The Lives of Local Soldiers Commemorated on War Memorials
“This was the man we knew”
Andrew Thornton, Birmingham City University
To mark the centenary of the First World War, many local research projects will be investigating the lives of individuals whose names are commemorated on war memorials in their area. Using a variety of sources, this research can be very rewarding and enables a fuller picture of the serviceman, or woman, to emerge. Here are some brief biographies of local servicemen from the West Midlands that demonstrate what can be found by using a variety of archival sources. These include reports in local newspapers, surviving service records, unit histories and war diaries held at The National Archives and regimental museums, and photographs.
Herbert Green came from West Bromwich and was the son of Arthur and Annie Green, who lived at 46 Victoria Street. He had attended Lodge Estate School and before joining the 5th South Staffords in September 1914 had worked for George Pitt and Sons in Frankfort Street, off Summer Lane in Birmingham. In his spare time, Herbert played water polo, representing West Bromwich in the Birmingham and District Water Polo League.
Herbert’s sister, Isabella, had trained as a nurse at West Bromwich Infirmary and had worked at hospitals in Manchester and Newcastle before returning to the Midlands. She was a member of 1st Southern General Hospital of The Royal Army Medical Corps, which had its drill hall at Great Brook Street Barracks in Birmingham. At the outbreak of the war she was mobilized and became a Charge Sister at Dudley Road Military Hospital.
Herbert went to France with the 1/5th South Staffords in March 1915. On 16 August, while in the reserve trenches in Larch Wood, behind the front line at Hill 60 close to Ypres, he wrote to Miss Bell, who was a Sunday School teacher at the Unitarian Church at Lodge Road, recounting his life in Belgium:
Many thanks for your nice long letter. I haven’t much to write about in reply, as nothing has happened these last few days except that I have been wounded, having stopped two pieces of shell with my left arm. My platoon is in a wood behind the firing line and sentries are posted to give warning on sighting of enemy aeroplanes.
“Silent Sallies” get their name from the fact that they don’t give any warning, like a well-mannered shell, so no-one knows they are coming or where they are likely to burst. On hearing the explosions, I got up see where they were bursting, when another one exploded over my dugout. I felt that I had been hit, but took little notice till I tried to lift a fellow who was groaning nearby with nasty wounds to his ankle, chest and arm, then I found my arm practically useless, so I dived into the nearest dugout, and a man dressed my arm. I had a long gash in my forearm and a slight wound above my elbow. On returning to my dugout I found my platoon Sergeant had a wound similar to mine above the elbow, and two others were hit in several places, and needed the stretcher-bearers. Our Medical Officer at the dressing station gave me an injection and sent me back to the wood, saying I should be alright and he isn’t sending any more than he can help to hospital. Yesterday the bleeding had stopped, and I could see neither place was deep, and so I shall be fit for duty very soon. I can’t do my duties so I shall get more good from the rest than harm from the wound.
There is plenty of digging and fatigues for the men in the wood. They are getting very little rest. This is our 20th day, and no-one seems to know then we shall be relieved. Except for my gammy arm and slight deafness, (for which I am being treated), I am alright. Give my kind regards to all my Lodge Road friends, and accept for yourself the best wishes of…
Herbert Green recovered from his wounds sufficiently to return to duties in the front line at Hill 60. Nine days after writing this letter he was killed. His parents received letters from Captain Wistance and three of Herbert’s comrades, who all expressed their sympathies for the loss of their son.
Corporal Green, who was aged 20 when he was killed, is buried at Blauwepoort Farm Cemetery: Row D, Grave 10.
Tom Dann was born at Bedford in 1886 and had served for three years with the 1st Eastern Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps (Territorial Force) before moving to the Black Country, where he was employed as a gas engineer and draughtsman at B. Gibbons Jun. Ltd. in Dudley…. Dann lived in Lower Gornal, where he attended St James the Great parish church, where he was a sidesman, and was on the committee of the local Unionist Club.
He enlisted in the “Non-Manual” Section of the 6th South Staffords at Wolverhampton on 2 September 1914 and was appointed Lance-Corporal on the same day. On 1 October 1914, Tom married Ethel Eliza Gould, the fourth daughter of the late Thomas Dalton Gould, who had been a solicitor and lived at Petworth House in Lower Gornal. Just prior for embarking for active service with the 1/6th South Staffords, Tom Dann was appointed Lance-Sergeant on 27 February 1915. He was appointed Acting Company-Sergeant-Major of “A” Company on 15 March 1915 and was commissioned in the field on 23 August, when he took command of No. 3 Platoon of “A” Company.
Second-Lieutenant Dann was mortally wounded during his battalion’s attack on the Hohenzollern Redoubt on 13 October 191 when he received a severe wound from a bullet that entered his thigh and exited through his foot. Men from his battalion brought in Dann during the night but no help could be given to him and he slowly bled to death in the trench. He was buried by his soldiers, and his surviving service records give the map reference as G.5.c.8.5. Trench Map 36c. N.W.3. However, the nature of the fighting around the Hohenzollern Redoubt in subsequent months made a positive identification of his remains impossible after the war when the battlefield was cleared.
Second-Lieutenant Dann is commemorated on the Loos Memorial. He is also remembered on the war memorial of Lower Gornal.
1257 Lance-Corporal Albert Edward Morris
1/2nd North Midland Field Company, Royal Engineers (Territorial Force)
Born in 1894, Albert Morris lived in Heath Hayes with his parents, Levi and Annie, at 68 Cannock Road. He worked as a miner and had served with the 2nd North Midland Field Company, which had its drill hall at Norton Hall in the nearby village of Norton Canes, since 1909. In 1911 Morris had won the Company Cup for marksmanship. Albert went to France with 1/2nd North Midland Field Company in March 1915.
