Francis Morgan Field, 1894 – 1918

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Francis Morgan Field was my grandfather’s uncle, meaning he was my great great uncle. He was born during the first half of 1894 in Dewsbury to George Henry Field, a plumber by trade, and Amelia Elizabeth Field, née Gibson. He had four siblings, one of whom died in childhood, but I have unfortunately been unable to find. His known siblings were Thomas Lindley Ainsworth Field (1885-1960), Harry Ernest Field (1888-1918), and Annie Gibson Field (1889-c.1962) who is my great grandmother.

Francis’ birth is recorded in the England and Wales Birth Index, 1837-1915 in the second quarter of the year in Dewsbury, however he was not christened until 12 February 1899. I cannot find a reason for this, as his two older brothers were baptised a few weeks to months after their birth. The first census record he appears in is the 1901 census. His father is recorded as being 41 years of age and his occupation was a plumber. His mother is recorded as being 49 years of age with no occupation. Thomas, then 15, was a printer’s machine worker, and Harry, 13, as an errand boy. Both Annie, 12, and Francis, 7, had no occupation recorded. The next record we have of Francis is the 1911 census. His father was still a plumber and his mother was still, presumably, a housewife. Thomas, however, was recorded as being a plumber also, and Harry as being a cabinet maker at a furniture factory. Francis, at the age of 17, was a shop assistant. Annie, was listed as a Milliner.

In 1912 Francis’ father died at the age of 52. Unfortunately, at the time this wasn’t at all uncommon in industrial cities like Leeds, where life expectancy for the working class was low. This left Thomas, Harry, and Francis as the main breadwinners of the household. At this point, the European powers were gearing up for war, with a lot of sabre rattling and arms races. For Britain, the outbreak of war came at 23:00 on 4th August 1914. Unlike the other major powers, Britain didn’t practise conscription and, as such, had only a small standing army of around 400,000 men, many of whom were posted overseas at different places in the Empire. Thus, when the remaining force of around half that number, named the British Expeditionary force and later known as ‘The Old Contemptibles’, landed on the continent they faced a German army that was twenty times its size. This led to the famous Kitchener recruitment campaign which used a series of carrot and stick posters in order to increase the size of the army. Francis was 20 years old at the time and was likely caught up in the excitement and yearning for adventure that caused many young men to sign up. Unfortunately, his service records, along with many others, were destroyed by bombing in the Second World War. However, it is likely that he joined The Leeds Rifles (1/7th West Yorkshire Regiment) either at the start of the war or had already been a member. There was another battalion specifically raised for the war recruiting at the time. This was the 15th Battalion of The Prince of Wales’ Own West Yorkshire Regiment, more commonly known as The Leeds Pals. The reason Francis probably didn’t join this battalion is because they were discriminating against the lower classes. They only wanted middle class recruits, such as clerks, so many were turned away. In any case, by the end of August The Leeds Rifles had moved to Strensall, an army barracks that I would be attending 95 years later, and landed in France 15th April 1915.

After his arrival, there aren’t any records specifically pertaining to him until July 1916, so the battalion war diaries have to suffice to get a general idea of where he was and what he may have been doing. Soon after landing the battalion was in the trenches with units being attached to other regiments as support. The first soldier to be killed from this battalion was Rifleman Hitchen on 6th May 1915. Three other followed the proceeding day. There was a steady, but small, stream of casualties throughout May with even fewer in June. The two biggest complaints from then until December were bombardments and rain. The battalion suffered from friendly fire from their own artillery one day. Later in the year the trenches had two feet of water in them and had started to collapse. Although there was frequent enemy bombardment there seem to be very few casualties and surprisingly little damage done to the trenches. That said, the trenches that they relieved other battalions from were often said to be in bad condition anyway. On 19th December the battalion suffered an attack from the enemy. This included one of the first uses of phosgene gas. The gas causes coughing, difficulty breathing, irritation of the throat and eyes, and can lead to death. 85% of gas related fatalities in The First World War were caused by phosgene or diphosgene. The attack was repelled by the battalion, but there are no casualties recorded.

In January 1916 the battalion was conducting training and received their first Lewis machine gun and a few days later the battalion machine gun company was founded. This would have been an important asset for the battalion during trench warfare. On 12 February 1916 the battalion moved into the town of Bouzincourt, near to Thiepval. This would have been Francis’ first brush with Bouzincourt. For the rest of the time between February and July 1916 it was relatively quiet for the battalion with a lot of training taking place in April and May. The battalion did take part in the first day of the Battle of the Somme, but Francis likely wasn’t there.

Having obtained the rank of Lance Serjeant he had been commission to the rank of temporary 2nd Lieutenant. He had clearly had some training prior to this as he is called a ‘cadet’ in the Supplement to the London Gazette 27th July 1916 which records his commission. It is unclear when exactly he joined the 7th Battalion The East Yorkshire Regiment as his medal records (which have survived) state he was discharged to commission in the 14th Battalion the East Yorkshire Regiment on 6th July 1916. The London Gazette states it was the 7th July but does not specify a battalion. During the time I can’t account for which battalion he was in, he had married Beatrice Male sometime between April and the end of August 1917 in Doncaster.

The first time he is mentioned in the battalion war diary is 31st August 1917 in a list of officers of the battalion. This means he would have probably have taken part in the following: The First Battle of Passchendaele, The Second Battle of Passchendaele, and defence against The Spring Offensive or Kaiserschlacht. The First and Second Passchendaele are known for the horrendous conditions that both sides had to operate in. The mud would often swallow men and horses whole. The best way to some up Passchendaele are the lines from the poem from Siegfried Sassoon – I died in hell; (They called it Passchendaele).

By 31st October 1917 Francis Field is listed as being the commander of a company. He was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant, acting Captain on 11th November 1917, and then Lieutenant, acting Captain on 7th January 1918, according to the Supplement to the London Gazette 27th January 1918. During November and December, the battalion was gassed during attacks.

In the spring of 1918 the German forces launched the Kaiserschlacht, or Spring Offensive, as a last-ditch attempt to break through allied lines and nearly succeeded. In late March, The 10th Battalion The West Yorkshire Regiment were occupying posts on Bouzincourt Ridge, between the towns of Bouzincourt and Aveluy, when they were attacked and forced back suffering 15 casualties. The 7th Battalion The East Yorkshire Regiment was to attack and retake the posts. The orders were as follows:

  1. An attack will be carried out tomorrow 31st March on ( Machine gun ) Posts, along West of road running NW + SE to W15a, and on a new trench about 200 yards beyond, running parallel to the road.
    Zero Hour will be notified later.
  2. The East Yorkshire regiment will carry out the attack. Tanks and Artillery will cooperate.
  3. Objectives 1stObjective posts along west side of road running NW + SE in W15a.
    2nd Objective trench about 200 yards beyond and running parallel to road.
    These objectives will be held and consolidated The East Yorkshire Regiment will form up about 500 yards in rear of the Post objective,
    and will attack on a two company front. The two leading companies will capture the first objective,
    The two rear companies will pass through the leading companies and will capture the second objective

    • At ZERO The infantry will advance
    • At ZERO +10 The infantry will reach 1stobjective
    • At ZERO +15 The infantry will reach 2nd

(Thanks for the supply of these orders go to user staffman of The Great War Forum, whose grandfather, Corporal John Thomas Ellis was killed in the attack)

 

Edward Wyrall, in the book ‘The East Yorkshire Regiment in The Great War 1914 – 1918’, says of the attack:

‘Zero hour for the attack was to be 5.30 a.m. on 31st. Four light tanks and the artillery were to co-operate and 12 Lewis guns from the Tank Corps were sent to strengthen the line.

In a heavy rain the East Yorkshires moved forward to attack and reached their objective: they were subjected to heavy machine-gun fire from the Briquetiere and buildings near Albert as well as from behind the posts. Nevertheless, they gained their objective. The tanks were not much use: one failed to start owing to engine trouble, the Hotchkiss gun of another jammed, and one of the remaining two was damaged and had to be temporarily abandoned. The East Yorkshires gallantly held on to the recaptured ground for some time, but the troops on either flank were held up and finally the 7th Battalion was compelled to fall back to its original line. At nightfall they were relieved by troops of the 52nd Brigade and moved back to billets in Henencourt, arriving at 1 a.m. on 1st April.’

 

The 31st had been Easter Sunday. By Easter Monday the battalion had suffered 419 casualties, 19 officers and 400 other ranks.

There were 6 officers killed, all of whom are commemorated on The Arras Memorial:

 

Acting Cpt. Francis Morgan Field

Lt. Reginald Noel Watkins

2nd Lt. Harry Liddall Bambridge MC

2nd Lt. Harold Leslie Cooper

2nd Lt. Albert Lightley

2nd Lt. Ernest Groves – Arras Memorial

 

The other ranks commemorated on The Arras Memorial are as follows:

 

C/Sjt. Arthur Hodgson

Sjt. Henry E. Dawson

Sjt. John W. Fearnley

Sjt. John Thomas Holmes

Sjt. Robert J. Trainer

Cpl. Walter Carpenter

L/Cpl. William F. Hawksworth

L/Cpl. Harry Keighley

L/Cpl. Claude Henry Wakem Parsons

Pvt. Moss Atkinson

Pvt. Henry Bell

Pvt. John Edward Bulliment

Pvt. Joseph Chisholm

Pvt. Thomas Clarke

Pvt. Robert E. Cressey

Pvt. Charles E. Dalton

Pvt. Albert Don

Pvt. William Foster 8761

Pvt. William Foster 29524

Pvt. Frederick Freeman

Pvt. Charles Gailes

Pvt. Cyril J. Harvey

Pvt. William Haynes

Pvt. Algy Helmer

Pvt. Francis T. P. Henderson

Pvt. James Herron

Pvt. Robert Victor Jarvis

Pvt. Alfred F. Johnson

Pvt. Joseph Maddock

Pvt. Ernest F. Maule

Pvt. Herbert Noble

Pvt. Harold T. Plews

Pvt. John F. Reynard

Pvt. George Aldron Rhind

Pvt. Edward Roxbrough

Pvt. Charles Rust

Pvt. Cecil Ivor Smith

Pvt. Arthur Spencer

Pvt. Charles F. Swaby

Pvt. Alexander Watson

Pvt. Reuben Watson

Pvt. Frederick White

Pvt. James William Wiles (E Coy.)

Pvt. William Lewis Williams

Pvt. George E. Wilson

 

Those commemorated on The Arras Memorial have no known grave site. Most of the rest of the dead were buried very near to where they died, after the ground had been retaken later in 1918, in Bouzincourt Ridge Cemetery. Members of The 7th Battalion who died on 31st March 1918 buried there are:

 

Sjt. J. S. Botham

Sjt. A. Todd MM

Cpl. John Thomas Ellis

L/Cpl. W. F. Ellis

L/Cpl. Thomas Foster Nevins

Pvt. Edwin Archer

Pvt. Ernest Brownlee

Pvt. Jesse Francis Carter

Pvt. H. Foxton

Pvt. Maurice Freedman

Pvt. H. S. H. Fuller

Pvt. Robert Douglas Goodfellow

Pvt. George Elliot Gray

Pvt. J. C. Hunt

Pvt. R. Laws

Pvt. John William Lawson

Pvt. T. Lovern

Pvt. H. Martin

Pvt. H. Mosley

Pvt. J. McLoughlin

Pvt. T. P. Partington

Pvt. F. Pickering

Pvt. F. Richardson

Pvt. A. S. Robinson

Pvt. J. W. Rose

Pvt. S. Rylatt

Pvt. C. Simpson

Pvt. M. Sisson

Pvt. J. Taylor

Pvt. Stanley Tinker

Pvt. Lawrence Crawford Young

 

Out of the 709 graves at The Bouzincourt Ridge Cemetery, 313 are of unknown soldiers. It is likely that some of those above commemorated on The Arras Memorial are buried here.

 

There is one more possible casualty buried at Doullens Communal Cemetery Extension No.1, he is:

Pvt. Samuel George Lee

 

This puts the death toll for The 7th Battalion’s attack on Bouzincourt Ridge on 31st March 1918 at 84. Captain Francis Morgan Field was not yet 24 years old.

I wish I could tell you more about Francis. I wish I could pass on family stories about him and his exploits but unfortunately that is impossible. The last family to have known these stories died in the early 1960s. They were his eldest brother, Thomas Lindley Ainsworth Field, and my great grandmother Annie Gibson Atkinson née Field. I do not blame them for not passing the memory of their brother down. As mentioned above, their father died in 1912. Then in 1918 they lost their two other brothers Francis, who I have written about here, and Harry, who I will write about later on in the year. In 1924 Annie married Norman Limbert Atkinson, who was 44 and a tailor’s cutter. Their first son, Ronald Field Atkinson was born in 1928 (d. 2005). The following year came with mixed blessings. Another son, John Norman Atkinson, my grandpa, was born on 30th December 1929. However, Annie and Thomas’ mother had also died that December at the age of 78. 1930 brought more tragedy as Annie’s husband, Norman Atkinson, died at the age of 50 in December. Following this Annie had to work hard as a single mother in the 30s and 40s to feed and clothe her children. Thomas, who never married, became like a father figure to the boys and left a lasting impressing on my grandfather. Ultimately, I believe that the grief was too great for Annie to pass any happy memories onto her children. She was probably too busy to take time to mourn for her family and, having been brought up in late Victorian Britain, may have thought it improper to show such raw emotion. As a result, Francis was forgotten for over 50 years until I discovered his death records a few years ago.

 

As I end this piece, I ask you to think of Francis and the other men of The 7th Battalion The East Yorkshire Regiment who died this day 100 years ago on Easter Sunday. I won’t ask for gratitude for a sacrifice because the First World War was not a sacrifice for the greater good. It was a slaughter of young men, many of whom would have been similar ages to yourselves or your children. I will instead ask that you pass the memories of your relatives down to the next generations so that they may live on in spirit, and to never forget the horror that is war.

 

‘They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.’

 

 

Dedicated to Francis Morgan Field (1894-1918), John Norman Atkinson (1929-2005), and Maureen Carole Atkinson, née Booth (1937-2016).

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