CASSON Hodgson 1897 – 1962

HODGSON CASSON 1897 – 1962

Summary

Hodgson “Hodge” Casson was born 1897 at Witton Park, the son of Christopher and Elizabeth and brother to Eva, Thomas and Emma.  He was a pre-war territorial soldier serving with the 6th battalion, the Durham Light Infantry, entering France in August 1915, seeing action on the Western Front, at the Battle of the Somme 1916, the Arras Offensive 1917, the Third Battle of Ypres (Passchendaele) 1917, the German Spring Offensive of 1918 in which 6/DLI faced the full fury of the German onslaught at the Battles of Somme, the Lys and the Aisne.  He was captured in May 1918, spending the last 6 months as a prisoner of war.  He survived the war, being wounded 3 times, serving 4 years 228 days in His Majesty’s Forces.  He returned to civilian life in June 1919.

In 1921, Hodgson married Eleanor “Nelly” Davis from Ramshaw.  He worked as a postman and lived at Witton Park, Bishop Auckland and Etherley before moving south to Andover, Kent.  They returned north, being publicans at the. “Oak Tree”, Hutton Magna, North Yorkshire, and finally settled back at Etherley.  Aged 65, Hodge died in 1962, Nelly in 1987, aged 89.  They are buried together in Evenwood cemetery.

Family Details

Hodgson “Hodge” Casson was born in 2 June 1897[1] at Witton Park, the son of Christopher and Elizabeth Ann Casson.  The Casson family had been residents of Witton Park since about 1871, when Christopher’s older brother William was born in the village.  Christopher was born the following year.  Their father, John Casson was born at Carlisle and their mother Annie at Hull.  In 1881, John was employed as a “puddler” at the Bolckow and Vaughan ironworks.[2]  By 1891, the Casson family lived at Black Road, 58 years old John was then employed as a, “Highway Labourer” and 18 years old Christopher as a, “coal miner”.[3] 

In 1895, Christopher Casson married Elizabeth Ann Gibson[4] and by 1901, the family lived at Low Queen Street, Witton Park with their 2 children, 5 years old Eva and 3 years old Hodgson.  Christopher worked as a “coal miner”.[5]  By 1911, the family lived at Russell Place, Willington with their 4 children:

  • Eva Maud bc.1895 at Hunwick
  • Hodgson born 1897 at Witton Park
  • Thomas bc.1903 at Witton Park
  • Emma bc. 1909 at Howden-le-Wear

At this time, Christopher was employed as a, “coal miner” and 13 years old Hodgson was a schoolboy.[6]  By December 1914, the family lived at John Street, Witton Park [7]and by 1918, the family had moved to 70 High Thompson Street.  Christopher and Hodgson were both serving in the Army, Christopher with the 4th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps and Hodgson with Y Company, 6th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry.[8]

Hodgson’s cousin serving as 96074 Private John G. Casson, 3rd Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry died of pneumonia, 5 July 1918, aged 20.  He is buried at Bishop Auckland (Escomb) Cemetery [9] and is commemorated on the Witton Park War Memorials.

By 1919, the Casson family lived at 20 High Thompson Street, Witton Park.[10]

In 1921, Hodgson married Eleanor Davis, registered at Bishop Auckland.[11]  Eleanor (Nelly) was the daughter of James and Dorothy Davis of 2 Ramshaw Row, Ramshaw near Evenwood.  Her siblings were Thomas Richard; Albert, Jane Elizabeth, James and Ruby.[12]  Hodgson and Eleanor had no children.

In December 1929, Hodgson Casson was employed by the Royal Mail postal service at Bishop Auckland,[13] a position he held for many years.  The family also lived at 17 Garden Street, Witton Park[14] and 47 Red House Estate, Etherley, Bishop Auckland.[15]  In 1939, Hodgson and Eleanor lived at Woodlands Road, Bishop Auckland where he was employed as, “GPO Postman and motor driver”.[16] They lived at Andover, Kent for a while where Hodgson worked as a postman.  They moved up to Yorkshire in the early 1950’s and were publicans of the “Oak Tree” at Hutton Magna, North Yorkshire.  Later, they moved to Etherley where Hodgson worked as the groundsman for Etherley C.C. and Nelly was caretaker for the nursery housed in the Institute.[17]

Post War: Postman Hodgson Casson

6 July 1962, Hodgson Casson died, aged 65.[18] Eleanor survived her husband by about 25 years, passing away aged 89, in 1987.[19]  They are buried together in Evenwood cemetery.[20]

Hodge & Nelly Casson

Military Details

Hodgson Casson was a member of the Territorial Force, joining his local battalion, the 6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry being allocated the regimental number 3114.[21] Private H. Casson agreed to serve overseas, 9 December 1914.[22]  The 1/6th Battalion was formed in Bishop Auckland in August 1914 as part of the Durham Light Infantry Brigade, Northumbrian Division and in May 1915 were under the orders of the 151st Brigade 50th (Northumbrian) Division. [23] Other battalions in the 151st Brigade were:

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

Following heavy casualties in June 1915 the battalion merged with the 1/8th to become the 6/8th then it returned to its original identity 11 August 1915.  The Brigade was joined by:

  • 1/5th (Cumberland) Battalion, the Border Regiment joined December 1915
  • 151st Machine Gun Company formed 6 February 1916
  • 150th Trench Mortar Battery formed 18 June 1916

Other units joined in 1918:

  • 1/5th Battalion, DLI joined February 1918
  • 6th (Service) Battalion, the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers joined July 1918
  • 1st Battalion, the Kings Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, joined July 1918
  • 4th Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps joined July 1918

16 April 1915, the Division moved to France and served with distinction on the Western Front throughout the war. It took part in the following engagements:

  • The Second Battle of Ypres (from 24 April – 25 May 1915)
  • The Battle of Flers-Courcelette (6th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)
  • The Battle of Morval (7th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)
  • The Battle of Le Transloy (8th phase of the Battle of the Somme 1916)      
  • The First Battle of the Scarpe (1st phase of the Arras Offensive, 9 – 14 April 1917)
  • The Second Battle of the Scarpe (2nd phase of the Arras Offensive, 23 & 24 April 1917)
  • The Second Battle of Passchendeale (8th phase of the Third Battle of Ypres, 26 October – 10 November 1917)

In 1918, the following 3 battles are also known as the First Battles of the Somme, part of the German offensive in Picardy, France.

  • The Battle of St. Quentin (first phase, 21 – 23 March 1918)
  • The Actions at the Somme Crossing (first phase, 25 & 25 March 1918)
  • The Battle of Rosieres (first phase, 26 & 27 March 1918)

And, the following 2 battles are known as the Battle of the Lys.

  • The Battle of Estaires (the first phase, 9-11 April 1918)
  • The Battle of Hazelbrouck (the third phase, 12 -15 April 1918)

Following a most trying time on the Somme and the Lys battlefields, the Division was withdrawn and sent to the Aisne, believed to be a much quieter area.  Unfortunately, this was not the case and the Division was hit hard by another German attack.

  • The Battle of the Aisne (27 May – 6 June 1918)

After suffering particularly heavy casualties while on the Aisne, the Division was substantially reorganised and reduced to cadre strength in July 1918 and transferred to Lines of Communication. [24] 

Hodgson Casson “declared age” was 18 years 6 months when he was embodied.[25]  He underwent a medical examination 9 December 1914 and was considered fit for the Territorial Force.  He was 5’3½” tall.

Private H. Casson

Private H. Casson did not enter France with the rest of 6/DLI in April 1915 because he was under the minimum age of 18.  He did so 4 months later, in August 1915, when aged 18 years and 2 months.  His “Statement of the Services” and other records provide the following details:[26]

  • 9 December 1914: Private H. Casson was “embodied”
  • 20 August 1915: Entered France [27]
  • 26 February 1916: wounded [28]
  • 2 March 1916: re-joined 6/DLI
  • 8 July 1916: promoted to Lance Corporal
  • 1 October 1916: wounded
  • 3 October 1916: re-joined 6/DLI
  • 8 October 1916: promoted to Corporal
  • 6 November 1916: promoted to Lance Sergeant
  • 15 April 1917: appointed acting/Sergeant
  • 20 April 1917: appointed Sergeant
  • 7 September 1917: Reverted back to Private, at his own request
  • 27 May 1918: Missing – received a gunshot wound to the right hand [29]
  • 31 May 1918: Prisoner of War [30]
  • 19 December 1918: Removed from POW list (repatriated)[31]
  • 27 June 1919: Disembodied on demobilized.[32] 

