By Brenda and Lynne Whitehouse

This story describes our journey into the past in a search for details about our soldier relatives who were killed in The Great War

We never knew our grandfather and great grandfather Arthur Wadeson, and uncle and great uncle Robert Airey. Both of them died before we were born; they were both killed in France and Flanders during the First World War, whom we wish we had known.

Arthur died of wounds aged 36 on Monday the 2nd of September 1918. He was serving with the 1st Battalion The King's Own Royal Lancaster Regiment, at that time attached to the 12th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Division, all part of the British Expeditionary Force in France. He was killed on the first day that the Battalion were involved in what was known as "The Advance to Victory", the second battle of Arras, during the Battle of the Drocourt-Queant Line which took place between the 2nd and 3rd of September. His death was recorded in the Lancaster Guardian dated September 21st 1918.

On the 9th of November 1918 the Lancaster Guardian recorded the death of Robert Airey. "He had been wounded five times before his life was cut short, the last time was on the 27th of September 1917". It is ironic therefore that exactly one year later ( just over three weeks after Arthur died) that Robert should be killed in action on Friday the 27th of September 1918, five days after his 21st birthday. He was serving with the 8th Battalion The King's Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment), at that time attached to the 76th Infantry Brigade of the 3rd Division. Like Arthur, he was killed on the first day the Battalion went into action in the Battle of the Hindenburg Line during the Battle of the Canal Du Nord, which lasted from the 27th of September to the 1st of October.

Brenda remembers her mother Lily spoke with great affection about her brother Robert and how proud she was of him. He had been blown up during the time of the Great War at the age of twenty one; he had no known grave. She had been so sad when she heard about it. Brenda was about ten or eleven when her mother took her for the first time to the memorial Gardens in Lancaster to show her where her grandfather and uncle were commemorated. She remembers thinking that having died for their country all there was to show was a name, which like the poppies, was among row upon row of other names. She remembers the beautiful winged angel which to this day guards the tribute to the memory of those heroes who did not return home from the war.

As a very young child Brenda recalls seeing a large picture hanging in one of the bedrooms of a handsome young man sat astride a horse. He must have been no more than sixteen but through the eyes of a child he seemed much older. In answer to her question she was told it was her uncle Robert. We are not sure where the picture is now, or even if it still exists; to this day it still holds a great fascination for Brenda; it did whilst she was growing up but only now can she see the purpose behind it. It is one of the reasons why we became interested in family history, and although Lynne has always been interested in genealogy, it was not until the March of 2002 that we decided to find out more about our soldier relatives.

Armed with what scant information we had we set out to build a picture of their lives and to try to gain an insight into their careers in the Army, although it was hard to imagine the horrors which must have faced them. The next step was to try to find out their service details hoping that this would point us in the right direction. Our first port of call was the Public Record Office (PRO) in Kew, who provided us with a list of independent researchers. We found out that many of the records of the soldiers who served in the Great War had been destroyed by enemy bombing in 1940, so there was only some 40% chance of finding a particular soldiers records. Sadly we found out that our relatives records did not survive. Nonetheless we were able to gather some information from the Medal Index Cards (WO 372). Theses are virtually complete for WW1 and contain the vital information: Number, Rank, Name, Regiment and the medals to which the individual was entitled. There were several Robert Airey's but only one who had served in the King's Own. It showed that he had been killed in action.

Next we were sent a printout from the "Soldiers who Died in the Great War", a CD-ROM issued by the Naval & Military Press. It confirmed that 240280 Robert Airey and 240881 Arthur Wadeson were the only men from the King's Own who had enlisted at Lancaster and died during the Great War. Medal rolls (WO 329) often list battalions and disembarkation dates. We were not only able to establish the medals they were awarded - The British War and Allied Victory Medals and the 1914-15 Star - commonly known as the "Trio" but the date of their disembarkation for France 14th February 1915 and the fact they had both originally served in the 1/5th Battalion and later transferred; we don't know the date.

We were also sent two scrolls; the words we will never forget for they are not only moving and poignant but speak volumes:

" He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered amongst those who, at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them, endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men by the path of duty and self- sacrifice, giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom. Let those who come after see to it that his name be not forgotten"

Beneath were the names of Arthur and Robert.

