Albert Hollins
1894 - 1916

Photograph of Albert Hollins 1894 - 1916

Picture 1

Written and researched by Sheila Clarke

Albert Hollins

Albert Hollins was born in 1894 in a cottage in Sandy Lane, Brereton. Brereton village, on the edge of Rugeley, grew as the mining for coal developed during the 19th century. There were a number of 17th-century half-timbered cottages in the vicinity of Sandy Lane which survived until just before WW1 . Albert’s parents were Thomas and Hannah Hollins. He was the youngest of the Hollins children. His eldest sister Mary Ann was fourteen at the time of Thomas’s birth and was probably working as a shop assistant, which she was at the time of the 1901 census; Elizabeth and William were at school, and Thomas aged around three, at home. Thomas senior was working as a hewer in a local coal mine.

Image of a Hewer from the 1842 Children's Employment Commission

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Both Thomas and his elder brother George had become miners although their father William, who had died in 1871, had been a shoe maker in Brereton.  A hewer’s job was to mine the coal from the coal seam. He would use hand tools such as a sharp pick. He would have to work in an area no taller than the height of the coal seam. This could be less than 60cm. The picture above shows a miner working by the light of a candle which the miner would have to buy from the mine store. The Davy and Stephenson lamps superseded the use of candles by the mid-19th century, but miners preferred the brighter light of a candle. In fact as late as 1861 several miners died from smoke inhalation when a fire broke out in a Brownhills pit. The eleven year old boy who looked after the horses propped a candle by the side wall. When he returned a fire had broken out. Miners had to buy their own safety lamps, and if the flame cover became damaged they were ineffective. Even with their use, fire damp and explosions were a present danger. Where mines became better ventilated the incidence of fire damp was reduced.

Being a hewer Albert’s father’s hard earned pay was better than other underground workers; and hewers were respected by the other miners. However it was not until 1887 that the odious practice of paying miners and other manual workers with tokens redeemable only at the company shop was finally outlawed with the passing of the Truck Act.

By the time of the 1901 census Thomas was described as a stallman. Mining coal was undertaken by a stall and pillar method; pillars were left unmined to hold up the roof. The stallman would be in charge of working a particular stall.

Extract from the 1901 census showing the Hollins Family, with Thomas Hollins working as a Stallman.

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Brereton had been a mining area since the early 19th century. Brereton Colliery for example was being worked by Earl Talbot in 1834. A drawing shaft was sunk in 1876. In 1834 the Hayes Colliery near the Brereton Colliery was being worked by Joseph Palmer and in 1851 by the Marquis of Anglesey. The Fair Oak Colliery was opened in 1871, but was closed after some years because of water ingress. West Cannock Number 5 pit at Brindley Heath was opened by the West Cannock Collieries Company in 1914 . A tramway was established to connect the West Cannock Colliery to Huntington wharf.

There were a number of mining disasters and disruptions in the area towards and after the turn of the 20th century. In 1872 there was an inrush of water at Pelsall Hall Colliery and twenty-two men and boys lost their lives. In 1881 Fair Oak and Littleton Colliery were abandoned because of water ingress. In 1908 water rushed into Coppice pit at Brereton and three men were killed. In Cannock Chase there had always been a great family tradition with sons following their fathers into the mines. William, the eldest son was an iron ore labourer, though maybe not mining it.  The others two sons entered the retail trade. Some retailers like the mine owners used the practice of paying their staff in tokens, but the various Truck Acts during the 19th century set out to stop employers misusing payment systems to the detriment of their manual workers. Initially shop workers had to pursue these improvements individually. Perhaps Thomas thought it better for his children to work in a safer and cleaner environment; instead of coal mining where strife increased during the 1890’s.

The year before Albert’s birth there was a significant drop in the price of coal. This triggered a miners’ strike because the colliery owners, in an attempt to maintain profits, tried to introduce a 25% drop in miners’ wages. This was rejected by the Miners Federation who called for a ‘living wage’.

Wimblebury Colliery Staffordshire around the turn of the 20th Century

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A lockout ensued which lasted much of the summer of 1893, causing hardship for the miners and their families. In November the lockout was ended by the intervention of the Government.

Photograph of Albert Hollins as a child of five or six

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After attending a local school, Albert followed his elder sister and brother into the retail trade where he worked as a shop assistant. The 1911 census saw the Hollins family living in Sandy Lane Rugeley. At home were Thomas Hollins  aged 56, a  miner (hewer); Hannah his wife aged  58; William their unmarried son aged 22; son Tom aged 20 a clerk in grocery trade; and Albert aged 16, working as an  assistant in a grocers’ shop. The Hollins sisters were not there, probably living elsewhere, perhaps having married. Extra information on the census shows a total six children had been born into the Hollins family with five still alive. At the time of the start of the Great War in 1914 Albert was twenty years old.

The Hollins Family in 1911

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Regiments set up recruitment offices in towns throughout Britain; sometimes many miles from their home base. Albert Hollins signed with (Prince Albert’s) Somerset Light Infantry in Stafford on 8th September 1915. The 8th Battalion had been formed at Taunton on 20th October 1914 as part of Kitchener’s New Army. In August 1915 the battalion was at Witley Camp in Surrey.

 
 

Pictures 7A, 7B, 7C and 7D
Witley Camp, near Godalming in Surrey, during the Great War

On 10th September 1915 the 8th Battalion embarked from Southampton. Albert Hollins was not with them at this stage as only two days had elapsed since his enlistment. He would have undergone about three months of basic training. The battalion which he later joined landed at Le Havre the morning of 11th and spent 24 hours in ‘red camp’. By way of trains and lengthy marches the troops arrived at Vermelles on the evening of 25th September where they were deployed as part of the 21st Division .

THE BATTLE OF LOOS

The 25th September 1915 was the first day of the Battle of Loos, which continued on and off until 16th October. For the men of Kitchener’s New Army units this was their baptism of fire. It was the largest battle in which the British took part that year. However, the previous day’s artillery bombardment had failed to cut through the German barbed wire in some places; and the British were mown down as they advanced over open ground. There were more than 61.000 British casualties sustained in this battle. Of these 7,766 men died. It was also the first time that the British used poison gas. This was largely ineffective because the gas blew back over the British troops whose masks at that time were inefficient in design.

 On the first day the British captured Loos but the advantage was lost because of ammunition and communication problems. For example the 21st Division, including the 8th battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry had been expected to be available by 10.30 a.m. They finally arrived by 7.30 p.m., and were clearly exhausted. Some were ordered to reinforce the line between Hill 70 and Puits 14 bis. By that time the Germans were again in possession of the dominant height of Hill 70.    

Lt. Colonel Lewis Charles Howard, at that time in command of the battalion, wrote that he had received verbal orders to proceed east to the Hulluch to Lens Road. He mentions that the Lincoln Regiment were on their left. They started marching about 7.30, and at 9. 45 p.m. he stopped for 20 minutes to make his men fill their water bottles and fill their haversacks with provisions ‘of which there was a good supply in our first line of trenches’. They arrived at the Hulluch-Lens Road at 3.30 a.m. having searched the wood on the way. They had been under enemy fire and sustained 2 casualties. He was ordered to place one company facing east along the road whilst the other was in reserve in the Chalk Pits. All hands were deployed for the rest of the night digging in.  

A and D companies participated in an attack on Hill 70. They, together with other regiments there, were under heavy shell fire from the German side above them. The Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment retreated because of the heavy fire on their position. The Germans then concentrated on those left. The shells had limited effect because the men were bivouacked in the Chalk Pits. However German snipers were adept at picking off individuals who came into view with great accuracy. The British too used their rifles to shoot along the line of the wood.

When ammunition became low they had to strip the dead of remaining ammunition, to ensure that the surviving men had enough to keep going. Fortunately, at 11.45 a.m. on the 26th September, they saw reinforcements were on their way. The attacking brigade, ‘The Buffs’ joined them at the Chalk Pits at 12.30 p.m., bringing with them a much needed machine gun.  They regrouped in an old German trench. There they were joined on the morning of the 27th September by B Company and C company. The casualties to the battalion sustained in the attack numbered 15 officers; 271 other ranks; 13 mules; and one horse. Lt. Colonel Howard commented at the end of his report that whilst at the Chalk Pits neither he nor his men saw or smelt any sign of gas.

Map of a section of the Loos battlefield showing Chalk Pit Wood, Bois Hugo and Chalet Wood with the Lens-Hulluch road running alongside them. Hill 70 is to the south. The Loos-Hulluch road runs from the north of Loos to join the Lens-Hulluch road.

