Monday, 31 December 2012

W M Spiller

Walter Matthews Spiller
Born 1897 at Upottery, Devon  Killed in Action 28 March 1918 in Syria
Lance Corporal 23rd (County of London) Battalion (Formerly RAMC)

Walter was the son of Walter Spiller, a blacksmith, and his wife Agnes Cecil ("Cecie") Matthews.  Agnes was from Newquay, where her father earned his living as a sailor.  Walter and Cecie's marriage was registered in Taunton in 1889.  The couple had several children, born in Devon and Somerset:

  •  Parry (c. 1890 - 1983 - served with West Somerset Yeomanry)
  • Oswald (c. 1891 - ?)
  • Guilo Anita (c. 1893 - 20 August 1911)
  • Walter Matthews (c. 1897)
  • Edgar (1899 - 1988 - served with Somerset Light Infantry, then Bedfordshire Regiment)
  • Ruby?

By 1911 the couple were living in Trevena Terrace, Newquay.  Sadly, their daughter Guilo (or Guila) died in that year.  Walter is described as a "worker" on the census of 1911, but no occupation is listed.

Walter's medal card shows that he joined the RAMC and was then transferred to the London Regiment.  I believe that he was part of the Egyption Expeditionary Force and lost his life at the First Attack of Amman.  The EEF had to march to Jordan from Jerusalem and had considerable difficulty in bridging the River Jordan.  Australian, New Zealand and British swimmers made several attempts to take lines across the river so that pontoon bridges could be built.  They did this under heavy fire from the Ottoman troops on the opposite bank.

Major General Shea, commander of the 60th (London) Division, to which Walter was attached, was ordered to attack Amman with the object of destroying a viaduct and tunnel, thereby disrupting an important Ottoman railway link.  Amman was the headquarters for the Fourth, Seventh and Eighth Ottoman armies; a number of German troops were also stationed there.  Shea was to attack with his Division plus the Anzac Mounted Division, the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade, 10th Heavy Battery RGA, a light armoured car brigade, Desert Mounted Corps Bridging Train and pontoon building units.

Shea's force was successful in crossing the Jordan and taking the town of Es Salt but then faced a trek across treacherous terrain in abysmal weather (sleet and heavy rain) to Amman.  The time that it took to make the march gave the enemy plenty of time to prepare their defences and they were ready for Shea when he launched his attack on 27 March 1918.  The battle continued until 30 March when a retreat was ordered.

The London Division suffered 476 casualties, including Walter.  He is buried in the Damascus Commonwealth War Cemetery.

60th Division marching from Jerusalem to Jordan March 1918
[Wikimedia - Public Domain]

Sunday, 1 July 2012

J W B Russell

John William Binfield Russell
Born 1896 in Bridport, Dorset.  Killed in Action 7 July 1916
Second Lieutenant 9th Battalion Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment

John Russell was the eldest son of William Russell and Lucy Binfield Newman.  William, the son of a manufacturer, was a London-born school master, whilst Lucy was a dentist's daughter from Liverpool.  The couple married in London on 25 April 1895.  William must have secured a position in Dorset, because that is where John was born the following year and where the family were living in 1901.  John's brother, Frederick Stratten Russell was born in 1897.  A sister, Mary Veronica, was born in 1899 but died the following year.

William Russell set up a school in Newquay sometime between 1901 and 1911 in a house called St Andrew's on Pentire Avenue.  In the 1911 Census he has several boys listed at the school, including John Vivian Godden Teague who is also listed on the Newquay war memorial.  John Russell was not educated by his father.  In 1911 he and Frederick are listed on the Census at Oundle School in Northamptonshire.  John was clearly an intelligent young man; he gained a Senior Open Classical Scholarship to Oxford in 1914. 

I can't find John's date of enlistment, but he was made a temporary Second Lieutenant on 5 January 1915, as listed in the London Gazette.  His regiment went to France later that year, landing in Boulogne on 15 July 1915.  The regiment were under the command of 52nd Brigade in 17th (Northern) Division.  John would have been deployed to the southern part of the Ypres salient, where the 17th Division held the front lines.  Later, they would take part in the Battle of the Somme.

The 12th Manchesters were with 9th Duke of Wellingtons and their war diary for the period leading up to 7 July 1916 sheds some light on John's last movements.  The Brigade marched to Morlancourt on 2 July, leaving the following day to relieve 21st Division north of Fricourt.  The Manchesters (and presumably the Duke of Wellingtons) were in Lozenge Wood for a few days until 3.30am on 6 July when they received orders to relieve the 9th Northumberland Fusiliers in Quadrangle Trench.  The diary entry for 7 July says that 9th West Ridings/Duke of Wellingtons had already tried and failed to gain the objective.  It is possible that John was lost in this failed attack.  The diary entry goes on to mention the failure of the Manchesters, under barrage and enfilade machine gun fire, to gain the objective.  They list the lost of many of their own officers.  

John's body was not recovered and his name is inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial.  His CWGC listing is here.  His probate record shows that he left £163 to his father. 

William and Lucy Russell remained in Newquay.  William died in 1946 and Lucy lived until 1957 (she was 90 when she died.)   

Frederick Stratten Russell went on to have a highly distinguished career.  He served in both World War 1 and World War 2.  In WW1 he took aerial photographs and was decorated for his bravery.  He joined RAF Intelligence in WW2.  In civilian life, Russell was a marine biologist and it was he who pioneered the measurement of fish stocks.  He was knighted in 1965.  

Monday, 13 February 2012

Archive May Help Identify WW1 Soldiers in Unmarked Graves

I am not sure if the authorities will have the time or the money to follow this up, but it would be fabulous if someone could.  We have two members of our family who fell at Pozieres and who don't have graves, which means that we don't have a focus for our remembrance, other than their names on a monument.  I am sure that other families would like to be able to lay flowers on a grave.

Read about historian Peter Barton's discovery in the Red Cross Archive in Geneva.  He feels that it may hold the key to identifying the bodies of fallen soldiers.  The archive contains detailed records of burial plots compiled at the time of burial.  I hope that this new information will be acted upon.