Over, 7,500 Hull men died in the First World War. Over 1,200 of these were sailors working with the fishing fleet, or serving with the Merchantile Marine, the Royal Navy and the Royal Navy Reserve. They carried out vital war work, bringing in supplies, transporting troops and minesweeping the seas
There were nearly another 1,500 men who were born in Hull, but who lived elsewhere. They died fighting for Australia, Canada, New Zealand and America. There are many others, who enlisted in Hull or who were associated with the City, but are not usually remembered on Hull war memorials. As Hull had four large hospitals and was the port of entry for repatriated prisoner of wars, servicemen from all over the world are buried in Hull. The Kingston Upon Hull Memorial aims to remember all those with a Hull connection who died in the First World War.
There are over a hundred families on the Hull Memorial that lost two or more of their family. Sometimes fathers, sons and brothers were lost on the same day. Some families lost three sons, other Hull families lost four sons, including all their children in the First World War. At least one in six Hull families lost a direct relative. Many others would lose close friends, work colleagues or others known to them. Each death was irreplaceable and an individual tragedy for someone.
Unfortunately, not all deaths were recorded in official casualty figures, particularly if soldiers died of sickness, accidents or were discharged home with wounds, of illness. By 1924 the Ministry of Pensions reported that there were 20,000 war wounded living in Hull. Although they survived the war, they are rarely recorded on war memorials. What follows here are snippets of some of those people who died, whose deaths were reported in the local newspapers.
Hull's WW1 Hospitals
Hull Royal Infirmary Naval Hospital
The first hospital organised by Lady Nunburnholme was the Naval Hospital at the Hull Royal Infirmary, located at Argyle Street. Originally opened in 1914, to help Hull's poor and sick people from the nearby Workhouse, she persuaded the Board of Guardians to donate the East and West wings of the hospital to help frontline casualties arriving at nearby Paragon Station on special ambulance trains. In April 1917, it became a naval hospital for injured sailors. The Naval hospital was equipped by Lady Nunburnholme and Lord Glenconner and staffed by trained Voluntary Aid Detachment (VAD) nurses. It had 220 beds and was initially used as a military hospital for the sick from the Humber Garrisons, but by early 1917 had been entirely taken over by the Navy, receiving a weekly Royal Navy Ambulance Train. (The hospital was being used up to 2008 and was demolished in 2017.)
Lady Sykes Hospital
This was equipped by the late Sir Mark and Lady Sykes and based in the Metropole Hall, West Street in Hull. Staffed by trained VAD helpers this hospital transferred to France. It returned to Hull after the war and closed in January 1919.
The Reckitt's company converted its social hall into a factory hospital. It was Hull's third hospital with 45 beds, organised and financed by Mr and Mrs P Reckitt. This VAD run hospital opened on the 9th December 1914 and closed in January 1919. In the 4 years and 3 months that it was open, the Reckitt's hospital treated 2,910 patients. Colonel Tatham from the Humber Garrison Medical Service wrote; "the patients who have been there, greatly appreciate the care and kindness bestowed upon them. Many of them have told me, that they were so looked after and received so many little extras and kindnesses, that Reckitts was the hospital that men wished to get into if they could." Sir James Reckitt also billeted a large number of soldiers in their grounds and offered to house a large number of Belgian refugees.
St Johns Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospital
This hospital was based at the Newland School for Girls on Cottingham Road. It was staffed by Voluntary Aid Deatachment (VAD) nurses and opened by Field Marshall French in April 1917. (see photo below). It was run by Lady Nunburnholme and one of the largest hospitals in the country. It was also highly regarded by many military and Naval Authorities. The VAD's of Hull also gave First Aid in different parts of the City.
'Brookland's Officers Hospital'
This is now the 'Dennison Centre' on Cottingham Road, and opened in early 1917. This hospital was run by the East Riding Branch of the Red Cross society and was commanded by Mrs Strickland Constable. JRR Tolkein spent 18 months there convalscing from 'trench fever'. It is said that he was inspired by the surroundings to later write 'The Lord of the Rings'. These military hospitals were manned and operated by the Royal Army Medical Corps and Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service, supplemented by voluntary workers from a number of organizations, including the Voluntary Aid Detachments, Red Cross, St John's Ambulance and YMCA.
In addition, other great work was done in Hull by local oranisations, charities and trade unions. The 'Blind Institute' on Beverley Road was used to rehabilitate those with sight impairments. The De La Pole hospital at Castle Hill cared for 'shell shock' victims. Peel House, at No: 150 Spring Bank, became a centre for 'Hull's Prisoner of War Fund', producing 130,000, life saving, 'Red Cross' parcels, for prisoners of war. The Freehold Street Bread Fund raised a substantial amount of money to provide bread for these prisoners. Hull's Seaman's Union also sent parcels, as well as providing money, clothes and coal for those in need at home. The Hull District War Refugee's Committee, for Belgian Refugees, was set up on the 7th September 1914, at Bowalley Lane, Hull. Of its 500 volunteer helpers, 400 were women aiding a total of 1,200 refugees.
