Tuesday, 30 June 2015

30th June 1916 - The South Down Battalions at The Boar's Head

A day before the British Army suffered its worst ever casualties, my thoughts always turn to the men of the South Down Battalions (the 11th, 12th and 13th Battalions, Royal Sussex Regiment) and their disastrous diversionary attack on the Boar's Head fortifications at Richebourg.

Edmund Blunden (pictured), an officer with the 11th Battalion, held back in reserve, sums up the debacle with a few well-chosen words:

"So the attack on the Boar's Head closed, and so closed the admirable youth or maturity of many a Sussex worthy.

"Even now, we apprehended that a fresh forlorn hope might be demanded of the Brigade. What the Brigade felt was summed up by some sentry who, asked by the general next morning what he thought of the attack, answered in the roundest fashion, "Like a butcher's shop." Our own trenches had been knocked silly, and all the area of the attack had been turned into an Aceldama. Every prominent point behind, Factory Trench, Chocolate Menier Corner and so on, was now unkindly ploughed up with heavy shells. Road and tracks, hitherto securely pastoral, were blocked and exposed. The communique that morning, when in the far and as yet strange-seeming South a holocaust was roaring, like our own experience extended for mile upon mile, referred to the Boar's Head massacre somehow thus; "East of Richebourg a strong raiding party penetrated the enemy's third line". Perhaps, too, it claimed prisoners; for we were told that three Germans had found their way "to the Divisional Cage"".

Edmund Blunden continues:

"Our affair had been a catspaw, a "holding attack" to keep German guns and troops away from the great gamble of the Somme. This purpose, previously concealed from us with success, was unachieved, for just as our main artillery pulled out and marched southward after the battle, so did the German; and only a battalion or two of reserve infantry was needed opposite us to secure a harmless little salient."

Today, 99 years after those catastrophic events, a day still recognised as "The Day that Sussex Died", I remember the men of the South Down battalions.

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

Sunday, 14 June 2015

14th June 1915 - 20597 Gnr William Ellis, RFA

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records that 179 men died one hundred years ago today on the 14th June 1915. The majority of these men died in Belgium (49) and France (59), with Gallipoli accounting for a further 24 men. The rest of the men died in the UK (23) (either as a result of wounds sustained in action, or due to sickness or accident) and in other overseas' territories.

One man, 20597 Gunner William Ellis of the Royal Field Artillery, died in Germany and is buried at Niederzwheren Cemetery in Kassel. The CWGC website notes, "The cemetery was begun by the Germans in 1915 for the burial of prisoners of war who died at the local camp. During the war almost 3,000 Allied soldiers and civilians, including French, Russian and Commonwealth, were buried there."

William Ellis was a regular soldier who had arrived overseas with 8 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery on the 19th August 1914. He does not appear on my database of men captured in 1914 and neither is it indicated on his medal index card (above) that he was a PoW. He was born in Orford, Suffolk, and enlisted at Framlingham, Suffolk. The CWGC notes that he was serving with 37 Battery when he died, whilst the International Red Cross PoW records reveal that he was 29 years old when he died, which means he must have been born in about 1886.
I believe William was unmarried. His entry in the Soldiers' Effects register notes that it was his father, Joseph, who received the money owing to him (over £21) in November 1915, as well as a further gratuity of £5 in November 1919.
At the going down of the sun, and in the morning, WE WILL REMEMBER THEM.
Photo of Niederzwheren Cemetery courtesy of the North Irish Horse website.

Friday, 5 June 2015

253 Sgt Charles Kenneth Valentine 1/6th Manchester Regiment

403 British Army officers and men lost their lives on this day, one hundred years ago.

5th June 1915. An unspectacular day for many and yet of those 403 names, 203 are recorded on the Helles Memorial on Gallipoli; many of these, men from the Manchester Regiment who lost their lives in an attack on Turkish positions. At a stroke then, we can see that more than half of those who died or who were killed on this day, have no known grave.

253 Sergeant Charles Kenneth Valentine of the 1/6th Manchester Regiment is one of those 203 names. Soldiers Died in The Great war notes that he was born in Moss Side and enlisted at Manchester whilst the entry in the soldiers' effects register records his sister Annie as his sole legatee. She received seven pounds, one shilling and two pence and later a gratuity of five pounds.

Charles was born in 1883 in Manchester.  His birth was registered at Chorlton, Lancashire in the second quarter of that year. The last census on which he would appear was the 1911 census and this shows him living with five siblings at 5 The Polygon, Lower Broughton, Manchester. Charles is recorded as a trained and certificated 27-year-old elementary school teacher for Manchester City Corporation while his 42-year-old brother, William Hunt Valentine, also a certificated teacher, is noted as the head of the household. Other siblings noted are Annie Carrington Valentine, Elizabeth Thompson Valentine, Gertrude Louise Valentine, and George Hamilton Valentine. William Taylforth, a 28-year-old elementary school teacher and boarder brings the total household count up to seven.

Going back to the 1891 census, the first census that Charles appeared on, we see him living with his parents: 47-year-old George (an accountant) and his 48-year-old wife, Letitia J Valentine. There are ten children noted, in age order: Annie (23), William (21), Mary Alice (20), Elizabeth (18), Thomas (18), Gertrude (16), Margaret (12), George Hamilton Wardlow (9), Percy W (9) and Charles Kenneth (9). The striking thing about these siblings is their ages: two aged 18 and three aged 9.  Percy Wardlow Valentine though, was actually born in 1881 as was his brother George.

Charles's medal index card notes incorrectly that he died in July 1915. There are no surviving papers for this man but his regimental number certainly marks him out as an original member of this battalion, a man who would have joined in April 1908 and who almost certainly had seen service in the Volunteer Force prior to this. His date of arrival overseas is the date that the 5th and 6th Battalions of the Manchester Regiment landed on Gallipoli.

Going by the date of his birth registration, Charles would have been 32-years-old when he was killed at Gallipoli.

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

Naval & Military Press