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Posted by: Wayne Farmer {Email left}
Location: Amesbury
Date: Wednesday 17th August 2016 at 6:29 PM
Hi Alan,
I'm trying to work out from the various snippets that I can find where and when my Great Grandfather Edgar Alfred Bowes was during his military career. He joined the RH+RFA on the 25th May 1905 and continued with them for 21 years until May 1926. He was a Gunner and Bombardier. He is with the 1st Regiment in Woolwich in 1911 and his Medal roll for the 1914 star says he was in "A" Battery, RHA. His army numbers were #37732 and #1021765. As far as I can tell no service records survive. Can you tell me where he would have been from 1905 until 1926? - googling only comes up with some vague hints.
Any help you can give is much appreciated,
All the best
Wayne Farmer
Reply from: Alan Greveson
Date: Wednesday 17th August 2016 at 10:21 PM

Dear Wayne,
Service records for men who served as late as 1926 are not in the public domain. They are held by the U.K. Ministry of Defence and are covered by the Data Protection Act. The Ministry of Defence may release information to the next-of-kin of a deceased person. They charge a fee of £30 for the service and require proof of death. See the details at:
https://www.gov.uk/get-copy-military-service-records/apply-for-someone-elses-records
The four war diaries of “A” Battery RHA can be downloaded from The National Archives for a fee of £3.45 each. See:
http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/results/r?_st=adv&_aq=%22A%20Battery%22%20AND%20Royal%20Horse%20Artillery&_cr1=WO95&_dss=range&_ro=any
A gunner of the RHA named Edgar Alfred Bowes, born Woolwich about1891, was recorded in the 1911 census stationed with 1st Cavalry Brigade at Aldershot. The 1st Cavalry Brigade was under Aldershot Command between 1911 and 1914.
“A” Battery (Chestnut Troop) Royal Horse Artillery was in South Africa in 1912. The British garrison there was reduced that year and in December 1912 it was announced “A” Battery RHA would move from South Africa to Ambala, India. Ambala is a city in the state of Haryana, India, on the border with the state of Punjab. In 1914, “A” Battery RHA was allotted to the Mhow Cavalry Brigade in the 1st Indian Cavalry Division. The Division arrived in France on 7th October 1914 and served in France and Flanders before being broken-up in February 1918.
Edgar Bowes might not have remained with “A” Battery RHA throughout the war or the rest of his career.
With kind regards,
Alan
Reply from: Wayne Farmer
Date: Saturday 27th August 2016 at 2:28 PM

Thank you so much for your help - very helpful. My aunt is applying for his records so hopefully we can find out more.
Posted by: Judith Lowe {Email left}
Location: Merseyside
Date: Sunday 14th August 2016 at 8:49 PM
Good Evening Alan
I have been working my way through the soldiers names that appear in the Autograph Book and in some cases have had success. However I am unable to find out anything about :- Private J or T Brownsoy 946 of 1st Border Regiment. Can you help me?
A number of soldiers who have written contributions have given no numbers. Is it likely that we would be likely to find anything out about them or is it essential to have a service number?
Regards
Judith Lowe
Reply from: Alan Greveson
Date: Monday 15th August 2016 at 4:47 PM

