As with many young officers, Arthur came from a successful middle class family. His parents were Frank and Katharine. At the time of the 1901 Census, the family was living at “Claremont”, Station Road, Marple. Arthur was their eldest child and he had a sister, Katharine, then aged just 1. Frank practised as a solicitor from offices at 33 Blackfriars Street, Manchester and his income provided a comfortable living. The family could afford to employ two live-in servants – Louisa Housden was the cook and Catherine Wilds was employed to look after the children.
Arthur was educated at Stockport Grammar School. In about 1912, he joined the Manchester University Officer Training Corps and was on exercises with the Corps on Salisbury Plain immediately prior to War being declared on 4 August 1914. With conflict imminent, Arthur was one of a number of cadets asked to take a commission. He could not agree immediately as he was articled as a trainee solicitor to his father’s practice and he had to get the permission of the Law Society. This was quickly granted, of course, and he received his commission as a 2nd Lieutenant in the 7th Battalion the following month.
The 7th was a prewar Territorial unit and was brought up to fighting strength by new recruits amongst the officers and men. It took time for them to become a cohesive fighting force and the Battalion did not go overseas until 20 April 1915. Their first month was spent on work behind the lines – digging trenches, carrying stores and the like.
However, on 21 May, they moved into the front line for the first time. So they could be “shown the ropes” by more experienced troops, “A” and “B” Companies were attached to a battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. “C” and “D” were similarly attached to the Middlesex Regiment. It would prove to be a baptism of fire for the men of “A” and “B”.
The Stockport Advertiser later published a letter from his father which purported to give an account of the days prior to Arthur going into the trenches. “For ten days, the Regiment was under fire and during the period he had several narrow escapes from injury. He had 2 bullets through his coat, one of his puttees was ripped off by a shrapnel bullet and was nearly poisoned by a gas bomb which exploded near to him and piece of shrapnel bounced off his head.” It seems somewhat unlikely that Arthur could have had such an adventurous time supervising his men digging trenches well to the rear.
The Germans had launched a major attack on the British positions around the Belgian town of Ypres on 22 April, using poison gas for the first time in history. A month later the battle was still raging and, although they had not significantly broken through the British line, the Germans generally had the upper hand.
At 3am on the 24th, the Germans launched another gas attack, followed by an artillery bombardment and then the infantry assaulted the British lines. The Battalion’s War Diary has scant details but notes that the two companies with the Royal Fusiliers were forced to retreat under the pressure (the other two had been relieved from the front line the previous day). There were later reports in the press that the orders to withdraw never reached the Durham men and that they then found themselves cut off. However, this does not seem to be borne out by the official records or histories.
At some point, Arthur was shot. The Stockport Advertiser, in its edition of 23 July, said “The last that was seen of Lt. Rhodes by British soldiers was by three privates who have been interviewed who saw him lying in the open and he was not supposed to be seriously wounded. The Germans were coming on in great numbers and when some British soldiers wanted to stay with Lt. Rhodes he said no, they must go. The Germans were surrounding the British position so they who could, escaped. The Germans took many prisoners that day and it is known that they treated them well. So, it is expected that Lt Rhodes is a prisoner of war in Germany.”
Throughout 1915, there were constant reports that Arthur was, indeed, a prisoner and the Stockport Advertiser reported in December that the neutral Spanish Embassy in Holland had confirmed he was a captive. It was all rumour. Arthur had died that day and had probably been buried by the advancing Germans. Or, possibly, his body may have remained unburied in what quickly became No Man’s Land again and may not have been discovered until the front moved forward again.
Further newspaper reports and a photograph of Arthur can be found in the book “Remembered”, by P Clarke, A Cook and J Bintliff.