Arthur Thomas VARNISH was born in Aston, Birmingham, in 1896 and his birth was registered in Q3, 1896 in Aston. He was the eldest and only son, of Arthur James Varnish (b.c.1870 in Malvern, Worcestershire) and Emma, née Warden, Varnish, (b.c.1874 in Coventry), who were married on 21 August 1895 at St. Thomas’s church, Coventry,
In 1881 Arthur’s grandfather was a joiner and lived at the ‘British Workman’ – possibly a Temperance Inn in Malvern. However, before 1882 they had moved to Leamington, and then before 1886 to Rugby, and in 1891 and 1901 the family were living at 49 James Street, Rugby.
Arthur’s parents were married in Coventry in 1895 and their first two children, Arthur and Nellie were born in Birmingham in 1896 and about 1900. By 1901, now with the two young children, they had moved to live at 20 Ashley Terrace, Potter Newton, Yorkshire and Arthur’s father, was a ‘Cycle enameller and liner’. They soon moved back south and Winifred was born in Coventry in about 1903, and Beatrice in Rugby in 1905.
By 1911, when Arthur was 14, and still at school, the family seem to have become more established in Rugby and they were living at the Peacock Inn, 33 Newbold Road, Rugby, and his father was now a ‘Licensed Victualler and Innkeeper’. Arthur’s uncle, his father’s younger brother, Oscar William Varnish, a ‘toolmaker’, who had been born in Rugby in about 1884, was also there, at least on census night, confirming the earlier family connection with the town.
Before the war Arthur became an apprentice at BTH, and worked in the BTH Pattern Shop. He enlisted early from BTH, in late August 1914, when he was still under his apprenticeship, which was not due to expire until 23 September 1917, but he had a ‘permit to go’. His name is among the many who enlisted from the BTH,
Rugby’s Magnificent Response ‘FROM THE WORKS. This is an additional list of men who have left to join the Colours from August 27th up to and including September 2nd :- … Varnish, …’.
Arthur’s Service Record survives in the Pension Records. Arthur had a dark complexion, dark hair and blue eyes. He was 5ft 6¼ inches tall and weighed 150 lbs. His religion was Church of England.
He enlisted in Rugby on 31 August 1914, when he was 18 years and 78 days old, as Rifleman No:A/3655, in the 7th Battalion, the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC).
7th (Service) Battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps was formed at Winchester on 19 August 1914 as part of K1 and came under orders of 41st Brigade in 14th (Light) Division. It moved to Aldershot, going on to Grayshott in November and in February 1915 went to Bordon. It then returned to Aldershot in March 1915 and then on 19 May 1915 the battalion landed at Boulogne.
Arthur thus first entered service at Winchester, being posted on 3 August 1914, to ‘D’ Company of the 7th Battalion (Bn.) of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps which was then being formed. Initially without equipment or arms of any kind, the recruits were judged to be ready by May 1915, although their move to the fighting front was delayed by lack of rifle and artillery ammunition. Arthur had served 261 days on Home Service up to 18 May 1915 before going to France.
Arthur’s Medal Card, and his Service Record, shows that he went to France with his Battalion on 19 May 1915, and he thus earned the 1914-15 Star. He would be on the Western Front for 255 days.
Soon after arrival the 14th (Light) Division, which included the 7th KRRC had the misfortune to be in action at Hooge on 30 July 1915, where they were the first troops to be attacked by German flamethrowers. During that action, at least four members of the 7th KRRC from Rugby were killed, as well as several Rugby men who were serving in other Battalions. It was one of the worst day’s loss of Rugby’s men in WWI.
Later in 1915, the Battalion was in action in the Second Attack on Bellewaarde Farm on 25 September 1915, ‘Rugby’s Worst Day’, when eight Rugby men, from the 5th Battalion, the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were killed, and later during 1916, the 7th Battalion would be in action at the Battle of Delville Wood, and the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.
However, Arthur was not in France for much of 1916, and the Battalion War Diary can be consulted for the conditions experienced by him in late 1915 and early 1916 before he was hospitalised.
1st to 4.12.15 – A HUTS, Vlanertingh – Battalion resting. A great deal of rain …
5th – Trenches shelled intermittently from 8am to 4pm. … part of trench being completely blown in … owing to the continual wet the trenches are in a worse state than ever … 2 OR Killed, 5 wounded.
8th – Very heavy bombardment on sector … relieved in evening by 8th RB … 10 OR Killed & 23 Wounded.
9th to 12th – A. Camp, W of Poperinge – Bn. in huts at A Camp – Very wet and muddy.
14th – Heavy shelling … 8 OR killed, 14 OR wounded.
15th – … our heavy batteries bombarded enemy … heavy retaliation … 2 OR killed, 11 OR wounded.
16th – Continuous bombardment by enemy … 2 OR killed, 11 OR wounded. On night of 16th relieved by Bedford Rgt … moved by train from Asylum to B huts, W of Poperinge.’
The month continued in a similar manner with ORs killed and wounded on most days.
‘December 1915 – Average weekly strength was 867 Other Ranks [OR]. During the month there were admitted to Hospital – 1 Officer and 124 OR. Discharged from Hospital – 38 ORs. Sick evacuated from Divisional Area – 1 Officer and 67 ORs. The majority of cases evacuated were men suffering from “Trench Feet”.’
In January a similar pattern followed with a few days in the trenches, and then a few days back in huts or tents at camp.
‘Jan 8th – Glympse Cottage Trenches – … taking over … from 7th RB and … 8th RB. … 3 OR wounded.
9th – 1 OR killed, 1 OR wounded.
10th – 8 OR wounded.
