Posted by: michaeldaybath | June 8, 2017

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

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

The Bath and Wells Diocesan Association War Memorial in Bath Abbey

The Bath and Wells Diocesan Association War Memorial in Bath Abbey

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

Bath Chronicle, 14 July 1917

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

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

Widcombe War Memorial, Bath

Detail from the Widcombe War Memorial, Bath

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

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

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

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

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

War Memorial in St Mary's, Bathwick

War Memoral in St Mary’s Church, Bathwick

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

War Memorial in Christ Church, Swindon

Detail from the War Memorial in Christ Church, Swindon

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

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

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

Cratered ground atHill 60, near Ieper (2007)

Cratered ground at Hill 60, near Ieper (2007)

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ieper

The Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ieper

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

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

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

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

City of Bath War Memorial

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trench Map of Arras (1917)

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

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

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

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

List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676-1900

List of Catalogues of English Book Sales, 1676-1900

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

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

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

Burnett’s Early life and career

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

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

Burnett’s Service Career

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Aftermath: Certifying Captain Burnett’s death

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

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

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

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

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

Followed by:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Arras Memorial to the Missing: East Lancashire Regiment panel

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

A man of contradictions

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

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

The British Librarians' war memorial (detail)

The British Librarians’ war memorial (detail)


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading:

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sway war memorial

Sway war memorial (Hampshire)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sway War Memorial (Hampshire)

Panel of the Sway War Memorial (Hampshire)

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Midsomer Norton Church

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

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

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

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

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

The war diary continues:

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

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

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

Midsomer Norton war memorial

Midsomer Norton War Memorial

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

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

Posted by: michaeldaybath | April 17, 2017

Wessex bellringers at the Battle of Arras

Arras Memorial: DCLI panel

Arras Memorial: Part of DCLI panel

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

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

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

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

Church of St Andrew, Preston (Dorset)

Church of St Andrew, Preston (Dorset)

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

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

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

And [3]:

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

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

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

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

17th April

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

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

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

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

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

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

Preston War Memorial (Dorset)

Preston War Memorial (Dorset)

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

Private Edgar Tom Pulman, 1st Battalion, Middlesex Regiment

Church of St Michael, East Coker (Somerset)

Church of St Michael, East Coker (Somerset)

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

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

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

East Coker War Memorial (Somerset)

East Coker War Memorial (Somerset)

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

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


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

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

[3] Ibid., p. 158.

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

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

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

Posted by: michaeldaybath | April 9, 2017

2nd Lieutenant Philip Edward Thomas, Royal Garrison Artillery

Agny Military Cemetery, Pas-de-Calais, France

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

Edward Thomas, 1878 -1917

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And later on the same day:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Edward and Helen Thomas memorial window, Eastbury, Berkshire

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

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

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


What else is there to say?


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

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

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

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

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

[6] Ibid., p. 257.

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

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

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

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

Further reading:

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


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

Image of ‘Adelstrop’ available at:

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

Printed books:

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

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

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

The National Library of Wales:

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



Posted by: michaeldaybath | April 3, 2017

Private Ivan Day, 94th Battalion, Training Reserve

Church of St Gregory, Weare (Somerset)

Church of St Gregory, Weare (Somerset)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

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



Posted by: michaeldaybath | February 22, 2017

Captain Aubrey Reilly, 69th Punjabis

In the north transept of Bath Abbey is a tablet memorial to Captain Aubrey S. T. Reilly of the 69th Punjabis, who died at Sannaiyat in Mesopotamia on the 22nd February 1917, while attached to the 92nd Punjabis. At the end of 1916, the 92nd Punjabis were part of 19th Brigade in the Indian 7th Meerut Division. The 7th Division was in turn part of General Frederick Stanley Maude’s Tigris Force in Mesopotamia, in current day Iraq.


Memorial for Captain Aubrey Reilly, Bath Abbey (Somerset)

Sannaiyat was a Turkish defensive position on the River Tigris east of Kut Al Amara. It has been described by one military historian as the one strong position between Baghdad and Basra: “so long as it was held there could be no breakthrough to the capital” [1]. The position had already been fought over as part of unsuccessful attempts to relieve the siege of Kut in April 1916, but by February 1917 Sannaiyat stood in the way of General Maude’s advance on Baghdad. The general’s despatch issued after the campaign noted that [2]:

The successive lines at Sannaiyat, which had been consistently strengthened for nearly a year, barred the way on a narrow front to an advance on our part along the left bank, whilst north of Sannaiyat the Suwaikieh Marsh and the Marsh of Jessan rendered the Turks immune from attack from the north. On the other hand we had, by the application of constant pressure to the vicinity of Shumran, where the enemy’s battle line and communications met, compelled him so to weaken and expand his front that his attenuated forces were found to present vulnerable points if these could be ascertained. The moment then seemed ripe to cross the river and commence conclusions with the enemy on the left bank. To effect this it was important that his attention should be engaged about Sannaiyat and along the river line between Sannaiyat and Kut, whilst the main stroke was being prepared and delivered as far west as possible.

The plan, therefore, was for operations at Sannaiyat to draw attention away from an attempted crossing of the Tigris at the Shumran Bend. Sannaiyat was attacked on the 17th February, but heavy rain then intervened and delayed operations for a little while. The attack resumed on the 22nd February, when 19th Brigade of 7th Division (including the 92nd Punjabis) took a leading position in the attack [3].

The plan was for the 19th Brigade to take the first two lines. As soon as they were consolidated the 28th Brigade was to come up level with them while the 21st Brigade came up from reserve to our old front line.

The attack on Sannaiyat was planned for 0600 hours, but was later postponed to 1000. The assault battalions from the 19th Brigade were the 92nd Punjabis and the brigade’s British unit, the 1st Battalion, Seaforth Highlanders.  The outcome was described in General Maude’s despatch, which paid due tribute to the role of the Seaforths [4]:

On the 22nd the Seaforths and a Punjabi battalion [the 92nd Punjabis] assaulted Sannaiyat, with the same objective as on the 17th. The enemy were again taken by surprise, and our losses were slight. A series of counter-attacks followed, and the first three were repulsed without difficulty. The fourth drove back our left, but the Punjabis, reinforced by an Indian Rifle battalion [the 125th Rifles] and assisted by the fire of the Seaforths, who were still holding the Turkish trenches on the right front, re-established their position. Two more counter-attacks which followed were defeated. As soon as the captured position had been consolidated two frontier force regiments assaulted the trenches still held by the enemy in prolongation of and to the north of those already occupied by us. A counter-attack forced our right back temporarily, but the situation was restored by the arrival of reinforcements, and by nightfall we were in secure occupation of the first two lines of Sannaiyat. The brilliant tenacity of the Seaforths throughout this day deserves special mention.

While the Sannaiyat operations continued, feint attacks at Magasis and Kut over the night of the 22nd/23rd February, preceded the main crossing of the Tigris at Shumran on the 23rd. Kut fell shortly afterwards, and the Tigris Force continued to advance up the river, capturing Baghdad on the 11th March 1917.

On Sannaiyat, Maude’s despatch commented [5]:

The capture of the Sannaiyat position, which the Turks believed to be impregnable, had only been accomplished after a fierce struggle, in which our infantry, closely supported by our artillery, displayed great gallantry and endurance against a brave and determined enemy. The latter had again suffered severely. Many trenches were choked with corpses, and the open ground where counter-attacks had taken place was strewn with them.


16. Shaikh Saad and Kut-Al-Amara, Situation 5 a.m. 23rd February 1917; Source: Critical Study of the Campaign in Mesopotamia up to April 1917: Part II – Maps; British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MIL/17/15/72/2, f 3, in Qatar Digital Library: [accessed 21 February 2017]; reused under the Open Government Licence

