The Queens Own Royal West Kent Regiment

Pte A Leeson


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The Life of Alfred Leeson.

Alfred was born on April 29th 1883 in Woolwich and Christened on 15th July at St Mary Magdalene’s Woolwich, the Leesons were then living at 3 Trafalgar Street.  We find him on the 1891 census aged 7 living at 40 Earl Street and attending Plumstead Road School.  He transferred to St Patrick’s R.C. School on 3rd Oct 1892 when the family moved to 38 North Street.  He stayed there until he was 14, leaving as he was ‘over age’ on 24th Aug 1907.  He attained a level IV standard which was higher than most.

On 22nd Feb 1901 he signed up for 6 years in the County of Kent Milita, to serve in the 3rd (Militia) Battalion of the Royal West Kent Regiment.  His forms say he was a ‘Carman’, a driver of a horse and cart, most likely a delivery man of some sort and that he was 18, living at home, which was 2 Back Lane, Frances Street, Woolwich.  His army number was 3530.  For the 1901 census in March he was, on this night at least, at the Regiment’s Barracks in Maidstone, possibly learning his drill as his papers say he was drilled on enlistment and not during his annual training.  He only served in the Militia for just under 3 months.  With the Boer War raging and Mafeking about to be besieged, on 13th May 1901 he visited the Army recruitment office on Frances St, Woolwich, to sign up as a Regular.  He was 18 years and 3 months old.  He became a regular with the Royal West Kent’s, signing up for 12 years, 7 with the Colours and 5 on the Reserve.  His army number changed to L/6170.

He seems to have spent his first year at the Regimental Depot at the Barracks, Sandling Road, Maidstone. 

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Maidstone Barracks 1908.

Then on 14th May 1902 he was posted to the 1st Battalion in Malta and did not return until 13th December.  After almost a year in England he was posted to 2nd Battalion on 7th December 1903 and went to Ceylon.  A rule change in April 1904 meant he was destined to do 8 years with the Colours and 4 on the Reserve.  On 4th November 1904 his Battalion was posted from Ceylon to China, where they stayed until moving on to Singapore on 12th November 1906.  He remained there until 15th December 1908 when he was posted back to the Depot at Maidstone.

During all this time his records show he was well behaved and kept busy.  He was awarded a 3rd class certificate of education 1902, good conduct badges in 1903 and 1906 and a swimming certificate in 1907.

On 12th May 1909, having completed his 8 years with the Colours, he returned to civilian life but still had his 4 years to serve on the Reserve.  So he was transferred to the ‘Army Reserve – Section A’.  Section A was for men who had completed their service in the regular army and who undertook to rejoin, if required, in an emergency that did not require general mobilisation.  It was mainly for unmarried men and the pay was good, 7 shillings a week, in addition to the reservists earnings as a civilian and all he had to do was attend twelve training days per year.

We find him next on the 1911 Census aged 28, living at home (18 Lower Pellipar Road), with his father, 2 brothers and 2 sisters, his mother had died the year before.  He is described as a Labourer working at the Royal Dockyard in the Army Ordnance Dept and he is still a Reservist of the R.W.K.’s.

His 4 years as a Section A Reservist finished on 13th May 1913 and he chose to re-engaged for a further four years on Section D.  Section D reservists could only be called upon in the event of general mobilisation.  Pay was 3 shillings and 6 pence a week and again he had to attend twelve training days per year.

Along with all the other Army Reservists he was mobilised on 5th August 1914, the day after war was declared and posted to 1st Battalion Royal West Kent Regiment (1/RWK), to fill up its ranks to its war establishment.   His medal card has his number still as L/6170.

At that time 1/RWK was stationed at Richmond Barracks, Dublin, [with about 450 effectives], as part of 13th Brigade, 5th Division.

Richmond Barracks, Dublin.

He reported to Maidstone Barracks, was kitted out and went to Dublin, along with 320 other reservists on the 7th and a further 270 the next day, bringing the battalion up to its war strength of 1040.

The Battalion departed on 13th for France on the SS ‘Gloucestershire’, landing at Le Havre at 11:00am on 15th.  From there it marched up to Mons and was in action 8 days later.

SS ‘Gloucestershire’.

The battalion say action at the Battle of Mons, 23rd August and also in rear guard actions on 24th at the start of the retreat.  They were again in action at the Battle of Le Cateau, 26th August, but here the battalion was not so heavily engaged.

