What Royston Did … 

Accounts of Royston people from the Great War

A number of shorter narratives are recounted in these pages. These tell of individual acts of bravery or the day to day, and sometimes tragic, circumstances in which those fighting found themselves.

Walter Frederick Anderson

image wlater frederick anderson

Corporal, 2nd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment
Regimental Number 10377

Son of Lydia and Ebinezer Anderson, born Royston 1889.

Enlisting in the army in 1904, he served with the Bedfordshire Regiment in Gibraltar and Bermuda. When the war broke out in 1914, the regiment was recalled to the UK and Walter Frederick Anderson was transferred to the 2nd Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment.

The History of the Lincolnshire Regiment 1914-18 compiled from war diaries, despatches, Officer’s notes and other sources and edited by Major General C. R Simpson, Colonel of the Regiment is describing an eyewitness account of the action taken by the 2nd Battalion of the Lincolnshire on the 1st day of the Battle of the Somme. It says:

“As soon as the barrage lifted the whole assaulted. We were met with very severe rifle-fire and in most cases had to advance in rushes and return the fire. This fire seemed to come from the German second lines and the machine-gun fire from our left. On reaching the German front line we found it strongly held and were met with showers of bombs, but after a very hard fight about two hundred yards of German lines were taken about 7.50 am. Our support company by this time joined in. The few officers that were left gallantly led their men over the German trench to attach the second line, but owing to the rifle and machine-gun fire could not push on. Attempts were made to consolidate and make blocks, but the trench was so badly knocked about that very little cover was obtainable. We were actually in the German trenches for two or three hours, and captured a lot more trench on our right by bombing as well as repulsing a German counter-attack from their second line. It was impossible to hang on longer owing to shortage of ammunition, and no more bombs, as we had used up all our own as well as all the German bombs we could find in the trenches and dug-outs, and were being gradually squeezed out by their bombing attacks. A company of the Royal Irish Rifles made a most gallant attempt to come to our support, but only ten or twelve men succeeded in getting through the zone of terrific machine-gun fire. We went into the attack with twenty-two officers, all of whom were killed or wounded. We first retired to shell-holes in ‘No Man’s Land’ and kept up fire on the trench we had left with ammunition we collected from the wounded. As it was obvious we could do no good there, we retired to our own trench and reorganised to be ready for another attack if required.

“Orders were received from the 25th Brigade to withdraw to Ribble and Melling Streets and occupy the assembly dug-outs, which was done.”

Corporal Anderson was killed in action during the assault and is buried at the Ovillers Military Cemetery and remembered on the Royston War Memorial.

Frederick Charles Feast

image frederick feast

Private, 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment
Regimental Number 4/692

Son of Jane and John Feast, born Royston, 1896.

A Ggrocer’s errand boy, he enlisted at the outbreak of the war in November 1914.

The village of Montauban lay behind the first German defensive system consisting of two trench lines along communication trenches. The second had three strongpoints: Dublin Redoubt, Glatz Redoubt and Pommiers Redoubt. This line was known (right to left) as Dublin Trench – Train Alley – Pommiers Trench. The village of Montauban, fortified with another trench line ran in front of it.

From a report taken from the war diary of the 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. It says:

“The early morning of July 1st was hazy and from our positions we could not see the German positions. At 7.30 a.m. (ZERO Hour) the general advance commenced, led by the 17th and 20th Battalions Kings Liverpool Regt, the 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment being in support and the 19th Battalion Kings Liverpool Regiment in Reserve. The Bombardment has been so successful that very little resistance from Rifle Fire took place, but most of the casualties were sustained from Shell Fire. The Headquarters of the Battalion were in the Chateau dug-outs during the preliminary advance.

“ By 8 a.m. the German 1st Line Trenches were taken (including FAVIERE and SILESIA fire trenches) the leading Battalions pushing on to CASEMENT TRENCH – ALT ALLEY – GLATZ ALLEY, advanced and occupied FAVIERE SUPPORT – SILESIA SUPPORT and B & C Companies supporting the advance to DUBLIN TRENCH occupying CASEMENT TRENCH. At 12.30 p.m., the 20th Bn. Kings Liverpool Regiment assaulted and took the BRIQUETERIE. This was successfully accomplished and about 300 prisoners and 4 Machine Guns were taken, this work completed, the men re-joined their company who were under heavy shell fire during the day and night. At 8.15 a.m. the following day, Battalion H.Q., moved up into LEXDON STREET in our old front line trenches and remained there during the operation."

Private Feast is buried at the Cerisy-Gailly Military Cemetery and remembered on the Royston War Memorial. 

Leonard George Godfrey

image george godfrey

2nd Lieutenant, 10th Battalion, Royal Welsh Fusiliers

Formerly Sergeant, 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment

Regimental Number 8087

Son of Owen and Ellan Godfrey of Green Street, Royston. Born 1889, Chertsey.

Battle of Delville Wood : 20th to 21st July

“The 10th Battalion of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, part of the 76th Brigade of the Army 3rd Division had been ordered to take up position at Delville Wood and to attack it from ‘Princess Street.’ Arriving during the early hours of 20th July, a failure in communicating the orders placed the 10th at ‘Buchanan Street’ right in the middle of the German lines. Surrounded by heavy machine gun fire, a close quarter fighting followed, resulting in 91 members of the battalion killed, dying of their wounds or missing. Among the casualties was 2nd Lieutenant Leonard Godfrey. He was in charge of the Battalion Scouts and was with the leading troops when he was killed instantaneously by a rifle bullet. He did not suffer in any way. Before he went into the fight he had rendered invaluable service in reconnaissance."

Leonard Godfrey is remembered at the Thiepval and Royston War Memorials.

Jack (John Henry) Halstead

image jack halstead

Gunner, Royal Field Arillery
Regimental Number 800907

Born April 1897, son of Franklin and Emily Maud Halstead. He enlisted in November 1915 and embarked for France, to the Somme in March 1917. On 2nd September, his unit received orders that they were to be deployed at the Ypres Salient. On 8th September, recorded in his diary, he described the desolation that greeted him.

“A small semi-circular district whose diameter was eight miles of canal that ran through Ypres (north and south) and whose circumference was the line of trenches from Pilckem, out to Hooge, three miles east of Ypres, and down to St. Eloi. Three main roads branched out in the salient, roads of death. Ghastly sights were to be seen at every turn. These roads, Menin Way, Zillebeke and St. Jean. From these main roads ran by-roads. Perhaps they did not exist in pre-war days. The points at which these by-roads joined the main roads, were well registered by the enemy. Day and night they were shelled. Renowned corners were “Salvation Corner”, Hellfire Corner”, “Oxford Circus” and “Iron Cross Corner”.

He also added that:

“To walk along these roads at dawn – what ghastly sights. Men and horses which had been killed, and run over a thousand times by the heavy traffic.”

Jack survived the Great War and married Josephine Edna Morris. He worked in the family hardware business in Market Hill and died in 1963.

His diary, “Jack’s War” has been published and is available via Royston and District Museum and Art Gallery.

Rowland Newling

image rowland newling

Private, Hertfordshire Regiment

The fourth son of Mr James and Mrs Louisa Newling of Royston, Roland Newling enlisted in June 1915 aged 15 years and 8 months.

He went out to France in April 1916 aged 16 years and 6 months and died on July 23rd, 1916 aged 16 years and 9 months.

He was last seen -

“Sitting in a dugout, wounded. There was shelling going on all around at the time and the trench was continually being blown in."

His name is recorded on the Loos Memorial, France.

Herbert Edwin Norman

image herbert edwin norman

Private, Machine Gun Corps, 11th Battalion, Suffolk Regiment

Son of Ellen and Herbert Norman, born Guilden Morden 1896.

Prior to enlisting in November 1914, he was employed as a Chauffeur to Mr C. V. Grundy of Royston. Private Norman was sent out to France in January 1916.

The following account is from a taken from a survivor of the first day of the Battle of the Somme from the 11th Battalion who gave an eyewitness account of the action. He described:

“On July 1st the 11th Suffolks were on the right of Albert when at 7:30am we left our trench to tell Mr Germany that it was time to get moving. A great many of our Brigade not being bulletproof fell before they reached the German line, for the Germans were mowing the grass with machine gun fire. I managed to cross the enemy's front line, when I halted and looked around for my comrades. The nearest of them were about 50 yards away, so I thought I would wait for the reserves to come up. As I was standing there I felt something hit my left-hand top pocket, which reminded me I'd better move. I did so and a few minutes later a bullet passed through my left wrist."

Quote from Corporal R.Harley (11th Battalion Suffolks) of March
Letter from Warrington Hospital published in the Cambridgeshire Times.
(Thanks to Cliff Brown for supplying this quote).

Private Herbert Edwin Norman was killed in action during the assault and is buried at the Ovillers Military Cemetery and remembered on the Royston War Memorial.

William Ellis Reed

image william ellis reed

Private, 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment

“ We went into the trenches and spent 48 hours there. On Christmas Eve the Germans were singing and shouting nearly all night and asking us to go over and have a drink of lager beer, cocoa or anything we liked to ask for, but of course no one went. On Christmas morning they gave us a nice reveille of 18 shells but no one got hurt. Then they did not trouble us anymore until midday when they started to shout and ask us to go over.

“ We gained permission from our officer to challenge them to come to half way and we got out of our trenches. When they saw us they came to meet us and one or two shook hands. They sang us a carol and we sang one. After that we all joined up and sang “Tipperary” and gave three cheers for King and Country. We exchanged fags and tobacco and, when we returned to our trenches, it was agreed not to fire until 12.00 the next day.

“ So you see although they were our deadly enemies we can behave as friends on Christmas Day. They told us that they were not there to fight and that they were the Landstrum (what we call our last to call upon) and no doubt they were, for only one young man was among them and he was knocked kneed and weary. The rest were all old men with long beards and appeared to be 50 years of age.”

Private William Reed died 30th March 1915 and is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial.

George Henry Thomas

image george henry thomas

Private, “D” Battery, Tank Corps.

Supporting the assault on Flers-Courcelette, Private Thomas serving with “D” Battery, Tank Corp wrote the following account:

“I did not tell you when I wrote last that I was on a “Tank” because I knew you would worry. We went in on a Thursday night at 10.00 o’clock and we reached our objective about 11.00 o’clock on Friday Morning. We did all they wanted us to do and had just reached the last point when we caught a shell, a 9.2, one of the biggest shells. I got a few shell splinters in my nose and forehead, but not enough to bring me to England. It is quite all right for us now we have made a name for ourselves. Talk about shell fire, it was simply awful. I had to come back three miles through it. It was a wonder I was not put out over so many a time. It was however my luck and nothing else that got me through. We went over the German first, second and third lines, and through a village before we were stopped. It was hard luck, as we got them on the run lovely, and they can run, not half! You just ought to see them, and I think we shall keep them at it now."

Awarded the Military Medal and having survived the Somme Offensive of 1916, Private Thomas died in action on the ‘Tanks’ on 3rd May 1917. He is remembered on the Arras Memorial, France and the Royston War Memorial.