In the autumn of 2009, during excavation work for a building project, human remains were discovered between the villages of Radinghem and Beaucamps Ligny in northern France. The discovery was made near a road junction about four miles south east of Bois-Grenier and seven miles north-east of La Bassée. This area had fallen into German hands shortly after the capture of Lille in October 1914 and would remain behind German lines until the last weeks of the war. The crossroads became an important transport hub for supplies and munitions for the German Army.

All this, however, was in the future when, during September and early October 1914, the manoeuvring of opposing armies during the 'race to the sea' took place.

1 Franco-German_flanking_moves,_15_September_-_8_October_1914

Image: Map of Franco-German flanking moves September/October 1914

At about this time, the BEF's 6th Division, which had arrived in France in early September, was withdrawn from the Aisne and ordered north, with other divisions, to shorten lines of supply and thus have the BEF positioned nearer to the channel ports. As each side tried to outflank the other, the 6th Division arrived in the flat-lands of the Franco-Belgian border.

 

 

2 Positions_of_the_Allied_and_German_armies,_19_October_1914

Image: map showing the dispositions of the British II and III Corps against the German 6th Army from La Bassée to Armentières, 19 October – 2 November 1914

 

On Sunday, 18 October 1914, the Division's 16th Infantry Brigade (commanded by Brigadier General Ingouville-Williams) was instructed to make a reconnaissance in force.

3 Inky Bill - Brig Gen Edward Ingouville-Williams.tif

Image: Brigadier-General Edward Ingouville-Williams, known to his soldiers as "Inky Bill"

Two battalions of the Brigade - the 2nd York and Lancasters and the 1st Buffs (East Kent Regiment) - were ordered forward; this move was to take place in a southwards direction on either side of the Bois-Grenier to Beaucamps Ligny road. The 2/Y&L were on the right, and the 1st Buffs on the left. Initially their forward movement met only light resistance and, complying with new orders, the advance continued with the capture of the village of Radinghem. It was then intended to take the high ground south of Radinghem, including the woods in which stood the Chateau de Flandres (this being three-quarters of a mile south of Radinghem, and less than a half a mile north of Beaucamps Ligny village centre).

4 chateau de flandre Capture

Image: Chateau de Flandres, after taking damage. Image courtesy alain.tairnaite.free.fr

The 2nd York and Lancasters' War Diary

The war diary of the 2/Y&L tells the story.[1] The night of 17/18 October had been spent in billets on the Rue du Bois, South of Fleurbaix:

18 October 1914. 8 AM. Battalion paraded and marched to Touquet [a hamlet half a mile south of Bois-Grenier] and there received verbal orders from Brigadier General. Battalion to make a reconnaissance in force in conjunction with the Buffs... French cavalry to act dismounted on our right and companies to be extended on a line running SW from Bridoux, 1 mile SE of Touquet.

'A' and 'C' Companies extended accordingly - 'A' on the left with its left resting on the main road. 'B' Company in support to 'C' Company....

Having reached the line Hau de Bas with little resistance, [the battalion] received verbal orders... to advance and take the village of Radinghem and having done this push on and take high ground on the approach to Chateau de Flandres

5 Y and L 2nd Battalion Aug Oct 1914

Image: The 2/Y&L War Diary. The National Archives WO 95/1610

[By early afternoon,] Village [i.e. Radinghem] taken without difficulty by 'A' Company. Line held up for short time by shelling of French and our guns. Centre of line on reaching high ground East of Radinghem came under heavy shell fire from southerly direction, but continued the advance with the remainder of the line across the Radinghem - Fromelles Road. Right of line coming under heavy cross fire of machine guns and shrapnel in the open, was forced to return back to the road. At the same time the remaining companies, having got into the woods of Chateau de Flandres tried three times to advance but were each time driven back by cross fire of machine guns, situated at southern boundary of the wood, and shrapnel and rifle fire. They eventually took up positions on the Radinghem - Fromelles Road, in conjunction with the Buffs.
(5.10 PM) General line of above road taken up and entrenched with rear line of defence of 1 Company (this company was formed of men who had been rallied by Major Clemson to form a 2nd defensive line) in our right rear. Occasional shrapnel fire from enemy, but machine gun fire and rifle fire had ceased.
(6 PM) Order received to hold on to the ground gained. Remainder of night occupied in entrenching and reforming companies. During the night, French cavalry who were in position on our right withdrew.