His service was as follows: [33]

  • 9 December 1914 to 19 August 1915: Home: 0 years 254 days
  • 20 August 1915 to 18 December 1918: BEF: 3 years 121 says
  • 19 December 1918 to 24 June 1919: Home: 0 years 218 days
  • Total: 4 years 228 days

Following the reorganisation of the territorial numbering system in 1917, Private H. Casson received the regimental number 250325.[34]  His specialist military qualification was that of a “Lewis Gunner”.[35] The following account will only look at the final months of his service.  Full details can be found in Harry Moses’ history of the 6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry, “The Faithful Sixth”, 1995.

Serjeant H. Casson
1917: 6/DLI Warrant Officers and Sergeants at Souastre (source: Moses p.85 and the late Colin Priestley, Cockfield)
Middle Row, end left Sergeant H. Casson, 3rd from left Armourer Sergeant Osbourne
Front Row, end left 250165 (formerly 2197) Sergeant G. Priestley of Cockfield, Sergeant Lowe with the bat.

The GERMAN SPRING OFFENSIVE 1918: an overview[36]

3 March, Soviet Russia made peace with Germany and her allies by virtue of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  As a result, Germany could now transfer troops from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.  More importantly, these Divisions included the original elite of the German Army – the Guards, Jagers, Prussians, Swabians and the best of the Bavarians. In all, 192 Divisions could be deployed in the West.  The Allies could field 178 Divisions.  A single division numbered about 19,000 men.  Ludendorff could call upon about 3,650,000 men as opposed to the Allies 3,380,000.  Thus, the Germans now held superiority in numbers.  The German High Command needed victory to be gained before the American Forces arrived in Europe in huge numbers.  America entered the war 6 April 1917 and in the July, Pershing General of the Armies of the United States asked for an army of 3 million men.  The first of her troops arrived in France 26 June 1917. The training and build-up of troops obviously took time but eventually by June 1918, the Americans were receiving about 250,000 men a month in France.  This amounted to 25 divisions in or behind the battle zone and another 55 in the United States ready to join the action. Elsewhere in the Alliance, the French were able to draw on a new annual class of conscripts after a year of inactivity but the British were worn down by continuous fighting during the summer of 1917 with major offensives at Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai.  The strength of the British infantry had fallen from 754,000 in July 1917 to 543,000 in June 1918 producing a manpower crisis.

21 March 1918:  the German Offensive was launched.  There were 5 phases:

  • 21 March – 5 April: Operation Michael, against the British, the Battle of Picardy (otherwise known as the First Battle of the Somme 1918)
  • 9 – 11 April: Operation Georgette, against the British, the Battle of Lys sector near Armentieres
  • 27 April: Operation Blucher-Yorck, against the French sector along Chemin des Dames, the Third Battle of Aisne
  • 9 June: Operation Gneisenau, against the French sector between Noyan and Montdider, the Battle of the Matz
  • 15 – 17 July: Operation Marne-Rheims, the final phase known as the Second Battle of the Marne.

The Germans enjoyed spectacular territorial gains particularly during the initial phases of the offensive.  23 March, the Kaiser declared a “victory holiday” for German schoolchildren. 

The cost in manpower was enormous:

  • Between 21 March and 10 April the 3 main assaulting armies had lost 303,450 men – 1/5th of their original strength.
  • The April offensive against the British in Flanders was eventually computed to have cost 120,000 men out of a total of 800,000.

The German High Command calculated that it required 200,000 replacements each month but only 300,000 recruits stood available taking into account the next annual class of 18-year olds.  There were 70,000 convalescents available from hospitals each month but even counting them, the strength of the German Army had fallen from 5.1 million to 4.2 million men in the 6 months of the offensive.  It could not be increased on the estimated scale required.  To add to this dilemma, in June 1918, the first outbreak of “Spanish Flu” laid low nearly 500,000 German soldiers.  This epidemic was to reoccur in the autumn and wreak havoc throughout Europe and the wider world.  Also, the poor diet of the German troops, battle fatigue, discontentment with the military leadership, social unrest at home and a general realisation that their great effort was beginning to wane, the Allies counter attack in mid-July began to seize the initiative.  Sweeping victories over demoralised German forces eventually led to the resignation of Ludendorff 27 October, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II 9 November and the signing of the Armistice 11 November 1918.

