Pte Elijah Bagley

Another exploration of the men commemorated at the cenotaph at St James, Ogley Hay.


In brief

Private Elijah Bagley, Welsh Guards 1st Battalion, Regimental number 1687. Enlisted 14 Jun 1915, at Lichfield. Posted to France on 4th November 1915. Killed in action 10 Sep 1916, France and Flanders. Awarded British War and Victory Medals.

Imperial War Museum.

To begin at the beginning

Elijah was born at the beginning of 1891 in the Friezland Lane area on the slopes of Shire Oak Hill the son of Reuben and Ada Bagley. Reuben was born and brought up there, too, and by 1871 had become a coal miner, like almost every other young man in the area.

At some point Reuben moved to Ackworth, Yorkshire, where he married local lass Ada Seal, landlord’s daughter, of the Victoria Inn. Three daughters arrived before he brought his family home. By 1901 they had moved to Coppice Row, Coppice Side and were still there in 1911.

Ordnance Survey 1921, surveyed 1915.  Elijah lived at Coppice Row towards the south west.  Reproduced with the permission of the National Library of Scotland.

It is something of a shame, I think, that the newspapers seem to have overlooked Private E Bagley, not even a simple announcement of his death.

Front line

When Pte Bagley joined the battalion, they were at Allouayne, where, according to the war diary the weather was mostly fine. On 10 Nov 1915 they found new billets at Merville, where the diary recorded “Lovely day. Cold North wind.” By 15 Nov they were at Laventie. The weather continued fine and there appeared to be little if any action. On 27 Nov the battalion settled into billets at La Gourgue. The hand writing is hard to read, but through the winter there was periodic shelling and machine gun fire, but casualties seem to have been light. On another day its says “Bosch kept putting in odd shells, but without any harm”. Then, on 24 Mar 1916, at Potijie Defences “SNIPERS claim SEVEN victims during 4 days”.

On 1 May Potijie was “shelled fairly heavily, mainly shrapnel”. They were relieved and the total casualties for the tour were 3 other ranks killed, 10 other ranks wounded, 2 serious cases.

Battle of the Somme

Labelle Alliance. On the night of 1st / 2nd July 1916 the battalion was ordered to attack.

“1. On the night of July 1/2, at 11.15 p.m., No. 4 Company, 1st Battalion Welsh Guards, will capture the Mortaldje Estaminet and approaches thereto.

“2. Object of attack. To turn the enemy out of the estaminet and trench to the north thereof, and to prevent the future use of same by them for observing and offensive purposes, and to hold same for our observation and possible future advance. The post will be held by two bombing posts, the position of which will be decided after its capture.

“3. The attack will be prepared and assisted by artillery, trench mortars, and Stokes Guns. …

The war diary for 1 July begings: “Heavy shelling by our guns of German front line system”. Then: “Tonight No 4. Coy. do an attack at MORTALDJE ESTAMINET … First line 25 men, second line 30 men. Enter trenches north of Estaminet block East & West to establish ‘2 Bombing Posts’ there which we shall hold.” This it appears they achieved, but the position was only held with some difficulty as the Germans attempted several counter-attacks. By the end of 2 July things had settled down. The cost was: killed 1 officer and 5 other ranks, wounded 1 officer and 36 other ranks. I don’t know whether Pte Bagley was in No 4 Company, but this is the sort of action that all soldiers were expected to take part in. The counter attacks were widespread, so, either way, Elijah was involved in some pretty fierce action.) This was part of a serious defeat for the Germans.

Battle of Ginchy

On September 7th the battalion moved, and from that day until the morning of the 9th were billeted in the small village of Ville sur Ancre. It is interesting in view of future events to note that the Commanding Officer practised the battalion in an outpost scheme and night attack.

Battle of the Somme 1916. Wikimedia, public domain.  Ginchy is more or less in the centre.

It must be understood that this wood was a mass of deep shell-holes — it had been bombarded by the British heavy guns for some weeks — and there were heaps of brick from the demolished houses by the side of the road, and large heaps of earth from German dugouts ; there were fallen trees, too, and a great number of standing ones. It was a confused jumble, and the men taking cover in one shell-hole could not possibly tell if anyone was in the next, or if it was friend or foe.

During 10 Sep 1916 there were repeated German attacks, with close fighting and even hand-to-hand combat.

As to how the men fought in the hand-to-hand fighting, they used their bayonets with great effect. 1,656 Pte. William Williams was seen to dispose of several of the enemy, until with a furious thrust he completely transfixed a German and was unable to free his bayonet. He knocked another down with his fists, and seized yet another by the throat, when they both fell into a shell-hole. More Germans rushed up, and the gallant Williams did not rise again.

The total casualties were 205, including, presumably, Pte Elijah Bagwell, whose sacrifice is commemorated at Thiepval Memorial, Somme, Picardie, France (pier 7 face D).

On 13 Sep the battalion recieved a draft of 180 other ranks, and the battle raged on for two more months.

Register of Soldiers Effects: £4 7s 9d. to be paid to father Reuben 1 Feb 1917, plus 25 Sep 1919 £4 10s.

Sources (all online):

War Diary Aug 15 to Feb 19. 15-22 Sep 1916.
The History of the Welsh Guards. – various.

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