11 November 2015

Welcome to the West Ham Battalion Website

PAPERBACK now available

in 3rd Edition!

November 2015

Available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk 
and internationally from all Amazon online websites. 
Oz & Nz customers should order via amazon.com

Read the true story of the West Ham Battalion volunteers in the Great War!

A century ago some of them were employed at the Thames Ironworks while many of them supported their local team with a flat cap passion. All the men came from within West Ham Utd’s traditional areas of support, from Stepney to Silvertown, Leyton to Limehouse, Barking to Bow and everywhere in between. A few of them were underage (while many were actually overage!) but they all stood up in January 1915 and volunteered in the Hammers to defend the things they held dear. Not many of them came home.

Read this exciting untold story and share in their pride and sadness, the good times and bad – from basic training on Wanstead Flats and route marching along Green Street in 1915 as riots erupted around them, through to the deadly meat-grinder of the Somme in 1916 and finally their epic last stand at Cambrai in 1917 – the same year West Ham Utd had won the Southern Combination League on April 28th.

On this same day, the West Ham Battalion attacked alongside their regular partners on the battlefield, the Footballers.  They were also volunteers, from the world of professional football and had stood beside the Hammers since training. Among their ranks was Bob ‘Pom-Pom’ Whiting, born and raised in Canning Town and formerly the Thames Ironworks goalkeeper. He was playing for Brighton when he enlisted and was legendary for his long kicks (a pom-pom was an anti-aircraft gun!)

At around 5am on the 28th April 1917, the Hammers and the Footballers attacked the village of Oppy and were decimated by well prepared Germans. Bob Whiting was dead, as were nearly a quarter of the West Ham Battalion and the Footballers. That afternoon, West Ham Utd beat Portsmouth 5-2 at the Boleyn and were crowned Champions, ahead of Millwall, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal.

It’s a story every West Ham supporter should know and goes a long way to explain the reasons behind the memorial plaque to the Hammers beside the club shop entrance. Over a decade of research has revealed long forgotten people and memories. For example, an official request was made in early 1915 to the War Office for the cap-badge of the battalion to be two crossed hammers!

It’s a story of local pride, the like of which will never come again. Through official documents, eye-witness accounts, diaries,  newspaper reports and over 60 never before published photographs of the West Ham Battalion you will discover the men, their private and collective battles and their ultimate fate.

Available now!

For those of you new to the blog, use the 'older posts' menu on the right of the page to see all the previous posts. Please feel free to leave comments to any posts - the only problem is I cant quite work out how to reply! I am contactable directly on the email address in the 'about me' section. If your relative served in the Hammers Battalion, I'd really love to hear from you!

Please ask permission before using ANY images seen here!

Remembering Lance Corporal Adam Paul Drane, Section Second-in-Command within C (Essex) Company, 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, killed in Afghanistan on Monday 7 December 2009.
Private Robert Hayes of
6 Platoon, C (Essex) Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment who was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday 3 January 2010.

10 November 2015

Frank Jenns & William Gilbert

One of the earliest things to intrigue me when I began this journey of research was who the handwriting in the War Diary belonged to. It took me quite a while to work out and was only resolved when I found the file of a young Officer and suddenly noticed the similarity between his handwriting 'letter J' and the same letter in the War Diary. Further investigation quickly unfolded another fascinating story

Frank Jenns, from Manor Park, was responsible for writing up the West Ham Battalion's 'Daily Intelligence Summary'. He was the assistant Adjutant for The Hammers but this in itself is highly unusual as he was only a Corporal. The role of assistant Adjutant was always to be carried out by an Officer, at least a 2/Lt minimum.

Frank was somehow appointed to this position from the very beginning of the Battalion's life. Perhaps it was on the instruction of Lt-Col Papillon, it must have been down to what job he did before enlisting. I still haven't discovered this yet but hope one day to find the answer. Whatever he did it required good, and I mean VERY good, typing and fast note taking and limitless organisation. This is all borne out by the lengthy after-action reports he typed up without a mistake (in the days before typex!)

Over the course of the Great War Frank progressed from Private all the way through to Commission and Officer training. He's the only one who did that. Many 'Other Rank' Hammers became Officers, but were always posted to other Regiments, as is the British Army convention.

Frank did it all in the West Ham Battalion.

His handwriting is on the very first page of the War Diary and on the very last.

This is Sgt William Gilbert from Walthamstow, another voice in "Up the Hammers!".

Recognised by his grandson Richard (in the same photo as the 'possible' Frank Jenns), I was fortunate to be given a transcript of a voice recording made some years earlier in which he describes his experiences during the early days with the West Ham Battalion on the Western Front.

22 January 2015

17165 CSM George Barlex

George Barlex was born in 1885 and grew up as one of eight children in Coverdale Road in Barking. When war broke out, George was working as a 'fire hose maker' and lived with his wife Ann at 58 Oban Road in Barking.

