Friday, 25 November 2011
I interviewed James Goodson on the 5th November 1988 at the Royal Star & Garter Home in Richmond-upon-Thames.
James was born in Bethnal Green, east London on the 26th December 1883. He joined the Royal Field Artillery on the 24th August 1902, signing up for three years with the colours and nine on the reserve. As he told me when I interviewed him, "When the First World War come, I had just twenty days to do on the reserve. My reserve service would have finished on the 24th August and I wouldn't have been liable to go. Instead, I was overseas in a few days."
James Goodson was a feisty character and didn't pull any punches during the few hours that I spent with him. Yesterday, on Twitter, IWM_Centenary (The Imperial War Museum) noted that on the 24th November 1918, in a speech at Wolverhampton, Lloyd George had asked, "What is our task? To make Britain a fit country for heroes to live in." Seeing this, I was reminded of James Goodson's response when I had asked him whether he felt that Britain was a land fit for heroes. This is what he said:
"When I finally left the army I went to my job where I'd been when I'd been called up, and the guvnor hadn't got time to give me a job. So that was my thoughts about that: "well done my good and faithful hero, here's a ticket to the workhouse for you." That was my thoughts then and it was the thoughts of a good many more boys who come home. They come home to nothing, that was the tragedy of it. That was the tragedy of the war as far as I was concerned. Men pawned their medals directly they got them, so much so that the government had to bring out an order: "No more medals to be pawned." So you know what they done? Sewed them on a waistcoat and pawned the waistcoat. That's how they got round that. They was the heroes. The country badly let them down. Badly."
James Goodson served throughout the war and went into Germany with the Army of Occupation, finally returning home in 1920. When I met him, he stood about five feet nothing in his socks, was as bright as a button, nobody's fool, and 104 years old. He died In April 1990 aged 106. The photo of James on his horse dates to around 1904.
Monday, 12 September 2011
I never met Archie Parker, but I received several letters from him in 1987 and 1988 and the following extracts are taken from these.
"My name is Archie Walter Parker and I was born in Ipswich, Suffolk on the 20th September 1895. I joined the 4th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment in 1912. Our drill hall was at Ipswich so it was easy to go there from our homes. We used to go about two nights a week which was very handy. I joined them because they were only territorials and we had regular work to go to. I was in the local A Company and my number was 1630, later 200209.
[The 1911 census shows Archie living at 65 Rendlesham Road, Ipswich with his parents Albert William Parker (aged 43), Emma Parker (aged 40) and eight siblings. Millicent, at 21, was the eldest, whilst Arthur Wilfred Parker, at nine months, was the youngest. Fifteen-year-old Archie was working as a boot packer for a boot manufacturer.]
"In 1914 we went to Yarmouth for camp for a fortnight - as we thought - and then the war broke out so we had to come back to Ipswich to be mobilized at our drill hall. We went to Felixstowe, doing duty on the coast, and our billet was a large golf house from which the golfers had had to leave in a hurry, leaving a lot behind. We were then relieved and we went in the country to sleep in the fields. One was in Tiptree in Essex, near a strawberry field. Then we went to Colchester, having to march about ten miles to the Severalls Hospital which was then a lunatics' hospital. We slept in tents there and we had to run around the hospital twice before breakfast. We used to march down to Colchester and do sentry duty at an officers' billets and we used to go out to a village called Elmstead to train doing trench building and the like.
"One day our officers asked who would volunteer to go to Egypt, Malta or Gibralter. Many of us did and we ended up on an old cattle steamer at Southampton. We landed in Le Havre, France, and what a surprise! We could do nothing about it, there it was. We marched up a steep hill and went into tents where there were some troops who had been wounded. I met a soldier there who had been wounded and was from Ipswich, and afterwards both he and I worked for the same firm. Then we went by train to Rouen for about two nights, and then to St Omer. This was the British Headquarters where General Roberts died and my brother, who was a sergeant, went down to the station as a bearer.