Dear Judith,
A three-digit regimental number is not common and would normally indicate a soldier who had enlisted prior to 1914 in the Regular Army or the Territorials where the battalion strength was of approximately one thousand men who would have been allotted numbers from one to 999 or higher.
In addition, though, it was usual for soldiers to be identified by their “last three”.
This was an expression for adding the last three digits of a soldier’s regimental number to a soldier’s name to identify him. The last three digits would help uniquely identify men with frequently occurring names within a battalion. So, a David Jones in a Welsh battalion would need some numbers after his name to uniquely identify him. The “last three” were often inscribed with a name on equipment, or even called-out vocally at the guardroom: “Jones, D., 678, Sergeant!” When signing for stores or kit or drawing a rifle from the armoury a soldier would sign his name adding his “last three” numbers, to ensure positive identification.
There is no obvious record of T. or J. Brownsoy of the 1st Border Regiment with the regimental number 946.
A search of Browns* [where the * equals ‘anything’] in the Border Regiment did identify a soldier with the last three numbers 946. He was Thomas Brownson, 18946, 1st Battalion The Border Regiment, from Bolton in Lancashire.
Thomas Brownson first went overseas as a private, aged 18, on 17th July 1915 when he joined the 1st Battalion Border Regiment at Gallipoli (medal rolls index-card). The Battalion had been at Gallipoli since April 1915, so Thomas would have been part of a draft of reinforcements.
There is no record of his returning home, but he must have done because he later served as a Lance-corporal with the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment in France in 1916 (medal rolls, Border Regiment, May 1920).
On the night of 12th October 1916, 35 men from the 2nd Battalion Border Regiment formed a raiding party that set out to the enemy’s trenches in front of Pont de Nieppe, which was the bridge at Nieppe north-west of Armentieres on the road to Bailleul. The attack started at 7.30 p.m. on the evening of the 12th October but two parties were caught by heavy machine gun fire from the enemy on their right and they took no further part. Second-Lieutenant R.B. Wood’s party cut the wire and entered the enemy trenches but Mr Wood was wounded and eventually died of his wounds. Only about seven or eight men entered the enemy trenches and accounted for perhaps three enemy killed with grenades. The party retired, bringing in some of their wounded. Two men were unaccounted for, missing and believed killed (War Diary WO 95/1655/1).
Lance Corporal Thomas Brownson was one of those two missing men. In the course of time, “The Times” newspaper of Wednesday February 21st 1917 listed L/Cpl Brownson as “reported missing; now believed killed”. Thomas was eventually listed as “presumed dead on or since 12th October 1916, France” (Register of Soldiers’ Effects).
His body had been buried and the grave marked with a cross by the Germans at Devasier Farm, Wambrechies, on the road to Quesnoy-sur-Deule, East of Armentieres. On 20th October 1924, eight years after his death, that grave was exhumed and re-located to the British war cemetery at Pont-du-Hem, La Gorgue.
Thomas Brownson’s next-of-kin in the 1920s was shown as his mother, Mary Jane Brownson, 54 Beverley Road, off Chorley New Road, Bolton. He had been born at Bolton in 1897, the son of James and Mary J. Brownson. In 1911, Thomas was recorded as a 14-year-old tanner in a leatherworks, living with his parents and two siblings, James 16 and Harold, 7, at 32, Luton Street, Bolton.
Thomas had enlisted voluntarily at Farnworth, Bolton, Lancashire.
He qualified for the 1914-15 Star, The British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
His elder brother, James , a timber sawyer, enlisted in the West Lancashire Division Royal Engineers on 31st July 1915 at St Helens and served in France and Flanders from May 1917 until June 1919 with 57th Division in 421 Field Company R.E.. He survived the war.
Tracing soldiers by their name and regiment without a regimental number is not always successful unless it was an unusual name. However, it is always worth trying as there might be a service record, casualty report or newspaper article that further identifies the man.
With kind regards,
Alan
Reply from: Judith Lowe
Date: Monday 15th August 2016 at 5:08 PM

Alan, thanks so much for the fascinating information especially about the three digit numbers. Non of this I new anything about. I feel that you have definitely found out man.
Regards
Judith Lowe

Posted by: Kez {No contact email}
Location: Australia
Date: Sunday 14th August 2016 at 6:26 AM
Evening Alan, I am looking for information if available please for a William McNeish born 1899 Glasgow. Parents William McNeish & Jane Forbes. It is my neighbour's Dad, she thought he was in WW1.
I have found a William McNeish Military Service for United Kingdom, Militia Service Records 1806-1815 born Lanark abt 1899. Can you advise please Alan?
Cheers Kez
Reply from: Alan Greveson
Date: Sunday 14th August 2016 at 12:12 PM

Dear Kez,
The entry for William McNeish born Lanark in the Militia records is for a William McNeish born in 1889 whose father was John. Militia service records would not normally extend into the First World War. To search for First World War records you would need to know the man’s regiment and regimental number as so few Army documents from that period have survived.
With kind regards,
Alan
Reply from: Kez
Date: Sunday 14th August 2016 at 11:11 PM

Many thanks Alan, appreciate the information,
Cheers Kez
Posted by: Judith Lowe {Email left}
Location: Merseyside
Date: Friday 12th August 2016 at 7:33 PM
Hi Alan
I am working my way through the names in the autograph book, slowly, and have become stuck on the following soldier. Any help that you can give me will be gratefully received.
Private O J Lewis 16479 ? Coy 9th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers. BEF

Regards

Judith Lowe
Reply from: Alan Greveson
Date: Saturday 13th August 2016 at 11:27 AM

