First World War – Half Time …

See also Leigh War Memorial.

The following is from two articles written for the Parish Magazine in November and December 2016 by John Stevens about Leigh residents who died in the First World War.  More details can be find on the website by these clicking on these individuals.

Half time in the First World War

By November 1916 the First World War was half over.  Eleven out of the thirty-two soldiers and sailors whose names are on the Leigh War Memorial and to whom so much is owed were already dead.  Sue Featherstone’s meticulous research tells what she found out about the place and time of their deaths, even though nothing in the official records adequately describes the horrors they had experienced.  But what we know does highlight the progress of the war and the way the men of Leigh served in a variety of theatres of conflict.  It also throws up a few surprises and puzzles.

This article tells the tale and where known identifies the places in Leigh that the men called home.   The deaths of two men, George Mitchell and Fred Parker, are recorded on the War Memorial but it is not known who they were or what affiliation they had with Leigh.  And the name of one Leigh man was omitted from the list on the War Memorial – read more below.  The first to die was William Upton, a sailor serving on HMS Cressy; the cruiser, patrolling off the Dutch coast, was torpedoed after just over a month of warfare. Horace Batchelor (aged only 17 years) of Powder Mills, serving in HMS Formidable in January 1915 and Sidney Everest, aged 18, serving in HM Torpedo Boat 12 from Little Moorden in June, were also killed at sea in the Channel by U-boats.

In Belgium, after the German invasion, the first battle of Ypres had begun in October 1914 and in January 1915 chlorine gas was used for the first time.   Herbert Upton of Garden Cottages (relationship if any to William above not known) was to die in a gas attack in April.  The ill-fated Gallipoli landings started in Turkey in April 1915 and Frank Killick was a victim requiring surgery, from which he appears to have recovered; he died of other injuries in May 1918 in Jerusalem, which had been captured from the Turks in December in 1917.

The war in the Middle East is often forgotten but Ernest Mark Young (but known as Mark (Ernest) Young) in other records lost his life there.  He was a member of the Royal Garrison Artillery and is shown as dying on 31 December 1916 aged 35.  However, he may have died earlier as he became a prisoner of war after the surrender at the end of the siege of Kut on 16 April 1916 and many died as prisoners of the Ottoman Army.  Therefore the actual date of death is unclear.  He is recorded on the Leigh and Chiddingstone War Memorials as M. Young.  He is also remembered on the Basra Memorial in Iraq.

The long Western front through France and Belgium claimed five lives of men from Leigh in 1916. Albert Towner from Killicks Bank enlisted when he was 15 and died in Ypres.  Reginald Brooker from Forge Square died in the Pas de Calais in October.   What has become known as the Battle of the Somme started on 1 July and claimed the lives of Albert Jenman who lodged at Chiddingstone Causeway, William Bamblett from Powder Mills and John Everest (Sidney’s brother, see above).   Albert and John’s families had been informed that they had been wounded but their but bodies were never recovered.

Part II

Last month’s article told the story of the men of Leigh who died in the first half of the First World War.  This looks at the remainder of the war.  Because so many personal army records from the First War were lost by bomb damage in the Second War, we have little more than dates of recruitment and death to go on.  However, next month’s article will provide more detail about one soldier, Sidney Pocock, who is mentioned immediately below.

In 1917 all but one of the Leigh fatalities were on the western front in Belgium and the Pas de Calais.  William Smith, Lightfoot Cottages, Frederick Healy, Blackhoath; and Sidney Pocock, Charcott, who was only 20 years old and worked for Duke the cricket ball makers died at Ypres, as did Charles Bourner who lived in Tonbridge but whose parents lived in Forge Square.  Charles died on 7 August.  His brothers, James Bourner and Frank Bourner, who had lived at Forge Square both died in the Pas de Calais on 15 April and 25 May respectively.  Harry Horsey from Cook’s Pits (west of Killick’s Bank) and James Davies, a second lieutenant who lived and worked at the Powder Mills (possibly as a manager?) both died in the June.

Frank Faircloth whose parents lived at the Ivy House joined up at the outbreak of war and served in the Dardanelles and subsequently in Egypt where in May he died of his wounds fighting the Turks.

The focus in 1918 moves back to the Somme where the Germans broke through in a Spring Offensive.  This is where Frank Garner, and Victor Ready who had lived in Charcott, were killed on the same day in March. A month later Jack Brooker, aged 19, (a cousin of Reginald Brooker, above?) also died.  Charles Robinson of Powder Mills was another casualty on the Somme, dying in August. Sidney Batchelor, also of Powder Mills, died in Ypres in the July.

Roland Woodgate, whose father appears to have been a gardener living at Hall Place, had signed up in 1914, served in Belgium and France and suffered a leg wound but recovered, and was sent to Basra in 1917.  There he caught influenza and died in October 1918.  Another victim of influenza and pneumonia was James Taylor of Blackhoath.  He was a machine gunner serving in Abottabad in the north of India.

James Davis, who lived in Brockley but whose parents lived in the West Gatehouse Lodge at Leigh, died in Norwich Military Hospital in June 1918 and, though his parents are buried in St Mary’s churchyard, his body lies in a cemetery in Leigh-on Sea in Essex.  His last attachment was to an anti-aircraft attachment but his cause of death is not known.

The last Leigh man to die and be remembered on the Leigh War Memorial was Hubert Russell a second lieutenant in the Light Cavalry who lived at South View.  He was involved in a railway accident near Rawalpindi in September 1919 aged 19 years.  A carved pew end in St Mary’s commemorates his life.


John Stevens (Dec 2016)