Hall, Sidney George. Died 11th Apr 1918

Sidney George HALL was born in 1896 in Rugby and his birth was registered in the 3rd quarter. He was the son of George Hall, born in about 1873 in Wibtoft, Leicestershire, and his wife, Jane née Street, who was born in about 1870, in Daventry, Northamptonshire. The 1911 census stated that they had been married for 15 years, although it seems they were married a little earlier in Q2, 1893 in Daventry.

For the 1901 census, the family were living at 116 Cambridge Street, Rugby. George was a ‘Steam Wood Sawyer’ and they had a lodger, who was a bricklayer.

By 1911, the family had moved to 31 Alexandra Road, Rugby. Sidney’s father was still a ‘sawyer’.  Sidney was now 14 and working in an ‘office’. Possibly he was already working for Messrs. Wratislaw & Thompson, the Rugby solicitors; before the war he was employed as a clerk by them.

No Military Service Record exists for Sidney, but at some date, he joined up as a Private, No: 266586 in the 2nd/6th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment.   This was probably after 1915, as he wouldn’t have reached the required age – unless he lied, as some did – and also, there is no qualification date for when he went to France on his Medal Card.   In any case the 2nd/6th Battalion did not go to France until 21 May 1916. At some later date he was promoted to Lance Corporal.

2nd/6th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (RWR) was formed in Coventry in October 1914 as a second line Battalion. It became part of the 2nd Warwickshire Brigade, 2nd South Midland Division and then in August 1915 it was re-designated as part of the 182nd Brigade, 61st (2nd South Midland) Division. As mentioned, the Battalion landed in France on 21 May 1916 and concentrated in the area Merville – Gonnehem – Busnes – Thiennes.

The Battalion, as part of the Division was involved in the disastrous attack at Fromelles on 19 July 1916. In 1917 they were part of the Operations on the Ancre; the German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line; the Battle of Langemarck, which was part of the 3rd Battle of Ypres; and the German counter attacks after the Battle of Cambrai.[1].[2]

The Battalion War Diary[3] gives brief details of the Battalion’s activities throughout the war, but the following information has been abstracted for the period before Sidney’s death.

During February 1918, the Battalion was much involved in improving defences and burying signal cables and the like. During the first week in March, the Battalion was in the front line near St. Quentin. They were then relieved and after a week’s training, returned to relieve the 2nd/8th Worcesters, west of Holnon in the Battle Zone. The Battalion then comprised 21 Officers and 700 Other Ranks.

On the night of 20/21 March, two companies raided the enemy trenches at Cepy Farm and took 12 [or 15] prisoners and a machine gun. The prisoners were from ‘… three different infantry divisions on a front usually held by one regiment, lending little doubt to the certainty that the offensive was imminent.’[4] They lost one killed and four wounded.

The anticipated attack by the Germans, Operation Michael, was launched on 21 March 1918, against the British Fifth Army and the right wing of the British Third Army. The German artillery targeted command and communications; then, the destruction of artillery; and then the front-line infantry.   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.

Sidney and the 2nd/6th Battalion were bombarded on 21 March from 4.45am to 11.30am, and then over the next two days were subject to various attacks, and were then ordered to retire to preserve the line and were almost surrounded.

Thus commenced the Battle of St Quentin and the Actions at the Somme Crossings. The 61st (2nd South Midland) Division was holding the forward zone of defences in the area northwest of Saint Quentin in the area of Ham and lost many men as it fought a chaotic, but ultimately successful, withdrawal back over the Somme crossings over the next ten days.

In the initial clash, the South Midland Division faced three enemy Divisions and only began to retire on the afternoon of 22 March, when ordered to do so, in consequence of the enemy’s progress at other parts of the line.

As Sidney was also involved in Clerical work, it may be that he was not generally involved in the frontline fighting, however, from 21 to 26 March, the ‘surplus’ 2nd/6th personnel, which probably involved clerical and catering staff, were also in action and a separate ‘diary’ was kept for them.

Meanwhile, from 22 to 23 March, the Battalion withdrew westward, through Fayett, Attilly, Matigney, Vyennes, to Breuil and Billancourt. By 24 March, the Battalion was only about 140 strong and then at Buverchy, occupied the west bank of the Canal du Nord. The Battalion, or what remained of it, continued a fighting withdrawal from 25 March to 3 April towards the outskirts of Amiens.

By the time the Battalion was relieved, after fighting all the way back to Amiens in the First Battles of the Somme 1918, the Division had been involved in continuous action since August 1917 and was exhausted.

