Nine local men with a connection to the area around Balsall Common, Knowle and, Dorridge died on the first day of the Battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916:
- Second Lieutenant John Balkwill, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
- Second Lieutenant Geoffrey Jermyn Brand, General List (attached 101st Trench Mortar Battery)
- Private Thomas Cooper, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
- Private Walter Jennings, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
- Lieutenant Colonel Maurice Nicholl Kennard MC, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own)
- Captain Stratford Walter Ludlow, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
- Private Alfred Mutlow, North Staffordshire Regiment
- Private George Arthur Smitten, Royal Warwickshire Regiment
- Captain Willingham Franklin Gell Wiseman, Lincolnshire Regiment
Three of the men – John Balkwill, Thomas Cooper, and Stratford Ludlow, are commemorated in a stained glass window in the Soldiers’ Chapel at Knowle Parish Church, which was given in memory of Stratford Ludlow by his father, Brigadier-General Ludlow. It was dedicated by the Bishop of Birmingham on 5th June 1921.
John Balkwill was born in Forest Hill, London on 6th January 1883, the fourth of five children (four sons, one daughter) of Liverpool-born parents, Francis (a foreign fruit merchant) and Mary Vince Balkwill (née Jeffery) who had married in London in 1875.
John attended St Dunstan’s College, Catford, London 1893-1899, having won an entrance scholarship, and was awarded a Governors’ Scholarship in 1896. He won school prizes for French (1896) and Science (1898), and was Head Prefect 1898-99. He was also Captain of Athletics, and played in the Rugby 1st XV, Lacrosse 1st XII, and Cricket 1st XI. After leaving school in 1899, he continued to play sport, playing rugby for Catford Bridge “A” XV, 1899-1901 and for their first XV in 1903. He also played for Forest Hill Cricket Club 1900-1908 and was on the Committee of the Old Dunstonian Club, 1902-03 and 1908. His younger brother, Charles Vince Balkwill, also attended St Dunstan’s 1895-1901, and was described as “one of the best School athletes of his generation”.
In 1901, 18-year-old John was still with his family, working as an insurance clerk at the London office of the Northern Assurance Company, which he had joined in May 1899. In July 1908, the company transferred him to their Birmingham office as a surveyor, and he took up residence in Moseley before moving to Dorridge. He was described as an “enthusiastic member” of Knowle Cricket Club.
On the outbreak of war, John enlisted in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment as a Private, and first entered a Theatre of War on 22nd March 1915. Six months later, he was “discharged to commission” on 29th September 1915, becoming a Second Lieutenant with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Similarly, his brother Charles enlisted in the London Rifle Brigade and was commissioned from the ranks, joining the 1st Battalion London Regiment in France on 27th May 1916.
Their mother died on 26th February 1914, so did not live to see the outbreak of the war, although she did suffer the death of her eldest son, Francis, who died in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) in 1906, aged 30. Tragically, both John and Charles were killed on the same day – 1st July 1916 – John during the attack on Beaumont Hamel, and Charles during the attack on Gommecourt. Charles has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. John is buried at Pargny British Cemetery, and is also commemorated on memorials at Dymchurch in Kent and on the memorials at Forest Hill Congregational Church, St Dunstan’s College and Catford Bridge Football Club. Locally, he is commemorated at Knowle Parish Church (Ludlow Memorial Window and Soldiers’ Chapel) and he is on the Roll of Honour of Knowle Cricket Club.
Geoffrey Jermyn Brand was born in Walsall in 1893, and was the youngest son of Suffolk-born Charles Skinner Brand and his Staffordshire-born wife, Annie. Charles was a spelter manufacturer (spelter being a socket for for wire rope) and it was noted on census returns that he was deaf. The family moved to Wayside, Dorridge sometime between 1893 and 1901, moving to Troon, Scotland sometime within the next ten years.
