Category Archives: Background

Posts describing general background of the project

William Henry Johnson VC and other updates

Today sees the centenary of the Victoria Cross action by Serjeant William Henry Johnson, 1/5th Sherwood Foresters, the only bellringer to win the VC. He rang at Worksop Priory and there’s a programme of events in Worksop today including peal attempts at the Priory and St Anne’s. I’ve also written a blog post about him for The National Archives’ blog (with a bit of a plug for Ringing Remembers at the end and starting with Worksop’s original Armistice Day ringing).

Preparing that post has meant I’ve not really had chance to write up Douglas Walter Drewett a Mitcham ringer who was killed in action a century ago today, though I’ve started doing a little work on his profile in Lives of the First World War.  Sadly Drewett’s second son appears to have been a Far East Prisoner of War in the Second World War, he made it home but died in 1950.

Ongoing work in Lives has meant that I’ve now identified J Weekes of Bletchingley and S Howard of Wimbledon who had previously proves elusive.

A group of seven men and one woman standing in front of glass doors leading into St Mary's Putney Church. Some of the stained glass windows of the church are visible in the background.

Congratulations, Alan Regin MBE

Included in the New Year Honours for 2018 announced last night was the appointment of Alan Regin as a Member of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) “for services to Campanalogy and its Heritage”.

Alan has been Steward of the Central Council Rolls of Honour for several years. He has worked hard to ensure that the rolls are as complete as possible, to the extent that an additional volume was required. He is also responsible for most of the photos and other additional material now forming part of the online version of the Rolls of Honour having visited many of the war cemeteries and memorials around the world where ringers are commemorated (or for some of the more distant ones, such as Port Stanley in the Falkland Islands, persuading other ringers to visit and take photographs when their trips took them nearby). During the centenary period he has organised publication in The Ringing World of monthly lists of ringing casualties for that month a century ago, and been a member of the band for many of the peal and quarter peal attempts organised to commemorate those ringers who lost their lives, including that at Putney earlier in the year (he is standing back right in the photo of the Putney peal band above).

Finally, he was one of the main organisers and trustees behind the project for a ring of bells to be hung in St George’s, Ieper.

Congratulations Alan on this recognition of all your work.

A logo with the words "Ringing for Peace - Armistice 100" and a swinging church bell

Ringing for peace – Armistice 100

Today and tomorrow bells around the country will ring, as they have done for almost a century, to mark Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday. Ringing is usually (as in the name of this blog) halfmuffled, reflecting the mourning feel of the day. However, 99 years ago, on that first Armistice Day the ringing was (largely) joyful.

Just announced is the initial news of the request for ringing for Armistice100 next year, coincidentally 11 November 2018 will be a Sunday so Armistice Day and Remembrance Sunday will actually be a single day. The request is that ringing in the morning should be as usual, but if that is halfmuffled the bells should be rung open later in the day, reflecting more of that original mood.

That mood was of course not universal, many accounts of Wilfred Owen’s life mention that the bells of Oswestry were ringing to mark the Armistice when his mother received the news of his death. I’ve recently tracked down the Ringing World report of the quarter peal of Grandsire Triples rung there that day:

Oswestry, Salop. At the Parish Church, on Monday, November 11th a Quarter-peal of Grandsire Triples (1260 changes): G. Thompson 1, R T Evans 2, J Hughes 3, R Martin 4, R Edwards 5, G Williams 6, E Jones (conductor) 7, G Beaton 8.

Presumed to be the ringing that was taking place in Oswestry when the news of Wilfred Owen’s death was received by his mother in 1918. From The Ringing World, 13 December 1918, page 397 (or page 189 of this online PDF containing the issues from the second half of 1918)

In addition, part of the plan is to recruit 1400 new ringers over the next year to symbolically “replace” the 1400 ringers killed in the First World War and as far as possible to have them ringing on the day. The official launch was in yesterday’s Ringing World and has now been announced on the website of the Central Council for Church Bell Ringing where details of the plans can be found.

Tomorrow should also see media coverage with Alan Regin, Steward of the Rolls of Honour, talking on BBC Breakfast about some of the individual ringers killed, and pieces in some of the newspapers. Again, details are on the CCCBR website.

1918’s Ringing World shows several other stories that could easily be taken up today, for example the youngest ringer in 1918 appears to have been F C Daniels of Immanuel, Streatham (younger brother of Henry Vernon Daniels), while the oldest was 95-year-old John Heathorn of Guildford.

Headstone bearing inscriptions showing that Frederick John Holbrook, CAS Pratt and HM Atkinson are buried beneath

Centenary trip continued

On arrival in Lille we headed to our hotel (for background, see my previous post, and then had a bit of a wander. The centre is quite attractive, with numerous bars lining the large squares. There’s a huge war memorial, which commemorates all the wars of the 20th century involving France, the two world wars, plus involvement in Indo-China (Vietnam) and North Africa. Then the bars were calling us, and we chose one just under the Chamber of Commerce named (aptly) “La Cloche” (The Bell). A bit more of a wander around the old quarter, then bed.

On Saturday morning we headed back towards the station to pick up a hire car. Unexpectedly the car park exit brought us out onto a different road to where the car hire office was, throwing my carefully prepared maps into disarray, this would prove a bit of a them for the day, one way or another. Fortunately I guessed right that the signs for Paris would set us off in the right direction. We then set off down the A1 without further incident until reaching the 2000 metre warning sign for the Bapaume junction. Somehow though I then managed to sail straight past the junction itself, leaving us with no choice but to carry on to the next one.

From the bypass around Albert we headed north towards Pozières, hoping to get to Tank Corps Memorial and Windmill site before the road was closed for the Australian commemorations due to take place in the village later in the day. Driving through the village we seemed to get a glimpse of the reburial of three unknown Australians at Pozières British Cemetery. As we drove through the village, it became evident that the turning for Thiepval was already closed. We parked at the Tank Corps Memorial, marking the first employment of tanks on 15 September 1916. Just south of the memorial was a lovely verge, fittingly full of poppies and cornflowers (bleuets, the French flower of remembrance). Over the road is the site of the ancient windmill, standing on the highest point in the immediate area, finally captured by Australian troops on 29 July 1916, and now the site of an Australian memorial. From here we also got our first glimpse of “Mighty Thiepval” standing a few miles away East-North-East. The field adjacent to the memorial has just been inaugurated as the Pozières Memorial Park, and currently contains crosses arranged in the shape of the Australian Imperial Force’s Rising Sun badge, one cross for each Australian killed in the capture of Pozières. The badge points more-or-less toward Thiepval.


Continue reading

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.

Estimate enlistment date from War Gratuity paid

Back in February I wrote about the newly released Soldier’s Effects Registers on Ancestry. One of the major components of the money paid out after a soldier’s death was teh War Gratuity, since the launch of the records there’s been an interesting thread on the Great War Forum, looking at how the gratuity payments were determined, based on length of service. The prime mover of this thread, Craig, has now launched his own blog https://wargratuity.wordpress.com/ from where you can download a simple spreadsheet which will calculate an estimate for when a soldier enlisted based on the gratuity paid out, and their date of death. If they received the minimum £3 payment, then unfortunately all that can be said is that they had less than 12 months service, but even this can be helpful if you compare their number against that of men having known enlistment dates as well.

As always when downloading anything from the internet, it is sensible to ensure you have up-to-date virus protection!

In from the cold: Herbert Jones, St Peter’s, Wolverhampton

One of the first strands of research I was involved in was going through the outstanding names on the Central Council for Church Bell Ringers for which no Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) record had been found. A number of these still remain, for one reason or another.

In a number of cases, however, it became obvious from surviving records that the man concerned had died after their discharge, and from the same cause that led to their discharge (and that this had been held to be attributable to, or aggravated by, his war service). Having come across the In From the Cold project via the Great War Forum I realised that this meant it might be possible to get them added to the CWGC register. The initial success, rather surprisingly, was with Harry Jones of Chester. I’d not held much hope of success with this one due to the extremely common name, but I found sets of records almost immediately, which combined with the death certificate gave enough for him to be accepted. This was followed by William Stanley Lynn, George Henry Barrick, Gilbert Victor Drew and others.

One of the first cases I’d actually looked at was H Jones of Wolverhampton. Searching the 1911 census found a couple of possible candidates, but nothing to tie them to records that would help. One was a general smith, the other a carter, which both seemed plausible for a man that The Ringing World suggested might have been serving in the Army Service Corps at Avonmouth. I noted down the details on a list I created and moved on. Then, when looking through The Ringing World again for this project, I found the report of a funeral of a Herbert Jones in Wolverhampton, who had served with the ASC at Avonmouth. The report also stated that he was originally from Shrewsbury, and had also lived in Sheffield before moving to Wolverhampton in 1912:

Newspaper article

Private Herbert JONES
Wolverhampton, Stafford Archdeaconry
The Ringing World: 23 May 1919 p199

With this information I quickly found surviving records which showed he had been discharged due to TB contracted while serving at Avonmouth, and this had eventually led to his death. I submitted the case back in 2013, but with the transfer of decision making from the MoD (Historical Branch – Army) to the National Army Museum, there was rather a hiatus in cases going through, and a consequent backlog. It was only on 15 April 2015 that he was added to the CWGC register.

Destination unknown

At 2pm they received a partial answer as they arrived at Southampton Docks and embarked on SS Braemar Castle along with the Welsh Regiment. They left the wharf at 20:15, still unsure of their final destination. Among those wondering what was in store for them would have been Walter Markey of Burstow. They would arrive at Le Havre at 11:00 on 13 August, where unloading took until 17:30, followed by a march to camp.

Meanwhile, with 1st Battalion, Royal Scots Fusiliers, Walter Hodges did not board a train until 00:30 on 13 August. It took them until 15:00 to reach Southampton, where the battalion embarked on two ships, Martaban and Appam. They arrived at Le Havre on 14 August and similarly moved to a rest camp.

(See WO 95/1280/1 and WO 95/1432/1 for more details.)

Mobilize

On 4 August 1914 regular army units received a one word War Office telegram: “Mobilize” [sic]. Author Richard van Emden tweeted this image of one such telegram as logged by the orderly room of 4th (Royal Irish) Dragoon Guards at Tidworth Camp that day.

2nd Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment), stationed at Bordon Camp in Hampshire would have received something similar, their war diary notes that the mobilisation order was received at 5:30pm. Serving with them was Walter Markey of Burstow. In fact, from 29 July, units had been ordered on to a “precautionary period”, meaning that guards had to be placed on strategic points, and mobilisation preparations were begun. The Surrey History Centre posted this photo of the battalion on parade at Bordon in August 1914 – presumably Markey is somewhere in the ranks.

A military formation drawn up in ranks on a parade ground, a few barrack buildings visible in the background. At the front of the formation are five officers on horseback

1st Battalion, The Queen’s, on parade at Bordon, August 1914 (SHC ref QRWS/2/13/7)


You can read their full story here.

The London Gazette also published a special supplement with the King’s official notice calling up all army reservists and embodying the Territorial Force. This notice would have set Walter Hodges of Benhilton on the way to his regimental depot at Ayr in order to rejoin the Royal Scots Fusiliers. For pre-war Territorials like George Marriner of and George Naish of Kingston it would have caused them to report to their drill halls where their units were moving onto a war footing. Just a few days earlier they would have been anticipating the pleasures of the annual summer camp, but those were largely cancelled as the European situation worsened.

The Royal Navy had actually been mobilised the previous day (an ealier London Gazette supplement contained the notice). In fact, they had already carried out a test mobilisation in July, and many of the men, including Nutfield’s Alfred Bashford, were already back aboard their ships (HMS Good Hope in Bashford’s case). The interesting day-by-day republication of The Daily Telegraph showed how closely this was reported at the time, and the naval mobilisation is one fo the topics most picked out by their archives’ twitter account, which can be seen via the widget below:

For more on the mobilisation process, see today’s Operation War Diary blogpost. The Friends of the Suffolk Regiment are also tweeting the mobilisation process as undertaken by 2nd Battalion, Suffolk Regiment, beginning with this tweet:

Also, this blog post, and following ones described the mobilisation of 1st West Kents.