What are the Silent Soldiers?
To mark the final year of the World War One centenary, Discover Bilston has joined forces with the Royal British Legion to say ‘Thank You’ to the First World War generation who served, sacrificed, rebuilt and changed the nation.
22 life-size silhouettes
Bilston now has 22 life-sized silhouettes dotted around the town centre, many dedicated to actual soldiers from Bilston and Bradley who fought in the Great War. The silhouettes have been fixed to walls or attached to an upright post In addition to the iconic image of a ‘Tommy’ there are equally significant representatives of the members of the communities the nation says thank you to, including those who gave medical support, soldiers from across the Commonwealth, RAF/RFC, Navy, Munition Factory Workers and Suffragettes who lead the fight for votes for women. They all helped makes us the nation we are today.
Click on a Soldiers name to reveal their story
The Harpin family lived in Brook Street, Bilston, Thomas and Pheobe had at least six children. In 1911 Phobe, a Bilston born lass, records on the census that she had already suffered the loss of two of those children – the surviving children John Thomas, Ann, William and Frederick were living at Brook Terrace, Bankfield.
At the time, Thomas worked as a platelayer on the railways in the area, John Thomas and his sister ‘Annie’ worked in the hollowware industry making cooking pots and saucepans while William aged only 14 years was assistant to a curver at the rolling mill.
Disaster struck the family in 1912 when father Thomas died, leaving Pheobe with three working teenage children and young Frederick, who would have been around 5 years old.
In 1914 Pheobe married Alfred Evans and that year war was declared. In the same year her son John Thomas married Minnie Willis Glen. John Thomas and Minnie had two children, Minnie born in 1914 and John born in 1917.
The records showing when William and John Thomas joined up do not survive, but William became Private 11040 of the 3rd Hussars and by October 1915 he has given the rank of Lance Corporal. John Thomas joined a local regiment – the 1/6th South Staffordshire Regiment. He rose through the ranks to become the Company Quarter Master Sergeant.
On the 4th October 1915 the 3rd Hussars Regimental war diary tells that at Westreham the day began cold and it rained heavily, the 3rd Hussars suffered the loss of two men that day and a further two were wounded. William Harpin was one of the men killed in action. He is remembered at the Loos Memorial.
In the spring of the next year his mother Pheobe received a payment of £2 8s, later in the Autumn a further £4 17s 6d. These payments would have consisted of wages owed to William. It seems that Pheobe died within months of receiving these payments and it would explain why in December of 1919, the month after the War Memorials in Bilston had been dedicated, his sister-in-law Minnie (wife of brother John Thomas) received £1 12s 6d. These payments included a ‘War Gratuity‘ of £6 10s.
Minnie would have received the news that her husband John Thomas had died of Gas and Wounds early in the summer of 1918. Records state that he died in France on 7th May 1918. He is buried in Etaples Cemetery.
Minnie had been made a widow and had two young children aged, young Minnie would have been around 4 years old and John Jnr around 15 months old. She may have moved back to her childhood home, The Wellington Inn, Price Street, where her father was the inn keeper. This was given as her address when she died in 1922 leaving her two young children orphaned. It appears that the children may have gone to live with Minnie’s brother Willis Glen, John was still living with him in 1939. Willis was also a veteran of WW1, having served with the RAMC.
The image above is the 1911 census showing Horace living with his parents at 57 Broad Street, he was the only surviving child, the census shows that his mother Mary had had two children, with on dying before 1911.
The house they lived in appears to be quite large, seven rooms would indicate there were several bedrooms, maybe a parlour and other living rooms. Father Charles Edge was a Commercial traveller selling boots and appears to be making a good living. (I haven’t investigated Simon, but wonder if he was anything to do with Edges Shoe Factory on the Wellington Road)
Horace’s sign up papers are shown below:
The sheet above was used to record the other siblings of a soldier – any brothers of service age would be noted. This sheet sadly shows that Horace was an only son. Not only did he make the ultimate sacrifice, so did his parents.
Horace was on active service in Belgium, he contracted bronchitis and was treated in the No 1 Casualty Clearing Station. The treatment of bronchitis, which today would be with paracetamol or ibuprofen, would not have been so simple. Bronchitis requires rest and rehydration, it can develop into pneumonia quite easily and the antibiotics used today were not discovered until the end of the next decade. Many men were stricken with what we would consider to be relatively minor illnesses today, which unfortunately were deadly in the First World War.
Herbert Frank Seager was the son of Samuel and Elizabeth Seager; one of 9 children born to the couple. In 1911 Herbert was a welder at one of the hollowware factories.
