Welcome to my blog......

The purpose of this blog is to remember the fallen heroes of the Great War, whose names are recorded on the memorial plaque situated in St Barnabas Church, New Whittington, Chesterfield.

To mark the centenary of World War 1 I aim to research all of the men on the memorial. I hope to ensure that the brave men who gave their lives for their country 100 years ago are remembered and each man's story told.

I would love to hear from anyone who may have information regarding the men; photos, letters or passed down memories. Any descendents are most welcome to contact me and I will provide copies of the research that I have undertaken.

"They shall not grow old, as we that are left to grow old;
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,
We will remember them"

For The Fallen,
Laurence Binyon September 1914.

Friday, 9 February 2018



Private  26883

3rd Battalion Sherwood Forester Regiment

Died of influenza / Pneumonia - 9th February 1919

Of the 85 men named on the WW1 section of the St Barnabas Church War Memorial, Leonard William Davidson was the final man to lose his life.  He survived the Great War only to succumb to the devastating pandemic which was sweeping the world at the time; the influenza.

Leonard was the only son of John and Clara Davidson, he was born in 1896 and had an elder sister named Alice* who was three years his senior.

Leonard's father John had married Clara Sophia Cooper in the summer of 1895.  Clara was born in Stanningfield, Suffolk.  In 1901 the family were living at 17 South Street in New Whittington; Leonard was aged just 4 years old, his sister Alice was 7 years old.  John worked as a pipe labourer.

1911 the eve of WW1....

Ten years on and the Davidson family had moved home to live at 98 South Street and John continued to work as a general labourer at the iron foundry.  Leonard had left school by now and set out on his own life path, he worked as a shop assistant at the local pawn brokers.  He was aged 14 years old, still a child by today's standards but a valuable wage earner in 1911.

Leonard's war....

Signature of Leonard William Davidson on his service records
Leonard signed his attestation papers at Chesterfield on 3rd June 1915, agreeing to serve for the duration of the war .  He was aged 19 years and 8 months and lived at 101 Wellington Street with his parents.  He was 5ft 5 1/2 inches in height and weighed 120lbs.  He was given the soldier number Private 26883.

Leonard would receive basic training in warfare.  He was posted to the newly formed 16th Battalion Sherwood Foresters.  These were a local battalion known as the Chatsworth Rifles due to their being raised by  Duke of Devonshire.   The battalion were part of the 117th Brigade, 39th Army Division.

Off to join the British Expeditionary Force in France....

The main body of the 16th battalion left Witely Camp on 6th March 1916 and sailed from Southampton that same day.  They arrived in Le Harve at 7am on 7th March to find themselves in the middle of a heavy snowstorm.  Leonard was amongst those men, after his months spent in training his war was now about to commence.  After miles of marching and several inspections the battalion were flung straight into the thick of it; A and B Coys were moved to the trenches near Laventie on 19th March, there they would receive instruction on trench warfare from the West Yorkshire Regiment.  On 22nd March C and D Coys relieved them in the trenches to receive their training from the 3rd Scottish Rifles.  Less than one month in France, the weather was bitter and Leonard and his comrades had been faced with the horrors of trench warfare.

In the middle of April 1916 the 16th Battalion Sherwood Forester's were inspected and a glowing report was written;
"Officers.  A good keen lot, they are fortunate in having
such a good Commanding Officer and
second in command.

N.C.O's.  A far better stamp than in most of the 
New Army battalions.

Men.  A very tough lot.  Good physique generally

Discipline, Morale.  Good, the officers seem to have
their men in hand.

Sanitation, Organisation.  Satisfactory.

I consider from what I have seen that this is a good
battalion and well commanded.  They seem to have a 
good system of work and organisation and only
require further experience.

SD P W Robertson, Brigadier General"

The 16th battalion saw some fierce fighting in France, they were present at the Battle of Boars Head at the end of June/early July 1916.  This attack was a diversionary attack to divert German soldiers away from the Somme area which was to be the location for the big Allied push on 1st July.  

On 12th July the men were ordered to go over their parapet and "lie down in NO MANS LAND ready to advance".  A successful mission was had by No1 party who were able to advance through the gaps in the German wire and found themselves facing the enemy.  The war diary tells how "Six Germans were bayoneted and four dugouts full of Germans were bombed".  The remaining parties were unable to gain access through the enemy wire and the mission was not completed.  No1 party were forced to retreat with their wounded.  

