Tag Archives: Army-Navy peal

Army-Navy peal 1914: Archibald Percy Randolph Gibbs (1888-26 August 1914†)

This is the fifth in the series on the eight ringers who rang the first peal by an armed forces band, it follows on from the previous article on Frederick James Souter. Logically this article should have come seventh, as that was the bell rung in the original peal by its subject, but there is a good reason for it to be published on 26 August 2014.

Archibald Percy Randolph Gibbs (1888 – 26 August 1914†). Served c1909-1914.

Archibald Percy Randolph Gibbs was born in Great Comberton, Worcestershire in 1888. He was the seventh of eight children of Ambrose John Gibbs and Julia Gibbs. He seems to have generally been known as Percy. His father was a carpenter and joiner, his mother a laundress. Two of his older brothers were also ringers, Ernest and Claude. Ernest began ringing around 1903, ringing his first quarter peal on 22 August 1903 (Plain Bob and Grandsire Doubles) on the treble. The three brothers rang for various other local occasions over the next few years. They scored their first peal on 26 January 1907 (they had hoped to ring on 12 January to mark Ernest’s birthday, but illness prevented this). This was the first peal on the bells at Great Comberton, and was in various minor methods. They’d had a previous attempt on 18 August 1906 which came to grief after 4300 changes. In the successful peal, Percy was again on the treble, with Claude on the second, H Salisbury on the third, Ernest the fourth, F Viles the fifth and J H White (conductor) on the sixth. At Easter 1908 they made a trip to Worcester to ring Grandsire Triples as St Helen’s on Easter Monday.

Some time later that year or in 1909, Percy took himself off to Cardiff and enlisted in the King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment). Why he chose that regiment is not known, nor why he went to Cardiff to enlist. It appears one of the sons of the former rector of Great Comberton, Revd Nathaniel Shelmerdine, served as an officer in the York and Lancaster Regiment, perhaps he had actually intended to join them? He was initially posted to the 2nd Battalion on Jersey, but in September was sent to join the 1st Battalion in Lucknow, India. He managed to fit in some farewell ringing at Great Hampton (Kent Minor) before leaving, this was conducted by Ernest. At the 1911 census he was with the battalion in Havelock Barracks, Dilkushia, Lucknow. The battalion was posted home to Dover in December 1912.

In Dover Percy took the chance to start ringing again. He was elected to the Kent County Association on 2 April 1913 prior to a peal of Grandsire Triples at Dover. He rang six further peals before the war, including the armed forces peal.

With the outbreak of war, the King’s Own had to guard various key points around Dover, and also any German shipping brought into the harbour. On mobilisation, the battalion formed part of 4th Division, which was initially retained at home in case of German invasion, and spent some time around Norwich and then Neasden. They finally set off for France on 21 August, just as the BEF was first making contact with the Germans.

They landed at Boulogne late on 22 August, and were rapidly taken by train to Bertry, east of Cambrai, arriving at 10am on 23 August. They subsequently moved to Haucourt. They were now seeing men from other divisions in retreat following the Battle of Mons, which came as a huge shock. On 26 August came the great stand at Le Cateau. It was during this action (which also involved the 2nd Essex with Souter) that the King’s Own were cut to pieces. At the roll call following the action it was found 5 officers were killed, 6 wounded (2 of those POW), 1 missing, and 431 other ranks, killed, wounded and missing. Percy was among the latter. Red Cross records show his family made enquiries after Percy was declared missing on 26 August 1914, the results of these suggest he had been wounded in the thigh and treated in “Blanche de Castille” hospital in Cambrai. This may have been a temporary facility set up in a school or convent. However he actually died, no record of his burial was made, so he is commemorated on the La Ferte-sous-Jouarre Memorial with others from the first days of the war whose grave is unknown. References for details in this post can be found in his profile on the Lives of the First World War website, and some details are from the Kent County Association of Change Ringers’ roll of honour for the First World War.

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Army-Navy peal 1914: Frederick James Souter (1892-3 June 1953)

This is the fourth in the series on the eight ringers who rang the first peal by an armed forces band, it follows on from the previous article on Alfred Arthur Playle.

Frederick James Souter (1892-3 June 1953). Served c1913-c1934.

The birth of Frederick James Souter was registered in the Bosmere registration district, Suffolk, in the third quarter of 1892. He must in fact have been born right at the beginning of June, or maybe later May as at his death on 3 June 1953 he was stated to be 61 years of age. It’s also worth noting that his name was actually registered as James Frederick, but as his father was also James, presumably he was known as Frederick right from the beginning. The family lived in Mendham, Suffolk. The marriage of the elder James Souter and Eliza Prentice had been registered in the Ipswich registration district in the fourth quarter 1891.

The family was already full of bell ringers, with the elder James’ himself along with other Souter’s, Charles, James and William all being ringers in and around Stowmarket (I haven’t quite established the exact family links). They all appear regularly in the columns of Bell News in 1891 and early 1892. Soon after Frederick’s birth, the family moved to Essex. The first record indicating this is ringing at Ardleigh on 9 October 1892 where J Souter is said to be a Little Bentley ringer, late of Stowmarket. However, he then seems to disappear from ringing records for a few years. Charles Henry Souter was born in the Tendring registration district (which included Little Bentley) mid 1894, sadly he died aged 3, in the first quarter 1897. The birth of William Stanley Souter was registered in the third quarter 1896, the 1901 census gives his place of birth as Mistley.

A new ring of bells was dedicated at Mistley on 25 April, cast the previous year to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria. Presumably James Souter soon started ringing there, but the report of J Souter (presumably Frederick’s father) as a bellringer at Mistley, is of his ringing 720 changes of Kent Treble Bob on 14 January 1900, and the same method on 4 February and 7 February. The band rang the same again on 1 March, in honour of the Relief of Ladysmith the same day, and on that occasion J Souter conducted. On 16 April they rang 720 Oxford Bob Minor. On 4 July, they were ringing Double Court Minor. On 2 December they rang Double Court and Plain Bob minor. According to the later obituary for Frederick Souter, he was taught to ring by his father and uncle aged just 8, but that was supposed to have been at Stowmarket – his age would put this around 1900. On 31 January 1901, James Souter rang Oxford Bob Minor and on 20 March 1901, Double Court and Plain Bob minor. At the time of the 1901 census the family were living at Cross Road, Mistley. James (33) is shown as being a carter on a farm, Eliza (32), James Frederick (8) and William (4). Around the end of July (no precise date is given) “Jas Souter” rang in a 720 of Cambridge Minor at Mistley, claimed to be the first time the method had been rung at Mistley, though it was subsequently pointed out that the method had been rung at the opening of the bells. After this success, no reports of ringing have been found until a peal of various minor methods was rung at Mistley on 13 April 1904, with James Souter on the treble. This was the first peal on the bells at Mistley. The next report that’s been found is for a 720 of Bob Minor on 9 October 1904 at Mistley.

The reports then again dry up for a few years, until on 9 January both Frederick (aged 14), and James, are reported to have rung in a 720 of Cambridge at Mistley, the first by an entirely local band (and the first 720 rung by Frederick at all). Frederick (listed as J F, aged 15) repeated the feat at Great Bromley on 2 March. Frederick was obviously now a keen ringer, as he was ringing Bob Minor at Mistley on 12 March, though the specific reports then dry up until 16 November when father and son rang 720s of Cambridge and Double Norwich at Great Bentley (the ringing having been arranged specially for them). In December, both rang at the dedication of a new ring at Tendring. On 9 February 1908, both rang in a 720 of Oxford Treble Bob at Mistley, and a touch of Cambridge. Frederick also rang a 720 of Plain Bob Minor on 12 March. On 17 June father and son rang in a date touch of 1908 Bob Minor at Mistley, along with some shorter touches. This was repeated six months later on 16 December.

On 10 January 1909 father and son rang in various touches which marked the departure of the Revd Noel H Johnson (probably a curate) who was about to take up missionary work in India. No further reports of ringing have been traced until 24 June 1910 when Frederick and James, along with S Souter (Stanley?, who would now have been about 14) rang 1910 Bob Minor at Manningtree, where the Revd T Kensit Norman (also Rector of Mistley) was being inducted as Vicar.

At the time of the census in 1911 the family was at Horseley, Cross Road, Mistley. James and Frederick are both described as horsemen, while William Stanley is listed as a general farm hand. No occupation is given for Eliza, but it is shown that she had been married for 19 years, and had had 3 children, one of whom had died. In September 1911, James, Frederick and, presumably, Stanley rang a date touch of Plain Bob Minor on 9 September, and on 28 September 720 of the same method. In 1912 there was a date touch of Plain Bob Minor again on 24 February, along with some other ringing, and more the following day, all in honour of the birthday of the rector’s wife. On 25 September, James and Frederick rang a 720 of Bob Minor.

