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Remembered Today:

Northumberland Fusiliers May 1918: 2nd Lt. Collins; 2nd Lt. Davies; 2nd Lt. Jennings


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This topic consolidates missing Second Lieutenants of the Northumberland Fusiliers on the Soissons Memorial during May 1918. The period checked is 1 May 1918 to 31 July 1918 to make sure all were included.


Two (2) of the three (3) are in these cemeteries and thus in these topics:


I have not yet located the remains of the third Unknown Second Lieutenant. Initially I thought I had the two that were missing from the 12th/13th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, then realised that I also had to account for the man of the 14th (Pioneer) Battalion of the Northumberland Fusiliers. They were all in the 21st Division during the Battle of the Aisne in May 1918. The two (2) of the 12th/13th Battalion were in the 62nd Brigade and the one (1) of the 14th Battalion was Army Troops.


For the moment, I have tagged these as part of the "Share a Grave" where we know that men are missing, have a good idea where they are, but do not know which man is in which grave. In this case we have three (3) men and to date only two (2) graves - I will keep looking for the third. If it was the 2nd Lieutenant hit by the high explosive artillery shell, he may never be found. As a minimum, the families of these three (3) men can go to these grave sites, perhaps visiting the one that they are missing. To figure out the rest, I must first solve the trench map riddle!


There is a complication with this case that is not typical of most of the investigations, that being the trench map coordinates are recorded in the odd format of the three digit numbers, on maps that were outside the main battle areas during the war. As of yet, I have not found the key to unlock the means of translating these three digit numbers into conventional trench map coordinates. For example, this 2nd Lieutenant has a burial reference of Berry au Bac 214 x 283 in grave 3.E.4 of the Hermonville Military Cemetery (COG-BR 2011835). The other 2nd Lieutenant has a burial reference of Jonchery & Vesle 280.9 x 214.1 (COG-BR 2013869). Both of these are on 1/20,000 scale maps. I have found a 1:/20,000 map (Sheet 76 N.E.) that covers Berry au Bac but not one for Jonchery & Vesle. None of the maps I have found to date have the three digit trench map coordinate formats.


The area of interest appears to cover two (2) triangular areas to the west-northwest of Reims. If I understand the battle details (this is all new to me at present), the British are being forced south during what is part of the overall German spring offensive. The areas include Berry-au-Bac 76.J.21.c (this map), which may have been a burial ground (or just a map reference name) in the north part of the larger triangle, and then Jonchery-sur-Vesle to the southwest, which forms the smaller triangle with Pevy and Muizon. We also know from the Soissons 22 Map that Berry-au-Bac is at 22.2.K.8.8 in that map format. In the third format of the trench map coordinates the gravein Berry-au-Bac is given as 1/20,000 214 x 283. That is the one I don't know how to interpret!


Here are the two triangular areas shown on a Google Earth Map. I don't yet know if the men that are concentrated from the area marked Berry-au-Bac are from a cemetery in that area or a battlefield grave.




Second Lieutenant Alun Edwards Davies was reported missing at Pevy on 28 May 1918, at the same time Captain Wilfred Herbert Cecil Brownlow was killed. The Captain is in grave 3.F.10 of the Hermonville Military Cemetery. He was reported recovered at Berry-au-Bac 284x218 (COG-BR 2011836). That might suggest that Second Lieutenant Davies is in that same cemetery, particularly in grave 3.E.4, recovered at Berry-au-Bac 214 x 283. On the 28th they had withdrawn across the Vesle River, just north of Jonchery and Muison (war diary page 140 of 211). Up until that point they had been further north at Berry-au-Bac. From that, I would suggest that the burial coordinates refer only to the specific map and they were not buried at Berry-au-Bac. Until I find a map and figure out the coordinates, I will never know.


Second Lieutenant Alexander Kirkpatrick Collins paid the ultimate sacrifice the following day - 29 May 1918. It was reported (war diary page 141 of 211) that the battalion had maintained its position the entire day, then an attack at 8:30 pm forced the line back. Collins is reported killed, not wounded and missing.


Second Lieutenant Harold Victor Edgar Jennings was killed on the same day as Collins - 29 May 1918, however he was with the 14th (Pioneer) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers. They have moved back to the Pevy Montigny line on 28 May 1918, which was found occupied by the enemy - bad luck boys! They moved to the left of Trigny (southeast and due north of Muizon) to an unoccupied trench. on the 29th they move to the tileworks left of Muizon (war diary page 433 of 844), which they could not hold, moving back further to Marfaux, well to the southwest of Reims and due south of Muizon. The casualties are not recorded in the war diary.


This is the area shown on the Soissons 22 trench map, where I have put a red box around the main locations referenced above. I know how to read the trench map coordinates on this map, albeit different that the conventional trench map, but I do not yet know how to relate this to the 3 digit trench map references noted above.






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10 hours ago, laughton said:

In the third format of the trench map coordinates the gravein Berry-au-Bac is given as 1/20,000 214 x 283. That is the one I don't know how to interpret!


Those are French map coordinates, more info here:


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Thanks Luc! Bells are starting to ring, as I recall having discussed these with Alain Dubois when I was working on the trench map article. Now what I need to find is the actual french maps that go along with these coordinates. It looks like it is going to be the one of the more standard format that is 76SW.


In that topic you linked, post 31 has actual 3-digit geodesic Lambert points for the Berry-au-Bac map, which should provide a good reference.


I have checked the McMaster Aisine Collection and the National Library of Scotland, which I can tell by the writing on the map ("not to be taken away") came from the same source. The problem there is that the key map 76SW is missing - drats! Maybe it exists somewhere, however if it did you would think someone would have added that already. Even a map 76 would be a good start. The  NSL list is here.



NLS map reference Links:


It is theoretical that we might be able to transfer the geodesic 3 digit references to the Soissons 22 Map and get some idea of the locations.


Other versions of available maps can sometimes be found here: GeoHack - Jonchery-sur-Vesle


Here is an interesting depiction of the battle area for 27 May 1918 that I found while looking for the missing map:

Offensive allemande sur le Chemin des Dames entre Reims et Soissons Début de la 2ème bataille de la Marne

(click on the map in the link and it expands so you can look at the areas in detail - this is a 1936 Michelin map, sadly not the trench map)


27 May 1918


The area around Reims (centre)



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It appears I also have to step back and look at Northumberland Fusiliers of the 149th Brigade, 50th Division who were also in the area. I will need to check exactly where. This is the "first off" list from the CWGC database but they may have also recorded others that were "Second" at the time and moved up to "Posthumous Lieutenant". It happens all the time and really muddles the research. They should, as a minimum, show the rank at the time of death and the rank at the time of posting to the database.


The units are also incomplete, as I assume at this starting point the 4th Bn should be 1st/4th and the same for the 5th and 6th. One has to presume that the CWGC never assumed that anyone would be using the database for detailed research. If that was our company reporting these results in an investigation case, we would have been dumped on big time! We have accounted from the Purple Second Lieutenants and I will go check the others.


surname forename death other Northumberland Fusiliers
COLLINS ALEXANDER KIRKPATRICK 29/05/1918   12th/13th Bn.
DAVID WILLIAM JENKIN 27/05/1918   6th Bn.
DAVIDSON JAMES 27/05/1918 attd 15ht DLI n/a
DAVIES ALUN EDWARDS 28/05/1918   12th/13th Bn.
FARWELL JOHN EDMUND 30/05/1918   4th Bn.
MORRIS ALBERT EVELYN 27/05/1918 formerly ASC 4th Bn.
McMURDO JOHN HAMILTON 27/05/1918   1st/5th Bn.
PHILLIPS EDWARD 27/05/1918   5th Bn.
PORRIT JOHN ERNEST 27/05/1918   5th Bn.


For the 1st/4th Battalion I was able to match a name when a few men are reported as having go back to CONCEVREAUX (war diary page 361 of 371) , which Google Earth tells me is southwest of Berry-au-Bac and north of Jonchery-sur-Vesle. That would put those Second Lieutenants in the area and make Second Lieutenant Morris a candidate as well. There is no mention of either Morris or Farwell in the war diary.


The same area at CONCEVREAUX appears for the 1st/5th Battalion fro 27 May 1918 when three (3) Second Lieutenants perished (war diary page 306 of 324). They were shelled by high velocity guns and gas. The death of Second Lieutenants Porrit and Phillips is reported (war diary page 309 of 324), but also a Second Lieutenant J. B. Slack. He has a known burial location (CWGC details). Second Lieutenant J. H. McMudro is reported missing.


The 1st/6th Battalion is in the same location (war diary page 917 of 932). At that time Second Lieutenant J. Davidson was attached to the 15th Durham Light Infantry.  I did not check any further on him, as he was with the 64th Brigade 21st Division but by now we already know there are too many other candidates to go forward with this case, at least not until be solve the riddle of the French Trench Maps!

Edited by laughton
updating details in stages
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I am starting to get somewhere with the French Maps now, but it is a tangled web that covers several topics. The clue came from Alain Dubois, the details of which I first post in Trevor's topic (this post) where he was looking for the DORMANS map after the Unknown Aviator was found in the Jonchery-sur-Vesle British Cemetery (this post). The topic about the DORMANS location has the instructions on how to access the maps, at least so far, which has been a case of trial and error.


It was in this cemetery and Jonchery-sur-Vesle that the first of the Unknown Northumberland Fusilier Lieutenants was identified in Grave 1.B.4 (COG-BR 2013869). It said that the remains were concentrated from a location on a French Trench Map Jonchery-sur-Vesle 280.9 x 214.1.


One of the MASTER MAPS tells you where they had the 1/20000 French Trench maps and their names, much like the main index page on the McMaster site for the British Trench Maps. You can go directly to that page for the French Maps with this link:

If that does not appear, it probably means you do not have your web browser configured to use Adobe Flash Player, so you need to go the instructions I put in Trevor's topic, as noted above. You will see on the main index page that we are in the area around REIMS and there are 1/20000 maps for Chemin-des Dames, Berry-au-Bac, Jonchery-sur-Vesle and Reims (just as examples). When you get into the smaller sector maps, remember that these are French so they are not NW, NE.SW.SE but NO, NE, SO, SW (West =Oeust). Yes, I felt like a dummy when I realized that!

Note the small green square at the bottom of the page tells you where you are:

this link: https://archives.marne.fr/ark:/86869/a011358428085pWLdOr/1/1



Now we go look for the Jonchery-sur-Vesle map, following these steps and the instructions: (from the Main Map Groups for the Marne)

Now you can use that map, just as you  can on any other site and change the size and scroll around to look for "Y" and "X" = 280.9 x 214.1. The coordinates are on the X an Y axis, main sections 3 digits and between them 2 digits. The green square on the small map at the bottom tells you where you are on the main map. I have marked the map with the red inserts and put a red-yellow star where the remains were located. This map is September 1918 and I don't know yet if they have maps from different periods - I was just happy to find the map and get it to work! I have not had the same degree of success with the other Lieutenant in the Hermonville British Cemetery (this post). A "work in process" for sure!



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What I had not uncovered at the time of the previous post, was the number of errors (or as a minimum - inconsistencies) in the recording of the trench map coordinates. The details of how this was uncovered and how the correct coordinates should be stated, can be found in this post:



Coming from that and reading what I have in the post above, reveals that the X and Y coordinates were reversed there as well. For the moment I am assuming that the first number should always be the X coordinate (horizontal) and the second number the Y coordinate (vertical). If the French used the reverse, that is fine, but it would have to be consistent and it is not.


In addition to having the X an Y coordinates reversed on many pages, it was also clear that many of the pages had the wrong map reference. The Second Lieutenant in the post above was marked for the correct location, although now we know it should have been given as Jonchery-sur-Vesle 214.1 x 280.9 and not as 280.9 x 214.1.


The next one in the Hermonville British Cemetery was not found at Berry-au-Bac 214 x 283 but at Jonchery-sur-Vesle 214 x 283. Once both of the errors are corrected, it is clear that the two Northumberland Fusilier Second Lieutenants were recovered about 2,000 metres apart. This is the map from the post above to which I have added the other 2nd Lt in blue. Yes, the numbers are for the blue one are also reversed to show X and Y and not as in the red which was Y and X.




In the earlier sections of this topic I had reported:


On the 28th they had withdrawn across the Vesle River, just north of Jonchery and Muison (war diary page 140 of 211). Up until that point they had been further north at Berry-au-Bac.


Now that we have the maps sorted out, that would have placed them at about Jonchery-sur-Vesle 215 x 284. If we assume for the moment that we are dealing with the two Second Lieutenants of the 12th/13th Northumberland Fusiliers, then logic would tells us that the one further north, killed on the 28th was Second Lieutenant Alun Edward Davies and the one to the south, killed the following day, would be Second Lieutenant Alexander Kirkpatrick Collins. As to whether one or more of these men were from one of the other Northumberland Fusilier units has not yet been resolved - the map problem had to be solved first.



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If we look at the men of the 14th (Pioneer) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers, we have Private Ernest Wood #35127 killed on 27 May 1918 (COG-BR 2011814)  and recovered from Berry-au-Bac 290 x 221 (read as 221 x 290). That is approximately 1,500 meters northwest of Hermonville (Berry-au-Bac 222 x 289). That location is approximately 7,000 metres northeast of where the remains of the two Second Lieutenants were recovered. Also killed that day was Private J. Gray #34676, however he is buried in the Jonchery-sur-Vesle British Cemetery and was recovered at Berry-au-Bac 292.7 x 220.7 (COG-BR2013879). Those numbers are reversed as well but they are in the correct map. He was recovered further north than Private Wood, near Cormicy which is about 3,500 metres north of Hermonville. The last we know of for that period and battalion was Private J. Morley #10181 who died on 29 May 1918. He was buried in the Romigny Churchyard, more than 12,000 metres southwest of where the Second Lieutenants were recovered - but in the path of retreat from Cormicy to Romigny.


The missing officer of the 14th (Pioneer) Battalion was Second Lieutenant Harold Victor Edgar Jennings, who was killed at the time the unit moved south from Cormicy to Pevy and then further east to Trigny. That places them more than 5,000 metres northeast of where the remains of the Second Lieutenants were recovered. This coupled with the details from the war diary tells us that the 14th Battalion followed a path from near Cormicy  past Muizon and then southwest to Romigny that was well to the east of where the remains of the Second Lieutenants were recovered.


I am confident we can eliminate Second Lieutenant Jennings as a candidate.


I still have to deal with those of the 1st/4th, 1st/5th and 1st/6th, all of which would have been 149th Brigade 50th (Northumbrian) Division.

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In post #4 I looked at where the units of the 149th Brigade were located, which was in the area.


From these groups we also have some men with known recovery locations:

  • Lance Corporal George Walter Cooper #44579 buried in the Chambrecy British Cemetery, recovered from Jonchery-sur-Vesle 212.1 x 271.1 (COG-BR 1982467
    • that is well out of the area where the remains of the Second Lieutenants were recovered and about 3,500 metres southwest of Chambrecy
    • this is more than 11,000 metres south-southwest of where the remains were recovered
  • Private Granceill Milnes #75624 was found at the same location and is buried beside Cooper
  • Private E. Wright #61902  was reported recovered at Reims 1/50000 211.1 x 270.9 which we can find also on the Jonchery-sur-Vesle map with the other two noted above

There is one man of the 1st/5th Northumberland Fusiliers buried in the Vendresse British Cemetery, so that adds another to the list of cemeteries to collect the documents, as it has more than a 50 percent identification issue. There are also eleven in La Ville-aux-Bois British Cemetery with men recovered near Berry-au-Bac 214 x 295, 216 x 296 and 212 x 296, so all more or less in the same area near Chaudardes, more than 12,000 metres north of where the Second Lieutenants were recovered. Others were associated with cemeteries that were concentrated, not battlefield graves.


The men of the 1st/6th were in the same area as those of the 1st/5th from mid May to 27 May 1918.


From this analysis, I can say that we can eliminate the Officers of the Northumberland Fusiliers in the 149th Brigade.

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This takes us back to the PRIME CANDIDATES:

If these are in fact the two Second Lieutenants, we have to separate them by the travel that occured during that one day period. I do have a Canadian case that was presented on the basis of a rapidly moving Canadian battalion in August 1918, but it has yet to be reviewed by the CWGC.


Unfortunately these two Second Lieutenants are in separate cemeteries, so a Special Memorial A or B is not an option.


As a minimum, the families of these two Second Lieutenants can have some confidence that they would be visiting the grave sites of their fallen heroes.

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