Bewdley ‘Pals’: Two Machine Gunners and the Battle of Ovillers

Private ‘Titch’ (Percy Whittington) CARTER
22561 Formerly 1889 Worcestershire Regiment

Lance Corporal George William INSULL
22557 formerly 1885 Worcestershire Regiment

 

144th Company Machine Gun Corps
killed in action Monday 18th July 1916

Percy Carter is one of the best-documented casualties of the Great War, commemorated on the St Anne’s memorial. He is also one of the only casualties to die in the company of another: both Percy Carter and George Insull died as a result of German shelling at their post manning a machine gun on the Somme in 1916. George Insull is yet another of a pair of brothers commemorated on the Bewdley memorial. Their stories have been presented side by side.

Percy Whittington Carter was born on the 12th September 1896, one of nine children born to John William Carter, a farmer’s labourer / tanner (born in 1871), and Leah Carter, formerly Baker born in 1870. John Carter was nicknamed ‘Titch’, and worked at the tannery on Severn Side South. He was a great fisherman and knew and loved the Severn well. The family home was at Court 1, 4 Lax Lane. The Carters were also a musical family: Leah Carter played the piano by ear, and Percy went on to become a chorister at St Leonard’s Church at Ribbesford. The church was often packed to hear him sing, and he also played the mouth organ with skill. As well as his musical skills, Percy inherited the nickname ‘Titch’, and it was by this name he was known in the Army. By 1911, on the eve of the Great War ‘Titch’ carter was working as a brass worker.

carter family

The Carter family with Percy standing in uniform

George William Insull was born on the 1st January 1896, the son of Rose and John Insull. The family lived in 32 Welch Gate, next door to John’s widowed mother Elizabeth. John was a tinsmith by trade, and by the time of the 1911 census, George was working as an errand boy.

At the outbreak of the war, Titch and George, like Corporal Del Barnfield, (see above), served with the 1/7th Worcestershire Regiment, a territorial unit. This battalion entered service in France on 31st March 1915, as part of the Gloucester and Worcester Brigade, South Midland Division. The formation became 144th Brigade, 48th (South Midland) Division. The division mobilised in August 1914 around Chelmsford, Essex throughout winter of 1914/1915. On the last day of March 1915, they began their journey to front arriving at Boulogne from Folkestone on 1st April 1915.

At the beginning of 1916, due to the realisation of the dominance of the machine gun on the battlefields of the Western Front, the machine gun sections of the British Army were completely reorganised, with the machine gunners forming an entirely different unit, the Machine Gun Corps. The machine gun sections of the 1/4th and 1/6th Gloucesters, and 1/7th and 1/8th Worcesters, of 144th Brigade, united on 23rd January 1916 to form 144th Brigade Machine Gun Company , mobilised at 10am. The detachment from the 1/7th Worcesters included Lt Reginald Southan, Lt EM Thomas and 34 men. Titch Carter and Lance Corporal George Insull both served in Lt Southan’s section, and Percy acted as Reginald Southan’s batman. The company continued to be attached to the 144th Brigade, part of the 48th (1/1st) South Midland Division. Their officer described Carter and Insull’s close friendship as making them like ‘brothers’, and it is somehow fitting that they would share the same fate.

Along with so many of the territorial and 1914 volunteer (or ‘Kitchener’ battalions), the crucible of their service on the Western front was the infamous Somme campaign of
1916. This was the most bloody and largest scale assault of the war so far; newly formed Kitchener battalions, regulars, territorials and troops from all over the then British Empire made the major assault against heavily defended German positions between Albert and Bapaume to the north of the Somme river, in conjunction with French forces in a major strategic campaign designed to wear down the German Army and relieve the pressure on the crucial Verdun sector, where German and French forces had been engaged in bitter attritional battles since February. The Somme has entered popular consciousness more than any other campaign in the Great War, and historical debate still rages around its role in the Allied victory. Its severity can be seen in the St Anne’s memorial where the Somme battles claimed the lives of no less than twelve of the seventy-five men recorded on the memorial.

