3588/241139 Pte Walter Gratton from Bonsall

Walter was born in 1883 and was limestone quarryman. He enlisted into the Sherwood Foresters in December 1914 and was serving with the 3/6th Battalion in February 1916

Around August 1916 Walter was posted to the 1/6th Battalion and sent to France (information taken from XI CCS Admission and Discharge book). In March 1917 he suffered from a septic knee and was sent to the XI Casualty Clearing Station in Varennes. Seven other men from the 1/6th Battalion were also sent by sick convoy to the XI CCS.

Walter was still serving with the 1/6th Battalion when they attacked Hunter and Scotts Post between 30th August and 3rd September – see here. Walter was one of four men killed that day and they are buried in  FOUQUIERES CHURCHYARD EXTENSION, Plot IV, Graves F1-3 & 8.

Fouquieres Churchyard Extension, France

His parents (Benjamin and Mary) lived at 3 Rose Cottage, Upper Town in Bonsall, Derbyshire and after the War received a pension.

Letter “L” (2nd Chesterfield) Company, 2nd Volunteer Battalion the Sherwood Foresters (Notts. and Derby) Regiment

This post card was most likely taken at either the 1906 (Conway) or the 1907 (Towyn) Summer Camps – I favour Towyn.

L Company (2nd Chesterfield) 2nd Volunteer Battalion the Sherwood Foresters (Notts. and Derby) Regiment
2VB Notts and Derby Shoulder patch

Easily recognisable are:-

Captain Arthur John Hopkins (St Helen’s Lodge, Chesterfield)

Lieut HP Taylor (Grasshill House, Grassmoor)

Col.Sergt-Instr James Arthur Sturges (Drill Hall, Chesterfield)

Col.-Sergt J Harrison (St Helen’s Street, Chesterfield)

Sergeant James Needham

Sergt John H Platts

70702 Pte Edward Greatorex

Shoulder badge
BWM and VM roll entry for Edward Greatorex

Edward Greatorex served overseas with both the 1st and 1/5th Battalions of the Sherwood Foresters. Edward was posted to the 1st Battalion with a draft of about 90 men on the 21st September 1916.

The 70000 series of Regimental Numbers were initially used to transfer men from the Territorial (Reserve) Battalions to the Regular and New Army Battalions of the Sherwood Foresters to make up for loses sustained in the Battle of the Somme.

This would suggest that Edward was possibly from the Nottinghamshire/Derbyshire region. Indeed, Greatorex is a very uncommon name and only seven other men called Edwards Greatorex served with the British Army during WW1

On May 8th 1918 ‘A’ sent a postcard from Lincoln to Edward in Summerdown Camp in Eastbourne (from c/o Mrs Heaps of 17 Clarina Street in Lincoln).

Dear T. Had a tram ride today, the weather is a1 & quite warm…might go to Conisboro [sic] tomorrow as B4….A….hope you are a1.”

Summerdown Camp

Summerdown Camp opened in April 1915 and was the first, and at the time the largest, of three purpose built convalescent camps designed for rehabilitation of the wounded from the First World War. Of the 150,000 injured and sick soldiers who passed into the camp, 80% were sent back to fight.

This postcard would suggest that Edward had been wounded in the trenches and was convalescing in England. It’s possible that this occurred between his service with the 1st and 1/5th Battalion. Edward was in hut 16 B Division with the Notts & Derby.

But who was Edward Greatorex, ‘A’ and Mrs Heaps?

The last question is the easiest to answer…….Lucy Heaps was the (second) wife of Charles William Heeps, a carpenter and joiner originally from Northamptonshire. They had one daughter Winifred Emma who was born in 1896.

The Heep’s Census return on 1911

A search of the 1911 Census for ‘Edward Greatorex’ with search terms ‘born in 1896 +/- 10 years’ and ‘Lincoln’ only identified a few plausible candidates.

Edward, born in 1893 in Derby who was blind.

