8th May 1915

8th May 1915 saw the deaths of two men with a connection to places now in the Solihull Borough:

  • Private Harry Betts, 8th Battalion, Australian Infantry (previously of Castle Bromwich)
  • Major John Cecil Lancaster, 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment (member of the North Warwickshire Hunt)

On 10th April 1914 19-year-old Harry Betts from Castle Bromwich set sail  for a new life in Australia. He was one of 877 passengers aboard the Commonwealth and Dominion Line steam ship “Indrapura” which left London for Melbourne. Harry’s civilian life in Australia was to last for only six months, as he enlisted into the Australian Expeditionary Force on 8th October 1914, and underwent basic training at Broadmeadows Camp, Melbourne.

He left his new country with the 8th Battalion aboard His Majesty’s Australian Transport (HMAT) ship A 46 “Clan McGillivray”, on 5th April 1915.  The ship arrived at Lemnos Island and anchored in Mudros harbour on 11th April, and the troops spent 20 days confined to the ship until setting sail with the invasion fleet at 5.30pm on 24th April, landing at Anzac Cove and digging in along Bolton’s Ridge.

On the evening of 8th May 1915, Private Harry Betts, with the rest of his comrades of ‘C’ Company, and those in ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies, were sent up to the firing line as reinforcements for the 6th Battalion. During the ensuing 2nd Battle of Krithia, 38 men of the 8th Battalion were killed, including 20-year-old Harry Betts. Further details of the action are on the Great War Forum website.

Described in the “Indrapura’s” passenger list as a “farm student”, Harry had previously worked in Castle Bromwich as a labourer for the Midland Railway, as had his late father and some of his three brothers. The family lived at 2 Station Cottages, Castle Bromwich, although Harry had been born in Maxstoke, and his parents were from Fillongley and Packington respectively. Harry’s parents, William Betts and Mary Ann Pegg married at Packington on 7th March 1892. William was a 27-year-old labourer, the son of John Betts, labourer. His bride was aged 25 and the daughter of Thomas Pegg, coachman. Their first child, Samuel John (known as John), was born in Packington in 1893 but the family had moved to Maxstoke by the time of Harry’s birth in 1895.

By 1901, the parents and their four surviving sons were at Station Cottages, Castle Bromwich, where they remained until sometime after William’s death in 1913 at the age of 48. When Harry joined the Australian Infantry in October 1914, he gave his mother as his next of kin, and listed her address as Station Cottages. Harry’s service record (freely available on the Discovering Anzacs website) was subsequently updated with his mother’s changes of address, and her remarriage (at Aston, to Jesse Congreave, in 1917). By the early 1920s, Mary Ann had moved with her husband to Nottingham, and Harry’s name is actually included on the Nottinghamshire virtual war memorial. After Harry’s death, the Birmingham Daily Mail of 14th September 1915 carried an appeal to trace Harry’s relatives:

Sergeant W. E. Elliott (1036), “C” Company 8th Battalion, “A” Ward, Schools, 4th London General Hospital, Denmark Hill, is anxious to get in touch with relatives of Harry Betts, 3rd reinforcement 8th Battalion Australian Expeditionary Force, who was killed in Gallipoli on May 8th. They are believed to be residing in or near Birmingham, and Sergeant Elliott has some belongings of the deceased he would like to hand over.

It’s not known what the belongings were, nor whether the appeal for relatives was successful, although his mother would have been in the Birmingham area in 1915. Harry’s service record includes details of a small brown paper parcel of his effects (a damaged watch, chain, pencil, and a letter), which was sent to his mother. She also received the next-of-kin memorial plaque and scroll, and Harry’s medals. Although it would seem that Harry’s mother had moved to Nottinghamshire by the time the Castle Bromwich War Memorial was erected on a site overlooking The Green, his name was recorded on the memorial.

If you have any more information about Harry Betts, or his family from Castle Bromwich, please let us know.

Major John Cecil Lancaster, 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, was posted as missing on or around 8th May 1915 at Ypres, Belgium and it wasn’t until some 17 months later, in October 1916, that he was officially presumed killed. He was born at Rugby on 23rd May 1874, so was less than two weeks away from his 41st birthday when he was killed.

Tragically, his only brother, James, was killed on the very same day, serving as a Captain with the 3rd Battalion (Territorial) Monmouthshire Regiment. The two brothers died fairly close to each other, near Frezenberg Ridge, despite serving in different units.

John lived at Allesley, Warwickshire and was the eldest of the two sons and three daughters born to parents Robert (a barrister who died in 1882) and Euphemia (died 1922). John followed in his father’s footsteps to become a barrister and was called to the Bar, Inner Temple on 18th November 1901. He had graduated from Trinity College, Cambridge in 1896 and was gazetted Lieutenant in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (Territorial) 1899, serving in the Boer War and being gazetted Captain in 1902. He went to the Front in October 1914, seeing much active service before his death.

John has a grave at Oosttaverne Wood Cemetery, whilst his brother is commemorated on the Menin Gate memorial to the missing. Unpublished research by the late Alan Tucker suggests that maybe it is John’s name that should be on the memorial. Both brothers are also commemorated on the war memorial at St Mark’s Mission Church, Bestwood, Nottinghamshire, as a result of their family owning the Bestwood Iron and Coal Co. there.

John’s local connection is that he was a member of the North Warwickshire Hunt, which met at Meriden Hall and hunted the northern part of the county from 1853 until it was disbanded in 1985. In his will, John Cecil Lancaster left a bequest of £200 to Hunt Servants’ Benefit Society.

Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk
tel.: 0121 704 6934

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