Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Thomas Skurray - "blown to pieces" August 1915

Thomas Skurray was killed in action 91 years ago; one of the first casualties sustained by the 6th Berkshire Regiment during the First World War. This is his story:

Thomas Skurray’s entry appears in Nurse Rose Smythe's album and is dated 27th September 1914. He was a relative of hers and was probably simply visiting Chailey (or Nurse Smythe was visiting him at Shorncliffe). At this stage of the war, although Sussex 54 VAD was well and truly established in terms of personnel, it would not have a premises from which to nurse until Hickwells became available in March 1915. Thomas Skurray’s entry reads:

Lce Cpl T C Skurray
No 10181
6th Royal Berks
St Martin’s Plain
Shorncliffe

Sept 27th 1914

One more won’t hurt

Thomas Clement Skurray was born in Shrivenham, Berkshire about 1880. He was the son of John and Maria Skurray (nee Greenwood, born 29th May 1840) who had married in London on 8th November 1866, their marriage recorded at Lambeth district in the December quarter of that year. John Skurray was a farmer, the son of another Thomas Clement Skurray (c1811-1858) of Woolstone, Berkshire. On the 1861 census he is noted as the 24 year old head of (what looks like) Cowleaze Farm, Woolstone, Berkshire and is recorded as a baker, farmer of 250 acres and employer of seven men and three boys.

By the time the 1871 census was taken John had married Maria and was living at Elm Tree House, Shrivenham. It is possible that the farm was sold and the proceeds divided between John and his siblings. The census records him as a “London cow keeper” and also notes that the couple have a three year old son, Charles Clement Skurray.

The 1881 census notes further changes in the composition of the Skurray household. Maria is now a widow and living with her children at her parents’ home in Winterbrook Farm, Cholsey. John Skurray had probably died earlier the same year, his death being registered at Highworth, Wiltshire in the March quarter of 1881. He was 44 years old. Maria’s father, 72 year old Charles Greenwood, headed the household in 1881. He was a retired farmer who had owned 320 acres of land and at one time was the overseer of the parish of Cholsey. Living with him were his wife, Emma Hannah Greenwood (nee Wright, aged 71), their daughter Sophia Greenwood (aged 32) and Maria and her five children. In age order they were: Charles (aged 13), Margaret M Skurray (aged 11), Gertrude Maude Skurray (aged seven), Jonathan Stephen Skurray (aged four) and Thomas (aged one). There was also a 19 year servant, Mary Blagrove, living at the house.

By the time the 1891 census was taken the family had shrunk considerably. Maria is still noted as living at Winterbrook but by now she is the head of the family and living on her own means. Apart from a 26 year old boarder, George Hardy, Gertrude (aged 17) and Thomas (aged 11) are the only children living at home. Maria’s father had died on 6th February 1887 but her mother would live on for another couple of years. She though, is not noted as living at the same address.

Ten years later, the family had moved and was living at Wensworth Dell (possibly), Stanley Road, Newbury, Berkshire. Maria, by now aged 60 and a widow for the last twenty years, is recorded as the head of the household and living on her own means. With her are her daughters Margaret (aged 31 and working from home as a music teacher) and Gertrude (aged 27 and with no occupation listed against her name). Thomas, aged 21, is recorded as a coppersmith.

When war against Germany was declared, Thomas was living in Devizes, Wiltshire. He enlisted at Reading though, joining the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment, a New Army battalion formed in the town in September 1914. Lord Kitchener by now already had the 100,000 men he’d called for and the battalion would be designated as a K2 battalion and would ultimately form part of the 53rd Brigade in the 18th (Eastern) Division. Thomas appears to have adapted to army life well. A lance corporal by the time he left his entry in Rose Smythe’s album, he would be promoted again to corporal and finally to sergeant.

In late 1914 or early 1915, he married Mary Bray, their marriage registered in the district of St George, Hanover Square, in the March quarter of that year. He would not have had much time with his new wife however. The men of the 6th Berks remained in England until 24th July 1915 when they entrained at Codford for Southampton. They disembarked at Boulogne in heavy rain the following day and moved into tents at Ostrohove Rest Camp. Over the next few days they made their way towards Amiens and had a five mile route march on the 28th. Perhaps mindful of the German gas attacks at Ypres earlier that year, respirators were worn for quarter of an hour intervals during the march.

On 2nd August the men moved out of their camp at Rubempre and then marched for five hours until they reached Bouzincourt. The weather was reported as “very bad, rain falling heavily”. By 11pm they were in billets.

On 5th August the battalion suffered its first battle casualty when Private S Danby of C Company was wounded by a shell in the trenches. The battalion had previously had four men evacuated due to sickness, one of whom had since returned, but Danby has the distinction of being the first 6th Berks man to be wounded.

On 12th August, their first period of duty in the trenches over (and with two more men wounded), the battalion marched to Bresle where the men were given good billets “better than any we had had before”. From there, the men moved to Daours where they were engaged in the usual round of training and parades. On 19th August, A Company had baths and the men were given clean under clothes. C Company were partly bathed and outfitted the following day and Major General Maxse, commander of the 18th Division, who inspected the 53rd Brigade later that day at Bussy, complimented the men on their smartness and steadiness.

On Saturday 21st August the battalion marched out of Daours en route for Bray, arriving there at 9pm. The following day it went into trenches opposite Mametz, the relief being accomplished by 2.30am and with no casualties. The enemy facing them were reported as Bavarians.

The following day, Privates Wennan and Morrell of B Company were killed by a sniper and buried the same afternoon. Thomas Skurray, who belonged to the same company, was killed four days later. Reading the battalion war diary it is clear that the trenches in which the 6th Berks found themselves, needed some attention and that also there was intermittent shelling and rifle fire (some of it heavy), throughout the men’s time there. The night on which Thomas Skurray was killed though, was the most trying day for the battalion since it had arrived in France. The following transcripts are from the 6th Berks’ war diary:

Friday 27th August 1915
France, Bray
The day was quiet and work was proceeded with. The trenches want a lot of attention - accommodation for our numbers of men & officers being totally inadequate. The difficulty in getting wood is retarding the progress of our improvements. Timber & all materials for dug-outs - defensive positions etc - bombs and grenades are badly wanted & not easily obtainable. The Essex Regt (one Coy) took over the Citadel, & are employed in RE fatigues and digging a communication trench. The enemy shell the cook-houses etc at the citadel frequently - but with no result. Our Artillery was busy on the enemy's trenches during the day. At 8pm a rifle-grenade exploded on our left sector. Ptes Greenhaugh & Green of B Coy being wounded. At 8.30pm a sausage exploded close to Coy HQ of our left sector. Some damage was done & the following NCOs killed & wounded - KILLED Sgt Skurry [sic] - L/Cpl Bettis. Ptes Westall - Smith & Gillam. WOUNDED - Ptes Slater - Gorton - and Neil. All these men belonged to "B" Coy. Some aerial torpedoes - two more sausages and a number of rifle grenades were fired at us during the rest of the night, but no further casualties occurred. The night passed without further incident. The enemy were busy repairing damage done to their lines by our Artillery between points 311 & 313. Pte Gee - "A" Coy was buried in the afternoon. The B'dr visited the trenches during the evening.

