John Dash

John Dash, older brother of Herbert Dash, was born in 1887. Unlike his brother, was not part of the war from the beginning. In the 1911 census, he is listed as a boarder with a horsekeeper on a farm in Hertfordshire, with his trade or calling listed as a blacksmith.  On April 5, 1915, John married Charlotte Lilian Randall in Cobham, Surrey after which he returned to Cambridgeshire with his bride to the same cottages near Meldreth where his family lived.  Just over a month later, on May 14, 1915, he signed his attestation papers to the Royal Field Artillery and Royal Horse Artillery as a shoeing smith.

After training throughout the summer in England and undergoing journeyman testing and certification, his unit, the 100th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery in the 22nd Division, embarked for France in September of 1915.  After a brief two months, the unit was one of many that was assigned to the Mediterranean theatre of war in the fall of 1915 to provide military assistance to the Serbs who had recently been attacked by combined German, Austro-Hungarian and Bulgarian armies.

The Macedonian Campaign, also called the Salonika Campaign (about which the Salonika Campaign Society has collected a great deal of information), was established through the fall of 1915 and winter of 1916 at Salonika (now Thessaloniki), in Northern Greece. It was marked by several battles, and saw thousands of soldiers participate between 1915 and 1918, but receives much less attention than the Western Front.  It is perhaps best known for the thousands of cases of malaria that came from the ravages of mosquitos in the mucky conditions.

christmas card 22 [1600x1200] [1600x1200] [1600x1200].jpg.opt493x315o0,0s493x315

Christmas postcard from Salonika in 1916.

John was among those who spent some time in hospital due to his time in this theatre.  First, he was kicked in the mouth by a mule, an occupational hazard for a farrier, in June of 1916.  He spent nearly two months away from his unit before being discharged back to active duty on August 1, 1916.  His stint back with his unit was brief, as he was once again hospitalized on August 31, 1916, this time for malaria, one of over 162,000 cases of the disease that struck British forces in Northern Greece.  He was evacuated to Malta, where he remained in hospital for almost two months before being invalided back to Britain in late October 1916. By early 1917 he had been posted to the 19th Reserve Battery of the RFA, and served the remainder of the war in Britain.

Being back in England also allowed him time with his family, and in October 1917, his son, John Cornelius Aubrey Dash was born.  Sadly, being on the home front did not shield John from further tragedy. On March 6, 1919, one month after John had been discharged from his unit, his 16-month old son died due to complications from the influenza virus that had ravaged the western world throughout 1918 and 1919. John and Charlotte did not have any more children. John passed away in Cambridge in 1951 at the age of 63.

 

 

 

 

Herbert Dash

Herbert Dash, my first cousin four times removed on my mother’s side, was descended from Sarah Gill and Charles Bester, his grandparents, and my 4th great grandparents. As illustrated below, he is one of three brothers who served during the war.  His brothers, as well as two of his first cousins, will be the subjects of future posts.

Dash

Abbreviated tree of Herbert Dash.

Charles Bester, son of John Bester and Mary Constable, was born in Little Eversden, Cambridgeshire, in 1833, and Sarah Gill, second daughter of John Gill and Elizabeth Munns (of whom you can read more here), was born in 1837 in Orwell, Cambridgeshire.  They had ten children, including Annie Bester, my 3rd Great Grandmother, and Elizabeth Bester, born in 1863, Herbert’s mother.

Elizabeth Bester was the 5th of the Bester children. By the age of 18, she was a servant in the home of the Roads family in Orwell, Cambridgeshire. In 1885, at the age of 22, she married 19-year old farm labourer Walter Dash, also of Cambridgeshire.  They had seven children between 1885 and 1895, Herbert being the second youngest, born in 1894.

In 1909, 15-year old Herbert joined the Royal Navy as Boy, 2nd Class, beginning his service at HMS Ganges. Between 1910 and 1914 he served aboard several ships including HMS Berwick in the West Indes, HMS Hampshire (the famous ship that sank after hitting a mine in 1916, killing most on board including Lord Kitchener), and HMS Zealandia.

