Lance Corporal Nelson Holmes
1/6th Battalion, Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment.
Nelson Holmes was born in Silsden, 14th July 1897 to Timothy Holmes, a labourer from Silsden and Annie Holmes of Bradford.
In the 1901 census, the family are living at 4 Mill Banks in Silsden. The census reveals that Timothy was aged 43, was a labourer and Annie was aged 35 and at home with their children. The eldest was Arthur, 13 and a worsted spinner. William was 11, Elizabeth aged 7, Edgar aged 5, Nelson aged 3 and Grace aged 1. Also living with them was Annie’s father, William Smith. He was listed as a widower aged 67, a woodturner from Earby. It is interesting to note that this was a total of 9 people living in a two bedroomed house, not considered unusual at this time!
The 1911 census reveals that the family had now moved to 67 Aireview in Silsden. Timothy is now a widower, aged 53 and working as a labourer in an iron founders. Arthur is now aged 23, a moulder in an iron founders and William, aged 21 is a labourer general. Elizabeth is now married and her name appears as ‘Elizabeth Wilson’ on the census. She has a daughter living with them, Annie Wilson aged 7 months, however there is no record of her husband living with them. Edgar is now aged 15 and works as a labourer in a bobbin factory. Nelson is 14 and works from home as a doffer for a spinning mill. Grace is aged 11 and attends school along with her younger sister Martha aged 9. These records suggest that again there are 9 people squeezing into a four bedroomed home.
During his younger years, Nelson was a member of 1st Silsden boy Scouts. His time at scouts during this time will most certainly have had military aspects, lighthearted trench activities and weaponry was common and although the sessions were seen as fun and exciting for the young boys in the Scouting Movement, it certainly inspired many to go willingly into the theatre of war when they were old enough; and some (like Nelson) attempted to join before they were eligible. It is highly likely that Nelson will have known fellow Silsden Scouts Rowland Hill and Michael Henry, both extremely young soldiers who also did not make it through the war.
Nelson’s original medical inspection report allows us a glimpse of a deception by the Military, or an eagerness from Nelson to serve. His age is listed as 19 years and 4 months, however we know that his age at this time was actually 17 years and 5 months. The medical report also reveals that he was 5 foot 3”, good eyesight and in good physical health.
In December 1914, Nelson’s name appears on an attestation form for the Territorial Force, 6th Reserve Battalion of the Duke of Wellington’s Regiment. His Military History sheet reveals he served at home and in France, from 1st December 1914 to his death in Flanders on 16th December 1915.
Nelson was called to duty and received training in nearby Skipton and onto Thoresby Park, where he was appointed Lance Corporal and travelled to France with six other young Silsden Soldiers. You can imagine the camaraderie and excitement surrounding their adventure, probably expecting the war to be over shortly as most civilians had been fed this notion from the British Government during this time.
On June 29th, Nelson arrived in France and was posted to Havre, a base depot and then moved to serve with the British Expeditionary Force. On the 16th December, Nelson was now aged 18, and working with an Entrenchment Unit working in a support trench on the front line in Malakoff Farm. During the bleak winter of 1915, the trenches at Malakoff had become a waterlogged and were a dismal place to be posted, obliterated by shells and fire-stepped to avoid the dreaded trench foot, many of the support trenches had been dug to around 6 feet.
Nelson was on Periscope duty during the morning of the 16th. At around 11.15am, Nelson realised his periscope was damaged and was attempting to repair it when he unwittingly revealed too much of his head above the trench. A nearby German Sniper shot him immediately in the head with a rifle, Nelson collapsed and received prompt medical treatment. He survived long enough to be bandaged, but never regained consciousness.
He was buried alongside another soldier from his regiment who was also killed on the same day, 21 year old Private D. Russell. Their resting place is the Talana Farm Cemetery in Ypres. Nelson’s grave reference being grave 3, row D plot VI.
Their young ages were a sad reality of the losses during the Great War, according to the Armed Forces records, just over half of the British soldiers were aged 18-23, the average age of death was 27 but more 19 year olds were killed than any other age.
England and Wales birth records
1897 Baptismal record
British Army Medal Index Card and Medal Rolls
British Army and Territorial Force Records
Keighley News archives, held at Keighley Library Local Studies Room.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission.