Welcome to the second of my monthly Guest Spots. I’m very happy to say I’m joined by fellow amateur & Great War enthusiast Roger Hildreth who I’ve had the pleasure to know by the medium of Twitter for many years
Welcome to the blog Roger! Can you start by telling us a little about yourself & your background?
First, can I start by thanking you for inviting me to take part, but having read Chris Baker’s contribution, he is going to be a very hard act to follow! I am 68, retired, and have been happily married to Kath for nearly 41 years and we live in Solihull. We have 2 grown up children; a son who lives in Cardiff with his wife and our 2 grandchildren, and a daughter who lives a few miles away in Birmingham. I have had a bit of a nomadic life in my early years – I was born in Gosport, Hampshire then moved to Malta when I was 2, returning to London when I was 5. The family then moved to Bath in 1960 where I finished my junior & secondary education. The latter at the City of Bath Boy’s School, the alma mater of Roger Bannister who still held the cross country record when I was there! After that I went to Lanchester Polytechnic (now Coventry University). For virtually all of my working years I was a Civil Servant with the Department for Work and Pensions, and its various predecessors, at various locations throughout the West Midlands. My last role was as Deputy Manager of the Pension Centre in Birmingham which closed in 2018. I was very fortunate to be able to take up an early retirement offer at that point (a golden handcuff offer to stay to the bitter end and close it down). It was a very easy decision to make and I have never regretted it.
We have a connection I believe with Heckmondwike where I live?
Ah, Heckmondwike. We must be two of the few who can it spell it correctly! Yes, we certainly do have a connection because that is where my maternal grandfather, Arthur Hollingworth, enlisted in the Territorial Force on the 8th May 1913, but more of that later. He was a proud Yorkshireman having been born near Halifax. Which brings me on to another issue. All of my ancestors on both my mother’s and father’s side were born in one of the 3 Ridings (there is no such thing as South Yorkshire!!), and unfortunately I was the first to break the mould. Even my elder brother was born in Wetherby! Can I still call myself a Yorkshireman?
There’s Yorkshire blood in your veins so I think you can! Can you share with us some of the story of your Grandfather and his remarkable military career during the Great War? You’ve written a wonderful personal account of his life that I’m honoured to own
Thank you for your kind comments Wayne! My grandfather enlisted in the Territorial Force (as I previously explained) and he was assigned as a Bombardier to the 6th Battery of II West Riding Brigade Royal Field Artillery. This Brigade was to become 246th Brigade RFA upon reorganisation. At the outbreak of war Arthur & his chums were at their summer camp but were immediately recalled to base at Heckmondwike, and by the 14th August they were encamped in Doncaster. Here is a postcard of Arthur franked “Doncaster” and dated 25th September 1914:
On the 14th April 1915 Arthur’s RFA Brigade, along with the rest of the 49th Division, left for France and they headed to an area to the north of Neuve-Chapelle where they came into action for the first time on the 23rd April. They remained in this area as part of the 49th Divisional Artillery until the end of June 1915 when they headed to the dreaded Ypres Salient. Arthur’s guns were destined for the Brielen area, a village approximately 3 kilometres north west of Ypres. Some of their targets bear familiar names – Caesar’s Nose, Krupp Farm, Kiel Cottage etc. On the 18th November 1915 Arthur was promoted “in the field” to 2nd Lieutenant and on the following day suffered the effects of the first use of Phosgene gas by the Germans. Unfortunately, I lose touch of Arthur’s whereabouts during nearly all of 1916. The names of Officers promoted at about the same time appear in the War Diaries of 246th RFA Brigade, but Arthur’s does not. His Officer’s records are very thin and I don’t pick him up again until September 1916 when his name appears in the Army List as having being posted to B Battery of 3/II West Riding Brigade RFA which was in England. Whether he was injured and/or undergoing training before this time, I do not know. However, he was quickly transferred to 311th Brigade RFA (ex 2/II West Riding Brigade RFA) and he was back in France with them (as part of the 62nd Divisional Artillery) on 7th January 1917 and he remained with this Brigade until the end of the war. Initially 311th Brigade were in the Ancre Valley area before the Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line – Beaucourt, Bois d’Hollande, Miraumont etc. At the end of March 1917, 311th RFA Brigade headed towards Arras having by then become an “Army” Brigade. They were then involved in the First Battle of the Scarpe which started on the 9th April, with the guns initially being just to the south of Roclincourt. 311th Brigade then headed further north and having being attached temporarily to the NZ Division, supported them in their attack during the Battle of Messines. Their ammunition dump was hit by hostile artillery on the 5th June and Arthur was awarded the Military Cross for removing and dressing the wounded and helping to extinguish the fire. Following a spell in the “Plugstreet” area, Arthur headed back to the Ypres Salient in October 1917 and became attached to the 4th Canadian Divisional Artillery. The guns were sited in the area of the road between Frezenberg and Zonnebeke and the Brigade played their part in the capture of Passchendaele by the Canadians. Early 1918 saw Arthur in the Vendelles area to the north west of St. Quentin and 311th Brigade were then caught up in the German Spring Offensive of the 21st March 1918 which saw them having to retreat a total of about 52 kilometres (as the crow flies) over a period of 11 days. April 1918 saw them back in the Arras area, this time south of the River Scarpe and at various locations. They were back north of the river at the beginning of August, supporting the final push to victory as they advanced. Arthur was awarded a bar to his Military Cross for an incident on the 15th October. When in command of an advance battery of guns he silenced some German machine guns which were holding up an Infantry advance. At the time of the Armistice on the 11th November, 311th Brigade was attached to the 2nd Canadian Divisional Artillery and Arthur was 6 kilometres to the south of Mons. Interestingly, as acting Major, he signed off the November Brigade War Diary
Editors Note: Arthur would have been in the 6th West Riding Battery RFA at the same time as Naylor Keach mentioned in my previous blog ‘On Your Doorstep’ & must have known him & maybe even were friends
Certainly a fascinating story & journey your Grandfather had! Was he the inspiration for you becoming interested in the Great War & did any other family members serve as well?
Yes, he was. And I wanted to ensure that I kept my mind active when I took early retirement. Other family members that served were my paternal Grandfather Herbert Hildreth of the 5th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment who was thrown immediately into the deep end at Ypres on the day of the gas attack in April 1915. He had a blighty wound in July 1915 and served the rest of the war as a musketry instructor. My Great Uncle Richard Hildreth of the 3rd Battalion Yorkshire Regiment who was transferred to the 23rd Middlesex when arriving in France at the end of June 1917. Unfortunately, he was injured on the 31st July at the start of the Third battle of Ypres and died of wounds the following day. He is buried at Godewaersvelde. The poor lad didn’t last long. Another Great Uncle James Vokes, also of the 5th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, was killed in action in March 1918 during the German spring offensive. He still lies out there somewhere and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial
Is there any particular period or aspect of the Great War that interests you the most?
I think I would have to say 1917. There was so much going on in the Western front during this year – Retirement to the Hindenburg Line, Arras, Messines, Third Battle of Ypres etc. And it is also interesting to look at the artillery aspects of the war. Often neglected
I believe that you’re a lover of Belgian beer? Why would anybody not be! Any personal favourites that you can recommend people to try?
Stone the crows, a difficult one! But I can say I prefer the Blond beers. I haven’t tried them all (but I’m working on it) but so far if pushed I would have to say Tripel Karmeliet
I’ve seen from some of your twitter posts that you’re a huge cycling fan as well. Do you have a favourite rider, team or competition? Any favourite moments?
I don’t have a particular favourite rider or team; I tend to follow a rider I fancy for any individual race. I do love the Spring Classics, particularly the Tour of Flanders (which crosses many well known battlefield locations) and Paris-Roubaix. Of the stage races, a toss up between the Giro D’Italia and the Tour de France. I would love to have another French or Belgian winner again soon
And you’re a fan of Rugby? What’s your hopes & predictions for your team next season?
My team is Birmingham Moseley. Moseley was a fantastic team in the 80’s but now play at level 3. For this season, I just hope we can play at sometime or other. I can’t see us starting until the new year
On your Battlefield trips is there anywhere that you’ve been that’s a favourite place or has meant the most to you to visit?
Another difficult one! I do like the Arras area with my Grandfather having spent such a long time there. I am so grateful to Jeremy Banning (@jbanningww1) and Jim Smithson (@boiry62128) for their support in helping me understand the area. For some unexplained reason I really felt it at Bunyans Cemetery near Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines on Observation Ridge looking down to Battery Valley. A lot of RFA men lie in that Cemetery
Do you have any collections of Great War items? If so would you care to ?
I have started collecting a few WWI sweetheart brooches but my prized Great War item is the Bible that belonged to my Great Uncle James (Jas) Vokes, in which he has inscribed his details
And now if I may a few quick fire questions
Chinese or Indian?
Bath or Shower?
Summer or Winter?
Tea or Coffee?
France or Belgium?
If I HAVE to choose, France
Well that concludes this month’s Guest Spot, and I’d like to thank you Roger again for agreeing to take part. It was great to be able to give a fellow Amateur a voice. And it was a really wonderful feature & I really do appreciate you sharing your Grandfather’s story especially. You can follow Roger on Twitter @hildreth_roger
If anyone would like to feature on these Guest Spots please do get in touch with me here or via Twitter @TerrierMcD