Dear Judith,
The soldier who served in the 9th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers (R.W.F.) with the regimental number 16479 was Thomas James Lewis, who had enlisted on 20th October 1914.
There is little information about him. The 9th Battalion R.W.F. was raised at Wrexham on 9th September 1914, so Thomas probably served with them from the outset. The Battalion joined the 58th Infantry Brigade at Tidworth and spent the winter of 1914/15 in billets at Basingstoke before returning to Tidworth in March 1915.
Thomas James Lewis went to France with the 9th Battalion on 19th July 1915 where they served with the 58th Infantry Brigade in the 19th Division. The Division’s first major engagement was a diversionary action during the Battle of Loos, known as The Action of Pietre, on 25th September 1915. The 9th Battalion had been in the trenches for three weeks without much of a break, and even when on “rest” the men had been occupied at night by taking forward ammunition and trench supplies including chlorine gas cylinders. On the day, the Battalion lost 87 all ranks killed with 165 all ranks wounded. A soldier named T.J. Lewis from the 9th Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers was named in a casualty list of mid-October 1915. Published casualty lists often appeared two weeks or so after the event. The Silver War Badge Roll recorded Thomas James Lewis, 16479, was discharged from the Army through sickness on 26th October 1916, which was almost exactly two years after he had enlisted.
Unfortunately, none of the surviving military records provides any biographical detail about him. He survived the war. Thomas James Lewis qualified for the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He was granted a Silver War Badge for being discharged through sickness.
With kind regards,
Alan
Reply from: Judith Lowe
Date: Sunday 14th August 2016 at 8:41 PM

Dear Alan

Thank you once again for letting me have all the above information on Private Lewis. The research you have done is extraordinary and I only wish that I was able to find out half as much as you can. .
You are so quick with your replies also.
Regards
Judith Lowe
Posted by: Trevor Purnell {Email left}
Location: Tillington West Sussex
Date: Sunday 7th August 2016 at 12:36 PM
Alan,

Grateful for your help with a mystery. I have researched an RNAS man called Percy Maurice Yeatman F/15822. He was a front gunner on 0/100 bombers at Dunkirk in WW1. He enlisted in RNAS on June 6 1916 when he was 19 years old. I have just found two photographs of him on a family tree on Ancestry. The mystery is that there is also a photograph of him in army uniform. It looks as if it is the uniform of the Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment and he has two good conduct stripes on his lower left sleeve. Could he have enlisted in the regiment in 1914 and gained the stripes before switching to the RNAS in 1916? I can find no information at all on a possible army enlistment for him. An help or suggestions would be greatly appreciated.

Regards,

Trevor
Reply from: Trevor Purnell
Date: Sunday 7th August 2016 at 5:27 PM

Alan,

I forgot to say that he was killed 25/26 August 1917 when the aircraft he was in was shot down close to Bruges. The remainder of the crew survived and were taken prisoners.

Trevor
Reply from: Alan Greveson
Date: Sunday 7th August 2016 at 6:01 PM

Dear Trevor,
Many families have a box of old photographs that cannot be identified because there was no name written on the back when the photo was developed. The photographs you mention have been captioned with inaccuracies in the titles of units which cast doubts on the provenance of the photograph that is described as “Percy Yeatman RNAS uniform c 1917 - Percy Yeatman, aged 19 or 20, wearing Royal Navy Air Squadron [sic] RNAS uniform”.
The photograph is of a young man in Army uniform. I agree with you that the cap-badge appears to be that of The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment).
The caption is probably guesswork: he is not wearing Royal Naval Air Service uniform; his age cannot be ascertained but is presumed by the fact Percy was killed on 27th August 1917, having been born on 23rd August 1897 and having enlisted on 6th June 1916 at the age of 18 (dates taken from Royal Navy Records Yeatman F15822). In 1917, Percy Maurice Yeatman was serving in the R.N.A.S. in England and from July 22nd 1917 he was stationed at Coudekerque-Village, France, near Dunkirk.
An online search for any soldier named Yeatman serving in The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) before or during the First World War returned only one man: Walter Yeatman, who was compulsorily conscripted at the age of 18 years and one month on 16th June 1917, so he is unlikely to have had any pre-war service. He trained in the 23rd Training Reserve Battalion; and on 1st December 1917 he joined the 51st Graduated Battalion of The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). He went to France on 30th March 1918 as a recruit of The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment). Four days later, probably at an infantry base depot in France, he was transferred to the 1st/24th Battalion The London Regiment. On 14th March 1919, he was transferred to the Duke of Cambridge’s Own Middlesex Regiment. His war-time service ended in October 1919.
Walter Yeatman’s service record stated his father was named George Yeatman. George was born in 1856, the son of Henry John Yeatman who had been born in Dorsetshire in about 1813.
Percy Maurice Yeatman was the son of Harry Percy Yeatman, who had been born in 1874, the son of John Yeatman. John Yeatman had been born in 1851 the son of Samuel Yeatman born in 1812 in Dorsetshire. Both families can be traced back to Doresetshire, so it is feasible Percy and Walter could have been distant cousins.
However, it is unlikely the man in the photograph is Walter Yeatman.
Walter Yeatman wore the cap-badge of The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) for just three months. Yet the man in the photograph is wearing two Good-Conduct stripes which indicated between five and six years’ unblemished service.
The photograph: The man in the photograph appears to be wearing a smart uniform, certainly much smarter than the average First World War recruit posing before the camera once he had completed basic training. His uniform is the Service Dress dating from 1902 with “stiff” cap which was introduced from 1905. The cap had a flat top and originally had a rather horizontal appearance but in 1912 the front of the cap was raised by the insertion of a small stiffener in the brim. These stiffeners were informally removed at the beginning of the war and their removal was formally sanctioned in 1915. The stiffened cap was re-introduced after the war.
He is carrying a swagger stick which was popular for walking-out but was left at home as a fashion item when men went overseas during the war.
He is wearing a white ceremonial regimental waist belt of a type worn on formal occasions such as Colour Parties, bandsmen, or soldiers at a funeral.
And he has two Good-Conduct stripes. Good-Conduct stripes were awarded to regular army soldiers, the first stripe after two years; and two stripes suggest some six years’ or more service. The rules for awarding the stripes varied and during the war it seems a second stripe could be earned in the fifth year rather than the sixth year.
The uniform style was typically pre-war and yet was continued with the stiff S.D. cap during the inter-war years, right up to the late 1930s. So, smart chap; ceremonial belt; stiff cap and six years’ service; dressed for an occasion. He could be anyone.
But I’ll wager he was not Percy Yeatman.
With kind regards,
Alan
Reply from: Trevor Purnell
Date: Monday 8th August 2016 at 9:01 AM

