Herbert Bower – an early American entry?


Herbert Bower, Corporal 27194, 15th West Yorkshire Regiment

Photo courtesy of York Army Museum

Thomas Bower was married to Sarah, possibly Sarah Ann Bibbing, possibly in Barnsley in 1883. (Free BMD).  In 1892 they had a son, Herbert, born in the USA, and another son Thomas, also born there, in 1895.  According to the 1911 Census they had three children, one of whom had died, which might account for the gap between their marriage and Herbert’s birth.  What took them to the USA is not known, but what few records there are for Herbert all confirm his American birth, with the place variously given as Boardington, which may be a misunderstanding of Bordentown, and Philadelphia, which is some thirty miles away. (Find my Past).

They did not stay long, for on the 1901 Census they are shown as living at 31 Bristol Street, Leeds, but without Thomas the father.  He may have remained in the USA but it seems more likely that he had died, since he is given as ‘deceased’ on Herbert’s marriage certificate in 1914, when Herbert married Hettie Berry, and possibly moved to 17 Marion Avenue, Woodhouse, Leeds. (Find my Past).

Before this, however, the family had moved to 30 Clay Pit Lane, Camp Road, Leeds, where they appear on the 1911 Census, both brothers being given as tailor’s cutters.  Whether there was any connection with the Camp Road Baptist Chapel I don’t know, but if there was this would also provide a link to the Pals, as the former minister of the chapel, Rev. E A Cartwright, had joined in 1914. (Laurie Milner ‘Leeds Pals’).

Herbert, however, did not join until December 1915, and according to his Medal Card was not attested until April the following year, hence his late service number.  This may be because he was a married man, with two children, one born shortly after the wedding, and the other, Alan, on the day following Herbert’s attestation. (Ancestry).

Joining when he did, Herbert would have finished his training and then gone straight to France, too late for the Battle of the Somme.  He was, though, in time for the Battle of Arras, which for the Pals began on 3rd May 1917, and on that day Herbert was reported missing.  It was subsequently confirmed that he was a prisoner, having been wounded at Gavrielle in his right arm, right heel and back.  On 2nd August he was recorded at Cassell POW Camp, where he appears to have stayed until the armistice. (Prisoners of the First World War).  On his return to England he was discharged as wounded in April 1919, awarded a pension of 9/- a week, for one year, a Silver War Badge, and ultimately the British War and Victory Medals.

Researcher: Peter Taylor

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.

Fred Bates – little known POW


Fred Bates, Private 38211, 1st Leeds Pals

Photo courtesy of York Army Museum


Fred Bates was the first son and third child to be born to William Bates, an oat cake baker who had married Alice Ann Greaves in Leeds in 1871. (Free BMD).  Fred was born on 12th August 1878, after two girls, Frances and Annie, and before another boy, Roden, also spelt Rhoden, and a third girl, Nellie.  Roden is possibly the same person who spelt his name Rawden on the 1911 Census, when he was living in Liversedge. (Find My Past). Certainly a Rhoden Bates married Louisa Weldrake in November 1901, which fits with the 1911 Census record, and one of the witnesses was Rawden Weldrake, perhaps her brother, as her father, like Rhoden’s, was dead. (Find My Past).

Fred was born in Hightown, Halifax, and three years later the census had the family address as Harts Moor Road, Clifton, Halifax.  On the 1891 Census the address is given as Hartshead Moor, Clifton.  Alice was by now a widow, and it is possible that William died in 1883, in which case he was only 32.

On the 1901 Census Alice had remarried, and become Mrs James Lawford, and they were living at Hare Park, Liversedge.  Fred is given as a leather currier, but by 1911 he is a drapery dealer.  The Lawfords were still there in 1911, but Fred had moved out, probably because in March 1906, in Dewsbury, he had married Ann Frances E Naylor, and they were living at Clough Lane Top, Liversedge.  In May of that same year they had a daughter, Marion, and another daughter, Millicent, was born in 1910.  Fred, Ann and Marion were still living together in 1939, at 500 Halifax Road, Spenborough.  Millicent, presumably, had got married. (Find My Past).

Fred’s service record has not survived apart from his medal card, so we don’t know when he enlisted, but his number suggests that he joined after September 1916, unless he was transferred in from another regiment. (Ancestry).  As an older man, married with children, he would have been called up later anyway.

