Category Archives: WW1

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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Request for Help: WW1 Headstone and Memorial Photos

An unusual posting from me, but this is a plea for help with taking photographs of WW1 headstones and memorials. I hope to include these in a book due to be published next year. Full photographic credit will be given.

They are located in the UK, France, Italy and Gallipoli and are as follows:

France

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Elsewhere

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UPDATE: 

Theodore Marshall’s photo has been taken – thanks Andrew

If anyone can help, my email address is pasttopresentgenealogy@btinternet.com

 

 

Lost in France (Or Belgium)? Not Me, Thanks to a Friendly LinesMan. 

I’m back from my latest visit to the Somme and Ypres area. In 11 days I notched up in excess of 100 miles walking the battlefields. And, thanks to a fantastic piece of kit which I used for the first time this visit, I reckon on this trip few of those miles were as a result of getting lost and retracing steps. 

Let me introduce my new guide: it’s called a LinesMan. WW1 Trench Maps put together in one handy package by Great War Digital.

This miracle-worker actually belongs to my husband. It was his Christmas present. But due to surgery a few weeks ago, he wasn’t up to miles of walking. I was. Hence I laid claim to it – and I’m now loath to let it go.  

On Sunken Lane with my LinesMan2Go – Photo by Chris Roberts

I love walking the battlefields. In my opinion it’s the only way to get an appreciation of the distances and lie of the land facing those involved in the Great War. Normally I’m armed with walking guidebooks: Paul Reed’s ‘Walking the Somme’ and his old edition of ‘Walking the Salient‘; plus ‘A Visitor’s Guide: The First Day of the Somme: Gommecourt to Maricourt‘, and Battle Lines Ypres: Nieuwpoort to Ploegsteert‘ by Jon Cooksey and Jerry Murland. Brilliant though they are, occasionally the instructions are too ambiguous for me, which leads me up the battlefield equivalent of the garden path – the mis-communication trench.

For example, instructions such as “Continue through the woods…Approximately halfway along you will notice a track running off to your left at right angles. This was the junctionof Bunhill Row with the Strand” could be problematical if the route is unfamiliar. How can I be expected to know what is halfway on a path I’ve never trodden? Cue my LinesMan maps. I have the LinesMan2Go version, which is a Samsung Galaxy tablet preloaded with over original 800 geo-referenced digital images of British 1:10,000 scale trench maps of the Western Front in Belgium and France. The GPS shows exactly where I am via a red onscreen tracker circle, and the map pinpoints where the Bunhill Row/Strand junction is.  I can see exactly where I am in relation to the junction, a real navigation aid. 

An illustration of this is the photo below on the Butte de Warlencourt walk from Paul Reed’s 2nd edition of ‘Walking the Somme‘. Proof I made it.

LinesMan in Action on Butte de Warlencourt walk – Photo by Jane Roberts

On other occasions its beauty is in its ability to confirm you have taken the correct overgrown track and are heading in the right direction – a welcome reassurance when you’ve been walking for ages in what seems like the middle of nowhere!

The option to track my route via the LinesMan, in conjunction with the guide book, gives an even greater understanding of the terrain. The maps cover different dates, so one area has several maps enabling you to see any changes over time as well as linking to modern times. The LinesMan is therefore a perfect partner to the books. No need now to take multiple bulky trench maps on my visits, and even worse find I’ve left the relevant one at home.

More than that though, the LinesMan is invaluable from a family history point of view. It has enabled me to track the final days of my ancestor Jesse Hill. He served with the 6th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI) and was killed in action on 19 September 1915, near Ypres. The Unit War Diary includes a map of ‘H‘ Sector dated 27 July 1915, and it is in trenches in this Sector the battalion were based at the time of Jesse’s death. 

‘H’ Sector trenches, 26 July 1915 – 6th KOYLI Unit War Diary

Comparing this Unit War Diary map with the Bellewaarde Ridge & Hooge walk in Cooksey & Murland, then tracking my route via my LinesMan maps enabled me to confirm earlier research, and pinpoint with confidence the area in which he died. 

Snapshot from Linesman Map 10-28 Part 5-160416 Hooge Showing Railway Wood Area

Walking the actual trench locations wasn’t possible – a field full of turnips put paid to that  (at least that’s what they looked to be given my pathetic agricultural skills, *ancestors spinning in their graves*). But it was enough for me just to know I’d definitely nailed it. It also confirmed the fact that my previous visits, without aid of the LinesMan2Go, had put me in roughly the right area.  It’s good to have that final piece of confirmation though.