He enlisted early in the West Ham Battalion and was quickly appointed Sergeant, eventually becoming Company Sergeant Major for A Coy. 

George's younger brother Rupert also enlisted in the Hammers and, side by side on-board the Princess Victoria, they entered the combat area in France in November 1915. Their cousin James Barlex had also volunteered to the West Ham Battalion. All three lads were from Barking and their fathers had worked their whole lives side by side in a local rubber factory. James hadn’t gone to France, despite enlisting early in the Hammers and beginning the initial training in and around the Borough. For some reason, as a rough handed rubber worker himself, military wisdom had instead made him an instructor at the Army School of Cookery!

George and Rupert served the war alongside each other up until the November attack on the 'Quadrilateral' during the Battle of the Ancre - a thicket of barbed wire well defended by vicious machine guns. This was the Hammers last action on the 1916 Somme battlefield where sadly George was killed and Rupert was captured on that foggy morning. 

Rupert remembered how  "after a time, we were moved into one big camp. This was a huge corrugated iron shed. The Shed was not well roofed and large icicles, quite six foot long, were hanging from the roof. When we awoke in the morning, we found the one blanket supplied to us frozen hard... Through the terrible treatment which we received the strength of the camp was reduced by quite sixty per cent within a few weeks through deaths and illness...."

He goes on to describe witnessing French civilians shot at the roadside by the Germans for leaving crusts of bread for the starving POW's. Witnessing the capture and beating to death of two escaped prisoners and of himself being beaten unconscious on a number of occasions. Despite suffering from blood poisoning and other illnesses as well as severe hunger, he was "compelled to work at the point of a bayonet" but "had to stop several times through pain", and remembered one instance when "a German Officer was near. I was kicked and hit in the ribs until I lost consciousness. When I recovered consciousness I was compelled to continue my work..."

While Rupert survived the war, George's body was never found on the battlefield outside Beaumont Hamel and today only his name remains on the memorial at Thiepval.

7 December 2014

Sgt 18449 Laurie Legg, MM

Laurie Legg was an Original volunteer to the West Ham Battalion. Born in Leytonstone and growing up in Wathamstow, he lived at home with four sisters in Forest Road just before the Great War. His dad had been a piano tuner, but Laurie worked as a shipping clerk. The house and many others around it were hit by a V1 in 1944, but you can see how it looked judging by the houses which are still remaining.

Laurie enlisted early on and served in the Hammers all through the battles of the Somme and Ancre in 1916, and made it to the rank of Sergeant along the way, but it was at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 that he really made his mark. He was a member of D Coy and was one of those facing the Germans on November 30th beside the Canal du Nord.

D Company made a magnificent Last Stand at their Lock 5 position and even managed to capture more than a dozen Germans and took them prisoner. These men were placed in the care of the reserve platoon which was under the command of Laurie, however the rifle ammunition and grenades in D Coy’s possession were starting to run worryingly low. Many men of D Coy were killed and the survivors quickly became aware that they were virtually surrounded. Captain Robinson, another Original from West Ham, duly shortened the Line and began a 'harassing action' with sniping to conserve ammunition. 

Captain Robinson then held a meeting with the other surviving Officer, Lt Corps, before informing Company Sergeant Major Edwards and Platoon Sergeant’s Phillips, Fairbrass, Parsons, Lodge and Laurie Legg that he had decided to continue resistance for as long as possible and hold their ground at all costs until relieved, as per the original orders. Regardless of it being hopeless, the men of D Company, on being given this news by their sergeants, were in excellent spirits and in absolutely no mood to give up an inch of ground. They repaired the fire steps and reorganised themselves for all round defence. Some were using the bodies of dead Germans as extra cover. The resultant redoubt was immensely strong and easily defended. 

Yet the German hold on both sides of the canal was rapidly strengthening all around them. A call for two volunteers to attempt to get a message back to HQ was answered by Laurie and one other man. As they set off into the maelstrom of grenades, pistol and rifle fire, snipers, sweeping Maxim machine guns, trench mortars and heavy artillery shells,  I don't think many inD Coy thought much for their chances to pick a way through the Germans who were by now attacking C Coy with a fury...  

The German attacks finally tailed off as night arrived. Both sides were completely exhausted but there was to be no 'stand down'. As darkness fell, Lt  Col Walsh in the Hammers HQ was feverishly trying to create a semblance of order out of the chaos. 6th Brigade HQ was also desperately trying to make contact with forces west of the canal and they were both asking the same question: where was D Company? Nothing had been heard of them since 10.20am that morning.  

At 8pm, they got their answer. From in front of the West Ham lines crawled a mud drenched and weary Sgt Laurie Legg accompanied by another soldier, his identity now lost.

