Posted by: michaeldaybath | December 18, 2017

Private William Henry Fudge, 2/4th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry

Church of All Saints, Trull (Somerset)

Church of All Saints, Trull (Somerset)

After the Third Battle of Gaza in late October 1917, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) moved northwards, deeper into Palestine. By late November, after victories at Mughal Ridge and Junction Station, attention turned to the capture of Jerusalem. but attacks on Ottoman defensive positions near Nebi Samwil, in the hills to the north of the city on the 17th to 24th November, met with fierce resistance. Eventually, however, the city of Jerusalem surrendered on the 9th December. Two days later, on the 11th December 1917, General Allenby famously entered the city of Jerusalem on foot via the Jaffa Gate.

To the north, XXI Corps — led by the 52nd (Lowland), the 54th (East Anglian), and 75th Divisions — then prepared to capture Ottoman positions at Nahr el Auja, north of Jaffa. In the build up to what became known as the Battle of Jaffa, 202688 Private William Henry Fudge of the 2/4th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry (part of 75th Division) was killed in action. Private Fudge was also a bellringer at St Mary Magdalene, Taunton and a member of the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association of Change Ringers.

202688 Private William Henry Fudge, 2/4th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry

William Henry Fudge was born at Trull, near Taunton in the 4th quarter of 1887, the son of Walter and Henrietta Sophia Fudge. William first features in the 1891 Census as a three-year-old child, living at Frog Street, Trull, near Taunton, with his parents and two siblings, Minnie (aged 6) and Ernest (aged under one year). The family, including William, is still living in Frog Street (Hawlett Scattered Houses) at the time of the 1901 Census, where William is now the eldest of five children still living at home and a thirteen-year-old errand boy. At the time of the 1911 Census, the family are still living at Trull (Comeystrowe), where William is 23 years old and now a stamper in a collar-making factory.

Trull War Memorial (Somerset)

Trull War Memorial (Somerset)

In the 4th quarter of 1914, William married Elizabeth Collier in the Taunton registration district. Elizabeth (Bessie) was the daughter of Robert Collier and Caroline Collier (née Doble). At the time of the 1891 Census, Robert Collier was working as a railway labourer, but he died in 1900. In 1901, the widowed Caroline was working as a nurse (general) and was resident at Rose Cottage, Sunnybank, Rowbarton, which was within the civil parish of St James, Taunton. Living with Caroline were five children, including the 7-year-old Elizabeth Collier, and three boarders. At the time of the 1911 Census, the Collier family were still living at Rowbarton, but now at 22, Thomas Street, a terraced street just north of Taunton railway station. Caroline is now described as a 59-year-old midwife, certified by the Central Midwives Board (CMB), and working on her own account. Four of Caroline’s children were still living with her, the oldest being Lucy (aged 27), a collar ironer, and Charles (25), a boiler worker based at the Great Western Railway (GWR) locomotive works. The two youngest children both worked for a shirt and collar factory, Ethel (21) as a shirt machinist and Bessie (19) as a buttonholer. Also living with them at that time were two boarders that were engine cleaners at the GWR locomotive works: Arthur Stockman (aged 26), who had been born at Castle Cary (Somerset) and William Henry Tuck (17), from West Bromwich (Staffordshire).

William’s father, Walter Fudge, had been born at Pitminster, near Taunton, and by 1891 was working as carpenter and wheelwright. In all, Walter and Henrietta Sophia Fudge had seven children, all of whom were still alive at the time of the 1911 Census: Minnie, William Henry, Ernest, Henry (Harry), Henrietta Mary, and Stanley Walter.

Church of St Mary Magdalene, Taunton (Somerset)

Church of St Mary Magdalene, Taunton (Somerset)

Soldiers Died in the Great War records that 202688 Private William Henry Fudge of the 2/4th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry was killed-in-action on the 18th December 1917. He is buried in Ramleh War Cemetery. Ramleh (now Ramla) was occupied by the Egyptian Expeditionary Force at the beginning of November 1917 and very soon came a base for Field Ambulances and Casualty Clearing Stations.

The 2/4th Somerset Light Infantry

The 4th and 5th Battalions of Prince Albert’s (Somerset Light Infantry) were units of the Territorial Force. On the 9th October 1914, the first-line battalions of both — the 1/4th and 1/5th Somersets= Light Infantry — sailed with other units of the Wessex Division to India. Back in Somerset, effort then turned to the formation of second-line battalions. The 2/4th Somerset Light Infantry formed at Prior Park in Bath and, after reaching strength, followed the other battalions to India on the 12th December 1914. The battalion served for a while in the Andaman Islands in 1915, but returned to the Indian mainland in January 1916. The battalion then spent over a year in India as garrison troops, but also provided occasional drafts for the 1/4th Somersets in Mesopotamia. The situation changed in September 1917, when the 2/4th Somersets moved to join the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) in Palestine.

Arriving at Suez, the 2/4th Somersets moved first to Kantara and then marched to the British lines in front of Gaza. On arrival, the battalion became part of the 232nd Infantry Brigade, which was part of the 75th Division. The Division was made up of a mixture of British and Indian Army units. For example, the infantry battalions in the 232nd Brigade in late 1917 were the 1/5th Devonshire Regiment, the 2/5th Hampshire Regiment, the 2/4th Somersets, and the 2/3rd Gurkha Rifles.

As part of the 75th Division, the 2/4th Somersets had taken part in the Battle of Nabi Samwil towards the end of November 1917. The 75th Division was then relieved and moved to the coastal plains west of Jerusalem. the regimental history of the Somerset Light Infantry [1] records that the 2/4th Somersets operated mostly in a support role throughout the month of December, while other units in 232nd Brigade led the advance.

From 27th November to the end of the month the 2/4th Somersets remained at El Mughar, the only incident of importance being the arrival of much-needed reinforcements, i.e. four officers and 171 rank and file. On 1st December the battalion moved to El Kubeibeh, remaining there until the 7th when a move was made to Ramleh, the 2/4th bivouacking in an orchard some 400 yards south-west of Crusaders’ Church. On 9th the Battalion lent an officer and nine other ranks to the 2/3rd Gurkhas for observation purposes. On this day also the Battalion, after leaving A Company to guard the guns, marched to the eastern side of the wadi between Deir Abu Selameh in Brigade Reserve and bivouacked for the night, B Company going out on outpost duty on a hill three-quarters of a mile east of Selameh. On the 10th C and D Companies were at work on the roads beyond Hadithen.


Although continually in reserve or support and occasionally taking over front-line positions from other units of the 232nd Brigade as it advanced, the 2/4th Somersets do not appear to have been involved in any fighting with the enemy during the latter part of December. On the 11th, while other units of the Brigade took Midien, Zebdah, Budrus and Sheikh Obeid Rahil, C and D Companies were attached to the 2/3rd Gurkhas, D Company going forward and occupying a hill on a line between Haditheh and a point midway between Sheikh Obeid Rahil and Budrus, the attack passing right and left of (and being covered by) D Company’s position. In successive stages the Battalion moved forward to Mukam Iman el Aly, Sheikh Obeid Rahil, Bornat and Horse Shoe Hill. It was at the latter place that the 2/4th were relieved by the 1/5th [Somersets, in 233 Brigade] and moved back to bivouacs at Surafend.

It is not clear from this account how two members of the 2/4th Somersets were killed in action on the 18th December 1917.

War Memorial plaque, Church of St Mary Magdalene, Taunton (Somerset)

War Memorial plaque, Church of St Mary Magdalene, Taunton (Somerset)

War memorials

Private William Henry Fudge’s name appears on numerous war memorials in and around Taunton, e.g. on the main town war memorial in Vivary Park and the tablet memorials in the Churches of St James and St Mary Magdalene (oddly, his surname is spelled “Fuge” on both the town and St James memorials). His name also appears on the war memorial cross in the churchyard of the Church of All Saints, Trull, and the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association Memorial in Bath Abbey.

Bellringers' memorial plaque, Church of St Mary Magdalene, Taunton (Somerset)

Bellringers’ memorial plaque, Church of St Mary Magdalene, Taunton (Somerset)

Additionally, a plaque in the tower of the Church of St Mary Magdalene in Taunton records that the bells of that church were augmented to a ring of twelve and rehung in 1922, with one bell donated in memory of the four bellringers from Taunton that died in the war: W. H. Fudge, W. A. Fowler, S. A. Phillips, and H. Van Trump. Their names were also cast as an inscription on the memorial bell itself. The bells were replaced earlier this year (2017) by a new ring of twelve cast by J. Taylor & Co. (Loughborough), but the memorial bell has been retained and hung by Taylor’s on a movable oak stand.

War Memorial, Church of St James, Taunton (Somerset)

War Memorial, Church of St James, Taunton (Somerset)

Incidentally, another name commemorated on several of the Taunton war memorials is 36311 Private Thomas Doble Collier of the 2nd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. Thomas was the older brother of Elizabeth Fudge, and thus William Fudge’s brother-in-law. Some additional information on Thomas is available from the Church of St James’s World War 1 Memorial Project [2]:

In 1909, aged 21, Thomas married 19 year old Katurah Wilmington.  In the 1901 census Katurah was a servant in the home of Andrew Gray, the manager of the paper mill at Creech St Michael.  In 1910 they had a son, Leslie Charles.  In 1911 they are listed as living in Yarde Place, Wood Street, with Thomas working as a store labourer and Katurah as a shirt maker.
As part of the 2nd Battalion Worcestershire Regiment, Thomas would have been attached to 100th Brigade of the 33rd Division serving on the Western Front.  The 33rd Division took part in the Arras Offensive, which included the Second battle of the Scarpe on 23rd April 1917.  It was during this battle, when the British launched an attack from Wancourt to Vis-en-Artois, that Thomas was killed in action.

201768 Private Henry Archibald Evry, 2/4th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry

Another member of the 2/4th Somersets that was killed-in-action in Palestine on the 18th December was 201768 Private Henry Archibald Evry.

St Catherine's, near Batheaston: Church of St Catherine (Somerset)

St Catherine’s, near Batheaston: Church of St Catherine (Somerset)

Henry Archibald Evry was born at St Catherine’s, Bath (a very beautiful spot north of Batheaston) in the 3rd quarter of 1896, the son of Henry Alfred and Adelaide Evry (née Harding). At the time of the 1901 Census, Henry Archibald was the eldest of three children and living with his parents at St Catherines. The family was still living at St Catherine’s (Small Tynings) in 1911, while Archibald was 14-years-old and now the eldest of five children, also including: Reginald (13), Irene (11), Alfred (7), and Daniel (6).

Henry Archibald Evry’s father and grandfather were both named Henry and were market gardeners. Archibald’s grandfather lived at Sandy Bank Farm, Northend, and was for a time licensee of the (long-closed) Sandy Bank Inn. At the time of her death in 1934, aged 87, Archibald’s grandmother, Mary Ann Evry, was the oldest resident of St Catherines [3]. Archibald’s parents celebrated their 50th Wedding Anniversary in 1945. Oddly enough, the report in the Bath Chronicle [4] does not seem to mention Archibald at all (and I have been unable to discover anything about the son killed in an aeroplane accident).

Batheaston Couple’s Golden Wedding
Mr. and Mrs. Henry Evry, of St Catherine’s, celebrated their golden wedding on Saturday with a happy family party.
Born at Batheaston, Mr. Henry Evry attended Batheaston Schools, and from there went to work and learned farming and market gardening, which occupation he has followed all his life. Mrs.Evry was Miss Adelaide Harding, and was born at Marshfield. Later she came to Bath and became cook in the household of the late Ald. C. B. Oliver, at the time he was the lessee of the Assembly Rooms. He she met Mr. Evry, and they were married on Jan. 8, 1895.
The couple have had eight children four of whom survive, Reg and John working in the same occupation as their father, and Tom being a mechanic on tractor work. A daughter is Mrs. Irene Rice, of Devonshire Buildings, Bath. The eldest son lost his life in an aeroplane accident in the North of England during the last war.

St Catherine's War Memorial, near Batheaston (Somerset)

St Catherine’s War Memorial, near Batheaston (Somerset)

Private Henry Archibald Evry is buried adjacent to Private Fudge in Ramleh War Cemetery (G.57 and G.58). His name also features on the war memorials at St Catherine’s and Batheaston.


[1] Everard Wyrall, The history of the Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert’s), 1914-1919 (London: Methuen, 1927), pp. 272, 275.

[2] St James Church Taunton, World War 1 Memorial Project:

[3] Bath Chronicle, 14 July 1934, p 21, via British Newspaper Archive.

[4] Bath Chronicle, 13 Jan 1945, p. 6, via British Newspaper Archive.

Marston Magna: Church of St Mary (Somerset)

Marston Magna: Church of St Mary (Somerset)

The Battle of Cambrai ended on the 7th December with the abandonment of much of the ground gained by the British Third Army on the 20th November. There were to be no more major offensives on the Western Front until the German Spring Offensive (or Kaiserschlacht) that began on the 21st March 1918. Despite this, it definitely was not “All Quiet on the Western Front.” The artillery battle continued, as did smaller-scale trench raids and attacks.

One of the many casualties of this continued warfare was Second Lieutenant Arthur Cecil Marden of the 117th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA). 2nd Lieutenant Marden died near Ypres (Ieper) on the 11th December 1917, from wounds suffered the previous day. Arthur Cecil Marden was also a bellringer at the Church of St Mary, Marston Magna (Somerset) and a member of the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association of Change Ringers.

War Memorial, St Mary's Church, Marston Magna (Somerset)

War Memorial, St Mary’s Church, Marston Magna (Somerset)

Second Lieutenant Arthur Cecil Marden, Royal Garrison Artillery

Arthur Cecil Marden was born at Rimpton, Somerset in the 3rd quarter of 1886, the son of Edwin Down Marden and Jennie Marden (née Young). It is possible to trace part of his life through census returns. He first featured in the 1891 Census as a four-year-old “scholar,” living at Home Farm, Rimpton with his parents, five brothers, two servants, and a visitor (Elizabeth Down, a relative). By the time of the 1901 Census, Arthur C. Marden was a schoolboy, boarding at Crewkerne Grammar School, Somerset. By that time, Arthur Cecil’s parents had moved from Home Farm, Rimpton to Marston House, at nearby Marston Magna. Ten years later, in 1911, Arthur Cecil Marden was living back with the family at Marston House, and working as secretary in the family’s cider business (Magna Cider).

I have been able to discover very little about Arthur Cecil Marden’s service career. The Western Gazette of the 21st September 1917 reported on his obtaining a commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery, noting that he had served over a year in the ranks up to that point [1]:

In the “London Gazette” of a recent date we notice that Mr. A. C. Marden has obtained a commission in the Royal Garrison Artillery, Special Reserve. Second-Lieut. A. C. Marden is the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. E. D. Marden, and both he and his brother Douglas, who is in Egypt, served rather more than a year in the ranks before being gazetted.

Arthur Cecil Marden’s commission was announced in the London Gazette of 14th August 1917 [2].

The next we hear, alas, of Arthur Cecil Marden in the Western Gazette is in the Roll of Honour column of 21th December 1917 [3]:

MARDEN. – On the 11 December, 1917, of wounds received the day before in France, 2nd Lieut. Arthur Cecil Marden, R.G.A., Heavy Battery, youngest and dearly-loved son of E. D. and Jennie Marden, of Marston Magna, Somerset, aged 31.
“He died the noblest death that man can die,
Fighting for God, and right, and liberty,
And such a death is immortality.”

The verses are adapted (slightly) from “To You Who Have Lost,” by John Oxenham, published in: “All’s Well!” Some Helpful Verses for the Dark Days of War (Methuen, 1915) [*]. Arthur Cecil Marden’s family obviously found the verses relevant as they also appear on his CWGC grave marker and on his memorial window at Marston Magna.

Ieper: White House Cemetery, St. Jean-les-Ypres (West-Vlaanderen)

Ieper: White House Cemetery, St. Jean-les-Ypres (West-Vlaanderen)

Second Lieutenant Arthur Cecil Marden is buried in White House Cemetery in Sint-Jan (St. Jean-les-Ypres), now a north-eastern suburb of Ieper. His name also appears on the village war memorial in St Mary’s Church, Marston Magna, the Crewkerne Grammar School memorial in St Bartholomew’s Church, Crewkerne, and the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association war memorial in Bath Abbey. Arthur Cecil also has a personal stained-glass window memorial in the north aisle of St Mary’s Church, Marston Magna.

The Arthur Cecil Marden memorial at Marston Magna

Stained glass memorial for Arthur Cecil Marden, St Mary's Church, Marston Magna (Somerset)

Stained glass memorial for Arthur Cecil Marden, St Mary’s Church, Marston Magna (Somerset)

The dedication of the stained glass window at Marston Magna in memory of Arthur Cecil Marden was reported in the Western Gazette of the 13th June 1924 [4]:

In the ancient Parish Church of St Mary’s, Marston Magna, Somerset, there was unveiled and dedicated on the evening of Whit-Sunday a beautiful stained-glass window commemorating the service and sacrifice in the late war of Second Lieutenant Arthur Cecil Marden, R.G.A., who was killed near Ypres on December 11th, 1917. Lieutenant Marden was the youngest son of Mr. and Mrs. E. D. Marden, of Marston House, and was a well-known and deservedly popular member of the community. The memorial is not only a handsome addition to the church, but a singularly fitting tribute to the late officer in the place where he had worshipped, and with which the family have been actively acquainted for many years. Mr. E. D. Marden having himself held the office of churchwarden for nearly forty years. The ceremony of unveiling and dedication, the scholarly and comforting address of the Archdeacon of Wells, and the well-sung choral portion of the service combined to make it one of the most impressive that has taken place there in recent years.
The window has been erected on the south aisle overlooking the pulpit, and consists of three panels. In the centre light Victory is represented by a bare-headed knight in full armour, and in his right hand he holds aloft a wreath of victory, his lance being at rest in the other. Under the figure on a label is the following inscription: — “To the Glory of God, and in loving memory of Arthur Cecil Marden, 2nd Lieut., R.G.A., who died of wounds received near Ypres December 11th, 1917. Erected by his parents, E. D. and J. Marden.” In the left-hand side light is seen St. Gabriel, with lilies in one hand symbolising “God is my strength,” and on the other St. Uriel holding an orb, and symbolising the Light of God. Beneath the figure of St. Gabriel is reproduced a copy of the bronze plaque sent to the families of those who paid the supreme sacrifice: “Arthur Cecil Marden – He died for Freedom and Honour,” and beneath the figure of St. Uriel appears the badge of Lieutenant Marden’s Regiment, the Royal Garrison Artillery. On a label at the bottom of the entire window are the words “He died the noblest death that man can die, fighting for God and Right and Liberty, and such a Death is Immortality.” The designing and executing of the window has been carried out by Messrs. A. S. Moore & Son, of St. Augustine House, 4, Upper Bedford-place, Russell-square, London, who have every reason to be proud of their work.
The unveiling of the window was performed by Mrs. John Petter, of Yeovil, sister of the late Lieut. Marden, and the dedication by the Archdeacon of Wells (the Ven. Walter Farrer), assisted by the Vicar (the Rev. G. F. C. Peppen).

Marston Magna: Memorial to Arthur Cecil Marden, Church of St Mary (Somerset)

Marston Magna: Memorial to Arthur Cecil Marden, Church of St Mary (Somerset)

The article describes the dedication service in some detail, including a summary of Archdeacon Farrer’s sermon, which was based on Romans 8:38-39. This included the following tribute to 2nd Lieut Marden:

I am glad to have been with you this evening to take part in the dedication of this memorial to Arthur Cecil Marden. I doubt not as you look at the window, and think of him to whose memory it is fondly dedicated, you can re-call him very well. You will remember him, as he has been described to me, so happy and sunny in disposition, so calm and quiet, so ready in every possible way to help his Church. Surely, as you look at this window it will re-call to you these great things, which were of such intense value to him, and stir you up, if you are true, to try and do great things yourselves.

Detail of Arthur Cecil Marden Memorial Window, St Mary's Church, Marston Magna (Somerset), featuring the "Dead Man's Penny"

Detail of Arthur Cecil Marden Memorial Window, St Mary’s Church, Marston Magna (Somerset), featuring the “Dead Man’s Penny”

117th Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery

This blog has covered a few other RGA casualties from earlier in 1917, Second  Lieutenant Philip Edward Thomas (the well-known writer and poet), Gunner Wilfred Comer of 261st Siege Battery (a bellringer at Badgworth, Somerset), Second Lieutenant Stanley William Littlejohn of 142nd Siege Battery (a conservation specialist at the British Museum), and Staff Sergeant Thomas George Wareham of 57th Siege Battery (a bellringer at Corscombe, Dorset). As noted in those accounts, it can be very difficult to work out exactly where a battery was based at a particular time. Batteries of the RGA were grouped into larger units known as Heavy Artillery Groups (HAGs) or Brigades. Individual batteries would move between these groups quite frequently, depending on operational needs.

Stained glass memorial for Arthur Cecil Marden, Church of St Mary, Marston Magna (Somerset)

Stained glass memorial for Arthur Cecil Marden, Church of St Mary, Marston Magna (Somerset)

The War Diary of the 117th Heavy Battery only covers the period from July 1916 to January 1917 [5]. From that point on, it is necessary to consult the relevant Group or Brigade diary. As luck would have it, we know that in late 1917, the 117th Heavy Battery was part of 28th Heavy Artillery Group in the Ypres sector [6].

On the 22nd November 1917, the 117th Heavy Battery, together with 329th Siege Battery, was taken over by 28 HAG from 10 HAG, on returning from rest. The 28 HAG War Diary notes that their batteries were at that time intended for use on counter-battery activity.

Orders received from II Anzac H.A. to move 117 H.B. forward and to complete forward moves of 329 S.B., 141 S.B., 148 S.B., and 381 S.B. as early as possible, and to maintain as many guns as possible in action.
Enemy activity below normal, resulting in few neutralisations required by C.B. S.O. This was possibly due to alarm of the Boche at the capture of MARCOING, and the resulting removal of forces.
[22 November 1917]

In late November 1917, 28 HAG headquarters is based at Belgian Battery Corner, near Kruisstraat west of Ieper. At least some of its batteries seem to be based on the Westhoek Ridge, Bellewarde and Chateau Wood, all positions to the east of Ypres.

On the 3rd December, the war diary recorded an attack near Gheluvelt.

An attack was made on POLDERHOEK CHATEAU near GHELUVELT about midday. It was unsuccessful. Machine gun fire was the cause of failure.

The 28 HAG war diary does not contain entries for the 10th and 11th December 1917. The 6th and 7th December had simply been reported “Quiet,” while the entry for the 12th December merely records the departure of 381 S.B. for 73 HAG.

It, therefore, does not seem possible to work out exactly what happened to Second Lieutenant Arthur Cecil Marden on the 10th and 11th December 1917. From CWGC records, we know that, after the war, the bodies of 2nd Lieut Marden and another 117th Heavy Battery officer — Captain E. F. Turton, who had died on  27 October 1917 — were recovered from trench map reference 28.H.16.d.2.8  for reburial at White House Cemetery. The original burial place, which is due west of Ieper, would not have been that far away from the HAG headquarters, but also may have been close to dressing stations or the battery’s wagon lines.

The bells of Marston Magna

Marston Magna has a ring of six bells, 13-1-22 in F#, all cast by John Taylor & Co. (Loughborough) in 1912. The ring has a very strong link with the Marden family as the bells were recast and augmented at the time that Edwin Down Marden — Arthur Cecil Marden’s father — was churchwarden. Even more significantly, the Treble bell was presented by Edwin Down Marden in memory of Arthur’s brother, Montagu Walter Marden

Montagu Walter Marden died of typhoid in Australia (Armidale, NSW) in 1910, aged 33. The circumstances are related in the Western Chronicle of 1st April 1910 [7]:

DEATH OF MR M. W. MARDEN. – Much regret was expressed in the village on Thursday when it became known that Mr Montagu Walter Marden, second son of Mr. E. D. Marden, of Marston Magna, had passed away in Australia. About 12 months ago last August the Bishop of Goulburn [Most Reverend Christopher George Barlow] visited the village, and conducted a confirmation service at the Parish Church, and a results of Mr Marden’s acquaintance with the Bishop was that he accompanied him back to Australia, with the intention of becoming ordained in the ministry in Australia. The cause of death was typhoid. For about 12 months previous to his going abroad, he was a student at St. Edmund’s Hall, Oxford. He was 33 years of age, having been born at Rimpton on October 11th, 1877. A memorial service was held at the Parish Church on Saturday afternoon, and was largely attended. The service was conducted by the Rev. Preb. G. F. C. Peppin, and an eloquent address on deceased’s life was delivered by the Rev. Preb. Firth (of Henstridge), late vicar of Marston Magna.

Shipping records reveal that Montagu Walter Marden left London for Australia (Sydney) on the 7 August 1908, sailing on the Orient Steam Navigation Company ocean liner RMS Orontes.

Prior to 1912, Marston Magna had four bells, most of them dating from the eighteenth century. In the nineteenth century, Henry Thomas Ellacombe recorded them as follows [8]:

3. [Blank]

From the inscriptions, it looks as if three of these bells were founded at Closworth, Somerset; respectively by Thomas Purdue (1707) and William Knight (1721).

The dedication service for the new ring of six was described in the Western Chronicle of the 8th November 1912 [9]:

Thursday was a memorable day in the history of Marston Magna, the occasion being the visit of the Bishop of the Diocese (Dr Kennion) to consecrate an extension of the churchyard and dedicate a couple of new bells for the church tower.
The peal of four bells in the western tower has been silent for some time, they having been condemned as unsafe about three years ago, owing to the decay of the ancient bell cage. However, Mr. E. D. Marden, the people’s warden, and Dr Chatterton, of Marston Court, the Vicar’s warden, took up the matter, and at last found themselves in a position to order the re-hanging of the four bells. When the bells were taken down the third bell was found to be badly cracked, and on the advice of Mr Sully, of Stogumber, who had the work in hand, it was decided to have them re-cast. Of the two new bells, which bring the peal up to six, the treble is the gift of Mr E. D. Marden and his family, in memory of the late Mr Montagu Marden, who died in Australia about two years ago when reading for Holy Orders under the guidance of the Bishop of Goulbourn [Goulburn]. The second bell is provided out of the funds raised by subscriptions. Of the original bells, inscriptions on the third and tenor, which have been faithfully re-produced in the recasting, tell that they were given by Nathaniel Barnard in 1707, and the original treble by Edward Payne in 1729 [sic]. The second bell had no inscription or any indication as to its date. The cage was in an advanced stage of decay. The new cage is an up-to-date structure of oak and steel.
The old clock in the tower will be cleaned and again set going. In stands in a case on the ground floor of the tower, and attached it are the primitive stone weights which provide its motive power. The Vicar of Marston Magna, the Rev. G. F. C. Peppin, has discovered that it was made by one William Monk, who also made a clock for the tower of Sherborne Abbey in 1710, and the works of which have recently been discovered there. The whole of the new work has cost about £320, of which nearly £100 remains to be raised.

Plaque in the tower of St Mary's Church, Marston Magna (Somerset)

Plaque in the tower of St Mary’s Church, Marston Magna (Somerset)

There is a plaque in the tower of Marston Magna church that records the restoration of the bells and the addition of a war memorial clock in 1919. It reads:

No. 3. W.K.B.F. EDWARD PAIN I.U.C.W. A.D. 1728.
No. 4.

Some of the details of the bells differ from those provided in Ellacombe’s earlier account.

Edwin Down Marden, and family

It is possible to trace some information about Arthur Cecil Marden’s immediate family through official records (including the Census) and from occasional mentions in local newspapers. For Arthur Cecil’s  father, Edwin Down Marden, this primarily includes the obituary published in the Western Gazette [10].

Edwin Down Marden had been born at Rimpton, Somerset on the 6th July 1848, the son of Henry Marden of Rimpton and Elisabeth Marden (née Down). He was educated at Kingston School, Yeovil. In September 1875, Edwin married Jane (Jennie) Young, the daughter of Albert and Susan Young of East Chinnock, Somerset. Jane had been born at Hardington Mandeville, Somerset in 1855. Edwin and Jennie had seven children, of whom Arthur Cecil was the second youngest (and the youngest of six sons).

At the time of the 1881 Census, the Marden family were living at Rimpton, and the 32-year old Edwin is described as a farmer of 247 acres, employing 5 men and 2 boys. By that time, Jane was 26 years old and there were four children: Albert Henry Down (aged 4), Montagu Walter (3), and Edwin Stanley Down (1). Also living with the family were two female servants, Mary Hull and Anne Hodder. It was at Home Farm, Rimpton, that Edwin established the Western Counties Creamery.

The family were still living at Home Farm, Rimpton at the time of the next Census in 1891. Edwin was by now 42 years old and described as a farmer and proprietor of the creamery. Jane was 36 years old and there were now six children, all boys: Albert, Montagu, Edwin, Graham Young, William Douglas, and the four-year-old Arthur Cecil.

At some point in the next decade, Edwin Down Marden bought Marston House, at Marston Magna, Somerset, and built a new creamery. This business was later taken at some point by Messrs. Aplin & Barrett and the Western Counties Creameries Ltd., Yeovil, and Edwin became a director. In 1900, Edwin also founded the Magna Cider Works.

In 1901, the family were living at Marston House. Edwin was now 52 years old and  director of the creamery. Jane (now styled Jennie Jane) is 46 years old; the children still resident at home were: Montagu Walter, William Douglas, and the nine-year-old Hilda Elizabeth. The 23-year-old Montagu was described as manager of the creamery; the 17-year-old William Douglas was manager of the cider works. At the time the Census was taken, the 14-year-old Arthur Cecil Marden was boarding in Crewkerne at the Grammar School.

The family were still living at Marston House at the time of the 1911 Census. Edwin Down Marden was by then 62-years-old, now described as managing director of the creamery and cider factory. Jennie Marden was 57 years old. Many of their children remained unmarried and were still living at home. Albert was 34-years-old and manager of the creamery. Three of his younger brothers, Graham Young (29), William Douglas (27) and Arthur Cecil (24) all worked for the cider works, Arthur Cecil as its Secretary. The youngest child, Hilda Elizabeth Marden, was by then 19-years-old.

Throughout his life, Edwin Down Marden was also heavily involved in local government and the church. He represented the Ilchester Division on Somerset County Council, and was a member Yeovil Rural District Council. At Marston Magna, he Marden was the first chairman of the Parish Meeting and he was responsible for improving the village water supply.

Edwin Down Marden was a churchwarden for over 40 years, first at Rimpton, then at Marston Magna. His Western Gazette obituary explains the importance of his work at Marston [11].:

When Marston Parish Church was restored in 1900 Mr. Marden, in co-operation with Preb. Firth, then vicar, and his fellow churchwarden, was largely instrumental in raising the fund of £1,345, of which the villagers themselves contributed £200. He was again to the fore when the church bells were restored, two new ones being hung, in 1912, at a total cost of over £300. Mr. Marden was also one of the moving spirits in the scheme to instal [sic] a clock in the church tower as a memorial to Marston men who fell in the Great War, and which was placed in position in November, 1919.

Local newspapers also contain a curious wartime story about a Australian soldier that turned up one day in Marston Magna and West Camel in September 1917 [**]. It seems that Edwin Down Marden gave the soldier money and unsuccessfully tried to help him get back to his camp near Salisbury [12]:

AN AUSTRALIAN SOLDIER’S ESCAPADES. – At the Yeovil Country Police-court on Monday morning, before Mr J. E. B. Bellamy, John Argles, a private in the Australian Imperial Forces, was charged with being an absentee without leave. – Prisoner admitted leaving camp on Thursday last without a pass, but said it was not his intention to go so far. –The Chairman: This is a very serious matter. You Australians are splendid fighters, but you must learn discipline. – P.c. Weeks stated that on Saturday evening he received complaints that prisoner was lotering [i.e. loitering] about Marston Magna. He went in search of him and found him at the Globe Inn, West Camel. He asked to see his pass and prisoner alleged that on Thuesday [sic] a fellow Australian robbed him of £3 and his pass. He had wired to his commanding officer respecting this, but had received no reply. Witness had since as certained that prisoner called on Mr Marden at Marston Magna and told him the tale about being robbed, and stated that he wanted to get back to Salisbury. Mr Marden gave him a 10s note, and as prisoner said this was not sufficient, he gave him another 10s note. When searched one 10s note and Mr Marden’s card were found on him. – Prisoner said the money was a loan and he intended to return it on getting back to camp. – In answer to the Chairman, prisoner said it was untrue that he wired to his commanding officer. – P.c. Weeks said Mr Marden traced the trains out for prisoner to get back to Salisbury but he didn’t go. At the Marston Magna Inn Mr Golledge gave him 1s and another person 6d. He also begged off a man in the road and obtained 2d. – Prisoner denied begging and said he was arrested before he could get to the train. – He was remanded to await and escort and the magistrate advised him to go back to camp and accept his punishment like a man.

Grave of Edwin Down Marden and Jennie Marden, St Mary's Churchyard, Marston Magna (Somerset)

Grave of Edwin Down Marden and Jennie Marden, St Mary’s Churchyard, Marston Magna (Somerset)

Edwin Down Marden died in 1931, his wife Jennie in 1936. Both are buried in the churchyard at Marston Magna.

Two years after the death of Edwin Down Marden, there was another family tragedy. Graham Young Marden, by then a partner in the cider works, committed suicide aged 52. The weapon used was a pistol acquired in Labrador before the First World War by yet another of Arthur Cecil’s brothers, Edwin Stanley Down Marden [13].

Edwin Stanley Down Marden himself died in 1938, of heart failure. At the time, he was working for the Westland Aircraft Company, but he had previously been chief engineer at the Marconi Wireless Company. While working for Marconi, Edwin had supervised the installation of wireless stations all around the world, including Newfoundland, Brazil, Egypt, Las Palmas, Tenerife, Ireland, the Channel Islands, and the UK [14]:

He considered his greatest achievement was his last undertaking for Marconi, the erection of the first beam station at Bodmin, Cornwall. It was a remarkable tribute to his ability that this new venture in wireless telegraphy was worked without a hitch of any kind for three weeks after its inauguration.

Edwin had also served in the Royal Engineers in the war.


[*] For those interested further in the verse of John Oxenham, the full text of his “All’s well!” (London: Methuen, 1915) is available from the Internet Archive:

[**] A quick look at 4912 Private John Argles military records in the National Archives of Australia demonstrates that he was what would be known now as a repeat offender! He first joined the 29th Australian Infantry in 1915, but was discharged shortly afterwards for begging alms. Then in 1916, Private Argles joined the 38th Battalion and embarked for the UK on the A29 “Suevic” at Melbourne in June 1917. He was at first based at Hurdcott, near Salisbury (Wiltshire). The immediate consequence of Argles’s Somerset adventures was a court martial in November 1917; he was sentenced to 11 days detention and docked 63 days pay. Despite that, his misbehaviour — mostly being absent without leave, but also including receiving stolen goods and other offences — continued, both before and after he proceeded overseas to France in December 1917. Private Argles suffered concussion in October 1918, and was admitted to the 2nd Western General Hospital at Manchester. While recovering afterwards at Sutton Veny, Private Argles contacted influenza and was repatriated to Australia in April 1919. Even then, he managed to go AWL again at Fremantle! The medical records make for interesting reading, suggesting that Private Argles may have been suffering from some kind of mental illness, perhaps exacerbated by alcohol abuse. After Private Argles’s return to Australia in 1919, one of the medical reports states that he had “no strength of mind and will not look after himself (Constantly away on drinking bouts retarding treatment […]).” John Argles was discharged from the AIF in early 1920. See: NAA: B2455, ARGLES J, National Archives of Australia, Canberra.


[1] Western Gazette, 21 September 1917, p. 4, via British Newspaper Archive.

[2] Supplement to The London Gazette, No. 30232, 14 August 1917, p. 8319:

[3] Western Gazette, 21 December 1917, p. 8, via British Newspaper Archive.

[4] Western Gazette, 13 June 1924, p. 9, via British Newspaper Archive.

[5] WO 95/541/5, War Diary: 117 Heavy Battery Royal Garrison Artillery, The National Archives, Kew.

[6] WO 95/541/3, War Diary: 28 Brigade Royal Garrison Artillery, The National Archives, Kew.

[7] Western Chronicle, Yeovil, 1 April 1910, p. 6, via British Newspaper Archive.

[8] Henry Thomas Ellacombe, The Church bells of Somerset: to which is added an olla podrida of bell matters of general interest (Exeter: William Pollard, 1875), p. 64.

[9] Western Chronicle, Yeovil, 8 November 1912, via British Newspaper Archive.

[10] Western Gazette, 16 January 1931, p. 3, via British Newspaper Archive.

[11] Ibid.

[12] Western Chronicle, Yeovil, 14 September 1917, p. 7, via British Newspaper Archive.

[13] Western Gazette, 29 September 1933, p 7, via British Newspaper Archive.

[14] Somerset County Herald, 13 August 1938, p. 6, via British Newspaper Archive.

Posted by: michaeldaybath | December 2, 2017

With the Guards Division at Gonnelieu

Edington Priory (Wiltshire)

Edington Priory (Wiltshire)

The German counter-attack on the Cambrai front began in the morning of the 30th November 1917. In the III Corps sector to the south east of the salient, significant gains were quickly made in the areas around Villers Ghislain and Gonnelieu. Gouzeaucourt had been captured in the morning, but the village was successfully retaken by an counter-attack by the Guards Division later that day, an attack that was led by the 1st Guards Brigade [1].

On the following day, the 1st December, the Guards Division together with two divisions of the Cavalry Corps (with some tanks) counter-attacked again south and east of Gouzeaucourt. The 3rd Guards Brigade were assigned to capture part of Quentin Ridge and the Gonnelieu Spur. Two of the Guardsmen that were killed-in-action on this day were bellringers from South West England. Guardsman Leonard Leslie Tily of the 1st Battalion Welsh Guards was a bellringer at Chipping Sodbury (Gloucestershire) and a member of the The Gloucester and Bristol Diocesan Association of Church Bell Ringers. Guardsman Reginald Cecil Wordley of the 1st Grenadier Guards was a bellringer at Edington Priory (Wiltshire) and a member of the Salisbury Diocesan Association of Ringers (SDGR).

3775 Private Leonard Leslie Tily, 1st Battalion, Welsh Guards

Chipping Sodbury: Church of St John (Gloucestershire)

Chipping Sodbury: Church of St John (Gloucestershire)

Leonard Leslie Tily was born at Chipping Sodbury (Gloucester) in the third quarter of 1898, the son of Alfred Charles Tily and Rosa Tily (née Prior). He was baptised at The Church of St John the Baptist, Chipping Sodbury on the 8th August the same year. Leonard first features in the 1901 Census as a two-year-old, living with his parents and five siblings at The Parade, Chipping Sodbury. By the time of the 1911 Census, Leonard was twelve-years old and at school. At that time, the family were still living at The Parade, but only the two youngest children of Alfred and Rosa were still resident.

Alfred Charles Tily and Rosa Tily had both been born at Chipping Sodbury. Alfred Charles was the son of William Tily, a butcher, and Celina Tily. Successive Census returns describe Alfred Charles as a scholar (1861, 1871), coach builder (1881), a wheelwright (1901), and a wheelwright and carriage builder (1911). In the last two of these, Alfred Charles Tily is also described as an employer. The Western Daily Press (Bristol) of 16 July 1912 records that the highways department of Chipping Sodbury Rural District Council accepted a tender from A. C. Tily to repaint direction posts.

Chipping Sodbury War Memorial (Gloucestershire)

Chipping Sodbury War Memorial (Gloucestershire)

The name of Leonard Leslie Tily appears on the Cambrai Memorial to the Missing at Louverval and the war memorial cross at Chipping Sodbury.

28566 Private Reginald Cecil Wordley, 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards

Edington Priory (Wiltshire)

Edington Priory (Wiltshire)

Reginald Cecil Wordley was born at Bourton, Bishops Cannings (Wiltshire) in the third quarter of 1896, the son of Decimus Wordley and Mary Wordley (née Nash). Cecil Wordley first features in the 1901 Census as a four-year-old, living with his parents and three siblings at Bishops Cannings. By 1911, the family had moved to Tinhead (the eastern part of Edington), near Westbury, where Cecil was working on a farm. On the 19th June 1915, at the age of 18, Reginald Cecil Wordley was admitted to the National Union of Railwaymen, working as a porter for the Great Western Railway (GWR) at Westbury. He features on the GWR Roll of Honour listed under the Traffic Department, based at Portland.

Taunton: GWR Roll of Honour, Taunton Station (Somerset)

Taunton: Detail of GWR Roll of Honour, Taunton Station (Somerset) Source: Flickr

Decimus Wordley had been born at Bishops Cannings, the son of Thomas Wordley, a shoemaker, and Maria Wordley. In 1881, Decimus was 13 years old and living at Bourton, Bishops Cannings with his parents and five siblings, and was working as an agricultural labourer. In 1891, Decimus was boarding with the Sloper family in the northern part of Devizes (Southbroom) and working as an engineers’ miller. By 1901, Decimus had married Mary Nash and was living back at Bishops Cannings with four young children (including Cecil). At that time, he was working as a road contractor (and employer). At the time of the 1911 Census, the family had moved to Tinhead, and Decimus was working as a farm labourer again. Mary Nash was born at Winterbourne Monkton, near Avebury, the daughter of George Nash, a groom, and Sarah Nash. She features in the 1871 Census living at Monkton as an 8-year-old scholar.

Edington Priory: War Memorial (Wiltshire)

Edington Priory: War Memorial (Wiltshire)

The name of Reginald Cecil Wordley appears on the Cambrai Memorial to the Missing at Louverval and the war memorial in Edington Priory.

The 3rd Guards attack on Gonnelieu and Quentin Ridge

Guards Memorial

Guards Memorial, Horse Guards Parade, London (Gilbert Ledward)

The 3rd Guards Brigade had spent a very cold night near Havrincourt Wood. After eating, the 1st Battalion, Welsh Guards tried to settle down for the night. The regimental history records that sleep was difficult [2]:

It was a bright moonlight night, frosty, and a bitter wind. No one could sleep or attempted to do so. Greatcoats, blankets and packs had been dumped at the camp; the cold was painful.

In the early morning, the 3rd Guards Brigade, including the 1st Welsh Guards and the 4th  and 1st Battalions, Grenadier Guards, had orders to attack the village of Gonnelieu and the Quentin Ridge with units from the 2nd Guards Brigade (and eventually the Cavalry Corps) on their right.

The Guards Division’s attack was supposed to be supported by tanks, but there limited numbers available, and many of the vehicles were very short of fuel (others got lost in the dark before the attack). Bryn Hammond has commented that, “from an initial expectation of the assistance of almost forty tanks, the Guards Division could now only hope for half that number at best” [3].

Gonnelieu and Quentin Ridge. Detail from Trench Map 57C.SE

Gonnelieu and Quentin Ridge. Detail from Trench Map 57C.SE; Scale: 1:20000; Edition: 4B; Published: June 1917; Trenches corrected to 24 October 1917 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

In the early morning of the 1st December 1917, the three assault Companies of the 1st Welsh Guards formed up on their start line, the railway line east of Gouzeaucourt. It was still dark and slightly misty. The supporting tanks failed to arrive on time, but the battalion still attacked, with perhaps inevitable results [4]:

No tanks were visible. The men had hardly extended when the order was given to advance, and the two assaulting lines climbed up the railway bank which faced them and proceeded up the hill, disappearing in the darkness.
There was some wire half-way up the hill, which caused a certain bunching while the men got through the weak parts, and , what had not been known before, there was a false crest to the hill, or, to be more accurate, a deep re-entrant in the ridge from the north-west. The enemy occupied the slight depression which lay in front of the apparent crest and as the first wave of men reached the first skyline star-lights went up from all sides and a perfect hurricane of machine-gun fire broke out. It was devastating. Officers and men fell in a line.
The scene was beyond anything that had ever been met with. The ground was thick with dead and wounded men; curses and groans and shouts mingled with the hurricane crackle of the machine guns.
It was obvious that no human beings could hope to get through such a concentration of machine-gun fire; there were no field-guns, there were no tanks.

The wounded that could made their way back as best as they were able. The Prince of Wales’s Company, in reserve, then were sent forward to help consolidate the position on the hillside. In the growing light of the morning, the battalion’s second-in-command (Major Humphrey ‘Broncho’ Dene) then witnessed a possible change in the battalion’s fortune [5]:

There was some shelling going on, and the first thing he saw, just in view on the right, was a tank going very slowly across the hollow between the false and the real crest. Shells were falling all around it, and all sorts of coloured lights were going up from the enemy lines directing the fire. And then he saw Germans running away.

Taking full advantage, the 1st Welsh Guards attacked and occupied the German trench, taking around 200 prisoners and capturing 26 machine guns. The regimental history (by Captain Charles Dudley Ward, who was there) plays full tribute to the role of the tank, “To the skilful manoeuvring of the tank the success of the advance must be given” [6].

The number of casualties, however, was terrible [7].

Of the 370 men who started to storm the hill 248 were down in the first three minutes. Fifty-seven died where they fell.

Others would die in the days to follow. According to Hammond, Dudley Ward ended his diary entry for that day with the words, “A Bad Dream” [8].

On the left flank of the 1st Welsh Guards, the 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards attacked towards Gonnelieu, without much in the way of support from tanks. While they reached the village, they were driven back as the Germans were massing for another counter-attack. They suffered numerous casualties. The battalion war diary records the following: officers: killed 2, wounded 4 (including the battalion C.O., Lt.-Col. the Viscount Gort), missing 4; other ranks: killed 83, wounded 114, missing 48 [9].

To the north of the 4th Grenadier Guards were the 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards, linking on their left with the 2nd Battalion, Scots Guards. Like the other units in 3rd Guards Brigade, the 1st Grenadier Guards had spent the cold night of the 30th November / 1st December on high open ground south east of Havrincourt Wood, while awaiting their orders to advance.

At 5.00 am, the Battalion advanced in artillery formation towards Gonnelieu, taking up the line of the Gouzeaucourt – Villers-Plouich railway. The attack on Gonnelieu started at 6.20 am and had some success, despite very limited support from tanks. The action is recorded in the Battalion war diary [10].

The attack on the line GONNELIEU – GAUCHE WOOD commenced with the object of securing the ridge. A barrage was put down for ten minutes by three Bdes. of R.F.A. on the Corps front, after which there was no artillery support. Twenty two tanks were allotted to the Division, eight of which were to operate on the 3rd [Guards] Bde. front, the remaining fourteen on the 1st Bde. front, which was on the right.
The 4th Bn G.G. [on the right flank] advanced on GONNELIEU with the 1st Bn W.G. on their right and next to the 1st Bde. The 1st Bn G.G. was ordered to conform with the 4th Bn as they advanced, and to keep in touch with the 2nd Bn S.G. on the left, who were to remain in their original position. The three front Coys. [2, 3, and 4 Coys.] of the 1st Bn G.G. advanced and attacked an enemy trench which they captured together with a machine gun, after inflicting casualties on the enemy. They then continued the advance and some platoons got into the next enemy trench, but owing to heavy M.G. fire and the 4th Bn G.G. being held up for the same cause on the right, they were unable to capture it and were forced to come back to the first trench which they then consolidated.
Five tanks were seen to advance up to the west of the ridge but these were all south of GONNELIEU and three of these were put out of action within the first hour. No tanks advanced into GONNELIEU which was strongly held by M.G’s and the advance was held up about 200 yds. W. of the village, the line of the Battn being from about R.4 central to R.26 central, the left flank being thrown back to get in touch with the 2nd Bn S.G. King’s Coy was moved up during the attack to R.25.a.9.2. Bn H.Q. was in a dug out on the sunken road at Q.30.b.4.3.
Casualties were as follows: Lt. N. G. Chamberlain, missing; 2nd Lt. C. Cruttendon, wounded; ORs, Kd 17, Wd 81, Mng 19.

Battalion casualties were far less severe than those suffered by the 4th Grenadier Guards and the 1st Welsh Guards on their right.

On the night of the 1st December, two platoons from the King’s Company of 1st Grenadier Guards (who had been in reserve that day) reinforced the 1st Welsh Guards, while the other two platoons reinforced the 4th Grenadier Guards. On the evening of the 2nd December, the 1st Welsh Guards battalion, except for the Prince of Wales’s Company, were relieved in the line by the 1st Grenadier Guards.

On the 3rd December 1917, Field Marshal Haig ordered a retirement from the more exposed positions in the Cambrai sector. By the 5th December, the line had stabilised. The British held on to some territory north of Gonnelieu, for example around Flesquières and Welsh Ridge, while the Germans gained a similar amount of ground to the south. Thus ended the Battle of Cambrai with honours pretty much even.


[1] Bryn Hammond, Cambrai 1917: the myth of the first great tank battle (London: Wiedenfeld & Nicholson, 2008), pp. 354-355, 366-368,

[2] C. H. Dudley Ward, History of the Welsh Guards (London: London Stamp Exchange, 1988), p. 181.

[3] Hammond, Cambrai 1917, p. 393.

[4] Dudley Ward, History of the Welsh Guards, pp. 182-183.

[5] Ibid., p. 184.

[6] Ibid., p. 185.

[7] Ibid., p. 186.

[8] Hammond, Cambrai 1917, p. 407.

[9] WO 95/1223/2, 4th Battalion, Grenadier Guards War Diary, The National Archives, Kew.

[10] WO 95/1223/1, 1st Battalion, Grenadier Guards War Diary, The National Archives, Kew.

Corscombe: Church of St Mary (Dorset)

Corscombe: Church of St Mary (Dorset)

After the stunning success of the first day of the Battle of Cambrai on the 20th November 1917, the British offensive then struggled to make further progress and got bogged down in a fight to capture Bourlon Wood and Fontaine-Notre-Dame. Then, on the 30th November, the German Army counter-attacked in strength.

The result of the initial British attack at Cambrai was the creation of a salient nine miles wide and four miles deep. Bryn Hammond has commented that nine days after the opening of the offensive, “Byng’s Third Army found itself with its head in a sack, facing the definite possibility of a noose being slipped around its neck and pulled tight” [1]. The main attack on the 30th December came from the south and eastern sides of the salient, where many of the British Divisions (the 55th (West Lancashire), 12th (Eastern), 29th, and 20th (Light) Divisions) had been operating with limited respite since the 20th November. Many units were taken by surprise and began to fall back (or were captured), but spirited resistance in some places did manage to slow down the advance. This was followed by some successful counter-attacks, for example by the Guards Division in the re-capture of Gouzeaucourt.

One of those that died in the German counter offensive near Gouzeaucourt was 15983 Staff Sergeant Thomas George Wareham of the 57th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery. Thomas Wareham was also a bellringer at St Mary’s Church, Corscombe (Dorset) and a member of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers (SDGR).

15983 Staff Sergeant Thomas George Wareham, 57th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery

Thomas George Wareham was born at Corscombe in the 1st quarter of 1883, the son of William and Eliza Wareham. He featured as an eight year old “scholar” in the 1891 Census, living at Main Street, Corscombe with his parents, seven siblings, and a great aunt. By the time of the 1901 Census, Thomas was still living with his parents at Corscombe, and was by then eighteen years old and working as a farm carter.

Thomas evidently first joined the Army some time before the outbreak of the First World War. The 1911 Census finds him living in barracks at the Verne Citadel, on the Isle of Portland. He was by then a Corporal serving with the Royal Garrison Artillery (RGA), with the trade of blacksmith. It is not entirely clear whether Thomas served continuously with the RGA up until the outbreak of the war, but in any case he would have been mobilised very early on and his medal entitlement suggests that he travelled to the front shortly after the start of the war.

Thomas Wareham married Olive Kathleen Harris in the 4th quarter of 1916, probably at Corscombe. This is probably the same Olive K. Wareham that died in the Bridport registration district in the second quarter of 1959, aged 71 (and apparently has a memorial at the Church of St Juthware and St Mary, Halstock). I have not been able to definitively identify Olive from earlier census records, but the 1911 Census does includes someone of the exact same name, who was at the time working as a domestic servant for Professor Robert Sharpe and his wife at Southampton. This Olive Harris had been born at Redbridge (Hampshire) in 1888, and was the daughter of Stephen and Annie Harris.

We do not know much about Staff Sergeant Wareham’s service career with the RGA. What we do know, however, is that he died of wounds on the 30 November 1917, while serving with the 57th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, and is buried at Fins New British Cemetery, Sorel-le-Grand, Somme, in France.

Thomas’s father William Wareham had been born at Corscombe in the 1st quarter of 1851, the son of Elias and Elizabeth Wareham. William was baptised at St Mary’s Church, Corscombe on the 3rd Jan 1851. He appeared in the census returns for 1851 and 1861 living at Corscombe; by 1861 he was aged 19 and working (like his father) as an agricultural labourer. William married Eliza Bartlett in the 2nd quarter of 1876, probably at Corscombe. The 1881 Census finds William lodging with the Stephens family at St Teath, near Camelford in Cornwall, while Eliza is still living back in Corscombe, but now with two young children (Charles, the eldest, had been born at Newton St Cyres, Devon, suggesting that the family had lived for a while in the west country). By 1891 and 1901, the family were all living back at Corscombe. Eliza died in the 4th quarter of 1910, aged 60. William featured in the 1911 Census as a 60-year old widower, but was still working as an estate labourer. At that time, he was living at Corscombe with four of his daughters and a two-year old grandson. William Wareham died in the 1st quarter of 1924, aged 73.

A curious interlude

When searching for newspaper items on the Wareham family of Corscombe, I did find a interesting report concerning the family in the Western Gazette of the 13 April 1894 [2].

William Wareham was a witness in an inquest on the suspicious death of a 50-year old widow named Mary Flynn, who was the sister of the village blacksmith at Corscombe, Thomas Marks. Mary Flynn’s “quite dead” body had been found — “fully-dressed with the exception of a hat” — in the bed of William’s older brother, Charles Wareham, who was described in the report as an Army pensioner. The death was unexplained, although the report stated that the deceased had “been keeping company with” Charles, and that she “had been twice married, and her second husband” had been “very friendly with Wareham, both having been sergeants in the same regiment.” William was apparently one of the last persons to see Mary Flynn alive:

She had brought some tobacco which he had sent for, and at that time she showed no sign of drink. She went out and said, “I shan’t wish you good-night; I shall be in again.” She came back and then went down to his brother Charlie’s house door, but came back again; she looked in a witness’s house and asked to see his wife. She then went out, wished him good-night, and he did not see her after. He did not know her to have been at his brother’s house before, but witness had not been in his brother’s house for some months.

The inquest was then adjourned until more results could be analysed from the post mortem. A report from the adjourned inquest was published in the Bridport News of 4 May 1894 [3].

This included an account of a longer witness statement by Charles Wareham, this time specifically denying that he and Mary Flynn were in any relationship, “witness said the deceased had never been in his bedroom before.”

The Coroner, in summing up, said he believed they had obtained all the available evidence; but notwithstanding, the case was still shrouded in mystery. In all the evidence nothing had been stated which would suggest malpractice. It was a puzzling and most extraordinary case. Charles Wareham seemed to have given his evidence in a perfectly straightforward way, and his story was a most probable and consistent one. Under the circumstances there was nothing to do but return an open verdict. There was no reason for further enquiry, and the cause of death could only be known by the Power above them.
The jury then returned a verdict of “Found Dead.”

57th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery

Siege Batteries of the RGA were grouped into larger units known as Heavy Artillery Groups (HAGs) or Brigades. Individual batteries would move between these groups quite frequently, depending on operational needs. This makes it quite difficult to work out exactly where a battery was based during a particular operation. However, the war diary of the 50th Heavy Artillery Group (HAG) [4] records that, 57th Siege Battery joined that Group on the 27th October 1917, relieving 6th Canadian Siege Battery, which was heading to the Ypres Salient. The headquarters of 50 HAG at that time was based at Neuville-Saint-Vaast, near Arras.

On the 12th November 1917, 57th Siege Battery appears to have been taken over briefly by 87 Heavy Artillery Group, which the day before had become part of III Corps in Third Army. On that day, the 87 HAG war diary [5] records that its Batteries (154 HB, 71 SB, 225 SB, and 57 SB) were based near Gouzeaucourt, on the Cambrai front. The 87 HAG headquarters had moved shortly before to Aizecourt le Haut and then Revelon. On the 20th November, the first day of the Battle of Cambrai, 87 HAG took part in artillery bombardments of the Marcoing and Masnières lines. 87 HAG with two of its batteries then moved north to IV Corps on the 22nd November, and its seems that 57th Siege Battery then returned to being under the control of 50 HAG.

In the meantime, the 50 HAG war diary [4] recorded that between the 12th and 19th November, its “Batteries comprising the Group for the operations on the Cambrai front” (i.e., 13 SB, 33 SB, 108 SB, and 254 SB) had also moved into positions at Gouzeaucourt. In accordance with the general approach taken for the Cambrai attack, the 50 HAG diary also records that, “no registration or any firing was carried out prior to the attack.” At 6.20 on the 20th November, the 50 HAG diary recorded that “all Batteries opened fire in support of attack by III + IVth Corps.” That same day, 50 HAG also carried out counter battery operations, noting that “enemy retaliation fire was very weak.”

Gouzeaucourt. Detail from Trench Map 57C.SE

Gouzeaucourt. Detail from Trench Map 57C.SE; Scale: 1:20000; Edition: 4B; Published: June 1917; Trenches corrected to 24 October 1917 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

As we have already noted, 57th SB came back under the control of 50 HAG on the 22nd November. Group operations continued between the 23rd and 27th November, but no detail is provided by the war diary. The Group HQ moved to Gouzeaucourt on the 29th November, just in time for the German counter-attack. The account in the war diary shows some of the confusion that ensued [4].

Nov 30, 1917
The Hun attacked heavily on this day. The Group HQ was quickly under shellfire and machine gun fire from aeroplanes. The HQ was evacuated under instruction from the Group Commander, all personnel proceeding to 13th SB, from which position the Group Commander controlled. Capt + Adj, Lt D. King [?] remained at old HQ with L/Corp G. H. Payne, Sapper D. Birch [?] until ordered to leave upon the general evacuation of GOUZEAUCOURT. The guns of all Batteries fell into the enemy’s hands, but not until they had been put out of action. A great number of officers, NCOs & men of the Batteries went to the line with rifles with the infantry. Group HQ was established at FINS + the personnel of Batteries collected there. The Group HQ sustained no casualties. 100 SB took over their guns upon the Hun being driven back + were in action at 9.30 pm + throughout the night. Eight 8” Hows & 2 9’2” Hows were pulled out the same night. The guns of 13th, 33rd, 57th, 100 S.B. + 1/2 Lancs Batteries were all recovered. No casualties occurred to Officers, 2 ORs were killed, 20 ORs approx. wounded + 20 ORs missing, i.e. killed or wounded, captured.

Staff Sergeant Wareham died of wounds on the 30th November, presumably one of the other ranks casualties reported in the 50 HAG war diary.

50 HAG remained at Fins for a week or so, while individual batteries either recovered their guns from “no mans’ land” or were re-equipped with new guns. 57th Siege Battery were in action again on the 3rd December, while the Group HQ at Fins was shelled on the 6th. On the 11th December, 50 HAG received orders to stand by to move to Second Army, meaning a return to the Ypres Salient. On the 12th December, 86 HAG arrived at Fins to take over the batteries on this front (including the 57th Siege Battery).

57th Siege Battery, RGA at the Battles of the Somme and Arras

It is possible to track some of the earlier movements of 57th Siege Battery, RGA, from its earlier war diary, which runs from February 1916 to May 1917 [6]. In February 1916, the Battery moved from Lydd to Bristol, prior to a move to the Western Front. The guns (BL 8-inch howitzers Mark V) and their transport (which included Holt tractors) sailed from Avonmouth, while the personnel travelled by rail to Folkestone, and then sailed to Boulogne, arriving on the 2nd March.

The Battery then proceeded in stages to Martinsart on the Somme, where it remained for some months in the run-up to the Battle of the Somme, but including a week-or-so “in the field” in early June 1916. In the early morning of the 1st July 1916, the Battery was involved in an “intense bombardment of front line trenches N of Ovillers,” followed that day by more attacks on positions around Ovillers and Pozières. As the Battle of the Somme progressed, the Battery moved briefly in July to Bécourt, then had a long stint alternating between Fricourt and the nearby Peake Wood. From late-September 1916 to mid-January 1917, the Battery was based at Contalmaison Villa, still on the Somme front.

On the 19th January 1917, 57th Siege Battery moved north, eventually to take part in the Battle of Arras. From March 1917, the Battery was based first at Anzin, then at Sainte-Catherine, now a northern suburb of the city of Arras. It stayed there until mid-April 1917, before moving to Roclincourt, then to Maison de la Côte. In July 1917, the Battery moved north again, this time to Woesten, near Ypres (Ieper). This was presumably to take part in the 3rd Battle of Ypres, but the war diary finishes at the end of that month, just as the new offensive was due to get underway. We know that by October, the Battery was back in the Arras sector near Neuville-Saint-Vaast.


[1] Bryn Hammond, Cambrai 1917: the myth of the first great tank battle (London: Wiedenfeld & Nicholson, 2008), p. 325.

[2]  “A Dorset village mystery: suspicious death of a woman,” Western Gazette, 13 April 1894, p. 8. The story also appeared (pretty much verbatim) in the Bridport News, 13 April 1894, p. 8, and the Taunton Courier, and Western Advertiser, 18 April 1894, p. 8, all via British Newspaper Archive.

[3] Bridport News, 4 May 1894, p. 6, via British Newspaper Archive.

[4] WO 95/225/5, War Diary: 50 (South African) Brigade, Royal Garrison Artillery, The National Archives, Kew.

[5] WO 95/326/1, War Diary: 87 Brigade, Royal Garrison Artillery, The National Archives, Kew.

[6] WO 95/480/3, War Diary: 57th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, The National Archives, Kew.

Further Reading:

Bryan M Harvey has independently compiled an account of Thomas George Wareham for the Corscombe Roll of Honour (PDF) and this contains a considerable amount of additional information about his immediate family. This available from the Corscombe village web site:


Posted by: michaeldaybath | November 23, 2017

Captain Arthur Oswald Major, 1/5th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry

Bridgwater: Church of St Mary (Somerset)

Bridgwater: Church of St Mary (Somerset)

In Palestine, after the capture of Beersheba at the end of October 1917 and the Third Battle of Gaza on the 1st and 2nd November, the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) began to move northwards. In the following months, victories at the Battles of Mughar Ridge and Junction Station would eventually lead to the capture and occupation of Jaffa. Attention could then turn to the capture of Jerusalem.

In mid-November 1917, as part of an initial attempt to capture Jerusalem, the 75th Division took part in several attacks on Ottoman defensive positions in the hills north of the city, actions now known as the Battle of Nebi Samwil. On the 21st November, the 234th Infantry Brigade managed to capture and hold the village of Nebi Samwil (Nabi Samwil), although they were from that moment on subject to constant counter-attacks. On the 22nd and 23rd November, units of 233rd Brigade attempted to capture a stronghold at nearby El Jib.

One of those that died in the attempt to capture El Jib was Captain Arthur Oswald Major of the 1/5th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, who was was killed in action on the 23rd November 1917, aged 42. Captain Major was also a bellringer at St Mary’s Church, Bridgwater and a member of the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association of Change Ringers. According to the Bridgwater Mercury of the 5th December 1917, Captain Major was tower master at Bridgwater and the band rang a muffled tribute to him there after his death [1].

Bridgwater: War Memorial (Somerset)

Bridgwater: War Memorial (Somerset)

Captain Arthur Oswald Major, 1/5th Somerset Light Infantry

Arthur Oswald Major was born in the Bridgwater registration district in the 2nd quarter of 1875, the son of Henry James and Julia Mary Major. In 1881, the family were living at Haygrove in Bridgwater, and Henry James Major was described as a brick and tile manufacturer employing 120 men and 100 boys (presumably, this was Messrs. H. J. and C. Major Ltd.). The Majors evidently had quite a large household, with the 1881 census return listing five children and four servants. Between 1891 and 1911, the family were living at Northfield (latterly, 18, Northfield) in Bridgwater. By then, Arthur Oswald Major was  working for the family business, as he is described as clerk (1901) and cashier (1911) to a brick and tile manufacturer. At the time of the 1911 Census, Arthur Oswald Major was 35 years old.

Arthur Oswald Major’s long-standing link with the Somerset Light Infantry is revealed in short obituaries published in December 1917 in the Western Daily Press [2] and (as here) the Devon and Exeter Gazette [3]:

Mr Henry Major, J.P., of Northfield, Bridgwater, has received a telegram announcing the death of his son, Capt. Arthur Oswald Major, of the Somerset L.I., who was killed in action in Palestine on November 23rd. Capt. Major, who was 42 years of age, was well-known and deservedly popular in Bridgwater, and the news of his death has caused a feeling of keen regret. He was associated for many years with the Volunteer movement in the town, and when the Territorial Force came into existence was given a commission as Lieutenant in one of the local Companies. He accompanied the Somersets to India soon after the outbreak of war, and was transferred to Palestine a few months ago. Before leaving India the deceased officer was promoted to Captain. He was actively identified with political and church matters, he was a keen sportsman, having played for Somerset at both Association football and hockey.

Captain Major is now buried in Jerusalem War Cemetery. His name also appears on the Bridgwater war memorial as well as the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association war memorial in Bath Abbey.

Detail of Bridgwater War Memorial (Somerset)

Detail of Bridgwater War Memorial (Somerset)

The 1/5th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry in Palestine

The 5th Battalion, Prince Albert’s (Somerset Light Infantry) was a Territorial Force unit. As part of the Wessex Division, the 1/5th Somerset Light Infantry left Southampton for India on the 9th October 1914. After their arrival, the Battalion spent two-and-a-half years in India as garrison troops, but also sent drafts to units fighting in Mesopotamia. This all changed in May 1917, when the battalion moved first to Egypt, then to Palestine as part of the Egyptian Expeditionary Force.

In Egypt, the 1/5th Somersets became part of the newly-formed 233rd Infantry Brigade, which in August became part of the 75th Division. The Division was made up of a mixture of British and Indian Army units. For example, the infantry battalions in the 233rd Brigade in the autumn of 1917 were the 1/5th Somersets, the 2/4th Hampshire Regiment, and the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Gurkha Rifles. In October 1917, the 1/4th Wiltshire Regiment joined the Brigade.

In Palestine, the 1/5th Somersets participated in the capture of Gaza and Junction Station before the move into the Judean Hills and the attempt to take El Jib.

The 1/5th Somersets at El Jib

There is a very good account of the attempt to capture El Jib in the Book of Remembrance of the 5th Battalion (Prince Albert’s) Somerset Light Infantry [4]. This was written by two officers that had served with the battalion in Palestine: Major E. S. Goodland, M.C. and Captain H. L. Milsom.

The 1/5th Somersets had been bivouacked near Junction Station on the 19th November 1917 when they got the order to march in the direction of Jerusalem. They soon noticed a significant change in the terrain: “instead of open, cultivated plains, it now became very precipitous and rocky. The advance had reached the Judean Hills” [5].

On the 20th November, the 1/5th Somersets, together with the 1/4th Wiltshire Regiment, attacked and captured the village of Kuryet El Enab. The following day they marched via an old Roman Road running north from near Enab and bivouacked at Biddu. There would follow two attempts to capture El Jib. The first was a complete fiasco [6]:

Orders had been given for the 1/5th Somerset Light Infantry with the 1/4th Wilts Regiment, to advance and capture the villages of El Jib and Bir Nebala, with a final objective, the village of Kutundia. So the Battalion set out with its sister Battalion of the neighbouring county, both under command of the Senior Commanding Officer, Lieut.-Colonel Armstrong of the 1/4th Wilts. A squadron of Hyderabad Lancers and a section of Machine Guns accompanied the expedition. Two companies of the 1/5th Somersets led the advance under command of Capt. A. O. Major and, with the Cavalry, formed the vanguard. Leaving Nebi Samwil on the right the attacking force advanced in a northerly direction, presumably to avoid coming into view of the enemy and being shelled. Lieut.-Colonel Armstrong himself went with and directed the advanced guard, and Major Urwick led the two remaining Companies of the 1/5th Somerset Light Infantry and the 1/4th Wilts Regiment. Marching in this precipitous country was very difficult and unfortunately direction was lost. So instead of turning east towards El Jib the O.C. the attacking force continued the advance northwards, mistaking the only village visible, Beitunia (which lay some five miles away), for El Jib.

The force then came under heavy attack from a high hill that lay in the path of the advance. While this position was eventually taken, the battalions withdrew with the loss of 10 killed, 26 wounded, and 2 missing. The survivors of the 1/5th Somersets reassembled and moved back to Beit Izza to bivouac for the night. The following day, on the 23rd November, they would take part in a second attempt to capture El Jib [7]:

At dawn on Friday, 23rd November, the news came that El Jib had yet to be taken, and preparations to launch the attack were immediately made. El Jib is a natural stronghold, standing on a high hill and guarded by steep rocky terraces. The approach is through a valley 600-700 yards wide, with the ridge of Nebi Samwil on the right and high ground and terraces on the left leading from Beit Izza.
The Battalion was now sadly depleted in strength, and so heavy had been the casualties that one Company, No. 3, had no officers at all. So Company-Sergeant-Major Windows assumed command of No. 3 Company, and for his gallantry that day was subsequently decorated.
At 8 o’clock the Battalion reached the entrance to the valley leading to El Jib and deployed into extended order for the attack. No. 1 and No. 3 Companies leading No. 4 in support, and No. 2 in reserve. Orders were to advance under the protection of the slopes of Nebi Samwil — the Mosque thereon being in the hands of the 3/3rd Gurkhas — and to scale the rocky terraces at the right end of the valley, then to swing left towards the village itself. The 2/3rd Gurkhas were to follow and push on to Bir Nebala when El Jib had fallen.
As soon as the attack had been launched and the extended lines emerged from the entrance to the valley, the enemy artillery put down a terrific barrage of high explosive shells and shrapnel. Through this inferno of shell-fire the attackers advanced with the greatest courage, keeping perfect formation as if on parade. But worse was to come, for on passing through the artillery barrage the lines came under a veritable hail of bullets from enemy machine guns in front, the northern slopes of Nebi Samwil on the right, and the high ground on the left. This devastating enfilade fire from all sides wrought terrible havoc and the lines seemed to melt away.
All four companies and any of Battalion Headquarters who could be spared had long been thrown into the attack, and, in spite of heavy casualties and almost insurmountable obstacles, the survivors pressed on without a check and actually reached the terraces of the village. Unfortunately, these terraces were so high and steep that it was almost impossible to climb them, yet there were some who were not to be denied. It is to be recorded in these annals with real pride that three Lewis gun sections succeeded, with great difficulty and bravery, in scaling these terraces. They were all either killed or taken prisoners and their guns lost, but their deed remains a heroic example for all time. When, many weeks afterwards, El Jib ultimately fell, the identity discs of twenty-seven very gallant Somersets, who had climbed the terraces, were recovered.
By this time every officer was either killed or wounded. To assist the Battalion the 1/5th Devons were thrown into the attack on the left. The 2/3rd Gurkhas too pressed forward. But these efforts were brought to nought, so fierce was the enemy’s fire, and the attack was at a standstill.

With El Jib still not taken, the 1/5th Somersets were ordered to withdraw at nightfall. The survivors made their way back to the bivouac area as best they could. Captain Major (who had been leading the reserve Company) was not among them [8]:

Time there was now to reckon the cost, which, as has already been indicated, was very heavy. Capt. A. O. Major had been wounded by a rifle bullet early in the advance and was finally killed outright by a shell. He was a fine Christian gentleman and a brave soldier. […] All told, 10 had been killed and 141 wounded; in addition, there were 32 missing.

The following day, the 1/5th Somersets were relived by units of the 52nd (Lowland) Division; they returned first to Kuryet el Enab, then back to Junction Station.

Wyrall’s history of the Somerset Light Infantry in the First World War outlines the total casualties suffered by the 1/5th Somersets during the Battle of Nebi Samwil [9]:

The Battalion, which had gone into action on the 22nd November about 450 strong, had suffered 221 casualties in the two days’ fighting — 3 officers killed and 6 wounded, 51 other ranks killed or missing and 161 wounded.

201685 Private Joseph Henry Cowdry. 1/4th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment

Another bellringer from the south-west of England that was killed in action during the Battle of Nebi Samwil on the 23rd November was 201685 Private Joseph Henry Cowdry (or Cowdrey), of the 1/4th Battalion, Wiltshire Regiment. Joseph Cowdry was also a bellringer at Bishops Cannings in Wiltshire and a member of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers (SDGR).

Bishops Cannings war memorial (Wiltshire)

Bishops Cannings war memorial (Wiltshire)

Joseph Cowdry was born at Milton Lilbourne (Wiltshire) on the 11th August 1892, and baptised at All Cannings on the 23rd May 1893. His parents were Frederick and Martha Cowdry. National School Admission Registers and Log-books record that Joseph attended Milton Lilbourne Council School between 1896 and 1903. At the time of the 1911 Census, the family were living at West End, Bishops Cannings, while Frederick Cowdry was working as a waggoner on farm. By that time, Joseph and his older brother William were both working as farm labourers.

Soldiers Died in the Great War states that Private Joseph Henry Cowdry enlisted at Trowbridge. It has not been possible (so far) to find out anything more about his military service, although — as with the 1/5th Somersets and 1/4th Dorsets — we know that the Territorial Force 1/4th Wiltshire Regiment travelled to India as part of the Wessex Division in October 1914. They joined 233rd Brigade (and the EEF) in Egypt in October 1917. Just like Captain Major, Private Cowdry was killed in action on the 23rd November 1917 and is buried in Jerusalem War Cemetery. His name also appears on the war memorial at Bishops Cannings.


[1] Bridgwater Mercury, 5 December 1917, cited on Friends of the Wembdon Road Cemetery website.

[2] Western Daily Press (Bristol), 1 December 1917, p. 3, via British Newspaper Archive.

[3] Devon and Exeter Gazette, 3rd December 1917, p. 3, via British Newspaper Archive.

[4] E. S. Goodland and H. L. Milsom, “The history of the 1/5th Battalion (Prince Albert’s) Somerset Light Infantry,” in: The Great War, 1914-1919: the Book of Remembrance of the 5th Battalion (Prince Albert’s) Somerset Light Infantry (London: Chiswick Press, 1930), pp. 11-77.

[5] Ibid., pp. 49-50.

[6] Ibid., pp. 51-52.

[7] Ibid., pp. 53-55.

[8] Ibid., p 55.

[9] Everard Wyrall, The history of the Somerset Light Infantry (Prince Albert’s), 1914-1919 (London: Methuen, 1927), p. 268.



Posted by: michaeldaybath | November 22, 2017

Rifleman Alfred Pocock, 12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles

Hilperton: Church of St Michael and All Angels (Wiltshire)

Hilperton: Church of St Michael and All Angels (Wiltshire)

As covered briefly in the previous post, the Battle of Cambrai began in the early morning of the 20th November 1917, when six Infantry Divisions of the British Third Army, supported by nine battalions of the Tank Corps, attacked Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) defences to the west and south-west of the city of Cambrai. The opening day was a stunning success, with some divisions advancing several miles. The failure to capture key objectives on the first day combined with the lack of substantial reserves, however, meant that the offensive was pretty much doomed to failure from that point on.

On the left-flank of the attack was the 36th (Ulster) Division, and on the 20th November the 109th Infantry Brigade attacked along a line west of the (dry) Canal du Nord, eventually capturing ground to the north of the Bapaume to Cambrai road, but still in touch with the 59th Division on its left and the 62nd (West Riding) Division on its right [1]. The day after that, 109th Brigade pressed forward again and reached as far as the village of Mœvres. On the 22nd November, the 108th Brigade took over from the 109th, and the 12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles led the assault on the village itself.

Amongst the casualties of the attack on Mœvres was 45009 Rifleman Albert Pocock of the 12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles, who was killed in action on the 22nd November, aged 31. Albert Pocock was also a belllringer at Hilperton in Wiltshire and a member of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers (SDGR).

Hilperton War Memorial (Wiltshire)

Hilperton War Memorial (Wiltshire)

45009 Rifleman Albert Pocock, 12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles

Albert Pocock had been born at Hilperton, near Trowbridge (Wiltshire), in the 1st quarter of 1886, the son of Henry and Sarah Pocock. The five-year old Albert first features in the 1891 Census, when he was 5 years old and the youngest of Henry and Sarah’s four children. By 1901, Albert was 15 years old and, like his older brother Hubert, was working as a domestic gardener. At the time of the 1911 Census, the family were resident at Hilperton Marsh, although, of the children, only Albert and his older sister Margaret were still living at home.  In 1911, it seems that Albert was now working with his father, who was a market gardener and florist, as the occupations of both were given as, “florist, etc.” Richard Broadhead’s book on Trowbridge soldiers adds the information that Albert married Mary Austin in the spring of 1915 [2]. This would appear to refer to the marriage between Albert Pocock and Mary Austin recorded in the Frome registration district in the 2nd quarter of 1915. Mary Matilda Austin was born in the 1st quarter of 1888 at Vobster, near Mells (Somerset), and at the time of the 1911 Census was working as a domestic servant at Freshford.

Henry Pocock had been born at nearby Holt on 19th July 1855, the son of Elijah and Elizabeth Pocock. By the time of the 1871 Census, the family were living at Hilperton Marsh. Henry married Sarah (who had been born at Worle in Somerset) at some point in the decade following (the closest match that I can find in BMD records is a Sarah Reading, born at Worle in 1849, the daughter of Thomas and Maria Reading, baptised at Kewstoke on 25 June 1849; this Sarah Reading married a Henry Pocock in the Bristol registration district in the 1st quarter of 1878). Henry and Sarah had five children, four of whom survived until 1911: Margaret, Mabel, Hubert, and Albert. After Sarah died, Henry married Lily Jones at Holy Trinity, Trowbridge on the 17th July 1916. Henry died on the 14th January 1942, aged 86. The obituary published in the Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser of the 24th January 1942 [3] noted that Henry “had been well-known as a market gardener for over 30 years and [that he] was one of the first to exhibit at the horticultural shows when they were held in Trowbridge.” The obituary also recorded that he was also a judge at many flower shows around that town.

Rifleman Albert Pocock’s service career is a bit of a mystery. From Soldiers Died in the Great War, we know that Albert enlisted at Trowbridge, and that he served in the Rifle Brigade (service no: 2791) before transferring to the Royal Irish Rifles. Richard Broadhurst’s book suggests that he had probably been conscripted in 1916 [4].

Rifleman Albert Pocock was killed in action on the 22nd November 1917, presumably in the 12th Royal Irish Regiment’s attack on Mœvres. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial at Louverval in France. His name is also recorded on the two war memorials at Hilperton.

Hilperton War Memorial (Wiltshire)

Detail of Hilperton War Memorial (Wiltshire)

The 36th (Ulster) Division at Cambrai

The 12th (Service) Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles formed part of 108th Infantry Brigade in the 36th (Ulster) Division. The battalion had been formed in 1914 in County Antrim, mainly from the Antrim Volunteers. As part of the 36th Division, the battalion landed at Boulogne in October 1915. On the 1st July 1916, the 36th Division took part in the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, attacking the Schwaben Redoubt and suffering considerable casualties (the Division’s memorial on the Western Front is the Ulster Tower at Thiepval). They moved to the Ypres Salient shortly afterwards and in 1917 took part in the Battle of Messines and the 3rd Battle of Ypres (Langemarck).

On the 20th November 1917, the 109th Infantry Brigade attacked the Hindenburg Line along a line west of the Canal du Nord, by the end of the day capturing ground to the north of the Bapaume to Cambrai road. While the Battle of Cambrai is often seen primarily as a tank battle, the 109th Brigade attacked on the 20th November without the support of tanks [5]. On the following day, progress was slower, but the Brigade had reached the outskirts of the village of Mœvres.

Mœvres. Detail from Trench Map Moeuvres: special sheet, parts of 57c N.W. N.E., S.W. & S.E.

Detail from Trench Map: Moeuvres: special sheet, parts of 57c N.W. N.E., S.W. & S.E.; Scale: 1:20000; Edition: 6G; Published: 1917; Trenches corrected to 14 December 1917 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

On the 22nd November, 108th Brigade, with the 12th Royal Irish in the lead, attacked the village of Mœvres. The 36th Division’s history by Cyril Falls explains what happened [6]:

The 12th Rifles attacked Mœvres with three companies in line. The two on the left penetrated the village, but the right company was held up by machine-guns in the Hindenburg Support System. On the left, troops of the 56th Division, bombing up the Hindenburg Front System, captured Tadpole Copse. Colonel Goodwin, commanding the 12th Rifles, now handled his battalion with great skill. He ordered his right company to bomb its way up the trench leading from the sunken Mœvres-Graincourt Road to the Hindenburg Support System, while the other companies exploited their semi-success in the village. The right company did succeed in reaching the front trench of the Support System, and in clearing it, but the second line was full of Germans and could never be reached. Meanwhile the centre and western side of the village had been cleared, many Germans being killed in dug-outs and cellars. Pushing on through the village, the Riflemen took the trench on the western edge, fringing the cemetery, and began to consolidate it. Then came the counter-attack.

At 4 p.m. the enemy was seen assembling in great force in Hobart Street, half-way between Mœvres and Inchy, and in the Hindenburg Support System north-west of the former village. Messages were sent back for support and for an artillery barrage. Both were procured, the former in the shape of a company of the 9th Irish Fusiliers, but, unfortunately, neither of them in time. The counter-attack, launched just before dusk, appeared to be made by two battalions, one working parallel with the Hindenburg Support System and one down the Canal, in several waves. The company in the trench east of the cemetery was forced to withdraw to avoid being surrounded. Our men fell back from position to position, in orderly fashion, taking toll of the enemy with their Lewis guns. It took the Germans, in fact, an hour and forty minutes from the launching of their attack to drive the 12th Rifles to the southern outskirts of the village. It was a piece of evil fortune after a fine achievement in village fighting.

The 108th Brigade tried to capture Mœvres again on the 23rd November, but again did not make much progress The “Report on the Operations” attached to the 12th Royal Irish Rifles war diary states that “from the very start it was found that the German opposition was very strong” [7].

The failure of the 108th Brigade to capture Mœvres on the 22nd and 23rd November 1917 reflected the way that the Battle of Cambrai was now moving. After a promising start on the 20th November, the advance became bogged down, particularly at Bourlon Wood and Fontaine-Notre-Dame. Even when tanks were available and supplied with fuel and ammunition, they were not all that well-suited for fighting in shell-shattered woodland or in built-up areas [8]. The Germans counter-attacked in strength on the 30th November and by the 7th December, the Third Army had relinquished much of the ground that it had gained a few weeks before.


[1] Cyril Falls, The history of the 36th (Ulster) Division (London: Constable, 1996), p 155.

[2] Richard Broadhead, The Great War: Trowbridge soldiers (2010), pp. 187-188.

[3] Wiltshire Times and Trowbridge Advertiser, 24 January 1942, via British Newspaper Archive.

[4] Broadhead, p. 187.

[5] Bryn Hammond, Cambrai 1917: the myth of the first great tank battle (London: Weidenfeld & Nicholson, 2008), p. 153.

[6] Falls, pp. 159-160.

[7] “Report on the Operations near Moeuvres on the 22nd and 23rd November ’17,” in: WO 95/2506/2, 12th Battalion, Royal Irish Rifles War Diary, The National Archives, Kew

[8] Hammond, p. 436.

Posted by: michaeldaybath | November 20, 2017

“Hysterical, and un-English” — joy bells for Cambrai

“This is one of the great victories of the campaign, splendidly conceived and splendidly won, a fitting occasion for the ringing of the joy-bells which have for so long been silent.” — Army and Navy Gazette, 1 December 1917, p. 1.

“In spite of the great success near Cambrai, final victory is not definitely in sight, and it appears to us that the time for the ringing of joy bells has not yet arrived.” — Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 23 November 1917, p. 2.

St Paul's Cathedral, from Tate Modern (London)

St Paul’s Cathedral, from Tate Modern (London); the noon ringing at St Paul’s on the 23rd November 1917 was the main focus of the Cambrai victory ringing in the City of London

The Battle of Cambrai began in the early morning of the 20th November 1917.  Six infantry divisions of the British Third Army, supported by nine battalions of the Tank Corps, attacked Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) defences to the west and south-west of the city of Cambrai. The opening day was a stunning success, with some divisions advancing several miles. However, the failure to capture key objectives meant that that the advance soon became bogged down, especially at Bourlon Wood. The Germans counter-attacked in strength on the 30th November and by the 7th December, the Third Army had relinquished much of the ground that it had gained a few weeks before. The Battle of Cambrai is probably mainly remembered today for the large-scale use of tanks on the 20th November, although their overall significance in the wider battle has often been the subject of debate [1].

Almost all accounts of the Cambrai battle, however brief, mention that the initial success of the offensive on the 20 November was accompanied by the ringing of victory bells (or joy bells) back home in the UK.  A representative example might be this short extract from The Chief, Gary Sheffield’s biography of Field Marshall Haig [2]:

Cambrai was a drawn battle. Roughly 45,000 casualties were lost on each side., and the ground each army gained was just about equivalent. For the British, however, it felt like a defeat. The initial euphoria at the achievements of 20 November gave way to bitter disappointment. This did more damage to Haig’s reputation than even the losses and struggles at Ypres. When the news of the initial breakthrough had reached England, church bells were rung, for the first time in the war, to celebrate a great victory.

The ringing that followed the first stages of the Battle of Cambrai is one of the few documented examples of church bells being rung in Britain to celebrate a military victory prior to the armistice in November 1918 (although some ringing did also follow the capture of Jerusalem in December 1917, including at St. Paul’s Cathedral on the 11th December [3]).

Many accounts of the Cambrai bellringing, however, go much further and argue – perhaps thinking of the even more severe restrictions on bellringing imposed during the Second World War – that the Cambrai ringing was the very first time that church bells had been rung since the beginning of the war. There are many examples of this “silent bells” myth, but the earliest unambiguous example that I have been able to find appears in the opening lines of Bryan Cooper’s well-known 1967 book The ironclads of Cambrai, a book published for the 50th anniversary of the battle [4]:

On the morning of November 21, 1917, the church bells of London rang out for the first time since the start of the Great War. They were celebrating a sudden and dramatic victory which had taken place the day before near the town of Cambrai, in northern France.
It was a stirring victory, and gave the public at home their first chance of jubilation since the early days of the war.

While he opens the book with the church bells of London, towards the end of the book the Cambrai ringing becomes a nationwide celebration of victory [5]:

The final result of the Battle of Cambrai was a cruel disappointment. What had happened to the stirring victory of November 20, which had set the church bells ringing throughout Britain.

The “silent bells” myth reappears (or is hinted at) in many accounts of the war, for example in Alan Wilkinson’s history of the Church of England during the war [6], in Paddy Griffiths account of the battle tactics of the British Army [7], and in a host of other works on the military history of the First World War [8] [9] [10]. While it seems invidious to single any one of these out, John Laffin’s British butchers and bunglers of World War I takes the myth to the extreme, stating that “when news of the success reached Britain church bells were rung for the only time in the war” [11].

In reality, while the Defence of the Realm Acts (DORA) did prescribe significant restrictions on bellringing during the First World War, especially after dark, there was far from a blanket ban on all ringing. A quick look at contemporary issues of the Bell News and the Ringing World would serve to show that bellringing did continue throughout the war, especially for church services, although it was much diminished from its pre-war level.

References to the Cambrai ringing often also imply that it was the spontaneous response of a grateful population to good news from the front. While this may be true up-to-a-point, a good deal of the ringing – especially that organised in in the City of London on Friday, 23rd November 1917 – was orchestrated by prominent figures in the secular and ecclesiastical establishment, and also promoted by the press.

Organising the victory ringing

In London, the main drivers of the Cambrai ringing seem to have been initially the office of the Lord Mayor of London and the Bishop of London, the  Rt Rev Arthur Winnington-Ingram (a very firm supporter of the British war effort). The press also seemed to take a prominent role in both pushing for the ringing and in promoting it to the wider public. The victory ringing proposal was certainly publicised fairly widely in the press prior to the event. For example, under a heading reading, “British Victory: New Success,” the front page of the Pall Mall Gazette of 22nd November included the following report [12]:

The bells of the City of London will ring out merry peals at noon to-morrow in honour of the Cambrai victory.
Sir William Soulsby, the Lord Mayor’s private secretary conveyed the news to a “Pall Mall Gazette” representative this afternoon. It was the Bishop of London who first publicly expressed the view that the occasion was sufficiently worthy of recognition to justify the ringing of all our church bells, and he outlined to the Diocesan Conference, over which he was presiding, a scheme for carrying out this celebration.
Lord Derby, too, stated that he was altogether in favour of the idea, but thought that before any definite action was taken it would be better to wait until more detailed communiqués came to hand.
At Noon To-morrow.
“While we await this further news,” said Sir William Soulsby to a “Pall Mall Gazette” representative at the Mansion House to-day, “we are perfecting our arrangements for a celebration worthy of so grand an occasion. As things stand at present, the bells of every church in the City will ring out their happy tidings at noon to-morrow; all our public buildings will be gaily dressed with bunting; and I am sure that at the midday hour not a City man will fail to express his thanksgiving in one form or another.”
Inquiring at several of the leading banking and insurance houses, the “Pall Mall Gazette” representative learned that arrangements are being made for a special display of flags immediately an official sanction for the demonstration has been given.
Southwold bells were rung to-day in honour of the victory.

The ringing in London, therefore, had the express support of the Lord Mayor of London’s office and the Bishop of London. It was also — perhaps with some reservation — supported by Lord Derby and the War Office (Edward George Villiers Stanley, 17th Earl of Derby, was a Conservative politician and Secretary of State for War between 1916 and 1918).

Much the same information as in the Pall Mall Gazette article appeared in the Western Gazette of 23 November, but the account highlights the crucial role of the London Diocesan Conference, which just happened to be in progress when the news from Cambrai was received [13]:

The news of Sir Douglas Haig’s surprise victory when it was received on Wednesday, at once suggested an opportunity to reform our cold methods of greeting good tidings. It was the revulsion of feeling, rather than the magnitude of the success (which cannot yet be gauged), that prompted the desire for joy-bells.
In order that what is done in this matter should be done generally, a representative of the “Times” saw on Wednesday various authorities, including the Lord Mayor, the Bishop of London, the Secretary of War, the Archdeacon of St. Paul’s, and other high officers at the War Office, all of whom gave it as their opinion that there should be some popular demonstration as soon as definite news was received. Since the war began the bells of the London churches have not been rung in a joy peal, and the idea was that on this occasion such a demonstration might be made. The Bishop of London, presiding over the Diocesan Conference at Church House, Westminster, made the announcement of the victory to the Conference. It was received with keen approbation, and, as Dr. Ingram went on to explain the scheme for recognising and celebrating the victory by the ringing of church bells, he was heartily supported. He told the clergy assembled that this might be carried into effect. The Conference rose in a body, and sang the National Anthem.
Lord Derby stated on Wednesday night that he was altogether in favour of the idea, but that it would be better to wait until the more detailed communiques came to hand with the tally of prisoners and guns taken. He suggested that Friday would be the best day for the joy peals. This entirely falls in with the ideas of the clergy of the City of London and the London Diocese. Canon Holmes, the Archdeacon of St. Paul’s, is also greatly in favour of the idea, and says that it would be quite easy to arrange for the general ringing of the bells of all the churches in the City. Doubtless as the news of the project as proposed spreads throughout the country, other cities and smaller towns will also ring their bells.

Getting a band to ring at St Paul’s Cathedral on the 23rd November was an acknowledged problem. In the Daily Mirror of the 23rd November, Canon Sidney Arthur Alexander of St Paul’s was quoted as still hoping that a band could be found: “It is not yet settled, but it is possible that the bells of St. Paul’s may be rung.”

The newspaper explained [14]:

There are twelve bells to the set, and the ringers have to be summoned from different parts of London.
There is great difficulty at the present time in obtaining ringers, who are necessarily experts.

In the end, the St Paul’s ringing formed the centrepiece of the Cambrai ringing on the 23rd November.

The Liverpool Echo, quoting The Times newspaper, combined its support for the Cambrai ringing with a slightly dubious moral exhortation [15]:

The “Times” says: — As a result of a consultation of various authorities concerned, it has been decided to give expression to the feeling caused by the great British victory by the ringing of peals of joy bells in London.
Lord Derby has suggested that it would be better to await more detailed communications with the tally of prisoners and guns taken, and that to-morrow would be the best day for joy bells. This meets with the approval of the clergy of the City of London diocese, and peals will be rung throughout the City.
Following this lead, no doubt other cities and towns throughout the country will also ring bells.
Speaking with emphasis in the City Temple this morning, Dr. Fort Newton said the great victory of the British Army of yesterday ought to make us ring the joy bells in our hearts. Also it ought to make us ashamed of ourselves in the way we have been carrying on here at home the last few weeks.
“If such a victory were won by the American Army – and they will have victories after a while – the great cities of America would celebrate it. They would say so, and I think this country is of such size and significance that London might well afford to say so.”

The Echo followed this up the next day with a report on the celebrations [16]:

The distant boom of Flanders guns was heard at Ramsgate to-day as the bells rang a victory peal. Flags were waved from church towers and the drum and fife bands paraded the streets.
At noon to-day, the bells of St. Paul’s rang out a joyous peal in celebration of the British victory at Cambrai.
A crowd numbering many hundreds gathered on the steps of the cathedral, and there ensued a scene of intense enthusiasm. The National Anthem was sung with such gusto that the sound of the bells could hardly be heard, and then cheer after cheer was raised for our victorious Tommies and cries of “Vive la France” in recognition of our gallant allies.
The demonstration lasted upwards of a quarter of an hour.
Flags were flown at Southport to-day and the bells of Christ Church rang a peel [sic].
In Liverpool the Lord Mayor requested that a peal should be sounded in honour of the great victory. Notice was short, but the bellringers were summoned as soon as possible, and a salutation was rung on the municipal bells at 4 p.m.
The Union Jack was hoisted at the Town Hall. So far as one could see, however, this civic example was not generally copied by the commercial and other offices, and there was the minimum of bunting displayed in the city.

The Victory Ringing

The Ringing World of the 30th November 1917 and following weeks contained brief reports of some of the Cambrai ringing. The details of these would have mostly been sent in to the newspaper by the ringers themselves, so they are not able to provide a complete picture. They do, perhaps, give a hint at how geographically widespread the ringing actually was. The following list of towers is supplemented by those mentioned by reports in other newspapers. The ringing was clearly spread over several days, with the main “official” focus in the City of London on the 23 November.

  • Wednesday, 21 November: Keynsham, Somerset; St Lawrence, Reading (by the Caversham band)
  • Thursday, 22 November: Southwark Cathedral; Henfield, Sussex; Dorking, Surrey; Southwold, Suffolk
  • Friday, 23 November: St Paul’s Cathedral; St Martin-in-the-Fields; St Bride’s, Fleet Street; St Michael, Cornhill; York Minster; Exeter Cathedral; Peterborough Cathedral; Tunstall, Kent; Oswestry, Shropshire; Christ Church, Southport; Municipal Buildings, Liverpool
  • Saturday, 24 November: St Alfege, Greenwich; Christ Church, Ealing Broadway and Acton (by the Acton Guild); Godalming, Surrey; Finedon, Northamptonshire; Lindley, Yorkshire (peal); Leighton Buzzard, Buckinghamshire; Linslade, Bedfordshire
  • Sunday, 25 November: St John of Jerusalem, South Hackney; St Nicholas, Bristol; Selby Abbey, Yorkshire; Darlington, County Durham

The Ringing World also noted that the Bishop of Salisbury had requested parishes in the Sarum Diocese to rung on Sunday 25th, an action that the Ringing World was able to enthusiastically endorse! Originally publishing these performances under the title “Bells of victory,” by the 14th December the Ringing World was using the “joy bells” terminology used by most of the popular press.

After the ringing on the 23rd at St. Paul’s, Canon Alexander tried to universalise the message away from Cambrai, perhaps reflecting a feeling that some past events had been left unacknowledged [17]:

Canon Alexander stated that the peal [the St Paul’s ringing] might be regarded as a celebration of our recent victories not only in France, but in Flanders and the East, and, he would like to add, also of the extraordinary achievements of our Navy.

Things did not always go so well for the ringers themselves. The Diss Express and Norfolk and Suffolk Journal of 30th November 1917 reported the fate of Henry Springall, a member of the Ancient Society of College Youths [18]:

While ringing the bells of St. Michael’s, Cornhill, London, on Saturday [probably Friday] in honour of the British victory, Henry Springall, a very old member of the Society of College Youths, fell dead.

The Ringing World of the 30 November 1917 contained a leading article on the Cambrai ringing entitled “The nation’s voice.” While this largely expressed (in some detail) the editor’s gratification that bells had been the chosen means to express the “spirit of the nation” following reports of the victory, it also contained some additional hints on how the ringing had actually come about and who had promoted it [19]:

Last week, with the great and smashing blow at the enemy which reconquered about forty square miles of territory, and brought in nearly ten thousand prisoners and a hundred guns, came the opportunity [to signalise the successes of the troops], and the newspapers called loudly for the bells. Needless to say, the ringers were not behindhand in doing their part, and it is gratifying to find that St. Paul’s Cathedral gave a lead. The ringing there was done at the request of the authorities, while the Bishop of London himself issued an appeal for the bells generally in his Diocese to be rung. The ringing at St. Paul’s, indeed, was something of a historical event, for we read that a huge crowd gathered round the west front to hear the pealing of this noble ring, and in an interval between the touches the National Anthem was fervently sung.

Ringing did not take place everywhere, even when it was desired. For example, there was no ringing at Manchester Town Hall [20]:

The Lord Mayor of Manchester (Sir Alexander Porter) was a disappointed man this morning. In conjunction with the decision in London to ring a peal in celebration of the great victory of the British Army, he desired that the bells of the Manchester Town Hall should play a part.
Unfortunately, the Town Hall ringers are serving at the front, and the room where the men swing the ropes is in the occupation of the military.
“I should like to have heard the bells to-day,” he stated to an “Evening News” representative. “We don’t do enough of celebration when our gallant men in the forces, on land and sea, accomplish great things like they are doing now in France.”

Mark IV tank, Ashford (Kent)

Mark IV tank, Ashford (Kent), now a war memorial

Initial Responses

Coverage of the Cambrai ringing can be found in many contemporary newspapers. Most of these supported the ringing of the bells, often adding their own justifications. For example, the Cheshire Observer pointed to the precedent of bonfires and bells from earlier wars [21]:

In other and lesser wars such a victory as that British troops won this week on the Western Front would have been the signal for ringing the joy-bells in London and in every town and hamlet in the country. Such has been the chastening influence of the long, up-hill road which we have had to travel in the present awful War that the public never seem to think of rejoicing, as they were wont to rejoice in the old Peninsular and Crimean days. This week’s magnificent success, however, has prompted many people to propose a break from our seemingly stoical attitude, by letting the church bells ring out the glad tidings of victory. The Lord Mayor of London, the Bishop of London, the Secretary of War, and other important personages have been approached on the subject, and they expressed themselves in favour of signalising this crowning success of our arms by joy-peals from the church steeples. At St Paul’s Cathedral the joy-bells were arranged to be rung yesterday (Friday) at noon. Aerial warfare and the necessity for the economy of fuel would prohibit our old-fashioned victory bonfires, which used to speed from hill-tops news of battles a generation or two ago. To the pealing of church bells, however, there can be no valid objection, and we trust the iron-tongued message will soon be spread far and wide, once the full story of the proud feat of arms has been received.

Other commentators wanted to distinguish the Cambrai ringing from that undertaken elsewhere, especially overseas. For example, the “London Letter” in the Bucks Herald made direct comparisons with German victory ringing [22]:

Knowing how greatly the practice is abused on the other side of the North Sea, it takes a lot to make the average Londoner enthuse in the matter of church bell ringing for the victories of our Service men. Nevertheless, the bells of St. Paul’s Cathedral, and one of two other London Churches, were joyously pealed the other day in honour of the undoubted victory of Sir Julian Byng before Cambrai, when great enthusiasm was shown, the crowds in the churchyard singing with much heartiness the National Anthem. Such a joy day has not been seen in the City of London since the war began, though many thrilling sights connected with the war have often been witnessed within its walls. That such a celebration was possible is entirely due to the Press, which gave expression to the widely-expressed feeling here that something of the kind should be done, after it was ascertained beyond all doubt that we had done something to enthuse about. The suggestion, once started, was quickly acclaimed by the Lord Mayor, the Dean and Chapter of St. Paul’s, and other civic authorities, and the splendid doings of “the Byng boys” were celebrated accordingly.

Dissenting voices

Other commentators took a different view of the Cambrai ringing. One strand of criticism focused on the idea that victory ringing was a fundamentally alien concept. Another highlighted the practical difficulties on deciding which particular victories should be celebrated. These are combined in this long opinion piece in the Leeds Mercury of the 23th November, an early example of such dissent [23]:

Joy Bells.
The great victory in front of Cambrai has set all manner of people discussing the proper means of celebrating occasions of this sort. It seems to be a primitive phase of human nature to want to “make a joyful sound” whenever it is specially pleased about anything; and, in obedience to that instinct, some people have rushed forward with the suggestion that we should ring what they are pleased to call “joy bells” whenever news of a great victory is received. For ourselves, we fervently pray to be spared the horrors of any such infliction. We do not suggest that the idea is inspired by the ubiquitous Bolo as another manifestation of frightfulness; but the notion is essentially German.
On any and every occasion the Germans rejoice in this way. Even when there are no victories to celebrate the people of Berlin “rejoice” to order, and the bells that have still escaped being melted down for cannon are rung on every conceivable occasion. No wonder the Germans have become a people of gloomy countenance. We can imagine few things more depressing than rejoicing to order, and celebrating the occasion, whatever it may be, by the harsh, monotonous clanging of the iron [sic] bells, which for the most are all that we possess, and which as rule, are unspeakably inharmonious. In Belgium, the land of bells, something might be said for “joy bells”; but how few of the towns and villages of England possess a peal of bells of any sort, and how few, even of these, are worth listening to? There are, of course, other means of rejoicing; and if a plebiscite were to be taken it would probably be found that the old-fashioned custom of opening a hogshead of good ale on every village green, and some modification of this practice to suit the towns, would be much more likely to meet popular favour.
But the great objection to the ringing of joy bells, apart from its being a somewhat hysterical, and un-English performance, lies in the difficulty of deciding what are the proper occasions for such reprisals. Countless acts of heroism and countless little successes are the unnoted but daily achievements of our troops. How great must a victory be for the bells to be rung? Is the sudden success at Cambrai more to be rejoiced over than the long, toilsome labours that conquered the Flanders Ridges? Moreover, when must an operation be regarded as successful? Should the bells be rung when the first official message comes to hand, about mid-day, or when the last is received, about midnight; and what should we do if an air raid happened to be in progress, and we were forbidden to make a noise? Or should we wait until we see how the counter-attacks develop? With our new passion for Ministries and bureaucrats, should we set up a new Department for Bell Ringing, which, after due consideration, would issue orders, either through its own officials of through the Home Secretary, for the ringing of joy bells?
What could be more awful than these rejoicings to order some days behind the fair! Far better that we should save our bell ringing until the Germans have been driven out of Belgium, or the soil of France and Italy is freed, or until the enemy at last accepts the Allies’ terms of peace. There are other ways in which we can honour our troops, and some special act of self-denial for the sake of wounded might well give us scope for expressing all our emotional exuberance.

The author was obviously not a fan of English-style bells or bellringing. He may, however, may have liked his ale!

The Huddersfield Daily Examiner of the same date made some of the same points, but was mainly concerned that the ringing was premature and probably insensitive to those who had lost family or friends [24]:

The decision that the bells of London should ring to-day in honour of the great victory gained under Sir Julian Byng by the officers and men of the Third Army will be received with mingled feelings by the community at large. Those who question the advisability of the proposal are no whit behind others in their appreciation of an achievement which, according to one London correspondent, has resulted in the most striking gain of ground since trench warfare began except “on the day, April 22nd, 1915, when the Germans for ever disgraced their arms by the first use of poison gas.” Other victories gained by our arms have been allowed to pass without demonstrative expression of national jubilation. In this case fighting is still proceeding, and this morning it is officially recorded that one of the villages gained by us has been recaptured by the Germans in a counterattack. This is, no doubt, only a minor incident in a great movement. But it indicates that the final outcome of the battle has not been reached. The intimation in the official communique that our casualties were “very light” would be read with thankfulness. But the phrase here is used only in a comparative sense. Great victories in a war like this cannot be gained except at the price of considerable sacrifices and of many individual sorrows. This point of view will appeal especially to the people of this district, in view of the fact that the battalions raised here are in all probability in the thick of the fighting. The nation has thus far restrained admirably from public expression of its feeling. In spite of the great success near Cambrai, final victory is not definitely in sight, and it appears to us that the time for the ringing of joy bells has not yet arrived.

Proving that journalistic contrarians existed a century ago, other objections were based less on the fact of ringing, but on the idea that the response had been organised rather than spontaneous. For example, the London correspondent of the Western Morning News (Plymouth) had obviously never tried organising anything spontaneous when he wrote the following on the 23 November [25]:

Suggested Joy Bells.
Joy bells for a British victory is a natural expression of national exultation. But it must be a spontaneous ebullition of rejoicing. To call upon the bellringers to chime the bells, to appoint a day for the clanging of the bells, is a confession that silent people have to be bidden to jubilate. It stultifies the whole meaning of joy bells. Our men and women will not be backward in giving expression to their real feelings when the spirit moves them. One would have been pleased if suddenly a peal of bells had burst upon the City, in harmony with the heartfelt thankfulness, for so great a victory secured by British troops. But when opinion has to be canvassed, and a day is arranged for the joy bells or flag-wagging, the Englishman feels that modesty impels him to ignore the idea. Not that he thinks the occasion is not worthy of such symbols of gratitude to our soldiers. In words and thoughts rejoicing bubbles over, but apparently the man in the street thinks that the time has not come for these manifestations. At the back of his mind, probably, he thinks that the Berliners have made such fools of themselves with joy bells that he has no wish to imitate their premature impetuosity. Yet it is patent that the world in general, and Germany in particular, would be more impressed with the magnitude and completeness of our victory on the Hindenburg line if joy bells were heard in this country. If it comes to pass that enthusiasm is organized, church bells rung, buildings dressed in bunting, school children given a holiday, there will be no protest, but there will also be no mafficking.

The historian Professor Albert Frederick Pollard of University College London worried about the expectations raised by victory ringing. The Hull Daily Mail of the 7th December reported on some of his comments [26]

Professor Pollard, speaking at University College, London, on Thursday night criticised the recent agitation to ring the joybells of London when the Hindenburg line was broken through.
“The British secured a fine victory in the neighbourhood of Cambrai,” he said, “but the expectations which some people had formed of the operations were hardly realised. There was no need to copy the German method of ringing the joybells. It is perfectly certain that when there is real cause for rejoicing there will be no need for any newspaper agitation or Government action to bring it about.”
The disappointment of some people was with regard to the Hindenburg line. We broke through, but it does not consist of human material, but concrete. It was almost as difficult to widen the breach as it was to make the original breach itself.


The reverses at Cambrai in early December resulted in even more recrimination. This example of criticism appeared in the People’s Journal (Dundee) of 8th December [27]:

Developing events opposite Cambrai must make those Londoners feel very foolish who a fortnight ago set the bells ringing for victory. What we have to recognise to-day is that the remarkable victory of the 20th November just fell short of being enough of a victory to secure great and permanent results.

Eventually, this criticism was raised in Parliament. This House of Lords reply was reported in the Ulster paper, the Northern Whig of 14th December [28]:

Lord Beresford complained that Ministers’ speeches were sometimes optimistic and sometimes pessimistic. But the incidents of war varied. See what happened at Cambrai. Anyone speaking on the day of that victory would naturally deliver a speech full of pride and encouragement. He himself greatly regretted there should have been such premature congratulations. Nothing distressed him more that to hear the joy bells ringing for the Cambrai victory, because he felt that very soon the joy bells must be turned into bells of sorrow and mourning, and so it turned out.

A few weeks later Andrew Bonar Law, Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons, had to make it clear in Parliament that the Cambrai victory ringing had not been undertaken on the authority of the War Cabinet [29]

In his self-serving War memoirs published after the end of the war, the former Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, characteristically placed the blame for the Cambrai ringing firmly on the War Office [30]:

When the first news of our great triumph reached London, the War Office ordered that all the church bells of the metropolis should be set a-ringing. A few days after the chimes had ceased to thrill the hearts of Londoners, the counter-attack came, and our troops were driven back pell-mell – such of them as escaped capture. The Staff who were responsible for the joy-bells were ashamed to publish the news of the reverse.

Replica Mark IV tank, Horse Guards (London)

Replica Mark IV tank, Horse Guards (London)


Since I started writing this piece, the Ringing World has also published a centenary account of the Cambrai bellringing. See: Charlie Hunt, “Centenary of the ‘joy bells’ for Cambrai,” The Ringing World, 17 November 2017, pp. 1130-31.


[1] Bryn Hammond, Cambrai 1917: the myth of the first great tank battle (London:  Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008).

[2] Gary Sheffield, The Chief: Douglas Haig and the British Army (London: Aurum, 2011), p. 256.

[3] Daily Mirror, 11 December 1917, p. 3, via British Newspaper Archive; for other reports of ringing for the capture of Jerusalem see: Ringing World, 21 December 1917, p. 406, and Ringing World, 28 December 1917, p. 410.

[4] Bryan Cooper, The ironclads of Cambrai: the first tank battle (London: Cassell, 2002), p. 9.

[5] Ibid., p. 217.

[6] Alan Wilkinson, The Church of England and the First World War (London: SPCK, 1978), p. 61: “… church bells were rung in London, the only time during the war, to celebrate the victory.”

[7] Paddy Griffith, Battle tactics of the Western Front: the British Army’s art of attack, 1916-18 (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1994), p. 164: “One can readily understand the psychological boost it [Cambrai] gave to the British public, who fell to ringing their church bells for the first time in the war.

[8] Charles Messenger, The day we won the war: turning point at Amiens, 8 August 1918 (London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2008), chapter 1: After Cambrai, “church bells in Britain, which had been silent since the outbreak of war, were rung in celebration.”

[9] Jack Horsfall and Nigel Cave, Cambrai: the right hook (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1999), p. 35: “On the other hand, the remarkable success of the tank, which enabled the infantry to advance ten thousand yards on a front of eleven thousand men, was simply too awe-inspiring to be stopped. It was enough to cause the war time silence of church bells in Britain to be broken by exuberant joy; it was enough for some over enthusiastic souls to read, perhaps, too much into the capability of the tank.”

[10] Richard van Emden and Victor Piuk, Famous, 1914-1918 (Barnsley: Pen & Sword, 2008), p. 286: “The news of this success caused the hitherto silent church bells of England to ring nationwide in a celebratory peel [sic].” (from the chapter on Henry Moore)

[11] John Laffin, British butchers and bunglers of World War I (Stroud: Alan Sutton, 1988), p. 128.

[12] Pall Mall Gazette, 22 November 1917, p. 1, via British Newspaper Archive.

[13] Western Gazette, 23 November 1917, p. 8, via British Newspaper Archive.

[14] Daily Mirror, 23 November 1917, p. 2, via British Newspaper Archive.

[15] Liverpool Echo, 22 November 1917, p. 6, via British Newspaper Archive.

[16] Liverpool Echo, 23 November 1917, p. 6, via British Newspaper Archive.

[17] Aberdeen Daily Journal, 24 November 1917, p 3, via British Newspaper Archive.

[18] Diss Express and Norfolk and Suffolk Journal, 30 December 1917, p. 6, via British Newspaper Archive.

[19] Ringing World, 30 November 1917.

[20] Manchester Evening News, 22 November 1917, p. 3, via British Newspaper Archive.

[21] Cheshire Observer, 24 November 1917, p. 5, via British Newspaper Archive.

[22] Bucks Herald, 1 December 1917, p. 6, via British Newspaper Archive.

[23] Leeds Mercury, 23 November 1917, p. 2, via British Newspaper Archive.

[24] Huddersfield Daily Examiner, 23 November 1917, p. 2, via British Newspaper Archive.

[25] Western Morning News, 23 November 1917, p. 4, via British Newspaper Archive.

[26] Hull Daily Mail, 7 December 1917, p. 3, via British Newspaper Archive.

[27] Dundee People’s Journal, 8 December 1917, p. 4, via British Newspaper Archive.

[28] Northern Whig, 14 December 1917, p. 6, via British Newspaper Archive.

[29] Western Gazette, 21 December 1917, p. 5, via British Newspaper Archive.

[30] David Lloyd George, War memoirs, Vol. IV (London: Ivor Nicholon & Watson, 1934), p. 2256.




Posted by: michaeldaybath | November 18, 2017

Wessex bellringers between Ypres and Cambrai

Lytchett Minster Church (Dorset)

Lytchett Minster Church (Dorset)

Between the formal end of the 3rd Battle of Ypres on the 10th November 1917 and the opening of the Battle of Cambrai on the 20th, the trench war on the Western Front continued with its continuous drain of casualties.

On the 18th November 1917, two bellringers from Somerset and Dorset died on different sectors of the front. Private Edward Ernest Brown of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment was killed-in-action near Passchendaele (Passendale). He was also a bellringer at Lytchett Minster in Dorset and a member of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers (SDGR). Private Raymond Loxton of the 7th/8th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers was killed-in-action near Fontaine-lès-Croisilles while his unit was gearing up for an attack on the Hindenburg Line. Loxton was a bellringer at Weare in Somerset and a member of the Bath and Wales Diocesan Association of Change Ringers.

Lytchett Minster Church (Dorset)

Lytchett Minster Church (Dorset)

38504 Private Edward Ernest Brown, 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment

Edward Ernest Brown was born in the 4th quarter of 1898 and baptised at Dorking (Surrey) on the 11th December 1898. His parents were Ernest Albert and Elizabeth Brown.

Ernest Albert Brown had been born near Weymouth (Dorset) in the 4th quarter of 1858, the son of Stephen and Louisa Brown (census returns suggest that Ernest was born in either Preston or Broadwey). It is possible to trace Ernest in successive census returns living with his family at various addresses in Dorset: first at Preston (1861, 1871), and then at Bere Regis (1881). In 1891 he was 33-years old and lodging at a London address: 34 Morrison Street, Battersea, and working as a house decorator. By 1901, he was married to Elizabeth — who came from Gowles in Bedfordshire — and they were living at Dorking, with 5 children (born both in both South London and Dorking) and a lodger. By 1911, the family had moved again, back to the country where Ernest had been born, Broadmayne (Dorset). The dates and places of birth of Edward’s younger siblings suggest that the family moved to Broadmayne between 1901 and 1903. At some point after 1911, they must have moved to Lytchett Minster, near Poole.

Lytchett Minster War Memorial (Dorset)

Lytchett Minster War Memorial (Dorset)

Edward Ernest Brown first features in the 1901 Census as a 2-year old, living at 5, Jubilee Terrace, Dorking. By 1911, Edward is aged 12, living with his parents and siblings at Broadmayne, and still at school. From Soldiers Died in the Great War, we know that Edward joined up at Poole. Private Brown was killed in action on the 18th November 1917 while serving with the 2nd Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire Regiment). His name is recorded on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing and on the war memorial cross at Lytchett Minster.

Royal Berkshire Regiment badge on CWGC grave marker (Cholsey, Oxon)

Royal Berkshire Regiment badge on CWGC grave marker (Cholsey, Oxon)

The 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment was part of 25th Infantry Brigade in 8th Division. The Division had taken part in the 3rd Battle of Ypres, notably at Pilckem Ridge and Langemark, but by October and early November 1917 were mainly based at Menegate Camp in the area west of Armentières. From there, they spent time in the front lines near Ploegsteert and also in the rear areas of Ypres itself. From mid-November, the 8th Division began to relieve the 3rd Canadian Division in the left sector of the Canadian Corps front at Ypres. After having spent some days training in the La Motte area in early November, the 2nd Royal Berkshires moved to the Ypres area on the 16th November.

Bellevue Spur from near the Canadian Memorial, Passendale (West-Vlaanderen)

Bellevue Spur from near the Canadian Memorial, Passendale (West-Vlaanderen)

On the 17 November, 25th Brigade moved into the line, reliving the 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade. For example, the 2nd Battalion, Rifle Brigade relieved the 42nd Canadian Infantry (Royal Highlanders), the 2nd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment relieved the Royal Canadian Regiment, and the 2nd Royal Berkshires relieved the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry in Brigade Support. The 2nd Royal Berkshires established their headquarters at Bellevue, and their four companies were split evenly between Bellevue and the area NE of the village of Passchendaele. All that the war diary [1] says for the 18th November — the day that Private Brown was killed-in-action — is “Ditto,” so one can assume that there had been no significant change in deployment from the previous day. The war diary does, however, include a short note on casualties: “Lieut. A. F. R. Brown, wounded (gassed), 4 o.r. killed, 57 o.r. wounded,” suggesting that the battalion had been subject to shelling.

Detail from Trench Map 20.SE

Vindictive Crossroads. Detail from Trench Map 20.SE; Scale: 1:20000; Edition: 5A; Published: January 1918; Trenches corrected to 17 December 1917 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

25th Brigade were, in turn, relieved by the 24th Brigade on the 19th November and removed to Ridge Camp. The 2nd Royal Berkshires returned to the front line on the 29th November and took part in an attack on German lines north of Passchendaele on the 2nd December. While the 3rd Battle of Ypres had officially ended on the 10th November 1917, it is clear that the fighting on this front did not cease immediately.

Church of St Gregory, Weare (Somerset)

Church of St Gregory, Weare (Somerset)

41741 Private Jack Emery Loxton, 7th/8th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers

Raymond Jack Emery Loxton was born at Lower Weare in Somerset in the 3rd quarter of 1898, the son of John and Sarah Loxton. While Sarah Loxton had been born at Upper Weare – the part of the parish that contains St Gregory’s Church – her husband had been born at nearby Compton Bishop, a village in the western Mendips near Crook Peak. Both of the 1901 and 1911 census returns state that John Loxton was working as a brickyard labourer. At the time of the 1901 Census, the family were living at Mendip View in Lower Weare, which is the part of the parish on the old turnpike (now the A38). Mendip View Farm can still be found on the main road close to the turn for Upper Weare, and it would still be able to boast a view of Crook Peak.

War Memorial, St Gregory's Church, Weare (Somerset)

War Memorial, St Gregory’s Church, Weare (Somerset)

In the 1911 Census, the twelve-year old Raymond Loxton was the eldest of six children, four of whom (including Raymond) were still at school (the others were even younger).  It has not been possible to find out that much about Raymond’s service career. From Soldiers Died in the Great War we know that 41741 Private Ray Loxton enlisted at Weston-super-Mare. At the time of his death on the 18 November 1917, Private Loxton was serving with the 7th/8th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was killed-in-action, aged 19. He is buried in Croisilles British Cemetery, in the Pas-de-Calais département, near Bullecourt, around half-way between Arras and Bapaume. His name also appears on the war memorial in St Gregory’s Church, Weare and the Bath and Wells Diocesan Association memorial in Bath Abbey.

Detail from Trench Map 51B.SW

Tunnel Trench. Detail from Trench Map 51B.SW; Scale: 1:20000; Edition: 8A; Published: May 1918; Trenches corrected to 25 April 1918 Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

The 7th and 8th (Service) Battalions of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers had been amalgamated on the 23rd August 1917. The battalion formed part of 49th Infantry Brigade in the 16th (Irish) Division. Throughout September and October 1917, the battalion alternated between stints spent in Enniskillen Camp at Ervillers and the front line near Fontaine-lès-Croisilles. There was a successful company-strength raid on German positions on the 29 October, which concluded that the German trenches were “in such a bad state that they were practically untenable” [2]. After another spell at Enniskillen Camp, the battalion were back in the front line on the 14th November. On the 17th, the battalion was busy:

A third TMB [trench mortar battery] shoot, again successful.
During the whole time, the Heavy Batteries were engaged on wire cutting and shoots on MEBU [concrete forts] in enemy front line systems. This shooting necessitates a constant clearing of the front line, but only a very few shells fell short.
The enemy were fairly quiet. He scarcely retaliates to our periodical bombardments but he shot some Heavy Trench Mortars onto JANET AVE which he damaged in several places.

On the 18th November, the 7th/8th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers were relieved by other 16th Division units, in preparation for an attack on the morning of the 20th. These included the 2nd Battalion, Royal Irish Regiment and the 7th/8th Battalion, Royal Irish Fusiliers from 49th Brigade, and the 2nd and 10th Battalions, Royal Dublin Fusiliers from 48th Brigade. The 7th/8th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers then moved back to Belfast Camp, Ervillers. This was the day that Private Loxton was killed in action.

The following day, the 7th/8th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers moved back up to the front line, where various platoons were attached to other units for the 20th November attack (the remainder of the battalion acted in support). The 16th Division with 9th Brigade of 3rd Division were tasked with capturing a section of the Hindenburg Line near Fontaine-lès-Croisilles called Tunnel Trench [3]. This attack was intended to divert German attention away from the major 3rd Army attack on Siegfriedstellung (Hindenburg Line) defences further south near Cambrai (the opening phase of the Battle of Cambrai).

In the month of November 1917, the 7th/8th Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers lost seven other ranks killed-in-action, with another 37 wounded.


[1] WO 95/1729/1, 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment War Diary, The National Archives, Kew.

[2] WO 95/1977/4, 7th/8th Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers War Diary, The National Archives, Kew.

[3] The Wild Geese website, “Tunnel Trench: 16th (Irish) Division Clears the Way at Cambrai”:


Posted by: michaeldaybath | November 14, 2017

Corporal Leonard George Hicks, “F” Battalion, Tank Corps

Trains loaded with British Mark IV Tanks stand at Plateau Station

Trains loaded with British Mark IV Tanks stand at Plateau Station in preparation for movement to the forward area prior to the opening of the Battle of Cambrai © IWM (Q 46939). Imperial War Museums:

The 3rd Battle of Ypres was officially brought to an end on the 10th November 1917 after the capture by the Canadian Corps of Hill 52 at Passchendaele (Passendale). By that point the attention of the British military command was shifting towards a fresh operation further south. The British Third Army under General Julian Byng was gearing up for an attack on the Siegfriedstellung (the Hindenburg Line) near the city of Cambrai. The operation was to commence on the 20th November and the Tank Corps was hoping to get an opportunity to show what tanks could do in more favourable conditions than the Salient. As stated in Brigadier General Hugh Elles’s handwritten Special Order Number 6 — issued just before the battle commenced — the Tank Corps would finally now have the chance “to operate on good going in the van of the battle” [1]. Remarkably, 476 tanks had been gathered together to support the attack, 378 of them in a fighting role.

Preparations for the Cambrai attack had been underway for some weeks, but in mid-November, the battalions of the Tank Corps began to make their way towards the front line area. During the First World War, transportation was certainly not a risk-free activity. One casualty of the move to the Cambrai sector was Corporal Leonard George Hicks of “F” Battalion,Tank Corps, who died near Maricourt (Somme). Hicks came from Hackney and was a bell ringer at St Matthew’s Church, Upper Clapton, and a member of the Middlesex County Association and London Diocesan Guild of Church Bell Ringers.

Bell ringing at Upper Clapton

The Church of St Matthew dated from the 1860s, a daughter church to St John-at-Hackney [2]. The building was designed by Francis Thomas Dollman; old photographs show a large neo-gothic building with a prominent tower topped by a tall spire. The church building was severely damaged during the Second World War. While it was restored during the 1950s, the spire was removed in 1962. Sadly, the church was declared redundant in 1977 after being badly damaged by fire. A replacement church building was built on the site of the old church hall. Very little of the old church building remains now, although the stone boundary wall alongside Mount Pleasant Lane is still there.

The old church had a peal of eight bells (8, 13-2-9, in F), all cast by Mears & Stainbank (at Whitechapel) in 1868. These were removed after the fire and transferred to the Church of St Andrew and St Mary, Watton at Stone, Hertfordshire. Upper Clapton seemed to be a very active tower in the late 19th Century. According to the Felstead peals database [3], the first peal (of Grandsire Triples) was rung on 22 January 1870. Another 21 were rung before the end of the century and the records then show that peals were then rung fairly regularly until 1930. By the turn of the 20th Century, it seems that there was a highly-active band at Upper Clapton and the tower was also used for regular practices by the Ancient Society of College Youths.

We do not exactly know when Leonard learnt to ring bells. We do know from the Ringing World, however, that he rang the tenor bell for a quarter peal (1260 changes) of Stedman Caters at St Mary’s Church, Walthamstow on 2 November 1914 [4].

Mark IV tank, Ashford (Kent)

Mark IV tank Ashford (Kent), now a war memorial

Leonard George Hicks

Leonard George Hicks was born in the 2nd quarter of 1892 at Clapton. His parents were Alfred John and Alice Hicks. The 1901 Census describes Alfred as a builder’s foreman, but by 1911 he was a builder, working on his own account. Leonard first features in the 1901 Census, aged 9 and living with his parents and seven siblings at 30 Saratoga Road, Clapton. By 1911, they had moved to 11 Comberton Road, Upper Clapton. Leonard was by then 18 years old and working as a ship broker’s clerk.

In the 1st quarter of 1917, Leonard married Lorna Edith Leopold in the Hackney registration district. Lorna had been born at Clapton in the 3rd quarter of 1892. Her parents were Edward and Mary Leopold. Edward Leopold had been born in the Netherlands and in 1901 was working as a banker’s clerk. By 1911, Lorna was eighteen years old and working as an apprentice in wholesale drapery.

Maricourt (Somme). Detail from Trench Map 62C.NW

Maricourt (Somme). Detail from Trench Map 62C.NW; Scale: 1:20000; Edition: 4B; Published: March 1918; Trenches corrected to 6 March 1918;  Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

I have not been able to find out that much about Leonard Hicks’s service career. Soldiers Died in the Great War states that he had served in the Norfolk Regiment (Service No. 12591) before joining the Tank Corps. At the time of his death on the 14 November 1917, he was serving with “F” Battalion of the Tank Corps, who were by then in the process of preparing for the Battle of Cambrai. “F” Battalion formed part of the 3rd Tank Brigade at Cambrai, fighting on the right flank of the attack supporting the British 36th Infantry Brigade (part of 12th (Eastern) Division). Looking at the battalion war diary [5], it seems that Hicks was killed in rail accident on his way to take part in the attack.

British Mark IV Female Tanks being loaded aboard flat-bed railway trucks at Plateau Station

British Mark IV Female Tanks being loaded aboard flat-bed railway trucks at Plateau Station in preparation for transportation to the forward area prior to the opening of the Battle of Cambrai © IWM (Q 46930). Imperial War Museums: object/205215579

On the 14 and 15 November 1917, “F” Battalion of the Tank Corps passed through Maricourt en route to Cambrai, as entrained tanks bound for the battle were reorganised at the railhead at nearby Plateau Station. Something went wrong with the train carrying Corporal Hicks’s company. The battalion war diary for the 15 November records the following:

All trains arrived at PLATEAU STATION.
18 Coy’s train nearly came to grief owing to one of the trucks, conveying personnel, jumping the points at a crossing not far from the station and becoming derailed, thus killing two crew and injuring 8 others. A certain amount of equipment was also lost owing to this accident and the train delayed.

The two “F” Battalion men killed would appear to be Corporal Hicks and Gunner Lewis Hall. The CWGC database records that both died on the 14 November and both are buried in Peronne Road Cemetery in Maricourt. The information about Peronne Road Cemetery and other records available from the CWGC suggest that Hicks and Hall were two of the 38 men concentrated there after the war from La Côte Military Cemetery, which I think was a little further west along the current D938 road linking Albert and Peronne (for his original place of burial, Hicks’s CWGC records reference the Trench Map reference: 62c.A.15.c.5.0).

Detail from Trench Map 62D.NE

Railways near Maricourt. Detail from Trench Map 62D.NE; Scale: 1:20000; Edition: 3B; Published: August 1918; Trenches corrected to 3 August 1918.  Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland (Creative Commons CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

Leonard George Hicks’s death was reported in the Ringing World of the 7 December 1917 [6]:

On Saturday last, in the ringing room of St Matthew’s, Clapton ringers from various parishes of London assembled to show respect to a late member of the St. Matthew’s Society, Leonard G. Hicks (aged 26 years), who gave his life in France on November 14th. – After a short appreciation and prayer by the Vicar (the Rev. O. R. Dawson) the bells were rung half-muffled for the whole-pull and stand and in several touches, those taking part being: Miss Grace Adams, Messrs. H. C. Alford, O. L. Twist, W. T. Powell, J. Barrv, A. S Pettett, J. Hunt, H. F. Hull, H. T. Scarlett and S. S. Dunwell. A 630 of Grandsire Triples was rung by: H. T. Scarlett 1, H. C. Alford 2, Jos. Barry 3, W. T. Powell 4, Jas. Hunt (conductor) 5, O. L. Twist 6, H. F. Hull 7, A. S. Pettett 8.
St. Matthew’s has now lost three of its ringing members, out of eight serving with the colours in this war, the late esteemed Master, Capt. H. J. Sudell having died of wounds received in the Dardanelles on August 27th 1915, and the equally respected treasurer, Pte. G. H. Orford, from wounds received in France, June 24th, 1916.

Early the following year, Leonard Hicks’s death was also announced at a meeting of his district bellringing society, the North and East District of the Middlesex County Association [7]. Other district deaths announced at that meeting were those of Lieutenant C. J. W. Alderton (St James’, Clerkenwell), and Mr W. Childs (Barnet).

Incidentally, Second Lieutenant Charles John Woodward Alderton was also a casualty of the Battle of Cambrai. He served with the 1/7th Gordon Highlanders in 153rd Infantry Brigade, part of 51st (Highland) Division. Alderton died on the 20 November 1917 – the opening day of the battle – while attached to the 1/5th Gordons. He is buried in Metz-en-Couture Communal Cemetery Extension, although his battlefield cross is now in St Martin’s Church, Epsom. His name is also listed on the war memorial in St James’ Church, Clerkenwell [8].


Tank Corps badge, Church of St Mary Aldermary (City of London)

Tank Corps badge, Church of St Mary Aldermary (City of London)

“F” Battalion, Tank Corps

It is not clear how long Corporal Hicks had been serving with the Tank Corps. All we know is that when he died he was serving with the 18th Tank Company, which together with the 16th and 17th Companies made up “F” Battalion (from 1918, the 6th Battalion). According to its war diary [5], the battalion had left Bovington Camp (Dorset) in May 1917, travelling to France via Southampton and Le Havre. The battalion were at first based at Auchy-lès-Hesdin (Pas-de-Calais), although time was also spent training at Wailly.

In July 1917, “F” Battalion moved to the Ypres Salient, where the Tank Corps headquarters were based at La Lovie Camp and the tanks around Oosthoek Wood, near Elverdinghe [9]. The 16th and 17th Companies moved up to the front and took part in the first action of the 3rd Battle of Ypres (the Battle of Pilckem Ridge) on the 31 July, fighting in the area north east of Ypres near St Jean and Oxford Road. On the 22 August, the 18th Company took part in an action near St Julien (Gallipoli Farm), where one of the Company’s tanks — Mark IV F41 “Fray Bentos,” commanded by 2nd Lt. G. Hill — famously remained in action for several days ditched in no mans’ land, until finally abandoned on the night of the 24th. The Salient did not provide particularly suitable ground for tanks, and the bad weather made things much worse. On the 27 August, the battalion war diary recorded: “Arrangements had previously been made for the tanks to cooperate with the 61st Divn. in an attack on this date but, owing to the state of the weather, the attack was not carried out by the tanks as the ground was impassable even for the infantry” [5]. For tanks, the 3rd Battle of Ypres became infamous for the extent of its “tank graveyards,” especially in the areas around the Menin Road (Hooge), Frezenberg, St Julien, and Poelcapelle [10].

In mid-September, “F” Battalion moved from La Lovie to Blairville Camp, where they spent over a month in further training, e.g. exploring how tanks could tackle substantial obstacles like railway embankments. In late October, the battalion moved back to Auchy, and underwent even more training. Then, on the 11 November, the battalion war diary indicated that a new operation was in the offing [5]:

Preliminary instructions were received of an intended attack to take place shortly in which this battalion will operate with the 12th Division, and will probably move to the Forward Area on the 14th inst.

As expected, the main move commenced on the 14th November [5]:

16 and 17 Coys moved off to Central Workshops, as also the six spare tanks. All tanks were entrained without difficulty except for two tanks of 17 Coy which broke down, necessitating two new tanks being drawn to replace them, and also a broken track which delayed 16 Coy’s entrainment.
All trains arrived at PLATEAU STATION.

Without Corporal Hicks and Gunner Hall, “F” Battalion would go on to take part in the opening phase of the Battle of Cambrai on 20 November 1917, with the 18th Company supporting 36th Infantry Brigade (part of 12th Division) in the area around La Vacquerie and Bonavis Farm. The 12th Division reached its objectives by midday,  and then began to deploy its brigades to protect the southern flank of III Corps. In this sector — as in others — many tanks were either knocked out or ditched,  but sufficient remained to  move forward in the afternoon to the St Quentin Canal. While trying to cross the canal, a male “F” Battalion tank, F22 “Flying Fox II,” managed to demolish the canal bridge at Masnières [11].

The Battle of Cambrai would eventually lead to disappointment and recrimination. The Germans counter-attacked on the 30 November and by the 7 December had reclaimed much of the ground that had been captured with much fanfare on the 20th November and the days following.

Update, November 14, 2017:

Following the first publication of this blog, David Underdown put me in touch on Twitter with Stephen Pope, the author of: The first tank crews: the lives of the tankmen who fought at the Battle of Flers Courcelette, 15 September 1916 (Helion, 2016). He was able to add that Hicks’s medal index card shows that he served with the 7th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment in France from 30 May 1915, and that his Tank Corps service number indicates that he joined the tanks in early 1917. My sincere thanks to them both.


[1] Brigadier-General Hugh Elles, Special Order No 6, 19 November 1917:

[2] The Story of St Matthew’s Church, Upper Clapton:

[3] Felstead peals database:

[4] Ringing World, 23 January 1914, p. 65.

[5] WO 95/107/3, 6th Battalion, Tank Corps: 6 Battalion, Tank Corps War Diary, May 1917 – March 1919, The National Archives, Kew.

[6] Ringing World, 7 December 1917, p. 389.

[7] Ringing World, 8 February 1918, p. 43.

[8] Epsom and Elwell War Memorials:

[9] Robert Baccarne, Poelcapelle 1917: a trail of wrecked tanks; English language version of: Poelcapelle 1917: een spoor van tankwrakken (Langemark-Poelkapelle: Robert Baccarne, 2007).

[10] Ibid.

[11] Jack Horsfall and Nigel Cave, Cambrai: the right hook (Barnsley: Leo Cooper, 1999), p. 48.


Posted by: michaeldaybath | November 6, 2017

Sergeant Tom Meacock, 2/13th London Regiment

Meacock family grave, Margavine Cemetery, Hammersmith (London)

Meacock family grave, Margavine Cemetery, Hammersmith (London)

In August last year, I wrote a short piece on 614 Lance Corporal Frederick Fisher Meacock of the 16th Battalion, Australian Infantry, who was killed-in-action at Pozières on the 6th August 1916. Fred Meacock is now buried in Serre Road Cemetery No. 2 on the Somme, but his name is also recorded on a gravestone in the Margravine Cemetery, Hammersmith that I pass regularly when I am in London.

As I noted in that piece, Fred’s older brother Tom also died in the war. The left hand side of the family grave marker at Hammersmith records the death of Thomas Henry Meacock in Palestine on the 6th November 1917:


Last year I traced some information about the Meacock family of Hammersmith from census records. In 1891, Thomas Durran Meacock and his wife Ellen Sarah were living at King Street West, Hammersmith, where Thomas was working as a butcher. That census return shows that Thomas and Ellen had two young sons, named William and Thomas (also living with them at that time were three workers associated with the butcher’s shop as well as a domestic servant/cook). The grave marker records that Thomas Durran Meacock died in 1895 at the age of 34, so he does not feature in the census of 1901. By then, his widow, now aged 38, was still living at 65, King Street West, but there were now three sons, with the addition of the young Fred. The eldest son, William, was by then working as a junior clerk. By April 1911, the family had moved to 77 Harbord Street, Fulham, and appear to no longer own the butchers shop. By that time, William George Meacock and Thomas Henry Meacock were both working as municipal officials. The youngest son, the 19-year old Frederick Fisher Meacock, is described as a “fitter, engineer,” but he must have emigrated to Western Australia shortly afterwards. Ellen Sarah Meacock died in 1943, aged 80.

490553 Sergeant Thomas Henry (Tom) Meacock died in Palestine, aged 32, while serving with the 2nd/13th Battalion, London Regiment, the Kensingtons. His entry in the CWGC database reveals that he was married to Elizabeth A. Meacock of “Lynfield,” Cowper Road, Deal, in Kent [1].

Kensington War Memorial, Kensington High Street (London)

Kensington War Memorial, Kensington High Street (London)

The 2nd/13th Battalion, London Regiment

The 13th London Regiment (Princess Louise’s Kensington Regiment) was a Territorial Force unit. As part of the 60th (2/2nd London) Division, its 2nd line battalion served in both France and Salonika, before joining the Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) in the summer of 1917.

After the end of the Sinai Campaign in late 1916, the EEF began to push into Ottoman territory in Palestine. After the failure of two attempts to capture Gaza in March and April 1917, a new force commander arrived in June. This was General Sir Edmund Allenby, who had most recently been the commander of the British Third Army on the Western Front.

After several months of preparation, the offensive resumed in late October with an attack on Beersheba. The city was captured on the 31st October and the Ottoman forces withdrew into the Judean Hills. Over the following days, the EEF began to press the Ottoman lines at various points, including at Tel el Khuweilfe, Hareira and Sheria, and Gaza itself.

Kensington War Memorial, Kensington High Street (London)

Kensington War Memorial, Kensington High Street (London)

In the centre, the Battle of Hareira and Sheria began on the 6th November. The 60th (London) Division, supported by the 10th (Irish) Division, the 74th (Yeomanry) Division, and the Australian Mounted Division, attacked Ottoman defensive lines at Kauwukah and Rushdi. In this attack, the 2/13th Battalion of the London Regiment were responsible for what their regimental history described as a “textbook” attack on defences at Kauwukah [2]:

The colonel’s whistle was in his mouth; the shrill blast was followed by his ‘Kensingtons — Advance!’ and with his walking stick waving high in the air, he was up the bank in front, leading the Battalion forward. As one man the lines of Kensingtons were up and over too; and so were the Westminsters on their left, and the Civil Service [Rifles] in the rear, until the whole plain was suddenly alive with trim-looking lines of khaki figures, moving forward with the precision of the parade-ground. It was a never-to-be-forgotten sight, and, apart from the columns of smoke caused by the bursting shells (the Turkish artillery was now in final, frantic activity) and the spurts of dust kicked up by the bullets, might easily have been taking place on Salisbury Plain. As they went over, a rousing cheer broke out all along the ranks, but soon every man was saving his breath for the grim business of reaching that line of trenches in front. It seemed a long way off.

Immediately in front and running parallel with the trenches was a cutting carrying the narrow gauge supply railway, which was an unsuspected obstacle. A machine gun post here maintained a murderous fire across the Kensingtons’ line of advance and for some moments checked progress, but when it became evident that nothing could stop them being overwhelmed by that line of bayonets, the machine gunners waved the white handkerchief and surrendered. Over the cutting and on again, the first wave was then held up by wire, which was incompletely cut by the artillery. From a view earlier on it had seemed to the advancing troops that nothing  could have survived our artillery preparation, at least in the matter of wire, but here was unfortunate proof that much of it was little damaged. Hand cutters were quickly in action, and but a few moments sufficed to clear several gaps, but slight as was the check, it resulted in many casualties. Very few yards now separated the first and second waves from the Turkish fire trench, in which two machine guns were in action at almost point blank range. The crew of one of these were guilty of a despicable action for which they paid the just penalty. They waved a white rag, and on being approached by a group of Kensingtons treacherously opened fire again causing several casualties before they were shot down.

The Turks obviously pinned their faith to their wire and machine guns, and when both these failed, put up very little fight against cold steel.

The 2/13th Battalion of the London Regiment lost 98 killed and wounded on the 6th November. The body of Sergeant Tom Meacock is buried in Beersheba War Cemetery (N. 50.). The names of both Tom and his brother Fred also feature on the war memorial in St. Paul’s Church, Hammersmith.

In the following months, victories at the Battles of Mughar Ridge and Jerusalem led to the capture and occupation of the cities of Jaffa and Jerusalem. On the 11th December 1917, General Allenby entered the city of Jerusalem on foot via the Jaffa Gate, in what has been described as “a carefully prepared display of British power” [3].


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission, Sergeant T. H. Meacock:,-/

[2] O. F. Bailey and H. M. Hollier, “The Kensingtons”: 13th London Regiment (Naval & Military Press reprint, 2002), p 294-295.

[3] John D. Grainger, The Battle for Palestine, 1917 (Woodbridge: Boydell Press, 2006), p. 215.



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