Monthly Archives: Nov 2014

L/Cpl. L/9583 W.J. Atterbury, 1st Bn. East Surrey Regt. – 24/11/1914

On 24th November 1914, L/Cpl. L/9583 William James Atterbury, 1st Bn. East Surrey Regiment, is in trenches east of Lindenhoek, near Mt. Kemmel, Flanders.  William was 26 years old, unmarried, and had been a regular soldier for six years.  His battalion has been in these trenches for seven days.  It was bitterly cold, rain had turned to snow on the 19th, and the ground was frozen hard.  Men were beginning to suffer from frostbite, but there would be no issue of “furs” until after the relief which was due to take place that night.  The battalion had suffered days of constant shelling by the Germans, with only the occasional reply from British Guns.  With a mounting list of casualties, William Atterbury was as keen as the next man to leave the trenches. There was just one more day to endure …

lindenhoekSketch

Area around Lindenhoek

(Another occupant describes the position in December 1914:

Imagine a bit of rolling country—rather like parts of Leicestershire,—fair-sized fields, separated mostly by straggling fences interspersed with wire (largely barbed), and punctuated by tall trees. Patches of wood in places, spinney size for the most part. Low hills here and there—;Kemmel, Scherpenberg, Ploegsteert Wood,—but all outside our area. Four villages, Dranoutre, Neuve Église, Wulverghem, and Lindenhoek, of which the two last were already more than half shot to pieces and almost deserted. Opposite our right was Messines—a mile and a half in front of our line,—its big, square, old church tower still standing; it may have had a spire on the top, but if so it had disappeared before we came. Nearly opposite our extreme left, but out of our jurisdiction and in the sphere of the Division on our left, was Wytschaete (pronounce Wich Khâte), one and a half miles off.” )

William James Atterbury was born in Carshalton, Surrey, on 7th October 1888, the first child of William and Mary Ann.  His father, William George was born and baptised in Mitcham in 1863.  His mother, Mary Ann (nee Wright), had been born in Sutton in 1866.  Three of William’s siblings were born in Carshalton before the family moved to Mitcham around 1895.  Two further Siblings were born in Mitcham.  Both Willam’s father and his younger brother George were employed in one of Mitcham’s chemical works by 1911, and his sister Florence was working as “wardmaid” at the Tooting Asylum, but William had already left home.

At the age of twenty, William decides to join the regular Army. He made his way to the regimental depot at Kingston to join the East Surrey Regiment enlisting on June 5th 1908.  There are no records to show William’s first posting.  1908 is the year of the Haldane Reforms, when the old Surrey Militia, becomes the new 3rd Special Reserve and 4th Extra Reserve battalions, and 5th and 6th Territorial Force battalions are formed from the old Rifle Volunteers.  Unless, William joined the 2nd Battalion from the depot, his first posting is likely to have been to Jersey, where the 1st East Surreys were on garrison duty until November 1908 (recent recruit 9602 William E Barlow, who joined on 17th June 1908 and was posted to Jersey on 9th July 1908. )

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The East Surrey band, Jersey in 1907

Two years at Plymouth 1908-10, then two years at Kinsale 1910-12 would follow. The battalion was then in Dublin from 30.9.12, until the outbreak of war.

Mobilisation of the 1st Bn. Easy Surrey was not complete until 8th August, and embarkation was delayed until 13th August, a Thursday.  After a long wait on the Dublin quayside, they sailed at 6pm on the Botanist for Le Havre.  Their arrival at noon on the 15th August, and the long march to the rest camp in heavy rain was greeted enthusiastically by the local populace.

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The SS Botanist.

For some reason, L/9583 Atterbury did not sail with the battalion on the 13th.  He seems to have been posted to 3rd Special Reserve Battalion stationed at the Grand Shaft Barracks and Land Defences, Dover.  The 3rd East Surreys was used for training and supplying drafts to France and Flanders.

The 1st East Surreys had fought at Mons, on the Marne and on the Aisne, with significant losses in all ranks, and continued to receive drafts of replacements throughout this period.  The Battalion begins to move north from the Aisne in early October.  William Atterbury first enters France on 7th October 1914 , his twenty sixth birthday, in a draft of around two dozen men.  He is yet to join his Battalion who have reached Abbeville by the 7th and the Le Bassee Canal by the 11th.  The Battalion’s advance toward Richebourgh L’Avoue brings them into contact with German forces on the 12th.

