The Dudley War Memorial
Mike Perkins gave his usual welcome to members and visitors, before giving a brief update on current local matters. He then handed over to Chairman Pat Martin to introduce John Hale to the Society to talk about The Dudley War Memorial - the men, the battles and the burials.
John confessed that it was only his second presentation to a live audience and he claimed to be quite nervous about the prospect but very soon his knowledge and enthusiasm for War Memorials and the history behind them came through strongly.
The 1914-18 Dudley War Memorial is located in Priory Street in Dudley and was commemorated by Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin as part of the 1926-28 Coroner’s Court development which adjoins Dudley Council House. He added that it is somewhat unknown as it is tucked away in a gated portico and he only recently found out about it as an officer of the Council when a remembrance service was conducted. The memorial features 720 faintly carved names in stone (but only 717 men are commemorated) of only those soldiers from Dudley town, and is naturally dimly lit.
There is a carved pediment above the gates which has a connection with Thomas Hardy, the poet. The Mayor of Dudley in 1924/5 was James Smellie who had three sons in the armed forces during WW I. He had drafted some prophetic words which he sought the approval and endorsement of from Thomas Hardy before these became a carved inscription:
“If you think, have a kindly thought,
If you speak, speak generously
of those who as heroes fought
and died to keep you free”
John had undertaken much research to identify and correlate the names on the Memorial using a book from the library to cross check names with those inscribed on the Memorial itself. A Roll of Honour written by the Dudley Teacher’s Centre contained 550 names and he then needed to reference the War Widows index. He found that on many occasions mis-spelling was prevalent (e.g. Abbis should have read Addis). At present he has identified and associated all but twenty of the Dudley men on the memorial.
John’s presentation then went on to focus on individual’s experiences (the real Dudley people he called them). He referred to the Ennis brothers who lived in Stone St of which only one of the five brothers survived the bloody conflict. Private W Baggott is infamous as he was drafted from HM Parkhurst prison to join the ranks! He spoke about the friends and family members who died together, not to the same degree as other pal’s regiments but tragically just the same with many being killed on the same day side by side. Pleasingly they are still formally remembered by their great grandchildren every year. John had also undertaken some statistical analysis which revealed that 59 regiments had been represented by Dudley men; 341 (47%) of those had been enlisted in the Worcestershire / Worcestershire Yeomanry Regiments and that attrition rates from 1914-18 were high with 23,134,170,181.171 being killed across those years of the war. His analysis revealed that there were clusters of deaths with Stourbridge and Cradley men also being hard hit with losses. The worst battle at Gallipoli saw 54 Dudley men killed in action. On reflection this was an ill-advised plan ordered by Churchill that resulted in a catastrophe for the British Army who didn’t have enough shells or equipment to fight what became an embarrassing campaign for the allies.
Honours were achieved by many of the Dudley men with Captain Mould (Headmaster of Dudley Grammar School) almost being awarded the VC but he did achieve the Military Cross (MC) and the Distinguished Service Medal (DSM). Five soldiers were awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The Dudley Patriotic Committee which was sponsored by the Mayor of Dudley also presented a local gold watch honour.
Dudley men were also involved in the Navy and many were amongst those lost in the Battle of Jutland, notably AB Geo Forrest whose ship HMS Hampshire on which Kitchener was on board was sunk. John talked about Leading Seaman E. Whorton who he described as “the unluckiest man in Dudley”. Leading Seaman Whorton was on board HB Submarine D3 which was cruising above water in The English Channel when it was mistakenly attacked by a French airship which actually and miraculously hit the submarine with a bomb which sank the vessel from which there were no survivors. There was only one Dudley airman, Second Lieutenant Foley-Cave (an ex Halesowen Grammar School student whose parents lived in Wolverhampton Street) who was unfortunately killed whilst in training in a Sopwith Camel, a notoriously difficult aircraft to fly though it provided unmatched manoeuvrability in its day.
An interesting story was then related concerning the Ward brothers, amongst them the 2nd Earl of Dudley, who were dedicated to the Worcestershire Yeomanry. Unknown to many in the audience a riding school was built by the Earl in Trinity Rd Dudley (now the site of the Post Office Sorting Station) in 1889/90.
It was home to 20 horses and manned by instructors hired by the Earl of Dudley who by 1913 had become Colonel. He arranged for every member of the corps to be given a silver capped riding crop before embarking to fight in Egypt. At the Charge of the Huj the Worcestershire Yeomanry including two men from Dudley took part in what was the last unsupported cavalry charge. They are buried side by side in Gaza.
John then talked more generally about war memorials to the missing. At Thiepval there are 72 commemorations (10% of Dudley’s fallen) and 273 Dudley men are named on memorials around the world. He referenced the 1913/14 Basra memorial which Saddam Hussain has moved 20 miles into the desert. Locally, Dudley men are also named on war memorials at Dudley Grammar School, Dudley Conservative Club and at the Sir Gilbert Claughton Grammar School (this one is currently being relocated).
No civilian casualties appear on any of the memorials though many mistakes have been made with names due to mis-spelling, being a twin, soldiers changing regiment and subsequently their number, being named on memorials but not actually killed! One anecdote from the audience advised that when the Stourbridge War Memorial was erected the then Stourbridge Librarian Mr Bristocks exclaimed “that’s me!” inscribed on the memorial. The question session covered more details and specifics about the memorial, the men and some of the battles that Dudley men had been involved in. Some discussion also ensued about the Labour Force regiments which used spades not rifles in supporting the war effort by making roads, digging trenches etc.
John’s talk was captivating, informative and prompted many questions being asked in an interactive conclusion. He was roundly applauded for his excellent presentation before being formally thanked by Pat Martin who poignantly informed the group that her late husband Bill had been given a middle name of Dardanelles, being born in 1915 when the Gallipoli campaign in which his father was involved, took place.
The next meeting of the Amblecote History Society will take place on Wednesday 13th May at 7.30pm in The Lehr Theatre at the Ruskin Centre with Kevin Goodman talking about “The Black Death and how it affected the West Midlands”.
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