Private George William Kippen was killed in action in Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) on 5th April 1916, serving with the 9th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He was the eldest of five children born to parents George (born 1861), a gun screwer, and Jane (née Farrington) and he seems to have had rather a difficult life before enlisting in the Army in March 1914. Two of his three brothers are also known to have served in the Armed Forces.
Private Arthur Watton, also with the 9th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, died of wounds on the same day in the same place. The Battalion was mobilised for war in June 1915 and sent to Gallipoli. Owing to severe losses from combat, disease and harsh weather, the Division was evacuated to Mudros and then Egypt in January 1916. On 16th February 1916 the Battalion embarked for Basra from Suez to defend British interests against Turk forces, arriving on 28th February 1916.
Both men are commemorated on the Basra Memorial.
There are discrepancies in some of the sources as regards George William Kippen’s birth, with several sources giving 1887/8, although General Register Office birth indexes suggest 1884. His parents married in Birmingham in 1884, with his father, George, having moved from London to Birmingham between 1871 and 1881, becoming a gun screwer. Tragically, George senior lost his own mother, Ann, in 1871 when he was aged 10. His father, also George (born 1827), remarried in Birmingham in 1885 when he was aged 58, but his second wife died in 1899 and he was then admitted to the Aston Union Workhouse, where he appears on the 1901 census. He died in 1904, aged 76.
His son George’s wife, Jane, died of tuberculosis in the Aston Union Workhouse in 1897 and the family then ended up seeking poor relief. George and Jane’s four youngest children – Frank (15), Harry (11), James (9) and Annie (7) – were all in Marston Green Cottage Homes in 1901. The Homes were established to house children who would otherwise have gone into Birmingham workhouse where it was feared they could come under the bad influence of undesirable adults.
We haven’t been able to find 17-year-old George William, nor his 40-year-old father, George, on the 1901 census. It is possible that George had died by this date, but we haven’t been able to find a death registration. However, court records show that George William was brought before magistrates in January 1902 charged with two counts of sleeping out, and with stealing keys, for which he received 7 days’ in custody. He was arrested again on 6th Nov. 1905, accused of feloniously breaking and entering the warehouse of Charles Bertie Harrison on 4th November 1905 and feloniously stealing therein 1 phonograph, 1 watch, 6 tins of oil, 1 tin of carbide of calcium, 2 bicyle lamps, 1 pair of leggings, the goods of the said Charles Bertie Harrison. He was tried on 22nd January 1906 at Birmingham Quarter Sessions of the Peace, Victoria courts and pleaded guilty. He was sentenced to six calendar months’ hard labour.
He was described in court records as being a turner and 18 years old (although he was actually 21 at the time, which perhaps was an attempt to be treated more leniently). The court also noted that he used several aliases: George Kipper, George Kippen and George William Kipper. He was described as born in Birmingham in 1887, 5ft 1.5 in tall, with a fresh complexion, dark brown hair, brown eyes and having a dot on his left forearm.
Another brush with the law came in 1910. George William Kippen, aged 22, a galvanizer, was received into custody on remand on 20th May 1910. The charge was that at Birmingham on the 20th May 1910 he did feloniously steal one bicycle, the goods of the London and North-Western Railway Company. He pleaded guilty and was sentenced to six months hard labour.
Volume VI (Birmingham) of the National Roll of the Great War mentions him as Pte G. W. Kippen, Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
He enlisted in March 1914 and, shortly after the outbreak of war in the following August, proceeded to the Western Front. After taking part in the Battle of Festubert and many other important engagements he was transferred to the Dardanelles and saw much severe fighting in Gallipoli until the evacuation of the Peninsula. He was then sent to Mesopotamia, and after much active service was killed in action at the Persian Gulf on April 18th 1918. He was entitled to the 1914 Star, and the General Service and Victory Medals. 10 Lennox Street, Hockley, Birmingham.
George William Kippen (recorded as Kipping) is listed on the Marston Green Cottage Homes war memorial, presumably indicating that he was there sometime between 1897 and April 1901 when the census was taken.
Two of his three younger brothers are also known to have served in the Armed Forces.
Frank Kippen enlisted in the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry in March 1902, aged just 14 years 11 months. He was 4ft 9in tall and had a fresh complexion, brown eyes, black hair, with two small scars on left nape of neck. He was declared fit for service and appointed as Bandsman. He became a Private when he attained 18 years. He was discharged on 24th March 1914 having served his first period of engagement. He served in Gibraltar, South Africa and Hong Kong. His next-of-kin was given as his aunt, Annie Hughes of Birmingham. On the 1911 census he was in Hong Kong with the KOYLI, aged 24. He married Amy Laura Mitchinson in Birmingham in 1919, at which time he was a tram driver. He listed his father as George, gun maker (deceased). It looks as Frank died in Birmingham in 1964, aged 78.
James Robert Kippen, the youngest of the four brothers, was born on 24th August 1894. He had emigrated to Canada by the time he enlisted with the Canadian Army at Melita, Manitoba on 31st January 1916, aged 21 years and five months. He gave his brother George as next-of-kin but a note indicated that his brother was in the British Army and to send any communications to the Superintendent of the Marstan [sic] Green Cottage Homes instead.
Arthur Watton was born in Astwood Bank, Inkberrow, Worcestershire in 1885 to parents Enos (a waggoner on a farm) and Lucy (née Webb), who had married in 1880. The couple had 11 children, of whom two had died by 1911. Arthur seems to have been their fourth child and had left the family home by the age of 15, being recorded on the 1901 census at Egioake, Worcestershire, as an ordinary general labourer, living with his 77-year-old widowed grandfather, William Watton (a brickmaker) and 44-year-old unmarried uncle, also William.
We haven’t been able to trace Arthur Watton on the 1911 census, although his parents Enos and Lucy were living with five of their nine surviving children at Holberrow Green, Astwood Bank. Arthur doesn’t seem to have served overseas with the Army until 1916, as his medal index card on Ancestry indicates no entitlement to the 1914 or 1914/15 Star, a medal that was awarded to those who served during 1914/15.
There has been some confusion between this Arthur Watton, born 1885 in Inkberrow, and another man by the same name born in Inkberrow in 1893. The mothers of both men were called Lucy, which added to the difficulties. However, the mother of the Arthur who was born in 1893 had died by 1901 when Arthur was living with his widowed father, Alfred. It’s known that the mother of Pte Arthur Watton, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, was still alive to be recorded as his sole legatee in Register of Soldiers’ Effects, 1916. This would seem to rule out the Arthur born in 1893 as being the soldier who died in 1916.
Enos, the father of the Arthur Watton born in Inkberrow in 1885, died in 1915, which would also explain why his widow, Lucy, was recorded as Arthur’s sole legatee in 1916.
Soldiers Died in the Great War lists Private Watton as being born in Astwood Bank, Worcestershire, living in Earlswood, and enlisting in Stratford-upon-Avon. No evidence has been found regarding his residence in Earlswood, but he is commemorated on war memorials at Tanworth-in-Arden and St Patrick’s Church, Salter Street. He is also commemorated on war memorials at Inkberrow, Feckenham, and Holberrow Green.
If you have any further information about the Kippen or Watton families, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian