21st March 1918

Nine local men lost their lives on the first day of the German Spring Offensive (Operation Michael), which saw British troops subjected to one of the longest artillery bombardments of the war. Lasting for five hours from 4:20am, the barrage of over one million artillery shells smashed vital communication lines, and was followed by waves of elite German troops coming over No Man’s Land, which was shrouded in thick fog.  The Germans made swift and significant gains, with the British suffering some 50,000 casualties. British troops were ordered to withdraw, giving up much of the Somme region. However, it was not a decisive defeat, and the British were able to establish new lines of defence, whilst the rapid advance caused German supply lines to become overextended.

The local casualties were:


Gunner Thomas William McKenzie Bradley, Royal Garrison Artillery

Lance Corporal Francis Charles Cecil Ferrers, 2nd/6th Bn. Lancashire Fusiliers

  • Private William Gardner, 2nd/6th Bn. Royal Warwickshire Regiment
  • Private Thomas Hicken, 7th Bn. Leicestershire Regiment
  • Second Lieutenant Horace Jackson, 16th Coy. Machine Gun Corps
  • Private Ernest William Neal, 10th Bn. Royal Warwickshire Regiment
  • Second Lieutenant Edward Saxelby Pearce, 2nd/7th Bn. Worcestershire Regiment
  • Private Wilfred Robert Sutton, 2nd South Midland Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps
  • Private Sidney Worrod, 2nd/4th Bn. Royal Berkshire Regiment

  • Thomas William McKenzie Bradley was born in Meopham, Kent on 21st July 1896 and was the only son of parents William McKenzie Bradley (formerly engaged in the tea industry in India) and Augusta Lucy (née Johnson). He had two sisters – Lucy Alice (1888-1929) and Mary Frances (1894-1970).

    On his return to England, William McKenzie Bradley bought an estate in Meopham and established one of the finest herds of Jersey cattle in England. In 1913, he purchased the farm of Greenfields, Horley, Surrey because “he and his son loved farming” and he turned to poultry farming.

    His son attended Packwood Haugh preparatory school from 1904-1910, when he left to go to Charterhouse, where he was a boarder 1910-1912. After leaving school, he undertook a course at Harper Adams Agricultural College, Newport, Shropshire. He gave his occupation as “farm labourer” when he enlisted in the Army in February 1916, presumably meaning an assistant to his “gentleman farmer” father.

    Thomas was posted to the Reserves before being mobilised in May 1916. He was killed by a shell whilst serving the gun, remaining at his post until the last. His commanding officer wrote to his mother that “he was a very keen and reliable soldier in every respect and loved by all his comrades… I am sorry to say that hut in which he had lived was blown away by shell fire, consequently none of his effects could be found”.

    His father died on 5th August 1917 so was spared the knowledge of the death of his only son. His mother suffered the loss of both her husband and her son within a little over six months.

    He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial, as well as on the war memorial in St Bartholomew’s Church, Horley. He is also commemorated at Packwood Haugh and Charterhouse schools.

    Also commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial is Francis Charles Cecil Ferrers, who was born in Shropshire on 23rd August 1882. His birth was registered under the surname Croxon, but changed to Ferrers by Royal Licence in 1885 after his father, Henry Ferrers Croxon, inherited Baddesley Clinton house on the death of his uncle, Marmion Edward Ferrers, the previous year.

    Francis served as a Captain in the 4th (Volunteer) Battalion, South Wales Borderers from 1901 until 1908. In 1912, he married Muriel Norton Hallimond (1888-1974) in London, and their daughter, Diana Beatrice Louise (1913-1993) was born in her mother’s home country of South Africa.

    Francis was gazetted Temporary Lieutenant with the Royal Engineers in September 1915, and arrived in France on 25th October 1915. However, he was discharged from the army due to mild epilepsy on 13th January 1916. Being determined to fight for his country, he re-enlisted as a private soldier and went to France in November 1917.

    He is commemorated on war memorials at Storrington, Sussex (where he lived) and Baddesley Clinton.

