Buckley At War

World War 1                                         

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 The press reported a public meeting in support of recruiting for the army, in October, at the Picture House, Buckley. ‘There was a crowded audience, composed chiefly of young men. The proceedings were of a loyal and enthusiastic nature‘. The main speaker was the local Member of Parliament, the Liberal, J. Herbert Lewis. He also attended a concert given to raise funds for the troops, in Tabernacle, by the Buckley United Choir, composed of a hundred singers, from nearly all the places of worship. By the end of October there were 178 men engaged on active service.


                                                               J. Herbert Lewis. 


 Because of the need to train the volunteer recruits from Buckley many of them did not go into battle until late 1915. The main scenes of action were the second Battle of Ypres (April 22 - May 15), when the British casualties numbers 59,000, and the British attack at Loos, September, with 5,000 casualties. In April the British and French opened a new theatre of War in Gallipoli against the Turks. The British casualties for the campaign, which lasted until the evacuation in January 1916, numbered 210,000. The public were angered by the sinking of the Lusitania by the U-Boat U-20 in may, and the German use of mustard gas in their spring offensive.

 The first recorded military death was noted by George Lewis on January 31. ‘A military funeral at Bistre Church for a Canadian solider‘. This was Private R. A. Hughes of the Canadian Medical Corps, who had served in Flanders. In April 1915, Buckley was saddened and shocked by the death by a sniper’s bullet, of the local 30-year old squire and Lord Lieutenant of Flintshire, W. G. C. Gladstone, who had just arrived at the front at Laviente, as an officer in the Royal Walsh Fusiliers, The first deaths in action were from the Royal Welsh: Private John Ellis was killed at Ypres on 16 May and three other privates in the regiment at the battle of Loos in September and October. Recruitments continued. By March over 130 old scholars from St Matthew’s school had joined the colours. The establishment of a Red Cross Hospital at Leeswood was an outlet for public sympathy and many local women worked there on a voluntary basis. In October school children collected 650 large potatoes for patients.

                                                                                                                                                           W.G.C. Gladstone


 Worse was to come in July with the large-scale offensive on the western front at the battle of the Somme. It lasted from 1 July to 18 November. The casualties increased amongst the Buckley soldiers, many of them serving with the RWF. Other men perished of disease in the ill-fated campaign in Mesopatamia. They are commemorated on the Basra Memorial.



 On  31 July Haig launched the Third battle of Ypres, which lasted until 18 November, generally known, from its final episode at Passchendaele, and by Lloyd George as ‘Battle of the Mud‘. The British suffered casualties of 418,654, and Buckley it’s greatest number of fatalities. Amongst these was Fred Birks, the Buckley hero of the First World War. He won the first Victoria Cross awarded to  Flintshire Man in the War.


                                                              The Mud at Passchendaele


 The local people took every opportunity to show their kindness to the boys who were serving, by entertaining wounded soldiers as well as staff and nurses from Leeswood Hall Military Hospital.  People from  Bistre and Buckley  provided concerts, teas, whist drives and motor transport. Cropper’s Picture House the Palace at Lane End, was a popular venue. A number of Charlie Chaplin films were featured and live items were performed by soldiers home on leave from France. In January 1918 Drum Major Will Roberts performed on the piano, accompanied by Private Elvet Rowlands on the violin. Before the war, Will Roberts was the resident pianist at the palace.


                                                           Will Roberts

In July, a gala and dance was held on the cricket ground in aid of the Buckley Prisoners of War Fund. The programme consisted of  May-pole dances by the scholars from St. Matthew’s Day School, a baby and pram race, tug of war and Charlie Chaplin impersonation, with music for dancing played by the Buckley Volunteers and Buckley Royal Town Band.

                                                        Buckley Royal Town Band. c. 1923

  Food shortages affected morale during the final two years of the war and the government introduced rationing. The Buckley Urban District Council intervened in March 1917 to ensure a good crop of potatoes by arranging a meeting with the farmers to provide 40 additional plots for residents. Throughout the war there was a strong British force stationed in Egypt to defend the Suez Canal and engage the Turks in Palestine. Buckley boys serving with the RWF died in this campaign which culminated in in General Allenby’s capture of Jerusalem on 8 December 1917, described as the Christmas present Lloyd George had requested for the British people.

