Private William Warren Cupit

FH 5 LincBdge William Warren Cupit 1434
Lance Corporal
2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment
Died-of-Wounds 16 September 1917
Prowse Point, near Messines

Cupitt port John Warren was a carpenter born in Corby in 1796. In 1841 he and his wife Jane were living in Long (High) Street with their daughter Anne. Also in Long Street was William Nichols a Blacksmith born in Corby in 1813. William Nichols married Anne Warren and amongst other children they had a daughter Elizabeth Nichols b.1844 and 2 sons William and Warren.

The Cupit family had a hard start in life, in 1851 widow Elizabeth Cupit can be found in the Poorhouse Bingham, Nottingham with 4 children under 10. One of these was Thomas Cupit who in 1868 came to Corby and married Elizabeth Nichols. They settled in Church Street where they lived for over 50 years. Thomas was a labourer and later a plate layer on the railway when it arrived at Corby.

Thomas and Elizabeth had 6 children of whom William Warren Cupit was the youngest son born on 13 February 1885. William grew up in Corby and tried his hand at a number of trades at times a baker, a coal merchant’s clerk and village postman. On 2 August 1909 he married Catherine Mary Cocks from Irnham daughter of Mary Ellis and Peter Cocks.

Mary Ellis lived in London where her first husband worked in Middlesex Hospital. He contracted smallpox and died leaving Mary and her two sons. She came to Irnham to be a personal maid to Lady Gordon at Irnham Hall where she met and married a gamekeeper, Peter Cocks in 1876. Catherine Mary grew up in Irnham with her 2 stepbrothers John T and Charles W Ellis and her younger brother George Henry Cocks.

Cupit Postman

Left: William in his Postman livery (Photo Phil Cupit)

After their marriage at St Mary’s RC church Corby, William and Catherine settled in the High Street where Kathleen Mary Elizabeth, b.1911 and Anne Mary Monica b.1913 were born. William volunteered on 6 April 1915, by then the army had increased the upper age limit beyond 30 as the initial surge of recruits declined. William was initially posted to the 10th (S) Grimsby Chum’s Battalion (Bn). The initial hope of forming a Battalion just from Grimsby had not been realized and it was now made up to strength with recruits from all over the county.

William and another Corby man, Frank Podam, were sent to Brocklesby Camp to undergo training. However what William may not have realized when he enlisted was that Catherine was pregnant with their third child. William Henry was born on 4 November 1915. This may account for William’s transfer to the 11th Battalion whilst the 10th joined 34 Division and went out to France.

Cupit Broklesby Camp

Spud-bashing at Brocklesby 1915, William is top right (Photo Phil Cupit)

William’s time came soon enough; heavy losses meant that the 11th Bn assumed a training reserve role and its men were supplied to Battalions already at the front. On 1 July 1916 the 2nd Lincolns had 463 casualties at Ovillers during the ‘First Day of the Somme’. It was part of the 8th Division that had suffered 5,121 casualties, about 50% and was temporarily withdrawn to rebuild.

William was posted overseas 9 July 1916 and joined the 2nd Lincolns on 4 August 1916. On arrival in France in July, William would have completed 2 weeks final training at Étaples. Étaples was a vast military area consisting of many establishments and camps just south of Boulogne (see map above). It consisted of 2 main areas, a northern area of hospitals and staff accommodation and a southern area of infantry base depots and training grounds. At the latter, the instructors wore yellow armbands and were nicknamed canaries, however it belied the reputation they had for harshness and strict discipline. In 1917 a mutiny broke out that took several days to bring under control. Soldiers had mixed views on “Eat-apples” or “The Bull-ring” as it came to be known and many myths surround its history. However the reality was that there was just 2 weeks to prepare recruits for an unforgiving environment beyond their imagination where a mistake could cost them or their comrades their lives.

By 8 October 1916 the Div were back in action on the Somme. William’s first taste of warfare was the Le Transloy Ridge on 23 October, another fateful day for the 2nd Bn. It went into action with 16 officers and 470 men, the 4 companies were led by Capt A H W Burton, 2nd Lts J B Drysdale, C W Spicer and H W Coneybeare. The casualties were 13 officers and 272 men of whom all 4 Company Commanders died.

William survived that first baptism of fire and the following year on 31st July was with the Battalion waiting near Hellfire Corner in the Ypres Salient. 2 years before Tom Linford had stood in the same area waiting with the 1st Bn to attack the Bellewarde ridge just north of Hooge. Now the 2nd Bn, part of 25 Brigade (Bde), were to pass over the same ground to the first objective the Westhoek ridge and reach the Hanebeek stream just short of Polygon Wood.

Pilkem Ridge 31 July 1917 – 2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment

Ypres 31 July (1)

The battle commenced at 03.50am. The 8th Division attack was on the southern side of the battlefield starting astride the Menin Road west of Hooge. The 23rd Bde was on the left of the road and the 24th the right with the 25th following up. The attack went in an ENE direction, 24 Bde crossed the road near Hooge. By 07:00 all of 25 Bde were on the move with the Lincolns on the right, 1st Royal Irish Rifles (1/RIR) in the centre, 2nd Rifle Brigade (2/RB) on the left and 2nd Berkshire (2/Berks) in reserve.

