Sinclair, Alfred. Died 9th Apr 1917

Alfred SINCLAIR was born in Crewe in late 1885. His parents were very much older, in 1901 they were living in Prince Arthur Street, Monk’s Coppenhall, Crewe. His father, Robert was 72 and still a working blacksmith; his mother, Harriet née Kettle, his father’s second wife whom he married in 1883, was 61, and Alfred was 15 and an ‘Apprentice Cabinet Maker’.   In 1919 when both his father and mother were dead, there were five step-brothers and two step-sisters still living, both Sinclairs and Kettles, with ages which ranged from 20 to 50.

In 1911 Alfred was in lodgings, a ‘visitor’, at the home of the Broadhurst confectioner family at 69 Bradwall Road, Sandbach. He was then a ‘Fitter’s Assistant [deleted], Fitter at Railway Works’. It seems likely that as Crewe was a ‘Railway Town’ he might well have worked for the L&NWR in Crewe and later transferred to Rugby. Prior to the war it seems that he had lived with one of his step-sisters, Mrs Francis Ann, née Kettle, Morgan of 62 Windsor Street, Rugby, whilst he was working at the London and North Western Railway Locomotive Sheds.[1]

Alfred’s Military Service Records survive, and include his Attestation Papers which show that he joined up early in the war on 1 September 1914, as a Rifleman, No.Y/535, in the 5th Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. He was aged 29 years and 11 days; 5ft 3½in tall, weighed 142lbs, with fair complexion, blue eyes and dark brown hair. He was at Winchester Depot on 2 September 1914 and posted formally to the 5th (Reserve) Battalion, which had been in Winchester since August, on 3 September 1914. As a Depot and Training unit, they moved on mobilisation to Sheerness and remained in that area throughout the war.

However, Alfred was reposted on 30 October to the 14th (Reserve) Battalion. The 14th Bn. was formed at Sheerness in October 1914 for K4 and came under orders of 92nd Brigade of 31st Division then moved to Westcliff-on-Sea and on 10 April 1915 converted into a reserve battalion.   In May 1915 it moved to Belhus Park and in October to Seaford. Before then, on 3 September 1915, Alfred was posted from the Reserve to the B.E.F. (British Expeditionary Force) and went to France to join the 10th Bn..   This is confirmed by his Medal Card.

The 10th (Service) Battalion had been formed at Winchester on 14 September 1914 as part of K2 and came under orders of 59th Brigade in 20th (Light) Division.   They had moved to Blackdown, and then in February 1915 to Witley and in April to Hamilton Camp (Stonehenge). On 21 July 1915 the 10th Battalion landed at Boulogne and the Division concentrated in the Saint-Omer area. They moved to the Fleurbaix area for trench familiarisation. Alfred would have joined them some six weeks after they had arrived in France, probably in time for some of that familiarisation.

During June 1916 the 10th Bn. were involved in the Battle of Mount Sorrel, in the Ypres area responding to a German attack which attempted to take pressure off the British Somme offensive, which in turn was taking pressure off the German offensive against the French at Verdun. The 10th Bn. would later be posted to the Somme and were involved in the Battle of Delville Wood; the Battle of Guillemont; the Battle of Flers-Courcelette; the Battle of Morval; and the Battle of Le Transloy.

From 1 to 4 July the 10th Bn. were in billets in Poperinge, and later were working near the Prison in Ypres. Whilst there four mules were hit by shelling, but there is no record of casualties among the men. However, whilst with the 10th Bn. at about this date Alfred was wounded[2] and posted to the ‘Depot’ on 5 July 1916. His Military Record shows that he was wounded with a ‘SWLLeg’ – that is a Shell Wound to the Left Leg. He returned to UK for treatment and after his recovery he returned via Southampton to Le Havre, France on 8 December, and was posted to the 2nd Bn. on 9 December and re-posted ‘in the field’ to the 9th Bn. on 9 December 1916.

