively repulsed with heavy loss, at the cost of trifling casualties to the East Surrey.” They fought on for the rest of the day and it was not until 6pm when German guns finally destroyed the barricade on the Les Herbieres road bridge that the advanced parties of the 2nd Kings Own Scottish Borderers and the 1st East Surreys withdrew south of the canal. 

Wounded and captured at Mons
One of those "trifling casualties" was Charles Sabourin. A South Londoner brought up amidst the dockyards of Bermondsey, he had joined the army in 1900 and soldiered half way around the world.  While Kitchener was appealing for volunteers, Sabourin was sailing from Ireland for Havre.  While the lines outside recruiting stations grew long, he was already shouldering his pack in France and when the might of the German armies had fallen upon the little Belgian village of Mons, Sabourin was lined up on the canal firing his rifle at the ranks of Field Grey coming towards him as fast as he could.

By the time The East Surreys had retreated to Brigade Headquarters at Thulin and then marched south to Bois de Boissu where it bivouacked at 2am in a factory yard, total officer casualties for the action were listed as two wounded and three missing whilst other ranks numbered two killed, three wounded and 128 missing. 

Sabourin was wounded and missing and noted by name in the Battalion War Diary.  The shrapnel that finished his war either blew off his right leg at the time or wounded him so severely that amputation of his leg in a Belgian or German hospital became inevitable.  It would be a further five months however, before he would be repatriated to England.  Limbless prisoners of war were of no use to their captors.  Fit men you could put to work in the fields or factories but sick men were simply a burden.  If they couldn’t fight again, better to send them back to where they’d come from.

Where is Charles Sabourin?

Back in London though, all Charles Sabourin’s relatives had wanted was news and they were frantic with worry.  Soon after the action at Mons in which he was wounded and captured, the letters from them started coming.  “… since 11th or 12th August I have not heard anything of him.  I am unable to get to the office to make enquiries so would be very grateful to you if you could let me know something.  Yours…” 

News had been conveyed to the family that he was missing but then there had been nothing.  On 6th October the war office received an anxious communication requesting that they advise, “… anything more about him at any time, his mother’s address is Mrs Sabourin, 26 Lacey Road, St James Road, Bermondsey”  Dutifully the clerk filed the letter.  The following month there was another.  “Dear Sir, I am very sorry to trouble you,” it began, “but have you heard any more information of Pte C Sabourin 6738 of The East Surrey Reg.  It is now two months or so since I heard anything…” 

There wasn’t anything more to report but that hadn’t stopped the correspondence.  In January 1915 there was a further enquiry.  “I am very sorry to trouble you again,” it began, “but have you heard any more of Private C Sabourin No 6738 of The East Surrey Regt.  I came down a month or two before Xmas but I have heard no news about him…”

With customary efficiency, the letter was stamped at No 10 District Infantry Record Office and filed for future reference.  There was nothing more they could do.  Within the month however, Pte Sabourin would be repatriated and the letters would stop.  On December 10th, the British Government had proposed, through the United States Government, to the German Government, that arrangements should be made for an exchange of British and German officers and men who had been taken prisoner and who were physically incapacitated for further military service.  The German Government had accepted this proposal on 31st December and the wheels were set in motion.  Charles Sabourin, his name mis-spelled as “Sabairin” In The Times report that covered the event, was one of two East Surrey men who arrived at Charing Cross Station on Wednesday 17th February 1915, before being whisked away by ambulance to Queen Alexandra’s Military Hospital in Grosvenor Road.

Hickwells Convalescent Home, Chailey

After the trauma of his injury and almost six months in captivity, what he needed most of all was a period of convalescence and here, in the tranquillity of Chailey, a world away both from the battlefield and Bermondsey, he  found it.

Nurse Oliver approached him in his chair, his right trouser leg sewn high at the hip.  She had begun her album earnestly enough, proudly drawing two British Red Cross Society badges on the opening page and adding to them with a photograph of Margaret Cotesworth, Commandant of the Detachment.  The other members of Sussex/54 had signed their names around the borders and there were further photos of the Detachment in action during the local Red Cross Field Day in 1913.  Here they were unpacking their equipment.  Here was another of them building a camp fire; another one of them cooking and putting up the dairy. Friends had added their own contributions and there was the pretty postcard of the clock tower at Hastings which she had bought on a visit to the seaside town some years earlier.  When the first arrivals had been brought to Hickwells she had taken some photos of them and pasted them onto a blank page.  Now it was time to ask those same men if they would like to add a few words.

Charles Sabourin took the album that was offered to him and began to write:

Pte C Sabourin. 1st East Surrey Regt.
Wounded and captured at Mons. 
I would like to meet the German who fired that shrapnel. I would certainly treat him. Returned 17/2/15. Prisoner of W.

Charles Sabourin drew a line under his entry and handed the album back to Nurse Oliver.

Today, on the 100th anniversary of the Battle of Mons, I remember and offer grateful thanks to Charles Sabourin and the men of the BEF.
Map reproduced from David Ascoili's The Mons Star.

Friday, 22 August 2014

British Casualties - 22nd August 1914

The following twelve men all died on the 22nd August 1914, the day before the British Army met the German Army head on at Mons. Today, one hundred years ago, really was the calm before the storm.

Remembering today, one hundred years on:

T/19561 Driver Charles Barnecutt, Army Service Corps (died at Home)
Lieutenant Charles George Gordon Bayly, Royal Flying Corps
9495 Lance-Corporal Walter Barraclough, Northumberland Fusiliers (died, France & Flanders)
7531 Private Lionel Alfred Beare, Dorsetshire Regiment (killed in action, France & Flanders)
4494 Lance-Corporal Thomas Dunn, 2nd Dragoons (killed in action, France & Flanders)
6910 Pte Lawrence Gallagher, 2nd Royal Irish Regiment (killed in action, France & Flanders)
10691 Pte Stephen Kennedy, 2nd Connaught Rangers (died of wounds, France & Flanders)
2549 Corporal Thomas George Neighbour, 1st Life Guards (killed in action, France & Flanders)
1442 Pte Austin Noland, 4th King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (died at Home)
6271 Pte William Porter, 1st Norfolk Regiment (died, France & Flanders)
Lieutenant George Masterman Thompson, Royal Scots (killed in action, Togoland)
Vincent Waterfall (killed in action, France & Flanders)

Private Austin Noland died when he was hit by a train while guarding Newark's tubular bridge. He lived long enough to explain that he and his sergeant had not heard the train approaching because of the rattling of a goods train going in the opposite direction. An account of this incident is reproduced on Trevor Frecknall's Great War Bulletin website.

Private William Porter was a Norfolk man living in Chelmsford, Essex. His house in Arbour Lane, Springfield is only a stone's throw from where I'm typing this and as well as being the first Norfolk Regiment casualty, he was also the first Chelmsford casualty. His death though, is still something of a mystery. He was posted missing on 22nd August 1914 and not officially reported as killed in action until 1916. He is remembered on the Excellent Chelmsford War Memorial website from where I have borrowed the image that illustrates this post.

I mentioned Vincent Waterfall the other day in my post about Lieutenant Charles George Gordon Bayly. Both men were killed instantly when their plane was shot down on 22nd August 1914, although Bayly's death is given incorrectly by Soldiers Died in The Great War as 20th August.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

Wednesday, 20 August 2014

Lt Charles George Gordon Bayly, Royal Flying Corps

Lieutenant Charles George Gordon Bayly of the Royal Flying Corps was killed in action on the 22nd August 1914. Soldiers Died in The Great War accords him two entries, one as a Lieutenant with the RFC and one as a Lieutenant with the Royal Engineers, attached to the RFC. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission adds to the confusion, stating his regiment as 5th Squadron RFC and 56th Field Company, Royal Engineers, but adds, "Son of Brackenbury Bayly, M.I.E.E. (Woolwich) and Beatrice Mary Jessie Bayly, of Falmouth, Cornwall. (One of the first Royal Flying Corps battle casualties of the war)."

Charles was 23 when he died and is buried in the Tournai Communal Cemetery Allied Extension. There is much useful discussion on the Great War Forum regarding this officer casualty and you can read it by following the link below. Bayly was an Observer in an Avro 390 piloted by 2nd Liutenant Vincent Waterfall when the plane was spotted by a German column and shot down at low altitude. Waterfall was also killed.

The image of Lt Bayly on this post is borrowed from the discussion on the Great War Forum.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, We Will Remember Them.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

1685 Pte Samuel Coope, 5th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment

1685 Private Samuel Coope of the 5th Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment died 100 years ago today on the 19th August 1914. Soldiers Died in The Great War records his battalion as the 1/5th Loyal North Lancs. This is incorrect as by this stage of the war there was only the 5th Battalion. It would not be until October 1914 that a second line battalion would be formed, at which point the original 5th battalion became the 1/5th.

Samuel enlisted at Farnworth, Lancashire in May 1913 and died in the UK, presumably as a result of sickness or perhaps an accident. He was 23 years old and is buried in the churchyard extension of St John the Baptist church in Chipping Sodbury.  The excellent Commonwealth War Graves Commission website now contains grave registration reports and grave registers and in Samuel's case, the former notes his next of kin as William Coope of 11 Greek Street, Farnworth.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.

Photo of St John the Baptist Church borrowed from Simon Gerhand's gallery.

Monday, 4 August 2014

7297 Pte Joseph Viles, Somerset Light Infantry

On this, the 100th anniversary of Britain's declaration of war against Germany, I commemorate here, 7297 Private Joseph Viles of the Somerset Light Infantry who died at home on the 4th August 1914. He was 27 years old, the son of Joseph and Sarah Viles, and he is buried in Bath (St James's) Cemetery.

Joseph was born in Bath and enlisted in Bath around May 1904. Soldiers Died in The Great War gives his unit as "Depot" whereas CWGC gives "1st Battalion".  The 1st Battalion was stationed in Colchester in August 1914 and would embark for France later that month, arriving at Havre on the 22nd. Joseph died in a road traffic accident when he was knocked off his bicycle. His brother Charles would also lose his life in the war. He too served with the 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry and he died on the 20th April 1918.

So although not a casualty as a result of enemy action, Joseph Viles bears the unhappy distinction of being the first British soldier to die after Britain went to war; the first of very, very many.

At the going down of the sun, and in the morning

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