Colin belonged to a typical middle class Merseyside family of the period. His father, George, was born in Lincoln in about 1860 and his mother, Emily, in Manchester in about 1856. George was a Fire Insurance Underwriter. In 1891 they lived in Southport and had a domestic servant called Sarah Morgan from Shropshire and in 1901 they lived in Waterloo and employed two domestic servants – Annie Grant and Jeannie Edgar, both from Scotland – and a German nurse called Marie H. Freund. Colin had two older siblings – Robert Kingsley and Dorothy. All three of them were born in Ashton on Mersey near Manchester. Colin attended the Merchant Taylor’s School in Crosby (close to the family home in Waterloo), where he played rugby. When he left school he worked for J.H. Townley and Sons on the Stock Market.
He was commissioned as a territorial officer in the 1st/5th Battalion of the King’s (Liverpool Regiment). In 1911 Colin’s parents were living with their daughter, Dorothy, aged 24, in West Kirby’s Hydro Hotel – a therapeutic lodging house. Perhaps Dorothy was unwell and this is why the family had been employing a nurse in 1901. At some point, they moved to their own house – Brentwood on Meols Drive in Hoylake. By this time, George had become General Manager of the Royal Insurance Company.
Colin resigned his commission due to “a troublesome throat infection” which he believed impaired his efficiency as an officer and became a rifleman in the 1st/6th Liverpools on 1st September 1914. He is recorded as being 5’ 8” tall and weighing 11st. 4lbs.. His chest measured 38” with a 4” expansion. Colin was in the U.K. until 23rd February 1915.
He arrived in France the next day and died in the Ypres Salient just less than a month later. He had been attempting, along with another private, to rescue a soldier of the Dorsetshire Regiment from no man’s land. One of Colin’s friends wrote to his parents, apprising them of his death and the sad news was quickly published in the local press. On 27th April 1916 Colin’s possessions were posted to his older brother, Robert Kingsley, who was residing at 8 Harrington Street in Liverpool. They were a French English dictionary, a gold watch in a case, a compass, two broken pipes, a tobacco pouch, a pair of nail scissors in a case, a leather case containing two Gillette razor blades, two photographs, a diary, a clasp knife, a pair of shoulder titles, a chain, a pipe cleaner in a case and a khaki handkerchief. Of course, we wonder where these items are now and wish we could at least study Colin’s diary in order to be able to reconstruct his life in greater detail.
Birth: c.1889 in Ashton on Mersey, Cheshire
Death: 23rd March 1915, killed in action aged 26
Addresses: 11, Close Street, Southport (91), 14, Adelaide Terrace, Waterloo (01),
Occupation: Worked on the Stock Market
Units: 1st/5th Bn and “D” Coy. 1st/6th Bn. The King’s (Liverpool Regiment)
Number and Rank: Lieutenant and 2238 Private
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H, Belgium: Sanctuary Wood IV. G. 15.
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, SR, BN, DA, Census: 91,01,11
HENRY WILLIAM HOWELL COLLETT
Henry’s parents were the Reverend William Collett, a Wesleyan minister who was born in West Bromwich in about 1852 and his wife Emily, who was born in Macclesfield in about 1859. Due to the nature of William’s work, the family lived in many different places, including Altrincham, Lancaster, Sheffield, Stockport, Hoylake and Chester. Following Henry’s death, his parents and brothers Maurice John and Charles Edward settled at 8 Shelton Road, Wallasey. Henry’s eldest brother, Harold Henry, was born in about 1883 and was a tool maker and fitter. By 1919 he was living in Leeds. The Colletts were middle class folk, who employed a domestic servant in each of their homes. By 1914, Henry was working as a solicitor for Watson and Atkinson in Liverpool.