Lance-Corporal Morris was killed on 27 April 1915 while on a working party in trenches in front of the village of Wulverghem. Lieutenant Patrick Welchman, his Section commander, wrote to Levi Morris about his son’s death:
It is with the very deepest regret that I have to tell you that your son was killed at about noon today. He was struck by a bullet in the back while he was in charge of a party of men. I cannot tell you how much he will be missed. He was always so careful and ready to do anything for anybody, and I always felt I could count on him to carry through any difficult work. Several times he has gone quite calmly on with his work under continuous fire. He was one of my pluckiest and promising N.C.O.’s. I wish to say how deeply I sympathise with you in your great loss, but it is one of those sorrows in which no-one else can possibly help you. The only consolation to you, and it should be a big one, is that he died doing his country’s work at the time of her greatest need. I was with him when he was hit, and I don’t think that he suffered very much. He became unconscious before I had finished temporarily dressing his wounds, but he recovered consciousness just before he died some twenty minutes later. He was taken to the advanced dressing station, where he got the very best medical attention, but nothing could possibly have been done. All his possessions are being sent to you at an early date. If there is anything I can tell you or do, I hope you will let me know. He is to be buried this evening in the little burying ground by the dressing station, besides several Staffs. men who have been killed here. Sergt. Stringer and myself will be there, and several other men of the section. Please accept my very deep sympathy in your sorrow.
Albert Morris is buried at St Quentin Cabaret Military Cemetery: Plot I, Row F, Grave 6. He is also commemorated on a panel of the memorial gates that stand at the entrance of Heath Hayes Park.
William Whittingham was born in Ironbridge in 1878, the eldest son of John and Mary Whittingham. The family later moved to West Bromwich, living at 3D Sams Lane. Before joining the army in January 1916, he had worked as a painter and decorator with his brother.
Whittingham was drafted to the 1/6th Battalion in July 1916, shortly after the action at Gommecourt. On his arrival, he was posted to 5 Platoon of “B” Company. On 1 July 1917, 46th Division attacked the western defences of Lens. “B” Company were detailed to provide carrying parties for the assaulting battalions of 137th Brigade, but soon became embroiled in the street fighting around Lievin. William Whittingham was killed during this action.
The body of William Whittingham was not identified after the war and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.
Thomas Butt came from Birmingham. He was born on 17 December 1880, the third son of William and Emma Butt, who lived on Ashted Row. He was educated at Sir Josiah Mason’s Orphanage in Erdington. Thomas served in South Africa from 1899 until 1901 and was issued with the Queen’s South Africa Medal with five clasps. He married in 1904 and had three children, the youngest being born on 25 June 1914. At the outbreak of the war, Thomas was employed as a brass burnisher at W. Reeves & Co. Ltd. at Tenby Street in Hockley.
He re-enlisted in The Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 17 December 1914 and was drafted to France in January 1915, where he was posted to the 1st Battalion. Private Butt was wounded twice during his service; on 25 April 1915 at St Julien and on 1 July 1916 at Beaumont Hamel. He was killed on 11 April 1917 during the Battle of Arras. One of his friends wrote to Thomas’s wife: “I can tell you he was one of the bravest and best soldiers we had, and I shall miss him very much, and all his platoon and myself send you their deepest sympathy.”
Thomas Butt has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.
Thomas Ellis was a married reservist at the outbreak of the war and served with the City of Birmingham Fire Brigade. On being mobilised, he was posted to 11th Battery of XV Brigade, which formed part of the divisional artillery of 5th Division. XV Brigade was stationed at Kildare and Ellis arrived in France on 19 August, before going into action at Mons four days later. On 25 August, 11th Battery was engaged at Le Cateau, positioned behind the 2nd Battalion, The Suffolk Regiment and 2nd Battalion, The Manchester Regiment. By 10.00 a.m. the battery had only one gun operational out of six and all of the officers had become casualties. Gunner Ellis was killed on 15 October 1914 during the fighting around La Bassée.
Thomas Ellis has no known grave and is commemorated on Panel 1 of the Le Touret Memorial. Gunner Ellis was aged 27 when he died. The register for the memorial records his widow, Ada Elizabeth Ellis, lived at 95 Larches Street in Sparkbrook.
Alexander Dawes was born in 1882 and came from Hednesford. He lived with his mother, Lydia, at 54 Wood Lane on Church Hill. He had three brothers and two brothers-in-law serving in the army. Alexander was a reservist and before being recalled to the colours at the outbreak of the war he worked as a miner.
Private Dawes landed in France with the 1st North Staffords on 10 September 1914. He was killed on 12 March 1915 during the 1st North Staffords successful attack on German positions at L’Epinette, near Armentieres.
Alexander often included rhymes in his letters home to his mother, one of which went:
The Kaiser’s dreams are all going dead.
His schemes are all being knocked on the head.
As we all advance upon Berlin,
Every man John Bull within.
For England’s sake we risk our lives.
And then return to our children and wives.
Alexander Dawes has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial: Panel 8. He is also remembered on the war memorial at Hednesford.
Horace Deeley came from Stourbridge and was a reservist. After his discharge, he had returned to his home town to work at Nelson’s butchers. He later moved to Chasetown to become the manager of the Nelson’s butchers shop in the village. Horace was married and had a young daughter. At the outbreak of the war he was recalled to t.e colours and was posted to the 1st Battalion.
While on active service, he wrote to his sister recalling the kindness shown to him by Belgian soldiers when he had become detached from his regiment. Private Deeley was killed on 22 April 1915 at St Eloi.
Horace Deeley has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate. He is also remembered on the war memorial at Chasetown. His mother lived at Green Street in Stourbridge.