On the 16th July 1916, the 144th Brigade and their machine gun company were involved in the final capture of the remains of the village of Ovillers along with 74th Brigade and the 1st/5th Royal Warwickshire Regiment of 143rd Brigade.

ovilliers trench map

The company began their advance 4.30pm with the 1/7th Worcesters. Lt. Thomas was in command with number 13 and 14 guns moving to support the left flank. Lt Hannie’s guns supported the right flank. 3 guns of ‘C’ Section under 2nd Lt Oakfield formed a reserve, and at 8.30pm 2Lt Oakfield moved forward with numbers 10 and 12 guns to support the centre. Number 12 gun was the gun commanded by Lance Corporal George Insull and manned by Privates Carter and Hannon.

On the 17th July 144th Brigade took 300 yards of the original German front line north of Ovillers, and by the 18th July they had moved up to communication trenches north of the village. It was on the night of the 17th July that number 12 gun

german ovilliers map
A German map of the Battle

was buried by shell fire. Two German 5.9 shells hit the gun’s position at ‘Crucifix Corner’, a road junction with roads leading north towards Thiepval, east to Ovillers, south-east to La Boiselle, and south and west towards Albert. The crew of number 12 gun were killed, wounded or buried. The company war diary describes how Sgt Toombs of the 1/7th Worcesters (later MGC no 72925) and 2nd Lt Oakfield showed coolness and gallantry especially the former who despite being wounded, and being under intense shell fire, returned afterwards to dig out the gun. (Toombs was awarded the DCM: Stacke p.178).

 

hannon crop
James Harold Hannon

The casualties were: ‘Killed 22557 Lance Corporal Insull, 22301 Pte Hannon J, 22561 Pte Carter P. Wounded 11316 Pte Booth. Shell shock 9815 Pte Windom’ (1)
Lieut. Reginald Southan of the Machine Gun Corps, wrote to the Carter family, and his letter was reproduced in the Kidderminster Shuttle:

‘Dear Mr And Mrs Carter, – I was quite upset to hear of your son’s death, and I beg to offer you my deepest sympathy.
He was one of the best chaps in the world and one of the most popular men in the
company. He was a pal to everybody, brave as a lion, and always ready to run any risk. I am so sorry for you all. As I know how much you loved him, and I assure you that his death affects me as much as if he had been my brother.’ 2nd Lieutenant Southan also wrote to the Insull family: “We all mourn his loss, for he was one of the finest men I had, and not the least of his many good qualities was his constant thought of others – especially of you, of whom he constantly spoke. He has been buried where he fell – next to the remains of the gun”. 3

Also sent to the Carter family, was a poem written by Southan about his servant, describing Titch who was ‘popular with all’:
A fair happy face, a broad bright smile
A whistle, a song, you can hear all the while
A willing lad, always as artful as bold,
No matter if weather be hot, wet or cold.
An order is given, and straight carried out
That all will go smoothly, there is never a doubt.
The buttons all cleaned, the muddy boots brushed,
No matter what’s wanted he’ll never be rushed.
An artful trick here and a joke over there.
A dead straight parting in his well brushed Hair,
A little thing missing – he soon wins another,
Aided by Insull, his inseparable brother.
No matter what trophies his boss may obtain,
They are all polished up and bright once again,
A clean shirt is wanted, its there on the spot,
A shave perhaps is needed, the waters there hot.
No matter what order, it always is done,
In a manner which causes a great deal of fun.
Just build up these trifles without any hitch,
And the good fellow formed is my servant named TITCH.4

Percy Carter and George Insull have no known graves, and are both commemorated
on the Thiepval Memorial, Pier and Face 5C and 12C. Percy Carter’s brother Harold also served with the Worcestershire regiment and survived the war. George Insull’s younger brother Jack served with the Royal Berkshire Regiment and died on the last day of the war. (See below) Their brother Charles Insull served with the 10th battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, but was wounded and survived the war.

1 This was Private James Harold Hannon (40128, formerly 2419 Worcestershire Regiment) aged 22, the son of James and Alice Hannon, of 3, Crowther St., Kidderminster. Harold Hannon was a painter and decorator, who worked with his uncle George Bromley in New Road, Kidderminster. He also has no known grave and is commemorated with his comrades on pier and face 5 C and 12 C of the Thiepval Memorial.

