Albert Richard Peterson

This month our featured casualty of the Somme is Albert Richard Peterson, an “old soldier”, as he described himself, who nevertheless left a widow and three young daughters living in Barnstaple. He would have been proud to know that his daughter Florence grew up to marry and become matriarch of one of North Devon’s most successful business families, their professional ethos echoing his own acknowledged qualities of hard work and attentive service.

Albert Richard Peterson

Sergeant 18960 “D” Battery. 103rd Brigade., Royal Field Artillery

 1874 – 23rd  July 1916

1868-map-of-london-edward-weller-mapco-croppedAlbert Richard Peterson’s birth was registered in the Whitechapel District of London in 1876; he was the son of Henry Peterson and Hannah Dempsey who were married in the Tower Hamlets District of London in 1868.

The 1891 census shows Albert was living with his parents and four sisters  Sarah, Hannah, Mary and Rosina who were all listed as being born in Middlesex.  The family were living in Well Street, Wapping and Albert’s occupation at the age of 15 was shown as a blacksmith, whilst his father Henry was a shoemaker.


albert-richard-peterson-service-recordThe next information found about Albert is an Attestation Order for enlisting in the Royal Artillery which he signed on 14th July 1897 where he stated he was 22 years and 5 months old and that he had served previously in the Royal Artillery but had purchased his discharge.   The Anglo-Boer War records show his service number at that time to be 95037 and his rank as a Gunner in U Battery and also gives the information that on the 31st March 1900 he was listed as a prisoner of war at Koornspruit.

There was no record of him in the 1901 census so at this point I have assumed that he was still serving abroad with the Royal Artillery.  The next information found is of his marriage to Emily Sloley at Fremington Church, this states that Albert was employed as a Butler residing in Bickington at the time of his marriage to Emily whose family lived in Fremington.

NDJ marriage announcement

Albert and Emily then had two children whose were born at Exford in Somerset; these were Emily registered in 1907 and Jane registered in 1908. By the time of the 1911 census the family were back living in Barnstaple in Grosvenor Street; Albert’s occupation at this time was a Fruit Salesman. Their third daughter Florence’s birth was registered in late 1912 in Barnstaple.


It then appears from this North Devon Journal on the 10th September 1914 that Albert re-enlisted in the Royal Horse Artillery at the outbreak of the First World War.

Rejoining the RFA

This later article in the North Devon Journal of the 21st October 1915 (Page 5) refers to his previous service in the Boer War, his pride about his service in the ongoing conflict and the conditions on the Front at that time.

Art re previous service

Albert then appeared to return to Barnstaple in early May 1916 as was stated in the North Devon Journal of the 4th May 1916 (Page 5). The following week 11th May 1916 (Page 5) his promotion to Sergeant was reported.

short leave of absence

promoted to sergeant

The North Devon Journal on the 3rd August 1916 (Page 5) then reports that Mrs Peterson had been advised of the death of her husband as follows.

reads as follows

The North Devon Journal on the 24th August 1916 (Page 5) reads as follows.

reported kia

The above article gives more details of his service prior to the First World War and the regard in which he was held by his company.  A memorial service was then held for Sergeant Peterson, Private R J Eddy and Private W Dibble in St. Mary Magdalene Church in September 1916 with members of all the families attending (North Devon Journal 14th September 1916).

Albert Peterson is buried in Plot B19 in the Peake Wood Cemetery, Fricourt, France. Peake Wood Cemetery is a small cemetery with four rows of graves and six memorials and was first used on the evening of 14thJuly 1916 until March 1917..

Peake Wood Cemetery

Albert’s family remained in Barnstaple and his daughters married locally; Emily married Edward Sampson in 1932, Jane married John Edmonds in 1932 and Florence married Percival Brend in 1931.

The 1939 Register shows that Albert’s widow Emily Peterson was still living at 13 Grosvenor Street in Barnstaple.  She died on the 27th November 1955 aged 73 and is buried in Barnstaple Cemetery; the memorial stone reads as follows:-

“In loving memory of Emily Mary Peterson who fell asleep Nov. 27th 1955 aged 73 years

Also Albert Richard Peterson Sergt. R.F.A. Husband of the above who was killed in action July 23rd 1916. (Buried in France)




Ancestry Library Edition – Census records; Birth, Marriage and Death Registration records; British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920;  (available free online in the Local Studies Centre and in any Devon library)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

findmypast – 1939 register; Devon marriages (parish records); Soldiers Who Died in the Great War (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

Commonwealth War Grave Commission website – photo of Peake Wood Cemetery, Fricourt

Mapco – 1868 map of London Edward Weller


William James Percy Avery and George Henry Avery

This month we look at another set of brothers, William and Percy Avery, who grew up in Pengelly’s Court. This, one of the many courts which could be found tucked behind the main streets of the town in bygone days, was situated at the south end of the High Street. Both fought and died on the Western Front. George died on the first day of the Somme and is commemorated on a particularly poignant memorial.

William James Percy Avery

Private, Service Number 17321

1st Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry

1880 – 4th March 1915


 George Henry Avery

Private, Service Number 11301

2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment

late 1882/early 1883 – 1st July 1916

Pengelly's CourtThe sons of John George and Mary Ann (or Anne) Avery, who were married in the third quarter of 1873, William and George were both born in Barnstaple, and spent the early part of their lives living in what used to be known as Pengelly’s Court – both the 1881 and the 1891 census’ list the family as living in the area. William and George were part of quite a large family, having at least six other siblings in addition to each other.  Their eldest brother, Charles, was born in 1877, whilst their youngest sister, Charity, was born in 1888. Their other siblings were Annie, born in 1878; Cordelia and Frances, presumably twins, born in 1882; and Thomas, born in 1885. They also had a step-brother, Richard J. Stenteford, who was born in 1871.  Mary’s surname at the time of her marriage was listed as Stentford, and she does not appear to have been previously married; therefore it is highly probably that Richard was born out of wedlock.

Raleigh Cabinet WorksAs a young man, William learnt to be a French Polisher at the Raleigh Cabinet Works, which belonged to Shapland and Petter of Barnstaple. According to a War Item in the North Devon Journal dated 18th March 1915, he also served in the Militia around 1897, and later on in the Volunteers. In the fourth quarter of 1901 he married Nelly Ellen Harris, who was born in 1882. By the time of the 1911 census they were living at 4 Fry’s Court, Silver Street with three living children; Florence Beatrice Avery, born in 1903; William James Percy Avery, born in 1908; and Frederick John George Avery, born in 1910. The census record also lists a fourth, unnamed child who had been born alive but who had subsequently passed away. It would also appear that the couple had another child sometime subsequent to the 1911 census, as upon his death it was noted in the North Devon Journal that he left behind a widow and four living children.

Fort Regent BarracksIn the 1901 census, at the age of 18, George is listed as being stationed at the Fort Regent Barracks on Jersey Island, as part of the Royal Garrison Artillery. In early 1903, he married Hannah Chapple, who was born in 1884. By the time of the 1911 census they were living at 25 Azes Lane with four children; George, born in 1904; Ivey, born in 1906; Jhon (presumably a misspelling of John), born in 1908; and Lilie, born in 1910. George’s occupation at the time is listed as Basket Maker: Wicker.

In the fourth quarter of 1903, William and George’s eldest brother, Charles Thomas Frederick (or possibly Frederick Thomas) W. Avery, appears on the death register, aged 26. It is unclear how he died.

