Saturday, 25 October 2014

The face of our 'St Paul's Hero' is revealed!

The gallant Private Thomas Orr
More information has come to light - as well as a photograph (right) - about Private Thomas Orr, the gallant soldier I wrote about on September 30 and October 3, who featured in a poem called 'A St Paul's Hero' that was published in a local Bristol paper early in the war.

After reading my posts, Elliot Metcalfe got in touch to say that his research had revealed the following about Private Orr:

'He originally joined the Devon Royal Garrison Artillery Militia in March 1904. In June of the same year he joined the Gloucestershire Regiment as a regular soldier. He went over to France with the 1st Battalion in August 1914. In October 1914 he was mentioned in despatches. He was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal in December 1914. His citation states "For gallantry in going forward 100 yards, on 19th September, to pick up a wounded scout, and helping to bring him in under heavy fire". He was later transferred to the Royal Fusiliers and became Sergeant.'

Western Daily Press
10 December, 1914
Had fortune smiled on Thomas Orr in 1914, he would have lined up in France to receive his medal from none other than King George V himself, according to a report in the Western Daily Press from December 1914, left, that was sent to me by Robert Bickers:

'The battalion was drawn up in single file on both sides of the road near their billets in a pretty French village. Bright sunny weather favoured the Royal visit. His Majesty remarked upon the fine appearance of the men and took the opportunity of presenting the distinguished conduct medal to Private George Law, of the Battalion.'

Private Law had been involved in the same act of bravery as Orr, but sadly Orr had since been wounded and was now laid up in hospital (as described in 'A St Paul's Hero'). He must have been kicking himself!

The newspaper goes on to give more details about the battlefield rescue:

'An outpost sentry was wounded and a second sentry came in to report the casualty. As the report was being made the wounded man was seen crawling towards the trench. Private Law, accompanied by Private Orr, immediately went out to his aid, and succeeded carrying him to a place of safety under heavy fire. Private Orr has since been wounded but has been awarded a similar medal.'

My thanks to Elliot Metcalfe and Robert Bickers for their research and the photograph, which was published in the January 1915 edition of Bristol and the War.

Wednesday, 8 October 2014

Cavalryman's 1914 diary - the early days of war

Sgt George Fairclough in India, where
he was stationed before the war
In October 1914 the first phase of war in Europe was drawing to a close and what had begun as a mobile campaign would soon become mired in the trench warfare most of us associate with the Western Front. As both sides worked their way westwards towards the coast in an attempt to outflank each other, cavalryman Sergeant George Fairclough kept a diary which noted the relentless labour of each day, and how motor transport was rendering horses less and less useful.

Sunday, October 4th 
We crossed the River Aisne at last after a fortnight’s halt. We crossed at a pontoon bridge thrown across by the French as the iron bridge was completely wrecked by the Germans.
All the cavalry are to concentrate on the Allies’ left wing, and having left our other troops behind we are now among the French. The troops marched 45 miles and camped at Trier. There was terrible gun fire going on all night.

Monday 5th
Marched 35 miles and camped at Dormat-sur-la-Luce.

Tuesday 6th
We marched out but we had only gone about four miles when we were stopped by a motor car and sent back. We stood to all day, there was heavy firing going on all day.

Wednesday 7th
We were sent to assist the French force that had been driven out of their positions, but our men weren’t required after all as some French infantry reinforcements had arrived in motor lorries after travelling all night. There is not much use for cavalry at the present.
We have been travelling north-west each day to try to get around the enemy’s right flank – no fighting.

Monday 12th
Came into contact with the enemy early in the morning in dense fog, the 4th Lancers had five wounded, the  16th had one officer, one sergeant, and one private killed and several wounded.
In the afternoon two troops of ‘C’ squadron took a hill with a monastery, the Mont-des-Cats, on top.  My troop acted as the rear guard. The Germans, firing from fox holes killed Captain Gatacre.
My troop retired, and being fired upon dismounted for action, I had led the horses and came under shell fire. We were lucky to have no casualties. Billeted at Fletre.

Tuesday 13th
It was pouring with rain all day, we got drenched. We passed through lines of French infantry to get in touch with the enemy. We had a sharp fight which developed into a general engagement as our infantry came up. Mr Lonsdale and four men were wounded.

Wednesday 14th
We had a sharp fight but no casualties.

Thursday 15th
Still in contact, one corporal has been hit.

Friday 16th
Dense fog impeded movements, as it cleared we got in touch. Corporals Wakefield and Smythe were killed and Sergeant Dillon, Corporal Davis and another man of ‘C’ Squadron wounded. General Gough got the 4th and the 16th Lancers to trail a gun, by hand, up to within 200 yards of a barricade of a village where Germans were billeting ad then blew the barricade to bits. We took the village, but then had to retire. The Germans, afterwards, spent the whole night knocking the village to bits. They probably thought we were still there! There was beautiful furniture used to barricade the streets.

Saturday 17th
We had no casualties but the 5th had several including one sergeant killed.
I have learnt since that in the action my troops had taken part on the 12th, the monks from the monastery had picked up and buried 17 German dead and several wounded. The Prince Max of Hesse was among them. 

You can read more of George Fairclough's diaries and his dramatic story in my new book Letters from the Trenches which is published in November.

(Copyright © 2014 Jacqueline Wadsworth)

Friday, 3 October 2014

A breakthrough in the search for gallant Private Orr!

Private TH Orr's bravery is recorded in the
Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal
Could this be the the First World War soldier who was lauded in the columns of a Bristol newspaper for 'saving a chum under fire!' on the battlefield?

In my last post I published a verse called 'St Paul's Hero' which praised the bravery of a Private T Orr who risked his life saving a wounded comrade. The verse was discovered on a yellowing cutting that was tucked inside an old bible and I asked if anyone had any idea who the soldier could have been.

He was described in the verse as 'a Glo'ster' (soldier of the Gloucestershire Regiment) and there was some indication that he and his wife ran a business in the St Paul's area of Bristol.

Within hours of my post going up, Sarah Spink, an amateur researcher, got in touch to suggest that the man in question may have been Private Thomas Henry Orr who served with the First Battalion, the Gloucestershire Regiment (Regimental No 7640) and who, according to the 'UK Citations of the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 1914-1920', above, was decorated 'For gallantry in going forward 100 yards, on 19th September, to pick up a wounded scout, and helping to bring him in under heavy fire'.

Sarah's research also showed that Private Orr was born in the Eastville district of Bristol in 1887, and was married in the city in 1913. At the time of the 1911 Census he was serving with the Gloucestershire Regiment and his wife-to-be worked as a confectioner's shop assisant.

If anyone can confirm Sarah's findings, or tell us any more about Private Orr and his connection to St Paul's, I would be delighted to hear from you.

Sarah has also tried to shed light on the identity of RW French, who wrote the verse. 'I have seen several references to a RW French of Bristol on the British Newspaper Archive website, who was on the National Executive of Credit Traders in the 1940s and the Western Executive in the 1930s,' she said. 'Possibly the same one of Bristol who is referred to as being a Presbyterian Church Speaker in 1945.'

This isn't the first time Sarah has helped 'Letters from the Trenches' with its inquiries. Two years ago she managed to track down the family of another WW1 soldier, Ernest West, which resulted in two half-brothers meeting for the first time. I thank her very much for taking such a lively interest.