Austin Ewart Staines was born and raised in Chelmsford and joined the army around 1907. He spent much of his career in India. After the outbreak of the war he landed in France in December 1914 and was killed at High Wood during the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. A neighbour his from South Primrose Hill now lies in the same cemetery. Austin lost two other brothers as a result of the war.
STAINES, AUSTIN EWART,
Serjeant, 16th (Service) Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps (Church Lads Brigade)
Austin was born in Chelmsford on 8th November 1889, the son of Charles William Staines and Susannah (sometimes ‘Susan’) Staines (nee Eve). His father had been born in 1854 in Chelmsford and his mother in 1859 in Great Waltham. They had married in 1883.
He was baptised at St. Mary’s Church (today’s Cathedral) in Chelmsford on 4th January 1890. At the time his father was a goods foreman living at 6 Railway Street in Chelmsford.
Austin’s siblings, all Chelmsford-born, were Henry James Staines (1883-1920), William John Staines (1885-1938), Charles Cecil Staines (1887-1894), Augustus Frederick Staines (1891-1959), Lilian Maud Staines (1893-1973), Alfred Frank Staines (1894-1896), Ernest Walter Staines (1897-1917), and Sidney Charles Staines (1898-1899).
By 1891 Austin’s family had moved from 6 Railway Street to 5 Baddeley Square, off New Street in Chelmsford. The census that year found one year-old Austin living there with his parents, three elder brothers and a lodger (Augustus William Greenfield). Austin’s father was a railway goods foreman, and Augustus was a railway clerk.
By April 1895 the family had left Baddeley Square to live at what was then 22 South Primrose Hill in Chelmsford. The census six years later recorded Austin, aged 11, with his parents, six surviving siblings, and Augustus William Greenfield there. At the time his father was a railway porter, while the lodger was a railway clerk.
in 1903 Austen, then aged 13, was the victim of two assaults by 17 year-old Albert Lord in Admiral’s Park, Chelmsford. Lord was convicted of the offences at the Essex Assizes in November that year and sentenced to 12 month’s hard labour.
Austin’s father died in the summer of 1908, aged 53, and two years his widowed mother married her former lodger, Augustus William Greenfield, in the Chelmsford District. A 1913 street directory recorded them at their 1901 property, renumbered 36 in the intervening period and subsequently renumbered as 48 during the war and finally 81 in 1946 (pictured).
Austin enlisted into the army at Chelmsford around 1907 and spent on much of his time in India. In 1911 the census recorded him, aged 22, serving as a rifleman in the 4th Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps at Chakrata in India.
Austin landed in France on 21st December 1914 and subsequently transferred to the 16th (Service) Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps (Church Lads Brigade) where he served as Serjeant 7774. The battalion was part of 100th Brigade in the 33rd Division.
His battalion participated in the Battle of the Somme, arriving at Saleux, on the south-western outskirts of Amiens on 9th July 1916. Over the next few days it passed through St. Sauveur (north-west of Amiens), Vecquemont (east of Amiens) and Morlancourt (south of Albert) to reserve positions at Bécordel-Bécourt on the eastern fringes of Albert, which were reached on 12th July 1916. Two days later the battalion had moved eastwards to Flatiron Copse to the east of Mametz Wood.
At dawn that day Austin’s battalion participated in a successful advance on the village of Bazentin le Petit, the opening of the Battle of Bazentine Ridge. An opportunity to capture High Wood was not exploited. The following morning, 15th July 1916, the battalion was ordered to form up with comrades in the 100th Brigade in the valley between Bazentin le Petit and High Wood, north-west of Longueval, and advance towards Martinpuich. After an hour of preliminary bombardment the attack went ahead but failed, subject to heavy German machine gun fire from High Wood.. One company in Austin’s battalion had been tasked with clearing High Wood, but lost more than two-thirds of its men in its failed attempt to do so. Among the battalion’s dead that day was Austin, who was killed in action aged 26.
His death was reported in the Essex County Chronicle of 18th August 1916:
“Sgt. A. E. Staines, King’s Royal Rifles, killed in action, was son of Mrs. A. W. Greenfield, 48 South Primrose Hill, Chelmsford, who has three other sons serving, the eldest being in hospital at Malta, while another has been wounded in the head. The late Sgt. Staines had been home with frozen feet, and later was wounded in the arm, leg, and chest. He was in the Army nearly ten years, the greater part of the time being spent in India. Mrs. Greenfield only buried her father on August 9. Mr. Greenfield is an old Volunteer.”
The same day’s Essex Weekly News reported his death as follows:
“Sergt. A. E. Staines. King’s Royal Rifles, killed in action on July 15, was a son of Mrs. A. W. Greenfield, South Primrose-hill, Chelmsford. He had been home with frozen feet, and was later wounded in the arm, leg, and chest. He had been in the Army nearly ten years, the greater part of the time being spent in Egypt, prior to which he served in India. Mrs. Greenfield, whose father died recently and was buried on Aug. 9, has three other sons serving, the eldest being in hospital at Malta, while another has been wounded. Her husband, Mr. Greenfield, is an old Volunteer.”
Austin is commemorated on the
Civic Centre Memorial, Chelmsford and by the Chelmsford Parish Great War Memorial in Chelmsford Cathedral. He was entitled to the Victory, British War War and 1915 Star medals.
Today Austin lies at London Cemetery and Extension, immediately south-west of High Wood (grave: 9.G.32). At the Armistice the cemetery contained just 101 graves, but was then enlarged when remains were brought in from the surrounding battlefields, and now contains 3,873 First World War burials, 3,114 of which are unidentified. The cemetery also contains the grave of Leonard Berry, whose family coincidentally also lived in South Primrose Hill - he was to be killed in action three months later.
Austin’s youngest brother, Ernest Walter Staines, was killed in action on 26th March 1917. His younger brother, Augustus Staines, served in the 2nd Battalion of the Essex Regiment and later lived at 31 Arbour Lane, Springfield. The 1918 register of electors recorded Austin’s mother and step-father still at their South Primrose Hill home.