Saturday 28th August 1915
France, Bray
Consultation with gunners as to best way of dealing with the sausage and preventing enemy making use of the crater. Decided to fire ranging shots on crater and to open fire in direction from which next sausage arrives. Artillery did excellent practice into crater. Enemy snipers very much less active - and there was little or no response to our Artillery. Sgt Skurry [sic] Ptes Westall & Smith were so blown to pieces that they will have to be buried in one grave. Three rifles brought back from scene of explosion smashed and twisted. Improvement of trenches continues under great difficulties. The 5 men killed last night were buried tonight at 8. Pte Andrews accidentally wounded on 26th died today at No 5 Casualty Clearing Stn. D Coy relieved B on left sector. Pte Richardson "D" Coy wounded. The night passed without incident.

Thomas Skurray is buried at Citadel New Military Cemetery, Fricourt. He shares the same grave reference (II.C.8) as Privates Smith and Westall although each man has a separate gravestone. All three graves are next to one another. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes the additional information that he was the “son of John and Maria Skurray, of Shrivenham, Berks; husband of Mary Seward (formerly Skurray), of 36, First Avenue, Garden City, Grimsby.”

On 17th October 1915, less than two months after her son had been killed in action, Maria Skurray died at the age of 55.

Friday, August 25, 2006

Chailey mourns two more men

On this day, eighty eight years ago, Arthur Snelling and Thomas Chatfield lost their lives. This is their story:

13326 Cpl Arthur Harry Snelling, 13th King's Royal Rifle Corps

Arthur Snelling was born around 1893 in Reigate, Surrey. He appears on the 1901 census as an eight year old boy living with his parents, brothers and sister at South Street, Chailey. In 1901 the family comprised: Arthur E Snelling (head of the family, a butcher, born in Battersea, aged 32), Minnie Snelling, (Arthur’s wife aged 34), William Snelling (son, aged 11), Richard Ernest Snelling (son, aged nine), Arthur (son, aged eight) and May Snelling (daughter, aged 11 months). With the exception of May who was born in Chailey, the three boys had been born in Reigate so it seems reasonable to assume that at some time after Arthur’s birth around 1892 and before May’s birth (probably in May 1900), the family had moved from Reigate to Chailey.

Arthur Snelling is noted in the October 1914 issue of Chailey Parish Magazine as serving his King and Country. In October 1915 he is reported as lance-corporal serving with the ASC in France; subsequently promoted to corporal in November 1915 and sergeant in May 1916.

On December 22nd 1916, The East Sussex News reported that “Sgt A Snelling (ASC) and Pte R Snelling of the Royal Fusiliers, both sons of Mr and Mrs A Snelling of Roeheath Common, are home on leave. Sgt Snelling has been in France since the outbreak of war and his brother for two years.”

It then appears that Arthur Snelling transferred out of the ASC to an infantry battalion because in January 1918, under the NCO section of Chailey Parish Magazine’s roll of serving soldiers, the following appears: Snelling, Rif A, 21st KRR.

It was not to be a lucky move. In November 1918, Chailey Parish Magazine added another name to its roll: Corpl A Snelling, 21st KRR, died of wounds, Aug 25th 1918 in France.

The Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission’s Debt of Honour Register makes no mention of Arthur Snelling’s service with the Army Service Corps and records the battalion with which he died as the 13th KRRC and not the 21st. Arthur’s number is given as 13326. It is possible that Arthur transferred from the 21st KRRC to the 13th although this fact still has to be substantiated.

The 21st King’s Royal Rifle Corps was a New Army battalion also known as The Yeoman Rifles. It was formed in September 1915 from volunteers from the farming communities of Yorkshire, Northumberland and Durham and formed part of the 124th Brigade in the 41st Division.

The 13th King’s Royal Rifle Corps was also a New Army battalion which at first was attached to the 21st Division but subsequently transferred to the 111th Brigade in the 37th Division in April 1915.

Arthur was 25 years old when he died and is buried at Terlincthun British Cemetery in France. His brothers Richard and William who also served during the First World War, both survived.


52513 Pte Thomas Chatfield, 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers

Thomas Chatfield was the youngest son of Alfred and Mary Chatfield of Newick. He appears on the 1901 census living with them and his brothers and sisters at The Rough in Newick. The household comprised Alfred Chatfield (aged 42, head of the family, born at Fletching and working as a domestic gardener), his wife Mary (aged 42, born in Newick) and their six children: Mabel Chatfield (aged 14, born Fletching), Emily Chatfield (aged 13, born Fletching), Harry Chatfield (aged ten, born Uckfield), Frank Chatfield (aged eight, born Fletching), John (aged four) and Thomas (aged two, born Newick).

There were other children as well. The 1891 census shows the family living at Church Street, Uckfield. Alfred Chatfield (aged eight, born at Fletching) and Alice Mary Chatfield (aged six, born at Fletching) had obviously left the family home by the time the 1901 census was taken. Harry Chatfield is recorded as “infant Chatfield aged under one month”.

Soldiers Died in The Great War and The Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission’s (CWGC) Debt of Honour register note only one regiment that Thomas served with – The 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers. Chailey Parish Magazine however, first notes him in December 1917 serving with the 25th Training Reserve Battalion and then, the following month, reports that he is with the 3rd Royal Suffolks.

Soldiers Died tells us that he enlisted in Croydon and that his number with the 2/5th Lancashire Fusiliers was 52513. He was killed in action on Sunday 25th August 1918 aged 19 (a fact noted for the first time in the parish magazine in November 1918).

Thomas Chatfield is buried in Houchin British Cemetery in France; grave reference: II.A.23. CWGC additionally reports that he was the son of Alfred and Mary Chatfield of Alverstone House, Chailey, Sussex.

Thomas’ brothers Frank, Harry and John Chatfield also served their King and Country during the First World War. All three survived.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Another dawn, another death - Albert Padgham


Ninety years ago today, Albert Padgham lost his life. This is his story.

Albert Edward Padgham was born in Fletching, Sussex around 1897 (Soldiers Died gives Chailey as his place of birth). He appears on the 1901 census of England and Wales as a three year old living at Wharf Cottage, Fletching with his family. The family comprised John Padgham (head, aged 40, a native of Fletching working as an agricultural labourer), his wife Mary Padgham (aged 39, a native of Lindfield) and their five children: Louisa Padgham (aged 13), Florence Padgham (aged nine), Alice Padgham (aged five), Albert and William Padgham (aged one). The census return, contrary to the information on Soldiers Died, notes that all of the children had been born in Fletching.

Soldiers Died in The Great War states that he enlisted at Brighton and at the time of his death (as a result of wounds received in action) on 24th August 1916 he was L/10419 Private Albert Edward Padgham of the 2nd Royal Sussex Regiment. The Commonwealth War Graves’ Debt of Honour Register confirms the regimental details, his age (19) and date of death. It also adds that he was the son of John and Mary Padgham of Chailey, Sussex. He is buried in Puchevillers British Cemetery on the Somme, grave reference: III.E.8.


