Nostalgia: Heavy week for casualties

Farrier corporal J Sedman, of Ayton, who was "killed by a horse".
Farrier corporal J Sedman, of Ayton, who was "killed by a horse".

Day by day the Scarborough Evening News reported more and more casualties in France and every week The Mercury made a summary of them. By mid-October 1915 it was clear that the town’s soldiers had suffered severely in what had come to be called “the great battle at Loos”.

One of the first deaths reported was that of Brigadier-General NT Nickalls, the “brass hat” whose speech on Sandside two months earlier deploring Scarborough’s lack of patriotism, had so enraged the town. Described as “wounded and missing, but feared dead”, his fate on the Western Front provided further evidence that not all senior officers spent the war luxuriating in French chateaux safely distant from the fighting.

At the age of 51, General Nickalls was a distinguished professional soldier. He had first served in the 17th Lancers, rising from lieutenant to colonel, was a veteran of the South African war, where he had been “mentioned in despatches”, and from 1912 he had commanded the Yorkshire Mounted Brigade. His home address was given as Boston Hall, Boston Spa.

In what The Mercury called “A Heavy Week”, on October 8 it listed the deaths of six and the serious wounding of 16 local servicemen. Fortunately for the town and neighbourhood, the Fifth battalion of the Green Howards, its Territorials, had not been placed in the thick of the battle, but most of its losses were drawn from other battalions and regiments.

Colonel Hadow, a regular, had been killed in action on September 25 leading a charge of his men of the Tenth Yorkshires. He had served in the Nile campaign of 1898, spent 15 years on duty in India, and was well known in Scarborough as adjutant of its Volunteers attached to the Green Howards. He left a widow and three children.

His elder brother, a lieutenant in the Second Green Howards, had died at Givenchy on June 15.

Another family devastated by the war were the Cayleys of Brompton. Sir Everard’s second son was already a prisoner of war in Germany, when the baronet was told that Lieutenant Francis, his 21-year-old heir to the title and estate, had been killed in action with the 60th Rifles.

Son of a local solicitor, JE Jones of Holbeck Road, Captain Percy Barrett Jones of the 3rd Middlesex regiment was another victim of the recent battle in Flanders. He was 33 years old and left a widow and a child.

Because they were not residents in Scarborough, the Hadows, Cayleys and Jones are not named on the Oliver’s Mount memorial, but Private H Wharton is. He had lived at 70 Commercial Street and was a Territorial in the Fifth Yorkshires. He had been killed on October 4 by a shell which exploded in a front-line trench.

Corporal J Sedman was an unusual but not unique casualty on the Western Front. Formerly he had been Ayton’s village blacksmith and his vital occupation in the army was as farrier, a horseshoe-smith. The newspaper report of his death was simply “killed by a horse”.

Another young officer casualty who did not live in Scarborough but whose family did was Lieutenant Richard F Tindall. His father was the late Walter Tindall, formerly master of the Staintondale hounds, who had occupied 11 The Crescent and his aunt was Miss Augusta Tindall of 5 Royal Crescent, who was a member of Scarborough’s Board of Guardians, responsible for administration of the Poor Law. Richard’s younger brother had already been killed in action.

Two Scarborough Terriers who escaped the slaughter at Loos were Lieutenant DP Tonks and Private JW Cox. They were the first of the Fifth Yorkshires to be given home leave from France. Lt Tonks of 20 Londesborough Road was met at York railway station by his wife and driven back home in their family car, “the trains from Scarborough to York on Sundays [were] very inconvenient”. But Cox and Arthur Wilkinson, a former postman from Slingsby and reservist in the Green Howards who was also on leave, were greeted at York by Mayor Graham in his mayoral vehicle. Before going their separate ways, the two were treated by the mayor to a tea at the Pigeon Pie at Sherburn. Cox, also a postman in civilian life, lived at 92 Castle Road.

All three soldiers were interviewed by The Mercury. Cox was said to be looking well. He made light of his wounds caused by an exploding grenade. Tonks emphasized the need to wrap parcels very well: when many arrived in France they were only in fragments. Wilkinson was the only one to speak in detail of his many lucky escapes. His cap was riddled with shrapnel holes; twice he had been buried in a trench when the parapet collapsed on top of him; and on one occasion a “Jack Johnson” had blown him a considerable distance. [Jack Johnson was the American world heavyweight boxing champion from 1908 to 1915: the first black man to hold the title. “Jack Johnsons” was the name given by British troops to describe very heavy German explosive shells; the other big shells which exploded in a thick black cloud were called “coal-boxes”.]

Arthur Wilkinson also mentioned that he knew the son of Mrs Kell of 4 Cambridge Street, who had been badly wounded; another of hers, who was on sick leave in England; and a third in the Royal Navy. To have three sons all in the services was not uncommon, to have four was very rare, but JH Wilson of 1 Elmville Avenue had five! Arthur was a driver with the Service Corps; Robert and Reginald were in the Fifth Yorkshires; Jack was in the Royal Army Medical Corps; and Herbert was a signaller with the Royal Field Artillery. Their father had driven a steamroller for Scarborough Corporation.