Tag Archives: WW1

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.

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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

Every Man Remembered – London’s Hull Brothers

One of my Christmas presents last year was a poppy lapel pin. It is made from British shell fuses fired during the Battle of the Somme. It also includes finely ground earth from places inextricably linked with those months which, for many, define the Great War: Gommecourt, Hebuterne, Serre, Beaumont Hamel, Thiepval, Ovillers, La Boiselle, Fricourt and Mametz. Places which are still etched in the minds over a century later.

Importantly for me the poppy was accompanied by a certificate commemorating the life of a soldier who fell during the second to the 141st (and final) day of the Battle. My wish was to research his life and record it on the “Every Man Remembered” site. It did not work out quite as anticipated. I researched more than one life, in what proved to be a series of deaths which in a matter of months devastated a London family. But this family’s story is similar to stories repeated up and down the country.

The name on the certificate was Pte W Hull, 19930, of the East Yorkshire Regiment who died on 16 July 1916. He is buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt l’Abbe, located 10 kilometres south west of Albert. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission website indicate he served with the 1st Battalion, but give no family details.

Certificate for Pte W Hull – Photo by Jane Roberts

The cemetery was the scene of intense activity during the Battle of the Somme, as indicated by the multiple burials marked by many of the headstones. Begun in May 1916, it provided the base for a number of Casualty Clearing Stations. From April 1916 the 36th Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) was located there. In May the 38th CCS joined them, followed in July by the 2/2nd London CCS.

William Henry Hull’s birth was registered in Holborn, in the first quarter of 1895. His parents, William George Hull and Ann King (known as Annie), married on 28 October 1894 at St Peter’s Saffron Hill, Holborn. They went on to have four other children: Albert Edward, registered in 1897, Robert George in 1900, Annie Lydia in 1903 (born 2 February) and Charles Frederick in 1907 (born 22 September). Their address in the 1901 census onwards is 17, Northampton Road, Clerkenwell. The family are still recorded there in the 1939 Register.

This was a subdivided property typical of the area, characterised by densely populated high occupancy houses, interspersed with areas of model dwellings, the latter an attempt to provide decent working class accommodation.

A manufacturing area characterised by a high working class presence, Clerkenwell had a significant number of artisan metal-based crafts emanating from its early watchmaking traditions. Although watchmaking in the area suffered a decline by the end of the 19th century in the face of cheap and foreign competition, other offshoots such as scientific and surgical instrument making and barometer and chronometer manufacture had a presence. The other significant industry was printing. This strengthened its grip in the period the Hull family lived in the area. It was, in the main, centred around the printing of small periodicals, engravings, maps, books and pamphlets rather than national or London-wide daily press. And with his printing industry earnings, as a compositor setting the type ready for printing, William (senior) supported his family. William and Albert’s early jobs, as indicated in the 1911 census, were as errand boys at a photographers and barometer works respectively.

By the time he joined the Colours, William worked as a liftman. He enlisted in Clerkenwell on 18 September 1915. On the 19 September he went to join his regiment. Appropriately, given his surname, he was assigned to the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, East Riding Regiment, a training unit based at Beverley. Standing at 5’ 4 ½” and weighing 126lbs (9 stones), he had a scar on his forehead and his right upper lip, he also had “I love Jessie James” inked on his left upper arm. And he did, for he married her at Holborn Registry Office on 20 February 1916. She went on to live at 17 Northampton Road whilst William resumed his training.

It was not until 14 June 1916 that he embarked to serve with either the 7th or 8th Battalion East Riding Regiment – his papers are ambiguous. However on 9 July he was posted to the 1st Battalion and joined them in the field on 10 July 1916. The Unit War Diary of the 1st East Yorkshires records it was a fine day, and notes the arrival of two drafts of men from the West and East Yorkshire Regiments, whilst they were en route to Ville via Corbie.

They arrived at Ville on 11 July, in readiness for their next offensive – an attempt to break through the German second position on the line from Longueval to Bazentin-le-Petit. This was the successful Battle of Bazentin Ridge. Launched in the early hours of 14 July 1916 it lasted until 17 July by which time the German second position was captured on a front of 6,000 yards. For a while it even looked as if High Wood lay open, but delays in getting cavalry forward meant the moment was lost.

The Unit War Diary of the 1st East Yorkshires records their part in events. On 13 July they received orders that they were to be attached to the 110th Brigade and left Ville:

….at 3.30pm marching to Carcaillot Farm in the E. border of Meulte arriving about 5pm where rested (tea was provided) until 9pm when we moved to Fricourt (Rose Cottage) arriving at 10.30pm. Hot tea was served to the Btn and tools and grenades were issued. At 12.25am Btn moved to position in reserve at the S.E. corner of Mametz wood arriving about 2.30am where they dug themselves in. Enemy shelled borders of wood and vicinity large numbers of lachrymatory shells being used. Only one casualty in march was incurred”.

The East Yorkshires remained in reserve until 9.30am of the morning of 14 July, when they received orders to urgently reinforce the 7th Leicesters on the north edge of Bazentin-le-Petit Wood. Two companies, A and B, were despatched. A further two, C and D, were sent to the wood reporting as reinforcements to Lt-Col Challenor of the 6th Leicesters. Both advances were made under heavy shell fire, with the enemy barrage in the south edge of the wood and the intervening space between it and Mametz Wood being particularly heavy. The companies in Bazentin-le-Petit Wood were scattered, but C Company’s advance to the north east was made with little resistance and a German counter attack repelled. The Diary reports at this time:

“……an unfortunate incident occurred, our own artillery shelling us from the rear at the same time as the enemy were barraging the N edge of the wood and many casualties occurred”.

It was on 14 July, his first foray into action and with a new unit, that William Hull sustained gunshot wounds (this covered shrapnel injuries as well as those sustained by bullets) to his shoulder and buttocks. Initially treated by the 64th West Lancashire Field Ambulance he was transferred via motor ambulance convoy to the 38th Casualty Clearing Station on 16 July where he died of his wounds that day. Their Unit War Diary records a phenomenal number of casualties each day. On 1 July they numbered 1,767. By 16 July they recorded the admission of 21 officers and 490 other ranks wounded; the evacuation of 23 wounded officers, 408 wounded and one sick from amongst the other ranks; three officers and 13 other ranks died; 12 wounded officers, 404 wounded other ranks and three sick remained. It also records:

No 2278 Sergeant Gillbee RAMC placed under arrest for drunkenness”.

Gillbee was a pre-war regular, who in 1913 received his dispensing qualification. His Medal Index Card records a Field General Court Martial reduction to the ranks on 1 July 1917 as a result of drunkenness.

The 1st East Yorkshire Unit War Diary records total casualties for their operations between 13-17 July as: no officers killed and six wounded, but one of those only slightly so was able to return to duty; 36 other ranks killed, 186 wounded and 126 missing.

William served for 303 days, but only four of those with the 1st East Yorkshire Regiment before his wounds. He was awarded the Victory and British War Medal. His childless widow, Jessie, still living at 17 Northampton Road in 1919, received a pension of 10 shillings a week, with effect from 26 February 1917.

William’s younger brother Albert Edward was serving in the Ploegsteert Wood area of Belgium, as a Rifleman with “A” Company of the 21st Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps (Yeoman Rifles) (KRRC) when his brother died.

Albert enlisted before his elder brother, at Kingsway Recruiting Office, Middlesex on 17 April 1915. At the time he worked as a warehouseman. He stood at 5’ 5” tall, with blue eyes, fair hair and a fresh complexion. For some reason he gave his father’s name as William Henry Hull, but CWGC information as well as other family and address details provided in surviving documentation confirms it was William George Hull.

Albert served initially with the 6th KRRC, the training unit based at Sheerness, before transferring to the 21st Battalion, setting off to France aboard the “SS Golden Eagle” on 31 May 1916. He joined his new Battalion in the field on 21 June 1916. At this time they were based in and around the Ploegsteert Wood area of Belgium, not moving down to France until late August 1916.

The 21st KRRC’s first significant action on the Somme occurred on 15 September when they participated in the opening stages of the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, at the start of the third phase of the Battle of the Somme. The battle is particularly noteworthy as the new British weapon, tanks, were unleashed in battle for the first time. Despite a number of early successes, including at last the clearing of High Wood, the capture of Flers, Courcelette and Martinpuich, there was no decisive breakthrough and the battle ground to a virtual halt by the 17 September due to a combination of bad weather and German reinforcements, before finally ending on 22 September.

The 21st KRRC Unit War Diary records events on the 15 September.

The Battalion took part in an attack on the enemy lines in front of Delville Wood. The 124th Brigade advanced on a line which passed between the villages of FLERS on the left and Guedecourt on the right. The Battalion was on the left of the first line with the 10th Queens on the right & the 26th & 32nd Royal Fusiliers in support. The 122nd Brigade was on the left & the 14th Division on the right”.

At 6.30am they commenced their attack, quickly taking without difficulty their first objective, the Switch Trench. They also took their second objective, the Flers Trench, capturing a few prisoners who showed little inclination to fight. They did incur casualties though, by getting too close to their own barrage. Lack of support on the flanks also halted their advance, so they focused on consolidating their gains. Lt Col Charles William Reginald Duncombe, the 2nd Earl of Feversham, of the 21st KRRC and Lt Col Richard Oakley of the 10th Queens (Royal West Surrey) Regiment gathered together some men to try to take the third and fourth objectives in front of Guedecourt village. They did manage to take their third objective and withstood a German counter attack, but the Earl of Feversham was killed. They were eventually forced to retreat and consolidated about 400 yards in front of the second objective, where the remnants of the Battalion remained until relieved at about 3am the following morning, 16 September.

The War Diary records the following casualties for the 15 September: 4 officers and 54 other ranks killed; 10 officers and 256 other ranks wounded and 74 other ranks missing. Interestingly the initials of the officer responsible for the diary from September 1916 are “RAE” – 2nd Lt (Robert) Anthony Eden, who was appointed Acting Adjutant on 19 September. He is better known as the Prime Minister between 1955-1957, in charge at the time of the Suez Crisis.

Albert Hull was amongst the wounded. His casualty form indicates 15/17 September, but from the diary it appears all casualties were incurred on the 15 September. He sustained gun shot wounds and fractures to the legs. He was transferred down the line, admitted to 1 General Hospital at Etretat, before evacuation to England on board the “Asturias” and transfer to the 5th Northern General Hospital in Leicester.

5th Northern General Hospital, Leicester from unpublished book by R Wallace Henry held at the University of Leicester, used in accordance with http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/uk/ (edited, cropped)

This is now part of the University of Leicester. From 1837-1908 it operated as the Leicestershire Lunatic Asylum until the construction of a new Asylum in 1907. In 1911 the now empty building was earmarked as a potential military hospital. Once war broke out it became the base for the 5th Northern General Hospital. New buildings were constructed and as the war progressed it expanded to become a local network of hospitals at more than 60 locations. In total there were beds in Leicestershire for 111 officers and 2,487 other ranks, through which passed more than 95,000 casualties. 514 of these died.

One was Albert. His arrival in September coincided with the opening of the first 101 bed ward of a new five ward extension to the hospital. His final notes from Leicester make reference to the gun shot wound to his left leg, as well as a secondary haemorrhage in France and amputation. There is also a telegram dated 26 September 1916 from 5 Northern General Hospital to the 21st KRRC records office at Winchester stating:

….R11808 Rifleman a Hull a Coy. 21 KRR died in this hospital of his wounds this morning and next of kin advised”.

Albert was buried on 30 September 1916 at Islington Cemetery in a public, shared grave.

Within weeks the family were burying another son in the same cemetery. This time their third child, 16-year-old Robert.

The cause of death was acute suppurative otitis media and septicaemia. In other words an ear infection. More common in children than adults, this particular infection has a number of causes, including upper respiratory infection, sinusitis, smoking (including passive), craniofacial abnormalities and allergies. Additionally, in children (usually between 3-7 years old) their developing ear structure can leave them prone to infection there when food is regurgitated. Poor sanitation, over-crowding and malnutrition are all risk factors too. Symptoms include pain, fever and earache. In Robert’s case, in this pre-antibiotic era, complications did ensue, resulting in hospitalisation and death. He succumbed to septicaemia on 18 November 1916 at St Bartholomew’s Hospital (Barts), London. He was buried at Islington Cemetery on 25 November 1916.

Extract from GRO death register entry for Robert George Hull: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance

Whilst coping with the aftermath of the death of three sons in quick succession, the family also faced an ongoing struggle with military authorities to retrieve the personal effects of Albert. The family enlisted the help of a Alice Maunder of 25, Chelsea Gardens, Sloane Square. On 19 January 1917 she wrote to the Rifles Office asking that Albert’s effects be sent to his mother without any more delay. She ended her missive with:

Perhaps you would finally look into the matter and see that the things are sent as soon as possible”.

They were finally sent to the family on 21 March 1917. His were the few typical possessions of an ordinary soldier, providing memories of home, a nod to God’s protection, a little bit of cheer and an indication of his Regiment. They comprised of a linen bag, two gospels (Mark and John), a match box holder, a packet of cigarettes, a cap comforter (a knitted woollen tube pulled cap-like over the head, ideal for keeping warm or whilst on trench raids), shoulder title, cap badge (broken), letters and photographs.

Albert was awarded the British War and Victory Medals. His father did query this in June 1921, asking why his son did not receive a “Star” as he joined the Colours in April 1915. He was informed he was ineligible. Albert did not actually go overseas until May 1916. The 1914/15 Star was awarded to those who who served in a theatre of war before 31 December 1915 and had not qualified for the earlier 1914 Star.

So what became of the rest of the Hull family? William George died at the same hospital as his son Robert in 1925 and was buried at Islington Cemetery 27 August. The 1939 Register shows widowed Annie working as an office cleaner and living with her two unmarried children, Annie (a book binder’s assistant) and Charles (a school porter), still at 17 Northampton Road. Charles eventually married in 1941 and died on 3 January 1973, in Huntingdon. Daughter Annie never married. She died in 1974. I have not found a definitive death for Annie herself, but suspect it was 1960. I have not traced what became of Jessie, William’s widow.

Sources:

Picture Credits:

  • 5th Northern General Hospital, Leicester taken from an unpublished book “Fifth Northern General Hospital” by R Wallace Henry, held by the University of Leicester. Edited (cropped) and used in accordance with the license http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/2.0/uk/
  • Extract from GRO death register entry for Robert George Hull: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance

Batman – My Family History SuperHero 

Just when I thought I’d reached the limits of what I realistically could hope to find out about my great grandad in the Great War, family history threw another curveball.

Last year I wrote about the 16 December 1914 German naval bombardment of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool prompting my 46-year-old ex-Army great grandfather, Patrick Cassidy, to enlist on my grandma’s sixth birthday. He was discharged from the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry the following month as unlikely to become an efficient soldier. 

Undeterred by this knock-back, by the summer of 1915 he returned to his original regiment, the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment. In the Electoral Register of 1918 he is shown as an absent voter due to military service. No Medal Index Card exists for him, so it appeared he must have seen the war out on home shores. I did keep an open mind about which regiment, but if I’m being honest, my assumption was the Duke of Wellingtons.

Wrong. 

This month, idly looking at Find My Past’s military records, I saw the familiar name of Patrick Cassidy. But not in the Army records. Instead it was the AIR 79 Series, British Royal Air Force (RAF) Airmen’s Service Records. It is definitely him. His Hume Street address in Batley, his birthplace (County Mayo), his marriage and children’s details are all correct (except eldest daughter Ellen is written as Helen). So no doubt whatsoever.

He attested on 12 July 1918, and his service number 267675 fits in with June/July intake of civilians. Clearly Patrick had not lasted the duration of the war with the Duke of Wellingtons. A tribute to his persistence, he was now trying his hand with the fledgling RAF arm of the military.

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

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

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

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

RAF Badge and Motto – photo by Jane Roberts

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

© IWM (Art.IWM PST 5277) – free to reuse for non-commercial purposes under the IWM Non Commercial Licence

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

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

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

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

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

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

These pleas obviously appealed to my great grandfather, whose records show his occupation as one of those much in-demand labourers. His RAF attestation papers describe him standing at 5’3 1/2”, with grey eyes, a sallow complexion and dark grey hair. The grey hair is unsurprising. He was no spring chicken. His stated age is 49 and he gives his date of birth as 24 May 1869. This, yet again, is a false declaration. But not as wildly out as his 1914 attempts to get in the Army. He was in fact born in March 1868. He had shaved a year off in order to meet the age criteria for enlistment. His papers also show his Grade III category, able to serve at home.

His rank was Private 2nd Class, so a service role. He was assigned by the RAF Reserve Depot (Blandford) to No.1 (Observer) School of Aerial Gunnery at Hythe, in Kent, as a batman: in other words a personal servant to a commissioned officer. Is this the man my grandma remembers coming to the house seeking my grandad, as recounted in my earlier post

His service record goes on to show his character as “very good” and his degree of proficiency “satisfactory“. However, on 6 November 1918, days before the Armistice, he was recategorised as Grade E. In other words permenantly unfit for service. He was finally discharged on 22 January 1919. 

His record also shows that he apparently received a modest pension for his service, but the writing is extremely faint. And on 1 May 1919 he was awarded a Silver War Badge, 7162. 

Silver War Badge (not my great grandad’s) – Photo by Jane Roberts

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

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

The rolls for the SWB generally record the man’s date of enlistment and discharge, and whether he was discharged as the result of being wounded or through age or “sickness”. RAF men’s badge numbers bore the prefix “RAF“, with over 10,000 issued.

These SWB rolls are at The National Archives and also available on commercial websites. Often, where service records no longer exist, these are the only indication that a man who did not go overseas served in the First World War. The bad news for me is my great grandad’s is not there. According to The National Archives, the only true RAF record relating to the SWB is in AIR 2/197/C33296. So, unless your RAF ancestor was a RFC recipient (WO 329/3244) or RNAS (ADM 171/173-87), you’re likely to draw a blank. This is something not made clear in the description on the commercial sites.

Similarly, although RAF personnel did receive campaign medals, there are no medal rolls in The National Archives for men who joined after the formation of the RAF on 1 April 1918, unless they transferred from the RFC or RNAS. For direct RAF entrants you are reliant on service records for medal entitlement including, in the most part, for their SWBs. 

I’m immensely proud of my great grandad on a number of levels:

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

I’ve also delighted in being able to tell my dad he wasn’t the first member of his family to join the RAF. The story has also reminded me of my own happy work-days in RAF contracts and, later, aero-engine supply management. Also the frightening march of time: I think most of the aircraft I dealt with are now obsolete, including Phantom, Buccaneer, Nimrod, Hunter, Harrier, Sea Harrier, Victor and  Jaguar. I think the Hercules, Tucano and Hawk are the only ones left. But I’m a bit out of touch with aircraft now, so don’t take my word for that.

From a family history angle, the moral of this story is don’t rule out the improbable in researching family history. Ancestors were real people and, as such, often made the unlikeliest of choices. 

Sources:

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 

Happy Birthday and Farewell: A Father’s Love

16 December 1914 marked a momentous day for my family. My grandma celebrated her sixth birthday. But not any old ordinary birthday in Batley for her, spent with her mum, dad and seven year old sister Nellie. This birthday was unlike any other.

Astonishingly, I discovered this of all days was the day her 46 year-old father, my great-grandfather Patrick Cassidy, chose to enlist with the local regiment, King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI). Patrick, born in 1868 in Hagfield, County Mayo, even knocked several years off his age to ensure he would be accepted. His attestation papers show he claimed to be 35 years and 11 months.

I knew my great-grandfather had been in the Army. My grandma told a tale of a motor vehicle turning up at their Hume Street home containing someone to see her dad. The story goes that the officer inside was the one he’d acted as batman for. I had no date for this event, but given my grandma remembered it, I’d guessed in sometime after 1912.