What have survived are his POW records, which show him as a member of C Company.  He was captured, unwounded, at Oppy on 3rd May 1917, during the Third Battle of Arras. (Prisoners of the First World War).  This was quite a lengthy battle and included a number of different actions, the most notable of which was probably the capture of Vimy Ridge by the Canadians.  That part was over when the Pals joined in on 3rd May, the first day of the Third Battle of the Scarpe.  No significant advances were made, but Bert was captured, and for the second time the battalion suffered very heavy casualties.  Estimates vary but the Pals were probably reduced to about a third of their number.

On 23rd June Bert was at Dülmen Camp, on 28th July at Limburg, and on 23rd January 1918 at Güstrow, where he presumably stayed for the rest of his captivity.  The Germans were keen to photograph their prisoners, to show that they were being well-treated, and Bert was one such.  Ten months later the war ended and Bert was repatriated.

Bert was discharged from the army on 29th March 1919.  He was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  He did not get the 1915 Star, which supports the idea of a later enlistment.  As already mentioned he and Ann, with Marion, were living in Spenborough in 1939.  It is possible that he died in 1959, in which case he would have been 80.

Researcher: Peter Taylor

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.

Fred Chadwick – a Guiseley Pal

Fred Chadwick, Private 28022, 1st Leeds Pals

and previously Private 978, 6th Battalion Duke of Wellington’s Regiment.

Fred was born in the first quarter of 1885, the sixth of the seven sons of William and Leah Chadwick. In the 1891 census the household also included three daughters and William’s widowed 80 year old mother-in-law, Sarah Rawnsley.  The siblings were Alice, Sarah, George, Hannah, Thomas, Frank, Charles, William and Ernest.  The older ones were employed either in boot and shoe manufacturing or woollen mills.  William was a night watchman. (1891 Census Find My Past).  By 1901 the family was still living at 110 Birks, Guiseley, as in 1891, but Fred had left home and was working as one of a number of gardeners employed by Frank Atkinson at Cresswell Hall, Bedlington, Northumberland. (1901 Census, Find My Past).  By 1911 Fred, who had married Florrie Mallinson in 1908, (Free BMD), had returned to Guiseley where he was working in an iron foundry (Sykes and Shaw Gilroyd, Iron Foundry, Guiseley) and Florrie as a machinist for a boot manufacturer.  They were living at 31 Otley Road, Guiseley (Army Service Records, Find My Past).  They had a son, Ben, born in 1912, who died in 1914, (Free BMD), and a son Fred, born in 1916, whose name appears with his mother on the In Memoriam for his father published in 1919.  However, the mother’s name is Mary, as also given as Next of Kin on the Army Register of Effects.  There was a marriage between Fred Chadwick and Mary Griffin in Leeds, in June 1915, but I have found no indication of what became of Florrie.


At some point between 1901 and 1908, when Fred married, William had died, possibly in 1906.  In 1910 Ernest married Elsie Wilson, and on the 1911 Census they were living at 118 Otley Road, Guiseley, along with Leah Chadwick, now a widow, but determinedly the head of that household.


Fred joined the 6th Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Territorials a few days after his brother Ernest in December 1908.  Fred’s service number was 978 and Ernest’s 973.  The medical inspection report for Fred says that he was 5 foot 6 inches tall and had a chest measurement of 34 inches.  His physical development was “good”.  Gardening and working in a foundry probably accounted for that.  The officer accepting him was Captain Wilfred Claughton, a member of the Claughton family who owned the boot and shoe factory in Otley Road, Guiseley, and who no doubt employed several members of the Chadwick family.


Fred and Ernest went on annual two-week training camps together – to Marske in 1909, Peel on the Isle of Man in 1910 and Ripon in 1911.  Fred missed out on Flamborough in 1912 as he was on leave.  He served until January 1914, having signed up for an extra year.  The camp in 1913 took him to Aberystwyth.  (Find My Past British Army Service Records)


No individual service record of Fred’s time in the Pals survives.  The medal roll records that he qualified for the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  As he did not qualify for the 1914-15 Star for Services Overseas before 31st December 1915 he could not have gone abroad until after January 1916.  His regimental number indicates that he was not amongst the original 15th Battalion -the Leeds Pals- but was part of a draft of reinforcements in 1916 or 1917, but not before September 1916, when all new men were given new five-digit numbers on a regimental basis.


