“ THE WARWICKSHIRE LADS.”
HOW THE LOCAL MEN FOUGHT.
Under this heading we have endeavoured to get together a complete and authoritative account of the doings of Rugby men on the various war fronts from 1914 to 1918. Owing to the regulations of the Defence of the Realm Act all references to these matters by the Press were, of course, strictly prohibited during hostilities. But, although many of the events now related will seem to be already relegated to the “ long ago,” it is only just that there should be on record some recital of the losses and successes of the local units. As we are anxious to make our narrative as comprehensive and complete as possible, we shall be glad if any of our readers would amplify our articles or rectify any omissions that may inadvertently occur.
The Rugby men, composing the old E Company, of the 7th Royal Warwickshire Regiment, had an honourable and valiant record of stern work in France and Italy. Although before going overseas they were merged into a double company, the Rugby contingent retained their individuality all through, despite the inevitable change that followed gradually in course of time upon casualties and transfers. They left England with the battalion on March 22nd, 1915, landing at Le Harve. They eventually entrained to Cassel, where they were billeted at farmhouses. After a stay of some 26 days, they matched to Bailleul, and thence to Armentieres, in the vicinity of which they made their initial entry into the trenches with the Durham Light Infantry. Three casualties occurred here among the local men-but there were none killed. They subsequently returned to Bailleul, proceeding from there to Neuve Eglise, where they took over the trenches at a point below the Messines Ridge. The Company put in a lot of work here, and it was during their stay at this point that the Hill 60 fight took place, when the German armies used gas for the first time. The effects of the gas reached the local men, causing their eyes to smart, but did no actual harm. However, casualties were happening daily and many Rugby heroes were laid to rest at a little graveyard near by. The next move was to Hebuterne to take over some trenches from the French. It was an unpleasant spot. It had only recently been captured from the enemy and
PARTIALLY BURIED BODIES were visible on every side. A few weeks later the Company were sent to a point north of the line, again superseding some French troops. The trenches here were in a much better condition than those just vacated. They commenced from a somewhat ruined village, and were complete with communication trenches. Having these facilities, and thus being able to work from the village, the Company were able to remain in the line for a longer period. The Company were in this sector during the Christmas of 1915 until the early part of July, 1916, when the Somme offensive opened. The local men put in some strenuous work on this occasion. They were on the left flank supporting the main portion of the attacking division and were using smoke screens on an extensive scale. Some heavy losses were suffered here by the Brigade. Two battalions went to the assistance of the attacking division and were badly cut up. A few days later they journeyed to a point near Albert. Here it was that the testing time for the Rugby men may be said to have commenced. They were continuously in action and had their first experience of going over the top. The first trench actually captured by the battalion had to be given up soon afterwards owing to its open exposure to machine-gun fire. They had some gruelling fighting here for several months. They were moving steadily southward along the line during this time, until they eventually took over a sector from the French opposite Peronne. The Germans subsequently commenced a retirement in these regions, and the battalion fought them back to the Hindenburg line. This was the first experience of
OPEN WARFARE to many of the men, and afforded some interest, with the cavalry with them. It came as something of a relief moreover, despite the digging-in operations necessitated. Hereabouts the division were sent to Ypres, and suffered some severe losses. Throughout their stay in France, the battalion took a worthy share in all the operations they were engaged in, having some very hard fighting indeed, and never being more than a few days away from the trenches at a time, with the exception of one six weeks’ divisional rest. In the summer of 1917 the battalion were sent to Italy, where they assisted to drive back the Austrian offensive. They succeeded in capturing many guns, and finally occupied some parts of Austria. The battalion are now in Egypt-but the majority of those who survived the early days have once more returned to their peaceful avocations in the knowledge of having played a noble part in the defence of the Empire.
Of the individual achievements a volume could be written. Every man who played a part in those stern days has performed a worthy service, and earned an immortal name for the “glorious 7th.” They were fortunate in having good leaders all through. Captain Greg and Captain Mason took the company across the water, but the force of circumstances brought continuous changes in the command. Happy memories are held of Captain Payton, of Warwick, an officer loved by all under his direction. He was mortally wounded by shell fire near Mouquet Farm, a piece of shrapnel penetrating the lungs. Captain Caley was another popular and fearless officer, who met his death in the fighting around Passchendale. The battalion also possessed some splendid warrant and non-commissioned officers, of whom mention should be made of Company-Sergt.-Major Bryant, who was killed upon his initial entry into the line, and Company-Sergt.-Major A. C. Tomlinson, who was with the company until the time they reached the Hindenburg line. C.S.M. Tomlinson has now discarded the khaki and is back at Rugby again.
AN N.C.O.’S DIARY.
WHAT THE RUGBY MEN SAW IN FRANCE.
An interesting record of life and impressions of the local men in France has been preserved by Arm. Staff-Sergt F. H. Dodson, who was with the company during the early part of their active service career. Staff-Sergt. Dodson has compiled a diary of his experiences, from letters sent home from time to time, and although mention of strictly military matters was at that time taboo, his notes provide entertaining reading of how life and customs across the water appeared to the Rugby contingent. We have selected some extracts from his diary and have pleasure in publishing them.
Staff-Sergt. Hodson first describes the embarkation of the company from Southampton on the evening in March, 1915, “ When off the Isle of Wight,” he writes, “ all lights were turned out. I lay on the bed soon after seven and did not notice the ship start, but woke up once in the night and heard the waves swishing by the portholes. I did not notice we had arrived in France until the boat gave a slight bump at the quay about 1.30 a.m. We did not disembark until after 6 a.m. ; then we had a long and trying march through Le Havre to the heights above to a camp. It was uphill the whole way. At the camp we only stayed one night under canvas, one blanket per man. It was a busy place. . . Early in the morning we had orders to move, and marched down the hill again to the station and entrained, but before doing so bought about a yard of bread for sixpence for consumption in the train. We travelled in box wagons ; our’s was made for 26, but had 32 in, with the result that some had to stand during the trip, while the remainder lay down. . . . When marching through the town, the boys as usual ‘ chipped ‘ the passers-by, especially the girls, but this soon fell flat, because they took no notice of the remarks, not knowing English. . . . We had 25 hours in these trucks with two halts of half-an-hour each, one at Abbeville, where coffee was served out, and the next stop about 6 a.m., when we had hot tea. At the former place we picked up a corporal from Birmingham, who had fallen out of a previous train, luckily without hurting himself. He stayed with us three days until we could locate his regiment. When we detrained, it was raining and very uncomfortable, as it was rather warm also and we had a ten mile march in front of us to our appointed village billet. This march was very uninteresting, with the exception of some shrines by the wayside, which were new to us, and the large number of windmills to be seen. Some of these were very funny, the main body of the mill being very old, with one to three small rooms stuck on at absurd angles as an afterthought.
PROHIBITIONISTS PLEASE NOTE !
We arrived at the village Winezele about half-past five, and were able to get billeted before dark. Here we stayed three days. This village was remarkable owing to the fact that there were more estaminets (public-houses) than private houses, there being as many as six next door to each other. . . Most of the customs at this place seem to be years behind the times. For instance. the butcher drove a pig up the street, and when in front of his shop, hit it on the head with a mallet. While it was stunned, he stuck it, and finished the business on the road without further ado. We also had our first lesson here in French, and were told that the further we went it would become more difficult ! On the first morning we had our first sight of an aeroplane being shelled, and incidentally heard the big guns for the first time. Of course, they were several miles away. On Sunday we marched to Bailleul, sixteen miles, and most of the way over the cobbles. These were awful to march on. When a couple of miles from Bailleul we passed a lonely grave by the roadside, and further on and nearer the town a larger number with inscriptions to the N.C.O.’s and men of the Warwicks. It made our fellows think that they were quite amongst it. We stayed at Bailleul until Thursday noon, but nothing happened of any account, and very little of interest until Thursday night, when a Taube came over and dropped two bombs. I was billeted with the Stationmaster, and lived just opposite the station. One of the bombs was aimed at the gas work, and one at the Station, but both missed their mark. The former dropped in the field just beyond and the explosion shook our house from top to bottom, and of course startled the inhabitants. My landlady rapped at the door and shouted, “ Monsieur ! Zeppelin ! Zeppelin ! You no comprie!” and she got quite frantic because I would not get up. It was at this town, a fairly large one, that we began to notice the
CRUDE SANITARY ARRANGEMENTS.