However, because of his age, I’d discounted him seeing his military service during the Great War. Combined with his age, his uniform in one of the family photos, with its three point-up chevrons on the lower left sleeve indicating 12 years good conduct, indicated pre-war service. I’d marked it as pre-1904, as he’d first turned up in Batley in January of that year. And by then he was a labourer. That was also his occupation when he married Ann Loftus in 1906. And also in the 1911 census.

Patrick Cassidy

As it happens his attestation papers backed up this earlier service theory. He confirmed to the attesting officer he had previous time-expired service with the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment (West Riding). He described it as 33rd and 76th West Riding, harking back to 1881 and the Cardwell Reforms when the Halifax depot 33rd and 76th Regiments of Foot merged.

One thing I found amusing from these papers: My grandma, who adored her father, always gave the impression of him being a tall man. According to his army forms he stood at the incredible height of…….5’ 3.5”. Just goes to show, don’t take all oral family history as gospel!

Anyway, back to the lie over his age. As an ex-soldier, by this stage of the war, the age limit was 45, not 38 as for other volunteers. So he really did go overboard with his age reduction. In fact, with his precise 35 years and 11 months, it seemed he was still working to the end of August 1914 rule change for volunteers without previous service, when the upper age limit was increased from 30 to 35. He really was determined to do his bit.

Still, I couldn’t get my head round it. Not the fact he chose to sign up. Not even the fact he lied about his age to do so. But why on earth would he do it on his young daughter’s birthday? Why not wait till a few days later? In fact, why not wait till after Christmas? Had there been some major family row that prompted it? Or had a close family member or friend, as yet unidentified by me, died whilst serving? Was my great grandfather out to avenge their death? Those were the only explanations I could come up with.

His papers offered no clues whatsoever as to why he would act in this way and leave his wife, children and labouring job in Batley to take this huge risk. Or did they?

Several months later, whilst doing some general research, I realised the papers did contain the answer. The key was in the date. I’d been looking at it in narrow family terms, my grandma’s birthday. I’d not looked at any wider historical events. Besides being my grandma’s sixth birthday, Wednesday the 16 December 1914 marked the day German Imperial Navy ships Seydiltz, Moltke, Blücher, Derfflinger and Von Der Tann bombarded the east coast towns of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool with a final toll of over 130 killed and almost 600 injured. 

The attacks occurred from around 8am to 9.30am that morning. In the immediate aftermath, in scenes reminiscent of Belgium and France, refugees fled their homes seeking safety inland. Distressed residents from the stricken towns, some still in slippers and nightdresses, disembarked in local railway stations with tales of terror and destruction and reports of “scarcely a building left standing.” The historic landmarks of Whitby Abbey and Scarborough Castle suffered damage. Famous seaside hotels, like Scarborough’s Grand Hotel, bore shell scars.

The Grand Hotel, Scarborough

From 16 December onwards newspapers the length and breadth of the country carried the stories of this exodus, along with tales of death, injury and destruction wreaked. This from “The Yorkshire Evening Post” of 16 December reporting of arrivals in Leeds at 11 o’clock “One woman who arrived was wearing her bedroom slippers; in her arms was a two-year-old son in her nightdress and an outer garment lent by someone on the train.”

Another refugee was Mrs Knaggs, who lived in the vicinity of Scarborough’s damaged Grand Hotel. She arrived in Leeds on the 1 o’clock train into Leeds with her eight-year-old daughter and a few hastily packed groceries. She recalled meeting “…scores of women and children. All seemed unconsciously making for the railway station. Some were half dressed, and carried with them all manner of household articles. Another refugee had a child of a fortnight old in her arms, and with her was another partly-dressed girl of fourteen…..The streets of Scarborough were filled with women. These refugees were without food, money and very scantily clothed.”

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

The German navy were dubbed the baby-killers of Scarborough, a reference to one of the victims, 14 month old John Shields Ryalls. In a letter to the Mayor of Scarborough on 20 December 1914 Winston Churchill, First Lord of the Admiralty wrote: “Whatever fears of arms the German Navy hereafter perform, the stigma of ‘Baby-Killers of Scarborough’ will brand its officers and men while sailors sail the seas.” 

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

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

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

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

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

My great-grandfather didn’t wait for these rallying call to arms. He went to the recruiting office on the very day of the attack. Though I can’t be 100 percent sure, it looks like he enlisted because he wanted to protect his family. The bombardment of east coast town, with the huge loss of life and the streams of refugees which followed, brought the war so much closer to home. The Yorkshire seaside resorts of Whitby and Scarborough were particularly popular local holiday destinations. In fact when war was declared only four months earlier the local Territorials, 1/4th KOYLI, were on their summer camp in Whitby. No longer was it a distant war affecting civilians – women and children – in foreign lands. It was now in Yorkshire. His family were now under threat. He couldn’t stand aside any longer.

