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

 

 

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