2321 2nd Battalion Leicestershire Regiment who died 7 January 1916
David Costa Royce and his twin sister Olga Mary Penta Royce were born on 5 June 1892, the youngest two children of Alderman George Applebee Royce and his first wife Olga Henriette (nee Oesterlinge). David’s mother was born in Wurtenburg, a small kingdom near modern day Stuttgart, where her father was a member of the royal household.
In 1867 George Applebee Royce, a leather currier from Nottingham, joined forces with JJ Gascoigne to form Royce, Gascoigne and Co., later known as Mansfield Shoe Co. and latterly as Norvic Shoe Co. By 1891 the company had factories in Mansfield, Northampton and on Slate St and Highcross St, Leicester.
A 1940s advertisement for the Mansfield Shoe Company showing three generations of the Royce family
In 1901 the Royce family, now with seven children, were living with their domestic staff in Westleigh Road, Leicester. Henriette died in 1903 and by 1911 George Applebee and the younger children had moved to 66 New Walk, Leicester with his second wife Catherine (nee Sewell) whom he married in 1908. In 1914 they bought a newly built house, Brantwood on Knighton Rise, Oadby.
The Royce home in New Walk
Alderman and Mrs Royce were involved in both fundraising and the entertainment of the wounded. On 1 January 1916 the Leicester Illustrated Chronicle reported that they had entertained injured soldiers from the Base Hospital and Gilroes Hospital at the Great Meeting School Hall in Leicester. The Leicester Amateur Dramatic Society performed a dramatized version of “The Cricket on the Hearth” by Charles Dickens.
Photograph reproduced with the kind permission of the Royal Worcester Grammar School and Mark Rogers
David was initially educated at Wyggeston Boys’ Grammar School and in 1908 moved to the Royal Grammar School Worcester where he was a member of the Officer Training Corps and played half back for the 1st XI soccer team. The “Worcesterian” school magazine records that “he uses his weight and has a good style, especially in attacking play”.
It appears that David was learning the boot and shoe trade from the bottom up for between 1910 and 1914 he is recorded as working as a warehouseman, a traveller (sales) and manager for Mansfield Shoe Co and Freeman, Hardy and Willis. His army attestation papers list his trade simply as “Boots”.
David enlisted as a Private in the 4th Battalion (Territorials) Leicestershire Regiment on 15 August 1914. After basic training he left for France on 2 March 1915 but was discharged on 17 May 1915 to take up a commission with the 2nd Battalion Leicesters, serving alongside the India Corps, known as the Meerut Force.
In November 1915 the 2nd Leicesters were transferred to the 28th Brigade which along with the 51st and 53rd Sikh Regiments and 56th Punjabi Rifles formed part of the Tigris Corps or Kut Relief Force. This was a hastily assembled force whose mission was to relieve Major-General Townsend’s 9,000 strong force currently besieged by Turkish, Arab and German troops at Kut al Amara on the River Tigris in Mesopotamia (now modern day Iraq). The Brigade landed at Basra on 6 December 1915 and from there travelled up the Tigris towards Kut.
Indian troops carry the Sri Guru Granth Sahib before them in Mesopotamia
The Tigris Corps left Marseilles for Alexandria on SS Clan MacGillivray on 10 November 1915. From Port Suez they sailed on to Basra arriving on 6 December
Because of the lack of roads the only way to reach Kut was to progress up the River Tigris in the flat- bottomed river steamer The Medijihet.
Map showing the progress of the troops up the River Tigris from Basra towards Kut-al-Amara and the position of Sheikh Saad
The locations which the troops passed on their journey up river would have been familiar to many men from the Bible and the Quran. Pt W Elliot recorded in his diary 10 December 1915: “Anchored at Qurna, reported site of the Garden of Eden for evidence we shown the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil. The 2nd night we moved by Ezra’s tomb. Passed through Amara the largest town between Basra and Baghdad. Above Amara the country becomes even more barren and desolate. Not a single tree between Amara and Ali-Gharbi”.
Qurna in 1915, reputedly the location of the Garden of Eden
No longer the Garden of Eden, conditions for the men were truly appalling. Heat, flies and a lack of potable water meant cholera and dysentery were rife. The Corps was ill equipped. The terrain was flat and barren with no roads and as it was only passable by river steamer the troops were soon separated from their field ambulances and medical supplies.
The troops made camp at Ali-Gharbi for a few days
Travelling up river towards Kut the men encountered Turkish trenches at Sheikh Saad on 7 January. In the flat landscape Pt W Elliot of 2nd Leicesters described “The fire was terrific we advanced in short rushes hardly any cover and men were knocked out like ninepins”. Among them was 2nd Lieutenant David C Royce. The official War Diary of the Leicestershire Regiment records that “All our killed were buried on the right bank of the Tigris at Hibsh by the Rev R Irwin today”.
David’s family received news of his death by telegram on 12 January 1916
Army policy was for all personal effects to be returned to the next of kin. This was especially pertinent for officers who were required to purchase their own uniform and equipment. It appears that David’s belongings were mislaid for some time. After repeated enquiries from his father, David’s valise was finally recovered at the India Corps Depot in Ranikhet, India and returned to his family in September 1918.
2nd Lt DC Royce’s death was announced in the Yorkshire Post, the Leicester Illustrated Chronical and the Leicester Mercury among others.
Leicester Mercury 14 January 1916
Leicester Illustrated Chronicle 22 January 1916
2nd Lt DC Royce is remembered with honour on the Basra War Memorial. As well as the Oadby war memorial he is also mentioned on memorial tablets in St Mary’s Church Knighton, the Wyggeston Boys’ Grammar School and the Royal Worcester Grammar School.
Basra War Memorial
Royal Grammar School Worcester war memorial in the Perrins Hall
Other Royce Family Members
David’s brothers Harold, George, William Applebee and Bernard also joined the Colours.
Major George Noel Royce was badly wounded whilst serving with the Sherwood Foresters. He was left traumatised, as well as suffering from malaria, and in constant pain and shot himself on a train whilst returning to Nottingham from London on 11 November 1925.
Lt Bernard Royce was also badly wounded (Nottingham Evening Post 8 October 1917) but recovered from his injuries. After the war, with the remaining brothers and sister Hilda, he ran the Mansfield Shoe Co and Norvik Shoes until its sale in 1981.
David’s twin sister Olga Mary Penta became a stage and radio star during the 1920s and 30s singing under the stage name of Olga Royce.
For further details of the Royce family please see http://www.genealogy.com/ftm/s/t/e/Maxwell-Murrey-Steele/
Lt DC Royce’s father Alderman George Applebee Royce
Medal index card for George Noel Royce
We are grateful to Mr M Murray-Steele, Mr Mark Rogers (In Dedication to a Future World) and the Royal Worcester Grammar School for additional information.