An additional snippet comes from Marden's History of the 6th Division:[2]

...the situation was saved by Major Bayley's company of the Y&L, which had worked round on the left and threatened the flank of the [German] counter attack which thereon withdrew.

The war diary records: Killed 13; Wounded 93; Missing 27. Total 133

The German Regiment opposite 2/Y&L was probably the 179th (Saxon) Infantry Regiment of the German Army's 24th Division.[3]

6 Infanterie-Regiment Nr.179

Image: Infanterist Kgl Sächs 14 Infanterie-Regiment Nr 179, courtesy 'Drakegoodman' via Flickr

The war diary goes on to describe how, after the encounter with the German 179th Regiment on 18 October, the 2/Y&L's positions were occasionally shelled during 19 October. In the evening they were relieved by the Buffs. The 2/Y&L withdrew northwards, through Radinghem-en-Weppes, to Bois-Grenier, arriving there in the early hours of the morning of Tuesday, 20 October 1914.

Personal Account - Sgt Lewis Sylvester

A personal account - albeit not very detailed - has survived from this encounter. Sgt Lewis Sylvester's diary in the Y&L Regimental Museum details the following:

Radinghem Sunday 18 October. Drove enemy out of positions at bayonet point. Company Casualties 60. Entrenched. Brother wounded by shrapnel
Monday 19 October handed over the position to the Buffs who were very severely handled by the enemy but who kept them back.

7 Sgt Lewis Sylvester diary entry

Image: Sgt Lewis Sylvester's diary entry, courtesy Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

8 Sgt Sylvester

Image: Sgt Sylvester (possibly taken in March 1915), courtesy the photograph album of J H M Edye 2nd Bn York and Lancs, Rotherham Heritage Services: York and Lancaster Archive (Collection 578-K)/ Royal Armouries FWWAP

Interpreting the events

It would appear from the war diary that, after taking Radinghem "without difficulty", the battalion advanced a further three-quarters of a mile, through the crossroads that is now the D62 / D141B intersection to the Chateau de Flandres. Here they sustained heavy casualties before withdrawing. They "eventually took up position on the Radinghem - Fromelles Road in conjunction with the Buffs." If the withdrawal was made to the centre of the village of Radinghem, then the Radinghem - Fromelles Road mentioned must be the D141 rather than D141B. If, as seems to be the case, this withdrawal was made under pressure from the Germans, they would not have had time to bring back their dead, of which there were many, from the failed advance on the Chateau. It is therefore likely the Germans hastily buried the men from the York and Lancasters. This is supported by a document found in the file of one of the men who was killed on this day, Private Frank Usher. In the file (WO363 at The National Archives ) is a typed statement from a Sgt Siven dated 24 March 1915 which includes the line "we advanced... and then had to retire and leave our wounded behind us."

9 Beucampsligny area

Image: The Radinghem area in 1915 showing the German trench lines. The yellow cross indicates the 2006 discovery and the red flag the 2009 discovery. Note the (red) trench lines. It is possible these were constructed during the advance on 18 October 1914 and subsequent defence of Radinghem. This area was a mile or two behind the German front lines for the remainder of the war. Courtesy Linesman/Great War Digital

The roll call that evening indicated 13 dead and 27 missing. It seems that a small number of the missing must have rejoined or been accounted for subsequently because the battalion's fatalities for 18/19 October, according to the CWGC's database, total 34.

For 90 years, 32 of the 34 men of the 2/Y&L have been commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing (two men were identified and are buried in Bois-Grenier Communal Cemetery).

10 Bois-Grenier graves registration report cwgc

Image: Bois-Grenier burial report, courtesy of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Discoveries

In 2006 a single body was found in the mayor's garden at the former Chateau de Flandres. Regimental buttons and a gold sovereign has led to speculation that the remains were those of an officer or a senior warrant officer. If of such a rank, this could be either Lt Charles Ripley or Captain Mervyn Sandys; however, this suggested identification is unlikely. The CWGC has both of their deaths on 22 October 1914 (although the war diary specifically states Ripley as being killed on 23 October). Assuming their deaths were later in October, this battlefield burial so far behind what had become the German lines means that this suggested identification is unlikely to be correct. It is more likely to be a soldier from the ill-fated 18 October advance. The remains were buried in Rue David Military Cemetery later in 2006.

Three years later, in 2009, excavations for a soak-away pit commenced behind a property at the cross roads less than a quarter-mile north of the site of the former Chateau de Flandres. Multiple human remains were discovered.

