Cyril George SLATER was born in New Bilton, Rugby on 27 June 1899. He was the eldest son of Charles Henry Slater, whose father was a paperhanger, and who was born in about 1878 in New Bilton, Rugby, and Bertha Martha, née Taylor, Slater, whose father was a ‘goods porter’ – she was also born in about 1878, in Rugby. They were married in New Bilton on 7 March 1899, after Banns were called in February and March. When Cyril was baptised at New Bilton on 6 August 1899, his father was working as a ‘decorator’ and the family lived in New Bilton.
In 1901, his father was enumerated as a ‘painter and house decorator’, and the family were now in St. Andrews Parish and living at 103 Cambridge Street, Rugby. Cyril was one year old. In 1911, when Cyril was 11, his parents had been married for 12 years, and had moved to live at 24 Lodge Road, Rugby. Cyril now had a younger sister, Olga C Slater, who was seven. Their father was now a ‘foreman painter’. Cyril attended the Elborow School, and ‘previous to enlisting was employed as a clerk in Messrs Willans & Robinson’s offices.’
Unfortunately no Service Record has survived for Cyril, but it seems that he joined up in Warwick, and his Medal Card shows that he served initially as Private, No: 43087, in the 4th Battalion, Hampshire Regiment. He later served as a Private, No: 44979, latterly in the 8th Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales’s (Royal Berkshire) Regiment, more usually known as the Royal Berkshire Regiment.
There is no date on his Medal Card for when Cyril went to France, suggesting this was after the end of 1915, but it would probably be some time after he joined up and he was unlikely to have been sufficiently trained – or indeed old enough assuming he had declared his correct age – to serve overseas until sometime in late 1917.
Both the 1st/4th and 2nd/4th Battalions of the Hampshire Regiment served in India from October and December respectively in WWI. Thus whilst one document suggests that Cyril was in the ‘4th Battalion’, he did not serve in India, and he may have been transferred to the Royal Berkshires soon after recruitment.
There is also some confusion over the service of the 8th Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment. The 8th (Service) Battalion was formed in September 1914 as part of the Third New Army (K3) at Reading and was attached to the 26th Division and moved to Salisbury Plain. In May 1915 they moved to Sutton Veny and on 8 August 1915 mobilised for war and landed at Havre and transferred to the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division, a Regular Army formation, which engaged in various ‘slaughterhouse battles’ on the Western Front.
However, some accounts suggest they were in action in France in 1914 and early 1915 which conflicts with the above mobilisation to France date. Assuming Cyril went to France in August 1917, having reached the age of 18, he may have been first involved in the Second Battle of Passchendaele from 26 October to 10 November 1917.
On 2 February 1918 the Battalion transferred to the 53rd Brigade of the 18th Division and continued to fight on the Western Front in the Battle of St Quentin from 21 to 23 March 1918, this being the initial action against the German offensive ‘Operation Michael’ ; the Battle of the Avre, 4-5 April; the actions of Villers-Brettoneux, 24-25 April 1918; and the Battle of Amiens, 8 August 1918, which was the first day of the Allied offensive, when Allied forces advanced over 7 miles on the first day, one of the greatest advances of the war, … Erich Ludendorff described that day as “the black day of the German Army”. The Battalion was then involved in the third Battle of Albert (21-23 August 1918) which then continued as the extended two week Second Battle of Bapaume which then developed into the advance, which became known as the Allies’ ‘Hundred Days Offensive’, and pushed back the German Armies along an extended front until the Armistice was declared.
Parts of the 8th Battalion War Diary are to be found at the end of the 53rd Brigade Diaries within the records of the 18th Division. This showed that after a final conference at MAMETZ WOOD, on 26 August 1918, there was a major action on 27 August 1918, which was described in four closely written pages of the War Diary.
‘27 August – 2.15am – Battalion moved out to the forming up line.
‘3.30am – Assembly of troops was completed. The night was quiet and bright moonlight. … three of the enemy strayed into our lines and were taken prisoner of war by the Medical Officer.
‘4.30am – The leading lines moved forward … to catch the barrage which was timed to open at 4.55am … through western edge of BERNAFAY WOOD. The enemy … outpost M.G. posts … retired hastily to the first main line of their resistance. … Our advance had already been detected … and a brisk M.G. fire opened. This was ominously loud on the left … in enemy occupation instead of held by the adjoining Division. … the barrage crept forward and our men … cleared the right area without appreciable loss.
