This is a photograph of my grandfather, John Thomas Allen, in his uniform as a sergeant in the King's Royal Rifles around the time of the Great War. On his right is Robert Hampson, the husband of his wife's sister (Hampson's son, Kenneth, was killed in the Second World War). On his left is Albert Miles, his wife's brother.
John Thomas Allen didn't like to talk about his experiences and not a great deal is known of what happened to him during the War. He was born in 1890 (his birth certificate has proved elusive), and enlisted around 1910 for a fifteen year term with the King's Royal Rifles. At some point he served in Italy and Egypt (where he was kicked in the face by a camel). At the beginning of the First World War he was in the First Corps of the British Expeditionary Force, arriving at the front on August 13th, 1914; and his 'Mons Star' indicates that he was under enemy fire (i.e. "within range of enemy mobile artillery"). Later, on the Somme, he received serious injuries to both legs and was left for dead on the field. Although he was eventually found and his wounds treated in a French hospital, his legs never fully healed and caused him considerable pain for the rest of his life. He was also gassed and suffered quite badly from shell shock.
He was transferred to the Labour Corps because of his injuries, and was stationed at Tilbury, Essex, for a period. It was at this time that he met my grandmother, Lilian Frances Miles, who was working on munitions at Gravesend, Kent. They were married in Cowley Road Congregational Church, Oxford, on September 1st, 1918. Grandpa also spent some time at Oxford Prison guarding German prisoners of war. They made him several lovely carved items which have, sadly, long disappeared. Fortunately his Pip, Squeak and Wilfred medals (Mons Star [1914 Star with bar], British War Medal and Victory Medal) do still exist in the family.
Apparently, due to family pressures, John Thomas Allen left his regiment nine months or so before his fifteen years were up, as a result of which he never received a pension. For the rest of his life he worked, when his health allowed, in various jobs including as a fireman at the Pressed Steel factory in Oxford. He died of bladder cancer on May 29th, 1961, aged seventy-one, leaving a widow, three daughters and thirteen (eventually fourteen) grandchildren. I don't remember too much about him, myself, except that he was a lovely and loveable man with a bald head surrounded by a rim of silver hair which I found fascinating. I was only ten when he died.
Copyright (c) 2000, 2005, Rosemary Pardoe.
My Cousin Peter Twine has been researching into our Grandfather's war time career
for several years. Here's what he has written to me on the subject:
I carry within my imagination a book, a TV series and for all that I know a film, entitled In Search of My Grandfather. I have had great fun over the last dozen years or so putting this tale together: it represents my efforts to follow in the footsteps of Private John Allen, later sergeant, in his movements through France in 1914-16.
You will notice the cut-off date is 1916. Beyond this point the British Army was so large that individual unit records were virtually indecipherable and I hesitate to mislead anyone. What is virtually certain is this: the chances of grandfather having survived the almost continual exposure in action of his unit from August 1914-November 1916 without the serious injuries that you mention, and that I too remember, would be miraculous.
Now, some information, with this caveat. This is his battalion's history: it has to be assumed that John Allen was present at some or all of these engagements; his unit certainly was. We do not know much of his personal story but probability and surmise will do. The likely tale then is as follows:
Private John Allen No. 7207 1st Battalion KRRC, part of the 6th Brigade, 2nd Division; one of two Divisions in the 1st Corps in 1914 (Haig's Corps).
Battle of Mons, August 1914. 6th Brigade acting as flank guard east of Mons.
Retreat from Mons, August-September; south of Forêt de Mormal, Landrecies.
Flank guard at Battle of Le Cateau, September 1914; skirmishing only.
Retreat to Marne via Villers Coteret, continuing south.
Later were peripheral to 1st Battle of the Marne.
1st Battle of the Aisne, where they crossed the river advancing north. Everybody dug in and the western front began to form north of the river.
British army entrained to Belgium, the German army attempting to outflank them ("race to the sea").
In position east of Ypres, October 1914, when the British army in its ignorance attacked straight into the teeth of the main German right wing offensive, the Schlieffen plan, losing Prince Maurice of Battenburg on October 27th in the process. From this point onwards things were really desperate for the BEF. The four, later six divisions that formed the BEF were under continual, and I mean continual, attack and were virtually destroyed. In one attack alone on October 31st, in their shallow trenches, the 1st KRRC were overwhelmed and half their men - i.e. two companies - disappeared. We can assume that John Allen was not in these and therefore must have been in one of the other two companies (4 companies = 1 battalion). He was a very lucky man to have survived this. Incidentally , there is a 50/50 chance that he may have belonged to the same company as Prince Maurice.
October 31st was the day that the German army finally broke the BEF line around Polygon Wood and were through. A few hundred men of the 2nd Worcesters attacked around Gheluvelt Château and sealed this gap. 1 KRRC were north of Polygon Wood and part of this action until overwhelmed. The British nation owes a lot to those 100,000 men: my grandfather was part of the best army, the most heroic, to have ever left these shores. Never again did the German army come so close.
Battle of Festubert, February 1915. Numbers made up, after the almost total destruction of November, the 1 KRRC moved to France to take part in a night attack during this battle, though on a much smaller scale, west of Neuve Chapelle.
Battle of Loos, Sept 1915. 1 KRRC were in their trenches west of La Basse, south of the canal. The British used gas for the first time and when a fickle wind reversed, the chlorine moved back and settled in the 1 KRRC positions. I believe that Grandad may have been gassed on this occasion.
Battle of the Somme 1916. 1 KRRC were not involved until the attack on Delville Wood in September 1916, where a Sergeant Gill won the VC.
In November 1916 1 KRRC attacked Frankfurt and Munich trenches north of Beaumont Hamel in the last attacks of the battle.
It would be incredible, though perfectly possible, for Grandad to have survived up to this point in the War through all of these later actions. We do not actually know his exact movements because Grandmother destroyed all his letters, at least according to my Mum.
It is scarcely believable but true that he was one of a small group of men, at the first battle of Ypres, that changed history; a man to be proud of.
Copyright (c) 2001, Peter Twine.
Note: The photograph reproduced at the top of the page is postcard-sized (5.25" by 3.25") and is undated, but must have been taken close to or soon after the end of the War. Presumably the family once had several copies but this is the only known surviving example. It was never sent through the post, but is inscribed on the reverse: "From Your Loving Sweetheart Bob [i.e. Robert Hampson], with Fond Love. xxxxxxxxx". The photographer's caption reads: "Norman Taylor. 107. High St & 74. Cowley Rd, Oxford. Portraits taken Day & Night".
If anyone has come across any references to John Thomas Allen, do please e-mail me at: email@example.com. I'd appreciate it if you would not ask me questions about tracing your own King's Royal Rifle Corps ancestor, as all I'll be able to do is refer you to The Public Record Office (The National Archives) link below. The PRO has made the index cards to the First World War Medal Rolls available on-line. This seems to be a very efficient service: I obtained those for both of my grandfathers with ease (my other grandfather was Charles John Nicholls, in the Queen's Own Oxfordshire Hussars).
With thanks to Betty Nicholls.
Last altered: April 28, 2007.
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