There are no words to describe how we felt at that moment. After all the years of not knowing we found out where Arthur is buried and upon which memorial Robert is commemorated. As far as we know no one from either family has visited the grave or memorial - that is not to say they haven't done so in spirit. Arthur's grave is one of 2,651 in Faubourg - D'Amiens Cemetery which is in the western part of Arras in the Boulevard Du General De Gaulle (near the citadel), 2 kms west of the railway station. He lies in Plot 6 Row F Grave number 29 with his comrades in arms.

Robert's name is one of almost 35,000 who have no known grave, whose deaths are commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial ( a nickname of the area given by the Northumberland Fusiliers "Tyne Cottages" - memories of home?). This Cemetery was established around a captured German blockhouse, or pill-box, used as an Advanced Dressing Station (ADS). In 1922 King George V visited the cemetery and at his suggestion the "Cross of Sacrifice" was placed on the original large pill-box. This cemetery, some 9 Kms North-east of Ieper (Ypres or Wipers as the men knew it) Town Centre on the N332, is one of the largest and most significant of the Commonwealth War Graves in France. 

War Cemeteries all over the world are maintained by The Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC) and are places of pilgrimage, family remembrance, research and general interest. Many relatives visit, particularly now that the nearest ones are getting old, and acts of remembrance carried out; treasured photographs are taken for family albums to pass onto future generations. For those not able to visit the CWGC will take a photograph and send it on. We were lucky enough to obtain the services of Brian Thomas who works as a "Freelance", mainly as a hobby, who laid a poppy cross and our personal message "Not Forgotten", as a mark of respect by Robert and Arthur's name, and he sent the photographs shown below to us.


Arthur's grave (Second row second left) in Faubourg -D'Amiens Cemetery, and a
close up taken on the 28th August 2002, 84 years after his death.


Tyne Cot memorial panel 18 containing Robert's name, and a close up taken on the 13th June 2002.

Towards the end of May, we read about the War Memorial project of the Lancaster Military Heritage Group, as a result of which is this article. Thus from what was simply a name on the Lancaster War memorial we now began to feel an unexpected affinity with Arthur and Robert. It was as if they were part of the family once more, and our own link with the past. Spurred on by this initial success and the knowledge we had unearthed we decided to dig deeper.

We knew from the medal rolls that both Arthur and Robert had served with the 1/5th King's Own and the date of their disembarkation to France. Peter Donnelly Curator of the King's Own Royal Regiment museum in Lancaster was and is a tremendous help to us. He confirmed that both men had originally enlisted in the 5th Territorial Force Battalion, that he had a record of Robert being wounded on the 17th of January 1916 whilst with the 1/5th.

The Lancaster Observer of the 11th of June 1915 carried a report of Arthur being wounded on the 9th of April 1915 whilst with A Company of the 5th Battalion. He also was able to say that Arthur's regimental number of 2806 indicated that he had enlisted after the outbreak of war in about Nov/Dec of 1914, whilst Robert's number of 1638 indicated an enlistment around 1913. They obviously were one of the first men to respond to the call of the country. The Lancaster Guardian of the 9th of November 1918 reported that Robert had joined up at the outbreak of the war. This article led us to the interesting discovery that his father James had served 12 years with the Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, with the Royal Reserves in South Africa and then with the Royal Defence Corps during the First World War, along with his brother Richard who was in the Royal Engineers. There is an enormous amount to be learnt from the old newspapers copies of which are on microfiche at the local libraries.

So we now knew the units our relatives had served in and the dates when they were wounded; we were then able to plot the movements of the Battalion before and after they went to France and to fill in gaps - rather like a personal jigsaw puzzle! For anyone who is interested in the King's Own an absolute must is: "The King's Own Territorial Force (TF)", being a record of the 1/5th Battalion during 1914-18 compiled by Albert Hodgkinson Captain and Quartermaster, published in 1921. The book told us about the movements and actions of the Battalion written by someone who took part and was therefore a first hand and authoritative source. The Battalion were initially attached to the 14th Brigade of the 5th Division, then the 83rd Infantry Brigade of the 28th Division, to the 2nd Brigade of the 1st Division before finally joining the 166th Brigade of the 55th Division, the old West Lancashire Division which was reformed in France in 1916.

