Old Soldiers Never Die: Harry Darkes of Bewdley

darkes harry 11st Battalion Worcestershire Regiment

9584 Died of wounds 8th March 1917

 

Harry Darkes is not only a member of an extensive Bewdley family, but he is also
one of the soldiers on the St Anne’s memorial with the best-documented military
careers. He served in the Boer War before being killed in the Great War.

Henry ‘Harry’ Darkes was born in June 1877, the son of Thomas and Jane Darkes of
Lax Lane Bewdley. 1 Thomas Darkes was a casual labourer and was born in
Bewdley in 1847. Jane was also born in Bewdley in the same year. In 1881, the
family lived at Court Number 1, Lax Lane. Harry Darkes is a four-year-old, and the
family includes Edith aged 12, Leonard aged 10 and 2-year-old twins Ann and Mary.
By 1891, the family were at 40 Lax Lane, and had been joined by 6-year-old Kate,
Thomas aged 4, and Frederick aged 1. Harry was now 14 and employed as an
errand boy.
On 10th January 1900 attested for service in the South African War. At some point
previously joined 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment, the
Bewdley company volunteered for service against the Boers en masse. Darkes’ trade
is a painter, age 24 years and 7 months, and his father Thomas’ address is 40 Lax
Lane.
Harry served as part of the detachment of troops sent from Bewdley to reinforce the
2nd battalion Worcestershire Regiment, led by their officer the then-Lieutenant Robert
Henry Whitcombe (see appendix). The 2nd Battalion had embarked on the troopship
‘Tintagel Castle’. They arrived in Capetown on the 8th January 1900 and made their
way north to the town of Rensburg. Along with 2 other Battalions (2nd Wiltshires and
1st Royal Irish) they joined General Clements’ brigade, defending a semicircular
position near Slingersfontein which extended across nearly fifty miles. On the 12th
February 1900 three Worcestershire companies position on a kopje came under
ferocious attack by Boers commanded by general de la Rey. Some forward positions
were overrun, but the Worcesters kept up sufficient fire to make further advance by
the Boers impossible. The Worcesters lost their commanding officer, his second in
command and over 200 killed and wounded in this engagement. Harry Darkes was
posted to the Regiment on the 23rd February 1900 and may have been part of
reinforcements after this engagement. By the end of his service in the Boer war in
June 1901, Harry Darkes was a Lance Corporal, and his service is recorded on the
Bewdley Boer War memorial in the Town Council chambers.

Harry Darkes seems to have returned to Britain at the end of 1901. He became a
reservist attached to the 1st Battalion, in line with established practice. Soldiers
leaving active service could expect to be recalled in time of war. He returned to
Bewdley, and in 1911 was again living with his parents in Lax Lane and was a
painter by profession, and he played football with Bewdley Victoria Football Club.

With the outbreak of war in August 1914, Harry Darkes was quickly recalled to his
regiment. He was mobilised on the 8th September 1914 when his height is described
as 5 feet 61/2 inches tall, his physical development is ‘good’, and his ‘complexion
‘sallow’. He was based at home until 24th November 1914, when he joined the 1st
Battalion in France in the Neuve Chapelle / La Bassée area. (See the service of Pte
Thomas Bishop above) The 1st Worcesters were then part of the 24th Brigade of 8th
division. Darkes resumed his previous rank quickly, being made an acting unpaid
lance corporal on the 11th December 1914.

Darkes was first wounded on the Western Front at La Bassée on 7th January 1915:
this was a period immediately after the 1st Battalion’s trench raid described by Private
Walter Bow (see above). The Battalion were still at Neuve Chapelle near hamlet of
Petit Logis, and in a letter published in the Kidderminster Shuttle, Darkes describes
how close a sniper came to killing him:

It made a parting in the middle I can tell you and struck the bone. Had it been a
quarter of an inch lower I should not have been here to write this. I lay in the
trenches all night after I was wounded, and it was awfully cold. The rain poured
down in torrents and the bullets were flying round us; it was like hell itself. The
enemy’s trenches were only about one hundred yards away from where we were.
We had been in the trenches three days and nights, with the water up to our
middle…the strain of fighting day after day, the guns, and the work in the trenches
is very severe. Kidderminster Shuttle 23rd January 1915 p.7 

