The Somme

On Saturday 7th August 1880 a young man called George MARTIN found himself at the Bridlington Petty Sessions, on remand and accused of “wandering about”. He had been apprehended by Sergeant COOPER and in the post I wrote about this event on Looking at Filey I wondered what had become of the suspicious policeman and the suspected “lunatic”.

Poor George eludes my search still but I have had more luck, if you can call it that, with William COOPER. His road led me to the Somme.

At age 30, living in Hope Street, Filey, Sergeant Cooper had two children; Fred born in Hull and Maggie in Hunmanby. Caroline Anne arrived in Filey in 1882 and Richard Mason COOPER was born in Weeton in 1885. Five more Cooper children entered the world in Leven, a fact that would indicate father William had either left the force and been allowed to settle down – or that he had risen through the ranks and jumped off the constabulary relocation merry-go-round. I looked for him on FamilySearch and found a record hint that gave the 1901 Census details. At the age of 50, William was Superintendent of Police, living in Ashville Street, Bridlington. The pedigree on FST had all the children born to William and Clara Jane CONDER but, on the face of it, only one had married. Caroline Jane, born in Filey, wed Maurice James PARSONS in 1911. She was then 29 years old and her husband 33. It was sad to see that their marriage lasted only five years. I felt sure Maurice’s death in 1916 would take me to France.

Before checking his sources on FST I sought the marriage details elsewhere. Maurice James and Caroline Anne were married in Wetwang Parish Church on 22 July 1911. The register shows that the groom was an assistant schoolmaster and his father, James William, a retired school master. Modestly, William Cooper gave his occupation as Retired Police Constable. The happy couple had not been previously married.

Returning to FST I looked at the three sources for Maurice. One offered a photograph of his grave marker in Warlencourt British Cemetery in the Pas-de-Calais. A brief biography stated that he lived in Skelton-in-Cleveland and had enlisted at Saltburn. No enlistment date is given but as late as May 1916 he didn’t have to volunteer. The Military Service Act of January that year exempted him – if he was still working as a teacher.

Maurice’s Index entry, available at the CWGC website is brief.

PARSONS, Pte. Maurice James, 5692. No.6 Coy. 1st/6th Bn. Durham Light Inf. Killed in action 5th Nov 1916. Age 38. Son of William James and Naomi Parsons; husband of Caroline Annie Parsons, of Wetwang, Malton, Yorks. VIII. G.38.

From their home in Skelton Maurice and Caroline could see the North York Moors three miles away, hills dotted with hundreds of Bronze Age tumuli. The last Maurice would see of this earth would be a burial mound in a foreign field.

The Butte de Warlencourt rose barely fifty feet above the flatlands around it but had been a perfect observation post for the Germans. The British and their Allies made many unsuccessful attempts to capture it. Some sources assert that the hill had become an obsession to the donkeys who led the lions. The Somme Offensive had started on 1 July 1916 and was still ongoing but nearing its November conclusion.

On the 5th November 1916, three Battalions of the 151st Infantry Brigade were to assault the Butte de Warlencourt, a 50ft high prehistoric burial mound in the centre of a man-made swamp, near the village of Warlencourt on the Somme battlefield, and used as an observation point by the Germans. It was heavily fortified with barbed wire, machine guns, tunnels and mortars. The British Army tried to capture it several times in the Autumn of 1916; the first attack was on 1 October by the 141st Brigade of the British 47th (1/2nd London Division).

Each Battalion being on a frontage of three Companies with one Company in reserve which was to remain in Maxwell Trench. The 9th D.L.I. was on the left, the 6th D.L.I. in the centre, and the 8th D.L.I. on the right. At 9 a.m. the assaulting Infantry moved forward. These troops were in four lines with a distance of 15 yards between each line. The 6th D.L.I. and 8th D.L.I. when they had gone forward about 50 yards came under very heavy machine gun fire, which caused them many casualties and prevented them from reaching their objectives although many heroic efforts to get forward were made.


The mound was captured in 1917 as the Germans retreated and whilst in British hands the war artist William Orpen visited the place and produced this impression. How hideous it appears.

Orpen, William, 1878-1931; The Butte de Warlencourt


There is a short video on YouTube with some introductory archive photographs followed by two or three minutes of drone footage. The mound looks so small and insignificant. Just the right size for a Bronze Age tribal leader. Never meant to witness the deaths of many thousands of supposedly civilized men of the 20th Century. As for becoming a “Visitor Attraction” in the 21st

At the 1911 Census, shortly before her marriage, Caroline was housekeeper to her widowed, police pensioner father. She did not remarry and I think she probably returned to Wetwang after her husband’s death to care for her dad. A death registration in March 1931 fits him for age, 81, as well as location, Driffield (9d 544). Caroline died the following year aged 50 (1 April, June Quarter Driffield 9d 371).

In the Looking at Filey post I also speculated about the Doctor who declared George to be of unsound mind. Whether I was correct or not in my assertion that it was probably Edward Warren HUTCHINSON, this fellow is on FamilySearch Tree with his parents and some other forebears.