KEEP THE HOME FIRES BURNING
HOME LIFE DURING THE FIRST WORLD WAR
A MICROCOSM OF ENGLISH TOWNS & VILAGES
JOHN A. TAYLOR
THE WORDS OF A LOST GENERATON
“When black Depression’s clouds around thee roll.
Go forth and gaze on Nature’s lovely face,
And mark her sweet serenity; her soul
Is calm, content, unruffled by the race
Of Passion’s deep, dark, turgid stream, whose face
O’erwhelms and buffets mortals e’er the goal
Of peace is gained. Then in its murky hole
Despair engulfs them, and the dread grimace
Of Helplessness be mocks the fettered heart.
Up! Up! and burst the monster’s choking tomb;
Seek Nature’s aid: gaze on some tiny bloom,
Whose gentle smile can, by artless art,
Frank yet mysterious, dispel thy care.
And banish to its dungeon dour Despair.
These lines were written on May 6th 1916 by Lieutenant George Raymond Kewley, whilst resting in a dug-out a mile behind the firing line, after a short walk to a shell shattered abbey. Serving with the 8th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, Lieutenant Kewley was one of the two sons of the Reverend and Mrs. J. Kewley, of Wolverton. He was killed in action two weeks after writing this verse.
By November 1914 Mr. Thomas Jelley, of Cosgrove, had three sons in military service. Two were in Kitchener’s Army, but the third, Private Charles Jelley, of the 1st Northants. Regiment, was in hospital at Liverpool, with a leg wound sustained at Ypres. The following extract is an extract from a letter that he wrote whilst in No. 1 General Hospital, France, where he remarked that he was being well looked after by the British Red Cross nurses;
"There have been several fellows of our regiment killed who come from roundabout Cosgrove. We have had some close fighting, and have often used our bayonets, but it is a job to get near the Germans, as they do not like the bayonet; when they see we mean business they run like rabbits. They try all sorts of fakes to try and surprise us. Sometimes they dress up as English and French soldiers, but it is generally a dear game for them as they do not catch us napping.” “You would be surprised to see how interested the fellows are out here as regards football, and when they get the papers one can hear them shout along the trenches and ask how so and so got on, and they don’t seem to trouble much about shells and wounds.”
Employed in the gas department at Wolverton Works, being in the Reserve he had gone to France at the beginning of the war, and took part in all the battles. An army pensioner, his father had gone through many campaigns with the old 58th Regiment (2nd Northants.), and was a veteran of the Zulu War of 1879. During the Boer War in 1881 he was present at the battles of Laings Nek and also Majuba Hill, where he was wounded and taken prisoner.
In December 1914 Mrs. Atkinson, of The Priory, Cosgrove, gave a dinner to the men of the village who were back on leave.
On Saturday, May 15th 1915 a telegram was received, stating that 32 year old Captain William Henry Jepson St. Leger Atkinson, of the 1st Royal Dragoon Guards, had been killed on the Wednesday. He was the eldest son of Mr. and Mrs. Jepson Atkinson, of Cosgrove Priory, and of his twelve years spent in the Army eight had been in India, where he was A.D.C. to the Governor of Madras, being also his A.D.C. in the riots of Johannesburg. As commander to the signalling troops, he had been at the Front for six months, and had fought in both battles of Ypres. Attended by practically all the villagers, and persons of titled and local note, on Sunday afternoon, May 30th, a memorial service was held in Cosgrove church, where having read the lesson the Captain’s father paid the following and moving tribute;
“My son was killed in battle with a smile on his face, so his brother said. As a soldier he was respected; he was fearless, and he is a loss to the Army and the country, as his General says. His Colonel (Colonel Steele) was killed with him. There is not a real man here who will not wish for such an end as his, and who does not thank God with me for having given me such a son.”
(The cousin of Captain St. Leger Atkinson, Captain and Adjutant A.W. Foster, Royal Horse Guards (Blues) had been seriously wounded, resulting in the amputation of a leg. He was the son of Colonel and Mrs. Foster, formerly of Spratton.)
In a letter to his parents, in October 1915 from a clearing station Sister G.M. Allen sent news of the death of Private Joseph Brown, of the Oxon and Bucks Light Infantry.
“I am so exceedingly sorry to have to tell you that your son, Private Brown, of the Oxford and Bucks L.I., died this afternoon (September 28th), gas gangrene following on wound on his leg. We did everything that could be done for him, but a patient with gas gangrene stands very little chance. He was such a good patient. I told him this morning I was going to write to you and send you his love. He remembered the sister who nursed him. He was in Northampton Hospital for an operation when she was there. He will be buried in the churchyard here (Hazebrouck). You have my sincere sympathy with you in your sad loss.”
