Evans, Horace John. Died 9th May 1917

Horace John EVANS was the son of Eli Henry (b.1866 Pulloxhill, Bedfordshire – 1939) and Agnes Harriet née Attfield Evans (1863–1947). Their marriage was registered in Ampthill in later 1889, a village some five miles from where Eli was born. It seems the family moved about somewhat, but Surrey was the family’s home for many years.

Horace’s birth was registered in Guilford, Surrey in 1894. He was baptised at St John the Evangelist, Stoke next Guildford, on 1 April 1894 – when he seems to have been miss-recorded as the son of Eli and Elizabeth Evans. By then the family lived at 4 Elm Terrace, Stoughton Road; Chertsey. Eli was then a ‘carter’.

In 1901 Eli was working as a ‘Relayer [deleted, ‘Plate’ substituted] on Railway’, and the family lived in Gas Works Lane, Chertsey. In total Eli and Agnes had nine children. By 1911 his eldest sister Gladys had moved to work as a servant in Shepperton. Horace, now aged 17, was the eldest of the eight children still at home[1] at No 1 Floral House, Railway Approach, Chertsey, Surrey. Horace was working as an Assistant Clerk at the Wholesale Newsagent, W H Smith. His father was then a ‘gasman’.

Eli and Agnes and probably most of their family moved to Rugby, probably at some date between 1911 and the war – probably for work, possibly on the railways. They later lived at 14 Newbold Road, Rugby. Indeed, they lived there until the ends of their lives as did some of their children.

Horace was certainly in Rugby when he married Annie M Terry and their marriage was registered in Rugby in the third quarter of 1916. This might suggest that he had moved to Rugby sufficiently previous to that date to court and marry her!   However, as later, after Horace’s death, she returned to live at 47A Guildford Street, Chertsey, Surrey, this suggests that she was probably someone he had known from the time the family was also living in Chertsey. Horace joined up in Rugby, quite possibly after he had married.

He enlisted at Rugby as a Private, No.21774, in the 15th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. The number is misquoted in some sources as 201774 [on Register of Effects].

With only the minimal details on his Medal Card and no surviving Service Record, it is difficult to reconstruct Horace’s service history. His service number – No.20174 – can be compared to similar numbers and a William Jarvis, No.22396, appears to have joined up on 30 October 1916. Whilst this is well into the war. He may have planned to marry, in part, as at the outbreak of war married men were not conscripted.[2]  However, in June 1916, possibly even before his marriage, the conscription of married men started.

The 15th Battalion (2nd Birmingham) Royal Warwickshire Regiment had been formed in Birmingham by the Lord Mayor and a local Committee in September 1914. The Battalion moved to Sutton Coalfield and then on 15 June 1915 to Wensleydale to join the 95th Brigade of the 32nd Division and later moved to Salisbury Plain.

On 21 November 1915 the Battalion mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne and on 14 January 1916 had transferred to 13th Brigade in the 5th Division. In March 1916, probably still before Frederick had joined up, the Division took over a section of front line near Arras, between St Laurent Blangy and the southern edge of Vimy Ridge.   When the offensive opened on the Somme on 1 July 1916, the 5th Division was enjoying a period of rest and re-fit and was in GHQ Reserve. However, this restful time was not destined to last and in July 1916 they moved some 50 miles south to reinforce the Somme.

It is unlikely that Horace had received sufficient training to have been involved on the Somme, but in October 1916 the Division had left the Somme and was holding a quieter line near Festubert and this may have been when newer recruits would have joined the 15th Battalion as reinforcements. Whilst there was a constant threat from enemy artillery and sniper fire, in comparison with the Somme it was a relatively tranquil period that lasted until March 1917.

In early April 1917 they moved to Arras for the various phases of the Battles of Arras, starting with the attack on Vimy Ridge from 9-12 April 1917; and then three Battles of the Scarpe, 9-14 April; 23-24 April 1917; and 3-4 May 1917; and the subsidiary attack on La Coulotte on 23 April 1917.

There appear to be conflicting Diaries for the period – indeed there are two separate handwritten entries for 9 May which give varying accounts.

On the day before Horace died, 8 May 1917, the 15th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment was ordered to attack the German-held village of Fresnoy [in full Fresnoy-en-Gohelle], which was about 8 miles north-east of Arras and west of Vimy.

The Battalion War Diary records that preparations did not go smoothly. The men were ordered forward to a forming up point several hours before the attack, from where they would launch their offensive. Unfortunately, orders were issued, countermanded and reissued, and the men were moved forlornly around the forming up area, all the while artillery fire. Time passed, and eventually the attack was cancelled for that day and postponed until 0200 on the 9th. Sadly, the delay and confusion meant that the Warwicks were held in the jump off zone for several hours, coming under German artillery fire and sustaining casualties of six other ranks killed, 18 wounded.[3]

Terry Carter provided a summary of the 9 May attack in his book The Birmingham Pals:

Before the men even got to the German positions many casualties were caused by shellfire catching them whilst crossing No Man’s Land. Despite these early losses men of the 15th Royal Warwicks reached their objectives in and around Fresnoy, but because they were now weak in numbers and both flanks in the air, the remaining men had to pull out and return to the jumping off line. During this failed attack the Battalion lost 206 men; sixty of these were killed. Once back in the jumping off trench, the 15th Royal Warwicks were relieved by the 16th, who then suffered four days of concentrated artillery bombardment, in which twenty five men lost there [sic] lives.[4]

Another soldier in the 15th Battalion, Private Ernest Powell, No.22718, who died the day before Horace, …

… died whilst engaged in a fight for the nearby village of Fresnoy in which 104 men were killed. A colonel commanding the battalion wrote a report of the “disaster” of 8th May and concluded that the men were “attempting to hold an impossible salient as a defensive position”, that there was no aerial or artillery support and the appalling weather turned the area into a sea of mud with “visibility being NIL”.

Horace was ‘Dth psmd’ i.e. ‘Death presumed’ and he was formally reported as ‘Killed in Action’ on 9 May 1917. His body was not found or identified and he is remembered on Bay 3 of the Arras Memorial

Horace was awarded the Victory and British war Medals.   His widow Annie received his Gratuity of £3-10-0d on 6 January 1920, by which date she had returned to Chertsey.

Horace John EVANS is commemorated on the War Memorial Gates in Hillmorton Road, Rugby.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Horace John Evans was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by Anne Rogers and John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, December 2016.

[1]       Gladys Linda Evans, would have been 19 in 1911. Those at home were: Horace John Evans, 17; Wilfred Osman Evans, 15; Leonard William Evans, 13; Victor Lewis Evans, 11; Daisy Lucinda Evans, 9; Agnes Marion Evans, 7; Phyllis May Evans, 4; and Hilda Blanch Evans, 2.

[2]       Conscription during First World War began when the British government passed the Military Service Act in 1916. The act specified that single men aged 18 to 45 years old were liable to be called up for military service unless they were widowed with children or ministers of a religion. Married men were exempt in the original Act, although this was changed in June 1916.   The age limit was also eventually raised to 51 years old

[3]         http://www.frontlinelivinghistory.com/#!social–blog/c1muy.

[4]       Terry Carter, The Birmingham Pals, at http://www.frontlinelivinghistory.com/#!social–blog/c1muy

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