H. Rollinson

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The citation in the London Gazette on 17 April 1918 about the award of the Distinguished Conduct Medal to Sergeant H. Rollinson reads as follows:

7876 Sjt. H. Rollinson, S. Staffs. R. (Bilston, Staffs.).

For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty and consistent good work during a very long period. He has taken part in many engagements and has always set a splendid example of courage and energy.

Harry Rollason (as he is listed on Freebmd) was born in 1896. In the 1901 census he is living with his parents, Harry and Eliza, and brother Horace at 39 Raby Street. There is a Harry Rollason who married a Kate Mountford in 1914, but this may have been his father remarrying, as it seems that his mother, Eliza Rollason, died in 1905.

The differing spellings of his name make it difficult to track this man down. His medal does not appear to have been mentioned in the local newspapers. Any further information would be gratefully received!

James Lee

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James Lee

James Lee

Second Lieutenant James Lee of the Royal Field Artillery was awarded the Military Cross in 1918 “for conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty in saving his gun detachment and all instruments when suddenly subjected to heavy fire.” According to an article that appeared in the Express & Star on 17 May 1918, the ammunition dumps had been set on fire time and each time extinguished, and Lee had “repeatedly, by his good shooting, driven back hostile aeroplanes, though his gun was being shelled at the time.” His address was given as 387 Newhampton Road, and he had previously been a bombardier in the Army and had returned from Canada at the outbreak of the war.

There are four possible births for James, so we need more corroborating information before we can piece together more of his story. The article does not say when he went to Canada either.

J. Tranter

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A small excerpt in the Express & Star on 30 April 1918, details the following:

Official intimation has been received that Corporal J. Tranter (33) of Peascroft-lane, Bilston, has been killed in action. The deceased soldier was in a trench mortar battery of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. He joined up soon after the outbreak of war, and had been on active service some considerable time. He leaves a widow and four children.

Express & Star, 30 Apr 1918

Express & Star, 30 Apr 1918

Finding this man is slightly more tricky, however. I have not been able to find any entries on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission that match these facts, as above. The closest match is that of a Corporal F. Tranter (Number 242524) of the 1st/6th Battalion South Staffordshire Regiment, who was killed in action on 21 March 1918. His first name, according to the medal card, is Frank, and it would not be a huge stretch for an “F” initial to appear as a “J” or vice versa. However, I have not been able to tie this man in with a suitable birth or marriage record, or find the records of the four children.

The National Archives also holds the medal card of a James Tranter of the King’s Own Scottish Borderers (no 19143), who was a Private and an Acting Corporal. This man appears to fit the facts better, but there is no record of his death. Possibly he was simply missing and then resurfaced after the War? There was a James Tranter born in Wolverhampton in 1884. Doing a search on Freebmd for Tranter children born in Wolverhampton in the early part of the twentieth century revealed a group of four children whose mother’s maiden name was Williams (Frances – 1912, Elizabeth M. – 1913, Sarah – 1915 and James S. – 1916), and as there was a James Tranter who married an Alice Williams in West Bromwich in 1903, this seems like it might be the right family.

If anyone else has any further information to corroborate or contradict any of this, please get in touch!

Bilston Urban District Council 1915 – 1916

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During this period, various war-related matters were discussed by Bilston Urban District Council. Their first priority was looking into filling Council vacancies, given the number of men who were joining the colours. On 27 May 1915 the Council read out a letter from the Local Government Board which suggested that “in filling appointments, persons should be engaged who are not eligible for the Army or suitable for special occupations which are of paramount importance during the present War.” By 18 November 1915 the General Purposes Committee was discussing the training and employment of women clerical workers to “take the place of men withdrawn for military service.” The Committee agreed to prioritise women relatives of enlisted men.

Another matter that was discussed during this period was the prepartions for the National Registration Act. Instructions for taking the Register were discussed on 22 July 1915, along with the “desire of the Local Government Board that the work should be done as far as possible by voluntary aid.” The work had been carried out by 23 September 1915, and the voluntary workers were thanked “for the prompt and thorough manner in which the work had been carried out.” Following on from this, on 28 October 1915, the Council was asked to appoint “5 gentlemen of impartial and balanced judgement” for the Local Military Service Tribunal.

On 17 January 1916 the General Purposes Committee discussed arrangements in case of air raid – ironically this was less than a month before the Zeppelin raid on Bradley -as follows:

  • On official notification to the Police of the approach of enemy aircraft, a hooter would be sounded at three local works, namely John Thompson (Ettingshall), J. Sankey & Sons (Bradley), and Bradley & Co Ltd (Mount Pleasant). Each would give five long blasts, and after a short interval, five long blasts again. No alarm must be sounded without order from the Police.
  • “All persons, on hearing this signal, should at once get under cover. Their presence in the streets can be of no assistance and is only adding unnecessarily to their own risk of injury.”
  • All outside lights were to be turned off, and any light from inside should not be visible externally
  • Police, Fire Brigade and Volunteer Training Corps were to be called up and held in readiness.

Further Council matters will be discussed in a future blog post.

Frank Rhodes Armitage

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Frank Rhodes Armitage

Frank Rhodes Armitage

Captain Dr Frank Rhodes Armitage DSO was killed in action on 30 July 1917, aged 34. He was in a dugout along with Captain C. E. Hickman (who received serious injuries to the head). He had been a member of the Royal Army Medical Corps, attending the 232nd Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery, and is commemorated at Brandhoek New Military Cemetery.

According to the Express & Star article published on 9 August 1917 (which describes him as “one of the bravest and best”), he had been in the firing line for two years and “had many miraculous escapes from death”. One example was given when he had been inches away from a shell crashing into a dug-out, but escaped without injury. He had also been responsible for saving the life of a Lieutenant Finnis.

He had been educated at Wolverhampton Grammar School, and then went to Cambridge, where he followed in his father’s footsteps to become a doctor. He was also a keen sportsman, holding the record for the South Staffordshire Golf Club for the course at Tettenhall, which he covered in a score of 66. He was a member of Wolverhampton Cricket Club. He married a Frances M. Snape in 1913, and had a daughter, Prudence, born in 1915. I have not been able to pin down his date of birth as he does not appear to have been born in Wolverhampton, and there are a number of possible births around the right date.

Recruitment in Wolverhampton August 1914

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Express & Star, 31 Aug 1914

Express & Star, 31 Aug 1914

In the first month of the war, the initial patriotic zeal and the fact that many believed the war would be short-lived, meant that recruitment in Wolverhampton, as elsewhere in the country, was high. Recruitment hit a record high on the morning of 31 August 1914, when it was reported in the Express & Star that no fewer than 62 men enlisted (the previous record being 33). By the time the paper was published, “scores of men” were still entering the Town Hall and an official had estimated that “before the day closes over a hundred will have answered the call to the colours today.” However, the article stressed that this should not put off others from joining, as “every eligible man is wanted”.

Express & Star 31 Aug 1914

Express & Star 31 Aug 1914

On the same day, there was also an article about the formation of the Second Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment. Men were being despatched from Wolverhampton to Lichfield on a daily basis, and “It seemed to us this (Monday) morning that there were more spectators than ever.” It was estimated that to date over 1,800 men had gone from Wolverhampton and district for the new battalions.

Express & Star, 31 Aug 1914

Express & Star, 31 Aug 1914

Following an advertisement in the Express & Star for men willing to join companies of non-manual workers, the newspaper was proud to publish the names of 9 men who had either called in to their offices or left their names as applicants for admission to these companies. Among others, they had received a letter from brothers Hal G. and Geoffrey E. Lawrence, of 4 Clark Road, assuring them that Lieutenant-Colonel Waterhouse “may rely upon two whowill do their utmost to assist him in anything that will help forward this much-needed movement.”

These are just some examples to demonstrate the feeling in Wolverhampton during the first month of the War.

Cheery Letter

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One hundred years ago today, the Express & Star printed details of the following postcard, received from a former employee of the Wolverhampton Corporation Tramways Department:

Have arrived here to-day. Splendid reception by the French people. Our destination from here will no doubt be the fighting area. Troops in the best of spirits. Splendid weather and plenty of sport

The postcard did not indicate where it had been sent from, and because it is anonymous we have no further details about the sender or the recipient. However, this does give an indication of the spirit of the men on the front line in the first few months of the War.

Cheery Letter, in the Express & Star 26 August 1914

Cheery Letter, in the Express & Star 26 August 1914

John Shelton

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John Shelton

John Shelton

John Edward Shelton was a local footballer, born in Wolverhampton and a 1908 FA Cup winner with Wolverhampton Wanderers Football Club (or “English Cup” as it was then).

Shelton was born in Wolverhampton in 1885. His Wikipedia page states that he made 94 appearances for Wolves, scoring 17 goals, and earned the team a replay against Bradford city in the FA Cup Third Round in the 1907-08 season. He played in the Club’s 3-1 victory over Newcastle United in the Final. He joined Port Vale in 1911, and made 139 appearances for them until he was conscripted in 1917.

He married Sarah Nicholls in 1911, and they went on to have two children, John E. T. (1912) and Sarah E. (1914), both born in Wolstanton. He joined the 2nd Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment (service number 52065). Shelton was killed in action on 7 September 1918, and is commemorated at the Epehy Wood Farm Cemetery in France. His widow later married Jack Needham, another former Wolves player.

Leonard Aston, born 1883

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We have been contacted by Lars Ahlkvist from Sweden who has the First World War medals of Leonard Aston, and has provided the following information. Despite having the same name and both being born in Bilston, this is a different man from the one featured a few days ago, as they were born six years apart.

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Leonard Aston was a pre-war regular soldier in the First Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers, enlisting sometime in 1906. The regiment had a high proportion of men from outside Wales.

With his 1914-star trio came two silver medals, engraved to him as Cpl, 1st RWF. One of them is for the “Regimental Cup” 1908-1909, on the other the engraving is partly polished away and reads “Regt L…. 1908-1909”.

He was with the First Battalion in Malta at the outbreak of war in 1914, leaving Malta on 3rd September and returning to the UK on the 16th. Leonard Aston went to France with the 1st Bn (7th Division) on 6th October 1914. During the next 24 days the battalion practically ceased to exist.

They first met the enemy advancing from Iseghem outside Ypres on the 19th, with about 120 casualties. The 20th and 21st found the battalion in rifle slits outside Broodseinde and under heavy attack by the Germans losing a great number of men missing/POWs, wounded and killed. On the 22nd 213 officers and men remained, and the battalion was in reserve at Ecksternest. One of the surviving officers, wrote of the action (quoted from the Regimental Record by Dudley Ward): “I do not know the losses of the rank and file. After the bombardment we found it impossible to use many of the rifles and we had to hammer our bolts open with entrenching tools; our maximum rate of fire was about three rounds a minute”

On the 24th, the battalion was at Veldhoek, and the number raised to about 400 due to reinforcements by stragglers and missing rejoining, and also a thinning of supporting services. They were sent forward in the line again on the 26th.

On October 29th, they held positions outside Zandvoorde on the right flank of the 22nd Brigade, when the Germans again attacked. The battalion “was scattered about in short slits of trench, without intercommunication, on the forward slope of a roll in the plain, their field of vision was short in the midst of hedgeenclosed fields, and it was impossible to know what was happening to the right or left.”

On the right of the 1st battalion were the 1st and 2nd Life Guards, who due to heavy enemy attacks were ordered to fall back. This resulted in the Germans being able to enfilade the positions of the 1st RWF from Zandvoorde village. German field batteries subjected them to heavy shrapnel fire. “With the attacking enemy on their front, his snipers to the rear, and his field batteries on their flank, post after post was wiped out” Lt Wodehouse records: “.. about midday the whole battalion was either killed, wounded or taken prisoner.” Lt Wodehouse was not entirely right, as 86 men and the Quartermaster managed to rejoin the british positions and were attached to the 2nd Queens.

In this action, Sjt Leonard Aston of C Company was wounded in the left lung by shrapnel and taken prisoner with about 60 other survivors. He was a Prisoner of War in Hameln, and sent to Holland 15th March 1918. His mother was a Mrs E. Aston who lived at 636 Parkfield Road, Wolverhampton. On the 18th October 1918 he was in St Georges Hospital, London.

His MIC gives no indication that he applied for the “aug-nov”-clasp, but he was issued with a silver war badge, no longer with the group.

A check on Ancestry 1901 census reveals a Leonard Aston living with his widowed mother Elizabeth in 43 South Street Walsall, Staffordshire (near Wolverhampton). This Leonard was born in Bilston in 1883, and working as a saddlers warehouseman. His two year younger brother Frederick is listed as a bridle cutter, born in Wolverhampton.

In 1891, the family lived in the parish of Aston, with the father William working as a Model Maker. At that time, a younger sister Mary was also part of the family.

The International Red Cross’ register of WWI POW’s confirms that this is the Leonard Aston who served in the 1st RWF. In 1921 he married Florrie May Shaw, and they had three children, Colin, Marie and Joyce. He died in Wolverhampon in 1961.

A Frederick Aston DOW in 1916 serving as a regular of the North Staffordshire Regiment, number 7464, may be Leonards brother. The number indicates an enlistment ca 1903, which would fit.

Frank Jarvis and Mary Joyce Rayner

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DX-896/11 Envelope

DX-896/11 Envelope

Amongst our collection of military papers and correspondence relating to the Skidmore family, there is also a letter from a Lt. Frank Jarvis (service number 8458) of the 2nd Border Regiment, to a Miss J. Rayner of 114 St James Terrace, Warwick Crescent, Paddington, in London. This letter is dated 23 October 1915, and was sent when Jarvis was a Prisoner of War in Göttingen, Germany.

DX-896/11 First page

DX-896/11 First page

Mary Joyce Rayner was born in Paddington in 1897. In 1921, she married Frederick Oswald Skidmore, which is why this letter appears amongst this collection. Mary died in 1941, apparently (according to the General Register Office index) aged 63. However, I think this is an error on the part of the index, as there is no likely earlier birth for her, and she had a child in 1931, so I believe it is more likely that she was 43 at the time of her death. Why she chose to keep the letter, when she had married another man, is unknown.

DX-896/11 Second page

DX-896/11 Second page

Very little is known about her correspondent, as we don’t even know where he came from, so pinning down details of his birth are virtually impossible without further information. The letter in full is as follows:

Dear Miss Rayner

Many thanks for your welcome letter which I received today also many thanks for parcel which I received safely and enjoyed the contents I am glad to say that I am keeping in the best of health and hope you are keeping the same Once again thanking you for the parcel and the great kindness that you have shown towards me

I Remain

Yours Sincerely

Frank Jarvis

If anyone can assist in unraveling further information, we would be glad to receive it!

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