11 November 2015

Welcome to the West Ham Battalion Website

PAPERBACK now available

in 3rd Edition!

November 2015

Available in the UK from Amazon.co.uk 
and internationally from all Amazon online websites. 
Oz & Nz customers should order via amazon.com

Read the true story of the West Ham Battalion volunteers in the Great War!

A century ago some of them were employed at the Thames Ironworks while many of them supported their local team with a flat cap passion. All the men came from within West Ham Utd’s traditional areas of support, from Stepney to Silvertown, Leyton to Limehouse, Barking to Bow and everywhere in between. A few of them were underage (while many were actually overage!) but they all stood up in January 1915 and volunteered in the Hammers to defend the things they held dear. Not many of them came home.

Read this exciting untold story and share in their pride and sadness, the good times and bad – from basic training on Wanstead Flats and route marching along Green Street in 1915 as riots erupted around them, through to the deadly meat-grinder of the Somme in 1916 and finally their epic last stand at Cambrai in 1917 – the same year West Ham Utd had won the Southern Combination League on April 28th.

On this same day, the West Ham Battalion attacked alongside their regular partners on the battlefield, the Footballers.  They were also volunteers, from the world of professional football and had stood beside the Hammers since training. Among their ranks was Bob ‘Pom-Pom’ Whiting, born and raised in Canning Town and formerly the Thames Ironworks goalkeeper. He was playing for Brighton when he enlisted and was legendary for his long kicks (a pom-pom was an anti-aircraft gun!)

At around 5am on the 28th April 1917, the Hammers and the Footballers attacked the village of Oppy and were decimated by well prepared Germans. Bob Whiting was dead, as were nearly a quarter of the West Ham Battalion and the Footballers. That afternoon, West Ham Utd beat Portsmouth 5-2 at the Boleyn and were crowned Champions, ahead of Millwall, Chelsea, Tottenham and Arsenal.

It’s a story every West Ham supporter should know and goes a long way to explain the reasons behind the memorial plaque to the Hammers beside the club shop entrance. Over a decade of research has revealed long forgotten people and memories. For example, an official request was made in early 1915 to the War Office for the cap-badge of the battalion to be two crossed hammers!

It’s a story of local pride, the like of which will never come again. Through official documents, eye-witness accounts, diaries,  newspaper reports and over 60 never before published photographs of the West Ham Battalion you will discover the men, their private and collective battles and their ultimate fate.

Available now!

For those of you new to the blog, use the 'older posts' menu on the right of the page to see all the previous posts. Please feel free to leave comments to any posts - the only problem is I cant quite work out how to reply! I am contactable directly on the email address in the 'about me' section. If your relative served in the Hammers Battalion, I'd really love to hear from you!

Please ask permission before using ANY images seen here!

Remembering Lance Corporal Adam Paul Drane, Section Second-in-Command within C (Essex) Company, 1st Battalion, The Royal Anglian Regiment, killed in Afghanistan on Monday 7 December 2009.
Private Robert Hayes of
6 Platoon, C (Essex) Company, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment who was killed in Afghanistan on Sunday 3 January 2010.

10 November 2015

Frank Jenns & William Gilbert

One of the earliest things to intrigue me when I began this journey of research was who the handwriting in the War Diary belonged to. It took me quite a while to work out and was only resolved when I found the file of a young Officer and suddenly noticed the similarity between his handwriting 'letter J' and the same letter in the War Diary. Further investigation quickly unfolded another fascinating story

Frank Jenns, from Manor Park, was responsible for writing up the West Ham Battalion's 'Daily Intelligence Summary'. He was the assistant Adjutant for The Hammers but this in itself is highly unusual as he was only a Corporal. The role of assistant Adjutant was always to be carried out by an Officer, at least a 2/Lt minimum.

Frank was somehow appointed to this position from the very beginning of the Battalion's life. Perhaps it was on the instruction of Lt-Col Papillon, it must have been down to what job he did before enlisting. I still haven't discovered this yet but hope one day to find the answer. Whatever he did it required good, and I mean VERY good, typing and fast note taking and limitless organisation. This is all borne out by the lengthy after-action reports he typed up without a mistake (in the days before typex!)

Over the course of the Great War Frank progressed from Private all the way through to Commission and Officer training. He's the only one who did that. Many 'Other Rank' Hammers became Officers, but were always posted to other Regiments, as is the British Army convention.

Frank did it all in the West Ham Battalion.

His handwriting is on the very first page of the War Diary and on the very last.

This is Sgt William Gilbert from Walthamstow, another voice in "Up the Hammers!".

Recognised by his grandson Richard (in the same photo as the 'possible' Frank Jenns), I was fortunate to be given a transcript of a voice recording made some years earlier in which he describes his experiences during the early days with the West Ham Battalion on the Western Front.

22 January 2015

17165 CSM George Barlex

George Barlex was born in 1885 and grew up as one of eight children in Coverdale Road in Barking. When war broke out, George was working as a 'fire hose maker' and lived with his wife Ann at 58 Oban Road in Barking.

He enlisted early in the West Ham Battalion and was quickly appointed Sergeant, eventually becoming Company Sergeant Major for A Coy. 

George's younger brother Rupert also enlisted in the Hammers and, side by side on-board the Princess Victoria, they entered the combat area in France in November 1915. Their cousin James Barlex had also volunteered to the West Ham Battalion. All three lads were from Barking and their fathers had worked their whole lives side by side in a local rubber factory. James hadn’t gone to France, despite enlisting early in the Hammers and beginning the initial training in and around the Borough. For some reason, as a rough handed rubber worker himself, military wisdom had instead made him an instructor at the Army School of Cookery!

George and Rupert served the war alongside each other up until the November attack on the 'Quadrilateral' during the Battle of the Ancre - a thicket of barbed wire well defended by vicious machine guns. This was the Hammers last action on the 1916 Somme battlefield where sadly George was killed and Rupert was captured on that foggy morning. 

Rupert remembered how  "after a time, we were moved into one big camp. This was a huge corrugated iron shed. The Shed was not well roofed and large icicles, quite six foot long, were hanging from the roof. When we awoke in the morning, we found the one blanket supplied to us frozen hard... Through the terrible treatment which we received the strength of the camp was reduced by quite sixty per cent within a few weeks through deaths and illness...."

He goes on to describe witnessing French civilians shot at the roadside by the Germans for leaving crusts of bread for the starving POW's. Witnessing the capture and beating to death of two escaped prisoners and of himself being beaten unconscious on a number of occasions. Despite suffering from blood poisoning and other illnesses as well as severe hunger, he was "compelled to work at the point of a bayonet" but "had to stop several times through pain", and remembered one instance when "a German Officer was near. I was kicked and hit in the ribs until I lost consciousness. When I recovered consciousness I was compelled to continue my work..."

While Rupert survived the war, George's body was never found on the battlefield outside Beaumont Hamel and today only his name remains on the memorial at Thiepval.