Bicknell, Albert Victor. Died 21st Mar 1918

Albert Victor Bicknell was born in late 1887 to Arthur Bicknell and his wife Sarah Ann née Wright.

Arthur and Sarah were both born in about 1852 in Warwickshire in Bulkington and Barnacle respectively, and their marriage was registered at Foleshill in the last quarter of 1873.  In 1881 Arthur was a coal miner and the family including Elizabeth Wright, Arthur’s mother-in-law, was living in Bulkington.

The family then, and certainly later, were much involved with brass bands, and indeed there was a Bicknell Brass Band,[1] founded by Albert’s grandfather, George Bicknell, which would by 1901 become the Bulkington Brass Band.[2]

There were four children: Thomas E was born about 1875 in Barnacle, Warwickshire; Amy was born in 1877; Clara A in 1878; and Albert Victor in 1887.  Before early 1891, indeed probably before 1887, the family had moved to live at 60 Oxford Street, Rugby.  Albert was baptised on 10 November 1887 at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby; Arthur was now a labourer, and in 1891, Arthur’s mother-in-law who had been with them in Bulkington, was still living with them, as well as some lodgers.  They were still in Oxford Street in 1901, when Albert was three years old and his grandmother was 90; the house was now numbered 123, which may represent the Post Office renumbering rather than any change of residence.

Albert’s marriage with Sarah Ellen Beer was registered in Rugby in the second quarter of 1907.  She was about a year younger than Albert and had been born in about 1888/89 in New Bilton.

The family had moved to Coventry before 1911, and Albert was a ‘General Labourer, Engineer Machine Works’ and they were then living at 74 Thomas Street.  Albert and Sarah already had two children: Elsie, 1908-1954; and [Kathleen] Olive, 1910-1972.  George Thomas Arthur, 1912-1965, was born the next year.  After a five year gap, some whilst Albert was in France, the youngest child, Frances Lillian, 1917-1991, was born.  Her father probably never saw her.

 

Very soon after war was declared, Albert enlisted in Birmingham as No.8031 in the 10th Battalion, Royal Warwickshire Regiment.  A family photograph showed him looking very young and ‘pink cheeked’.  His number suggests that he enlisted in early September 1914, when the 10th (Service) Battalion was raised at Warwick as part of the second of Kitchener’s new armies.

The battalion was assigned to the 57th Brigade in the 19th Division training on Salisbury Plain.  In December 1914 the Battalion was in billets for the winter and in March 1915 concentrated with its division around Tidworth.  Whilst some records suggest that the Battalion embarked for France and Flanders on 17 May 1915, other records have the division landed in France on 17 July 1915.  Albert’s medal card recorded that he went to France on 18 July 1915, which would support the later date.

During the Battle of the Somme in 1916, the Battalion was in the operational area between 1 July and 7 August and between 7 October and until the end of that battle on 18 November 1916.

Family recollections are indeed that he served in the first battle of the Somme in 1916.  It would also appear that he had leave in UK – or perhaps he had been wounded – sometime at the end of that year or early in 1917, after the Somme.

A portrait photograph (copyright restricted by owner)  It was said to have been taken ‘after the battle’ in 1916, presumably in the UK.  This tends to be confirmed by the birth of his fourth child the next year on 26 September 1917.

He was promoted to Lance Corporal at some date, possibly after he returned to France.

The history of 19th (Western) Division[4] shows that it was involved in 1917 in the following actions:
-The Battle of Messines
-The Third Battles of Ypres
– The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge
– The Battle of Polygon Wood
– The Battle of Broodseinde
– The Battle of Poelcapelle
– First Battle of Passchendaele
– The Second Battle of Passchendaele

The following year, on 21 March 1918, the Germans launched a major offensive, Operation Michael, against the British Fifth Army, and the right wing of the British Third Army.  The artillery bombardment began at 4.40am on 21 March 1918, and hit targets over an area of 150 square miles, the biggest barrage of the entire war.  Over 1,100,000 shells were fired in five hours.

