August 4th 2014 marks the centenary of the outbreak of World War I. Hardly any British family can have escaped some involvement in that trauma and ours is no exception. Seven men and two women from the various branches of the family saw action of different kinds in that war. But their story is scattered about in the family history. I thought it of interest to bring them all together as an example of the contribution made by one family. There were of course many that were more distinguished, won more medals or lost more members. But our story is I guess fairly typical and as such is worth telling.
World War I is rich in memoirs, histories, letters, and diaries. But sadly although between them they must have sent hundreds of letters home nothing has survived. Like all their contemporaries none of them ever wanted to talk of their wartime experiences. All that survives are the bare facts, reminiscences of a few amusing moments, and a family memory or two.
Ronald Sawtell 1897-1963
Born in 1897 Ronald belonged to the generation that was to bear the brunt of World War I and in 1915 aged 18 left Bedford School to join the Merchant Fleet Auxiliary serving as a Junior Engineer Officer in armed merchant cruisers dodging the U-boats on the North Atlantic run and from 1917 escorting the convoys in that desperate bid to bring in supplies. His ship was the HMS Arlanza, a merchant ship belonging to the Royal Mail Line, and commandeered to be used as an armed merchant cruiser patrolling the North Atlantic and in particular escorting the convoys of vital supplies from North America needed to sustain Britain’s war effort.
By 1917 the German submarines, known as U boats, sank so many of our merchant vessels that we were in danger of having to sue for peace. However the Admiralty was at last persuaded to adopt the convoy system which successfully protected sufficient of our ships to get through. Through all those years 1915- 1918 Ronald was stationed down in the depths of the engine room, the first place for a torpedo to strike. They must have lived in a continuous state of apprehension. But he never spoke of that.
The only wartime reminiscence of his that survives is of the Ship’s Concert put on in harbour at short notice with the Master at Arms as Master of Ceremonies, without previous notice to the performers or chance for rehearsal, announcing the programme to the audience assembled in one of the holds.
“The next item on the programme will be Stoker Jones who will sing “Hands across the Sea”. Stoker Jones, a small cockney, rose to his feet “ ‘ands acrorss the sea?’ ands acrorss me bleeding arse you knows I can’t sing”.
Christopher Yates Naylor 1896-1956
Joseph and Lois Naylor’s eldest child Christopher Yates was born in 1896 into that fated World War I generation. He was a talented boy, a games player, and had a singing voice which some thought should have been professionally trained. Joseph, having had precious little schooling himself like many another prosperous Northern industrialist, was determined that his children would do better and sent them all away to board. The boys went to Silcoates in Yorkshire but by the time Chris, as he was known, was 18 the Kaiser’s war had started and he went straight from school into a commission in the Royal Engineers and out to the trenches in France and Belgium.
Anyone who wishes to know what Sappers did in that war has only to read Sebastian Faulks’ Birdsong – digging tunnels under the German lines with the ever present threat of discovery or collapse, and exploding huge mines. The expectation of life for young front line officers was two or three weeks and all the time they had to watch their friends and colleagues being dreadfully slaughtered and mutilated in the mud around them – and it went on and on for four years. Small wonder that many took refuge in the whisky bottle, Chris amongst them.
My mother remembered him home on leave waking the house with his shouts as in his sleep he re-enacted the scene, setting bombs beneath the bath, and ordering everyone to stand back while he fired the charges. He was not at all pleased when his sisters searched out his whiskey supplies and emptied them down the lavatory!
Frank Naylor 1898-1918
Frank Naylor (son of Charles Naylor) was my Mother’s first cousin and they lived next door to each other in Golborne. He was five years older and when he went off to the war in 1916 must have been something of a hero to Lottie and her sisters. Even more so when he donned the Royal Flying Corps uniform and became a pilot.
I came across him in a roll of honour on a Golborne web site and dimly remember a large photograph of a good looking young man in distinctive uniform which was stored in my grandfather’s box room in Birkdale. He went to France as a 2nd Lieutenant in 1917 to join the 59th Squadron flying RE 8s, which were used for reconnaissance and artillery spotting on the Western Front.
He was killed on March 23rd 1918, shot down, probably by anti-aircraft fire, on an early morning photographic flight over the front line. There is no known grave but his name appears on the Flying Services Memorial in Arras. He was 20 years old.
Robert Shipman 1873-1958
Robert, Haileybury and Trinity College Oxford, was an Anglican priest trained at Wells and at the outbreak of war Rector of Long Preston where he had been since 1911 with his wife Jessie and their three children.
In 1915, although far beyond the normal age for enlistment, he volunteered as an Army Chaplain and served with the local battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment in France for three years, like many others being affected in one lung by poison gas. For his services he was made an Honorary Chaplain to the Forces in 1919. He stood 6 feet 3 inches tall and was generally powerfully built. The interviewing officer in 1915 described him as “a big manly fellow”. A small girl in a Yorkshire Sunday school is said to have burst into tears on seeing him – ” Please Miss he’s so big “.
Two memories- Robert was taking a service in a barn behind the lines with sacking providing the reredos for his mobile altar. A burst of laughter greeted the start of his sermon and when he turned round he saw that a large goat had pushed its head through the sacking and was listening attentively.
In 1957 I took him up to Long Preston where he was the Rector from 1911 to 1925. He went to call on Arthur Troup his batman in France now the village carpenter and undertaker. He threw open the door to the shop and shouted “Arthur”. A tiny little man appeared and they hurled themselves into each other’s arms. I don’t think they’d met up for more than 30 years.
George Alfred Cargill (Peter) Shipman 1876-1964
George Alfred Cargill (1876-1964) was the second son of George William and Emily and Robert’s younger brother. His Father registered his birth but Emily insisted on Peter and Peter he always was! Educated at Haileybury and Trinity College Cambridge he trained at St Thomas’ Hospital and qualified BA,MB,BChur, MA and LRCP. He joined the family general practice but seems to have concentrated on the surgery side. He was a surgeon at Grantham Hospital and at Stamford Infirmary. He served throughout the 1914-19 War as a Major in the RAMC and was officially mentioned for “valuable services”. Those services were caring for the severely wounded brought back to “Blighty” from the Western Front and must have involved a great deal of amputation and serious surgery.
Dr Francis Carr (Frank) Bottomley OBE 1969-1954
Brother of Jessie Shipman, Giggleswick and Caius College Cambridge. Friend of Edward Wilson of Antarctic fame. Qualified MRCS and LRCP at St George’s Hospital London and in 1914 was practising at Boscombe Bournemouth where he became a Knight of St John and was made OBE for distinguished services treating severely wounded soldiers brought back on hospital trains from the field hospitals behind the lines.
Sister Maud Bottomley RRC 1874-1947
Maud, one of Jessie Shipman’s older sisters, served as a nursing Sister in Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps in the Mesopotamian campaign against the Turks, and was awarded the Royal Red Cross medal. After the War she was a Sister at the Royal Free Hospital in London.
While trying to cross a busy London street near the hospital many years after the war an unknown policeman held up the traffic for her. As she passed him she said
“Thank you officer. I don’t think I know you”. “But I know you “ said the officer “I’d do anything for you Sister Bottomley. You saved my life in Mesopotamia” – and she probably did.
Nurse Mary Wilson 1879 -1959
Mary Wilson was the daughter of Dr. Richard Wilson, George William Shipman’s’s partner in Grantham, and lived on the opposite side of Watergate to the Shipmans. She was a first cousin of Robert’s on the Shipman side. She was always known as Cousin Zulu because she was born during the Zulu War of 1879 – “Poor dear it dates her so” they used to say.
Zulu nursed in Ceylon during the 1914-18 War and was a great sportswoman, playing golf in particular, but taking a close interest in all sport and having two seats to watch Grantham Town Football Club, one for herself and one for the dogs!
Richard Whincup MC 1874 -1944
St Peters York and Queens College Oxford. Son of the gypsy, and Elizabeth’s maternal grandfather. An Anglican priest, and in 1914 Vicar of Windhill, Shipley in the West Riding of Yorkshire.
He was padre of the 1/6th battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment (known as the Bradford Pals) having joined it in 1913. He was with them in France from 1915 to 1918, through the whole of the dreadful Battle of the Somme. In 1917 he was awarded the Military Cross for his work in the trenches. Newspaper cuttings describe him standing by a grave in the front line reading the burial service with his tin hat blowing up and down from shell blasts and the burial party taking cover in the grave!
Between the wars he remained a champion of ex-servicemen and was always ready to help anyone who was in difficulty, being more or less a one man welfare service at the vicarage in those days before an all embracing welfare state. He was also a champion of youth and much interested in education. Again and again the tributes to him emphasise how much he was loved by his people.