Whitbread, Basil. Died 22nd Jul 1916

Basil Whitbread was the son of Charles Walter (b.c.1860, in Willoughby), and Amy Elizabeth, née Dyson, Whitbread, (b.c.1862, in Rugby) who were latterly of Arnold Cottage, 3, Church Walk, Rugby. Basil’s birth was registered in Q4, 1896.

In 1901 the family was living at 15 Pennington Street, Rugby. Basil’s father was a solicitor’s Clerk. Basil was four and had an older and younger sister. In 1911, Basil was still at school, latterly at Lawrence Sheriff School, and they were now at 16 Pennington Street, although this may have been the same house re-numbered.

Prior to the war he was employed at British Thompson Houston (BTH),[1] and there were several mentions in the local paper after he had enlisted.

BTH – FROM THE WORKS. This is an additional list of men who have left to join the Colours from August 27th up to and including September 2nd:- … Whitbread,[2]

 Amongst those connected with the Rugby Congregational Church who have enlisted are: … Basil Whitbread,[3] 

He is reported to have enlisted ‘… in September 1914, in the Hussars, and was afterwards transferred to the East Surrey Regiment. He was given a commission last autumn’.[4] The commission was reported in the Local War Notes in the Rugby Advertiser.

LOCAL WAR NOTES. Mr B Whitbread, only son of Mr Charles Whitbread, and Mr Eddy Wilson, youngest son of Mrs E Wilson, have been gazetted to commissions in the 12th   Reserve R.W.R.[5]

As a 2nd Lieutenant he was later posted away from the Reserve Battalion to the 14th Battalion, the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

14th (Service) Battalion (1st Birmingham) was formed at Birmingham in September 1914 by the Lord Mayor and a local committee.   On 26 June 1915 it came under command of 95th Brigade, 32nd Division. It landed at Boulogne on 21 November 1915. On 28 December 1915, it transferred to 13th Brigade, 5th Division.[6]

The date when Basil transferred to the 14th Battalion is unknown at present, however, his Medal Card notes that he moved to France to join them on 4 March 1916.

The 95th Brigade in the 32nd Division included the 14th, 15th, and 16th Warwicks and the 12th Gloucesters. In 1916 it was involved in the Battle of Albert, the Battle of Bazentin, and the 14th Warwicks were involved in parts of the battle for the nearby Delville Wood, and then High Wood, in the period 15 July-3 September, all being phases of the Battle of the Somme.

Basil is reported to have been killed in ne of the attacks on High Wood.   Initial attacks took place on 14 and 15 July without success. A further attack took place on 20 July, which although it gained part of the wood, was not reinforced and the Germans reoccupied the wood. On 22 and 23 July …

After the 20 July attacks limped to their conclusions, the Germans reoccupied most of High Wood, until only the southern corner remained in British hands. They also dug a new defensive position, … This meant that taking the wood, already almost within British hands twice only to slip away, became an even tougher proposition.

Efforts however continued, and on the night of 22/23 July, the 4th Gordon Highlanders attacked the eastern corner of the wood, whilst the 1st Royal West Kents attacked the south-eastern part of the wood and Wood Lane, there with the 14th Royal Warwickshires at their side.

There had been a preliminary bombardment, but this had not inflicted sufficient loss on the defenders, and they were able to hold High Wood. No significant gains were made, although the Royal West Kents suffered 420 casualties. The other battalions also suffered losses.[7]

It would have been during these attacks on High Wood that Basil Whitbread was killed in action, aged 19, indeed nearly 20, on 22 July 1916. A letter from Lieut-Col Murray, O.C. the Battalion, stated:

It is with the greatest regret that I have to report that your son was ‘missing and believed killed’ on the nights of 22nd and 23rd July. He was at the head of his men, leading them straight and very gallantly during a night attack on the German trenches. He was last seen to fall hit in front of the German lines, and it appeared as though he was dead. … There is just the possibility that he was wounded, and afterwards taken prisoner. Your boy had during his four months’ service with the Battalion shown the greatest keenness and ability, and his loss is felt not only by the Company, but by all ranks in the Battalion. Capt Richmond wrote: ‘On the night of the 22nd July we went forward to attack the enemy’s lines, and we met with heavy shelling and machine gun fire, and suffered many casualties. Your son, with a few men of his platoon, had advanced close up to the enemy’s trenches, when a shell burst amongst them,, and he was seen to fall. Only one man of that party got back again, wounded, and I fear that the remainder were killed. Whitbread was always so cheerful and bright on all occasions, and he had become most popular with the officers and men.’[8]

Basil Whitbread was possibly originally buried very near to where he fell and his grave was marked with a [temporary wooden] cross. The similarity of the map references suggest that this location was later developed to form the Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, and his body was exhumed during the post war ‘concentration’ process, and he was reburied in plot: IV. G. 9. in the reorganised Caterpillar Valley Cemetery, Longueval. In due course some 5,500 officers and men were brought in from other small cemeteries, and other battlefields of the Somme.[9]

He is also remembered on the Old Laurentians memorial plaque.

Basil Whitbread was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

His outstanding pay from the army amounting to £43-2-6d was paid on 3 August 1917.



– – – – – –


This article on Basil Whitbread was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, July 2016.

[1]       Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 15 August 1916

[2]       Rugby Advertiser, 5 September 1914.

[3]       Rugby Advertiser, 19 September 1914.

[4]       Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 15 August 1916

[5]       Rugby Advertiser, 23 October 1915.

[6]         http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/

[7]       Eddited from: http://www.ww1battlefields.co.uk/somme/high_wood.html

[8]       Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 15 August 1916

[9]       Information from: http://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/

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