29th April 1917

Two local men lost their lives in France on 29th April 1917, Private Elliott Spencer, “B” Company, 11th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment, and Private Francis Edward Thornley, 13th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

Elliott Spencer was born in Welland, Upton-upon-Severn, Worcestershire in 1876 and was the youngest of the six children born to parents John (a blacksmith) and Ann (née Draper) who had married in Upton-upon-Severn in 1860. Elliott became a bricklayer, and lived in Welland until at least 1901, moving to Olton sometime between 1901-1905. His brother, George John (born 1865) had moved to Lyndon End by 1901 and was working there as a blacksmith so it is possible that Elliott moved to the area to join his brother. Another brother, Ellis (1872-1935) also become a blacksmith and was working in Wribbenhall, Worcestershire in 1911. The boys’ father died in Welland in August 1901 and their mother continued to live there until her death in 1915.

Elliott Spencer (circled) on a charabanc outing

Elliott married Caroline Pritchard at St Alphege Church on 30th September 1905, at which time the couple were living at Ulverley Green, Olton. They went on to have three children: Kathleen (1906-1978); Evelyn (1909-1929) and Norman Elliott (1910-1983). After her husband’s death, his widow, Caroline, went on to marry again in 1919. She then had two children with her second husband, Richard Hoare, and she died in Olton in 1948.

Pte Elliott Spencer

We don’t know when Elliott enlisted but it seems that he didn’t see overseas service before 1916. He was originally posted as missing, but then presumed killed in action on or around 29th April 1917. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. He is also commemorated locally on the war memorial in St Margaret’s Church, Olton.

Caroline Spencer (née Pritchard)

It seems that Elliott’s 19-year-old nephew, Lugard Douglas Boswell, was killed in action at Gallipoli in August 1915, serving as a Private with the Worcestershire Regiment. Lugard was the son of Elliott’s sister, Blanche (1863-1909) – his father died when Lugard was only three years old, and then his mother died of cancer when he was 13. Further information is on the Malvern Remembers site.

Francis Edward Thornley was born in Yardley in 1881. His father, Samuel, was a varnish manufacturer and a Director of the Birmingham firm Thornley & Knight Ltd, which had been established by Samuel’s grandfather (also Samuel) in 1797. Francis’ eldest brother, Samuel Kerr Thornley (1871-1947) became a joint Managing Director of the firm with their father in 1903. It looks as if Francis and another brother, John Harold Thornley (1873-1937) were also working for the company by 1911.

We don’t know when Francis enlisted in the Army, but he didn’t see any overseas service before 1916. His older brother Samuel is known to have served on the home front in the Warwickshire Motor Volunteer Corps, being gazetted temporary Captain in May 1918.

Francis was one of eight children, two of whom had died by 1911. Of the six surviving children, only one – Samuel Kerr Thornley – is known to have married. He married Edith Pullen in 1905 and they had two sons and two daughters. The youngest son, David Kerr Thornley (1918-2002), who never married, was the last member of five generations of Thornleys to be a Director of Thornley & Knight (the company was sold to Croda International in the 1970s).

Francis was killed in action and is buried at Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez. He is also commemorated locally on war memorials at Bickenhill and Yardley. We don’t know his exact connection with Bickenhill so, if you have any further information, please contact us.

Heritage & Local Studies Librarian

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

One thought on “29th April 1917

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  1. Elliott Spencer was my great grandfather. His daughter Kath was my gran and she married Walter Jones and had my mum Gwen Jones.

    According to his memorial my great grandfather Elliott Spencer enlisted in the 11th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. They went to France in 1915 as part of the 37th Division of the Third Army.

    In 1917 they fought the Battle of Arras under General Allenby, he of subsequent Lawrence Of Arabia fame.

    On the 28th and 29th of April 1917 a phase of the Arras offensive known as the Battle Of Arleux was fought. The 37th were part of that offensive and Elliott died on the 29th. I suspect that this is where he fell.

    From Wikipedia
    ‘British and Canadian troops launched an attack towards Arleux on 28 April. Arleux was captured by Canadian troops with relative ease but the British troops advancing on Gavrelle met stiffer resistance. The village was secured by early evening but when a German counter-attack forced a brief retreat, elements of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division were brought up as reinforcements and the village was held. Subsequent attacks on 29 April failed to capture more ground. The attacks achieved the limited objective of securing the Canadian position on Vimy Ridge but casualties were high and the result was disappointing.’

    Gavrelle is a village about 10 kilometres east-north-east of Arras on the road to Douai. Chili Trench Cemetery is 1.5 kilometres south-east of the village on the north-east side of the secondary road to Fampoux. The cemetery contains 196 burials and commemorations of the First World War. 19 of the burials are unidentified and 86 graves destroyed by shell fire are now represented by special memorials. The cemetery was initially constructed by units of the 37th Division during April and May of 1917. It’s not unreasonable to think that one of those unknown soldiers might be him.

    And then I stumbled upon this piece in Solihull Life. I now know more about my ancestors than I ever thought I would!

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