Alan,

Thank you once again for your speedy and full reply. I agree with everything you say but the army soldier does look very much like Percy in his naval uniform. If he is a relative he must be a close one.

Many thanks and regards,

Trevor
Posted by: Joe Freaney {No contact email}
Location: Derry Northern Ireland
Date: Saturday 6th August 2016 at 10:07 PM
My grandfather, Richard Franey, served with the 2nd Batt Royal Irish Regiment during WW1. His Service Number was 11504. His Medal Card shows he received the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. I have a photo of him as a young soldier in Delhi, 1920. I would love to know when he joined and if he left when the Regiment was disbanded. Thanks.
Reply from: Alan Greveson
Date: Sunday 7th August 2016 at 11:58 AM

Dear Joe,
Records of soldiers who continued to serve after the First World War and who served in India in 1920 would probably not be in the public domain and may be held by the U.K. Ministry of Defence. The M.o.D might release details to the next-of-kin on application and payment of a fee. See:
https://www.gov.uk/guidance/requests-for-personal-data-and-service-records#service-records-of-deceased-service-personnel
A 1922 roll of the newly-created Free State army is searchable on the Irish Military Archives site:
www.militaryarchives.ie.

With kind regards,
Alan
Posted by: Colin Davies {Email left}
Location: Hereford
Date: Thursday 4th August 2016 at 3:56 PM
Date: Thursday 4th August 2016 at 3:35 PM
Dear Alan,
Can you please provide any information available on my great grandfather's war service. His name was Pryce Alfred Powell and he served with the 1st Hereford TF his service number was 5539 and he signed up on 16/ 9/1916 he lived at 2 Nelson Street Llandrindod Wells. Any small amount of information would be greatly appreciated.

Many thanks in anticipation

Colin Davies (CRD)
Reply from: Alan Greveson
Date: Thursday 4th August 2016 at 9:23 PM