At an unspecified point in time, William took employment at Newquay, Cornwall, where he enlisted with the 1st Battalion of the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry on 23rd December 1914. Earlier in the same year George had enlisted with the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. The exact date that he joined the army is unclear; however, in November George and the rest of the 2nd Battalion, which had until recently been stationed in Egypt, boarded the SS Bellerophon and arrived in France on 19th November 1914.

SS Bellerophon

William was brought up to the Western Front on 14th February 1915, joining his regiment where they were stationed at Hainaut, Belgium. Shortly after his arrival, he wrote a letter to his wife, an extract of which has been recorded;

“Dear Nell,

I received the paper and tobacco all right but you need not send any more tobacco, for we get a lot of it out here. I wish the weather was better; it is frost and snow one day and sunshine the next, but the time is coming when it will be better. Give my best to all at home and to the children, and tell them we shall meet again some day. Kisses for the baby.”

On 11th March 1915 Nelly Avery received another letter, this time from William’s Lieutenant, which read as follows:

“Dear Madam,

I regret to inform you of the death of your husband, Pte W.J.P Avery, which occurred on the 4th of March. He was killed in action. You will receive more details in the course of a few days.”

To this day, William James Percy Avery’s name is recorded on the Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing at Comines-Warneton, Hainaut, Belgium.

Meanwhile, George and the 2nd Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment were involved in heavy fighting, having taken part in all of the major battles on the Western Front after the first battle of Ypres. In December 1915, the British and the French had agreed to a joint assault on the Somme, as a part of a combined Allied venture against Germany and her allies. An (arguably unsuccessful) attempt to conceal the Allies intentions from the Central Powers was made on 30th June 1916, when three battalions of the Royal Sussex Regiment staged an attack on German forces in the Boar’s Head region of Artois, France. This date has subsequently become known as “The Day Sussex Died,” due to the severe losses inflicted by the German army.

On the following day, 1st July 1916, the Battle of the Somme began. By the end of the day, approximately 19,240 British soldiers had lost their lives, amongst them George Henry Avery. Today, the site of the trench occupied by the Devonshire Regiment is marked by a memorial bearing the following inscription;

The Devonshires Held This Trench...RP


Ancestry Library Edition – Census records; WW1 Service Medal and Award Rolls; British Army WW1 Service Records 1914-1920;  (available free online in the Local Studies Centre and in any Devon library)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

findmypast – Soldiers Who Died in the Great War (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

The Paskey family of Summerland Street, Barnstaple

This month we continue our North Devon men in the Somme feature with the story of Francis Albert Paskey, the first of three brothers to be killed during the First World War. Francis (Bertie), Reginald and Leonard Paskey were the sons of Frederick, who worked for the Post Office, and Emma, who lived in Summerland Street, Barnstaple.

Summerland Street postcard view

FRANCIS ALBERT PASKEY Private 34976 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (London Regiment)


Private 34976 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (London Regiment)

1888 – 6th August 1916

Francis Albert Paskey was born in Barnstaple and his birth was registered during the period October – December in 1888.

Francis Albert Paskey 1911 Census 462 Merton Rd WandsworthBy the time the 1911 census was taken Francis had moved to Wandsworth and was working as a Grocer’s assistant, although he later became an electrician. His service record, as stated on the Soldiers Who Died in the Great War database, shows that he enlisted in Wandsworth.

Francis Albert Paskey medal and service recordFrancis died in August 1916 after being in the Army for about 6 months according to the report in the North Devon Journal of his death (see below).

Information about the 8th Battalion’s engagements during 1916 until Francis’ death obtained from the ‘Wartime Memories Project – The Great War’ online resource is as follows:-

‘On the 19th of January they began a period of training in Open Warfare at Busnes and then moved back into the front line at Loos on the 12th of February 1916. In June they moved to Flesselles and carried out a training exercise. They moved to Baizieux on the 30th June and went into the reserve at Hencourt and Millencourt by mid-morning on the 1st of July (the first day of the Battle of the Somme). They relieved the 8th Division at Ovillers-la-Boisselle that night and attacked at 3.15 the following morning with mixed success. On the 7th they attacked again and despite suffering heavy casualties in the area of Mash Valley, they succeeded in capturing and holding the first and second lines close to Ovillers. They were withdrawn to Contay on the 9th July. They were in action in The Battle of Pozieres on the 3rd of August with a successful attack capturing 4th Avenue Trench and were engaged in heavy fighting until they were withdrawn on the 9th. ‘

The next news of Francis is in an article in the North Devon Journal on the 24th August 1916 which reads as follows:


Another Barumite to give his life for his country is Pte. Francis Albert Paskey (Royal Fusiliers), third son of Mr. and Mrs. F K Paskey, of Summerland Street, Barnstaple. The official notification, received by the parents on Monday morning, stated with regret that Pte. Paskey was killed in action on August 6th. Pte. Paskey who was 28 years of age had only been in the Army about six months, being an exceptionally smart soldier. The deceased received his education at Barnstaple Grammar School, and in turn was engaged in grocery businesses in Barnstaple and Exmouth.

Francis Paskey NDJ death acknowledgement

Afterwards he went to London where he became an electrician, and was in a successful partnership business when he decided to join the Army. Pte. Paskey was a great favourite with all who
knew him, and the deepest sympathy is expressed with Mr. Paskey (who for many years was an esteemed overseer at Barnstaple Post Office), Mrs. Paskey, and other members of the family in their bereavement. Two other sons of Mr. and Mrs. Paskey serving in the forces are Gunner Reginald J Paskey (who is in an Artillery Regt) and Trooper Leonard M Paskey (Royal North Devon Hussars).

Francis Albert Paskey is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, in the Somme region of France. The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme is a major war memorial to 72,195 missing British and South African men who died in the Battles of the Somme between 1915 and 1918 who have no known grave.

The record of soldiers’ effects shows that Francis’ outstanding monies were paid to his sole legatee Mrs Lilian Mundy, who appears in the 1918 Electoral Roll as living at an address in Wandsworth.Francis Albert Paskey soldiers's effects cropped



Ancestry Library Edition – Census records; WW1 Service Medal and Award Rolls; Army Registers of Soldiers’ Effects (available free online in the Local Studies Centre and in any Devon library)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

findmypast – Soldiers Who Died in the Great War; England and Wales Electoral Registers (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

Private Frederick Nott

Private Frederick Nott
2nd Bn, Devonshire Regiment
Frederick William Nott was born in the beginning of 1888, the third child to a fishing family from Belle Meadow, Barnstaple – there is no record for his baptism, although other children in the family were baptised at Holy Trinity Church in the town. Fred Nott 1891 Census Belle Meadow

Fishing with a gaff Western Times 24.5.1912Frederick’s father Thomas was a fisherman and his mother Mary Ann was a fish-hawker. Father Thomas drowned in January 1900, leaving 12-year old Frederick as the oldest “man” in the house. Frederick carried on in his father’s footsteps as a fisherman. Life was not easy, and young Frederick had several brushes with the police over illegal fishing.

Frederick married a Braunton girl Mary Ann Rooke in 1909. They had two daughters, Olive Mary that year and Dorothy Georgina in 1911, and two sons, Thomas FR in 1913 and George H in 1915. The young family first lived in Union Street, later moving to 41 Azes Lane.

