Patrick Dolan has researched the First World War experiences of his grandfather, Benjamin Smith of Industry Street, and of other Walkley and Crookes servicemen. Here Patrick writes an edited version of his work. You can read Patrick’s full account at http://2gddolan.wix.com/koyli-specialreserve.
Prior to the First World War, the government became concerned at the small size of the British Army compared to those of its continental rivals. Conscription was unacceptable to British notions of liberty and independence from government control. Instead the volunteer, part time, forces were expanded.
In 1908, the Territorial Force was established. In war, ‘Territorials’ would man the defences of Britain allowing the regular army to campaign abroad. Men could also join the ‘Special Reserve’ of regular regiments. They would reinforce the regular forces in the field as they suffered losses.
In January 1913, Albert Wright of Providence Road, Walkley joined the 3rd Special Reserve Battalion of the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry (KOYLI). He took the number 3/1135. My Grandfather, Benjamin Smith of 104 Industry Street, also enlisted and took the number 3/1137. Unfortunately, it has not been possible to trace 3/1136. Albert and my Grandfather seem to have been part of a group of Walkley men who enlisted in the KOYLI Special Reserve.
Recruits trained full time for six months at the regimental depot in Pontefract. Then for the next six years they spent 21 days in military training. Unlike the wartime ‘City’ Battalion which recruited across society, Sheffield Special Reservists were invariably working class and employed in the metal trades. They lived mainly in an area stretching from Crookes through Walkley to St. Philip’s, Neepsend and the Park. The £3 bounty a year, a shilling a day and free board and lodging during training were an incentive. But for young men the potential for adventure and temporary escape from everyday life (even only as far as Pontefract) featured very highly. They could not have imagined what awaited them in 1914.
On the outbreak of war, KOYLI Special Reserve was immediately mobilised. The regular soldiers of 2nd Battalion KOYLI were in action from the beginning of the war. On 26 August at Le Cateau, 2/KOYLI suffered nearly 600 casualties out of its 1000 nominal strength. The reserve of ex-regular soldiers and Special Reservists were sent out as replacements.
Eighteen year old Arthur (3/1222) arrived in France on 1st September 1914. In 1901 he lived at 32 Palm Street, his father a file forger. By 1911 Arthur worked as a pen and pocket knife grinder. The family of eleven lived in six roomed 63 Parsonage Crescent. Arthur died on 24 February 1915 a victim of heavy shelling of 2/KOYLI trenches. He is buried on the site of a casualty clearing station at Bedford House Cemetery, Ypres.
Born in 1894, Horace lived at 26 Rangeley Road from 1901, his father a jobbing grinder and cutler. By 1911, Horace was a cutlery horn cutter. During 1913, as his contemporaries joined the Special Reserve, Horace enlisted in the KOYLI as a regular soldier. He died on 28 October 1914 during the Battle of La Bassée. According to 2/KOYLI War Diary there was, ‘Heavy shell firing & heavy casualties…Captain Carter’s trench lost 9 killed and about 12 wounded. French artillery falling short accounted for a great many of these’.
Horace Harrop may have been a victim of ‘friendly fire.’
He was born at 391 Walkley Bank Road in 1894. After his stonemason father died, his mother twice remarried, living at Cundy Street and then Industry Street. In 1914, Ben worked as a pattern maker for Samuel Osborn & Co. on Rutland Road. From 11 November 1914 he with 2/KOYLI as a signaller and despatch rider. Ben was awarded the Military Medal for carrying despatches during an attack at the very end of the Battle of the Somme.
His recommendation read:
‘Recommended by OC Signals 97th Brigade for gallantry and devotion to duty from 16th to 19th Nov 1916. He had many messages to carry both by day and night and never lost his way or failed to deliver the message. The ground over which he had to pass was continually shelled and was in a terrible state owing to the mud. He passed several times through the barrage fire. Other runners became exhausted and he did more than his share of work. He showed very great keenness, energy and bravery.’
In 1921 Ben married Amelia (Millie) Button from Neepsend. A woodworker throughout his life, he eventually owned his own business. The couple had two children, Donald and my mother Olive, both now deceased. They lived at Walkley Crescent Road, 163 Providence Road, 4 Tasker Road, Crookes, then finally Crosspool. Ben died in 1967, Millie in 1988.
3/1135 Albert Wright initially served with 2/KOYLI transferring to 10/KOYLI. He was one of 135 men missing after attacking Fricourt on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Somme offensive. The 21-year-old is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial.
Born early 1895, Albert lived on Providence Road. Presumably he attended Bole Hill School along with Ben, Arthur Joell and Horace Harrop. By 1911, Albert worked alongside his father Samuel and two brothers as razor grinders. It’s interesting how many of the Walkley men were grinders.
Ben Smith left a newspaper clipping of a photograph of a William ‘Tomkins’. It actually depicts fellow Special Reservist William Tompkins. Born in Manchester in 1891, by 1901 his family had moved to Crookes. In 1911 he worked as a file grinder. His father was a tailor and his mother a charwoman.
He served with 2/KOYLI from 1 September 1914. On 26 November 1917, William died of wounds at the casualty clearing station at Dozinghem. He is remembered with 210 others on memorial stones inside Crookes Church.
The last Walkley Special Reservist to die was 3/1919 Richard Hutchinson. In 1901 the five year old Richard was living with his spring knife cutler father and mother Ellen at Radford Street, Netherthorpe. By 1911, they had moved to 26 Walkley Street. His occupation is recorded as ‘Hedge Tool Temperery'(?). In France from 13 October 1915 he fought with 9/KOYLI. He probably died of pneumonia and is among more than 1,000 allied prisoners of war buried in the war cemetery at Cologne, Germany.
This group was not unique, even in Walkley. Every regiment had a Special Reserve, the York and Lancaster Regiment also recruited locally. It is clear that even before the inception of the ‘Pals Battalions’, young men from a local area, many with very limited training, were serving and dying together in the frontline.
By Patrick Dolan, May 2014