Legg immediately headed to Walsh at HQ. In the smoky and flickering light of the cramped damp dugout his report was heard in a wide eyed hush. He described the ‘Council of War’, held four hours earlier by the remaining Officers and NCO’s who were determined to fight to the last but were now surrounded and extremely low on ammunition. 

Laurie had volunteered to attempt to get through the German line and bring desperately needed reinforcements. The attempt had been regarded as a ‘forlorn hope’ but, as military history has often witnessed, it succeeded. The news spread like an inspirational wildfire throughout the Hammers and to the whole Brigade. Numerous signal flares were sent up to indicate to the survivors of D Company that Legg and his companion had made it through. They were heard giving a hearty cheer. All through the night, “violent attacks” were made to reach the beleaguered Company. Sadly, none of them were successful.

Laurie was awarded the Military Medal for his incredible actions getting the message through and he received his ribbon and handshake on Christmas Day, 1917. By February 1918 the West Ham Battalion was disbanded and Laurie was posted to the 10th Essex. 

This brave young man was killed on 12th April, 1918. He was just 24 years old and unmarried.

Sadly, he has No Known Grave but today his name is remembered on the Memorial at Pozieres. 

images courtesy of Richard Parker, Gt-Nephew of Laurie

9 September 2014

Captain Edwin Milward Charrington

Edwin Milward Charrington, was born in London in 1891 and lived with his parents and sister at Eton Terrace, a few doors down from Lt Col Papillon's London flat.

Charrington had been about to move to China when war broke out but immediately put his job with the Union Insurance Company of Canton on hold and promptly enlisted in the Essex Regiment - most likely because his father Harry had been born in Chigwell and had also served during the Boer War.

Edwin joined 3rd Battalion but was immediately attached to 1st Battalion of the Sussex Regiment and sent to France to fight with them in February 1915, around the time the West Ham Battalion were still recruiting.

On the 5th of May, 1915 he was severely wounded during fighting at Fortun. His left arm was thoroughly shattered by shrapnel in an explosion which also tore off his nose completely and inflicted severe damage to the rest of his head. 

Incredibly, due to the skill of surgeons, he recovered his health and confidence and by November 1915, while the Hammers were on the troopship Princess Victoria sailing to France, he was working with the Army Signal Service in Bletchley Park, intercepting German communications traffic. Yet, he made continual requests to return to a combat role - despite having to wear an aluminium prosthetic ‘tin’ nose and other shocking disfigurements, including a "red, permanent deformity of the face".

Arriving at the West Ham Battalion on the 2nd of June, 1916, he was quickly appointed as  A Company's Commander and was a very popular Officer, no doubt due to his supreme confidence and "Carry On" attitude, despite being exempt from route marching due to obviously difficult respiration and severe discomfort in both wet and dry conditions.

He served during the Somme fighting with the Hammers, up until their action in November 1916 on the formidable Quadrilateral/Heidenkopf positions outside of Serre where he was seen to be killed while leading A Company in the first attacking wave. Sadly, his body was never found and he still lies somewhere in that mud and clay today. Only his name remains on the memorial at Thiepval. In his condolence letter to the family, Colonel Carter stressed that he had "the greatest regard for him and a high opinion of his capabilities as an Officer". 

Edwin Charrington was a very brave young man, a real character, "beloved by all who knew him". He was only 25 years old when he was killed in action, fighting for his country and the West Ham Pals.

In 2014, a musical play was performed by the Claygate Dramatic Society, directed by Belita Charrington, the wife of his direct descendant, Simon Charrington. They dramatised Edwin's last moments of life on 13th November 1916 and, somewhat touchingly, the audience were invited to join in with a hearty rendition of "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles".

photos courtesy of the Charrington family

15 March 2014

Cigars, Pipes and Songs

For those of you that have read the book: The Hammers Battalion tailor, Ernie Kurtz, gave a poetic recital during a 'smoking concert' held by C Coy in February 1915 at the Brickfields Church in Stratford, the oldest 'free church' in the Borough (opened in 1662)...


As for the others who sang that night: Bill Marsh (#2) was killed during the August 1916 attack on Guillemont, his body never found. Cpl Charlie Dean (#6) was killed the same day and now lies buried in Delville Wood cemetery. Pte Turner (#8) could be either Bill or Eddie, two brothers who volunteered side by side with consecutive Service Numbers. If it was Eddie who sang, he was killed on the first trench raid by the West Ham Battalion on July 1st 1916. George Cowley (#9) sang "Sons of England". He survived, as did L/Cpl Kite who sang "England's Honour". Henry Dipple (#12) was killed during the attack on the Quadrilateral in November 1916 - his body was never found. Pte Leonard and Hawker (#14 & #15) both survived the War......

13 March 2014

An Early Recruiting Poster

This poster was issued to help recruit for the Reserve Company of the West Ham Battalion. Formed at Brentwood in September 1915 they undertook their training in Cambridge and after a few men were initially sent as replacements to those men who had been killed in December 1915, the unit became the 14th (Reserve) Battalion of the Essex Regiment under the command of the Mayor's son, Captain Leo Dyer.

They also played football at the Boleyn Ground against shopkeepers from Upton Park.

 On the 1st September 1916 they were converted into 98th Training Reserve Battalion of 23rd Reserve Brigade at Aldershot, which eventually ended up being commanded by Robert Swan who was an Original volunteer to the West Ham Battalion.

Captain SG Mullock

When there were more than five-hundred recruits to the West Ham Battalion they were appointed an Adjutant, Captain Sidney Goss Mullock, a Special Reserve officer who had seen service in the South African War. He lived in Kelveden Hatch, Brentwood and was married in 1910.

He had first entered France in 1914 before being badly wounded at the Battle of the Aisne and invalided home. On his recovery, Sidney immediately received an appointment to the West Ham Battalion for this formation period, to organise the growing mountain of official paperwork and military administration that was being generated.

He was Mentioned In Dispatches, promoted Major and eventually became Lt-Col to the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. He was killed in action on the 4th April 1917 and today lies buried in Hervin Farm British Cemetery in St.Laurent-Blangy (about 3 kilometres north-east of Arras).

8 April 2013

Pte 18040 George Greeno

George Albert Greeno was born in 1889 in Bethnal Green and attended Hague Street Primary School which is now the Weavers Fields Nursery.

  Canrobert Street in Bethnal Green 

He married Alice in 1908 and lived with his wife and two daughters down Vallance Road but by the time he volunteered in the West Ham Battalion he was living at 94 Canrobert Street in Bethnal Green and employed as a sail maker.

George in a group photo of C Company

George was a member of C company and was used as a Battalion Runner, one of several extra dangerous roles on the front-line.

George's Will made out to Alice in his paybook

During the Hammers first trench raid on June 1st 1916 it was George who had to creep out with the raiders to their attack positions and then return with absolute stealth back to the British line and inform the Brigade artillery that everyone was in their place. For this role in the attack, during which the battalion were awarded three Military Cross's (MC), a Distinguished Conduct Medal (DCM) and several Military Medals (MM), George was rewarded with a Commander's Commendation

George's trench raid Commendation

A year after the trench raid, George was utilised as an Officer's Batman, a personal 'servant' in the dugouts. It was in the dugouts around Windy Corner that George was somehow "accidently wounded by a revolver shot"... Frank Jenns (who was writing up the War Diary) gives no indication as to who shot him in the thigh, but the fact that Jenns doesn’t say "by comrade" might imply that the fault lay with an Officer, receiving an unlucky reminder that the Webley pistol issued at this time had no safety catch!

George's paybook also contains the signatures of many Officer's
in the West Ham Battalion,most of whom were Killed In Action 

George recovered from his wounded thigh and returned to the West Ham Battalion. On disbandment he was sent to Egypt and thankfully survived the Great War.
All for a shilling a day!

Sadly he had to return his medals as they were engraved with the wrong name "Greens"! George died in 1951.

with thanks to the Greeno family for images

15 March 2013

Captain Hugh Cardinal Harford

Hugh Cardinal-Harford was born in 1877 in what has today become the Ampthill Square Estate in Camden. During the Boer War he was wounded quite badly in the stomach at Vaalkop in June 1901 but managed to eventually recover.

He later possibly attended the wedding of his mother to his new step-father, John Howell Junior of Hastings who, as part of an "& Son" construction company was responsible for very many of the finer buildings in and around Hastings.

When war was declared in 1914, Hugh was an Insurance inspector but quickly re-enlisted and joined the West Ham Battalion at Stratford during their formation in early 1915. I haven't yet been able to determine what particular connection there is to West Ham for Hugh. In 1906 he lived in Alderney Street in Pimlico and by 1911 he was living in Herne Hill. But the connection  must have been significant as his younger half-brother Reggie also joined the battalion in mid 1915, leaving his job as a Lloyds shipping clerk.

Both men were in D Company and well liked by all, with Hugh serving as Captain and Company Commander while Reggie was a popular Lieutenant and Platoon Commander. They both performed well as Officers and were there onboard the Princess Victoria heading to the Front in France in November  1915.

 Hugh on the left, sitting beside William Busby, in a close up from a photo of Busby's Platoon in D Company, taken in 1915 during training

They had only been there for a matter of days when Hugh's war changed. He was on horseback, leading his marching D Company towards the frontline when his horse suddenly took fright and dismounted him violently into a ditch. His injuries were clearly quite bad and he was evacuated to hospital for  recovery.

By May of 1916 he was back fit, but he didn't return to the West Ham Battalion. He did however bump into Lt William Busby, the local Scoutmaster from Forest Gate who was returning from his home leave. Busby made a note in his personal diary of how Hugh, by now promoted to Major, had been given "tremendous responsibilities..."

