What was my chance of Survival on the Somme?

How lucky am I that Grandad survived his service in WWI?   This is a fundamental question that remains in the background as I learn more and report hostilities.

Roll of Honour showing the names of the men in the photograph.

As a sample of Manchester Pals, I’ve used the III Platoon Roll as published in the Book of Honour.  We don’t know who’s who on the majority of the Platoon photo.  We do have some information on each of the individuals in the list.

Analysis of CWGC & SDGW records shows 19 of the 64 Men in III Platoon Roll died during hostilities.  A little under 30% of the sample were killed or died.

In view of my wider knowledge of The Cost the proportion of fatalities was surprisingly low.  Further analysis of the Roll shows a group of men that did not leave for France on 8th November 1915, who may be dismissed from a true sample of fifty five men who left England with the Pals.  Part of the excluded Group includes NCOs who’d been transferred to other Battalions or Corps and another man arrived in France during 1916.  However, the majority of the excluded group were not combatants.  These 6 men were either dismissed as unfit or unsuitable for service, or they served as Garrison troops away from Theaters of War.

Following the revised sample, it can be seen that 19 of 55 men died who arrived in France with the Pals.  The chance of survival was 65% - a little over 2/3rds survived.

III Platoon, 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment.  March 1916, Heaton Park.

III Platoon, 17th Battalion Manchester Regiment. March 1916, Heaton Park.




Courtesy Barbara Pearce

Herbert John Pain 41788 19th Manchesters. Died 27th May 1918

Courtesy Barbara Pearce

Courtesy Barbara Pearce

Courtesy Barbara Pearce

2/Lt Smyth Courtesy Barbara Pearce

Private Herbert Pain was servant to 2nd Lieutenant Paul Cranfield Smyth until 31st July 1916, when the subaltern was wounded at Ypres. The postcard shows a youthful young man from south London who survived the drama of the Western Front, but lost his life away from the front six months before the Armistice.
CWGC shows Private H J Pain 41788 is buried at MONT HUON MILITARY CEMETERY, LE TREPORT having died on 27th May 1918. Le Treport was a main hospital centre for the Western Front and it could be a sensible assumption Herbert had died being treated for wounds received that spring.
Part of CWGC records suggest Herbert was part of 18th Bttn, although this may be because the 19th was disbanded that February and absorbed into 16th or 17th Bttns. The 18th Bttn. was possibly confused, or an error.
SDGW indicates Wimbledon born Herbert John Pain had ‘Died’ in France or Flanders on 27th May. He had lived in Raynes Park and enlisted in Merton. The contrast from the anticipated ‘Died of Wounds’ raises a question of the circumstances of Hebert’s demise.
1911 Census records show Herbert living with his parents, Walters Charles & Margaret Emma Pain [Nee Spong] at 76 Dindonald Road Wimbledon. Herbert was 14 year old school pupil and hes father was a bricklayer.
Baptism records provide 29 December 1897 as Herbert’s date of birth. He was christened at Holy Trinity Church, Wimbledon.
During World War II the Luftwaffe bombed London and most WWI Service Records were burned during the Blitz in the National Archives at Kew. We are fortunate the Records for Herbert Pain were left intact and enable us to provide a wider picture of the man, his Army service and his death.
Herbert’s Attestation sheet is clearly written in the same handwriting on the card given to Lieutenant Smyth. It also introduces the young man who enlisted in the 11th East Surrey Regiment, under Lord Derby’s Scheme for Voluntary conscription. Hebert was employed as a Chauffeur and living at 86 Vernon Avenue, Rayners Park, Merton, South West London. Presumably his employment rendered Herbert suitable for the role of Servant when he arrived at the front.
Herbert was still 17 when he attested at Merton Town Hall on 8/12/1917. He was then held in Reserve; holding an armlet to show his Service until 10/5/1916 when he was called up to Service with the E Surreys at Kingston-on-Thames.
Further Enlistment details confirm Walter Charles Pain of 86 Vernon Ave as Herbert’s father and next of kin. The Military History solely shows arrival at the British Expeditionary Force in France on 2/2/1917; a short time after Herbert’s 19th birthday. This confirms his entitlement to the Victory and British War Medals. These are attributed to the 19th Manchester Regiment in the Medal Rolls, most likely having transferred on 20/2/1917. Herbert served 268 days at Home and 1 year, 115 days in France.
The uncommon record ‘Died’ is fully explained as ‘Accidentally Drowned’ on 27/5/1918. A Court of Inquiry was held by 30th Division on 6th June 1918 and chaired by Major K D Holt of the Liverpool Regiment. Herbert’s Battalion allocation was interchanged between 17th & 19th Battalions suggesting he had been posted to 17th Battalion in February 1918, when 19th was disbanded.
The Inquiry received Witness Statements from a series of French civilians and British Soldiers. Herbert was seen undressing at Mers and swimming out to a sand bar. He then got into difficulty and was seen to have disappeared. The civilians all noted treacherous undercurrents during the ebb tide when Herbert was in the sea and the morning tide bringing in his body the next day. The Inquiry unanimously determined Herbert’s accidentally death by drowning.
Hebert’s effects were sent to his mother, who was still resident at Vernon Avenue, Rayners Park. Margaret Pain later acknowledged receipt of Herbert’s medals on 21/8/1921.
CWGC – Commonwealth War Graves Commission
SDGW – Soldiers Died in Great War
Postcard courtesy of Barbara Pearce http://www.finchleygallery.com/the-artist.htm

99 Years ago the Manchester Pals arrived in France

Newly released data on the net provides the Roll of 17th Battalion men who arrived in France on 8th November 1915.  Of the sample of 12 men on the Roll with Arthur Bell:-

5 Died, including Private Arthur Edward Bennett 1st July 1916 – III Platoon Men

3 Discharged (Presumed sickness or wounds) including Arthur Bell

4 Demobilised fit (May have been wounded prior or former PoW)


We shall remember them.

Glenalmond College – Perthshire

Living in the deep south of England renders few opportunities to revisit Scotland, where I spent some great summers in the early 1980s.  Although not the subject of this blog, a wasp sting and synchronised swimming competition in Glasgow provided the unanticipated prospect of a visit to the former school of one of my World War I subjects.

Ralph Marillier Miller left Trinity College Glenalmond and commanded my grandad’s Platoon at Trones Wood  He lost his life soon after on 29th July 1916.

Great thanks to Elaine for her generous hospitality and tour in the footsteps ‘Jockey’ Miller. We each found new data and opened up communication with Ralph’s niece.  I also read his obituary which includes an extract of a letter from the father of CSM Johnson; who had been saved by Ralph Miller and Grandad on 10th July 1916.  There’s a possible dilemma with focusing on the exploits of the two men on that day – but not when visiting Glenalmond College which is taking steps to take pride and remember all the men who fought in the War, particularly those that lost their lives.

In memory of Ralph Marillier Miller 27th Feb 1896 – 29th July 1916.  Here’s some pictures for ‘Brave Jockey’ (more to follow with better net connection) :-

This slideshow requires JavaScript.