Ward, Alfred Charles. Died 27th Sep 1918

Alfred Charles WARD was born in Rugby and christened on 11 March 1900 at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby.  He was the fourth of six sons – there were also two daughters – of Charles Ward, who was born in Storrington, Buckinghamshire, in about 1863 – his father was a ‘labourer’, – and Rose Ellen, née Jackson, Ward, who was born in Stanford Baron, Northamptonshire, in about 1867 – her father was a ‘carpenter’.  They had married on 20 September 1886, at St. Martin, Stamford Baron, when Charles was working as a ‘railway fireman’.

The family moved several times, as Charles had pursued his railway career: their first three children were born in Stanford Baron; then from 1897 to 1900 they were in Rugby where before early 1900, Charles had been promoted to be a ‘engine driver’. In 1902 a child was born in Swinton, Yorkshire; and between 1906 and 1910 their children were born in Netherfield, Nottinghamshire.  By 1911 they were back in Rugby.

In 1900, the family were living at 13 Oxford Street, Rugby, and then by 1901 the family had moved to the New Building, Queen Street, Rugby, and Alfred’s father was a ‘railway engine driver; there were now five children between 14 and one.

By 1911, Alfred was 11 and a ‘schoolboy’ and the family had moved back to live in Rugby again, in a six room house at 121 Grosvenor Road.  Alfred’s father was a ‘Locomotive Engine Driver’ for the London & North Western Railway.  By 1911 Alfred’s parents had been married 24 years, they had had nine children, one of whom had died; six were still living at home and their ages ranged from 18 to one year old.

With only the minimum details on his Medal Card and no surviving Service Record, it is difficult to reconstruct Alfred’s service history.  At some date he enlisted as a Private, No.41088, in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (R.War.R.).  When he died in 1918, he was with ‘C’ Company in the 15th Battalion, R. War. R..

His five figure service number is likely to have been issued earlier in the war, but he would not have been 18 and eligible for overseas service until 1917.  He did not win the 1914-1915 Star which again indicates that he did not go to France until after late 1915.

The 15th Battalion (2nd Birmingham) Royal Warwickshire Regiment had been formed in Birmingham by the Lord Mayor and a local Committee in September 1914.  The Battalion moved to Sutton Coalfield and then in June 1915 to Wensleydale to join the 95th Brigade of the 32nd Division and later moved to Salisbury Plain.

The 15th Battalion mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne on 21 November 1915 and on 14 January 1916 transferred to the 13th Brigade in the 5th Division.  In March 1916, and probably still well before Alfred joined up, the Division took over a section of front line near Arras, between St Laurent Blangy and the southern edge of Vimy Ridge.  When the Somme offensive opened on 1 July 1916, the 5th Division was enjoying a period of rest and re-fit and was in GHQ Reserve.  However, this restful time was not destined to last and later in July 1916 they moved some 50 miles south to reinforce the Somme.

In early April 1917 the Battalion moved to Arras for the various phases of the Battles of Arras, starting with the attack on Vimy Ridge from 9-12 April 1917; and then the three Battles of the Scarpe, 9-14 April; 23-24 April 1917; and 3-4 May 1917; and the subsidiary attack on La Coulotte on 23 April 1917, and then, on 8 May 1917, the 15th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment was ordered to attack the German-held village of Fresnoy [Fresnoy-en-Gohelle], about 8 miles north-east of Arras and west of Vimy.

The Battalion also took part in the Battle of Polygon Wood in September 1917; the Battle of Broodseinde (4 October); the Battle of Poelcappelle (9 October 1917); and the Second Battle of Passchendaele (July to November 1917).

In late November to early December 1917, the Battalion moved from France to Italy to strengthen the Italian Resistance.

Some four months later, by which date it is likely that Alfred was with the Battalion, they returned to France by train in early April 1918.

The Battalion War Diary[1] refers to the attack on Merville on 12 April and subsequent heavy shelling, it also notes that in May the Battalion was alternating between ‘the Front’ and periods ‘In Reserve’.  These were quieter times until the end of the month when a larger raid was carried out on the night 28/29 May, when two Machine Gun posts were attacked, the garrisons killed, the machine guns put out of action, and some prisoners taken.  The raid took only 20 minutes – with ‘eight slight casualties’.

After the German Offensive had been halted and the situation stabilised, preparations were made for what became the ‘100 Days Offensive’.  The 15th R.War.R. were involved with the Battle of Albert (21–23 August 1918); the Battle of Bapaume (21 August 1918 to 3 September 1918); the Battle of Drocourt-Queant (2-3 September 1918); the Battle of the Epehy (18 September 1918) and the Battle of the Canal du Nord (27 September – 1 October 1918).

