The Second Battalion of the Coldstream Guards - 1914 - By Paul Allen

The Second Battalion of the Coldstream Guards had officially begun mobilising for war at midnight of the fourth and fifth of August 1914, however due to the deteriorating situation in Europe preparations for combat were already underway by this date, some days before they had begun to put away for the duration their splendid scarlet tunics and black bearskin caps and exchanged them for the khaki drab of service dress. At the time the Battalion had been stationed at Victoria Barracks at Windsor, the barracks had usually held around eight hundred all ranks, however with the huge influx of recalled reservists destined for the three Battalions of Coldstream Guards [the First Battalion were mobilising at Aldershot and the Third at Chelsea Barracks in London] the place was bulging at the seams with 2,500 non commissioned officers and men all of whom were in various stages of being ‘kitted out’ with uniforms, rations, weapons, live ammunition and the thousand and one other items required to bring a fighting unit up to scratch. The mobilisation of the second battalion had been completed by Friday the 7th the war strength of the battalion being thirty officers, one warrant officer, fifty four sergeants, forty corporals, sixteen drummers, and nine hundred and fifty nine privates the whole under the command of Lieutenant Colonel C.E. Pereira.

The Second Coldstream, along with the Second Grenadier, Third Coldstream, and First Irish Guards, had formed the Fourth [Guards] Brigade of the Second Division of the original British Expeditionary Force which had begun to embark for France barely a fortnight after being put on a war footing. The Second Coldstream’s journey to war had begun during the night of the 11th-12th of August when they had marched out of the barracks at Windsor to the railway station and trains which had taken them to the port of Southampton where they had eventually boarded the steam ships Olympia and Novara, which had also embarked the Irish Guards, the two battalions disembarking to a rapturous welcome at Le Havre in the afternoon of the thirteenth of August. Amongst the first men of the B.E.F. that had set foot on French soil that day had been Scarborough born Lance Sergeant George Henry Pateman of the Third Coldsteam, who had subsequently wrote to his mother describing

‘Here I am in Havre, France, after a rotten journey on the ship. I expect to go away tonight, so do not worry. I am A1 and will write when I get a chance. Sorry I did not see you before I left’

The Battalion had eventually made its laborious way into Belgium towards the sound of gunfire that had been resounding amongst the slag heaps of a small, until them, insignificant mining village named Mons. Sergeant Pateman had once again written to his mother that Saturday describing

‘Just got time for a card to let you know I am A1, been in the train now twenty four hours and still 200 miles to travel. I do not know we are going, everything is kept secret. Hoping you are keeping in the best. The same as myself so do not worry. Hope you received my last card. We have been on the way ever since Chelsea. When I get the chance to write a letter I will do so. It is lively travelling in cattle trucks all day. Buck up’ [1]

The Battalion had never reached Mons, its advance having stopped on the twenty third of August at the nearby village of Hyon a mile to the southeast, where, according to the Battalion’s War Diary the men had been received with a warm welcome;

‘The inhabitants welcomed the battalion with enthusiasm and with enormous quantities of coffee and new bread, which more than counteracted the fatigue of the march and the somewhat depressing effect of rather heavy rain; the usual cheeriness and optimism of the men were soon restored, and most of them spent the time singing with some impartiality selections from the music halls and hymns Ancient and Modern’ [2]

The retreat from Mons had begun the next day, the Fourth guards Brigade playing a covering role as the bulk of the B.E.F. had fallen back.

The men of the B.E.F. [now including in its ranks 4TH [Guards] Brigade], had then embarked on the long retreat and marched, sweating in the heat of summer and under the weight of their seventy pounds of equipment, for an average of twenty miles a day for two hundred miles almost without rest until they had reached the River Marne just to the north of Paris, where the British and French had eventually halted and turned on their pursuers. On the sixth of September General Joffre, who had been the French commander in chief had launched a counter blow which would forever be known as ‘the miracle of the Marne’ Fed with six thousand troops which had been conveyed to the front by six hundred Paris taxies the allies had fought a pitched battle which had lasted until the ninth, during this period the BEF had suffered around one thousand seven hundred casualties. Eventually the German tide had been stemmed and Paris saved.

The exhausted German troops had subsequently embarked on their own retreat and had fallen back for mile after weary mile under the burning sun to the River Aisne where they had turned on the heights above the north bank of the river where they had ‘dug in’ to await the arrival of reinforcements and the allies. The equally spent British Expeditionary Force had subsequently arrived at the Aisne by the fourteenth of September, by this time the fine weather of summer had broken and it had begun to rain.

