On 6th April 1917, while serving at an aid post near the front line, Arthur Linfoot wrote:
Up about 8 o’clock. Harvey and Holman had had a busy night – 15 wounded and one sick. One man had died and Ben Jenkins and I had to go through his pockets for personal stuff and look for his identity disc. His name is Seagrave of the East Surreys. He was fearfully mutilated. Lower jaw blown off, right arm by the shoulder and both legs below the knee merely hanging and an ugly wound in the chest. Rolled him in a blanket.
There are no further clues in the diary which might help identify “Seagrave”, so who was he?
Lives of the First World War does list a number of Seagraves, but only one who served with the East Surrey Regiment, 4301 Private James Seagrave. If Seagrave is the right name, then this is very probably the right man.
But, Lives of the First World War does not have a date of death for this Seagrave, and he does not seem to feature in any contemporary record either. Most significantly, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission has no record of him.
So, was this James Seagrave the unfortunate man whose body was rolled in a blanket by Arthur Linfoot on the morning of 6th April 1917?
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
A search at the CWGC for East Surrey casualties in the first two weeks of April 1917 may offer a clue.
25585 Private John W. Seagrief of the 12th battalion of the East Surrey Regiment is recorded as killed on 5th April 1917. This John Seagrief is buried at Dickebusch New Military Cemetery (A on the map), very close to where Arthur Linfoot would have been at this date (B marks Arthur Linfoot’s last known location, La Clytte; he had moved on from there on 3 April to serve at an aid post, but this would not have been very far away).
The 12th Battalion Diary
The diary of the 12th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment confirms the location as Reninghelst (C on the map) and contains the following entry for 5th April.
Battn relieved 20th Bn DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY in trenches. Relief reported complete 1.50 pm. Capt. C.T.WILLIAMS took over duties of 2nd in command, Lt.J.A.ROGERS taking command of A.Coy. Heavy firing and raid to S. at 8.45 pm. Enemy shelled our R.Line & P & O Trench till 10.15 pm. 4 OR killed & 1 wounded. From 11.0 pm – 11.25 our guns cut wire opposite our R.sector.
“Seagrave” may have been one of the 4 killed and 1 wounded between 8:45pm and 10:15pm. Arthur Linfoot’s diary appears to suggest that “Seagrave” had been brought in wounded and had died during the night; perhaps he was the 1 wounded.
This would tend to support the case that “Seagrave” was in fact 25585 Private John W. Seagrief.
As is noted elsewhere, it was not uncommon for writers of Pitman’s shorthand to omit vowels. The consonantal outlines for “Seagrave” and “Seagrief” would be very similar.
However, in this case, Arthur Linfoot’s vowels are well marked, and the heavy dot for the second vowel is clearly in the second position (under the middle of the ‘g’ stroke), meaning long ‘ay’, rather than third position (under the end of the stroke), for ‘ee’, so the transcription as “Seagrave” appears correct.
Seagrave or Seagrief?
On balance it seems likely, though by no means certain, that the man rolled in a blanket that morning in April 1917 was in fact 25585 Private John W. Seagrief. If this is so then the name must have been recorded incorrectly in the diary and at least two explanations are possible.
- Arthur Linfoot could have remembered the name incorrectly when he wrote the diary, which was probably later that day, if not after that; he wouldn’t still have had the identity disc in front of him, and Seagrave is a commoner name than Seagrief.
- Another possibility is that it was Ben Jenkins who found the disc and read it out (possibly mis-pronouncing the name); Arthur Linfoot may not actually have seen the name in print.
Christopher W. Linfoot
7th April 2017
(I am indebted to Jeff Beaumont for his research which contributed extensively to this analysis.)