Soldiers relaxing inside the Hull soldier's club, ca. 1916.
It is most appropriate to mention the fine work of Dr. Mary Murdoch, the first women medical practitioner to work in Hull. She had been connected with the Victoria Hospital for Sick Children in Park Street, since 1892. and had done much to promote the health and welfare of women and children in Hull. In 1910 Mary Murdoch became a Senior Physician, Hull's first GP, and served as a medical representative on a number of Health Commitees. She worked tirelessly to help the sick and wounded since the outbreak of the war. Unfortunately, Dr Mary Murdoch died after a short illness in March 1916. She had escaped a Zeppelin air raid, by running in the snow and was to catch a chill which became fatal. She had raised £250 to reopen the babies hospital at the Victoria hospital in Park Street, and after her death left £962 to the same cause and endow a cot in her name.
WWI helped hasten medical advances. Physicians learned better wound management and the setting of bones. Harold Gillies, an English doctor, pioneered skin graft surgery. Geoffrey Keynes, a surgeon from Britain, designed a portable blood transfusion kit. It saved thousands of lives during World War 1. The huge scale of those who needed medical care in WWI helped teach physicians and nurses the advantages of specialization and professional management. 'X' rays were used by the military for the first time during the war. Blood transfusions became routine to save soldiers, with the first blood bank established on the front line in 1917.
The Kingston upon Hull Memorial remembers the 7,500 men from Hull, who died in the First World War.
This 'digital' memorial lists all the Hull men who died in the First World War and where they lived in the City. It has taken 30 years to research and is the definitive database of Hull casualties in World War One. You can search the memorial by name, rank, regiment, age, date of death, place of burial, and home address. All names are linked to a 'Street Memorial', and a satellite map which shows the street where they lived. Every day the site will show the names of the Hull men, who died in the First World War, on this day.
It remembers over 7,000 Hull men that died in the War, who were born in Hull, lived in Hull and were buried in the City. It also includes details of another 2,000 men who died from nearby towns and villages that enlisted in Hull, or were associated with the City. It records the names of oversea sailors, lost on Hull ships, so that their sacrifice is remembered too. There is also a full list of all Hull's civilian casualties, killed in Zeppelin air raids, during the First World War.
The Hull Memorial is inter active. You can search for Hull relatives lost in the 'Great War', or find out who died from your Street in Hull. Discover Hull in the First World War, or learn more about the Great War itself. Also, add your own family stories and photographs, to make the Hull Memorial comprehensive, interesting and up to date. The Hull Memorial is 'on line', accessible and free to use. It belongs to the people of Hull.
Hull in the First World War
During 1914 -18, Hull citizens joined up in large numbers. Over 75,000 people served, and some 30% were to become casualties. Hull raised four 'Pal' Battalions for the East Yorkshire Regiment, which was more than many other larger Cities. It formed an additional 5th 'Cyclist' Battalion, and a Railway 'Pals' Battalion, known as the 17th Northumberland Fusiliers. Hull created other voluntary reserve Units, which the City paid for and equipped itself. It was one of the first to develop an Anti Aircraft unit and had its own Army Service Corp.
Hull supplied Britain with modern trawlers and skillful mariners to safeguard the seas. The City at a time of severe shortages built a remarkable 40 ships during the war, and supplied the nation with vital food and raw materials. Hull lost nearly 130 ships and over 1,200 sailors during the First World War.
Hull created a unique force of 3,000 'Special Constables', to guard the City and its ports. Hull was known as the 'Home to Blighty', receiving some 80,000 repatriated Prisoners of War through its ports. Hull established medical units and new hospitals, and had one of Britain's most successful Recruiting Offices, at Hull City Hall. Hull formed a Special Garrison of Artillery, made up of local Policemen, to specifically guard the Humber Estuary. The City suffered eight bombing raids by enemy Zeppelins and was home to the British Spy, Max Schultz.
As the war ended, Hull established a unique charity, known as the 'Great War Civic Trust'. This helped Hull's 20,000 wounded and their dependents for the next 65 years. Hull adapted its industries and workforce to help win the war. Hull women proved indispensable in maintaining home life, in the face of great hardship and tragedy.
Hull has a unique story to tell during the First World War. It is time to remember Hull's history, 100 years on from the start of World War One, and as Hull becomes the City of Culture in 2017.
This website is constantly under development.