‘H’ Sector area, 20 September 2017 – Photo by Jane Roberts

But it also has other uses. Map references, for example those CWGC ones indicating where bodies were found prior to being brought into concentration cemeteries, take on a new relevance with my LinesMan. I also liked the facility to map routes out as I walked them, so I could review my footsteps at the end of my walk. And flicking through the range of maps for a particular location across different dates show the changes (or not) which took place during the course of the war.

I do need to get more practice using my LinesMan (yes, I’ve claimed it) in order to familiarise myself with all its features and get the best out of it. Initial issues for me, which more practice should resolve include improving my speed in manipulating the various maps; I also found it extremely touch sensitive, so found myself inadvertently flicking maps – but again more use should remedy this. More problematical issues, which are beyond my control, relate to weather: too sunny and screen glare becomes an issue; too wet, and at times rain proved torrential, is even worse – I didn’t dare use my precious tablet.

As I mentioned I (sorry, Chris) have the LinesMan2Go version: a tablet with all the maps pre-loaded. That’s because I was a tad worried at my ability to transfer the maps to iPhone, iPad or Android device. For me the primary reason for the kit was to enhance my battlefield visits. But I would like to view the maps on my computer, beyond what is available via the National Library of Scotland maps. So for that reason perhaps I should have been braver and trusted my technological skills.

For more details about the Great War Digital’s LinesMan products, including how to purchase them, click here

Finally, my review of this product is totally independent. I used the LinesMan2Go for the first time this visit, and was so impressed by it I wanted to share my experience.

Will Some Kind Hand in a Foreign Land Place a Flower on my Son’s Grave

Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery – Photo by Jane Roberts

I’m back from my latest visit to the Western Front. Yet again I’m left with a sense of awe at the immaculate cemeteries and memorials to the missing. For this, all tribute to the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), who organise the maintenance of the final resting places of our war dead and memorials to those with no known grave, ‘in perpetuity’. They, and by extension those working on their behalf around the world, do a wonderful job: one which we often take for granted.

Thiepval Memorial and Anglo-French Cemetery – Photos by Jane Roberts

Established by Royal Charter on 21 May 1917 as the Imperial War Graves Commission, it updated its name in the 1960s replacing ‘Imperial‘ with ‘Commonwealth‘. With almost 1.7 million Commonwealth war dead commemorated across 23,000 locations in 154 countries on land often granted in perpetual use, its task is to:

  • make fit provision in perpetuity for the graves and memorials; and
  • maintain the records of the dead.

One of its fundamental principles is that the headstones and memorials should be permenant. However, over the years, a number of individual graves and sites have been declared unmaintainable and consequently abandoned. This could be due to their physical setting, or a change in the political situation of the country in which they were located. In these cases the CWGC discharge their responsibility by providing an alternative commemoration elsewhere. 

The cost of supporting the work of the CWGC is shared by member governments, in proportion to the number of their graves. In 2015/16 the member governments contributed £60.9 million (up from £50.9 million the year before). Their respective percentage proportions are:

  • United Kingdom – 78.43%
  • Canada – 10.9%
  • Australia – 6.05%
  • New Zealand – 2.14%
  • South Africa – 2.09%
  • India – 1.2%

Money also comes from agency funds used for the care of military graves from other periods and memorials, and grant income. Taking this into account, the total CWGC income for 2015/16 was £60.9 million, up from £59.9 million in 2014/15. In addition, in 2015/16, the Chancellor awarded a one-off award of £2 million to renovate and tend approximately 6,000 non world war graves predominantly in the UK. 

An interesting, and possibly overlooked, fact are the numbers of World War 1 and 2 Commonwealth dead whose burials are located in the UK – over 300,000 in around 13,000 locations. We mostly associate the Commision’s work with those cemeteries and memorials overseas.

Serre Road No 3, Delville Wood, Norfolk and Mill Road Cemeteries – Photos by Jane Roberts

Our group discussed what exactly ‘in perpetuity’ means, and it raised some interesting points. Hopefully “in perpetuity” means what most people, including me, generally understand by the words – that is forever. However there are some question marks about this in terms of English legal definition, i.e. 100 years. We may also need to consider the definitions applicable to the countries in which our dead are honoured.  The potential implication is it may be a question of political will, both by our government and those governments in whose countries the memorials and cemeteries stand. 

Yes, political instability and conflict across the world has an understandable impact – look to Iraq. However now we are coming up to the end of the centenary commemorations maybe, heaven forbid, there may be a push to save money or reclaim land. There have been suggestions that this was indeed discussed under previous administrations. For example the attached link contains correspondence from the early days of the Thatcher government.

