Tag Archives: Sergeant Major

CWG: Company Serjeant Major Walter Bailey

Company Serjeant Major Walter Bailey

Walter Bailey was born on 6th October 1882 in Midsomer Norton, Somerset. He was one of eight children to Wiltshire-born labourer John Bailey and his wife, Emma, who came from the town in which they settled.

When he left school, Walter followed his siblings into the local boot industry and, by the time of the 1901 census, was working as a shoemaker. He was a sporty young man, and played in the local Welton Rovers Football Club.

When war came to Europe, Walter was eager to play his part. He enlisted in the 1/4th Somerset Light Infantry and, on 9th October 1914, was shipped to India. His battalion later moved to Mesopotamia where, on 8th March 1916, he was wounded in the foot in fighting. (Walter’s nephew, Corporal Tom Bailey was in the same regiment and, in the same fighting, he was killed. He is commemorated on the memorial in Basra, Iraq.)

Walter was invalided to India, but returned to his regiment when he recovered. He continued fighting, and was eventually promoted to Company Sergeant Major, while being mentioned in dispatches in 1918.

While waiting to return to England when the war ended, Walter fell ill. He was transported back to Southampton on a hospital ship, and from there was taken to a hospital in Glasgow. Sadly, the dysentery and anaemia he was suffering from were to get the better of him: Company Sergeant Major Bailey passed away on 27th July 1919, at the age of just 36 years old.

Walter Bailey’s body was brought back to Somerset for burial. He lies at rest in the family plot in the cemetery of St John the Baptist Church in his home town, Midsomer Norton.

Company Sergeant Major Walter Bailey
(from britishnewspaperarchive.com)

CWG: Colour Serjeant Major Frederick Davis

Colour Serjeant Major Frederick Davis

Frederick Davis was born in Street, near Glastonbury, in February 1876. One of four children, his parents were Frank and Ann. Frank was an agricultural labourer, while Ann worked as a shoe binder in the local Clark’s Factory.

By the 1891 census, Frederick had left school, and had also left home, boarding with a farmer in nearby Walton, where he also worked as a labourer on the farm. Ten years later, he was living with his paternal grandmother and his older brother in the village, with both brothers working as labourers.

During this time, it seems that Frederick had his sights on bigger and better things. Full details are not available, although it appears that he enlisted in the Army and served in India and South Africa between at least 1897 and 1902. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in 1902 for his actions, although again little information around this survives.

Confirmation of his service overseas at this time appears on Frederick’s later military service records as, in January 1909, he again enlisted in the army. Frederick’s 1909 records show that his next of kin was his wife, Mrs AL Davis, although no marriage documents are apparent. He is also recorded as living in Castle Cary, just to the south of Glastonbury.

This time he was assigned to the 4th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, serving for five years on home soil. During this time, he rose through the ranks from Private to Lance Corporal to Corporal to Sergeant.

When war was declared, the 4th Battalion was sent out to India. Sergeant Davis spent the next eighteen months there, before being moved to the Persian Gulf. He was obviously well thought of as, with the move came a further promotion, this time to Company Sergeant Major.

In June 1917, Frederick returned to England from overseas, and, at the end of his term of service two months later, he was demobbed. He returned home to Somerset, but, within a couple of months, on 2nd October 1917, he passed away. The cause of his death is not recorded, but he was 42 years of age.

Frederick Davis was laid to rest in the peaceful surrounds of the Castle Cary Cemetery.

CWG: Company Sergeant Major Hugh Caston

Company Sergeant Major Hugh Caston

Hugh Charles Caston was born in Chelsea in the summer of 1881, the oldest of three children to Emily and Hugh Caston. Hugh Sr died in the late 1880, leaving Emily to raise the family on her own. She moved the family to Gillingham, Kent, to be near her family. She found work as a seamstress and took in boarders.

As the effective head of the family, Hugh obviously felt he had to earn a wage. On 1st August 1896, he enlisted in the Royal Engineers as a Bugler.

Hugh’s medical report shows he stood at 5ft 4.5ins (1.63m) tall and weighed 97lbs (44kg). He had a medium complexion, with brown eyes and brown hair. The report also gave his distinctive marks as being a scar on his forehead, a brown patch on his left buttock and that his eyebrows meet.

Initially too young for full active service, Hugh formally joined up on 1st June 1897. He spent more than five years on home soil, rising through the ranks from Sapper to Lance Corporal to 2nd Corporal. In May 1902, he was posted to Malta, returning home nearly two years later. Hugh’s promotions continued over the next decade, and, by the time war broke out, he had reached the rank of Company Sergeant Major.

