Rifleman S/26148 Thomas Edwin Capers 8th Rifle Brigade, DOW 13/04/1917 VII. F. 9. WARLINCOURT HALTE BRITISH CEMETERY, SAULTY
courtesy of Jim Smithson, Dec. 2010
Thomas Edwin Capers was born and brought up in Ibstock, he was 26 and single at the outbreak of the Great War. Thomas was the youngest of three brothers and had two sisters, all born in Ibstock to parents Thomas and Sarah where the family had lived since about 1880. All the males of the family had worked either in the Ibstock Colliery or brick works.
Thomas Capers papers have not survived, in fact the papers of men in the number block S/26000 to S/26200 are few and far between. But combining what information there is with their medal index cards gives some idea of Thomas Capers' dates of joining, etc. Many of the men in this block first joined the KRRC before being transferred to the Rifle Brigade while still in the UK. These men are in alphabetic order through this small number range. Scattered amongst them are others who were first posted to the 5th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade and were then posted to either the 8th or 9th Battalion after completion of basic training and on arrival in France. All of them appear to have attested under the Derby Scheme in late November or Early December 1915, and were not called up until May and June of 1916. Thomas Capers does not fit into the alphabetical grouping of ex. KRRC men, and so it is likely he was first posted to the Rifle Brigade's 5th Battalion before being sent to France around October 1916, where he would have joined the 8th Battalion.
Easter Day in 1917 fell on the 8th of April. The 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade was in the Arras sector. Two celebrations of Holy Communion took place in the cellar of battalion HQ and they had moved to the Christchurch caves by nightfall. The following day the 1917 Arras offensive was launched, and the battalion had left the caves at 9am and initially moved to the reserve line. With many German prisoner coming back from the front and large numbers of British Cavalry moving forward news came that the first and second Brigade objects have been taken. There is some snow overnight, and on the 10th April 1917 the 8th Battalion moves forward several miles South East of Arras and by 4.30pm receives orders to “clear up the situation in the direction of Wancourt and the high ground south west of the village”. The Battalion advances in a heavy snow storm coming under a light barrage and machine gun fire. As the snow stopped, leading companies found themselves in an exposed position and suffered casualties from machine gun fire coming from the direction of Wancourt and Hill 90.
The attack on Wancourt is pressed home on the 11th April, with the 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade in support of the 7th KRRC. But they are caught in machine gun cross fire, the 7th KRRC suffer badly, and the 8th RB suffer one officer wounded and 20 OR casualties. They are relieved from their forward position by the 7th RB that night, during another heavy fall of snow.
In the early hours of 12th April “B” coy. patrols get as far as Wancourt and Marliere. Easterly patrols establish that the enemy holds Guemappe in strength. While “C” coy. captures a 77mm field gun in the vicinity of Marliere. At 11am orders are received to attack the high ground South East of Wancourt, with the 8th KRRC on the right crossing the Conjeul river to the south of Wancourt, and the 8th RB on the left crossing the river to the north of Wancourt. But this would have meant passing in front of the enemy at Guemappe for about a mile. By 2.30pm the orders for the attack had changed. Both 8th KRRC and 8th RB were to cross the river to the south of Wancourt. The assault was to take place at 5.30pm, but by 5pm only three companies had managed to cross the river after wading through very deep and sticky mud. An alert enemy put down a heavy barrage on the Conjeul valley from Wancourt to Heninel, and before the attack even started the whole area was subjected to heavy machine gun fire. Advance was impossible and the attack was abandoned. The 8th RB was relieved that night and by the 13th April had returned to billets in Arras. The total casualties for these few days are: 5 Officers wounded; 25 other ranks killed, 5 other ranks missing and 68 other ranks wounded.
courtesy of Jim Smithson, Dec. 2010
Private 26148 Thomas Edwin Capers is one of those wounded during these few days, he is evacuted as far as a CCS at Warlincourt, but dies of his wounds on the 13th April 1917. In fact, the Battalion seems to have lost track of him at one point, as his name appears on the Battalion's casualty figures as being KIA on the 12th April.
Pte. 36748 William Blakley Tyers 25th Northumberland Fusiliers, KIA 10/9/1917 I. E. 27 HARGICOURT BRITISH CEMETERY
William Blakley Tyers was nearly thirty when he joined the Army, most likely as a conscript in about February 1917. He was married with two young sons. William had been born in Measham were he had spent his infancy before his family moved to Ibstock in around 1890. One of five children, William was the oldest son of Walter and Mary Tyers. He was working as a grocer's assistant before the war and had married Eleanor Margaret Richardson in the late summer of 1912, the daughter of James Richardson, whose home and draper's shop was at 78 to 80 High Street, Ibstock. Their first child William G Tyers was born in the winter of 1914, and their second child John B Tyers around September 1916.
William Tyers service papers have not survived, but SDGW notes he was formerly private 37462 of the Leicester Regiment. Most of the men initially recruited to the Leicesters within the number range 37300 to 37700 were transferred to other Regiments, either before the completion of training in the UK or when posted to Infantry Base Depots in France. While there are insufficient records to show if a particular block of men where transferred from the Leicesters to the Northumberland Fusiliers, one other soldier, Private 36751Arthur Weston, was formerly 37501 of the Leicesters. Other groups were transferred to the DLI, Bedfords and Lincolns.
The following were all initially posted to the 3rd Leicesters on recruitment: Private 37308 Charles Stanley Mullany, enlisted 15.2.17, was discharged sick with a SWB on 10.8.17;Private 37338 Athur Harold Dunkley, attested Oct.16, mobilised 17 Feb. 1917; Private 37354 Ernest Jeffrey, attested 27.10.16, mobilised 17.Feb.1917; Private 37423 Sam Dixon, attested 19th Feb. 1916, sent to France 14/8/17; Private 37448 John Thomas Viccars, attested 18th Sept. 1916, mobilised 20th Feb. 1917; Private 37467 James Gee, enlisted 20th Feb. 1917, sent to France 28/7/1917 transferred to York & Lances; Private 37452 Charles Newberry, attested 20th Sept. 1916, mobilised 19th Feb 1917; Private 37578 Arthur Hazeldine, enlisted 22.2.17, was discharged sick with a SWB on 29.5.17; Private 37701 Cecil Catlin Arnsby, attested 8 Sept. 1916, mobilised 23 Feb.1917.
The most likely date for William Tyers conscription is 20th February 1917, and was probably sent to France sometime between late July and early September 1917 when he was transferred to the 25th Northumberland Fusiliers (2nd Tyneside Irish).
Back in 1914, those of Irish descent in Newcastle, Northumberland and Durham had answered the call for volunteers. The result was not merely the raising of one battalion, but the raising of four complete battalions with reserves, forming an entire Tyneside Irish Brigade. Officially the 24th to 27th Northumberland Fusiliers, they made up the 103rd Brigade of the 34th Division.
The brigade was to suffer some of the highest casualties on 1st July on the Somme, where they had advanced through a double barrage and fought their way to the enemy's third line and the outskirts of Contalmaison, where those remaining had met and bested elements of the Prussian Guard. The following Easter in 1917 at Arras, the Tyneside Irish Brigade once again attacked with heavy losses, and again a week later. In August 1917, because of the heavy casualties, the 24th and 27th Battalions were amalgamated. One writer describes the Tyneside Irish as of “fighting itself to death” before the end of the war. This was the nature of the battalion that the likes of William Tyers of Ibstock and Arthur Weston of Leicester joined in mid 1917.
In the third week of August 1917, Bristish infantry were attacking the enemy lines at the Knoll and Guillemot Farm, near Hargicourt. On 26th August the 34th Division had attacked Cologne Farm near Hargicourt and repulsed all counter-attacks. Fighting continued in this area into early September with much hostile shelling. It is at this time that William Blakley Tyers of Ibstock is killed in action on the 10th September 1917 and is buried at I. E. 27 HARGICOURT BRITISH CEMETERY.
With two very young children, William's wife Eleanor appears to have stayed at her parent's home until at least the end of the war. It's her parents address that Eleanor gives when she returns the verification from to the IWGC after she receives notice of Thomas' burial place at Hargicourt. And like the other bereaved, Eleanor would have received William's plaque and scroll and medals, before the opportunity came to remember him on the Ibstock war memorial.
Pte. 27936 Arthur Hammersley 7th North Staffs, KIA 25/1/1917, Panel 34. Memorial: BASRA MEMORIAL
Arthur Hammersley was a thirty year old married man with a family when he joined the Army in the spring of 1916, either as a conscript or as someone who had attested under the Derby Scheme in late 1915. Arthur had been born and raised in Bedworth, Warwickshire, some 20 miles south of Ibstock. As an adult he had worked as a miner and had married local girl Alice Richards in 1912, their first child, daughter Alice, was born in 1913. Arthur and family had then moved to Ibstock.
Arthur Hammersley's service papers have not survived, but he is one of a group of men from Leicestershire who were called up in May and June of 1916, some having previously attested in December 1915, and joined the North Staffordshire Regiment. Most of these men were initially posted to the 3rd Battalion at Wallsend. On completion of training they were posted to the 7th North Staffs, part of the 39th Brigade of the 13th Division, and sent to Mesopotamia.
Other men give us the time frame for Arthur Hammersley's deployment: Pte. 25584 John James Pears of Loughborough, attested on 10 Dec 1915, was called up on 31May 1916, is posted to 3rd North Staffs on 2.6.16, then posted to 7th on 14 Oct 1916, leaving Devonport on 15/10/16, arriving Busra 21/11/16 and joins in field 7 /12/16; Pte. 26728 Thomas Butters from Notts, attested 11 Dec 15, was posted to 3rd at Wallsend on 16.6.16, other dates are as Pte. Pears; Pte. 26235 Frederick Ford from Longton, Staffs, attested. 6.12.15, is called up on 13.6.16, posted 3rd at Wallsend on 15.6.16, posted to 7th and also embarks at Devonport 15/10/16, arrives Busra 22/11/16, joins at Amara on 7/12/16.
Arthur Hammersley is amongst the new drafts of men for the 7th North Staffs who arrived in Busra (Basra/Al Basrah) in late November 1916. For men who had never left the shores of Britain there would have been many new sights and sounds on the outward journey which took several weeks. From Devonport Plymouth to Port Said Egypt, through the Canel to Suez and on past Aden along the southern Arabic coast to the Persian Gulf to the straits of Ormuz and the mouth of the Shatt-el-Arab water way. Often transferring to smaller vessel to make the 80 mile journey inland to Busra taking about 7 hours. Troops would catch the first sight of the land of the “Garden of Eden”, beyond the date palm strip along the river banks was flat featureless desert. They'd pass Adaban with it's circular tanks and pipe lines of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company, the reason the Mesopotamian campaign had started in 1914, and finally to Basra itself.
After the stebacks of 1915 and the costly failure to relieve the besieged defenders of Kut earlier in 1916, no new offensive could be started until after the broiling summer heat. In October and November of 1916, Basra was a hive of activity and the port resembled a small piece of the London Thames, crowded with vessels: troops ships, hospital ships, cargo vessel, naval vessels and a flotilla of smaller transport craft. The new drafts moved up river to the Amara base within a couple of weeks, before being transported closer to the front line.
The offensive had opened on the night of the 13th December 1916 with a surprise march on the Shatt-el-Hai by the Cavary Division and both the 13th and 14th Divisions across a flat featureless desert, crossing nera Atab. Operations were held up as heavy rains turned the ground into a swamp. The Khadairi Bend was the first Turkish stronghold to fall, but only after a bitter struggle. The Hai Salient was the next objective.
The battle had begun in pouring rain on the 25TH of January. The Turks had met the British with determination and courage. Only in the last few days before they were finally eliminated entirely on the right bank of the Tigris was the morale of the Turks broken. By this time the campaign in Mesopotamia had become a slogging match. The British troops had been burnt out by the constant repetition of attacking a series of ditches in a wasteland of caked clay; newspaper reports of ‘burning to be up and at the Turks’ was empty rhetoric.
When the battle for the Hai Salient had started, the Turkish garrison had been estimated at about 3,700 men. The first attack on the 25TH of January had been directed at both banks of the Hai by the 39TH Brigade on the left and 40TH Brigade on the right. All had gone well at first and 1,800 yards of the Turkish front line had been captured. However, the Turks had eventually counter attacked with their customary zeal accompanied by heavy shell fire, and had driven the 39TH brigade back the way they had gone having suffered over a thousand casualties. Before falling back, the 7th North Staffs had found themselves attacked on three sides and had come under accurate minewerfer fire. The battalion lost all its own bombers either killed, or wounded. The 7th North Staffs had attacked with the 9th Worcesters, their history adds:
“About noon, under a fresh and very heavy counter-attack the Worcesters and North Staffords were forced from a part of the captured position and were in danger of being overwhelmed. The moment was critical. Colonel Henderson, who had been shot in the arm just before, jumped on to the parapet, and shouting to his men to follow him advanced alone some distance under the most intense fire over 500 yards of open ground. He was shot down, but rose and again led in the most gallant manner till they were within 100 yards of the Turks. Then the battalion raced in with the bayonet and re-established our position from end to end. Colonel Henderson was again twice wounded, and as he lay out in the open Captain R. E. Phillips, who had already shown great courage in the attack, went out under very heavy fire and with the help of a comrade succeeded in bringing him back to die in our trenches. Both Colonel Henderson and Captain Phillips were afterwards awarded the Victoria Cross. In the afternoon the Turks, who had thus been driven back again to their second line, made another counterattack supported by artillery, and by sheer weight of numbers gradually forced the Royal Warwickshire to retire. None the less, as General Maude wrote in his despatch of April 10, that gallant charge across the open had restored the situation at a critical moment. This fighting had been on the left wing to the west of the Shatt-el-Hai; the right wing had fared better, and next day the trenches on the left were finally captured by Indian troops. Besides Colonel Henderson, the Royal Warwickshire had 4 officers killed and 7 wounded (1 mortally); of other ranks there were 52 killed, 118 wounded, and 11 missing.”
The following day the assault had been renewed by the Indian 14TH Division, on that occasion after twelve hours of bitter fighting the 82ND and 26TH Punjabis had succeeded in retaking the line, which had been lost, the previous day, the price had nonetheless been expensive. Of the 82ND Punjabi’s, 240 of the 500 men who had begun the assault were either killed or wounded. On the east bank the story had been much the same, nonetheless, by the end of January the whole Turkish front line system to a depth of 1,000 yards had been in British hands.
Amongst the 7th North Staffs many casualties was Arthur Hammersley of Ibstock, killed in action on 25/1/1917. Other casualties from Leicesterhsire were:
Serj. 10121 Edward Gilliver Dennis of Donisthorpe, KIA 25/1/1917
Pte. 27052 Walter Sharpe of Hinckley, KIA 25/1/17
Pte. 27959 Allen Saunders of Hinckley, KIA 25/1/17
Pte. 27752 Harry Batham Hunt of Loughborough, KIA 25/1/17
With no known grave, Arthur Hammersley is commemorated on the Basra War Memorial.
Nine men from Ibstock are known to have served in the 16th Battalion of the King's Royal Rifle Corps during the Great War, nicked named the “Churchman's Battalion” because of it's association with the “Church Lad's Brigade” (CLB).
Early in September 1915 Lord Grenfell, Governor & Commandant of the CLB, had formally applied to the War Office for permission to raise a service battalion of past and present members of the CLB. After the War Office approved, the battalion was raised as the 16th KRRC at Denham, Buckinghamshire, with recruiting starting by 19th September 1914.
The Church Lad's Brigade had a strong following in Leicester City, and groups had been established in Ibstock, Hugglescote and elsewhere in the County before the war. Reginald Glover and Oliver Pratt, of the Hugglescote CLB, recall the excitement when on 4th August 1914 the annual CLB summer camp held at Ripon Yorkshire, where hundreds of Leicester Lads had gathered, was cut short with orders to immediately return home. There was much talk on the train journey back and rumours that the Army was to create a special battalion of which only CLB personnel would be enlisted. Many of these young lads, like Glover and Pratt, were impatient to volunteer and served in the Leicester's TF and “New Army” battalions, but others waited.
In the first rush of the recruits to the 16th KRRC on 19th September 1914 were a dozen or more men from Leicester, and four single men from Ibstock: Lester Green, aged 22 ; John William Henson, aged 19 ; (William) Percy Heath, aged 19 and Harry Butler Wright, aged 21. They were to become: Serj. C/213 Lester Green, Serj. C/225 John William Henson, Rfm. C/228 Percy Heath and Serj. C/360 Harry Butler Wright. Of these, only fragments of Harry Butler's service papers have survived, they show he attested on 19/9/1914 at Leicester and joined at Denham on 2 October 1914.
Lester Green had been born in Carlton, a few miles south of Ibstock, where the family had lived before moving to Ibstock in around 1900. Before the war, Lester had worked as an assistant in one of Ibstock's greengrocers, near to his family home in Leicester Road, Ibstock. Harry Wright had worked as a clerk in Ibstock's brickworks, and both Percy Heath and John Henson were amongst Ibstock's many colliers.
All four Ibstock men, and the others from Leicester, were with the 16th KRRC when, after a long period of training, they leave their Perham Down Camp to travel by train to Southampton for a night crossing to Le Havre in the cold and wet of 16th November 1915. A total contingent of 30 officers and 994 other ranks, 64 horses and mules, 19 vehicles and 9 bicycles.
From the Le Havre, the battalion moves first by train via Abbeville to Thienne on 19th November and then after a few days in Boesegham it marches on to Annezin by the 30th November. Various course and training continue while different parts of the battalion are giving some trench familiarisation in rotation. Others are attached to the 180th Tunnelling Company RE as working parties for mining activities. They move to St.Hilaire on the 12th December, where they remain until the 28th December. On the morning or the 19th ALL ranks are made to pass through a gas filled room as apart of their training as apart of a lecture on gas attacks. Snipers try out new “sniperscopes”, while others attend a maxim M.G. course. Christmas day 1915, passes without any special note in the 16th KRRC war dairy and 28th/29th December they move to billets in Bethune. The Battalion gets the bath house on New Year's day, but there is no clean kit available.
On 2nd January 1916, the first Sunday of the New Year, the battalion moves into the firing line for eight days in trenches near Bethune. Hardly have they taken up position when the enemy detonate 2 large mines. Rescuers dig feverishly to free those buried in the debris and the wounded are helped through the narrow communication trenches, while others prepare to repel any attempt by the enemy to occupy the crater. The battalion's position comes under an intense bombardment that lasts for hours. As the firing and shelling dies down, the damage has to be repaired. This work, together with digging out the buried men, goes for the next few days while the enemy continue to snipe, shell and machine gun. The battalion is relieved on the 10th January. Their losses for that first Sunday alone were 9 killed and 27 wounded, and four others perish before the relief, with yet more added to the wounded list. Among the dead is rifleman C/229 George Norris Waite Hotham of West Hartlepool, just one number on from Percy Heath of Ibstock.
This deadly tour of the trenches sets the pattern for the coming months of warfare. Interspersed with periods on relief when training, working parties and organised activity never really stops, there are the tours of trenches where shelling, sniping, trench mortar bombs, patrols and accidents take a steady toll of 16th KRRC officers and other ranks. In one of their last actions before moving from the Cuincy sector, 2 officers and 40 men mount a night raid on the German trenches on 1st July 1916. In a bitter reminder of the perils of such actions, the raiders are caught by enfilade machine gun fire. Five are killed outright, 11 are missing or wounded, 15 are wounded and brought in.
On the 8th July the battalion receives orders to move by train from Lillers to Saleux. Their total strength is 27 officers and 877 other ranks. A series of marches takes them to Bercodel-Bercourt by the 13th July and the battalion “stands to” at 3.25am on the morning of the 14th. Picks and shovels are drawn, extra SAA is issued at 220 rounds per man and each man is given two sand bags. The battalion marches to Fricourt at 10.30am. The men get tea and rest. They move forward to an assembly point in a valley west of Sabot, carry up ammo, bombs and water to the HLI And 1st Queens and after digging in, hand all picks and shovels to 9th HLI and 1st Queens. Orders are received for a Divisional attack on 15th July to take place on the enemy's switch line in front of Martinpuich with the 100th Infantry Brigade attacking on a 1,000 yard front, to be proceeded by an half hour artillery bombardment. Zero hour is 9.00 am. The assault is be carried out by the 9th HLI on the right and the 1st Queens on the left with the 16th KRRC in support and the 2nd Worcesters in reserve.
Much has been written about this attack and the 16th KRRC war diary itself covers five pages for the 15th July alone. Suffice to say by the end of a disastrous day the battalion was reduce to around half it's strength or less. By nightfall, remnants of “A” & “D“ company occupied a small corner of High Wood, and what remained of “B” & C” company were spread out between 1st Queens and 9th HLI. On the 16th July the Battalion is relieved and retires from High Wood. It's a wet night and their camp comes under fire from gas shells forcing then to put on gas helmets. They get some rest before on the 20th they move up toward High Wood again, coming under shell fire once more. After spending most of the day carry supplies up to High Wood whilst under fire, the Battalion move into High Wood in the early hours of the 21st to relieve the defending forces. Almost immediately they come under enemy attack. On what becomes a hot day, the enemy's snipers and machine guns are very active. Stretcher bearers carry away the wounded. That night the Battalion is relived and marches back to Bercodel-Bercourt through a heavy barrage of shells and tear shells and is established in a bivouac camp by 23rd July 1916.
Unlike other periods, there is no single clear casualty entry in the 16th KRRC war diary for the action at High wood. Even the strength return sent to HQ on 21th July may be misleading, as it's not clear if this includes the draft of 79 OR's that joined on the 18th. But this return shows the scale of loss, it is just 6 officers out of 27 and 214 other ranks out of 877. The war diary entry for the 24 July remarks upon the loss of NCOs which are reduced to just one sergeant and 7 corporals. Like so many other “New Army” battalions on the Somme, who were a year or more in the making, the 16th KRRC was decimated in a single day.
Amongst those killed in action on the 15th was Serj. C/213 Lester Green of Ibstock, and with no know grave he is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial. Of those dozen and more men who volunteered in September and October of 1914 from Leicester, five were casualties on the same day:
Rifleman C207, Ernest Atkinson
L/Cpl. C210, William Cundall
Rifleman C853, George William Watson
Rifleman C854, Levitt George Cooper
Rifleman C987, Francis Bibby Pickering
Additionally, Rifleman C361 David Noel Wain, dies of wounds on 21/7/16.
After the disastrous casualties at High Wood the 16th KRRC receives new drafts, 79 other ranks on the 18th July, 318 other ranks on the 23rd July and by 7th August the Battalion's strength is recorded as 9 officers and 700 other ranks, and over the coming days more officers and NCOs join the battalion. Amongst the new drafts is Ernest David Overton of Ibstock.
Ernest, named after his father, had been born and brought up in Ibstock where the family had lived since about 1890. His service papers have not survived but judging by those with Army numbers close to his, Ernest Overton joined the KRRC around February 1916 either as a conscript or as someone who had attested under the Derby Scheme at the end of 1915, he was just nineteen. Ernest is likely to have served in the 5th Battalion, or part of the General Training Reserve, before being sent to France after as little as four or five months training. ( The first 16th KRRC casualty to appear with a number in the R/19XXX range is Arthur O. Couchman, KIA 20th July 1916. Rfn. R/19211 Richard Hopkin Aland attested 22 Nov 1915, is mobilised 18.2.16, joins in field on 17.7.16 and is wounded 20/21.7.16. Serj. R/19338 Albert Wingrove, MM, attested 12 Dec 1915, is mobilised on 22.2.16, embarks 13.7.16, joins 16th on 26.7.16 and is KIA 24th Sept. 1918).
Ernest joins the 16th KRRC on the Somme as it rebuilds and reorganises after the costly attack on “High Wood” on the 15th July 1916. The last eight days of July 1916 are spent in camp and the new drafts are training every day in the height of the summer heat. The men are allowed to bathe in the river Ancre. On 7th August at 4.0am the Battalion, 9 officers and 700 other ranks, march to Fricourt Wood. After food and rest, they relieve troops in Mametz Wood by 2.30pm. That evening Major Howard joins and takes command of the battalion. All companies move up the line on the 10th, they return to bivouacs at Bercodel-Bercourt on the 13th August . They move to Montauban Alley on the 19th August and on the night of 22nd/23rd are deployed in Orchard and Carlton Trench. Major Howard in the company of three other officers is up touring the line, they are hit by a stray shell. Major Howard is wounded, along with Capt. Coatsworth, Lt. Fradell is badly shaken but Capt. C.A. Thomas is killed. On the afternoon of the 24th August, the forward three companies, “A “ B” and “C” have assembled for an attack on the enemy's “Tea Trench”. Zero hour is 5.45pm and at zero puls one, the leading companies move out as close as possible to a barrage that is lifting at 25yards per minute. The objective is taken and the war dairy notes that:
“The attack was carried out with surprisingly few casualties … One feature of the Brigade assault was the new system of friendly barrage adopted by the artillery. The lifts were of 25 yards per minute from the first lift and this allowed the troops, keeping close up under it, to reach their objectives without rifle or machine gun, except on the left.”
The actual casualties were: killed 1 officer, 13 other ranks, wounded 2 officers and 72 other ranks, missing 39 other ranks.
After what must have been about just four weeks in France, and after his first offensive action, Ernest David Overton was to die of wounds on 25th August 1916, mostly likely sustained in the attack on “Tea Trench”. He is buried at XXX. B. 4. CATERPILLAR VALLEY CEMETERY, LONGUEVAL
Pte. 20759 Noel Victor Lane 7/8th KOSB, KIA 20/6/1916 buried IV. B. 3. Cemetery: VERMELLES BRITISH CEMETERY
Noel Victor Lane was just 19 when he travelled to Leicester and volunteered to join the Army. He was born in Earl Shilton, as were both his father and grandfather before him. His father Henry had run the “Lord Nelson Inn” in Earl Shilton before moving the family to Ibstock in around 1905, where he had advertised in a local trade directory as a carpenter and general store holder. By the outbreak of the war the family had moved to 154 High Street, Ibstock.
With no obvious Scottish connection, Noel Lane had chosen to join the King's Own Scottish Borderers, one of the very few men from Leicestershire to serve in any battalion of the KOSB. His younger brother Thomas Hugh Lane would later join the Black Watch, while his older brother Charles Henry served in the RFA. Noel's service papers have not survived but he was first sent to France on 15/10/1915 and posted to the 7th KOSB. It's not known when he enlisted, but Pte. 20751 John Thomas Hawkins KOSB, awarded a SWB on discharge, is recorded as enlisting on 12.7.1915. With both the 7th and 8th KOSB suffering very heavy casualties at Loos in September 1915, where Piper Daniel Laidlaw had won the V.C. On 25th Sept., it is possible that the training of replacements like Noel was little more than four months or so. During this time, Noel Lane would have grown accustomed to the unfamiliar accents around him.
The privately publish history of the 7th/8th Battalion, Kings Own Scottish Borderers gives a vivid account of the trench warfare endured between October 1915 and May 1916, a period described as:
“And now began that protracted spell of trench warfare which was to last for several months, thinning our ranks and trying the endurance of our troops to the very limit. Sniping was carried on continually; mining and counter-mining, bombing, raid-fire were all part of our daily existence. Each side seemed to be searching for a weak spot in its opponent's defence, through which it might break. The Germans occupied the higher ground and thus held the advantage, but our men hung on in spite of the number of casualties, the losses being so great that eventually the amalgamation of the two battalions became necessary.” p 42-43.
Noel would have joined the 7th KOSB when it was moved to trenches in the front near Vermelles in the second week of October 1915. Troops proceeded pass the Philosophe cross-roads, along the Mazingarbe-Vermelles Road,via a desolate Vermelles past the cemetery, already a forest of wooden crosses, then into the communication trenches and via “Chapel Alley” to their sector of the front. The first relief came on the 26th October. At Nouex-les-Mines, the streets of miner's cottages and slag heaps of the area would have had something in common with Ibstock, but there was little of comfort there for the troops. Public rooms were dominated by RAMC Filed Ambulances, only when they were pushed out did the men get a bath house and later a “Field Force Canteen” and a YAMC room. The area's level ground soon became water logged in wet weather and on return to the trenches the men had to work day and night just to keep them usable. All the time the enemy's “whizz-bangs” and “heavies” took their toll as working parties assisted RE tunnellers in making bomb-proof dugouts.
Midway through November 1915 the 7th KOSB get a few days rest at Vaudricourt a “pleasant agricultural village, near Verquin”, before returning to trench duty on 26th November.
“The weather was abominable. Frost, thaw and made it most difficult to keep the trenches in order, though improvements were constantly being made. The lot of the men at this juncture was not an enviable one; some standing on the fire-step in snow and rain watching the enemy movements, others digging,bringing up rations, or carrying ammunition from the dumps to the front line; often wading through the trenches up to their knees in water, with their clothing wet through and no means of drying it.” P. 50
There was much accurate shelling, particularly when they moved on 3rd December into the firing line opposite the Hohenzollern Redoubt. By the 13th December the 7th KOSB have moved to Burbure for a month's rest. The lucky ones were granted leave, and travelled by train via Boulogne to London and then home, it's not known if Noel Lane was amongst them. As 1915 came to a close the 7th and 8th KOSB celebrated as best they could:
“On New Year's Day 1916 the battalions were entertained at a special dinner. The chief means of jollification were 1 lb. of plum pudding and a parcel from the K.O.S.B. Comforts Committee for every man, with English beer and oranges provided from the Canteen Funds.” P.54
When they returned to the trenches, some sort of action was anticipated for the27th of January, the Kaiser's birthday.
“Great things were expected of the Boche on that auspicious day. It was thought that he would make a special effort to accomplish something on a grandiose scale, in honour of the occasion. An intense bombardment was carried out by the enemy all day and night three red rockets were fired, and our troops stood to, expecting attack. During the day there was very heavy rifle and machine gun fire, but it gradually slackened towards the evening. Capt. C. H. M. Home and 2nd Lieut. Miller were killed; 2nd Lieut. J. B. Penfold was wounded, and died the following day.” p.55
The sparodic shelling, sniping, and over flying by enemy aeroplanes continued for weeks until both 7th and 8th KOSB moved to Raimbert for a month's rest on 27th March 1916.
An enemy attack on 11th May captures a section of trench, Boyau 99. After several failed counter-attacks it's the task of the 8th KOSB to make a further attempt at 6.45pm on 14th May. The attack did not succeed, and the 8th KOSB casualties were 5 Officers and 85 other ranks. After this, the history states:
“On the 19th of May the 7th and 8th Battalions this were ordered to form a composite battalion. In state the battalions entered the right sub-sector of Hulluch Sector....
On the 27th of May the battalions were relieved by the Royal Scots Fusiliers, and proceeded to Bethune, where their amalgamation was carried out. From the 28th of May 19 16 the two battalions formed the 7/8th Battalion K.O.S. Borderers.” p.63
On the 7th June the battalion was in the Hohenzollern sector and up to the 20th June there was a lot of mining and counter-mining, stretching nerves with the ever present threat of being blown to eternity. Constant spade work and fatigue parties continued as the Battalion was plagued by trench mortar fire and rifle grenades. The history notes:
“On the 20th of June the battalion was relieved and moved out of the trenches by Gordon Alley and Philosophe cross-roads to billets in Labourse, where it was to remain in Divisional reserve for seven days”. p.98
It also adds that for this period alone,
“Our casualties for this turn in the trenches were: five O.Rs. Killed and died of wounds, twenty-eight O.Rs. Wounded, and three O.Rs. gassed while working in a mine shaft.” p. 97-98
Pte. 20759 Noel Victor Lane's war has come to an end, just prior to, or during the relief of 20th June 1916 his is killed in action and is buried at IV. B. 3. VERMELLES BRITISH CEMETERY in the very cemetery he must have passed many times.
His brothers Thomas and Charles return home at the end of the war, and join Noel's parents in mourning his loss.
Five men on the Ibstock war memorial served in the 8th Leicesters: Private 13070 Arthur Henry Houghton; Private 13147 Alfred Sleath; L/Cpl 13209 George Riley; Private 16131 Joseph Satchwell and Private 203426 John Howitt Wright.
Arthur Houghton and Alfred Sealth were amongst Ibstock's earliest volunteers. Ibstock born miner, Arthur Houghton was 27 years old and single when he volunteered on 3rd September 1914, his family home was at 297 Melbourne Road, Ibstock.
Alfred Sleath (spelt Sleith on the memorial) was born in Burton and his family had lived in Ibstock for at least ten years before the outbreak of the war. Alfred was a collier, aged 20 years and single, when he volunteered on 8th September 1914, and gave his address as 38 Chapel Lane, later known as Chapel Street. Alfred's parents had both died before the war and his next of kin was his brother John William Sleath.
On the day Arthur Houghton was posted to the Bourley camp at Aldershot, George Riley volunteered at Coalville, it was 24th September 1914. George Riley was another Ibstock miner, 21 years old and single, his family address was 19 Leicester Road Ibstock.
It would be two more months before Joseph Stachwell volunteered on 23rd November 1914. He was a single collier aged 23, and gave his address as 38 High Street, Ibstock.
All four were with the 8th Leicesters when they first embarked for France on 29 July 1915. The Battalion are in trenches near Monidcourt from late August 1915 until early 1916. There is hardly a break from the work of improving trenches and defences. New machine gun emplacements are built, shelters are bombed proofed, trench boards added to firing bays, support and communication trenches cleaned and drained, new fire bays added, and grenade stores sandbagged and bombed proofed, trip wire added near listening posts and wire entanglements maintained. All this, while the enemy snipers and shelling takes a steady toll of casualties. On the 6th February the war dairy notes:
Work. Machine gunners continued sandbagging corner of 93 and No. 14 machine gun emplacement and continued work on dug out in 107. 22 large ‘goose berries’ were fixed in front of Group 5 from listening posts, bay 18, 92D, towards 92C. Continued clearing NITRATE STREET. In 93 trench work was continued on mine, officers dug out, and sandbagging N.C.O.’s shelter. Continued traverse to bays 8 and clearing way to entrance of bomb proof. 94B continued sandbagging traverse. The clearing of sumps and the making of fire steps was continued in Group 8. Bay 10 – 101 and bay 18 – 103 were almost completed. New bay No. 1 – 106 continued, and finished traverse in bay 8 – 108. Cleared sumps and repaired trench boards in 108. Repaired banket bay 1 – 105. Repairing entrance to officers dug out 107. Helping ROYAL ENGINEERS on dug out in 108. Situation. The enemy bombarded Group 8 and the RAVINE as far as 40 yards south of NOTTAGES FOLLEY from 10.15am. to 11.20 am. Nine 105mm shells, fifteen 77mm and six ‘whizz bangs’ were fired in all. No material damage. 1 man killed and 4 wounded. The RANSART and ADINFER guns were supposedly used by the enemy. The enemy sent rifle grenades over at frequent intervals during the afternoon, and 50 were fired in return by our Battalion grenadiers from 4.30pm onwards. Enemy fired a few more after we had opened, but none did any damage. Enemy seemed to use more powerful grenade than hitherto. Snipers active opposite Group 7. Wind north, north easterly.
The man killed was Private 16131 Joseph Satchwell, he is buried at U. 2. Berles-au-Bois Churchyard Extension.
Some time in the Spring of 1916 Arthur Houghton hears the sad news of his mother's death. The “normal” trench warfare continues for several months with tit-for-tat artillery exchanges, Lewis gun training, firing on enemy working parties, small (but always risky) patrols, new trenches dug and overflown by enemy aeroplanes. By early July they were on the move in preparation for the 110th Brigades attack at Bazentin on the Somme. The 9th July war dairy notes:
The Battalion formed up en masse in a field on the HANGEST ROAD, where the Commanding Officer delivered an address. In the afternoon the officers were addressed by the General Officer Commanding 21st Division.
On 14th July at 3.25am “D” coy leads the attack preceded by the Battalion raiders and “D” coy bombers. At 4.25am. “C” Company and 1st waves of “A” and “B” Companies advanced over the 450 yards of no man's land toward Bazentin le Petit Wood. Villa trench is taken, but heavy casualties are sustained and as the enemy counter attack Aston and Villa trenches at round 5.00am the Commanding Officer Lt. Col. J.G. Mignon is killed along with Lt. Alexander. The 8th Leicesters hold their position until relived on 17th.
Leonard Lovat and Arthur Price of Ibstock had been killed whilst serving in the 7th Leicesters, and on the long list of wounded was Arthur Houghton. He passed down the evacuation chain via 34 CCS to no.2 SH at Harve by 16th July 1916. He recovers well and returns to his unit on 30 August 1916. But there is little respite in the Somme offensive and the 110th Brigade is again used in a major attack on 25/09/1916 at Guedecourt.
Zero hour was At 12.30pm on the 25th, assaulting troops had 1,000 yards of no man's land to cross to their first objective. As successive waves followed, the enemy's tremendous artillery barrage and machine guns wrought terrible havoc The village was finally taken after hand to hand fighting. The 8th Leicesters came out of the action on 1st October stopping at Bernafay Wood before marching on to Dernacourt. Once again, they had suffered heavy losses.
Recently wounded Arthur Houghton survives this action. But almost two years to the day after volunteering, George Riley was wounded in the head on 25th September 1916, he is treated at no.12 General Hospital Rouen. But the casualty list also contains another name to be added to Ibtock's war dead. Private 13147, Alfred Sleath was killed in action at Guedecourt, and with no known grave is commemorated on the Thiepval memorial.
Soon after George Riley rejoins on 28th October 1916, the Battalion has moves north to the Hohenzollern sector in November. There time here is marked by several incidents of concerted mortar bombardments and sniper activity. Christmas 1916 passes, and the Battalion remains in the same sub-sector. The war diary notes:
“They relieved the 1st KING’S SHROPSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY in the trenches on the morning of the 15th February 1917 and remained in the front line until relieved by the 7th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT on the 21st February 1917”
In an incident that is unrecorded Arthur Houghton is killed in action on the 16th February 1917. Possibly by sniper fire or trench mortar. In order to receive Arthur's plaque and scroll, his elderly father Charles signs the Army form w.5080, which is countersigned at the Ibstock rectory on 30th June 1919. Arthur Houghton is buried at V. C. 43. Vermelles British Cemetery.
Early in April 1917 the Battalion moved forward and occupied the outpost line on the Henin – Croisilles Road. The enemy are retiring to the Hindeburg line. On May 3rd an attack is made on the attack on the village of Fontaine-les-Croisilles in conjunction with both the 6th and 9th Leicesters. Two tanks attached to the brigade broke down making no useful contribution in the attack. It is another costly action for the 8th Leicesters whose total casualties amount to 11 officers, 291 other ranks.
It's around this time that back in Ibstock Private 203424 John Howitt Wright joins. He appears to have been in a group of May 1917 recruits that were first assigned to the 1/4th Leicesters (TF), some of which had attested in December 1915, or in early 1916, but were put on reserve. It's not known when he was first sent to France, but it's likely to have been around late August or early September 1917.