On the thirteenth of September the Second Coldstream had been at a place called Chavonne with the aim of crossing the river Aisne. They had eventually crossed by way of a trestle bridge to the northern bank under intense German artillery fire which had eventually forced them to retire the way they had gone losing three men killed and twenty two wounded during the process. The following day the battalion had taken part in the savage fighting for the heavily defended La Cour de Soupir Farm to the north of a village named Soupir during this action the unit had sustained sixty six men killed and wounded. Following these exploits the men of the battalion had assisted in digging some of the first trenches of the war near the farm at Soupir. At the front or eastern part of the sector held by second coldstream the ground had apparently been very exposed to enemy fire and had sloped gradually upwards the enemies positions, the range, or field of fire varying from fifty to several hundred yards. There had been three dense woods, which at one point had come as close as twenty yards from the British positions. It had been in this setting that on the twenty eighth of September Private Fredrick William Dobson had gained the battalion’s first Victoria Cross since the Crimean War, for rescuing a wounded comrade under fire.

The fighting on the Aisne had eventually culminated in a stalemate. Fearful of being bogged down in siege warfare, the BEF had begun to disengage itself on the first of October in a move to the north, and eventually Flanders. At the same time the German forces had turned their attention on capturing the channel ports and they too had begun to shift to the north, the two sides had thus been engaged in a manoeuvre that would later become known as ‘the race to the sea’.

Meanwhile, Second Coldstream had been relieved in the trenches at Soupir by French troops on the 13th of October, the unit marching via St Mard to the town of Perles, and on the following day they had moved to the town of Fismes, where the tired Guardsmen had entrained for ‘an unknown destination’. They had subsequently arrived at the Flanders town of Hazebrouck on the 15th from where they had successively marched to Steenvoorde, and Boeschepe, where they had arrived on the seventeenth, their long journey ending at Ypres on the 20TH Of October 1914. The Battalion had then been moved forward to the Wielje sector and had then bivouacked north west of the village of Zonnebeke, from where on the 21st of October they had taken part in an attack on enemy positions on the Zonnebeke-Langemarck road and had succeeded in capturing their objective by 11-30am, their casualties being eight killed twenty four wounded and one missing.

On the twenty fifth of October the battalion had been moved into Polygon Wood [so-called because of the polygon shaped Belgian cavalry training run which had been in the centre of the wood] to the east of Ypres. Here the second and third battalions of the Coldstream had taken up positions, which had run roughly in a north to south direction. On the left they had connected with the third infantry brigade and on the right with the first battalion of the King’s Regiment. The history of the battalion has this to say about their situation

‘The position was of much importance, and it had to be maintained intact at all costs, for behind it the reserves were concentrated which were almost daily required for the defence of the road [to Menin]. The 3rd Battalion on the left next to the sixth brigade had a fair field of fire; the enemy was distant some five hundred yards on their left flank, diminishing to half that distance on their right; but in some places he was only forty yards away. The greater part of the line held by the second battalion, however, ran through thick woods, which reduced the view to the narrowest limits and made observation impossible except by means of patrols and scouts. The Germans were much nearer here, and in places they worked their way quite close up to our trenches. Much labour was expended upon the defences, and as time went on they were improved and strengthened; small posts were constructed to command dead ground, a second line was made, communication trenches were dug, and the front covered by an abatis and by all the wire that was available’[2]

At the time the first battle of Ypres had been at its height with units of the BEF being rushed hither and dither to shore up the cracks in the British defence line, the two battalions of guards however had not been budged and had stayed at their posts in Polygon Wood for over three weeks, the privations the men had undergone are amply illustrated in the pages of the Battalion’s History.

‘They remained, in fact for twenty three consecutive days and nights in open earthworks, exposed to bitter winds, rain and snow, without fires or light, and hardly able to move on account of the constant sniping that always went on’[2]

The dangerous situation that the Guardsmen had now found themselves in are also described by Lance Sergeant Pateman, in a letter that had been received by his friend, William Fisher, of No1 St John’s Street [now Aberdeen Street]

‘This all I can send you, just a card, and it is written in the firing line, too, with bullets flying and shells rushing past. But still I must let you know am still A1. Had hard lines yesterday, a poor soldier next to me got hit, and also one on the other side, so I shall get back yet. It is lively here I can tell you. Hell is not in it, shooting and killing day and night, so we have to dodge a few. By Jove, it is cold here at night out in the open’ [1]

Indeed the cruellest place in Belgium, the soon to be christened ‘Ypres Salient’ had been no place for the unwary. Perhaps with his wits dulled by exhaustion, a soldier had made himself, for a deadly split second, visible to the eye of an ever-vigilant sniper on Monday the 16TH of November. A quarter of a second later a single bullet, travelling at twice the speed of sound had smashed into the head of the unfortunate man, death it had later been reported had been ‘instantaneous and painless’; 7310 Lance Sergeant George Edward Newsome.

