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A Netherton father’s steps through the Western Front

By dan shaw  |  Posted: November 10, 2012

Private W.F. Kirby

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The days leading to Remembrance Sunday will often bring to mind those that served in the armed forces during the two world wars, and so it is that Don Kirby of Netherton has brought to the Bugle the tale of his parents who became engaged just before his father was sent to the Western Front in 1918.

Don’s father’s is typical of many of the young men who fought on the battlefields of France and Flanders – he spent less than a month there, being very badly wounded, but, fortunately, his story had a happy ending.

Don writes, “This is just a brief but, I think, significant time in the lives of my mother and father, that was shared by many other young men and women during the First World War and all the conflicts since.

“Thankfully, my father survived but so many more lost their lives.

“From the postcards that my mother kept it is very clear that they were a very devoted couple and that was reflected right through their marriage and the close family ties they created.

“On 20th December, 1917, Private William Frederick Kirby, aged 22, and Annie (always known as Nancy) Gwilliam, aged 21, became engaged to be married. The engagement ring was £3.12s.6d, quite a lot on a soldier’s pay.

“Their families lived next door to each other in Netherton, so she was literally the girl next door.

“Teddy, as Nancy always called him, enlisted on 16th February, 1916, aged 20, and became 42976 Private W.F. Kirby of the Royal Berkshire Regiment. For a while he was stationed at Reading but in 1917 he joined the 3rd Reserve Battalion stationed in Dublin.

“They corresponded regularly with each other and any postcards that Nancy received were kept in an album which is still with the family.

“Inevitably, the Berkshires were ordered to France, arriving in Boulogne on 1st September, 1918.

“The Berkshires, together with the 1st and 12th Gloucesters and Wiltshires, were sent to the front. It was during the attack on Epehy Wood that my father was severely wounded.

“Arriving back in England, he was sent to a military hospital in Leeds. It was while he was recovering in hospital that he recorded the sequence of events that had brought him there. On a piece of YMCA paper that is headed ‘With the British Expeditionary Force’ he wrote the following:

“Left Dublin, August 31st.

“Landed at Boulogne, Sept 1st.

“Left Boulogne for Etaples, Sept 2nd.

“Left Etaples for Rouen, Sept 3rd.

“Arrived at Rouen, Sept 4th.

“On armed picquet in town, Sept 5th.

“Attended funeral party, 28 men and 3 officers buried, Sept 6th.

“Left Rouen, Sept 7th.

“Arrived at Fricourt, Sept 8th.

“Left Fricourt, Sept 10th.

“Arrived at Combles, Sept 11th.

“Advanced from Combles to Nurlu, Sept 12th.

“Entered Epehy, Sept 15th.

“Captured village of Weeden, Sept 16th.

“Arrived at Epehy Wood, Sept 17th.

“Attacked the wood, Sept 18th.

“Wounded at Epehy, Sept 19th, 11am.

“Reached dressing station 10pm.

“Arrived CCS Dual, 11pm, Sept 19th.

“Left Peronne, Sept 20th.

“Reached Base hospital, Sept 21st.

“Operation at Australian hospital, Sept 23rd.

“Left Aberville, Sept 24th.

“Landed in Blighty, Sept 25, 11am.

“Reached Leeds, Sept 25, 9pm.

“And here I still remain.

“My father’s progress was reported in the Dudley Herald on 12th October, 1918: ‘In hospital – Private W. Kirby, Royal Berkshire Regiment, of Church Road, Netherton, who was severely wounded in France on 19th September, is now lying in Leeds War Hospital, and is progressing favourably. Private Kirby was formerly employed by Messrs N. Hingley and Sons Ltd., at their collieries, previous to his joining the forces, and his friends will be glad to know that he is recovering.’

“Following his recovery Private W.F. Kirby was discharged from the army on 3rd February, 1919.

“On 17th October, 1927, the couple were married at St Andrew’s Church, Netherton.”

Don has also provided us with these photographs and some of the postcards his father sent home to his sweetheart.

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