The 15th Battalion was fighting in the Arras offensive on 3rd to 4th of May 1917, and Fred Chadwick was presumed dead on or after 3rd of May (Army Register of Soldiers effects.).  He has no marked grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.  On 3rd May 1919 two entries appeared in the Yorkshire Evening Post In Memoriam columns, one from Fred’s wife and son Fred, the other from the family.

Researcher: Jane Luxton with information from Margaret Dale, Fred’s great-niece.

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.

Samuel Spurr – so near and yet….


Samuel Spurr, Lance Corporal 24867, 1st Leeds Pals

Samuel Spurr was born in Leeds on 5th January 1891, the third child of George William Spurr, initially a drayman and weaver, but later a warehouseman in a candle factory, who had married Matilda Whitaker in Hunslet four years earlier.  Samuel had an older sister, Selina, and an older brother, Thomas, and four younger sisters, Edith, Hilda, Lily and Irene.

When George and Matilda were first married they appear to have lived with his widowed mother, Susannah, his father Samuel having died some time after the 1881 Census.  Their address was 20 Houghton Street, Hunslet.  Samuel junior, presumably named after his grandfather, was born three months before the 1891 Census.

By the 1901 Census they had moved to 14 Kaye Street, still with mother, though she had died before 1911.  They were still at the same address in 1911, and Samuel, aged 20(sic), was now a packer in the candle factory, perhaps supervised by his father.

Although he was 23 when the war began Samuel does not appear to have joined up straight away.  His service records are missing, but his army number suggests late in 1916 or early 1917.  He was captured by the Germans at Courcelles on 27th March 1918, but he must have shown himself to be a good soldier as he had been promoted to lance corporal.  The German records show that he was unwounded when captured, but he may have been ill, as there is a suggestion that he was sent to hospital in Antwerp before being taken to a POW Camp.  By October of 1918 he was in the camp at Münster, and was presumably still there when the war ended.  He was repatriated fairly quickly, and was on his way home when he died, from pneumonia, in Rotterdam, on 28th December 1918.  Two notices ‘in memoriam’ appeared twelve months later in the Yorkshire Evening Post.  One was signed from his parents and sisters, the other from ‘loving brother and sister Tom and Amy’.  (There is a record of a Thomas Spurr marrying an Amy Thornton in 1912.)  The family address was by now 3 Water Hall, Leeds 5.

Samuel was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, but not the 1915 Star, which adds support to the idea of his not enlisting before 1916.  He is buried in The Hague General Cemetery, one of fifty-five Great War Graves in this cemetery.

Researcher: Peter Taylor and Jane Luxton

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.

Alexander William Poll – cricketing headmaster

Alexander William Poll, Private 15/750, 1st Leeds Pals

Alexander William, who was known as Billy or Willie, was born in Huddersfield on July 1st 1892 to Edward Poll (described on the birth certificate as a commission agent) and his wife Mary Hannah (formerly Stephenson).  He had a sister Lillian born in 1885 in Morley and two brothers, John Stephenson Poll born in 1889, who only survived for two months and George Clifford, born in 1895 in Huddersfield. In the 1901 census Edward, Hannah, Billy and Clifford were living at 7 Ely Street in Armley. Edward is described in this census as a brush traveller.  It is probable that the family moved to Armley so that Lillian who was a registered blind person could attend Blenheim Walk Deaf and Dumb School.  Tragedy struck the family in 1901 when in November Hannah died.  She possibly suffered a stroke which caused her to collapse into the open fire and to be burned to death.  Billy was nine years old.  Further losses followed when Billy’s brother George Clifford died in 1904 and his sister Lillian in 1905. So in the 1911 census only Edward (now described as draper out of work) and Alexander William aged 18 and described as “at school” are listed. Alexander would have trained at the City of Leeds Training College then in temporary accommodation on Woodhouse Lane in buildings which had been the Leeds Girls’ High School.  In 1912 Alexander William passed the final examination of Students in Training Colleges and became a fully certificated Elementary School Teacher.  He was appointed to an elementary school in on May 22nd 1912 at a salary of £80 per annum.  Billy was also a member of Armley Cricket Club and later of Adel Cricket Club.

He was one of the early volunteers for the Pals, joining at the Town Hall on 5th September 1914.

Billy is wearing the white cricket shoes in both these photos taken at Colsterdale.