Darkes was taken to Boulogne and then by the hospital ship St Patrick to London’s
University college hospital in Gower Street, where he was treated from the 13th
January to the 23rd January 1915 with sepsis in a bullet wound to the head. While
convalescing, he was promoted full Lance corporal on the 26th march 1915, and he
returned to his unit on the 2nd May 1915. He was promoted to unpaid Corporal on the
10th May 1915. For the remainder of 1915, the 1st Worcestershire saw action at the
Battle of Aubers Ridge in May, and the action at Bois Grenier, a diversionary attack alongside the Battle of Loos in September. He was made a full Corporal on the 6th March
1916, and had leave in England at the beginning of May.

By the time of the major British assault of 1916, the attack by Rawlinson’s Fourth Army on the Somme, the 8th Division formed part of III Corps. While the 24th brigade and the 1st Worcesters did not take part in the cataclysmic first day on the 1st July 1916, they
listened to gunfire in their billets before being ordered to move forward.
They were to be part of the effort to take the fortified village of Contalmaison. 24th Brigade moved forward with difficulty through a complex of crowded trenches, some newly seized from the Germans. ‘B’ and ‘C’ companies (Harry Darkes was in ‘C’ company) were at the front in a captured German trench called Shelter Alley with ‘A’ and ‘D’ companies as a reserve. To the right, along the adjoining Quadrangle Trench were 2 battalions of 52nd Brigade, the 10th Lancashire Fusiliers and the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers. Unknown to the Worcesters, the Germans were preparing a counter-attack at the same moment.

The British opened their attack at 1.30 am on the morning of the 7th July. Half an hour
later the two 52nd brigade Fusilier battalions attacked but were halted by heavy machine-gun fire; despite this, some 10th Lancashire Fusiliers reached the German held ‘Pearl Alley’ trench and even the village of Contalmaison itself. At the same time, ‘B’ company of the 1st Worcestershire made their way forward to the trench junction with Pearl Alley at dawn. At this very moment, they met the German counter-attack – the remains of the 10th Lancashire and the Worcesters fought a vicious half hour battle to hold their positions. It was obvious that Contalmaison could not be taken until the 52nd Brigade attack from Quadrangle Trench was successful. The 9th Duke of Wellington’s and the 12th Manchesters attacked at 8 am with bombing support from the 1st Worcesters. While initially successful, the 52nd brigade was driven back by a German counter-attack, with the Worcesters helping to stem the enemy advance with bombs.

The situation was complex and obscure to the British high command. Orders came for
the 24th brigade to attack the southern end of Contalmaison. ‘B’ and ‘C’ companies of the
1st Worcesters attacked from ‘Pearl Alley’ at 10 am. Despite heavy machine gun fire they
reached the houses of the village and fought hand to hand to capture Contalmaison up to
the fortified ruins of the village church. At 11 am Darkes’s ‘C’ company came up on the
right of ‘B’ company, which led to yet another German counter-attack which was again
repulsed by hand to hand combat. It is the attack at 11 am that Darkes seems to describe
in a letter to his brother printed in the Kidderminster Shuttle:

I am contented to think I am out of the roar of the guns…you could fairly feel the
ground rock beneath your feet and the poor devils who gave themselves up didn’t
seem to know what they were doing. Some of our own men went mad through it, let
alone the Germans. I am afraid we lost a lot of our battalion…we made two charges
but retired as they had so many machine guns fixed in the old house and the church
and nothing could live under it. We had the final at night. How we got there I don’t
know. I heard the order to get over and that is all…I had just got over when I felt
something sting across my forehead and felt the blood running down my face and I
had to come out, but I was in time to hear the Allemand (sic) shouting ‘Kamerad’ as
our chaps got to work with the bayonet… Kidderminster Shuttle 22nd July 1916 p.7

Darkes was out of the fight at this time, but the battalion’s misery went on. The
weather broke, and the 1st Worcesters were unable to bring up sufficient
reinforcements to hold their positions in Contalmaison. By the afternoon of the 8th
July, German attacks forced the Worcesters back to Pearl Alley, with the survivors
being withdrawn to rest positions in Crucifix Trench. Another attempt on the village
was made later in on the 8th July, but Contalmaison did not fall until an attack was
made from its western flank by another unit two days later. The 1st Worcesters lost 5
officers and 32 other ranks killed, and 8 officers and 213 other ranks (Including Harry
Darkes) wounded.

Darkes was taken to 38th CCS also at Bray, then ambulance train and hospital in
Boulogne. He returned to his unit after retraining on the 16th September. He was
again wounded in action on the 27th October 1916 during fighting for the Transloy
ridges in closing stages of the Battle of the Somme, in fighting to seize Grease
Trench near Gueudecourt. He was taken to the 48th CCS on 28th October, then
eventually to a hospital in Etaples. He rejoined his battalion on 1st December 1916. He
was treated in hospital for muscle pain at the end of January and the beginning of
February 1917; perhaps understandable for a man in his early 40s, feeling the stresses
and strains of continual battle.

By this time the 1st Battalion continued operations in the Somme valley, particularly in
the valley through the villages of Moislains and Haut Allaines. German positions
dominated the western heights of the valley, especially near the village of
Bouchavesnes. On the 4th March 1917, the British attempted to storm these positions
with a heavy artillery barrage.

The 1st Worcesters attacked in the centre, with the 2nd Northamptonshire on the left.
The right flank of the Worcestershires was the road from Bouchavesnes to Moislains;
south of the road, the 2nd Royal Berkshire continued the front of attack. The German
front line was overrun, and the 1st Worcesters also seized their further objective in
‘Fritz’ trench, capturing a German machine gun in the process. The battalion also
took control of the German third line, before falling back to Fritz trench, and prepared
the position for a counter attack. This was heralded by a heavy German barrage, and
German troops fought strongly to retake their positions using hand grenades. The
battalion successfully kept the attacks at bay with strong Lewis gun fire. They were
relieved by the 2nd West Yorkshire, and the 1st Worcestershire withdrew to positions
in the rear near ‘Asquith Flats.’ Nearly all of the casualties were from German shell
fire. 6 officers and 44 men were killed, and Harry Darkes was amongst the 4 officers
and 358 other ranks wounded. The regimental history notes that the day after the
attack was marked by a heavy snowstorm.

Harry Darkes died of wounds in the 48th Casualty Clearing Station based at Bray-Sur-Somme on 8th March 1917. He was buried in the cemetery attached to the CCS
which is now Bray Military Cemetery. This is to the north of the village, a little west of the
road to Maricourt His grave is in plot II. D. 35. His personal effects were sent to his
fiancé Fan Lancett. On the anniversary of his death in 1918, his family published a
poem in the Kidderminster Shuttle:

One of the best that God could lend,
A loving brother and faithful friend
We miss him and mourn him in silence unseen
And dwell on the memories of days that have been.
Sleep on, dear brother, in your distant grave,
Your life for your country you nobly gave.
No friends were near you to say good-bye –
But in God’s keeping now you lie.
(Silently mourned by his mother, sisters and brothers)

Another memorial notice in the Shuttle reads: ‘Lovingly remembered by Fan’

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Bewdley casualty at the close of the Somme: Joe Stokes of Rock.

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Private Joseph STOKES

1/8th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment 5101
Killed in action 4th November 1916

Joe Stokes was a young soldier from Rock who was killed by shellfire in the very final stages of the Battle of the Somme. He is also commemorated on the Callow Hill memorial.

Joseph Stokes was born in 1896 in Rock. He was the son of James Stokes (born 1864) and Agnes Stokes (neé Cook, born 1868) who married in 1892. James Stokes was a general labourer by profession. ‘Joe’ was the youngest child of the family, with his elder brother James born in 1892, and elder sister Elsie born in 1894. By 1901, the family were living at Callow Hill. By 1911 the family are living on Long bank, and at the age of sixteen, he was employed as a general labourer like his father.

