27th Apr 1918. Can a Greengrocer Substitute a Blacksmith?


At a sitting of this Tribunal on Wednesday there were present : Messrs H W Wale (chairman), K Rotherham, W Johnson, jun, A Craig, and S J Dicksee. Mr T Meredith was the National Service representative.


The appeal of Thomas White (18, general service), Dunchurch, blacksmith, assisting his father, which had been adjourned to see whether a substitute could be found, was next heard ; and addressing the father, the Chairman said : “ Whether you have a substitute or not, the boy will have to go.”—Mr Meredith explained that Major Neilson, who knew the case very well, was of opinion that, although the man was passed for general service, he should not be taken without a substitute being provided, because the firm did a good deal of agricultural work.—The Chairman said, as Mr White’s family had such a patriotic record, one son having been killed and another was serving, they wished to help him, but were they to keep this boy out of the Army until the National Service Department found a substitute ?—Mr Meredith : It is hardly our job ; it is for the Labour Exchange.—It was mentioned that the next appellant—Howard James Allkins, greengrocer (39, B2), Wolston—had been suggested as substitute.—Allkins, however, said he went to see Mr White, who expressed doubt as to whether he would be of any use, because he knew nothing of the business. It would be twelve months, he added, before he could put nail in a shoe.—Mr White explained that shoeing was a funny job. Some of the big horses he had to shoe might injure, if they did not kill, a man who was not used to the work.—The Chairman : we realise that.—Mr White : It would be a case of me picking his pocket and he picking mine.—Mr Meredith : I cannot see how a greengrocer can substitute a blacksmith. He might lame a horse for life.—The Chairman said but for the fact that Mr White had lost a son in the service of his country this man would have had to go a long time ago. They would adjourn the case for a month, but he had been asked to point out that whether Mr White was successful or unsuccessful in finding a substitute, there was no doubt as to what would happen then. Therefore, in his own interests and in the interest of the country, he urged Mr White to do his best to get someone. The Labour Exchange would help him very materially.—The case of Allkins was adjourned for a re-examination.


Pte A E Palmer, Royal Warwicks, of 11 Adam Street, New Bilton, was wounded at La Bassee on april 15th with a bullet wound in his left thigh.

Pte G E Higham, Royal Warwicks, of New Bilton, has been severely wounded in the buttock. He was formerly employed by the G.C Railway.

Pte Albert Coaton, Machine Gun Battalion, son of Mr C Coaton, Grosvenor Road, has been wounded by a bullet in the left knee.

Gunner Norman Atkinson, H.A.C, second son of Mr J H Atkinson, of 37 Windsor Street, has been reported wounded and missing. Prior to joining the Army he was an apprentice at the B.T.H. He was an O.L. And Old Murrayian.

Mr & Mrs J Haggar, of 10 Alexandra Road, Rugby, have received news that their son, Corpl W Haggar, Worcestershire Regiment, has been missing since March 21st. Corpl Haggar was, prior to joining the Forces, employed at the B.T.H.

Gunner A E Moore, R.F.A, has been badly gassed, and is in hospital at Etaples. This is the second time he has been gassed, and last Christmastime he was buried for a time by debris thrown up by a shell. He is the only son of Mr and Mrs E Moore, 100 Grosvenor Road, and was an apprentice at the B.T.H when called up.

Pte Alfred Elson, Hampshire Regiment, who enlisted at the out break of the war, giving up a position at the B.T.H Works, Rugby, has died of wounds received in action. He had been previously wounded, and returned to France last year. He was again due for leave when the offensive started, in which he received severe gunshot wounds, from which he died on April 6. He was of a bright and cheerful disposition, and will be missed by a large circle of friends.

The death from wounds received on April 12th of 2nd Lieut R V Wilson has now been confirmed in a letter from his commanding officer to Mr J G Wilson of York Street. The letter states that Lieut Wilson “ was a most gallant officer, and showed promise of becoming a good leader ; in spite of his youth he had command of a company in action under difficult conditions, and was one of the most capable officers in the Battalion. His brother officers loved him.” The deceased officer was educated at the Elborow and Lower Schools. Intending to become a member of the scholastic profession, he became a student teacher at Eastlands Boys’ School. In May, 1916, he joined the H.A.C, and served in France. Later he accepted a Commission with the 1/7 R.W.R. The news of his untimely end was keenly felt by boys and staff of Eastlands School and by all who knew his cheerful personality. It seems that his battalion was attached at 6 a.m, and at 7 a.m he was sent forward to relieve another officer, and reached the post alright, but was almost immediately wounded by machine gun fire. When being carried back he was full of cheerfulness and of regret that he had to leave the field.

Capt G Gray, Lancashire Fusiliers, who was reported missing on March 26th, is a prisoner of war in Minden.

L-Corpl H Warland, 23rd Royal Fusiliers, son of Mr W Warland, Crick, who was reported as missing on   March 25th, is now known to be a prisoner of war. Prior to joining the Army two years ago, he was employed at the B.T.H.

Mr A G Cox, Kenilworth Home, Poplar Grove, has received official intimation that his son, 2nd Lieut A G Cox, reported missing 23rd March, is a prisoner of war. The camp in which he is interned is not known.


