Arthur James Mitchell
2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters Regiment
Killed In Action - 20th October 1914
On the 1881 census John Cooper and his family were still living in Staveley at 10 Devonshire Terraces. William and Lucy Mitchell had moved home again and now lived in Blackwell at 224 Primrose Hill. There were no children to the young couple at this time, but a few years on in 1884 came their son Arthur James Mitchell, taking his middle name "James" from his paternal grandfather.
By 1888 the Mitchell family had moved to New Whittington. A second son named William Henry was born in the village that year. Not long after a sister for Arthur and William was born; Lucy was baptised on 23rd October 1890. In 1891 the family were living on South Street in New Whittington. Arthur was at school aged 7 years old. His father William was still working as a coal miner. Two more sisters followed over the coming years, one named Edith was born in 1892, she was baptised on 3rd November 1892. Rose Ellen was born on 17th November 1894, she was baptised on 21st December 1894. George evened out the numbers and another brother for Arthur was born on 17th August 1899. George was baptised on 14th September 1899.
The 1901 census finds the Mitchell family settled with their six children living at 87 South Street. Arthur was now 17 years old and worked as a coal miner as did his father William. The youngest child was George aged just 6 years old.
A whole new world out there....
At some time over the next few years Arthur decided that he too should seek adventure and broaden his horizons. We know from his obituary that he was a reservist when he was mobilised to serve with the 2nd Battalion Sherwood Forester’s Regiment as war broke out in 1914.
As a reservist Arthur would have already served with the colours, meaning that he had most likely served seven years army service. His army number of 9580 indicates that he joined some time in 1904. As he is recorded as living in New Whittington on the 1911 census which was taken on 2nd April; then he probably joined in the months of January, February or March to have fulfilled his 7 years with the colours and be released by April 1911. On his enlistment he would have signed for 12 years’ service; 7 years with the colours and 5 years as a reserve soldier.
1911 the eve of war....
On completion of his 7 years’ service Arthur returned to New Whittington, he was now back in civilian life, knowing that if his country needed him he may be called back up to serve. On the 1911 census he was aged 27 years old and had returned to work as a coal miner. The family still live at 87 South Street, nothing much had changed.
Two of Arthur’s sisters were not at home; Lucy would now be 21 years old. Her name has been written on the census but then a line crossed through it. I have not found her on any other census return for that year so it does look like she may well have normally been living at home. Lucy’s crossed out name may well have been an act of rebellion on behalf of the women’s suffrage movement that was popular at this time. Lucy could very well have crossed through her own name on the census return as a protest if she was a suffragette; no vote, no information for the government!
Edith was aged 18 years old and worked as a domestic servant for the Woodcock family; the head named William was a mechanical engineering draughtsman. The house was a seven roomed home at number 516 Chatsworth Road. Edith would have been a busy girl with all those rooms to attend to.
I would like to think that Arthur and his family had a joyful day as they celebrated not only Christmas but the marriage of his younger sister on that winters day in 1913. This would be the last Christmas that the family would share, the last Christmas for many years to come where the country was at peace. Let’s hope that for the Mitchell family it was a wonderful day which gave them all happy memories to hold on to in the coming years.
James Craig the husband of Rose Ellen was also to enlist in the weeks that followed; he arrived in France on 31st August 1914 with the 2nd Battalion Gordon Highlanders.
Arthur and his battalion remained in Cambridge making preparations for battle until 7th September when they marched to Newmarket from where they boarded a train destined for Southampton. Once at Southampton Arthur boarded the S.S Georgian which would take the battalion on to join the British Expeditionary Force (B.E.F). The war diary tells how conditions on this ship were not very good. S.S Georgian had been fitted out to transport horses and so there was little accommodation for the men. Even the officers were forced to sleep on deck but luckily the weather was reported as “fine and sea smooth”.
They spent one day at sea and reached the port of St Nazaire at 5am on 10th September. The sheer numbers of ships and men arriving in the harbour necessitated that the men on S.S Georgian remain on board until about 11pm on the 11th September when the trains to transport the men finally arrived. It was a slow process of disembarkation and they were forced to leave some carts and wagons behind due to lack of space on the transport. But eventually at 1.45pm on 12th September they set off, reaching the town of Coulommiers at 7pm on 13th September. We can only imagine how exhausted Arthur and his fellow comrades would have felt during this long and arduous journey from England to join the B.E.F.