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

By pure chance I found an entry in the “Batley Reporter and Guardian” of 27 August 1915. Private Patrick Cassidy of Hume Street appeared in Batley Borough Court charged with being absent without leave from the 3/4th battalion Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, who were stationed at Halifax. So he’d gone back to his old regiment. The Batley Borough Court records gave the offence date as 24 Aug 1915. He pleaded guilty and was remanded to await a military escort.  I wonder if this has any link to the vehicle my grandma recalled?

The 3/4th Duke of Wellington’s was formed in March 1915 so it seems Patrick may have remained a civilian for as little as a couple of months after leaving the KOYLI. The battalion remained in England throughout the war, stationed at Clipstone Camp, Rugeley Camp, Bromeswell (Woodbridge) and Southend, training and supplying drafts for overseas service. I’ve traced no Medal Index Card for Patrick so it seems he remained on home shores. However he did see the war out. In the Batley Electoral Register of 1918 he is listed as being absent as a naval or military voter.  Unfortunately the detailed Absent Voter List for Batley does not appear to have survived. This would potentially have confirmed his service number and regiment.

So this tale goes to show that when researching family history you need to look at wider historical events be it local, national or international. They too have an impact on the lives and decisions made by ancestors and can help you see your family history in a new light.

Sources:  

  • Batley Borough Court Records – West Yorkshire Archives
  • Batley Register of Electors – 1918
  • GRO Indexes
  • Imperial War Museum Poster from 1915: “Men of Britain! Will You Stand This?” © IWM (Art.IWM PST 5119). Shared and re-used under the terms of the IWM Non Commercial Licence
  • Newspapers including:
  1. Batley Reporter and Guardian – 27 August 1915.
  2. Leeds Mercury – 17 December 1914
  3. Yorkshire Evening Post – 16 and 18 December 1914
  4. The Leeds Mercury – 21 December 1914
  • WO 364 -Soldiers’ Documents from Pension Claims, First World War

Death of a Barnbow Canary: WW1 Munitions Work

The past few weeks have focused on those who served and lost their lives during the Battle of the Somme. But what about those closer to home whose efforts may have gone largely unnoticed? 

In this blog post I’m turning my attention to another centenary. 21 July 2016 marks the 100th anniversary of the death of Barnbow munitions worker Ann (Annie) Leonard.

Ann Leonard

Annie Leonard

Annie was born in Morley in late 1891[1].  She was the eldest daughter of Leeds-born William and Emma Leonard (neé Dowd).  The couple married in 1890 and, including Annie, they had 10 children.  One child died in infancy but Annie’s other siblings included Edward (1894), Alice (1896), Walter (1897), Agnes (1900), Doris (1902), Ethel (1904), Elsie (1906) and Nellie (1908).  All but Annie and Edward were baptised at St Mary’s RC Church, Batley. 

In the 1891 census William and Emma lived at Springfield Lane, Morley. William was a coal miner.  In 1901 the couple had five children and were still living at Morley, but their address had changed to New Park Street.  William was now a coal miner deputy. This was the official employed in a supervisory capacity at the pit with responsibility for setting props and general safety matters.

By 1906 the family had moved to Batley and the 1911 census gives their address as North Bank Road, Cross Bank. This remained the family address when Annie died.  At the time of this census William still worked as a coal miner deputy below ground.  19-year-old Annie, in common with many other local women, had employment in a woollen mill working as a cloth weaver.

War changed all this. Within weeks of its outbreak Annie’s eldest brother Edward, a former Batley Grammar School pupil with a talent for art, enlisted with the Leeds Rifles. He went to France in April 1915.

Around the time Edward went overseas the “shell scandal” debate raged at home, with the shortage of high explosives being cited as the reason for failure in battles and loss of soldiers’ lives. The war was lasting longer than anticipated; the number of men in military service was adversely affecting industrial and manufacturing output, including munitions manufacture; and the quantity of shells required was outstripping that of any other previous conflict. For example in the first 35 minutes of the March 1915 attack at Neuve Chappelle  more shells were consumed than in the entire 2nd Boer War.  There was a countrywide cry for “shells, and still more shells”.

The Government response was the 1915 Munitions of War Act with far-reaching Government powers in production. National Shell and National Projectile Factories were established, and National Filling Factories set up to fill these shell casings with explosives and attach fuses.

For_King_and_Country_Art.IWMART6513 (2)

IWM Public Domain image by Edward F Skinner. See Wikimedia Commons footnote.

Interestingly, shortly after his arrival in France, Edward wrote a letter home to one of his sisters, possibly Annie. It is particularly noteworthy for his description of German shelling.

Taking things all round, we have had a very quiet week as far as shells, etc, go. We had about the busiest day yesterday when the enemy started sending us shells and trench mortars over…..You can hear them whistle over, but cannot tell to a few hundred yards where they are going to burst.  They “don’t half” make a row when they burst. 

But the trench mortars are the worst. You can see them coming in the daytime.  They look like bottles coming at about the speed a man throws a cricket ball.  When they drop they are about 10 seconds before they burst; but when they do they shake everything for a good distance away.  Personally, I think they are the most terrible things they send”.