Frederick joined the Essex Regiment around March or April 1913 (his service record will still be held by the Ministry of Defence, but analysis of regimental numbers close to his of 10188 suggest this date). He would probably first have trained at the regimental depot at Warley, and was then posted to 2nd Battalion which in 1913 was at Bordon, near Aldershot, but was then transferred to Chatham by 1914. Although no reports of ringing by him have been traced in this period, he must have made himself known to the local ringers, and more importantly those who were also members of the armed forces, as he was selected to join the peal band on 8 January which was the first peal by an all armed forces band, and his first peal at all. His younger brother, William Stanley also joined the 3rd (Special Reserve) Battalion in about June of 1913 (he was given the number 3/1937, 3/1938 joined on 11 June). It was actually quite common to join the Special Reserve, and then subsequently transfer to the regulars, so it’s possible that Frederick also followed that route, but as he would have been given a new number on becoming a regular, it is impossible to be certain without obtaining his service record.

2nd Battalion remained stationed at Chatham, a quiet posting, but then on 28 June 1914 came the assassination in Sarajevo, and ultimately, Britain’s declaration of war on 4 August. On mobilisation, 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment formed part of 12 Infantry Brigade, 4th Division which was initially retained on home service, in case of German invasion. Stationed first in Norwich, and then on the Norfolk coast at Cromer, they were then moved to Harrow, Middlesex. On 22 August they moved at last to France. This was the very day that British forces first came into contact with those of Germany. They moved up from their landing place at Le Havre, and made contact with the rest of the British Expeditionary Force on 25 August. The BEF had now entered into the Retreat from Mons, and the following day Souter’s battalion was thrown into the holding action at Le Cateau. Of around 40,000 British troops committed to the action during the day, 7,812 would end it killed, wounded, missing or captured. Fortunately, Souter was not one of them so far as we can tell. He remained with the battalion throughout the war, which played its part in most of the major actions of the war. He is known to have had some leave in February 1918 (by which time he was a corporal), and took that chance to return to the bell tower at Great Bromley, along with his father, on 24 February. He ended the war an acting serjeant. So far as is known, he did not receive any major injuries. His brother William was not so lucky. He was presumably called up from the reserve at the outbreak of war. Still only 18, he would not have been eligible to go overseas immediately (the minimum age was 19). As soon as he reached that age, he was posted to 1st Battalion, Essex Regiment, which had landed on the Gallipoli peninsular on 25 April. He arrived on 25 May, unusually arriving as a lance corporal (generally those who had obtained rank at home reverted to private on posting overseas). Five days later he was dead. He is remembered on the Helles Memorial.

The war over, Souter could have left the army with his basic five year service with the colours complete, and served out the remainder of his 12 year enlistment on the reserve. However, he opted to continue serving. 4th Division was broken up in early 1919, and 2nd Battalion, Essex Regiment, was posted to Malta, and then in 1920 to occupation duties in Turkey. However, based on the evidence of his personal life, it seems likely that Souter was transferred to 1st Battalion, which after the war went to Kinsale, Ireland, and was involved in trying to put down the Irish War of Independence. Following the Anglo-Irish Treaty, 1st Battalion was posted to Bordon in 1922. Souter married Kate Griggs back in the Tendring registration district in the 2nd quarter 1920. The birth of Lillian K Souter (mother’s maiden name Griggs) was registered in the Tendring registration district in the 4th quarter 1922, followed by Dorothy J Souter registered Romford RD, 3rd quarter 1924, and Robert J Griggs, Colchester RD, 3rd quarter 1926. 1st Battalion had been posted to Colchester in 1925.

Despite these home postings, Souter does not seem to have found any time for ringing during this time – or at least not for quarter peals and peals (1st battalion moved on to Pembroke Dock in 1929 and Catterick in 1932). The first report of a return to the belfry was a halfmuffled peal of Kent Minor on 12 March 1932 marking the death of his father (registered Tendring RD, 1st quarter 1932). It is described as his first peal of minor. James Souter had been a member of the Mistley ringers for 34 years. Souter presumably left the army about 1934, but remains elusive in ringing reports. At some point he settled in Prittlewell (near Southend), but exactly when is not clear. No more ringing has been traced before the outbreak of the Second World War. This of course largely curtailed ringing until 1943 when the danger of invasion was past, and permission was granted for bells to be rung normally again. During this conflict Souter reportedly trained the Home Guard.

Rather unexpectedly the birth of David M C Souter (mother’s maiden name Griggs) was registered in the 1st quarter 1944, in the Southend RD. I cannot trace another Souter-Griggs marriage, so presumably this was their son, despite the gap of almost 20 years from their previous child! Unfortunately the brief obituary published subsequently makes no mention of his family.

