Researched and written by Anne Wright
L/Cpl R A C Newman
3rd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers
Killed in action, 24.5.1915
Richard Arthur Charles Newman was born in Weybridge on 9 December 1895 and baptised at St. James’ Church on 19 April 1896. His parents were Charles, also a native of Weybridge, and Clara Eliza (nee Maunder). Richard was the fourth of their seven children. His six siblings being: Edith, Maud, Geraldine, Lily, George and Henry. In 1901 Charles Newman was a cab driver and his wife worked as a charwoman as well as taking in boarders. Their home was at 1, Primrose Cottages, Waverley Road. Ten years later they still lived in Waverley Road; Charles had now become a chimney sweep, Richard had started his working life as a boy messenger with the Post Office having left St James’ School (Baker Street) and their home still accommodated boarders.
When he enlisted at Kingston on 28 August 1914, Richard was just over five feet and eight inches tall, had a fresh complexion, grey eyes and brown hair. He had left the employment of the Post Office having become an ironmonger’s assistant. He was posted to the 3rd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers of the 85th Brigade in the 28th Division. This brigade transferred to the 3rd Division between 19 February and 6 April 1915. His battalion arrived from India in December 1914; they had a short time at Winchester before embarking Southampton on 18 January 1915 and disembarking Le Havre the next day. Richard did not join them until May.
His battalion spent a difficult time in the Ypres Salient from 5 February onwards. They held positions along the canal bank in Ypres, in trenches east of Kemmel and trenches at St. Eloi. They suffered hardship from the cold, wet conditions; many suffered with frost bitten feet and bronchial ailments requiring hospital treatment. Casualties also mounted: in just three days in the trenches from 8-11 February they suffered 18 fatalities, 72 woundings and 1 man reported missing. On 15 April there were fears of an attack somewhere along the Ypres Salient; five days later the 3rd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers returned to a position of readiness in trenches at St. Jean (NNE of Ypres). The Second Battle of Ypres began on 22 April.
Richard arrived in France on 13 May; he reached his battalion three days later when they were in billets at Watou. Thus far in the battle they had experienced very heavy shelling, enough on one occasion to virtually blow apart one of their trenches. Respite from the fighting did not last long; they returned to the trenches, close to Hooge on 21 May. Richard must have been part of the cohort of 300 men who joined the battalion on 16 May. He had not had long to acclimatise to life at the front. His first two days in the line were fairly quiet although they did sustain casualties from enemy rifle fire. Nothing could have prepared him for the events of 24 May.
On this day the Germans launched an attack along a wide front; the first indication Richard and his comrades had of this was a gas attack at 2.30 am. The gas was described as being particularly thick and strong and was immediately followed by rifle and machine gun fire. Trenches to their left were vacated and the Royal Fusiliers attempted to fill the gap but incurred several casualties in doing so. By 8 am their fire trenches (front line) were occupied by the Germans; a counter-attack having failed, all the officers there were wounded and the majority of men also gassed or wounded. A large number of the men had only the small old fashioned respirators which were of little use. Those who remained took up position in the third line trenches, they had some support from the Buffs but these supporting forces had been reduced in number by shell fire on the way forward. This line was held until the end of the day. By 25 May, the 3rd Battalion, Royal Fusiliers had just one surviving officer and 536 other ranks had been killed, wounded or were missing. The Germans did not break through to Ypres but a lot of territory had been ceded and the Salient was much reduced in size.
Richard had seen active service with his battalion for just eight days. Unsurprisingly, among so many casualties his body was not recovered; he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial (Panels 6 & 8) in Ypres (now Ieper). His parents still lived in Waverley Road in 1930. His father died in 1931 and at the time of her death in 1936 his mother was living with her son George at Royston, Terrace Road in Walton-on-Thames.
England & Wales, Civil Registration Death Index, 1916-2007, www.ancestry.co.uk
Newman Family Tree, www.ancestry.co.uk
O’Neill, C The Royal Fusiliers in the Great War, https://archive.org
St James’ School War Memorial Board 1914-1918, St James’ Church, Weybridge
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey Recruitment Registers, 1908-1933, www.findmypast.co.uk
UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, www.ancestry.co.uk