Thursday 30 June 2016

Somme Remembrance - 1st July 1916

As we remember those who fought on the 1st July 1916, many of whom died on the battlefield in hopelessness, I would like to share an extract from a publication in which I have written a fictional tale, based on the diaries of a nurse and a stretcher-bearer, who experienced the horror that was The Battle of the Somme.

Image: Creative Commons

At the Going Down of the Sun

Friday, 30th June 1916

            “No, Sister, leave me be, I’m just about fed up with this splinter on me arm, and this leg – me leg’s very painful!’
            Paige smiled at the man with splints on his right arm and leg that he insisted on calling splinters. “Come on, Joe, let me change your dressing,” she urged, “you’re going home today.”
            “All right, Sister,” Joe submitted, “but make sure you do it right, I’ll be watching you.”
            “I promise I shall.” Paige liked Joe. “But I’m not a sister,” she told him.
            Above the continuous roar from the guns a tremendous bang rocked the ground and the roof of the tent beat its gigantic wings above them.
            “Be careful, will ya,” Joe scolded, “I don’t want to lose my arm like he has.” He pointed to the man in the next bed with nothing but a blood-stained stump where his arm should have been.
            “It’s only Grandmother sending another big one over,” a second-lieutenant with a head wound and lying in a bed opposite called over the racket.
            “It sounds awfully close,” Paige said, trying to concentrate on Joe’s splinted dressing when she would really rather have been covering her ears.
            “It’s a fifteen-inch Howitzer beside the railway line just behind us,” the junior officer told her. After much cursing from Joe, Paige was able to finish his dressings and move on to the next man in need of attention. Her back ached with all the bending and lifting and the tight collar of her uniform irritated her neck. Eventually Sister signalled to the stretcher-bearers, who had been sitting smoking by the tent’s entrance, to come onto the ward and begin taking these wounded soldiers to the hospital trains. As beds became empty, Paige removed soiled sheets and replaced them with cleaner ones. She was leaning over a bed at the end of the ward when she felt strong arms encircle her waist.
            “Hello gorgeous,” Wesley whispered in her ear as he nuzzled her neck. “Ooh, you smell of..” He hesitated.
            “Yes?” Paige answered, turning to face him.
            “Antiseptic and smoke.”
            “I wonder why that is! What in God’s name were you thinking, bringing us here?”
            “I thought we could make a difference. You look very fetching in your nurse’s uniform.” He raised his eyebrows and kissed her cheek.
            “VAD,” Paige corrected him. “You’ll be laughing on the other side of your face if Sister catches us,” she warned.
            Another blast shook the Casualty Clearing Station and Paige fell against Wesley.
            “Come on, mate,” a young man dressed in khaki with a red cross on his arm, the same as Wesley had, was calling to him.

Extract from At the Going Down of the Sun in Summer Tales published by Ruler's Wit, July 2016.

© Karen Ette

Thursday 9 June 2016

Leicester Tiger Killed in Action, 9th June 1916

10369 Private Sidney Wade

 6th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment

 Killed in Action, 9th June 1916 Age: 21

Photograph: Kev Mitchell

Sidney Wade was born in March 1895 and was the son of Mr Joseph Wade, a brickyard labourer and Mrs Sarah Wade. In 1901 the family lived at 14 Rectory Place, Loughborough and in 1911 they had moved to 111 Burder Street. He had a brother, Charles, and five sisters: Elizabeth, May, Dorothy, Elsie and Gertrude.

Sidney enlisted with the Leicestershire Regiment, known as the Tigers, at Loughborough, Leicestershire on the 25th August 1914 for three years’ service. He was nineteen years and five months old and his trade was the same as that of his father - a brickyard labourer. He was 5ft 5ins tall, had a chest measurement of 33 inches, grey eyes and brown hair. He gave his religion as Church of England.

The War Diary for the 6th Battalion of the Leicestershire Regiment for the 9th June 1916 reads:

Saulty:  The enemy sent over heavy minnenwerfer and other trench-mortar bombs. A large bomb fell on a shelter killing four men: 10250 Sgt. B. Newbold, 10159 Sgt. P. Austin, 10369 Pte. S. Wade. 10904 Pte. F. Benskin, all C Company. The following were wounded: 11911 Pte. A. Dawson, B Company, 18442 Pte. T. Jones, A Company.

Sergeant Moffat Ecob of the 6th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment wrote to Sidney’s parents, who were now living at 17 Wellington Street, Loughborough. Sergeant Ecob told them that he had been out to fetch a working party back in. When he returned he found that the dug-out where he had left his four friends from Loughborough had been hit by a shell, blowing it to pieces and that all four men had been killed, instantaneously.

Sidney Wade is buried at Bienvillers Military Cemetery, 8 kilometres south-west of Arras, France. His effects were returned to his mother, Mrs Sarah Wade, of 17 Wellington Street, Loughborough.

He is commemorated on the Carillon Tower Memorial, Loughborough and All Saints with Holy Trinity Church Roll of Honour, Loughborough.

Regimental Diaries, 6th Battalion, Leicestershire Regiment
National Archives
Doyle, Michael, Their Name Liveth for Evermore: The Great War Roll of Honour for Leicestershire and Rutland (Billingborough, Michael Doyle, 2009)

© Dr Karen Ette

Thursday 2 June 2016

Battle of Jutland - Leading Signalman George Copson

Leading Signalman 225838 George Henry Copson

Killed in action: 1st June 1916    Age: 28

George Henry Copson was born on the 10th February 1888 in Loughborough, Leicestershire. His father was George Copson of Husbands Bosworth and a contractors labourer (born 1861) and his mother was Ellen Copson (nee Bateman, born 1867)) also of Husbands Bosworth. His parents were married in Market Harborough district. His sister, Agnes was born the year before George in Market Harborough, before the family moved to Loughborough. George’s younger siblings were Edward, born 1889 and Mary, born 1890. In April 1891 the family home was at 17 Wellington Street, Loughborough, Leicestershire. In March 1901 the family had moved to 48 Moor Lane, Loughborough, his father now a night-soil foreman. They later moved to Oxford Street and George’s father was employed by the Loughborough Corporation.

On 16th April 1903, aged fifteen, George enlisted into the Royal Navy to serve a twelve-year engagement and his reckonable service was due to commence on the 10th February 1906. He was given the service number 225838 in Chatham, Kent.

His medical examination recorded that he was 5 feet 3.5 inches tall, his hair was brown and eyes hazel. His complexion was ‘fresh’. He had two ‘N’s tattooed on his left forearm, two faces – one a sailor, the other a woman, on his left wrist and crossed flags on his right wrist. His trade was given as ‘houseboy’. He was re-examined when he reached the age of eighteen and his height was recorded as 5 feet and 5 inches.

His record of service began on the 16th April 1903 when he joined HMS Caledonia as A boy, 2nd Class. He was promoted to Boy, 1st Class (Signaller) on the 17th November 1903.

HMS Caledonia: 18th November 1903 – 31st May 1904.
HMS Pembroke: 1st June 1904 – 5th October 1904.
HMS Berwick:    6th October 1904 – 9th February 1906 – promoted to Signalman.
HMS Berwick: 10th February 1906 – 12th March 1906.
HMS Pembroke I: 13th March 1906 – 9th July 1906 – promoted to Ordinary Signalman.
HMS Pembroke I: 10th July 1906 – 7th August 1906.
HMS Pembroke II: 8th August 1906 – 31st May 1907.
HMS Octacon: 1st June 1907 – 30th September 1907 – promoted to Leading Signalman.
HMS Octacon: 1st October 1907 – 14th September 1908.
HMS Pembroke I: 15th September 1908 – 30th March 1909.
HMS Dido: 31st March 1909 – 14th August 1910 – completed term of engagement.

George then worked as a miner in Whitwick and when he was 24 he married Florence Theresa Gilson, 21, at All Saints Church, Peckham on the 8th September 1912. 

George re-enlisted for the duration of hostilities and joined HMS Victory 1 as a Leading Signalman.

HMS Victory I: 16th March 1915 - 22nd July 1915 - Leading Signalman.
HMS Hecla: 23rd July 1915 – 2nd September 1915.
HMS Hecla (Shark): 3rd September 1915 – 18th March 1916.
HMS Sparrowhawk: 19th March 1916 – 31st May 1916 – killed in action at the Battle of Jutland.

Battle of Jutland
At around 23.40 some of the ships of the 4th destroyer flotilla formed up under Commander Walter Allen of HMS Broke, who was the half-flotilla leader, with the aim on continuing the attack against German ships nearby. HMS Broke was caught in searchlights coming from the German battleship SMS Westfalen. She attempted to fire torpedoes, but the range was only around 150 yards and the German ship opened fire first. The effect was devastating so that within a couple of minutes fifty crew were killed and another thirty injured. The attack disabled the guns and prevented any activity on deck. The helmsman was killed at the wheel, and as he died his body turned the wheel, which caused HMS Broke to turn to port and ram HMS Sparrowhawk. Sub Lieutenant Percy Wood saw HMS Broke coming towards them at twenty-eight knots and heading directly for HMS Sparrowhawk’s bridge. He shouted warnings to the crew to get clear and was then knocked over by the impact. When he regained consciousness he was lying on the deck of HMS Broke. Two other men from HMS Sparrowhawk were also thrown onto HMS Broke. Sub Lieutenant Wood reported to Commander Allen who told him to return to his own ship and make preparations to take the crew of HMS Broke on board. When he returned to HMS Sparrowhawk, Sub Lieutenant Wood was told by his captain, Lieutenant Commander Sydney Hopkins, that he had just sent exactly the same message to HMS Broke. Approximately twenty men from HMS Sparrowhawk evacuated to HMS Broke, whilst fifteen of HMS Broke’s crew crossed to HMS Sparrowhawk.

A third destroyer, HMS Contest then crashed into HMS Sparrowhawk, striking six feet from her stern. HMS Contest was relatively unharmed and able to continue after the collision. HMS Broke and HMS Sparrowhawk remained wedged together for about half-an-hour before they could be separated and HMS Broke got underway taking thirty of HMS Sparrowhawk’s crew with her. HMS Sparrowhawk, although still having engine power, could only steam ahead in circles near the burning destroyer HMS Tipperary as her rudder was jammed to one side. At around 02.00 a German torpedo boat approached and came within one hundred yards of HMS Sparrowhawk, but then turned away. Only one gun was still working and as the gun crews had all been killed or injured, the captain and his officers manned it, but held fire in the hope that the Germans would not initiate an attack. Shortly afterwards HMS Tipperary sank, putting out the fire that was attracting attention to the area.

At around 03.30 the crew on board HMS Sparrowhawk were alarmed when they sighted a German cruiser, the SMS Elbing, which had been torpedoed and then abandoned. Shortly afterwards the ship listed and then sank, bow first. At 06.10 a raft approached carrying twenty-three men from HMS Tipperary, three were already dead and five more died after being taken on board. An hour later, three British destroyers arrived and HMS Marksman attempted to get two hawsers attached to HMS Sparrowhawk to tow her to safely. The high seas meant the ropes parted and there were reports of German submarines nearby. It was decided to abandon HMS Sparrowhawk and HMS Marksman fired eighteen shells into her to ensure that she sank.

Leading Signalman 225838 George Henry Copson left Florence a widow with two children, living at 19 Parkstone Road, Rye Lane, Peckham. 

Leading Signalman 225838 George Henry Copson is commemorated on:

The Chatham Naval Memorial, Kent, where he first enlisted
Loughborough Carillon Tower Memorial
St John the Baptist Churchyard Memorial, Whitwick
All Saints Parish Church Memorial, Loughborough
St Peter’s Church Memorial, Loughborough
Council Office Memorial, Coalville, Leics

Doyle, Michael, Their Name Liveth for Evermore: The Great War Roll of Honour for Leicestershire and Rutland (Billingborough, Michael Doyle, 2009)

The National Archives