Arnold Grayson Bloomer

There is a photograph of the King Edward VI School Gymnasium VIII of 1903 seated in front of the Guildhall, with a reserved ARNOLD GRAYSON BLOOMER, arms folded, looking confidently at the camera. He was by then in form VI Modern, a monitor, joint editor of the School magazine, The Stratfordian, a member of the 1st XI (‘Bats with plenty of power and shows considerable promise’) and Captain of the 1st XV – he had received his colours in 1901. The winner of the V form French prize in 1902, he was also ‘an able and assiduous secretary’ of the Scientific Society: a small and hardy band ‘not bound down by pedantic limitation.’ The second son of George Frost, professor of music and an organist, and Eliza Jane Bloomer, Arnold lived at 3 Old Town with his two brothers. All three boarded in School House at King Edward VI School: George in 1895-1902, Arnold between 1896 and 1903, and Leonard between 1899 and 1906. Leaving School in March 1903, Arnold became a bank clerk in Leamington Spa and lived in Gaveston Road, off the Rugby Road.

The Gymnasium VIII, 1903. Arnold Bloomer is seated in the centre of the middle row.

The Gymnasium VIII, 1903. Arnold Bloomer is seated in the centre of the middle row.

With the outbreak of war, Arnold enlisted in Birmingham on September 10 in the 14th (Service) Battalion (1st Birmingham Battalion) Royal Warwickshire Regiment. Raised by the Lord Mayor the Battalion moved for training to Sutton Coldfield, but before completing this training Arnold was commissioned in the rank of Second Lieutenant on March 16 1915 and transferred to 3rd (Reserve) Battalion The Lincolnshire Regiment. Clearly destined for overseas service, following further training he was transferred again. This time to 2nd Battalion, a unit of the Regular Army in 25 Brigade, 8 Division that had crossed to France on November 6 1914 and been engaged in most of the major battles of 1914 and early 1915.

Second Lieutenant Bloomer crossed to France on June 2 1915 to join his new Battalion and found it in the trenches at Laventie, south-west of Armentieres, where it played a dashing and successful part in the Battle of Neuve Chappelle in March. This was a sector where the Germans were highly active at that time, with heavy artillery bombardment, sniping and patrols, to which of course the British responded in kind. On July 26 a small party crept out in daylight and killed a German sniper at his post.

During the periods out of the line, there was the usual routine work to be completed by working parties, and it was not until late September that Arnold Bloomer was involved in a major action, although the role of his Battalion was a diversionary one during the Battle of Loos. Fought by the British I and IV Corps in support of the French offensive in Champagne, the battle is remembered for the very heavy casualties suffered by only partially trained troops and for the first use of poison gas by the British.

On September 24, the Lincolnshire Regiment assembled for attack at Bridoux Fort, and at 1:00am on September 25 formed up at the start line. Bloomer’s Y Company was one of the four from the Battalion deployed on the left of the brigade, Y Company holding a fire parapet and trench two hundred yards behind the salient. An artillery bombardment with all guns began at 4:25am. A minute before Z hour a shallow mine was exploded under the German front line and at 4:30am Z Company attacked, established a footing in the fort and advance on the German second line. But a German counter-attack drove these back and the fort had to be abandoned. The Germans mounted six counter-attacks but these were all frustrated with the help of Canadian artillery. Casualties were heavy with the British reserve troops also suffering from the German shelling: 60 killed, 229 wounded and with 36 missing. The Battalion was withdrawn to reserve. When it returned to the same area six months had passed without any major actions.

Arnold became very ill and following a series of stays in hospitals in France beginning at Le Havre on November 11, he returned to England and was admitted to Wandsworth Hospital on December 6 1916. Between these two dates, it is doubtful whether he returned to the trenches. The Stratford-upon-Avon Herald recorded that Bloomer came home on sick leave for a serious operation. Unusually, the war diary of the Lincolnshire Regiment records the names of the officers who took part in all its major actions. It was the usual case that about 20% of a battalion’s strength was not committed and remained behind the lines during the action. This was to prevent a battalion losing continuity in case of a disaster. Whatever the reason, Arnold Bloomer did not take part in two of the major actions of 1916, both before November, the first day of the Battle of the Somme and an attack in front of Gueudecourt on October 23. On the disastrous July 1, the Battalion was forced to withdraw after early promising progress, with ten officers wounded, nine missing and six wounded and missing. Of the other ranks, 26 were killed, 303 wounded, 89 missing, and 25 wounded and missing. At Gueudecourt, an assault on the German trenches was driven off by rifle and machine guns with 23 killed, 129 wounded and 120 missing.

On December 21 1916 Arnold was examined by a Medical Board at Caxton Hall and granted disability leave. The military hospital at Warwick found him still unfit on January 30 1917 and he was allocated light duties at home. It was not until April 5 that he was pronounced fit for service and he returned to his Battalion in France. Taking part in an attack at Gonnelieu, south-west of Cambrai on April 21 he was wounded, together with another officer. Eleven other ranks were killed, 49 wounded and one missing.

Following a preliminary artillery barrage, two companies advanced at 4:20am and were able to penetrate the German wire, except on the extreme right, where they were fired on heavily. The company attacking in that section withdrew and moved to the left. A fresh platoon was able to penetrate and then move left to capture the southern end of the village. The first objectives were taken at 5:00am, enabling a Company to advance and to take the rest of the village. Heavy fighting continued with the Germans holding out in ruined buildings and emerging from dug-outs, but they were finally overcome and consolidation began and fresh trenches dug. By the time the Battalion was relieved the final objectives had not been taken.

Their reward was a period in reserve in Belgium, with training, particularly in attack. This was all part of the build-up to the succession of battles known collectively as Ypres 1917 that culminated in Passendaele. In the Battle of Pilckem on July 31, the Battalion ran into trouble as soon as it went into action at the front of the attack. On the left it was very exposed to fire from machine guns from behind dense German barbed wire. Casualties mounted and within the first hour the Commanding Officer, the Adjutant, the company Commander and Lieutenant Bloomer were all wounded or out of action. A Second Lieutenant was left in command, usually the responsibility of a Lieutenant Colonel, with orders to carry on the attack. When the troops reached the crest of a hill with further exposure to artillery and machine gun fire, they could go no father. Holding off two German counter-attacks and inflicting heavy casualties on reinforcements as they arrived, they were able to dig in and consolidate their position.

When they were relieved the following morning, four officers had been killed and six wounded, 39 men killed, 177 wounded and 27 missing. Arnold Bloomer was one of the wounded. Letters received by his Mother from the sister and chaplain of 32 Casualty Clearing Station showed that he received all possible care and attention, but his wounds were too serious and he died on August 3. He was 31 years old.

Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, west of Ypres

Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, west of Ypres

Arnold was buried in Brandhoek New Military Cemetery, at Vlamertinghe in Belgium, the same cemetery as Captain Noel Chavasse who was awarded the Victoria Cross twice during the Great War, and who died on April 4 1917 in the same Casualty Clearing Station. Arnold is also commemorated on the Stratford- upon-Avon War Memorial in the Garden of Remembrance, the Memorial Screen and Reredos in Holy Trinity Church, and in the Memorial Library at King Edward VI School where the December 1917 issue of the School magazine, The Stratfordian, he once edited, ‘placed on record with great regret’ his death from wounds in action.