Remembering Lewis Hull Phillip and Sam Read
Another article recounts Tom Harry Read who was killed in the First World War. We return to this unhappy family as the twice widowed Mrs Margaret Read received another dreaded telegram in April 1918, telling her that another of her sons had died.
Margaret Ellen (nee Metcalf) had 9 children – 4 girls and 5 boys – 3 of whom joined up. Her first husband, William Peel Read, a coal-merchant and farmer at Greenbottom, had died when Sam (the 8th of her children) was just 3 years old; she re-married 6 years later to William Smith, but he died within a few months, and Margaret reverted back to the Read surname. She had continued farming at Greenbottom for a few years, but by the time war broke out, the family had moved to Roseville, on Main Street.
As a teenager Sam played a full part in village life – he was in the Embsay cricket team, attended the Wesleyan Chapel regularly, often playing the organ at the services, and he was a worker at the cotton mill owned by the Embsay Manufacturing Company. He was only 16 when war broke out but as soon as he turned 18 he went to Keighley to enlist in June 1916. He was under-age, and by this period in the war, there was greater care taken not to take the very young. However by January 1917 he was considered old enough to at least start his training, so he was called in and sent into the Reserves, and the training camp at Seaton Sluice in Northumberland.
Sam would only just have heard that his older brother Tom had been killed at the front when he was mobilised soon after his 19th birthday. Sent to France in June, he joined the 9th Loyal North Lancashires (L.N.L.), but 2 months later, was transferred to the 7th L.N.L. In August he was in hospital at Rouen, with serious wounds that kept him there for two months. But he recovered enough to re-join his unit. After a home leave in February 1918 he was sent back into the front line, this time with “B” Company in the 1st Battalion.
The German Spring Offensive of 1918 was well under way, but the commanding officer of the 7th Loyal North Lancashire, in the front line near La Bassee Canal, was able to record that 17th April was “dull” and “generally quiet.”
Then, at 4.15 on the morning of the 18th, “the enemy commenced to bombard the whole front. The barrage became intense & at 8.10 the enemy attacked from the North filtering into our trenches under cover of the high ground at Givenchy. He succeeded in reaching & occupying the main line of resistance before counter measures could be taken. Vigorous counter attacks by C & D Companies eventually succeeded in ejecting the enemy from our main line & by 11am he was only holding a few isolated posts in our outpost line…”
In the midst of this battle, Sam was fatally wounded. On the 24th April 1918 his mother received the news he was dead. A letter from his commanding officer tried to reassure her that his sacrifice had helped to repulse the German attack. It would have been of little comfort to a mother who still had a third son in the army (William Peel Read, jr, was with the Northumberland Fusiliers).
Nevertheless, we find the theme of sacrifice again in the quotation his mother chose for Sam’s memorial in the Craven Herald which she sent on the first anniversary of his and his brother’s deaths: “They laid their richest gift on the altar of Christ – their lives”.
His brother William also sent a memorial which simply said: “To know them was to love them.”
Lewis Hull Phillip was also very young – 16 when the war broke out. He too was one of 9 children – the youngest son of grocer, John & Ann Phillip who had recently moved from Elm Tree Square to live at Greenfield House Farm. They were members of the Swedenborgian New Church, but as a teenager Lewis appears to have been very happy to be actively involved with all religious groups in the village, playing the organ for services and helping to organise fund-raising events for the New Church, the parish church and for the Methodists. By the age of 13 he was already working at the Embsay Manufacturing Company’s cotton mill, alongside two older brothers. He was also one of Embsay cricket team’s “best bowlers” according to the Craven Herald’s reports on local fixtures during 1914.
A few months after his 18th birthday he was called up, joining the West Riding Regiment in October 1917, as a driver in the Transport Section. That December he was one of 24 Embsay-with-Eastby men who received Christmas parcels from the Embsay War Distress Committee, and he sent a letter of thanks back home. Although he did return home on leave for 2 weeks in the following March, he never saw another Christmas.
On the 25th April 1918 he was already back in the thick of the fighting with the 9th Battalion, trying to counter the German Spring Offensive. “The East Yorks had failed in their bombing attack in conjunction with our own attack,” the unit’s war diary records. It continues: “we were back in our own positions.
Dawn was breaking after our 4th attempt was tried and our CO thought that any further attempt would be useless. Our casualties were heavy, having 4 officers wounded… and 3 officers missing… and 210 other ranks.”
Lewis was wounded in this fierce fighting and died 3 days later. The Phillip family had 3 other sons serving (one in the Navy, 2 in the army), and this news must have filled them with intense fear for the lives of their other boys. For several years, on the anniversary of Lewis’s death, his parents, brothers and sisters, placed memorials in the Craven Herald, which expressed their raw, lasting grief, but also revealed their deeply held Swedenborgian beliefs in the reunion of loved ones in the afterlife. His brother, Mallinder, wrote in April 1922:
“I pictured his safe returning, and longed to clasp his hand; But God has postponed the meeting, ‘Twill be in the better land.”
Jane Lunnon, Embsay-with-Eastby Historical Research Group. 2018
With thanks to “Craven’s Part in the Great War” website (www.cpgw.org.uk) .