Cope, Percy Leslie. Died 21st Jun 1917

Percy Leslie COPE, was born in Molesey, Surrey in 1894. He was baptised on 2 December 1894 at St. Mary’s church, East Molesey, Surrey.   His father, John Cope, was an ‘Iron Moulder’ who had been born in Basingstoke, as had Percy’s mother, Harriet Elizabeth, née Fisher, Cope, and Percy’s two oldest brothers.

The family later moved to East Molesey where Percy and his two other brothers were born. However, by 1901, when his youngest brother was two years old, the family had moved to New Bilton, Rugby, living at 14 Victoria Avenue. John Cope and his eldest son were both working as foundry ‘moulders’.

By 1911, the family were at 8 Victoria Avenue, New Bilton, Rugby. The eldest son was no longer at home, but Percy was now a ‘trimmer’ and his father and his two other elder brothers were ‘moulders’, and all four were employed in an iron foundry.

Percy enlisted in Rugby, as a Gunner, No.125, later renumbered as No.840038, in ‘D’ Battery of the 63rd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (RFA). His exact enlistment date is unknown, but it was probably in 1914, as he went to France on 31 March 1915, thus becoming entitled to the 1915 Star.

In general the Territorial Force (TF) artillery units were under command of the TF Divisions. The 63rd Brigade was formed as part of the First New Army, K1. It originally comprised Nos. 199, 200 and 201 Batteries RFA and the Brigade Ammunition Column and was under the command of the 12th (Eastern) Division. There were various reorganisations[1] which typically affected D Battery.

One reorganisation was on 25 May 1916, when D Battery left to join 65 Brigade which was also under command of 12th (Eastern) Division, and was replaced by B (Howitzer) Battery from 65 Brigade RFA.   It was then renamed as the new D (Howitzer) Battery.

It may have been that this provided the opportunity for Percy to take leave as in Q2, 1916 he must have been in Rugby, when his marriage to Violet Beatrice Edmans was registered. She had been born in about 1896 in Hackney, London. Percy’s military records note that their son, Leslie F Cope, was born on 24 September 1916. This would suggest that he was also in Rugby in about December 1915.   With no surviving Service Records it is not possible to establish if and why this was the case, two leaves in a short period seem unlikely, but perhaps he had been wounded.

There were further reorganisations on 30 August 1916 and 7 January 1917, although the Brigade remained with 12th (Eastern) Division throughout the war. In 1917, the Division took part in the offensive at Arras, and moved to the front in that sector on 14 January. It did not leave other than for periods of rest until towards the end of 1917. Thus Percy would have spent his final months in the Arras area. When the Division was relieved on 16 May and moved to the area of Le Cauroy, it had suffered a total of 141 officers and 3380 other ranks casualties since 25 April 1917. Between 17 May and 19 October 1917, the Division held positions east of Monchy le Preux, mounting several raids and small scale attacks and beating off some made against them, notably in the area of Hook Trench – Pick Avenue – Tites Copse.[2]

Whilst his Medal Card noted that Percy was ‘K in A’ – ‘Killed in Action’ – on 21 June 1917, he may have died of wounds. His place of death is recorded[3] as ‘37th Field Ambulance’, which suggests that he may have been wounded at an earlier date and have been evacuated to the nearby 37th Field Ambulance.

The 37th Field Ambulance was attached to the 12th (Eastern) Division from February 1917, and was based approximately 8 miles from Arras.

The Battalion diary does not record men killed, merely their main duties and targets, and 21 June 1917 does not include any unusual activity. However, a few days before at 12.30pm on 17 June 1917 there was a ‘Very heavy hostile barrage on our trenches’.[4] He may have been wounded in that incident – although analysis of the fatalities from the Brigade in June, when their Field Ambulance was using the Bunyans Cemetery at Tilloy-les Mofflaines suggests that there were casualties from various batteries of the 63rd Brigade buried there on 14 June, 18 June [3No], and Percy on 21 June 1917.

He was buried in Grave Reference: E. 3. in Bunyans Cemetery, Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines. This is a very small cemetery in the Pas de Calais area with only 54 identified casualties. It is 4 kilometres south-east of Arras on the main road to Cambrai. The village of Tilloy-les-Mofflaines was captured on 9 April 1917 by the 3rd Division, which was followed up by the 37th. Bunyans Cemetery (the origin of the name is not known) was begun by infantry units (Row A) after the advance in April 1917 and Rows B to E were made between April and 4 July 1917 by the 62nd and 63rd Brigades, Royal Field Artillery.

