Sunday, June 15, 2014

21370 L/Cpl John William Williams, Northumberland Fusiliers

Lance-Corporal John William Williams of the Northumberland Fusiliers was a patient at Beechland House in 1917 after being wounded at the Third Battle of Ypres in 1917. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album reads:

21370 L/Cpl J W Williams 24/27th Northumberland Fusiliers
Wounded October 21st 1917 Near Ypres

He shares the page in her album with entries from Private Angus McKenzie of the 1/5th Seaforth Highlanders, 801298 Gunner John William Thurgood of the Royal Field Artillery, 21/1522 Private Charles Edward Harrald of the 24th Northumberland Fusiliers and Corporal W R D F Reynolds.

John Williams’ medal index card at The National Archives states that he arrived in France on 13th July 1915. His entry on the British War and Victory Medal Roll gives four battalions: 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers, 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, 27th Northumberland Fusiliers and the Durham Light Infantry.

The 2nd Northumberland Fusiliers arrived in France on 18th Jan 1915 having been stationed in India and John Williams would have been part of a draft when he joined the battalion a few months later. I am not sure when or why he transferred to the 1st Battalion and then to the 27th; maybe he had been wounded and on recovery was posted to a different battalion. While the 1st and 2nd Battalions were regular battalions, the 27th was a service battalion (also known as the 4th Tyneside Irish). It had been raised at Newcastle in January 1915 and later formed part of the 103rd Brigade in the 34th Division. It went to France in January 1916. On 10th August 1917 it was amalgamated with the 24th Battalion to form the 24/27th Northumberland Fusiliers and it was while serving with this newly merged battalion that John Williams was wounded.

After recovering at Beechland House, John was transferred again, this time to the Durham Light Infantry, remaining with this regiment until discharged, probably in 1919. His army service number with the DLI was 83497.

No full service record for John Williams survives but thanks to findmypast's superior indexing of WO 363 and WO 364 one fragment with his name mentioned has survived (above). This shows that he was admitted to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital on the 28th October 1917, seven days after he was wounded.

Sources and Acknowledgements

• The National Archives: Medal Index Card
• The National Archives: British War and Victory Medal Roll: O/1/103 B44: Page 8652: WO 329/1629
• The National Archives: 1914/15 Star Medal Roll: O/1/ 7c: Page 128
• British Regiments 1914-18 by Brigadier E A James OBE TD (Samson Books, 1978)

25442 Pte N Wigston, 4th Worcestershire Regiment

25442 Private N Wigston was a patient at Beechland House in 1916. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album reads:

Pte N Wigston (25442)
4th Batt Worcestershire Regt
88th Brigade 29th Division

Wounded in left leg at Guerdecourt
October 18th 1916

Private Wigston shares this page with entries from 1366 Lance-Corporal Ernest Ladd of the 5th East Kent Regiment and 22782 Lance-Corporal Ernest Fairbrother of the 10th Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

The 29th Division first landed at Gallipoli (and suffered 34,000 casualties during its time there). It sailed for France in March 1916 and received such a blow on 1st July that it was incapacitated from further action until October 1916 by which time fresh reinforcements had been absorbed.

By the time that Private Wigston was wounded, the 88th Brigade which was part of the 29th Division, was attached to the 12th (Eastern) Division. In The Somme - The Day by Day Account author Chris McCarthy gives the following information for 18th October 1916 when Private Wigston was wounded:

Wednesday 18th October [1916] XV Corps 12th Division

The Division assaulted Grease Trench on its right with 2nd Hampshires and 4th Worcesters (88 Brigade), and the south-eastern end of Bayonet Trench with 9th Essex (35 Brigade). The Hampshires captured Grease Trench and gave support to 9th Norfolks (6th Division) beyond the Gueudecourt-Beulencourt road, and the Worcesters were just as successful; they blocked Hilt Trench to protect their flank. The 9th Essex made little progress: their left company entered Bayonet Trench at a point where there was no wire, but they were bombed out from the flanks.

