Category Archives: family history

Head and shoulders photo of a young man in naval uniform.

For those in peril on the sea – Lt-Cmdr Ralph Ireland (8 February 1884 – 19 January 1917)

Another digression into family history

At about 6:30 am on 19 January 1917 water was reported in the capstan flat of HMS Southampton, flagship of 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron, on patrol in the North Sea approximately 100 miles due east of the Isle of May (in the mouth of the Firth of Forth). At 7:05 am it was realised that this was due to the metal cover for the navel pipe (through which the anchor chain passed) had washed loose. The ship’s navigating officer (and acting executive officer/1st Lieutenant), Lieutenant Commander Ralph Ireland, gathered a party of three able seamen, Tom Ralph Knight, Roland Ernest Starkey and William Meaghan, and set off for the forecastle to try and secure the cover. They were also joined by the ship’s gunnery officer, Burroughs, and mate, Davis.

At about 7:15 am another wave broke over the bow of the ship. Once it had passed, Burroughs and Davis were lying winded in the breakwater, but of the other four there was no sign. “Man overboard” was signalled to HMAS Sydney at 7:21 am, lifeboats manned, life buoys thrown and men sent aloft. No sightings were made and the search was abandoned at 7:50 am at 56° 13.5′ N, 1° 0′ E. The ship’s log records the air temperature as 39 Fahrenheit, and the North Sea is rarely warm. In the days before modern survival suits and locator beacons they had had little chance, and of course it would still have been pretty dark (sunrise today was 8:28 am in Edinburgh, though it would have been a little earlier 100 miles east). Ireland’s fellow officer, Stephen King-Hall, recorded in his diary:

we turned for home, and read the burial service in the waist. Driving snowstorm added to the melancholy nature of the ceremony. Rarely, if ever, have I felt so depressed and knocked over. When I looked at the cold grey rough sea, and thought of No. 1, one of my best friends, with whom only a few hours before I had been yarning on the bridge, and with whom only 12 hours before I had been rehearsing my part in a Revue which I had written, and in which we both took leading roles, I went to my cabin and cried like a child.

Handwritten extract from ship's logbook (content described in article text)

Extract from the log of HMS Southampton for 19 January 1917. The National Archives: ADM 53/60695. Crown Copyright.

Ralph Ireland was the eldest child of Adam Liddell Ireland and Isabella, née McHinch.  Isabella was the sister of my great-great-grandmother, Matilda Antoinette “Nettie” McHinch (their father was the Revd William McHinch, a Presbyterian minister).  Ralph was born on 8 February 1888 in Belfast, and was followed by Norah Isabel Ireland in 1891 and Denis Liddell Ireland in 1894.  The family were fairly prosperous linen merchants. In 1901 they were living in Eglantine Avenue, Belfast, and had two servants (Alice McCamley and Mary McGinley) Both boys were educated at Belfast’s Royal Acadmeical Institution (often known simply as Inst). Ralph then went on to Eastman’s Naval Academy in Winchester.

On 19 November 1902 Ralph took the competitive examination for a Naval Cadetship, placing 8th out of over 150 entrants. He took up his place on the training ship Britannia on 15 January 1903. On passing out 15 months later he was second in his intake and received the King’s Gold Medal.

Then followed a succession of postings as a midshipman to ships stationed around the world, initially joining HMS Terrible on the China Station on 28 June 1904. He was appointed Acting Sub Lieutenant while aboard HMS Hindustan on 15 July 1907, and his commission was confirmed on 24 September 1907, by which time he was at the Royal Naval College (Greenwich?). After a short spell on HMS Prince of Wales he headed for HMS Dryad on 2 August 1909 to qualify as a navigator, having just been promoted lieutenant. After the course he returned to Prince of Wales to gain the required practical experience. He then spent some time on various smaller vessels on the Africa Station, and returned to Dryad for a short course on 9 August 1913. Soon after the completion of that course he was appointed to the light cruiser HMS Birmingham. He was still with her on the outbreak of war. Birmingham became the first Royal Navy vessel to sink a German submarine, ramming U-15 while she was surfaced (and attempting to dive) on 9 August 1914 (just 4 days after the declaration of war). With her he also saw action in the Battle of Heligoland (28 August 1914) and the Battle of Dogger Bank (January 1915). He transferred to HMS Southampton on 17 February 1916. Southampton received heavy damage and casualties at the Battle of Jutland, but it was apparently due to Ralph’s course calculations and orders for zig-zags that worse was avoided. King-Hall records that the ship’s company were surprised he did not receive the DSO following the battle. He was promoted to lieutenant commander shortly afterwards though, on 15 July 1916, and was recommended for further promotion in December 1916 by both Goodenough (who had led 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron at Jutland) and Captain Craufurd.

The reports of his death must have been some what overshadowed as the Silvertown Explosion in East London occurred the same day, several tons of TNT exploded at a munitions works, killing 73, severely wounding 98, and wounding hundreds more, as well as leaving many homeless.

Ralph is remembered on the war memorials at Inst, Elmwood Presbyterian Church and Malone Park Golf Club (his naval record mentions his skill at both golf and football), and on the family grave in one of Belfast’s main cemeteries (recently tidied up by local volunteers).

His death reminds us that even in time of war, mariners’ greatest opponent can still be the sea itself, rather than the human enemy.


36 Casualty Clearing Station located

Back in February I asked the question Where was 36 Casualty Clearing Station in July 1916? I thought I’d pretty well exhausted all avenues, particularly as I’d gone through the unit’s war diary up to the time they left the area. However, the most recent commenter (Tim) on that original post also contacted me shortly after via the Great War Forum to say he’d found a plan of the CCS at Heilly. At the very end of the 1917 war diary (WO 95/344/9), which I hadn’t looked at as it was long after they moved on, is a plan dated May 1916 showing the CCS at Heilly in relation to the station. This was just what I had been hoping for originally!

A plan drawn in pen on heavy paper, showing the layout of the casualty clearing station with pairs of tents in four lines at right angles to a railway

Plan of 36 Casualty Clearing Station dated May 1916. The plan is not conventionally oriented with north at the top, there is a compass marker at the top of the plan, a little to the right of centre, indicating north. The railway station is at the bottom of the plan, the level crossing, and the Mericourt-Corbie road are all indicated. At the bottom left is the name of the surveyor, “E Spencer Bourne Capt RTO Heilly”, probably Captain Ernest Spencer Bourne of the Railway Transport Executive, posted as the Rail Transport Officer at Heilly at the time. Crown Copyright/Open Government Licence.

In addition to the orientation on the plan, the scale is marked at the bottom of the map, 1″ to 66′ (1 inch to 66 feet). This seemed a slightly odd scale until I realised that this was the same as 1 inch to 22 yards. That 22 yards is the length of a cricket pitch is no coincidence, this is the length of a surveryor’s chain, and a therefore a standard unit of measure in surveying.

I’ve also made an attempt at overlaying the map on Google Earth, it matches pretty closely to the roads and railways, but possibly the level crossing has been moved slightly. Either that, or the plan just needs a little more rectification due to the slope of the ground.

Satellite view of the area round Heilly Station with the clearing station plan overlaid

Plan overlaid on Google Earth imagery, also showing my original guesses at location. Though at the wrong end of the field, my yellow marker seems to match quite closely in size to the three rows of tents closest to the road leading to the station

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

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

Where was 36 Casualty Clearing Station in July 1916?

Update 10/12/2016 — a plan of the CCS in May 1916 turned up in the 1917 section of the 36 CCS war diary.  See 36 Casualty Clearing Station located

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:






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.

A Manchester Accountant on Gallipoli: John William Womersley (1884-1915)

ruI’ve been slightly sidetracked from ringers recently by investigating some of my own family history, including several more who had war service.