When the war began in the summer of 1914, 20-year old Herbert was aboard HMS Black Prince, which was stationed in the Mediterranean. The first part of the war was spent patrolling for German merchant ships, and by December 1914, she was transferred to the Grand Fleet.  Eighteen months later, she was one of 250 ships that engaged in the deadly Battle of Jutland. The German High Seas Fleet had hoped to surprise the British Fleets, but codebreakers alerted the British to the approaching ships.  The clash began on the afternoon of May 31, 1916 off the coast of Denmark.  Black Prince, approaching the battle with the rest of the Grand Fleet from the north, was somehow separated from the rest of the fleet.  At the time, what happened to the ship was a mystery to the British forces, but German records have since revealed that she approached the German ships in the darkness, potentially thinking the outlines of the ships were British, just before midnight.    This mistake proved deadly.  Once spotted, Black Prince was fired on by six German battleships.

Devon Heritage (devonheritage.org) cites an eyewitness account of the aftermath from a crew member who had been on board HMS Spitfire:

“We were just recovering from our ramming match with the German cruiser, and most of the ship’s company were collected aft, when suddenly there was a cry from nearly a dozen people at once: “Look out!”

I looked up, and saw a few hundred yards away on our starboard quarter, what appeared to be a battle cruiser on fire, steering straight for our stern. To our intense relief, she missed our stern but just by a few feet; so close was she to us that we were actually under her guns, which were trained out on her starboard beam, She tore past us with a roar, rather like a motor roaring up a hill in low gear, and the very crackling and heat of the flames could be heard and felt. She was a mass of fire from fore-mast to main-mast, on deck and between decks. Flames were issuing out of her from every corner.

At first sight she appeared to be a battle cruiser, as her funnels were so far apart but afterwards it transpired that she was the unfortunate Black Prince with her two centre funnels gone. Soon afterwards, soon after  midnight, there came an explosion from the direction in which she had disappeared.”

All 857 officers and crew were lost.  Combined, the German and British forces lost 25 ships and over 8,500 men that day.

Herbert Dash, along with many others who lost their lives at the Battle of Jutland, is commemorated at the Portsmouth Naval Memorial.  I am honoured to post a memorial certificate to my cousin here.

 

Walter Francis Bester

This week we move to a different branch of my maternal line with my 2nd cousin, 3 times removed, Walter Francis Bester.  We are both descended from Charles Bester and Sarah Gill who were my 4th Great Grandparents, and Walter’s Great Grandparents.

Charles Bester was born in 1833 to an agricultural labourer father in Little Eversden, Cambridgeshire about 11 kilometres south of Cambridge. Sarah Gill was born in 1837 in Orwell, Cambridgeshire to John Gill and Elizabeth Munns, whose history I detailed in a previous post. This makes her a great aunt to several of the Gill soldiers I have already written about.  Charles and Sarah married on 30 November 1856 when Charles was 23 and Sarah was 19. Together, they had at least 10 children, 9 of whom survived to adulthood. I am descended from their third child, Annie, who was my 3rd Great Grandmother, while Walter is descended from their first child, Charles, who was born in May 1856 (six months before Charles and Sarah were married). The first five Bester children were all baptized together in 1861.

In the 1871 census, when Charles was 14, he was listed as living at home with his parents in Little Eversden and working as a labourer. By 1877, he had relocated, and was working as a labourer in Edmonton, North London (the perennial spot for my ancestors, it seems!), and in January 1878 at the age of 21, he married 19-year old Fanny Adams. Charles and Fanny had nine children between 1878 and 1896, the two youngest of whom, Frank Harold Bester and Sydney Smith Bester both served in the Great War and will be profiled here later this year.

Charles and Fanny’s oldest son, Walter Beaumont Bester, began working at a young age like his father, and is listed in the 1891 census at the age of 13 as a “Milk Boy.” He married Alice Louisa Goodchild in 1898, and their son, Walter Francis (or “Frank” as he went by later in life), was born in Hackney, a more central area in London, in January 1899. It seems that Walter Sr. had stayed with his early occupation, as in the 1901 census he is listed as a Milk Carrier. In 1910, Walter, Alice, and 11 yr-old Frank sailed from Liverpool to Quebec City with the intention of farming in Canada. They settled in Winnipeg, Manitoba.  Whether the family every did attempt to farm in Manitoba is unclear, but by the 1916 Western Canadian census, Walter was once again listed as a Milk Carrier, with 17-year old Frank listed as a farm labourer.