Chailey Parish Magazine first mentions Albert in October 1914, noting that he is serving his King and Country. His army number, with the prefix "L", suggests that he was a regular soldier and he may have enlisted shortly before or around August 1914. In October 1915 the parish magazine notes that he is a private soldier serving with the 3rd Royal Sussex Regiment in England and in May 1916 adds the additional information that he has been wounded. In September 1916 his name was added to the parish magazine’s roll of honour.

The likely sequence of events is that Albert Padgham transferred to the 2nd Royal Sussex Regiment from the reserve 3rd battalion and was then wounded on the Western Front where he subsequently died. It is unclear whether the wounds mentioned in the parish magazine in May 1916 are those from which he ultimately succumbed.


Albert’s brother William Padgham also served his King and Country during the First World War. The undated photograph above shows Albert seated with an unknown pal. My thanks to David Gordon for sharing the two military photos with me. Albert's grave courtesy of Bob Pike.

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Two more Chailey men die

Ninety years ago today, George Turner lost his life on the Somme. On this day in 1918, Robert Jessop was also killed in action further north on the Western Front. Today we remember both these men. Here are their stories:

10749 Private George Turner, 9th Royal Sussex Regiment
George Turner was born at Chailey around 1897. He appears on the 1901 census as a three year old living at McQueen’s Cottage, Chailey with his family. The household comprised Thomas Turner (head, married, aged 41, working as a gardener), his wife Jane Turner (aged 39) and their three children: Harriet Turner (aged 12), Thomas Turner (aged eight) and George (aged three).

Soldiers Died in the Great War (SD) states that George Turner was born at Lewes and enlisted at Brighton. Chailey Parish Magazine first notes him serving his King and Country in July 1915 and by October that year is reporting that he is with the 3rd Royal Sussex. In April 1916 it notes him as serving with the 3rd Royal Sussex in France. This is obviously incorrect as the 3rd Battalion was the reserve battalion based in England.

In August 1916 the magazine notes that George Turner has been wounded and then, the following month, that he died of wounds on 24th August. SD and The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) both confirm that he died of wounds but give his date of death as 23rd August. He was 19 years old. CWGC additionally notes that he was 10749 Private George Turner of the 9th Royal Sussex Regiment who was the son of Mr and Mrs Turner of 19 Stoneham Road, Hove, Sussex; late of Chailey, Sussex.

George Turner is buried in Corbie Communal Cemetery Extension, France: plot 2, row B, grave 92. His brother Thomas Turner also served during the First World War.

46285 Rfm Charles Robert Jessop, 1st Rifle Brigade
Robert Charles Jessop does not feature in Chailey’s parish magazine despite the fact that he was born in the village about 1899. He appears on the 1901 census as a one year old infant living with his parents, siblings and two uncles at Hunts Cottage, Chailey. The household comprised William Jessop (head, married, aged 31, working as an agricultural labourer), his wife Margaret A Jessop (aged 30) and their three children: Esther Margaret (aged seven), Albert William (aged four) and Robert. Also staying at the house were William’s brothers John Jessop (aged 28) and Jospeh Jessop (aged 26). Both men are recorded as being agricultural labourers. Elsewhere in the village, a 22 year old George Jessop was boarding at South Common and working as a bricklayer and it is possible that he was another brother of William’s.

Robert was living at Lindfield at the time of his enlistment and enlisted at Brighton. This must have been after September 1st 1916 because Soldiers Died in the Great War notes that he was first sent to the 18th Training Reserve Battalion at Seaford in Sussex where he was given the number 13/55715. This battalion had its origins as the 15th (Reserve) Battalion of The King’s Royal Rifle Corps before it had been re-designated as the 18th TRB.

Robert Jessop transferred to the Rifle Brigade (where he became 46285 Rifleman Robert Charles Jessop) and was posted to the 1st Battalion (4th Division). He was killed in action on 23rd April 1918. He is commemorated on the Loos Memorial, France and on the Horsted Keynes memorial in Sussex. The Commonwealth War Graves’ Commission’s Debt of Honour Register provides the additional information that he was the son of William and Margaret Alice Jessop of Freshfield Crossways, Horsted Keynes.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Dark days for Chailey - Magnus Rainier Robertson

August would turn out to be the worst month of the year for the people of Chailey Parish. Eight local men lost their lives this month and a further four men nursed at Hickwells and Beechlands hospitals were also killed. On this day, 88 years ago, Captain Magnus Rainier Robertson MC lost his life in the service of his King and Country. This is his story.

Magnus Rainier Robertson was born at Chailey on 26th August 1887. He was the son of Magnus Laurence Robertson (1840 - 1890) and Mary Robertson (1846 - 1933), his father’s former housekeeper. Magnus had two sisters, Eliza (1883 – 1903) and Maud (1885 – 1896).

The Robertson family was well-to-do and lived at Brook House (now known as Chailey Place) on the village green at Chailey. By 1912, his father and both sisters already dead, Magnus Rainier Robertson inherited the house.

Magnus Robertson attested with the Royal Sussex Regiment on 4th September 1914. On his attestation papers (Army Form B. 111 - Short service – One year with the Colours), the “One year” has been crossed out and replaced with “three years”. Robertson attested that he had lived away from his father’s house for three years at “various places” and that his trade or calling was “Gentleman”. His attestation was witnessed by Captain Charles Hext Cotesworth of the 21st Lancers. Charles Hext and his father, W G Cotesworth, the JP who certified Robertson’s attestation, would have known him well. Like the Robertson family, the Cotesworths were also a wealthy local family, living nearby in Chailey at Roeheath. Later, Charles Hext’s sister, Margaret Cotesworth, the Commandant of Sussex 54 Voluntary Aid Detachment, would play a key role in running two hospitals in the village.

Magnus Rainier Robertson is described on Army Form B. 111 as being 27 years old, five feet, eight and a half inches tall and weighing twelve stone two pounds. His hair and eyes are described as brown.


Local Chailey doctor, W S Orton, examined Robertson on the 4th September at Charles Cotesworth’s Roeheath home, considering him fit for the Army. This was approved the following day in Brighton.

Robertson was given the number 2825 and posted to The Royal Sussex Regiment Depot. Four days later he was posted to the 8th Royal Sussex and found himself in number 7 platoon, B Company. The 8th Royal Sussex was a K2 pioneer battalion formed at Chichester in September 1914. It would spend the entire war with the 18th (Eastern) Division but Roberston’s tenure with it would be a brief one.

On 10th September 1914, Robertson was appointed lance-corporal but it wasn’t long before he was looking for a role more fitting of his status as a Gentleman. By November he had already applied for a temporary commission in the regular army for the period of the war. He stated on the application form that he could ride, (although noted that he wasn’t a good horseman), and that his preferred unit was the 12th Essex Regiment. The application was witnessed by JP Robert Campion Blencowe (another of Chailey’s landed gentry) on 27th November and Robertson’s good standard of education was attested to by his old headmaster at Seaford Boys’ School. Colonel H G Sutton of the 8th Royal Sussex (which was by now stationed at Colchester, Essex), approved the application on 2nd December 1914. Sixteen days later, 2825 Lance-Corporal Magnus Rainier Robertson was discharged to commission.

