St Mary’s War Memorial to those killed in 1917

In Memory of those killed in 1917

The following articles by Edwina Rees tell the stories of men killed in 1917 and commemorated on the St Mary’s Church war memorial.

The first casualties whose stories are told below were involved in the first Allied Offensive in February and March 1917, preliminary to the main Spring offensive, the Second Battle of Arras from 9th April to 16th May 1917.

1. Private Leslie Edwin Smith – who served in the 7th Royal West Kent Regiment and died of wounds sustained in the front line in an attack on the German lines at Grandcourt on 20 February 1917, aged 19. (Subsequently revised to include photograph of Randle & Smith’s chocolate mould manufacturing premises in Rea Street)

2. Private John William Husbands – a journalist who served with the 4th Leicestershire Regiment and was the only casualty of a German bombardment of the trenches at Hannecamp on 21 February 1917, dying of his wounds on 4 March 1917, aged 39.

2a. Private Ernest Reynolds – the son of a farmer who at one time lived at Moorcroft Farm and Moor Green Cottage, Ernest enlisted in the Worcestershire Regiment and was killed during the successful defence of  Fritz Trench against heavy German bombardment in March 1917.

3. Air Mechanic 1st Class S. Clifford Lamplugh RFC– who declared himself to be 19 years old when he enlisted so that he could serve abroad, when he was actually only 17. He initially joined the 3rd Birmingham Pals before transferring to the RFC.  His letters home, which have never been seen in public before, tell of his wartime experiences in France as an Air Mechanic and his love of motorbikes. He was on the verge of becoming a qualified observer and had aspirations of becoming a pilot like his elder brother Alfred when his life was cut short in a flying accident on 6 March 1917.  Edwina Rees says “I have been very privileged to have been given help in writing the article on Mechanic First Class Sydney Clifford Lamplugh from Minnie Lamplugh de Smith his great niece who allowed me access to Sydney’s letters home. I also have Alison Wheatley, archivist for KES, Edgbaston, to thank for information from the school archive and for putting me in touch with Minnie.”

4. Lance-Corporal S V Pickering – a banker who joined the Middlesex Regiment and died on 15 March 1917 in an assault on the Bihucourt trench, aged 22.

5. Second Lieutenant Stanley Tom Horton –  a chorister at St Mary’s Church, Moseley, who joined his father in the family jewellery business when he left school. In September 1914 he joined the 4th Battalion Public Schools Battalion and then transferred to the 3rd Battalion Duke of Edinburgh’s Wiltshire Regiment on commission in 1916. He was killed in the Battle of Arras on 9th April 1917.  His name is incorrectly written as S J Horton on St Mary’s WW1 memorial, but there is no doubt if you look at the evidence in the attached article that it must be Sydney Thomas Horton.

6. Rifleman Sydney Currie Betts  – who enlisted in the 15th Battalion Rifle Brigade in April 1915 but was transferred four months later to the 7th Rifle Brigade for active service in France. He survived the Battle of the Somme in 1916 but was killed in the Battle of Arras on 11 April 1917. Interestingly, his grandfather was the gamekeeper for Lady Sitwell of Renishaw Hall, Derbyshire, used by D H Lawrence for his inspiration of Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

7. Private Harold Leslie Pearce –  a copper plate engraver, who enlisted in the 2/8th Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 8th December 1915 and was quickly promoted to Lance Corporal.  He embarked for France in May 1916 just in time for the Battle of the Somme. In a month into the battle, Harold noticed difficulties with his eyesight and myopia was diagnosed, making his position as a Lewis gunner untenable.  At his own request, he reverted to a private. Harold was killed in action on 21/22 April 1917 in the last days of the Battle of Arras near St. Quentin.  Note that  Harold Leslie Pearce was erroneously listed under 1915 deaths on the WW1 memorial at St Mary’s Church, Moseley, instead of under 1917.

8. Second Lieutenant Alastair MacNiven – a Birmingham solicitor and grandson of Duncan MacNiven, Procurator Fiscal for 30 years at Fort William. He died of wounds on 30th April 1917 in an attack on Guemappe in the Battle of Arras.  This is an updated article with added  family photograph.

9. Private Joseph Leslie Collis – one of the first pupils at the newly opened Kings Norton Boys School in 1911, who joined the Dorsetshire Regiment in 1916. Joseph was reported as ‘missing’ on 16th May 1917, after an attack on the village of Roeux in the Battle of Arras. He was just nineteen years old. This article was updated in 2024 as a result of a communication from the Lowenthal family. They had discovered a box of artefacts belonging to Joseph including photographs, medals, letters home and several other miscellaneous items. The Lowenthal family believes that, as Joseph was an only child, the box was given to his best friend Leonard Lowenthal (their grandfather) after Joseph’s mother died. The box and its contents have now been donated to the Dorsetshire Regimental Museum.

10. Lance Corporal Leslie Morris Bayley – who came from a well known Black Country family of coal and iron masters.  On leaving school, he joined the 3rd Birmingham Pals in 1914 but served with the 11th Royal Warwicks in France from November 1915.  He was killed on 23rd May 1917 in the attack on Guemappe in the Battle of Arras. He was an only child

11. Second Lieutenant Frank Bowler Goodison – a Birmingham University medical student when he enlisted in the 1st Birmingham Pals in 1914. He was wounded in 1916 and on recovery joined the Royal Flying Corps with the intention of being a pilot. He was shot down by a German patrol, led by Baron Manfred von Richthofen. He survived but died in a German hospital seven weeks later.

12. Private Harry Cecil Mills – who died in June 1917 as a result of wounds received when a German shell hit his machine gun dugout at Hell Fire Corner, on the Menin Road, near Ypres. He died from his wounds on 21st June 1917. He left a wife and two daughters aged, one and five.

The following men were all killed fighting in the Third Battle of Ypres, or Passchendaele as it is now known.

13. Private William Clement Ward – following his involvement in a British preparatory attack on the German positions south of Ypres at Messines Ridge, William was posted as ‘wounded’ in the war diary for 2 August but as ‘wounded and missing’ in later official papers. He was not officially posted as ‘killed in action’ by the War Office until 21 December 1917.  Age 31. (This article has been updated with further information about William’s family background.)

14. Lieutenant Philip Spencer Marshall –  – was killed at dawn near Ypres on 15 August 1917 when an enemy shell hit a nearby ammunition dump on the eve of the battle. Age 20.

15. Lance-Sergeant William Frederick Hunt – – served in the same battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry as Harry Patch. He was reported as wounded in the Regimental Diary on 16 August, but did not make it back to the British lines as stretcher bearers found it impossible to reach the wounded sinking in a morass of mud. He is one of some 35,000 men with no known grave, whose names appear on the memorial at Tyne Cot, Belgium.

16. Lieutenant Hugh Randolf Ryan-Bell – hit by a sniper whilst leading his company in a successful attempt to capture a farm and subsequently killed as a result of a shell wound the following day.  He died on 29 August 1917, age 30.  Had he lived he would have received the Distinguished Service Order.

17. Private Albert Sydney Woodroffe – one of 55 ‘Other Ranks’ in the 1/5 Royal Warwickshire Regiment that were killed in the Battle of Broodseinde on 4th October 1917 in the middle phase of the Battle of Passchendaele. His father enlisted in the RAF a year later, at the age of 45 years, and served the war out as a driver (petrol)

18. Lance Corporal Henry Serle Arkell – was the son of Daniel Arkell the architect of Kings Norton Infirmary (later Selly Oak Hospital).  He joined the 16th Royal Warwickshire Regiment and was wounded on 6th October 1917 in the trenches along the Ypres to Menin Road. He died the same day.

19. Gunner William Leslie Davies – took part in the Salonika Campagne in 1917.The extremes of climate and disease, especially malaria caused more deaths than the fighting. William died on 22nd October 1917 at Summerhill Camp, near Salonika, from malaria.

20. 2nd Lt Henry Arthur Matthews – known as Arthur, was the manager and director of Evans and Matthews, Ironmongers, Bull Street, Birmingham. He enlisted as a volunteer under the Derby Scheme to serve at a later date and was posted to 65th BrIgade RFA in September 1917. Less than a month later he died he from his wounds on 25th October 1917 in the First Battle of Passchendaele.

21. Lieutenant Frank Goodheart Procter. Frank’s brother Arthur was killed on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. In 1916 Frank was sent back to Blighty to recover from Trench Fever He returned to the front in 1917 as a commissioned officer and was wounded in the Third Battle of Ypres. He died from his wounds 37 days later at the General Hospital in Etaples.

22. Private Harold Ostin Doody – was killed in the Third Battle of Gaza under the leadership of Sir General Edmund Allenby. His brother-in-law, James Archibald McIlroy, who graduated as a doctor at Birmingham University and became a surgeon at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham, was in 1914 one of two physicians on the First Trans-Antarctic Expedition led by Sir Ernest Shackleton.

23. Second Lieutenant Herbert Jennings Boocock–  was killed in the Third Battle of Gaza part of the Palestine Campaign in 1917 lead by Sir General Edmund Allenby

24. Sergeant William George Edmondston – served in South Africa as a Constable during the Second Boer War. He re-enlisted in 1914. In 1917 William was posted to Egypt and took part in the Palestine Campaign under Sir General Edmund Allenby who gave him a mention in Despatches for his gallantry and for which he was awarded the Serbian Gold Medal. His elder brother Robert was killed in action just a month later.

25. Gunner Eric Powell Davies – died from accidental electrocution. He was attached to the 1st Army School of Mortars in France at the time of his death. His brother William had died just a month earlier in Salonika from malaria.

26. Lance Corporall Eric Bernard Beston . Eric’s grandfather was one of Birmingham’s first train drivers. His father, Joseph, was in partnership with John Skirrow Wright, one of Birmingham’s prominent social reformers and was a renowned speaker in the cause of the poor. Eric was conscripted into the ASC Mechanical Transport Company and probably did not serve abroad. He died following an operation at the Royal Herbert Hospital at Woolwich.

27. Piper Robert Stuart Edmondstonwas born in Scotland, into a family which had been tailors for three generations, and relocated to Birmingham to work for Curtis and Curtis, High-Class Tailors. Robert enlisted in the Gordon Highlanders in 1915. He was killed by a sniper while making new jodhpurs for his officer one night in the attic of a farmhouse. The officer presented the jodhpurs to his widow after the war and they are now a family heirloom.

28. Sergeant David Vaughan Evans – joined the Royal Field Artillery in Swansea as a signaller. He served in France initially but in 1917 he was posted to Egypt. The circumstances of his death are not known but he died in No 5 Hospital, Alexandra on 21st December 1917.

29. Lieutenant T Ewart Mitton – known as Ewart, was the cousin of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien.   John had been orphaned at the age of twelve and spent many happy times at his Aunt Mabel’s house, Abbotsford, 69 Oxford Road as evidenced by the personal recollections of John’s youngest daughter, Priscilla.  Ewart served in the Royal Engineers Signals Section and was killed in a tragic railway accident in Belgium on Christmas Eve 1917, aged twenty.


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