Town’s brave lads join list of Gallipoli casualties

A British 60-pounder in full recoil at Cape Helles, in June 1915
A British 60-pounder in full recoil at Cape Helles, in June 1915

by Dr Jack Binns

In 1901, during the course of a series of published interviews with leading Scarborians, the author commented: “With such a galaxy of youth, intelligence and vigour, there is every prospect that the name of Petch will remain a household word in Scarborough for many years to come.”

Two local men, Lance Corporal Robert Green, and Private Percy Lawty, were both the victims of the same Turkish shell

These were the concluding remarks in a lengthy article on Alderman John Petch, then “the father of Scarborough Corporation”. Born in West Heslerton in 1819, for 34 years, since 1862, he had represented first the North and then the Central Wards on Scarborough’s Town Council. But John Petch’s contribution to the remarkable transformation of the borough during these years had been as much architectural as governmental. Originally apprenticed to the architect John Barry, along with his three younger brothers, David, Caleb and Thomas, John had set up a thriving business in the town. As surveyors, contractors and builders, the Petchs had designed Scarborough’s extensions both along South Cliff and on the North Side. Amongst John Petch’s chief achievements were Sarony’s Studio and Picture Gallery and the South Cliff tramway.

John Caleb senior had no family of his own, but a grand nephew, Ernest Scott Petch, son of John Petch, was born in 1884 at 36 Highfield in Falsgrave, the youngest of four children. Between 11 and 13 Ernest attended St Martin’s grammar school and then went on to Silcoates College, Wakefield, as a boarder. In such a family, his career was predetermined. By 1909 he had qualified as an Associate of the Institute of Architects and joined the Petch firm in Westborough.

However, when the war came in 1914, he was then living and working in Edinburgh. There he had joined the local Royal Scots Territorials. This explains why a 31-year-old unmarried Scarborian, with parents living at 60 Stepney Road, should have found himself in a battalion of the Queen’s Edinburgh Rifles fighting the Turks on a barren, bloody peninsula called Gallipoli.

Ernest Scott Petch’s war was soon over. Like so many of his comrades in arms, he perished attempting to capture the Turkish trenches on the top of Fir Tree Spur. Even without the impediment of bullets and shells, the climb tested the Scots to the utmost. Wearing heavy serge uniforms, carrying full marching kit weighing up to 70 pounds and in blazing heat, they soon came up against impenetrable wire and fearsome cross-fire. On that day, June 28, 1915, the Royal Scots lost 22 officers, 204 other ranks and 141 wounded. Ernest was reported “missing” and confirmed dead only two years later. His corpse was never found. His name appears only with those of another 21,000 dead on the Cape Helles Memorial and with that of his father, mother and eldest sister on the family gravestone in Manor Road cemetery. He was a young, intelligent and gifted architect who would never contribute to Scarborough’s architecture.

Private Petch was one of several Scarborough men who died in 1915 during the Gallipoli fiasco. Lance Corporal Horace Harding was born at 2 Commercial Street in 1893. His father had a newsagent and confectionery shop at 9 St Thomas Street. Soon after the start of the war, Horace enlisted with the Royal Marines Light Infantry at Manchester. On April 25, 1915, with the Plymouth Battalion, he landed on ‘Y’ Beach at Cape Helles and survived the first ordeal by fire. However, within a month he had contracted enteric fever and was put on a hospital ship bound for Alexandria in Egypt. He never got there. On June 6 he died on board and was buried at sea. In their case, his parents had no grave to visit.

Two local men, Lance Corporal Robert Green, and Private Percy Lawty, were both the victims of the same Turkish shell. Robert was born in Scarborough in 1873 and had been a regular soldier in the First Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment in the Boer War. By 1914 he was a civilian reservist, living with his wife and three children at 2 Potter Lane.

Soon after the war began, he was with the Third Yorkshires and posted to Hartlepool. There he helped to clear the debris caused by the German bombardment. It must have been some relief to him that the Kaiser’s shells had spared his own family in Scarborough. But on Friday January 14, 1916, the Mercury reported that Robert had been killed in action with the Sixth Yorkshires on Gallipoli.

The exact circumstances of Robert Green’s death on December 12, 1915, were soon after revealed by another Scarborian eyewitness also with the Sixth Yorkshires, 17-year-old Percy Lawty. In a letter to his parents, written from a military hospital in Malta, Percy explained what had happened:

We were lined up for our dinners when a shell came over and killed ten men and wounded 23, five of whom died within an hour or so...I think he [Johnny Turk] might have let us have our dinners first, don’t you?

A few days later, December 29, this gallant, young volunteer died of his infected wounds and was buried in Malta’s Pieta military cemetery.

Percy had been born in Hunmanby in 1898, the son of an innkeeper there. But by the time he enlisted under-age his parents had moved to 77 Hampton Road. In the town he was well-known and regarded as a promising footballer and a member of the congregation of All Saints’, Falsgrave.

A very much older man yet also a regular at All Saints’ and another volunteer serving with the Sixth Yorkshires was Private Edward Found. Born in 1877, a Council gardener, Edward lived at 21 Wykeham Street with his wife and son. After enlistment in September 1914, he was posted to Richmond in the North Riding for training. The Sixth Yorkshires were nearly all volunteers in Kitchener’s New Army and when they landed at Suvla Bay in August 1915 they were some of the first in battle. Edward was killed in action, November 14.

Two other local men were reported killed on the same day, August 22, 1915, soon after they came ashore at Suvla Bay. Private Henry Green Norris had been born in 1888 at Bishop Burton, but his gamekeeper father had moved the family to the High Street, Cloughton by 1915. Private Samuel Dixon was a veteran reservist, who was born in Scarborough in 1879 and had served as a regular in India and South Africa. His home was 111 Lower William Street. As a Roman Catholic his name was listed later on St Peter’s war memorial.

Finally, Private Douglas Constable, yet another serving with the Sixth Yorkshires, perished on the Gallipolli killing fields on November 5, 1915. He was only 19-years-old. He had been an employee of Rowntree’s and his home was at 15 Gladstone Street.

[to be continued]