Second Lieutenant Kenneth William Allan Duncan, aged 23, died on 8th May 1918 serving with the 10th Battalion The King’s (Liverpool Regiment), attached to the 6th Battalion Seaforth Highlanders. On the same day, Private Ernest Austin, 11th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, died of illness in a German Prisoner of War hospital.
Kenneth Duncan was born in Shirley on 12th October 1895. He was the eldest of the three children of parents George Allan Duncan and Lilian Susan (née Pettey) who had married in the bride’s hometown of Hampreston, Dorset in August 1894. At the time, the groom was living in Solihull, and the couple set up home in Shirley, where Kenneth and his younger sister, Ruth Lilian (born 1899) were born. George Duncan was listed as a schoolmaster in 1901, when the family was living at Blossomfield, in the parish of Shirley, Solihull.
Sometime between 1901 and 1905, the family moved to Cheshire. The youngest child, Ronald Alexander Sydney (1905-2000) was born in Tarporley, Cheshire, and it seems that George Duncan was curate of St Peter’s, Chester.
By 1911, they were living at The Parsonage, Weston Point, Runcorn, where Rev. George Duncan had been appointed perpetual curate in October 1910.
Kenneth was educated at Chester City and County School (this later became Queens Park High School) and subsequently joined Lloyds Bank in Liverpool, also becoming a member of the Institute of Bankers.
He joined the 10th Liverpool Regiment on 1st November 1915 and served with the British Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders from 1st April 1916. He returned to England to train for a commission and was gazetted Second Lieutenant in the same battalion on 30th January 1918. He returned to France and was attached to the 6th Seaforth Highlanders in April 1918.
Kenneth Duncan was reported missing after the fighting at Maroeuil on 8th/9th April. His Officer Commanding wrote to his parents:
“He volunteered to take out a night patrol to enemy front at Maroeuil, and the patrol being under fire… went forward alone with bombs. My idea is that your son did this with the object of creating a diversion under which his men could retire – a very fine and brave act. Your boy was only a very short time with us, but we were very much struck with him, and only only the day previous his company commander was saying to the adjutant and me what a fine officer he was.”
His sister, Ruth Lilian, attended Chester City High School for Girls 1912-1915, with school records noting her planned occupation after leaving as “staying at home, then to be a missionary.” It seems that the latter didn’t happen as she is listed in Red Cross records as a volunteer knitter and flag day seller with the Weston Point Working Party. She married George Saunders in Runcorn in 1921.
The youngest brother, Ronald Alexander Sydney Duncan, died in Cirencester in 2000, aged 95.
Second Lieutenant Kenneth Duncan has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. With the family having moved away from Solihull more than ten years before he was killed, his name does not appear on Shirley war memorial.
Ernest Austin was born in Monkspath in 1884 and was the fifth of the seven known children of parents Joseph (a maltster) and Dinah (née Kimberlee), who had married at Aston in 1874. The couple had eight children, but one had died by 1911.
The family initially set up home in Aston but lived in Monkspath from at least 1880 until 1890. Ernest was admitted to Shirley School on 1st July 1889. By 1891, the family had moved to Aston Manor where they remained until at least 1911.
Ernest followed his father’s occupation, and became a brewer. He married Minnie Alice Woodward in Aston in 1906 and they initially set up home in Ironbridge, Shropshire. Their only child, Olive Mabel Austin, was born there on 12 June 1909. It seems the family moved back to Birmingham, as Minnie’s address is listed as Ward End on Ernest’s service record.
Ernest volunteered for the Army on 10th December 1915 and was posted to the Army Reserves the same day. This suggests that he joined under the Derby Scheme, whereby, until 15th December 1915, men aged 18-40 could continue to enlist voluntarily or could attest and defer service until they were called up. Recruits deferring service were then assigned to a group, based on their marital status and age. As a married man, born in 1884, Ernest would have been assisgned to group 34, which was mobilised on 29th May 1916. However, it seems that Ernest was granted an exemption certificate by a military tribunal on 25th May 1916 and was not mobilised until 10th April 1917. He arrived in France on 22nd December 1917.
He was captured at the end of March 1918, during the German Spring Offensive. His unit, the 11th Battalion Durham Light Infantry, was the Pioneer battalion for the 20th (Light) Division, who saw heavy fighting at the Somme Crossings on the day he was captured. He was taken to Lagensalza Camp, where his death from chronic colitis and enteritis was notified to the Chief Medical Officer there as being at 10pm on 8th May 1918.
He is buried in Germany at Niederzwehren Cemetery, Kassel. As a result of the family having left Monkspath by 1890, his name does not appear on any local war memorials in the Solihull area.
If you have any further information on either of these men, please let us know.
Heritage & Local Studies Librarian
tel.: 0121 704 6977