PLY/674/S Pte. Voltaire
"Val" LITTLEWOOD RMLI
PLY 674/S Pte. V. Littlewood
(seated). Photo courtesy of Kenneth Littlewood. Left is the finished article
after many hours of work.
Note Val's three overseas service chevrons (R.arm), which date this photo as
April-June 1918. Also note Val's single Good Conduct stripe (L.arm).
Before the war
in Barnsley, at Gallipoli & on the Western Front, Val was Jack Clegg's best
pal & was mentioned in most of his letters. Born
at Worsborough, Barnsley 31/7/1893; son of Herbert & Frances, he enlisted at
the Admiralty Recruiting Office, Deansgate, Manchester 18/11/14, one week after
Jack, along with two other Barnsley lads (PLY 672/S Pte. George Wm. Hodgson
& PLY 673/S Pte. Francis Patrick "Frank" Martin).
Val's particulars on
enlistment: H/A 22 School St, Westgate, Barnsley Collier. Ht: 5ft. 7ins. Chest:
34ins. Eyes: Blue. Hair: Brown. Fresh complexion. Wgt: 9st. No previous military
Val was separated from
Jack in England, as all Long-service RMLI were trained at the Deal Recruit Depot,
& Plymouth RMLI Short-service recruits at Plymouth's Stonehouse Barracks (Val
joined 'A' Coy. at Plymouth). In mid-January 1915, after only two months training
at Plymouth, Val was posted to the Deal Battalion RMLI. Both of the lads who
enlisted with Val (Martin & Hodgson) joined Deal Bn. too; along with two other
Barnsley men (PLY 634/S Pte. Arthur "Archie" Pemberton & PLY 635/S Pte. Charles
Leonard Haithwaite), making a total of five Barnsley Marines in the Deal Bn.
Service (War) Chevrons, 'Three Blue.' These are identical to Val's own. Instituted
in Jan. 1918 to show a man's overseas service, small inverted chevrons, worn
on the lower right forearm, denoted service during a given year. A red chevron
for 1914, & blue for the remaining four years of 1915/16/17 & 18. Val was actually
entitled to FOUR: Gallipoli 1915 & 16, France 1916, France & Belgium 1917 &
18. Active service for any period during a given year qualified for the chevron.
However, chevrons for 1918 were not issued until 1919.
War Chevrons by: Ian Wilson's grandfather, 137749 L/Cpl. Horace
Edmund Courtney, 237th Field Coy. Royal Engineers.
Service Chevrons: One Red, Four Blue; representing five years service from 1914-1918.
Seaman & Marines of the Royal Naval Division who served at Antwerp, Ostend
or Dunkirk in 1914, Gallipoli 1915 & France & Belgium 1916-18, would
have sported such Chevrons in early 1919. It was no mean feat to achieve this
combination of Chevrons; the wearer could be justly proud of his long service.
Very few achieved this combination from RND service alone.
proud father with his sons; one a Sgt. RMLI, the other a Petty Officer RN. Both
boys sport the chevrons shown above & the 1914 Star ribbon. Identity of
family unknown. (photo by Patrick Gariepy).
signature from his attestation form.
The Deal Bn. RMLI embarked
aboard the HMT "Alnwich Castle" 28/2/15, bound for the Dardanelles. Jack, still
immersed in his Long-service training, would not leave England until 1/8/15.
Arriving at Mudros, on the island of Lemnos 12/3/15, the RND were sent to Port
Said to reorganise their transports in preparation for the Gallipoli landings.
The landings began on 25/4/15, but only a few RND units were in action that
day. The Deal Bn. finally disembarked at ANZAC Beachhead on the night of the
29/4/15, in support of the Aussie & Kiwi Imperial Forces. Deal Bn. suffered
comparatively few casualties at ANZAC; although the Portsmouth & Chatham Bns.
