Sumthin' dun't look right 'ere

The truths & the tragedies behind the headstones

"Shot whilst escaping, Belgium, 10th October 1914"
The tale of the men buried at Eksaarde Communal Cemetery, Lokeren, Oost-Vlaanderen, Belgium.

Overall view of CWGC Headstones at Eksaarde Communal Cemetery
L. to R: LS Haggis RNVR, Five unknown soldiers, Pte. Chadwick RMLI, Pte. Napper RMLI & AB Whitehead RNVR.

According to information on the CWGC website, there are 8 British soldiers & one Belgian Soldier buried at Eksaarde. The CWGC Cemetery Register text reads thus:-

All the graves in Eksaarde Communal Cemetery are pictured & discussed below. The spelling of Exaerde, like Ypres, has been modified since 1914.


It is to the memory of all these men that we present here this study of some of the R.N.D.'s earliest & most tragic casualties. It also gives us the opportunity to present evidence which indicates the burial of another R.N.D. sailor at Eksaarde who has no CWGC Headstone & is currently listed on the Nieuport Memorial to the missing.

During our study of R.N.D. casualties, the men buried at Eksaarde drew scrutiny for several reasons, but mainly for the dates of death given for two men, LS Haggis & AB Whitehead. Both were in the Collingwood Battalion, R.N.D., & both are recorded as died 7/10/14. It is a matter of historical fact that the Collingwood Battn. were in the trenches at Antwerp (over 35 miles away) on the 7th of October 1914 & we wondered why these two chaps were buried so far from their supposed place of death. It was only when a private diary was published in Len Sellers' "R.N.D." magazine, that we were able deduce the true date & cause of their deaths:-

R.N.D. Royal Naval Division, Antwerp, Gallipoli & Western Front 1914-1918, published by Len Sellers, Issue 20, March 2002, pages 1935-1936:-

Antwerp & Doberitz. The Diary of a POW. W. Reid. T2/119. Able Seaman, RNVR, Hawke Bn.
The 9th of October found us marching through Belgian towns & villages making for Holland, for it was there we learned later that 60,000 Germans were pursuing us. While on this march we again got astray from our Hawke Company & joined up with the Collingwood Battn. We later all fell in with a party of Marines & it was at a small village that the officer in charge changed his mind & decided to fall in with them making for Ostend.

All the roads we traversed were crowded with refugees, the young & old making for Holland. When we arrived at St. Nicholas a distance of 35 miles from Antwerp, we were told the Germans were doing a forced march to cut off our retreat in the direction of Ostend. Nevertheless our officers decided to risk it & we started another long march, all this time we had had nothing to eat & were starving, so no one would be able to imagine our resistance should we be attacked. After marching for about four hours we boarded a train already half full of refugees & were packed on top of trucks, sitting on the buffers, anywhere we could get. All went well till about 9 o'clock when most of us has fallen asleep. We were awakened by sounds of rifle fire & quickly jumping down took cover under wagons or anything which afforded cover & commenced firing. The firing lasted for about ten minutes, then the cry went up we must surrender for the sake of the women & children, so we surrendered.

After we had surrendered the Germans started firing on us again so we retaliated & the German Colonel who had the misfortune to be in the open, sitting on his horse, was shot down by a Marine lying next to me on the railway side. After the firing has ceased we again were told to ground our arms & ammunition & were all marched into a street. All this time the screams of the women & children were terrible, for two women & one baby had been shot. One shot passed through the baby & its mother. If it had not been for the women & children it could have been all up with us for there were 10,000 Germans to 900 of us. Nevertheless we accounted for over 100 & their Colonel, whilst the firing lasted.

After searching & counting us, we were marched to a church at a place called Eairs. Whilst on the march six men had the misfortune to be shot through one trying to escape. Two of the dead men belonging to the Tyneside Division. One of them was J.Whitehead, the other C.Redmond. We arrived at the church about 4am Saturday 10th October & were served with a piece of bread about one & a half inches square, this being all they could spare, as they had nothing for themselves. Our stay at this church was very strange, as no one seemed to be able to sleep. We were kept there for two days, Saturday & Sunday 11th October, with very little to eat.

