Letton's WW1 Killed in Action

Twenty six men from Letton served in the forces in World War 1. They came from every part of the parish, though the greatest concentration was from Waterloo, which at that time consisted of nine close-knit households (two today). Six of them didn't return. They were:-

L. Corp. R Baker - South Wales Borders
L. Corp. P J Hopley - Royal Warwickshires
Gunner A Jones - Royal Garrison Artillery
Pvt. A E Davies - Machine Gun Corps
Pvt. T Gummer - 1st Herefordshire
Pvt. P Keane - 2nd Leinster

Thomas Gummer was 41 when WW1 was declared.  He was born in the Old Radnor area into a moderately sized family. At some point, he moved to Staffordshire in search of work where, in Aston near the town of Stone, he met, and married,  Louisa Jane Withington.  She was six years his junior. Within a year they had the first of their four children, Lillian. The three others, all boys,  were born in  Letton and baptised in the church.  The family lived at Waterloo and at the outbreak of war the children were aged 13, 11, 8 and 4.

Conscription was introduced in January 1916 and affected men between the ages of 18 and 41, by which time Thomas would be 43 and so would have been a volunteer. As with all recruits and volunteers he had a choice of Regiment and enlisted in the 1st Herefordshire Regiment. On July 16th, 1915, the Regiment of 29 officers and 969 Other Ranks, embarked from Devonport and headed for Gallipoli. They arrived there on the 9th August at 7.20 in the morning. The Herefordshires had a tough time on the peninsula but Thomas survived the heat, the freezing cold (so many froze to death) and the slaughter.  On the 12th of December that year they were withdrawn to Egypt to guard the Suez Canal.

The Turkish army,  under German command, was intent on positioning heavy artillery to the east of Suez and to bombard the canal.  The Allies took up a horseshoe shaped deployment on the western edge of the Sinai, hoping the enemy army would walk into the pincers.  It obliged.  The Battle of Romani lasted from the 3rd to the 5th of August 1916 and resulted in the Turkish army being totally defeated with losses of 16,000. The Allied losses were 1,130, one being 3769 Private Thomas Gummer of Letton who was killed in action on 4th of August.

He is buried in the Kantara War Memorial Cemetery to the east of Suez. His widow requested that this inscription be placed on his headstone:-


The army acquiesced.  Next of kin had to pay for personal inscriptions

Louisa Jane, and the family,  moved away from Letton. She died, still as Mrs Gummer, in July 1949 in Walsall, Staffordshire.

Arthur Jones, at the age of 22 was living at ‘Dewkin’s Moor’ with his widowed mother Ann. He was a stone mason, had been born and baptised in Letton parish and was proud of the fact that he was a “native of Letton”.  That phrase appears on various War Office documents. When he was 24 years old, in 1901, he married Agnes East of Bredwardine. Over the next ten years they had two children, only one, Robert, survived.

In 1911 the family was living at Brick Cottage, Upcott, Arthur still pursuing his occupation of mason.  During WW1 he enlisted in the 217th Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery and went to France 20th. January 1917. A Siege Battery was a section of the Royal Artillery that deployed the huge artillery pieces well behind the allied infantry trenches. The Batteries were equipped with heavy howitzers, sending large calibre high explosive shells in high trajectory, plunging fire.The usual armaments were 6 inch, 8 inch and 9.2 inch howitzers, although some had massive railway- or road-mounted 12 inch howitzers. As British artillery tactics developed, the Siege Batteries were most often employed in destroying or neutralising the enemy artillery, as well as putting destructive fire down on strongpoints, dumps, stores, roads and railways behind enemy lines. They became prime targets for enemy counter-fire.

Such an event happened on the 29th August 1917 when Arthur Jones’s position was destroyed by enemy fire. He is buried, with 1,801 others, in Vlamertinghe New Military Cemetery, Belgium.

The Cemetery register for Arthur Jones reads, “JONES, Gunner, Arthur. 112158.  217th Siege Battery. Royal Garrison Artillery.  Killed in action 29th., Aug., 1917.  Son of John and Ann Jones;  husband of Agnes Jones, of Waterloo, Letton, Hereford. Native of Letton.”

His wife, Agnes, had “Gone but not forgotten.” inscribed on his headstone.

Arthur Davies was 15 in 1914. Four years later, when he was 19, he was dead. He’d been brought up in a large family living in Waterloo. His father, James, originated in Little Marcle and his mother, Mary, was from Cradley. Arthur had eight living siblings. It might have been more but four had died. Three of his brothers and sisters had been born in Letton, as had he. It is difficult to know whether Arthur was conscripted or volunteered giving an incorrect age. The War Office had a strict policy of not sending teenagers to the front line. Yet he was dead at nineteen.

A proportion of new recruits from every regiment was “volunteered” for the new Machine Gun Corps training school that had recently been set up at Grantham. This was the route that Arthur was taking. He would have known that the unofficial title for the Machine Gun Corps was the “Suicide Club”. A Gun Team consisted of six men, each had a specific role. A Lance Corporal was in charge and he fired the gun and carried the tripod.  The second man fed the ammunition belts, each containing 250 rounds, into the gun and also carried the gun, the third man supplied ammunition and the other three were observers, range finders and general dogs’-bodies.

The gun itself was Vicker’s Mark 1. It had a weight of 88.5 lbs (40Kg) and was capable of firing 10,000 round per hour. Each weapon cost £80. In 1918 the War Office bought 39,473

On the 13th and 14th of April 1918 part of the 29th Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps, which included Arthur Davies, took part in the Battle of Bailleul. This was an attempt by the Germans to punch a hole in,  what they considered was, the weakest part of the Allied front line and to head for the Chanel.

When an officer was Killed in Action his next of kin received a telegram. When Other Ranks were killed they received a printed form “We regret to inform you of the death of……” with the personal details handwritten. It was in a standardised buff envelope. When that envelope was delivered it it was time for the world to stop turning.

Mrs Nicholson, who ran the Post Office at Letton had the village’s mail delivered to her by mail van. She sorted it. She would recognise those buff envelopes and would know the person to whom it was to be delivered . It was just that excruciatingly  bit harder for Mr & Mrs Davies at Waterloo because their buff envelope didn’t contain a ‘Killed in Action’ form but that Arthur was ‘missing, believed killed in action’.

There were so many ‘missing, believed killed’ that, after the Armistice, the newly formed Commonwealth War Graves Commission surveyed every battlefield and divided it into a grid pattern .Each grid was painstakingly searched for bodies, either buried in haste or by explosion detritus. The aim was to exhume them and re-inter them with dignity in the new military cemeteries, the lands for which had been given, in perpetuity, by the French Government.

Almost two years after being reported missing and on 9th. January 1920, at Grid Reference, Sheet 28, S23 a1.1 Arthur Davies was found by the gritted-teeth 102nd Labour Company. He had been hastily buried. He was identifiable as 23199 Pte Davies A, 29th Btn MGC. Lying in an adjoining grave was Pte Wingle of the Royal Eniskillin Fusiliers. There were four other makeshift graves and the occupants were unidentifiable. Their headstones would read “Known Unto God” and they flank him to this day in Bailleul Communal Cemetery Extension, which is near the Belgian border and on the main road from St Omer to Lille. Arthur’s headstone is inscribed; “His memory is hallowed in the land he loved.”

George Hopley was 71 when war was declared. He and his wife Agnes lived at ‘Dukin’s Moor’, she was 25 years his junior and had been born in Whitney on Wye.  George was a Letton boy and died a Letton boy in 1920.  In between they’d moved around, not any great distance,  just as far as Norton Canon where most of their six children had been born, their last one, Evelyn, was born and baptised in Letton in1902.

Their three sons enlisted in the army. Lance Corporal Percy Hopley, the eldest was in the Aston area of Birmingham  in 1914. He was 19 and joined in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment. His two brothers,  Ernest and Edward,  14 and 17 respectively, also enlisted into the 1st Herefordshire Regiment, the same one that Thomas Gummer joined. There can’t be much doubt that Ernest especially was inaccurate about his true age. As long as his height was the minimum of 5’3”, he  had a two inch chest expansion and was convincing that he looked young for his age, then the army tended to turn a blind eye and never asked for Birth Certificates. Letters from distraught mothers sometimes led to the release of their under-age sons, but not always. It has been estimated that out of the 2.5 million recruits that had volunteered 250,000 were ‘boy soldiers’, a high proportion giving false names as well as false ages and so becoming untraceable for their families.

Percy Hopley, aged 22,  and on the 9th of February 1917, died of wounds received in that epic slaughter on the Somme. He was buried in the Military Cemetery at Bray, a village 5 miles south of the town of Albert. The following month a German advance over-ran the cemetery and village. Both of them were not recaptured until 24th August that year. His mother had “Gone but not forgotten” inscribed on his headstone.  His two brothers survived the war.

Lance Corporal R Baker was the son of William and Jane Baker who were farming Yew Tree Farm at Kinley. The family had not long moved from Richard’s Castle and shortly afterwards their 22 year old son James died and was buried in Letton Churchyard.  They had two other sons and two daughters.  Son Richard headed to Brecon and joined the 10th Battalion South Wales Borderers. The battalion, after being stationed in the UK,  landed at le Havre on the 4th of December, 1915. On the 30th of October, 1915, the London Gazette announced that 39687 Private Baker, of the South Wales Borderers,  had been awarded the Military Medal. This was awarded to Other Ranks for acts of gallantry and devotion to duty while under fire. It entitled him to use the initials MM after his surname. This attribute is missing on Letton’s memorial. On Thursday, 8th November, just over a week after his Gazetting he was a Lance Corporal and was killed in action

He is buried, along with 550 other casualties, in Erquinghem-Lys Churchyard Extension, 1 mile west of Armentieres in the Nord region of France.

At the time of his death his age was reportedly 26.  The catchily titled “Imperial War Graves Commission Comprehensive Report of Headstone Inscriptions” lists all those who died for each cemetery, together with any honours that should go on the headstone, whether there should be a Cross or a Star of David etc., as well as Regimental No, and age.  Richard Baker’s age is entered as “None”. A type-written note on the entry reads “In any instance where the entry None appears the age will be omitted from the Headstone and the date of death centred laterally”.

There is no inscription from his next of kin.

His father, William, died in 1916 at the age of 58. His mother, Jane, lived on until she was 79 and died at Hackmoor Hall. They are both buried, with their son James, in  Letton Churchyard.  There is no headstone.

P. Keane is a mystery. His name does not appear on any extant documents relating to Letton. There’s no doubt that he lived in the village for his name is on the Memorial.  There is no doubt that he volunteered for the 2nd Leinsters because conscription didn’t apply to Irish nationals.  It is possible that he worked on one of the estates before enlisting. Army records show that there were many Private P. Keanes in the 2nd Leinsters, none with next of kin in Letton but numerous with such kin in Waterford, Cork, Dublin etc.

© Letton PCC 2014