Jack Cunningham VC
John Cunningham VC (28 June 1897 – 21 February 1941) was a recipient of the Victoria Cross the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Cunningham was 19 years old, and a Private in the 12th (Service) Battalion, (the Hull Sportsmen's Pals Battalion), The East Yorkshire Regiment, 31st Division, during the Battle of the Somme, when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.
'On 13 November 1916, the opening day of the Battle of the Ancre (the final offensive of the Battle of the Somme), attacking from opposite Hebuterne the 31st Division was to seize the German trenches and form a defensive flank north of Serre. After the enemy's front line had been captured, Private Cunningham went with a bombing section up a communication trench where much opposition was met and all the rest of the section were either killed or wounded. Collecting all the bombs from the casualties, Private Cunningham went on alone and when he had used up all the bombs he had he returned for a fresh supply and again went up the communication trench where he met a party of 10 Germans. He killed all 10 and cleared the trench up to the new line. His conduct throughout the day was magnificent.'
The Yorkshire Post on the 20th January 1917 reported that he had captured trench of 30 Germans, making most of them prisoner.
John Cunningham, who was usually known as Jack, was the eldest son of Charles Cunningham, a licensed pot hawker and his wife Mary Ann. He had six brothers. John came from a traveller family. He was born on the 28th June 1897, in a caravan, parked at Swains Yard, off Manley Street, one of the back streets of Scunthorpe (this stack yard no longer exists). It had been the family's custom to reside in Hull during the winter and take to the road when weather permitted, visiting Beverley, Driffield and other East Yorkshire towns. The family later moved permanently to Hull and John attended schools at St James Day School, Wheeler Street (later Newington High) and Chiltern Street School. The original Chiltern School had been demolished and a modern primary school built in its place. The family lived at 62 Edgar Street, Hessle Road, behind St James, Hull, which has now been redeveloped. His education was often disrupted as his parents were often on the move.
After he left school John became a hawker, like his father before him. He enlisted with the 3rd Hull Battalion when he was seventeen. He carried out his initial army training at South Dalton near Beverley and later served with the East York's, guarding the Suez Canal in Egypt, from December 1915 to March 1916. They then moved to France and the Western Front.
On the 2nd June 1917, Jack was one of 350 men and women to be decorated at a special public ceremony of investiture at Hyde Park. It was a beautiful summer's day and aircraft of the Royal Flying Corps patrolled the skies overhead in case of a surprise German air attack. A Guards Brigade provided suitable music for the occasion. The ceremony was also filmed (see video clip). Cunningham was one of the first to be decorated by the King and the other recipients included several other Somme V.C. winners (Hughes, White, Allen and Bradford VC). The crowds were able to follow the presentation by reference to a programme. Each recipient had a number and this number was displayed on boards in various parts of the crowd. This way everyone present knew who was who. It was interesting that owing to superstition the number 13 was dropped from the proceeding. (Roland Bradford VC was number 14 in the list instead of 13. Unfortunately the altering of his number did not prevent him from being killed by a stray shell nearly six months later.) When Cunningham's turn came to be paraded in front of the King, there was a roar from the crowd who had read of his deed in their programmes. The King talked to the 'Hull Hero' for some time.
Later that evening, Cunningham left London with his parents who had also been present at the Hyde Park reception, to return home to Hull for leave and the City was to give him a huge welcome. Although his train arrived at Paragon Station at 1.28am, on a Sunday morning, the crowds and and a band were waiting to greet their 'local hero'.
On emerging from the station, at the former Anlaby Road entrance, a great roar went up and he was immediately hoisted shoulder high and carried him home. The initials VC were placed after Cunningham's name on the Edgar Street shrine. This included nine men from the street who had so far fallen during the war. The Roll of Honour was decorated with flowers and a crowd remained outside his parents house for the rest of the day. At the time he was also living at 75 Walker Street (1918 Electoral Records).
During the same leave, he visited St James School and although later there were plans to erect a plaque to Cunningham at Wheeler Street School, they were not carried through. The local cinema, the Hull Palace, showed the film of the Hyde Park investiture, while Cunningham was on leave.
John Cunningham, his parents and a younger brother were also invited to be guests at a crowded meeting of Hull City Council at the Guildhall on Wednesday 5th June 1917, where he was given an official welcome on behalf of the City and also presented with an Illuminating Address. Cunningham gave a short message of thanks and was applauded continuously. In his remarks the Lord Mayor, Alderman Francis Askew said this to Cunningham in his public address:
".....It was open to him, as well as to any of the rank and file, not only in the Army, but in civil life, by his zeal, industry, and determination, to achieve higher honours in the future. There was no doubt that his deed would be talked of for many years to come..."
Cunningham was quite badly wounded at the end of the war and was demobilized in 1919. In the same year, he married Eva Harrison. They had two children, a daughter Annie who died in infancy and a son John who was born in Hull in 1920.
Shortly after his return from the Army it appears that Cunningham was having difficulty in settling down and fitting in with civilian life. He was regularly offered free drinks where ever he went and this did not help his poor health. As early as July 1919 we find him being summoned for physically abusing and beating up his wife who he claimed "left him three times a week". The Local Magistrate granted Mrs Cunningham a separation order with a weekly allowance of 25 shillings a week. At his appearance in Hull court, Cunningham wore his V.C. Summoned again nearly 16 months later (November 1920) Cunningham was ordered once more to pay his wife a maintenance grant. Cunningham, who was again sporting his V.C medal, said in his defence that he only had an income of an Army pension of £2 per week. He received this pension for being wounded in both legs and in the lungs. However these wounds did not prevent him from being involved in a brawl with an ex soldier a couple of weeks later when he was put on remand for hitting the man on the head with a bottle. A non commissioned officer, or private soldier, also received a £10 annual pension, in virtue of receiving the Victoria Cross.
In March 1922, Cunningham became the first of the Somme V.C. holders to be sent to prison, for failing again to keep up payments to his wife. The arrears amounted to £10. Seven years later, in November 1929, Cunningham once again made the local headlines in Hull. This time he was the victim of two fellow hawkers who made off with his share of the value of a quantity of lino that the three had agreed to sell and split the proceeds three ways. (Cunningham regularly sold wares on Anlaby Road, outside the 'Tigers Lair', which was then a Railway club). Cunningham was not in court on this occasion, as he had a more pressing engagement with the Prince of Wales, at a dinner for Victoria Cross winners!
Jack Cunningham died at 5 Beaufort Terrace, Campbell Street, Hull on the 21st February 1941. He was only 43 years old and had been ill for some time. This building like most in Hull associated with Cunningham has disappeared. John was buried three days later at Hull Western Cemetery, in an unmarked grave (grave No: 17509, compartment No; 180, Hull Western Cemetery). His name is however mentioned on his parents' memorial stone nearby. His medals are in the possession of the York Army Museum. Like most V.C winners his obituary was published in The Times.
Cunningham was the first man, connected with Hull, to win the Victoria Cross in the Great War and he was one of four members of the East Yorkshire Regiment to receive the nation's highest military honour. In view of the time that has elapsed since Cunningham's death and the end of what appeared to be a fairly tragic post war life, it would seem appropriate for Hull, to remember Jack Cunningham VC, despite of his misdemeanors. After all, he was a Hull Hero when he returned home in 1917, having brought honour on himself, his regiment and his home town.
(Photo left : Jack Cunningham, VC, with is parents 1917).
Some Jack Cunningham VC links with a video clip of his homecoming.
Other VC's connected with Hull
Jack Harrison, VC, is Hull's famous Victoria Cross winner. His story is dealt in more depth elsewhere. Less well known are the following two men awarded the VC for conspicious gallantry.
Private, Samuel Needham, VC, 203329, 1st/5th Bedfordshire Regiment, lived at 6 Astley Street, Albert Avenue, at the outbreak of the war. Sam Needler was born at Great Limber, Lincolnshire on the 16th August 1885. He was the son of Septimus and Mary Needham and
worked liked his father as a stable hand on several local farms. At the start of the war, Samuel Needham's parents had died, and he lived with his married sister Florence Baron, at 16 Astley Street, Albert Avenue. He enlisted as Private, 5023, Army Service Corps, Horse Transport, and went to France on 13th January 1915. He was wounded and returned to England. After recovering from his wounds, Sam was posted to the Bedfordhire Regiment in Palestine, and won the Battalion's only VC of the War. Against almost overwhelming odds, he beat off a Turkish attack, allowing his platoon to evacuate wounded safely. Samuel Needham, VC, never returned to Hull. He was killed by an accidental gunshot wound at Katara, Egypt, on 4th November 1918, aged 33 years old. His sister Mrs Baron, collected his Victoria Cross, at a ceremony held in Hull, on the 13th February 1919. The event was reported in the Hull Daily Mail the next day.
Lance Corporal, John Elisha Grimshaw, VC, married in Hull while recovering from wounds. He was born on the 20th January 1893, in Abram, near Wigan in Lancashire. He came from a mining family and enlisted in the army on the 13th August 1912. He was serving in India, when the war started, as a Signaller, "C" Company, 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers. John Elisha Grimsaw won his Victoria Cross at Gallipolli on the 25th April 1915, whilst landing on 'W' Beach. He scrambled ashore and managed to cut through the enemy barb wire, under murderous fire. He was one of only 32 survivors, from 800 men who landed on the Beach. John was later evacuated from Gallipolli with severe frost bite, and posted to Hull, as a Sergeant Musketry Instructor. In Hull, he met and married within three months, Margaret (Maggie) Stout, who lived at 3 Paradise Place, Commercial Street, Hull. They married on the 26th August 1916 in the Parish of Sculcoates, Hull. They had two children, Mary born in 1917, and a son Leslie, born in 1918. John Grimshaw, VC continued his military career, finishing as a Lieutenant Colonel. He died in London on the 20th July 1980. His wife Maggie, lived to see her 100th Birthday and died in February 1993.
