CASEY Michael

MICHAEL CASEY 1894 – 1915

1503 Private (Bugler) Michael Casey, 1/6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 26 April 1915, aged 20.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium.[1]  To date, a local commemoration has not been found.

Family Details

Michael Casey was born 1894, at Bishop Auckland,[2] the son of Bartholomew and Mary Casey.  There were at least 5 children, all born at Bishop Auckland: [3]

  • John bc 1891
  • Winifred bc 1893
  • Michael born 1894
  • Alice bc 1896
  • Albert Thomas bc 1894

In 1901, the family lived at 15 South Terrace, Bishop Auckland where 45 years old Bartholomew (Bartley) worked as a colliery stoneman.[4]  In 1911, the family lived at 1 Pop Houses, Bishop Auckland where 56 years old Bartley worked as coal miner (hewer), as did his 20 years old son, John.  Michael, now 16 years old is recorded as, “Apprentice to Pawnbroker”.  The family employed a domestic servant, 16 years old Lizzie Hunter (probably the next door neighbour’s daughter) and there were 4 boarders.[5]  By March 1912, the family lived at 5 St. Andrews Crest, South Church, Bishop Auckland.  Michael then worked as a, “Pit Boy” for Bolckow, Vaughan & Co.[6]

Military Details

18 March 1912, Michael Casey joined the Territorial Force, his “apparent age” was 15 years 7 months.  He was given the service number 1503. [7] He stood 5’2½” tall, had good vision and was of satisfactory physical development.[8] He was medically examined 21 March 1912 and considered “fit” for the Territorial Force.[9]  An undated note signed by Bartly Casey stated that, “I am willing to let my son, Michael join the 5 DLI.” This infers that since he was younger than 16 years of age, he was not yet of age to join up without his parents’ agreement.

The local Territorial formations, dating from 1908 and the Haldane reforms, were brigaded into the Northumbrian Division.  These men were part-time soldiers who volunteered to protect the homeland.  The Durham Brigade of the Northumbrian Division consisted of the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry.[10]  The men from south west Durham joined the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry [6/DLI].  Their original enlistment was for home service only. [11] 

18 March 1912, Michael was posted to 6/DLI with the rank, “Boy”.  He attended the annual training camp at Scarborough between 28 July and 11 August 1912.[12]  

At the end of July 1914, nearly half of the Northumbrian Division including the 5 Durham Territorial Battalions[13] were at camp for their annual 15 days training.  The Durham Brigade was at Conway, Wales.’  As the international situation deteriorated, the Territorials were mobilized.

6/DLI Parade [14]

3 August:  They were recalled to their peace stations, 6/DLI to Bishop Auckland.  The 1/6th Battalion was formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division which in May 1915 became the 151st Brigade of the 50th Division.[15]   Other battalions in the 151st Brigade were:

  • 1/7th Bn., DLI
  • 1/8th Bn., DLI
  • 1/9th Bn., DLI
  • 1/5th Bn., the Loyal North Lancs. joined June 1915

5 August, the battalions dispersed to the Tyne and Wear defences, 6/DLI to Boldon Colliery.  Private M. Casey was “embodied” and took up his position in the Territorial Force to serve for the defence of the country.  The battalion went to Boldon then Gateshead and finally were billeted at Ravensworth Park by 19 August.  Early in October they withdrew to winter quarters in billets at Bensham, Tyneside for further training which continued until April 1915.[16]

1 December 1914, Private M. Casey was appointed, “Bugler”.[17]

1 March 1915, 1503 Private (Bugler) M. Casey signed an agreement to serve outside the UK.[18] New terms of engagement were required for foreign service.  About 84% of the Territorials volunteered to go to France and some 92% of the Yeomanry volunteers. [19] Between 16 and 19 April 1915, the 50th Division embarked for France.[20]  1503 Private (Bugler) M. Casey left Folkestone, entered Boulogne, France with the B Company, 1/6DLI[21] to join the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) in Belgium.[22]

14 April – 2 June 1915: The Second Battle of Ypres [23]

22-23 April: The Battle of Gravenstafel

 “Although Germany had signed the clause of The Hague Convention [29 July 1899] which prohibits the use of asphyxiating gas, the unscrupulous leaders now made use for the first time of this treacherous weapon.” [24]

No history of St. Julien, a small village to the north east of Ypres, would be complete without a reference to the events of 22 April 1915, when poison gas was used for the first time by the Germans.[25]  About 4pm, a strange opaque cloud of greenish-yellow fumes rose above the German trenches heading for the French Colonial troops.  Many fell gasping for breath in terrible agony.  Terror spread through the ranks, especially among the African troops.  Panic followed spreading from the front to the rear lines.  German troops advanced protected by a heavy barrage and intense machine gun fire.  The French colonials fell back several miles towards Ypres and the Germans took Steenstraat, Het Sas and Pilkem.  The withdrawal of the French exposed the left flank of the Canadian 3rd Brigade who were obliged to fall back before they rallied and recovered part of the lost ground.

The 50th (Northumbrian) Division had just arrived in Belgium. The strength of the Division on landing in France was 572 officers and 16,858 other ranks.[26]  Steenvoorde, west of Ypres, had been allotted the Division.  The last units arrived 22 April.  The men would have expected a short period of training behind the line but that was not to be. 

At 10.40pm, news came in of a German attack near Langemarck/Bixschoote.  10 minutes later an order was received to have 6 companies of the York & Durham Infantry Brigade fully equipped, ready to move by motor-bus.  At 11.29pm, another order came requiring all units to stand by billets, fully equipped and ready to turn out immediately.  However, the Northumbrian Division did not take part in any fighting at this time.

24 April – 4 May: The Battle of St. Julien

24 April: the enemy’s guns opened fire and for the first time the York & Durham Brigade was shelled, wounding several men and the Northumbrian Division suffered its first casualties of the war.  The 4th Yorkshire Regiment [the Green Howards] and 1/4th East Yorkshires were detailed to move up to the line near Potijze Chateau.  The Germans occupied St. Julien by 3pm and were moving out of the village southwards when they were attacked by the 4/GH and 4/EY. 

“Casualties during this affair were severe but the counter attack was completely successful and besides preventing the Germans from making any further advance on the 24th reflected the greatest credit upon the 2 gallant battalions.”

5/GH and 1/5DLI moved forward from the Yser Canal to St. Jean to support the 3rd Canadian Brigade and both came under shell and rifle fire.  The night of 24/25 April was miserable with constant rain and heavy German shell fire.  The Northumberland Infantry Brigade and Durham Light Infantry Brigade were at Brandhoek and Vlamertinghe respectively and did not move until late in the day.  The Northumberland Brigade got to Weieltje by 4.30am, 25 April.  The DLI Brigade received a succession of orders, one countermanding the other but eventually 1/6DLI moved to beyond Ypres and relieved 7th & 9th Shropshires in the line.   1/7DLI & 1/9DLI bivouacked in Potijze Chateau grounds under shell fire.  1/8DLI marched to Zonnebeke via Vlamertinghe, Ypres, Potilze and Verlorenhoek frequently being shelled.  Then they were ordered to relieve the 8th Canadians at Boetleer Farm. They arrived there at 3am (25th).  The situation evidently was chaotic.

Sunday, 25th April was the first day 1/6DLI spent in the trenches.  However, in the evening, orders were received to march to Velorenhoek village.  The battalion now it came under the orders of the 85th Brigade. 

26 April, 1/6DLI was ordered to take up positions between Zonnebeke level crossing and Hill 37 and:

“attack, by fire, any bodies of the enemy who might attempt to cross their front.”[27] 

The whole operation was under direct observation by enemy balloons and as soon as the companies moved, an intense barrage was put down.  Fighting ensued.  Private (Bugler) M. Casey served with “B” Company and an account of action is given below:[28] 

“At 6pm on the 26th April, the Battalion was ordered to move in support of 7 DLI and a Battalion of the Shropshire Light Infantry who were to attack a hill held by the enemy.  The advance was made through the usual heavy enemy bombardment.  On reaching the ridge “B” Company was ordered forward to fill a gap in the front lone alongside 1st Battalion, The Hampshire Regiment… For “B” Company this was the beginning of a 5-day ordeal in front line trenches.  Constantly shelled by the Germans during the day, repairing and improving their trenches during the night and with little food and sleep, the Company held the position until relieved on the 30th April…It must be remembered that the Company had no experience of trench warfare.  The Company’s casualties were 14 NCOs and men killed, including 3 sergeants, and 1 officer and 55 men wounded.”    

Harry Moses concluded that the battalion had suffered severely – 2 officers killed in action namely Captain Monkhouse, Second Lieutenant Kynock and Major S.E. Badcock died of wounds, 8 officers were wounded – Captains Walton and Devey, Lieutenants Thorpe and Badcock, Second Lieutenants Nicholson, Kirkhouse and Leighton, and Major Mackay, the Battalion Medical Officer and casualties amongst the men numbered over 100.  1/6DLI was not relieved until 30 April.[29]

26 April, Private M. Casey was killed in action. [30] Later research confirms that 1/6DLI lost 3 officers (those named above) and 49 other ranks were killed in action or died of wounds between 26 April and 29 April. [31]

The Second Battle of Ypres; 24 April – 4 May: The Battle of St. Julien [32]

A further example of the ferocity of the fighting, is provided by the number of casualties recorded in the Diary of the “A” and “Q” Staff of the 50th Division to the morning of the 27th (inclusive).  They were:[33]

Officers [total 85]

  • Killed 26
  • Wounded 45
  • Missing 14

Other Ranks [total 2644]

  • Killed 332
  • Wounded 1,143
  • Missing 1,169

Captain B.M.S. Sharp described the scene:

“at dusk, through that hell on earth by now strewn with dead animals and bits of everything recognisable in the way of equipment, through St. Jean, now utterly destroyed and slightly more objectionable than even Ypres; church gutted, graveyard shelled and a heap of coffins and battered headstones.” [34]

Recognition of the efforts of the Canadians and the Northumbrians was evident: [35]

“The French colonial troops who were opposed to the main attack broke and ran – some of them ran 10 miles – and it was only by the determination of the Northumbrian Division and the Canadians, who held out against far superior numbers, that the Germans were prevented from walking straight through to Ypres.”             Lawrence Rowntree, Friends Ambulance Unit

Everard Wyrall, the 50th Division’s Historian concluded:[36]

“Thus ended the Battle of St. Julien, which will for all time will be memorable in the history of the Northumbrian Division.  Tried in fire, the Territorials had not been found wanting; their pre-war training, their courage, their tenacity and endurance, had all been put to the crucial test and they had emerged, praised and honoured by the Regular Army, by whose side they fought the common enemy.”

The Times reported on these events and the exploits of the Northumbrian Division:[37]

“Consider what is meant by the fight of these Northern Territorials.  Men only lately out from home, most of whom had never seen a shot fired in battle, were plunged suddenly into the most nerve racking kind of engagement.  They had to face one of the worst artillery bombardments of the war and the new devilry of the poison gas.  There was no time for adequate staff preparation, the whole was a wild rush, a crowding up of every available man to fill the gap and reinforce the thin lines.  They were led by officers who, a year ago, were architects, solicitors and business men…where we escaped annihilation…by sheer dogged fighting quality of our men and their leaders.  The miners of the North are a sturdy race in peace, both in work and sport.  The second battle of Ypres has proved them to be one of the finest fighting stocks on earth.” [38] 

Returning to Private (Bugler) M. Casey, he served a total of 3 years and 40 days in the Territorial Force, a mere 7 days with the BEF before being killed in action. [39]

Medals

Private (Bugler) M. Casey was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British War medals.[40]

Pension and Effects

Private (Buglar) M. Casey’s mother Mary was granted his pension, later transferred following her death to Bartholomew, Michael’s father.  Bartholomew Casey received his effects.[41]

Commemoration

Private (Buglar) M. Casey has no known grave and is commemorated at panel 36-38, the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium. 

The Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial

The Memorial is situated at the eastern side of the town on the road to Menin (Menen) and Courtrai (Kortrijk).  It is one of 4 memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient which stretched from Langemarck in the north to Ploegsteert Wood in the south.  The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914.  The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields.  It commemorates those of all Commonwealth nations (except New Zealand) who died in the Salient and in the case of British casualties, before 16 August 1917. The memorial was designed by Sir Reginald Blomfield and was unveiled in July 1927 by Lord Plummer.  The Ypres Menin Gate Memorial bears the names of 54,344 officers and men whose graves are not known.[42]  

To date, a local commemoration has not been found.


REFERENCES

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC)

[2] England Select Births and Christenings 1538-1975 Baptism date 31 December 1894 at St. Wilfrid’s, Bishop Auckland Film No.2082475

[3] 1901 & 1911 census and Army Form W.5080

[4] 1901 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Army Form E.501 Territorial Force 4 years’ Service in the United Kingdom, Attestation Form. Note: his age differs from that given on the 1911 census form

[7] Army Form E.501 and

[8] Description on enlistment

[9] Certificate of Medical Examination

[10] “Faithful: The Story of the Durham Light Infantry” 1962 S.G.P. Ward p.266

[11] “Death of an Army” 1967 Anthony Farrar-Hockley p.169 & 170

[12] Statement of the Services

[13] 5th DLI was part of the York & Durham Brigade

[14] Photo courtesy of Alan Stoker from the Tom Rowlandson collection date unknown

[15] http://www.1914-1918.net/dli.htm

[16] Ward p.320-321

[17] Statement of the Services

[18] Army Form E.624

[19] Farrar-Hockley p.169 & 170

[20] Ward p321

[21] Army Form B.2090A Field Service

[22] Military History Sheet

[23] The following references have been used and are recommended for further details:

“The Fiftieth Division: 1914-1918” (1939) Everard Wyrall 

“The Story of the Sixth Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry from April 1915 to November 1918” (1919) Captain R.B. Ainsworth MC

“The Faithful Sixth: a history of the 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry” (1995) Harry Moses

[24] “Ypres and the Battle of Ypres” Illustrated Michelin Guides to the Battlefields 1914 – 1918 p.14 [reprinted G.H. Smith & Son 1994]

[25] “The Pill-Boxes of Flanders” [1933] Col. E.G.L. Thurlow p.18 reproduced in Gun Fire No.9 Northern Branch of the Western Front Association undated.  A good account is given.

[26] Wyrall p.40

[27] Ainsworth p.5

[28] Moses p.29

[29] Moses p.29

[30] Army Form B.103 Casualty Form – Active Service

[31] Officers Died in the Great War (ODGW) and Soldiers Died in the Great War (SDGW)

[32] “A Military Atlas of the First World War” 1975 Arthur Banks p.141

[33] Wyrall p.48

[34] Wyrall p.42

[35] “A Nightmare in Three Acts” Lawrence Rowntree published in Gun Fire No.10 Northern Branch of the Western Front Association undated

[36] Wyrall p.48

[37] 24 May 1915 The Times

[38] Moses p.34

[39] Statement of the Services

[40] Medal Roll card index and Rolls dated 27 September 1919 and 20 March 1920.

[41] UK Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects 1901-1929 Record No.187802

[42] Commonwealth War Graves Commission