Born in the Parish of St Mary’s at Batley Carr near Dewsbury in the West Riding of Yorkshire at No 70 Upper Road in Dewsbury, during April 1889, and had been the only son of Jane and ‘colliery banksman’ Albert Newsome.

Unlike the service records of the men who had served during the first world war in the remainder of the British army which in the majority had been destroyed in an air raid during the second, the Brigade of Guards and the Household Cavalry still have in their possession the personal records of the men who had served during the Great War. George Newsome’s shows he had attested at Dewsbury at the age of eighteen years and two months on the twentieth of June 1907, and had given his previous employment as a grocer. In those days recruits could still choose to which regiment he wished to be attached, and in George’s case it had been the West Yorkshire Regiment, in which he had signed up to serve for twelve years, [seven with the Colours and five in the Army Reserve].

Newsome had subsequently been medically examined at Pontefract on the 21ST of July, where it had been ascertained that he had stood at five feet ten inches and had weighed a hundred and forty two pounds, had brown hair and eyes, and a fresh complexion. He had stated that his religion was ‘Church of England’, and with this short inspection over he had been passed as, ‘Fit to serve’. Shortly after enlistment George had, for some unknown reason, transferred to the Coldstream Guards, an explanation for this may have been that those serving in the Guards regiments had done so initially for the shorter period of three years with the colours and for nine in the reserves with an option of serving a further seven years with the colours.

Newsome had begun his military service on the twenty sixth of June 1907 at the fearsome Guards Depot at Caterham in Surrey, where for the next three months of his life he had been bellowed at from dawn to dusk by formidable drill instructors as they had bullied him remorselessly from one end of the hallowed drill square to the other to the accompaniment of language fit enough to make a saint weep. In the few moments that he had not been on the dreaded square he had been spit polishing his boots until they had reflected his image like mirrors, eternally buffing his ‘brasses’ until they had sparkled like gold with a metal polish known to the soldiers as ‘Bluebell’, and pipeclaying his equipment until it had been as white as the proverbial driven snow well into the early hours of the morning.

It had also been at Caterham where George had begun to master the skills of killing. The principal weapon of the infantryman of the British Army at this time had been the recently [1907] introduced .303 Short Magazine Lee Enfield a weapon which every soldier had been trained and expected to fire a mandatory fifteen aimed shots in a minute. The majority of the men, however, could fire as many as thirty rounds, a feat which would stand them in good stead in the approaching years, and lead the German soldiers who had come up against the BEF in the opening months of the great war to believe that the British Army had been equipped for the most part with automatic weapons.

Newsome’s papers state that he had eventually joined the Second Battalion of the Coldstream Guards at London on the seventeenth of August 1907 [the battalion had been stationed at Windsor during this period], and had eventually gained his third class certificate of education on the eighteenth of October, followed by the second class in 1908, and a swimming certificate in 1910. On the fifteenth of May 1908 he had been promoted to Lance Corporal and had sewn a stripe to the sleeve of his scarlet tunic.

Despite having had an unsullied record until 1909, on the 16TH of July, he had for an unknown reason, deserted the Regiment. He had nevertheless, returned under his own steam on the twenty sixth of the following month and had eventually been tried and convicted by Courts Martial on a charge of desertion. His punishment being the forfeiture of the time he had already served in the Regiment, and a reduction to the rank of private, plus, he had to serve a period of detention. The delinquent soldier having been of good conduct had eventually been awarded nine days remission and had returned to duty on the twenty eighth of November 1909.

George had again been promoted to Lance Corporal on the fourteenth of March 1910, and at the same time had extended his service to seven years with the colours. Four years later he had been promoted to full Corporal a few days prior to the Battalion’s embarkation to France, and had been appointed Lance Sergeant on the third of September, the day the battalion had crossed the River Marne [at a place named Trilport, subsequently moving on the same day to the village of Pierre-Levee].

