Driver John Large 2/3 West Lancashire Brigade RFA

Discussion in 'Looking for someone' started by ogdenm, Nov 12, 2009.

  1. ogdenm

    ogdenm New Member

    I have tried in vain to find any specific detail about my late grandfather born in Liverpool John Large, Driver 2nd/3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA

    His discharge papers show:
    Date of Birth: 23/11/1897
    Date of Enlistment: 6/4/1915
    Army Number: 685759
    Date of Discharge: 25/1/1919 (or possibly 1/2/1919)

    I have downloaded his medal card from the National Archives but that is mostly blank (doesn't even show he went to France, which he did and I remember him saying he was at the 1st battle of the Somme).

    It appears that his records were amongst those destroyed in WWII (records not found on Ancestry).

    As he was a Driver and did not receive a gallantry medal it seems he was by and large anonymous... I have looked at Rev Coop's Divisional History but unless I can determine his battery seemingly I am to be frustrated.

    He was wounded (at least once) and carried shrapnel in his back till his dying day (you could see flecks of it in his shoulders when he shaved at the sink in the morning wearing vest and braces...

    He met my grandmother when a patient in hospital in Eastbourne recovering from wounds received (she was a nursing auxiliary), she nursed him, they fell in love and were married for over 50 years until his death in the 1970s. He was naturally discharged as fully fit, that way'they' did not have to pay a pension

    Seemingly unless I know which battery her served with I cannot identify exactly where he went... Are there any suggested sources?

    Any help gratefully received

  2. Stephen Nulty

    Stephen Nulty New Member


    As you'll have realised, RFA men can be hard to track down!

    I can't help you with details of his movements - as you've pointed out, a little more information on his battery would be needed. His Medal Index Card, while not containing much information, does show his entitlement to the British War Medal and Victory Medal, and it's possible that by examining the referenced Medal Rolls at Kew (not available online), you might be able to find out his battery.

    The existence of the card shows that he served overseas, and the absence of a "Date of Entry" on the card further shows that he only went overseas after December 1915.

    Other than that, I can't help I'm afraid.
  3. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Hi Mark and welcome ! :)

    Have you been unable to find Johns service records in the burnt records also ? ... I don't have access I'm afraid to Ancestry - but somebody else maybe able to look - if you haven't already !

    Johns service number puts him in the 3rd West Lancs Brigade Royal Field Artillery. This was later re-designated 277 Brigade ...... and the 277 Brigade was in the 55th (West Lancashire) Division

    You can't take it as read that all his service was with them - but failing a service record surviving there isn't too much you can do with an RFA man - ( as Stephen has already said !! ) .... and I'm sure you've heard a lot over the years !! :(

    "Mud, Blood and Poppycock" by Gordon Corrigan is a book that maybe of interest .... it will give you some background at least !

    But I'll keep looking !

    Annie :)

    PS I can't find my Granddads either ... frustrating isn't it ?
  4. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    I've also discovered that the Divisional artillery moved to France in October 1915 and joined 2nd Canadian Division.

    In November the War Office authorised the re-formation of the West Lancashire Division, now to be known as the 55th, in France

    The War Diaries of this period are available online in the Canadian Archives .... have you checked those already ? if not .... that maybe a place to take a look !!



    Annie :)
  5. ogdenm

    ogdenm New Member


    Thanks for the responses, as you are all equally aware, tracing someone who survived is a lot more difficult than someone who died....
    I did separately receive this information that is general rather than specific
    "2/3rd West Lancs Bde was part of divisional artillery of the second-line of the West Lancashire Territorial Division. That division became 57th Division and went to France in 1917. The first line of the division became 55th Division which was formed in France in January 1916. The infantry battalions had gone to France individually in 1914 & 1915 and the artillery went to France in mid/late 1915 as the artillery of the 2nd Canadian Division, until the division was formed or re-formed. (This pattern was quite usual for the first line TF divisions, being broken up to provide early reinforcements for the regular divisions and then re-formed in the winter of 1915-16.)

