7 December 2014

Sgt 18449 Laurie Legg, MM

Laurie Legg was an Original volunteer to the West Ham Battalion. Born in Leytonstone and growing up in Wathamstow, he lived at home with four sisters in Forest Road just before the Great War. His dad had been a piano tuner, but Laurie worked as a shipping clerk. The house and many others around it were hit by a V1 in 1944, but you can see how it looked judging by the houses which are still remaining.

Laurie enlisted early on and served in the Hammers all through the battles of the Somme and Ancre in 1916, and made it to the rank of Sergeant along the way, but it was at the Battle of Cambrai in 1917 that he really made his mark. He was a member of D Coy and was one of those facing the Germans on November 30th beside the Canal du Nord.

D Company made a magnificent Last Stand at their Lock 5 position and even managed to capture more than a dozen Germans and took them prisoner. These men were placed in the care of the reserve platoon which was under the command of Laurie, however the rifle ammunition and grenades in D Coy’s possession were starting to run worryingly low. Many men of D Coy were killed and the survivors quickly became aware that they were virtually surrounded. Captain Robinson, another Original from West Ham, duly shortened the Line and began a 'harassing action' with sniping to conserve ammunition. 

Captain Robinson then held a meeting with the other surviving Officer, Lt Corps, before informing Company Sergeant Major Edwards and Platoon Sergeant’s Phillips, Fairbrass, Parsons, Lodge and Laurie Legg that he had decided to continue resistance for as long as possible and hold their ground at all costs until relieved, as per the original orders. Regardless of it being hopeless, the men of D Company, on being given this news by their sergeants, were in excellent spirits and in absolutely no mood to give up an inch of ground. They repaired the fire steps and reorganised themselves for all round defence. Some were using the bodies of dead Germans as extra cover. The resultant redoubt was immensely strong and easily defended. 

Yet the German hold on both sides of the canal was rapidly strengthening all around them. A call for two volunteers to attempt to get a message back to HQ was answered by Laurie and one other man. As they set off into the maelstrom of grenades, pistol and rifle fire, snipers, sweeping Maxim machine guns, trench mortars and heavy artillery shells,  I don't think many inD Coy thought much for their chances to pick a way through the Germans who were by now attacking C Coy with a fury...  

The German attacks finally tailed off as night arrived. Both sides were completely exhausted but there was to be no 'stand down'. As darkness fell, Lt  Col Walsh in the Hammers HQ was feverishly trying to create a semblance of order out of the chaos. 6th Brigade HQ was also desperately trying to make contact with forces west of the canal and they were both asking the same question: where was D Company? Nothing had been heard of them since 10.20am that morning.  

At 8pm, they got their answer. From in front of the West Ham lines crawled a mud drenched and weary Sgt Laurie Legg accompanied by another soldier, his identity now lost.

Legg immediately headed to Walsh at HQ. In the smoky and flickering light of the cramped damp dugout his report was heard in a wide eyed hush. He described the ‘Council of War’, held four hours earlier by the remaining Officers and NCO’s who were determined to fight to the last but were now surrounded and extremely low on ammunition. 

Laurie had volunteered to attempt to get through the German line and bring desperately needed reinforcements. The attempt had been regarded as a ‘forlorn hope’ but, as military history has often witnessed, it succeeded. The news spread like an inspirational wildfire throughout the Hammers and to the whole Brigade. Numerous signal flares were sent up to indicate to the survivors of D Company that Legg and his companion had made it through. They were heard giving a hearty cheer. All through the night, “violent attacks” were made to reach the beleaguered Company. Sadly, none of them were successful.

Laurie was awarded the Military Medal for his incredible actions getting the message through and he received his ribbon and handshake on Christmas Day, 1917. By February 1918 the West Ham Battalion was disbanded and Laurie was posted to the 10th Essex. 

This brave young man was killed on 12th April, 1918. He was just 24 years old and unmarried.

Sadly, he has No Known Grave but today his name is remembered on the Memorial at Pozieres. 

images courtesy of Richard Parker, Gt-Nephew of Laurie

9 September 2014

Captain Edwin Milward Charrington

Edwin Milward Charrington, was born in London in 1891 and lived with his parents and sister at Eton Terrace, a few doors down from Lt Col Papillon's London flat.

Charrington had been about to move to China when war broke out but immediately put his job with the Union Insurance Company of Canton on hold and promptly enlisted in the Essex Regiment - most likely because his father Harry had been born in Chigwell and had also served during the Boer War.

Edwin joined 3rd Battalion but was immediately attached to 1st Battalion of the Sussex Regiment and sent to France to fight with them in February 1915, around the time the West Ham Battalion were still recruiting.

On the 5th of May, 1915 he was severely wounded during fighting at Fortun. His left arm was thoroughly shattered by shrapnel in an explosion which also tore off his nose completely and inflicted severe damage to the rest of his head. 

Incredibly, due to the skill of surgeons, he recovered his health and confidence and by November 1915, while the Hammers were on the troopship Princess Victoria sailing to France, he was working with the Army Signal Service in Bletchley Park, intercepting German communications traffic. Yet, he made continual requests to return to a combat role - despite having to wear an aluminium prosthetic ‘tin’ nose and other shocking disfigurements, including a "red, permanent deformity of the face".

Arriving at the West Ham Battalion on the 2nd of June, 1916, he was quickly appointed as  A Company's Commander and was a very popular Officer, no doubt due to his supreme confidence and "Carry On" attitude, despite being exempt from route marching due to obviously difficult respiration and severe discomfort in both wet and dry conditions.

He served during the Somme fighting with the Hammers, up until their action in November 1916 on the formidable Quadrilateral/Heidenkopf positions outside of Serre where he was seen to be killed while leading A Company in the first attacking wave. Sadly, his body was never found and he still lies somewhere in that mud and clay today. Only his name remains on the memorial at Thiepval. In his condolence letter to the family, Colonel Carter stressed that he had "the greatest regard for him and a high opinion of his capabilities as an Officer". 

Edwin Charrington was a very brave young man, a real character, "beloved by all who knew him". He was only 25 years old when he was killed in action, fighting for his country and the West Ham Pals.

In 2014, a musical play was performed by the Claygate Dramatic Society, directed by Belita Charrington, the wife of his direct descendant, Simon Charrington. They dramatised Edwin's last moments of life on 13th November 1916 and, somewhat touchingly, the audience were invited to join in with a hearty rendition of "I'm Forever Blowing Bubbles".

photos courtesy of the Charrington family

15 March 2014

Cigars, Pipes and Songs

For those of you that have read the book: The Hammers Battalion tailor, Ernie Kurtz, gave a poetic recital during a 'smoking concert' held by C Coy in February 1915 at the Brickfields Church in Stratford, the oldest 'free church' in the Borough (opened in 1662)...


As for the others who sang that night: Bill Marsh (#2) was killed during the August 1916 attack on Guillemont, his body never found. Cpl Charlie Dean (#6) was killed the same day and now lies buried in Delville Wood cemetery. Pte Turner (#8) could be either Bill or Eddie, two brothers who volunteered side by side with consecutive Service Numbers. If it was Eddie who sang, he was killed on the first trench raid by the West Ham Battalion on July 1st 1916. George Cowley (#9) sang "Sons of England". He survived, as did L/Cpl Kite who sang "England's Honour". Henry Dipple (#12) was killed during the attack on the Quadrilateral in November 1916 - his body was never found. Pte Leonard and Hawker (#14 & #15) both survived the War......

13 March 2014

An Early Recruiting Poster

This poster was issued to help recruit for the Reserve Company of the West Ham Battalion. Formed at Brentwood in September 1915 they undertook their training in Cambridge and after a few men were initially sent as replacements to those men who had been killed in December 1915, the unit became the 14th (Reserve) Battalion of the Essex Regiment under the command of the Mayor's son, Captain Leo Dyer.

They also played football at the Boleyn Ground against shopkeepers from Upton Park.

 On the 1st September 1916 they were converted into 98th Training Reserve Battalion of 23rd Reserve Brigade at Aldershot, which eventually ended up being commanded by Robert Swan who was an Original volunteer to the West Ham Battalion.

Captain SG Mullock

When there were more than five-hundred recruits to the West Ham Battalion they were appointed an Adjutant, Captain Sidney Goss Mullock, a Special Reserve officer who had seen service in the South African War. He lived in Kelveden Hatch, Brentwood and was married in 1910.

He had first entered France in 1914 before being badly wounded at the Battle of the Aisne and invalided home. On his recovery, Sidney immediately received an appointment to the West Ham Battalion for this formation period, to organise the growing mountain of official paperwork and military administration that was being generated.

He was Mentioned In Dispatches, promoted Major and eventually became Lt-Col to the 1st Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment. He was killed in action on the 4th April 1917 and today lies buried in Hervin Farm British Cemetery in St.Laurent-Blangy (about 3 kilometres north-east of Arras).