"To Keep in Memory"

Lance Corporal Herbert Owen McConnell

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The McConnell Brothers

Lieutenant Howard Gregory McConnell, IX Corps Signal Company, Royal Engineers. 

Lance Corporal Herbert Owen McConnell, Military Mounted Police, attached Headquarters, 38th Division. 

Corporal Wilfred Allen McConnell, C Battery CCCXLII (2/1 Cheshire) Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, Territorial Force.

Driver Basil Arthur McConnell, 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division, Divisional Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery, Territorial Force.

Pioneer Leslie Glencoe McConnell, Royal Engineers. 

The five McConnell brothers were the sons of Gregory and Martha McConnell. Gregory was a builder’s joiner and was born in Northampton, the birth being registered there in the first quarter of 1857. Martha was born in Nottingham around 1860 and their eldest two children, Mary (b. 1884) and Howard (b.1887) were also born in the city. By the time Herbert Owen McConnell (b.1893) was born, the growing family had moved to Leeds and at the time of the 1901 Census, they were living at 3 Beechwood Place, off Cardigan Lane in Burley, Leeds. Another daughter, the final child to the marriage making seven in all, Edna Lucy, was born in 1901 and she was 101 years old when she died in 2003. Between 1901 and 1911 the family removed to 29 Beechwood View. 

The McConnell’s had a pre-war connection with the Army through two of the boys being members of Territorial Force units in Leeds. Herbert was the first to join when he enlisted into the 2nd West Riding Field Ambulance of the Royal Army Medical Corps as a Driver in B Section in 1911. This was one of three Field Ambulances which were attached to the 49th (West Riding) Division.

Herbert McConnell was a conscientious member of his unit and he attended annual camps in the summers of each of the years from 1911 to 1914 as well as a nursing course at Leeds General Infirmary in 1912. In civil life he was a dentist’s clerk, and later became a dental mechanic working for Mr Harry H. Spence, an Artificial Teeth maker who had premises on Great George Street in Leeds and also at 13 Cardigan Road, Headingley, close to where Herbert lived. He had also been a member of the Church Lads Brigade which was a leading uniformed youth organisation affiliated to the Anglican Church. The CLB produced at least 18 recipients of the VC during the Great War and is still very much in existence today. When war was declared Herbert McConnell proceeded on active service with his unit and signed the Imperial Service Declaration signifying his intention to go abroad with his unit if it was called upon to go to war. He signed the document at his unit’s war station in Doncaster.

While he was at Doncaster Herbert McConnell was injured while taking a horse drawn cart for repair. The evidence given at the resultant court of enquiry showed that the horse that was used to pull the cart was startled twice by a steam roller and it bolted. Herbert McConnell was unseated and thrown on to the horse’s back but he lost his grip and fell to the ground, being kicked by the horse in the process. Whilst on the ground the cart ran over him too and he sustained numerous cuts and bruises requiring hospital treatment. The court of enquiry ruled that the incident was accidental and unavoidable with no blame being apportioned to anyone.

He went to France on 15th April 1915 with the deployment of the 49th (West Riding) Division to the Western Front. The division was involved in a number of actions in 1915, including the Battle of Aubers Ridge and the first use of Phosgene gas by the German Army in the December of that year. Herbert McConnell had transferred to the Divisional Army Service Corps in November 1915 but was still employed as a driver.

The McConnell Family Grave in Barwick
The McConnell Family Grave in Barwick

On 3rd May 1916 he was discharged after his period of engagement with the Territorial Force expired. He did not, however, leave the Army. His records show that he immediately re-joined the unit he was being discharged from. Earlier in the war a ‘time expired’ soldier could be discharged and sent home, but by the time that Herbert McConnell’s period of engagement was expired, the Military Service Act 1916 had come into force and with it came conscription. This meant that if a territorial soldier’s engagement ended, he stood liable for conscription, with the possibility that he could be sent off to any unit regardless of his own preference, and if required, with no regard to his previous service or experience. If however, a soldier expressed a preference to stay with the unit he was about to be discharged from, this could often be accommodated and it was this course of action which was chosen by Herbert McConnell. He did subsequently transfer out of the Army Service Corps. Soldiers Died in the Great War shows that he served with the Coldstream Guards.

The grave of L/Cpl Herbert McConnell in Awoingt British Cemetery
The grave of L/Cpl Herbert McConnell in Awoingt British Cemetery

Herbert McConnell died on 30th October, 1918. At the time he was serving on the staff of the Military Mounted Police attached to HQ 38th (Welsh) Division, and he lies buried in Plot II, Row A, Grave 9 at Awoingt British Cemetery, near Cambrai, Nord, France. He is further commemorated by means of an inscription on the McConnell family grave in the cemetery surrounding the Church of All Saints in Barwick in Elmet and he is named on a panel on the War Memorial at Headingley in Leeds.

Wilfrid Allen McConnell was born on 27th July 1895 and was the second of the McConnell boys to join the part-time army. He enlisted on St George’s Day, 1913. In civil life he was worked as a clerk for Emsley & Son, a firm of solicitors based in Atlas Chambers, King Street in Leeds, and later for Messers Speight and Armitage, of 5, Greek Street, Leeds.Like his brothers, Wilfrid opted to join a local Territorial Force unit, choosing the 1st West Riding Brigade, Royal Field Artillery which had its headquarters at Fenton Street in Leeds. The unit was a part of the 49th (West Riding) Division and was, in May 1916, re-designated as CCXLV Brigade RFA. Wilfrid was promoted acting Bombardier on 25th July 1914, however he reverted to Gunner at his own request on 9th October 1914. In May 1916 Wilfrid was posted to XLVIII Brigade RFA, which at the time was part of the 14th (Light) Division, where he was again promoted to Bombardier. When Wilfrid’s original term of engagement in the Territorial Force expired, under the terms of the Military Service Act 1916 he was obliged to continue in Military service, thus a further posting took him back to his original which, as we have seen was now designated CCXLV Bde RFA and he was attached to C Battery.

The Badge of the Royal Field Artillery
The Badge of the Royal Field Artillery

In September 1918, Wilfrid McConnell’s active service came to an end when he was transferred to England for service with CCCXLII Bde RFA and finally a transfer to CI Reserve Bde RFA based in Newcastle.Wilfrid McConnell married Doris Terrington in 1930, and died in Wakefield in 1982 aged 86 years.
 
Basil McConnell was born on 16th August 1897, and by 1911 at the age of 13 was working as an office boy for a solicitor and later he worked for locomotive builders Messers Clark Kitson & Co. at Airedale foundry. He attested for the Royal Field Artillery and was appointed to be a Driver on 10th December 1914 when he was just 2 months over 17 years of age. His stated age on his medical report form was 19 years and four months. If his true age was discovered by the Army it is not recorded on his service papers; however he did not proceed overseas until 8th January 1917 when he had reached the age of 19, so it appears likely that it was known he enlisted underage. His unit at this time was 1st West Riding Brigade, Royal Field Artillery (TF) (CCXLV Bde RFA from May 1916), the same unit as his brother Wilfrid had been a member of in the early days of his military service.

Headingley War Memorial
Headingley War Memorial

Like his brother Herbert, Basil was injured in an accident involving transport. Basil was a wheel driver in a team of mules and his team was dropping back from the rest of the battery when they were moving. A bombardier ordered Basil’s team to close up and they began to trot, however the mule Basil was riding stumbled and fell taking Basil with it. It took the team a further ten yards to stop and Basil received cuts and bruises for his troubles. He was taken to a field ambulance unit that was close by and received treatment there. During his service Basil was admitted to hospital on four occasions and with the exception of one of these which is clearly annotated as a football injury to his knee, it is unclear if he had been wounded or was sick. It is known that he was admitted to the Beaufort War Hospital in the Fishponds area of Bristol where he stayed for one month before being posted to the 4th Reserve Brigade RFA on his release and his return to a base depot in France.

As was common with soldiers, except those from the Guards, who were returning to active service after a period in UK recovering from wounds or sickness, Basil McConnell was posted away from his original unit and joined D Battery of the 89th Brigade RFA. He was posted again, on 1st November 1918 to his final unit, 66th (2nd East Lancashire) Division, Divisional Ammunition Column, Royal Field Artillery, Territorial Force, and it was from this unit he was disembodied on the termination of his service on 1st June 1919.