Joe joined 1/8th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, one of the territorial battalions that drew from the Bewdley area on the 17th February 1916, under the Derby Scheme, a method of avoiding conscription by volunteering, and deferring service for some months. Joe’s height at attestation was 5ft 4¼ inches. His formal service in the Army began on the 27th March 1916, and he crossed to France in early August. After some time in hospital for a minor medical condition, he joined the 1/8th on the 3rd September 1916.

By the end of 1916, the territorial battalions of the 48th Division completed a period of training before moving back to the Somme during early October, with the 1/7th and 1/8th Battalions in the trenches at Hebuterne before being moved into reserve. The Somme campaign was centred on the Transloy Ridges, and the 1/7th were detached from their brigade on the 28th October, and sent to the devastated area near Contalmaison as reinforcements and carrying parties. The rest of the 144th Brigade followed them on the 30th, spending the night of the 1st November in the ruined village, and subsequently moving through Martinpuich to the line at Le Sars, occupying trenches astride the Bapaume road.

butte-nov-16
‘B’ to ‘B’ positions of 1/8th Worcs 4/11/1916: (Stacke)

The weather was wet and drizzling. Dawn on the morning of the 3rd November showed how the trenches of the 1/8th Worcestershire overlooked ground which sloped down to the village of Warlencourt, with the famous earthwork the Butte de Warlencourt on the right of the Battalion’s line. The ground was shattered and scarred by the failed attacks against the German positions on the Butte. A fresh attack was made to the right of the 1/8th by the 50th Division on the 5th November, with the Butte being captured temporarily, and then recaptured in a German counter-attack. The Worcestershires supported the attack with rapid fire delivered under a very heavy German artillery bombardment. The Germans counter-attacked and re-established their original line, and at midnight on the 5th, the 1/8th Worcestershires were relieved by the 1/6th Gloucestershire. The Battalion made their way over the sodden mudscape of the Somme under artillery fire once more, to
reserve positions behind Contalmaison. The two Worcestershire Territorial Battalions remained in the Somme battle area as carrying parties or holding support trenches until the 23rd November when they were rested at Contalmaison.

 

The attacks on the Butte marked the final act of the Fourth Army’s Somme offensive, and the efforts of the British and Empire forces were turned to maintaining the ground they had gained at such terrific cost. The casualties of the 1/8th Worcestershire Regiment on the 5th November 1916 were 12 killed and 64 wounded. Joe Stokes was killed on the previous day, as the Germans shelled the positions overlooking Warlencourt.

The Kidderminster Times published letters to his parents from his Captain, JR Blake:

It is with very deep sorrow and regret that I have to inform you of the death of your son, Private Joseph Stokes, of this regiment. He was killed in action on the night of 4th November by a shell, during a bombardment of our lines. He was buried close to where he fell, and his grave has been marked. I find it very hard to express my sympathy with you in your terrible loss. It may console you in some small measure to know that he was killed instantaneously, and died doing his duty as a soldier. He was a good man and a good soldier, and will be greatly missed by myself and his comrades, who had a great affection for him. Although he had only been with us for a short time, in my position as officer commanding his company, I had come to know him as a brave man, who set a good example by his determination.1

His platoon Sergeant H Russell also wrote:

I cannot of course, tell you exactly where he fell, but may say that it was in front of a village until quite recently occupied by the enemy. He was on a bombing post some considerable distance in front of the main part of the platoon, and directly supporting a Lewis gun team. Both our own and the enemy’s artillery had been active all day, and towards evening their shelling became so heavy that I myself thought they were preparing an attack, but after a short time things became much quieter – in fact normal. It appears that your son had just been sent down the trench to report to the Lewis gunners and was returning when a light shell entered the trench, exploding just behind
him. A fragment caught him in the small of the back, and word being immediately sent up to me that he was wounded, he was found in the trench a few minutes later. However, before either the stretcher-bearers or myself arrived he had breathed his last.
You will be glad to know he suffered no pain at all, and he was buried just beside the trench, a small cross marking the grave. His personal belongings were collected and have perhaps already reached you. I may say he was one of the most reliable and cheery men and he was very generally missed in the platoon. I trust this letter will prove some comfort to you in your loss.’

