Published on August 3rd, 2014 | by admin1
Stories Behind Castle Bromwich War Dead
The stories behind Castle Bromwich War Memorial and the Commonwealth War Graves in the graveyard are being uncovered by volunteers from Castle Bromwich Youth & Community Partnership.
In commemoration of the centenary of WW1, the volunteers are researching the lives of those named as the fallen of the Great War.
Eric Gordon Birch, the son of T.L. and Clara Birch was amongst the first to die. Born in 1890 he was part of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps stationed at Blackdown, Aldershot at the outbreak of war on August 4th 1914. He landed at Le Havre on the 13th August 1914 as part of the first expeditionary force and made his way towards Belgium. He’d survived the initial battle at Mons, the subsequent retreat and the battle at the Marne.
Then on the 14th day of September as day was beginning to break his battalion had been ordered to begin marching again. The morning was wet and a vast white blanket hung over the hills, suffocating and swallowing every distant object.
They hadn’t been marching long when they struck an advance portion of the enemy’s main line and it was impractical to drive them from the positions they were holding. Reinforcements arrived and the battalion was more or less in a line astride a sunken road. The mist was driving across the hill, at times lifting and exposing the actions of the troops to view, at times coming down and concealing them, but the movement caused heavy casualties as the Germans took advantage to expose them to heavy artillery fire. Rain fell heavily all afternoon, but the fighting went on until after dark, and it wasn’t until 9pm that the battalion was relieved. 321 soldiers were killed, missing or wounded. Eric Birch had been one of the dead.
On August 4th a vigil will take place at St Mary & St Margaret Church to mark 100 years since the declaration of WW1. It will start opposite the church by the grave of R T Balch.
Lieutenant Raymond Tenney Balch was born December 8th 1894 in Newbury Port, Essex County, Massachusetts, USA. He entered Phillips Academy in 1912, but left before completing his course. After some business training with the American Trust Company of Boston and with Blake Brothers of Boston and New York where he worked as a Broker’s Clerk, he enlisted in the Massachusetts Naval Cadet School, from which he graduated on March 24th, 1917 with the rank of Ensign.
He was ordered to duty with the 9th Deck Division, but was prevented by a physical defect from going into active service. Disappointed in his hopes, he joined the Royal Flying Corps in Toronto and trained at Bayside and Fort Worth Texas, where he was commissioned Second Lieutenant on November 26th 1917.
Going overseas in December, he was licensed a First-Class Pilot in February and promoted to be First Lieutenant on April 1st.
On May 25th 1918, two days before he expected to go across the Channel for combat duty, his airplane collapsed while he as at aerial target practice and he fell to his death near Castle Bromwich, England. He was 23 years old. 84 other former students of Phillips Academy also died in service during WW1.