Hugh had been tasked with rounding up all the visibly underage boys who were serving in the Army, usually in a Front Line infantry unit of Kitchener volunteers. On average they were fifteen or sixteen years old, although some were even younger. As you can imagine, most of these lads were passionate about being there and therefore it was quite natural for them to be "most indignant" about being taken back to Etaples and held until they were sent back home to no-doubt worried parents.

Hugh's half-brother Reggie meanwhile served with the West Ham Battalion all the way through the Somme fighting, including leading his Platoon of D Company at Delville Wood where the casualties were horrendous. By the end of September he was making a transfer over to the new aspect of warfare, Tanks. 

Both men survived the war and Reggie was a regular visitor to Frank Keeble's farm in Essex for many years up until WW2. They had been good friends since meeting in early 1915 and had shared a dinner at the Trocadero back in 1916.

image courtesy of Michael Holden

25 February 2013

Pte 18374 Samuel Herbert Legerton

Samuel Herbert Legerton was born on 22nd September 1884, along with a twin brother, Walter Edward, in Salcott-cum-Virley, Essex. Sadly, Walter died in January 1907, aged 22 and lies buried with his parents in the cemetery at Tolleshunt d'Arcy.

Samuel was 5ft 5in and had fair hair. He had left UK for Boston, USA, on 23rd September 1903 onboard a ship called The Mayflower when he was a 19 year old clerk. At some point he returned to the UK and by the end of 1914 he was 29 years old and living with his wife Amy at his sister Lizzie's newsagents on Barking Road which he ran on her behalf.  As an illustration of the changing character of the local area, the old shop is now a small mosque.

When War broke out Samuel, like so many along the Barking Road, volunteered at East Ham Town Hall on 25th February 1915 and became Pte 18374 in The West Ham Battalion.

Undergoing basic training on Wanstead Flats all the way through to Salisbury Plain for Advanced Infantry Training and traveling over on the Princess Victoria, Samuel absorbed all the life changing experiences of the Hammers up until the end of their Somme Summer in November 1916.

At some point during or after their last major assault while on The Somme at the Quadrilateral (Beaumont Hamel) he contracted 'trench fever' - spread by the body lice that every man was plagued with - and was shipped back to Blighty....

It was after his recovery in England that he was transferred to the Labour Corps and in that way moved to an agricultural unit near Warley for the rest of the War. After a happy life, Samuel died on 31st May, 1938

images courtesy of Jackie Duckworth, Samuels grandaughter

6 December 2012

The Hammers Stretcher Bearers

Some of the bravest among the brave in the first world war were the stretcher bearers.

By the time the West Ham Battalion arrived in France (December, 1915), Norman William Bellinger was regarded by everyone as a very good soldier and had been appointed Lance Corporal. He was also placed in charge of the medics under the direct command of Dr Alan Holthusen, the Medical Officer.

Holthusen was a locally born GP surgeon with a practise in Wanstead and his younger brother Len was also in the Hammers, living in Forest Gate and serving as the Signals Officer (and the current battalion snooker champion).

Norman Bellinger was 28 when he enlisted at the Hammers recruiting office in East Ham early in January 1915. He was one of those listed on the front page appeal for volunteers in the Stratford Express. Married on Christmas Day in 1909 to Lillian, and living with their young daughter at 33 Howard Road in Barking, Norman worked in a local india rubber factory as a labourer. He was short, yet very strong.

By April 27th 1916, the Hammers were in and around the modern-day town of Grenay in northern France. The German's launched one of the everyday hazards of trench life - mortar bombs, silent in flight and deadly on impact. During the attack, 38 year old Pte Joe Cooper was gravely injured. First on the scene was Norman Bellinger, who began wrapping Joe up in bandages. The two men then came under further mortar fire, which hit Norman himself in three places and no doubt made Joe's situation a whole lot worse.

Gilbert Rogers, 1919

With further brave assistance from the other stretcher bearers, the two wounded men were brought in. Norman had made every effort to save the badly injured Cooper despite bleeding heavily from his own wounds. Sadly, Joe didn't survive and wouldn't return to his native Limehouse. Today he's buried in the Loos British cemetery.

Norman recovered enough to continue exhibiting incredible bravery. Less than a fortnight later he dashed out, still patched up, to assist L/Cpl Jimmy Dutton from Plaistow who had been hit in a very similar attack. Norman picked him up and carried him back but he was already dead. For this action, he was one of the earliest men in the war to be awarded the Military Medal.

On June 1st, when the Germans blew three huge mines right on the Hammers front, Norman was one of the stretcher bearers picking up shattered men from the moonscape battlefield while under artillery fire. The wounded were all taken to Dr Holthusen's aid tent which that night practically became the Advanced dressing Station for the whole Brigade during the German attack.

