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Le Quesnoy March 1918


Jerrymurland
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This small village was the scene of a gallant rearguard action comprising of 100 men of 7 DCLI, two Lewis gunners and Captain E P Combe MC, the Brigade Major of 61 Brigade. Apart from snippets of info - Haig's despatches, etc - I can find little about the action that lasted all day. Anyone know more?

Jerry

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If you can't find it (and I know that feeling!), let me know & I'll send a transcript. I do have a photograph of Captain Coombs MC & Bar, as he was originally from my part of the world, Hucknall.

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Jim, that would be wonderful - is it Combes - as in 20th Div history -or Coombes? If you could possibly let me have a copy of the pic I would be very grateful. Hooray - just found it!! Any idea who Captain Stoker is? Somersets. Kings or DCLI?

Don't you just love it when a story starts coming together?

Jerry

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If memory serves, it's Coombs (but my memory rarely serves). It's not a great photograph - taken from a poor copy of a microfilm copy of a newspaper but it's better than nothing. Will sort it out for you later.

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Thanks Jim, much appreciated. just found his MIC - its Combe. By the way you don't have his MC citations do you? I've just trawled through the Gazette and found zilch - but that's not untypical of me!!. First one in 1915 apparently, presumably the second for the Le Quesnoy affaire.

Jerry

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My man is Captain John Cecil Coombes MC & Bar (the first was gazetted on 1st January 1917). The citation for his bar (London Gazette 26th July 1918), presented to him by the King on 31st July 1918, was as follows:

"He did valuable work holding up the enemy with his trench mortar battery when all troops in his vicinity had been forced to withdraw, and his unit was more than half depleted by casualties. He then collected a party of men, and fought a gallant rearguard action from house to house through a village, inflicting considerable casualties on the enemy, and holding him up till almost cut off with only eight men left. Two days later, when the situation on the right flank of his division was critical, he on two occasions went over to the brigade on the right under heavy shell fire and brought back valuable information as a result of his reconnaissances. He displayed fine courage and initiative throughout the operations."

The Rev. T.L.B. Westrode, Chaplain of the 7th Somerset Light Infantry, is quoted in Malcolm Brown's book as follows:

"You might imagine from the rapidity of the German advance that we ran from St. Quentin but the extraordinary courage of our troops cannot be better illustrated by the story of the deeds of our brigade at Le Quesnoy. Here at the village was fought a fight that should make all Englishmen the wide world over thrill with pride.

"Captain Coombes, our Brigade Major, and Captain F. Stoker found themselves holding this village during the retirement with fifty men of the 7th Somersets, 12th King's and 7th DCLI. Twelve hundred Germans poured out of the woods to attack this little band. It was one o'clock in the afternoon, and until five that night this mighty horde of Huns was held up by two British officers, a few trusty NCOs and a handful of stalwart warriors.

"Eventually the enemy got into one end of the vilage, and succeeded in knocking out our Lewis guns and their teams. Still the heroic band fought on, until at last only two or three rifles were left to crack. At 5 p.m. the two officers and nine men alone remained, and most of these were wounded. In the gathering dusk this little company of eleven got away to the main body of troops behind, having held up the German Army in this sector for four precious hours! Who knows but that those four precious hours saved Amiens and perhaps the British Army itself! When the list of honours comes to be issued the names of those eleven Englishmen should stand high on the record of immortal fame."

"Westerdale later added to his account the fact that Captain Coombes had subsequently received a bar to his Military Cross."

Brown, Malcolm, "The Imperial War Museum Book of 1918 Year of Victory," pp. 68-69, Pan (London) 1999.

P.M. me and I'll email his photo, never having mastered the art of compressing photos to display here without turning them into microdots! Failing, and if you're on facebook, his photograph appears here: https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=282049151831148&set=a.183017841734280.33093.117600881609310&type=3&theater.

Just done a quick google search and found his group for sale at £2,950. There more detail here taken from his service record:

https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&q=cache:2rD7NDHIPzgJ:military-medals-online.com/OrdersSing%26GrpsPDF.pdf+Captain+John+Cecil+Coombes+MC+%26+Bar&hl=en&gl=uk&pid=bl&srcid=ADGEESh7f1MOsbbWfFEoF0_1GFDd8C_d-6FLWjEa6yq8_S6jdMi0wxKA1zqoNs8W5C6ofdnCHQj1y-qT98tGvhwk8oAwaJrMIpX1MV3LE9O9c3IUEjHB6Uy9Ry77IjmlJ1-kIwzWh5_5&sig=AHIEtbQCD_YiW3u3Egs_klhyF4kufMuX_Q.

Hope this helps.

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Any idea who Captain Stoker is? Somersets. Kings or DCLI?

Jerry

Capt Kenneth (not F) Stoker MC was attchd to the 12 KLR and by 26th March was OC 61st Composite Battalion and took the remnants out of action. Throughout the 23rd he was in close contact with the 7/DCLI. Lt Col Burges Short, shortly before he was wounded and captured, had sent msgs to Stoker.

One timed 12.40pm on 23rd reads:

"Take your command complete with 2 LG to about R 14 b 0.0 and act as occasion requires to assist in preventing enemy at all costs from piercing our line at CUGNY, the importance of which is easily seen from the map aaa There is a marsh to the north and a steep wooded hill to the south aaa Take orders from senior officer on the spot and return to me if you are not wanted"

2nd Msg:

Timed 7.50pm 23rd:

"My company on your front says part is surrounded and the other parts scattered aaa Counter-attack at once with your command and restore the situation aaa Take the 2 officers of B Co with you if you can but do not waste time"

The original copies are in Stoker's papers

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That's interesting - many thanks for this. The reference to Cugny ties up with the 2/RIF stand at Cugny when the battalion was practically wiped out. Soker's papers you refer to - are they in a Kew File of IWM?

Jerry

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Jim, again, many thanks! I am inclined to think that Coombes and Combe as referred to by Westrode are the same man. However as soon as I nail it I'll let you know. Its interesting that Westrode also gets Stoker's name wrong as well.

Jerry

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post-24996-0-10929900-1349789138_thumb.jAs far as I know this material is only in my collection. The msgs are signed in pencil and are not carbon copies. I have a small collection of Kenneth Stoker's papers including original hand-written messages by Burges-Short, Capt E P Combe MC and a Capt Chas. W Webb, acting Comp Bde Maj at the time of the offensive and retreat. His notebooks contain much on the reorganisation of the remnants of the 61st Bde

This message was handed to capt Stoker by hand

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Most interesting and thank you. How did you come by them? I'm trying to piece together the story of the defence of Le Quesnoy for a forthcoming book on the rearguards of the March 1918 offensive. Might you possibly have anything else I could use from your collection?

Jerry

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Hi Jerry,

Did you get the copy of the hand written account of Pte Hoyle 24th Bn Royal Fusiliers written by him from the period of 21st march 1918 until the time he was wounded?

Regards Andy

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