By this point, Hugh had married, wedding Rochester woman Mary May Coast in September 1907. The couple went on to have two children, Hubert, who sadly died young, and Joan.

War came to Europe, and things took a turn for Company Sergeant Major Caston. He was admitted to Netley Hospital near Portsmouth, with mania:

Patient’s very restless, often gets ‘excited’ is thwarted in any way. Has a delusion that he is to be promoted to Major and that he possesses great wealth. He continually asks that his motor may be sent round to take him out, also that his tailor be sent for to rig him out. Stated this morning that he wished all the other patients be supplied with Egyptian cigarettes.

Medical Report on Hugh Caston, 20th January 1915

The medical officer went on to state that he did not consider that military service had in any contributed to the mania; he was dismissed from the army on medical grounds on 2nd February 1915, after nearly 20 years’ service.

Sadly, at this point Hugh’s trail goes cold. There is no documentation relating to his time after being discharged from the army and, tragically, after his death Mary was not granted a war pension, as he had served for less that six months during the First World War.

Hugh Charles Caston died on 18th June 1917, at the age of 36 years old. While the cause of his passing is lost to time, he was laid to rest in the Woodlands Cemetery in Gillingham, Kent.

CWG: Serjeant Major Percy Hawkins

Staff Serjeant Major Percy Hawkins

Percy Harry Hawkins was born in Waltham Green, London, in 1886. One of five children, all boys, his parents were Frederick and Elizabeth Hawkins. Frederick initially worked as a brewer’s collector – collecting rent from tenant pub managers on behalf of the brewery – before working as a tobacconist.

In July 1908, Percy married Gladys Parnell. Sadly, tragedy was to strike and, over the next couple of years both Elizabeth and Frederick passed away in 1909 and 1910 respectively.

By the time of the following year’s census, Percy and Gladys were boarding with a dispensing doctor (or GP), and his wife. Percy listed his occupation as a ‘traveller’, was probably employed as some kind of salesman.

Tragedy was to strike Percy again. Months after the couple had their first child in July 1911, Gladys also passed away, leaving him as a widower and single parent at just 26 years old.

From his later military documentation, it seems that Percy married again in August 1915, this time to a woman called Mildred, and, by September 1919, he had gone on to have three children in total; one boy and two girls.

When war broke out, Percy was quick to enlist. He joined up in Birmingham on 10th August 1914, and gave his profession as a commercial traveller. His records show that he was 28 years and 120 days old, stood 5ft 6ins (1.69m) tall and weighed 131lbs (59.5kg).

After initially joining the Royal Warwickshire Regiment, Private Hawkins was transferred to the Royal Army Service Corps, and was assigned to one of the supply companies.

Over the four years of the war, Percy served on home soil, and was promoted a number of times, rising from Private to Lance Corporal, Staff Sergeant to Quartermaster Staff Sergeant. In September 1917, he was again promoted, this time to Staff Sergeant Major, a position he held for the remainder of the conflict, and on into 1919, when he volunteered for an extra year’s service, rather than being demobbed.

In February 1920, Staff Serjeant Major Hawkins fell ill; he was admitted to the military hospital that had been set up in Brighton Pavilion, Sussex. The diagnosis was heart failure, and, sadly, it was to this that he was to succumb. He passed away on 20th February 1920, aged just 34 years old.

Percy’s family was, by this time, living down the coast in Worthing; his body was brought there for burial and he lies at rest in the Broadwater Cemetery in the town.

CWG: Serjeant-Major Charles Clarke

Serjeant Major Charles Clarke

Charles Edward Nesbit Clarke was born in December 1884, the son of Ralph Clarke. Sadly, there is little documentation to flesh out his early life. He had at least one sibling, a sister called Nellie, and was born in London, possibly in Hampstead.

Charles seemed to have been mechanically minded; when he left school, he found work with a motor vehicle fitter, before going on to get employment as an electrical engineer.

He met a woman called Elizabeth Bertha Gould, and the couple married in Islington in November 1908. Four years later, the couple had a child, Edward. The boy’s baptism record shows that the family were living in the St John’s Road Workhouse in Islington, so things seemed to have been really tough for them. (There are no other workhouse records available, so it may be that it was a temporary residence, while Edward was born, but this cannot be confirmed either way.)

The Great War broke out, and Charles enlisted straight away. He had found employment as a foreman fitter by this point, and joined the Army Service Corps, in the Motor Transport Division. He was sent to France a week later, as part of the British Expeditionary Force, and served there for seven months.

When he returned to England, having gained the 1914 Star and the British and Victory Medals for his service, he was assigned to the military camp at Burnham-on-Sea, Somerset.

Five months later, a local newspaper picked up the sorry story of what happened next.

At Weston-super-Mare Hospital… Dr S Craddock held an inquest on the body of Staff Sergeant Major Charles Clark [sic], Army Service Corps, who was admitted to that institution suffering from a mortal and self-inflicted wound received at the Burnham military camp on Sunday morning.

Captain Budibent deposed that at the time the deceased was detained in camp as the result of having been absent from duty for four days without leave. On hearing of his return, witness (who liked the man and recognised his great value, having served with him in France) went to the tent to see him. Deceased was very upset, and in reply to a question said “I can’t account for staying away; I must have been mad.” Witness tried to cheer him up, reminding him that is was not “a hanging matter”, to which Clark replied “No, sir, I wish it was.” When they were in France together Clark confided to witness that a girl who once lived with him desired him to marry her on his returning from the Front, but he stated that he could not do so, as he loved another girl. As he was depressed, witness advised him on returning home to see the girl who considered she had a claim upon him, and, if it were a matter of money, to settle it, and then marry the other girl. On later returning to the Front from England, deceased said his troubles were over, that he had married the other girl, and that he could now do his work with a good heart. Witness, however, believed other troubles had arisen.

Sergeant Belt, ASC, said he had slept in the same tent with the deceased. Clark had a good night, but next morning became very depressed over the fact that half the Company were leaving the came for another destination, and would be losing close friends. He remarked “The last hour has been the worst in my life.” Later, when outside the tent, witness heard a rifle shot and, rushing in, found Clark lying in bed with a rifle wound in his chest. Deceased admitted that he had fired the rifle himself. Death occurred in Weston Hospital, whither he was removed the same night. The medical evidence revealed terrible internal injuries, the bullet having practically severed deceased’s liver.

The jury returned a verdict that Clark committed suicide while temporarily insane.

Taunton Courier & Western Advertiser: Wednesday 18th August 1915

The report, particularly Captain Budibent’s comments, raises some questions. By the time of the First World War, Charles was married to Bertha. There is no record of him having married anyone else, so where the girl he loved, and the other who loved him came into it, it is impossible to say.

Sergeant Major Clarke had taken his own life at the age of just 31 years old. Bertha and their son were living in Chatham, Kent, at the time, and it seems likely that the cost of moving him closer to home may have ruled that out.

Charles Edward Nesbit Clarke’s body was buried instead in the Milton Cemetery in Weston-super-Mare.

CWG: Colonel Henry Walsh

Colonel Henry Walsh

Henry Alfred Walsh was born near Taunton, Somerset, in September 1853, the eldest of five children to Theobald and Isabel Walsh. Theobald was a magistrate with some military connections, and it was military service that Henry went into.

While full details aren’t readily available, the 1881 census finds him living in Devon, with his employment simply as “military”. Presumably, he had enrolled in the Somerset Light Infantry, the regiment he had a lifelong commitment to.

By the early 1880s, Henry had married Ann Sparrow. The couple went on to have three children – Theobald, Gwladys and Archibald.

The 1891 finds Henry and his family in the Somerset Light Infantry Barracks at Farnborough. Henry was a Sergeant Major by this time, and was assigned to the 1st Battalion. Also living in the same accommodation – and presumably helping Ann with the running of the household – were a governess and cook.

The census also highlights the transient nature of army life. Henry, as mentioned before, was born in Taunton, while Ann came from Plymouth in Devon. Theobald was born in Taunton, while Gwladys and her younger brother were both born in Devon. Military service brought a sense of stability, but not necessarily geographically.

Henry eventually took a step back from the army; by the time of the 1911 census, he was living back in Bishop’s Hull, the village of his birth in Somerset, and listed as a retired colonel. When war broke out, however, he volunteered his services again, and was appointed the officer commanding the No. 8 District in Exeter.

While Henry came out of retirement to serve his country again, his two sons had also forged their own military careers. Theobald also joined the Somerset Light Infantry, also achieving the rank of Colonel. Archibald joined the Royal Horse Artillery; his story can be found by clicking here.

When Henry passed away in 1918, local newspapers were unanimous in their praise of the long-serving officer, outlining both his military service and his charitable work.

Colonel Walsh had had a distinguished military career, dating from 1870, when he joined the old Somerset Militia at Taunton. [He] was created a CB in 1905, and held the medal and clasp for Zululand, and the medal and two clasps and the Khedive’s Bronze Star for his services in Egypt.

He was a JP for Somerset and a member of the Army and Navy Club. [He] threw himself wholeheartedly into the work of the Boy Scout organisation.

The greatest work in which Colonel Walsh had been identified during the war, however, was undoubtedly that of feeding the Somerset prisoners of war in Germany, and his name will ever be linked in grateful memory with that of his honoured wife for having raised and maintained a fund capable of bearing the strain of over £3,000 expenditure per month to save the Somerset men in Germany from starvation.

