For the past couple of months I’ve been researching my family history. In doing so it suddenly became clear how many of my ancestors were involved in WW1. As I searched for my relatives, their forces war records reluctantly opened up to me and I was staggered by the realization that so many of the men in my family had served. So this blog post is in tribute to them as we head towards the 100-year anniversary of Armistice Day and the end of the Great War.
Today I’m thinking of and paying tribute to those closest to me especially those who served in WW1 and my great uncle John who made the ultimate sacrifice during The Great War.
I’m certain there’s much more to discover because much of this post simply reflects my father’s side of the family, but for now here’s the roll of honour for my family who served during the Great War, WW2 and beyond. I promise to think of you all this Sunday, the 100th anniversary of Armistice Day.
First of all a nod to my great grandfather William Reynolds who was born in 1853 and who was a gunner in the Royal Artillery. Serving for at least ten years (records being sketchy) I wonder whether his example influenced his sons during their time in the forces.
Frederick Thomas Reynolds. My grandfather (photographed below) – born in 1891. Joined up as a gunner aged 18, served with the 2nd Battalion The West Yorkshires and was awarded the Bronze Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. During WW1 he fought with the 8th division in France and Belgium. On 1st July 1916, he fought in the Battles of the Somme at Pozeires. Hundreds were lost in the ensuing battle but my grandfather Frederick Thomas Reynolds survived and continued to serve his country.
An extract from his diary almost two long years later after action at Villers-Bretonneux on 25th April 1918 records
“All different regiments mixed up but managed to hold Jerry for about 1 hour …. Jerry got his tanks in action. 2 followed by 3 more. Troops retired to railway and hung on there. Jerry got village but paid for it. Tried to make a can of tea on 4 bits of candle …. Jerry shelling very heavy all the time. Got hit about 5-30pm and began to feel effects of gas …….. Lorried to Amiens clearing station. Treated for gas …… got a bit of sleep. First for 48 hours.”
So difficult to imagine but thank you Grandad for hanging on in there and for coming home to your family.
Albert Reynolds (great uncle) born 1885. Bricklayer Albert joined the Royal Artillery as a gunner in 1903. He served in France from August 1915 to March 1916 and was awarded the Bronze Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal.
Alfred McCarthy (great uncle) born 1886. Alfred was a miner. He joined up in 1915 as a 29 year old. He served in the Royal Army Medical Corps, received the British War Medal and Victory Medal and was discharged aged 32 having fallen victim to Malaria.
William McCarthy (great uncle) born 1888. William joined up in 1915 leaving his job as a hospital porter. He was discharged in 1920 having served with the East Kent Regiment The Buffs as a sergeant. He served in France during 1915/16 and Bangalore in 1918.
Walter McCarthy (great uncle) born 1891. Walter enlisted age 18 joining the Prince of Wales Own Regiment (West Yorks) having worked at the arsenal in Woolwich in number 2 cartridge factory. Quite the character, Walter’s medical and conduct records are interesting reading, providing an insight into what life was really like for a soldier during the early twentieth century. He served for ten years and received his medals for the time he spent fighting in France, Belgium and Malta. He was discharged in 1919 due to wounds received during active service. The photograph shows Walter and his fellow soldiers posing for a post card that Walter then sent to his mother Sarah McCarthy, my great grandmother.
Thomas Kent (Jnr) (great uncle) born 1897. Thomas was a machine hand, signed up aged 18 and served as a rifleman in France in 1916/17 with the 5th Battalion Kings Royal Rifles. He was taken prisoner in 1917 for over a year until being repatriated on 27th November 1918. Like the others he received his medals and was discharged in 1920, having served for four years.
John McCarthy (great uncle) 1885-1916 John served as a private in the Queens Own Royal West Kent regiment. He was wounded in the Persian Gulf in 1915 and was mentioned in dispatches with the 2nd battalion. He was initially reported missing at Kut-el-Amara and confirmed dead on 31st October 1916. He paid the ultimate price, made the greatest sacrifice. The following letter was sent to his mother in April 1921.
I fully expect to discover more ancestors who served during The Great War. Unfortunately my research has been hampered due to the loss of many hundreds of thousands of documents during Second World War bombings. However I’m sure they will eventually reveal themselves to me one by one as those above have.
With WW2 in mind, it’s only right to pay tribute to two of my uncles who served during the Second World War. One of my uncles who I barely knew, Herbert McCarthy Kent, enlisted in 1941 at Bulford, near Salisbury aged 28 and served for the rest of the war. And uncle Fred (Frederick George Reynolds) who, in later life kept detailed records of his father Frederick Thomas’s time in WW1, together with a fascinating account of the 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment 1914-1918 himself served in the Royal Air Force (photo below). Uncle Fred was ground crew, utilizing his skills as a motor mechanic and spent time in both India and Canada, latterly as air sea rescue.
And so finally to my husband, Brian Cliff who served in the Royal Navy as a Chief Petty Officer Weapons EA from 1988 to 2000. Brian was awarded three medals during his time in the Navy, something he is most humble about and always plays down. I love the connection that he has with the forces and serving his country. I’m as proud of him as I am every other relative who has served and fought for our country.
My final thought here though is for another. For a stranger amongst millions of strangers, who all played their part in WW1. As I walked the dog several days ago on a misty, chilly autumn evening I noticed a large red poppy attached to a lamppost. Quite on it’s own. There are dozens down in Caterham village, fixed to posts, in shop windows, on railings and attached to hedges. Lovely tributes filled with thoughtful messages to those who lost their lives, to those who served and to all who played a part in WW1.
For some reason though, this one stood out on it’s own away from the town centre in a quiet residential road and just around the corner from my home. The name type written across the centre of the poppy was Lieutenant Carleton Wyndham Tufnell. A quick search of forces war records revealed that he was born in 1892, lived locally and was educated at Eton. He served with the Grenadier Guards and gave his life on 6th November 1914 aged just 22 during the first battle of the Somme at Ypres, in order that that we may know the life and the world we now live in.
So to Private John McCarthy, to Lieutenant Carleton Wyndham Tufnell and all who served, sacrificed, kept us safe and changed our world, although it doesn’t seem quite enough 100 years later …. Thank You!
All photos from family archives, thanks Chris!