Private Vincent Evans
15735, 2nd Bn., Grenadier Guards who was killed in action on 11th September 1914, aged 21
Remembered with Honour
Hanley War memorial, Stoke-on-Trent
Guards Grave, Villers Cotterets Forest
VINCENT EVANS was the eldest child, and only son, of Benjamin and Teresa Evans. He was born in the summer of 1893 at 193 Barrow Hill, a 2-up, 2-down cottage on Railway Terrace East, known locally as the Long Row.
Vincent’s father, Benjamin, originally hailed from Leeds and worked as a coal hewer for the Staveley Coal and Iron Company whilst his mother, Teresa, came from Hanley in Staffordshire. Like many other households in the village, the family income was supplemented by taking in lodgers. Vincent’s two younger sisters were also born in Barrow Hill; Gertrude in 1895 and Henrietta in 1897.
Vincent would have attended the Staveley Works Schools at the top of the hill from the age of 3 and been educated there either until he was 13/14 or until the family left the area at some time between 1901 and 1911.
The family were living at 63, Ludlow Street, Hanley in Staffordshire in 1911, where 17 year old Vincent was working as a potter’s labourer and living with his 14 year old sister Henrietta and his father, who was still working as a coal miner. His mother Teresa had died 2 years previously and his sister Gertrude was employed in service in nearby Burslem. 3 other children born to Bernard and Teresa had died prior to 1911.
Around 1911/12, Vincent had joined the 2nd Battalion of the Grenadier Guards, the most senior regiment of the 4th (Guards) Brigade, 2nd Division at Stoke–on-Trent.
On 15th August 1914, less than 2 weeks after England had declared war on Germany, he sailed for France aboard the S.S. Cawdor Castle and landed at Le Havre in France with his Battalion as part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF).
The first major clash between the BEF and the Imperial German Army on the Western Front took place at Mons on Sunday 23 August 1914. In the aftermath of the Battle, the British and French forces began a long, hard retreat south west toward Paris. Shortly after 5 p.m. on 25 August, the 4th (Guards) Brigade of the BEF halted at Landrecies.
The Guardsmen had been marching all day and had hoped to get some much needed rest, but reports that large numbers of German troops were approaching from the north forced them to prepare for an imminent attack. For most of the night that followed, fierce fighting took place on the outskirts of Landrecies. This night-time skirmish was one of several costly but effective rearguard actions fought by units of the BEF during the retreat from Mons.
The “Grenadiers were at rest when orders came in soon after midnight on 1 September to take up a rear-guard position just north of Vivieres. No casualties resulted from the first encounter with enemy patrols at first light and the Battalion retired in good order into the forest of Villers-Cotterets. There was an outburst of firing at about 11am which soon became chaotic forest fighting at point blank range. Part of No 4 Company made a counter attack, suffering badly in the melee and most of its officers and men were either killed, wounded or missing….
The War Diary of the 2nd Bn. Grenadier Guards for 1st September 1914 reads, “Marched from Soucy 4am fighting rear guard action Bn. hotly engaged at Villers Cotterets lost 4 officers missing, losses amongst NCO’s and men – 2 wounded, 122 missing. “
Vincent was killed in action in September 1914 aged 21. Like so many of the deaths incurred by the British Expeditionary Force, the precise date and circumstances of his death are difficult to ascertain as the area was held by the Germans until November 1914.
The official date on his grave, and that of many of his Grenadier Guard comrades, is the 20th September 1914 although it is much more likely that he was one of the men who died as a result of the action at Villers Cotterets on 1st September. Several records provide evidence for this; Lord Killanin visited the site in November 1914 to “locate and exhume all those buried in a pit after the action of 1 September. The CWGC burial report confirms the facts. Killanin’s party found 94 men, recorded their details where possible and re-buried them under a cross, on the spot. This later became the Guards Cemetery.”
Vincent Evans is buried in a single plot with his fellow guards in the Guards Grave at Villers Cotterets Forest (Headstone at Plot 8). He was the first “Barrow Hill” casualty of the war.
Vincent Evans was posthumously awarded the 1914 Star and clasp which was issued to the men of the BEF for the opening campaign on the Western Front, as well as the Victory Medal and the British War Medal. His qualifying date for the 1914 Star and Clasp was 13th August 1914, the date on which he embarked for France.
Although born in Barrow Hill, Vincent’s name does not appear on the village memorial as he was no longer a resident. He is remembered at Hanley, Stoke-on-Trent where the family lived at the time.
The War Memorial stands opposite Hanley Town Hall at the top of Albion Street. There is a plaque inside the entrance to Hanley Town Hall which lists the names of fallen soldiers and which includes Vincent Evans.
© Ann Lucas
‘Mansfield Chronicle’, 5th December 1918
Fifteen Rounds a Minute”, the diaries of Major ‘Ma’ Jeffreys (J M Craster, 1976)
War Diary of the 2nd Bn. Grenadier Guards