Monday, 4 July 2022

Researching two First World War soldiers who survived the war - Claude Brook and Leonard Lowe

This is a post in reply to a query on the Barnsley's History - The Great War Facebook group. It is a public group, anyone can join, but a member's first post is moderated to ensure they have a genuine interest in Barnsley, South Yorkshire and the First World War. 

The great-grandson of Sergeant Claude Brook and Private Leonard Lowe asked me if I could supply him with any information about their war service as he hadn't been able to find much himself. Most of the sources I use are available online, but some are behind a paywall. I also have a collection of resources concerning the war, newspaper cuttings (mostly digital) and some documents created in the course of the Barnsley War Memorials Project which ran from 2014 to 2018, during the Centenary of the First World War. As the two men named above both survived the war and 'lived to be old men' there are fewer resources available than there would have been if they had lost their lives, but I was willing to have a look for my correspondent. 

I would always recommend that people have a go at researching their relatives themselves, it can be a very rewarding experience, but I recognise that some people have limited access to the internet and/or are not able to get to local libraries which provide access to these records for free, very easily. To be honest I am in the second group myself, I live about 200 yards from a library and haven't been there more than twice in the past two and a half years due to my health issues. Getting to Barnsley Archives would be two buses each way from our house, or an expensive taxi ride there and back, and I just can't face that and really wouldn't like to even try the journey without support at the moment anyway.

The aim of the Barnsley War Memorials Project (BWMP) was to compile a list of the men and women connected with Barnsley who had lost their lives in the war, and along the way to record and research all of the war memorials in the Barnsley Borough and those nearby which list Barnsley men. We hadn't realised, in 2014, that we would find so many war memorials in our area, 863 at the last count, and at least another 47 in towns and villages very close by. These include memorials to the Boer War, the First and Second World Wars, the Spanish Civil War, and the conflicts in Korea, the Falklands and Afghanistan.

Back to Claude and Leonard ... 

I was sent this photo of a First World War ID tag to get me started and the information that Claude was from Mapplewell and Leonard from Monk Bretton.

An oval metal tag with impressed text, on a chain. The label above reads
'Claude Brook: 1st World War Dog Tag'

The first place I looked was the 1918 Absent Voters' List from the Electoral Register. The transcript made by the BWMP volunteers is available at Barnsley Archives on the open shelves and online on the Barnsley & District War Memorials website (click the blue link above to get to the appropriate page on this legacy site which took over the BWMP's work and continued it after 2018).  The Absent Voters' List was compiled over the winter 1917/18 and so it includes the names of men who were serving away from home at that time. Some Barnsley men would have joined up after that period, so they are listed as normal in their homes, and some of the men listed would have died or been discharged by the time of the December 1918 election. All Barnsley men over 21 were included in the 1918 Electoral Register, and men over 19 if they were serving in the forces. 

Ward Mapplewell Hoyle Mill
Polling District
16S 27AE
Number in Register
4747 6053
Surname Brook Lowe
Forenames Claude E
Main Road
Dove Row                      
House No.
Service No.
7 79519
Rank Sgt
Battalion 3rd
Handwritten Notes 
Class P
Wharncliffe Woodmoor Hospital

Claude Brook

Claude Brook turned out to have been an experienced soldier when the First World War began. When he enlisted in the York and Lancaster Regiment on 14 January 1915 he declared that he had previously served in the Duke of Wellington's West Riding Regiment.  He was 34 years and 100 days old, making him born in late 1880, and his occupation was Coal Miner. He was married and had seven children at that time. He was given the service number 7 (as we can see on his ID tag pictured above) in the Second Barnsley Pals, who were the 14th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, and he was promoted to Corporal within a few days. 

Luckily his Army Service Records have survived and can be seen on Ancestry and Find My Past.  His record was a bit patchy to start with, he was reduced in rank to Private in November 1915, but after service in the Mediterranean (both Barnsley Pals battalions first served in Egypt) and then in France from 11 March 1916 he was appointed Corporal again on 1 July 1916 - a significant date as it was the first day of fighting in the Battle of the Somme. He was wounded on 23 July 1916 and again on 13 June 1917, by which time he was an Acting Sergeant. The effects of this wound plus a recorded 'strain of the abdominal muscles' on 23 July 1917, and possibly demand for experienced soldiers to train the new recruits coming through conscription meant that he served out the rest of the war in England, from 7 August 1917 onwards. He was transferred to the 3rd Battalion in April 1918 and then to Class P of the Army Reserve in October 1918 as a full Sergeant and discharged on 14 March 1919. His Absent Voters entry above confirms that he was in the 3rd Battalion and the Reserve by the time the information was collected, and, interestingly, he was in Wharncliffe Woodmoor Hospital. His Silver War Badge record, also on Ancestry, records that he was discharged due to sickness.