[Archie's brother was 1100 Sergeant William George Parker, later 83371 CQMS Machine Gun Corps, and later still RQMS MGC]
Sunday, 11 September 2011
Stan Brown was the second Great War veteran I ever interviewed. I met him in 1981 and visited him many times until his death in 1987. A South Londoner, Stan had moved to my home town of Chelmsford in Essex and was an active member of the Chelmsford branch of The Old Contemptibles Association. He was also its youngest member and perhaps, not surprisingly, the last of that band to "fade away". Writing on behalf of the Chelmsford branch in the last ever issue of The Old Contemptible magazine, "the official organ of the Old Contemptible Association" in December 1975, Stan wrote,
"I am delighted to say we are going to carry on as a branch, after attending a full Area Committee meeting and finding the other branches with the Area are going to, we could not let them down and will soldier on. There are only six of us..."
Stan Brown was born David Stanley Brown in Dulwich on the 31st March 1897. I always knew him as Stan, and all of his surviving military records record him as Stanley Brown. Interestingly though, he signed off his editorial in the 1975 Old Contemptible magazine as DSB. He told me,
"I was christened David Stanley Brown but my mother never allowed me to be called David. As far as she was concerned, the name was like ditch water. I found out afterwards that my father's eldest brother was called David and he'd died in a bloomin' inebriate zone in Streatham."
On joining the army he told me,
"In 1913 I was apprenticed to a dentist. One day he accused me of making a false plate. I said I hadn't and I slung the thing at him. I knew I'd be in hot water so I ran away and slept on a park bench that night. I enlisted at Herne Hill the next day and became attached to the East Surreys."
A surviving entry in the Surrey Recruitment Registers notes that Stan joined the 4th (Extra Reserve) Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment at Kingston-on-Thames on the 16th May 1913. He would have been 16 years old, although he is recorded as being 17 years and 10 months. In Stan's words,
"I first joined the East Surrey militia [it would have been the militia before 1908 when it became the Special Reserve and Extra Reserve] after telling them I was eighteen. They didn't believe me but said if I stayed for four months they'd make me eighteen."
His papers note that he stood five feet, five and three quarter inches tall, weighed 116 pounds, had blue eyes and brown hair and a distinctive mole (which I personally don't recall). His trade was noted not as a dental technician but as an electrician's fitter, employed by W A Wilson of 150 Norwood Road, Norwood.
"When I joined the East Surreys," Stan explained, "the Commanding Officer asked if anyone liked gymnastics. Like a fool I said I did and I became the sparring partner for the battalion's boxing champion. This chap had a cauliflower ear and I must have clouted it because he whacked me about so much that he broke my nose and landed me up in hospital. The East Surrey Regiment had a bad reputation as a regiment and were known as the drunken half-hundred. After the boxer clouted me I think they were quite worried because he could have done me serious injury and I was still only young. Anyway, after the four months I joined the Leicesters as an eighteen year-old as my brother [Ewart Gladstone Brown] was already in the regiment and was well-liked."
Actually, as the records show, Stan's time with the East Surrey's amounted to a little over two months. He joined the Leicestershire Regiment on the 23rd July 1913 and was given the number 9732. His brother, who had joined the regiment in 1911 and would be invalided out of the army in 1915 with a bullet wound to his head, picked up at Neuve Chapelle, was 9302. Again, the Surrey Recruitment Registers noted Stan's particulars: eighteen years old (he was still only sixteen), five feet six inches tall, 119 pounds with a fresh complexion.
Fast forward a year and Stan is in France, having arrived with the 1st Battalion on the 9th September 1914. He was seventeen years and five months old and must have been one of the youngest soldiers of the BEF. His brother Ewart, (known to Stan as 'Glad) was serving with the 2nd Battalion in India and wouldn't arrive in France until December 1914. Therefore, although it was Glad who had seen more service with the Leicesters, it was Stan who would end up being the Old Contemptible.
