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Remembered Today:

244th Siege Battery location 9th April 1917


KathyP
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I'm a writer trying to reconstruct the last minutes of the life of poet Edward Thomas, who is described by his biographers and in an eye witness account as stepping out from an OP - or, from an associated dugout - and leaning into the opening to fill his pipe, when a passing shell stopped his heart. I need to be able to make a mental picture the OP, dugout and guns, which were near a chalk pit close to Beaurains. I've been advised that the war diary may not exist. Matthew Hollis states that the guns stood on a road in front of the OP.

In response to my post in another forum, Kevin suggested:

"I cannot see that the batteries war diary has survived at the Nat. Archives so one would have to view the Heavy Artillery Group it was attached to. If you start a new post in "Units" headed "244th Siege Battery location" and give the date perhaps someone may have the relevant diary to pinpoint it ( 35 HAG). If the location of the battery is the same as that given in the book then one couldn't say that it was the OP, or at least I would find it hard to believe."

Any thoughts on this very welcome.

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May help to pick up a copy of 'London Gunners' which is a superb book detailing another 6 inch 26 cwt battery, the Honourable Artillery Company's RGA unit. Very descriptive and atmospheric, can pick up the Naval & Military Press reprint for cheap

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Hi Kathy

I am not sure you are on the right track in putting the OP with the battery. 244 were undertaking wire cutting throughout the bambardment and as with all heavy artillery, were positioned some way to the rear. Their position is given in the VI Corps Heavy Artillery diary as M2 d.65.80 which I have shown on the map below (care of Linesman - as always!)

post-28845-0-66846400-1361818626_thumb.j

You will see on the modern map how near he is buried in Agny Cemetery to the original battery position.

post-28845-0-21035400-1361818734_thumb.j

The OP position is more problematical and I will address that in the post in which you describe the situation and his death as the details above answer this thread.

Jim

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Kathy

I have the pages of 35th HAG for the month of April - sadly i'm not sure if they will be of use as they only include a few sporadic lines stating roughly what each battery fired on and at what time, how may shells etc - probably not much help. Please PM me if you want more details.

One avenue could be to find out roughly what grid referneces or targets the battery was shooting at - logically any OP would probably be on high ground within sight of these points - this may help in narrowing down your search. or it may not.

Kind regards

Colin

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Thank you, Colin, Jim and Rob. What you say does makes sense, Jim, though it is hard to reconcile with the eye-witness account.... I look forward to your thoughts on the OP, and a will meantime re-read all the material I have in the light of what's been suggested..

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Kathy,

I will attach the map that Jim kindly added to the Arras thread but have added where I think the OP is as shown in the Matthew Hollis book. Whether it is correct I don't know but it would make sense that the OP is roughly around there, giving views over both the allied and German trenches. I have posted it here because I think that it will be easier to locate both places (gun position and OP) from the one thread. If you use Google earth and get both locations identified using the map view you can then change it to satellite and zoom down until you are "virtually" walking the roads. In fact you could walk from roughly the chalk pit to the OP at ground level. Such is the wonders of the internet. Although, on balance, I can accept he was at the OP when he died it would be interesting to know who the Sgt. was who saw him. Either way the dugout that WhiteStarLine gave to my mind gives the more realistic impression of something that may have been used.

Kevin

post-14294-0-85481900-1361893891_thumb.j

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Kevin

What makes me dubious about your position is his description of a cellar. There will not have been a building in the position you show and therefore no cellar. On the edge of the village (as it was then) in M11a you would still be able to see the German lines on Telegraph Hill, the wire of which he will have been instructed to observe. I have an aerial photo somewhere which I will look out that will give a good idea of the scene at the time.

Jim

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Jim,

It is not my position but that given on a map by M. Hollis in his book about Thomas. I can see no mention of a cellar for just before he died, but two days before being killed his entry begins, "Here I am in my valise on the floor of my dugout writing before sleeping.....". I do believe this was written at the OP. As I have previously said the location of the OP would need varifying but one thing we can agree on (I think) is that it was unlikely to be near the guns. The description of a cellar being "close to" the OP may be 5, 10 or 100 yds away I would suggest. Everything is relative given how far he probably walked to the OP from the guns position.

Kevin

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You might want to consult The Gambardier: Giving Some Account of the Heavy and Siege Artillery in France 1914-1918 by 'Mark Severn' (pen name of Major Franklyn Lushington who commanded 244th Siege Battery, RGA). All of the officers in the book are given pseudonyms; that for 2nd Lieutenant P E Thomas, being 'Tyler'. Pages 127 through 130 discusses the positions of the guns and OP and the death of Thomas.

Page 127: 'The new position selected for the battery was in a disused quarry pit a few hundred yards south of the village of Achicourt.'

Pages 127-128: 'A few hundred yards across the plain in front of the quarry lay a sunken road, which ran parallel to the enemy front. This road had to be crossed on the way to the O.P.'

Page 128: 'The quarry was about thirty yards wide by a hundred long. In order to enable them to clear the lip of the forward bank, the guns were placed with their trails against a backward slope where they were quite exposed, without gun pits or shelter of any kind. Shells were raining into the position when the time for firing the practice barrage arrived, but by one of those inexplicable turns of fortune, no casualties were sustained.'

Page 128-129: A 5.9 plunged into the ground a foot from Tyler (Thomas), and failed to explode though the wind of its passing knocked him down. That night in the mess somebody said, "Thomas, you were evidently born to live through this war," and they all drank to his health. At 7 o'clock the next morning he was killed at the O.P. by a direct hit through the chest.'

Page 129: 'Easter Sunday, April 9th, dawned cold and wintry . . . Shadbolt (Major Lushington) looked at his watch. It wanted two minutes to the hour. Tyler (Thomas) should be at the O.P. by now. He had started late . . . Why didn't Tyler (Thomas) ring up? CRASH! The air was rent with a swelling thunder of sound, stunning, ear-splitting. deafening. The Battle of Arras had begun. A few minutes later a telephone message from the O.P. brought the sad news of Tyler's (Thomas's) death.'

Page 130: 'For three days there was nothing to do but clean up and listen to rumours. The body of poor Tyler (Thomas) was brought down from the O.P. and buried with all the honours of war.'

There is a reasonably long obituary of Thomas in The Pauline, vol. XXXV, No. 232 (June 1917), pages 65-67, but it does not give details of how he died.

Hope this is of some use. Dick Flory

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That is fascinating, Dick, both about the position of the guns and the road and the OP, and as regards the exact cause of Thomas' death, which other accounts have it somewhat differently (that he leaned out to light his pipe and died without being actually hit). It tallies with Major Lushington's initial letter to Thomas' wife, but not with accounts from Eleanor Farjeon and his wife, Helen, who both refer to the version told by the sergeant who visited them. Eleanor’s account of the sergeant's account describes ET as coming out from a dugout behind his gun, and it also makes reference to a gunshot, rather than a passing shell. Quite a few discrepancies....

I have been going through all the resources I have to hand and will try to put everything together. Thanks to all!

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  • 4 months later...

Colin - I'd love to read your 35 HAG material but can't PM you - is your inbox full? Cheers Simon

Kathy

I have the pages of 35th HAG for the month of April - sadly i'm not sure if they will be of use as they only include a few sporadic lines stating roughly what each battery fired on and at what time, how may shells etc - probably not much help. Please PM me if you want more details.

One avenue could be to find out roughly what grid referneces or targets the battery was shooting at - logically any OP would probably be on high ground within sight of these points - this may help in narrowing down your search. or it may not.

Kind regards

Colin

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Simon,

I, like Jim, was not convinced with the OP position given in Hollis's book, but having looked at it again I have noticed only one relevant post which describes a cellar. That was post 167 here http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=96280&st=150 . If this was the cellar referred to in the book then it may place the OP near Melton Trench. One may never know.

Kevin

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I think Jim's position above in post #6 is about right - I'll post some more maps later, but I think the position on Jim's map is the highest point of the raised ground surrounding Beaurains, and might also be the site of a former German dugout - Thomas made the following entry in his diary:

Thomas, Edward. The Childhood of Edward Thomas: A Fragment of Autobiography. London: Faber and Faber, 1983. Print.

pp.153-176 ‘1 January-8 April 1917’

p.174 31. Up at 5 worn out and wretched. 5.9s flopping on Achicourt while I dressed. Up to Beaurains. There is a chalk-stone cellar with a dripping Bosh dugout far under and by the last layer of stones is the lilac bush, rather short. Nearby a graveyard for the ‘tapferer franzos soldat’ with crosses and Hun names. Blackbirds in the clear cold bright morning early in black Beaurains. Sparrows in the elder of the hedge I observe through – a cherry tree just this side of the hedge makes projection in trench with its roots. Beautiful clear evening everything dark and soft round Neuville-Vitasse, after the rainbow there and the last shower. Night in lilac-bush cellar of stone like Berryfield. Letter to helen. Machine gun bullets snaking along – hissing like little wormy serpents.

There is a modern cemetery in the area too - I'll attach the maps when I've resized them.

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Simon,

It was Jim's map but it was me who put the red circle on it from the location given in the book by Hollis. Jim didn't think it a likely place as he said in post 7. Actually there is also a cemetery that was near Melton Trench that is shown on one or two of those earlier maps and photos.

Kevin

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Apologies Kevin - I was reading at speed at work. Very discourteous of me to missattribute.

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Simon

Many apologies - I've cleared out some space if you could try again.

Kind regards

Colin

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Apologies that this isn't Linesman - but a colleague at work overlaid the map from Hollis with a scan of the modern Series Bleu, If the map in Hollis has no provenance, then I suppose this is of little value; but I suppose it's of little use. I'll post some more maps,

post-50-0-20545700-1372707797_thumb.jpg

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This one overlays the map from Haig's Despatches courtesy of Jim Smithson with the series bleu - I'm looking at the small '100' contour line area immediately north of the second 'a' in Beaurains - might this be a logical high point for an established OP? Looks like good views over Harp / Telegraph Hill.

post-50-0-42815000-1372709593_thumb.jpg

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Finally a note on a map used by an experienced tour guide courtesy of Kathy that shows the feature at least has a history of association with the OP - could be wrong of course. NB the small contour.

post-50-0-29883500-1372710368_thumb.jpg

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Still think that the higher area to the north of the second 'a' in Beaurains is a very likely spot for an OP directing fire on Telegraph Hill...

post-50-0-89336900-1372889680_thumb.jpg

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