Heroes pay ultimate price

Gun battery near Langemarck
Gun battery near Langemarck

by Dr Jack Binns

Three days after the death of “Cis” Featherstone, on November 14, 1917, Scarborough “Pals” C battery was hit by enemy artillery shells. One of the killed crews was 21-year-old Gunner Harry Rudeforth.

Born at 46 Candler Street, Scarborough, in 1896, Harry was the son of a builder merchant, Frederick William Rudeforth. In 1907, Harry had won a prestigious scholarship to the Muni from Gladstone Road school and remained there until 1911 when he started work at his father’s business. He had volunteered for the “Pals” at the beginning and his name as one of Scarborough’s recent dead was published by The Mercury on November 23, 1917. Harry was buried in Solferino Farm cemetery, named after a famous French victory in Italy over the Austrians in 1859.

Harry’s elder brother, Frederick Albert, had died at the age of 16 in 1901, but two other older brothers, Charles (b.1889) and Herbert (b.1891) both survived the war.

Other “Pals” wounded by the German bombardment of November 14 were four Scarborough men, Sergeant Sydney Foord, Bombardier William Adams, Gunner Richard Horsley and Driver Harry Cope. All four were sent back to England for treatment, but after recovery they were returned to new artillery units in France.

On December 14, 1917, The Mercury recorded the death of Bombardier George Barker. While recovering from pneumonia, he had been killed by a German bomb dropped on the military hospital at Bandaghem in Flanders. Whether the hospital was clearly identified is not known, but The Mercury described Harry’s fate as a war crime. Posthumously, Bombardier Barker was awarded the Military Medal, which might have been some consolation to his mother then living at 21 Bedford Street.

George had been born at 44 Norwood Street in 1884 and baptised at St Mary’s. When he enlisted in March 1915 his wife and two children lived at 38 Quay Street, though by 1917 they had moved up to 43 Princess Street. Before joining the “Pals” he had worked at Londesborough theatre in Westborough.

Bombardier Barker was buried near the hospital in a military grave. His name is to be found on St Mary’s Roll of Honour, on a stained glass window in what was the Conservative Club in Huntriss Row and on the Dean Road cemetery memorial.

By April 1918, when it was moved south from Belgium into France, the 161st had lost nearly all its original Yorkshire Pals, but before the Armistice there were more losses of Scarborough men.

Lance-Bombardier Arthur Wilson, known as “Jock”, was born in November 1894 at 17 Bedford Street, the youngest of the four children of a baker. At 12 he left the Central School to become an apprentice bricklayer to William Thomas Petch, builder, of Belle Vue Parade. One of the original Scarborough “Pals”, Jock was killed on October 26, 1918. His death in action was reported by The Mercury on November 8, only three days short of the Armistice on the Western Front. Only 24 years old and still single, he was given a military funeral in a nearby British cemetery.

Only four days before the Armistice, C battery lost their commanding officer. Major Edward Alexander Chisholm, Military Cross with two Bars, was shot dead by a sniper’s bullet as he was leading an infantry charge. Much admired by all his men for his extraordinary valour and leadership, Major Chisholm was a 26-year-old Canadian. Altogether, during the whole course of the Great War, the Scarborough “Pals” lost 18 local soldiers, though several were not serving with the battery when they died.

Gunner John Henry Dobson died in June 1918 at Wimbourne military hospital in Dorset as a result of gas poisoning. He was born at Sherburn in 1897 and his name appears there with that of his mother on a gravestone in St Hilda’s church yard.

Second Lieutenant Benjamin Priest, Military Cross, was also born in 1897, but in very different circumstances at Leeds. His well-to-do family moved from there to 10 Cromwell Terrace in Scarborough and Benjamin attended St Martin’s grammar school on South Cliff from 1910 until 1915. From there, at the age of 18, he went straight into the Scarborough “Pals” and served with them in France and Belgium until the spring of 1917. After training as an officer cadet, he was commissioned and posted back to France in the 72nd Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery. Lieutenant Priest was killed in action on April 26, 1918, and awarded the Military Cross posthumously. Under the heading “Gallantry of old St Martin’s boy”, The Mercury recounted his story just a year later.

Gunner Thomas Renwick was also born in Leeds in 1886, but his father took the family to Scarborough when he became the licensee of the Post Office Tavern, 12-14 Merchants Row. Thomas was one of the original “Pals” and was wounded in September 1916 on the Somme. After recovery he was re-assigned to the 86th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery and was killed in action on July 18, 1917, in the Third Battle of Ypres.

Driver William Silas Tucker was another gas casualty. Born in Scarborough in 1888, “Billy” joined the local territorials before he volunteered for the “Pals”. He was gassed in March 1916, invalided out of the army, and died in his Scarborough home on May 13, 1916. He was buried in Dean Road cemetery.

Gunner James Francis Wellburn was the son of a Scarborough policeman. At the age of 27 he was wounded on the Somme in 1916 and, after recovery, posted to a unit of the Royal Garrison Artillery. Serving with them, in March 1918 he was again wounded, this time fatally. Gunner Wellburn’s widow and daughter were living at 11 Spring Bank when they received the telegram.

Finally, the most remarkable of all were the two Alfred Hopkins, father and son. Sergeant Alfred Hopkins had already served 16 years as a regular with the Royal Horse Artillery in Egypt and India. His son, Alfred Henry, was born in India and lived at 26 Trafalgar Street West when the call went out from Mayor Graham. Though the father was now in his sixties, he and his son were both accepted into C battery and both went off together to the Western Front. There in 1916 both were wounded in action. Sergeant Hopkins lost his sight and was invalided home while his son, Driver Hopkins, recovered and was sent out to Salonika in Greece with the 101st Royal Field Artillery. Sergeant Hopkins survived, the oldest Scarborian to serve actively in the Great War, but Driver Hopkins was killed and is buried in Karasouli military cemetery.

Much to their disappointment and displeasure, C battery were not demobilised after the Armistice. Instead , as late as January 1919, they were part of the occupying force and stationed at Bonn. It was not until as late as October 1919 that the gunners and drivers were all sent home.

However, at the time of the official end of the war, in June 1919, 98 former “Pals” were treated to a supper and speech by Mayor Graham. The occasion was fully reported in The Mercury on June 21, 1919. Nevertheless, though 139 Scarborough men had served at one time in C battery and 18 of them had died, contrary to the mayor’s assurances and promise, no separate memorial to them was put up in the town.

That we know so much, though by no means enough, about the Scarborough “Pals” we owe to their longest-living survivor, Sydney Foord.

Sydney was born in 1895 at 12 Clifton Street, the youngest of the seven children of a “coach smith”. After Central School, from the age of 13 he worked for his father and then in 1911 he got a job as messenger at the Town Hall. He was one of the first to answer Mayor Graham’s call in 1915 and was soon promoted to the rank of sergeant. For his “devotion to duty and gallantry” at Nieuport in July 1917 he was awarded the Military Medal.

With the “Pals” he took part in the Third Battle of Ypres and was wounded at Poelcapelle. After recovery, Sydney was recommended for officer training and was commissioned as second lieutenant and posted to D battery of the 70th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery.

In 1919 he returned to Scarborough and his old post at the Town Hall where he soon earned rapid promotion. Eventually he was made chairman of the Association of Resort Publicity Officers and president of the National Association of Local Government Officers.

For nearly 40 years, from 1924 until 1963, Sydney Foord, MBE, conducted the Remembrance Day ceremony at the war memorial on Oliver’s Mount where the names of so many of his comrades are recorded. He died, aged 89, on June 7, 1984.

Among Sydney Foord’s achievements was an account he wrote in graphic, personal detail of his time with his “Pals”. The narrative was never published and remained unappreciated until Paul Allen discovered it during his exhaustive research of Scarborough’s Great War experiences. Ten years ago Sydney’s own first-hand story was incorporated into Mr Allen’s typescript which is kept in the Central Library’s Scarborough Room.