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IanA

2/1 Cambridgeshire Regiment

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IanA

I've been searching the National Archives for war diaries of this battalion but can only find records for the first battalion. I would like to see anything regarding their fighting on the Ancre in 1916 - does anyone have any idea whether such records exist? I'd be most grateful for any pointers.

 

Ian

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Steven Broomfield

Ian - the 2/1st Cambridgeshires didn't go overseas. The 1/1st were at the Ancre (39th Division)

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IanA

Many thanks for that, Steve. I should have realised that the 2/1 would supply the 1st battalion with reinforcements. I am a bear of very little brain. I shall order the war diary.

 

Ian

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IanA

Thank you kindly, Cliff - a lot to see in that. I will read further when I have time - I am interested in Lt Thomas Hope Formby who was killed on the Ancre in 1916.

 

Ian

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cliff brown

Check out the biogs for Henry Williamson

 

http://www.cambridgeshireregiment1914-18.co.uk/williamson.html

 

and then look at the October 1916 Schwaben articles where you will find a piece about Formby's death.

 

http://www.cambridgeshireregiment1914-18.co.uk/schwaben-page-3.html

 

 

Thomas Hope Formby was born in 1893, son of the Rev Christopher Hope Formby (see note below*) & Elizabeth Beatrice Formby (of The Rectory, Ridlington, Rutland). Attended Felsted School & Peterhouse College, Cambridge. In 1911 census, he was 22, undergraduate at Cambridge, living with stepfather Edmund Godward and mother Elizabeth Godward (formerly Formby), at Sutton, Surrey. Cadet, Cambridge University OTC, commissioned 2nd Lt, 1912, 1st Cambs Rgt. Lt 26-8-14. Posted to the new home service 2/1st btn; a medical board in March 1915 stated he had debility & tuberculosis. Married 31-7-1915, Kathleen Ailsa Ross, married by Rev F B B Whittington, who was chaplain of 2/1st btn (and not a bishop!). Posted 10-8-15 to 1/1st btn in France, joining D company. Commanding A coy from 16-9-16. Capt, KiA 13-10-16, Thiepval, by shellfire. Listed Thiepval Memorial and on Ridlington war memorial & at St Luke’s church, Formby. T H Formby was used as the fictional ‘Baldersby’ in Henry Williamson’s ‘A Fox under my Cloak’.

* The Rev C H Formby, born 1861 was the son of Myles Lonsdale Formby, of Sampford Hall, Essex. Myles was son of Rev R H Formby and grandson of Rev Richard Formby (1760-1832), of Formby Hall, Lancs. There is a picture of Richard here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/formbycivicsociety/17542922976

 

 

 

Edited by cliff brown

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IanA

Thank you very much indeed for your trouble. I have no problems with the Williamson connection - I am an editorial assistant on the society journal! You have filled in a few gaps in Formby's career for me though. The 'bishop' fabrication seems right up his street - one begins to wonder whether poor Miss Ross was really 'given away' by Mr Atlee!! I can't seem to find a reference to the marriage in the Times which surprises me for a society wedding in Hanover Square.

 

Thanks again,

 

Ian

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Steven Broomfield

This Formby chap looks like a bit of a cad to me.

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IanA

And, thanks to your information re Peterhouse College, I checked their war memorial and, as I expected, he is commemorated there as well.

 

Ian

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IanA
2 minutes ago, Steven Broomfield said:

This Formby chap looks like a bit of a cad to me.

You might think that. Apparently, after his death, his widow (shortly to give birth to a daughter) received his worldly wealth - £10 9s 4d. 

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felix.j

Might be worth bearing in mind that Tom Formby was a popular and efficient officer who we have never heard a bad word about in any of the letters, accounts and reports from any of his contemporaries both in the 2/1st and 1/1st Battalions (apart from Williamson who seems to have not really settled in the 2/1st, despite a wide range of Subalterns from different backgrounds all having no problems). Formby met an unfortunate and unlucky end while doing his part as a coy commander having been on active service with the 1/1st for over a year.

 

Basing any serious views on his character through the opinions of one fellow jnr officer who served with him for a relatively short time and a newspaper announcement that could have been submitted by anyone (and we all now how hearsay and errors can slip into newspapers!) seems a bit of a disservice to a chap who never came home to his young wife and baby!