Max Kaye (Chayet)
Max Chayet (1891-1916) The Roll of Honour in Pryme Street Shul includes the name Private M Kaye of the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC). The story of this young soldier, where he was born, where he died and his real name was the subject of my talk entitled “Finding Private Kay” at Hull Day Limmud in May 2017. The answers to these questions rest on preliminary research by Jack Lennard based on documents retained by the Finestein family, research at the Public Records Office by Nicolette Berkley and a visit to Minsk, Belarus. My interest in this story stems from a recollection of my mother, who told me that a ‘Russian’ cousin had been studying medicine in England when the First World War broke out. He joined the British Army and was killed in action. This turns out to be Max Kay, recruited into the RAMC in Hull on 2 July 1915. His “Short Service” certificate completed that day shows that he was age 23, worked as a dispenser and was resident at 338 Hessle Road. His “Soldier’s Small Book” gave his religion as Jewish, his next-of-kin as an uncle, Solomon Finestein, and his place of birth as Leeds (sic). What happened in the following months is poignantly recorded in his diary, in a number of sparse penciled entries. Three days after recruitment Max left Paragon Station for Aldershot and from there to Tweseldown Camp, Farnham Surrey, home of the RAMC. Incidentally, I was surprised to find that his name is not on the new war memorial in Paragon Station, but on further enquiry understand that this is only for fallen soldiers who left from the station directly to the front. After three months training, his group, the 39th Field Ambulance, were marched to Southampton and embarked for Malta where they had a first taste of action. For example, his diary entries on 29 August are simply “Fatigue” and “Unloading wounded”. A few days later they embarked for Alexandria, Lemnos and Gallipoli, a chilling destination. Meanwhile, a touching entry in his diary on 8 September in Alexandria reads “Went to synagogue” – an online calendar tells us that this was Erev Rosh Hashana. Between landing at Cape Hellas, Gallipoli, on 16 September and embarking from Suvla Bay on 11 December, the 39th Field Ambulance would have encountered horrific action. Yet his diary entries for that period include only laconic comments such “Ill”, “diarrhea”, “Snow blizzard” and “Stretcher squads to Chocolate Hill by night”. After Gallipoli there was some respite in Egypt before a final destination, presaged by the diary entries on 10 March 1916 “Matina camp”, “Embarked small boat” and “Going up the river”, which are followed on 13 March by one single last word “Mesopotamia”. It was in that far off place, now part of Iraq, on 9 April that Max died of his wounds. His name is listed on the massive Basra Memorial formerly located at Maqil Naval Dockyard but moved in 1997, because of the sensitivity of the site, about 30 km from Basra. But that is not the end of the story. I was puzzled by the inconsistency of Max’s place of birth being given as Leeds, whilst my mother said that he was Russian. So I checked online sources such as the England and Wales birth records and the Leeds Jewish Database, and did not find a Max/Mark/Kay/Kaye birth circa 1891, in Leeds or elsewhere. In fact, documents held by Jack Lennard and the Ministry of Pensions show that he was born in Minsk. One of these is a letter dated March 1925 from the Hull solicitor John Lewenstein to the Ministry of Pensions requesting an allowance for Max’s widowed mother, Sarah Chayet of 6 Sergeyevskia Street, Minsk. A pension was indeed granted and the Ministry of Pensions records even show correspondence about a possible increase as late as 1938. Sarah was a sister of Solomon and Jeremiah Finestein, and my grandmother Matla Lifchitz. Moreover, Max’s father, Berko Chayet, was a brother of Rachel Reuben, grandmother of Barrie and Stuart. Russian records show that 6 Sergeyevskia Street had been owned by the Rubenchik family at least since the 1890s. They also show that Berko was originally from a shtetl not far from Minsk, Igumen, where the FinesteinLifchitz family originated. During the Second World War, Minsk was largely destroyed but Sergeyevskia Street did survive and during a recent working visit there I sought out Max’s home. Unfortunately, the area was being redeveloped and whilst numbers 3 and 5 were still standing, number 6 had been reduced to a pile of rubble. Nevertheless, I extracted a piece of wood which is now a memento mori, here in Israel. But the lasting memorial to Max is maintained in perpetuity by the Commonwealth War Grave Commission. And thanks to the efforts of Martin Sugarman and his team at AJEX the Basra Memorial record has now been updated to read “In Memory of Private Max Chayet, Mentioned in Dispatches….(Served as Max Kay). Son of Mrs Sarah Chayet, of Minsk, Russia”. This brief account of military service includes nothing about the man himself. Whilst I can’t say for certain what he was like, close reading of the diary, the address section and scribbled end notes, and a group photo from Tweseldown Camp suggest some things. I venture that he was reticent, self effacing, studious and dutiful. Moreover, there may have been a romantic interest in his life because on 11 October the diary notes “Received a letter from Rose” and among the addresses was a Rosa Sharah of Osbourne Street. So next November at the AJEX shul service when the names of the Hull fallen are called out, please remember Max Chayet, his service, his sacrifice and his life. Howard Cuckle