Fred Nott 1911 Census Union Street
Fred Nott and Charley Thurlow NDJ 13.7.1916 5eFrederick enlisted in Barnstaple alongside his brother Alfred and four brothers-in-law and saw considerable service in France and Flanders, where he was wounded in the thigh on July 1st 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. In a letter to his wife Mary, Frederick describes how he was standing by his friend Charley Thurlow, also from Barnstaple, when a shell burst by them. His friend was reported to be killed in action on that day. More about the 2nd Devons and the Somme can be found at this link

At this time Frederick is stated, in another North Devon Journal news item, to have been in hospital at Dorchester. However a few months later he was back in Barnstaple as tragedy struck the family with the death of little George aged 13 months.

Deat of infant George Nott article NDJ 21.9.1916 5d

Death of infant George Nott NDJ 21.9.1916 8g
Fred Nott death article NDJ 16.8.1917In the summer of 1917, Frederick had already been suffering from blood poisoning and had only been out of hospital a fortnight when he was struck down with fatal results – he died of wounds in the arms and the right leg at the General Hospital in Calais on Monday the 13th of August 1917 aged 29. Frederick is buried in Calais Southern Cemetery, plot H, row 2, grave 10.

Mary Ann Barrow death NDJ 2.1938Frederick’s widow Mary Anne was left with her daughters and surviving son and, in the summer of 1920, re-married to Frederick Barrow. Mary Anne died in Barnstaple in 1938.

Apart from appearing as a witness in a murder trial in 1933 there do not appear to be any other references to Thomas other than his marriage in 1935. Olive and Dorothy grew up to marry and have families and continued to live in Barnstaple, dying in 1989 and 1987 respectively.



Ancestry Library Edition – Census records (available free online in the Local Studies Centre and in any Devon Library)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

Charles Edward Morris or Morrish

Charles Morrish

Lance Corporal 14499 8th Battalion Devonshire Regiment

1885 – 25th September 1915

St MM church Francis FrithCharles Edward Morris was born in Barnstaple; he was the son of Annie Morris.  His birth was registered in late 1885 although he was baptised on the 2nd April 1887 in St. Mary Magdalene Church in Barnstaple.

Charles had a sister Annie Morris who was born in 1888 and she (recorded as Delbridge) was baptised in St. Mary Magdalene Church on the 21st March 1890.

Annie Delbridge 1891 Wales Census


Charles’ mother Annie married John Delbridge in the 4th quarter of 1888, although there is no record of her marriage in St. Mary Magdalene Church where she later had her other children baptised. The 1891 census shows she was living with her husband John and her daughter Annie in Swansea; her husband John Delbridge was employed as a worker at a Silver Works in Swansea.

Charles Morris 1891 Census


The 1891 census in Barnstaple shows that Charles Morris who by this time was 6 years old was living with the Cann family in Pilton, it was noted on the census he was a nephew of the Cann’s; there was also an Elizabeth Morris aged 68 living in their household.

Charles Morrish 1901 Census

The next information available is the 1901 census and this shows that Charles Morris, then aged 16, was living back with his mother and his sister Annie aged 13 in Union Street.  Charles’ occupation at this time was recorded as a worker in the Lace Factory.   Also living in the house in Union Street was John Delbridge and his and Annie’s children William, Elizabeth, Frederick and Thomas. Thomas, the youngest child, was the only one born in Barnstaple so it would appear that Annie Delbridge and her husband John returned to Barnstaple to live sometime after the birth of their son Frederick in Swansea in 1897.  The records available do not show whether Charles went to live with his mother Annie in Wales or whether he went back to live with her on her return to Barnstaple.

By the time of the 1911 census Charles’ mother Annie Delbridge had two more children Leonard and Doris; Annie and John Delbridge were at that time  living at 10 Union Street in Barnstaple. Charles therefore had a total of seven brothers and sisters.

Charles Morris 1911 Census

Charles (recorded as Morrish) had married Blanche Nott in early 1905 and by the time of the 1911 census they were living at 14 Union Street, Barnstaple with their children Elizabeth, Alice, Thomas and Ivy.  Charles was aged 26 by this time and his occupation was recorded as a Carter for a Builder.  By 1915 Charles and Blanche had two more children Leslie in 1914 and Annie in 1915.

Charles is referred to as Morrish in all his Army records and the information about him on the Medal Rolls Index Cards states:

‘Theatre of War first served – France.   Date of entry – 25th July 1915.

Presumed dead – 25th September 1915’.

As Charles’ youngest child Annie was only born in 1915 this seems to confirm the fact that he had only gone to France two months before he was killed at the Battle of Loos.

An article in the North Devon Journal on the 28th October 1915 Page 5 reads as follows:-

Reported missing NDJ 28.10.15

It appears that Charles was amongst the early casualties on the first day of the Battle of Loos.

Nearly a year after the start of the Battle of Loos a further North Devon Journal Article on the 21st September 1916 Page 5 then read as follows:-

Notified of death NDJ 21.9.16

Charles had joined the 8th Battalion Devonshire Regiment, which was the first service Battalion formed by the Devonshire’s in the First World War in August 1914. The 9th Battalion Devonshire was formed soon after and was known as the ‘twin’ of the 8th, the battalions served closely together until 1918.  Recruits came from all over the country and their officers were initially recruited from the universities, public schools and the Artists’ Rifles.

The Battle of Loos took place on the Western Front from the 25th September 1915 – 19th October 1915.  The 8th and 9th Battalions of the Devonshire’s had joined 20 Brigade in the 7th Division in early August 1915. This was to be the British Army’s contribution to a major allied offensive; the French were to focus on the heights of Vimy Ridge, whilst the British were to advance into the sector of Loos-Hulluch on the Gohelle Plain.

The Battle commenced on the 25th September 1915; this was to be the first battle where the British used poison gas, in this case chlorine gas. The 8th Battalion went forward leading the attack and captured the German position in spite of the volume of German shelling and the gas blowing back on them during the attack.  The 9th Battalion followed losing many men to machine gun fire in No Man’s Land. They joined the 8th Battalion in their stretch of the German trench, which they held until the evening of the 26th September before they withdrew.  In this one battle the 8th Battalion had 639 casualties with the 9th Battalion suffering 476 casualties.

By the 28th September 1915 the British had retreated to their starting positions having suffered over 20,000 casualties.  The British made a final attack on the 13th October 1915 but because of the combination of heavy rain and German shelling the attempt was abandoned.  The total of British casualties for this period was 59,247.  Both Battalions were later moved to the Somme area which remained a relatively quiet sector until the offensive began on 1st July 1916.

In April 1917 a War Shrine was unveiled in Barnstaple and Charles Morrish was listed amongst the many casualties who had lived in Union Street Barnstaple.  A North Devon Journal article on the 26th April 1917 Page 7 about the war memorial starts as follows:-

War Shrine1 NDJ

and continues to list the men of the Derby streets including Charles’ name as of Union Street. Our map of Barnstaple WW1 casualties, on display in the Local Studies foyer, clearly shows the number of losses in such a small area, the street bearing the highest losses of any in the town.

War Shrine2 NDJ 26.4 17

Charles Morrish’s name is on the Loos Memorial; the Loos Memorial is at Loos-en-Gahelle, France and commemorates over 20,000 British soldiers who were killed from the 25th September 1915 to the end of the war in 1918 in that region.