Born at Cosgrove, Private Brown would have been 22 in November, and was the youngest son. He had been wounded in the thick part of the leg by a gas shell. Well known in his home neighbourhood, he was a keen footballer, and, apart from playing for Wolverton Town, formed part of the cup team when Cosgrove won the North Bucks Football League. For a while he had been employed at Wolverton Carriage Works, and for seven months was under steward at the Social W.M.C. His sister is Mrs. Gee, lived at 50 Peel Road, Wolverton, and two of his brothers were in military service.
Aged 31, Lance Corporal William ‘Laddie’ Brown, 7th Battalion, Oxon and Bucks Light Infantry, was killed in action on Saturday, August 19th 1916. A native of Cosgrove, he had been a keen sportsman, and some years before had played some ‘sterling games’ for the Cosgrove and Wolverton football clubs. The following letter was received by his parents, William and Margaret Brown, of 62, Peel Road, Wolverton;
“Dear Mrs. Brown. It is with feelings of heartfelt sympathy and deepest regret that I write to tell you of the death of your ever brave and cheerful son ‘Laddie’ (he was known as ‘Laddie’ throughout the whole battalion and was immensely popular). On the night of the capture of Horseshoe Hill, your son went with me and the rest of the left-half company through an intense barrage of shrapnel and high explosives which the Bulgarian batteries were sending over. We were carrying tools so that we could get ‘dug in.’ We managed to get there and had to dig in solid rock. Everything seemed hopeless, but ‘Laddie’ and the rest of the boys stuck it, even though we were being shelled all the time and were without water or rations. On the afternoon of the 18th Captain Martin, Mr. Steele and myself were discussing how we were going to hold the position in the event of the counter attack being made, and your son was less than three yards away on our left. Suddenly an immense 3.4 high explosive shell burst about 15 yards to our left, and your brave boy was hit in the abdomen and in the leg. He rolled over and fell at my feet, and gasped,”Oh! I am bleeding to death.” We tried our best but, Mrs. Brown, it was a hopeless case and your gallant boy died in twenty seconds. His death unnerved the rest of the platoon as he was such a favourite amongst us all, and took from me bits of the best of good fellows (sic). The Oxfords, who got through, have lived through absolute hell, as we were exposed to frontal fire, enfilade fire from both flanks and defilade fire from our left flank by the Bulgarian batteries, which were absolutely raining shrapnel and high explosives on to us. Some of the high explosive shells were ??, and never will I be able to realise how the fellows got through that barrage of fire, how they escaped casualties in repelling two counter attacks made by 600 Bulgars, and how any of us got out of that hell-spot alive. I have other letters to write to the relatives of my wounded men, so I will conclude after once more expressing my deepest regret. I am, yours very sincerely, A.P. Boor, Lieut., O.C. 15th Platoon. “D” Co.”
The deepest sympathy was extended in the village to the bereaved parents, who had lost another son, Private Joseph Brown, at the battle of Hooge nearly a year before. Private William Brown is buried in Karasouli Military Cemetery, Greece.
Following the death in action of Private Reginald Childs, in September 1916 the following letter was sent to his father by Captain W. J. Littledale;
“I am afraid I have some very sad news about your son, Pte. R. A. Child, of “C” Company, Oxford and Bucks. L.I. He was killed in action early in the morning of the 8th September; he was hit by a bullet and died at once. I wish I could express the sympathy we feel for you; we shall miss him very much. He was a bomber, and was one of those who always did their very best at his work. He was buried in a cemetery which is very well looked after, and a cross is raised over his grave. I have requested the Graves Registration Committee to send you a photograph of the same. Would you kindly let me know if you receive it safely, or if you do not within six weeks, I intend to visit the grave myself as soon as I have time. Please let me know if there is anything I can do, as I am only too pleased to do anything I can to help the relatives of the brave men who have fallen for us. Yours sincerely, W. J. Littledale, Captain.”
Private Childs had been born at Cosgrove, and there was a large attendance at a memorial service held in the parish church.
Erected near the entrance of the church, on Saturday, April 7th 1917 the dedication took place of a war shrine, on which was inscribed the names of the 43 men from the parish who were serving in the Forces, as well as 32 from Old Stratford parish. The eleven names of the men killed in action had place of honour, and the church service was fully attended.
Lance Corporal William Key, of the Northants. Regiment, died of wounds in hospital at Rouen on May 16th 1917. Aged 28, he was the youngest son of Mr. H. Key, and formerly worked at Irthlingborough. He was the solo cornet player in the band of the 3rd Northants. Regiment at Chatham before going to France, where he had served for 12 months as a stretcher bearer.