2 Kidderminster Shuttle August 5th, 1916 p.7

3 Kidderminster Shuttle July 29th, 1916 p. 7

4 I am indebted to Lorna Chapman for this information.

 

Advertisements

The Daily Mirror ‘missing’ list: Pte. Percival Richard Horton, 1st Bn. Gloucestershire Regiment

D Mirror Glos Horton

Percival Richard Horton 1894 – 1916

Percy Horton was born in Agricola, Fort Saskatchewan, Alberta, Canada on the 1st January 1894. He was the youngest son of Frank Isaac Horton, a gardener’s assistant, who was born in 1862 in East London, and Clara Ellen Hobson (1864-1930) born to an army family in the North West of India.

Percy had at least two siblings, Grace born 1888, and Allen 1890. The family moved to Canada in 1892 and were farming near Edmonton in the 1901 census. By 1911, the family had returned to Britain and were living at 31, Rooksgrove, Kingscourt, Rodborough near Stroud, where 17-year-old Percy is an ‘apprentice’. His service number 9689 suggests he joined the regular army’s 1st Battalion The Gloucestershire Regiment in August 1912.

At the coming of war in August 1914, the 1st Battalion were stationed at Bordon in Hampshire. As part of the BEF, they arrived at Le Havre on the 13th August 1914, part of 3rd Brigade in 1st Division.

Horton was killed in action at High Wood on 8th September 1916:

Explore georeferenced maps - Map images - National Library of Scotland.clipular
German Trench lines 3rd September 1916

“The troops ordered to secure the western half of High Wood on 8th September were the 1st Gloucester and the 2nd Welsh of 1st Division’s 3rd Brigade. Two companies of the 2nd Welsh advanced up its left-hand side at 6 p.m. while, further to the left, the 1st Gloucester attacked the wood’s south-western face. Helping both battalions were two companies of the 9th Black Watch from 15th Division who assaulted a trench that ran from the western corner. After a short fight, the 2nd Welsh company nearest to the centre of the wood gained its objective, but the other company was checked by fire. As for the 1st Gloucesters, it was a disaster. Weak in numbers even before the attack, they had to winkle the enemy from wired shell holes at bayonet point. Isolated with no chance of being reinforced and reduced to three officers and 96 men, they withdrew to their original line after dark.“

 

Norman, Terry. The Hell They Called High Wood: The Somme, 1916. London: W. Kimber, 1984. Print. p.205

Horton was listed missing in the November 4th, 1916 Gloucester Journal, and his photo printed with other Gloucestershire Regiment ‘missing’ in the Daily Mirror of 14th December 1916.

The British Newspaper Archive - findmypast.co.uk.clipular (5)The British Newspaper Archive - findmypast.co.uk.clipular (6)

He seems to have originally been buried where fell, on the site of London Cemetery and Extension, but was later concentrated in Delville Wood Cemetery XIX G 8: his inscription reads “He died for you”. Horton is also commemorated in the Rodborough Church Roll of Honour, and the Canadian Book of Remembrance.

 

 

A Wribbenhall officer at La Boisselle: Second Lieutenant George Major Solloway Foster

Foster_G_M_S_2nd_Lt_10th_Worcestershire_Regiment_The_Sphere_7th_Oct_1916

 

10th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment

Killed in action 3rd July 1916

Foster was born on the 14th March 1888, the sixth child and third son of George Foster (b.1856) and Eleanor Mary Solloway (b. 1862). George Foster began his career as a tea merchant, and the couple was married in 1884. The family was initially resident in Dixon Green, Dudley before moving to Wassell Wood House near Trimpley sometime before the outbreak of war in 1914.

geograph-1074448-by-Row17
Wassell Wood with the house in the distance

 

Foster attended Dudley Grammar School and became a chartered accountant for FW Buckle and Co. at 37 Bennetts Hill, Birmingham. At the outbreak of war, he attested on the 21st September 1914, a very early volunteer to the 16th Birmingham City Battalion with the service number 25. He applied for a commission in February 1915 and was gazetted 2nd Lieutenant on the 4th April 1915 (p.3421 7th April 1915)

 

geograph-2692988-by-P-L-Chadwick
Bennetts Hill, Birmingham

 

He arrived in France on the 7th May 1916 and joined the 10th Battalion in their preparations for the offensive on the Somme. The main action of the battalion was to be the capture of La Boisselle, and the regimental history describes a bitter battle:

