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Comrades and Characters

Albert’s book is full of the names and conversations he had with many of the comrades he served alongside, the officers, their servants and other Privates.

Albert joined a reserve battalion – the 29th Royal Fusiliers – one of the so-called Public School’s Battalions. It appears that the 29th came under command of the 8th Battalion – The London Regiment – when they were engaged in active service and shipped out to join the front line in northern France. So his post war documents record him as belonging to the 8th Battalion.

28th and 29th (Reserve) Battalions
Formed in Epsom in August 1915 as Reserve battalions, from depot companies of the four Public Schools Bns.

8th (Service) Battalion
Formed at Hounslow on 21 August 1914 as part of K1 and came under command of 36th Brigade, 12th (Eastern) Division.
Landed in France in May 1915.
Disbanded in France 6 February 1918.
(information from The Long, Long Trail www.longlongtrail.co.uk)

It would be wonderful to hear from any surviving relatives of those mentioned in the book, or to make connections with other memoirs, diaries, and records. Below is a list of those mentioned in no particular order. Please leave a comment below if you have any information or requesting help with your own research.

If you haven’t yet read the book – POSSIBLE SPOILER ALERT!

Bert Swigart (Swygart)

“Bert Swigart, the officers’ cook, was a tough East-ender with the face and figure of a pugilist. His thick lips scoffed at the world in perpetual contempt beneath a nose spread over his face like a squashed tomato, and shrewd little piggy eyes watched with cynical disdain the effect of his brief comments. Comments fired off in that clipped, staccato speech which is the true Cockney dialect as spoken from Wandsworth to Wapping, from Camberwell to Clapton.”
“As cook, he was self-taught, and a rotten teacher he was; but nobody dared, tell him so. Having been a lorry driver before the war he knew the City like the palm of his own hefty hand, but, like many Londoners, knew the rest of England not at all.”
Albert Edward Swygart Royal Army Service Corps Expeditionary Force Canteen Division MS/4398 Navy and Army Canteen Board
Entered service age 26, from West Ham, Trade: motor driver
Mother: Emma Swygart 10a Grove Rd, Bow
Service history: Home 17/9/14 – 22/9/14 France 23/9/14 – 30/4/19 Home 1/5/19 – 29/5/19
Born 10th Sep 1892 Married Kathleen M Kenyon Sep 1920
Died 1-9-1978 Thanet Kent,
Collimore – Officer’s servant

“…Collimore, a tall lanky youth, treading hard on my heels with his big feet.”
“…Collimore, was a lanky youth with glasses, typical London clerk. Tall, and so narrow chested that his ill-fitting tunic sagged across the front of him.”
“Collimore’s tall lanky figure was also conspicuous by its absence and we feared he was “out for the count”. Fortunately he turned up again three or four weeks later, beaming through his thick spectacles.”
“Collimore, as was his nature, endeavoured to be cheerful and chatty.”
Most likely to be William James Collimore Pt  P/S 10145
Killed in action at Arras 3-5-17
Was also in the 29th  Batt. Royal Fusiliers with Albert
Then the 8th Batt. RF Father’s name William  
Listed on the same medal roll record as Albert Clayton    

Or possibly Pvt Arthur Neville Collimore RF GS/9645  
Blackall – Officer’s servant

“Though something of a dandy and rather fond of “poshing himself up”, Blackall remained withal, a brawny enough fellow.”  
“Blackall being the mess-waiter, answered the call and as he returned a burst of laughter floated out through the parlour door”  
“Blackall, the finicky dresser, had taken care to ‘posh himself up’ before we came. Brushed his tunic, polished his buttons and badges, and wound on his puttees carefully in even spirals.”
William Edward Blackall 8th RF Pte. GS/10732
Born 1897
Died 1981 (same year as Albert Clayton!)
Bill Dewer  [Dewar?] – Lt. Scollick’s servant

