Thirteen names give a snapshot of the Great War’s toll on solicitors and articled clerks.
By November 1915, the Law Society’s monthly task of listing the names of solicitors and articled clerks killed on active service must have settled down to a routine chore. In the 12-page edition of the Law Society’s Gazette appearing 100 years ago, the roll of honour opens on page four and occupies most of page five. It lists 13 names, with ages ranging from 20 to 36, serving in ranks from private to captain.
Typically for the time, at least four of the 13 had been following their fathers into the profession as articled clerks.
The dates of death cluster around the Battle of Loos, which opened on 25 September. It was the first disastrous attempt at a British breakthrough on the western front. In a pattern that would be repeated over the next two years, British hopes rested on innovative technology and tactics - in this case, mines and poison gas - but were confounded when the advancing troops blundered into uncut barbed wire and lost contact with their own support lines.
John Berry, managing clerk at G.R. Hubbard of 40 Chancery Lane, had enlisted the day after war broke out and was serving as a second lieutenant in the Gordon Highlanders. His battalion, in kilts and soft caps, pipes playing 'Johnnie Cope', went over the top on the first day at Loos. According to the regimental history: ‘This attack was repulsed by the enemy whose trenches and wire were not affected by the heavy bombardment, the wire could not be cut by our cutters, very heavy casualties suffered.’ One was Berry, who according to the roll was ‘missing, believed killed’.
Edwin Mawby, admitted in 1902 and a member of Messrs Mawby, Mawby & Morris, London, was serving as a second lieutenant in the Welsh Guards, which was ordered to make a night attack on 27 September. In unusually evocative language the official history describes what happened next: ‘A star-light went up - one, two, three - six of them - a dozen - twenty - a little ripple of fire - night had given way to a blazing patch of light in which one could see holes, unevenness in the ground which showed in hard black clumps and lines, and clear-cut figures with rifle and glinting bayonet advancing into the light, running forward out of the farther darkness. And then the little ripple of rifle-fire increased in an excited way, and with the rattling crash of machine guns pandemonium reigned.
‘The Prince of Wales’s Company on the right was very scattered. All their officers had been hit – Osmond Williams was mortally wounded and died the next day, Mawby and Smith were killed, Crawshay and Howard wounded. The men were hanging on under any sort of cover.’
Like a large proportion of the Loos dead, Mawby has no known grave.
Several of the November 1915 entries offer hints of the chaos. We are notified that Maurice Hill, admitted in 1900 and a member of Messrs M.C. Hill and Wilkinson of Newcastle upon Tyne, was ‘previously reported missing, now unofficially reported killed’. Unusually, the entry for Alan Tweedie Smith has errors in both his name and that of place of death: ‘Cambria’ rather than ‘Cambrin’. Perhaps my predecessor had trouble reading the shaky handwriting on brief particulars submitted to Chancery Lane.
And articled clerk Frank Wharton, younger son of Mr C.H.T. Wharton, solicitor, of 31 John St WC, was ‘killed in action in France about the 26 of September’. Today Wharton is commemorated by a ‘believed to be buried' headstone in St Mary’s Advanced Dressing Station Cemetery, Haisnes. Nearby is another presumed grave, that of second lieutenant John Kipling, 18. Whose father Rudyard, after the war, would coin the phrase ‘their name liveth for evermore’.
Michael Cross is Gazette news editor