Edward, born in 1892 in Wirskworth and was tape weaver.

Edward, born in 1900 in Nottingham, but would have only been 14 at the outbreak of War.

Despite no obvious link to Lincoln I can only assume that the card was sent to Edward Greatorex from Wirksworth.

Lost graves of the Royal Scots; the personal stories of three men

In searching the WW1 Army Service Records online I came across a single (torn) page making reference to four isolated graves, in various locations, of men that had died in 1918. The record had been made by a ‘Graves Registration Unit’, but no date was recorded.

The names and details of three of these men were also listed and all men had served with The Royal Scots.

I was intrigued as to whether I could discover the stories of these brave men and find the location of the graves on a contemporary trench map.

335833 Pte Thomas Scott, 8th Royal Scots

“Isolated grave near Hinges, 10 miles S.S.E. of Hazebrouck”

Private Scott was difficult to identify because there was no soldier with that name and regimental number that was killed on the 18th July 1918. However, a further search of CWGC identified 335833 Pte Thomas Scott, aged 22, who was k/a on the 23rd July as the most likely candidate. Unfortunately, it would appear that Thomas’ body was not recovered after the War and he is now Commemorated on the Soissons Memorial.

The Soissons Memorial commemorates almost 4,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom forces who died during the Battles of the Aisne and the Marne in 1918 and who have no known grave.

Thomas was the son of of Robert and Susan Scott of 10 Morningside Square, Newmains, Wishaw in Lanarkshire.

11354 Pte John Henry Poyner, 2nd Royal Scots

“Protestant Cemetery, The Hague”

John Poyner died one day after the Armistice on 12th November 1918, aged 25. He was the son of William and Annie Poyner of 72 Bradbury Lane, Hednesford in Staffordshire and was born at High Town, Cannock, Stafford.

James was a coal miner and enlisted into The Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment) on the 4th January 1913, aged 18, having previously served with the 5th Battalion North Staffs Regiment.

2nd Battalion Royal Scots 1913

He arrived in France on the 11th August 1914 and was captured unwounded by the Germans on 26th August 1914 at Caudry. and was interned in Hamelu and Diepholzer POW Camps.

John Poyner MIC

Caudry town was the scene of part of the Battle of Le Cateau on the 26th August 1914; see here for more details.

26th August 1914

John was originally reported as killed in action on the 14th September 1914 (Casualty List No. 1778), but in November his mother received a postcard from him stating that he was a prisoner of war.

Prisoner of War letter
Post card received from John Poyner

At some point John appears to have been wounded and transported for internment in Holland, where he died.

Army Service Record
Record of John Henry Poyner’s death in the Netherlands

59731 Pte James Park, 11th Royal Scots

“W. side of Row of Pill Boxes, S. of Sans Some South of Roulers Railway, 3 miles E by N. of Ypres

James Park was from Glasgow in Lanarkshire and served overseas with the 16th, 12th and 11th Battalions of the Royal Scots, which suggests that he may have been wounded several times and moved between different Battalions of the Regiment following his convalescence.

BWM and VM entry for James Park
James was killed in action on the 28th September 1918

After the War James’ body was exhumed and reburied in August 1918 in Perth China Wall Cemetery. Interestingly, although the Graves Registration Unit recorded that his was an ‘isolated grave’, he was actually buried alongside Frederick William Bruback of the 27th Field Ambulance RAMC. The record also provides a precise location of their graves.

IWGC reburial record

The War Department trench maps shows that this was a very heavily defenced area and well-known Pill Boxes such as Kit and Kat and Anzac are recorded.

Trench Map from early 1917 showing a strong German position at 0.0 in square J2 C
A line of three blue boxes at 0.0 in Square J2 C may be reference to the ‘W. side of Row of Pill Boxes’ recored in the original grave registration.

What happened on the 28th September 1918?

