William Ware was the eldest son of Thomas Ware, a skilled farm labourer, and his wife Ellen Lugg who had been born in Coldridge. In the 1901 census Thomas is described as a ‘yardsman’, with four sons and a daughter, Bessie; their half brother was currently working away from home in Broadwoodkelly. All four of the sons, William, Ernest, Arthur and half brother Fred Lugg went on to serve in the Devons, a proud record for any family, and all survived. We are extremely fortunate that William’s draft and enlistment documents have survived the London blitz, giving us a record of his military career. The documents are displayed on the right of this page, and are numbered in order of reference.
William enlisted in the second month of the war, attesting on 7th September 1914 volunteering for Kitchen’s New Army, and was posted into the 9th Devons, the very same day that the 9th were mustered. (Document 1) He was fit and healthy (Document 2). The 9th (Service) Battalion was the second of the Devon Regiment’s New Army battalions, as called for by Lord Kitchener (K2). It was formed at Exeter on 15 September 1914 as part of K2 and attached as Divisional Troops to 20th (Light) Division. Recruitment for the 9th had proved to be much more difficult than for its sister battalion, the 8th (K1) which had absorbed the mass of recruits rushing to join the New Army in the August. William had waited a month and the 8th was full, while the 9th needed to be filled by drafting in recruits from other parts of the country, chiefly from Wales and Birmingham. Thereafter, training proceeded at full speed.
On 7th September some 500 recruits, including William who was in a small minority of Devon men, were sent from Exeter to Rushmoor Camp without NCOs, uniforms, equipment or even documents. Officers appeared without uniforms or equipment and there was a frantic rush to get themselves fitted out. It took almost a month before office equipment and paperwork began to arrive. By October some blue uniforms (hospital type) began to arrive, followed by a few old Boer War rifles for drill purposes. Things could only get better and on October 9th the 9th moved into the National Rifle Association’s grounds at Bisley, using Pirbright Common as their training ground. Older officers returned from retirement in various parts of the world, young subalterns from the Public Schools OTC were drafted in and gradually things improved. At the end of November the 9th moved to Aldershot where it spent the next three months, with some real musketry practice using 100 rifles that had finally arrived and were treated with reverential pride. On February 24th the 9th left Aldershot to move to Haslemere where it was most comfortably housed, but just before their departure a big review on the Chobham Ridges of the New Army by Lord Kitchener and French officials was held in driving sleet and biting wind, with six inches of snow on the ground, the men held for hours in their wet and sodden uniforms in freezing conditions.
As the Spring returned there was much grumbling that they, like the 8th, were being overlooked to go to France, but in April the 9th moved to Bordon for the final stage of training. Now fully equipped with rifles there were exercises in bombing, trench warfare, and night operations, together with an advanced musketry course. On July 27th after embarkation leave the battalion embarked at Southampton, the date recorded on William’s medal card. The Battalion disembarked at Le Harvre the next morning, and three days later had arrived at Wizernes, close up behind the Front. On 8 August 1915 both the 8th and the 9th Battalions were attached to 20th Brigade, 7th Division. This was honour indeed: the battalions were replacing two Guards battalions detached to form the new Guards Brigade. They first held part of the line in the area covered by the earlier Battles of Neuve Chapelle and Festubert, now a sand-bagged line above ground as digging was impossible in the soft marshy area. It was a very quiet part of the line at that time, though thrilling enough to the new arrivals.
This was only a preliminary. Ahead lay the battle of Loos (25th September 1915), bringing wounding and death to so many of those eager young men who had so ardently longed to get to France. Meanwhile, the 8th and 9th Battalions remained at Wizernes, in and out of the line during August. Early in September the 7th Division moved south of the La Bassee Canal to relieve the 9th Division in preparation for start of the battle of Loos, the final and greatest effort of the combined British and French armies in 1915 to break through the German lines, an attempt which in the view of many historians came very near to success. The 7th Division were allotted a crucial central area of the attack, a frontage due East of Vermelles with the Vermelles-Hulluch road on its right and the Quarries as the principal tactical feature opposite on its left (see the map below).
