13th August 1915

13th August 1915 saw the loss of two men from Castle Bromwich, both serving with the Hampshire Regiment, and one man from Barston/Knowle, serving with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

  • Private Benjamin James Thomas Harris (apparently known as Thomas) serving with the 2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, drowned after H.M.T. Royal Edward was torpedoed whilst transporting Commonwealth troops to Gallipoli. He was 19 years old.
  • Private Alfred Richard Irons was one of three brothers from the Irons family of Castle Bromwich and Yardley to die in the war. He died in Gallipoli, at sea, whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion, Hampshire Regiment, and is also presumed to have been aboard the Royal Edward. He was 18 years old.
  • Private Joseph Williams died of wounds received at Gallipoli whilst serving with the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and is buried at sea.

Private Harris and Private Irons were two of the 207 men and five officers from the Hampshire Regiment who were killed when the Royal Edward became the first troop ship to be torpedoed in the First World War. According to The Times, 18th August 1915, the ship, previously called R.M.S. Cairo, was built on the Clyde in 1907/8 for the Egyptian Mail Steamship Company’s service between Marseilles and Alexandria. After one season the steamer was acquired by Canadian Northern Steamships and refitted for the mail run between Avon and Montreal in the summer months, and to Halifax in the winter months. When war broke out, the ship was requisitioned by the British Government and brought a contingent of Canadian troops to England, as well as being used for the internment of enemy aliens before becoming a troopship.

image of troopship Royal Edward
Her Majesty’s Troopship Royal Edward

The Royal Edward set sail from Avonmouth on 28th July 1915, heading for Gallipoli and carrying troops to reinforce the British 29th Infantry Division. She arrived at Alexandria on 10th August and then set off for the port of Moudras on the island of Lemnos in the North Aegean. The ship was spotted by U-boat commander, Heino von Heimburg, who fired a single torpedo from U-boat U-14, which hit the stern of the Royal Edward, causing the ship to sink in under six minutes. The casualty figures vary but appear to be in the region of 100 crew lost and almost 1000 soldiers, including Private Harris and Private Irons.

Benjamin James Thomas Harris was born in 1896 in Acocks Green. By 1901 his parents, Benjamin (a general labourer born in Yardley) and Edith (born in Knowle), were still living in Acocks Green (at  3 Whitmore Place, Yardley Road). By 1911, the family had moved to Erdington, and Benjamin (senior) was a cowman working on a farm, whilst his son, known as Thomas, was working as a waggoner on a farm. The family had been in Castle Bromwich at least in 1907, when Thomas’s youngest sibling, Harriet, was born. An announcement in the Birmingham Daily Post, 7th September 1915, of Thomas’s death describes him as being the son of Mr & Mrs Harris, of 43 Charles Edward Road, Yardley, late of Castle Bromwich.

He is commemorated on Castle Bromwich war memorial on The Green, but is not included on the memorial tablet in St Mary & St Margaret’s Church.

Soldiers Died in the Great War lists both Private Harris and Private Irons as being formerly of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry, and both dying on the same day “at sea”.

Alfred Richard Irons was born on 26th January 1897, and seems to have been the youngest son of Charles and Lizzie Irons of Castle Bromwich. The couple married on 26th February 1876 at St Peter & St Paul’s Church, Aston. The youngest of the couple’s 15 known children was Gladys Eleanor, born in 1901. The oldest child, Annie Elizabeth, was born in 1877. Altogether, it seems the couple had 18 children (including two sets of twins), of whom 5 had died by 1911. Unfortunately, three of the surviving sons would then die in the First World War. Alfred was the first, followed by George William in 1917, and Edward Arthur in 1919.

The Irons family lived on The Green, Castle Bromwich. Charles was a general labourer, working for Warwickshire County Council as a roadman by the time of the 1911 census when he was a 66-year-old widower. His wife, Lizzie (née White), had died in 1909. The Castle Bromwich war memorial and the memorial tablet in St Mary & St Margaret’s Church record Alfred Richard Irons as F. Irons, suggesting that he was probably known as Fred.

Private Joseph Williams, who was born at Barston, also died at sea. He was serving with the 9th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was aboard the Hospital Ship Valdivia when he died of wounds on 13th August 1915. His parents, Daniel and Mary Ann (née Lee) had married at Great Packington on 16th March 1885, and moved around the areas of Barston, Berkswell, and Kenilworth. Daniel himself was from Hampton-in-Arden.

By 1911, Joseph was working as a farm labourer in Kenilworth. It looks as if he had moved to Knowle by the time of the outbreak of war, as Soldiers Died in the Great War lists him as residing in Knowle at the time of enlistment. He is commemorated at Knowle.

If you have any more information on any of these men or their families, please let us know.

Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

Tel.: 0121 704 6977
email: heritage@solihull.gov.uk

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