RMLI were severely whacked. All the RND units were withdrawn from ANZAC 13/5/15
& transferred to Cape Helles. All five Barnsley Marines in Deal Bn. survived
Such were the RND's losses
by 20/5/15, that all four RMLI Bns. were reduced from four to three Companies
(Plymouth Bn. to two only); & the Deal Bn. attached one Coy. to each of the
other three RMLI Bns. Therefore, Val was actually serving with either Chatham,
Portmouth or Plymouth Bn. after this time. The Barnsley men of Deal Bn. suffered
their first loss 24/5/15, when Pte. Charles Haithwaite, of Wilby Lane, Barnsley,
died of a bullet wound to his Trachea at No.11 CCS 'W' Beach (received in action
at Cape Helles 22/5/15). On the 25/6/15 both the lads who enlisted with Val
were wounded: George Hodgson, was sent to hospital at Malta & rejoined in late
August; Frank Martin, who received a bullet wound to his left shoulder, also
went to Malta but was invalided to 'Blighty' 18/8/15.
On the 27/7/15, such
were the losses in the RMLI Bns, that Deal & Chatham were amalgamated to form
the 1st RM Bn. (Portsmouth & Plymouth formed the 2nd RM Bn). Chatham Bn. formed
the new 'A' & 'B' Coy; Deal 'C' & 'D' Coys. Therefore, Val was serving in either
'C' or 'D' Coy. of the new 1st RM Bn. after this time. On the 20/8/15, Jack
Clegg arrived on the Peninsular & he & Val were reunited: "I've seen Val
Littlewood. Saw him the first day I came off the ship. You wouldn't know him
now he's got a little moustache & beard. He's come out of the firing line for
two hours to get some eggs & water for the boys. I hardly knew him when he came
in my dugout. Old Val seems fed up with it. He gave me two eggs for tea."
Jack wrote in late August
1915: "Val is not far off me now. He has come over into our part to go through
a course of bomb throwing. I am going through that too… I'm doing well out of
Val. He keeps bringing eggs across & soup, jam, etc. He's gone down the nick…Val
& Harold wish to be remembered to all at home."
Harold was: PLY 610/S
Pte. Charles Harold Benfell, another of Jack's Barnsley chums. "Gone down the
nick" (gone down't nick) Barnsley slang for 'looking a bit thin', intended to
relate concern over health, but with the emphasis on an observed weight loss.
Val was later identified as serving with 1RM's 'Grenade Coy.'
In mid-September, Jack
was evacuated to Cairo with dysentery. In October he wrote from the RND Mustapha
Barracks, Alexandria: "I don't know how Val's going on. It's a mystery to
me how he's stuck it so long. He didn't look extra strong when he was in England."
Val was one of the few
Marines who managed to serve continuously, with no illness or wounds, from the
landings in April 1915 up to the evacuation in Jan. 1916. In October 1915, Archie
Pemberton, who had also served without incident, finally succumbed to dysentery
& was invalided home. George Hodgson, who had only rejoined 1RM 28/8/15, also
contracted dysentery & returned to hospital at Malta. This left Val the only
Barnsley Marine from the old Deal Bn. at Cape Helles.
In late October, Jack
returned to Cape Helles. In early November he wrote: "I've never seen Val
or H. Benfell for months now." Val was still serving with 1RM, but Jack
was far removed from him, with the RM Cyclists Coy, digging new dugouts behind
the lines. Harold had left the Peninsular with dysentery three days before Jack
(12/9/15) & had been invalided to England 21/10/15. Jack was unaware of Harold's
illness or his return to the UK & was never to see him again. Harold was later
posted to Ireland in May 1916, on account of the Irish Rebellion & 'Easter Rising.'
He served as a L/Cpl. with the Admiralty House RM Guard, Queenstown, Co. Cork,
for the remainder of the war.
In early January 1916
Cape Helles was evacuated & the Gallipoli Campaign ended. Both Val & Jack were
amongst the last to leave. The RND were marooned at Mudros, while the ANZACs
& British Army units were shipped to France or Egypt. Jack & Val met up again
at Mudros & in early February Jack wrote: "...Since starting this letter
I've been down & seen Val. He's in the pink & coming up to see me tonight… Send
some newspapers will you & by the way, have you any of those photos left? The
group I mean. Will you just send me one to show Val." (The group photo can
be seen on the Jack Clegg page). Jack cannot have known at this point that Val
was shortly to be granted his well earned UK leave & would not be at Mudros
for much longer. On the 21/2/16, Val was informed he was to be one of only 105
Marines from 1RM to be given UK leave (only 65 from 2RM). Jack asked Val to
smuggle a letter home to his mother to tell of the goings-on at Mudros (see
Jack Clegg page).
On the 24/2/16 Jack wrote:
"I suppose Val Littlewood will be home on leave when you get this so I shan't
have much to write about. He'll tell you all there is to tell. There's every
prospect of my getting leave before long so you can still hope. I'd like to
be home though the same time as Val… By the way before I forget it you might
tell Val to bring me a razor strap. He gave me his last night but I've broken
it. We had some reinforcements arrived here yesterday & of course there was
the usual scramble for badges by fellows who had lost theirs. Val managed to
swap his bed for a hat badge & I dished him out with a couple of R.M.L.I.'s
for his shoulder straps so he'll look something like a Marine when he arrives
Val was due to embark
for UK leave on the morrow (25/2/16). On 24/2/16 the 46359-ton HMT "Olympic"
(one of the two sister-ships to the SS "Titanic") arrived at Mudros with a large
RND draft, including 583 Marines. A large quantity of new cap & shoulder badges
arrived with her, including 1500 RM Cap badges; too late for those Marines now
leaving for the UK & like Val had to scrounge their badges from others. Val
& the RND leave party of approx. 553 men embarked aboard the "Olympic" on the
26th & sailed for Marseille later that day. It must have been quite something
to have travelled home on such a famous ship; her sheer size alone was awe-inspiring
& she could accommodate thousands of troops in relative comfort; Val was coming
home in style. Val arrived back in England 4/3/16, travelling overland from
Marseilles to Boulogne.
Badge of The Royal Marine Light
Val & the RND leave
party remained in England, at the RND Camp at Blandford in Dorset, for three
months; an unusually long time. However, this was due to rumours that the RND
was to be disbanded. When it became certain that the RND was to 'live,' Val
& the majority of the RND leave party rejoined them in France 6/6/16. Jack was
at the RND Base Depot, Calais, at this time & would not see Val again for some
Jack transferred to the
Army Infantry Base Depot, Etaples 17/6/16 & from here he wrote on 12/7/16: "I
believe Val Littlewood is out here with his battalion. I've never seen or heard
from him though."
Val was serving with
1RM in the Angres-Souchez sector; a period described as "their necessary familiarisation
with trench warfare in France" (as if they could teach Val anything new about
trench warfare). However, on the 27/7/16, Val was attached to the 2nd Field
Coy. RND Divisonal Engineers (also known as 255th Tunnelling Coy, RND Engineers
or the "Dugout Platoon"). Many ex-miners in the RND were seconded to the RND
Engineers at this time. They were engaged in mining under no man's land, occasionally
blowing up sections of German defences. It was no mistake that all those from
the two RM battalions posted to the 'Dugout' or 'Tunnelling' Parties were ex-miners.
Their digging skills were renown, much respected & often employed.
Jack received his long-awaited
posting to 1RM, 'C' Company, 12th Platoon, on the 28/8/16. Val was still with
the RND Engineers & did not rejoin for nearly three weeks. Jack wrote 17/9/16:
"We're in billets now for four days. I've heard just a few minutes ago where
Val Littlewood is billeted. It's quite close to here so I'm going to try & get
a word with him."
