22nd December 1914

Private John Charles Smith was killed in action at Givenchy on 22nd December 1914, aged 21. He died just over four months after enlisting in the Coldstream Guards.

According to the information in De Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour, he was the third son of Joseph and Ann Smith of Park Lane Corner, Berkswell. He was born on 12th April 1893 at Temple Balsall and was educated at Burton Green, near Kenilworth, and Temple Balsall. He enlisted on 18th August 1914 and was posted to France in December, shortly before he was killed.

He is commemorated at Berkswell and he is one of more than 13,400 soldiers with no known grave who is commemorated on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas de Calais, France.

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7th December 1914

Private Arthur Stenson died of wounds at the 19th Field Ambulance, serving with the 2nd Battalion Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The Commonwealth War Graves website gives his date of death as 9th December, although Soldiers Died in the Great War and Register of Soldiers’ Effects both record him as dying on 7th December.

Born in Birmingham in 1887, Arthur was living in Marston Green Cottage Homes by the 1891 census when he was three years old. He was still there ten years later, aged 14, and working as a bricklayer’s labourer’s boy. Cottage Homes were established in the 19th century to house children who would otherwise have gone into the workhouse. The intention was to keep children away from the adult inmates who could be bad influences. Many Cottage Homes educated the children, sometimes even better than they would have been outside the Homes, and taught them a trade so that they would be able to earn a living once they left.

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26th November 1914

Ordinary Seaman Gilbert Harold Halstead was one of the 745 men and 51 officers who lost their lives when the battleship HMS Bulwark exploded at 7:50am on 26th November 1914 while anchored near Sheerness. Although sabotage or enemy action was initially suspected, a naval court of enquiry found that the explosion was caused either by a fault in one of the shells stored in a corridor or by the overheating of cordite that had been placed adjacent to a boiler room bulkhead. A list of the casualties was published in the Birmingham Daily Mail on 3rd December 1914.

Gilbert Halstead was born in Solihull on 10th February 1896, the only son amongst the five children of Harold William Halstead and his wife Evangeline (née Thompson).  At the time of the 1911 census, the family was living at 14 Richmond Road, Olton, and 15-year-old Gilbert was working as a gun fittings hardener at a small arms factory, whilst his father was listed as Managing Director of a motor company. Ten years earlier, in 1901, when Gilbert was five, the family was living at Warwick Road, Olton and Gilbert’s father was listed as a carriage maker. Previous censuses show Harold as a wheelwright and apprentice carpenter.

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7th November 1914

30-year-old Private George Bullivant died on 7th November 1914 serving with the 1st Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers. He was born in Earlswood in 1885 and was still living there, aged 6, in 1891 with his parents, George (a bricklayer’s labourer) and Rose (also listed in other records as Rosanna(h)). George (junior) was the second youngest of the couple’s nine children (they seem to have had seven boys and two girls). The eldest child, John, was recorded with the family on the 1891 census, aged 25, but must have been home on leave as his occupation was recorded as a seaman in the Royal Navy.

George (senior) and Rosannah had both died by the time of the 1901 census – George in 1897 and Rose in 1900. Their youngest child, Albert (also recorded as Bertie), would have been just 13 when he was orphaned.

By 1901, George (junior) was aged 16 and still living in Earlswood, working as a groom and living in the household of farmer, John W. Lea. It’s not known when he enlisted in the Army, as his service record appears not to have survived. He also does not appear to be in the Earlswood area on the 1911 census, so it is possible that he was in the military at this point.

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5th November 1914

We don’t have very much information about Private Thomas Reader, 1st Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment, so would be very grateful if you can add any details.

He was born in London c. 1880, but had moved up to Warwickshire by the time of the 1891 census, when he was listed, aged 12, living with his grandparents William Reader (a farmer) and Elizabeth at Trap’s Green Farm, Ullenhall.Ten years later, he was still in Warwickshire, aged 20, boarding with 71-year-old charwoman, Maria Hunt, at Tanworth-in-Arden. He was listed as a bricklayer’s labourer.

We struggled to find him on the 1911 census but, thanks to an email from researcher, Helen, we know he was still living in Tanworth-in-Arden, aged 32, unmarried, and listed as a boarder with the Collins family. His occupation is listed as general labourer (Army Pensioner), indicating that he had been a regular soldier and had been discharged to pension. Continue reading “5th November 1914”

4th November 1914

Private Albert Edward Essex enlisted as a regular soldier with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers on 23rd November 1903, aged 19 years three months (although according to the age on census records, this is not correct, and he would have been aged 17). His service record is available on the Find My Past website (available free of charge in any Solihull Library, with your Solihull Library Card) and shows that he went on to serve with the regiment in India and Agra. He served three years with the Colours, including terms in India and Agra. Following active service, he spent a further year in Section A, 1st Class Army Reserves. On completion of this year, he was relegated to Section B Reserves on 26 November 1907.

A typical term of service in Section B Reserve would be five years, which means that Albert’s service would have expired on 26th November 1912. However, there was also an option of extending Section B service for a further four years, moving to Section D Reserve with the same terms and conditions. Pte Albert Essex appears to have taken up this option of an extension, as his service record is stamped “Mobilised  Wrexham 5 Aug 1914”, just one day after war was declared. The Long, Long Trail website has a useful summary to help understand transfers to the Reserves.

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31st October 1914

Four local men from three different regiments died on 31st October 1914:

  • Private Alfred Allcock, 2nd Dragoon Guards (Queen’s Bays), of Shirley
  • Private Charles William Assinder (1889-1914), Royal Warwickshire Regiment, commemorated at Olton
  • Private Cyril Frederick Collett (1894-1914), Worcestershire Regiment, commemorated at Solihull
  • Drummer Harry William George (1890-1914), Worcestershire Regiment, commemorated at Marston Green Cottage Homes

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30th October 1914

Private Albert James Watton was killed in action on 30th October 1914, serving with the 3rd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment. We think this is the same person as A. W. Watton listed on the Castle Bromwich war memorial. Confusingly, he is also recorded in records as James Albert Watton, which was the name under which his birth was registered, and under which he is recorded on census records 1891-1911, and in the railway employment register. The transposition of his first names suggests that he was known by his middle name of Albert.

The Birmingham Daily Mail, 5th December 1914 includes the following announcement:

Information has been received at Castle Bromwich of the death of Albert Watton, a reservist of the 3rd Worcestershire Regiment, who was killed in action near Vailly. At the time he was called up Watton was within a week of completing his period of serice on reserve. He was a shunter at Water Orton, thirty years of age, and married, without family.

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