Thomas Fairfield
1890 - 1916

A biography researched and compiled by Bob Houghton

Thomas Fairfield

Thomas Fairfield

Picture 1

Front Page from the Staffordshire Roll of Honour at Lichfield Cathedral

Picture 2


This biography has been prepared as part of a project undertaken by Burntwood Family History Group to tell the stories behind the names on the war memorials in and around Burntwood.

Pam Woodburn set up the project. It is her foresight and encouragement that has got the project underway.

Much of the information contained in this biography came from Thomas Fairfield’s granddaughter, Ann Grinstead. Her grandmother remarried after Thomas’s death and moved out of the area. Unfortunately most of his life and stories have been lost over the years due to remarriage and house moves. Ann’s curiosity about her grandfather and her total enthusiasm for the research have been the inspiration for this story to be told and for Thomas to be remembered for generations to come.

Thanks must go to many other family members, particularly Kathleen Neville (the youngest daughter of Sarah Ann Witton, Thomas’s widow), for their recollections of the family circumstances and relationships relevant to Thomas’s story as well as seeking to find and supply the scarce memorabilia.
No photographs of Thomas had been found until very late in the research when Susan Crowther, another of Thomas’s granddaughters, found a small, torn and well-worn photograph in a coronation mug. A digitally enhanced version has been used for the cover photo.

Much of the research was undertaken at local museums and records offices and I particularly thank Lichfield Records Office and the Staffordshire Regiment Museum. Walsall Local History Centre and Watling Street School, Brownhills were especially helpful in tracing the early school life of Thomas. The staff at all these offices were very friendly and helpful.

Many organisations helped in the use of the photographs. In particular all the Trench maps were provided on a series of CD’s published by the Western Front Association and reproduced under license from the Imperial War Museum. Tom Ashmore was pleased to allow us to use on of his father’s photographs of Camp Sidi Bishr.

Many of the service records for soldiers serving in WW1 were lost in WW2 and Thomas’s records were amongst those lost. All his military history was compiled with lots of research using,, But the details were filled in from the war diaries courtesy of the National Archives and the CD on the History of the 7th South Staffordshire Regiment 1914 – 1918 edited by Major A H Ashcroft and published by Midlands Historical Data and reproduced with the permission of the Staffordshire Regiment Museum.

An extra special thank you is due to my wife, Janet, for her patience and support throughout.

Bob Houghton   July 2014


1.   Coal Mining and the Fairfield Family

2.  George Fairfield and Lucy Ellen Rathbone

3.   Thomas Fairfield - The Early Years

4.   Training with the 3rd Battalion South Staffs

5.   Mediterranean Expeditionary Force

6.   France 1916

7.   After the Fighting

8.   Awards and Memorials


1. Fox Row

2. The Battle of Thiepval

1. Coal Mining and the Fairfield Family

Cannock Chase in Staffordshire owes much of its existence and development essentially on one commodity, Coal.

Coal has been mined in the Cannock Chase area since the 16th century. In the early years coal was mined from shallow seams to the south of Cannock.

The increased demand for coal during the industrial revolution had a dramatic effect on the area. Canals were built in the late 18th Century and railways in the mid-19th Century. The Marquis of Anglesey started sinking mines in the 1840’s, they were later bought by the Cannock Chase Coal Company. Demand for labour was great and many local farm workers were attracted by the higher wages at the mines. Experienced miners from the nearby Black Country and Shropshire were encouraged to move to the new coalmines.

Clearly the local villages could not accommodate this sudden increase in population and new mining villages such as Chasetown and Chase Terrace were built on previous green field sites by the coal companies. The coal companies also helped to build churches and schools.

By the late 19th Century the whole area was based on coal with most of the men working in the coal mines. Most boys left school straight after their 14th birthday and went to work in the coal mines usually to look after the ponies and transport the coal out of the pit.

Norton Canes is one of the older established villages and was in the middle of these developments. At one time there were 45 collieries employing over 5,800 men within 2 miles of the village

The Fairfields are a long established family from Norton Canes and would have seen these dramatic changes to the countryside and their way of life. Their local church for over a hundred years was St James the Great at Norton Canes

The Church of St James the Great - Norton Canes

Picture 3

The earliest record we have of the family in the area was the marriage of John Fearfield (Fairfield) to Dinah Joburn on 16 September 1764 at the Church of St James the Great in Norton Canes.

Descendants of Thomas Fairfield Senior (1816 - 1853)

Picture 4

2. George Fairfield and Lucy Ellen Rathbone

George Fairfield was the great grandson of John and Dinah and was baptised at the same Church on 19 Mar 1854. His parents were Thomas Fairfield and Ann Whitehead. He was the youngest of five children and his siblings were Thomas, b 1841; Elizabeth, b 1846; Ann, b 1849; and John, b 1851.

George never knew his father who had died before he was born. His mother, Ann, remarried in 1856 when George was only two years old. The family lived in a small house on the Watling Street in Ogley Hay. Samuel and Ann had three daughters; Ann Marie, b 1858; Sarah Jane, b 1861 and Alice, b 1864

Ann's new husband, Samuel Bickley, was a miner and by 1856 he had obtained a licence to operate a beerhouse in his home. It became known as The White Horse Inn. A beerhouse differed from a traditional public house in that it would frequently be overseen by the licensee’s wife, the beer being produced and sold by her at restricted times from the home’s front room. The husband usually continued to work in his given trade.

Ann’s eldest son Thomas died in 1861 and Ann died in 1865 from liver disease. Very soon after Ann’s death Samuel and all the Fairfield children had left the family home.

By 1871 Samuel had moved to a new home behind the White Horse with his two youngest children, Sarah Jane and Alice. The White Horse had passed to Gideon Smallman as the new licensee. The Inn changed hands regularly thereafter but was still operating as late as 1911. It was subsequently demolished and in the 1920s a new White Horse Inn was built on the nearby White Horse Road, a short distance away from the original Inn.

The White Horse, Brownhills

Picture 5

George’s sister Elizabeth had married Edward Fellows in 1865 and moved to Chase Terrace. Her brother John, who was only 13 years old, moved in with them.

Ann was working as a pearl polisher and lived in Birmingham. She married Alfred Fox in 1873 and moved in to Fox Row in Ogley Hay. Elizabeth moved in a couple of houses away shortly afterwards.

George moved in with his aunt Louisa who lived only a few houses away from the White Horse. She had married Francis Poxton in 1836 and already had 7 children of her own, but after Ann’s death she took George under her wings.

Shortly after taking on George, the family moved to Wales, a village in Yorkshire. Francis was attracted to the newly opened Waleswood Colliery just outside Rotherham. The colliery wanted experienced miners and it was a great opportunity for the family to set up a new life in Yorkshire. This was a big move for George as he would be the first of several generations of his family to move away from Norton Canes.

1902 map of Ogley Hay

Picture 6

George remained in Wales for nearly 20 years, working at Waleswood Colliery. However the pull of his Staffordshire home was too much and he returned there in the early 1880’s where he met Lucy Ellen Rathbone. They were married at St James Church, Brownhills in 1886.

George and Lucy set up their home in Fox Row (See Appendix 1) on Watling Street, Ogley Hay. It was only half a mile from the White Horse where he had lived some 20 years earlier and was to become their family home for the next 30 years.

George’s move to Fox’s Row was to see three of the Fairfield Children re-united for the first time since their mother died in 1865. The only member of the family not on the Row was their brother John. John had not married and lodged with John Balance and his wife Sarah and their family at Lodge Hill, Chase Terrace. He stayed with the family for many years and even moved with them to Rugeley Road, Chase Terrace.

George and Lucy had six children, Lucy Ann, b 1887; George jnr, b 1889; Thomas, b 1890; Elizabeth, b 1894; Mary Ann, b 1899; and John Alfred, b 1907.

Lucy had a cerebral haemorrhage in the November of 1911 and died 5 days later. At that time two of her daughters were working away in service; Lucy Ann was with a leather lace maker in Sparkhill, Birmingham and Elizabeth with a coachman in Streetly.

The two older lads, Thomas and George, were still living in the family home and working at the local pit. But their interests were moving away from home and they spent much time with their Uncle John in Chase Terrace.

Their younger brother John Alfred was only 4 years old and the responsibility for bringing him up and looking after the house fell on the shoulders of 12 year old Mary Ann.

She had lots of close family living nearby; her Aunt Elizabeth Fellows lived only a couple of houses away; her other Aunt Ann Fox had died in 1910, but her family still lived in the Row; Elizabeth Fellows daughter also named Elizabeth was married to William Birch and lived just around the corner on Watling Street. It was Elizabeth Birch who was at Lucy’s death and informed the authorities. So Mary Ann was never short of help.

Thomas’s brother George jnr married Elizabeth Carter in April 1915 and his sister Lucy Ann married Thomas Pickstone the same year.

In 1917 their father died of pernicious anaemia, probably caused by the poor diet in the war years. John Alfred, still only 9 years old, was brought up by his sister Lucy Ann Pickstone.

Elizabeth married Albert Brassington in 1917 and Mary Ann married Arthur Witton in 1921.

Descendants of George Fairfield 1854 - 1917

Picture 7

3. Thomas Fairfield – The Early Years

Thomas was born in the family home of George and Lucy Fairfield on Fox Row on 26th November 1890 and Christened at St James the Great Church in Norton Canes on 24th December.

He was their third child, his sister Lucy Ann was just four years old and had just started school. But his brother George was only one year older.

As well as his siblings Thomas had two aunts and many cousins living nearby. He was never short of someone to play with.

The first national coal strike took place in 1893. Its effects on the local children was devastating. Even the school reported a number of children wanting food. Indeed the school was the main provider of food for the children. So with three children to feed and only Lucy Ann at school things were difficult for George and Lucy. The good news came on 17th November when all miners were told that they may resume work and the schools were in a better position to feed them.

By the time their second sister, Elizabeth, was born in 1894 George had already started school and Thomas started shortly after. Their first school was Watling Street Infants School, only half a mile walk from their home.

Watling Street School in 2014

Picture 8

Watling Street School was opened in 1878 and was three schools under the one roof. The boys’ school opened March 1878 and the girls’ school a month later. The infants’ school opened in November 1879.

The infants’ school catered for children of 4 to 6 years old and the other two schools took children up to 14 years old. When it opened the infants’ school had 63 children, but by 1901 that had increased to nearly 200.

Thomas started school just after his 4th birthday in the new year of 1895. On 25th June 1895 it was reported that a gale had done considerable damage to the school with roof broken, chimney pots blown away and windows broken. In the September of 1896 the school reported very poor attendance do to a measles and whooping cough epidemic.

In 1897 Thomas moved up to the boys’ school and was with his brother George again. As with the Infant’s school the boys’ school had seen a similar increase in numbers over the years with only 51 children in 1878 and 180 by 1900.

In June of that year the school was given two days holiday to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria.

In 1898 the school reported that many children were away picking blackberries or potatoes and in the December only 30 children came to school due to the severe snow. However, as their feet were wet they were sent home again.

School photo circa 1900

Picture 9

Picture 9 (above) is the school photo of Watling Street Boy’s School taken circa 1900 and is of the younger boys, aged 8 to 10years old. It is believed that Thomas Fairfield is first on the left of the back row.

Thomas was never short of friends to play with. There were 21 children of school age in the 13 houses on Fox Row in 1901 (See Appendix 1). So there was always a big group walking the half mile to and from the school. Thomas spent a lot of time with his brother George and his class mate Wallace Shingler also from Fox Row.

The area around Ogley Hay was still essentially heathland with a large lake, Chasewater, only a mile away. There was also much industrial development around with the pits, canals and railways. Growing up in the area would have been exciting; fishing, shooting, rabbiting, pigeon racing would have been part of normal life. Their Uncle John would come to see them often and encourage them into these country pursuits.

A number of mining villages had been established and grown dramatically such that Chase Terrace and Chasetown had merged to form a large conurbation covering the three miles between Fox Row and John’s home in Chase Terrace. So the lads were well accustomed to long walks.

Indeed these interests influenced much of their later lives as Wallace Shingler become a champion at Pedestrianism (long distance walking races over many days) and an expert shot. Thomas used them in France.

When Thomas was 14 he left school to work in the coal mines. The nearest coal mines were Walsall Wood and Coppice No 2 and he started work looking after the ponies underground, by 1911 he had been promoted to a horse driver underground.

He was 20 years old when his mother died, but Thomas and his brother George were already showing interests elsewhere.

Their Uncle John lived only a few miles away in Chase Terrace and they used to so visit him often. It was during these visits that both Thomas and George met their future wives. Sarah Witton (Thomas’s future wife) and Elizabeth Carter (George’s future wife) lived in The Spinney, Boney Hay which was just over the road from John. Indeed even their younger sister Mary Ann married one of Sarah Witton’s brothers, Arthur, in 1921.

Sarah worked at Johnson’s butchers shop on High Street, Chasetown and stayed at the shop during the week, visiting her parents on her weekends off. Thomas often passed the shop on his way home from his uncle’s house.

Sarah’s family like most of the families in the area were coal miners. But they were not from the Chase Terrace / Chasetown area. Her grandfather William Witton and his family had moved to Chase Terrace in 1876 from Sedgeley to work at the newer Cannock Chase collieries and mining villages. William and many of his children and families moved into The Spinney. By 1901 there were 36 Wittons living in The Spinney.

Sarah’s parents were Joseph and Ann Maria Witton. They had a large family of 14 children, 9 boys and 5 girls. Two of the boys, both named William, had died in infancy. All the family, except for Sarah, lived in the Chasetown/ Chase Terrace area throughout their lives.

Sarah Ann Witton with her grandson Terrence Morley in 1940

Picture 10

After a short romance Thomas and Sarah were married on 24th January 1912 at the Register Office in Lichfield. Sarah was just 17, and pregnant with their first child.

They moved to Lodge Hill in Chase Terrace, close to Thomas’s uncle John and Sarah’s family. It was right next to Cannock Chase No 7 Colliery and only a couple of miles from Hednesford.

Their first child George Thomas was born in June and Lucy Ellen a year later. George was named after Thomas’s father and brother. Lucy was named after his mother and sister.

George Thomas Fairfield circa 1956

Picture 11

Lucy Ellen Fairfield with her son Terrence 1940

Picture 12

It was events on 4th August 1914 that was to turn everyone’s life upside down when England declared war on Germany. And it was no different for the newlyweds.

Just eight weeks later on September 29th 1914 Joseph William was born. But as an omen of things to come he died shortly afterwards.

It was early in 1915 when the family moved to The Fault, which is just over the road from Fox Row and near to Thomas’s family.

Thomas, like all young men at the time, saw the army as a way to see the world. He had been bought up in the countryside around Ogley Hay and would have been used to guns. His life in the pit was one of the most dangerous occupations so he would not be put off by the thoughts of fighting in France. So he was drawn to a life in the Army fighting for his country. So on 20th July 1915 he went to the recruiting office in Hednesford and signed on with the South Staffordshire Regiment and was told to report to Whittington Barracks, Lichfield on 22nd July.

His wife Sarah, still only 21 years old, was seven months pregnant and had two young children to look after and her husband was just about to leave her.

Lillian was born on 23rd September 1915. She was named after the daughter of Thomas’s brother George, Lily, who had been born and died just a few months before Lilian was born.

Lilian Fairfield 1935;

Picture 13

Thomas Fairfield’s Family

Picture 14

4. Training with the 3rd Battalion South Staffs

Thomas reported to Whittington Barracks on 22nd July 1915 and after his medical was given his military service number 19583 and assigned to the 3rd Battalion for training at Hendon Camp in Sunderland.

The 3rd (reserve) Battalion was formed in 1914 as a depot / training unit and remained in the UK throughout WW1. Initially based at Whittington it moved to Plymouth at the outbreak of the war and then to Hendon Camp in May 1915.

Thomas was at Hendon Camp for four months. During that time his daughter Lilian was born and he managed to get leave to go home to see them and register the birth.

Replica Training Camp Hut on Cannock Chase

Picture 15

The camps were like wooden towns made up of temporary wooden buildings of 60 feet x 20 feet and accommodating up to 34 men. Each hut had a cast iron stove on a concrete base that struggled to cope with the Sunderland winters.

Inside the training hut

Picture 16

Metal framed beds were arranged along the sides with a shelf and hooks for hanging items of uniform. The soldiers were expected to prepare their own meals and keep the living quarters clean and tidy.

Thomas’s training went well and he was promoted to Lance Corporal in October. By the end of November there was a desperate need to reinforce the 7th South Staffs Battalion in Gallipoli.

So after only four months training he was granted a short leave to say farewell to his family before departing for Gallipoli. He set sail for Imbros, an island just off the westernmost point of Turkey, gateway to the Dardanelles, on 5th Dec 1915. At Imbros he was to take another ship to take him to Sulva Bay on Gallipoli, a peninsular of West Turkey on the Aegean Sea, to join the 7th South Staffs.

Before embarking to the theatre of war all soldiers were encouraged to make out their will. Thomas made his will on 30th November 1915 just before embarking to Imbros. He left all his belongings to be shared between his wife and children.


Thomas Fairfield's Will


Thomas Fairfield's Will

Pictures 17A and 17B

5. Mediterranean Expeditionary Force

The 7th Battalion of the South Staffordshire Regiment had been raised at Lichfield in August 1914 as part of Kitchener's First Army. The 6th Lincolnshire, 6th The Borders and 9th Sherwood Foresters along with 7th South Staffs formed the 33rd Brigade of the 11th (Northern) Division. The four battalions remained together as the 33rd brigade throughout the war.

At the end of June 1915 the Division joined the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force and set sail from Liverpool via Mudros to Cape Helles in Gallipoli.

In early August they took part in a major offensive to the north of Cape Helles at Sulva Bay. They landed near Lala Baba at Sulva Bay on the 7th of August.

Their first major action was on 9th August where their objective was to take Anafarta Village some 1500 m away. On that day the casualty list of wounded, missing and killed was over 300 men for no ground gained.

On 20th August another action saw them again make no advance with over 300 casualties. All but two of the officers had been hit.

Apart from the losses in fighting, conditions were bad with very poor sanitation and water supplies. Losses through sunstroke, diarrhoea, and dysentery caused more casualties than in the fighting. So September saw a period of reorganisation and strengthening of the battalion.

On November 25 there was the worst storm the Battalion had ever experienced. The whole area was flooded including all the trenches. At some places the water was over 4 feet deep. Overnight it froze causing great difficulties and even more casualties. It was said that during that one week alone over 20,000 men were evacuated sick or died on the peninsula.

In early December the decision was made to attempt an evacuation. The evacuation took place on the 18th and 19th December and all went well. It was one of the biggest successes of the campaign. Over the two days, Sulva Bay had been completely evacuated with very few casualties.

The 7th South Staffs were down to 663 men and had been withdrawn to Imbros.

Imbros played an important role as a staging post for the allied Mediterranean Expeditionary Force, prior to and during the invasion of the Gallipoli peninsula. A field hospital, airfield and administrative and stores buildings had been constructed on the island.

General Headquarters, Imbros, 1915
Imbros played an important role as a headquarters and staging post for General Sir Ian Hamilton's Mediterranean Expeditionary Force (MEF), prior to and during the Gallipoli campaign. A field hospital, airfield and administrative and stores buildings were constructed on the island. In the foreground, Hamilton's camp and hut are visible, while the bell tents to the top right were used by his staff officers.

Pictures 18A and 18B

All of the evacuation had been planned and executed whilst Thomas Fairfield was on his ship sailing from England to Imbros. He had been expected to sail on to Sulva and join his new battalion, but instead he joined up with them at Imbros.

They had just set up the tented camp about two miles south-west of Kephalos Harbour. The first camp had been blown down in the gales on the first night, so it was moved to better ground on the second day.

That Christmas was the first one that Thomas had been separated from his family. Mail had been delayed and there were very few of the home comforts. They did rustle up a few Xmas puddings and the local traders were selling turkeys at an exorbitant price. But on Xmas day they lit bonfires to celebrate. A concert was held that night.

The delayed mail and some parcels from home eventually arrived on Boxing Day.

The following five weeks were spent in intensive training. The first week was spent chiefly in smartening drill and specialist classes in signaling, bombing, and machine gunnery. These were followed by intensive musketry training and field practices. Training for open warfare tactics were carried out nearly every day. There was little chance for amusement and relaxation on the island with only two football pitches and two pubs between 20,000 men. But the quality of the canteen food improved considerably over what they had been used to on Gallipoli.

On January 12th, the battalion was strengthened by four officers and 200 other ranks.

Two weeks later they received orders for embarkation on the following day to Egypt. They were taken by lighters on to the ship HMT Oriana destined for Alexandria in Egypt, finally arriving on 3rd February. After disembarking they marched through the town to the Ramleh tram terminal to join the large concentration of troops at Sidi Bishr camp.

Picture 19

The camp at Sidi Bishr is situated about 6 miles to the North East of Alexandria in a healthy spot on the sea shore, where the sand dunes form little hillocks intersected by miniature valleys and dotted with palm groves.

300 other ranks were waiting in the camp to join the 7th South Staffs at the camp, but as they were already up to war strength 139 were sent back to the base depot. At the camp the relentless training continued, but this time under desert conditions.

Training carried on as at Imbros and the troops were allowed passes into Alexandria and its suburbs. Sidi Bishr was not popular; although it was still early in the year, the days were very hot, and training in the heavy sand was exceedingly arduous.

Early in March, the brigade machine-gun company was formed. 2 officers and 32 ranks together with the two battalion’s Vickers guns were transferred to the new company. However the battalion was issued with four Lewis guns. It was claimed that the Lewis gun was a far better weapon to work in liaison with infantry, being more mobile, and better at swinging on to shifting targets, owing to its bipod mounting. The gun, however, did not meet with much favour in Egypt, owing to its working parts being so easily choked by the sand. Not till it was put to the test in France was its enormous value realised.

On March 10th they were posted to defend the Suez Canal from possible invasion by the Turks. They proceeded by route march to Ballah on the Suez Canal about 30 miles from Port Said. The only habitations at Ballah were those of the stationmaster and the officer in charge of the naval signal station.

The following day was a gruelling seven-mile march through the desert to an outpost position known as Ballybunion on the Suez Canal. The heat was appalling, and they were in full marching order. A rough road made of chalk, straw, and camel dung helped considerably for two miles. The remainder of the march was over very soft sand.

The defences at Ballybunion were in a poor state and the 7th South Staffs set about rebuilding them. The defences were completely rebuilt over the next 36 days. The work was hard and at times they were working in the heat of the day. In the outposts there was nothing in the way of recreation. The priority was in the rebuilding of the defences such that even the training programme was cut back.

On 13th May the battalion was relieved by the 9th Sherwood Foresters and proceeded to a camp near Ballah. Bathing and - until it was stopped by the authorities - fishing with bombs, formed an excellent interlude to the drudgery of work. The fish proved an excellent addition to the diet.

It was soon common knowledge that preparations were on hand for a move, but the destination was a matter of much conjecture. It was first thought they were to be sent to India, but later they learnt they were to be sent to France. On 25th June they left in open coal trucks for Alexandria, where they embarked on HMT Minnewaska bound for Marseilles.

Picture 20

6. France 1916

July 1916

The ship remained in the harbour at Alexandria for several days due to the congestion in Marseilles harbour. Conditions were very hot and tiring, indeed five horses died on the sea voyage.

They finally got underway on 1st July and were escorted by destroyer 0.26 to Malta, their first sight of land. The escort left them at Malta and was replaced by destroyer 0.2.

The journey along the Mediterranean took six days and after Malta their next sight of land was the Pantellaria Islands, Sardinia and Corsica. But the most welcome sight of all was the gorgeous scenery of the Riviera as they made their way into the harbour of Marseilles.

They came alongside the Quay at 2:00 pm on 7th July and set foot in France for the first time at 8:00 pm, just six days after the Battle of the Somme had begun. They were ordered to board the train at 10:00 pm, the kit bags to be left at Marseilles with no arrangements made for their care.

The train left on time and took three days and according to their Commanding Officer it was enjoyed by all. Some of the sights on the journey included the wonderful scenery around Avignon; early morning stop at Orange; station buffet at Dijon; Red Cross nurses at Macon; Versailles; Amiens and Abbeville before reaching their destination the 3rd Army HQ at St Pol at 6.00 am on 10th July.

The troops were all given a whole hearted and generous ovation by the French at the stations along the route and from the fields and vineyards on the journey.

As soon as they arrived at St Pol they immediately proceeded on a 5 mile route march to Averdoingt where they gained their first experience of billets. They were disappointed to find them ill-tiled shanties with mud walls and earthen floors. But they were given a warm welcome by the French civilians.

The days at Averdoingt were mainly spent in short route-marches. These were particularly difficult as everybody's feet were very soft after so long a sojourn on the sands of Egypt and the bad boots. A great deal of teaching in gas warfare was also given, and they were issued with new style PHG gas helmet.

Whilst there it was learnt that command of the 11th Division had been given to General Sir C. L. Woolcombe. The Division became part of the VI Corps in the 3rd Army and was to defend the front lines near Arras. Arras was to the north of the Somme battlefield and had not been involved directly in the “big push” on 1st July.

On 15th July they route marched to Wanquetin, 9 miles nearer the front line. 54 men fell out on the march and had to join the rear guard arriving at Wanquetin sometime later. This emphasised the need for further training especially in route marching.

The days at Wanquetin were spent in route marching and getting ready for their first experience of the Trenches since Gallipoli.

It was on the 22nd July that they first entered the front lines in a quiet sector, Sector H, on the SE side of Arras, near Achicourt. Another route march from Wanquetin through Warlus, Dainville and Achicourt. Achicourt was a village only 1,700 yards from the front line, it had not been evacuated by the civilians, and still had many houses intact. The villagers continued to cultivate their fields.

For Thomas Fairfield and many others it would be their first experience of life in the trenches. After a prolonged period of inactivity, they had to get used to the extra demands of patrolling, observing and sniping. Trench Mortar attacks were the main danger. But these were to a strictly limited locality and the casualties were very light. The rest of the month was spent essentially in repairing and rebuilding the defensive wiring and trenches.

France - July & August 1916

Picture 21

Pte J T Davies, No19220 was the first battalion fatality in France, killed in a wiring party that was fired upon on the night of 24th July. On 26th July the second battalion fatality of the campaign was Pte C Twigg. No 12141, who was killed in a trench mortar attack.

The weather over the month had been kind with a little rain, a welcome relief after the heat of Egypt.

August 1916

The battalion was relieved by the 6th Borders on 7th August. The 7th S Staffs went into Brigade reserves at Arras, Ronville and Achicourt. The battalion’s third fatality was Pte W H Bills, No 10706 who died of wounds on 18th August, the wounds being received in enemy shelling on the 17th.

A period of quiet enemy action with the battalion held in reserve. On 22nd August they were withdrawn from the sector in preparation for a move to the Somme. A route march to Simencourt and allowed to rest overnight before route marching to billets at Wanquetin.

They had been there just a month earlier and had another five days specialist training in route marching, physical drill, bayonet fighting, battle drill, attack from trenches, consolidation of position, rapid wiring and live grenade throwing.

On 29th August they route marched through Hautville and Avenses to billets at Liencourt and Berlencourt. It was very sultry and oppressive for marching and nearly 100 men fell out, all but two came along with the rear guard just half an hour later. Heavy rain started in the afternoon and continues all the next day.

Further training was interrupted due to the heavy rain but continued on 31st August. Training was on attack and defence schemes, bayonet fighting, gas helmet practice and attack from trenches.

On 2nd September they route marched to Frevent before boarding the train to the Somme railhead at Acheux, finally leaving the Arras area to join the battles on the Somme. The Division said goodbye to the VI Corps and 3rd Army to join with the II Corps in the Reserve Army under Lieutenant General Hubert Gough.

September 1916

The next two days were spent camped in a wood south east of the station at Acheux. Heavy firing was heard from the Thiepval – Pozieres front.

On 5th September they route marched through Varennes and Senlis to billets in Bouzincourt. The roads were indescribably heavy and almost impassable in places.

The following day they route marched to the front line trenches at Ovillers. Setting out at 3.30 am they set out over high ground that could not be done safely in daylight. Then down into the ruined but still picturesque village of Aveluy; across the much shelled bridge over the swollen River Ancre; past Crucifix Corner; and up the hill past the guns to Ovillers Post until they reached the outskirts of Ovillers.

Ovillers was described as one of the many villages "that weren't there," that many have forgotten their first impressions, a little red dust mingling with the soil, a few splintered trunks of trees, a mangled farm implement or two, a little heap of bricks and rubble with a notice board “Ovillers Church”. All around lay the litter of war, broken waggons, steel helmets, equipment, rum jars, and countless rounds of every kind of ammunition, with here and there a little wooden cross marking the resting place of some already forgotten hero.

A welcome sight to the troops was the rows of guns of all calibres placed in Nab Valley. To the east was yet another “village that wasn’t there”, Contalmaison.

Acheux - September 1916

Picture 22

Ovillers = September 1916

Picture 23

They arrived at the front line trench facing north between Thiepval and Ferme du Mouquet at 6.00 am. Two companies were each to hold a 300 yd line with the 9th Sherwood Foresters on their right and the 32nd brigade on the left. The village of Thiepval was yet another “village that wasn’t there”.

There were still large numbers of our men of Scottish Battalions lying out on the wire since the beginning of July. The battalion buried a great number of them.

They were frequently under heavy bombardment, but a particular severe one started at 3.00 pm on 6th September. It was Thomas’s first sight of severe enemy artillery fire. In that 3 hour attack the battalion lost 5 men with another 4 wounded and 2 with shell shock.

There followed three relatively quiet days with short periods of bombardment and firing and only limited casualties, 45 ranks wounded. But on the 9th September there was another period of heavy shelling in the afternoon with 3 killed, 9 wounded and 1 with shell shock.

The battalion was given orders to dig a trench in no-mans land. They were to dig out two old communications trenches, known as Pole and Peel and a new 400 yd connecting trench. The new trench was to be used as a starting off trench for an attack in the near future. It was completed by 5 am on 12th September and later called Stafford Trench.

Later that day they were relieved by the 6th Borders and route marched again to the billets in Bouzincourt. Two days later they received further orders to move to Brigade Support at Crucifix Corner. The 32nd brigade was to make an attack on Turk Street and Wonder Work, which was an essential objective before moving on the Thiepval. The 7th South Staffs was to be held in reserve. At 12:30 they were asked to provide 200 men, at once, to take ammunitions to the front.

The attack on Wonder works was successful and 200 prisoners were taken. The battalion were asked to provide another 100 men to support the 32nd in carrying water and helping to clear the field.

Following the action the battalion were ordered back to the billets at Bouzincourt, but they were cancelled later and told to remain in reserve to the 32nd until the 16th Sept. Finally they were given the orders to go and route marched to the billets and left at 5.30 pm on 16th Sept arriving at Bouzincourt at 7.30 pm.

During the evening the 6th Borders had found Danube trench lightly held and had sent in a company and taken the trench. Later that night the Commanding Officer of the South Staffs Lieut.-Colonel Seckham was ordered to the Brigade HQ at once. He was ordered to support the 6th Borders and take two companies forward and set out for Donnetts Post arriving at 5.00 am on the morning of the 17th.

The next day the 7th South Staffs relieved the 6th Borders in Danube trench and were ordered to dig a communications trench to Constance Trench. The 9th Sherwood foresters were ordered to advance from Constance Trench to the more heavily defended Joseph trench the following night. Very heavy weather over the next few days and the attack on Joseph Trench was postponed.

On 22nd September the 7th South Staffs was relieved by the 8th West Riding and marched to bivouacs in Mailly Mallet. They remained at Mailly Mallet for two nights and had an afternoon of practise attacks on model trenches.

At 5:00pm on 25th September they marched to Martinsart to draw all fighting materials at the dumps and then on to Brimstone Trench and First Street in preparation for the attack on 26th Sept. The move was completed by 5:30 on the morning of 26th September.

The battle of Thiepval Ridge was the first large offensive mounted by the Reserve Army of Lieutenant General Hubert Gough during the Battle of the Somme. The battle was fought on a front from Courcelette in the east, near the Albert–Bapaume road to Thiepval and the Schwaben Redoubt in the west, which overlooked the German defences further north in the Ancre valley and the rising ground towards Beaumont Hamel and Serre beyond. Thiepval Ridge was well fortified.

Thiepval - September 1916

Picture 24

The plan of attack was for the right of II Corps to take Zollern Redoubt in the second phase and Stuff Redoubt at the final objective on the crest of the ridge. On the left the Corps was to take Thiepval in the second phase and then reach Schwaben Redoubt, which overlooked the slope down to St Pierre Divion. It was emphasised that the Germans were to be driven off all the crest, to deny the Germans observation towards Albert and gain British ground observation of the Ancre valley.

The 7th South Staffs were heavily involved in the action over the next four days when all objectives had been achieved. A detailed report of the Battalions actions over this period is given in Major A H Ashcroft, D.S.O. “History of the Seventh South Staffordshire Battalion”, see Appendix 2.

The battalion losses over those four days was at least 200 men and the 11th Division losses were 3,615, about 70% being wounded.

October - November 1916

After the battle the 7th South Staffs left their front line positions to the east of Thiepval and route marched the six miles to Hedauville. They arrived at 1:30 am and all the billets were full. Most had to be content with bivouacs. Relieve of C Company had been delayed and they did not arrive until 9:30 am. The battalion immediately continued its march to Acheux, arriving at their old encampment in the wood, now deep in mud, at 12:30 pm.

The following day they boarded the train bound for Candas. The train was held up for hours and the battalion were kept waiting in the soaking rain in a bleak open field. It finally left at 4:00 pm and arrived at Candas at and set out on a route march to Autheux. When they arrived at Autheux it was nearly midnight and all the accommodation was taken up by the 4th Highlanders. It was pitch dark and still raining piteously so there was nothing for it but to double up with the highlanders.

On the morning of the 3rd October they had another two and a half hour march to Domleger and to excellent billets that were described as the best they had ever met. After just two nights they were on the march again, this time to Maison Rolland and again the usual inferior billets. Finally arrived at Maison Rolland on 5th October.

They remained at Maison Rolland until 14th November. The period was spent in extensive training in open warfare including attack from trenches; attack in the open; bombing attacks; route marches and specialised training for the lewis gunners, bombers, signallers and snipers.

The weather had been atrocious during their stay at Maison Rolland and the French civilians were less hospitable than anywhere else they had stayed.

On 14th November the Brigade left Maison Rolland and marched to Bonneville, a march of 5 hours. There were no intervals between the companies or battalions so marching was difficult. The following day they continued their march to a small village of Harponville arriving at 2:40 pm. This time intervals of 400 yds. between battalions and 200 yds. between companies was allowed. 12 men fell out but re-joined the same night. It was intensely cold and fuel was scarce.

The next day they marched the short distance to Varennes. They billets were in old broken down huts, several without doors and were very uncomfortable in the cold conditions. Fortunately in the night of the 16th an empty hospital train was bombed by an enemy plane. The extra fuel was most welcome.

On 20th November they marched through Hedauville, Englebelmer, Mesnil and Hamel to the front line trenches NE of Beaucourt-sur-Ancre, a distance of 6 miles. The road from Englebelmer to Mesnil was particularly bad and described as impassable.

The last part of the march from Hamel to the trenches was along the Railway Road. It had an evil reputation for being a veritable death trap and it lived up to its reputation that day as the battalion casualties were 6 killed and 5 wounded.

France Oct - Nov 1916

Picture 25

The 7th S Staffs took over a series of strong posts in Bois d’Hollande from the 6th Yorks & Lancs and part of the line from the Somerset Light Infantry and the Middlesex, C Company holding a very awkward salient in front of Bois d’Hollande with A and D Companies to their left in Beaucourt Trench.

Over the next 3 days there was no respite from the enemy guns and the battalion suffered 36 casualties.

On the 24th the enemy guns appear to have been moved to positions better commanding the Railway Road to Beaucourt sur Ancre. Artillery fire was almost an enfilade from the north, while a heavy battery was continually in action, shooting straight down Railway Road, paying particular attention to the junction of roads from Hamel and Beaumont Hamel by the railway station.

At 6:30 pm they were relieved by the 6th Lincolnshire, but due to enemy shelling only two companies left. The other two companies were delayed by an hour. Meanwhile a large party of Sherwood Foresters were not so lucky, they were caught on Railway Road and were hit losing 25 men.

The road from Beaumont Hamel ran in a deep depression, known as Bluff Valley, just before joining the Hamel Road, and here the battalion support was bivouacked. An enemy plane had spotted the concentration of troops there and the Boche guns began to plaster the place very heavily.

Relief was completed by 10 pm. On arriving at Bluff Valley it began to rain heavily and as there was no dug out accommodation, small pits had to be dug in the side of the hill. The holes quickly became full of water. There was intermittent shelling through the night, but the shells for the most part fell short. The battalion casualties that night were:- Wounded: Sgt E Fox, 11375; L/Cpl M Billingham, 15464; Killed: Pte J Smith,16757 and L/Cpl Thomas Fairfield, 19583.

Thomas died of his wounds and was buried close to Bluff Valley in an unmarked grave. His body was never recovered, but his name is listed on the Thiepval Memorial.

Beaucourt sur Ancre 1916

Picture 26

7. After the Fighting

Sarah learned of the death of Thomas in December 1916. She had three young children to look after and had only recently moved into The Fault. Money was tight and she was heavily dependent on family and charity hand outs. So it is not surprising that after meeting a young soldier from Rugeley Camp on Cannock Chase she was married on 5th May 1917 at Colwich parish Church.

John Breheney was born in Dewsbury in 1897, a son of Patrick and Sarah Breheney. Patrick and his family had moved to Dewsbury from Skreen in County Sligo in 1875. He married a local girl Sarah Ledgard in 1883 and they had ten children. John was the sixth born child of the family.

John had been a piece cutter in the Yorkshire wool trade before joining the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. After a short period of service in France, he was transferred to the 8th Training Reserve Battalion at Rugeley camp. He had been promoted to Sergeant and after leaving the army in 1919 he became a coal miner (Hewer).

John and Sarah with her three children set up home in Colwich and later moved to Boney Hay where they had three children of their own. John, born in 1918 but died only a few months later, Irene Marjorie (aka Madge), born in 1921and Frank Eric (aka Eric) born in 1924.

The family moved to Dewsbury and they had another daughter Kathleen in 1931. But just before Kathleen’s birth Sarah discovered that John was having a relationship with another woman so he was evicted from the family home.

After the departure of John Breheney, Sarah and her children continued to live in Dewsbury. Her youngest child, Kathleen, was cared for not only by Sarah but also Sarah’s 18 year old daughter, Lucy Fairfield. She and her husband to be, Thomas Morley, were constant companions for the young girl.

The family of Fairfield and Breheney children stayed together until the marriage of George to Ivy Taylor in 1934 and Lucy to Thomas Morley in 1935. Sarah’s daughter Lilian, aged 16 at the time of the separation from Breheney, had moved to West Sussex where she was employed in a local hospital. It was in that area that she met Charles Grinstead and they were married in 1937.

Lucy and George, her other children by Thomas Fairfield, continued to live close to Sarah after their marriages as did Madge, the eldest surviving child of John Breheney, who married Frank Newsome in 1941. In the late 1930s Sarah moved to Batley, close to her daughter Lucy and son in law Thomas Morley. In 1942 Sarah’s beloved son Frank Eric died at the age of 18. Heartbroken, Sarah herself died just a few months later, at the age of 48.

Following the second marriage of Sarah, Thomas was rarely spoken about by his descendants, but I hope this biography has helped to redress his memory. By 2014 Thomas’s had 4 children, 12 grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren and many great great grandchildren.

8. Awards and Memorials

After the war Thomas was posthumously awarded the three medals generally known as Pip, Squeak and Wilfred; The Victory Medal, British War Medal and the 1914–15 Star. The family also received a memorial letter and scroll from King George and the memorial plaque. The letter and Plaque are still held by his descendants but at the time of writing this biography his medals have not been traced.

Thomas Fairfield letter from King George V

Picture 27A

Thomas Fairfield letter from King George V

Picture 27B

The next of kin of all members of the British and Empire Forces who died in the First World War were sent a message from The King, a scroll and a plaque. The message was printed on Buckingham Palace writing paper, and bore a facsimile of King George V's signature.

Picture 27C

Thomas Fairfield's Memorial Plaque


Replica memorial plaque

Pictures 28A and 28B

Thomas is still remembered by his family and is listed in the Staffordshire Roll of Honour as prepared by the Staffordshire War Memorial Committee in 1926, a copy of which is permanently on display in Lichfield Cathedral. His name is also on the Chase Terrace War Memorial, High Street in Chase Terrace, The Memorial Hall and St James Church in Brownhills and on the pier and face 7B of the Thiepval Memorial in France.

Pictures 29, 30, 31 and 32

Staffordshire Roll of Honour at Lichfield Cathedral

Picture 33

Appendix 1

Fox Row

Fox Row is a row of thirteen miners’ cottages and a pub, The Anglesey Arms, on the Watling Street in Ogley Hay. The cottages had four rooms, two bedrooms upstairs with a living room and kitchen downstairs. Outside the back doors was a large communal yard shared between the cottages. All the cottages fronted onto Watling Street.

It was probably built at about the same time as Watling Street School in 1878 to house miners for the rapidly expanding Coal mining industry.

Fox Row

Picture 34

The following is a list of the residents of Fox Row from the 1901 census. House numbers were not universally used in 1900, so for the census, schedule numbers were used to identify individual houses. I have used their numbering in the following summary of the families that lived on Fox Row in 1901.

Thomas Fairfield’s relations in the Row were:

  • No 71: Thomas and his family;
  • No 69: Thomas’s aunt Ann Fox;
  • No 74: Thomas’s aunt Elizabeth Fellows with her son-in-law and daughter, William and Elizabeth Birch;
  • No 80: William Birch’s parents John and Mary Birch;
  • No 68: William Birch’s sister Alice Birch, working at the pub;
  • No 73: Emily Nicholls brother Edwin Nicholls. Emily married George Birch from No 80 in 1905 and moved into the Row

There were 21 children of school age in the Row, 7 infants, 6 boys and 8 girls. Wallace Shingler from No 76 would have been in Thomas’s class at school.

Fox Row was demolished in the 1960’s and replaced by flats that have subsequently also been demolished. In 2014 Deakin Avenue stands on the same site.

Appendix 2

The Battle of Thiepval Ridge

Extract from
A History of the Seventh South Staffordshire Battalion
Edited by MAJOR A. H. ASHCROFT, D.S.O.

The attack was timed for 12 noon, September 26th. As Boche time was in advance of ours, it was hoped that he would be employed at his dinner. The 18th Division was responsible for the taking of Thiepval village itself, and the formidable Schwaben Redoubt beyond it. The 33rd Brigade was responsible for the capture of Hessian Trench, which joined Schwaben Trench to the equally formidable Stuff Redoubt. On the right of us was our 34th Brigade, detailed to seize Stuff Redoubt itself. On the right of the 34th, was a Canadian Division. The French also attacked the same day, and, as we learned later had the satisfaction of taking Combles. The frontage allotted to us narrowed considerably as we advanced. It was, therefore, decided that two battalions—the 9th Sherwood Foresters and the 6th Border Regiment, should take the first objective, Joseph Trench. The Borders alone were to be responsible for mopping up this trench, whilst the Foresters went on alone to the second objective, Schwaben Trench. The Borders would follow on and mop up this trench also. The Foresters were to be entirely responsible for the two final objectives—Zollern Trench and Hessian Trench. The attack was in a N.-N.E. direction. The Staffords were ordered to remain in the jumping-off trenches, Danube and Constance, till in receipt of orders from brigade. The Lincolns were in brigade reserve. It was hoped that we would not have to be called upon, and could be used for opening up trenches between the captured positions.

The barrage was truly awe-inspiring, and exceedingly accurate. We had the support of our own artillery, which has always inspired the confidence of the infantry. Amongst other batteries, was one of French 75's, which had done excellent shooting throughout the month. The battery commander received the Military Cross. It was amazing how little counter-battery fire was put down on the mass of guns in Nab Valley, which was like one big sheet of living flame. It was not surprising that many of the enemy ran forward at once to escape a veritable inferno. It is much more wonderful that those who remained at their posts could live through it. Opposed to us was a division of Marines, and it must he admitted that they fought a very gallant action. Two days after the action, small parties who had escaped the vigilance of the moppers-up were still harassing us with rifle and machine-gun fire, and paid their due toll, only after they had rendered very fine assistance to their side.

As might have been expected, Danube Trench was not at all healthy; it was also very overcrowded with Boche and slightly wounded pouring back to be dressed at the advanced station there, where our popular M.O., Capt. Spence, did exceedingly fine work. The Commanding Officer pushed "B", "C" and "A" companies forward into Joseph Trench, keeping "D" in his hand. It was reported that the Boche was causing a great deal of trouble in Midway Trench, a main artery of communication connecting Joseph, Zollern and Hessian Trenches. "A" and "B" Companies were ordered to assist in the clearing of this trench, whilst those working in rear of them cleared out those parts that had been demolished by our shell fire. Whilst engaged in this work, 2nd-Lieut. N L Anderson was hit in the side. Midway was too full of troops, and in order to supervise the work, 2nd-Lieut. Bourne had to get out of the trench repeatedly in spite of the continual sniping from all directions. He was eventually hit, but continued the work of supervision, crawling up and down the trench on all fours till ordered back by the Colonel. 2nd-Lieut. J. A. Baillon came up from Echelon to take over "A" Company. Meanwhile Midway Trench was cleared by "B" Company, and the Sherwood Foresters, who had successfully gained their final objective, only to find that both flanks were right in the air. The 18th Division who stormed Thiepval itself in fine style, were held up by Schwaben Redoubt and the 34th Brigade were similarly checked by Stuff Redoubt. The 34th Brigade were very greatly disorganized in the early hours of the battle by a tenacious garrison at Mouquet Farm, which was a warren of trenches both above ground and below. A large garrison who remained below, were not discovered. After the attacking waves had passed over, these took up their posts and divided the attackers from their support. It was not till late afternoon that a platoon of the 6th East Yorkshire Pioneers finally mopped up this amazing strong redoubt.

The position of the Foresters was therefore critical, and "B" Company was sent into very close support in Zollern and Midway Trenches. It was not long before Lieut. Piper, 9th Sherwood Foresters, called for assistance, and Capt. Grice-Hutchinson sent 2nd-Lieut. Muscat with two platoons to reinforce Hessian Trench, where the Foresters were now very weak. "C" Company moved into Zollern Trench in Support of "B" Company, "D" into Midway in support, whilst "A" was retained in reserve in Schwaben. The Boche, as Lieut. Piper had surmised, attempted a bombing attack from the direction of Schwaben Redoubt. "B" Company was largely instrumental in repelling it, but Capt. Grice-Hutchinson, M.C., and 2nd-Lieut. S. C. Chapman, were both wounded by the same bomb. The latter died of his wounds. 2nd-Lieut. Muscat took over command.

The night of the 26th was hellish. The Boche must have massed an enormous amount of guns in anticipation of our attack. Schwaben and Stuff Redoubts were still untaken, though we had a footing in the latter. At dawn, a further attempt was made on them under cover of terrific barrages, but on neither flank did we succeed in gaining full possession. During this shelling, 2nd-Lieut. E. G. Flinn was buried by a shell, and had to be evacuated, badly shaken.

Bombing scraps raged round Hessian Trench at intervals through the 27th, and our tenure was very precarious. The Boche was in an equally awkward position, and it was believed at headquarters that he would make a strong counter-attack against us on the morning of the 28th. "A" and "C" Companies were issued with detailed orders to re-attack if the trench should be lost. The night of the 27th was almost more ghastly than the previous night. A tornado of shells fell all round without ceasing, and it is miraculous that we did not suffer greater casualties than we did. In Midway Trench, in particular, there was practically no cover, and we suffered most severely here. Contrary to expectations, the attack did not materialize. Never has dawn been hailed with greater relief. Fortunately the enemy did not heavily barrage the Ovillers-Thiepval Road, which Canadian Pioneers put in a state of repair during the first day's attack, and the transport had no great difficulty in keeping us supplied with food and ammunition. The cross roads at the west end of Aveluy was, however, a very unsavory spot, and on this night we were lucky to escape casualties, a 5.9 dropping in between two ammunition limbers and doing no damage.

Hessian Trench was now in a good state of defence and the brigade felt confident that they could hold it. The only stumbling-block to the complete success of the division was still Stuff Redoubt. The brigade on our right was therefore given authority to call on the Staffords for all the support we could give. This attachment did not necessitate any changes in our dispositions. The 28th passed without any severe call on this battalion, but "B" Company again took part in countering a bombing attack, this time from the direction of Stuff. On the morning of the 29th, the Boche put down another intense barrage, and it was reported that the enemy had broken through on our right. We immediately formed a defensive flank, but saw no Germans except a batch of prisoners being taken to the rear. Nothing abnormal occurred and we resumed our old positions. Later we learned that no attack had taken place. "A" company of the 6th Yorkshire Regiment, under Capt. A. White (who was subsequently awarded the Victoria Cross), had now taken over the defence of Stuff Redoubt. Their casualties were very heavy and "C" Company was ordered to reinforce them. The orders came just as the Boche put down another fierce bombardment. "A" Company was also ordered to move up into closer support to Hessian Trench. Midway Trench was therefore full of men and heavy casualties were again suffered; 2nd-Lieut. Bussey and several of his platoon were killed by a direct hit on the trench. Whilst these two companies were moving forward, word was passed down from man to man that Lewis gun magazines and bombs were urgently needed, both in Hessian Trench and Stuff Redoubt. The trench was full of stores and the request was quickly complied with. This order was followed by a message to "Double "; we supposed a large-scale attack had developed, but suddenly it was passed down that we were to "About turn, lead back." This order was again cancelled. This cancellation of orders was totally inexplicable, nor was it known where they originated, so the Commanding Officer, who was in rear of "A" and "C" Companies in Midway Trench, got out of the trench and pushed forward to ascertain the exact situation. It was learned that the enemy had been massing for attack but had been dispersed by our friends the gunners. "C" Company at once got in touch with O.C., Stuff Redoubt, and rendered excellent assistance helping in the complete capture of the Redoubt and in the repulse of several minor counter attacks.

On the night of the 29th, the other three battalions of the brigade were relieved, but owing to our attachment to the 32nd Brigade, whose position was not so secure, we remained in the line. On the 30th, the Boche had apparently resigned himself to the loss of Stuff Redoubt, and shelling was much less intense than previously. The Redoubt having been consolidated, we were relieved by a battalion of the Cheshire Regiment. Just before the relief, Sgt. Clay, of "A" Company, perhaps the bravest and most popular N.C.O. the battalion ever had, was killed instantaneously, being hit in the head by a nosecap.

One company of the Cheshire’s lost its way, and "C" Company were not relieved till the early hours of October 1st. Thus ended our first great action; we had not had the most prominent part to play, but one that was none the less difficult. The situation was often most obscure, and we were repeatedly called on to move at short notice to take part in counter-bombing attacks, or to carry up supplies of ammunition along trenches very accurately registered by the Boche. The behaviour of all ranks was splendid, though none of them had ever previously experienced such severe and constant shelling.

It was in this action that the Rev. W. C. Wilks endeared himself more than ever to the battalion. The stretcher-bearers were very seriously taxed and Wilks voluntarily assisted them throughout the operations. On the evening of the 26th, he went right forward in search of wounded, and brought several cases in. Early on the morning of the 27th, he found a man lying in a shell hole severely wounded. He was unable to move him, and made across the open country for assistance, but lost all sense of direction on account of the darkness, and could find no occupied trenches. After wandering about for some time in a shell-swept area, he stumbled on the man again, being directed to him by his delirious cries. He remained with the man throughout the night, giving him his own coat and sitting through the bleak night in his shirt sleeves. "I was horribly windy all the time, as the shelling was pretty bad," he said to me many months afterwards. To those of us who knew Wilks and his consummate coolness under fire, this was an excellent commentary on the intensity of the fire during the first night of action.

Thus in four short days, we had become veterans in war. We had endured grievous losses, but our hearts were proud and our spirits light. We knew that we were fit to face any call that the higher command considered fit to make on us.

Estimated loss was at least 200.

Reference, item and source

1.   Thomas Fairfield © Susan Crowther
2.   Front Page from the Staffordshire Roll of Honour at Lichfield Cathedral © Celia Houghton 2014
3.   The Church of St James the Great - Norton Canes © Bob Houghton
4.   Descendants of Thomas Fairfield Snr 1816 - 1853 © Bob Houghton
5.   The White Horse, Ogley Hay, Brownhills © website (
6.   1902 map of Ogley Hay © Walsall Local History Centre
7.   Descendants of George Fairfield 1854 - 1917 © Bob Houghton
8.   Watling Street School in 2014 © Bob Houghton
9.   School photo circa 1900 © Walsall Local History Centre with permission from Watling Street School
10.  Sarah Ann Witton with her grandson Terrence Morley in 1940 © Thomas Morley
11.  George Thomas Fairfield circa 1956 © Sally Mastronardi
12.  Lucy Ellen Fairfield with her son Terrence 1940 © Thomas Morley
13.  Lilian Fairfield 1935 © Ann Grinstead
14.  Thomas Fairfield’s Family © Bob Houghton
15.  Replica Training Camp Hut on Cannock Chase © Bob Houghton
16.  Inside the Training Hut © Bob Houghton
17A and 17B.  Thomas Fairfield's Will © Ann Grinstead
18A and 18B.  General Headquarters, Imbros 1915 © National Army Museum website (Accession Number: NAM1965-10-209-22, Image number: 1019797)
19.  Camp Sidi Bishr © The Great War and Dad website ( and reproduced with the permission of Tom Ashmore
20.  HMT Minnewaska © Australian War Memorial website (
21.  France - July & August 1916 (based on map ref M-002776) © and reproduced under licence from the Imperial War Museum
22.  Acheux September 1916 (based on map ref M-002776) © and reproduced under licence from the Imperial War Museum
23.  Ovillers September 1916 (based on map ref M-001895) © and reproduced under licence from the Imperial War Museum
24.  Thiepval - September 1916 (map ref M-027559) © and reproduced under licence from the Imperial War Museum
25.  France Oct - Nov 1916 (based on map ref MA-001720) © and reproduced under licence from the Imperial War Museum
26.  Beaucourt sur Ancre 1916 (based on map ref M-001879) © and reproduced under licence from the Imperial War Museum
27A and 27B.  Letter From King George © Peter Grinstead
27C.  King George V Memorial Scroll © The Home of the Royal Family website (
28A.  Thomas Fairfield's Memorial Plaque © Susan Crowther
28B.  Replica Memorial Plaque © Recognised Medals website (
29.  Chase Terrace War Memorial © Burntwood Family History Group (Alan Betts)
30.  St James Church, Brownhills © Burntwood Family History Group (Alan Betts)
31.  Brownhills Memorial Hall © Burntwood Family History Group (Alan Betts)
32.  Thiepval Memorial © Pixabay website (
33.  Staffordshire Roll of Honour at Lichfield Cathedral © Celia Houghton
34.  Fox Row (from the book Memories of Old Brownhills by Clarice Mayo & Geoff Harrington, published in 2001) © BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog (