11th April 1917

Four local men lost their lives on 11th April 1917 whilst serving in France: Lance Corporal William Henry Austin, 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment; Private Colin Clews, 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment;  Private Albert Perks, 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment; Private Arthur Henry Pool, 16th Battalion, Canadian Infantry (Manitoba Regt).

Three of those killed were serving with the 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment and died during the Battle of Arras. “A” and “C” companies of 1st Battalion Royal Warwicks had the task of attacking a 1000-yard front, with “B” company following and acting as carriers. At noon on 11th April the 1/Royal Irish Fusiliers and the 2/Seaforths attacked behind a creeping barrage onto the exposed ground swept by machine guns and ten minutes later the Warwicks followed behind the Fusiliers. The day was very cold, with snow, and there were many battalion casualties in the assembly position where there was no cover from heavy German shelling. In writing up a narrative of events three days later, Major Lacon reported that he considered the failure of the attack to be partly due to the fact that they were in view of the enemy practically the whole time. (Information from unpublished research by the late Alan Tucker).

William Henry Austin was born in Rocester, Staffordshire, on 7th July 1895. He was the second of the four sons of parents Thomas (a coachman) and Sarah Ann (née Bennett) who had married at Studley, Warwickshire in 1889. By September 1890, they were living in Davenham, Cheshire, moving to Rocester by 1895 and remaining there until at least 1901. By 1905 they had moved to Worcestershire, where Sarah Ann died, aged 43, in 1908, leaving Thomas to look after their four sons who were aged between two and 18. Thomas married Mary Ann Wimlett in 1909 and, by 1911, they were living in Redditch.

We don’t know the exact local connection of the Austin family, but it seems that William and his brother, (Arthur) Frederick (1898-1969) had moved to Dorridge by 1915, as the parish magazine of February 1915 notes “W. and F. Austin are in the services”. Private William Austin is commemorated on Dorridge War Memorial. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Colin Clews was born at Hatton, Warwickshire in 1884, and baptised at Holy Trinity Church on 21st September 1884. He was the second of the 12 children known to have been born to parents William (a farm labourer) and Ellen (née Bryan) who married at Rowington in 1883.

By 1901, 16-year-old Colin had left home and moved to Blossomfield, Solihull, where he was living on a farm and working as a milkman. By 1911, he had changed jobs and was working for the Great Western Railway (GWR) as a plate layer. He was recorded, aged 26, as the head of the household and was living in Danzey Green with his mother, six of his siblings, plus a baby niece and nephew. His mother, Ellen, was listed as a widow but, in fact, it appears that her husband William was actually a patient in Hatton Asylum.

On the outbreak of war, Colin volunteered for the Army, and first entered a theatre of war in July 1915. He is buried at Brown’s Copse Cemetery, Roeux and is also commemorated locally at Tanworth-in-Arden and Ullenhall.

Albert Perks was born in Shirley in 1887 and was the sixth of the nine known children (seven sons, two daughters) of parents George (a farm labourer) and Sarah (née Smith). The family seem to have remained in Shirley for many years. Albert became a carter and, in 1911, aged 24, was living in the family home on Stratford Road.

He volunteered for the Army and first saw overseas service on 1st June 1915. Three of his brothers are also known to have served in the Armed Forces, two of whom survived.  Ernest (born 1880) was called up in January 1917 and served as a Sapper with the Royal Engineers Inland Waterways until he was demobbed in 1919. William Henry Perks (1884-1961) also served with the Royal Warwicks. Youngest brother, Frederick died two weeks after Albert.

Albert has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. He is also commemorated locally on Shirley War Memorial.

Arthur Henry Pool was born in Sparkbrook, Birmingham on 19th August 1893. He was the only son of parents Joseph Henry and Bertha Elizabeth (née Biehl). His younger sister, Irene Catherine, was born in 1900 and, in 1901, they were all living in Yardley Wood. The whole family emigrated to Canada in 1907, sailing from Liverpool aboard the Tunisian.

Arthur enlisted in the Canadian Infantry on 11th November 1915, aged 22, giving his occupation as a farmer. Whilst taking part in an attack on 11th April, an enemy shell exploded close to him and he was severely wounded by shrapnel. He was given immediate attention and taken to No. 6 Casualty Clearing Station where he died the same day. He is buried in Barlin Communal Cemetery Extension, France and he is also commemorated on the war memorial at Shirley. We don’t know what the family connection was with the village, but the assumption is that the family lived there sometime between 1901-1907.

If you have any further information on any of these men, please let us know.

Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

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

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