 They were to get very little else during 1918, until Germany collapsed in November. For the British it was times for ‘Backs to the wall’, in the face of determined German peace offensive, Friedensturm, launched by General Ludendorff on 21 March. The allies resisted and in July began to turn the tide. Germany and her allies began to weaken, the German people were starving, the arrival of the United States Army in France, the use of tanks and the growing capabilities of air power drove them back. By 9 September all of Germany’s gains from her spring and summer offensive had been lost. The final weeks of the war were bitterly fought and many Buckley men were killed before the Armistice commenced at the eleventh hour of the eleventh month 1918. Over 600 Buckley men served in the war and 144 died. 

The Armistice
 The Chronicle reported spontaneous scenes in Buckley when news of the Armistice was received:          Jubilant street scenes. Buckley received the good news about 11 o’clock on Monday morning. At most of the works the news gained currency that an armistice had been signed; but although the morning papers conveyed no tidings of good news, the telephones were busy. The children at the county school were granted a holiday, but, still there was a feeling of doubt until the hooter at the Castle Fire Brick Works was heard, followed by the one at the Catherall’s works. Gibson’s joined in the chorus, and then the big bell and St. Matthew’s pealed forth the glad tidings.
  By dinnertime everybody was convinced of the accuracy of the report and almost without exception all the employees at the local brickworks, potteries, collieries etc. ’rang off’ and marched home. The streets were soon filled with a thoroughly cosmopolitan crowd. Bunting was flying everywhere. Indeed, one wondered where all the flags came from. Children sang lustily and bands added to the harmonies. As evening drew near, the crowd became denser, and many of the shops had their windows lit with gas jets for the first time in many a month. The two picture house has their exterior electric lamps lighted. At Brunswick Road picture house the manager Mr Wilcox, invited his audience to sing the National Anthem and the Marseilles. In a short speech he referred to Mr Lloyd George as the greatest man breathing, and said that had it not been fo him we might have been serfs under the heels of the Prussians.
          In the streets the Royal Town Band and the Volunteer Band united, and parading the principal streets, played national melodies, and the crowds who followed joined in the choruses. Not since the relief of Ladysmith and Mafeking has there been such a carnival of rejoicing in Buckley. When the band finished playing at the Cross, the people joined in singing the National Anthem and Land of My Fathers, and the bands of St. Matthew’s Church Lads’ Brigade and the Tabernacle boys’ Brigade accompanied the celebrations.
 At the Conservative Club the evening was spent in honouring the Allies in speech and song. Solos were sung by the Rev. Father Pochard (The French Roman Catholic Priest), the Rev J. S. Richards (the curate of Emmanuel), Mr J. Cartwright, and Mr C. Beavan. Speeches were made by Mr W. C. Colin, the Rev. Father Pochard and others. 
At St. Matthew’s in the evening, a service of thanksgiving for cessation of war was largely attended, the Rev. Gilbert Heaton officiating. At the close, the organist, Mr William, played the ’Dead March’ for the fallen, followed by the ’hallelujah Chorus’. At most of the Nonconformist places of worship prayer meeting were held. Much amusement was caused  by a squad of airmen who paraded the street behind one of the bugle bands. Most of the works were idle the following day though the shortage of hands. A service of thanksgiving was held at Bistre Parish Church on the following Sunday when the Church Lads’ Brigade paraded at 10 o’clock and proceeded to the Council Chambers to escort the Chairman and Members of the Urban District Council to the church where the sermon was preached by the Rev. O. E. Gittins, Chaplain to the Forces, who was home on leave from Palestine.
                                                        Buckley Boys Brigade
 Flintshire Battalions WW1
The 5th (Flintshire), 6th (Carnarvonshire & Anglesey) and 7th (Merioneth & Montgomery) Battalions (TF) were in the Welsh Division, which in May 1915 became  53rd (Welsh) Division and they all took part in the ill-fated Gallipoli Campaign of summer 1915.  All suffered heavily, as much from disease as from enemy action, and by October the 5th and 6th were so depleted in strength that they were linked together as a temporary entity.  In November the three battalions were in the front line when flash floods caused by a thunderstorm washed the trenches away.  This was followed immediately by blizzards and intense cold causing many casualties from frostbite and trench foot. 