    55th Division did serve in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. One of the initial roles of the second-line units was to provide drafts for the first line. It would be quite possible for your grandfather to have volunteered for foreign service (or taken the "Imperial Service Obligation") once he had completed his basic training & he might then have joined the first line of his unit at any time, even perhaps before they went to France. " And also (from the Regimental Secretary of the King's Regiment)
    "The 55th Division was initially created as the the West Lancashire Division of the Territorial Force in 1908. Many of the Division's original units including all of its infantry were sent to the Western Front, between November 1914 and April 1915, to join other formations as reinforcements. The complete Division was reformed in France 3rd - 27th January 1916, and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war.

    On 15th August 1914, orders were issued to separate the 'home service' men from those who had undertaken to serve overseas, with the intention of forming reserves made up of those who had not so volunteered. On 31st August, authority was given to establish a 2nd-Line Division for each of the 1st-Line where more than 60% of the men had volunteered. These Divisions were formed from late 1914, although the permissible strength of a 2nd-Line unit was only half of the normal establishment. This was raised to full establishment early in 1915, after which many of them were sent overseas, with some playing important parts in the fighting. On 24th November 1914, it was decided to replace each overseas-service unit which proceeded abroad with its reserve unit; and directly this happened, a second reserve unit, or 3rd-Line, would be formed. Several of the newly-formed Second-Line units joined the West Lancashire Division, replacing original units which had gone to France independently. The remainder formed up into the 2nd West Lancashire Division, which was redesignated as the 57th in August 1915.

    The Second-Line TF units were possibly the worst-off of all as regards equipment and other supplies, especially artillery. It was not until November 1915 that Lee-Enfield .303" rifles were received. Artillery came a month later, and Lewis guns only in February 1916. The complete Division moved to France between 7th and 22nd February 1917, and thereafter served on the Western Front.

    I think that the designation of the Artillery that you should have is CCLXXXVII (2/III West Lancashire) Brigade, RFA (broken up by 20 February 1917)"

  6. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Hi Mark !

    Did you get that from Dick Flory ? ... or have you been in touch with him at all ? ..... he's " the man " where the Artillery is concerned and what he doesn't know ... isn't worth knowing !! :)'

    I just can't get my head around them at all .... they are so complex .... but I'd be happy to take a look and see what can be found ...

    I know how frustrating it can be ... I've been there ... and still am for that matter !! :rolleyes:

  7. ogdenm

    ogdenm New Member


    Thanks for the message (and shared frustration)

    I accessed Ancestry (as a freebie) searching for but no his records seem absent therefore it is reasonable to assume his were burnt - at the moment they are offering 2 weeks free access - I will try registering for 2 weeks to see if anything else transpires.

    I have been told there is a "55th Club" in Church St. Preston that was set up after WWI and is still going so maybe....

    I had access to his discharge papers (held by my very elderly uncle) and the only unit listed was 2/3 although I vaguely recall him mentioning he was also a foot soldier as being on horseback made him feel a bit of a target.... but can get no documentary evidence to support this.

    I wish I had asked him to make a tape recording all those years ago - I used to chat with him every Friday and he would willingly talk about his experiences - he didn't lose sleep over it at all - he viewed it as his job even when he took part in a firing squad... The chap he shot (and he did shoot him) was a school friend whose family had moved to Manchester; he had shell shock, was sentenced and my granddad was on execution duty.

    I asked him if he shot to kill which he confirmed as he didn't want to wound him (or aim to miss as he would have been on a charge). He viewed it as being the last favour he could do for a friend - give him a quick exit

    Heck of a man
  8. ogdenm

    ogdenm New Member

    Did you get that from Dick Flory ? ... or have you been in touch with him at all ? ..... he's " the man " where the Artillery is concerned and what he doesn't know ... isn't worth knowing !! :)'

    > Yes I communicated witn Dick (sounds awful that...!) but even with his encyclopedia like knowledge I could get no further - the hope was that his records survived but....

    The rest actually came from a chap I found care of Google a couple of years ago - an historian working on WWI but his name now escapes me...

  9. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Oh boy ! .... you're so lucky to have known John !! :) .... Do you have photos of him also ? and his medals ?

