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    How NOT to use blogs

    By keithmroberts

    This area is not for queries but for ongoing blogs. if you want to ask for help, please go to the appropriate sub-forum in the main part of the GWF. You have been asked to make your first post in a specified location. Once you have done that, your query can be raised in the various sections of the forum. If you previously posted a request for help or information in this area, it is likely to be deleted at some point in the next few weeks or months. So if you have a reply, please make a note o

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    Recent Entries

    This area is not for queries but for ongoing blogs. if you want to ask for help, please go to the appropriate sub-forum in the main part of the GWF.

    You have been asked to make your first post in a specified location. Once you have done that, your query can be raised in the various sections of the forum.

    If you previously posted a request for help or information in this area, it is likely to be deleted at some point in the next few weeks or months. So if you have a reply, please make a note of it, If not, can you re-post it in the appropriate part of the forum, which is likely to get you a quick response.

    Keith Roberts

    for the GWF team

  2. It was not Fighting, but Murder” The Battle of Aubers Ridge


    Sunday, the 9th of May, 1915, saw the battle of Aubers Ridge.

    This was a British offensive, supporting a larger French attack in the South at Artois. The plan being to tie down the Germans, preventing them from sending reinforcements to oppose the main attack by the French.


    The British plan comprised of two attacking forces.

    IV Corps on the left, in front of Laventie, 6,000 yards from the right hand component in the South West.

    This second force was made up of the Indian Corps and I Corps, situated between Neuve Chapelle and Festubert.

    The plan was for them to attack the German defences simultaneously, taking Aubers Ridge and reaching the Lillie - La Bassee road, between La Bassee and Fournes, with the IV Corps and Indian Corps then meeting at La Ciqueterie Farm.


    After preparations through the night of the 8th, clearing barbed wire, putting wooden planks across water obstacles and erecting trench ladders, at 5am a bombardment was opened up on the German positions for 40 minutes. This was to destroy the defenders parapet and cut the wire.


    The right hand attack, with I Corps, had assaulting battalions of the 2nd and 3rd brigade first into the attack. None of their objectives were met.

    The German wire was for the most part uncut and the German breastwork only lightly damaged. Machine guns were quickly brought into action by the Germans, causing heavy losses and holding up the attack. Men were pinned down in No Man's Land. Those who did reach the enemy's trenches were killed or captured.


    There was a second bombardment at 7.45am for forty minutes. A further assault was scheduled for noon, only to be pushed back to 2.40pm, with the same 40 minute preparatory barrage to begin at 2pm.

    The trenches were clogged with wounded and dead, causing the supporting troops to be held up. The attack was pushed even further back to 4pm.


    From 2pm til 4pm a steady artillery barrage was kept up on the German trenches and support positions, in an effort to prevent them bringing up reinforcements or conducting repairs. The Germans however did manage to bring up reinforcements, their trenches were held by more men in the afternoon than there had been in the morning.


    At 4pm the second wave of battalions from the 2nd and 3rd brigades were to attack. With them two battalions of the 1st (Guards) Brigade, one being the 1st Black Watch, were to attack on the left of the 3rd Brigade.
    The second wave of the Bareilly Brigade, of the Indian Division, contained the 2nd and 4th battalions Black Watch.


    The movement of fresh troops to the support trenches was noticed by the Germans. They shelled the packed trenches, causing many casualties.


    1st Bn War Diary


    May 9th.

    Chocolat Menier Corner, In bivouac.

    Battalion fighting strength: Officers: 22, Other Ranks: 807


    At 4pm the 1st Black Watch, with two companies of the 1st Camerons, the rest of the Camerons not yet being in position, attacked, making it to the German first line, some being able to enter it.

    After initial success those in the German trenches were isolated, no support able to make their way to them. They were surrounded and killed or captured.


    The following are accounts by men who were part of the 1st Bn Black Watch attack, or who witnessed it.


    9237 (Acting) Sergeant Frank Traynor of the 1st Black Watch, from Dundee

    "I suppose you have read in the papers about my regiment, the 1st Black Watch, making a great charge on the 9th, in which we lost more than three-parts of our men!

    When the word 'advance' was given our first line went over the parapet like one man, and when they had gone 100 yards our second line followed, and when they reached the German lines, which were about 330 yards away, our third line went. I was one of the third line.

    Well, the first and second lines got to the German lines, but those who got there never came back, for they were all killed.

    I went on leading my platoon until I was the only one running. Then I thought it was time to get down, for if I had gone any further I should be sure to have been laid out.

    I saw a hole made by a shell, and into this I jumped and waited till it was dark.

    While I was there shells were bursting all around me, and every minute I was expecting to get one myself, but my luck was in, and after lying about 50 yards from the Germans. I got back to our lines about 9 p.m.”


    Another Dundonian, 3/3285 Henry Cunningham, 1st Black Watch wrote:

    "I will never forget the 9th May.

    On Sunday afternoon at four o'clock the Black Watch had to charge the German trenches. I will never forget the sight all the days that I live, and I have only God to thank for my coming out of the charge safe.

    My knees are all torn with the barbed wire, but otherwise I am all right. We mowed the Germans down like hay.

    There are only four of us left out of a platoon.

    It is not war; it is butchery. They were setting fire to our wounded. They don't like us.

    I am left with nothing but my kilt and jacket, but thank God I came out of it alive. All my pals are gone.

    Our artillery did splendid work before we charged."


    1801 L/Cpl Frank Johnstone, a Signaller with the HQ staff, also a Dundonian, wrote:

    "I came through our last engagement safe, so I have a lot to be thankful for, as we have many casualties in our ranks.

    It commenced on Sunday, 9th inst.

    We lay in reserve on Saturday and Sunday morning. If the regiment in front of us, an English one, had got through we were to follow, but they failed to accomplish the deed. The bombardment of the enemy's lines started about five or six o'clock, and lasted an hour. We were not needed, as the brigade had not broken through.

    The "Forty-Twa" however, tried again in the afternoon, and succeeded, but a great many of our comrades never came back. I am sorry to say I was not in the charge myself. I only wish I had been.

    Our Colonel gave the order; our men gave a rousing cheer, jumped over the parapet, crossed 200 yards to the German lines, and got into them - a feet which a brigade had failed to do in the morning. Our men, however could not get reinforcements.

    Our casualties are heavy. Our Colonel says he is going to get a red hackle for every man in our regiment.

    It was magnificent to see our men go over the parapet and make straight for the German trenches. Not a man waivered."


    2nd Lt Lionel Sotheby, wrote in a letter to his mother:

    "One big German in a helmet stood waist high above the parapet firing and raving at us. I think we got him........It was awful. I was also afraid that they would chuck bombs at us lying there, they did later at the wounded, petrol bombs.....Those who penetrated into the rampart on our left held on for about ten minutes and then were stripped of their equipment by the Germans, shot and thrown over the parapet."


    9700 L.Cpl. Reuben Jackson, 1st Black Watch, from Belper recorded in his personal diary:

    "May 9th.

    At 3.30am we were awakened and our aeroplanes got busy, and then the big guns commenced about 5am, demolishing places that were suspected of containing Maxims etc.

    Soon the German guns replied and we saw we were not going to get it all our own way. In spite of the number of guns we had going, the Germans replied with high explosives, and one landed just at the end of the parapet, killing right our five of our platoon. The wounded began to pour in from the first charge that had been made by the King's Royal Rifles, Sussex Regiment, North Lancs., and Northamptons, and they told us that the first line of German trenches had been taken, which proved untrue, as, although some companies did get into the German trenches we don't know what became of them.

    When the 42nd went into the firing line the scene between the German trenches and ours was appalling. Dead and dying khaki-clad figures lay all over the place, some absolutely still and some moving slightly. We could hear some of the poor chap shouting for help and many a brave deed was done which deserve mention. Every time a man jumped over the parapet to assist the wounded the snipers shot at him, and in some instances Maxim guns were turned on them. During the morning attack Lieut. Edwards and Lieut. Shand, who had gone up to reinforce some of the English regiments in the attack, were killed.

    Men out in front came dropping on top of us, some wounded, some not. The latter had dropped into all kinds of holes, including a trench that was full of water, and they were in a mess. We heard that the attack had to be made again. We moved out to take up our original position, and the North Lancs., came in. We had just got to the second line of trenches when we had to turn back, and the whole regiment came into the firing line with the pipers. We were told to discard our packs, and then we knew we were going to be in for it. Very soon the artillery started again, the Germans replying strongly, and we began to wonder if it were true the Germans were short of ammunition. A big shell landed right into the parapet, almost wiping out a whole section of No.6 Platoon.

    The whole regiment fixed bayonets, "A" and "B" companies on the right, and the remainder of "C" and "D" companies on the left, and word passed that we were to wait for our Colonel's command. At the given word the pipers mounted the parapet, immediately followed by the first line, and we gave them a hearty cheer as they disappeared over the parapet. We watched their advance. The Germans kept up an awful fire, and men began to drop, but still the remainder kept on until finally a good many disappeared into the German trench. Such a charge I never before saw in my life. Up went the second line, leaving two platoons (seven and eight) to accompany the C.O., and all headquarters to the trench.

    Very soon we began to see that all was not well with our men in the German trench, who were getting bombed out.

    Some who were stripped of their equipment had to make a dash back to safety, only to be shot down by Maxim gun fire.

    Lieut. Wallace was seen to be evicted from the German trench and then riddled with bullets.

    No. 7 and 8 Platoons were next, the only ones left besides headquarters, and we were ordered to man the parapet, and just as we were ready to go to a almost certain death, the order "Nobody to advance until further orders" was sent along.

    The Germans then started firing on our wounded, and it was heart rending to see some of them killed, who would have stood a chance had it been dark. Some too, who lay between the lines, were also killed by shell fire from both sides.

    A signaller named Knotty Burns did a brave action. He was seen to advance with the first line that charged, and got into the German trench. He had to come out again and signal to the reinforcements not to come up as it proved to be a death trap. He calmly sat on the bank of their breastworks, and signalled and then ran back for safety, but was seen to fall.

    The Colonel of the Camerons came along, and our Colonel said to him; "There you are, I have sent all my men over and got their trench, but I have got no supports," I might add that the London Scottish were dying to assist us, but were held back - why, God only knows.

    We lost some good officers and men in this disastrous affair. All our rankers were either killed or wounded. Capt. Green and Major Robertson wounded, Lieuts. Shand, Edwards, Wanless, Bone and Scott were killed, while Lieut. Grey had his arm blown off and Lieut. Richards wounded. Lieut. Scott, we were told, actually got to their second line of trenches and was killed. Lieut. Haldane and Lieut. Lyall were also wounded.

    Two companies of the Camerons charged also on our left, with the same result - no supports. It would take Brigades and Divisions to clear the Germans out of those trenches. Their second line was very strong, and contained more Maxim guns than their first. So even if we had captured their first breastwork the position would have been made untenable for us.

    What deeds of daring were performed during that charge. No one faltered and all ran like deer, although the distance was about 500 yards, and such a cheer rang out from us as we saw our men climb their breastwork and over the top they went to their fate, or otherwise we know not.

    Our Colonel and Major were in a terrible state owing to having no supports.

    We were relieved by the Coldstreams and our remnants marched down to Hinges, crestfallen for those who had lost their best chums.

    May 10th.

    We awoke after a most refreshing sleep, and cleaned up.

    Gradually a few of our stragglers came in and we began to realise that it had not been too disastrous for us after all. But still, we had lost more than 500 men and about ten officers."


    Pte. George McGlashan, 1st Cameron Highlanders, from Dundee wrote:

    "I suppose you will have seen in the papers that the Camerons had to make an assault with the Black Watch on Sunday, 9th May, and, as luck would have it, our company was picked to go in advance, and the remainder of our lot were to act as supports.

    I need not say much about it, but our company managed to get within ten yards of the German lines, or at least the few of us who managed to escape the terrible rain of bullets, which was poured upon us.

    There we lay down to wait for reinforcements, and our commanding officer wisely said not another Cameron should advance. So we had to lie five hours until it got dark before we could move.

    There were five of us where I lay, two badly hit, but by God's mercy we all managed in safely, the wounded getting a helping hand from we who escaped Scot free.

    The sights I saw that day I will remember as long as I live, and many's the good friend I have who went under. Of the 150 in our company who went out only 70 of us answered the roll call this morning.

    To give you an idea of German savagery, the Black Watch, whose whole battalion was out, got a fearful cutting-up. Thirteen of them reached the German trenches and were made prisoners.

    Their equipment and rifles were taken from them, and they were sent back to their own lines. When they got ten yards away a machine gun was turned on them. One escaped."


    S/5003 Pte. George Dickson, 1st Black Watch, from Bellshill wrote:

    "Sunday 9th May, at 5am, the bombardment started all along the line, then, all at once, the guns stopped to let two brigades hurl themselves over the parapet and across the open to the German lins, only to be repulsed again and again.

