Saturday, 7 May 2016
I wrote to Robert James Branscombe Nosworthy in 1986, when I was trying - much too late in the day - to find men who might have served with my great uncle, Jack Nixon. Mr Nosworthy replied as follows:
"The name doesn't strike a bell at all with me, but then again I didn't experience any of the horrors of the front. I was called up as a telegraph messenger on July 2nd 1918 and on August 14th I was put on a draft for France but withdrawn with six others when it was discovered we hadn't even fired a rifle.
"I was again put on a draft on September 29th but having developed rheumatic fever in the meantime, I again escaped being sent out and slaughtered. I learned eventually that that draft was wiped out to a man by a heavy bombardment soon after its arrival in early October, which should coincide with your great uncle's death. I later went on the Army of Occupation at Bonn, and it took me nearly a year to get out of the army."
There is of course, no medal index for Robert Nosworthy but there are, fortuitously, papers which survive in WO 363 and which I only discovered this morning whilst contemplating subject matter for this post. The papers include a letter from Mr Nosworthy, writing to the Army Records Office from his home in Elsenham Street, South West London in 1927, and seeking evidence of his service. He wrote:
"I was eighteen on the 23rd June 1918 and presented myself at the Bunhill Row Headquarters [of the 8th (City of London) Battalion, (Post Office Rifles), The London Regiment] the next day, one day after, in an attempt to join them. There I was informed that they could not accept me then owing to the suspension of recruiting in favour of the Military Service Act, but all my particulars were taken and a card given me stating that I was a Post Office servant and wished to join the P.O.R. [Post Office Rifles]. This I was informed, I was to show when I received calling up papers and it would signify that I had attested and would be treated as such.
"I received my calling up papers on July 11th 1918 and was posted to the 8th London on the 12th. Would it be possible for that card [to be forwarded to me?] I must apologise for putting you to any undue inconvenience but it is essential that I have proof of some description."
The letter is signed as "late Rifleman, A Coy, 2nd Battalion, 8th London Regt; transferred to G Company, 3rd Battalion, Rifle Brigade and demobbed from same 26th October 1919."
Surviving papers show that Robert was posted to the 35th Territorial Force Depot on the 12th July 1918 and compulsorily transferred to the 5th Rifle Brigade at Codford on the 20th March 1919. He was issued with a new regimental number at this point: 62818.
Robert was interviewed by the Imperial War Museum in later life and appears to have covered a lot of ground; this from the IWM:
Background in London, 1900-1914: family; education; memory of outbreak of war, 8/1914. Aspects of employment with Post Office in London, 1914-1918: duties as messenger boy; uniform; examinations; musketry drill at Chelsea Hospital; attitude to conscription and war; memory of delivering telegrams; uniform; attitude to female employees; question of shortages and rationing; transferred to Admiralty as messenger, 1918; union activity; story of call-up, 28/Jun/1918; medical examination; classified A4 and posted to Blackdown Camp. Aspects of training with 3rd Bn London Regt (Post Office Rifles) in GB, 1918: opinion of sergeant-major; description of camp; accommodation; washing and sanitary facilities; issued with kit and uniform; opinion of food. REEL 2 Continues: story of gaining and losing stripe; drill; musketry practice; obstacle course; route marches; bayonet drill; memory of accident with bomb; story of role in re-enactment of battle for film; night operation exercises; reaction to being placed on draft, 8/1918; marksmanship award; attitude to army life and discipline; opinion of NCOs and officers; relations with fellow recruits and composition of 3rd Bn; sporting and recreational activities; posted to Newport, South Wales to break miner's strike, 8/1918; relations with local community; posted to Codford Camp and description of conditions; problem of rioting Australian troops; opinion of Australians; story of contracting rheumatic fever; story of being drafted, 10/Nov/1918; arrival at Southampton transit camp; reaction to news of Armistice, 11/11/1918. REEL 3 Continues: treatment for rheumatic fever; disbandment of 3rd Bn and transferred to Rifle Bde, 12/1918. Aspect of period with 2nd and 4th Bns Rifle Brigade in GB and Germany, 12/1918-11/1919: posted to C Coy, 2nd Bn Rifle Brigade at Rugeley Camp, 12/1918; story of fighting Irish troops and death of soldier; NCO course; description of further strike-breaking duties in Coventry; drafted to 4th Bn Rifle Brigade, Bonn, Germany as part of Army of Occupation, 8/1919; promoted to corporal; billets; daily routine and duties; story of forming football club; relations with German civilians; demobilisation at Crystal Palace, 11/1919. Post-war life and employment with Post Office: question of pension; reflections on period of military service; effects of rheumatic fever. Aspects of period with Post Office Home Guard unit in GB, 1942-1945: role as officer and nature of duties in Surrey Docks; description of training recruits to throw live bombs; question of unexploded bombs.
The IWM catalogue number is 10658; also see here: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/80010436
During the Second World War, Robert Nosworthy served in the Home Guard and he is quoted in "In search of the real Dad's Army". His death was registered at Wandsworth in January 1998 which would have made him 97 years old.