I found a photo in a copy of The Graphic dated the 17th Aug 1916 which set me off on search which sadly I haven’t been able to complete. It was of two British soldiers with a Russian soldier. It has led me to an interesting search for information about the Eastern Front in World War One.
The two British soldiers in the photo are Thomas Henry Beavins And Arthur Wilfred Pitman. Thomas Beavins was born on the 18th April 1889 in Fulham, London. He was the eldest son of Thomas and Norah Beavin and worked as a Municipal Clerk. In August 1913 he married Mabel Rose Dunningham at St Paul’s Hammersmith. The young newly weds could have no idea the turbulent years that lay ahead. Arthur Pitman was born on the 19th June 1890 in Bethnal Green, London. He was the son of Charles William and Clara Julia Pitman and was the youngest of five children. Arthur worked as a chauffeur.
Both young men enlisted in The British Royal Naval Armoured Division, both held the rank of Petty Officer Mechanic and went to Russia on H.M.S. President II. The British Armoured Car Expeditionary Force (ACEF) was a British military unit sent to Russia during the First World War to fight alongside the Russian Empire on the Eastern Front from June 1916. The unit consisted of 566 men who fought alongside the Imperial Russian Army in Galicia, Romania and the Caucasus Mountains until the Bolshevik coup of 1917, when the ACEF was withdrawn from Russia. This newspaper cutting, and several other newspaper photos I have come across, show the close bond that could develop between the soldiers from Britain and Russia.
The Machine Gun Corps absorbed the Motor Machine Gun Section and the Royal Navy’s armoured cars to form its third branch, known as the Motor Branch, which initially operated cars and motorcycles. A Heavy Section was formed within that branch in March 1916, becoming a branch of its own eight months later. This operated the first tanks, before splitting from the MGC in July 1917 to form the Tank Corps (later the Royal Tank Regiment). Arthur and Thomas served in this section in 1918 and were promoted to sergeants. They survived the war and were discharged in 1919. Both men were awarded the extra medal of The Silver Breast Medal With St Stanislas Ribbon.
Thomas and Arthur remained in London after the war. Thomas lived at 31 Monks Drive, Acton with his wife, working as a registrar of births, deaths and marriages until he died in Hammersmith Hospital on the 20th Oct 1958. Arthur married Eliza Bunn and the couple lived at 46 Leicester Road, Finchley with their two children, Arthur worked as motor mechanic and engine fitter. He died in Oct 1959. The two men only lived nine miles apart.
I have been unable though to find out what happened to Vladamir Artzishevsky. I love to think he survived the war too and managed to keep in touch with his friends. Did he keep the photo for ever and do his family still have this photo somewhere in Russia. It certainly reminds us at this time of conflict again, that there is certainly more that unites us than we realise.
I bought this large framed photo of a soldier in The London Rifle Brigade at a car boot sale over 20 years ago. He has been on our dining room wall since and feels like one of the family. I wish I knew what had happened to him. The photo was taken at 165 Victoria St, London, which is now a Greggs bakery. I wonder who in his family enlarged this photo and what wall it has hung on before ours for nearly a hundred years.
Whenever I am reading through old World War One newspapers, I always read the “Appealing for information adverts” with such sadness and never more so the one I read for Rfn Stanley Holyfield of The London Rifle Brigade. His family from South Wanstead placed this appeal in The Graphic newspaper on the 26th July 1916 as Stanley was last seen on the 1st July 1916. On the 1st July the 5th London Regiment took part in a diversionary attack on Gommecourt where they suffered very heavy casualties. When I started researching him, I didn’t really hold out much hope of a happy outcome.
Stanley Frank Montague Holyfield was born on the 7th Jul 1897 in Leyton, Essex. He was the eldest son of Frank Arthur and Alice Mary Holyfield and grew up at the address at Wanstead Park Avenue with his younger sister and brother.
Stanley must have lied about his age when he enlisted in The 5th London Regiment on the 31st May 1915 while still only 17. He went with The British Expeditionary to France on the 17th Jan 1916 and was still only 18 when the battalion attacked Gommecourt on the 1st July. The London Rifle Brigade were driven out of enemy trenches with great loss. Lt Col A S Bates gave the strength of his battalion at the time of assembly for action as 23 officers and 803 other ranks. At 5pm he would count just 89 unwounded men. Total casualties given in regimental histories were 588. There didn’t seem much hope for Stanley but incredibly he had survived. His time in service overseas is given as 17th Jan 1916 to 1st July 1916 but he was discharged as sick on the 27th May 1919. He was possibly taken prisoner and survived the rest of the war in a prisoner of war camp, however being discharged as sick didn’t necessarily mean he survived as what ever experiences he had endured may have taken a terrible toll on him.
I was delighted to find in the records that Stanley married Joan Puckle in July 1940 at the age of 43. The couple lived in Chelmsford Essex and Stanley died in August 1985 at the grand old age of 88. It has been a really uplifting research project and Stanley must have been a strong determined young man to survive so much.
