Tag Archives: WW1

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.

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.

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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

Letters: Life, Love, Death & The Somme

Letter from Lance Corporal Herbert Booth, 9th  Battalion The King’s Own (Yorkshire Light Infantry) to his brother James shortly before 1 July 1916 – Published in the “Batley News” 12 August 1916
 “Well, old boy I do not know when I shall be able to write you another letter after this. In fact I will tell you the truth, it is like the song “It may be for years, or it may be for ever”; but never mind lad, whatever happens to me you can depend on me meeting it with a brave heart.  I will tell you this kid, it is going to be one of the biggest scraps that has ever been known, and I have not the slightest wish to withdraw.  If the worst happens, it is only death, and that comes to everybody at some time or another.  I understand by your letter that you have been rejected.  I know that you would like to have a smack at the Huns, but never mind, you have the satisfaction of knowing that you offered your services to your King, and that is what a lot of single young men have not had the pluck to do.  If things turn out right, and I have luck enough to come through this job safely I shall be able to tell you as much as anyone here can.  This is my tenth month out here and I have not been away from the battle area one month out of the ten.  Perhaps by the time you get this you have read all about this affair in your papers.  If I have the good luck to come out alive I will drop you a field card or a line of some sort at the earliest possible convenience, and let you know how I have gone on.”

WW1 Silk Postcard – my own collection

Letter from Lieut R.H. Ibbotson to Ellen Booth, Herbert’s wife – Published in the “Batley News” 12 and 19 August 1916
“I have received your inquiry about your husband, Lce-Corpl Herbert Booth, and am extremely distressed to have to tell you that the news I have to give you is of the very worst, and that your husband was killed in action on the 1st of July.  He took part in the magnificent advance made by this Battalion.  I am sorry I did not know your husband personally.  I have only just come to this Company to command it from the transport which I looked after during the attack.  None of the officers in “A” Company who took part in the attack are here now, they were all either killed or wounded.  Anything I can say in a letter to you cannot possibly help you, I am afraid, to bear this terrible blow, but I can honestly say that you have my deepest and absolute sincere sympathy”

Letter from Pte W H Fisher writing from Grovelands Hospital, Old South Gate, London – Published in the “Batley News” 26 August 1916
“Corporal Booth was one of my best pals. We went “over the top” on the morning of July 1st, like two brothers, and we had only got about 30 yards out when he was hit right through the temple.  I had to leave him and got about another 150 yards when I was wounded.  I spoke to him, but he never spoke”.

Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the “Batley News” 26 August 1916
Booth – Lce-Corpl Herbt. Booth, KOYLI, killed in action on July 1st

We little thought when we said good-bye
We parted forever and you were to die
But the unknown grave is the bitterest blow
None but aching hearts can know

From father, mother, sister and brother-in-law

Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the “Batley News” 7 July 1917
Booth – In loving memory of my dear husband, Lance Corporal Herbert Booth, who was Killed in Action, July 1st 1916.

We often sit and mourn for him,
But not with outward show,
For the heart that mourns sincerely
Mourns silently and low,
We think of him in silence,
His name we oft-times call,
But there is nothing left to answer
But his photo on the wall
RIP

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

Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the “Batley News” 6 July 1918
Booth – In loving remembrance of our dear brother, Lance-Corporal Herbert Booth, 9th Batt. KOYLI who was killed on the Somme, July 1st 1916.

Brother of ours on the grim field of Battle
Died fighting for honour, and all that is
True
Brother of ours, you’re a man and a hero.

From his brother and sister-in-law, James and Cissie, 3 Crow Nest, St James’ Street, Burnley

Roll of Honour In Memoriam Notice – Published in the “Batley News” 3 July 1920
Booth – In loving memory of a dear son and brother, Lance-Corporal Herbert Booth KOYLI, killed in action July 1st 1916

Only a wooden cross
Only a name and number
O God let angels guard the spot
Where our dear one doth slumber

From his dear mother and father, sister and brother-in-law, 13 Carlinghow Hill, Batley

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

Sources:

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