Welcome to my blog......

The purpose of this blog is to remember the fallen heroes of the Great War, whose names are recorded on the memorial plaque situated in St Barnabas Church, New Whittington, Chesterfield.

To mark the centenary of World War 1 I aim to research all of the men on the memorial. I hope to ensure that the brave men who gave their lives for their country 100 years ago are remembered and each man's story told.

I would love to hear from anyone who may have information regarding the men; photos, letters or passed down memories. Any descendents are most welcome to contact me and I will provide copies of the research that I have undertaken.

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left to grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them"

For The Fallen,
Laurence Binyon September 1914.

Friday, 8 December 2017

HARRY ALFRED LETTS

HARRY ALFRED LETTS



Private 204512

9th Battalion Sherwood Forester Regiment

Died from wounds - 8th December 1917

Harry Alfred Letts embarkation photograph
with kind permission of Mr Letts (Harry's Grandson)

Harry Alfred Letts was born on 20th November 1879 to Alfred and Mary Jane Letts.  He wasn't a local lad to New Whittington, he was born at Cold Ashby in Northamptonshire.  He may have moved to New Whittington for his employment as a gardener, sometime between 1901 and 1903.

Cold Ashby....

Harry's parents married on 25th December 1870 at St Andrews Church in Bordesley, Warwickshire.  Alfred was a young widower, having two children; William and Betsy, their mother Ellen Rebecca Letts had died in March 1869.  

By 1881 the family had grown; Thomas, John and one year old Harry Alfred were now part of the Letts household; younger brothers for William and Betsy.  Harry's father Alfred worked as a groom and William was a gardener.  

Tragic accident....


Shields Daily Gazette, 15th November 1884

William the eldest son of Alfred was employed as a railway porter for the Midland Railway Company.  He had worked for them since August 1883 but had only worked at Hathern Station for a fortnight when the accident occurred on 14th November 1884.  The Nottingham Journal newspaper described how Alfred told the coroner that he had not seen his son since the New Year before, but that his eyesight and hearing were good.  William was said to have been carrying two lamps when he decided to cross the line rather than use the pedestrian bridge.  The next train was not due for another 12 minutes but, as William crossed the whistle was heard from the Manchester to London Express train.  Nothing could be done and although William did try to escape, this was not possible.  The tragedy was recorded in the Midland Railway Company Register of Accidents as simply "knocked down, killed by passing train".

William was buried on 19th November, the day before Harry was to celebrate his fifth birthday.  

A year later in 1885 Alfred and Mary had another son, they named him Alfred William.  Followed in 1889 by Scott, another male infant was born into the Letts family.

Family life....

In 1891 Harry was aged 11 years old and lived with his family at Thornby Road, Cold Ashby.  They lived in the centre of the village near to St Denys Church, the school house and the vicarage.  His father Alfred and brother John were both employed as agricultural labourers, his eldest brother Thomas had mastered a trade and worked as a bricklayer. 

In the summer of 1892 the final child was born, a son named Samuel Frederick.  The 1901 census find the Letts family living in the same home on Thornby Road, Alfred, John and Alfred jnr were all employed as agricultural labourers.  Harry was aged 21 was working as a domestic gardener.  Thomas Harry's elder brother had left the family home and married Susannah Chapman on 23rd December 1899.  The newlyweds lived in Leicester now and Thomas continued to work as a bricklayer.

Wedding bells....


Harry married his sweetheart Lucy Jane Fane on 2nd June 1903 at New Whittington.  Lucy was from New Whittington, the daughter of Thomas and Annie Fane.  Before her marriage Lucy had been employed as a waitress / general housemaid for a restaurant owner named John Booker.  The restaurant was situated at 3 Knifesmithsgate in Chesterfield town centre.

The couple settled down to family life in New Whittington, they lived at 33 Handley Road.  Harry worked as a gardener at The Grange, one of the large residential houses in the area.  On 24th October 1908 a son was born; named Leonard Alfred he would make the family complete.

1911 the eve of war....