1RM moved to Dieval on
the 20/9/16 to begin an intensive course of training. Val & Jack were reunited
once more; the first time since February at Mudros. Jack wrote on 27/9/16: "Val
Littlewood is in the next billet to me. He wishes to be remembered to you &
all the rest." Destiny had conspired to bring them together again, this
time to be serving in the same battalion. This event must have done more for
Jack's morale than any other turn of fate.
Their training was to
last until mid-October. This was preparatory to their employment in the forthcoming
offensive in the Somme sector, NW of Albert at Beaumont Hamel.
Jack wrote on 6/10/16:
"I hope you're all well over there. I'm in the pink. Val wishes to be remembered
to all at home. He's still in the next billet to me & he's all right too."
& on the 8/10/16: "I see both Attersleys sons have been sent home to there
own work. They were in the R.N.D. Val thinks there is some possibility of being
sent for too. I hope he gets home."
The "Attersleys sons"
were the Hattersley brothers, Fred & Charles from Dodworth, Barnsley. However,
Jack was misinformed. Neither Fred nor Charles returned to their civil employment
in 1916. Fred (formerly a miner at Rob Royd Colliery, Dodworth) was serving
in the Nelson Bn. & was posted missing 13/11/16 (the same day as Jack was reported
wounded), later assumed KIA on that day. Charles (formerly a miner at Strafford
Colliery, Dodworth) had been invalided home from Gallipoli in December 1915
with dysentery & was at the RND Depot, Blandford from February till November
1916, when he joined the Hawke Bn, RND. In 1918 he was gassed twice, invalided
to England & "Demobilised to Civil employment at The Strafford Main Colliery,
Dodworth, Barnsley" 31/10/18. However, Charles was far from fit for work. He
was suffering some awful sequelae symptoms of gas poisoning. On 31/12/18 he
was remobilised & examined by the National Service Medical Board, Barnsley,
found unserviceable, suffering from Paratyphoid & Chronic Bronchitis, & discharged
with a disability of 60%, thus enabling his family's support with a Naval Pension.
Both the Hattersley boys were 'Kitchener's Men,' having enlisted together in
the York & Lancs. at Birdwell, Barnsley 1/9/14 & shortly after enlistment volunteered
for the RND. 14429 Pte. Fred Hattersley became "KW 272 OS RNVR" & 13977 Pte.
Charles Hattersley "KW 257 OS RNVR."
Like the many rumours
of UK leave & their like, a popular 'buzz' at this time must have been the prospect
of miners being called back to work at the Collieries. However, it was a mere
pipe-dream. Evidently there was a labour shortage in the mining industry, due
to the thousands of miners who had joined up; but they were a valuable asset
to any unit in France & it would appear that this was a far more important employment
of their skills. The Army & Navy were short of men too. Val, a former miner
& highly experienced Gallipoli Campaigner, was far too good for the Marines
to lose. However, Jack's wish that Val should get home was shortly to come true;
although not for want of miners.
In Jack's last letter
home 2/11/16, written at Varennes: "We're out of the line at present. Up
to the eyes in mud but otherwise comfortable enough… I'm still with Val. He
wishes to be remembered to you. He's like me - in the pink."
Val was not 'in the pink.'
At Varennes 1RM provided large working parties cleaning & repairing roads. Such
tasks were a constant strain on the men; when not in the line they were kept
very busy & this began to tell on their health. Many men went sick in early
November from all manner of complaints. 1RM stayed at Varennes until the 5/11/16
when they marched to Puchevillers, arriving at 11.45am & were accommodated in
huts. On the 6/11/16 orders were received to move to huts at Hedauville, leaving
at 1.45pm & arriving at 5.25pm.