L-Cpl B Holmes, R.W.R, of Rugby, has been awarded the D.C.M. He has acted as a company runner for over two years, and he has been in the majority of actions in which his battalion has taken part. He has always proved himself most reliable, and on many occasions has taken messages through very heavy fire, displaying singular devotion to duty.

Bombardier (Acting Corporal) W E Stay, R.C.A, of Rugby, has been awarded the D.C.M for “ showing great ability on all occasions in supervising the maintenance of the Battery lines, frequently carrying out repairs fearlessly in face of very severe bombardment by high explosive and gas shells.”


Those who are interested in war films will have an opportunity of seeing a free display of actual war films in the Market Place, Rugby, on Monday, May 16th. The show, which is arranged by the Ministry of National Service, will be explained by men who have fought, and will take place at 8.30 p.m.


W GILBERT, son of Mr T Gilbert, was one of those who volunteered to take part in the naval raid on Zeebrugge. He was engineer on one of the motor boats engaged. Although several missiles passed through the little craft none of the crew was hit, and all reached the base safely.

FIVE TIMES WOUNDED.—Mr and Mrs Hedgcock have been informed that their only son, Sergt Hedgcock, has been wounded in the shoulder, which has been fractured. This is the fifth time Sergt Hedgcock has been wounded.


THE sad news was received here last week of the death of Corpl G W Wall, grandson of Mr & Mrs Matthew Wall. He was badly wounded in France, and died soon afterwards in hospital. He had lately been home on leave. He enlisted soon after the War broke out, and joined the Coldstream Guards. At the beginning of December, 1914, he was sent to France. He was wounded in September, 1916, and was for a time in Coventry Hospital. In May, 1917, he was sent back to the firing line, and saw active service. On March 28th he spent an hour at his old school, where he was gladly welcomed by scholars and teachers. Before commencing his sermon on Sunday afternoon, the Rev A E Esau spoke very touchingly of him.

MISSING—Official intimation has been received by Mr Frank Goode of Broadwell that his son, Pte William Goode, of the M.G Corp, is a prisoner of war in Germany, and wounded. Before joining up he was the Secretary of the local lodge of Oddfellow.

MILTARY MEDAL.—The Military Medal has been awarded Pte Augustus Horne, Northumberland Fusiliers, for conspicuous bravery in the field at Hargicourt on September 11,1917.


The supply of fat stock in Rugby Cattle Market on Monday was very short, but on representations being made to the Area Meat Agent a load of beast and two loads of sheep were sent from Stourbridge Market. The difference, as usual, will have to be made up with imported meat.


In explanation of the notice in your last week’s issue on the subject of the Rugby School “ farming ” squads, Dr David wishes me to say that the terms mentioned had reference to potato planting. For this work a large number of boys have had some training in the working of their own potato fields last year and this spring and the Army Canteen fields in Devonshire. Terms and conditions for help in other agricultural work, such as hoeing, &c, can be arranged later on.

In case a farmer needs a planting squad within a radius of six miles from Rugby School during the next fortnight or so will he, in applying to me, please state : (a) The exact locality of his potato field ; (b) the number of boys required ; (c) whether the squad should bring knives for cutting ungraded seed and a few bucket, if available ?

In working our own School potato field I have found it best to organise a large squad in the morning, say 9.30 a.m to 1 o’clock, so that the boys can pick out twitch from the rows (already opened), cut up potatoes, when ungraded, and plant, and so leave the horses plenty of work for afternoon ; but, no doubt, each farmer has his own method and convenience.

“ Mayfield,” Rugby.


BARNWELL.—Sec.-Lieut. G. W. BARNWELL, K.O.Y.L.I., dearly-beloved husband of Mrs. Barnwell, 97 Grosvenor Road, killed action in France, April 13th.

BURTON.—In loving memory of ALFRED JOSEPH BURTON, aged 30 ; killed in action on April 5, 1918.—From his sorrowing Father, Mother and Family, and fiancee, Alice Kennard.

NOBLE.—Killed in action on March 29, 1918, Gunner JOSEPH WILLIAM HARRISON NOBLE, aged 27 years, beloved son of Mr. & Mrs. J. F. Noble, Braunston. Deeply lamented.

THOMPSON.—On April 12th, at Dar es Salaam, East Africa, Pte. FREDERICK THOMAS THOMPSON, A.S.C., dearly beloved and eldest son of Mr. & Mrs. J. H. Thompson, of 7 Albert Street, Milverton (late of Rugby). Died of dysentry.
“ He sleeps, not in his native land,
But under foreign skies ;
Far from those who loved him best,
In hero’s grave he lies.”
—From his loving Father and Mother, Brothers and Sisters, and fiancee, Nellie.


BIDDLES.—In ever dear and affectionate remembrance of EVAN PERCY BIDDLES, 50th Brigade, R.F.A. (late of Estancia Loma-Pora, Republic del Paraguay), who died in the 103rd Field Ambulance from Gas poisoning received during night of April 22nd, 1917. Buried next day in the little Military Cemetery at Haute Aveanes, Aubigny-en-Artois, 6 miles N.W. of Arras.—“ Pro patria mori.”

