31st July 1917

Four local men lost their lives on 31st July 1917, the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres (also known as Passchendaele, after the surrounding village and ridge). The offensive lasted until the village was taken on 6th November 1917, at a cost of some 310,000 British casualties, and over 260,000 German casualties.

Our local casualties on the first day, the Battle of Pilckem Ridge were:

  • Captain Eric Belfield, 4th Battalion, Middlesex Regiment
  • Private Rudolph Lawley, 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment
  • Private Joseph James Lines, 10th Battalion, Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment)
  • Private Joseph Savage, 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards

Having no known grave, all of them are commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial

Eric Belfield was born in Moseley, Birmingham on 10th July 1891. He was the eldest of the three sons of parents Edwin (an auctioneer and accountant) and Ellen (née Allday) who had married at Kings Norton in 1890.

This was Edwin’s second marriage – he married his first wife, Ellen MacKarsie in Derbyshire in 1870 and had six children with her before she died, aged 37, on 28th December 1882. The children were: Margaret Ellen (born 1871), Frederick William (born 1873), Charles Edwin (1876-1949), Ernest Mackarsie (1878-1931), Winifred Mackarsie (1880-1885), Percival Mackarsie (born 1881). The family had moved from Belper to Chesterfield by 1878. According to the Derbyshire Times and Chesterfield Herald 8th June 1878, the move took place so that Mr Belfield could be in more direct communication with clients of his business, Messrs Belfield & Lander, accountants and auditors.


Captain Eric Belfield
Captain Eric Belfield © IWM (HU 113623)

In 1901, nine-year-old Eric was a boarder at Walden House School, Herne Bay, Kent, while his parents were living in Finchley, London with his two younger brothers, Edwin Guy (1895-1943) and George Gordon (1897-1971). Both brothers also served as officers in the First World War – Edwin as a Lieutenant in the Royal Field Artillery, and George as a Lieutenant in the Warwickshire Yeomanry. Their parents had both died by this time – their mother, Ellen, died in 1902, and their father, Edwin, in 1910.

In 1909, aged 17 and living in Finchley, London, Eric enlisted in the Honorable Artillery Company, which had become part of the new Territorial Force in 1907. By April 1911, Eric was working in Finchley as an articled pupil to an architect. He resigned from the Honorable Artillery Company in October 1911 but, by June 1912 was confirmed in the rank of Second Lieutenant with the Special Reserve of Officers, serving with the 6th Battalion The Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex Regiment).

He was listed as living in Chatham,Kent by February 1917, when he married Valerie Ermyntrude Morris of Swansea, at St James’ Church, Swansea. She was the daughter of Sir Robert Armine Morris, 4th Baron of Clasemont of Sketty Park, Glamorgan. An announcement of their marriage in Cambria Daily Leader 20th February 1917 noted that Captain Belfield “has seen a good deal of active service during which he has been twice wounded and once gassed.”

It seems that the newlyweds set up home in Olton, at The Croft, St Bernard’s Road as this was the address given in probate records after Captain Belfield was killed. He is commemorated locally on the war memorial at St Margaret’s Church, Olton.

Rudolph Lawley was born in Balsall Heath in 1896 and was the second son of parents, Thomas (a hairdresser) and Ada Clara, to be killed. His older brother, William John Lawley, had been killed in action on 30th July 1916, almost exactly a year before Rudolph died. The boys had two sisters, Barbara (1890-1931) and Dorothy (born 1899).

Sometime between 1901-1911 the family moved to Cambridge Villa, Longmore Road, Shirley. William followed his father into the hairdressing business but we don’t know what trade Rudolph adopted as no occupation is listed for him, aged 15, on the 1911 census, and it seems that his service record has not survived. It doesn’t appear that he saw any overseas service before 1916, although Soldiers Died in the Great War notes that he enlisted in Birmingham and initially served with the Gloucestershire Regiment.

By 1917, when Rudolph was killed, his parents had moved to Stratford Road, Shirley. Rudolph and his brother are commemorated locally on Shirley War Memorial.

Joseph James Lines was born in Solihull in 1890 and was baptised at St Alphege Church with his twin brother Herbert Thomas Lines, on 5th April 1890. The boys were the eldest of the four children of parents Thomas (a labourer and, later, a coal merchant) and Ann Louisa (née Busby) who had married at St Alphege Church on 13th May 1889. Their siblings were Edward Beale Lines (1898-1972) and Phyllis Dorothy Lines (1903-1984).

Joseph became a painter and married Emmie Lizzie Palfreyman at St Alphege Church on 27th December 1913. The couple set up home in Leeds, where their daughters Louisa Ann and Mary were born in 1915 and 1916 respectively. Tragically, both girls died young – Louisa died in 1922, aged 7, and Mary died in 1939, aged 22. Their mother continued to live in Leeds until at least 1939, and died, aged 72, in the Wakefield area.

Joseph joined the Army in November 1916, presumably having been called up for service. He remained in England until embarking for France on 3rd July 1917, just a few weeks before being killed in action. Despite being born in Solihull and living there until at least the age of 20, his name is not included on the Solihull war memorial, nor does he appear to be listed on the war memorial in Hunslet, Leeds, where he was living when he enlisted. His twin brother, Herbert, is believed to have served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment but he survived the war and died in Birmingham in 1952, aged 62.

The brothers’ first cousin, was (Roland) Charles Lines MBE (1913-2000), who went on to become a well-known local historian.

Joseph Savage was born in Hampton-in-Arden on 26th July 1894 and lived in the village all of his life. He was the eldest of the two children of parents Joseph (a railway platelayer) and Eliza (née Cheetham) who had married at St Martin’s Church, Birmingham on 11th September 1893. This was Eliza’s second marriage, her first husband, George Bernard Sloane (1854-1889) having died 10 years after their marriage.

Joseph attended Hampton-in-Arden School and, in 1906, was awarded a Minor Scholarship from Warwickshire County Council, amounting to £12 15s. On 19th September 1910, Joseph joined the London & North Western Railway (L&NWR) as an apprentice. At the time of the 1911 census, he was recorded as a clerk in the railway booking office. He was living in Railway Cottages, Hampton-in-Arden,with his parents and younger brother, William, a 15-year-old wood sawyer. Railway employment records note that Joseph was transferred to Coventry Joint parcels on 5th July 1912.

His service record doesn’t appear to have survived, and we don’t know when he enlisted, although it seems he didn’t see overseas service before 1916. He was initially posted wounded and missing on 31st July 1917, and later presumed killed on that date. Tragically, his brother, William, was also killed just over two months later.

Joseph and William Savage are both commemorated on Hampton-in-Arden war memorial.

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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