On the 6th of April, 1917, Frank enlisted in the Canadian Expeditionary Force.  As an aside, one of the most interesting things to me about his attestation papers is that his trade or occupation is listed as a “moving picture operator.” There is a lot of scope for the imagination in this–he would have been consistently exposed to the jingoistic and propaganda-filled newsreels that accompanied the films, and I have to wonder what kind of impact this had on his impression of the war. He enlisted and served in Lord Strathcona’s Horse, one of the most decorated Canadian regiments in the War, and a regiment still in existence today with its home base being in my home town, Edmonton, Alberta.

Frank embarked for England on April 29, 1917, and arrived on May 7 at which time he was sent to the Canadian Reserve Cavalry Regiment in Shorncliffe for training and to await posting. He was mobilized to France and sent to join the Lord Strathcona’s Horse nearly a year later in April 1918.  Frank joined the regiment at a time of significant rebuilding.  In fact, the war diary of the regiment stated on April 6 that “every effort [was being] made to collect reinforcements from various parts of the country.” From mid to late April, the regiment was making good on those efforts and working to train the men they collected. May and June were largely spent engaged in training rides and grazing parades keeping both men and horses ready for action.

Training and conditioning continued through July, but, fortunately for the men, the month is marked more by sporting events more than by military action. On July 1, Dominion Day, the troops played baseball throughout the afternoon and evening. Later in the month, there is also reference to a basketball game that roused “great enthusiasm.” On July 19th it was reported that the regimental baseball team was defeated by the Royal Canadian Dragoons team, 4 to 3.

No one would grudge the regiment their leisure considering what was to come.  On August 8, 1918, the Lord Strathcona’s Horse was part of what would be a tremendous 9-day effort to push the German Forces east: away from the key railway junctions at Amiens. From 4:20 AM onwards, the regiment was monitoring the advance of infantry and tank brigades, and following behind to clear areas of remaining opposing forces as advances were made.  Eventually, rather than wait for the slower advancing tanks and risk being caught in the crossfire, leadership decided to advance without the tanks and run ahead at a gallop.  This resulted in a significant amount of prisoners taken and equipment captured. General Ludendorff would refer to this first day of the Battle of Amiens as “the black day of the German army.” Though there were many successes that day, there were also several casualties, one of whom was Walter Francis Bester who had received a gun shot wound to his right calf and a large shrapnel wound to his left buttock.

amiensphoto1

German prisoners are escorted by Canadian cavalrymen near Amiens. Library and Archives Canada Photo.

Frank was evacuated to Britain: first to the 4th Southern General Hospital in Plymouth on August 11, 1918, then transferred on Aug 22 to the Canadian Convalescent Hospital, Bear Wood, Wokingham, Berkshire where he recovered until discharged on October 4. At this point he was posted to the Canadian Reserve Cavalry Regiment in Shorncliffe where he stayed until the end of the war. On December 4, 1918 he was sent to Kinmel Park where he embarked for Canada on December 10. He was discharged January 23, 1919 in Winnipeg, where his wounds were assessed as well-healed, with no impairment or disability.  He was 20 years old.

Later that same year, Frank married Nellie Alice Hollingsworth who he must have met while stationed in England.  She arrived in Canada on July 2, 1919 with the words “to be married” stamped on the passenger manifest beside her name.  Frank and Nellie were married on July 29. In the 1921 Canadian census, Frank is listed as a farmer living just outside Winnipeg with his wife, his 1-year old daughter Joyce, his mother, and his maternal grandmother.  Although his mother is not listed as a widow, I could find no trace of Walter Beaumont Bester in the Canadian census from that year. As it seems that Alice passed away in England, it is possible that he had returned there as well.