Basil Arthur McConnell married Margaret Cunningham in late 1929 and died in Pontefract, West Yorkshire in November 1984 at the age of 87 years.

The Badge of the Royal Engineers
The Badge of the Royal Engineers

Howard Gregory McConnell, like his brothers Herbert and Basil was a pre-war Territorial Force soldier. He served in the ranks as a member of 1st (West Riding) Field Company, Royal Engineers prior to being commissioned into the Royal Engineers Signal Service. His unit landed at Alexandria in Egypt as part of the 29th Division, a division made up of Regular Army units which had been recalled from some of the furthest parts of the Empire. The division then began to re-embark for transit to the Greek island of Mudros before landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula on 25th April 1915. Howard McConnell landed at Gallipoli on 28th April 1915. Lt James H Simpson from Scholes was an officer in in the same unit as Howard McConnell although Lt Simpson did not arrive on Gallipoli until July 1915. A field company in the Royal Engineers was only established for three Lieutenants, one for each section, and it is virtually certain that the two men would be aware of each other, especially as Howard McConnell was a Sergeant in the unit.

The Gallipoli campaign was a failure and eventually the decision to evacuate was taken. Ironically the only triumph of the ill-fated and costly stay on the peninsula was the manner in which the evacuation was achieved. Howard McConnell’s unit left Gallipoli on the night of the 7th/8th January 1916 and returned to Egypt prior to transferring to the Western Front via Marseilles. For his service on the Gallipoli expedition, Howard McConnell was mentioned in a despatch from General Sir Ian Hamilton who commanded the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force. The promulgation of the Mention in Despatches appeared in the London Gazette dated 28th January 1916.Before much longer Howard McConnell left the 1st (West Riding) Field Company RE to become an officer cadet in preparation for commissioning. He was commissioned as a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Engineers Signal Service, his civil occupation as a telegraphist at Leeds Post Office making him an ideal candidate for this type of unit, with effect from 1st April 1917. He was promoted Lieutenant with effect from 1st October 1918. He finally relinquished his commission on 29th November 1921 and retained his rank of Lieutenant.Howard McConnell married Elsie Smith in Bramley in 1922 and he died in Leeds aged 73 years in 1961.

Leslie Glencoe McConnell was the youngest of the five sons born to Martha and Gregory McConnell and he was born on 21st December 1899. Too young to enlist when war broke out; Leslie McConnell served as best he could with his Boy Scout troop. He belonged to 13th NW Leeds (Headingley, St Michael’s) troop and was also a member of the Defence League. Scouts performed many duties of public service during the war such as acting as messengers and helping to guard vital sites and installations. They were also involved in agricultural labour.

In time, as the war continued Leslie McConnell attested for the Army on 20th June 1918. Leaving his civil employment at the Airedale Foundry where he worked as a clerk in the counting house, he followed his brother Howard, who by now was a commissioned officer and, no doubt, something of a role model for the young Leslie, into the Signals Service in the Royal Engineers. It appears from his service papers that he had learnt Morse code during his time as a scout and this helped secure him a place as a Signaller. He served with the rank of Pioneer during his service, which was entirely in England. During his training he suffered extensive burns to his right foot and ankle and spent three months in the Kitchener Hospital in Brighton recovering. By the time he was fit to leave hospital the war was over.

Leslie McConnell was discharged from the Army on 4th December 1919. He moved to Scholes with his parents in the early 1920s and involved himself in village life. He was asked to form a youth group in the village in the 1940s and he led it for ten years, only leaving when his work took him away from the village. The youth group was responsible for laying out the Festival Garden outside the former council office building, where the War Memorial now stands. He returned to the village in 1964 to open the new premises for the youth group at the village school. In addition to his work with the village’s youngsters, he was a dedicated member of the cricket team and opened the bowling for them for over 20 years.
Leslie McConnell married Marjorie Berry in 1936, and he died in July 1998 at the age of 98 years.

The McConnell brothers were reported on in the Yorkshire Evening Post of Monday, 5th July 1915 under the title ‘Five Brothers in Nation’s Service – A Leeds Family Record’.

Remembering the Fallen of Two Villages on the Eastern Fringes of Leeds.

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