He made his attestation on 10 December 1915 at the apparent age of 19. He came from Bristol Street, Bilston and joined The Royal Scots (Lothian Regiment).
Missing from the list of siblings is Robert Seager, who had died on October 13th 1915 at the age of 25 years whilst serving in France with the 1/6th South Staffordshire Regiment.
He was posted the following spring on 6 May 1916. He embarked 30 November with 4th Battalion Royal Scots for the Egyptian Expeditionary, joining HT Aragon on 12 December 1916. He was reported missing believed Drowned 30.12.1917 after The ‘Aragon’ was torpedoed.
His brother wrote the following letter on behalf of their mother:
8 Bristol St, Bilston
Hoping you will excuse me for taking the liberty of writing but it is on my mother’s behalf, she is awfully worried about my brother Pte. H F Seager 204169 (Late) B Coy, 4th Reserve Battalion, Royal Scots, Lewis Gun Section who went to France first and then as far as we know sailed for Egypt and as there been two vessels sunk, my mother thinks he may have been on one.
We have already lost one son, one is still in France and another in training in England.
Of course we know your time is well occupied but if you would be so kind as to let my mother know and relieve her anxiety we should be very grateful indeed,
Hoping you will oblige,
E Seager. (Ernest- youngest brother)
Jan 1919 War Office advise that any articles belonging to Herbert should be sent to Samuel Seager 32 Oatmeal Square, Bilston (Brother)
Name: Private Herbert Frank Seager
Death Date: 30 Dec 1917
He is remembered in the Military Cemetery at Alexandria, Egypt
His brother Wilfred Benjamin survived having served with the Army Ordnance Corps (Sapper 7640) he was awarded the Victory and British Medals and the 1914 Star as he had entered the war on 20th September 1914. He married and had a daughter and two sons, sadly one of his sons. In 1939 Wilfred was working as Store Minder at the blast furnace.
Brother Leonard Seager served as a Gunner (Private 31825) in the Royal Field Artillery, he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, he entered the theatre of war on 2nd September 1915, and he was also awarded the Military Medal. Herbert’s records show that Leonard was already living in Grantham in 1915 – he returned home to Grantham & married Nellie Winterton on the summer of 1918. He continued to live there until his death in 1949.
Wilfred was the oldest of four children born to William Isaac Bassford and Elizabeth Barratt.
As a young child he lived in Broad Street, his father Isaac was a packing case maker. As a teenager (age 14) he was helping his father Isaac (now a cooper) to support the growing family (who by now had moved just around the corner to 37 Hartshorne Street) by working as a clerk at the cement company. He had obviously done well at school to obtain such a ‘cushy’ number – unlike many of his school mates who would have been toiling in the iron and steel works. His parents would have been proud of his leap into what looked like a promising career. Not the usual hard manual labour but in a job with prospects.
His mother notes on the 1911 census that during her 15 year marriage she had given birth to five children, one of whom had died as a child.
Wilfred’s sign up papers have not survived, the only record we have of his service is confirmation that, as a Corporal in the 1st Battalion Fusiliers he died in action of wounds on 25th March 1918.
He is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial.
His parents continued to live at 69 Hartshorne Street, his brother Stanley (who was born in 1902 and too young to be drawn into The Great War) was, immediately prior to the outbreak of WW11, working as an Aircraft sheet metal worker in Rubery.
Wilfred is still remembered by extended family that lives in and close to Bilston. (I am his first cousin twice removed)
BASSFORD WILFRED KENNETH Corporal 72694 Formerly 6989
1st Bn Royal Fusiliers
Son of William I. and Elizabeth Bassford of 69 Hartshorne St. Bilston.
Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 19 to 21. (see diagram below)
Cemetery: POZIERES MEMORIAL
The 1st Battalion Royal Fusiliers saw action in 1918 on the Somme, the Battle of Cambrai and the Final Advance on Picardy,
The Pozières Memorial commemorates the names of 14,655 casualties of the United Kingdom and 300 of the South African Forces. These casualties died on the Somme battlefields from the dates of 21 March 1918 and 7 August 1918 inclusive.
Details of unpaid wages and war gratuity paid to Wilfred’s father William Isaac Bassford.
Wilfred’s name shown on the Pozieres Memorial.
Denis Peter Kelly – Private 67930 Royal Garrison Artillery
Denis was not born in Bilston but was living at 35 Dudley Street in 1911 with his parents and siblings. His occupation on the 1911 census was given as ‘Wire Worker’.
He signed his attestation papers in Bilston on 8th November 1915, over a year after war had been declared. He was 21 years and 52 days only, he claimed. He joined the Royal Garrison Artillery.
Death Date: 27 Mar 1918
Death Place: France and Flanders
Enlistment Place: Bilston
Regiment: Royal Garrison Artillery
Regimental Number: 67930
Type of Casualty: Killed in action
He spent the time from November 1915 to June 1916 in training. The number of professional soldiers existing at the outbreak of war was vastly depleted and new soldiers had to be fully trained before being sent to the various theatres of war.
Denis arrived in Havre on 8th June 1916, by October of that year he had been admitted to hospital (sick). He returned to the field and after being in France for a year was granted leave to the UK (with rations).
The visit home would be the last time he would see his parents and Bilston.
Denis was killed in action on 27 March 1918, two days after Wilfred K Bassford died.
He is buried at Arras.
Name: Gunner Denis Peter Kelly
Death Date: 27 Mar 1918
Cemetery: Arras Memorial
Burial or Cremation Place: Arras, Departement du Pas-de-Calais,
Denis’s father received the standard paperwork requesting confirmation of the family details, which had to be certified by a Minister or Magistrate before the ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ and scroll could be passed to grieving family. It is not shown on this snapshot, but the letter is dated 15th May 1919.
Denis’s father duly completed the form, showing his remaining family and had the information certified by the Bernard Rice, Clerk in Holy Orders at Holy Trinity Church, Oxford Street.
Samuel Busby Private 40844 – Probably one of the youngest to die.
Born in Bilston in the autumn 1899 Samuel was the oldest of three children. His two younger sisters (Gwendoline and Martha Jane) and he lived at 5 Quarry Street in 1911 with their mother Gertrude. His parents are not found in the same household in either 1901 or 1911 and unfortunately, Samuel’s father (Joseph Busby) died in 1913 leaving young Samuel as the ‘man of the house’
When he signed his attestation papers in the presence of Sgt Hammond of the South Staffordshire regiment he gave his birth date as 22nd September 1897. It is probably more likely it was 22 September 1899. He signed his papers on 6th March 1915, and given that in April of 1911 his mother states he is 11 years old he was certainly not old enough to be going into the army. As a young teenager Samuel gave his occupation as an Iron worker. Maybe Samuel thought his mother and sisters would be better off if he went to war – his mother would have received an allowance.
Under the Kings Regulations pertaining to the minimum age of soldiers after seven months with the South Staffordshire regiment he was sent home 09 October 1915.
Attestation 6th March 1915 as Private 17594 in South Staffs Regiment.
The image above shows the medical details as recorded on March 6th 1915. He has an impressive chest expansion, but has the height and weight of an average 13 year old today.
Not to be deterred it seems that Samuel enlisted elsewhere and joined the Kings Own Royal Lancaster Regiment. These papers do not survive.
The contemporaneous reports show that the King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment had relieved the 2nd Suffolk’s in front line and that there was heavy enemy shelling on 5th July 1918.
Military Year: 1914-1920
Medal Awarded: British War Medal and Victory Medal
Regiment or Corps: King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment
Regimental Number: 40844
Birth Place: Bilston
Death Date: 7 Jul 1918
Death Place: France and Flanders
Enlistment Place: Wolverhampton
Regiment: King’s Own Royal Lancaster Regiment
Battalion: 8th Battalion
Regimental Number: 40844
Type of Casualty: Died of wounds
Samuel was awarded the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
He was killed in action on what was described as a ‘fine day’, 7th July 1918.
Any monies owed in unpaid wages were sent to Samuel’s mother Gertrude. There were recharges of 7s 4d which left £5 4s 9d payable to his mother, she also received £3 War Gratuity and would have received a plaque (Dead Man’s Penny) and a certificate.
Private S Busby
Death Date: 7 Jul 1918
Cemetery: Pernes British Cemetery
Burial or Cremation Place: Pernes, Departement du Pas-de-Calais, Nord-Pas-de-Calais, France
|Death Date:||27 Oct 1914|
|Burial or Cremation Place:||Bilston, Metropolitan Borough of Wolverhampton, West Midlands, England|
An Express & Star article on 8 December 1914 reported the death of Private Joseph Baker who was described, so soon after the beginning of the war, as “Another Bilston Victim of the War”.
He was 25, so was born around 1888. In 1911 he was shown on the census as being a visitor in the household of Edward and Annie Parker of 2 Thompson Street. Joseph’s occupation is stated as ‘Soldier’. Annie was Joseph’s sister.
At the same time his parents lived at 5 Smith Street, Joseph Snr. was out of work with the only source of income to the household coming from their 15 year old son James, who was a labourer in a motor works. Joseph and his wife Hannah and their surviving four children (James (15), William (12), Harriet (10) and Lillian (8)) had only three rooms in their home, which is probably why Joseph was spending his leave with his sister Annie and her husband.
Baker married Edith Barnsley in Lichfield in 1913, and they had a young daughter, Sarah, born the same year.
Joseph was a professional soldier based at Lichfield, he married Edith Barnsley there in 1913. He had nearly completed his seven when war was declared and he was sent to France. He had previously worked at John Thompson’s boiler works, “and by his respectful bearing gained many friends.”
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission confirms these details – he was killed on 27 October 1914. His service number was 8170, and his next of kin was Edith Baker of 90 Sandford Street, Lichfield. He is commemorated at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium. He also appears on the High Town Ward roll of honour and is remembered on his parent’s grave stone in Bilston Cemetery.
Following Joseph’s death on October 27th 1914 his younger brother William signed up, witnessed again by Sgt Hammond of the South Staffordshire Regiment. Bearing in mind that the family would have probably not received notification of Joseph’s death until early December, William joined up on January 5th 1915.
He was pronounced fit on 12th January, details given as being 5’7”, weighing 110lbs, fresh complexion, blue eyes and auburn hair.
He was born on 25th November 1898, so he was only a couple of months past his 16th birthday when Sargeant Hammond placed his personal stamp on Williams papers. His given age was 18 years and 48 days.
Two days after being pronounced fit for service William was sent to Lichfield, where his older brother, a Fallen Hero, had spent the majority of his career. William must have wanted to avenge his brother’s death and, as many a young lad, ‘do his bit’.
In late February William was sent to Plymouth and then on 16th May was sent for training in Sunderland. It must have been a huge shock for a sixteen year old being shunted from place to place and all of them so very far from home. As the pressure and realisation mounted it seems that William reacted in a manner that the army would not accept:-
6th April 1915 – For not complying with an order and using obscene language to an NCO he was given 10 days Field Punishment No 2 – (see below)
8th April 1915 – For breaking away from Confinement whilst a detention prisoner –14 days F.P. No 2
Before the 24 days of Field Punishment had expired, on 14th May, William was absent from the infantry roll call from 5pm to 9pm for this he was confined to barracks for 8 days.
William was moved to Sunderland on 16th May 1915.
On the following day, 17th May, he broke out of his billet ‘when a defaulter’ and remained absent until apprehended by the Civil Police at Darlington on the same date. For this William was confined to barracks for 8 days and forfeited 7 day’s pay.
On 20th May he failed to comply with an order and witnessed by Sgt Raynor and LC Bradley he was given 14 days F.P. No.2.
Only a couple of weeks later on 9th June William was ‘absent from Tattoo Call and was apprehended by the Military Police at Darlington at about 12.15hrs’, being absent for around 15 hours – he was confined to barracks for 4 days and forfeited 2 day’s pay.
Two days later on 11 June William broke out of his billet while a defaulter and was absent for nearly three hours – a further 14 days F.P.No.2 was given.
The pressure was piling on William , before he had served any of his punishments he defaulted again. On June 26th William was absent from the Tattoo for seven days before handing himself into the Civil Police at Sheffield on 7th July. He was out of uniform, so on top of being absent he was punished for being ‘deficient of kit’ – a further 14 days F.P.No 2 and forfeiture of 8 day’s pay was the result.
At this point William was still only just over sixteen and a half years old. He should not have even been in the army. If William had signed up in a fury (at his brother’s death) or a frenzy of patriotism he would not have experienced the life that his brother had lived. The training of newly enlisted men was entirely different to those professional soldiers that had come before them. He must have been terrified, and the army of the day was not given to pandering young lads. Unfortunately it was not fussy about the age of some of the soldiers that they signed up.
William was discharged from the South Staffordshire Regiment, for misconduct, on 8th August 1915.
(This is not really for public consumption – he returned to Bilston and in 1939 was a labourer living in 5 Chem Road, he married and had at least two children in the 1920’s. I should imagine that his is not a story that was relished at the time – but today the perspective is entirely different. I fully believe that the Baker family would still have living family in the area. His sister Annie (who Joseph stayed with in 1911) was, in 1939 living back of 57 Hartshorne St – doors way from Wilfred Bassford’s parents – she had children too so there may well be ’Parker’s’ in Bilston who are related too. His brother James married and in 1939 was living in Lavender grove – he had a host of children some of whom may still be alive and there would be dozens of great nieces and nephews ).
Field Punishment No 1
The offender may, unless the court-martial or CO otherwise directs:
Be kept in irons.
Be attached by straps, irons or ropes for not more than two hours in one day to a fixed object. Must not be attached for more than three out of four consecutive days or for more than 21 days in all.
Be made to labour as if he were undergoing imprisonment with hard labour.
Field Punishment No 2
Same as No 1, except he may not be treated as above in (2).
When the unit was on the move an offender sentenced to Field Punishment No 1 was exempt from the operation of (2), but all offenders sentenced to field punishment were to march with their units, carry their arms and accoutrements, perform all their military duties as well as extra fatigue duties, and be treated as defaulters. Field punishment for a period not exceeding three months could also be awarded by a court-martial for any offence committed on active service.
In essence FP No 2 involved being shackled (but not to a post/cartwheel or other object) for no more than two hours per day – humiliating – no wonder William tried to do a runner.
The two brothers both served, one returned as a decorated soldier, having risen from Private to Quarter Master Sgt Warrant Officer Class II. The younger brother was captured as a prisoner of war and died; he is remembered on the memorial in Baghdad.
Ewart Crutchley, born in Wolverhampton about 1895, was a ‘student’ aged 16 years in 1911. He lived with his family at 85 Hartshorn Street, Bilston. His dad Edwin was a Ladymoor lad, he married Sarah and by 1911 the family comprised Fred Crutchley 23yrs, Harry Crutchley 21yrs, Alice Crutchley 18 years, Ewart Crutchley 16yrs and Letty Crutchley 13yrs
It should be appreciated that children the education system ended for children aged around fourteen (until the school leaving age was raised decades later), as Ewart was described as a student should show us that he was in some kind of further education, possibly preparing for a profession as opposed to a trade. It is known that Ewart worked at Stonefield School, prior to entering the military.
As his military records did not survive, it is unknown which path Ewart took after joining the Worcester Yeomanry (The Queens Own Worcestershire Hussars). It is documented
Death Date: 27 Mar 1917
Death Place: Egypt
Enlistment Place: Worcester
Regiment: Household Cavalry and Cavalry of the Line
Battalion: Worcester Yeomanry. (The Queens Own Worcestershire Hussars.)
Regimental Number: 325713
Type of Casualty: Died
Theatre of War: Egyptian Theatre
Death Date: 27 Mar 1917
Cemetery: Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery
Region or Memorial: Iraq
Ewart was born in Wolverhampton in 1895, the son of Edwin and Sarah Crutchley. In 1901 they were living in Leabrook, Tipton. In 1911 they were at 85 Hartshorn Street, Bilston, together with Ewart’s siblings Fred, Harry, Alice and Letty. He went to Ocker Hill Council and then Dudley Grammar Schools, and later worked at Stonefield Council Schools in Bilston.
Ewart enlisted with the Worcestershire Yeomanry (number 325713) at Worcester. He was involved in the “Battle of the Desert” at Katia, Egypt, on 23 April 1916, when he became a Turkish prisoner. On 27 March 1917, he died in hospital in Angora, Turkey. Notice of his death was published in the Express & Star on 22 September 1917. He is buried in the Baghdad (North Gate) War Cemetery, and is commemorated on the Bilston High Town Ward Roll of Honour.*
* (Courtesy Wolverhampton’s War https://wolverhamptonswar.wordpress.com)
Brother Harry Crutchley:
Harry signed his attestation papers in London on1 December 1914. He had been a South Staffordshire Regiment territorial soldier from 1906 -1911. He signed up to the Royal Engineers and on entry was a Sapper (the Engineer’s equivalent to a Private). He steadily rose through the ranks to Corporal, Acting Sergeant, and Sergeant and left the Engineers on 10 June 1918 as Quarter Master Sergeant (Warrant Officer Class II).
Harry worked in Transportation, and Stores – men of his ‘trade’ in the Army kept things going – food, transport, equipment, guns and ammunition were sent from where ever they were to where ever they were needed. Today they would be Logistical Solution experts – in the First World War the literal explosion of new technologies (the motor engine, aircraft, new weapons etc.) provided a massive logistical problem when the fronts were being fought on so many sides and in so many countries. All of these men needed food, clothes and equipment. The needed somewhere to sleep, eat and keep clean, they needed tents, Sankey field kitchens and food to cook on those stoves. The QMS would issue and move all of these stores, if you needed something the QMS was the man to go to.
While Harry was climbing the ranks (to the highest Non Commissioned level) his brother Ewart had been sent to the Mediterranean theatre of war. He was taken Prisoner of War by the Turkish Forces.
The sheet below tracks Harry’s rise up through the ranks while with the British Expeditionary Forces.
Harry Crutchley was awarded the Meritorious Service Medal in 1918, shown below in his service record.
During 1916–1919, army NCOs could be awarded the medal immediately for meritorious service in the field. They could also be awarded the medal for acts of non-combat gallantry.
Harry returned to Bilston and married Minnie Carson in 1919. He received the 1915 Star in 1920.
Harry’s confirmation of receipt of British War and Victory medal – dated 19 May 1922
On leaving the Colours everyman was provided with a certificate of identity and protection,
As a decorated soldier Harry would have been presented with a watch, the cost of which (in total £540) was raised by public subscription by the people and businesses of Bilston. Fifty-nine men received these awards, though some chose to take a monetary option, which may have reflected their financial status during the hard decade of the 1920’s.
The presentations were listed in the Record and Programme of the Unveiling of the War crosses in Ettingshall, Bradley and Bilston on Friday 11th November 1921. At this time, as can be seen not all men had even received their medals. Harry would most likely have attended the dedication at the Swan Bank Memorial which took place at 3.15pm. It was unveiled by Brigadier-General T. E. Hickman.
Birth 14 APRIL 1887 • Bilston, Staffs
Death 25 SEP 1915 • France and Flanders
Arthur was born in Bradley, his parents Edward and Esther had a total of 8 children but by 1911 only 4 of them were still alive. Edward was an agent for The ‘Provident’ living in Baker’s Cottage, Bank Street. Previously Edward had been a sheet roller at the steelworks.
Arthur was working as a rope spinner at the age of thirteen (in 1901) and by the age of 23, he was an ironworker.
He signed up and joined the South Staffordshire Regiment as Private 16820 and served in France from 15th May 1915 until he was killed in action on 25th September 1915. He was 28 years old.
Arthur Jubliee Goodreid is remembered on the Loos Memorial.
Ernest gave his age as 18 years and 200 days when was called to service in February 1917, and indicated that he would be interested in joining the Navy.
Ernest was not a big man, 5’6’ but with an impressive 3.5inch expansion on his 34.5inch chest. He had probably been at work since he left school at 14 year and was working in 1917 as a furnace man’s assistant. This would not have been easy work. His father was a Sheet Iron Furnace man and elder brother, James, a guide mill worker. Despite his stating a willingness to join the Navy Ernest was directed toward the army.
Initially attached to the 273rd Infantry Battalion, stationed at Chelmsford in July of 1917 he then was moved to Danbury to the 52nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry. He was transferred to the British Expeditionary Force on 5th December of 1917 arriving in Le Havre on the following day.
A card showing the arrangements for a separation allowance which would be paid to his mother Eliza show his military number as 18350 – this was stamped on 15 April 1918.
In 1919 Ernest’s mother, Eliza, received the all too familiar card regarding ‘the disposal’ of the Dead Man’s penny and Scroll sent to every family of a fallen soldier. The Scroll was eventually received in May 1920, it was signed for by his brother James.
The form had to be completed with the details of the immediate family of the deceased soldier, showing full and half blood siblings. Ernest left brothers James (23), Samuel (14), and sisters Violet (17), Lily (11) Edna (8) and Doris(5). As money could have been due to the next of kin the details would have to be certified by either a magistrate or minister of the church. Ernest had actually made a will leaving all money and effects to his mother.
The report of Private E Paul’s death was reported on the 30 March 1918. Now with the 19th Bn Durham Light Infantry, now with regimental number 78350, he had been Killed in Action on either 28th or 29th March 1918.
Ernest Paul is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial.
Birth OCT 1896 • Ettingshall, Staffordshire, England
Death 21 MAR 1918 • France and Flanders
After Alfred Niblett left school, normally at the age of 14 in those tomes, he worked as a warehouse boy. His dad James was a plate layer working for Great Western Railways; there were two lines running through Bilston at the time. His mother, Susan, was a housewife, she and her husband had, during their twenty year marriage, had 7 children. Alfred and his young brother Harry were the only surviving siblings. Back in 1901 the family are at the same address, 1 George Street, Priestfield with 14 year Joseph Shelley who is described as an adopted son. Research shows that it is most likely the couple had four children, born in 1893,1894, 1895 and 1896, all of whom died in the same year they were born.
It is difficult to imagine how his parents felt when Alfred signed up – his records have not survived and the medal card does not show the date Gunner Niblett entered the war. He was not awarded the 1914-15 Star so it would have been 1916 at the earliest.
Alfred was a Gunner with the Seige Battery Royal Garrison Artillery, his army number was 167635, he may have rubbed shoulder with Gunner Joseph Woollatt (also Seige Battery RGA) , who lived around the corner in Ward Street. Joseph came home to his wife and two children and lived his life in ‘the village’ and later Stowlawn.
Alfred’s mother would have received notification of her son’s death toward the end of March 1918. He was killed in action on 21st March 1918 and is remembered on the Arras Memorial.
The Arras Memorial commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who were killed in the Arras sector and have no known grave.
26.12.1897 – 12.01.1918
William was born on Boxing Day 1897 in Temple Street Bilston. In 1911 his mother Emma was a widow living in Sparrow’s Buildings, Millfields Road, Bilston with her two sons William (13) and young Charlie (8).
Prior to joining the Navy he was a Forge hammer hand. Not a tall lad (was 5’ 3”) he was described as having brown hair, blue eyes and a fresh complexion. He joined the Victory 1 as an Ordinary Seaman on 12 April 1916, his character was described as Very Good with satisfactory ability, he became Able Seaman Price on 1st Jun 1917
William served aboard several ships, the final one being HMS Narborough which was an M Class Destroyer. It took part in a torpedo attack against enemy destroyers but suffered no damage or casualties, and subsequently took on the role of senior officer amongst surviving ships.
The ship was subsequently refitted and recommissioned during 1917 with a new crew, all of whom were lost when the ship was wrecked along with HMS Opal early in 1918 while attempting to regain Scapa Flow during a blizzard. The vessels, which were sister ships, each carried an official complement of 80. There was only one survivor from both vessels. 188 men were killed. Most of the casualties were never found and are commemorated on the Portsmouth Memorial.
Relatives Notified and Address: Father: E Shaw; 8, Sparrows Buildings, Millfields Rd, Bilston, Staffs
George Riley was born in Bilston in early 1898, being baptised on 30 March the same year. He lived with his family on Broad Street. He was the second son of Arthur and Eliza Riley. Arthur was employed as a Council Storekeeper in 1911 and George’s older brother was a Fitter’s Apprentice at the iron works.
George and his sister, Dorothy, were at school and the two youngest children Clara and Albert were at home with mom.
While George’s sign up papers have not survived we know that he enlisted in Wolverhampton and his medal card tells us that he entered the theatre of war on 18 May 1915 as Private 16765 Riley as a soldier in the 1st Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment.
Just a few months later, on 25th September 1915 George died of wounds. He is remembered on the Loos Memorial. His parents would have received the ’15 Star, Victory and British Medals along with a commemorative scroll and a ‘Dead man’s Penny.
Bert was born in 1893, one of ten children born to James and Emily Croft. He spent his childhood in Ettingshall village, the family lived in John Street and George Street. By 1911 thought they were living in Broad Street. Bert and George Riley probably knew one another. Bert’s younger brother Albert was the same age George – maybe they played together in the street or went to school together.In 1911 Bert, three of his brothers and his father were all employed at the Steelworks. There is no record of any of his brothers entering into service – this could have been because of their occupations. Men employed in heavy industry would be given a silver badge to indicate that they were in ‘scheduled or reserved’ occupations – many of the local heavy industries were involved in war production.
From bombs to bedsteads the Bilston, as with the rest of the Black Country provided the skills and generations of experience required to support the soldiers on the front with everything from armaments and helmets to heavy plate steel for the new secret weapon – the ‘Tank’. Many thousands of women and girls joined in the war effort, however they were not employed in the heavier industries.
Bert joined the 1/6th South Staffordshire Regiment, as many of the Bilston men and boys did, he was killed in action, his army number was 1591 and he is remembered on the Loos Memorial.
The image below shows the ‘Soldier’s Effects’ after his death on 15th October 1915 unpaid wages and a War gratuity was paid to his mother Harriet – who in 1916 was noted as being the ‘sole heir’.
George Henry and Arthur Shorthose were brothers, their parents were Arthur Shorthose and Louisa Lucas. During their early married life, Arthur and Louisa lived with her mother who ran a grocer’s shop in Hall Green St, Bradley.
Arthur Reginald Shorthose is found living with his grandmother at 80 Hall Green St, Bradley in 1911. His parents were at the time living at 7 Wright Street. His father was a bricklayer at the gas works and his mother was a pawnbroker, employing one niece as an assistant in the business and another as a domestic servant. The house in Wright street had 6 rooms, I would imagine that there were at least 4 bedrooms which would at the time present a spacious home.
Arthur’s war records do not survive however reference to the payments made after his death (outstanding wages) give the following details:
Name: Arthur Reginald Shorthose
Death Date: 14 Sep 1916 in Action
Lance Corporal 20745
The amount of £2 13s 2d was made to his father along with a ‘War Gratuity’ of £10
Arthur was killed in action and is buried at Thiepval , having served with the rd Btn Grenadier Guards he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial and at Bilston.
George Henry Shorthose
The ever-present Sgt Hammond 3rd South Staffs signed up George, who was living at 7 Wright St, Bradley, he signed to become part of the Army Labour Corps his papers were dated August 10th 1914. He was posted to Aldershot on 14th August.
He was posted as a Specially Enlisted Clerk at a rate of 4s per day to the Horse transport reserve Depot, Cattle Market, Islington on 12th September 1914. The Adjutant wrote a year later that he had no idea what George was doing in Bilston and that he had not rejoined the company under his command. According to records in September 1915, George had been in hospital in Moss Side, near Liverpool.
He was part of the Expeditionary force from 21 Sept 1914 – 25th July 1915, he was discharged having made a misstatement as to his age, having claimed to be 20 years and 183 days. George was awarded the Silver Ward Badge. He was born on 8th February 1899, so was only 15 when he signed, however his 6 foot stature and maybe his confidence did not make Sgt Hammond think twice about questioning his age.
There are records of a letter sent by his mother stating that he was not instructed to write to any army officer. He had been discharged on account of his age and had been sent back from France to Bradley also on account of illness. George has sent several letters to the army which could be considered to impertinent.
As can be seen, the letter above was sent on the letterhead of Shorthose, Lee and Company, who had been awarded a war contract to provide beds for the military.
In the following letter, still requesting his Silver War Badge he describes the Army as ‘you humbugs’.
George had been sent home and had attended Selly Oak Hospital – there is mention of Neurasthenia in the records, not only was George about five years younger than he had claimed, he had entered the theatre of war in France and while we cannot know what he saw there it must have greatly affected him. It would be un-thought of for anyone to speak to the military in the terms that George did. It is obvious from the letters written by him and his mother that education had been taken advantage of. George also shows a certain sort of imagined entitlement to immediate and comprehensive responses from the military, who were already a little busy with other business unrelated to the location of Silver War Badges. It could be imagined that his tone and frequency of letters did not endear him to the Army.
Neurasthenia is Greek for ‘nerve weakness’. The disease was identified and named in the late 1800s when nervous illnesses and nervous breakdown became common in North America and Europe. The American neurologist George Beard popularised the term, attributing the ‘epidemic’ of neurasthenia to the speed and fragmentation of modern industrialised life – especially in the US. He identified six factors: ‘steam power, the periodical press, the telegraph, the sciences, the mental activity of women, and the erosion of religious faith’. The neurasthenia diagnosis was based on cutting-edge research into disabling nerve diseases such as muscular dystrophy and multiple sclerosis. The name, however, never caught on among British physicians because many regarded it as an unconvincing American attempt to lend false scientific legitimacy to the old ‘English malady’ of nerves.
The Shorthose Brothers’ Bartley Cousins
The Shorthose boys spent many years living in the same household as their Bartley cousins, whose parents had both died. Albert Edward Bartley married and at attestation he stated was a pipe fitter living with his wife in Walsall. He became a Gunner in the RGA. He survived the war having been posted in Gibralter, when he left the colours he elected not to have the 52s 6d available to buy a set of civvies, instead he chose to have a blue suit.
Standing at 6 feet 2 inches tall, with a 37 inch chest and inside leg measurement of 34 inches, this was probably the wisest choice.
Charles William Wheelwright Private 11598
2nd Bn South Staffordshire Regiment
Killed in Action 25/09/1915 Age:30
Son of C. W. and Annie Wheelwright of High St. Cleobury Mortimer Kidderminster; husband of Minnie Evans (formerly Wheelwright) of 19 Turks Head Rd. High St. Bilston.
Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 73 to 76.
Cemetery: LOOS MEMORIAL
Charles Wheelwright was born in Cleobury Mortimer in 1885, by 1903 he was married to Minnie Johnson and by 1911 he and Minnie were living back of 56 Church Street Bilston. The record states that they had had two children but one had died, however both children were listed on the census. Daughter Sarah Jane had, in fact, died in 1908 aged around four years. Son Robert was only two years old in 1911 and his death is recorded in 1917.
Charles was working as a Horse Driver, the white van man of his day. His experience with horses may well have been put to good use when he enlisted. His military records do not survive but Charles joined the 2nd Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment.
His death was recorded on 25th September 1915.