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Reuben Rose’s War 1914-15

Army pals
Photo from Reuben Roses collection. It was taken soon after recruitment, as the full insignia is not yet on their jackets.  These are his best friends,  mentioned in his diary.

Reuben Rose enlisted into the British Army on 15th September 1914, just 6 weeks after the outbreak of war. He joined the Northumbrian (North Riding) Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery at their HQ Drill Hall at 53 Grange Road W, Middlesbrough. Much of the early recruitment in August and September 1914 took place at the Drill Hall, which was the base for many of the local Volunteer units, part of the Army’s Territorial Forces. There was also three units of Royal Engineers; a couple of companies of the Yorkshire Regiment and a squadron of the Yorkshire Hussars. This Drill Hall was pulled down some time ago, although at the other end of Grange Road there is still a similar drill hall.

As Reuben was an electrical engineer he could have been drawn to the Electric Light company of the Engineer’s, but decided on the Artillery. Perhaps he was already in this Territorial Force, which according to the local paper was already up to strength when they went on their annual camp in June. Looking at his nice new uniform he probably volunteered at the start of the war joining his best friend Sandy and other pals.

The North Riding Heavy Battery was part of the Northumbrian Division of the Territorial Force. In June 1914 the Battery had 5 officers and 180 men under the command of Captain T.D.H Stubbs. At the outbreak of war on 8th August they mobilised at Middlesbrough under the command of Major C.T. Hennah and moved to Monkseaton and then onto Newcastle upon Tyne on 1st September. They formed part of the coastal defences around Tynemouth. Reuben would have travelled to Newcastle soon after his enlistment where he volunteered for overseas duty, joining a new unit – 1/1st Northumbrian (NR) Heavy Battery. Those who prefered home duty formed the 2/1st NR Battery and stayed around Tynemouth providing the home defences during the war. impservicebroochWhen men in the Territorial force agreed to overseas service they signed a “Imperial Service Obligation” and were issued a special badge, known as the “Imperial Service Brooch” worn on the right breast. As Reuben enlisted in September, he was expected to agree to overseas service and he is wearing his brooch on the 1915 Battery photo below.

Photo from Reuben Rose’s collection

In Reubens unit photo above, there are 75 solidiers (including 8 NCO’s and 4 officers) so this is probably the full 1/1st Northumbrian (NR) Heavy Battery. This would be spring, (there are no leaves on the trees) so not long before they embarked for France. We can check the numbers by looking at the Medal Roll for the 1914-1915 Medal. At the end of the war all soldiers who fought overseas in 1914 or 1915 were given this award. The Northumbrian (North Riding) Heavy Battery RGA (TF) section of the medal roll shows that there were 82 individuals on dis-embarkation on 21st April 1915 (or joined a little later that year). By the end of the war, of this 82, 6 were Killed in Action, 7 Died of Wounds and 3 Died at home. They would have had a likely complement of 17 riding horses, 6 draught and 80 heavy draught horses with 3 two-horse carts and 10 four-horse wagons formed the battery.

At the outbreak of war, the North Riding battery was equipped with 4.7-inch Quick Fire (QF) guns supported by an attached Northumbrian (North Riding) Ammunition Column. They had two guns A, B along with a D sub-section at Middlesborough and one gun in C sub-section at Thornaby. These were previously naval guns converted to field guns for the Boer War with updated carriages (known as Mk I Woolwich). Overall, the heavy batteries of the Territorial forces had 92 QF 4.7 inch guns in France.

British QF 4.7inch on 1900 Mk I “Woolwich” carriage,Western Front, World War I. AWM “Picardie, Somme Pozieres. Australian transport limbers returning down Sausage Valley gallop past a battery of British 4.7 inch quick firing (QF) field guns.”

After their seven month spell at Newcastle, the NRA RGA received their embarkation orders on 12th April 1915, boarding the train to embark and leave England on the 19th April. They landed at Le Havre on 21st April 1915, a date the Reuben remembered well,  he refers to it on the first anniversary of his arrival in France in his 1916 diary. By the 23rd April the Northumbrian Division had concentrated in the area of Steenvoorde to the west of Ypres in Flanders. They had arrived just as the Second Battle of Ypres started with the Germans using poison gas for the first time. German infantry advanced across the Ypres salient, the Allied armies defensive area that had formed after the German invasion was halted in 1914. The Division was rushed into the battle moving up behind the Canadians (1st Canadian Division) who were taking the brunt of the German attack.

 Here’s what was going on. “On the morning of 24 April, the Battle of St. Julien started with the Germans releasing another gas cloud towards the re-formed Canadian line just west of St. Julien. Word was passed to the troops to urinate on their handkerchiefs and place them over their nose and mouth. The countermeasures were insufficient, and German troops took the village. The next day the York and Durham Brigade units of the Northumberland Division counter-attacked, failing to secure their objectives but establishing a new line closer to the village. On 26 April the Northumberland Brigade attacked again and gained a foothold in the village, but were forced back with the loss of more than 1,940 casualties.”

It is likely that the NR Heavy Artillery was moved with the division, but they were not a mobile unit like the Field Artillery. Its possible a battery was set up to provide defensive cover to the Division fighting in the trenches some 5 miles away. They were probably located close to existing Heavy Artillery of the XIII Brigade RGA which was based to the west of Ypres close to Vlamertinghe.

Map: The Allies notice German activity in the vicinity of Houthulst Forest and Poelcappelle.
The positions at the start of the battle of St Julian on Thursday 22nd April. The NR Artillery were probably on their way to a location between Brielen and Vlamertinghe.

 

“Current History” (New York Times) map showing reported positions during the Second Battle of Ypres, as at about 30 April 1915. The shaded area on the map marks the scene of the battle.

This battle is was one of the first where superior German artillery came into play. imageThey hammered the Allied armies around Ypres, stopping them from making effective counter-attacks. German artillery, made up of a single 17-inch howitzer called Big Bertha along with accurate 8-inch and lighter guns, shelled Ypres town. Big Bertha fired shells weighing 1, 719lb (816kg). The shells were fired in pairs and, according to the British Official History, “travelled through the air with a noise like a runaway tramcar on badly laid rails”. This huge gun was located in the vicinity of the Houthulst Forest, north of Ypres.

The British and Canadian Artillery with their old guns did figure prominently in the early battles, assigned to counter-battery fire trying to suppress the German fire. Unfortunately, reports from the time show that counter-battery fire failed. By the end of this battle, the barrels of some of the guns were so worn that bands were stripped off the shells at the muzzle as they were fired. Counter-battery fire failed due to the inaccuracy of the worn-out guns and the army still lacking  means of accuratly locating enemy guns. Air observation and reporting along with using radios were in its early days.

Reuben would have know very little of this, the newly arrived battery would be busly engaged in setting up; building and settling into their billets; moving the ammunition around and getting the guns firing after the weeks travelling.

As artillery tactics developed during 1915, Batteries joined together, usually with three others, to form a Heavy Brigade. The brigade would have had their own Ammunition Column of around 100 OR troops and 3 officers. The ammunition was hauled around the Brigade by around 72 heavy horses in 16 four-horse wagons. Other transport was by 13 riding horses and 2 draught horses pulling a two-horse cart. An artillery Brigade HQ would also include 7 officers and 137 other ranks and their own riding, draught and heavy draught horses and wagons. Reubens 1916 diary often refers to going up to the Column, likely to be the Brigade ammunition stocks and other stores.

After the battle for St Julien was over on the 5th May, the North Riding RGA joined the newly formed XIII Brigade RGA. This artillery Brigade had been heavily involved in supporting the army during the early days of the Second Battle of Ypres. They joined other Heavy Batteries; the 2nd London Heavy Battery who had retreated some 5 miles back from Kitchener’s Wood loosing their guns (although these were subsequently recaptured), the 1st North Midland Heavy Battery who had recovered back from north of Wieltje and the 31st HB.

Almost immediately the Battle of Frezenberg started and the NR RGA were involved in shelling north of St Julien, counter shelling and suppressing the German artillery. More of the NR RGA action will be investigated as I go through the War Diary of the XIII brigade.

 

Sources:

 

 

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Rueben Rose’s War Diaries

Driving north returning from a university drop-off trip to London, I thought it had been a long time since I had dropped into seeing my Uncle and Aunt, so I called into their home in Abingdon.

Reuben Rose 004.jpg

While there we chatted about our family tree, Uncle Basil had done a tremendous amount of manual Family History research building an extensive tree based on searching through microfiche and local records. He kept much of his findings on his BBC Micro, which was also showing its age. He proudly showed me a small wooden box that contained his father’s diaries from his time in the great war and return to England. These small books, which had survived months in the Ypres Salient in 1916/17, contained what Gunner Reuben Rose had done while at war with the 1st North Riding Royal Garrison Artillery. He managed to write a few sentences for each day, recording what he was doing, how he felt about and what action he could see.

 

My Uncle promised to lend them to me one day, but forgot, although to be fair his previously razor-sharp mind was getting old by then.  Anyway, the diaries were handed down to his children and have been transcribed supported by some commentary and further memories from his son.

 

Starting from these diaries, I have put together detail of what he was doing in the army, where he was and the battles that were going on around him.  He didn’t often mention these bigger, and to a historian, interesting details. When writing a personal diary I suppose these are givens and perhaps he was conscious of censorship. As with letters, they could not keep notes of important military information in case they were captured or found by the enemy.

I’m not sure if there was a 1914 and 1915 diary, what we have starts in 1916. He may have lost the early diaries when his hut was hit on 11th January 1917, losing everything he possessed.  He also lost his 1917 diary when he went off to hospital in April that year and his belongings went in another direction. A notebook was used to recreate much of what was missing for that year.

There were many days when nothing happened and Reuben records a lot of the socialising around the battery and towns where he was based. He was there with school friends and neighbours who were with him in the Territorial Army before the war started. This unit and parts of the Northumbrian Division were originally based in Middlesbrough, so there was a strong community as we can see from Reubens daily activity. So we have names of friends that he spends time with, some difficult to work out from their army nicknames.

Every few days he got letters from home, so he spent a lot of time reading and replying to them often thanking for all the parcels.

So using these clues and his service records it is possible to put together much of the story of Bombardier Reuben Rose’s War experience. These will follow in subsequent blogs.

 

Just to clear some confusion. Reuben Rose was christened with this spelling. Much of his official war records have him incorrectly as Rueben. My notes may mix the two spellings, but we can be sure its the same person, he was the only Rose in the 1/1st Northumbrian (North Riding) Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery.

How far back can I take my Family Tree?

Family Tree

I was asked the other day how far back have I got my family tree.

My answer was a bit evasive,  I couldn’t recall the full answer. I explained that I look for quality over quantity, ie stories about my ancestors rather than lots of just names and dates. But its fair enough question, so here’s a brief run down;

  • GREENWOODs, currently back to my Great x3 Grandfather THOMAS GREENWOOD, b 1752 in Stillington Yorkshire. He was married to Elizabeth Wood, who I can take back a  further generation.
  • All the other branches on the Greenwood side go no further back than the beginning of the 18th century at the earliest.
  • Most progress was made by my Uncle, Basil Rose, who took his and my mothers tree back to the 16th century.
  • ROSE, at the end of the 16th century was John ROOSE (Great x10 grandfather) who died in 1617. It looks like they were in Thirkleby, North Yorkshire.
  • PINKNEY, where Roger PINKNEY was born in 1642/43 in the York area.
  • DAVISON, of Aycliffe, my current line of research, I have back to my Gx5 Grandfather, Thomas DAVISON, b 1743. I have no doubt that this line will go back further.
  • MUMBY line came from Grainsby in Lincolnshire. Robert MUMBY, my Great x6 Grandfather was born in 1717.
  • The oldest record I have is Richard PINDER from Roxby, North Yorkshire. My Great x11 Grandfather, who died in 1547.
  • Nathaniel PIERSEY, born circa 1668 in Freasley, Warwickshire. He was my Gx7 Grandfather. This line became the PIERCYs who married into the itinerant Wesleyan preacher William BROCKLEHURST in 1812. There is lots of potential in this branch, research by American descendants has been published and can be incorporated into my tree.

Brocklehurst Family in Stafforshire Moorland and Derbyshire

Gertrude Mead nee Brocklehurst b1856 Picture taken around 1930.
Gertrude Mead nee Brocklehurst b1856
Picture taken around 1930.

This is Gertrude Mead, my great Grandmother, pictured around 1930.  Her family of Brocklehurst’s is an interesting one; her Grandfather, William Brocklehurst was an itinerant Wesleyan Methodist preacher, born on the Staffordshire Moorlands.  He was part of a Christian movement that started in a village called Flash, of which there are lots of interesting stories which will be related here in due course.

William’s grandfather, Thomas, came from a place known as Needles Eye, although local historians have pinned (:)) that down to a farm called Nield Bank.

It so happens that I was there on Monday, while supervising a group of girls on their DofE expedition. I walked down to the farm and had a long chat with the lady that lived there. She had done some research into the history of the place but hadn’t heard of the Brocklehurst’s, which is a shame.  She did however point me to a book for sale at the local shop, (actually the only store for miles), which had copies of a local history book – Flash Back and its sequel, Flash Back Too.

These booklets contain a lot of stories of the area, and many pictures of Brocklehurst families. One of them actually ran the very same shop around a hundred years ago. So I have another source for some interesting stories of very distant cousins, who may turn out to be bare-fist fighters, illegal hawkers and tinkers or coin forgers.

Neild Bank - Staffordshire, home of Thomas Brocklehurst when he married in 1723.
Nield Bank – Staffordshire, home of Thomas Brocklehurst when he married in 1723.
P1070024
Flash Village – Wesleyan Chapel, built 1784, rebuilt 1821. Where William Brocklehurst became a preacher.

A Photo from the Attic – Sandy Layfield, my Mothers Godfather

Sandy Layfield, in his Royal Artillery uniform.
Sandy Layfield, in his Royal Artillery uniform.
“The service cap that this soldier is shown wearing came into use in 1915 as an unofficial cap and only lasted two years as it was replaced in 1917 when a newer official soft version of the service dress cap was introduced. Called the “Gorblimey”, as this was said to be the effect that it was said to have on Sergeant-major’s whenever they saw it, the flaps at the side of the cap were tied over the crown and when untied could be brought down to cover the ears.”

When my father died he handed over a pile of photos and papers. I got the photo’s and Kathrine got the papers which she sorted into wonderfully organised packages. After I started building the family tree and story she gave me most of the papers, but hung onto some stuff.

After she died and Bill moved out of the family house the rest of the papers and photos were passed to Chris. Included was this photo of Sandy Layfield, with information written on the back.

The photo was taken November 1915, and has Sandy in his uniform, that of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Written on the back, in my mothers handwriting, it says “Godfather of Edith Margaret Rose” and “Married to Aunty Bee God mother to EMR”. Our mother was born in 1924 so the photo isn’t contemporary with the christening though.

I hadn’t heard of Uncle Sandy, although have a vague recollection of Aunty Bee.

So this is what cousin Alistair and I have found out.

Army pals
Army pals

Sandy was one of Reuben’s best friends, they joined up together and are together in a photo of Army Pals from 1914. Sandy’s full name was Frederick Alexander Layfield and was born in 1888 in Middlesbrough. In 1911 he was a Photo Engraver and lived a 10 minute walk away from Reuben, perhaps they went to the same school. With a middle name of Alexander this would be where his name of Sandy came from.  He was a Gunner in the 1/1st Northumbrian (North Riding) Heavy Battery. He was awarded the 1914-15 Star along with the Victory and British War Medal for his service in France.

His wife was indeed Auntie Bee but she was not a ‘blood relative’ Auntie but very close to the family. She was born Lily Blacklock in 1888 also in Middlesbrough although she called her self Lilian when they married in 1920. I cant find any children. Alistair recalls his father talking about Auntie Bee. She died in 1965, 5 years after Sandy, so I probably did meet them. Maybe there’s a photo of us somewhere in that big pile of photo’s with unrecognised people.

 

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