THE BRAVE ORPHAN
Rick Kitson traced his wife’s ancestor, and found him to be man who overcame his difficult childhood to become recognised for wartime bravery…
Rick Kitson tells us how his wife’s orphaned ancestor was decorated for bravery.
We knew little of the life history of my wife’s maternal grandfather, Arthur Allom (1895-1960). Family recollections included him being decorated for bravery in World War 1, and being at the Battle of St Quentin. His peacetime jobs included brickmaker, coalminer, and cinema manager.
Using the usual route of census and birth and marriage records, we established that Arthur’s father Edward was a brickmaker, born in Tipton, Staffordshire. Arthur had an older brother, Edward, and two younger sisters, Amy and Maud. In 1891, Arthur’s father was a brickyard labourer, then a brickmaker ( journeyman) when Arthur was born, and by 1901, he had become a brickmaker manager. This appearance of progress was, however, fragile. The family moved to Shotton Colliery in County Durham, where the coal mine had reopened in 1900, and the nearby brickworks in 1905. But in January 1910, Arthur’s 45-year- old mother, Emma, died of cancer. In May the same year, his father also died, from a brain haemorrhage, aged 47.
So by 1911, Arthur and his brother and sisters were at the family home with a housekeeper, with both Arthur and Edward working at the brickworks. It was a heavily-polluted environment, with the smoke from the mine, the coke ovens and the brick kilns all contributing. However, there was smoke and fire of a different nature elsewhere in 1914, as conflict erupted in Europe.
WREOCROLRDDWS AR 1
To find out about Arthur’s World War 1 travels, we first tried the (incomplete) service and pension records, WO363 and WO364, from The National Archives, but with no result. We did, however, get a good copy of his Medal Rolls index card from Ancestry.
This showed that Arthur was in the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). Various searches then helped us to understand some of the handwritten entries on the card. Under ‘Rank’, ‘Dvr’ meant that Arthur was a driver, which made sense because we knew he had a favourite horse (there were six horses in three pairs to pull a gun train, with a driver to each pair). ‘LBmdr’ was Lance Bombardier, after his promotion. ‘XMM’ in blue, followed by ‘LG’ and a date, meant that he was awarded the Military Medal - and this was announced in the London Gazette on 29 August 1918. We ran a free search on www. thegazette.co.uk and found the entry.
War diaries told us that Arthur’s Battery sailed from Southampton on 24 May 1915, landed in Le Havre, and then entrained for Northern France. The men were soon in action, and at the end of June they were at Ypres in Belgium. Over the next two years, the Brigade was heavily involved in the fiercest fighting around Arras, Fricourt, Messines, Passchendaele and the Somme.
With regard to the Battle of St Quentin, RFA 46 Brigade was indeed at Essigny, near St Quentin, in early 1918. In March, there was a major German offensive which overran the Brigade’s positions, and a war diary
note recorded that on 21 March, ‘at about 11.30, Captain Hiscock MC (Military Cross) arrived at Brigade headquarters and reported that his Battery (A) had been rushed and captured’.
Visibility was bad, and all Batteries had been under extremely heavy bombardment, including gas. The shellfire ceased and German soldiers suddenly appeared out of the fog. We do not know whether Arthur was at the gun emplacement that was overrun, or at the ‘wagon lines’ further back. Many other positions were lost with their personnel and guns, and so the Brigade withdrew and reformed. Later in the year, they were in northern France and twice in August, soldiers in A Battery were under fire and wounded in action.
At the end of August 1918, Arthur was awarded the Military Medal ‘for Bravery in the Field’ and under fire. Citations to describe the act of bravery were not published, so although we do not know precisely how Arthur Allom got his MM, it is clear that he was both very brave, and also fortunate to survive all those years of fierce conflict and heavy casualties.
On his release from the army, Arthur worked as a coal miner, and married Catherine Lane in 1921. A year later, the birth certificate of their first child, Audrey, recorded that he was now a cinema operator. Arthur and Catherine would go on to have a son, Quentin (named after the battle?!), a daughter, who died soon after being born, and another son, Peter.
Arthur first took on the lease of the Empire Theatre in Shotton Colliery at the end of 1921, and then the lease of the Theatre Royal in 1925. In 1926, however, the miners began a long strike in protest against pay cuts, and his business lost heavily. He sold the lease of the Empire to raise cash, but in 1928, he could no longer keep the business going and was made bankrupt, as I found through researching Findmypast’s British newspaper collection. He continued to work as the manager - but not the lessee - of the Theatre Royal, and in 1930 was organising boxing events there. In 1931, Ramsay MacDonald visited the theatre to address the miners ahead of a forthcoming General Election.
At some point, Arthur moved his family from Shotton to Norton, a pleasant village near Stockton- onTees, which was the family’s address at the time of the 1939 Register. After being ill for some time following a brain haemorrhage, Arthur died in 1960; his widow, Catherine, died 15 years later.
A war diary note recorded that on 21 March, Captain Hiscock reported that his Battery had been rushed and captured
Arthur Allom with his granddaughter Susan in 1953
Arthur’s Medal Rolls index card was found on Ancestry