His conduct was recorded as Very Good, and he received the usual British War Medal and Victory medals in 1921. The medal roll records that he was discharged as surplus to military requirements on 14 March 1919, it does not mention sickness.

Attached to his First World War records I found his earlier enlistment records. He had joined the West Riding Regiment on 8 December 1899 at the age of 19 years and 3 months and prior to that he had been in the Militia for nearly two years (my correspondent had a photo of a record of Claude's service in the militia from 14 February 1898 onwards). He was, at that point in his life, unmarried and his occupation was Labourer.  He was 5' 3" tall in 1899 and does not appear to have had a late growth spurt as some soldiers did as his 1915 records also state that he was 5' 3" tall.  His chest measurement had increased from 34" in 1899 to 38" in 1915, and additionally we are told that his complexion was fresh, and his eyes and hair were brown. The earlier records record his place of birth as Huddersfield, that was not a question on his 1915 records. 

The next document in Claude's earlier file is a 'Certificate of Deserter's Balance', a note that he had deserted on 17 December 1900, so after a year's service, which seems strange. On the following page there is a note dated 14 July 1910 that says he claimed, 'Benefit of King's Pardon', which I had to look up. The Great War Forum has a helpful post which includes the following information:

Special Army Order of 23rd May 1910.

Deserters from the Army will, under the circumstances referred to, be granted a pardon if they surrender before 23rd July, 1910, at home or before 23rd September, 1910, abroad. They will be allowed to serve in the corps in which they are at the time of surrender, except those soldiers who come under the conditions of paragraph 526, King's Regulations.

There is an index entry for a record on Fold3 on Ancestry (Fold3 requires an additional subscription which I have not taken up) which says that Claude actually deserted on 18 March 1900, and a notice about his desertion was posted on 3 April 1900. I wonder if this was an earlier incidence than the one noted in his service records, and he was found that time and served again until December. 

Claude married Matilda Allott on 8 April 1901 at All Saint's Church in Darton. In his 1915 Service Records he lists seven children. 

Thomas born 20 June 1901 in Cawthorne
Lily born 12 January 1904 in Darton
Scytha born 27 February 1906 in Cawthorne (female)
Annie born 20 Oct 1907 in Cawthorne
Georgina born 12 April 1910 in High Hoyland
Donald born 22 March 1912 in Darton
Frank born 6 July 1914 in Darton

It doesn't take much calculation to work out that Matilda was very likely more than seven months pregnant with Thomas when they married in April 1901, and this may have been the reason that Claude deserted (again?) in December 1900.  Their marriage register entry, available on Ancestry, gives Claude's occupation as Labourer. The 1901 census was taken on 31 March, only a few days before their marriage, and on that date Claude was a boarder in Headingley cum Burley, on the outskirts of Leeds with the Clayton family and he was working as a Blacksmith's Striker. The unusual name of one of Claude and Matilda's children, Scytha, appears on the 1891 census for the Brook family, also in Headingley. Claude's parents were John Brook and Sarah Jane (nee Lockwood) who had five children living at home and a visitor Sytha *surname illegible* aged 30. This is probably Sarah Jane Lockwood's sister Scytha or Sytha Lockwood.

By the time the 1911 census was taken Claude and Matilda were living on Main Road, Mapplewell, the address from which he enlisted in 1915. The census that year recorded information about marriages and children. Claude and Matilda reported that they had been married for nine years and that they had had six children by the time the census was taken, but that one of them had died young. This was Wilson Edward Brook born 20 July 1902 and died Q3 1902, who was buried at Darton on 7 December 1902 aged four months (according to his baptism and burial records which are available on Ancestry). 

The experience of being a father and having to support a large family must have had a good effect on Claude because he was chosen to be a non-commissioned officer in the First World War and his character was recorded as Very Good despite his previous less than perfect record. I am glad that he lived to a good age, and I hope he and Matilda had many grandchildren to enjoy as they got older. 


Leonard Lowe
Leonard Lowe's First World War service was less straightforward than that of Claude Brook. He was born on the 11th or 12th of October 1895 (depending on whether you look at his First World War Army Service Record, or the date of birth he gave in the 1939 Register). This makes him more than fifteen years younger than Claude. His father was Joseph Lowe whose family had travelled from Wellington and Oakengates in Shropshire seeking work. Joseph married Alice Maria (nee Price) in St Mary's Barnsley in May 1891, but she too was from Shropshire.  In the 1911 census Joseph and Alice, who were living at Charity Street in Monk Bretton, reported that they had had 13 children, but sadly eight of them had died before 1911. Leonard was 16 years old at this time, but no occupation was recorded for him on the census.

