He didn’t stop to reason, when first the war began But went and did his duty like a soldier and a man But when the last reveille, and when the battle’s won The Maker whom he’s gone to meet will smile and say ‘Well done’.

This poem from the Twitter page ‘World War 1 in Flintshire’ was published in the ‘County Herald’ in 1917 to commemorate the death in February 1916 of Thomas Edward Rogers killed in action while serving with the Royal Welch Fusiliers. It may not be a great work of literature, but like Thomas Rogers there were so many whose loss had caused great sadness, and left so many ‘empty chairs’.

As in previous years my theme this month is that of Remembrance and especially those whose names appear on the Sutton Coldfield War Memorial. I am grateful to all those who contributed to the Sutton Coldfield War Memorial Project. You will note that few of those, whose names appear this year ,were killed in action but were nevertheless casualties of war.

Private Philip Marsh Evans 14th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment

Private Evans lived in Station Road, Wylde Green and enlisted in August 1914. He became ill while in the trenches at La Bassee in November 1916. He rapidly lost over 5 stone in weight and was transferred to Epsom War Hospital in England. He died on 25th November 1916 aged 24. He is buried in Sutton Coldfield Cemetery, not a war grave, and is also commemorated on the St. Michaels Church, Boldmere, Roll of Honour. His brother 2nd Lieutenant Robert Marsh Evans served with the South Staffordshire Regiment.

Driver Ted Dillon Army Service Corps, 513 Horse Transport Company.

Driver Dillon was born in Oldbury but lived in Coles Lane, Sutton Coldfield. He enlisted in Handsworth in October 1914 and at that time he was working as a porter for the Great Western Railway at Handsworth Station. He served in Ireland from 1916 but in February 1917 his Company was transferred to France. He was admitted to the 15th Stationary Hospital in Rouen on 10th May 1918 and died from the effects of ‘clinical dysentery’ on 8th June 1918. He is buried, along with 8,672 others, at the St Sever Cemetery Extension near Rouen.

Sergeant Edward Holbeche M.M. Royal Field Artillery

Sergeant Holbeche had lived in Mere Green, Sutton Coldfield and had worked as a builder’s labourer before he enlisted in January 1915. His unit was in France by September 1917.   According to the Sutton Coldfield News he was awarded his M M in 1917 for rescuing soldiers from dugouts that had been hit by German shellfire. He was gassed in October 1917 and brought back to hospital in England. On his recovery he worked from February 1918 as an Instructor in England. In October 1918 he was taken to Brook War Hospital, Woolwich, where he died from pneumonia. He was buried with full military honours in the Churchyard of St James Church, Hill, Mere Green, Sutton Coldfield.

Private Austin Vernon Coleman RAMC

Private Coleman was 19 when he enlisted in the RAMC in May 1915. He was twice hospitalized with influenza in 1916, but was posted to Salonika in February 1917. He was at the 60th General Hospital, one of three General Hospitals in the Kirechkoi area, a few miles North East of Salonika. He was admitted into the hospital on 18th August 1917 with dysentery, and died there on 17th October 1917. He is buried in the Kirechkoi-Hortakoi Military Cemetery. Many of those buried there were victims of the influenza epidemic of 1918.

Captain Bertram Russell Townley, Indian Army Reserve of Officers, Supply and Transport Corps

Captain Townley was attached to the 7th Persian Rifles and died of influenza on 7th November 1918 at Shiraz. He is buried at Tehran War Cemetery. He was born in Simla, India and attended Bishop Vesey Grammar School between 1904 and 1907. His brother, Second Lieutenant Felix Lionel Townley served with the 14th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was killed on 26th October 1917. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

Second Lieutenant Nathanial Furhmann Clarke R F C (13th Training Squadron)

Although born in New Zealand, 2ND Lt. Clarke was educated in England. He led an adventurous life in Chile working in the Nitrate Fields and as a Railway Manager. He returned to England with his wife In September 1916. He qualified as a pilot with the British Aero Club in March 1917 but was killed in a flying accident on 1st June 1917. He was flying a BE2e with Air Mechanic 1st Class W. Fozard, who was also killed. He had landed in fog to enquire about his position, but when he took off again the plane nosedived into the ground.   He is buried in Sutton Coldfield Town Cemetery, not a war grave, and is also commemorated on the Four Oaks Memorial and the St James Church, Roll of Honour.

Corporal Frederick Henry Cobb 1/6th Battalion Durham Light Infantry.

Prior to enlisting in January 1917 Corporal Cobb had worked as a tailor at his home address, Belwell House, Belwell Lane, Mere Green. Records indicate he initially served with the Welch Regiment. He was posted as missing on 27 May 1918 and I have discovered that his father made an enquiry to the Red Cross in an attempt to locate his son. They were able to inform him that his son had been in hospital but had been transferred to the POW Camp at Quedlinburg. It was later confirmed that Cpl. Cobb had died there on 1st November 1918. All burials at Quedlinburg were layer re-interred at Niederzehren War Cemetery near Cassel in Germany.

The first prisoners had arrived in Quedlinburg in September 1914, and had like at many other camps, to build the barracks themselves. The area, in the Harz Mountains, required the digging of a number of drainage ditches and again this work was done by the prisoners. A total of eight compounds were constructed each containing six wooden barrack huts. These were heated by cast iron stoves. The numbers in the camp were small at first, but by 1917 there were 3,400 prisoners and after March 1918 the total rose to over 18,000. Seven hundred prisoners died at the camp, in the early days largely from wounds, but as the numbers of prisoners increased more died from various infectious diseases.

Ernest Hemming Labour Corps-715Company

Ernest Hemming was born in Kenilworth , but lived off Riland Road in Sutton Coldfield. He enlisted in December 1915 and initially served with the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, and later with the Royal Field Artillery. He was discharged in October 1918 suffering from ‘shell shock’ and no longer fit for active service.

He committed suicide on 8th September 1920, aged 37. He left a widow and five young children. He was given a full military funeral and was buried in Sutton Coldfield Town Cemetery. He had been a postman for 24 years.

I am not aware that any statistics are available for men who committed suicide either during or after the war. I know that there were a large number. It was a difficult task for many to come to terms with their experience as a soldier, and as we all are aware, few were able to talk about it


Richard Lloyd