The Third Battle of the Aisne: 27 May – 6 June 1918

The German attack was launched by 4,000 guns across a 40km front against 4 Divisions of the IX Corps.  There was a heavy concentration of British troops in the front line trenches and casualties from this bombardment were severe.  In fact, the IX Corps was virtually wiped out.  The bombardment was accompanied by a gas attack after which 17 German infantry divisions advanced through the gaps in the line.  Rapid progress was made and the Germans broke though the reserve troops (8 Allied Divisions – 4 British and 4 French) between Soissons and Rheims.  By the end of the first day, the Germans had passed the Aisne and reached the river Vesle gaining 15km of territory.  3 June, they had come within 90km of Paris and captured 50,000 Allied soldiers and 800 guns.  French casualties were heavy, with 98,000 losses.  The British suffered 29,000 casualties.  6 June, the German advance had run out of steam.

May and June 1918: 6/DLI in action [37]

The first week of April saw the 6/DLI involved in action in what was to become known as the Battle of Lys before it was relieved and sent to join the French troops in the line at Chemin des Dames in the area of Soissons, thought to be a quieter area.  In early May, an epidemic of influenza visited the training camp at Arcis before the battalion marched to billets at Glennes, a small village near Aisne.  6/DLI moved up the line to relieve the 73rd French Infantry in the woods east of the Craonne Plateau. 

26 May: All was quiet until the evening when the message was received that an enemy bombardment was to take place the next morning.

27 May 1.00am: heavy barrage, 3,000 yards flooded with high explosives, shrapnel and gas shells.

4.50am: enemy attack had overwhelmed the forward posts.  X Company wiped out, enemy advancing rapidly, reserve company (Z) close to HQ had the enemy on top of them.  Lieut.-Col. Walton and about 40 men searched for the best place to make a stand, still under a barrage.  5/DLI came up to the communication trench to find it occupied by the enemy.  Battalion practically “annihilated”

Afternoon:  Lieut.-Col. Walton, a few men of the 8/DLI and 5th Northumberland Fusiliers held the bridge at Concevreux.  They were not joined by any men from the front.  For the next 2 days, 2 commanding officers of the 6/DLI and 8/DLI found themselves in command of various men of other battalions.

29 May: the remnants were ordered to move from Villers Argon to Baslieux-sous-Chatillon:

“before reaching the latter place, every available man was again collected to form part of a company under Major Heslop, representing the remnants of the 151st Brigade in a Battalion to which each Brigade of the Division contributed one Company.”

After a night at Quisles Chateau, the battalion moved towards Vile-en-Tardenois to support the 74th Brigade.  The 151st Brigade Company were ordered to act as advance guard and to seize the high ground north and east of Romigny.  This was done but the enemy attacked in force and the Company was driven out to a position south of the village which they held until reinforcements arrived.

“The remnants of the Division, except the Composite Battalion, were assembled at Vert-la-Gravelle, south of the Marne when a Composite Brigade was formed…After a week spent in reorganisation, moved up to Chaumuzy and the Bois de Courton where it did good work in a counter attack on the Bligny Ridge.”

Later research records that between 27 and 31 May 1918, 6/DLI lost 3 officers and 82 other ranks killed in action or died of wounds. [38]  Private H. Casson was listed as. “missing”, 27 May and reported as a POW 31 May 1918.  He received a gunshot wound to his right hand and in later life, Hodge wore a glove on right hand, which had suffered gunshot wounds.

31 May 1918, it was confirmed that Private H. Casson was a prisoner of war. [39]

The 6/DLI War Diary for June 1918 provides the following details:

“VERT la FRAVELLE June 1st – Remnants of Battn (about 35 fighting men) inspected by GOC Divn.  About 35 men under Capt. HARE were still in the line and were in action with the French near BOIS de BONVAL.

2nd Composite Bde formed. Lt Col Walton to command 151 Bde Composite Battn.

Capt. HARE’s party moved to BOIS de COURTON.”

6 June: 1/6 DLI was relieved by the 9/Cheshires at Montagne de Bligny. 

8 June: 1/6 DLImoved back to Chaumuzy where it was joined by Capt. Hare’s party.  News came that the 50th Division was to be broken up and early in June the remnants entrained at Sezanne for the Abberville area.  They took billets at Caumont where orders were received that the battalions were to be reduced to the strength of Training Cadres (10 officers and 50 other ranks)

“It may be mentioned that that the total casualties in the battalion during the months of March, April and May had been 60 officers and over 1,200 other ranks.”[40]

The Training Cadres of the 5th, 6th and 8th DLI moved to Dieppe then about the middle of August moved onto Rouen.   

The Armistice was signed 11 November 1918 and the war was effectively over.  The British government began to demobilise its forces with essential workers such as coal miners high on the priority list.  POWs were released from German camps.  19 December 1918, Private H. Casson was reported to have been removed from POW list, i.e. repatriated.[41]

27 June 1919, he was finally disembodied on demobilization.[42] 

The King’s message to returning POWs

Medals and Awards

Private H. Casson received the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British War medals.[43]

Hodgson Casson’s medals

Acknowledgement

Many thanks to Mrs. Ann Hewitt (nee Burney) for sharing her Uncle Hodge’s details.


REFERENCES

[1] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.191 Auckland 1897 Q3 and 1939 England & Wales Register

[2] 1881 census

[3] 1891 census

[4] England & Wales Marriage Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.207 Auckland 1895 Q1

[5] 1901 census

[6] 1911 census

[7] Army Form E.501

[8] 1918 Absent Voters List

[9] Commonwealth War Graves Commission and England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.10a p.729 Sunderland 1918 Q3

[10] Army Form Z.11

[11] England & Wales Marriage Index 1916 – 2005 Vol.10a p.421 Auckland 1921 Q3

[12] 1911 census and England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.579 Auckland 1913 Q3

[13] UK Postal Service Appointment Books 1737-1969 Note: He may have been employed prior to this – a letter dated 11 January 1928 from the Civil Service Commission to the War Office enquired about his character with regard to a position as a postman.

[14] Pension Form 26c

[15] Pension card index

[16] 1939 England & Wales Register

[17] Reminiscences of Anne Hewitt (nee Burney) of her aunty Nelly and uncle Hodge

[18] England & Wales Death Index 1916 – 2007 Vol.1a p.562 Durham South Western 1962 Q3 and Ministry of Pensions and National Insurance card index

[19] England & Wales Death Index 1916-2007 Vol.1 p.1516 Durham Western Dec.1987

[20] Anne Hewitt

[21] Army Form E.501

[22] Army Form 624

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

[24] www.1914-1918.net/dli & http://www.1914-1918.net/50div

[25] In December 1914, he was actually 17½ years old (DOB 2 June 1897) not 18½.

[26] Army Form B.200 Statement of the Services

[27] Medal Roll card index.  By this time, he was then aged 18 years and 2 months.

[28] Listed as a casualty reported 12 March 1916 as “wounded” Entitled to wear a wound stripe.  Archive reference DT22031916

[29] Military History Sheet

[30] Reported “missing” War Office Daily List No.5632 Archive reference NLS1918_WList53

[31] Released POW from Germany War Office Daily List No.5772 Archive reference NLS1919_WList77

[32] Army Form Z.11

[33] Army Form B.200

[34] Medal Roll card index

[35] Army Form Z.21 Certificate of Disembodiment

[36] Various sources including www.firstworldwar.net/timeline; www.1914-1918.net/batt22.htm; “The IWM Book of 1918 Year of Victory”1998 Malcolm Brown; 

[37] The Story of the 6th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry – France April 1915 – November 1918” July 1919 edited by Capt. R.B. Ainsworth MC

[38] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[39] Reported “missing” War Office Daily List No.5632 Archive reference NLS1918_WList53

[40] Ainsworth

[41] Released POW from Germany War Office Daily List No.5772 Archive reference NLS1919_WList77

[42] Army Form Z.11

[43] Medal Roll card index, Rolls date 9 December 1919 & 7 August 1920