Leonard enlisted on 9 November 1914 at Barnsley aged 19 years and 29 days. His records state that he was born in Monk Bretton and that he was unmarried. He lived at 218 Burton Road, Monk Bretton with his parents. He was a miner and had not got any previous military service, unsurprisingly considering his age. He was assigned the service number 1120 in the 13th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, the First Barnsley Pals. He was 5' 4" tall with a fair complexion, blue eyes and light brown hair. His chest measured 33". These statistics were not unusual at the time, poor diet and hard living conditions, especially in a large family where many of the children appear to have died at a young age, would have produced men of a shorter stature than we are used to today. His records also noted that he had a scar on his inner right thigh but added that it was over two years old.

The following February he was absent without leave for eight days; this was during the time the Pals were training at Silkstone Camp. Near enough to Barnsley to be tempted to go home for a few days when it was cold and wet I imagine.  The only other note on this part of Leonard's record is dated 3 May 1915 when he was discharged under King's Regulations Para (392) III c - this translates to 'Not being likely to become and efficient soldier'.  A further page in his records headed 'Application for Discharge of a Recruit as not likely to become and efficient Soldier' notes that he had a weakness in his right leg 'owing to necrosis of femur'. It appears that he had passed the initial medical in November 1914 by passing off the scar on his right thigh as nothing much - unfortunately the underlying problem had been quite serious - possibly the reason he was not working in 1911, and after five months of military training the weakness in his leg had become very obvious. 

This was not the end of Leonard's military career, however.  On 5 September 1917 Leonard enlisted again, having been called up under the Military Service Act. This time he enlisted at Pontefract and initially into the 88th Training Reserve Battalion. He was now 21 years and 11 months old, a coal miner, but still living with his parents, now at 16 Dove Row, Hoyle Mill. He declared his previous service and it was clearly recorded that he had been discharged as medically unfit. He has grown an inch taller 5' 5" now, and his chest is two inches broader. He was transferred into the Durham Light Infantry on 5 December 1917. It would have been during this period that his information was collected for the 1918 Absent Voters' List we saw at the beginning of this post. He was transferred within the Durham Light Infantry in April 1918, and arrived in Calais, France in May. After a month he was transferred again, on 28 June 1918, this time to the Labour Corps and allotted a new service number 602282. 

His physical condition had improved a little - in 1917 he was recorded as A3 but after training and before he went overseas he was A2, 'Fit for dispatch overseas, as regards physical and mental health' but he required further training. Unfortunately, active overseas service must have taken a toll quite quickly as at the point he was moved to the Labour Corps his condition was recorded as B2, which means 'Able to walk 5 miles, see and hear sufficiently for ordinary purposes'.  It was usual for a man unfit for serving on the front line for whatever reason to be moved to the rear area where he could still contribute in some way. Leonard saw out the war serving in the Labour Corps.

In January 1919 he returned to England to be released from the Army in order to return to work as a miner. His discharge papers, in particular the certificate he was given to show that he was a soldier being discharged, gave his condition as B2 as before, so his health had not improved, but neither had it got any worse. He had served in France for 250 days, and this was sufficient to entitle him to the usual medals, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal which he received in January 1922. He applied for a pension, but does not appear to have received one, possibly because his disability was a consequence of his pre-war illness and insufficiently aggravated by the war to qualify for a pension. 

Leonard Lowe married Elsie White in 1921 and in the 1939 Register the couple were living with her father and brother on Wombwell Lane, near the Keel Inn and Cross Keys, which I assume makes that address in the vicinity of Stairfoot, near where the big Tesco is now. They appear to have three children and Leonard was working as Public Works Labourer, so he had continued to be fit enough to work after the war. He died aged 62 which was, for the time, not a bad innings, and his family knew that he had served his country in the war despite his poor health. 

The 1939 Register was taken in September as the Second World War began and was the source of information for the war time identity cards. After the war it continued to be used by the National Health Service and it was updated for many more years. It can be accessed on both Ancestry and Find My Past. Ancestry is free to use in all the Barnsley libraries and in Barnsley Archives and Find My Past is available in Sheffield (and possibly some Barnsley libraries although this varies). The local newspapers such as the Barnsley Chronicle and Barnsley Independent are available to read and take copies from in Barnsley Archives, and the war time issues of the Barnsley Independent and the South Yorkshire Times are available online through the British Newspaper Archive and Find My Past. Unfortunately for this piece of research my subjects seemed to have kept a low profile and I could find nothing in particular about either man in the papers to which I have access from home.

I intend to send my correspondent (who has asked to remain anonymous) some of the images I have downloaded whilst researching these men for him. I do not take any fees for this kind of research but do always ask if I can write up the results and post them online for everyone to read who is interested in the history of Barnsley in the First World War.  Hopefully this post has shown that a combination of military, religious and civil records can be used to fill out a picture of the time even for men who returned home, although I confess that I was very lucky to find Army Service Records for both men, as 60% of these were lost in the blitz in the Second World War.

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