William Waldo Summers (Jack) Elliott
William Waldo Summers Elliott was born in Ashprington, late in 1898. He was the eldest son of William Henry Elliott and his wife Emily Warrender Summers. He was baptised privately on 31st December 1898, at St David's, Ashprington, and received into the church on 30th January 1899. He was known as "Jack" in the family.
William Henry Elliott, Jack's father, was born and brought up in nearby Dittisham. By 1891, he was living in Cornworthy, with his widowed grandmother, Joanna Brooking. Aged 14, he was already working as a farm labourer. On 1st August 1898, he married Emily Warrander Summers, at St David's Ashprington. Emily was originally from Kings Norton, now a suburb of Birmingham, but she had come to live in Ashprington with her grandparents, James and Ann Summers, as a child.
Emily's grandfather James Summers came originally from Stoke Canon, Devon, where he had worked in the paper mill; his son William, Emily's father, followed him into the same trade. By 1861, James and William had moved to Tibberton, in Shropshire, where they continued to work as paper makers. Here William married Martha Warrender, Emily's mother; at the time of the 1871 Census, William and Emily still lived in Tibberton, with their two daughters, Catherine and Sarah Ann, and Martha's son, John.
However, by the time of the 1881 Census, William and James had returned to Devon to work at the paper mill at Tuckenhay as paper-makers. In that census there were 41 men and women living in Ashprington and Cornworthy parishes who worked at the mill at that time; the mill made high quality hand-made paper from rags. Perhaps it offered a better wage than William was able to earn in Shropshire.
Meanwhile, Martha and her children, including Emily, remained in Kings Norton. But sadly Martha died later in 1881 - Emily, her youngest child, was not yet two. So her father William returned to Warwickshire, and with a family of young children to look after, soon married again. His second wife, Eliza Drake, had a daughter by her previous marriage, of a similar age to Emily. But perhaps relationships within the family were not easy - by the time of the 1891 Census, Emily, aged 11, and her elder sister, Sarah Ann, age 21, had left their father in Warwickshire to live with their grandparents in Ashprington. Sarah Ann carried on the family tradition by working at the Tuckenhay mill.
Emily and William Elliott settled in Ashprington after they married and Jack was born soon afterwards. His brother George James Summers was born on 10th May 1900 and baptised at St David's on 10th June 1900. William at that time was working as a gardener.
The 1901 Census recorded the family still living in Ashprington. At that time William worked as a coachman. The household also included Emily's grandfather, James, aged 86, now a widower, and blind. Emily was pregnant at the time of the Census - her next child, Dora Warrender, was born on 4th May 1901 and baptised at St David's on 21st July 1901. Another boy, Tom Eric Summers, was born on 16th April 1904, and baptised at St David's on 12th June 1904.
By the time of the 1911 Census, the family had moved to Blackawton. William had reverted to gardening work. Emily also worked, as a "monthly nurse", "employed by [a] gentleman" - perhaps this was why the family had moved. The four children were still at school.
Exactly when the family moved to Dartmouth is not known but by 1915 they were living at 3 St Clair's Terrace, Clarence Hill. The first to join up was not Jack, but William; his service papers have survived, so we know that, declaring his age to be 40, though he was in fact 38, he joined the Army Service Corps on 20th September 1915. It seems that he had waited to do so until after the birth of his fifth child, Margaret Rachael, on 23rd August 1915.
On 23rd October 1915, just a little over a month after joining up, he was on his way from Devonport to Mudros, on the island of Lemnos, in the eastern Mediterranean. He arrived in Mudros on 6th November 1915 and was posted to 24th Labour Company. By this stage Mudros was the intermediate supply base for the Gallipoli campaign and was in course of major development and improvement. Men and supplies of all kinds arrived there to be transhipped to smaller craft to make the final part of the journey to the front lines on the Gallipoli peninsula. William may have been used as dock labour or in the work to improve the port.
However, very soon after he arrived, the decision was taken to end the campaign. The last of the front-line troops were evacuated from Cape Helles on 7-8th January 1916; by 12th February 1916 William was in Alexandria, and on 25th March, was on his way to the Western Front. He was first posted to Boulogne and then to the supply depot at Audruicq, south-east of Calais. His service record shows that he was allowed leave from 6th-15th September 1916, so it is possible that he may have seen Jack before his call-up.
On 2nd October 1916 William was moved to Dieppe, and on 1st April 1917 transferred from 24th to 20th Labour Company of the Army Service Corps, which was redesignated as 729 Labour Company when the Labour Corps was set up on 1st August 1917. He was able to get another week's home leave in October - so perhaps he may have been able to see Jack before he was sent to France.
Jack's service records, unlike his father's, have not survived. The Medal Roll of the Hampshire Regiment, in which he was serving when he died, shows that he served in the 11th and 1st Battalions - his service number was 42289. Surviving records of men with service numbers close to Jack's suggest that he would have been mobilised early in 1917, perhaps around the end of February. This would have been soon after his eighteenth birthday. If so, he will have been called up and undergone training at a very similar time to Percy Trobridge Lidstone, who also served in the Hampshire Regiment.
Compulsory military service was introduced in 1916 and the second Military Service Act of that year, in May, made liable for military service all men aged 18-40 inclusive, single and married, although no-one would be sent abroad until he had reached the age of 19. Due to the introduction of conscription, the arrangements for training were re-organised in September 1916, when the Training Reserve was set up. Infantry regiments no longer recruited locally and reserve units which had the function of training recruits for their regiments became Training Reserve Battalions. Other men posted to the Hampshire Regiment with numbers close to Jack's were sent to 94th Training Reserve Battalion at Chiseldon, Wiltshire; it seems likely that this was also his destination.
Following a further reorganisation of Army Training in 1917, the 94th TR Battalion was redesignated a "Graduated Battalion", for soldiers aged between 18 years 5 months and nineteen years. As the name implies, having received their initial training with a "Young Soldiers" Battalion, soldiers were posted to "Graduated" Battalions for more specialist training until they were old enough to be drafted. The 94th TR Battalion became a "Graduated Battalion" at about the same time as Jack would have reached this stage in his training, so he may well, like others of his age, have remained with the same training Battalion throughout.
Jack turned nineteen towards the end of 1917 so would have been posted for service abroad at about that time; others with a service number close to his were sent to France in early December 1917. According to the Hampshire Regiment Medal Roll he served in the 11th Battalion and the 1st Battalion; how long he spent in the 11th Battalion, and when he transferred, is not known. It is clear from surviving records of men joining the Hampshire Regiment, with service numbers close to Jack's, that sometimes individuals were posted to the 11th Battalion (a Pioneer Battalion) for only a few days on arriving in France, before being posted to the 1st or 2nd Battalions.
The 1st Battalion's War Diary shows several parties of reinforcements arriving in each of the months of December, January, February and March, but does not record their origin. On the other hand, the War Diary of the 11th Battalion shows the transfer of 100 other ranks to the 1st Battalion on 7th March 1918; this may be a group which arrived with the 1st Battalion on 11th March 1918.
German Spring Offensive: attack on Arras
The 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment was part of 11th Brigade in 4th Division. As a regular battalion they left for France on 21st/22nd August 1914; they had fought throughout the conflict on the Western Front.
At the beginning of March 1918 they were out of the line in Fosseux, moving to Warlus on 6th March 1918. On 19th March 1918 they marched from Warlus to Arras; they moved up into the "front line of the second system" overnight on 21st/22nd March 1918, as the German spring offensive began on the Somme sector to the south (see the story of Reginald Drake). However, east of Arras, 22nd March 1918 was a "quiet day", though there was enemy action around Monchy le Preux on the Battalion's right to the south. Action continued there early the following morning and the 11th Brigade was ordered to withdraw from the "Forward Zone" during the day time. This was to minimise casualties, should there be an attack, and ensure that the "Battle Zone" was fully manned: "At one time it appeared likely that the enemy would attack but the situation eventually quietened".
The next day, 24th March 1918, was also quiet; the 1st Hampshires moved up to the Brigade's front line, but passed a "quiet night". On 25th March, information was received that there would probably be an attack between the Scarpe river and the village of Oppy the following day, but the 1st Hampshire's line was still fairly quiet (though there were six casualties).
On 27th March, at 3am, the front line was heavily shelled and there were two raids, which were repulsed. Finally, the anticipated attack came early on 28th March - unfortunately the detailed report appears to be missing from the Battalion's War Diary. Casualties were heavy; the 1st Hampshires lost eight officers and 193 men killed, wounded or missing. But along the Arras front as a whole the system of "defence in depth" was effective and the German attack failed. As Peter Hart observes:
Operation Mars was an attack by [the German] Seventeenth Army on either side of the Scarpe river in front of Arras, with the intention of driving into the junction of the First and Third Armies. The tactics it employed were substantially the same [as on the Somme] but there was a massive difference in the state of the readiness of the British defences and the density of the garrison manning them … here the trenches, the belts of wire and the strongpoints existed on the ground as well as on the maps. The signs of imminent assault had been observed and the British knew the Germans were coming … in most areas the troops fell back before the Germans and took up the pre-prepared positions in the Battle Zone … this time there was no fog to blot out the British defenders' view of the advancing German infantry … they took a heavy toll of the German attackers …
The situation then again remained fairly quiet until the 1st Hampshires were relieved on 8th April 1918, and were sent to billets at "Y" Huts on the Arras-St Pol road about four miles north-west of Arras to rest and clean up. On 10th April they marched to camps near Haute Avesnes nearby, where they were able to have a (no doubt much needed) bath.
