Covington, Reginald Frederick. Died 22nd May 1918

Reginald Frederick COVINGTON was born in Northampton in about 1894, and his birth was registered in Q1, 1894He was the son of George Frederick Covington, born in about 1861 in Northampton, and Kate, née Westley, Covington, who was born in about 1867 in Sherrington, Buckinghamshire.  They had married on 25 December 1890 at St Michael and All Angels church, Northampton.

It seems that the family moved from Northampton to Wellingborough between 1897 and 1901, when the family was living at 9 Oxford Street, Wellingborough.  Reginald’s father was a ‘fruitier’.  The family then moved to Rugby

Before 1911 they moved again, to Rugby, and Reginald attended school at St. Matthew’s. He had been a holder of the Robertson Cup for the best all-round athlete in the school.[1] When Reginald was 17, the family were living in a six room house at 28 North Street, Rugby.  He had two younger sisters.  His father was a ‘Fruitierer & Confectioner’, and he was working as a ‘Compositor’ – later he would work for the family business and managed his father’s branch shop in Lawford Road.

It is uncertain when he joined up, although an obituary stated that he ‘… joined the army … in the early days of the War.’[2]  He joined up as a Gunner, No.1160, in the Royal Field Artillery – Territorial Force, and at a later date, but prior to September/October 1917, he was renumbered as No:840787.

It seems that he did not go to France until at least late 1915, as he did not receive the 1914-1915 Star, but he was certainly in France prior to September/October 1917, as he was wounded and/or gassed as mentioned in two local papers.

In September 1917, the ‘Local War Notes’ reported
Bombardier Reg Covington, R.F.A, son of Mr Richard[3] Covington, has been gassed during the recent fighting.[4]

It was probably the same occurrence that was reported in October 1917, in the Coventry Evening Telegraph,
Roll of Honour, Coventry and District Casualties.
Wounded … Covington, 840787, Gnr. R., Rugby, R.F.A.[5]

An official Casualty List in October also listed him a ‘Wounded’ under the Royal Field Artillery listing.[6]

It seems that he was sent back to England for treatment, but returned to France in about early 1918.  The CWGC record states that he was latterly in the ‘D’ Battery of the 275th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery.

The 275th (1/1st West Lancashire) Brigade RFA Territorial Force was based at Windsor Barracks, Spekeland Street, Liverpool.  The Brigade came under the orders of the West Lancashire Division.  The divisional artillery crossed to France, landing at Le Havre on 1 October 1915.

The West Lancashire Division, now titled the 55th (West Lancashire) Division, was ordered to re-form in France and the artillery rejoined it at Hallencourt between 2 and 4 January 1916.  A new “D” Battery was formed for the Brigade on 7 May 1916.  There were later various reorganisations as the batteries were switched around.

In 1918, the 55th Division relieved the 42nd (East Lancashire) Division in the front line at Givenchy and Festubert on 15 February.  Here, it faced numerous strong enemy attacks in March 1918.

Whilst the front had been comparatively quiet, an attack was anticipated and 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 German artillery targeted command and communications; then, the destruction of artillery; and then the front-line infantry.  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.

Early April was comparatively quieter, but it was a lull before a storm, with the Division involved in the Battle of Estaires (9-11 April) including the Defence of Givenchy (9-17 April) and the Battle of Hazebrouck (12-15 April), the latter two being phases of the Battles of the Lys.

The Defence of Givenchy was to become the single most famous action fought by the Division.  ‘It was afterwards publicly stated by an officer of the German General Staff that the stand made by the Division on April 9th and the days which followed marked the final ruination of the supreme German effort of 1918’, says the Divisional history.

The 275th RFA Brigade Diary gives information on their various actions in April and May, but there do not seem to be any specific large scale actions at and just before Reginald died of his wounds.

The 275th Artillery Group was in the line in early April and on 9 April, the ‘B’, ‘C’ and ‘D’ Batteries of the 275th were moved back section by section.  On 10 April there was considerable hostile bombardment which included about 10% of gas shells of various types.  In spite of attacks, it seems the German advances on Givenchy and Festubert were driven back and indeed some 700 prisoners were taken.  On 25/26 April, the 164th Infantry Brigade attacked Givenchy to re-establish the old line.  The 275th put down smoke and shrapnel to cover one of the flanks.  The 55th Division were congratulated on their fine work during this battle.

There is less information recorded for May, and Reg was probably wounded, possibly by German counter-battery shelling, sometime in April or May.  If earlier, he might have been expected to have been evacuated further to a base hospital, so it was probably about mid-May.

Reginald’s Medal Card states that he ‘Died of Wounds’ on 22 May 1918 and the Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects stated that he died at the ‘2/1 Wessex Field Ambulance’,[7] France.  Their movements may provide some further information on Reginald’s location.

The 2/1st Wessex Field Ambulance, was largely a Devonshire unit but was attached to the 55th West Lancashire Division from January 1916 to November 1918.  In April 1918 they were in the area La Basse/Givenchy and near Bethune on 9 April 1918, and had an Advanced Dressing Station just behind Givenchy during the German attacks of April 1918.

The RAMC War Diary for the 55th Division provides details of the movement orders for the 2/1st Wessex Field ambulance, and during the month they were moved to some ten different locations in response to the German assaults.

During May the 2/1st Wessex Field Ambulance quartered around Drouvin, and it seems likely that Reginald died of his wounds at the Field Ambulance there on 22 May 1918 and was buried in the nearby Houchin British CemeteryHis body was buried in grave ref: I. B. 18.   Later, when a permanent gravestone replaced the temporary cross, his family’s message, ‘Though Far Away to Memory Ever Dear’ would be inscribed upon it.

Houchin is a village situated between Barlin and Bethune, about 5 kilometres south of Bethune. Houchin British Cemetery was opened in March 1918 when the 6th Casualty Clearing Station came to Houchin.  From April to September the German advance made Houchin unsafe for hospitals, and the cemetery was used by the 55th (West Lancashire) Division.

In June 1918, the Rugby Advertiser reported,
Gunner Reginald Covington.  Mr G F Covington, of North Street, has received news that his only son, Gunner Reg Covington, R.F.A. died of wounds received in action on May 22nd.  He was 23 years of age, and joined the army – prior to which he managed his father’s branch shop in Lawford Road – in the early days of the War.  Towards the end of last year he was badly gassed, but he returned to France a few months ago.  An old St. Matthew’s boy, he was at one time the holder of the Robertson Cup for the best all-round athlete in the school.[8]

The Coventry Evening Telegraph also reported his death in June 1918,
Roll of Honour, Coventry and District Casualties Died of Wounds
… Covington, 840787, Gnr. R., Rugby, R.F.A [9]

An official Casualty List in July also confirmed that he ‘Died of Wounds’ under the Royal Field Artillery listing.[10]

Reginald Frederick COVINGTON is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates.  His Medal Card showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal.

His mother, Kate, as sole Legatee, received his back-pay of £6-7-1d on 28 August 1918, and his War Gratuity of £13-10s on 9 December 1919.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

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This article on Reginald Frederick COVINGTON 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 RFHG, February 2018.

[1]      Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 1 June 1918.

[2]      Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 1 June 1918.

[3]      This would seem to be in error, there are no other Reg Covingtons with a father Richard.

[4]      https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/09/29/29th-sep-1917-blackberry-picking/, and Rugby Advertiser, 29 September 1917.

[5]      Coventry Evening Telegraph, Friday, 19 October 1917.

[6]      Weekly Casualty List (War Office & Air Ministry), Tuesday, 23 October 1917.

[7]      2/1 Wessex Field Ambulance, a file is available at TNA ref: WO 95/2919/1, 1916 Jan. – 1919 Apr., and various information can be found on Google.

[8]      Rugby Advertiser, Saturday, 1 June 1918.

[9]      Coventry Evening Telegraph, Thursday, 27 June 1918.

[10]     Weekly Casualty List (War Office & Air Ministry), Tuesday, 2 July 1918.

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