War Diary entry for the 11th Royal Scots on 28th September 1918

The 11th Royal Scots, which was part of the 9th (Scottish) Division, attacked German positions to the north east of Ypres. The 27th Field Ambulance were attached to the Division.

“5.30am. Battle commenced in terrible weather, torrents of rain, progressive however was good and all objectives were taken.”

Weather cleared at 12 noon and wounded who were numerous were cleared without difficulty by night fall”

“Work for bearers is very heavy and 4 bearers of 27 FA were killed”

It is interesting to speculate that the 27th Field Ambulance had an Advanced Dressing Station in one of the abandoned Pill Boxes and that is were both James Park and Frederick Bruback died and were buried.

A German Pill-box : used as British battalion headquarters, Ypres (Art.IWM ART 542) image: a concrete pill-box, with the entrance on the right side. A soldier stands to the right, while mud and debris is on the left. Communication wires strung between trees are above and to the right of the pill-box. Copyright: © IWM. Original Source: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/12905

241616 Pte Joseph Archibald Robinson

Joseph Archibald Robinson was born in Bakewell, Derbyshire on the 27th December 1895. He was the eldest of 5 children born to Frederick and Helena Robinson. By 1911 the family had moved to Spa Lane in Chesterfield. Joseph – aged 15 – was a telegraph messenger.

Joseph enlisted into the 3/6th (or 2/6th) Battalion Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby) Regiment in late December 1915/early January 1916. His 4-digit service number was most likely 4657. It is highly likely that Joesph served in Ireland during the Easter Rising of 1916.

The 2/6th Battalion marched out of No. 6 Camp at Hurdcott (Fovant) on 25th February and proceeded to Folkstone where they proceeded to Boulogne.

On the 21st March 1918 the Germans launched their Spring ‘Kaiserschlacht’ offensive and the 2/6th – like the rest of the 178th Bde of the 59th Division – were effectively annihilated.

But what happened to Joseph?

On the 21st April 1918 Joseph’s mother – Helena – sent a request to the War Office enquiring about her son Joseph, who she had (presumably) not heard from for a while.

A very worried mum.

Joseph was reported as ‘missing’ – along with 657 other men of the 2/6th.

On the 27th March 1918 Joseph was able to send a ‘Pro-Forma’ card to Helena informing her that he was a POW – but alive and well!

It clearly took a while to arrive in Chesterfield – see paragraph.

Joseph eventually found himself interned in Dulman POW camp and was able to send a photo back to his mother….

“Dear Mother, how do you like me in my ‘Gefangeners’…….”

Joseph – along with other men of the BEF – was released from captivity and returned to the UK. I have not traced his name on any repatriation lists, but man of the 2/6th men captured on the 21st March were repatriated in November and December 1918.

Joseph was awarded the Victory Medal and British War Medal.

Joseph married Ada Elizabeth Yeomans at the Parish Church in Chesterfield on 2nd August 1920.

After the War Joseph served as a Special Constable (his father was a Railway Policeman) rising to the rank of Sergeant.

He was awarded the The Special Constabulary Long Service Medal (George VI issue) for 10 years service.

It is not known if he attended the Annual Reunion of the 2/6th Battalion held in Bakewell in 1935.

Joseph and Ada moved to Hasland and he worked as an Electricity Board Storekeeper. Joseph died at the Royal Hospital on the 4th February 1974, aged 79.

The End

100055 Pte Samuel Atkinson

100055 Pte Samuel Atkinson

Samuel was born in Essex in 1899 to Samuel Arthur and Annie Louisa in 1899 and was one of four siblings. In 1911 the family was living at 7 Nettleham Road in Lincoln.

Samuel enlisted into the 2/1 Derbyshire Yeomanry in September 1916 aged 18 at which time he was a Bank Clerk. He was examined by the medical board on 15th February 1917 when he was passed fit for military service.

1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters

Service Record for 100055 Pte Samuel Atkinson

Following basic training Samuel embarked from Folkestone on Christmas Eve 1917 and going ‘K’ Infantry Base Depot, where he was transferred to the 2/7th Battalion Sherwood Foresters (for record purposes). Samuel was amongst a number of soldiers who at that time were transferred to the Sherwood Foresters from the Derbyshire Yeomanry and Nottinghamshire Yeomanry (Sherwood Rangers).

Samuel served was transferred the 1st Battalion on the 29th December and served with them until his wounding in May 1918.

On 27th May 1918 the 1st Battalion were engaged in the front line trenches:-

“1 a.m. Enemy barrage opened. VENTELAY neighbourhood + transport lines gassed. About 4.30 a.m. Battalion ordered forward to AISNE LINE……casualties heavy”

Samuel suffered a severe gun shot wound to the head and was admitted to the 11th Stationary Hospital in Rouen.

Service Record for 100055 Pte Samuel Atkinson

1/5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters

Following his recovery Samuel was sent to ‘D’ Infantry Base Depot and then posted to the 1/5th Battalion Sherwood Foresters on July 14th 1918.

1/5th Reinforcements – July 1918

Samuel was one of 130 men that were posted to the 1/5th Battalion in July 1915.

Service Record for 100055 Pte Samuel Atkinson

Samuel was wounded a second time on the 22nd July 1918 whilst the Battalion was holding front line trenches in the ESSARS Sector and were raided by the Germans.

1/5th Battalion casualties – July 1918

Samuel was on of 30 men of the 1/5th Battalion who were wounded in July 1918, he appears to have remained ‘at duty’.

Storming the Hindenburg Line

1/5th Battalion War Diary October 1915.

Samuel died of his wounds on the 3rd October 1918 as the 1/5th Battalion were attacking the villages of Ramicourt and Montbrehain.

“Killed in action or died of wounds on or since 3.10.18. Body buried by Rev M H ?? and 32 MGC 11.10.18”

Magny La Fosse Map
Magny La Fosse burial record

Samual was originally buried in Magny La Fosse Churchyard Extension [62b. H.25. a.9.2.] alongside 14077 Driver Arthur Johnson from Kiverton Park near Sheffield.

MAGNY-LA-FOSSE CHURCHYARD EXTENSION was made by an Advanced Dressing Station in October 1918, and contained the graves of seven soldiers from the United Kingdom and one from Australia and three men of the Chinese Labour Corps.

In 1924 Samual and Arthur’s bodies were exhumed and they were reburied in Tincourt Cemetery.

103122 Sydney Charles Noble

Sydney Charles Noble is typical of the men that were posted to the 2/6th Battalion after their decimation on the 21st March 1918.

Sydney was 28 and a resident of London. He was a newspaper printer at the ‘Times’.

He attested in March 1916 and was mobilised the following year and posted to the 43rd Training Reserve Battalion.

After 8 months training he was transferred to the 3rd Battalion Bedford Regiment at Felixstowe in November 1917.

Sydney arrived in France in March 1918 and was posted to L Infantry Base Depot.

He was transferred to the 2/6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters on the 30th March 1918 and joined C Company ‘in the field’ on 3rd April 1918.

He fought with the 2/6th Battalion during the Battle for Kemmel Hill (14-20 April) were the re-formed 59thDivision suffered terrible casualties; 2363 Officers and men killed, wounded of missing.

Sidney was posted to K Infantry base on 7th May when the 2/6th Battalion was reduced to Cadre and transferred to the 16th Lancashire Fusiliers (2nd Salford Pals) on the 5th July along with 52 other men from the 2/6th.

He was gassed on the 25th August 1918 and admitted to 9th General Hospital Rouen before being transferred to England on HMS St Patrick.