The majority of the names on the Loos Memorial to the missing were killed in action during the Battle of Loos with many of them killed in No Man’s land.  As the front line in this sector did not change very much after the Battle of Loos it was not possible to recover many of the bodies until the area was cleared after the end of the war.  The unburied human remains and the pieces of  kit which had been subjected to shelling and the weather during the rest of the war made it impossible for bodies to be identified by 1919 when they started clearing the area .

In 1915 British servicemen only had one identity disc and these would have been collected from the bodies after the Battle of Loos as a way of establishing the number of casualties which made later identification even more difficult.

Annie Delbridge UK Outward Passenger List Ancestry

Charles’ mother Annie Delbridge emigrated to Quebec, Canada in 1915 with some of her children to join her husband John.

His widow Blanche married Alfred Cann in 1920 in Barnstaple.  She was living in Barnstaple in 1939 in Lissets Close, Union Street.



Ancestry Library Edition – Census records; UK Outward Passenger Lists 1890-1960 (available free online in the Local Studies Centre and in any Devon library)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal (available free online in the Local Studies Centre) – Image of St Mary Magdalene Church, Barnstaple



































Use of Chemical Weapons in World War 1


Chemical weapons were first used in World War 1, they were used to injure or kill the enemy where they were entrenched. Gas clouds were slow moving so were most effective when used for this purpose.  Some of the gases used like tear gas or mustard gas were disabling and others like phosgene and chlorine were lethal.


Gas was responsible for 4% of deaths in the war, partly because countermeasures like gas masks were developed so gas became less effective.


The use of gas by all sides during the First World War was classed as a war crime as it violated the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 in relation to the use of Asphyxiating Gases and Land Warfare.


The earliest use of tear gas was by the French in August 1914 and it was used as an irritant rather than a weapon to kill or disable the enemy. However the amounts used were so small that it wasn’t detected by the Germans and the stocks were soon used.  Later in 1914 the Germans used small amounts of gas against the British although again it was barely detectable.


The first use of gas on a large scale was by the Germans when they fired                                                                                                                                                                                             on the Russians in Poland in early 1915, however because it was so cold the chemicals froze and therefore did not have the desired effect.


In April 1915 the Germans used larger amounts of chlorine gas against French Colonial Troops just north of Ypres. Chlorine can be used an irritant but prolonged exposure to this gas can lead to death. The Germans used gas on several more occasions in 1915 against the French Colonial troops, the Canadians, the British and then on the eastern front against the Russians.


The British were outraged at Germany’s use of chemical weapons initially but they then developed their own capability.  The first use of gas by the British was at the Battle of Loos in September 1915, but the attempt was a disaster.  Chlorine gas was used but a successful attack depended on a favourable wind, however the wind was changeable on that that day and the gas either blew back on the British troops or lingered in No Man’s Land.  Alongside these problems not all the gas was released because the wrong tuning keys had been sent with the canisters and further shelling by the Germans on the British positions meant that more gas was released among the British troops.

The situation was compounded by the flannel gas masks used by the British troops; as the masks got hot the small eyepieces misted over and the troops would lift them up to get fresh air and were then gassed.


The use of gas was developed and used throughout the remainder of the First World War and was used by both sides.  Mustard gas which is one of the most commonly known gases was not used by the British until 1917.  It did not need to be inhaled just contact with the skin was enough. Small concentrations of the gas would cause blisters and it would cause victims to become temporarily blinded in many cases; it also caused fevers, headaches and pneumonia because of its effect on the lungs. Mustard gas when dispensed in shells would settle as an oily liquid on the ground and would contaminate an area for several days.  People who died of mustard gas poisoning often took several weeks to die.


Many people who survived gas attacks suffered long term effects including brain, sight and lung problems for the rest of their lives.


Gas was not as effective a weapon as some others as there were things that could be done to prevent its effect; initially troops were advised to use a wet handkerchief over their nose and mouth and then they used pads soaked in a bicarbonate of soda solution. The gas helmet which covered the head entirely was the next invention, a bag ingrained with chemicals that covered the head entirely but these chemicals would wash out into the eyes of the wearer. The final invention was the box respirator which had two pieces, a mouthpiece connected to a box filter which held chemicals which neutralised the gas and a mask.  This design then led to the small box respirator which was a single item with a close fitting mask with eye pieces, this was compact and could be worn around the neck.


Gas was mainly used on the Western Front, because it was effective with the trench system of warfare where troops were static for long periods; although Germany did use it against the Russians on the Eastern Front.  There were an estimated 1.3 million casualties of chemical weapons during the First World War.




The Battle of Jutland as depicted in snippets from the North Devon Journal

Frederick King Prisoners of War 1914 1920 findmypast
Prisoners of War 1914-1920 findmypast

The Battle of Jutland, one hundred years ago, involved a number of North Devon men whose deeds and fates were reported in the local press.

The North Devon Journal reported a surprise for Mrs King in mid-July as her husband Chief Engine Room Artificer Frederick King of HM Nestor, sunk in the Jutland battle, and reported as dead, contacted his wife in July from Wilhelmshaven where he was being kept as a POW (Thursday 13 July 1916 North Devon Journal Page/Column 7f).




However other news was of a more sombre note.

Our Brave heroes Devon and Exeter Gazette


A joint memorial service was held at Bideford for two Instow men, Captain Hugh Rivers O’Brien RFA, who died at Ypres, and Lieut Robert Chichester RN, son of the late Sir Edward and Lady Chichester, who was lost at Jutland on HMS Black Prince (Thursday 22 June 1916 North Devon Journal Page/Column 5g). William Beer, pictured with him in this extract from the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette, is not mentioned in the North Devon Journal.

Over 500 attended a service at Lynton in memorial of both Lord Kitchener and those who died at Jutland (Thursday 22 June 1916 North Devon Journal Page/Column 6b).

Torrington services and weddingAt Torrington there were similar memorial services at both the Baptist Church and Methodist Chapel, but also, at the Baptist Chapel, a quiet wedding… by special licence… of Stanley Peake of HMS Warsprite, survivor of the Battle, and Fanny Popham (Thursday 15 June 1916 North Devon Journal  Page/Column 8d).

Mr RJ Gumm of Ilfracombe, and HMS Tiger, wrote an account of the battle in a letter to HJ Macey, the headmaster of Holy Trinity Boys’ School. He qualifies Admiral Beatty’s assertion that it was a “brilliant victory” by saying one will have to admit that it was dearly won. With no comment on the British losses he says I cannot see how their losses can be under 10,000 – a terrible death toll, for such a few hours (Thursday 29 June 1916 North Devon Journal Page/Column 7a).

Another account, from Stoker Eric Kipling of Ilfracombe, describes the scenes and noise of battle and of seeing the Queen Mary go down. It was all over very quickly – one moment a sheet of flame and the next nothing to be seen of her (Thursday 15 June 1916 North Devon Journal Page/Column 3a).

J Watts, writing home to Braunton, said that he had been serving in the North Sea since the war broke out until lately, and that (he) took part in the Jutland “scrap” (Thursday 30 November 1916  North Devon Journal  Page/Column 8d).

HMS Colossus By official photographer - This is photograph SP 1680 from the collections of the Imperial War Museum
HMS Colossus   IWM Collection

First Class Petty Officer George H Manning of Ilfracombe was awarded the DSM for conspicuous gallantry during the battle of Jutland. He had saved his ship HMS Colossus from sinking from a shell hole beneath the water line by entering the water up to his neck and stopping the water from coming in (Thursday 16 November 1916 North Devon Journal Page/Column 5c; Thursday 23 November 1916  North Devon Journal Page/Column 5d).