 

Cheers

 

Felix

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IanA
14 minutes ago, felix.j said:

Might be worth bearing in mind that Tom Formby was a popular and efficient officer who we have never heard a bad word about in any of the letters, accounts and reports from any of his contemporaries both in the 2/1st and 1/1st Battalions

Quite. I would be interested (very) to see any letters, accounts and reports from his contemporaries. And do you have evidence that he was popular and efficient?

 

Ian 

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IanA

Incidentally, and do forgive my bad manners, welcome to the forum.

 

Ian

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cliff brown

It is very difficult to tell whether or not Formby was really a bully as depicted by Henry Williamson, but as I have the utmost respect for the Williamson Society I'm not going to labour the point. All authors use a range of characters in books, ranging from heroes to villains and all shades in between. Many traits can be emphasized to give that person the characteristics required. He may well have been a bully; we've all known them, but there are many forms of bullying.

What I might throw into the mix is that HW was posted from another regiment to the 2/1st Cambs, where he may have been seen an outsider (many of the others were from local families and the university). As Felix rightly states, Formby seemed to do well when he was posted to 1/1st btn, where the commanding officer, Ted Riddell (a Regular Army officer), did not suffer fools gladly and bad officers were moved out by him. The fact Formby was adjutant for a while and became a company commander would suggest he was a good solider, in Riddell's eyes, but, as before, that doesn't mean he was or wasn't a bully. If he was inefficient he would not have become adjutant or a company commander, so that is evidence in itself.

Interestingly, the battalion history "The Cambridgeshires" does mention that when Formby became temporary adjutant he wrote in the war diary, something like "Lt Formby becomes temporary adjutant, a great day in the annals of the battalion" - that could be seen as arrogance or a man with a good sense of humour. My guess is people reading this will form their own opinion.

With regard to the 'society wedding', there is no evidence that Formby was the source of the item that appeared in the paper about his forthcoming wedding. However, my guess is the choice of venue and the person who gave away the bride was down to the bride's family and not the groom. Which Mr Atlee was it that gave away the bride? Clement Atlee (an Oxford graduate) was not elected to parliament until 1922 and served in the Gallipoli campaign (so would not have been at the July 1915 wedding) (perhaps some investigation into the Ross family of Ardingley, Sussex, would be useful); Clem's brother Tom was imprisoned as a conscientious objector. So what Atlee family do we mean here?

In the end Formby was the son of a vicar and happened to go to Cambridge University and had a family connection to an important family in the north west. His widowed mother married a banker/accountant, so I guess the family were not short of a few quid.

The matter suggesting he was married by a bishop might not be surprising if the bishop was a family friend (Formby's family had obvious links to the clergy and perhaps the bishop knew his late father for instance).

Perhaps he was a social climber. My best guess is that perhaps Formby represented some things that Williamson disliked.

Edited by cliff brown

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Steven Broomfield

I suspect the fact that Riddell used the quote from the WD in the history suggests he saw it kindly - i.e. as a joke, not as arrogance. His description of Formby's death was also quite tender. Incidentally, who was the shell-shocked survivor of the party?

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cliff brown

Either 2nd Lt Ashby or 2nd Lt Brown (see link in post 6) - both sustained shellshock. Both were sent back to UK.

Thanks for your interpretation of Riddell's use of that in the war diary. I see it as humour too rather than arrogance.

Edited by cliff brown

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Steven Broomfield

It made me laugh.

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cliff brown

Me too. Obviously Ian has a route he wants to go down with regard to Formby's character. I am only suggesting that whether or not Formby was a bully (or played fast and loose with his background) is a view held by Williamson that I have not seen elsewhere. As stated, if Formby was a bad solider he would not have lasted five minutes under Riddell. Good bosses are not always the nicest people.

Edited by cliff brown

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IanA

Most definitely no character assassination on my part. Wiliamson was writing a novel - a distinctly autobiographical novel but it would be wrong to make definite assumptions based on this which is why I'm looking for facts. In 'A Fox Under My Cloak' Formby is often referred to as 'Bertram Baldersby of Baldersby Towers, Baldersby, Berks' and I assume that Williamson must have heard the cry 'Formby of Formby Hall, Formby' often in the mess and utilised it in his book. Other incidents portrayed in the book emphasise Formby's snobbish ways  but then Williamson almost certainly felt vulnerable and very much an outsider and may have perceived slights and put-downs when none were intended.

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felix.j
Ian,
 
Thank you, have been around for many years but only as lurker, my colleague Cliff does a sterling job of answering the Cambs questions on here but was unable to respond last night.
 
