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School hopes to find out more about First World War soldier from Norwich

06:30 06 January 2016

Horsforth School, in Leeds are trying to trace the family of Private Richard Matthews. Pictured: Private Richard Matthews. Picture: Yorkshire Evening Post

Horsforth School, in Leeds are trying to trace the family of Private Richard Matthews. Pictured: Private Richard Matthews. Picture: Yorkshire Evening Post

Yorkshire Evening Post

It has gone down in history of as the bloodiest day in the history of the British Army.

The Pals Battalions

Britain began the First World War without a mass conscripted army, with its small professional force not sufficient for a global conflict.

Thousands of men volunteered for service in Lord Kitchener’s New Armies – which were to see them serve alongside friends, relatives, neighbours and workmates.

On August 21, 1914, the first Pals battalion began to be raised from the stockbrokers of the City of London. Pals battalions became synonymous with northern Britain. Men from cities including Liverpool, Manchester, Leeds, Newcastle, Hull, Glasgow and Edinburgh all enlisted in their thousands in 1914 and 1915, but Pals battalions were also raised from Birmingham to Bristol and from Cambridge to Cardiff.

After training, the first Pals battalions began to arrive on the Western Front from mid-1915 but many did not see their first major action until the first day of the Battle of the Somme.

Conscription was later introduced in 1916.

The Leeds Pals, to which Pte Richard Matthews belonged, became the 15th Battalion (1st Leeds), The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment).

By the end of the first day of the Battle of the Somme, on July 1, 1916, around 20,000 of its soldiers lay dead – among them a 17-year-old from Norwich, Pte Richard Matthews.

Now, ahead of the centenary of the battle, his short life and death – along with those of his brothers-in-arms – are to be the subject of a play.

Although born in Norwich, Pte Matthews was serving with the Leeds Pals and the new production – The Pals – is being staged by Horsforth School, in Leeds. Staff there have been trying to track down any of the soldier’s surviving relatives.

Sixteen-year-old Pte Horace Iles, from Woodhouse, Leeds, and 18-year-old Pte Frank Clarke, from Horsforth, are also remembered in the play, and the school has been in touch with members of their families about the play, which will be performed in July.

Undated photo of British infantrymen marching towards the front lines in the River Somme valley. Photo: PA WireUndated photo of British infantrymen marching towards the front lines in the River Somme valley. Photo: PA Wire

James Bovington, the teacher behind the production, said: “We intend to present a memorial scroll to the families of the ‘real’ soldiers who willingly gave their lives while still under-age in their country’s – indeed in our country’s – service that beautiful but fateful July morning a century ago.”

With the help of researcher David Stowe, Mr Bovington has discovered that Pte Matthews’s family was from Norwich, but had been living in Leeds for nearly a decade by 1916. Mr Bovington believes the family may have returned to Norfolk.

According to records, Pte Matthews was the son of John and Charlotte “Lottie” Matthews (née Edwards), who had married in 1888. Pte Matthews’s birth was registered in Norwich between January and March 1899 and he was one of seven children. John, Albert, Ethel, Elsie and Frederick were also born in Norwich but the youngest, Robert, was born in Leeds in 1908.

By the time of the 1911 census, Charlotte Matthews was no longer listed as living in the family’s home in Leeds, and John Matthews later married Hannah Bexfield in Kent after Charlotte’s death.

The sun rises over wild poppies growing on the edge of a field at Thiepval in northern France, close to the Thiepval Memorial Monument. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA.The sun rises over wild poppies growing on the edge of a field at Thiepval in northern France, close to the Thiepval Memorial Monument. Photo: Chris Radburn/PA.

Pte Matthews’ body was never found and his name is among more than 72,000 on the Thiepval Memorial in northern France.

Any relatives of Pte Matthews who would like to get in touch with Mr Bovington should email bovingjd01@horsforthschool.org or call 0113 2819565.

Are you doing anything to commemorate the anniversary of the Battle of the Somme? Email reporter Emma Knights at emma.knights@archant.co.uk

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