‘Private Palmer never hesitated for one moment’
Killed trying to rescue wounded comrade
THROUGHOUT the centenary of the First World War, we have been remembering the soldiers from the Loughborough area who lost their lives while serving their country. Here, with the help of Marigold Cleeve and a small number of researchers from the Loughborough Carillon Tower and War Memorial Museum, we look back at more of those who made the ultimate sacrifice in October 1918.
Alfred John Parr was born in Beeston, Nottinghamshire, in 1894 and baptised at the Church of St. John the Baptist, Beeston, on 24th October 1894.
He was the son of John Parr, an iron moulder, and his wife Elizabeth Ann (née Archer) who were married at Holy Trinity Church, Loughborough, on 17th May 1891.
By 1897 the Parr family had moved to Loughborough from Beeston. Alfred had twin brothers Archibald and John.
When Alfred was five his father died and in the spring of 1900 Alfred’s mother married Charles Newbon, a widowed iron driller, in Loughborough.
In 1901 the Newbons were living at 19 Ratcliffe Road, Loughborough, and Alfred now had two step-brothers James and Arthur and a step-sister Ellen who had already left home.
He also had a baby step-brother Charles Newbon as well as an adopted sister Mabel Barber. By 1911 the family had moved to 72 Pinfold Gate and Alfred had one more step-brother Robert Newbon and three step-sisters Bertha, Hetty and Ruth Newbon from his mother’s second marriage.
Alfred attended the Emmanuel Boys School then worked as a foundry labourer at the Empress Works. When he was about nineteen, he decided to emigrate to Australia.
Shipping records show a factory worker, Mr A. Parr arriving in Melbourne on SS Port Lincoln on 4 March 1914. It appears Alfred went to the Western District after his arrival to work on the land, possibly at the property of William Hallam near Cavendish, Victoria.
A year after his arrival in Australia, Alfred travelled to nearby Hamilton and enlisted with the Australian Expeditionary Force on 3rd March 1915. He gave his religion as Methodist.
Six weeks later, on 17th April Alfred embarked as Private 2059 with the 7th Battalion, 5th Reinforce- ments, at Melbourne on HMAT Hororata and sailed for Egypt.
On 8th June 1915 he left Zeitoun, Egypt, embarked with the 5th Reinforcements at Alexandria on HMAT Seean Choon and sailed for Gallipoli. He joined B Company of the 7th Battalion at Anzac Cove, Gallipoli, on 17th June.
On 14th July 1915 Alfred was wounded in the knee. He was taken aboard the hospital ship Gascon and four days later admitted to the Convalescent Hospital, Tigne, Malta.
On 3rd August he was transferred to St. Andrew’s Military Hospital, Tigne, and to Riccisoli, St. David’s, Malta, on 18th August. On 20th August he embarked for Egypt on HMT Southland, reaching Alexandria on 25th August.
On 30th August he embarked on the HMAT Karroo for the Dardanelles and rejoined his battalion at Lone Pine, Gallipoli on 9th September. Much of October and November 1915 were spent training at Mudros on the island of Lemnos, before the battalion returned to Anzac Cove on 26th November.
The following week, during the last throes of the Gallipoli campaign, Alfred was promoted to Lance Corporal.
Alfred returned to Alexandria on the HMT Empress of Britain on 7th January 1916.
He was then transferred to the 59th Battalion from Serapoun and taken on the strength at Tel-el-Kabir on 24th February. On 24th March he was transferred to the 14th Infantry Brigade headquarters at Tel-el-Kabir, where he stayed for three months.
On 18th June Alfred embarked on HMT Georgian, arriving at Marseilles on 27th June. He was then transferred to B Company of the 59th Battalion on 7th August, joining them south-west of Fromelles.
The 59th Battalion had just emerged from the Battle of Fromelles with grievous losses. Despite this the battalion did trench tours in the front line around Fromelles for a further two months.
In late August Alfred spent a week at the 15th Brigade Grenade School followed by more training in September and October with the 5th Division Grenade School. On completion, Alfred was promoted to Corporal on 15th October 1916.