Sayers snippetAlso decorated, with the conspicuous gallantry medal, was Petty Officer George Arthur Sayer, son-in-law of Mr and Mrs John Shaddick of Green Lane, themselves having six sons of their own serving. Well known in Barnstaple, where he (had) many friends, his leg had been shot away when his gun turret was disabled and he thereafter set a fine example by remaining at his post and trying to get his gun into action again. A fuller account of his life and of the Jutland incident is given in his obituary in 1940. He had gone to sea at the age of eleven and had joined the Royal Navy at fourteen, and was given a military guard of honour, military band and volley of shots at his funeral in Bath. At Jutland he had been a gun layer when his turret had been hit by a shell. He lost a foot, but without mentioning his injury he tried to work the gun but it was jammed. He closed all the watertight doors, and took other safety measures, and then reported to the officer. As well as the CGM he was also awarded the Croix de Geurre. After this, three operations and an artificial leg, he served as a gunnery instructor and was promoted to Chief Petty Officer before finishing his career as a civil servant (Thursday 21 September 1916 North Devon Journal Page/Column 5g; Thursday 11 January 1940  North Devon Journal Page/Column 3a).

Palmer snippetLieut Commander LR Palmer, son of Mrs Palmer of Instow, was awarded the DSO for special gallantry when his destroyer was disabled, in proceeding to the assistance of Onslow and taking her in tow under heavy shell fire. He succeeded in towing her in a heavy sea until relieved by tugs when in sight of land (Thursday 21 September 1916 North Devon Journal Page/Column 5g).

The deaths column notes the death in the naval battle off Jutland of Arthur Henry Routcliffe, HMS Indefatigable, second son of Mrs Cousins of Carlton Terrace Barnstaple and Frank Sidney, ERA of HMS Defence, whose mother was a member of the Darch family from Barnstaple (Thursday 22 June 1916 North Devon Journal Page/Column 8g).

Pte Percy Coles, youngest son of Mortehoe publicans and formerly of Barnstaple, was killed serving on Admiral Beatty’s flagship, HMS Lion. He was of fine physique, a pleasant companion and a good comrade (Thursday 15 June 1916 North Devon Journal Page/Column 5a).

HMS Black Prince Symonds & Co -  This is photograph Q 38292 from the collections of the Imperial War Museums (collection no. 2107-01)
HMS Black Prince    IWM Collection

The North Devon Journal’s overview of the year records the deaths in the battle of Jutland of three Torrington men – Robert Palmer who was on the Black Prince, RH Tanton of the Indefatigible, and Ernest Ware of the Defence (Thursday 28 December 1916  North Devon Journal  Page/Column 2b).  Later that year Ernest’s brother John was to die, after surviving the Somme, from bronchitis after contracting a chill and neuphritis (sic) (Thursday 28 December 1916 North Devon Journal Page/Column 5b).

Also lost on the Defence was Leading Stoker WW Cann of Cardiff, but formerly of Barnstaple (Thursday 31 May 1917  North Devon Journal Page/Column 8f).


British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal; Exeter and Plymouth Gazette (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

findmypast – Prisoners of War 1914-1920 (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

Attestment, Conscription and Tribunals

Attestment, Conscription and Tribunals

The initial flood of volunteers over, recruitment was becoming a problem by the end of 1915.

First, in October 1915, the so-called Derby Scheme was introduced whereby men could attest ie express willingness to serve. Then, in January 1916 the Military Service Act made all single men liable to call up and by March the married men also.

Local tribunals were set up to hear the cases of individuals, and their employers, who objected to call up either on economic grounds, being vital to their family or workplace, or as conscientious objectors on religious or political grounds.

The cases of “stars” ie those who had previously attested and been given exemption or delayed call up on these grounds, perhaps due to working in a restricted occupation, were also reviewed. Sometimes the exemption was extended for a relatively short period to enable the employer to make alternative arrangements.

These were reported in the local press and reflect the rural and tourist economy of the area as well as the degree of manpower and physical labour needed to run a variety of businesses, from working the land to town centre grocers and garages.

The reports included a certain amount of verbatim as regards the responses given to questions such as had the employment of women been considered as an alternative? These responses indicate a view of women’s capabilities and propensity for employment which was put to rest by their mass involvement in factory work and the Land Army during the Second World War.

The detail of these schemes is complicated but these extracts from a summary from the Great War London WordPress site help to explain the terminology which in turn borrows from The Long Long Trail website,

The ever-useful Long, Long Trail website describes what the scheme entailed administratively: “Men who attested under the Derby Scheme, who were accepted for service and chose to defer it were classified as being in “Class A”. Those who agreed to immediate service were “Class B”. The Class A men were paid a day’s army pay [2 shillings and 9 pence] for the day they attested; were given a grey armband with a red crown as a sign that they had so volunteered; were officially transferred into Section B Army Reserve; and were sent back to their homes and jobs until they were called up.”

1 Armband
Armlet given to Derby attestees 1915

In essence there were two prongs to the so-called ‘Derby Scheme’: the first was a systematic survey of all military-aged men on the National Register who were not in ‘starred’ employment (i.e. war-related work). This meant sending canvassers out again to the houses of men on the register.

The other prong to the campaign was a renewal of the general recruiting campaign but calling for men to sign up either as new recruits for immediate enlistment or as attestees willing to go when called. Again recruiting meetings were held and posters went up across the country; now the threat of conscription was greater than ever as a back-drop to these meetings.

As part of the campaign, the Government stressed two things: first, that men would be able to appeal against their call up, with the strong implication that men who had not attested would be unable to appeal against their later conscription. It was stressed that men should leave the decision over whether their personal or work situation meant they should stay or go to the local tribunal. This was important for many men who joined up, since it meant that they could attest on the assumption that their circumstances would keep them out of the army – they would appear patriotic but not actually have to fight. It probably also increased the number of ‘starred’ men attesting.

The second strong message was even more important: the single men would go first. Prime Minister Herbert Asquith made an explicit pledge to married men to this extent: On 2 November, he told the House of Commons:
“I am told by Lord Derby and others that there is some doubt among married men who are now being asked to enlist whether, having enlisted, or promised to enlist, they may not be called upon to serve, while younger and unmarried men are holding back and not doing their duty. Let them at once disabuse themselves of that notion. So far as I am concerned, I should certainly say the obligation of the married man to serve ought not to be enforced or held binding upon him unless and until – I hope by voluntary effort, but if it be needed in the last resort by other means – the unmarried men are dealt with.”

2 Poster image for blog
Official recruiting poster including Asquith’s pledge to married men. © IWM (Art.IWM PST 5062)

Like the potential for exemption, the promise that men could patriotically attest without actually having to serve (at least until the single men had gone) may have allowed men to attest on the assumption that they would not actually have to serve.

January 1916 brought the Military Service Act, which made all single men of military age liable to being called up.

Alongside the Derby Scheme the Government asked all local authorities to create tribunals to hear the appeals of men against their call up.

In theory the only difference in the right to appeal was that while both attested men and conscripts could appeal on the basis of medical unfitness, exceptional business or personal circumstances (such as the potential collapse of their business, or that they were vital in caring for elderly relatives), and work of national importance, only conscripts could appeal on the basis of conscientious objection. This was logical since attested men had sworn that they were willing to serve, but since men had been told (at least implicitly) that military service could only be avoided by attesting and going to the tribunals, it is not surprising that some attested despite being conscientious objectors or being so unwilling to serve that they felt it better to be tarred with the label of ‘conchy’ than to join up.

