Posted by: michaeldaybath | July 31, 2017

Private Harry Mitchell, 8th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry

Today marks the centenary of the opening of the 3rd Battle of Ypres; the beginning of a British offensive during the First World War. It ended 103 days later with the capture of the (by then) obliterated village of Passchendaele (Dutch: Passendale).

Swanage War Memorial (Dorset)

Swanage War Memorial (Dorset)

The battle remains controversial today. The name Passchendaele vies with the Somme and Verdun as a handy shorthand for the futility of a war fought in mud and atrocious weather. Whether this is a fair assessment or not should probably be the topic of a different blog.

Swanage War Memorial (Dorset)

Swanage War Memorial (Dorset), detail

This main purpose of this blog is to mark the anniversary of the death of 29947 Private Harry Mitchell of the 8th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. Private Mitchell was killed-in-action one-hundred years ago today, at the age of 27. Harry was also a bellringer at St Mary’s Church, Swanage (Dorset) and a member of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers (SDGR).

The Battle of Pilckem Ridge

The opening phase of the 3rd Battle of Ypres (31 July – 2 August 1917) afterwards became known as the Battle of Pilckem Ridge (it was named after a feature that was one of the key targets for capture on the first day). I Corps of the French 1st Army successfully attacked in the most northerly sector, capturing Bixschoote and Kortekeer Kabaret. In the Fifth Army sector to the immediate south, the British XIV Corps, including the Guards Division and the 38th (Welsh) Division, successfully managed to take Pilckem Ridge. XVIII Corps were also able to make good progress in the area around St Julien. Further south again, II and XIX Corps attacked across the Gheluvelt Plateau, making some gains but encountering determined German resistance and counter attacks. To the south of Fifth Army was General Plumer’s Second Army; while IX and X Corps operated on the front opened out in June by the Battle of Messines, II Anzac Corps attacked German lines around Warneton.

On the whole, British progress on the 31st July was solid, if not spectacular. An advance of around 2,700 metres had been made for the loss of just under 32,000 men [1]. However, the degree of success was mixed and not all of the offensive’s objectives had been achieved. 3rd Ypres would continue until November, wth the next stages being the capture of Westhoek on 10th August and the Battle of Langemarck on the 16-18th August.

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ieper

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ieper (West-Vlaanderen)

Amongst those that died on the 31st July was the Welsh-language poet Ellis Humphrey Evans, also known as Hedd Wyn. He died on Pilckem Ridge while serving with the 15th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers [2]. He was posthumously awarded a bardic chair at the National Eisteddfod in September 1917.

The 8th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry

Another of those killed-in-action on the 31st July was 29947 Private Harry Mitchell of the 8th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, a bellringer at St Mary’s Church, Swanage.

The 8th (Service) Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry had been formed at Taunton in October 1914 as part of K3. Eventually, the battalion joined 63rd Brigade, which was at first part of the 21st Infantry Division, before transferring to the 37th Division in July 1916.

Menin Gate Memorial, Panel 21

Menin Gate Memorial, Panel 21 (Somerset Light Infantry)

As part of the 37th Division, the 8th Somersets took part in the latter stages of the Somme campaign in 1916 (Battle of the Ancre) and the Battle of Arras in 1917. In June 1917, the battalion moved to Flanders, being based in the area around Kemmel, south-west of Ieper. In the early morning of the 31st July, they were part of the Second Army (IX Corps) offensive south of Ieper. The 8th Somersets’ war diary provides a brief outline of what happened on the day [3]:


3.50a.m. Commencement of first phase by 8th Bn. Linc. Regt and 4th Bn. Middx Regt cooperating with 19th Div. on their left, in attack on RIFLE FARM.

During this phase enemy put down moderate barrage on our front line and support trenches, causing a few casualties. 2nd Lt H.R. Kirk being severely wounded, and dying shortly afterwards.

5.0a.m. C.C. 8th Somerset L.I. informed by Liaison Officer at Bn. H.Q. that RIFLE FARM had been carried at 4.20.a.m.

7.50a.m. Commencement of second phase “D” Coy 8th Somerset L.I. cooperating with two companies 8th Bn. Linc. Regt on their left, with “C” Coy on their right, advanced to clear BEEK WOOD of the enemy, and to establish a new line from the WAMBEEK just S. of WAM FARM to a post to be established by 10th Bn. York & Lanc Regt South of GRASS FARM.

9.0a.m. A/Capt Hunt retuned to Battn H.Q. wounded in left arm and reported success of attack to Western outskirts of BEEK FARM enclosures and that his Company were digging in.

10 a.m. Pigeon report received from Capt. H.G. Baker M.C. O.C. “D” Coy that two platoons had gone forward to clear BEEK enclosures and that the remainder of his Coy were digging in on the left of “A” Coy in touch with LINCOLNS that all Officers of “A” Coy had become casualties, Capt Hunt and 2nd Lt. Kirk and 2nd Lt. Adams wounded. That “A” Coy was not in touch with “C” Coy on the right but that they were visible digging in the other side of a small ridge.

1.5p.m. Report by runner from Capt. Baker that 2nd Lt. Blake “D” Coy had been killed, that the remainder of the two platoons that had gone forward had returned, that posts had been established at N.W. and S.W. corners of enclosures.

3.p.m. Report by runner from 2nd Lt Wood “C” Coy that Capt. Baker M.C. O.C. “C” Coy had been wounded, and that he was digging in and was in touch with York and Lancs Regt on Right.

5.40p.m. Pigeon report from Capt. Baker that platoons sent forward had retired, that posts were established N and S of BEEK FARM that 2nd Lt. Blake had been killed, that his platoon had suffered many casualties and that it was at that hour impossible to bring in wounded.

About 8p.m. message received from Heavy Artillery Reserves that enemy were massing for counter attack E. of BEEK WOOD. Our guns opened and the attack did not materialise.

Captured positions consolidated during night.

Coys reorganised and posts established.

“B” Coy moved up to fill gap between “A” and “C” during night from old shell hole line. “C” Coy 10th York and Lancs Regt came into that line in support of 8th Som. L.I. 1 Coy 10th Bn. R.F.’s [Royal Fusiliers] in reserve under command of O.C. 8th Som. L.I.

Comparatively quiet day no counter attacks.

Battn relieved by 13th Bn. R.F.’s after dark without incident.

All but one of the 61 members of the 8th Somersets that died on the 31st July 1917 have no known grave and are commemorated on Panel 21 of the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ieper.

Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Panel 21

Menin Gate Memorial, part of Panel 21 (Somerset Light Infantry)

Private Harry Mitchell

Harry Mitchell had been born in Swanage (Wareham district) in the 2nd quarter of 1890. He features in census returns from 1891 to 1911, living with his parents at various addresses at Swanage:

1891: Albany Terrace, Institute Road, Swanage
1901 St Keverne, Cluny Crescent, Swanage
1911 9, Station Road, Swanage

In 1911, Harry Mitchell was 20 years old and working as a plumber and gas fitter, presumably working with or for his father (who was an employer in the same trades).

Church of St Mary, Swanage (Dorset)

The Church of St Mary, Swanage (Dorset)

Harry Mitchell was the only child of Clifford Henry Mitchell and Maria Ruth Mitchell (née Linnington), who had both been born in the Isle of Purbeck. Clifford Henry Mitchell had been born at Worth Matravers in the 2nd quarter of 1859. The 1911 Census is unusually precise on Clifford’s birthplace, stating that he had been born at St Alban’s Head. Clifford’s father, James Mitchell, was a coastguardsman, so presumably Clifford had been born in the coastguard cottages at St Alban’s Head. Clifford’s parents, James and Elizabeth Mitchell, both came from Cornwall. James Mitchell was born at St Keverne, on the Lizard, but once working as a coastguardsman, he seemed to move around fairly regularly. In 1861, James and Elizabeth were living at Studland with children born successively at Swanage, Parkstone and Worth.

Harry’s mother, Maria Ruth Linnington (sometimes spelled Linington in census returns) had been born at Langton Matravers in the 1st quarter of 1859. In the 1861 Census, Maria is recorded living at Swanage with her widowed grandmother Martha Phipard (Phippard?), a 68 year old pauper, and an uncle, George Phipard, a Greenwich Pensioner. In 1871, Maria is back at Langton, living with her mother, Martha Linnington, and five siblings. By 1881 Maria is 21-years old and working as a cook domestic at Tyneham Rectory for the family of the curate, the Rev William Truell. Maria married Clifford Henry Mitchell in the 1st quarter of 1886. Clifford died in 1925, aged 66; Maria in 1943, aged 84.

Private Harry Mitchell’s service records do not seem to have survived. From Soldiers Died in the Great War, we do know that before joining the 8th Somersets, he had previously been No 2165 in the Hampshire Regiment. In reports sent to the press, Private Mitchell was at first posted missing [4].

From a bellringing perspective, we know that Harry Mitchell was a change ringer. Swanage bellringing records show that he rang in a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples on the 22 June 1911 for the Coronation of King George V [5].

War Memorial, St Mary's Church, Swanage

War Memorial, St Mary’s Church, Swanage (Dorset), detail

In addition to the Menin Gate, Harry Mitchell’s name also appears on two war memorials at Swanage: the main town memorial overlooking Swanage Bay and the war memorial plaque inside St Mary’s Church.


[1] Wikipedia, Battle of Pilckem Ridge:

[2] Jonathan Hicks, The Welsh at Passchendaele, 1917 (Talybont: Y Lolfa, 2017), pp. 111-118.

[3] War Diary, 8th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. WO 95/2529/2, The National Archives

[4] War Office Weekly Casualty List, 25 September 1917, p. 25, via British Newspaper Archive.

[5] Swanage Bellringing: Past Ringers (includes photograph):

Update Aug 8, 2017:

A quarter peal of 1,260 Grandsire Triples was rung at St Mary’s Church, Swanage on the 31st July 2017 in memory of Harry Mitchell. The performance report on BellBoard included images of a framed photograph of Harry Mitchell and an account of its dedication, possibly from the Swanage parish magazine:

Prayers were offered by the Rector [Rev W. R. Parr], after which Captain Ridout, on behalf of the bellringers, in asking the Rector to unveil the portrait, remarked that he had not had the pleasure of knowing Harry Mitchell personally, but he had been informed he had taken a keen interest in bellringing; he was of a most lovable disposition, extremely popular with his mates, and a good friend, and his fellow-ringers desired to perpetuate his memory in the belfry where he had spent so many happy hours. The Rector, in unveiling the portrait, said that Harry Mitchell was during his lifetime a true lover of his church, a devout worshipper, and a good son
Mr. C. W. T. Dean [churchwarden] in a few appropriate words, said he had known their late friend well. He possessed a true Christian character, and he was a good son to his father and mother. Mr. C. H. Mitchell (the father), speaking with deep emotion, thanks the speakers for their kind remarks in reference to his boy, and also thanked the ringers for their kindly thought.
At the conclusion of the ceremony the ringers rang a remembrance series of whole-pull grandsire (168) triples, half muffled.

Update Aug 13, 2017:

I recently managed to track down the grave marker for Clifford Henry and Maria Ruth Mitchell in Northbrook Cemetery, Swanage. Unfortunately, it is is currently in a very bad state.