The next day Monday the 12th October we were marched to Termonde. This was a town of nothing but ruined streets & all the way a distance of 24 miles we had to carry the German Guards' packs for them. On our march, during halts, the German Guards went into the fields & threw some swedes to us, which were eaten ravenously & were even carried by us till we reached Doberitz. When we arrived at Termonde we were supplied with a cup of soup, this being the first feed we had had from Sunday dinnertime. After finishing this meal we were packed into goods wagons, about 40 in each one, for a two & a half-day journey, receiving only two meals on route.

J. Whitehead

The text from William Reid's diary gave us the answers we were looking for & more.
AB Reid was an eyewitness to events on the night of 9th-10th of October 1914 & his testimony was the key to unravelling the inaccuracies in the CWGC records.

"...whilst on the march six men had the misfortune to be shot through one trying to escape. Two of the dead men belonging to the Tyneside Division. One of them was J.Whitehead, the other C.Redmond."

Tyneside 2/76 AB John Whitehead RNVR, 'D' Coy. Collingwood Bn., has a Headstone at Eksaarde on the far right in the main overall view. It carries the inscription "Buried near this spot" which indicates that the Headstone was erected in the belief that he was buried nearby & not above his actual remains. This type of Headstone is only erected when sufficient evidence is received from informants that a particular man was buried in a specified location. In Whitehead's case it was a postcard from a POW, London 2/1068 CPO G.R. Munday RNVR Hawke Bn., which informed his sister that he was "killed at Antwerp & buried at Exaerde."

It seems highly likely that Whitehead's body was one of the five unknown British Soldiers buried in the multiple grave.

There are two errors in detail on AB Whitehead's Headstone.
Based upon AB Reid's diary (& verified from other official sources), we can see that the date of death, 7th October 1914, is clearly wrong. AB Reid is quite precise in his diary dates; & it is almost certain that the true date of the attempted escape & shootings was after 12 midnight 9/10/14, in the early morning of the 10th of October 1914.
The Headstone also lists AB Whitehead's unit as "Portsmouth Battn." This error is thought to have originated from the Next-of-Kin, who may have heard that they had "fell in with a party of Marines" & wrongly assumed that the Portsmouth Battn. was his unit. AB Whitehead was actually in the Collingwood Battn.
AB Whitehead was a 27 year old Driller & husband of Harriett Whitehead (later Mrs Garbutt), of 93 Denmark St., South Shields. He served in the RNVR 1905-1911 & re-enlisted 7/8/1914, three days after war was declared.



Tyneside 3/152 AB Charles Redmond RNVR, 'D' Coy. Hawke Bn., is listed on the Nieuport Memorial to the missing, his grave not being found or reported after the war.

Nieuport Memorial, RNVR Panel.
(Sub.Lt. E.M. Ridge was o
riginally buried as an "unknown" in Edegemsestraat Cemetery & moved to Cantincrode Cemetery in October 1940. In 1993 objects found with the body & depositions from local citizens identified the remains as that of Sub.Lt. Ridge).

AB Reid clearly states that both J. Whitehead & C. Redmond, of the Tyneside Division RNVR, were shot on the night of the 9th-10th October 1914. Whitehead's grave in Eksaarde Communal Cemetery is in itself proof enough to verify Reid's account & provides sufficient evidence to presume that AB Redmond is also buried there, probably one of the five unknown British soldiers in the multiple grave.

We would ideally like to see a Special Memorial Headstone erected to AB Redmond & placed between the Special Memorial Headstone of LS Haggis & that of the Five unknown British soldiers.
We would also request that the two errors in AB Redmond's CWGC record be corrected: the service number Tyneside Z/152 (correct number Tyneside 3/152) & the date of death 7/10/14 (to 10/10/14).
AB Redmond was a 23 year old Labourer & resided with his parents, Mr & Mrs. Andrew Redmond, at 49 Dean Rd., Tyne Dock. He enlisted in the RNVR in February 1912.

The Bronze Memorial Plaque issued to Mr Andrew Redmond.

Other Graves at Eksaarde & points of interest/contention.

If one refers to the CWGC description listed at the head of this page:-
"In the South-east part, close to the entrance, are four War Graves of 1914. In the first, five unknown British soldiers and an unknown Belgian
soldier are buried (but a special memorial is erected to a man of the Naval Division believed to be one of the five)."
It appears that the recognition we request for AB Redmond was long ago approved for LS Haggis, who has the Special Memorial & is the "man of the Naval Division" referred to. Haggis' Headstone adjoins that of the five unknowns.

