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Tag Archives: Gas warfare

Frank Leslie Berry, conscript casualty

Just one among the millions of men who were conscripted into the British Army in the latter years of the Great War was Frank Leslie Berry, a clerk who ended up making maps on the Western Front and being gassed in the final weeks of the war.

Frank Leslie Berry was born in February 1899. By the start of 1917, he was working as a junior clerk in the Ministry of Munitions in Whitehall and living at 49 Ledbury Road, North Kensington with his father Thomas. As a young, single man, he was called up into the army as soon as he turned 18 – joining up at the start of March 1917.

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Berry was recruited into the Royal Engineers and trained to be a field linesman in their signals section. A year later, he arrived in France (in March 1918) and was posted to the 5th Field Survey Company. These were the organisations – well described (as ever) on the Long, long trail website – that produced the maps that the army used in trench warfare.

Following the German Spring Offensive that was launched in the weeks after Berry arrived in France, the Allies gradually turned the tables and began to push back the German Armies on the Western Front.

On 17 October 1918, his unit were heavily shelled with gas shells. Berry described how he only gradually became a casualty: “Heavy bombardment of Gas Shells, did not feel effect for quite 12 hours, cannot give any reason unless [gas] mask was defective”

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When he began to feel these effects, he reported to 53 Casualty Clearing Station (which probably locates his unit to Roisel, Northern France). From there he was sent to No 1 Australian General Hospital, then based at the Racecourse in Rouen.

Sent back to the UK, he was sent to the Huddersfield War Hospital and the Denby Dale Auxiliary Hospital, also in Huddersfield. He was deemed to have recovered in January, but suffered a relapse in February. On 19 February he was demobilised and returned home.

 
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Posted by on 6 March 2013 in Ordinary Londoners

 

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A Bermondsey family’s war effort: the Holtons

We tend to think of families in the Great War in terms of the service of the sons, brothers or fathers in the armed forces. They were not necessarily the only ones to play a part, though – many women went to work in munitions or other jobs as more men left civilian life. One example of this is the Holton family who lived in Bermondsey.

In 1911, leather finisher James W Holton and his wife Sarah Ann (nee Longhurst) lived at 33 Marcia Road, off the Old Kent Road, with seven of their children, who ranged in age from 11 to 24. They had married on Christmas day 1883 and had a total of 16 children before James died in 1913 (Sadly, seven of their children had died before 1911, another two lived elsewhere).

The Holtons listed at 33 Marcia Road in 1911

The Holtons listed at 33 Marcia Road in 1911

Reginald George Holton, a 14-year-old errand boy in 1911, was working as a warehouseman in 1915 when he went to East Dulwich to enlist in the Royal Field Artillery. He was a 5 feet 4 inches tall, with a tattoo on his right arm. Before going to the front, he got in trouble for going absent without leave for a week in November 1915.

Part of Reginald Holton's service papers

Part of Reginald Holton’s service papers

Despite his indiscretion, he joined 167 Brigade’s artillery in France as a drvier on 12 December 1915 and remained on the Western Front for the next three and a half years. In May 1916, Driver Holton joined the D battery of 162 Brigade’s artillery.

Meanwhile Sarah Holton and her youngest daughter Ethel went to work for John Bell, Hill and Lucas, Ltd, making gas masks in their factory on Tower Bridge Road, Bermondsey. The company were pharmaceutical chemists in peace, so well placed to make gas masks to keep up with the advances in chemicals used in gas warfare in the Great War. They had opened their London Works on Tower Bridge Road in 1909.

According to the National Roll of The Great War, Sarah worked in the factory for three years (presumably from 1915 until the end of the war) and was joined there by 17-year-old Ethel from August 1917 until September 1918.

In the Holton family – like many others – at least three members took part in the war effort. Reginald drove for the artillery in France and Flanders, while his mother and sisters were making gas masks to counter the gas shells fired by his counterparts in the German artillery.

 
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Posted by on 16 February 2013 in Ordinary Londoners, Women

 

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