BULL.—In loving and affectionate remembrance of Bombardier BULL (TOM), the dearly beloved son of Mr. & Mrs. Henry Bull, Southam Road Farm, Napton ; killed in France on May 3, 1917 ; aged 18.
“ A loving son and faithful brother,
One the best towards his mother.
He bravely answered duty’s call,
And gave his life for one ans all.”
—From his loving Father, Mother & Sisters.

CLEAVER.—In loving memory of Pte. W. T. CLEAVER, R.W.R., eldest son of J. Cleaver, 17 East Street, who died of wounds in France on April 25th of last year.
“ One year has passed since that sad day.
I often sit and think of him, think of how he died.
To think he could not say ‘ Good-bye ‘ before he closed his eyes.”
—From his sorrowing Father and Mother, Brother and Sister.

DAVIS.—In loving memory of Pte. R DAVIS (ROLAND), who was killed in action in France in the Battle of Arras on April 27, 1916.—Sadly missed by his loving Father, Mother, Brother and sisters.

GREEN.—In loving memory of my dear husband, WALTER GREEN, killed in France April 27th, 1917, aged 29 years.
We think of him in silence,
His name we oft re-call ;
But there’s nothing left to answer,
But his dear photo on the wall.
—From loving wife and child.

GREEN.—In ever-loving memory of Pte. WALTER GREEN, youngest son of Mr and Mrs. Henry Green, Broadwell, killed in action in France April 25, 1917. “Until we meet.”
—From his loving Father and Mother, Brothers and Sister.

GREEN.—In memory of Pte. JOHN HENRY GREEN, the loving husband of Elizabeth Green, who died April 26.1915.
“ Sleep on, beloved, and take try rest ;
We loved you well, but God loved you best.”
—Sadly by all. From his loving Wife and Children, Mother, Father, Sister and Brothers.

GRIFFITH.—In loving memory of our dear Son and brother, HERBERT, who was killed in action on April 27, 1915, at Ypres.
“ We think of him in silence,
His name we oft recall ;
But there nothing left to answer
But his photo the wall.
We have lost him, we who loved him ;
And, like others, must be brave,
For we know that he is sleeping
In a British soldier’s grave.
—From Parents, Brother and Sisters (Kilsby).

JONES.—In ever-loving memory of Corpl. D. J. JONES who was killed in action in France on April, 29, 1917.
Loved one gone but not forgotten,
And as dawns another year,
In our lonely hours of thinking,
Thoughts of him are always dear.
—From his loving Father, Mother, Brother & Sisters, and Mill.

OWEN.—In loving memory of Pte. GEO. ERNEST (TOS), Wolston, 1st R.W.R., who was reported missing, since presumed killed, at Ypres, April 25th, 1915.
Though he was only a private soldier
He died a British son ;
He died on the field of battle,
His duty was nobly done.
The hardest part in yet to come,
When the other lads return,
And we miss among the cheering crowd
The face of him we love.
—Sadly missed by all.

WELCH.—In loving memory of our brother-in-law, Pte. E. WELCH, Oxford and Bucks L.I., who was killed in France on April 29, 1917.—Never forgotten by Erne and Ethel Lenton, 64 Wood Street.

WELCH.—In loving memory of ERNEST EDWARD WELCH, who fell in action on April 29, 1917 ; aged 36.
“ We pictured your safe returning,
And longed to clasp your hand ;
But God postponed that meeting ;
It will be in the Better Land.”
—Not forgotten by his Mother and Sisters.

WELCH.—In remembrance of Lance-Corpl. E. E. WELCH who was killed in action on April 28, 1917. “ Gone but not forgotton.”—From his loving Wife and Daughters.

YOUNG.—In loving memory of our dear and only son, Pte. W. C. YOUNG (BILLY), who was killed in action in Salonika on April 24, 1917, in the 25th year of his age. Dearly loved and deeply mourned.
“ The midnight star shines o’er the grave
Of our dear son and soldier brave.
How dear, how brave, we shall understand
When we meet again in the Better land.
—From his Father and Mother and Sisters (Pinfold Street, New Bilton).


Elson, Alfred William. Died 6th Apr 1918

Alfred William ELSON was born on 23 February 1890 in Rugby, and baptised on 13 April 1890, at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby.  He was the son of John Elson and Elizabeth née Clarke Elson whose births were both registered in early 1859 in Rugby.  The couple had married at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby, on 22 May 1879 when John was 19 and a labourer living at 34 Queen Street, Rugby, his father a bricklayer; and Elizabeth was 17, living at 19 Gas Street, Rugby; her father a labourer.

At the date of Alfred’s baptism the family were living at 56 Cambridge Street, Rugby and Alfred’s father was still a labourer but by 1891 with the family still living at the same address, John Elson was now a ‘coal carter’.  In 1891, Alfred had three elder siblings.

By 1901 the family had moved to 184 Lawford Road, Bilton, and Alfred now had an additional three younger siblings.  John Elson was now a ‘plasterer’s labourer’ and his two eldest sons were hairdressers.  Alfred was eleven and presumably still at school.  John Elson died aged only 42 later in 1901.

