War and the Dangers of Football!

During the course of researching my family history, I have discovered numerous men who fought, and often died, during the First World War. Reading their war service records can, on occasion, be quite harrowing but, every now and then, something slightly out of the ordinary crops up. This was the case with my grandfather’s cousin, John Greenwood.

St. Michael's Church, Liverpool

St. Michael’s Church, Liverpool

John, the eldest son of Samuel and Martha Greenwood (nee Ainsworth) was born in Liverpool, probably at 23 Cornwallis Street, on 21st July 1893. Baptised less than two months later, at St. Michael’s, the same church where his parents married, he would spend his early life at Cornwallis Street and later at nearby Bailey Street. Like so many of his family before him, he made a career in the shipping industry, becoming a shipping office clerk.

This would all change, however, with the outbreak of war. In September 1914, John reveived a notice to enlist in the armed forces. He initially signed up for three years although, if the war was to last longer, he would continue to serve until its cessation. On September 9th 1914, John was declared fit to join the Royal Army Medical Corps, joining the 45th Field Ambulance. The Field Ambulance, a mobile medical unit, was responsible for the care of the casualties of the division they were attached to and were often overstretched due to the sheer number of wounded soldiers.

Despite the atrocities that were witnessed, life for the 45th Field Ambulance seemed acceptable. War diaries for the unit in the early years of the war rarely discuss casualties but instead discuss everyday life. On December 20th 1915, whilst stationed at Allouagne, northern France, the following is recorded:

Infantry do not take as much advantage of bathing facilities as might be expected. Wrote to brigade major on this subject.

There was also some concern over the Christmas /new year period as it was discovered that some of the Allouagne householders were selling rum and other drinks to the troops. On January 1st 1916, however, the diary records:

Not a single case of drunkenness in the unit from new year’s eve celebrations.

John Greenwood was successful at his job and had a perfect disciplinary record, being described as very steady, capable and reliable. This led to him quickly rising up the ranks, becoming a corporal on November 20th 1914 and a sergeant on February 20th 1915, It was during his time as sergeant that an event happened that would change his participation in the war.

On 16th November 1916, whilst on rest from the trenches in Baizieux, John Greenwood was playing football with some of his fellow soldiers. During the game, he was struck, accidentally, in the stomach by another player’s elbow causing immediate pain and vomiting which continued for four days. As there had been no improvement, he was taken to hospital in Rouen where he was diagnosed with “contusion abdomen”.

HMHS Goorkha. (Photo courtesy of http://www.roll-of-honour.com)

HMHS Goorkha. (Photo courtesy of http://www.roll-of-honour.com)

He remained in Rouen until being transported back to England on 1st December 1916 onboard HMHS Goorkha, a hospital ship containing 408 beds. The following day. John was admitted to No. 2 Southern General Hospital in Bristol  where he  was diagnosed with a perinephretic abscess, something which could have resulted in death if it hadn’t been discovered. The abscess was opened and drained and, after showing much improvement, he was declared fit for duty in one month.

John must have made some significant improvement as, on 28th June 1917, he was, once again, promoted – this time to the position of staff sergeant. This was a senior position in charge of man and resource management of around 120 soldiers. The war diaries show that events had now taken a dramatic turn and the 45th Field Ambulance were now extremely busy dealing with casualties. Stationed in Poperinge, about seven miles west of Ypres, the diary reports on June 30th 1917 that they were tending to 530 wounded men and were also taking in the sick of another nearby division.

By March 1918, however, John Greenwood had found himself back in hospital, this time at the Western General Hospital, Fazakerley, Liverpool, suffering from pyonephrosis, an infection of the renal collecting system. He remained here until March 14th when he was transferred to the Liverpool Royal Infirmary and diagnosed with a lobulated kidney. It was discovered that his kidney was tubercular and, as a result, on 5th April 1918, whilst in the Infirmary, his kidney and a portion of his 12th rib was removed.

Recovery was not swift and on 2nd May 1918, he was transferred to Woolton Auxiliary Hospital to convalesce, undergoing some minor operations whilst there. He finally left hospital on 15th January 1919, after the end of the First World War, and was discharged from the army as an invalid. His hospital days were not over, however, as he was expected to attend the Royal Infirmary as an outpatient.

During his time in the army, John was awarded with the Victory Medal and the 1915 Star.