Surely it would be too politically sensitive to cut funding and abandon cemeteries as a consequence? Yes, we are coming to the end of the First World War centenary commemorations, but then there are still surviving veterans from World War 2; and beyond we will be looking towards the anniversary commemorations for that conflict. But will it always be the case? What about the small, isolated battlefield cemeteries? 

One final thought: How many of us visit these cemeteries and memorials, look at the headstones and inscriptions then move on. What evidence is there of our visits? Theoretically the visitors register should record footfall. But how many of us sign the books? And if we do is it just one person from the visiting group? Do the government, in times of  so-called ‘austerity’ see the CWGC as a potential easy target for cuts sometime in the future?  Will they use these registers as a proxy for value for money? For this reason I’m now taking a pen with me and signing the visitor registers – and as a result I’m noticing how few others do.

Ongoing Work of The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery, Belgium – Photo by Jane Roberts

Footnote:  The title of this post is the inscription on the grave of Pte George Thomas Palmer of the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment who died on 28 April 1917 and is buried at Foncquevillers Military Cemetery, Pas de Calais.

Sources:

My New Book Collaboration: Commemorating Rugby League Players of The Great War

I am very pleased and excited to announce that I am working on a new book. The scary thing is I have a partner in this venture – my husband.

Chris is a rugby league journalist, covering the sport for over 30 years. He also shares my interest in World War 1 history and has spent many years studying the conflict. He recently completed an Oxford University online course “The First World War in Perspective” and decided to channel his knowledge into a new project.

Many sports have produced books to commemorate their Great War fallen. To date there has been nothing  produced to honour all the professional players of the Northern Union, the forerunner of the Rugby Football League. Chris decided to remedy this, and has enlisted my help.

Somme Poppies – Photo by Jane Roberts

It is a huge undertaking. Having written a book for charity about the 76 men on the Batley St Mary’s War Memorial a few years ago I know what a big challenge it will be.

Chris is currently identifying all those players on club books at the outbreak of war. In this endeavour he has received fantastic help from the rugby league community, with in excess of 100 players who died now identified. I have started work on the genealogical research angle.

It is hoped the book will be published later in 2018, the centenary of the Armistice.

If anyone has any information they wish to contribute, Chris can be contacted at chrisiroberts@btinternet.com or chris.roberts@examiner.co.uk 

Alternatively my email address is pasttopresentgenealogy@btinternet.com

Healey, Batley WW1 Remembrance Project – 1918 Electoral Register List of Men

Thanks to the wonderful Batley Library staff and volunteers, the missing Batley Borough 1918 Electoral Register was located just before Christmas. I spent the early few days of February beavering away on it to extract the absent Healey naval and military voters, and put them into spreadsheet format.  

This work has significantly expanded the list of servicemen I initially identified using CWGC records of those who died, the WO 363 “Burnt Records” and WO 364 records of those discharged for medical/capability reasons. This initial list identified 39 men, though I have subsequently discovered an additional man. He is Arthur Ellis, a rag merchant whose address was 263 Healey Lane. He served with the Grenadier Guards, Service Number 27774. 

The Electoral Register, signed off on 1 October 1918 by the Batley Town Clerk’s Office, identified 121 men, though there is a small overlap with my earlier findings. The numerical difference is indicative of the limited numbers of soldiers’ service records surviving, with around two thirds of them being totally lost or irretrievably damaged during WW2 1940 bombing. 

First bit of background information about voting entitlement and the Electoral Register. The Representation of the People Act 1918 came into force in time for the December 1918 general election. One of the drivers for electoral reform included the fact only men who had been resident in the country for 12 months prior to a general election were entitled to vote. This residential qualification, combined with the property ones, meant many serving King and Country overseas were effectively disenfranchised. The Act abolished these restrictions and extended the vote to all men over the age of 21. Additionally, men who had served in the war could vote from the age of 19. However Conscientious Objectors were disenfranchised for five years. The Act also gave the vote to women over the age of 30 who met a property qualification, wives who were over 30 of all husbands who were entitled to vote in local government elections and also to those who were university graduates.  

However, it should be noted that parliamentary and local government franchises were not the same. Hence the 1918 register is split into three categories. 

  • Division I: Persons qualified as both parliamentary and local government electors; 
  • Division II: Persons qualified as parliamentary electors but not as local government electors; and 
  • Division III: Persons qualified as local government electors but not as parliamentary electors.  

Abbreviations used are:

  • R: Residence qualification;
 
  • BP: Business Premises qualification;
 
  • O: Occupation qualification;
 
  • HO: Qualification through husband’s qualification;  
  • NM: Naval or Military voter; and  
  • a: indicates absent voters. 

So here are the names of those identified from the 1918 Electoral Register.


The men on my Healey list all fall within both the absent and Naval and Military categories. The information was supplied by next of kin so may not be accurate. It may include men who were killed after its compilation. And addresses may not necessarily reflect actual residence, but merely be the most convenient address, for example the in-laws where the man’s wife was living whilst he was serving, or a friend’s home. 

It is also worth emphasising this is the Electoral Register. It isn’t what is commonly known as the Absent Voters List (AVL). These lists, generated to provide servicemen and nurses with voting cards, ballot papers or proxy voting forms depending on where they were serving, gave far more detail. They normally included regiment, number, rank and home address. Sadly, despite checking with West Yorkshire Archives and Huddersfield Local Studies Library, I’ve been unable to locate the one for Batley Borough. It may be it no longer survives. The AVL would have provided so much more crucial identification information. But the Electoral Register is better than nothing. 

The Register also enabled me to further define the parameters of this project. I used the Batley West Ward Polling Districts G and H to identify the relevant streets. These are:

  • Belle Vue Street 
  • Crowther Street 
  • Deighton Lane 
  • Healey Lane (excluding the numbers falling within Polling District I. These are mainly below 79, with the exception of some numbers in the 40s which fall within District G) 
  • Healey Street 
  • Mortimer Avenue 
  • Sykes Street 
  • Towngate Road 
  • Trafalgar Street 
  • West Park Grove 
  • West Park Road 
  • West Park Terrace 

These are in addition to Nelson Street and Prospect Terrace identified from earlier research. Looking at the 1911 Census Summary Books some Chaster Street houses may also fall within the catchment area.

The men’s details from the Electoral Register are contained in the following six tables. I checked across all three Divisions to identify other voters registered at the men’s given addresses, in the hope this provides more family clues.

So I can give myself an early 2017 back pat. This data extraction was one of my 2017 New Year’s Resolutions. I’d targeted a March completion, so I’m ahead of schedule and I can now begin the hard research, although I am still toying with the idea of the newspaper trawl. I know from previous experience how much value this adds. It’s a case of whether I have the time to do it alone!

Previous posts in this series are: 

Sources:

  • Register of Electors 1918, Parliamentary Borough of Batley and Morley 
  • 1911 Census Summary Books 

A Setback to my Healey War Memorial Project

At the moment I’m angry: bitterly angry and disappointed.

I went to Batley library on 3 December to check out the 1918 Electoral Register held in the reference section. I was horrified to discover it missing. I couldn’t believe it. I spent a full hour checking the shelves in the reference library, not just the cabinet in which the full range of registers are housed, in the vain hope the book had been mis-filed. All to no avail.

Electoral Registers minus the 1918 One

I last looked at the 1918 register in October 2015, when I made some notes about my family. This time I wanted to use it for my Healey project. The register showed absent voters and indicated by a “NM” if they were in the navy or military. For some of those serving their country this may be one of the only surviving records of their sacrifice. Because of this it is arguably one of the most important of the Batley electoral registers.

Maybe someone has borrowed it. Though as its a reference book, and no one on duty in the library knew it was missing, I think I’m clutching at straws here. 

Cynically I think whoever has taken it knows exactly it’s value. To my mind the alternative, and most probably the most likely, unpalatable option is it has been stolen. If this is the case, I reckon it is permenantly lost. Unless someone’s conscience is wracked with guilt. I do hope it is.

If it is gone forever I’m disgusted. Disgusted that someone has taken from the community what is a vital resource for those researching family or WW1 history. Shame on them. I hope they’re really pleased with themselves for robbing everyone, including those named within the pages of the register, of their history and legacy. An utterly despicable act. But I doubt they have a shred of remorse about it. If they had, to take it would not have crossed their mind.

Personally I can’t get my head round why anyone would be so selfish. The book was available. They had library access to it. Why take it? It is a sad indictment on society that someone felt it their right to behave in such a despicable way.

I’m now left trying to source an alternative copy, preferably locally.  So far without success. This is not one of the electoral registers available on commercial sites. If anyone knows of the (preferably) local whereabouts of a copy of the register, please let me know. It could be the difference in me discovering the WW1 service of a Healey man. 

And because of one person’s lack of morals and callous disregard of doing the right thing, many others will be similarly deprived of such an important local resource.