‘On the left … progress … was considerably hampered. The next line of enemy resistance coincided approximately with the BERNAFAY- LONGUEVAL Road. … The right pushed on not far behind the barrage and took some more prisoners … between the LONGUEVAL road and TRONES WOOD. … the final objective … was attained on the right but our own troops at once came under accurate M.G. fire from the direction of WATERLOT farm. … large numbers of enemy could be seen massing and advancing from WATERLOT farm. At the same time LONGUEVAL and DELVILLE WOOD were full of enemy … contemplating withdrawl … the troops on the final objective … checked the advance from WATERLOT farm, though at the cost of a number of casualties … a number of the enemy surrendered or were killed, while the remainder withdrew in the direction of LONGUEVAL.
‘ … the Reserve Coy of the 7th R W Kents had also come up … ‘B’ Coy had started their southward advance through TRONES WOOD … but our heavies continued to shell it … they also fell back to the trench line immediately west of the wood … an enemy counter attack … menaced the security of the whole of this flank. But Kents and Berkshires rallied in good style … and confined the enemy gains to the higher portion.
‘6.30pm – The heavies opened an intense bombardment …
‘6.50pm – Two guns of the 53rd Trench Mortar Battery opened an intensive fire …
‘6.55pm – The attacking Companies … crept from their positions close up to the bombardment.
‘7.00pm – All the fire was turned to the left, but so eager were the men that they were in amongst it before the shells had stopped bursting taking the enemy completely by surprise. Basically all of these on the edge of the wood were shot or bayoneted and our troops pushed into the undergrowth with great dash … The whole operation was complete within an hour. 3 officers and 70 OR were taken prisoner, about 50 of the enemy killed and some 20 M.G.s captured. Enemy posts … were rendered largely innocuous by the command of the ground captured and the night passed quietly …
‘28 August – 12 midnight – Battalion was relieved by 2nd Batt. Bedford Regt., 54th Brigade, and moved to CATERPILLAR VALLEY.’
On 29 August at 7pm, the Battalion moved into Reserve about GUILLEMONT, which had been well behind the German lines when the action started on 27 August – such was the progress of the advance. There had been casualties – on 27 August, three Officers had been killed, and also an RAMC officer, and three were wounded. In total in August 79 Other Ranks had been killed, 225 wounded, nine died of wounds, and eight were missing. Seven Military Medals were awarded.
At some time during the actions on 27 August, Cyril George Slater was one of the 79 Other Ranks who were ‘Killed in Action’ in August in the 8th Battalion. He was 19 years old. His body was either never found or not identified.
Cyril is commemorated on Panel 7, of the Vis-en-Artois Memorial, in Pas de Calais, France.
Vis-en-Artois and Haucourt are villages on the road from Arras to Cambrai, about 10 kilometres south-east of Arras. The Vis-en-Artois Memorial is the back drop to the Vis-en-Artois British Cemetery, which is west of Haucourt.
The Memorial bears the names of over 9,000 men who fell in the period from 8 August 1918 to the date of the Armistice in the Advance to Victory in Picardy and Artois, between the Somme and Loos, and who have no known grave. They belonged to the forces of Great Britain and Ireland and South Africa; the Canadian, Australian and New Zealand forces being commemorated on other memorials to the missing. The Memorial consists of a screen wall in three parts. The middle part of the screen wall is concave and carries stone panels on which names are carved. It is 26 feet high flanked by pylons 70 feet high. The Stone of Remembrance stands exactly between the pylons and behind it, in the middle of the screen, is a group in relief representing St George and the Dragon. The flanking parts of the screen wall are also curved and carry stone panels carved with names. Each of them forms the back of a roofed colonnade; and at the far end of each is a small building. The memorial was designed by J.R. Truelove, with sculpture by Ernest Gillick. It was unveiled by the Rt. Hon. Thomas Shaw on 4 August 1930.
An item in the Rugby Advertiser in September noted,
Pte George Cyril Slater, son of Mr & Mrs H Slater, 24 Lodge Road, was killed in action in France on August 27th. He was an old Elborow boy, and previous to enlisting was employed as a clerk in Messrs Willans & Robinson’s offices.
It seems that the family may have used the name George rather than Cyril. His death was not officially reported in the Weekly Casualty List until mid-October,
‘PART VIII – W.O.’s., N.C.O.’s and Men, Cont. – Killed … Royal Berkshire Regiment … Slater 44979 O. G. (Rugby).
The Coventry Evening Telegraph published a note on the same date,
‘THE ROLL OF HONOUR. Coventry and District Casualties. The following are included in the latest casualty lists: Killed. … Slater, 44979, O. G., Rugby, Royal Berkshire Regiment.’
In both cases his first initial ‘C’ had been misprinted as ‘O’.
His Medal Card and the Medal Roll showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal. He is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
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This article on Cyril George SLATER was researched and written for the Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by John P H Frearson and is © John P H Frearson and the RFHG, April 2018.