Archibald ‘Arch’ Canham’s birth was registered in the first quarter of 1883 and he was baptised on 27 April 1883 at St. Andrew’s Church, Rugby. He was a son of John Canham, a groom from Hatfield, Hertfordshire and Alice née Kaye Canham who was born in Cobham, Surrey, and the couple married there on 20 September 1876. In 1883 the family lived at 5 James Street, Rugby.
Arch was one of six children. He had three sisters: two elder: Milly (1877-1926) who married Will Procter and lived in Grosvenor Road, Rugby; and Elizabeth (1879-1933) who never married; and one younger, Alice, who died aged eight, in 1892. He had an older brother John ‘Jack’ who was a storekeeper at BTH and a younger brother, Joe, who worked as an engineering machinist at Lodge Plugs. Joe married Mary Louisa Lloyd in 1925 and her brother Bert Lloyd opened and ran Clifton post office.
The photograph shows Arch and his wife, Laura, sitting on the fence. Milly is on the far right, and Elizabeth is pictured left. Joe is in the centre. The identity of the man next to Elizabeth is unknown.
In 1891, when Arch was eight, his family was living in London Road, Stretton upon Dunsmore. Arch and Jack went to school in Dunchurch. Jack’s daughter Betty later recalled: ‘Dad and uncle Arch were always the first to be allowed to go home if the weather got bad, or if it got very dark, because they had the furthest to go. They had to walk past a big avenue of firs, and it was quite scary, and they were always very glad that granny waited outside for them in a big white apron, so that they could see her.’
In 1901, aged 18, Arch was working as a house painter, and presumably working on a contract as he was living in Buxton, Derbyshire, and in lodgings together with several other painters. Buxton was an expanding spa town (work was begun on Buxton Opera House in 1901, and it opened in 1903). It is just possible that Arch and the other painters also worked there.
His father, John Canham, died in October 1907 after he was kicked in the stomach by a horse. He was buried at St John’s, Hillmorton.
In 1911, Arch, aged 28, and still single, and living back at home with his widowed mother and his 16-year-old younger brother Joe in Hillmorton. At some time prior to WWI he must have started working for the local building firm J. Parnell and Son.
He married Laura Emily Knight on 25 March 1913 at the Church of the Holy Rood, Daglingworth, Gloucestershire. Little is known of her, or how it was that they came to meet.
Their daughter Muriel Mary was born in Rugby on 30 December 1914, when the family was living at 19 Benn Street.
There was little information on his Medal Card, but fortunately his Service/Pension Record is one of the small number still available. He took the Attestation oath at Rugby on 10 December 1915 when he was a ‘painter and paper hanger’. He was then 33 years old; 5ft 6in in height; and had an ‘amputation terminal phalanx left index finger’, i.e. he had lost the top joint of that finger. He was still at 19 Benn Street. He was posted on 27 May 1916 and his papers noted he was ‘appointed’ to the Royal Garrison Artillery, the documents being stamped ‘Plymouth’ on 30 May 1916.
‘Arch’ joined up as No.86927 [on his Medal Card] and 86972 [on his initial CWGC grave registration record, but later corrected], in the Royal Garrison Artillery and was in the UK on ‘home service’ for nearly a year from 27 May 1916 until 17 May 1917. He was first posted to No.3 Depot RGA from 27 May 1916, then to 36 Company on 3 June 1916. On 13 January 1917 he was posted to the ‘Signalling School’ where he passed his ‘1st Class Signalling and Telephony’ course at Hepswell Camp – at Catterick, Yorkshire – on 24 January 1917, a mere ten days later! He was apparently posted near the end of this short course to the ‘A Depot Siege Artillery’ on 20 January 1917, and then to his unit, the 332nd Siege Battery on 15 February 1917.
His ‘overseas service’ in France commenced on 18 May 1917 when the Battery embarked at Southampton and disembarked the next day at Le Havre. They went out to the Western Front armed with four 6 inch howitzers. The unit first went into the line at Ploegstreet and Le Bizet [both in Belgium near the French border], before moving to Ypres. However, a mere nine days after arriving in France, he was acting as a signaller and was involved fierce fighting at Pont-de-Nieppe. Nieppe is a French village four kilometres north-west of Armentieres on the road to Bailleul. The bridge at Pont-de-Nieppe had been seized by the 1st Hampshires on 16 October 1914 and the village then stayed in Allied hands until 11 April 1918.
Arch’s unit would probably have been mobilised and brought forward to assist in the preparations for the Battle of Messines on 7 June 1917. This was an attack on the Wyschaete-Messines Ridge, south of Ypres in the Vimy to Arras sector. There was a seven day preliminary artillery bombardment before the infantry assault and many of the infantry battalions had been billeted in Pont-de-Nieppe before going forward to the farms around the south and west of Ploegsteert Wood.
The Germans were aware that an attack was imminent and would no doubt have been trying to disrupt the build up and emplacement of artillery, as described in the published diaries of two Australian gunners, Harrold ‘Hal’ Stevens and William ‘Billy’ O’Neil who described their time in Nieppe during the period leading up to, and indeed after, 27 May 1917.
Hal’s Diary – 24th May.
All guns taken away and placed in a line ‘shoulder to shoulder’ for what appears a big offensive. Guns of all calibres. We are on the eve of great things and I pray I may be spared to see it through although it will be a fearful experience. Still I would not miss it for any money.