At Colsterdale during training he was in the camp guard.

alexander-on-guard-dutyDuring the war Willie/Billy sent home postcards to his sweetheart Hilda.  One posted on 10th February 1916 with a view of Marseille reads;


This is the second PC sent whilst on the train, in the hope that one will reach you.  We set off from E Tuesday Feb.28th.  Landed at Marsalles this Wed and have been on this train since, cattle trucks L.you, Not very luxurious, We are going, to the first Base at “Abbeville” and expect to get off the train tomorrow.  All best Love always Willie

The second surviving card sent from France, dated 10.3.16 and picturing the S.S. Ascania, the ship on which the Pals had travelled back from Egypt, reads


Still another: in the hope that one at least will reach you.  This is the boat we came across in. Only a small one but a floating palace compared with the other ship.  We were not crowded, had good grub and decent voyage without incident.  Didn’t stop anywhere so I couldn’t write on board ship.  Give my best love to all sorry.  Love always Willie.

This voyage was in marked contrast to the journey to Egypt aboard HMT Empress of Britain.

Alexander William transferred from the Pals to The Machine Gun Corps with service number 22736 and was discharged with the rank of Sergeant in Belgium on February 26th 1919.

He married Hilda (Wilson) on August 19th 1919.  Hilda’s father was Forge Master Foreman at Leeds Forge in Armley, and a Special Constable.


After the war Alexander William returned to his life as a school master and between 1920 and 1928 was a master at Bennett Road School and lived in Adel (from “Our School -stories and memories of Bennett Road School, Headingley, 1882-2006 “).  He then took up headships in at least three different Elementary schools and by the 1939 Register is listed as a Headmaster of an Elementary School.  Also on the register and living with their parents at 5 The Crescent are Bruce Alexander born in 1923 in Bramley, an Apprentice Wholesale Clothier and Edward Wilson born in 1930 who died in 1942.


Alexander continued to be a keen cricketer.  The photograph is of his last match played at Chapel Allerton Cricket Club in 1954.  Both he and his son Bruce were recorded as opening batsmen – Alexander made 70 plus runs and Bruce 50 plus.  Regrettably they still lost the match!  The small boy is Alexander’s grandson, David Poll.

When he retired Alexander William moved to Bolton -Le-Sands near to one of his friends from the Pals, Bert Smith.  He died in April 1966 and is commemorated in the Garden of Remembrance at Lawnswood Cemetery.

Researcher: Jane Luxton with information from David Poll, Alexander’s grandson.

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.

Robert Norman Bell – high flyer


Robert Norman Bell, Corporal 15/1253 1st Leeds Pals

Later commissioned in RFC/RAF as Lieutenant


Robert Norman Bell was born in Bridlington on 7th June 1896, the only son of Robert Fletcher Bell, a traveller for agricultural merchants dealing in corn, seed cake, manure etc., who had married Eleanor Brown in Beverley three years before. He had an older sister, Phyllis, born two years before. (Census Records and FreeBMD).  He under-stood that his paternal grandfather had been born in Cumberland, and moved to the East Riding where he became a small farmer, but he died when Robert was six or seven.


On the 1901 Census the family was living at 3 Cambridge Street, Bridlington.  By 1911 they had moved to ‘Colesbourne’, Cardigan Road, Bridlington, and on his RFC papers the address is ‘Sundby’, Cardigan Road.


Very little of Robert’s service records have survived, but unlike many of his contemporaries he left a written record of his experiences, and what follows is taken largely from that. (Part of the Liddle Collection, University of Leeds.)


When Robert left school, probably in 1913, he became apprenticed to a pharmaceutical chemist, and left them to join up in 1915, when he was eighteen. (RAF records).  As the Pals were by that time at Colsterdale that may be where he was attested.  He was posted to B Company, No.6 Platoon, No.5 Section, and in time became the platoon bomber.


With the battalion he sailed to Egypt in December 1915, and Robert’s memoirs tell of the collision with what he described as a Greek steamer, although it has also been described as a French mail boat, and named as the Dajurjura.  They remained in Egypt, guarding the Suez Canal, until 1st March 1916, when they sailed again, for France.  The Pals were to take part in the Big Push, which became known as the Battle of the Somme.


They spent their time training for the attack, but this was interrupted in early June by a notice held up in the German trenches, which informed them that Kitchener had been drowned when the Hampshire sank.  German intelligence was apparently very good.  It was also good on 1st July 1916, when Robert was part of the second line of troops going over the top at 7.30 that morning.  Perhaps luckily he caught his foot in some barbed wire and fell flat on his face.  Picking himself up he made his way forward to his own front line, by which time it was clear that the casualties had been horrendous and the rest of his company seemed to have disappeared.  After searching for several hours he found where the rest of the battalion had gathered, all eighteen of them, and they made their way back to their own lines.