 “Shortly after 3 a.m. amid the blazing gunfire all around, a warning order was passed along the line. A few minutes later a second order, unheard amidst the din but quickly sensed, rippled down the ranks. The men rose to their feet, and the order was given to advance. The platoons rushed forward, crossed ” No Man’s Land ” and charged the German defences. A fierce fight followed with bomb and bayonet over successive lines of trenches. The companies became confused, control became impossible and the platoons stormed forward as best they could, led by their subalterns and N.C.Os. …In small groups, the Worcestershire platoons fought their way onwards into the ruins of the village. Ten days of intense bombardment had shattered every house, but the enemy had previously constructed deep dugouts and had strengthened the cellars. In those underground strongholds they had survived the bombardment, and now they swarmed up from their cover to meet the attack.

In and around the smashed heaps of masonry which had once been houses, the British platoons fought with enemies who appeared suddenly and unexpectedly from every side. Only by the momentary light of flares and shell bursts was it possible to distinguish friend from foe. The fighting was hand-to-hand or at point-blank range, with bomb, bullet or cold steel. At various points, individual officers established some sort of order for a moment and attempted a systematic destruction of the German defences. Explosive charges previously prepared were brought up and were thrown down such dugouts as were discovered. But the fighting was too involved and the casualties too rapid for any permanent control.

Battalion Headquarters of the 10th Worcestershire had followed the companies forward
across the trenches. The Commanding Officer, Colonel Royston-Piggott, made his way forward with his Adjutant up to a large mine-crater—the crater of the mine which had been fired on July 1st. There he made certain that his Battalion had reached the village. He dictated to his Adjutant a message to be sent back to Brigade reporting the progress. Just as the message was finished, the Colonel was shot through the heart. A few minutes later the Adjutant also was hit and, for a time, Battalion Headquarters ceased to exercise control.

The first light of dawn enabled the fighters in the village to recognise each other with
certainty, and the struggle reached its climax. Most of the defenders had by that time been killed or captured, although a few strong points still held out. Several of the Worcestershire platoons had fought their way right through the village to the more open ground on the far side. That ground was a tangle of broken hedges in a wilderness of shell-holes. Small parties of troops pushed forward in the excitement of victory, shooting, bombing and collecting prisoners…In the village itself, the last brave remnant of the enemy fought on, holding individual posts for several hours. Those posts were gradually isolated, surrounded and reduced. Strong German counter-attacks were made against the village, but a defensive line had been hastily organised on the eastern outskirts of the village and the counter-attacks were withered by machine-guns and musketry. By midday the fighting in the village was over: the last German post had been taken, and reorganisation was in progress.

KT 29 7 16 crop
Kidderminster Times 27th July 1916

The 10th Worcestershire had reason to be proud of their first battle; for the captured position was of immense strength. The dugouts were so deep and of such solid construction that even after the terrific bombardment of the previous week many of them were still undamaged; and the defenders—troops of the German 13th, 23rd, and 110th Reserve Regiments—had fought to the last. The 57th Brigade captured 153 prisoners—nearly all wounded. But the success had been dearly purchased. The Battalion had lost a third of its fighting strength, including the Commanding Officer and Adjutant. The survivors of the Battalion held on throughout the remainder of the day in such cover as they could find or make, and in the evening the supernumerary officers who had been left behind with the Battalion Transport came up and took over command of the companies….”

 

Private Thomas George Turrall (1885-1964) of the 10th Worcesters won a Victoria Cross in this action.

Foster’s body was recovered and interred near the former British front line. After the war, his body was moved to grave XVI. E. 6 of the nearby Ovillers Military Cemetery. G M S Foster is one of the 61 names on the Dudley Grammar School (now Castle High School) memorial. He is also remembered on his parents’ grave in All Saints’ Churchyard, and the Wribbenhall war memorial.

Stacke, Harry F. M. The Worcestershire Regiment in the Great War. Kidderminster: G.T. Cheshire & Sons, 1928. Print. p.170-1

Kidderminster Times 29th July 1916 p.3

Bennetts Hill photo: © Copyright P L Chadwick and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence

Wassell Wood © Copyright Row17 and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence