Enlisting as a group

All Saints Bible Class group research page

All Saints' Church war memorials


Pals Battalions.

We hear so much about the 'Pals' and 'Chums' Battalions during the Great War, but here in Keighley we have only scratched the surface of knowing which of the men joined them, because Keighley didn't have it's own specifically named Pals battalion. Any men who did join these battalions would have likely been part of the Bradford Pals or the Leeds Pals, which between them made up several battalions of the Prince of Wales' Own West Yorkshire Regiment, and as such the men would have been part of these larger entities but with no visible 'Keighley' element.

The All Saints' Church Bible Class. Back row, left to right: Frank Gill; Ronald Eyre, John Edmund Robinson, William Nelmes, Robert Jowett Robinson.
Front row, left to right: Louis Topham; Reverend J. Wood; Albert Gill.

With the All Saints' Church Bible Class all enlisting together we have a local example of a set of young men deciding as a group to enlist together in the 8th Service Battalion, Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment. Even so, it wasn't actually one of the pals battalions.

The decision is taken.

John Edmund Robinson

From reading newspaper reports and obituaries it appears that the group was influenced by John Edmund Robinson, one of the more mature members, who was very well respected locally and amongst his friends. The writer Desémea Newman referred to him as 'being very highly gifted and of a charming disposition.' As his teacher at the National School in Keighley, she said that, 'to the staff it seemed as though his uncommon brilliance should lead him to great attainments.' These comments were echoed from Keighley Boy's Grammar School when Mr. J. H. Bentley (head master) regarded him as 'one of the brightest lads that had ever come under his care.'
This was already proving to be the case in John's adult life as he had won a scholarship to the Royal College of Science and after completing his education there, he took up a Church Missionary Society post as a science master in the English College at Jerusalem, where his duties lay with the Mohammedan students who were being trained in Western methods. Shortly after the outbreak of war he took leave from this position and came home to Keighley, where he attended the All Saints' Bible class and proposed that they all enlist as a group. Such was his influence with the other young men that nine of them agreed to enlist together, although it would be fair to think that some of them may already have come to this decision anyway.
We haven't got proof that every one of them did this although 1914 and 1915 Keighley News reports state they did.
From our research, existing Army service records of four of these lads have an enlistment date of Monday, 31st August 1914, and all of their service numbers are very close numerically, which lends support to the view that they did indeed enlist on the same day.

We think it's likely that all of these lads came to their Bible Class after service at All Saints' Church on Sunday 30th August 1914 and it was at this time they agreed to meet up and enlist the next day. We can imagine their excitement to be embarking on this adventure together and perhaps there was a little joking around as they waited in the queue to enlist at Keighley Drill Hall on Lawkholme Lane, the home of D and E Companies of the 6th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment. You might be forgiven for wondering why they didn't enter the 6th Battalion, but the 8th had been newly formed just over the hills in Halifax and maybe that was the only option they were given on the day. It wouldn't matter though as they were all going to be together. There would have been a strong feeling of 'doing your bit' in the minds of these lads with a keen urge to serve their country. The news of the first clashes with the German army would have been a strong topic of conversation in town the previous weekend and they didn't want to miss out on the action.

Lying about their age?

We know that some young men lied about their age to serve in the Great War, even though they would have been made aware that they needed to be old enough to enlist and could not serve overseas until they were nineteen. But the records show that this group had rather a high proportion of underage lads in it, at least a third of them.
At the time of enlistment in September 1914, Ivor Tempest Greenwood was seventeen, born in October 1896, Louis Topham was seventeen, born in early 1897, and Gerald Charlton was the youngest at sixteen, born in February 1898, which meant all three were well underage, but they all added a few years to their age to make themselves just over nineteen rather than be rejected for service. This probably didn't sit too well with their Christian values, so maybe it was just considered to be 'a little white lie.'
But what made them do this, was it simply because it was for a good cause? Nobody was forcing them to enlist if they weren't old enough, so could it be purely peer pressure, or a heightened sense of patriotic fervour. We will never know their thoughts at that time but a third of these lads were certainly too young to serve. But serve they did.

Recruits outside the drill hall, believed to be late 1915.

Early training.

The group all went to Belton Park Army Camp near Grantham for training. Belton Park was the estate of Lord Brownlow who had offered the estate grounds to the war office for use as an Army training camp. Initially the accomodation was all tents, but these gave way to proper wooden huts and facilities and thousands of men were trained here during the war.

Early days at Belton Camp.
Albert Gill is on the left of the middle row and William Nelmes is second from right on the back row.

The excitement of this huge departure from the normal lives of these young lads would have shortly turned to shock, as their young friend Ivor Tempest Greenwood contracted typhoid fever after about a week at the camp, possibly from contaminated stagnant water supplies on the estate which were not originally intended for the purpose of supplying drinking water to hundreds of troops. Ivor was rushed to the 4th Northern General Military Hospital at Lincoln where he died eight days later of pneumonia on 16th September. The Keighley News reported that several of his bible class friends attended his funeral on Saturday 19th September at All Saints' Church and the interment in the family grave at Utley cemetery in Keighley. Ivor had been in the Army for less than three weeks.

Ivor Tempest Greenwood

The rest of the lads continued on with their training until October, when Ronald Eyre was found to be medically unfit after 44 days service and discharged on the 13th. Twenty year old Ronald had somehow managed to get through the initial Army medical, despite partial paralysis on his left side and that arm being three inches shorter than his right one! He also had poor eyesight and was discharged 'Not likely to become an efficient soldier as a 'Recruit within three months of enlistment considered unfit for service.' Apparently he had suffered with infant myelitis (possibly Polio). Ronald went back to civilian life as a labourer at Keighley and died in 1940 with a recorded age of 36, so this raises a further question. On enlistment, he had given his age as 20 years and 120 days, which implies a birth date of 1st March 1894. This conflicts with a birth year calculated from his death record which suggests he was born in 1896, so was he eighteen on enlistment and also lied about his age?

Ronald Eyre.

We haven't been able to find a birth record for Ronald and we know he was adopted which is bound to make further research difficult, plus it's possible that Eyre wasn't his original name and he took up his adopted father's name, which is recorded on his Army records as John Hare, not Eyre which adds further confusion although there's a possibility that whoever wrote it down misheard what Ronald said and thought 'Eyre' was Hare.
The original group was now down to seven men, who went on with their Army training through the winter period. On the 1st March 1915, several of them transferred to the Army Cyclist Corps, attached to the 8th Battalion West Riding Regiment. These men were Gerald Charlton, Frank and Albert Gill, Louis Topham and Robert Jowett Robinson.

Believed to have been taken shortly after 1st March 1915 after some of the lads transferred to the Army Cyclist Corps. Note Frank Gill, second from right on the front row, is not wearing a West Riding Regiment cap badge.

It appears that John Edmund Robinson and William Nelmes stayed with the 8th Battalion West Riding Regiment and we wonder if this was because by this time they had been promoted to Sergeant and Corporal respectively, so stayed where they were.

Serving at Gallipoli and those who survived.

The seven remaining bible class members embarked with the 8th Battalion for service at the Dardanelles in late July of 1915. They had mixed fortunes. William Nelmes was killed in action on 7th August 1915, shortly after the landings at Suvla Bay.

William Nelmes.

John Edmund Robinson was killed in battle two weeks later on the 21st August during an attack at Anafarta.

John Edmund Robinson.

Gerald Charlton had been disciplined for a breach of standing orders on 29th September for drinking unboiled water. Three days later his pal Albert Gill died at Malta from dysentery and was buried at Pieta Military Cemetery.

Albert Gill.

Gerald also developed dysentery and enteritis and he was invalided home on 29th October, but he eventually recovered and was discharged from 2nd Western General Hospital in Manchester, then back to his unit on 5th February 1916. He contracted influenza on 16th June 1918 and was admitted to 59 Casualty Clearing Station, but recovered after a week and is recorded rejoining his unit on 21st June. The 8th Battalion travelled from Egypt on 1st July, landing at Marseilles six days later at the time of the battle of the Somme. They first served in the front line at Agny from 1st August 1916. Gerald served on the Western front until the Armistice. He survived the war and emigrated to Canada in 1919, where he married Edith May Dodson in 1928. They had a daughter Margaret and four grandchildren. Gerald died on 28 May 1982 at Burnaby, British Columbia.

Frank Gill also survived Gallipoli and served at Egypt. He was discharged 'no longer physically fit for war service (due to sickness)' on 17th June 1916 having served for two years and 66 days.
He was issued with a Silver War Badge to signify his sevice in the war.

Frank Gill.

Frank was secretary of the Keighley All Saints' Athletic Club and also Manager of 'The Vanities', a refined concert party. By profession he was a bookkeeper and on 23rd December 1926 he married Doris Elizabeth Ann Whitaker. They had also moved to Surrey around this time, living there for a number of years. Frank died aged 81 in October 1973.

Louis Topham survived Gallipoli and service at Egypt, travelling to the Western front in early July. He was wounded in October 1916 and returned to his unit. Louis was shot in the left thigh and taken prisoner on 7th June 1917 at Arras and he was held at Nürnberg Camp in Bavaria for the remainder of the war. He had been reported dead in 1917 by a letter from his commanding officer, but his family must have been overjoyed to hear he was still alive, although taken prisoner. After the cessation of hostilities, he was discharged to the Army's class Z Reserve on 19th March 1919.

Louis Topham.

Louis married Lily Louise Smith in 1923 at Kingston in Surrey, he was living with her in Surrey until at least 1939,
He died at the age of 47 in 1944 with his death registered at Marylebone District, London.

Last but certainly not least is Robert Jowett Robinson, younger brother of John Edmund. He was promoted to Lance Corporal and recommended for officer training. He was gazetted from Cadet to 2nd Lieutenant on 29th May 1918 whilst serving with the West Riding Regiment.

Robert Jowett Robinson.

After the war he returned to Keighley and lived at 25, Barlow Road until 1924 when he married Rhoda Barrett in Keighley in summer 1924.
He died at the age of 77 on 12th August 1972, with his death being registered in Leicestershire.

Reference Sources:
Births, Deaths and Marriage records.
1891, 1901, 1911 census records.
1939 register.
British Army service records.
British Army pension records.
All Saints' Church roll of honour, Keighley.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission records.
Keighley News archives at Keighley Library.
National Archives war diaries for 8th Battalion West Riding Regiment.
Photos by kind courtesy of J. Trowbridge.

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