He joined the “1st Liverpool Pals” (the very first Pals Battalion ever to be formed) or 17th Service Battalion The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) on 2nd September 1914, when he was described as being 5’ 8½” tall, having a 39” chest with a 4” expansion and weighing 163lbs. He was promoted to acting unpaid lance corporal on 29th December 1914 and reverted to private on 23rd February 1915. Between 29th April and 4th September 1915, Henry was at Belton Camp near Grantham in Lincolnshire. From 5th September until he embarked for France on 7th November 1915, he was at Lark Hill Camp on Salisbury Plain. Henry eventually served in the U.K. for a year and 66 days and in France for 266 days, giving a total military service of a year and 332 days.
Henry’s unit was part of 89th Brigade, 30th Division. It stayed in France for the duration of the war. The Liverpool Pals were amongst the most successful battalions who attacked the German defences on the Somme on 1st July 1916. Henry was involved and came through unscathed, but his brigade’s attack on 30th July was more problematic. The 17th were required to support the 18th and 20th Liverpools as they attacked the heavily fortified village of Guillemont. The advance was planned to start at 04.45. Despite the fact that the night was dark and foggy, the Germans knew the British were coming and bombarded their positions with gas shells. Nevertheless, the Merseysiders began their attack as planned, shrouded in fog. The 17th Battalion was caught out in the open when the fog lifted and many of its members were cut down by machinegun fire. This is probably the point at which Henry was badly wounded. We do not know the exact nature of his wound, but it was later agreed that he would never have recovered from it. He was picked up by stretcher bearers and attended by a doctor, but, when he was being carried along a communication trench
towards the field ambulance, a shell landed and obliterated the party.
Because of this, Henry was posted as missing, but, due to the fact that the chaplain later interviewed witnesses and got the truth, it was eventually agreed that he had been killed in action. At the end of 30th July, the allies had managed to push their line forward by about 300 yards, but Guillemont had still not been captured. The 17th Liverpools experienced 296 casualties, out of whom five officers and 181 other ranks were killed.
During September 1916, Henry’s grieving father (pictured above) was engaged in painful correspondence with the War Office about the exact details of his son’s death. He was required to copy out by hand two letters which were written on 9th August and 6th September by Henry’s chaplain, Captain Edward. Skilton. Both missives give us deeply poignant insights into the work of chaplains in the Great War. In the first letter, Skilton described the last time he saw Henry (or Howell as he called him). It was at a service, wherein he had read some verses by the American Quaker poet, John Greenleaf Whittier: “I know not where his islands lift their fronded palms in air; I only know I cannot drift Beyond his love and care.” (see below for the complete poem) After the service, Henry spoke to the chaplain to say that these and the preceding verses were his favourite lines and gave Skilton his address so that he could write to his father if he died. Skilton finished by saying that he was “… sure that he died with his faith centred in God’s Love, and Care. He has faced the supreme sacrifice and is numbered among the young heroes who have given their all for the Great Cause to which we are committed.” In the second letter, Skilton reported that he had been unable to find any items belonging to young Howell and went on to describe his feelings at the last service before the battle: “There is left the precious memory of a noble lad. I shall never forget that Saturday evening, that last service, and the faces I was never to see again. It was such sorrow to see them march away in platoons to this great and difficult task.” In December 1916, two items of Henry’s property – a leather cigarette case and a pipe – were posted back to his father.
By August 1920, William Collett had been corresponding with the War Office about his son’s burial place. Of course, his body having been totally destroyed, Henry had no known grave and is therefore one of the 72,203 names on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. The lad’s 14/15 Star was received by his parents on 1st May 1919 and his British War and Victory Medals on 10th September 1921. On 30th March 1921, William wrote to the War Office, enquiring about his son’s commemorative bronze plaque. He was told that it was late as there was a backlog due to the enormous numbers of such plaques which were required at that time. We hope that the plaque was received and that it gave some solace to the grieving family.
Birth c.1890 in Sheffield, Yorkshire
Death: 30th July 1916, killed in action aged 26
Address: Shirland House, Sheffield (91), 25 Greek Street, Stockport (01), 58 Alderley Road, Hoylake (11), Ferney, Queen’s Park, Chester (16)
Occupation: Solicitor (14)
Unit: 17th Bn. The King’s (Liverpool Regiment)
Number and Rank: 16019, Private
Medals 14/15 Star, British War and Victory
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H, Chester Wesleyan Church, France: Somme, Thiepval Memorial Pier and Face 1. D. 8. B. and 8. C.
