“It Is My Sad Duty…” Three of Bewdley’s Somme Casualties.

 

 

This is the story of three of the men on the St. Anne’s War Memorial who all served with the 3rd Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, and who fell in the Battle of the Somme in summer 1916, a century ago.

John Daniel Griffiths was born on the 11th January 1895 in Oaken, Codsall, Staffordshire: he was the eldest child of Daniel Griffiths a domestic groom (born in Donnington, Shropshire in 1871), and (Sarah) Ellen Griffiths (neé Wormington) who was born in Crossbrook, just east of Bromsgrove in 1869. The couple had married near to Ellen’s home in Bromsgrove in the summer of 1893. By the beginning of the new century, the family lived at 63 Ash Street, Wolverhampton, and John Daniel had been joined by Bertha born in Wolverhampton in 1898, Florrie, born 1900 in Wolverhampton, and 6 month-old William. At some point in the following decade, possibly following the death of Daniel Griffiths senior in 1908, the family lived in Dudley and then relocated to Bewdley.[1]

By 1911 the Griffiths are living at 24 Wyre Hill, and John Daniel (who seems to have gone by his second given name) is employed as errand boy helping support a substantial number of siblings: Harry had been born in 1901 while the family remained in Wolverhampton, and Richard was also born there in 1903 . Horace was born in Dudley in 1905, and Ernest and David after the family’s move to Bewdley in 1907 and 1909 respectively. The widowed Sarah Ellen Griffiths was a charwoman.[2]

In the years before the war, Daniel Griffiths moved away from Bewdley and set up trade as a butcher at 161 Pershore Road, Cotteridge, King’s Norton. It was here that he married Polly Fletcher, a domestic servant and daughter of agricultural labourer William Fletcher, on the 25th November 1914 at the Baptist Chapel in Wythall Heath. Polly lived at The Chestnuts, Alcester Road Wythall, near Alvechurch.

With the coming of war, and the intensifying battles on the Western Front, Griffiths formally enlisted in the 3rd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment at Hollywood, near Solihull, just outside Wythall sometime in April 1916. Conscription had just been introduced, and it is possible he was an early conscript who had previously been excluded from service due to his trade as a butcher. He joined the battalion in July, at the height of the fighting on the Somme, possibly as part of a draft of reinforcements received on the 24th. [3] His service on the Somme was to last less than a month, and he would not return to Wythall. [4]

3rd Battalion Worcestershire on the Somme: July-October 1916 [5]

When Daniel Griffiths joined the 3rd Worcestershire on the Somme in July 1916, they were heavily committed to the battle. The 3rd Battalion was by then part of the 7th brigade of 25th Division, and saw extensive service during the early stages of the Battle. The 25th Division was not deployed on the first day of the battle, but they received their orders to move towards the front on the morning of 2nd July 1916. The artillery of the distant battle to the east was clearly audible, and the 7th Brigade moved along crowded roads to reserve positions to the South of Aveluy Wood. On the morning of the 3rd July 1916, an attack upon the German positions in front of the Brigade, centred on Thiepval Ridge failed, resulting in the 7th Brigade being used to relieve the attacking units. 1 Wiltshire Regiment were sent forward, while the 3rd Worcestershire remained in reserve.

The British attacks had seized the German frontline, but heavy fighting was taking place in the warren of supporting reserve trenches in the German position. By 5 July it became obvious that the Wiltshire Battalion were struggling to stem the German counter-attacks, and two companies of the 3rd Worcestershire were sent to support them. For 48 hours the two battalions fought in the rain soaked trenches under constant German artillery bombardment, with the majority of the fighting being hand-to-hand or using hand grenades or “bombs” as they were known in the Great War. It was not until the evening of the 7 July that the two battalions were withdrawn to reserve positions, back at Aveluy Wood. 21 men had been killed, and over 162 wounded or missing.

After two short days in reserve, the 25th  Division was redeployed, and the 3rd Worcestershire found themselves marching through La Boiselle, the scene of heavy fighting involving some of their sister battalions in the previous stages of the battle. The aim of the next attack involving the 3rd Worcestershire was to take part in the capture of the village of Ovilliers. On the 10 July, half a company of the 3rd Worcestershire supported the efforts of the 8 Loyal North Lancashire to seize the spur of ground leading to Ovilliers. Despite heavy fighting they were unable to do so. Throughout the next two to three days, the Battalion took part in the fighting which pushed British lines close to Ovilliers, often taking place through direct remains of German trench networks. The regimental history describes the position of the 3rd Worcestershire as like a “spear point into the broken German defences”. Such a position was precarious; given the strong German intent to defend their position. The Battalion managed to beat off determined counter-attacks on the morning of 14 July. Fresh troops including the 48 Division’s 143rd Brigade gradually took up positions towards the north side of Ovilliers, and after further fighting succeeded in fatally isolating the German position. Further reinforcements led to the 3rd Worcestershire trenches being made secure, and by the 16 July it was described as “strongly defended”. Early on the morning of the 17 July the 25th Division was withdrawn; the 3rd Worcestershire had suffered 177 casualties.