It is uncertain why Robertson’s stated preference was for the 12th Essex Regiment. The battalion had been formed at Harwich on 26th October 1914 and was originally a service battalion in the 106th Brigade in the original 35th Division. In April 1915 however, it became a 2nd reserve battalion and was ultimately absorbed, in September 1916, in the Training Reserve Battalions of the 6th Reserve Brigade at Harwich.

In October 1914, Chailey’s vicar, The Reverend Jellicoe, published his first list of men connected to Chailey who were serving their King and Country. Magnus Robertson appears in that first list and subsequent lists published at monthly intervals throughout the war. In March 1915 he appears for the first time under the category Officer, and in October 1915 as “Robertson, 2nd Lieut M.R. 12th Essex”. Compiled as it was from local hearsay, Reverend Jellicoe’s list should not be regarded as a reliable source of information and the battalions noted are not always correct. However, in the absence of other official papers from Robertson’s file at the National Archive in London, this does seem to point to clear evidence that Robertson was successful in getting posted to the 12th battalion.

Essex Regiment Museum records (ER4658) provide the next reference to Robertson. On 13th July 1916, by now a lieutenant, he embarked for France. On the 19th, he joined the 2nd battalion (4th Division) at Mailly Maillet. It seems reasonable to assume that having been turned into a reserve battalion, either Robertson or the higher authorities, decided that he should not spend more time than was necessary in England and that either he, or they, sought his transfer out of the 12th Essex.

Burrows reports that ten officers and 97 other ranks, joined the battalion on the 18th July but there is no mention of an officer joining on the following day, and no mention at all of Robertson in the volume that covers the 2nd Battalion.

Between August 13th and 29th inclusive, Robertson was appointed Acting Captain and put in charge of one of one of the 2nd Essex companies (Supplement to The London Gazette, 6th November 1916, page 10730). He reverted to the rank of lieutenant on 30th August but between 10th and 23rd October 1916 was back to Acting Captain (Essex Regiment Museum, ER4658).

On the 23rd October 1916, the 4th and 8th Divisions were involved in an assault on German lines east of Lesboeufs and Gueudecourt. According to Burrows, a heavy mist caused a postponement from 11.30am until 2.30pm and when the troops did go over they were met by heavy machine gun fire. By 9pm, with no gains made, the 2nd Essex were back in their trenches. The battalion suffered 255 casualties and Robertson was one of them. The same day, a telegram was sent to his mother in Chailey, advising her that he had been wounded.

At Roberston’s Medical Board hearing held on 4th November 1916, it was recorded that he had been “wounded by shell fragments near Les Boeufs. One fragment passed from back to front of the upper part of the right arm internal to the bone and was removed from under the skin of the front of the arm. Three other fragments caused wounds in the buttocks, and the officer thinks that these have also been removed.”

On 24th October, Robertson was admitted to the 20th General Hospital at Camiers with, according to a second telegram to his mother, “gunshot wounds right arm and buttocks slight” and on 1st November he was being put on board a hospital ship at Calais, en route for England. He arrived at Dover the same day. Three days later, as mentioned above, the Medical Board convened at The Research Hospital, Cambridge did not expect him to be fit for General Service for four months.

On 22nd December 1916, Robertson wrote to the War office from Brook House, asking for orders to be a re-examined by a Medical Board, “as my leave expires on 3rd Jan 1917”. The subsequent Medical Board held at the 2nd Eastern General Hospital in Brighton found that the wound to his arm was soundly healed, although the wound to his buttocks was still causing some discharge. On the 21st February 1917, and by now with the 3rd Essex Regiment at Felixstowe, another Medical Board found that this time, Robertson had recovered and was fit for General Service; his wounds classified as “slight, not permanent”.

Robertson travelled overseas again and at some point transferred to the 11th Essex Regiment. On 24th May 1917, he was promoted to Captain (Supplement to The London Gazette, 9th October 1917, page 10386) although the Sussex Express clearly did not know this when they published an article of local Chailey interest on 22nd June 1917:

OFFICERS’ NEW CONVALESCENT HOME AT CHAILEY
A new convalescent hospital known as Brook House, Chailey, the residence of Lieut M R Robertson, was opened last week for the accommodation of wounded officers attached to the Flying Corps. The commandant is Miss Blencowe of Bineham, Chailey and the Matron, Miss Jackson, a lady of wide experience. The work in connection with the establishment is purely voluntary and many local ladies have offered their services. Brook House lies in ideal grounds, is embowered in trees and can accommodate between 25 and 30 officers.”

Robertson was still nominally with the 2nd Battalion but attached to the 11th and it was while he was with this battalion that he was wounded for the second time, winning a Military Cross in the same action. In a trench raid on June 28th 1917 in which his fellow officer, Lieut F B Wearne, won the Victoria Cross, Robertson sustained gunshot wounds to his left leg and face. The raid, intended to take prisoners, obtain identification and destroy dug-outs as well as divert attention from the 46th Division to the right, involved three officers and 80 other ranks as well as one officer and 20 other ranks of the 3rd Australian Tunnelling Company. Although adjudged successful, the raid cost the battalion three officers and 45 other ranks, killed wounded and missing. The Australians lost one killed and 13 wounded.

Later, on 17th September, The Supplement to The London Gazette (page 9583) announced Robertson’s award of the Military Cross:

T./Lt Magnus Rainier Robertson, Essex R. For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty when commanding the centre and most important party of a raid. He went from post to post, encouraging his men, and, although wounded in two places, most ably appreciating and dealing with a very varying situation. He brought up reinforcements at a critical moment , and frustrated all counter-attacks, finally seeing all his wounded safely away and returning with the rear party under heavy rifle fire and machine-gun fire. He set a magnificent example of gallantry and disregard of danger throughout the operation.

Robertson was again admitted to the 20th General Hospital at Camiers and shortly afterwards, sent to the Officers’ Military Hospital in Devonport, England. There, on 10th July, a Medical Board reported that his cheek wound had healed but the wound to his thigh was still discharging. “The right cheek was struck by a piece of shrapnel splinter causing a simple flesh wound. A MG bullet ploughed the fleshy part of outer [unclear] of left thigh. No injury to bone or important tissues.”

Remarkably, just one day after he had been wounded, The East Sussex News carried a report which must have reached Mary Robertson in Chailey at least two days before the official War Office telegram. The article ran:

LOCAL OFFICER WOUNDED
Lieut M R Robertson, Essex Regiment, whose residence, Brook House, was recently opened as a Convalescent Hospital for Wounded Officers, has been wounded in action in France for the second time.

Frances Blencowe, (sister of Robert Campion Blencowe, JP) wrote to the authorities on Robertson’s behalf later that month. An influential member of the Chailey community in her own right, for the past three years she had been nursing with Sussex 54 VAD at Hickwells and Beechland House hospitals and had also spent time at Netley Military Hospital near Southampton, and in Serbia. Now she was the Commandant of the new hospital for RFC officers which, thanks to Mary and Magnus Robertson’s generosity, had been set up at their home, Brook House.

Would it be possible, she wrote to her friend Sir Francis Davies, for you to say a good word and to enable the owner of this house to have his Convalescence here? We are a Convalescent Hospital and it would be so nice for his old mother to have him here and he would be a great help here. He is a most conscientious person and would take no forbidden liberties. His MB [Medical Board] is at Devonport and he himself is at Bigandon Hospital, Buckfastleigh, South Devon.

For his part, Sir Francis seemed at a loss what to do. A note scribbled in Robertson’s file and dated 26th July 1917 reads: “Sir Francis Davies would be very grateful if you would tell him what he may say in reply.” When that reply duly came it cannot have failed to disappoint Frances Blencowe and Mary Robertson. “The officer is a patient in a Convalescent Hospital” the note reads testily. “We deal with medical boards and are not concerned with transfer from one hospital to another.” Robertson remained in south Devon.

On 9th August 1917, a medical board held at the hospital recommended three weeks’ leave and did not think Robertson would be fit for General Service for a further three months. Nevertheless, before that time had elapsed, Robertson, now back with the 3rd Essex at Felixstowe, was again appearing before a board (on 10th October) which this time passed him fit.

On 9th November 1917, according to Robertson’s Casualty Form Active Service (CFAS), he proceeded to France. On 30th November 1917, a Lieutenant Robertson is mentioned in the Burrows volume that deals with the service battalions, as being involved in a skirmish in which the 11th Essex blocked a German attack. On 14th December 1917 he was posted to the 9th Battalion.

On 24th February 1918, Robertson was given two weeks’ leave and in April he gets more mentions in Burrows, this time in relation to the 9th Essex being heavily attacked and ‘A’ Company under Captain Robertson having “a most trying day” which saw the men fire 15,000 rounds of small arms ammunition. The 9th Essex was struggling to maintain a position known as The Quarry and Lieutenant Mussett recorded his memories of that time in Burrows:

“The Quarry portion of the line was occupied by ‘A’ Company, whose headquarters consisted of two white bell tents, nestling in The Quarry, and in them Captain Robertson and the M.O. carried on their duties. Visiting ‘A’s’ section of the line, to the left and slightly forward of ‘C’s’ in the small hours, I shall always remember dear old Robby seated in his tent, during a lull in the night’s gunfire, engaged in writing by a candle’s glimmering ray, with an old wooden box against the tent pole as writing table, with conscientious thoroughness writing some returns himself, whilst others were taking the opportunity of a much needed rest.”

On 22nd August 1918, the 9th Essex went over the top at Morlancourt. The battalion took its first two objectives but sustained heavy casualties. Six officers were killed and 120 other ranks killed, wounded and missing. Magnus Rainier Robertson was one of the officer fatalities. Burrows (page 116) describes the action as follows:

“Immediately after crossing the Bray-Meaulte Road, the Battalion ran into much trouble and heavy machine gun fire. The sun was up, the mist had cleared and the 9th Essex were below the high ground around Becordel. “D Company (Wheeler), on the left, entered their objective and “B” in the centre, gained a culvert, but “A”, on the right, were caught in a level field of stubble devoid of protection. No further advance was possible and the troops endeavoured to make what cover they could with their entrenching tools. Captain Robertson was hit again and again while his runner, Private Small, made valiant efforts to find cover for him. Here, Lieut Bailey was also killed. It was a most trying day, the men being hit one after another.”

On 24th September 1918, Messrs Cox and Co’s Shipping Agency Ltd, forwarded a small package of Captain Robertson’s personal effects to Chailey by registered post. The following year, probate of his Will was granted. He left an estate valued at £44,789 10s and 7d.

Captain Robertson was buried in Sandpit British Cemetery, Meaulte and on 31st October 1918, the War Office wrote to his mother to inform her of this. His body was later disinterred and re-buried at Meaulte Triangle Cemetery (now known as Meaulte Military Cemetery). His grave was later given the reference G.15. His family had the additional words JESU MERCY / CHAILEY, SUSSEX carved on his headstone

Magnus Robertson’s death brought to an end this particular branch of the family. His mother, who had seen all three of her children die, passed away in 1933.

On May 12th 2005, Captain Robertson’s British War Medal was sold at auction in London for £110.

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Nursed at Hickwells, killed in France

R/1480 Rifleman Stan Collins was a patient at Hickwells in 1915. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album is a drawing of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps cap badge and the following text:

Rfln S Collins
1480, 12th K.R.R.
Wounded at Laventie Sept 25th. 1915

Next to this entry, in a different hand (presumably Nurse Oliver’s), has been written: Killed August 18th 1916. Rifleman Collins shares this page with an entry from 1583 Sergeant William Calvert of the 7th KOSB.

Stan Collins was born in the small Surrey village of Ockham around 1894. The 1901 census shows him living at Ockham Mill Lane with his sister Daisy (aged 13), brothers Harvey (18) and Hubert (20) and his mother and father, William and Elizabeth Collins. At seven years old, Stan was the youngest member of the family. William and Harvey Collins were employed as flour mill workers while Hubert was a shoemaker’s apprentice.

Stan was a Kitchener recruit, enlisting in Woking. He arrived in France as R/1480 Rifleman Stan Collins with the 12th King’s Royal Rifle Corps on 23rd July 1915. The battalion was a K2 unit, formed at Winchester on 21st September 1914 and by the time it reached France, comprised part of the 60th Brigade in the 20th (Light) Division.

As he records in Nurse Oliver’s album, Stan Collins was wounded on 25th September 1915 at Laventie in what was a diversionary attack to draw German attention away from the main Loos battle further south.

On 30th September 1915, the war diary entry for the 12th Battn KRRC (WO95/2120) lists casualties since 16th September as two NCOs and 49 Riflemen wounded plus one Rifleman gassed. The following extract is adapted from part 11 of The Hospital Way.

The 20th Division would take part in the subsidiary attack, supporting the Meerut Division of the Indian Corps on its right at Mauquissait and the 8th Division, attacking the German line at La Boutillerie and Le Bridoux on its left. The attack, designed to distract the enemy’s attention away from the main battle front further south, would take place half an hour to two hours before the main attack near Loos. The 20th Division would play its part in the offensive by making a smoke screen along the whole front, cutting wire and providing covering fire. They were also to be prepared to assault the enemy’s line on the right or left and, depending on the progress made by the divisions on either side, to press forward in the centre.

At 4.30am on the morning of the 25th, crouched in his trench, Rifleman Collins cannot have failed to be aware that the sudden cessation of the four day bombardment of the enemy’s lines over to his left meant that the attack by the BEF was being pressed home. This fell to men of the 8th Division and within half an hour they were in the German trenches. Half an hour later, in support of the Bareilly Brigade of the Meerut Division to their right, it was the turn of the 60th Brigade. Two battalions, (The 12th Rifle Brigade and the 6th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry), attacked the enemy trenches whilst Collins and the 12th KRRC held the front line.

