MARGETTS, 2nd Lieutenant Percy Alexander

Second Lieutenant Percy Alexander Margetts. Image supplied by Stuart Archer.

Second Lieutenant Percy Alexander Margetts. Image supplied by Stuart Archer.

Percy Alexander Margetts was born in Birstall on December 27th 1888. Percy’s parents were Frederick William and Dora Maria Margetts. The baptism register entry for Percy Margetts showed that the family lived at Huddersfield Road in Birstall, and that Frederick Margetts was a commercial traveller.

In the 1891 census the family were listed as living at Huddersfield Road. Apart from Percy there were six other siblings. The oldest, William, was already working in the corn mill as a labourer at the age of fifteen, whilst another brother, Frederick, was working as a post office boy at fourteen years of age. All the other children were still at school. Frederick, the head of the family was shown on this census as being employed as a Corn Miller’s Traveller.

The 1901 census recorded the Margetts family living at 3 North Terrace in Birstall, a property still standing in modern day Birstall. Frederick (senior) was still employed as a traveller for the corn mill. The two eldest boys had by this time left the home, but a further child had joined the Margetts family. A daughter, Bertha, was working as an assistant schoolmistress, and James was working in the Corn Mill as an office boy. Percy Margetts was shown as a scholar, having enrolled at Batley Grammar School in the spring term of 1900.

By 1911, the Margetts family was to have another teacher within its numbers. Percy had gone from Batley Grammar School to study at Leeds University, and by the time of the 1911 census he had secured a teaching position at Brigg Grammar School in Lincolnshire. He was one of several teachers who were shown as living as a boarder with the head teacher of the school and his wife. The Dewsbury Reporter of 18 December 1915 gave a description of Percy’s educational progress as part of an obituary for him:

He won a scholarship for that institution (Batley Grammar School) at the Brownhill Day Schools. After studying at the Grammar School, where he was a pupil under the late Rev. L.S. Calvert, he passed on to Leeds University, through the medium of a County Major scholarship.

He had started teaching at Brigg Grammar School in 1910, after gaining a BSc at Leeds University. By the time war broke out in August 1914, Percy Margetts was therefore a well-established teacher at the school, and it seems, very well-liked by masters and boys alike. It was probably this popularity that prompted the school to tell him that they would hold his position open for him after he had travelled to Colsterdale Camp in Yorkshire to enlist in the 15th Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment. The latter was a ‘Pals’ Battalion, formed in Leeds. Percy joined the Pals on 11 January 1915. His attestation forms show that he was 5’7 1/2” tall and weighed 136 pounds. His trade or calling was noted as being ‘School master’.

Margetts became Private 1155, but was soon seen as having potential and was promoted to Lance Corporal by April 1915. He was encouraged to apply for a commission and did so on 20 April 1915. All the necessary paperwork was completed by 17 May, and on 11 June 1915 he was discharged from the Leeds Pals having been ‘Gazetted’ into the 9th Lincolnshire Regiment. His application form for a commission was endorsed by Mr. A. E. Wheeler, the secretary of Leeds University, and it showed that he had left the university with a Bachelor of Science degree and was an ‘Associate Licentiate of the College of Perceptors’.

Laurie Milner’s book ‘Leeds Pals’ gives accounts of the lives of soldiers of this pals battalion both before and after they were encamped at Colsterdale. The camp, near Harrogate in North Yorkshire was regularly visited by friends and relatives of the soldiers as they trained for the front. The North Eastern Railway Company advertised weekend trips to Colsterdale Camp at a cost of one shilling and sixpence return.

Whilst at the camp Percy Margetts was a fervent letter writer. One of his main correspondents was the head teacher of Brigg Grammar School, with whom he had lived during his time at the school. On 21 March a full letter was published in the school magazine for Brigg. Parts of the letter are included here to show what life was like at a First World War army training camp:

It may interest you to know how the day is divided. There are three parades-Swedish drill, morning, and afternoon. Reveille sounds at 6 a.m. Soon after this the men begin to bestir themselves. If one is inclined to prolong one’s slumbers, one is soon awakened by the shouts of the corporal or the pulling off of one’s blankets. Beds are then made up ; blankets must be folded in a certain manner and placed on the bed. Meanwhile an orderly has been for coffee. I will call it coffee for want of another name. The best that can be said of the liquid is that it is hot. At 6.30 we fall in on the Parade Ground for Swedish drill.

