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Blackheath family's triple war tragedy

By Black Country Bugle  |  Posted: February 07, 2014

By John Workman

  • Ontario Military Hospital, Orpington, Kent, in 1917, where Charley Crump was treated for gas poisoning.

  • The terrible effect of war - British soldiers suffering a mustard gas attack in the First World War in 1917

  • Great War sweethearts - Jane Ellen and Ben Crump

  • Brothers in arms - Benjamin and Charley Crump, from Blackheath, who both suffered gassing during the battle of Passchendaele.

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THE Bugle's recent request for untold stories from the Great War has reached far and wide, and from Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire Bryan Roberts has sent us details about his two great uncles who served in the First World War.

He writes: "My story deals with two brothers, Benjamin William and Charley Crump, who were both living at the family home, No. 25 Malt Mill Lane, Blackheath, when the First World War broke out.

"But prior to them leaving for Flanders Fields, they had suffered a personnel tragedy. It was the summer of 1910, and during a warm spell of weather it wasn't unusual for children to cool down by bathing in the local stream, which in this case was the River Stour.

"On Monday, June 20, a youth bathing in the Stour at Halesowen got into trouble in a deep hole. Horace Hadley, aged 14, went into the water and attempted to rescue the youth but failed. Philip Crump, the father of Benjamin and Charley, instinctively threw himself into the water but lost his life in the process, trying to save the youth who also drowned.

"Hopefully their father's bravery held the two brothers in good stead when they joined the army to serve King and Country, and both saw service with The Royal Garrison Artillery, Charley with 30 Siege Battery, which went to France for the first time on August 27, 1915, and Benjamin who was with both 118 Siege Battery, which arrived in France on June 27, 1916, and later 120 Siege Battery."

The Bugle has managed to find an extract from the war diary of 118 Siege Battery, a unit formed as part of the new army which saw a lot of action on the Somme, Arras and Ypres fronts.

In common with other such Batteries, it moved between many different Heavy Artillery Groups and did not enjoy the consistency of higher command in the way infantry units did.

The extract is taken from the middle period of the Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as Passchendaele.

Sept. 20, 1917: "Zero hour for the attack by 1st ANZAC Corps was 5.40am. The two guns in action at Zillebeke fired about 450 rounds during the day, and the firing was continuous from 5.40am to 8pm.

"The Germans counter attacked about 7pm heavily, but were repulsed."

Just prior to this action Benjamin Crump had been withdrawn. He was probably with 120 Siege Battery at the time, operating at the same front.

Bryan Roberts takes up the story about his two great uncles. "On November 21, 1917, Benjamin was admitted to the Queen Mary Military Hospital at Whalley in Lancashire where he spent 41 days recovering from being gassed.

"His brother Charley suffered the same consequences, was gassed on the battlefield, and on August 17, 1917, was admitted to the Ontario Military Hospital, which despite its name was in Orpington, Kent.

"Pictures I have that were taken during the war belonged to my late grandmother, Eliza Roberts (nee Crump), who was sister to Ben and Charley, and feature more photographic memories of the Great War that was meant to end all wars."

Chemical weapons in the First World War were primarily used to demoralise, injure and kill entrenched defenders, and gas clouds could infiltrate far beyond the front line.

The most effective gas used was mustard gas, introduced by Germany in July, 1917, prior to Passchendaele.

It was delivered by exploding shell, and units such as Siege Batteries would have been susceptible.

Exposure to mustard gas caused internal and external bleeding and hampered breathing, and often soldiers badly affected died within four to five weeks.

It would appear both Benjamin and Charley Crump recovered sufficiently from their gas attacks to leave hospital.

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