Sunday, November 23, 2014

52 Ancestors #47: Killed in Action During the Spring Offensive

Ancestor Name: William LIVELY (1899-1918)

William Lively was the fourth child of James and Elizabeth Muir (Brodie) Lively. He was born on 24 March 1899 at 30 Park Street, Blantyre. When the 1901 census was enumerated, he and his brother, James, were living with their parents at 16 Park Street. After his father was killed in 1906, he, his mother, and brother lived with William's aunt, Martha (Brodie) Moore. After his mother died in 1910, he and his brother went to live with his maternal grandfather and step-grandmother, William and Mary (Campbell) Brodie.

By 1916 he was living in Darwen, Lancashire, England. We do not know why he moved there.

William was conscripted into the British Army and sent to the Infantry Base Depot camps on the French coast on 31 March 1918, likely the 40th Infantry Base Depot at the great complex of camps at Etaples as William's draft was penciled in to go to the 18th (Service) Battalion of the Welsh Regiment. That unit was decimated on 9 April 1918 during the early days of the German spring offensive. Instead, William's draft was transferred into the 1/4 Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment on 19 April 1918 as replacements. Little more than a month later, he was dead at the age of 19.

Craonne after the fighting; image courtesy of 1/4 Battalion, Alexandra,
Princess of Wales, Own Yorkshire Regiment website

The Third Battle Aisne began with a German attack on Allied positions at Chemin des Dames ridge. It was a surprise attack that started with an artillery bombardment, which inflicted heavy losses. The Germans followed with a poison gas drop. Caught completely off-guard and with their lines spread thin, the British did not stop the advance until the Germans were well across the Aisne river. They had smashed through eight Allied divisions and captured 50,000 soldiers.

William Lively's regiment had been moved into the battle line during the night of 26 May from reserve area at Beaurieux. They faced the German Seventh Army just north of Craonne. British officers protested this move, but were assured by the French, it was a quiet area.

From a report by the British Commander, Sir Douglas Haig:

"These divisions had been heavily engaged during the past month, three having been twice and one three times withdrawn from the battle line and again engaged after being reformed. They, therefore, had few experienced officers and men when they arrived in Champagne, and were again filled up by immature and half-trained lads fresh from home whose training had to be completed. In these circumstances the division could not be considered fit for heavy fighting for some time to come. Notwithstanding this they were ordered into the front line almost at once by the French Commander, who countered British objections by declaring that as the front was a quiet one, and as no attack was to be expected, it would be possible to continue the training of the troops, while in the line and that the French Divisions, urgently required elsewhere could thus be relieved."

Beginning at 1:00 a.m. the next morning, the regiment was heavily shelled and outflanked on both sides and by the end of the day's fighting had been decimated. William Lively was one of many soldiers killed in action that day. His body was never recovered but his name is inscribed on the War Memorial at Soissons in the Picard region of France. Posthumously, William was awarded the British War and Victory medals.

William Lively's named as engraved on the War Memorial in Soissons;
photograph courtesy of Find A Grave member Misty & Company

Unfortunately, most of William Lively's war records were lost in September 1940 when a German Luftwaffe bombing raid struck the War Office Repository in London. However, unit war diaries still exist. The 50th Division's war diary, which described the fighting the day William died is poignant:

"No less than 227 officers and 4,879 other ranks were killed, wounded or captured during the battle. Practically all those casualties occurring on the 27th, for after that date, the 50th Division became intermingled with other divisions, which were in a like condition; only a mere handful of the infantry remained."

His hometown of Blantyre, Scotland, has a war memorial with its World War I dead inscribed on it, but William's name is not among them.

*NOTE: The 150th Brigade of the 50th Division was comprised of three battalions: 1/4 Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment, 1/4 Battalion of Yorkshire Regiment, and the 1/5 Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. All of the battalions were positioned near Craonne above the Aisne river on 27 May 1918 and suffered the same fate. So the battle photo of Craonne after the fighting is relevant to this post even though William Lively did not serve in that battalion.

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

William Lively was born on 24 Mar 1899 at 20 Park Street, which was in Dixon's Rows, miners housing in Blantyre, to James and Elizabeth Muir (Brodie) Lively. He was their youngest child. In 1901 his older sister, Henrietta Cassels Lively, was a patient at the Middle Ward Hospital in Dalziel Parish. When William was seven years old his father was killed when he was knocked down and run over by two horses attached to a lorry. The family was promptly evicted from from Dixon's Row's. Four years later, William's mother died of tuberculosis. She was listed as a pauper when she died. William and his brother, James, went to live with their maternal grandfather and step-grandmother at 3 Dixon Street, which was in Dixon's Rows. They were living there when the 1911 census was enumerated on 2 April. He was conscripted, likely in 1916, in the East Yorkshire Regiment at Blackburn, Lancashire, England. It is a mystery how he came to be there. He was listed as living in Darwen, England, but born in Blantyre. He served with the 1/4 Battalion of the regiment, which was assigned to the 150th Brigade, 50th Division. They landed in France in April 1915 and participated in most of the major battles on the Western Front. He was killed in action on 27 May 1918 during the Third Battle of Aisne. His body was never recovered. His name is engraved on the Soissons Memorial in Soisson, Picard, France. His life and that of his family was so filled with tragedy, I was saddened to discover that his name is not listed on the Blantyre War Memorial. At least he was remembered somewhere. I will be adding details about his life to the Lives of the First World One website.

Family History Writing Challenge Week #2 Recap: Places
Dixon's Rows: "A Miserable Type of House"

To read other posts about World War I, click here.

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