Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War
On the centenary of their death, we remember
Percy William CROWHURST (Oare)
b. Q3 (Oct-Dec) 1895;
d. 20th July 1915. Aged 19
Home Counties Royal Garrison Artillery, Heavy Battery (1912)
Private S/675, "A" Company,
1st Battalion, Buffs (East Kent) Regiment - from 3rd Battalion (Special Reserves)
Remembered with Honour
La Brique Military Cemetery No.1, Ypres, Belgium
Grave Reference C.4.
also at St. Peter's Church, Oare
Killed in Action
Census Data: In 1911 census, Percy was one of eight children (all but his eldest sister, Gertrude, were born in Oare), four other siblings died in childhood (including his twin brother, Charles). His father, Charles Ebenezer Crowhurst (born Preston, Faversham, Kent), living most of his life in Brents, he was a bargeman (captain) working for the Oare Gun Cotton Manufacturers. In 1901, he describes his employer as "Nitric Acid Makers", which may indicate his main cargo!). When old enough, both Percy and his sister "Nellie" (baptised Ellen) joined their father's employer as "factory workers" in the Gun Cotton Manufacturers at Oare.
The parental home in 1901 was Russell Place, Oare, and ten years later the larger family moved into No.2, Amos Cottages (six rooms), Oare. The local Voluntary Corps of Heavy Artillery [(1st Kent Royal Garrison Artillery (Volunteers)] was also based near Oare, which may have influenced Percy's initial bids to sign up.
In contrast with so many of our local casualties, Percy's military records have survived and illustrate a chequered path into active service overseas. Starting in 1912, Percy enlisted with Home Counties Royal Garrison Artillery Heavy Battery (this was a Unit of the pre-WW1 Territorial Force). In 1914, Percy is recorded as enlisting in Newcastle (!) with the Royal Garrison Artillery where he was again assessed "unfit". Finally, in 1915, he joined the Buffs and was assigned to the Special Reserve. It was in this Kentish regiment that he lost his life at a time when the Buffs were facing grim fighting near Ypres when all available men were drafted into the regiment at the Front.
So, what can we learn about Percy William Crowhurst from his military records? Firstly, he was very keen to 'join up' well before war broke out. Secondly, on the face of it, Percy was only just about fit enough to serve his country.
At the age of 17 years and 3 months, living in the parental home in Church Road, Oare, Percy applied to the Home Counties Royal Garrison Artillery Heavy Battery with the Regimental No.456. He was only 5 feet, 5 inches tall (165cm), his chest measurement was 34½" with a 2" expansion. Small in today's world but not so in 1912. His vision is "good" and physical was apparently "good". Curiously his Statement of Services simply says he was "present" in 1913. From the paperwork, it looks as though Percy was one amongst many who were identified for reassignment from the "Special Reserve or Territorial Force". He was discharged from the Territorial Force at the Faversham Station on 24th February 1914 with 1 year and 83 days reckonable service and of "good" character.
Percy was attested into the R.H.R.F.A. at Chatham on this date but not finally approved until 2nd March 1914 when he was then sent to No.1 Depot R.F.A. Newcastle-on-Tyne. His records were then passed to the Royal Dockyard, Woolwich, for future custody. His "good" character was confirmed as were his other physical measurements. Eyes and hair were brown and his complexion described as "fresh".
The next document (Proceedings on Discharge), showing his Regimental Number as 76473 shows he was acting as a Driver. Now 18 years and 4 months old, 5 feet and 6¼ inches tall, a 35 inch chest measurement and 3 inches expansion. Weight 121 lbs. So, he responded well to the army life - the only distinguishing feature was the amputation of his 2nd finger on the left hand ("gun-shot wound left hand (before enlistment).") "Second finger deficient and a tender scar over 2nd metacarpal bone. Seen by M.I.R. on 31st March 1914. Recommended for discharge on A.F.B. 204." "Loss of middle finger (unable to hold reins)."
He continued to be assessed as of "good character" - "clean, punctual and steady." On 17th April 1914 (in Newcastle), he is discharged as "Not being likely to become an efficient Soldier" (Medically Unfit). Paragraph 392 (111)C, King's Regulations. Authority: Headquarters N. Command No. 35300/25/M. This decision was dated 6th April 1914. He was credited 52 days "Statement of Service".
Working again as a labourer in the Gun Cotton Factory, Percy abandons the RGA in favour of three years short service - as a private. He enlisted at Canterbury into the Depot with Initial Regimental number 705, crossed through with S. 675 added. Ten days later (13th October) he was posted to the 3rd Battalion (Special Reserve). On 6th March 1915, he was posted with the 1st Battalion in which he served until he was killed in action on 20th July 1915. His records show reckonable service of 291 days.
His Army Form 5080 (Statement of Names and Addresses of all relatives) was witnessed by A. Dyer, Clerk in Holy Orders, Oare, Faversham. Confirms his father as Charles E. Crowhurst (christened "Ebenezer Charles") and his mother as Annie. Brothers he names as Sydney (21) and Ernest (17). Sisters he lists as Florence (19), Emily (14), and Dorothy (12). All are listed with the same address. His personal property was recovered and returned to his father. The value of his effects (wages etc) is recorded as £1 19s. 9d on 13th January 1916. His father also received £3 from War Gratuity on 9th May 1919.
A cross was erected on his burial in "La Brique Military Cemetery No.1. (IN FIELD ON THE NORTH SIDE OF THE "IN de GROOTE BRIE" CABARET. ON THE EAST SIDE OF THE YPRES-LA BRIQUE ROAD)." (Map Ref. Sh.28.C.26.d.65.15.).
When Percy was posted from the 3rd (Special Reserve) to the 1st Battalion The Buffs, on 6th March, the Battalion at the Front had returned to trenches (Rue de Bois) where they were occupied with digging saps between lines of trenches. This was an essential feature in 'mature' trenches that allowed movement without breaking cover between lines of trenches.
When 1st Battalion, The Buffs, were away from the trenches, billeted at Armentières and then Vlamertinghe. Two drafts of new men were received into the Battalion on 10th and 16th March - Lieutenant E.H. Allen, 2nd Lieutenant E.H. Fletcher and 82 'other ranks'. Percy would have been in one of these two drafts. In what was a relatively short service overseas, Percy experienced all that the Germans used - from snipers, machine guns, heavy artillery to gas shells and pipes.
On 17th March, the Battalion were back at Armentières, readying themselves for inspection in the Grand Place by General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, commanding the 2nd Army. The inspection was followed by a note:
"The Army Commander Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien was greatly pleased with the appearance and turn out of the Battalion yesterday. The Corps Commander expressed to the Commanding Officer his satisfaction on the condition of the rifles and boots and stated that these were the best he had ever seen."
After a further 50 'other ranks' joining the battalion on 20th March the battalion returned to trenches - Rue de Bois. They soon found themselves under heavy shelling together with machine gun "duels." 2nd Lieutenant Nesbit was killed, Lieutenant Terry and 8 other ranks injured. Exchanges of fire and shelling continued until the Regiment returned to billets in Armentières on 27th March.
Following the latest pattern of action in the trenches and relief behind the lines, The Buffs returned to Rue de Bois (trenches) on 6th April to relieve the Cameronians. Other than a bit of enfilade and sniping this was a period of relative calm during which 1st Battalion received 2 platoons of 4th Battalion, Gloucester Regiment Territorial Force for 48 hours of giving instruction. The Buffs were relieved in turn by the Leicesters. Throughout this period, new drafts were added to strengthen the battalion. There were no losses experienced during the month.
The month of May was more menacing. Two soldiers were killed by snipers on 1st May. On 3rd May, the Battalion Diary reports: "Owing to the Germans using Asphyxiating Gasses, all men were issued with flannel respirators and goggles, soaked in a solution of bicarbonate of soda, to withstand the fumes. No attempt was made on our portion of the line, but great losses were experienced N.E. of YPRES.
While significant attacks (1,500 shells) occurred elsewhere in the line, 1st Battalion, The Buffs, were spared. The Leicesters were rotated with the Buffs in the trenches during the month with some small numbers of wounded and killed.
