Sunday, 16 November 2014

William George Choney 1887-1914

William George Choney

18th March  1887- 16th November 1914

William Choney was a 2nd cousin three times removed. His grandmother Mary Ede was an older sister of my 4x grandmother, Eliza Ede.

William’s parents William Choney and Alice Carpenter were married on May 14th 1887 at Holy Trinity Church in Bramley, Surrey. William was born on March 18th the following year and baptised at Holy Trinity on May 6th.

When the census was taken in April 1891, the family were living at Birtley Road in Bramley, now the A281 between Guildford and Horsham but then, of course, much quieter. William senior was an agricultural labourer and, as well as three year old William junior, the family had another son Albert who was 18 months old while Alice was just a few weeks away from giving birth to Herbert. Two years later, the boys acquired a little sister, Alice and in 1895 another brother Ernest.
In 1901, the family; William, still an agricultural labourer, Alice and the children, William aged 13, Albert aged 11, Herbert aged 9, Alice aged 7 and 5 year old Ernest were still in Birtley Road Bramley. In June of 1902 the family welcomed their last child Annie.

William junior enlisted in the Queen’s Royal Surrey Regiment for five years on 27 Dec 1906 at Guildford. He was aged 19 years and 10 months. A reference was given by his employer Mr Charman of Shamley Green who had known William for 14 months and who described him as being of good character. 

The regiment was based in Colchester and did not see active service until 1908, by which time William had become a Lance Corporal. In 1910 the regiment was posted to Gibraltar and William became a Corporal. On the family’s 1911 census return he is listed as “soldier abroad” then crossed out and "away on census night" noted. He was indeed away in the barracks in Gibraltar.

In 1912 they went to Bermuda and on 19 Oct 1913, William was passed fit for service in South Africa having extended his period of army service to 12 years. At this time he was given a glowing report.  It read; “Character very good. An excellent man in every way. Thoroughly reliable and well above the average in intelligence. Has been a caterer in RATA 1910-11 and in charge of transport since 1913. 

The regiment spent six months in South Africa returning home in home the following summer. William became a sergeant in September 1914 when the regiment arrived back at Southampton. They marched to Lyndhurst at which point there were 28 officers, 2 Warrant Officers, 40 sergeants, 49 corporals and 855 men. During the week of 21st September, the soldiers were allowed 24 hours leave to visit their families; the rest of the time was spent in exercises and route marches.

On October 4th they embarked at Southampton for Ostend then on by train to Bruges where they joined the 22nd Infantry Brigade as part of the 7th Division of the British Expeditionary Force.  They took part in the battle of Mille on October 8th and throughout October were involved in defending various strategic sites and attacking forward lines in and around Ghent. They endured a three day march westwards in the rain arriving in Ypres on October 16th, some men being so footsore they completed the journey by train. They fought numerous battles over the next few days which did not change the frontline; some days there were advances, some days retreats and the soldiers were constantly being sent to help defend new strategic points  such as railway lines and canal bridges. They were in action every day with little rest.

This from the war diary of October 21st. “The ridge along the Zonnebeke-Langemarck road was held by part of A company and a squadron of Life Guards on the left and other portions of the Queens on the right. About 4pm a company of Irish Guards arrived and took over the ridge and the Queens withdrew to the railway embankment where they had been ordered to take up a fresh position – stragglers were here collected including a party of Warwick’s and Royal Welsh Fusiliers. Orders were then received for the battalion to go up to the Passchendaele Road and get orders from Lt Col Cadogan of the E W Fusiliers. The Queens were ordered to fill in a gap between them and the Staffords but it was pitch dark and no-one knew where the Staffords were.“ And so it went on day after day.

The battalion had moved on by the end of October to Kruisick south east of Ypres. They took up position beside a road but were shelled out of their trenches and had to quickly dig new ones further back. At one point a firing line was ordered meaning that the men stood in a line along the edge of the road and fired towards the Germans. The Germans however were stronger and small parties worked their way behind their enemy’s lines and attacked. It sounds like complete chaos and must have been a terrifying experience. Eventually the British soldiers retreated into the village or took shelter in some woods and in a chateau while they awaited reinforcements. On the 5th November the brigade left the area and were billeted in the Hotel de Ville in Ypres. They rested for a day and by 6am on the 7th were in place ready to storm German trenches. This appears to have been a well-planned and prepared attack. The war diary from that day reads, “At about 5am the brigade left the field behind Lord Cavan’s HQ and went down a path through the woods leading to the trenches held by the Germans. The attack was scheduled for 6.15am. There was a heavy mist and it was only just becoming daylight. The brigade deployed in lines, the Queens forming the first two lines. They advanced over the rise in the ground and a heavy machine gun was opened by the Germans. The second line came up with the first and together the charge was made. It was completely successful and the enemy got out of their trenches and ran away.” The line was held all day but there was a lot of resistance and the British soldiers took many casualties. The toll was five officers, 59 other ranks killed and 19 missing.

After this the battalion had a long break, first to rest and then to dig and equip new trenches. There was no action with the enemy, partly due to the appalling weather, between the 7th and the 16th November when William Choney died of his wounds, so presumably he was injured in one of the earlier battles. He was reported as having been shot in the head right side and hand but no indication is given as to whether he was on the front line or still working in support either in catering or transport as he had done previously. His possessions were recovered and returned to his family and the family informed of the whereabouts of his grave, all of which implies that he died in a quieter place than on the field during a battle, so presumably at a field hospital somewhere behind the lines. He is buried in Larchwood cemetery south east of Ypres very close to where he died. Larchwood Cemetery contains 856 burials from the First World War and was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

He was awarded the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. His medals and scroll were sent to his parents who moved soon after the war to East Street in Epsom. Both died in the 1930s in Epsom.

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Ernest George Pullen 1895-2014

Ernest George Pullen

1895-19th October 1914

Ernest George Pullen is a second cousin twice removed. His grandfather Charles Coombes was the eldest brother of my great-great grandfather Eli Coombes.

Ernest was born in Croydon in the autumn of 1895, the fifth child of eight born to Thomas Pullen and Liza Coombes. Thomas and Liza were married in the spring of 1882 in Lurgashall, a small village near Midhurst in Sussex, where Thomas was working as a farm labourer and where they both grew up.  Their first child, Charles Henry was born later that year. By the spring of 1885 the family had moved to Uckfield, where second child Thomas Richard was born. By the time the third son William John arrived two and a half years later, they were back in Sussex at Lodsworth, another small village near Midhurst and were still there two years after that for the birth of their first daughter Winifred Agnes. By the time the 1891 census was taken they had returned to the family roots in Lurgashall.

Sometime in the next four years, Thomas and Liza embarked on a bigger move into the suburbs of London where Ernest George arrived at the end of 1895. The family was rounded off by Edith Violet in 1898, Victor in 1899 and Stanley Herbert in 1903. All three give their birthplace as South Norwood, and in 1901, the family were all living in Elmers Road in Croydon. Thomas was working as a Woodbroker’s carman, presumably driving a cart delivering wood.

Elmers Road is a road of terraced houses, which appears today to be fairly unchanged, apart from wheelie bins and parked cars everywhere. The area is known as Woodside and Ernest and his siblings attended Woodside Board School, now Woodside Primary School.

When he left school, Ernest found employment at a tin factory as a labourer. His father Thomas died in 1910 at the age of 55 and by 1911 Liza had moved the children who were left at home, Ernest, Edith, Victor and Stanley, to a smaller house in Alderton Road, Croydon. Ernest was the only one working to support the family at this time.

Sometime in the next three years Ernest joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers so I believe he was a reservist as they were the first men to be mobilised and were sent to join whichever regiment need them. This would explain why a man from Croydon joined a Welsh regiment.

In the summer of 1914, The 1st Battalion Royal Welch Fusiliers were a battalion of the regular army based in Malta before returning to England at the beginning of September. They then became part of the 7th Division which formed during September 1914, assembling at Lyndhurst in the New Forest before travelling to Belgium, landing in Zebrugge on October 7th. They were sent to Antwerp to assist in the defence of the city and defended various bridges and other infrastructure before moving westwards to Ypres as part of the British Expeditionary Force. They were sent under the command of Field Marshall Sir John French to supplement the French and Belgian troops already in place trying to stop the German troops from taking Ypres and heading for the coastal towns of Dieppe and Le Havre. There appears to have been very effective communication between the French and British commander and they worked together well, although Sir John does mention in his despatch that the road running from Bethne to Lille was to be the dividing line between British and French forces. The General remarks that the terrain was very difficult, “the ground upon which they were operating, was similar to that usually found in manufacturing districts and was covered with mining works, factories, buildings, etc. The ground throughout this country is remarkably flat, rendering effective artillery support very difficult.”

At 2:30 in the morning of October 10th 1914 the Brigade moved south from Ghent in Belgium to Meirelbeke again to support Belgian and French troops already in place. They did not come upon any German troops during the morning, but heard some firing in the distance to the South and South East. Later in the day, the British troops positioned themselves in a trench south east of Meirelbeke covering French and Belgian positions in front and although they heard firing, it was thought to be from allied soldiers and there were no sign of attacks by the Germans.

Over the next two days the battalion repositioned several times to back up the French and Belgians and on the 19th came the first attack on enemy positions at Menin, Gheluwe and Kleythoek. The Welsh troops attacked uphill towards the ridge near a windmill but were held back by enemy fire. They received no support and in the middle of the day were ordered to withdraw whereupon they retreated along the road to Dadizeele and regrouped. They joined up with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment to hold some high ground to cover the retreat of two other regiments. The Welsh battalion fought closely with the enemy and suffered losses. At 6pm they again took cover in the trenches they had occupied three days earlier. In the course of the fighting that day, October 19th 1914, 3 officers and 15 men were killed. One of those men was Ernest George Pullen. He was just nineteen years old.

