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Alfred Woollam (d. 30 April 1916)


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Alfred Woollam was born at Tunstall, one of the Six Towns of Stoke-on-Trent, in around April 1898 and died on this day in 1916 whilst serving with 1st Battalion, North Staffordshire Regiment during the first German gas attack at Wulverghem.

In 1911, at thirteen years old, Alfred was working in a local warehouse but on 29 August 1914, sixteen year old Alfred went to Burslem and volunteered to join the army. He told the army that he was nineteen and was accepted into the ranks. After a short period of training, Alfred was posted to 7th Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment and on 26 June 1915 found himself aboard SS Ivernia, on his way to Gallipoli, where he was landed on V Beach on 13 July 1915.

The 7th North Staffords were in the front line for several months, beating off an aggressive Turkish attack on the day after they arrived and, in August, took part in the bloody but failed attack that is known as the Battle of Sari Bair.

Alfred was wounded by a gunshot to his right arm at the beginning of October 1915 and was evacuated back to England. In February 1916, after making a full recovery, Alfred was posted to 1st Battalion of the North Staffordshire Regiment, which had been on the Western Front since September 1914. At that time, the Battalion was in the trenches around the Belgian village of Wulverghem, a few kilometres to the south of Ypres.

Alfred "celebrated" his eighteenth birthday in the front line. The weather in April 1916 was occasionally showery but mostly fine and the trenches were dry. All was quiet in this sector of the Western Front.

On 26 April, two captured German soldiers gave warning that a gas attack in the sector was imminent and the Battalion took "extraordinary precautions" - standing to throughout the following day but no attack took place. The following days were also quiet but, at 12.50 am on 30 April, heavy rifle and machine gun fire heralded a German attack and at 12.55 am, the gas alarm was sounded.

A single wave of chlorine gas, traveling at 10 mph on a westerly wind, engulfed the North Staffords' forward trenches within 11 seconds, giving insufficient time for many of the troops to use their gas masks. There were 112 casualties and, according to the Battalion's history, a considerable proportion of them did not begin to feel the effects till two to three hours afterwards, with the earliest deaths occurring about an hour and a half after the attack had started.

"The Aid Post was a sorry sight", an eye witness later reported, "the gassed men were waiting outside... for the ambulances to take them away. Coughing, vomiting and struggling for breath, they caused all who saw them to realise the inhumanity of the latest methods of making war".

Alfred Woollam was one of those soldiers from the 1st North Staffords who died on this day. It is not known whether he died from the immediate effects of gas-poisoning or during the subsequent German attack.

Alfred is commemorated on the War Memorial at Tunstall and is buried at the Military Cemetery near Dranoutre.

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Checked for a picture of Alfred within the Sentinel, unfortunately i cannot find one, however here is a fellow comrade who sadly died this day from nearby Burslem H Lymer, poor picture sadly




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