Update: I am pleased to report that the 1918 Electoral Register has now unexpectedly re-surfaced. It was not in the locked cabinet where it should be housed. Library staff discoverd it tucked away behind books elsewhere in the library. My Healey Project has a new lease of life.

Start of my Healey, Batley WW1 Remembrance Project

When I researched the men on the War Memorial of Batley St Mary’s, one thing I quickly realised was that the names there represented but a fraction of those parishioners serving in the military.  

British Army statistics alone illustrate this. Roughly 8.7m men served in it at one point or another during the war. This includes Empire and Indian Army contingents. Of these about 5.7m were from the British Isles (including Ireland). From this 8.7m total, approximately 957,000 lost there lives (of which Royal Navy and RFC/RAF casualties were 39,527), and about 705,000 of these were from the British Isles. So between 11-12% of those in the British Army died, depending on whether you look at the total or narrow it to British Isles only. 

Whilst research often concentrates on those that died, one of the things I wanted to do was find about all those who served, whether or not they made the ultimate sacrifice. Many of the survivors were physically wounded and mentally scarred, some to a life-changing extent. I have a couple of great-uncles in those categories. Again, looking at the British Army statistics almost 2,273,000 were wounded (although this figure has an element of double-counting, in that if you were wounded twice you appeared twice in the numbers). Of those wounded 18% returned to duty but in modified roles, for example garrison or sedentary work. And 8% were invalided out altogether, no longer fit for military service. Families and communities were affected forever. 

For me Remembrance Sunday includes all those who served; all those affected be it killed, wounded physically or mentally, and those who returned home with no obvious lasting ill-effects but had given up part of their lives to serve.

Sadly very few local memorials or records give these full community details. Locally one such record which stands out as doing this is that of Soothill. More information on this here

I would love to try to find out about all those from the broader Batley area, to complement this Soothill treasure.  But doing this alone is impracticable. Time and record survival are the major stumbling blocks. Key to providing addresses are service records. But about two thirds of soldiers’ service records were totally lost or irretrievably damaged during WW2 1940 bombing. Those that have survived are in the National Archives WO 363 “burnt records” series. And, as mentioned, this is the overwhelmingly predominant service.  

My other option was to trawl through the two Batley newspapers from the time, “The Batley News” and “The Batley Reporter & Guardian,” making a note of all mention of those from the Batley area serving in the Armed Services. I’ve made no secret about wanting to do this. It would be a fantastic local resource. But unless I had years to spare concentrating on it, I couldn’t do it alone. The same considerations applied to Batley St Mary’s, with the added factor of connecting random names and addresses in Batley with a specific Catholic Parish. 

So I’m going to attempt a compromise, and focus on one area of Batley: Healey. It doesn’t have a Batley St Mary’s WW1 connection, but it’s the area I grew up in. And it’s the one where I still live. It is also more manageable size-wise. However the deciding factor in my choice is one soldier in particular, whose record I accidentally stumbled upon. But more of that in another post. 

A couple of maps from 1905 and 1931 below pinpoint the area. 

Healey in 1905

Healey in 1931


Initially I’ve used three sources:

  • CWGC information of the dead, where next of kin addresses mention addresses from the Healey, Batley area; 
  • WO 363 “Burnt Records” which include a Healey, Batley address via Ancestry.co.uk; and 
  • WO 364 records of those discharged for medical reasons (illness or wounds) during the First World War 

My initial analysis of these has produced the four Tables below. 


Over the next couple of years, till the centenary of Armistice Day, I intend doing a brief biography of each of these men.

I also intend going through at least one of the newspapers to identify other Healey men. Although doing this will probably extend the length of time for the project. A case of playing it by ear.

If anyone has any information about Healey men in WW1, it would be most welcome. It would also be lovely to extend this beyond Healey in WW1, to do a similar project for Healey in WW2. With the current centenary commemorations it is all too easy to overlook the sacrifices made by a more recent generation. So again names and information to kick-start this would be very much appreciated. 

I know I’m setting myself another potentially big but interesting task. Something a bit broader than War Memorial research, recognising the part the men across a community played. 

Sources:

Brothers-in-Arms 

Sometimes we overlook more recent family history, concentrating on the more distant past. Currently events of 100 years ago are dominating the news, with national commemoration events for Battles such as Jutland and The Somme, to more individual and personal remembrances for the centenary of the death of a family member.

But here I will focus on a more recent conflict, World War II. We are moving towards a time when this too will disappear from living memory. Sadly those in my family with direct knowledge of this tale are long gone.

This post concerns the fate of Albert Edward Hill, or Ned as he was known: My grandad’s cousin.

Finding out the circumstances surrounding death in conflict can be challenging: Which battle; location; precise cause of death; time; even date; and perhaps there is no known burial place. World War II in many ways presents a bigger challenge than its predecessor, with the public availability of records.

However in Ned’s case it’s all fairly straightforward. He is buried locally at St Paul’s churchyard, Hanging Heaton. His death is well documented. It was not caused by some battle injury. It was the result of a totally avoidably, foolishly tragic accident following a night out.

Ned was born on 2 February 1901, one of the seven children of Albert Hill and Sarah Ann Summerscales. These included Harry who died shortly after birth in 1890; Percy, Annie, Lilian, Doris and Arthur.

Ned never married. The 1939 Register, the population list compiled at on 29 September, as a result of the outbreak of war, shows him living at Wood Lane, Hanging Heaton. He is in the household of his brother-in-law Harry Robertshaw along with Harry’s two young sons. Harry’s wife, Ned’s sister Annie died that summer, her burial taking place at St Paul’s Hanging Heaton on 6 July 1939.

In the 1939 Register Ned is recorded as working as a willeyer in a woollen mill. This was someone who operated what was termed a willeying machine. Fibres were fed into this machine, which separated and combed them ready for carding. Newspaper reports at the time of his death, however, indicate prior to his army service he worked as a builder’s labourer, employed by Hanging Heaton-based building contactors George Kilburn and sons. 

I do suspect some confusion in the report though, and this occupation possibly applied to his brother Arthur. In the 1939 Register he was a public works contractor’s labourer. 

Whatever the true facts are war changed all this, and some two-and-a-half years before his death Ned joined the Army, as a Gunner.

Albert E Hill Batley News July 28 1945 8 (2)

Gunner Hill

His death came entirely out of the blue. Summer 1945, and war in Europe over, Ned returned home to Batley on leave. He finally managed to meet up with his younger brother Arthur, a driver with the RASC, similarly on leave. This was the first time they had seen each other since Ned’s military service. Arthur had been in the Army for four years at this point, serving in Germany, Belgium, France and Holland.

Things must have seemed hopeful. They had survived so far. All being well they would be home soon permanently. The past tragedy of the family would not repeat itself….

Little could they have envisaged that this meeting would be their last, and in three weeks Ned would be dead.

Leave over and Ned returned back to his Unit, the 397 Battery, 122 Heavy Anti-Aircraft Artillery Regiment, stationed at Walberswick, near Southwold in Suffolk. This was part of the network of coastal defences, established in response to the threat of German invasion from May 1940 after their rapid victory in Western Europe. That German threat was now gone.

On 20 July 1945 he and another soldier from the same unit, Gunner Leonard Lomax, had evening leave. They left camp at 6pm that Friday for a night out in Southwold. The ferryman took them over the River Blyth and said he would return for them at 10-30-11.00pm.

An interesting aside is the ferry service from Walberswick had featured in Parliament only weeks earlier on 8 June 1945. There had been a seam steam-driven chain ferry which was discontinued in World War II, and it seems a rowing boat service replaced it. The ferry was privately owned and there had been problems in maintaining a regular service. Suffolk County Council was negotiating to acquire the ferry rights to ensure an adequate service.

Walberswick Ferry circa early 1940s Postcard, F Jenkins, Southwold

Ned and Leonard visited three public houses in Southwold and consumed about six pints of mixed beer. They left town at 10.15pm for the return ferry but there was no sign of the man with the boat. As they were debating whether to return to Southwold to catch the liberty truck to camp, a boat containing two soldiers came from the Walberswick side of the river.

These two soldiers, Lance Bombardier Edward Davis and Bombardier George Rennie were from another Battery. They heard shouts from the Southwold side of the river and thought some men from their Company were stranded as it appeared the ferry service had stopped. Despite having consumed three pints, or maybe because of it, seeing a boat moored in the water they decided to cross to collect their companions, but when they arrived found they were strangers. Nevertheless they offered Ned and Leonard a lift back. 

They clambered in the small boat, which turned out to be a yacht’s dingy and using the home-made paddles which were aboard the boat, Edward and George set about rowing back. About halfway across Leonard became aware of his feet feeling wet, water sloshing over the top of his shoes.

George and Edward were now having difficulty controlling the craft and stood up to paddle. They were about eight yards from the Walberswick side when the boat got into trouble with the tide and started to drift back towards Southwold and then seawards. The boat was filling up with water, either the result of a leak or overloading.  At this point Ned grabbed a paddle from Edward and the boat turned over throwing all four men into the river.

Leonard and George managed to get hold of a step ladder running down the harbour wall and climb ashore. They could not see the other two men, so made their way to Southwold to inform the police.

Meanwhile Edward, realising that Ned could not swim, tried to keep him up despite not being a strong swimmer himself. He managed to get them both to the concrete wall where Ned grabbed some weeds. Unfortunately they broke away. Edward continued to hold onto Ned but eventually became too exhausted and he had to let him go. Edward then managed to get hold of the ladder and escape.

In summing up the Coroner censured the boat’s occupants. The accident, he said, was the result of four “landlubbers” knowing nothing whatever about boating. The two soldiers should never have taken Leonard and Ned aboard because they overloaded the boat. There must have been some movement with the result that the boat capsized.

He went onto say that he hoped the tragedy would be a warning to others not to take boats without leave, and not to go on a swift running river like this one unless they were experienced persons who know how many a boat would take. “It is difficult to blame anyone because it is pure ignorance” he added.

A verdict of “Death through drowning through the upsetting of a boat” was recorded.

The Commanding Officer of the Battery wrote to Ned’s sister Doris extending his and the Battery’s sympathies as follows:

On behalf of the ranks of this battery wish to express to you our horror at this tragedy. Gunner Hill was a grand soldier and a man well-known and loved by the men of this unit”.

Ned’s body was brought back to Batley and he was buried in the church yard at St Paul’s, Hanging Heaton, just weeks before VJ Day and the war effectively ending.

Arthur survived the war. But Ned’s fate echoed that of another brother in another conflict, Percy. He died almost 29 years earlier in The Great War, during the Battle of the Somme.

Memories too of the newspaper “Roll of Honour In Memoriam” notices which the Hill family, including the then teenager Ned, placed in the papers all those decades before, mourning the loss of Percy.

Batley News – 5 October 1918
Hill – In sad but loving memory of our dear son and brother, 1736 Sergt Percy Hill, 1st-4th KOYLI (Batley Territorials) who died from wounds at Warloy Baillon, West of Albert, France, September 30th, 1916, aged 24 years.

When last we met, and fondly parted
Our hopes were high, our faith was strong,
We trusted that the separation
Though hard to bear would not be long 

We often sit and think of him when we are
all alone
This memory is the only thing we can call
our own;
Like ivy on the withered oak, when other
things decay
Our love for him will ever live, and never
fade away 

Ever remembered by his sorrowing mother, father, sisters and brothers, 92, Back Bromley Street, Hanging Heaton 

A family which had now lost a brother in both World Wars.Albert and Percy Hill Headstones

Sources:

Somme Centenary Commemorations – Thiepval, 1 July 2016

I’m still struggling to absorb the many levels of the amazing remembrance ceremony which took place on 1 July 2016. Still lost for words. Still unable to believe I attended the Somme centenary commemorations at Thiepval. It left me with a complex mix of feelings. It was a unique, emotional, exhausting, exhilarating and, strangely given the context, enjoyable experience. But above all it was an absolute privilege to be one of around 10,000 people present, to pay my respects and remember: from the great and the good, to those ordinary British, Irish and French citizens who were allocated tickets in the public ballot.

Somme Poppies

Somme Poppies – by Jane Roberts

I don’t have any family connections to any of the over 72,000 British and South African officers and men named on the Thiepval memorial, with no known grave. However I do have relatives of direct-line ancestors who died in the Battle of the Somme and have identified graves elsewhere. And the names of 11 men from my parish church, St Mary’s of the Angels RC Church, Batley are etched in the Thiepval Memorial stone: 11 men whose lives I researched:

  • Edward Barber: 18th (Service) Battalion, Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)
  • Thomas W Chappell: 1st/4th Battalion, The King’s Own ( Yorkshire Light Infantry)
  • Thomas Finneran: 1st Battalion, The King’s (Liverpool Regiment)
  • Martin Gallagher: 6th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own ( Yorkshire Light Infantry)
  • James Garner: 10th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own ( Yorkshire Light Infantry)
  • Joseph Gavaghan: 17th (Service) Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)
  • Patrick Hopkins: 9th (Service) Battalion, The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles)
  • Edward Leonard: 1st/8th Battalion, The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment)
  • John Lyons: 1st Battalion, The King’s Own Scottish Borderers
  • Thomas McNamara: 7th (Service) Battalion, The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry)
  • Michael J O’Hara: 1st/4th Battalion, The Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding Regiment)

I applied for tickets in the public ballot last year, as did my husband, Chris. Neither of us were successful initially. However Chris received an e-mail in March informing him of a second chance of tickets if still interested. No question about it. He jumped at the opportunity.  To say we were thrilled was an understatement.

Although we have travelled several times to the area, this time rather than making independent arrangements we booked to go with Leger Holidays on their Somme Centenary Tour. That way we didn’t have the worry of sorting hotels and navigating the daunting exclusion zone which surrounded the area. We also had two full day’s organised tours of key areas of the Somme battlefield with a fabulously knowledgeable guide.

It also meant rather than being individuals we were able to experience the occasion as part of a group. That was, in my opinion, the best way to assimilate and process the emotions of the day: sharing with others who were there.

Somme Programme

Somme Centenary Programme Cover – by Jane Roberts

The commemoration was well organised, right from getting to and from the event, through to provision of food and drinks, even down to a goody bag with a poncho in case of rain. And goodness, was that needed at certain points during proceedings, especially given the umbrella ban. Torrential rain showers doesn’t adequately describe the day’s downpours.

And despite the heavy rain showers over a prolonged period in the lead up to the event the site looked perfect. The head gardener told us that planting preparations had commenced three years earlier.

All involved in organising such a complex and sensitive event in front and behind the scenes over many months deserve massive recognition and thanks: from planning, security, ticketing, staging, catering to those performing, showing guests to seats and tidying up afterwards. An incredible achievement.

The readings and music perfectly encapsulated the themes of honouring and remembering all those involved in the Battle of the Somme from the 1 July start date to 18 November end, reflecting a wide range of nations and roles.

It is difficult to pick any one highlight. If pushed for me it was the hauntingly beautiful Gaelic love song, “An Eala Bhàn”, (The White Swan). It was written during the Battle of the Somme by poet Donald MacDonald, serving with the 1st Battalion Cameron Highlanders, to his sweetheart Maggie Macleod. Listening to those bleak words sung in the crystal clear tones of Julie Fowlis against the backdrop of the Thiepval Memorial sent shivers down the spine.

I came away from the commemoration with an immense sense of admiration and thankfulness for all those who served 100 years ago. But I was also left with a profound feeling of sadness at the immense loss of lives, youth, innocence; with individuals, families and communities changed forever.

As I mentioned, because we travelled with Leger Holidays we visited a number of other key Somme sites and points of interest during our stay. These included Lochnagar Crater, the result of the detonation of the Lochnagar Mine at 7.28am on 1 July 1916, two minutes before Zero Hour and the launch of the Somme offensive; Delville Wood and the South African Memorial; Devonshire Trench and the scene of the 9th Devons advance straight into ferocious, concentrated enfilading German machine gun fire on 1 July, leaving 160 dead; Sheffield Memorial Park, commemorating the Pals Battalions of the British Army’s 31st Division; Newfoundland Park Memorial at Beaumont Hamel, with its largely untouched ground revealing the scars of shell craters and trenches, as well as its cemeteries, preserved trenches and memorials. This includes the Caribou, one of five on the Western Front, commemorating the Newfoundland Regiment; the town of Albert with its iconic Golden Virgin statue; and Pozières with its Australian connections.

I experienced a couple of take-your-breath away moments. The first occurred at Sunken Lane, the scene of the famous Geoffrey Malins’ film of the 1st Lancashire Fusiliers shortly before they went over the top on 1 July 1916. As we arrived a group of soldiers in Great War uniforms walked towards us, an eerie reminder of events 100 years ago.

Sunken Lane.JPG

Sunken Lane – by Jane Roberts

The second was at Ulster Tower. In the midst of another torrential downpour I heard pipe music and saw the top of flags coming towards me from the direction of Connaught Cemetery. The sun came out as the men marched in for a wreath-laying ceremony. As the pipes played “When Johnny comes marching home again” I admit I had a lump in my throat.

I’ll end with some stats. 1 July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, left over 19,000 British dead. That was but one day in the 141 days of the Somme Offensive, which finally ended on 18 November 1916. By its end, out of the over 3.5million men who took part across all sides, there were well over one million casualties, dead, missing and wounded. It can however be easy to overlook the fact that the war dragged on for a further 723 days. And it lasted 1,568 days in total, from the first shots on 28 July 1914 to the 11 November 1918 Armistice.

img_3359

Pozieres British Cemetery and Memorial with Thiepval in the background – by Jane Roberts

 Sources:

  • All photos by Jane Roberts, except the poncho photo which is by Chris Roberts