Category Archives: KOYLI

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

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“Ley Lines” of the Somme: an amazing Somme 100 experience

Do you believe in fate? Of hidden forces drawing people together? I do after my latest Great War pilgrimage.

I recently went over to Belgium and France and timed the visit to coincide with two of my Hill family death anniversaries. Jesse Hill, who died on 19 September 1915 and is buried at Ypres Reservoir; and Percy Hill who died, according to soldiers’ effects records, at 2/1 South Midland Casualty Clearing Station on 30 September 1916. Percy is buried at Warloy-Baillon Community Cemetery Extension, just to the west of Albert.

Last year when visiting Jesse, on the centenary of his death, I narrowly missed meeting a relative for the first time. Two poppy crosses and the visitors book showed we’d paid our respects at Jesse’s grave within hours of each other. That was coincidence enough, but nothing in comparison to what happened this year.

Two Poppy Crosses by Jane Roberts

Chris (my husband) and I spent a few days in Ypres before driving to Avesnes Le Sec, near Cambrai, to stay with an “old” school friend for the weekend (sorry about the “old” Anne, but it applies to me too). We finished the final leg of our visit on the Somme, initially at the wonderful “No 56” b&b then at the “Royal Picardie” hotel in Albert for the last two nights. The only reason we transferred to Albert was because the b&b only had availability for three nights.

The early evening of 28 September we finished another long day of walking by stopping off at the beautiful Authuile Military Cemetery, in the village of Authuille (note the spelling difference). 

I love this tranquil cemetery with its feeling of peace and calm, and its eye-pleasingly curving layout of headstones sloping down to the river Ancre. An odd thing to say, but it’s probably my favourite cemetery. It is also the final resting place of Pte Willie Barber of the 1/4th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) one of the parishioners at Batley St Mary’s who I spent so much time researching.

Authuile Military Cemetery – by Jane Roberts

As we wandered down to the bottom slopes of the cemetery I noticed another visitor. This was unusual, as it was getting on and the cemetery isn’t one people normally beat a path to the door of. By the time we got to the top she had gone.

I sort of wondered if she was here to see Willie, one of those flights of fancy about impossible coincidences. I’m always a bit over-focussed on the St Mary’s men I researched. But there was nothing in the visitors book to indicate why she’d been there. That was the end of that, or so I thought. A chance to find out lost.

The following day we checked into our Albert hotel. Whilst in town sitting outside a café drinking coffee we saw the lady again. But again never spoke.

And then on 30 September, the anniversary of Percy’s death, we went down to our first breakfast in the hotel and she was there with her mum.  This time we did speak. She was over for the centenary of her great grandfather’s death, that very day. The same day as Percy Hill. 30 September.

We talked a bit more, and amazingly discovered both Percy and her ancestor, Jonathan Pearson, were in the same battalion, 1/4th KOYLI. Both died of wounds and both received their injuries during the same period of duty in the trenches near Ulster Tower in mid-September. She had followed Jonathan’s footsteps for those few final frontline days and was on her way across to Boulogne to his grave on his death anniversary, before returning home to the south of England that evening.

She had photos of Jonathan. I had some of Percy, including group photos with some of his pals. And amazingly on one of these photos was a man who looked remarkably like Jonathan. Same colouring, same features including distinctive nose and cut of hair.

We couldn’t believe it. 100 years to the exact day of their deaths we were in a hotel in Albert staring at a picture of what appears to be both men together. It was is if some unseen force had been pulling us together for the past couple of days, starting at Authuile Military Cemetery where fellow 1/4th KOYLI soldier Willie Barber is buried, finally uniting us on the centenary of their death. An incredible, earth-stopping realisation. And if the b&b had been available for the final two days of my visit I wouldn’t have even been in the Albert hotel. A week later and I still can’t believe it.

We parted promising to pass on Jonathan and Percy’s regards at their respective final resting places, around some 90 miles apart.

And so onto Warloy-Baillon. We stopped at Ulster Tower en route and found the poppy cross Jonathan’s family had laid in the area of the KOYLI trenches of mid September 1916. We saw the Pope’s Nose, the German salient with a decaying relic of a observation post/gun emplacement, which was the focus of their trench raids in that period.

We were at Percy Hill’s grave for 1.15pm, the minute is death is recorded. And there, at around 2pm, we met with David Short and his wife Pauline, the relative I so narrowly missed meeting just over a year ago at Jesse Hill’s grave. And in a final piece of symmetry David is from the north east of England, not Yorkshire, the same area from which Jonathan hailed.

Letters: Life, Love, Death & The Somme

Letter from Lance Corporal Herbert Booth, 9th  Battalion The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry) to his brother James shortly before 1 July 1916 – Published in the “Batley News” 12 August 1916
 “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.”

WW1 Silk Postcard – my own collection

Letter from Lieut R.H. Ibbotson to Ellen Booth, Herbert’s wife – Published in the “Batley News” 12 and 19 August 1916
“I have received your inquiry about your husband, Lce-Corpl Herbert Booth, and am extremely distressed to have to tell you that the news I have to give you is of 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.  I am sorry I did not know your husband personally.  I have only just come to this Company to command it from the transport which I looked after during the attack.  None of the officers in “A” Company who took part in the attack are here now, they were all either killed or wounded.  Anything I can say in a letter to you cannot possibly help you, I am afraid, to bear this terrible blow, but I can honestly say that you have my deepest and absolute sincere sympathy”

Letter from Pte W H Fisher writing from Grovelands Hospital, Old South Gate, London – Published in the “Batley News” 26 August 1916
“Corporal 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 30 yards out when he was hit right through the temple.  I had to leave him and got about another 150 yards when I was wounded.  I spoke to him, but he never spoke”.

Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the “Batley News” 26 August 1916
Booth – Lce-Corpl Herbt. Booth, KOYLI, 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” 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
RIP

From his wife and children, 6, Beck Lane, Carlinghow

Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the “Batley News” 6 July 1918
Booth – In loving remembrance of our dear brother, Lance-Corporal Herbert Booth, 9th Batt. KOYLI 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
Brother 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

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

Lance Corporal Herbert Booth
9th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry).
Born: 15 May 1885
Killed in Action: 1 July 1916
Age: 31
Buried: Gordon Dump Cemetery, Ovillers-La Boisselle
Husband of Ellen and father of James and Hilda

Sources:

  • Batley News – Various Dates
  • CWGC
  • Parish Registers – St John’s, Carlinghow (CofE) and St Mary of the Angels, Batley (RC)

Pro Patria, Pro Rege, Pro Familia: WW1 Centenary Visit

Last weekend I returned to Ypres. A visit I felt compelled to make. 19 September marked the centenary of the death of my great grand uncle, Jesse Hill.[1] So it seemed appropriate to visit his grave in Ypres Reservoir Cemetery.

Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

It was a weekend full of coincidences. And an unforgettable one. The events of 100 years ago still resonate emotionally with many today.

I visited Jesse’s grave on Friday evening, the eve of the anniversary. The headstone is beneath trees and as a result every time I’ve visited it’s rather mud-splattered. Friday was no different. However when I returned first thing on Saturday morning, the anniversary of his death, the headstone had been cleaned!

There was only one other person in the cemetery at 9.30 that morning – and it was someone I know from home! He was visiting the graves of Dewsbury men from 6th Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI), comrades of Jesse, who died at around the same time. So a huge coincidence that we’d both travelled 350 miles and turned up in that cemetery at the exact same time.

Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

Before I left I placed a poppy cross, brought all the way from Batley, on Jesse’s grave.

From Unit War Diary maps, I’d located the area occupied by the 6th KOYLI the morning Jesse died. So on Saturday afternoon I walked around Railway Wood and what was the vicinity of the ‘H’ Sector trenches. Walking the ground brought home the frighteningly close proximity of the British Front Line to the German trenches in a way maps cannot. And it made the concept of “friendly fire” incidents far more understandable.

RE Grave, Railway Wood

RE Grave, Railway Wood

On that walk my husband found two pieces of shrapnel. It’s not unusual, but then again in all my many visits it’s only happened to us on two previous occasions – so it did feel incredible that this find occurred on the 100th anniversary and in that very location.

On Sunday morning I returned to Ypres Reservoir Cemetery. Unbelievably a second poppy cross lay on Jesse’s grave. A look I the visitor register confirmed that another Hill descendent also had the urge to pay an anniversary visit Jesse’s grave.

Jesse Hill's headstone

Jesse Hill’s headstone

Later that morning I attended a Rededication Service at Birr Cross Roads cemetery. Thanks to the patience, perseverance and unstinting efforts of Australian volunteer researchers, three soldiers’ headstones previously carrying the “unknown” epitaph now have identities; and the families of these three Australian soldiers, Pte Huntsman, Pte Eacott and Pte Neilson, now have named graves to visit. It speaks volumes of the emotional pull of the events so long ago that families of all three soldiers travelled halfway across the world to be at the service. It was a privilege to be there too.

Birr Cross Roads Rededication Service

Birr Cross Roads Rededication Service

Other visits that day included Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial. The sheer size of the cemetery even after many visits is difficult to take in with 11,956 First World War servicemen buried or commemorated here, of which in excess of 8,000 are unidentified. The list of almost 35,000 names on the memorial is equally staggering.

Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial

Tyne Cot Cemetery and Memorial

I returned home on Monday. On the way back to Calais I stopped off at the first CWGC site I ever visited: the majestic, lion-flanked Ploegsteert Memorial. Although I’m a Rugby League fan, as it’s the Rugby Union World Cup it seemed appropriate to pop across the road to call by the grave of England Rugby Union captain Ronald Poulton Palmer at Hyde Park Corner (Royal Berks) Cemetery.

Ploegsteert Memorial

Ploegsteert Memorial


Ronald Poulton Palmer's Grave

Ronald Poulton Palmer’s Grave

Final stop was Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. I wanted to visit the graves of three men whose lives I researched and who have connections to my home Parish of Batley St Mary’s: John Collins, Henry Groa(r)k and Patrick Lyons. The cemetery has an excellent visitor centre with information about the soldiers buried there. I’ve supplied information about the St Mary’s men, and there is a webpage if others wish to do the same.[2] There is also a wall containing some of their images. The first one I noticed was remarkably familiar – the photo of Patrick Lyons. It seemed a fitting end to my latest visit to Belgium.

Lijssenthoek Visitor Centre

Lijssenthoek Visitor Centre

[1] See blog post https://t.co/JcKGrZVh7t

[2] http://www.lijssenthoek.be/en/page/160/visitor-centre.html

Pte Jesse Hill, 6th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry): 13 November 1895 to 19 September 1915. Never Forgotten

I’m hoping to travel to Ypres Reservoir Cemetery again soon. I’ve been several times over the past few years. But this will be a particularly poignant visit. It will mark 100 years since the death of my great grandad’s youngest brother Jesse Hill, killed in action in WW1.

Jesse was the son of Joseph Hill and his second wife Mary Ann Simpson. He was born on 13 November 1895 at Rouse Mill Lane, Soothill and grew up in the family’s home on Spurr Street, just across the road from Batley railway station and all the grand cloth selling houses which lined Station Road.

An extremely popular boy, he attended Mill Lane Council School where he was a prominent member of both the school cricket and football team.

After leaving school he joined the finishing department at Messrs Wrigley and Parker’s Greenhill Mills minutes down the road from his home. This was one of the many mills upon which Batley’s fortunes were built upon.

Whilst Jesse was in the early stages of his working life older brother Charlie enlisted in the Army. Jesse therefore had direct contact with a serving soldier and first-hand accounts of military life.

When war was declared on 4 August 1914 the persuasiveness of the recruiting sergeant’s triple-pronged seduction techniques of a general appeal to patriotism, the more specific exhortation of defence of your country and women-folk from the barbaric Germans and the desperate desire to avoid accusations of shirking duty and the accompanying dreaded white feather of cowardice kindled a response in Jesse.

Swept along with a tide of emotion and the fear of missing out on adventure because, after all, it would be over quickly, Jesse was one of those young men who in their thousands gathered in the Dewsbury recruiting office and recruiting offices the length and breadth of the Kingdom to take the King’s Shilling. Jesse even added a year to his age in order to ensure he would be accepted. And with a cursory medical and a few swift pen strokes on 7 August 1914 Jesse was in the Army for the duration, duly assigned to the newly formed 6th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry), (KOYLI).

Pte Jesse Hill, 11598, 6th Bn The King's Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)

Pte Jesse Hill, 11598, 6th Bn The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)

From Pontefract the Battalion moved initially to Woking and then in November 1914 to Witley Camp, Surrey one of the many temporary army training camps flung up in those early months of the war. In February 1915 they moved to Aldershot for their final preparations prior to deployment overseas.

It was whilst at Aldershot and with embarkation for France and the Front Line looming that Jesse wrote his will. He used the standard Army Form designed specifically for the purpose. The harsh reality that he may never return may have struck home by filling in this one basic form. His will, dated 17 March 1915, was witnessed by two Birstall men, Thomas Kelly and John W Learoyd. He named his now married half-sister Nellie Armstrong, daughter of Mary Ann Simpson, as Executor.

The will stated that in the event of his death and following discharge of debts and funeral expenses, everything was to go to his sister Martha, a testimony to the closeness of Jesse and his youngest sister.

On 20 May 1915 an advance party from the Battalion were sent from Aldershot to Southampton in preparation for departure to France. On 21 May 1915 the main body of men split into two groups and, accompanied by music played by the band of the 8th Devon Regiment, marched to the railway station at Aldershot ready for departure to Folkestone. By 11pm that night they arrived in Folkestone where they embarked on a cross channel steamer and, after a calm crossing, arrived in Boulogne in the early hours of 22 May. From there they marched the two miles to Ostrohove Camp where they remained for just one night before moving up the line and into Belgium by the end of the month.

Belgium was the sector which was the focus of sustained fighting at this point of the war. Only a month earlier the first gas attack on the Western Front, perpetrated by the Germans, took place initiating the 2nd Battle of Ypres. 2nd Ypres ended on 25 May pushing the Allies back, compressing the Salient and bringing the Front Line closer to Allied held Ypres. Reinforcements were urgently needed, and it was to this “hot spot” that the 6th KOYLI and Jesse Hill were sent.

This is where they remained for the next few months, undergoing the rotational routine of trench warfare. Typically most men spent five days in the frontline, five in reserve, five back at the frontline and finally five in reserve. However, this was not fixed because, if circumstances demanded it, they could spend anything between four and eight days in the frontline trenches. While some men were in the front fire trenches, others would occupy the support lines, ready to provide reinforcement when hard-pressed in an attack or a raid. Finally the battalion was removed from the frontline trenches and taken to the rear areas, a process known as relief and carried out at the dead of night via the communication trenches. But even when in reserve trenches they were kept busy and still at risk, undertaking sentry duty and providing digging, wiring and ration parties.

This became Jesse’s daily routine in the areas around Ypres, Vlamertinghe, Hooge, Sanctuary Wood areas, frequently negotiating the Menin Road and Hellfire Corner to get from Ypres to the frontline trenches.

During these months he had a couple of narrow escapes. On one occasion he and four others were buried by shell wreckage; on another time a “motor char-a-banc” in which he was travelling overturned and Jesse sustained what were described as comparatively slight injuries.

On the evening of 15 September 1915 it was the 6th KOYLI’s turn to have another spell in the trenches leaving Ypres through the Menin Gate, up the Menin Road and into the frontline. It appears that Jesse was in “A” Company in H16, H17, S17, H16A and H15A trenches.

The Area Around the

The area around the 1915 “H” Sector Trenches, taken on one of my earlier visits to Belgium

It was all fairly standard stuff. During the relief, always a dangerous time, the Battalion lost a Machine Gun Sergeant and four men just after arrival in H14 to a large shell. On the 16 September 1915 the diary notes continuous shelling from their own guns behind the lines, as they were trying an experimental shell. The German reply was not vigorous. All in all the 16 September was a fairly quiet night, with 60 more men coming up from base as the Battalion had been allocated far too much work and were having to carry their own rations. 17 September followed a similar pattern. Shelling increased from both sides on 18 September and six men from “B” Company were killed as a result, but overall once again the night was described as “peaceful comparatively”.

Friday 19 September dawned with heavy bombardment from the Allied guns at 4.50am. These rounds fell short of the German Lines and gradually became shorter and shorter until they were raining rapidly on the British held trenches, mainly around H18 and H19. However, because the telephone was out and the Forward Observation Officer had been killed, the Officer Commanding in the trenches could not report back to the guns. Shells were now hitting H18, H17A, the bombing post at H18A and H19 and casualties sustained – both dead and wounded.

19 September is the day that official records, both CWGC and his Army Death Certificate, state Jesse died. If so, he was killed by this so-called friendly fire.

However, there is a small question mark. On the first anniversary of his death in September 1916 an “In Memoriam” notice appeared in the local newspapers. This indicates that the family believed his death occurred on 20 September.

In Memoriam Notice from

In Memoriam Notice from “The Dewsbury District News” of 30 September 916

The Unit War Diary for 20 September notes that at 4.55am High Explosives from Hill 60 landed at Charing Cross killing six men.

Pte Healey wrote to Jesse’s family and the details appeared in the local papers in mid-October. The newspaper article puts it bluntly as follows: 

“A companion named Private Healey wrote to the relatives a few days ago informing them that Private Hill met his death suddenly, both legs and part of his body being blown off, and an official intimation confirms the sad news”.

So, although official records state Jesse’s death took place on 19 September, it may conceivably have been 20 September.

CWGC records show that after the war Jesse’s body was recovered in June 1919. The trench map reference appears to relate to the Ypres area.  I initially believed he may have been buried in what was known Ypres Reservoir Middle Cemetery, (also called “Prison Cemetery No.2” and “Middle Prison Cemetery”), which was located near the prison and reservoir. It was used in August and September 1915, and rarely afterwards. It contained the graves of 107 soldiers from the United Kingdom, 41 of which were from the 6th KOYLI.  However a further analysis of CWGC records appears to discount this theory. After the War the graves from Middle Prison Cemetery, other small burial grounds around Ypres and graves from the Salient battlefields were brought together in one cemetery, Ypres Reservoir. This is Jesse’s final resting place.

Jesse Hill's Headstone - Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

Jesse Hill’s Headstone – Ypres Reservoir Cemetery

Jesse was awarded the awarded the 1914-15 Star, Victory Medal and British War Medal. He is remembered on the Batley War Memorial and the Soothill Upper War Memorial at St Paul’s, Hanging Heaton.  The UK, Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects show following his death that the Army owed his sister, Martha, as next of kin, £1 13s 3d and a £3 10s war gratuity.  

Jesse Hill Batley War Memorial

Batley War Memorial Inscription – Jesse’s name, along wit the name of his nephew Percy

Sources:

  • Ancestry.co.uk – British Army WWI Medal Rolls Index Cards, 1914-1920 Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects, 1901-1929: http://home.ancestry.co.uk/
  • “Batley News” – 9 October 1915
  • Birth Certificate
  • CWGC: http://www.cwgc.org/
  • Death Certificate
  • “Dewsbury District News” – 16 October 1915 and 30 September 1916
  • FindMyPast – Census information, Soldiers Died in the Great War: http://www.cwgc.org/
  • Gov.UK Website – Find a Soldier’s Will: https://www.gov.uk/probate-search
  • The National Archives – Unit War Diary, 43 Infantry Brigade: 6 Battalion King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. WO 95/1906/1: http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/
  • “War Register and Records of War Service 1914-1920 Urban District of Soothill Upper” – Rev W E Cleworth MA
  • Photos of Jesse Hill, “H” sector trenches, headstone and Batley War  Memorial inscription – my own

Copyright

© Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy, 2015. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Jane Roberts and PastToPresentGenealogy with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.