Coy-Sgt-Major Alfred Allbrighton (1891-1917)

The story of Alfred Allbrighton, who lived in Main Road, Glascote, and was killed in action in WW1 on 20th September 1917.

Coy-Sgt-Major Alfred Allbrighton (1891-1917)

Alfred Allbrighton was born in 1891, the son of Alfred Allbrighton, a coal miner, and Elizabeth Allbrighton, nee Stonehouse. Alfred senior married Elizabeth towards the end of 1880, when he was 25 years old. Elizabeth was already heavily pregnant. The birth of their first child, Jane, in late October or early November 1880 was registered in the same quarter as their marriage.

In 1881, the family lived at The Lynch, which then consisted of three terraces of workers' cottages behind the Bulls Head in Polesworth, close to the canal. Jane was followed by Elizabeth in 1882, Clarissa in 1884, William in 1886 (who died age 8), Joseph in 1887, and John in 1889. The family were still living at The Lynch in April 1891, so it this was certainly where Alfred junior was born in late January or early February 1891.

The Lynch - plot 680 on this map - surveyed by the Ordnance Survey 1882-1884

When the census was taken on Sunday 5th April 1891, Alfred junior was two months old. His birth name was registered as Alfred, but he is recorded as Albert in the census. It was probably just an enumerator error, but it is interesting to see that seven years later his parents did name another baby Albert. Perhaps they themselves made a slip-up!

Alfred was followed by Ernest in 1893, Harry in 1894 (who died in infancy), Albert Victor in 1897, and finally Beatrice in 1901, a grand total of eleven children.

Note that many Ancestry family trees have muddled up two Allbrighton families from Polesworth with some very similar names in the family. I have been very careful to check the mother's maiden name for each of these children.

In 1901 the family were still living at The Lynch, but some time between 1901 and 1911 they moved to Cherry Cottage, 475 Main Road, Glascote, a recently built detached house just before Sheepcote Lane. You can still see the name of the house high up on the front wall.

Six children still lived at home. Alfred senior and three of his sons worked in a coal mine. Alfred senior was now a shot firer, his son Joseph was a holer, his son John was a wire nipper, and Alfred junior, who was 20 years old, worked as a loader.

Soldiers Died in the Great War tells us that Alfred enlisted in Tamworth, and the Herald's report confirms that he enlisted early in September, 1914.

Alfred Allbrighton and George Brain and were first cousins - their mothers, Elizabeth and Rhoda, were sisters. When George Brain drowned on the ill-fated hospital ship Rohilla on October 30th 1914, Alfred's family attended the burial. J Allbrighton, probably Alfred's brother Joseph, was one of the bearers. The following week, on 14 November 1914, the Herald reported that Alfred was serving with the West Yorkshires.

Alfred joined the 11th Battalion of the Prince of Wales's Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment as a Private, number 13294, and went out to France with the Regiment and landed in Boulogne on 26th August 1915, earning him the right to be awarded the 1915 Star. The Batallion concentrate near Tilques.

The Battalion was still very green, having spent some of the previous months constructing defences. On 5th September, the 23rd Division moved to the Merris-Vieux Berquin area, for 9 days of training in trench warfare, before taking charge of the front line between Ferme Grande Flamengrie and the Armentieres-Wez Macquart road. They went on to see action in the Battle of Loos. They were relieved at Bois Grenier at the end of January 1916, and concentrated around Bruay for a period of rest.

On 3rd March 1916 they returned to the front line, releiving the French on a sector between the Boyau de l'Ersatz and the Souchez River. At the beginning of March the Regiment established a Tunnelling Company, and many men with a background in mining were transferred from the ranks to the Royal Engineers. How did Alfred avoid getting transferred, I wonder? In Mid April the Regiment returned to Bruay to rest.

In the middle of May, the 11th West Yorks Regiment moved up to the Souchez-Angres front, and thankfully their position allowed them to avoid the worst of the German attack on Vimy Ridge. On 11th June they moved to Bomy for intensive training for the Battles of the Somme. Their Battle Honours included The Battle of Albert, The Battles of Bazentin Ridge, Pozieres, Flers-Courcelette, Morval, and Le Transloy. In 1917 they fought in The Battle of Messines.