Alfred was granted leave from 30th November- 17th December 1916 and while he was on leave he was promoted to the rank of Sergeant. He rejoined the battalion at Ribemont, France.
The 59th Battalion spent the winter of 1916–17 rotating in and out of the front line. In March 1917 the battalion participated in the advance that followed the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, but was spared having to assault it.
It did, however, defend gains made during the 2nd Battle of Bullecourt (3rd-17th May 1917). Alfred became ill with influenza on 17th March 1917 and on 22nd/23rd March he was transferred and admitted to 14th Australian Field Ambulance with defective vision. He was discharged to duty on 25th March 1917.
At the end of June 1917, Alfred was placed on the Supernumerary list and proceeded to join the 15th Training Battalion (Permanent Cadre) at Hurdcott, Tidworth, Wiltshire, transferring to Aldershot on 3rd September.
He may have visited his mother in Loughborough while in England. He returned to the battalion on 19th November 1917 at Lindenhoek Camp in Belgium.
By the end of the month, the battalion was off to Messines to relieve the 55th Battalion in the front line.
On 9th February 1918 Alfred was sent to the 2nd Army Central Field School of Instruction. He rejoined the 59th Battalion on 19th March and was promoted to Temporary Company Sergeant Major ( Warrant Officer Class II).
With the collapse of Russia in October 1917, a major German offensive on the Western Front was expected in early 1918. This came in late March and the 5th Division moved to defend the sector around Corbie. During this defence, the 59th Battalion participated in the now legendary counterattack at Villers-Bretonneux on 25th April.
By the start of June the battalion was at Frechencourt. On 4th June 1918 Alfred was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his actions at Villers-Bretonneux.
The citation read: ‘For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty.
“During our attack the services rendered by this NCO were most valuable; he kept his platoon well in hand, and afforded every information to his company officer as to the needs of the situation.
“He led an attack on and captured an enemy machine-gun that was causing casualties, and near the final objective, with a bombing party, he captured another machine-gun and two officers and fifty men.
“He showed great courage throughout and set a fine example to his men’.
When the Allies launched their own offensive around Amiens on 8th August 1918 the 59th Battalion was amongst the units in action, although its role in the subsequent advance was limited.
The battalion fought around Peronne in the first days of September and on 18th September Alfred was promoted to 2nd Lieutenant in the field.
Alfred’s battalion entered its last battle of the war from Bellicourt, north of St. Quentinon the 29th September 1918.
This operation was mounted by the 5th and 3rd Australian Divisions, in co-operation with American forces, to break through the formidable German defences along the St Quentin Canal.
Alfred, aged 24, was wounded in action on 29th September while leading D Company in the advance.
A letter from the Commanding Officer of the 59th Battalion recorded the following: ‘2nd Lieutenant A. J. Parr, 59th Battalion. The above named Officer was reported wounded in action on the 29th September 1918 and was carried out of the line by stretcher bearers of this Battalion.
“He was conveyed to a Regimental Aid Post on the 14th Brigade and died a few minutes after arrival there’.
Alfred was buried at Prospect Hill Cemetery, Gouy, Grave IV. A. 16.
He is commemorated on the Hamilton War Memorial, Victoria, Australia, on the Australian War Memorial, Canberra, on the Nottinghamshire County Council Roll of Honour and on the Carillon, Loughborough.
Alfred’s DCM is on display at the Carillon War Memorial Museum.
Alfred’s step-brother Arthur Newbon was killed in action in 1914.
Sydney Corah was born in Loughborough in 1892.
He was the only surviving child of John Henry Corah and his wife Kate (née Morgan) who were married in Loughborough in 1889.
Sydney had one sister Winifred who died shortly after birth in 1890.
Sydney’s father was Assistant Overseer (Rate collection) for Loughborough Town Council and the Corah family lived at 112 Park Road, Loughborough.
Sydney attended Loughborough Grammar School between September 1904 and July 1907 where ‘He was a most promising and pleasant pupil’.
After leaving school he was articled with Messrs. Wilshere, Gimson and Co., chartered accountants of Leicester.
Sydney joined the Leicestershire Regiment in November 1914.
On 21st May 1915 and already a sergeant he was promoted from the ranks to be a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1/5th Battalion. On 9th December 1915 he was sent to another battalion of the Leicesters then in training and accorded the rank of Temporary Lieutenant.
On 23rd September 1916. Sydney was sent to France. He joined the 1/5th Leicesters on 29th September in Brigade reserve at Bienvillersau-Bois.
At this point, in accordance with his posting, he relinquished his temporary rank of Lieutenant for that of 2nd Lieutenant.
The battalion remained in the area of Monchy-au-Bois until 29th October, either in the trenches or resting at Bienvillers or Pommier.
The battalion’s next move was to Millencourt for intensive battle training, returning to Halloy and then Souastre at the beginning of December. The battalion remained at Souastre until 11th March 1917.
On 2nd March 1917 Sydney was slightly wounded near Gommecourt Church by an enemy sniper.
After his recovery he was posted on 17th June 1917 to Somercotes Camp, Derbyshire, as an Acting Captain and on 1st July was made a Lieutenant while commanding a Company.
Sydney returned to France in September 1917. During September, October and early November 1917 the 1/5th Leicesters completed six trench tours at St. Elie, with breaks at Fouquières and Philosophe. During one tour the battalion was visited by a Mr. Wilkes of the Leicester Mail ‘attired in a grey suit, steel helmet and box respirator’.
On 14th November the battalion moved to Mazingarbe for a trench tour in the Hill 70 sector. November ended with the battalion billeted at Verquin, Vaudricourt and Drouvin for training and a battle rehearsal.
Three more trench tours took place in December, this time in the Cambrin right sector where there were a number of very heavy bombardments and gas attacks by the enemy.
New Year’s Day 1918 was marked by another heavy bombardment on the battalion’s trenches near Hulluch.
During early January when away from the front line the battalion also provided wire carrying parties and working parties. On 20th January the
battalion began a four-day transfer by march to Chocques.
Between 24th January and 28th February the battalion was in training at Chocques, Allouagne, Fiefs, and Reclinghem.
Between 28th February and 2nd March the battalion moved via Delettes and Ligny-lès-Aire to Ecquedecques where inspections took place. On 6th March they went into Brigade support on the AnnequinCambrin road, at Annequin Fosse and at Sailly-Labourse.
On 8th they marched to the front line trenches in the Cambrin right sub-sector where, until 15th March, they experienced considerable enemy shelling. After moving into Brigade reserve at Sailly-Labourse, Factory dugouts, Windy Corner and Central Keep on 16th they were again shelled by the enemy.
On 20th March the battalion went into Divisional reserve at Beuvry. On 24th March they returned to the Cambrin right sub-sector trenches (now renamed the Hohenzollern sector) where all available men were employed at night on wiring. After a break at SaillyLabourse the battalion marched to Fosse 7 and into Hill 70 Support on 28th March.
Sydney was granted leave to England at the end of March and on 3rd April 1918 he married Hilda Mounteney, daughter of George Mounteney a coal merchant, at Woodgate Baptist Church, Loughborough.
Sydney rejoined his battalion at Coupigny Huts, Bracquemont where they were recovering after mustard gas shelling at Hill 70 earlier in April. Training began on 15th April but two days later 100 men became sick with what the medical specialists considered to be influenza.
Sixty men were evacuated and a special rest station was set up. Those men who were well were moved to Hersin and another 100 evacuated. On 24th April the battalion moved to Bruay and went into Reserve at Fouquières on 25th, only to be shelled in their billets.
As the battalion was marching to the trenches at Le Hamel on 28th April the enemy opened fire near Essars. Three men were killed and thirty-five wounded or gassed.
The battalion reached the trenches on 29th April and remained there until 7th May. During this time they were heavily shelled and a night wiring party was ambushed by the Germans.
During the rest of May, June, July and August the battalion did trench tours in the Gorre sub-sector and at Essars/Le Hamel. Breaks were taken at Vaudricourt Park Camp and in August there were four days of training at Hesdigneul. The men also enjoyed a concert party by The Whizz-Bangs at Verquin.
