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Fen

72nd Siege Battery (South African)

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Fen

Hello, apologies in advance for my very novice understanding of WW1 terminology etc. Can anyone advise me on where I can find further information on the movements of the 72nd Siege Battery after 24 August 1916 until the end of the war? My great grandfather, Thomas Walton Martin, was a bombadier in this battery (reg. no. 793) and his diary goes up until this date (whether it has been lost or he stopped writing, we do not know). I would like to research his movements after this date if possible. I have his service record which indicates that he travelled back to South Africa on HMS Gaika on 1 June 1919. Thank you in advance. 

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charlie962

Fen, welcome to the Forum.

 

A search on National Archives only got one War Diary hit for 72nd  and that was only for the period Dec 1917 ! Here is the link

 

WO95 5494-4 (courtesy national archives) gives this detail and may enable the higher level diaries to be located. This could involve looking at quite a few ?

 

534427657_GWFRGA72SBWO9554944.JPG.a95923b144f7b32c5976de5042bba3c5.JPG

 

There is a very brief history of the 72nd in the Appendix of the 'History of the South African Forces in France', here on archive.org

For 1918 see a few pages on- 50th Heavy Bde

 

Charlie

 

edit:  the War Diary of the 50th (South African) Brigade RGA is here at National Archives which I think is the right one for 1918 when the 72nd, 74th, 75th and 275th Batteries were Brigaded together. Yes it is the right one for the 1918 period only although you have to download 1916/17 as well which are irrelevant to you. The 50th HAG (Heavy Artillery Group) was renamed 50th Brigade RGA from Jan 1918.

 

Edited by charlie962

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Fen

Hi Charlie

 

Thank you, I'm enjoying this forum. Such a wealth of knowledge!

 

Thank you for all of this information. I appreciate it very much. I'm going to get reading and then move on to the movements of my great grandfather's four brothers. 

 

May I ask what the difference was between a bombadier and a gunner? 

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MaxD

Could I dare to add to Charlie's info that the National Archives diaries use the RGA brigade titles so 40 HAG which he was with in August 1916 is 40 Brigade Royal Garrison Artillery https://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/82052a5f331b4332b8c05b353fc47c03 and so on.

 

As it happened to be in my extremely small library, I had a look at 10 HAG and 72 Siege is indeed recorded as joining 10 HAG on 2 Feb 1917 (as above) with another four batteries.  Tending to complicate the issue that going from one HAG to another didn't always mean moving, simply a change of communication links and locations are often not noted, one has to refer back to the previous HAG.

 

I had a look for the 1st Canadian HAG in the Canadian archives but the only specific document relates to the loss of a motor cycle!  The diary of the Commander Canadian Heavy Artillery doesn't seem to mention the battery.

 

A bombardier at that time was the one stripe step up from the rank of gunner.

 

Max

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Fen

Thank you, Max. It is all rather confusing - but I am greatly enjoying the research. 

 

My GG does mention the Canadians quite a bit in his diary. 

 

Thank you for the distinction :)

 

 

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charlie962
2 hours ago, MaxD said:

Could I dare to add to Charlie's info

With a cypher like yours I bow and scrape to a superior being!

 

Fen, there are some serious Gunner experts (as well as mere enthusiasts like me) on this forum so do come back with questions on interpretation and context.

 

Charlie

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Fen

Thank you, Charlie! I definitely will.

 

My gran is 93 and had no idea what her father did during the war until now. She is blind and a bit hard of hearing but is so enjoying hearing about it all. 

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MaxD
3 hours ago, charlie962 said:

With a cypher like yours I bow and scrape to a superior being!

Charlie - your modesty is exceed only by your personal beauty, I have learned much from your many inputs!

 

Fen - the short period in Feb/March 1917 with 10 HAG took place in what were termed the Operations on the Ancre. These are covered well here: http://everything.explained.today/Operations_on_the_Ancre%2c_January–March_1917/  Look particularly at the section Actions at Miraumont.

 

72 Siege and the other batteries formed a counter bombardment group whose task was to fire at the enemy artillery and fortifications mostly behind their front lines making the task of the front line troops that much easier.  The diary does not say where the batteries were located but given the targets they were engaging, which are listed, they must have been somewhere in the Hebuterne/ Sailly au Bois area. Firing was often on a pre-determined time schedule, intense activity three or four times a day to get away 30-100 rounds a day. The diary does record the end of the grouping on 20 March.

 

Good luck with the other diaries.

 

Max

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MGWQbRK9uTM  (earlier version of the gun they had)

 

 

Edited by MaxD
youtube

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Fen

Thank you, Max. 

 

Do you know what this might mean - 'during afternoon whizz-bang coming over Coo-Loo (this might be 'Coo-Coo', we cannot decipher his writing) in Blighty Wood'? This for the date 12 May 1916, so before the above. 

 

I know what a whizz-bang is, but don't know what Coo-Loo/Coo-Coo means? I've tried to google it without success but I did see 'Coo-Coo' painted on the side of a tank in the film, 'They Shall not Grow Old'. 

 

Also, where was Blighty Wood? I cycled from Albert to Thiepval via Autuille this past July so I understand the landscape here somewhat. 

 

Thank you. 

 

*I realise now, properly looking at a map, where Blighty Wood Cemetery is (I cycled right past it on the road into Authuille). I presume the wood was to the right of the road I was on. 

Edited by Fen

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MaxD

Could it be Coulee (trench) which in the Feb/Mar 1917 time was part of the German trench system being targeted near Le Sars?  Unlikely though given the date/location.  Sounds like their own nickname for something or a nearby place in cod-French.  Can you locate where he is at the time?

 

Authuille Wood -  Blighty Valley Cemetery.  There is a memorial plot to 5 soldiers who died as POWS and were buried in Becourt German cemetery http://ww1wargraves.com/ww1_cemeteries/memorials_france_b.asp - the plot on the CWGC is confirmed as Blighty Valley Cemetery.  Blighty Valley is the valley that runs south through the wood.

 

Max

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Fen

On 1 May 1916 he wrote 'it is to be Avesin (perhaps Avesnes or maybe Aveluy? not legible) in defence. First experience of battle.'

5 May 1916 - 'Bronze Statue of Holy Virgin & child hanging from top of tower by iron girders in remarkable position. Terrific bombardment about midnight, rain of shells over trenches etc. Wonderfully beautiful sight but none to pleasant.' 

This must be near Albert

12 May 1016 - the above reference to Blighty Wood which is to the right of the road between Aveluy and Authuille 

25 May 1916 - 'recalled back to Mailly' which must be Mailly Mallet

 

I think he must have been somewhere between Albert and Aveluy so a bit far from Le Sars? It must indeed be their own nickname. 

Edited by Fen

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MaxD

Yes - I thought I had deleted the ref to Coullee!!

 

Trench maps of the time don't show up any French names that might come out as Coo-Loo.

 

Max

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Fen

This morning I went rummaging through the kist that contained my GGF's diary and I have found more continuing on from August 1916! 

 

None of my friends understand my excitement, so I have to write it here! :)

 

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MaxD

I am with you on this Fen - hopefully his diary is going to give you what you want without having to get however many HAG diaries it is!  Do keep us in the picture.

 

Max

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Fen

Thanks, Max! I will for sure!

 

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charlie962
31 minutes ago, MaxD said:

without having to get however many HAG diaries it is

Max, I've tried to see where the relevent May 1916 War Diary would be, following from post2 info. But apart from GOC X Corps Heavy Artillery level, which gives little detail, I couldn't see anything useful; Your 40 HAG link then takes it up from late 1916. Any thoughts ?

 

Charlie

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MaxD

I think you have it there Charlie - the X Corps Commander Heavy Artillery and nothing below it.  The period with the Canadian Corps has a similar problem on locations but I've been through that for both periods with no success.

 

The 10 HAG incidentally records the batteries leaving it on 20 March 1917 for 9 HAG which is not quite what 5494 says.

 

I confess that apart from 10 HAG which I had already and the Canadian Hy Art Comdr easily found I haven't downloaded any of the other diaries.   It may be in the light of Fen's recent post that her GGFs diary will give the info required, I'm waiting for developments in the Fen household!

 

Max

Edited by MaxD

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Fen

Hello again! So I've read the additional part of the diary which ends on 23 December 1916. From 13 July to 23 December, he seems to remain around Autuille Wood, there is plenty of digging of observation trenches and long bombardments ('we worked like trojans').  Here is a summary of the dates and corresponding locations and some of his comments for context:

  • 5 May 1916 - ALBERT ..it is to be Avesin/Avesnes/Avesnelles in defence. Bronze statue of Holy Virgin and Child hanging from top of tower
  • 25 May - Recalled back to MAILLY
  • 26 May - Seen a tommy fishing for trout in RIVER ANCRE
  • 3 June - crossed into Belgium via GODEWAERSVELDE for Ypres front
  • 4 June - arrived YPRES, got guns into position
  • 6 June - Major Alston badly wounded at 9pm, Capt Cairns badly knocked about face, also Snr (Sgt?) Lawston/Lawton slightly wounded 
  • 10 June - Evacuated billet for Chateau. Shelling too hot at billet (Not sure which chateau near Ypres?)
  • 14 June - Leave Ypres for Mailly via Poperinge, Godewaersvelde. Complimented by Canadian General on effective work done at Ypres and all troops sorry we left. Left guns at BEAUVAL to be overhauled. 
  • 16 June - arrive MAILLY, ready for big bombardment 
  • 5 July - Left Mailly for new position at ENGELBELMAR. Lent to 10th army for bombardment of LA BOISELLE
  • 13 July - left Engelbelmar for AUTUILLE WOOD. Took up position on banks of Ancre River, hottest corner in as have yet been
  • 14 July - find we are nearest guns to frontline, 1000 yards away. Still hot
  • 2 Sept - Infantry rush for Thiepval
  • 3 Sept - on our right, the boys took the village of Guillemont and Mouquet Farm 
  • 14 Sept - British took Courcelette, Martinpuich and Flers
  • 26 Sept - Great attack on Thiepval. Inf went over at 1.15pm. Thiepval taken. 12 Rgds (Rnds?) on Miraumont. Message from trenches ‘the battery you fired on this afternoon is very active. Please fire on them.’ 50 Rds put into them. Enemy ceased firing
  • 28 Sept - Successful attack on Schwaben Redoubt. Bombardment started at 12.45pm. Inf went over at 1.15pm
  • 13 Nov - The taking of Beaumont Hamel 

I am busy typing up his account in full so I will post it here when I'm done. GGF was a man of not too many words so it won't take too long. 

Edited by Fen

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charlie962
1 hour ago, Fen said:

Bronze statue of Holy Virgin and Child hanging from top of tower

Albert as Max said (courtesy Australian War Memorial)

1833791983_GWFFenAlbertStatue.JPG.5bedfcf743afa3e081e0b9d8a3aae565.JPG

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MaxD

(It was Fen who ID'd Albert from the famous statue)

 

The reference to Beauval (14 June) would suggest that the battery was still in the same general area in Feb/Mar 1917 as the 10 HAG diary refers to the group  "leaving Beaval for Saulty" when they were moved from 5th Army to 3rd Army (72 Siege had left just before this).  Miraumont (26 Sept) and Schwaben Redoubt (28 Sept) were still targets for the battery in the Feb/Mar 1917 10 HAG period.

This is unsurprising.  One of the difficulties with locating the heavy artillery is that coming under the control of a different HAG very often didn't entail a move of location, simply a different communication arrangement.  The long range of the heavies meant that in a fairly static period of battle, they were able to simply stay where they were.  Thus, in my sentence above, it would have been better to say "72 Siege has ceased to be under the control of".... rather than "left" which implies movement which mau not have been the case.

 

When you get to Oct/Nov 1917, look out for the loss of a motor cycle!  Deep digging in the Canadian archives finds there is a record of a court of enquiry into the loss of a motor cycle from 72 Siege Battery.  The record is not digitised although it can be obtained from Canada.http://collectionscanada.gc.ca/pam_archives/index.php?fuseaction=genitem.displayItem&rec_nbr=3946359&lang=eng&rec_nbr_list=3946361,3946364,3946365,3946359,3946356,3946362,2005432,2004797,2004802,2004799

 

Would you like to clip out the Coo Loo bit and the immediate context before and after in case it is a bit of what is often called Gunner mumbo-jumbo that might be recognisable.

 

Fascinating

 

Max

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Fen

Thanks, Max. That is very helpful. I was looking at maps this morning and wondering about their range as he mentions different places in completely opposite directions while seemingly being in the same place. I believe they were operating 6" howitzers, do you know their range? 

 

Here is a postcard of GGF, Thomas Walton Martin (centre), and his 'two chums' McKenzie (left) and Adams/McAdams (right). Dated [illegible]/5/17. Written on the back is:

‘My dear Mother, Father & Sis

 

This is just a wee snap of myself and two chums. You must please excuse our appearing so dirty as we just finished pulling guns to [illegible] and putting them together. Hope everybody is quite well at home. 

 

Your loving son & brother’

 

He mentions McKenzie being wounded by a shell on 22 July 1916. 

McKenzieToppyAdam.jpg

IMG_3935.jpg

Edited by Fen

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charlie962
1 minute ago, Fen said:

[illegible

pieces

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Fen

Ah, yes! I see that now. Thank you. 

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Fen

GGF Thomas Walton Martin (centre) with Perry (left) and Matthews (right). I have no idea where this one was taken...

PerryToppyMatthews.jpeg

Edited by Fen

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charlie962
6 minutes ago, Fen said:

and putting them together

and putting back together

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