By 1911, Alfred’s widowed mother was living at 39 Pinfold Street, Rugby.  At this date six of her seven children were still alive, but she was living with two of her younger sons, one of whom, Ernest Thomas Elson, also served in WWI and it was possibly him who was listed, and if him, in error, as E. Elson, on the Rugby Memorial Gate – the story of the various E. Elsons was told in Rugby Remembers on 9 April  2017.[1]

In 1911 Alfred was working in London as a ‘Plasterer Builders’ and lodging – although enumerated as ‘Head’ – at 12 College Street, York Road, Lambeth S E.  He was still ‘Single’.  It may be that he had been following his father’s later trade of plastering.  However, he was to return to Rugby to work with BTH in their Winding Department.

Alfred married with Gertrude Ethel née Davies in 1914 and the marriage was registered in Q3 1914 in Rugby.  Gertrude’s family lived in Coventry

Alfred W Elson enlisted in Rugby.  He may be the ‘Elson’ from the BTH works who was listed in the Rugby Advertiser’s article ‘Rugby’s Magnificent Response’ in September 1914.[2]

He was recruited initially a Private No: 11877 in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.  He went to France on 2 June 1915.  He was later transferred and became Private No: 16413 in the 1st Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment.  It is uncertain whether this occurred before or after he went to France.  Certainly he was in action later with the 1st Hampshires and the Battalion War Diary can provide some information on the actions immediately prior to his death and suggest when he may have been wounded.

After June 1915, the 1st Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment were still in the 11th Brigade of the 4th Division.  It cannot be known in how many of their actions Alfred was involved, he would though have been in similar action if he was still in the ‘Ox and Bucks’.  In 1916, he could have fought in the Battle of Albert, and the Battle of Le Transloy, and then during 1917, the First and Third Battles of the Scarpe, the Battle of Polygon Wood, the Battle of Broodseinde, the Battle of Poelcapelle, and the First Battle of Passchendaele.

The front was quieter in early 1918 and for the first three weeks of March 1918, the War Diary of the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment notes that the Battalion was out of the line and involved in training and similar activities at Fosseux and then Warlus, moving to Arras on 19 March.  It relieved the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards north of the Arras-Fampoux Road, on 20 March 1918.

Whilst the front had been comparatively quiet, an attack was anticipated and on 21 March 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive, Operation Michael, against the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army.  However, the focus of the first attacks, the Battle of St. Quentin, from 21 to 23 March, was some 40 miles south of Arras and the 1st Hampshires, and the attacks were directed from St. Quentin towards Amiens.

The German artillery targeted command and communications; then, the destruction of artillery; and then the front-line infantry.  The artillery bombardment began at 4.40am on 21 March 1918, and hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war.  Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours.

The 1st Hampshires although nearer to Arras, also experienced shelling on 21 March from 5am to 8am which was supporting the attacks to the south.  At 11pm the Battalion moved troops forward with only one man wounded.  This section remained fairly quiet over the next two or so days, but enemy movements were seen.  On 25 March the area was shelled and an attack was expected.  In the event the 26 March was fairly quiet, but on 27 March there was further shelling and a raid on the trenches which was repulsed.

On 28 March – ‘The enemy attacked our position…’.  Two officers and 33 Other Ranks were killed; one officer and 74 other ranks were wounded; three officers and seven other ranks were wounded and missing; 76 other ranks were missing; two officers and two other ranks were missing, believed killed; and one man died of wounds.  This action would be known as the Battle of Arras 1918.  On 29 and 30 March the Battalion went out of the front line into the Brigade reserve, and on 31 March had a ‘quiet day’.

The first few days in April were again fairly quiet for the Battalion and although there was some shelling on 5 April, no casualties were mentioned in the Diary

Alfred received severe gunshot wounds on 6 April.[3]  It seems most likely that he received the wounds during the Battle of Arras on 28 March 1918, when some 74 Other Ranks were wounded.

He would have then been passed down an extended chain of evacuation over a distance of some 60 miles, from the Arras area to Etaples.  This would typically have included various treatment as he was carried in turn to the Regimental Aid Post; an Advanced Dressing Station; the Field Ambulance; a Casualty Clearing Station; and then finally to a Stationary or General Hospital in the Base Area, in Alfred’s case around Etaples, before he died of his wounds on the 6 April 1918.

Alfred was buried in the nearby Etaples Military Cemetery which was used by the hospitals in the area.  His body was buried in grave ref: XXXII, B, 10.  Later, when a permanent gravestone replaced the temporary cross, his family’s message, ‘Gone from our Home but not from our Heart One of God’s Best,’ would be carved upon it.

The Etaples Military Cemetery is the largest CWGC cemetery in France, located on the former site of a large military hospital complex at Etaples, a town about 27 kilometres south of Boulogne.  The Military Cemetery is to the north of the town.  The nearby hospitals, which included eleven general, one stationary, four Red Cross hospitals and a convalescent depot, could deal with 22,000 wounded or sick.

Alfred’s death, aged 28, was announced in the Coventry Herald,[4] together with a very poor quality photograph which shows him earlier in the war wearing the cap badge of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

PRIVATE A. W. ELSON has been killed in action.  He married the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Davies, of 14, Stoney Stanton Road, Coventry.

Alfred William ELSON is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates; on the list of BTH Employees who served in the War 1914 – 1918; on the BTH War Memorial;[5] and on the New Bilton War Memorial, by the chapel in Croop Hill Cemetery, Addison Road.

His Medal Card showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, and also the 1915 Star. 

