Souster, Albert George. Died 29th Aug 1918

Albert George SOUSTER, generally known as Bert Souster, was born on 24 May 1898 in Rugby.   He was the eldest son of George Thomas Souster, b.c.1875, in Fenny Stratford, Buckinghamshire and Florence Jessie, née Adie, Souster, b.c. 1874, in Tamworth, Staffordshire.  They married in 1898 in Tamworth.

In 1901 the family were living at 71 Cambridge Street, Rugby; Albert’s father was 26 and a Railway Parcel Porter; his mother was 27.  Albert was 2 years old.

By 1911 the family had moved next door to 73 Cambridge Street, Rugby.[1]  George was 12 and now had two brothers: Allan Thomas who was 9 and Stanley who was 6.  Their father was now a Ticket Collector.

Albert attended Murray School and later became a Railway Clerk, latterly L& N.-W Railway Goods office at Coventry Station.  He was also a teacher in the Primitive Methodist Sunday School.[2]

Unfortunately no Service Record has survived for Albert, but it seems that he enlisted in Rugby, in March 1917, initially as a Private, No: 212797, in the Royal Horse and Royal Field Artillery.  There is no date on Albert’s Medal Card for when he went to France, but as noted in a later obituary, it was at the start of 1918.

At some date he transferred to the Machine Gun Corps, and then, or later, into the ‘Heavy Branch’, the ‘disguised’ name for the new Tank Corps.  His Medal Card has him latterly as a Private, No: 109743 in the 12th Battalion, the Tank Corps.

It appears that men with Tank Corps numbers in the range ‘109000 to 109999’ were mostly transfers in from Royal Field Artillery.[3]  That would have been the case for Albert.

The Tank Corps were at first considered artillery, and crews received artillery pay.  At that time the six tank companies were grouped as the Heavy Section of the Machine Gun Corps (MGC).  In November 1916 the eight companies then in existence were each expanded to form battalions (still identified by the letters A to H) and designated the Heavy Branch MGC; another seven battalions, I to O, were formed by January 1918, when all the battalion were changed to numbered units.  On 28 July 1917, the Heavy Branch was separated from the rest of the Corps by Royal Warrant and given official status as the Tank Corps.  The formation of new battalions continued and, by December 1918, 26 had been created though only 25 battalions were equipped with tanks, as the 17th had converted to armoured cars in April 1918.[4]

There does not appear to be a readily accessible War Diary for the ‘L’ or 12th Battalion of the Tank Corps, but some information on organisation in early 1918 has been found.[5]

‘Early in January 1918 orders were, however, received that in place of remaining assembled at one spot the Tank Corps was to form a defensive cordon stretching from about Roisle to a little south of Bethune – a frontage of some sixty miles.  In February this line was taken up, tank units being distributed as follows: … 1st Tank Brigade, which latterly had its H.Q in Bois d’Olhain.  The Brigade included: 7th Bn. at Boyelles ; 11th Bn. at Bois des Alleux; and 12th Bn. at Bois de Verdrel.

The 1st Brigade were thus in position on a line between Bethune and south of Saint Quentin, some 10 miles to the west of Cambrai, with Albert, assuming that he arrived with the 12th Bn. soon after the date he went to France, near the 1st Brigade H.Q. about five miles south of Bethune.

He may well have been involved in some of the initial holding actions after the German offensive ‘Operation Michael’,[6] in later March 1918; and certainly later, in the actions following the Battle of Amiens on 8 August 1918, which was the first day of the Allied offensive, which led to the successful ‘100 Days Offensive to Victory’.

Tanks were used to assist many of the offensive actions, and there were daily losses in the various Battalions of the Tank Corps – some no doubt due to the shelling of the rear lines, as well as when tanks were in action.  Indeed on the very day that Albert was killed, one of the Tank Corps’ Victoria Crosses was won, at Fremicourt, about six kms. south, on 29 August 1918, when serving in a ‘Whippet’ light tank, in 3rd (Light) Tank Bn. Tank Corps,

‘ … Lieutenant Cecil Sewell dismounted to save the crew of another tank, was killed in the process and awarded the Victoria Cross.’

Albert George Souster was in the 12th not the 3rd, but was also ‘Killed in Action’ on 29 August, ‘by a shell’.  Another soldier in his 12th Bn. also died that day and can probably help locate the battalion.  Although later re-buried in the Mory Abbey Military Cemetery, Mory, Private William Gordon was originally buried at Map Reference: 57c B 8a 8.5.[7]  This is about 1500yards to the north-east of Ervillers, which is about 25 miles west of Cambrai, and is likely to be where the 15th Bn. was in action or more probably leaguered and waiting to go into action.  Also originally found buried a few hundred yards to the east of William Gordon, at M.Ref: 57c B 8b 5.2., were two members of the Grenadier Guards, a member of the 1st Bn. Kings Royal Rifles and Captain L A Wilkins of the 2nd/4th Yorks and Lancs.  They were also recovered from the battlefield to be buried in the Mory Abbey Military Cemetery, and their Battalions were in action in the few days before Albert’s death during the attacks around Ervillers.

