Palmer, Henry Joseph. Died 24th Oct 1918

Henry Joseph PALMER was born on 22 December 1898 in Bicester, Oxfordshire and registered there in Q1, 1899.  He was baptised at Bicester parish church on 30 April 1899, when the family were living at St John Street, Bicester.  He was the son of James Arthur Palmer, (b.c.1866 in Hethe, near Bicester – d.c.1932 in Rugby), and his wife, Sarah Elizabeth, née Edridge, Palmer (b.c.1867, in Bicester – d.c.1943 in Rugby).

By 1901, Henry was 2, and not long after he was born  the family had moved to Rugby and were now living at 35 Victoria Avenue, Bilton.  His father was a ‘moulder’s labourer’.

In 1911, when Henry, now known as ‘Harry’, was 12, the family was living at 32 Worcester Street, Rugby.  His father was now a ‘machine moulder’.  All six of the Palmer children were at home that night, as well as a four year old niece and a border.

Unfortunately no Service Record has survived for Henry, and the only information is from his Medal Card and a listing in ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’.[1]

Henry joined up in Leamington Spa,[2] and his Medal Card showed that he served in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment (R.War.R) as a private with, latterly, the Regimental Number: 42159.  The CWGC confirms that he finished his service with this number in the 2nd/6th Battalion (Bn.).  There was no date when he went to France on his Medal Card, and he did not receive the 1914-18 Star, suggesting he went to France after the end of 1915, possibly some time after he had joined up and when he had reached the required age at about the end on 1916.

The 2nd/6th Battalion of the R.War.R. had formed in Birmingham in October 1914,[3] and when the 1st South Midland Division went to France, the 2nd took its place at Chelmsford with role in Home Defence.  The strength of the unit fluctuated as they were drawn upon for drafts for the 1st-Line battalions.  In August 1915 the division was numbered as the 61st (2nd South Midland) Division and the brigade became the 182nd (2nd Warwickshire) Brigade.  In February and March 1916 they moved to Salisbury Plain for final training.  The division moved to France, arriving by 28 May 1916.

The 2nd/6th Bn’s first action was the Battle of Fromelles on 19 July 1916, a diversionary attack in support of the Somme Offensive.  The attack was badly handled and casualties were heavy.  The 61st Division was so badly mauled that it was not used offensively again in 1916.  Thereafter, the battalion was involved in the Operations on the Ancre, 11-15 January 1917; the German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line, 14 March-5 April 1917; the Battle of Langemarck, 16-18 August 1917; the Battle of Cambrai: German counter-attacks, 1-3 December 1917.  Due to the manpower shortage being suffered by the BEF, on 20 February 1918, the 2nd/6th Bn. received men from the disbanded 2nd/5th Royal Warwicks.

On the day before the German Spring Offensive, Operation Michael[4], the 61st Division was just north of St Quentin when 2nd/6th Royal Warwicks was ordered to raid the enemy line Cepy Farm and obtained prisoners from three regiments and two separate divisions, indicating that the German lines were packed ready for an attack early the following morning, 21 March.  Unfortunately, this information was not widely disseminated before the Battle of St Quentin began.

The front held by 61st Division opposite St Quentin was one of the few sectors where the attackers were delayed.  Redoubts held out for most of the day and the Battle Zone was successfully held by 2nd/6th Royal Warwicks and four other battalions.  Unfortunately, the neighbouring battalions were driven back and the 2nd/6th Bn. was ordered to retire.  It was then involved in the Actions to defend the Somme Crossings on 24-25 March.  The Division was relieved on 27 March and taken north to make a counter-attack the following day at Lamotte near Villers-Bretonneux.  This attack was shot down yards from the objective and the exhausted remnants were finally pulled out of the line on 30 March.

During the rest of Spring 1918 the battalion was involved in the Battle of the Lys, the Battle of Estaires, 11 April, when the 61st Division arrived just in time to prevent the destruction of the 51st (Highland) Division; Battle of Hazebrouck, 12-15 April; and the Battle of Béthune, 18 April.