In The Story of the 29th Division by Captain Stair Gillon (Nelson 1925), the following information is given about the 18th October attack:

On the 18th October the brigade was again taken for an attack from their captured trenches in front of Guerdecourt.

The other two battalions of the Brigade were, this time, engaged, 2nd Hampshires on the right (under Colonel Middleton) and 4th Worcesters on left (under Colonel E T J Kerans). The attack was equally successful, all objectives being gained and held, in spite, again, of the failure of troops on the flanks. Zero hour was 3:40am and the rain was pouring down, making the ground nearly impassable.
Part of the Hampshires furthest objective was found to be a trench which was only partially completed and very shallow, and not yet occupied. However, they surprised a working party of the enemy and accounted for them by death and capture.

The troops on their right failing to come on, the Hants took an extra 300 yards of trench for them and consolidated and held it. The Worcestershires had some lively hand-to-hand scrapping, and took pretty heavy toll of the enemy. Their left flank being in the air owing to the failure of the other troops, they had to make a defensive flank back to our regained starting point, which they successfully held and beat off various local counter-attacks.

A yarn, which I believe to be true, as it was told to me the day after the battle, illustrates the German character well, and also the coolness of our men. A private of the Worcestershires was told off to take back on his own eight German prisoners. He went off quietly but when he got about half way back he met a strongish party of Germans who had not been mopped up. He wasn’t put out at all, and started to fire on them, and got his prisoners to load spare rifles for him, of which there were several lying about, so that he could keep up rapid fire! The prisoners carried out his order like lambs, one of them also being instructed to roll a cigarette for the firer, which was also done. The German party was finally routed and the soldier brought his eight prisoners in safely.

… the bag of prisoners in the second attack was about 150 and many more slain.

The 88th Brigade had previously attacked Guerdecourt on 12th October with the 1st Essex and 1st Royal Newfoundland Regiment to the fore when “all trenches captured were held” and around 130 prisoners taken with many more killed.

Sources and Acknowledgements

• The Story of the 29th Division by Captain Stair Gillon; Nelson 1925
• The Somme - The Day by Day Account - Chris McCarthy

Thursday, June 12, 2014

G/4780 L/Cpl Edward John Burnage, Royal Sussex Regiment

G/4780 Lance-Corporal Edward John Burnage was a patient at Hickwells at the end of 1915 and the beginning of 1916. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album comprises a drawing of the Royal Sussex Regiment badge and the following text:

The Iron Regiment [drawing of Royal Sussex Regt cap badge]
But are not Downhearted
Lc Cpl Burnage 2nd Royal Sussex
Wounded in the Battle of Loos Sept 25.1915 and again wounded at Givenchy Dec 24th 1915

Also on this page are entries from 23331 Private W H Baddock of the 3rd Grenadier Guards and Private S F Brown of the 2/9th Middlesex Regiment.

Edward Burnage was born in Eastbourne Sussex on the 25th June 1890, his birth registered at Eastbourne in the September quarter of that year. He appears on the 1891 census as a nine month old infant living with his family at 51 Ashford Road, Eastbourne. The household comprised Frederick Burnage (head, married, aged 28, working on the railways), Elizabeth Burnage (wife, aged 29) and their two children: Elizabeth (aged two) and Edward.

By the time the 1901 census was taken the family was still living at the same address but had grown by one. Mabel Burnage, aged ten is noted as the third child, Edward is recorded as “Ted”. The children’s father is noted as a railway engine driver.

On the 1911 census, Edward is noted as a 20-year old boot maker living at 78 Ashford Road, Eastbourne with his parents and sister Mable. Horrice (probably Horace) Burnage, the three-year old grandson of Edward's parents also makes an appearance on this return.

Edward attested with the 9th Royal Sussex Regiment on 5th January 1915. He gave his occupation as labourer and his next of kin as his mother, Elizabeth Burnage. She was now living at 78 Ashford Road, Eastbourne and Edward was also still living at home. He was five feet, nine and three quarter inches tall and distinguishing marks are noted as a two inch scar in the centre of his forehead and a mole one inch behind his right inner ankle. On 8th January he was posted to the 3rd battalion and then, on the 1st May, straight out to the regular 2nd Battalion in France. It was while serving with this battalion that he suffered a gunshot wound to his leg on 25th September 1915, the opening day of the Battle of Loos. Four days later he was back in England at The Royal Sussex Depot.

