- 1911 Occupation Soldier
- Domicile Chapel Yard, Cotgrave
- Date of Birth 1880
- Domicile Henry and Emma Lacey, Chapel Yard, Cotgrave
- Wife Rosa Blanche Lacey (Nee Cartledge), later Rosa Blanche Morris of 140 Whitham Rd, Broomhill, Sheffield
- Regiment 1 Battalion Grenadier Guards
- Division 7 Division
- Brigade 20 Brigade
- Service Number 13704
- Rank Guardsman
- Medals 1914 Star, British War Medal, Allied Victory Medal
- Date of Death 26 Oct 1914
- Age at Death 34
- Commemorated Ypres, Menin Gate, Panels 9 and 11
The story of Samuel Lacey starts in the autumn of 1890 when, at one of the cottages in Chapel Yard, close to the old Methodist Hall in Cotgrave, Emma Lacey gave birth to her 5th child, a boy who was to be known as Samuel.
Samuel’s father Henry, who originated from Shelford, initially worked as an agricultural labourer and later as a roadman for the local Council. Emma, his mother had been born and raised in Cotgrave.
10 years after Samuel’s birth he had grown into a dark haired boy with brown eyes who went to school, almost certainly at the CofE School close to the church in Cotgrave.
By this time his family had expanded by younger sisters Elizabeth, Alice, May and Sarah, and younger brothers William and Thomas. With 2 adults and 13 children the little 3 room cottage in Chapel Yard would have been overcrowded had not Samuel’s 3 elder teenage brothers, Arthur, Harry and George, moved out to live elsewhere. Arthur his eldest brother had joined the Sherwood Foresters, the local Infantry Regiment.
On leaving school Samuel worked as a farm labourer, as did most of the young men in this area at that time. At the age of 18 he decided to try a military career and on 4 Sep 1907 in Nottingham he followed his brother Arthur into the Sherwood Foresters. It is interesting to note that Samuel declared his age as 18 years and 4 months when he was attested. If fact he was just 17 but being 5 feet 8 inches tall with a girth of 36 inches probably looked a little older.
After his initial training he was posted to the 2nd Battalion on 31 December 1907. However after just 7 months with the Sherwood Foresters Samuel transferred to the Grenadier Guards where George, another of his brothers was serving. The reason for his transfer is not obvious but Guards did get 1 penny additional pay each day, which was a pay rise of 8%; not to be sniffed at.
It was a military full house for the Lacey boys with George and Samuel in the Grenadier Guards, Arthur in the Sherwood Foresters and Harry, Samuel’s third brother serving in the Royal Marines.
After 2 years with the Grenadier Guards Samuel decided a military career was probably not for him and having completed 3 years with the colours, he left the service and moved to the Reserve from which he could be called back to the colours, should the situation dictate.
Samuel moved back to live with his parents in Cotgrave. Henry and Emma had now moved from Chapel Yard to number 6 Gripps Cottages halfway up the Owthorpe Road. Indeed many other families who had lived in Chapel Yard were now living in Gripps Cottages. The family of Joseph Hind lived at number 10 and of John Hayes lived at number 8. Both of their names are also on the Cotgrave war memorial.
There were 16 of these cottages which were probably built around 1905. They were built roughly where the Diamond pub used to be. They pumped water from the well outside and had about three toilets to serve all the residents.
Nevertheless they had 4 rooms, one more room than the cottages in Chapel Yard, which was important for the Laceys as Samuel now had one more sister, Lenna. However by this time four of his sisters, now in their teens, had moved from the family home into service.
In 1912 Samuel met Rosa Blanche Cartledge and they were married at All Saints Church during that year. Rosa was the same age as Samuel and was born in Burton Joyce, although one year before they married she was in service in Skegness. One wonders how they first met.
It is interesting that The Rector at that time, Reverend JP Hales officiated at the marriage. He was later to serve as a Chaplain to the Sherwood Foresters and his name is shown, with that of his wife, on the memorial board at the back of church, as ‘having served’. JP Hales also officiated when the Cotgrave War Memorial in the cemetery was unveiled in 1920.
During the 2 years after Samual and Rosa’s wedding dark clouds rolled over Europe and on 5 August 1914, the day after Britain declared war on Germany, Samuel was mobilised along with tens of thousands of soldiers on the Reserve. He was mobilised into the 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards, the Battalion he had left 4 years earlier. He was just 25 years old.
Samuel’s Battalion trained hard and 2 months later were in Lyndhusrt Camp in the New Forest awaiting orders to move across the channel as part of the 7th Division under general Capper.
The 7th was the last remaining reserve of Regular troops and was made up from units drawn from all over the Empire. These units had handed over their duties to members of the growing Territorial Force. Capper’s orders were to disembark at Zeebrugge in Belgium and move to assist the Belgium Army which was defending Antwerp.
Capper’s Division sailed on 4 October and disembarked at Zeebrugge on 7 October as planned, but by this time things had changed and the 60,000 strong Belgium Army was now withdrawing from Antwerp which was shortly to fall to a vastly superior German force.
As a consequence Capper set off with his 12000 men, not towards Antwerp, but towards Brugges in order to cover the flank of the withdrawing Belgians.
From Brugges the Division moved to Ghent and from Ghent to Ypres arriving on 14 October, 7 days after setting off from Zeebrugge. During that time they had marched over 100 miles.
The first British troops to arrive in the fateful town of Ypres were greeted by the local population as saviours and were fed and watered extremely generously. Samuel would have had no need to use any of his pay, which at that time amounted to a humble 1 Shilling and 1 Penny per day.
However their feasting was short lived as news came of major German forces advancing from Antwerp and of a new German Army mobilising further to the north and moving into Belgium.
On Sunday 18 October The Gordon Highlanders, The Border Regiment, The 2nd Battalion of the Scots Guards and Samuel’s 1st Battalion of the Grenadier Guards, all Battalions of 20 Brigade, were ordered to advance from Ypres and capture Menin on the Belgium/French border 12 miles away.
There was a sense of excitement as the infantry soldiers geared up for action and the following morning they advanced against only light resistance which was easily dealt with.
However they never got to Menin as the enemy were in far greater numbers than expected and the Germans had had some luck.
One of their patrols had captured a British officer who was carrying the orders for the offensive. The orders listed every unit, its position, its objective and its role in the attack. The Germans were fully prepared to counter the offensive and by the end of this, the first day of the First Battle of Ypres, British troops were back where they had started from and had taken a significant number of casualties.
On the second day of the battle it became obvious that the 7th Division was fighting against huge odds and the enemy had the advantage. The previous day’s orders to advance were reversed and all battalions were to ‘hold the line which would be strongly entrenched’.
For Samuel and his comrades this was an order most difficult to fulfil as they had no heavy spades and many of the lighter implements had been lost in the fighting. To add to the difficulty there was no wire to be had in Ypres.
Nevertheless the day was saved by the arrival of the British First Corps under General Haig which had at last completed its move from the Aisne where it had been replaced by French troops.
For the next 20 days the battle raged around the villages, hills and plains surrounding Ypres. Pashendale, Langemark, Zillebeke, Hooge, Poligon Wood, Messines, Gheluvelt were all taken and retaken with enormous casualties on both sides. These names were to become almost household words before the end of the war in 1918.
However Ypres, which would have provided the Germans with a straight drive to the channel coast and Calais, was never taken.
On 26 October Samuel’s Battalion was fighting alongside the Scots Guards and the 1st Battalion of the Staffordshire Regiment close to Kruiseeke in the face of a massive German attack.
The Germans called out ‘retire’ in English and caused confusion amongst the British troops. Men of the 1st Staffordshire Regiment retired which enabled the Germans to get in behind the Scots and Grenadiers and to wipe out their forward companies.
It may well be that Samuel was killed in this action but we will never know as he has no known grave. His military papers simply say ‘Killed in Action 26 October to 8 November 1914.
Samuel was one of the 25,000 British soldiers killed or missing during the First Battle of Ypres. A further 29,000 were wounded bringing the total British casualty count to 55,000. The German Army suffered over twice that number.
The Battle is recorded as having all but stopped by 11 November when winter set in and Trench Warfare started in earnest.
Two more major battles were fought over the same ground before the war came to an end. By then 54000 British and Commonwealth soldiers, who had no known grave, died in fighting around Ypres; they are commemorated on the memorial at the Menin gate in Ypres where the Last Post is played each evening at 7 pm.
One of those 54000 names is Samuel Lacey.