Between 31st May and 1st June, the Battalion was billeted in BAILLEUL during which time Prime Minister Herbert Asquith inspected the 16th Infantry Brigade and Brigadier-General Lynden Bell paid the Battalion a visit. The Battalion marched to billets in some huts N.E. of Flameranghe (Vlamertinghe?) where it was held in reserve under command of Major E.H. Finch-Hatton. Again, over this period, there was a flow of drafts from the Reserve at Home. The hospitalisation of some men, without injuries being report, suggests that disease was still taking its toll in the trenches.
Other injuries did occur when in Reserve, included Lieutenant Morley whose hand was damaged by the explosion of a detonator (4th May). Fragmenting shells were targeted on the huts in the reserve (6th May) without casualties, but reinforcing the point that the "reserve" was very much still within firing range. On 7th June, this shelling was intensified for three hours continuously with the loss of Lieutenant Taylor and ten men with a further three injured. Consequently, on 8th June, the Battalion marched four miles further back and bivouacked in a wood.
Ten days later (18th June), the battalion took over the trenches from 1st West York Regiment in the Ypres salient. During that day, one man was lost and 2 wounded.
19th June: "Enemy bombarded us during the night with gas shells and also pumped gas over from their lines - our men put on their smoke helmets, which were kept on for 4 hours. 5 killed and 19 wounded."
20th June: "Continuous shelling - principally from a heavy gun on the right flank, which is known as 'LIZZIE'. 2 killed, 4 wounded - 5 suffering from gas effects."
21st June: "2 killed, 2 wounded, 9 suffering effects of gas."
The attrition of soldiers (casualties and wounded) through shelling and mortaring continued. This period is noted for the absence of rifle fire - the damage was done entirely by shelling that killed through a mixture of direct explosion, shrapnel, collapsing trenches, and collapsing dugouts.
22nd June: "4 killed, 8 wounded - troops on our right made an attack on the enemy, meeting heavy shelling in return.
23rd June: "2 killed, 4 wounded.
24th June: "1 killed, 9 wounded.
25th June: "2nd Lieuts Radford (Oxford & Bucks), J. PRESNAIL (R.W.Kent), A.G. Brook joined and 70 other ranks.
26th June: "14 wounded"
27th June: "1 killed"
29th June: "2 wounded"
1st July: "1 Sergeant wounded"
3rd July: "1 killed. (this was Corporal Dormer of 'A' Company, well known as a scout). Relieved by North Staffords and returned to bivouac (huts) in wood near POPPERINGHE" - where they remained until 10th July.
After a week bivouacked in the woods, 1st Battalion, The Buffs, relieved 1st East Yorks in trenches near LA BRIQUE, where the troops experienced the full mix of shelling, machine-gun fire, and rifle grenades.
11th July: "Trenches in several successive lines occupied as follows. 'B' Company in forward trench - 'C' Company in second trench and 'D' Company extending 'C' Company's line to the right. 'A' Company in reserve at La Brique."
12th July: "In trenches. Lieutenant Davis admitted to hospital. 1 killed, 2 wounded. The first line trench was little more than waist high & sandbags few. 'B' Company set to work to consolidate the position.
13th July: "In trenches. 'B' Company suffered chiefly from rifle grenades fired from the front and left flank & 'D' Company from long-range machine-gun bullets fired from the left rear of the whole position. There was also intermittent shelling and the whole position with high explosives especially at Cross Roads Farm and on the road up from La Brique."
14th July: In trenches. 2 wounded. The first line trench being in the air both left and right it was decided to extend it in both directions with a rear curve so as to meet adjoining trenches, Captain Potter & 2nd Lieutenant Presnail reconnoitred the ground for forward trenches. The right was not so exposed, but the left forward trench to lead from the box trench to the lines of the Shropshires was close to the German saphead invisible owning to a fold in the ground. From this saphead the enemy came out and annoy the first line by day with rifle grenades and the digging parties in the new forward trench by night by hand bombs.
16th July: In trenches. 1 wounded.
17th July: Working party of Leicester Regiment came up to dig left and right new trenches. On left harassed by enemy patrols and little work done.
18th July: In trenches. 3.30a.m. 'A' Company relieved 'B' Company in forward trenches 'B' went in reserve. Lieutenant Davis discharged hospital and gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant in The Buffs. Leicesters digging party again attacked with bombs and grenades at night and work retarded.
19th July: In trenches. 2 wounded, 1 killed. No2 Platoon occupy box trench permanents (sic).
20th July: In trenches. 2nd Lieutenant H.O. Radford and 9 other ranks wounded. 3 other ranks killed. Corporal Beak died of wounds. Principal casualties were due to a rifle grenade exploding in a group centred round a trench mortar which was about to fire. The Battalion took over digging of forward trench on left and made it tenable during the night. It was occupied at dawn by No1 Platoon, Lieutenant Woods.
21st July: In trenches 2nd Lieutenant Beale and 20 O.R.s join as reinforcements. No.4 Platoon Lieutenant Brock relieves No1 Platoon in forward trench, which is linked up with new Shropshire trenches thus completing the new lines on the left. The digging parties improving the position were heavily bombarded with rifle-grenades and Lieutenant Morley, 2nd Lieutenant Allen and 2 Other Ranks wounded and 1 man killed.
This pattern of improving the forward trench and suffering losses and injury continued until The Buffs were relieved on 27th July.
In conclusion, the Regimental Diary paints a tortured picture of soldiers trying to protect themselves by deepening and elaborating trenches. All the time taking losses.
Percy William Crowhurst was probably one of the three men killed by a rifle grenade landing amongst their live trench mortar group. Percy's prior experience with gun batteries reinforces the idea that he was part of this trench mortar party.
[added 26th July 2017]
ANOTHER OARE NAME ON THE ROLL OF HONOUR. We have this week to record the death at the front of another young fellow from Oare, vis., Private Percy Crowhurst, son of Mr and Mrs. Charles Crowhurst, who have resided in the village for a number of years.
Private Crowhurst evidently had a determination to enter a branch of His Majesty's forces and his endeavours to join up justified his reference in a letter to the old adage "If at first you don't succeed," etc.
Some time back he joined the R.F.A. at Newcastle, but unfortunately whilst in the gymnasium he had the misfortune to injure a hand upon which as a lad he had accidentally lost a finger. Being considered unfit for his duties as a driver, he was, to his keen regret, discharged. After a short spell he endeavoured to enter the Navy, but again his misfortune caused his rejection.
At the outbreak of war he was in the employment of the Cotton Powder Company, and had also served in the local Territorials. Dissatisfied and feeling he was not doing what he might, yet disheartened by previous experiences, he wrote to the War office and stated his case, asking at the same time for advice. His letter was answered and he was advised to apply to the nearest Infantry depot. This he did, was accepted, and it was at this time that he wrote the letter in which he quoted the saw "If at first you don't succeeded." This was in November last and in February he was pleased to find himself drafted to France with the 1st Battalion, The Buffs.
From that time until his death he had been continuously fighting, at Ypres, Armentières and other places "Somewhere in France." Official news of his death was communicated to his parents late in last week but his death actually occurred in July 20th, where, his parents do not know. He was only 19 years of age and whilst his parents and other relatives are naturally very much upset they have the consolation of knowing he died fighting in a good cause.
That consolation is added to by a letter dated August 5th, received from his platoon sergeant, Sergt J. McNair, “A” Company, 1st Battalion, The Buffs, from which the following is extracted:- “I took over a parcel of foodstuffs sent to your late son, whom I had in my platoon. May I say, both for myself and his comrades, that his death, which was instantaneous, was felt by all, and I can assure you he did his bit, as we term things here now, as a soldier and a man. I must say I was instructed to share the contents of his parcel among hiss section comrades and I hope that will meet with your approval. I enclose a photo and all correspondence I could find. Please accept our sympathy in your loss for yourself, wife and family.”
Needless to say his father wrote, warmly thanking the Sergeant for his thoughtful letter and expressing approval of his action with respect to the parcel. Mr. Crowhurst is himself, one might say, on active service, filling the somewhat dangerous and responsible position of captain of one of the Cotton Powder Co’s powder barges. Our sympathy is extended to him and his family.”
Click on image for enlargement
When building the draft family tree (above) the name of Alfred William Crowhurst (b.1877) [Percy's Uncle) appeared as an inmate in Maidstone Goal (Jail). We were able to identify why he and his wife (Jane Lydia) were first committed to three months hard labour in March 1909. We do not know why both Alfred and Jane were still incarcerated in 1911. Here, at least, is the first part of this tragic tale of poverty and neglect as reported in local newspapers.
Reported by the South Eastern Gazette on 1st December 1908
"A CHILD'S DEATH.- At the resumed inquest on Tuesday, touching the death of a child named Florence May Crowhurst, aged four years and eight months, belonging to poor people living at Sittingbourne, a verdict to the effect to the effect that the child died from anaemia, which was accelerated by neglect, and that for that neglect both parents were responsible, was returned. The Coroner (Mr. C.B. Harris) thereupon committed both parents for trial on a charge of manslaughter. The inquiry was held at Milton Town Hall, and lasted for three hours. The witnesses alleged that the deceased and the other four children of the family had been shockingly neglected. The parents, Alfred William Crowhurst, aged 31, a barge mate, and Jane Lydia Crowhurst, aged 30, were charged with manslaughter at the Police Court on Wednesday, and were remanded."
Reported by the Dover Express on 4th December 1908
"SITTINGBOURNE - PARENTS CHARGED WITH MANSLAUGHTER.- At the resumed inquest on the four-years-old child of poor people living at Sittingbourne, the jury found that the deceased died from anaemia, which was accelerated by neglect, and that for that neglect the parents were responsible. The Coroner committed the couple - Alfred William Crowhurst (31), barge mate, and Jane Lydia Crowhurst (30) - for trial on a charge of manslaughter.
Reported by the South Eastern Gazette on 2nd March 1909
Wednesday hearing of the Kent Winter Assizes. PARENTS SENTENCED.- Alfred William Crowhurst, 31, bargeman, and his wife, Jane Lydia Crowhurst, 30, were indicted for the manslaughter of their daughter, Florence May Crowhurst, at Milton Regis, on November 17th, and, further, with neglecting their children, Ellen Jane, Alfred William, Florence May, Charles Edward, and Ernest James, in such a manner as to cause injury to their health. Mr. Campbell prosecuted.
Inspector Connor, of the N.S.P.C.C., explained that the prisoners lived at 79 Shortlands-road, Milton Regis, where the children were found in a shocking condition. The witness told the usual story of the filthy and dirty condition of the household, and of the neglected and wretched state of the children. The bedding was unclean, and devoid of bedclothes, and the dead child was in a very hopeless state.
Mrs. Winch, who formerly lived at 77, Shortlands-road, next door to the prisoners, said she had never seen the children in anything approaching a clean condition. The dead child, Florence May, was very much deformed, and could neither walk nor stand. In November last witness asked the mother what was the matter with the child, and she replied that she was a cripple, and witness then suggested that she should take the child to the hospital, but the mother always made the excuse that she had no clothes, or money with which to purchase them. The other children, too, were in a dirty and verminous condition, and on the last day witness was living at Milton Regis, her own children were playing with the Crowhurst's. One of them afterwards came home smothered with vermin, and witness had considerable difficulty in getting him clean. On November 15th witness again saw the child Florence May, and told the mother that she was dying, and told her that if it did die without medical attention she would get into trouble. Mrs Crowhurst cried, and again said she could not get a doctor, because she had no money, but ultimately witness fetched Dr. Boodle.
Other evidence of a similar character having been given, Dr. Boodle, who visited the house, said the whole place was "rotten and filthy." The hair of the children was clogged into a dirty mas, and had to be cut off. The dead child was stretched across two chairs before the fire. In his opinion it was impossible to clean the hair with soap and water. It was not medicine the children required, but nourishment, and he ordered their removal to the Workhouse.
Miss Venus Harnden and Miss Florence Airy, matron and nurse respectively at Milton Regis Workhouse, deposed to the condition of the children when they were admitted. Two of them were so ill and badly nourished that they were admitted to the infirmary, where Florence May died on November 17th from a clot of blood on the brain and anaemia, which was probably due to insufficient nourishment, while the impure blood was cased by the absorption of poisonous substance from the surface of the body.
Prisoners were found guilty of neglect, and sentenced to three months' hard labour each."
[Society Note: From what records we could find, it does appear the four children who were put into Milton Regis Workhouse went on into adulthood. See draft family tree for Percy Crowhurst (above). What is less clear is why they are both still in prison in 1911, unless the newspaper should have said "three years" rather than "three months" hard labour?]