The "Special Memorial" to LS Haggis & the multiple grave in Eksaarde Communal Cemetery.

There are two errors on the Headstone of LS Haggis:-
(1) The date of death should be 10/10/14, in accordance with the known facts & evidence from AB Reid's account.
(2) The spelling of "THEIR" in the inscription at the base.
London 5/2690 LS Percy Haggis RNVR, 'A' Coy. Collingwood Bn., Was a 25 year old Clerk who resided with his father, Henry Haggis, at Crofton, Milbourne Lane, Esher. He enlisted in the RNVR in June 1912.

There are two problems/errors with the multiple grave Headstone:-
(1) In the CWGC description
it states that there are "five unknown British soldiers and an unknown Belgian soldier" buried in this grave. Why does the inscription not read "Five British soldiers of the Great War 1914"?
(2) Why is there no mention of the unknown Belgian soldier?
At the very least, the inscription should read "Six soldiers of the Great War 1914".

The Headstone to LS Haggis is not counted as an actual grave. The first grave is actually that of the five(six) soldiers of the Great War, in which LS Haggis is believed to be buried.

The second grave is therefore that of Pte. Chadwick RMLI (third headstone from the left in the overall view).

Headstone & 1914 Star to Pte. George Chadwick RMLI

The grave of Pte. Chadwick is interesting for several reasons.
It states his age (17) & a Personal Inscription (AT REST). This information was provided by his father, the Personal Inscription bought & paid for at three & a half pence per letter (total cost: one shilling, seven & a half pence). However, no Next of Kin details are listed by the CWGC. This appears strange but is not uncommon, as many graves have been noted with Personal Inscriptions but lack Next of Kin in the Cemetery Registers. The Personal Inscription Register, kept by the CWGC at their HQ in Maidenhead, Berks., records all inscriptions & the next of kin's address, but these details are very rarely made available to the public (which is rather a shame).
he CWGC Eksaarde Cemetery details indicate that Pte. Chadwick RMLI died of wounds. This is verified on Chadwick's service record which states "Reported DOW by PO/7741 Sgt.Mjr. Humphry (POW) & buried at Exaerde 11/10/14."

PO/17368 Pte. George Chadwick RMLI, Portsmouth Bn., Was a 17 year old Butcher's Assistant & resided with his father, Thomas, at 49 Mare Lane, Everton, Liverpool. He enlisted in the RMLI 8/8/14, four days after war was declared.


The third grave is that of Cpl. Napper RMLI (fourth headstone from the left in the overall view).

There is one error on Cpl. Napper's headstone: his service number should be "PO/4790" (but the CWGC Register & Net Database both give the correct number).

PO/4790(RFR/Po/B/224) Cpl. Frederick William Henry Napper RMLI, Portsmouth Bn., age 44, was the husband of Mrs. Mary E. Napper, of 72 West Terrace, Lower Sydenham, London SE. He enlisted in the RMLI in 1889 & enrolled in the RFR in 1902.



In AB Reid's statement, he recorded that six men were shot in the escape attempt at or near Eksaarde 10/10/14.
We have identified another R.N.D. man who was wounded in the escape attempt:-

London 10/3608 AB Sydney David Taylor RNVR, 'C' Coy. Benbow Bn.
His RND record card states, "wounded near Exaerde 10/10/14, bayonet wound left buttock & BW Back."

An intensive search of RND POW's 9/10/14 showed AB Taylor as the only man who was wounded at Eksaarde & survived. AB Taylor may have been one of the six AB Reid says were shot, we cannot be certain. It is a shame AB Reid did not note them as "shot & killed", nor how many were wounded. However, as the CWGC state that AB Whitehead 'died of wounds' it is probable that AB Reid was referring to the total number of men "shot" including the wounded. This might explain the grave of the "Five unknown British Soldiers" rather neatly, being the grave of the five R.N.D. men now known to have been killed in the Eksaarde Incident: LS Haggis, AB Redmond, AB Whitehead, Cpl. Napper & Pte. Chadwick.(Please recall that the Headstones of Whitehead, Napper & Chadwick are all "Buried near this spot" type, whilst that of LS Haggis is stated to be one of the five unknowns).