11 Map Beaucamps Ligny

Image: The Radinghem - Beaucamps-Ligny Area. The yellow cross indicates the 2006 discovery and the red flag the 2009 discovery. Courtesy Linesman/Great War Digital

12 Beaucamps Ligny grave site

Image: The grave site (between the trees and the house), courtesy Google street view

Unfortunately, during this digging, some of the bodies were disturbed and the bones became slightly mingled. An archaeological excavation was commenced and soon a further two graves were discovered. This was covered by French media

13 Beaucamps Ligny aerial view

Image: Aerial image of the location of the burial site, courtesy of Dean Hill and Stuart Reeves (via Google maps)

14 Property on the cross roads

Image: The property on the D62 / D141B crossroads north of Beaucamps Ligny behind which the bodies were found in 2009. The right turn on this photograph takes you southwards along the D62 towards the site of the Chateau de Flandres less than a quarter-mile away (this is private property) and then on to the village of Beaucamps Ligny. Courtesy Dean Hill

In one grave were found eight remains, a few yards away was a grave with six remains, and some yards further away was found a single body.

15 Location

Image: A plan of the location of the graves at the crossroads, courtesy Dean Hill and Stuart Reeves

Some clues were found with the remains, such as a set of sergeant's stripes [4] and a drummer's badge (although this was not an army issue badge). Another clue was in one set of femur bones, which were 52cm in length. This suggested the soldier was over six feet tall. Other finds included a pocket watch purchased, according to an inscription, from a jeweller in Pontefract - the home of the York and Lancaster regimental depot.

16 Pontefract barracks

Image: Pontefract barracks, courtesy pontefractus.co.uk

Teaspoons, toothbrushes, a water bottle, a coin (Victorian crown), boots, buttons and a Y&L shoulder badge, plus ammunition was also found. The kit was clearly regular army issue (as opposed to that issued later in the war) and the lack of Brodie helmets and gas masks all pointed to the burials being from 1914.

After examination by the French Gendarmerie, the CWGC took custody of the remains on 19 November 2009 - just over 95 years after the action described above. Work was commenced to find DNA compatible relatives of 58 2/Y&L soldiers killed during October 1914 who were recorded by the CWGC as having no known graves.[5] Remarkably, donor relatives were found for all but one of the soldiers and the samples provided were compared and analysed against the DNA profiles extracted from the remains. As a result of the project, overseen by the Historic Casualties section of the Ministry of Defence's Joint Casualty and Compassion Centre (JCCC), which drew together anthropological data, historical evidence and DNA analysis, 11 of the 15 bodies have so far been positively identified.

Analysis of the remains suggested probable causes of death, such as a possible bayonet injury to one soldier and blast injuries to another. All of the bones belonged to mature adults except for one (so far unidentified) who seemed to be under 20 years of age.

The eleven identified men are:

  • Private Herbert Allcock
  • Private John Brameld
  • Private William Butterworth
  • Corporal Francis Dyson
  • Private Walter Ellis
  • Private John Jarvis
  • Private Leonard Morley
  • Private Ernest Oxer
  • Private John Richmond
  • Private William Singyard
  • L/Cpl William Warr

What do we know about these men?

Pte Herbert Ernest Allcock 6774

17 Allcock

Image: Allcock Image from De Ruvigny's Roll of Honour, courtesy Ancestry.co.uk

Herbert Allcock, born in 1882 at Leeds, was 32 years of age when he was killed in action on 18 October 1914. Herbert's parents originated from Norfolk and moved to Leeds before marrying and having 13 children, only six of whom lived to adulthood.

Herbert followed his father's trade as a joiner before enlisting with the York and Lancasters on 14 June 1902. He initially enlisted for a period of three years with the Colours but extended this to a period of eight years and served in India for nearly three years between 1907 and 1910. He was discharged to the Reserve on 8 April 1910 but, little more than a year later, he was medically downgraded and transferred out of the Reserve because of a hernia and extensive primary tooth decay.

His 12 years contractual term expired in June 1914 and he immediately chose to sign up for the Reserve for a further four year period on 14 June 1914; but for that fateful decision, Herbert would have been time expired and would not have been mobilised at the outbreak of war.

Herbert married Ethel Bloomfield in 1911 and had two young daughters, Winifred born August 1912 and Ellen born April 1914; the family lived at Greenhow Avenue, Burley, Leeds.