For service on this night the 16th Sherwood Foresters Sergeant 25699 R.G. Hildreth was awarded the Distinguished Conduct Medal.  Ordinary ranks; Private 25812 J Hutchinson and Private 25863 T.E Pegg were awarded the Military Medal.  Leonard may have witnessed the presentation of the Military Medal Ribbons to the two men in a service conducted by General Sir C Monro G.C.B. on 27th July. This would boost morale and spirits would be high amongst the men of the Chatsworth Rifles.

In September 1916 the war diary starts by stating that the 39th Army was now "part of the RESERVE ARMY commanded by General Sir H De La P Gough K.C.B"   On 3rd September the 39th Army began its attack on the German front line trenches at Beaumont-Hamel.  The 16th battalion were in reserve from the north of the River Ancre.  The war diary reads "the 16th Bn Sherwood Foresters were employed chiefly as carrying parties for the two assaulting battalions.  Several of these carrying parties reached the German lines, in some instances making several journeys across NO MANS LAND".

On 6th September the men were moved from reserve and placed on the front line, relieving the 1/4th Gloucester Regiment in the trenches at Beaumont-Hamel.  They remained under intermittent shell fire from the enemy until 13th when they retired to their billets at Mailly Wood for a well earned rest, including watching a football match between the officers (which the Sherwood's unfortunately lost).

The men spent the remainder of September in and out of the trenches, they were under some very heavy fire at times and suffered direct hits to their trenches.  The war diary reads "24th.... casualties, one man SHELL SHOCK"....."Sept 25th.....one man killed, two men wounded and one man suffering from SHELL SHOCK".  The words "shell shock" were written in capitals in the diary, we can not even begin to imagine how terribly frightening and traumatic this war was for young Leonard and his fellow men.  

A further spectacle may have been witnessed by Leonard when on 29th news was heard that "we brought a German aeroplane down behind their own lines at 4.30pm".  

Capture of Schwaben Redoubt....

The month of October saw another triumph for the 16th Battalion Sherwood Foresters when they were to play an important role in the fall of the German strong hold of the Schwaben Redoubt.  The area was close to the village of Thiepval and was a strategic point due to its view of the River Ancre.  The area was heavily controlled by the Germans using "Flammenwerfer" (Flame Throwers). 

At 4.30am on 9th October the 16th battalion launched their attack on the German trenches, still under cover of darkness the war diary tells "the assaulting waves had not gone more than half the distance across NO MANS LAND before enemy machine guns and rifle fire was opened.  The enemy barrage was not put on until 4.38am, although their was some intermittent shelling."  B Company were able to gain a hold on the enemy trenches, but losses were considerable.  After 2 hours of bombardment by the enemy the 16th were unfortunately forced back and their position was lost.  Both allied and enemy suffered a large number of casualties, wounded and dead in this attack.

Over the following days "2 Officers and 100 other ranks (were) sent to assist the 118th Infantry Brigade as additional stretcher bearers during their attack on the remainder of Schwaben  Redoubt"  On 14th October 1916 the Schwaben Redoubt was successfully captured into the allies control.

The capture of St Pierre Divion....

On 13th November the battalion were once more in action when "the 16th Sherwood's were to advance with three Companies at 6.13am.  One Company being left in reserve.  A Tank was to cooperate on our right".  Leonard and his fellow comrades made the advance in thick mist and were soon upon the German front line trenches.  The right flank however came against some fierce opposition from the enemy and so at 6.30am the Reserve Company were called in to assist.  

The war diary continues "The objective allotted to the Battalion was secured but nothing could stop our men, who advanced with the greatest dash and finally secured the whole of St PIERRE DIVION, including the German Battalion Headquarters and the famous tunnel dugouts".  

By 8.15am, only two hours later the 16th Sherwood's had run out of bombs and needed extra men to assist with guarding the prisoners and the newly taken tunnels.  

By 9.15am the whole area was captured and the prisoners were being marched from their dugouts.  The newly acquired German Battalion Headquarters were now Allied Headquarters.  An astonishing number of prisoners was recorded;

"13 Officers including the Battalion Commander and 720 Other Ranks were taken prisoner"

The casualties for the battalion were described as "slight";

"Lieut. S.G Burke & 4 Other Ranks} Killed
67 Other Ranks including Company Sergeant Major J H Robinson} wounded"

Leonard was one of the 67 wounded men on that day, he received a bayonet wound to his right thigh.  The tank did arrive at the German front line in ahead of its scheduled time, however it subsided into a dugout and thus had to be taken out of action.  

