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My Great Grandads war diary as a POW - Sgt Arthur Witherell 19332 D Company 13th Essex Regt


mandawitherell
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Hi All - I have just joined so forgive me as I learn what to do. I have been given my great grandfathers WW1 diary which I have just started to try to transcribe. His name was Sgt Arthur Witherell No. 19322 D Company 13th essex Regt. It is slow going as it is super faint in lead pencil but he was captued by the germans in a battle in Oppy Wood on 28th April 1917. As I read it I am coming across the names of other soldiers, especially officers that I am having trouble finding any info on.  Some so far are Lieut Barrack (maybe bassack but I think it's R's not S's) - he was incharge of the 14 platoon and was just killed in the charge they made in Oppy Wood. Others are Col Nickolls, Capt Lowins, Bert Brooks (from another regt but an old friend he crossed paths with and gave a tot of rum to the night before the attack) Sgt F? Smith (think its an F), who was in charge of 15th platoon, and sgt Edward in charge of the 16th.  I am only 16 pages into the diary and every time a i read a new name I feel so compelled to try to learn who these men were. 

 

I am completely new to any historical  or war research - I am a mum in Brisbane Australia and making this my school holiday project haha, so any tips and help or anyone who is keen to help me discover some of these stories would be much apreciated. I have just joined ancestry so looking in there, but every time i run serached on names and essex  it comes up with mainly privates, a few sgt's but i'm struggling to find any officers - is there another place to look for officers at all?

 

Ive attached an image from one of the pages.  Looking forward to getting some advice - thanks, Amanda :)

IMG_20201210_150445.jpg

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Good Morning, Brisbane. Welcome to the Forum.

  

       Like you, I find older pencil writing difficult to read but a diary for the 13th Essex is treasure indeed. It was a local regiment to where I live in the east of London- a"pal's battalion" of Lord Kitchener's "New Armies" raised by the Mayor and Corporation of West Ham (then a separate council area in the built up end of Essex lovingly referred to as "Metropolitan Essex")  Its basic record is set out on a site called "Long,Long Trail" run by our distinguished GWF colleague Chris Baker- it will answer just about all questions relating to the army, recruitment, organisation,etc that you have:

 

image.png.e699f2d9d02dacd2dfd9455c19e6f957.png

 

      The basic record for 13th Essex is:

 

13th (Service) Battalion (West Ham)
Formed at West Ham on 27 December 1914 by the Mayor and Borough. Moved to Brentwood in May 1915.
August 1915 : moved to Clipstone Camp and came under orders of 100th Brigade in 33rd Division.
17 November 1915 : landed at Boulogne.
22 December 1915 : transferred to 6th Brigade in 2nd Division.
10 February 1918 : disbanded in France.

 

      There is a good book about 13th Essex  :

Elliott Taylor and Barney Alston:  "Up the Hammers"   The West Ham Battalion in The Great War"  (2012, Second edition 2013).  I have a copy sitting in front of me, so don't worry if it is not available in your local public library (Unlikely!!)  Look-ups can be done at this end at any time.

   Elliott Taylor has been a member of GWF (I believe) but I have not noticed contributions from him for a while. 

 

    A good thing to get hold of because it is being offered FREE at the moment is the war diary for 13th Essex-Each unit was required to keep a basic diary of what it did while on active service in France.  This has been digitised by our National Archives- ("The National Archives")  and can at the moment be downloaded for FREE during the COVID troubles.  Its reference is:

 

 

image.png.ff96b704b0de348e87bcb22369722ffa.png

 

   Just go to "Discovery" at the TNA website and follow the instructions.

A war diary is quite a lot of military gobbledegook but usually has names of officers in it-not Other Ranks.

 

(There is a listing of POWs on the Internet- "Prisoners of the First World War", done by the International Red Coss but I cannot immediately see his name on it-but others have better eyes than me. )

 

     There is plenty of help available from my GWF colleagues- many of them are used to transcribing and reading far worse.

 

 

 

 

     

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Your officer is probably Second Lieutenant JOHN AISLABIE BARRETT, the 22 year old son of Florence M. Stokes (formerly Barrett), of 3, Brunswick Court, Hove, Sussex, and the late George Barrett. The CWGC site gives basis info about the man's family (if know)

 

To research War Dead go to the CWGC web site. In this case I interrogated it for 28 Apr 1917 and Essex Regt. Up comes a list, which I ordered alphabetically. Click for list

 

If you order that list by rank  you will fin for example that there were 4 Second Lt killed that day and 3 Captains

 

To do your research you are going to have to learn a range of new skills like plumbing the CWGC site

 

Another skill is the POW site run by Red Cross . https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/

The difficulty with this site is that names are seldom transcribed correctly - remember that it is a non-English speaker noting down an English name. So when you put Witherell into that he does not come up. But he is undoubted there somewhere, and you have to patiently feed in all possible spelling permutations to get him - I have tried and failed, but that is because I have not found exactly what he was filed under

Edited by corisande
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There is a blog on the battalion -  http://westhampals.blogspot.com/

 

And stuff on the 13th on this page - http://www.essexregiment.co.uk/13thessexbase.html

 

 

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Let me give you a working example as to how to approach your task

 

I took your name of "Capt Lowins". But searches in Ancestry's Medal Index Cards and Nat Archives gives nothing, so Lowins was a mis-spelling . I think that many of the names in your diary are wrong

 

I did a general Google search using "d company" "essex regiment" "13th" "oppy wood" commanding - which was this - click

I then found here - click

"The officer commanding "D" Coy, 2nd Lt (Temporary Captain) E C Lowings was severely wounded. Three OR (Other Ranks) were killed outright. 4 officers and 79 OR's were wounded, 8 officers and 240 OR's were missing.

 

I then looked up Lieutenant Lowings Essex  on Nat Archives and that gave me his full name  "Edward Charles Lowings"

 

At this point you are home and dry. You can get his promotion  details as an officer from London Gazette - click

And his family details from Ancestry in the normal way

For example there is an Ancestry Tree (warning - be wary of Ancestry trees, always check them as a lot of rubbish is them and I have not checked this ) - click for his tree . Which shows he first signed up as a 14 year old boy soldier

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 Just as an example of poignant details that are out there....... The Red Cross card for  2LT Barrett shows he was engaged to be married- the enquiry to the Red Cross was from his fiancee. Its details like this that will flesh out the human tragedy of it all. as you work through the diary

image.png.9d188ee7f01d0dc6dcc76d659470d4e3.png

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What a fantastic thing!   I did a similar transcribing of my Great GrandUncles postcards from Canada (70 or more of them) and at first it was really difficult to decipher the writing but eventually it becomes quite easy.  I spent a long time deciding whether to correct the spelling and punctuation but in the end I did it verbatim and also matched the sentence & page layout to make it easier to locate and update.   Likewise with the diary you have I am becoming obsessed with finding out the lives of the people who are mentioned. 

 

Anyway, I checked the Red Cross site and Arthur is there but under Wetherell and Witherwell - see cards copied below.  Interestingly the first record I looked at was an Arthur (not yours) that turned out to be linked to a chap called William Gowers also taken on that day at Oppy.

 

How many pages are there in the diary?

 

Regards

 

Simon.

Screenshot 2020-12-19 at 12.40.55.png

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10 hours ago, mandawitherell said:

Hi All - I have just joined so forgive me as I learn what to do. I have been given my great grandfathers WW1 diary which I have just started to try to transcribe. His name was Sgt Arthur Witherell No. 19322 D Company 13th essex Regt. It is slow going as it is super faint in lead pencil but he was captued by the germans in a battle in Oppy Wood on 28th April 1917. As I read it I am coming across the names of other soldiers, especially officers that I am having trouble finding any info on.  Some so far are Lieut Barrack (maybe bassack but I think it's R's not S's) - he was incharge of the 14 platoon and was just killed in the charge they made in Oppy Wood. Others are Col Nickolls, Capt Lowins, Bert Brooks (from another regt but an old friend he crossed paths with and gave a tot of rum to the night before the attack) Sgt F? Smith (think its an F), who was in charge of 15th platoon, and sgt Edward in charge of the 16th.  I am only 16 pages into the diary and every time a i read a new name I feel so compelled to try to learn who these men were. 