By 7th August there were signs that the enemy was withdrawing and at the beginning of September, when the battalion pushed forward to Richebourg, they found a number of notices pinned up which said: ‘Dear Tommy, You are welcome to all we are leaving.
“When we stop we shall stop and stop you in a manner you won’t appreciate. Fritz.”
The day after the note was found the battalion front was severely bombarded by the enemy.
From 9th -11th September the battalion was in training at Gosnay sandpits and between Béthune and Verquin.
On 12th September they entrained at Chocques for Ribemont-Méricourt. Between 14th and 18th September they continued training, at Sailly-le-Sec in field firing and using a compass at night, at Franvillers in a Brigade tactical scheme, and at Teutry in attack procedure.
After this they marched to the Brigade support position in a newly captured sector east of Le Verguier and prepared for an attack on Pontruet. On 24th September the battalion took part in this operation before returning to the trenches at le Verguier.
On 25th September Sydney was put in charge of D Coy.
A major operation was now being planned in the area of the St. Quentin Canal. This began on 29th September with an attack on the Hindenburg Line.
The battalion advanced to the canal in artillery formation. After crossing the canal they advanced and secured Magny-la-Fosse on 1st October. On 3rd October 1918 A and D Coys, ordered to attack Doon Hill, formed up on the Preselles to Sequehart road.
During preliminary reconnaissance carried out in spite of the enemy’s shellfire Sydney, aged 26, and 2nd Lt. Christy were both killed.
News of Sydney’s death was conveyed to his wife and parents by the Wesleyan chaplain who added that Sydney had been buried beside his friend and padre, the Rev. D. W. Buck who was killed in the canal attack on the previous Sunday.
Sydney was buried in Busigny Communal Cemetery Extension, Grave V. C. 7.
He is commemorated on the Woodgate Baptist Church memorial, Loughborough, on the memorial at Loughborough Grammar School and on the Carillon.
Sydney’s widow, who had given 1,000 hours in VAD work at Loughborough Hospital, resigned from her nursing duties on learning of her husband’s death.
She remained at her parents’ home Wynnestowe, 127 Ashby Road.
She was eventually remarried in 1936 to Bernard N. Wale, a geology lecturer, with whom she lived at 40 Fairmount Drive.
John Charles Wheatley.
John Charles Wheatley was born in Loughborough in 1899 and baptised at All Saints Church, Thorpe Acre, on 5th February 1899.
He was the son of Charles Obadiah Wheatley and his wife Sarah Ann (née Renals) who were married at All Saints Church, Thorpe Acre, on 4th January 1898.
John’s father was a school teacher. In 1901 the family was living at 10 Leopold Street, Loughborough, and John’s father was teaching at a Loughborough Board school.
By 1911 they had moved to Hoby where John’s father was employed in the elementary school there and by 1918 the family was living at The School House, Long Whatton, John’s father now being headmaster at the Long Whatton school. John had one brother Eric. John did some initial officer training in Nottingham before enlisting in 1917 in the 28th (County of London) Battalion, the London Regiment, otherwise known as the Artists Rifles.
This was a specialist officer training battalion responsible for providing replacements for the many junior officers killed on the Western Front. John, initially Private 766496, became a Corporal in the Artists Rifles. He then proceeded to gain his commission on 26th June 1918 and was posted as a 2nd Lieutenant to the 1/5th Battalion of the Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derby Regiment).
John joined the 1/5th Sherwood Foresters in July 1918. At the time the battalion was in the area of Essars and Vaudricourt, doing trench tours and working on trench improvement.
For the first half of August this pattern continued, but by 19th August there were signs that the enemy was on the retreat and the battalion began to push forward, advancing around the village of Le Touret. Between 26th and 29th August the battalion occupied the outpost line in the Gorre section.
On 4th September the battalion attacked the enemy, advanced their positions to posts in the area of Richebourg St. Vaast and afterwards took over trenches in the old British front line. Between 7th and 11th September they trained in a new tactical scheme at Lapugnoy.
On 11th September the battalion entrained at Calonne Ricouart for Corbie and marched to billets at Lahoussoye where further training and also sports took place. Training continued at Poeuilly.