The wound must have been relatively slight as by 1st November he had been posted to the 3rd Battalion and then, on 10th December, to the 7th Battalion. It was while serving with the 7th that he was wounded at Givenchy on Christmas Eve 1915. The war diary for the 7th Royal Sussex Regiment notes that in December 1915 the battalion was in the Festubert-Hingette-Givenchy region. On 23rd December the Brigade moved to the Givenchy line and took over

“Right Battalion of Right Sector from 7th Suffolk Regiment. Front occupied from Sap ‘H’ just S of RIFLEMANS CRATER to S of DUCK’S BILL by ‘C’, ‘B’ and ‘D’ Companies. ‘A’ Company in support GUNNERS SIDING & MAIRIE REDOUBT.”

On 24th December at 7.15 in the morning, the diarist wrote that the Germans, “blew up defensive mine between their line and ours opposite Saps ‘G’ & ‘H’, blowing in the end of their two saps and causing considerable damage by burying men and subsequent shell fire. In afternoon the Germans occupied this crater temporarily and could not be got at owing to the depth of mud around the newly blown up crater. Sap ‘H’ was rendered untenable except for 15 yards. Rifle grenading began on both sides. Trench mortars were either out of gear or could not be found to reply and turn enemy out of crater. Machine-gun enfilade was of some use. Much artillery fire both sides day and night. Casualties 3 killed 23 wounded.”

The duel continued into Christmas Day but by this time Edward Burnage had already begun his journey home. He arrived at Brighton on 29th December, an event covered by The Sussex Daily News the following day:

ANOTHER RED CROSS TRAIN COMES TO BRIGHTON - MANY COT CASES … There was a greater percentage of ‘cot’ cases than has hitherto been known in a trainload to Brighton. In all, the cases numbered 170, and no fewer than 89 of these required to be transferred by stretcher. They had all come from France and were all Britishers. They landed at Dover and were conveyed by a Great Western Red Cross train via Norwood Junction to Brighton… a large number were sent to the 2nd Eastern General Hospital in Dyke Road where the Christmas decorations will provide a bright and gaily coloured environment."

Edward was probably sent almost immediately to Chailey. If an operation were required, that would have been carried out at the 2nd Eastern General Hospital and then he would have been sent the few miles north. This was the pattern of events for Private Baddock who had arrived with Edward at Brighton in the same Red Cross Convoy. Both Edward and W H Baddock are mentioned by name in the Sussex Daily News of 8th January 1916 as having arrived at Brighton.

On 18th April, by now recovered, Edward was sent the Command Depot. He was discharged from the army on 10th June 1916 having completed one year and 157 days’ service. He also applied for a Silver War Badge but on 30th November 1916 was compelled to write to the Colonel in Charge of Infantry Records for the second time.

Dear Sir
I trust you will forgive me for writing twice on the subject of War Badge. I shall be glad if you could let me have one quickly. I am awkwardly placed, being a Casual Porter on the Railway here. I am subject to a deal of annoyance, people thinking I ought to join up, not knowing I have done my Bit. On Saturday last the Guards played a football match and on their way back, the annoyance from them was so great I was compelled to defend myself which was greatly to my detriment. If I had the Badge to wear, the Public could see for themselves. 
Apologising for troubling you.
Yours Respectfully
4780 Pte E J Burnage, Royal Sussex Regt.

Edward Burnage married Georgina Field in Eastbourne at around the same time he was writing about his missing badge, their marriage recorded in the fourth quarter of that year. A son, Frederick K G Burnage was born in 1917 and a second son, Allan J Burnage, in 1919. Having received his Silver War Badge on 10th January 1917 one presumes - and hopes - that Edward started to settle back into some semblance of civilian life. In 1920, by now living at 49 Leslie Street, Eastbourne, he received his King’s Certificate on discharge.

Edward Burnage died in Eastbourne in late 1981 aged 91. His death occurred at around the same time I first saw the entry in Nurse Oliver's album that he had written over 60 years earlier.

88802 Driver George William Deer, Royal Field Artillery

George William Deer was a patient at Hickwells in 1915. His entry in Nurse Oliver’s album reads:

No 88802 Driver G W Deer, Royal Field Artillery

May the owner of this book always succeed
For the kindness she showed me was great indeed
May her luck never fail through trouble and strife
And I will never forget her until the end of my life

He shares this page in Nurse Oliver’s album with 6334 Private John Thomas of the 2nd South Staffordshire Regiment and 33612 Sapper F Willmott of the Royal Engineers. His medal index card (above) notes that he served with the 94th Brigade Royal Field Artillery and gives his date of enlistment as 8th September 1914 and his date of discharge (due to sickness) as 14th August 1915. He did not serve overseas.

The silver war badge roll notes that George was 25 years old at the time of his discharge in 1915, giving an approximate year of birth of 1890. He is possibly the same 20 year-old George William Deer who appears on the 1911 census as a compositor, born at Mildenhall, Suffolk and living with his parents at Beck Row, Mildenhall. This man died in Greenwich in 1959.

Medal index card courtesy Ancestry.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Private W Worster

Private Worster was a soldier-patient at either Hickwells or Beechland House. His album entry has been heavily over-written in black ink at some stage and there is no date.  The entry reads:
A Kind Token
I wish you all the happiness
in the World

Pte W Worster
5/14 Middlesex Regn

There was no 5/14th Middlesex Regiment but the 5th (Extra Reserve) and the 14th (Reserve) Battalions of the Middlesex Regiments were stationed in England.  I have been unable to locate a medal index card for this man and it is possible that he never actually served overseas.

William Hugh Blanchard

Chailey Parish Magazine notes that a Private W Blanchard is serving with a Training Reserve battalion in April 1917.  In December 1917 the regimental information is updated to 3rd Royal Sussex and in May 1918 it is updated again to 9th Royal Sussex. 

The National Archives in Kew has only one W Blanchard with the Royal Sussex Regiment noted and that is G/24460 Private William Hugh Blanchard.  In fact the National Archives holds two card for this man: one in the name of W Hugh Blanchard, serving with the 9th Royal Sussex Regiment, and the other in the name of William H Blanchard, serving with the Royal Sussex Regiment (no battalion given).   

In July 1918, the parish magazine notes that Blanchard has been wounded and this information is repeated monthly thereafter until July 1919 which is the final entry for this soldier. 

The 9th Royal Sussex Regiment was a New Army battalion which was formed at Chichester in September 1914 and all original recruits were given the ‘G’ prefix to their regimental number.  However, although Blanchard too has the G prefix to his number, the fact that he appears for the first time in the parish magazine in April 1917, coupled with the fact that he spent an initial period of time with a Training Reserve battalion would appear to suggest that he was not an early volunteer.   

The 9th Royal Sussex formed part of the 73rd Brigade in the 24th Division and first saw action at Loos in September 1915 where it suffered heavy losses. 

In “This and That in Chailey and Barcombe”, Andrew Fayle recalls, “For years the post was delivered on walking rounds.  Old Mr Blanchard, an ex soldier who had only one eye and an artificial leg, was the postman.  He walked from South Common Post Office, all up through Norman’s Brick Yard, then South Street, along Markstakes Lane as far as High House and Tutts Farm, and back.  A long way.  Like all postmen in those days he would carry stamps which you could buy from him and you could ask him to bring a postal order by arrangement. He was also our own ‘Broadcasting Station’. If you saw cattle straying, or if you lost anything, you would tell him and he would broadcast the news. ‘Yes’, he would say, ‘I’ll pass the news on.’” 

The Mr Blanchard referred to above may be the same Private W Blanchard noted in Chailey’s parish magazine in 1917. 

Sources & Acknowledgements
  • The National Archives
  • Chailey Parish Magazine
  • This and That in Chailey & Barcombe by Edwin Matthias (1994)