 

I am completely new to any historical  or war research - I am a mum in Brisbane Australia and making this my school holiday project haha, so any tips and help or anyone who is keen to help me discover some of these stories would be much apreciated. I have just joined ancestry so looking in there, but every time i run serached on names and essex  it comes up with mainly privates, a few sgt's but i'm struggling to find any officers - is there another place to look for officers at all?

 

Ive attached an image from one of the pages.  Looking forward to getting some advice - thanks, Amanda :)

IMG_20201210_150445.jpg

Good luck writing up you great grandfathers diary, it would be well worth it. I have recently finished transcribing my grandfathers diaries ww1 and so pleased that I persevered, Hundreds of hours of squinted eyes but worth every hour. I have put parts of the diary on GWF Blogs "Only With Honour" 

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Hi mandawitherell,

 

Welcome to the forum.

 

The National Library of Scotland (link) has a selection of Army Lists which might help to identify the officers. For example the monthly list for January 1917 shows:

 

image.png.a4cbdb9be5273049d8ac6aa198841452.png

 

image.png.25552c296ca43983cf95646f1a265650.pngimage.png.daef247e5e6b93a17a5e5173d00de953.png

 

image.png.96eadb0edf66a9812fa7e7b0d60ceda7.png

Images sourced from the National Library of Scotland

 

As you have access to Ancestry you can see the medal rolls relating to Arthur here. The Long, Long Trail explains his medal entitlement - see here. The rolls say that he arrived overseas on 17.11.1915, and was discharged to the 'Z' Reserve on 17.3.1919.  

 

Findmypast (link) has a hospital record for Arthur which says that when he was admitted in March 1916, he had completed 13 months total service. It reads as:

 

First name(s): A
Last name; Witherell
Age: 36
Rank: Lance Corporal
Service number: 19332
Unit: Essex Regiment
Admitted to 4 Stationary Hospital on 8.3.1916 suffering with a sprain to his left foot. Discharged to duty on 16.3.1916 

13 months total completed service -  4 months completed in the field.

 

Whilst Arthur doesn't appear to have surviving service papers, the are some for a couple of 'near number' 13th Battalion men which show:

 

19330 Massey - attested 26.2.1915

19335 Clark - attested 27.2.1915

 

The PoW register records which the Red Cross hold can be seen here, here, and here. They suggest that he was unwounded when he was taken PoW, and that his captivity was administered at various times by the camps at Altdamm. Limburg. and Friedrichsfeld   (NB he may not have been physically held there though). 
 

image.png.88a491bd031941290e46156eff9ff72e.png

 

image.png.eb747838bdea49f0ab456ccb3f4f1a07.png

 

image.png.4854da319084a7399c2224bfd7fa7f94.png

Images sourced from archive.org

 

The columns in the registers roughly translate as:

 

Column 1 

Lfd. Nr. = Serial number/register entry number

 

Column 2
a. Familienname = Surname
b. Vorname (nur der Rufname) = Forename (only forename by which known)
c.  nur bei Russen vorname des Vaters = Russians only, forename of father

 

Column  3
Rank
 
Column 4
a/b. Truppenteil = Unit
c. Komp. = Company
 
Column 5
 a/b. Gefangennahme (Ort und Tag) = Taken prisoner (place & date)
c.  vorhergehender Aufenhaltsort = Previously at (location):
 
Column 6
a. Geburtstag und -Ort = Date & place of birth
b/c.  Adresse des nächsten Verwandten = Address of NOK

 

Sourced from the ICRC, this may also help...

 

PoW Glossary.pdf

 

Arthur appears on this casualty list (link) as a released PoW who had arrived back in the UK. His actual return would probably pre date the date of the list by a couple of weeks or more. For example looking at papers for 34614 Bibby they show that as a released PoW he was posted to the 'Depot' on 24.12.1918. If you were to look for papers of other Essex Regiment men shown on the list, you might be able to make a reasonable inference about Arthur.