Aubrey Spranger Townsend Reilly was the son of Major James Myles Townsend Reilly, J.P. and Frances Isabella Reilly (née Spranger). Major Reilly was a retired army officer, but he was also a magistrate and a long-serving member of Bath City Council [6]. During the war, he also acted as Chief Recruiting Officer in the City of Bath. At the time of the 1911 Census, the family were living at 18, Royal Crescent, Bath – although there is by then no trace of Aubrey, who would have already have been serving with his regiment. Captain Reilly had an older brother, Staff-Captain (later Major) Myles J. T. Reilly, M.C., who had been twice injured at Gallipoli when serving with the 1st Battalion, Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers. He had been awarded the Military Cross for successfully taking his battalion out of action when all of the senior officers had been either killed or wounded [7]. After recovering from his injuries, Myles Reilly became a staff captain, serving with the 228th Brigade in Salonika. After the war he served again with the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers before being appointed Commandant of the Straits Settlements Volunteer Force in 1931 and then Senior Inspector of Air Raid Precautions for the Ulster Ministry of Home Affairs in 1939 [8]. The 1911 Census return also shows that Captain Reilly had two sisters, named Dorothy and Kathleen.

A brief obituary of Aubrey Reilly appeared in the Bath Chronicle of the 10th March 1917, and this gives a brief overview of his education and military career [9]:

Major Reilly’s Younger Son
Major J. M. T. Reilly, J.P., of the Royal Crescent, Chief Recruiting Officer in Bath, has received a telegraphic intimation of the death in the Far East of his younger son, Captain Aubrey Reilly, of the 69th Punjabis, who was killed in action on February 22nd. The deceased officer, who came to Bath when nine years of age, was educated first at Cheltenham College, and he proceeded direct from there to Sandhurst in 1911. Passing exceptionally high there, he was given a commission in the Indian Army, and was for a year attached to the Connaught Rangers; then, in May, 1912, being appointed to the 69th Punjabis. He went from India to Mesopotamia in December, 1915, and had thus had about fifteen months’ service in the most eastern sphere of the war. He was only 23 years of age. Major Reilly’s elder son, Staff-Captain Myles Reilly, M.C., who was wounded at Gallipoli, is now in the Near East theatre of the war. Deep sympathy will be felt with Major and Mrs. Reilly in their sorrow.

Interestingly, Captain Reilly’s death was also reported in some Ulster newspapers, on the basis that he was a member of an old County Down family, the Reillys of Scarvagh [10].

A copy of Captain Reilly’s will (proved and registered in Bombay on 19th November 1917) and various papers related to probate are included in the India Office Records held by the British Library [11]. I don’t think that the papers are exceptionally revealing (they include a list of property – mostly boxes and packing cases, but which also include Reilly’s rifle and gun), but they do show that Captain Reilly left an estate of around 7,800/- Rupees and that his father, as next-of-kin, accepted responsibility for any outstanding claims against his son.

The memorial tablet in Bath Abbey was dedicated in 1919, as was reported in the Bath Chronicle of the 3rd May [12]:

A very handsome addition to the many mural memorial tablets in the Abbey Church was dedicated on Saturday afternoon by the Rector of Bath in the course of the four o’clock service. It is “in sacred and loving memory of Aubrey St. [sic] T. Reilly, Captain, 69th Punjabis, attached 92nd Punjabis, youngest son of Major J. M. T. Reilly, of this city, who fell on February 22nd, 1917, at Sunniyat, Mesopotamia, while gallantly leading his company, and was buried the following day in the trench cemetery, Sunniyat, aged 23 years.” The tablet occupies a very prominent position in the north aisle, a little below and to the west of the base of the organ loft. It was designed by Sir Thomas Jackson, the Abbey architect, and executed by Messrs. Farmer and Brindley, of Westminster Bridge Road [in Lambeth],  who were responsible for the organ loft carving. The memorial is of white marble, with black sunk lettering, on a base of verd Antico [i.e., verd antique or verde antico], which is beautifully veined. It is surmounted by a beautifully carved design comprising a cross, a sword, rifle, and flag, a laurel wreath, and the crest of deceased’s regiment; and appropriately placed are the text, “Greater love hath no man than this,” and the motto, “Faithful unto death.” It was arranged that the unveiling should take place on the eve of the day set apart for the memorial service for those who have fallen in the war. Among those attending the service were Major Reilly (who was on Friday made a churchwarden of the Abbey), Mrs. Reilly, and the Misses Reilly. Captain Myles Reilly (brother of Captain Aubrey Reilly), who is in Constantinople, was unable to be present owing to his inability to obtain leave. Mr. E. H. Vokes (Rector’s Warden) and a number of sidesmen sat with the relatives near the tablet.

Major J. M. T. Reilly died in September 1936 at the age of 81. His Bath Chronicle obituary noted that he had been in failing health for some time [13]. It also provided background and hinted at some of his personal qualities:

Major James Myles Townsend Reilly, J.P., D.L., O.B.E., of 18, Royal Crescent, Bath, had a much larger niche in the public life of the city than would be imagined from his quiet, almost retiring disposition. On his retirement from the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers he lived in Ireland (where the family estate is at Scarvagh, County Down); in Sussex and near Devizes [Market Lavington] before coming to reside in the city 32 years ago, and it was not long before his sterling, albeit unobtrusive, qualities were recognised.

He was soon prevailed upon to accept an increasingly large share of public service. In every department, he worked with a thoroughness that was exemplary, and by his personal qualities made a host of friends, but never an enemy.

Major Reilly had joined Bath City Council in 1905 and became an Alderman in 1919; he later served as Deputy Lieutenant for the County of Somerset. At Bath Abbey, he became People’s Warden in 1919, a position that he held until his death. The obituary noted that, “never a day passed on which he failed to visit the church, and never was there an occasion of importance which failed to find him in his wonted place.”


[1] A. J. Barker, The First Iraq War, 1914-18: Britain’s Mesopotamian Campaign (Enigma Books, 2009),p. 279.

[2] Despatch from Lt. General Sir Stanley Maude on operations between September 1916 to the end of March 1917, section 22. Second Supplement to the London Gazette, No. 30176, 10 July 1917, pp. 6937–6950:

[3] Staff College Quetta, Critical Study of the Campaign in Mesopotamia up to April 1917: Part I – Report (Calcutta: Government of India Press, 1925), p. 288. Ref: British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers: IOR/L/MIL/17/15/72/1, in Qatar Digital Library:

[4] Despatch from Lt. General Sir Stanley Maude, section 23.

[5] Ibid., section 27.

[6] Bath Chronicle, 5 September 1936, via British Newspaper Archive.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Bath Chronicle, 28 January 1939, via British Newspaper Archive.

[9] Bath Chronicle, 10 March 1917, via British Newspaper Archive.

[10] Belfast News-Letter, 8 March 1917, via British Newspaper Archive.

[11] British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers: IOR/L/AG/34/40/83 Military Estate Papers – Bengal & All India 1895-1937;  IOR/L/AG/34/29/370 Bombay wills and administrations 1783-1937; IOR/L/AG/27/417 Inventories and accounts of deceased estates – Bombay 1798-1937; all available via Findmypast.

[12] Bath Chronicle, 3 May 1919, via British Newspaper Archive.

[13] Bath Chronicle, 5 September 1936, via British Newspaper Archive.

Image Credits:


Map citation: ‘16. Shaikh Saad and Kut-Al-Amara. Situation 5 a.m. 23rd February 1917’ [‎3r] (1/2), British Library: India Office Records and Private Papers, IOR/L/MIL/17/15/72/2, f 3, in Qatar Digital Library [accessed 21 February 2017].

Open Government License:

Posted by: michaeldaybath | January 23, 2017

Private George Smith, 6th DCLI

Grave marker of Pte. G. Smith, DCLI, Arras

Grave marker of Pte. G. Smith, 6th DCLI, Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras (Pas-de-Calais)

The 23rd January 2017 is the 100th anniversary of the death of 27645 Private George Smith of the 6th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. George Smith was a bellringer at Broadwindsor in Dorset and a member of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers [1].

While I have not been able to discover a huge amount of detail, some elements of Private Smith’s life and death can be traced from public records and other sources. George Smith had been born in the 1st quarter of 1879 at Broadwindsor, near Beaminster in West Dorset; his parents were William and Mary Smith.

William Smith had been born at Broadwindsor in the 1st quarter of 1841. He appears, at the age of 2 months, in the 1841 Census, as the youngest of the seven children of Jonas and Mary Smith of Fore Street, Broadwindsor. Jonas was a shoemaker, who had been born at Corscombe (Dorset) in around 1799. From 1851 to 1861, William remained living with his parents at High Street, Broadwindsor, where Jonas is variously described as a master shoemaker or cordwainer. In 1851, William was still at school, but by 1861 he was himself described as a cordwainer, and shoemaking seems to have remained his trade to the end of his working life.

William married Mary Elliott at Broadwindsor on the 26th March 1867. They then feature in the 1871 Census, living in the High Street (although at a different address from William’s parents) and they already have three young children: Harriet, John, and Rhona. George first features in census records at the age of two in 1881, where he is one of four children, including John (who is by now an apprentice shoemaker), James and the nine-month old Mary. By 1891, George was 12-years old and working as a “baker’s boy.” He had even more siblings by then: John was still around (he is now described as a journeyman shoemaker), but there were also three younger daughters: Ada, Maud and Ethel. His mother Mary is now working again, as a sail cloth hand. In 1901, George was the only one of William and Mary’s children remaining at home; he is now described as a mason’s labourer (both Mary’s father and brother were masons, so it is possible that George was  working for his uncle, James Elliott). The three Smiths are still living together in 1911, although they had been re-joined by the 24-year old Ethel, now a cook domestic. By 1911, George was a 32-year old baker. His father William was 70-years old and apparently still working (her is described as a bootmaker); Mary was 65-years old. The 1911 Census return states that William and Mary Smith had had nine children, of which six were then still living.

William Smith died in the 2nd quarter of 1913, aged 72, and was buried at Broadwindsor on the 8th May 1913, where he is described as the church sexton. This is confirmed by a short obituary published in the Western Gazette [2]:

DEATH OF MR. WILLIAM SMITH. — Recently there passed away in this village Mr. William Smith, who for many years was caretaker, &c., at the Parish Church, another link with the past being thus severed. The deceased, who was 72 years of age, commenced his duties here in Dr. Malan’s time. He leaves a widow and a grown-up family, with whom much sympathy has been expressed.

César Jean Salomon Malan had held the living of Broadwindsor from 1845 to 1886 [3]. William’s long stint as church sexton was most likely the reason why his son George became a bellringer. Mary Smith died in 1927, aged 82, and was buried at Broadwindsor on the 21 September that year.

The Church of St John the Baptist in Broadwindsor has a peal of six bells. Three of the bells date from the fifteenth century, although the 14 cwt tenor was recast by Mears and Stainbank in 1897, when the bells were rehung in an iron cage [4]. A progress report on change ringing in West Dorset published in 1911 shows that several towers – Litton Cheney, Netherbury, Rampisham, Broadwindsor, Shipton Gorge, Lyme Regis, and Whitchurch Canonicorum – had only very recently become affiliated to the West Dorset branch of the Salisbury Diocesan Guild of Ringers, suggesting that change ringing had not been long-established there [5]. The report, however, added that there were ringers at Beaminster, Bradpole, Bridport, Broadwindsor, Lyme, Netherbury, and Whitchurch who had some knowledge of change ringing. At the end of 1916, Private Smith’s name appeared in a 1916 list of West Dorset branch members that were serving in the armed forces [6]. George Smith was one of five from Broadwindsor:

Broadwindsor.– J. Bartlett, H. Case, G. Smith, R. Tuck, W. Tuck.


War Memorial in Broadwindsor Church (Dorset)

It has not been possible to find out that much about George’s service career. The Soldiers Died in the Great War database states that Private Smith had enlisted at Dorchester; it also notes that he had served with the  Somerset Light Infantry (Service No. 23186) before transferring to the 6th Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry. The battalion were based in the Arras sector of the Western Front in January 1917. The battalion war diary states that on the 22nd and 23rd January 1917, the 6th DCLI were based at the Cavalry Barracks at Arras, where they were involved in carrying and working parties and in company training. On the 22nd, half of the battalion had managed to bathe and to get a change of underclothing. On the 23rd January, however, two casualties were reported [7]:

CASUALTIES One killed and one wounded Other Ranks “D” Coy. caused by a German Shell bursting near the squad while they were training under the trees near the Riding School.

The person killed by this shell is most likely to be Private George Smith (the only other member of the 6th DCLI that died that day was a prisoner of war in Germany). He was 39 years old [8]. He is buried in the Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery at Arras (Pas de Calais, France). His name features on the war memorial in the Church of St John the Baptist, Broadwindsor.


[1] CCCBR Rolls of Honour:

[2] Western Gazette, 16 May 1913, p. 3, via British Newspaper Archive

[3] DNB:,_C%C3%A9sar_Jean_Salomon_(DNB01)

[4] Canon Raven, “The Church Bells of Dorset, “Proceedings of the Dorset Natural History and Antiquarian Field Club, Vol. XXV, 1904, pp. 33-128; here pp. 42-43.

[5] “Progress in West Dorset.” The Ringing World, 29 December 1911, p. 686.

[6] “West Dorset Branch’s Roll of Honour.” The Ringing World, 29 December 1916, p. 242.

[7] The National Archives, WO 95/1908/2

[8] CWGC database entry:

Thanks also to the Dorset OPC:



Posted by: michaeldaybath | January 19, 2017

The terrible explosion at Silvertown

When I started working in London a few years ago, I often stayed in a hotel in London’s Docklands, near London City Airport. The hotel was located in Silvertown, an industrial (and dockland) area on the north bank of the River Thames east of the River Lea. While industry still survives in Silvertown, not least in the form of two large Tate & Lyle sugar refineries, by the mid-2010s, the area was well on its way on being redeveloped into a glittering new residential district for London.

Brunner Mond war memorial, Silvertown

Brunner Mond Ltd. war memorial, North Woolwich Road, Silvertown, London E16 (2014)

The closest Docklands Light Railway (DLR) stop to the hotel was Pontoon Dock, on the line from Canning Town to King George V that opened in 2005 (and extended to Woolwich Arsenal in 2009). One morning, while exploring the area around Pontoon Dock station, I found a  war memorial and an associated information board. The memorial had four sides, two of which represented the war memorial for employees of the Brunner Mond chemical works. A third side contained the names of 16 employees killed in an explosion at the works in 1917. It read: “and to the memory of those who whilst serving their country by making T.N.T. perished in the explosion in these works, January 19th, 1917.” This was my first introduction to the Silvertown Explosion, an event that happened one-hundred years ago today.

I took a few photographs of the memorial at the time, but when I went back a few weeks later to take a few more in better light conditions, I found that the memorial had been enclosed in a wooden box, to prevent it getting damaged during the Royal Wharf redevelopment project (apparently, it has since been moved to a location much closer to the centre of that development).

The “Great Explosion”

The information board nearby contained more information about the Silvertown Explosion and its aftermath. In short, the War Office in 1915 decided to use spare capacity at Brunner Mond’s chemical works at Silvertown to purify TNT. The process adopted was acknowledged to be very unstable. On the 19th January 1917, a fire broke out in the melt room, resulting at 6:52 pm in a massive explosion that destroyed the works and a very wide area beyond it, which included many houses. The explosion was so large that it was felt and seen from much of central London. An early newspaper report (in this case from the Western Daily Press (Bristol) the following Monday) commenced [1]:

The catastrophic explosion which occurred in the East End of London at a quarter to seven on Friday night, and which was officially announced in a few bare lines by the Press Bureau at 11.40, is now known to be, beyond doubt, one of the most terrible happenings of its kind which has ever shaken the Metropolis. The word “shaken” may be taken in its most literal sense, for the whole of the vast city, with its outlying suburbs, and even the small towns and villages beyond its farthest confines, felt with consternation the force of the terrific impact which occurred. Immediately the echoes of the ear-splitting noise had died away, while yet an angry scarlet glaze filled the whole of the eastern sky, the wildest rumours took being, and spread far and wide. These were current and even increased for a while, then, slowly, some filtering of the facts became known, and these were found to be almost as dreadful and harrowing as the worst surmises, save only that the fear of enemy machinations was unfounded.

Newspaper reports also included numerous accounts from eyewitnesses, some of which still make for gruesome reading. Even from slightly further away, the effects of the explosion were profound. The Western Daily Press report cited above also included a quote from a railway worker from the Great Eastern Railway:

I was working on the line about a mile and a half away. There was a great flare in the sky — followed by a terrible explosion — and a huge flash of flame. The ground underneath me seemed to heave. It was a terrible experience. I felt as if I had been suddenly paralysed.

The scale of casualties was horrendous, even though the timing of the explosion (early evening on a Friday) probably saved many others from being killed. Sixty-nine people died on the scene; four died later in hospital from injuries suffered. Hundreds of others were injured, some seriously.

The Committee of Inquiry

Inevitably, there was a committee of inquiry, which reported remarkably quickly – although the full contents were not made publicly available for many years. A summary was published in the Newcastle Daily Journal in March 1917 [2]:


The following report on the explosion in East London has been received from the Home Secretary:–
The committee appointed by the Home Secretary to inquire into the cause of the explosion which occurred in East London on Friday, 19th January, have presented their report, dated 23rd February.
The report deals with many matters connected with the manufacture of explosives, and it could not be published without giving information which would be of use to our enemies. The following is a summary of the conclusions at which the committee have arrived, after careful consideration of the evidence before them:–
(1). The explosion was preceded by a fire which broke out either in the melt pot or in a corrugated iron structure at the top of the building immediately above the melt pot.
(2). The fire rapidly gained a fierce hold, and, as the melt pot contained a large quantity of explosive material in a state of confinement, it is probable that the initial detonation took place there.
(3.) The evidence available is not sufficient to determine with certainty how the fire was started, but all accidental causes presenting any degree of probability may be eliminated except the two following:–
(a) A detonation spark produced by friction or impact.
(b) Spontaneous ignition due to decomposition of the material in or about the meltpit.
(4.) The possibility of disaster having been maliciously caused cannot be disregarded, but searching investigation by the police and other authorities failed to discover any evidence which would warrant such a conclusion, and no suspicion fell upon any employe [sic] or other person.
The Committee made various recommendations with regard to precautions to be adopted in the manufacture and storing of the explosive in question, and these recommendations have been communicated to the Departments concerned, and are being acted upon.
In view of exaggerated rumours which had been current as to the number of deaths which had been caused, the Committee took particular care to obtain correct record of all casualties. They were as follow [sic]:– 69 persons were killed on the spot; 98 were seriously injured, of whom four have since died in hospital; and 328 were slightly injured.
In addition, the Committee were informed by the police that some five or six hundred persons who received cuts and bruises were treated in the streets or by private practitioners.
Of the ten men belonging to the shift at work in the building nine were killed and one escaped, but of the ten women at work only one lost her life.
In the course of the committee’s inquiry their attention was called to the gallant conduct of Mr. Angel, chemist in charge of the works; Mr Geo. Wenborne, the leading male hand on the shift, and Police Constable Edward George Brown Greenoff, who was on beat duty outside the works. These three men bravely remained at their posts when they could have escaped, and lost their lives in their endeavour to save the lives of others by warning them of the danger of an explosion.
The Home Secretary is glad to announce that His Majesty the King has been pleased to confer the Edward Medal of the First Class upon Mr Angel and Mr Wenborne, and the King’s Police Medal upon Police Constable Greenoff.

Andrea Angel: the “Hero of the Great Explosion”

Of the two Brunner Mond employees posthumously awarded the Edward Medal (First Class), Andrea Angel was the plant’s chief chemist, but he had formerly been a lecturer in chemistry at the University of Oxford [3, 4]. Newspaper reports often referred to him as the “Hero of the Great Explosion.” Shortly after the explosion, the Daily Mirror provided a rather sensationalised overview of Angel’s life and death [5]:

Widow Tells of Her Husband’s Noble End.


Another name has been added to the long roll of England’s heroes.
It is that of Andrea Angel (not doctor, as reported), the brave chemist, who whilst advising the operatives to seek safety stayed heroically at his post.
Mrs. Angel, the widow of the dead hero, who has herself been working since Christmas as lady superintendent at the factory where the explosion occurred, gave some details to The Daily Mirror yesterday.
“I was at home at about seven o’clock at night, that, accompanied by my sister, Miss Peggy Stock, I arrived at the scene of the explosion.
“I cannot tell you what I saw. It was indescribable. Everything was blazing.


“When I got there I could not find a single soul that I knew.
“I ran round to the hospitals in the hope of hearing some news of my husband. I did not know whether he were dead or alive. Nothing could be found of him.”
At this point two bright-faced children with sparkling eyes and long, carefully-brushed hair, entered the room. They were Marion Muriel, aged nine, and Heather Grace, aged seven, the two daughters of Mrs. Angel.
“They are proud of what their father has done,” said their mother.
Asked for some details of the late Mr. Angel’s career, Mrs. Angel informed The Daily Mirror that he was born in January, 1877.
Son of Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Angel, of Glan-y-Mor, Penally, South Wales, he received his early education at Exeter School, where he obtained an Oxford scholarship.


Entering Christ Church College [sic], he took first-class honours in science. He became a Bachelor of Science, a science tutor, and Dickson research scholar.
Until the outbreak of the war he remained in Oxford. Then, after seeing his pupils through their finals, he placed his services at the disposal of his country.
“I have never known him think of himself,” she concluded.
That is the epitaph of a great-hearted gentleman whose memory Britain will revere as one of the heroes of the war.


Mr. Angel’s action (writes a Daily Mirror representative) was equivalent to any deed performed on the field of battle.
His first act when he heard of the fire was to dash to the workrooms and warn the hands
After warning the workers of their peril he rushed to the chemical operating room where the deadliest of high explosive chemicals are being constantly experimented with, and told his assistants there to fly at once for their lives.
Next Mr Angel sent his calls for help over the telephone wires.
His “S.O.S.” was not merely for the fire brigade’s assistance, but also for ambulances to be sent.
The possibility of escape was still open to him after all this, but the brave chemist saw another duty to perform.
He made his way to that part of the building where the flames were spreading fast, and it was while he was doing his utmost in helping to stay their progress that the explosion came, and with it the end.
Many lives were saved by his heroic sacrifice.

By a Former Pupil.

In this appalling explosion Oxford has lost one of her most able tutors.
Mr. Angel was for several years a lecturer in chemistry at Christchurch [sic] and Brasenose College, and was director of the Dr. Lees Laboratory at the former college.
Andrea Angel was a man of much personal charm, and as a tutor he was the essence of conscientious accuracy.
I was with him for three years, and in all that time I have never known him floored in any point, so extensive and minute was his chemical knowledge.
When war broke out and the need for chemists arose Mr. Angel — or “Little Angel,” as we used to call him affectionately — at once volunteered his services for the country.

P.C. Edward Greenoff

Greenoff memorial, Postman's Park, City of London

PC Greenoff memorial, Postman’s Park, City of London

Of the others that had been honoured posthumously, Police Constable Greenoff had helped to direct people away from the initial fire and had thereby undoubtedly saved many lives. Greenoff has a memorial in Postman’s Park in the City of London. Within the “Memorial to Heroic Self-Sacrifice” in the park are a set of ceramic tiles that commemorate Constable Greenoff, stating that, “many lives were saved by his devotion to duty at the terrible explosion at Silvertown, 19 Jan. 1917.”

Firefighter casualties

Firefighters' memorial, Silvertown

Firefighters’ memorial, North Woolwich Road, Silvertown, London E16

Back in Silvertown, there is yet another memorial related to the explosion on the other side of the North Woolwich Road. This is one of a group of three plaques near the current fire station. It reads: “Dedicated to the memory of the firemen and their families killed and injured in the Silvertown explosion 19th January 1917.” An engine from the local fire station had arrived at the Brunner Mond works just prior to the explosion. Two men, Sub Officer Henry Vickers and Fireman Frederick Sell, were killed fighting the fire, and four of their colleagues injured.

The Silvertown explosion was not the only munitions factory accident of the war. Indeed, some of the others had a much greater loss of life. However, it does beggar belief that nobody in authority questioned the wisdom of locating a TNT purification plant in a heavily-populated area like Silvertown.


[1] Western Daily Press, 22 January 1917, p. 5, via British Newspaper Archive

[2] Newcastle Daily Journal, 28 March 1917, via British Newspaper Archive

[3] Christ Church, Oxford, Fallen alumni: Andrea Angel:

[4] Royal Society of Chemistry, 175 Faces of Chemistry: Andrea Angel:

[5] Daily Mirror, 22 January 1917, p. 2, via British Newspaper Archive

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