A death announcement appeared in the Rugby Advertiser.[5]

COPE. – In loving memory of Gunner Percy Leslie Cope, who was killed in action in France on June 21st, 1917, aged, 22. Not dead but sleepeth.
Somewhere there is a nameless grave,
Where sleeps our loved one among the brave;
One of the rank and file – he heard the call,
And for the land he loved he gave his all.
– From his Wife and Son, 82 Lawford Road, New Bilton, Rugby.

Percy was awarded the Victory and British medals and also received the 1915 Star. He is remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate and also on the New Bilton War Memorial which is by the chapel in Croop Hill Cemetery, Addison Road, Rugby.

Percy’s widow, Violet, was later recorded by the CWGC as living at 82 Lawford Road, New Bilton, Rugby. The Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects recorded that she was paid various sums outstanding: £10-14-5d on 28 January 1918 and £21-8-8d on 18 April 1918.   After Violet remarried with Henry Belcher, in Rugby – this marriage being registered in Q2 1919 – it was thus as Violet Belcher that she was paid Percy’s War Gratuity of £13-12-0d on 19 December 1919.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

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This article on Percy Leslie COPE 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, June 2017.

 

[1]       The Long Long Trail, http://www.1914-1918.net/rfa_units_63.html.

[2]       Information from: http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/12th-eastern-division/.

[3]       The Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects

[4]       War Diary, The National Archives, Ref: WO 95/1838, 63 Brigade Royal Field Artillery, 1915 Jan. – 1919 Apr.

[5]       Rugby Advertiser, 28 July 1917.

Sands, Henry. Died 17th Jun 1917

Henry Sands was born in Atherstone in late 1882. His parents were Joseph Sands and Jane (nee Alcott) who had married at Atherstone parish church on 19th January 1881. Henry was the second of three sons. The family lived in Long Street, Atherstone where Joseph was a joiner.

On 28 March 1910, Henry Sands married Jennie May Knight at Welford. He was aged 28 and a groom/gardener. Jennie was a domestic servant. By the 1911 census they were living at 8 Orton’s Court in Rugby, together with their 10 month old son William Charles. Henry was a van driver/porter at a furniture store. Three more children were born: Edith in 1913, Lucy in 1915 and (posthumously) Winifred in 1917.

It is not known when Henry enlisted, but probably towards the end of 1916, judging by the birth of his last child in the third quarter of 1917. He joined the 1st/4th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment as a private (no 203316).

The Battalion took part in the Second Battle of Gaza, 17-19 April 1917, when the 1/4th and 1/5th battalions between them suffered 75% casualties, about 1,100 men.

Private Henry Sands died in Egypt on 17th June 1917, of diphtheria. He was buried at the Kantara War Memorial Cemetery, situated at Kantara East on the eastern side of the Suez Canal, 160 kilometres north-east of Cairo and 50 kilometres south of Port Said.

In the early part of the First World War, Kantara was an important point in the defence of Suez against Turkish attacks and marked the starting point of the new railway east towards Sinai and Palestine, begun in January 1916. Kantara developed into a major base and hospital centre and the cemetery was begun in February 1916 for burials from the various hospitals, continuing in use until late 1920.

Wording on his gravestone added by his wife was:
FATHER IN THY GRACIOUS
KEEPING
LEAVE WE NOW OUR LOVED ONE
SLEEPING

There was an announcement published in the Rugby Advertiser, 22 June, 1918

SANDS – In ever-loving memory of my dear husband, Pte H. SANDS (HARRY), who died on June 17th, 1917, at El-Arish, Egypt.
” One year has passed since that sad day,
When our dear one was called away;
Bravely he went to duty’s call,
And gave his life for one and all.”
– From his loving wife and children

His wife, Jennie May died in 1958 in Coventry RD aged 68.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

Wood, Arthur William. Died 10th Jun 1917

Arthur was the son of Joseph Wood and Annie Hill who were married in Rugby in 1889. Joseph came from Ashton in Makerfield, Lancashire, and Annie from Harpenden, Hertfordshire. Joseph was an engine driver and had been in Rugby since at least 1869, at Union Street in 1871 and 1881 and 31 Charlotte Street in 1891.

