On this day in 1918…20-year-old Derrick Thomas Singerton died of wounds in hospital in Syria.
A private in the 16th Battalion of the Devonshire Regiment, he lost his life while being held as a prisoner of war in Damascus.
He was the only son of William ‘Bill’ Singerton, who was landlord of the Masons Arms in Knowstone for more than 30 years, and Dinah Arscott.
Derrick was wounded and captured on December 3, 1917 when his battalion attacked the remote hilltop village of Beit ur al-Foka near Jerusalem.
More than 80 of the 16th Devons’ officers and men were killed and almost 140 others were wounded in the fighting.
Derrick was one of six members of my family who fought side by side in that battle – the battalion’s darkest day in the Great War.
Two – Private Tom Johns and Lance-sergeant Fred Charley – were killed.
Two others were wounded, including Private Frank Roberts, who survived being shot in the head.
Derrick’s death on January 17, 1918 was not reported in his local newspaper, The Western Times, until seven months after he died in hospital.
He was buried at Damascus Commonwealth Cemetery and is remembered on Knowstone War Memorial.
Derrick’s father was landlord of the Masons Arms between 1908 and 1941. His mother Dinah (1870-1938) was the daughter of John Arscott (1838-1897) and Susan Couch (1836-1896). John was the son of John Arscott (1807-1879), my great-great grandfather. Born in 1898 in East Anstey, Derrick lived with his parents at The Masons Arms before going to war.
Damascus Commonwealth War Cemetery is about five miles south-west of the city, in an area known as Sebara (Arabic for prickly pear). It dates from when Damascus was first entered by Commonwealth forces on October 1, 1918 (nine months after Derrick died).
‘The first medical unit arriving the next day found the Turkish hospitals crowded with sick and wounded,’ said the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. ‘A few days later an epidemic of influenza and cholera broke out. The Great War burials in this cemetery were mostly from these hospitals. The first burials were in a tree belt between the cemetery boundaries and a wall enclosing the plots of existing graves.’
More than 5,000 British officers and troops were taken prisoner by Turkey during the Great War. Of those, 322 escaped or were repatriated or released, and 1,854 died. Most of the British soldiers were taken captive by Turkish forces at the siege at Kut-al-Amara, in Mesopotamia, on April 29, 1916. The prisoners were forced on a brutal march to camps in Anatolia on which 4,000 of them died.
The War Memorial at Knowstone Parish Church on which Derrick is remembered.