On 19 May 1945 he rang in a peal of Bob Major at Fobbing (near Basildon), and later in the year a quarter peal of Kent Major at Prittlewell on 28 October, followed by Grandsire Triples there on 11 November (despite the date, this does not appear to have been halfmuffled, or explicitly for Armistice Day). He finished the year with a peal of Kent Royal (his first) on 15 December, and a quarter of Bob Major on Christmas Eve at Prittlewell (his surname is given as Sowter in this report). A report of a touch of Grandsire Doubles on 27 January 1945 was stated to include a Frederick Lowler – possibly this was a misreading of Souter.

1946 began with a quarter peal of Grandsire Caters on 6 January at Prittlewell, followed by a peal of the same on 20 January (the 100th peal on the bells). On 23 February a peal of Grandsire Cater, his first (and the first for several other members of the band). The quarter of Grandsire Triples was repeated on 24 March. On 6 April he rang a peal of Bob Royal. On 21 July, a quarter of Kent Major. On 19 October a peal of Kent Royal. Two days later, on 21 October, came a handbell peal (his first) of Bob Minor. This was rung at 73 St Mary’s Road, Prittlewell, presumably either Souter’s home, or that of one of the other two ringers, Edgar Rapley and Frank Lufkin.

1947 proceeded in similar vein, with a peal of Cambridge Major at Stanford-le-Hope (the first in the method on the bells) on 8 March. Then, at Prittlewell on 7 April a record length (9000 changes) of Bob Royal. This marked the bicentenary of the Cumberland Youths, though it was rung for the Essex Association, and the band was mixed, with at least one College Youth among them. An ordinary length peal of Kent Major followed on 15 May, a quarter of Grandsire Caters on 17 August, and a peal of Bob Royal on 8 November. 1948 began with a quarter of Stedman Triples on 18 January but seems to have otherwise seen only a quarter of Grandsire Caters on 7 November, and Bob Royal on 5 December. 1949 began with a quarter peal of Grandsire Caters on 2 January, followed by Kent Royal on 2 May, a peal of Stedman Caters (his first in the principle) on 28 May, a halfmuffled quarter peal of Stedman Caters on 6 November. In 1950 he managed a peal of Stedman Caters on 18 February, Bob Major on 11 May, and a quarter peal of Kent Royal on 28 May.

Sadly about this time his health began to deteriorate, and he disappears form ringing reports, other than his election as a life member of the Essex Association at the AGM on Whit Monday 1952. After three years of illness he died on 3 June 1953, aged 61. His funeral was on 11 June, the bells of Prittlewell being rung halfmuffled by the local band. His obituary describes him as “an enthusiastic ringer and [..] excellent striker”. At the College Youths’ dinner in 1953 he was named as one of the members who had died during the year, but does not actually seem to be included among the online membership lists.

Army-Navy peal 1914: William Austin Cooke (1870-1938)

On 8 January 1914, eight serving members of the armed forces gathered at St Mary’s, Gillingham, in order to make the first attempt to ring a peal by an all armed forces band. A feat that was recently commemorated a century on by members of the present armed forces guilds of bellringers. The following series of eight posts will examine the lives of those eight ringers in greater detail. Though this is a slight diversion from the main thrust of this blog, we’ll see that they were not entirely without Surrey connections.

The first man was the oldest, and the highest ranking, as he was also ringing the treble bell, there seemed little choice but to research him first.

Shipwright Lieutenant William Austin Cooke (27 January 1870-10 February 1938). Served 2 July 1894-12 August 1922.

Aheavily cropped head and shoulders photograph of a middle-aged man with left side-parting and dressed in jacket, shirt and tie.

W A Cooke pictured in the Kent Messenger, re-used by The Ringing World obituary

Cooke was born in Gillingham on 27 January 1870. However, it has proved impossible to trace him in the 1871 or 1881 censuses – it is possible that his father was also in the armed services. In 1891 he was lodging at 2 Station Road, Gillingham, with Harriet Johnson (30), married, but husband not present, and her daughter Elsie (3). Harriet’s husband was perhaps another naval man. Cooke is listed as a joiner. Cooke married Amelia Alice G Preston in early 1894. He had already learnt to ring under the tutelage of Gabriel Lindoff (who was then serving in the Royal Engineers), ringing in the first peals of Cambridge and Superlative to be rung in Kent. He joined the Royal Navy on 2 July 1894. He was described as being 5’4”, with light brown hair, hazel eyes and a fresh complexion. His civilian skills were obviously taken into account, as he was immediately rated leading carpenter crew. He served ashore in Chatham until January 1895 when he was posted to HMS Dryad, a torpedo gunboat. A daughter, Gladys, was born later in 1895. Three years later he was briefly transferred to HMS Hibernia, an old wooden ship-of-the-line, serving as the depot ship in Malta, before returning to Dryad after just a month.