After his death, Ethel was awarded a pension of 18s 6d per week. This would have been reduced when the children reached 16 years of age. His widow never remarried and she died at the age of 91 in 1975.

Pte John Brameld 7208

John was born in Sheffield in 1884, the eldest of a family of five children. He followed the family trade as a grinder in the cutlery industry before signing up with the York and Lancasters on 7 January 1903. On enlisting, it was noted he had "several scars" on the left side of his face, and "some bad teeth". He served three years with the Colours, including 17 months with the 1st battalion of the regiment in India, and was discharged to the Reserve on 3 February 1906 for the balance of the remaining nine years of his contractual service.

Following his transfer to the Reserve, John settled back into civilian life and resumed his old trade as a table blade grinder. He married Rachel Forster in 1908 and the couple had two children, Edna born in 1910 and Arthur born in 1912.

Although more than eight years had elapsed since his regular service John, along with other reservists in the same situation, mobilised immediately upon the declaration of war.

He was 30 years old when he was killed in action on 18 October 1914.

The army sent a form to Rachel in April 1915 which asked if she had received any letters or postcards from John since the date of him being reported missing. Rachel's reply is among his service papers in which she says "I am sorry to tell you that I have not heard anything about my husband...".

18 Brameld letter

Image: Letter from Rachel Brameld. Courtesy The National Archives, via Find My Past

Pte William Butterworth 8175

19 Butterworth

Image: William Butterworth, courtesy of lancasterwarmemorials.org.uk

Although William was born at Wakefield in 1878, his father was from Barnsley and his mother from Dundee. By the time of the 1891 census the family had settled in Lancaster and most were engaged in the trade of mat weaving. William was the eldest of 11 children who survived into adulthood.

He enlisted into the York and Lancasters on 13 December 1904, aged 23, declaring he had already had service of some two years in the army. His enlistment papers tell us he was almopst 5 ft 3 in tall and weighed just over 9 stones. Extending his service from the initial three years to seven, he served in India for almost all of his pre-war service from December 1905 to November 1912. He was discharged to the Reserve on 12 November 1912 and was mobilised at the outbreak of war.

William married Margaret Clegg little more than six months before the war. The couple had a baby daughter, Beatrice, in early 1915, whom William obviously never saw.

20 Butterworth PRC

Image: Pension Record Card for Butterworth, courtesy the WFA's Pension Record Cards Archive

William has the sad but noteworthy distinction of belonging to a family that lost four sons during the course of the war.

The Army form asking if his wife had received subsequent contact was returned with the phrase "I would only be too glad if I had heard any news of him."

21 Butterworh home address albion street lancaster

Image: Albion Street, Lancaster, courtesy Google street view

The oldest of the Beaucamps Ligny men to be identified, William was aged 36 in October 1914.

Cpl Francis Carr Dyson 9159

Francis was born in 1889 at Wakefield, the second eldest in a family of six children. He lived in various parts of Yorkshire due to the colourful career of his father who worked as a miner, police constable, iron foundry worker and a political journalist.

22 Wakefield Westgate

Image: Wakefield, circa 1900

Enlisting with the York and Lancasters in 1908 for a term of seven years with the Colours, Francis had already been appointed Lance Corporal by the time of the 1911 census but very little else is known of him because his service papers have not survived. It can be deduced, however, that Francis was a regular, serving in Limerick at the outbreak of the war.

His younger brother served with the Royal Garrison Artillery and died of wounds on 30 April 1918.

Pte Walter Ellis 8272

Walter was born in 1883 at Doncaster and in common with other members of his family worked as coach builder in the railway industry. He enlisted on 20 July 1905 at the age of 22 years for a period of seven years with the Colours, subsequently extended to nine. The service records show the benefits of joining the army: after just six months he had gained 1.5 stones from the less than 8.5 stones he weighed when he signed up. He was deemed to be medically fit for service in spite of having 'slightly flat feet'.

23 Ellis - medical summary service papers

Image: The part of Walter Ellis's service papers referring to his flat feet. Courtesy The National Archives, via Find My Past

He was transferred to the 1st Battalion in October 1906 and served in India until his return to Britain in early 1914. In spite of his long service, Walter experienced major disciplinary problems. He was summarily sentenced to 21 days imprisonment in February 1911 by a District Court Martial for contempt of court and further punishment by a subsequent court martial that resulted in loss of pay and pension entitlement for 112 days.

Walter was transferred to the Reserve on 20 July 1914 but enjoyed little more than two weeks of civilian life before he was mobilised at the outbreak of the war.

Pte John Willie Jarvis 7164

John was born in 1880 at Rotherham and worked as a miner before enlisting in the York and Lancasters on 18 November 1902.

In spite of having previously served in the military during the Boer War and having been awarded the Queen's South Africa medal with Cape Colony Bar, he evidently decided that the army life was not for him. John deserted on 21 February 1903 but re-materialised on 9 July. A trial was dispensed with, subject to him making good the losses incurred for equipment and forfeiting pay and pension entitlements.

He was transferred to the 1st Battalion and shipped to India. Upon completion of three years with the Colours (excluding the period of the desertion), he was transferred to the Reserve on 9 July 1906 and resumed his pre-enlistment occupation as a miner. The service papers related to his transfer to reserve note him being "addicted to drink". In spite of John's military character being recorded as "indifferent", he responded immediately to the mobilisation call.

24 Jarvis's travel warrant

Image: Jarvis's travel warrant. Courtesy The National Archives, via Find My Past

Being unmarried, after his death his medals were sent to his only relative - his sister June Tipton, who lived in South Elmsall, between Pontefract and Doncaster, with whom John was lodging when recalled on the outbreak of war.

John's only brother, George, was killed in action a little less than a month after his own death on 18 November 1914.

Pte Leonard Arthur Morley 8678

25 Leonard Morley

Image: Leonard Morley The caption on the rear of the photograph reads: 'The long and the short of the York and Lancaster Rgt. taken April 10th 1911. 6'3" - 3'9", courtesy Vickie Beamish / The Nanaimo Family History Society Quarterly Journal Vol 34 Issue 3

Leonard was born at Boxhill, Surrey in 1892 into a family with ten children. On enlisting at Stratford (London) on 27 April 1907, he stated he was employed as a labourer. At 5ft 9in tall (a remarkably precise note having been made), he was already - still two months short of his 15th birthday - well above average height and likely to grow over the coming years. It would have been easy to pass himself off as being 18 - which he did.

Four years into his service with the regiment, he was presumably the tallest man in the battalion (he was at Blackdown (Deepcut) between 1909 and 1911) and thus selected to pose with a young drummer for the "Long and Short" photograph.

Leonard did not serve in India and, after completing five year's service with the 2nd Battalion, was - at his own request - transferred to the Reserve in June 1912. He settled in Sheffield and was planning to marry before mobilisation intervened in August 1914.

Leonard is the youngest of the men to have been identified. He was 22 years old when he was killed.

Pte Ernest Oxer 8502

Ernest was one of three brothers killed during the course of the war and all, by coincidence, in the black month of October for the family.

He was born at Swinton near Rotherham in 1886 into a mining family. In common with his six brothers who survived into adulthood, Ernest worked down the pit before he enlisted with the York and Lancasters in October 1906.

26 Miners from Low Laithes Colliery, Gawthorpe

Image: Miners from Low Laithes Colliery, Gawthorpe pictured in 1905 after an underground shift. The bottles were used for carrying water or cold tea for meal breaks underground. Courtesy www.ossett.net

Ernest served with the 1st Battalion, including a stint in India, before he was transferred to the Reserve in 1913 after seven years with the Colours.

He swiftly settled back into civilian life and married Ada Hakin in the spring of 1914. Ada had a baby boy who was named Ernest in honour of his father who had been killed in action less than a month before the child was born on 16 November.

Ernest's two brothers, Harry and William, both enlisted in the York and Lancasters on the same day, 7 September 1914. Henry served with the 6th Battalion and died of wounds on 24 October 1915 at Gallipoli. William survived the Gallipoli campaign and was eventually transferred to the 8th Battalion with which he was killed in action on 19 October 1917 during the Battle of Passchendaele. These two brothers left a widow and four infant children each.

Another brother, George, also died in 1915 at the age of 34 years in a mining accident, leaving a widow and five young children.

Pte John Richmond 7969

John was born in 1886 in the Radford district of Nottingham. His parents worked in the lace industry and John was one of thirteen children, only seven of whom survived into adulthood.