"I saw fighting on the Aisne, in the caves on the heights above the Aisne. We went through a place called Vailley and we went three months without pay, cigarettes or anything else. By the time we got to Vailley our shoes had got holes and I remember Captain [W. C.] Wilson, my Company Commander, wearing a bloomin' sailor's overcoat and I was wearing a pair of German boots and a pair of short corduroy knickers. We never went out to France with our best uniform; that was supposed to be sent to Paris for when we got there. But we never got them and never found a bloke who had his either."
Stan also took part in the Christmas truce on Christmas Day 1914 when the battalion was at Chapelle Armentieres.
"At Christmas 1914 we had a kind of armistice if you like, to say there'd be no firing on Christmas Day, but it didn;t happen just like that. On Christmas Eve, as far as we were concerned, we was still at war, but in the evening on sentry-go we heard singing from Jerry. He was only fifty yards away and they was saxons to the best of my recollection. We had the Stand-To because we didn't know what all the singing was about to start off with. On Jerry's wire there were bits of paper, bits of rag, and all sorts of things saying "Happy Christmas", some in German, some in English because a lot of the Germans had worked in England. They held up a bottle of wine and I know our bloke shot at it. Well it all got quiet. I don't know if we had breakfast that morning, I suppose we did; we had a drink. Everything was peaceful and eventually one of the Germans held up a card with "Merry Christmas" written on it, and come on over the top.
"Everybody was dubious in our trench, saying kind of, should we or shouldn't we and all of this bloomin' caper, and then one or two more Germans come up. Then eventually we decided, well they haven't got any rifles on 'em and we went over. And our Buchanan-Dunlop who come to us as Battalion Commander, he kind of led the singing!
"We didn't all group in one place, we was spread along an area about a hundred yards and we mixed in with some others and they give us a bottle of wine and cigars and we thought to ourselves, well they must be bloomin' well-off in Jerry-land. All we got was a tin of Tickler's jam and we went back into the trench and brought out a couple or three tins of jam to give to these Jerries."
Sunday, 28 August 2011
Frederick Mason Matthews was one of the first Great War veterans I interviewed, and I see from my notes that I met him at his home in Great Dunmow in Essex on the 7th October 1981 when he was 90 years old. Frederick was born in the nearby village of Good Easter on the 27th March 1891 and had been a farmer before the outbreak of war.
The 1911 census shows Frederick living at home with his family at Falconer's Hall, Good Easter. The family comprised his father, mother, brother Reginald and two servants. Frederick and Reginald are noted as assistant farmers.
Falconer's Hall was a significant property and the family was almost certainly well-off. This modern-day photo from geograph.org gives a glimpse of the property viewed from Souther Cross Road:
Whilst this aerial shot courtesy of Google suggests that the immediate area appears to be little changed since Frederick and his family lived there:
My notes state Frederick's number with the Essex Yeomanry as 1818 but his MIC (top) shows that this number was in fact a Hertfordshire Yeomanry number. I had known that he was later an Acting Captain and the MIC confirms this. I presume a service record also survives but I have yet to investigate this.
I do know from my own research into regimental numbers that 1818 for the Hertfordshire Yeomanry dates to around the 3rd September 1914 and that, according to Frederick Matthews, he arrived at Southampton in October or November 1914. The MIC indicates that he arrived in Egypt on the 8th November and so he'd been in khaki for little over two months. Frederick remembers that,
"We arrived at Alexandria after twenty-four days' travel and from there we entrained for Cairo. On arrival there we marched to Abassia Barracks which were being occupied by regulars of the 3rd Dragoon Guards. We took over their horses and they went out to France."
Frederick Matthews served in Gallipoli, reaching Suvla Bay in August 1915:
"There were no landing places and the ship was brought as near to the shore as possible and we were told to wade in. The Turks were up in the hills and they could see our every movement. We hadn't been landed more than five minutes when we lost our colonel, shot through the head."
