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livesey17Alan George Hilton Livesey was born on 16 June 1889 at Streatham, the youngest son of the late Frank Livesey, Civil Engineer and Georgiana Francis (nee Wood, born in Dinapore, India, to a C of E chaplain). He had seven older sisters and one older brother. During the 1890s they had moved to Buckland Corner, Reigate Heath where Frank died in 1889. He was buried in Buckland on 6th May, only seven weeks before Alan was born. Ruth, a sister ten years older than Alan, died in 1913, aged 33 and is also buried in Buckland. Soon after the war, Georgiana moved to Pinhoe, Exeter where she lived to 96 and died in the summer of 1941. Frank’s older brother, Sir George Livesey was living nearby in Buckland at Shagbrook. Both were engineers working in the gas industry, as had their fathers before them.

Alan attended the New Beacon School, Sevenoaks, under J.S. Norman. One of his fellow pupils was Hamo Sassoon, the younger brother of Siegfried Sassoon. Hamo’s death at Gallipoli in 1915 had a great impact on the work of his brother. Alan then moved on to Charterhouse from Autumn 1903 till Summer 1908. He was in Lockites House, where his Housemaster, W. Moss said simply “Character very good”. He was in the 1st XI football team. He went up to Pembroke College, Cambridge on 21 October 1908, initially undecided as to a career but intending to read for honours. He was in college the same time as Edward Bovill, also from Buckland. He eventually attained a third class degree, specialising in Mechanical Sciences (i.e, engineering) and graduated BA on 19 December 1911.

Charterhouse football 1st xi 1907-8

Charterhouse football 1st xi 1907-8

He became an articled clerk at a firm of solicitors and soon after the war started on 4th August he tried to get into the Army. On 26th Aug he went to the Rifles Depot in Winchester, had a medical and was seen by the CO. His application form suggests the Devonshire Regiment would be his preferred destination and that he could ride. On 21st Sept., the Lt. Col commanding the Loyal North Lancs Regt. training battalion (3rd), based in Felixtowe, accepted him for a commission. On 26th Sept. he went back to Cambridge University for another medical from the OTC doctor. He was 69 inches tall and weighed 149 lbs. His form stated that he had been a sergeant in the Charterhouse OTC.


Charterhouse lockites (1907)

He was commissioned on 3rd October 1914, in the Loyal North Lancs Regiment. He joined them in Felixstowe for some eight months of training. On arrival in France on 14th June 1915 was attached to the 1st Battalion. This was part of 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, IV Corps. This was a veteran Regular Army division, a mix of 1st and 2nd Battalions of a dozen famous regiments. It had been part of the original BEF in 1914, landing in France on 13th August 1914, but few of the original men were left after a year in the field.

Alan joined the battalion while it was at Annequin, a small village about a mile from the front line and for a few weeks spent time in and out of the line, finding out what life was really like in the trenches and under fire. It was a relatively quiet time, with only the odd casualty from sniper fire or a lucky artillery shell.

In September they moved about 10 miles further back to Lozinghem, to the West of Bethune and commenced training for the next big attack. They rehearsed attacking trenches, bombing battles and in between did some route marches to maintain fitness. On 10th Sept., there was an Officers V the Sergeants football match that after some considerable trouble, the Sergeants won. There were boxing matches and church parades and the weather was warm and dry.

From the 18th the officers began to be briefed about the attack and on 20th they moved into bivouacs near Marles-Les-Mines, a mile to the south. On the 21st more briefing and they could hear the artillery bombardment going a few miles away.

Late on 22nd they marched to Minx Mine Vequin and then the next night, moved into the support trenches, finally arriving at 0330.

At 2245 on the 24th, they reached the front line and waited for the whistles to sound.

The 1st Bn was committed to the initial assault of 25th Sept near Loos. They occupied the line, roughly north south, between the Vermelles-Hulloch road and the Vermelles-Loos road, attacking towards the East. Alan’s battalion was in the southern half of this line, south of the ‘Lone Tree’, a flowering cherry, that stood scarred and leafless out in the centre of No Man’s Land.

