The Great War 1914-1918
Remembering our local soldiers
This commemoration marks the centenary of the end of the Great War. It is in two sections. The first contains accounts based upon the research of the Westwood Heath History Group into the lives of the fallen soldiers whose names are on the War Memorial plaque in Westwood Church.
The second section is a tribute to soldiers related to local residents. We are very grateful to them for sharing their personal recollections and photographs with us.
Our research is ongoing into the Westwood Heath men who served and survived the Great War. Their names and stories will be added in due course.
If you have more information about any of these soldiers or wish to add a family member to this commemoration, we would be delighted to hear from you. Please do get in touch.
William Edwin Brown
Percy John Smith 1892-1916
He died on 7th October 1916 during the Battle of the Somme.
Albert Thomas Wood 1893-1918
Albert died on the Saturday March 13th 1915.
Frank Billing 1895-1918
Frank was killed in action in France on 14th October 1918 aged 23 years.
Robert de Bedick Saunderson 1891-1917
He died on 18th October 1917 aged 26 years.
Albert Austin 1887-1916
He died on 12th April 1916 and is buried in the Rue-du-Bacquerot Cemetery
Frank Webb 1889-1917
His death is recorded as 26 April 1917.
Harold Humphreys 1890-1918
Harold’s death is recorded as 22 March 1918.
Percy Hollick 1891-1917
He was killed on 9 May 1917.
Percy Malin Pridmore 1886-1917
He was killed in action on 2 September 1917.
We know very little about Harry.
William Edwin Brown 1893-1918
William Brown was born in 1893, the son of Thomas P. and Elizabeth Ann Brown of Canley Gates, Coventry. He was the second youngest of 5 children: Barry (b. 1882), Emma (b.1884), Eveline (b. 1890), Percy (b.1893).
In the 1901 Census, the family is recorded as living at Canley Gates. His father was employed as a Railway Signalman. His eldest brother, Barry was a machine fitter and sister Emma an office clerk.
The family was still in residence at Canley Gates in 1911 but the 2 oldest children had left home. William, now 19, was employed in the tool making trade as an “Engineer turner”; his younger brother Percy was in the same trade as a fitter.
William enlisted as a gunner with the Royal Regiment of Artillery, serving with 2 arms of this: the Royal Horse Artillery and the Royal Field Artillery (no.16243). The Royal Horse Artillery provided firepower in the form of light, mobile, horse-drawn guns, which supported the cavalry and supplemented the Royal Field Artillery. The Royal Field Artillery was more numerous and organised into brigades. They provided horse-drawn artillery in the form of medium calibre guns and howitzers deployed close to the front line.
William was killed in action in France on Tuesday 7th May, 1918 aged 25 years.
He was buried at the Bavelincourt Communal Cemetery, France.
Percy John Smith 1892-1916
Percy John Smith was born in Westwood Heath in 1892, to Henry and Elizabeth Smith.
In 1901, the family are shown on census records living in Wyken Grange Lodge where his father Henry was working as a cowman.
By 1911, the family was living in Tile Hill Lane, where both Percy and his father worked as farm labourers.
Percy Smith enlisted with the 6th Battalion of the Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry (number 32985). He died on 7th October 1916 during the Battle of the Somme (1st July – 18th November 1916) and was laid to rest at the Thiepval Memorial Cemetery, France.
James Cleaver 1900-1918
James was born in 1900 in Congerstone, Leicestershire, the son of Charles and Mary Cleaver. His father, Charles was a farm labourer and in 1901 the family is shown on census records living at Evans Farm with James’ older brother, William.
By 1911, the family had moved to Finham Park Farm in the parish of Stoneleigh. Charles was a shepherd on the farm and William a farm labourer. The family has grown to include younger siblings Rosa May and Harry.
James enlisted in Leamington Spa with the 8th Battalion of the Princess Charlotte of Wales Regiment (Royal Berkshire Regiment; no.445873). He gave his residence as Coventry. This battalion was one of the many formed in response to a campaign for 500,000 volunteers spearheaded by Herbert Kitchener, Secretary of State for War. These new battalions were known as the New Army or Kitchener’s Army.
He was killed in action on 23rd October 1918, serving on the Western Front and is buried at Le Cateau Military cemetery, France.
His brother, William, served in the 3rd Royal Warwickshires Army Veterinary Corps as a horse-driver. He survived the war and married Mabel Slingsley in August 1919.
