New book dispels Lincolnshire regiment ‘bolted’ in battle myths

Private William Walker Allen
Private William Walker Allen

Nigel Atter was born in Grantham and attended The National School, Castlegate and The Boys’ Central School, Sandon Road.

After school, he was an apprentice mechanical engineer with Barfords of Belton Ltd before deciding to go to university as a mature student. After being told by a university professer that the unit that his great-grandfather had served with in the First World War had ‘run away’, Nigel made it his mission to find out exactly what happened to the 8th Lincolns, focusing on their recruitment and training and their catastrophic first battle.

Nigel Atter

Nigel Atter

He has now completed a new book entitled: ‘In the Shadow of Bois Hugo the 8th Lincolns at the Battle of Loos 1915’, which is scheduled to be published by Helion and Company, later this month.

He spoke to the Journal about why he felt it was important to tell his great-grandfather’s story.

What made you write the book?

As a student at Birmingham University studying British First World War History, I was forcefully told by an eminent professor that the unit my great-grandfather had served in had run away from war. In fact he said the men: “Bolted!” From that point onwards I was utterly determined to find out what really happened. The truth is quite different as my book argues. My own great-grandfather joined the Lincolns at the end of August 1914. He was joined by a number of other men from Grantham. The 8th Lincolns were mostly from Lincolnshire - being either industrial or agricultural labourers. Rather than running away, the 8th Lincolns and their comrades in 21st and 24th Divisions, known as the general reserves, fought bravely. The book debunks the myth that all the reserves bolted or ran away. The book is also a micro study on an unknown Kitchener battalion and a number of men from Grantham feature in it. My book focuses on their recruitment and training and their catastrophic first battle.

The Loos battlefield.

The Loos battlefield.

What can you tell us about your great-grandfather?

William Walker Allen was born on the 18 March 1889 at 8 Mill Lane, Lincoln. He was the son of Elias and Myra Allen. Elias was a railway blacksmith. At some point, they must have moved to Grantham, probably independently from Elias. Grantham was certainly their home with Myra eventually remarrying in Grantham. She passed away in 1941 and is buried in Grantham Cemetery.

William joined the 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, on 19 June 1907 when he was 18-years-old. However, by 16 October 1907 he was discharged as medically unfit. It is possible that he was involved in an accident or some sort of injury, because he received an army pension of 9d a week for two-and-a-half years. William married my great grandmother Martha Ellis at St. John’s Church, Grantham, on the 26 March 1910. They had three daughters, Ethel May in 1910, my grandmother Myra Martha Mona Christina in May 1911 and Agnes Elizabeth in March 1912. According to the 1911 census the family lived in two rooms at 3 Union Court, Inner Street, Grantham.

At the outbreak of the First World War, William was working at Richard Hornsby and Sons, in Grantham, as a moulder’s labourer.

Your grandfather was one of 522 who answered roll call a few days after the Battle of Loos in 1915, what did he do next?

The battalion was rebuilt with new drafts of officers and men. The next action was during the the Battle of the Somme. On the first day, they went over the top on 1 July and reached their objectives, capturing German front line trenches. Once again the battalion suffered heavy casualties and was not fit for action again until November 1916. It was at Beaucourt, on the Somme, that William was wounded in the throat by a shell fragment. William also fought at 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele) the German assault in March 1918 (Kaiserschlact) and the last 100 days to victory, He was captured by the Germans in September 1918 and taken to Germany as a POW. Thankfully he was returned to England before Christmas 1918.

Have there been any challenges when writing the book?

Yes, because many of the men and officers were killed in action there are very few records available. Telling the story of the 8th Lincolns has meant many hours researching in the Imperial War Museum, the National Archives, in local museums and archives.

n You can purchase the book from Helion, Telegraph, and Amazon online websites.