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Remembered Today:

1st Battlion Essex Regiment 100 years on


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  • 100 years ago, today the 1st Battalion of the Essex Regiment went "over the top" to attack the German Lines at Monchy-Le-Preux, among them my Great Uncle 28546 Louis Arthur Hayes.

 

Some years ago, on visiting my Grandfathers old house I went up into the Loft to check the water Tank and found a Wooden Box and on opening it came across papers and documents, letters and two Bronze Memorial Discs

One of these was for my Great Uncle, he was Killed in the attack that Morning,

 

It was this "Loft moment" now some 25 years ago that stimulated my interest in our Family's History and more so that of those who had served and who had been killed in the "Great War"

 

Through letters found in the Box I could trace my Uncles time from when he joined up and wrote from Aldershot Barracks and then onto Felixstowe and then onto France.

 

The letters, written in pencil wrote of his Progress and how his shooting accuracy marked him for possible sniper training and on reading them you could imagine him sitting there, writing, perhaps by Candle light, or moving from one location to another

 

As well as writing home to his Sister, he wrote to his Brother Rob, who as he had emigrated to Canada some years before had joined up and was  "Brit" fighting for the Canadians , in this letter he wrote of the "future" and you could feel that they wanted it to be over but knew that he had a "job to do" (Rob went over the top at Vimy Ridge 100 years ago with the Canadians alongside his elder brother Jack ( aged 40)   and they both survived the Battle)

 

History writes about these Battles and what went on that day is recorded in the war diaries and in the History books, less perhaps is said of the personal impact of the Battle and on those who served, I had perhaps a unique insight into this impact,

 

Louis was missing, no body was ever recovered that we know of , that morning some 644 men and 17 officers out of a battalion strength of 31 Officers and 892 other ranks lost their lives or were taken prisoner in sixty minutes of action, we now know that the Germans "withdrew" when we advanced and drew our guys into what was basically a "trap" and then counter attacked wiping out 75% of the Essex and Northumberland Fusiliers who were attacking beside them.

 

The 1st Essex War Diaries write of an initial "success" and then of receiving reports of large numbers of Germans being seen and one by one runners fail to show up from the Company's and the assumption being made that they had each one by one been overwhelmed by "superior numbers"  

 

The diary then writes about the fact that that” it became obvious” that a major counter attack was taking place, one that threatened Monchy itself and as such everybody was thrown into the defence of the town, Cooks as well!, street  barricades were erected and I have seen one picture of this action with half a dozen men holding back much superior forces

 

There was a terrific amount of shellfire going on at the time, it must have been chaos,

 

the Counter attack was held off and what was left of the Battalion was combined for a time with the Newfoundland regiment  until additional drafts could make up the losses

 

From what you can read and learn of this attack the planning seems to have fallen well short of that carried out by the Canadians before they took Vimy Ridge ,

 

The attack was delayed for 24 Hours , time perhaps for the Germans to see what was going on and make their own plans ?

 

To My family at home, news of the Great Battle at Vimy Ridge made the papers, less so the other battles raging around Arras, so my Uncles Sister on not hearing any news of him wrote to Louis asking for news, I have the letters as they were returned after being opened by the Censor, in them you can feel the concern the request for news and in addition writing with news from Home.

 

There were to be no letters "from the Front" eventually a letter received on the day of My Grandfathers wedding day nearly a month later, (I have written of him Fred, 12110 6th Batt Royal Berkshire Regiment, who was wounded at Delville Wood) confirming that Louis was missing believed Killed.

 

 He put the letter in his pocket, not telling his mother or father of the news until after the Wedding.

 

You can see how people’s lives were effected in so many ways by this War, the fall out spread far and wide and effected so many people in so many ways

 

There followed a long period of uncertainty while efforts were made to try and find Louis, letters to the Red Cross, replies from Berlin, written in German and again opened by the Censor, addressed to "Frau Hayes" which gave no news, letters from his CO again with no news

 

There was finally  a letter from a British Prisoner of War Camp in Hanover (Barrack one Soltau-Z-3008) written by one of the 1st Essex who had been captured that day, he wrote to try and comfort, and said that he had spoken with another man who had been with Louis when he was killed and he states that "believe me he died a true soldier’s death”.

The red cross also interviewed him and he told them Louis was killed during the advance.

 

These words written a hundred years ago and as I read them now put the "personal" perspective rather than History's "Narrative” on what went on a hundred years ag it’s a good thing that this was understood and that personal anecdotes and recordings were made and archived from many veterans before they passed away, and perhaps its to these we should address the younger generations so they can see and read for themselves the tragedy of War

 

But from those that died there were no words, many like Louis simply disappeared, his name is engraved on the Arras War memorial and now we have a memorial in Monchy itself, where he lays no one knows, perhaps his remains were recovered but it’s unlikely,

 

The Tower of London "Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red" seemed to me to be an appropriate occasion for personal Remembrance, firstly by applying and being successful in having Louis's name read out during one of the evening sunset retreats and last post and secondly by managing to purchase none of the Poppies and I have it beside me now, I hope that as time passes, we do not forget, and that younger generations will also remember the sacrifice that they made that we may live

 

Thank you for reading

 

 

 

 

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Edited by haysie56
error correction
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Fantastic piece Haysie my great great uncle was Kia with 11th Essex 28th June 1917 taking a small bunker not far from hill 70. I'll enclose a pic when I revisited the area last October.?

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  • 4 years later...
stevelowes

My Grandad was captured  as a POW    14th April 1917 in this battle       Harry Bradley 20030  1st Essex Regiment

 

 

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