The six guns of 190th Brigade’s “A” Battery (A/190) were positioned near “Shelly Farm”, Oosthoek, when the men returned from rest on 21 July. Brigade HQ and the R.A.P (regimental aid post) were close by, the ammunition dumps were to the rear, and the wagon lines several miles to the east around Fletre.
The whole area was scarred by two years of fighting and the recent actions at Messines. A blasted pockmarked landscape criss-crossed by trench works old and new, where any trees had long been reduced to splinter stumps and buildings large or small were just piles of rubble. The roadways to the rear were supplemented by a recently created supply tramway loop running back to Voormezeele.
Driver Malins had come through the Somme and the recent Messines attack unscathed, now his battery would be in the thick of it again. He had been with “Wimbledon’s Own” since the very beginning and those early recruit days must have seemed so innocent and far away after more than a year on the Western Front.
The appeal for men to join “Wimbledon’s Own” was little more than two weeks old when Arthur Francis Valentine Malins took the short walk from his family home at 128 Merton Road toward the recruitment offices close to the Broadway.
Regardless of Arthur Malins’ work and life experience, any mention of his father’s long service in the Hussars would have suggested here was a man who could work with horses. It was late September 1915 when Arthur’s transformation from patriotic citizen into efficient soldier began. Designated as a “driver”, his training to shoot a rifle, to ride and control a pair of horses in a six horse gun-team, and care for the animals in his charge would all be compressed at break-neck speed into a matter of months before “Wimbledon’s Own” had gone overseas in May 1916.
Perhaps the nineteen year old took it all in his stride, he had been born into an Army family when his father Frank Valentine Malins was serving in Ireland. Frank Malins had been in the 10 Royal Hussars for nearly a decade when he married Annie Sheahan in Limerick in March 1895. Arthur was born the following year in July 1896. A second son, Edward Hugh, died in infancy in 1897. By the turn of the century Walter Charles and Sybil Kathleen had been born, and Reginald the youngest in 1903. It could only be Arthur that had any memory of seeing his father leave for the South African War in 1899. Over the years Annie and the children had grown accustomed to leading a peripatetic life, following their father from one posting to the next. This wandering came to an end in 1911. Squadron Sergeant Major Frank Valentine Malins finally retired from the Army on 30th December 1911 at the age of 43, as a decorated veteran of the South African war with an exemplary record, after 25 years service.
In March 1912 Frank Malins took the whole family to Canada sailing from Liverpool bound for Halifax, Novia Scotia. The promise of a new life never materialised and by the outbreak of the Great War, the Malins family were living in Merton Road, it would remain their home for more than a decade. It was Arthur’s father who was the first in the family to volunteer. Frank Malins had sought to perform a useful function in the war and at the age of 46 was sent to France in early February 1915 to act as a quartermaster with the honorary rank of Lieutenant, and was later promoted to Captain.
In 1917, Arthur’s younger brother “Wally”, Walter Charles Herbert Malins, had been conscripted at Kingston on 12 March, aged 18 years 3 months. He had been working as a telephone operator. Perhaps with his father’s influence, Walter Malins had joined the Cavalry. It was Arthur’s mother Annie and his younger sister Sybil and brother Reg who were left in Wimbledon, hoping for their safe return and a prompt end to the war.
There are no records to say exactly where Arthur Malins was in the 48 hours between 21-23 July 1917. On the 23rd, Arthur was part of a carrying party working near the dumps, moving back and forth between “A” Battery itself. When he was hit, assistance was near enough for Arthur to be moved down the casualty chain, a difficult and potentially agonising journey for any casualty. Arthur succumbed to his wounds that day and was buried close to where the 41st Division Field Ambulances were based near Vierstraat. When the 190th Brigade’s casualty figures were returned for July, Arthur Malins had the tragic distinction of being the only fatality in the week before zero hour on 31st July.
Notice of his death was published in the Wimbledon Boro’ News on the third anniversary of the war, 4th August 1917. Arthur Malins had never returned home since leaving for France in May 1916, as his section Lieutenant wrote:
“I was purely a stroke of bad luck … It was all the more a pity as he was to have gone on leave shortly.”
At the end of the war when the KLEIN-VIERSTRAAT BRITISH CEMETERY we know today was created, Arthur’s family requested these words to be inscribed on Arthur’s headstone:
SLEEP ON BELOVED SON AND BROTHER THOU GAVEST ALL
Arthur Malins was one of the 237 names added to the war memorial erected in Holy Trinity Church, Wimbledon Broadway in 1924 which marked the tenth anniversary of the outbreak of the Great War.
Footnote1: Cutting from Wimbledon Boro’ News Saturday 4th August 1917
Footnote2: Arthur Malins was a distant relative of file maker Geoffrey Malins who worked with John McDowell to create the cinema sensation “The Battle of the Somme”. The huge success of the film led to the release of “The Battle of the Ancre and the Advance of the Tanks” early in 1917.