At the time of their son’s death, Albert and Jane Newsome had retired to Scarborough, where the couple had been with George’s younger sister, Edith Emma [born in 1904] Major, at No 135 Falsgrave Road. It had been whilst at this address that they had received the dreaded news that George had been killed in action. The tidings had subsequently been relayed by ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 27TH of November 1914;

‘SCARBORO’ COLDSTREAM GUARD KILLED - Comrades Account of his Death at the front - News has been received by his parents who reside at 135 Falsgrave Road, that Sergeant George E. Newsome was killed in action on November 16th. Sergt. Newsome, who was only 24 years of age, went out with the Expeditionary Force. He was attached to the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards. Although his parents have not received official information from the War Office there is every reason for believing that Sergt Newsome has died for his country. They received a letter from the unfortunate man’s comrades, in which he say’s Sergt Newsome was shot by a bullet, death being instantaneous and painless. The comrade also sent home a bundle of postcards and French money notes which were found on the young soldier’

A photograph of the moustachioed George Newsome dressed in the scarlet tunic of the Coldstream Guards, his right sleeve sporting the two stripes of a Guards Lance Sergeant, had eventually appeared in the ‘Scarborough Pictorial’ of Wednesday the 9TH of December 1914, nothing else regarding the demise of the Guardsman had ever appeared in the local press.

Amongst the papers I had received from the Coldstream Guards concerning Lance Sergeant Newsome had been a page from his pay book which contains an entry which had been written shortly after his death by his Company Commander; Lieutenant Harry Verelst, which tells of the Lance Sergeant being killed in action at Routel [a village a little to the east of Polygon Wood] which leads one to believe that Newsome may have been leading a reconnaissance patrol near the village on the 12th of November. The Lieutenant also states that his body had been buried in the nearby Routel Wood, however by the end of the war the ground which had once been covered by a wood had been ravaged by gunfire to such an extent that the grave had been destroyed, and despite many lengthy searches which had been made after the war, the grave of George Edward Newsome was never found and his name had eventually been included amongst those commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, where it can be found on Panel Eleven. [3]

For his services to his country George Newsome had posthumously been awarded with three medals; the 1914 Star with Clasp [awarded to those who had come under enemy fire during the qualifying period of 5TH of August to the 22nd / 23rd of November 1914], the British War Medal, and the Victory Medal [popularly known as ‘Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred’], which to my surprise had been received in the early 1920s, not by his parents but by a May B. Rumble of No 48 Junction Road, Upper Holloway, London, N19, what her relationship had been to Newsome is not known, obviously, at some stage of his military career he had made her his next of kin.

Apart from the Oliver’s Mount Memorial, in Scarborough George Newsome’s name had also been commemorated with those of another forty two men that had lost their lives whilst on active service in the war of 1914-199 belonging to Falsgrave’s All Saints Church on a War Memorial that had been unveiled during the evening of Wednesday the 27TH of July 1921. Long since demolished, the whereabouts of All Saints Church’s once fine memorial is not known.

In the years following their only son’s death Albert and Jane Newsome had continued to live in Falsgrave Road until 1925 when they had moved to No 25 Spring Bank, where, Hanging Heaton born [1866] Albert Newsome had died at the age of sixty eight years on the 27TH of April 1934. Following her husband’s passing Jane Newsome [born at Batley during 1870] had continued to live at the house in Spring Bank, with only daughter Edith Emma, and her husband, Albert Major along with their daughter, Doris Annie, until her death on the 7TH of June 1937, also aged 68 years. Her remains were subsequently buried with those of her husband in Plot V/ Border/ Grave 29, of Scarborough’s Manor Road Cemetery. The memorial marking their final resting place also contains the name of their only son who had lost his life many years before in the mud of Flanders, and also the inscriptions; ‘Until the day break and the shadows flee away’, along with a well known, and appropriate segment of Verse 13, from the Book of St John, Chapter 15 - ‘Greater love hath no man than this’

[Three commemorative stones had later been placed at the foot of the headstone, the first bears the name of George’s sister Edith Emma, who had died on the 15th of November 1970, at the age of 66 years the second carries that of her husband, Albert Morris Major who had passed away on the 16th of July 1982, at the age of 86 years. The third stone bears the name of Cyril Cooper, the husband of Shirley Major, who had died at the age of 65 years, on the 23RD of July 1994].

Scarborough’s War Memorial also commemorates the name of; 27238 Private Lewis Newsome. Although also born at Batley during 1891, Lewis had resided for many years in Scarborough, where he had been the proprietor [under the name of Crosby] of a fish and chip shop located at No 50 St Sepulchre Street. Reported killed in action during Wednesday the 28TH of November 1917, whilst serving with the 6TH Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment in the Loos sector of Northern France. The husband of Annie Elizabeth Newsome, Lewis’s name is incorrectly commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission as ‘T. Newsome’, and his final resting place is located in Section 2, Row E, Grave 2, in St Patrick’s Cemetery, located near the Northern French town of Loos-en- Gohelle.

The day after George Newsome’s death the sorely depleted and mud caked Second Colstream Guards had been relieved in the line by French troops and had begun to make their way out of the dreadful wood which had claimed the lives of sixty three comrades and seen a further one hundred and fifty one wounded through deep liquid mud to the sanctuary of the village of Zillebeke. However on this day the Germans had chosen to make a final desperate bid to break through the battered British line and at last capture Ypres, therefore instead of being allowed to rest the battalion had hurriedly been sent to the line near the hamlet of Klein Zillebeke where they and the third battalion had remained in reserve until the nineteenth of November when the by then exhausted Battalion had at last been relieved and moved through the smouldering ruined Ypres to billets and rest at the village of Meteren fifteen miles beyond, a distance which had taken the battalion an incredible twelve hours to march, which, according to the War Diary of 2ND Coldstream, had been due to the ‘terribly congested roads’.

At the time of the battle, the people of Britain had been kept in the dark regarding the carnage that had taken place in Belgium in a ferocious struggle that would eventually be dubbed for all time as ‘The First Battle of Ypres’. More commonly known to the ‘Tommies’ as ‘First Wipers’, one wonders whether Albert and Jane Newsome had felt a hint of anxiety for the safety of their son as they had read the headlines of their copy of ’The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the thirteenth November 1914;

‘British losses fifty seven thousand - For more than three weeks, Ypres, which projects like a bastion into the enemy’s lines has been held under a rain of shell which has hardly ceased by day or night, say’s the British Press Bureau.

During that time the enemy has poured a succession of waves of infantry against it, only to see them break to pieces.

It is clear from this official message that the British defence of Ypres is destined to stand out as one of the great events of the war. A ‘Daily Chronicle’ correspondent says the fighting on the Yser and around Ypres continues with a violence and obstinacy unparalleled in the annals of warfare.

As the British losses are officially stated to be 57,000 up to the end of last month, and there has since been a fortnight of the fiercest fighting of the war our casualties must be now well over 60,000’

[The total British casualties during ‘First Wipers’, which had lasted from the 14th of October to the 30th of November 1914, has been estimated to have been around 58,155 officers and men killed, wounded, and missing].

Officially recorded as ending on the thirtieth of November 1914, during the First Battle of Ypres the British line had been held in the face of almost overwhelming odds until the onset of winter when both sides, exhausted and bogged down in the thick glutinous mud of Flanders, could literally fight no more. The German Army had never marched into the city in triumph as they had planned, neither were they to ever capture the Channel Ports.

With a casualty list totalling just under 90,000 men during period August 23rd to 30th of November 1914 those terrible first four months of the war are usually quoted in the books as being the period in which the old pre war Regular British Army had died. Of the sixty four one thousand strong battalions of ‘old sweats’ which had landed in France singing and whistling the tune of ‘Tipperary’ in August by the end of the battle an average of just one officer and thirty men from each had remained standing.

British losses for the first four months of the war at first glance appear dreadful; however, viewed in comparison with the appalling casualties sustained by the French and German’s in the same period, 300,000 and 400,000 respectively, the figure fades almost into infinity.

Following ‘First Wipers’ the Second Coldstream had been transferred to France where the Battalion had seen some of the worst of the fighting which had taken place during the Battles of Loos in 1915, and the Somme in 1916. In 1917 the unit had returned to Flanders, where it had again been thrown into the thickest of the fighting of the Third Battle of Ypres, a killing field perhaps more commonly known simply as; ‘Passchendaele’. The Battalion had ended their war on the Western Front near the town of Maubeuge in Northern France, very near to where they had begun in the hot summer of 1914. In the meantime the second Coldstream Guards had added thirty six battle honours and seven Victoria Crosses to their already impressive collection. Their total casualty list for the whole of the war had amounted to three thousand six hundred and sixty officers and men killed, wounded, and missing.