Whilst it was always the intention to increase the extent of the British breakthrough south of the La Bassee canal should the subsidiary attacks around Laventie prove to be successful, lack of artillery power and sufficient manpower reserves meant that they would never be decisive thrusts if the principal activity around Loos were to founder. In the event, both attacks by the 8th and Meerut Divisions ended with the assaulting troops being forced back to their starting divisions by dogged German defending. Rifleman Collins had not even left the front line trench but this did not prevent him from becoming a casualty. “During the day,” states the Divisional history, “the enemy shelled the front trenches heavily, and caused a considerable number of casualties among some of the battalions that were not actively engaged. Of these, the 12th KRRC suffered the most.”

On 5th October 1915 Stan Collins’ name appeared in a list of soldiers reported by the Sussex Daily Times to be recuperating at the 2nd Eastern General Hospital, Brighton and on 1st December, he appeared in an “entertainment” held at Chailey. The Sussex Daily News reported on the event:

Friday December 3rd 1915 - Page 8
WOUNDED SOLDIERS ENTERTAIN THEIR FRIENDS AT CHAILEY
The soldiers at Hickwells Relief Hospital at Chailey were ‘at home’ to their friends on Wednesday afternoon and by way of amusing them gave two excellent entertainments - one at 2:30 and the other at 4:30. The bugle called the performers together and when the screens were withdrawn a nice little group of waxworks was disclosed, Bombardier Ryan shewing off their ‘beauties’ in his usual amusing way. Corporal Nash (as St George) and Private Allen sang the ‘Tin Gee Gee’, Private Wise and Sergeant Calvert making two fascinating ‘Little Dolly Girls’. Rifleman Collins, still on crutches, made a splendid broken doll. Lance-Corporal Smith was a Japanese Lady, and, later on, although only having the use of one arm, cleverly ‘vamped’ some accompaniments. While dresses were being changed, Private Hume and Private MacBride sang and danced, and then to the tune of ‘Here We Are Again’, Hickwells’ Pierrot troupe appeared and gave a spirited entertainment. Driver Bradley and Private Allen made excellent ‘Corner Men’ and Bombardier Ryan was capital as the ‘Master of Ceremonies’. The troupe included, besides those already mentioned, Sergeant Calvert, Sergeant Sheppard, Corporal Nash, Lance-Corporal Smith, Privates Wise and Holleran, Driver Cleary and Corporal Dicks, many of whom sang and recited. Two of the nurses helped at the piano.

This implies of course, that Stan Collins was wounded in the leg or legs but nothing else of his wound is known.

A photo of soldiers who have taken part, or are about to take part in, an entertainment, appears in Nurse Francis Blencowe’s album and I have reproduced it below. There is no logical reason for thinking so but I have often wondered whether the man on the extreme left, next to what is a pair of crutches (cropped in this photo) is Rifleman Stan Collins. He would have been about 21 years old at that time.


Stan Collins obviously recovered sufficiently to re-join his unit and he was killed in action with the 12th KRRC on 18th August 1916

On the date that Stan was killed (18th August 1916), the war diary notes that the battalion was on a route march to billets at Candas. There is no mention of any casualties for this period although Collins was one of eight 12th KRRC fatalities on this date (three dying of wounds and five killed in action).

On 15th September 1916, The West Surrey Times & County Express carried a simple one line obituary. On page 4 under Roll of Honour – Killed, it read:

COLLINS, Rflm. S. (Ripley), KRR

Stan Collins has no known grave and is commemorated on Pier and Face 13A of the Thiepval memorial on the Somme.

Chailey Regular killed on the Somme

George Saunders was born in Barcombe, Sussex around 1886. He appears on the 1901 census living at Littleworth, Barcombe, Sussex. The family was headed by George Saunders (aged 44, born at Glynde, Sussex and working as an agricultural labourer) and his wife Eliza (aged 51 and born at Ashington). Children living with them were: Thomas Saunders (aged 21, an agricultural labourer), George (aged 14, an agricultural labourer) and Henry Alfred Saunders (aged ten, a scholar). All three boys had been born at Barcombe. There were also at least two sisters who were not at the family home. Rose Eliza Saunders (aged sixteen) was working as a general domestic servant in Lewes. Her sister Emily Saunders was also working as a general domestic servant at Curd’s Farm, Barcombe. Like their brothers, both girls were born at Barcombe.

George enlisted in the Royal Sussex Regiment at Brighton, probably around 1906. Unless he had extended his service with the colours, he would have been on the Army Reserve when war was declared but in either event he proceeded overseas with the 2nd Battalion almost immediately, arriving in France on 12th August 1914. Chailey Parish Magazine first notes him serving his King and Country in October 1914 and by the following October updates this information to include his regimental details and the fact that he had been wounded on 29th January 1915 near Ypres.

In January 1916 the parish magazine notes that he is now a corporal and that he has since returned to duty in England. By April 1916 it notes that he is in France; by June 1916 it notes that he is a sergeant.

On 29th September 1916, The East Sussex News published a short article on him:

LOCAL SOLDIER MISSING
Acting Sergeant G Saunders of Station Road has been officially returned as missing. He went to France with the First Expeditionary Force in August 1914, was wounded a few months afterward and came to England. He returned to France but a short time ago and has been missing since 16th August last. He was in the Royal Sussex Regiment.

In fact George had been killed in action on 17th August, a fact duly noted in the parish magazine in September 1917. It had listed him as “missing” since October 1916 but by now it must have been officially assumed that he had been killed in action.

George has no known grave and is commemorated on pier and face D of the Thiepval memorial in France. His brother Henry Saunders who was killed seven weeks earlier is also commemorated at Thiepval.

George’s medal card records his rank as acting sergeant and his number as 8389. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes his rank as sergeant and his number as L/8389. Both brothers are commemorated on the village memorial on Chailey Green.

Friday, August 11, 2006

2nd Lt Thomas Victor Wood, 7th Royal Sussex Regiment


Thomas Victor Wood was killed in action on 4th August 1916. This is his story.

Thomas's service record survives at The National Archives in London, from which the bulk of the following information has been gleaned. I find his father's last letter to the War Office particularly poignant, expressing as it does, anger, frustration and sadness in equal measure.

Chailey Parish Magazine first mentions Thomas Victor Wood in its April 1916 issue when it states, “Wood, 2nd Lieut V, 10th Ry, Sx, France”. In September 1916, Wood’s name is added to the magazine’s Roll of Honour and reads: “2nd Lieut V Wood, 10th Royal Sussex, killed August 4th 1916, in France”.

In fact Thomas Victor Wood was serving with the 7th Royal Sussex Regiment when he was killed on Friday 4th August 1916. Officers Died In The Great War records his rank as Temporary Second Lieutenant whilst The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his rank as Second Lieutenant.

He was born at Paddock Wood, Kent on 9th July 1893, the son of Wallace and Rhoda Wood. By 1901 however, the family was living at Blacksmith Cottage, The Common, Lindfield, Sussex. Wallace Wood (aged 36 and born in Horsted Keynes), was the village blacksmith. He was married to Rhoda (aged 32 and from Hurstpierpoint) and the couple had two children: Thomas Victor (aged seven) and Eva Constance Wood (aged six). Two more children would be born later: W G Stanley Wood (in about 1903) and Frederick Charles Cecil Wood (in 1905).

