Chambers, Charles William. Died 21st Mar 1918

Charles William CHAMBERS, was born on 7 March 1888, in Braunston, Northamptonshire, and baptised on 13 May 1888 in Welton Northamptonshire, the eldest son of William Henry (b.c. 1859 Braunston – 1950) and Amy Alice, née Matthews, Chambers (b.c.1868 Weldon – 1927), of Braunston.  They had married on 30 March 1887 in Braunston.

In 1901, William Henry Chambers was enumerated as a ‘farm labourer’ with eight children, in a house in High Street, Braunston.  Then sometime between 1901 and 1903, the family moved to Hillmorton, Rugby and in 1911 William was a ‘working farm bailiff’ and living at Abbotts Farm, Hillmorton.

In 1911, Charles was 23, and a ‘farm labourer’.  He then had ten younger siblings at the family home, six brothers and four sisters.  However, the records show that later, until just before the war, Frank was working at British Thompson Houston in Rugby.

At some date, he enlisted in Rugby as a Private No.11054, in the 5th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry [Ox and Bucks]. 

The 5th (Service) Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was formed at Oxford in August 1914 as part of the First New Army (K1) and then moved to Cranleigh, Guildford and then to Salamanca Barracks, Aldershot in February 1915 to be placed under orders of 42nd Brigade in 14th (Light) Division.  They mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne on 21 May 1915.

Charles’ Medal Card shows he went to France on 20 May 1915 and he would thus have been with his Battalion when they went to France, and would have been engaged in various actions on the Western Front including in 1915: the Action of Hooge, when he probably experienced part of the first flamethrower attack by the Germans; the Second Attack on Bellewaarde and in 1916: the Battle of Delville Wood, and the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. 

Then in 1917 with the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the so called Battle of Arras and particularly, the First Battle of the Scarpe (9 – 14 April 1917) which was conducted in parallel with the attack by the mainly Canadian Divisions on Vimy Ridge, slightly to the north.  Both these being in part diversions for a major French attack to the south, which in the event was unsuccessful.

The Battalion’s activities in the Arras offensive can be found in more detail in the account of the life of Charles’ colleague in the 5th Ox and Bucks, Frank Scotton who died on the first day of that action, 9 April 1917 [see Rugby Remembers for that date[1]].  In later 1917, the Battalion was involved in the Third Battle of the Scarpe, the Battle of Langemark, and the First and Second Battles of Passchendaele.

The following year, on 21 March 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive, Operation Michael, against the British Fifth Army, and the right wing of the British Third Army.  The artillery bombardment began at 4.40am on 21 March 1918, and hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war.  Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours.

The formation for the British order of battle for that period, which was also known as the Battle of St Quentin (21-23 March 1918), included the 5th Ox and Bucks in the 14th (Light) Division in  Gough’s Fifth Army.

The action on that first day, 21 March 1918 has already been described in some detail (see Rugby Remembers for 21 March 1918 or consult other references.[2]).  The 14th Division held a line from north of Moy to Witancourt.  Whilst much of the Division ‘did not fight well’ and fell back, the forward Battalions, including the 5th Ox and Bucks, were in a salient and with five other depleted Battalions came under heavy attack from the far superior strength of five German Divisions.  The Battalion Diary[3] provides a summary of early 1918 and of the actions on 21 March 1918.

5th Service Battalion – Summary of Events, 1918.

On New Year’s Day the Battalion was on the move again back to the Somme country, where January was spent mostly in training. About the middle of the month the 42nd Brigade was ordered to shed a Battalion, and for a few days the fate of the 5th Battalion hung in the balance. Eventually, however, it was decided that the 6th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry should be broken up to furnish reinforcements, instead of the 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, and during February the Battalion was in the trenches at Bois d’Urvilliers, with rest intervals at Montescourt.  The first twenty days of March were similarly spent, and all was quiet. Then on 21 March descended the German avalanche, …  On that day and on 23 March the Battalion put up a stout fight, but, being overwhelmed by numbers, was withdrawn only with difficulty.  On the 4th April it again came in for further hot fighting, and was again forced back, its casualties in the fortnight having amounted to some twenty-six officers and upwards of five hundred men. 

THE GERMAN ATTACK.  March 2lst

Misty morning. Action:
6.5 a.m. Battalion, under command of Major Labouchere, moves up to Battle zone.  A and B Companies lose very heavily from shell-fire.  Enemy reach Battle zone about 11.30 a.m.  Front posts lost, having been obliterated (with their occupants) by shell-fire.  Second line held in front of Brigade H.Q. along Benay-Essigny road.  Some hand-to-hand fighting; 8 prisoners taken.  Enemy massing in Lambay Wood and Essigny all afternoon.  Line abandoned at night; all British troops retire behind the canal at Flavy.  Casualties: Lieut. B. A. Anderson, M.C., and 2nd Lieut. W. Fawcitt, killed; Major C. H. Williams, 2nd Lieut. J. F. Traynor, and 2nd Lieut. J. W. Baldwin, M.M., wounded; Missing: Lieut. W. A. Ramsay, Lieut. E. C. Cook, 2nd Lieut. F. J. Collinge, (all three afterwards reported prisoners of war,) and 2nd Lieut. R. J. McL. W. Theobald, (later reported killed).’

At some time on 21 March, Charles Chambers was one of those Killed in Action.

During this and subsequent battles the Division took very heavy casualties, losing some 6000 men, killed or injured.  The Division was withdrawn from the line and engaged in building defensive works in the rear.  The 5th Battalion having taken heavy losses (see above), was withdrawn, and on 27 April 1918 was reduced to a cadre and on 16 June 1918 returned to England as part of the 16th (Irish) Division, and then on 20 June 1918, was absorbed by the 18th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment.

After Charles’ death, the allies held the advance which had badly weakened the Germans and overextended their supply lines, and then fought back.

Because of the intensity of the battle, and as the Germans were moving forward, many of those killed were never found or formally identified.  In the confusion of the retreat and rearguard action, when Charles was ‘Killed in Action’, his body was never found or was not identified.  He was probably killed in the area that the Germans overran on 21 March 1918.

Charles is remembered on Panels 50/51 of the Pozieres Memorial.  Pozieres is a village 6 kilometres north-east of the town of Albert.  The Memorial encloses Pozieres British Cemetery.

The Pozieres Memorial relates to the period of crisis in March and April 1918 when the Allied Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields, and the months that followed before the Advance to Victory, which began on 8 August 1918.  The Memorial commemorates over 14,000 casualties of the United Kingdom and 300 of the South African Forces who have no known grave and who died on the Somme from 21 March to 7 August 1918.[4]

Charles’ death was reported in the Coventry Evening Telegraph[5] together with that of one of his younger brothers Frederick,[6] who died some two weeks later. ‘… other additions to the Rugby roll of honour are … Sergt. S. Chambers and Pte. Charles Chambers, sons of Mr W. Chambers, farm bailiff, Hillmorton; …’.

A memorial was published in the Rugby Advertiser,
CHAMBERS. – Pte. C. CHAMBERS, killed in action on March 21, 1918, aged 31 years, son of William and Amy Chambers, Abbotts Farm, Hillmorton.—“ Thy will be done.”[7]

Charles was awarded the Victory and British medals and the 1914-1915 Star.  He is remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate; on the BTH Memorial and, with his brother, on the south side of the Hillmorton Memorial – ‘CHAMBERS, Frederick, Gloucester Regt.; CHAMBERS, Charles, Oxon & Bucks L. I.’

Charles’ younger brother, Fredrick Louis Chambers (2 May 1893 – 4 April 1918), died of wounds some two weeks after Charles, also in Flanders.  He originally enlisted at Rugby into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, No.11893, and then was transferred to the 12th Entrenching Battalion, and then to the 14th (Service) Battalion (West of England) Gloucestershire Regiment, No.37798, and attached to the 7th Battalion, the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment).  He is buried in Namps-au-Val British Cemetery, south-west of Amiens, with the inscription ‘Until the Day Dawns’.  At the end of March 1918, when the German offensive in Picardy began, the 41st, 50th and 55th Casualty Clearing Stations came to Namps-au-Val and made this graveyard.  Charles left a widow, Julia Amy, née Sainsbury, Chambers (b.c.1896) whom he had married on 22 April 1916, at St Peter, Dartmouth Park Hill, Islington, and who was latterly of Hillmorton Road, Paddox Estate, Rugby.  For some reason, he is not listed on the Rugby Memorial Gate, but is remembered with his brother, Charles, on the Hillmorton War Memorial.

 

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS THEM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Charles William Chambers was researched and written for a Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the Rugby Family History Group, December 2017.

 

[1]      https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/scotton-frank-died-9th-apr-1917/ .

[2]      Murland, Jerry, Retreat and Rearguard Somme 1918 – the Fifth Army Retreat, Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 2014, ISBN: 978 1 78159 2670, p.49.

[3]      Abstracted by http://www.lightbobs.com/5-oxf–bucks-li-1917-1918.html .

[4]      Information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web-site at https://www.cwgc.org/ .

[5]      Coventry Evening Telegraph, Saturday, 20 April 1918.

[6]      The initial ‘S’ seems incorrect and this was Fredrick Louis Chambers, Died of wounds, 4 April 1918.

[7]      Rugby Advertiser, 12 April 1918, and https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2018/04/21/20th-apr-1918-low-flying-aeroplanes/.

 

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