Joe Stokes is buried in Adanac Military Cemetery, near Miraumont on the Somme, in
grave IV. H. 17. He was 21 years old.

1 Kidderminster Times 23rd December 1916 p.5; Kidderminster Shuttle 3rd November 1917
p.4

“What Happened The Next Two Hours Is Hard To Relate” Review of Blood on the Sand: The Affair at Qatia Sinai Desert 23 April 1916

by Stuart Hadaway OGB Publishing Hythe 2016 pp.50

20161017_203642If the Palestine Campaign of the First World War means more than Peter O’Toole, and you’ve decided to read this review, then you probably have some knowledge of what the ‘affair’ of Qatia is: the fight between British yeomanry cavalry drawn from three Midland counties, and the Ottoman Turkish attacking force (led by a German officer), in the Sinai desert at the end of April 1916. If you have done any research on Worcestershire, Gloucestershire and Warwickshire casualties in the Great War, you’ll know all too well that the impact of this small clash of arms has had, (easily overshadowed by events in Dublin the following day, and on the Somme two months later), on the society of these still predominantly rural counties of the West Midlands, is out of all proportion to its size.

Stuart Hadaway has strong credentials to tell this story: not only is he an established military historian, with two strong books on the wider Egypt and Palestine campaign Pyramids and Fleshpots: The Egyptian, Senussi and Eastern Mediterranean Campaigns, 1914-16 and From Gaza to Jerusalem: The Campaign for Southern Palestine 1917, he also draws on his time working with the Worcestershire Yeomanry Museum, which accounts for how the book is well illustrated with clear maps and rarely seen images from the museum archives. Similarly, there is also an effective use of first person accounts by both officers and enlisted men, in many cases drawn from post action reports. While the presence of “C”, MacMunn, and Falls is a necessity, it is very good to see Gloucestershire Hussar Bob Eaton’s account in print at last.

What Hadaway has written is a very tight and well-organised account of the 5th Mounted Brigade’s action on the 23rd April 1916, which can be extremely bewildering with its rapid cavalry manoeuvre. The description of the fighting avoids the cliché of dogged British resistance in the face of overwhelming odds and operational failure: instead, we have authentic contemporary accounts which show how many of these Yeomen sold their lives very dearly indeed, crouching in the sand with a Lee Enfield rifle.

What the text isn’t is an extensive biography of the officers and men and a survey of the impact their loss had on their home towns and villages;  this isn’t the book to do that, but there are some fascinating stories still to tell: Hugo Francis Charteris, Lord Elcho, son of one of the famous Edwardian socialites or ‘Souls’, whose batman pleaded with his ANZAC rescuers to search for his body; Brian Hatton of the Worcestershire Yeomanry whose career as an artist ended in the desert; the involvement of Colonel Coventry in the Jameson Raid, and the no less important stories of the ‘other ranks’, railway porters, farmers, butchers who made up the fabric of their communities.

Stuart Hadaway does an accomplished job of clarifying the military significance of this action and placing it in the context of later operations of the reformed 5th Mounted Brigade and finds room to acknowledge the grim Ottoman captivity that many of the yeomen endured for the remainder of the war. Blood in the Sand is part of an expanding series of short works from OGB that covers the war in Egypt and Palestine, a theatre of the Great War which still struggles to wean historical attention from the Western Front. With ever-escalating tensions throughout the ‘former Ottoman territories’, this is a timely and thought-provoking little book.

From Wribbenhall to Salonika

Private  James Walter RUDD       

11th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment 20851

died on Tuesday 10th October 1916

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James Walter was born in April 1892 in Kidderminster, son of Henry Rudd (1860-1919) and Jane Seaward (1860-1930) who married in 1881. Henry Rudd was a boatman, and the family lived at Court 2, Hall Street, in the parish of St Mary’s where James was baptised on the 28th May 1892, and where his brother George was born in 1895. By 1901, the Rudd family are living at Holly Road Sedgeley, but Henry and Jane are back in Kidderminster, living at number 30 Rackfields in 1911. By then, James had married Ada Davies in 1910; he was also a boatman, and the newly married couple lived at 48 Blackwell Street. The Rudds had three children, Thomas, Beatrice and Alice in 1912, 1913, and 1916.