Cooke came back ashore at Chatham on 29 April 1898. Over the next two years he was re-rated as shipwright, and then promoted to leading shipwright. He was posted to the battleship HMS Repulse on 11 January 1900, and was aboard her on the night of the 1901 census. His wife and daughter were living with her father, a widower, George Preston (70), a pensioned engine fitter, at 72 Duncan Road, Gillingham. His rating was changed again in July 1901, possibly back to carpenter, but the admiralty clerk appears to have taken lessons form a doctor writing prescriptions! He was posted to HMS Jupiter on 9 July 1901 and was still serving on her when she took part in the Fleet Review at Spithead which marked the Coronation of Edward VII in August the following year. He came ashore to Chatham again on 3 July 1903, and was then posted to the brand new battleship, HMS Albemarle, on 12 November 1903.

Cooke was given an acting warrant on 15 December 1904, and confirmed in the rank of warrant shipwright on 22 December 1905. It is not quite clear if he was serving ashore during this point, or if he remained on Albemarle. He was posted to the cruiser HMS Blenheim on 8 February 1906, serving on her for just under a year. He then joined another cruiser, HMS Sappho on 21 February 1907, and then her sister ship, HMS Brilliant on 1 May 1908. She paid off on 10 December 1909 and he was without a ship until 18 February 1910 when he joined the battleship HMS Charybdis. He was aboard her on the night of the 1911 census. His wife and daughter were again at 72 Duncan Road, their nephew Victor Preston Rowland (23), an engine fitter was also living there. The census return shows (as expected) that they had been married 17 years, but also that they had had two other children who had died – it has not yet been possible to identify these. He transferred to the scout cruiser HMS Foresight (based at Dover) on 4 May 1911, and then the battleship HMS Albion on 10 October 1912. She was initially based at the Nore, so Cooke presumably managed to get ashore to ring quite often, but by the time of the peal was actually stationed at Pembroke Dock, so presumably he had to obtain leave to take part.

On 27 April 1914 Cooke was posted back to HMS Blenheim in Malta. He remained there until 23 February 1917 when he returned to the UK. He was then posted to Illustrious, a former battleship now downgraded to a munitions storeship, on 23 May. She was based on the Tyne, and while serving on her Cooke managed various visits to towers in Newcastle and the surrounding area, including ringing at Newcastle Cathedral for a royal visit over the weekend of 17-18 June. Illustrious was moved to Portsmouth in November 1917, and it seems Cooke went with her as he was nominally transferred to the books of HMS Ganges, a shore establishment at Shotley. He saw out the war there. Cooke was in Harwich on 8 July 1919 when he took part in a peal attempt to mark the funeral of Charles Fryatt. Fryatt had become a cause célèbre during the war, a merchant marine captain, he had rammed a German submarine with his vessel and sunk it. He was captured on a subsequent occasion, and once the Germans realised who he was, he was court martialled and executed for his earlier actions. The Germans held that as he was not a combatant, his actions had been illegal. His death provoked almost as much outrage in the British press as the execution of Edith Cavell. Fryatt had attended school in Harwich before going to sea. The peal attempt failed (Cooke was conducting, Parker’s 12 part peal of Grandsire, but something went one wrong just before the end of the first part). There wasn’t time to restart, so one of the other ringers then started to call a Quarter Peal of Bob Major, but sadly that also came to grief when the muffle of the 6th slipped.

Cooke was then posted to HMS Raleigh on 19 August. She was still under construction, launched on 22 August, but not brought into commission until 1921. She was then assigned as flagship on the North American station. He left her on 26 July 1922 in order to come home and retire. Through the negligence of her captain, she was run aground on 8 August 1922 in thick fog, leading to the deaths of 11 crew. She was a total loss. On 10 August 1922, Cooke was placed on the retired list with the rank of shipwright lieutenant. He then settled in Rainham, joining the band there, and becoming church warden. He was also a freemason and member of TocH. It may well not be a coincidence that Rainham was the hometown of George Gilbert (one of the other ringers in the peal), and his family ran a building firm there, who could have made use of Cooke’s carpentry skills. Cooke died on 12 August 1922. He was known to have rung a fair number of peals, but had kept no record. He was a member of the Kent County Association and the College Youths (1890).