    Wait for a bit before you sign up with Ancestry ... lets see if somebody can look him up for you first !!

    Annie :)
  10. ogdenm

    ogdenm New Member

    He was an ordinary working class man who did and saw extraordinary things - something in common with millions who served in that conflict.

    I can only remember snatches of conversation (it was over 35 years ago that he died)

    - being in a shell hole Christmas Day eating 'bully beef' out of a can
    - him saying the gas masks were useless and that you were better off peeing onto a wad of cotton waste and holding that over your mouth (not perfect as he did inhale some gas that affected his stomach all his life)
    - being sent out to 'sort out' a machine gun post with a back of Mills bombs (I think)

    I so wish I'd had the awareness to record things....

    Any medals are held by his son (he's in his 80s now) and he has a box of bits - an RFA pennant with the cannon and motto; not much else I'm afraid.....but I do havea photo of the King reviewing the RFA @ Aldershot (just down the road from where I live now - ex-pat Scouser) in 1915 about a foot wide sepia tint that has rarely been out of the cardboard sleeve
    My mum has some photos that I tried to find last time I was up there but no luck - I suspect my uncle may have them

    Hey ho
  11. ogdenm

    ogdenm New Member

  12. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Oh OK !! ..... :)

    Lets see what can be found on Ancestry ... you never know .... they have been finding mens records inside other records ... so keep your fingers crossed !! :)

    Did you say he didn't have a pension ? ....... not even for a little while ?
  13. ogdenm

    ogdenm New Member

    Update from another Forum...

    With no service record available for John Large, the only primary evidence for his service is in his discharge papers which you have and his Medal Rolls Index card. On the surface the medal index card shows he was a driver with the RFA with the six-figure number 685759. The medal roll reference was pre-fixed "TF" which was the Territorial Force. The lack of qualifying date and the award of the British War Medal and the Allied Victory Medal would indicate he entered France after January 1st 1916, as he apparently did not qualify for the 1914-15 Star for service abroad before December 31st 1915.
    There are two clues on the card. The first is the TF reference and the second is the six-figure number. Soldiers who enlisted in Territorial Force units before March 1917 usually had four-figure regimental numbers which were altered to six-figure TF numbers under the 1917 changes. Because of the lack of information on the card it is wrong to draw too many conclusions from it. However, it does show he was in a Territorial Force unit of the RFA and he did not apparently qualify for the 1915 Star.

    The discharge papers you have indicate he enlisted on April 6th 1915; his TF number on discharge was 685759 and he was discharged early in 1919. If he enlisted in 1915 he would almost certainly have been allotted a four-figure regimental number, which was the system in place at the time.

    You say he served in the 2nd/3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA. The 3rd West Lancashire Brigade Royal Field Artillery was a Territorial Force unit created in 1908 from the 6th Lancashire Artillery Volunteers formed in 1859. Their headquarters were at Liverpool where the 12th and 13th Lancashire Batteries were stationed; with the 14th Lancashire Battery stationed at Garston. They belonged to the divisional troops of the West Lancashire Division under Western Command. Although designated as a Territorial formation (for service at home) the whole of the West Lancashire Division was mobilised on August 4th 1914. All T.F. units were expected to form a reserve from the volunteers who were keen to enrol at the outbreak of war. The 3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA was supplemented by the 2nd/3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA. In 1914 and early 1915 the infantry elements of the West Lancashire Division were sent to France while the artillery remained and trained in England under the 57th (2nd West Lancashire") Infantry Division. During this period, the two West Lancashire RFA Brigades were at home and alongside each other. The soldiers were expected to sign an agreement for "Imperial Service" overseas. The senior of the two RFA Brigades (1st/3rd West Lancs RFA) was warned it would be sent to France. To bring it up to strength and to compensate for any losses from men who decided not to volunteer for overseas service, the senior Brigade could have drawn on men from the 2nd line Brigade.

    The 1st/3rd West Lancashire Brigade went to France in October 1915 to serve as the divisional artillery for the 2nd Canadian Division. Of the three battery commanders of the original 3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA, Richard Stead, Stanley Rimmer and Hermann Jospeh Decker, I have found dates of entry into France for two of them: the 30th September (Rimmer) and 1st October 1915 (Decker). The war diary shows the artillery sailed on the night of September 30th and disembarked at 7 a.m. October 1st at Le Havre on SS Australind and the next day moved to Berthen. The Brigade served with the 2nd Canadian Division until January 1916 and then served with the 55th Infantry Division in France until January 1917 when it was broken up.

    There is no documentary evidence John Large went to France with the senior 3rd West Lancashire brigade RFA in October 1915. If he did, it should have been shown on his medal card as he would have qualified for the 1914-15 Star. The card might also have shown his original four-figure number.

    From the Medal Rolls Index cards I have identified soldiers with the RFA numbers 685750 to 685763 which should be unique individual TF soldiers in the RFA alongside John who had the number 685759. Many of these men were drivers in the RFA. William Ball 685760 and Albert Deakin 685762 entered France on October 1st 1915. Ball also had the four figure number 1678 and Deakin a four figure number 1680. Both these men's names appeared on the same TF RFA Medal Roll as John Large (TF RFA 114B). They were both on the next page (2854) to John's entry on page 2853. However, Ball and Williams also qualified for the 1914-15 Star. This appears to indicate that some men who were later allocated six-figure numbers in the same sequence as John's did enter France with the 3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA, serving with the 2nd Canadian Division. It does not indicate John Large did so, but it shows if he had done, he should have earned the 1914-15 Star. The 2nd line brigade would have provided draft replacements to the first when they were needed at any time after October 1915.
    Meanwhile, the second line unit, the 2nd/3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA, was still in England and training with the 57th Division. It had been formed in February 1915 and moved to Canterbury in September of that year, equipped mainly with obsolescent equipment. In July 1916 the Division moved to Aldershot by which time conscription had been introduced, removing the choice of TF units serving at home. The Division was sent overseas and formed-up at Merris in France by February 23rd 1917.

    In January and February 1917 some divisional artillery was broken up and some of the units became Army Artillery Brigades, which served higher formations as task-force gunners to provide barrages where they were most needed for major operations. It is therefore difficult to track them.
    In May 1916 the artillery had their county names replaced by numbers. Because these numbers could be confused with Infantry Brigades, the artillery wrote their numbers in Roman numerals. The senior 3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA became the CCLXXVII Brigade RFA.

    The 2nd/3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA became the CCLXXXVII Brigade RFA. Then, because Roman numerals were hard to read, they often became known as the 277th Brigade and the 287th Brigade respectively. You need to know this to help you with your research.

    From the evidence so far, John Large served with the 2nd/3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA from April 6th 1915 and that brigade entered France in February 1917 serving with the 57th Infantry Division. His Medal Rolls Index card would be accurate if this were the case.

    However, his oral history tells a different story. The difficulty with oral evidence is that it can become distorted in re-telling over time. But it cannot be dismissed.

    The oral evidence is that he was at the first battle of the Somme. This battle opened on July 1st 1916 and its various engagements continued until November 18th 1916. If John served only with the 2nd/3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA he would have been in England when this battle was fought. After serving with the Canadians, the senior 3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA was attached to the 55th Infantry Division from January 1916 and that Division was employed on the Somme in the summer of 1916 from July 25th, with its first major engagement at Guillemont between September 3rd and 6th 1916. Therefore it seems probable that John had been posted to the 1st/3rd West Lancashire Brigade among reinforcements, probably in early 1916 (as his medal card does not show he qualified for the 1915 Star). For example, Captain Cecil Heywood Brunner of the 3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA died near Ypres on October 25th 1917. Brunner entered France on January 30th 1916. Therefore he was probably with the 2nd/3rd Brigade in England and sent among reinforcements to the 1st/3rd in January 1916.

    If John enlisted with the 2nd/3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA in Liverpool in April 1915 both the oral history and the medal index card would match – indicating he was posted to the overseas brigade early in 1916 in time to serve on the Somme and probably did his fighting with the senior 1st/3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA with the 55th Infantry Division before the Brigade was broken up in January 1917.

    That is where knowing which battery he served in would help trace his service with the RFA through 1917 and 1918 until he was injured. For a breakdown of what happened to the batteries of the senior 3rd West Lancashire Brigade RFA in January 1917 see:
    The war diaries of this brigade while with the Canadians in 1915 are available online at
    under 1/3 West Lancs Brigade.

    The war diaries of the 1st/3rd West Lancashire Brigade are described as "277th Brigade Royal Field Artillery" from October 1915 to December 1916 and are held at the National Archives at Kew in series WO95/2915; 55 Division. The war diaries of "287 Brigade Royal Field Artillery" (2nd/3rd) are held by the National Archives at Kew in the series WO95/2972; 57 Division. They are in two parts: 1915-16 and Jan-Feb 1917.

    It is frustrating when a soldier's individual history is not recorded, but if his documents were destroyed in WW2, as so many were, the only way to trace his movements is to piece together the available evidence you have. Sometimes, that is insufficient to provide a positive record.

    The plot thickens....
  14. ogdenm

    ogdenm New Member

    Lets see what can be found on Ancestry ... you never know .... they have been finding mens records inside other records ... so keep your fingers crossed !! :)

    > I think I will visit Ancestry from home this weekend

    Did you say he didn't have a pension ? ....... not even for a little while ?

    > None at all - discharged as fully fit!
  15. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Oh wow Mark ! ....... thats a pretty comprehensive report !! :)

    Mosiefish spent the night ( a few nights ago ) going through the service records on Ancestry looking for your John .... checking just in case his records were included with somebody elses .... ( which seems to happen quite frequently ) .... but she found nothing I'm afraid !

    But .... you never know ........ serendipity happens sometimes ...... and things turn up when you least expect them to !

    Annie :)
  16. ogdenm

    ogdenm New Member

    Please pass on my thanks to Mosiefish (unusual name...) - the report is VERY comprehensive and raises a number of issues / questions - I for example certainly never knew that the format of numbers changed.

    Some of the medal cards I have seen show the date that overseas service commenced, if only that had been completed in my grandfather's case then this would have offered a little more evidence on when he went over there (although exactly where is still a mystery given I do not know the battery designation).

    Given that that information was not recorded the 'documentry evidence' could be said to indicate that he never went overseas; this would however conflict with the oral evidence and that he was in a hospital in Eastbourne when he met my grandmother (and also we have a Christmas card that I believe was issued to front line troops to send home

    Had he been UK based and injured here then there would I imagine be no reason for him to be in Eastbourne. Therefore one can conclude that he did indeed serve overseas and that this was omitted from his medal card (who said the Army was efficient in all matters - not me!) Injured he certainly was as you could see shrapnel fragments in his back when he (old fashioned chap that he was) shaved at the kitchen sink whilst wearing trousers, vest and braces!)

    I will contact my mother to get her to ask her brother to dig out the tin once more and to see which medals are there and to see if any other paperwork (letters, post cards, photographs or anything exists).

    Given she is almost 80 and her brother 4 years older, time is of the essence I suspect


  17. ogdenm

    ogdenm New Member

    Additional communication from 'the other forum'

    I asked

    "Many, many thanks - some of the information you have provided ties up wih rsearch and information from other experts. The Canadian connection has oral support - my mother recalls her father having Canadian penfriends from the Great War. (As an aside he was from the Bootle area of Liverpool although for all of his married life he lived in Garston). You have provided much food for thought and routes for investigation for which I cannot thank you enough. I will have to have further conversations with his son, who is in his mid 80's and therefore time would I feel be of the essence before this link is lost forever. He does have a tin with some momentoes including an RFA pennant and discharge papers. Rumour was he transferred to a foot regiment (on the basis that being on horseback made you a more obvious target) alhough no documentary evidence exists I do have some shoulder titles from the Kings regiment... Makes me wish once more I had both paid more attention and / or recorded our conversations.
    By the way - would you know whether the likes of the Liverpool Daily Post Archives would record his name as he was wounded (although not seriously enough for a Blighty One he was recovering in hospital in Eastbourne when he met his wife to be who was a nursing auxiliary or, are there any records of wounded soldiers available?"

    The reply I recieved was:

    "It is possible that the Liverpool newspapers may have mentioned soldiers during WW1. As well as the Liverpool Daily Post, there would have been other papers such as the Liverpool Mercury and even weekly papers covering the Bootle area. Searching through newspapers (often on microfilm) can be a difficult and lengthy task. You could discover which newspapers are available from the Liverpool Record Office, City Libraries, William Brown Street, Liverpool, Merseyside, L3 8EW. Tel: 0151 233 5817.
    John could have met Canadian soldiers at any stage during the war, not just when the West Lancashire Brigade RFA was with the Canadian Division. The King's (Liverpool Regiment) formed the backbone of both the 55th and 57th Infantry Divisions, so again any contact could have been at any stage during his service. You can see the structure of the Infantry Divisions at
    A helpful check is the Absent Voters Lists which were produced for the 1918 general election. Where they exist they can identify a soldier by his name, unit and residence. John would have been 21 in November 1918 so he might not have been registered as old enough to vote. But it is worth a check. The Liverpool Record Office will be able to say if an Absent Voters List exists.
    You shouldn't regret not having recorded details from your grand-father. My father only once talked to me about WW2, when I was a boy. Thirty years after his death I researched his unit's war diary and discovered that every holiday the family had taken when I was a child visited places where he had served in the war. He even went back to Italy and Austria. I wonder what memories he had. That's what encourages us to do the research.
    You should be careful to avoid the mistake of making the evidence fit the theory. Now is probably the time to start "pulling the books" as genealogists say: visiting the archives and searching for evidence.
    You might also consider a back-door approach by researching John's wife. If she served as an auxiliary she may have been a Red Cross nurse. She might also have served in The Queen Alexandra's Imperial Military Nursing Service or the First Aid Nursing Yeomanry. In any case, she will have left a paper trail somewhere. If you can discover which convalescent hospital John was in (and they were usually run by the Red Cross) you might be able to trace some hospital admission records.
    Medical records will be kept undisclosed for a hundred years from the latest entry. However I have known helpful archivists who have been able to pluck a date of birth, for example, out of medical documents and admission records. There is a book about Eastbourne's WW1 hospitals which at the time of writing is available on the web for about GBP 5 plus postage. "Eastbourne's Great War 1914-1918" by R. A. Elliston. If you go to the Abebooks website, they have four copies.
    Records from the hospitals in Eastbourne would be held by the East Sussex Record Office. See
    You ask if there are any records of wounded soldiers. Such details were recorded on the soldier's service record. Wounded men did receive the Silver War Badge if they were discharged from the Army through sickness or wounds. This was to be worn on civilian clothes to indicate they had served their country. The badges were numbered and a list kept of the issued numbers, but the list wouldn't show any other detail that would help in your search, and I have not been able to find a medal index card indicating John received the badge, so he may not have been discharged early – as is indicated by his date of discharge in January 1919. "
  18. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    It's funny you should say that ... I was thinking of the nurse angle myself !! :)

    Can you give us some personal details about John's wife Mark ?
  19. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    I wonder if it was possibly this hospital that John was in .... also a connection to the Canadians !! :confused:

    Eastbourne Military Convalescent Hospital, opened in Apr 1915 and (from Jan 1917 to Oct 1919) No. 14 Canadian General Hospital, called at first the Eastbourne Military Hospital

    And heres another !

    Forest Row Military Hospital
  20. liverpool annie

    liverpool annie New Member

    Kings Garden Memorial Bootle - I believe also included those who served ....

    I only have a picture of the "L's " up to Lake I'm afraid - wouldn't you know it ?!! :p - but might be worth asking on the Forum if anybody has a picture of the rest of the "L's"

    Old newspapers are on microfilm in Crosby Library/Liverpool Records Office ( like the Bootle Times ! ) it's possible he may have been mentioned ! ...... do you know anybody you could ask for a lookup ?? :rolleyes:

    Attached Files:

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