A Hill to Die On

Maurice RICKARD’s maternal grandparents were George Toyn COLLEY (he of the Penny Farthing) and Charlotte WARLEY. His paternal grandfather was William “Billy Ricky” Rickard who kept a chemist’s shop in Filey.

Maurice was given two middle names at birth – Nelson and Jellicoe. It should be no surprise that his father was a sailor. Born just after the Great War began, Maurice was of fighting age when the Second global conflict needed bodies to throw at the enemy.

It is a surprise that Maurice not only joined the army but an emphatically Irish Regiment -The London Irish Rifles, the Royal Ulster Rifles. (Today it seems to be just The London Regiment.)

At the beginning of 1943, the 2nd Battalion was in North Africa, moving towards Tunis. Near Bou Arada, it was tasked with clearing two rocky hills of their German occupants.

The 2nd Battalion, The London Irish Rifles was a fine battalion – first-class officers and NCOs – and good men, all as keen as mustard. They had been working together for three years. They possessed a good “feel”, they were proud of their battalion, as they had every right to be.

They attacked with great spirit, and after heavy fighting drove the enemy from Point 286. But then came the trying time. It was practically impossible to dig in on the hard, rocky slopes and all through the day they were subjected to heavy artillery and extremely accurate mortar fire. This fine battalion refused to be shelled off the position. What they had, they held, but at heavy cost. I never hope to see a battalion fighting and enduring more gallantry. Nor do I want to witness again such heavy casualties.

Brigadier Nelson Russell

“Point 286” is also called Hill 286 and there are several web pages that deal with the action on the 20th and 21st January. Maurice died on the second day and you’ll find him listed with his fallen comrades here. (The page offers a link to a full account of the battle of Hill 286.) Three photographs on this Facebook page show the countryside that Maurice last looked upon. He may have been one of the soldiers pictured.

Maurice didn’t choose this hill to die on but had he survived he may have had to fight his way from Anzio to Rome. His brother, James Raymond, did land on the infamous beach with the Green Howards (The Yorkshire Regiment) and died on 23 May 1944, the day before the United States VI Corps broke out of the peninsula.

1bnGreenHowardsAnzio
Men of ‘D’ Company, 1st Battalion The Green Howards, 5th Infantry Division, occupy a captured German communications trench during the offensive at Anzio, 22 May 1944.
Photographer: Sgt Radford, No 2 Army Film & Photographic Unit
Crown copyright, IWM Non-Commercial Licence

The brothers are together on the Filey War Memorial, and their gravestones in Tunisia and Italy carry the same words:-

To live in the hearts

We leave behind

Is not to die.

RickardBros2

Find them on the Shared Tree.

Penny Farthing Thoughts

nd_COLLEYgeot_ah_m

George Toyn COLLEY is a first cousin once removed to Anne Elizabeth GRAINGER (Wednesday’s post), and the only one of George Colley and Sarah TOYN’s children to live longer than five weeks.

The photograph, kindly supplied by Alan Hardcastle, (George Toyn’s great-grandson), is undated but was probably taken in Wandsworth or Lambeth in the mid to late 1880s. Reaching the age of 21 in 1883, George had received a bequest from his father and used the money to start a bicycle business in London. High wheelers were all the rage in that decade but, as you can easily imagine, were somewhat dangerous to ride in competitive races. The introduction of “safety bicycles” in the 90s saw the penny-farthing go out of fashion.

George apprenticed in Beverley as a bricklayer. The 1881 census caught him there aged 19, living with cousin Robert PAPE. Ten years later he is a married man in Wandsworth with two infant children – and working as a bricklayer. His bicycle business had failed.

Considering his reasons for leaving a steady trade to speculate in a new-fangled and fast-moving business (sorry, couldn’t resist), I thought of Filey’s World Champion racing cyclist, Herbert Liddell CORTIS. He was “at his zenith” in the years 1878 to 1880, riding in 128 races, winning over half, and amassing trophies valued at £1500 (about £140,000 today). On the 2nd of August 1882, aged 25, he had his last race, breaking several distance records on the way to becoming the first man to ride twenty miles in an hour.

Did Herbert’s renown encourage the Filey born bricklayer to sell bicycles? For a short time, the Colley and Cortis families had been near neighbours in Filey, the one at Cliff Terrace and later 6 North Street, the other on the corner of North and John Streets. George was only three when his father died, and four when he was orphaned. Soon after, the Papes in Beverley took him in as one of their own. Herbert was five years older and the two may never have met but news of the champ would surely have reached George by the early 80s, and perhaps influenced his move to London and the career change.

George reached his majority on 17 August 1883. Two weeks earlier, and the day after his Final Race, Herbert had married Mary BRUCE. Four days after George’s 21st, Herbert and Mary set sail for Australia on the Carlisle Castle. Herbert died just over three years later in Carcoar, New South Wales.

George Toyn married on 26 December 1885 and had four children with Charlotte WARLEY. The “Spanish ‘flu” took Charlotte in 1918 and George died in Croydon in July 1940.

You can find George and Herbert on the Shared Tree. Herbert has a blue plaque on the Evron Centre wall in Filey.

HLCblueplaque