One more man died as a direct result of the escape attempt at Eksaarde 10/10/14:- Lt.Cdr. Oswald Hesketh Hanson RNVR, Benbow Bn., who was executed at midday 10/10/14 by the German Military Authorities. The CWGC record him as died 11/10/14.

The following extract from PRO reference ADM/137/4819 from a letter from Commodore Henderson 15/2/18, states evidence from Lt.Cdr. F.C. Grover RNVR Hawke Bn.:-

"Poor Hanson was shot by the Germans on the 10th October 1914. He had struggled with a sentry who was about to fire on one of our own men trying to escape after we were taken prisoner on the night of the 9th, & under German Military Code such an act can be punished with death. I tried to get the sentence mitigated, & so did the Commandant of the troops guarding us, for it was evident that Hanson was overwrought by the fatigues of the previous days. The matter was referred to the highest authority; at that time, General von der Goltz was Military Governor of Belgium, but it was of no avail, & Hanson was shot at midday, & is buried by the Church at Exaerde."

Lt.Cdr. Hanson is now buried at Dendermonde (formerly Termonde) Communal Cemetery Extension. He was OC 'D' Coy. Benbow Bn. The reader will note two discrepancies in the above account: (1) It states that Hanson was shot 10/10/14 & (2) that he was buried by the Church at Exaerde.

(1) The date given, midday 10/10/14, seems rather soon after the event for the representations for clemency to have been made. However, the available evidence seems to show that Hanson was executed on the 10th & not on the 11th as the CWGC record (see "The Times" article shown below).

(2) Was Hanson originally buried at Exaerde & later moved 24 miles south to Termonde? If this were the case, it would lend credence to the report he was shot at midday 10/10/14.


The Times 5/11/14, page 10, column D.
(This article is of no use as evidence in Hanson's case)


The Times 23/11/15, page 8, column E.

The article above is an interesting mix of Propaganda & truth.
Whilst the reasons quoted for Hanson's execution are undoubtably "a load of old pony", the dates & place of burial are wholly corroborated in the statement later made by Lt.Cdr. Grover RNVR.
The article quotes them as being marched along in the dark on the 10th of October: this tallies with many other sources & is clearly correct.
However, the reason given for Hanson's execution is pure fiction & was probably designed to fuel anti-German feeling. This version paints Hanson as the exhausted hero, who died as a result of his efforts to warn imaginary comrades of danger. The truth was actually no less heroic, as he died as a direct result of his efforts to prevent the shooting of his men, but the lie allowed the claim of "Judicial Murder" which robbed the Germans of any justification for the death sentence. This Propaganda 'lie' appears to be the only untruth in an otherwise accurate account.
After this short departure from truth, the text returns to state the corroborated facts: that Hanson was executed the following morning & buried at Exaarde.

Based on the evidence from AB Reid, Lt.Cdr. Grover & "The Times" 23/11/15, we believe that Lt.Cdr. Hanson RNVR was actually executed at midday 10th of October 1914 & originally buried at Exaerde.

It is clear that Lt.Cdr. Hanson RNVR was blamed for the unnecessary & unauthorised surrender of the train at Moerbeke Station on the night of 9/10/14. The evidence from the Court of Inquiry into "The Moerbeke Affair" contains several references to Lt.Cdr. Hanson's conduct & his distressed state of mind. The conduct of the Naval Brigade ratings also came in for severe criticism. Despite this, the findings of the Court of Inquiry made no mention of Hanson by name, only that the surrender was originally "advocated by the Naval Officers". For these reasons perhaps & the attendant disgrace, the fate of "Poor Hanson" is so little known.

Other Matters of Interest in connection with the Antwerp Operations.

The Nieuport Memorial, Belgium.

Nieuport Memorial, RN, RNAS & RMLI Panel.

There are 22 names on the Naval Panels of Nieuport Memorial, but not all those listed are R.N.D. servicemen, despite what the CWGC might record. For instance, AB Pearson RN, is incorrectly recorded as "HMS Marshal Ney, R.N. Div." Lt.Cdr. Gartside-Tipping RN & AM.1 C.E. Statham RNAS were also not R.N.D; but the remaining 19 were all R.N.D. killed in the Antwerp operations. Two of these now have graves: Sub.Lt. Ridge RNVR (shown above) & Pte. J. Snell RMLI, who has a headstone in Schoonselhof Cemetery, Antwerp.

CH/16578 Pte. John Snell RMLI Chatham Bn., Was born in Crediton, Devon 20/2/1877 & enlisted in the RMLI as PLY/8412 19/1/1897, transferring to the Chatham Division RMLI in 1910. Husband of Mrs. A. Snell, of 8 Hamilton Terrace, Cemetery Rd., Deal.

It is clear that Pte. Snell's Headstone was erected shortly after the completion of the Nieuport Memorial (he is listed in a 1930 edition of the CWGC register). His body was evidently discovered elsewhere & reburied at Schoonselhof. The "Roll of Naval Deaths in the Great War" a.k.a. the ADM/242 series of documents held at the PRO, records that the entry for Pte. Snell was originally "X" (no information received as to place of burial), but was amended by in a hand-written note which reads:-"Schoonselhof (Antwerp) Military Cemetery, Belgium, Line 5, Grave 98" ; & this is his current grave number.

In 1920, seventeen RMLI graves were exhumed from their original burial place in "Lierre Military Cemetery" to Schoonselhof. As ADM/242 appears to be an important source of reference for these early burials, we consulted its pages & found two RMLI listed as buried in Lierre Military Cemetery:- Colour Sergeant Churchard & Pte. Weddell, but both are listed on the Nieuport Memorial with no known graves. We believe that both these men were amongst the seventeen RMLI graves exhumed from Lierre Military Cemetery in 1920 & that they now lie under the Headstones of "Unknown RMLI" in Schoonselhof Military Cemetery.

CH/5896(RFR/Ch/A/600) Clr.Sgt. Edward Albert Churchard RMLI, Chatham Bn. KIA 6/10/14, enlisted at Norwich 6/10/1890 & enrolled in the RFR 31/8/1912. Born in Roydon, Diss, Norfolk 6/8/1872, the husband of Margaret Churchard, of 45 Marylands Rd., Harrow Rd., Paddington, London W9.

CH/8325(RFR/Ch/B/832) Pte. John Robert Weddell RMLI, Chatham Bn. KIA 5/10/14, enlisted 29/4/1895 & enrolled in the RFR 28/3/1905. Born in Ratho, Edinburgh 24/8/1876, the husband of Mrs. C. Weddell, of 8 Hillwood Cottages, Ratho Station, Midlothian.

We are of the opinion that the evidence provided by ADM/242 is sufficient for both Churchard & Weddell to have "Special Memorial" Headstones (Believed to be Buried in this Cemetery) erected in Schoonselhof Military Cemetery.

From the above information, we calculate that 5 men from the 19 R.N.D. listed on the Nieuport Memorial can be accounted for (Sub.Lt. Ridge & Pte. Snell have graves, Clr.Sgt. Churchard & Pte. Weddell are buried in Schoonselhof, & AB Redmond is buried in Eksaarde). The examination of details for the 14 remaining is most interesting:-

HAWKE (3rd) BATTN. (two men named on the Nieuport Memorial).
Ch/SS/103286(RFR/Ch/B/7870) Sto.1 Ephraim Barrett RN, 'D' Coy. Hawke Bn. Missing, assumed KIA 7/10/14.

Kitchener W/727 AB William Charles Long RNVR, Hawke Bn., Missing, assumed KIA 7/10/14.

COLLINGWOOD (4th) BATTN. (seven men named on the Nieuport Memorial).
PO/289365(RFR/PO/B/3661) Sto.1 James Hilleard RN, 'A' Coy. Collingwood Bn. KIA 6/10/14.
PO/288489(RFR/PO/B/4123) Sto.1 George Wheeler RN, 'A' Coy. Collingwood Bn. KIA 6/10/14.
The CWGC record Wheeler's death as 8/10/14, but the RND Record Card states 6/10/14.
Tyneside 3/132 A/AB James Kilgour RNVR, 'D' Coy. Collingwood Bn., Missing, assumed KIA 7/10/14.
Bristol 3/1086 AB Walter Thomas Stiley RNVR, 'A' Coy. Collingwood Bn., Missing, assumed KIA 7/10/14.
Ch/278012(RFR/Ch/B/350) Stoker John Thomas Dungey RN, 'A' Coy. Collingwood Bn. Missing, assumed KIA 7/10/14.
PO/102017(RFR/PO/B/3962) Sto.1 Arthur William Potter RN, 'A' Coy. Collingwood Bn. KIA 8/10/14.
PO/SS/100331(RFR/PO/B/2973) Sto.1 Alfred Edward Ward RN, 'A' Coy. Collingwood Bn. KIA 8/10/14.