The Mitchell grave in Northbrook Cemetery, Swanage (Dorset)

The Mitchell grave in Northbrook Cemetery, Swanage (Dorset)

The stone includes a memorial to Harry Mitchell, but this is not visible at the moment. The face down part (the front) of the stone has been transcribed as follows:


Transcription from:

Posted by: michaeldaybath | July 22, 2017

Private Frank Derrett, 2nd Civil Service Rifles

Six members of the library departments of the British Museum are commemorated on the British Librarians memorial now at the British Library. In May, this blog remembered Captain Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett (8th East Lancashire Regiment). The British Library’s Untold Lives blog has also covered Captain Burnett, as well as the two British Museum colleagues that died in 1916: Private Charles Robert Dunt (1/13th London Regiment), and Sergeant Harry Michie (1st City of London Yeomanry).

The fourth member of the British Museum’s library departments to die during the war was Private Frank Derrett of the 2/15th (County of London) Battalion of the London Regiment, the second line battalion of the Prince of Wales’s Own Civil Service Rifles.  Private Derrett died-of-wounds at Salonica (Thessaloniki), Greece on the 22nd July 1917, aged 34.

Private Frank Derrett, 2/15th Battalion, London Regiment

Frank Derrett was born at London in 1883, the son of William and Emma Derrett, who lived at James Street, Marylebone. Census records from 1871 and 1881 describe William Derrett as a china and glass dealer, and it is clear from later returns that Emma continued running the business after his death in 1889. The 1911 Census includes the 63-year old Emma Derrett living at 35 James Street with three sons (including the 27 year old Frank), two grandchildren, and two boarding valets from Switzerland.

Frank Derrett joined the British Museum as a Boy Attendant in the Department of Printed Books on the 23rd January 1899. At the time of his death, he had worked for the museum for 18½ years, from August 1903 as an Attendant in the Reading and Newspaper Rooms. He married Alice Edmunds at Marylebone in 1912.

The Civil Service Rifles War Memorial, Somerset House, London

The Civil Service Rifles War Memorial, Somerset House, London

Frank Derrett enlisted in the Civil Service Rifles in September 1915, becoming part of its second line battalion. The regimental history records that in August 1914, the headquarters of the Civil Service Rifles at Somerset House was besieged by crowds of younger civil servants, some of whom in turn formed the nucleus of the second line battalion. Throughout the war, the 2nd Civil Service Rifles formed part of the 60th (2/2nd London) Division, which served on the Western Front from June 1916 before moving to Salonika (Greece) in November 1916.

The Macedonian Front is one of the lesser-known theatres of the First World War. A small Franco-British force first arrived at Salonika in October 1915, ostensibly to support the Serbian army. However, while the force arrived too late to prevent a Serbian defeat, it remained on Greek soil, establishing a defensive line in Macedonia (it was also a means of pressurising the neutral Greeks to enter the war on the side of the Entente, which they eventually did in the summer of 1917). In August 1916, the reinforced British force became part of the grandly-titled Allied Army of the Orient, under the command of the French General Maurice Sarrail.

After arriving in Salonika, the 2nd Civil Service Rifles spent some time at Katerini before undertaking a gruelling seven-day march to Kalinova in March 1917. As part of 60th Division, they played a supporting role in operations near Lake Doiran (Dojran) in April and May 1917, part of a much-wider offensive planned on the Macedonian front by the Army of the Orient. On the 24th April, the 60th Division were detailed to raid positions in the Machukovo Salient, while the British 22nd and 26th Divisions were to attack the main Bulgarian defences on the Doiran-Vardar front. The 2nd Civil Service Rifles had a support role in this operation and its follow-up on the 8th May. In the days following the second operation, however, the battalion had a tough job consolidating positions on hills known as the Goldies, which is where they suffered the majority of their active-service casualties throughout the Salonika campaign.

By early June, the 60th Division was on its way back to Salonika, having been posted to yet another theatre of war. The 2nd Civil Service Rifles sailed to Egypt on the 19th June, from where they would take part in the campaign in Palestine, eventually returning to the Western Front in late 1918 (the frequent travels of the battalion gained it the nickname, the “Cook’s Tourists”). When the battalion sailed to Egypt, it seems that Private Derrett was left behind in Greece, either in hospital or attached to another unit. He died-of-wounds on the 22nd July 1917, aged 34, and is buried in Salonika (Lembet Road) Military Cemetery in Thessaloniki. Fourteen members of the 2nd Civil Service Rifles died during the Macedonian Campaign; Private Derrett was the last one of them to die.

Frank Derrett’s gravestone at Salonika includes an epitaph chosen by his widow: verses adapted from a popular late-nineteenth-century hymn (The Christian’s goodnight) that had been written by Sarah Doudney and set to music by Ira D. Sankey: “Sleep on, beloved, and take thy rest; we love thee well, but Jesus loves thee best.”

British Museum War Memorial, Bloomsbury, London

British Museum War Memorial, Bloomsbury, London

Private Derrett’s name appears on the British Museum’s war memorials at Bloomsbury and Kensington, as well as on the British Librarian’s memorial now at the British Library at St. Pancras. The war memorial for the Civil Service Rifles, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, once stood in the central courtyard of Somerset House in London; it was moved in the early 2000s to the Embankment side of the building, and now overlooks the River Thames.

The Gardeners of Salonika

In the same way that the British 8th Army in Italy were pejoratively known in the Second World as the “D-Day Dodgers,” the role of the British Salonika Force was not widely understood at home. Indeed, the French premier Georges Clemenceau famously described the Allied Army of the Orient as the “Gardeners of Salonika.” Understandably, this rankled somewhat with those that were there, as is evidenced by the following account published in the Macclesfield Courier of the 28 September 1918. It reflects some of the prejudices of the time, but it also reveals some of what those on the Macedonian Front had to endure.

Corporal J. Welch (of 10, Fence Street, Macclesfield) writes from Salonica, to the Editor, as follows:–
Dear Sir, — I have noticed recently that quite a number of Macclesfield men have been killed in action in Salonica. Many persons have got quite a wrong impression of this Front, and what the men out here are doing. So, if you will spare me a little space in your well-known paper, I will endeavour to give, to the relatives and friends of those men who have made the supreme sacrifice, and to those people who have got the idea that we, out here, are having a holiday, a slight description of this country, what we have done out here, and what we are still doing.
This country practically consists of mountains, hills, and deep ravines. Of course, there is some fairly level ground, which is, generally speaking, water-logged; forming fever-breeding marshes and ideal placed for breeding mosquitoes and many other disease-carrying insects. In the winter months mountain torrents rush down the ravines, and at times do a considerable amount of damage. But in the summer months, practically all of these are dried up, leaving pools of stagnant water here and there. I think that since the time of our Lord, the inhabitants of this country have gone back instead of progressing with the times. For when we first came here there was no drainage whatever, only what was done by Nature itself; and no one seemed to have the slightest idea of sanitation, or, anyhow, it was never shown. We also saw several cases of cattle that had died out in the open; the owners would skin them, if they were worth it, and leave the carcass for dogs, jackals, vultures, and thousands of creeping things to devour; and the bones that were left would bleach in the sun. From this, one can easily understand that there is not much really good water here, to which we can put down a great deal of the sickness in this country, including dysentery, which has taken more than a few good men to their last resting-place. So one can clearly understand that the men out here, exposed to severe winters, and in the summer bearing the heat of the sun, which is almost tropical, and good water being scarce, and the ground itself being foul by reason of centuries of neglect in way of irrigation and sanitation, are indeed open to diseases and illnesses of many different kinds.
Then as regards what we have actually done, everybody knows that when we came here we were too late to save Serbia, which was not our fault, but we did arrive in time to partially cover the retreat of the Serbs, and to prevent Salonica, with its fine harbour, falling into the hands of the Central Powers. Had Salonica fallen into their hands, I think that the transportation of troops to and from India, Egypt, and Palestine, would have been a far more difficult matter than it is at present, for they could, and probably would, have made it into a submarine base, for which, I may say, it is naturally suited. And they could have wrought considerable havoc amongst the shipping in the Mediterranean Sea. And as the gulf and harbour are surrounded by natural fortifications, I very much doubt if we would ever have been able to take it from them. There is also another important factor here to be considered; when we came here there was one single set of railway lines running up country, and not one road that was worthy of the name, now there are plenty of railways and roads everywhere. Railways and roads do not spring up because you lie in your bivouac and wish for them, they require hard work and plenty of it, and we know it, too. And it is those roads and those railways that have enabled us to make our front line where it is to-day.
Now as regards the actual fighting, the trenches are not being constantly moved forward or backwards, as the case may be like those in France for example, and the artillery of each side has them all registered, in other words they can level them any time, and often do. Again, in raids or attacks the Bulgars know as well as we do that many of the hills, which we have to go up to get to him, are so steep it is impossible to scale them from the front. In other words, we must move up the ravines, which also are registered on by artillery and trench mortar batteries. I have been in “scraps” out here with men who went through Loos, but they said that it was far worse than Loos was. I could also mention other similar remarks.
Another thing, some people think that we are in Salonica itself or very near to it. I may say that we are many miles away, and many of our men have not been near it since the day that we landed and marched through it. Also, the men in France have, I believe, all been home on leave, some twice and three times, but a large percentage of the Salonica Force are still waiting their turn for their first, and not much hoe of that, and these are men who have been on active service over two and a half years.
If those people who say that we are having a holiday in Salonica could only see the ever-growing Military Cemeteries out here, I don’t think another word of that kind would ever cross their lips. The time will come when there will be no need to restrict the publication of many things, which have to be restricted at present. Then there will be many revelations; now we see as through glass, dimly, then we shall see clearly and, maybe, understand.

Further Reading:

The history of the Prince of Wales’ Own Civil Service Rifles (London: Post Office Rifles, 1921):

H. Dalbiac, History of the 60th Division (2/2nd London Division) (London: Allen & Unwin, 1927).

Cyril Falls, Military operations: Macedonia, 2 vols (London: His Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1933-35); the British Official History

Jill Knight, The Civil Service Rifles in the Great War (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2004).

Mark Mazower, Salonica: city of ghosts: Christians, Muslims and Jews, 1430-1950 (London: Harper Collins, 2004).

Alan Palmer, The gardeners of Salonika: The Macedonian Campaign, 1915-1918 (London: André Deutsch, 1965).

Update July 30th, 2017:

A short account of Private Frank Derrett was also published on the British Library’s Untold Lives blog on July 29th, 2017:

Posted by: michaeldaybath | July 9, 2017

Somerset bellringers at Tilloy British Cemetery, Arras

Sometimes when researching the people named on war memorials one can sometimes notice that casualties are occasionally concentrated in particular cemeteries or memorials. This is, perhaps, not surprising on a village or town memorial, where more than one person would have ended up serving in the same battalion of a county regiment. This effect is sometimes amplified on the larger Memorials to the Missing, particularly the Menin Gate and the Thiepval Memorial, but it is also noticeable in the names of many Dorset villagers present on the Dorsetshire Regiment section of the Helles Memorial. However, sometimes these concentrations seem to happen purely by chance, as the casualties are seemingly not linked by any particular geographical origin, date-of-death, or military unit.

The Bath and Wells Diocesan Association War Memorial in Bath Abbey

The Bath and Wells Diocesan Association War Memorial in Bath Abbey

One of these strange concentrations is apparent on one of the memorials that I have been researching, that of the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association of Change Ringers in Bath Abbey.

Plot I, Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy les Mofflaines

Plot I, Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy les Mofflaines

The cemetery in question is Tilloy British Cemetery at Tilloy les Mofflaines, just to the south east of the city of Arras in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France. Three of the persons named on the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association memorial are buried in a single plot of that cemetery (Plot I). According to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC), the plot was “begun in April 1917 by fighting units and burial officers, and Rows A to H in Plot I largely represent burials from the battlefield” [1]. It notes that those buried in Plot I, Row J (and part of Plot II) come from the later fighting in 1917.

All three of the persons named on the memorial in Bath Abbey died in 1917, in the aftermath of the Battle of Arras — which officially ran from the 9th April to the 16th May. Two of them served with batteries of the Royal Regiment of Artillery, the other with the infantry, a territorial battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment. All three came from a relatively small area of north-west Somerset.

117061 Gunner Wilfred Comer, Badgworth, 21 May 1917

CWGC gravestone for Wilfred Comer, Tilloy British Cemetery

CWGC gravestone for Wilfred Comer, Tilloy British Cemetery

The first to die was Gunner Wilfred Comer of the 261 Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery, who was killed-in-action on the 21 May 1917 when serving with No. 261 Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery.

Gunner Comer’s service records survive [2]. He attested, age 23, at Weston-Super-Mare on the 8 December 1915, but was almost immediately released to the Reserve. He was mobilised on the 5 September 1916 and posted to No. 3 Depot, RGA in Plymouth. After a brief spell there and at Portland, he was posted first to 30 Battalion, then to No. 261 Siege Battery, RGA on 6 October 1916. He embarked at Folkestone for France on the 8th February 1917, disembarking at Boulogne. He and four other members of his battery were killed near Arras on the 21 May 1917; they are all buried in the same row in Tilloy British Cemetery. His death was reported in the Western Daily Press, Bristol, of 18th June 1917, noting that some of his relatives were resident at Rooks Bridge, near East Brent.

Church of St Congar, Badgworth (Somerset)

Church of St Congar, Badgworth (Somerset)

At the time he enlisted, Wilfred Comer was a cowman living at Tarnock in Somerset, between East Brent and Badgworth. In his service records, Wilfred Comer’s next-of-kin is listed as his mother, Eliza Jane Field, who was at that time living at Bath — Juda Place in Walcot (an area that is now part of Snow Hill). The 1911 Census records that Eliza Jane was by then married to Francis Field, a gardener domestic, and that they were resident at 21 Berkeley Street, Bath with their seven children. I could not find Wilfred Comer at all in the 1911 Census, but in 1901 he was aged nine and living with his grandparents, William and Matilda Comer, at Tarnock, in the parish of Badgworth. It seems that Wilfred had been born out of wedlock and may have remained with his grandparents at Badgworth while his mother moved to Bath and married Francis Field (the couple were married at Bath (district) in the 3rd Quarter of 1893). Gunner Comer’s personal effects (and later his medals) were sent to his aunt, Bessie Stone, who lived at Burnham-on-Sea.

The 1901 Census suggests that Wilfred Comer had been born in Badgworth in around 1892. The closest match that I was able to find in birth, marriage and death (BMD) records was a Wilfred Clarance Coomer, born in the Axbridge district in the 1st Quarter of 1892 (which would broadly fit).

Badgworth War Memorial (Somerset)

Badgworth War Memorial (Somerset)

In addition to the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association war memorial, Wilfred Comer’s name also appears on the war memorial cross outside the Church of St Congar in Badgworth.

265946 Private Leslie W. Fisher, Congresbury, 3rd June 1917

CWGC gravestone for Leslie Fisher, Tilloy British Cemetery

CWGC gravestone for Leslie Fisher, Tilloy British Cemetery

A little closer to Bristol is the large village of Congresbury, whose church is dedicated to St Andrew, but which (like Badgworth) has a strong link with St. Congar — a Welsh-born saint now mostly associated with Somerset. The second Somerset bellringer buried in Tilloy British Cemetery is Private Leslie William Fisher of the 2/5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, who died on the 3rd June 1917, aged 19. Private Fisher’s CWGC entry (and thus the cemetery register) describes him as a “late chorister and bell-ringer at Congresbury parish church.”

Church of St Andrew, Congresbury (Somerset)

Church of St Andrew, Congresbury (Somerset)

Leslie William Fisher was the son of George and Louisa Fisher of Congresbury. At the time of the 1911 Census, the family were living at the Causeway, Congresbury, and the 33-year old George was described as a walling mason working for a builder. In 1911, the 13-year old Leslie William was working as an errand boy for a miller. There were also two younger brothers, named Robert and Edward.

The 2/5th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment were a second line Territorial infantry battalion, formed at Gloucester in September 1914. Arriving in France in May 1916, the battalion served throughout the war as part of 184th Brigade in 61st (2nd South Midland) Division. From the 24th May 1917, the battalion had been based near Duisans, to the north-west of Arras. On the 31st, they moved to Tilloy, relieving the 8th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry (who were part of 37th Division). The village having been captured on the 9th April, Tilloy was by now some way behind the front line. On the 1st June, part of the battalion relieved the 13th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers in front of Guemappe. In the following few days, the battalion were involved in strengthening the wire defences in both front and support lines, in preparation for an upcoming attack. The battalion war diary for the 3rd June [3] recorded, “support line wired and front line deepened; men from ARRAS assist.” The diary also noted three casualties: 1 killed, 1 wounded, and 1 evacuated sick.

War Memorial in St Andrew's Church, Congresbury (Somerset)

War Memorial in St Andrew’s Church, Congresbury (Somerset)

Leslie William Fisher is also commemorated on the war memorial inside St Andrew’s Church, Congresbury.

184261 Gunner William Ivor Caple, Easton-in-Gordano, 9th July 1917

CWGC gravestone for William Ivor Caple, Tilloy British Cemetery

CWGC gravestone for William Ivor Caple, Tilloy British Cemetery

Even closer to Bristol than Congresbury is the village of Easton-in-Gordano. The third Somerset bellringer to be buried in Tilloy British Cemetery was Gunner William Ivor Caple, of “A” Bty., 62nd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, who died on the 9th July 1917, aged 19.

Memorial plaque in St George's Church, Easton-in-Gordano (Somerset)

Memorial plaque in St George’s Church, Easton-in-Gordano (Somerset)

Private Caple has a memorial plaque inside the Church of St George at Easton-in-Gordano. It reads:


William Ivor Caple was the son of William and Amelia Caple, of Easton-in-Gordano. At the time of the 1901 Census, William and Amelia were living at the Rocks in Easton, with two young children: William Ivor (then aged 3) and Ellen (6 months). The elder William was at that time working as a bricklayer. By 1911, the family had moved to the Old Post Office at Easton, and two more children had arrived. At that point, William Ivor was 13 years old, and still at school.

Church of St George, Easton-in-Gordano (Somerset)

Church of St George, Easton-in-Gordano (Somerset)

Gunner Caple’s service records do not appear to have survived. By July 1917, 62nd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery had been in the Arras sector for several months. They had taken part in the initial attacks of the Battle of Arras on the 9th April, operating in support of 12th (Eastern) Division, just north of Tilloy [4]. By July 1917, they were based around the village of Monchy-le-Preux, supporting attacks on trenches around Infantry Hill to the east (where the 8th East Lancashires had been fighting back in May). The 62nd Brigade war diary [5] does not always contain daily entries. On the 3rd to 5th July, it simply records that the batteries “were ordered to bombard lines of consolidated shell-holes in [grid reference] which were attacked by 7 Royal Sussex Rgt. at 2.30 am 4/7/17; Attack was not successful! Bombardment was continued on 5/7/17.” Detailed trench maps are included in the war diary appendices, but there is no continuous narrative or record of brigade casualties. The next entry, made on the 10th July, simply reads “Normal.”

Easton-in-Gordano War Memorial (Somerset)

Easton-in-Gordano War Memorial (Somerset)

William Caple is also commemorated on the war memorial cross outside St. George’s Church, Easton-in-Gordano.


[1] Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy les Mofflaines:,%20TILLOY-LES-MOFFLAINES

[2] WO 363/4, via Findmypast

[3] War Diary, 2/5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, WO 95/3066/1, The National Archives, Kew.

[4] Peter Hughes, Visiting the fallen: Arras south (Barnsley: Pen & Sword Military, 2015), pp. 57-58.

[5] War Diary, 62 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, WO 95/1837/2, The National Archives, Kew.


Posted by: michaeldaybath | June 8, 2017

Private John Henry Odey, 13th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry

At the north east end of Bath Abbey are two memorial tablets for members of the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association of Change Ringers that died in both world wars. The First World War memorial has sixty names, and I have already provided short outlines of some of the people featured on it on this blog.

The Bath and Wells Diocesan Association War Memorial in Bath Abbey

The Bath and Wells Diocesan Association War Memorial in Bath Abbey

The First World War memorial was designed by Sir Thomas Jackson — at that time the Abbey’s architect — and was executed by Messrs. Hayward and Wooster, with a relief of a bell in bronze created by the Birmingham Arts Guild. The memorial was dedicated on the 2nd July 1921, at the annual meeting of the association [1]. As would be expected with a diocesan memorial, the ringers came from all over Somerset. Of the sixty, three came from the City of Bath and its immediate environs. The first of these three to die was 54286 Private John Henry Odey of the 13th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry.

Bath Chronicle, 14 July 1917

Photograph of John H. Odey published in the Bath Chronicle, 14 July 1917

John Henry Odey was born at Bath in 1882, the second son of James and Emily Odey. James had been born in Devizes and by the 1870s was working as a stonemason in Bath. The 1871 Census records him boarding at a house at Lyncombe Terrace, Bath. Ten years later, James was married to Emily and they were both living at 11, Lyncombe Place with Emily’s parents, John and Jane Tucker (John Tucker was both a mason and an employer). By 1891, the Tuckers and Odeys had formed separate households at No 11, and James and Emily had already borne six children — including the seven-year old John. A decade later, John Tucker was widowed and living alone, while the Odeys had produced another two children. In 1901, John Odey was still living at home, where his occupation is described as “journeyman upholsterer.”

Widcombe War Memorial, Bath

Detail from the Widcombe War Memorial, Bath

John’s was educated at local schools in Bath, first St. Mark’s School, then the Blue Coat School in Sawclose. In around 1897, John was apprenticed to E. A. Holoway, who was described in a business directory as a “practical upholsterer, mattress and blind maker, antique furniture dealer, &c.” with premises at 29, Broad Street, Bath. According to his obituary in the Bath Chronicle, John Odey worked for Holoway for 15 years.

In the meantime, John had married Rosie Mary Parfitt (of Henbury) at St Mark’s Church, Lyncombe, on the 1st January 1906. They had two children: Winifred Mabel and Stanley George, born respectively in 1906 and 1909. The 1911 Census records the young family living at 15, Calton Road, Bath.

Shortly after that, a “situations wanted” notice in the Ringing World of the 10th May 1912 suggested that John H. Odey was looking for a new position [2]:

UPHOLSTERER, Mattress and Blind Maker, all round hand seeks situation. Change ringer on 6 or 8 bells. Good References.– J. H. O., “Ringing World” Office, Woking.

It is not recorded whether this particular notice was successful, but John Odey and family did subsequently move to 3 Stanley Street, Swindon, where John started work as an upholsterer for Messrs. Chandler Bros.

War Memorial in St Mary's, Bathwick

War Memoral in St Mary’s Church, Bathwick

While living in Bath, John Odey must at some point have learnt to ring. In his obituary, the Bath Chronicle described him as a very enthusiastic bell ringer, noting that he had rung at almost every church in the Bath district [3]. In the first decade of the twentieth century, Odey rang regularly with a group of ringers that did a lot to progress change-ringing in the Bath district. Many of their longer performances, which were mostly rung on the eight bells of St Mary’s, Bathwick, were published in the Bath Chronicle and the Ringing World. The band also experimented with new compositions and scored some notable “firsts.” For example, on 27th September 1906, Odey rang the 2nd bell in a peal of Plain Bob Minor at All Saints, Weston called by W. J. Prescott; a performance described on a board in the tower as “the first peal of Minor rung in the Bath district.”

War Memorial in Christ Church, Swindon

Detail from the War Memorial in Christ Church, Swindon

Odey continued to ring after he moved to Swindon, becoming steeplekeeper at Christ Church. A posthumous account in the Ringing World comments that Odey was a highly-respected member of the Swindon band [4]:

Although he had not accomplished many peals, he was a capable ringer, and in addition to the four standard methods, was proficient in Double Norwich, Superlative, and Cambridge

After the start of the war, John Odey attested at Swindon on the 29th November 1915 [5]. He was almost immediately sent home as part of the reserve, then mobilised on the 18th September 1916. He joined No. 3 Depot Royal Field Artillery at Hilsea (Portsmouth) the following day. In November, Private Odey was transferred to the infantry, joining the 9th Training Reserve Battalion at Rugeley in Staffordshire. In January 1917, Private Odey was posted first to the 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, then a few days later to its 13th Battalion. He actually joined the battalion on the 11th February 1917.

Cratered ground atHill 60, near Ieper (2007)

Cratered ground at Hill 60, near Ieper (2007)

The 13th (Service) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry were part of Kitchener’s New Army and by 1917 were serving as part of 68th Brigade, in the British 23rd Infantry Division. The Division had been based in the Ypres Salient since October 1916, spending a great deal of time in the front line, but also training for the offensives being planned for the Spring. By early June 1917, the Division was based in the sector of the Salient around Hill 60 and the Caterpillar.

The Battle of Messines started in the early morning of the 7th June 1917 with the blowing of multiple mines on the front from Hill 60 in the north to Factory Farm in the south. The 23rd Division were one of those holding the most northerly sector of the line, near Hill 60, at the start of the battle and the main advance here was to be led by units from the 69th and 70th Brigades. Most of the 68th Brigade was to be held in Divisional reserve around Zillebeke [6]. Accordingly, on the 7th June, the 13th DLI were in positions on the south side of Zillebeke Lake when the mine under Hill 60 was blown. The battalion war diary records that later on the 7th June, units of 13 DLI were sent to strengthen some newly-captured trenches [7]:

7.6.17 Weather: Fine
3.10 am The mine under HILL 60 exploded and all the guns in the salient opened fire and 69th and 70th Brigades attacked.
9.15 am A and B. Coys moved up to BATTERSEA FARM and came under orders of G.O.C. 69th Brigade.
10 pm H.Qrs., A. and B. Coys were sent for to relieve 12th D.L.I. in IMPARTIAL TRENCH.
5 am 8.6.17 Relief complete.
Casualties : 1 o.r. killed, 4 o.r. wounded and 1 o.r. missing.

The following day, the battalion would still have been in Impartial Trench:

8.6.17 Weather: Fine
Fairly quiet during the day.
8.20 pm. An aeroplane flew over our lines and dropped a white light; our artillery immediately opened a very heavy bombardment lasting till 10 pm.
Battalion H.Q. was heavily shelled.
Casualties:- 2/Lieut. J. Young killed 2/Lieut J. BRADY wounded 3 o.r. killed, 25 o.r. wounded and 1 o.r. missing

While he is not named in person, it is likely that 54286 Private John Henry Odey was one of those other ranks listed killed or missing. Odey has no known grave and his name appears on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing in Ypres.

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ieper

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ieper

On the 30th June 1917, the Bath Chronicle published a brief obituary, which played tribute both to Odey’s Bath origins and his love of bellringing [8]:

News was received on Sunday by the wife and parents of Pte. J. H. Odey, of the Durham Light Infantry, that he was killed in action on the 8th inst. He was born in Bath 34 years ago, and was educated at St. Mark’s School, and subsequently at the Blue Coat School, whence he was apprenticed to Mr. Holoway, antique dealer of Bath, with whom he remained for fifteen years, and then entered the employ of Mr. Batchelor, upholsterer, etc., of Swindon. He joined up last September, and went to the Front at the beginning of January. Deceased, who was the second son of Mr. and Mrs. J. Odey, of Southville Terrace, Lyncombe Vale, married a Miss Parker [sic] of Westbury-on-Trym, and there are two children, a girl aged eleven and a boy aged eight. His wife resides in Stanley Steet, Swindon. Deceased was a very enthusiastic bell-ringer, and regularly rung for Sunday service at St. Mary’s, Bath, during the time he was resident in the city. He was a member of the Diocesan Ringers’ Association, and had rung at almost every church in the district. At Swindon he held the position of tower-master.

The Ringing World of the 6th July also included a tribute from his fellow ringers at Christ Church, Swindon [9]:

News has been received that Pte. John H. Odey, of Swindon, has met his death in France, and for his wife and two children, who are left, sincere sympathy will be felt. Pte. Odey, who, before joining up last September, worked for Messrs Chandler Bros., as upholsterer, came to Swindon from Bath about five years ago. Soon after his arrival in the tower he was elected a member of Christ Church Guild, having had previous experience in the art of campanology at Bath. Needless to say, his services will be greatly missed by his fellow ringers, with whom his quiet, unassuming disposition made him very popular. For some time Mr Odey had been steeplekeeper, and here again he carried out the duties entrusted to him in a painstaking and thorough manner. As a last token of respect to a departed comrade, members of Christ Church Guild, with sympathising ringing friends from neighbouring towers, met at the tower on Wednesday evening in  last week, and rang touches of Grandsire and Stedman Triples and Bob Major, with the bells muffled.

City of Bath War Memorial

John H. Odey’s name on the City of Bath War Memorial

John H. Odey’s name appears on several war memorials in both Bath and Swindon. At Bath, his name features on the main city war memorial in Victoria Park (thinly disguised as H. J. Odey), on the Widcombe war memorial outside the Church of St Thomas, Widcombe, and on the memorial inside the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Bathwick. In Swindon, John Odey’s name can be found on the main war memorial in Christ Church, where he had been steeplekeeper.


[1] Ringing World, 15 July 1921, p. 417.

[2] Ringing World, 10 May 1912, p. 322.

[3] Bath Chronicle, 30 June 1917, p. 7.

[4] Ringing World, 20 May 1921, p. 291.

[5] WO 363/4, Service Records, The National Archives, Kew (via Findmypast)

[5] H. R. Sandilands, The 23rd Division, 1914-1919 (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1925), p. 152.

[6] WO 95/2182/2, 13th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry War Diary, 1914-1918. The National Archives, Kew.

[7] Bath Chronicle, 30 June 1917, p. 7.

[8] Ringing World, 6 July 1917, p. 210.

Trench Map of Arras (1917)

Detail from Trench Map of Arras. Source:  Battle of Arras. Map showing British advance on the Arras front. Scale, 1: 40,000 (1917), British Library, Digital Store Maps C.14.f.32. accessed May 22, 2017, ark:/81055/vdc_100022522682.0x000002

Today we mark the anniversary of the death-in-action of Captain Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment. Captain Burnett died in a night attack east of the village of Monchy-le-Preux, near Arras. Before the First World War, Burnett had worked in the Department of Printed Books at the British Museum, and had contributed to compiling one of the standard reference texts still used in book provenance research.

The List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676-1900

Historical book sale catalogues are one of the key sources used in provenance research, helping scholars, for example, to reconstruct long-lost libraries or to discover more about the ownership of manuscripts and early printed books [1].

List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676-1900

List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676-1900

The British Library’s collection of English book sale catalogues is one of the most important in the world [2]. One of the standard reference texts in provenance research is the List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900, now in the British Museum, which was published by the Trustees of the British Museum in 1915 [3]. The List is a chronological list of book sale catalogues, including the names of owners (where known), the names of the auction firms, and the dates of sales. While supplemented now by other works, the List remains a key reference text for book historians.

The List was prepared for publication by the eminent bibliographer Alfred W. Pollard, at that time Assistant Keeper of Printed Books at the British Museum. However, as his preface makes clear, the bulk of the work of compilation had been undertaken — “in the intervals between more pressing work” — by two of Pollard’s colleagues, both of whom were on war service at the time of publication. Work on the List was initiated by Harold Mattingly but, after his transfer to the Department of Coins and Medals in 1912, the task of compilation was taken over by I. A. K. Burnett, who had joined the museum as a Second Class Assistant in the Department of Printed Books a couple of years earlier.

Pollard and Mattingly became reasonably well-known in their respective fields — bibliography and numismatics — and have entries in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. However, due to the war, I. A. K. Burnett never got the opportunity to build on his early professional achievements [4].

Burnett’s Early life and career

Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett Burnett was born at Aberdeen on the 20 June 1885, the only son of William Kendall Burnett and Margretta Burnett. His father was the son of the 6th Laird of Kemnay and a prominent figure in Aberdeen civic life, serving as both magistrate and city treasurer before his death in 1912. I. A. K. Burnett was educated at Aberdeen Grammar School, where he evidently did very well. His university obituary [5] stated that “he had a brilliant career, being first in every class, usually in every subject; he was editor of the school magazine and president of the debating society, and he became Dux of the school in 1903.” Burnett then entered the University of Aberdeen, from where he graduated M.A. with First Class Honours in Foreign Languages in 1908. While at Aberdeen, Burnett was also involved in many extra-curricular activities, including significant roles in the university’s literary and debating societies. In his final year, he was the editor of the university’s student magazine Alma Mater. He also somehow found time to serve as a volunteer with the Gordon Highlanders between 1903 and 1904.

In 1909, Burnett was appointed Assistant Librarian at the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh. In February 1910, as we have already noted, he joined the Department of Printed Books of the British Museum. In the 1911 Census, he is listed as boarding at Steele’s Road, Hampstead, with the family of Paul de Braux, a French optician and scientific instrument maker. Burnett’s service records indicate that he moved afterwards to Golders Green.

Burnett’s Service Career

Burnett’s service records make for interesting reading. Burnett joined the Inns of Court Officers’ Training Corps in 1913, serving with its cavalry squadron before being appointed to a commission after the declaration of war [6]. From then on, he seems to have remained a member of the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion of the East Lancashire Regiment, while being attached to several different battalions on active service. A posthumous application to the War Office from the British Museum for an official statement on Captain Burnett’s death stated that he had been described in the Army List as “2nd Lieutenant 2692b — Special List — acting as Interpreter,” suggesting that the army did try to make some use of his linguistic skills. Burnett’s service records, however, show that he spent a substantial amount of time in fighting battalions.

Captain I. A. K. Burnett (from the University of Aberdeen Roll of Service)

Captain I. A. K. Burnett, from the University of Aberdeen Roll of Service in the Great War, 1914-1919 (1921)

From April to June 1915, Second Lieutenant Burnett was attached to the 1st Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, then based in the Ypres sector. In May, he suffered from gas poisoning and spent some time in hospital in Boulogne and then on sick leave in England, before returning to the battalion in June.

Shortly after that, Burnett transferred to the 1st Battalion of his own regiment, where on the 6th July 1915 and still as a 2nd Lieutenant, he commanded one of the front-line companies in an operation on the Yser Canal that the regimental history described as “the greatest test of endurance that most of the officers and men had yet undergone.” During this action, Burnett suffered a wound to the head, and was later evacuated to the UK and admitted to the Hospital for Officers at 24 Park Street, London. He re-joined the 1st East Lancashires on the 24th August.  Little is then heard about Burnett until he was once again evacuated to the UK in May 1916, this time with bursitis of the knee, an injury apparently suffered while on parade. Burnett was again passed fit-for-duty on the 17th June, when he re-joined the 3rd Battalion at their base at Plymouth.

The next we hear of Lieutenant Burnett, he was attached to the 8th (Service) Battalion of the East Lancashires. This was a New Army unit, formed at Preston in September 1914. Burnett definitely served with the 8th East Lancashires on the Somme front, because in August 1916, he briefly features in the battalion war diary, which records that he had organised bombing parties in an unsuccessful attempt to capture the occupied part of a shared trench near Bazentin-le-Petit.

“Two bombing parties were organised under Lieut BURNETT – one to proceed along either side of the hostile trench and bomb the enemy out. The enterprise was timed to start at 2 a.m. on the 8th instant. As soon as the first party tried to reach the hostile position, the enemy opened heavy machine gun fire and threw bombs vigorously. The enterprise was unsuccessful.”

By early 1917, Lieutenant Burnett had become a company commander with the temporary rank of Captain.  The 8th East Lancashires were by then preparing for the Battle of Arras, where the 37th Division was to take part in an attack on the village of Monchy-le-Preux. The battle got underway on the 9th April, and Monchy finally fell to the division three days later. After some days out of the line, the battalion moved to a different part of the front and took part in attacks on Greenland Hill between the 23 and 28 April. After that, they rested for a few weeks in the area west of Arras. On the 20th May, the battalion returned to the front line just south-east of Monchy. On the night of the 31 May, the 8th East Lancashires were involved in a night attack on Hook Trench on Infantry Hill, the high ground east of Monchy, which it was hoped could be used as a base for a further attack on the higher-ground around the Bois du Vert. The attack was initially a success, but the battalion was forced to withdraw after a successful German counter-attack. The battalion war diary records that at 12:25 AM, a report was received that Captain Burnett had been wounded. The evidence in his service records suggests that he died very soon afterwards. Burnett’s body was never recovered.

The battalion’s losses were quite high; the already depleted battalion lost three officers and 70 other ranks killed or wounded in that action.

Aftermath: Certifying Captain Burnett’s death

On the 5th June 1917, the War Office sent a telegram to Kathleen Burnett, Captain Burnett’s sister and next-of-kin:

To: Miss Burnet, 27 Woodlands, Golders Green, London

Regret to inform you Capt. T. A. K. Burnett 3rd attached 8th East Lancs Regt is reported wounded and missing May thirty first Presume this refers to Capt. I. A. K. Burnett 3rd attached 8th East Lancs Regt. Further news will be sent immediately on receipt

Without a body, the military authorities were keen to ascertain Captain Burnett’s fate. His service records show the extent to which the War Office would routinely go in trying to discover what happened to missing soldiers (or at least officers). Several accounts of Burnett’s death were tracked down from fellow members of his battalion:

“I knew him he was our Captain, B. Co. He went on a bombing raid and was killed by shrapnel. All the boys were talking about it afterwards, and Segt. Major. Ray [sic]knows all about him if you care to write. Inf. Pte R. Farebrother, 17650, 1 Con. Camp, Boulogne.”

Followed by:

“Statement by CSM W. Wray (17226) I was with Capt. I. A. K. Burnett in action on the 30/31 May 1917. To the best of my belief I was the last man to see him. He was so badly wounded that we were unable to move him. He was unconscious and I consider mortally wounded.”

Those testimonies were sufficient for a new telegram to be sent to Kathleen Burnett. Dated 27 June 1917, it read:

To: Miss Burnett, 27 Woodlands, Golders Green, London

Deeply regret to inform you Capt. I. A. K. Burnett East Lancs Regt previously reported wounded and missing is now reported missing believed killed May thirty first. The Army Council express their sympathy.

Enquiries continued, and in August 1917, a more detailed eyewitness account was obtained from 21770 Sergeant Frederick McBride, originally collected from a hospital in Manchester. Burnett’s service records contain his statement:

“I state that “Capt. Burnett died of wounds on May 31st during the battle of Arras near Monchy. The attack took place in the evening. When the officer was wounded I lifted him into the trench, he was wounded in the back and died about 5 mins. after being hit. We retired about two hours afterwards leaving the body, but the position has since been retaken.”

This was definitive enough for the War Office to declare that Captain Burnett should now be considered to have died. By means of identification, McBride noted that Captain Burnett “wore an elastic bandage round his right knee, which he removed before he died.” This rather poignant detail perhaps shows the effects of Captain Burnett’s bursitis, suffered the year before.

More detail on Captain Burnett’s death from Sergeant McBride was provided in a letter dated 15 October 1917, from J. Dixon of the Auxiliary Military Hospital at Nantwich:

On May 31st 1917 – about 10.20 or 10.25 PM, the 8th S. Lancs [sic] was attached to the 29th Division and was on the right of Monchy. Capt Burnett with his C. S-Major, Sergt. McBride, and about 12 men, was on the right of the attack. Just as they were going over the parapet, Capt Burnett was hit on his left side and dropped back into the open. Sergt. McBride climbed out of the trench and carried the Captain in and bandaged him up, but he died in about 10 mins. His last words to Sergt. McBride were “I am dying. I am bleeding internally.” They were compelled to evacuate the trench about ten minutes after he died, as the enemy counter-attacked, and bombed the trench.

Sergt. McBride says that there is no doubt whatever about the identity of the officer. He had been with him about twelve months, also that there is no doubt about his death, as he (the Sergt.) shook Capt. Burnett again before they evacuated the trench to make sure.

I consider that this evidence is pretty reliable. I have always found Sergt. McBride very truthful and reliable.

In November, following even further enquires, the commanding officer of the 8th East Lancashire Regiment fully concurred with McBride’s statement:

“I have no remarks to offer. I am personally convinced he is dead and I consider Captain Burnett should be reported as ‘Killed in Action’.”

Sadly, 21770 Sergeant Frederick McBride would himself die on the 22nd March 1918, during the German spring offensive. By then, the 8th East Lancashire Regiment had ceased to exist, and he was serving with the 15th Entrenching Battalion. Sergeant McBride is commemorated on the Pozières Memorial, on the Somme.


At the time of his death, Captain Burnett was 31 years old. His name is recorded on the Arras Memorial to the Missing in the Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras. It also features on several war memorials and rolls of honour in the UK. In Scotland, this includes the main City of Aberdeen war memorial, the University of Aberdeen’s memorial in King’s College Chapel, and the village memorial at Kemnay. In London, Captain Burnett’s name appears on the British Museum’s war memorials at Bloomsbury and Kensington, as well as on the British Librarians memorial in the British Library.

Arras Memorial to the Missing: East Lancashire Regiment panel

Captain Burnett’s name on the Arras Memorial to the Missing

A man of contradictions

The touching entry for Captain Burnett published in the University of Aberdeen Roll of Service in the Great War [7] talks about “the humours and contradictions of his wayward spirit,” speculating that he probably did not fully understand them himself.

“In that final synthesis strange and alien elements coalesced, the tender and mocking irony of the Abbé Coignard did not disdain communion with the austerity of Calvin, the freshness of the child met the experience of the sage, and the scoffer embraced the votary. And, like a radiant vestment to his inward riches, none could fail to be struck by his unique courtesy. This quality alone, were but all its implications apprehended, might be truly said to symbolize and epitomize his whole nature. ”O anima cortese!” is epitaph enough.”

The British Librarians' war memorial (detail)

The British Librarians’ war memorial (detail)


[1] British Library, Guide to Sale Catalogues, accessed May 22, 2017,

[2] Peter Kidd, Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900. In: Medieval manuscripts provenance, 23 August 2014, accessed May 22, 2017,

[3] List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676–1900, now in the British Museum (London: Trustees of the British Museum, 1915), accessed May 22, 2017,

[4] Burnett’s colleagues on the List also didn’t survive the war completely unscathed. Harold Mattingly attested in September 1914 and joined the 28th Battalion, County of London Regiment (the Artists’ Rifles). He was, however, discharged in January 1916, being judged to be “no longer fit physically for war service.” His medical board report is remarkably sympathetic, recording that Mattingly had previously suffered from nervous conditions (e.g. while studying at Cambridge and again in May 1914, largely due to overwork). It was the opinion of the board that the physical manifestations of illness were so severe that Mattingly was considered to be “absolutely unfit for military duty.” He later joined the Postal Censorship Bureau. Alfred W. Pollard was too old to join-up, but both of his sons were killed during the war. Lieutenant Geoffrey Blemell Pollard of the 119th Battery, Royal Field Artillery, was killed-in-action, aged 26, on the 24 October 1914 near La Bassée in France, “while crossing an open space on observation duty for his battery.” He was 26 years old. He is buried at Pont-du-Hem Military Cemetery at La Gorgue, his grave concentrated there from the churchyard at La Couture after the war. While at St Paul’s School, Hammersmith, Geoffrey had won the school scholarship for the Royal Military Academy at Woolwich; he had been gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in 1908. His brother, Lieutenant Roger Thompson Pollard of the 5th (Service) Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment, was killed on 13 October 1915 while leading a raid near Hulluch. His name is recorded on the Loos Memorial and the war memorial at Merton College, Oxford. The two brothers are also commemorated on the memorials at St Alban’s Church, Hindhead and in St Mary’s Church, Wimbledon. Sources: ODNB; Alfred W. Pollard, Two Brothers. Accounts rendered (London: Sidgwick & Jackson, 1917); Lieutenant Geoffrey Blemell Pollard, accessed May 22, 2017,; “Lieutenant Roger Thompson Pollard (1910),” Merton@750: An Anniversary Collection, accessed May 22, 2017,

[5] Aberdeen University Review, Vol. 5, 1917-18, pp. 74, 189.

[6] Two of the people that supported Burnett’s application to join the Inns of Court OTC also died in the war. Burnett’s proposer was Thomas Martin Garrod, the son of Colonel Sir Archibald Garrod, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford. Lieutenant Garrod died on the 10th May 1915, aged 20, while serving with the 3rd (Reserve) Battalion, Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, but attached to its 1st Battalion. He had been severely wounded the previous day, “in a charge at the Rue du Bois, near Richebourg St. Vaast,” and died at Béthune, where he is buried in the town cemetery. He and his elder brother, Lieutenant Alfred Noel Garrod, are also commemorated on a memorial at Melton Parish Church, Suffolk. The person responsible for selecting Burnett for the Inns of Court OTC was Charles Reginald Chenevix Trench, a graduate of Merton College, Oxford who was working as a lawyer while also serving as an officer in the OTC. After the outbreak of war, Chenevix Trench joined the 2nd/5th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment), was promoted to Major, and was killed-in-action, aged 30, during the German Spring Offensive. Like Captain Burnett, Major Chenevix Trench’s name is also recorded on the Arras Memorial. Sources: Lieutenant Thomas Martin Garrod, accessed May 22, 2017,; “Major Charles Reginald Chenevix Trench (1906),” Merton@750: An Anniversary Collection, accessed May 22, 2017,

[7] Mabel Desborough Allardyce (ed.), University of Aberdeen Roll of Service in the Great War, 1914-1919 (Aberdeen: Aberdeen University Press, 1921), pp. 61-62; accessed May 22, 2017,; online version, accessed May 22, 2017,

Further Reading:

L. Nicholson, H. T. MacMullen, History of the East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War, 1914-1918 (Liverpool: Littlebury, 1936).

Stephen Barker, Christopher Boardman, Lancashire’s Forgotten Heroes: 8th (Service) Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment in the Great War (Stroud: History Press, 2008).

Colin Fox, Battleground Europe: Monchy-le-Preux (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 2000)


WO 339/27462, Captain Ian Alistair Kendall Burnett, the East Lancashire Regiment (long service papers), The National Archives, Kew

WO 95/1498/1, 1st Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew

WO 95/2537/4, 8th Battalion, East Lancashire Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew

WO WO 95/1506/1 1st Battalion, King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment war diary, The National Archives, Kew


Transcripts from archives and records are my own and may contain errors.

This is a longer-version of an account of Captain Burnett prepared for the British Library’s Untold Lives blog:

Part of the DCLI Panel on the Arras Memorial (Pas-de-Calais)

Part of the DCLI Panel on the Arras Memorial (Pas-de-Calais)

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote about Private Henry Arthur Miller, a bellringer at St Andrew’s Church in Preston (Dorset), who died on 17th April 1917 while serving with the 1st Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry at the Battle of Arras. Between the 14th and 19th April, the battalion had spent five days in the front line near the Bois de l’Hirondelle, under constant attack from artillery, machine guns, and snipers.

1st DCLI were part of 95th Brigade in the British 5th Division. They would renew their attack on the Bois de l’Hirondelle on the 23rd and 24th April 1917, as part of the Second Battle of the Scarpe. This was followed by a reorganisation, whereby on the 3rd May, the 5th Division relieved 1st Canadian Division and part of the British 2nd Division on the front line between Oppy Wood and the village of Fresnoy. On the 8th May, however, Fresnoy was lost in a very strong German attack. The history of the 5th Division provides an overview [1]:

This village [Fresnoy] formed a bulge in the line, and the 95th [Brigade] had at first to throw back a defensive flank on their right, though the line was straightened out a bit in the first two of three days. Early on the 8th of May, as dawn appeared, the Germans delivered a strong attack on the village, but three times within the space of two hours was it beaten off by the machine-guns and rifles of the [12th] Gloucesters and [1st] East Surreys. The enemy fire then quietened down, and it appeared as if he had given up the attempt to capture the village, when at 6.30 a.m., an intense bombardment burst on the whole of the left and part of the 13th Brigade fronts, followed by an Infantry assault. It was raining heavily at the time, and owing to the thick mist the “S.O.S.” signals were not seen by our Gunners. The Gloucesters, on the left, had their entire line blotted out, and though the [1st] D.C.L.I. made a vigorous counter-attack, the enemy pressed on, and forced back the Gloucesters out of the village, together with the Canadians on their left. A little later the East Surreys, on the right of the 95th Brigade, were attacked, and, their left flank being exposed, were compelled to fall back to the trenches East of Arleux, and the K.O.S.B. [1st Battalion, King’s Own Scottish Borderers, part of 29th Division] on their right conformed.

The battalion war diary of the 1st DCLI provides a more detailed account of their attempted counter attack [2]:

Captain KENDALL M.C. [Captain T. A. Kendall] commanding “D” Company 1st D.C.L.I. organised a counter attack with his company and a few of the 12th GLOSTERS. This attack, skilfully and resolutely led, reached the front support trench but were unable to advance farther, the tempest of shells, rifle and M.G. fire proving too strong. The remainder of the Company were therefore withdrawn to their original position, Lieut. STEPHENSON [2nd Lieut. H. V. Stephenson] and many of the rank & file being killed. Frequent appeals had been made for artillery to put down a protective barrage, but in vain: the welcome sustained song of our shells cleaving the air as they hasten to their deadly work did not materialise.

The History of the DCLI continues the story [3]:

The storm centre now shifted to the right of the support line where nothing remained to prevent the enemy capturing Arleux Wood but A and B Companies of the D.C.L.I. The two companies were, however, well dug in, in deep narrow trenches: a part of the K.O.S.B. were a little to the east of them, men of the same battalion extending the line to the south.

With great violence the Germans attacked this little band of men, first deluging the line with shells of all calibres. They then advanced. Their pluck was magnificent, but they were facing men who had realized the seriousness of the situation and who also were determined that the attackers should not succeed. Inspired by the splendid example of their leaders, especially Captain B. M. Taylor and Captain Hughesdon, they held on and broke up the enemy’s attack completely. At this stage a heavy artillery group, directed by an officer who providentially reported at Battalion Headquarters, was turned on to the enemy with excellent results.

Among the many members of the 1st DCLI killed on the 8th May was 27136 Private George William Gates, who came from Sway in Hampshire. Documents attached to the 1st DCLI war diary states that Private Gates was in “D” Company, and that he was posted missing on the 9th May 1917 [4]. Presumably, then, he was one of the many killed in the counter-attack by “D” Company led by Captain Kendall.

My interest in Private Gates derives from the possibility that there may be some kind of link with my mother’s family, who also have Sway ancestry. If there is a connection, it must go back to earlier than the early 19th Century, as I have not been able to discover any common ancestors since then.

Sway war memorial

Sway war memorial (Hampshire)

Sway is a New Forest village that until 1879 formed part of the extensive parish of Boldre. In 1817, when the curate of Boldre, the Rev. Henry Comyn, conducted a survey of the parish, he found many members of the Gates family living in the part of the parish called Durnstown, close to the Hare and Hounds public house. A fictionalised tour based on Comyn’s notes gives a flavour of what he found [5]:

Then on to Back Lane, stronghold of the Gates family. First we drop in on William and Sarah Gates, Sarah has been married twice before, first to another Gates who fathered her two sons John and Thomas who are in the locality – the former we are told is busy courting Jane Kitcher. By her second marriage to a Gold Sarah had two daughters, Mary now in Lymington and Anne, married to George Whicher at Bowling Green. William Gates has three children by his first marriage, young William aged twelve who is at Arnewood but his younger brother and sister James and Maria are at hone to liven the household.

Mr. Comyn then decides to miss a cottage or two, knowing full well that the occupants would soon join us at the home of Thomas Gates, the elder statesman of the family, and his wife Betty, Mr. Comyn asks, without much hope, if there is news of their son Benjamin, now 45 years old, or of daughter Sarah, in her thirties, who had married a Kitcher. Both of then, as he put it, had absconded. Their absence, however, is softened by the proximity of other children. There is Isaac, living next door with wife Catherine (Kitcher) and children Phoebe, Isaac and Benjamin; son Samuel is only as far away as Pilley. Another son Thomas, also living in Back Lane with wife Sarah (yet another Kitcher), and their family, the eldest Hannah, aged 15, Eliza, Letitia, Mary and Anne who is a year old. Then there is daughter Frances in Lymington and son William at the bottom of the lane. As expected, of [sic] Thomas’ cottage, quite a gathering which leads Mr Comyn to suggest that Durnstown should be renamed Gatestown!

George William Gates was born at Sway to Walter and Annie Gates on the 26th March 1894. By the time of the 1901 Census, the family had moved to Stoke Common, near Bishopstoke, where Walter was working as a labourer.  They were still living at Stoke Common (109 Church Road, Bishopstoke) at the time of the 1911 Census; by then George was 17 years old and also working as a labourer. The census return states that Walter and Annie had had 11 children, of whom six were still living, as of April 1911.

Walter and Annie feature in the 1881 and 1891 Census living at Durrant’s Town (presumably what is now Durnstown) with Walter’s widowed father, the 75-year old Morris Gates (a farmer), and two young children, also named Walter and Annie. It is possible to trace Morris and his wife Jane in several earlier census returns, e.g. in 1871 at Durrant’s Town, in 1851 at Pilley (another settlement in Boldre), and in 1841 at North Sway.

While the exact connection — if any — is unclear, I have also been able to trace my great-great-grandfather on my mother’s side to Durrant’s Town in 1881. By then, Joseph Gates was married to Elizabeth Emma Gates (née Akers), who had been born at Plumstead in Kent.

Many members of the various Gates families of Sway would serve in the forces during the First World War. For example, in January 1915, the New Forest Magazine published a list of people from Sway serving in the forces that included the names of 11 persons with the Gates surname [6].

The publication Sway in the War, 1914-1945 by Tony Blakeley, et al. (2009) includes a few pages on George William Gates [7]. Using information provided by staff at Cornwall’s Regimental Museum, the authors record that George enlisted at Brockenhurst, probably in early 1916 — suggesting that he could have been part of the first batch of army conscripts (conscription came into force in January 1916). They also state that Private Gates was posted on the 12th April 1916 to the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion, DCLI — a training unit based at Freshwater, Isle of Wight. The booklet also suggests that it was likely that George had served with the 1st DCLI on the Somme front in 1916 before moving with the battalion to Arras in early 1917.

George William Gates has no known grave. His name features on the Arras Memorial to the Missing at the Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras, France.

Sway War Memorial (Hampshire)

Panel of the Sway War Memorial (Hampshire)

Apart from George William, the Sway war memorial also includes the names of two other individuals with the Gates surname, neither of whom were part of George’s immediate family. Leading Seaman William George Gates, died in the sinking of HMS Bayano (an Elders and Fyffes ship converted into a armed merchant cruiser) on the 11th March 1915. Private Arthur James (Jim) Gates of the Tank Corps (formerly of the Royal Berkshire Regiment) was killed near Zillebeke, Belgium on the 31st July 1917, in the opening offensive of the 3rd Battle of Ypres.


[1] A. H. Hussey and D. S. Inman, The Fifth Division in the Great War (London: Nisbet, 1921), p. 161.

[2] The National Archives, WO 95/1577/4

[3] Everard Wyrall, The History of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, 1914-1919 (London: Methuen, 1931), p. 261.

[4] The National Archives, WO 95/1577/4

[5] “Sway Snippets – the final tour.” E-mail to ENG-HAMPSHIRE-L list, 13 July 2006:

[6] Tony Blakeley, John Cockram, Nick Saunders, and Richard Williams, Sway at war, 1914-1945 (Brockenhurst: John Cockram, 2009), pp. 33-34.

[7] Ibid., pp. 87-88.

Midsomer Norton Church

Church of St John the Baptist, Midsomer Norton (Somerset)

One of the names on the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association of Change Ringers war memorial in Bath Abbey is that of Ernest Charles Chivers, a bellringer at Midsomer Norton in Somerset. He died of wounds in France on the 24th April 1917.

At the time of his death, the 23-year old Ernest Chivers was a Corporal in the 1st Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry. The 1st Somersets were training in the Arras area on the 24th April, so it is most likely that 20782 Corporal E. C. Chivers had been wounded earlier in April, when the battalion were heavily involved in the First Battle of the Scarpe. This operation, which was part of the wider Battle of Arras, ran from 9th to 14th April 1917.

The 1st Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry were part of 11th Infantry Brigade in the British 4th Division, and had been in France since August 1914. On the 8th April 1917, the 1st Somersets marched to Maroeuil in preparation for the opening of the Battle of Arras. The battalion war diary (The National Archives WO 95/1499/5) reported that “All preparations for coming attack made everyone in most-cheerful mood.” The 4th Division were attacking in conjunction with the 9th Division. The offensive commenced early in the morning of the 9th April when the battalion advanced, together with 1st Rifle Brigade and 1st Hampshires, towards a stronghold known as the Hyderabad Redoubt, north of the village of Fampoux. Much ground was taken by both divisions involved in this attack, but multiple attempts to break out of the redoubt over subsequent days did not succeed. Fighting continued for several days before the battalion were relived by 1st Hampshires on the 14th April, although they stayed close to the front line until 4th Division was relived by the 37th Division on the 19th. The battalion war diary lists the casualties in this operation as:

  • Officers: killed, 7; wounded, 4.
  • Other Ranks: killed, 23; wounded, 94 +10

The war diary continues:

“All ranks behaved splendidly through a very trying operation; everyone suffered very much from the bad weather and loss of sleep, hot food etc, but the men were very-cheery, and ready to carry out every thing asked of them: at one period some Officers collapsed through sheer exhaustion, only three being fit to carry on, i.e. The C.O., Adjutant, and Lewis Gun Officer. The exhausted Officers recovered somewhat and continued at duty. The Batt. can congratulate itself on having gone through a very trying ordeal in very fine style.”

Corporal E. C. Chivers died-of-wounds on the 24 April 1917 and is buried at Étaples Military Cemetery, near Boulogne in France. Étaples is a long way from Arras, so it seems likely that Cpl. Chivers died in one of the many military hospitals in that area, after being evacuated from the front. Étaples Military Cemetery is the largest CWGC cemetery in France, with over 10,000 burials from the First World War. The cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Ernest was the eldest son of Frederick and Emma Chivers. He was born in the 1st quarter of 1898. At the time of the 1911 Census, the family were living at 13, The Island in Midsomer Norton. Frederick was a 41-year old chauffeur, Emma a 42-year old caretaker. Ernest Charles was at that point 17-years old and working as a shoe maker. He had several younger siblings: Arthur Stanley (in 1911 working as a boot finisher) and three others (Eveline, Florence and Eric) who were all still at school. Ten years earlier, the family had been living at 14, the Island, when Frederick Chivers was working as a coachman (domestic). All members of the family had been born at Midsomer Norton.

Midsomer Norton war memorial

Midsomer Norton War Memorial

As well as the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association memorial in Bath Abbey, Ernest Chivers’s name also features on the war memorial at Midsomer Norton.

Ernest’s younger brother, 37982 Private Arthur Stanley Chivers, also died in the First World War. He served in the same unit as his brother, the 1st Somersets, and he died on the 14th April 1918. His body was never found or identified, so his name appears on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium. At the time of the 1911 Census, Arthur was 14-years old and working as a “boot finisher.” He was also a bellringer at Midsomer Norton and his name features on the same war memorials as his brother.

Posted by: michaeldaybath | April 17, 2017

Wessex bellringers at the Battle of Arras

Arras Memorial: DCLI panel

Arras Memorial: Part of DCLI panel

The Battle of Arras commenced on Easter Monday, the 9th April 1917. Like the Battle of the Somme the year before, the battle was part of a planned joint-offensive by both French and British forces on the Western Front. After the tough battles of 1916, German forces had in February and March 1917 withdrawn to a substantial new defensive line called the Siegriedstellung (known to the British as the Hindenburg Line). While this disrupted the planning of the allies, it was decided to proceed with the plan for a joint spring offensive.

The much-larger French offensive – which is generally known by the name of French commander-in chief, General Robert Nivelle – was planned to take place further south in the area known as the Chemin-des-Dames. While Field Marshal Douglas Haig, the British commander-in-chief, would have preferred to have attacked in Flanders, the focus of the British attack further north was based on the city of Arras, to the north of the old Somme front. The plan was for the British to attack a few days before the French in order to draw away German reserves. The French could then deliver the knockout blow and thus bring an end to the war. As with many such plans, the Nivelle Offensive did not long survive contact with reality.

The first phases of the Battle of Arras (Battle of Vimy; First Battle of the Scarpe) ran from  9th to 14th April 1917 and included the successful capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadian Corps. The poet Edward Thomas, serving with 244th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, was killed on the opening day of the offensive. The Battle of Arras, however, continued through several other phases before its official end on the 16th May 1917. Amongst the many people that died in the early stages of the battle were two bellringers from the west country. Privates Henry Miller from Preston (Dorset) and Edgar Pulman from East Coker (Somerset) both died on the 17th April, on different parts of the Arras front.

Private Henry Arthur Miller, 1st Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry

Church of St Andrew, Preston (Dorset)

Church of St Andrew, Preston (Dorset)

The 1st Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry were part of the British 5th Division for the duration of the war. At the beginning of the Battle of Arras, most of 5th Division were in reserve on the Vimy front, although the division’s 13th Brigade fought under the command of the Canadian Corps in the Neuville-Saint-Vaast area [1].

On the 13th April, the Fifth Division began to relieve the 4th Canadian Division around Givenchy. The 15th and 95th Brigades continued the advance, but soon hit obstacles. The divisional history elaborates [2]:

[…] on the 14th [April] they were held up in front of a strongly-wired entrenched position running from the Electricity Works South of the Cite du Bois Moyen, through La Culotte, to Acheville. The left flank of our position rested on the Souchez River, and the right on the Arras-Lens road; immediately south of the Souchez River, in the left Brigade area, was the wooded spur of the Bois de l’Hirondelle, a locality subjected to very severe shelling by the enemy’s Artillery.

And [3]:

The German position was formidable, protected with three deep belts of barbed-wire entanglement; opposite the 95th Brigade was a strongly-fortified railway embankment and the buildings of the Electricity Works, transformed by concrete and steel into a veritable fortress […]

In due course as part of the Second Battle of the Scarpe (23rd and 24th April), the 95th Brigade — which included 1/DCLI  — would attack these positions. In the meantime, however, this sector of the line was far from quiet:

Between the 14th and 19th of April the Cornwalls had remained in the front line, subjected to much shell-fire, machine-gunning and sniping. The Bosche was exceedingly active and patrols were always met by fire whenever they went out to reconnoitre the enemy’s wire and positions.

Private Henry Miller was killed in action on the 17th April.  The war diary gives a brief overview of battalion movements on that day  (WO 95 1577-4) [4]:

17th April

From 1 A.M till 5.30AM German artillery very active on our trenches and lines in front of BOIS de RIAUMONT – During the morning BOIS de L’HIRONDELLE shelled
[…] Instructions were received that 5th Division would form defensive flanks and Brigades were slightly re-organised […]
Devons right front, DCLI left front near SOUCHEZ Road, 12 Gloucesters in support, E Surreys in reserve.
11th and 18th Bde R.F.A. covering our front. On the whole day quieter – heavy rain during night and sun during day made the trenches very bad indeed. Fires in houses in LENS pont to further withdrawal of Germans.

Henry Arthur Miller was born at Preston (Dorset) in 1893, the son of Charles and Elizabeth Miller. In the 1901 Census, Charles Miller was a 59-year old market gardener resident at Preston. Living with Charles and Elizabeth were the 12-year-old Bessie and the 7-year-old Henry as well as three of Elizabeth’s older children from a previous marriage: Mary, William and Frederick Ashford. By 1911, Elizabeth was a widow, and was living at Preston with the 17-year old Henry (by now a casual labourer), his step-brother Frederick, and a 5-year-old niece named Winifred Muriel Miller.

In July 1913, the 20-year old Henry Miller joined the Weymouth Branch of the National Union of Railwaymen as a labourer, working for the Great Western Railway. He married Lilian Baker in 1915.

Private Miller’s entry in Soldiers died in the Great War says that he enlisted at Weymouth and that he was killed in action. He has no known grave, so his name features on the Arras Memorial.

After his death, the Western Gazette published a photograph of Henry Miller and a short obituary.

PRIVATE H. A. MILLER KILLED. — It is with deep regret that his friends heard of the death in action, on 17th April, of Private Henry Arthur Miller, of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. Deceased was a son of the late Mr. Charles and Mrs. Miller, and the husband of Mrs. Lilian Victoria Miller, of Preston, and before entering the Army was a worker on the G.W.R. He joined the Dorset Regiment, and was trained at Bovington Camp, proceeding to the Front in July last, being attached to the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. He will be much missed in his local village, where he was very popular. He was much attached to the church, of which his father was clerk for many years, and was a keen bell-ringer. He was also on the Committee of the Scout Memorial Hall, and took interest in all parish matters. Deep sympathy is felt with the widow and family in their heavy bereavement.

Preston War Memorial (Dorset)

Preston War Memorial (Dorset)

Private Miller’s name features on the war memorial at Preston (Dorset).

Private Edgar Tom Pulman, 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment

Church of St Michael, East Coker (Somerset)

Church of St Michael, East Coker (Somerset)

The 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment, were part of 98th Brigade in 33rd Division. On the 17th April, the division were based around Héninel, to the south-east of Arras. Héninel had been captured by 21st Division on the 12th April 1917, but had then taken over by the 33rd Division on the 14th and 15th. Unlike the 5th, the 33rd Division was a New Army unit — although 1/Middlesex was itself a regular battalion. As part of the Second Battle of the Scarpe, the 33rd Division would attack Hindenburg Line positions in strength on the 23rd April.

Like Private Miller, Private Edgar Tom Pulman died in the days leading up to the start of the Second Battle of the Scarpe on the 23rd April. He died-of-wounds, and is buried at Bucquoy Road Cemetery at Ficheux, which was close to the VII Corps Main Dressing Station.

Edgar Tom Pulman had been born at North Coker in 1891. His parents were Tom and Mary Pulman, who in the 1901 and 1911 Censuses, lived at Chantry House at East Coker. In 1901, Tom was a 38-year-old master baker. At that time, Tom and Mary had four children living at home: Henry, Edgar (aged 10), Richard and Marjory. All were still living there in 1911, when the 20-year-old Edgar was working as a railway clerk. Private Pulman’s entry in Soldiers died in the Great War states that he was resident at Oxford and that he enlisted there.

East Coker War Memorial (Somerset)

East Coker War Memorial (Somerset)

After his death, Private Pulman’s name appeared in the “local casualties” column of the Taunton Courier [6]. His name also appears on the war memorial in the Church of St Michael, East Coker as well as on a separate brass plaque in the north aisle:

Edgar Tom PULMAN, Pte. 1st. Middlesex Regiment, for many years a choirboy and ringer in this church,died of wounds received in action in France near Monchy le Preux, 17 April 1917, aged 26.


[1] Jack Sheldon and Nigel Cave, The Battle for Vimy Ridge 1917 (Barnsley: Pen and Sword Military, 2007, pp. 94-95.

[2] A. H. Hussey and D. S. Inman, The Fifth Division in the Great War (London: Nisbet, 1921), p. 157.

[3] Ibid., p. 158.

[4] The National Archives, WO 95 1577-4.

[5] Western Gazette, 18 May 1917, p. 6, via British Newspaper Archive.