On 20th September the battalion went into the trenches at Berloucourt and were attacked by the enemy two days later. On 24th September the battalion took part in an attack on Pontruet.
After a break at Vadencourt they went back into the attack on 29th September capturing a portion of the St. Quentin Canal and the Hindenburg Line north of St. Quentin.
On 3rd October the battalion was back in action at Ramicourt. The area around the village of Ramicourt, north of St Quentin, was part of the Hindenburg Line system of trenches, fortified villages and gun emplacements which formed the last line of German defences on the Western Front.
On the morning of 3rd October 1918 waves of allied soldiers were advancing behind an artillery barrage towards these well defended enemy positions.
John, aged 19, was wounded in action and died of his wounds that day. His body was never found.
John is commemorated on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial, Panel 7. He is also remem- bered on the memorial in All Saints Church, Loughborough, on the memorial in All Saints Church, Hoby, and on the Carillon.
Tom Palmer was born in Sileby, Leicestershire, on 3rd April 1893.
He was the natural son of Mary Elizabeth Palmer, a blacksmith’s daughter from Sileby. On 13th November 1897 Tom’s mother married Samuel Robey at All Saints Church, Loughborough.
One year later Tom’s step-sister Doris was born. Tom’s stepfather was a brickyard labourer who progressed to being a tile maker and his mother was a Griswold hand.
In 1901 the Robey family lived in Brook Street, Sileby, but by 1911 had moved to 35 Albert Street, Loughborough. The family later moved to No. 19 in Albert Street.
Tom was educated at an Intermediate School in Loughborough. After leaving school he became a hosiery apprentice and by 1916 was a hosiery factory overlooker.
He enlisted on 22nd May 1916 and joined the King’s (Liverpool Regiment) as Private 358082.
After initial training Tom was sent overseas on 22nd February 1917 to join the 1/10th (Scottish) Battalion of the Regiment as a stretcher bearer. He joined his battalion at C Camp, Brandhoek, where the battalion was undergoing training.
During March, April and May the battalion did trench tours in the Potijze and St. Jean sectors with breaks in billets in the areas of the Convent des Carmes, Ypres, or Ypres prison.
They also formed working parties for the Royal Engineers in Ypres and at Proven. In addition there were two training sessions, one at Brandhoek C Camp and one at Poperinghe.
At the beginning of June the battalion was shelled while in B Camp, Brandhoek, and moved to a canvas camp near Vlamertinghe. Between 5th and 11th June the men were on front line working parties. This was followed by a trench tour in the Railway Wood sector during which the enemy blew up several mines.
On 19th June the battalion entrained at Poperinghe for Zeggerscappel and travelled by bus to Zudausques. Here, for the rest of June the battalion underwent training and carried out trench digging.
Training continued at Esquerdes until 19th July. On 20th July the battalion entrained at St. Omer for Poperinghe and began a trench tour in the Wieltje sector.
On the next four days the battalion suffered repeated enemy mustard gas shell attacks and more than 63 men were sent to hospital with gas poisoning.
After a break at Derby Camp the battalion took part in an attack on the enemy east of Wieltje on 31st July. This was successful but the battalion encountered heavy machine gun and rifle fire and enemy snipers were very active.
The following two days were spent holding the captured trenches in the face of heavy enemy artillery fire and there were many casualties.
After three days rest at Vlamertinghe and Watou on 6th August the battalion entrained at Abeele for Audruicq and marched to billets at Zouafques. Here training in musketry, open warfare and field firing took place until 12th September.
On 13th September the battalion entrained at Audruicq for Goldfish Chateau, Ypres, and went into the front and support lines being accommodated in German concrete dugouts and gunpits.
On 26th September the battalion entrained at Proven for Miraumont and then marched via Beulencourt to Villers-Faucon before going into the trenches at Epehy.
The first two weeks of October were spent on trench improvement at Epehy, followed by a week’s training at Villers-Faucon. In November, at Epehy, an attack took place in which the enemy offered little resistance.
Ten days later, however, the enemy attacked, and outflanked the battalion which was forced to withdraw.
In December the battalion was on the move again to Tincourt, Beaumetz-lès-Aire, Flamincourt, by train to Aubigny, Izel-lès-Hammeau, Bailleul-aux-Cornailles, Tangry, Crépy and back to Beaumetz-lès-Aire on 16th December. Training and reorganisation then took place until 8th February 1918.
Between 9th and 14th February the battalion marched via Westrehen, Lapugnoy and Verquin to Le Preol to go into reserve and practice tactics. On 25th February the battalion went into the trenches north of the La Bassée Canal. Here, although heavily trenchmortared by the enemy, they carried out wiring work and patrols.
The enemy now appeared to be building up to an attack. On 14th and 15th March, and once again in the trenches, the battalion suffered two days of heavy enemy bombardment.
The German Spring Offensive began on 21st March. After a break in Divisional reserve at Mesplaux Farm for training the battalion was taken by bus to Annequin on 27th March and moved into the trenches in the Cambrin locality immediately south of La Bassée Canal.
Relieved on 7th April two companies of the battalion went to Mesplaux Farm and two to Le Hamel. On 9th April there was a very heavy enemy bombardment of the front and back areas and the battalion moved to the Tuning Fork line area.
The enemy shelled all roads and tracks and the battalion sustained heavy casualties en route. On 10th April No. 2 Company was attacked three times but beat off the enemy at heavy cost.
On 13th April the battalion made a successful counterattack before moving to Festubert. After Festubert was bombed by the enemy the battalion moved to Raimbert.
After moving to Verquin on 20th April the battalion went into the trenches at Tuning Fork South and Gorre Wood and although experiencing a heavy enemy bombardment put up a successful counter-attack on 24th April. After two more enemy bombardments the battalion proceeded to Labourse but this was also shelled and they moved to Vaudricourt.
During May the battalion completed four trench tours, two in the Festubert left sub-sector, one at Le Preol, and one in the Le Plantin sub-sector. After a period of training at Vaudricourt from 1st-8th June there were two more trench tours, one at Le Plantin and one at Festubert. At the end of June there was an epidemic of flu and 200 men were sent to hospital. July included trench tours again at Le Plantin and Festubert, the Brigade horse show and fete in vaudricourt chateau grounds and tactical training at Decuvin Camp.
In August there were trench tours in the Cailloux sector and at Le Plantin with a break from 16th-25th August at No. 1 Camp, Vaudricourt where the brigade boxing competition took place.
At the beginning of September the battalion moved to Camp N. 2 at Vaudricourt for training and football. At this time there were indications of an enemy withdrawal.
On 23rd September, after a trench tour where they were heavily shelled, the battalion moved by train to Béthune and then returned to the trenches at Festubert.
On 2nd October the battalion was ordered to advance. On 3rd they reached the La BasséeFromelles line and then to a line running through Petit Moisnil.
At dusk they were at the outpost line running through Hocron. On 4th October, having been told to advance across the canal if possible, the battalion became engaged in heavy fighting amid constant machine gun fire and any movement was difficult and dangerous.
Tom, aged 25, was killed in action at Don, north-west of La Bassée, on 4th October 1918.
His Commanding Officer wrote to Tom’s parents as follows: “He, in company with others who fell in action, was in no little measure responsible for the fine success of the Battalion during the action.”
His Captain wrote, “Private Palmer had gone out into the fire swept zone with a stretcher to rescue a wounded man, and was killed instantaneously… It was a very brave action and I have recommended him for a decoration.
“He will be a great loss to the company, as he was always cheery, willing, and an excellent stretcher bearer. It is very hard to fill the place of such men.”.
His Lieutenant also wrote: “Machine gun bullets were sweeping all over the position, but Private Palmer never hesitated for a moment.
“He reached the wounded man, bound and dressed his wounds. Palmer’s position became very serious and perilous, as he was in full view of the enemy.
“The air was ringing with bullets, but Tom calmly picked up his stretcher, and was killed by a bullet in the neck.”
Tom was buried at Rue-Petillon Military Cemetery, Fleurbaix, Grave I. E. 44. He is commemorated on the memorial at Emmanuel Church, Loughborough, and on the Carillon.
Alfred John Parr D.C.M