CHATHAM (9th) BATTN. (Two men named on the Nieuport Memorial).
CH/12349 Sgt. Frank Amos RMLI, Chatham Bn. KIA 5/10/14.
CH/13922 Sgt. Herbert Wheatley Humphrey RMLI, Chatham Bn. KIA 5/10/14.

PORTSMOUTH (10th) BATTN. (one man named on the Nieuport Memorial).
PO/9864(RFR/PO/B/1097) Pte. Harry Grimmett RMLI, Portsmouth Bn. KIA 8/10/14.
The CWGC incorrectly record Grimmett's RFR number as "RMR/PO/B/1907."

PLYMOUTH (11th) BATTN. (One man named on the Nieuport Memorial).
PLY/5515(RFR/Ply/A/988) Sgt. Arthur Tom Wood RMLI, Plymouth Bn. KIA 7/10/14.

Deal (12th) BATTN. (One man named on the Nieuport Memorial).
PLY/8924 Pte. Herbert William Helston RMLI, Deal Bn. KIA 5/10/14.
The CWGC incorrectly record Helston's Battn. & death as "Plymouth Bn. 9/10/14", but the RMLI Records & 1914 Star Roll state Deal Bn. 5/10/14.

The reader will see that 5 of the 14 remaining R.N.D. listed above were RMLI. Add these 5 to the two RMLI, Churchard & Weddell, who we claim are buried in Schoonselhof, & you have the exact same number as there are unknown RMLI graves in Schoonselhof. Coincidence? Seven RMLI missing on the Nieuport Memorial & seven unknown RMLI graves in Schoonselhof.

On the strength of this, we believe these seven RMLI are buried in the seven unknown RMLI graves in Schoonselhof Military Cemetery, & as such should be granted Special Memorial Headstones (Believed to be buried in this cemetery).

One last detail which might have thrown a spanner in the works, is the presence of the two Headstones shown below:-

CH/8110(RFR/Ch/B/1131) Pte. James Henry Lawrence RMLI, Chatham Bn. KIA 6/10/14, born Woolwich, Kent 31/3/1876, son of Daniel Lawrence, of 46 Richford Rd., Portway, West Ham, London E. & husband of Mrs. Lawrence.

PLY/14013 Pte. Reginald Fooks RMLI, Plymouth Bn. KIA 5/10/14, born 4/11/1888 (age 25), the son of Mary A. Fooks, of 10 Fore St., Chard, Somerset.

Pte. Lawrence's Headstone was erected long ago (pre-1930) & his name was not listed on the Nieuport Memorial.

However, Pte. Fooks was lost from the IWGC/CWGC records, not listed on the Nieuport Memorial & had no grave marker in Schoonselhof Cemetery until the mid-1990s, when he was presented as a case of "non-commemoration" & this Headstone was erected. The faithful "ADM/242/8" at the PRO reads "Antwerp Military Cemetery, Schoonselhof, Grave 62" which no doubt figured in the evidence to the CWGC.

Both are "Special Memorial Headstones" (as explained earlier) & would therefore also be candidates for the seven unknown RMLI buried in Schoonselhof, thus scuppering our figures. However, a study of the original burial returns for Schoonselhof & Lierre Military Cemeteries reveals a discrepancy in the number of unknown RMLI graves in Schoonselhof. According to the burial returns, there were originally EIGHT, possibly NINE unknown RMLI graves. Investigations are still ongoing at the time of writing, but we believe the current grave reference for the eighth & ninth unknown RMLI to be: Plot 2a, Grave 60 & 66.

Other problems found on the original burial returns are:-

The grave of Clr.Sgt. T. York RMLI (grave 93) appears to have switched places with the "unknown RMLI 5/10/14" in grave 94.

The "unknown RMLI 5/10/14" in grave 84 was later noted as "unknown Sgt. RMLI 6/10/14".

Various discrepancies on dates of death for several other unknown RMLI graves.

More on this to follow.

Other Matters of Interest in connection with the Antwerp Operations (2).
R.N.D. attached RNAS Armoured Cars

The Graves of Ptes. Treagus & Oatley RMLI at Aeroplane Cemetery, Ypres.

PO/14656 Pte. George Treagus RMLI, Armoured Car Section (attd. RNAS) DOW 18/10/14.
Son of Harry & Emily Treagus. Married 18/10/13, Georgina Amelia, of 81 Charlton, Horndean, Hants. b.Buriton, Petersfield, Hants. 2/11/1887.

PLY/14197 Pte. Philip Oatley RMLI, Armoured Car Section (attd. RNAS) KIA 18/10/14.
Husband of Mrs. P. Oatley, of 2 Smith's Court, New Inn, Wells, Somerset.

When first we found these two RMLI buried side-by-side in Aeroplane Cemetery, we assumed they had perhaps died of wounds whilst POWs. The Deal Battn. RMLI withdrew from Antwerp on the 8th of October 1914 & returned to England on the 12th of October 1914. However, on consulting the 1914 Star Roll to the RN, we found that Pte. Treagus was listed as "Portsmouth Bn." & Pte. Oatley as "Armoured Car Section attached RNAS." This prompted us to delve deeper into their case.

The 1914 Star Roll to the RN is a useful reference but not faultless, especially when listing members of the Deal Battn. The Deal Battn. was formed (to replace the RMA Battn.) after the R.M. Brigade had served at Ostend 26/8/14-1/9/14, by drafts from the Recruit Depot at Deal & by drafting one company & one platoon from each of the other three RMLI Battns. (Chatham, Portsmouth & Plymouth). As service at Ostend qualified for the 1914 Star, the roll is forced to show the original Battalion the man qualified with. If they later transferred to the Deal Battn., this was not entered on the roll in order to avoid duplicate entitlement. The 196 men listed in the 1914 Star Roll as "Deal Detachment RMLI" are woefully short of the Battalion strength they fielded at Antwerp & the roll actually lists only those who were drafted direct from the Recruit Depot at Deal. The remainder are found listed in their original Battalion strength. The numbers of men listed in the RMLI Battalions speak for themselves in this respect: Chatham Battn. (1256), Portsmouth (1037 men), Plymouth (790 men) & Deal Battn. (196). (Students of the 1914 Star Roll to the RN & RM may wish to note that some members of the Chatham Battn. have the notation "OAC" against their names. This denotes service at "Ostend" (O) & later service with the Armoured Cars "AC").

Therefore, Pte. Treagus being listed as "Portsmouth Battn." but actually with "Deal Battn." was fairly normal. The problem really arose with Pte. Oatley being listed as "Armoured Car Section attached RNAS." This led us to investigate the activities of Commander Samson RN & the RNAS Armoured Cars in the Antwerp sector around the 18th of October 1914. We found the following text in Gen. Blumberg's History of the Royal Marines in WW1 page 114:-

"About 16/10/14 Capt. C. Graham was sent from Poperinghe by Cdr. Samson with a section of three Cars & 20 men to report to Sir T. Capper, cmdg. 7th Division, who sent them to reconnoitre & get in touch with the German Cavalry ; this they did well in front of the Menin-Roulers road. On 18/10/14 they went out again & got into action at 50 yards range, losing two men killed ; fortunately the cars had been turned about & approached their objective backward, so that they were able to pick up the men & effect their escape, whilst the 7th Division Artillery demolished the objective, a mill ; the killed were buried in a field near Bercelaere."

Gen. Blumberg also quantified that 150 picked men & 4 officers RMLI were withdrawn from the RMLI Battalions to man the RNAS Armoured Cars at Dunkirk on the 10th September 1914, along with 50 men & 1 officer RMA. The 1914 Star roll lists only 53 men as "Armoured Car Section attached RNAS" ; only 51 of them RMLI & zero RMA. This is clearly at odds with Blumberg's numbers & we conclude that again, these men are listed in their original Battalion Rolls, having already served at Ostend 26/8/14-1/9/14.

Based upon this evidence, we believe that Ptes. Treagus & Oatley RMLI were killed in action 18/10/14 whilst serving with the RNAS Armoured cars. The "Deal Battn." may have been their former unit, but this was secondary to their active service posting with the RNAS Armoured Cars. We would like to see them listed with reference to their attachment to the RNAS Armoured Cars (or the "Motor Bandits" as they were popularly known).