In common with other battalions in the Division, the 9th Devons were digging a new front line in no-man’s land together with two assembly trenches behind it. Apart from this work and an occasional patrol there was little activity in the front line. The 20th Brigade were out of the line in rest from September 9th to 24th though there was much more work to be done out of the line than it, among other things bringing up the heavy gas cylinders that were to be used for the first time by the British army in an attempt to break through the German line. Final orders to the 9th Devons made their first objective Gun Trench, from which they were to move forward to hold and consolidate their second objective, the Cross Roads just west of Hulluch.
After more than a week of non-stop shelling, at 5.30 am on 25th September a final intensive bombardment crashed down on the German defences, the Germans replying by shelling the closely packed assembly trenches. Gas and smoke were released but the wind was not sufficient and the gas blew back along the British front, severely affecting the assault battalions, though the smoke did give them some support. The 8th Devons, or rather a remaining remnant of them, had actually reached the Cross Roads 400 yards West of Hulluch, but no reinforcements came up to push on into Hulluch itself, at that moment virtually deserted, as indeed also was the Cite St. Elie. Meanwhile the 9th Devons who had moved forward from their reserve trenches soon after 6.30, became scattered in their advance, having been delayed by finding Chapel Alley behind the front line choked with returning wounded, forcing them to climb out of the communication trench and move forward in the open. This exposed them to enfilade machine gun fire from the Quarries and from German field guns (see St Elei map on the right). Pressing on, however, the remainder finally reached Gun Trench where the Borders and a few stragglers were consolidating the position, and there they stayed. About mid-day 3 officers collected about 50 men, and moving along an old communication trench actually reached the Cross Roads where the few remaining men of the 8th Battalion were trying to survive, but they were not enough to push on into Hulluch by now reoccupied by German snipers and machine guns. Two battalions of the 21st Brigade came up as reinforcements but coming under intensive fire from Cite St. Elie reached Gun Trench but could go no further. At about 9.30pm the Germans counter-attacked the small force at the Cross Roads; the position was evacuated and the remainder fell back to Gun Trench. A fierce battle with much hand-to hand fighting then took place at Gun Trench, which was ultimately secured as described in the Battalion war-diary. The position was extremely serious, however, as the 7th Division had by this time lost the Quarries on the extreme left of its line. Throughout the next day, the 26th September, the now rather scattered remnants of the 8th and 9th Battalions hung on, the largest party of the 9th about 100 strong north of the road in Gun Trench. Here a detachment was sent back to fetch rations, ammunition and bombs. South of the Hulluch road a second group of about 90 men were in the continuation of Gun Trench.
In the evening of 26th Gun Trench was handed over to the 21st Brigade, the 20th Brigade being withdrawn to the old British front line, the 8th to the North of the Hulluch Road, the 9th South of the road. Stragglers drifted in to swell the pitifully few survivors of the battle - now numbering about 150 of the 8th and just over 200 of the 9th. Even then, however, the ordeal of the 9th was not over. At 6.00pm on 29th orders were received to proceed again to the front line for a stand-to in expectation of a counter attack. The line was occupied until 2.30am, when the battalion was relieved by the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. At last on September 30th the two battalions moved back by Companies independently to Noyelles, and then by Battalion into billets in Beuvry. Here the cost was calculated; both battalions had been destroyed for the time being as fighting units. Both had been composed of eager volunteers who had come forward to join the New Armies, and of these few had survived their first battle. The 8th had lost 19 officers and 620 men killed, wounded or missing, the 9th lost 15 officers and 461 men, including 59 men killed, 76 missing and 326 wounded. Roll Call for the 9th on the morning of 30th September revealed the numbers of survivors (including the battle surplus and HQ staff that had not gone into action) standing at a battle strength of 12 officers and 325 men.
Not all the details of this account are recorded in the battalion war-diary, the rest being taken from Capt. C.T. Atkinson’s account of the History of the Devonshire Regiment. The diary itself, written from notes compiled under great pressure, gives an hour-by-hour picture of the events. There is a section missing before 17th September, but the story is outlined from then on, including the approach to the front line area.
17th September: The battalion moved by Companies from Gonnehem to Fouquereuil.
18th to 22nd September: At Fouquereuil in rest.
23rd September: The men advised to write letters home before the battle. Paraded at 7.00pm to march to Verquin in heavy thunderstorm, arriving at 10.15pm.
24th September: Verquin. Morning spent in inspection of kit, testing smoke helmets. In afternoon all bombers marched by Grenade Officer to Sailly-la-Bourse to draw grenades.
10.00pm. Battn. fell in for line of march.
11.00pm to 2.00am. Battn. moved via Laboorse, Novelles, Artillery Road to Vermelles and took up position in trenches as follows: Battn. HQ, A Coy, B Coy in Crossway. C Coy and machine guns in Hulluch Road Trench. D Coy and Battn. bombers in East Lancashire trench.
25th September: 6.25am. C and D began to move up Chapel Alley and Hulluch Alley.
6.30am. A and B Coys began to move forward. Owing to congestion rear companies could get no further than No.2 support trench and they advanced then over the top to front line British trench.
7.30 - 7.45. Reorganised and continued the advance. D Coy came out of Chapel Alley at Notre Dame and advanced across the open space in close support of B and C Coys.
8.00 to 8.15. B,C and D Coys arrived after suffering casualties at German first line between Breslau Redoubt and Hulluch-Vermelles road. A Coy had gone mainly south of the road. Casualties at this point included the C.O., Second in Command and three Company Commanders.
8.15 – 9.15. Regimental bombers assisted in capturing prisoners on our left. Remainder of battalion carried on across the open to Gun Trench, where bombers rejoined. Capt. Nation and A Coy were S. of road and in the communications forward of Gun Trench. Remainder of Battalion was organised under the Adjutant in Gun Trench itself where they dug in.
10.00am. A reconnaissance by bombers up communication trench joining Puits trench to N. end of Gun Trench decided that the wire was too thick to admit of further advance.
12noon to midnight. The 2nd Wiltshire Regiment and the 2nd Border Regiment reinforced, losing heavily from rifle and machine gun fire from Cite St. Elie and Puits trench. Major Gillson of Wilts Regt took over the line N. of road from Adjutant 9th Devons and went back to report to Brigade, in doing which he was wounded.  Throughout afternoon and evening the digging-in continued as far as was possible in face of heavy rain and intermittent shelling and sniping.
26th September: About midnight on night 25th/26th the enemy counter-attacked on both sides of the road. North of the road the attack was repulsed by rifle and machine-gun fire. South of the road and on the road itself the enemy reached and passed over portions of Gun Trench. Capt. Nation was wounded but 2/Lt Smyth rallied the men near line and with the assistance of our guns the enemy were repulsed and the line of Gun Trench consolidated.
4.00am till noon. At daybreak the reserve officers joined us and Capt. D.L.Martin took over command of battalion. Connection was established with Devons on S. side of the road, and as during the night the Regiments had organised the task of putting the position in a state of defence, it was now energetically taken in hand.
12noon. News of an impending attack on Cite St. Elie arrived, but nothing materialised.
2.00pm to 5.00 pm. A heavy bombardment of Cite St. Elie occupied most of the afternoon, and the enemy replied with a few shells, most of which fell short.
Soon after dark we were told to expect relief by 2nd RSF (Royal Scots Fusiliers) but the relief did not take place till after midnight.
27th September: 3.00am. On relief the battalion moved back by Companies to the original British trenches and were disposed as follows: A,B and C from right to left in old support trench, D in Curly Crescent.
3.00am to 7.00pm. Battalion occupied old support and Curly Crescent trenches.
7.00pm to 2.00am. Battalion sent to dig in forward trenches.
28th September: 2.00am to7.00pm. Battalion occupied old support and Curly Crescent trenches.
7.00pm to 2.00am working on support trench in rear of Gun Trench.
29th September: 6.00am to 6.00pm. Battalion occupied old support and Curly Crescent trenches. Intermittent shelling went on throughout the day.
6.00pm. Received order to proceed to front line and stand to arms. Occupied front line till 2.30am when relieved by Royal Welch Fusiliers.
30th September: 2.30am Companies marched out of trenches independently to Noyelles and thence by Battalion into billets at Beuvrey
William had somehow survived the slaughter, though the loss of so many comrades must have been devastating. He was destined to serve in France until 7th July 1916, (Document 4).
After Loos the 7th Division was transferred South to join the Third Army. The 20th Brigade, including the 8th and 9th Devons found themselves back in the swampy area of trenches that they had first occupied before Loos. However, on the Givenchy bluff and South of the canal the ground allowed the Brigade to be very energetic in mining, exploding mines and German counter mines without, however, changing the tactical situation. Brigade, however, needed miners to work alongside the Royal Engineers, and William was either selected or volunteered to help with the work. Transfer to Brigade was probably preferable to the wet, the threat of ‘trench foot’, the constant greasing of the feet with whale oil, and patrolling at night in the boggy ground. On 3rd November 1915 William was attached to the Brigade Mining Company, rejoining the Battalion Mining Company on 2nd December 1915, the day the 7th Division came out of the line into Divisional rest.
A surprise awaited the 9th: during the rest period the battalion was converted into the Divisional Pioneer Battalion, involving constant employment under the R.E. on railway construction, mining and road making. By the end of February 1916 the 9th’s spell of pioneering was over and they were back in the trenches sharing duties with the 8th, in the trenches between Mametz and Fricourt in the area that was to become the Battalion’s graveyard in the battle of the Somme. Although at this time officially a quiet area, for the two battalions it was a period of unending toil. In preparation for the coming battle there was incessant work on the trenches and on the roads and light railways behind them. William continued to be employed as a miner. Col. Atkinson’s history of the Devonshire Regiment quotes the writing of one officer whom William must have known well:
‘The mining fatigues one had to do when out of the line were about the worst things in the war. They meant spending eight hours out of twenty-four carrying wet sandbags full of mud from the mouth of the shaft down a very wet sticky communication trench to a dump about 100 yards to the rear.’
In contrast to German efficiency no light railways were built to carry the spoil back in push-trucks. Only occasional shelling and mortar fire disrupted the work, though the Germans employed large numbers of rifle grenades which caused casualties in the line. Ammunition had to be husbanded for the coming battle so retaliation was not possible, and, besides this, rifle grenades had still to be developed and deployed by the British army. In all between October 1st 1915 and June 30th 1916 the 9th lost 1 officer and 16 men killed, 6 officers and 96 men wounded and one man missing. During this period, On 27th April 1916 William was granted 10 days leave returning on 5th May, (Document 4)
William’s last day of battle now lay ahead, the infamous first day of the Somme, 1st July 1916. The story of that failure is well-known, but in the south of the line, the 7th Division coupled with that of the 18th and 30th Divisions further to their right achieved some gains. Here the 8th and 9th Devons of 20th Brigade played a major part, though at terrible cost. Their orders were to capture Mametz, which was protected by a network of trenches and strong-points, and thick with machine-guns. To the left lay Fricourt with Fricourt Wood behind it; this was not attacked directly, but was to be ‘pinched out’ with 13th Division to its left. (see map) The 9th Devons were in the front line, the 8th in support.
The preliminary bombardment had begun on June 24th but the deep German dugouts had survived. The wire was cut but their machine-guns were ready when the advance began at 6.30 am on 1st, and William went over the top. One gun in particular, situated in Shrine Alley which swept the track around Mansel Copse was to prove deadly to ‘A’ Company on the right of the Devons’ advance. Capt. D.L. Martin, in command of ‘A’, had made a plastocene model of the area, and though it was obvious what was going to happen no special effort had been made beforehand to silence it. Capt. Martin was one of the first to die.
In retaliation to the British bombardment, the Germans had destroyed the 7th Division’s front line trenches, so that on the 1st July the 9th Devons had to advance from a new line that had been dug 250 yards further back. ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies were in front. ‘C’ in support, ‘D’ in reserve. Casualties were heavy in the first moments the men crossed their old front line, the gun in Shrine Alley doing its deadly work until it was silenced by bombers working round it to the left. Danube trench was taken and prisoners taken in Shrine Alley but Hidden Wood held up the few survivors of the 9th who remained. The 8th Devons then moved forward and after huge losses captured Hidden Wood and cleared the dug-outs in the high railway bank, taking many prisoners and by 6.00 pm the whole of the 7th Division’s objectives had been secured. The 9th Devons’ losses were appalling; only one of 18 officers in the action remained un-hit, eight having been killed. 141 men had been killed, 55 were missing, 267 wounded - 463 in all out of 775 in action. On 4th July the remnants of the 8th Devons returned to this location and buried the dead of the two battalions in a section of their old front line trench. Today ‘Devon trench’ Cemetery is a mere 800 metres south of Mametz and is situated on high ground some 450 metres west of the road (D938) from Albert to Peronne, 6.5 kilometres from Albert. These tiny distances show the price paid for such a moderate advance. The Cemetery is marked with a famous inscription: ‘The Devons held this trench. The Devons hold it still.’
Wounded in the right leg, which was also fractured, William was evacuated the same day to the 21st Field Ambulance and thence on to the No.1/1 Casualty Clearing Station at Choques. On 2nd July he was already on a hospital barge (used in fracture cases as a much better option than trains or bumpy roads) on his way to Abbeville Military Hospital, arriving on 6th July. Abbeville lies at the head of the Abbeville Canal, 20 km. from the coast. On 8th July (Document 5) he embarked on the Hospital Ship ‘St.Denis’ for transport to England; this evacuation is a classic example of the RAMC system of evacuating the wounded. William arrived at the 4th Northern General Hospital, Lincoln on 9th July after an overnight train journey (Document 6), a mere 8 days after being wounded. Graded Class II (unfit for any service Document 9), he was to stay there until 2nd November 1916. The 4th Northern General Hospital in Lincoln occupied the old buildings and fields of the former Lincoln School (now Lincoln Christ’s Hospital School). It held 41 Officer beds and 1126 Other Ranks beds with over 45,000 men being treated there during the war. Lincoln (Newport) Cemetery, near the hospital, contains 139 First World War burials. A fascinating record of the hospital together with photographs and other memorabilia can be seen on the following website:
Discharged from hospital after 116 days with the comment ‘good result’ (Document 8) William was sent on 10 days’ leave, 3rd-13th November 1916 (Document 9) before being posted to the Southern Command depot at Sutton Coldfield (Document 6). A Command Depot was a form of half-way rest camp between hospital and a return to active service. Sutton Coldfield had an establishment of 90 officers and 3000 men. In the normal way a man would return after hospital leave and Command Depot to his Regimental depot before being posted back to some battalion, but William had been graded D1 and was therefore fit only for home service (Document 7). He was to remain at Sutton Coldfield from 15th November 1916 until 23rd September 1917, a total of 313 days (Document 6). This was far longer than was normal, which indicates that William had been given a permanent job, probably in agricultural work. On 24th September he was assigned to 444 Company, Agricultural Labour Corps, re-attested (Document 10) and re-numbered 495001. Over the course of the war the Corps grew to some 389,900 men (more than 10% of the total size of the Army) by the time of the Armistice. Of this total, around 175,000 were working in the United Kingdom and the rest in the various theatres of war. The Corps was manned by officers and other ranks who had been medically rated below the “A1” condition needed for front line service, many of whom were returned wounded. Sadly, most of the records of the Labour Corps have disappeared; making it very difficult to trace the location of the Labour Corps Companies, but in this instance Document 15 gives us a clue. This demobilization document dated 19th February 1919 shows that 444 Company is located at Exeter, so that it seems that for the final part of the war William was based near home. Document 11 shows that his pay was now raised to 1/9d per day.
The final documents in the collection all relate to the process of demobilisation, which took place at Fovent Camp, a major dispersal centre on Salisbury Plain, on 13th February 1919. Documents 12, 13 and 14 relate to the return and cancellation of his army will. Document 15 shows William’s transfer to the Z Reserve (call up in case of a national emergency). Document 16 is the renunciation of any disability claim, Document 17 the issue of a clean conduct sheet (often useful in seeking civilian employment) and finally Document 18, the Protection Certificate to show he had been legally discharged, which also shows us that his medical status had now been raised to B1. William was free to return home, a war hero who had survived two of the greatest battles of the war, Loos and the Somme, to the village that was and still is immensely proud of his service. William’s medal card shows us that he was awarded the British, Victory and Mons Star awards.
1 April 2015