Val Littlewood

PLY/674/S Pte. Voltaire "Val" LITTLEWOOD RMLI

PLY 674/S Pte. V. Littlewood (seated). Photo courtesy of Kenneth Littlewood. Left is the finished article after many hours of work.
Note Val's three overseas service chevrons (R.arm), which date this photo as April-June 1918. Also note Val's single Good Conduct stripe (L.arm).

Before the war in Barnsley, at Gallipoli & on the Western Front, Val was Jack Clegg's best pal & was mentioned in most of his letters. Born at Worsborough, Barnsley 31/7/1893; son of Herbert & Frances, he enlisted at the Admiralty Recruiting Office, Deansgate, Manchester 18/11/14, one week after Jack, along with two other Barnsley lads (PLY 672/S Pte. George Wm. Hodgson & PLY 673/S Pte. Francis Patrick "Frank" Martin).

Val's particulars on enlistment: H/A 22 School St, Westgate, Barnsley Collier. Ht: 5ft. 7ins. Chest: 34ins. Eyes: Blue. Hair: Brown. Fresh complexion. Wgt: 9st. No previous military service.

Val was separated from Jack in England, as all Long-service RMLI were trained at the Deal Recruit Depot, & Plymouth RMLI Short-service recruits at Plymouth's Stonehouse Barracks (Val joined 'A' Coy. at Plymouth). In mid-January 1915, after only two months training at Plymouth, Val was posted to the Deal Battalion RMLI. Both of the lads who enlisted with Val (Martin & Hodgson) joined Deal Bn. too; along with two other Barnsley men (PLY 634/S Pte. Arthur "Archie" Pemberton & PLY 635/S Pte. Charles Leonard Haithwaite), making a total of five Barnsley Marines in the Deal Bn.

Overseas Service (War) Chevrons, 'Three Blue.' These are identical to Val's own. Instituted in Jan. 1918 to show a man's overseas service, small inverted chevrons, worn on the lower right forearm, denoted service during a given year. A red chevron for 1914, & blue for the remaining four years of 1915/16/17 & 18. Val was actually entitled to FOUR: Gallipoli 1915 & 16, France 1916, France & Belgium 1917 & 18. Active service for any period during a given year qualified for the chevron. However, chevrons for 1918 were not issued until 1919. War Chevrons by: Ian Wilson's grandfather, 137749 L/Cpl. Horace Edmund Courtney, 237th Field Coy. Royal Engineers.

Overseas Service Chevrons: One Red, Four Blue; representing five years service from 1914-1918. Seaman & Marines of the Royal Naval Division who served at Antwerp, Ostend or Dunkirk in 1914, Gallipoli 1915 & France & Belgium 1916-18, would have sported such Chevrons in early 1919. It was no mean feat to achieve this combination of Chevrons; the wearer could be justly proud of his long service. Very few achieved this combination from RND service alone.

A proud father with his sons; one a Sgt. RMLI, the other a Petty Officer RN. Both boys sport the chevrons shown above & the 1914 Star ribbon. Identity of family unknown. (photo by Patrick Gariepy).

Val's signature from his attestation form.

The Deal Bn. RMLI embarked aboard the HMT "Alnwich Castle" 28/2/15, bound for the Dardanelles. Jack, still immersed in his Long-service training, would not leave England until 1/8/15. Arriving at Mudros, on the island of Lemnos 12/3/15, the RND were sent to Port Said to reorganise their transports in preparation for the Gallipoli landings. The landings began on 25/4/15, but only a few RND units were in action that day. The Deal Bn. finally disembarked at ANZAC Beachhead on the night of the 29/4/15, in support of the Aussie & Kiwi Imperial Forces. Deal Bn. suffered comparatively few casualties at ANZAC; although the Portsmouth & Chatham Bns. RMLI were severely whacked. All the RND units were withdrawn from ANZAC 13/5/15 & transferred to Cape Helles. All five Barnsley Marines in Deal Bn. survived ANZAC unscathed.

Such were the RND's losses by 20/5/15, that all four RMLI Bns. were reduced from four to three Companies (Plymouth Bn. to two only); & the Deal Bn. attached one Coy. to each of the other three RMLI Bns. Therefore, Val was actually serving with either Chatham, Portmouth or Plymouth Bn. after this time. The Barnsley men of Deal Bn. suffered their first loss 24/5/15, when Pte. Charles Haithwaite, of Wilby Lane, Barnsley, died of a bullet wound to his Trachea at No.11 CCS 'W' Beach (received in action at Cape Helles 22/5/15). On the 25/6/15 both the lads who enlisted with Val were wounded: George Hodgson, was sent to hospital at Malta & rejoined in late August; Frank Martin, who received a bullet wound to his left shoulder, also went to Malta but was invalided to 'Blighty' 18/8/15.

