Jump to content
The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Remembered Today:

Seeking surname for Arthur of 53rd Young Soldiers' Battn. Hants Re

Heath Clayton

Recommended Posts

I'm researching the life of a soldier called Arthur who was at Rollestone Camp on Salisbury Plain in April 1918. He was with the 53rd (Young Soldiers') Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, and is standing far right in the back row in the attached photo.

I would welcome any information about this Battalion - for example how and where they enlisted - and about Rollestone Camp, particularly the length of time that the Young Soldiers would have spent training there, and how and when they were allocated to other regiments (and if possible, which regiments).

Arthur was my gran's boyfriend, and I have snippets of evidence that they would have married if he had survived. Gran lived in Fulham, and presumably Arthur lived fairly close to her. I am trying to find out his surname so that I might discover more about him, perhaps his Army Service Record, and details of where and how he died.

Arthur sent two studio portraits to Gran in March 1917 - one of him with another young man of similar age, both dressed in suits, and one of him in Scout uniform, holding a large trophy shield. I have studied the badges on his uniform, but sadly the name of his troop is not legible. All I know is that he was a Patrol Leader and had gained six proficiency badges and a service star.

In August 1917 Arthur sent a postcard to Gran from Oxford, saying that he had been to Witney but was spending the afternoon in Oxford "with Norman and Jim". I'm wondering whether the three boys (brothers or friends) had been to Witney to enlist? I also have a photo of Arthur in Army uniform, by Norman Taylor, Day & Electric Studios, Cowley Rd. Oxford, which may have been taken during the same visit - perhaps Arthur had just been issued with his uniform.

On 10th April 1918 Arthur sent the attached photo to Gran from Rollestone. The photo was taken by Q. ERDINGTON & Co., Photographers, Salisbury. On the reverse, Arthur has written in pencil: "Some of the Boys. 53rd Hants. Hut 20. Rollestone Camp. Salisbury Plain April 10th 1918."

The last surviving communication from Arthur to Gran is an embroidered silk postcard with romantic paper scraps and the remains of a tiny spray of flowers, with the message: "To Ada from Arthur, with love & best wishes for a Happy Xmas. From Mons. Christmas 1918."

Again, any advice about how long this card would have taken to be delivered to Fulham from Mons would be gratefully received. Is it likely that he had written the card after the War had ended?

I don't believe Gran ever wanted to talk about Arthur's death, and the only information that has been passed down through the family is that 'he died'. I have no details about where, when or how. Was he killed in action, did he return to England wounded or shell-shocked? He may have returned to England only to die in the Influenza epidemic.

Age-wise, I am estimating that Arthur was born between 1897 and 1899, as the upper age limit for the Scouts was 18. Gran herself was born in May 1899.

Thank you for reading this, and I look forward to hearing from anyone who may be able to help.



Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Heath, and welcome to the Forum. I can't help with your specific enquiries, but here's some info abou the camp:

A tented camping-ground for summer use was established close to Rollestone Bake Farm and east of the Salisbury-Bustard road in 1904 (map reference 098448). With the outbreak of the Great War, four hutted camps were erected, with 500 men from Sir John Jackson Ltd starting work on them in mid-October 1914. The camp's closeness to ranges meant it was much used by artillery units, some there for only a couple of weeks of final firing practice before going overseas.
Norman Tennant of the Royal Field Artillery noted in A Saturday Night Soldier's War that the area 'was a vast sea of mud and wooden hutments and it was here that I engendered a lasting hate for the inimical menace of army camps'. Others were equally unimpressed with Rollestone.
The camp was taken over in 1916 by Australian training battalions, some of whom lived in tents during the summer. In 1917 an Australian from the camp was the first locally to be accused of assaulting the police; he received two sentences of six and three months' hard labour, to run concurrently. Later that year another Australian was killed when being trained to use a Lewis Gun; one shell in its magazine of dummy ammunition proved to be live. Ivor Williams of the 21st Battalion thought Rollestone 'an awfully out of the way place', but enjoyed several visits to Rollestone Manor on the edge of Shrewton, where he was hospitably received, the house and grounds apparently being made available to local soldiers.
On the western side of the Bustard road the Royal Flying Corps established Number 1 Balloon School, which continued after the war as the School of Balloon Training and was mainly concerned with training observers. The original huts were demolished shortly after the end of the war, though balloon hangars erected in 1932 still stand prominently above more recent military structures.
Rollestone was one of the camps comprising the Lark Hill complex. From late 1916 Australians were the pre-dominant nationality, though some British (and a few RFC) personnel were based there.
Incidentally, I've seen references to the 53rd(Young Soldier) Battalion Hampshire Regiment, the 53rd (Young Soldier) Battalion, The Royal Sussex Regiment and the 53rd(Young Soldier) Battalion Devonshire Regiment, and no doubt experts will explain this for us. I also see a variation between "Young Soldier" and "Young Soldiers" in the titles, both forms being favoured by authoritative writers. I am not one of these, but incline towards the singular form.
Wikipedia tells me that there were 14 "Young Soldier Battalions". When a recruit had finished training in a Young Soldier Battalion he was sent to one of two associated "Graduated Battalions", in which the four companies were organised by age,in three-monthly steps between 18 and 19 years. As a result, every three months, 28 companies of newly trained soldiers were ready for drafting to France. In October 1917 some of the Graduated Battalions were deemed suitable for Home Service.
PS: Incidentally, I have only one card published by Q Erdington (of a hillside badge at Fovant) in my collection . W Ross and A E Marett of nearby Shrewton and T L Fuller of Amesbury all featured the camp on their postcards.
Link to comment
Share on other sites

Am I correct in condensing the information to:

Arthur ????