Dear Colin,
Pryce Alfred Powell had the misfortune of being mobilized for war twice.
The Herefordshire Battalion descended from the Herefordshire Rifle Volunteer Corps of 1860 and in 1908 it became the 1st Battalion Herefordshire Regiment. It was the only battalion in what was a part-time, volunteer regiment of the Territorial Army in Herefordshire. It had a headquarters at Hereford Barracks and seven company drill halls in Hereford, Ross, Ledbury, Kington and Presteign, Leominster and Bromyard, Rhayader, and Knighton.
Pryce Alfred Powell, a coal miner, stated he joined the Herefordshire Regiment on 27th March 1910 with the regimental number 8215. He would have been a part time soldier, training on weekday evenings; weekends and an annual two-week camp. On 4th August 1914 the Battalion was mobilized for war and for the first eleven months of the conflict the 1st Battalion Herefordshire Regiment took up its war stations on coastal defences and internal security duties at Pembroke Dock (4th to 10th August 1914) and then Oswestry for three weeks before moving to Irchester and Rushdeb. In December 1914 they were stationed at Bury St Edmunds until May 1915 when they moved to Bedford. They served in the North Wales Brigade of the Welsh Division which on 13th May 1915 lost its regional identity and became the 158th Infantry Brigade in the 53rd (Welsh) Division. The Division sailed from Devonport on 16th July 1915 for Gallipoli. They passed through the forward base on the island of Lemnos at the beginning of August 1915 and on 9th August 1915, they landed at Suvla Bay. They remained on Gallipoli during the Suvla Bay operations which saw the Division reduced to something like 15 per cent of its fighting strength through illness and battle casualties. The Division was removed from Gallipoli on 12th December 1915 and sailed for Alexandria, Egypt, where it arrived on 22nd December 1915.
On 27th March 1916, Pryce Powell was time-expired from his original enlistment commitment to the Territorial Army and he returned to civilian life in the U.K.. But in March 1916, the Government passed the Military Service Act that introduced compulsory conscription. At the end of August 1916, Pryce Powell was given two weeks’ notice and was called-up under the new Act, this time for compulsory service to begin on 13th September 1916, and on 16th September 1916, at the age of 39, Bryce Powell was enrolled in a reserve battalion of the Herefordshire Regiment at Hereford. There were two reserve battalions of the regiment and it is not clear in which he served, however, it was probably the 3rd/1st Battalion Herefordshire Regiment which had taken the title “1st Reserve Battalion Herefordshire Regiment” in April 1916. This battalion was based at Oswestry at the time. Pryce had stated a preference to join the Army Ordnance Corps on his re-enrolment, but he was sent to re-join his former regiment with a new regimental number, 5539 in the 1st Herefordshire Regiment.
Pryce spent Christmas 1916 locked-up, because on 23rd December 1917 he was sentenced to 14 days’ detention for being in possession of a pair of army boots with intention to sell them. This form of cadging or blagging army kit was quite common. (It still is, if e-Bay is believed).
On January 10th 1917, Pryce was posted to join his old battalion, the 1st Battalion Herefordshire Regiment which by then was serving in Palestine. His battalion was allotted new regimental numbers in January 1917 and Pryce was given a new regimental number, 237110, 1st Herefordshire Regiment. In 1917, the Battalion fought at The First Battle of Gaza (26th and 27th March 1917) during which Pryce was wounded on the first day, although he was not returned to England. The wound was not specified.
The Battalion then fought at The Second Battle of Gaza (17th – 19th April); The Third Battle of Gaza (27th October – 7th November) including the Capture of Beersheba (31st October) and the Capture of Tel el Khuweilfe (3rd – 7th November); The Capture of Jerusalem (7th – 9th December) and The Defence of Jerusalem (27th – 30th December). See Chris Baker’s website, The Long, Long Trail:
http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/53rd-welsh-division/
In 1918, the 53rd Division fought at The Battle of Tell’Asur between the 8th and 12th March 1918, and was then re-organised. On June 1st 1918, the Herefordshire Regiment left the 53rd Division and sailed from Alexandria for France on June 17th 1918, travelling via Taranto in Italy where they disembarked on 22nd June. They then travelled to Proven in France, arriving on 30th June where they joined the 34th Division which at that time was being reconstituted for service in the Ypres sector of Belgium. However, Pryce did not remain in France and Flanders for long as he had contracted malaria. He was admitted to hospital in France on 31st July 1918 and returned to England by 10th August 1918 where he was admitted to the West Bridgford Military Hospital, established with 220 beds in a council school, and run by Bagthorpe Infirmary, Hucknall Road, Nottingham. He was treated for malaria at West Bridgford for 22 days.
Following his release from hospital he went to the Command Depot at Heaton Park, Manchester, which was a convalescence camp, on 5th September 1918 until 10th October 1918 when he was discharged to the Reserve and returned to civilian life. He was granted a Silver War Badge for leaving the Army through sickness. He was finally discharged from his commitment to the Reserve on 27th January 1919, having suffered impairment through military service.
Pryce Powell qualified for the 1914-15 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
With kind regards,
Alan
Posted by: Frank Rogers {Email left}
Location: Lancashire Englaqnd
Date: Monday 1st August 2016 at 3:37 PM
Alan,

I am researching the WW1 military history of my great-grandfather Charles Henry Dunn 2936 of the 2/5 East Lancashire Regiment. Anything you can tell me about this would be much appreciated.
Reply from: Alan Greveson
Date: Monday 1st August 2016 at 7:16 PM