Harry and Lucy continued to live at Handley Road.  Leonard was a toddler aged 2 years old.  Harry was no doubt a popular fellow in the local community; he was an active member of the Methodist Church and ran the Sunday school.  A fair distance away from his parents and siblings; Alfred, Mary and Harry's brothers John, Alfred, Scott and Samuel remained in Cold Ashby.

Thomas and Susannah had returned to the village of Cold Ashby, they now had two young brothers living with them, likely taken in and "adopted" by the couple.  The boys were Douglas Willis aged 6 and Stanley Willis aged 5 years old.  The 1911 census was completed for the young boys, with the place of birth as "unknown".  

Harry's war....



Harry was most likely reading the newspapers, he would read that in May 1915 the age limit to serve was raised from 38 to 40 years.  The National Registration Act was passed in July 1915 which deemed that on the 15th August 1915 Harry (and all men aged 15-65 and not in military service) would be required to submit their age and occupation.  He would then be given a National Registration Card to confirm he had completed his registration.

The government were concerned as after the original rush of men to enlist in 1914, the war that would be over by Christmas was still running.  By spring 1915 the volunteers had dropped, stories were being heard in the towns and villages, local men were never to return, families wept and mourned their loved ones.  The National Registration Act was pronounced to allow the government to find out exactly how many men were available for service; those who fit in with the age and employment status.  

In October 1915 Harry would be given the option to enlist voluntarily under the Derby Scheme which would allow the men to attest to serve if needed at a later date, the closing date for this voluntary act was 15th December.  Harry took this option on 10th November 1915 he signed his attestation papers for General Service.  He was given the soldier number 15995 and placed in the Army Reserve Class B.  Harry would have been paid a day's army wage and then allowed to go home and wait until he was officially called up for service.  To prove his allegiance to King & Country Harry was given a grey arm band showing the red crown, which he could wear for all to see as he went about his daily life.  His National Registration Card would also have been stamped and dated to show is attestation.

At this time Harry, Lucy and seven year old Leonard were living at 33 Handley Road, Harry worked as a gardener.  Harry was just 5ft 3 1/2" tall and weighed 9 stones.  The height limit had been dropped early on in the war in November 1914 to 5ft 3", although a temporary Bantam Battalion scheme was also used for men of heights 5ft to 5ft 3".  

The men who attested under the Derby Scheme were allocated a group number according to their age and marital status; Harry was originally placed in Group 40 (which according to his age was actually incorrect and was for slightly younger men) but later records show him in Group 42 (birth 1879).  On 13th May 1916 it was announced that Group 42 men would be called up on 13th June 1916.  Seven months after Harry had signed his papers the time had now come to serve.

Reprieve....

Despite being called to service in the June of 1916 Harry did not mobilise until a year later on 19th May 1917.  He under took his army medical in December of 1916.  It would be likely that Harry had taken his case to the local tribunal to request exemption from service.  His reason might be his employment as he was now employed as a farmhand, he was also over 35 and married.  His involvement with the local Methodist Church might also have made Harry indispensable at home.

Off to war....

The reprieve was short and soon enough Harry was embarking to join the British Expeditionary Force in France.  He arrived on 4th October 1917 and joined his unit the 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters on 11th October.  

The 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters were part of 33rd Brigade, 11th Division.  

The war diary states that "reinforcements arrive" on 11th October, the 9th Sherwood's were stationed at Tournehem undertaking training.  They were taught how to fire Lewis Guns, route march, the art of musketry and enjoyed some recreational sports like football.  They remained there until 19th October when Harry and his fellow comrades would clean and pack ready to entrain to Ames.  From here they moved via Voudricourt to Mazingarbe and on to Loos where they relieved the 7th South Staffordshire Regiment in the trenches on 22nd October.

The battalion remained in the trenches until they were relieved by the 8th Duke of Wellington Regiment on 29th October.  Most nights were spent sending out working parties; the war diary states "working parties totalling 400 O'Rs were found every night".  On 30th October the men took bus transport to Noeux-les-Mines.

The first week of November was again spent undertaking various training and recreational activities.  On 7th November the battalion prepared to move out and relieve the 9th Lancashire Fusiliers; A and C Coys on the front line, B Coy in support, D Coy in reserve.  The following days were spent alternating which Coy covered the front line, a dummy attack was carried out on 11th November.  The 7th South Staffordshire Regiment relieved the battalion on 16th November after "a quiet tour of duty in the trenches.  Casualties slight".  

They returned to Cite St Pierre where they remained until on 20th November "instructions given for battalion to take over front line".  The following day the B & C Coys moved out to the front line trenches and relieved the "boys of the 9th Staffs Regt.  8pm relief complete".

The war diary for the dates 22nd/23rd November simply states "In the line.  Situation quiet".  Harry was wounded on 22nd November 1917, he received injuries to his back, abdomen and arms.  Depending on the severity of Harry's wounds he may have been taken to an aid post which would be situated somewhere close to the front line, near to the trenches.  He would be given immediate first aid by a trained medic or first aider and then carried by the stretcher bearers to the nearest dressing station.  The next step was transfer to a casualty clearing station which would be a large medical facility away from the front line.  Had he been considered stable enough for transfer Harry might have found himself labelled for "Blighty" but sadly this was not to be and on 8th December 1917 Harry passed away as a result of his injuries.  




Harry was buried at the Noeux le Mines Communal Cemetery Extension, grave ref; iV A 23.  


The grave of Private Harry Alfred Letts
with kind permission of Mr Letts (Harry's Grandson)
Harry's grave shows the sign of the cross and the loving inscription was also added by Harry's family;


"TO LIVE IN HEARTS WE LEAVE BEHIND IS NOT TO DIE"




Private Harry Alfred Letts 204512 was awarded the Victory and British Medals for his service.  

Harry was remembered in the Derbyshire Times 1917.  The obituary read....


"Sympathy on all sides has been extended to the wife
of Pte. Harry Letts residing on Handley Road, 
who on the 5th (sic) inst. Died from wounds in France 
received on November 24th (sic) , the sad news
being conveyed in a letter of sympathy last week 
from the Chaplain, Rev C J Horsley-Smith.

The deceased was a popular young fellow
and much esteemed in the district, and general 
regret at his death has been expressed.  He was a member 
of the New Whittington Baptist Church, and one
of its most ardent workers, where he will be greatly missed.
Among the offices he held were those of chapel secretary 
and superintendent of the Sunday school.

He was 38 years of age and joined the Sherwood's 
on June 2nd this year, going over to France on October 1st
where he had been in just 7 weeks when he was wounded.
In private life he followed the occupation of gardener, 
to Mrs Wright of Whittington Grange.  He was also a member
of the local Volunteer Force.

At the Baptist Chapel evening service on Sunday, fitting 
reference to his death was made by the preacher.  

Writing from No 7 casualty clearing station, the Chaplain says
"It is with deep regret that I have to tell you that your husband
passed away yesterday (Dec 5th) at 2.30pm.  
I was with him when he died.  He was quite unconscious, and 
it will comfort you to know that he died very peacefully
and suffered no pain.  Please accept my sincere sympathy 
in your great sorrow.  
He died nobly and gave his life for his country"."


** note, date of death different to the official date of death.  CWGC records Private Harry Alfred Letts date of death as 8th December 1917.

Life went on....

Lucy continued to live in New Whittington, her young son Leonard grew up with her in the village.  Life would be difficult and the memory of Harry, a husband and a father would remain in their hearts forever.  Stories of Harry would be passed down to Leonard's young son, named fittingly after his heroic grandfather to ensure that his memory lives on to this day. 

Private Harry Alfred Letts possessions
www.ancestry.co.uk

In the May of 1918 Lucy received a parcel containing Harry's personal possessions; "disc, 2 pipes, coins, letters, card, pouch, razor, knife, purse, key, linen badge".  No doubt Lucy and Leonard would shed a tear on its arrival, the contents would be treasured mementos of a brave husband and father.


Happier times did eventually return for Lucy and Leonard when in 1923 Lucy married Percy Butler.  Lucy died in 1948 aged 67 years old.

Leonard Alfred Letts married Sarah Brough in 1931, he worked as a railway fireman for the London Midland & Scottish Railways.  In 1939 the family were living on Wellington Street in New Whittington. 

*I have been lucky to make contact with Leonard's son, he has kindly sent me a photograph of his grandfather Harry Alfred Letts and of the visit he and his sons made to pay their respects to Harry at his grave in France.  He told me of a memory; when he was little he was told that his grandfather Harry planted daffodil bulbs along the drive way up to Whittington Grange where he was employed as a gardener.  The daffodils still came into flower many years later.  Next year at spring time I will take a look to see if those flowers are still flowering.  A fitting memory to a gardener who's legacy continues 100 years on *

Alfred and Mary Jane Letts; Alfred died in 1915, he was never to suffer the knowledge that he lost two son's Harry and Scott to the war, both died of wounds whilst serving his King & Country.  Mary Jane may have died in 1929.  

Thomas Letts and Susannah remained the carers of Douglas and Stanley Willis.  


Thomas Scott Letts, Service Records
www.ancestry.co.uk
Thomas also saw active service during WW1.  Making use of his practical skills, Thomas enlisted on 6th June 1915 with the Royal Engineers; Sapper 103555.  His service record has survived and tells that he embarked for France on 31st December 1915.  Thomas survived the whole length of the war, being discharged on 6th March 1919.  He was awarded the British and Victory medal for his service.  

For Thomas and Susannah as for many others, the war took its toll and family life would never return to "normal" as it was before the Great War.  Thomas was diagnosed as suffering from shell shock and rheumatism.  He was alive, he was living life but those ghosts of the war would never leave him.

The 1939 Register records Thomas living on Main Street, Cold Ashby along with Susannah and Douglas.  There are also two more young boys living with them; Leslie and Douglas Swaffield.  Their next door neighbours were Stanley, his wife Winifred and their three children.  

Thomas may have died in 1955 but this would need to be confirmed further.

John Letts enlisted with the 11th Battalion Essex Regiment on 16th September 1914.  He was however discharged on 1st December 1914 "having been found medically unfit for service".  His service records state that he suffered from chronic rheumatism.  

What happened to John after this date and whether John married is not known, he may have died in 1938.

Alfred William Letts appears to have remained single and may have died at the young age of 33 years in 1918.

Scott Letts enlisted with the Northamptonshire Regiment on 19th November 1915.  He was just approaching his 25th birthday and worked as a labourer at the time.  

On 9th January 1916 he was transferred to the 7th Battalion Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment, Private G/10218.

Scott was wounded and died of his wounds on 28th March 1918.  He was buried by the German army and his actual grave position is either not known or damaged after further fighting.  He is one of many soldiers to whom a "Kipling Memorial" has been erected.  This is a CWGC headstone, but his grave is not located underneath this memorial gravestone.

The headstone is located in the Ribemont Communal Cemetery Extension in Picardie, France.  It has the following words inscribed..


"BURIED BY THE ENEMY IN MONCEAU-lE-NEUF 
COMMUNAL CEMETERY GERMAN EXTENSION
BUT WHOSE GRAVE IS NOW LOST
THE DAY WILL DAWN WHEN WE SHALL MEET AGAIN
FROM MOTHER & BROTHERS"

Scott was awarded the British War and Victory medal for his service, his mother Mary signed receipt of these medals in 1921.

Samuel Letts married Annie Underwood in 1919.  The couple may have three daughters; Gladys, Vera and Mary.  

In 1939 Samuel was employed as a road man for the County Council.  The couple lived at Church Lane in Brixworth, Northamptonshire with their daughter Mary and a man named Harry Underwood, whether he was Annie's son or a family member is not known.   There was also another child living with the family at this time; 13 year old John Law.

Samuel died in 1973 at the age of 81 years old.

Betsy Letts Harry's half-sister married John Smalley a shoe finisher in 1893.  The couple lived in Anstey, Leicestershire.  They had two children; Alfred William and Fanny Elizabeth. Betsy died in 1933.

*****


Cold Ashby Memorial Plaque, to Harry & Scott Letts
with kind permission of John @Cold Ashby Rambler

In Cold Ashby the Letts family were remembered on the war memorials they later erected to honour the men who both fell and served during WW1 and WW2.

Harry and Scott Letts are inscribed on a memorial plaque which can be found over the main entrance of the memorial hall.  It reads..


"IN GRATEFUL MEMORY OF THOSE FROM THE VILLAGE
WHO DIED IN THE GREAT WAR
HARRY LETTS 
SCOTT LETTS"



WW1 memorial 
WW2 memorial
The Letts men are also remembered on the 
Cold Ashby Memorial 
to those who served during WW1 

and WW2.

Photos with kind permission of John
@ Cold Ashby Rambler




*****

Special thanks to Mr H Letts for the written details,
photographs and documents he
provided for use in this remembrance
of Private Harry Letts.

*****

If you may be connected to this family or have any further information on Harry Alfred Letts or his family please do either leave comments via the pen icon below or drop me an email.

I hope that I have not given details of living persons, if so please advise and I will remove immediately.

Please note all information has been taken from online indexes and sources.  Due to the sheer numbers of people to be researched I am unable to purchase vital event certificates to confirm my research.

*****


Thanks to John @Cold Ashby Rambler
http://www.spanglefish.com/thecoldashbyrambler/

With thanks also to members of the WW1 Forum who gave me advice.
www.1914-1918.invisionzone.com

*****

Ref and further reading  -
Census
Parish registers
Medal rolls
Soldiers who died in the Great war
Register of soldiers effects
Service record - www.ancestry.co.uk
Railway employment records; Midland Railway accidents 1875-1888 - www.ancestry.co.uk


Newspaper articles - 
                               - Derbyshire Times 1917
                               - Shields Daily Gazette 15th November 1884
                               - Nottigham Journal 17th November 1884 page 5

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

JOHN COLLINS

JOHN COLLINS

Private 7029

1st Battalion Sherwood Forester Regiment 

Killed in action - 31st July 1917


John Collins was the first born child of Thomas and Margaret Collins.  He was born in 1884 at New Whittington.  His father Thomas hailed from Ireland, he married Margaret Flynn in 1882 and set up home in New Whittington where Thomas worked as a coke burner.

In 1891 the family lived in Crown Yard and had grown in numbers, John had a brother named Edward and two sisters Margaret and May. Over the next ten years more children were born to the Collins family; Tom jnr, Stephen, Ellen and Annie.  Perhaps due to its growing size the family had moved to live at 118 High Street, New Whittington. John was 16 years of age and worked as a colliery pony driver, he would contribute his small wages to the family and help clothe and feed his siblings.  

A change in direction for John....

Tragedy struck for the Collins family when in the July of 1900 John's younger brother, 14 year old Edward was killed in an accident whilst working underground at the Seymour Colliery.  The Derbyshire Times covered the story stating that Edward was found already deceased under one of the loading tubs which must have come uncoupled from its pully. 

To lose a young brother in such sad circumstances must have played a pivotal role in John deciding to change his life pathway, he left the colliery a year later and embarked on an exciting career in the army, which could send him around the world seeing sights a boy in New Whittington might only dream about.

On 8th July 1901 he enlisted with the 3rd Derby Regiment (Sherwood Foresters).  He was aged 18 years and 2 months old, had blue eyes and a "fresh complexion" stood at 5ft 6" tall and weighed 122lbs.  John signed up for 6 years service and was given the soldier number Private 8430.  

Life back in New Whittington....

John's family remained in New Whittingon and grew in numbers even more; Agnes, William and Elizabeth were to make the Collins family complete.  Once again they moved house, just along the street to number 52 High Street.  

By the 1911 census John had returned to his home village, he found employment once again underground at the coal mines.  He was 26 years old and still unmarried.  His youngest sister was 1 year old and the Collins family of ten people lived in a large for the times, a five roomed house. 




John's war....

As John was listed as a reserve soldier he was called into service at the outbreak of war in August 1914.  He was drafted to Sunderland to work as a signal instructor, where he remained for the first two years of the war.  


Signal Station - using daylight lamp
via National Library of Scotland

The war which was supposed to be over by Christmas was dragging on, more civilians were enlisting and John would have a busy time teaching the new recruits army life and the art of the use of signals in warfare. Various methods were used to transmit a signal when on the battlefield; lights, mirrors, flags, whistles could all be used to send a special message in Morse code and where possible cables could be used to pass the signal to the receiver.  John held the knowledge and skill to perform this task and his contribution to the war effort would have been priceless.