Alfred’s widow Gertrude received his back pay of £16-16-2d on 15 July 1918 and his Gratuity of £17 on 2 January 1920.   Her address latterly was 14 Stoney Stanton Road, Coventry, she had returned to live with her parents.

His mother later remarried and as Mrs Anderson, 39 Pinfold Street, New Bilton, she was mentioned in Alfred’s death notice in the Rugby Advertiser on 20 April 1918.[6]   A further notice, more detailed notice, was published on 27 April 1918,

Pte Alfred Elson, Hampshire Regiment, who enlisted at the out break of the war, giving up a position at the B.T.H. works, Rugby, has died of wounds received in action.  He had been previously wounded, and returned to France last year.  He was again due for leave when the offensive started, in which he received severe gunshot wounds, from which he died on April 6.  He was of a bright and cheerful disposition, and will be missed by a large circle of friends.[7]




– – – – – –


This article on Alfred William ELSON 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, January 2018.


[1]     https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/elson-ernest-thomas-died-9th-apr-1917/.

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

[3]      This date is given in the Rugby Advertiser, 12 April 1918, which is reproduced in Rugby Remembers, at  https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2018/04/21/20th-apr-1918-low-flying-aeroplanes/.

[4]      Coventry Herald, Saturday, 27 April 1918.

[5]      This is from a list of names on the BTH War Memorial when it was unveiled.  It is taken from the list published in the Rugby Advertiser, 4 November 1921 and given at https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/bth-war-memorial.

[6]      Rugby Advertiser, 12 April 1918, and https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2018/04/21/20th-apr-1918-low-flying-aeroplanes/.

[7]      Rugby Advertiser, 27 April 1918, and https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2018/04/06/elson-alfred-william-died-6th-apr-1918/.


Elson, Ernest Thomas. Died 9th Apr 1917

E Elson – or indeed the various possible E Elsons – have provided a considerable problem for this study. There are several possible candidates born in the Rugby area.

Henry Ernest Elson’s birth was registered in Rugby in Q1 1888 – but has no record of service.

Edward John Elson’s birth was registered in Rugby in Q3 1881 – but has no record of service.

Ernest Percy Elson’s birth was registered in Rugby in Q1 1897 – and served in WWI.

Ellson E C is on the BTH war memorial with Elson A W, but E C Ellson[1] can perhaps be discounted as not only does he have a different spelling, but was from Lutterworth and is included on the war memorial there. Elson A W is also on the Rugby Gate – he was Ernest Percy Elson’s brother.

Ernest Thomas ELSON was born in Birmingham in 1885, and served in WWI.

The CWGC site shows four E Elsons and two E Ellsons – none show any sensible connection to Rugby.

Of the Rugby men, only Ernest Percy Elson appears to have served in WWI. He has a surviving Service Record, was wounded, but survived the war. It is suggested that if it is him on the Memorial, then he was added in error.

Another possible candidate may be Ernest Thomas Elson whose family lived in Birmingham, he was killed on 9 April 1917, but has no apparent connection with Rugby.   However, many people came to work in Rugby in the years leading up to the war but did not appear in Directories or impact on any records. He is perhaps the more likely candidate.

To provide due respect to both, their respective service stories are given below.

= = = =


Ernest Percy ELSON was born on 24 January 1897, and his birth was registered in Q1 1897 in Rugby.   He was baptised at St Andrew’s church on 14 March 1897 and his parents were John and Elizabeth Elson of 56 Cambridge Street, Rugby.

In 1911 he was 14 years old and he was living at 39 Pinfold Street, Rugby, with his widowed mother who was now 50 and had been married for 30 years and had seven children, with six still living. He was an ‘Errand Boy’ for an ‘engineer’s firm’. He later worked in the cycle trade, for Sam Robbins also at 39 Pinfold Street, New Bilton.

His Service Record survives and shows that he was enlisted aged 17yrs 8 months on 7 August 1914, although an on-line transcription gave 1904, the 190­­.. being amended by writing a 1 over the 0 and adding the 4!! He was found fit on 5 August 1914, as was then 5ft 6ins tall. He had several numbers: 235, 922, and 840609 as a Gunner in the Royal Field Artillery 4th South Midlands Heavy Brigade RFA.

He was posted as a Gunner on Home Service from 7 August 1914 until 27 March 1915. He then elected to serve outside the United Kingdom on 11 January 1916 and seems to have become a Driver and posted variously (the locations are lost) in UK, until he went to France on 9 June 1916.

From 9 June 1916 until 31 May 1917 he was in France, with various postings on 27 July 1916, and also on 8 and 13 November 1916, 9 and 19 April 1917.

He appears to have been wounded, possibly more than once as he was discharged to base on 9 April 1917, and it seems he later suffered a Gun Shot Wound to his left thigh on 27 May 1917, and was ‘invalided to England’ on 31 May 1917.   He was thus back ‘Home’ on 1 June 1917 and was not discharged until 28 December 1917, and remained on Home Service until 13 April 1918. His various postings or attachments to other units – possibly whilst still hospitalised – were on 10 August 1917, and then later on 1 June 1917.