Geoffrey was educated at Arden House School, Henley in Arden, a building that originally housed a private lunatic asylum but which became a school from 1876. His medal index card indicates that he joined the Royal Fusiliers as a Private before being commissioned as Second Lieutenant with the Royal Scots in September 1915, and then being transferred to the General List and attached to the 101st Trench Mortar Battery.
He was killed in action, aged 22, on 1st July 1916 and, having no known grave, is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. He is also commemorated on the Arden House School memorial and on the gravestone of his parents and brother in Troon. He’s not believed to be commemorated locally in Dorridge.
Thomas Cooper was born in Knowle and was baptised at the parish church on 6th April 1890, with his mother listed as Edith Annie [actually Edith Hannah] Cooper. Some sources incorrectly list his parents as Richard (a manufacturer of spurs) and Maud. It seems that Thomas’s mother was a live-in servant, so Thomas was brought up in the extended family while his mother was away working.
In 1891, as a one-year-old, he appears on the census with his grandparents, John and Hannah, and their children, living in Malthouse Lane, Knowle. They also have another grandchild in the household, four-year-old Helen, daughter of their daughter, Emily. Whilst baby Thomas was living with his grandparents, his 17-year-old mother, Edith, was in service in Richmond Road, Olton, with the family of Harry and Mary Allday.
Ten years later, 11-year-old Thomas was living in Hampton Lane, Knowle, with his widowed grandmother, Hannah, who made ends meet working as a laundress. Also in the household were two of Hannah’s children, Mary Ann and John, as well as her four-year-old grandson, John. Thomas’s mother, Edith, was in service in Station Road, Lapworth, working for railway representative John Lees and his unmarried sister.
By 1911, Thomas was still in Hampton Lane, Knowle, living with his unmarried aunt, Mary Ann. He was working as a farm labourer and she was listed as as charwoman. Living with them was Thomas’s cousin, 14-year-old Jack Tandy, son of Thomas’s aunt, Lizzie. Tragically, Jack was also killed in the war.
We don’t know when Thomas enlisted as a Private with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, although his medal index card indicates that he didn’t serve overseas before 1916. Unpublished research by the late Alan Tucker into the Royal Warwickshire Regiment indicates that Thomas was killed serving with C Company, 8th Battalion at Redan Ridge. He was initially posted as missing. The Register of Soldiers’ Effects (on Ancestry, available free of charge from library computers) notes his death as being “on or since 1st July 1916. Death presumed” and indicates that his effects went to his aunt, Mary Ann Cooper.
Thomas Cooper is buried at Serre Road Cemetery no. 2 and is commemorated in Knowle at the Soldiers’ Chapel, on the Ludlow Window, and at Downing Hall. We think he may also be the same Thomas Cooper recorded on the Tanworth-in-Arden war memorial, and would be grateful for confirmation of this, or any further information.
Walter Jennings was born in Knowle in 1889 and was baptised at Stoneleigh on 4th August 1889. His parents, Tom and Emma lived in Dorridge at the time of his baptism, and Tom was recorded as a gardener. By 1892 ,they had moved to Emscote and, by 1899, Tom was working as a gamekeeper and the family was living in Stoneleigh. They were recorded in 1901 as living in nearby Ashow, and had moved to Baddesley Clinton by 1911. Walter followed in his father’s footsteps and was recorded as a gardener in 1911.
Walter’s service record seems to have been one of the 60 per cent destroyed by bombing in the Second World War, so we don’t know exactly when he enlisted. However, his medal index card (available on the Ancestry web site, free of charge from library computers) indicates that he first entered a Theatre of War on 2nd May 1915. He was killed in action on 1st July 1916, aged 27, and has no known grave. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, and is commemorated locally at Balsall Common, Chadwick End, Knowle and Temple Balsall.
Maurice Nicholl Kennard was the second son of parents Robert William and Rose Kennard (née Byass). He was born in Blaenavon, Monmouthshire, Wales and, in 1902, became a regular cavalry officer with the 6th Dragoon Guards, after previously serving with the Royal Monmouthshire Royal Engineers (Militia). His local connection is that he was a member of the North Warwickshire Hunt, which was based in Meriden. He was also a polo player, being one of the top-rated polo players (with a handicap of eight goals) when the concept of individual handicaps was introduced in 1911 by the South African Polo Association.
He was awarded the Military Cross in February 1915, and was Mentioned in Despatches in October 1914, February 1915 and, posthumously, in February 1917.
THE LATE LT.-COL. MAURICE KENNARDA Gallant and Efficient Officer.In the list of officers who made the supreme sacrifice in the recent “big push” by the British Forces, there occurs the name of Lieutenant- Colonel Maurice N. Kennard, of the 6th Dragoon Guards (Carabiniers), who-served as a captain with his regiment during the early days of the war, and was wounded in the advance to the Aisne. After recovering from his wound he was promoted Major, to to act as second in command of 13th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, and served in Egypt.Last April he was given command of the battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, which he led into action on July 1st. Though he was killed when doing duty with infantry, he was an efficient cavalry officer, and acted as Adjutant of his regiment for three years before the war. He had been twice mentioned in despatches, and had been awarded the Military Cross.The Colonel of the Carabiniers writes of him:— “He was the most gallant, straightest man I have ever met. The regiment know we shall never find his equal.” A Major, too, writes; —“He was a man, ideal; his ability as a soldier is a byeword, his bravery; officers and men loved him; one could not help it, his-straightness, his success at every manly sport.” Lieutenant-Colonel Kennard was a son of Mr R. W. Kennard, J.P., D.L., chairman of the Falkirk Iron Co. Limited. The deceased officer had taken a very distinguished part in the fighting since the war commenced. He was a regular cavalry officer prior the commencement of the war, and immediately he saw that there was to be no fighting for cavalry for some time at least, he volunteered for infantry work, and had been with the infantry right through. (Falkirk Herald, Saturday 29 July 1916)
Stratford Walter Ludlow, second son of Brigadier General Walter Robert Ludlow and his wife, Helen Florence, was born on 10th June 1894 and baptised at Knowle on 22nd July 1894. In 1901, six-year-old Stratford was living with his siblings Phyllis (16), Judith (13), Audrey (10), and Carlton (8), with servants including a housemaid, cook, and two nurses.
Stratford joined the first form of King’s School, Worcester in September 1904, but left in April 1907 to join the training ship, HMS Conway at Liverpool. The ship trained boys intending to serve as officers in the Merchant Navy.
Stratford Ludlow left the ship in April 1909 and returned to the King’s School, leaving the sixth form in July 1911. He then entered his father’s firm, Ludlow & Briscoe, Temple Street, Birmingham, intending to qualify as a surveyor. He also joined the 8th Battalion Warwick Regiment, a territorial force that had actually been raised by his father in 1908. He was gazetted Lieutenant in August 1913, and Captain in December 1914, going to the Front with his Battalion in March 1915.
He was killed, aged 22, at the Battle of Beaumont Hamel, initially being posted as wounded and missing, which led to an appeal by his parents in the Birmingham Gazette, 14th July 1916. The article states:
He was seen in the assault on the German position on Sunday 2 July, about 7.45 am, wounded in the arm in crossing the first of the German works, but continued in the charge until the second German trench was reached. Since then nothing has been heard of him.
Captain Stratford Ludlow, of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (T.F.), previously reported wounded and missing on July 1, is now reported killed. Information has been received that his body has been found, and that he was interred in a shell hole on the night of 15th-16th…He fell at the head of his company, while gallantly leading them over the enemy’s front position, and although wounded was last seen with some of his men in the second line of enemy trenches. Letters received from surviving officers describe him as an excellent soldier and a first-class company commander, and a more cheery and enthusiastic brother officer, his comrades say, they could not wish to have had.