The formation for the British order of battle for that period which was also known as the Battle of St Quentin (21-23 March 1918), included 10th Warwickshires which were near St. Quentin with the 19th (Western) Division and the 57th Brigade in the Third Army (under Byng).  The Battalion was in action east of Beaumetz facing Doignies.[5]

Because of the intensity of the battle, and as the Germans were moving forward, many of those killed could not be identified.  Albert was killed on the first day of the action on 21 March 1918.

The Battalion War Diary for 21 March 1918 includes the following.

– 5am – The Battn. was in rest camp in BARASTRE when the alarm was given by intense artillery fire; orders were given to stand to arms and extra S.A.A., bombs, rifle grenades, rations etc were issued; the Battn was ready to move by 5-45.am.  Breakfasts were then served.

– 11.50am – Orders to move to assembly positions were received … The following officers were present … B Coy:  A/Capt. H. A. Hewett, in Command.  2nd. Lt. E. T. Wilson[6]

– 3.20am – The Battn. was ordered to move into position for a Brigade counter-attack on DOIGNIES; for this Battn. was in Brigade Reserve …

– 6.40pm – The remainder of the Brigade … launched counter-attack.

– 7.45pm – The line dug roughly followed the 120 contour …

Some three days later the War Diary quoted,

‘Casualties were:- … Other Ranks: killed – 33; Wounded – 191; Missing – 83.’

Albert was one of those killed during the actions on that initial day of the German attack.  His body was found and identified and was buried initially in Barastre Communal Cemetery (Extension), row G, E, 5.  The cemetery was probably then behind German lines and contained 284 German graves, 46 French, and the graves of 39 from the United Kingdom, four from New Zealand and one from Australia.

Some time after Albert’s death, the allies held the advance which had badly weakened the Germans and their supply lines, and they fought back.  The 10th Battalion ended the war in the same formations on 11 November 1918, well to the east, just west of Bavay, France.

The British graves at Barastre were later concentrated [moved] some 10km north to the H.A.C. Cemetery, Ecoust-St Mein.  Ecoust-St.Mein is a village between Arras, Cambrai and Bapaume.  H.A.C. Cemetery is about 800 metres south of the village on the west side of the D956 road to Beugenatre.  Albert was reburied in Plot VIII. C. 26.  On the Burial Return[7] his name was spelled ‘Bricknell’, (it was correct on the Barastre Cemetery list) and identification was confirmed by his ‘service dress, G S buttons, boots, cross’.  The name was correct on the official memorial stone,5 however, there was no additional wording requested by the family, and no family details appear in the Graves Register.

His Medal Card showed that he was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal, and the 1914-15 Star.

After the war, Sarah E Bicknell remarried with Robert W Knight; the marriage was registered at Rugby [6d, 1457] in the fourth quarter of 1921.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

 

Thanks to Angela Pain who visited the RFHG stand on a Heritage Day, 2014, and provided background information and put the author in contact with her cousin Clive Rodgers who has provided information and images which were posted on the Ancestry website.  In due course, it is intended that an updated – and corrected – version of this biography will be provided by Clive Rodgers, which will hopefully include the presently withheld images.

 

[1]      The Bicknell Band was founded by George Bicknell and initially only included Bicknell family members from the Bulkington area, Warwickshire. In the 20th Century, the name changed to the Bulkington Silver Band. The last conductor who was a member of the Bicknell family was in charge in the 1970s.

[2]      A photograph can be seen at http://trees.ancestry.co.uk/tree/55005900/person/13871891414/media/8e425e94-3f51-4111-a6a2-6a49c64de6c2?pg=32768&pgpl=pid.

[3]      http://trees.ancestry.co.uk/tree/55005900/person/13871891865.

[4]      Information from ‘The Long Long Trail’.

[5]      Copyright withheld for the present by the family.

[6]      See Rugby Remembers, 23 March 1918.

[7]      Burial Return, 10 February 1926, CWGC.  The returns are lists of individuals who have been exhumed from their original burial location and reburied in a particular cemetery.  They provide basic details of the individual, but may include information as to their original burial location and occasionally some details of how they were identified. These additional details would have been omitted if the individual was reburied in the same cemetery or identified using normal methods, for example, via a service tag.