He was buried at Harelbeke New British Cemetery close to where he died. The small cemetery at Harelbeke about 10 miles south of Ostend was erected after the war and soldiers were reburied here. Those who died in 1914 are together in one corner of the cemetery and marked with the traditional white headstones.

Ernest’s mother Eliza never remarried and stayed in Croydon until her death in 1938. All of her twenty-two grandchildren were born there. His brother Thomas was killed in France in 1918.

Friday, 26 September 2014

100 Years On. A blog to remember family members who died in WW1

Allen Luff

5th April 1884- 26th September 1914

Allen is out on the very edge of my tree as a 4th cousin 5 times removed but as I am researching all the Luffs in Surrey and Surrey, he is part of my study. His 4x great grandfather Nicholas was my 8x great grandfather born in Fernhurst, Sussex in 1685.

Allen Luff was born on April 5th 1884 and was baptised on 25 May at St Paul’s Dorking. St Paul’s was a fairly new evangelical church having been built in the 1850s to serve the growing community to the south of the town. At the time of the baptism, his father was a bricklayer and the family lived at Orchard Street Dorking, just round the corner from the church.

Allen’s parents were Benjamin and Eliza. Benjamin was a bricklayer who was born at Leith Hill in 1852. He married Eliza Martin in Dorking in the summer of 1879 and their first son Herbert was born in the spring of 1880. A year later they had a daughter Olive Louisa and 2 and a half years after that Allen was born. He was followed three years later by Mary in the spring of 1887 and Walter 18 months later. Benjamin Luff died in 1892 at the age of 40 when Allen was just eight years old leaving Eliza with five children aged from twelve down to three. She did not marry again and supported her young family by working as a laundress before she died herself in 1904.

Allen and his siblings attended school (probably St Paul’s) and grew up at the same house in Orchard Street. At some point in the early 1900s Allen got a job with the South Eastern Railway Company as a porter and moved to Reading. He may have worked at Reading Station or possibly at Earley as they lived an equal distance from both stations but there are no records left giving that information.

In the summer of 1910 he married Rosalind Hayes. Rosalind was born in Ramsbury in Wiltshire but moved to Reading with her family and in 1901 they were living in Clarendon Road, a road of Victorian houses to the east of the town. Her father was a builder’s labourer and Rosalind was their only child. After their marriage, Allen and Rosalind moved into a Victorian terraced house in Bishop’s Road in Reading, just round the corner from Clarendon Road. In 1911 they were recorded as living in three rooms of the house, the rest of the house being occupied by Rosalind’s parents.

The other occupants of the road were all working men, many employed at Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory as clerks, packers and bakers. Some were builders, carpenters and mechanics.

No records remain of Allen’s decision to go to war except that he signed up in Guildford, but soon after the war began, he was listed as a private in the 1st battalion of the Royal West Surrey Regiment. Presumably he must have been a reservist as they were the first men to be mobilised along with regular soldiers forming the British Expeditionary Force. 

The 1st battalion of the West Surreys arrived in France in the middle of August 1914. By then the German Army had swept through much of Belgium and north eastern France and was fast approaching Paris. They were halted at the Battle of The Marne in early September and stalemate was reached.

The Battle of Aisne began on September 13th when most of the BEF crossed the River Aisne in an attempt to push the German line back. The German weaponry was superior to the allies and the offensive did not succeed. The next day the soldiers were ordered to dig trenches but the initial trenches were shallow and did not provide enough cover. Over time they were deepened until they were about seven feet in depth, shored up and generally made more protective and defensive.

This is an extract from the battalion war diary of September 18th 1914: “C & D company relived A & B before dawn. Trenches further improved. Shelled from 6am till 3.15pm without a respite. Casualties not heavy except for one platoon where the trenches had not been deepened enough through lack of time.
Casualties 6 NCOs and men killed 48 wounded and 16 missing.

On the 26th September, the diary reads: “The enemy commenced an attack at 4am before it was light and marched in fours across our front at 200yds range. The right of D Company and left of C Company opened fire with one machine gun and inflicted heavy losses. Our casualties were Lt E.J.F Thompson wounded and 3 NCOs and men killed and 20 wounded.” One of those killed was Allen Luff. His body was never recovered and he is remembered on the memorial at La Ferte-Sous-Jouarre, on the banks of the river Marne north east of Paris.

Too late for Alan, two days later the Battalion were visited by General Haig who rode over to congratulate the soldiers on doing so well particularly with their marching which had been noted as excellent.

Allen was not a lone casualty of the early weeks of the war; by the end of the first week of November 1914 there were only thirty-two survivors out of a total of 998 men from the 1st Battalion of the West Surrey Regiment. The 2nd Battalion had suffered 676 casualties. Their ranks were to be filled by Territorials, men from Kitchener’s “New Army” and then conscripts

In June 1919, Allen’s widow, Rosalind, married Philip Fisher. They had a son, Roland, in 1920 who died at the age of seven. Rosalind herself died in 1939.