Lived in/near Oxford

Gran lived in Fulham?

How/where did they first meet?

Any idea of which Scout pack he would have been part of?

Was alive in December 1918 but subsequently "died" before marrying gran?

Presumably that card is the only "keepsake" meaning that he vanished from her life some short time thereafter?

The Long Long Trail website has details about much to do with the Army and has this

Hampshire Regiment 53rd (Young Soldier) Battalion

Up to 27 October 1917, this was known as 37th Young Soldier Battalion and had no regimental affiliation. A basic recruit training unit based at Sutton Veny, it was part of 8th Reserve Brigade. Moved to Rolleston in January 1918.

So until 27 October 1917 he should have been a part of 37th Battalion, not 53rd Bn

It also indicates that they arrived in Rollestone in early 1918

I believe the Army didn't usually send out young soldiers until 18 years and 6 months, so at some stage in 1918 he must have been transferred out from the 53rd Hampshire Bn as a battle casualty replacement to any one of the many different battalions still serving in Belgium in December 1918.
That then opens up the casualty list to any Arthur dying in the Army from mid December 1918 until 30 August 1921 (when the CWGC cut off for WW1 casualties was made.

I also expect you have considered that Arthur may not have died, but either was persuaded by his parents from marrying gran or found someone else.

After such a long period of time and with such wispy details, it's going to be a hard task to help find this chap, especially without definite proof of death, where and when for example. With gran having been born in 1899 I'm assuming she herself is no longer alive, so how useful would finding the specific chap be?

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Hi Moonraker and KevinBattle, and thank you both for welcoming me to the forum and for the useful information.

The descriptions of Rollestone camp itself are very interesting. I too have seen references to other Young Soldier(s) Battalions, but have been unable to glean much information about them, except for what is published on the Long, Long, Trail. I hadn't seen the Wikipedia reference, and will follow that up. Also Moonraker, your comment about Q. Erdington is interesting. I Googled his name and tried to find him on websites listing old photographic studios, but without success.

Thanks for condensing my ramblings, Kevin! I will summarise as follows:

Arthur ???

Gran (Ada) born May 1899 in Fulham, grew up in Anselm Rd (also Fulham) and lived there until she eventually married. Arthur was known to at least some of her 9 siblings too, so either Gran talked about him a lot, or he visited regularly. I suspect the latter as it was an 'open house' with friends welcomed as if they were family, and fiances/spouses referring to my great grandmother as 'Mum'.

I believe that Arthur lived in, or near, Fulham/Hammersmith/Wandsworth/Chelsea or maybe even Knightsbridge (Gran had a job in Harrods when she was a teenager). I don't think he lived in Oxford or Witney, as the message in his postcard implies that it was a special visit, a novelty to be there.

No idea how they met. Gran had 5 brothers, so he may have been a friend of theirs, or he may have been a work colleague or neighbour.

I have four photos of Arthur, including one signed on the front, and the Rollestone one with camp details on the back; plus the silk card from Mons, Christmas 1918. These 5 items are the only keepsakes. I believe Gran would have destroyed any letters he sent her.

Scout troop: All I can make out of the troop's name on his shoulder is 'HAM' or maybe 'WAN', which could relate to some of the above places.

Arthur visited Oxford and Witney in August 1917, and since he had his photo taken in the Oxford studio in his Army uniform (Hants Regt cap badge) I wondered if it was the same occasion as him enlisting.

From what you say he must have arrived in Rollestone early 1918. He gives specific details about the battalion, regiment, camp and hut number (see my original post) as well as the date.

How can I find out which Battalions were still in Belgium in December 1918? There must be some records somewhere???

Good point about Arthur being persuaded against marrying Gran.Another theory I have is that Arthur was badly affected mentally/physically when he returned home, and did not feel that he was able to support her.

However when she gave me the silk card for my collection, I vaguely remember her telling me that he had died. I was about 11 and felt really awkward that she was looking so sad and talking about morbid things ... at that age I didn't know how to handle it, and didn't want to encourage her by asking questions.

Gran married a sailor in December 1919 - somebody who was a friend/shipmate of one of her elder brothers, and who was already considered 'part of the family'. So just one year (or maybe less) after Arthur 'died' she had accepted that he (Arthur) wasn't available to marry her.

Gran died in 1975.

And finally ... yes, this is a huge challenge, but I'm an optimist and feel that eventually I will find some more clues.

Link to comment
Share on other sites

JP, thanks for your excellent suggestion of contacting the Scout Association Archive.

The Roll of Honour could prove valuable to me in my search. I've already done quick searches for first names and likely troops.


Link to comment
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now

  • Create New...