Hal’s Diary – 27th May.
Another of our guns smashed to be taken to ordinance depot as a shell struck it today. We have no cover now. When will the strafe occur? Our positions were not occupied as fresh orders were to hand and great ‘goings-on’ forecast – there was to be a big offensive on a grand scale. The eighteen pounders were to be shoulder to shoulder for miles and miles and guns of all calibres were to be in support! It was the eve of great and far-reaching events! So the rumours circulated. … The battery had orders Heavy batteries were drawing big guns by motors, the naval pieces with their extremely long barrels, and in contrast the ‘hows’ thick and short, all assembling steadily for the big ‘stunt’. … The guns were in their new positions with heavy English guns on their left. The latter had been having a hectic time and had lost several men and an officer. Nearly every day the enemy was doing some execution and the strange part was that very little counter battery work was being done by the British. It was thought that the idea was to keep the location of the batteries a secret until the day of revenge. Anyhow, it was galling to be doing so little and receiving so much from the opposition. Several men were killed near by, but none of Billy’s companions were hurt, and they were moved to a flank as the shelling was severe all around them.
Billy O’Neil’s Diary – Sunday 27th May
Shelling woke us up – they were after dump behind us. ‘F’. Sub. put out of action and some Tommies on left killed.
Maybe it was Arch who was one of those ‘Tommies’ or among those ‘several men’ who were lost. It was during this period he was wounded, and he died ‘in the field’ from his wounds on 27 May 1917. He had served for 1 year and 167 days. A confirmatory copy Death Certificate was later issued.
Arch was buried in Plot: II. D. 8. in the Pont de Nieppe cemetery, Nieppe, in the Departement du Nord, France. His memorial stone has the added words from his widow, ‘Thanks be to God that such have been’.
Nieppe is a village 4 kilometres north-west of Armentieres on the road to Bailleul. The village was in the Allied hands from mid-October 1914 until 11 April 1918. Pont-De-Nieppe Communal Cemetery was used by Commonwealth field ambulances and fighting units from October 1914 to March 1918.
Administration was granted in London to his widow, Laura Canham, on 19 June 1918. His Estate was valued at £267-6-10d. His address was given as the family home at 19 Benn Street, Rugby. After Arch’s death, his wife’s mother became ill. Laura sold the house in Benn Street and before 13 October 1917 she had returned home to Grove Hill, Daglingworth, near Cirencester. Correspondence exists regarding Arch’s plaque and scroll and giving this address on 15 April 1919 and also when she acknowledged receipt of his ‘British War and Victory Medals’ on 2 May 1922.
A letter dated 12 December 1917 advised that Laura was awarded ‘… a pension of 18/9 a week for herself and one child with effect from 17/12/1917 …’.
Arch’s service papers also include details of his family and next of kin which were provided by his widow on 30 April 1919. She was still living at 19 Benn Street, Rugby, as was their daughter Muriel Emily Canham. His mother was widowed and living at ‘Hillmorton, nr. Rugby’. His elder brother, John Canham was now 38 years old and living at 36 Caldecott Street, Rugby and his younger brother, Joe was 23 and also living in Hillmorton. His elder sister, now Mrs. Emily [Milly] Proctor, was 42 and at 110, Grosvenor Road, Rugby; and his other sister, Miss Elizabeth Canham, was 40 and at Bell Field, Peter’s Green, Luton.
Arch’s sister, Milly’s husband, Will Procter, died in the flu epidemic on 16 March 1920. Milly apparently never got over it and she died in 1926. Their mother, Alice, died in August 1929, and her funeral service was at the Mission Hall, Hillmorton. His sister, Elizabeth died in 1933. His elder brother, Jack lived on until 1941, dying at the age of 60, and his youngest brother, Joe, died in 1975. Both brothers had married and had children.
Archibald Canham is commemorated on the War Memorial Gates in Hillmorton Road, Rugby and also on the Hillmorton War Memorial.
He is listed as being Killed in Action on the J. Parnell and Son, Roll of Honour, but has been recorded incorrectly as being in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
The original Parnell ‘Roll of Honour’ was produced in late 1916 and contained ‘…. the names of 22 men who have enlisted from the yard and shops. The ‘roll’, which was tastefully designed and executed by Mr. F. J. R. Cole, Rugby, with appropriate and patriotic embellishments, was framed in oak, and the names enrolled thereon …’.
Nine further names were added to the Roll of Honour later, and Archibald Canham, who was still ‘serving’ at the date the Roll was first made, would be later marked as having been killed.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
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This article on Archibald Canham 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 2014, and updated May 2017.
Many thanks are due to Elaine Canham of Rugby, whose husband is Arch’s great nephew. Her report on Archibald Canham and her family photograph have been incorporated into this study with her permission.
 Alison Miller (Editor), Death sat on a pale horse – The World War One diaries, letters & sketches of Harold Stephens and W. ‘Billy’ O’Neil, Midlands Heritage Press, Newstead, 2008. See: http://www.hudson-publishing.com/sitebuildercontent/sitebuilderfiles/alisonpagesample.pdf.
 The Roll of Honour is held at the Warwick Modern Records Centre and reproduced with their permission.
 Rugby Advertiser, 2 December 1916. The report contains a number of discrepancies especially in the initials .