The next few months were spent bringing the battalion back up to strength and doing spells in different parts of the line, interrupted by a time in hospital in September, where he was diagnosed with Pyrexia of unknown origin (PUO), and had a back molar extracted – without anaesthetic.  Then it was back to the battalion on light duties for a few days before going back into the line, and then into billets in early October.  The next few months fluctuated between training and being in the line, until the middle of March 1917, when his life changed dramatically.


Robert had applied for and was accepted by the RFC.  He was sent on leave and then to an Officer Cadet Battalion.  He was successful in his training and finally left the army on 25th September 1917, when he was placed on the General List of the RFC.  After more training, including learning to fly, he was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant on 23rd October, having been posted to 217 Squadron.


Meanwhile his sister was at university in London and sharing a flat with two other girls, ‘one of them to become her sister-in-law the following year.’  The implication is that Robert married her, but without a name I have not been able to find definite confirmation of this.


More training followed, at Tadcaster, Catterick and Marske, before he was sent to France as a day bomber pilot, by which time, on 1st April 1918, the RFC had become the RAF.  He went on a number of bombing missions but after only a few weeks the squadron was struck down by the Spanish Flu epidemic, and Robert was back in hospital.  By the time he recovered the war was almost over, and when it ended there was little for them to do.  The squadron was run down, and Robert was demobilised on 26th March 1919, the same day on which he was promoted to Lieutenant.


He was awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  According to his memoirs he spent the rest of his adult life ‘concerned with aircraft’, but in what way specifically he did not say.  In 1969 when he wrote the memoir he was living in Farnham, Surrey, and it seems likely that he died in Winchester, Hampshire, in 1987.

Researcher: Peter Taylor

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.

John Sydney Whitehead and Arthur Whitehead – Brothers and Pals

John Sydney Whitehead Private 15/960  1st Leeds Pals

Arthur Whitehead            Private 15/961  1st Leeds Pals

When the 1901 census was taken 4 year old Sydney and 11 year old Arthur were living at 48 Victoria Road in the Headingley area of Leeds, with their father, Harry, a printer, mother Emily, sister Gertrude (13)  and younger brother Harry (1).The family were still at the same address in 1911 when Arthur (20) was a printer and Sydney (14) was described as an engineer printer.(Find My Past)

In September 1914 the two brothers joined the 15th Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment (The 1st Leeds Pals) on its formation.  Arthur’s attestation papers, dated September 12th 1914, state that Arthur had been apprenticed to Alf Cooke’s Print Works.  He was 5 foot 8 inches in height, his teeth were “fair”.  He weighed 11 and a half stone and had a 37 inch chest measurement.  His religion was described as Wesleyan.  His complexion was sallow , his eyes brown and his hair black.  From their service numbers the brothers must have volunteered together.  Sydney was trained as a Platoon Bomber.  He was one of the Leeds Pals killed on July 1st, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, aged 20. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, Panel 1.  Arthur was discharged on June 5th 1915 as unfit for further service.   “Flat feet” is noted on his discharge papers.  Arthur married and in the 1939 register was living  at 43 The Drive, Leeds, with his wife, son and daughter.  He is described as a master printer and his son, Kenneth, is also a printer (Find My Past).

The entry for John Sydney in the Leeds Modern School Memorial book reads : “John Sydney Whitehead was the second son of Mr and Mrs H Whitehead of May Bank, Victoria Road, Headingley, his father being a partner in in J Whitehead and Son, Printers and Lithographers, of Alfred Street.  On leaving school he entered the works of an engineering firm.”( Leeds Boys’ Modern School “Memorial”)

He is commemorated on the World War 1 memorial board at Headingley Methodist Church.


                                                John Sydney Whitehead

Researcher Jane Luxton

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.

Herbert (Bert) William Sunderland – A Methodist Soldier

Herbert William Sunderland Private 15/864 1st Leeds Pals

Herbert Sunderland was the son of a prominent member of Headingley Methodist Church and was himself, together with his mother and sister and older brother, very involved in the Sunday School work at the church.