Holthusen treated over 90 men from three different Regiments that night but they couldn't be moved out to the proper care they urgently required as the shelling on their positions was "intense". By the morning, as the shelling lessened, Norman Bellinger was transferring them on to lorries and off to hospital.

At the end of July, the West Ham Battalion were on the Somme and engaged in blocking the almost suicidal counter-attacks being made by the Germans against Deville Wood. 'The Devil's Wood', as it was known by the Tommys, was a desperately hellish place to be. Many Hammers were killed over their few days in the frontline, not many have known graves. Those that do were brought in by Norman and his stretcher bearers. Norman was seen to be tireless. He didn't care about sleeping, he didn't care about eating. He simply cared about getting those men off that horrendous battlefield. We'll never know how many men he saved or who today have a known grave thanks to him and others, but Norman's actions were enough for him to be awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.

Gilbert Rogers

When Colonel Papillon had his breakdown from shell shock at the end of the Somme Summer of 1916, it was Bellinger who personally led him home and back to his wife at Catsfield Place in Sussex. Norman then had an extended leave to recover himself before he transferred over to the Labour Corps. By Armistace Day, Norman Bellinger was classed as 50% disabled from his wounds and went home to Barking, in a new house at 28 Shaftesbury Road. He died in early 1963 having lived to be 76 years old.

Another of the Hammers stretcher bearers was Charlie Gladding. He was one of a number of men who lived in Tidal Basin, under the shadows of the world renowned Thames Ironworks. A large group of men from these streets joined the West Ham Battalion and among them was 22 year old Charlie who lived with his new teenage wife in Alice Street.

He worked closely with Norman Bellinger in rescuing those lads mown down on the battlefield, but by the end of Summer 1916 after their tour on the Somme, Charlie Gladding's spirit broke. Like so many men, he suffered a nervous breakdown. Sent home to his wife, he eventually recovered, and was then posted to the Labour Corps, serving overseas in Salonika. Sadly, it was here that he caught pneumonia in September 1918, just a few months before the end of the war, and died.

Sadly, I've not yet found a photo of these brave men. But I cant help admiring Norman Bellinger's bravery, as Joe Cooper was my Gt-Grandfather...

4 December 2012

Dinner Up West

Frank Keeble was an original Officer in the West Ham Battalion. Although he came from the countryside of Essex his mum had been born in the Borough and his grandad was an Alderman.

He won the Military Cross on the Hammers first trench raid in July 1916 where he not only broke his leg but was wounded by shrapnel in three places. He was sent to hospital in Reading for three weeks and then moved into the Atherton Road home of another volunteer in the Hammers, Lt Reg Norman. Reg was a fruit and veg salesman in Stratford market and his dad ran a very large and successful produce distribution.

By September, Frank Keeble was ready to return to the West Ham Battalion but before he did he met up on the 17th with an old pal and fellow Hammer from the early days in Stratford, Reggie Howell. They went 'up West' together and headed for the Trocadero restaurant in Piccadilly. Reggie would have told Frank just what had been happening over the Somme Summer and how the Hammers had been hit with high casualties. Hopefully the news didn't ruin the meal too much.

Here's what they had - Frank and Reggie both signed the menu for posterity

menu courtesy of the Keeble Family

German Heritage Volunteers

One of the West Ham Battalion officers, Ernest Sherman (who came from Whitechapel and won his Military Cross at Oppy, April 1917) was German heritage, but he wasn't the only one.

There are a distinct number of German surnames in the Hammers, but this shouldn't be surprising - the 1911 Census records that about 2% of the Borough of West Ham was 'foreign born'.

Most of the lads were British born but of German parents or grand parents and they included the Medical Officer, Dr Alan Holthusen. He had his GP surgery in Sebert Road, Forest Gate and another in Wanstead. His younger brother Len was also serving in the Hammers, as the Signals Officer.

Alan Holthusen

The West Ham Battalion tailor was Ernie Kurtz, born in Bow but living in Forest Gate, son of a tailor and married to a seamstress.

Ernie Kurtz

Other German surnames on the Muster Roll of 'Originals' include Lang, Luck, Giess (two brothers who enlisted together), Vogt, Teitjen (who knocked a few years off his age and was severely shattered mentally by the Somme Summer of 1916), Tettmar, Hauser, Izzat, Francker, Englefield, Vaus, Zimmer, Schuler, Therin (two more brothers who enlisted together) and Kunkel (who was wounded by a sniper).

Cyril Blattman is interesting as he was living just a few doors down from Mr Flatan's photography shop in Ley Street, Ilford when he enlisted. Although Cyril's surname sounds German, it was actually from his grandfather Jean Blattman - who was born in Matherne in the Alsace region of France and first appears in London on the 1851 Census!

3 December 2012

The Weekly Shopping

Here's a Mess Bill belonging to 2/Lt Frank Keeble, from a snowy February 1916 when the West Ham Battalion were billeted behind the freezing lines at Les Choquaux.

