For many years there has been a photo a mounted WW1 soldier on the wall in a relative’s house, accompanied by a death plaque in the same name. The soldier is 4644 Pte. Samuel Fletcher of 18th (Queen Mary’s Own) Hussars, a regular who served in the British army prior to WW1.
Samuel was born 7 November 1888, son of George and Annie Fletcher, of Willenhall, Staffordshire, England.
I had hoped to find a copy of his attestation papers which would provide date/place of signing-up, but I am informed that they were probably destroyed during WW2 bombing. During WW1, there were outdoor recruitment drives in Willenhall marketplace, but Samuel’s signing-up predates that time.
The 18th Hussars served on the Western Front with the 2nd Cavalry Brigade, 1st Cavalry Division, from August 1914 until the Armistice in 1918, in both mounted and dismounted roles. In 1903, it was named the 18th (Princess of Wales’s Own) Hussars after Princess Mary, and then renamed the 18th (Queen Mary’s Own) Hussars in 1910 to mark her coronation as Queen Consort.
The information from a family member regarding Samuel’s death was that he ‘died at Ypres’ in October 1914, and the automatic assumption was that he died in the Battle of Ypres. In the event, however, the First Battle of Ypres ran from 19 October–22 November 1914, whilst Samuel died on 15th October 1914.
The War Diary of the 18th Hussars for that 15th October is headed ‘NEUVE EGLISE’ and states that, at 2am, four patrols were sent out under Lieutenants Gore-Langton, Brodsky, Dobson and Haslam, respectively. The patrol under Lt. Haslam: ‘to DEULEMONT proceeded as far as the crossings over the railway west of that town but found them too strongly held to get any further. A support & receiving station was established by C sqdn. under Capt. Thackwell at PLOEGSTEERT & information from there despatched to NEUVE EGLISE. Casualties 3 cyclist dispatch riders killed. The information obtained by these patrols was of great value to the Brigade’. The diary for the preceding day ended with ‘Reinforcements received 73 men, 83 horses, 2 cyclists & one officer‘.
As the 3 cyclist despatch riders were the only casualties mentioned for 15th October, it seem likely that Samuel was one of those killed. There is the possibility that Samuel died on that date of wounds received earlier, but I can find no reference to deaths/woundings in the War Diary for any earlier date in October. Also killed on the 15th, age 23, was 7954 Pte. Sam King, son of Rose King, of Barnsley.
Samuel Fletcher was entitled to the three WW1 campaign medals – the 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal (affectionately known as Pip, Squeak & Wilfred).
Samuel’s family would undoubtedly have received the standard telegram notifying them of his death; ironically, they were living in Cemetery Road at the time.
Both Samuel Fletcher and Sam King were buried in Strand Military Cemetery, Hainaut, Belgium (grave ref: VI.A.11). They are the only 18th Hussars casualties buried in that cemetery, so what happened to the third cyclist dispatch rider?
Samuel is also commemorated on the tablet in Willenhall Memorial Garden.
The photo of Samuel at the top this piece has raised some interesting questions. Firstly, the star over crossed rifles on his left sleeve shows that he was the best marksman in his squadron. He is seated on a horse which has an officer’s plume, tack, saddle, holsters and sword, yet he was a Private! Was he an officer’s groom and snuck a photo on his officer’s horse? Given the cumbersome nature of photography in the early 1900s, I don’t think so. Was it a reward for marksmanship? We’ll never know.
[My thanks to Willenhall History Society for assistance in the preparation this post.]