MANY Black Country families lost loved ones in the First World War but the hand of tragedy fell more heavily on some than on others. Samson and Alice Ennis of Dudley sent off their five sons to fight for king and country but when the war ended only one son came home to them.
Bill Wood of Pensnett, Brierley Hill, has brought to the Bugle a selection of photographs and documents about this doomed band of brothers.
Bill writes, "I married into the Ennis family in 1958. In 1960 the Ennis sisters, Aunt Fanny, Aunt Alice and my mother-in-law Maud charged me to put together a potted history of their five brothers. I promised that I would.
"I left it a couple of months, which turned into a couple of years, our sons arrived and the project was relegated to the back burner.
"Time moved on but, fortunately, three years ago my great-nephew Jamie Clarke in Cardiff fanned the embers and re-lit the flame. To Jamie I say thank-you, for kick-starting the project and helping me to fulfil my promise to three lovely ladies, albeit 54 years later."
Among the items Bill has gathered together is a clipping from the Midland Chronicle of July 16, 1915, in which pictures of the five Ennis brothers appeared. They were William (b.1888), Samuel (b.1890), John (b.1893), Albert (b.1897) and Samson (b.1898). Under the heading Five Brothers with the Colours, the article read:
"The above five soldiers belong to one Dudley family. They are brothers, and are all in the Worcesters. They are doing their bit for King and country. No. 1 – William Ennis, now at Kidderminster; he is 27 years of age. No. 2 – Samuel Ennis (in Egypt), aged 25. No. 3 – John Ennis (in the trenches), aged 23. No. 4 – Albert Ennis (in the trenches), aged 19. No. 5 – Samson Ennis (at Kidderminster), aged 18. Private J. Ennis, in a recent letter to his grandmother, said:– 'We are getting some very hot weather out here now, and shall soon be as brown as gypsies. We had a very wet day about a fortnight ago, when we were in the reserve trenches, and our dug-outs were half-full of water. We had to remove our shoes and stockings and turn our trousers up to our thighs, before we could get out. I have sprained my ankle a little, and I went to the doctor with it this morning, and he gave me two days' rest. we have moved further along the line, and it took us four night marches to do it. Altogether, it was about 40 miles, and now we are in schools, having a rest for a few days. Our casualties have been about 100, eighteen of whom were killed. I am glad to say that myself and Bert are out of the trenches, and are so far unscathed. We have seen some sights since we have been out here. The other week we blew about 150 yards of German trenches up with a mine. The next day the Germans tried to blow our trenches up, but they were too short. They opened a rapid fire to make us believe they were attacking us. They send hundreds of shells at us nearly every day, and there are hundreds of houses knocked down by the German shells. we have been in five different places in the line, so you see we have had a lot of knocking about. I should like to know whether Sam is out here or in England. I have not heard from him for about six weeks. There are six who have been on leave out of the battalion, and they say that they are going out of each company every week. It will take twelve months at that rate, but I think they will alter it. I think the war will last another twelve months. The Germans seem to be as strong now as at the beginning.'"
Apart from a small inaccuracy – Samuel served with the South Staffs while his brothers all served with the Worcesters – the article gives a vivid insight into a soldier's life in the trenches in 1915.
More insight comes from a small note book in which Samuel recorded his experiences in Gallipoli. Bill Wood has carefully transcribed its contents:
"Sailed on Empress of Britain 10.30pm, July 1st, 1915. Reached Malta July 8th 4pm.
"Sailed from Malta 6am, 10th July – reached Alexandria 1.30pm, 12th July. Sailed from Alexandria 7am, 16th July, landed at Gallipoli 2am, July 21st.
"First time of going in trenches 7am, July 24th at Achi Baba. First casualty Pte A. Lloyd of C Coy seriously wounded. 2nd Lt Somerton killed. B Coy casuals Pte Conway killed, Chaplain Hume wounded. A Coy L/Cpl Breakwell killed, Cpl Haden wounded.
