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."

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.

 

German flamethrower, first used against the 6th Somersets at Hooge on 26 July 1915.

 

The remains of the village of Hooge - totally destroyed. Photographed in 1919.

 

Delville Wood after the battle. The wood itself is completely obliterated and the trench running up the centre of the photograph is almost unrecogniseable as such after being destroyed by shellfire during the battle.

 

Delville Wood, photographed shortly after the war.

 

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

 

Caleb Newis' name (lower left of photograph) inscribed on the Thiepval Memorial.

 

The Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

The Thiepval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916. The memorial also serves as an Anglo-French Battle Memorial in recognition of the joint nature of the 1916 offensive and a small cemetery containing equal numbers of Commonwealth and French graves lies at the foot of the memorial. The memorial, designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, was built between 1928 and 1932 and unveiled by the Prince of Wales, in the presence of the President of France, on 1 August 1932.