On the 27/7/15, such were the losses in the RMLI Bns, that Deal & Chatham were amalgamated to form the 1st RM Bn. (Portsmouth & Plymouth formed the 2nd RM Bn). Chatham Bn. formed the new 'A' & 'B' Coy; Deal 'C' & 'D' Coys. Therefore, Val was serving in either 'C' or 'D' Coy. of the new 1st RM Bn. after this time. On the 20/8/15, Jack Clegg arrived on the Peninsular & he & Val were reunited: "I've seen Val Littlewood. Saw him the first day I came off the ship. You wouldn't know him now he's got a little moustache & beard. He's come out of the firing line for two hours to get some eggs & water for the boys. I hardly knew him when he came in my dugout. Old Val seems fed up with it. He gave me two eggs for tea."

Jack wrote in late August 1915: "Val is not far off me now. He has come over into our part to go through a course of bomb throwing. I am going through that too… I'm doing well out of Val. He keeps bringing eggs across & soup, jam, etc. He's gone down the nick…Val & Harold wish to be remembered to all at home."

Harold was: PLY 610/S Pte. Charles Harold Benfell, another of Jack's Barnsley chums. "Gone down the nick" (gone down't nick) Barnsley slang for 'looking a bit thin', intended to relate concern over health, but with the emphasis on an observed weight loss. Val was later identified as serving with 1RM's 'Grenade Coy.'

In mid-September, Jack was evacuated to Cairo with dysentery. In October he wrote from the RND Mustapha Barracks, Alexandria: "I don't know how Val's going on. It's a mystery to me how he's stuck it so long. He didn't look extra strong when he was in England."

Val was one of the few Marines who managed to serve continuously, with no illness or wounds, from the landings in April 1915 up to the evacuation in Jan. 1916. In October 1915, Archie Pemberton, who had also served without incident, finally succumbed to dysentery & was invalided home. George Hodgson, who had only rejoined 1RM 28/8/15, also contracted dysentery & returned to hospital at Malta. This left Val the only Barnsley Marine from the old Deal Bn. at Cape Helles.

In late October, Jack returned to Cape Helles. In early November he wrote: "I've never seen Val or H. Benfell for months now." Val was still serving with 1RM, but Jack was far removed from him, with the RM Cyclists Coy, digging new dugouts behind the lines. Harold had left the Peninsular with dysentery three days before Jack (12/9/15) & had been invalided to England 21/10/15. Jack was unaware of Harold's illness or his return to the UK & was never to see him again. Harold was later posted to Ireland in May 1916, on account of the Irish Rebellion & 'Easter Rising.' He served as a L/Cpl. with the Admiralty House RM Guard, Queenstown, Co. Cork, for the remainder of the war.

In early January 1916 Cape Helles was evacuated & the Gallipoli Campaign ended. Both Val & Jack were amongst the last to leave. The RND were marooned at Mudros, while the ANZACs & British Army units were shipped to France or Egypt. Jack & Val met up again at Mudros & in early February Jack wrote: "...Since starting this letter I've been down & seen Val. He's in the pink & coming up to see me tonight… Send some newspapers will you & by the way, have you any of those photos left? The group I mean. Will you just send me one to show Val." (The group photo can be seen on the Jack Clegg page). Jack cannot have known at this point that Val was shortly to be granted his well earned UK leave & would not be at Mudros for much longer. On the 21/2/16, Val was informed he was to be one of only 105 Marines from 1RM to be given UK leave (only 65 from 2RM). Jack asked Val to smuggle a letter home to his mother to tell of the goings-on at Mudros (see Jack Clegg page).

On the 24/2/16 Jack wrote: "I suppose Val Littlewood will be home on leave when you get this so I shan't have much to write about. He'll tell you all there is to tell. There's every prospect of my getting leave before long so you can still hope. I'd like to be home though the same time as Val… By the way before I forget it you might tell Val to bring me a razor strap. He gave me his last night but I've broken it. We had some reinforcements arrived here yesterday & of course there was the usual scramble for badges by fellows who had lost theirs. Val managed to swap his bed for a hat badge & I dished him out with a couple of R.M.L.I.'s for his shoulder straps so he'll look something like a Marine when he arrives home."

Val was due to embark for UK leave on the morrow (25/2/16). On 24/2/16 the 46359-ton HMT "Olympic" (one of the two sister-ships to the SS "Titanic") arrived at Mudros with a large RND draft, including 583 Marines. A large quantity of new cap & shoulder badges arrived with her, including 1500 RM Cap badges; too late for those Marines now leaving for the UK & like Val had to scrounge their badges from others. Val & the RND leave party of approx. 553 men embarked aboard the "Olympic" on the 26th & sailed for Marseille later that day. It must have been quite something to have travelled home on such a famous ship; her sheer size alone was awe-inspiring & she could accommodate thousands of troops in relative comfort; Val was coming home in style. Val arrived back in England 4/3/16, travelling overland from Marseilles to Boulogne.

Badge of The Royal Marine Light Infantry.

Val & the RND leave party remained in England, at the RND Camp at Blandford in Dorset, for three months; an unusually long time. However, this was due to rumours that the RND was to be disbanded. When it became certain that the RND was to 'live,' Val & the majority of the RND leave party rejoined them in France 6/6/16. Jack was at the RND Base Depot, Calais, at this time & would not see Val again for some months.

Jack transferred to the Army Infantry Base Depot, Etaples 17/6/16 & from here he wrote on 12/7/16: "I believe Val Littlewood is out here with his battalion. I've never seen or heard from him though."

Val was serving with 1RM in the Angres-Souchez sector; a period described as "their necessary familiarisation with trench warfare in France" (as if they could teach Val anything new about trench warfare). However, on the 27/7/16, Val was attached to the 2nd Field Coy. RND Divisonal Engineers (also known as 255th Tunnelling Coy, RND Engineers or the "Dugout Platoon"). Many ex-miners in the RND were seconded to the RND Engineers at this time. They were engaged in mining under no man's land, occasionally blowing up sections of German defences. It was no mistake that all those from the two RM battalions posted to the 'Dugout' or 'Tunnelling' Parties were ex-miners. Their digging skills were renown, much respected & often employed.

Jack received his long-awaited posting to 1RM, 'C' Company, 12th Platoon, on the 28/8/16. Val was still with the RND Engineers & did not rejoin for nearly three weeks. Jack wrote 17/9/16: "We're in billets now for four days. I've heard just a few minutes ago where Val Littlewood is billeted. It's quite close to here so I'm going to try & get a word with him."

1RM moved to Dieval on the 20/9/16 to begin an intensive course of training. Val & Jack were reunited once more; the first time since February at Mudros. Jack wrote on 27/9/16: "Val Littlewood is in the next billet to me. He wishes to be remembered to you & all the rest." Destiny had conspired to bring them together again, this time to be serving in the same battalion. This event must have done more for Jack's morale than any other turn of fate.

Their training was to last until mid-October. This was preparatory to their employment in the forthcoming offensive in the Somme sector, NW of Albert at Beaumont Hamel.

Jack wrote on 6/10/16: "I hope you're all well over there. I'm in the pink. Val wishes to be remembered to all at home. He's still in the next billet to me & he's all right too." & on the 8/10/16: "I see both Attersleys sons have been sent home to there own work. They were in the R.N.D. Val thinks there is some possibility of being sent for too. I hope he gets home."

The "Attersleys sons" were the Hattersley brothers, Fred & Charles from Dodworth, Barnsley. However, Jack was misinformed. Neither Fred nor Charles returned to their civil employment in 1916. Fred (formerly a miner at Rob Royd Colliery, Dodworth) was serving in the Nelson Bn. & was posted missing 13/11/16 (the same day as Jack was reported wounded), later assumed KIA on that day. Charles (formerly a miner at Strafford Colliery, Dodworth) had been invalided home from Gallipoli in December 1915 with dysentery & was at the RND Depot, Blandford from February till November 1916, when he joined the Hawke Bn, RND. In 1918 he was gassed twice, invalided to England & "Demobilised to Civil employment at The Strafford Main Colliery, Dodworth, Barnsley" 31/10/18. However, Charles was far from fit for work. He was suffering some awful sequelae symptoms of gas poisoning. On 31/12/18 he was remobilised & examined by the National Service Medical Board, Barnsley, found unserviceable, suffering from Paratyphoid & Chronic Bronchitis, & discharged with a disability of 60%, thus enabling his family's support with a Naval Pension. Both the Hattersley boys were 'Kitchener's Men,' having enlisted together in the York & Lancs. at Birdwell, Barnsley 1/9/14 & shortly after enlistment volunteered for the RND. 14429 Pte. Fred Hattersley became "KW 272 OS RNVR" & 13977 Pte. Charles Hattersley "KW 257 OS RNVR."

Like the many rumours of UK leave & their like, a popular 'buzz' at this time must have been the prospect of miners being called back to work at the Collieries. However, it was a mere pipe-dream. Evidently there was a labour shortage in the mining industry, due to the thousands of miners who had joined up; but they were a valuable asset to any unit in France & it would appear that this was a far more important employment of their skills. The Army & Navy were short of men too. Val, a former miner & highly experienced Gallipoli Campaigner, was far too good for the Marines to lose. However, Jack's wish that Val should get home was shortly to come true; although not for want of miners.

In Jack's last letter home 2/11/16, written at Varennes: "We're out of the line at present. Up to the eyes in mud but otherwise comfortable enough… I'm still with Val. He wishes to be remembered to you. He's like me - in the pink."

Val was not 'in the pink.' At Varennes 1RM provided large working parties cleaning & repairing roads. Such tasks were a constant strain on the men; when not in the line they were kept very busy & this began to tell on their health. Many men went sick in early November from all manner of complaints. 1RM stayed at Varennes until the 5/11/16 when they marched to Puchevillers, arriving at 11.45am & were accommodated in huts. On the 6/11/16 orders were received to move to huts at Hedauville, leaving at 1.45pm & arriving at 5.25pm.

It was on the 6th of November 1916 that Val finally succumbed to illness & was admitted to the Field Ambulance suffering with Pyrexia. Val was very ill & was evacuated to the 26th General Hospital at Etaples. Although Jack had wished his best pal home, he must have been very saddened to lose his company. The Marines of 1RM knew they were to attack shortly & those left behind may have envied anyone leaving at this juncture. Jack's morale may have dipped at this point; Val was one of the longest serving Marines in 1RM, never having gone sick since beginning active service over 18 months ago. For all those who knew him, Val finally going sick may have been an omen of sorts, but was at least a damning indication of the pressure of work & the environment upon their mortal bodies. Numbers in both RM battalions had dropped to around 500 by the date of the attack; 1RM was quoted as 490 strong 13/11/16. The trenches occupied by the RND were in a bad state. The weather had been very wet, mud having prevented the necessary movements of men & materials both for the offensive & the maintenance of the front line. Around 3am during the night of the 12/13th, certain platoons of 1RM crawled out into no man's land close to the German wire, lying flat waiting for the off. At 5.45am on Monday the 13th of November 1916, in a thick mist & while still dark, the first waves went over the top. In seven minutes the whole of the 1RM had moved forward. This was Jack's first time 'over the top.'

By coincidence, Val sailed for England aboard the HS "Newhaven" on the very day of the attack. Amongst Jack's thoughts & hopes that misty Monday morning may have been the welfare of his greatest friend, now very ill. He would have been pleased to know that Val was going home that very day, having wished it so.

Val arrived back in 'Blighty' 13/11/16 & his whereabouts were commented on by Jack's brother, Frank, in a letter to their mother: "Just heard Val Littlewood's in a Sheffield hospital with French (sic) Fever…I've had no letter from our Jack for nearly 3 weeks. I've written twice & sent the Chronicle every wk. I don't know what's up with him, nothing to write about perhaps."

Val was relatively safe in hospital; Jack was dead, although it is obvious his family were only curious as to his silence. On 7/12/16, having waited long enough, Jack's family decided to write to him: "My Own Dear Lad. We haven't had a letter from you for quite a long time, & we are anxious to know the reason… It is nearly 5 wks since we had your last letter… I suppose Val is in the Sheffield hospital with trench fever, he is improving nicely… Cheer,O, kid write as soon as you can, if you're alive speak, if dead don't bother. dear love & best wishes for a leave soon. Your loving Sisters & Mother & Philip."

It is unknown what passed between Val & the Clegg family; certainly nothing of any great evidential value. Perhaps Val too was 'looking on the bright side' of Jack's fate for many weeks to come, reassuring them that he might turn up eventually. Val was in hospital until early February 1917, when he took ten days hospital leave furlough before rejoining the 1st Reserve Bn. RMLI at Blandford 17/2/17.

Val remained at Blandford for a spell, but was warned for a draft to France 25/5/17 & given the customary 7 days draft leave. He returned late & incurred his only offence on an otherwise spotless record: "31/5/17: Absent over draft leave from 11pm 31/5/17 until 9.30 p.m. 1/6/17: Admonished & forfeits 2 days pay." Val's draft left Blandford, embarked at Folkestone & disembarked at Boulogne 15/6/17. The draft arrived at the new RND Base Depot, Calais, 17/6/17.

After a month, Val was posted to 2RM, serving in the Gavrelle sector (Arras). It was unusual that Val joined 2RM; having served with Deal & 1RM with such distinction, one would think he would have been reunited with some 'old hands.' However, both RM Bns. were mere shadows of their former selves. The Battle of the Ancre 13/11/16 had taken a heavy toll of 1RM (127 dead; multiply by three for the number wounded), Miramont 17/2/17 (95 dead) & the Marines 'Waterloo,' Gavrelle 28/4/17 (165 dead). Very few of the men Val knew in Deal & 1RM remained; their places still unfilled or by 'new boys.' The RND took such a hammering at Gavrelle, that it was five months before they reached a strength capable of offensive action again. Val had joined during the slow reinforcement process, made slow by lack of new Marine drafts.

Val served without incident (no wounds or sickness), at Passchendaele 26/10/17 & at Welch Ridge 31/12/17. However, on the 22/1/18 he was admitted to the RND's 150th Field Ambulance suffering from Pyrexia & Myalgia. It was Trench Fever again, Val's Achilles Heel it would seem, & he passed to the 6th Gen. Hosp. Rouen 1/2/18, before being finally sent home 25/2/18 aboard the AT "St. Patrick."

Val recovered again in England & rejoined the 1st Reserve Bn. RMLI, now at Aldershot. He was discharged from the RND to the Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth 13/4/18, & embarked aboard HMS "Highflyer" 22/6/18 taking passage for HMS "Mutine," the RM Base at Bermuda, serving with the RM Guard at the Commissioner's House. Val arrived back in 'Blighty' 13/12/18. The war was won & Short-service Marines were the first to be demobilised. Val left the Marines 14/1/19 with 28 days leave till his official demob date of 11/2/19 & returned to his old address in School St, Westgate, Barnsley. His Character on discharge was 'VG' & he was in possession of one Good Conduct Stripe (see photo) granted 17/11/16 (two years service).

Val's Dogtags: Worn throughout the Gallipoli Campaign & in France & Belgium in 1916,17 & 18.

Val returned to the Coal Pits & lived the rest of his life in Barnsley. He married, Nellie, late in life & had no children. His nephew, Kenneth Littlewood, is his only kin left in Barnsley. Kenneth wrote of his uncle Val: "Apart from an uncle he was a great friend to me. If I had a problem he would sort it out. He had a lot of friends & a lot of respect & sadly missed. He retired at 65 but worked part-time as a tea-masher on a building site, then at a dry-cleaners; I got all my suits cleaned for nothing. After that closed down he worked in a Fish & Chip shop cutting up fish until he was 80. He did it for his Bingo & Beer money as he only had his state pension. He never wore specs & walked as straight as an arrow. He used a cut-throat razor to shave, one for each day of the week, one with a white bone handle for Sundays. It was a stroke that finished him."

Val died at the Mount Vernon Hospital, Barnsley, from Bronchopneumonia & Hemiplegia (Rt.) on the 10th of December 1981 age 88. Buried in Barnsley Cemetery (grave unmarked).

PLY 674/S Pte. Voltaire LITTLEWOOD RMLI is an outstanding example of the patriotic, brave & hardy men that Barnsley provided to the Marines. His unbroken service at Gallipoli was sufficiently rare to earn him a place in the RND's first UK Leave party. He missed the Battles of the Ancre, Miraumont & Gavrelle through illness; & this probably saved his life. Returning to France in June 1917, he served through the mud & horror of Passchendaele in October 1917 & at Welsh Ridge in December. Illness again saved him from the German Offensive in March 1918, which later caused the disbandment of 2RM through heavy losses.

MEF (Dardanelles) 29/4/15-9/1/16. MEF 10/1/16-26/2/16.

Battle Honours: Deal Bn. Defence of ANZAC Beachhead 29/4/15-13/5/15; Third Battle of Krithia 4/6/15; Action of Achi Baba Nullah 12-13/7/15; (Deal/1RM) Cape Helles 14/5/15-9/1/16.

BEF France & Belgium 6/6/16-13/11/16 & 15/6/17-25/2/18.

Battle Honours: 2RM Passchendaele 26-28/10/17; 2RM Welch Ridge 31/12/17.

Val was a great friend to our family & Jack's respect for Val was well judged. I am proud to have written this little tribute to a fine Englishman & Yorkshireman.

Val & Nellie Littlewood, Barnsley, circa 1950s.

Reverse face of Val's 1914/15 Star. Fate delivered his medals to me in 1999, having been thought lost since Val died in 1981.