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The Fallen of Kirkby

Richard Knight

Richard Knight. Photo: Barrow News
Richard Knight. Photo: Barrow News
  • Grandson of Richard and Mary Knight of Headgate, Soutergate.
  • Worked as a postal clerk, and went to Canada around 1911.
  • Private, 51292, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry (Eastern Ontario Regiment).
  • Killed-in-Action, 8th May 1915 at Bellewaarde Lake (Second Battle of Ypres), aged 27.
  • Commemorated on the Menin Gate, Panel 10-58. Also named on his grandparents’ headstone in St Cuthbert’s churchyard.

Richard Knight was born in Kirkby on 12th September 1888, and brought up by his grandparents, Richard, an iron ore miner, and Mary Knight, at Headgate, Soutergate, from at least the age of 3. His grandparents had 6 children of their own, the youngest of whom, Isabel (on some documents Isabella), was only 6 years older than Richard. In 1891 two girls, Elizabeth (19) and Eleanor (16) were in service in Settle and Ulverston respectively. Their oldest child, John (25), was then a farm servant but still living at home.

A mystery surrounds Richard Knight’s parentage. His Attestation Paper on joining up on 3rd November 1914 in Edmonton, Canada, named his next-of-kin as his aunt, Mrs Isabel Knowles, of Vale Cottage, Cartmel. (This was the youngest child of his grandparents, alongside whom Richard had been brought up in Soutergate, who was now married to William Knowles, a coach painter and decorator, with four children of her own.) However in 1918 a notice was placed in the Roll of Honour in the Barrow News by “his mother, Mary Knight, Mission city BC”. Then in 1924 the Commonwealth War Graves Commission sent a registration form to a Mrs Mary Knight of Mission City, British Columbia. And it was to her rather than Isabel Knowles that the Canadian authorities sent a copy of the Grave Register in 1929. However despite searches of UK and Canadian censuses, no conclusive record of a ‘Mrs Mary Knight’ has been found.

Richard himself seems to have emigrated to Canada in 1911, and in 1914 gave his occupation as ‘postal clerk’ and his status as ‘unmarried’. Like a number of Kirkby young men in the early 1900s he had been a part time soldier in the 4th Battalion of the King’s Own North Lancashire Regiment, and in Canada he was in D Company of the 101 Edmonton Active Militia. As such he lost no time in joining the Canadian Over-Seas Expeditionary Force once war was declared, and was passed ‘fit’ by the Medical Officer on 3rd November 1914.

Men of the P.P.C.L.I. at Levis Camp, Quebec, prior to leaving Canada in 1914
Men of the P.P.C.L.I. at Levis Camp, Quebec, prior to leaving Canada in 1914

We know quite a lot about Richard Knight’s short war from the regimental history and battalion war diary. Having signed up for the Canadian Expeditionary Force on 3rd November 1914, by March 1915 he was back in England, training near Tidworth on Salisbury Plain. From there he wrote this letter to a friend, Jack Patterson, back in Canada, which was printed in full in the Barrow News after Richard’s death:

Dear Jack,

I expect to go to the front on Monday March 15th, and quite likely I will not come back. I am the only one from the Prairie here. I happened to be here through being picked for a draft at Quebec out of the 23rd Battalion, to reinforce the Princess Patricia’s. They called for volunteers today, so I thought I would not be a shirker or a Sunday afternoon soldier, and would go and do my best. One would not think there was a war on to see the people here; and work – they cannot get enough men and wages are very good. I have met a good many back from the front. I guess there will be something doing in about another month or so. It will be a pretty rough time I think, but I expect the Allies to be victorious. Constantinople will soon fall into the hands of the Allies, and that will be another road to Berlin. Well I don’t think I have much more news this time. Give my best respects to all, and look in the casualty list for 51292, and then you will know how I am getting along.”

A group of the P.P.C.L.I. on Salisbury Plain prior to leaving for France
A group of the P.P.C.L.I. on Salisbury Plain prior to leaving for France

The Battle of Frezenberg Ridge

As part of the defence of Ypres, The Princess Patricia’s moved into the front line near Bellewaarde Lake early in May 1915. On 4th May, a day of continuous shelling by the enemy, they lost 28 men killed and 94 wounded. Over the next two days GHQ was shelled and several officers were wounded. On 6th May, 3 & 4 Companies moved into the fire trench in front of Bellewaarde Lake and 1 & 2 Companies occupied the support trench. On 7th the fire trench was shelled all day, 3 men being killed and 13 wounded. At the end of the day, 1 & 2 Companies and 3 & 4 Companies swapped positions. All this activity was a preparation by the Germans for an all-out attack on 8th May. Shelling resumed at 4am and at 0530 the attack began. By 6 o’clock the first attack had been repulsed and the German howitzers began sending over high explosives. The battle raged all day, and, as the war diary records, the battalion was continually short of ammunition. At some point Richard Knight was one of a party carrying ammunition from Ypres to the trench, when they were hit by a shell near Bellewaarde Woods. Private Knight and one other were killed. Later their bodies were buried and the location recorded, but no cross was able to be erected as that sector was then in the hands of the enemy.

Trench map, with the PPLI’s position in front of Bellewaarde Lake marked
Trench map, with the PPLI’s position in front of Bellewaarde Lake marked
Memorial to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry near Bellewaarde Lake, Ypres (photo: Andy Moss)
Memorial to the Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry near Bellewaarde Lake, Ypres (photo: Andy Moss)

The Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry
(Eastern Ontario Regiment)

The Canadian Regiment known to the 1st World War public as the ‘Princess Pats’ is still in existence today, though it prefers to be known as ‘the Patricias’. In 1914 the Governor General of Canada was the Duke of Connaught and Strathearn, and his youngest daughter was Princess Patricia of Connaught. When war was declared, the Montreal entrepreneur and former Captain, Andrew Hamilton Gault, offered to give $100,000 to raise and equip a battalion for overseas service, with the balance of the costs being met by the Canadian Government. In eight days over a thousand old soldiers, most of whom had experience in South Africa, had volunteered and been signed on, and the Princess, Queen Victoria’s granddaughter, agreed to the Regiment bearing her name.

Princess Patricia
Princess Patricia
Brigadier Andrew Hamilton Gault
Brigadier Andrew Hamilton Gault
The PPCLI was the first Canadian regiment to go into battle in The Great War, and suffered huge numbers of casualties in the Second Battle of Ypres, including Richard Knight. Major Gault, as he was then, as second in command of the regiment, was wounded three times, losing a leg at Sanctuary Wood during the Battle of Mount Sorrel in June 1916. He survived the war and was recalled to active duty in England in World War II.
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