Lieutenant Colonel Samuel Gurney Sheppard DSO (above) died of wounds on the 21st August 1915 aged 50. He was educated at Eton and had been a member of the London Stock Exchange since 1887. He had won his DSO whilst serving with the Imperial Yeomanry in the Second South African War. He is buried in Green Hill Cemetery on Gallipoli.
"After the initial landing we went to a rest camp and then we were told at night to get ready to go up to the front line trenches and that someone would guide us up there. A chap turned up and we later discovered that he must have been a Turkish officer in disguise. He told our C.O. to follow him and we all landed up in Turkish trenches. Of course, when we discovered where we were we all got our as quick as possible and made our way back to our own lines.
"Later on we were sent up to the front line at Chocolate Hill and the troops who we relieved had been there for three weeks without a break. They were absolutely dead asleep at their posts and our first duty was to bury the dead bodies which lay in front of our wire and which had been there for some while. The heat was unbearable and of course the flies were terrible. It was not a nice job. There were some wells which had been sunk by the Turks long ago but they'd all been poisoned. There was no end of illness with people going sick with dysentry and enteric fever. I cam away with eneteric fever and dysentry in October 1915. I was a stretcher case and was sent to Aberdeen for convalescence for three months, followed by two months' sick leave. I then applied for and was given a commission [with the 2/1st Essex Yeomanry] in England."
Frederick Mason Matthews, who was immensely proud of the fact that he was the first person in Good Easter to volunteer during WW1, died in Chelmsford in December 1983 aged 92.
Wednesday, 9 March 2011
I interviewed Arthur Sewell at his home in Galleywood, Essex in December 1982 when he was 91 years old. He was born in Galleywood on 12th May 1891 and was working as a storeman for Baddow Brewery when he attested under the Derby Scheme in December 1915. He was then aged 24 years and seven months and was called up on the 8th February 1916, joining the 3/6th Essex Regiment. He was given the number 5962. He was later transferred to the regular 2nd Battalion of the Essex Regiment and given a new number, 40474.
"We were moved from Chelmsford to Warley and then to East Ham where we were billeted in private houses. Then we were transferred to Wendover in Buckinghamshire where I completed most of my training. We arrived in France in mid 1916 and were training at Etaples for a short time before being moved up to the Somme.
"The trenches were awful, there's no getting away from it. You were up to your knees in mud and once it got under your skin it was weeks before it would come out again.
"You'd have a dug-out with old iron and bits and pieces and you'd go in there providing there hadn't been a gas attack. Our cookers used to get shelled and bust up and many a time we had to make do on cheese and bully beef. I remember one day we had a hard biscuit and a raw kipper.
"We'd go over the top having shelled their trenches and they wouldn't be there because they'd retreated. Then they'd shell us and even if we got back safely we'd hear the wounded out there and some of us would have to volunteer to go back through the barbed wire and get them.
"We'd have to go out on listening duty and it was the daftest thing. You could hear the Germans laughing and singing but we couldn't report what we heard because we couldn't speak German.
"In the trenches we'd do two hours on the fire-step, four in the trench and then rest. One occasion when it was bitterly cold and snowing I covered myself with blankets which froze solid on me. You can't really explain to anyone what it was like, you had to be there."
Fortunately, as I discovered this evening on Ancestry, water-damaged papers from Arthur's service record survive in WO 363. He was posted to the 3rd Essex Regiment on the 28th September 1916 and posted immediately to the 2nd Battalion on the same day. On the 11th September 1916 he was transferred to the 21st King's Royal Rifle Corps and given the number A/200935. Arthur recalled this number when I met him and also recalled his original attestation date as 15th December 1915 although his papers show that he actually attested four days earlier than this.
On 1st April 1917, Arthur Sewell was wounded. He recalled, "We were repairing a little opening in the parapet and although we didn't take much notice of it at the time, there was a sniper opposite it. On the occasion that I happened to be leading, he fired and I got a bullet which went through my chest and down into my arm, wrecking my nervous system. I was very lucky not to lose my life. The buckle on my braces directed the trajectory of the bullet and if it had gone the other way it would have been in my heart. They carted me off to a Canadian hospital at Boulogne and I was in there a month before being taken to Blighty. They said that I'd be near home in London but I found myself in Scotland where I stayed for nine months until I had my operation. I left there on Christmas Eve 1917 and was then transferred to Chelmsford hospital. I had electric treatment for four years and was finally pensioned off in 1921 after I had my final exam at Chelsea."