In the intervening period the 8th Leicesters, after some days on relief at Berles au Bois, had returned to Croisilles. On 15/6/1917 there was an unsuccessful night attack on Tunnel trench. When they move from this area, it is to the Ypres Salient and the “Battle of Polygon Wood”. For John Howitt Wright, who could only have just joined the Battalion, the atrocious conditions in the Salient and the ever present threat of death must have been a traumatic experience for some one without prior combat experience. After the action of the 1st and 2nd of October 1917, the Battalion rests for two days at Scottish wood, before moving to Railway Dug Outs at Zillebeke, as the war dairy states:
RAILWAY DUG OUTS, ZILLEBEKE. At 6.00pm on the 5th October the 8th/9th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT moved from SCOTTISH WOOD CAMP to RAILWAY DUG OUTS on the north side of the railway embankment in I.21.d. (Reference ZILLEBEKE 1/10000). The 7th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT were in dug outs on the west side of ZILLEBEKE LAKE and the 6th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT in support at CLAPHAM JUNCTION.
In an incident that receives no comment, Private 203424 John Howitt Wright is killed in action on the 6/10/1917 and with no known grave is commemorated on Panel 50 to 51. of the Tyne Cot Memorial.
But survivor George Riley escapes the war briefly. He gets leave and on October 26th 1917 marries Alice Warden at the Glen Parva Parish Church.
The 8th Leicesters move to Hasebrouck in late October and after more front line duties move to Middlesex camp, Heudicourt in early 1918, and by March 1918 were in the front line at Epehy. At 4.30 am on the morning of the 21st March 1918 the entire Divisional front is subjected to a heavy bombardment on both high explosive and large quantities of gas shells. Mustard gas is used and all ranks wear their box respirators for around three hours. Daylight comes around 6am but visibility is poor because of a thick mist. At around 9am the enemy artillery lifts and their infantry are first seem at around 9.30am, the initial attacks are driven off. Later in the day the Battalion withdraws to the east of Epehy as their flanks are threatened. Over the next four days the battalion was forced to make a series of withdraws under the weight of the enemy offensive. It re-grouped at Vadencourt on 28th/29th March and the nucleus of the Battalion moved to Allonville on 30/3/1918. The war diary entry for the 31/3/1918 makes for salutary reading:
ALLONVILLE. The 2 composite Companies rejoined the Battalion on the afternoon of the 31st March and the Battalion was immediately reorganised and reformed into the 4 Companies.
The following casualties were sustained by the Battalion during the heavy fighting brought about by the great German attack. Officers, Lt. Col. A. T. Le M. UTTERSON D.S.O. missing believed died of wounds 22nd March, Captain H. SPENCER-SMITH M.C. missing believed Prisoner of War 22nd March, Captain W. CARTER, ROYAL ARMY MEDICAL CORPS missing believed a Prisoner of War 22nd March. “A” Company Lt. R. L. SENNETT wounded 22nd March, 2nd Lt. V. G. MATTHEWS wounded 21st March, 2nd Lt. EVANS wounded 22nd March. “B” Company Lt. R. W. CALLISON wounded and missing believed Prisoner of War 24th March, 2nd Lt. JACKSON missing 22nd March. “C” Company 2nd Lt. W. G. SMITH missing believed killed 21st March, 2nd Lt. J. GEMMELL wounded 23rd March. “D” Company Captain R. M. R. DAVISON wounded and missing 22nd March, 2nd Lt. G. HOBSON wounded 21st March, 2nd Lt. E. A. HILL wounded 21st March, 2nd Lt. W. BONE wounded 22nd March, 2nd Lt. W. H. SHAW wounded 23rd March. Other ranks, killed 28, wounded 109, gassed 4, missing 260, wounded and missing 14. Total officers 15, other ranks 415.
Amongst the dead, wounded and missing is L/Cpl 13209 George Riley Killed in action on 21/3/1918 and with no known grave is commemorated on Panel 29 and 30. of the Pozieres Memorial along with Richard Foster and Frank Gray of Ibstock. Alice Riley re-marries in 1921.
While nearly a quarter of the men named on the Ibstock war memorial served in various battalions of the Territorial Force, another sizeable proportion responded to Kitchener's call to arms and joined the County's “New Army” Battalions. The 6th (service ) Battalion of the Leicestershire regiment had been the first to be formed at Leicester in August 1914 as part of K1. The 7th was formed in September 1914 as part of K2, and the 8th and 9th followed in the same month as part of K3.
Whatever the original intention was, in March 1915 before any of them had left England, they were formed into 110th Brigade, which became known as the ‘Leicester’ or ‘Leicestershire’ Brigade, or ‘The Tigers’ in recognition of their cap badge, part of the 37th Division. On the 28th and 29th July 1915, the Leicestershire Brigade left Perham Down in Hampshire where they had been training for several months, for front line service on the western front initially in Flanders.
Richard Philip Foster, a married man with with two children, who had been employed in the Ibstock brick works before the war, served in the 6th Battalion as private 235022, he had previously been private 33395 which places him as a conscript in late 1916. (Private Joseph Hodgkinson 7th Bn. Leicestershire Regiment 32989/235028, enlisted 6 November 1916 and served in BEF from Jan 1917). It is likely that Richard Foster first served with the 6th Leicesters in Flanders in early 1917, before the 110th Brigade, by now part of the 21st Division, were moved to follow the German withdrawal to the heavily fortified Hindenburg Line, taking position in the front line near Henin sur Cojeul. On 3rd May 1917 the Leicestershire Brigade took part in an assault on the Hindenburg Line as part of the Battle of Bullecourt where the 6th were in reserve. This attack was unsuccessful, as was another assault on the night of the 15th June 1917. In September 1917, the 21st Division including the Leicestershire Brigade had returned to Flanders and took part in the action at Polygon Wood on 1st-3rd October 1917.
The Leicestershire Brigade spent the winter of 1917/18 in the Epehy area improving the defences, digging new trenches and emplacements and with concrete defences being built by the Royal Engineers. The German spring offensive is launched, on the 21st March 1918 at 2.30am with German shock troops following an intense artillery barrage. The men of the Leicestershire Regiment retired as planned. Despite support from two hidden tanks, the Brigade was forced back and ordered to abandon Epehy and Pezieres. The Brigade ended up in position on a ridge near the village of Hem, with the fighting almost over by 30th March. In this period the 110th Leicester Brigade had lost around 1200 men killed, wounded or taken prisoner. Amongst them was private 235022 Richard Philip Foster, killed in action on the third day of the onslaught on 23/3/1918, with no known grave his name appears on panel 29 and 30 of the Pozieres Memorial.
Four men on the Ibstock war memorial served in the 7th Leicesters: Private 15990 Leonard Lovatt, Private 17879 Arthur Price, Private 21187 Joseph miller Benn and Private 25635 Frank Gray.
Leonard at 35 years old was mature family man who originated from Burton, as did his wife Lydia, and Burton was the place of birth of his first four children, with baby Lydia born in Ibstock in the summer of 1914. Perhaps Leonard Lovatt regarded it is as his patriotic duty to volunteer, and he was no stranger to the military as he had served 3 years in the North Staffordshire Volunteers. Miner Leonard Lovatt signed his papers at Coalville on 13th November 1914, just one day before my own Grandfather Albert had done the same at the other end of the country at Wimbledon. There would have been little time to make his goodbyes as Leonard was posted to Aldershot on 22nd November 1914.
The tented Bourley camp may have seemed almost idyllic to those who had arrived in the summer of 1914, but as the weather deteriorated parts of the camp turned into a muddy quagmire not so different to some of the conditions they were yet to experience at the front. Christmas at the camp was a dull, cold and wet affair.
Kitchener's inspection on January 21st of his “New Army” at the Queen's Parade Aldershot included the 6th 7th 8th and 9th Leicesters. Heavy snow turned to rain, and the sodden troops were left waiting for three hours and then only to see Lord Kitchener's motorcar flash past. After the anticlimax, there was nothing left to do but trudge back to barracks and try to dry out.
Toward the end of his training, Leonard hears of the sad news of the death of his baby daughter Lydia on 11th June 1915. No pause from Army life is recorded. On 25 June the entire 37th division assembles for an inspection by the King at Sidbury Hill. On 22 July 1915 the Division began to cross the English Channel and by 2 August all units were concentrated near Tilques, with Leonard Lovatt amongst the ranks of the 7th Leicesters.
Miner Arthur Price of Ibstock, a single man in his thirties, had waited to spring of 1915 before volunteering at Coalville. Although born in Nailstone, Arthur's family had lived in Ibstock for at least 15 years before the outbreak of war. His training could have been as short as four months, as he was sent to France a little over four weeks after Private Lovatt, on 25.8.1915.
The 7th Leicesters were based in the Beinvillers sub-sector from mid September 1915 until early February 1916. As the weather deteriorates, trench conditions worsen with one man killed as a dug falls in on 2nd November 1915. There is a steady toll of casualties as working parties out digging and wiring are sniped at or hit by rifle grenades. A small patrol looking for a missing man on 30/1916 clashes with a larger German patrol in no man's land, another casualty is sustained. Enemy snipers continue to be active and others are wounded or killed. In early March 1916 the 7th Leicesters are in the Berles sector and mount a small raid in the hope of securing prisoners. But the raiders were blocked by two thick rows of new barbed concertina wire and “gooseberries” which was undetected from the reconnaissance. In later May and early June 1916 still at Beinvillers more men are lost during digging and wiring and when hit by trench mortars. In 29th June a strong raid is made on enemy trenches at Bailleul Mont. After a short preliminary bombardment, the attack starts at 2.30am. Many enemy were accounted for as dug outs and trenches were bombed or torpedoed. After two hours of fighting the raiders were withdrawn as the enemy's retaliatory bombardment increases. The raid is not without cost: one officer dies of wounds, 2 men are killed and 28 wounded.
Leonard Lovatt and Arthur Price were somewhere amongst all this. The raid may given the battalion a chance to exercise tactics and engage the enemy at close quarters, but a far stiffer challenge was to face them as they moved to the Somme in preparation for an assault on Bazentin Le Petit Wood. The war diary entries for the preceding days are:
BOTTOM WOOD. The Battalion having moved up, the 7th YORKSHIRE REGT. were relieved early in the morning. Guides were provided at FRICOURT, but it was almost daylight before the relief was complete. The QUADRANGLE TRENCH was reoccupied by C and D Company with a platoon from B and D in the QUADRANGLE SUPPORT, HQ., A Company and the remainder of B COMPANY were in BOTTOM WOOD. During the night previous and daytime, the enemy kept up a slow bombardment with 105mm shrapnel and 150mm Howitzers.
BOTTOM WOOD. QUADRANGLE TRENCHES and BOTTOM WOOD intermittently bombarded all day. We suffered about 30 casualties including 2nd Lt. SPENCER, D Company killed.
BOTTOM WOOD. After a more or less slow bombardment all day including 77mm guns. The Battalion was relieved by 10th KING’S OWN YORKSHIRE LIGHT INFANTRY and marched back to rest in FRICOURT. The day was spent resting and preparing for the attack on the morrow.
It's hard to know just how men like Leonard Lovatt and Arthur Price prepared themselves for going over. Some would have scribbled a last letter home making light of their situation, thinking first of their loved ones and family. No doubt there was black humour amongst those trying to keep their spirits up, but nerves must have jangled as the final hours passed.
The attack's objective was to clear the Germans from their positions in front of Bazentin le Petit Wood, and to capture the village behind it. The entire 110th Brigade was used, with the 9th Battalion initially in reserve. The 7th Battalion is drawn up in four lines. The first three to capture and hold the German's first line with the fourth to push on to capture the enemy's support line. By 2.55am the troops had assembled, already taking casualties. Zero hour is 3.25am, the short bombardment of the enemy's first line lifts and it is a race to cover around 500 yards of no man's land before the enemy man their front line again. There are many references to this action on the web, but I make no apology for quoting the 7th Leicesters war dairy for this day and those that followed:
MAMETZ WOOD. ATTACK ON BAZENTIN LE PETIT WOOD and village by the 110th Brigade. The Battalion was drawn up for the assault in four lines. The first three lines were in front of MAMETZ WOOD and were to move forward in succession at ZERO, the first line to take, clear and hold the German first line, the remainder to push on to capture and consolidate the FOREST TRENCH (enemy support line). The fourth line were drawn up behind the north edge of MAMETZ WOOD to move forward half an hour after ZERO, and push forward through FOREST TRENCH ready to assault the German third line. By 2.55am. all dispositions were made, each platoon being on its correct adjustment. A number of casualties were suffered during this operation, one platoon of “C” Company losing almost half its number. The men behaved admirably under trying conditions. At ZERO 3.25am. when the barrage lifted our first line trench was hardly close enough to it to rush the first line before the enemy could man it, as a result the advance was rather ragged. The right (A) Company in conjunction with the 6th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT. had little difficulty in entering the trench. The left (D) Company were momentarily held up by machine gun fire but managed to keep up close to the parapet and rush the line. The two centre (“B” and “C”) Companies were held up for about 20 minutes by machine guns. The pressure was relieved by parties from the right working down a flank. The centre Companies were then able to rush the trench. The second and third lines coming on, swept the remainder of the first line then, and made for the second line (FOREST TRENCH). By this time of the officers of “B” Company only 2nd Lt. EVANS was left, in “C” Company only 2nd Lt. REED, while in “D” Company all the officers were out of action. The enemy in the first line trench at first made some resistance but many were caught in their dug outs, and the rest seeing that they could not stop our rush retreated into the WOOD and made no resistance in the FOREST TRENCH. By 4.00am. our whole line was in occupation of FOREST TRENCH and the work of consolidation was begun. Captain A. A. CLARKE taking command. 2nd Lt. EVANS then sent back Company Sergeant Major GEARY to ensure that the German first line was cleared of the enemy. This N.C.O. with his party found a number of the enemy who had been passed over in the rush. In the meantime the left Company (D) after pushing on too eagerly under our barrage and being forced to retire, turned towards the flank and established connection with the 8th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT. At 4.25am. Captain A. A. CLARKE, leaving 2nd Lt. EVANS in charge of the first trench, went forward in charge of the party to capture the third objective. No resistance was met with on the right, but on the left considerable trouble was caused by a machine gun and by snipers and close by the observation post in the tree both Captain CLARKE and Lt. WAKEFORD were hit. This left the assaulting line without an officer, but Sgt. WALKER (“A” Company) and L/Sgt. SHERLOCK (“C” Company) rallied their men and made good this line. There was no German trench in this position an in some cases the men again pressed forward and came under fire from our own barrage. Meanwhile the left (“D” Company) being checked by the machine gun on the crest of the wood and being unable to make headway were rallied by L/Cpl. BUSH, and an attempt was made to get round the position on the right, with the result that this party lost direction in the wood and finally found itself among the 6th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT. L/Cpl. BUSH then placed himself under the orders of an officer of that Battalion. Almost before the barrage lifted, the party under Sgt. WALKER rushed the German trench on the north side of the wood. The enemy made no resistance here and being caught between the barrage of shell fire and our advancing line gave themselves up. By 6.45am. we were established in the line on north edge of the wood. Subsequently officers of the 8th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT., bringing up supports took over command of this sector. About 7.15am. Captain GWYTHER was commanding the Battalion, ordered 2nd Lt. EVANS to push forward from FOREST TRENCH in support of the front line, on reaching the position selected for the strong point on the RAILWAY, this party came under machine gun fire from the north west corner of the wood, 2nd Lt. EVANS took up the line covering the strong point and prepared for reconnaissance. The position therefore at 8.00am was:- Northern edge of the wood held by us. Possession of the north west corner doubtful. Line of RAILWAY and strong point secured by us. Throughout the morning the enemy kept up an intermittent bombardment with 150mm Howitzers and a few 77mm’s, which grew in intensity about midday and during the afternoon. About 1.00pm it was believed that the Germans were still holding the entire edge of the wood at the north western corner and an assaulting party of the 7th and 9th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT. was organised to clear them out. The bushes and trees were very thick round this point which necessarily made progress slow, the enemy evacuating and manning a trench about 30 yards from the wood, before our men could get through we suffered several casualties from a machine gun in the above mentioned trench. An attempt was made about 9 o clock to reorganise the Battalion, as they were considerably mixed up, most of the officers becoming casualties. Lt. Col. DRYSDALE was wounded whilst the Battalion was marching to its position in front of MAMETZ WOOD, Captain and Adjutant A. A. ALDWORTH taking command. Captain’s WRIGHT, GIFFORD, Lt’s. BURNETT, HOLLIS, ABBOTT and 2nd Lt’s. NEWTON, GUTTERIDGE and BAIN being all killed before our troops reached the first line. 2nd Lt. PICKERING-CLARKE, SIMPSON and REID also Lt. WAKEFORD were killed in the wood. The wounded officers were Captain A. A. CLARKE, Lt. HOUGHTON and 2nd Lt’s. THOMPSON, WEBB and ORRIT-NICHOL. Our total casualties were 18 officers and 535 men killed and wounded. Our men along with the 9th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT manned the trenches at the edge of the wood and remained there until next morning. The night was quick.
BAZENTIN LE PETIT WOOD. By next morning about 100 men answered the roll, so they were sorted out and given a piece of trench about 150 yards along the north side of BAZENTIN to PETIT WOOD. About 2.00pm. 40 men were taken up to support the 8th and 9th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT. in a further attack on the north west corner. The troops holding the corner had been obliged to withdraw a few yards as the bombing and rifle grenading from the enemy 90 yards away was becoming intense and there being many casualties. It was believed that the enemy had again reached the corner, but by the time our troops got through, he had retired again to his redoubt. The 40 men were left in the strong point under the 9th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT. until the Battalion was relieved, nothing more of importance happened during the day or night and the enemy guns were quieter.
BAZENTIN LE PETIT WOOD. The day was quick except a few shells on the strong point during the afternoon and evening. The Battalion was relieved by the 10th YORKSHIRE REGT. at 10.00pm. It was raining, and the route was very bad. The enemy was dropping gas shells into MAMETZ WOOD which had no effect except that gas helmets were put on. The Battalion bivouacked for the night near FRICOURT WOOD.
FRICOURT. The day was spent resting, and at 6.00pm the Battalion marched to RIBEMONT arriving about 12 midnight.
RIBEMONT. Billets resting, weather fine.
RIBEMONT. Congratulatory address by Major General DONALD CAMPBELL.
The assault on Bazentin was considered a success, but the cost to the 110th Brigade was immense. Casualties for the 6th Battalion were 527, for the 7th battalion 553, for the 8th Battalion 426, and for the 9th Battalion were 412. The pride of Kitchener's New Army and the flower of the young men of Leicestershire had been decimated in one day. The news was to hit the county of Leicester hard.
Both Leonard Lovat and Arthur Price were killed in action on the 14/7/1916. Initially, Leonard Lovatt was posted as missing and his wife Lydia and her children would have a long and agonising wait before the Army finally confirms Leonard's death. Lydia receives Leonard's personal effects on 10.10.1917: disc, wallet, cap badge and 2 pipes. Leonard's medals are issued in December 1920, by which time time Lydia, with four dependent children, has married Solomon Overton, himeslf a widower.
The news of the “Leicester Tigers” must have reached the recruits to the various battalions of the Leicestershire Regiment yet to be sent to France. Private 21187 Joseph Miller Benn, a twenty six year old single miner of “Grange Cottages, Ibstock”, volunteered on 20th September 1915 at Coalville. He is first posted to, and trains with, the 10th Leicesters. He is posted to the 6th Battalion when sent to France on 16th May 1916. In late May and June the 6th were in trenches near Saulty wjere they are subjected to heavy minnenwerfer and other trench mortar bombs. Similar to the 7th Battalion, the 6th Leicesters mount a small raid on enemy trenches on the 29th June 1916, suffering 7 wounded and one missing while bombing many enemy dugouts. Early in July they moved by train to Méricourt by the 10th and from there marched to Fricourt on the 11th preparing for the attck on Bazentin. Joseph is wounded in the hand around the time of the attack on Bazentin and spends several months recovering in the UK. Returning to France some time after October 1916, he then joins the 7th Battalion.
Private 25635 Frank Gray, is single and 21 years old when he volunteers on 10/12/1915 at Coalville. He gives an address of “3 Reform Road, Ibstock”, his stated trade is “scavenger” and his mother Jane as his next of kin. Frank Gray remains on reserve until 29 Feb 1916. He is posted to the 3rd Leicesters on 2nd March 1916 where he remains until sent to France, embarking Folkestone on 17/8/1916. It's just over two years since war was declared and the battle of the Somme has entered it's sixth week. He is initially posted to the 6th Leicesters on arrival in Calais, but after spendng some time at the 12th Infantry Battalion Depot, he is posted to the 9th Leicesters on the 7th September and joins them in the field two days later. While Joseph Benn is recovering from wounds back home, Frank Gray is with the 9th Leicesters who have moved from the Somme to the now quiet Arras sector, where they stay until the end of the month as the battalion is brought up to strength with new drafts after its losses at Bazentin. Between 24th and 30th of September the whole 110th Brigade is involved on the attack on Guedecourt. Casaulties are heavy, and it is where John W gray of Ibstock is shot through both thighs. In early October the 9th Battalion leaves the Somme and by end of the month is at Vermelles.
Around this time Joseph Benn is back in France and now with the 7th Battalion who are in the Hohenzollern sector where they remain until March 1917. By April they are at Croisilles were the retiring enemy begin to be pressed. On 3rd May the 110th Infantry Brigade attacked Fontaine les Croisilles. The 7th Battalion are at Moyeneville.in June and Adinfer wood in July. The spend time out of the line before being moved to the Ypres Salient where the action at Polygon Wood takes palce on 1st October 1917. It not a full year since Joseph Benn returned to the Front, and some time during this desperate day of fighting he was killed in action. It's the day after that John W Gray of Ibstock is exposed to mustard gas, never to recover. In order to receive Joseph's plaque and scroll, his parents Frederick and Emma Benn complete Army Form W.5080 on 27th August 1919.
Frank Gray was also at Polygon Wood, and is now the one survivor of the four. The 9th Leicesters remain in trenches at Polygon Wood until the 10th and then move to Scottish Wood. The battalion remains either in trenches, support or reserve in this sector until early 1918. News comes that the 9th is to be disbanded as Brigades are reduced from four to three battalions. Frank Gray is transferred to the 7th Leicester on 13th Feb 1918.
On March 21st the Germans launch their Spring Offensive. The 9th Leicester were in trenches and outposts at Peiziere. Their war dairy vividly describes the events of the next days:
Diary of Operations between 21st March 1918 inclusive
At 4.30am. the enemy put down a heavy barrage gas shell bombardment of phosgene and mustard gas on the whole Battalion area and on the gas position in rear. This gradually developed into heavy concentrations of high explosive and shrapnel on the whole of our defences. The bombardment lasted until about 9.30am. Most of the wire in front of our position front line was destroyed but the wire in front of FIR SUPPORT and the RED LINE was left nearly intact under cover of a very thick mist combined with smoke and dust from bursting shells the enemy was able to cross ‘no mans land’ without being observed. About 9.30am the enemy entered PLANE TRENCH and 2nd Lt. JAREY who was officer commanding of the observation party left in that trench had only just time to give the S.O.S. signal before the enemy reached him. 10.00am. The enemy had apparently broken through the front lines of the Battalion on our left and at this hour small parties attacked the northern post MCPHEE and PEIZIERE and got into the RAILWAY CUTTING behind the RED LINE. The detached position of MCPHEE POST was captured about 6 men taken prisoners. At about this hour “C” Company and the Tank were ordered to counter attack and clear PEIZIERE up to the RAILWAY CUTTING. The Tanks proceeded round the northern end of the village and “C” Company by the two roads running north east and east from MCLEAN POST. The village was easily cleared. The enemy retiring from the village and cutting on the approach of the Tanks. One of the men taken prisoner in MCPHEE POST rejoined the Battalion. 11.00am. On receipt of information that the village was clear “C” Company and the Tanks were withdrawn to their original positions. During the whole of the day the enemy made many futile attacks from the north east on the FIR SUPPORT and the RED LINE attempting to bomb down the latter from new SQUASH TRENCH which he had entered early in the attack. The defence of FIR SUPPORT was conducted by 2nd Lt. WRIGHT with about 20 men against numerous bombing attacks in one of which flammenwerfer were used but these were stopped on our wire by rifle fire and the cylinders catching alight the enemy were burnt with there own weapons. Good work was done by the whole of this platoon and particularly by Pte. HICKIN who on 2 or 3 occasions walked along the parapet firing a Lewis gun from his hip at the enemy concentrating in the trenches on the flanks. Pte. HICKIN was eventually killed in making one of these attacks. This platoon held out until dark when with only 6 men left it was ordered to fall back on the RED LINE. In the afternoon the enemy could be seen massing just south of VAUCELLETTE FARM and in LINNET and THRUSH VALLEYS and the large bodies were advancing up ANDREW STREET and LEITH WALK. 5.00pm. The two Tanks were ordered up to the bridge and scattered the enemy massing in ANDREW STREET. 6.00pm. The enemy continued to make progress southwards from VAUCELLETTE FARM and small parties were getting into PEIZIERE. The counter attack Company and the two Tanks were ordered to clear the village. The Tanks and two platoons moving round the northern outskirts and 2 platoons by road running north east from MCLEAN POST. The village was cleared by 8.00pm. and 5 prisoners sent back. As the left flank of the RED LINE seemed insecure 2 platoons from the counter attack Company were ordered to make a defensive flank facing north from the RAILWAY CUTTING to MCPHEE POST this flank was prolonged by a party of 1 officer and 14 other ranks from Battalion HQ. which occupied a trench at the junction of the sunken road just north of Battalion HQ. the remainder of the counter attack Company concentrated at MCLEAN POST. Battalion HQ. was established in YELLOW LINE. The enemy did not attack during the night. Touch was kept the whole of the day with the 8th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT. on our right, but there was a serious gap on the left until about 12 midnight when connection was obtained with the 15th DURHAM LIGHT INFANTRY on our left in the YELLOW LINE.
During the night the enemy rushed forward his field and heavy guns and in the early morning he opened an intense bombardment of the RED LINE, PEIZIERE and the YELLOW LINE, under a heavy barrage he attacked the RED LINE but was driven off. 10.00am. About this hour news was received that the enemy had captured ST. EMILIE and the southern edge of EPEHY and the 8th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT. had been ordered to form a defensive flank on the EPEHY – SAULCOURT ROAD, to combine with this and to cover the right rear of PEIZIERE a second defensive flank facing south was made with every available man from Battalion HQ between YELLOW SUPPORT LINE and CHAUFOURS WOOD. 11.00am. As it was seen that the enemy were entering EPEHY in force from the south the two Tanks were ordered forward to check his advance and if possible clear EPEHY. The enemy retired on seeing their approach, and they report having inflicted heavy casualties. Unfortunately they were running short of petrol and as the engines required repairs they were unable to proceed further and attempting to withdraw to SAULCOURT both were knocked out. 12.00 noon. About this hour orders were received to withdraw the Battalion behind to BROWN LINE and concentrate at LONGAVENES. 12.15pm. Orders were issued for the withdrawal, up to this hour Captain VANNER M.C. was still holding the RED LINE and driving off every attack made on it. After the withdrawal of his Company he waited to superintend the demolition of both bridges over the cutting. This was successfully carried out. The withdrawal of the Battalion and the extrication of the posts in PEIZIERE was a matter of some difficulty as by the time of the receipt of the order by the Companies the enemy was in occupation of EPEHY and firing in from the north. The withdrawal was made under heavy machine gun fire from the south east and north east and a considerable number of casualties were incurred during it. 3.30pm. Battalion reorganised in valley just north of LONGAVESNES and received orders to march to AIZECOURT LE HAUT. 6.00pm. Battalion arrived and went into camp. Men had a hot meal.
12.00 midnight. Orders received for the Battalion to occupy a position in GREEN LINE. 1.00am. The Battalion marched off and took up positions in GREEN LINE east and north east of EPINETTE WOOD. The Battalion was in position by 4.30am. 7.00am. About this hour the enemy commenced a heavy bombardment of the position occupied by the Battalion, our artillery also fired, short dropping a considerable number of shells into the GREEN LINE. As this line was only 1 foot deep a good many casualties were caused by the bombardment. 9.00am. The enemy attacked from the south east and penetrated between CURLU WOOD and EPINETTE WOOD. Our line was accordingly drawn back to the PERONNE – NURLU ROAD. This position was held for about two hours, heavy casualties being inflicted on the enemy. At this time the left flank was in touch with the 9th Division along the road and the right flank with the NORTHUMBERLAND FUSILIERS PIONEERS but with rather a large gap on the flank. 10.30am. Orders received to withdraw to MIDENETTE LINE. 11.00am. Withdrawal commenced from left flank which had the further distance to go. The line was occupied without serious interference by the enemy with right flank about 500 yards off the aerodrome sheds. 1.00pm. About this hour the enemy commenced working round the right flank and got several machine guns in position north of the aerodrome sheds which enfiladed our line. The line was withdrawn down the hill south of MOISLAINS under heavy machine gun and rifle fire. A short stand was made on the canal bank and continued to the high ground north west of HAUT ALLAINES. At this time there was a considerable gap on the left flank, touch being lost with 9th Division. The position above HAUT ALLAINES was held till dark without serious opposition. 7.00pm. Orders received to occupy the high ground west of BOIS MARRIERS. 8.00pm. New line occupied with NORTHUMBERLAND FUSILIERS PIONEERS on the right and some of the SOUTH AFRICAN Brigade on the left. The night passed without any attack by the enemy.
The night passed without any attack by the enemy. The early morning was quiet. 9.00am. Large forces of the enemy was seen advancing up the valley between the position occupied by the Brigade and CLERY. These were engaged by rifle and light gun fire and a considerable number of casualties inflicted as the enemy continued his advance on the high ground. Our right flank of the Battalion was ordered to withdraw to the ridges south of LE FOREST WOOD and from there to the high ground south east of MAUREPAS. 1.00pm. Here orders were received from the General Officer Commanding 35th Division to cover with fire the advance of 2 Battalion’s of reinforcement who were approaching from the south west. This was done. Subsequently owing to a gap on the left flank the Battalion was withdrawn to the high ground south west of MAREPAS. 4.00pm. About this hour the line occupied by the Battalion was taken over by the 15th SHERWOOD FORESTERS (35th Division) and the Battalion was withdrawn through MARICOURT to SUZANNE. After reorganisation the night of the 24th/25th was spent in billets in SUZANNE.
Lt CARNLEY’S Company were withdrawn to HEILLY in support of 3rd AUSTRALIAN DIVISION. There they remained till the evening of the 30th when they were relieved by part of the 106th Brigade and marched to FRECHENCOURT. On the 31st they marched to ALLONVILLE and rejoined the Battalion.
Frank Gray was killed in action on 22nd March 1918 as the Battalion withdrew under heavy machine gun fire. He was initially posted as missing. It was Frank's mother Jane who, eighteen months later, took the Army Form W.5080 to the Ibstock Vicarage on the 4th September 1919 to be countersigned so she could receive Frank's plaque and scroll. Frank was Jane's only son.
George Burton and George Sharpe were not the only men on the Ibstock war memorial to have started their Army life with one of the Leicester TF battalions before being transferred. Men who had trained with and fully expected to join one of their County's TF battalions were diverted on arrival in France to a unit they had no previous connections with.
John William Steel was just 18 years old when he attended his medical at the Glen Parva barracks on 6th March 1917, it was to be another seven months before he was called up on the 29th November 1917. Unlike many others on the Ibstock memorial, John was not miner but a plumber and painter by trade. His father George Steel had established the family business, which was run from 55& 57, Hight Street, Ibstock and advertised his house maintenance services in the Kelly directory and elsewhere. No doubt George Steel had hopes his two sons John and Henry would stay in the business in future years. But now he saw his eldest son conscripted, while young Henry stayed at home.
On completion of training, private 46057 Steel embarks on the 4 April 1918 for France. Within a day John Steel and others from the same draft are transferred to the 9th Norfolks and renumbered. John becomes private 41413. Leonard Maurice Newman from nearby Coalville becomes private 41420.
It's a time for crisis for the Allies, the enemy's hammer blows of the spring offensive on the Somme in March have come close to breaking through. On 9th April the Gremans switch to Flanders and launch operation “Georgette” attacking the British between Givenchy and Armentières and a thrust across the valley of the River Lys, towards the important railway centre of Hazebrouck, followed by a second attack, further north, in the direction of Messines. The situation deteriorates on 11 April, with the abandonment of Messines Ridge and enemy infantry pouring across the Lys to within five miles of Hazebrouck. Sir Douglas Haig issues his ‘Backs to the Wall’ special Order of the Day. As Ypres is threatened, Plumer decides to withdraw the British lines almost to the ramparts on the 14th Arpil. The defence is pushed back but not broken and gradually shored up by the feeding in of reserves. In the centre the enemy were threatening Bailleul, important for use as the home of headquarters, medical units, billets, etc, and with an RFC aerodrome just outside the town.
By the 15th april the 9th Norfolks and come under the temporary command of the 1st Leicesters, both part for the 71st Brigade of the 6th Division. The 9th Norfolks had already lost heavily in their rear guard action in the earlier 21st March enemy offensive, the draft of men originally destined for the 1/4th Leicsters had helped to bring them up to strength. On the 15th April with no previous combat experience and with only just over a week in the field, soldiers like John Steel of Ibstock and Leonard Newman of Coalville found themselves manning the front line and trying to stem the tide close to Crucifix corner, near Dranoute . The war dairy entry says:
“Next day D and A companies were in front line, C in support and B in reserve Arrangements had been made for C to counter attack if necessary but it's losses owing to the continuous heavy bombardment commencing at noon on the 15th necessitated B taking it's place as the counter attack force. At 2.30pm on the 15th the enemy advanced and by 3pm had gained a foothold in the front trenches. From these he was once again driven out by B company. Although B held the line and formed a defensive flank they were eventually themselves driven out due to their exposed position.
Line was then formed along the railway with the 1st Leicesters on their left at Clapham Junction. At 10.30pm they were moved back behind Mt Kemmel before being pulled out of line on the 18th.”
Total casualties are 2 Officers and 108 other ranks, and many more wounded.
Both John Steel and Leonard Newman are posted missing on 15.4.1918 along with most of the others. On December 9th 1918 John 's Mother writes a plaintive letter asking for news of her son. But it is an agonising year before the Army finally notifies them on 8.5.1919 that he was killed in action. The truth is they were almost certainly dead on the 15.4.1918, but the advancing enemy prevented the recovery of bodies. Out the total of 110 lives lost only 4 have known graves. Perhaps they are buried together in in some unmarked place never to be found. John William Steel's name was added to the thousand of others on the Tyne Cot memorial, along with Leonard Maurice Newman from nearby Coalville who had died on the same day in 1918.
Young John William Gray, a miner, was another Ibstock man who had volunteered to join the TF. In John's case he had taken a medical on the 17th May 1915 at Coalville and his papers were countersigned at Loughborough on 18th May 1915, the date his service reckons from. Nineteen year old John W Gray was now private 4265 of the 3rd/5th Leicesters. With the shortage of uniforms and equipment suffered by TF reserve units, John is given a khaki armlet on 19th December 1915.
For whatever reason, he remains in the UK for a year and 101 days. John finally embarks for France in the heat of the summer on 27th August 1916, bound for the 1st/5th Leicesters. On arrival in France he is immediately transferred to the 8th Battalion of the Leicesters and is given the new regimental number 40219, joining them in the field on the 2nd September 1916. John would not have felt out of place as his new battalion was part of the “Leicester Tigers Brigade” consisting of the 6th, 7th, 8th and 9th Liecesters. But he was soon to experience the full ferocity of the Somme battle.
September 15th is regarded as the beginning of the third phase of the Battle of the Somme. It was a day of progress with the British advancing on a six mile front to a depth of 2,000 to 3,000 yards. Flers, Martinpuich, Courcelette and High Wood were all captured and tanks made their first ever appearance in battle. But here was no breakthrough, and heavy casualties were sustained. The next major assault was to be on Lesboeufs and Morval. Bad weather delayed operations from the 23rd to 25th September when the assault took place. The preliminary bombardment began at 7am on 24 September; the assault troops waiting in muddy ‘jumping-off’ trenches early next morning witnessed a barrage of unprecedented destructive power on German positions, which intensified just before zero hour. At 12.35pm on 25 September, as the creeping barrage pounded down on No Man’s Land, the infantry advanced.
These were the scenes that John W Gray of Ibstock would have witnessed as his battalion was just one of many assembled for the attack that day. Events are described in the war dairy:
“8th Battalion: 24 - 30/9/16
East of TRONES WOOD. About 7.00pm on the 24th the Battalion marched up to take a position prior to making an attack the next day. Before they reached the position the enemy heavily shelled our men, several casualties resulting. At 12.30pm on the 25th the first attack was launched, the 8th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT being in a position on the right of FLERS. The objective was the first German line, a distance of about a 1000 yards from the trench from which the Battalion launched the attack. The attack was made in waves, each platoon forming a wave, and 2 waves going over at a time. The attack was launched with splendid heroism, the first objective was gained in about ¾ of an hour, the men then stopped a short time to consolidate their gain, and to allow the artillery barrage to lift. They then pressed on to their second objective which was the village of GUEDECOURT. By the time they reached the village their ranks were sadly thinner, by the tremendous artillery barrage the enemy put up, and by machine guns which wrought terrible havoc. Never the less with dauntless gallantry they pressed on reaching the village and engaging the enemy in hand to hand fighting, which took place all the night. In the morning the 7th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT relieved the 8th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT in the village, and the enemy were finally driven out. The 8th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT were brought back to the second line of trenches, where they were relieved by the 6th LEICESTERSHIRE REGT on the 28th. They then went back to SWISS TRENCH where they remained until relieved on the night of October 1st.”
Just how far John advanced on that warm cloudless day is hard to tell, and whether he even saw the enemy is doubtful. He was struck by a bullet that passed through the top of both thighs, at one of the machine gunners favoured heights. He was one of the many 8th Battalion men to have been mowed down. Just how long it was before aid and the stretcher bearers reached him is unknown, but he was passed down the evacuation chain to no.6 General Hospital Rouen, from where he was returned to England on 28/9/16. John's war had so far lasted just over 30 days.
Many other Leicester men would never be going home. On the long casualty list that day are several men who had been transferred to the 8th battalion along with John William Gary, including: Private 40217 William Bloxham from Hinckley; Private 40163 William Cooke from Whitwick and Private 40181 Sidney Musson from Burbage.
It is nine months before John recovers from his wounds and is fit enough to return to duty. On 10.6.1917 he is sent back to France, embarking from Folkestone. He spends several days at the 12 IBD Calais where once again he is transferred to a new battalion and joins the 9th Leicesters on 18.7.1917.
The 110th Brigade went into divisional reserve in July 1917, but remained in the Tunnel Sector, battalions taking turns in the front line until the beginning of September. No major attacks were carried out, but casualties continued to be sustained, mainly due to shellfire. Early in September 1917, the 21st Division entrained and once again headed north for the Ypres Salient.
This would be John's first experience of Flanders, where the third battle of Ypres had been in progress since Tuesday 31st July 1917 and was fought in some of the worse conditions of the entire war. On day 57 of the battle, Monday 1st October 1917, the 8th and 9th Leicesters were holding the brigade front east of Polygon wood. At 5.25am the enemy put down a heavy barrage on the front company and Polygon Wood, the first wave attacks through a smoke screen. Two waves are driven off by lewis gun and rifle fire, but the 9th battalion's right flank is threatened. At 5.40am 2 platoons of “D” Company under Lt. Col. P. E. BENT D.S.O. and “B” Company under Lt. BURN immediately counter attacked the enemy. The counter attack was successful and drove enemy from our front but Lt. Col. BENT who lead the charge with a cry of “come on the Tigers”, is killed. He is posthumously awarded the VC for his actions. The enemy shelling in POLYGON WOOD is extremely heavy, causing many casualties. Remnants of the 7th Leicesters arrive as reinforcements around 9.30am and the line is held against further enemy advances. The Leicesters attempt to consolidate and improve their position throughout the afternoon when all movement is subject to sniper and machine gun fire. Enemy shelling increases again at 1.15pm and later at 5.30pm. In response to an SOS at 7.00pm and 11.00pm any threat is broken by a barrage. The night passes comparatively quietly.
This must have been one of the most traumatic day's of John Gray's life. Whose to say if he was one of those in that heroic charge, but in the relative claim of the following day disaster strikes and John is exposed to mustard gas. There is no report of gas shelling, it was either a stray or perhaps with his nerves shredded and in an exhausted state John falls on contaminated ground. (All reference in his papers are to wounding by gas shell). His comrades would have done their best to dress his wounds, but his badly effected with burns and he is blinded by the severe blistering of his eyes. At least there is a lull in the fighting for the 9th battalion who are relieved on the night of the 3rd October 1917. John is passed from Field Ambulance to 17 CCS on the 2nd and is transported to no. 5 General Hospital at Rouen by the 4th October. It is two weeks until John is able to be evacuated to the UK on the 14th October 1917.
While it may not have been an outright killer, even tiny amounts of mustard gas penetrating clothing and masks would cause agonisingly painful injuries. If inhaled, things could be very much worse.
On 20.10.1917 John Gray is admitted to the 2nd Western General Hospital which had sections scattered at numerous Manchester locations. There he is recorded as being gassed on 1st October 1917, contradicting his B.103 entries. John is hospitalised for over six months, during which time he develops bronchitis on 18.12.1917. His eyesight recovers, and his burns heal, he is discharged class II for gradual exercise on 16.5.1918, but John still complains of head and eye pain. In just over a week John is re-admitted to the more local 5th Northern General Hospital at Pretoria Rd, Leicester on 24.5.1918. John's heart is failing. After five months it is clear John will never recover and he is discharged from the Hospital and the Army on 8.10.1918 as medically unfit with a Silver War Badge. John dies at home on 20/3/1919 and is buried in the St.Denys Churchyard, Ibstock.
Two other young Ibstock miners, Albert Marlow and Arthur Ottey, had first served in the 1st/5th Leicesters before being transferred. Their papers have not survived, but their original Army numbers, 4087 and 4195, fall within range of those men who are known to have volunteered in late March to early May of 1915. As their enlistments took place at Loughborough, home of the 5th Leicestershire TF battalion, they are likely to have first been posted to the 3rd/5th Leicesters before being transferred to the 1/5th when sent to France on 28.10.1915. They were in in the same draft of men as George Sidney Bott, whose name is also on the Ibstock memorial, and many others from places like Heather, Coalville, Whitwick, Measham and Hugglescote.
Neither man is named in the history of the 1/5th Leicesters and without service papers it is not possible to say with accuracy what happened to them. But Albert Marlow was posted to the Labour Corps as private 439778 sometime between October 1917 and January 1918. After its formation in January 1917, soldiers who had recovered from wounds, injury or illness but were no longer classed A1 often found themselves posted to the Labour Corps. Whether it's Albert Marlow's health that finally breaks down or his is wounded again isn't known. He is recorded as “died at home” on 29/10/1918 and is buried at the Pretoria Road Cemetery in Ibstock.
Arthur Ottey seems still to have been in the 1st/5th at the time territorials were numbered and becomes private 241478. He is later transferred to the 7th Leicesters, part of 110th Brigade. At the time Arthur Ottey is killed on 22.8.1918 their war diary reads:
Q.16.a.3.3. At dawn patrols of “B” and “D” went forward to establish themselves in COMMON LANE and LOGGING SUPPORT supplied by their Companies. The crossing was made at the MILL BRIDGE Q.24.a.5.3. There was a thick ground mist. When over the bridge both Companies came under heavy machine gun fire, holding up operations. Lt. HACKETT was killed. “B” and “D” Companies were withdrawn to west of RIVER ANCRE. A barrage of 105mm and 150mm Howitzers was put down by the enemy during the withdrawal. Both Companies had a few casualties.
Q.16.a.3.3. The whole day was quiet. Companies remained in their positions of the 21st.”
Arthur Ottey has no known grave, and is name appears on panel 5 of the Vis-en-Artois memorial.
For the second time I seem to have found a long standing injustice done to a man whose name appears on the Ibstock memorial. At first, I just accepted that there were two Robert Hollands listed in SDGW and on CWGC amongst the casualties from Ibstock. I was even as blind to think the name appeared twice on the memorial itself while I was busy collating my lists. Of course, when I checked the memorial images the two consecutive names are Robert Holland and Robert Hollard. But that still left me with two candidates for Robert Holland, while Robert Hollard remained a mystery.
It wasn't until the 1911 census became available that the existence of someone of that name in Ibstock could be even verified. But there he was, eighteen years old and born in London, living and working in Ibstock.
My search of service papers had only found one of the two Robert Hollands the CWGC had lead me think died in the war. I could kick myself, but it was only after reviewing some of these papers that what should have been obvious from the start finally hit home.
The solution to the puzzle was simple, the Army had got Robert Hollard's name wrong. He had become Robert Holland to them. The evidence is there for all to see, but who in all these long years has ever bothered to look? On the attestation form Private 21105 had signed his name "Robert Hollard".
Everywhere else, bar one, his name is recorded as Robert Holland. The only other paper were his name could be read as "Robert Hollard" is on the "Effects Form.118" completed by hand from the officer in charge Infantry Records York to Robert's universal legatee Mrs. Polly Iliffe.
It was suggested to me that Robert Hollard may have known and agreed to the Army changing his name. But I find that difficult to believe, particularly as this was a young man who had a bad start in life. Someone who I believe may not have had the education, self-esteem or confidence to challenge authority.
Robert William Hollard's birth was registered in Wandsworth Surrey (long since part of Greater London) in the last quarter of 1892. What was probably his sister Louisa's birth had also been registered in Wandsworth Surrey in the first quarter of 1890. In the 1901 census, Robert Hollard is found as a pauper inmate in the North Surrey District School, Penge.. Robert Hollard had either been abandoned or given up by a mother who was destitute.
He had attested on 1st December 1915 at Coalville, giving his address as 124,Hight Street Ibstock. On Robert Hollard's "Descriptive Report of Enlistment" the NOK entry reads " Ellen Holland, address unknown, mother". In fact, Robert's universal legatee is his landlady Mrs. Polly Iliffe of 124, High Street Ibstock. It is Polly Iliffe who fills in the Army Form W5080 in order to receive Robert's plaque and scroll. For relationship she writes on the form, "Landlady" and adds "the only home he knew". It is counter-signed by the rector of Ibstock on 1st April 1922 over five years after Robert Hollard had been killed in action on 23 October 1916.
Not only is Robert's surname incorrect in the CWGC register but on his gravestone too. The CWGC would rightly say their records are based on the name his was known by in the Army. My contention is that this all derived from a clerical error, which for whatever reason has never been challenged.
I passed the case to Terry Denham recently and hope one day that the CWGC will agree to the honour the Wandsworth pauper who had found some kind of home in Ibstock by his right name.
Most of the territorials on the Ibstock memorial served in the 46th (North Midland) Division, but two others found themselves in the 1st/1st battalion of the Cambridgeshire Regiment. For nineteen year old George Burton and twenty four year old George Sharpe the war was to be short and intense.
Burton and Sharpe were just two of a group of miners from Ibstock, and its surroundings, who were processed at Leicester's Market Place recruiting office in March and April of 1918. Harry Harrison and John Luther King, both from Ibstock, along with Edwin Johnson from Ellistown had all joined on 13/04/1918. While George William Smith of Ibstock joined on the 15/4/1918, and there were others from Hugglescote, Whitwick, Measham and Coalville. They were all posted to the 3rd Leicesters at Halsham and had soon entered basic training.
It's a time of crisis for the Allies on the Western Front and Burton and Sharpe must have wondered if the war might be over and lost before they ever set foot in France. As their training nears completion influenza becomes a problem at the camp, and at least three of this group are hospitalised for a week before returning to duty. In the second week of August 1918 news comes of their eminent departure to France and in a last taste for freedom individually, or in small groups, several overstay their passes on 14/8/1918. Three days later they had arrived at the South Coast ready to embark from Dover on the 17th August 1918. Their first destination in France is the “K” Infantry Battalion Depot.
The tide had begun to turn on the Western Front and the enemy was once again retreating to the Hindenburg Line. The mood had changed to cautious optimism, could the end of the war really be in sight? In the fluid situation this large draft of men from the Leicesters found themselves transferred to 1/1st Cambridgeshire, a battalion that had suffered high casualties in its advance from Morlancourt to the Maltz Horn Ridge on the Somme in early August. Within a week of arriving in France all the Liecester men were renumbered on the 24.8.1918 and they had joined their new battalion in the field just five days later on 29/8/1918.
Burton and Sharpe and the others would never experience some of the worst horrors of the trenches, the Army's organisation, tactics and all-arms cooperation and evolved and improved by 1918, but the enemy's machine guns and artillery were still capable of inflicting serious losses amongst troops on the offensive.
Within just six days of joining the 1/1st Cambridgeshire, and with no prior combat experience, Burton, Sharpe and all the others, were to be in the thick of battle. The 12th Division had been given the task of attacking the enemy trenches and positions around Nurlu Village. Zero hour was 6.45 am on the 5th September and the attack was launched with two brigades. There was strong resistance and formidable wire, after the Sussexs and Norfolks were unable to get through the obstacles the 12th Division's history says:
“The Cambridgeshire carried on the attack. “B” company, struggling forward under Lieutenant Nock, reached to within a 100 yards of Nurlu Village, where the machine gun fire became so severe that all were killed or wounded. “A” company and “D” company, reaching the ridge consolidated there.”
The fighting lasted more that than 24hrs before the position was carried. Amongst the long list of casualties is William Hunt from Ibstock who is wounded in the leg and is evacuted to the UK three days later. His war is over. George Sharpe is one of the many killed in action that day. He is buried at III. M. 37. Peronne Communal Cemetery Extension with many other 1/1st Cambridgeshire men, including Second Lieutenant George Goodwin Rudgard Nock at V. M. 3 who had been gazetted on 28 March 1917 and first attached to the Suffolk Regiment.
The pursuit of the enemy continued for several miles until on the 8th September when fire from the Epehy area caused troops to dig in. It's then that the 1/1st Cambridgeshire were relieved. There was only a short respite before the 12th Division was to attack Epehy, a strong outpost of the Hindenburg Line. Troops from three brigades are used, with the 1/1st Cambridgeshire for the capture of Epehy itself. In heavy rain, and harassed by fire and gas shells, the troops assembled for attack on 18th September. After heavy fighting the southern end of Epehy was taken by the Norfolk and Essex. The Cambridgeshire was then order to make a fresh advance through the village. The 12th Division's history says:
“The battalion suffered heavily, as many of the enemy were still amongst the ruins, and “A” Company last all its officers: Sergeant R.C.Reeves taking command of the remnants of his company, succeeded in passing through.. “C” and “D” companies aslo reached the other side, taking prisoners on the way.”
Enemy strongholds at nearby Malassise Farm and Fishers Keep held on stubbornly and caused heavy casualties but gradually resistance was overcome. Over the next few days further attacks were made against heavily defended posts and trenches; fighting was intense and progress slow.
George Burton is just one of many casualties in this attack, he was killed in action on the 18/9/1918 and is buried at ii.c.18 Epehy Wood Farm Cemetery, Epehy along with many others from the 12th Division.
The 1/1st Cambridgeshire go on to be involved in the Battle of the St Quentin canal and the Final Advance in Artois.
George William Smith of Ibstock is reported missing on 7/10/1918. He was taken prisoner and is repatriated on 3/12/1918. The other survivors are promptly released from the Army in December 1918 and early January 1919, to return to their jobs in the mines.
Four men on the Ibstock war memorial served in the Staffordshire territorials: Arthur Allen as private 202032, 1st/6th Staffordshire Bn.; George Cooper as private 202036, 1st/5th Staffordshire Bn.; Walter Fowkes as as private 241855, 1st/6th Staffordshire Bn. and Bertram Redshaw as private 202030, 1st/5th Staffordshire Bn.
There are no service papers for these men, but they were in the army long enough to be renumbered in early 1917, and as their medal index cards are without dates or the award of a “pip” it makes them probable 1916 entrants to the war. Arthur Allen's army number belongs to the 1st/5th North Staffs, it's not known when he was transferred, but it most likey to have been in early 1918, when 1st/5th was disbanded.
The service papers of other men in the same battalions with numbers close to the Ibstock four are equally elusive. Only a handful can be found, but sufficient to say it's likely that Allen, Cooper and Redshaw all joined at the same time at Leicester's main recruitment office, possibly on 7th March 1916. They would have joined the 3rd/5th North Staffs which had become the training home of new recruits. It was nicknamed “Blizzard's Battalion” in the local press after it's commanding officer Lt.Col. A. E. Blizzard who had imposed his personality on the battalion's recruiting campaign from the outset in March 1915.
Walter Fowkes may also have accompanied Arthur Allen and the others to Leicester, as private 241846 Hickson is known to have joined the 3rd/6th on the 7th March 1916. There might not have been other Ibstock men joining the same battalion with Walter, but in the queue were: Edwin Miles, private 214848, from Leicester; Ernest Gee, private 241850, from Coalville; John Marsh, private 241852, from Coalville; Walter Mear, private 241857, from Atherstone and James Staniforth, private 241858, from Sileby. Along with Walter, all these men would start in the 3rd/6th North Staffords.
There is no information to tell us precisely when this Ibstock four were sent to France or joined their respective battalions at the front, but others provide a guide. Private 202040 Flavell of the 1st/5th North Staffs was sent on 12/7/1916 and private 202066 Pegg on the 15/7/1916. Private 241841 Bartram of the 1st/6th North Staffs embarks Southampton bound for Rouen on 16.6.1916 and joins his unit on 29.6.1916. Private 241846 Hickson embarks 25.6.1916 and joins the 1st/6th on 5/7/1916.
We can't know if Allen, Cooper and Redshaw stayed together as a group once at the front, or whether they caught even a glimpse of one another from that point. Similarly did Walter Fowkes remain in the company of the men he had rubbed shoulders with back in March, or was that the last he saw of them?
You wonder what news and rumours of the “big push” reached the ears of the Ibstock four as they made their way to the front, success or disaster? For the likes of Allen, Cooper and Redshaw who joined their units in the second or third week of July the evidence of the “butcher's bill” must have been obvious, the stench of death would have filled the air. The 1st/5th North Staffordshire had not suffered as greatly as others at Gommecourt on the 1st of July, but Allen, Cooper and Redshaw would have joined a battalion in sombre mood. Their job was to fit in as quickly as possible, it was sink or swim, live or die.
For Walter Fowkes the story could have been even worse, if Pte. 241841 Bartram joins the1st/6th on the very eve of 1st July at Gommecourt, why not Walter too? The stark fact is raw recruits from this draft must have been thrown into the 1st/6th North Staffordshire's attack. Why else was private 241848 (5134) Edwin Miles posting missing on 1st July 1916?
Both North Staffordshire TF battalions were at Gommecourt until December 1916. A period characterized by rotation between front line trench duty, relief, being in reserve and at rest. While the further south the battle of the Somme ground on, the North Staffs were involved in no more large scale actions. Patrols continued and before the weather deteriorated a number of trench raids were made.
During this long spell of trench warfare, " raiding "
becamethe order of the day. Major-GeneralW. Thwaites,
C.B., who had assumed command shortly after the Battle
of Gommecourt, was a keen disciplinarian and a popular
leader. He encouraged,and indeed insisted upon, " raid-
ing " to the utmost, as being the type of warfare best
calculated to improve the offensive spirit of the men.
Many very clever coups were effected during the next
fifteen months. Numerous prisoners were captured
in these raids, which materially assisted the process
of wearing down the enemy moral.
HINDENBURG THE STORY OF LINE THE 46rn (NORTH MIDLAND)DIVISION
BY MAJOR R. E. PRIESTLEY, M.C., R.E.
I am not so sure the other ranks would see nocturnal “raiding” as a way to “improve the offensive spirit”. If any of the Ibstock four found themselves on a raid, it was a duty that needed claim nerves, quick wits and aggression. If you made it across no man's land and into the enemy trenches to kill, wreck and take prisoners without being snuffed out by the enemy, it always carried the risk of becoming isolated and disoriented in the moonscape of shell holes, or even being shot by your own side in the night confusion as you made your way back. This, and sparodic shelling, accounted for a steady flow of casualties in both North Staffs battalions as the winter of 1916-1917 approached, it proved to be one of the coldest in recent memory.
On December 5th the 46th Division relieved the 59th Division in the MONCHY sector, between their former trenches at RANSART on the North, and GOMMECOURT on the South. The rest billets of the 5th North Staffs, were at ST. AMAND or POMMIERS. The trenches were in a terrible state, and in many places had ceased to exist, so that the men had to occupy shell-holes. There was not much fighting, as the Battle of the SOMME had died out at the end of November, and the Germans were attacking ROUMANIA, which had entered into the War in August. It was in these trenches that the 1st/5th spent Christmas Day, 1916, although the day was celebrated on December 28th, when they were at ST. AMAND.
5th North Staffs history p68-69.
As Christmas 1916 passed the winter inactivity was soon replaced by action. By late February 1917 the retirement of the Germans to a new defensive line became common knowledge. It was the 1/4th Leicesters who were first to occupy Gommecourt, while other units consolidated the position in the first few days of March. On March 7th the 137th Brigade had tens days rest, a decision had been made to mount an attack on the trenches at Bucquoy, a few miles east of Gommecourt. Orders were received on the 10th March that the attack was to take place on the night of 13th/14th March, both North Staffordshire TF battalions would be used in the assault on Bucquoy Graben. Like everyone else, the four Ibstock men had just three days to prepare.
Leaving their assembly point at 6pm the battalions slogged 5 miles in pouring rain, through a congested Fonquenvillers that was being shelled, reaching Rossignol wood by nearly 10pm. There was a short halt, when some tea had been carried from stuck cookers to the troops, but without rum. Biez wood was not reached until 12 midnight. The taped jumping off point was about 500 yards from the enemy.
The history of the 5th North Staffs contains a detailed and vivid account of the attack. It seems a familiar story of a rigid artillery timetable, shells falling short, a delay in zero hour, uncut wire and an enemy ready and waiting. Those few who managed to gain a foothold in the enemy trenches were bombed out or overwhelmed. Many failed to get through the third belt of wire and this ill-conceived attack failed at a very high cost to North and South Staffs and to the 91st Infantry Brigade,7 Division. The combined losses of the two North Staffs battalions were 21 officers and 300 other Ranks, with many more wounded. Out of Allen, Cooper, Fowkes and Redshaw, it was Redshaw who was killed that night. The history of the 1st/5th Staffs account ends by saying:
""D" Company on the left, under Captain Wilton, had partly forced their way through, as has also the two Platoons of "B" Company on the left. Captain Wilton, for nearly an hour, although wounded in the stomach, made a most gallant effort to hold the line, but, exposed as he was on the right flank, he and his men were overwhelmed. They must have fought to the last, as, two days later, when the Germans retired, he was found dead surrounded by many of his gallant men. For his bravery, on this and other occasions, he was posthumously awarded the M.C."
5th North Staffs history p84
Private 202030 Bertram Redshaw is buried at A. 19. Rossignol Wood cemetery, Hebuterne and Captain Wilton MC a few paces away at A.4.
By 1st May 1917 the 137th Brigade was in trenches opposite Lens, and had moved to Lievin. Lens was a mining town surrounded by coal-pits, with villages with rows of miners' cottages, known as " Cites." A familiar scene to those from Ibstock, but the dumps and villages here made the fighting difficult. From 24th May to June was a period of constant attacks, counter-attacks and raids. Thinking to take advantage of a weakened enemy a three brigade attack was to launched on 1st July 1917, a disastrous anniversary for the 46th Division. The 137th Brigade was to attack “Cite du Moulin” originally a western suburb of Lens. The 5th North Staffs lead the attack, and the 6th South Staffs, were to follow up with the 6th North Staffs, and 5th South Staffs in reserve. All battalions were below strength because of the constant fighting. Zero hours was 2.47 am, as the attack progressed, both “C” and “D” companies of the 5th became cut off. The history concludes:
"Reinforce-ments were sent up by the 6th North Staffs, and the 5th South Staffs., but,suffering heavy casualties, they could effect nothing. Finally, at 7 p.m., the attempt to relieve the two Companies was abandoned, and the relics of the Battalion were withdrawn. The attack had been a failure, and, as the enemy had fought skilfully and with courage, they were probably a fresh Division.The total casualties of the 46th Division were 50 officers and 1,000 men."
5th North Staffs history p93.
The 46th Division paid a heavy price for High Command's gamble. Among the many dead was Ibstock's George Cooper, and with no known grave, private 202036 G.Cooper is just one of the many thousands of names on the Arras memorial.
The 1st/5th North Staffs, left Lens on July 2nd, 1917, and the 46th Division was removed to rest and recuperate for three weeks. At the beginning of August the Division was moved up to the Line to trenches opposite Hulloch. There may have been no major engagements, but the attrition of trench warfare continued to take its toll. Private 241855 Walter Fowkes is killed in action on 30/9/1917 in what appears to be an isolated incident. He is buried at the large Philosophe British Cemetery, Mazingarbe headstone I.V.43.
Both the 1/5th and 1/6th North Staffs continued with patrols and raids throughout October, November and even December. After attending Church parade, the 1/5th celebrated Christmas 1917 with a football match, a Christmas dinner and a evening concert. Men would have had a chance to catch up with mail and parcels. Arthur Allen may have reflected on being the only survivor out of the Ibstock four and thought about the many friends who perished that year.
As part of the general reduction in Brigade strength from four to three battalions, the 1/5th North Staffs received news on January 29th, 1918 that they were to disbanded. This was a great shock for a battalion that had served in France for the best part of four years and had been in some of the worst fighting. Private 202032 Arthur Allen was amongst the five officers and 184 men sent to the 1st/6th North Staffs. On March 10th the Stafford Brigade was relieved by the Sherwood Brigade, and went into reserve at Mory for eight days. Sometime during this relief Arthur Allen is killed, he is buried at N. 8. Cambrin Military Cemetery.
None of the Ibstock four had lived to savour victory and be part of that iconic photograph taken at Riqueval Bridge after the St.Quentin canal was crossed on 29th September 1918. Nor did any of those men who had joined with Walter Fowkes at Leicetser back in March 1916.
Private 241850 Ernest Gee from Coalville was KIA on 14.6.1916 at Gommecourt, probably within days of joining his unit at the front.
Privates 241852 John Marsh from Coalville, 241857 Walter Mear from Atherstone and 241858 James Staniforth from Sileby were all killed in a single day on 24.5.1917 in an attack on Nash Trench at Lens.
Over a year before Albert Mattley enlisted, both Bertie Farmer and Harry Partner had volunteered at Leicester and had been first posted to the 2nd/4th Leicesters. Their time in the second-line territorials was short as both were sent to France in a draft of reinforcements to the 1st/4th Leicesters.
Pte. Harry Partner's original army number was 3559, and Cpl. Bertie Farmer's was 3561. Close enough to make you think they were recruited together, but such are the vagaries of army numbering that it turns out that Bertie Farmer was the first to volunteer on 16/11/1914 at Leicester, while Harry Partner was to volunteer a week later on 23/11/1914, again at Leicester. Both men were transferred to the 1st/4th on 15th August 1915, just over a year since war had been declared, and in preparation for embarkation at Southampton on 19/08/1915, landing at Rouen on the 20th.
Bertie Farmer, a miner, gave his address as Battram Road in Ellistown when he volunteered, while his parental home was in Bagworth. Harry Partner, also a miner, gave his address as 6 Battram Road Ellistown, his family home. It's hard not to conclude they worked together and could have been good friends. I wonder if Bertie Farmer's decision to volunteer had finally persuaded Harry to do the same, hoping they might serve in the same unit, if not even the same section.
The history of the 1st/4th Leicesters is described in the book, “Footprints of the 1/4th Leicestershire Regiment: August 1914 to November 1918, by (Captain) John Milne”. Their disposition in the long years of the Great War mirrors that of the 1st/5th Leicesters, being in the same 138th Brigade.
Farmer and Partner were to join a battalion that had been thoroughly bloodied in the Ypres Salient and after a short breather at the end of September 1915 were to move south with the rumours of a battle to come. Their destination was Hohenzollern. The events of the 13th October 1915 are well documented elsewhere and the bland report in the War diary belies the scale of suffering:
At noon our artillery started to bombard. At 1.00pm our smoke and gas
started. At 1.50pm smoke and gas stopped. At 2.00pm artillery lifted and Battn assaulted the HOHENZOLLERN REDOUBT. Lt Col R. E.MARTIN was wounded early but remained in the fire trench directing operations for nearly 24 hours and until -?- to the dressing station by BrigGen KEMP. All officers of the Battn either killed or wounded. The War Diary entry for the following day the 14th October records. In theevening the Battn was relieved by part of the 139th Bde and went back to the LANCASHIRE TRENCH. Roll call revealed that 188 NCO’s and men returned. The Official History of the War – Military Operations (France and Belgium 1915 Volume II) provided the following statistics forthe 1st/4th Battn Leicestershire Regiment, officers killed 20, other ranks killed 453. Total losses for the day were 138th Bde 64 officers and 1,476other ranks. 137th Bde 68 officers and 1,478 other ranks.
The fact that both Bertie Farmer and Harry Partner were still alive after this seems remarkable. But while only fragments of Harry's service papers exist, there are more pages for Bertie Farmer and they offer an explanation. It was Bertie Farmer's good fortune to have been attached to the “no.9 Entrench Bn.” on 16/9/1915 and he did not rejoin the 4th Leicester until 15/10/1915, just a matter of days after the assault on the Hohenzollern Redoubt. Possibly Harry Partner was in the same position.
The 1st/4th Leicester were in sore need of reconstruction after this and the rumours of a move to Egypt via Marseilles which came at the end of 1915 must have been seen as a chance to escape the misery of the Western Front. But a last minute change of plans meant the 1st/4th Leicester were to remain in France after all.
Bertie Farmer gets his first promotion to L/Cpl on 5/02/1916. From early February to early May in 1916 the 4th Leicesters were opposite Vimy Ridge before moving to Monchy au Bois and then the Gommecourt sector in preparation for the 1st of July assault. The 4th Leicesters were to remain in reserve that day, while other battalions in the 46th Division were to suffer badly. This is not the place to re-tell this story, Alan MacDonald's website and books are what you should look at. The 4th Leicester movements on the Somme between July and November 1916 can be summarised as:
In reserve during attack at Gommecourt (1/7). Moved up from St. Amand and by 10pm located in Midland Trench behind Foncquevillers. To Hannescamps sector (2/7), from Halloy to Bouquemaison (31/10), Noeux (1/11), Oneux (2/11), Drucat (3/11), Domvast (8/11), Drucat (11/11).
Bertie Farmer is out of the line for two weeks suffering with scabies in the summer of 1916. During the the long year of 1917 the 4th Leicesters were to return to Gommecourt, move to Lens, then St.Elei and finally Cambrin. In this year Bertie Farmer is awarded a good conduct badge on 2nd January, and just over twelve months after being on the Somme he gets 10 days leave on 13.8.1917, it was his last chance to go home.
You might think the year ends well for Bertie Farmer as he is promoted full Corporal on 7th November 1917, but sickness strikes again and at Christmas he passes down the evacuation chain from RMFA to CCS and finally to no.14 GH on the coast at Wimereux. After a matter of a few days he is moved a little down the coast to Boulonge and no.3 rest camp. With fresher air in his lugs and perhaps even a glimpse the Channel, there was brief chance to blot from his mind all that was hated about the trenches. Within 10 days Bertie Farmer is attached to a training battalion were he stays for next five months.
Without Harry Partner's papers, we can only speculate as to his progress through 1916 and 1917 and whether he came through those years unscathed. But he had remained with his battalion and in early 1918 they were in the Cambrin sector, an area of craters, tunnels and interconnecting trenches. About early May the 4th Leicesters simply says:
“On May 1st into the front line near Essars. Isolated shelters and shell-holes. Night working parties joining up shelters and shell-holes and putting out wire. Skirmishes with enemy patrols and lots of shelling. Frequent casualties"
On the 4th of May 1917 , the 1st/4th Leicesters war diary entry reads:
“Between 5.00am and 5.50am the enemy put down a heavy barrage on our left Coy front. The Commanding Officer rendered a full report to the Brigade. No infantry action followed. Our casualties were 2 other ranks killed and 12 other ranks wounded from B and D Coy’s. Enemy machine guns were active throughout the night.”
Harry Partner is one of the two killed that day, his final resting place is the Fouquieres Churchyard Extension cemetery, gravestone I. 76. The cemetery contains the graves of many Territorial Soldiers, with 249 of them from the 46th (North Midland) Division. Harry's parents receive his personal effects in September 1918, and just over year later are asked to provide details of Harry's living relatives in order that that may receive his plaque and scroll. His mother Agnes takes the form to be countersigned at the Ellistown Vicarage. His medals will not arrive until 1920.
I can only speculate as to level of contact between Bertie and Harry since they had first volunteered in November 1914, and if, or when, news of Harry's death may have reached him. Bertie rejoined the 4th Leicesters 20/06/1918 where they were still in the same sector near Essars. The history mentions that lots of patrolling was done this month to put pressure on the enemy and this continued until the 20th, when it was noted that they were retiring in front of the Leicesters. Around this time, Bertie Farmer is killed in action on 16/08/1918, no incident is recorder in the battalion's war diary for this date. Like Harry Partner, his final resting place is the Fouquieres Churchyard Extension cemetery, gravestone IV. B. 14.
Now it's Bertie's parents who receive notification of the death of a son, and his personal effects on November 27th 1918. They have to perform the same task of taking the NOK form to the local vicarage, Bagworth in their case, which is completed by Bertie's father Albert on 1st September 1919. They receive Bertie's medals at the end of 1920.
While Harry Badcock and other November recruits who where initially in the 2nd/5th Leicesters became part of the first draft of reinforcements to the 1st/5th Leicesters, Wilfred Mason and Arthur Quilter remained with their initial unit. Mason's and Quilter's service papers have not survived, but their original army numbers point to them being recruited at Coalville not many days apart in November 1914. They were both miners and close neighbours in Ellistown, and if not actual friends, they would certainly have known one another.
Regradless of the shortage of modern equipment and uniforms, the training of second line territorials continued. The “long Long Trail” 46th Division page gives their movements:
“In early January 1915 the units moved and concentrated in the Luton area. Drafts began to leave for the 'first line' units in June, and their places taken by new recruits. In July 1915 the Division moved to St Albans and soon afterwards the number 59 was issued and the full title became 59th (2nd North Midland Division).”
Nearly nine months on and they were still in the UK, and while they might have been enjoying one of local the Easter Monday fairs near St.Albans, rumours spread that they were finally on the move, but France wasn't to be their destination. Events in Ireland meant battalions of the 59th Division were hurriedly sent to Dublin, arriving on the 26th April. It was units of the Sherwood Foresters that were first to arrive and were soon engaged in bitter street fighting. The 2nd/4th and 2/5th Leicesters arrived a day or two later when the worst of the fighting was over. After a period of mostly guard duty in Dublin, the battalion was moved to county Kerry in May 1916 with the intention of dealing with residual resistance in the countryside. But marching road the countryside in a show of force had little real effect.
The 2/5th Leicesters finally left Ireland on the 6th January 1917 and after a brief period of training sailed to France on 24th February 1917. It is 16 months since Mason and Quilter first volunteered, now it was their turn to experience the Western Front for real.
The 2/5th Leicesters were amongst those to relive battalions that had pursued the Germans back to the Hindenburg line. With the thaw, the misery of mud returned and by mid March they were in trenches near the river Somme. Between 31st March and April 20th the 2/5th Leicesters mounted a number of assaults aimed at wining the high-ground around Le Verguier with its view over the Hindenburg line. Bitter fighting with a tough German rear guard brought a mounting list of casualties. Even when relieved on 20th April, they were still in range of the enemy's guns. The sporadic shelling designed to catch those coming to and from the front line trenches, claimed a steady trickle of victims. A number of men were hit on the 29th April as they rotated with 2nd/6th South Staffordshires. Arthur Quilter could have been one of them, as he died of his wounds on 2nd May 1917.
The 2nd/5th's lack or experience and training may have shown in the fighting around Le Verguier, but by the 1st September they had moved to Winnezeele after a length period of rest, ready for the third battle of Ypres. It was here in the battle of Polygon wood that Wilfred Mason was reported missing presumed killed in action on 26/09/1917. With no known grave, Wilfred is just one of those many ranks of names on the Tyne Cot Memorial.
Another Ibstock man to die around this time is Albert Mattley. He succumbed to wounds on 24/09/1917 and is buried at Wieltje Farm Cemetery, the final resting place of 116 men, a small island of peace in the flat farmland of Flanders.
Albert had been born and brought up in Ibstock, he was one of eight siblings and had lost his father at an early age. His widowed mother relied on the wages of her older sons who were all miners. His brother Ben, just two years older, is thought to have served in the Durham Light Infantry. Albert served in the 2nd/4th Leicesters, there no service papers for him, but judging by his original army number he is likely to have been recruited under the Derby Scheme at the beginning of 1916 and first entered France on 25/02/1917 at the same time as Mason and Quilter. His progress from that point would have been much like that of Mason and Quilter. If there were other recruits to the 2nd/4th Leicesters from the Ibstock area along with Albert, their papers have not survived. But he would have found himself in the company of men still mainly from Leicester.
Albert was most likely wounded by shell fire as his unit, along with the 2/5th Leicesters and 2/6th Sherwood Foresters, moved into the front line on night 23th/24th having previously assembled at the Goldfish Chateau on the 20th September 1917. Around ten other men of the 2nd/4th Leicesters who all joined in third week of January 1916 were to became casualties at this time. They were mostly from Leicester itself.
They say dead men can't talk, and except for the very few who have recently slipped into history, the veterans voices have long been silent. It's all very well re-constructing someone's story from papers records but personal testimony adds a whole new dimension. Some of us may have letters and diaries from the period to bring things to life, and for a few their relatives wrote books.
In my case, I just have the scraps of hand me down tales of the family menfolk who served in the Great War. My grandfather died when I was just 5, and of his several cousins who served, well I didn't even know of their existence until it was too late. Take Reuben Jesse Burge, for example. He had volunteered with his older brother Samuel on 6th September 1914 at Kingston. Reuben survived the war, born in 1897, he lived until 1984, and as it turned out spent much of his later years at an address quite near to what was my own family home at the time. Even if we had met, would he have spoken of the war to me?
It's a strange coincidence that in the exact year that Reuben died, a young Paul Nixon conducted an interview with Harold Shephard who was then 88 years old, just one year older than Reuben would have been. Harold Shephard had served with the 5th Leicesters, joining “B” company in 1911, a fact born out by his original army number of 1457. Who knows which of the Ibstock men could have rubbed shoulders with Harold?
Paul Nixon has published his the transcript of his interview with Harold, along with many others, at http://worldwar1veterans.blogspot.com/2009/11/2630111-pte-harold-shephard-5th.html I would urge anyone to read it.
Harold recalls events that the Ibstock men who served in the same battalion must have lived through. He was wounded in 1915, and gassed and wounded again in 1917. Something he attributes to his ill-health in his later years. He talks of meagre rations, crown and anchor, blasted Ypres and the desert like Somme, and much else. Of the end of the war he has this to say:
Armistice was signed, but nobody knowed about it for another… it had been over for a day ‘afore we knowed about it. All we’d seen was the armoured cars and that going with the white flags up.
We started fetching the German army in and do you know what? There were some children in there, thirteen, fourteen and fifteen and that was the German Army.
After that, being time expired, we got called – I think there were about half a dozen of us that had been in it since the start of the war: “Parade at the M.O.’s office tomorrow, you’re going to England.”
We went in the M.O.’s office and he gave us a bit of a [once-over], no stethoscope or owt like that, just said,
“Are you alright?”
“Have you been wounded?”
I said, “at Ypres in 1915.”
So he says, “and where else?”
I says, “on the Somme and I was gassed on the Somme.”
He says, “Are you claiming a pension?”
So I says, “I don’t know.”
He says - this is the captain – he says, “I want to know. On this paper it asks are you claiming a pension or are you not, because if you’re claiming a pension you’re going to Germany for another six months while the regular army comes out and takes over.”
I says, “You can cross that ****** out. I’m going to England.”
I wasn’t the only one. There were thousands done it and if you get the real old hand that was time expired at that time, if you can get him on tape you’ll hear the same thing.
(Reproduced with Paul Nixon's permission ).
Harold had effectively cheated himself out of any pension.
The fate of three other men on the Ibstock war memorial is intertwined with that of the 1st/5th Leicesters. After young Harry had become just an entry on a casualty form, the battalion moved from the Ypres Salient to Hohenzollern, from the proverbial frying pan into the fire zone.
Much has been written about the attack of the 46th North London Division on the Hohenzollern redoubt on the 13th October 1915. ( See this GWF thread for example:
The part played by the 1st/5th Leicesters is covered in detail in the Captain Hills' Battalion history. The battalion was in reserve that day and it's casualties were light in comparisons with the dreadful losses sustain by other battalions in its brigade. In the days that followed they had moved to Drouvin and Vaudricourt, and around the end of the month the history notes:
“many reinforcement officers arrived and two large drafts of other ranks.” p52 THE FIFTH LEICESTERSHIRES
The Battalion faced the prospect of spending a cold and wet winter in the Flanders mud. Trench foot was as much as a problem as enemy sniping. These were the conditions that Private 241625 George Sidney Bott, newly drafted from England on 28.10.1915, would have been plunged into. His service papers have not survived. But his medal index card shows his original army number was 4494 and from others who served in the battalion this suggest he volunteered early in 1915.
George had been born in Leicester where he spent his formative years. His father John Walter earnt a living as shoemaker and repairer. George's location and occupation at the time he volunteered are not known, but his family were already established in Ibstock.
Apart from the excitement of actually boarding the cunard, now HMT, “Andania” at Marseilles, bound for Egypt on 20th January 1916, an order countermanded on the 22nd, it was the lot of the 1st/5th Leicester to remain in France and Flanders. The history's chapter headings show their progress over the next long years of war:
THE VIMY RIDGE. 6th Feb., 1916. - 9th May, 1916.
GOMMECOURT. 10th May, 1916. - 3rd July, 1916.
MONCHY AU BOIS. 3rd July, 1916. - 29th Oct., 1916.
MONCHY AU BOIS. 3rd July, 1916. - 29th Oct., 1916.
LENS. 6th April, 1917. - 10th June, 1917.
HILL 65. 13th June, 1917. - 4th July, 1917.
ST. ELIE LEFT. 4th July, 1917. - 23rd Nov., 1917.
CAMBRIN RIGHT. 1st Dec., 1917. - 12th April, 1918.
GORRE AND ESSARS AT PEACE. 12th April, 1918. - 10th Aug., 1918
GORRE AND ESSARS AT WAR. 10th Aug., 1918. - 12th Sept., 1918.
Somehow George Bott got through it all, and perhaps there's a clue to his battalion longevity in the circumstances of his death 7/9/1918:
“ B Company Headquarters most unluckily received a direct hit causing six casualties. Two Serjeants who could ill be spared, A. Cross and E. Bottomley were both badly wounded, the latter mortally; two servants, C. Payne and L. Brotheridge, were wounded not very seriously, and the two runners, G.S. Bott and G. Dewsbury were hit, Bott so badly that he died in Hospital. These two runners, inseparable friends, had long been associated with "B" Company Headquarters, and had always done yeoman service, for there was probably never a better pair. “
p150 THE FIFTH LEICESTERSHIRES
Being a runner may have saved George Bott from some of the worse fighting, but the fickle finger of fate had finally caught up with him. His good friend G. Dewsbury was Pte. 241187 George E Dewsbury, who first landed in France on 18.8.1915. He survived the war.
The final few chapters of the battalion history are:
PONTRUET. 14th Sept., 1918. - 25th Sept., 1918.
CROSSING THE CANAL. 25th Sept., 1918. - 4th Oct., 1918.
FRESNOY AND RIQUERVAL WOODS. 5th Oct., 1918. - 11th Oct., 1918.
THE LAST FIGHT. 12th Oct., 1918. - 11th Nov., 1918.
Louis George Bacon is another of our three men. Louis, named after his father, was born and brought up in Ellistown, one of seven known siblings. The family home was at 3 Victoria Road at the time of the Great War. His service papers have not survived and his medal index card shows no dates. But Pte. 240962 Bacon's original army number was 3096, which suggests he was an early recruit to the 5th Leicesters in November 1914, when would have been barely 18 years old.
The service papers of one of his brothers, John Haywood Bacon, have survived. John, 4 years older than Louis, volunteered on 7th November 1914 at Coalville, initially joining the 5th Leicesters as Pte. 3130 and later re-numbered 240985. But John, a skilled fitter, was transferred to civil employment and later to the Mechanical and Shipyards Formation of the RE and did not serve abroad with his original battalion. It's tempting to suppose the two brothers had volunteered around the same time, if not actually together.
One explanation for no date appearing on Louis' medal index card is he that had been in the 2nd/5th Leicesters who had remained in England before moving to Irlenad in April 1916, and finally France on 24th February 1917. The 1st/5th Leicesters had received a large draft of 2nd/5th men in February 1918. By this time Louis would have been one of the long serving survivors of the battalion.
On 24th September 1918, the 1st/5th Leicester was chosen as the sole battalion to attack Pontruet village, beginning at 5am. (The details can also be read here http://www.bigenealogy.com/leicestershire/pontruet.htm)
It was only a qualified success, the enemy held a strong position and where in greater numbers. With little achieved, the history notes:
“We had lost one Company Commander and three subalterns killed, one
Company Commander and six subalterns wounded. Of the rank and file,
thirty were killed, of whom three were Serjeants, one hundred were
wounded, and eight were missing. But we had proved that five platoons
could clear a village held by three Battalions (so said one of the
prisoners) of the enemy; we had shown that when N.C.O.'s became
casualties, private soldiers were ready to assume command and become
leaders, and, most important of all, the battle had proved to each
individual soldier that if he went with his bayonet he was irresistible.
p.160 THE FIFTH LEICESTERSHIRES
It was here that Louis was killed. Amongst the other casualties were privates Fred Pink and Sidney Summers both from Hugglescote and George William Underwood from Whitwick.
Private 49846, Samuel Smith is the last of the three. Again no service papers survive for Samuel, and his medal index card show no dates. But he is likely to have been a late entrant to the war, possibly conscripted earlier but then not called up until the Spring of 1918.
There were three Samuel Smiths living in Ibstock who could have served in the Great War as private 49846. It would simply be a guess as which of these is the name on the Ibstock memorial.
On the 7th November the battalion was at Petite Helpe, and after making a river crossing by pontoon where pressing forward. The enemy may have been in full retreat but there was still resistance. Several casualties were sustained when one platoon attempted to capture a German four gun battery they surprised. The guns were recaptured after two enemy counter attacks. After other actions, the history notes that:
In view of the fact that the Boche was now running away, our casualties during the day had been heavy“
p 197 THE FIFTH LEICESTERSHIRES
On the following day:
“November 8th, and found the enemy's machine guns still very
active in the same positions. The barrage was therefore arranged, and,
covered by these very few shells, "A" and "B" Companies pushed forward,
only to find that the Boche took as little notice of the barrage as he
did of our rifle fire. On the left, as before, the attack was soon held
up, this time with considerable loss to us, for the Boche allowed "A"
Company to come close to his guns before opening fire. When he did, 2nd
Lieut. Coleman and ten men were wounded and three men killed, and though
the others made a most gallant attempt to rush the enemy with the
bayonet, they were held up by hedges, and compelled to dig in once more
” p 197 THE FIFTH LEICESTERSHIRES
Private 49864 Samuel Smith had died in the battalion's last recorded fight, on 08/11/1918, on the very day that news reached the battalion of the Armistice that was to begin just three days later.
Other casualties that day where:
Pte. 48710 Herbert Lakin of Whitwick.
Pte. 260023 William Stanley of Rickercote, Staffs.
Pte 49830 Thomas Watson of Whitwick.
Pte 407771 Edward Willers of Leicestershire.
They say war is a young man's game, and there are many nineteen year olds amongst the names on the Ibstock war memorial. But this is partly due to the influence of the Military service acts of 1917 and 1918, where young men became eligible for conscription regardless of occupation. But what in modern times would be shocking, was fairly common amongst the ranks of the early volunteers, and that is the underage soldier.
No proof of age was demanded of volunteers and recruiting offices could be crowded with men in the early months of the war. So whilst not actively encouraged by the Army, it often either turned a blind eye, or connived with a would be recruit with a “come back tomorrow son when your a year older”. One of my grandfather's cousins inflated his age by a good 6 months when he joined up with his older brother in September 1914. Perhaps only the most blatant cases of underage were turned away.
So it was that Henry Camp Badcock, Harry to friends and family, made the journey from his home in Ibstock to the Drill Hall on Ashby Road Coalville on Monday the 16th November 1914. Harry was a fit lad, and at 5ft 9 inches was no lightweight. He had no trouble passing the medical where his declared age was 18 years and 353 days. But Harry had been economical with the truth. The GRO index shows his birth was registered in the first quarter of 1898 and his age in the 1911 census was given as 13. Harry had simply added two years to his real age.
We can only speculate as to Harry motivations for volunteering that day, or whether it was his choice to join a particular regiment. Did he really think of it as a “great adventure”? Like the small but steady stream of men from Ibstock and the surrounding area who had gone to Coalville in the proceeding weeks of September and October, Harry emerged as private 3293, H.C.Badcock of 5th Bn. (res) Leicestershire Regiment, part of the County's Territorial Force. It's not clear if Harry had volunteered only for home service, there is no form in his papers to show if, or when, he had signed for “Imperial Service”.
There is no evidence that Harry joined with anyone else from Ibstock on that day. Private 3294 of the 5th was a Thomas Henry Bancroft, he had enlisted on the 12th Nov 1914 at Shepshed and was from Bardon Hill. Private 3295 of the 5th was a Charles Edward Betts who came from Sileby and had enlisted on 14th Nov 1914 at Mountsorrel. Private 3290 was a Charles James Roberts, he had enlisted on the 9th of October 1914 at Leicester, and was from Ayelstone, but served in the 1/4th Bn. Privates 3291, 3292, 3296,3297 and, 3298 of the 1st/5th Leicesters are not known.
We can only guess at the reaction of Harry's parents and his two older brothers, but while the 1st/5th Battalion was already mobilised and preparing for war, Harry was part of the 2nd/5th and was to find himself in the company of other November volunteers and those who had been weeded out from the 1st/5th on the basis age, fitness, or for whatever reason had not wished to serve overseas.
The 1st/5th Battalion had gone to Luton in mid-Agust 1914 and after three months of preparation and training where on the move. By 26th November they were in Sawbridgeworth and as late as January 1915 they re-organised themselves from their original 8 companies to 4. To the question, “ Are we ever going to France..”, the answer was ”you will go soon enough, and will stay long enough.” On 25th February the order came to entrain at Harlow, Essex. The next morning they were at Southampton docks bound for Le Harve.
Like some of the others who had enlisted in November, Harry wasn't with them, although private Betts was. Harry was to remain in the UK for four more months.
“We left behind at Sawbridgeworth Captain R.S. Goward, now Lieut. Colonel and T.D., in command of a company which afterwards developed into a battalion called the 3rd 5th Leicestershire. This battalion was a nursery and rest house for officers and men for the 1st Fifth. It existed as a separate unit until the 1st of September, 1916, and during those months successfully initiated all ranks in the ways of the regiment, and kept alive the spirit which has carried us through the Great War.” p13 THE FIFTH LEICESTERSHIRES
Things may have been a little more complex than this, as there was also a 2/5th Battalion.
Once assembled at Le Havre, the battalion travelled across France by train and then marched from Arneke to Hardifort and then on to Le Bizet just north of Armentieres where they got their first taste of the trenches with each platoon given a 24 hour stint. On 11th March they moved again and were held in reserve during Neuve Chapelle, but not used. By Easter they were north again close to Wulverghem. With four weeks in this sector they suffered from snipers, and on average during each of their 4 day turns lost 2 killed and 4 wounded. They had no direct involvement in the 2nd battle for Ypres, but were used in the digging a new trench line at Zillebeke. They then moved to trenches close to “Peckham Corner” and continued to suffer casualties. On the 16th June the Battalion came out of the line for a well earned six days rest. Their next duty was to be in the Salient ...
The battalion was in bivouacs at Reningheslt when the first reinforcements arrived around the 26th of June
“12 returned casualties and 80 N.C.O.'s and men from England--a very welcome addition to our strength.” p26 THE FIFTH LEICESTERSHIRES
Harry Badcock is in this group, along with Charles James Roberts. With them was John Haywood Bacon of Ellistown, and possibly his brother Louis Bacon too.
They might have benefited from their mates experience, but had precious little time to prepare themselves for what was to come. If Harry had any ideas of a “great adventure” when he had enlisted, he was in for a rude awakening.
Around the 30th June the Battalion moved cautiously into the line. Across the Ypres-Comines Canal, on past Zillebeke Lake, across the main road at the double and on past Sanctuary Wood. Part of trenches “A” and “B” near Armagh Woods was the destination. They were constantly shelled and sniped and by 5th July and had lost:
“two officers and 24 O. Ranks wounded, and seven killed, a rate which, if kept up, would soon very seriously deplete our ranks.” p28 THE FIFTH LEICESTERSHIRES
Harry was still alive, he had survived his first spell in the trenches.
Briefly at rest again at Ouderdom, the filth of the trenches and lack of clean water was taking its toll as sickness was rife. Back in the line on the 13th July and things only got worse. When moved again back to trenches near Armagh Woods with an overnight rest on 17th/18th, some 150 had reported sick the rest arrived in a sorry state. Luckily a lull and improved weather gave them a chance to recover. On 23rd July at 7pm the Tunnelling company working with the 1/5th blew a mine under the Germans.
“7 p.m. the 1500 lbs. Went off, and Boche redoubt, sandbags, and occupants went into the air, together with some tons of the salient, much of which fell into our trenches. A minute later our Artillery opened their bombardment, and for the next half hour the enemy must have had a thoroughly bad time in every way.” p30 THE FIFTH LEICESTERSHIRES
Just as the 5th were wondering if there would be any reply, the enemy had blow their own mine. Eighty yards of trench had been destroyed, along with the bulk of those in it. Still under attack from trench mortars and rifle fire, all efforts were made to rescue those who were half buried and evacuate the wounded.
“B Company had had 42 casualties from the mine itself, of whom eight were killed and seven, including Sergt. Bunn, were missing, while in the rest of the Battalion about 30 men were wounded, mostly by trench mortars or rifle fire when digging out "50" trench.” p30 THE FIFTH LEICESTERSHIRES
Somewhere in all this chaos was the young solider Harry Badcock, still alive.
Two days later they were relieved and returned to Ouderdom for what was meant to be six days of rest. But on the 30th July the Germans launched a major attack at Hooge using flame projectors for the first time. The 5th were put on 30 minutes notice to move with the order coming around 2.30pm, first to Kruisstraat and then to Maple Copse. Through that night and the next day they were constantly bombarded with sharpnel. With few dug-outs and only tree trunks for protection casualties soon mounted.
“We might, during the day, have built ourselves some sort of cover, but every available man had to be sent carrying bombs, ammunition, and trench mortars for the Sherwood Foresters, whose left flank was constantly in touch with the enemy.” p33 THE FIFTH LEICESTERSHIRES
For three days and nights the 5th exhausted themselves in digging a new communication trench between Maple cross and Zillebeke. On the night of the 3rd August they moved from Maple Cross back to “A” trench. The casualty count was 35.
After dodging sniper's bullets, mine explosions and whizz-bangs, Harry Badcock's luck had finally run out, he was one of the 35. He had been killed, along with Pte. 1271 John Charles Paling of Melton Mowbray, on 31/07/1915.
Harry Badcock's “great adventure” in France and Flanders had lasted just 37 days. When his death is entered on his casualty from on 1st August 1915, not quite a year since war was declared, his military service has lasted 258 days in total. Harry is still only 17 years old.
The 5th continued to be deployed in the bitter fighting in the Ypres Salient until 1st October 1915, when they move south to Hohenzollern.
And what of the likes of Charles Betts and the other November recruits of the 1/5th Leicesters? It's sad to say they faired no better.
Pte. 3252 George Edward Fletcher of Ellistown, enlisted 09.11.1914, KIA 13.10.1915
Pte. 3262 Francis Johnson of Sileby, enlisted 11.11.1914, died of wounds 14.101.1915
Pte. 3300 John Bullock of Pontefract, enlisted 13.11.1914, KIA 01.07.1916
Pte. 3295 Charles Edward Betts of Sileby, enlisted 14.11.1914, KIA 13.10.1915
Pte, 3355 Jack Alsop of Hinckley, enlisted 18.11.1915, DOW 08.07.1916
Pte. 3367 Ernest James Munday of Langham, enlisted 18.11.1914, died of wounds 28.08.1915
In a final twist of bad luck, the authorities make a mistake over his name, and young Harry ends up as “H.C.Badcook” on the Menin Gate. You can just hear him saying “Well, they might have at least got me name right ..” Maybe one day they will.
It is a consloation that his name appears, along with 15 others, on the small memorial in the Ibstock Baptist Church.
I may be linked to the Ibstock war memorial, but essentially I am the outsider who is looking in. Perhaps it is an impertinence to say anything at all about these men, and certainly I am not able to tap into local knowledge like those in the community might. So I run the risk of giving an incomplete picture.
For a small village (around 5,000 souls in 1915) built on coal, perhaps it's no exaggeration to say everyone knew everyone else: they had grown up together, worked together and had been tied by marriage as friends then became family. A process that continued through the war years and even after as those recently widowed remarried, as in the case of George Chamberlain's widow, Phyllis, who married into the Barrs family in the spring of 1919.
I'm grateful for GWF member Llew who has brought two books to my attention, both written by local man Michael Kendrick.
This title contains a short chapter on the tunnellers of 1914-1918 and gives further insight into the relationships between Ibstock tunnellers, George Chamberlain, Robert Ashby and William Barrs.
Having read George Chamberlain's DCM citation, I had previously written ”Was this the instinctive actions of a man who had spent his working life in the pits? We can only speculate how often George had come to the aid of a fellow miner in the Colliery back home”. This was not far from the truth as Kendrick's book tells us that “Sapper George Miller Chamberlain of Ibstock was a former miner at Nailstone Colliery, and member of the colliery rescue party”. Kendrick adds that Sapper Robert Ashby, a good friend of the aforementioned was killed whilst attempting to save the lives of trapped comrades deep underground. Sapper W. Barrs, also of Ibstock, wrote to Robert Ashby's wife explaining that a mine explosion buried them both, but he managed to escape whereas Robert died a brave man on the 21st December 1915.
This last information made me look at Sapper Barrs service record again and I released I had missed a very faint entry about this return to to duty in June and re-assigment to 178th COy. I've corrected my previous blog entry.
It is in fact, Sapper William Barrs, AKA James W Barrs, who Phyllis marries in 1919.
Thanks again to Llew for the information about this book.
Thanks to the dedication and tireless efforts of a small group, the “Tunnellers Memorial” was unveiled on 19th June this year at Givenchy, close to the site of the Shaftesbury Shaft. It's dedicated to all tunnellers and specifically to Sapper William Hackett VC of 254 Tunnelling Company RE, and Pte.Thomas Collins of the 14th BN, The Welsh Regiment.
Courtesy of Jeremy Bannnig at
BBC footage of the unveiling can ge seen http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/10371047, and a professional set of photographs can be found here http://www.pbase.com/troonly/100619_tunnellers_memorial
You should also visit http://www.tunnellersmemorial.com/Default.htm where Jeremy Banning, Peter Barton or Maggie Lindsay Roxburgh will answer your enquiries and details are given for those wishing to make a donation.
….No record in the world ever touched the footage, yield per ounce of pluck,
endurance and devotion to duty, and no forces endured more.
One silent toast to those who memorise a glorious record in their ever silent tunnels.
Sir John Norton Griffiths
The question of how many Ibstock miners in total served as tunnellers in the Great War is not easily answered. Particularly when you consider the memorial bears the names of men from Ellistown, Heather, Earlshilton, Groby and possibly Markfield. Just how far should the net be caste? In any case, with only a 1 in 4 to 1in 3 chance of finding a man's service papers, any count would be a guesstimate.
One name that doesn't appear on the memorial is Charles Heathcote Walker who died of wounds on 6.3.17, aged just 19, in what appears to be an isolated incident. Charles had been born in Ibstock, and is recorded as residing in Donnington-le-Heath at the time he enlisted in Coalville. His medal index card shows his entry to theatre was on 28/11/1915 in France, and with no other unit shown, he seems to have been recruited directly into the 174th Tunnelling Coy. Little else is known, but he appears to have been under age when recruited.
His CWGC entry reads:
Name: WALKER, CHARLES HEATHCOTE
Initials: C H
Nationality: United Kingdom
Regiment/Service: Royal Engineers
Unit Text: 174th Tunnelling Coy.
Date of Death: 06/03/1917
Service No: 136010
Additional information: Son of Benjamin and Martha Walker, of Ibstock, Leicester.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: VI. B. 37.
Cemetery: DERNANCOURT COMMUNAL CEMETERY EXTENSION
Amongst the survivors are three miners from Ibstock: Sappers 102482 William Barrs, 102483 Jordan Smith and 102484 John Gray. Unlike others who appear to be isolated recruits, these men joined as a group. All three signed their papers in London on the 8th June 1915, where they were enlisted as a “tunnellers mate” on 2s/2d a day. The three were unmarried men of similar age: William Barrs was 23, John Gray was 24 and Jordan Smith was 25. They embarked for France together on 11/61915 as part of the 171th Tunnelling Coy. They were to have very mixed fortunes.
After just a few days at the front, William suffers a GSW to the leg and is invalid back to the UK on 23.6.1915. It was three months before William returned to duty joining the 178th Coy in early Sept.1915. He is remustered as a tunneller on 14.3.16. He is hospitalized again for five days on 1.6.1917. He was finally demobbed early in 1919 while on leave in the UK.
On 11.9.15 John Gray suffers a GSW to the abdomen. It is not clear when he returns to active duty. Late in 1917 he receives the tunnellers rate of pay of 6/-. At some stage he is transferred to the 251st Coy. Caught in the German's spring offensive, John is wounded on 18.4.1918 but remains at his post. On 22.4.1918 he is reported missing. Later, his mother receives a card from him and informs the RE on 3 June 1918 that her son, Sapper John Gray 102484, 3 sect. 251Coy. is a prisoner of war. His repatriated in December 1918 arriving at Dover. He is finally demobilised on 23.3.1918.
Jordan Smith suffers a head wound on 16.4.1917 which requires his evacuation to the UK. Jordan spends time in a military hospital in Eastbourne. It's not clear if he is ever fit enough to return to France, or whether he remains at the Royal Engineer's Thetford depot. He is officially demobilised on 25.1.1919.
From Hugglescote, was miner John Knight.
He attested in the field on 23rd October 1915 to become 137524 Sapper J.Knight of 253rd Tunnelling Coy. RE. He was 20 and single. John had first served with the 3rd Leicesters (S.R.) as Pte. 11476, joining on 7/8/1914. After his initial training he had been sent to France on 4.1.1915, sailing from Southampton and is posted to the 2nd Leicesters, and then to the 1st on the 13.11.1915. He had been briefly attached to the 176th Tunnelling Coy on 3/10/1915 before enlisting in the RE. John marries while on leave in the UK in 1917. John is reported missing on 28.3.1918 and news comes via the German Red Cross that is being held as a prisoner of war on 17/6/1918. John is repatriated in January 1919 and finally demobilised on 29/4/1919.
Two other miners are from Markfield.
Joseph Ennis is recruited directly into a Tunnelling Company on 11th December 1915 at Coalville and becomes Sapper 175608, probably under the Derby Scheme. He is 32 years old, married with three children, and an experienced miner. He is not mobilised until 22.6.1916 and joins the 175th Coy from base on 15.7.1916. Joseph receives the tunnellers rate of pay of 6/-. His records contain no incidents and he is demobilsed on 25/1/1919.
George Robert Whiles completes his attestation on 8th October 1915 at Coalville as Sapper 132982 and is placed on “Tunnellers Mate” pay of 2s/2d. George is a 39 year old married man with three children. He embarks for Egypt on 22.11.15, entering theatre on 7.12.1915 as part of the 254th Tunnelling Company bound for Gallipoli. The company had limited impact on mining operations there and were moved to France to take over from the 176th in the Givency area. George serves from 3.3.1916 until he sustains a serious leg wound on 9.5.1916. George never returns to active duty. His is placed on class “W” reserve on 13.9.1916. By 31.10.16 George is reassigned as class “P” reserve. At the age of 42 George is seen by a medical board on 15th June 1917 which finds that the shrapnel wound sustained at Givency, which required surgery, has left George with a permanent disability. He is discharged, no longer physically fit, on 31.12.17 and is the recipient of a Silver War Badge (List RE/903).
No one can say these tunnellers hadn't done their bit …..
Miner Robert Ashby is the third man on the Ibstock memorial to have lost his life while serving as a tunneller. His profile is that of an older man whose years of work experience warranted his special enlistment on the highest rate of pay. Robert was aged 35, with a wife and three children, at the time he enlisted. He signed his papers in London on 21 June 1915 where the 170th-178th Companies of the Royal Engineers depot office address was 3, Central Buildings, Westminster SW. The front sheet of his “Short Service” attestation, Army From B.2505, is clearly marked “clay kicking tunneller 6/- a day”.
His induction into the Army was swift, he embarked for France just four days later and by 2.8.15 he had joined 178th Coy. from base . They were deployed in Fricourt sector on the Somme, working on tunnelling orignally started by the French. A little over a month later Robert is “slightly gassed” on the 18.9.1915. He returns to duty a few days later and the tunnelling continues.
The 178th Coy. were determined to give the Germans an unholy end of year present but an alert enemy were deploying counter measures of their own. So it was that on 21/12/1915, just a few days before Christmas, the Germans exploded two mines of their own, wrecking a section of trench, 178th shafts and galleries, and killing 17 of its men. This war diary extract is courtesy of Iain McHenry .
21/12/15 8.0 am Enemy exploded 2 large mines in Tambour Duclos (F3 & TF? Meaulte). They wrecked 30 yds of trench & blew in several shafts and galleries. Men at their face were buried alive. There was no artillery bombardment. Rescue work was carried out but many were gassed in the process chiefly infantry. Lieut Thompson ??? and Capt Walling??? RW? Did excellent work also Proto men.
The diary notes for 21/12/1915 Lieut PYROR wounded gassed, 17 OR killed in mine explsion, 8 OR wounded gassed.
The full list of those KIA is here. For those men whose records can be found, we can see they include other miners who had passed through the same London base as Robert in June and July, together with men who had transferred in the field.
102105 Sapper William Warrilow had enlisted on 1 June 1915 London as a “tunnellers mate”. Aged 40, William, a miner, was married with one child. Embarked 5/6/16. Joins 171st from base on 11/6/1915. He later transfers to 178th and remusters as a tunneller. He is hospitalized on 23.6.1915.
102826 Cpl. Francis Cassidy enlisted on 22 June 1915 London as a “tunnellers mate”. A miner aged 44, he was married with 5 children. Embarked 5/7/1915.
102910 Sapper William WHITE joins 7 July 1915 London, gives his Burton address as per CWGC entry. A Miner aged 23, he enlists on “tunnellers mate” pay of 2/2. Depot M to France 19/7/1915. 19.11.15 Remustered as Tunneller at 6/- , two days before death. Note KIA 21/12/1915 due to enemy mine explosion. Mother writes to acknowledge receipt of a broken watch.
137670 Sapper Henry Halton, a miner from Worcestershire transferred 1/8th Worcesters 14th Oct. 1915 having served from 29/9/1914 to 178th Coy.RE. Aged 23 unmarried. Mother NOK. Remustered Tunnellers Mate 15/10/1915. ( as pte 3162 home 29/9/14 – 31/3/15 BEF 1.4.15 to 13.10.15)
137675 Sapper Percival George Waine. A labourer of 27 years 8 months on 10 Nov 1915 when attested in field to transfer to 178th Coy. RE. Address Oxford. Previously served as Pte. 33621/4th Oxon & Bucks LI (TF) from 28-9-14. Originally embarked Folkestone 29/3/1915. Tunnellers Mate with E.P at 1/- pay rate. Lasted just 42 days in RE.
Those men who were recovered were buried at the Norfolk cemetery, while those who were not are named on the Thiepval memorial. Oddly, two names appear on the Menin Gate. I wonder why?
Pals in life became comrades in death as they are laid side by side I.C.24 to I.C.30, and Robert Ashby I.C. 22 is flanked by an East Surrey man Pte.1329 Harry Osbourne WILKINSON.
For the families of these men, and Roberts wife and children, the joy of Christmas was cut short as news of their loss reached home. Over the coming weeks and months Robert's widow had to deal with the forms and letters of his personal effects, outstanding pay, and widows benefits. The Royal Engineers sent a letter to the NOK of all men buried at Norfolk cemetery. It came from Brompton Barracks, Chatham dated 17th January 1916 and read in Robert's case:
Special information has been received with regard to the burial of your husband the late Sapper R.Ashby R.E.
He was interred at the cemetery Becourt, Somme, France, by the Rev. L.L.GEEVES, on 21st Decemember last.
your obedient servant,
It was the Army's rather stilted way of of saying Robert had been laid to rest with full honours at a known location, something that was denied to countless others.
Another man on the memorial to lose his life after exchanging working in the pits for undermining the Germans was Isaac Lewis. His service papers are lost.
Born in Ibstock in 1889, the son of a miner, Isaac was one of eight siblings. Isaac had married Emily Blakesley in the summer of 1914 and by 1915 their daughter Edna was born. He had not been recruited along with the earlier volunteers in June, but wasn't long behind them. There's no indication from his MIC that he was a tunneller, but it does shows his first entry into theatre at Egypt on 7.12.1915.
This deployment of the 254th Tunnelling Company is confirmed in the Long Long Trail page about the tunnellers. An obvious reference I neglected to mention in my last blog post. The summary reads:
Formed in England and moved to Gallipoli in December 1915, where it merged with the existing VIII Corps Mining Company - but too late to have any serious impact on operations there. Moved to France and relieved 176th Company in northern Givenchy area in Spring 1916.
We can trace the deaths of six other men alongside Isaac on the 19/06/1917:
121976 Sapper William Green
136017 Sapper Isaac Lewis
146070 Sapper Alfred Skillman
80325 Dvr James Thomas
132934 L/Cpl William Austin
175888 Sapper Henry Chapman
175847 George Platt
Two further men where to die of wounds in the next 48hrs:
102582 Sapper William James Walters
79470 Sapper John Barr
Unlike many war diaries, those of the Tunnelling companies often refer to enlisted men by name. So what, if anything, does the diary tell us? This extract from the 254th diary around the time of Isaac's death was kindly given by Jeremy Banning.
It seems curiously silent on loss of these men, but does talk of the shelling of their base camp.
Isaac's final resting place is Poperinghe New Military cemetery where his is in the company of others from 254th and 171st Tunnellers and just four rows from the 254th OC, Major Alfred Osborn Wraith, who died a few days before Isaac on an unlucky 13/06/1917. There is the tersest of entries noting the major's funeral on the 14th in the diary.
In the spring of 1920, Emily marries William Badcock, an older brother of "Harry Badcock KIA 31.7.1915". Isaac's Victory and British medal are either returned for amendment, or never reach their intended recipient.
As I talked about Naylor MM in my last blog entry, it seems the right time to say something about George Miller Chamberlain DCM.
George was born in Ruddington, Notts around 1890, and his father, Thomas, was likely to have been amongst the last of the framework knitters working in Ruddington ( see: http://www.rfkm.org/aboutus.html ). By the turn of the century the family had moved to Ibstock, seeking new employment. George's father was now working in the Colliery and his older brother James, aged 13, was already employed as a brick carrier. With little other prospects, George followed the well trodden paths to the pits.
I suppose some of the miners from Ibstock who enlisted might have thought that at least it was a chance to escape the grind of their daily lives, but George chose to swap coal mining to become one of the “moles” tunnelling under the Western Front. Perhaps the six shillings a day was incentive enough but it was work that proved to be as dangerous and exhausting as any he had done in civilian life.
The tunnellers, miners and “clay-kickers”, who spent their time digging under no man's land are not at the forefront of Great War literature. There is an excellent synopsis of this aspect of the war at http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/general-interest/888-clay-kickers.html and I'm sure there are many other first hand accounts out there. But if there's one reason to read Sebastian Faulks' fictional work Birdsong, it's for his efforts to place their story at the centre of the narrative. It's not a book I wanted to read from cover to cover, but in chapter six, France 1918, his vivid writing will take you underground to just the situation that George Chamberlain must have faced over and again.
Some of George Chamberlain's service papers have survived, but coming from the so-called “burnt collection” (WO363) they are in poor condition. Even allowing for this, in stark contrast to Naylor's records, the hand writing is often very unclear. It's not atypical of British Army records and, to me, it speaks of a certain carelessness in the attitude of the Army to their record keeping. An attitude that may even have extended to the men in their charge.
So we find that George Chamberlain, the miner from Ibstock, a married man with children, enlists for the duration of the war on 11th June 1915 joining the corps of RE. Sent to France on 17.1.16, he is posted to the 176th Tunnelling Company on 21.7.15. Within the month, George is awarded the DCM. Gazetted on 6th Sept. 1915, his citation reads:
"102633 Sapper G.M. Chamberlain, 176th Tunn. Coy., RE. (LG 6 Sept. 1915). For conspicuous gallantry on the 6th August 1915 at Givency. Spr. Chamberlain was working in a mine, in company with Spr. McMann, when they broke into a German gallery, which was either a broken-down one or had been tamped for exploding. They remained there, sending back to report. Later they were relieved by two other men & were posted further down the gallery. At 3 a.m., the time of their relief, his companion went up the gallery to make sure that the two other men were safe. As he was proceeding the Germans exploded their mine, & he was blown down the gallery being seriously wounded. He called Spr. Chamberlain to assist him to rescue their comrades, & regardless of the danger from poisonous gas they succeeded in getting them out safely"
Was this the instinctive actions of a man who had spent his working life in the pits? We can only speculate how often George had come to the aid of a fellow miner in the Colliery back home. Something that may have earnt him little more than unspoken gratitude. Nonetheless, he had put his own life on the line to help another, and the Army had duly recognised it.
How ironic that fate should finally turn the tables on George on 8.1.1917. He was to be killed in circumstances that appear to mirror that day back in 1915. On the 3rd February 1917 a court of inquiry was held into the circumstances of the death of 102633 L/Cpl George Chamberlain and 86504 Sapper James Ferguson. Those with a better understanding of these things could say if this was common practice or not. Apart from the front page of Army Form A.2, the hand written proceedings are recorded on plain paper. What survives appears to focus on determining if the deaths occurred because of a confusion over orders, when another section was about to “blow a camouflet.” or by an enemy weapon. The only conclusion appears to be that the men were suffocated by poisonous “mine gas” underground.
In May 1917 George's widow, Phyllis, declines the offer of a public presentation of his DSM, and the medal is sent to her privately. With three dependent children to care for, Phyllis remarries in the spring of 1919.
102636 Sapper Martin McMann DCM, a miner from Thornley Durham who was sent to France at the same time as George, survived the war being discharged with a SWB. He returned from France on 16.2.18 and was placed on Class “P” reserve on 5.10.18 for employment at Thornley Colliery. Records show he was presented with his DCM by Lt/Col. C. Russell Brown DSO RE on 2nd July 1918 at the RE depot, Thetford. There is no indication as to the nature of his disability.
Scratch a war memorial and you'll find a colonial. Well, perhaps that's an exaggeration, but you should never discount the possibility of your man serving in the CEF, the ANZACS or even the South African forces. There are two such men on the Ibstock war memorial: Pte. 414621(CEF) C.T.Partner and Pte.3850 J.W.Naylor(AIF) MM.
The CGWC refers to casualties like these as having Canadian or Australian nationality for instance, but I wonder if this is really true. Just how many of these British born individuals had actually become naturalised citizens of their newly adopted countries? The statistics are probably out there somewhere.
Whatever drove them to leave these shores, no doubt in the hope of a better life and whether those hopes were fulfilled or not, they answered the call to defend the home of their birth. Both Partner and Naylor appeared to have been volunteers.
At first sight the CWGC entry for Cyril T Partner has no connection at all to Ibstock. But an individual of that name can be found in the 1901 census aged 7 and again in the 1911 cneus, now 17, living with his mother Annie and other family members. His CEF attestation papers, which can be found here http://www.collectionscanada.gc.ca/databases/cef/001042-100.01-e.php, show he was born near Leicester in 1894 and his NOK is his mother Annie. It's not clear if Annie returned to Ibstock, or what family members were left there, but someone cared enough to ensure his name appeared on the memorial.
I don't know when John William Naylor left the UK, but after traveling half way round the world his final destination prior to enlisting in the AIF was Wallsend NSW, an area noted for its coalmines, and “miner” was still his occupation. He gave his father as his NOK with an address in Ibstock when he attested on 21/8/1915. He became a “digger” in every sense of the word.
You can search for John Naylor's embarkation record here: http://www.awm.gov.au/research/people/nominal_rolls/first_world_war_embarkation/ and it's interesting to see that 4 out 40 names on that page give NOK addresses that are in the UK. His roll of honour entry on the same site will lead you the page explaining how to search for service records at http://www.naa.gov.au/collection/explore/defence/service-records/army-wwi.aspx and in John's case they have been digitised. Thirty seven pages survive with some duplication. Many are hand written, while others are typed. All are neat, orderly and legible. This one small card summarises his army life and death.
John's Military Medal did not reach his parents until the summer of 1918. But without any idea why it had been awarded, his mother wrote a letter asking for an explanation. There is no record that she ever received a satisfactory answer.
It can't escape your notice that the names on the Ibstock war memorial are not in strict alphabetical order. We can make an intelligent guess as to why this is, and clearly from the CWGC entries it's not by date of death. So how are they ordered?
Really it's was only going to be any surviving service papers that might reveal the answer. Presuming I could find any, there was still the question as to how they might be scattered amongst the names. What was needed were papers of about three consecutive names.
In the end I found papers for roughly 25% of the men and fortuitously these fell kindly to give more than one run of three consecutive names. So as you might have guessed, within each letter of the alphabet the men are ordered by date of joining. For example:
Badcock - 16.11.14
Blecher - 21.6.15
Benn - 20.9. 15
This fact in itself was helpful in eliminating possibles when trying to identify names.
But I can't say which "Robert Holland" is named on the memorial as my luck did not extend to finding the service papers of both possible men, nor of those who preceed and follow them on the memorial.
Until tommorrow .....
Anyone researching names on a war memorial has to be alert to what I call the “name game”. Possible alternative spellings, the transposition of forenames, and the difference between family names and those used on official documents, are all typical examples.
But it's easy to be distracted and you might not expect both the CWGC register and SDGW entry for the same soldier to be wrong. Yet this is what had happened with Pte. 3293 Badcock.H.C. Somehow he had become “Badcook.H.C”, both in CWGC register and sadly on the Menin Gate itself. This is despite Army records clearly showing his correct name on both his MIC and service papers. Had Henry Camp Badcock's real not been so distinct the error might have remained undetected, but there it was all these years later still plainly wrong.
Photo courtsey of Aurel Sercu, June 2008
If nothing else, researching the names on the Ibstock war memorial gave me the opportunity to correct a 90 year old error. So I raised the issue in 2008 in this thread:
Thanks to the good work of Terry Denham, the register was promptly corrected, but the Menin Gate is another matter. As one who knows recently commented
“Sure, names are corrected from time to time, but that normally takes ... years. They only correct when there is need to replace the whole "tablet" ... For whatever reason, like a crack, or other material problems. So correcting Badcook > Badcock may take a very long time !”
It's no surprise that it is still wrong on every site that gives access to the “Soldiers Died in The Great War 1914-1919” database. Getting that changed too, may not be so easy.