9th-bn-gallipoli-stacke
9th Battalion at Gallipoli (Stacke)

Rudd originally served with the 9th Battalion and served in Gallipoli where he arrived on the 8th September 1915 as a draft of 3 officers and 208 men. (Stacke p.105) The Battalion was recovering from the battle of Sari Bair in August, and they held the line for much of the period. During a deterioration in the weather, the 9th withdrew from Suvla Bay on the 19th/20th December 1915; they briefly returned to Helles and covered the final evacuation on the night of the 8th/9th January 1916. As the 9th Battalion were then redeployed to Mesopotamia in February 1916, Rudd seems to have transferred to the 11th Battalion, part of the Allied forces in Salonika.

The involvement of British troops in the Salonika area of Macedonia is a little-known aspect of the First World War and stems from the fighting between Germany’s allies Austro-Hungary, and Bulgaria on one side, and British, French and Serbian troops on the other. The situation in Macedonia originated from the waning of Ottoman power. After the Balkan War of 1912, where Greeks, Serbs and Bulgarians had ethnic involvement in the Macedonia area, Bulgaria was defeated by the combined forces of Serbia and Greece. Serbia took control of northern Macedonia, while Greece took control of southern Macedonia including the city of Salonika. A treaty decreed that Salonika should be available to Serbia as a commercial port, and a rather uncertain treaty was drawn up between the two.

At the outbreak of the First World War, Austrian armies attacked Serbia, while political tensions between the Royal family and the government in Greece insured her neutrality. By the autumn of 1915, a combination of German dramatic pressure and the negative impressions made by British difficulties in the Dardanelles induced Bulgaria join with the Central Powers and invade Serbia from the East. The Serbian government were struggling to resist this onslaught and appealed to the other Allies for help. The only way troops could be placed in a position to help Serbian forces, was by the city of Salonika, still technically a part of central Greece. The first Allied troops were deployed in October 1915 including the British 10th Division newly withdrawn from Gallipoli. This deployment came too late, where after fighting at Kosturino on December 7th, British and French troops withdrew towards Greek territory; the Bulgarian forces followed but halted at the line of the Greek frontier.

Before this defeat, a further four British divisions from France, the 22nd, 26th, 27th and 28th, had embarked as reinforcements: the 26th Division included the 11th Battalion Worcestershire Regiment. The Battalion was embarked at Marseille on November 11th, 1915, aboard HMS Mars and HMS Magnificent, and the Battalion arrived on November 24 at Salonika. Battalion marched to Lembet, some 2 miles from the city on December 11th. The threat of a Bulgarian advance forced British and French troops to begin the hasty construction of defensive entrenchments around the city of Salonika at a distance of about seven or eight miles. The 26th Division defended the section from Langasa Lake along the northern slope of the Derbend Ridge, and the 11th Worcestershire held the line from Laina. No attack developed, and the Battalion moved to reserve positions. The defence line was reconsidered when the defeat of the 10th Division was realised, and the entrenchments were moved further back.

11th-bn-salonika-stacke
11th Battalion in Salonika (Stacke)

The British forces were consolidated throughout the end of 1915, by the arrival of the transport and further artillery. Enemy air raids were frequent but apart from that there was very little actual fighting into the spring months of 1916. British and French troops took the time to train extensively, despite the severe weather and the endemic disease: malaria and enteric fever particularly characterised the experience of soldiers on the north Macedonian front.

The circumstances of Private Rudd’s death are detailed in Stacke’s regimental history:

In June 1916, orders were received to begin advance towards Bulgarian forces. The French army pushed towards the Serbian / Greek frontier and attacks were planned on the strong positions made there by the Bulgarians, centred on the small southern town of Dorian. The 78th Brigade were charged with the seizure of a prominent feature known as “Horseshoe Hill”. The Battalion undertook some aggressive patrolling in the middle of August preceding the attack on the position, but the actual attack was made by the 7th Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. The Worcestershires took over the captured position and suffered several casualties from fierce enemy artillery fire, before being relieved over a week later.

By that time the opposing lines were close-locked. All along the front, the Bulgarians had been forced back from their outpost positions on to their main line of entrenchments. But among the rocky ridges and gullies the exact positions of those enemy entrenchments were not easy to locate, and for some further weeks, patrols and raiding parties were engaged in testing the strength of the enemy’s defences. In the valley north-east of ” Horseshoe Hill” lies the village of Doldzeli. On the far side of Doldzeli a low rounded under-feature had been named, by the French, the ” Mamelon.” That height was known to be held by the Bulgarians, but their exact strength there was uncertain. That part of the front line was taken over by the 78th Brigade at the end of September. The 11th Worcestershire were at first kept back in Corps Reserve, and did not come into the Brigade Sector until October 2nd; on which date the Battalion took over reserve trenches about Hill 42Q(g). On October 8th the Worcestershire moved forward and relieved the 9th Gloucestershire in the forward trenches near Doldzeli village. The front held by the Battalion extended from the eastern slope of ” Horseshoe Hill ” to the wooded Vladaja ravine, which was held by French troops. On October 9th orders were received to make a small raid against the ” Mamelon ” with the object of capturing a prisoner and thus identifying the troops in front. About 4.30 p.m. while still daylight, the raiding party—Captain P. A. Leicester, Lieutenant C. E. Turner, and 30 other ranks— pushed forward, up the Doldzeli ravine to the slopes of the ” Mamelon.” The party got within a short distance from a trench held by the enemy and charged. They were met by a fierce fire from about 70 rifles and by many bombs. One bomb killed Private J.W. Rudd, another wounded Captain Leicester and two of his men. After a short fight, it was realised that success was impossible and the raiders fell back behind cover. Then it was found that Private Rudd was missing. Believing him to have been wounded and left behind, Lieutenant C. E. Turner, accompanied by Private W. Hartland, bravely went back. They found Private Rudd dead within a few yards of the enemy’s trench. After running the gauntlet of a sharp fire they re-joined the rest of the party(a). Next evening (October 10th) further efforts were made to locate the enemy’s position. A patrol under 2nd Lieutenant F. S. Shaw made a useful reconnaissance, with some loss (b).

(g) Flanks of Battalion line extended from Bujuklu village to Piton des Zouaves

(a) For their gallant conduct in this affair Captain Leicester was awarded the Italian Silver Medal ” for valour,” Lt. Turner the French Croix de Guerre and Pte. W. Hartland the M.M.

(b) 1 killed, 3 wounded

James Walter Rudd has no identified grave and is commemorated on the Dorian Memorial, Greece.

Kidderminster SHUTTLE 21st OCT 1916. PAGE 5, 28th OCT 1916. PAGE 7, 11th NOV 1916. PAGE 7, 13th OCT 1917. PAGE 5, 11th OCT 1919. PAGE 5.

Appendix

Charles Ernest Turner was born in 1895, and enlisted in November 1914; he was gazetted a Lieutenant on the 16th August 1915 and served with ‘A’ Company 11th Worcesters in Salonika from October 1915. He was wounded by a shell in the right arm on 12th November 1916 and received the Legion d’Honneur and Croix de Guerre in May 1917. He  joined the RFC / RAF and served with 57th Reserve Squadron in Egypt, was demobilised in July 1918, but returned to the RAFVR in June 1940.

Pte William Hartland 16616 was born in 1893, probably at Hoobrook near Kidderminster; he enlisted 8th September 1914 and served with ‘A’ Coy of the 11th Worcesters in Salonika from September 1915. He was wounded by shell fragments in the face on the 14th January 1917, and a bullet in his right chest 26th April. He was discharged wounded in June 1918.

 

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)

1914

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
Translation

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.