Arthur's service record confirms that he was admitted to Edinburgh War Hospital on the 26th April 1917 and that he was discharged on the 6th December that year, his home address given as Lower Green, Galleywood, Chelmsford. He was discharged from the army on the 27th December 1917 and was awarded a pension of 27 shillings and sixpence, reduced to 22 shillings after four weeks.
During my short time with Arthur Sewell, the only time I met him, he mentioned, "my mother received a letter saying that I'd been wounded and then another to say my brother had been killed."
Searches on Find My Past reveal that his brother was William (or Willie) Sewell who was killed in action on the 19th May 1917 whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion of the South Wales Borderers. Like Arthur who was one year older, Willie had previously served with the Essex Regiment. His Essex Regiment number - 33190 - suggests that he probably joined up a little earlier than Arthur. William Sewell has no known grave and is commemorated on Bay 6 of the Arras Memorial. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission notes that he was 24 years old and was the son of Arthur Peter and Lilian Sewell of Lower Green, Galleywood, Chelmsford, Essex.
Arthur Sewell, who lived in Galleywood all his long life, died the year after I met him. His death was recorded in the December quarter of that year.
Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Frederick James Cutts was born in Brixton on the 27th December 1897. When I interviewed him in the early 1980s he told me that he had joined the army on Empire Day - the 24th of May - 1916. Surviving papers in WO 363 confirm that to be the case, but he had attested for service in January of that year. He had given his age as 18 years, his trade as "clerk" and his address as 144 Lowden Road, Herne Hill, South-West London. He stood five feet five and a quarter inches tall and gave his next of kin as his father, William Ernest Cutts, also of the same address.
Frederick joined the Army Cyclist Corps and was given the number 12097. He told me:
"After I joined up, my brother complained because I wasn't old enough. I got ticked off but I was sent to Chiseldon training camp in Wiltshire. Before the war, each division had a cyclist company and when war broke out they formed the Army Cyclist Corps. When I went abroad, I joined the 7th Corps Battalion. Our sign was the polar bear which obviously originated from the polar bear constellation of seven stars."
Frederick told me that he'd arrived in Rouen In January 1917. He was just slightly out as his service record notes that he embarked at Folkestone on the 20th February 1917 and landed in France the same day. He was posted to the VII Corps battalion on the 11th April 1917. On arrival in France, "when the company commander saw me he said, "oh, we've got the Boys' Brigade here."
Frederick Cutts spent three days in hospital in January 1918 with "debility" possibly occasioned by the freezing cold weather, and the following month he was given leave to the United Kingdom. He was in Peronne in France when the Germans launched their major offensive in March 1918 and remembered,
"On March 21st 1918 which was a foggy day, I was out on a detachment on my own when I was called back to HQ to be told that the Germans had broken through. We retreated so fast we had to leave a hundred bikes behind which we smashed up. A colleague and I were told to stay at our post at the citadel until our B Company commander came through with his party. My comrade and I observed a party of believed German cyclists accompanied by a section of the motorcycle machine gun corps and we made our way out of Peronne without further ado. We cleared the bridge which ran over the river just before it was blown up by the Royal Engineers."
In November 1918, Frederick received two weeks' compassionate leave to return to the UK to visit his father who was seriously ill. By the time he arrived home however, his father had already died and been buried. He remembers that when he left for the UK his place on the Lewis Gun team was taken by a man who was subsequently killed and "reported as the last man to be killed in the Great War." He had previously served with the Essex Regiment.
Frederick Cutts died in Chelmsford, Essex in June 1996 aged 99. A photo, taken in France, and his demob certificateare appended below.