In the ‘Hundred Days Offensive’, the 61st Division was committed to minor operations during the pursuit to the Haute Deule Canal.  On 1 October, 182nd Bde, including the 2nd/6th Royal Warwicks and the 184th Bde attacked behind a deep barrage against little resistance and then followed the German rearguards over broken ground well beyond the original objectives.

The Battalion then went into reserve until the Battle of the Selle on 24 October, when it was ordered to cross the Ecaillon stream.  2nd/6th and 2nd/7th Royal Warwicks got into trouble here, because there was uncut barbed wire on both sides of the stream that had been missed by the barrage.  Only a few men were able to struggle across and maintain themselves against counter-attacks for the rest of the day.

In this period, the three British Armies were able to continue their advance, taking nearly 20,000 prisoners in one week.  During the night of 23/24 October, the 61st Division relieved 19th Division east of Haussy to continue the advance across the River Écaillon the following day.

The Battalion War Diary[5] for this period can be found with the Diaries of the 61st Division.  The activities of the Battalion in October 1918 can perhaps best provide information as to Henry’s likely whereabouts and the occasion when he was wounded, leading to his death.

On 2 October the 182nd Infantry Brigade was relieved by the 178th Infantry Brigade, and went into billets at TREIZENNES, for re-equiping and training.  The Battalion moved by train to billets at GEZAINCOURT.  After two days rest and training the Battalion moved by rail and route march into reserve S.W. of MOEUVRES.  On 10 October they moved by route march to ANNEUX.  Apart from finding a working party, they were training until 18 October when they marched to billets S.W. of CAMBRAI, and the next day marched to RIEUX for further training until 22 October when they moved to MONTRECOURT WOOD prior to relieving the 9th Welch just west of VENGEGIES, on 23 October.

24 October – 04.00 – Under cover of artillery barrage, the village of VENDEGIES was attacked and the river ECAILLON crossed, but the Battalion had to withdraw West of the river, owing to strong enemy resistance.  Fighting continued through the day, and at about 18.00 hours the enemy withdrew.  The village was occupied immediately.  Casualties sustained 5 Officers, 182 O.R.

Henry was most likely one of those 182 O.R. casualties, assuming he was wounded in the attacks on 24 October 1918.  He was probably carried back about 10 miles to one of the Casualty Clearing Stations established in the rear, at Awoingt, near Cambrai, where he died of his wounds on the same day, Thursday, 24 October 1918.  He was 19 years old.

He was buried in the Awoingt British Cemetery, which was adjacent to the Casualty Clearing Stations, in grave reference: I. C. 18.

Awoingt is a village some 3 Kms east-south-east of Cambrai, in Nord, France.  Awoingt British Cemetery was begun in the latter half of October 1918 and used until the middle of December; the village had been captured on 9/10 October.  By 28 October, the 38th, 45th and 59th Casualty Clearing Stations were posted in the neighbourhood, and the great majority of the burials were made from those hospitals.[6]

An inscription was added to his memorial by the family, ‘We Miss Him Most Who Loved Him Best God Grant To Him Eternal Rest’, and his father’s name was given as ‘Mr J A Palmer, 32 Worcester Street, Rugby.’

Henry Joseph Palmer’s Medal Card showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.  His name also appears on the War Memorial Gates, Whitehall Road, Rugby and he is also remembered on a family grave ref: M101, in the Clifton Road Cemetery, Rugby.

Two days after Henry’s death, on 26 October, Erich Ludendorff, First Quartermaster General of the German army, resigned under pressure from Kaiser Wilhelm II.  The 100 days’ advance continued and only two weeks after Henry’s death, the War came to an end.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Henry Joseph PALMER 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, August 2018.

[1]      UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, from www.Ancestry.co.uk.

[2]      UK, Soldiers Died in the Great War, 1914-1919, from www.Ancestry.co.uk.

[3]      Greater detail can be found at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/6th_Battalion,_Royal_Warwickshire_Regiment, from which this summary was prepared.

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

[5]      UK, WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920, TNA ref: 61st Division, Piece 3056/2: 2/6 Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment, (1915 Sep – 1919 Feb).

[6]      Edited from https://www.cwgc.org/find-a-cemetery/cemetery/59900/awoingt-british-cemetery/.

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