Lamp batteries


30th January 1915

The Dorsets were relieved by the Cheshires. If the Dorsets were already in billets then there’s no explanation why they were relieved or what from exactly. A and D Company joined the battalion later at Dranouter so perhaps it was they who were relieved.

The 5th Division’s artillery busied itself by experimenting with lamp signalling. Royal Flying Corps aeroplanes would reveal the position of hidden enemy batteries using lamps back to Allied artillery. It was not very successful; there being too many variables for it to become an exact science. Wireless would prove to be the better solution, but at the moment the receivers were just too big to be of any real use.

The guns of  7th Siege Battery registered three direct hits on Messines Church tower. So much for just the Germans targeting civilian buildings.


A bad moon rising

29th January 1915

The Dorsets remained in billets. A and D Company remained in the trenches. The 15th Brigade’s diary notes that they  made good progress today working on the trenches and that more wire was laid in front of them. A bright night, lit by a gibbous moon, led to “considerable sniping”.

I’ve missed a couple of things lately and so I apologise. Time is very, very limited at the moment. Firstly I missed a footnote which give us a bit more information about the fascinating Frederick Morley. I’ve added this detail as a comment to the 26th January post. Find out about his nickname and capacity for Anglo Saxon profantities.

I also missed a death yesterday and I’ll list it here to flesh out this post. Welshman Rees Harris, a former collier from Aberdare, was killed in action. There’s no record of how he met his death in the Dorsets’ diary; not even a mention, but the Norfolk’s diary entry records one death from sniping which could have been him. The only death from the Norfolks listed by CWGC for the 28th January was interred in Thame, Oxfordshire, so he presumably died of wounds at home.

Harris was attested into the 3rd Battalion Dorsets having served for 10 years in the Cardigan Royal Garrison Artillery Militia. He’d only arrived in France on the 4th December. Intriguingly he signed up with his age as 37 years and six months. The cut off for regular army was 38 and the Special Reserve was 40. He was 36 in 1911, according to the census, which made him 40 in 1915. It appears that Harris had told a little white lie to go to war. It wasn’t uncommon, but it was uncommonly brave. His mother, Martha, signed for his effects with the mark of a cross.

Stuck with the Peacemakers and the Holy Boys

28th January 1915

Another quiet day ended with half the Dorsets going into reserve and marching to billets on the Lindenhoek-Neuve Église road at 8.30pm.

The other half of the Dorsets stayed behind in the trenches. Frank, with A Company, came under orders of the O.C. Bedfords, Lieutenant Colonel Benjamin Roche, and pretty much stayed put. D Company, came under the orders of the O.C. Norfolks, Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Done. D Company would have moved slightly north to D Sector and E1 (Trench 15d) which the 15th Brigade took over from the 3rd Division.

Night raiders

26th January 1915

After a few weeks of two or three word grunts the Dorsets’ diary burst into life with the description of a raid.

Second Lieutenant Frederick Joseph Morley* went out at 3.30am with a patrol, found newly turned earth by some German saps and, on his way back, destroyed a sniper’s dugout.

Morley had been out with the BEF since the 17th August 1914 with the 11th Field Company Royal Engineers. At some point he transferred to the Dorsets, gaining his officer’s commission, making the awkward jump from the ranks  as a Lance Corporal to Second Lieutenant. His star continued to rise, gaining a DSO and the Military Cross in June 1915, and ending the war as a Major in the 6th Battalion Dorsets, which is some climb for a Lance Corporal. Sadly he didn’t survive, dying of wounds received in the last gasp German offensive of Spring 1918.

After a day of shelling from the accursed light gun, the Dorsets were put alert for an imminent attack and so they thickened B Company in the firing line with one and a half platoons from D Company and a platoon from A Company.

One man was killed in all this shuffling around. The CWGC lists him as Serjeant William Ernest Ransome, a 27 year-old Yorkshireman. He left behind a widow, Elsie Linda, a native of Dorchester and a 3 year old son, Victor Ernest. Note the archaic use of Sergeant in the record which is apparently still used in The Rifles today. The Dorsets were merged into the Devons and Dorsets in 1958 and into the Rifles in 2007.

The ballad of Frank’s censor

PC to Miss Crawshaw franked 18 De 14 – censor Tilly / Lilly
dated 17-12-14

Dear Till

Just a few lines to your welcome letter which I received alright. Yes that will be best as regards the underclothes and don’t forget the socks then Till I will write you a long letter when I receive your parcel, so hope you won’t mind PC for now. No I never received the Choc. Don’t talk about rain we are having plenty. Glad to hear that Mattie got my letter ask him what he thought of it. Well I am getting on alright and as well as can be expected. Well by the time you get this Xmas will be here so will wish you a Merry time and hope to see you soon. Now I think this is all for now as time is scarce and I hope you are all in the best of health and still Totting love to all.


Another letter from Frank which is just a thank you postcard really. He still hasn’t had any chocolate from my Great Grandfather.

We now have the name of another censor, which is great. Geoff has written Tilly/Lilly and this is most probably Lieutenant Charles Otto Lilly. He went out to France as a subaltern with A Company. It’s very probably (one in four?) that he was Frank’s platoon commander. If this is true, then he’s probably the main contact Frank had with the officers of the Dorsets. Most communication from higher up would have come down the line of command through his NCOs.

Lilly was a similar age to Frank, just three years older. He was born in Paddington in 1890 to a wealthy family, just a few miles north from Brixton but a million miles away from Frank’s world. Lilly attended Public School (St Paul’s School in West London – here’s a 1908 cricket scorecard with him on) and then he joined the Dorsets in 1911 from a Territorial University unit but the Gazette doesn’t say which one. It was Jesus College, Cambridge as I’ve just found him on a War List of the Universities. If Frank and Charles ever did University Challenge it would be like this.

Lilly was mentioned in Dispatches in October 1914, and earned the Distinguished Service Order (DSO), presumably for the fighting around La Bassée (and possibly the 12th October 1914 when A Company held the bridge at Pont Fixe) where so many of Frank’s comrades ended their war. He sounds like a remarkable solider and it’s a shame we haven’t met him sooner. He’s actually the first officer I researched a few years ago and so I’ve blown the dust off my previous research today.

Lilly’s story will probably be returned to in the future so I won’t go into further details of his Dorset career here. He left the Dorsets in 1917 but he didn’t go far. He just took to the air. Lilly joined the 6th Brigade Royal Flying Corps, then part of the army, what eventually became the third arm of the forces, the Royal Air Force in 1918. He was assigned to a newly formed 120 squadron in 1918 so we can presume he flew bombers. He left the RAF in 1919 and returned to the Dorsets, but was put on the RAF’s reservist list as a pilot in 1940 aged 50. Lilly died in 1976 in Paddington, London.

Lilly wrote a memoir of his experiences and revisited Flanders in 1927. I would love to read it as it could be the closest connection to Frank there is apart from these letters. It’s quoted in Salient Points Three: Ypres & Picardy 1914-18 by Tony Spagnoly and Ted Smith but it is listed in the bibliography as unpublished. I wonder where the authors accessed a copy?


I left this next bit off the post yesterday and those who get emails also got a garbled load of nonsense (more than usual) so apologies for the glitch. I blame the rum punch (I wish). The Dorsets marched at 3.50pm as the light faded and relieved the East Surrey Regiment east of Wulverghem. The relief was completed at a very precise 9.55pm. No one was hurt. I’ve posted the map in tomorrow’s post.