In the time I’ve been researching my own ancestors I’ve relished the challenge of looking into the WW1 past of friends and other family. Again, some rewarding discoveries and tales of heroic endurance against appalling odds. These include the Mansfield and Lawrence brothers, Charles Hayes and others.
Harold Mansfield – Royal Warwickshire Regiment
My sister in-law’s great uncles came from Queniborough, Leicestershire where they were very much part of the community. Their family owned the village butcher’s shop while their cousins, who also served, ran the Post Office. Harold was working as a young railway clerk for the LNWR at Coventry station when he traveled down the line to Leamington Spa to volunteer for the 14th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment in February 1916. Better known as the “1st Birmingham Pals” they’d already suffered terribly at High Wood in July. Forced to replenish the ranks with an influx of freshly trained men, the Battalion prepared for the Battle of Guillemont at the beginning of September 1916.
When I asked experts for help on what action the 14th RWR saw, the name “Falfemont Farm” came back. It’s correct name was Faffemont but for whatever reason, probably a misinterpretation on an old map, the British called it Falfemont.
The farm was heavily defended vantage point which stood in the way of a successful allied attack. With Scots on their left and the French exposed to machine guns on their right, three battalions of Royal Warwickshires were tasked with taking the stronghold. At 12.10pm the 14th Battalion were to assault the farm as well as Wedge Wood to the north. They were following in the path of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers who’d ‘gone over’ 3 hours earlier but had ‘disappeared’ over the hill and had not been seen again. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in his “History of the Great War” takes up the narrative with customary fervour:
” The attack was entrusted to the 14th Royal Warwickshires. After repeated attempts, through the splendid push and bravery of Captain Addenbrooke and 2nd Lieut. Barrow, ” C ” Company on the left captured the gun-pits in a valley running south from Wedge Wood. Mean-time ” A ” and ” B ” Companies had advanced very gallantly, but the attack on Falfemont had failed and their ranks withered away under the enemy fire from the Farm. ” A ” soon dwindled to a mere handful, which still continued to advance in the most undaunted manner. ” B ” had suffered almost as much, but also struggled on till they reached and held a trench just south of Wedge Wood. The 15th Royal Warwickshire had simultaneously delivered a second attack on Falfemont Farm, which like the first was stopped by machine-gun fire. The 15th Brigade had been in reserve that day, though a patrol of the 16th Royal Warwickshire, under Lieut. J. Hughes, made a most gallant attempt to get into the Farm at evening. This brigade took up the assault on September 4, when the 16th Royal Warwickshire, in support of the Norfolks, at last managed to dig in close to the German trenches. Early on the following morning through their combined efforts Falfemont was captured. Then the 15th Royal Warwickshire passed through, and after some considerable fighting cleared Leuze Wood. The casualties during these days in the 16th were over 250, and in the 15th nearly as many, whilst those of the 14th (chiefly on September 3) were even greater. When the division was temporarily withdrawn Sir D. Haig sent a message congratulating all ranks on their share in the fighting, which had been of the utmost assistance to the complete success of the whole operation. General Morland added that the 13th Brigade might think they had failed, but they had been asked to achieve the impossible, and the 14th Royal Warwickshire had advanced gloriously with the utmost gallantry.”
French 75mm artillery support had been switched at a critical time leaving the Falfemont attack exposed. What had been intended as a creeping barrage to cover the advancing men became so thin as to be “not recognised as a barrage at all”.
The casualties for the 14th RWR totalled 293 with 2 officers killed, 7 officers wounded, 141 other ranks killed or missing and 152 other ranks wounded – nearly half the battalion. Harold would be included in the missing and is remembered on the Thiepval memorial. He was 22.
The local paper remembered Harold as “extremely popular, being an active member of both the Cricket and Football teams, while as an accomplished pianist his services were in great request at social functions. Of a generous and warm hearted temperament, his memory will be cherished by a large circle of friends.”
Richard Mansfield – RGA
Harold’s younger brother Richard served as Gunner 151925 with 110th Siege Battery RGA which originated from the port of Glasgow before moving down to Sheerness where men from the local Thames Estuary joined. Being conscripted at this time, Richard would have been posted to anywhere that needed men. His service number reveals that he spent the first part of his training at No4 Depot at Ripon in Yorkshire in the Spring of 1917.
By the Summer of 1917 the 110th were at the Ypres salient before moving to the south of Lens to Annequin and Noeux les Mines. Coincidently Bertie Morris and the Caernarfon battery were there at the same time, not much more than 2 miles away. It was here that they were called upon to fire 500 shells to cut through the enemy wire to clear the way for a trench raid. On another occasion during August they opened fire on the Germans who were seen massing for an infantry attack.
Richard was seriously wounded on March 30th 1918 and died the following day aged 23. He was buried at Gezaincourt Community Cemetery Extension which was close by Casualty Clearing Station no29. At the time the 110th, armed with 6inch Howitzers, were part of the 27th Brigade RGA and were positioned 25 miles south east of the CCS just outside Mericourt l’Abbe along the banks of the Ancre. In the preceding months the battery was involved in anti-aircraft activity and on many occasions had been called in to “disperse” German working parties. The winter had been hard with snow and poor visibility hampering their work. As usual, they were frequently targeted by the enemy. From what I can tell, their positions moved quickly, at times, hour by hour during the enemy’s effective but failed and costly March offensive.
Map showing Richard’s final position before he was gravely wounded
He would have been treated by the Field Ambulance before being moved to the CCS for more attention. Richard’s effects form shows that his mother Annie received his final pay of £5 16 shillings and 10 pence plus a War Gratuity of £3. Two other gunners died on the same day that Richard was wounded – Albert Davis and S.Dix who are both buried in Heilly CWGC Cemetery.
Frustratingly the battery’s war diary for 1918 was destroyed when the enemy shelled a dugout – so I’ve had to rely on a diary for the whole ‘Heavy Artillery Group’ which gives useful detail on map positions and activity of the hardware. The Brigade comprised of six batteries, making a possible total of 36 guns of different sizes. With Major H Campbell and Captain W Pearce in command of Richard’s battery, the diary charts their positions and activity but doesn’t name men below officer rank.
There’s a good chance that if the diary for the 110th had survived then Richard’s fate would have been recorded. It’s certainly something I’ve seen in the Welsh HB diary.
CWGC records show that two men of the 110th were killed but missing on the 21st March which was the opening day of the Spring Offensive. Looking closely at the list of 36 battery men who died during the war certainly reflects its Scottish origins but men from Dumbartonshire are joined by those from Norfolk, Suffolk, Surrey, Cornwall, Lancashire and London.
The Melton Mowbray Times & Vale of Belvoir Gazette gave further insight into Richard’s character and the loss felt by those he left behind. “Letters from his chums speak of his popularity, and especially of his wonderful cheerfulness after receiving his terrible wound on Easter Sunday. His chaplain writes to say he passed peacefully away without pain the next day.”
His gravestone at Gezaincourt carries the dedication chosen by his parents – “Thy will be done” and poignantly remembers his older brother Harold who was killed the previous year. They are also remembered on their local war memorial and by the Leicestershire War Memorials Project.
Richard and Harold’s older brother Stafford boarded the ‘Rangatira’ for a new life in New Zealand and Australia in 1912 but by 1915 he was fighting at Gallipoli with the 12th Light Horse Regiment – ANZACs. As ‘Private 779’ he took part in the Sinai and Palestine campaign – notable battles were the capture of both Jerusalem and Damascus, Beersheba and continuing all the way to the Egyptian Uprising in 1919.
The boys’ cousins Harry, Ernest and Donald Mansfield also enlisted. Harry was a Lance Bombardier in the RGA, Ernest served aboard HMS Marlborough which went on a mission to rescue relatives of Czar Nicholas and Donald was a Corporal with the 5th Royal Irish Lancers, service number 255284.
Jack Lawrence – RFA
I knew almost nothing about great uncle “Jack” (John EH) Lawrence, favourite brother of my Nana, other than I can remember her telling me that he’d had to learn to ride a horse and jump fences with his hands behind his back. I remember this photo and being particularly intrigued by his bandolier. He was born in 1897 the second son of Edward Lawrence a well known brewery owner of considerable wealth and bad reputation for violence, drunkeness and “murder”. Searching revealed that Jack had joined the TF in Wolverhampton and served as Signaller and Driver 240999 with the 4th Staffordshire RFA – 232 Brigade (later III North Midland Brigade). Described as having taken part in some of the bloodiest battles on the Western Front it formed part of the 46th North Midland Division.
Having devoted so much time researching the three Morris brothers, my knowledge of post 1917 is particularly sparse. I’ve also noted that RFA diaries are less individual as they form part of a larger Brigade.
Recently getting hold of their Brigade diary I can see it’s populated with the familiar place names of Ypres, Mailly Maillet, Gommecourt and Croissilles. His battery would have used 18 pounders – small, light guns suitable for quick deployment – like the ones used today to mark Royal occasions.
In June 1917 he was sent to No1 Depot in Newcastle before receiving training as a Signaller.
Asking around on the GWF I was helpfully told that from looking at his “his number, he was a signaller and most likely attended a course at one of the RFA signalling establishments at Crowborough or Swanage. There doesn’t appear to be a surviving service record but he does have a medal index card so he would have gone overseas anytime from late 1917.”
I have his demob papers issued in Blackheath London in 1919 plus his medals and other badges which were sent to me when he died. After the war he emigrated to Vancouver, settling in Chilliwack BC. He made his career in farming and the AI science of cattle breeding. As a child I can remember that he used to send us the magazine “Beautiful British Columbia” and marvelling at the expansive scenery.
Eldest brother Geoffrey served with the Royal Naval Air Service and spent time at HMS President II in Crystal Palace. He became a Petty Officer mechanic and draughtsman, before transferring to the RAF as a Sergeant Mechanic. Like Jack, he emigrated to British Columbia, sailing to Quebec from Liverpool in 1925 with his wife and 4 year old daughter. He died in Kelowna BC in 1971.
Youngest brother Clement Lawrence known as “Mac” was born in 1901 served in the Merchant Navy. His newly discovered medal card records his award of the Mercantile Medal and the British Medal.
Bertie Parmenter – MGC
Bertie first enlisted as Pte 1089 in the 8th (Cyclists) Battalion Essex Regiment which had been set up originally to patrol and monitor the complex nature of the Essex coastline. The battalion was made up of a number of Companies with C Coy covering his local area of Maldon.
With the onset of war he was transferred to 121st Brigade Machine Gun Company arriving at Le Havre on the 17th of June 1916 and coming into line at Les Brebis in July. By coincidence his battalion would also be positioned outside the exact same village of Maroc as the Welsh 1/1st battery.
The 121st MGC also fought along the the wide banks of the Somme near Frise, close to where the British line met the French. He would later take part in the fighting at the Hindenburg Line and the Battle of Cambrai. More to follow..
Charles Hayes – Royal Fusiliers
I’d been looking out for my friend Ed’s grandfather, Charles Wilfred Hayes, for quite a while. He’d grown up in Halstead in Norfolk until he was old enough to join up. Ed was fairly certain that Charles had served with the London Regiment. This narrowed the field down considerably with one likely candidate. A ‘Charles W Hayes’ who’d served in the 5th LR. I printed a copy of his Medal Index Card and we were all thrilled. It was only when I double checked the details with someone who’d had access the medal rolls did it transpire that this particular C.W.Hayes had been killed earlier in the war. More C.Hayes’s were ticked off the list, then after speaking to his dad once more it came back to them that he’d served in the (London Regiment of) Royal Fusiliers.
As conscription came in, the detail on an MIC became less specific, often appearing to leave out the all important battalion number. A man was called up for the army in general and awaited posting to a regiment and battalion that required men.
With quite a few red herrings thrown in along the way, it eventually led me to find him as Pte 71604 in the 24th Battalion RF. The Battalion had been created at a Charing Cross hotel earlier in the war as one of the famous “Sportsmen’s Battalions”.
Charles would be invalided out of the war after his leg was shattered by machine gun fire. Getting hold of the Unit Diary for the 24ths, I could hardly believe it when I saw his name listed among the wounded for an attack on the 25th August 1918. Many would agree that seeing “other ranks” named in a diary is incredibly rare. Fastidiously kept, this particular log has all sorts of notes and details giving a remarkable insight into what happened that day.
As the war progressed the front line was moving further east, away from the area I’ve been more familiar with in terms of my own family. The 24th battalion had already forced their way over a ridge exposed to machine gun fire on the 23rd. The note on the left pertains to a “troublesome machine gun” spotted and a request for artillery to “deal with this please“.
On the 25th August Charles’s battalion were sheltered in a trench just outside Behagnies waiting for the whistles. At 3.30 am the 24th RF together with the 2nd HLI launched a surprise attack on the heavily defended village. Aided by a creeping barrage, the men pushed forward “with drill like precision” successfully overcoming gas shells and an unprepared enemy. Many were still asleep and unable to man their defences. One hundred and ten German machine guns were counted with many taken prisoners or shot trying to escape.
The attack was a seen as a complete success. “The 24th” reported the General Officer Commanding “had only 50 casualties”. Charles was treated and shipped home spending time at the well known Roehampton Hospital where they specialised in the rehabilitation of amputees. It was recommended that a career as a taylor would be a suitable option for these men, where sitting down was part of the job. Charles shunned this option preferring to return to Norfolk and set up a family market garden business.
Postscript At the time I researched Charles I’d no idea his four brothers also served during WW1. They were John who was in the King’s Own 3rd Hussars, Harry, Sidney and Dennis in the 9th Norfolks. Harry was killed during one of the earliest tank battles. An event that has become well known for a disastrous ‘friendly fire’ incident.
Salvo Hutchison – Royal Scots
In every case I’ve looked into virtually nothing has been known about the relative concerned. “Uncle Salvo” was no different. He was a great uncle of my close friend and according to the family he had suffered as a consequence of his wartime experience. As usual little had been spoken about or remembered. What I certainly didn’t expect was to find that he’d been in the army ‘three’ times..