Prince of Wales Own West Yorkshire Regiment

Military Monday – John Robert Arthur Steel (1886-1916)

John Robert Arthur Steel is the husband of my 3rd cousin 2x removed, Elsie Dodgson.

Elsie was born in 1888 to parents Charles Henry Dodgson and Charlotte Mary Stark. Our common ancestors are John Dawson and Ann Watson, my 4x great grandparents.

Elsie married John Robert Arthur Steel sometime in the September quarter of 1914 in Leeds, West Yorkshire. They had one child – Constance, born on 1 February 1916.

John Robert Arthur Steel had been born towards the end of 1886 in Hunslet, Leeds.

When war broke out he enlisted for service with the Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment and was assigned to the 15th Battalion with a service number of 15/1181.

John was killed in action on 1 July 1916 – only five months after the birth of his daughter. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial in France – the largest Commonwealth Memorial to the missing in the world.

The following information is taken from the Commonwealth war Graves Commission (CWGC) website.

The memorial commemorates more than 72,000 men of British and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave, the majority of whom died during the Somme offensive of 1916.

On the high ground overlooking the Somme River in France, where some of the heaviest fighting of the First World War took place, stands the Thiepval Memorial. Towering over 45 metres in height, it dominates the landscape for miles around.

On 1 July 1916, supported by a French attack to the south, 13 divisions of Commonwealth forces launched an offensive on a line from north of Gommecourt to Maricourt. Despite a preliminary bombardment lasting seven days, the German defences were barely touched and the attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance.

Losses were catastrophic and with only minimal advances on the southern flank, the initial attack was a failure. In the following weeks, huge resources of manpower and equipment were deployed in an attempt to exploit the modest successes of the first day. However, the German Army resisted tenaciously and repeated attacks and counter attacks meant a major battle for every village, copse and farmhouse gained. At the end of September, Thiepval was finally captured. The village had been an original objective of 1 July.

Attacks north and east continued throughout October and into November in increasingly difficult weather conditions. The Battle of the Somme finally ended on 18 November with the onset of winter.

In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

Following lengthy negotiations about the site, construction at Thiepval began in 1928 and was finished in 1932. Foundations were dug to a depth of 30 feet, uncovering wartime tunnels and unexploded ordnance.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.

The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial.
Notable commemorations include cricketer Kenneth Hutchings, writer Hector Hugh Munro, also known as Saki and Cedric Dickens, grandson of novelist Charles Dickens. There are also seven holders of the Victoria Cross.

On 1 August 1932, Prince Edward, Prince of Wales unveiled the memorial. Albert Lebrun, President of France and Sir Edwin Lutyens, the memorial’s architect, attended the ceremony which was in English and French.

Each year on 1 July a ceremony is held at the memorial to mark the first day of the Battle of the Somme. On 1 July 2016, to mark the centenary of the Battle of the Somme, thousands of people attended a special ceremony including members of the British Royal family, UK Prime Minister David Cameron, and French President François Hollande.

Behind the memorial is the Thiepval Anglo-French Cemetery. The cemetery contains the graves of 300 Commonwealth servicemen and 300 French servicemen. The majority of these men died during the Battle of the Somme, but some also fell in the battles near Loos and Le Quesnel.

Thiepval Memorial

Thiepval Memorial

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Military Monday – Jack Gawthrop (1899-1918)

Jack Gawthrop is my 3rd cousin 2x removed. His parents are Benjamin Gawthrop and Emily Ann Thurlow. Our common ancestors are John Gawthrop and Sarah Brown, my 4x great grandparents.

Jack was born about 1899 – his birth is registered at Hendon, Middlesex in the March quarter of that year.

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to find any remaining records of Jack’s military service either on http://www.ancestry.co.uk or http://www.findmypast.co.uk. I did find some details on http://www.forces-war-records.co.uk and on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website, http://www.cwgc.org.

I know that Jack served as a Private in the 2nd Battalion of the Prince of Wales’s Own West Yorkshire Regiment. His service number was 52976.

Jack died of wounds on 2 April 1918 serving in France and Flanders and he is buried at Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension.

The following information is from the CWGC website.

For much of the First World War, Abbeville was headquarters of the Commonwealth lines of communication and No.3 BRCS, No.5 and No.2 Stationary Hospitals were stationed there variously from October 1914 to January 1920. The communal cemetery was used for burials from November 1914 to September 1916, the earliest being made among the French military graves. The extension was begun in September 1916.



During the early part of the Second World War, Abbeville was a major operational aerodrome, but the town fell to the Germans at the end of May 1940. On 4 June, an attempt was made by the 51st Division, in conjunction with the French, to break the German bridgehead, but without success. Towards the end of 1943, eight large ski shaped buildings appeared near Abbeville. These proved to be storage units for flying bomb components and they were heavily bombed by Commonwealth air forces. Abbeville was retaken on 4 September 1944 by Canadian and Polish units.



Abbeville Communal Cemetery contains 774 Commonwealth burials of First World War and 30 from the Second. The Extension contains 1,754 First World War burials and 348 from the Second.



The Commonwealth sections of both cemetery and extension were designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield.

Abbeville Communal Cemetery Extension