First World War Project
Reuben READER (of Teynham)
Lance Corporal, Service Number 593361
Reuben Reader was adopted to be the eldest child of a large family raised by (New York born, but British subject) Josephine and (Staplehurst native) William Reader. In 1911, William was a Woodyard Worker, living at No.3, French's Cottages, Barrow Green, Teynham. Reuben was a Farm Worker of 16 years. Of ten children born to Josephine, only 6 survived infancy: Reuben, Gertrude, Edith, William, Beatrice, Elsie.
By 1901, born in Headcorn, Reuben (Cluett) is recorded as adopted into the Reader family and his adoptive father was a publican living at 21 & 23 Henry Street, Rochester (no longer standing). It appears (tentatively) that Reuben's birth name was Frank Reuben G.G. Cluett. His mother, Josephine, was born in New York to British Robert Cluett who is shown travelling between England and America with his wife and two daughters. We do not know why or exactly when she returned, but the presence of a son with her family name suggests possible illegitimacy or simply a decision not to lose her family name on marriage.
A distinct feature of the extended Reader family is its association with the timber trade. Reuben's adopted father and grandfather were both registered as timber hewers/labourer in timber yards during their working lives. There were also strong ties to Headcorn. Also agricultural labourers.
Military Experience of Reuben Reader
1/18th London Battalion were part of the 141st (5th London) Brigade, in the 47th (2nd London) Division. The 47th (2nd London) Division included the 19th Battalion, in which the immediately preceding death for our Cluster (Arthur Edward Slingsby) served.
From the very few papers to survive for Reuben, it appears that he first enlisted in May 1915 (based on his War Gratuity of £10). His sole legetee was his Mother, Josephine, who also received her son's effects amounting to £2 13s. 7d.). He enlisted initially as a private into the 2nd/4th (Reserve) Battalion The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) – Reg. No. 3324 (curiously, and inaccurately) the War Gratuity record gives Reuben's Regimental Numbers as 593361 - struck out - and 6134 in its place!). [See Appendix 2] The same questions raised for A.E. Slingsby apply for this man. It is not absolutely certain for how long, or if at all, Reuben received all his training in The Buffs or the London Regiment. It is most likely he would have completed his training in the Buffs and drafted into the London Regiment to make up numbers lost in halting the German attacks in France.
Applying the 'rule' that training could take up to six months before posting, it is reasonable to suggest Reuben was posted into France during October 1915. That being the case, he may have seen actions at the Hohenzollern Redoubt (September 1915) and Vimy Ridge (May 1916). Reuben will have fought on The Somme, as his Battalion took part in the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, the Capture of High Wood, the Battle of Transloy Ridge, the capture of Eacourt L'Abbaye that began on 1st October supported by tanks and finally the attacks on the Butte De Warlencourt. The Germans relinquished this feature as part of their fall-back to the prepared lines of hardened defence (Hindenberg Line).
On 3/4th June, 1916, the 18th Battalion took part in a small raid in the Spoil Bank Sector near Dickebusche after which it moved into reserve position in Ecluse Trench. The following day the 2nd Army offensive started but the 18th Battalion remained in reserve. Not until 9th/10th did they provide a raiding party of one officer and 30 Other Ranks (3 wounded and 1 missing). Once the attack led by the 24th Division was over, the Battalion was moved back to St. Martin-au-Laert for the training grounds near St. Omer before a march route for billets near Mont Des Cats near to Godewaersvelde.
At the beginning of July, the Battalion moved into Reserve at RIDGEWOOD until 9th July when the "Battalion moved into Line - Right sub-sector - North of Canal relieving 20th Battalion London Regiment. Division on Right advanced their line. 10pm, Heavy Enemy shelling on attacking Divisional front. Heavy intermittent shelling on our Brigade front during relief. Relief commenced 10pm and effected 2.30am 10th inst. Battalion HQ situated in O.G.2. Casualties slight in comparison with enemy shelling." They remained in the Line until relieved on 15th July Regiment.when they were relieved by the 24th Battalion London and moved into Camp at M.6.D near La Clytte.