Two years after being declared unfit for the army, John married Marjorie Ryder, a woman seven years his junior. They remained married until he died in the Northern Hospital, Liverpool on 3rd November 1950. He was cremated at Landican Crematorium.



A Heroic Action

Robert Ainsworth, my great-great grandfather, was born in 1838 in Liverpool. Following in the footsteps of his father and grandfather, he was a shipwright, plying his trade on the banks of the River Mersey.

Clarence Dock, Liverpool

Clarence Dock, Liverpool

On 19th January 1878, Robert was carrying out his work when a man suddenly fell overboard after apparently suffering from a seizure. Without thinking of his own safety, Robert jumped into the water of the Clarence Dock and managed to rescue the man. He was commended for his bravery and received a £1 reward.

Battle of the Somme: A Tragic Tale

World War One witnessed a surge of patriotism around the country as thousands of men enlisted to do their service in the armed forces. In 1914,  as a result of Lord Derby’s recruitment drive, men from the offices and businesses of Liverpool established the first of what was to be called the ‘Pals’ Battalions. In just over a week, three battalions had been raised and, soon, a fourth would follow – the 17th, 18th, 19th and 20th Service Battalions of the King’s Liverpool Regiment.

Baptism of Hubert Stanley Denson, St. Clement's Church, Toxteth Park.

Baptism of Hubert Stanley Denson, St. Clement’s Church, Toxteth Park.

Hubert Stanley Denson, affectionately known as ‘Stan,’ the sixth child of George Denson and his wife, Clara (nee Ainsworth), was born in Liverpool on 25th May 1894 and baptized at St. Clement’s Church, Toxteth Park, a month later. Educated at Sefton Park Council School, he decided against continuing the family trade (his father was a tailor who owned a business in Renshaw Street, Liverpool), instead becoming a clerk at Calthrop Bros, oil cake manufacturers.


Private Hubert Stanley Denson, 27524

On the outbreak of war, Hubert’s brother, Edgar Ainsworth Denson, was already serving with the 10th (Scottish) Battalion of the King’s Liverpool Regiment, having enlisted in 1912. His service, however, was carried out on home soil, where he reached the rank of Lance Corporal. Hubert tried several times to join one of the battalions of ‘Pals’ but was rejected each time on account of his height. Finally, he was accepted on 14th May 1915, joining the 18th battalion. He went out to France in March 1916, never to return.

The Battle of the Somme started on 1st July 1916, and it became known as the bloodiest day in the history of the British army. Separated by only a few hundred yards, the British and German troops were preparing for artillery bombardment in their trenches. Despite their confidence, the British soldiers could not penetrate the German defences and were soon being killed in their thousands by machine gun and artillery fire. In all, there were 57,470 British casualties on the first day of fighting in The Somme, with 19,240 deaths.

It was on the first day of the campaign that Hubert lost his life. Private S R Steele, a member of the 18th battalion, wrote:

So I went along the trench, and I got up on top, and the first thing that I saw was all the dead, fellows just lying there, higgledy-piggledy all over the place, some two, three and four high, – one mass of dead men as far as you could see, right and left!

Not including those who later died of their injuries, on that first day of fighting, 7 officers and 164 men from the 18th battalion lost their lives as a result of enemy fire. This battle went on to symbolise the horrors of the First World War.


War memorial at St. Barnabas Church, Penny Lane, including Hubert Stanley Denson’s name.


On Hubert’s death, one of the battalion’s officers wrote to his mother Clara Denson (nee Ainsworth) stating that he was killed on reaching the objective and was buried with his captain near to where he fell. She later received the money that was owed to her son from the army – £1 16s 10d in November 1916 and a further £4 in September 1919.

Hubert Stanley Denson was buried at Vernon Street Cemetery, in the valley between Carnoy and Maricourt in France. His name is recorded on the family grave at Toxteth Park Cemetery and also on the memorial at St. Barnabas Church, Liverpool and the Thiepval Memorial.

A year after his death, the following notices appeared in the Liverpool Echo:

Liverpool Echo, 2nd July 1917.

Liverpool Echo, 2nd July 1917.

For further information about the Liverpool Pals, Graham Maddocks’ book, ‘Liverpool Pals’ is an invaluable resource. Credit for the St. Barnabas memorial photo goes to Paul Young and can be viewed at http://www.ww1cemeteries.com/other_cemeteries_ext/st_barnabas_wm_liv.htm