"Enlisted at Wolverhampton Town Hall, August 13th 1914, in 7th S. Staffs. Went to Lichfield Barracks August 14th. Left Lichfield for Grantham Sept 6th. Left Grantham for Frensham Camp April 5th, 1915. Left Frensham June 30th for Liverpool.
"Cape Helles, Achi Baba, entered trenches first time 7am July 24th. Firing line 25th till 28th. Support trench 28th till 30th. Firing line again 30th till 1st August. SAP guard on the night 31st July.
"Relieved from trenches August 1st, 3am. Moved from Gallipoli 12 midnight, August 1st and reached Imbros island where we stayed for a rest until August 6th when moved on to Lula Bala, Gallipoli.
"On August 9th we took part in the most dreadful engagement we had so far seen and met with severe casualties having about 400 of the battalion, 93 officers left and during the same engagement I received a slight bullet wound in left foot.
"Friday Aug 13th hit with a piece of shell in the left shoulder but unhurt. Same date arrived at rest camp on the beach facing battleships. We wrote letters, rested up and I collected seashells in a linen bag with a drawstring.
"Entered trenches again August 18th, 12pm; the same trench we had captured during the Battle of Abrinkja Hill.
"Attack on Abrinkja Hill Aug 21st, our division being in reserve. while advancing we ploughed our way through shrapnel and bullet fire, several casualties on our way up from the beach.
"On the night of the 21st we occupied a short trench which was about 60 yds in length and which we found absolutely empty. We remained there until 7pm on 22nd when we were withdrawn to a trench about 200 yds in the rear of it.
"On the night of the 21st we only had two officers in our battalion left, the remaining 5 being casualties, also our regt sgt major.
"We were relieved from trenches on the night of 25th Aug and moved down to some rest trenches where we stayed until the 27th Aug, being relieved by the Northampton Regt.
"On the night of the 27th, while helping to put out a fire which had broken out in front of the trench. I was hit with a piece of shrapnel shell on the right of the left foot, close to where I had the bullet wound, but it did no serious damage, only bruising my foot.
"At 1am, Aug 28th, we took over a trench on the extreme left of our firing point. Entered firing trench Aug 30th which is on a hill called Flapanja Sert, 200 feet above sea level.
"The Turks started a hot bombardment at 9 o'clock on the night of 1st Sept but were soon quietened down.
"At 7am on 4th Sept I was hit on the left side of the neck with a piece of shell. G. Rollason was killed by the same shell.
"Egg ration on 6th Sept. Relieved from trenches on the 13th and came down to the beach. Entered the trenches again on Sept 21st. Moved higher up the line 7th Oct."
There ends the account. Corporal Samuel Ennis, 7th South Staffordshire Regiment, was the first of the brothers to be killed, on October 18, 1915. The letter informing his family survives, torn in two by his grief-stricken sister. Bill Woods writes, "Aunt Fanny said to me, 'When I received the envelope marked On Active Service, I knew what it was right away, but which brother was it going to be? I opened it with trepidation, read it, tore it asunder in anguish and fell to my knees crying. It was my baby brother Samuel.'"
Samuel's name is recorded on the Helles Memorial in Turkey.
Private Albert Ennis, 1/7th Worcestershire Regiment, died December 12, 1915, and is buried at Hebuterne Military Cemetery, France.
Lance Corporal John Ennis, 1/7th Worcestershire Regiment, died April 25, 1917, and is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme.
Private Samson Ennis, 2/7th Worcestershire Regiment, died August 26, 1917, and is remembered on the Tyne Cot memorial to the missing, in Belgium.
The four brothers also have their names listed together on the Dudley war memorial at the council house.
Only William Ennis returned home. He died, aged 68, on May 24th, 1956, and is buried alongside his wife at Dudley Cemetery. They had six daughters, Alice, Ivy, Maud, Beattie, Gladys and Elsie but no sons to carry on the name. However, as Bill tells us, he has descendants living in Nova Scotia and Dudley.
In this centenary year of the start of the First World War more and more families are discovering the roles that their ancestors played in it. Have you a story and pictures to share with Bugle readers? Contact dshaw@blackcountrybugle .co.uk or write in to us at 41 High Street, Cradley Heath, B64 5HL.