11th – 1 OR wounded, 1 OR killed.
12th – 1 OR wounded.
13th – Relieved by 8 RB … into huts and tents in No 1 Camp 3 miles NE of Poperinge – on the whole a good camp …
16th – Bn. relieved 8th RB in trenches … 1 OR killed, 5 OR wounded.
17th – 10 OR killed, 2 OR wounded.
26th – … 1 OR wounded.
27th – 10 OR killed, 2 OR wounded.
28th – 1 OR wounded’
‘January 1916 – Average weekly strength was Officers – 25, Other Ranks – 939. During the month there were admitted to Hospital – 59 ORs. Discharged from Hospital – 16 ORs. Evacuated from Divisional Area – 25 ORs.’
Arthur Varnish would have been among those evacuated from the Divisional Area, probably in about mid-January. He was seemingly suffering from the combined effects of a shell explosion, possibly a gas shell; burial by the explosion; bronchitis from being stood up to his waist in water in a trench; and the cold wet conditions. He would probably have been passed to a Regimental Aid Post or Dressing Station, and was then was in a Base Hospital at Etaples. He was sent back to UK on 28 January 1916.
The seriousness of his condition can be judged by his length of stay in the Wharncliffe War Hospital, Sheffield. He was there from 29 January until 9 March 1916 with ‘Neurothoxia. It was reported that the –
‘Condition followed effects of burial due to shell explosion – is improved and would be fit for light duties at Command Depot.’
Then three weeks later he was readmitted to the Winchester Hospital for seven days from 29 March with ‘Bronchitis – mild’. He was discharged on 3 April 1916 and then posted to the 5th Bn. – a depot and training unit – on 26 May.
After some three months, on 25 July 1916, he was discharged as unfit for service under ‘Clause 392, XVI – No longer physically fit for war service’, with a ‘very good’ character, and received a pension of 6/3d per week from 21 July 1916. He had served for ‘1 year and 330 days’. After his discharge he was awarded a Silver War Badge, No: 96716, to show that he had served and was not avoiding war service.
Arthur still had to appear at Medical Boards to determine his degree of disability and pension status. His medical records in September 1916 stated,
Cause of Discharge: Med unfit, Chronic Bronchitis. Origin – Dec 1915 – La Bride – States he was up to his waist in the water of trench & then he reported sick. Sent to hospital at Etaples. Has rales all over chest & tubulus breathing. Chronic cough & short of breath on (slight) exertion. Partly due to Active Service (Exposure). Permanently prevents ¼. 20.9.16. Re-examine in 4 months.’
He was subject to further medical boards on 21 March 1917 and 19 September 1917 and it appears that his condition continued – ‘Prevents 25% at present.’ At that date he was no longer at a Rugby address but was living ‘c/o Mrs Austin, 101 Pevensey Road, Eastbourne’. Perhaps it was considered that the sea air would be advantageous to his condition.
There is a further note ‘For Interim Award pending receipt of Medical Report applied for 28.8.18, A47 sent 26.10.18’ and two days later ‘Sending receipt of Medical Report 28.10.18. Expires 10.12.18.’ A ‘Report of Med. Bd. 31.10.18. Prevents 30%.’.
However, soon after that last medical assessment, he died, on 4 November 1918, at Eastbourne, Sussex, presumably from further complications – although he could also have been a victim of the ‘Flu’ that swept the world at the end of and after WWI. His death certificate would no doubt clarify this. His body was returned to his family in Rugby and buried in the Rugby (Clifton Road) Cemetery in Plot: J180. As he had served in the War and died as a result of War Service, he has a CWGC memorial headstone, however no additional family inscription was engraved on it.
The Rugby Advertiser reported his death,
VARNISH – On November 4th, at Eastbourne, ARTHUR THOMAS, beloved son of Mr. & Mrs. Varnish, aged 22 years.
Arthur James Varnish’s Medal Card showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal and that he also won the 1914-1915 Star.
He is commemorated on the Rugby Memorial Gates in Hillmorton Road, Rugby; on the CWGC headstone on his grave in the Rugby (Clifton Road) Cemetery; on the list of BTH Employees who served in the War 1914 – 1918; and also on the BTH War Memorial.
On 17 August 1920, his father was sent his £8-10s War Gratuity.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
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This article on Arthur James VARNISH was researched and written for the Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, September 2018.
 Rugby Advertiser, 5 September 1914, and https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/5th-sep-1914-rugbys-magnificent-response/.
 UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919.
 Riflemen, John Henry PRESTON, R/78; William TOMLINSON, R/79; and Herbert SMITH, R/1621; and Lance-corporal, Albert Edward WATTS, R/160. See ‘Rugby Remembers’ for 30 July 1915 for their biographies.
 UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, King´s Royal Rifle Corps, 14th Division, Piece 1896/3: 7 Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps (1915 May – 1918 Jan).
 Assuming this is the correct interpretation of the doctor’s writing – this can be an effect from military gasses, and it seems quite likely that the shell that buried Arthur was a gas shell.
 A depot/training unit, which moved on mobilisation to Sheerness and remained in that area throughout the war. It was part of the Thames & Medway Garrison.
 Paragraph 392 of King’s Regulations 1912 – In WW1, King’s Regulations for the Army set out the official causes of discharge, in sub-paragraphs from (i) to (xxvii), omitting (xvii). In 1919 a new cause was introduced – (xxviii) – ‘On demobilization’.
 Rales are abnormal lung sounds characterized by discontinuous clicking or rattling sounds.
 Tubular Breathing is a symptomatic sound, when listening to the chest, of ‘bronchial breathing’ and is abnormal.
 Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 16 November 1918.
 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.