 

Unit war diaries are available on Ancestry, but they are a pain to download, as you have to do it a page at at a time. Whereas from the (UK) National Archives (after registration) you can get date 'chunks' in one go (free of charge).  As mentioned upthread, the Battalion war diary is here. Depending on what level of detail/context you would like, it might be worth getting the Brigade HQ, and Division HQ (General Staff) diaries as they often contain 'extras' such as orders, reports on operations, and maps that aren't included in the lower level Battalion diary. From the National Archives they are here, and here.

 

If you were to need any help in reading any map references, there is help here. You might also find this website useful - link, as it allows you to use map references to see modern maps and views, against contemporary trench maps of the time.

 

Good luck with your research.

 

Regards

Chris

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Oh my goodness! Thank you! What an exciting and detailed bunch of responses to wake up to! So exciting. I'll be going through these over the next few days (as Christmas and school holidays allow) - but already so many names answered and so much more depth added to the research  - you guys are awesome! 

 

So i was going to wait to post some transcribed pages until I had time to check and edit them more - but i'm so grateful for your responses that I thought you may love to read what I got typed out over the weekend... I still have to check some names which I can now do thanks to your help, but these pages are just bloody gripping and I know I have found people who will appreciate them. The start of the diary explains how he found this old book at a steelworks he was forced to work at as  POW and spent 2 days cleaning it out when he decided to make a diary of it. So all of the below is a retelling hw wrote after his capture, then I think the rest of the diary is a daily account of his time as a POW - though my mum who has read it years ago said he started to write less and less as the pages filled up and time went on (but she did remember he was given bread and Jam the day the war ended haha - but i've not peaked at that part yet as I want to read it all in the proper order).  

 

The following pages are his account of the Oppy Wood 28th April 1917 and how he was captured. I've not gone beyond this part yet and have some gaps I need to research and add in.

 

Oh and Hi to my Cousin Pete who I just sent the link to this forum to who will be joining this journey :)

 

 

Page 7

Now, as I said, we had to be ready at 8 o'clock on the Friday night, well we had a drop more tea and an issue of rum, and then moved off sharp at 8. I leading with my platoon, we marched along light rail way track with guide from 2nd L.I. (am pleased to say had a few minutes with my old pal Bert Brooks just before leaving and gave him a tot of rum.) well we left the light rail turned to the right on to the railway running to Gaveral (Gavrelle?). We went along this rail some distance, until we met another

 

Page 8

 guide of the 24th R.F?. We halted here about ½ an hour, and took cover as the enemy started shelling, we were just on the point of moving again when our Capt Lowins (lowings) came rushing up to me, and wanted to know where the rest of the company were, well as I received no communication from the rear I naturally thought things were alright. I went back with the captain to the rear and found 2 platoons, 15 and 16 missing: well I soon found out that as soon as the shelling started these platoons scattered 

 

Page 9 

all over. We got them together again and found that Sgt F? Smith had been wounded, who was in charge of the 15 and Sgt Edward was missing who was with the 16th platoon. One poor chap was lying dead but as time was getting on and pitch dark as well I could not see who he was, of course, thinking a light was out of the question, well, that was all the casualties as far as I know. After this little affair we got on the move again, and it was heavy going too, what with the flashes of shells bursting,

 

Page 10

Dazzling ones eyes, in and out of shell holes, and the rails all twisted and torn, it was hot work. At any sake, we had to get on, eventually we reached a tape? Line on the left, which was to guide us out to our jumping off trench. The R I guide left us there, telling me I could not go wrong. Well I follow this tape and finally gets out to the trench, which was about 300x from the Railway, here I placed my men out with Lieut Barrack (Barratt) at 10 paces interval linking up with A Company on my left and 

 

Page 11

B Company on my right. My Mopping up lastly 25 paces in rear, and 15 platoon 25 in rear of them under Cpt Brooks. And then 16 platoon 30 paces in rear of them making 1st, 2nd and 3rd waves. As for instructions this was a stiff job as the ground was one mass of shell holes and bits of trench which had been blown in. after this I got back to my own platoon and then am told that B Company would not link up with the  RMLI so that the whole line of us had to extend

 

Page 12

 Further to the right, making us 14 paces interval, which I thought was madness. But still it could not be helped as we were so short of men. At any rate we get all ready and then settled down for a blow, and then for the first time since we started, I saw the L.I.M and Cpt Larson who took charge of 16 platoon. I told him everything was all right so we settled down to a feed and a drink. I should say it would be about 2am, then I had a snooze for an hour. After this I felt as