It was on the 6th of
November 1916 that Val finally succumbed to illness & was admitted to the Field
Ambulance suffering with Pyrexia. Val was very ill & was evacuated to the 26th
General Hospital at Etaples. Although Jack had wished his best pal home, he
must have been very saddened to lose his company. The Marines of 1RM knew they
were to attack shortly & those left behind may have envied anyone leaving at
this juncture. Jack's morale may have dipped at this point; Val was one of the
longest serving Marines in 1RM, never having gone sick since beginning active
service over 18 months ago. For all those who knew him, Val finally going sick
may have been an omen of sorts, but was at least a damning indication of the
pressure of work & the environment upon their mortal bodies. Numbers in both
RM battalions had dropped to around 500 by the date of the attack; 1RM was quoted
as 490 strong 13/11/16. The trenches occupied by the RND were in a bad state.
The weather had been very wet, mud having prevented the necessary movements
of men & materials both for the offensive & the maintenance of the front line.
Around 3am during the night of the 12/13th, certain platoons of 1RM crawled
out into no man's land close to the German wire, lying flat waiting for the
off. At 5.45am on Monday the 13th of November 1916, in a thick mist & while
still dark, the first waves went over the top. In seven minutes the whole of
the 1RM had moved forward. This was Jack's first time 'over the top.'
By coincidence, Val sailed
for England aboard the HS "Newhaven" on the very day of the attack. Amongst
Jack's thoughts & hopes that misty Monday morning may have been the welfare
of his greatest friend, now very ill. He would have been pleased to know that
Val was going home that very day, having wished it so.
Val arrived back in 'Blighty'
13/11/16 & his whereabouts were commented on by Jack's brother, Frank, in a
letter to their mother: "Just heard Val Littlewood's in a Sheffield
hospital with French (sic) Fever…I've had no letter from our Jack for nearly
3 weeks. I've written twice & sent the Chronicle every wk. I don't know what's
up with him, nothing to write about perhaps."
Val was relatively safe
in hospital; Jack was dead, although it is obvious his family were only curious
as to his silence. On 7/12/16, having waited long enough, Jack's family decided
to write to him: "My Own Dear Lad. We haven't had a letter from you
for quite a long time, & we are anxious to know the reason… It is nearly 5 wks
since we had your last letter… I suppose Val is in the Sheffield hospital with
trench fever, he is improving nicely… Cheer,O, kid write as soon as you can,
if you're alive speak, if dead don't bother. dear love & best wishes for a leave
soon. Your loving Sisters & Mother & Philip."
It is unknown what passed
between Val & the Clegg family; certainly nothing of any great evidential value.
Perhaps Val too was 'looking on the bright side' of Jack's fate for many weeks
to come, reassuring them that he might turn up eventually. Val was in hospital
until early February 1917, when he took ten days hospital leave furlough before
rejoining the 1st Reserve Bn. RMLI at Blandford 17/2/17.
Val remained at Blandford
for a spell, but was warned for a draft to France 25/5/17 & given the customary
7 days draft leave. He returned late & incurred his only offence on an otherwise
spotless record: "31/5/17: Absent over draft leave from 11pm 31/5/17 until 9.30
p.m. 1/6/17: Admonished & forfeits 2 days pay." Val's draft left Blandford,
embarked at Folkestone & disembarked at Boulogne 15/6/17. The draft arrived
at the new RND Base Depot, Calais, 17/6/17.
After a month, Val was
posted to 2RM, serving in the Gavrelle sector (Arras). It was unusual that Val
joined 2RM; having served with Deal & 1RM with such distinction, one would think
he would have been reunited with some 'old hands.' However, both RM Bns. were
mere shadows of their former selves. The Battle of the Ancre 13/11/16 had taken
a heavy toll of 1RM (127 dead; multiply by three for the number wounded), Miramont
17/2/17 (95 dead) & the Marines 'Waterloo,' Gavrelle 28/4/17 (165 dead). Very
few of the men Val knew in Deal & 1RM remained; their places still unfilled
or by 'new boys.' The RND took such a hammering at Gavrelle, that it was five
months before they reached a strength capable of offensive action again. Val
had joined during the slow reinforcement process, made slow by lack of new Marine
Val served without incident
(no wounds or sickness), at Passchendaele 26/10/17 & at Welch Ridge 31/12/17.
However, on the 22/1/18 he was admitted to the RND's 150th Field Ambulance suffering
from Pyrexia & Myalgia. It was Trench Fever again, Val's Achilles Heel it would
seem, & he passed to the 6th Gen. Hosp. Rouen 1/2/18, before being finally sent
home 25/2/18 aboard the AT "St. Patrick."
Val recovered again in
England & rejoined the 1st Reserve Bn. RMLI, now at Aldershot. He was discharged
from the RND to the Stonehouse Barracks, Plymouth 13/4/18, & embarked aboard
HMS "Highflyer" 22/6/18 taking passage for HMS "Mutine," the RM Base at Bermuda,
serving with the RM Guard at the Commissioner's House. Val arrived back in 'Blighty'
13/12/18. The war was won & Short-service Marines were the first to be demobilised.
Val left the Marines 14/1/19 with 28 days leave till his official demob date
of 11/2/19 & returned to his old address in School St, Westgate, Barnsley. His
Character on discharge was 'VG' & he was in possession of one Good Conduct Stripe
(see photo) granted 17/11/16 (two years service).
Val's Dogtags: Worn throughout
the Gallipoli Campaign & in France & Belgium in 1916,17 & 18.
Val returned to
the Coal Pits & lived the rest of his life in Barnsley. He married, Nellie,
late in life & had no children. His nephew, Kenneth Littlewood, is his only
kin left in Barnsley. Kenneth wrote of his uncle Val: "Apart from an uncle
he was a great friend to me. If I had a problem he would sort it out. He had
a lot of friends & a lot of respect & sadly missed. He retired at 65 but worked
part-time as a tea-masher on a building site, then at a dry-cleaners; I got
all my suits cleaned for nothing. After that closed down he worked in a Fish
& Chip shop cutting up fish until he was 80. He did it for his Bingo & Beer
money as he only had his state pension. He never wore specs & walked as straight
as an arrow. He used a cut-throat razor to shave, one for each day of the week,
one with a white bone handle for Sundays. It was a stroke that finished him."
Val died at the Mount
Vernon Hospital, Barnsley, from Bronchopneumonia & Hemiplegia (Rt.) on the 10th
of December 1981 age 88. Buried in Barnsley Cemetery (grave unmarked).
674/S Pte. Voltaire LITTLEWOOD RMLI is an outstanding
example of the patriotic, brave & hardy men that Barnsley provided to the Marines.
His unbroken service at Gallipoli was sufficiently rare to earn him a place
in the RND's first UK Leave party. He missed the Battles of the Ancre, Miraumont
& Gavrelle through illness; & this probably saved his life. Returning to France
in June 1917, he served through the mud & horror of Passchendaele in October
1917 & at Welsh Ridge in December. Illness again saved him from the German Offensive
in March 1918, which later caused the disbandment of 2RM through heavy losses.
(Dardanelles) 29/4/15-9/1/16. MEF 10/1/16-26/2/16.
Honours: Deal Bn. Defence of ANZAC Beachhead
29/4/15-13/5/15; Third Battle of Krithia 4/6/15; Action of Achi Baba Nullah
12-13/7/15; (Deal/1RM) Cape Helles 14/5/15-9/1/16.
France & Belgium 6/6/16-13/11/16 & 15/6/17-25/2/18.
Honours: 2RM Passchendaele 26-28/10/17;
2RM Welch Ridge 31/12/17.
Val was a great friend
to our family & Jack's respect for Val was well judged. I am proud to have written
this little tribute to a fine Englishman & Yorkshireman.
& Nellie Littlewood, Barnsley, circa 1950s.
face of Val's 1914/15 Star. Fate delivered his medals to me in 1999, having
been thought lost since Val died in 1981.