John joined the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F) sometime around the early autumn of 1916.  The slaughter of thousands of troops during the Somme offensive had taken its toll on our British troops and reinforcements were badly needed.  Many of the men who had been regular soldiers had already been killed or injured by now and John had some experience in warfare, but alas not the type of warfare WW1 had engineered.

During the month of July 1916 the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters recorded the following numbers of casualties;
Officers - killed 5, wounded 13
Other ranks - killed 51, wounded 257, missing 6

In the August of 1916 the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters were basking in hot temperatures, moving around the Bethune area in northern France.  The battalion spent the next months carrying out orders, maintaining equipment and taking their turn at manning the trenches.  In the October of 1916 an unusual occurrence was noted when having bombarded the enemy with heavy gun fire they were surprised when "a man approached the HQ sentry, when challenged and told to surrender he ran away, he was at once fired on and wounded and brought in".  The man was interrogated in the German language but appeared confused, it was as "he used the word "RUSSRI" that they understood that the man was a Russian prisoner of war.  The war diary states "his delight on falling into English hands knew no bounds".

The month of October 1916 was also one of tremendous difficulties for the battalion; the men were called upon to do a 24 day tour of the trenches, they had no relief at all in those 24 days and were subject to heavy trench mortar attack "which has the most demoralising effect upon the best trained troops".  The battalion was also ordered to carry out three attacks on enemy trenches, one being particulary difficult as gas weapons were used.  There was a short rest period of two days and then the men were sent back to the Somme where they had already seen active duty.  The men were continually under attack but despite of all this "it was remarkable how the morale of the troops was upheld throughout the whole tour of duty".

Rest & Relaxation....

During December 1916 the battalion appear to have taken things much easier.  The month comprised of training classes, football matches, route marching contests and boxing championships.  On Christmas Eve the battalion took part in the Divisional Cross Country championships; each team had 6 men and they ran a course of 6 miles.  The 1st Sherwood's came a respectable 2nd to the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment.

Christmas was spent at Selincourt "full opportunity was taken to give the men as happy an Xmas as possible".  John was many miles away from his loved ones but we can hope that he felt some peace and happiness at this 1916 yuletide.  Gifts were received from several newspaper company charitable collections, including the "Derbyshire Times Fund".  By New Years Eve the men had moved on once more and found themselves back on the Somme at Albert.  The war diary notes that only 3 other ranks were wounded, none were killed during the month of December 1916.  One of the wounded was however self inflicted, a Christmas away from family had proved to much for one poor soul.

A new year, 1917....

1917 started sedately, cleaning the camp, renovating the duckboards, followed by bomb classes.  The first months were very cold, snow fell and in early February the men were in the trenches when it was so cold "the battalion experienced the hardest frost it had ever known.....The water supply was seriously hampered, fires having to be lit under water taps & ice continuously broken in the tubs".  "In one shell hole the ice was found to be 6 feet thick & the frost had penetrated to a depth of 8 feet into the ground".

The months of March and April saw the battalion carry out some fierce fighting, snow was still falling in the middle of April but by the end of the month the weather was very hot.  

In June 1917 the men found themselves moving away from the familiar territory of the Somme across the French/Belgium border, on 15th June they arrived in Ypres.  That same night the "the whole of battalion provided a working party for laying a cable under divisional signal offices"; a job that would may well have involved John and his knowledge of the signaling equipment. 

The camp at Ypres came under heavy enemy shelling and so on 21st June it was moved to Linde Goed Farm near Busseboom.  The battalion were marched from camp to camp in July, being shelled and attacked by the enemy as they went forth.  In mid July they were in billets at Beaumetz Les Aire, where they began instruction and practice in attack, including lectures on bayonet fighting.  

On 18th July Sir Douglas Haigh was present and watched the operations, the battalion must have been aware that their was an air of impending action about to come their way.  Morale would be boosted and spirits would no doubt be high as the men trained to their best abilities for the fight of their lives.  The Officers and N.C.O's were all shown a large picture  map of the land which was to be their future battlefield, possible concerns were discussed at length between the Officers.

On 21st July the training was over and the men were route marched to St Hillaire and then on to Liller where they entrained to Abeele.  From there the battalion were billeted and slept under canvas at Reninghelst. The coming days were spent in preparation; Officers had more meetings, they even had a group photograph taken. The ordinary ranks were now also sent along to view the large picture map.  A service was held which was officiated by the Arch Bishop of York, the men's spiritual well being was most important for morale. During the evenings men carried the gas shells up onto the waiting positions in anticipation for coming events.  The weather was fine.

On the evening of 24th July John and his comrades marched to Halifax Camp.  The weather changed, it was a very wet day.  The men were given a special treat when the 17th Battalion Sherwood Foresters came to join them for tea on 25th July.  A fellow New Whittington lad named David Cresswell was serving with the 17th Battalion, maybe the men met up for a few words and exchange of family news that night?

During the next couple of days more equipment was issued to the men, the large map was revisited and lectures were given.  On one evening several of the men from each corps were taken and questioned by the C.O.  The men must be fully knowledgeable on the lay of the land and the instructions for the upcoming attack.

At 9.30pm on the night of 28th July 1917 the battalion set of, leaving the camp to a position known as "Halfway House".  Each company set off 200 yards behind the preceeding company.  The men marched into the night and into the unknown.  The journey was a hot one, the weather was fine, enemy fire was constant and gas shells were also used upon the battalion.  Once at the dugout they shared this position with the Scottish Rifle Brigade, however the area was too crowded and the Sherwood Foresters split away from each other by company into different areas. 

The day of the 30th July was spent resting, around 10pm that night the battalion's companies rejoined in the assembly trenches, in their positions just behind the Northamptonshire Regiment.  They then waited "for Zero hour the following morning".  Each man no doubt in his own place for those final hours, thinking of the past and trying so hard not to think of his future and the fate that was to follow.

Zero day....

31st July 1917 the war diary reads "This was Zero Day.  The hour for the attack was 3.50am.  The barrage started at 3.50am and the attack commenced at 4am.  The Battalion moved forward in artillery formation and passed on the right (sic) BELLEWAARDE LAKE to their forming up position, under cover of the ridge".

John was killed in action on 31st July 1917, the day which would signify the first day of the bloody, muddy battle known as Passchendaele.  The CWGC list that 80 members of the 1st Battalion Sherwood Forester Regiment lost their lives on that same day.


John Collins was buried at the Menin Gate South Military Cemetery, Belgium; grave reference ii. E. 2. His grave is marked simply with the sign of the cross, no other inscriptions were added by John's family.


Private 7029 John Collins was awarded the Victory and British Medals for his service.


John was remembered in the Derbyshire Times 25th August 1917 page 4, along with a photograph the obituary read....

"News reached New Whittington a fortnight ago that Pte. John
Collins, Notts & Derbys, had "gone under".
A soldier writing home to his wife, said Collins was killed,
but his mother who resides in Crown Yard, 
never gave up hopes of hearing from him 
until the official word came last Wednesday, 
saying he had died of wounds.

Pte. John Collins had served eight years in the Army 
and four years in the Reserve when the war broke out
and the call came for Reservists and Volunteers.
He was called up on August 5th, 1914, and was 
drafted to Sunderland as a signal instructor, where
he stayed two years, when he volunteered for France,
having been there almost 12 months when the dreaded
message came.  He was 33 years of age and worked at
Markham No1 Colliery before being called up.
Great sympathy is felt for his widowed mother,
who has two more sons on active service"


Life went on....

Thomas & Margaret Collins - John's parents.  Thomas had died on 28th October 1916.  Margaret stayed in New Whittington, living at 52 High Street with her children; Thomas, Helen, Annie and William.  She died on 1st June 1941 and is buried alongside her husband at St Bartholomew's Church, New Whittington.

Margaret married Irish born Michael Collins in 1909, they had five children; Thomas, Michael, Edward, John and Mary.  She remained in New Whittington and died in 1972.

Tom married Catherine Leeson in 1915. Catherine was the sister of John Patrick Leeson, the soldier who is also named on St Barnabas Memorial and died on 31st July 1917.  The couple had a son named Patrick in 1916.  Sadly in 1918 Catherine passed away aged just 30 years old.  It looks likely that she died due to complications of child birth as a daughter was born that same time, named Kathleen *this has not been confirmed by the registration certificate.  Tom died in 1952.