He seems to have been transferred to the 4th Reserve Brigade on 10 August 1917, still enumerated as a Driver and then mustered as a Gunner on 24 February 1918.   There are various other postings and transfers as a Gunner on 14 April, when he returned to France, and on 20 May 1918. He was in France until 9 April 1919 and was apparently finally discharged on 8 May 1919.

He was awarded the Victory and British medals – but as noted above, survived the war and lived until 19??.   If he was included on the Memorial Gate, it was in error, probably because his family thought the memorial was to all who had served in WWI.

Ernest’s married older brother, Alfred William Elson (1890–1918), who joined the 1st Bn. the Hampshire Regiment is assumed to have died of wounds on 6 April 1918 in France or Flanders and is buried at Etaples. He is also on the Rugby Memorial Gate.

= = = =

Ernest Thomas ELSON was born in Birmingham in 1885. He was the son of Thomas Joseph Elson, an Accountant’s Clerk, and his first wife, Helen. In 1901 aged 16 Ernest had been a Solicitor’s Clerk, but by 1911 aged 26, he had become a ‘French Polisher’, perhaps a more practical skill suited him. He was still living at home at 79 Beach Road, Sparkhill, Birmingham with two of his elder sisters, one who had been blind since the age of 12, and his two much younger half-brothers from his father’s second marriage with Minnie in about 1901.

He had apparently spent six years in Australia, and had tried to join up there, but been rejected twice, so returned to his parents home in Sparkhill, Birmingham. Thus he did not join-up in the first ‘rush to arms’ – although some of his records give an apparently earlier number 4857, which appears to be for a soldier whose records show to have been attested in 1913!   Ernest Thomas Elson’s Service Record also survives and shows that he was attested at Warwick on 8 March 1916 and enlisted on 9 March for the ‘Period of War’. He was 30 years and 11 months old, 5ft 4½in tall and an upholsterer.

He joined up as Private, No.266804 in the 2nd/7th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

The 2/7th Battalion of the ‘Warwicks’ had been formed in Coventry in October 1914 as a second line battalion, and with the 2/6th Battalion became part of 2nd Warwickshire Brigade, 2nd South Midland Division. In August 1915 they were redesignated as the 182nd Brigade, 61st (2nd South Midland) Division and landed in France on 21 May 1916.

Ernest was on home service from 10 February 1916 and on 7 March 1916 was posted to his battalion on ‘home service’ until 12 August 1916. He then went to France to join the rest of the Battalion, no doubt as part of the reinforcements on 13 August 1916 and was ‘in action’ for just under a year until 9 April 1917.

He must have been a ‘good soldier’ as he was promoted to Lance Corporal.

The Battalion Diary showed that there was an attack on Fresnoy-le-Petit on the night of 8/9 April 1917, … and after strong opposition reached their objective taking one Prisoner.   Total casualties – 14 killed, 2 missing, 2 died of wounds, 37 wounded’.

The next day the Diary noted, ‘Troops consolidating as far as possible during the day the captured position … 11 bodies were buried under cover of the afternoon before the Battn withdrew’.

The report of the attack written later than the war diary daily entry gave the casualties as 11 other ranks killed, one officer and 41 other ranks wounded. The report noted that “All ranks behaved with great gallantry and determination, holding on to positions under extremely adverse conditions and, by their tenacity and pluck, eventually forced the enemy to withdraw”. CWGC, however, records 21 deaths in the attack on Fresnoy and wrongly attributes all deaths to 9 April, Easter Sunday, although the attack was on the evening of 8 April.[2]

Ernest Elson is recorded as ‘dying from wounds’ and it seems he was first evacuated to an aid post, but did not survive, dying on 9 April 1917. He was then buried at Map Ref: 62C. X. 6. a. 3.4., which was probably adjacent to the aid post and was located about a mile behind the lines on the edge of the St. Quentin wood.

No men from the Royal Warwicks are recorded as dying in France on 8 April, so it seems that all the casualties from the night attack were recorded as dying on 9 April. The CWGC records suggest that 17 soldiers from the 2/7th Warwicks died on the 9 April 1917, which would more that account for the ‘14 killed. 2 missing and 2 died of wounds’. All but five are now remembered on the Theipval Memorial, which suggests that their bodies were either not recovered or not identified – and that at least seven of those buried on 9 April were not found or identified when the others were ‘concentrated’.

The bodies of three of the others were found at Map Ref: 62B M.27. b.8.4. which was in a field on the north-west edge of the ruined village of Fresnoy-le-Petit; the other one at Map Ref: 62B M.27. b.2.5. near the road through the village. These four were, like Ernest, concentrated, i.e. their bodies were found and recovered and removed to their present burial place.

The five soldiers whose bodies were recovered could be identified, because of the named crosses erected when they were first buried by the 2/7th Warwicks after they handed over to the 2/5th Warwicks, and before they went back into dug outs at Marteville that evening.

L/Cpl Elson and his four colleagues were exhumed and reburied in various sections of the Chapelle British Cemetery, Holnon.

Holnon is a village west of St Quentin and south of the main road to Vermand and Amiens.   The British Cemetery is 5 miles W.N.W. of St. Quentin and is named from a wayside shrine. It was made after the Armistice, by the concentration of graves of 1917-18 from the battlefields West of St. Quentin and from Honlon Communal and French Military Cemeteries. There are now over 600, 1914-18 war casualties commemorated in this site. Of these, over 250 are unidentified and special memorials are erected to 17 soldiers, known or believed to be buried here. Other special memorials record the names of four United Kingdom soldiers, buried in Holnon Communal Cemetery, whose graves were destroyed by shell fire.