My point is just that it is worth being a touch cautious before adding labels and passing judgement on a chap from 100 plus years ago. Williamson at times clearly did not have the happiest of postings when he was with the 2/1st and probably did not get on with Formby (who as one of the only pre-war junior officers in the Bn probably felt the need to "sit on" the new arrivals). There are things we can surmise, but it is just that and is also one man's opinion of somebody he did not like and may have given him a bit of a tough time.
It regards to you request for evidence that Formby was a good officer, the evidence really speaks for itself - as covered in Cliff's reply this morning. Formby successfully acted in a variety of roles in the 1/1st during his time on the Western Front, including adjutant and he was made a company commander at a time (and under a superb new commanding officer) when there was no shortage of good experienced suitable officers. It was also during the time that the 1/1st was arguably at it's finest in terms of performance and efficiency since it had arrived in France. There are cases of duff officers being sidelined, passed over for promotion and moved on to non front line roles - in the time Formby was with the 1/1st there would have been numerous opportunities to do just that if he was no good. Instead of being sidelined or moved on he was given a company, exactly at the time that it was known their hardest challenge was round the corner.
 
I appreciate your focus and allegiance to Williamson however it is worth considering that there are always two sides to a story when it comes to a clash of personalities. This one was from over 100 years ago and one of the young men in question was sadly never given the long life or opportunities to write his take on it all down. I think we are just trying to avoid any rather potentially unjust interpretations being set in stone and simply saying there are other ways to look at the information we have left for us.
 
Re the Riddell quote, nice to hear that others have taken it as humoured as that is the way it always came across to me and it possibly could be an example of how his alleged use of the Formby Hall line was intended.
 
Glad to hear you are in contact with us now and I am sure we can help you with your research.
 
Cheers
 
F

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felix.j

Looks like several replies all at the same time there. Glad to see we are all on the same wavelength and that other possible interpretations are not being ignored.

 

2/1st Bn had a real mix of Jnr officers at that time and as you say Williamson does seem to have felt rather out of place for some reason. Certainly when Jnr officers were posted to the 1/1st there was a consorted effort to get them in shape and fitting in probably by being quite hard on them. Some of the more senior and seasoned officers did not hold back on their views of the new chaps in their letters home, however there are no negative views regarding Formby in any of the details we have.

 

 

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cliff brown

Like you Ian, I would be keen to know more about Formby regarding his portrayal by HW - whether or not it was based on truth. You're right that the "Formby of Formby Hall" stuff might well have been a 'jolly jape' by a bunch of officers in the Mess; it's the sort of prank that young lads got up to. I believe the source for Whittington marrying Formby is his service papers. There are some interesting bits about his health too. Felix has them and will confirm later.

 

There is a piece about Formby Hall here: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Formby_Hall

 

Edited by cliff brown

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Steven Broomfield

Regarding Riddell, it is obvious from the history what affection he held for the Cambridgeshires: his description of them on 31st July 1917 is - frankly - one of the finest descriptions of a battalion going into action that I have read. Having spent my formative years in Cambridge I recognise some of the names of people mentioned, and I have an affection for the regiment myself (although my TA service in Cambridge was with the Signals rather than D Company of the 6th R Anglians) which is more than reflected in Riddell and Clayton's book.

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cliff brown

As you would expect Steve (do we call you a flag wagger now?), I would totally agree with your assessment of Riddell and his chapters in the battalion history.

Edited by cliff brown

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IanA
2 hours ago, felix.j said:
My point is just that it is worth being a touch cautious before adding labels and passing judgement on a chap from 100 plus years ago. Williamson at times clearly did not have the happiest of postings when he was with the 2/1st and probably did not get on with Formby (who as one of the only pre-war junior officers in the Bn probably felt the need to "sit on" the new arrivals). There are things we can surmise, but it is just that and is also one man's opinion of somebody he did not like and may have given him a bit of a tough time.

As I stated previously, Williamson was writing a novel and we mustn't take anything in it to be truth. Baldersby is clearly based on Formby and Williamson obviously had an axe to grind - we know that there was actually an unofficial subaltern's court martial which resulted in Williamson's bed and items of furniture being thrown from a hotel window. The character 'Maddison' who is Williamson in the book is shown to be gauche, too eager to ape the manners of the other officers (all public school and university men) and drinks far too much. Baldersby is depicted getting married to a stunning girl in 1915 but is then posted to the 3rd battalion (a training battalion) given his third pip and was killed at the Battle of Poelcappelle. Fiction. Incidentally, my interest in Formby stems from my living quite close to Formby for a few years and I have stood outside Formby Hall.

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