Three local men are recorded as having been killed on 21st September 1917, the second day of the Battle of Menin Road Ridge: Private Arthur Paget, 10th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment; Private William Skidmore, 8th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment; Lance Corporal Thomas Wells, 12th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment.
Arthur Paget was born in Wroxall in 1881, just before his parents, Alfred (a carpenter) and Ann (née Baker) moved from Wroxall to Shrewley. The couple had married at St Paul’s, Warwick on 12th February 1865 and had 14 children (eight sons, six daughters), of whom three had died by 1911. Arthur was the couple’s 11th child.
Father, Alfred, died in 1896, aged 55, when youngest child, Amy (1889-1977) would have been seven years old.
The family moved from Shrewley to Chadwick Lane, Balsall between 1881 and 1891, and then to Stratford Road, Hockley Heath between 1901 and 1911. By the time he was 20, in 1901, Arthur had become a house painter. We don’t know when he enlisted but it seems that he didn’t see any overseas service before 1916.
One of his brothers is also known to have served. Older brother, Francis (born 1878), became a teacher and, at the age of 22 years, eight months, joined the Corps of Army Schoolmasters in 1900 for an initial term of 12 years. He had previously been a student at Saltley College, Birmingham and had also taught at the National School, Temple Balsall. He was eventually discharged in April 1919, having served in various Garrison Schools, including in Portsmouth (1901), Sheerness (1902), Gravesend (1903), Shoeburyness (1904), Ceylon (1904-1908), Shornecliffe 1909, and Dunblane, 1910. It seems his final station was in Worcester and he received a testimonial praising his work: “During the time School Master Paget was stationed at the Depot of the Worcestershire Regiment he performed his duties most satisfactorily in every way. He was most popular with the boys under his charge. “
Private Arthur Paget has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. He is also commemorated locally on war memorials at Hockley Heath and Knowle.
William Skidmore was born at Kineton Green, Olton, and died on 21st September, 1917, just two weeks after older brother Charles James died of wounds. Charles was also born in Olton, as was one of the boys’ sisters – Florence Edith (born 1894). Two older sisters – Sarah (born 1887) and Ellen Catherine (1888-1969) – were born in Solihull.
William and Charles both became gardeners and, by 1911, both were living in Shirley with their sister, Lucy (1882-1959), and her husband, William Henry George. Three younger sisters – Ellen Catherine, Florence Edith, and Sybil (born 1904) – were living with parents, Frederick William and Ellen.
The oldest of the surviving brothers, Frederick Charles (born 1881), served in the regular Army. He first joined the 5th Militia Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, before enlisting with the Border Regiment on 30th August 1889. He served in India 1901-1904 and in South Africa during 1904-1907 before being discharged in 1911.
We don’t know when William enlisted in the Army but he didn’t see overseas service before 1916. Soldiers Died in the Great War indicates that he previously served with the Royal West Kent Regiment prior to transfer to the Gloucestershire Regiment.
He was killed in action on 21st September 1917 and, having no known grave, is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial. He is also commemorated, along with his brother, Charles, on the Shirley war memorial.
Former butler, Thomas Wells, enlisted at Putney on 19th December 1916, aged 31. He was born in Berkswell in 1884 and registered as Tom Wells. He was baptised at St John Baptist church, Berkswell, on 28th December 1884 and was the only son of parents, Thomas (a labourer) and Lydia, who also had two daughters (Edith (1887-1960) and Nellie (born 1890). Both girls were born in Aston. It looks as if Thomas (senior) died in 1892, aged 69.
Even before the death of Thomas (senior) it looks as if the family had been split up. In 1891, six-year-old Tom was living in Berkswell with his paternal grandparents, whilst his mother and her two daughters were in Meriden. By 1901, 16-year-old Tom was a page boy at Coleshill Hall (described as “The Mansion”, Coleshill on the census return), which was the home of Mari Wingfield Digby. He obviously rose quickly through the servant ranks, as by 1911, he was a footman, working in Park Lane, London W1 for German-born merchant, Friedrich Eckstein. When Tom volunteered for the Army in December 1915, he was aged 31, and a butler in Hackney.
On 5th April 1916, less than a month before he was posted to France, he married Blanche Winifred Phillips at St Luke’s Church, Chelsea. In October the same year, he was appointed unpaid Lance-Corporal. He was initially posted missing, and then declared presumed killed on 21st September 1917, owing to the amount of time lapsed.
Thomas Wells is buried at Bedford House Cemetery, Belgium. Although he was born in Berkswell and lived in Meriden as a child, he isn’t commemorated on any local war memorials in the area.
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