Tag Archives: 100 years

Wakefield Express WW1 – R Metcalfe, Woodlesford

Wakefield Express WW1 – R Metcalfe, Woodlesford

Another look through the Wakefield Express copies and I came across an entry for a young man who had gained military honours.

A WOODLESFORD SOLDIER HONOURED – Sergeant Brittlebank, of the K.O.Y.L.I., writing to a resident says – “I desire to bring to your notice and the people of Woodlesford the honours that have fallen to the lot of Corporal Metcalfe, who has won the Military Medal and the Distinguished Conduct Medal for bravery in the field.  I am his Platoon Sergeant, and can personally say he thoroughly deserves the two great honours that have been conferred upon him.  The N.C.O’s and men of his regiment feel right proud of him.  He enlisted in the first rush of war and he served in the Miners’ Battalion of the  K.O.Y.L.I., ever since, with distinction and ability both in Egypt and France.  Knowing him to be quiet, unassuming young fellow.  I think his people and fellow townsmen should know about his honours.  I think they have every reason to be proud of him.

Wakefield Express 10 February 1917

Robert Metcalf via Woodlesfordstation.co.uk

Robert Metcalf via Woodlesfordstation.co.uk

Again, what do we know about Corporal Metcalfe – well his name, his rank and his regiment, and of course, where he was from!

A very quick search through the D.C.M. Citations, came up with one :-

12/44 L/Cpl. R. Metcalf – For conspicuous gallantry in action.  Although wounded, he remained at his post and dressed the wounds of several men under heavy fire.  On another occasion he showed great courage and initiative in manning a trench after the explosion of an enemy mine. (13.2.17)

Could this be our Corporal Metcalfe?  If it is we now have an initial and a service number.  Now to the Medal Card Index with our new found information – his service number!

Well, the Medal Card Index entry for Corporal Metcalfe, confirmed by his service number, now tells me his first name was Robert.  He now had attained the rank of Sergeant.  He was eligible for the British and Victory Medals.

But what happened to Robert?  Did he make it home?  But more to the point who was Robert? Robert was born in Goole around 1894.  He was the son of Henry Metcalf and Fanny Welburn, from Carlton.  By 1901 the family were living at the Woodlesford Lock, on the Aire and Calder Canal, where Joseph Henry Metcalf, aged 54, was the canal lock-keeper.  In the 1911 census there was a Robert Metealfe (Metcalfe), aged 17 who was born in Goole.  Robert gave his occupation as labourer in the brickworks.  He was lodging with Walter Shorter, a colliery pit sinker, from Kent and his family.

A further search for Robert with his service number I found an entry on Soldier’s Who Died in the Great War and found an entry for a Robert Metcalfe, all seemed to fit, but his place of birth is given as Swillington, Garforth.  Robert enlisted in Rothwell, he is a Sergeant, in the K.O.Y.L.I.  He Died of Wounds on 17th of April 1918, had been awarded the D.C.M. – no sign of his military Medal.

Before I found Roberts name, I Googled ‘Metcalfe, MM DCM Woodlesford and came up with the following:-

WOODLESFORD KILLED AND WOUNDED SOLDIERS. – In the current issue of the Parish Magazine of All Saints’, Woodlesford, is the following reference to local military casualties: – We much regret to have to record that the war is responsible for the deaths of two well-known residents in our village. John Borman, who had only been in France a short time, has been killed in action. Robert Metcalfe, who had been in the lines nearly all the time, has died from wounds in a base hospital in France. He had greatly distinguished himself and won the M.M. and other distinction, and been promoted to the rank of sergeant. They, along with all others who have died in defence of our country, win our lasting gratitude, and their relatives and friends have our sincerest sympathy.h

Rothwell Courier and Times 1918

Etaples Military Cemetery via CWGC

Etaples Military Cemetery via CWGC

The entry for Robert in the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, has his name – Robert Metcalfe (no e), his service number, rank, regiment and battalion, along with his place of burial, Etaples Military Cemetery  and plot references XX1X E 10A.   He rests with over 10,770 other casualties of war, of which 35 are unknown.

Etaples and the surrounding area was dotted with reinforcement camps and hospitals, due to its location – being remote from attack, apart from aerial attack.  The area was also accessible by rail, from both the north and the south.  In 1917, over 100,000 troops were camped in the sand dunes close to the town, in the hospitals, which included eleven general, one stationary, four Red Cross hospitals and a convalescent depot, could deal with 22,000 wounded or sick. In September 1919, ten months after the Armistice, three hospitals and the Q.M.A.A.C. convalescent depot remained.

Robert is also remembered on the Oulton and Woodlesford war memorial, Woodlesford School memorial 

It’s May – an eventful month

Well, only a few days into the merry month of May and so much has happened.

We have see the birth of another great grandchild to Her Majesty The Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh, but that will have to wait for another blog.  There has also been celebrations taking place for the end of the war in Europe – V E Day.

We have see the commemorations to those who lost their lives in the sinking of the Lusitania, 100 years ago and we have seen an election which I don’t think anyone predicted the outcome of.  But enough of politics, so back to the Lusitania a more fitting subject for this blog.

RMS Lusitania - Wikipedia

RMS Lusitania – Wikipedia

She, RMS Lusitania was a British ocean liner and holder of the Blue Riband (an unofficial accolade given to passenger liners crossing the Atlantic at a record high speed – of 35 holders of the Blue Riband, 25 were British).  She was launched on 7th of June 1906, becoming part of the Cunard Line.  RMS Lusitania was the biggest passenger ship – for a short time.  Built by John Brown & Co., at Clydebank, she weighed in at 44,060 tons. She had 9 passenger decks, provided approx. 50% more passenger capacity that any other ship at the time.  The ship was equipped with lifts, electric lights, wireless telegraph and her first class accommodation and decks were magnificent in their furnishings.

The Lusitania left New York on the 1st of May 1915 for the port of Liverpool with 1962 people onboard including a crew of 850.

Advert from American papers - Wikipedia

Advert from American papers – Wikipedia

By this time the German Government had declared that all Allied ships would be in danger of being attacked in British waters.  Submarine activity was intensifying around the Atlantic making any vessel in our coastal waters a target for attack.  It is said that the German Embassy in the United States placed an advertisement in newspapers warning passengers of the danger of being a passenger on the Lusitania.

On the 7th of May, RMS Lusitania, was off the coast of Ireland ready to complete her 202nd crossing and was due to dock in Liverpool later that afternoon.  A course running parallel to the south coast of Ireland,  and roughly 11 miles off the Old Head of Kinsale when the liner crossed in front of U-20 at 14:10hrs. The Commanding Officer of U-20, Schwieger, gave the order to fire one torpedo, which struck the Lusitania on the starboard bow – just beneath the wheelhouse.  Shortly after, a second explosion came from within her hull, and the ship began to founder with a prominent list to starboard.

The crew rushed to launch the lifeboats but the position of the vessel and the conditions made their deploy quite difficult and in some cases almost impossible.  As it was only six of the 48 boats were launched.

Eighteen minutes after the torpedo struck, the bow touched the seabed, with the stern still visible above the surface of the water – finally, sliding beneath the waves to her grave.

Of the 1962 passengers and crew on board the Lusitania 1,191 lost their lives, 405 members of the crew lost their lives including John Henry Lowrie Hayes .

 The Lusitania had signalled her distress which brought Irish rescuers to the scene.

By the following morning the news if the sinking, of this unarmed passenger liner,  had spread worldwide.  Most of the passengers were either British of Canadians, there were 128 Americans on the passenger list who lost their lives and this outraged many in their country.

Dr. Bernhard Dernburg, a German spokesman published a statement saying that the Lusitania carried ‘contraband of war’ and also she was ‘classed as an auxiliary cruiser’ Germany had the right to destroy her regardless of any passengers on board.  He also stated that because of the published warning in American papers that Germany were relieved of any responsibility for the deaths of the American citizens.  He stated the ammunition and military goods listed as her cargo, which included an estimated 4,200,000 rounds of rifle cartridges, 1,250 empty shell cases and 18 cases of non-explosive fuses.

Cunard denied that she was carrying munitions but admitted her transportation of small-arms ammunition.

100 years later on the 7th of May 2015, Cunard’s MS Queen Victoria underook a voyage to the site of the sinking to lay a wreath to remember those who lost their lives on that day.

Previous commemorations had taken place, including  a lifeboat crew rowing the 12 miles to the site of the disaster.