Private Arthur Simpson
43877, 4th Bn., Worcestershire Regiment who died of wounds on 20th October 1918, aged 22
Remembered with Honour
Barrow Hill Memorial
Staveley Parish Memorial
Duhallow A.D.S.Cemetery ( IV. H. 26)
Shepherd’s daughter, Sarah Ellen Bean was born in Sutton-cum-Lound in Nottinghamshire but had moved to Derbyshire with her family where her father found work as a farm labourer, and later as a coal miner. She married George Sawyers in 1876 when she was 18 and the couple had 3 sons; Joseph Charles, Thomas William and John Benjamin. When George died in 1885, Sarah Ellen was left a widow with three young children to support, one of whom was still a baby.
In 1887 she married for a second time, to Joseph Simpson, a chimney sweep who had been born in Matlock. The couple initially lived at Brampton, where their daughter Sarah was born in 1888, before they moved to Brimington. Living with them were Sarah Ellen’s three sons.
As the Sawyers boys grew older, they worked for the Staveley Coal and Iron Company and in 1901 Thomas William was employed by them as a coal miner and John Benjamin as a bricklayer’s labourer. This enabled the family to live in a Company cottage at 199, Barrow Hill on the Long Row. It was here that another boy, THOMAS ARTHUR SIMPSON, was born in the summer of 1895.
The following year, Joseph Sawyers married Ada Warwick; Thomas William married Gertrude Longmate in 1902 and John Benjamin married Amelia Copeland in 1907. As the Sawyers boys left home, the family would no longer be allowed to stay in their home as the cottages were only let to Company employees and by 1911, Sarah Ellen, Joseph and Arthur had moved to 50, Handley Road at New Whittington to lodge with Sarah Ellen’s widowed brother, Benjamin Bean.
The 1911 Census reveals that 15 year old Arthur was then working as a pony driver in one of the Staveley Company collieries, a role which enabled the family to move back to Barrow Hill at a later date. His mother is, unusually for a married woman, listed as having an occupation as a midwife. (She was known to older village residents as Nurse Simpson). His father Joseph was still a self-employed chimney sweep and would have been much in demand in an age when coal was the main fuel used for heating and cooking. Arthur himself completed and signed the census form which suggests that he was more literate than his parents having attended the village school until the age of at least 12.
By 1911, Arthur was himself employed as a miner at the Seymour Colliery at Woodthorpe which belonged to the Staveley Coal and Iron Company and the family had moved again to a Company house, a “Blocks” cottage below the Long Row at 233, Barrow Hill.
Arthur enlisted in the army at Sheffield in early 1915 when he was 19 years of age, the official age limit for volunteers to serve abroad. His medal roll index card shows that he originally joined the 17th (Service) Battalion (Empire), Royal Fusiliers (1567/E) which had been raised by the British Empire Committee in August 1914. In June 1915, the battalion was at Clipstone Camp near Mansfield and from 26th June 1915 came under command of 99th Brigade, 33rd Division. The battalion was taken over by the War Office in July and moved to Tidworth on Salisbury Plain in August 1915 for final training and firing practice.
In November 1915 the Division received a warning order to prepare to sail for France. Arthur landed at Boulogne, France, with the battalion on 16th November 1915 where the 99th brigade was transferred to the 2nd Division and where they learned trench warfare around the Morbecque area. A month later, the battalion moved within the 2nd Division to the 5th Brigade.
The 4th Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment marching to the trenches near Acheux, 28th June 1916.
The 4th Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment were in Burma when war was declared and had been evacuated from Gallipoli to Egypt in January 1916 after suffering the worst casualty figures of any battalion. Much decimated, they landed at Marseilles for service in France on 20th March 1916 and moved to concentrate in the area east of Pont Remy. Arthur is recorded as serving with this regiment and it is probable that he had been wounded, sent back to England to recover and added to the strength of the 4th Worcesters on his return.
During 1916, the 4th Worcesters in the 88th Brigade, 2nd Division, were in action on the Somme at the Battles of Albert and Transloy Ridges and in 1917 at the Battles of the Scarpe as part of the Arras Offensive, the Battles of Langemarck, Broodseinde and Poelcapelle during the Third Battle of Ypres and at the Battle of Cambrai.
In the Spring of 1918, the battalion was in action during the Battles of the Lys at Estaires, Messines, Hazebrouck and Bailleul; the Advance in Flanders at Outtersteene Ridge, Ploegsteert and Hill 63 and the Final Advance in Flanders at Ypres and Courtrai.
During this time on the Western Front, Arthur “had been wounded on three previous occasions.” He would have been patched up at field hospitals and sent back again to the front lines as soon as possible.
Arthur was described as a signaller in the local newspaper. There was no Royal Signals in WW1 and signalling work was done at battalion level by infantry signallers and for larger formations by the Royal Engineers. At Battalion level, this usually meant communicating between the Company and Platoon commanders and their superiors in the trenches. With the technology available, it usually meant being a Runner and carrying messages by hand to the appropriate officers. He would have worn the “trade badge” on his left sleeve – a pair of crossed semaphore flags, and would also have been trained in morse code and used signal lamps.
Signalling Post on the Western Front
The life expectancy of a Runner was really rather short, especially if it meant running back across No Man’s land to carry a message back to Battalion HQ in the middle of a battle with shells falling around you! A rather safer duty was telephone signalling which was more limited at battalion level than the higher levels. Of course, fixing wires during attacks wasn’t a plum job either. Lastly, the use of semaphore flags was also practiced, but standing up and waving a flag around was not considered the safest of things when bullets and shells are flying.
The Battle of Courtrai (14th-19th October): Just before Zero-hour on Monday 14 October, the British barrage opened with a deafening clamour; minutes later (at 5.35am) infantry of the three attacking Corps, surged forward through thick mist and across the sodden wire-strewn ground. Good progress was made and many prisoners taken; by evening a gain of four miles had been made. Belgian assaults on the left were equally successful and the general attack was resumed with utmost ferocity the following day forcing a German pull-back to the Lys that evening. In subsequent pursuit actions, 16-17 October, XV Corps pushed rapidly eastwards while enemy counter-attacks frustrated the more northerly British attempts to establish bridgeheads on the Lys; it was not until the night of 18/19 October that 35th Division got significant numbers of troops across the waterway. Courtrai was occupied on 19 October and II Corps formations crossed the river that night. By the morning of 20 October the whole front of Second Army was across the Lys. Source
On the 19th October 1918, during the Battle of Courtrai and just 3 weeks before the Armistice, Arthur Simpson was “wounded in the chest, and his condition from the first was so serious that there was little chance of his recovery. He was conscious at first but was too weak to realise how ill he was.” The following day, he “died on Sunday in hospital in France from wounds received the previous day. Deceased, who was 23 years of age, joined the army three years and nine months ago.”
Thomas Arthur Simpson is buried at the Duhallow A.D.S. Cemetery in Belgium.
© Ann Lucas