Colston, Ernest Henry. Died 20th Jun 1918

Ernest Henry COLSTON’s birth was registered in Q3, 1899 in RugbyHe was baptised on 9 August 1899 at St. Matthew’s Church, Rugby.  He was the eldest son of Henry Colston, who was born in about 1867 in Rugby, and Emily Flora, née Wheeler, Colston, who was born in Yelvertoft in about 1874.  When Ernest was baptised, his father was working as a ‘builder’s machinist’.

In 1901, his father was still a ‘machinist (woodworker)’, and the family were living at 30 Stephen Street, Rugby.  Ernest had now ‘arrived’ and was one year old.  In 1911, when Ernest was 11, his parents had been married for 12 years, and were still living in Stephen Street, but now at number 27, which may have been a renumbering by the Post Office, rather than a change of home.  Ernest now had a younger brother, Dennis William Colston, who was born on 10 September 1903, and was now seven.  Their father was still in the same type of job and was a ‘wood work machinist’ for an ‘electrical engineer’.

Unfortunately no Service Records have survived for Ernest, but it seems that he joined up in Rugby, initially as Private, No: 40386, in the Somerset Light Infantry.  He later served as a Private, No: 48555, latterly in ‘A’ Company, 5th Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire) Regiment, more usually known as the Royal Berkshire Regiment.

The 5th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Berkshire Regiment was formed as part of the First New Army (K1) in Reading on 25 August 1914 and joined the 35th Brigade of the 12th Division and then moved to Shorncliffe.  In January 1915 the Battalion moved to Folkestone and then, on 1 March 1915, to Malplaquet Barracks at Aldershot.  On 31 May 1915 they mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne and then engaged in various actions on the Western Front including: During …

1915: the Battle of Loos.

1916: the Battle of Albert; the Battle of Pozieres; and the Battle of Le Transloy.

1917: the First Battle of the Scarpe; the Battle of Arleux; the Third Battle of the Scarpe; and the Cambrai operations.

1918: on 6 February 1918, they transferred to the 36th Brigade,[1] but were still in the 12th Division and continued to fight on the Western Front in the Battle of Bapaume; the First Battle of Arras; the Battle of Amiens; the Battle of Albert; the Battle of Epehy; and then took part in the Final Advance in Artois.

There is no date when Ernest went to France, but it would probably be some time after he joined up and he was unlikely to have been sufficiently trained – or indeed old enough to serve overseas – until sometime in 1917.

Whilst it was fairly quiet at the start of 1918, Ernest would have continued to be involved in the routine of trench warfare, and the front was comparatively quiet prior to 21 March.

However, an attack by the Germans had been anticipated and on 21 March 1918, they launched a major offensive, Operation Michael,  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.

The Battalion War Diary until January 1918 is filed under the 35th Brigade,[2] and then from February onwards it is filed under 36th Brigade.[3]  A summary of the Battalion’s movements and actions during Ernest’s last few months is given below.

In late December 1917 the Battalion was training in the Merville area, and on 21 January 1918 relieved the 7th Bn. Royal Sussex Regiment and then on 29 January they were relieved by the 7th Norfolks, and soon after transferred to the 36th Brigade.

In February they were variously at Rouge de Bout and Fleurbaix, where the trenches were ‘very quiet’.  On about 10 March they were relieved and were at Nouveau Mond and Rely from 22 to 25 March.  Then on 24 March they marched to Burbure and went into billets in Warloy.  On 24 March they marched overnight carrying Lewis guns and ammunition and on 26 March they were constructing defences east and south of Martinsaut.  On 27 March an attack was in progress – Germans were seen advancing and rapid fire was opened – several Germans were seen to drop.  There were later a number of casualties.  The enemy was now at Aveluy.  On 28 March an attack was repulsed and the Battalion was relieved on 30 March by the 23rd London Regiment.

On 1 April the Battalion was working at Worloy under the Royal Engineers at night.  Then from 2 to 7 April they relieved the 7th Border Regiment in front of Albert.  During the earlier period they sustained 12 officer and 243 Other Rank (OR) casualties – killed, wounded or missing.  8 April was a ‘quiet day’.  Then on 9/10 April they relieved the 9th Essex in the Corps Line and on 11 April were relieved by the 15th Welsh and went back to billets in Worloy – marching via Contay to Mirvaux – and were accommodated under canvas for training.

On 23 April they returned to the front line in the Beaumont Hamel sector until the end of the month when a strong enemy attack was repulsed.

In May they were in the front line until 13 May, then went to Acheux and provided working parties and practised for a raid.  This took place on 24 May and resulted in 4 officers wounded, 12 ORs killed, 2 died of wounds, 73 wounded, and 19 missing.  21 prisoners and six machine guns were taken.  On 25 May they proceeded by bus to Beauquesne – and further training.

In early June the Battalion was training and in reserve.  On 16 June they were again at Beauquesne, and had a Church Parade, and prepared for the line.  On 17 June the Battalion started to march to the front line at 9.30a.m.  They were east of Harponville until 10p.m. when they marched to take over Front Line System Left Sector in Bouzencourt Section.   ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies were in the Front Line.  ‘All line in bad shape and very muddy and wet.  Trenches badly undercut.’

On 19 June a ‘Chinese Bombardment’[4] on the left led to ‘… heavy retaliation on our trenches … we suffered casualties’.  On that day 1 OR was killed and 7 wounded, and then on 20 June 5 ORs were killed and 7 wounded.

On 20 June, still in the Bouzincourt Sector, work continued on trenches and many trench shelters began.  It seems that ‘A’ Company had still been in the front line as on 21 June ‘Work continued. … ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies relieved by ‘C’ and ‘D’ Compaanies in front line.’

Ernest Henry Colston was killed in action on 20 June 1918, presumably in a continuation of the ‘retaliation on our trenches’ noted above.  He was 19, and killed with several other members of his Battalion who are now buried besides him.

He was buried in the Bouzincourt Communal Cemetery Extension in grave reference: IV. B. 12. 

Bouzincourt is a village 3 kilometres north-west of Albert on the road to Doullens (D938).  The Communal Cemetery is on the northern side of the village.  It is some five kms. south-west of the Theipval Memorial.

Bouzincourt was used as a field ambulance station from 1916 to February 1917.  It was in German hands for a few days in the spring of 1918.  Bouzincourt Communal Cemetery was used for burials in 1916 and again from April to June 1918.  The adjoining Cemetery Extension was begun in May 1916 and used until February 1917.  The extension was reopened from the end of March 1918 until the following September and used largely by the 38th (Welsh) Division.

Later, when a permanent gravestone replaced the temporary cross, probably in the 1920s, it included his family’s message, “Greater Love hath no man that he gave his Life for his Friends”. 

His Medal Card showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  He is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate

His mother, as his sole legatee, received his monies owing of £3-17-1d on 21 October 1918, and his War Gratuity of £3 on 5 December 1919.  His parents lived latterly at 82 York Street, Rugby.  His father died in 1940 and his mother in 1947.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

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This article on Ernest Henry COLSTON 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, February  2018.

[1]      This does mean the Battalion War Diary has to be found in two separate files under the two Brigades.

[2]      UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, Various Infantry Brigades, 12th Division, TNA ref: Piece 1850: 35 Infantry Brigade (1915 – 1919).

[3]      UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, Various Infantry Brigades, 12th Division, TNA ref: Piece 1856: 36 Infantry Brigade (1915 – 1919).

[4]      A ‘Chinese Attack’ was the term given to a faked attack upon enemy trenches.  A preliminary artillery bombardment would be carried out.  This normally meant that an infantry assault was probable once the bombardment lifted.  However in a ‘Chinese Attack’ no infantry attack followed the lifting of the bombardment; and after allowing time for enemy to return to their trenches, the bombardment would recommence, the intention being to catch large numbers of men while they were in the open.  Chinese Attacks were also used to test reactions to a more seriously intended raid.  Ref: http://www.firstworldwar.com/atoz/chineseattack.htm.

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