John enlisted in October 1904 at the age of 18. He was quite tall, standing at almost 5ft 8in His declared civilian occupation prior to enlistment was that of painter and decorator. He served three years with the Colours, including a spell of nearly two years in India, and was transferred to the Reserve on 28 October 1907. His service record indicated his conduct as having been "very good". John married Mary Elston in December 1909 but the couple had no children. He indicated, on his transfer to the Reserve, that he would be working as an assistant game keeper under his brother-in-law; this may not have worked out, however, because for the seven years that elapsed between his transfer to the Reserve and mobilisation in August 1914, John was employed as a carter for a sweet manufacturer.

Whilst on reserve, in accordance with standard procedures, John was given refresher training on the rifle range, where he scored good marks - 71 in 1908 and 79 in 1910.

27 Rifle Range score, 1910

Image: Pte Richmond's rifle range score, 1910. Courtesy The National Archives, via Find My Past

Pte William Alfred Singyard 7318

28 William Singyard

Image: William Singyard, courtesy www.sleafordtarget.co.uk

The Singyard family originated from Yalding in Kent, but William's father moved to Newcastle in the 1870s for employment as a police constable where he married and raised three children.

William was born in Newcastle in 1884 and initially worked a tanner before enlisting in the in May 1903 having just turned 19 years of age. His original enlistment was for a term of three years with the Colours but this was extended by a further five years. His conduct sheet indicates his character as "very good".

William was transferred to the Reserve in May 1911 and eventually found employment with the North Eastern Railways as a goods porter, a position that he held until his mobilisation in August 1914.

Recalled on the outbreak of war, he left his wife Margaret, whom he had married in 1913, and their infant daughter, Elizabeth, at their home in Stoddart Street, Shieldfield to make the train journey down to Pontefract.

Three cousins of William were also killed in the course of the war.

L/Cpl William Henry Warr 6822

29 William and Charles Warr

Image: William Warr (left). On the right is his brother, Charles. Courtesy www.thisisthewestcountry.co.uk

William was born at Lyme Regis in 1887, the eldest son of a family of 15 children, 12 of whom survived infancy. His father worked as an agricultural labourer.

He was sent to the Gordon Boys Home in Woking, Surrey. The boarding school had been established in 1885 under royal patronage to commemorate Gordon of Khartoum and to provide military and industrial training for the children of the labouring poor.

Upon completion of his training (Pupil No: 1917), William immediately enlisted as a boy soldier at the age of 15 in 1902. He was just 4ft 9in tall, and weighed in at less than 5.5 stones. He declared his "trade" as a musician (which is somewhat at odds with his industrial training at the boys' home) and was appointed as a Drummer in November 1902. William served the full term of his 12 years engagement with the Colours in the UK and extended the same to a full 21 year term in February 1914 whilst stationed in Limerick. Just before the extension of his term, William had been promoted to Lance Corporal with pay. William is one of the two identified men in the group who was not a recalled reservist.

Only 12 days after his own death, William's brother, Charles, was killed in action on 30 October 1914 at Festubert.

William is recorded by the CWGC as being killed on 19 October. This is more than likely an error made by the army during its reporting process, and it is almost without doubt that he was killed at the same time as the other men on 18 October 1914.

Events after the action on 18 October

The 2/Y&L withdrew from Radinghem, as mentioned above, to Bois-Grenier, reaching their billets at 2.00am only to be ordered to 'Stand To' little more than two hours later. The Battalion was deployed in a defensive trench construction around the small hamlet of Bridoux just north of Radinghem. They were immediately ordered forward again to reinforce the Buffs in exactly the same positions that they had vacated the night before. Due to German pressure, Brigadier-General Ingouville-Williams ordered a withdrawal northwards to Touquet (being just south of Bois-Grenier), resulting in the battalion retracing its steps and taking up the defensive line at Bridoux that it had began to construct hours earlier. It was whilst in these trenches at dawn on 23 October that the 2/Y&L came under a determined attack. Fatalities in this period amounted to around 30 men, 26 of whom have no known graves.

Fruition of the Project

The MoD is to be applauded for undertaking the task of commissioning DNA testing on the men's remains. This has been highly successful with, so far, 11 of the 15 men positively identified, despite the less than perfect circumstances in which the initial discovery was made.

The largest of the three graves (which was the original discovery) has yielded identifications on Bramfeld, Warr, Butterworth, Richmond, Oxer and Jarvis, with two men not being identified.

The single burial was of a very young soldier, under 20 years of age. Unfortunately, the positive identification of this individual has so far not been possible.

The six remains in the third of the graves provided identification for Allcock, Ellis, Morley, Singyard and Dyson, with one set of remains unidentified.

The 15 men from the 2nd Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment, are to be re-interred at Y Farm Military Cemetery, Bois-Grenier, at a ceremony and burial service which will take place on 22 October 2014, 100 years - almost to the day - after they were killed. It will be a unique occasion and a fitting tribute in this centenary year, not only to these men but to the 'Old Contemptibles' of the British Expeditionary Force of which they were part.

Appendix 1:
Roll of Honour: the unidentified from 18 October are:

James William Andrew, 7589.

A reservist. Originally enlisted in 1904. Born in Sheffield. Married with three children. Aged 29

30 James Andrew

Image: James Andrew

Alfred John Chester, 7771.

A reservist. Originally enlisted in 1904. Born in Rotherhithe. Aged 27.

Arthur Cooney, 10298.

A regular, having enlisted in December 1912. Born in Bradford. Arthur seems to have under-declared his age, saying he was 19 when in fact he was 23. This may have been to circumvent height restrictions. Arthur's 'true' age in 1914 was 25

George Edward Darrington, 7689.

A reservist. He enlisted in 1904 under the name George Edward Linton (the surname assumed by his mother when his father abandoned the family - he was christened "Darrington"). George was a veteran of the Boer War, and he came from the Wicker area of Sheffield. Aged 35.

31 Darrington aka Linton

Image: Darrington/Linton

Frank Hadfield, 7775.

A reservist. Frank was born in Sheffield and enlisted in 1904. He decided army life was not for him and bought himself out for £10 in 1910. He is recorded as being wounded in the field but regarded as died on 18 October, aged 28.

Charles Edgar Hallett, 7536.

A reservist. Born in Croydon, he enlisted in 1903 stating he was 18 when he was really only 16. Charles was aged 27 when he was killed.

Robert Harvey, 4675.

A regular from Stoke Newington, Robert enlisted in 1896 aged 17 but under-declared his age as being 15 probably to enable him to enlist as a boy soldier. He was short (less than 5 feet) and weighed-in at under 6 stones, so the 'boy soldier' route was probably his only option to enlist. In 1908 he extended his service and signed up for 21 years. Robert - a widower - was aged 35 when he was killed.

Sydney Hebert, 7761.

A reservist. Sydney was born in Tillington, Staffordshire and enlisted in 1904. A pre-war carriage cleaner, Sydney was 28 when he was killed.

Ross Jeff, 10523.

Ross was a regular who signed up in about April 1914, making him one of the least experienced men in the battalion. Before enlisting in the army, he was a railway porter. Ross was 20 when killed, although the CWGC have his age incorrectly recorded as 32.

32 Ross Jeff

Image: Ross Jeff

Tom Oliver, 7852.

A reservist, aged 30. The CWGC records Tom as having been killed on 19 October, but this may not be accurate as his papers state he was killed "on or since" 18 October but also suggest he was wounded on 21 October.

Henry William Parker, 8259.

Little is known about Henry, who came from Boston in Lincolnshire. From his regimental number it is believed he joined up in 1905 aged 17 and it is likely he overstated his age. He would probably have been a recalled reservist, and was 26 when he was killed.

Albert Pearson, 10356.

A regular, Albert - who was born in Sheffield - enlisted in March 1913 by stating he was 18, when he was actually 17. Albert was technically too young for service in France, and was killed at the age of 18.

33 Albert Pearson

Image: Albert Pearson

Barney Peatfield, 10331.

Another regular, Barney enlisted in about January 1913. Born in Retford, he was 22 when he was killed.

34 Barney Peatfield

Image: Barney Peatfield

Larrett Roebuck, 8116.

A reservist, before the war Larrett was a miner and had enlisted under age in 1904. When placed on the Reserve in 1912, he played football for his colliery team where he was spotted by scouts from Huddersfield Town. It is believed Larrett was the first professional English Football league player to be killed in the Great War. He was aged 25, married with four children.

35 Larrett Roebuck

Image: Larrett Roebuck

John William Rooke, 8272.

Again little is known about John. He was born in Bolton and enlisted in about July 1905. He was therefore more than likely a recalled reservist. John was aged 29 when he was killed.

Clarence Slater, 7917.

A reservist, Clarence was born in Great Harwood, Lancashire and enlisted in 1904, stating he was nearly 19 when he was in fact just 16. He was aged 26 when he was killed.

Arthur Turner, 10428.

A regular who signed up in August 1913 (declaring he was 19 years and 6 months when he was actually just short of 18), Before the war Arthur was a labourer from Hyde, Manchester. When killed, Arthur was aged 19

Frank Henry Usher, 10054.

Another regular, Frank enlisted in January 1912 after being a special reservist for two years with the KRRC. Frank was from Islington and was aged 22 when he was killed.

Charles White, 7156.

A reservist, who enlisted in the York and Lancasters in 1902 before joining the reserves in 1905. Frank, from Sheffield, was 33 when he was killed.

David Wilson Williams, 8458.

A reservist, from Stockton on Tees, David enlisted in 1906 and was 23 when he was killed.

36 Williams PRC

Image: Pension Record Card of David Williams

Wilfred Varley Young, 8902.

A reservist (having gone onto Reserve at the end of June) Wilfred was born in Huddersfield. He is recorded as being killed on 19 October, but it is likely he met his end on 18 October, aged 25.

37 Wilfred Young

Image: Wilfred Young

In addition there are two identified fatalities from this period, both of whom are buried in Bois-Grenier Communal Cemetery. Both are recorded as having been killed on 19 October.

38 bois grenier street view

Image: Bois-Grenier Communal Cemetery

Richard James Church

Sydney William Hobin

Finally, Henry George Grey, 7455, is listed as killed on 23 October but was reported missing on 18 October. A reservist who enlisted in 1903, Henry was a "horsekeeper" from Bow, in London and was aged 30 when he was killed.

Appendix 2

23 October - 25 October

Of the two officers and 28 men were killed in the period 23 to 25 October, only four have known graves (two are buried Ration Farm Military Cemetery and two at Bailleul Communal Cemetery). The men from the 2/Y&L with no known grave include two officers: Captain Mervyn Sandys and Lt Charles Ripley (both were killed on 22 October 1914, although the battalion war diary states Ripley was killed on 23 October).

39 Capt Sandys

Image: Captain Sandys

40 Lt Ripley

Image: Lt Ripley

Some of the 'other ranks' killed in this period include:

Walter Anderson 24 October 1914

41 Walter Anderson

Image: Walter Anderson

Joseph Carter Dunn 23 October 1914

42 Joseph Dunn

Image: Joseph Dunn

James Wilfred Loukes 24 October 1914

43 James Loukes

Image: James Loukes

Joe Parkin 24 October 1914

44 Joe Parkin

Image: Joe Parkin

John James Puttrell 23 October 1914

45 John Puttrell

Image: John Puttrell

James Scoley 23 October 1914

46 James Scoley

Image: James Scoley

47 James Scoley's  PRC

Image: James Scoley's Pension Record Card (WFA archive)

William Albert Sunderland 25 October 1914

48 William Sunderland

Image: William Sunderland

49 William Sunderland's Pension Record Card

Image: William Sunderland's Pension Record Card (WFA archive)

John William Taylor 23 October 1914

50 John Taylor

Image: John Taylor

Frederick Francis Charles Thompson 23 October 1914

51 Frederick Thompson

Image: Frederick Thompson

 

Footnotes

[1] The National Archives (TNA): Public Record Office (PRO) WO 95/1610: The war diary of the 2/Y&L 1914-1918

[2] Major General T O Marden, 'A Short History of the Sixth Division' (London: Hugh Rees, Ltd., 1920) p8

[3] John F Williams, 'Modernity, the Media and the Military: The Creation of National Mythologies on the Western Front 1914-1918' (London: Routledge, 2009) p32

[4] No sergeant was killed in this attack. The presence of the stripes is therefore a mystery. It is possible a Sergeant comforted a dying man with his great coat, or possibly the Germans 'dumped' a discarded sergeant's tunic into the grave on top of the bodies.

[5] It was necessary to locate relatives from all of the men killed in October because it was not clear at the outset that the bodies were all from the 18 October encounter.

 

Article Contributed by: David Tattersfield, Development Trustee, The Western Front Association. 

 

Acknowledgements

This article could not have been written without the generous assistance of a number of individuals. These include:

  • Melvyn Pack
  • Colonel Geoffrey Norton, Chairman York and Lancaster Regiment Trustees.
  • Karl Noble (Rotherham Heritage Services) Curator, Clifton Park Museum
  • Philip Abbott and Caroline Walter from The Royal Armouries, Leeds
  • Others who wish to remain anonymous

 

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