Ernest was awarded the Victory and British medals.


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Whoever is the ‘correct’ E Elson, he is now remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate.




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This article on the two E Elsons 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, January 2017.

[1]     Sergeant Ernest Charles Ellison, Service No:   1659, 12th Bn. Middlesex Regiment, Died: 30 November 1916, aged 24 . Remembered at Wandsworth (Earlsfield) Cemetery on Screen Wall. F.B.18. 9. He was the son of John Ellson, of 6 Baker Street, Lutterworth, Rugby.


[2]     http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?/topic/183602-royal-warwickshire-regiment-kia/; see also, Birmingham Weekly Post, 5 May 1917.


23rd Jan 1915. Letters from the front


Private Bernard Wolfe, son of Mr Augustine Wolfe, railway missioner, Bolton, probably one of the first of Kitchener’s Army to participate in actual fighting, sends home a striking account of his experiences. Private Wolfe joined in the last week of August, and has been in the firing line since December 21. His father is a native of Brinklow, and is well-known to Railway Mission men at Rugby. His grandfather and great-grandfather were also residents of Brinklow.

“ The Germans dropped between 20 and 30 shells over our trenches, but did no damage. Our artillery got their range beautifully, and dropped shell after shell right among them, and eventually succeeded in silencing their batteries. Our company (“ D ” Company) lost three men and a few wounded.

“ The German shell devastation in some of the towns and villages here is beyond all imagination. Cafes, houses, convents, are all deserted, and everything left holus bolus. Some of the brave Belgians remain in their remnants of homes. They have lost everything but their great and noble hearts and I don’t think there is compensation available on this earth to make good their losses and deprivations, I think the German troops are getting demoralised, and I honestly think the war will end suddenly, and will surprise all nations when it does collapse.

” It is very weird at night-time. Picture a dark night. British trenches and German about 70 or 80 yards from one another, with just an occasional rip zip of bullets to let each side know there’s a watch being kept. Then the “ Allemandes ” send a fire ball across, just like an enormous blue light, which illuminates the whole length of trenches. And then, what ho! bob down ! if you don’t you get it, for as soon as the light goes up volley after volley comes as long as the light lasts, which will be 30 or 40 seconds.”


An interesting letter has been received by Mrs Barnett, of Lilbourne, from her husband. Private A Barnett, 1st Royal Warwicks, in which he says that life in the trenches with such wet weather is most trying—otherwise, he states that he in in a good slate of health. Barnet says : ” I received a parcel just before Christmas from Miss Mary Mulliner, Clifton Court (where he was employed before the outbreak of war). Please thank her if you see her. I am also so pleased the children received toys from the Court ; I am sure they would be pleased. We are having four days in the trenches and four out, the different regiments relieving one another as soon as it gets dusk. I believe the trenches we occupy are in Belgium, but when we are out at rest, we are in France. We have had about four months of it now. I wish we could get out of the danger zone for a while for a good rest. At a place near Armentieres we had 31 days in the trenches without coming out, the enemy being entrenched about 200 yards away. We are nearer now—only 100 yards separating us. You can imagine we have to be very careful in our movements. We were on fairly good terms with them at Christmas, not a single shot being exchanged. They said they would not fire if we did not, and the truce was kept, and we were able to enjoy Christmas rather better. Bitter foes as we are we were able to talk to some of them, also exchange cigarettes and cigars. Anyone that did not se it could not believe that such a thing could happen in warfare : nevertheless, it’s true. Some of our men got hold of souvenirs, but I failed to manage one myself.

“ Our Battalion has suffered very badly : out of 1,110 men I am afraid there is not above 200 left. No doubt many are prisoners of war. When we arrived here we encamped near Langy. Just when they had completed a big retirement from Mons, we took up some trenches at Bueq-Le-Long, and on being relieved we reckoned on a rest. Instead of that we had four days’ march, resting at Rozet-St-Albin, Crepy, Rully-Verberi, and St Omer. From the latter place we rode with motor transport, packed in like sardines for three hours, to Caistre. Next morning we advanced and encountered the enemy at a place called Meteren, which they occupied and were made to evacuate alter a sharp encounter lasting about three hours. Our casualties numbered about 100. It was raining all the time and we were soaked to the skin. During our march through France I did not see anything that took my fancy much. I do not know what there is to make a fuss about. Old England can compare with it for scenery or anything else—except that it is a little warmer here.”


William Watson, of Napton, writing from H.M.S Cornwall on December 9. 1914, says :- “ Dear Mother,— Just a line to let you know how we are getting on. I think the last time I wrote to you was when we were at Montevideo.