The majority of the magnificent Guards battalions that had taken part in ‘First Wipers’ had also been virtually wiped out during the battle. Amongst them had been the 1ST Battalion of the Grenadier Guards. Attached to the 20TH Infantry Brigade of 7TH Division, the formation had landed at Zeebrugge on the seventh of October with full war strength of over a thousand officers and men; however, by the beginning of the following month the unit could muster just five officers and two hundred other ranks.

Those remnants of the battalion that could march had turned their backs on the carnage at Ypres on the fifth of November 1914 when they, and the remainder of 20TH Brigade [1ST Scots Guards, 2nd Border Regiment and 2ND Gordon Highlanders] had begun a nine day march which had eventually taken them to the village of Bac St. Maur in French Flanders. Shortly afterwards the battalion had begun a tour of duty in the nearby front line which had ran near the hamlet of Fleurbaix.

November had been a particularly gruelling month for the guardsmen, and they had soon found that they had survived one hell only to be immersed in another. A glimpse of the deplorable conditions in which the men had been expected to live and fight in can be gleaned from the History of the Battalion;

‘At first there was a great deal of rain, but towards the end of the month it changed to snow and was bitterly cold. The men suffered very much from trench feet, as the ground was in a shocking condition. Goats skins [nicknamed ‘Teddy Bears’] were issued and also some white smocks for patrol duty at night, as the dark uniforms showed up clearly in the snow’ [4]

December had turned out to be little better…’the weather all the month was very bad, and it was with difficulty that the trenches were kept from falling in. There were numerous cases of frostbite, and a certain amount of sickness owing to the cold wet weather, but considering the constant soaking the men received, and the amount of water in the trenches, the health of the Battalion was on the whole good’. The Battalion was constantly engaged in digging and improving the trenches as far as possible, but the waterlogged condition of the ground, combined with the vigilance of the German snipers made the work difficult. The bombing and sniping continued daily, and were occasionally accompanied by high explosive shells’ [4]

On Friday the eighteenth of December in atrocious conditions British and Indian troops had attacked the village of Cuinchy to the south of Fleurbaix. On that day 20T Brigade had been ordered to make a diversionary attack on German trenches on the edge of the Sailly-Sur-Lys to Fromelles road. The assault had gone wrong from the start and had eventually achieved very little for a high price…

’Although little had been accomplished, the enemy had been obliged to keep all their men in the trenches to resist the attack, and had therefore been unable to send reinforcements farther south. This was practically the sole object of our attack’ [4]

Whilst a large number Grenadier Guardsmen belonging to the 1ST Battalion had been wounded during the attack on the 18TH of December, only two had lost their lives. Gloucestershire born; 16496 Acting Corporal William Henry Weavin, and Scarborough born; 15847 Private Walter Thompson.

Born in the town during November 1890, at No 73 Trafalgar Street East, Walter was the fifth of seven children of Hannah, and ‘carter/labourer’ Martin Thompson. Educated at the Central Board School in nearby Trafalgar Street West, Thompson had left the school at the age of twelve to begin work as a labourer for the Scarborough and Whitby Brewery in North Street, and had eventually enlisted into the Grenadier Guards at Scarborough on the second of April 1912. At the time the twenty years and eight months old had stood at a little over five feet eight inches tall, had had a fresh complexion, hazel eyes, and dark brown hair, his religion, according to his service record had been ‘Church of England’. [5]

Walter had eventually passed through the dreaded portals of ‘The Depot’ at Caterham on the thirtieth of April 1912, where for the next three months of purgatory he had begun acquiring the highly polished skills required of a British Foot Guardsman, whether it be on ceremonial occasions, or inevitably, on the battlefield. On the fifth of July 1912 Thompson had gained a Third Class Military Education Certificate and shortly afterwards he had been posted to the First Battalion of the Grenadier Guards, which at the time had been commanded by Lieutenant Colonel M. Earle, D.S.O. and stationed at Warley Barracks, in London District.

At the beginning of August 1914 the four regiments of Foot Guards [a fifth regiment, the Welsh Guards, would be formed during August 1915], had begun their preparations for war. The first to go abroad had been the already featured Fourth Guards Brigade [2nd Grenadier, 2nd and 3rd Coldstream, 1st Irish Guards] of Second Division who had landed at Havre on the thirteenth of August. The First Grenadier’s had eventually received their ‘marching orders’ during September and had marched out of Warley Barracks behind the battalion’s band to entrain for an ‘unknown destination’, which had subsequently turned our to be a huge military encampment near the Wiltshire town of Lyndhurst. Whilst there the formation had been incorporated into the 20TH Brigade of the 7TH Division.

The First Grenadiers had received their orders to proceed abroad during October 1914, the battalion arriving on the fourth at Southampton where the officers and men, horses and equipment had begun embarking in the transports, ‘S.S. Armenian’ and S.S. Turkoman, leaving the shores of England during the following day, to land at Zeebrugge on the seventh.

On the nineteenth of October the battalion had taken their place in Ypres Salient, in trenches near the village of Kruiseecke, where the men of the battalion had repulsed numerous attacks by the enemy, of this period it is recorded that during seven days of continuous, intense, and ferocious fighting the battalions machine guns had consumed no less than fifty six thousand round of ammunition. During the 29TH of October the utterly worn out battalion had been relieved and had marched to billets at Hooge, where the ragged and bloody remnants of a once proud formation had been paraded for ‘Roll Call’, only four officers and a hundred men had answered their names.

[Since leaving England four officers and a hundred and twelve other ranks had been killed or had died of wounds, a further nine officers and three hundred and four other ranks had been wounded. Of the thirty original officers who had landed in France only nine had not subsequently become casualties].

Walter’s parents had been notified of his death early in the new year of 1915. The news had eventually appeared in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday, the fifteenth of January;
‘Scarborough Grenadier Guard killed in action in Belgium - Private Walter Thompson, 1St Battalion Grenadier Guards, whose parents reside at 48 Trafalgar Road, has been killed in action in Belgium. This promising young Scarborough soldier was only 24 years of age. The official notification of his death and an expression of regret and sympathy, have been received.

The family in their bereavement will no doubt extract consolation from the fact that Private Thompson died for his country in the most critical period of its history’

The remains of Private Walter Thompson and Corporal William Weavin, had eventually been taken for burial by a party drawn from the 1ST Battalion, to the ‘Croix-Blanche British Cemetery’, located close to the village of Fleurbaix. However, after the war their remains, along with those of thirty four other British casualties, had been re-interred by the Imperial War Graves Commission in a cemetery about four miles to the south of Armentieres, named ‘Y Farm Military Cemetery’. Located close to the small village of Bois Grenier, the resting places of the two Grenadiers are located in Plot A. [Graves 5 and 4 respectively].

In the years immediately after the war Hannah and Martin Thompson, still residing at

No 48 Trafalgar Road had received their son’s medals, the 1914 Star, British War Medal, and the Victory Medal, a ‘trio’ often known as ‘Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred’.

Born in Scarborough’s Parish of St Mary’s, Walter’s name had also been included on the ‘Roll of Honour’, which can be located on the north interior wall of St Mary’s Church, in Castle Road. [6]

By its end in November 1914 many of Scarborough son’s had become casualties of ‘First Wiper’s. Many, like Corporal Whittaker and Private Tissiman, would survive the terrible wounds they had received during the battle, others, like Sergeant Newsome, Private Allison, and Lieutenant Fernandes, had been less fortunate. In addition, ‘First Wipers had claimed:

10189 Private William Edward Coultas. Born in Scarborough during 1895, William had been the son of fisherman John Thomas and Sarah A. Coultas, of No143 Longwestgate. Attached to the 1ST battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment, William Coultas had died on the 29TH of September 1914, and his name is commemorated on a ‘Special Memorial’ [No 6], in Vendresse Churchyard, in Northern France

[The Oliver’s Mount Memorial also commemorates; 43666 Private Thomas Coultas. Attached to the 10TH Battalion of the King’s own [Yorkshire Light Infantry] at the time of his death on the 9TH of April 1917, Tom Coultas’s remains are interred in Section 7, Row D, grave 17, in Wancourt British Cemetery, located near Arras].

7097 Corporal Douglas Horton. The son of William and Emily Horton of No10 Greenfield Road, Scarborough, Douglas had been born in Scarborough during 1893 and had been serving with ‘C’ Squadron of the 18TH [Queen Mary’s Own] Hussars at the time of his death at the age of twenty years, reportedly on the 20TH of October 1914. Listed as missing for many months, his remains had eventually been found far from the front line in France, and had duly been interred in Section 21, Row E, Grave 19, in the now massive Cabaret Rouge British Military Cemetery near the village of Souchez.

7580 Private Percy Ireland. Born in Scarborough during 1886, Percy had been the son of George Edward and Eliza Ireland of No 17 Church Stairs Street, and had been killed in action on the 30TH of October 1914 whilst serving in the Ypres Sector with the 2ND battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. Aged twenty eight years at the time of his demise, the remains of Private Ireland had never been recovered from the battlefield, and his name is also commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres [Panel 33].

3/7873 Private John Richard Pegg. Born in Scarborough during 1881, John had been the son of Richard and Margaret Pegg who ad been living in Castlegate at the time of their son’s death on the 10TH of December 1914. Attached to the 1ST Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment at the time, Pegg’s remains had never been recovered from the mud of Flanders, and his name is commemorated amongst those remembered Panels 3 and 4 of the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Misssing in Belgium.

6627 Rifleman William Henry Thompson. Although born in Scarborough, by the outbreak of war William had been residing in Bradford. The son of the late Benjamin, and Mary Frances Thompson, he had been aged 33 years at the time of his death, on the 10TH of September 1914, whilst serving with the 1ST Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. His remains are interred in Section 4, Row C, Grave 3, of Montreuil-Aux-Lions British Cemetery, in Northern France

The first winter of the war had arrived early, and by late December 1914 the war on the soon to become infamous ‘Western Front’, had, in effect, come to an end. Both side of the wire had been utterly spent by this time and all the ‘Tommies’ could now do was dig their trenches deeper and christen them with names such as ‘Savoy Hotel’, ‘Leicester Square’, and ‘Piccadilly’, anything in fact, to remind them of a home that seemed so far away, a place which many would never see again.

Meanwhile, the people at home had been fed with a load of nonsense recalling the various daring does that had gone on in France and Belgium throughout the summer and autumn of 1914. Believable at first, because the British Government had said so, these stories had eventually been smashed to bits with the stories of wanton savagery and horror brought home by the hordes of wounded and exhausted troops. Eventually the newspapers had begun to include casualty lists in their columns that as the war had progressed had got larger and larger.

In Scarborough, the war had arrived on the town’s doorstep with a vengeance, when in the early light of Wednesday the 16TH of December 1914 units of the German High Seas Fleet had poured shell after shell into the still sleeping town causing much damage to property in the town, and killing seventeen, and wounding many more of its inhabitants in the process. The war had indeed only just begun.
[The story of the Bombardment of Scarborough, Whitby and Hartlepool is excellently recalled by local author Mr Mark Marsay in his masterpiece; ‘Bombardment! The day the East Coast bled’; Great Northern Publishing; 1999].

[1] Born in Scarborough during 1889, George Henry Pateman had been the son of Annie and ‘clerk’ George Henry Pateman, residing at No 9 Victoria Street before the war, Sergeant Pateman’s letters had appeared in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 28TH of August, and the 6TH of November 1914. Despite being wounded later in the war George Pateman had survived the war to eventually return to Scarborough, where, although he had not lost his life during the war, his name is commemorated on the War Memorial located in Albemarle Baptist Church.

[2] The Coldstream Guards 1914- 1918 [Volume One] Lieutenant Colonel Sir John Ross-of Blandesburg.

[3] Harry Wilson Verelst had subsequently gained the Military Cross whilst serving with the Battalion and had been promoted to the rank of Major, unfortunately he too had lost his life during the war when he had been killed in action whilst leading the Second Coldstream in an attack on the village of Lesboef during the battle of the Somme, on the 26TH of September 1916. He was aged 26 years.

[4] The Grenadier Guards in the Great War 1914-1918. Volume 2; Sir Frederick Ponsonby.

[5] A copy of Walter Thompson’s Service Record was very kindly donated to the author by the late Captain [Retired] D. Mason, the Regimental Archivist of the Grenadier Guards.

[6] At the time of the 1901 Census of Scarborough the Thompson family had lived at No 73 Trafalgar Street East, and had consisted of Martin, aged 48years, employed as a Scarborough Corporation Labourer, born Knapton North Yorkshire. Hannah, aged 45 years Born at Wykeham, North Yorkshire. Daughter Annie aged 18 years, employed as a domestic servant. Herbert aged 15 years, employed as a grocer’s assistant. Walter aged 9 years. Albert aged 7 years, and 3 years old May. All the children had been born in Scarborough. According to the 1891 Census there had also been daughters Isabella, who at the time had been aged 13 years [born at Hutton Bushel] and Scarborough born Martha, aged 11 years.

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