24 Bde reached the Westhoek ridge but could not clear the houses or the summit as 30 Div on the right were held up. This meant that the enemy, still in possession of Glencourse and Nonneboschen woods, could enfilade the ridge. Brig-Gen Coffin of 25 Bde had reached the ridge in advance of his Brigade. He assigned a company to cover the right flank and at 10:10 the Bde attack went in. By now the CO, Adjutant and other officers of the Lincolns were wounded and 2nd Lt Young assumed command of the Lincolns. Short of their start line they were already behind their protective barrage which to make matters worse fell behind the enemy facing them. As they moved further forward the fire from the woods now came from behind them and unable to move on the remnants fell back and dug-in on the west side of the ridge. The centre company of 1/RIR reached the Hanebeek but without the Lincolns in place the enemy started to work around their right and they were forced to withdraw.

Throughout the afternoon the Bde was subjected to heavy counter-attacks and at one stage the Lincolns were forced back only to re-form and retake their original position. Gen Coffin was everywhere to be seen, bringing up ammunition himself and encouraging his now depleted Bde until it was relieved. The Lincolns left at 05:00 on the 1st August having suffered 42 dead, 183 wounded and 27 missing.

On 16 August the much-reduced Bde was back in the positions it had held on the 1st. The Lincolns were able to field 11 officers and 300 men. At 04.45 The Battle of Langemark commenced. After a promising start the Bde was once again outflanked and came close to being entirely cut-off. Forced back and then heavily counter-attacked the Lincolns as Bde reserve were called forward to help stem these attacks. At one stage only the appearance of the Brig-Gen amongst them stopped one Battalion from collapsing under the onslaught. The new line, just a few hundred metres on the east side of Westhoek ridge, was held but the Bde was now exhausted. The Lincolns were withdrawn on 18 August having suffered a further 31 killed, 107 wounded and 36 missing.

8 Div were moved south to Messines to rest and rebuild. On 14 September the London Gazette promulgated the award of the Victoria Cross to Brig-Gen Clifford Coffin DSO. 2nd Lt Young was awarded the DSO. William Cupit was promoted Lance Corporal unpaid 1 Sep 1917 and about this time returned home for a period of leave. A soldier could expect one period of leave each year of duration from 4 days upwards depending on circumstances. These might be the distance to be travelled that came out of the allocated period, time since last leave granted, family circumstances, employment of the Battalion etc. 4 days would generally guarantee a soldier 2 days at home. This was an opportunity for William to see his son William Henry now almost 2 years old.

16 September 1917 Prowse Point, Messines

On 12 September the Lincolns moved into the front line near Warneton. 3kms back from the frontline William had been put in charge of a small arms and grenade ammunition dump at Prowse Point. The point just on the north side of Ploegsteert Wood was where Major Charles Prowse and the 1st Somerset Light Infantry had stopped the German advance in October 1914. The Major subsequently became a Brig-Gen and was killed on 1 July 1916, the first day of the Somme.

Prowse Point had remained in British hands ever since and no-mans-land had been in the field about 200m north. On 25 December 1914 the field was a scene of peace as the soldiers of both sides exchanged pleasantries and gifts. On 7 June the field had shuddered as a deep mine exploded under the German line on its far side; just one of 19 mines that opened the Battle of Messines. Now Prowse Point was ‘well to the rear’. A small cemetery marked the presence of a field ambulance aid post, and within a few metres a dugout and ammunition dump. In the fields and wood around were batteries of field guns.

The Battalion war diary records between 12-17 September “Demonstrations were carried out to draw the enemy’s attention from coming operations near YPRES”. These could involve the sudden bombardment of the enemies front line accompanied by a MG barrage, firing of Very lights and raising and lowering dummies on the British parapet and in no-man’s-land. The latter termed a ‘Chinese attack’. Designed to keep the enemy guessing and tie down his troops it was not favoured by the units asked to carryout the attack as it all too often provoked a swift bombardment from the enemies artillery.

Cupit Cross (1)

Above: Original grave photograph as sent to Catherine Cupit.

The 25 Bde War Diary records “ 16 September. Enemy shelling set light to a smoke bomb and grenade dump at Prowse Point causing casualties to the extent of 1 man killed 7 wounded.” Such was the lottery of life on the Western Front that a soldier could survive even the fiercest battle only to be found by a shell burst well away from the line. William died of wounds at the aid post and was buried in the cemetery with 2 other men, 2 more died at Casualty Clearing Stations to the rear. Today, a memorial to the Christmas Truce has been constructed alongside the cemetery; the ammunition dump was at the far end of the car parking area.

On 8 April 1918 Catherine was awarded a ‘Wife’s pension of 26s 3p a week’. Catherine found life difficult even with the war widow’s pension. She was left with a family of three children, the eldest of which was 6, and Catherine was known to take in washing and sewing to supplement her pension. Daughter Anne died age 8 in 1921. Catherine died on the eve of her son William Henry’s 19th birthday.

There is no family history through William Warren’s son William Henry and his grandson Philip regarding family contact with William Warren’s other siblings. Rev Fairbrother in St John’s church had christened William Warren and all his siblings but William Warren had married Catherine Cocks, a catholic in St. Mary’s R.C. Church, Corby Glen. William Henry never mentioned his uncles and aunts to his children and they remained unknown to Philip and his siblings until family research proved their existence later in life. William Warren’s grand-children now wonder if their grandfather and his extended family became separated due to family differences over their places of worship.


Sources & Acknowledgements:

Family background and photographs – Phil Cupit, son of William Henry and grandson of William Warren Cupit
National Census –
The History of the Lincolnshire Regt 1914-18 – Maj-Gen C R Simpson, CB.
25th Infantry Brigade War Diary WO 95/1727   – National Archives
2nd Battalion Lincolnshire Regt War Diary WO 95/1730/1 – National Archives
VCs of the First World War, Passchendaele – Stephen Snelling
Ypres & the Battles of Ypres – Michelin &Cie., Clermont-Ferrand