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.

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