Well Journal: Friday 29th November 1918

Ironically, for all this exultation, there is no immediate record of the cause of Henry’s death; given his age – he was 65 when he passed – it seems likely that he died following an illness.

Colonel Henry Alfred Walsh lies at rest in St Mary’s Cemetery in Taunton, Somerset. He is buried next to his son, Archibald.

Colonel Henry Walsh

CWG: Serjeant Major Charles Cassidy

Company Serjeant Major Charles Cassidy

Charles Cassidy’s early life is a bit of a challenge to uncover. He was born in County Antrim, Ireland in around 1856, but there is little concrete information to identify his parentage or his movements before the late 1870s.

A newspaper report of his passing confirms that his military career began early. He joined the Somerset Light Infantry, and “saw active service in the Zulu campaign in 1879, and in Burmah 1885-1887.” [Western Times: Tuesday 15th February 1916]

In around 1890, he married a woman called Annie; she came from Wareham in Dorset, and the couple went on to have three children – Daisy, Charles and Margaret.

After completing his military service, Charles continued to work as a messenger for the regiment. However, when war came, he was called up again, acting as Company Serjeant Major in the Taunton Barracks.

Charles’ military service was not to be prolonged, however. On 13th February 1916, he was in the Sergeants’ Mess in the barracks, when he suddenly collapsed with heart failure, dying almost instantaneously. He was 60 years old.

Charles Cassidy lies at rest in St Mary’s Cemetery in Taunton, next to the barracks where he so readily did his duty.

CWG: Serjeant Major Charles Willcox

Sergeant Major Charles Willcox

The early life of Charles Willcox is a bit of a mystery. From fragments of information, we can determine that he was born in 1893 and had a brother called Edmund and a sister called Beatrice. His mother was a Mrs S Willcox, who, by the early 1920s was living in Johannesburg, South Africa.

Piecing together the tiny pieces of information online, it seems likely, therefore, that his parents were Frank and Sarah Willcox. Frank was a cabinet maker and upholsterer, he and Sarah were from Bridgwater in Somerset, and they had eleven children.

By 1895, Frank had moved the family from Somerset to Cardiff; Charles was the last of the siblings to be born in England. The family did eventually move to South Africa – alongside Sarah, both Beatrice and Edmund lived and died there in their later years.

Back to Charles and, once the Great War started, he was quick to enlist. He joined the Somerset Light Infantry in August 1914, and had a narrow escape in October of that year. The Bridgwater Mercury reported that he was in the trenches and had had a near miss when his backpack was hit by a shell.

Corporal Willcox was wounded at Ypres in November, when a piece of shrapnel hit him in the shoulder, went through the lung and had to be cut out of the centre of his back. He was expected to make a full recovery within a year. Charles was also awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions in the battle.

In September 1915, Sergeant Willcox received another award; the Russian Cross & Order of St George; the Bridgwater Mercury noted that Charles was the first man from the town to be awarded both this and the DCM. The town’s mayor also subsequently presented him with a gold watch and chain on behalf of the town.

Promotion continued for Charles, and, by 1917, he had been elevated to Company Sergeant Major. He was heavily involved in recruitment for the Somerset Light Infantry, and it is likely that, standing at a strapping 6ft 4ins (1.93m) tall and weighing in at 17st (107kg), he would have been the perfect advert for the battalion.

When the war came to a close, things quietened down for him. A keen sportsman – he played rugby for Somerset – he had been a gym instructor in the army, and had taken up boxing around 1912. He entered a novices’ boxing competition in Southampton in December 1919, and found himself up against Seaman Merrilees, from the HMS Hearty.

In the fight, Charles received a body blow and a blow to the jaw, he fell to the floor, landed awkwardly and was knocked out. Attended to by doctors in the sports club, he was sent to Charing Cross Hospital when he did not regain consciousness after a couple of hours.

At the hospital, bruising was reported to Charles’ eye and cheek, but no skull fracture was found. They operated on him, two pieces of bone were removed, and a large clot on the left-hand side of his brain discovered. Sadly, the operation did no good, and Charles died that afternoon, the 4th December 1919. He was just 26 years old.

His death was recorded as concussion and a cerebral haemorrhage, attributed to the fall he had had in the ring. An inquest was held, although one report suggests a verdict of accidental death, while another states excusable homicide by misadventure.

Charles Willcox lies at rest in the Wembdon Road Cemetery in his home town of Bridgwater in Somerset. His gravestone remembers that he lived for sport, died for sport and always played the game.

Image from wembdonroadcemetery.com