After the withdrawal from Gallipoli 53rd Division went to Egypt and Palestine and 5th, 6th and 7th Battalions were brought back up to strength.  They continued to serve alongside each other taking part in the Battle of Rumani (in Egypt) in August 1916, in the three Battles of Gaza in 1917 and Tel ‘Asur in March 1918 (all in Palestine).  The 5th and 6th then amalgamated once more and spent the rest of the year in the area of Jerusalem.  The 7th Battalion saw more action in the Jordan Valley.


         Members of B Company, 13th Battalion, Royal Welch Fusiliers, "The Buckley Pals" in camp.


1/5th (Flintshire) Battalion:

August 1914 : in Flint. Part of North Wales Brigade, Welsh Division. Moved immediateley on mobilisation to Conway and at the end of the month to Northampton. Moved to Cambridge in December 1914 and Bedford in May 1915. 
13 May 1915 : formation became 158th Brigade, 
53rd (Welsh) Division. Sailed from Devonport on 19 July 1915 for Gallipoli, going via Imbros and disembarking Suvla Bay on 9 August 1915. 
3 August 1918 : amalgamated with 1/6th Bn to form the 5/6th Bn.


2/5th (Flintshire) Battalion:

Formed at Flint in September 1914 as a home service ("Second line") unit. 
22 April 1915 : attached to 203rd Brigade, 68th Division at Northampton. Moved to Bedford in July 1915, Westleton in November 1916 and Henham Park (Halesworth) in May 1917. Finally moved to Yarmouth in October 1917. 
16 March 1918 : disbanded


                   5th (Flintshire) Battalion (TF) Machine Gun section 1915


  The Royal Welch Fusiliers in the First Battle of the Somme, 1 July to 18 November 1916
 Neither of the Regiment's two Regular battalions was part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF). The 1st was recalled from abroad and landed in France in October 1914; the 2nd, too late on arrival in England to be included in the original BEF, joined it in late August after a period as Lines of Communications troops. The 1/4th – a pre-war Territorial Force battalion from Flintshire – arrived in France in December 1914 and by June 1916 was a Pioneer battalion.
 The other seven battalions consisted of men who had answered Lord Kitchener's call for volunteers early in the war. Five of these 'New Army' battalions (13th-17th RWF)  were in brigades (113th and 115th) which formed part of the 38th (Welsh) Division – Lloyd George's 'Welsh Army'.

Only the 1st and 9th Battalions took part in the first day of the battle, 1 July, at the villages of Fricourt and La Boiselle respectively. Being in reserve, their losses were light, in marked contrast to those of the British Army as a whole which, in all, suffered over 57,000 casualties, of whom 19,240 were killed. But between 5 and 12 July, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, particularly in those battalions which formed part of the 38th (Welsh) Division, were to be embroiled in a part of the wider battle whose name will always be synonymous with the courage of the Welsh soldier – Mametz Wood.

 The Wood was strategically important and strongly defended by German infantry and artillery; successive assaults on 7 to 8 July failed as the advancing troops were cut down while crossing open ground.

        However, a renewed attack by the 113th and 114th Brigades (the former consisting of four RWF battalions) early on 10 July gained a foothold in the Wood, and until late the following day Welsh battalions fought their way through the chaotic, shattered and bewildering mass of broken timber and dense undergrowth against an unseen enemy, preceded by a creeping artillery barrage which added to the deafening noise and further uprooted or brought down trees. To add to the horror and confusion, this even fell at times on their own men. But on the night of 11/12 July the Germans withdrew from the Wood, leaving behind hundreds of dead.

 But the cost to the Division was very high – in all it lost nearly 4,000 men including 600 killed and as many missing. The five RWF battalions lost well over 1,000 men including four out of five commanding officers: it should be remembered that not one man in the Division had been trained to fight in thick woodland, and for the majority this was their first experience of battle. 
                                            Royal Welsh Memorial at Mametz Wood