Phillips, George Frederick

George Frederick Phillips and William Arthur Phillips were brothers who (probably) lost their lives on the same day in the same place and each has his own page on this website.

George Frederick was born in Brymbo Denbighshire to George and May Phillips nee Middleton on the 21st of December 1892 at Lodge, Brymbo, Wrexham. On his birth certificate it states that his father was a Baker and Confectioner Journeyman. His birth was registered on 5th January 1893. His father George was 32 and his mother May was 28. George, his father was born in Iscoyd Flintshire and May, his mother was born in Birmingham. George and May married in Llandrillo church in 1890 as May’s mother and stepfather were living in Llandrillo. In the 1891 census George and May were running a shop in West Derby and Fred’s older brother Sid, who was born on 9th of January 1888  was still living in Claverly with the Reynolds family in Bags cottage. Sid is recorded as being a nursing child age 3; so perhaps Sid remained there while his mother and step father set up their shop and home in Derby.  May was also a music teacher and she later taught her children music. Following this they must have moved to Lodge, Brymbo, Denbighshire at some point as this is where Fred is born in 1892.

As mentioned Fred already had an older half brother Sidney (sometimes spelt Sydney) who was 5 years older than him, he was born Sidney Middleton. When Fred was aged two his brother William Arthur was born in Wigland, Malpas Cheshire on the 9th of January 1895 (the same birthday as his older brother Sidney) . His sister Elsie May was born the following year and then his brother Norman Henry was born in 1899, Fred was now 6 years old. At this time the family were living in Wigland, Malpas in Cheshire. In the 1901 census his father George is recorded to have been a baker, bread maker and confectioner. The census also records that Frances Phillips their paternal grandmother, aged 66 was a widow and was also living with the family.

The 1911 census finds the Phillips family living at The Shop, Horseman’s Green, Halghton, Near Whitchurch in Salop. (Horseman’s Green and Tallarn Green were both within Hanmer parish at that time, but the township of Willington in which Tallarn Green is located, only included the edge of Horseman’s Green which was mostly in Halghton township).

Fred was now aged 18 had left Tallarn Green school and he was working as a van man and baker for the family bakery. His eldest brother Sidney is not recorded as living at home and he was employed as a gardener elsewhere. His younger brother Arthur was aged 16 and also working at the bakery, as to was his sister Elsie who was aged 14. His youngest brother Norman was still at school in Tallarn Green. Still living with the family was the grandmother now aged 76 and being recorded as having been blind for 25 years. Their home at The Shop is recorded as having six rooms. The census also records that English was the main language spoken in their household. The family were regular chapel goers and were likely to have attended the Wesleyan Methodist Chapel in Horseman’s Green, they also went to church, possibly St Chads in Hanmer as the family had strong links with the church throughout their lives.

Fred was to join the Royal Welsh Fusiliers on January 23rd 1915 with his older brother Sidney.Fred’s regimental number was 23058 and Sidney was 23059. Both brothers were in the 16th RWF. They both enlisted at the same time in Wrexham and the very next day went to join the 16th Battalion in Llandudno. Llandudno was the 113th N.Wales Brigade training. The brothers had their photographs taken together wearing uniform in a Llandudno studio and this also included Arthur.It was during this time that the three brothers met their sweethearts as the girls lived locally to where they were training. One of the girls the family recall was called Florrie. Arthur may also have been at Rhyl, depending on which battalion he originally joined up with. He may have been part of the surplus which was split off to start the 16th battalion. Unfortunately Arthur or Fred’s service records did not survive.

Sidney’s military records did survive and he was recorded as living at the Post Office in Horseman’s Green, it seems he was living with his family at the time but the address has changed from living at the Shop in 1911 to living at the Post Office in 1915. However, the shop and post office are possibly the same place, which was across the road from the bakery. Sidney is still recorded in 1915 as being a gardener, it was recorded in the 1911 census that he was working in a house in Staffordshire. The military records state that Sidney is 5 foot 5 inches and has a 36 1/2 inch chest, he also has a distinguishing mole on his abdomen. Religion is recorded as Church of  England.

Younger brother Arthur had joined the 16th RWF earlier on 23rd November 1914 as 18078. The youngest brother Norman was to be conscripted in May 1918 into the 3rd and later the 17th RWF as 89429. Sister Elsie the family believe became a volunteer nurse for the duration of the war.

The battalion including Fred and his two brothers entered France on 2nd of December 1915 as part of  David Lloyd George’s 38th Welsh Division, however they may not have been part of the same company, as Arthur had joined before his brothers and would have had more training. The movements of their Battalion can be followed in the regimental diaries. It is recorded in the diaries that on the 7th of July the battalion relieved the 15th RWF Battalion in the front line trenches. It was reported to be quiet on the 8th with no casualties. Some shelling, preparing for the attack to take place on the 10th and no casualties.  On the 10th at 3am the Battalion formed up in 8 lines 500 yards from the edge of Mametz Wood. The attack was launched at 4.30am. Casualties reported that day were: killed – 2 officers and 43 other ranks, wounded  -5 officers and 186 other ranks, missing- 64 other ranks.

Fred was likely to have been reported missing along with his older brother Arthur on the same day, as there are some discrepancies in the date that they were both killed. The County of Flint War Memorial record cards and Hanmer Remembrance Book record date of death as 10th July 1916 and it is also written on the bottom of their photographs by a family member. The family believes it to be the 10th of July that the brothers fell together.  However, official military records record the date of death as 11th July 1916 as does the Army register of soldiers effects which records KIA on 11th July 1916.  Six pounds, one shilling and five pence were forwarded to his father George on the 12th of June 1919 from the Army out of his personal effects.

Family stories recall that both brothers were injured and that one brother carried the other back to a safe place but both later died. Another story told within the family is that the Phillips family heard the news that the brothers had been killed when a child in Tallern Green school came to school with their lunch wrapped in newspaper on which was written a report that the two brothers had been killed in action. A teacher spotted it who had previously taught the two brothers. The sad news was then passed to the Phillips family. Norman is believed to have kept letters from his brothers which his mother had kept. In the letters home the brothers sadly wrote saying that they knew they would not return home. Unfortunately it is believed that the letters were later destroyed.

Both Fred and Arthur’s bodies were never found and they are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial on Pier and Face 4A, next to each other. Arthur and Fred have a number of memorials local to where they lived. They are named on the Hanmer war memorial, and in the church they have an entry in the Book of Remembrance and in the small framed list of WW1 fallen which is on display on the wall inside the church. They are also named on Tallarn Green war memorial. Also there is a brass memorial plaque that was formerly in Horseman’s Green Methodist Chapel and has now been relocated to the Scout Hut in Horseman’s Green. All four brothers are listed on the framed Roll of Service of those who were connected with St. Mary Magdalene Church Tallarn Green and/or Tallarn Green School. Formerly in the church until it closed in 2007, it is now preserved in nearby Borderbrook Church in Wales VA School. Further away, they are included in the County of Flint War Memorial record cards held at Flintshire record office in Hawarden and also listed on the Hanmer panel of the North Wales Heroes Memorial Arch in Bangor, Gwynedd. Both brothers names are recorded in the All Wales Book of Remembrance that is situated in the Temple of Peace in Cardiff.

His eldest brother Sidney survived the war but he had a breakdown and collapsed in the trenches.  It was noted by his CO that he was sent to a Field Ambulance hospital on the 2nd of May 1916. He was passed back to No.8 general hospital in Rouen and thence back into England on 11th May 1916. He was later diagnosed with Neurasthenia. The day before this happened the unit had gone back into the trenches at Laventie after a spell out. It was said to be quiet but with considerable shelling in the rear, mainly aimed at observation posts and buildings on the Rue Tilleloy. The later medical report relating to his collapse while in the front line trenches in April is slightly different in its dating. He was discharged from the army on 5th September 1916 medically unfit. Sidney never really recovered, though he did help out with the bread delivery round back home at the family bakery and he continued to do a bit of gardening. He had been a gardener before the war in a house in Staffordshire. Sidney lived with his sister in the post office and shop that she ran in Horseman’s Green. he used to spend a lot of time in his room and would occasionally go to stay with Norman’s in-laws where he would relax a little. Sidney died on 28th of January 1956 aged 67 and was buried with his sister in St. Chads churchyard in Hanmer where Elsie used to play the church organ.  Elsie used to attend both chapel and church weekly. Family stories say that he would do things like get up during the night and walk many miles to Colwyn Bay to visit his grandparents and family. His step father reportedly found it hard to accept that Sidney came home and his two eldest sons did not, but he asked his youngest son Norman to always care for Sidney when George was no longer able to.

Norman told his family that he did his army training in the Isle of Man. One story he told of his time in France was that he was guarding a plane and he was curious to find out what it was made of, so he stuck his bayonet through the side of it only to find out that the plane was made of canvas. When Norman was on duty in France, one day a man on a bicycle came riding along with the news that the armistice had been signed. He was demobbed in December 1919.

Norman survived the war and married Margaret Fowles in 1932. They had 4 daughters, Joan, Barbara, Margaret and Mary. Norman continued to work in the family bakehouse. Norman was a bell ringer at Hanmer church and he was tower captain for quite a few years. He also sang in the choir. In the last few years of their lives they both moved to live in Hanmer and Norman died just 10 months after his wife in 1981. Both are buried in Hanmer churchyard, close to his brother, sister and parents.

I  include here, an article from Maelor Churches Magazine, July/August 2016 written by Rev Clive Hughes of the Hanmer Parish. His writing is so heartfelt and moving. He writes about the hymns that reportedly may have been sung before the Phillips brothers went over the top at zero hour. He also sets the scene of that fateful day in 1916.

“Exactly one hundred years ago, at daybreak on the tenth of July 1916, many hundreds of men sat or leaned against the side of some trenches in France.  Some hundreds of yards away across the untended fields there was a wood.   The weather had been indifferent after a good start to the month, but that coincided with the opening of the battle of the Somme, with calamitous casualties from the beginning.  Every day, shattered villages and strongly fortified trenches were attacked as the campaign gained momentum.

A couple of days earlier the 38th (Welsh) Divison had launched its own opening attack on the wood opposite – Mametz Wood.  This was no heavily-wired fortress, no cratered mass of ruins, but a large forested area in full summer leaf.  Several enemy trenches ran through it, and together with other, smaller patches of nearby woodland it hid machine-guns manned by determined crews.  The first attack, by two South Walian units, hadn’t even reached the trees and the bodies of those killed still lay in the muddy fields to the right.

Heads had rolled because of their failure: a new commander was in place with orders to take the Wood at all costs.  Now it was to be the turn of the North Wales Brigade.  One of those waiting to attack was a poet and artist, David Jones.  For him and for those others, the noise of bees had been replaced by the buzz of bullets and whine of passing shells.  The greenery of the woodland in front was no pleasant summer prospect but instead a mass of tangled undergrowth and shattered trees, laced with barbed wire and concealing the waiting enemy.

As they waited for their destiny to unfold, David Jones and his comrades in the London Welsh battalion suddenly heard singing from their right.  A North Walian battalion, men to whom church and chapel-going was as natural as breathing, at the behest of their Colonel were committing themselves into the hands of God through song.  Some said that it was the old Welsh hymn Beth Sydd Imi Yn Y Byd?, others the hymn Jesu, Lover of My Soul, both sung to Joseph Parry’s strong and moving tune Aberystwyth.  The English words, by Charles Wesley, might have been chosen with exquisite judgement of their dangerous situation:

Jesu lover of my soul, let me to Thy bosom fly,

While the nearer waters roll, while the tempest still is high.

Hide me, O my Saviour, hide, till the storm of life is past;

Safe into the haven guide; O receive my soul at last.

Over their heads ripped the preliminary bombardment, and the dim mass of the Wood became a chaos of smoke and thunderous explosions.

Other refuge have I none, hangs my helpless soul on Thee;

Leave, ah! Leave me not alone, still support and comfort me.

All my trust on Thee is stayed, all my help from Thee I bring;

Cover my defenceless head with the shadow of Thy wing…

The light grew, the officers’ whistles blew, and the battalions surged over the top and towards the Wood.  The rest of the story has passed into military history – how the Welshmen (and the many English who were in their ranks) suffered heavy casualties as they crossed that deadly open space, but plunged into the Wood.  There, confused hand-to-hand fighting broke out in the tangled undergrowth, with the battle swaying one way then the other for two days, before the enemy finally withdrew.  Somewhere in the Wood were two brothers from Hanmer – William Arthur Phillips, and Fred Phillips – both with the 16th Royal Welch Fusiliers who were heard singing that hymn.  By 12th July a roll-call established that they were missing, and another Hanmer man present, George Crewe, had been wounded.

The Welsh Division had suffered four thousand casualties; but despite their efforts received little praise, being downgraded in status and moved from the Somme.  The full story of their heroic struggle at Mametz Wood took until the 1980s to emerge and receive redress.  Then a fitting memorial was erected on the spot – a fierce red Welsh dragon, its claws gripping broken barbed wire, and facing the now regrown Wood.  David Jones was among the wounded but survived to write an epic poetic version of the battle, In Parenthesis, which is regarded by some as one of the best pieces of literature to emerge from the First World War.

I have been to the site several times in recent years.  I have found the names of William Arthur and Fred Phillips amongst the 72,000 listed on the huge Thiepval Memorial to the missing of the Somme.  I have looked across from the Dragon monument at the deceptively peaceful green Wood (still concealing unexploded shells).  And I have heard the strains of Aberystwyth in my mind as I remembered what happened there, and said a silent prayer.

We remember with pride and gratitude those who fought and died to make this possible; and we pray that the memory of their sacrifice may inspire in us the resolve to seek your kingdom and to do your will for the world of our day, through Jesus Christ our Lord  Amen.

Rev. Clive Hughes”

I wish to express grateful thanks to Rev Clive Hughes of Hanmer Parish for his help, extensive research and knowledge of the military, answering my never ending questions and for the article. Clive continues to keep the memory of the brothers alive in their home parish. Also thank you to Alison Parry grand daughter of Norman Phillips, for gathering and allowing me to share some of the family stories and photographs. We have shed many tears x  The first photo of Fred at the top of the page was kindly given to me by Bill Hounsome. It seems that even 100 years after Fred was killed at Mametz, this photo of Fred was being used to educate children on the battlefields of the Somme. It is with heartfelt thanks to Bill that Fred’s photo will now be returned to his family.

Lest we forget.

This soldier is also named on the Tallarn Green Memorial.

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