He was born in 1886, the second son of William, a solicitor’s clerk, and Mary Sunderland.  In the 1901 census he is listed as a 16 year old building society clerk living at 14 Hyde Park Terrace with his parents, sister Emma (20)and brothers John Wilmot (20), a stock broker’s clerk, and Ernest Arthur (14), a schoolboy.  The family were still living together at 14 Hyde Park Terrace when the 1911 census was taken and were following the same occupations.  The youngest son Ernest Arthur was by now an insurance clerk (Find My Past).  Anecdotal evidence relates that Herbert and a friend spent cycling holidays in France and Germany in the years immediately before the First World War.

In the Church Leaders’ Minute book for Headingley Methodist Church an entry dated October 9th 1914 notes that: “Mr H W Sunderland resigned his position as teacher (Sunday School) having joined the Pals Battalion.”

Herbert was killed in action on July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme.  He is buried in Serre Cemetery No. 1.  His entry in the Commonwealth War Graves Register reads: “Sunderland, Pte. Herbert William 864 15th Bn. West Yorkshire Regt.  Killed in action 1st July 1916 aged 31.  Son of William and Mary Sunderland of 14 Hyde Park Terrace Leeds I.C.24.”(CWGC website).  He is commemorated on the World War 1 memorial at Headingley Methodist Church and on the family headstone at Lawnswood Cemetery.  John Wilmot also joined the forces and survived the war.  In January 1917 he wrote to the church Leaders from France to urge them to appoint a Sunday School Treasurer in his place, not knowing how long he would be away.  He added that “I often think of you all at church on Sundays here which are often no different from weekdays.”

Researcher Jane Luxton

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.

Francis McManus – A Leeds Bantam


Francis McManus, Private 17/105 2nd Leeds Pals

On 24 November 1896 Francis McManus was born at 28 Council Street Leeds to Luke and Sarah McManus.  He was the youngest of three children behind elder sister Catherine and elder brother John.

The 1911 Census reveals Francis’ family living in Hatfield Street Leeds.  The eldest daughter Catherine was now a boot maker, her younger brother John (known as Jack) was a cloth finisher like his father and Francis was an iron driller at the age of 14.  There was also a 3 year old daughter Norah.  On the Census form is the note that 10 children had been born into the family between 1888 and 1911 but only these 4 had survived by that date.  Norah died later that year.  Council and Hatfield Street were demolished but their outline can still be seen on overhead imagery.

Francis failed to enlist on the outbreak of war In August 1914 – he was turned away due to age and height.  However, on the 8th December 1914 when Mr J E Bedford the Lord Mayor of Leeds raised a Bantam battalion of The West Yorkshire Regiment – the 17th (Service) Battalion The West Yorkshire Regiment – Francis must have been one of the first to enlist because his personal Army number is 17/105. 

Following training throughout 1915 from Ilkley to Salisbury Plain, on 14th January 1916  Francis wrote his Will leaving everything to his Mother Sarah.  This is the only surviving artefact belonging to Francis I have so far been able to find.

On 31st January 1916 the Battalion embarked for France on the SS Duchess of Argyll.  From 1 February onwards they began work up training in and out of the front line.

On the 27th March 2016 the Battalion went into the line between ARMENTIÈRES and LAVENTIE – the PETILLON Subsector of the line.  On the 29th March 1916   Captain Hepper’s Diary[1] records that: …“8.30 am.  The enemy have just sent over some rifle grenades, I hate the things.  We are busy retaliating.  I bet the old Hun is chuckling up his sleeve as all ours are falling short and ten out of the fifteen are duds. Bless the munitioneers or perhaps it may be the damp ground.”  However, the Battalion’s War Diary for 29th March 1916 records:

“4 Lewis guns forward in battle emplacements, 2 used as moveable guns.  Some interchange of rifle grenades.  Unfortunate accident with rifle grenade by which 1 man killed and 2 wounded.  Some shelling by enemy of CELLAR FARM and DEE POST.  Patrol went out from left Coy (Z Coy).  Water too deep to allow of useful information to be gained.  Snipers very active all along the front.  They have a loophole in nearly every bay and move position when firing and thus difficult to locate.  Night passed quietly.  Much work done.”

