15 September 2009

The Ten Tommies

Some while ago I bought a couple of albums which had been kept by a VAD probationer whilst she was working at auxiliary hospitals in Rawstenstall, Lancashire. Inside one of these albums was an eight page leaflet produced for The Ten Tommies - a troupe of entertainers (all ex-servicemen) who, according to the introduction, had spent over 100 weeks in hospital between them. I've been meaning to dig a little deeper into their stories and this blog gives me the opportunity to do so. I'm reproducing all of the pages below. Click on the images for readable versions.

This particular leaflet was published on 11th June 1918. I have no idea when the Ten Tommies gave their first performance but certainly some of the men here were not discharged from the army until 1917. I am guessing that one of the locations where they provided their entertainment was at Rawstenstall.

Medal index cards (MICs) for all of the Ten Tommies, and service records for some of them, survive at the National Archives in Kew and can also be viewed on-line via Ancestry.co.uk which is currently offering a 14 day FREE trial.

"All of the boys," the leaflet says, "have moving stories to tell of the horrors of wounds, gassing and barbed wire entanglements..." That may have been the case, but as I will show, three of the ten never left the UK and rheumatism rather than shell or bullet was the cause of one other discharge. The leaflet, is 'of it's time' and a healthy scepticism should be applied to some of the so-called "facts".

Private Bert Danson was K/516 Pte John Herbert Davison who enlisted with the 22nd (Kensington) Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers on 19th September 1914. The author Hector Hugh Munro (Saki) joined this battalion in August 1914 (army service number 225) and by the end of September, the battalion had signed up a full complement. John Davison was 34 years and 105 days old and was a professional music hall artist. He was five feet, eight and a half inches tall, had a fresh complexion, brown eyes, grey brown hair, and tattoos on his upper left arm. Although he enlisted at Shepherd's Bush in west London, he was Manchester-born and gave his home address as 56 Wilton Road, Chortlon-cum-Hardy; the same address where his next of kin - his father, Henry Davison - was living.

Bert Danson, or John Davison was the brains behind the Ten Tommies, yet his tales of waking in the trenches and the boom of the gun were all imagined. Bert never made it out of England and he was discharged from the army on 15th February 1915 as medically unfit. In December 1916 he applied for a passport and was presumably successful, having been "twice around the world" by 1918.

Private Jack Shandley was 242344 Pte John Shanley who - according to the Ten Tommies leaflet - originally joined the 1/4th Seaforth Highlanders on 19th October 1914. He was sent to France almost immediately, arriving there on 7th November 1914 and thus qualifying for the 1914 Star with clasp and roses (although he does not appear to have claimed the latter). John Shanley later transferred to the 1/5th Seaforth Highlanders and was discharged from the army on 24th October 1917.

Lance-Corporal Maybury was L/9891 Lance-Corporal Ernest Mayberry, a career soldier who had joined the Middlesex Regiment on 20th September 1904. He arrived in France on 5th September 1914 and thus, like John Shanley, could claim to be an Old Contemptible. He was discharged on 25th May 1916 and would later claim the clasp and roses for his 1914 Star.

Sergeant William Duffield DCM enlisted with the Yorkshire Regiment on 1st September 1914 and was given the number 12719. He arrived in the Balkans on 28th September 1915 and was discharged from the army on 16th March 1917.

Private Arthur Townsend joined the Royal Fusiliers on 2nd September 1914. He served with the 2nd battalion but the GS/ prefix on his army number - 16687 - indicates that he enlisted for war-time service only. He arrived in the Balkans on 25th August 1915 and was discharged due to wounds on 29th July 1916.

Private Bert Shaw was 4391 Private Herbert Shaw of the 30th Royal Fusiliers. He enlisted on 12th November 1915 at St Paul's Churchyard, and gave his address as 86 Grove Lane, Camberwell, south west London. He was 35 years and five months old and working as a variety artist.

Herbert was five feet, five inches tall, had a sallow complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. A depressed scar on his left knee, and a dimpled chin are also recorded on his surviving attestation papers.

Herbert gave his next of kin as his father, Jabal - or Jubal - Shaw of Hill Street, Ashton under Lyne. He joined at Leamington on 15th November 1915 and was immediately posted to the 30th Royal Fusiliers. Like Bert Danson though, Bert Shaw never made it out of England and on 29th August 1916 he was discharged as no longer physically fit. He had served 292 days.

A Medical Board report dated 15th August 1916 concludes:

Originated 1915 at Leamington. Has always been highly nervous and found that he became worse when he was shooting on ranges. He is in a highly nervous state and is very tremulous and has a good deal of palpitations, has also a good deal of rheumatism in his shoulders and back. Heart sounds feeble. Not caused or aggravated by military service. Permanent. Prevents ¼."

Bert was paid a £25 gratuity under clause 7(2) Royal Warrant 1917. A pension claim in September 1916 was rejected the following month.

Private Jack Roberts was 202450 Pte John Roberts who enlisted with the 4th Dorsetshire Regiment on 14th November 1914 and was discharged due to sickness on 3rd May 1917. John Roberts remained in the UK for the duration of his army service.

29993 Private Peter Murphy of the 16th Cheshire Regiment enlisted in October 1914 according to the Ten Tommies leaflet. His army service number though, indicates that he joined up at least a year after this date and he certainly did not go overseas until 1st January 1916 or later. He was discharged from the army on 12th January 1917.

Bandsman Charles Clare was 2996 Private Charles Clapp who attested with the 2/2nd London Regiment at 9 Tufton Street, London on 23rd September 1914. He took the Imperial Service Obligation the same day. Charles was 20 years and nine months old and stood five feet ten inches tall. He served overseas in Malta and Egypt and was discharged in January 1916 due to rheumatism in his knee and shoulders. A Medical Board in June 1916 awarded him a pension of 4/8 per week for 18 months.

Private Frank Howell was 17457 Corporal Francis David John Howell who joined the Welsh Regiment on 15th October 1914, served with the 14th Battalion and was discharged on 23rd July 1917. He arrived in France on 2nd December 1915 and thus qualified for the British War and Victory Medals and the 1914-15 Star. His MIC does not indicate that he claimed the silver war badge.

In some respects, the Ten Tommies can be said to be representative of the British soldier between 1914-1918. None of the men were conscripted but the ten comprised one career soldier, two Old Contemptibles, Territorials, Pals and Kitchener men; not to mention a gallantry award winner. Three men never left Britain whilst the others served on the Western Front and at Gallipoli. At least two of the men were career Music Hall / Variety Artists and it's possible that some of the others were too.

I have no idea whether the entertainments the men presented were for the financial benefit of the Ten Tommies, the War Effort or a combination of both. In any event, by June 1918, the British population had been beaten down by four years of relentless and costly war and if nothing else, the Ten Tommies seem to have done "their bit" to buck up the spirits of wounded soldiers and the population alike.

I'd be interested to hear from anyone who has additional information about the Ten Tommies.

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