Leeds had taken an initiative early in the war in setting up a shell production factory at the Leeds Forge Company, Armley. In August 1915 they took it a step further and oversaw the construction of the First National Shell Filling Factory at Barnbow, between Crossgates and Garforth.

Covering 313 acres at first, but eventually extending to 400, by December 1915 filling operations commenced with the employment initially of around 50 women. Operations were expanded with the Ministry of Munitons’ decision to install an Amatol filling factory at Barnbow in spring of 1916. Amatol was highly explosive, formed by mixing tri-nitro-tolene (TNT) and ammonium nitrate.

Barnbow was now responsible for filling and assembling QF artillery ammunition (13pdr, 18pdr and 4.5 inch), shrapnel and high explosive (HE). Output soon reached 6,000 shells a day.

Once the war ended and secrecy restrictions no longer applied, newspapers published the following statistics for Barnbow shell production:

  • 12,000 tons of TNT were mixed with 26,350 tons of ammonium nitrate producing 38,350 tons of amatol;
  • In the cartridge factory more than 61,000 tons of propellant (NCT and cordite) were made up into breech-loading cartridges, the highest record for one week being 938 tons. This material had to be carefully weighed on scales into ounces and drachms, giving an indication of labour intensivity and precision[2].
  • Over 36 million breach loading cartridges were charged;
  • Nearly 25 million shells were filled;
  • Over 19 million shells were completed with fuses and packed into boxes;
  • 566,000 tons of finished ammunition was dispatched overseas;
  • If laid end to end the 18-pounder shells alone measured a distance of 3,200 miles, equivalent to the distance from London to New York

By October 1916 the workforce totalled around 16,000, although numbers subsequently declined to around 9,000. 93 per cent of employees were women and girls, with a woman/man ratio of roughly 16:1. About one third of the employees came from Leeds. Others were from Castleford, Normanton, Pontefract, Wakefield, Harrogate, Knaresborough, York, Selby, Tadcaster, Wetherby and surrounding areas.

In addition to railway lines for transporting raw materials and finished products, the North Eastern Railway Company operated 38 “Barnbow Specials” a day. These trains transported the workers to and from the site. There were also 15 ordinary trains.  The workers had free work travel permits.

The Barnbow girls employed on shell-filling earned an average of around £3 a week. However, when the bonus scheme operated some girls could earn as much as £10-£12. Compare this to the wage of a domestic servant who earned as little as two shillings and six pence a week.

But the hours were long and the working conditions arduous, in part due to the nature of the explosive material the girls were working with. Nothing causing static and sparks was allowed: so rubber-soled shoes, smocks, caps only and no matches, cigarettes, combs or hairpins. Initially set up with two shifts a day, soon a three eight-hour round-the clock shift system came into operation. The girls normally worked six days a week with one in three Saturdays off. No holidays. No strikes.

But above all the work was dangerous. Not for nothing was the pay high (but not the equivalent of a man!) There was the very real risk of explosion, three occurring at the Barnbow factory during the war. But more insidiously, the women worked with toxic material, and were at high risk of poisoning.  The symptoms included nausea, vomiting, chest and abdominal pain, headaches, blurred vision, nose and throat problems. However the most obvious manifestation was the yellowing of the skin caused by toxic jaundice, earning the girls the nickname of “canaries”.  Newspapers regularly advertised a skin product called Ven-Yusa aimed at preserving the complexion, and the “munitionettes” were a specific target-market for this product.

image

Ven-Yusa advert – The Yorkshire Evening Post, 11 July 1916

 

Milk was also thought to counteract the yellowness. So besides its three canteens, Barnbow had its own farm with crops and animals. Its 120 cattle produced 300 gallons of milk a day. The workers were allowed to drink as much milk and barley water as they wanted.

Despite the hard toil and dangers there was no shortage of women willing to apply for this work. Recruitment of such a large workforce over such a short space of time meant the opening of a new office at Wellesley Barracks, Leeds specifically for the task. One of the early employees Mrs Edith Haigh in an interview with theYorkshire Evening Postin 1939 described her interview as follows: 

“When I applied for work a woman interviewer asked me if my nerves were good, and told me to breathe deeply so that she could see how my lungs were. “Are you afraid of shells?” she asked. “I don’t suppose I shall be,” I said. “You are willing to undertake it?” “Yes, I’ll take it, whatever it is.”

It was this working environment Annie entered. As well as patriotic duty, perhaps her brother’s service and letter about shells had some influence.

With preparations for the Battle of the Somme, increased shell production was imperative. Annie was employed as a filler and stemmer at the factory. Explosive powder was poured, or “stemmed,” into the shell casings. A mallet and wooden drift was then used to compact the powder.  Elsie McIntyre filled shells at Barnbow. She described the work as follows:

“We had to stem… when it first opened in the early part of the war, we had to stem the powder into shells with broom handles and mallets.  You see, you’d have your shell and the broom handle, your tin of powder. And you’d put a bit in, stem it down, put a bit more in, stem it down. It took you all your time to get it all in. It was very hard work”.

Annie had not been working there long, but on 25 June 1916 she returned home complaining of sickness. Her face took on the typical yellow hue associated with munitions work. The family called in Doctor Fox. They also consulted a specialist. All to no avail. Annie’s condition worsened and she died on the morning of 21 July 1916.