Dear Frank,
There is no surviving military record for Charles Henry Dunn, 2936, 2/5 East Lancashire Regiment. There is no medal roll entry for him which suggests he did not serve overseas in the war. The 2nd/5th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment was a second-line Territorial Force battalion raised at Burnley in September 1914. It initially trained men as reserves for the 5th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment and was garrisoned at Burgess Hill, Sussex; Pees Pottage, near Crawley, Crowborough and in March 1916 at Colchester. In March 1917, the fit men of the battalion went to France and Flanders. In January 1917 all the men of the Territorial Force were re-numbered with six-digit numbers. If Charles Dunn did not have a six digit number, and only a four-digit number, he might not have been with the Battalion in 1917.
With kind regards,
Alan Greveson
Reply from: Frank Rogers
Date: Monday 1st August 2016 at 8:24 PM

Alan,
Thank you for your prompt response. His number was given in 2 letters I have seen which he wrote to his brother who lived in Canada in late 1915/early 1916, and I have no knowledge of later letters or details.He was born in May, 1870, and was 44 years old in 1914. He lived well into the 20th century. I have seen some details of a Charles Henry Dunn who served in the RAMC, with a 6 digit number - maybe he transferred later.

Regards,

Frank
Posted by: Judith Lowe {Email left}
Location: Rainhill
Date: Sunday 31st July 2016 at 8:30 PM
Dear Alan
Thank you so much for the swift and fascinating reply to my question about Private Walters. How do you manage to find out so much so quickly. I have access to Ancestry but seem to struggle finding out much about some of the Oakdene Soldiers, Where else do you suggest I look so I do not have to keep bothering you?
The next soldier that I have been trying to find some information about is Sapper H Varlow 1157 of 1/2nd Field Coy, 1/1st East Lancs Royal Engineers who was wounded at Dardanelles on 4th June 1915.
Any further information would be very gratefully received,
Regards
Judith Lowe
Reply from: Alan Greveson
Date: Monday 1st August 2016 at 6:21 PM

