A brief account of the sacrifice made by members of this school in the service of their country during the First World War
1. Bishop Road School was opened on the 15th of January 1894 as a temporary school under the Horfield School Board. Prior to this the children would have attended at the St Michael’s School on Pigsty Hill on the Gloucester Road, which later became the St Michael & All Angels Mission and Parish Halls. On that first day the Headmistress of the Girls and Infants section (Miss Morgan) admitted 48 children – 12 girls and 36 boys. She tested them a month later and it was found that 15 children did not know their alphabet. A report by the School Board reinforced this when it was stated that the school “is in creditable order but many of the children are old for the classes in which they are taught”, though the teachers were commended for their hard work. In 1896 the report said the classroom was habitually overcrowded. The staff consisted of the Head, 1 teacher and 2 pupil teachers (one of whom seemed to be off sick at least one day a week and eventually resigned) and there were 158 children. Towards the end of this year the girls were moved to new premises but total numbers still went up to 193. Things did improve though and in 1898 the staff consisted of the Head, 3 assistants (who were paid £50 a year), 2 ex pupil teachers and 3 pupil teachers.
2. The segregated juniors later became mixed classes and part of the building site was changed to secondary educational use, in what became known as the Bristol North Central School. The Secondary School closed in the 1980s, in response to educational policy changes, but the junior and infant departments still flourish today. Amongst its former pupils it can claim Paul Dirac (1911 -1914) – the famous physicist and Nobel Prize winner – and Archibald Leach better known as the famous actor and film star Cary Grant. When the school was first opened in 1894, Bishopston was barely recognisable as the place we know today. Bishop Road ended in a double lines of trees beyond which were the open fields of Golden Hill Farm. Kellaway Avenue and the streets beyond did not exist and the City limits ended at Horfield Common, giving the whole area a very rural feel to it. The next 30 years saw a rapid urbanisation of the whole area as rows of terrace houses sprang up and the related supporting infrastructure with it. Bishopston rapidly became a thriving community with it’s owns shops, buses and trams that gave it an identity quite separate from that of the rest of Bristol. Several of the old pupils of Bishop Road School have told me that Bishopston provided them with all the amenities they needed and they never felt the need to go into the centre of Bristol.
3. In the days before the First World War, the pupils would usually have stayed at Bishop Road School until they were 14, unless they got a scholarship to a private school or one of the local Grammar Schools at the age of 11. By1939 the leaving age was officially increased from 12 to 14, although in practice children were staying on until that age long before this. After their 14th birthday they usually left school to find work as assistants or apprentices in the local shops and factories in the area. For this first generation of schoolchildren things were very different and between the years 1914 – 1918 they found themselves caught up in a military conflict on an industrial scale, the like of which had never been seen before. By the war’s end about 8 million men and women from Britain and the Commonwealth had been called to arms. Of these some 3 million became casualties, of which about 1 million were killed.
4. After the conflict was over, some 51 former pupils of Bishop Road School had died or been killed in action and their names are recorded on the school’s war memorial. As memorials go theirs is quite a modest one – a simple list on a wooden plaque recording the names and initials of all those former pupils who died in the service of their country. Nearly 100 years have now passed since this conflict ended and for only a few of us do these names have any meaning or relevance. However, these people all had parents, brothers and sisters, wives and children who grieved for them as the war years faded into distant memory. Although the last of the First World War veterans (Charles Choules) died in Australia in 2011, their children and grandchildren still remember them and so should we. However it is difficult to justice to the memory of someone if they are just a name on a wooden plaque. There are so many questions that I would have liked to ask them. Who were your parents and did you have any brothers or sisters? Did you marry and have children? What hopes and dreams did you aspire to and what became of your families. My purpose in writing these brief biographies is to restore to the school some of the memories that have been lost in the passage of time. It is my sincere hope that when you have read through these few pages you will know a little more about these men and the sacrifices that they made that we might be free.
The Call to Arms
5. As in most parts of the country there was an immediate rush to answer Lord Kitchener’s call to arms and by April 1916 these men had been formed into a new volunteer army ready to prove its metal on the battlefields of the Somme. A smaller number of women also served in the nursing and auxiliary services and in the munitions factories over this period, not to mention the many women who took over the jobs on the land and in the factories while the men were away.
6. Most of the Bishop Road old boys returned safely, although about one third would have became casualties and of these 51 made the supreme sacrifice. The youngest to die was aged just 15 and the oldest was 42. The majority, however, were aged between 20 and 30, although 15 were under the age of 20 reflecting the Government’s reliance on this age group to make up the manpower shortage at the end of the war. The general age distribution of those who died was as follows:
Aged 15 = 1
Aged 18 = 4
Aged 19 = 10
Aged 20-24 = 17
Aged 25-29 = 15
Aged 30-34 = 3
Aged 40-44 = 1
The bulk of the casualties came in the last 3 years of the war, with the greatest number (and highest proportion of under 20 year olds) occurring in 1918. The distribution of casualties was as follows:
1914 = 1
1915 = 4
1916 = 15
1917 = 11
1918 = 20
Where they Served
7. A list of the different units in which these men served is provided in the Annex below. Of those who died the vast majority (49) served in the Army and 2 served in the Royal Air Force/Royal Flying Corps. Of those who served in the Army 3 served with the Royal Artillery, 2 served with the Cavalry, 3 served with the Royal Engineers, 1 with the Royal Army Service Corps, 1 with the British Machine Gun Corps, and 1 with the Canadian Machine Gun Corps. The remaining 38 served in the Infantry. Of these 12 served in one or other of the 8 Battalions of the Gloucester Regiment listed in the Annex but the rest were scattered across a range of different Regiments, reflecting the large proportion of conscripted men.
8. Although the majority served on the Western Front (46), three served in other theatres (one each in Syria, Italy and Mesopotamia) and two never left these shores at all. The two airmen were shot down over the Western Front. Most were killed in action but 9 died of wounds and 6 died from disease. Two of these died as a consequence of diseases contracted while on active service after the war had ended. Diseases such as malaria, typhus and enteric fever were constant companions to war, particularly in Africa, the Balkans and the Middle East, while the great influenza pandemic of 1918 also contributed its toll – some 228,000 people died in the UK and 70 Million worldwide.
9. It may be wondered why so many of our men served in Battalions that had no direct link to Bristol. In some cases this may be because there was a family link or other previous connection with that Battalion. In most cases, however, these soldiers would have been conscripted or assigned to training battalions and would have been sent wherever they were most needed. Also wounded men did not always return to their original unit, particularly if it was at full complement when the soldier in question was declared fit for duty. Some units were also broken up during the war and their men transferred to other units, particularly in February 1918 when all the Brigades were reduced from 4 to 3 Battalions in order to save on manpower.
10. Some 30,000 Bristol men enlisted voluntarily during the first 12 months of the war but this initial enthusiasm gradually waned. By July 1915 there was considerable discussion as to whether conscription should be introduced to round up the more reluctant Bristol men. At first the Government stuck to the voluntary principle and made ever stronger appeals for new recruits. In Bristol this resulted in large adverts for young men to join the 4th and 6th Territorial Battalions of the Gloucestershire Regiment and other specialist units attached to the South Midland Division such as the Royal Artillery and Royal Engineers. The Bristol Times and Mirror made a particular effort to encourage recruitment by publicising the activities of the troops as they underwent training, marched off to war, served overseas or recovered in hospital. They also published rolls of honour listing those men and women from each district who were already serving their country.
11. On the 28th of September 1915 the Bristol Recruiting Offices launched a recruitment rally, backed up by local parades and marches, to encourage men to turn up and enlist as one of the following recruiting halls:
The Royal Gloucestershire Hussars – St Stephen Street
The Gloucestershire Royal Field Artillery (TF) – Whiteladies road
The South Midland Brigade Royal Engineers – Park Row
The 4th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment (TF) – Old Market Street
The 6th Battalion of the Gloucestershire Regiment (TF) – St Michael’s Hill
The Royal Army Medical corps (TF) – Colston Fort, Kingsdown
The Local Regular Army Units – Guildhall, Broad Street
The Mayor of Bristol (Dr Barclay Baron) also made use of the National Register (see paragraph 12 below) to call men up for a private interview in an effort to persuade them to volunteer. Each man was asked to bring their marriage certificate and the birth certificates of any children, in order to be able to confirm the number of people dependent on them.
Introduction of Conscription
12. By these, and various other means, the quotas for 1915 were eventually filled up but it was not enough and on the 11th of October Lord Derby was appointed Director-General of Recruiting. Five days later he introduced the so called “Derby Scheme” whereby all men aged 18-40 were told they could continue to enlist voluntarily, or attest with an obligation to come if called up. This built on the National Registration Act introduced by the Government on the 15 of July 1915, which required all men aged 15-65 to register details of their employment and marital status, to help identify those eligible for service overseas and not employed in vital war work. They were then issued with a registration card by the local registration authority.
13. Under the “Derby Scheme” the last day for registration was the 15th December and voluntary enlistment ceased thereafter. The men listed on the register were then grouped according to age and marital status – thus Group 1 consisted of unmarried 18 year olds, moving up each year to Group 23 for married 18 year olds and ending with Group 46 for married 40 year olds. Groups 2-5 were the first to be called up on the 20 of January 1916 and Groups 6-9 followed on the 1st of February – a picture of the first Group being sworn in by the Lord Mayor of Bristol was published in the Bristol Times and Mirror on the 29th January 1916. A photograph of Derby recruits marching to the Temple Meads station on their way to the training depot at Taunton was also published on the 12th of February 1916.
14. Some 215,000 men enlisted under this scheme (many of them from Bristol) and 2,185,000 attested for later enlistment. Although promises were made to place them in their preferred unit, the greater attrition amongst infantrymen meant that they were usually sent wherever the need was greatest. Despite this effort 38% of single men and 54% of married men not in “starred” jobs had still avoided this form of recruitment and the Government was therefore obliged to introduce the Military Service Act on the 27th of January 1916, which deemed that all single men between the aged 19 and 41 had been enlisted in the Army Reserve. In May 1916 this Act was extended to include all married men.
15. These were then classed according to their year of birth and called up gradually over the rest of the year, with the younger age groups being called first. Those 18 year olds in Class 1, however, had the option of going straight into training, or waiting until they were called up on their 19th birthday. By 1918 all these Groups/Classes had been called up and thereafter the Government was forced to call up those due for military service in 1919, which is why so many 18 year olds were killed in the last months of the war.
The Bristol Territorial Divisions
16. There were particularly strong connections to the 48th (1st South Midland) and 61st (2nd South Midland) Divisions, with six Bishop Road men serving in the former and five in the latter. This should not be surprising since both were Territorial units with strong links to Bristol. The South Midland Division, as it was then known, was one of 14 Divisions in the pre war Territorial Force set up under the reforms introduced in 1908 under the then Secretary of State for War – Richard Burdon Haldane. In August 1914 the South Midland Division had just departed for its annual summer camp when emergency orders were received mobilising it for war service on the 5th of August and it was concentrated in the Chelmsford area by mid August.
17. Meanwhile on the 31st of August 1914 the War Office issued instructions to all units of the Territorial Force to form a reserve unit. The men who had agreed to serve overseas were separated from the rest. Those left as “home service only” were formed into second line units, which provided a reserve, which would be joined by many new recruits from September 1914 onwards. The first line 48th (1st South Midland) Division was eventually sent to France on the 13th of March 1915. However, the second line 61st (2nd South Midland) Division was sadly lacking in equipment and training and was not ready to go to France until the 24th of May 1916. Both Divisions saw considerable action in France at the battles of the Somme and 3rd Ypres. The 48th Division had an easier time in 1918, seeing out the war in Northern Italy. The 61st Division, however, saw almost continuous action between August 1917 and May 1918, being reduced to cadre strength by the end of the German Spring Offensive. However, while it took several months to rebuild, it was back in the front line by October and played an important part in the final defeat of the German Army.
The Battle of Vitoria Veneto
18. Every Division had its defining moment that some how summed up its experience of the First World War. Mostly these involved particular bloody battles like those fought by the Pals Battalions on the opening day of the Somme, or the 57th (Western Lancashire) Division’s heroic defensive action at Guinchy in April 1918. For the 48th Division, however, this moment came in Italy on the 3rd of November 1918 at the battle of Vitoria Veneto, when it surrounded and captured the Austrian III Corps and its commanders. By the time of the Armistice on the 4th of November the 48th Division had pushed forward into Trentino, gaining the distinction of being the first British formation to enter what had been “enemy home ground” before the war.
The Battle of Fromelles
19. For the 61st Division, despite its many desperate battles later in the war, its defining moment undoubtedly came with the Battle of Fromelles on the 19th of July 1916. The Division had only arrived in France a few weeks before and this was generally regarded as a “nursery sector” where troops went to learn the business of trench warfare, before being sent to a more active part of the line. However the XI Corps commander (Lt General Sir Richard Haking) had planned a diversionary action intended to pin down German units and prevent them being used in the larger battle of the Somme to the south. So the 61st Division and the equally green 5th Australian Division were launched into an attack on the 6th Bavarian Reserve Division, which had been dug in around Fromelles for most of the war and knew the terrain backwards. Included among its ranks was one Adolf Hitler – a runner at his Battalion’s HQ – then aged 27.
20. The attack was launched at 6 pm on the evening of the 19th of July, after an 11 hour bombardment, and proved a complete fiasco. The 61st Division attacked in the centre and was mown down by machine gun fire. It then asked the Australians to support a second attack only to cancel it without telling them. The Diggers attacked alone and even broke into the German trenches but were outflanked and had to withdraw under heavy fire the next morning. The Australians lost 1,700 dead and the British 500 for no significant gain, nor were any enemy reserves diverted. Such was the damage to the 61st Division and its reputation that it was not used again other than for trench holding duties until 1917. The British refused the opportunity to collect their dead, so the Bavarians buried them in 8 pits in Pheasant Wood and it is only in last few years have these been discovered and the slow work of identifying their remains for the benefit of their surviving families begun.
Who Were These Men
21. The soldiers listed in this document came from all walks of life. Some were mere boys like Henry Dolphin and Jack Todd seeking glory and adventure, who had enlisted while under age and barely out of school. Indeed they were fortunate not to find themselves in Court – as in the case of Alfie Smith who was prosecuted for trying to enlist first in the Gloucestershire Regiment and then in the North Somerset Yeomanry while only 14 years of age (reported in the Bristol Times & Mirror on the 11th of November 1915). Their ranks also included clerks, bankers, accountants, solicitors and insurance salesmen, as well as builders, carpenters, paperhangers, machinists, boot makers, factory hands and general/agricultural workers.
22. All of them were swept up in one of the most momentous events of the century. No one was unaffected by what happened and for those who survived the world would never be the same again. Several took part in epic events that were to stand out in the history of warfare. Fred Rose, for example, was with the 2nd East Surreys at the battle of 2nd Ypres when the Germans used gas for the first time, while Tom Phillips died at the battle of Flers Courcelette in September 1916 where the British used tanks for the first time. By contrast several of the Bishop Road boys fought on the Kemmel Ridge in April, where the British Army successfully prevented a German attempt to breakthrough to the Channel Ports at the end of April 1918.
23. Robert Newton was shot down by the Red Baron in April 1918 – his 75th victim – while William Redwood took part in Lt General Henry Chauvel’s famous cavalry march through the Syrian Desert, covering an epic 83 miles in 33 hours – a record in cavalry history – before dying of malaria in Damascus a few weeks later. However, not all of our soldiers participated in such momentous events. Some died after only a few weeks in the trenches like Bruce Clark and Lionel Wakefield or, like Ernest Bailey or Robert Helps, died in trench raids that are never mentioned in the history books. Others such as Arthur Piper and Harold Smallcombe fought through some of the hardest battles of the war only to succumb to disease after it had ended. However, whatever the circumstances of their service all were heroes in their own way and all deserved to be remembered.
24. In putting this information together I have used the following sources:
- Commonwealth War Graves Commission records (CWGC)
- Soldiers Died in the Great War*
- Census Records for 1871-1901*
- Medal Rolls Index *
- Pension Records*
- Service Records*
- Birth, Marriage and Death Records*
- Christening Records*
- Divisional and Battalion Histories**
- Minutes of Vestry and Parish Meetings+
- Wright’s Street Directories 1906-1921++
- London Gazette++
- Bristol Times & Mirror++
- Rev Denis B (“Spider”) Hall – letters sent to members of St Michael & all Angels’ church serving with the forces during the Second World War.
*National Archive records available on the Internet via www.ancestry.uk
+Bristol Archive Office
++Bristol Central Library
Most of this information can be found on the Internet, or via the local Archive Office or Library, although the unit diaries can only be accessed via the National Archive.
Interpreting Divisional Histories
25 A word of caution on the battle histories. Service records were not available for most of the soldiers as the archives had been destroyed by bombing during the Second World War. I have therefore had to work out which actions they participated in on the basis of the history of the Division in which they served. However, since I do not always know when exactly they went overseas, they may not have seen action in all of the battles in which their Divisions were engaged. Also, although some of these battles lasted for several weeks the soldiers themselves would not have seen continuous action over these periods. Soldiers were often left out of battle or served in the rear areas while their Division was in action. They were also rotated between duty on the front line, in support or in reserve while a battle was in operation and it would be very rare for a soldier to see continuous fighting for more than 2 or 3 days at a time.
26. It should also be noted that although the troops were mostly engaged in line holding operations rather than constant battle, these were not always quiet affairs. Many parts of the line were subject to frequent trench raids and exchanges of fire that made them quite dangerous places to operate. An example of just how dangerous is provided in a report published in the Bristol times & Mirror on the 26th of March 1916, regarding an action that took place on the 18th March. This recounts the story of how the 1/6th Battalion fought off a trench raid by the Germans, which had been preceded by an intense 2 hour bombardment of gas and artillery shells. In this action Private Robert Helps distinguished himself by fighting a rearguard action with bomb and bayonet, which enabled the rest of his section to retire to safety. He himself was wounded and captured but was later found on the wire, where he had been left for dead as the counter attacking troops forced the Germans out of the British trenches. He died later in hospital. This was typical of many such actions that occurred throughout the war and which were to cause as many, if not more, casualties as the major battles themselves.
27. My aim in these few pages is to restore to this generation a brief recollection of those lives lost, so that this memorial will not just be a list of names but a tribute to the lives they led and the sacrifice they made. Needless to say my researches have found out more about some individuals than others and there are still gaps in the narrative and areas of uncertainty. It should also be noted that the war memorial was itself drawn up in a rather haphazard fashion, so it is not surprising that some names are out of place and initials missing. So if you do find any inaccuracies or feel you can fill in some of the gaps I should be glad to hear from you.