Thomas was educated at Ardingley College, Sussex and Goldsmith’s College London where he enlisted in the University of London OTC as a cadet on 24th December 1914. Later, at Norwich, on 3rd July 1915 his application for a temporary commission in the Regular Army for the period of the war was approved. He gave his address as Teagues Farm, Scaynes Hill, Haywards Heath, Sussex.


On 11th August 1915 he was certified by the University of London (which gave him a B+ for his work and a B- for his personality).

His precise movements over the next six months are unclear but presumably he was training in England. What is known (confirmed by the University of London OTC Roll of War Service, 1914-1919 and the published history of the 7th Sussex Regiment) is that he embarked for France in 1916 and joined A company of the 7th (Service) battalion, the Royal Sussex Regiment on 3rd March that year.

On 9th July 1916, with the Battle of the Somme just over a week old, the battalion history states: “We marched by brigade via Millencourt to Senlis and had dinner while the 32nd Division cleared from the village. The following officers now remained with the battalion: A Company: 2nd Lieutenants H F Broughall, C F Rolfe, T V Wood and I D Margary.” Rolfe, Wood and Margary, together with seven other second lieutenants from the other three companies, formed the battle reserve and did not go into action.

On 4th August 1916, with fighting raging around Thiepval, Second Lieutenant C F Rolfe recalled in the battalion history in later years: “I received orders at 3.30am to attack as soon as possible and consolidate the position in Ration Trench which had been captured. We pushed on for some 800 yards till we came to an imposing looking trench, which we entered with little opposition and, I think, few casualties. Leaving Lieutenant Wood there (he was shortly afterwards killed), I pushed up the trench to the left in pursuit of the retiring Germans…”

The 7th Sussex Regiment war diary entry for that day reads:

“At 3am received orders to send one company over to RATION TRENCH to get in touch with 8th Royal Fusiliers and work up to the right, also one platoon to attack Strong Point on the right, after this had been captured they were to work down RATION and get in touch with ‘A’ Coy. ‘A’ Coy went too much to the left but reached RATION TRENCH finding the Buffs already there, Col Cope, (O.C. Buffs) ordered ‘A’ Coy to push forward and take the ridge which they reached without any difficulty but were heavily counter attacked and obliged to fall back to RATION TRANCH. The platoon on the right came under heavy Machine Gun fire and were not able to capture the Strong Point. Later in the day orders were received for two Companies to attack the right of RATION TRENCH in conjunction with attack of 9th Royal Fusiliers. Two platoons were again to attack Strong Point on right from POZIERES TRENCH ‘B & ‘D’ Coy’s attacked across the open but lost direction, some however reached their objective and got in touch with 9th Royal Fusiliers. The two platoons of ‘C’ Coy were unable to capture Strong Point owing to heavy Machine Gun fire. The result of this operation was that practically the whole of RATION TRENCH was captured and consolidated. Casualties during this two days, 2nd Lts WOOD & LE DOUX VEITCH killed, 2nd Lt’s COOKE, FITZSIMONS & ROLFE missing, Captain TROWER wounded. Other Ranks 18 killed, 25 missing, 109 wounded.”

On 13th August, the official War Office telegram was sent to Thomas Wood’s parents at Scaynes Hill. It read, “Deeply regret to inform you 2 Lt T V Wood Sussex Regt was killed in action August 4th. The Army Council expresses their sympathy.”

Three days later, Rhona Wood wrote to the War Office.

“I am very deeply grieved to hear from you of my dear son’s death. Will you kindly send me all possible particulars or inform me to whom I should apply. Also will you tell me how to proceed to obtain his personal property. I was very ill when my dear son left for France, after only a few hours with me, and I have never seen him since. Please oblige me with all early answers.”

There is no record of a response from the War Office and on 20th November the department received another letter, this time from Wallace Wood:

“Will you please send me a certificate signed by a responsible person of the death of my son the late 2 Lieut T Victor Wood. I have sent in a claim to a society to which he had belonged enclosing the war office telegram to me announcing his death, but am informed that I must get a certificate of the death or the claim can not be acknowledged.”

The certificate must have been sent almost immediately because Rhona Wood received it on 24th November and it was back at the War office by the 27th.

On 3rd February 1917, Rhona Wood wrote to the War Office again, obviously in response to a letter from them:

“In reply to yours of this morning I am sorry not to have answered your letter of November 21st last. I was not aware that you had any money belonging to my dear boy and having already settled his affairs at Messrs Cox and Co, London, I concluded that there was a mistake especially as I received by a late post the certificate of Death from you, for which I applied on November 19th. My son left no will with us, neither have we seen one but if there is any money with you belonging to him he would wish it paid to his father – Wallace Wood. We are filling up the form which we received from you, in November last.”

The final item of war-time correspondence in Thomas Wood’s file at The National Archives in London is from his father, Wallace Wood. Dated 6th May 1917, it was received by the War Office the following day.

“As I have never heard whether my son (the late 2nd Lieut T Victor Wood, 7th Royal Sussex Regt) body has ever been recovered I am writing for further particulars. I received a letter from Captain Osbourne [sic] stating that he was shot on August 4th last in taking a German trench but as the enemy counter attacked so strongly they were unable to recover the body. We wrote asking where the body was left but have received no reply. As we never knew where he was when alive, I think we have a right to know where he was killed. I regret to have to make a protest here in the way he was sent out to France and hurried up to the trenches at once. We were told that every man was wanted but we find that was not so. After perhaps, all the willing ones were gone there seems about two thirds of the unwilling ones get exemptions which is very unfair and unjust. I think every man ought to do his duty. My son could of do farm work as others and good milker. I know we want more men and more men on the farms but I do not think it fair to keep back about 90 per cent of farmers single sons as it seems to be the case about here, at the cost of other peoples sons.

We have several older men about here been on farms nearly all their life have had to leave in order to keep young strong single ones back and the older doing gardening etc. One of my neighbours has a single son who was a Baker when he registered [but] has changed his occupation twice since to avoid his duty. In one case he had to leave his place as there were two of military age on about 6 acres and 3 cows ----- join the army. Instead he gets on another farm. We have within ¾ of a mile, several farmers I contract for got two single sons at home and one I am told has three. Is this fair? Why was all leave stopped for those that had been in danger nearly all the time? Why was not enough fresh men sent out for the Somme advance? My son’s leave was about two months over due when he might have been home with Hundreds of others to see their Friends.”

On 26th April 1932, Thomas Wood’s brother Frederick wrote again to the War Office:

“I am writing with reference to my brother Temp 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Victor Wood, 7th Royal Sussex Regt who was reported “killed in action” August 4th 1916. I understand that no record has been found as to his grave, and that his name has been recorded on the Thiepval Memorial to be unveiled on Whit Monday, 16th May next, and, as I propose to be present at this ceremony, I should esteem it a favour if you would kindly inform me as to the system in which the names are recorded on the memorial (ie whether alphabetically in ranks, regiments etc), in order that, in view of the possible crush on that occasion, I would pick out my brother’s name without undue difficulty.

“I should also esteem it a great favour if you could inform me, in what locality my brother (or failing any record of him personally, the 7th Royal Sussex Regt), was probably engaged during July – Aug 4th 1916, as I should like to visit any such places on my return from Thiepval.”

A handwritten note in Thomas Wood’s file reads:

“Battn was on date heavily engaged in attack on German line approx 1000 yards NW of POZIERES (Sheet Lens 1:100.000 I.6) or 2500 yards SE of Thiepval about road from Thiepval to Pozieres. Name of officer appears in list of casualties but no details as to how he became a casualty appear in war diary.”

This response was duly sent to Frederick Wood on 5th May 1932 along with advice to contact the Imperial War Graves Commission regarding memorials to fallen officers and soldiers.


Thomas Victor Wood has no known grave and is commemorated on Pier and Face 7C of the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme. In England he is commemorated in several places: on the war memorial on Chailey village green; the memorial tablet inside St Peter’s Church, Chailey; on the stone tablet inside St Augustine’s Church, Scaynes Hill, Sussex and on Ardingley College war memorial.

Medal index card courtesy of Ancestry. The crop from Thomas Wood's service papers is Crown Copyright, The National Archives. Photograph of Thomas's name on the Thiepval Memorial courtesy of Garth McGowen, for which many thanks.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Owen Plummer, Richard Roffe, Frederick Smith,

Photos of the graves of Owen Plummer and Richard Roffe and a shot of Frederick Smith's name on the memorial at Arras have been added to chailey1914-1918. All photographs are courtesy of Jon Miller.

Owen Plummer was one of three Chailey brothers killed during the First World War while Frederick Smith was one of four Newick brothers killed. Richard Roffe gets the briefest of mntions in Chailey Parish Magazine but is commemorated on my site, along with all the men of Chailey Parish who served their King and Country.

Monday, August 07, 2006

Five photos added - Remembering Chailey men

I have added photos of the last resting places or memorial commemorations of five men with Chailey connections. The photos can be found on the pages dedicated to Alfred Agate, Charles Buckwell, Joseph French, John Oliver and Frank Stevens. I am grateful to Janet Graves for the photo of Charles Buckwell's name on the war memorial at Hastings and to Jon Miller who took photos of the other four men's graves, plus others still to be added.

My renewed thanks to all contributors who help to remember Chailey's men and those connected to the parish.

Sunday, August 06, 2006

Blencowe, Bessemer, Sabourin et al

I've finally got round to posting some of the information I picked up from The Times Newspaper's on-line archive (courtesy of Thomson and Gale) a while back; also a couple of small snippets from the Imperial War Museum's Women at Work collection. As a consequence, there is additional information included in the following biographies: Charles Sabourin, Robert Campion Blencowe, Christopher Theodore Jellicoe, Margaret Blencowe and Henry Douglas Bessemer.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

16880 Pte Joseph French, 9th Essex Regiment


16880 Private Joseph French was probably a patient at Beechlands in 1916 when he left his mark in Nurse Oliver’s album. His entry comprises a pencil drawing of the Essex Regiment badge and the following text (which has been over-written in later years in black ink):

Pte J French No 16880
3rd Essex Reg
Dovercourt, Harwich, Essex

He shares this page with an entry from 2605 Corporal John Dicks of the 9th Essex Regiment and a group photo of convalescent soldiers. Thanks to Clive Manning, we can date his wound quite accurately as he appears in a list of wounded soldiers published in the Times newspaper on 24th June 1916.



I have been unable to locate either Joseph’s birth registration details or his entry on the 1901 census. He does however appear on the census returns for 1881 and 1891.

He was born in 1881 and was the son of Joseph and Polly French of London. He appears on the 1881 census as a three week old baby, living with his family at Bishopsgate, London. Joseph is recorded on the census as James. The other family members comprised Joseph (head, married, aged 24, a carman born in Bishopsgate), his wife Mary Ann (aged 23, also born in Bishopsgate) and their three children: Mary Ann (aged five, born in Lever Street), Rose (aged two, born in Spitalfields) and Joseph (or James), born in the City of London.

By the time the 1891 census was taken, the family was living at number 2, Artillery Street, Whitechapel, London. The household comprised: Joseph French (head, married, aged 33, working as an ostler), his wife Mary Ann French (also aged 33 and working as a charwoman) and five children: Mary Ann (aged 15, working as a book folder), Rose French (aged 12), Joseph (aged ten), George (aged eight) and Harriet Emily (aged three). The parents and their five children are all recorded as having been born in Bishopsgate, London.

Joseph’s enlistment date is unclear but his medal index card shows that he arrived in Gallipoli on 2nd September 1915. The 1st Essex had already been there since 25th April 1915 and would leave on 8th January 1916, so Joseph French must have arrived with a draft. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album either pre-dates his Gallipoli posting (which seems most likely as there is no mention of Gallipoli in it) or comes as result of sickness or a wound sustained there.

At some point in time Joseph must have been posted to the 9th Essex Regiment because it was whilst serving with this battalion that he was killed in action eighty nine years ago today on 3rd August 1917. He was 36 years old and was one of four 9th Essex Other Rank fatalities that day, the other three men dying of wounds. The battalion was at Monchy Le Preux during July and August of that year and on the 2nd August, the Germans had attacked Hook Trench, the fighting continuing through the following day. There is no mention in the divisional history of casualties amongst the 9th Essex on the day but Joseph French and three others paid the ultimate price.

Joseph is buried in Monchy British Cemetery, grave reference: I.F.37. The inscription on his gravestone reads: “THY WILL BE DONE”.

Medal index card courtesy of Ancestry.

Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Sussex Regiment service numbers

I've been doing a little digging and consequently have been able to add some more information to two of Chailey's men - Thomas Clarkson and John Mitchell.

Service numbers can tell you a lot about a soldier. The main problems are though that a) the British army did not adopt a unique numbering system and b) there was often inconsistency in recording the numbers; prefixes being omitted.

In John Mitchell's case, Chailey Parish Magazine notes that he served first with the 2/4th Royal Sussex Regiment and then with the 12th Battalion. The National Archives notes two numbers for him: 2170 and G/16155. The former number is his 2/4th number and this actually clears up a little mystery for me. I'd been doing some work recently on Sussex regiment service numbers and noted that a lot of men who had service numbers in the G/15000 range and above, also had five digit G/ numbers as well. The 2/4th Sussex, formed in January 1915, was disbanded in November 1917 and I'm guessing that a lot of men were transferred to New Army battalions from it. When they were transferred they were given another number. There's loads more work to do on this and more patterns in numbering will emerge but I'm reasonably confident on this.

As far as Thomas Clarkson is concerned, his case is a lot simpler. I had his number, 3078, and his battalion, the 13th, but I hadn't twigged that he was an original South Downs volunteer. It's logical of course. Working through the SD/ prefix numbers, patterns emerge for recruitments to the 11th, then the 12th and finally the 13th. Looking at the spread of surnames around 3078 they all begin with C and so Thomas Clarkson fits nicely into the sequence even though the National Archives omits the SD/ prefix from his number.