After two day’s rest the 3rd Worcestershire redeployed as part of 25th Division, with the Battalion at reserve positions in Mailly Wood, while the rest of their Brigade took over positions previously held by the 29th Division.[6] The battalion moved to the front line trenches immediately to the west of the River Ancre, the northern tributary of the Somme, on the 3rd1st July. Despite heavy fighting to the south, this sector of the battlefield was quiet, and the Battalion was withdrawn along with the 25th Division when they were relieved by 6 Division on 6 August 1916. Their initial rest area was at billets in Bertrancourt where they stayed until 11 August, before moving to rear training areas. This training, including inspection by H M the King, came to an end on 17 August, when the 7 Brigade returned to their previous battlefield of the Leipzig salient near Thiepval, where the situation remained much as it had done in the previous month. However, the capture of the Ovilliers spur (as described above) had made the German positions in the Leipzig salient more vulnerable, and on 21 August orders were received for the 25th and 48th Divisions were to make a joint attack on these German positions.

Throughout that time, the 3rd Worcestershire were under constant attack from German fire. The Battalion held their ground throughout the 22nd and 23rd and early part of 24 August, and despite the regimental history describing this period as being “without notable incident”, on 23rd August alone the Battalion lost seven men killed and 50 wounded: one of the dead was 22 year-old Private John Daniel Griffiths. The attack on the German positions in Lemberg trench began at 4:10 PM on 24 August, and both the 3rd Worcestershire and 1 Wilts went over the top preceded by a very heavy British artillery barrage. Hand-to-hand fighting resulted when they reached the German position, using both hand grenades and bayonets. German counter-attacks pressed hard upon the flanks of the newly seized position, but they were resisted. The Germans poured artillery fire onto their former positions, but both battalions laboured to improve and secures the captured territory by reinforcing its defences. At some point during 24 August 1916, Private John Rollins (see below) was killed. This artillery fire continued throughout the 25th August, but the two 7 Brigade battalions held their positions, and prepared for the inevitable German counter-attack. German shelling increased in intensity towards the end of the day, but British counter barrages broke up an attack before it could be launched. The 3rd Worcestershire were relieved on the evening of 26 August after three days of battle which had cost them 243 casualties.

 

John Rollins was a Leicestershire born man who moved to Bewdley in his youth. The John was the eldest son of Charles Rollins, a coachman and gardener by profession who was born in Stoke Goldington, Buckinghamshire in 1857. He married Martha Ann Wallington in Northampton in 1879. Martha was born in Weston Favrell, Northamptonshire in 1885. The couple’s first home was at 66 St George’s Street Northampton, and their first child, Nora was born in 1880. The family spent some time at the village of Blaston in Leicestershire, where their daughter Jessie was born in 1883rd. By 1887, the family were living in East Gate Street in the village of Hallaton, Leicestershire, where Beatrice was born in 1887, and John Rollins was born in 1890. The family’s other two sons, Charles Henry and Reuben were born in Hallaton in 1892 and 1894 respectively. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the family lived in the town of West Bretton, near Wakefield.

 

At some time in the early 1900s, the family moved to Bewdley. John became a keen member of the Boy Scout movement. A poignant photograph of him exists as a scout pictured with Frank Tolley (see below left; Rollins right). Neither of the two survived the Great War.

Bewdley scouts Tolley Rollins pc 1911 (1)

By 1911, the family lived at Hawthorn Cottages, Cleobury Road. Reuben Rollins lived at home with his parents. John Rollins was working in Hebden Bridge, Yorkshire as a cotton weaver in the home of his sister Lily (possibly his sister Nora by another name), who had married Lawrence Preston in 1900. Charles Henry Rollins was similarly lodging with his sister Jessie (now Munslow) at Ashdene Villas, 18 Cyril Road, Worcester, and working as a journeyman baker. Rollins became engaged to Gertrude Florence Sargent of Rashwood near Droitwich – she was born in Charfield, Gloucestershire, in 1898, the daughter of Albert and Elizabeth Sargent. She went on to marry Victor White in Thornbury, Gloucestershire, in 1920, and died in Stroud in 1962.

John Rollins joined the army on the 6th April 1916, and as he is described as having had ‘three months training’. John’s brothers both survived the war: Charles Henry Rollins served with the Army Service Corps from 1914; Reuben Rollins served in the Lincolnshire Regiment.

