14342, 10th Bn., Sherwood Foresters (Notts and Derby Regiment) who was killed in action on 14th February 1916, aged 28
Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Clay Cross Memorial
Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial (Panel 39 and 41)
*Donald Houston is listed as Ronald on the memorials at Barrow Hill and Staveley
James Houston originally hailed from Ayrshire in Scotland but had moved to lodgings in England with his work as a travelling draper. It was probably through this work that he met Phoebe Bourne, a domestic servant to a jeweller who had been in service from a young age. The couple married in Rushall, Staffordshire on 13th June 1878 when James was 27 and Phoebe was 33.
James became a Police Constable and, in 1881, the couple were living in Wednesfield, Staffordshire, where their children James Bourne and Ellen Edith were born. By 1891, the family were living at 35 Clarence Street in Sedgley and had moved several times during the interim ten years; George Archibald had been born in Princes End, Florence and DONALD in Chasetown and baby William in Upper Gornal.
James Houston died in 1897, aged 45, leaving Phoebe a widow with 6 children to bring up alone. Just two years later, in 1899, her eldest son, James Bourne Houston, also died. He was 20 years old.
Phoebe had moved her family to 136, Hobridge Street, Burton-on-Trent by 1901 where she lived with her three youngest sons; George 17, who was working as an assistant in the wine and spirit trade and Donald and William who were both still at school. Like her mother before her, Florence had gone into service and was working for a family in Nottinghamshire.
George Archibald Houston was living and working in Clay Cross, Derbyshire when he married Warwickshire-born Mary Eliza Stephens in Chadshunt on 29th September 1910. The couple made their home at John Street, Clay Cross where George was employed as a blast furnace keeper. His mother and brothers had also moved to the area by 1911 and were living at 204, Furnace Hill, Clay Cross. Donald was working as a Steam Crane driver in an iron foundry whilst William was a labourer at the blast furnace. Soon afterwards, Phoebe and her two unmarried sons moved to live at 34, Devonshire Cottages, Barrow Hill, where William was employed by the Staveley Coal and Iron Company at the Devonshire Works.
When war was declared, William Houston enlisted in the army in August 1914 and became a Lance Corporal with the King’s Own Scottish Borderers. He was wounded in the head and right arm on 8th July 1915 and shipped back to a London hospital.
Donald Houston enlisted at Chesterfield with the 10th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire and Derbyshire Regiment) which had been raised at Derby in September 1914 as part of Kitchener’s Second New Army and joined 51st Brigade in 17th (Northern) Division. After initial training close to home, they moved to Wool then to West Lulworth in October and back to Wool in December. In June 1915 they moved to Winchester for final training.
The division had been selected for Home Defence duties, but this was reversed and they proceeded to France, landing at Boulogne on the 14th of July 1915, the division concentrated near St Omer. This was less than one week after Donald’s brother William was wounded, which must have caused their mother great anxiety.
The battalion moved into the Southern Ypres salient for trench familiarisation and then took over the front lines in that area. Donald was promoted in the field from Lance Corporal to Corporal.
Having been in the Ypres Salient almost since their landing seven months prior, the 10th Sherwood Foresters relieved the 7th Lincolnshire Regiment in four frontline trenches in a position three miles south of Ypres Belgium, known as The Bluff, immediately north of the Ypres-Comines canal. Donald served in “B” Company, which was given trench F29, Crater and Supports. The first night passed quietly, until the next morning (14th) an intermittent enemy bombardment of the trenches began, continuing until 3.30pm when their position came under a “terrific bombardment”. Then at 5.40 pm the first of several mines was exploded under the Sherwood Foresters, “battering (the trenches) to the ground”.
At about 5.40 pm a mine exploded under the trenches occupied by ‘C’ company which unfortunately caused many casualties to our men. This was followed by an enemy attack which reached our front line but was unable to make further headway…..’
Major J. C. Keown was in command of the battalion as Lieut.Col. Banbury was on leave at the time. All ranks were wearing steel helmets for the first time. The next 24 hours tested the fighting qualities of the battalion severely. The relief was a quiet one. About 8.30am on the next morning a slow bombardment of our front and support lines started, and the enemy apparently registered these lines with all his available artillery, trench mortars and rifle grenades. At about 2.30pm the bombardment suddenly assumed tremendous intensity, every bit of Hun frightfulness seemed to be going off at once. This continued for about two hours; all telephonic communication with the front line was soon cut, but the seriousness of the shelling could be seen from Bn. HQ, which was in Spoil Bank, about 600 yards west of the Bluff. Artillery retaliation was called for but this proved quite inadequate. The Divisional artillery had only just completed their relief the night before and their guns were not accurately registered; the sound-deafening effect of a strong west wind was also very marked, and unless one was actually in sight of the bombardment, or worse still in the middle of it, it was very difficult to realise that anything serious was occurring.
‘On the night of February 13/14th they relieved the 7th Lincolnshire Regiment who were holding the Bluff and trenches immediately north of the Ypres – Comines canal. The spoil from this canal when it was dug was heaped upon either side, and thin pine woods were grown on the mounds; a great accumulation of spoil, rising considerably above the level of the rest of the ridge was known as the Bluff. To the south east of the side facing the enemy it presented a very stiff face, to the north west it sloped away more gradually in the long heap known as Spoil bank. The face towards the enemy was full of sniper’s posts, and men from here were able to completely overlook the German front trenches which ran almost at the foot of the Bluff. From the top of the Bluff a very extensive view behind our lines was obtained; on a clear day Abeele aerodrome could be seen, about a dozen miles away. A low ridge of ground stretched away in a north-easterly direction from the Bluff; our front trenches were about 100 yards over the crest of the ridge; on its crest and westerly side were our support lines and Reserve Wood – a tangled mass of undergrowth and tree stumps about 200 yards from east to west. The possession of the crest of this ridge would give the enemy good observation, but not as good as from the top of the Bluff.
Extract from 10th (S) battalion, The history of the battalion during the great war by Lieut W N Hoyte
Donald Houston – along with Fred Brooks and Lister Wilson, all Barrow Hill men serving in the 10th battalion – is remembered on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial which suggests that they could have been killed by the mine which exploded on 14th February 1916.
Donald was listed as officially missing on the 14th February 1916. His mother, Phoebe, posted an appeal for information in the Derbyshire Times asking that “should this meet the eye of any of his comrades at the Front, (she) would welcome any information they are able to give regarding him.”
In the absence of a known grave, the name of Donald Houston is listed on Panel 39 and 41 at the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial in Belgium. He was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
Donald is also remembered on the war memorial at Clay Cross where his brother George lived and on the Barrow Hill and Staveley Parish memorials.
He was posthumously awarded the 1915 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.
*William Hastings Houston died in Chesterfield in 1922 aged 31.
*George Archibald Houston died in Chesterfield in 1927 aged 43.
*Phoebe Houston died in Chesterfield in 1928 aged 83 having outlived all of her 4 sons.
© Ann Lucas