Arthur was born at 31 Charlotte Street in 1896 and baptised at St Andrew’s Church on 19 March.   Annie was Joseph’s second wife; his first wife Jemima Shaw born Braunston Northants, whom he married at Rugby in 1869, died aged 42 in 1887 in Rugby. They had a number of children. In 1901 Joseph was still living in Charlotte Street with his second wife and their three young children Adelina, Dora and Arthur as well as son Ernest from his first marriage. By 1911 Joseph had moved to 153 Grosvenor Road, Annie had died (in 1903), Dora was no longer at home, and there was another child Marjorie born in 1901 as well as Ernest, now a labourer aged 23.

Arthur enlisted in 1915 as Private 11083 in the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and was sent to France in May of that year. He was transferred to the 33rd Company Machine Gun Corps (Infantry) as Private 19891, and was killed in action in France in 1917. He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Menin Gate at Ypres.

He was awarded the Victory and British War medals and the 1915 Star. His effects, £20 plus a war gratuity of £13 were sent to his sole legatee his half brother George Wood, an engine fitter, who took out letters of Administration in Birmingham in October 1917.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

Wallace, Herbert. Died 8th Jun 1917

Herbert Wallace’s was born in Blakesley, Northamptonshire in late 1891 and baptised there on 27 December 1891.

Earlier in 1891, the family in Blakesley comprised: his father, William, a ‘Stud Groom’; mother Elizabeth; older siblings: Joseph aged 8; sister, Ethel aged 7; and brothers John, Walter and Edward, aged 5, 3, and 1.

By 1901 the family had moved to 83 Sholebrook, Wittlebury Park, near Towcester. Herbert’s father was still a stud groom. Herbert was now aged 9 and there were more children and six siblings at home, Edward, Flora, Frank, Fred, Rose and Nelly. Then in 1903, his father died, the death being registered in Towcester.   Herbert’s widowed mother remained with the younger children at 52 Whittlebury, Towcester.   At some later date his widowed mother moved to Rugby, probably to join her children.

In 1911, Herbert was 19 and a grocer’s assistant, lodging with the Hussey family at 2 Devon Cottage, Watford Road, Radlett, Hertfordshire.

He may well have moved to the Rugby area before the war to join his two brothers who were already working in Rugby in 1911, as he enlisted in nearby Coventry into the Machine Gun Corps [MGC] as Gunner, No.38424.   The MGC had been formed in October 1915.

It is not known when Herbert joined up, but he probably didn’t go to France until 1916, as he didn’t receive the 1914-1915 Star, and he would have to be trained.

He later transferred to the ‘Heavy Section’ as Private/Gunner, No.206183. The Heavy Section was formed in March 1916, becoming the ‘Heavy Branch’ in November 1916. Men of this branch crewed the first tanks in action at Flers, during the Battle of the Somme in September 1916.[1]

He was still in the ‘Heavy Branch’ in June 1917, as it was not until July 1917, that the ‘Heavy Branch’ separated from the MGC to become the Tank Corps, later to be called the Royal Tank Regiment. The later ‘Soldiers that died in the Great War’ record states ‘Royal Tank Corps’ and his Medal Card stated ‘Tank Corps’.

The Tank Corps was formed from the Heavy Branch MGC on 27 July 1917 and the Battalions adopted numbering rather than letter designations (although tank names followed the same lettering: for example, 7th Battalion tanks were all named with a letter G, like Grouse, Grumble, etc.) Each Tank Battalion had a complement of 32 officers and 374 men. Originally formed as Companies of the Heavy Section MGC, designated A, B, C and D, each Company consisted of 4 Sections of 3 tanks of each type (male and female Mk.1s). Companies also had another machine in reserve. In November 1916 the Companies were expanded to Battalions, carrying the same letter designations. A Battalion consisted of 3 Companies. Three mobile workshops provided the engineering back-up to service the tanks. An expansion programme was ordered by GHQ, to build a force of 14 additional Battalions.

As Herbert was in “A” Battalion, this would have become the 1st Battalion – possibly after his death.

… some [tanks] played a part at the Battle of Arras in April and May 1917. … The next step saw an upgrade in the production of the Mark IV. It carried more armour and had an external fuel tank. Mechanically, it was similar to the Mark II. These tanks weighed 28 tons. The Mark IV first saw service at The Battle of Messines in June 1917.[2]

The Battle of Messines took place from 7 to 14 June 1917, just south of Ypres. Seventy-two of the new Mark IV tanks had arrived in May and were hidden south-west of Ypres, and took part in various parts of the battle.

Sadly, the tanks deployment in the Third Battle of Ypres (July-November 1917) proved to be another slog through deep mud. The area became a tank graveyard as machine after machine ditched in deep trenches and shell holes, sank, stuck and was shelled. Morale in the Tank Corps was low and confidence of the rest of the army destroyed.[3]

Herbert was recorded by the CWGC as a ‘Gunner, “A” Bn Machine Gun Corps (Heavy Branch)’, but there seem to be two possible dates of death. The grave registration form gave his earlier MGC number and 7 June 1917 as his date of death, rather than his later Heavy Branch number and the later 8 June 1917 date of death given in the later CWGC record and on his headstone.   Herbert was Killed in Action on either 7 or 8 June 1917, it is assumed during one of the number of separate actions tank actions in the Battle of Messines.

His body was recovered and he was buried in Grave Reference: III. C. I5. in the Dickebusch New Military Cemetery Extension. The New Military Cemetery was begun in February 1915 and was used until May 1917 by fighting units and field ambulances, with a few further burials taking place in March and April 1918. The Extension was used from May 1917 to January 1918. The cemetery is a few miles south-west of Ypres, and a similar distance north-west of Messines.

At the date that the CWGC listed the memorial details, Herbert was described as ‘Son of Elizabeth Wallace, of 21, St. John St., Rugby and the late William Wallace’. At some date before 1911, Edward’s brothers, John, b.c.1886; and Frank, b.c.1896, had moved to Rugby to work as a ‘grocer’s assistant, and a ‘gas engineer apprentice’ respectively, and in 1911 were in lodgings at 74 Railway Terrace. It seems likely that their widowed mother, later also moved to Rugby to join them, and submitted Herbert’s name to be remembered on the Memorial Gate. Whether Herbert ever lived in Rugby is uncertain, but he joined up in nearby Coventry, and so he probably visited or even lived for a while, with his brothers, and later his mother. As he is also on the St. Philip’s memorial, perhaps he joined the family in Rugby for a time.

His mother was his sole legatee, and received £5-9-11d on 1 October 1917 and £3-10-0d on 16 October 1919.

Herbert Wallace was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

As well as being remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate, Herbert is commemorated at St. Philip’s Church, Wood Street, Rugby.

Herbert’s brother, Edward, also died in WWI, on 15 July 1916, whilst serving with the 1st Welsh Fusiliers during the Battle of the Somme.   He is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial and his biography is here.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

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This article on Herbert Wallace 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, June 2016.

 

[1]       In July 1917, the Heavy Branch separated from the MGC to become the Tank Corps, later the Royal Tank Regiment.

[2]         http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/tank-corps-in-the-first-world-war/

[3]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Messines_(1917); from: Edmonds, J. E., 1991, [1948], Military Operations France and Belgium, 1917: 7 June – 10 November: Messines and Third Ypres (Passchendaele). History of the Great War Based on Official Documents by Direction of the Historical Section of the Committee of Imperial Defence, p.33, London, HMSO, ISBN: 0-89839-166-0.

Shirley, Archibald Vincent. Died 8th Jun 1917

Archibald Vincent (Archie to his family) was born at Penarth on 17 May 1887. His father was Walter Rayner Shirley, a solicitor, his mother Eliza Agnes Walker Hood. He was their eldest child, he had sisters Phyllis and Beryl, and brother Rayner.

In 1891 the family, with his sister Phyllis, were lodging in Great Malvern. By 1901 Archie aged 13 was a pupil at Stancliffe Hall Preparatory School in Darley, Derbyshire, after which he attended Rugby School. He read for his degree at Exeter College Oxford, and enlisted in the Welsh Horse Yeomanry, a Territorial unit, at the outbreak of war, first as a despatch rider, then serving in the ranks. He gained his commission in spring 1915, served in Gallipoli, then was sent to Egypt until October 1916 when he transferred to the Royal Flying Corps as a Second Lieutenant.

picture from de Ruvignys Roll of Honour

His biography in de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour gives this information together with a photograph, and adds he died at Roulers in Flanders, and that “he was killed in aerial battle where he encountered an overwhelming number of enemy machines, and, colliding with one, came crashing to the ground.”

As well as his name appearing on the Rugby Memorial Gates, he is commemorated on the Arras Flying Services Memorial located in the Faubourg-d’Amiens Cemetery in Arras, in Rugby School Memorial Chapel, and on the War Memorial of Llandough and Leckwith, near Cardiff where his father was living.

Llandough & Leckwith Institue War Memorial (with thanks to John Stansfield)

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

 

Inwood, Cecil Stanley. Died 27th May 1917

Cecil Stanley Inwood was born in Rugby in 1897. His father was Thomas James Inwood from Weston Turville in Buckinghamshire. His mother was Hettie Melinda (nee Noon), of Whilton, Northants. They married in Whilton on 25th May 1896. Thomas living in Rugby at the time, his father was running the Queen’s Head pub in Little Elborowe Street. Thomas worked for the Post Office, as a Stamper and later Mail Porter.

Cecil was their only child, a daughter was born and died in 1900. The family lived at 12 Lodge Road, Rugby. Cecil attended Elborowe School and on leaving, became an Electrical Apprentice with Mr S P Martin in Regent Street.

Cecil Stanley Inwood joined the Worcester Regiment under the group system, in late 1915. He was a private, no. 29753. The 14th Battalion, Worcester Regt. was formed in autumn 1915, one of the new “Pioneer” Regiments. They were first quartered in Norton Barracks in Worcester, moving to Salisbury Plain in Spring 1916. Training on Salisbury Plain was hard, since technical knowledge was added to battle training. They left on 19th June 1916 and arrived in France on the morning of 21st June. By 23rd June they reached billets on the front at Chamblain Chatelain, where they became part of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division.

They moved position frequently, working on defences and other technical work, perhaps Cecil’s electrical apprenticeship helped. Working parties were continually under fire, but losses were not heavy. (Casualties of the 14th Battalion from July 1st to Sept 17th were 4 killed, 8 wounded.)

In October they moved to the Somme front. A stay in Englebelmer was long remembered in the Battalion, due to the large number of rats in the deserted village. It was a relief to leave and live under canvas, even though it was November. They took part in the Battle of the Ancre, consolidating captured defences and building new communication trenches. On 14th November, a party from 14th Worcester helped to dig out two tanks, stuck in mud.

Operations began again in mid January 1917, constructing trenches and wire entanglements. By the end of February, there was news that the enemy had evacuated all their front-line defences, east of Miraumont, and all companies of the 14th Worcestershire were recalled from other work and set to the construction of roads across the evacuated land. They returned to Flanders at the start of March and remained in the area until the 7th April 1917, working and training.

The 14th Worcestershire were employed near Gavrelle at the start of the Battle of Arras, fully occupied in work on roads in the battle-area just north of Arras, but when the enemy counter attacked on 29th April, they took part in fighting. The advance was checked and the next three weeks many working parties were sent out. On 20th May they returned to their former camp on the Arras-Lens road.

War Diaries 14th Bn Worcestershire Regt.
27-31 May 1917

During these five days the Battalion working at night have continued work on the Divisional Front making Front & support trenches and communication trenches between them and have sustained the following casualties.
Killed 4 other ranks Wounded 17 other ranks
The total casualties for the month are killed 6 other ranks, wounded 23 other ranks.

It is not known if Cecil was included among the killed or wounded, but the report in the Rugby Advertiser of 9th June 1917 states that:
The death took place in a hospital in France on Whit Sunday of Pte Cecil Stanley Inwood… who was wounded by a sniper a few hours earlier.

 

He died on 27th May 1917 and was buried at Duisans British Cemetery, Etrun. The site of a Casualty Clearing Station 9 kilometres west of Arras.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

 

Source: Worcestershire Regiment website http://www.worcestershireregiment.com/wr.php?main=inc/bat_14

 

Canham, Archibold. Died 27th May 1917

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.[1] 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[2] 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.

Parnell list of men in WWI

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,[3] 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 …’.[4]

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.

 

[1]       Information from: http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?/topic/114919-rga-332-siege-battery/.

[2]       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.

[3]       The Roll of Honour is held at the Warwick Modern Records Centre and reproduced with their permission.

[4]       Rugby Advertiser, 2 December 1916. The report contains a number of discrepancies especially in the initials .