Monday, 16 November 2020

Did Barnsley men who served in the First World War know what the war might be like before enlisting?

In the book I have been reading for the past week historian David Cannadine quotes A. J. P. Taylor in 1966 who said that in 1914 'no man in the prime of life knew what war was like. All imagined that it would be a great affair of great marches and great battles, quickly decided'.(1) I don't own the Taylor book so I looked it up online - a slightly later version is available on Google Books, with limited page accessibility, but fortunately that did include the page with the quote Cannadine used.(2)

The context of the quote amends its meaning slightly. What Taylor actually said was 'There had been no war between the Great Powers since 1871.' Then the quote above, and then 'It would be over by Christmas'. So he was excluding the South African wars of 1879 to 1915 and, specifically for my case, the Second Boer War of 1899 to 1902.  If a Barnsley man was old enough to have served in that war, say 18 years old in 1900, he would only have been 32 years old in 1914.

However, we have to consider what Taylor may have meant about the 'prime of life' - it could be that what we think as still young today was not the case when he wrote in 1966 and probably even less so in 1914 when life expectancy was shorter. If he meant 18 to 30 years old then, yes, I suppose his proposition was accurate.

Analysis of the First World War Roll of Honour created by the Barnsley War Memorials Project in 2014-2018 shows that nearly 400 men who died were over 35 years of age and of those 125 were over 40 years of age.(3)  The approximate percentage of men who died from those who served was one in eight or about 12.5% according to J. M. Winter. But note that Winter states that 'men under 20 were more likely to be killed (more than one in six)', and that the chance of men in his oldest cohort, ages 45-49, being killed was only one in seventy. (4) This is because they were more likely to have served behind the lines, or on the home front. 

Winter, 'Britain's Lost Generation', p. 451.

Using Winter's table of age distribution of British men who served and who died in the First World War (above) I see that 9.8% of men between 35 and 39 were killed and 5.1% of those age 40-44. So the 275 deaths of Barnsley men 35 to 39 years of age, might be translated into as many as 2800 men who served, and the 125 who died over the age of 40 into another 2500 who served. That is an awful lot of men who enlisted who might have served in the Second Boer War and even if they didn't actually serve in the Boer War there was a very good chance they knew some one who had. 

In 2012 I wrote a blog post about Tom Charlesworth, born in 1864 in Hoyle Mill, who served in the South African wars prior to the Boer War and also in the First World War. By 1914 he would have been 50 years old! The family story was that he was a guard at a prisoner of war camp in the FWW. 

Another Barnsley man with prior experience of war was Lieutenant (later Captain and Major) Tom Guest, who joined the Barnsley Pals. Jon Cooksey writes that Guest had served in the Boer War as a Sergeant and also notes a number of other old soldiers.(5) I wrote a blog post about Tom Guest's origins in 2015. Cooksey interviewed many First World War veterans and they remembered Major Guest as a genial old soldier, a good leader and who got on well with his men. He was born in 1875 so he would have been 39 years old when the First World War broke out. He was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1 July 1916. 

John Edwin Cornish, who lived in Worsborough Common had served in the army in the Royal Field Artillery between 1901 and 1911, and was called up out of the reserve in 1914. He had not served abroad during his service, but we might presume that he had served along many men who had. He was killed at Ypres on 18 November 1914.  He was 31 years of age. The 69 Barnsley men killed in 1914 would have been in the regular army (or the navy) or the reserve. Although the Territorials were called up immediately they did not see action overseas until April 1915. 

The prior service of men is often mentioned in reports in the Barnsley Chronicle

Thomas Patrick Knight, born in Ireland, but living in Barnsley by 1911, had served in the Second Boer War with the King's Shropshire Light Infantry. He was awarded the DCM in 1915 for 'conspicuous gallantry and initiative' on 9 August. He was killed less than two months later 17 September 1915, aged 39 years. The Barnsley Chronicle reported that 'Corporal Knight went through the Boer War and did good service there'.(6)

George Jaques had originally joined the army in 1890 aged 17 and had served seven years, although during that time he had not seen active service, according to an article in the Barnsley Chronicle on 3 February 1900. He was called up from the reserve for the Boer War. He later wrote a very detailed letter about how he was wounded fighting the Boers which was published in the newspaper.(7) He described 'very hot work, bullets dropping all around us' and as they advanced 'it was just like being in a heavy hail-storm'. He added 'We could see our fellows dropping, but we kept going'.  George made it  home from South Africa and re-enlisted in September 1914, by which time he was 41 years old. Probably as a consquence of his age he was assigned to guard duty in this country, but unfortunately he was killed during an incident at Frenchman's Point detention centre in Durham on 9 September 1915. (Follow the link on George's name above for more information on this.) 