Situation_map_La_Bassée_to_Armentières,_19_October_–_2_November_1914

There is no lull in the fighting, day or night, until the 15th of October.  This date corresponds to the first mention of the arrival of a draft of men in the Battalion’s October war diary since William Atterbury landed in France – 3 officers and an unspecified number of other ranks.

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1st Bn. East Surreys, October 1914 Drafts.

Apart from this lull, and the briefest of periods in reserve on the 19th and 29th, the Battalion remains heavily engaged in the sector around Richebourgh L’Avoue until the 29th of October. The enemy’s heavy guns, machine gun and rifle fire resulted in a long casualty list of missing, killed and wounded which tells its own story.

The Battalion is on the move in the first few days of November and from the 6th to 14th is close to Laventie where casualties are light.  The bitterly cold wind earns the men an extra rum ration. Private L/10492 William Henry Hylands, one of William Atterbury’s fellow draftees, is wounded on the 12th of November.

On the 16th the Battalion moves again taking over trenches held by the French east of Lindehoek near Mount Kemmel.  The terrain, close proximity of the Germans, just 50 to 150 yards way, and an approach over open ground make this a difficult task.

For the next seven miserable days up the 23rd of November the Battalion is battered by constant shelling in what are now freezing conditions.  Three men who made the journey to France with William Atterbury on 7th October, in what must seem like a lifetime ago, are killed:

Private L/10824 Robert Henry Thompson, KIA 17.11.14

Private L/10764 William Arthur Foulger, KIA 19.11.14

Sergeant S/1140 Thomas Ball, KIA 22.11.1914

There is a slight thaw on the 24th of November, and the Battalion will march back to billets at Dranoutre at midnight, but not before shelling claims more lives – 3 other ranks are killed and two wounded. Luck has just run out for L/9583 William James Atterbury, 1st Bn. East Surrey Regiment.

It will be several days before news of William’s death reaches his family in Mitcham.  Inevitably, in time, William’s parents thoughts will turn to their other son George Thomas. He had volunteered in Mitcham on 6th September 1914, was still in the early stages of training and would not be sent to France until July 1915.  It will be a long war …

 

When the time comes, the Atterbury family ensure William’s name appears on the main Mitcham War Memorial, and the “Roll of Honour” in St.Marks Church.

AtterburyMWM When the Menin Gate memorial is unveiled in 1927,  it will bear the name “ATTERBRY W. J.”  on the panels dedicated to the men of the East Surrey Regiment.

George Thomas Atterbury serves in the Royal Field Artillery from the 06 September 1914 until the end of the war, returns home and remains in Mitcham for several years.  William’s parents remain at 3, Spencer Terrace, Spencer Rd., Mitcham Common (later renumbered 74 Spencer Road) until the end of their lives.  They are buried in the Church Road Cemetery: William George Atterbury buried on 07 October 1933, Mary Ann Atterbury buried on 16 June 1936.  William’s youngest brother , Albert Frank Atterbury remain with his parents until the 1930s.  Florence Martin (nee Atterbury) is still in Mitcham on the eve of WW2.

Footnote1: De Ruvignys Roll of Honour states: William James ATTERBURY, eldest son of William Atterbury of 3, Spencer Rd. Mitcham. Born Carshalton, Co. Surrey, 7/10/1888, enlisted June 5th 1908. Served with the BEF from the 7th of October 1914. KIA 24th November following.”

Footnote2: The casualty list of the November War Diary states William Atterbury’s was KIA on 23rd November. It is the only document which shows that he had been appointed a Lance Corporal. It should be noted that Lance-Corporal was an appointment rather than a substantive (permanent) rank.

Casualtylist

Extract from Casualty list.

Footnote3: Inspection of the “1914 Star” Medal Roll gives a list of the men drafted along with William Atterbury on the 7th of October 1914.  It includes a few old hands like William, and a few Special Reserve men, but most are recruits from early 1914: 

Sergeant S/1140 Thomas Ball KIA 22.11.1914

Private L/3970 Daniel Buckle

Private L/10789 Albert Croucher KIA 17.6.17

Private 10146 Frederick Darbon SWB 19.4.17

Private L/5298 Ben Ellcome

Private L/10841 Sidney James Ellis

Private S/5983 Charles Ellwood

Private L/10764 William Arthur Foulger KIA 19.11.14

Private L/10492 William Henry Hylands wounded 12.11.1914

Private L/10806 Albert Edward Hammond

Private S/5961 William Herbert

Private L/10811 Frederick Joyce

Private L/10731 William Nicholas Keiley KIA 22.10.15

Private L/10532 James Mackenzie Maclaren KIA 20.1.16

L/Cpl. L/7956 Alexander Mudie KIA 26.4.15

Private L/10824 Robert Henry Thompson KIA 17.11.14

Private L/10736 Augustus Williams

Private L/9695 Samuel Moth

Private L/10807 Sidney A Edgar

Private L/10805 Charles William Milton

Private L/10123 John William Smith

Private L/10649 Henry Thatcher (lands 8.10.14)