    Another bombardment by our artillery, then every man of the Black Watch dropped his pack and prepared. After hours of waiting, seeing English and Irish regiments getting cut down, we were standing on our footholds passing jokes and laughing. Then the word came “Charge, Black Watch!” Our company officer was yelling “Remember the Lusitania!” and, with these words on his lips, he fell, shot through the groin.

    With such words as these they charged as if they were one man: “Come on the Watch! Scotland for ever! Give it to them men of the 42nd!” Officers fell crying: “Never mind me, go on!” The pipers were playing “The charge”, and I am very sorry to say only one piper answered the roll-call next day.

    However, owing to the fact petrol bombs were being throw at us, and that no reinforcements came up, we had to retire that night.

    I may mention that there were two platoons of Camerons who charged on our left on the same day. I can't state here what happened to them, but I only came across two wounded out of the lot.

    I may also mention that every man proved himself a hero over and over again; wounded carrying wounded, while others went back for wounded all night. One man, I know, carried in six, and all the time flares and machine guns were firing over the place.

    I may mention that Bellshill was represented by two of us in that charge – one a young soldier, named Robert Irvine, from Parkhead Rows, and myself, and we were lucky to escape. All I received was a slight hit with a shrapnel bullet."


    1st Bn War Diary


    May 10th.

    At HINGES.

    Battalion fighting strength: Officers: 8, Other Ranks: 354


    Total casualties from May 9th: 467


    The 1st Bn remained as brigade reserve, until the 19th of May.



    2nd at Aubers



    In the Indian Corps, within the Bareilly Brigade, were two battalions of the Black watch.

    At 4pm they attacked. The 2nd and the 4th met with very heavy fire and made no progress. Few men made it as far as a dyke 20 metres in front of their starting trench.


    2nd Bn War Diary


    May 9th.

    Depot formed near canal Bride, Vielle Chapelle

    The strength of the Battalion in the trenches previous to the attack was approximately, 21 officers, and 850 rifles.


    1554 Pte Charles Taylor, 2nd Black Watch, from Dundee wrote:

    "At four o'clock in the afternoon of Sunday, 9th May, I was wounded. We made a charge with our mouths gagged, and I will not forget it in a hurry. I was lucky to get through it wounded. There are not many of the Black Watch left or any other regiment that took part in the charge. My wound is on the upper left arm, and has resulted in the fracture of the bone. I think I will have a long stay in hospital. I am wondering if any of my own section is left."


    S/6958 Pte. Edward MacLure, 2nd Black Watch, of Arbroath, wrote:

    "We had to take part in a charge - my first, and I am not very anxious for another of the same.

    Early in the morning our artillery bombarded the German trenches and position. The firing continued for hours. What a racket. After the artillery fire ceased we charged, and received so hot a reception from their machine-guns and shrapnel that we, too, were forced to retire after suffering heavy loss.

    You can just picture what we had to face. The German trench was lined with machine-guns, and they are deadly on open ground. The shrapnel was bursting all around, their and ours as well.

    Then the distance we had to cover ranged from one to two hundred yards, and in the centre there ran a stream which was very deceptive. we thought it was six feet wide or so, and were prepared to leap across. Judge our surprise, therefore, when we got up to it and found it to be from ten to fourteen foot wide at parts.

    Some of our chaps simply jumped in, and were standing in the water up to their chest. Some remained this way until dark, which was the safest time to come in.

    The others, who made for the small bridges which the Germans had covered, were open to very heavy gunfire.

    I saw some terrible sights that day."


    7133 Pte. Albert Scott, 2nd Black Watch, of Dundee, wrote:

    "The 1st Seaforths were the first to charge, but they were mowed down by machine guns and had to retire. We then charged along with the Ghurkas, but also had to retire.

    We made another charge, however, and captured a wood occupied by the Germans on our left, and set it on fire. We afterwards captured their first trench.

    It was terrible - proper murder. Our commanding officer, adjutant and the captain of my company were all killed.


    2nd Bn War Diary


    Officers Killed: Lieut Hon. K A Stewart, 2nd Lieut W L Brownlow, 2nd Lieut R Sinclair.

    Wounded: Capt C G S MacLeod, Lieut A H C Sutherland, Lieut G R M Reid, Lieut G G Moore


    Other Ranks

    Killed: 69

    Wounded 157

    Missing: 36


    Total casualties: 269


    The 2nd Bn was out of line until the 14th of May.


    4th Bn at Aubers


    4th Bn War Diary


    8th May.

    Breastwork at Landsdown Post, Rue Des Berceaux

    In Brigade Reserve.

    9th May.

    Landsdown Post and Crescent.

    4th Black Watch, Brigade Reserve. Moved up to the Crescent and Blackadder Trench when Dehra Dun Brigade relieved by Bareilly Brigade after 1st attack. A Company attached to 58th Rifles for second attack. B Company occupied fire trench, C & D Companies in support.

    4th Bn Black Watch relieved by Leicestershire Regiment at 9pm and returned to Landsdown Post at midnight.


    3876 Pte. William Lindsay, 4th Bn, from Dundee wrote:

    "I suppose you have heard I have been wounded. I got it on the 9th.

    I was struck in the back and also twice in the leg. The two wounds in the leg are nothing, they only left marks. The one in the back was a piece of shrapnel. It went right in, but I have got it out now, so it is not so bad. It is a good job it did not touch the spine or else I would have been done for life.

    We had an awful day when I got wounded. Half of the men were going about with tears in their eyes. I will never forget the sight all my life.”


    3959 Cpl John McDonald, 4th Bn, from Dundee wrote:

    "I was knocked about twelve feet by a shell which burst beside me. Then three sandbags were thrown right on top of my head, burying me for a time. I was staggering about stunned when another shell burst just as we got the order to get over the parapet. It was then I was struck.

    It was nothing but bullets and shells - a hard job.

    A pal and myself got to the back of a house, and were just about to get dressed when a shell knocked the house down. You should have seen us run! I was struck in the neck by a piece of wood, but by good luck the flat side of it hit me, and I was only stunned."

    In another letter he writes:

    "I thought Neuve Chapelle was bad, but last Sunday was worse, and I do not want to see anything like it again. You saw nothing but men blown up in the air, men with arms off, some men with legs off, and some being burned to cinders. It was awful."


    1500 Pte William Rae, from Dundee, wrote in his personal diary:

    "May 9 - Bombardment starts at 6am. Neuve Chapelle is in the shade to this.

    Awful slaughter among our men. Seaforths prepare to charge, but are mown down by German machine gun fire, and those left alive have to retire.

    My regiment prepares to charge, and we are treated in the same way as the Seaforths.

    Up to date we have about 200 casualties, and I thank God above for sparing my life, as men were being hit all around me.

    The Germans seem to be well prepared for our onslaught, as they batter our trenches for all they are worth.

    In summing up to-day's work I can only hope and trust to God that I do not have to pass through the same again.”4


    602 L/Sgt John Bowman, from Dundee wrote:

    "We took up a position in redoubts similar to those we occupied previous to our last engagement. At 5am the bombardment started. As an indication of how fierce it was I may mention that we had fourteen wounded before we left for the front line.

    The bombardment lasted for hours, and the rattle of rifles and machine guns during the periodic lulls told us that hot work was in progress between our trenches and those of the enemy.

    About eleven o'clock we received orders to move forward.

    It was a brilliant Sunday forenoon - very warm - and we felt the heat all the more, as we had to struggle forward carrying heavy boxes of ammunition.

    When we got into the reserve trenches we found that the enemy's guns had played havoc there. The sights in the old crescent trench of Neuve Chapelle fair made some of us sick.

    For example, one traverse had been demolished and the occupants (Indians) were dead, and some of them were actually burning when we passed.

    Then the survivors of the early morning charge began to file past. They were mostly Seaforths, and their appearance told its own terrible tale of what they had passed through.

    A wounded officer came past and said to me "Is this the Bareilly Brigade?" I replied in the affirmative, and he said, "Well, lads, I hope you have better luck than we have had."

    At this time we were experiencing a heavy fire from the German guns, and Dr Rogers was being kept busy.

    At three o'clock word was passed that another bombardment was to take place at 3.30pm, and another advance to be made. At the appointed time our guns started firing, but the Germans replied, shelling our trenches, and for an hour it was hell. Neuve Chapelle was outdone.

    We were falling everywhere. How I escaped passes my comprehension, for I was practically in the open all the time.

    Sergeant Anderson, who used to work at A Company's books in Wormit, received two shrapnel wounds in the left leg while sitting behind me. While I was bandaging him it simply rained shrapnel, and yet I was not touched. He gradually sank back into unconsciousness just as the word came "B Company for the front trench."

    We experienced great difficulty in getting into the firing line, as the communication trench was being heavily shelled, and the wounded were being brought down in dozens.

    Thus A Company were first in the fire trench and played an heroic part, for they were just in time to join a charge with the other battalions who were there.

    I understand two platoons were over the trenches, and their death toll was very heavy.

    Lieutenant Weinberg was first, and he carried the flag to place in the enemy's trench should it be taken. He died a hero's death, falling under the rain of bullets which the platoon had to face from the Maxims in front.

    Young Donald Pyott picked up the flag, but he was shot dead. His chum Jim Ross then grasped the flag, only to meet the same fate.

    Those who were not killed or wounded had to remain in the open, and many of them lay there til dark. Lieutenants McIntyre and Law were among the latter.

    When darkness did come we had an exciting time bringing in the wounded. Many of the Seaforths had lain since 5/6.30 in the morning.

    Just as darkness was setting down a little Gurkha Sergeant suddenly appeared on the top of our traverse trench, carrying on his back a Seaforth Highlander who had been wounded. He got a cheer from the boys for his plucky action.

    We were greatly relieved to hear that we were to go back into reserve that night, our places being taken by another battalion."


    No. 17 Shoemaker Sgt. John McGonigal from Dundee wrote:

    "Monday 10/05/1915

    We are having a busy and anxious time here just now. Our men were in the trenches again on Saturday night, and a great bombardment opened here by our artillery yesterday at 4.30am.

    We have been badly hit, Captain Boase, Major Muir, and Major Tosh have been wounded, but not seriously, and Lieutenant Weinberg has been killed. Robert McGonigal (a step-brother), who formed one of the bomb party, has been wounded in the shoulder, but not seriously, and is now down the line in hospital.

    Lieutenant Cox is also wounded, and Company-Sergeant-Major Donald Pyott's son killed. Donald, who is stationed near here, came along last night, asking for news of the battle. He came again this morning, and though Company-Quartermaster Sergeant Crichton knew that Donald's son was killed, he could not muster up courage to break the news, but told him that the boy was missing and did not answer the roll-call.


    1886 Pte. Tom Healy of Dundee wrote:

    "We were ordered to climb over the parapet and charge, and in doing so we lost a large number of our men. On the Friday there was a church parade of the Roman Catholics, and Charlie received Holy communion, and made his peace with God. He suffered no pain, as he was killed outright, and we brought him in when darkness had fallen, and laid him in a soldiers grave."


    An anonymous Dundonian wrote:

    "We are not out of the trenches yet, but we are being allowed to send in letters again. So I am taking this opportunity of giving you an account of the fighting that took place on the 9th.

    I cannot describe it properly to you now, but it was awful. It just seemed as if the last day had come, and that the heavens had opened, pouring shell and fire down upon the earth in front of our trenches.

    The roar of the guns was terrible. We could not hear each other speaking, and our heads ached with the noise. Every man wished that the guns would cease.

    Some of us got up to have a look to see if our shells were hitting the right mark. I looked over the parapet, and the sight I saw was enough to make me sick. Lyddite and shrapnel rained on the parapets of the enemy's trenches like hailstones on the pavement. Sand bags and wood from dug - outs were blown in the air, and sometimes you could see pieces of human bodies thrown high above the trenches. The scene was sickening.

    This went on for two hours, and after it stopped the infantry got ready for a charge. The Seaforths made an attempt to charge, but no sooner had they got over the parapet than the enemy opened a most horrific fire with machine guns and rifles.

    The distance between the enemy's lines and ours was too great, and before the men had gone very far they were ordered to retire. And it was only a very small band that managed to get back to their own trench. The rest were mowed down.

    After this the Germans started to shell us, until our bombardment began again in the afternoon. The roar of the guns and the smoking of the shells seemed fiercer than ever. I had a look over the trench again while the bombardment was going on. The ground in front was strewn with dead and wounded, and the enemy's front line of trenches seemed to have been obliterated altogether.

    When it had again ceased the infantry prepared to attack. This time it was the 2nd and 4th Black Watch, along with some Indian regiments. The word was given to get over the parapet, and the men jumped to it at one. Some of the Indians shouted "Come on, Black Watch," and with that Lieutenant Weinberg, of the 4th Black Watch, gave his men the order to follow him, and sprang up the parapet, his men after him.

    The moment they reached the top of the parapet they were met with a horrible fire from the machine guns; rifle fire and shrapnel was poured into them, and they were ordered to retire.