After being involved in Home Defence duties the 5th Battalion (TF) left its billets, a disused wagon works on Caton Road; the photograph shows them marching up to the Castle Station where it entrained for Didcot on the 14th of August 1914.

The photograph above shows a group of the 1/5th Battalion (TF) on guard duties on the Great Western Railway line between Didcot and Oxford and through accidents suffered their first fatalities of the war..

In November they left for Sevenoaks where they underwent serious training." Trench digging" (see photograph) was clearly the order of the day!

At the end of January 1915 word came of a move to foreign service.. In the early hours of the 14th of February Arthur and Robert (then only 17) left Sevenoaks with their Battalion and went by train to Southampton. At 5.45 that afternoon they sailed aboard two ships, the "Manchester Importer" and "Oxonian"; their destination Havre in France. They were one of the first Territorial Battalions to be sent overseas.

An additional source are the Battalion War Diaries; we obtained three. The first concerning their embarkation to France and two others concerning the days when our relatives were killed. The war diary (PRO, WO 95/2274) for Feb 1915 shows the following entries:

"Mon 15th - Arrived Havre 10 am. Received orders 11 am. Proceeded to No 1 Camp 2.30 pm. Tue 16th - Battalion parade 7.30 am. Roll call. Rest of day spent in completing distribution of necessities. Orders received to move off at 1 am to entrain at 3 am (less 2 platoons). Strength of Battalion:- 29 Officers, 1037 NCOs and men, Riding horses 14, pack and draught 58. Wagons:- GS- 6 Limber-11, M/Gs 2, medical carts 1, water carts 2, mess cart (Officers) 1"

We were also able to gather more information concerning the ships our relatives sailed on from the National Maritime Museum in Greenwich who were able to provide us with technical information relating to their construction and owners.

The Oxonian (left) was built in 1898, was owned by Leyland and Sons of Liverpool and was hired twice to transport men to the front , in the period August 1914 -October 1915 and from August 1916 to July 1917. The Manchester Importer (C8206) (below right) was built in 1899, owned by Manchester Liners Company of Liverpool and served throughout the war as a troop-ship. The National Maritime Museum were not able at that time to provide photographs but we obtained these from the collection of John and Marion Clarkson who have an archive of some 80,000 negatives, mainly merchant ships ranging from tugs and liners to warships of the 20th century. They are an excellent source.

It is hard to imagine how the soldiers felt looking back at the land as they sailed. They were leaving behind their loved ones feeling that perhaps they would never see them again. No amount of training could have prepared them for what was about to happen.

Throughout the war the 1/5th, along with the 1st and 8th Battalions served on the Western Front in France and Belgium. Two months after landing in France Arthur was listed as wounded on the 9th of April when in A Company of the 5th. This was the very day on which the whole brigade had marched to Ypres to be in action in the 2nd Battle of Ypres April-May 1915. The photograph is of the 1/5th Battalion (TF) in their trench, Ypres Salient in May 1915.

Given the dates on which they were both wounded and knowing their units we were able to plot their movements up until the 17th of January 1916 when Robert was listed as wounded whilst serving with the 1/5th. Prior to this on New Year's Day the Battalion were in the front line, and in the same year, seven months later were in the Battle of the Somme: Guillemont in August 1916 and Flers in September 1916.. The last known date we have is when Robert was again listed as wounded on the 27th of September 1917, although we don't know where or with which Battalion.

This is the last we hear of them until the time when they both died in September 1918, Arthur with the 1st Battalion and Robert with the 8th Battalion. Both had served valiantly for almost the whole of the Great War. We have copies of the war diaries for the days when they died. A facsimile (PRO, WO 95/1506) of the one for Arthur is shown below.