The French had handed over Arras to Commonwealth forces in the spring of 1916 and the system of tunnels upon which the town is built were used and developed in preparation for the major offensive planned for April 1917.

During April 1917, the 9th Bn. was in the Arras area and preparing for the offensive.   They were held in the caves in the old stone quarries under Arras, which had been much enlarged and provided cover.   The extract from the Ox. and Bucks. Diary[3] – they were in the same Brigade – provided information.

April 5th -7th

At Christchurch Cave supplying working parties.    Attack on the ‘Harp’.

The operations now in course of preparation were to take the form of a combined attack to the south of Lens. Elaborate Secret Orders were issued between the 3rd and 7th April, and from the 3rd to the 5th a heavy bombardment was carried out. At 7a.m. on the 7th the following Operation Orders were issued by the 42nd Infantry Brigade:

… The units of the 42nd Infantry Brigade will be distributed as follows at zero on “Z” day: … 9th K.R.R.C.: In Minnow Trench (250 yards). In Perch Trench (300 yards). In Bream Trench (200 yards). In Rudd Trench (150 yards). Total: 900 yards. … 9th K.R.R.C [leaving] … from Christchurch Cave by Exit No.14.E. (G.34.c.90.63). Battalion to be clear of the Cave by 9p.m. on the 8th inst. Route to Assembly Trenches: Rue de Temple – Arras Way and Hunter Street to Old German Front Line – Telegraph Lane and Fish Lane to Assembly Trenches; 200 yards distance to be maintained between platoons. Battalion to be in Assembly Trenches by 12 midnight 8th/9th inst.

The 9th K.R.R.C. Diary[4] relates that the 9th Bn. were to attack the ‘String’ of the ‘Harp’. Zero hour was 5.30a.m. and their wave set off at about 7.00a.m. under a ‘creeping barrage’. The objectives were successfully gained by about 9.15a.m. However, 6 Officers and 69 men were killed; 17 men were missing; and 4 officers and 118 men were wounded.

Alfred was one of those ‘Killed in Action’ on that Easter Monday, 9 April 1917. His body was not recovered or later identified and he is remembered on a Panel in Bay 7 of the Arras Memorial, located in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery, to the west of Arras, near the Citadel.

The Arras Memorial commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand who died in the Arras sector between the spring of 1916 and 7 August 1918, the eve of the Advance to Victory, and have no known grave. The memorial was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

Alfred Sinclair’s Military Records show that his Next of Kin was originally his aunt, Maggie Sinclair, 29 John Street, Crewe, but it seems that his step-sister ‘Francis Ann, née Kettle, Morgan’ at 62 Windsor Street, Rugby, took over the role as she received some unknown ‘effects’ on 7 September 1917 – the record is illegible.   She later received his 1915 Star on 4 March 1919; the British War Medal on 24 January 1921 and his Victory Medal on 9 April 1921.

As well as on the Arras Memorial, Alfred is remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate and on Rugby Loco Steam Shed Memorial, which is ‘A bronze tablet bearing the names of the dead, mounted on white marble, superimposed on black slate. On either side of the tablet is hung a framed illuminated roll of honour, containing the names of members of the department who served in the forces during the war.’[5]

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Alfred Sinclair 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, December 2016.

[1]       Information from Rugby Advertiser, 5 May 1917.

[2]       Information also from Rugby Advertiser, 5 May 1917;   He ‘… was wounded in July 1916 and returned to France in the following December.’

[3]    Record of the 5th (Service) Battalion, Oxford and Bucks L.I., 1st July 1916 to 30th June 1917, Compiled by Steve Berridge, http://www.lightbobs.com.

[4]       Available to view at www.ancestry.co.uk [subscription site].

[5]       From a report of the unveiling, Rugby Advertiser, 11 March 1921; see also the Rugby Family History Group website at http://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/rugby-loco-steam-shed-memorial .

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