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.
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.
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.
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
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.