That for the 2nd of September for the 1st Battalion reads:

" The Battalion attacked at 5-0 am on DROCOURT - QUEANT LINE E of ETERPIGNY - D Coy to occupy furthest line. C Coy to occupy third line - B Coy to occupy second line and A Coy to occupy first line. The Coys. places bombing blocks on their left flanks and at 8-0 am began to bomb northwards with the object of taking ETAING under cover of a barrage. The attack was held up by M.G. fire from PROSPECT FARM. Casualties during this advance were - 13 killed and 36 wounded . . . . . . . ."

For the 27th of September the 8th Battalion War Diary (PRO, WO 95/1436) reads:

"Battalion moved forward in Artillery formation 400 yds in rear of 8th Brigade (K.S.L.I.). Coming under heavy hostile M. G. fire they closed up to the barrage and passed through the 8th Brigade on to their objective the RED LINE. Pushing on with 1st Gordon Hrs on left 1st N. Fusiliers on Right they captured the BROWN LINE (STATION AVENUE) (HINDENBURG SUPPORT LINE) The Battalion being on the whole of its objective at 9.45 am. Enemy machine gunners put up a very stiff fight and there were many critical moments during the advance, calling for determined and immediate action . . . . . . ."

Just reading what might seem to be clinical accounts one can sense orderliness, then the noise and the confusion, the pain and the bravery; and for some - the silence.

Thus our research drew to a close - or so we thought - when two more unexpected and exciting things happened. As a child Robert had been a pupil at The Boys' National School, or "Nashy", on St Leonard's gate Lancaster. It was sadly demolished many years ago. Then we heard about a Roll of Honour at Ripley St Thomas C of E school in Lancaster, to the memory of the old boys who had served in the Great War. A telephone call to the Head teacher, Mr Lailey (who couldn't have been more helpful) confirmed that Robert was indeed named on their Roll of Honour. He kindly agreed to our taking photographs (see below); we then discovered that Arthur's name was on it too! A fact previously unknown to us.

Shortly after, in August, we were put in touch with Tony Wadeson. Imagine our surprise when he told us that he was Arthur's nephew and that he and Brenda's father Harold were cousins! We have since met Tony and his brother John, both also interested in family history; they kindly gave us a photograph (below) of Arthur (far right) as a child with his parents and brothers and sisters.

This part of our journey into the past has now ended. It has been an emotional trip, full of admiration and pride for what our relatives did. We are glad that we also "embarked" on this voyage of discovery.

Further details of Arthur and Robert are in the biographical section.


Subsequently we learnt that Arthur's younger brother, Herbert Harold had enlisted in the Royal Army Service Corps (MT) and served overseas, first with the Motor Machine Gun Corps in Africa and then with the 5th Light Armoured Motor Battery in Egypt. We are now on another journey to find out about Brenda's father who like his own father joined the King's Own Territorial Army until he also was embodied and fought in the Second World War; with the 5th Battalion King's Own at Dunkirk in 1940 and then with the Nigerian Regiment in West Africa, India and Burma . . . . . . .this of course is another story!

We hope you have been interested in our journey, enough to embark on one of your own. Should you wish to do so here are a list of contacts and references which should assist you "en voyage"


We would particularly like to thank the following people or organisations (all of whom are listed in the References) for their permission to use material from them in our article.

John and Marion Clarkson - For the ship photographs

King's Own Royal Regiment Museum - For the photographs of The King's Own Men

The Naval and Military Press Ltd - For the printouts from their CD

Public Record Office Kew - For the extracts from the War Diaries

Brian Thomas - For all of his help and for the photographs

"We also have to express our thanks to so many people and organisations all too numerous to mention."

Further Reading:

The King's Own The story of a Royal Regiment 1914-1950 Volume 3 by Colonel J M Cowper Published by the Regiment in 1957. This volume is out of print but should be available through inter-library loan or in reference collections. It is available on CD-ROM from the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum

Lions of England A pictorial History of the King's Own Royal Regiment (Lancaster) 1680-1980 by Stuart A Eastwood published by Silver Link in 1991. This book is available from the King's Own Royal Regiment Museum

The story of the 55th West Lancashire Division by Rev J O Coop Published by the Liverpool Daily Post 1919.

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