Stephen married Agnes Gregory in 1925.  They had at least two daughters; Margaret and Hazel and possibly a third child.  They lived on John Street in Brimington and Stephen worked as a builders labourer. He died in 1959 aged 63 years old.

Annie may have remained a spinster.  In 1939 she was working as a grocery shop assistant (possibly alongside her brother William).  If she did not marry then she may have lived in Hasland and died in 1991 aged 90 years old.

William died in 1941 aged just 33 years old.  His obituary states that he worked as manager of Messrs Hunters grocery shop in Brimington.  

I am not sure at this stage what became of John's siblings; May, Ellen, Agnes and Elizabeth.  If anyone can help with information please let me know.
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For service on the dates of 31st July and 1st August 1917 the 1st Battalion Sherwood Forester Regiment awarded 14 members of the Non Commissioned Officers and Men the Military Medal for their "Gallantry and devotion to duty during operations near Ypres".  Also awarded were -
2 x Distinguished Service Orders
1 x Bar to the Military Cross
5 x Military Cross
8 x Distinguished Conduct Medals

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If you may be connected to this family or have any further information on John Collins or his family please do either leave comments via the pen icon below or drop me an email.

I hope that I have not given details of living persons, if so please advise and I will remove immediately.

Please note all information has been taken from online indexes and sources.  Due to the sheer numbers of people to be researched I am unable to purchase vital event certificates to confirm my research.

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Ref and further reading  -
Census
Parish registers
Medal rolls
Soldiers who died in the Great war
Register of soldiers effects
Service record - www.fmp.co.uk

Newspaper articles - 
                               - Derbyshire Times 25th August 1917 page 4


War diaries - Piece WO 1721/1-4

Signaling during WW1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/0/ww1/25401271
                                      http://www.worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/signaller_ww1




Monday, 31 July 2017

PASSCHENDAELE

PASSCHENDAELE....


THE 3rd  BATTLE OF YPRES....


"MUD AND RAIN"


By Siegfried Sassoon


Mud and rain and wretchedness and blood.  

Why should jolly soldier-boys complain?

God made these before the roofless Flood - 

Mud and rain.  


Mangling cramps and bullets through the brain, 

Jesus never guessed them when He died.  

Jesus had a purpose for His pain, 

Ay, like abject beasts we shed our blood, 

Often asking if we die in vain.  

Gloom conceals us in a soaking sack - 

Mud and rain


As we go about our daily lives during this, the summer of 2017 its difficult to even begin to contemplate the horrors which our ancestors were living through 100 years ago.  

Many of us are looking forward to the summer days ahead, holidays with the family, warm balmy nights sat on the patio sipping a glass or two of Prosecco........ complaining about our lack of sunshine and yes, the torrential downpours of rain which are a daily event at present, more like April showers than summer I hear you say.

Well, rewind 100 years and for some of the men of Chesterfield who were fighting for King & Country over in Belgium the rain was causing nightmare conditions.  The rain was said to have been the heaviest the area had witnessed in the previous 30 years.  Torrential rain coupled with the constant bombardment of shells, broken drains and the sheer numbers of men, animals and equipment trudging through the land and you are left with one quagmire of MUD.  

This mud would prove a death sentence for thousands of men, figures suggest the Allied troops suffered around 325,000 casualties and the Germans 250,000 casualties in the three months of the 3rd Battle of Ypres.

The battle started with allies launching an infantry attack on 31st July 1917.  On that day New Whittington lost three of its young men; 

Private John Collins
Private David Cresswell
Private John Patrick Leeson

John Collins and John Leeson were brother in laws (their siblings Catherine Leeson and Tom Collins married). They were both serving with the 1st Battalion Sherwood Forester Regiment. 

David Cresswell was also with the Sherwood Forester's but attached to the 17th Battalion.  

Private 7029 John Collins



Private David Cresswell



Private John Patrick Leeson "Paddy"


Each mans story will be told in the coming days on this blog.

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Lest we forget
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