A centenary trip—and rather a large coincidence

I’m writing this brief post onboard the Eurostar to Lille. Tomorrow I’ll be touring parts of the Somme battlefield for the first time. The primary reason for my trip is to visit the the grave of my great-great-uncle, Frederick John Holbrook, at Heilly Station Cemetery. That brings me to the coincidence. Earlier in the week a friend was making her own centenary trip, it was only when she posted photos on Facebook that we came to a surprising realisation, initially I just thought she’d remembered Fred’s name after I’d mentioned it in passing sometime, and had decided to take a photo for me. It soon became clear though that she was actually interested in the second (of three) name on the headstone, C A S Pratt was her great-grandfather. For a century our relatives have been lying in the same grave (Photo), while we’ve known each other nearly 20 years. It would now be interesting to make contact with relatives of the third man Harry Morland Atkinson (spelled Harry Mauland Atkinson in some sources).

The trip will be taking in a variety of other parts of the area, starting with Thiepval, and covering the area between Mametz and Bazentin-le-Petit woods where Fred was probably wounded, and the Welsh Memorial at Mametz too. I’ll pay my respects to a few of the Surrey (and other) ringers too on the way round. Hopefully I’ll be able to make more posts during the trip, time and web connection permitting. I may tweet a little too

A young man in a surplice and dark cassock. He is standing with his right hand resting on a small table. His left arm is bent, with a book in his left hand held against his chest. Behind his left arm is an ornate wooden chair

Frank Pickering (1894-15 July 1916†)

Frank Pickering  (see also his profile on Lives of the First World War) was born at Littleworth, Wing, near Leighton Buzzard, Buckinghamshire, in the latter part of 1894, the only child of Merrishaw (or Merryshaw) Pickering and Frances (nee Stockton).

His parents had married at St Barnabas, Sutton, on 9 September 1893. Exactly how they met is far from clear, they demonstrate that even in the 19th century working class people could be surprisingly mobile. Merrishaw was originally from Barnack, Northamptonshire (near Peterborough). In 1881 he was working as a groom nearby on the Burghley Estate, just outside Stamford. Frances had moved the short distance north from her birthplace at Alford, Lincolnshire to Louth and was working as a cook. By 1891, Merrishaw was working at Wheatley Hall, Doncaster, Yorskhire (still a groom). Frances’s brother, John George Stockton, was working as club steward at the Conservative Club in Doncaster, so perhaps it was in Doncaster that Merrishaw and Frances met? Frances herself has so far proved elusive in 1891.

Frances had been at her sister, Clara’s, wedding to George William Heather at St Luke’s, Chelsea on 31 August 1890, and she seems to have been living with them at Myrtle Road, Sutton, at the time of her marriage to Merrishaw. George and Clara were living in Myrtle Road at the 1891 Census, and the 1892 rate book for Sutton also puts them in Myrtle Road. Though born in Camden Town, George was resident in Sutton (Home Cottage, Lower Road), with his parents and siblings in 1881.

Merrishaw and Clara’s wedding register entry gives his residence as Wing, so he had evidently already moved down from Yorkshire by then. Alex Coles, who runs the Wing One-Place Study tells me that the Pickerings were tenants of the famous Rothschild family, who at this time owned Wing’s “big house”, Ascott, (now a National Trust property). It’s therefore likely that Merrishaw (now recorded as a stableman) was working for them. Merrishaw was 31, Frances 34. Frances has no occupation recorded. Her father was John Stockton (deceased), a stonemason. Merrishaw’s father is recorded as John Merrishaw (also deceased), as if Merrishaw was his surname, though the 1871 census records him as John Pickering.

Frank’s birth was registered in the 4th quarter of 1894 in the Leighton Buzzard registration district. By 1901 the family were in Littleworth, Wing. Merrishaw(38) is now recorded as a groom (not domestic). Frances was 40, and again no occupation is stated. Frank was 6.

At some point between then and 1911 Frank moved to his aunt and uncle in Sutton. He would presumably have been in school until he was 14 or so, which means the earliest he would have moved was perhaps 1908. The 1911 census records him with George William Heather (47) and his wife Clara (48 – Frank’s mother’s sister), and their two daughters (Frank’s cousins), Annie Dorothy (18) and May Letty Gladys (13). George is a lamp inspector for the gas company, Frank is a gas fitter, also for the gas company. Annie was working for the Post Office, May was still at school. They were living at the Old Gasworks Cottage, Wrythe Lane, Carshalton. The 1912 rate book suggests (significantly) that this was next to the inn called “The Cricketer’s” with it’s landlord, Frederick William Bird.

The baptismal registers held by Sutton Archives, and now available online via Ancestry, show that Annie was baptised at St Barnabas, Sutton on 16 April 1893. George was then recorded as a plumber. May followed, again at St Barnabas, on 13 June 1897. George was then a gas fitter. On both occasions they were living at 28 Myrtle Road. They were still there in 1901.

Frank did not join up immediately on the outbreak of war. His entry in the National Roll of the Great War (a subscription funded book, so the details were presumably entered by his parents) records that he joined up in November 1915, so he possibly joined up under the terms of the Derby Scheme. He seems to have only ever served with the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, with the regimental number C1600. He may have served initially with 19th (Reserve) Battalion, KRRC, which had been formed from the depot companies of the 16th (Service) Battalion (Church Lads’ Brigade) Battalion, KRRC. Frank was presumably posted overseas in the early part of 1916, where he joined 16th KRRC. It is not known whether Frank was ever actually a member of the Church Lads’ Brigade in either Wing or Carshalton. Clearly he was a ringer, and the photo of him in robes suggests he either sang in the choir, or was an altar server, so he was certainly closely connected with the church. 16th KRRC was also known as the Churchmen’s Battalion.

Frank fell during the battalion’s attack on High Wood. He was one of over 100 killed from the battalion that day, with many more missing or wounded. Soldier’s Died in the Great War records that he died of wounds, while the Soldiers’ Effects Registers simply say “death presumed” implying he had been recorded missing initially. Whichever, he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. The Church Lads’ and Church Girls’ Brigade has a fact file on the battalion (and High Wood). Andy Arnold also describes the action, mostly from the point of view of 1st Battalion, the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), maps in this post show the day’s events well.

Frank is also commemorated on the Wing War Memorial, the Carshalton War Memorial and the “Willie Bird Cross”, named after the son of the landlord of The Cricketers, who also died during the war. The cross bears the names of those from the Wrythe who went to the war. Although there’s no record yet been traced of Frank’s ringing before the war, he was named at the National Memorial Service at St Clement Danes on 22 February 1919 as among the fallen. Carshalton also rang a quarter peal in his memory that same day, though curiously, it was reported in the local press, but has not yet been traced in The Ringing World. Many towers rang to commemorate their dead that day in conjunction with the service at St Clement Danes, or the local equivalents held around the country.

Frank does not seem to have left a will in the Soldiers’ Wills collection, nor can I find a normal probate record.  However, his entry in the Soldiers’ Effects Registers describes his parents as joint legatees.  They received an initial payment of £3 17s 9d on 5 September 1917, presumably pay that had never been issued to Frank, and then his war gratuity of £3 on 8 October 1919.  £3 was the minimum paid as war gratuity, to those whose enlistment was under a year before their death.  This would be worth no more than £2,400 today, and possibly as little as £285, depending on the basis used to calculate the equivalent.

After the war, a cousin of Frank’s, Ralph Pickering, obtained photos of Frank, Wing church, the Wing War Memorial and the Pickering family grave in Wing (which also commemorates Frank, in addition to it being his parents’ resting place). These passed to his son Roger, who gave them to David Humberston. David Contributed these to the database held at the Thiepval Memorial visitor centre. David was contacted by Andy Arnold who has researched the Carshalton war memorials, and Andy passed on the photos to me with permission to use them on this blog.

Diary entry written in pencil: "5/7/16 - 2 Lieut Saywood + 1 telephonist killed by a direct hit on a dug out at Infantry Brigade HQ in Sunken Road about 10 pm. A, B, C 95 cut wire on Quadrangle Trench.

Albert Arthur Stoner (1896-7 July 1916†)

Albert Arthur Stoner (see also his profile on Lives of the First World War) was born at Ifield in Sussex in early 1896 (or possibly late 1895), the birth was registered in the Steyning registration district in the first quarter 1896. His surname is occasionally given as Stonor.

He was the second child of Arthur Stoner and Emily Rosina (nee Lee), whose marriage was registered in the Horsham registration district in the third quarter 1893. His elder sister, Edith, was born in 1895 (or possibly 1894) in Horsham.

By 1901 the family had expanded further, with the addition of two more sisters, Emily Annie, born 3rd quarter 1897, and Alice, born about March 1901 (she is listed on the census taken on 31 March, but the birth wasn’t registered until the second quarter). On the census night the family were living at Jinnan’s Cottages, Ifield. Albert, Emily and Alice are all listed as being born in Ifield. Arthur is shown as being 36, born Worth, Sussex, and a carter on a farm, Emily was 32 and born in Horsham. A final sister, Lily, was born in early 1904 in Burstow.

By 1911 the family were living at Bridgecham Cottage, Burstow. Arthur was now a garden labourer. Albert had found work as an officer boy at a builder’s yard.

It’s not clear when Albert began ringing, no reports have been found until suddenly, in early 1914 he is shown ringing the treble to a peal of Grandsire Triples at Horley on 19 March 1914. The other ringers were J Kenward 2, A Streeter 3, H F Ewins 4, S Kenward 5, A Harman 6, O Gilbey 7, P Etheridge 8. Albert Streeter was a Redhill ringer, Henry Frederick Ewins (Reigate) and Harman another Burstow ringer. All three are listed on the roll of honour. And just two days later, a peal of Plain Bob Minor at St Bartholomew’s, Burstow on Saturday 21 March 1914. Albert A Stoner (treble), George Ellis (2), Alfred Wisden (3), Revd Edward J Teesdale (4), Charles Varo (5), Albert Harman (6). Teesdale was the Vicar of Burstow, Varo his gardener. As already mentioned Harman is also on the roll of honour, and so is Varo. It was the first peal of minor for Stoner and Wisden.

Stoner does not seem to have joined up immediately on the outbreak of war, the amount of war gratuity paid out to his estate suggests an enlistment date in December 1914, and The Ringing World has him in a roll of honour list published on 25 December 1914 has him (with fellow Burstow ringer Maurice Sherlock) training at High Wycombe. He entered France on 10 September 1915, which fits with him being with 21 Division’s artillery, the exact unit was not stated then, and there were some reorganisations of the various artillery brigades, so he may not have been with 95 Brigade RFA as he was at the time of his death. The High Wycombe location for his initial training also fits with 21 Division. He was already a bombardier (then a rank carrying a single stripe, artillery had corporals in addition during the First World War, now a bombardier in the artillery is equivalent to corporals in other arms, and wears two stripes). If he’d carried on working in the builder’s office after 1911 he would presumably have had a good degree of literacy and numeracy, and potentially have been used to calculating the quantities of materials that need to be ordered and so on, all things that would have been useful to an artillery NCO. He even have had some experience of using a telephone

21 Division had a baptism of fire during the Battle of Loos, with the infantry being hard hit. Command of the division was then taken by Major General David Campbell. A cavalryman, he had begun the war commanding the 9th Lancers. He was a renowned trainer of men, just the man to rebuild the division after their initial shock, and restore their reputation. They would not have to wait long to return to action. The Chantilly Conference in November 1915 had agreed a joint Allied offensive should take place in 1916. From the start of February 1916 this became more critical as the French came under increasing pressure at Verdun, leading to more of the combined British and French part of the offensive falling on British shoulders. The two armies joined where the front crossed a river in Picardy, the Somme, so it was around the Somme valley that the offensive was to take place.

For the artillery the battle started on 24 June when a bombardment on an unprecedented scale began. A series of posts on the Mitcham War Memorial blog put this into context well, from the point of view of an artilleryman in 96 Brigade, RFA, also part of 21 Division’s artillery complement. The series starts with a post called The Somme Centenary (follow the links at the bottom of each post, pointing right, the next is The “Big Push” is coming….

The infantry assault began on 1 July, and as has been well rehearsed over recent days the British Army suffered almost 60,000 casualties that first day, with close to 20,000 of those being killed. The battle did not stop there though, and the artillery had to continue supporting the ongoing offensive. On 5 July, 95 Brigade were assigned to cutting wire around the positions known to the British as The Quadrangle which guarded the approach to Mametz Wood (see trench map).

It seems that Stoner was accompanying Second Lieutenant Charles Saywood who was acting as a forward observation officer. The war diary says:

The Sunken Road was probably the one running north from Fricourt (there are several around the area). The description of the other rank as a telephonist is interesting, adding to our knowledge of Stoner’s role. The reason it seems reasonable to assume that the telephonist was Stoner is that Stoner and Saywood lie in adjacent graves in Norfolk Cemetery, Bécordel-Bécourt. Stoner is in I. C. 92. and Saywood in I. C. 93.

Both have beautiful headstone inscriptions. Stoner’s reads “In ever loving memory of our only son & brother”, while Saywood’s is “A brave and gallant soldier beloved by all”. While Stoner was just 20, had joined only for the war, Saywood was 37 and a veteran soldier. He joined the Royal Artillery in 1898 and served in the Second Boer War with A Battery, Royal Horse Artillery, receiving the Queen’s South Africa Medal with clasps for the Battle of the Tugela Heights and the Relief of Ladysmith. In the interwar years he served with Y Battery, with service in South Africa and India, and was steadily promoted until he reached serjeant. He had married Norfolk girl Mabel Margaret Dawes in Potchefstroom, South Africa on 4 May 1909. At the 1911 census both were in barracks at Mhow, India.

Perhaps frustrated by his battery remaining in India at the outbreak of war it appears that Saywood volunteered to return to England to train newly raised artillery units. He was posted to the artillery of 24 Division on 18 November 1914. He was commissioned on 6 March 1915, and probably posted at that time to 97th Brigade, RFA (also part of 21 Division’s artillery). For a while he was a temporary captain while commanding a brigade ammunition column (which brigade is not clear). He reverted to second lieutenant on 21 May 1916 when the ammunition arrangements were altered and a single divisional ammunition column formed.

Perhaps there was a bit of fellow feeling between the two men, Saywood is shown as having been a clerk before his original enlistment.

Stoner does not seem to have left a will. The Soldier’s Effects register shows all monies owing (£5 19S 6d on his account, and £8 as a war gratuity) were paid to his father. It’s not clear if any of his sisters married, the surname Stoner is quite common in Sussex, and their forenames are also fairly common. His father seems to have died around 1923, his mother possibly about 1943.

The Somme begins

07:30 (on the new “summer time”) approaches. There’s a subtle shift in the sound of the gunfire and shell explosions as the guns shift their targets along the 14 mile British section of the trench. The ground shakes, and an immense roar goes up as huge mines are exploded under sections of the German lines: some of the largest man made (non-nuclear) explosions ever.
Then officers blow their whistles, men clamber up ladders onto the parapet of their trenches, and begin to move into no man’s land. 
Soon almost 20,000 will be dead, and adding the wounded, prisoners and missing, the casualty list reaches towards 60,0000.
Men of the Surrey Association must have been among those taking part in the advance, though I’ve not attempted to draw up a list (and none of those on the roll of honour died that day). Certainly (as we shall see in a few days) they have been involved in the preliminary bombardment and other supporting roles. 

Of the wider set of Surrey ringers only Sidney Bowler Weatherston of Southwark will fall this day. But after today there will still be 140 more days of fighting before the generals call time on the Battle of the Somme. 

A blog post elsewhere and new sources for Sutton

Earlier this week, with my work hat on, I published a post on The National Archives’ blog, looking at the centenary of the institution of the Military Medal. It gives background info on the medal, and how it came into being.

Also this week has seen the release of various digitised records from Sutton Archives, including parish records, electoral registers, and water rates. More details are given in the archives’ press release (as ever subscription, or access via a subscribing institution, are required). These are obviously potentially very useful for this project. I’ve not had time for in depth investigations yet, but even a quick look shows the marriage certificate for Walter Hodges. This confirms he married Henrietta Russell, and gives the exact date, 26 December 1913, location, St Barnabas’ Church, Sutton, and the fact he was a postman at the time of his marriage (which opens up further research in the postal appointment books). Another example is the burial record for John Webb, which adds the detail that he died at a VAD hospital in Ashford. At some point I will have to revisit the profiles of the men from Beddington and Benhilton in detail in view of these new sources, and of course there is still the men of Carshalton to be researched.

Leonard Francis Goodwin (1880-1934)

Leonard Francis Goodwin (see also his profile on Lives of the First World War) was born at Bletchingley in late 1879 or early 1880. He was the eldest child of Hannah (nee Allingham) and Thomas Penfold Goodwin who had married at St Mary’s, Bletchingley on 6 October 1877. Thomas was described as being a painter – no details of his father were recorded. Hannah was the daughter of Jacob Allingham, a labourer. The exact ages of the couple are not given, it is merely stated that they are of full age – that is over 21.

Leonard was baptised at St Mary’s, Bletchingley on 25 January 1880. The birth was registered in the Godstone registration district in the first quarter 1880. Unfortunately the baptismal register entry does not give the actual date of birth, so it’s possible he was actually born in late 1879. By the 1881 census the family were living at Whitepost, Bletchingley. Thomas (28) is recorded as house painter, and Hannah as being 30 (no occupation). On 7 February 1882 a brother, Cecil Allingham Goodwin was born, he was baptised at St Mary’s on 30 April 1882. A sister, Marion Ellen Goodwin followed on 8 May 1884 (baptised 31 August 1884), and another brother, Trevor Thomas Goodwin, was born in July 1888 (baptised 30 September 1888). Sadly Trevor died in 1889, just 13 months old. He was buried in the churchyard on 24 August 1889.

In the 1891 census the family are recorded at St Catharine’s, The Square, Bletchingley. Shortly after another sister, Eva Goodwin, was born (baptised 28 June 1891). Sadly, she also died in infancy, and was buried in the churchyard on 22 August 1896, aged 5. From 1897 electoral registers show Thomas’s (and presumably that of the rest of the family) address as Alma Cottage, Whitepost, Bletchingley. They were still there at the 1901 census. Thomas (48) is now recorded as a plumber and decorator, and an employer. Leonard is listed as a house decorator and Cecil as a gas fitter – presumably both were working for their father.

From 1907 Leonard and Cecil appear in the electoral registers in their own right, one listed at Alma Cottage, Whitepost and the other simply at Whitepost. Their father, Thomas, seems to have lived at Alma Cottage (for which he is listed as an occupational elector), but also seems to have owned Whitepost, for which he is listed as an ownership elector. Both Leonard and Cecil are listed as lodgers.

The marriage of Marion Ellen Goodwin and Henry Page Riste took place at St Mary’s on 8 February 1908. On 5 August 1908 they had a daughter, Eva Goodwin Riste (baptised 25 October 1908). The new Eva was presumably named after her deceased aunt.

Despite the electoral registers, in 1911 both Leonard and Cecil are listed at Alma Cottage with their parents, and their niece Eva Goodwin Riste. Thomas is still listed as plumber and decorator, Leonard as a house decorator, and Cecil as a plumber. This census also indicates that Thomas and Hannah had actually had 6 children, 3 of whom had died. The third of these has not yet been traced.

The first definite record of Leonard as a ringer is on 16 September 1915 when he was among the band ringing for the dedication of a new ring of 8 at Godstone. Five others of the band: treble, H F Ewins (Reigate2, W Beeson jun (Godstone; 4, G F Hoad (Reigate); 5, W Cheeseman (Nutfield) and 6, O Sippetts (Charlwood) are all listed on the association roll of honour. It was also at Godstone that Leonard rang the second to a quarter peal of Grandsire Triples on 30 April 1916. Again the band included several others on the roll of honour, W T Beeson junr rang the fourth and conducted, G Potter the fifth (presumably George, a fellow Bletchingley ringer), and F Balcombe (another Bletchingley man). Also in the band was a Corpl W Cockings, he is not on the association roll of honour, so was presumably stationed in the area (probably William Cockings of the Bedfordshire Regiment).

It was probably later in 1916 that Leonard was called up. Fortunately his Labour Corps number, 63792, is quite helpful in establishing some facts about his service. This number was issued when the Labour Corps was formed in April/May 1917. Tables in the book No Labour, No Battle: Military labour during the First World War by John Starling and Ivor Lee show that the number was in a block issued to men of 107 Company, Labour Corps, and more that these men had previously been in 37th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers. This was a labour battalion raised at Falmer in Kent in May/June 1916. It may well be that Leonard was part of that battalion from the start. The companies of the Labour Corps were more fluid than units in other corps and regiments, so there’s no guarantee that Leonard stayed long with 107 Company. Electoral Rolls suggest that his service was quite protracted, he’s still listed as a Naval and Military voter in at least 1920. Labour Corps units were heavily involved in post-war salvage, and also the grizzly task of recovering the bodies of those lost in the war for reburial in the new war cemeteries.

The death of Thomas P Goodwin was registered in the 2nd quarter 1917. This may explain why there does not seem to be any record of Cecil serving during the war. He married Sarah E Grice in the same quarter his father’s death was registered (but in the Reigate registration district). As a married man, and possibly the only one carrying on the business after their father’s death and Leonard’s call up he may have been able to obtain an exemption from conscription.

Leonard seems to have been home by May 1921, he rang a quarter peal for the wedding of C V Risbridger (another Bletchingley ringer) on 14 May. The band almost entirely comprised ringers listed on the roll of honour: G Kirby treble (Bletchingley), S J Coppard [sic – but no ringer known with those initials, so presumably Thomas J of Bletchingley] on 3rd, L F Goodwin 2nd, A Wood 4th (probably Albert E Wood of (Nutfield), A Cheesman 5th, W Cheesman 6th (both Nutfield), W J Wilson tenor (Bletchingley). The exception was the ringer of the 7th, F W Rice (who also conducted). A similar band rang for another QP of Grandsire Triples at Bletchingley on 20 November 1921 (the Cheeseman brothers being replaced by F and J Balcombe). He also rang in a quarter peal on Easter Day 1922, again many of the band were also men named on the roll of honour: Treble G Kirby, 2 L F Goodwin, 3 A Wood, 4 W Mayne junr, 5 T J Coppard, 6 F Balcombe (conductor), 7 W J Wilson, 8 J Balcombe. The last ringing in which Leonard is known to have participated was at Godstone on 28 October 1923, another QP of Grandsire Triples. Once more several ringers who are also on the roll of honour were in the band L Goodwin 2, W T Beeson junr 3, W Wilson 5, T Coppard 6. Plus Treble L Trigg, 7 W Claydon (conductor) and 8 W T Beeson senr.

On 9 June 1925 Leonard married Doris Emily Morley at St Mary’s. Leonard was now 45, Doris just 23. Leonard’s occupation is given as builder. Doris was the daughter of Thomas William Morley, an engine driver. Leonard and Doris had a son, Peter Leonard Goodwin on 22 February 1927. Prior to the wedding, Leonard had been living at The Limes with Cecil and his family, afterwards, Leonard and Doris seem to have moved to Middle Row.

Leonard’s health was apparently never that robust (which squares with the fact that his war service was in labour units rather than on the front line). He had several bouts of flu, the last in 1931. On Friday 2 March 1934 he came down with a cold, but continued to work. He seemed to get better over the weekend but was found dead in his bed on the morning of Wednesday 7 March. As he had not seen a doctor since September 1933 an inquest was called, but the coroner was satisfied the death was natural causes. The funeral was at St Mary’s on Saturday 10 March. The funeral was attended by the ringers, the choir, family, staff of the building firm and 60-70 members of the Major Barclay Lodge of the Order of Odd Fellows of which Leonard had been a member for over 34 years, and was a past officer. Among members of the family building firm present were H T Wren and A Huggett, both also ringers, Wren at Bletchingley and Huggett at Nutfield (both also listed on the roll of honour).

It seems that in a way Peter benefitted from his father’s early death. When the 1939 Register was taken on 29 September 1939 Peter was a pupil at London Orphan School, Royal British Orphan School, Reeds School, Watford (now Reeds School in Cobham) which at that time took as pupils largely those who had lost at least one parent. His mother had returned to her parents’ house and was living at 25 Lagham Road, Godstone and was working as a post office counter clerk. Interestingly Harry Page Riste was the post master in Bletchingley.

In the 2nd quarter 1942 Doris remarried to Herbert Edward Beeham Andrews. He was a widower with two sons of his own who ran a tailor’s in Bletchingley. Doris’s death was registered in the 2nd quarter 1953, in the Surrey South Eastern registration district.

Peter had a brief career in the education branch of the Royal Air Force, he was commissioned as a flying officer on 25 September 1962 but was discharged on medical grounds on 20 July 1963. He died on 7 November 1993 at Loughton in Essex.

Where was 36 Casualty Clearing Station in July 1916?

I’ve recently booked my first trip to the Somme for July this year. This will be on the weekend before the centenary of my great-great-uncle’s death. I’ve told his story before, My Tommy’s War: An underage Welsh brickie on the Somme. Since writing that post, the Soldiers’ Effects Registers have confirmed that of the three casualty clearing stations listed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as being in the vicinity in July 1916, he died of wounds in No 36 Casualty Clearing Station. This made me wonder the exact position of the clearing station in relation to the cemetery, and just who might have been caring for him in those final days after he was wounded on 16 July.

The obvious place to start was the war diary of No 36 Casualty Clearing Station (the relevant period is now held at The National Archives as WO 95/344/8). The first mention of Heilly in the diary is on 27 February 1916, when the day’s entry reads:

Arrived at CORBIE at 12.15pm and orders received from RTO [Rail Transport Officer] to go on in train to HEILLY. Orders received at Heilly from DDMS [Deputy Director Medical Services] 13th Corps to park the equipment & stores under canvas & for the unit to return to CORBIE, where half the officers & men were attached to No 5 CCS and half to No 21 CCS.

There is no entry for 28 February, but then the sequence starts again on 29 February:

Orders received from DMS [Director Medical Services] 3rd ARMY to proceed to HEILLY on 1/3/16 & open the unit in tents close to the Railway Station on the South side of the line.

A A Seeds Lieut-Col RAMC OC 36 CCS

The 1913 Medical Register suggests this was Arthur Atkinson Seeds, who joined the Army Medical Service in 1898 following graduation from the University of Dublin.

The diary continues in March:

The unit arrived at HEILLY by road from CORBIE and proceeded to pitch a camp in a field close to HEILLY Railway Station South of the line under instructions received from the DMS 3rd Army. The unit was transferred from the administration of the 3rd Army to that of the 4th from 12 noon this day.

The equipment & stores of the unit were removed from the place where they were parked near the Railway Station and brought to the camp.

The ground of the camp is 180 x 75 yards. The ground is clay and very soft. It is bounded on the W by a cultivated patch (rye grass) and on the E by ploughed land. N is the railway line & S the main CORBIE-MERICOURT Road.

2 March:

The unit was engaged in pitching tents to form a camp & in cutting trenches to drain the camp. There is no water laid on in the camp and the nearest water is fit for drinking is distant 1.5 miles

3 March:

Application was made to DMS, 4th Army for permission to cut a road running W to E at the railway end of the camp. This road is required for two purposes (1) Evacuation of patients to trains (2) Bringing in Stores, Coal, Hospital Supplies, etc.

4 March:

Captain G M Hodges ordered to proceed to CORBIE by DMS 4th Army to supervise the sanitation of that town. Some snow in the morning and a good deal of rain.

G M Hodges (later referred to as G M W Hodges) was probably George Montague Williams Hodges, the 1913 Medical Register gives his address as Ilbury House, Deddington, Oxon, graduated from the University of London in 1907.

5 March:

There was a sharp frost last night.

Captain G M Hodges departed to CORBIE.

A road was begun to be cut running W to E at the railway end of the camp. Chalk was brought from a quarry by motor lorries for this purpose. Inspection of camp by DMS, 4th Army.

6 March:

Some snow fell during the night and a little more this morning. Work resumed on the road. Cinders were fetched from AMIENS (15 miles each way). A layer of cinders was laid on first, then chalk as dry as possible, and then cinders on top of the chalk.

There’s nothing much by way of evidence of the position of the camp then until 14 March:

One lorry despatched to BOUGANVILLE for stores. Applied for extra ground for expansion to ??? officer, 15 Area, 4th Army

The expansion was in order that the unit could provide 1000 beds, rather than 200. On 21 March Hodges took over the unit from Seeds, who had been ordered east (probably Egypt). The expansion of the camp continued for the rest of the month, and involved visits from the CRE [Commander Royal Engineers] 13th Corps and DDMS 13th Corps to settle various matters and arrange works such as kitchens, water supply and latrines. Among the new tents were some larger marquees. At the end of the month Lt Col James Willes Jennings arrived to take command (joined the Army Medical Service in 1888 having been licensed in Ireland).

April continued much the same, now with 149 (Army Troops) Company, Royal Engineers undertaking some of the work. April also saw the arrival of chaplains G L Bates (C of E) and J J Colley (RC). The medal index cards suggest G L Bates was Guy Locrington Bates, and Army Chaplaincy Museum interview records give his address as Playden, Sussex. Census records show he was there from about 1895. 14 April also saw the arrival of seven nurses, led by Sister-in-Charge M E Vernon Harcourt ARRC QAIMNS(R), Sisters C L Carnegie TFNS, P Barnard TFNS, Staff Nurses M Purves TFNS, P M Jones TFNS, E M Henderson CHR, A Cooper QAIMNS (CHR). Initial arrangements were made with the Revd Walsingham Cook Kerr of 23 Field Ambulance for burials in Mericourt Cemetery. The first admissions were made on 15 April. The first death of a patient was recorded on 26 April, 8636 Pte T W Thorley. 2nd West Yorks, that was also the day the first cases were evacuated by ambulance train. A Wesleyan chaplain arrived on 29 April, the Revd James Robert Batey. Deaths of all ranks continue to be recorded by name until the end of June. The duties of the chaplains at the CCS of course included carrying out the burials of those who died there. The sheer number of deaths to be dealt with in July means that the chaplains at all three of the CCSs based around the station would have carried these out jointly in all likelihood, so their names are also recorded below. I’ve concentrated on non-conformist and C of E chaplains, as this fits best with what I know of the church attendance of the family.

On 2 May 34 CCS and 38 CCS arrived and camped close by. 34 CCS moved on to Daours almost immediately, but 38 CCS set up close by. May otherwise continued much the same as the previous month with a new RC chaplain, Revd B Schofield arriving on 7 May to replace the Revd J J Colley, and an additional nurse, Staff Nurse E M MacDonald QAIMNS (CHR) on 8 May, and two more, Staff Nurses L Clayton CHR and C (or G) Chatfield QAIMNS arrived on 13 May, while Staff Nurses P M Jones TFNS and M Purves TFNS left for 16 General Hospital, Le Treport on 14 May. The water supply to the camp continued to be a problem, an accidental meeting between the OC and the Chief Engineer of 15th Corps near the railway station on 28 May seems to have helped move things forward.

June began with Major Richard James Campbell Thompson taking over command from Lt Col Jennings who was posted to Rouen. 38 CCS opened for admissions on 19 June, and from then on the two CCS admitted on alternate days. There is no direct mention of the forthcoming offensive, but the entry for 30 June reads:

The personnel has been reinforced by 3 MOs [medical officers], 3 NCOs and 20 men from Field Ambulances of the 19th Division.

The Nursing Sisters are 10 in number –

Captain Cain – 11th Notts & Derby – with 50 PB [permanent base – ie not fit for frontline duty] men from III Corps has reported for duty.

Trench shelters have been erected
(1) to join up 2 rows of 3 marquees to form a dressing room [presumably in the sense of surgical dressings]
(2) to join up 2 rows of 2 marquees to form a large ward for serious surgical cases.

The warm ether inhalers are in general – & most satisfactory use.

Sanitation & health of personnel – good

On 1 July, 38 CCS took the initial casualties, but 36 CCS still took in 1005 wounded. Just two ambulance trains arrived at the station to evacuate the wounded along the chain to bigger hospitals, leading to the DMS closing the CCSs at Heilly to admissions, so the wounded had to go on to Corbie instead. 2 July also saw the camp visited by Sir Douglas Haig and the Adjutant General, and just over 1500 admissions. On 3 July admissions dropped to just over 500 (including 24 Germans). The diary comments:

The spirit of the British wounded is extraordinary, the men are all in good spirits

By now the ambulance trains were running properly, easing some of the difficulties, but 36 CCS was seeing many instances of gas gangrene developing in patients. The 4th and 5th each saw around 600 admissions, and on 5 July 3 additional MOs arrived from 12 CCS, plus two Canadian Nursing Sisters (sadly not named). 6 July saw only 173 admissions, the diary also mentions “Colonel Sir Wilmot Herringham CB has taken charge of the GS Wounds Chest” [gun shot wounds to the chest]. Herringham was a highly distinguished civilian doctor. he had been consulting physician at Barts since 1904 and also commanded the medical section of the University of London Officers’ Training Corps. Until a little earlier in 1916 he had been the only consulting physician attached to the BEF. On one visit to a CCS Sir Douglas Haig had noted “I saw Sir Wilmot Herringham with his coat off, setting a fine example, by washing and attending to the slightly wounded cases”. Sadly one of Herringham’s sons had died in infancy, the other, George Wilmot Herringham, had been killed in the First Battle of Ypres, and his wife Christiana (a notable artist) had been in an asylum since 1911.

On 7 July admissions again topped 800, and on 8 July were 799. On the 8th the Wesleyan chaplain, Revd J R Batey, was posted to 31st Division, while two more nursing sisters were attached from South Midland (56) Casualty Clearing Station in Amiens. Again they are not named in the diary. On 9 July admissions were back down to just over 450, 10 July around 250, 11 July just under 300 (and four more nurses from South Midland CCS). The diary notes:

From noon – 1st to 5pm 11th – 283 major operations performed in Theatre – including 68 penetrating abdominal wounds.

Admissions were 282 on 12 July and almost 400 on 13 July – including 96 Germans. The 13th also saw a visit from Surgeon General Sir Arthur Sloggett, Director-General of Medical Services of the British Expeditionary Force, and the opening of 2/2nd London (55) Casualty Clearing Station on the northern side of the railway, closer to Heilly village itself.

14 July saw the opening of the Battle of Bazentin Ridge, with the British forces drawn from 4th Army. There were almost 1500 admissions to 36 CCS (including several gassed), and a further visit from Sir Arthur Sloggett. On 15 July there were again over 1100 admissions, 36 CCS stopped receiving between 1700 and 2300 while 38 CCS admitted. Captain Cain returned to his battalion, to be replaced as an Extra Medical Officer by Lieut Wilsher?? of 7th South Lancs.