On December 7th we arrived at the Falkland Islands, and all of a sudden, when we were in the midst of coaling, we heard a gun fired. It was the Germans come to bombard Port Stanley. Directly we knew we stopped coaling, and our ship and four more British ships, viz, the Inflexible, Invincible, Carnarvon, and Glasgow, gave chase. When we had been steaming along as fast as we could go for about one and a-half hours we saw the smoke of five German ships. At last we gradually got nearer, and the Inflexible engaged with the Scharnhorst. We caught the Leipzic up, and had an engagement with her, which lasted four hours. By the way, I forgot to tell you I am wireless messenger, and I was on watch when we were in action. We fired over 1,000 rounds of lyddite shell at them before we set the Leipzic on fire. We have had several bad hits ourselves, one of which passed through the funnel down into the painters’ shop ; but we put the fire out before it did very much damage. At last, about ten minutes past seven, we hit her right forward with a lyddite shell, and she caught on fire. You ought to have seen he r; I stood and watched her. At last she made a headlong plunge, and down she went. I think out of about a crew of 900 eighteen were saved. Five of them we have in our sick bay. Of the five German ships four have been sunk and one escaped, but she will get captured sooner or later. Out of our crew there are only about four injured, and no one killed. Well, mother, I think we shall come home. Tell them all at Napton I am quite well and happy.”


On October 14th the sister of Scout J Farn, [?] Worcester Regiment, forwarded to him on the Continent a parcel, containing some cigarettes and handkerchiefs. On October 21st. however, he was wounded, and never received the parcel. This has recently been returned to another sister of Scout Farn, to whom he had left his property by his will , the authorities evidently being under the impression that he had been killed. The parcel has probably an interesting history attached to it, because when it was opened a piece of shrapnel shell was found inside it, the letter and some notepaper were torn to shreds, and the handkerchiefs were perforated, evidently by pieces of shell, but how this came about is a mystery. We are informed that Scout Farn, who is still in Cedar Lawn Hospital, Hampstead, has undergone two operations, and is going on as well as can be expected. He was wounded by fragments of shrapnel in the right arm.

Trooper Harvey Woods, of the 17th Lancers, is paying a short visit to his home in William Street, Rugby, from the front. His regiment was drafted from India to France, and this is the first time he has been home for seven years. While wishing to say nothing as to the actual fighting, Trooper Woods states that his regiment has been diverted from its ordinary duties, and has been serving in the trenches. In fact, he came straight from the trenches to Rugby. In many instances the men are standing waist deep in water. He spent Christmas Day very quietly in the reserve trenches.


Mrs H Anderson, 39 Pinfold Street, New Bilton, has received official news that her son, Pte John Elson, 1st Northumberland Fusiliers, received a gunshot wound in the back in action on January 7th, and is at present in a General Hospital at Rouen. Pte Elson, spent Christmas Day in the trenches, has also written home to say that the wound is not serious. Mrs Anderson has another son in the Howitzer Battery and one in Lord Kitchener’s Army, and her husband has also a son wounded at the front.


The following extracts from a letter from a “ H.A.C. ” man at the front to his friends at Rugby will be read with interest :-

“ While doing duty in the trenches the other day one of our men went back to a barn to fetch something, and on returning he was shot. He went down with a call for help. I ran along the communicating trench in order to assist him, when a bullet took my shoulder strap off. Our officer recalled me at once. Some time after our bugler crawled out to the man, bound up his wounds, and stayed with him till dusk. He was shot soon after nine o’clock in the morning. They were sniped all the day through, but fortunately they were not hit. When we picked him up at dusk one of the men in my section was shot through the arm and knee.

“ Another day, owing to the continual rain, the communicating trench got full of water. It was my lot to cut a way through the side to enable the water to drain away. I had to stand for an hour up to my middle in the water ; it was bitterly cold, and I felt very exhausted towards night—so much so that I tumbled over when marching home. Our officer insisted on my riding his horse back, for which I was grateful. Unfortunately he has since been killed. He was a great favourite with the men.

“Early in the New Year we determined to have a festive gathering to which we invited some of the Scots Guards. The barn was lit up with candles. When the plum pudding arrived all the lights were extinguished and the brandy set alight. Of course, it was received with cheers.”

“ The other day, on our return after three days in the trench’s we decided to have a concert, so we stopped up all the cracks and crevices, so that no light could be seen from outside. The concert commenced, but we could not have it to ourselves. The Germans took part in part. They commenced to shell us. Towards four o’clock we had to clear out, and whilst packing up our wagon two shrapnel shells burst just over us in the trees, but luckily no one was hit.

“ We attended a very impressive service the other night ; it was held in a convent. The chaplain used a small electric torch, so that he could read the service. We all stood round and sang ‘God save the King,’ and, as you may suppose, the line ‘ Scatter his enemies’ was emphasised.”


During the past week 27 recruits have been sworn in at Rugby. Their names are :—R.A.M.C, W Bax and W D Bottrill ; Northants Regiment, G S Carr ; R.F.A, H Dale, H Blythe, W H Morgan, C E Godwin, F B Allibon, W F Bolton, and E A Baines ; Gloucesters, T M Horrell ; A.S.C, W J Barnwell, A Copeman, I Green, A J Townsend, and T Worrall ; R.W.R, J Smith, E Summer, and C E Newman ; Dublin Fusiliers, J Cody ; Worcester Regiment, H Wells ; Lancashire Fusiliers Bantams, F Lowndes and P J Dunkley ; Oxford and Bucks L.I, E Harvey and W Jephcott ; Coldstream Guards, E W Davenport and H Payne.