Arthur Binns MM, Private 15/1137, 1st Leeds Pals
Photo courtesy of the family
Arthur was born on 24th December 1893, an early Christmas present for his parents, Walter Atkinson Binns, a weaver, and Sarah Ann Jones, a grocer, who had been married in Keighley two years before. He was christened on 18th March 1894. The family were living at 8 Chapel Lane, Oakworth, Yorkshire although by 1901 they had moved to 4 Oldfield. Walter was born in Oakworth and Sarah Ann hailed from Monmouthshire in Wales, though her birthplace was listed as Gloucestershire in the 1911 Census. Between Arthur’s birth and the 1901 Census another three children had been born, Thomas, who also served in the war, Emmie Elizabeth and Clifford. By 1911 the family had another addition, Lily, and Walter was now employed as a waterworks labourer with Keighley Corporation. Arthur had reached 17 and was a student teacher, a profession he was to remain in all his working life, rising to be headmaster of his local school. Before the war he was a teacher at Thurnscoe Council School in Barnsley, and it was the people of Thurnscoe who presented him with a pocket watch to acknowledge his bravery when he won the Military Medal.
Arthur enlisted in the 15th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (1st Leeds Pals) at Colsterdale, Yorkshire on 11th January 1915. After training at Breary Banks, Masham the battalion moved to Ripon and then to Fovant on Salisbury Plain, before deploying to Egypt in December 1915. Arthur was now a signaller in B Company, No.6 Platoon. They spent about two months there, guarding the Suez Canal against a possible Turkish attack, and then in March 1916 the Battalion transferred to France to prepare for the Battle of the Somme.
On 1st July the Leeds Pals were lead battalion in the assault on the village of Serre. They had been told that the preliminary bombardment would wipe out the German defenders, and their job would just be a walkover. However it was not like that at all, and they were almost wiped out, losing some 530 casualties. Arthur appears to have survived this awful day unscathed; possibly he was one of the 10% of the battalion kept in reserve and not part of the initial assault, or perhaps he was just extremely lucky. Certainly luck appears to have been on his side, as he also survived the next major disaster for the Pals, when they were once again almost destroyed as a battalion in the Battle of Arras in 1917. Arthur wrote home after this battle, telling his family that he had ‘been into old Fritz’s trench once again. It was pretty exciting at the time, but here we are still merry and bright and looking forward to the time when we can be civilised again. Now I am sporting a little bit of ribbon above my left pocket, which signifies that I have been awarded the Military Medal.’ The reason for this award he gave rather briefly, but the full account is recorded in the Battalion War Diary:
No. 1137 PTE ARTHUR BINNS advanced with his platoon to attack the German position EAST of GAVRELLE. He gained the first objective where he established a bombing post. He repulsed a local counter attack, and drove the enemy down the trench with bombs.
The enemy afterwards fired a rifle grenade into the post which PTE BINNS was holding. PTE BINNS picked it up and threw it over the parapet, where it exploded without doing any damage. PTE BINNS undoubtedly, by his coolness and courage, saved his comrades from being killed or wounded.
This award was also listed, without details, in the London Gazette.
Arthur remained with the 15th Battalion until it merged with the 17th Battalion (The Bantams) in December 1917, and this became the 15th/17th Battalion.
But nothing lasts for ever, and in March of 1918 the Germans launched what was to be their last major offensive, their last attempt to win the war. This attack took the British very much by surprise. Everyone knew something was going to happen, but no-one knew when. The Pals were involved in battalion sports on 21st March when it began, and six days later Arthur was captured near St Leger, along with a large part of the battalion, only four officers and about forty men escaping the net. He was taken initially to Parchim POW Camp, where he was recorded on 6th August. He had not been wounded when captured so he may have gone straight to Parchim or been taken to another camp en route. He subsequently went to Camp No 1952 at Friedrichsfeld, Wesel. Following the Armistice he was released and returned to France on 26th November. He was treated as a priority having been a POW, and was repatriated to the UK in December 1918.
Two months later, on 25th February 1919, he married Alice Maud Annie Ingham in Keighley, the same day as he was posted to the Reserve Class Z. Fortunately the armistice held, the reserves were not required, and Arthur was finally discharged from the army on 31st March 1920. In addition to his MM he was awarded the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal for his wartime service. In the next war he served as an air-raid warden and special constable. He returned to his profession of teaching, rising to become headmaster of Keighley Junior School, now Lees Primary School, and in 1955 a Keighley Town Councillor. He was headmaster of Eastwood Secondary School in Keighley from the beginning of January 1939 until his retirement at the end of August 1954. After this he continued to teach adults at Keighley College, and also found time to be a Methodist lay-preacher in addition to all these other occupations. He and Alice had three children, Joyce, Harry and Gwenda, and the family appear, with Walter, on the 1939 Register, living at Burghley House, Exley Road, Keighley. Harry went on to serve in the RAF in the Second World War, and was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his operations as a Halifax bomber pilot.
Arthur in 1953, courtesy of the family
Arthur died on 22nd February 1956, age 62, at which point he was living at 40 Leach Road, Riddlesden, Keighley. His funeral was held at Lees Methodist Chapel and was attended by the Mayor of Keighley and a large number of mourners from teaching and various local organisations. Alice survived him by 29 years, dying on 13th May 1985 at Keighley Blind Home.
Ancestry – Medal Records, Baptismal Record, Marriage Record, Census Records
Find My Past – Service Record, 1939 Register
Free BMD – Birth, Marriage and Death Records
ICRC – POW Records
Records, photos and additional information supplied by the family
Researchers: Peter Taylor, David J Owen and Owen Hammond
- All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
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