Chemical warfare....

The war diary states that this for this attack "White Star bombs (poison gas) were used for the first time and found most effective in dealing with dugouts from which the enemy had been snipping or bombing".  White Star bombs were one of many types of chemical weapons invented and trialed during WW1.  The bomb was made up of a mixture of phosgene and chlorine, the chlorine gas being the carrier of the poisonous phosgene.

We shall always remember....

The Major General Cuthbert whom commanded the 39th Brigade wrote the following words of thanks to the 16th Sherwood's;

"You have had a good deal of hard fighting which has shewn (sic) up the good quality of your Brigades and Battalions and the spirit and dash of the men has been most conspicuous.  
We shall always remember the gallant defence of the Schwaben Redoubt and the way your troops beat off counter attack after counter attack".

His Majesty the King sent Sir Douglas Haig the following telegram regarding the triumphant work of the 39th Brigade;

"I heartily congratulate you upon the great success achieved by my gallant troops during the past three days in the advance on both sides of the Ancre.  This further capture of the enemy's first line trenches under special difficulties owing to the recent wet weather rebounds to the credit of all ranks."

Wounded soldier....

After Leonard was wounded on 13th November he was transferred to the 5th General Hospital at Rouen the next day.  On 19th November he was to board the HMS Dunluce Castle which was a hospital ship and was transported to England.  He would remain on home ground to regain his health and fitness.  On 10th February 1917 he was posted to the 4th Battalion Sherwood Foresters where he remained until August when he was transferred to the 9th Battalion Sherwood Foresters posted at the Infantry Base Depot.

Tyne Garrison....

The 3rd and 4th battalion Sherwood Foresters were based at Sunderland as part as the Tyne Garrison during WW1.  This may well be where Leonard learnt his role as a signaller.  

Signal Station - using daylight lamp
via National Library of Scotland

Various methods were used to transmit a signal when on the battlefield; lights, mirrors, flags, whistles could all be used to send a special message in Morse code and where possible cables could be used to pass the signal to the receiver. 

1/6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters....

Leonard moved battalion yet again in October 1917 and was sent overseas, back to France to join the B.E.F with the 1/6th Battalion.  The 1/6th had seen fierce fighting just months earlier when they played their part in the Battle of Hill 70.  Leonard would most likely have joined the battalion at Hill 70 where they remained on patrol, guarding the front line.  At the beginning of November the men were sent to raid the enemy trenches, capturing "3 prisoner and inflicting severe casualties on the enemy".

By the end of November the battalion had been relieved from the front line offensive position and were now in support.  Leonard was no doubt still suffering from the effects of his injuries the year earlier.  The months ahead consisted of tours of duty in the trenches in the quieter areas of France.  Despite this the men would need to remain on constant alert, many times the war diary records enemy attack and snipping, the men were still being killed and wounded.  

On 30th August 1918 Leonard received a gun shot to his left cheek.  On that day the war diary tells that the battalion relieved the 5th battalion Sherwood Foresters in front line trenches at Vaudricourt Park.  The following day the battalion made advances forward and captured Epinette E Keep.

Derbyshire Courier 14th September 1918 page 8

The Derbyshire Courier covered the story, stating that the wound was caused by shrapnel and that this incident was the third wounding Leonard had received.  Leonard was being treated at a private hospital at Kirkby Moor Side in Yorkshire.  Leonard may well have been receiving pioneering plastic surgery for his facial injuries, but at this stage unfortunately I have no more information on this hospital.

Homeward bound....

Service records state that Leonard returned to the UK on 1st September 1918, he was posted to Ripon Camp on 4th December and transferred two days later to Clipstone Camp.  

Whilst on demobilisation leave Leonard contacted the deadly influenza virus which was causing mayhem throughout the world.  Nicknamed the "Spanish Flu" this disease reached pandemic proportions.  Leonard was typical of many of the influenza's victims, he was young and healthy, but had been ravaged and most likely suffered from malnutrition whilst serving overseas.  He may well have travelled in cramped conditions on his journey from the front line to the UK, at a time when the virus was at its peak. 

Leonard had bravely fought the enemy and battled heroically for over three years of warfare but the influenza sadly beat him.  His illness became worse and he contracted pneumonia which took his life on 9th February 1919.