OPPY WOOD, 3rd May 1917 - The Hull Pals Attack
The Capture of Oppy Wood was an engagement, North East of Arras, between May and June 1917. The Germans were in possession of a fortified wood to the west of the village of Oppy, which overlooked British positions. The wood was 1-acre (0.40 ha) in area and contained many German observation posts, machine-guns and trench-mortars. The aim of the attack was to remove this defensive obstacle and divert German resources away from the main offensive, planned at Messines in early June 1917. In military terms, Oppy Wood was a diversionary attack, by the 92nd Brigade, of the 31st Division,during the Third Battle of the Scarpe (3–4 May). It was an attack on a half mile front, in unfavourable conditions, and against impenetrable German defences. It is also known as the Battle of Gavrelle. However, for the people of Hull, Oppy Wood, would be forever remembered as the place where the Hull Pals made their name. In fierce fighting around the village, Hull lost more men on the 3rd May 1917, than any other. The attack failed and the final casualties totalled 326.
The main British attacking forces in this battle were the 10th, 11th and 12th Battalions of the East Yorkshire Regiment, known as the ‘Hull Pals’. They advanced up a slope, in the dark, in four waves, over difficult terrain, illuminated by German rockets and Very Lights. They faced Oppy Wood, which was elaborately fortified, and defended by experienced German troops. They struggled forward over three belts of barb wire entanglements. Unable to keep pace with their barrage, and were exposed to murderous German machine gun fire. Despite this, the Hull Pals continued to advance. One company fought their way into Oppy village itself, while the rest were held up. After attacking three times, they were forced to withdraw under constant fire. During the action, 2nd-Lieut. John Harrison, of the 11th Battalion, silenced an enemy machine-gun post single handedly and was posthumously awarded the Victoria Cross.
Preparations for the attack on Oppy began on the 1st May 1917. Officers and NCO’s of the 10th and 13th EYR, went forward to check the assembly positions and returned next morning to issue equipment for the advance. At 11pm on the 2nd May, the 11th and 12th EYR Battalions started to move to their assembly positions. The 10th EYR moved at 11.30pm. Start time for the attack was to be 3.45am on the 3rd May, with the 10th EYR positioned on the right flank, the 11th EYR in the centre and the 12th EYR on the left flank, all opposite Oppy Wood. A preliminary bombardment by nine Field Artillery Brigades and the use of extra machine guns was expected to cut the barb wire, neutralise all German resistance and leave the trenches intact for the Pals to occupy. In reality, this failed to happen for a number of reasons.
1. On the 28th and 29th April, the Battle of Arleux had been fought on the same battleground and the 13th EYR had suffered a number of casualties. The assembly positions which had been heavily shelled, offered little cover and debris from that battle littered the ground, hindering coordinated movement. The 10th EYR Battalion history records that the assembly trenches were “barely four feet deep, with no communications to the rear, nor any means of contact to left or right."
2. Oppy Wood was full of fallen trees and tangled branches which gave the enemy great cover. A long slope of 1,000m to the west, left the British field artillery at extreme range. This reduced its accuracy and largely failed to cut the enemy wire.
3. Oppy wood was a strongly defended position, guarded by experienced German soldiers. In front of Oppy Wood, lay a well organised trench system, protected by barb wire and good communications, which covered the Oppy wood and village from flanking attacks. The wood itself contained a large number of machine gun posts and all along the German lines, machine gun posts and mortars were well placed to repel any attack. The area was held by the 1st and 2nd German Guards, which the East Yorkshire Regimental history describes as, ‘some of the bravest of the enemy troops’. The Germans had strengthened the wood by developing defensive tactics learnt from the earlier Somme battles. The British had expected to encounter demoralised troops and thought that the creeping barrage would neutralise all resistance. However, some of the German wire at the south-western corner of the wood was uncut and rather than being shaken, the Germans were actually massing for a counter attack.
4. It was originally intended to make a night assault, to evade German machine-gun fire. However, the Third and First armies needed to attack in daylight and Douglas Haig enforced a compromise zero hour of 3:45 a.m. No preparations had been made for an advance at night, such as, putting out boards, luminous paint on the German wire, taking compass-bearings or organising intermediate objectives. Sunrise was not until 5:22 a.m. and it would not be possible to see objects in the dark, at 50 yards (46 m) until 4:05 a.m.