Private L/10653 Thomas Ernest Wood

Private G/558 Harold William Weir Milthorp (commisioned to MGC )

Private 8702 P. E. Young, 1st Bn. Royal Berkshire Regt. – 21/11/1914

The 21st November 1914 is a bitterly cold day in Northern France.  The ground is freezing hard and it has been snowing in the last few days.  The British have turned the coastal port of Boulogne-sur-mer into a complex of hospitals, with the supporting, barracks, offices and depots.  By October 1914, five hospitals had been set up: No.13 General, No.13 Stationary, No.11 General, No.7 Stationary and No. 7 B.R.C.S. Staffed by a mixture of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, V.A.D and Red Cross nurses aided by RA.M.C personnel, RE and others.

All, and any, suitable buildings were pressed into use.  The 13th General Hospital was based in the Casino, overlooking the sea.

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Working in the hospital laboratories under celebrated bacteriologist Sir Almouth Wright, is Alexander Fleming who would not discover life saving penicillin until 1929.

The 13th Stationary Hospital was housed in sugar sheds on the Gare Maritime. Staff – nurses like Ruby Cockburn BRCS – worked extremely hard to turn these unpromising surroundings into a functioning hospital.

Boulogne Hospital

Nurse Walker recalls in EXPERIENCES AT A BASE HOSPITAL IN FRANCE, 1914-1915 by A. L. WALKER

We arrived at Boulogne on October 30, 1914.  The place gave us the impression of being a seething mass of ambulances, wounded men, doctors and nurses: there seemed to be an unending stream of each of them … The sugar sheds on the Gare Maritime were to be converted into a hospital, No.13 Stationary hospital.  What an indescribably scene!  In the first huge shed there were hundreds of wounded walking cases (as long as a man could crawl he had to be a walking case).  All were caked with mud, in torn clothes, hardly any caps, and with blood-stained bandages arms, hands, and legs; many were lying asleep on the straw that had been left in the hastily cleaned sheds, looking weary to death ….  The beds were for stretcher cases, and were soon filled with terribly wounded men, who had just to be put into the beds as they were, clothes and all.  As fast as one could get to them the clothes were cut off, the patient washed and his wounds dressed.  Some had both legs off, some their side blown away – all were wounded in several places.  Doctors and nurses were hopelessly outnumbered, distractedly endeavouring to meet the demands made upon them.”

Somewhere in the crowded, and often chaotic, conditions of the hospital complex lay Private 8702 Percy Ernest Young 1st Bn. Royal Berkshire Regiment.  Percy was close to his 24th birthday, unmarried, and had been a soldier since late 1907.  He was now dangerously ill.

Percival Ernest Young was born in Mitcham in late 1891, the youngest of William and Mary’s five children.  He had two brothers, and two sisters.  Percy’s father was from Farnham Surrey, and his mother Mary from Midhurst Sussex.  Percy’s two older brothers, William and Archibald were both born in Farnham, before the family moved to Mitcham some time around 1887 where his sisters, Elizabeth and Georgina, were born.  Percy’s father worked as a “gas stoker”, possibly at the Mitcham Gas Works, or the Gas Works of the Holborn Union Workhouse and Industrial School.

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Percy is fourteen when his father William dies and his mother is dependent on her older children to keep the family together.

Just two years later, Percy leaves home to join the Army.  There are no service records for Percival Ernest Young, but his army number corresponds to men joining the Royal Berkshire Regiment towards the end of 1907.

Percy would have been just sixteen when he enlisted in London, so either joined as a boy, or adjusted his age.  He becomes private 8702 of the Royal Berkshire Regiment – a “Biscuit Boy”. So named, as the regimental depot, Brock Barracks, was located at Reading, not far from the well known biscuit factory of Huntley and Palmers who were suppliers to the British Army for many years.  One of the world’s first global brands, their Reading works was once the world’s largest biscuit factory and a landmark anyone travelling by train could not fail to see on arriving at, or departing from, Reading station.

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Berkshire, Reading, Huntley and Palmers Factory c1900's

Percy’s pre-war Army career is a matter of speculation, he may have spent the entire time in “Home Service”.  In 1911 Percy Young is on the roll of the 1st Royal Berkshire at Dover Castle.

In the previous year, Percy’s sister Elizabeth Emily Young married Gilbert Cull on boxing day, 1910 at Christ Church.  Gilbert Cull was a stoker in the Royal Navy. ( He joins the RFR in 1912, and serves on the Minerva for part of the war).  As war looms, there is a happy distraction from the European crisis, when Percy’s older brother William marries local girl Annie Eliza Muncey at Christ Church on the 2nd of August 1914.

Percy is with the 1st Royal Berkshires at Aldershot when war was declared, he was just a few months away from being placed on reserve.  Instead, orders for mobilization were received at 5.30 p.m.on that day.  Southampton was reached the same afternoon, and the battalion, embarking on the SS Ardmore and the SS Mellifont, was at Rouen and marched to the camp de Bruyères three miles off on the 13th.  Percy Young landed in France on the 13th August.  A soldier on the SS Ardmore wrote:

Wednesday August 12th. Arrived at Southampton about 11 am and embarked upon cattle boat Ardmoref or unknown destination, France probably. Packed upon her like herrings have got a job to stand up let alone lie down haven’t the chance of a wash. Thursday morning 13th. Still on the boat don’t think we shall land until dinner time. Landed at Rouen at 7.30 pm had a pleasant trip up the river. I think we all cheered ourselves hoarse. At present waiting on the square at Rouen. Thursday evening 13th. Marched away from the square about 8 o’clock and proceeded right through main street up to La Bre which is about 5 miles from Rouen. I shall never forget the reception we received. People rich and poor all went mad. Well, there’s only one complaint so far, the food. Its all bully beef and biscuits and now and again the vilest jam that was ever tasted through the contractor.”

The next weeks and months will be stiffest test the men of the 1st Royal Berkshire ever faced. They March north, on the 22nd of August cross the Belgian border, but without any serious engagement with the enemy at Mons on the 23rd, the long retreat begins in blazing summer heat within 24 hours.  Their first serious action, with several casualties, is on Sambre river bridge on the 25th of August.  The retreat continues before the 1st Royal Berkshires fight on the Marne and Aisne in September 1914 and October 1914.  On October 12th, the battalion begins to move north.  A long train journey via Amiens, Abbeville, Boulogne, Calais and St.Omer brings them to Strazelle on the 15th.  By 20th they are billeted in a diamond factory in Ypres.

As part of the 6th Brigade, 2nd Division, the 1st Royal Berkshire join the First Battle of Ypres on 22nd October 1914 in trenches at Zonnebeke.

ypres2ndDIV

Their movements over the next days and weeks can be summarised as:

24/10/14 moved to attack north of Frezenburg

25/10/14 under heavy shell fire

27/10/14 supported attack

28/10/14 relieved to brigade reserve

31/10/14 Battalion split A&B in action at Gheluvelt

2/11/14 C&D in reserve at Polygon Wood

15/11/14 to divisional reserve at Hooge

17/11/14 move to Ypres

18/11/14 billets at Caestre

This bland list belies the ferocity of shelling, sniping, attacks and counter-attacks that Percy Young faced.  There is an ever mounting list of casualties of Officers and other ranks, as recalled in various ancedotes:

25th October – “I was about two yards away from Captain Steele when he was blown to pieces by a shell.”

I remember seeing two of my chums dragging a wounded man who had both his legs blown off, to a ditch. They had no sooner arrived there than both were killed on the spot ... “

October 26th.- “Poor Steele blown to a jelly in the evening [of the 25th] by a black Maria, while trying to reorganise his company behind his trenches. Gross hit in the knee by a bit of shrapnel next morning (26th), leaving me the only officer left out of the two companies.”

28th October – “Later on at Zonnebeck poor Jones ( 7715 Cpl Jones) was so badly wounded that he died two days later on the same train which brought your humble down from Poperinghe after being wounded the same night ..

31st October 1914, Gheluvel -Sgt Taylor received the wound from which he later died.:

At 5pm we moved from our trenches round to the right to support the 2nd Brigade. Whilst following up the attack I was shot in the shoulder and neck”. He lay on the field for four hours and was afterwards conveyed on an ambulance wagon to Ypres being subsequently removed to the Woolwich Hospital where he died on December 6th. “

2nd November 1914 – “The 1st Battalion had suffered appalling casualties in the fighting and lost so many officers that a number of NCOs had to be commissioned in the field to replace them.”

And so it continues, until 13th Novmeber – “We all withdrew to the new line just east of the main road (Zonnebecke-Beclaere) at 3 a.m. without a shot from the Germans.”

November 14th.- “Ellis arrived with a draft of 250. A, B and half C in trenches; shelled unmercifully. H.L.I. shelled out of their trenches in the morning and lost several Officers. We turned out half C Company to reoccupy them, but the General sent us back.”

November 15th – “It was a really miserable day, cold, raining and incessant shellfire. At 21:00 they were relieved by the 169th Regiment of the French 9th Division and marched off to Divisional Reserve at Hooge. Before they were relieved Acting Corporal H Day [5018] left his trench under fire to get water for an injured comrade. Although wounded himself he brought back the water. He was later awarded the DCM.”

It’s not known where or when Percy Young was wounded, nor the chance of his survival when he is evacuated to a base hospital at Boulogne, a gruelling ordeal in itself.  Ambulances taking men to Poperinghe station, and elsewhere, had to run the gauntlet of German shelling.  It was journey of several miles over rough ground.  It’s not known if Percy had lain wounded in the open for many hours before anyone came to his aid, or if he was first evacuated to the nearest Clearing Hospital before being put on one of the hospital trains to Boulogne.

By the 21st November, Private 6702 Percy Young is dangerously ill.  At home in Mitcham his mother Mary may have already received a telegram to this effect, with no possibility or time to visit her son, she can only pray he pulls through and does not suffer. The next communication Mary receives will be the impersonal letter informing of her son’s death.

As the war drags on, it is unlikely that Percy’s older brother William will not have either volunteered or been conscripted.  His brother Archibald George Young, volunteered on 26th August 1914.  He served in the 4th Dragoon Guards. was promoted to the rank of sergeant by the end of 1915, was mentioned in dispatches, and awarded the Military Medal in 1916.  Tragically Archibald died of double pneumonia in 1917 and was buried in Church Road Cemetery (Merton) on 7th May 1917.

There are happier times when Percy’s sister Georgina marries her brother’s namesake Percy Reeve at Christ Church on May 13th 1916.  Percy Reeve is a ship’s carpenter serving in the Royal navy. Percy and Georgina will live with Mary Young for several years after the War ends.

The family ensure both Archibald’s and Percy’s name appear on both the Mitcham Memorial and the Christ Church “Roll of Honour”.  Percy’s family remain in Mitcham for many years after the war.

Footnote 1: Throughout the war, those who died within the base hospitals at Boulogne were buried in the Cimetiere de L’Est, one of the town cemeteries, the Commonwealth graves forming a long, narrow strip along the right hand edge of the cemetery.  Then the IWGC was created in the 1920s, soil conditions dictated that the headstone should be laid flat.

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Footnote 2: John Chapman’s Website contains a wealth of detail about the Royal Berskshire Regiment in the Great war with many vivid first hand accounts. The battalion war diaries can be found online, here.

Footnote 3: Relevant accounts of nurses who worked at Boulogne can be found here, and here. The private war diary of Lady Algernon Gordon-Lennox who ran the 13th Stationary Hospital
during World War One, can be found here.  An account of Private George Robert Powell RAMC, serviced in Ypres in October and November 1914 can be found here

 

Private L/11668 J. Flint, 1st Bn. Middlesex Regt. – 8th November 1914

It’s a foggy morning on the 8th of November in this part of France. Private L/11668, Joseph Flint. 1st Bn. of the Middlesex Regiment, is in the defensive position dug in the fields at La Boutillerie. The 1st Middlesex having been holding this line since the 23rd of October.

sketchmap

1914 Sketch Map

Lying roughly halfway between the villages of Fleurbaix and Le Maisnil, La Boutillerie is little more than a crossroads with a few farm buildings.  It had once been the site of a great Abbey, of which only ruins and the old gatehouse remained by the time of the Great War.

Steenwerck_43

The old Abbey

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The ruins were a short distance to the rear of the 1st Middlesex’s position.  The flat farm land was easily flooded and conditions in the trenches were bad after a wet October.

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Area on 1915 Trench Map

For it must be remembered that trenches in those early days were primitive, mere excavations in the ground compared with the scientific earthworks of later periods. Often dug on soft ground, the parapets and traverses crumbled away under the heavy rains, or were blown to bits by the enemy’s shell and trench-mortar fire. Terrible in the extreme was the condition of officers and men as they stood in the trenches, often knee-deep in filthy mud and slush. For many days they had not taken off their clothes, which had become caked with mud, blood-stained and verminous; indeed, it was with difficulty that many of them remembered there had been a time when they were clean and warm, when the concentrated misery of the trenches was unknown to them. But if their feet and hands were icy cold and numbed, if their clothes were soaked and clung like sodden rags about them, limbs racked with rheumatics, if they stood in three feet of water peering cautiously over the parapets across No Man’s Land, dotted here and there with the rotting carcases of what had once been brave men and their pals …

The 1st Middlesex, part of the 19th Brigade and now in the 6th Division, had been ordered to occupy Fromelles and Le Maisnil on the night of the 20th October.  Heavy shelling had driven them back by the 23rd October to a hold defensive line from La Boutillerie to Rouge Bancs.  Their CO, Colonel War, died of wounds on the 22nd, and the Battalion’s casualties numbered over 100 officers and men.  Over the next week the 1st Middlesex suffered heavy casualties from shelling and sniping.  Casualties: 23rd October, 2 other ranks wounded; 24th, 3 other ranks killed, 5 wounded; 25th, 1 officer and 11 other ranks wounded; 26th, 5 other ranks killed, 19 wounded; 27th, 2 other ranks killed, 21 wounded; 28th, 2 other ranks killed; 29th, 3 other ranks wounded; 30th, 3 officers and 26 other ranks wounded, 26 other ranks killed.

Situation_map_La_Bassée_to_Armentières,_19_October_–_2_November_1914

On the 30th the enemy launched an infantry attack against the Battalion.  In the ensuing struggle, a 50 strong group of Germans penetrated the line and were only killed or captured after what was left of B coy had made repeated attacks to drive them out.

In this very gallant little fight, the 1st Middlesex lost 16 other ranks killed and 25 wounded, including Lieut.-Colonel Rowley, Capt. Gibbons and 2nd Lieut. Shaw. “Where all ranks behaved so well,” said Colonel Rowley, “it was hard to single out any for reward, but at any rate all had the satisfaction of worthily upholding the name of Die-Hards.”  Captain A.F. Skaife was killed by a sniper on 1st November. In the lottery of combat,  Joseph Flint had survived this onslaught.  Many of his “pals” had not.

Unlike other battalions in the 6th Division, the 1st Middlesex had been in France since early August 1914 and had often been stretched to the limits of their endurance.  They had been at Mons, Le Cateau, on the Marne and the Aisne.

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1st Middlesex under fire on the Marne

The resolve of professional solders like Joseph Flint had never wavered.

At the outbreak of war, Joseph Flint had just completed seven years service in July 1914 and had been placed on reserve, only to be mobilised on the 5th of August at Mill Hill and had landed in France August 12th, 1914, where the 1st Middlesex were part of the independent 19th Brigade, unattached to any Division.  Private Flint was 26 and unmarried.

Joseph Flint was born in Mitcham in 1889, to parents Henry and Marry Ann Flint.  Joseph was one of six surviving siblings, with three brothers.  Joseph is sixteen when his father dies in 1905, and his widowed mother Mary is left with the direct support of just her sons John and James by 1911. Joseph’s mother Mary re-marries in 1913.  The family had lived in Queens Road and Bath Road Mitcham.

Joseph joined the regular Army in 1907, enlisting on 29th July in London.  He describes his occupation as “general labourer” and declares his age to be 18 years and 11 months.  He joins the Middlesex Regiment at Mill hill on the 31st.  Initially posted to the 2nd battalion, Joseph is sent to the Channel Islands by October 1907 for garrison duties on Guernsey and Alderney.  After a little over a year Joseph will experience an entirely different world when he is posted to the 1st Battalion which is to be sent to India.  Joseph spends 4 years, far from home, stationed at Allahabad and then Dinapore.  He returns to Britain at the end of 1913.  His seven years with colours expires in July 1914 and Joseph signs his transfer papers to the Army reserve on the 28th July 1914.  He has earnt one good conduct badge and is graded “first class” in musketry. Joseph is described as of “good character, inclined to get into trouble, but willing honest, sober ( one case in 1910) and hard working”.

Whether Joseph Flint has a chance to get back to Mitcham before war is declared is unknown. But just seven days after being placed on reserve, he is mobilised and re-joins at Mill Hill.  Two of the 1st battalion’s companies land at Le Havre on the 11th of August, and Joseph Flint is with the rest of the battalion that land on the 12th of August.  The next ten weeks will be the most challenging and intense of his life.