William Stuart Barnett, known as Stuart, was born on the 4th March 1892 in Sutton, Surrey. He was the only son of William Barnett an his wife Louisa. Stuart’s father died when he was only two years old and he grew up in Wickham Road, Sutton with his mother and three sisters. He was educated at Laleham House School in Margate which was a boarding school. In 1912, Stuart enlisted in the 9th London Regiment (Queen Victoria Rifles) and was promoted to Cpl in 1912. In May 1914 he was transferred to The Royal Engineers. He went to France on the 10th August 1914, as a despatch rider with the G.H.Q. Signal Company. Cpl Stuart Barnett was killed in action at Doue France on the 7th Sep 1914 while carrying despatches from General Headquarters to the 2nd Army Corps Signals.
The Rev. O. S. Watkins, Wesleyan Chaplain to the Forces, Flanders in his book ” With French in France and Flanders ” writes so beautifully about the incident. ” I found the brave lad lying in a cottage in the village. Peasants told me that in the darkness he had lost his way, and had actually ridden through two villages occupied by the Germans until he was brought to a stand at Doue with a bullet through his heart. As soon as the Germans retired the villagers had lifted him tenderly into the cottage, straightened the fine young limbs into decent restfulness, and covered him with a clean white sheet. I found him, a bunch of newly gathered flowers on his breast, his face calm and determined, but looking strangely young. He was carried to his last long rest by old men belonging to the village—there were no young men, for all were serving with the Army—and as we passed through the streets women came from the houses and laid flowers upon the bier. Up the steep road we toiled, with many a stop to rest the ancient bearers. Ahead boomed the heavy guns in action, and below we could see the infantry advancing to the attack. At last we reached the hill-top, crowned by its little church and peaceful graveyard. We laid him in his shallow grave, the peasants, with heads uncovered, listening with reverence to the grand words of the Burial Service in a language they did not understand. Before the service was over shrapnel was bursting on the hill, and silently the peasants crept to the wall for shelter, their heads still uncovered. As the final Amen ‘ fell from my lips, and I stood for a moment looking down on all that was left of that fine young manhood, one of the old men, forgetting his fear of the thundering guns, stepped to the graveside, and, as he cast earth upon the prone body with his hands, with wonderful dignity he addressed the sleeper. As far as I could understand his words he said : You are a brave man and our friend. You have given your life for our country. We thank you. May you sleep well in the earth of beautiful France,’ and the others said ‘ Amen.’
Cpl Barnett is still buried in Doue Churchyard where the French villagers carried him that night, the only British Casualty buried there. He is commemorated on Sutton War Memorial and on the Memorial Painting in Christchurch, Sutton.
2nd Lt William Hornby was born on the 18th August 1893. He was the third son of the four sons and two daughters of The Venerable Phipps John Hornby, Archdeacon of Lancaster and Vicar of St Michael’s-on-Wyre, Garstang, Lancashire and Agnes Eleanor his wife. He attended Rugby School from 1907 to 1912 and afterwards Balliol College. Oxford. After which he entered the offices of Messrs Wilson, Hiles And Co, Cotton Brokers in Liverpool.
At the outbreak of the war he enlisted as a private in the 17th Kings Liverpool Regiment (1st Pals Battlalion) and trained at Prescot, Grantham and Salisbury Plain. He had more than one chance of a commission but declined as “he thought he as more useful where he was.” He went to France in November 1915 and spent all the winter and the following summer in or near the trenches. On the first day of the battle of the Somme, 1st July 1916, he was wounded in the head, but re joined before the end of the month. He received a commission in September and was killed while leading his Platoon in an attack on the German lines a mile north-west of Flers on the 12th October 1916 aged 23.
All four Hornby brothers served overseas in World War One, William’s older brother Geoffrey, a Lieutenant in the Suffolk Regiment, was killed at Frezenberg Ridge, Ypres, Belgium on the 8th May 1915. 2nd Lt William Hornby is buried in Warlencourt British Cemetery, Pas de Calais, France.
Pte Gerald Warren was born in Sandy, Bedfordshire on the 30th June 1898. The eldest of four children the family moved to Thornton Heath in Surrey where Gerald worked as a stencil cutter. Gerald enlisted in the 2/4th Queen’s Royal West Surrey Regiment on the 17th May 1915 when he was only sixteen years old. In January 1917 the battalion moved to Arish for operations in Palestine. On the 25th March at 3.30 am they took part in the 1st Battle of Gaza when the 160th Brigade started to cross Wadi Ghuzzee. Shortly afterwards, fog began to roll in from the sea, slowing the advance, but the attack began shortly after 11.45. By 13.30 the brigade had captured ‘The Labyrinth’, a maze of entrenched gardens, and by 18.30 the whole position had been secured. But events had not gone so well elsewhere, and the 53rd Division was ordered to pull back. By the 27th March it was back on its starting position behind Wadi Ghuzzee.
There followed a pause of several months while the EEF was reorganised. The 3rd Battle of Gaza involved outflanking the Gaza–Beersheba line, after which 53rd Division was sent on the 3rd November to take the heights of Tell Khuweilfe. 160th Brigade moved up a slight valley on the right, but found the enemy in strength, and holding the water supplies. The attack was renewed unsuccessfully the following day. The division kept up the pressure on the 6th November, and eventually the Turks were forced to evacuate the position after being outflanked elsewhere. By early December the EEF was working round Jerusalem. 2/4th Queen’s, ordered to capture the hills at Beit Jala on 8 December, advanced under accurate shellfire, but found the position unoccupied. The city fell the following day.
On the 21st December 1917, the 160th Brigade carried out a minor operation near Jericho. At 05.00 three companies of 2/4th Queens captured a Turkish post, and the Turks fell back to ‘White Hill’. A company of 2/4th Queen’s, together with one of 2/10th Middlesex Regiment, took this position after fierce close fighting with bombs, bayonets, and clubbed rifles. Gerald was killed in this action aged 19 years old. He is buried in Jerusalem War Cemetery. His parents chose the inscription on his grave that said “He Died That We May Live In Peace.”
Pte Cecil James Cottis was born on 17th Aug 1895 in Great Stambridge, Essex the second youngest child of nine surviving children of William Jospeh and Kesiah Cottis. Like his brothers and sister Cecil worked in the family bakery business, in the High Street in Billericey, Essex. On the 21st July 1915 Cecil was with the 4th battalion as they sailed from Devonport for Gallipoli via Lemmos. The battalion landed at ‘C’ Beach in Suvla Bay during the evening of 12 August 1915, by the end of the month they had suffered losses of 157 killed or wounded, with another 217 sick. On the 4th December 1915 the 4th Essex Regiment were evacuated from Gallipoli and moved to Mudros, going on to Alexandria on the 17th December 1915. Cecil was transferred to the 11th Essex Regiment where he saw service in France. He was killed in action on the 17th September 1918 aged 23. Pte Cecil Cottis has no known grave and is remembered on The Memorial in Vis-en-Artois which commemorates the 9,847 Allied officers and men who were killed in the period from 8th August 1918 to 11th November 1918 which was known as The Advance To Victory.
Tragically Cecil’s elder brother Edwin was also killed on 28th March 1918, aged 39 while serving with the 2nd London Regiment. The brothers heartbroken parents erected a plaque in their memory inside St Mary Magdalene Church. High Street, Billericay. Two small plaques on the family grave also remember the brothers although with a discrepancy in the date of death. Edwin William March 28th 1918, aged 39 Cecil James Sept. 18th 1918 aged 23. Both killed in action in France in the Great War. “Until the day break and the darkness flee away”
Sergt Fred William Ashton was born in Louth, in Lincolnshire on the 3rd March 1892. He as educated at a grammar school and worked as a clerk in the London City and Midland Bank in Grimsby. On the outbreak of war he enlisted in the 10th Lincolnshire Regiment, a locally raised pals battalion and the only “Pals” battalion to be called “Chums.” The battalion joined the 101st Brigade of the 34th Division, moving to France in January 1916. They first saw action in the battle of the Somme. On 1st July 1916, the First Day on the Somme, the Grimsby Chums were in the first wave attacking the fortified village of La Boisselle, just south of the Albert-Bapaume road.
Fred had a reputation for being very cool headed, his officer remembering him sitting reading The Daily Telegraph while they were under a particularly heavy bombardment. Fred’s friend Sergt Alfred Noake wrote to Fred’s family about the day. “We attacked soon after dawn, and the men of the battalion gave a cheer as received the order to advance. I went over not far away from Fred but after a time I lost sight of him. We advanced in the face of terrible machine gun, rifle and shell fire and it is a great wonder I am living to tell the tale. I can assure you it as terrible to see the poor old boys falling right and left. We had to get on as no one as allowed to stop with wounded. In a very short time we had lost nearly all our officers and NCOs and we that were left had to carry on with the work. when we got into the German second line there was about 30 of our company left, including one officer and myself. After a while word was sent to us that we had to go over again and bomb out some Germans who were enfilading us with machine gun fire on our left. We went over again, but only a corporal, four men and myself got there. I left the officer lying in a shell hole with a bullet in his stomach and he told me to carry on. When we got into the next line I immediately gave the order for the men to dig themselves in. We consolidated the position and held it for three days for which I was awarded the Military Medal. A few days later I found out from the burying party that Fred had been shot in the head and died instantly. “
Despite Fred’s body being found by the burying party, after the war his body was not found and Sergt Frederick William Ashton is remembered on The Thiepval Memorial Somme France.