Gas Attack, 1915

The Battle of St. Julien began on the morning of 24th April 1915 with the German army firing chlorine gas canisters at Canadian forces to the west of the village. The shocked allied troops soaked their handkerchiefs in urine and held them to their noses. The bodies of those that died turned black within 15 minutes. The Germans took St. Julien.

The next day, the York and Durham Brigade units of the Northumberland Division counter-attacked but failed to recapture the village. The 5th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment formed part of the York and Durham Brigade and included a number of young men from the Yorkshire coast who had enlisted in Scarborough shortly after the war began. Local newspapers would identify them as The Scarborough Terriers. (The Northumberland Division was the first Territorial brigade to go into action in the Great War.) The Canadians called them “The Yorkshire Gurkhas” and D Company was known as “Filey Company”.

Amongst their number was Thomas JENKINSON, 19, and during the counter-attack of the 25th, he was killed while attempting to capture an isolated farmhouse to the south-east of St Julien, at Fortuyn, now Fortuinhoek. His regiment had been in France for just one week.

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On the 26th, three battalions of the Northumberland Brigade attacked St Julien and gained a brief foothold before being forced back, having suffered 1,954 casualties.

StOs_JENKINSONtom_1Tom Jenkinson has no known grave and is commemorated at Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial. The plaque in St Oswald’s church (inset) places him with the wrong regiment. (The 5th East Yorks was a Cyclists Battalion that remained in England for the duration of the war, guarding the home front.) The family headstone in the churchyard tells us where he died, and his parents, Thomas Robert and Elizabeth Towse née SHEPHERD, named their house in Mitford Street “Fortuyn”.

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Also Pte. THOMAS JENKINSON 5th Yorks. grandson of the above

killed in action at Fortuyn, France, April 25th 1915, aged 19 years

‘Out in France in an unknown grave

Our dear soldier son lies sleeping

For his King and Country his life he gave

Into his Saviour’s keeping.’

Tom is not yet on FamilySearch Tree but you can find him at Filey Genealogy & Connections. He was a third cousin once removed to Richard Baxter COWLING, lost from Emulator in 1919, (Sunday’s post).

Ypres III

The Third Battle of Ypres began on 31st July 1917 and August in Flanders would be the wettest in living memory. The alternative name for this three-month slog through mud is Passchendaele, a village that wouldn’t be fought over until 12th October and, what was left of it, finally taken on 6th November.

Scarborough born Benjamin Watson STORRY traveled just a short distance on this particular road to hell, with B Company, 2nd Battalion South Staffordshires. Dan Eaton records that Ben “enlisted in Beverley, had poor hearing and eyesight but felt that it was his duty to serve, and therefore did not apply to be exempted from military service.” I have no idea how long he served on the Western Front and I’m not really sure where his Company was in the second week of August. Several sources place the 2nd Battalion South Staffs in the Passchendaele campaign so he possibly watched the early August rain fall for several days before, perhaps, taking part in the Capture of  Westhoek on 10th August.

I mentioned yesterday the uncertainty surrounding Ben’s death, “killed in action”. Filey is a small town but even so, I had a remarkable encounter on my early morning walk today. I met my neighbour in Murray Street. He was reading his just-bought newspaper as he walked home. I said, “You must enjoy fairy stories if you’re reading that rag.” He said, “I’m looking at the football results – they’re all true.” I had to concede. “And I’ll tell you what else is true – obituaries.” I said, “Not necessarily…” and told him about Ben’s monumental inscription being at variance with the “official” date of death. My neighbour said, “Neither of those dates is necessarily correct. I have a letter informing his family that he was missing on the 9th, presumed killed.”

We will never know what Ben endured in his last hours – or days. He was 36 years old, a husband and father of four – and my next door neighbour’s great grandfather. I’m hoping my neighbour will find that letter and allow me to share it with you.

I have made a start on updating Ben’s page on the Looking at Filey Wiki. You will find links there to a number of online sources that go some way, I hope, to make him seem a real person and not just another casualty of that particularly horrendous war.  On This Day lists 545 whose deaths are allocated to the 12th August 1917. Nearly all are soldiers, all but one are men. Staff Nurse ROBERTS of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service is remembered in Danygraig Cemetery Swansea.

Looking down the list I thought it had been a quiet day at sea but eleven seamen died when H M Drifter Dewey was sunk in a collision in the English Channel.

If you scroll down to Gorre British and Indian Cemetery you will see that Ben lost his life (officially) on the same day as  Private DANBY, a 2nd Battalion South Staffordshire brother in arms.

Today’s Image shows that Filey Bay was flat calm this day 2013. It was a “mill pond” this morning too.

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