Within hours of Annie’s death, her grieving family received more tragic news, with a wire informing them  Edward had not been seen since heavy fighting on the 2 July. He was officially reported as missing.

Annie’s inquest was heard behind closed doors on 27 July. Her death was recorded as “Misadventure. Acute yellow atrophy of the liver contracted at her work at the factory at Barnbow near Garforth”.

image

Annie Leonard’s Death Certificate

At this very difficult time for the Leonard family, with their daughter’s death and their deep anxiety about Edward’s fate, they still took the trouble to publicly thank people for their support, writing to the “Batley News“. Their letter was published on 29 July 1916 as follows:

Mr and Mrs Leonard and family desire to take this opportunity to offer their deepest thanks, and express our most heartfelt gratitude to neighbours, friends and relations for their kindness and consideration, and most of all for the help and sympathy extended to us in this our hour of double trouble. We also send our thanks and sincere gratitude to the compatriots of our late daughter Annie working in the Barnbow Munition Factory, for the way in which they have shown their love for one who was only amongst them for such a brief time.

We earnestly desire our neighbours, who have shown such a love as is seldom found even in one’s own family, to accept these brief words of appreciation, in as much as it is impossible to express our deep feelings at such unassuming love, help and friendship shown by all. We therefore ask all to again accept our thanks.

Besides being such a wonderful tribute to friends and neighbours, it highlights the support and camaraderie of Annie’s fellow Barnbow workers.

In late September 1916 the Leonard family received a further War Office communication. This updated the previous earlier information that Edward was missing.  It was a bitter blow. He was now officially reported killed.  Directly and indirectly the Battle of the Somme had claimed the lives of two of William and Emma’s children. Their eldest son fighting; their eldest daughter producing the shells required in the conflict.

The government was aware of the dangers of poisoning resulting from munitions work before Annie’s death, yet tried to play it down. They were keen to ensure an adequate labour supply to work in the munitions factories. In May 1916 the work was categorised a dangerous trade, but initially little happened in the way of regulations.

Investigations into the poisoning risks continued and in August 1916 “The Lancet” published the work of two female doctors, Drs Agnes Livingstone-Learmouth and Barbara Martin Cunningham. They were medical officers in munitions factories who studied the phenomena for a number of months. They produced a raft of  recommendations including 21-40 age limits for TNT workers, provision of washing facilities, mandatory regular medical examinations, and moving workers elsewhere after 12 weeks.  Following this, regulations were established with full-time doctors appointed to all large factories and part-time ones to the smaller operatives.

The topic of TNT poisoning also grabbed Parliamentary attention. In October 1916 Mr Anderson asked whether the Home Secretary was aware that of the 472 cases of industrial poisoning reported during the nine months to September 1916, 120 occurred from toxic jaundice, and that of the 62 deaths 33 were attributable to this cause. He asked how many of these were due to TNT poisoning. Mr Brace, Under-Secretary at the Home Office said of these 95 of poisoning cases were a result of TNT, and the number of deaths was 28. He went on to say “Every step is being taken by my department, in concert with the Ministry of Munitions, to investigate and deal with this disease.”

In November 1916 Mr Brace was again obliged to state that 41 workers in the UK had died in the six months to 31 October 1916 from either TNT poisoning or inhaling poisonous fumes.

But criticism of the measures taken to safeguard health continued. Echoing the cause of death verdict reached in Annie Leonard’s inquest, on 11 November 1916 Gertrude Ford in wrote in “The Daily Herald”:

Since we last “observed” the world of women there has been another death from TNT poisoning; followed by another assurance from the Home Office that only some sort of “mistake” or “misadventure” was responsible. A properly administered Act, of course, leaves no loophole for “mistakes” that spell death to the workers affected by its operation. The accompanying assurance that everything will now be done to safeguard the health of the munitions-makers is an implied admission of the. If now, why not earlier?

Yet even in December 1916 the Government was asserting the danger from TNT poisoning “seems to be much exaggerated in the popular mind”.  However, the tighter regulations did begin to take effect and the death rates reduced. It is difficult to say with certainty the number of munition worker deaths attributable to poisoning. Some state as low as 109, while other estimates put it in the region of 400.

Annie is commemorated on the local Carlinghow memorial, at St John’s Church. She is one of 1,400 women whose names are inscribed on the oak screens of the National Women’s Memorial  at York Minister.  Her brother Edward, who has no known grave, is commemorated at Thiepval. There is a family burial plot at Batley cemetery, where both are remembered on the now broken headstone.

On 21 July I intend visiting the grave to pay my respects.

Batley Cemetery Leonard

Annie and Edward Leonard’s Headstone in Batley Cemetery by Jane Roberts

Sources:

[1] Birth registered in Q4 1891 Dewsbury 9b 580
[2] One-eighth of an ounce

GRO Picture Credit: 

Extract from GRO death register entry for Annie Leonard: Image © Crown Copyright and posted in compliance with General Register Office copyright guidance

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:

“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.