It gives a small insight into the requirements of the B Company Officers in the trenches of the Western Front.

 (courtesy Keeble Family)

What Became of UC-5?

As the West Ham Battalion sailed to France on November 17th, 1915, their ship SS Princess Victoria was soon delayed in her journey to allow the hospital ship (HS) Anglia to enter port.

Commanded by Captain Lionel J Manning, the HS Anglia was returning from France full of evacuated wounded. In a sudden flash she struck a mine, laid earlier that morning by the German submarine UC-5. Captain Manning was blown from the bridge to the deck below in the explosion but regained his senses long enough to order the lowering of lifeboats. The Anglia began to sink, bow first, and extremely quickly taking one hundred and twenty-nine lives with her. Ships and boats made frantic efforts to assist in the rescue. One ship was sunk by yet another mine, although without any further loss of life.

With this unsettling welcome to the war for the Hammers, SS Princess Victoria resumed steaming her slow passage as a sea fog began to obscure the English coastline.

SS Princess Victoria

But what became of the submarine UC-5, which had laid the mine?

Incredibly, she was captured a year later and sent to be displayed on the Thames. The noise was incredible as she entered the Pool of London with every ship blowing it's horns in triumphant celebration. Moored at Temple Pier she was visited by many thousands of Londoners.

Finally, by October, she was hoisted up on-board another ship and sailed off to the USA, arriving in New York and ending up in Central Park to become a fund raising display.

18 November 2012

The Ellis Boys - all related?

Here's something for those of you who enjoy doing family research. It's a question I was unable to answer due to time constraints, but perhaps you will be able to solve it.

Five original volunteers to the West Ham Battalion were -

(Service Number and Name)
17661 Albert Benjamin ELLIS
17265 EE ELLIS
17724 James ELLIS
17384 CW ELLIS
21462 F ELLIS

Albert Ellis was killed with another soldier when a grenade exploded accidentally. All the service numbers are low 17's, which means they were amongst the earliest men to enlist in The Hammers. 21462 F Ellis has a service number which indicates that he was a volunteer but also that he arrived in France from the Hammers depot company as a replacement, probably around January 1916.

The men were local to West Ham or to Hackney. This is interesting and opens the door to why I think the men are all related. There was a very large and successful piano manufacturer in the latter half of the 18th century called John Ellis. His main and famous showroom was in Upton Park but his factory was at the Alexandra Works, 130 Shacklewell Lane in Dalston.

I have an idea that perhaps the men were brothers and cousins. Or maybe it's pure coincidence.

Can you solve the mystery?

14 November 2012

Did He Go To France...

This unknown Corporal (although something tells me that it's Charlie Lucas, Military Medal winner at Lock5) is a member of the West Ham Battalion Police.

He can be seen parading the shackles - as used to restrain men, like L/Cpl Crisp who assaulted one of the sentries while in France.

Also on parade is a small dog, familiar enough with the Corporal to sit on his arm, so most likely it belonged to him. Not knowing the man, we cant ever hope to know the dog and whether or not he went to France and became a ratter with the West Ham Battalion. But such things weren't uncommon...

13 November 2012

Not Impossible...

I have often wondered whether this chap in the centre (click to enlarge), from an early 1915 image of the West Ham Battalion Drum & Bugle Band somewhere in the Borough, is Black or Mixed-Race. It is perfectly plausible and it could be argued that in the Docks area of London not in any way unusual or unknown.

It's difficult to tell, as the ways of black and white photography back then in the early days of the technology can cause tones and shadows which are liable to be misinterpreted. But, I don't know why, I simply have a sneaking suspicion that this man is black or mixed-race.

From the same photograph is this interesting scene. Is that a father with his son? Did dad survive? Depending on his age the son may also have been called up by 1918.

The sad thing about WW1 research is that little questions like these will always remain unanswered - unless the relatives do the initial digging...

12 September 2012

18592 L/Cpl H Brown

Henry Arthur Brown was from Barking and grew up at 25 Barking Place.

He was one of the original volunteers to the West Ham Battalion and enlisted at East Ham around late March 1915. I've not been able to discover his job before the war (yet) as there were so many lads named Henry Brown in and around West Ham, Forest Gate, Leyton and Barking on the 1911 census. A very popular name!

Henry entered France with the Hammers, onboard the Princess Victoria, on 17th November, 1915.

With the others he adjusted to life in the trenches of the Western Front.

On the 2nd of July 1916 he wrote home to his mother, "just a few lines in answer to your kind and welcome letter...."

The letter paper would have been given to him by the Hammers Padre at the Front, the Reverend Westerdale. He was another original, a local Wesleyan with his church in Stratford Grove.

In the letter Henry also sent his thanks to a relative, Ted, for some nut brownies sent out to the Front for him. It was obviously a favourite, or perhaps just a small reminder of the old ways of peaceful civilian life before the war: "tell him I shall never forget him for it..."

2nd of July, 1916... The West Ham Battalion were in a happy mood at this time, as (overnight) they had just conducted a very successful trench raid on the German lines which had resulted in the awarding of three Military Cross, a Distinguished Conduct Medal and a clutch of the Military Medal for the Hammers. Fifty miles from their positions, the first day of the Somme battles had begun. The artillery barrages could be heard back in Barking but Henry's letter sent the usual reassurances to his family.

Little was he to know that by the end of the month he would be under constant shellfire at Delville Wood, blocking the intense German efforts to recapture the shattered tree-stumps and crumped trenches. Many of the Hammers were sent completely mad by the horrific experience and were shipped home. Still in the trenches Henry wrote more letters and, no doubt, tried not to worry his mum.

By November, he was taking part in the Hammers attack against a position known as "the Quadrilateral". Hung up in the mud and the wire, the West Ham Battalion was decimated by machine gun fire. The sheer volume of killed, wounded and missing was incredible.

His mum would have feared the worst while hoping for the best as dad George opened the telegram delivered a few weeks before Christmas. It was a 'Missing' telegram but eventually another dreaded knock at the door delivered a last sorrow...

Finally, as the shelling stopped two years later and peace once again returned to France and Belgium, Henry's family had one small comfort.

His body had been found on the battlefield and he had at least been given a decent burial, just one of a very few from that terrible night of November 13th.

images are courtesy of Simon Beard, Gt-Gt-Nephew of Henry Brown
to whom I send sincere thanks for sharing this sad memento

25 August 2012

Capt Charles Graham Carson, MC

One of the original officers of the West Ham Battalion was from Congleton in Cheshire. Charles Graham Carson was the son of a local Magistrate and had been studying medicine at Manchester University when the Great War broke out. Like so many he volunteered for service with Lord Kitchener's 'new army' and enlisted as a Private in his local Regiment where he was quickly recognised as being definite 'officer material'.

I've not been able to discover why (and I must admit it really does intrigue me!) but following his officer training, Charles Carson specifically requested the West Ham Battalion as his unit. The Mayor of West Ham signed off his application personally and he joined the Hammers as a 2/Lt on their first parade at St. Lukes Church. He was a very capable soldier and held the respect of his men and fellow Officers, eventually becoming Captain and the Commander of C Company.

In France, the West Ham Battalion were sent to the Somme battlefield in July 1916. It was here they endured a very kinetic few days defending the recently captured Delville Wood. After three weeks of fighting the Germans had been beaten out of this 'devils wood'. Now they wanted it back. Their counter-attack was of nightmarish intensity and at times almost suicidal.

Charles Carson was leading his men of C Company as they held the Front Line, although in reality it was merely a series of shell holes. They endured wave after wave of German infantry attacks, heavy shelling of their positions and a multitude of snipers sneaking about wearing British helmets. At one point, the HQ dugout was 'crumped' with all the senior Officers wounded.

Still the West Ham Battalion grimly held on.

Carson ended this tour of Delville Wood being evacuated out on a stretcher. He had been wounded in the wrist at one point, but stayed at his post and kept C Company together. Finally he took a machine gun bullet to the knee which required evacuation to hospital for recovery.

During this intense period the Hammers resistance was unbelievable and a number of the originals in the battalion were awarded the Military Medal for their bravery. Norman Bellinger was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for the way he organised his stretcher bearers and, along with Captain JD Paterson, Charles Carson was awarded the Military Cross for his gallantry in the field.

No doubt he then enjoyed a peaceful period of clean hospital sheets, hot food, pretty nurses (not in that order) and then an extended leave back home in Cheshire (or to what/whoever it was that had first drawn him to West Ham) which would have included a visit to Buckingham Palace to receive his medal from the King.

Carson returned to the Hammers in France at the end of October 1916 and for the next few weeks prepared his men to attack the German position known as the Quadrilateral ('Die Heidenkopf'). This was a well defended position, and the attack didn't go at all well for the West Ham Battalion on November 13th.

Carson was in command of C Coy, leading the 2nd wave through the mud on the right flank. He and his men bravely managed to take their primary objectives but he was severely wounded in the chest as they advanced and attacked another position.

Somehow (and perhaps it is a clear indication of the way his men felt about him) Carson was taken, just about breathing, back to the Hammers aid post. Dr Holthusen, the Medical Officer, must have glimpsed that slim hope of life remaining and evacuated him to hospital in Rouen.

Charles Graham Carson was a strong man and fought on for a number of days but his wounds were simply too much for his body. Back home in Congleton, his family got the dreaded 'hat-trick' of telegrams within the space of a few days: he was at first 'Missing' in action, then he was found alive but 'Wounded' and then finally he had 'Died of Wounds'...

He was 22 years old and their only son.


His gravestone states 
"Thy will Be Done"