Soon the advance moved forward, the 12th Bn Tank Corps came into action on 2 September 1918 and incurred the loss of 13 men killed near Mory.  Most were recovered to be buried in the nearby Mory Abbey Military Cemetery.  However, three were later recovered from the battlefield, and provide an indication of where the 12th Bn. were then in action – they were recovered at Map References that can also be found a little to the south on the Trench Map:[8] – Knowles at M.Ref: 57c H 3a 4.8; Sliddard at M.Ref: 57c B 28c 2.1.; and Mitchell at M.Ref: 57c B 26 c 1.5.

Albert was ‘killed instantaneously by a shell’ in action on 29 August 1918 – he was only 20.  Until a War Diary can be consulted, it seems likely that his was a random death during counter-shelling.  His body was either not found, or no longer able to be found, or not identified and he is commemorated on Panel 11, 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.[9]

Albert’s 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.

The Rugby Advertiser posted a notice of Albert’s death on 7 September 1918
On Tuesday Mr George Souster, ticket collector, 73 Cambridge Street, received the news that his son, Gunner Albert George Souster, of the Tanks Battalion, had been killed by a shell on August 29th. Gunner Souster, who was 20 years of age, enlisted in the R.F.A in March, 1917, and was subsequently transferred to the Tank Battalion and drafted to France in January last.  Before joining up he was a clerk in the L& N.-W Railway Goods office at Coventry.  He was a teacher in the Primitive Methodist Sunday School.[10]

The same edition included a family Death notice – with a slightly earlier date of death.
SOUSTER. – Killed in action on August 28th, Gunner ALBERT GEORGE SPOUSTER, Tank Battalion, son of Mr. George Souster, 73 Cambridge Street, Rugby, aged 20 years.

The Coventry Evening Telegraph also published a brief obituary on 7 September 1918.
Albert George Souster, Tank Corps, who before joining was employed as a clerk at Coventry railway station, has fallen in action, having been killed instantaneously by a shell.  Son of Ticket-examiner George Souster of Rugby, he joined up in March last year in the R.F.A., and proceeded France at the beginning this year.  He was aged 20.[11]

His death was not officially reported in the Weekly Casualty List until early-October,
‘PART VII  – W.O.’s., N.C.O.’s and Men, (Cont.) – Killed (Cont). … Tank Corps … Souster, 109743, A.G. (Rugby).[12]

This was followed by publication in ‘The Roll of Honour’ in the Coventry Evening Telegraph on 7 October 1918,
‘THE ROLL OF HONOUR.  Coventry and District Casualties.  Today’s list of casualties include the following: Killed. … Tank Corps, Souster, 109743, A.G. Rugby.’[13]

Between 21 August 1918 and the Armistice on 11 November 1918, some 2,400 men and officers of the Tank Corps became casualties.

A later family remembrance in the Rugby Advertiser stated,
SOUSTER – In ever loving memory of our dear son, Gunner A G Souster (Bert), killed in France, Aug. 29th. 1918.  “Ever in our thoughts”.  From his sorrowing Mother, Father, and Brothers.’

When the Rugby Memorial Gates were dedicated in 1922, ‘Souster A G’ was among those listed in the Rugby Advertiser as being included on the Memorial Gates.[14]

Soon afterwards, on Empire Day in May 1922, Albert Souster was remembered at Murray School,

‘EMPIRE DAY.  CELEBRATIONS AT RUGBY SCHOOLS. MURRAY SCHOOL
The celebrations were commenced with a service, at which “The Supreme Sacrifice.” “O God, our Help in Ages Past,” and other national songs were sung to the accompaniment of the school orchestra.  After the play interval the hoys formed up in the ground and, headed by the school troop of Boy Scouts under the command of Scoutmaster Rowbottom, marched past the flag at the salute.  Earlier in the morning a beautiful wreath was placed under the Old Boys’ Memorial in memory of A. G. Souster, whose birthday coincided with Empire Day.  A holiday was given in the afternoon.[15]

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Albert George SOUSTER was researched and written for the Rugby Family History Group [RFHG] project, by Anne Rogers and John P H Frearson and is © Anne Rogers, John P H Frearson and the RFHG, April and August 2018.

[1]      The street had not been renumbered, as the Bayfords at 69, and the Clarks at 79, were still at the same addresses.

[2]      Rugby Advertiser, 7 September 1918.

[3]      Howard Williamson’s notes, taken from http://armyservicenumbers.blogspot.com/2017/06/the-tank-corps-enlistments-1916-1919.html.

[4]      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Royal_Tank_Regiment.

[5]      Fuller, J.F.C., Tanks in the Great War, 1920.

[6]      https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/the-1918-spring-offensive-operation-michael/.

[7]      See trench map at https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=15&lat=50.1725&lon=2.8365&layers=101465149&b=1

[8]      See trench map at https://maps.nls.uk/geo/explore/#zoom=15&lat=50.1453&lon=2.8452&layers=101465149&b=1

[9]      https://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/79200/vis-en-artois-memorial/.

[10]     Rugby Advertiser, 7 September 1918 also https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2018/09/07/7th-sep-1918-grand-fete-at-clifton-manor/.

[11]     Coventry Evening Telegraph, Saturday, 7 September 1918, and Coventry Herald, Saturday, 14 September 1918.

[12]     Weekly Casualty List (War Office & Air Ministry ), Tuesday, 8 October 1918.

[13]     Coventry Evening Telegraph, Monday, 7 October 1918.

[14]     Rugby Advertiser, Friday, 10 March 1922.

[15]     Rugby Advertiser, Friday, 26 May 1922.

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