Three local men are known to have lost their lives on 24th June 1917 whilst on active service: Second Lieutenant Rupert Edward Everitt, 299th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery; Private William James Leake, 1st/7th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment; and Gunner Henry Smith, 207th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery.
Daniel Joseph Ferns died of tuberculosis at his home in Dingle Lane, Solihull on 27th October 1916. Having been discharged from the Army on 5th August 1916, the former Sapper isn’t included on the Commonwealth War Graves records. However, he is recorded on Solihull war memorial so was obviously considered by the community to have been a war casualty. A letter dated 27th December 1916 awarding a pension to his widow also indicates that the War Office accepted that his death was as a result of his war service.
Lance Corporal Frederick Edwin Hollis, ‘C’ Company, 1st/8th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment was born in Packwood in 1890 and died on 27th August 1916.
He was initially reported missing, and there was an announcement in Knowle parish magazine in August 1917 suggesting he was a prisoner of war. In fact, he had been killed on 27th August 1916 in the attack on the German “Constance trench” (so named by Australian troops), which ran near Mouquet Farm (apparently known to the British as “Mucky Farm” and to the Australians as “Moo-cow Farm”). The farm was completely destroyed by three weeks of fighting and had to be completely rebuilt after the war.
Zero-hour on 27th August was 7pm, when the field artillery would commence an intense shrapnel barrage on the front of the attack, and ‘C’ and ‘D’ companies mounting ladders from their trench, advancing up to the barrage. At zero plus five, the barrage would lift to allow the leading wave to enter the enemy trenches. The Battalion War Diary reports that ‘C’ Company reached its objective but was heavily bombed and forced to retire, suffering heavy losses in the process. (Information from unpublished research by the late Alan Tucker).
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
Four young men from the Solihull area lost their lives on 4th June 1916 whilst on active service in the First World War: Private Matthew Richard Barlow; Private Stanley Holt; Lance Corporal Austin Geoffrey Leigh (all serving with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment); and Second Lieutenant Philip Leslie Patterson, North Staffordshire Regiment. All four men were aged between 17 and 21.
Private George William Kippen was killed in action in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) on 5th April 1916, serving with the 9th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was the eldest of five children born to parents George (born 1861), a gun screwer, and Jane (née Farrington) and he seems to have had rather a difficult life before enlisting in the Army in March 1914. Two of his three brothers are also known to have served in the Armed Forces.
Private Arthur Watton, also with the 9th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, died of wounds on the same day in the same place. The Battalion was mobilised for war in June 1915 and sent to Gallipoli. Owing to severe losses from combat, disease and harsh weather, the Division was evacuated to Mudros and then Egypt in January 1916. On 16th February 1916 the Battalion embarked for Basra from Suez to defend British interests against Turk forces, arriving on 28th February 1916.
Both men are commemorated on the Basra Memorial.
Private John Charles Smith was killed in action at Givenchy on 22nd December 1914, aged 21. He died just over four months after enlisting in the Coldstream Guards.
According to the information in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, he was the third son of Joseph and Ann Smith of Park Lane Corner, Berkswell. He was born on 12th April 1893 at Temple Balsall and was educated at Burton Green, near Kenilworth, and Temple Balsall. He enlisted on 18th August 1914 and was posted to France in December, shortly before he was killed.
He is commemorated at Berkswell and he is one of more than 13,400 soldiers with no known grave who is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.
Two men who died on Sunday 25th October 1914 are commemorated locally. Private Alfred Hector Rowland Gwinnett is believed to have been killed by a sniper whilst serving with the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He is commemorated locally at Solihull and Knowle.
Captain Sir Francis Ernest Waller Bt. died on the same day, serving with the Royal Fusiliers (6th Battalion, but attached to the 4th Battalion). The Evening Despatch 25 November 1914 reported that Sir Francis had been ordered to take some lost trenches and guns, which he did successfully. However, when he was rising to urge his men to the final charge, he was severely wounded and died a few hours later. He is commemorated locally at Forest Hall, Meriden (home to the Woodmen of Arden).
One hundred years ago today, 21st August 1914, the first British soldier is believed to have died on the Western Front.
John Henry Parr was the son of a milkman from Finchley, London. He joined the army in 1912, giving his age as 17, although the census a year earlier shows him as 13 years old in 1911. He was baptised at St John’s Church, Holloway on 4th September 1898. He would, therefore, have been about 14 years of age when he joined the Army in 1912 as a Private with the Middlesex Regiment.
By the time war broke out in 1914, he was a reconnaissance cyclist, obtaining information to take back to senior officers. On 21st August 1914, John Parr was sent out on patrol and was never seen again, although it took some months for his family to be told. His gravestone gives his age as 20 but he was actually about 17.
In 1921, a national memorial to all cyclists who died as a result of their war service was erected in the Centre of England – Meriden, now in the Borough of Solihull.
Private Parr was particularly remembered at the Cyclists’ Memorial Service held in May 2014, marking one hundred years after the outbreak of the First World War.
A memorial service for cyclists who died in the war has been held at Meriden every year since the memorial was unveiled in 1921. This British Pathé film clip shows the 1950 event.