Big Billy Lloyd

In most circumstances it’s a pretty forlorn hope that a battalion war diary will name anyone other than commissioned officers, but I have been pleasantly surprised when transcribing 6th King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, including lists of Other Ranks casualties, for the Great War Group’s 14th Division history project.  I haven’t come across my great uncle Alfred Ebdon, but then I haven’t advanced to the date he was wounded whilst serving with the battalion!  Aside from that project, I’m looking at 2nd Battalion The Cameronians (Scottish Rifles) today for the Battle of Neuve Chapelle because Alfred’s brother, Walter, was serving with them, having landed at Havre  with the battalion on 5th November 1914.  Unfortunately the level of detail in the Rifles’ diary is not as extensive as the KOYLI, so I have no idea whether he was one of the 314 other ranks wounded during the operations 10-14th March 1915, but I do know he was not one of the 112 killed.  

Both brothers survived the war, albeit Alfred was invalided out in 4th June 1917 (gun shot wound left thigh) and Walter subsequently married the widow of a third brother, John, killed Ypres Salient 1st October 1917 serving with 9th York and Lancs.

There is something unusual, however, about the Rifles’ war diary, which is that someone filed (at the beginning) a six and a half page typed biography (multiple copies in fact) and photo of an officer killed early on during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.  

This appears to have been taken from Buchen’s History of the War Vol. VI., p 81 and relates to Major Hesperus David Watkiss Lloyd, a 42 year old, single, career soldier, military surveyor and administrator awarded Order of the Osmanieh 4th class (Turkey), Order of the Medjidieh, 3rd Class (Turkey), Sudan Medal, two clasps, 1899-1901, mentioned in dispatches September 1901 for operations in the Bahr el Ghazal.  At the end of 1908 he had completed ten years’ service in Egypt and had to choose between retirement from the army or rejoining his regiment.  He chose the latter and subsequently served in South Africa. 

When war broke out in 1914 he was stationed in Malta and wrote on 17th August 1914: “it is my cursed luck again to be out of the hunt.  I spent the South African War in the Sudan: now I shall spend my time here.  I feel it is 22 years of hard work – for I have worked hard, if not always to best effect – wasted”.  However, a month later he was in camp in Winchester waiting for the battalion’s departure to France.  A week after their arrival he wrote on 13th November 1914: “The weather is vile, but everyone is very fit, so far.  But the mud, which covers the paved roads, is very bad.  I remember visiting Waterloo and Wavre in the rain and, realising why Blucher was so late”.  After suffering from trench foot he had a week’s leave in January 1915 and on 23rd February he wrote home about conditions at La Flinque (about half a dozen miles from Neuve Chapelle) and the difficulties of constructing fire and communication trenches.  He was reported to be popular with the men under his command.

Private M Haskins is quoted, relating to the death of Major Lloyd during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle:-

On the morning of 10th March, at exactly five minutes past eight, we received orders to advance and take three lines of German trenches.  We took their first line very quickly, the distance being only 80 yards, and made for their second one right away. It was here that Colonel Bliss fell, between the first and second German trenches.  We got their second one alright and made for the third.  Major Lloyd left this trench at the front of his company, or all that was left of them, and I assure you that it was not a great many.  He only got about ten yards when he fell; that would be as near as I can judge the time, about 9 o’clock.  As regards his wounds, I cannot tell you for certain how many he had; when he was carried into the trench where I was, I noticed that he was wounded in the thigh by a bullet, but I think he was wounded somewhere about the body as well.  There was a very heavy machine gun fire just there.  I think that bowled over the Major.  I am certain he was not wounded by shell fire … He will be missed by many in the battalion, where he was familiarly called Big Billy Lloyd.”

Major Lloyd’s sister,  Eirene, added:-

He lay for half an hour or so in the open, in great pain, and suffering from thirst.  Harkins (sic – Haskins?), who was lying wounded in the trench, sent him his water bottle, and told a medical officer, who went to him and had him removed into the trench.  When the firing moderated he was carried away to the ambulance, a difficult operation owing to the narrowness and sloppiness of the trench.  He died just as they got him there.  He was not buried with the other officers, but in a grave by himself at Port Logy, half a mile west of Neuve Chapelle.  A cross was put up to him”.

Major Lloyd now rests under the care of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and headstone at Euston Post Cemetery, Laventie. I wonder if Walter Ebdon ever had dealings with Big Billy Lloyd?

Source other than Buchen mentioned and CWGC website – The National Archives file WO 95/1715/1 2nd Battalion Cameronians or 2nd Scottish Rifles depending on what page you look at!  Downloads of war diaries are still free, so you can read the biography if you so wish, plus war diary entries for the battle and maps.

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