Bewdley Men on the Somme: Two Birmingham ‘Pals’, Charles Minton and Joseph Banks Smith

Lance Corporal Charles Edgar MINTON 

16th (3rd Birmingham) Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment no: 66

Acting Sergeant Joseph Banks SMITH

14th (1st Birmingham) Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment no:1764

Killed in action 3rd September 1916

Charles Minton and Joseph Banks Smith were two of the St Anne’s Memorial men who served in one of the Birmingham ‘Pals’ battalions, the 14th, 15th and 16th battalions of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

Charles Minton was born at 1, Swan Street Kidderminster on the 26th of March 1883 son of William Minton, a clothier, and Sarah Minton (nee Doolittle). William Minton was the son of a Bewdley family long established in the drapery trade. William’s clothier’s business in Kidderminster was in existence in the 1881 census, when he was living with his wife and two sons Bertram, born in 1880, and William born in 1881. By 1891 Charles aged 8 is a scholar, still at 1 Swan Street. By 1901 the family had moved to Bewdley , and were resident at 51 and 52 Load Street. The Minton family business had been based in this building and adjacent properties for many years, run by William’s mother Sarah and later father Thomas, at least since the 1850s. At the time of the 1901 census, Charles Minton is boarding at a lodging house in Birmingham, learning his trade as an apprentice draper.

At some time, William Minton became a Justice of the Peace. Charles was also a member of Bewdley institute from 1914.[i] At the outbreak of war in 1915, Charles Minton was resident in Kidderminster but enlisted in Birmingham. His brothers Clement, William and Bert all also served – Clement in the Machine Gun Corps, William in the Worcestershire Yeomanry, and Bert in the Royal Field Artillery.[ii] He joined one of the three Birmingham ‘Pals’ battalions – 14th, 15th and 16th battalions, or the 1st, 2nd and 3rd Birmingham battalions. These units usually attracted fairly middle-class recruits from skilled trades or clerical backgrounds. Charles Minton has an extremely low regimental number, and must have been among the very first recruits of the 16th battalion back in September 1914. He served in II (second) platoon ‘A’ company, commanded by Lieutenant HH Jenkins, with the Company commanded by Captain Richardson. [iii] He seems to have had an early promotion to Lance Corporal while still stationed in Britain in 1915.

Joseph Banks Smith was also one of the four pairs of brothers on the St Anne’s war memorial, being the brother of Frank E Smith. He was born on Wyre Hill, Bewdley on the 17th of January 1886. He was the second son of Joseph Smith, a brush-maker, and Eliza Smith, formerly Millward. The family lived in Dowles in the 1880s, at the Old Toll House. Their first son Elon was born in 1873, and their daughters Florence in 1879 and Harriet in 1881. They also shared the house with an adopted daughter, Minnie Marsden. By 1891 the family have moved to 29 Lax Lane, and the children now include by Kate Smith born in 1883 and Frank in 1890. By 1901, Joseph’s working life has begun, as a labourer in a carpet dyehouse, and he still lives with his parents and brother Frank at 9, Lax Lane.

Early in the new century, Joseph Smith seems to have joined the Army, possibly one of the two regular battalions of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He served for ten years, six of them in stationed in Malta and India. Joseph Smith would have remained on the reserve list after leaving the army. After his return to civilian life, he was employed at the Walsall County Court Offices. At the outbreak of war, he was recalled to the colours and went to France with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, where he was wounded in November 1914.[ii]  After convalescing, Smith was posted briefly to a battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment, before being posted to the 14th Royal Warwickshire Regiment

The Birmingham battalions trained in the UK extensively before being sent to France on the 21st November 1915. They served on the Somme front (initially a quiet sector) and Arras, before their true ‘baptism of fire’ in the Somme offensive of July to November 1916. At the time of the Somme battle, the Birmingham battalions were part of 15th Brigade, 5th Division. On the evening of 31st August 1916, 15th Brigade relieved 13th Brigade in the front line, occupying trenches dug by their comrades in the 15th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. On the 1st September, the 16th Battalion dug assembly trenches in front of the German strongpoint of Falfemont Farm in preparation for the imminent attack, designed to seize the spur of Somme countryside that overlooked the German held village of Combles, marked by the site of Leuze (or ‘Lousy’) Wood. In addition to this, on the evening of the 1st September, the 16th Battalion staged a reconnaissance by 2 patrols of 18 men, which succeeded in attracting machine gunfire, wounding the officer in command, Lt. J Hughes, and resulting in 2 men missing.

On the morning of the 2nd September, a British artillery bombardment opened up in preparation for the attack. This attracted German retaliation, and in a day of continual artillery bombardment, the 16th Royal Warwicks suffered 30 casualties, before being relieved in the evening by the 2nd Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers. By 3am in the morning of the 3rd September, they were back in support in Casement Trench.

On the 3rd September 1916, the 13th Brigade attacked Falfemont Farm near Guillemont, with the 14th Battalion together with the 15th Battalion attacked at noon. The terrain of the battlefield had been shattered by many day’s shelling. Both battalions sustained heavy casualties from rifle and machine gun fire from Falfemont Farm which should have been suppressed, but the attack on it by 2nd Battalion KOSB had failed, costing the Scottish unit over 300 casualties. The attack was mired in confusion and ground to a halt on the slopes in front of the farm in the face of fierce enfilade fire from German troops in the farm and nearby Wedge Wood. However, the 14th Battalion managed to get a foothold in the German trenches south of Wedge Wood. The 14th Royal Warwicks suffered 86 killed and 216 wounded, and very few of these men were ever found and buried. Those that were rest in Delville Wood and Guillemont Road Cemeteries. One of the 86 was Joseph Banks Smith. [i]

After the attack on Falfemont Farm by the 14th and 15th Battalions of 13th Brigade, the 16th Battalion were deployed on the evening of the 3rd September, in close support by Angle Wood . On the 4th, the 1st Norfolks renewed the attack, suffering heavily from machine gun fire. A and D companies of the 16th were ordered up to help the Norfolks, moving from shell hole to shell hole under heavy fire. As darkness fell the 16th were digging in on the southeastern edge of the farm, digging trenches or ‘saps’ towards the German positions. On the morning of the 5th September, these saps were used in the final assault on Falfemont Farm which fell after heavy hand to hand fighting. That night, the 16th Royal Warwicks were relieved by troops from the 16th (Irish) Division.[iv]

Given the intensity of the fighting, exact dates for the loss of specific soldiers are difficult to establish, with some sources giving a blanket date of the 3rd September 1916 for casualties killed on the 3rd, 4th and 5th. Between 31st August and 5th September, the 16th lost 61 men killed and 195 wounded. One of the casualties of ‘A’ company was Charles Minton. Both Bewdley men have no identified grave, and are listed on the Thiepval Memorial, Pier and Face 9A 9B and 1B.

Kidderminster Times 21/10/1916 p.8

Kidderminster Shuttle 14th OCT 1916 page 8.

[i] Carter, Terry Birmingham Pals Pen and Sword Barnsley 1997 pp.205-206

NB Kidderminster Times image from Brownp. 19

[i]  Brown 2003 p.79


[ii]  Kidderminster Shuttle 14th October 1916 p.3


[iii]  Bowater


[iv]  Carter pp. 207-8



Emile Georges Horsch: Postcards from a ‘poilu’ — February 1917

A while ago I bought a handful of WW1 patriotic postcards from a junkshop in the Cotswolds. It was only later that I realised they were to and from the same family — the Horsch family from Boulogne. I’ve recently found them again, and thought I’d share them. I also only have a CSE French idea of what they say, so a ‘crowd translation’ courtesy of the Great War Forum was very welcome.

There are no clues as to dates, not all are written upon, and I’m sure some aren’t from the same batch. I’ve also done a little research on the revamped SGA website — a thing of beauty — and I’m afraid this story doesn’t end happily…

Anyway, here they are — remembering….

Card a)


For Right

For Civilization

Glory to our eternal France

Glory to those who care for Her

Card a reverse

‘My dear little Emile

Thank you for your pretty card that you sent me. I am pleased to hear from your little mother’s mouth that you are always very bright. I am sending you a nice card for your trouble. Give your mother a big kiss from me and your little aunt will give you another from me. A thousand kisses. E

Card b
Card b reverse

A thousand kisses from a lover to his little woman who he loves

The card is something like ‘The height of fashion — for a soldier to kiss his wife on the forehead’ With a pun on ‘front’?

Card C

tant que je sentirai, près de moi, son coeur battre
tu viseras longtemps, encore, pour m’abattre

as I feel beside me, his heart beat
long you will strike again, to kill me.

Card C reverse
Card d

Dominion, Volume 9, Issue 2730, 27 March 1916, Page 5

Card e

“If I still had to, tonight, brave death,
I would straighten myself in a supreme effort”

Card e reverse

My dear Emile I am happy to write you a few lines for the…… that Pauline and Mama a good and holy happy birthday, hoping that it will be the year of deliverance…I hope that you are maintaining your health despite rain? sometimes to the right then to the left the case of war. We are all well. God is good. When I arrive, I expect my family will let you know I made it. Nini will tell me that your little Emile continuously wants to be with your uncle Charles … this is a little …. Good health and good luck we will embrace. Long live Daddy! Long live France!

Card f
Card f reverse

“Two sailor comrades”

Card g

‘For the Fatherland!’

Card g reverse

I was at home gift
they do not give me
the certificate as he and I
asked they did merit as a
they cared what your born Sunday
and then they said my fault other
returned to the consultation I explain….

Card h
Card h reverse

“A thousand kisses from your little man”

Card i

“There: like that, I will be able to return!”

Card i reverse
Card j

‘Triple entente’ — ‘If I come, all three burst me!’

The English: We’re in the running! The French: We are ready! The Russian: Me also!

Card j reverse

…about me there are many English who landed at Boulogne…

Card k

‘Glory and Devotion’

Card k reverse

que jamais été heureux de te
trouves aussi près de moi
comme se petit fantassion
le jour que j’ait été
blanc mille baiser de ton petit homme

More than ever
I was happy to see you
and find you so close to me
like small fantasy
the day I was
White? a thousand kisses your little man

“From the last fortnight of October 1916, to the end of February 1917, the (110th) Regiment held the sector north of Mesnil- Le — Hurlu, except for a rest period in the outskirts of Camp de Mailly. In these monotonous and now deserted plains, it was no longer possible to recognize the hell of 1915. There was no specific action during these four months, but the constant, unseen, daily, heroism, the endless hours of sentry duty in the cold nights, the patrols in the smashed landscape of no man’s land, the defence of shell craters. For the front line troops, it was necessary to repeat the experience of duty in trenches which have been crumbled by the frost, floundering around for miles to go to the kitchens for Moroccan rations. The Battalions in reserve at Camp Madelin said there was only one habitable shelter…
Only the days of the 15th and 16th of February disturbed the quiet of the sector. In the afternoon of the 15th, shortly after the return of a patrol conducted by Second Lieutenant Terre (which resulted in three prisoners of the German 238th Reserve Infantry Regiment), an artillery bombardment shocking and unspeakable violence began to the right of the Regiment, on the vicinity of the 208° Regiment at Beausejour. The 2nd and 1st Companies, who were holding the front line , received several direct hits; while the 3rd under Commander Eliet, through the firing of a barrage, was able to interdict a German counter-attack ready to move on the hilltop village of Maisons-de-Champagne.”

110th Infantry Regiment
Anonymous history. Paris, Chapelot, sd, 87 p

Emile George Horsch– Soldier 1st Class: 110th Infantry Regiment from the 8th Infantry Regiment. Service number 8871, class of 1911; recruitment number 2041 at St. Omer. Born Dammarie, Seine et Marne, 22nd July 1891. Killed by enemy action at Mesnil les Hulu, Marne, 15th February 1917. Mort pour la France.

Bewdley Men on the Somme: Joseph Watkins

j watkins

17th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers (14328) : died of wounds 24th July 1916

Joseph Watkins was born in Ribbesford in 1886, the second son of Joseph and Charlotte Watkins. Joseph Watkins senior was born in Lindridge, near Worcester in 1855. Charlotte (nee Booton or Green) was born in Dudley in 1857. they were married in 1876, and had four other children: Elizabeth born in 1879; John Thomas born in January 1881; Charlotte born in 1889 and Horace born in 1901.

The family initially lived at 20 Sandy Bank, but by 1891 they are at 33 Wyre Hill. Joseph Watkins senior is a brick maker by trade, and by 1901 the Watkins’ live at The Common, Abberley near Martley, where Joseph Watkins senior is a brickworks manager. Both his sons John and Joseph have followed him into the trade as brick makers. The brick trade may have proved difficult, for by 1911, the family remains at Abberley, but Joseph senior has reverted to being a bricklayer, Joseph is a labourer, and Charlotte senior and junior are both laundresses.

BL j watkins KT 9 9 16 p7Joseph Watkins was another Bewdley man with prior military experience. He served with the Bewdley Territorials for two years from March 1906 to March 1908. He joined the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers in January 1915 and crossed to France early in 1916. The 17th Lancashire Fusiliers formed part of 104th Brigade of 35th Division. In 1916, the major engagement the 35th Division participated in was the Somme offensive. A recent history of the fighting at Guillemont describes conditions in the front line:

By the 20th July, the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers were in the front line facing Guillemont on the Eastern perimeter of Trones Wood down to Maltz Horn Farm. On the 21st (July 1916) the 17th Lancashire Fusiliers replaced another bantam unit, the 18th Lancashire Fusiliers, in these front lines. A measure of the severity with which the Germans were shelling these positions can be gauged from the casualties which the 17/LFs suffered during the period 21-24 July during which they simply garrisoned the front lines without making any attacks; five officers wounded, 32 other ranks killed, 147 wounded and 2 missing. (Note: Amongst the wounded were the battalion’s commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel A M Mills and his second in command Major Sir HSM Havelock-Allan)[1]

One of the casualties of this shelling was Joseph Watkins. He was severely wounded and was taken to the Casualty Clearing Station at nearby Corbie where he died. He is buried in Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension, Plot I. Row F, Grave 20. he was 30 years of age. [2]

Joseph Watkins’ brother John Watkins, returned from Alberta to join the 3rd Midland Brigade of the Canadian Contingent, served as an Army Veterinary Surgeon in France. The Kidderminster Times also states that another brother ‘Private E Watkins’ served with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment in France. The Watkins family’s unique contribution to the war will be developed in later posts.

[1]  Michael Stedman Battleground Europe: Guillemont Leo Cooper London 1998 p.65

[2]  Kidderminster Times 9 9 1916 p.8; Kidderminster Shuttle 7 10 1916 p.8. The present author’s great-grandfather Private John Heath died of wounds received at Guillemont on the 29th August 1916 while serving with the 14th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He is buried in the same cemetery as Joseph Watkins, in Plot number 2, Row B, Grave number 51.

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