WW1 Soldiers’ deaths are rarely ‘named’ but according to the West Yorkshire’s Regimental History Francis McManus is the only recorded death on 29th March 1916 so must have been the man killed by the ‘unfortunate accident’ with the rifle grenade; clearly not all were duds.  He was probably dead before 9.00 am.  Corporal Sheard, a Battalion Medical Orderly, recorded in his journal[2] that the casualties that day had been caused by; ‘…one of our rifle grenades bursting.’  (It is interesting that there is no mention of how Francis died in the Regimental History’s Casualty Lists.)  He is recorded as ‘Killed in Action’ on his Medal Record Card, in Leeds in The Great War and on the Medal Roll, but other documents, (his overseas Death Certificate, Effects Record and The Leeds Roll of Honour), speak of his ‘accidental death’.

On the 18th April 1916 in The Times Newspaper’s ‘Roll of Honour’ Francis is listed under ‘Accidentally Killed’. 

Francis was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  He is buried in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery at Rue-Petillon, FLEURBAIX, Plot 1, Section N, Grave 6.

Researcher:  Andrew Greenwood

[1] Captain Hepper’s Diary as an officer in the 17th Battalion is a most useful source of background information on the Leeds Bantams.

[2] Held by the Imperial War Museum.

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.

John Sydney Ewart – a Derbyshire Pal

John (Jack) Sydney Ewart, Corporal 15/314, 1st Leeds Pals

Cpl. John Ewart at Headingley, 1st June 1915

John Sydney Ewart, known to the family as Jack, was the son of William Ewart and Emily Shephard, who had married in Sheffield in 1876.  William was born in Kirkcudbright, and was a draper, and subsequently a traveller, in that trade.  John was the eighth of nine children.  He had five older sisters, Edith, Marion, Jane, Alice and Janet, and two older brothers, Samuel and William.  The youngest child, Charles Reginald, was the grandfather of Brell Ewart, who provided much of this information.


All the children were born in Chesterfield, where the family lived, at a number of addresses over the years, and which was presumably William’s base for his travelling.  Apart from this little is known about John’s early life, but by 1911 he was lodging in Bradford, where he had a job as a costing clerk for a newspaper publisher. (Census records)


In 1914, when war was declared, John was 22, and lost no time in volunteering.  With a number like 314 he must have signed up in the first few days.  He joined the Leeds Pals, which suggests either that he had moved jobs or was so anxious to sign up that he didn’t wait for the Bradford Pals to be formed.  It is also possible that he was influenced by the fact that his grandmother had been born in Leeds.  Whatever the reason, he was a Leeds Pal.  But unfortunately his service record has not survived.


Like the rest of the Pals he would have done his early training at Colsterdale, before moving on to Ripon and finally Fovant in Wiltshire.  From there, in early December 1915, the Battalion sailed for Egypt, where they were to guard the Suez Canal against a possible Turkish attack.  This did not materialise, and in March 1916 they sailed again, this time for France, and training for the Big Push.


The Battle of the Somme began at 0730hrs on 1st July 1916 when the Leeds Pals, along with a number of other Pals battalions, including the Bradford Pals, went over the top, with the intention of capturing the village of Serre.  But it was not to be.  The majority were either killed or wounded, but John survived.  There is no reason to suppose that he wasn’t in that attack.


On 4th August the survivors were moved to a new position at Festubert, where they took over some of the front-line trenches.  These did not form a continuous line but a series of ‘islands’, and it was while manning these islands that they were attacked.  After morning ‘Stand Down’ on 20th August the Germans began shelling the trenches, but what no-one realised was that they were shelling their own wire, to make three gaps leading to the British lines.  Just after evening ‘Stand Down’ they attacked, and although they were beaten off the Pals suffered casualties.  Two officers and six other ranks were killed and two officers and seventeen other ranks wounded.  Among the dead was John Ewart. (Milner p.170/1)


John was awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. (Medal Card)  He is buried in Le Touret Military Cemetery, Richebourg L’Avoue, together with Lt. Tom Applebee, and Privates Harold Ramsden and Harold Griffiths. (CWGC website)

Visiting John Ewart's grave

John’s grave, visited by his niece and great-nephew, June Dorothy Ewart and Brell Ewart.






His older brother William Shephard also joined up, but not, apparently, until 1918.  Initially he was to go into the RGA, but was transferred to the RAMC.  He survived the war and was able to return to his wife Eliza. (Find My Past)

His younger brother Charles Reginald served in the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and also survived.

Researcher: Peter Taylor, with information from Brell Ewart, great-nephew

Please Note:

  • All opinions and inferences are the researcher’s own.
  • Please refer to our Glossary of Terms for further information on the terms and phrases used in this post.