On 30th July, The Battalion moved into position at RIDGEWOOD at the disposal of 41st Division for impending operations. On 31st July, "41st Division in conjunction with Divisions on Right and Left attacked after extremely violent bombardment of Enemy trench and defensive systems. Zero being 3.50am, Battalion stood to but did not move."
Circumstances of the death of Reuben Reader
From 1st to 6th August the Battalion was in reserve to 41st Division - quiet - weather very bad. Under ½ hour's notice at first then on 2 hours' notice.
On 9th August, the Battalion marched to ABELLE and then joined a train to ST. OMER and marched to ESQURIES. Here began several days of training for "the offensive in open warfare".
The War Diary picks the story up.
"17th August, HALIFAX: Moved to HALIFAX CAMP by tactical train and in the evening marched to YPRES. Battalion Headquarters at LILLE GATE. Lt. Col. D.B. PARRY D.S.O. admitted to Hospital sick. Major W.H. MURPHY took over command of Battalion.
18th August, IN LINE: Relieved 2nd Northants and 2nd Sherwood Foresters in line at WESTHOEK RIDGE. Battalion Headquarter JAFFA TRENCH. 2nd Lieutenant E.D.R. PINKERTON Wounded.
19th August, IN LINE: shelling very heavy. Casualties - Wounded - 2nd Lieuts C.H.I. STEWART, S.A. THODAY AND C.F. HAVORD. 2 Other Ranks killed and 9 wounded.
20th August, IN LINE: Heavy shelling continues. 3 Other Ranks killed, 2 missing and 13 wounded.
21st August, IN LINE: Heavy shelling. 3 Other ranks killed and 30 wounded. Relieved by 20th Battalion, London Regiment, Captain M.B. O'BRIEN Wounded.
22nd August, IN SUPPORT: In support at BELLEWARDE RIDGE. Attacks launched by 14th and 15th Divisions. Zero hour at 4.45 and 7.0 a.m. Patrols pushed forward by 47th Division. Heavy counter attacks during the afternoon. Warned to "Stand to". Lieutenant R.E.A. MALLET Wounded. 7 Other Ranks killed, 15 wounded and 1 missing.
23rd August, IN SUPPORT: 2 Other Ranks killed and 10 wounded.
24th August, INSUPPORT: Relieved by 21st Battalion London Regiment and moved back to SWAN CHATEAU. In Divisional Support. 9 Other Ranks wounded.
"The History of the 1/18th (London Irish Rifles) Battalion" by Mr Sidney F Major summarises:-
"Return to the Front Area and Major Murphy takes temporary Command.
On 17th August, the Battalion marched to Wizernes Station and en-trained for Ouderdom. At 4pm, the Battalion arrived at Ouderdom sidings and marched to Halifax Camp near Vlamertinghe and, at 8pm the same day, the Battalion marched onto Ypres and billeted in the Ramparts at Lille Gate. The Ramparts were honeycombed with tunnels fitted with wire bunks and, in these tunnels, the men made themselves comfortable. Puddles of evil smelling water covered the floors and the conditions were extremely filthy but, owing to the depths of the tunnels, there was little risk of damage from shell fire.
The cookers failed to arrive until midnight but the men were very tired after their long day, most of them turned in quickly so for them breakfast was the only meal of the day. On this day, 17th August, Lt Col DB Parry DSO was admitted to Hospital sick and the command of the Battalion was devolved upon Major WH Murphy.
The usual conditions of the Salient were experienced and, at night, there was an immense volume of harassing fire directed against troops and transport on the roads. Enemy aircraft were very active and, in spite of about 18 searchlights, numerous machine guns and anti-aircraft batteries, bomb dropping continued all around the Salient throughout the night.
Orders were received by Brigade to proceed to the line and to take over a portion of 8th Division's front – the date of the move being the night of 18th/19th August. In the line, the Brigade front extended between the Ypres/Roulers Railway and the Westhoek - Zonnebeke road on a rough north and south line – midway between the roadway Frezenberg - Westhoek and the stream further east, known as the Haanebeek.
Relieving the 2nd Northants and 2nd Sherwood Foresters in the Line.
The Battalion moved up to the front line on 18th August and relieved the 2nd Northants and 2nd Sherwood Foresters in the right sector of the Brigade front, with Headquarters in Jaffa Trench. The journey to the line was very trying, the route Menin Gate - Birr Crossroads was used by thousands of men and transport and the crowded condition of Menin Road and the dreadful wet and mud and enemy harassing fire made the relief one of appalling discomfort.
Many casualties were sustained, including Lt EDR Pinkerton wounded. Daylight revealed the front line: a medley of rough trenches and fortified trench hols in a desolate, sodden area, everywhere a quagmire and the ground littered with the debris of battle.
Various pill boxes were scattered about and the most conspicuous landmarks were a number of derelict tanks, hopelessly bogged. During the day, heavy shelling of the Battalion's line occurred and three officers: 2nd Lts CHJ Stewart, SA Thodaye and CF Havord were wounded and 2 other ranks killed and 9 men wounded.
Similar conditions obtained on 20th August and the day's casualties were 3 other ranks killed, 2 missing and 13 wounded. One of the killed was Cpl Scipio, a very gallant South African, who had done sterling work with the Bombing Platoon before going to a company.
Relief to Support Positions Prior to Attacks.
Instructions for the relief of the Battalion, to take place during the night of 21st/22nd August, were received together with details of certain offensive operations. In accordance with orders, the Battalion was relieved on the night of 21st/22nd August by the 20th London Regiment and moved back overland to support positions on Bellewaerde Ridge. Casualties during the day and relief were 3 killed and 30 wounded. Capt MB O'Brien – wounded – was the only officer casualty.
At 4.45am on 22nd August, the flank Divisions, the 14th and 15th, attacked and 19th Battalion – in collaboration – pushed strong patrols forward to connect up the line at Sans Souci, before being checked just west of the Haanebeek stream by enemy machine guns.
During the attack, enemy shell fire was very severe on the front and support positions and German aircraft flew low and machine gunned the infantry. The London Irish stood to on Bellewaerde Ridge and came under fierce artillery fire, during which Lt REA Mallet was wounded, 7 other ranks killed and 15 other ranks wounded.
Return to Divisional Support.
The London Irish remained in Bellewaerde Ridge until the night of 24th/25th August when 21st Battalion London Regiment moved back to Divisional support at Swan Chateau. On 23rd August, 2 other ranks were killed and 10 other wounded; on the 24th August, 9 other ranks were wounded.
Up to 1st September, the Battalion remained at Swan Chateau and, during this time, working parties were supplied by day and night as carrying parties for the RE and 177 Tunnelling Company. The daytime working parties were chiefly concerned with road repairs and the construction of a rifle range in the vicinity of Swan Chateau. The men performed their tasks in very wet and windy weather, heavy rain falling every day.
Enemy Gotha planes were very active and seemed to make a special point of attacking horse lines with machine guns and bombs. During one raid, on 31st August, about 40 horses were killed and injured in the horse lines situated just south west of Dikkebus on the La Clytte Road.
The Battalion was relieved on 1st September by 24th Battalion at 515pm and moved to the support area via Café Belge, Ouderdom and Busseboom.
Medal Records shows that Reuben Reader was posthumously awarded the British War and Victory Medals. [See Appendix 1]
Family of Reuben Reader
Creekside Cluster Men who served in Battalions of the London Regiment
Eleven of our Creekside casualties served in London Regiments (several having initially enlisted into one of the County Battalions The Buffs (East Kent Regiment) or the The Queen's Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). These postings all took place in the latter half of the First World War and may have been drafted from a Kent Training Battalion into depleted London Regiments.