This Brumration is being prepared as we move towards the Armistice Commemorations on November 11th. There were so many men who survived until those last 11 days of November 1918 and I aim to reflect on some of the stories of the men who lost their lives in those days. It is also an appropriate time to start to look at the impact of those events and the continuing issues facing those men who survived but whose lives were changed forever. I remain grateful to all those who worked on the Sutton Coldfield Great War Project who published their work in 2014, and who sought to commemorate all those men whose names appear on the Sutton Coldfield War Memorial.
One of the many results of the War was the impact on the many country houses across England and Wales. In the period between the wars many thousands of our country houses were lost forever, some because the heirs to the estate had been killed. One such estate was that at Nanteos, near Aberystwyth. For a family already in financial difficulties this was to be the end of the estate.
Lt. William Edward George Pryse Wynne Powell, 1st. Battalion Welsh Guards, was killed in action near Buvignes on 6th November while in command of the Kings Company. In one of the last actions fought by the Welsh Guards during the War, they had been tasked with capturing the village of Amfroipret and nearby Bavai. William was killed during the attack on Amfroipret and is now buried at Maubege-Centre Cemetery, France. He was 19 and the only son of Captain and Mrs E A L Powell. One of the many obituaries stated: ‘He died as he lived, a true and gallant Welsh gentleman.’ After his father’s death a distant relative took over the house, and following her death the house has become a hotel. I can find only two other men on the Sutton Coldfield Memorial who were killed in action in November 1918.
2ND Lt. Alfred Percy Bower had been commissioned on 30th April 1918 in the 1st Battalion Somerset Light Infantry and had previously served with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was killed in action on 1st November 1918 and is buried at Preseau Communal Cemetery Extension.
2nd Lt. Norman Cleave, 6th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, was killed in action at Mons on 8th November 1918. This was four years and a million British deaths later, but he was killed near the scene of the first action in 1914. He was 21 and had served with the10th Battalion as a Private. He was commissioned in August 1918. He is buried at Malplaquet Communal Cemetery.
Many of these men had families, so that there were not only widows left to grieve but also young children. I have met members from many families where children had never met, or could remember meeting their fathers. Sapper Sidney Harrison, Royal Engineers, 24th Siege Gun Company died on 24th October 1918 and is buried at Delsaux Farm Cemetery Bengny near Bapaume. He had lived in Boldmere Road, Sutton Coldfield and had a wife and four young children, all under seven.
There had been a major offensive at DOIRAN in Salonika in late September 1918, but the two men whose names are on the Sutton Coldfield Memorial died from Malaria and are both buried at Mikra Cemetery, Salonika. Private Thomas Bird, 2ND Battalion, Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was 36 and died on 23rd November 1918. Gunner Walter William Russell died on 21st December 1918 aged 30. A large number VAD’S and Nurses from many different organisations had worked in Salonika, and many died from Typhus. One large hospital at the front dealt solely with Typhus cases.
The major cause of death in November and December among those on the Sutton Coldfield Memorial was pneumonia and influenza. Private William Henry Bird, 17th Lancers had served in France from 1915. He had been home on leave for Christmas 1918, but on his return to France, died from influenza. He is buried in Mazargues Cemetery Extension, Marseilles.
Rifleman Harry Seymour Brown was a Boer War veteran and had re-enlisted in 1915. He served in Egypt but died from influenza in India on 19th November 1918. He was 48 and is buried at Fyzabad Cantonment Cemetery.
Corporal Edward Baguley Markwick 2nd Signal Company Royal Engineers died from pneumonia aged 22 at 45 Casualty Clearing Station on 9th November 1918. He had been in Allerton VAD Hospital, Lichfield Road Sutton Coldfield from February 1917 until March I918 with rheumatic fever. He had been nursed there by his mother, a member of Queen Marys Army Auxiliary Corps. His family who lived at Maney Hill Road, Sutton Coldfield, inscribed on his grave at Awoingt Cemetery, near Cambrai ‘ What more could he Give’.
Many thousands of men had died of their wounds in Hospitals throughout the war but this continued for many years after the war had ended. In the early 1970s I visited a former soldier, wounded in 1917, who had never left hospital. I have to admit to being very upset by what I saw in Somerfield Hospital, a former workhouse. The ward was very long, with rows of beds, and just a cupboard between the beds.
Gunner Arthur Langstone, Royal Field Artillery, was first hospitalized in 1916. He had five operations at Sutton Cottage Hospital, and died in hospital on 13th March 1920.
Private Thomas Greenwood enlisted with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment but was transferred to the Royal Defence Corps. He died in on 1st August 1921, aged 43, at Hollymoor Military Hospital and is buried in Sutton Coldfield Town Cemetery. Private John Salt ,Kings Royal Rifles was wounded on 25th June 1915, he died in a Birmingham Military Hospital on 25th October 1921.
Private Harry Lavelle enlisted with the Lancashire Fusiliers on 10th December 1915, aged 40 and was transferred to the Labour Corps in October 1917. He was diagnosed with a severe form of epilepsy, and died on November 11th 1918, having been discharged as no longer fit for duty. It is believed that his epilepsy could have been the result of a haemorrhage in the brain which could have been caused by a kick from a mule. Harry Lavelle is buried in St James’ Churchyard, Mere Green, Sutton Coldfield.
Harry Lavelle’s son Private Percy Lavelle, Devonshire Regiment , enlisted aged 17 years and 40 days old. He was five foot two inches tall. He arrived in France on 18th May 1917 and whilst allegedly cleaning his rifle shot off the tip of one of his fingers. He was charged with ‘conduct to the prejudice of good military discipline’. Found guilty, he was sentenced to a term of imprisonment. He was transferred to the Royal Engineers as a tunneller on 27 March 1918 but taken prisoner on 26th April 1918. He was apparently at Giessen POW Camp from where he was repatriated via Leith on 1st December 1918. He received a pension of 5/6p a week until at least October 1920. This is interesting as repatriated prisoners were required to stay a few days extra to be assessed for a pension before being sent home. Most repatriated prisoners opted to go home and as a result many lost any entitlement to a pension.
Perhaps Percy Lavelle wanted a ‘blighty wound’ but many others during the war and after intended to commit suicide. Gunner William Collett Goodwin , Royal Garrison Artillery, was gassed and wounded in July 1917 and was still receiving treatment when he was home on leave for Christmas 1918. He was due back on 31ST December but committed suicide at Butlers Lane Station, Four Oaks on December 30th. He is buried in St James’ Churchyard, Mere Green. Private Ernest Hemming, Kings Royal Rifles and Labour Corps, was discharged with Shell Shock in October 1918. He committed suicide in 1920 and was buried with full military honours in Sutton Coldfield Town Cemetery.
This is just a snapshot of the legacy of war, a legacy that was to persist as we lurched towards another conflict twenty years later.