Sapper 112582 Ezekiel Parkes

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Photograph courtesy of Jim Pearce, also photograph at bottom of page.

Killed in Action on Sunday, 21st November 1915, age 37.
Commemorated on Addenda Panel of Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France.

Royal Engineers, 179th Tunnelling Company.

Husband of Fanny Parkes, of 36 Victoria Street, Princes End, Tipton.
Born: Princes End, Enlisted: London, Resident: Tipton.

First landed France & Flanders, 26th August 1915.
Medal entitlement: 1914-15 Star, British War Medal, Victory Medal.
Soldier's Papers at National Archives did not survive.

Commemorated on the St. John's Memorial.
Commemorated here because he appears on a Tipton memorial.

Link to Commonwealth War Graves Site: www.cwgc.org/find-war-dead/casualty/7531503/

Genealogical Data

Birth of Ezekiel Parkes registered March quarter 1878, in Dudley.
Marriage of Ezekiel Parkes and Fanny Derbyshire registered December quarter 1897 in Dudley.

1901 Census
7 Sheldon Terrace, Coseley, Staffs.
Ezekiel Parkes (23, Coal Miner, born Princes End), his wife Fanny (22, born Roseville), and their 2 children Ethel (2, born Coseley) and Abraham (6 months, born Coseley).

1911 Census
7 Green Street, Coseley, Staffs.
Ezekiel Parkes (33, Coal Miner, born Princes End), his wife Fanny (31, born Coseley), and their 5 children: Ethel (12, born Coseley), Abraham (10, born Coseley), Maria(6, born Coseley), John Thomas(4, born Coseley) and Elsie May(2, born Coseley).

Personal Data

Sappers Parkes and Lane, two Tipton miners who enlisted in 1915 to become Royal Engineers Tunnelers, have received much media attention since 2010. Their story is central to the La Boisselle project, details can be found at www.laboisselleproject.com (link checked September 2018).

Ezekiel was working as a miner at Baggeridge Colliery when he enlisted in the Royal Engineers in August 1915, to join one of the Tunnelling Companies. Family legend says that he and other miners enlisted after too many drinks on a Saturday lunch time, but he actually enlisted at John Norton-Griffith's office in the House of Parliament - now there's a character! After a week's training at the Royal Engineers Depot at Chatham, Ezekiel was sent to France and posted to 179th Tunnelling Company.

Ezekiel Parkes was not, until recently, commemorated by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. However, due to the efforts of his grandson, James Pearce, his name can be found on the Addenda Panel of the Thiepval Memorial. Sapper Lane's name can also be found on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme.

After Ezekial's death, his outstanding army pay and allowances amounted to £8/2/5d (8 pounds, 2 shillings and 5 pence); this was paid to his widow, Fanny, in April 1916. His War Gratuity was £3/0/0d (3 pounds exactly), this was also paid to his widow in July 1919. The value of the War Gratuity suggests that Ezekial had enlisted within the previous 12 months.

Action resulting in his death

On 21 November 1915, Ezekiel Parkes was among a party of Sappers working in a shaft under the "Glory Hole" at La Boisselle. The Tunnellers had detected the sound of German miners working on a tunnel heading towards the British positions, then held by the 10th Battalion, Essex Regiment. In order to destroy the enemy gallery, a camoflet charge packed with 6,000 lbs of gun cotton was placed at the end of the British gallery and was being tamped in preparation for it to be detonated. However, the German sappers had also detected the British counter-mining activity and had prepared a camoflet of their own, which they exploded at 1.30 a.m on 22 November. Captain Henry Hance, who was the officer in charge of the shaft, wrote a report which detailed what happened when the Germans blew their charge:

"I have to report that the enemy blew a very heavy mine at 1.30am from a point in sub-Sector E3 about 50 yards North of point 120, killing, I regret to say, a Cpl. And 5 sappers of this Company, and, I am informed, 7 men of the 10th Essex Regt.
I was informed that our W shaft and galleries had been wrecked. I arrived at the spot shortly after 2am by which time the men at the top of the shaft had got out of the adit by the underground communication with X into Quemart, the adit entrance into W being closed. The man employed working the air bellows was buried, but was extricated practically unhurt. A canary was lowered down the shaft to test the ventilation and was pulled up after one minute dead. In a very short time the first of our two rescue men arrived with his apparatus, and, as soon as he had put it on, another canary was lowered and after a minute was pulled up, also dead.

One of the rescue men was lowered on a life line, but at the bottom of the shaft found two of the men, both quite dead. In the meantime, several of the party at the top of the shaft had been more or less affected by gas and on examination I found that the third canary, which had not been put down the shaft, was also dead, which explained the symptoms of those affected; gas was rising up the shaft strongly. I tested the ventilation in the shaft but found it stationary, the gas was simply rising by reason of its light specific gravity and the pressure under which it had been forced into the galleries.

It was clear that the whole mine system was full of Carbon Monoxide a most poisonous gas, and, when the explorer returned with the news that two men at the bottom of the shaft were both dead, that there was no hope for the others; they were certainly poisoned if not killed by the explosion.

It was also clear that air must be introduced into the galleries before the bodies could be recovered as, even with Proto apparatus on, laborious work in confined spaces endangers the wearers.

I sent for armoured hose to connect on to the bellows, the iron airpipes being all disconnected and, underground, probably broken up also. This has now been coupled up and I await a report on the exploration."

Sapper Parkes, together with another Tipton man, 112640 Sapper John Lane, were both entombed inside the collapsed mine workings and their bodies could not be recovered.

Newspaper Cuttings

Tipton Herald Sat 8th January 1916.
Official intimation has recently been received of the death of Sapper E Parkes of the 179th Company of the Royal Engineers. Parkes is one of the thousands of brave miners who on the outbreak of war volunteered their services on behalf of King and Country. He was killed in action on November 21st at a place not stated. His widow, who is left with a large family, lives at No. 36 Victoria Street, Prince's End.

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Identity bracelet belonging to Ezekial Parkes, courtesy of Jim Pearce.