A Lad from Lincoln – Neil Bright 2005
Leonard James Keyworth was born in Lincoln on 12 April 1893. He was the son of a tailor, James and his wife, Emma. The couple also had a daughter, Lillie.
In his early years he attended the Rosemary Lane Wesleyan School and latterly The Municipal Technical School, both in Lincoln. Sports minded, he also was a keen footballer and cricketer. He was a member of the local YMCA and sang in the choir at the United Methodist Church in Silver Street, Lincoln. On leaving school he initially worked in the offices of a local engineering company, William Foster and Co, before become a clerk for a firm of solicitors, Messrs Burton, Scorer and White.
A twist of fate brought the young Leonard on the journey to win his Victoria Cross. At the outbreak of the Great War he immediately volunteered for the Lincolnshire Regiment, but was rejected. Undeterred, he and a pal travelled to London to seek entry into another regiment. The journey resulted in him joining the 1/24th Battalion of the London Regiment (The Queen’s) on 16 September 1914.
The 24th London moved up to camp at St Albans in September 1914 and on to Hatfield in January 1915. The Battalion became part of the 47th (London) Division in March 1915. Rumours were rife that the Division was on the move in that March; all leave was cancelled and the officers were recalled to the Battalion. On 9 March the Battalion was on its way to the Western Front, with the destination being the Bethune area. Trench life was miserable due to the state of the trenches, compounded by an outbreak of measles.
The 24th Londons moved up into the trenches north of Givenchy during late afternoon of 25 May 1915. They had already seen action at Aubers Ridge earlier in the month, sustaining around 100 casualties. An attack on the German lines started at 6.30pm that evening. The infantry moved off towards an area known as “The S Bend”. The leading Company secured its objectives with few casualties. The supporting Companies moved up into the German lines, but got bogged down by German fire from a higher point and German heavy artillery battery near Auchy Les Bassee. Counter-fire was impossible, as the allied artillery did not have the range capability. The attackers set about consolidating the captured ground. By the following morning the German artillery had obliterated much of the captured ground.
The Battalion War Diary reported a severe bomb fight taking place in the captured trench on the right flank. This was Leonard Keyworth’s stage of glory. He started bombing the enemy, who were no more than 15 yards away at times. The South London Press recorded his words, “Well, on the afternoon of May 25 we were in our billets behind the lines when we received orders to prepare to get on the move and though we were not told what we were going to do, we all felt we were going to take part in a charge. We got to the communication trenches round about six o’clock and half an hour later we were ordered to get over the parapet. I was one of the bombers with the 9th Platoon. No sooner were we over the parapet than the Germans turned their machine guns upon us and five or ten of our chaps fell. I don’t suppose there were more than half a dozen of our Platoon left.”
Lieutenant Mobberly was wounded as soon as he got as he got over the parapet and according to Keyworth, pressed on regardless and received another wound. Undaunted he urged his men to hold on to the ground regardless until C Company arrived.
Keyworth wrote to his sister, Lillie about the battle, “…We were told to mount the trenches and straight away commence our attack on the German trenches, which were about 250 yards away. The attack was made without any artillery covering fire. Our lads went at it with go and determination and were very soon successful. I was with the bombing party and came through without a scratch. I went along a ridge on my stomach and threw bombs into the German trench, my distance being about fifteen yards. Men were shot down by my side. I continued and came out safe.”
It was remarkable how Keyworth was unscathed. He did have two narrow squeaks as one bullet went through his backpack and another hit silver mirror case in his pocket. A fragment of shell also brushed past his ear.
He kept up his bombing attack on the enemy for two hours; in that time throwing around 150 bombs. The South London Press continued his account, “I went up on the hill on my own. I had plenty of bombs. I was being fed with them by various men from behind. I didn’t think of the slaughter that was going on. How could I think? It was neck or nothing! There was no shelter. There was just a little tiny parapet made of sandbags. I got over that and on I went, throwing bomb after bomb – I suppose for about two hours. I did not realise I was fully exposed. I couldn’t have realised, but I was conscious that I was being continually sniped at and that, in some miraculous way, the bullets passed me and struck the other poor fellows…”
“When I was throwing the bombs, the other fellows kept on shouting to lie down. Now and then an effort would be made to bring sandbags up to serve as protection; every man who tried to do it was killed or wounded.”
The captured trench was held all night despite the best efforts of the enemy. The Battalion was relieved by the 20th Londons during the evening of the 26th.
The Battalion moved back to dugouts at Windy Corner and later to billets in a tobacco factory in Bethune. 250 men of the 24th Londons answered the roll that day.
Lance Corporal Leonard James Keyworth was originally recommended for the DCM by his Company Commander, Captain Armstrong, but was actually awarded the Victoria Cross. Notice of the award appeared in the London Gazette on 3 July 1916.