In March, the married men were called for. There was uproar (from the married men at least) that Asquith’s pledge had not been fulfilled and there were still large numbers of single men who were not serving. What was more, those ‘unpatriotic’ married men who had not attested were not to be called up at all. The obvious point that the attested men had attested their willingness to serve and shouldn’t have done if they were not actually willing to serve did not sway the campaigners. A second Military Service Act was passed, extending conscription to married men. I can’t tell whether the ‘married men’ dispute was an error on the government’s part or a brilliant scheme to get a result that would have been thought impossible 18 months: compulsory service for married men. Either way, full conscription was the result.
Tribunals in North Devon in 1916

3 Saunderson

The case of S A Saunderson was referred to the Devon Tribunal at Exeter.
Saunderson, a conscientious objector working as an accountant in Barnstaple, argued that his occupation was of national importance within the meaning of regulations which stipulated for employment of service. He went on to state that he was a Plymouth Brother and could not take life.
The tribunal was not convinced and certified him for combatant service.

Samuel Alfred Saunderson, chartered accountant, is recorded as living in Exeter in the 1911 Census. There is no record to show that he was killed in the war and the medal record for a Samuel A Saunderson of the Queens Own Regiment shows that his Victory Medal was unclaimed or returned which would concur with his religious views.
4 Torrington


The Chairman of the Torrington Tribunal suggested to farmer Richard Burrow that he give female labour a trial when he asked for exemption for both himself and his cattleman Albert Lee as only three of five men were left working his land.
Burrow replied that he did not think women much good for farm work. He was given 6 months exemption and told that Lee would have to join up when called.


Albert Lee is recorded in the 1911 Census as a Labourer on farm living in Merton with his wife Sarah. There are no records which show his participation in the war and so perhaps he was lucky and stayed at home.

5 Lee Census

6 Bple TribunalThe Barnstaple Borough Tribunal heard cases from a variety of applicants – Messrs Prideaux, motor engineers, on behalf of one of their taxi drivers, Thomas Dennis – every man on the firm having attested and seventeen had joined, they were only asking for exemption for three men. Both Prideaux and Henry Scott, haulage contractor of Rolle Quay, were engaged in government work but also needed to continue their trade despite a shortage of drivers.
The military authorities applied for the removal of the exemption granted to Robert Cowie, employed as a foreign traveller and designer by Shapland and Petter. The firm argued their case and the Mayor announced that the Tribunal’s previous decision held and the military authorities were refused.
Robert was undoubtedly the son of William Cowie, head of the Design Room at S&P and who is said, in Historic England’s assessment of the factory buildings, to have had links to the Glasgow School of Art. The 1911 Census shows the family at home in Ashleigh Road. Robert is absent although another son, John Grandisson Cowie, is also listed as a designer (furniture) as is his father.

7 Northam Tribunal


The conditional exemptions granted at a Northam Tribunal meeting in May reflected the seasonality of the appellants’ occupations with a hotel and boarding house keeper given to September 1st, a dairyman and market gardener to August 8th, and a smallholder two months.


8 Ilf Tribunal


Ilfracombe Tribunal heard a mixture of farming and dependency cases. One of the Richards brothers of Warcombe farm was granted exemption, the younger, Sidney Percy, refused.

Sidney’s service record survives but only shows his personal details on joining (the word enlistment is overwritten) and no record of action other than the award of the Victory Medal.

WW Bailey, who said he had been reproached as a slacker had a widowed mother and an invalid sister in a sanatorium, to support. Reg Lancey had parents in their 70s, mother delicate and… father mentally afflicted. Both were conditionally exempted while their circumstances remained the same, decisions received with loud applause by the large number present in the hall.

9 Lynton Tribunal


The Lynton and Lynmouth Cliff Railway applied for absolute exemption for their three conductors, all in their thirties.
Despite their solicitor’s arguments that to comply with Board of Trade regulations they needed a third man in case of sickness, one, John Creek, was refused exemption – the Company were to appeal.

The appeal was adjourned in June, then again in December 1916, and eventually in February 1917 John was given conditional exemption as long as he remains in the same employment.

John Creek died in April 1940. As the foreman of the Cliff Railway the service was suspended whilst the funeral took place and, as also sub-captain of the Fire Brigade, his coffin was conveyed to church by the Council’s fire engine.


10 Bideford tribunal


At Bideford two stars were withdrawn on the application of the military.
Those appearing were engaged in a mix of occupations and included a bootmaker, painter, horseman, cowman, draper and a motor and cycle engineer.

11 SM Tribunal


The appeals to South Molton Rural Tribunal took up two columns of the North Devon Journal in March 1916 reflecting the intensive manpower needed to run a farm in those days.
The dialogue reported here in the case of Reginald Rew illustrates the determination of the military authorities to “get their man” and one wonders how the farm families felt having to argue their case against those of better education and a more privileged background.




Ancestry Library Edition – Census records; WW1 service records (available free online in the Local Studies Centre and in any Devon library)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)



JMW photo from BNA article 1935

John Mills Whitham as pictured in 1935


John Mills Whitham lived in the village of Parracombe in Devon where he stated his work was as an author. In spring of 1916 compulsory military service was introduced in Great Britain and like many others he refused to fight on religious grounds.

Born in 1883 the 1891 Census shows him as an eight year old living with his family in Ellesmere Port. His father is described as a Primitive Methodist Minister and the differing birthplaces of the three young children show that the family had moved around in the previous ten years.

John Mills Whitham 1891 Census

1901 finds John living with his grandfather in Birkenhead where he is described as an architect’s pupil, and by 1911 he is living with his married elder brother Alfred, himself then a Wesleyan Methodist Minister, in Southend on Sea. John is described as a writer – also advertisement writer working partly on his own account.

John Mills Whitham 1911 Census
NDJ 23.3 1916 8c CO hearingIn March 1916 John attended a Tribunal to assess his application for absolute exemption from any form of organised National Service for the prosecution of the War. This was reported in the North Devon Journal on the 23rd March of that year.

At this time the Tribunals were exactly the same ones that were set up to facilitate recruitment for the army and so had little sympathy for the men who appeared before them.
It is known that John’s Service No. was 3665 and that he was only exempted from the Combatant Service but was expected to serve in the Non-Combatant Corps which was a corps of the British Army composed of conscientious objectors as privates with NCO’s and Officers seconded from other corps or regiments.

John Mills Whitham British Army Record7All of his army enrolment papers, medical papers and discharge papers give no personal information with the exception that he is an author. He refused , always to answer any questions and it was this that was noted on his record of service.
John Mills Whitham British Army Record9It can be seen from the attached information and statement of service that John was frequently court martialed and imprisoned. He was finally discharged in 1920, still refusing to answer any personal questions. John Mills Whitham was married to Sylvia Milman in 1916 and lived the rest of his life in North Devon. She was the daughter of a barrister from South Kensington and, as an artist and Royal Academician, had been a member of the “Friday Club” started by Vanessa Bell.

On Foot In Devon index pageJohn, or Jan as he was also known, was a fairly prolific and moderately successful local author. He was a friend of Henry Williamson who records a meeting with him at Trentishoe in his 1933 walking travelogue On Foot in Devon, referring to him in the index as the genius loci.