Albert Thomas Wood 1893-1915
Albert Thomas Wood was born in Westwood Heath, Stoneleigh, Warwickshire in 1893, the son of William Wood, a labourer and Mary Ann. His baptism took place at Westwood Church on 10th December, 1893.
By 1901, the family were living on Tile Hill Lane and William was working as a shepherd. By 1911, Albert had left home and begun his working life, living in the household of a farmer in Fletchampstead where he was employed as a “servant lad” along with 3 other servants. The farm was run by Arthur Silk with the assistance of his two sons, Arthur and Thomas.
Albert enlisted as a Private (no. 12799) with the 1st Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment and served in France. By March 1915 the men were in the Artois region. After a cold winter in the trenches, a spring offensive was planned around the industrial city of Lille and its nearby rail artery. They were about to embark on the first attack by a British and French expeditionary force against German entrenched positions. The plan was to break through the German trenches and capture the village and ridge of Aubers to disrupt German communications lines to Lille. This was painstakingly planned using aerial photography. The initiative featured meticulous timings which would set the tone for the remainder of the war on the Western Front.
Neuve Chapelle was captured after 4 hours of fighting on March 10th and 4 lines of German trenches were taken. However, after this success confusion followed: with British soldiers in no-man’s land but unable to break through the other side, orders to the British to wait for further orders allowed the Germans to re-group. The battle which ensued resulted in heavy casualties on both sides. Albert died on the last day of the battle, Saturday March 13th 1915. The Worcestershire Regiment had started the Battle of Neuve Chapelle on 10th March with 26 officers and 870 rank and file; three days later this stood at 7 officers and 450 men.
Albert is buried at the Le Touret Memorial Cemetery in France.
Frank Billing 1895-1918
Frank was born in Wyken on 27th August, 1895, the second child of Fred and Sarah Billing, who had an older son, John Reginald, 2 years Frank’s senior.
In 1901, the family were living at Ling Hall Farm in Wyken where his father was a farmer. The household must have been an affluent one, since the household included a governess, Annie Montgomery, as well as a domestic servant.
By 1911, the family had moved to Whoberley Hall, then situated in the parish of Stoneleigh. Fred was now a grazier and his oldest son, John Reginald, employed as an auctioneer and agricultural valuer. The family employ two domestic servants and a farm labourer. The building in which the family lived might have been the one described in 1850 as the “ancient house, formerly moated round” or the brick built farm that replaced it in the early 20th Century.
Frank enlisted as a Sapper with the 36th Division Signal Company of the Royal Engineers (number 250010). The sappers performed a variety of engineering duties, such as demolitions, bridge-building, laying or clearing minefields as well as working on road and airfield construction and repair. They worked to support the signal company, responsible for all forms of communication.
Frank was killed in action in France on 14th October 1918 aged 23 years. He was laid to rest at the Dadizeele New British Cemetery, Belgium. The inscription on his headstone reads, “Well Done Good & Faithful Servant”.
Frank’s brother, John Reginald served in the Machine Gun Corps. He survived the war and returned home in 1919.
Their father, Fred eventually sold much of his land in the 1920s for housing. Billing Road, Chapelfields, is named after him. Whoberley Hall itself was demolished in the 1930s.
Robert de Bedick Saunderson 1891-1917
Robert was born on 21st September, 1891 in New Ross, County Wexford, Ireland to the Reverend Robert de Bedick and Frances Saunderson. The family claimed lineal descent from Robert de Bedick in the 12th Century. It appears that Robert did not reside in Westwood Heath at any point during his short life. However, his uncle, the Reverend Edwin de Bedick Saunderson was vicar at Westwood Church at the time of Robert’s death. It is likely that this accounts for his inclusion on the War Memorial there.
The family established themselves in Kent where father Robert became a Clergyman in Ramsgate. Robert was educated at Chatham House School, Ramsgate, then Kings School, Canterbury before being admitted to Keble College, Oxford in 1910. Here he was involved with various sports teams as well as being a member of the Oxford University Training Corps. Whilst at Oxford, his father died (1911), when Robert was aged 20.
Robert graduated in 1913 and the following year he began working as an Assistant Master at St Peter’s Preparatory School, Seaford, E.Sussex. The following year, New Year’s Day, 1915, saw him leaving England on the Abinse, a steamship departing from Liverpool bound for British West Africa. Here he took up a post as Assistant District Commissioner with the Gold Coast Service. This was a good profession for public school and Oxbridge educated men and he clearly anticipated a future in colonial service.
In November, 1916, Robert returned to Africa from leave and served for a time in the Secretariat at Accra. Writing home, he told of having been promised a permanent staff appointment.
In April, 1917, he joined the Gold Coast Regiment as a Lieutenant following a drive by the regiment to recruit a fresh draft of officers and men. He served in both both East and West Africa campaigns.
He died on 18th October 1917 aged 26 years. His commanding Officer wrote to his mother,
“He died leading his men in a most gallant charge against the enemy’s entrenched position, and was shot within a few feet of a thorn obstacle which the enemy had erected a few yards in front of his trenches. It was a most gallant action, and if only your son had survived I would have brought his name before the GOC for a prompt reward for gallantry in the field. …Your son had endeared himself to us all by his bright and cheery disposition, and in addition to the loss the regiment has sustained in so gallant an officer, we all mourn the loss of a friend”.
A fellow officer wrote that Robert had been killed instantly but owing to darkness and difficult conditions, his body could not be recovered that night. It was recovered the following day, having been buried by Germans in a shallow grave. It was re-buried in consecrated ground, now the Dar Es Salaam War Cemetery, Tanzania.
Albert Austin was born in 1887 in Woodstock, Oxfordshire to Henry and Ellen. Henry was an Agricultural Labourer and the Albert was the last born of seven children.
By the 1901 Census the family had moved to Kings Sutton in Northamptonshire, where Henry was described as a ‘Cowman on farm’, and Albert was a Farm Labourer at the ripe old age of 14, along with two of his brothers.
In 1911 Albert was married, and was living in Benton Green Lane, Berkswell, working as a ‘Cowman on farm’, following in the footsteps of his father. He married Harriet Elizabeth in 1909.
Albert joined up on 18th July 1915 and was enlisted in the 10th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment. He died on 12th April 1916 and is buried in the Rue-du-Bacquerot Cemetery, one of 637 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the First World War. The cemetery was on a road close behind the Allied front trenches during the greater part of the First World War which made it the natural line of a small number of Commonwealth cemeteries (ref CWGC).
Frank Webb 1889-1917
Frank Webb was born in 1889 and at the time of the 1891 Census was living in Hollyfast Farm in Allesley. He was one of four children born to Thomas and Jane Webb, and Thomas was listed as an agent to the Prudential Assurance Company.
The 1901 Census shows that Frank’s older sister was in domestic service at the age of 14, and his older brother Thomas was a domestic gardener. In 1911 the family had moved to Canley Gates, Hearsall Common. Canley Gates later became known as Canley Halt, the level crossing at Canley Station that is now closed. The two elder children had moved away, and Frank was now domestic gardener and his father was listed as a nursery gardener.
Frank’s military service will need more research, but his death is recorded as 26 April 1917, and his remains are interred at Duisans British Cemetery in Etrun, France. The history of Duisans Cemetery, according to the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, shows that Frank probably lost his life in the Battle of Arras:
‘The area around Duisans was occupied by Commonwealth forces from March 1916, but it was not until February 1917 that the site of this cemetery was selected for the 8th Casualty Clearing Station. The first burials took place in March and from the beginning of April the cemetery grew very quickly. Most of the graves relate to the Battle of Arras in 1917, and the trench warfare that followed. There are now 3,205 Commonwealth servicemen of the First World War buried or commemorated at Duisans British Cemetery, and also 88 German war graves.’
Frank’s personal effects were sent to his mother.
Harold Humphreys was born in 1890 at Brighton in Sussex. His father Charles was listed as a Carriage Trimmer in the 1891 Census, possibly at the carriage works of the London, Brighton and South Coast Railway (later part of Southern Region) as they had a large railway works in the area. Harold already had a younger brother by now, less than a year younger than himself.
By the time of the 1901 Census the family had moved to Wolverhampton where his father was now a Coach Trimmer, and there were three more sons and a daughter. At this time Wolverhampton had a growing car building industry, so it is likely that Charles worked with one or more of these companies. One of the better known companies, Sunbeam, had started making cars there in 1898.
By the time of the 1911 Census Charles was now listed as a Motor Car Trimmer and two of Harold‘s brothers were also in the trade as an Engine Fitter and a Painter, though Harold chose to be a Hairdresser.
It is not known when Harold joined the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, but his sacrifice is recorded on the memorial at Pozieres. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission has this to say about the cemetery at Pozieres:
‘The Pozieres Memorial relates to the period of crisis in March and April 1918 when the Allied Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields, and the months that followed before the Advance to Victory, which began on 8 August 1918. The Memorial commemorates 14,000 casualties of the United Kingdom … who have no known grave and who died on the Somme from 21 March to 7 August 1918.’
Harold’s death is recorded as 22 March 1918, one of the first to be killed in this action, and so close to the end of the war
Captain Percy Hood Hollick 1891-1917
Percy Hood Hollick lived in Cromwell Lane, in one of the large houses near Westwood Corner, and was aged 24 at the outbreak of WWI.
The Hollick family had been a family of farmers. Percy's grandparents, Joseph and Ann, had owned a farm at Arley (1841). Percy's father, Alfred Hollick, farmed at Sherbourne Farm, Allesley (1881). Percy Hood Hollick was born on 29th January 1891 and had an elder brother, Thomas, and elder sister, Margaret.
At the time of the 1901 census, Percy was aged 10 and resident at a small boarding school in Priory Road, Kenilworth. His parents presumably had aspirations for Percy to acquire an education, to break with the family farming tradition, and to move into a professional occupation. At the time of the 1911 Census, Percy was living, by himself, at a house in Cromwell Lane, and was a trainee solicitor. A year later we learn that he was working with W Henderson Cleland, Solicitors, Coventry.
Percy Hollick enlisted on 10th August 1914 as a private in the Honourable Artillery Company. He went to France and was wounded. That wound necessitated his return to England for treatment. Whilst here he was given a commission in the 3rd Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment.
During 1917, the 3rd Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment was engaged on the Western Front near Arras. Percy Hollick was killed on 9th May 1917, during an attempt to take the village of Fresnoy. Records of the battalion tell us: "The village of Fresnoy was lost to a determined German attack on the 8th of May, and over the following days all the battalions of the 5th Division were involved in trying to regain the lost village. Artillery fire from both sides was intense, the fighting was savage; hand-to-hand, bayonet charges and bombing attacks. Various parts of the village changed hands many times with isolated pockets holding out and keeping the Germans at bay for hours on end. The Royal Warwicks were involved in an assault on Fresnoy beginning at 2am on 9 May. Before the men even got to the German positions many casualties were caused by shellfire catching them crossing the No Man's Land. During this attack the battalion lost 206 men; 60 of these were killed." (from 'Birmingham Pals' by Terry Carter, p311)
Percy Hollick's name is remembered on the Arras Memorial in the Faubourg d'Amiens Cemetery. That memorial commemorates nearly 35,000 allied soldiers with no known grave who were killed in the Battle of Arras, fought between 9th April and 16th May 1917.
Percy Malin Pridmore 1886-1917
Percy Malin Pridmore was born in Coventry in January 1886, the only son of Alexander Percy Pridmore and his wife Florence Louise, daughter of Joseph Cash who was a Ribbon Manufacturer in the city.
Percy was educated at Uppingham and Kings College, London, and was a partner at Messrs. Pridmore & Co. He obtained a commission as 2nd Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment in September 1914. He was promoted to Lieutenant in 1915 and Captain on 17th October 1916, serving with the Expeditionary Force in France and Flanders from March 1915. Percy was awarded the Military Cross for general good work during his command of a trench mortar battery. The Military Cross is awarded for acts of exemplary gallantry during active operations against the enemy to captains or officers of lower rank up to warrant officers, and was first established by King George V in December 1914. It is one of the third level medals awarded to Commonwealth soldiers.
The Commanding Officer wrote: “He was one of my best company commanders, and one on whom I could absolutely trust to do what he was asked to do”.
He was married at Allesley on 18th October 1916 to Constance Margaret Kerby of Burnt Post, Coventry which at the time was an area of the city not just a pub.
He was killed in action on 2 September 1917 near Ypres and is buried in Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery. For much of the war Vlamertinghe was outside the normal range of German shellfire and the village was used both by artillery units and field ambulances. The New Military Cemetery was begun in anticipation of the Allied offensive launched on this part of the front in July 1917.
Percy is commemorated in Westwood Heath Church, and also on the family memorial in St Michaels Church, Stoke. The personal inscription reads:
‘He died the Noblest death a Man can Die
Fighting for God and Right and Liberty
And such a Death is Immortality’
(Sources Commonwealth War Graves Commission, De Ruvignys Roll of Honour, National Archives)
...is being researched.