“A moaning and crying came from the figure and as I looked over their shoulders, I found myself gazing into the chalky-white face of young Bill Dewer. He was half-conscious, moaning and babbling incoherently and crying bitterly. A large piece of shell had passed through his left arm just below the shoulder, severing it, except for a little retaining skin on each side.”
“…a letter from Bill Dewer, addressed to us all from one of the Base Hospitals. He had not died, then, after all. It seems they had amputated his arm – it was as good as amputated when I last saw it – and he was looking forward to going home in a few days’ time.”
“…two or three days later, another communication arrived from the hospital – a semi-official letter to the Officer Commanding A. Company: William Dewer, died of wounds on such and such a date, had wished at the last to be remembered to his comrades of the Officer’s Mess.”
Not yet identified
Crabtree – Company orderly

“Crabtree was a fellow I had known slightly in the Public Schools Battalion in England. Smallish, very dapper, round head with bright rather protuberant eyes, and very rosy cheeks. Though his age was probably nineteen or twenty, he looked more like a perky sixteen just joined up from school. Two runners were always attached to the Company Commander and his headquarters, and they were fond of picking the youngest in the Company for the job. Hence, Crabtree and I.”
“The dapper little Crabtree had been promoted to a bicycle, and running for the Battalion office instead of for A. Company; so I lost my partner.”
Not yet identified
Harry Arnold – Company orderly

“His place was taken by a hefty-shouldered Lancashire man, an ex-solicitor’s clerk from Manchester, named Harry Arnold”  
“Arnold was a good “scrounger”, always ready to do a bit of unofficial foraging”  
Harry Eustace Arnold 29th RF and 8th RF Pvt.  PS/10520
(from Medal Rolls)
Born 4/7/1888  Stretford Lancashire
Father Benjamin Walter Mother Anne
Married Lily M Marsh in 1912.

Survival as yet unknown
Lieutenant Backlake

“Backlake and Scollick, to do them no discredit, were just a couple of ordinary young coves, might have been secondary school teachers or bank clerks.”
“Backlake, strolling along the queue, commiserated with the men and assured them that one more trip would finish the job”
“A little further along in the darkness Lieutenant Backlake staggered about amongst his men. This was to be his first time over the top – having on previous occasions been engaged in transport supervision – and quite contrary to his usual habit he had filled himself up with whiskey in readiness for the event. He was consequently fighting drunk and only prevented by the restraining hands of his men from going over before the proper time arrived, to finish off the war all by himself.”
“As the starting tape went up, the drink crazed Backlake, uttering blood curdling yells and waving his revolver round his head like a frenzied devil-dancer, bounded forward into the night far in advance of the rest of us, as if possessed by a fiend. And that was the last time I ever set eyes on him.”
Lieut Brian Ashbee Backlake 8th Bat. RF
Killed in action 3-5-17  (from medal roll)  
War grave memorial: Find a grave

Mother Mrs M Backlake – had 2 sons both killed in action
Brother: Second Lieut Denis Ives Backlake 1st Somerset Light Infantry Killed in Action 19-10-16
Lieutenant Maude

“Lieutenant Maude was the infant of the outfit. Pathetically young, his slender fragile build, his fair hair and inability to grow anything on the upper lip, made him seem a mere schoolboy, which indeed he was. He was given No.4 platoon to command, and those tough hard-boiled old sweats, old enough to be his father, took to him instantly and protected him from the many dangers of trench life, so far as was possible.”
“He would speak proudly of “my men” and when at dinner in the mess the Captain congratulated him on the smartness of his platoon, he was boyishly delighted.”
“A strained expression and a nervous bravado told the story of one who had to force himself to appear unafraid. He was one of those physically weak but imaginative people who instinctively withdraw from displays of crude force, and it was probably only the greater fear of disgracing his officer’s uniform that gave him strength to face the dangers.”
“I heard close behind me the boyish voice of Lieut. Maude – and turned round to see him sitting on the rear edge of the shallow ditch. Beside him sat a boy of about his own age… Maude was trying, in a few halting phrases of schoolboy German, to question the youth as to the whereabouts of his comrades.”
“They […] brought news that young Maude had ‘gone west’, killed by a bullet in the stomach. It must have happened during the second part of our advance and very soon after I had seen him interrogating the young German.”
2nd Lieut Gervase Henry Francis Maude 8th Bat. Royal Fusiliers.
Commanded No.4 platoon
Died of wounds 9th April 1917. Age 21.

Son of Gerald Edward and Edith Caroline Maude CBE of 14 Cranley Place, South Kensington London

Buried at DUISANS BRITISH CEMETERY, ETRUN
Location: Pas de Calais, France
Number of casualties: 3289
Cemetery/memorial reference: I. N. 1.
Inscription:
“DIED OF WOUNDS RECEIVED IN BATTLE
UNTIL THE DAY BREAK
R.I.P.”
Lieutenant Edwards

“Lieutenant Edwards, as his nick-name implied, was rather short and tubby, and a little older than the others. He was essentially of a shy and reserved nature, apt to stutter a little if embarrassed, and meticulously conscientious in performing any task allotted to him. He differed from the rest in that he could speak extremely fluent French, having been in some kind of business in northern France before the war.”
“Lieutenant Edwards was not a wealthy man, and when it was his turn to be Mess President, this is to buy all the provisions for the five of them, he would try to do it as economically as he could, being a careful soul.”
“By my side stood the silent, stocky figure of Tubby Edwards, attired in the same old raincoat and with both hands thrust deep in its capacious pockets.”
“He was a peaceable, kindly man, pushed willy-nilly by the urgent need of the times into these repulsive, swashbuckling enterprises, so totally at variance with all his natural instincts. Pushed into it, as we all were, by some overpowering force far beyond our control. Nevertheless Tubby would not flinch at the unhappy prospect, now that it lay before him. He was one of those painstakingly tenacious blokes who would keep grimly on to the very end, patiently doing the job in hand disagreeable though it be, until something cut him short.”
Not yet identified
Second Lieutenant Scollick

“Backlake and Scollick, to do them no discredit, were just a couple of ordinary young coves, might have been secondary school teachers or bank clerks.”  
“A lean familiar face looked into mine and seemed pleased to see it was me. It was Scollick.”  
“Just have a look at this, Clayton!” pointing to the collar of his tunic. “I seem to have got it in the neck by the feel of things. Can you see anything?” “You have, sir, but not exactly the neck I replied, examining his shoulder. “You’ve got a lovely ‘Blighty one’ there. A bullet clean through the top of your shoulder just below the collar bone.”    
Almost certainly Douglas Arthur Scollick 8th Batt Royal Fusiliers

Survived the war and married Mona Mary Webster.
They had one daughter Pauline Ann Scollick who died age 4.

He had a brother LT Scollick 
Sergeant Major Williams

“Company Sergeant-major Williams was shorter in stature than a man of his rank ought to be, according that is to “guard’s” standards, not to Napoleonic. He also displayed the pinky-red complexion and the watery eye of the habitual drinker.”
“Like many men who are fond of their tipple he was a good fellow at heart. Bullying was his job and not his inclination, for he only assumed the clipped speech of his rank when on duty.”  
“As for Sergeant-major Williams, he was strutting about with his pink face wreathed in smiles, very pleased with himself. It seems he had persuaded one of the few living officers to bear witness that he and Bates had done great things that Saturday afternoon, and to put their names forward for some kind of decoration.
“…in due course the awards were handed out. For Bates, a Military Medal, and for the Sergeant-major, a D.C.M.”
Possibly: 277 Sgt A W Williams [8th Bn R.F. war diary 3.11.16 awarded military medal]
Private Bates – Servant to Sgt Maj Williams

“His batman, Private Bates, was a self-possessed, dry old stick, who knew when to keep his mouth shut. When I come to recall his rather wrinkled face, it strikes me anew that though a Londoner, he must have a sprig of heather in the family somewhere.”  
“…in due course the awards were handed out. For Bates, a Military Medal, and for the Sergeant-major, a D.C.M.”
Not yet identified
Captain Tite – Commander of “A” Company [Liet S G Tyte? in Bn diary]

“The unassuming but quietly efficient Captain Tite still commanded the Company. He was reputed to be in civil life, a tea planter from Ceylon.”   “The Company commander, Captain Tite, still lived to conduct affairs with his usual unruffled equanimity,”  
Possible: Major Stanley George Tyte Royal Fusiliers
Sergeant Downes
Sergeant Downes, the father of his platoon, chanted “Over you go my lucky lads,”

“The Company Sergeant-Major, a lieutenant – I forget his name – and the jovial popular Sergeant Downes, were making their usual tour of the front line one morning, tramping along the narrow trench in single file, when Fate suddenly interrupted their well-worn routine.
A dull “pop” from the German lines and the trio looked up to see a black speck describing an arc in the air, rapidly growing larger and larger as it drew near the end of its periphery.
They had seen it, however, a split second too late to dodge, and the rifle grenade, for such it was, dropped plump in the trench and exploded.
Rifle grenades rarely do hit the mark, and the untimely arrival of this one straight out of the blue at the precise moment of their passing, seemed like a rendezvous arranged by some inescapable Destiny. It killed outright the most cheery and lovable sergeant in the Company, sent the Lieutenant back to England with a smashed ankle, and the shaking Sergeant-Major to his dug-out for a good stiff drink.
Frederick Downs
Born: Stepney Middlesex, residence Plaistow
Sergeant, London Regiment, 8th Battlion
Died 27.8.16
Killed in action

8th Bn War Diary 27.8.16:
Some Trench mortar & aerial grenade activity. One of the latter fell amongst a group of 2 officers & a sergeant standing at junction of GROUSE ST & front line. 2nd Lt G.A. FORSYTH & the Sgt. killed & Capt G.H. ASSLIN wounded (9.15pm)
Lieutenant Colonel “Dolly” Cooper

The Commanding Officer of the Battalion, Lieutenant-colonel “Dolly” Cooper, seemed at first glance to have been aptly named. A dapper little man, sallow complexion, black haired like a Mexican, always perfectly dressed, he had the air of having lived most of his forty-odd years in Mayfair drawing rooms, or in one of those vast Palladian country houses complete with stables, topiary gardens and deer park. One felt that an abyss divided his mode of life from that of the ‘Gor blimey’ mob he commanded. The delicate shade of his breeches alone betokened a taste for the elegant and precious graces of life, their subtle tint more akin to a ripe peach than a vulgar khaki.”  
“But somehow, with “Dolly” Cooper, the lie was given to those delectable breeches by the sharp tilt of his tin hat, the darting glance of his black eyes and his quick, hopping gait, “like a blinking sparrer” as Bert described it. The “Dolly” exterior was a thin shell which covered a daring and fearless spirit, a shrewd judgement, and a sharp eye for any slackness of discipline or relaxation of effort. As was amply proved by the mode of his death during the dark days of March, 1918. He was killed while leading the battalion in an attempt to stem the flood of the great German break-through, and awarded a posthumous V.C.
 
Wikipedia: Lieutenant Colonel Neville Bowes Elliott-Cooper, VC, DSO, MC (22 January 1889 – 11 February 1918) was a British Army officer and an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Elliott-Cooper was born on 22 January 1889 in London,[1] the youngest son of Sir Robert Elliott-Cooper. He was educated at Eton and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst.[2] When he was 28 years old, and a temporary lieutenant colonel commanding the 8th Battalion the Royal Fusiliers, British Army, he was awarded the Victoria Cross for his actions on 30 November 1917 east of La Vacquerie, near Cambrai, France during the Battle of Cambrai.
Regimental Sergeant Major Saunders

The counter-attack which developed against us in the morning provided a big moment for Regimental Sergeant-Major Saunders. Though young for the job of running a battalion, maybe thirty-ish or so, Saunders was a frighteningly slick individual of electrifying personality. His cold, smooth efficiency fed by his insufferable conceit, seemed to jerk his tall immaculate figure into an insolent swagger. No back could be more ramrod, no poise of head more arrogant. And that steely gaze emanating from below a rakish ‘tin’ hat, could, even at a distance, hypnotize one into a self-conscious fit of the fidgets; set one’s fingers searching for that undone button.
[Bn war diary – R S M Saunders H notified award of DCM 5.1.17 at Moncheaux ]

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