Tag Archives: Rifle Brigade

CWG: Rifleman George Hill

Rifleman George Hill

George Hill was born in Castle Cary, Somerset, in 1868. Documents relating to his early life are hard to pin down and, as his is a common name, it is not possible to identify any parental relationships.

The first document that can be categorically connected to George is the 1891 census. This confirms that he was living in his home town, and was married to a woman called Ellen. The couple had a year-old daughter, Elsie, and were both employed as horsehair workers, getting the material ready for use in upholstery.

It seems that Ellen must have died soon after the census as, in the autumn of 1893, he married Florence Cave, a stonemason’s daughter, who was also from Castle Cary. The 1901 census finds George and Florence living with Elsie, but with two children of their own, Laura and Edward.

By the time of the following census, in 1911, the family had grown again, with two more children, Percy and Doris. George’s eldest daughter was, at this point, working as a housemaid for a family in Winchester, while Laura was employed as a tailoress. George himself was still working as a horsehair curler, a trade he had been in for more than twenty years.

War was on its way, and despite being in his mid-forties, George appeared to have been keen to play his part. Full details are not available, but it seems that he had enlisted by May 1918, initially joining the Somerset Light Infantry, where he was assigned to the 4th Battalion. He was soon transferred over to the Rifle Brigade, however, and was attached to the 22nd (Wessex and Welsh) Battalion.

This particular troop initially served on home soil but was sent to Salonika in the Eastern Mediterranean in 1916. There is nothing in Rifleman Hill’s records to suggest that he went with them, however, and it may be that he had not yet enlisted at this point the conflict. His medal records show that he was awarded the Victory and British Medals, but that these were for his territorial work, rather than anything overseas.

Rifleman Hill served until near the end of the war. He had returned home by November 1918, and it was here, on the 9th, that he passed away from pneumonia. He was 52 years of age.

George Hill was buried in the cemetery of his home town, in the family plot. Florence was also laid to rest there, some eighteen years later, husband and wife together again at last.

CWG: Lance Corporal Francis Hawkins

Lance Corporal Francis Hawkins

Francis Moreton Hawkins was born in Cottingham, Northamptonshire on 15th July 1895. He was the eldest of eight children to Francis and Louisa Hawkins. Francis Sr was a butcher and, by 1905, he had moved the family to Taunton, where he set up a ship on the main shopping street in the town.

When Francis left school, he became a clerk for the business; he went on to take civil service exams, gaining employment in the General Post Office and then Customs & Excise. War was looming, however, taking him in a different direction.

Sadly, a lot of Francis’ military records no longer exist. What the records do tell us, though, is that he initially enrolled with the Somerset Territorials in October 1914, transferring first to the Civil Service Rifles and then the Rifle Brigade. He served his term in the army, rising to the rank of Lance Corporal.

When the war came to a close, Lance Corporal Hawkins was placed on furlough while he waited to be demobbed, and returned home on 19th November 1918. Feeling unwell, he took straight to his bed, and, three days later, was admitted to the Military Hospital in Taunton with influenza and pneumonia.

Tragically, these were to get the better of him; Francis passed away at the hospital on 23rd November 1918. He was just 23 years old.

Francis Moreton Hawkins lies at rest in St Mary’s Cemetery in his home town of Taunton.

CWG: Lieutenant Alfred Betty

Lieutenant Alfred Betty

Alfred William Betty was born early in 1869, one of ten children to John Betty and his wife Hannah. John was a blacksmith, and the family lived in the Somerset town of Taunton.

After leaving school, Alfred found work as a silk throwster, twisting silk into thread or yarn. Thus was not the long term career that he sought, however, and in 1887 he enlisted in the Rifle Brigade. During a period of service that lasted 21 years, he fought in India and South Africa, rising to the rank of Quartermaster-Sergeant by the end of his tenure in 1908.

In 1896, Alfred had married Elizabeth Johnson, also from Taunton, who was herself the daughter of a soldier. The couple went on to have three children, two of whom survived – daughters Ella and Hazel.

By the time of the 1911 census, the family had set up home in Taunton. Alfred, now back on civvy street, was working as a clerk and had become involved in the town’s Holy Trinity Men’s Club.

War was on the horizon, however, and when hostilities broke out, Alfred quickly re-enlisted. Within a month of re-joining the Rifle Brigade, he was given a commission in the 13th Battalion. After initially being based in Winchester, by the summer of 1915 Lieutenant Betty found himself on the Front Line. He was involved in some of the fiercest fighting, and was caught up in the Battle of the Somme.

It was here that Alfred fell ill. While full details of his condition are not readily available, he contracted a prolonged illness, as a result of “hardship and exposure” [Western Daily Press, Saturday 24th March 1917].

Whatever the condition, it was serious enough for Lieutenant Betty to be invalided back to England and out of the army, and he returned to his family home in Taunton.

Sadly, Alfred’s condition was to take its toll on him, and he finally succumbed to it on 23rd March 1917. He was 48 years old.

Alfred William Betty lies at peace in St Mary’s Churchyard in his home town of Taunton in Somerset.

CWG: Rifleman Walter Crook

Rifleman Walter Crook

Walter George Crook was born in 1900, one of thirteen children to William – a gardener – and Elizabeth Crook from Shepton Mallet in Somerset.

When he left school, Walter worked as a printer for the town’s newspaper and, by the time of the 1911 census, he was living with his family in a six-roomed house in the middle of the town.

Walter moved on from the Shepton Mallet Journal, and found employment at the Hare and Hounds Hotel in the town. War was coming, however, and he enlisted in the 22nd (Wessex and Welsh) Battalion of the Rifle Brigade.

Rifleman Crook was stationed with his battalion in Salonica, Greece, and it was while he was here that he suffered a cerebral tumour. He was invalided home, and treated in the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley, Hampshire. Sadly, he lost his fight, passing away on 30th October 1916, aged just 27 years old.

Walter George Crook lies at rest in the cemetery of his home town of Shepton Mallet.

Walter’s brother Gordon is also buried in Shepton Mallet Cemetery – read his story here.

A third brother, Bertie, was also gave his life in the Great War. The local newspaper had given a touching report on his death in April 1916.

Bertie Crook left school at the age of 13, and went into service with Mrs Dickinson at Whitstone, as a stable lad. He was there a year and then, on account of Mrs Dickinson giving up horses and leaving the town, they recommended him to Lord Derby’s stables at Newmarket, under the Hon. G Lambton. Small as he was, Bertie Crook undertook the railway journey alone, with a label in his buttonhole. He served five years apprenticeship, which expired at the beginning of October [1915]. He then tried to join the Royal Field Artillery, but not being tall enough he joined a West country regiment on the 20th October, and left Tidworth Barracks for France in the early part of January. He was in his 21st year, having been born on the 29th July. 1895.

The Hon. George Lambton writes “I was terribly shocked and grieved to hear of the death of your boy… Mrs Lambton and I send our deepest sympathy… I always liked your boy so much when he was in my stable; and I felt sure that with his quiet and courageous character he would make a good soldier. I shall have a plate put up in the stable in memento of his glorious death.”

Shepton Mallet Journal: Friday 21st April 1916

Lance Corporal Bertram Stanley Crook is buried at the 13th London Graveyard in Lavantie, France.

CWG: Serjeant Ernest Morris

Serjeant Ernest Morris

Ernest George Morris was born in September 1879, one of six children to John and Eliza Morris. John was a carter for the railways, and this was a trade his son was to follow.

Ernest married Sarah Garrett in Bristol on Christmas Eve 1904, and the young couple went on to have two children, Charles and William.

Ernest’s father died in 1907, and Ernest became head of the family. He moved them in with him in Bristol, and by the 1911 census, the household consisted of Ernest, his mother Eliza, his brothers Frank and William, sister Lily and his own son William.

The census also lists Ernest as a widow; I have not been able to track down any records of when Sarah died. Their eldest boy, Charles, passed very early on, however, so this is likely why Ernest set up home with his family.

By this time, Ernest was working as a carman in the Bristol Goods Yards, and it appears that had a strong character. In September 1912, he was cautioned for “smoking whilst on duty and refusal to give an undertaking to refrain from doing so in future.” He cited his reason that the rulebook “did not prohibit men from smoking when not with a load.”

Ernest was suspended for two days, and was only allowed back to work when he promised to follow instructions in the future. This, it seemed he may not have done, as he was dismissed just three months later.

Ernest’s military service records are hard to piece together. He enlisted in the Rifle Brigade as a Gunner, going on to achieve the rank of Serjeant. He was awarded the Victory and British medals – the standard awards for men involved in the Great War.

Serjeant Morris survived the war, but there is little information for him after that. He passed away on 28th June 1920, aged 40 years old, although there is no record of how he passed. His war pension was awarded to his mother, who was acting as guardian for his son William.

Ernest George Morris lies at rest in the cemetery of his home town of Langport.

CWG: Second Lieutenant George Palmer

Second Lieutenant George Palmer

George Henry Palmer is one of those names that has been a challenge to research and who risked being lost to time.

George and Henry are common names for the late Victorian era, so a simple search on Ancestry brought up too many options to confirm anything specific.

Given the ornate nature of his headstone, it seemed reasonable that his passing and funeral would have been recorded in contemporary media, and indeed it was; the only identifiable name was his own. (His parents “WR and A Palmer” and featured, as is his grandfather “Rev. J Palmer”, but, again, this is not enough to go on for research.)

The additional name on the gravestone, however – George’s brother Albert – proved to be the key, though, identifying the following.

George Henry Palmer was born in May 1896, one of five children to William Richard Palmer and his wife Amy. William was a chemist’s assistant, a job that seemed to move him around the country. William was born in Wells, Somerset, as was his wife and eldest son; George was born in Regents Park, London, while Albert, who was a year younger, was born back in Wells. By the time of the 1901 census (when George was 4 and Albert 3), the family were living in Leicester, and they remained so for the next ten years.

Details of George’s military service comes primarily from the newspaper report of his funeral:

Deceased… was discharged from the Army through wounds received at Ypres in February, 1916, and had resumed his studies at Oxford and entered on a course of forestry, which he was following with great success.

He was well known in Wells, having spent a considerable time in the city and vicinity. He took a great interest in the Wells Volunteers, and was able to drill them in true Army style, having received his training in the Artist Rifles, and later gained his commission in the Rifle Brigade, where he was spoken highly of by his brother officers and men.

Mr Palmer was most thorough and painstaking in all his duties and studies. He was a Wyggestine [sic] scholar at the age of ten years in open competition, and later senior scholar at Wadham College Oxford.

Wells Journal: Friday 1st November 1918.

Second Lieutenant Palmer contracted pneumonia while up at Oxford, succumbing to the illness on 28th October 1918, just a fortnight before the end of the war. He was 22 years of age.

George Henry Palmer lies at rest in the cemetery of his home city of Wells.

CWG: Private Frank Woods

Frank Ernest Woods was born in 1885, one of seven children to Thomas and Alice. Thomas was a labourer and he raised his family in Worcestershire.

Frank left home early – by the time of the 1901 census, he was living as a gardener for the Cornforth family, who were grain merchants in South Claines, near Worcester.

Frank’s work with the family continued; the 1911 census show that they had relocated to Kensington. The Cornforth family were now running the Eaton Court Hotel, a boarding house with nineteen rooms; the 25-year-old Frank had been elevated to the role of waiter.

Another of the Cornforths’ staff was a housemaid, 20-year-old Ethel Elizabeth James; within a matter of years, the couple were courting, and Frank and Ethel married in November 1915.

The Great War was already being waged across the Channel, and Frank enlisted, joining the Rifle Brigade in June 1916. Within three months, he was fighting on the Western Front.

Private Frank Woods was killed in action in Belgium on 1th January 1918. He was 33 years old. He is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial in Zonnebeke.

Frank Ernest Woods was the first husband of my Great Great Great Aunt, Ethel Elizabeth James.