I’ve been busy beavering away with my research into Portsmouth’s Great War Dead. It’s a mammoth task, and one that will probably never be completed in the true sense of the word. There are just so many names to contend with, and the sources are that much more fragmentary than for the Second World War. But having said that, I thought it might be interesting to share some statistics so far.
So far, I have established that 2,574 men were killed serving with British and Empire Forces between 1914 and 1921. That compares to 2,549 men and women from Portsmouth killed in ALL services between 1939 and 1945. Out of those 2,574, some 890 have eluded identification so far, with around 1,600 odd having been traced on the CWGC. The Army casualties are a lot more difficult to research. This is probably down to the fact that most sailors were serving pre-war, so there is a significant paper trail on their existence. Whereas most soldiers volunteered or were conscripted, hence there is minimal documentation compared to sailors.
The vast majority of those men were killed serving with the Infantry. Most fell fighting with the Hampshire Regiment – 747 to be exact. Out of those, 133 with the 1st Battalion, 148 with the 2nd Battalion, 150 with the 14th Battalion (1st Portsmouth), 154 with the 15th Battalion (2nd Portsmouth), and 46 with the 1/4th Battalion (Territorials). These massive losses led to the War Office spreading men around regiments far more in the Second World War to dilute the effect of heavy casualties.
It is interesting that out of 1,600 men I have managed to identify, almost half of them were serving with the local Regiment. This is a much higher proportion than in 1939-1945. Out of the other Infantry Regiments, the next highest membership was of the Rifle Brigade (28 men) and the Kings Royal Rifle Corps (32 men). Both Regiments had no geographical recruiting area, taking men from all over Britain, and of course had their depots nearby in Winchester. Small numbers of men served in virtually every Regiment of the British Army. This attests not only to the mobility of Portsmouth people, but also that Portsmouth was a Garrison town – Battalions were based here as part of the city defences, and some men may have put down roots here, in the same manner as Portsmouth based sailors tended to.
90 men were Royal Engineers, 100 Field Artillery, 86 Garrison Artillery, 36 Machine Gun Corps, 9 RE Signals, 9 Tank Corps, 19 Guardsmen, 19 in Irish Regiments, 36 serving with Commonwealth Forces (5 African, 8 Australia, 19 Canada, 3 India and 1 New Zealand), 18 Cavalrymen, and 35 Army Service Corps. The tiny number of Cavalrymen killed does suggest that they were not particularly active during what was primarily a siege warfare scenario.
89 men are known to have been Regular Soldiers. 4 ex-Regulars re-enlisted. 60 men were Territorials or reservists mobilised on the outbreak of war. 211 men, by contrast, Volunteered between August 1914 and February 1916. 47 volunteered in August 1914 alone, followed by 27 in September. Once conscription was introduced in 1916 103 men were called-up. 2 men had attested under the Lord Derby scheme. So almost as many Portsmouth men were alreading in the Army system as volunteered for King and Country.
887 men were killed in France, 415 in Belgium, 12 in Germany, 22 in Greece (Salonika), 19 in India, 81 in Iraq (Mesopotamia), 27 in Israel (Palestine), 11 in Italy, 77 in Turkey (Gallipoli). Although we know much about France and Belgium, and to a lesser extent Gallipoli, campaigns such as Mesopotamia, Palestine and Salonika still need more research for us to understand their impact locally.
22 men are known to have been younger than 18. The youngest man was 16 year-old Private H Rampton, who died in April 1916. The oldest man was 72-year old Quartermaster Sergeant R.F. Robertson, of the Royal Field Artillerywho died in March 1916.
In terms of ranks, the vast majority – 1,242 – were privates. Only 92 were officers, the majority being 2nd Lieutenants. As my WW2 research suggested, historically Portsmouth does not contribute many Army officers. Is this because it was not such a fashionable place for the officer class to live, or that there were not many men in Portsmouth with officer-type qualities who volunteer?
Most men were killed in the bloody battles on the Western Front in 1916 and 1917, but a large number fell in 1918, which is often overlooked by history. 87 men were killed in 1914, 214 in 1915, 441 in 1916, 495 in 1917 and 495 in 1918 up to the Armistice. 112 men died post-Armistice – many, I suspect, from Influenza.
256 men were killed on the Somme, 148 at Passchendaele, 6 at Loos, 165 during the German offensive in Spring 1918, 189 in the Allied Offensive in 1918, 21 at Cambrai, 59 at Arras, 32 at 2nd Ypres in 1915, and 21 at 1st Ypres in 1914. These numbers would appear to suggest that as many men died in the meatgrinder of day-to-day Trench Warfare as died in set-piece attacks.
Where casualties came from tells us a lot about how the population of Portsmouth was made up in 1914, and how it changed by 1939. 76 men came from Buckland, 55 from Copnor, 30 from Cosham, 11 from East Southsea, 39 from Eastney, 69 from Fratton, 41 from Kingston, 216 from Landport, 38 from Mile End, 41 from Milton, 94 from North End, 6 from Old Portsmouth, 74 from Portsea, 119 from ‘Portsmouth’, 333 from Southsea and 61 from Stamshaw. In 1914 the vast majority of people in Portsmouth were concentrated in the city centre and Southsea, with fewer people in outlying areas such as Milton, Copnor, Cosham and Eastney. Paulsgrove did not even exist as we know it, and Cosham covered the whole area of the mainland part of the city.
This is all very interesting, but there are still 890 men I need to identify, which is going to take more work than researching the other 1,600!
- Portsmouth’s WW1 sailors – some initial observations (dalyhistory.wordpress.com)
- WWI Medal Index Cards (ancestry.co.uk)
- WWI Army Service Records (ancestry.co.uk)
- Book Review: The British Expeditionary Force 1914-15 by Bruce Gudmundsson (socyberty.com)