    Private William Gardner also has no known grave and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial. His younger brother, John, died on 21st May 1917. William was born at Temple Balsall on 30th March 1892 and followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a farm labourer. The family lived at Fen End from at least 1901 until at least 1911.

    William must have volunteered for the Army, rather than being conscripted, as he first entered a Theatre of War on 18th July 1915, having enlisted in Coventry.  According to Soldiers Died in the Great War, his residence was the hamlet of Far Cotton, in the parish of Hardingstone, Northamptonshire.

    In 1917, William married Agnes Hunter at Hardingstone, and their only child, William Edward Gardner was born there on 22nd September 1918, six months after his father’s death. Private William Gardner is commemorated on war memorials at Temple Balsall and at St Mary’s Church, Far Cottons.

    Agnes married again in 1919, and lived in Wednesbury, Staffordshire with her son and her second husband, Frederick Sharman (1891-1956), with whom she had four children. She died in 1961, aged 68.

    Private Thomas Hicken also has no known grave and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial. He was born in 1890 in Nuthurst-cum-Hockley-Heath, and was the third of the five children (three boys, two girls) of parents John (a carter) and Jane (née Turner) who had married in 1885. Youngest brother, William, died in 1908, aged 12, and is buried at Umberslade Baptist Church.

    Thomas became a gardener and, in 1911, was working at Purley Chase garden, Mancetter, near Atherstone. It seems that by the time he enlisted in the Army at Coalville he was living in Market Bosworth, Leicestershire.

    He is commemorated locally on war memorials at Hockley Heath, Umberslade Baptis Church, and St Thomas’s Church, Hockley Heath. He is also mentioned on the gravestone of his brother, William as Corporal Thomas Hicken, killed in action France, March 21 1918, aged 27.

    Horace Jackson was born in Solihull in 1897 and was the elder of the two sons of Walter (a silversmith who ran the Birmingham firm Villers & Jackson) and Alice Elizabeth (née Gardner) who had married in 1896. Walter was a widower and his first wife, Catherine, had died in Solihull in 1895.

    Horace joined the Machine Gun Corps as a Private and first saw overseas service on 2nd October 1916. He was commissioned Second Lieutenant on 6th July 1917.

    He is buried at Potijze Chateau Grounds Cemetery and is commemorated locally on Solihull war memorial. He is also commemorated on a stained glass window on the north wall of the north aisle in St Alphege Church, Solihull. Solihull Parish Magazine, April 1921, notes that the window was the gift of his father, Walter, and was the design and work of Hardman, Powell and Co., with one light representing St George, Patron Saint of England, and the other St Louis of France.

    Horace’s brother, Sidney Jackson (born 20th April 1900), became a chartered accountant and a Director of the family firm, and died in Surrey in 1994, aged 93.

    Ernest William Neal (recorded in some records as Neale) was born in Copt Heath in 1898 and was the fifth of the seven children of parents George (a labourer) and Mary Ann (née Duffin) who had married in Lapworth in 1890. One of the children, Kathleen died in 1897, aged eight months.

    Ernest became a groundsman at Copt Heath Golf Club before enlisting in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment at Warwick. He was killed in action and has no known grave but is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. He is also commemorated at the Soldier’s Chapel, Knowle and on the Solihull war memorial, as well as on the roll of honour at Copt Heath Golf Club.

    Also commemorated on the Arras Memorial is Second Lieutenant Edward Saxelby Pearce who was born in Solihull in 1893 and baptised at St Alphege Church on 6th April 1893. His father, Edward Henry Pearce was a leaded glass merchant and manufacturer, and was Managing Director of William Pearce Ltd of Bridge Street, Birmingham, described in a newspaper article of 1911 as “a well-known firm… whose artistic stained glass window work is known throughout the world.”

    Edward Henry Pearce married Mary Elizabeth Saxelby at St Alphege Church, Solihull on 26th April 1885 and the couple went on to have three children. Their eldest son, Alphege William Pearce (1887-1946) was born on 19th April, the feast day of St Alphege, no doubt the reason for his uncommon first name. Their second child, Doris Mary Pearce (1888-1981) was listed on the 1911 census as medical student, but was recorded as a housewife by 1939.

    Edward Henry Pearce died on 16th January 1901 at the family home, “Northmede”, Station Road, Solihull. aged 49. After his death, the family moved to “Sydnal”, Hampton Road, Solihull.

    Youngest son, Edward Saxelby Pearce, was educated at Packwood Haugh preparatory school 1905-1907, before going onto Clifton College, where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps. After leaving school in 1910, he spent time in South Africa, but was working for the family firm in Birmingham when war broke out. He joined the Warwickshire Yeomanry on 7th August 1914 as a Private, being posted to Egypt in April 1915 and then Gallipoli in August 1915. He was invalided home with enteric fever in January 1916 and commissioned Second Lieutenant with the Worcestershire Regiment in October 1916. He was listed in Solihull Parish Magazine of April 1917 as wounded. He returned to the Front in December 1917, three months before he was killed in action at Cambrai.

    He is commemorated locally on Solihull war memorial as well at Packwood Haugh and Clifton College. He is also commemorated in an individual plaque at St Alphege Church, erected by his mother and sister, underneath a window erected in memory of his father, who had been a churchwarden at St Alphege.

    Private Wilfred Robert Sutton has no known grave and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial.

    Private Wilfred Robert Sutton 437315
    Private Wilfred Robert Sutton 437315© IWM (HU 118789)

    He was born in Erdington, Birmingham on 8th April 1895, and was the third child and the eldest son of the known nine children (six sons, three daughters) of parents William Josiah Sutton (jeweller) and his wife Anna (née Plant) who had married in 1895. The couple had a tenth child who had died by 1911, at which time they were living at “The Dargle”, Birmingham Road, Solihull. They were still at this address in April 1918 but had moved to Hilton Manor, Bridgnorth, Shropshire by March 1919.

    The family was Roman Catholic and Wilfred was educated at Ratcliffe College, Leicestershire, a Catholic boarding and day college. After the outbreak of war he enlisted in the Royal Army Medical Corps on 3rd December 1914 and was embodied into the 2nd South Midland Divisional Field Ambulance on the same day, aged 19 years and eight months old. Embarking from Southampton, he arrived at Le Havre on 24th March 1915. He was hospitalised on several occasions: in August 1915, suffering from Pyrexia; in September 1916 with Trench Fever; problems with his left heel on 1st January 1917; and boils on 19th April 1917. He was posted wounded and missing after the fighting near Fresnoy on 21st March 1918 and was initially believed to have been a Prisoner of War. However, he was never found.

    Two of his younger brothers, Francis Frederick Sutton (1898-1968) and George William Sutton (1900-1967) are also known to have served in the First World War. Francis, a gold chain maker, served with the Worcestershire Regiment and suffered a severe gunshot wound to his right arm in April 1918. George enlisted with the Royal Air Force on 29th April 1918 and was transferred  to the Reserves on 18th March 1919.

    Wilfred Robert Sutton is commemorated locally on Solihull war memorial and at St Augustine’s Catholic Church, Solihull.

    Sydney Worrod was born in Berkswell in 1899 and was the fifth of the seven children of parents Henry and Louisa (née Saxton) who had married in 1893.  Henry was a farmer and the family lived at Camp Farm, Hob Lane, Berkswell.

    The eldest two sons, Frederick (1893-1963) and Henry Edgar (1895-1969) both became printers, and both served in the First World War. Henry Edgar Worrod was granted exemption from combatant forces by the Meriden Tribunal on the grounds of his conscientious objection, although he said he was willing to serve with the Royal Army Medical Corps. He actually served in the 5th Southern Company, Non-combatant Corps.

    We don’t know when Sydney enlisted, but he didn’t see overseas service before 1916. The Battalion War Diary for 21st March 1918 notes: “The enemy was encountered in overwhelming numbers, and the parties were compelled to withdraw under very heavy MG [Machine Gun] fire to RAILWAY CUTTING… heavy casualties sustained by the rank and file.”

    Private Sydney Worrod has no known grave and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial. He is also commemorated locally on Berkswell 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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