At first this parade was not so strictly attended to as it should have been; but now sterner measures have been taken, and the parade is under the supervision of the Company Officer. At this parade I have charge of forty men. The exercises are similar to those “inflicted” on the boys at school, although much harder. At 7.30 we are dismissed, and prepare for breakfast. The meals are taken in the Recreation Hall, a large wooden building, capable of seating six hundred men. For breakfast we have coffee or cocoa, bacon or kippers, bread and butter. On Sundays we are given an extra treat-sausages! After breakfast we see that the hut is tidy. Everything has to be ‘spic-and span’ and ‘dressed by the right’.

At 9 we parade and are inspected. At 12.30 we go down to dinner. Each man is, allowed a pound of meat and potatoes, If vegetables are supplied with the potatoes, there is no pudding. The pudding is restricted to two kinds, boiled rice and “rolly-poly.” After dinner there is always a great rush to the dry-canteen, where coffee and buns can be obtained. The canteen is our tuck-shop, and many of us still love “tuck”. I could tell you many instances of “tucking.” In our hut there are two “Old Boys” of a well-known school who dearly love a good feed. On Friday night one of them made some coffee and toast, then ate a tin of lobster and a huge can of pineapple chunks! There is no need for me to add that such extras cannot be had by those men who live within their income ~ a shilling a day.

The letters written by Percy Margetts certainly show that life wasn’t all too bad at least for some in the training camps. Life was to get very different for him though in the months to come. He ends his letter with a note of regret that he is to leave the camp and the area around it:

Last night we were told that we should leave this part in a few weeks, or maybe less. Personally, I shall be sorry to leave now, as this is a splendid centre for touring; but the battalion, as a whole, is tired of the place. They are eager to be up and doing; and I am convinced that if they are called upon to go to the front, each man will give a good account of himself.

There are many other things I could tell you of camp life, but I am afraid I must leave them for another time.

Yours very sincerely

P.A. MARGETTS.

Percy Margetts’ leaving was very much lamented by the school and a moving tribute to his time at the school was written in the Brigg School magazine at Easter 1915.

I spoke above of the loss of Lee, but this has been completely o’ershadowed by the absence of Mr. Margetts from our midst. Mr. Margetts had just completed his fifth year here when the spirit moved him to enlist. For five years he was a leading light amongst us, organising amusements to while away the weary hours of a Saturday evening.

It was he who dashed about on the touch-line urging the team on, he who offered half-crowns for seven wickets at cricket, he who began the scouting movement which dropped through owing to our lack of interest. But now he has gone. How we miss the familiar figure! When we knew he had gone, there was not one of us who did not experience a pang of sorrow, and yet a feeling of pride. But he has adopted a more honourable occupation than teaching us, miserable beings that we are. He is at present in the 15th Yorks now training at Colsterdale.

The next major event in Percy Margetts’ life was his marriage. Whilst still at Colsterdale Camp, which he gives as his address in the marriage register, he married Muriel Dorothy Kate Sergeant at Upper Tooting Parish Church in Wandsworth on 29 May 1915. No doubt there were many jokes made by his regimental pals about a Lance Corporal marrying a Sergeant! Muriel’s father had been a brewer according to their marriage certificate. On the Leeds University Roll of Honour Percy Margetts is shown as being the husband of Muriel Margetts, ‘a past student’, explaining how a ‘Batley Lad’ had met a young lady from London.

Percy Margetts was attached to the 6th Lincolnshire Regiment and sailed for the Dardanelles in September 1915, to join the battalion which had already landed there under heavy shelling in early August.

Unfortunately the War Diary of the 6th Lincolnshire Regiment for its time in Gallipoli has been lost. The lack of this document does not allow us to find out how Lieutenant Percy Margetts died. His regiment were to last another fifteen days at Suvla Bay before being evacuated to Egypt and then serving for the rest of the war on the western front. The December 1915 issue of the school magazine at Batley Grammar School recorded the death in action of Second Lieutenant Percy Alexander Margetts, an old boy of one Grammar School and a teacher at another.

Even in the tribute letters and obituaries written after his death at Suvla Bay on 5 December 1915, there is no clue as to how he met his end. The medal card for Percy Margetts simply reads ‘Dead 5-12-15’. On the reverse side of the card his wife’s name is written as ‘Widow Mrs P. A. Margetts’. Her address at the time is shown as Bursledene, New Milton, Hampshire. She had therefore left her address in Tooting, London to go to Hampshire where several war hospitals were set up at the time of the Great War. It may well be that Percy Margetts’ wife became a member of the Voluntary Aid Detachment of nurses set up to nurse soldiers wounded in the war and brought home to hospitals here in the home countries.