    Luckily, all the company had not got over the parapet. The officer in charge, seeing what happened, stopped the rest from going over. Only a very few men rejoined the trench again.

    Captain McIntyre and Lieutenant Law had a very narrow escape.

    When the order was given to retire they could not get back, but they managed to crawl into a disused trench between the enemy's lines and our own, and lay there for over four hours under a terrible torrent of flying shrapnel.

    How they managed to get back to their own line without being hit seems a miracle.

    Lieutenant Weinberg, brave fellow, was killed, and, with the exception of barely a dozen men who reached the trenches, the rest of those brave young fellows went down with him."


    Pte. R. Lindsay of Dundee wrote:

    "We marched up to the trenches singing and joking the night before the big battle on May 9, and we were halted at the back of the firing line. This is worse than the front line, because the night before the bobardment we were all braced up, but we stuck it, and had a good Sunday morning breakfast.

    When the battle started we could not hear ourselves speaking, and we had to sit for three or four hours before we went to the front line.

    Then the word was given to advance and we were not an hour in the trench when the fun started. We were keenly alive, for everybody was anxious to get at his man, so we up and over the parapet and at them.

    It was not fighting, but murder, yet it did not frighten the gallant "fourth." We were in the thick of it, and we lost a lot of men. I was hit when I was about 30 yards out, but when I was running out of "hell" I was lucky in meeting a comrade, who dressed my wounds and took me to the first aid station."

    At 5pm the complete failure of the attack had reached First Army Headquarters and it was decided no further reinforcements should be committed to the attack.


    4th Bn War Diary


    Casualties sustained on the 9th of May

    Officers Killed: 2, Wounded: 5

    Other Ranks Killed: 31, Wounded: 120

    Total casualties: 158


    As a result of the action on the 9th of May, 2 officers were awarded the Military Cross and 3 Mentioned in Dispatches.

    2 N.C.O.'s were awarded the Distiguished Conduct Medal and one Private a Mention in Dispatches.


    The 4th Bn remained out of the line until the 14th of May.



    5th Bn at Aubers


    In IV Corps the 8th Division was to lead with the 7th Division in support. The 5th Black Watch were in the 25th Brigade of the 8th Division.

    After the same 40 minute artillery barrage at 5am, two mines were blown under German positions at 5.40am, then the attack by the infantry commenced.

    After 40 minutes the initial objective of reaching and holding the German third line was achieved. No Man's Land was being thoroughly swept with fire by the German trenches that hadn't been attacked. Supporting waves packed in the trenches were suddenly met by a large scale retreat of soldiers.

    By 8.30am there were still men in the German positions, who were now cut off from support, as no new waves could make their way to them. The support trenches were filled with dead, wounded and those now retreating, as well as those trying to work their way forward.

    A further artillery bombardment and attack was planned.

    The assault was scheduled for 1.30pm, this was deemed enough time for the reorganisation of the cluttered units.

    The 5th Black Watch were part of this renewed attack. Along with other units moving forward to their start position they lost men to artillery and rifle fire. The clogged support trenches and lack of cover when moving in the open above the trenches to get forward caused hundreds of casualties. The 1.30pm attack was pushed back until 8pm.


    2117 Cpl. John Stirling of Forfar wrote:

    "You will be reading in the papers about this great movement we have been engaged in. I am very sorry to have to tell you that some more Forfar boys have made the great sacrifice.

    There were two killed - Jim Milne and young Coutts. There were quite a lot wounded. Jock Towns has been wounded through the leg. Sergeant Ross, a Forfar 'postie', has also been wounded in the hip, as has also young Roy, of the Glamis Tollhouse.

    We moved up close to the firing line late at night. About 5 o'clock a great battle commenced with heavy guns. We were in as heavy shell-fire as ever any troops advanced in.

    One Kirriemuir chap was blown to pieces and another two wounded. The chap's body was blown over beside me. I will never forget some of the sights I saw that day. Poor Milne was next. About 100 yards further on he was shot through the hip, and turned to me when another shot caught him in the head. He never knew what struck him. Young Coutts was just behind him, and he cried, 'Oh! Stirling, I am shot through the back.' He was quite cool.

    It was pure hell. We lay from nine o'clock until about eight at night under the heaviest shell-fire imaginable."


    A man of the Arbroath High School Section, E Company, of the 5th from Arbroath wrote:

    "It is with mingled feelings of deep regret and thankfulness that I write you to-day. Since my last letter our brigade and this battalion have been well through an inferno, the like of which I never want to be near again.

    No doubt you will have seen from the papers that the British made an attack "somewhere in France". After a certain time of heavy artillery fire our first line attacked the German trenches, and found, alas! to their cost, that the Boches were waiting for them, and mowed them down like ninepins.

    At that moment our battalion left some reserve trenches about four hundred yards in rear of the firing line, and had to advance across an open field to get to the firing line.

    With bayonets fixed our men advanced like veterans, although bullets and shells rained thick upon us never a man faltered. Chums fell on all sides, yet never a man hung back, and the way we advanced has been spoken of by regulars from the General down to the meanest Private.

    However, that was bad, but worse was to follow, because, instead of mounting over the parapet, as we expected to do, the order came to stay where we were.

    For 16 hours we lay in shallow trenches, and were literally blown to bits. Tons of shells were heaved into us, and God alone knows how any of us escaped.

    We lost over 150 men in all, and are left with something like 200 men in the battalion.

    To tell you of all the friends knocked out would be impossible, but one I especially miss is Sergeant George Miller, who was killed just as we were coming out about twelve at night. A cheerier or better soldier never carried stripes in the British Army."


    757 Pte. Alexander Robertson of Carnoustie wrote:

    "The 5th Black Watch were charging across an open field, when Lance-Corporal Ernest S. Mathewson, a Carnoustie boy, was struck in the right thigh by a bullet and fell. I helped him back a little bit, and dressed his wound roughly.

    I had just finished when a piece of shrapnel struck me in the face, and I had to return to the field hospital.

    After getting it dressed I went forward to join my company, and was going along a road when a shell burst underneath me. I was blown clean off my feet and thrown into a ditch by the roadside. When I rose again I can tell you I felt sick. Once more I went back to hospital, and this time was admitted as wounded and given a bed.

    After a good night's rest, however, I felt A1, and rejoined my company again."


    A man from Arbroath of the 5th recorded a comrades death:

    "I suppose you will have heard about the great battle. I may tell you I never want to go through the same again.

    You know Hay Duncan, who worked with Stephen, butcher - Well, while we were advancing over a field he was shot through the hand. He was told to keep down, but got up, and was killed almost immediately.

    All the other regiments suffered as hard as us, but I don't want to talk about it.

    Neuve Chapelle did not have a look in.”


    2003 Sgt. Tom Rees, of Arbroath wrote:

    "I send you this letter to let you know that I am still well. The 9th, I may tell you, have lost a lot of good chaps. Of the Arbroath chaps there are 9 killed and 21 wounded.

    My platoon Sergeant, G. E. Miller, was killed just as we came out of the trenches.

    I tell you he was a nice fellow and a good soldier, and game to the last. You will be seeing a list of the names of those who have fallen.

    We went up to the reserve trenches on the 8th about 12 o'clock, and the bombardment started about 4 o'clock.

    After the guns had been going for about an hour the first battalion to go over was the ____, and the other battalions, including us, advanced to our own trenches under a heavy fire.

    It was simply murder going over that ground, and I don't know how I managed it.

    When we arrived at the trench behind the firing trench we were told that the ____ had got heavily cut up, and we, along with the Worcesters, had to sit all huddled up in that back trench all day, the shells going over our heads but no more.

    About 5 o'clock one dropped in the trench, I think it killed one fellow and wounded 5 or 6.

    We were relieved about 10 o'clock, and it was coming out - in fact, we were about out - when G. E. Miller got hit with a shell. I think if we had had to stay in that trench another night I would have gone mad, so terrible and deadly was the fire of the Germans.

    However, I am quite safe, but we all considered ourselves lucky who got out safe."


    1981 Pte. William Lynch of the 5th from Arbroath wrote:

    "In the battle we have lost many of our boys, and many of them have found soldiers graves in France. It was awful.

    The shells were bursting all around us. I escaped without a scratch, and consider myself lucky.

    A shell burst about a yard from me, wounding four of the East Lancashires. I lost three of my comrades, who were killed by a bomb. They all belong to Arbroath."


    1154 Pte. Andrew Hill of the 5th from Dundee wrote:

    "Our guns opened fire early on Sunday morning, and bombarded the first line of German trenches for about an hour, then the East Lancashires made a charge and captured the first line with heavy loss of life, but had to retire to our position again.

    Meantime we were lying in the reserve trenches, and we were ordered to fix bayonets and advance. As soon as we reached the open the Germans spotted us, and turned their Maxims and a heavy rifle fire upon us. We advanced by short rushes with no cover, and men were falling thickly. Every moment I thought would be my last, and I never expected to survive such a hail of bullets.

    Every one was low, and even when we were lying flat on the ground men were being hit constantly. As soon as we got up again they met us with another rapid fire.

    This was bad enough, but the enemy were also dropping shells heavily amongst us, and it was really a wonder any of us came through alive.

    Some of our chaps were even hit with full force by some of the shells, but we faced it all, and did not hesitate in the least.

    The night before our captain said he knew we were made of the right stuff, and when he was wounded he passed down word for our Lieutenant to assume charge, which he did with great coolness.

    We are now getting a rest, sleeping in fields with a blanket rolled around us.

    As the situation became clear to high command that the assault had been a failure, at 6pm all further attacks were cancelled.


    5th Bn War Diary


    10th May 1915

    The Battalion remained all day in bivouac and casualty lists were prepared.

    The details of these lists were:-

    Officers Wounded: 8

    Other Ranks Killed: 22, Wounded: 108, Missing: 8, of whom 2 reported later in the morning 10th/11th.

    Total casualties: 144


    5th Bn remained out of the line until the 15th.


    The cost of Aubers Ridge on the Black Watch


    By the 8th of May, 1915, some 733 men of the black Watch, from the 4 battalions in France, had died since the war began some nine months earlier.

    The 9th of May action added more than half of that total again.

    At least 430 men were killed, or died later from their wounds, at Aubers.

    1st - KIA 251 - wounded 246 = 497

    2nd - KIA 111 - wounded 158 = 269

    4th - KIA 37 - wounded 120 = 157

    5th - KIA 32 - wounded 112 = 144


    KIA/DoW and Wounded from the 9th of May (all 4 battalions) = 1,067


    In the towns and villages in the counties where the Black Watch were primarily recruited from, the 9th of May, 1915, was a dark, in some cases the darkest, day of the war for many of them.

    Neither the Brigade or Battalion war diaries, the official history or regimental history, mention the petrol bombing of the wouded in No Man's Land.

    It undoubtedly ocurred, as it was recorded by 7 identifiable and 2 unnamed Black Watch men in letters at the time, plus a named Cameron highlander. One of these accounts was recorded in a personal diary, another was in a letter to his mother, unpublished in his lifetime.

    Further to these accounts are other published letters of the events of the 9th of May regarding the throwing of petrol bombs onto the wounded in No Man's Land.


    Pte. William Orr, HLI

    "You need not tell me about German treachery after what I have seen during the last coupe of days. Yesterday the Germans set fire to a wounded soldier who was unable to get back to our trench."


    7872 Pte. George Harold Tallbot, 1st KRRC

    "As our wounded lay before their wire they threw petrol bombs at them, setting them on fire. If one offered to move he was riddled with bullets."


    Anonymous 4th Lincolns man from Boston

    "The other day I was chatting to one of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. He asserted that he saw German infantry deliberately throw incendiary bombs on a wounded Highlander who was lying helpless about 25 yards from their trench. He saw smoke and flame coming from the poor fellows body."


    Anonymous officer, 4th Seaforth Highlanders

    "Those brutes of Germans. They squirted petrol over our wounded, and then tried to set them on fire. A few men were burnt, but fortunately some were already dead. One of the 1st Battalion was lying wounded out in front, and he went on fire. Another man rushed out amid a hail of bullets, lay down beside him, took his clothes off, stood up and stamped out the fire, bandaged him up, and then got back to the trench."


    Anonymous, Seaforth Highlanders

    "I nearly went mad with rage when our dead and wounded were lying helpless in front of the lines; they fired petrol and vitriol bombs over them, and set them alight. It was horrible to see men with whom you had been talking an hour before lying with their kilts ablaze."


    1769 Pte. Alexander Fraser 1/23rd London Regiment

    "Wounded soldiers, among the 200 brought to Cardiff from the front this week declare that the barbarism of Germans has intensified the bitterness of the struggle. Private A. Fraser, 1/23rd London Regiment, said the Territorials were forced from the trenches by shell fire, but later they came to grips with the Germans. They took three lines of trenches with the bayonet. When the wounded had to crawl back across the open, the Germans threw petrol bombs at them.

    Lieutenant Clinton distinguished himself by carrying twenty seven wounded to safety."


    Pte F. H. Moody 23rd London Regiment

    "Unfortunately the battalion suffered very heavily and the Germans fired with petrol bombs on the wounded."


    Anonymous, 23rd London Regiment

    "The Germans threw petrol bombs, and some were blinded and roamed about without sight between the lines."


    2899 Pte. George Hart, 24th London Regiment

    "When we tried to get some of the wounded in the day after the charge, the Germans sent over petrol bombs, which explode and set the poor fellows on fire. Of course, they have not strength enough to move, so they have to lay there and burn."


    Anonymous, 24th London Regiment

    "They also threw some sort of petrol bomb over, as fires could be seen burning all day among the wounded, and the noise of their ammunition exploding could be heard."


    Sgt. J. Lindsay Deas, RAMC

    "The Germans are very watchful, and if any movement on the part of the wounded is detected they are immediately fired at or subjected to the patest phase of frightfulness - petrol bombs thrown at them. Thus have many of our heroes been burnt alive."


    L.Cpl. John McIntyre, 2nd Inniskilling Fusiliers

    "They kill some of our wounded and throw vitriol on others and burn them, and then laugh at the poor fellows' agony. I have seen all this, and also the vitriol bombs they throw at night after a battle to catch the wounded who are unable to get to safety."


    Sgt. T. Keinzley, Royal Irish Rifles

    "We have been on the go since the 2nd of April. we had two days rest from then till 20th of May. I will tell you all about this some other time.

    We have had "no fair do" against poisonous gases and plenty of other nofair methods, such as taking the khaki off out wounded and dead, and squirting vitriol and burning tar."

  3. During the war, knitters from around the world made millions of socks and other garments for soldiers serving at the front. Today, two assumptions about this work dominate the popular view: firstly, that knitting was the exclusive purview of women and girls; and secondly, that socks were knitted one at a time by hand. However, the truth is more nuanced. The need for socks was so great that two-at-a-time sock techniques, crochet, knitting machines, and men were drafted into service to supply them.

    “Siamese Socks”

    Twenty-first century knitters talk about “second sock syndrome”,  which refers to the lack of will to knit a second sock to complete the pair. While this particular terminology likely did not exist a century ago, wartime knitters were quite familiar with the problem. Back then, the solution came in the form of “Siamese socks”—the process of knitting two socks at once on the same set of needles. 

    This method, nowadays known as double-knitting, was said to originate in Australia. Supposedly, Australian women finished 50 000 pairs of socks a month using this method. However, as the New York Sun conceded, “it is something to test the skill of the superknitters to narrow and knit two heels at the same time.”

    The phenomenon traveled to the farthest corners of empire. The Matura Ensign of New Zealand reprinted the article verbatim from the American papers, even preserving the description of Australia as “the land of queer things.” The same article also appeared in the Australian press, though in a modified form: it made no mention of the technique’s so-called Australian origin and most certainly did not refer to the country as queer.

    How does one go about knitting “Siamese socks”?

    Two balls of yarn are used, one for each sock. The thread of one runs over the right forefinger. Cast on double the usual number of stitches, first of one thread and then the other. Then knit one and purl the other. That’s all there is to it. Easy enough!
    …there’s fascination in working it out and great satisfaction to find one sock growing inside the other. The “right sides” will be together on the inside. The outside will show the “wrong side.” Get it?

    In case those instructions weren’t “easy enough” and you didn’t “get it,” this video may help:


    My conversations with Australian knitters suggest that women there did not historically knit their stockings two at a time. In fact, the origins of the technique are certainly older than the Great War and likely not of Australian origin; for example, Anna Makarovna in Tolstoy’s novel War and Peace knits socks in this way.

    Crocheted Socks

    Crochet uses a single needle with a hook at the end to manipulate stitches. It produces a fabric that is denser than knitting and also much less flexible. These days, crochet has a bad reputation and inevitably brings to mind doilies and old-fashioned grandmothers. However, when it was first documented in the nineteenth century, it was often used to mimic both bobbin and needle lace. Of course, it could also be put to far more utilitarian uses, and while knitted socks from the Great War are more well-known than their crocheted counterparts, patterns for crocheted socks and other soldiers’ accessories appeared throughout the war.

    In France, crochet was particularly popular at the beginning of the war. Among the instructions for gloves, mittens, and balaclavas, the newspaper Le Temps printed a pattern for a crochet sock in November 1914. Later, another pattern appeared in the booklet La Femme et la Guerre (Woman and War). In September 1915, Les Annales politiques et littéraires published a pattern for “crocheted trench socks.” Mrs Brémont, who sent the pattern, was kind enough to enclose a sample sock as well; it was, the editor wrote, “very practical and soldiers have already benefited from them” despite the fact that, “at first sight, the general aspect [of the sock] is unconvincing.”

    Crocheted socks also experienced a measure of popularity in other countries. According to the Leader of Melbourne, Australia, “Crocheted socks for our soldiers at the front are much quicker and easier to make than knitted ones; they are also more durable.” Not to mention that if they were washed “in tepid (soapy) water, dried, and pressed before wearing,” they became “soft and extremely comfortable.”

    While women may have eagerly cast themselves into the crochet fray, the garments that they produced were less than ideal for military use. Regarding the desirability of “crochetted articles” for the war effort, a branch of the American Red Cross informed volunteers that “The war authorities in France prefer not to have them. They are bulky, and seldom warm enough.” Other aid organisations similarly preferred knitting because it produced items that were “light and elastic.”

    Perhaps for this reason, crocheters began to focus on the production of hospital socks, also called bed socks, for convalescent soldiers. Bulkiness, inelasticity, and lack of warmth presented less of a problem for relatively immobile men housed in a clean indoor environment. As one newspaper assured crafters, in such a setting a crocheted sock “would be found very comfortable in wear, as it keeps the bandages in place without any pressure.”


    Crocheted operation socks, March 1918. Source: http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article263618088

    The use of crocheted socks in hospitals is perhaps not surprising; medical facilities accepted a variety of socks, including tube socks and spiral socks in both crochet and knitting. Yet whenever crochet attempted to claim a place alongside knitting as an equal, rather than inferior, craft it met firm resistance. As M.H. Mackay wrote in a letter to the Bendigo Advertiser, even hospital socks ought to be knitted because they “take less wool than crocheted ones, and wash better.” The former is certainly true; given the density of crochet stitches and the ways in which the yarn must be twisted to form them, the latter claim is also plausible.

    Few crochet patterns for any soldiers’ comforts appeared in German-language media during the war. Donation lists from the early months of the war contain few crocheted items in general, none of them socks. Germany’s acute wartime wool shortage may explain the preference for knitting. The hospital slippers pictured below are an exception; it may be relevant that the pattern was published in 1914, when wool was still relatively readily available.


    Crocheted hospital slipper from Germany. Source: http://resolver.staatsbibliothek-berlin.de/SBB000082E900000000

    Machine-knitted Socks

    Although sock production for soldiers during World War I is usually associated with handknitting, machines were in fact used as well. Some countries seem to have had only basic knitting machines. In Germany, for example, newspapers describe machines as capable only of knitting sock cuffs. Heels and toes, it seems, were beyond them. Similar limits occurred in New Zealand as well: “It saves time to get the tops of the socks done on a knitting machine, but, as of course everybody knows by this time, the feet must be hand-knitted.” However, as Shelly Hatton demonstrates in the video below, it is entirely possible to turn heels and knit toes by machine.

    In Canada, the Red Cross furnished families with Gearhart sock knitting machines and 10 pounds of wool. If they delivered 30 pairs of socks, they could keep the machine. Each sock took approximately 40 minutes to make; Red Cross offices in the United States recorded similar times. Even the fastest handknitters could not compete with these speeds.

    Besides vastly improving efficiency, sock-knitting machines also allowed non-knitters to feel that they were contributing to the war effort. For example, every evening Mr. de Lacey Evans, “one of Baltimore’s best-known financiers…sits down at a knitting machine and turns out a pair of socks before he retires for the night. Mr. Evans has adopted this unique method of showing his patriotism because he has passed the age of military service.”

    Mr. Evans’ motives might have been honourable, but his efforts smack slightly of a vanity project. As we shall see, being past the age of military service and being a man have never precluded learning to knit by hand. Moreover, the machine would have been more productive at a Red Cross office where it could have churned out socks all day long rather than a single pair in the evening.


    Knitting machines at New York University. The woman on the right has turned the heel of her sock and is working on the foot. Source: https://lccn.loc.gov/2017672021

    Men Who Knit

    As the case of Mr. Evans illustrates, men and boys who were too old or too young to join the military sought other ways to contribute to the war effort. In the United States in particular, many of these eager male volunteers turned to knitting — and even if they weren’t eager, they were encouraged all the same. The following song, for example, seems intent on making its young singers in the Minneapolis public schools believe its words. It was sung to the tune of George M. Cohan’s popular march “Over There,” with the determined cheerfulness in both lyrics and tempo that is so characteristic of American knitting songs of the time:

    Johnnie, get your yarn, get your yarn, get your yarn;
    Knitting has a charm, has a charm, has a charm.
    See us knitting, two by two.
    Boys in Whittier like it too.
    Hurry every day, don’t delay, make it pay.

    The final verse of the song strongly suggests that the boys are knitting patchwork squares for blankets. Squares required less skill to make than socks and were thus a good project for beginners. Because they were used in hospitals rather than in combat, they could also feature stripes and bright colours, both of which made the work more interesting.


    Both boys and girls knit in this photo taken ca. 1919. Source: https://lccn.loc.gov/2017680297

    Men were not limited to blankets and scarves, however. In Australia, E.W. Underwood acquired the nickname of “Crochet King” for his expertise in the craft. He had learned to crochet while recovering from a broken leg in childhood. During the war he sold and raffled his filet crochet and Irish crochet creations to raise money for the war effort; newspapers described him as “the only man known to be selling fine lace of his own making for the funds.” He also made at least 150 pairs of socks, though their use may have been limited to hospitals.

    Soldiers themselves also knitted. According to an article in the Casseler Neueste Nachrichten in 1915, “Our renowned German troops can not only dig trenches and defend them; they can also cook and even knit.” A soldier known only as Friedrich was described by one of his fellow soldiers as “a comrade here who knits. He has already knitted himself one pair of stockings and has started a second.”

    While Friedrich’s skill set may have given rise to surprise among his trenchmates, knitting and other needlework was not uncommon among their British counterparts. As early as the Crimean War in the 1850s, convalescent British soldiers had been encouraged to learn to knit and embroider. During the Great War, wounded British and Empire soldiers turned again to knitting and especially to embroidery to pass the time; “the attraction is thought to exist in the novelty, the bright colours, and the slight exertion necessary,” wrote The Sun of Christchurch, New Zealand. “The sick men can lie back in bed and ply the needle at their ease.” Exhibitions of soldiers’ handiwork were mounted in Australia, New Zealand, and the UK, with their work described as “striking,” “excellent,” and “a marvel of needlecraft.”

    Wounded German soldiers also learned fiber arts. The German Red Cross published an instructional booklet in loom knitting and macrame for use by convalescent soldiers in military hospitals. Loom knitting seems to have been chosen for its simplicity. According to the author of the booklet, “it is surely a relief for unpracticed hands — i.e. those of boys and men — to hold a solid board rather than thin, pointy needles.” The first pattern in the book consisted of a narrow scarf about 10 cm wide with a knotted fringe. It was accompanied by the suggestion that soldiers make it “in white with pink or blue stripes” for their young daughters or “entirely in white or dark blue” for their wives. Should they want to outfit themselves or their comrades, however, a wider, unfringed version was preferred; “fringes use a lot of yarn and are totally useless.”

    During and after the war, attempts to provide gravely wounded veterans with marketable skills led to the establishment of various trade schools. At one such school in Neuilly, outside Paris, blind amputees were taught to use knitting machines. They produced goods such as sweaters and jackets for commercial sale.


    During the war, knitting was an inclusive activity. It was not limited to little old ladies of European heritage; men and women of all ages, people with disabilities, and people of colour all sat down to make socks and other garments for soldiers. Rich people, middle class people, and working class people knitted—at home, in parks, at Red Cross offices, even at school. They used different handknitting techniques; sometimes they used machines. Whoever they were and however they did it, everything that they produced was gratefully received by soldiers at the front.

  4. Albert Henry Victor Brackley enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force under a false name in 1916. He had ‘deserted’ his wife and two children when he sailed for England later that year. His ruse was discovered when he went absent without leave and after his wife told the Australian Army he had enlisted as ‘Herbert Walters’. Just a few months later, he ended up on the Western Front – facing the greatest danger. Here, I look at the story of Albert, who was connected to my family.

    He didn’t fight on the front line – but beneath it. He helped to dig tunnels under No Man’s Land to allow explosives to be detonated under enemy positions.

    The work was exhausting and dangerous. The explosions were frequently devastating, sometimes killing thousands of soldiers.

    Albert, a sapper in the Royal Australian Engineers, was one of tens of thousands of tunnellers on the Western Front in the Great War.

    He joined the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company – who carried out vital offensive and defensive mining work in France – in the summer of 1917.

    Just a few months before arriving on the front line, Albert found himself at the centre of a major controversy.

    He enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF) on October 10, 1916 under a false name, calling himself Herbert Walters.

    He was not the first or last soldier with an assumed identity. But he was found out after going ‘absent without leave’ – and deserting his wife and two children in Australia.

    Albert sailed to England with the AIF on October 25, 1916 and arrived in Plymouth on December 28 that year.

    Ten days later – on January 7, 1917 – he went missing from Perham Down Army Camp on the edge of Salisbury Plain.

    He surrendered himself in London to a sergeant in the Army Military Police on February 20 that year, and was sentenced to 60 days’ detention.

    When he had been sailing to England, Albert’s wife, Queenie Alice Maud Brackley, wrote to the officer in charge of Army base records in Melbourne, declaring that she had been ‘advised by the police to let you know that my husband had enlisted under the name of Herbert Walters’.

    Queenie, aware that he had left Australia with the AIF, said she had a warrant out for his arrest – issued on November 9, 1916 – for deserting her and her two children.

    She revealed that a Mrs (Lydia) White – Albert’s aunt, listed as a ‘friend’ and next of kin when he enlisted under a false name – had been ‘drawing his money’ (wages) since he joined the Royal Australian Engineers.

    On March 2, 1917, while in custody, Albert signed a declaration that he had enlisted under an incorrect name after Queenie submitted a sworn statement before a Justice of the Peace that he and Herbert Walters were ‘one and the same person’.

    When in France, Albert was twice admitted to hospital with diarrhoea and repeatedly punished for going absent without leave.

    At one stage he was promoted to lance-corporal but ‘reverted’ to sapper shortly after the appointment.

    Admitted to the Australian Dermatological Hospital at Bulford on Salisbury Plain in 1919 with syphilis, Albert returned to Australia from Devonport in January 1920.

    In May that year, Albert was charged, on warrant, with deserting his wife and children after he arrived back in Australia.

    He and Queenie were divorced in February 1922. Albert, then a tramway worker, petitioned for the divorce on the grounds of misconduct.

    He claimed that during his active war service, his wife gave birth to a third child fathered by another man.

    Albert married Alma Beck (1895-1959) on September 9, 1922 in Victoria, and they had a son, William Albert Ernest, who was held as a Japanese prisoner of war in Thailand in the Second World War.

    Albert was a farmer when he died on May 20, 1924 at the public hospital in Swan Hill, Victoria, aged 33. He was buried at Swan Hill Cemetery, Victoria.

    Queenie, born on May 24, 1895 in Inglewood, Victoria, died on August 14, 1963 in Bendigo, Victoria, aged 68. She was buried in Bendigo Cemetery.

    Alma Beck, born on June 28, 1895 in Victoria, married Albert’s younger brother, George Alfred Brackley (1897-1963) on May 2, 1925 in Victoria. She died on October 10, 1959 in Parkville, Victoria, aged 64.


    The Victoria Police Gazette in Australia reported on November 9, 1916 – under the headline ‘Deserters of wives and children’ – that Albert was charged, on warrant, with deserting Queenie.

    Albert’s service records reveal that he initially enlisted in the 14th Infantry Battalion of the AIF under his own name in May 1915 in Tarnagulla, Victoria, Australia. Aged 24 at the time, he was a labourer. The records show that he failed to embark for service abroad in September 1915.

    The 1st Australian Tunnelling Company were one of four tunnelling companies of the Royal Australian Engineers in the Great War. They helped to spearhead offensive and defensive mining work, including placing mines under enemy lines and building dugouts and trenches for troops.

    In the months leading up to the Battle of Messines in June 1917 – which began with the detonation of 19 mines which killed 10,000 German soldiers and left 19 large craters – the 1st Australian Tunnelling Company helped to ensure that tunnels and explosives in the area remained intact and undiscovered.

    Albert, born on October 10, 1890 in Tarnagulla, Victoria, Australia, was the son of Henry George Brackley (1850-1924) and Mary Elizabeth Hurford (1872-1899). Mary was the daughter of William Hurford (1840-1915), of Stockleigh English and Mary Ann Roberts (1842-1926), who emigrated to Australia after their marriage in Cornwall in 1863. William was the son of William Hurford (1802-1881) and Charlotte Roberts (1815-1884). Charlotte was the daughter of Thomas Roberts (1770-1852) and Elizabeth Sharland (1776-1841). Thomas was my great-great-great-great grandfather. Albert married Queenie Alice Maud Hughes (1895-1963) on February 12, 1913 in Bendigo, Victoria.

    Picture below:

    Albert Henry Victor Brackley. Used with the permission of his great-granddaughter, Sonya Salzke.

    albert henry victor brackley.jpg

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    Recent Entries

    Latest Entry

    Alright so I gusse I should share more about me 🤔 

    First thing you need to know is I'm young and a little bit stupid 😂🥲. So please be nice to me if I get things wrong. 

    I've always liked WWI and history. I mostly make art about ghosts from WWI. 

    I tend not to take my self too seriously, but am always willing to learn. 😊😊 I wish to make new friends and share my art 👁👄👁. 

    I'll probably be active a lot, so feel free to dm or ask me anything. Just be nice (:


  5. Tilloy British Cemetery, Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines. Tilloy-Les-Mofflaines was taken by Commonwealth troops on 9 April 1917, but it was partly in German hands again from March to August 1918. The cemetery was begun in April 1917 by fighting units and burial officers, and Rows A to H in Plot I largely represent burials from the battlefield. The remaining graves in Plot I, and others in the first three rows of Plot II, represent later fighting in 1917 and the first three months of 1918, and the clearing of the village in August 1918. These 390 original burials were increased after the Armistice when graves were brought in from a wide area east of Arras and from smaller burial grounds. The cemetery now contains 1,642 Commonwealth burials and commemorations of the Great War, 611 of the burials are unidentified, but there are special memorials to 14 casualties known or believed to be buried among them. Other special memorials commemorate 11 men of the 6th Bn. K.O.S.B., buried in Tees Trench Cemetery No.2, whose graves were destroyed by shell fire. The cemetery was designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens.

  6. Diary of a Dispatch Rider

    Latest Entry

    Continuing the diary of Corporal John Sangway, dispatch rider with XVII Corps.


    30th Oct

    Came into hospital with “special” flu a week ago, 23rd. Damnable. If this is typical of hospitals out here, Florence Nightingale never finished her job. I have seen disinfectant once. I have had my medicine half the times ordered. I have slept on the floor all the time in verminous and dirty blankets. There is no ventilation at night & it stinks. People play horribly on pianos outside your door. The latrine arrangements are foul & frightfully inadequate & there is no water at night to wet your parched tongue. Can’t think of any more horrors at the moment. And yet I am feeling better. God knows why!


    Nov 1

    Left hospital, God be thanked. When shall I get free of vermin!

  7. Test Blog

    Andy - can you see if you can add a completely new Blog Entry to this Blog, or whether you can only add a Comment to one of my existing Blog Entries.





  8. I have put together a digital talk for the Petersfield Museum to mark 100 years since the death of Lt-Col Gerard Leachman on August 12th.

    Available free on YouTube for one night only,  but you will need to register via the museum website. Lots of photographs and maybe some controversial viewpoints. 😀 


  9. Don Hedger

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    Any one seen a library card for CEF troops WWI that reads University of Vimy Ridge ~ somewhere in France this was used to educate Canadian Troops while engaged in combat.

    This is most interesting however there is simply no data that I have seen ~ although these library cards did exist 

    More info is required on this unknown subject 

  10. Le Treport Miscellaneous depots and camps
    No 3 General Hospital (opened Dec 1914).
    No 16 General Hospital (opened Feb 1915).
    No 2 Canadian General Hospital (opened Feb 1915).
    No 3 Convalescent Depot (opened June 1915).
    No 16 General Hospital (Isolation Division) (opened Dec 1915).
    No 7 Canadian Hospital (opened 1916).
    No 47 British General Hospital (opened 1916).
    No 10 BRC Hospital
    VAD Camp (opened May 1917)
    RE Workshops & Stores (Mar 1915).
    Horse Rest Camp (EU) (opened Mar 1917).
    Horse Rest Camp (MERS) (opened 1917).
    Tanks Camp (opened Sep 1917)
    POW Camp (Pont et Marais) (opened 1917).
    Army Ordnance Camp (Mers) (opened Oct 1917).
    Rifle Range (opened 1918).
    Chinese Labour Camp (Mers) (opened Jan 1918).
    Chinese Labour Camp (Criel) (opened Jan 1918).
    PoW Compound, Isolation Hospital (opened 1918).
    PoW Compound (Le Treport) (opened 1918).
    No 2 E F Canteens
    No 2 YMCA Recreation Huts
    No 1 YMCA Cinema
    No 1 Canadian RCS Recreation Hut
    No 1 Salvation Army Hut
    No 1 BRCS Recreation Hut
    No 1 Church Army Hut
    No 1 RC Church Hut
    No 4 Base Supply Depot (MT)
    Ammunition Wharf

  11. These are the categories that I have on my computer in bookmarks. I will update this page on a regular basis, particularly during the early phase of the "sorting into categories".


    These are ONLY for the British cases here on the GWF. They do not include any of the cases on the CEFSG (here).


    I was initially posting this information for the benefit of GWF PALS that wanted to investigate the case further and possibly take it to the reporting stage. I was not familiar enough with the Regiments and did not have access to the UK War Diaries, so I could not finish the case. With the assistance of the Long, Long Trail and now with Ance$try Worldwide, I am able to proceed. There are a number of these cases still listed in the final category below ("Other Cases Posted") and I am now in the process of working through these to move them to the other categories. Many may end up in the "Abandon or Hold" category, which I have now split. If you have looked at a report and believe it is in the wrong category, let me know.


    Changes to this blog include:

    • 23 November 2019 the details of acceptance or rejection during the Approvals Process have now been added, which are generally emails from the CWGC. Any team response or report updates are then uploaded to the site. This information, on how the process works, may be of benefit to other researchers.
    • 12 February 2019 the topic lists that have multiple nationalities have been sorted and classified as to their nationality
    • 25 January 2018 addition for "Short Listed Candidates". Those are the cases where is there is more than one person that fits the characteristics for the grave but the list is very short. The reason for this category is for FAMILY who may be researching an UNKNOWN, so they now know it may be their relative in that grave - but it is not a positive identification. This category has also been used where one or more of the candidates has been identified elsewhere, thus shortening the list.
    • 5 July 2018 addition of "CWGC Reports to be Submitted / Possibly Incorrect Identifications". It appears that the named person is "clearly" (not a minor question) in that grave. This has not been applied yet to cases where a recent submission (post 2000) may have misidentified an UNKNOWN (i.e. Kipling Case).
    • 8 July 2018 added "A member is looking for this soldier".
    • 22 July 2018 added "The Approvals Process", in concert with the 1st "Phase I" Approval.
    • 27 October 2018 added "Abandon or Hold / Accounted for by Special Memorial(s)" - men are listed missing but may be on a Special Memorial within a cemetery


    The cases are now also posted to TWITTER as:


    As always, I appreciate the assistance of any member who wishes to participate in these investigations. If a draft report is prepared, any member is welcome to review the document and provide comments, corrections or criticisms. If the report goes to the Submission Stage, any member that participated in the process can have their name added to the report. For that I need your Real Name, Affiliation (can be as simple as "Private Researcher") and your email address (so the CWGC can contact you directly if they wish).


    A list of both the Canadian and Commonwealth reports that I have submitted can be found here, with download links:


    The difference between the Canadian and Commonwealth reports is that initially the Canadian reports were submitted to the CWGC Canadian Agency in Ottawa for review first. If acceptable to Ottawa, they then were forwarded to the Maidenhead CWGC Office. This process was modified in January 2019 so that now all cases go directly to the CWGC Maidenhead.


    As cases move through the process, their place on the list below is modified. A topic might go from "New Cases" to "Reports Submitted" and then up to the "Approvals Process". There it might stay for a considerable length of time, before being marked as "Approved" or "Rejected". Once in that part of the process, additional information is added, such as a direct link to the report or review documents received from the approvals authorities (including rejections). Under the new process, a "Commonwealth Case" must make it through all three (3) phases of the approvals process. There is no information at present to indicate a "Canadian Case" would move through the process in the UK or if it would then be sent back to Ottawa.




    Corporal Martin Carroll #55818, Villers-Bretonneux Military Cemetery, Plot 6 Row D Grave 3

    2nd Division, 4th Infantry Brigade, 19th Infantry Battalion


    Killed in Action of 8 August 1918

    Reported Found 29 May 2015

    Rededication Service 1 December 2016

  12. Australian nurses

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    Looking for a reference book on Australian nurses in WW1? I recommend this book


    'More than Bombs and Bandages - Australian Army nurses at work in World War I' (Big Sky, Newport NSW, 2011).


    A review from a Queensland RN, Rev’d Dr Barbara Oudt:


    What I enjoyed most about Dr Kirsty Harris’s book is her ability to reflect those nurses voices in a way that was so real – one could be there, the settings were so well understood from her research and the language kind of made a time warp in the reading. Very satisfying. As you know I have that Peter Rees book, but I could not get into it after reading the historical one. It was like comparing a great documentary to Face Book trivia!!!


    Available from all good book shops, online via the publisher at http://www.bigskypublishing.com.au/…/more-than-bombs-and-b…/, (at a very reasonable price for a hard back) or read or order for your local library.

  13. Stars, Stripes and Chevrons

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  14. In December 1918 the Class Z system was introduced by the army.  This system, which released huge numbers of men very quickly, created a reserve of soldiers who would be recalled quickly to the army if the armistice was to break down.


    Many of the men who were discharged to the Class Z reserve had claims to pensions for disability - presumably an assessment was made that this disability would not prevent the man being useful to the army again in future.


    The Class Z system lead to a new pension numbering format being used for these cases.

    Class Z

    The reference under the Class Z system was in the format of Z / Corps or Regiment / Sequential Number of claim from Corps or Regiment / Surname Split.


    For example,



  15. I have finally written up the story for my 3 x great grand father John Edwin Barnes, thanks again for everyone's help on here that have helped make this possible, cheers everyone.



    One of my “Heroes” and Favourite Ancestors the fourth in my series of blogs about my 8 great-grandparents The Life and Times of John Edwin Barnes




  16. pjwmacro
    Latest Entry

    During the night of 30/31 July 1919, a relief column of 3rd Guides Infantry marched the 20+ miles from Parachinar to Sadda. Nearly 300 men strong, the column was based on B and D companies of 3rd Guides, supported by guns from 28th Mountain Battery and 40 additional mounted infantry from the Kurram Militia. The column was commanded by OC B Company Capt John Henry Jameson DSO. 

    The column reached Sadda on the morning of 31 July and, supported by machine guns from 22 Battery, went into action at around midday. Picquets were established on the high ground, the engine from the crashed Bristol Fighter was salvaged and the body of Lance Daffadar Miru Mian was recovered.

    By the evening, reports indicated that the tribesmen were dispersing.


  17. A few have asked to be kept informed as to the publication of my diary, so here you are. It is available from Amazon as an ebook as well as in paperback format. It can be bought from Waterstones in Newcastle upon Tyne, Morpeth and Hexham, also at Cogito Books in Hexham or direct from broomfieldpublications@gmail.com for £6.99 + p&p. It is available in the Newcastle City Library, The Newcastle University Library, and the Lit & Phil Library in Newcastle. So far it is being read in the US, Germany, Australia, Spain, and France. It has yet to have any major review, but all individual reviews by private individuals are very positive indeed. Many thanks for any interest shown to date and in the future.

  18. 100 YEARS AGO TODAY: The March to the Rhine - Day 21.


    King George V and General William Birdwood visit the graves of several notable soldiers including, the temporary grave of Prince Maurice of Battenburg, the King's one-time equerry Major Lord Charles Mercer-Nairne, Brigadier General Francis Aylmer Maxwell VC, CSI, DSO & Bar, and Major the Hon. William George Sidney Cadogan, the equerry to the Prince of Wales. Presentation of baton of the Marshal of France to Philippe Petain at Metz, 8 December 1918. Marshal Petain, Marshal Joseph Joffre, Marshal Ferdinand Foch, General Maxime Weygand (France), Field Marshal Douglas Haig (Britain), General John Pershing (USA), General Cyriaque Gillain (Belgium), General Alberico Albricci (Italy) and General Józef Haller (Poland) awaiting the arrival of French President Raymond Poincare.


    General Staff - 1st Canadian Division, C.E.F.


    13th Battalion (Royal Highlanders of Canada)


    14th Battalion (The Royal Montreal Regiment)


    15th Battlion (48th Highlanders of Canada), 3rd Inf. Bde, C.E.F.


    16th Battalion (Canadian Scottish), 3rd Inf. Bde, C.E.F.


    5th Canadian Divisional Artillery, C.E.F.


    14th Brigade C.F.A., C.E.F.


    61st Field Battery, C.F.A., 5th C.D.A., C.E.F.


    Lt Abner Virtue - 6st Fld Bty


    60th Field Battery, C.F.A., 5th C.D.A., C.E.F.



    Outside Recht, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Recht, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Marcard, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Railway Bridge Bonn and Kirke, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Dedenburg & Bonn Railway Bridge, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Outside Amel, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Amel, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Moderscheid, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Outside Moderscheid, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Bullingen, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Outside Bullingen, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Outside Wirtzfeld, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Wirtzfeld, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Outside Krinkelt, Photo: Edward Walshe



    Krinkelt, Photo: Edward Walshe









    Click here for the video.

    Object description
    The competition between Army Forestry Companies from Britain, Australia, Canada and New Zealand at the Forestry Camp at Pont-Remy, France, 15th September 1918.


    Full description
    The soldiers watch several forms of contest. A pillow fight between two men sitting astride a log suspended over water. A tree-stump felling contest, in which the four representatives each have to cut down a stump about three metres high. A similar competition to cut through a short log lying on the ground, won by the Australian whose fellows rush forward to cheer him. He poses in his shirt, shorts and bush hat with his axe beside the trunk. A third contest, including New Zealand Maoris, in chopping down medium-sized trees. Finally a 'log rolling' contest for men keeping balance standing on a log on the river, which they cross by rolling the log forward.


    Production date
    Place made
    whole: Number Of Items/reels/tapes 1

    Catalogue number
    IWM 319

  20. Obituary for my Grand Father Company Sergeant Major Fred Seaman No.5572, Of The 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards


  21. It's been a long time since my last post in this blog, so here is one interesting article.



    The Romanian 2nd Army's success at Marasti forced the Central Powers to revise their plans. The offensive planned in the Namoloasa area was abandoned and the bulk of the forces were moved in the Focsani area. The new offensive was going to be launched west of the Siret River, on the Focsani – Marasesti – Adjud direction, with the German 9th Army (general Johannes von Eben) and on the Oituz Valley with the Austro-Hungarian 1st Army (Archduke Joseph). The objective was to encircle and destroy the 2nd Army.


    On the other side, the Romanian General Headquarters decided to cancel its attack in the Namoloasa area. The Russian 4th Army had to be pulled out from the front in southern Moldavia and moved north, where it could threaten the flank of the Austro-German forces advancing in Galicia. The Romanian 1st Army was going to replace the Russian troops departing the area.

    For the offensive, the German 9th Army was strengthened with units brought from the French (the Alpine Corps, which arrived on 6 August) or Italian fronts. General von Eben decided to deliver the main blow with the German 1st Corps (6 divisions), while to its left the German 18th Reserve Corps (3 divisions) had to pin down the Entente troops opposite it. The right wing of the 9th Army was manned by the Ramnic Group (2 divisions). The reserve was made up of one German and one Austro-Hungarian divisions and the Alpine Corps, which arrived in the area during the first day of the battle. The German forces in the attack sector were 102 infantry battalions, 10 cavalry squadrons, 24 pioneer companies, 2 armored cars, 1,135 machine-guns, 356 mortars, 223 field guns and 122 heavy guns and howitzers.


    Opposite the German 1st Corps was the Russian 4th Army, which had in contact with the enemy only two corps: on the right the 8th (3 divisions) and on the left the 7th (2 divisions). The reserve was made up of one infantry and one cavalry divisions. These totaled 84 infantry battalions, 52 cavalry squadrons, 280 field guns and 36 heavy guns. The bulk of the Romanian 1st Army was at Tecuci and was getting to cross the Siret River and replace the Russians.

    The German 9th Army's offensive was preceded by a powerful artillery preparation, which began at 0430 hours on 6 August 1917. At 0730 hours the 1st Corps (general Kurt von Morgen) started the attack, with the 12th Bavarian, 76th and 89th Infantry Divisions in the first line and with another two divisions in the second echelon. The front defended by the Russian 13th and 34th Infantry Divisions was broken and 10 km breach was created. The Russians started a disorderly retreat east of the Siret River. At the request of the Russian command, general Constantin Christescu, CO of the 1st Army, ordered maj. general Eremia Grigorescu, CO of the Romanian 6th Corps, to intervene west of the Siret with the 5th Infantry Division and with the 9th Infantry Division to defend the river's eastern bank. The 32nd Dorobanti Regiment Mircea and the 8th Dorobanti Regiment Buzau counterattacked and stopped the Central Powers offensive on the line Moara Alba – Doaga – Furceni.


    Seeing that the chances to force the crossing over the river are minimal, in the morning of 7 August, the German command redirected the offensive to the north, with four divisions. The effort was concentrated against the Romanian 5th Infantry Division, but the assault was repulsed. However, a bulge was created at the junction with the Russian troops, but the situation was saved by the counterattack of two battalions from the division's reserve. At noon, after a short artillery preparation, the enemy renewed the attack enjoying a 3 to 1 numerical superiority. The 3rd Vanatori Regiment held out in the Doaga village against an entire German division. The same thing happened in the sector of the 32nd Dorobanti Regiment Mircea. The soldiers in this unit made several bayonet charges only in their shirts, because of the suffocating heat, managing to push back the Germans to their positions. In the evening, the 1st Corps attacked and broke through the front of the Russian division on the right flank of the Romanian 5th Division. Threatened with the encirclement, the 32nd Regiment retreated to the Cosmesti Bridge. To fill the gap created, the Romanian 9th Infantry Division was introduced west of the Siret River. It was continuously attacked. In the evening of 7 August, under the cover of darkness, a German group approached and assaulted the 9th Division's flank, engaging into hand-to-hand fights. The Romanians abandoned Doaga and retreated to the outskirts of the Prisaca Forest, where a new defensive line was established. That day the 5th Division lost 44 officers and 1,770 soldiers (dead, wounded and missing). The front moved back 2-3 km.

    On 8 August, general von Eben changed the attack sector to the west, on the front held by Russian units. In the evening, during the second assault, they were forced to retreat. A Russian regiment was almost completely destroyed. The Romanian front was bombarded and the attack on the 5th and 9th Infantry Divisions resumed the following day. On 9 August 1917, the German effort was increased. The assault started at 1900 hours, after a powerful artillery preparation, which caused many casualties to the 9th Division. Its troops were only able to dig foxholes, because the ground was very dry and hard to dig. The Germans again took heavy casualties because of the Romanian and Russian artillery situated on the eastern bank of the Siret River, which was firing directing into the attackers' flank. However, the first line of the Romanian defense was pierced in several spots, but reserves intervened and repulsed them after some very violent fighting. The 34th Regiment, which faced the 12th Bavarian Division, held out against three consecutive assaults. Only the 2nd Battalion, under the command of Major Gheorghe Mihail, the future Chief of the General Staff in 1940 and 1944, remained in the first line. It counterattacked and captured 62 prisoners and two machine-guns. The unit's battle flag was decorated later with Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class. The same award was bestowed upon the regiment's CO, colonel Virgiliu Dumbrava, as well the 2nd Battalion's CO. But the casualties were heavy: 35 officers and 1,551 soldiers. The 36th Regiment lost 36 officers and 954 soldiers. Also, the 7th and 32nd Dorobanti Regiments suffered many casualties. During the night, at 0200 hours, another assault took place and the Germans managed to push back for several hundred meters the 9th Division and the right wing of the 5th Division. The neighboring Russian division was also forced to retreat, but the Russian 4th Army counterattacked and captured 2,500 prisoners and recovered the lost ground.

    The last failures had weakened the German 9th Army. Thus, general von Eben strengthened the 1st Corps with a new division and the 18th Reserve Corps with the Alpine Corps.


    On 10 August, it was the Entente's turn to attack. General Christescu and general Ragoza, the CO of the Russian 4th Army, decided to strike each with a corps of two divisions the bulge in the German line. During the morning, the 9th Army attacked the Russian sector, but gained little ground. At 1700 hours, the allied infantry started the assault, after a long artillery preparation. The 9th Infantry Division took the first German trenches, but because of the losses it had to abandon them. Reinforced with a regiment form the Romanian 13th Infantry Division, it resumed the attack, but again without success. The 5th Infantry Division and a regiment of the 14th Infantry Division managed to get inside the German positions, but could keep them. The 8th Dorobanti and 3rd Vanatori Regiments managed to enter the Doaga village, but were repulsed. The situation was similar in the sector of the Russian 4th Army. However the offensive had reduced the combat potential of the German 76th, 89th and 115th Infantry Divisions, which had suffered the brunt of the assault. These were already exhausted after several days of failed attacks. The report of general von Eben to the Army Group CO, marshal von Mackensen, mentions the fact that the 216th Infantry Division had suffered many casualties because of the flank bombardment of the Romanian artillery yon the eastern bank of the Siret.

    For the following day, general Christescu imposed a limited objective to the 6th Corps: the Doaga – Susita Valley. The Russian 4th Army had decided to remain on the defensive. The Germans attacked in its sector at 1600 hours, after a three hour artillery preparation, and again forced the Russian troops to retreat. At 1630 hours, the Romanian 9th Infantry Division began the assault without knowing the situation in the neighboring sector. After the Russian retreat the flank was exposed. The division's CO sent a battalion to extend the line. The Germans were advancing on Marasesti and the situation became extremely dangerous for the Entente.

    The 9th Vanatori Regiment, which was in the division's reserve, was quickly brought in and set up positions in the factory north of the town. It managed to stop the German troops that were threatening to encircle the 9th Infantry Division. For this action, lt. col. Gheorghe Rasoviceanu, the regiment's CO, was awarded the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class. A regiment of the 13th Infantry Division, from the 6th Crops' reserve, established the link with the Russians. The 5th Infantry Division attacked in the Doaga area, but the 7th and 8th Dorobanti Regiments failed to enter the village. The same day, maj. general Eremia Grigorescu was named at the command of the 1st Army.

    Noticing that the troops of the German 1st Corps were exhausted, general von Eben decided to assign the main strike to the 18th Reserve Corps of maj. gen. Kurt von Wenniger, which had suffered fewer losses and was less tired. Thus, on 12 August, the 9th German Army attacked with small forces the 5th Infantry Division, in order to pin it down, and concentrated its forces against the Russian 4th Army, taking Panciu. Following this failure, general Ragoza wanted to retreat the Russian-Romanian front north of Marasesti., but abandoned the idea at maj. gen. Eremia Grigorescu's pleas. Lt. gen. Constantin Prezan, the Chief of the General Staff, decided to replace the Russian 7th Corps with the Romanian 5th Corps (10th and 13th Infantry Divisions) and to put the Russian 8th Corps under the command of the Romanian 1st Army. The staff of the Russian 4th Army was retreated to Bacau from where it was reassigned to another front.


    On 13 August, the 18th Reserve Corps attacked the Russian troops north of Panciu, but failed to make any breakthrough. The following day, general von Eben ordered the 1st Corps to eliminate the Romanian bulge in the area of the Prisaca Forest and take the bridge over the Siret River at Cozmesti. In the same time, the 18th Reserve Corps had to attack on the Zabraut Valley. After powerful artillery preparation commenced the assault on the Russian 8th Corps' positions. Brig. gen. Henri Cihoski, CO of the 10th Infantry Division, sent the 10th Vanatori Regiment as help. It surprised the Alpine Corps and caused it important casualties, some in vicious hand-to-hand combat.


    The vanatori managed to take Hill 334, but were forced to retreat following a powerful artillery bombardment. The 38th Infantry Regiment Neagoe Basarab also intervened and its CO, col. Gheorghe Cornescu, received the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class for the counterattack that stopped the German offensive, which threatened to penetrate in the Susita Valley, behind the Romanian 2nd Army. The Russian 8th Corps was forced to pull back north of Iresti and Straoani.


    The 5th Infantry Division, at the other end of the front, had been reduced to one third of its initial size during the last days of fighting. The positions in the Prisaca Forest were heavily bombarded by German artillery. At 1700 hours the assault began with two divisions and forced the Romanian troops to retreat. The division's reserves, as well as a regiment form the 14th Infantry Division, in the army's reserve, intervened and stopped the German advance north of the Prisaca Forest. The bridge at Cozmesti was blown up, as the Romanian engineers had built another two to the north. The exhausted 5th Infantry Division was pulled out of the first line.


    On 15 August, the 18th Reserve Corps continued the offensive and managed to create a breach at the junction between the 10th Infantry Division and the Russian division to its right. The 10th Vanatori Regiment, supported by 10 Romanian and 3 Russian batteries, counterattacked and reestablished the situation. However, with its left wing, the 18th Corps took Muncel, forcing theRussians to pull back. Thus the link between the two Romanian armies was threatened. The 2ndArmy attacked with the "Colonel Alexiu" Detachment made up of 2 vanatori battalions, 2 infantry battalions and 3 artillery batteries, which, together with a Russian cavalry division, retook control of the village. The following day, the Germans occupiued half of Muncel, but were again forced to retreat after the assault of col. Alexandru Alexiu's men.


    The days of 17 and 18 August were calm. The losses suffered by both sides, forced the commanders to reorganize their units. Maj. gen. Eremia Grigorescu replaced the 14th Infantry Division, which was deployed east of the Siret River, with the 1st and 6th Rosiori Brigades and the hard pressed 5th Infantry Division with the 2nd Cavalry Division. The latter and the two brigades formed the Cavalry Corps. The 14th Infantry Division was moved on the northern bank of the Siret River in the Cozmestii de Vale area. Also, the army's heavy artillery was redeployed so that it could better cover the sector of the 5th Corps (10th, 13th and 9th Infantry Divisions). The 1st Army's reserve was made up of the 15th Infantry Division and of the 5th Infantry Division, under reorganization. On the other side, at the intervention of marshal von Mackensen, general von Eben grouped 7 infantry divisions under the command of the German 1st Corps and subordinated almost all the heavy artillery of the 9th Army to it. These forces totalized 55 battalions and 95 batteries.


    On 19 August, the Germans resumed the offensive, attacking with the 1st Corps towards Marasesti and with 18th Reserve Corps on the Panciu-Muncel direction. The main effort was concentrated in the sector between Marasesti and the Razoare Forest, defended by the Romanian 9th and 13th Infantry Divisions, the latter being assaulted by three enemy divisions. The artillery preparation started at 0630 hours in the area of the trenches of the 47/72nd, 51/52nd and 50/64th Infantry Regiments, from the first line of the 13th Infantry Division, and at the western outskirts of Marasesti, where the 9th Vanatori Regiment of the 9th Infantry Division was located. It lasted for two hours and was the most violent artillery bombardment of the entire battle. At 0900 hours the first assaults small scale began and were easily repulsed. After 1100 hours a very powerful attack started. The main blow was delivered north of the Razoare Forest, at the junction of the 13th and 10th Infantry Divisions. The 10th Infantry Division was attacked by the 13th Austro-Hungarian Division, which failed to breakthrough the Romanian lines.


    The 13th Infantry Division, commanded by brig. gen. Ioan Popescu, was the Romanian unit that saw the most action that day. It occupied a front 6 km wide, with the 47/72nd Infantry Regiment at the south-western edge of the Razoare Forest, the 50/64th Infantry Regiment in the Negroponte Vineyards and the 51/52nd Infantry Regiment in the middle. The reserve was made up of one battalion of the 50/64th Regiment and the 48/49th Regiment. 15 Romanian and 15 Russian batteries provided artillery support.


    The attack started at 0900 hours. In the sector of the 47/72nd Infantry Regiment, the German assaults failed one after another. The 1st Battalion was situated on the left wing, south of the Razoare Forest. It was attacked by the 28th Bavarian Infantry Regiment (from the 12th Bavarian Division) and by units of the German 89th and 115th Divisions. The 2nd Battalion, on the right wing, was assaulted by the Austro-Hungarian 13th Infantry Division. The 3rd Battalion was kept in reserve. The regiment's CO, lt. col. Radu Rosetti, the former chief of the Operations Bureau of the General Staff in 1916, was wounded at a leg during the fighting. At the center, the 51/52nd Regiment was situated in an open position ands was also powerfully attacked. It had to pull back. The Germans tried to use the momentum and infiltrate behind the positions of the two regiments on the flanks of the Romanian 13th Infantry Division. The 3rd Battalion/47/72nd Infantry Regiment, under the command of maj. Draganescu counterattacked and stopped their advance. The reserves of the 51/52nd Regiment joined the fight directed by the unit's CO, lt. col. Ioan Cristofor, buying time for the reinforcements sent by the division to arrive. The 1st Machine-gun Company commanded by cpt. Grigore Ignat, stubbornly held its position, being almost totally destroyed. Its CO was posthumously awarded the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class. However, the Germans advanced towards Hill 100, behind which the allied artillery was situated. The 50/64th Regiment had to pull back its right wing, because of the enemy advance in the sector of the 51/52nd Regiment. Lt. col. Diamandi Genuneanu, the 50/64th Regiment's CO, organized the defense south of Hill 100 and managed to hold out against two Bavarian regiments for two hours.

    General Popescu organized the counterattack against the German forces closing in on Hill 100. The 2 battalions in reserve, together with the 3rd Battalion/47/72nd Regiment and other units attacked from several different directions the German 115th Infantry Division, which had infiltrated between the Razoare Forest and the Negroponte Vineyards. The artillery of the 10th Infantry Division also intervened in the fighting at that moment, at the orders of the army's CO. The 1st Battalion/50/64th Regiment, commanded by cpt. Nicolae Miclescu, emerged from the Negroponte Vineyards and surprised the German infantry in the area and pushed it back to towards the Razoare Forest. Cpt. Miclescu was wounded during the action. He was later awarded the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class. The 3rd Battalion/47/72nd Infantry Regiment and the 2nd Battalion/48/49th Infantry Regiment joined the battle. The resistance at the edge of the Razoare Forest was broken following a violent bayonet charge. The Germans started a disorderly retreat. The entire 47/72nd Infantry Regiment started a counterattack, followed soon by the 39th Infantry Regiment (from 10th Infantry Division). The German troops retreated towards the Susita Valley, dragging along the units of the Austro-Hungarian 13th Division. The Romanians captured the first line of the enemy positions, but the advanced was stopped by maj. general Eremia Grigorescu, because von Eben had already started to deploy his reserves.


    The 10th Division and, especially, the 13th Division had achieved a great victory. The commanders of the two divisions, as well as the commanders of the 47/72nd, 50/64th and 51/52nd Regiments were awarded the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class. Another 7 officers received this high distinction for the fighting on 19 August. The 39th Infantry Regiment Petru Rares captured 376 POWs and 7 machine-guns and advanced 500 m on a 4 km wide front. The 47/72nd Infantry Regiment took 209 POWs and 4 machine-guns. But the losses were high. The same regiment lost 880 men (99 killed, 300 wounded and 481 missing). The regiment's flag, as well as those of the other hard pressed units on 19 August were also decorated with the Mihai Viteazul Order 3rd class.

    The same day, the Germans attacked the sector of the 9th Infantry Division, situated south of the 13th Division. It had been reduced to 4,500 men in the previous days of hard fighting. In the first line were the 9th Vanatori Regiment on the right wing and the 40th Infantry Regiment Calugareni on the left wing. After a powerful artillery preparation, two German infantry divisions started their attack. Following some heavy fighting in the ruins of the factory north of Marasesti, the 9th Vanatori Regiment was forced to fall back towards the city. The 40th Infantry Regiment also abandoned its first positions. The 9th Division reformed the front on the line south Negroponte Vineyards – Marasesti Railroad Station – south Marasesti, which it held against the enemy assaults, with the help of the artillery of the 14th Infantry Division from the eastern bank of the Siret River, firing directly in the German flank.


    Because of the failure of its army to take the objectives on 19 August, general von Eben decided that the continuation of the offensive was no longer possible. A week of pause followed, which both sides used for reorganizing. The 9th Army again changed the attack sector. The 18th Reserve Corps was strengthened with 3 divisions and the entire heavy artillery at the army's disposal. The Romanian 1st Army received the 11th Infantry Divison. Maj. general Eremia Grigorescu redeployed his forces. Thus, the Russian 8th Corps formed the army's right wing in the Muncelul area. It had two divisions in the first line and another two reforming in the back. The Romanian 5th Corps (10th and 15th Infantry Divisions) held the front all the way to Marasesti Railroad Station, where it linked up with the 3rd Corps (14th Infantry Division), situated between Marasesti and the Siret River. East of the river was the Cavalry Corps (1st and 6th Rosiori Brigades, 2nd Cavalry Division and one brigade of the 5th Infantry Division). The army's reserve was made up of the 9th, 11th and 13th Infantry Divisions and the other brigade of the 5th Division.


    The offensive of the 18th Corps started in the sector of the Russian 8th Corps on 28 August. At 0900 hours the German troops infiltrated between the two Russian divisions and forced them to retreat. Two regiments of the Romanian 3rd Infantry Division from the 2nd Army intervened and managed to stop the German advance together with the Russian reserves. The following day, general Grigorescu prepared an attack in the Muncelul area, aimed at eliminating the bulge created by the Germans. He put at the disposal of the Russian 8th Corps another Russian division, as well as the Romanian 9th Infantry Division, a regiment from the 13th and another from the 15th Division. The two regiments from the 2nd Army were also supposed to participate in this action.


    The assault started at 0800 hours, from the north and west, but found the Germans ready for an attack of their own and it was repulsed. The second one, around 1700 hours, was also repulsed. The Germans forced the right wing of the Russian 124th Division to pull back. Two battalions from the 2nd Army intervened and managed to stop the enemy advance during the night. The 11th and 13th Infantry Divisions were brought behind the threatened areas. The 5th Division crossed to on the western bank of the Siret River. On 30 August, the German 18th Reserve Corps resumed the attack and its troops managed to get between the 18th Dorobanti Regiment Gorj and the 2nd Vanatori Regiment of the 2nd Army. The 34th Infantry Regiment Constanta, belonging to the 9th Division from the 1st Army, counterattacked and plucked in the breach.


    The Russian 8th Corps was strengthened with the 13th Infantry Division on 31 August, when, because of the weather, there was no fighting. General Eremia Grigorescu subordinated the 9th Infantry Division and a Russian division to the CO of the 13th Division, brig. general Ioan Popescu. This group attacked on 1 September. The artillery preparation started at 0600 hours, with all the artillery available to the group, as well as with the artillery of the other two Russian divisions and the army's heavy artillery. After one hour, the 9th and 13th Divisions attacked from the west and the 3rd Infantry Division (belonging to the 2nd Army), commanded by brig. general Alexandru Margineanu, from the north. After some heavy fighting, the 13th Division advanced up t o200 m of Muncelul. The 18th Corps counterattacked in the sector of the 3rd Infantry Division, but was repulsed. The following day, the same 3rd Division suffered the brunt of the 9th Army's strike. The main objective was the Porcului Hill, defended by the 30th Dorobanti Regiment Muscel. It lost the positions, but they were retaken following the counterattack of the division's reserves and of a Russian regiment. It was the last major operation of the German 9th Army in the Marasesti sector.


    The offensive of the 1st Army in the Muncelul area was resumed on 3 September. The 11th Infantry Division was subordinated to the General Popescu Group, entering the first line beside the 9th and 13th Divisions. The Russian division and the regiments of the 2nd Army formed the reserve. The plan was to attack frontally with the 9th Division and a brigade of the 11th, while the 13th Division and the other brigade of the 11th Division were going to attack the Muncelul village, threatening the enemy flank. The artillery preparation started at 0630 hours and at 0800 hours the 13th Infantry Division started the assault, but could not make any progress. The same happened in the sector of the 9th Division. A second artillery preparation, which lasted for an hour and a half, and some violent hand-to-hand fighting were necessary for the 13th Infantry Division to occupy the eastern edge of the Muncelul village. But the Romanian losses that day were heavy: about 2,700 men.


    This was the last day of the battle of Marasesti, both sides deciding to adopt a defensive attitude on the entire front. The Romanian 1st Army had lost 610 officers and 26,800 NCOs and soldiers, while the German 9th Army had lost about 47,000. Forty Mihai Viteazul Orders 3rd class were awarded for deeds accomplished during the fighting around Marasesti. Maj. general Eremia Grigorescu received the Mihai Viteazul 2nd class. Also, the flags of no less than 9 regiments were decorated with the Mihai Viteazul 3rd class. The fighting continued with little intensity the following days, with local attacks and counterattacks. In one of these clashes, on the Secuiului Hill on 5 September, the volunteer Ecaterina Teodoroiu was killed by machine-gun fire, while leading her platoon. On the other side, on 8 September, maj. general Kurt von Wenniger, CO of the German 18th Reserve Corps, was killed by an artillery shell in the Muncelul area.

  22. gmac101
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    Robert Romanis was stationed near Ypres in Belgium when the Kaiser Slacht started but his Division, the 35th received orders on the 22nd of March to reinforce the British line south near the Somme.  The Division was taken the 100 miles or south to Heilly station on trains. Each of the 9 battalions on a separate train.  The trains consisted of 1 carriage for the officers, 17 flat wagons for carts and stores and 40 covered wagons which would either contain Soldiers or Horses.  The 12th Highland Light Infantry (HLI) Roberts Battalion left Proven at around 9pm on train No. 7 and arrived at their destination at about 1 pm the next day. A 16 hour trip.  They were then bussed 10 miles or so to Bray sur Somme where they marched to the village of Maricourt arriving in the early morning  of the 25th and took up position along the D197 north from Maricourt as far as a Brickworks near Bernafay Wood (the brickworks is gone but it’s location is marked by patch of rough ground alongside the road which can be seen on google maps).  The Germans attacked from the east at 7:45am on the 25th and at multiple times during the day using artillery, rifle and machine gun fire.  The attacks finally ceased at 8pm but the 12th HLI had suffered a number of casualties including Robert.  His body was never identified and he is remembered on the Poziere memorial but at the Commonwealth War Grave Commission cemetery in Maricourt there are over 150 graves of unknown soldiers – one of these may well be the grave of Robert Romanis

    Robert Hope served in the Highland Light Infantry as well as Robert Romanis but he was in the 2nd Battalion which was part of the 2nd Division and stationed further North near Baupame. He started the battle in reserve but by the 22nd of March was in the front line just to the south of where Gordon Tait and George Frier were serving.  His unit then began a long retreat to maintain the British line.  On the night of the 24th they were allowed 2 hours sleep in the village of Ligny Thilloy.  They continued to retreat the next day over the old Somme battlefield, the shell holes covered in long grass did not make for easy going.  During the retreat they formed the rearguard and came under enemy fire just North of Le Sars and it likely that this is where Robert was killed, his unit then continued their retreat.  He left a wife in Edinburgh who was paid a war gratuity of £8 10shillings

  23. A medal recently came into my hands with an intensely human story behind it that I feel compelled to share. It is just one of the 6.5 million British War Medals that were produced at the end of the Great War of 1914-19, and is therefore nothing special in itself. As with so many of these, it’s true value can only be found by discovering the story that lies behind it.

    As always, my start point came from the meagre details that the mint had punched into its rim, telling me that the medal was issued to recognise the service of “950. PTE. A. COOK. NOTTS & DERBY”. The actual Medal Rolls proved to be much more informative, revealing to me that he had in fact served with their 1st/8th battalion. Alfred Cook was therefore a member of the newly formed Territorial Force which had emerged from the reorganisation of the old volunteers units that came about with the implementation of the Haldane Reforms in 1907.

    Born at Sutton-in-Ashfield (near Mansfield), in November of 1891, he was the fifth surviving child in a family of six. His older siblings were Annie Elizabeth, Hannah, John William and Harold, whilst Robert, the final addition to the family, had been born when Alfred was two. It is however the special relationship which seems to have existed between Alfred and Harold that will occupy much of our story. He was just a year older than Alfred, and they seem to have been very close.

    So far as is known, Harold was the first member of the family to join the Territorial Force, which he must have done around the year 1909. In those days Sutton-in-Ashfield had its own Company of what was then simply known as the 8th Battalion. Still organised on the old “8 Company system” until after war was declared, their unit had several bases scattered around north Nottinghamshire. There was “A” Company at Retford, “B” at Newark, “C” at Sutton-in-Ashfield, “D” at Mansfield, “E” at Carlton, “F” at Arnold, “G” at Worksop and “H” at Southwell. It would seem that Harold enjoyed the experience enough for some of his enthusiasm to rub off onto Alfred, who followed in his footsteps and joined in his own right on 22nd August 1910. The battalion had actually returned from their annual summer camp earlier in that same month, and perhaps the tales of Harold’s 2 week adventure had been a major factor in influencing Alfred to sign up himself.

    The boys were however growing up in other ways too, and it was not long before Harold had both found himself a bride and started a family of his own. This young couple would go on to have 3 children before the war, who they named as Lilian, Alice and, perhaps significantly, Alfred. It is easy to see that, with a young wife and growing family, Harold may have begun to find his commitment to the Territorial Force a little irksome and, despite their training being part-time, it would certainly have eaten into the time that couple had for each other. Whatever the reasons that lay behind it, we do know that Harold did not extend his contract with the unit, and handed back his uniform when his 4 years were up.

    The two brothers would still have had lots of time together with “C” Company before then, and doubtless went on several annual camps in each others company. If Alfred at all missed his brothers’ presence in the unit, perhaps he consoled himself with the thought that his own contract would terminate at the end of August in 1914. Unfortunately however, by that date the Kaiser already had other plans for both of them.

    The 4th August 1914 actually found Alfred at summer camp with the entire Territorial Brigade of the Sherwood Foresters, where the outbreak of the European war apparently took very few of their number by surprise. In fact, it is recorded that the men were so gripped by “war fever” that it rendered any prospect of them following their planned training schedule completely impossible. Once the formal declaration of war became known to them, their summer camp at Hunmanby near the Yorkshire coast was broken up and the men were sent home. Alfred would doubtless have been exceptionally eager to talk things over with Harold as soon as he arrived back at the family home in Park Street.

    Things then began to move very quickly, and as early as Friday 7th August, the entire battalion had been mobilised and concentrated at Newark, where their men were briefly billeted in the local schools. With their strength recorded at 29 officers and 852 other ranks, a Church Parade and official send-off was held for them in the market square on Monday 10th before they marched off to their designated war station.

    Harold also acted quickly, and signed a new attestation document with his old unit on August 9th. It would appear that, despite his family commitments, he may have been determined to take part in what he perhaps thought promised to be a great adventure. It is also possible however that he was equally motivated by wanting to try to look after his younger brother.

    Alfred’s destiny actually became sealed on 3rd September, when he signed Army Form E624 and volunteered for overseas service. As with many other battalions of the Territorial Force, the issue of overseas service had not been given much emphasis in the 8th before the war, though 80% of their men readily accepted the commitment shortly after they had been mobilised. The brothers would almost certainly have discussed this issue, and we know that Harold also stepped forward to join the majority.

    Part of the first full Division of the Territorial Force to be sent to France, the brothers landed at Le Harvre in early March of 1915. After moving up country towards the front line they engaged in an intensive training programme that culminated in them being sent into the trenches near Messines at the end of that month under the watchful eye of seasoned regulars. Despite the deep seated and widespread suspicions held about the Territorial Force amongst many of the full time professionals of the regular army, who frequently disparaged them as “Saturday night soldiers”, the 8th were judged to have performed well. So well in fact that, from the beginning of April, the battalion were detailed to take over a stretch of the front at Kemmel in there own right.

    Up to this point the 8th had been lucky. Whilst 3 of their number had been wounded, their familiarisation had taken place in a quiet sector where they had not yet been exposed to the full grim reality of the war. All this began to change with the death of 18 year old Jack Hyde on Tuesday 6th April. Originating from Arnold but serving in “A” Company, he was shot through the head by a sniper and buried at the nearby Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery. In fact, as the days passed, and their casualties grew in number, Rows D and E in this cemetery began to assume the appearance of a plot reserved purely for the men of the 8th battalion. By Monday the 14th June, and after several tours in the trenches, it had already become the final resting place for no fewer than 43 of them.

    Tuesday the 15th should have brought relief for the battalion, who were due to be replaced by anther unit thereby affording the 8th an opportunity to spend some time in one of the safer rear areas. It was reported as a quiet day until 21:00 hrs when, quite suddenly, with the unexpected detonation of three huge German mines, all hell broke loose. These acted as a signal that started a hail of artillery shells, trench mortars, rifle grenades and machine gun fire that then swept across the British trenches for over an hour. The enemy infantry proceeded to use this covering fire to advance into one of the mine craters that had been created within feet of where Alfred Cook had been standing, though they were swiftly driven out of this new position at the point of the bayonet. Major John Becher (a native of Southwell) was then able to supervise the reconstruction and reorganisation of the British defences, the coolness and efficiency with which he completed the task contributing towards him becoming the first man of the battalion to receive the DSO. By 23:00 hrs the situation had stabilised enough for the battalion to carry on with its planned relief but, by that time, both Alfred and another man from “C” Company, Oliver Bryan, were missing.

    When greeted by this news, it would appear that Harold became beside himself. Joining forces with two of Oliver Bryan’s brothers, who were also serving with the battalion at that time, the three of them together swiftly sought and received permission from one of their officers to go back and search for their missing kinsmen.

    In the darkness however they soon found that they were unable to conduct a proper search and, being in close proximity to the enemy, were at last reluctantly forced to abandon the enterprise. A court of enquiry later came to the conclusion that both Alfred and Oliver must have been buried under the front wall of their trench at the very start of the attack, when the German mines had been detonated. Neither of them were ever seen again and, having no known graves, they later became the first 2 soldiers from the 8th battalion to be remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial to the missing.

    The story however does not end on that particular date, there being an equally sad postscript. Harold would lose his own life just 4 months later, during the same action which also saw Major Becher become fatally wounded. In a cruel twist of fate for the Becher family, two of his brothers-in-law, who were also serving as officers with the 8th battalion, were also killed on that same date. Becher eventually lost his own struggle for life at one of the base hospitals on the 1st January 1916, eleven weeks after he had been injured. The remaining Bryan brothers fared better, Charles went on to both win the MM and be promoted to the rank of Corporal, before being invalided out due to sickness in August of 1917. Stanley Bryan however was perhaps the most fortunate of them all, he was the only one of the 5 brothers that went on to serve until the end of the war, and was finally demobilised from the Labour Corps at the end of February in 1919.

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