It was during the latter stages of the Battle of the Somme, during fighting around the tributary of the Somme river, the Ancre, that Thomas Edward Griffin was fatally wounded. On the 2nd October 1916, the 3rd Battalion moved up from the valley below Thiepval, and relieved the 8th Battalion of the Loyals in captured trenches on the crest line above the Ancre. This was a very distinctive and heavily shelled feature, and the battalion began to suffer casualties very quickly. The position on the Ancre heights was held in driving rain and constant bombardment for ten days. On the 10th October, the neighbouring position to the left of the battalion known as ‘Stiff Redoubt’ was seized by the 10th Cheshire. On the 12th October 1916, the 3rd Worcestershire were relieved and moved to support trenches, then to bivouacs near Bouzincourt for a night’s rest. On the 16th October the battalion moved to positions in dugouts at Crucifix Corner. A major attack was being planned, and the 3rd Worcestershire were pressed into service as carrying parties moving up and down to the Ancre heights in more rain and deep mud. The attack was successful, with the whole length of the Ancre Heights being taken by the British. The 3rd Worcestershire were relieved to Bouzincourt and then on to Herissart. [7] During this period the Battalion suffered one man killed and six wounded. One of those wounded was Thomas Edward Griffin, who was described as being ‘seriously wounded by…gunshot wounds received in action’. [8]

 

Griffin was born in Dog Lane, Bewdley on the 29th May 1883, the son of John Edward and Mary Jane Griffin. John Edward Griffin is a labourer by profession, and was born in Bewdley in 1858; Mary Jane’s maiden name was probably Lowe, and the couple married in Dudley in 1878. In the 1881 census, John Edward is a butcher resident at 87 Welch Gate, with two daughters: Jane aged 2 and Alice aged 1. By 1901 the widowed ‘Minnie’ Griffin lives at Court 1 Severn Side North. Her children are Alice aged 21 and Minnie 14 who both work in a carpet factory; Thomas Edward aged 17 works as a horse carter; James G is aged 13, and Edith is aged 2.[9]

At some point in the early 1910s, Thomas Griffin was employed on the inland waterways of the Midlands: in the census of April 1911 he is serving as a mate on the ‘Agnes’, a boat moored at The Wharf in Stone, Staffordshire. The 48 year old master of the ‘Agnes’, Albert Crump was also a Bewdley man. His brother James was also a mate on a canal boat, captained by Frederick George Norwood at Stewponey wharf in Kinver.

Thomas Griffin was married to Elizabeth B Tillman (born 1894 in Bewdley)[10] on the 13th of April 1915. At the time of his marriage, Griffin was living with his parents at 14, Brook Street, Kidderminster, but the couple soon moved to 36, Lax Lane, Bewdley, and they had one child, also named Thomas Edward, born in 1915. Before enlisting, Griffin was employed by Spears and Jackson’s of Sheffield. Griffin enlisted at Kidderminster in January 1915, and initially served in the 12th Reserve Battalion of the regiment, and subsequently the 4th or 9th Battalion. He arrived in the Dardanelles on the 29th August 1915, possibly as part of a substantial draft of reinforcements for the 9th Battalion.[11] He was invalided home with ‘enteric’ in October 1915, was treated in Netley Hospital, near Southampton. He was at home for Christmas 1915 on leave, and returned to France, serving with the 3rd battalion in January 1916. Griffin’s brother Private James G Griffin also served with either the 4th or 9th Worcesters in the Dardanelles. He joined up on January the 7th 1915, and was invalided home in June 1915

Thomas Griffin was taken to the Canadian General Hospital at Etaples, but died of his wounds. He is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery, grave VIII. C. 9A. He was 34. Daniel Griffiths left a widow and child back in Wythall; either his body or his grave was destroyed, and together with John Rollins he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing which is located very close to the German positions they fought to capture in August 1916.

 

Kidderminster Shuttle 16th September 1916. PAGE 7; 11th November 1916, p.7, 25th th November 1916, p.7, 27th October 1917.

Kidderminster Times December 2nd 1916 p.8

[1] Daniel Griffiths senior’s profession at death is given as ‘coachman ‘.

[2] Sarah Ellen Griffith later remarried and her marriage to William Clarke is listed in the Register of marriages in October/November/December 1915. In 1916 she lived at 2 ‘off’ Load Street, Bewdley.

[3] Whithorn

[4] Kidderminster Shuttle 7th October 1916 p.7.

[5] These accounts are heavily reliant on Stacke’s magisterial Regimental History, and respectfully follow the example of David Whithorn’s touching account of his great-uncle Albert Turley’s death, also with the 3rd Battalion, on 24 August 1916, as described in his book Bringing Uncle Albert Home: A Soldier’s Tale (Stroud Sutton 2003 Print).

[6] It will be remembered that this Division’s 88th Brigade contained the 4th Worcestershire.

[7]  Stacke p.199

[8]  Kidderminster Times 25th /11/1916 p.7

[9] By 1916, Mrs MJ Griffin lived at 15, Brook Street, Kidderminster.

[10] The Tillman family lived at 3rd, Severnside South Bewdley. Elizabeth Griffin died in 1985.

[11] Stacke p. 105

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s