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, SR, MC, LE, FT, Census: 91, 01, 11
Appendix: Whittier’s Poem
O friends! with whom my feet have trod
The quiet aisles of prayer,
Glad witness to your zeal for God
And love of man I bear.
I trace your lines of argument;
Your logic linked and strong
I weigh as one who dreads dissent,
And fears a doubt as wrong.
But still my human hands are weak
To hold your iron creeds:
Against the words ye bid me speak
My heart within me pleads.
Who fathoms the Eternal Thought?
Who talks of scheme and plan?
The Lord is God! He needeth not
The poor device of man.
I walk with bare, hushed feet the ground
Ye tread with boldness shod;
I dare not fix with mete and bound
The love and power of God.
Ye praise His justice; even such
His pitying love I deem:
Ye seek a king; I fain would touch
The robe that hath no seam.
Ye see the curse which overbroods
A world of pain and loss;
I hear our Lord’s beatitudes
And prayer upon the cross.
More than your schoolmen teach, within
Myself, alas! I know:
Too dark ye cannot paint the sin,
Too small the merit show.
I bow my forehead to the dust,
I veil mine eyes for shame,
And urge, in trembling self-distrust,
A prayer without a claim.
I see the wrong that round me lies,
I feel the guilt within;
I hear, with groan and travail-cries,
The world confess its sin.
Yet, in the maddening maze of things,
And tossed by storm and flood,
To one fixed trust my spirit clings;
I know that God is good!
Not mine to look where cherubim
And seraphs may not see,
But nothing can be good in Him
Which evil is in me.
The wrong that pains my soul below
I dare not throne above,
I know not of His hate, — I know
His goodness and His love.
I dimly guess from blessings known
Of greater out of sight,
And, with the chastened Psalmist, own
His judgments too are right.
I long for household voices gone,
For vanished smiles I long,
But God hath led my dear ones on,
And He can do no wrong.
I know not what the future hath
Of marvel or surprise,
Assured alone that life and death
His mercy underlies.
And if my heart and flesh are weak
To bear an untried pain,
The bruisëd reed He will not break,
But strengthen and sustain.
No offering of my own I have,
Nor works my faith to prove;
I can but give the gifts He gave,
And plead His love for love.
And so beside the Silent Sea
I wait the muffled oar;
No harm from Him can come to me
On ocean or on shore.
I know not where His islands lift
Their fronded palms in air;
I only know I cannot drift
Beyond His love and care.
O brothers! if my faith is vain,
If hopes like these betray,
Pray for me that my feet may gain
The sure and safer way.
And Thou, O Lord! by whom are seen
Thy creatures as they be,
Forgive me if too close I lean
My human heart on Thee!
ARTHUR CLIFFORD COOK
Arthur’s father was Arthur Ebenezer Slater Cook, who was born in Petbury, Gloucestershire in about 1871. He was a chartered accountant. His mother was Sarah Euphemia Pritchard, who was born in Swansea also in about 1870. The family had lived in Carlisle and Liverpool before settling in Hoylake between about 1897 and 1906. Arthur Clifford was the second of three children and the only son. The family were well off: their 1911 home on Prussia Road contained 12 rooms. They employed a domestic servant. In that year, it was the 21 year-old Gladys Buck from Woodbridge in Suffolk.
Arthur Clifford joined a unit which was formed in Hoylake in December 1914 – the 16th Reserve Battalion of the King’s (Liverpool Regiment). If he had stayed with this battalion, he would not have seen front line action, but, at some point, he was attached to the 4th Battalion, which was part of 98 Brigade, 33 Division, which became involved in the grinding attritional warfare of the second month of the Battle of the Somme. He was killed in action at the infamous High Wood. At some point, his family moved to Arlington in West Kirby and then to The Close, in Overton near Frodsham.