The war that would be over for Christmas was already looking like it was to be a bloody battle, one which the British Army was ill prepared for. Only 2 weeks earlier on 23rd August the B.E.F had been forced to retreat at Mons, a humiliating defeat for British pride.
What would Arthur be thinking as he set out on his journey? He was older now and had already experienced army life; this earned Arthur and his comrades the nick name of “the old contemptibles”. These professional soldiers would soon have the Germans brought to heal, they would save poor little Belgium and bring peace to their lives once more.
During the remaining two weeks of September Arthur would march many miles taking in the villages of Dove, Chateau Thierry, Parcy-Tigny, Chacrise and Dhuizel. The weather was bad, the rain heavy and the roads were sludgy from the large amounts of heavy transport which was driving by. Despite the terrible marching conditions and spending the evenings billeted in various farms along the way the 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters were to receive great praise from General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien the distinguished veteran soldier. When they met with him in Dhuizel on 18th September “the battalion filed past him in splendid order at the end of their long days march”. The General praised their marching stating “he had not seen any marching so good in the expeditionary force”. The men were said to have been “delighted” to have received such praise.
The raised spirits were needed as a few hours later at 3am on 19th September the battalion received their first call to arms. Heavy musket fire had been heard in the distance. They crossed the River Aisne by a pontoon bridge at Bourg, took a short break; long enough to have breakfast then set off again towards Vendresse ending at Troyon to take over from the Black Watch in the trenches. They were relieved that night by the Gloucester Regiment.
On the 20th September it was reported that the Germans had taken over the trenches to right of the B.E.F line, these trenches were important to the defence of the surrounding B.E.F trenches and so an attack was made by the battalion to retake the trenches. Arthur may have witnessed the Germans marching away members of the B.E.F who were now prisoners of war. The battalions attack was met by heavy machine gun fire by the German army. The trenches were taken back by the battalion however there were losses.
At daybreak on 20th the enemy launched a much heavier attack on the battalion and at around 7.10 am it was reported that the battalion headquarters in the village had been shelled. The Germans were gradually surrounding the position of the 18th Brigade. Until eventually the enemy took hold of the right flank. The B.E.F continued to fight and hold their position until 7pm that night when it was realised that they had been totally surrounded Captain Wilkin, his 10 officers and 484 men were to surrender and became prisoners of war. Many of those 484 men would also be wounded.
It is also noted how immensely outnumbered the B.E.F was on those 48 hours of attack. The official registers and rolls of the men were lost when the battalion headquarters was shelled so it is difficult to state exactly how many men suffered during those two days but the numbers are estimated in the regimental history as -
The village of New Whittington would spend the coming years receiving messages similar to that of the postcard sent to Mrs Magness. The Derbyshire Times would become a place of notification of these deaths, missing in action and of course some promotions and acts of bravery were also mentioned.
Rose remained in New Whittington after Arthur's death. On 9th November 1919 she married bachelor Walter Bostock. Walter was aged 24 years of age and worked as a miner. Rose's happiness didn't last long as in 1922 Walter died aged just 27 years old. Rose was the same age, a young woman who had lost two husband's, she must have been distraught.
Although Rose had remarried she still signed for the medals due to James in 1919, 1921 and 1922 in the name of "R E Craig". Rose may well have felt it her duty as wife to James to honour him and sign as she would have remained had it not been for the sad realities of war.
In 1939 Rose and her son James were living at 35 South Street, James worked as a pork butchers assistant. Rose's nephews Arthur and Tom Clewley were also living with her.
Rose Bostock is registered as deceased in 1974 aged 79 years old.
Arthur Mitchell was witness at the wedding of another fallen hero of New Whittington; George Henry Mears story can be read here.
If you are descendant of the Mitchell family and would like to add your own family "story" then please do feel free to contact me.
With thanks to -
Members of the WW1 Forum for all their expert advice when I have needed it http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/
Mike Briggs for the pages of the Regimental History of the 2nd Battalion Sherwood Foresters.
Reference and further reading -
2nd Battalion War Diaries http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/records/war-diaries-ww1.htm
Newspaper articles - Derbyshire Times