Seven men with a connection to Solihull or Shirley are known to have died on 1st July 1916:
- Private James Burton, Middlesex Regiment
- Private Harold Clifton, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
- Private Frederick Percy Cooper, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
- Second Lieutentant William Henry Furse, Northumberland Fusiliers
- Private John Palmer Lyndon, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
- Private Richard James Smith, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
- Private James Webster, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
James Burton was born in Leamington Spa in 1894, the only son and youngest of three children born to parents Frances and George, a retired civil servant with the Public Works Department, Ceylon [a former British Colony, now Sri Lanka].
George Burton (1843-1914) was an architect and, after serving his articles with Messrs Bateman of Birmingham, he obtained a post in 1866 with the Ceylon Civil Service (CCS), where he designed most of the important Government buildings. On retiring from the CCS, he moved to Lichfield, Staffordshire and, in 1885, married Frances Mary Campbell McLean, only child of the late Mr J. C. McLean J.P. The couple’s two eldest children, – daughters Dorothy Frances McLean and Irene Ann – were born in Lichfield in 1888 and 1891. Neither of the daughters seem to have married – Irene died in Penzance, Cornwall in 1970 and Dorothy died in Leamington Spa in 1976.
The couple’s only son, James, was born in Leamington in 1894. He attended Solihull School, where he appears as a boarder, aged 17, on the 1911 census. According to Solihull School during the First World War by John Loynton, James left school in 1912. An article in the Leamington Spa Courier 3rd March 1911 records James Burton’s success in passing the Matriculation examination for the University of London. However, we don’t know if James went on to read for a university degree – a Certificate of Matriculation from the university (the “London Matric”) came to be seen as the standard secondary school leaving certificate and only about a quarter of those matriculating by 1900 went on to take degrees (source: The University of London, 1858-1900 by F.M.G. Willson).
After finishing his formal education, James became articled to the Borough Surveyor of Burton-on-Trent before he enlisted in the Army in April 1915, joining the 16th (Service) Battalion (Public Schools), Middlesex Regiment. He first entered a Theatre of War on 17th November 1915 and was a signaller at the time of his death. Initially recorded as missing, James Burton has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, as well as locally on the memorial at Solihull School.
Harold Clifton was born in Shirley on 28th December 1894, the only son of Warwickshire Police Constable William Clifton and his first wife, Harriet (née Miles). The couple also had two daughters – Dora and Elsie – born in Shirley in 1891 and 1892. The 1891 census shows the family living at Shirley Police Station in 1891, moving to Tanworth-in-Arden Police Station by 1901, and Earlswood Police Station by 1911.
Harold’s mother died in 1909 and his father married his second wife, Annie Rodgers, in 1910. The couple appear to have had a son, William J. Clifton, born in 1912.
On the 1911 census, taken on 2nd April, Harold was listed as a groom. Railway employment records on the Ancestry website (available free of charge from library computers) indicate that Harold became a cleaner with the Great Western Railway (Wolverhampton Division) on 18th November 1911, transferring to Earlswood Lakes in 1912 and apparently becoming a coachman.
We don’t know when Harold enlisted but his medal index card doesn’t indicate an entitlement to a 1914- 0r 1914/15 Star, suggesting that he didn’t serve overseas until 1916.
He has no known grave, and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He is also commemorated locally on the war memorial at St Patrick’s Church, Salter Street, which covers the parish of Earlswood. Although Harold was born in Shirley, and the family previously lived in Tanworth, he is not included on the war memorials for those parishes.
Frederick Percy Cooper was born on 8th March 1898 and baptised at Knowle on 10th April the same year. His parents, William Henry (a farm labourer) and Annie Maria, lived in Copt Heath at the time. Frederick was one of the couple’s eight children, two of whom had died before 1911.
He seems to have been under-age when he enlisted, as his medal index card gives the date he first entered into a theatre of war as 25th June 1915, which would make him aged 17 years and three months when he went to the Front. Although recruits were accepted into the Army at the age of 18, they weren’t permitted to serve overseas until the age of 19. It’s believed that 500 boy soldiers died on 1st July 1916. Frederick would have been 18 when he died, still technically too young to serve outside the UK.
Frederick has no known grave and was originally listed as missing, which is how he is recorded in the St Alphege parish magazine in November 1916. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial and is also commemorated locally on the war memorial at Solihull. We also think that this is the same soldier as the Frederick Cooper listed on the war memorial at Shirley.
William Henry Furse was born in 1891 and was the eldest of the three sons of London-born electrician Henry and Florence Mundy Furse (née Cox) who was from Moseley, Birmingham. The couple married in the Solihull registration district in 1890 and initially set up home in London, where their sons William Henry (1891-1916), Thomas Alan (1892-1970) and Harold Seymour (1900-1981) were born.
At the time of the 1901 census, Henry was working in London and his wife, Florence, was a patient in a nursing home, whilst the children were in Sidmouth, Devon with members of their mother’s family. By 1911, the family had all moved to Cragside, 53 School Road, Moseley, Birmingham.
William, who seems to have been known as Bill, attended Finchley College, London and Solihull School. His younger brother, Thomas Alan (known as Alan), also attended Solihull School, whilst the youngest brother, Harold Seymour (known as Claude), apparently attended King Edward’s. Bill and Alan were both Sergeants in Solihull School’s Officers’ Training Corps (OTC). After leaving school, Bill became a bank clerk, and was working for Lloyds Bank in Stirchley in 1914.
On the outbreak of war Bill volunteered with the Birmingham Pals, serving as a Private with the 1st City Battalion, which became the 14th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and being given the service number 399. His medal index card notes that he did not serve overseas whilst in the ranks. A report in the Birmingham Daily Post 10th July 1916, indicates that he had risen to the rank of Sergeant but this doesn’t appear to be mentioned on his medal index card. The same report notes that he was of extraordinary height – 6ft 5¾ in. – and was one of the tallest men in the British Army
He was commissioned on 18th October 1915, becoming Second Lieutenant with the Northumberland Fusiliers. Whilst on leave in October 1915, he married Miss Beatrice Maria Law before embarking for France.
His brother, Alan, also joined the Army, serving as Lieutenant and then Captain with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment before being wounded and invalided out of the forces, being awarded a Silver War Badge in August 1917.
According to research by Stephanie Silk, published in the Moseley B13 magazine, Alan was celebrating his 24th birthday in France on the day his brother was killed. Even though Alan was 40 miles away, he could hear the distant guns. However, he didn’t know of his brother’s death until 7th July 1916 when he received a telegram from his parents. William Henry Furse is buried at Bapaume Military Cemetery, Albert, and he is also commemorated locally on the war memorial at Solihull School, as well as at St Mary’s Church, Moseley. He is also listed on the Moseley Ashfield Cricket Club memorial.
It seems that after the war, the Furse family, including Bill’s widow, Beatrice, moved to 36, Salisbury Road, Moseley. She remarried in January 1921, marrying Frank James Donovan Lindner, who served in the war as a Captain with the South Staffordshire Regiment. Frank was the first cousin of Lieutenant Commander Leonard Hubert Lindner, who was killed a the Battle of Jutland. Beatrice’s brother-in-law, Alan Furse, was a witness to the marriage.
Sadly, Beatrice died in June 1922, a couple of weeks after giving birth to her son James Neville Donovan Lindner (1922-1997). The rest of the Furse family continued to live in Salisbury Road, where they remained until the last family member, youngest brother Claude, died there in 1981. Neither Alan nor Claude is believed to have married.
John Palmer Lyndon was the eighth of the ten known sons of Wythall-born Police Constable (later sub-postmaster) William Lyndon, whose eldest son, William, was born in 1865 during his first marriage. After the death of his first wife, Margaret, in 1875, William Lyndon moved to Bayston Hill, Shropshire with his son, who became an apprentice carpenter.
William Lyndon remarried in Shropshire in 1881, marrying Agnes Masefield. They went on to have eleven children, of whom the names of nine are known. Five had died by 1911. The known siblings are: Benjamin Masefield Lyndon (1882-1958); Ernest Palmer Lyndon (1884-1962); Arthur George Lyndon (1885-1952); Henry Masefield Lyndon (1887-1910); twins Frederick Lyndon (1891-1892) and Rhoda Mary Lyndon (born 1891, and died aged 7 weeks); Alfred Masefield Lyndon (1893-1959); John Palmer Lyndon (1895-1916); and Jesse Masefield Lyndon (1896-1899). All but the three youngest were born in Shropshire whilst Frederick was a policeman at Knockin and then at West Felton. The three youngest were born in the parish of Shirley, Warwickshire.
The family moved to Warwickshire between 1892-1893, settling in Yardley Wood by 1901 where William became a sub-postmaster after retiring from the police service. By 1911, the family had moved to Warstock, King’s Heath.
John Palmer Lyndon, joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a volunteer, first entering a Theatre of War on 22nd March 1915. He was killed in action less than 15 months later. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.
Richard James Smith was born in Solihull at the end of 1886 and baptised at St Alphege on 20th March 1887. His parents were recorded as Henry, a butcher, and Mary Ann.
Fragments of Richard’s service papers have survived, showing that he enlisted at Aston Barracks on 13th July 1915, giving his age as 26 (although he would have actually been 28) and indicating he lived in Small Heath, Birmingham. He had married Leah Hall at St Thomas’s Church, Birmingham on 2nd December 1911, giving his age as 24 and his occupation as a mail-cart maker. His father was recorded as deceased, having been a butcher, although there is a discrepancy over his father’s name. Richard’s baptism entry records his father as Henry, but the marriage certificate shows the father’s name as Richard. This seems to be a mistake, given that the Commonwealth War Graves entry for Pte Richard James Smith 306239 Royal Warwickshire Regiment also shows his father as Henry Smith.
On enlistment into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Richard gives his next-of-kin as his wife, Leah. He is recorded as a labourer and was 5ft 2in tall, weighing 8st 2lbs. His service record shows that he embarked for France on 6th February 1915, joining his unit in the field on 23rd February 1915.
After Richard’s death, his widow was awarded in February 1917 an Army pension of 15/- per week for herself and one child.
Richard has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. Although baptised at St Alphege Church, he is not recorded on the Solihull war memorial, presumably as he had moved out of the area.
According to Soldiers Died in the Great War, James Webster was born in Solihull and enlisted in Birmingham, joining the 1st/8th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a Private.
Information is a little scarce but the Register of Soldiers’ Effects gives his next-of-kin as Florence M. Webster, widow, and the entry is annotated “+ child”. The assumption is that Florence is James Webster’s wife (rather than, for example, another widowed relative) but we haven’t been able to determine Florence’s maiden name, nor when the marriage took place, nor any details of their child.
There is a birth in the Solihull registration district in 1888, of James Webster, the youngest child and only son of Frederick William Fern Webster (1859-1924) and his wife Ann (née Unitt) who married in 1881. Frederick’s father was James Fern Webster (1821-1904), engineer and inventor credited with developing a process at his factory in Solihull Lodge enabling the world’s first production of aluminium on a commercial scale. James Fern Webster’s papers are at Solihull Central Library. It seems possible that the James Webster who died on 1st July 1916 is the grandson of James Fern Webster. We have the family in Edgbaston on the 1891 census but haven’t been able to find them on later records.
There is an appeal in the Birmingham Gazette 31st August 1916, for any information about Pte James Webster, no. 1830, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, who has been missing since 1st July. The fact that his service number was changed in 1917 to a six-digit number – 305389 – indicates that it was many months after 1st July 1916 that his death was officially presumed and his status changed from “missing” to “killed”. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. As far as we know, he is not commemorated locally in Solihull or Shirley.
If you have any more information on any of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6934