The Battalion War Diary[2] relates the actions in the days leading up to this latter battle.

At the start of September 1918 the Battalion was in Reserve some 8 miles south-west of CAMBRAI.  The Battalion stayed in place [SW corner H.14.C. – Map 57c N.W. 1:20,000] when the 13th Infantry Brigade was relieved by the 63rd Inf. Brigade on 4 September.  They moved to the Quarry, where they rested and cleaned up, and then had various training until 12 September when the 13th Brigade was to relieve a support Brigade of the New Zealand Division in YTRES.  On 14 September, the 15th RWR were to relieve the 1st New Zealand Wellington Battalion at midnight.  So far that month they had had no casualties.

However, after readjusting in the Front Line, on 15 September they were in the front line in an area about a mile or so north-west of Gouzeaucourt, and had four men wounded, three by gas.  Various patrols went out on 16 – 20 September, with some men wounded, and on 20 September the Battalion was relieved and went to HAPLINCOURT, where they were ‘in huts’ on 21 September and there was a ‘voluntary church service’ on the Sunday.  There were then a few days of training, practice attacks and firing on ranges, before relieving the 1st Devon Regiment in the front line on 25 September with an hour’s halt for tea at the BRICKYARD, YTRES.  They took over the area Q 16, 17, 22, 23 [see Map 57c S.E. – see part map below]

There was however an attack planned for 26 and 27 September 1918.

26 September – 13th Infantry Brigade will take and capture RED OBJECTIVE.  Battalion H.Q. at DEAD MAN’S CORNER. …

27 September – The attack is carried out on a three Coy. Front … 5.30am Zero hour … 15th R. War. R. attack at zero plus 152.   Battalion attack & gain objective, but is obliged to retire. 

Casualties: Officers: Killed 3 (inc. MO), Wounded 5, one Wounded since died.  Other Ranks: Killed, 36. Wounded, 90. Missing, 29.  2 Wounded at duty.    

The next day patrols resumed, and the enemy was withdrawing.  There was an ‘Officer Patrol’ to GOUZEAUCOURT, which is on the plan, just to the south of where Alfred was first buried.  As others advanced through their positions, the 15th Battalion remained in place as a reserve – some of the men received ‘wounds by gas’ after being shelled, apparently by their own HQ.

Alfred died, aged only 19, on Friday, 27 September 1918, and was one of the 36 men killed that day.  He was originally buried at map reference: 57.c.Q.30.b.7.6., with at least five other members of the 15th Battalion, one of whom also died on 27 September and four who died on 29 September 1918.  This location appears to be in or adjacent to ‘Pope Trench’ which had been an enemy trench before the attacks, and confirmed that the Battalion had made good progress in their advance, before being forced to retire.

After the war, these six graves were ‘concentrated’ – soldiers who were originally buried in smaller or isolated cemeteries, were, at a later date, exhumed and reburied in larger war cemeteries.  The ‘concentration’ of cemeteries allowed otherwise unmaintainable graves to be moved into established war grave cemeteries where the Commission could ensure proper commemoration.

Alfred and his fellow soldiers were reburied in the Gouzeaucourt New British Cemetery.  Alfred was reburied in Grave Reference: VIII. B. 16.  His family had requested the first line of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘Our Father which art in Heaven, Hallowed be Thy Name’, to be added to his gravestone.

Gouzeaucourt is a large village 15 kilometres south west of Cambrai and 15 kilometres north-east of Peronne.  Gouzeaucourt New British Cemetery is opposite the civil cemetery.  Gouzeaucourt village was captured by the 8th Division on the night of 12-13 April 1917.  It was lost on 30 November 1917 in the German counterattack at the end of the Battle of Cambrai, and recaptured the same day by the 1st Irish Guards.  It was lost again on 22 March 1918, attacked by the 38th (Welsh) Division on the following 18 September, and finally retaken by the 21st Division on 8 October.  The cemetery was begun in November 1917, taken over by the Germans in 1918, and used again by Commonwealth forces in September and October 1918, but the original burials (now in Plot III) are only 55 in number.  It was enlarged after the Armistice when graves were brought in from other cemeteries and from the battlefield of Cambrai.

Alfred was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, and he is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate, and on a family grave, No: M118 in the Clifton Road Cemetery, Rugby.

His family continued to live at 121 Grosvenor Road, Rugby after the war.  Alfred had three brothers who also served during the First World War.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

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This article on Alfred Charles WARD 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, June 2018.

[1]      WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 5th Division, The National Archives Ref: Piece 1557: 13 Infantry Brigade (1915 – 1919).

[2]      WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), Royal Warwickshire Regiment, 5th Division, The National Archives, Ref: Piece 1557: 13 Infantry Brigade (1915 – 1919).

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