Whilst researching this article I was struck with the modesty of Lance Corporal Keyworth. In the early years of the war Britain needed heroes and Keyworth certainly fell into this category. In his letter to Lillie he wrote, “I was at once recommended to
my officers, who posted it to the Colonel. It was supposed to be for bravery, but I cannot understand where it came in. I was only doing my duty, but how I came out, God only knows!”
The South London Press continued his words further, “To get the VC, as I am to get it, is fine, but do please say that every man who took part in that charge was as brave. I am proud to belong to the Queen’s. You will grant that they have made a name for themselves.
King George V decorated Keyworth on 12 July 1915. He returned to Lincoln to a hero’s welcome, where he received a gold watch and chain from the Lincoln Young Liberal and Lincoln Liberal Club, £26.00 from the citizens of Lincoln and one year’s membership to the YMCA. He attended an address from The Salford Unity of the Lincoln Independent Order of Rechabites. Further gifts came in the form of an inscribed watch from former employers, Messrs Burton, Scorer and White and an inscribed clock from the Silver Street Church and Sunday School.
There was also a reception in Lincoln and was entertained by the Mayor at the Albion Hotel.
On his return to London there was a procession starting at Battalion Headquarters through the streets of the Borough of Southwark. He rode in a motor car with the Deputy Mayor of Southwark, Councilor J Mallen Hale during the procession, which went across Blackfriars Bridge and back over Southwark Bridge culminating in a reception at Manor Place Baths. There were dense crowds as the procession went by. He was presented with a pair of binoculars “on behalf of the Members of the Council and the inhabitants of the Borough of Southwark.”
In response to the Deputy Mayor’s presentation at Manor Place Baths, Keyworth responded, “…I feel proud to belong to the 24th, the Southwark Regiment. When I came up to join I did not think they were going to do as finely as they have done in France and it is not only me you ought to praise, but the fellows out there now, who have done their share…”
He went on following applause, “It is our job to wipe the Germans right out and we cannot do that without a few more joining the 24th. There are hundreds and hundreds walking about Southwark streets at night, who ought to be ashamed of themselves. They ought to be out there. They say they are ammunition making and cannot go. We have plenty of old men glad enough of the job of working and making ammunitions. Let them do it; let the young men join the 24th…”
Before returning to the Battalion Keyworth attended more recruiting meetings and I am sure his presence would have had an effect on attendance and recruitment.
On 15 October 1915 during an offensive at Hulluch in the Loos sector, a member of the 5th Field Ambulance recorded in his diary, “… a steady stream of wounded amongst whom is Lance Corporal Keyworth VC, hit in the side of the head.”
Leonard Keyworth never regained consciousness and died during the evening of 19 October 1915. He is buried in Abbeville Communal Cemetery, grave reference. III C2.
He is remembered on the Lincoln War Memorial and the Silver Street Methodist Church War Memorial. He was also remembered on a wooden memorial in St Mary’s Church in Newington, near the Elephant and Castle. This was destroyed by enemy action in World War Two. The Borough of Southwark also raised an amount of money for a Keyworth VC 1915 memorial prize fund for schools. Dantzic Street in Southwark was also renamed Keyworth Street.
In a letter of response to the proposal of a memorial to her brother, Lillie wrote to the South London Press, “We never thought of my dear brother being wounded or to die from wounds. We always thought he would come through safely. But it is far better to think he died a noble death than to have been a shirker and stayed at home like so many young men in our city today. It’s been very hard to part with an only brother, but he was a dear, good boy and a hero.”
A Lad from Lincoln
By Richard W Mould
Dedicated to Corporal Keyworth, VC
of the 24th Battalion, London Regiment.
“Southwark’s Own”There came a lad from Lincoln,
Who rang his country’s call
And stout of heart he hurried
To the teeming capital.
One thought alone possessed him
One purpose fired his breast
To strike a blow for England
Against the Prussian beast,
He saw the sons of Southwark,
Like other Britons true,
Stream onwards in their thousands
The patriots’ work to do.
And, gallant boy, he joined them,
And soon in Khaki clad,
In the fiercest of the fighting
Was seen the Lincoln lad.
And still one thought possessed him,
One purpose fired his breast.
To strike a blow for England
Against the Prussian beast.
And through a night of carnage,
In the forefront of the fray
He stood alone undaunted
And held the brutes at bay.
When he set out from Lincoln
Unheeded and unknown.
He thought not that his journey
Would land him near the throne.
He thought but of his country,
To do for her his best,
But it led him to the Palace
For the cross upon his breast.
And now throughout the Empire
The name of Keyworth rings.
Acclaimed with every honour
That work heroic brings.
And through the years hereafter
Upon the scroll of fame
Will glow in deathless glory
That lad of Lincoln’s name.
Printed in the South London Press, 16 July 1915Sources;
VCs of the First World War – Peter Batchelor and Chris Matson The Lambeth and Southwark Volunteers – JMA Tamplin
The History of the 47th (London) Division – Alan H Maude
The South London Press
London Borough of Southwark Local Studies Library
The War Diary of the 24th Battalion, London Regiment – The National Archives