After the German infantry attack on the 30th October at La Boutillerie, the 1st Middlesex continue to be reduced in number by constant daytime shelling.  As the fog clears on the morning of 8th November, Joseph Flint can only expect more of the same.  According to the records “D” and “C” companies suffered a “fearful shelling”.  Two officers were wounded; 11 other ranks were killed and 38 wounded.  The battalion is not relieved until the 14th of November, the casualties between the 3rd and 14th November alone amount to 1 officer killed, 2 officers wounded, 72 other ranks killed and 70 wounded.  Before they leave La Boutillerie the battalion will have buried many of their comrades behind a wall in the ruins of the old Abbey. Private L/11668 J.Flint’s war had ended here (cwgc entry).

Mary Ann Flint will be informed of here son’s death in due course.  Joseph’s younger brother John Flint volunteers in May 1915 and serves in the Royal West Surreys.  His younger brother James Flint is conscripted in 1917 and James serves in the Machine gun Corps.  His older brother Charles Henry, married with three children, is conscripted in 1917 and serves in the Reserve Labour Company RE Transportation Branch.

After the war ends, Mary Ann Flint, now Mrs Forbus, fills in Army form W5080 in order to receive Joseph’s plaque and scroll.  She is sent Joseph’s “1914 Star” in June 1919.  The Treaty of Versailles was officially signed in the same month, on the 28th of June.  An event that prompts a single “Peace Day” celebration on 19th July 1919  and roughly a month before what would have been Joseph Flint’s thirtieth birthday.  When the Mitcham War Memorial is unveiled in 1920, Joseph Flint’s name appears as “FLINT J.”.

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Joseph’s mother receives his “British War Medal” around the same time in November 1920, his “Victory Medal” in February 1921 and his “Clasp for 1914 Star” in April 1921

In 1920, the registration units find and identify Joseph Flint’s grave at the “Abbey Wall” location, La Boutillerie.  His remains are reburied along with many others from the 1st middlesex at the Rue-David military cemetery which is closer to Fleurbaix.  The IWGC contact Mary Ann Flint about his headstone, no inscription is requested.  Joseph’s mother is still living at 34 Bath Road, Mitcham, on the eve of WW2.

Footnote 1: La Boutillerie today:

Footnote 2:  IWGC documents from 1920 show Joseph Flint was originally buried at map location SH36 N5C 30 95  

flintburial_location

 

Private L/15567 P.R. Jones 1st Bn. Royal Fusiliers – 5th November 1914

On the 5th November 1914, private L/15567 Percy Richard Jones, 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers, was in the trenches in the area of Fleurbaix/Rue Petillion to the south of Armentieres.  He had been there for nearly two weeks.  The Germans were similarly dug in a few hundred yards away.  There had been no major attacks in this time, but sniping and shelling resulted in a small but mounting number of casualties.

2ND SCOTS GUARDS IN THE TRENCHES AT RUE PETILLION, NEAR FLEURBAIX
2ND SCOTS GUARDS IN THE TRENCHES AT RUE PETILLION, NEAR FLEURBAIX© IWM (Q 57397)

The weather had already turned cold and wet, with the trenches ankle or knee deep in mud. Fighting a mostly unseen enemy from a stinking hole in the ground had probably not been what Percy expected when he joined the Army some eighteen months ago in the spring of 1913.  His nineteenth birthday was just a few weeks away, but this would be his last day of active service.

Percy Jones was born on 2nd December 1895 in Tooting, the youngest of John and Mary Anne (nee Wilson) Jones’ ten children.  Like many youngest he probably felt fussed over and ignored in equal measure.  His parents had been upholsterers, but John Jones earned his living as a cab driver in later life.  At the turn of the century the family were living in Longley Road, Tooting Graveney, close to the Baptist Church on the corner with Bickersteth Road.

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The family home in the early 1900s

Percy, still only five, was not yet at school, unlike his brother Edwin, who was 12, and his 9 year old sister Emma.  His other older siblings were already working and would soon leave home and marry. There would have been a ripple of excited interest when the Jones family hear news that the famous music hall performer Harry Lauder had bought a double-fronted villa at the other end of Longley Road.  This was in 1903, and Lauder would live there until 1911.  By this time, the Jones family had move to Boyd Road , Colliers Wood.  Percy, now fifteen, was working as an errand boy, and was the only one of the ten children still living with their parents.  Percy’s father John, now 61, was still working as a cab driver.  His mother Mary, now 58, was no longer working.

There are no Army records for Percy Jones, but his number L/15567 falls in a sequence of men joining the Royal Fusiliers as regulars early in 1913, and who were posted to the 1st Battalion – private 15558 Edward Armitage joins at Hounslow on 28/4/1913 , private L/15737 George Victor Herbert joins at Hounslow on 1/9/1913, private L/15765 Colin Gordon Tucker joins at Hounslow on 11/9/1913.  In the spring of 1913, Percy is still only 17, but he enlists in London and joins the Royal Fusiliers.

At the outbreak of war the 1st Royal Fusiliers were in Ireland when the mobilisation order came at 10pm on the 4th of August.  They formed part of the 17th Brigade of the 6th Division.  By the 18th August they were in camps around Cambridge and Newmarket and in hard training until the Division moved to France, crossing from Southampton to St. Nazaire early in September.

By the 21st of September the 16th Brigade had reached the Aisne and took over part of the front that stretched between the canal at Fort de Metz and the road at La Cour de Soupir.

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Asine position 1914

The 1st Royal Fusiliers were here until 2nd October and there would have been little action if “higher powers” had not ordered both a night, and second, day patrol to test the German positions opposite which the Battalion were already sure of.

“On the night of the 22nd Captain Howlett was wounded, and 2 other ranks were killed, 13 wounded, and 3 missing after one of these feelers. A daylight on patrol 27th resulted in 17 O.R. being killed and 12 wounded.”

The 1st Royal Fusiliers leave the Aisne and reach Flanders by the second week of October.  The battle of Armentieres develops and BEF is gradually driven back in this sector.  By the beginning of November the situation is becoming more static.

Situation_map_La_Bassée_to_Armentières,_19_October_–_2_November_1914

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According to the history:

On the 23rd of October the 1st Royal Fusiliers had moved to Fleurbaix, arriving at 6 a.m. very tired and sleepy, and on reaching Rue Petillon they were accommodated, some in houses and some in ditches. Their orders were to support the right of the Welsh Fusiliers; but some Indian troops had arrived there first. The Sikhs lost their two British officers on the 25th, and the Fusiliers found them jumpy neighbours. A good deal of firing went on, especially during the night, and the 1st Battalion, after being compelled to stand to night after night, at length took over the bulk of their trenches. There were losses from the German heavy bombardment. But the rhythm of the struggle changed to that of trench warfare ….

The end of October was wet and miserable, with ankle deep mud in the trenches.  But the first days of November were bright and fine at Rue Petillon.  More men are wounded by sniping and intermittent shelling.  The fog and rain of the 4th of November had cleared by the following day. The 5th November was another “beautiful day”, but the calm was broken around 11am as the line held by the 1st Royal Fusiliers was heavily shelled, the bombardment continued to dusk. Three men were killed and 17 wounded. L/15567 Percy Richard Jones, 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers, had just become another casualty in France.

Percy Jones is recorded as being killed in action, and he was taken to the aid post at Le Trou, a relatively short distance behind the front line.

MAKING A CEMETERY BEHIND THE FIRING L;INE, RUE PETILLION, NEAR FLEURBAIX
MAKING A CEMETERY BEHIND THE FIRING L;INE, RUE PETILLION, NEAR FLEURBAIX© IWM (Q 57403)

He was buried there, and his grave identified when the IWGC cemetery was created in the 1920s.

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Believed to be Le Trou Aid Post Cemetery circa 1918

 

1280px-Le_Trou_Aid_Post_Cemetery_1

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It is not known if Percy’s parents were still alive by the war’s end.  But his family ensures his name appears on the Mitcham War memorial when it is unveiled in 1920.

jonesMWM

In the same year the family is contacted by the IWGC requesting details for Percy’s official headstone. It is Percy’s older sister Charlotte Mary, now Mrs C.M. Woodcock of 98 Boundary Road, Colliers Wood, who asks for the simple headstone inscription, “R.I.P.”

Footnote 1:  The position of Le Trou aid post can be seen here on a 1917 trench map side by side with a modern satellite view.

Footnote 2:  By the end of the war, the Royal Fusilier had raised 45 battalions, of which 35 served oversea.  A memorial was erected in 1922 at High Holborn, London, dedicated to the nearly 22,000 soldiers of The Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment) who died during the Great War.

Royal_London_Fusiliers_Monument

Photograph by Mike Peel (www.mikepeel.net). – Own work