Archive for the ‘WWI’ Category

The Newtown Bridge (Bloxwich) over the Stafford Rd has long since gone, the line of the canal, where William was found, can still be made out though towards Fishley. 2017.


This part covers the stories of Private Davill (Walsall) and Private Greenwood (Leeds), whose differing experiences open the dark side of the Cannock Chase camps in January 1916…
https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/october-1915-january-1916-the-dark-side-of-the-cannock-chase-camps-part-2/

Thomas William James’ newly erected CWGC headstone (D Royle)


We have some brilliant news. Thomas William James, a fallen WWI soldier from Great Wyrley and Brownhills, has received his Commonwealth War Grave headstone after over 100 years. Thanks to Barrie’s efforts he has now been recognised. I can’t say I am not a little proud that Wyrleyblog contributed to it. Read his story, and that of how he finally got recognition… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/wyrley-landywood/the-harrisons-club-great-wyrley-war-memorial-history/from-brownhills-to-brandwood-thomas-william-james-and-the-pity-of-war/

Yeomanry occupying observation post (Walsall Local History Centre)


This article returns the Blog to the Cannock area and to the First World War period, but what turned out to be a straight-forward question actually, in my view, has opened the door on an interesting piece of general social history and has also offered a solution to a personal mystery on the Cannock war memorial… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/tracing-a-cannock-tommy-the-thomas-bradley-williams-story/

The Cross Keys, Hednesford, where Freddie attended the John Wesley lodge of the RAOB not long after the picture was taken. (HeathHaysHistory)

The title to this story is a little bit different and I am sure the mind is boggling as to just how a man, a war, a harp and a monkey could all fit together. Well, the first link is easy: the search for the man, Frederick George Wray, started with a bit of a mystery that arose from the war memorial in Hednesford. What happened then was that the mystery was partly solved through a moment of serendipity, however, the answer that moment of serendipity provided only served to take the story on – and to try to answer a question posed by a harp and a monkey! Confused? I will explain… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/a-man-a-war-a-harp-and-a-monkey-the-frederick-wray-story/

We are again near that time of year of the year, especially so during the centenary of the conflict, that the people of the Black Country come together to remember the ‘Great Zeppelin Raid’ of 31 January/1 February 1916. This article, taken from the holdings of Walsall Archives, focusses mainly on the blackout policy of Walsall Council both before and after the raid.

It was the first time that Zeppelins raided in-land and we are often led to believe, and I can only speak of Walsall here, that it caught an area that arrogantly thought itself safe from aerial attack: Walsall famously having its street lights full-on and its tramcars running. This is actually not the case: Walsall’s Chief Constable had ordered street, shop and theatre lighting reduced by half back in February 1915 and, as a letter from Walsall Council to Nottingham Council dating from October 1916 shows, a plan existed for ‘complete extinguishment’ upon a warning transmitted from ‘a Midland Centre’. This Centre was told around an hour and a half before the first bombs dropped on Walsall that night – when the Zeppelins were around ’40 miles away’ – however, while Birmingham was informed and put its ‘blackout’ plan into operation, ‘Walsall and other towns’ were not and suffered accordingly.

An account of the raid in October 1916, in a letter to Nottingham County Council.

An account of the raid in October 1916, in a letter to Nottingham County Council.

The Zeppelins had exposed a weakness in communications and by 12 February a new warning system was devised that replaced the responsibility of the police with that of Telephone District Managers. They had also exposed the limitations of the Council’s policy of turning the lights off and trusting to luck; so, over the next days, weeks and months Walsall put into operation a system of public sirens, initiated a total black-out, petitioned for Anti-Aircraft guns, improved their ambulance facilities, looked at air raid shelters and carried out a test mobilisation of up to 300 people. Elsewhere, the local Co-op started selling ‘Veneta Zeppelin blinds’ (in any colour as long as it was dark green) and the first newspaper after the raid saw agents selling Zeppelin Insurance.

As the Government repudiated liability after the raid, Zeppelin insurance was available in the following edition of the Walsall newspapers

As the Government repudiated liability after the raid, Zeppelin insurance was available in the following edition of the Walsall newspapers

The total blackout was a typical British knee-jerk reaction, being poorly thought out in my opinion. It makes me think on Laurence Olivier’s narration to ‘A World at War’ – on how the blackout in the opening months of World War Two was originally seen as a bit of a joke until the accidents increased and the joke didn’t seem quite so funny anymore.

Day;'s statement to the Coroner in February 1917.

Day’s statement to the Coroner in February 1917.

It took a full year and the death of Robert Saunders to get some change to the policy in Walsall. Saunders, a 60-year old locksmith from Fletchers Lane in Willenhall, was crossing Upper Bridge Street at around 9.30 pm on Saturday 10 February 1917 when he was struck by a Birmingham & Midland Motor Omnibus Company bus. The bus, the 8.43 pm Birmingham – Walsall service driven by Smethwick man Walter Day, had been travelling slowly and, according to regulations, was only burning two side lamps that were obscured. Day states that he did not see him until it was too late, as there were no street lights and his bus was blacked out. Saunders, probably the last victim attributable to the Great Zeppelin Raid in Walsall, died a few hours later.

It was clearly not the first accident to have occurred and as consequence the Coroner wrote on behalf of the jury to the Council on the issue of street lighting. Finally, the Chief Constable arranged, at a cost of £3 per light, for 15 electric lamps to be erected at compulsory stops on the main roads of the Borough. All of these lights could be switched off automatically just in case the Zeppelins returned – which of course they never did!

For other stories on the Walsall Borough take a look at my Wyrleyblog: https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/ (also on Facebook and Twitter) and the Walsall Local History Centre’s blog: http://web.walsall.gov.uk/local-history-centre/?page_id=2 (also on Facebook and Twitter)

2 Heath Street, Hednesford.Home of the Rushtons and scene of the tragic fire. 2016.

2 Heath Street, Hednesford.Home of the Rushtons and scene of the tragic fire. 2016.


Rushton seems the ideal patriot: he was a volunteer that joined-up in 1914, getting himself passed as fit to serve despite there being evidence that suggests he was not. While training, his family went through a trauma which left him, understandably, petitioning the officer-in-charge to be able to go home. That permission was refused… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/ernest-rushton-of-hednesford-crying-wolf/

Anonymous grave markers,  now divorced from their graves, at the Burntwood Asylum graveyard. 2016.

Anonymous grave markers, now divorced from their graves, at the Burntwood Asylum graveyard. 2016.

The first of a 3 part article on depression in WWI, with special emphasis on the Cannock Chase camps. Part 1 investigates how well mental health was understood back in World War One and the story of a local soldier Silas Sargent of Bloxwich and Cheslyn Hay… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/driven-to-dispair-the-dark-side-of-the-cannock-chase-camps-part-1/

A recruitment cartoon in the Advertiser, Sep 1914. (Cannock Library)

Mr Phillips and Don the Dog raising money for the Tommies, 1914. (Cannock Library)


This is the story of John Henry Degg from High Town, Hednesford. John Henry epitomises the opening day casualty of the Battle of the Somme – one of 19,240 dead – but I wanted to show that he was a person and not just a statistic. I have also used his family experience in order to give some local (Great Wyrley and Cheslyn to Cannock and Hednesford) and general military and political background not only to the battle, but the entire war… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/cannock/the-cannock-area-in-world-war-one-the-deggs-of-hednesford/

Bath St Cemetery, early 1900s, now devoid of most of its headstones and funerary art. (Walsall Local History Centre)

Bath St Cemetery, early 1900s, now devoid of most of its headstones and funerary art. (Walsall Local History Centre)

This article started off as the story of Albert Edward King RE, a soldier from Chalford in Gloucestershire, and it still is, but the disappointment over the slightly unkempt nature of the graveyard he, and all the others, lay in mean’t that I wanted to extend the article to encompass through local examples, Great Wyrley, Cheslyn Hay, Walsall, Birmingham, as well as Chalford in Gloucestershire, the role of graveyards and funerary art (including headstones, statues and war memorials) in local communities. It is not meant to be exhaustive, but a brief look at the history and responsibilities that go with them… https://wyrleyblog.wordpress.com/articles-other/graveyards-headstones-and-now-lie-i-like-a-king/

King's grave in the rather unkempt churchyard at Chalford.

King’s grave in the rather unkempt churchyard at Chalford. 2016.

As I have been a little under the weather, and so I am just getting back into writing a new article, I thought I would post this item as a bit of a bridge until that is ready. It shows an aspect of the work we do at the Local History Centre that is seldom seen: as it is a short video that Cath (our Local Studies Librarian) and I (Archivist) did as part of a project with the Common Ground Federation (which enable young people to deliver inspiring action that bridges communities through common ground and tackles issues that lie at the heart of society) on how local history (and especially the Walsall Zeppelin raids) can be used to connect the generations through shared experience and a shared sense of place.

Also, it is for those that live in Wyrley (and the wider area) that are interested in who it is that actually writes Wyrleyblog – yes, I actually appear in it – so if you see me around please say hi and let me know what you think of the stories or if you have any ideas for one!