German Spring Offensive: Battle of the Lys
However, their rest was short - on 12th April they were on the move. Three days earlier the next phase of the German spring offensive, "Operation Georgette", had attacked the junction of the First and Second Armies between Armentieres and La Bassee Canal; although much of this attack was successful, the extreme south of the front at Givenchy was successfully held by the 55th Division (see the story of Frank Hodge).
As the Lys offensive developed, the front extended westwards towards Hazebrouck and southwards towards Bethune. On 12th April the Battalion was bussed to Gonnehem and overnight 11th Brigade took over the line on the south of the La Bassee Canal from Pacaut Wood to Robecq.
On 14th April, facing little enemy activity, the opportunity was taken (as the Official History describes it) to "pinch out the acute re-entrant angle" in the line as it had developed near Robecq, where I Corps (4th Division) joined XI Corps (61st Division). The operation was carried out by 1st Somerset Light Infantry and 1st Hampshire:
… late in the afternoon men were dribbled across the half-dozen bridges over the canal in twos and threes whilst for the last half hour before zero heavy artillery shelled the woods and small valleys where the enemy supports and reserves were sheltering. At 6.30pm under a barrage the infantry advanced and secured the base of the re-entrant - a line through [the village of] Riez du Vinage …
According to the Battalion's War Diary, it was the Somersets who took the village, capturing about 120 prisoners; the Hampshires "advanced with Platoons in artillery formation and met with no opposition". Casualties were 1 man killed and three wounded.
However, an attempt on 15th April to further straighten out the line was unsuccessful, though the Battalion sustained no casualties. On 16th April, the Battalion was moved to billets in L'Ecleme, and were still there two days later on 18th April 1918, when a heavy bombardment fell on the southern sector of the front, from Givenchy to Robecq. An infantry attack began at about 8am, but was eventually repulsed (a phase of the Lys offensive now called the Battle of Bethune). The Hampshires were brought forward to Gonnehem, but in the end were not required, so returned to their billets.
Attack on Pacaut Wood
During the days immediately following, a series of counter-attacks along this sector of the front successfully regained positions which had been lost earlier. It fell to the 1st Hampshires to take forward the attack on Pacaut Wood, which lies on the north side of the La Bassee canal. The Official History records, without noting the Battalion responsible:
… during the night of 20th/21st … posts were pushed out across the La Bassee canal and the southern end of Pacaut Wood was occupied. On the following night a little more ground was secured. On the morning of the 22nd a still more ambitious attack, for which three pontoon bridges were thrown in the face of much shelling of the canal bank, gained its objective, a strip of ground east of Pacaut Wood and up to the east-west road through the wood. The enemy reply on the 23rd was defeated, 35 prisoners and 13 machine guns being captured.
The report in the 1st Hampshires' War Diary, as might be expected, goes into more detail. The southern section of the wood was, and is still, criss-crossed by rides running north-south, and a road running east-west, which connects the hamlet of La Cobarderie on the right with the village of Riez du Vinage on the left.
The attack was to be carried out by three companies, which were to cross the Canal at Zero plus 3 minutes, one company to remain in support on the Canal Bank. Footbridges were erected at [three points]. The advance was to be made behind a creeping barrage of 18 pounders, companies pushing platoons up the various rides and along the edges of the wood. On arrival at the objective, companies were to extend to their right and left and establish posts along the drive …
Because of the planned barrage, the company which had been holding the southern edge of the wood was withdrawn temporarily back across the canal. By 5am the companies were in their assembly positions opposite their respective footbridges and at 5.15 the barrage opened.
At 5.18am our troops commenced to cross the Canal and the enemy barrage fell along the line of the Canal. It was especially heavy by the centre bridge and a few casualties were incurred before all the assaulting troops had managed to get across.
The right and centre companies came under machine gun fire from the wood almost at once, but the left met no opposition. The right company, who were being held up by machine gun fire when nearing their objective, was successful in stopping some of this fire by pushing out Lewis Guns in front to cover the advance of the remainder.
By 5.35am the left company was on its objective, and by 5.40am the two right platoons of the right company were on their objective. The centre company which had suffered heavily in officers and NCOs were held up … but they eventually managed to push up the main drive where they were in touch with the left company … [they] formed up in the main drive facing south-east. In the meantime, the right company extended to its left in the hopes of getting in touch with the centre …
In fact, as the report in the War Diary itself later points out, the shelling of the centre bridge, killed the leading officer of the centre company and "put out of action" many men "[which] occasioned some temporary disorganisation and delay, so that the centre company in their advance through the wood were too far behind our barrage" and rendering them vulnerable to enemy machine gun fire.
About 9am, a platoon of the support company was ordered up one of the drives to help to link up the line, but the officer leading the platoon was killed and it took some time for the men to reach their objective. About 11am enemy machine gun fire in the wood decreased but shelling along the canal bank increased, causing many casualties in the support company. The Hampshires' CO, Lt Col Francis Armitage, was also killed.
However, by 3pm the line in the wood was connected up; due to another heavy enemy barrage later in the afternoon, touch was lost, but then successfully regained. The centre was still a little short of the objective and a party of 12 men was ordered up from the support company to help push the line forward. Later an enemy counter-attack at one end was driven back and the position was held until the 1st Hampshires were relieved on 23rd March 2018, moving to Lannoy to rest and clean up.
During the fight, the Hampshires took "about 35 prisoners" and brought back 13 enemy machine guns, as mentioned in the Official History. However, as the report indicates, casualties were heavy - according to the War Diary:
but at duty
Jack's role in the operation and position in the attack is not known. However, news soon reached Dartmouth of his death on 22nd April. His parents placed an announcement in the Dartmouth Chronicle, published on 24th May 1918:
Elliott - April 22nd 1918, killed in action in France, Private W W S (Jack) Elliott 1st Hampshire Regiment, beloved son of Private W H Elliott, ASC, and Nurse Elliott, 3 St Clair's Terrace, Dartmouth, aged 19 years.
The newspaper also carried a brief news item:
Pte W W S (Jack) Elliott MGS attached to the Hampshire Regiment, eldest son of Private W H Elliott, ASC, and Nurse Elliott, 3 St Clair's Terrace, Dartmouth, was killed in action in France on April 22nd.
The reference "MGS" is not clear. According to all the available records, Jack was not a member of the Machine Gun Corps; he may perhaps have been a member of a Lewis Gun Section in the Battalion.
Jack was buried in Mont Bernanchon British Cemetery, close to where he died. His grave is now marked by a Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstone. Eight other members of the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment who died on the same day were also buried there. The cemetery was begun in April 1918 and used by units in this area of the line until August 1918.
In Dartmouth, he is commemorated as "J Elliott" on the St Saviours Memorial Board. But his name does not appear on the Town War Memorial, although it was included in the "provisional rolls of honour" which appeared in the Dartmouth Chronicle in 1919 and the list published in February 1921 of "men whose names will be inscribed on the memorial cross". The deletion of his name was one of a small number of changes to the list made very shortly before the memorial was built and opened in May 1921. Why the change was made is not clear - Jack's father, William Henry Elliott, survived the war, being finally demobilised from the Labour Corps on 9th February 1919. At that time he and Emily still lived in Dartmouth.
Army service records for William Henry Elliott in series WO363 First World War Service Records, available from subscription websites.
War Diary of the 1st Battalion Hampshire Regiment Jan 1918 - June 1918, available from the National Archives, fee payable for download, reference WO 95/1495/5
War diary of the 11th Battalion Hampshire Regiment (Pioneers) December 1915 - May 1919, available from the National Archives, fee payable for download, reference WO 95/1966/2
History of the Great War, Military Operations France and Belgium 1918 volume 2, compiled by Brigadier General Sir James E Edmonds, publ Macmillan, London, 1937
1918, A Very British Victory, by Peter Hart, publ Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2009
Information Held on Database
|Forenames:||William Waldo Summers|
|Military Unit:||1st Bn Hampshire Regiment|
|Date of Death:||22 Apr 1918|
|Age at Death:||19|
|Cause of Death:||Killed in action|
|Action Resulting in Death:||Battle of the Lys|
|Place of Death:||Pacaut Wood, near Robecq, France|
|Place of Burial:||Mont-Bernanchon British Cemetery, Gonneham|
|Born or Lived in Dartmouth?||Yes|
|On Dartmouth War Memorial?||No|
|On St Saviour's Memorials?||Yes|
|On St Petrox Memorials?||No|
|On Flavel Church Memorials?||No|
|In Longcross Cemetery?||No|
|In St Clement's Churchyard?||No|
|On a Private Memorial?||No|
|On Another Memorial?||No|