Oval-framed head and shoulders portrait photo of a mustachioed man in military uniform, with no cap

Lieutenant John William Womersley, courtesy of the Mill Hill Foundation, from original in “The book of remembrance and war record of Mill Hill School”. Efforts have been made to establish the original copyright holders, but without success, if you believe you hold the copyright to these images, please contact me.

One hundred years ago the Womersley family was in deep mourning. On 7 June 1915 a telegram had arrived from the War Office carrying the sad news of the death in action on Gallipoli on 4 June of the eldest son of the household, John William (Jack) Womersley who had been serving with 1/8th (Ardwick)Battalion, the Manchester Regiment. His father, Frederick Womersley, had barely got over the death of his wife of 31 years, Emily (nee Pare), who had died on 25 August 1914. The second son of the family, Charles Frederick, was also dangerously ill with septic endocarditis. The three younger sons of family were also all in uniform, though only Arthur Sydney was in action, serving as a trooper with (successively?) Brand’s Horse and Colonel Pyper’s Commando in the South African Forces, which were fighting German forces in what is now Namibia.

John William (Jack) Womersley was born at 59 Ducie Grove, Chorlton upon Medlock, Manchester on 3 February 1884, the eldest child of Frederick Womersley and Emily (nee Pare). Emily was the eldest sister of Frederick Pare, my great-grandfather. She, and two more sisters, Alice and Elizabeth, were born in Calais in 1856, 1857 and 1860 respectively. Their parents, John Pare and Ann (nee Norris) had married in Calais in 1853. Ann was originally from Deal in Kent, it’s not quite clear what she was doing in Calais (the 1841 census suggests her father was a boatman). John Pare was presumably learning up-to-date methods in the lace trade, the family had returned to his home town of Nottingham (one of the centres of the lace trade in England) by the 1861 census when they were living at Royal Street, St Mary’s, Nottingham. John is listed as a “Lace Machine Holder Employing 3 Men 1 Woman 2 Boys”.

Frederick Womersley’s origins are slightly more obscure, with sources variously giving his place of birth as Berkshire, Yorkshire and Manchester, although birth registrations suggest he was born at Barton-upon-Irwell in 1856, although his family was of Yorkshire origin. Census information suggests his family was reasonably well-to-do, and probably involved in the textile trade. However, his own journals, which he seems to have revisited late in life, and recorded selected information he felt was particularly important (and the final version was subsequently partially transcribed by my great-uncle David Pare, youngest brother of my grandfather) show he ended up in debt after helping out his older brother who had ended up in serious financial trouble. One employer mentioned in the journals is John Hithersay, who is probably the man shown in the 1881 census as a Lace Commission Agent, residing at 1 Heather Bank, Withington (RG 11/3892 Folio 111 Page 34), it was he who loaned Frederick money in order to help his brother Charlie, but when Frederick asked Hithersay for a further advance against his wages in early 1877, Hithersay instead gave him two months’ notice. Frederick then worked for a George Baker, due to the rather more common name, it’s not been possible to identify him. While working for Baker, Frederick moved into bookkeeping. In November 1878 he visited Nottingham with a man whose surname my great-uncle David transcribed from Frederick’s journal as Stoner (or Stonor), but the 1881 census suggests he was actually Thomas Storer. My great-uncle surmised that he was a business connection, given that Nottingham’s lace trade (and thus the Pares) would have needed thread, which would have been readily available from Manchester’s factories. However, the evidence of the census is again slightly against this, Storer is shown as a lithographic artist. He may have been involved in the fringes of the textile trade preparing illustrations for catalogues or adverts. Part of the reason they were in Nottingham was to attend a concert at Wool Alley on 27 November, this was a social club and charitable institution for the slums of Nottingham, and the Pares were heavily involved in its running. One of those performing in the concert was Emily Pare, though as a Fredrick noted in a later addition to the journal (dated 23 September 1918), he did not actually meet her at this time. The census also tells us that Storer was born in Nottingham. Taken together, I suspect that Storer and Womersley were more likely to have met at church (or, more accurately, chapel) – perhaps there was even a plan to start something similar to the Wool Alley club in Manchester?
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