Thomas J Grinnell, maternal relative: Buried in UK 1918

Thomas J Grinnell (I have no idea what the "j" was for and none of the records give me a clue) was born during July 1891 and died in a VAD Hospital in the UK after being evacuated from the front.

Thomas was one of my third cousins, twice removed on my mothers side of the family. The actual lineage is:

  • Thomas J Grinnell (1891 - 1918)
  • Frances Emily Whiting (1868 - 1930) - mother of Thomas J Grinnell
  • Ann Kembrey (Fanny) Priday (1832 - 1911) - mother of Frances Emily Whiting
  • Samuel Priday (1800 - 1883) - father of Ann Kembrey (Fanny) Priday
  • John Priday (1750 - 1815) - father of Samuel Priday
  • Nathaniel Priday (1794 - 1870) - son of John Priday
  • Nathaniel Priday (1830 - 1900) - son of Nathaniel Priday
  • Joseph Priday (1853 - 1933) - son of Nathaniel Priday
  • Joseph Priday (1888 - 1954) - son of Joseph Priday
  • Alice May Priday (1917 - 2009) - daughter of Joseph Priday
  • William G Hyde - me

His Family

site-HarpInn-Cheltenham-thosjgrinnellThomas J's father was Frederick Grinnell, born during April 1870 in Ruth St, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England and died 14 Sep 1940 in The General Hospital, Cheletnham, Gloucestershire, England. Frederick's father was an Innkeeper in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire being the landlord at The Pilgrim (public house) 61 Rutland St in 1881. Frederick took Beer trade up for a short time around 1901 when he ran the Harp Inn, 275 High St, Cheltenham. At other times Frederick was a general labourer.

Frederick Grinnell married Frances Emily Whiting during October 1888. Frances Emily was born during October 1868 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England and died during June 1930 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire.

Frederick & Frances set up home at 7 Brunswick Terrace, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England and started a family that eventually grew to include:

  • Frances Maud Ethel Grinnell (1890 – 1951)
  • Thomas J Grinnell (1891 – 1918)
  • Muriel Eleanor G Grinnell (1893 – 1968)
  • Alice Beatrice Muriel Grinnell (1894 – 1961)
  • Frederick Charles A Grinnell (1898 – 1956)

By 1911, Thomas J had moved to 55 Brunswick Street, St Pauls, Cheltenham, Gloucestershire, England and taken up the trade of Plumber. During April 1913 Thomas J married Ethel Violet Pitcher in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire. Ethel was three months pregnant when she & Thomas J married and their only child, Thomas John F Grinnell, was born 15 Oct 1913 in Cheltenham.

The image is of 275 High St Cheltenham, the site once occupied by the Harp Inn. No images exist of The Pilgrim public house.

Hi Military Service

Thomas J & Ethel Violet set up home in Cheltenham and as soon as war was declared on 4th August 1914 Thomas J joined (as a private) the 1st/5th Territorial Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment and his regimental number was 1972.

When was was declared there was a major rush from the young men of Great Britain to join up and for the creation of new Territorial Force Battalions to supplement the British Expeditionary Force, which consisted of six infantry divisions and five cavalry brigades that were arranged into the I Corps and the II Corps. Britain had signed a treaty on 8 April 1904 with France that ended over a 1000 years of disputes & wars between Britain & France and required each signatory to go to the aid of the other should the that country be threatened by another. So when war with Germany was declared on 4th August 1914 after Germany declared war on France (3rd August 1914) and invaded Belgium. The BEF consisted of 80, 000 troops & 300 artillery pieces when they fought their first action at the Battle of Mons. The creation of the Territorial Forces provided both troops to reinforce the regular army and to provide for the home defence of England against invasion.

1st/5th Territorial Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment

The 5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment was a territorial unit based in Gloucester. serving with the South Midland Brigade in South Midland Division. The units had just departed for their annual summer camp when war broke out in August 1914 and they were at once recalled. They mobilised for war service on the 5th of August 1914 taking up station on the Isle of Wight, soon moving to Swindon, then to Maldon in Essex in the second week of August to concentrate with the Division and commence training.

They proceeded to France from Folkestone, landing at Bologne on the 30th of March 1915 The Division concentrated near Cassel. On the 15th of May 1915 the formation was renamed 145th Brigade, 48th (South Midland) Division. In 1916 they were in action in the Battle of the Somme, suffering hevy casualties on the 1st of July in assaulting the Quadrilateral (Heidenkopf). They were also in action at The Battle of Bazentin Ridge, capturing Ovillers, The Battle of Pozieres Ridge, The Battle of the Ancre Heights and The Battle of the Ancre. In 1917 the Division occupied Peronne during the The German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line and were in action in the Third Battles of Ypres. On the 21st of November 1917 they entrained for Italy. In 1918 they were involved in The fighting on the Asiago Plateau. On the 11th of September they left the Division and returned to France to join 75th Brigade, 25th Division fought in the Final Advance in Picardy.

After his basic training Thomas J Grinnell was transferred on 11 January 1916  to the newly created 145th Company Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), still as a Private with the Service No. 23939. The 145th Company Machine Gun Corps (Infantry) were embedded in the 48th (South Midland) Division as were the 5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment.

Machine Gun Corps (Infantry), 145th Company

Vickers ww1At the outbreak of World War I in August 1914 the tactical potential of machine guns was not appreciated by the British Military. The Army therefore went to war with each infantry battalion and cavalry regiment containing a machine gun section of just two guns each. This was supplemented in November 1914 by the formation of the Motor Machine Gun Service (MMGS), administered by the Royal Artillery, consisting of motor-cycle mounted machine gun batteries. A machine gun school was also opened in France.

A year of warfare on the Western Front proved that, to be fully effective, machine guns must be used in larger units and crewed by specially trained men. To achieve this, the Machine Gun Corps was formed in October 1915 with Infantry, Cavalry and Motor branches, followed in 1916 by the Heavy Branch. A depot and training centre was established at Belton Park in Grantham, Lincolnshire, and a base depôt at Camiers in France.

The Infantry Branch was by far the largest and was formed initially by the transfer of battalion machine gun sections to the MGC, these being grouped into Brigade Machine Gun Companies, three per division.

Prior to the creation of the Machine Gun Corps (Infantry) each infantry battalion has it's own Machine Gun Section which comprised of one officer and 12 men. And it is quite likely that Thomas J was one of the 12 machine gunners in the 5th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment.

48th (South Midland) Division

On 10 November 1917 the 48th (South Midland) Division were moved from the Western Front in France & Flanders to Italy. Entrainment began on 21 November and all units had detrained around Legnano (Adige) by 1 December. The Division them moved north to the area allotted to XI Corps.

The Division relieved 7th Division to hold the front line sector at the Montello between 1 and 16 March. It then moved west, to the Asiago sector. The Division took part in:

  • The fighting on the Asiago Plateau (15-16 June)
  • The Battle of the Vittoria Veneto (1-4 November) but in the Val d'Assa rather than the Vittoria Veneto itself.

We know that Thomas J died on 13th June 1918 so it is quite likely he has been injured prior to the Division left France & Flanders as it would have taken at least 4 weeks to get from the front to the UK hospital. prior to being moved to Italy the 48th (South Midland) Division took part in The Battle of Poelcapelle (3-9th Oct 1917) which as the last set-piece engagement of the Third Battle of Ypres.

His Death

Unfortunately official records do not show precisely where or when Thomas J Grinnell was injured however we do know that he died of his wounds in Cheltenham on the 13th of June 1918.

He had been evacuated from the front to a VAD Hospital in the UK for more specialist treatment. His progress from the front would have been:

  • Aid & Bearer
  • Relay Posts
  • Field Ambulance
  • Casualty Clearing Station
  • Evacuation to Britain
  • VAD Hospital

Aid and Bearer Relay Posts

The casualty is likely to have received first medical attention at aid posts situated in or close behind the front line position. Units in the trenches provided such posts and generally had a Medical Officer, orderlies and men trained as stretcher bearers who would provide this support. The Field Ambulance  would provide relays of stretcher bearers and men skilled in first aid, at a series of "bearer posts" along the route of evacuation from the trenches. All involved were well within the zone where they could be under fire.

Field Ambulance

This was a mobile medical unit, not a vehicle. Each British division had three such units, as well as a specialist medical sanitary unit. The Field Ambulances provided the bearer posts but also estabished Main and Advanced (that is, forward) Dressing Stations where a casualty could receive further treatment and be got into a condition where he could be evacuated to a Casualty Clearing Station. Men who were ill or injured would also be sent to the Dressing Stations and in many cases returned to their unit after first aid or some primary care.

The Casualty Clearing Station

The Casualty Clearing Station was part of the casualty evacuation chain, further back from the front line than the Aid Posts and Field Ambulances. It was manned by troops of the Royal Army Medical Corps, with attached Royal Engineers and men of the Army Service Corps. The job of the CCS was to treat a man sufficiently for his return to duty or, in most cases, to enable him to be evacuated to a Base Hospital. It was not a place for a long-term stay.

CCS's were generally located on or near railway lines, to facilitate movement of casualties from the battlefield and on to the hospitals. Although they were quite large, CCS's moved quite frequently, especially in the wake of the great German attacks in the spring of 1918 and the victorious Allied advance in the summer and autumn of that year.

racecourse vad-tjgrinnellEvacuation to Britiain

The flow of casualties from the various theatres of war soon overwhelmed the existing medical facilities in the United Kingdom, just as it did the base hospitals established in France and Flanders. Many civilian hospitals and large buildings were turned over to military use.

In and around Cheltenham a number of VAD hospitals were created:

  • Leckhampton Court Hospital, Church Road, Leckhampton
  • Naunton Park Hospital, Naunton Lane
  • New Court Hospital, Lansdown Place
  • Priory Hospital, London Road
  • Racecourse Hospital, Prestbury Park
  • St John Hospital, Gloucester Road
  • St Martins Hospital, Parabola Road
  • Suffolk Hall Hospital, Lypiatt Road

Voluntary Aid Detachment Hospitals were created to receive those sick and wounded from the battlefields who had travelled along the Army Medical Services evacuation chain. Many thousands of patients passed through their doors though some succumbed to their wounds or illness, despite the best efforts of their carers. Often the dead troops were buried in civilian cemeteries close to the Hospital that cared for them.

cheltenhamcemetery-tjgrinnellHis Burial

Although I do not know (for sure) which Cheltenham Hospital cared for Thomas J, he was buried at Cheltenham Cemetry, Prestbury, Cheltenham so it is be reasonable to assume Thomas J was treated at the Racecourse Hospital, Prestbury Park, Cheltenham.

Thomas J's grave, Plot A1. 1710, is maintained by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. The cemetery contains burials of both wars. The 110 First World War graves are mainly of men who died in the local voluntary hospitals. The burials are scattered except for a small plot of 10 Australian graves.