Renshaw, Alfred James. Died 23rd Oct 1918

Alfred James RENSHAW was born in Rugby in 1896 and his birth was registered in Q2, 1896.   He was baptised on 8 November 1896 at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby; when his family lived at 63 Cambridge Street and his father was a ‘Fireman’.  He was the second son, and the third child of five, of William Renshaw (b.c.1867 in Rugby) and Elizabeth, née Clarke, Renshaw (b.c.1867 in Yelvertoft).  Their marriage was registered in Q2, 1892, in Rugby.

In 1901, when Alfred was four, the family was living at 121 Cambridge Street, Rugby.  Alfred’s father was a ‘railway engine stoker’.  It seems from a later letter (below) that he would become a pupil at Murray School.

In 1911, the family was living at 149 Oxford Street, Rugby; Alfred was 14 and an ‘Errand Boy’ at the B.T.H. works.  His elder brother and sister both worked for the ‘Co-op Society’, as a ‘baker’ and a ‘shop assistant’ respectively.  His father had been promoted and was now an ‘engine driver’.  His parents had been married for 19 years and had had five children, all of whom were living.

At some date before to the war, it seems that Alfred had followed in his father’s career footsteps, and had moved to work for the L & N-W Railway, as shown in an article in the Rugby Advertiser in September 1914, entitled ‘Rugby’s Magnificent Response’, which included Alfred’s name.
The following is a list of men from the Locomotive Department of the L & N-W Railway at Rugby …, A J Renshaw, … [1]

It is not known exactly when Alfred joined up, but it must have been early in the war, indeed he was probably already in the Territorial ‘Rugby Howitzer Battery’, as his Medal Card states that he went to France on 31 March 1915, and thus qualified for the 1914-15 Star.  The card shows that he was initially in a Territorial battery of the Royal Field Artillery [RFA] and he had the very early number 52.  This early form of number, would also tend to confirm that he was already a member of the ‘Rugby Howitzer Battery’ in the local 1st/1st Warwickshire Royal Horse Artillery (Territorial Forces).  A number of other Rugby casualties served in this Battery, including: Corporal, No.187, Thomas J Smith,[2] from B.T.H. who was wounded and died of his wounds on 21 March 1918; and Lance Bombardier, No.99, C. S. Collins,[3] also from B.T.H., who died from his wounds, on the 24 October 1918, the day after Alfred.

Alfred Renshaw was confirmed as a member of the ‘Rugby Howitzer Battery’ – the 4th South Midland (Howitzer), 243 Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, 5th Rugby Battery, – in a list of the men in the papers of Frank West,[4] which included,
‘Renshaw, A. J., 52, Gnr’

A note on the later renumbering of RFA members also gives some confirmatory information.
These “long” [six figure] numbers came into use on 1 January 1917, even though the men on active service to whom they were allocated were by that time in other Brigades. … Sampling the medal cards shows that some of the men with lower service numbers on this list who usually have short service numbers too, went out to France when the 4th South Midland Brigade was first sent overseas, arriving in France, 31 March 1915.  … All men who served overseas before the end of 1915 received the 1915 Star and the qualifying date is often marked on their medal cards.

The above date, 31 March 1915, agrees with the date of entry to France on Alfred’s Medal Card – and confirms that he was originally with the 4th South Midland (Howitzer) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.

The Battery was recalled from summer camp for training in the Chelmsford area in August 1914, and sailed from Folkestone to Boulogne in ‘mid March 1915’ and concentrated near Cassel.  The Battery left the Division on 16 April 1915.  A summary of their activity from Wikipedia,[5] is given below – it can be seen that there was considerable movement of units, and it is likely that men were also cross-posted, leading to Alfred’s alternate numbers.

The South Midland Division was ordered to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in France on 13 March 1915, and the artillery embarked at Southampton for Le Havre, the 1/1st Battery disembarking on 31 March.  By 4 April the division had taken over a section of the front line near Cassel.

However, artillery policy in the BEF was to withdraw heavy batteries from the divisions and group them into dedicated heavy artillery brigades, so on 16 April the battery left the South Midland Division to join Second Army Artillery in time for the Second Battle of Ypres.  At this time the practice was to move batteries between heavy brigades (later heavy artillery groups or HAGs) as required, so the 1/1st Warwickshire Bty moved to XVI Brigade RGA on 10 June, to VIII Brigade RGA on 3 July, to III Corps Artillery with First Army on 21 August, and IV Heavy Bde on 10 November.

In early 1916 the battery was moved again, to 12th HAG with Second Army (10 April), to ‘Loring’s Group’ with I ANZAC Corps (19 May), then to 44th (South African) HAG (5 August), and on to 34th HAG (27 August), which joined Fourth Army on the Somme in September. After the Somme fighting died down, the battery moved within Fourth Army to 7th HAG (30 November) and back to 44th (SA) HAG (23 December).

By the end of 1916 the obsolete 4.7-inch gun had been largely superseded on the Western Front by the modern 60-pounder.  On 28 February 1917 the battery was made up to a strength of six guns when it was joined by a section from the newly-arrived 199th Heavy Bty.  It then moved north on 13 March to join 15th HAG with First Army, arriving on 21 March. Soon afterwards (15 April) it was switched south again to Fifth Army where it joined 9th HAG on 20 April.  Through the early summer the battery continued to be switched rapidly from one HAG to another: 42nd (arriving 19 May), 16th with Third Army (5 July), 52nd with Second Army (9 July), 99th (12 July), then back to 52nd (6 August), and finally 11th (7 September).

By now, Second Army was involved in the Third Ypres Offensive, taking the lead at the Battles of the Menin Road Ridge, Polygon Wood and Broodseinde, which were notable artillery victories. The 60-pounders were used for counter-battery fire before the attack, and then as part of the creeping barrage that led the infantry onto their objectives.  However, the subsequent attacks (the Battles of Poelcappelle, First Passchendaele and Second Passchendaele) were failures. The British batteries were clearly observable from the Passchendaele Ridge and suffered badly from counter-battery fire, while their own guns sank into the mud and became difficult to aim and fire.

While the Ypres offensive was still continuing, the German and Austrian victory at Caporetto on the Italian Front led to British forces being rushed from Flanders to shore up the Italian Army. Even before their defeat the Italians had asked for the loan of heavy artillery, and now a number of units were hurriedly sent by rail, including 1/1st Warwickshire Battery, which went on 14 November.

In February 1916 Alfred was still with the Rugby Howitzer Battery, although a comment ‘I arrived safely back …’, suggests he may have had some leave in late 1915 or early 1916.

OLD MURRAYIAN WITH THE HOWITZER BATTERY.
Gunner A J Renshaw, of the Rugby Howitzer Battery, in a letter to his old schoolmaster, says :— “I arrived safely back to the land of mud and water, commonly known as ‘Sunny France.’ During my absence there was plenty of fun going on, and ‘Fritz’ and his ‘brudders’ gave our infantry a surprise visit the other night, but as they strongly objected to their presence in our lines they ‘struck oil’ somewhat and were soon out again on the hop.  Since then we have returned their visit with much more success.  Of late considerable activity has been shown, and by now they are aware of the fact that we are out for business, for we have given them ‘cold feet’ this last month or so, and soon you may here with confidence of our continued success.  Of that there is very little doubt.  We shall fight until we have avenged the dastardly atrocities they have committed in France and Belgian.”[6]

It seems that in the 1916 reorganisations of the Royal Field Artillery, Alfred Renshaw was renumbered and transferred, at least latterly, into the Royal Garrison Artillery, (TF), as a Gunner, No: 314639.  He was also – before or afterwards – in the Royal Field Artillery as Gnr. No: 832129, possibly as a temporary or earlier appointment, as the CWGC still had him listed in the Royal Garrison Artillery.

The UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919 records that he was formerly No: 832129, 4th South Midland Howitzer Brigade, R.F.A.; and was then a Gunner, No: 314639, in South Midland (Warwickshire) Heavy Battery. [RGA – (TF)], Royal Garrison Artillery.

The Medal Role for the British War Medal and Victory Medal also states that he was ‘RFA. 832129 Gnr, RGA. (TF)’ and also ‘Gunner, 314639, Royal Garrison Artillery, South Midland (Warwickshire) Heavy Battery. [RGA – (TF)]’.

In May 1916, before the Battle of the Somme, the Brigades in the British Artillery were renumbered.  The 4th South Midland became 243 Brigade, but some of its men were scattered, and that may have been when Alfred was posted to the Royal Garrison Artillery.

It seems that later his first Battery was sent to Italy, but Alfred died in France, so he was not with them.  With no service records and the surviving information not giving any specific unit numbers, it seems almost impossible to be absolutely certain where he was when he was wounded.  It would probably have been by counter battery fire, as the Germans tried to halt the advancing allied forces.

However, as the CWGC has him with the 2nd/1st Lancashire Heavy Battery, RGA, it may be possible to hazard a guess.  The 2nd/1st LHB RGA was part of the 57th West Lancashire Division.  They joined the Division on 26 November 1915, received four 4.7-inch guns on 29 December 1915, and later moved independently to France, arriving on 1 July 1916 and coming initially under orders of II Anzac Corps.[7]

In 1918 the Division was engaged in:
The Battles of the Lys (9-29 April) (Divisional artillery only); the Battle of the Scarpe (26-30 August) and the Battle of the Drocourt-Queant Line (2-3 September) both being phases of the Second Battles of Arras 1918.  The Battle of the Canal du Nord (27 September-1 October) and the Battle of the Cambrai (8-9 October), in which the Division assisted in the capture of Cambrai, and both of which were phases of the Battles of the Hindenburg Line.  The occupation of Lille (17 October), and the general final advance in Artois (15 October-1 November), both being phases of the Final Advance in Artois.

The War Diary, [8] provides some indication of the activities of the 57th Division artillery.

In September, the focus of the advance was in the Cambrai area with the Divisional artillery supporting the advance as the troops moved forward toward Cambrai from the west, advancing from Graincourt, to Anneux, Cantaig-sur-Escaut, then around the south of Cambrai, to Proville, Niergnies and on to Awoingt.  Cambrai was taken in this period.

Then in October the Division was moved north via Fromelles to assist the attacks in the Lille area.  During the month the troops advanced and took Lille and passed it by via Hellemmes and on towards Froyennes, near Tournai.  However, in this period the War Diary[9] noted –

20 October – ‘Enemy resistance began to stiffen. …’.

23 October – ‘Hostile artillery continued harassing fire, mainly with field guns and trench mortars.’

The best information at present was that the 2nd/1st Lancashire Heavy Battery, RGA, was with the 57th Division and that Alfred would have been in the Lille area when he was wounded – presumably during the hostile artillery harassment.  Although he may have been wounded in later October, it  may have been in some earlier incident, as he had been evacuated a very considerable distance of some 260 kms, to one of the military hospitals at Rouen.  He died from his wounds, on the 23 October 1918, either in Rouen, or possibly on his way to a hospital there.  He was 22 years old.

After Alfred died, like the great majority of those who died in the various Rouen Hospitals, he was buried in the Rouen city cemetery of St. Sever, in the St Sever Cemetery Extension, in grave reference: S. II. FF. 12.

St. Sever Cemetery and St. Sever Cemetery Extension are located within a large communal cemetery situated on the eastern edge of the southern Rouen suburbs of Le Grand Quevilly and Le Petit Quevilly.   The Extension had been started in September 1916.  During the First World War, Commonwealth camps and hospitals were stationed on the southern outskirts of Rouen.  A base supply depot and the 3rd Echelon of General Headquarters were also established in the city.  Almost all of the hospitals at Rouen remained there for practically the whole of the war.  They included eight general, five stationary, one British Red Cross and one labour hospital, and No. 2 Convalescent Depot.  A number of the dead from these hospitals were buried in other cemeteries, but the great majority were taken to the city cemetery of St. Sever.  In September 1916, it was found necessary to begin an extension, where the last burial took place in April 1920.

Later, when a permanent gravestone replaced his temporary cross, it included his family’s message, ‘AT REST’.  The next of kin was recorded as ‘Mr. F. Keeley, 10 Lodge Road, Rugby’.  He was Alfred’s brother-in-law; Frank Keeley’s marriage to Alfred’s elder sister, Lilian, was registered in Rugby in Q2, 1917 [Rugby 6d,1369].

There were no obvious death notices or obituaries in the Rugby Advertiser, however, his death was noted in the Coventry Evening Telegraph.
‘The Roll of Honour – Coventry and District Casualties, Died of Wounds, Renshaw, 314639, Gunner, A. J. (Rugby), R.G.A.)’.[10]

Alfred James RENSHAW was awarded the British War and Victory Medals and also the 1914-15 Star.   He is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates and also on a family grave, No. K655, in the Clifton Road Cemetery, Rugby

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Alfred James RENSHAW 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 RFHG, August 2018.

[1]      Rugby Advertiser, 5 September 1914; also https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/5th-sep-1914-rugbys-magnificent-response/.

[2]      https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2018/03/21/smith-thomas-j-l-died-21st-mar-1918/.

[3]      Rugby Remembers, C. S. Collins, 24 October 1918.

[4]      https://sites.google.com/site/4thsouthmidlandbrigade/Home/5th-battery-list-1918.

[5]      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/South_Midland_(Warwickshire)_Royal_Garrison_Artillery#cite_note-15.

[6]      Rugby Advertiser, 26 February 1916; see also: https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2016/02/26/26th-feb-1916-restrictions-on-the-use-of-paper/.

[7]      https://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/57th-2nd-west-lancashire-division/, The Long Long Trail, The history of 57th (2nd West Lancashire) Division.

[8]      UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery, 57th Division, Piece 2968/2: Commander Royal Artillery (1917 Feb – 1919 Mar).

[9]      UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, Royal Horse Artillery and Royal Field Artillery, 57th Division, Piece 2968/2: Commander Royal Artillery (1917 Feb – 1919 Mar).

[10]     Coventry Evening Telegraph, Tuesday, 26 November 1918.

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