Both the headmasters of Batley Grammar School and Brigg Grammar School wrote letters of condolence to James Margetts, Percy’s brother. The letter from Brigg spoke of Percy Margetts’ contribution to the building of the school and included a poem which had been written about him, and stressed his important service to the school.

IN MEMORIAM–P.A.M, Dec. 5th, 1915

We miss his cheery, urgent voice in games,
In school, his freshness wit, and eagerness;
We miss him from the stage in song or play,
We miss him as a friend.

Wholehearted was he, both in work and sport,
Not sparing effort he forgot self;
He gave his best in classroom or on field
To mould us into men.

All gallantly he lived and thus he died,
But not in vain: his stimulus still lives
In those who, spurred by his example, new
In his noble manhood strive.

His life was stainless; pure in word and deed,
He ever reverenced womanhood, and loved
With maiden heart and knightly chivalry
The one who now is widowed.

He loved the little children, made them toys,
And found a joy in childish joy and glee;
He loved the boys he taught and rightly reaped
Respect and love again.

He loved the Christ and ever kept in mind
His precious death and passion. We believe
He lives again and serves with joy the Lord
He served in life and death.

The head of Batley Grammar School, Mr. N.L. Frazer also wrote to James Margetts:

I know that your brother was always proud of his old school. I hope it may be some comfort to you and to your father and mother to know that we have always had reason to be proud of him, and never more so than in his gallant sacrifice for his country. His name is on our honours lists. Mr. Kilburn showed me a photograph of him this morning taken with Frank Hurst, Bert Normanton, Clifford Metcalfe, Tom Parr, Owen Hobbs. They were a group of men who did much for the school. They all went to the University and won distinction for themselves and for us. Four of them went to the war. By a strange coincidence, Parr is reported wounded this week. With all the school’s sympathy in your great loss and ours.

Of the five names mentioned in this short tribute, two, Hobbs and Metcalfe, were eventually to join the name of Margetts on the Roll of Honour at Batley Grammar School.

The Dewsbury Reporter published an obituary for Percy Margetts on December 18th 1915:

POPULAR BIRSTALL OFFICER KILLED A SHORT BUT DISTINGUISHED CAREER LIEUT. MARGETTS LOSES HIS LIFE IN GALLIPOLI.

After a comparatively short but distinguished career, another Birstall young man has sacrificed his life whilst fighting in the cause of justice and freedom. The tragic news was received on Saturday by his parents, Mr. F.W. Margetts, corn miller, and Mrs. Margetts, of Jesamine Cottage, Birstall, that their son, Second Lieutenant Percy Alexander Margetts, of the 9th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, had been killed in action on the Gallipoli Peninsula, on December 5th. The news of their bereavement was conveyed to Mr. and Mrs. Margetts in a telegram from the late officer’s wife, in London. The wire stated that the news was official. At the time of his death, Lieut. Margetts was attached to the 6th Battalion of his regiment.

The gallant officer left England–unfortunately, never to return–on September 22nd, and had actually been in the trenches only three weeks when his death occurred.

The very numerous letters of sympathy and condolence received by the family are a striking tribute to the universal respect the gallant officer had won.

A copy of the very telegram sent to Percy Margetts’ wife still exists in his file at the National Archive at Kew in London. It reads: ‘Deeply regret to inform you 2nd Lieutenant P. A. Margetts, 9th Lincolnshires was killed in action 5th December. Lord Kitchener expresses his sympathy’.

The telegram was addressed to Percy’s wife Muriel at her address in Tooting, London, arriving on 10 December 1915, a few days after his death. Whether Mrs Margetts took any comfort from the fact that ‘Lord Kitchener expressed his sympathy is of course unknown. However, the coldness of War Office clerks who were told to express those sympathies in thousands of similar telegrams was perhaps understandable. Such matter of fact dealings with families making enquiries about how their loved ones died are underlined by the reply to the letter sent by the family in early 1916 asking for details of how Percy died. The reply was somewhat terse, of necessity perhaps, that ‘… the only report of death received was killed in action 5/12th’. A minute on the fly sheet for the file notes that the clerk dealing with the matter should ‘Send the usual letter’.

A further letter from Percy Margett’s brother asking for details surrounding his brother’s death was answered with the reply that he should write to the Commanding Officer of the 9th Lincolnshire’s for details of his brother’s death.

Percy’s wife Muriel received a gratuity of £46-10s as a result of Percy’s death. This was calculated at 124 days service, at the rate of 7/6d per day. Additionally she was granted a pension of £100 per year starting from 6 December 1915.

Lieutenant Margetts’ effects were dealt with by Messrs Cox and Co of 16 Charing Cross Road, London. This company was partly a bank and partly a shipping agency, probably favoured by the War Office because of its proximity to their own offices in Whitehall. Percy Margetts’ effects were received on March 16th 1916. They consisted of one silver sovereign purse and vesta box, one oxidised cigarette case and an identity disc.

A further twist in the story following Percy’s death came with the settling of his mess bill, which was said to have been £2-0s-3d in November of 1915. Letters in Percy Margett’s file show that the President of his Mess wanted to claim the higher sum of £3-15s-0d from the War Office to settle his debt. Such were the details of lost lives that needed to be cleared up after they had been killed in action.

Azmak Cemetery, Gallipoli. Image supplied by Stuart Archer.

Azmak Cemetery, Gallipoli. Image supplied by Stuart Archer.

Percy Margetts was buried at Azmak Cemetery, Turkey, under a headstone that bears the sentiment: ‘Without fear and without reproach’. His name is commemorated on many memorials to the fallen of the First World War. In fact it is a little extraordinary that a Batley Lad should have his name recorded in so many places as a fallen hero of the war.

Apart from having his name on the school Roll of Honour at Batley his name is commemorated on the Brigg Grammar School Roll of Honour which was inaugurated in a special service in 1923. St John’s Church in Brigg also bears his name on its Roll of Honour. He is also commemorated on the Birstall War Memorial and that of Leeds University, as well as on a tribute to those of the Lincolnshire Regiment who fell in the Great War displayed in Lincoln Cathedral. His name is also recorded on a memorial at St Peter’s Church in Birstall, as well as a family memorial there and the Roll of Honour for the church. As well as being remembered at Brigg School his name appears on the Brigg War memorial in Lincolnshire. An obituary was published in the Brigg School magazine, which spoke highly of Percy Margetts:

PERCY ALEXANDER MARGETTS, B.Sc., L.C.P. joined the staff of the School when the present Headmaster came in January 1910. He came from Birstall, was educated at Batley Grammar School, of which he ever spoke enthusiastically, gained a scholarship to Leeds University, where he took his B.Sc. degree. He rendered important services to the School in the organisation of the Science and Woodwork Teaching, and later the Agricultural Science.

His energy on the playing field in organising the Athletic Sports and the Football, his skill in arranging end of term concerts, his impersonation of Shylock and Henry the Fifth in the School Plays, his help in raising the Swimming Bath Fund, and his never-failing interest in the manifold activities of school life will not be forgotten by the generation of boys who came under his influence here. He joined a Yorkshire battalion (the Leeds Pals) as a private last January, and received a commission in the 9th Lincolns as Second Lieutenant, in the Spring. In May he married Miss Muriel Sergeant of Brigg. He went out with a draft to the Dardanelles in September. There he died a gallant death on Dec. 5th.

Quite apart from all of these and his actual grave stone in Turkey Percy Alexander Margetts is mentioned in ‘de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour’, commemorating many men who served during the First World War. Several ‘Batley lads’ are included within the pages of de Ruvigny’s but what the criteria was for inclusion is somewhat unclear, as some soldiers who achieved high honours are not included, whereas men such as Margetts are. The citation in de Ruvigny’s Roll of Honour for Percy Margetts reads:

MARGETTS, PERCY ALEXANDER: 2nd Lieutenant, 9th (Service), attd. 6th (Service) Battalion, The Lincolnshire Regiment. 5th son of Frederick William Margetts, of Jesamine Cottage, Birstall near Leeds, by his wife Dora Maria, dau. of the late Benjamin Farmer. b. Birstall aforesaid, 28th December 1898. Educ. Batley Grammar School (scholar) and Leeds University (scholar), where he obtained his BSc. in July 1909 and his ALCP in May 1911; subsequently became science master at the Brigg Grammar School co. Lincoln. Joined the Leeds Pals in January 1915 and was gazetted 2nd Liet. 9th Lincolnshire Regiment in June 1915. Served with the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force from September when he was attached to the 6th Battalion of his regiment and was killed in action 5th December following. Buried there. He m. at Tooting London, 30th May 1915, Muriel, daughter of the late (-) Sargeant of Brigg. Co Lincoln.

Even though Lieutenant Margetts was not awarded high honours or medals in his short few weeks at the front, he must still surely be one of the most commemorated names of any soldier of the First World War.