16 July was the day Fred Holbrook was wounded (according to a later newspaper report), so presumably he was among the 730+ admissions that day or the 400+ on 17 July. By now 400 admissions was regarded as “a comparatively quiet day”. The 17th also saw the installation of electric light in the operating theatre. The 18th saw just over 290 admissions. The diary also includes a brief summary of statistics for 1-15 July, in total 49 officers admitted, 9808 other ranks and 368 Germans. 410 operations had been carried out in theatre.

On 19 July there were over 670 admissions, and Captain Rawlinson and Lieut Wooler arrived from CCSs in Doullens as extra medical officers. The medical staff now stood at 16 medical officers (doctors) and 19 nursing sisters. The diary also states:

50 new beds delivered from ordnance, making 241 in use. The unit developing more and more into a stationary hospital [these units were the next larger, and were normally further from the front line].

Sir Wilmot Herringham working most devotedly on GS Wounds of chest and cases of Gas poisoning.

20 July saw over 630 admissions, 21 July 440, 22nd almost 350 and then 23 July over 1050, this day also saw a visit from Sir Edward Morris, the premier of Newfoundland. There were 290 admissions on 24 July, 300 on 25 July, and on 26 July, the day Fred Holbrook died:

A very quiet day so far as admission of wounds was concerned

Admitted OR [other ranks] sick 14, Wd [wounded] 51.

Throughout this period the diary continues to record officers who have died of wounds by name, but there is not even a daily tally of the deaths of other ranks. However the month’s entries conclude with a summary of the entire month’s activities:

Resume of the month’s work

Admitted officers 79 (22 deaths)
other ranks 16045 (401 deaths)
Germans 480 (28 deaths)
Operations in theatre 759
Penetrating shell wounds 105
Compound fracture of femura (uncomplicated by Gas Gangrene & with hope of complete recovery) 65
Penetrating abdominal wounds 167 – 46.7% recoveries

In the 167 cases are shown the quite hopeless cases who were taken to the Theatre for palliative Colotomy, return of intestines & ???? etc

In all the diary gave a reasonable insight into the care offered, and some of those involved, but only gave a hint as to the location: adjacent to the railway line and the road between Corbie and Méricourt-l’Abbé, but didn’t locate precisely in relation to the station. See the location of Heilly Station Cemetery on Google Maps:

If the map is not showing, follow this link to Google Maps. The description of the hospital’s location suggests it lay between the railway line and the road now numbered as the D120. However, it’s not clear which side of the Rue du Moulin/Hameau de Caqueval (the road which goes over a level crossing by the station and joins the D120) it lay.

The war diary does offer some hints at other leads, 36 CCS reported to the Director of Medical Services 4th Army. This post was held by Surgeon General Menus William O’Keeffe who also had to keep a war diary, now WO 95/447 for 1916 (items 1-9). This largely covers more administrative matters, but does reveal a little more about some of the staff working at 36 CCS too, for example the appointment of Ambrose Lorne Lockwood as surgical specialist there. He appears to have been a Canadian who joined the RAMC on the outbreak of war. It seems arrangements for 36 CCS had largely been made before 4th Army took over the area from 3rd Army (which suggests that the 3rd Army DMS diary may also be worth reviewing), but there is some discussion of the location for 38 CCS being selected, however, once again, the precise location does not appear to be given. Several sketch maps are in the diary, but show only the railway line, and sometimes the main road, not the local roads. In these, 36 CCS often appears (due to the scale) to be the other side of the railway. For 38 CCS we have:

Permission is also requested to locate another CCS alongside the present one at HEILLY. This only means enlarging the accommodation at present there, and requires a further plot of land to be hired.

If these two sites [the DMS also wanted to establish another CCS at PUCHEVILLERS] are approved the difficulties which at present exist in evacuating large numbers of Wounded from the front will disappear.

And in a request for engineer services:

No 38 CCS

Drinking-water will be drawn by tanks from well at HEILLY. The pipe-line for washing-water from the river, at present installed at No 36 CCS, should be extended to the site of the new CCS; or better, a tank and pump installed between the two CCSs on the South side of the CORBIE-MERICOURT road

It’s quite clear that the Somme offensive was already being planned, but it seems that the medical services were still underestimating the number of casualties that would result. Their estimate at in April was that they could manage evacuation of 35-40,000 casualties per week in the whole army area. By June however they were asking for sufficient ambulance trains etc to be made available to 4th Army to enable the evacuation of 10,000 casualties per day, and were worried by reports in delays in evacuation during the Battle of Loos the previous year. They received a rather offhand reply from the Quartermaster General at GHQ:

It is not anticipated that there will be any difficulty in meeting the needs of Fourth Army during active operations.

No reports of any delay in the evacuation of the wounded during the fighting round LOOS can be traced in this office.

The next obvious diary to investigate was that of 38 CCS, to see if that gave any definite statement of location, but this diary proved to be very sparse (perhaps supporting the desire expressed by the DMS in his diary to remove the OC 38 CCS from his command for lack of organisational skills, to which higher authorities did not agree). The most relevant entry is probably the arrival of the Revd Leslie Edward Baumer as chaplain to 38 CCS.

The diary of 149 Army Troops Company, Royal Engineers (WO 95/400/1) was equally scant. Though mentioned in all the other diaries as having been involved in various works around Heilly, the only definite mention of Heilly in this diary relates to building a railway siding.

I also tried WO 95/450/1, the diary of the 4th Army Deputy Assistant Director Medical Services (Sanitation), but again no real references to the precise situation at Heilly. The 4th Army Chief Engineer kept no diary until July 1916
(WO 95/451). None of the 13 Corps HQ diaries are yet online, but the diary of their Deputy Director of Medical Services and Commander Royal Engineers (both in WO 95/903). May yet shed some light. The only remaining diary not yet considered in this blog post is that of 2/2nd London Casualty Clearing Station (also known as 55 Casualty Clearing Station), now WO 95/501/3. Again this says only that the unit was based north of Heilly Station, it arrived only on 9 July and was ordered to be ready to receive walking cases as soon as possible, and the first patients were admitted on 11 July, having notified the DMS the previous day that they could take 200 cases, or 300 at a push. Again perhaps the most significant record in the diary in relation to Fred Holbrook is the arrival on 7 July of the Revd John Waterfield as C of E chaplain to 55 CCS. However, he was replaced on 13 July by the Revd Wilfrid Parker. Parker seems to have been well-connected in the church, the 1911 census shows him as chaplain to Cosmo Gordon Lang, then Archbishop of York, who was subsequently translated to Canterbury. At the time he was interviewed about taking up a chaplaincy position (which was only on 28 June 1916) he was a curate to the Revd Dick Sheppard at St Martin-in-the-Fields. Sheppard himself had been a chaplain at a casualty clearing station in the early months of the war, but his health broke down under the conditions.

What I’d particularly been hoping to find in the various war diaries was a map reference for 36 CCS, but so far to no avail. I decided to check the trench maps that are now available online anyway, in the hopes that the position would be marked. There are two main collections online that I’m aware of, the set held by MacMaster University in Canada, and the more recently available collection from the National Library of Scotland. The search by location on the NLS website quickly showed me that the relevant sheet was a 1:20000 map 62D.NE and offered me four choices of edition. Only one of these was in 1916, corrected to 28 April, the remainder in 1918 by which time the CCSs had all moved on, so I chose the 1916 map as 36 CCS was setting up by then. As this area was well behind the lines the maps were not updated as frequently as those covering more heavily contested areas (though the NE quadrant of the map does cover Mametz Wood, but presumably it was the 1:10000 covering just that area that was updated more regularly). Sadly nothing is marked for 36 CCS. I checked the 1918 maps as well just to be sure, but unsurprisingly there was nothing on those either (though they did show that some trenches were constructed in the area during the German Spring Offensive in 1918). One nice feature of the NLS maps is that you can choose to overlay them on modern mapping, and adjust parameters of the trench map such as it’s opacity to see the modern map underneath. In this instance you can see just how little has changed in this area. The trench maps have the added bonus of showing contour lines which helps gets a better sense of the lie of the land. In this area we can see that the land rises quite rapidly as we move SE from the railway line (which is in the valley of the Ancre). I also used Google Earth to get a sense of the land (you can reach a cut down version via the Google map above, but it’s most useful by installing the full package on your computer).

At this point I decided to find out if anyone else had managed to locate it, so I tweeted a general question tagging particularly Sue Light (@Scarletfinders) who is something of an expert on the nursing aspects of the First World War, and Mark Banning (@MGBTours), a battlefield guide with whom I’d previously had some general discussion about the cemetery. Neither could turn up anything more specific, Sue pointed me to a blogpost of hers about the area, but her feeling had been that it was sited further away from the railway. Possibly that was where 38 CCS was sited, given the comment about the location of a pump between 36 and 38 CCS quoted above.

Fortunately a few other people picked up on the tweet as well, and Sandra Gittins (@ypreswoman) pointed me towards some photos in the Imperial War Museum collections that show the Heilly area in September 1916:

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916© IWM (Q 1254)

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916© IWM (Q 1255)

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916© IWM (Q 1256)

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916© IWM (Q 1257)

THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916
THE BATTLE OF THE SOMME, JULY-NOVEMBER 1916 © IWM (Q 1258)

Of these Q 1255 is perhaps the most interesting of itself as several tents can be seen in the background, next to the railway line, and to the east of the station. There do not seem to be any tents set up in the field the other side of the road leading to the station. Does this solve the question of location? In my twitter conversations, Sue Light was concerned that there wasn’t enough room for the CCS to set up in the fields immediately adjacent to the station. However, using the measuring tools in Google Earth it’s possible to see that the original size of camp described in the diary, 180 x 75 yards comfortably fits in the field. Even if the expansion of the unit to provide 1000 beds (from 200) did actually quintuple the physical space required, there would still be plenty of room. One other factor had originally made me think that a site the other side of the road was more likely, and that was the description of the track that was built to link the camp to the station, which was described as running west to east. However, on reflection, it would of course make more sense to start building the track from the station (which was on the road) to link to the track, so that the unit’s lorries could reach the point at which work was being carried out on the track that they were actually building. Looking at the available satellite imagery though, there does appear to be more evidence of a track to the west of the station, rather than to the east, but the original could well have been ploughed up following the war. The area to the east of the station also seems a better fit for the description “It is bounded on the W by a cultivated patch (rye grass) and on the E by ploughed land” – there is no evidence of any field boundaries on the current field to the west of the station, until a patch of woodland is reached, but there is an apparent field boundary to the east, if that corresponded to the original eastern boundary of the camp, there would have been plenty of room for rye grass to the west, before reaching the road that leads from the D120 to the station. This also seems to fit with the location of the pump described above, and the description of the ground as being clay, as you move to the east, and also as you move to the south away from the railway as the ground becomes higher, the aerial imagery available shows a much more chalky hue. It’s interesting that 2/2nd London (55) CCS is said to be on the north of the railway as the contemporary maps show that as largely wooded or marshy, however, diagonally opposite the station across the level crossing there is a property with a small area of open ground.

Aerial photo of the Heilly Station Cemetery area, with overlays to highlight roads, principally the D120, and over features marked as described in the caption.

Google Earth view of the area around Heilly Station, with what I believe to be the initial location of 36 CCS marked (yellow box), or an alternative orientation (red box), each 180 yards by 75 yards. The two other red lines mark the road joining the station to the D120, about 160 yards, and the position of the apparent field boundary, about 250 yards long.

This solves the question of location fairly satisfactorily, but I will check the other war diaries mentioned once they become available online to see if any further supporting (or contradictory) evidence can be found.