For instance, the street we were in was nearly three-quarters of a mile long, straight, but uphill. Water is laid on, but not to the houses, only a standpipe at intervals. The women and the servants of the bigger house have a yoke and carry two pails for their water. All the slops are emptied in the gutter until by the time the bottom of the street is reached it is quite a miniature stream. . . The streets luckily are paved with sets, and are not noticed until you get out of the town. Here our people are treating the ditches with chemicals. At this town I saw more motor traction than I had ever seen before. . . The local traction is very crude-three-wheeled carts, wagons with half bodies pulled by horses or cows, and the smaller by dogs. . . Well, we moved out of Bailleul on Thursday to Armentieres, an eight mile march over cobbles the whole of the way, and were billeted in a huge school, evidently a kind of grammar school, complete with a chapel and entertainment room with stage and scenery. The chapel was the most gorgeous I have ever seen. A shell had been through the roof on the opposite side of the square, . . . there was not a whole pane of glass in the place except the chapel. We remarked that although every room had been partly wrecked, the chapel was not touched. It does seem odd. but the crucifixes out here somehow or other just get missed.
THE 7TH’S BAPTISM OF FIRE.
It was here where the 7th had their first experience of the trenches, and incidentally their first casualties, but not serious. . . In the town many people lived in the cellars, owing to the shells and bombs dropping on the place. Over the cellar gratings they had bags of earth to prevent stray shrapnel bullets penetrating. In fact we had not been in the town an hour before a Taube came over and dropped a bomb in a square, killing a civilian and injuring several Territorials. Taking things all round, however, the inhabitants take things as they come, and don’t worry about shells or anything else. For instance, on Easter Monday I wanted a bit of turning done and found a small machine-shop attached to a house, but nobody was at home. The next-door neighbour was surprised that we wanted work done. “ Easter Monday, Monsieur gone for holiday ” “and within the range of shell fire ! They had already had two shells through the place. ” what indifference ! We left on Tuesday and marched back to Bailleul.
(This diary will be continued next week).
GILLINGS.-In loving memory of THOMAS GILLINGS, of Dunchurch, who died on July 19, 1918, aged 82. Also of WALTER EDWARD, son of the above, who died in France from wounds on July 18, 1917, aged 23.-From Mother and Family.
GILLINGS.-In fond remembrance of WALTER, who died of wounds in France on August 18, 1917. R.I.P.-Not forgotten by Annie and Mr. & Mrs. Fox.
LEACH.-In loving memory of our dear son, PERCY JOHN LEACH, who died on August 6th, 1915.
“ For honour, liberty, and truth
He sacrificed his glorious youth.
He died, if it were death, to give his life,
That all his friends might live.”
-From his loving Father and Mother, Brothers and Sisters.
BOLTON.-In sad but loving birthday remembrance of RALPH JAMES BOLTON, 14th R.W.R., reported missing April 14, 1918, now officially reported died on that date or since.
“No one knows the parting,
Or what the parting cost :
But God in His tender mercy
Has gained what I have lost.”
-Sadly missed by Addie and all at 2 Dovey Street, Princes Park, Liverpool.
COX.-In loving memory of our dear brother, PTE. FREDERICK FRANCIS COX, who lost his life through shell shock on August 16, 1917, in France ; aged 24 years.
“ We often pause to think, dear brother,
And wonder how you died.
With no one near who loved you, dear,
Before you closed your eyes.
You nobly did your duty,
And like a hero fell ;
Could we have held your drooping head,
Or heard your last farewell.”
– Sadly missed from home. From his loving Father, Brothers, and Sisters.
REEVE.-In loving memory of Lance-Corpl. FRANK BASHAM REEVE, beloved son of Mrs. Reeve, 168 Murray Road, missing since March 21, 1918, now presumed to have been killed on that date, aged 30 years.
SPARKES.-In loving memory of my dear husband, FREDERICK WILLIAM SPARKES, killed in action in France on August 11, 1918.- “ If love could save thou had’st not died.”-From his loving Wife and Children.