Picture 8

Extract from the War Diary of the 8th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry

Pictures 9 and 9A

On the 2nd October the regiment was in Borre for a refit. More troops were sent to join the battalion to bring up the numbers. As he had only undergone a month of training it would be unlikely that Albert was among them. The battalion heard that several officers and men who had taken part in the attack on Hill 70 were to be recommended for honours. On the 15th October the regiment moved to Strazeele. Before the end of 1915 there were further deployments to the battalion. By the 20th October the regiment had moved to Armentieres where they were occupying a trench line under the guidance and the instruction of the 50th Division. Reconnaissance and skirmishes took place during November.

On the 1st December 1915 the battalion was in billets in Armentieres where 32 NCOs and men joined them from base; and the 2nd saw another draft of 40 NCOs and men from the 2nd Entrenching battalion. Albert Hollins was possibly among the contingent of men from the base. When he became Corporal and then Sergeant is unclear from the war diaries. The service records of many soldiers who served in the First World War were burned during a bombing raid on London during the Second World War and so are no longer available. Among these were the service records of Albert Hollins.

On the 3rd of December 1915 the battalion returned to the trenches. On the 6th the war diary states that while they were in the trenches ‘this time’ there was a lot of rain and that the water was ‘knee deep in most places’. On the night of 9th/ 10th they were relieved by the York and Lancs and returned to their usual billets in town.

During the following eight days they were out of the trenches because Lt. Colonel Howard together with his troops practised for an offensive which the Colonel had meticulously and enthusiastically planned. The enterprise took place on the night of 15/16 December. The men and officers taking part were all volunteers perhaps because of the confidence they had in their commanding officer. Copies of the enterprise and the cooperation between the Somerset Light Infantry and the other Regiments taking part can be obtained from the National Archives at Kew (WO-95). The attack on the German trenches was successful and the volunteers returned to ‘THE MUSHROOM’ (trench), without casualty.

Soon after their return the German artillery began bombarding the trenches. This lasted for an hour and a half causing a number of casualties; 3 killed and 4 wounded. Several officers and men including Colonel Howard were recommended for honours because of the overall success of the mission.

During the night of 23/24th December the company relieved a company of 10th York and Lancs. in the MUSHROOM. Whilst reconnoitring between the craters Lieutenant Colonel Lewis Charles Howard was shot and killed. His body was brought in and buried in the afternoon of 24th December. He was unaware before he went back to the trenches that he had been awarded the D.S.O.

The Battle of the Somme

British objectives and infantry attack plan for 1 July 1916, the "first day on the Somme".
The British and French front line is shown in red, the German front line is shown in blue. The German second and third lines are shown as dashed blue lines. The British and French objectives on the first day are shown as a dashed red line.
The British divisions are colour-coded: green for regular divisions, yellow for
Territorial Force divisions and red for New Army divisions, though in most cases the regular and New Army divisions contain a mixture of battalions.

Picture 10

The Battle of the Somme drawn up by General Haig and General Joffre was intended to be a joint Anglo French attack beginning on 1st August 1916. However heavy French losses incurred during the battle of Verdun brought the date forward by a month on the insistence of General Joffre. The aim was to divert German attention from Verdun. General Haig ordered General Rawlinson to prepare for a rapid advance.

Men of the 8th Battalion of the Somerset Regiment marched to LA NEUVILLE from the trenches on 20th June 1916. For the next five days they practiced ‘getting in and out of trenches’. On 26th June the men marched to MARISOHAL STREET* and STONEHAVEN STREET*.

On the evening of 28th June the Battalion relieved the Middlesex Regiment, the attack having been postponed for 48 hours. One corporal and six men were killed during the takeover. The bombardment of the enemy’s position was begun on 26th and continued until 1st July.

On the 29th June the Battalion moved up to SHUTTLE LANE* at 9.30pm. The night was employed ‘anchoring the front line’ and preparing for the assault.

At 6.30am on 1st July 1916 trench ladders and bridges were put in place and an intense artillery barrage was opened.

7.30 a.m. was zero time and on 7.25 a.m. the front parts of ‘B’ and ‘C’ companies crawled out of the trench. ’B’ company were on the right and ‘C’ company on the left. Carrying parties for SAA bombs, picks and trench stores etc. were to follow. The men were ordered to advance in line. This was on the orders of Haig. Briefly the Artillery barrage lifted and the men advanced in quick time. The close formation was ordered because some commanders were of the opinion that the recruits of the new Kitchener army with their limited training and experience could not cope with more sophisticated orders.

*          The army gave their own names to Lanes and trenches

A British Soldier carried these items

Picture 11

As they left the trenches the men of the Somerset regiment were met by very heavy machine-gun fire from the German trenches. The bombardment of the previous days had been largely ineffective. The Enemy dugouts were deep and heavily fortified and many of the British shells were sub-standard and failed to detonate. The allies’ gun placements were too widely spaced on the long 15-mile front.

As they left the trenches, officers and men of the 8th Battalion were being hit and falling everywhere but the advance went steadily on, and was reported on by a brigade Major as being ‘Magnificent’. ‘The leading platoon lost quite 50% going across ‘No man’s land’. The enemy had opened up a barrage of Artillery fire on ‘No man’s land’ and on our front line trench which caused heavy casualties among the supports.’ However, on pressed the Somerset contingent and the enemy gunners were killed. They then reached enemy trenches which had been battered during the five day bombardment and found that they had been destroyed beyond all recognition and consisted of a mass of craters. They were supported by one Stokes gun but the officer in charge and the team were soon knocked out. ‘Then a Lewis gun team of ours got up and was a considerable help enabling our men to make further advance’. One party worked their way from crater to crater until they reached LOZENGE ALLEY which had not been strafed by our artillery. ‘The enemy’s barrage of shrapnel prevented further advance.’

Another party doing much the same job also ended up in LOZENGE ALLEY making a total of about 100 men. They held this position all night although they were subjected to a bombing attack coming from the direction of FRICOURT. Reinforcements and rations did not arrive until 8.00a.m. 2nd July.

Albert Hollins lost his life sometime during the previous day. On this day alone the British suffered 57,420 casualties, including over 19,000 who were killed. This number of casualties together with the intense bombardment from both sides left a moon scape of craters, which meant that it was difficult for the recovery parties to find the fallen and injured. They would have to wait for a lull in the fighting. Men were usually buried where they died and initially their graves were marked. However, the Somme became a war of attrition with several skirmishes and offensives taking place over the same area of ground until mid-November 1916, leaving these temporary internments trampled underfoot and shelled repeatedly. Many bodies were never recovered.

November’s incessant rain turned the Somme battle area into a quagmire with neither men nor machine able to move through the clinging mud. Douglas Haig reluctantly closed down the operation for the winter. 72,337 British, and Commonwealth servicemen from South Africa, died on the Somme between 1915 and 1918 and have no known graves. Among them is Sergeant Albert Hollins.

Edward Lutyens the distinguished architect designed a fitting Memorial to these combatants. It was opened in August 1932. The imposing memorial is situated on high ground near the village of Thiepval in Picardy. On 64 Portland stone panelled sides there are lists of the individuals, commemorated by regiment, rank and surname. The Memorial has been repaired and amended over the years; a memorial service takes place there on 1st July.

Sergeant Albert Hollins is commemorated on Pier and Face 2A.

Commemorative certificate for 15456 Sergeant Albert Hollins of the 8th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry who died on 1 July 1916 at the age of 22.

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Map of the Thiepval memorial

Picture 13

Brereton War Memorial

Brereton War Memorial

Picture 14A

Great War soldiers commemorated on the Brereton War Memorialm, including Albert Hollins

IN HONOUR OF THE MEN OF THIS PARISH
WHO FOUGHT AND IN EVER GRATEFUL
REMEMBERANCE OF THOSE
WHO FELL FOR GOD AND COUNTRY
IN THE GREAT WAR 1914-1918

Picture 14B

A WW1 Medal Card and the corresponding entry in the WW1 Medal Roll are the only war records of Albert Hollins that survived after the fire which destroyed most of the WW1 service records during the Second World War.

Albert Hollins’ WW1 Medal Card

Albert Hollins’ entry in the WW1 Medal Roll

Pictures 15A and 15B

Albert Hollins was awarded:

The 1914-1915 Star which was given to those who served in the theatre of war outside the UK between 5th August 1914 and 31st December 1915. This medal was similar to the Star awarded to British Forces who served from the beginning of the war.

The silver British War Medal was awarded to officers and men and imperial Forces who entered a theatre of war between August 1914 and 11th November 1918 inclusive. The front of the medal has a depiction of St. George on horseback trampling the eagle shield of the central power.

The Allies issued their own bronze Allied Victory Medal 1914- 1919. The British version depicts a representation of Victory on the front. The text on the back is as follows-: ‘The Great War for Civilization 1914-1919’.

The Three Medals were later refered to as ‘Pip, Squeak and Wilfred’ after the names of three popular newspaper cartoon characters of the time.

The 1914-1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal
(Pip, Squeak and Wilfred)

Picture 16

Page from the Family Bible, with information about the Hollins Family and the death of Albert Hollins.

Picture 17

The Hollins Family Tree
Notes:
William was described as ‘stepson’ on the 1861 census. His mother could have been Hannah Birkin.
Sarah was not present in the Hollins household on the night of that census. Her mother and father may have been Ann and Thomas Hawley.

Picture 18

Item, Source and Credit

1. Photograph of Albert Hollins © The Family archives, with special thanks to Jaqueline Fitzpatrick
2. Image of a Hewer from the 1842 Children's Employment Commission © National Coal Mining for England {ht}tps://www.ncm.org.uk/learning/learning-resources/image-bank
3. Extract from the 1901 census showing the Hollins Family, with. Thomas Hollins working as a Stallman © Ancestry
4. Wimblebury Colliery Staffordshire around the turn of the 20th Century © Brownhills Bob website {https://brownhillsbob.com/2013/10/15/the-wimblebury-pit-accident-of-1927-a-cover-up/}
5. Photograph of Albert Hollins as a child of five or six © The Family archives, with special thanks to Jaqueline Fitzpatrick
6. Extract from the 1911 census showing the Hollins Family © Ancestry
7A. Witley Camp, near Godalming in Surrey, during the Great War © 202nd Overseas (Sportsman's) Battalion (Canadian Expeditionary Force) website {http://www.tudorrow.com/202battalion/witley.html}
7B. Witley Camp, near Godalming in Surrey, during the Great War © 202nd Overseas (Sportsman's) Battalion (Canadian Expeditionary Force) website {http://www.tudorrow.com/202battalion/witley.html}
7C. Witley Camp, near Godalming in Surrey, during the Great War © Letters from World War One website {https://lettersfromww1.blogspot.com/2012/01/witley-camp-surrey-england-oct31-1916.html}
7D. Witley Camp, near Godalming in Surrey, during the Great War © 202nd Overseas (Sportsman's) Battalion (Canadian Expeditionary Force) website {http://www.tudorrow.com/202battalion/witley.html}
8. Map of a section of the Loos battlefield, showing Chalk Pit Wood and Hill 70 © Eric’s Online Diary website {http://ericsdailydiary.blogspot.com/2015/09/the-battle-of-loos-how-haig-tried-to.html}
9 and 9A. Two pages from the War Diary of the 8th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry © The National Archives
10. British infantry attack plan for 1 July 1916, the "first day on the Somme" © Wikipedia {https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mines_on_the_first_day_of_the_Somme}
11. What a typical British Soldier carried during the Battle of the Somme © Imperial War Museum {https://www.iwm.org.uk/history/key-facts-about-the-battle-of-the-somme}
12. Commemorative certificate for 15456 Sergeant Albert Hollins © Commonwealth War Graves Commission
13. Map of the Thiepval memorial © World War One Battlefields website {http://www.ww1battlefields.co.uk/somme/thiepval/}
14A. Brereton War Memorial © War Memorials Online website {https://www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/memorial/177265/}
14B. Great War soldiers commemorated on the Brereton War Memorialm, including Albert Hollins © Burntwood Family History Group (Alan Betts)
15A. Albert Hollins’ WW1 Medal Card © Ancestry
15B. Albert Hollins’ entry in the WW1 Medal Roll © Ancestry
16. 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal © Ghillie Mòr website {https://www.facebook.com/Ghillie.Mor}
17. Page from the Family Bible, with information about the Hollins Family and the death of Albert Hollins © The Family archives, with special thanks to Jaqueline Fitzpatrick
18. The Hollins family tree © Sheila Clarke and Burntwood Family History Group

Other sources

A. The National Mining Museum
B. Cannock Chase Mining and Historical Society
C. Rugeley: Manors and Economic History from British History Online website
D. Brownhills Bob’s Brownhills Blog
E. Somerset Regiment Museum
E. Information on the Truck Acts from the Encyclopaedia Britannica
F. Rugeley Housing Report from Cannock Chase District Council
G. The War Diary of the 8th Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry
H. The Parish Records of St. Augustine Church Cannock
I. The Imperial War Museum
J. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission