Posted by: michaeldaybath | August 6, 2016

Lance Corporal Fred Meacock: Echoes of Pozières at Hammersmith

War memorials come in all shapes and sizes. In the absence of a legal definition (“public perception of what is, or is not, a war memorial often differs”), the War Memorials Trust has developed a pragmatic definition to help determine eligibility for funding purposes. One of the categories of memorial deemed ineligible for funding are those classed as ‘additions to gravestones,’ i.e. dedications “that have been added to other gravestones which commemorate a war casualty buried elsewhere” [1]. These types of memorial are extremely numerous and can be found in cemeteries and churchyards all over the UK. In fact, once you start looking for ‘additions to gravestone’ war memorials, you will soon realise that there are many thousands of this type of memorial, a large proportion of which are in extremely poor condition.

My regular walk to the nearest Underground station in London takes me through the Margravine Cemetery, sometimes also known as Hammersmith Old Cemetery. Close to the point where three major pathways interconnect is a simple pink granite grave marker with a stepped base. As with most other gravestones in the cemetery, the cross that the granite base once supported has at some point been removed and placed within the kerbstone framework of the grave itself.

Grave of Thomas Durran Meacock, Margravine Cemetery, Hammersmith

Meacock family grave, Margravine Cemetery, Hammersmith

There are several of these gravestones adjacent the path, but this particular one caught my eye because the front of the base mentioned the name of Pozières, a village in the Picardy region of France. On further investigation, this turned out to be a classic ‘addition to gravestone’ memorial. The grave itself was the resting place of Thomas Durran Meacock, a Hammersmith butcher that died in 1895 at the age of 34, and Ellen Sarah Meacock, his widow, who died in 1943, aged 80. In addition, the gravestone commemorates two of their sons that died in the First World War.

The inscription on the front of the gravestone reads:

IN
LOVING MEMORY OF
THOMAS DURRAN MEACOCK
DIED MAY 18 1895, AGED 34
“OUR LOSS IS HIS ETERNAL GAIN” [*]
ALSO FRED, YOUNGEST SON OF THE ABOVE,
(LATE AUSTRALIAN INFANTRY)
KILLED IN ACTION AT POZIERES, AUGUST 6, 1916
AGED 24.

Pozières was well-known to me as a place associated with the 1st Anzac Corps during the Battle of the Somme in 1916, so a link with the Australian Infantry was not a particular surprise. The battles around Pozières and the nearby Ferme de Mouquet lasted from July to September 1916, and, together with Fromelles, Pozières represented the Australian Imperial Force’s main introduction to fighting on the Western Front. Consequently, Pozières is now a key part of the Australian remembrance trail in France and Belgium [2]. Charles Bean, the author of the Australian official history (and an eyewitness), later commented that the site of the Pozières windmill was “a ridge more densely sown with Australian sacrifice than any other spot on earth” [3]. In 1935, he described the village as “Australia’s most sacred site” [4]. Progress in the Pozières sector of the line over the summer of 1916 was extremely slow, and the Battle of Pozières Ridge has recently been described as “a six-week effort to advance the line that ultimately gained very little”[5].

From the Hammersmith gravestone, we know that it was Thomas and Ellen’s youngest son, Fred, that died at Pozières on the 6th August 1916, aged 24. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission database contains a bit more information, adding his full name, rank, service number, and regiment: 614 Lance Corporal Frederick Fisher Meacock of the 16th Battalion, Australian Infantry [6]. It also records that he is buried in Serre Road Cemetery No. 2 (Grave Reference: X. H. 10.), which is on the other side of the Ancre valley from Pozières.

The National Archives of Australia have digitised many Australian service records from the First World War, so it was possible to find out a little bit more about Fred and his war service [7]. Fred’s attestation paper states that he had been working as a mill hand and labourer and that he joined the AIF on the 24th September 1914 at Helena Vale, Western Australia. Helena Valley is a settlement in the foothills of the Darling Range, not far now from the suburbs of Perth.

Fred embarked at Melbourne on the HMAT A.40 “Ceramic” on 22nd December 1914. He first saw action with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF) at Gallipoli. On the 2nd May 1915, he suffered a gunshot wound in the “lower extremities” which necessitated evacuation and eventual admission to 1st Southern General Hospital at Edgbaston, Birmingham. In October, Fred moved to Monte Video Camp, the Australian and New Zealand depot that had been established earlier in 1915 at Chickerell, near Weymouth. He returned to Egypt in January 1916 before travelling on to the Western Front via Alexandria and Marseilles in June. By that time, Fred had already been appointed Lance Corporal, on the 22th March 1916.

Landscape near Pozières (Somme)

Landscape near Pozières (Somme), 1st July 2016

The 16th Battalion, Australian Infantry were part of the 4th Australian Division. On the 6th August, the division were in the process of relieving the 2nd Australian Division, in preparation for fresh assaults towards Mouquet Farm on the 8th. Exactly where and how Fred died is unclear, although the Australian trenches – which were in reality often little more than shell holes – were under regular shellfire. Christopher Wray’s book on Pozières notes that the shelling got far worse overnight [8].

The 14th Battalion historian noted that men who experienced this bombardment ‘always recalled it as surpassing everything that they ever faced, both in fury and continuity’.

He also quotes a first-hand account by Corporal Charles Smith [9]:

Several men near me were killed by falling earth, and others killed outright … Our little stretch of trench was fast losing semblance to one, and it seemed we were completely at the mercy of German artillery … We tried to continue our task of digging during the infernal uproar, but to no effect. The trench was blown in faster than we could empty it.

Fred’s service records include a brief report of his death, derived from a Field Return completed on the 12th August by the 16th Battalion’s commanding officer. This gives us the basic information that he was killed-in-action “In the Field” on the 6th August. Perhaps significantly, information is not provided on where he might first have been buried.

Fred is now buried some distance from Pozières, in Serre Road Cemetery No. 2, near Beaumont Hamel. This is one of the largest CWGC cemeteries in the Somme area and is, to a large extent, made up of graves concentrated there after the war. Fred’s service records include a report from the Graves Registration Unit noting that his body had been exhumed from the vicinity of Pozières (57d.X.10.b.7.6). The Graves Registration Report Form on Serre Road Cemetery No. 2 made available by the CWGC shows that he was reburied next to a Private William Baldwin, also of the 16th (Baldwin’s service records confirm that his body had been exhumed from the same location as Fred). Other 16th Battalion casualties from the 6th and 7th August are either buried in Pozières Brtish Cemetery or commemorated on the vast Australian memorial at Villers-Bretonneux.

Fred had not actually been in Australia that long when he joined-up. It is possible to trace some information about the Meacock family from census records. In 1891, Thomas and Ellen Meacock were living at King Street West, Hammersmith, where Thomas was working as a butcher. The census return shows that Thomas and Ellen had two young sons, William and Thomas. Also, living with them at that time were three workers associated with the butcher’s shop as well as a domestic servant/cook. As we know from the gravestone, Thomas senior had died  by the time of the next census. In 1901, the widowed Ellen Sarah Meacock (by now aged 38)  was still living at 65, King Street West, but by now had three sons. Fred makes his first appearance, aged nine. The eldest son, William Meacock, was by then working as a junior clerk. Three servants or employees involved with the butcher’s shop were also still living with the family . By April 1911, the family had moved to 77 Harbord St, Fulham, and seem to no longer own the shop. By now, William George Meacock and Thomas Henry Meacock were both working as municipal officials. By contrast, the 19-year old Frederick Fisher Meacock is described as a “fitter, engineer.” He must have emigrated to Australia shortly afterwards.

Fred was not the only one of the children to die in the war. The left hand side of the grave marker records the death of Thomas in Palestine in November 1917:

ALSO OF
THOMAS MEACOCK
TOM
SERGEANT 13TH BATN.
KENSINGTON LONDON REGMT.
2ND SON OF THE LATE
T. D. MEACOCK
KILLED IN ACTION IN SYRIA NOV 6TH 1917
AGED 32
LOVED AND RESPECTED

As the inscription records,Tom was a Sergeant in the 13th London Regiment, the Kensingtons. His CWGC entry reveals that he belonged to the 2nd/13th Battalion, that his service number was 490553, and that he was married to Elizabeth A. Meacock, of “Lynfield,” Cowper Rd., Deal, Kent [10]. The 13th London Regiment (Princess Louise’s Kensington Regiment) was a Territorial Force unit, and the 2nd Battalion had served in both France and Salonika before joining the Egyptian Expeditionary Force in the summer of 1917.

On the 6th November 1917, the battalion was involved in what the regimental history describes as a “textbook” attack on Turkish positions at Kauwukah in Palestine, part of the wider Battle of Hareira and Sheria [11]:

“As one man the lines of Kensingtons were up and over too; and so were the Westminsters on their left, and the Civil Service [Rifles] in the rear, until the whole plain was suddenly alive with trim-looking lines of khaki figures, moving forward with the precision of the parade-ground. It was a never-to-be-forgotten sight, and, apart from the columns of smoke caused by the bursting shells … and the spurts of dust kicked up by the bullets, might easily have been taking place on Salisbury Plain.”

The battalion lost 98 killed and wounded that day, including Sergeant Tom Meacock. He died, aged 32, and was buried in Beersheba War Cemetery (N. 50.), his name also being added to the family gravestone at Hammersmith.

Both Tom and Fred’s names also feature on the war memorial in St. Paul’s Church, Hammersmith.

References

[1] War Memorials Trust, Definition of a war memorial for funding purposes: http://www.warmemorials.org/uploads/publications/53.pdf

[2] Peter Pedersen, Anzacs on the Western Front: the Australian War Memorial battlefield guide (Milton, Qld.: John Wiley, 2012), pp. 37-71; Australian Remembrance Trail: http://www.ww1westernfront.gov.au/

[3] C. E. W. Bean, Anzac to Amiens (Canberra: Australian War Memorial, 1983), p.264: https://www.awm.gov.au/collection/RCDIG1069871/

[4] C. E. W. Bean, cited in: Christopher Wray, Pozières: echoes of a distant battle (Melbourne: Cambridge University Press, 2015), p. 2.

[5] Meleah Hampton, “Hubert Gough, the Anzacs and the Somme: a descent into pointlessness,” British Journal for Military History, Volume 2, Issue 3, July 2016: http://www.bjmh.org.uk/index.php/bjmh/article/view/115

[6] CWGC, Frederick Fisher Meacock: http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/609398/

[7] National Archives of Australia: http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/search/index.aspx

[8] Wray, Pozières, p. 62.

[9] Charles Smith, cited in: Wray, Pozières, p. 62

[10] CWGC, T. H. Meacock: http://www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/644913/

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

Note

* The epitaph is taken from a poem by Ellen Robinson that was written on the death of the Rev. Thomas Spencer, a 21-year old Congregationalist Minister who drowned at Liverpool in August 1811.

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