Dear Judith,
Sapper H. Varlow was Harry (not Harold) Varlow who served in the 2nd East Lancashire Field Company Royal Engineers, which was a pre-war Territorial Army company of part-time volunteers based in Manchester and the surrounding area. A “sapper” was a private soldier in the Royal Engineers who was qualified in a skilled trade.
Harry Varlow was born in 1895 at Winton, Lancashire, the son of James Edward Varlow and his wife, Margaret Widdows, who had married on 14th July 1894 at Christ Church, Patricroft, Eccles. In the 1911 census Harry was recorded as a 16-year-old apprentice fitter with Browett, Lindley and Co. who had a factory making engines and dynamos at Sandon Works, on Clifford Street, Patricroft, Manchester.
The 2nd East Lancashire Field Company Royal Engineers was part of the original East Lancashire Division and sometimes took the fractional title of 1st/2nd Field Company. Early in the war, they lost their local identities and were numbered, becoming 428 Field Company R.E. in the 42nd Division.
Harry was 19 when he went to war. The Field Company was mobilized on August 4th 1914, and on 26th September 1914 it arrived in Egypt where it served with the East Lancashire Division around Cairo with some units of the Division stationed in Cyprus and the Sudan. The Division’s role was to defend the Suez Canal from attack by Turkish forces that could only approach across the desert. To their credit, he Turks achieved the desert crossing, attacking the canal on 3rd February 1915 but the assault petered out and back they went. However, the attack saw the East Lancashire Division’s artillery come in action firing their first rounds of the First World War and marking the first firing in anger by the Territorial Force.
The Division trained with the Australian and New Zealand contingents of the ANZAC forces who assembled in Egypt before being sent to Gallipoli. They also took on some dismounted Yeomanry troops.
The Dardanelle Straits had been closed to Allied shipping by the Ottoman Empire, a move which also sealed access to Russia through warm water ports of the Black Sea. When Russia called for aid from her Allies, the French and British launched a naval bombardment of the Turkish forts along the Bosphorus to open up the seaway. When that failed, a land attack was planned for the invasion of the Gallipoli Peninsula from the sea.
The East Lancashire Division sailed for Cape Helles on Gallipoli from Alexandria in Egypt between 1st May and 6th May 1915. 428 Field Company sailed on Her Majesty’s Transport “Toronto” and lay at anchor off Cape Helles on May 9th. Disembarkation started the next day with most of the Company landing on V Beach a day later on May 11th. The Division was tasked with breaking out of the beach and bridgehead to capture the village of Krithia. The first attempts were made as they landed on 6th May and continued to the 8th May 1915. A second attempt was made on 4th June 1915. In some cases the fighting was so close that a Royal Engineer officer was able to throw back Turkish grenades before they had exploded. He won the Military Cross.
Sappers took part in the infantry assaults, carry gun-cotton explosive to destroy wire and emplacements, but they were not a success. According to the Company’s commander, the role of the Royal Engineers at this stage of the war was not fully understood by senior commanders and the 428 Field Company war diary states they wasted a lot of energy carrying materials. By the time the attack came on 4th June the men were already very tired. They attacked Achi Baba and at one stage the commanding officer of the 428 Field Company R.E. was the one man who had advanced the furthest along the Krithia Nullah. He expressed disappointment that the infantry fell back and the advance was not consolidated.
In fact, Harry Varlow never went into the battle on June 4th. The 428 Field Company War Diary entry for Wednesday 2nd June 1915 records the Company was working on the front line trenches at Pink Farm. There were making bombs and barbed wire entanglements. There were three casualties that day, including: “Casualties: 1157 Sapper Varlow Harry – shot above knee while on sentry duty.” (National Archives WO 95/4314 via Gavin Robinson on Flickr) See:
https://www.flickr.com/photos/wenham5thlincs/9929021745/in/album-72157635870231396/
Harry would have been evacuated by hospital ship, probably via hospital in Malta. His name was published amongst the 29 wounded and sick of 428 Field Company recorded in a casualty list that appeared in the Manchester Evening News on Thursday July 15th 1915, headed: “In Gallipoli”.
Harry continued to serve after leaving Oakdene as he was re-numbered 440152 which was a number allotted to the 428 Field Company R.E. in January 1917. The later engagements of the 42nd Division can be seen on Chris Baker’s website, The Long, Long Trail:
http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/42nd-east-lancashire-division/
Harry Varlow was transferred to the Reserve on 2nd March 1919. He qualified for the 1914-15 Star, The British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
After the war, Harry married Winifred Kay in 1921. The couple had two daughters [names withheld as they were born fewer than 100 years ago]. Harry died, aged 71, at his home in Smithills, Bolton, on 2nd November 1966.
[Ancestry and The National Archives are my sources for surviving military records from the Great War. In addition to online research and searching techniques, I refer to regimental histories, reference books, and war diaries to research events and locations relevant to each man. The only military record for Harry Varlow was his entry in the medal rolls, but from that, and the details that you had, aided by his uncommon name, it was possible to draw up a partial picture of his experience in the war. Sometimes, of course, I draw a blank.]
With kind regards,
Alan
Reply from: Judith Lowe
Date: Friday 12th August 2016 at 7:25 PM

Wow what a lot of information you have given me here i will need time to digest it all. Thank you very much indeed,.
Judith Lowe
Posted by: Peter {Email left}
Location: Billingham
Date: Sunday 31st July 2016 at 3:17 PM
Dear Alan Hope you are having a great summer.
can you please help with this man Pte James Cunningham service No 19897 KIA 25/10/1916. born 34 Craddock St Spennymoor Co Durham. 13th Service Battalion Forest of Dean Gloucestershire Regiment. grave Serre Road No1 cemetery any information as to were he was Killed.
Best Regards Peter.
Reply from: Alan Greveson
Date: Sunday 31st July 2016 at 10:23 PM