“Whilst this action coast the 16th Lancashire Fusiliers few casualties, two days later [25th August] the still inexperienced men were subjected to a devastatingly heavy mustard-gas shelling, which left 15 Officers and 429 men as casualties”

[Salford Pals by Michael Steadman]

Sydney spent 56 days in the Military Hospital at Parkhust and 72 days in the 2nd Western General Hospital in Manchester.

He was finally discharged from Hospital in March 1918.

The last stand of the 178th (2/1st Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire) Brigade: 21st March 1918

[a short blog post]

“Very heavy enemy barrage on front line from 5.0am to 9.30am. Enemy attacked at 9.30am. Battn suffered very heavy casualties”

So wrote KJ Bunting, Captain and Adjutant  to the 2/6th Battalion; however, this short sentence belies the enormous casualties that the 2/6th Battalion, along with the 2/5th and 7th Battalions of the 178th Brigade, suffered during the first day of ‘Kaiserschlacht’; the German Spring offence of 1918.

Unlike the 2/5th and 7th Battalions, the War Diary of the 2/6th Battalion does not record the precise numbers of casualties suffered that day (i.e killed, wounded or missing).

However, the 178th Brigade War diary does provide a total number of casualties for each Battalion. The strength of the 2/6th Battalion on 1st March 1918 was 53 Officers and 883 Other Ranks, thereby suggesting that approximately 20 Officers and 220 men were left in reserve and took no part in the fighting.

The 59th Division War Diary gives slightly higher casualty figures of 34 Officers and 722 men wounded or missing. In addition, they acknowledge that the numbers of wounded men were not reported by Medical Units, and therefore a proportion of other ranks listed a ‘missing’ may have in fact been wounded.

Personal Accounts

Very few personal accounts exist of those chaotic few hours, several Officers wrote of their experience after the War and a few stories appeared in local newspapers at the time.

Below are a few examples.

George Robert Yeomans

“We were holding the line on March 21st 1918. I was wounded in the left leg by a gun shot and taken prisoner a few hours afterwards. My leg was amputated April 8th 1918 at Cassel Germany”

George Robert Yeomans, Lewis Gunner, B Company, 2/6th Battn, aged 20 from Upper Marehay.

265746 Corporal Joseph Page

“Our Battalion was in the support trenches, having come out of the first line trenches two days earlier. We found the Germans putting down a barrage of gas shells. We stood to until eleven o’clock, by which time the trenches had been blown flat and many casualties sustained. A runner came up and said the Germans had broken through. I had to take that message to our Battalion headquarters, and after I had been there about 15 minutes I was surprised to see hundreds of Germans all round us.

            By this time part of the Battalion had already been taken prisoner, but the rest of us were told to get behind a sunken road and fight it out. There were machine guns at either end, and although we fired as hard as we could at the oncoming Germans they swarmed forward in mass formation, other parties coming down the communication trenches. We put up a hard fight until by one o’clock we had no ammunition left. Our last lot of bombs were useless, as somebody had left the detonators behind.

            After having done a lot of execution we retired from the sunken road into a trench, the end of which was blocked so that we could not get out. About twenty of us scrambled up, however, and made a rush under heavy machine gun fire to another trench on the right, fifty yards away. There we met some Lincolnshire reinforcements, with whom we put up a big bombing attack. Fritz bombed us back until our casualties became so heavy that we found it was hopeless to go on fighting, so one of the sergeant-majors ordered us to put our arms down and are hands up.”

[The Mansfield Reporter and Sutton Times, Friday, May 19, 1918]

Lt Conrad Stark, “C” Company, 2/6th Battalion

“We were very quickly surrounded and our lines became too hot to hold from crossfire. Retired to our support line; shall never know how I reached same untouched, was walking through our own and the enemy’s barrage. Had a great number of casualties whilst crossing. On reaching support managed to put up a show there but was surrounded about 9:40 a.m. and taken prisoner about 45 minutes after the enemy left his front line.”

The last stand of the 178th Brigade

The vast majority of men that were killed that morning have no known grave and are Commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing. 

However, by examining the exhumation and reburial records held by the CWGC it is possible to identify the locations of 65 Officers and men of the 178th Brigade whose bodies were recovered after the War. Assuming that they were buried close to where they died, either by the Germans or through shell fire, it is possible to trace the last actions of the 178th Brigade.

There are several important inferences that can be made:-

Major John Warren MC, 2/Lt Albert Catterall and a few men of the 7th Battalion were able to escape from the German’s surrounding their front line positions and make a ‘final ‘stand in sunken road in 4d – see 1), 2) and 3).

CSM John Tomlinson, although recored as serving with the 2/5th Battalion, had mostly likely been attached to the 2/6th Battalion when he was killed – see 4).

Several men from the 2/6th Battalion, most little from the HQ Company, were able to escape being surrounded in Railway Reserve – see 6), 7) and 9).

Very few of the 2/5th Battalion made made it away from Noreuil – see 8). In fact Joseph Hudson is the only man serving with the 2/5th Battalion who’s body was exhumed and identified after the War.

35748 Pte George Chambers Woolley, The Welbeck Rangers…….

Prior to Enlisting

George was born in New Mills to ?? and Mary Chambers and was one of 8 surviving children. In the 1911 Census the Wolley family were living at Ollersett, New Mills in Derbyshire. At this time George was cloth packer in the local bleach works.

George Attested into the British Army in December 1915 – possibly under the Derby Scheme – and was mobilised into the 3rd Battalion Sherwood Foresters on the 5th June 1916.

George married Maria Roughly in Hayfield Parish Church in October 1916 and four months later their first daughter Matha was born. A son George was born on 30th December 1918.

Arrival in France and wounded at the Battle of Passchendale

Following basic training George arrived in France (Calais) on the 2nd July 1917 and was posted to the 17th Battalion Sherwood Foresters, the Wellbeck Rangers at the 14th Infantry Base Depot.

George was present with the Wellbeck Rangers when they took part in the 3rd Battle of Ypres and attacked Steenbeek near St Julian.

1.15am. Assembly of Battalion was complete and carried out without casualties.

3.50am. The advance commenced across “No Man’s Land”.

4.16 am. The Blue Line was reached without opposition. Slight casualties were incurred due to the protective barrage.

5.13 am. The advance on Black Line commenced. Slight opposition was met with by two enemy machine guns in the vicinity of Oblong Farm. These were at once engaged. The advance continued until held up by machine guns and snipers from Canoe Trench.

5.33am. Undercover of Lewis guns and barrage Canoe Trench was the captured. The advance was then continued by the second wave through Kitchener’s Wood to the dotted black line. On arrival on the eastern side of the Wood two enemy machine guns opened up on us from Alberta. These were engaged…….with the assistance of two tanks……and captured the farm.

6.50 am. The Dotted Green Line Companies and Hugel Hollow Platoon formed up behind protective barrage.

7.30 am. Advance behind protective barrage began. Very little resistance was met. Several prisoners taken from Hugel Hollow and concrete dug-outs to the North East of Alberta.

7.55 am. The Steenbeek was reached and advanced over and consolidation commenced on the Eastern side.

Total casualties were 331 Officers and men including George who was serving with “B” Company.

George was taken to the 134th Field Ambulance before being transferred to 2nd Australian General Hospital at Wimereux. He was returned to England on the 9th August 1917 and did not return to France.

George was granted 9 days leave in mid-September 1917, before being transferred to the 501s5 Agricultural Company of the Labour Corps in April 1918 and was stationed at Derby with the Northern Command.

Recruiting for the 2/6th Battalion, the Sherwood Foresters

Recruiting for the 2/6th Battalion took place at the Drill Hall in Chesterfield and at the various Company Headquarters throughout Derbyshire. In most cases, as the men were enlisted they were paid 3/- per day pay (including billet allowance) and 3d a day for clothing allowance and sent back to their homes until they were called up.