Birth c.1896 in Liverpool
Death 16th August 1916, killed in action aged 19
Addresses: 13 Langdale Road, Toxteth Park (01), 4 Prussia Road, Hoylake (11), 4 Queen’s Road, Hoylake (16)
Units: 16th Bn. The King’s (Liverpool) Regiment; attached to 4th Bn.
Number and Rank: Second Lieutenant
Medals: Victory and British War
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H, France: Somme, Mametz, Flatiron Copse I.C.46.
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, DA, LE, Census: 01, 11
FREDERICK WILLIAM CUMPSTY
Fred Cumpsty belonged to a Liverpool family which settled in Hoylake between about 1885 and 1891. When Fred was baptised in 1882, his father, Isaac, was described as being a plumber, but, by 1891, he was a draper whose shop was on Market Street in Hoylake. By 1911, however, at the age of 71, Isaac had reverted to his original line of business and become a builder. He was obviously doing well at it because the family were living in a twelve-roomed house called Dormie at 61 Cable Road, Hoylake, where they employed a servant. Fred’s mother was called Mary Ann. By 1911, Fred was a joiner, working in the building trade; he had seven surviving siblings. One child had died in infancy. Fred had another interesting string to his bow – sport. He was a good all-round athlete, enjoying tennis, bowls, cycling, football and gymnastics. He excelled at the latter discipline and was a key member of the Birkenhead YMCA championship team; he was leading it when they won the 200-guinea shield. He was an instructor in the Hoylake Presbyterian Church Gymnastics Class. Interestingly, the 1911 census reveals that the Cumpstys had a guest in the house – Annie Caroline Letitia Halsted from Port Elizabeth in South Africa. Perhaps it was she who helped to secure Fred’s next position – instructor in a much larger club in South Africa. It must have been an interesting adventure for the young man. He returned to the UK on 25th March 1914 on board the Dunluce Castle (pictured left), belonging to the Union Castle Steamship Company. Poignantly, this vessel was used as a hospital ship during the Gallipoli and East African Campaigns. Once at home, Fred returned to his old trade of domestic joinery. He was also a sidesman at church and a member of the Hilbre Masonic Lodge and Hoylake Cycling Club.
Fred tried to join up at the beginning of the war, but health problems held him back. Eventually, he joined the Royal Engineers in Birkenhead on 18th January 1916. For some reason, he claimed to be 32 years of age – two years younger than he really was. Fred was recorded as being 5’ 4½” tall; he had a 38½” chest with a 4½” expansion. His medal card does not record when he sailed to France, but, in comparison to the men of the Pals Battalions, he does not seem to have had much time to prepare for the front line, as the poor man was dead within eleven months of his enlistment. He passed away after receiving severe injuries on the left hand side of his body and having his arm amputated. At this point, it is not known exactly how he was wounded and where he was when it occurred. Fred’s will was proved in Chester on 10th March 1917; he bequeathed a total of £3024 to his mother and to Alexander Frederick Johnstone, an estate agent. This was a healthy sum of money for a man of his age and background and must be testament to his hard work and good sense. This was another precious life which the local community could ill afford to lose.
Birth: c.1882; Baptised 12th November 1882 in St. Nathaniel’s Church, Liverpool
Death: 9th November 1916, died of wounds aged 34
Address: 4 Tiber Street, Liverpool (82), 22-24 Market Street, Hoylake (91-01), Dormie, 61 Cable Road, Hoylake (11-16)
Occupations: Domestic Joiner and Gymnastics Instructor
Unit: 1st/1st (Cheshire) Field Company Royal Engineers
Number and Rank: 1368 Sapper
Medals British War and Victory
Commemorated and Buried: GH, H, France: Somme, Varennes Military Cemetery 1.C.23.
Sources: BR, CWGC, SDGW, MC, SR, DA, BN, Bap., Prob. Passenger Lists, Census: 91, 01, 11