 He was wounded [a gunshot wound to the left ankle] at the end of the retreat, probably during the ‘Rearguard Action of Crepy en Valois’ on 1st September 1914.  This action involved most of the 13th Brigade.

It is most likely here as the Battalion crossed the Marne late on the 2nd and then rested for 3 days.  The retreat from Mons was over.

The total casualties during the retreat from Mons were 30 killed, 43 wounded and missing, 110 missing and 82 wounded [total of 265, approx. 25% of the battalion].

He returned to England on 8th of September, he had done only 25 days in France. 

He is listed in the ‘Times’ [Friday, October 2nd, 1914] as being admitted to Clacton Hospital, [Reckitts Convalescent Home], on the 13th September 1914.

 

Clacton Hospital

He was also reported in the ‘Kent and Sussex Courier’ on the 9th of October along with three members of the Regiment killed and five others wounded.

 

He must have made a good recovery as he was posted to the 3rd (Special Reserve) Bn on 28th October.

This was his old 3rd (Militia) Bn which was now a Depot/Training unit, it moved on mobilisation to Chatham.  All those surplus to the immediate needs of the regular army battalions were posted to the Special Reserve Bns.

On 12th November he was appointed unpaid Lance Corporal.  He must have had some leave at Christmas because he was best man at his brother John’s wedding on Boxing Day.  They were all living at 9 Albatross Street then.

The Second Battle of Ypres 1915.

He was posted back to France to rejoin the 1st Bn on 24th March 1915 as a Lance Corporal.  13th Bde was then at Ypres, temporarily in the 28th Division, covering for the ex-Indian Army units which were struggling to acclimatise.  1/RWK’s helped stabilize that part of the line which the 5th Division then took over properly on 7th April, at that time they were doing 2 days in and 2 days out of the front line trenches.

They were in the Battle of Hill 60 on April 17th and relieved the next day after suffering over 300 casualties.

On April 22nd they were to relieve 15th Bde, but were diverted as the Germans had launched their first major gas attack and [having created a 8,000 yard gap in the French lines], were in danger of breaking through.

The next day, with one hour’s notice, no reconnaissance and next to no artillery support, the Brigade attacked with the 1/RWK’s and KOSB’s in the lead.  Their attack helped plug the gap and then they dug in until relieved the following day [they suffered over 100casualties, about 25% of the battalion].

From 26th to 30th April they held the line and were subjected to several more gas attacks to which they had no defence other than covering the mouth and nose with damp rags [and suffered another 70 casualties].

On May 5th they returned to Hill 60, which had been retaken by a gas attack.  1/RWK’s were to counter attack. A Company lead with B in support with C and D in reserve this time.  Could only get as far as trench 40.  Battalion pulled back just before dawn to Larch Wood and C Company was left to cover them.

By now 1/RWK was a veteran unit, it had embarked in August 1914 with 28 Officers and 1,015 ORs; by the end of 1914 there were 2 Officers and 200 ORs left of the “Originals”; (of these, on 11th November 1918, there were no Officers and less than 40 ORs).

He reported sick on May 24th and was sent home on June 6th, this time he had done 46 days at the front. 

He was admitted to the 2nd London General Hospital TF [St Marks College, 552 Kings Road, Chelsea], on June 8th and a medical report dated July 1st recommended him for a discharge as he was suffering so badly from TB.

His records say he was discharged on 15th August 1915 as no longer fit for war service, his rank by then was Acting Corporal.

2nd London General Hospital.

After that we loose sight of him completely, but I believe he may have died in (April, May or June) 1916, aged 32 in Christchurch Hampshire [on the south coast near Bournemouth] as there is no record of him staying in Woolwich after his discharge.  It is possible he went to the south coast to convalesce, at one of the sanatoriums, from his TB and the effects of any gas attacks he was exposed to at Ypres.

Medals.

As part of the original B.E.F. he saw service before 22 November 1914 which qualified him as an ‘Old Contemptible’.  Along with the British War medal and the Victory medal, he was awarded the 1914 Star [the Mons Star].

In 1919 a bar [clasp] inscribed "5 Aug. to 22 Nov. 1914" was awarded for the 1914 Star, to all those who served under fire.  He was entitled to this but his medal card does not show it was every issued to him, indicating he may well have died before then.

The Cap Badge of the Royal West Kent Regiment.

 

The Badge of the 5th Division


This page was last updated on 10-Sep-2014.

Copyright   © 2008 Janet & Richard Mason