Dear Peter,
August already!
James Cunningham was born in 1895 and was baptised at St Paul’s Church, Spennymoor, on 23rd September 1895, the son of James and Esther Cunningham. In the 1911 census, James junior was recorded as a fifteen-year-old coal-mine driver underground living with his parents and family at 34 Craddock Street, Spennymoor. A driver looked after the horses pulling waggons of coal on the main road underground. Drivers were usually aged 14 or 15 at a time when the minimum school leaving age was twelve.
During the war, James served with the 13th (Forest of Dean) Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment (Pioneers) which was sometimes abbreviated to 13th Glo’sters. It was the labouring battalion assigned to the 39th Division fighting in France and Flanders. The Battalion had been raised as a Pals-type battalion by the Member of Parliament, Lt-Colonel H. Webb, at Malvern in December 1914. Lieutenant-Colonel Sir Henry "Harry" Webb, 1st Baronet (28th July 1866, Hereford – 29th October 1940, Caerleon) was a British Liberal Party politician and Member of Parliament for the Forest of Dean (1911–1918) and was Junior Lord of the Treasury (1912–1915).
The 13th Battalion sailed from Southampton for Le Havre on the night of 3rd March 1916, arriving at 6.30 a.m. on the 4th March. It is not clear whether James Cunningham was with the Battalion when it sailed for France, or whether he was conscripted nearer home in County Durham during 1916 and then joined the Battalion in France later in the year, having had no choice in the matter. Given the raising of the Battalion in Malvern, the latter scenario is more likely.
The 13th Battalion fought on the battlefields of the River Ancre during the Battles of the Somme in 1916 and was employed under the supervision of the Royal Engineers’ field companies of the 39th Division in the area of Thiepval and the Schwaben Redoubt. The Redoubt was a fortified German defensive location near the village of Thiepval, overlooking the River Ancre. It had been an objective on July 1st 1916, and yet it was eventually captured on October 14th by the 39th Division.
From the beginning of October 1916, the 39th Division’s Pioneers were billeted at Martinsaart and spent their days and nights under shell-fire, digging new trenches in the recently-captured ground at the Schwaben Redoubt, to aid the infantry in repulsing the enemy counter-attacks which were relentless from 15th to 21st October. On the 25th October, the pioneer companies of the 13th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment were working in the area of Authville. On the night of the 25th / 26th ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies of the 13th Battalion were despatched in the darkness to dig trenches near Schwaben Redoubt, under the supervision of Royal Engineers officers. The Battalion war diary recorded the night was a “Total failure as points could not be located, shell fire was very heavy, and state of ground made any digging impossible. ‘C’ Coy [Company] sustained heavy casualties.” (National Archives, Catalogue reference WO95/2577/1)
James Cunningham was probably amongst those casualties. The 13th Battalion lost 14 men killed plus three who died of wounds in October 1916, with an additional 43 men wounded during the month.
James Cunnningham qualified for the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He was not married.
Serre Road No. 1 Cemetery was created in May 1917 at Serre - Les Puisieux, so James had probably been buried elsewhere and his grave moved to that cemetery after the Armistice when isolated cemeteries were exhumed and the battlefields were cleared.
James is commemorated on the Spennymoor War Memorial, unveiled in 1922. See:
http://www.newmp.org.uk/detail.php?contentId=8651#listlink
With kind regards,
Alan
Reply from: Peter
Date: Monday 1st August 2016 at 1:03 PM

Thank you Alan for the very descripted information I will donate to the Royal British Legion
Best Regards Peter.
Reply from: Peter
Date: Monday 1st August 2016 at 3:25 PM

Alan
James Headstone has 3 other names on it is this usual to have four in the same plot.
Regards Peter.
Reply from: Alan Greveson
Date: Monday 1st August 2016 at 5:53 PM

Dear Peter,
James Cunningham’s body was one of eight bodies of men from the 13th Gloucestershire Regiment who died on 25th October 1916 in the area of Thiepval. The bodies or partial remains of the four men now buried together were found together and were identified by identity discs or other means, such as a name or regimental number on equipment. In January 1922 these eight were exhumed (probably from the battlefield rather than graves) and reburied at Serre Road No 1 Cemetery in two collective graves each of four men. The grave in plot VIII; row C; Grave 21 contains the remains of four named men re-buried in what is known as a collective grave. Jeroen Geurst writing “Cemeteries of the Great War By Sir Edwin Lutyens” (2009) relates that in some cases soldiers were buried in collective graves because distinguishing one body from another was not possible and thus one headstone covers a grave with more than one burial of men who were found together. For a photo of the gravestone see:
https://www.twgpp.org/photograph/view/3566673
James’s father suggested the words “worthy of everlasting love” be inscribed under James’s name.
Collective graves are not uncommon. In the Second World War, air crews that had been shot down were often buried in collective, or joint, graves as were groups of soldiers from the same battalion in the Great War. The familiar CWGC cemeteries were not created until the 1920s and 1930s when many of the dead were brought in from the sites of battles and scattered battlefield burials.
The CWGC archives record in a Burial Return (Exhumations and Reburial) Serre Road No 1 Cemetery, dated 4th January 1922, that the bodies now in James Cunningham’s collective grave were found at map reference 57d R 25 b 3 7. This meant map Sheet 57d, large square R, grid square 25, sub-section square b, point 3 east (300 yards East) and 7 north (700 yards North). From the trench map (57d SE Edition 4, 1:20,000) this translates as 50°03'30.8"N 2°41'16.5"E which can be pinpointed in a field on the edge of Thiepval. Enter 50.058560, 2.687914 into Google Earth or Google Maps for the exact location where the bodies of James and his three colleagues were found.
With kind regards,
Alan

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