During the recapture of Hill 60 in the Battle of Messines on June 7-9, Alfred displayed reckless courage in laying and mending wires under very heavy shell fire, and was largely instrumental in maintaining communication with the Brigade and Companies. On the recommendation of his General, he was awarded the Military Medal. The War Diary provides some valuable detail of this action:

June 6th. The Six was spent in making final preparations and passed quietly and with few casualties.

June 7th. On the night of the 6th/7th the battalion moved into its assaulting position and at 2.30am on the 7th was ready for the attack. Not a single casualty occurred during the whole of this night prior to zero hour. At 3.10am 7th July (should say June), simultaneously with the explosion of the mines at Hill 60 and the Caterpillar, the attack was launched and proceeded entirely according to plan. Before 4.30am it was reported that the whole of the Red, or 1st objective, had been taken; and by 5am the three Companies (A, B, and C) in the front line, were consolidating the Blue line.

By 7am the 12th DLI (Durham Light Infantry) had passed through our Blue line to assault the Black line. Up to now casualties, though very heavy amongst officers, had been comparatively reasonable amongst Other Ranks, and remained at the same figure for the rest of the 7th.

June 8th/9th. From the 8th onwards heavy shell fire was brought to bear on us by enemy artillery on the left flank, and casualties were very heavy, particularly on night of 8th/9th when a counter attack threatened and hostile fire increasd greatly in intensity.

June 9th/10th. On the night of the 9th/10th the Battalion less D Company was reveived by 13th DLI (Durham Light Infantry) and was withdrawn to Battersea Farm. B Company was releived by 11th Northumberland Fusiliers on 10th/11th. Here Battalion remained...

The Casualties during this action were 6 Officers killed, 1 Officer wounded and missing believed killed, 9 Officers wounded. 31 Other Ranks killed, 193 Other Ranks wounded, 10 Other Ranks missing, 17 Other Ranks died of wounds.

It was perhaps as a result of this bravery that Alfred was promoted to Acting Company Sargeant Major, a Warrant Officer II role and the most senior rank of Non Commissioned Officer. He remained in that rank until his death. He would have been the only Sergeant Major in his Company, superior to the other 100 to 150 men in the Company. Quite an achievement for a 26 year old coal miner.

Alfred's Company, D Company, was on the right flank during The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, a significant operation which took place from 18th to 24th September 2017. D Company were instructed to assemble across Jasper Avenue and to the right of it, and were given the objective of creating three strong points: g) Green Mound, h) Herenthage Chateau, and j) Aid Post, each of which would be captured and then occupied by two Vickers machine guns.

Trench Map for the Assault of 18th/24th September 1917

Alfred's Company began the attack positioned in the bottom left corner of this map and moved towards the red line on the right marked D COY (Company).

One Officer and a special party were detailed to obtain communication with the neighbouring 10th Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers, who were attacking on the right at Herenthage Chateau. The assault was to take place in two waves.

One Non Commissioned Officer and one man per Battalion was to be detailed particularly to look for intelligence papers and send them to Brigade HQ. Perhaps this was Alfred's role as the most senior NCO in D Company?

The War Diary records the ensuing events as follows:

September 18th/24th. The Battalion, in accordance with 69th Brigade Instructions, left Micmac Camp at 9am and proceeded to relieve the 8th Yorkshires, then holding the Inverness Copse sector, completing the relief during the afternoon. The Battalion strength, on going into action, was 21 Officers and 590 Other Ranks. The Battalion suffered 25 Casualties before relief was completed.

2. The 19th was spent in making final arrangements for the assembly and attack, and passed without incident until 10pm, when heavy rain fell for about an hour whilst the troops were forming up for the assault.

After visiting all Companies, Lieut-Col MGH Barker DSO handed over his command to Major HH Hudson MC, and was withdrawn to Brigade HQ, where he assisted the GOC until the conclusion of the operations on 24th.

3. The assembly of the assaulting troops was completed without loss, but the enemy opened a tentative barrage about 4am 20th inst. on the Western Edge of Inverness Copse which lasted for about 30 minutes, and caused somewhat heavy losses, nearly 50 ORs (Other Ranks) being killed and wounded.

Fortunately the enemy ceased shelling at 4.30 am, and the last hour before Zero was passed in quietness.

4. At 5.40am (Zero hour) on the 20th September, our barrage opened, and at Zero + 3' our troops assaulted. The copse was very strongly held, but the enemy appeared demoralised and very ready to surrender. The attack progressed absolutely according to plan on both flanks, but a slight gap was left between the left and centre Company which was at once filled by Lieut Inving with two platoons of the Reserve Company

The Red Line was captured, and consolidation begun by 6.10am, and parties were thrown forward all along the line to mop up as close as possible to the standing barrage, a task which was most successfully accomplished, many dug outs being cleared and prisoners taken. During this time the 9th Yorkshire Regiment were closing up and preparing to assault the next objective (Blue Line). As soon as the barrage lifted at Zero + 90' the attack on this line was begun and the Red Line was passed.

5. The Battalion remained on the line clearing the Battlefield until the 24th/25th when it was relieved by Units of the 98th and 100th Brigade (33rd Division).

Then followed a list of Officers present during the attack. The officers of D Company were Captain C L Armstrong, who was wounded but remained on duty, Captain LH Lawson, 2nd Lieut JJ Davies and 2nd Lieut CJ Higgins. Casualties during the action of 18th/24th were 2 Officers Killed, 2 Officers Died of Wounds, 1 Officer wounded, 2 Officers wounded but remained on duty. 56 Other Ranks killed, 4 Other Ranks Died of Wounds, 208 Other Ranks Wounded, 10 Other Ranks Missing, 3 Other Ranks Wounded and remained on Duty.

There are no records of where exactly Alfred fell. He may have been killed during the opening barrage, which sounded particularly grim.

The Tamworth Herald published the news on Saturday 6th October 1917:

“It is reported that Sergt.-Major Alfred Allbrighton, West Yorks R., has been killed in action on September 20. He was 25 years age, and the third son of Mr and Mrs A Allbrighton, Cherry Cottage, Glascote, and enlisted early in September, 1914. During the operations on June 7-9 last, he displayed reckless courage in laying and mending wires under very heavy shell fire, and was largely instrumental in maintaining communication with the Brigade and Companies. On the recommendation of his General, he was awarded the Military Medal. In the course of a letter to the parents, the Commanding Officer of his company says:

“He was my Company-Sergeant-Major, and was accompanying me over the top in the big attack. A few minutes after we had started he left me to direct a party of men who were losing direction, and was hit by a shell and killed at once. A party of this regiment searching for wounded found his body, and buried him where fell, marking his grave by a little cross. His death is a very great loss to the officers and men of the Company, as by his never-failing cheerfulness and utter disregard of danger he set an example of a man to be loved and followed. I myself felt that in every way as a soldier and man I could trust him to the last. He had already won distinction by gaining the Military Medal, and I have not the slightest doubt that had he lived he would have won still more honours. I shall always look upon him as one of the best types of manhood”.

The following week Alfred's parents inserted a message in the Tamworth Herald:

MR. and MRS.  A. ALLBRIGHTON and Family wish to thank all their kind friends for sympathy shewn to them in their sad bereavement. — Cherry Cottage, Glascote.

Despite being found and buried in the field, Alfred's resting place was not rediscovered at the end of the War.

Alfred is remembered on the plaques in St George’s Church, Bamford Street, and Glascote Methodist Church, and at Tyne Cot Memorial to the missing near Passchendaele. He was awarded the Victory Medla, the British War Medal and the 1915 Star. His War Gratuity was paid to his parents.

Alfred's father (Alfred senior) died at Cherry Cottage in 1930, and his mother Elizabeth died there in 1949. At that time she was the oldest member of the Methodist Church.

Subscribe for my posts by email