5. On the night of the attack, there was a full moon which did not set until sixteen minutes before the attack beagn. On many parts of the front, British troops assembling, were illuminated by the moon, exposing them to enemy fire. The 11th EYR war diary records “to get to the assembly positions, Companies had to go over the top of a rise within 1000 yards, with a moon low in the sky behind them.”
6. The German defenders saw the British infantry forming up in the moonlight, in an assembly trench just 250 yards (230 m) in front of them. At midnight, the German’s sent out a patrol and at 12:30 a.m., bombarded the British lines for twenty minutes. They then began a second bombardment from 1:30 a.m. until zero hour. The German bombardment then increased, when the British preliminary bombardment began and increased again when the attack started. The 11th EYR were laying out in the open, under a heavy bombardment, for over two hours. There were few British casualties, but the shelling caused considerable confusion, with A and D companies of the 11th EYR companies unable to form into their attacking positions.
The 13th East Yorkshire Diary records “Our barrage started at 3.45am advancing at a rate of 100 yards, every four minutes and the Battalion followed 50 yards behind the barrage. It was dark, from the smoke and dust caused by our barrage, and the hostile barrage, also the fact that we were advancing on a dark wood made it impossible to see when our barrage lifted off the German trench. Consequently the Hun had time to get his machine guns up. Machine guns were firing from within the wood from trees, as well as from the front trench, nevertheless the men went forward, attacked and were repulsed. Officers and NCO’s, reformed their men in No Man’s Land, under terrific fire and attacked again, and again were repulsed. Some even attacked a third time, some isolated parties got through the wood to OppyVillage and were reported there by aeroplanes at 6am. These men must have been cut off and surrounded later. The Battalion was so scattered and the casualties had been so heavy that it was decided to consolidate the only assembly trench we had when the battle started.” At 10pm the battalion was finally relieved by the 11th East Lancs and retired back to camp for a short rest. The 12th EYR, were also spotted moving up to their assembly trench and were heavily bombarded. Their War Diary writes: “The assembling took place in brilliant moonlight over quite unknown country and with four guides (from the 13th EYR). The enemy evidently saw the troops assembling and put up an intensive barrage followed by another one later. This considerably distinguished things and at zero hour, the blackest part of the night, the troops moved forward to the attack.” The first wave of the 12th EYR entered the German front line trench, which was strongly held, the second wave followed, but was forced to withdraw and eventually the first wave was beaten back out of the enemy line. Under heavy shell fire the 12th EYR to withdraw to their original assembly trench, where they remained all day, under heavy shelling and machine gun fire. They were later relieved during the night, on the 3rd/4th May, by the East Lancashire Regiment.
The 10th EYR also suffered a "tremendous" barrage on their assembly-positions, just before zero hour, which caused much disorganisation. The darkness in this area was increased by Oppy Wood itself and meant that the infantry could not see their barrage lift. The 10th EYR, on the right found areas of uncut wire and lost many casualties when they bunched up at the gaps, before reaching the wood. All four company commanders were wounded and the smoke and dust made it impossible to see what was going on at the flanks, and indeed obscured the objectives. The struggle to secure the German first line meant that the allied barrage had moved far ahead of the small parties that penetrated the German front trenches. A considerable number of men from the 10th EYR got into and beyond the first German line, some even penetrated OppyVillage itself. One gallant soldier even brought back eight German prisoners single handed. However it was impossible to get forward to consolidate the line. Survivors from the 10th EYR eventually withdrew to the original assembly trench where they started. Many troops were then cut off and captured, or forced back with many casualties. Many of the troops were stranded in 'No Man's land' and had to wait all day under fire from snipers, machine-guns and artillery until nightfall, before completing the retirement. The 10th EYR war diary found it difficult to give an accurate account of the battle. “A considerable number of men undoubtedly crossed the German line and got some way forward and possibly in places reached the first objective.” It was discovered after the war that the majority of the 10th Hull Commercials, who had been taken prisoner during the attack, had actually advanced as far as Oppy village itself.
The official figures from Battalion Diary records, report that the 'Hull Commercials' (10th EYR battalion) went into the attack with 16 Officers and 484 Other Ranks. Their losses were: 13 Officers and 223 Other Ranks. At least 69 men were killed on the 3rd May with an unknown number dying of wounds later. The 11th EYR suffered at least 56 fatalities on the 3rd May.
The 12th EYR reported two Officers and seven other ranks killed, 150 other ranks missing and one Officer and 127 other ranks wounded, plus one Officer dying of wounds. The 'Soldiers died in the Great War' records, list 81 other ranks killed in action on the 3rd May with the 12th EYR. The losses suffered by the 12th EYR, were so great, that they resulted in it being reformed into only two companies. The remnants of A & C companies were attached to the 10th EYR and the remains of Companies B and D were sent to the 11th EYR. Although the attack on Oppy Wood was repulsed with many British casualties, the operations did succeed in diverting German attention from the French front.
CWGC records show 223 men from the 10th, 11th, 12th & 13th East Yorkshire Regiment, died at Oppy Wood, on the 3rd May 1917. Another 53 men from the 8th EYR, died on the same day, attacking the village of Monchy, ten miles away from Oppy.
At least 123 of these 276 men, or 44.5% have a known Hull connection. Another 29 Hull men, also died on the 3rd May 1917, fighting for other regiments. This meant a total of153 Hull men were killed on the 3rd May 1917. They included 17 men from the 8th EYR, 44 from the 10th EYR, 30 from the 11th EYR, 29 from the 12th EYR and 3 from the 13th EYR, all killed on the 3rd May 1917.
There would be many others who later died of wounds received on this day.
The CWGC, records that 580 men of the East Yorkshire regiment died during May and June 1917, and 7,815 men from the East Yorkshire regiment killed in the war. Many of these men would have come from Hull and the East Riding, as seen by cross checking CWGC records, Soldiers Died records which show enlistment areas and the addresses of the dead compiled on this website.
Cadorna Trench Raid
The Hull Pals later carried out a successful raid on Cadorna Trench on the 23rd and 24th June 1917. The 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th EYR’s each supplied two Officers and 50 other ranks for the raid which was led by Lt, Col., Ferrand from the 11th EYR. The raid was on a 40 yard front, with 50 yards between each battalion that attacked with rifle and bombing sections. Zero Hour was 10.20pm with a heavy bombardment of the German trench, during which the raiders left their position in two lines. Immediately as the barrage lifted, the raiders rushed the German first and second lines. The raid captured 200 prisoners and killed some 280 enemy, destroying dugouts and machine guns on the way. The raid lost 24 men, including Captain Saville, Lieutenant Wright and 2/Lieutenants Cliff and Oliver killed. Another 16 men were killed in the raid with four dying of wounds later. Another 28 men returned from the raid wounded. Sergeant Marritt won the DCM, but was killed on the raid. Oppy Wood was eventually captured on the 28th June 1917, with the East Yorkshires offering assistance. The 10th EYR formed the reserve Brigade, the 11th EYR held the front line with two companies and the 13th EYR was used for carrying parties.
On 3 May, the 31st Division lost 1,900 casualties in the attack on Oppy Wood. The 2nd Division composite brigade had 517 losses, which left the division "bled white" with a "trench strength" of only 3,778 men. The Hull Commercials(10th battalion) went into the attack with 16 Officers and 484 Other Ranks. Their losses were: 13 Officers and 223 Other Ranks. The 11th and 12th Battalions, which also numbered men from Hull in their ranks, had similar losses. On 8 May, the 5th Bavarian Division lost 1,585 casualties in the counter-attack at Fresnoy. In the attack of 28 June the 31st Division lost 100 men and the 5th Division casualties were 352 men. Oppy wood was eventually captured on the 28th June 1917. The 10th EYR were held in reserve, the 11th EYR occupied the front line trenches and the 13th EYR were used as carrying parties.
* The units which attacked Oppy Wood were awarded the battle honour Oppy. A wood on the outskirts of North Hull, is named Oppy, as a War memorial to the Hull Pals involved in the battle on the 3rd and 4th May, 1917.
* On the 16th October 1932, the people of Hull and the Commune of Oppy, unveiled a permanent memorial at the scene of the battle. The ground of which the memorial stands was donated by the Vicomte and Vicomtesse du Bouexic de la Driennays in memory of their 22 year old son Pierre, an NCO of the French 504th Tank Regiment, who was killed in action at Guyencourt on 8 August 1918.
* Oppy Wood, was also immortalised in paint, by war artist John Nash. It is held at the Imperial War Museum (reference ART 2243) and is entitled "Oppy Wood, Evening, 1917". It is one of a series of paintings commissioned by the British War Memorial Committee set up by the Ministry of Information early in 1918 and is 2 metres high and wide. The lower half of the composition has a view inside a trench with duckboard paths leading to a dug-out. Two British infantrymen stand to the left of the dug-out entrance, one of them on the firestep looking over the parapet into No Man's Land. There is a wood of shattered trees littered with corrugated iron and planks at ground level to the right of the composition. The sky stretches above in varying shades of blue with a spectacular cloud formation framing a clear space towards the top of the composition.
The magnificent Oppy memorial to the men of Kingston-upon-Hull and all local units, who gave their lives in the Great War: Many of the casualties of 31st Division, who died at Oppy, were from the Hull area.