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9378 Pte. J B Bullock, 1st Bn. South Staffs.


Kevin Mears
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I'm hoping someone here may be able to help me with details regarding my Maternal Grandfather, 9378 Private James Bert Bullock. Assistance received from the Staffordshire Regiment Museum coupled with some of my own research and the family stories about him gives us the following information:

I have his 1914 Star Trio all correctly marked to my Grandfather. I remember him polishing them when I was a child and the Princess Mary Christmas tin in which they were kept. In fact, the lid of the tin became so highly polished that the outer surface has cracked in places. Stories he told the family were that he was wounded in the fleshy part of the leg during an attack. He claimed it was as he left the trench and that it was a gunshot wound from a machine gun. He also claimed to have been punished for desertion but what form the punishment took is not known. The circumstances were alleged to have been that he was on leave and his wife gave birth to a child which was either stillborn or died shortly after being born. It is alleged he stayed at home until he was sure his wife was fine. The story adds that he was on his way to Bilston Police Station to hand himself in as the Military Police were coming to collect him. It seems there was no legal obligation to register the birth of a stillborn child or one who died within the first two weeks of life, therefore there is no evidence there to corroborate his story. I also remember a postcard he sent to his wife from Italy. This has always stuck in my mind because as I child I never even knew Italy were involved in the Great War.

So far so good. I now have a copy of his MIC which shows service as 9378 Pte. J B Bullock, 1st Bn. South Staffs but also records service with the Machine Gun corps, again as a Private with the number of 170834 or 1708341. The MIC also records that he was convicted of desertion on the 4th of April 1917. The MIC further records that he was: Brought to Charge C.R.V. 269 d/22-11-19. I have absolutely no idea what that means. On the reverse or correspondence side of the MIC is the following comment: Infy Recs Lichfield return (2) 1914 Star. 18/11/19. I can only imagine that the Star was forefeited because of his desertion. Question is was it replaced as he had redeemed himself or was it purchased by him and engraved because he felt unjustly treated?

Advice form Whittington suggests that he was possibly or probably wounded on the 7/11/14 in an action in which over 100 men of the Battalion were killed as it seems that was the only set piece action in which they were involved. It was then further suggested that on his recovery he was transferred to the newly formed MGC and continued to serve in that capacity in the 59th Division.

As his service records no longer exist and the NA at Kew are reluctant to commit themselves as to whether his Court martial papers survive, can anyone advise me now on whether or not the information gleaned so far is accurate? Is it possible to obtain further information regarding his service? Is it likely he was wounded on that date? Is the family story regarding his desertion true or just a story concocted by him to avoid embarrassment and/or censure?

Any information anyone can provide on how to proceed will be most gratefully received and much appreciated.

Kind Regards,

Kevin Mears.

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Kevin

I can't answer all of your questions but a few comments on the MIC.

Your grandfather was issued with the Mons Star and the notation F/2/4/16 is the South Staffs 1914 Star volume and page reference.

The CRV notation(if I remember correctly) is just a Certificate Received Voucher ie the registered post receipt returned to the issuing office on 22/11/1919 -it looks from the reverse of the card that the Lichfield Infantry Records Office sent notification to the MGC Records Office on 18/11/1919 so the x 2 return is safe receipt from your grandfather and the record of issue from the Lichfield Office for the 1914 Star.

The MGC 170834 number is very high and suggests a transfer at a late stage in the war and certainly in the last few months.

The UK desertion just happens to be recorded on the MIC and your grandfather would probably had any sentence for incarceration suspended upon his return to his unit.

Regards

Mel

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7 November 1914 was certainly the only set piece action that the battalion particpated in until 1915. It took part in a costly attack at Armagh Wood near Zillebeke on that day - but the battalion had already been in action for a fortnight and had already been all but destroyed by then!

I am afraid there are very few useful casualty lists that would help you understand when James was wounded. A trawl through local newspapers - hard work - may be your best bet.

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Gentlemen.

Thank you both very much for your responses and accept my apologies for not acknowledging them sooner.

Mel wrote:

"The MGC 170834 number is very high and suggests a transfer at a late stage in the war and certainly in the last few months.

The UK desertion just happens to be recorded on the MIC and your grandfather would probably had any sentence for incarceration suspended upon his return to his unit."

If I'm understanding you correctly, I can now more or less rule out any idea that he was in the MGC before 1917? Does that then mean he may have gone to the MGC after the 1st Battalion South Staffs left for Italy?

The desertion interests me greatly. Would he have been tried and sentenced in his absence with the sentence suspended or reduced due to the suggested mitigating circumstances? Or would he have been tried on his return? And I'm still confused about the Mons Star. Did he return it or not? And if he did, how come he had a trio for as long as I can remember, at least 40 years?

Chris.

Having obtained a copy of the History of the South Staffordshire Regiment by James Jones, it would be nice and tempting to think that my grandfather was wounded at Zillebeke but the doubt now cast on his entry into the MGC does suggest a long long trawl through the Express & Star.

No-one ever said it would be easy, but then again I don't think anyone ever suggested that this type of research would be as enjoyable or rewarding as it is proving to be.

Regards,

Kevin Mears

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There were so few men that came through after 7 November 1914 (from memory only 40-odd), that I would begin by searching from around 24 October until it is evident that 1st Bn casualties from that phase of the war are no longer being mentioned (say January 1915).

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Kevin

I would say that you could be confident that your grandfather went to Italy with his Battalion. Your grandfather has a MGC number in the 170,000s range that suggests a transfer in September/October 1918. The allocation of service numbers is never an exact science but transferees into the MGC in early February 1918, for example, were allocated numbers in the 132 and 133,000s sequence.

When a soldier failed to return from leave or report for duty in the UK, they were initially treated as AWOL. If they were not apprehended or voluntarily returned then after about four to six weeks a court of enquiry would be convened after which they would be officially declared to be a deserter.

The penalty imposed would depend on the circumstances, previous record of service and mitigating factors (as in this case) but what is certain, he would have been shipped back to his unit pronto.

Regards

Mel

Ps the child would have been stillborn. Registration of stillborn births was not introduced until 1927 and the baby had to be at least 28 weeks into the term.

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Thanks again for all the help Mel and Chris. It really is appreciated. I shall book myself an appointment next week to start trawling through the Express & Star archives. let's hope it can tell me a little more.

Regards,

Kevin Mears

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Hi Kevin

Just to give you a steer, I have indexed every military photograph in the Express & Star from August 1914 - January 1919. I have checked my index and James Bert Bullock has no entry, it means you will have to search through the text only.

Regards Doug

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