Toward the middle of last year, when the 100 year commemorations into the start of World War 1 took place, I started running searches on the internet to see how many of my relatives I could find who had served during the conflict. I ran individual surname searches, beginning with the UK Medal card index which was available on Ancestry.co.uk. Following my search of the surname ‘LAIT’ (my paternal grandmother's side of the family), the name Maurice Lait was returned, and I realised that he could be a match with my own family connections.
Maurice Lait – medal card - (source: National Archives)
I had only scant information about Maurice at the time – an approximate date of birth and his death given as 1916. However the more I began to search and dig into the archives, all the more information was revealed to me.
Maurice Lait was my second cousin, 3 times removed. He was born in Blaby in Leicestershire, a small village to the south of the city of Leicester, in approx. 1888 to his parents, Alfred and Emily Ann (nee Morris) Lait. Maurice was the middle child of at least three in the family - he had two sisters, Ann (born in 1885) and Ivy (born in 1891).
I found the family on the 1891 census, and Maurice’s age was given as 2 years old. The family were living at number 12 Portland Road, Knighton in Leicestershire. Like Blaby had been previously, Knighton was a suburb of Leicester at the time. I searched for Portland Road on Google maps and found that is still in existence today, but the property mentioned above has now been replaced by offices / flats.
Site of 12 Portland Road – (source: Google Maps)
On the date when the 1891 census was taken, Maurice’s father Alfred was aged 36 and was stated to be a commercial traveller. Alfred’s birthplace was said to be Diss in Norfolk, the small market town where my Lait family had their original coach-building businesses.
Maurice’s mother Emily Ann was given as 40 years old, and her birthplace was given as Wellington Street, West London. Both of his sisters, Ann (written as ‘Ana’ in the census), and Ivy respectively were 6 years and 1 month old. Also in the property were Annie Isabel Chapman, a 13 year old domestic servant, and Harriet Shaw, a 58 year old widow who was a nurse.
1891 census – (source: National Archives)
1901 census – (source: National Archives)
Maurice Lait – Military Service
In 1914 it was recorded that Maurice joined the York and Lancaster Regiment (12th Battalion), and his short service attestation papers were located on Ancestry.co.uk. His regiment number was 12/430.
Maurice was 25 when he first joined the regiment. He joined in Sheffield as a Private on 15th September 1914. In his service record Maurice was described as being 5 feet 6 inches tall, and weighed 140lbs. His complexion was fair, his eyes grey and his hair brown. The examining medical officer stated that he had no distinguishing marks (tattoos, birthmarks etc). His religious persuasion was stated to be Church of England.
Between 15 Sept 1914 and 19 December 1915 it was not clear in his service record where he was originally located. However, I subsequently found an excellent resource ‘The Long, Long Trail – the British Army in the Great War of 1914 / 1918’ (see link at http://www.1914-1918.net/yorkslancs.htm ) which gave me further information.
The 12th Battalion (often known as the Sheffield City Battalion) was formed in Sheffield on 5th September 1914. In May 1915 the men were based firstly at Penkridge Camp in the midlands, and then went to Ripon in July and finally Salisbury Plain in October that same year. During this period the men would have undergone intensive battle training of various kinds in order to prepare them for what they would face on the battlefield. Finally, on 20th December 1915, the battalion was moved to Egypt to serve as part of an expeditionary force until 9th March 1916, before it was finally relocated to Flanders in France from the 10th March of 1916.
Maurice was only in France for a little over 3 months before he was unfortunately killed in action in Flanders on the 1st July 1916. He had been just 26 years old. Following his death, his service papers gave his home address as 64 Starcourt Road, but as yet I have been unable to find out where this might have been. The records also confirmed his father Alfred Lait as his next-of-kin who was living at ‘Oakfield’, Sylvan Cliff, Buxton. This road still exists at the time of researching this data (2015), but the actual property itself has not been identified.
There is evidence in his service papers that Maurice's personal effects were sent back to his father to the address in Buxton on 15th August 1917. Furthermore, in 1920 the UK WW1 Medal rolls recorded that Maurice was eligible for the Victory Medal and also the British War Medal for his services to his country.
Medal roll records – (source: National Archives)
Maurice’s death and burial was recorded in the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission (CWGC). His name features on the Thiepval Cemetary memorial in the Somme. A commemorative plaque in PDF format was found to be available on the website (see below).
Memorial record – (source: CWGC)
Thiepval Memorial, Somme – (source: CWGC)
Graham Seaman (15/1/2015)