Frank and Nellie had one more daughter, Jaqueline, in 1922.  In 1937, Frank, Nellie, and Jaqueline moved back to Britain, with Joyce following in 1939 all indicating that they would be residing in Essex. Jaqueline eventually returned to Canada to live, while Frank and Nellie both lived out the rest of their lives in England.  Nellie passed away in 1954 at the age of 58, and Frank in 1964 at the age of 65.

 

 

 

 

Ezekiel Gill

Ezekiel Gill, with his brothers David and William, formed a trio of Gill brothers that were in the British Expeditionary Force in France and Belgium. The second son of David and Louisa Gill, he was born on the 27th of December, 1894, just over 123 years ago, in the post-Christmas and pre-New Year’s period, just as we are in right now. In the 1911 census he is listed as still living with his parents, and working as a bottle packer at a glassworks.

On August 3, 1913, at the age of 18, he married Rosa Charlotte Kitchener, and very soon afterwards, they were expecting their first child. Their son, Ezekiel, was born in the spring of 1914, but sadly did not see his first birthday, passing away in early 1915.

Ezekiel’s military service record was destroyed among the other “burnt” service files, so we are left to piece together his service from other sources. Family documents shared with me by a Great Grand niece of Ezekiel suggest that he, like his brother David, first joined the Royal Field Artillery. At the very least, the family is fairly certain that he was present at the Battle of Loos in the fall of 1915, as his second child, David, born in December 1915 was given the middle name “Loos” presumably after this battle.

At some point after the fall of 1915, Ezekiel was transferred to the 1st Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment in the 1st Division.  His service between late 1915 and the fall of 1918 cannot be ascertained through the military record, although he must have had some time on leave as his wife, Rosa, was again expecting a child that fall.

In September of 1918, the Battles of the Hindenburg Line began in which the allied forces worked to break the defensive position the German forces had held since 1916. On the 28th of September, the men of the 1st Battalion of the Gloucester Regiment had baths in the morning, and by 5pm they had been ordered to move to the front to relieve the 2nd Infantry Brigade. The next morning marked the beginning of the Battle of the St. Quentin Canal.  The 1st Battalion was ordered to take and hold three strategic objectives, some of which were heavily defended by machine guns. The artillery was supporting them, but bad misty weather, heavy hostile shelling, and a great deal of noise made it difficult for officers on the ground to discern whether their artillery support was even there.

By midday, conditions improved, and the 1st began a creeping barrage toward their three objectives.  This was a gruelling series of hours with heavy artillery creating a screen allowing infantry to slowly advance 50 metres at a time. By dark, their targets had been captured, but at a toll of 55 casualties, including 8 men killed.  Among them was Ezekiel Gill.  He was 23 years old.

Ezekiel’s daughter, Rosa Louisa Gill, was born just over three weeks later.

Ezekiel is buried in Vadencourt British Cemetery in Maissemy, France.  I am honoured to share the CWGC commemorative certificate for my cousin here.

 

Herbert Arthur Gill

Herbert Gill, brother of Stanley, is the first Royal Navy serviceman that I will profile in this series.  Four years older than his brother, he first joined the Navy in 1911 at the age of 16 for a 12-year commitment, first at the training establishment HMS Ganges as Boy 2nd Class.  He worked his way through the ranks in his first three years through Boy 1st Class, Ordinary Seaman, then by the autumn of of 1914, Able Seaman at which time he was serving on the HMS Roxburgh. He would have been still serving on Roxburgh in June 1915 when she was struck and severely damaged by a torpedo from a German submarine.

HMS Roxburgh

HMS Roxburgh from naval-history.net

Herbert spent late 1915 and early 1916 at Vivid I, a seamanship, signalling and telegraphy School in Devonport. The rest of the war he was alternately at training and on HMS Colossus and HMS Hindustan.

Herbert was serving on the Hindustan was part of the Zeebrugge and Osten raids of April 23, 1918. The operation was intended to block the access of German shipping and submarines in and out of both ports. German submarines, torpedo boats and ships were based at the inland docks in Bruges and were using the Bruges shipping canal to access the English Channel via the two sea entrances at Zeebrugge and Ostend. The raids were considered successful, and several gallantry awards were presented as a result, including eight men being awarded with the Victoria Cross.

Herbert served with the Royal Navy until January 1925.

From there, I am not certain about the rest of Herbert’s life.  In my research, I have found at least three different Herbert Gills living in Edmonton all born around the same time between 1925 and 1950, and I haven’t found any conclusive enough evidence to identify any of them as this Herbert Gill.

Next week, another Gill–Ezekiel.

In the meantime, all the best to you for a lovely Christmas if that is your tradition! I will have a special post on the Facebook page on Monday, so please make sure that you follow me there as well.

Stanley Frederick Gill

Stanley Frederick Gill, like David Gill and William Jack Gill, is my second cousin four times removed.  We are all descended from John Gill and Elizabeth Munns, but where David, William  and their brother Ezekiel (who I will profile at a later date) are descended from John and Elizabeth’s son Jack, and I am descended from their daughter Sarah,  Stanley and his brother Herbert Arthur, who I will profile next week, are descended from their daughter Alice Gill.

Family tree

Abbreviated family tree showing my relationship to two other branches of the Gill family.

Alice Gill had two children before she was married, a daughter, Elizabeth, presumably named for her mother, who died at the age of two, and William John. William was six years old when his mother married Stephen Farrington in 1869.  Alice and Stephen went on to have five more children together.  By the 1891 census, William is listed as living with his wife, Emily, and their daughter Nellie on Bury Street in Edmonton, North London.  Interestingly, he didn’t stray far from home as his mother and step father lived on the same street, as did his aunt (and my 4th Great Grandmother) Sarah and her family. By 1901, William and his family had moved to Osman Road, still in Edmonton with their growing family.  William and Emily had a total of twelve children between 1889 and  1910, five of whom did not survive past infancy.  William died in early 1914, just before the world descended into total war.

Stanley Frederick Gill was 15 when his father, William, died, and only 17 years and 10 months old when he attested to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on December 16, 1916, one hundred and one years ago today.  He was listed as the “head” of his household at the time. In March 1917, roughly a month after his 18th birthday, he reported for his medical inspection and spent the first part of his service in a King’s Royal Rifles Corps training battalion located in Canterbury.

In the fall of 1917 he was hospitalized twice for scabies, a parasitic skin condition that afflicted thousands of men in the close quarters of military camps and training.  He found himself in a spot of trouble in early 1918 as he was discovered absent from the morning of January 10, 1918 to the next morning, and was confined to barracks for three days as a punishment. Whatever his reason for being absent, given what was to come for him over the following months, I hope it was for something that gave him a pleasant memory to look back on.  He was hospitalized once more for scabies from the 26th to 28th of January.

He embarked for France February 3, 1918, one day after his nineteenth birthday, being deployed to the 7th King’s Royal Rifles in the 14th Division. He had only been with the battalion for a short while, when, at 4:45 am on the morning of March 21, everyone was awoken by the sound of what was described in the war journal as “a very heavy enemy barrage.” This barrage cut communications between headquarters and the front line, then, morning greeted them with a dense fog with visibility down to 50 yards.  These were less than ideal conditions for a coordinated response to what would be one of largest German offensive efforts of these later days of the war.  This battle, known as the Battle of St. Quentin, was the beginning of the First Battles of the Somme, 1918.

The war diary reported that 250 “ordinary ranks” from the 7th King’s Royal Rifles were killed, wounded, or went missing on March 21.  One of these men was Stanley. Throughout April of 1918, his mother, concerned after not hearing from him for several weeks, was trying to get information on his location.

Mother's letter

Excerpt from letter written by Emily Gill on the subject of her son, Rifleman Stanley Gill.

 

Stanley was one of several men who had been taken prisoner that day at St. Quentin. The International Committee of the Red Cross’ archive of Prisoners of War places Stanley first at the Stendal POW camp, then at the Neuhammer POW camp.  By all accounts, life in these camps was, at best, cramped and uncomfortable with days filled with hard labour, at worst, cruel and humiliating including being paraded in public at cinemas and train stations in order to underscore the strength of the captors.  But this said, there was massive infrastructure at these camps including a camp-specific currency that could be used to purchase items at a commissary.

Camp

Barracks at Camp Stendal

The repatriation of Prisoners of War was one of the items covered in the armistice.  Generally, British prisoners were re-patriated very quickly.  By March 1919, Stanley was back in Canterbury.  He was hospitalized again, this time for diarrhea–another very common complaint among soldiers. He was then posted to the Rifle Depot at Winchester.

Stanley was demobilized in February 1920.  He was barely 21 years old.

He married Ada Goulding in 1926 and they went on to have three children.  Stanley passed away in 1961 at the age of 62.

 

William Jack Gill

William Jack Gill, brother of David and Ezekiel Gill, was the third son of David Gill and Louisa George. He attested on December 1, 1915, 102 years and one day ago.  By this point, his brother David was in France, and likely also his brother Ezekiel.  What is certain is that David and Louisa had three sons in the western theatre of war at the same time while also supporting seven other children at home with another to arrive in 1917.  The stress of it is deeply difficult to imagine.

Piecing together William’s war service is a combination of close reading, interpretation, and guess work.  Although his military file is available, the condition of it makes it very difficult to read. We can discern his original regiment, the fact that he was wounded at some point in 1916, and that he was later transferred to serve the final part of the war in England.

William Gill file

Sample of the state of the some of the pages in William Gill’s military record.

William initially attested to the the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment. Although both his record and the available war diaries make it difficult to completely discern, it appears he was posted to one of the “football” battalions, which were 2 battalions formed to encourage professional footballers (soccer players to those of us in North America) to join the war effort.  I have found no evidence to suggest that William was a footballer, and this is consistent with the fact that the units were supplemented with men from other walks of life.

He sailed for France in May of 1916 which is consistent with the timeframe of the 23rd (second football) battalion which was part of the 41st Division. William’s records tell us that he was in France from May to October of 1916 which meant he was likely part of two of the largest battles of the Battles of the Somme 1916: Fleurs-Courcelette, and Le Transloy.

The Battle of Fleurs-Courcelette, September 15-22, 1916, marked a general regrouping and renewing of the offensive at the Somme, including the entry of Canadian troops into this part of the campaign.  As an aside, this is the first specific WW1 battle I was ever conscious of, as it figures prominently in L.M. Montgomery’s Rilla of Ingleside.

The war diary for the 23rd battalion states that at 6:20 am on September 15 the “attack [was] launched–124th bgde on right–122nd bgde on left–tanks leading.” This is significant as it was the first time tanks were used in battle. This was a gamble, for as the Long Long Trail states, the tanks were “few in number, mechanically unreliable and as yet without proven tactics for their best use.” By the end of the day on September 16th, the Ordinary Ranks (non-officers) of the 23rd battalion had suffered many casualties: 22 killed, 129 wounded, and 32 missing.

The battle of Le Transloy is one that is characterized by the muddy and miserable conditions that have become synonymous with WW1. The 23rd Battalion was charged with kicking off their participation with a reconnaissance mission:

October 1, 1916 War Diary

Excerpt from War Diary of 23rd Battalion of the Duke of Cambridge’s Own (Middlesex) Regiment, October 1, 1916, Battle of Le Transloy.

Whether it was at Courcelette, Le Transloy, or any of the other myriad of places a Private could be injured in the fall of 1916, at some point William was shot in the left shoulder, and he was returned to Britain by October 10, 1916.

At some point in 1917, William was transferred to the Royal Army Medical Corps, serving at the Reading War Hospital in Berkshire. A wonderful tribute to the Reading hospitals was done in February 2014 through the the local news, GetReading.

There is not much I can discern from William’s file about what his role was at the hospital.  There is a sense that at some point in 1918 he found himself in trouble as there is a misconduct form in the file, but its contents are illegible.  William was formally discharged as part of demobilization in September 1919.

William married Grace Maud Woolmer in 1925.  He died in 1986 at the age of 89.