The Henry Williamson Society website says of the encounter Our author meets John (‘Jan’) Mills-Whitham, author and friend of HW, who is given a succinct verbal portrait but needs further notes to fully flesh him out.


An account of his life and career was published in the North Devon Journal in 1935. He died at the North Devon Infirmary in Barnstaple in 1956, after which his widow Sylvia donated his correspondence and manuscript notes to the University of Exeter, before she herself died in the following year. A number of his books may be seen in the Local Studies collection at Devon Heritage Centre, Exeter.


Ancestry Library Edition – Census records; WW1 service records (available free online in the Local Studies Centre and in any Devon library)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

On Foot in Devon notes –


The start of conscription in Spring of 1916 meant the setting up of Tribunals to assess Conscientious Objectors. It was expected that the Tribunals would be independent judicial bodies presided over by fair-minded men and women.They were, however, exactly the same Tribunals which had been set up to facilitate recruitment for the army and continued to fulfil that function. Their task was , therefore , difficult since nobody had established any guidelines and they had little sympathy for the men who appeared before them.


A conscientious objector refuses to engage in military
Service or go to war because doing so would conflict
with deeply held personal beliefs.
These can be based on religious conviction or experience,
or moral and ethical considerations.

The Non-Combatant Corps was a corps of the British Army composed of conscientious objectors as privates, with NCOs and officers seconded from other corps or regiments.Its members fulfilled various non-combatant roles in the army during the first world war.

John Mills Whitham
As reported in the North Devon Journal on the 23rd March 1916, John Mills Whitham was sent before a Military Service Tribunal in Barnstaple in that month. His stated objection to fighting was on religious grounds. He was not granted absolute exemption, however , only exemption from combatant service. This meant that he was expected to join the Non- Combatant Corps.
John Mills Whitham always refused to answer any questions or give any personal information to the army except to say that he is an author.
It can be seen from his record that he frequently disobeyed orders and spent some time in military and civilian prisons. He was finally discharged in March 1920, still refusing to answer any personal questions.
John Mills Whitham was married to Sylvia Milman in 1916 and lived the rest of his life in North Devon.He was a fairly prolific and moderately successful local author.
Whilst John Mills Whitham did not appear to speak of his first world war experiences and no mention of this time is made in articles about him,and even tho’ he was so reticent about himself during that war it is highly likely that the unusual name, the date of birth of 1883/4, put together with the mention of a brother who is a Wesleyan Minister both during the Tribunal and in the obituary and the fact of being an author, add up to the John Mills Whitham who was a conscientious objector in 1916 as being the author about whom an article was written in the North Devon Journal in December 1935 and who died in 1956..
The later life of John Mills Whitham is fairly well documented as can be seen in the papers included here.


JACK HAYSOM Private 2286 2/6th Battalion Devonshire Regiment

devonshire_victorian_officers_capbadge The Keep Military MuseumJACK HAYSOM

Private 2286 2/6th Battalion Devonshire Regiment

21st July 1897 – 14th April 1915

Jack Haysom baptism HT 1898Jack (John) Haysom was born in Barnstaple, his baptism record at Holy Trinity Church in Barnstaple states he was born on the 21st July 1897, the son of Richard and Ellen Haysom of 35 Litchdon Street.

His father Richard was born in Hampshire and had moved to Barnstaple by the time the 1881 census was taken. He married Ellen Hobbs in 1884 at Fremington Parish Church. Richard was listed as a house decorator and picture framer at various addresses in Barnstaple on the census records after 1881. Richard and Ellen had several children including Jack they were Nellie, (George deceased 1889), Alice, William, Frederick, Elizabeth, May, George and Charles.

Richard Haysom 1881 Census       Richard Haysom 1901 Census

On the 1901 census the family was living in Litchdon Street, in the 1906 Kelly’s Directory Richard was listed as a plumber at 69 Boutport Street and by the time of the 1911 census the family were living at 71 Boutport Street.

Richard Haysom 1911 Census

In this last census Jack who was aged 14 was listed as being at school, he attended the Ashleigh Road Council School.

Jack Haysom Ashleigh School

A North Devon Journal Article on the 10th September 1914 states as follows:-

NDJ 10.9.1914 5f“Mr R Haysom, painter and decorator of the Square Barnstaple has 3 sons in the 6th Battalion Devon Regiment, William B, Jack and Fred Haysom; and all have volunteered for foreign service. The two remaining sons are members of Barnstaple Boy Scouts.”

NDJ 8.10.1914 2a aJack became a Private in the 2/6th Battalion (Territorials) of the Devonshire Regiment which was formed in Barnstaple in September 1914 and subsequently was sent to India.

When the war broke out in India the country was in a state of political unrest. Before the war started the Germans had spent a lot of time trying to stir up anti-British feeling in India. The feeling was that if Britain was involved in a crisis elsewhere in the world then the Indian separatists would use this time as an opportunity to fight their cause. However when war was declared on the 4th August 1914 India rallied to the cause, many influential people in India at the time then felt that the cause for Indian independence would be advanced by helping out the British Government however they could.

Devons to India 1914 1On the 22nd September 1914 the Indian Government agreed to send 32 British and 20 Indian regular army battalions to Europe in exchange for 43 territorial force battalions of which the newly formed 2nd/6th Battalion Devonshire Regiment was one.

Jack Haysom’s name appears in this list of local soldiers in the 6th Devons which was printed in the North Devon Journal in October 1914.

On the 12th December 1914 the battalion sailed for India and came under orders of 6th (Poona) Divisional Area at Bombay where they stayed until moving to 7th (Meerut) Divisional Area in 1916.


Another soldier in the 2/6th Battalion, Vernon Carr Boyle, recorded his wartime experiences in what are a remarkable collection of watercolours and sketches of India and Mesopotamia. Vernon Boyle sketch from From Devon to DujailahThese have been put on exhibition this year, entitled From Devon to Dujailah  (click on link for details) at the Museum of Barnstaple and North Devon, to mark the centenary of the Battle of Dujailah, part of the campaign to free the besieged British and Indian garrison at Kut in Mesopotamia. Although little-remembered today, the Battle was the worst day of the First World War for North Devon. The Sixth Battalion the Devonshire Regiment suffered 300 casualties on that day. From 1924 Barnstaple remembered the losses of “Dujailah Day” with a church service, and the survivors met up every year until at least 1953.

However Jack Haysom was not to see service in Mesopotamia. The next information in the North Devon Journal was in the edition dated the 22nd April 1915 which has a notice of his death from enteric fever. There was also an article giving details of his death in the same paper which reads as follows:-


NDJ 22.4.1915 5c“The sad news reached Barnstaple on Monday of the death in India of Signaller Jack Haysom, 2/6th Devons, third son of Mr and Mrs R Haysom, The Square, Barnstaple. Captain Crewe who is with the Regiment, cabled to the Mayor of Barnstaple (Councillor F A Jewell) informing him of the sad occurrence. The pathetic news was at once conveyed by the Mayor to the bereaved parents and family, with whom the greatest sympathy is expressed. The deceased wrote home recently stating that he had a sore throat. Enteric fever, however supervened, and he passed away after a fortnight’s illness.