The Second Boer War was well covered in the Barnsley Chronicle - you can read the newspaper articles for that period via the British Newspaper Archive (for a fee).

I am sure that given a few more hours to work through my files I could find many more examples of men who served in the First World War who had experience of battle - this seems to refute A. J. P. Taylor's assertion quoted at the start of this post. As I write in my story of Tom Charlesworth I imagined these older men regaling their younger family members and work colleagues with exciting stories of their service which might have inspired many to volunteer for the FWW. Yes, the Boer War was comparatively short and only resulted in the deaths of 16 Barnsley men as far as we know, 14 of those are remembered on the memorial in St Mary's, Barnsley, but the Wombwell Boer War Memorial, which records two men who died, names 43 other local men who served in that conflict. There is no reason not to assume that these figures might have been repeated in other Barnsley townships and villages.

I contend that many Barnsley men had first hand experience of war before 1914, and many more will have read about war in the local newspapers and heard stories from those who had served.


(1) Cannadine, D.  ‘War and Death, Grief and Mourning in Modern Britain' in Whaley, J. (ed.) Mirrors of Mortality: Studies in the Social History of Death (London: Europa, 1981), pp. 187-242.

(2) Taylor, A. J. P. The First World War: An Illustrated History (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1974) via Google Books, (accessed 16 Nov 2020) - no page numbers available.

(3) Barnsley WW1 Roll of Honour, (accessed 16 Nov 2020)

(4) Winter, J. M. 'Britain's 'Lost Generation' of the First World War', Population Studies, 31 (3) (1977), p. 450-452.

(5) Cooksey, J.    Barnsley Pals: The 13th & 14th Battalions York and Lancaster Regiment: A History of the Two Battalions Raised by Barnsley in World War One (London: Leo Cooper, 1996 [1986]), p.37, 43, 46, and 76.

(6) Barnsley Chronicle, 6 November 1915, p. 1.

(7) Barnsley Chronicle, 24 March 1900, p. 6.

Saturday, 24 October 2020

In Memoriam Notices in Local Newspapers

Today I have been reading a book, Pat Jalland's Death in War and Peace, for my next PhD literature review. At 10 pages a day, reading and note taking, it will take another week to complete the section on the First World War and its aftermath. However today I highlighted a point about 'In Memoriam' notices as a form of remembrance. 

Of course I was aware of these little notices, you can still find them in local papers (and I assume newspapers of note such as The Times) on a weekly basis. However they also appeared annually to commemorate soldiers who had been killed, died of wounds or were missing, from the early years of the Great War and give information on the family who posted them as well as the usual names, dates and a sentimental verse or quotation. So if a soldier in your family was killed in, say, May 1915 (as 68 men on the Barnsley Roll of Honour were) then I would suggest you look in the newpapers in around about the date he was killed in May in 1916, 1917 and so on. 

The Barnsley Chronicle for August 1914 to March 1919 was indexed during the recent Centenary period, for the names of men and women who lost their lives in connection with the war, by the volunteers of the Barnsley War Memorials Project (BWMP). Thanks to the generosity of Barnsley Archives and the Chronicle management themselves, the volunteers were able to work from home using digital copies of the paper, one month at a time. We undertook not to use the images of the newspapers in any publications without permission of the Archives, but we could use transcriptions of the articles and notices freely. This was to encourage readers to visit the Archives for themselves. If you see an image of an article in one of my blog posts it pre-dates this work and that undertaking and is an article that I paid for myself, it being of interest for the OH's family tree. The articles about the war memorials on the BWMP site were an exception as they were of special relevance to the project and permission was given to use these. The project was also given permission to use low resolution images of the photographs of the men on the BWMP's sister sites, Lives of the First World War, and the Roll of Honour website. 

For more information on obtaining copies of photographs and images of articles about servicemen from the First World War please contact Barnsley Archives.

Moving on ...

Having been reminded of these notices I had a look for an example to use for this post. 

One of the name panels on the Mapplewell and Staincross war memorial
Albert Wood, who died of his wounds on 15 May 1915, is remembered on the Mapplewell and Staincross war memorial. He is first mentioned in the Barnsley Chronicle on 12 June 1915, a number of times in the following months and each year thereafter in May (he may have continued to be mentioned after 1918 but I haven't got access to that information - there's a project for an interested relative!)

On 12 June 1915 Albert is mentioned twice on page 8 of the newspaper. The pieces give slightly different details.

Roll of Honour
WOOD - Killed in action, Sapper Albert Wood, 1st Barnsley Batt., late of Mapplewell. (p.8)

Patriotic Pars (a regular section that gave snippets of news rather than longer pieces)
The following men are the casualties amongst the Staincross men who are serving their King and country: - [names] May 14. Albert Wood (R.E.), wounded at Ypres. [names] (p.8)

It looks as if the two articles were not cross checked - one reports Albert wounded and the other notes his death - killed in action.

On 7 August 1915 Albert again has two mentions in the newspaper. The first is a detailed report based on a letter received by his wife, the second is another mention in the newspaper Roll of Honour.

Private A. Wood.
Mrs. A. Wood, of Wentworth Road, Mapplewell, has received the sad tidings from the Front that her husband, Private A. Wood, R.E., has died of wounds received in action. From a comrade of the deceased, J. C. Rowe, R.E., Mrs Wood has received the following letter: - "Dear Mrs. Wood, - I am very sorry to have to tell you that your husband was badly wounded on May 13th and a few days later he died in hospital in spite of all that could be done for him. I hope you will be strong in this hour of trouble as you know that we are all trying to do our duty and trust in God to protect those whom we leave behind. It is nearly as hard for us to lose such a good comrade whose only thought was for others, and I sure that his many sacrifices will leave behind an impresson on our minds which will never fade. These few words cannot express what we feel in our hearts. Your husband died doing his duty nobly and it should be a grand example to his children to know their father died as he had lived, a brave man." (p.1)

Roll of Honour
WOOD. - Died of wounds received in action, Private A. Wood, Royal Engineers, late of Wentworth Road, Mapplewell.
[names] (p.8)

On 11 September 1915 Albert is mentioned twice on the final page of the Barnsley Chronicle.

Patriotic Pars
In next week's issue we shall produce a photo of Sapper A. Wood, of the Royal Engineers. He was one of the batch of soldiers taken from the Barnsley First Battalion when at Newhall Camp, and was killed in action in France. He leaves a widow and six children who reside at Upper Carr Green, Mapplewell. (p.8)

Roll of Honour
WOOD. - Killed in action in France, Sapper Albert Wood, 13th Service Barnsley Battalion (Y. and L.), late of Upper Carr Green, Mapplewell. (p.8)

The following week, on 18 September 1915, Albert's photo appears on the front page of the paper along with those of two other men. A short paragraph reprises his story. The photo shows an older man with a bushy moustache. His cap badge is that of the Royal Engineers, rather than the York & Lancaster Regiment which he first joined.

The Toll of the War - Three More Local Men Who Have Fallen
[two paragraphs about brothers Matthew and Arthur Weldrick]
Sapper A. Wood, whose photo we reproduce, was one of the 1st Barnsley Battalion drafted to the Front to join the Royal Engineers, and he was killed in action. His home was at Upper Carr Green, Mapplewell. (p.1)

That is the end of Albert's mentions in 1915, but then in the following years his family remember him in May each year.

On 13 May 1916 in the Barnsley Chronicle the 'In Memoriam' column contains two adjoined notices on p.8 concerning Albert, one from his family and the other, I assume, from work colleagues.

WOOD. - In loving memory of Sapper 86682 Albert Wood (better known as Bakewell), of Bradford, late of Mapplewell, who fell in action on May 15th, 1915.

One year today has passed away
Since my dear husband in battle fell;
For freedom's side he nobly died -
How we miss him none can tell.

The shock was great, the blow severe,
We little thought his end so near;
'Tis only those who have lost can tell
The pain at not saying - "Farewell."
From his wife and children.
Although thy hands we cannot clasp,
Thy face we cannot see,
Yet let this little token show
We still remember thee.
From Walker's & Pickup, Bradford, late of Mapplewell.

The following year, on 19 May 1917, again in the Barnsley Chronicle, one 'In Memoriam' notice appeared on p.8, from his family.
WOOD. - In loving memory of Sapper A. Wood, R.E., died of wounds on May 15th, 1915.
But the hardest part is yet to come,
When the warriors all return;
And I miss amongst the cheery crowd,
The face of my dear one.

We think we see his smiling face as he bade us all good-bye,
And left his dear ones for ever, in a foreign land to die;
But we have one consolation, he bravely did his best.
Somewhere in France, our dear one sleeps, a hero laid to rest.
From sorrowing wife and family.
The final piece that I have found for Albert is from 11 May 1918, from the Barnsley Chronicle, this time on p.4 because the newspaper had reduced its size from eight to four pages due to paper shortages. I noted that the 'In Memoriam' notices now filled one and a half columns at the back of the newspaper, presumably with the accumulated losses of the years.
WOOD. - In loving memory of Sapper A. Wood, Royal Engineers, who died of wounds May 15th, 1915.
Just when his hopes were brightest,
Just when his thoughts were best,
He was called away from this world of sorrow
To that home of eternal rest.
From his loving wife and children.
53, Calcutta Street, West Bowling, Bradford.

These short pieces contain multiple mentions of the kinds of consolation in common use during the First World War - in his letter his friend J. C. Rowe mentions duty to protect people 'we leave behind' and their trust in God that this will be achieved. He comments that Albert made many sacrifices and that he would never be forgotten by his comrades. He says that Albert 'died nobly' and would be a 'grand example' to his six children. 

The 'In Memoriam' notices contain verses which may have been picked from a book at the newspaper office, or may have been written by his family, we don't know (although if the same verse had appeared before that might give us some clue). 
There are so many words of remembrance, sorrow and consolation in these notices it would take me several blog posts to pick them all out. Here are just a few: Albert 'nobly died' in battle, the family had to endure the unique pain of not being able to be with him on his death bed (which had been a common feature before the war), the shock of a sudden and unexpected death of a healthy man in his prime (Albert Wood was 37 years old), 'when his hopes were brightest'. In 1917 his wife refers to Albert as a hero, who had bravely done 'his best' and now he was at rest. In the final notice (that I have) his wife notes that Albert had passed on to a 'home of eternal rest', a reference to the afterlife, and the comfort given by the Christian religion. 

There is a lot of other information in this collection of notices - we have been told that Albert initially joined the York & Lancaster Regiment and was in the First Barnsley Battalion. Later known as the Barnsley Pals, the 13th and 14th Battalions of the regiment were raised by the town of Barnsley in 1914 and 1915. With Albert being in the 1st battalion and his service number then being 699 (from Soldiers Died in the Great War on Ancestry) we can state with some assurance that he joined up very quickly after the recruitment began in the autumn of 1914. I do wonder what a married man with six children was thinking of to enlist - maybe he was carried away by enthusiasm, maybe he joined up with a group of men that he worked with. 
Albert responded to an appeal for experienced men to join the Royal Engineers whilst he was still in training in Barnsley (at Newhall Camp near Silkstone). Jon Cooksey, in his book Barnsley Pals, gives the date of these transfers as February 1915, when 'some 50 men of the First Barnsley Battalion were seconded to join the new tunnelling units'. Indeed Albert's Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) entry notes that he was in the 171st Tunnelling Coy., Royal Engineers, at the time of his death. Albert's R.E. service number, 86682, is just a few dozen after that of Sapper John Davies, number 86654, whose story is related in detail in Jon Cooksey's book. He tells us that the men were engaged in tunnelling under Hill 60 near Ypres, which tallies with the mention of Albert's wounding at Ypres in one of the earliest notices. On 5 May 1915 the 171st Tunnelling Company suffered casualties from gas, including John Davies, and his story is not taken up again until 17th May - thus missing the date on which Albert Wood was wounded. I assume a search of the war diaries for the period would mention what happened to the company at that time - I might look into that another day.

We know from Albert's CWGC entry that he was buried in the Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension in France. According to Google Maps this is about 22 km (about 13 miles) from the site of Hill 60. So either Albert was away from the tunnelling operation when he was wounded or he was taken quite a distance to a hospital. His entry in the Army Registers of Soldiers' Effects (on Ancestry) notes that he died in 8 Casualty Clearing Station (CCS), which the CWGC pages helpfully confirm was in Bailleul at the time. A CCS was not the kind of place where a man was expected to stay for a long time, it was a step on the way to a Base Hospital. This suggests that Albert's wounds were serious enough for him to die before he was moved on, as indeed his friend suggested in his letter.

A low resolution photograph of Albert's gravestone can be found on The War Graves Photographic Project. The additional documents on the CWGC page show that a number of men were buried at Bailleul on 14, 15 and 16 May 1915, but on the page containing Albert's entry he is the only one from the 171/Co. R.E. This might suggest that his wounding was not part of a large attack where many others of his company were killed. A quick search of the CWGC data shows that six men from the 171st Tunnelling Company were killed in May 1915, and two were buried in Bailleul, Albert who died on 15 May and a Sapper J. Thornhill who died on 18 May. Neither have family details included in their entries and sadly I can also see that Albert's family did not take advantage of the opportunity to add a personal citation to his gravestone. Two of the other men who died in May 1915 are remembered on the Menin Gate at Ypres - this tells us that they have no known grave, so their bodies may not have been found, or their graves may have been destroyed later in the war as the battle raged back and forth. John Davies, mentioned above, is also remembered on the Menin Gate. He was killed on 20 June 1915 in an explosion underground according to Jon Cooksey. It is likely that his body was never found - despite the letter from his colleague printed in the Barnsley Chronicle and reproduced in Barnsley Pals, which mentions that John was 'buried in a beautiful spot with cornflowers growing around his grave'. This is an example of the way in which the friends of men who had been killed attempted to soften the harsh reality for the families at home.

Personal and family information about Albert are included in the articles published in the newspapers.  We know he was from Bradford originally, he was married with six children and that the family home at the time of his death was at Upper Carr Green, Mapplewell, near Barnsley, although Wentworth Road in Mapplewell is mentioned in one of the 1915 Roll of Honour entries. But by 1918 his wife and family had moved to 53, Calcutta Street, West Bowling, Bradford. An extremely intriguing detail is contained in the 'In Memoriam' notice on 13 May 1916 - it says that Albert Wood was better known as Bakewell! That is the same piece that mentions Walker's & Pickup, Bradford, late of Mapplewell. Both these little pieces of information warrant further investigation.

I am a member of the Western Front Association and have access to their Pension Card collection. I can see that Albert's wife was called Mary (which isn't mentioned in any of the newspaper reports) and that her middle name was Cawthorne, plus the names and birth dates of all their six children. Their first, Lily, was born in 1904 and the last, Florence, in 1914. Mary was awarded 26 shillings and 6 pence a week pension in November 1915 and this was increased by a children's allowance for five children under 16 years of age in July 1920 to a grand total of £3 8 shillings and 2 pence. Lily would have turned 16 by this point and was no longer counted as a child. Using the Soldiers' Effects records I can see that Mary had also received some back pay in 1915, £3 and 2 shillings, and a war gratuity of £3 in 1919. 
The Pension Cards mention Mary's birthday as either 17 September 1881 or 1882 and armed with that, her middle name and the names of their children I was able to find the family in the 1911 census return. That document helpfully sorted out my puzzle with the family's address - in 1911 Albert stated that they lived on Wentworth Road, Upper Carr Green, Staincross, although that appears to have been offically in Mapplewell. Albert was born in Bradford and was 32 years old in 1911, Mary was born in Wakefield and was 28 years old. At that point they had four children and had been married for seven years. Albert was employed as a Coal Miner (Hewer) - something not mentioned in the newspapers - so maybe Walker's & Pickup were a coal owning company? All the children were born in Barnsley.

Having discovered that Mary, Albert's widow, appeared to have no personal connection to Bradford, I am puzzled as to why she was living there by the time of her final (that I know of) 'In Memoriam' notice in May 1918. There may be other 'In Memoriam' notices in the Bradford newspapers ... I will have to look to see if they are available online.
Looking into all of that will have to wait for another day as it is time for me to go and attend to our tea before Strictly Come Dancing this evening.

Thank you for reading. I hope you find some of my musings useful in your own family and First World War research. I do find that writing things like this down help me remember them and work them out.