[6] Taunton Courier, 23 May 1917, p. 1, via British Newspaper Archive.

Posted by: michaeldaybath | April 9, 2017

2nd Lieutenant Philip Edward Thomas, Royal Garrison Artillery

Agny Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France

Grave of 2nd Lieut P. E. Thomas, R.G.A., Agny Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France

Edward Thomas, 1878 -1917

Now all roads lead to France
And heavy is the tread
Of the living; but the dead
Returning lightly dance:

From: “Roads,” Edward Thomas (22 January 1916) [1]

The name appeared in the casualty list of the Army and Navy Gazette of the 21 April 1917; listed under the “Royal Garrison Artillery” were the names of three officers, the second being: 2nd Lieutenant P. E. Thomas – killed. [2]. For those that would have known him, these rather stark details announced the death of the author and war poet Edward Thomas.

At the time of his death, Edward Thomas was 39 years old, and was thus – at the time he enlisted in July 1915 – old enough to have avoided conscription. He served first with the Artists Rifles, the 28th (County of London) Battalion of the London Regiment. From September 1915, Thomas was posted initially to training camps in Essex, first High Beech Camp near Loughton, then Hare Hall Training Camp near Romford. In August 1916, Thomas received a commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery. After further training, and a short period of leave around Christmas time, Thomas travelled to France with his battery on the 29 January 1917. He would never return to England. He was killed at 07:36 on the morning of the 9th April, the opening day of the Battle of Arras.

Edward Thomas memorial stone, Shoulder of Mutton Hill, Steep, Hampshire

Edward Thomas memorial stone, Shoulder of Mutton Hill, Steep, Hampshire

Edward Thomas had kept a pocket diary from the start of 1917 and this, together with his letters, provide an interesting insight into his experience of war. Excerpts from the diary have been published in anthologies [3], and a digitised version of the manuscript has been made available as part of the University of Oxford’s First World War Poetry Digital Archive [4]. Curiously, Thomas’s notebooks seem to concern topography and nature as much as they do war. If he had lived, I expect that they would have formed the basis of new poems or books. From February 1917, Thomas’s battery was based in the area south of Arras, where his daily tasks as a subaltern included the observation of artillery fire. One entry begins [5]:

March 11 Out at 8.30 to Ronville O.P. [observation post] and studied the ground from Beaurains N. Larks singing over No Man’s Land — trench mortars.

And later on the same day:

At 6.15 all quiet and heard blackbirds chinking. Scene peaceful, desolate like Dunwich moors except sprinkling of white chalk on the rough brown ground.

Birds feature a lot in Thomas’s front line experiences. On the 7th April, a couple of days before his death, he was up early to go to an observation post [6].

A cold day of continuous shelling N. Vitasse [Neuville-Vitasse] and Telegraph Hill. Infantry all over the place in open preparing Prussian Way with boards for wounded. Hardly any shells into Beaurains. Larks, partridges, hedge-sparrows, magpies by O.P.

War memorial in the Church of All Saints, Steep, Hampshire

War memorial in the Church of All Saints, Steep, Hampshire

Second Lieutenant Thomas died on the morning of the 9th April 1917, the opening day of the Battle of Arras. Many published accounts of his death suggest that he was killed by concussion. The familiar account (based on that originally told by Helen Thomas) has 2nd Lieutenant Thomas leaving a dugout near his observation post at Beaurains to fill a pipe when a shell passed so close that the blast stopped his heart. Thus it was often said that Thomas fell, “without a mark on his body” [7]. The reality may have been a little less idealised. Jean Moorcroft Wilson’s recent biography has dug out a letter by Captain (later Major) Franklin Lushington [8]:

A few moments after Zero Hour (about 7 0’clock in the morning I think it was) I was rung up on the telephone from the O.P. A voice said that Thomas had been killed. shot clean through the chest by a pip-squeak (a 77mm shell) the very moment the battle began.

Edward Thomas's name on the war memorial at Steep, Hampshire

Edward Thomas’s name on the war memorial at Steep, Hampshire

Second Lieutenant Thomas is buried in Agny Military Cemetery, which is not that far away from the site of the observation post where he was killed. Thomas’s name also features on several war memorials in the UK, including those at Steep in Hampshire, where he and and his family lived for many years, and at Lincoln College, Oxford (a memorial that also contains the name of W. B. Algeo, a Captain in the 1st Battalion, Dorsetshire Regiment). Personal memorials include a sarsen memorial on the Shoulder of Mutton Hill, near Steep, and engraved glass windows by Laurence Whistler in the Church of All Saints, Steep, and the Church of St James the Greater, Eastbury, Berkshire (which is where Helen and two of their children are buried). There are also plaques fixed to various houses where Edward Thomas lived in Lambeth, Oxford, and Steep.

Edward and Helen Thomas memorial window, Eastbury, Berkshire

Edward and Helen Thomas memorial window, Church of St James the Greater, Eastbury, Berkshire

There is no room here to explore Edward Thomas’s life, or his career as a writer, critic and poet. While Thomas had always been a prolific writer, he only started producing poetry in the last two-and-a-half years of his life. Matthew Hollis’s book on the final five-years of Thomas’s life gives a good overview of the creative process when Thomas finally turned to writing poems in November 1914 [9]. Some of the poems (‘Adlestrop,’ ‘Lob,’ ‘Aspens,’ ‘Roads,’ ‘This is No Case of Petty Wright or Wrong,’ ‘As the Team’s Head Brass’) are reasonably well-known, but while they were all written before Thomas went to France, many of them reflect the experience of war, even if only obliquely. With its subtle references to Thomas Hardy’s “In Time of ‘The Breaking of Nations'” (1915), Thomas’s poem ‘As the Team’s Head Brass’ considers some of the contingencies brought about by war. The poem ends with a conversation with a ploughman, reflecting on a fallen elm tree [10]:

The ploughman said. ‘When will they take it away?’
‘When the war’s over.’ So the talk began —
One minute and an interval of ten,
A minute more and the same interval.
‘Have you been out?’ ‘No.’ ‘And don’t want
to, perhaps?’
‘If I could only come back again, I should.
I could spare an arm. I shouldn’t want to lose
A leg. If I should lose my head, why, so,
I should want nothing more. . . . Have many gone
From here?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Many lost?’ ‘Yes, a good few.
Only two teams work on the farm this year.
One of my mates is dead. The second day
In France they killed him. It was back in March,
The very night of the blizzard, too. Now if
He had stayed here we should have moved the tree.’
“And I should not have sat here. Everything
Would have been different. For it would have been
Another world.’ ‘Ay, and a better, though
If we could see all all might seem good.’ Then
The lovers came out of the wood again:
The horses started and for the last time
I watched the clods crumble and topple over
After the ploughshare and the stumbling team.


What else is there to say?


[1] Edward Thomas, Selected poems and prose, ed. David Wright (London: Penguin Books, 2013), pp. 217-219.

[2] Army and Navy Gazette, 21 April 1917, p. 255; via British Newspaper Archive.

[3] Thomas, Selected poems and prose, p. 249-258.

[4] “Edward Thomas: War Diary,” First World War Poetry Digital Archive, accessed April 4, 2017,

[5] Thomas, Selected poems and prose, p. 251.

[6] Ibid., p. 257.

[7] Matthew Hollis, Now all roads lead to France: the last years of Edward Thomas (London: Faber and Faber, 2011), p. xvii.

[8] Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Edward Thomas: from Adlestrop to Arras: a biography (London: Bloomsbury, 2015), p. 413.

[9] Matthew Hollis, Now all roads lead to France: the last years of Edward Thomas (London: Faber and Faber, 2011), pp. 183 ff.

[10] Thomas, Selected poems and prose, pp. 234-235.

Further reading:

The British Library has made several Edward Thomas collection items available online:


Brtish Library, Add MS 44990 f010v: Poems of Philip Edward Thomas. 86 images available from Digitised Manuscripts site:

Image of ‘Adelstrop’ available at:

British Library, Add MS 89029_1_52: Letter from Eleanor Farjeon to Maitland Radford, 29 August 1914. Available:

Printed books:

Six poems, by Edward Eastaway [i.e. Edward Thomas] (Flansham: Pear Tree Press, 1916). Available:

Last Poems by Edward Thomas (London: Selwyn and Blount, 1918). Available:

Collected Poems by Edward Thomas, with a foreword by Walter de la Mare (London: Selwyn and Blount, 1920). Available:

The National Library of Wales:

The National Library of Wales also has a blog on what that library is doing to mark the centenary of Edward Thomas’s death:



Posted by: michaeldaybath | April 3, 2017

Private Ivan Day, 94th Battalion, Training Reserve

Church of St Gregory, Weare (Somerset)

Church of St Gregory, Weare (Somerset)

Today marks the centenary of the death of another of the men listed on the war memorial of the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association of Change Ringers, which can be found in Bath Abbey. Ivan (or Ivon*) Day was a bellringer at the Church of St Gregory, Weare, a village near Axbridge in Somerset.

Ivan George Day’s birth was registered in the Axbridge district in the third quarter of 1898. His parents were George Aubrey Day and Emma Jane Day (née Shepstone), who had married in the first quarter of 1897. Ivan had two younger siblings, Leonard Vernon Day (b. 1900) and Gwendoline Phyllis Day (b. 1907). George Aubrey Day was a brick and tile manufacturer in Weare, as had been his father Daniel before him. The 1901 Census lists George’s young family living at Brickyard House at Lower Weare. They were probably still living there in 1911, when the 12-year old Ivan is described as being at school.

The grave marker of Private I. G. Day, Weare (Somerset)

The grave marker of Private I. G. Day, Weare (Somerset)

At the time of his death, aged 18, Private Day was a member of the 94th Battalion of the Training Reserve [1]. At the beginning of the war, many infantry regiments maintained their own training units, but these were reorganised following the introduction of conscription in September 1916. At that time, the 94th Battalion took over from the 16th (Reserve) Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment.

The 16th (Reserve) Bn. of the Gloucestershires had been formed in November 1915 at Chiseldon Camp, just south of Swindon, Wiltshire. It is unclear exactly how Private Day died, although it seems most likely that he died of illness. Chiseldon didn’t have a particularly healthy reputation, and T. S. Crawford has recorded that that things were particularly bad in the spring and summer of 1917 [2]:

Between March and June 1917, thirty-four men died in the hospital, nine from cerebro-spinal fever, ten from pneumonia, fourteen from measles and one from heart disease.

The Commonwealth War Grave Commission (CWGC) database provides the names of 14 members of the 94th Battalion that died between March and June 1917, although it is not clear how many of these died in the military hospital at Chiseldon. From the locations where they were buried, it seems that the vast majority of the recruits were from the south west of England.

The name of I. G. Day on the Weare war memorial (Somerset)

The name of I. G. Day on the Weare war memorial (Somerset)

Private Day has a CWGC headstone in Weare churchyard. His name also appears on the village war memorial inside St Gregory’s Church and on the Rolls of Honour of the Central Council of Church Bell Ringers (CCCBR).


* Private Day’s name is given as “Ivon” in Soldiers Died in the Great War and the CCCBR Memorial Books.


[1] CWGC database entry for TR7/7393 Private I. G. Day:

[2] T. S. Crawford, Wiltshire and the Great War: training the Empire’s soldiers, rev ed. (Ramsbury: Crowood Press, 2012), p. 187.



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