Regular readers of this blog will remember the story of my great x 2 uncle, Cyril Frank Cowling (1892-1916). Cyril enlisted in London with the 1st/15th Prince of Wales Own Civil Service Rifles, part of the London Regiment, with a group of friends in around June 1915. He died on 15th September 1916 in the “Battle of Flers-Courcelette” at High Wood during the Battle of the Somme. He is remembered at the Thiepval Memorial.
The Thiepval Memorial commemorates over 72,000 men from the British and South African regiments and corps who lost their lives on the Somme Front between July 1915 and March 1918 and have no known grave. Of those over 90% fell during the Battle of the Somme between July and November 1916. Most of those remembered were in the Army but there are also those from the Royal Navy, Royal Marines and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve.
I was recently given the opportunity* to review a new release from Pen and Sword books, Missing But Not Forgotten – Men of the Thiepval Memorial Somme, from Pam and Ken Linge.
The book represents part of a huge undertaking by the authors to provide the stories of all the missing men commemorated at Thiepval and provide them with a fitting memorial. It does not aim to provide the history of the First World War at the Somme but, rather, provides the personal stories of a sample of the men who fell. To avoid the volume becoming unwieldy only 200 of the over 72,000 biographies are included. It is must have been almost impossible to decide which individuals to include but an attempt has been made to include examples from each battalion and regiment represented at Thiepval.
What is demonstrated is the range of social backgrounds, educational levels and ranks of those who were killed at the Somme. George Leonard Jenkins, a Private in the East Surrey Regiment, was the son of a manager to a metal merchant. Alexander Young, a Lieutenant in the South African Infantry, was educated at Model School , Galway and was awarded the Victoria Cross for services during Boer War. Claude Theodore Church, a Sergeant in the Norfolk Regiment was a footman serving in the Royal Mews at Buckingham Palace.
The biographical entries for each serviceman contain details of parents, wives, siblings, extracts from letters home and extracts from the letters sent to grieving parents and wives by superior officers and comrades notifying them that their loved one was missing or dead. There are comments about the individual’s disposition “always so cheery”, “I considered him a friend” and so on that bring to life the faceless names on the memorial. There are many tales of a number of brothers who died within a short time of one another. One particularly poignant story is the entry for Frederick William Bennett and his friend William Bentley. Both lived in Burton Street in Tutbury near Burton-on-Trent and worked at the local Nestle’s Condensary. They enlisted together and served in Gallipoli, Egypt and France. On 30th September 1916 they were both killed by the same shell in fighting near Thiepval.
My relative, Cyril Frank Cowling, is unfortunately not one of the ones included in the book. There is, however, a biography of one of Cyril’s battalion, Charles Bertram Stalley, Private 2812 of the 1st/15th. Like Cyril, Charles died on 15th September 1916 at High Wood. Charles was one of at least six children of Alfred and Sarah Stalley (formerly Hardy) of Romford, Essex. Charles worked for the Great Eastern Railway and whilst he was on active service some of his letters and sketches were published in the staff magazine. Part of one of these, published in the book, is reproduced below:
I’ve seen a few ruined towns but none to equal this – its desolation struck me more forcibly than ever. Picture those marches to the trenches… We do not look like the smart soldiers you see at home. We move off in fours, and as we approach the fighting zone drop to two deep, later to single file. No smoking, no talking. By the time we approach the trenches we are fatigued….
In summary the book provides a fitting memorial to a number of those who fell at the Somme and even where an individual is not included it is possible to gain from the stories of those in the same battalion and regiment.
The Centenary of the Battle of the Somme commemoration will take place at the Thiepval memorial on 1st July 2016. Tickets are available by ballot until 18th November 2015. Click here for more information.
* Disclaimer: I was provided with a free copy of the book in exchange for providing a review.