Signaller Haysom, who was nearly 19 years of age, before enlisting, early in the War, worked as a tailor with Mr C Hobbs of Bickington. He was a keen footballer and during the period that his Regiment was billeted in Barnstaple, played for H Company in the Inter-Company League games. He was an “old boy” of the Ashleigh Road Council School and sang in the Barnstaple Parish Church Choir for a period of two years. He was of a bright and happy disposition, and was very popular in the Regiment. His death will be deeply regretted by his many friends and acquaintances in Barnstaple. A brother Corporal Bob Haysom is serving in the same company, whilst Private Fred Haysom another brother is at Lahore with the 1/6th Devons.

Even more tragically, according to Jack’s baptism and the 1911 Census, he would actually have only been 17 years of age when he died.

Enteric or Typhoid fever was spread by contaminated food or water and caused many deaths and illness during the Great War period. Vaccination against typhoid had hardly begun and was not in general use.

Jack Haysom’s name is on the Kirkee War Memorial in the Kirkee War Cemetery, Mumbai (Bombay). The 1914-1918 Memorial at Kirkee commemorates nearly 2000 soldiers who served and died in India during this war.

Kirklee War Memorial, Bombay

There are 629 First World War servicemen buried in the cemetery in unmarked graves in the grassed area between the Memorial and the Cross of Sacrifice, whose names are included on the memorial; many of the other soldiers listed on the Memorial are buried in civil cemeteries elsewhere in India.



Ancestry Library Edition – Census records (available free online in the Local Studies Centre and in any Devon library)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

findmypast – school admission books; parish baptism registers (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)


JAMES HENRY GAYDON Private 772913, 87th Battalion (Grenadier Guards) Canadian Expeditionary Forces

James Henry Gaydon

Private 772913, 87th Battalion (Grenadier Guards)
Canadian Expeditionary Forces

25th August 1889 – 14th November 1917

James Henry Gaydon was born in Barnstaple where his birth was registered in the 3rd quarter of 1889. He was the son of Robert Gaydon from Tawstock and Mary Williams from South Molton.

Mary had two children before she married Robert named William and Bessie; she then married Robert in October 1870 in South Molton. They had several children who were living with them on various census records from 1871 -1901 these were Sarah, Rosa, Albert, Robert, George, John, Alice and James.

James Gaydon 1891 Census for blogJames’ mother Mary’s death was registered in Barnstaple in 1890 and the record states she was aged 45 at the time of her death. In the 1891 census James as a young child was living with some of his older brothers and sisters at Belle Meadow in Barnstaple.



James Gaydon 1901 Census for blog

In the 1901 census he was living with his father Robert and sister Alice at 12 Zion’s Place in Barnstaple.



By the time of the 1911 census James was 21 and was working as a blacksmith’s apprentice; he was then living with his father Robert, his brother George and sister Alice at 2 Connaught Place, Silver Street Barnstaple.James Gaydon 1911 Census for blog

The next possible record found is that of a James Gaydon listed on the passenger lists of the ship the Tunisian which sailed from Liverpool and arrived in Quebec, Canada on the 27th April 1913.

Tunisian 1913 for blog

SS TunisianIt was noted on the ship’s passenger list that he was going to live with a brother who was already resident there in Ontario.

His father Robert Gaydon’s death was registered in Barnstaple in the 3rd quarter of 1914.

Canadian Enlistment p1There is then an enlistment record for the Canadian Oversea Expeditionary Force where James Gaydon signed up dated the 14th February 1916 in Weir, Ontario his date of birth is stated as the 25th August 1891.
The 87th Battalion (Canadian Grenadier Guards) was a unit in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War which began recruiting in 1915 in Montreal and throughout Canada, this made it a truly Canadian Unit because many of the other units were recruited from a particular region of Canada. The battalion was authorised on December 1915 as the 87th Overseas Battalion, CEF.
The 87th Battalion sailed for Britain in April 1916 and then arrived in France in August 1916 where it fought as part of the 11th Infantry Brigade, 4th Canadian Division in France and Flanders until the end of the war.

After James arrived in France in 1916 the Canadian Expeditionary Forces participated in many of the main campaigns and operations undertaken including The Somme until late November 1916, where by the end of the fighting the Canadian Corps had sustained 29,029 casualties for a mere six kilometres of mud.

The experience gained during this time helped them in their next battle at Vimy Ridge in April 1917. The Battle for Hill 70 during August 1917 saw the first use of mustard gas against the Canadian forces. They were then involved at Passchendaele (also known as the Third Battle of Ypres) during late October and November 1917. It is likely James was involved in the campaign at Passchendaele and wounded there although the records available do not give exact details.James Gaydon Circs of Death form1

James Gaydon death article for blog Nov 1917

James’ death is recorded as at No. 17 Casualty Clearing Station from multiple gunshot wounds on the 14th November 1917 although in some sources it is recorded as the 12th November 1917. A notice in the North Devon Journal on the 22nd November 1917 reads as follows:


James is buried in the Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery which is 1¾ miles south-west of Poperinghe, Belgium in Plot 22 Row DD.



Ancestry Library Edition – Census records (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)

Library and Archives Canada  Search the database

Photographic Record Canadian Grenadier Guards 87th

Further reading

Please note JH Gaydon can also refer to James’ brother  John Henry (Jack) Gaydon who was awarded the DCM and survived the war

The Brantford Expositor Christmas 1916

List of officers and men serving in the First Canadian Contingent BEF

The SS Tunisian and emigration to Canada

SS Tunisian 2
Allan Line advert for blog


The SS Tunisian was one of a fleet of ships operated by the Allan Line who specialised in emigration to Canada.
An article in the Western Times of April 1913 refers to a move to encourage ex-soldiers to emigrate under the auspices of the Naval and Military Emigration League.


Western Times re soldiers going to Canada for blogThis was seen as offering opportunity to time-expired men, openings having been found for them all on arrival. The same newspaper records that, in the October of that year, three quarters of the whole passenger list were married women going to join their husbands or young women to marry their beaux, who had sailed out that Spring.

Tunisian Women to join men for blog
JH Gaydon injured in France for blogThis or a similar scheme might have been the kickstart to the Gaydon brothers’ emigration. A North Devon Journal item concerning an injury sustained by Pte JH Gaydon refers to his after twelve years’ service… having left the Army and emigrated to Canada. This would appear to refer to James’ elder brother, later promoted to Sergeant and awarded the DCM, who James himself went to Canada to join.

JH Gaydon awarded DCM for blog
James’ record on the Tunisian in 1913 also states British Bonus Allowed and that he has worked in farming all his life which may reflect his blacksmithing skill rather than actual farm labouring. This bonus was apparently a payment made by the Canadian government to the steamship booking agents for each suitable immigrant who purchased a ticket, a further payment being made for placing the new arrivals with employers (discovergenealogy.blogspot)
Tunisian vaccination letter to press for blog

However the emigration trips themselves were not without their own hazards. A letter to the Exeter and Plymouth Gazette in the June of 1912 refers to an outbreak of smallpox on the Tunisian and states that 1800 men and women were vaccinated on board.



Tunisian Titanic 1 for blog

And earlier, in April 1912, almost exactly a year before James’ own voyage, the Tunisian had negotiated the same ice fields as the Titanic before arriving safely in St John. Her sister ship the Parisian had been in contact with the doomed ship at half pastTitanic poster ten that fateful Sunday night and forwarded a message to its owners via Cape Race, but, her wireless operator having retired for the night after a busy day, she did not receive the distress message.

Tunisian Titanic 2 for blog



British Newspaper Archive – North Devon Journal (available free online in the Local Studies Centre)