The Battalion casualties from 21 March to 5 April 1918 were some 16 Officers and 450 Other Ranks. The remnants of the exhausted Battalion – and the 61st Division – were transferred from the XVIII Corps on 10 April 1918. Lt. General Ivor Maxey wrote a message of congratulations to the 61st Division, which had ‘… established for itself a high reputation for its fighting qualities and its gallant spirit …’.

The Battalion were moved north to what had been a quieter part of the line near Bethune. They were entrained at Rue St Roch, Amiens and taken north to Berguette, and then on to Le Cornet Malo to join 153rd Brigade. However, rather than having some rest, the Battalion had to prepare immediately for a counter attack, as the Germans had just launched the second phase of their offensive on 9 April 1918. The Division became involved and many more casualties were incurred.

The actions until 12 April were reported in a separate appendix of the Battalion War Diary, but only the reports for ?10, and 11 and 12 April survive. A trench map with the War Diary showed the 2nd/6th Battalion positions just south of Merville. It concludes by stating that ‘The casualties of the Battalion between 10th and 14th April inclusive were 9 Officers and 133 Other Ranks.

It seems that Sidney ‘… proceeded to the line the previous day [10 April] to assist the Commanding Officer with the clerical work. He was writing in a room in a farm house, which was suddenly attacked and Lance-Corpl Hall was killed on the spot.’[5] Thus on 11 April 1918, during this second major German attack, on the ‘quieter part of the line’, Sidney George Hall was ‘killed in action’. His body was recovered, but whether he was buried initially in one of the other local cemeteries is uncertain, as the graves brought in from other small nearby cemeteries, such as that used by the 2nd/7th RWR,[6] do not appear to be separately identified in CWGC documentation.

The Rugby Advertiser reported,

LANCE-CORPL. SIDNEY HALL KILLED. Mr & Mrs J Hall, of 31 Alexandra Road, Rugby, have received intimation that their only son, Lance-Corpl Sidney Hall, Royal Warwicks, was killed on April 12th. He proceeded to the line the previous day to assist the Commanding Officer with the clerical work. He was writing in a room in a farm house, which was suddenly attacked and Lance-Corpl Hall was killed on the spot. He was before enlistment employed as a clerk by Messrs Wratislow & Thompson.  Whilst in England he rose to be sergeant-in-charge of Brigade headquarters – a most responsible position for one so young, he then being only about 20 years of age. He took a keen interest in the work at St Andrew’s Mission Church, at which a memorial service was held on Sunday evening.[7]

Sidney George Hall is now buried in the St. Venant-Robecq Road British Cemetery, Robecq, in grave ref: III. C. 11., some five miles from Merville.

St. Venant is a small town in the Department of the Pas-de-Calais about 15 kilometres north-west of Bethune. For much of the First World War, the villages of St. Venant and Robecq remained practically undamaged, but in April 1918, during the Battle of the Lys, the German line was established within 2 kilometres of the road that joins them. The cemetery was begun around 12 April and used as a front line cemetery until the end of July. At the Armistice it contained 47 burials, but was then greatly enlarged when graves were brought in from the battlefields south of St. Venant and from other cemeteries in the vicinity. The most important of these cemeteries were La Haye British Cemetery at St. Venant (65 graves), used by the 2nd/7th Royal Warwicks and 2nd/8th Worcesters between April and August 1918, and Carvin British Cemetery, Mont-Bernenchon (54 graves), used by fighting units and field ambulances during the same period.

Later, when the permanent gravestones replaced the temporary cross, no family message was requested.

Sidney George HALL is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates; and also on a family grave, ref: C175, in the Clifton Road Cemetery, Rugby.

Sidney’s Medal Card shows that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

Another Rugby man in the 2nd/6th Battalion, one of Sidney’s officers, William Harry PACKWOOD, was killed the next day, 12 April.

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

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This article on Sidney George HALL 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 RFHG, January 2018.

[1]         http://www.longlongtrail.co.uk/army/order-of-battle-of-divisions/61st-2nd-south-midland-division/

[2]       Based on: https://www.forces-war-records.co.uk/units/316/royal-warwickshire-regiment/.

[3]       WWI War Diaries, 1914-1920, 2/6 Bn., Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 61st Division,

[4]       Murland, Jerry, Retreat and Rearguard Somme 1918, the Fifth Army Retreat, 2014, ISBN: 978-1-78159-267-0.

[5]       Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 4 May 1918.

[6]       The 2nd/7th RWR were operating with the 2nd/6th RWR, and thus on 13 April 1918 the 2nd/6th RWR was combined for some days with the 24th Entrenching Battalion as a composite Battalion and then relieved the 2nd/7th RWR.

[7]       Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 4 May 1918.

1 thought on “Hall, Sidney George. Died 11th Apr 1918

  1. Pingback: Wilson, Robert Victor. Died 13th Apr 1918 | Rugby Remembers

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