LNL battleground at Loos looking NE from Lone Tree replacement

LNL battleground at Loos looking NE from Lone Tree replacement

A four day artillery barrage had begun on 21st, but was limited in scope compared to ones in later battles. To make up for this, poison gas was to used in a major way for the first time in this attack. Thousands of heavy canisters had to be manhandled into the front line trenches, where it was codenamed ‘the accessory’ to try and preserve some semblance of secrecy.

There had been a thunderstorm, it had rained hard and progress to the front line trench had been slow due to congestion in the narrow trenches. They were in light battle order, not the full backpack. They had a lot of extra ammunition and bombs to carry, along with trenching tools and extra iron rations. Wading through a foot of muddy water they arrived tired and wet through. The one comforting extra was a large tot of rum.

Shallow Russian saps had been dug out towards the German trenches, but there were still 275 yards to cross. The initial ground was up a slight slope and this meant that the soldiers would be exposed on the skyline as they reached the crest.

The gas was discharged on time at 0550. The wind was variable and as the assault began at 0630, the wind veered and the gas rolled back towards the British trenches. The gas masks in use were not very effective and the men began to suffer in the gas and smoke. It was hard to see or breathe. As they advanced up the ridge, they were met by a hail of German machine gun and sniper fire. On reaching the crest, their worst fears were realized; there was a 10 metre hedge of undamaged German wire. They tried to cut their way through, all the time under intense fire. They never did get through. Within an hour they had fallen back to their start line, leaving hundreds of dead and wounded behind.

They tried again with some of the second wave battalions assisting, but by 0900 this had failed too, leaving many more casualties behind. A third attempt was made after midday and again this failed. The 2nd Brigade had lost a total of 2,223 killed or wounded with not a yard gained. The 1st Loyal North Lancs lost 15 officers and 489 other ranks from an initial strength of some 30 officers and 750 men.

A flanking attack from the south was now ordered for the survivors and some more reinforcements and this eventually succeeded by 1515. Some 400 Germans were surrounded and captured. A counter attack was repulsed and the exhausted survivors dug in on the Lens-La Bassee road line at 1720.

Alan was killed during one of the assaults and his body was found right at the edge of the uncut German wire. He had died leading his men into action and has a Special headstone in St Mary Haisnes ADS (Advanced Dressing Station) Cemetery, indicating that it is believed that he is buried there in one of the ‘unknown soldier’ graves. The cemetery is on the southern side of the Vermelles – Hulluch Road, where the German front line crosses. On Nov 29th he was gazetted as being promoted to Lieutenant from 18th Aug, with the added words, ‘since killed in action’.


Rank: Second Lieutenant
Date of Death: 25/09/1915
Age: 26
Regiment/Service: The Loyal North Lancashire Regiment, 3rd Bn. attd. 1st Bn.

Inquiries were made to the German Red Cross in case he had been taken prisoner, but the replies were negative.

Incidentally, the author and poet Robert Graves was fighting for his life with the 2nd Bn Royal Welch Fusiliers a few hundred yards away to the North near Cambrin.

Lieut John Kipling of the Irish Guards, aged 18, son of the author Rudyard Kipling, was killed two days after Alan in the same area and is buried in the same cemetery. Also, just to the north was Capt Fergus Bowes-Lyon, the older brother of the late Queen Mother, who was killed attacking the Hohenzollern Redoubt with the 8th Bn. Black Watch and is commemorated on the Loos Memorial. By the end of the battle of Loos on 14th October, virtually no ground had been gained. Total British casualties were 2466 officers and 59247 other ranks killed or wounded.

Loos is the archetype of every Western Front battle. Every image that has come down the decades from the Great War was a stark reality here: choking gas and plunging shellfire, chaos and confusion, mud and rain, men trapped and slaughtered in the open, held up and impaled on the great thickets of barbed wire untouched by the artillery barrage, flayed by the enemy machine guns.

Every Great War nightmare was a living reality at Loos, where any idea that modern warfare was glorious finally died.

Alan is commemorated on seven memorials. At the New Beacon School, at Charterhouse School, at Pembroke College, on his headstone in France, on a special brass plaque inside Buckland Church, on the family headstone in Buckland churchyard and on the Buckland War Memorial.

livesey15 livesey7 livesey16 livesey10 livesey6 livesey5 livesey9 livesey1

This research project was completed by James Day. Thank you for allowing us to publish it on our website.

Paul McCormick
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