 

Page 13

Fresh as a daisy and ready for the word :- over.  Which we didn’t hear as the noise was terrific. Well, the time came (4.25am) at last, which seemed a lifetime after the busy night I had had, especially the last 5 minutes. Lieut Barrack (Barratt) Was in my right looking at his watch. He said to me the time is just on up, get ready. I passed the word along, and then, by gum, bang. The artillery opened up the barrage. Swish, swish,. The shells flew over our heads. Red green and white lights went up, rifles and machine gun fire

 

Page 14

 spat out all along in front of us, and boche shells bursting all around us. It was Hell with the lid off. And then over we went into it - but much too soon I think as the 8 minutes would not possibly have been up, but we had to go when we did as all the people on our right were getting well advanced, they must have jumped off as soon as the barrage started instead of waiting, and I told my officer so who remarked on the same thing, and he said it couldn't be helped, so we had to hurry to try and get level with them but it was no use, it could not be 

 

Page 15

done, as the people on our left were only just leaving the trench and of course that made the line all alsant instead of straight as it was supposed to be, and the fellows on the right might have got in our own barrage. These were any amount dropping that I saw as the lights kept going up. Well we were getting on and out left were coming on when our men started bunching up, which was only to be expected considering the 14 paces we started off at. I told the officer and he said do your best to spread them out again. I shouted to the 

 

Page 16

men on my left and got them out a bit, then I turned round and Lieut Barrack (Barratt) was gone. He had moved to the right as I went to the left and poor chap, that was the last I saw of him. I heard shortly after from Lieut Turner that he had been killed. Well I ?? on, and got to the first line. We had hardly any opposition until then, i came across a sniper, who one of my boys shot, and a machine gun team of 5 Men, 1 was wounded, then other 4 i sent back personally and sorry to say I forgot the gun, well I pushed on and 

 

Page 17

then, by gum, we copped it hot. The boys were going down like nine pins.I ordered what few i had left with me to jump into a piece of old trench and then from there we made another just from one shell hole to another until we reached our mark, as I thought. I started getting the men spread out a bit and to see how many i had got, which was no more than a dozen. When Lieut Turner and Hepperson? came up and said I must get further on as that was not our objective. So I got about 50x further 

 

Page 18 

On. and that was our doom. I got the men into shell holes and then told them to dig down and consolidate as well as possible, but by this time I had lost 5 more men also the last lewis gun. I had no bombs and only little S.AA and about 7 men, at any sake we got down to it and started sniping at the best targets, but the machine guns were too hot for us, and the boys were bound to keep down. One or two of them tried to get back but they were killed or badly wounded. I think L/C Bolton ?

 

Page 19

managed it, but I did not see him again. L/C Adams tried but he was shot through the chest, so I lost all until I was the only one left that wasn't hit seriously. I got a bit of shrapnel in the right shin, but not too bad. It gave me jip afterwards though. Well as I was lying in this shell hole a chap in the R.M.L.I fell in on top of me. He had been trying to get back but he was shot through the chest as he jumped in on me, poor chap. He made me understand that he had seen the boche coming up in force. I

 

Page 20

Managed to scratch a gap in the front of the tip of the shell hole, so that I could see through and sure enough there were heaps of them coming up and making straight for us. I took it that they were making for their first line again. Well damn it, i knew the game was up then, and I could see a lot of our chaps running with rifles only to be shot down. It was suicide to try anything like that, so I turned my attention the poor devils that were with me. I was binding one up as best I could when another one was hit

 

Page 21

Right through the neck with a ricochet bullet, it nearly took his head off, and then the same one was hit again so I could tell they were getting much closer. And one of them must have caught a movement in my shell hole from the wounded chap. I continued trying to get the equipment off the other chap when suddenly bombs started exploding, and I quite thought my time had come, but no. It was not to be, the bombs dropped to the front and left and right of my hole but not one dropped in. thank

 

Page 22 

God. I managed to get another glimpse through my spy hole, and then they were coming straight towards me and then I was spotted. At the same time I noticed that some were at the back of me, so they had worried round through a piece of trench connecting up to their front line. Well, cpt of the Boche beckoned me to come to him, so up I jumped and there I found 5 or 6 rifles levelled straight at me. I went to their cpt then, expecting every minute to be shot. And i made him 

 

Page 23

understand that I had wounded in the hole. But he didnt bother about them, away we went and we dropped into the same piece of trench that I been ordered out of by the Lieut. What rotten luck, there I was, a prisoner of war, I could not realise it, a thing I never even dreamt of. But still the game was up so I had to do just what the Boche told me. I was ordered to take my equipment off and they soon went through it. They took everything bar my pipe, tobacco and box of matches,

 

Page 24

Which I was grateful for. They seemed to be starving for they dived into my bully and biscuits, also some bread and cheese and Maconochie I had. They also went through the haversacks of the dead that were laying about, but I must say they were very civil to me and not ill hearted in any way what ever, while this scavaging was going on i noticed others busy digging and consolidating and making things a bit safe. They put me under a bit of shelter, and I wasn't sorry, as my leg was paining me.

 

 

Pretty amazing stuff isn't it - he has quite beautiful handwriting to and a great story teller. I'm off now to chase up some of the leads for the names - then I'll do a few more pages this afternoon. Once I have them all photographed I'll ad some images of the writing. 

 

Thanks again all,

 

Amanda :)

 

 

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Thanks for the excerpts Amanda - they are very graphic

 

I have emailed the writer of the 13th Essex Blog with a link to this thread. They obviously have a fluency that most of us do not, with the 13th Essex at Oppy Wood. And if we can get an input from them, it would save us having to "reinvent the wheel"

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  Excellent extracts.  I hope Elliott Taylor gets in touch with you- I believe he is the 13th Essex website as well as "Up the Hammers". He has a nominal list of the original raising of 13th Essex so names should be easier to check against that.

 

       It is an irony that a British soldier was allowed to keep a diary while as POW of the Germans, yet not allowed to do so when on the British side of the lines.

By the way, in case you don't know of it,there is a famous painting of "Oppy Wood, 1917" by the noted war artist John Nash:

 

image.png.ef96b655c019f103399d7829c5dbc44c.png

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10 hours ago, mandawitherell said:

Well as I was lying in this shell hole a chap in the R.M.L.I fell in on top of me. He had been trying to get back but he was shot through the chest as he jumped in on me, poor chap. He made me understand that he had seen the boche coming up in force.

Probably from 1 Royal Marines who were assaulting German positions north of Gavrelle when they were counter attacked from Oppy Wood. The battalion was pushed back to its jumping off positions and virtually destroyed. 400+ casualties with a ratio of 1:1 killed/ wounded, with many captured.

 

Very interesting extracts, thanks for posting.

 

58 DM.

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According to the ‘List of British Officers taken prisoner’ there were three officers from the 13th Essex captured that day:

 

2nd Lt HP Turner

2nd Lt AC Leech

2nd Lt W Freeman 

 

The aforementioned must be Harold Percival Turner whose Medal Index Card states 5th Bn, Essex Regt. Date of entry into France as 14Jan17 and marked ‘exonerated officers list’ so confirms he was PoW. Possibly the officer mentioned on your page 16? 
 

Can’t find AC Leech in the medal rolls, but he does get an oblique mention on page three of this thread:

https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/224971-bad-colberg-pow-camp-photo-album-1917-18/?tab=comments#comment-2231367

 

Third, again looking at the medal rolls, is possibly Walter Freeman commissioned from the Royal Fusiliers. 

 

 

 

 

Edited by mrfrank
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2 hours ago, mrfrank said:

According to the ‘List of British Officers taken prisoner’ there were three officers from the 13th Essex captured that day:

 

2nd Lt HP Turner

2nd Lt AC Leech

2nd Lt W Freeman 

 

The aforementioned must be Harold Percival Turner whose Medal Index Card states 5th Bn, Essex Regt. Date of entry into France as 14Jan17 and marked ‘exonerated officers list’ so confirms he was PoW. Possibly the officer mentioned on your page 16? 

 

 

 

Harold Percival Turner

 

Born 11 December 1888 - the son of Thomas Bentley Turner and his wife Fanny Sarah. Died in 1957.

 

ICRC Prisoners of the First World War:

https://grandeguerre.icrc.org/en/File/Details/143831/3/2/

 

Turner.jpg.ffe9612a9e898ea98814ed882e7e6438.jpg

 

See PA 12127 and 13291

 

JP

Edited by helpjpl
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It is an irony that a British soldier was allowed to keep a diary while as POW of the Germans, yet not allowed to do so when on the British side of the lines.

By the way, in case you don't know of it,there is a famous painting of "Oppy Wood, 1917" by the noted war artist John Nash:

 

But was it actually allowed for this British POW to keep a diary, or was he, like the diarists who were still with their units on the British side, just lucky to get away with it? About the 13th post on the thread below, a post by Acknown referring to the story told by the POW Kenneth Foyster in his diary, makes it clear that he expected his diary to be taken from him, though, luckily, it was not.

https://www.greatwarforum.org/topic/285642-reasons-for-writing-personal-diaries/?tab=comments#comment-2952381

 

On 20/12/2020 at 00:16, mandawitherell said:

Pretty amazing stuff isn't it - he has quite beautiful handwriting to and a great story teller. I'm off now to chase up some of the leads for the names - then I'll do a few more pages this afternoon.

 

Amanda, you are embarking on a fascinating journey. Having spent a couple of years (on and off) transcribing my own grandad's diary (over 500 pages of A4), I had mixed feelings when I came to the end of the task. Subsequently I became drawn into researching the background to details that had sparked my interest, much assisted by the knowledgeable folk on this Forum, and also gratefully taking advantage of the fact that down-loading digitised records from the National Archives has been free since the beginning of lockdown.

Your grandad paints a very vivid picture of the engagement in which he was captured, much more so than the bare bones you find in the official War Diaries.

I hope that you continue to enjoy the project as much as I did mine,

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I'm very interested in this diary as my Grandfather was in the 24th Royal Fusiliers at Arras. The reference in the diary to meeting guides from both 2 LI, could be either 2nd HLI or 2nd Ox and Bucks Light Infantry, and 24th RF would be correct. All 3 were in 5th Brigade, and at that time were in Brigade reserve at Bailleul. This would be at, what was called, Railway Embankment. This was the only area south of Oppy Wood that was relatively "safe", although it was heavily shelled daily by the Germans for its strategic importance to the BEF. All troops destined for either Arleux, Oppy Wood or Gavrelle would need to pass through it to reach the front Line. Then they would follow the railway line to Gavrelle, as per the diary. At some point they would come to a trenched area where, depending on their destination, would meet a guide to take them along to where the tapes for the front line would be placed, usually by an officer of the respective Brigades RE.

My Grandfathers Brigade went into action on the Arleux section the same and following night, next to the 6th Brigade of which your G/Grandfathers Battalion belonged to.

A very good book to read on the subject is "Oppy Wood" by David Bilton. ISBN 1-84415-248-0. It covers all Oppy Wood up to 1918 but the relevent section on the Battle of Arras, and the 2nd Divisions role in it is quite well covered. It would pay you to read on to the immediate aftermath of 28th-29th April to the East Yorks battalions involvement as it gives good details on the movement of troops along the railway section of track to the front line.

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On 20/12/2020 at 21:11, A Lancashire Fusilier by Proxy said:

 

 

 

But was it actually allowed for this British POW to keep a diary, or was he, like the diarists who were still with their units on the British side, just lucky to get away with it? About the 13th post on the thread below, a post by Acknown referring to the story told by the POW Kenneth Foyster in his diary, makes it clear that he expected his diary to be taken from him, though, luckily, it was not.

 

Diaries and memoirs by other ranks P.O.W s are quite scarce but one memoir i read recently was by a Canadian prisoner who was put to work digging trenches

on the Eastern front . A fellow prisoner was found to have a diary and severely punished and he contemplated destroying his but changed his mind . It was also

forbidden for officers to have diaries but they were able to hide theirs more easily , also as they carried more with them when moving camps it was easier to 

smuggle them through the various searches that the Germans would undertake , one chap hid his in his kilt pleats . 

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