yeovil at War

Caleb Edney Lewis

Killed in action in the Battle of the Somme

 

Caleb Edney Lewis was born in Chard in 1882, the son of miller James Henry Newis (1860-1914) and Mary Anne née Lucas (b 1858). By the time of the 1891 census James and Mary had moved to Trent Corn Mills, just east of Yeovil, where James described his occupation as Miller (Master). They were living at the mill with their three children Caleb, Lily and Albert, aged 8, 6 and 4 respectively. By 1901 James and Mary, together with their children and Mary's father, were living at The Knoll, Preston Road, with solicitor Athelstan Rendall. James gave his occupation as grain merchant while Caleb, now aged 18, was a printer's assistant.

In 1909, at the age of 27, he married Ellen Maud Pitman Smith at Chard. They were to have two children. Caleb served in the Cyclist Section of F Company, 2nd Volunteer Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, and later served in D Squadron, West Somerset Yeomanry. After his volunteer service he was a member of the Yeovil Company of the National Reserve. His military service probably accounts for the fact that in the 1911 census Ellen was living with her father and brothers on the family farm at North Perrott. Nevertheless, Caleb and Ellen lived at 'Iva', Preston Road with his mother Mary after the death of his father in 1914.

Since Caleb was a member of the Yeovil Company of the National Reserve, he enlisted at Yeovil on the outbreak of war, joining the 6th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry (Service No 3/7442). In fact he may, indeed, be one of the men in the first photograph below of the Yeovil Company of the National Reserve in the Borough, taken the day war was declared.

The 6th Battalion had been formed at Taunton in August 1914, becoming part of the 43rd Brigade, 14th Division at Aldershot later that year. On 21 May 1915 the 6th Battalion landed at Boulogne, France.

The Battalion spent the first week or so marching across France towards Belgium where they spent about a week supplying working parties for the digging of trenches for a secondary positions southwest of Ypres. By Sunday 13 June the Battalion settled down to trench life and the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry recalled for that day "The trench life was very quiet. A little shelling early in the morning and desultory rifle fire during the day.... The trenches taken over were situated in a dangerous position. They had been captured from the enemy only a few days previously I had occupied the most easterly point of the British position in Belgium, in front of Hooge. The line generally was in a very bad state and under incessant shellfire from the North, East and South. From 30 June to 18 July the 6th Somersets remained in billets, supplying large working parties day and night."

 

A letter published in the  Western Gazette, 9 July 1915
Caleb Newis of the 6th Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry, writes home: "We marched 14 miles and then went into the trenches to the fighting line and a rather warm corner near a place that is absolutely smashed. It is indescribable. The trenches occupied by our Battalion were in some places only about 14 yards from the Germans and they kept reminding us with a few shells. We were on practically all the time with very little rest. I am sorry to say that we have had a great many casualties, and since our arrival we have lost about 60 officers and men including the captain of our Company and also a lieutenant. We are very sorry as they were very decent fellows but, am pleased to say they are only wounded. Our regimental sergeant major, who had been with us ever since the first day at Taunton was killed on Monday, and he will be sadly missed. Two or three others I know well have been killed and some have nasty wounds, but a good many only slightly. It was a case of when you were standing up and heard a shell coming 'bobbing down' or throwing yourself down to the ground. I think the less I tell you about our five days there the better, as some things would be rather gruesome. .... I think we were all rather glad to get away for a day or two as it seemed to get on one's nerves a little. They gave us a lovely time on Monday night; it simply rained shells for twenty minutes. They fell in hundreds but did not do a lot of damage. .... The 'Yeovil Boys' are all fairly well but bar Salter who had a slight wound on the thumb but nothing serious. He has gone to hospital somewhere." The writer expresses himself as being well of supplied with tobacco and cigarettes in common with the regiment, and says that he had just received two tins of tobacco and a packet of cigarettes, part of a parcel from several well-known Yeovil men he mentions. He says it is very kind of them and the yeovil men greatly appreciate the gift and shows they are thinking of them.

A letter published in the  Western Gazette, 9 July 1915
A number of letters have been received from Private Newis of Preston Road who has been wounded and taken to a base hospital: "We have had a rough time of its for the past month. Plenty of work and little sleep and not altogether quiet. I am sorry to say that our casualties have been heavy." Referring to his own wound he describes it as being slight; he hopes not to be in hospital very long. He goes on: "Till anyone is wounded it is impossible for them to know the kindness of the RAMC. After being wounded a man is temporary dressed by one of his comrades or a stretcher bearer and then waits for the opportunity to be taken to the Battalion's dressing station. Then he is taken over by the RAMC to the clearing station and is then sent off to the hospital. He is supplied with hot cocoa and bread and butter with ham sandwiches during the journey which in my case lasted about seven hours. The wounded were then taken off by motor to the camp. I can assure you that after being in the trenches for twelve days, I enjoyed a nice bath and a complete change of clothes and, and a nice clean white bed. We are looked after admirably, the sisters being only too pleased to do anything for us. There are three of us from Yeovil who are wounded - E Bragg, Gerard and myself."

In another dated 3 August before he was wounded, Private Newis says that the regiment has been under several heavy artillery bombardments during one of which they have of several more casualties including their Platoon Officer Lieutenant Hobhouse, who received a nasty shrapnel wound through the shoulder. Things have been rather warm for the past few days, but the Yeovil men have been fortunate up to the present in not receiving any further casualties. Our artillery have not been satisfied until they have the last word which was far more pleasant. Whilst he was writing, shells were passing over in both directions. He concluded: "As it was just writing this I remember that it is August Tuesday. It is twelve months yesterday that we (the National Reserve) went to Taunton for the presentation of colours. It seems more than a year ago, but a good many things have happened since then and a good many more may. We go to bed, or rather to sleep, with our clothes on just the same as we walk about and I think that if we are spared we shall be able to appreciate the many good things we have despised before now. I think it would be a great thing if the people who talk so lightly of soldiers' work out here were to be brought out here for a few days. They would be able to appreciate the work of 'Tommy' more."

A letter published in the  Western Gazette, 10 March 1916
Lance-Corporal CE Newis, of the 6th Somersets, in a letter home gives an interesting account of a meeting of the 1st and 6th Somerset battalions. He says: "A few days ago while we were marching through a French village a very pleasant little incident occurred. We happened to meet for the first time being in this country, the 1st Battalion, who were billeted there. We didn't stop but we went on to another village, but the next day were allowed to visit the 1st, and also the day after. I met many well-known to me, including Sergeant Boucher (son of Mr Boucher of Bradford Abbas), Lance-Corporal Pippard (son of Mr Pippard, Watercombe, Preston), Privates Beaton, Hellier, Cooper, Gundry (of Yeovil) and a good many others. Our band paid a visit to the village on the second afternoon. In every estaminet, you could see old chums having a drink in celebration of the occasion and a most enjoyable time was spent. But on the third day we received marching orders and have left them a few miles away, being on our way to the trenches once more. They all looked remarkably well and fit."

from "Letters home to Yeovil in the Great War, 1914 – 1919" by Jack Sweet
Courtesy of Jack Sweet

 

On 26 July 1915, while at Hooge, the Battalion was subjected to a new weapon of war - the flamethrower. This event is described in the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry "Very early in the morning the front-line trenches of the Brigade were suddenly flooded by liquid fire, which belched from jets in the German lines opposite. This new device momentarily caused surprise and confusion, and the victims of this dastardly attack fell back from the front-line trenches which were then occupied by the enemy."

During 1916 the 6th Battalion fought in the trenches of the Western Front and in this year were involved in the action at Delville Wood in the Battles of the Somme. Delville Wood is to the north east of the town of Longueval in the département of the Somme in northern France.

After the two weeks of carnage from the commencement of the Somme Offensive, it became clear that a breakthrough of either the Allied or German line was most unlikely and the offensive had evolved to the capture of small prominent towns, woods or features which offered either side tactical advantages from which to direct artillery fire or to launch further attacks.

Delville Wood was one such feature, making it important to German and Allied forces. As part of a large offensive starting on 14 July, General Douglas Haig, Commander of the British Expeditionary Force, intended to secure the British right flank, while the centre advanced to capture the higher lying areas of High Wood in the centre of his line. Delville Wood was a battle to secure this right flank. The battle achieved this objective and is considered a tactical Allied victory. However, it was one of the bloodiest confrontations of the Somme, with both sides incurring large casualties.

According to the Regimental History of the Somerset Light Infantry, after the first phase of the Battle of Delville Wood, the 6th Somersets had spent several days in billets in Fricourt. During August the battalion was involved in the taking of Hop Alley and Beer Trench adjoining Delville Wood. After much heavy fighting the whole of Hop Alley passed into the hands of the Somerset men. Following the fighting, according to the Regimental History, "They dug a new CT (communication trench) under heavy fire and did it quickly and well. Also carried wire, stakes, etc, to the front line. Sent back 82 prisoners under escort. Carried bombs and sandbags. Put up artillery boards. Sent 20 men to fill gap on our left. Sent 20 men to make and hold a strong point in gap between right companies. Sent 30 men to support C company in Hop Alley. And then, when night had fallen, the remainder of this gallant company carried bombs, SAA, water, etc. to the front line."

The Regimental History continues "A little later (at 5pm) officers of the 9th Rifle Brigade came to look round the trenches of the 6th Somersets and made arrangements for taking them over. Hostile shelling, however, prevented the relief taking place until almost midnight, but this was all to the advantage of the Somerset men, who had no casualties in coming out of the line. The relief was completed at 4:15am, the battalion being billeted in Fricourt. "The men," stated the Battalion Diary, "on arrival in rest billets, were absolutely beat; the authorities had wisely kept them until the last possible moment and then taken them out." Thus ended another phase of the Battle of Delville Wood, a phase which cost the regiment five officers killed and seven wounded, with 48 other ranks killed and 220 wounded and missing. On 22 August the Brigade was paraded and the Brigadier complimented the 6th Somersets especially on the fine behaviour of the Battalion in Delville Wood."

On 26th August the 6th Battalion moved forward again to reserve trenches 300 yards in front of Bernafay Wood. Relief, however, came on 30 August, the 6th Somersets returning first to temporarily billets in Fricourt and then to a rest camp. On 31 August the Battalion entrained at Mericourt for Selincourt, 20 miles west of Amiens where, until 12 September, all ranks enjoyed a complete rest. Unfortunately almost as soon as the Battalion returned to the trenches Caleb was killed in action on 16 September 1916. He was aged 34.

The Western Gazette reported in its 13 August 1915 edition "An intimation was received on Saturday morning that Private CE Newis, of the 6th Somersets had been wounded and taken to a base hospital. An old Volunteer and Yeoman, Private Newis of Preston Road, joined the 6th Somersets at the outbreak of war with other members of the Yeovil Company of the National Reserve."

On 29 September 1916 the Western Gazette reported "Information has been conveyed to the relatives of Lance Corporal CE Newis, of Preston Road, from a friend of his serving in the Somersets at the Front, that he has been missing since an attack a week or so ago. The writer adds, that he and his friends had great hopes that Corporal Newis had been wounded and had been taken down the line somewhere where he was unable to write."

The Western Gazette reported on 20 October 1916 "Official intimation has been received by the relatives of Lance Corporal CE Newis, of Preston Road, that he has been missing since an attack on September 16th. The letter also received from the adjutant of his Battalion, after enquiries made amongst the men of his platoon, says that he can give no further information than that contained in the official notification."

The following week, on 27 October 1916, the Western Gazette wrote "The Union Jack was hung on the pulpit at the Vicarage Street Wesleyan Church on Sunday in memory of the late Corporal CE Newis of the Somerset Light Infantry. Special reference was made by the Rev. WMJ Noble, to Corporal Newis’s death, he being a member of the congregation, and had passed through all the classes of the Sunday School. Sympathy was also expressed with the relatives."

Finally, on 3 November 1916, the Western Gazette reported "Notification was received on Monday morning that Lance Corporal CE Newis, elder son of the late Mr JH Newis and Mrs Newis of Preston Road, was killed in action on September 16th. Lance Corporal Newis, who formerly served in the cyclist section of the old F Company, 2nd VB, Somerset LI, and afterwards in D Squadron, West Somerset Yeomanry, was a member of the Yeovil Company of the National Reserve, which at the outbreak of war joined a service Battalion of the Somerset Light Infantry, which has made a lasting name for itself during the war, and which will always be remembered with pride in Yeovil owing to the number of well-known men from the borough and district who have bled and died in its ranks. Corporal Newis was in partnership with his brother in the business of corn merchants and millers, carried on for many years by their father, when he left soon after the outbreak of war to commence the service of King and country which has now gloriously terminated with his life. He was 34 years of age, and leaves a widow and two young children, with whom the utmost sympathy has been expressed."

Caleb Newis is commemorated on Pier and Face 2A of the Thiepval Memorial, and his name is recorded on the War Memorial in the Borough.

 

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On Bank Holiday Monday, 4 August 1914, Yeovil men of the National Reservists line up in the Borough before marching to the Town Railway Station and travelling to Taunton. War was declared at midnight. As a member of the Yeovil Company of the National Reserve, Caleb is almost certainly in this photograph.

 

The Commonwealth War Graves Commission certificate in memory of Caleb Newis.