Needham’s Fallen in World War One

St Peters Church c1900s
Memorial Plaque to Needham Men who died in WW1

From a small community of around 300 people Needham supplied 45 men to serve in the ‘Great War’ – 12 died and of the 33 who came home after the conflict ended, three won special honours for heroic service. One of those surviving soldiers which many older Needham residents will have known was the irrepressible Albert Bush who was born and lived in the village throughout his very long life which he wrote about in a fascinating pamphlet entitled Memoirs of a Miller’s Son. Surprisingly he only mentioned his military service very briefly in the book, stating simply that he served four years in the Norfolk Regiment, three of them on the Somme and was wounded by a lump of shrapnel behind his knee and invalided out of the army four months before hostilities ended.

Today we know that the majority of the veterans found it very difficult to talk about their experiences when they returned home, my grandfather being one of them, and so the fact that Albert tells us so little isn’t really a surprise. However, what does seem strange is that he doesn’t mention that his elder brother (by 7 years) Edwin George Bush is the first name on the commemorative list in the church where Albert spent so much time as a chorister and churchwarden during his long life.

Arthur and Ellen Bush had moved to Needham Mill with their family by 1901 – in the census that year they have seven children, including five sons: Arthur (11), Edwin (10), Herbert (6), Albert (3) and Frederick (2). This means that in 1914 the four eldest were all of age to fight. Edwin was still living at the mill with his parents, single, aged 23 and working as a miller. For some reason he enlisted up in York and joined the Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment 2nd Battalion where he served as a Private on the Western Front.

Like many soldiers he married whilst home on leave – on 16 March 1916 in Yorkshire Annie Rickell became his wife, having already given birth back in January to a daughter named Blanche. Sadly, the young couple only enjoyed 6 short months of marriage before Edwin was killed in action on 11th November 1916 at the Somme at the age of 25. His name is listed on the Thiepval Memorial in Picardie. Although Annie lived to the age of 75 in 1969 she appears to never have re-married.

Needham Mill Early 1900s possibly featuring Albert Bush and one of his sons.
Red Lion Inn c1900s

Arthur Calton would have been a well-known face in the village as the youngest son of brood of seven children belonging to Charles and Eliza Calton who had been the landlord and landlady of the Red Lion Inn since 1900. Arthur, aged 27 when he was called up in November 1914, was living with his parents at the pub and working as a market gardener – he is recorded as being 5’9” tall with a chest measurement of 37”. He served as a private in the 7th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment and was killed in action on the Western Front on 13th October 1915; his name is recorded on the Loos Memorial in France.

The only son of Robert, a cowman, and wife Rosetta William Elliott was only 14 when war broke out and therefore too young to be enlisted. However, we know that more than 250,000 boys under 18 lied about their age and gave false names to answer the patriotic call to arms, the youngest being just 12. It seems likely that William was an underage recruit, which may be why I’ve so far been able to trace where and when he died. Ernest Samuel Holland who was a private in the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment aged 28 when he died of his wounds in a hospital in France on 8th December 1917. He was the son of general labourer Henry Holland and is wife Emma and, after serving an apprenticeship a a maltster he was single, living at home and working as a miller in 1911.

I’ve been able to find out quite a lot about the final weeks in the life of John Sydney Jolly from the surviving hand-written reports by the senior Officer in his Regiment. John was killed in action near Bethune in France on 26th September 1915, less than a month after the 9th Battalion, Norfolk Regiment had arrived there from England. He was part of the 71st Brigade and was involved in an assault on heavily defended German lines at a place called Lonely Tree Hill.

Herbert Nelson Kay was one of two Needham men who had joined the army prior to the war and aged 21 was serving in the 2nd Batallion Norfolk Regiment in 1911. He was a Lance Corporal fighting in Mesopotamia, presumably as part of the disastrous Gallipoli Campaign, when he was killed in action on 22nd November 1915. James Frederick Leist is a mature 34 at the outbreak of war and in 1911 is working in Harleston as a ‘Hotel Boots’, having been married to wife Frances for four years with a three year old daughter Dorothy. I’ve not been able, so far, to find information about his death.

Baptism Record 21st August 1892 for John Jolly from Needham Parish Records
Arthur Shanks Grave in St Peter's Churchyard, Needham

17 year old Harry Nunn was working as a gardener in 1911 and living with dad William, a carpenter, mum Jane and two siblings in Needham. He initially joined the Norfolk Regiment, but switched to the Machine Gun Corps fighting in France where he died of wounds on 11th October 1916. He is buried at Grove Town Cemetery, Meaulte in Picardie.

Bob ‘Ninety’ Rayner – a carpenter (with hen houses a speciality) and bricklayer – lived at ancient Mayland House in 1911 with wife Mary Jane and four sons all in the building trade, all single and ranging in ages from 35 to 17. All of the boys were of military age in 1914 and the family were to lose two of them – young George Rayner started as a private in the Royal Army Service Corps ad later transferred to the Duke of Wellington’s (West Riding) Regiment where he was killed in action on 13th September 1918, just 2 months prior to the armistice. His older brother Harry Rayner was in the army in 1901 listed as being a driver for the Royal Field Artillery, but by 1911 is back home working as a builder’s labourer. I have not tracked down details of his death.

Robert Turner was the son of the extended family of travellers who had spent part of the year living in their caravans at Needham since the middle of the 19th century. Aged 20 in 1914, he served in France and Flanders as a private in the Essex Regiment before being transferred to the Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. He was killed on 16th January 1917 and his name is listed at the Etaples Cemetery.

And finally, we come to the one man who returned home by his family only to be laid to rest a few months later in the churchyard of the village where he was born: Arthur John Shanks. Arthur was badly wounded at Loos in September 1915 and honourably discharged from the 9th Norfolk Regiment in May 1916 – the impressive grave where he was buried on 13th December 1916 aged just 28 quite rightly featured at the culmination of the Centenary Remembrance Service held in 2018 to honour all the men who served their country in one of the deadliest conflicts in history.