Leonard is buried in the St Bartholomews Church graveyard, his grave is marked with the CWGC headstone and includes the inscription of the cross and the Sherwood Foresters emblem.  He was just 22 years of age.

Grave of Leonard William Davidson
photo bloggers own

The grave has the following words inscribed;


Private 26883 Leonard William Davidson was awarded the Victory and British Medals for his service.  

Leonard was remembered in the Derbyshire Times 22nd February 1919, page 8, the obituary read....

"Much sympathy has been extended (to)
Mr and Mrs J. W. Davidson, Wellington Street,
New Whittington, in the loss of their only son, Leonard,
who died after a short illness.

Deceased, who was 22 years of age, was a signaller
in the Sherwood Foresters, and while on
demobilisation leave from the Clipstone Camp 
contracted influenza, followed by pneumonia
which caused his death.

Joining up in June 1915 he had seen much active service, 
and had been wounded on three occasions, having been
in hospital in France, Scotland and Leeds.

In civilian life he was an assistant with Messrs. Senior Bros.
pawnbrokers, New Whittington and was engaged to 
be married to Miss Crofts, of Chesterfield**.

The internment took place last weekend at Old Whittington, 
the coffin being draped with the Union Jack.  
The Rev. E A Compton officiated"

Life went on....

I haven't been able to find a definite death for John Davidson, Leonard's father but his mother Clara died in 1939 aged 62 years.

*Alice Davidson has been difficult to ascertain the story of Alice.  According to the census returns she was born around 1894, which was just her parents married.  She appears on the 1901 census with the family, but not the 1911 census.  

The 1911 census states that John and Clara had bore two children together; one alive and one deceased.  This deceased child may be Florence Davidson born and died in 1902.  Baby Florence was buried at Whittington on 21st November 1901.  I have not confirmed this is the child of John and Clara.

The obituary for Leonard states that the funeral was attended by "Father, mother and sister".  

It looks likely that Alice as she was born out of wedlock she may be the child of Clara only?   There is no birth registered for Alice in either the surname Davidson or Cooper.  

In 1911 there was an Alice Davidson recorded as living at Wharf Road, Chesterfield who worked as a domestic servant for Mr and Mrs Wheatman the grocery shop keepers.  

If anyone is descended from Alice I would love to hear from you to complete this story.

**Does anyone descend from Miss Crofts, Leonard's sweetheart?  She may have been called Gladys, but this is not definite.


If you may be connected to this family or have any further information on Leonard William Davidson or his family please do either leave comments via the pen icon below or drop me an email.

I hope that I have not given details of living persons, if so please advise and I will remove immediately.

Please note all information has been taken from online indexes and sources.  Due to the sheer numbers of people to be researched I am unable to purchase vital event certificates to confirm my research.

Ref and further reading  -

Parish registers
Medal rolls
Soldiers who died in the Great war
Register of soldiers effects
Service record - www.ancestry.co.uk

Newspaper articles - Derbyshire Times 22nd February 1919 p8
                                -  Derby Courier 14th September 1918 p5

CWGC  http://www.cwgc.org

War diaries - 39th Army  16th Battalion Sherwood Foresters Piece WO 2587/1
                   - 46th North Midland Division 1/6th Sherwood Foresters Piece WO 2694/1

Sherwood Foresters Battalions information http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/regiments-and-corps/the-british-infantry-regiments-of-1914-1918/sherwood-foresters-nottinghamshire-derbyshire-regiment/ 

Chasworth Rifles Somme Roll of Honour -  http://somme-roll-of-honour.com/Units/british/16th_sherwood_foresters.htm

Witley Camp http://www.tudorrow.com/202battalion/witley.html

Photo of 16th Battalion Sherwood Foresters at Redmires Camp

1/6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/High_Peak_Rifles

Battle of Boars Head https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_the_Boar%27s_Head

Flame throwers https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flamethrower

Chemical warfare during WW1 http://www.firstworldwar.com/weaponry/gas.htm

White Star bombs http://spartacus-educational.com/FWWgas.htm

Tyne Garrison https://www.sunderlandecho.com/news/sunderland-s-hylton-castle-marks-its-role-in-world-war-one-1-6867833

Signaling during WW1 http://www.bbc.co.uk/schools/0/ww1/25401271

Battle of Hill 70 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Battle_of_Hill_70

Influenza / Spanish Flu https://virus.stanford.edu/uda/