Southern, Sidney. Died 4th Sep 1918

Sidney Southern was the youngest of the eight children of William and Caroline nee Rainbow who were married at St Andrews Church on 17 January 1876.   William was then a stoker, born in Rugeley in Staffordshire, his mother came from Pailton.  Sidney was baptised at the same church on 9 March 1894, when his father was an engine driver living at 1009 Old Station.  By 1901 the family still at home were living at No 3 Windsor Street, but had moved to No 77 by 1911.  By this time Sidney was aged seventeen and working as an armature winder at BTH.  His parents were at the same address when his gravestone was erected in the early 1920s.

Sidney joined the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry as Private 11049, serving with the 5th Battalion.  He must have enlisted near the outbreak of war as he was sent to France on 21 May 1915 according to his medal card.  At the time of his death he was Private No 28905 with the Kings Shropshire Light Infantry attached to the 1st/1st Bn Herefordshire Regiment.  While with the Ox & Bucks he was awarded the Military Medal, the award appearing in the Supplement to the London Gazette of 17 July 1917.  This decoration was established in March 1916 by King George V to recognise outstanding bravery of soldiers in the field.

There is no mention of this in the Rugby Advertiser, but the war diary of the 5th Battalion for the period March to July 1917 records only one major engagement, on 3 May, when there was heavy fighting and shelling by both sides.  Of the total strength of 550, 19 men of the Regiment were killed, 115 missing and 153 wounded, so it seems likely that Sidney was decorated for his actions on that day.

War Diary of 5th Bn Ox & Bucks L I for 3 May 1917

It is probable that he was transferred to the KSLI after that regiment was decimated on 21 March 1918 at Lagnicourt during the German Spring Offensive.  It was completely reformed under Lt Col Meynell, formerly of the Ox & Bucks, and ready to serve within ten days in the Ypres Salient, where it remained until the autumn.

Sidney was killed in action in Belgium on 4 September 1918, and is buried at Wytschaete Military Cemetery, 7km south of Ypres.  His mother Caroline received his back pay and a war gratuity of £18.10s.  He was awarded the Victory and British War Medals and the 1915 Star as well as the Military Medal.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

 

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Blundy, Albert Neate. Died 28th Apr 1918

Albert Neate BLUNDY was born on 29 June 1893 in Burbage, Wiltshire. He was baptised on 6 August 1893 at Burbage, Wiltshire. He was the son of William Blundy (1856-1936) and Martha née Neate, Blundy (1858-1913) who married in Marlborough in 1882.

In 1891, Albert’s father, Edward, was a ‘general haulier’ and the family were living at 23 Stables, Burbage. They then had four children. By 1901, when Albert was eight, the family had moved to live at the White Hart Inn, Stoke at St Mary Bourne, Hampshire, where Albert’s father was the publican.

Before 1911, the family moved to Rugby. In 1911, Albert’s parents had been married 28 years, and had had eight children, of whom seven were still living. Albert was 17 and a ‘machinist’ at BTH; his eldest brother was a ‘fitter’ there, and a younger brother of 14, was already working there as a ‘clerk’. They were living in a six room house at 172 Oxford Street, Rugby.

Just before the war Albert was working in the BTH Generator Department, and in an item ‘Rugby’s Magnificent Response’, in the Rugby Advertiser on 5 September 1914,[1] ‘Blundy’ is listed as joining ‘From the Works’ at BTH.

Albert joined up as No. 10852 in the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (Ox. & Bucks.). His record in the ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War’ states that he enlisted at Rugby, and his ‘Medal Roll’ indicates that he was initially in the 5th Battalion, and that he was later in the 2nd Battalion.

He went to France on 20 May 1915, and so became eligible for the 1914-1915 Star. This was the date that the 5th Battalion went to France, so Albert would have gone to France with his Battalion. In the absence of any Service Record for Albert, the date that he transferred to the 2nd Battalion is unknown, so the actions in which he was involved must be assumed. However, like all infantry soldiers, Albert would have experienced alternate service in and out of the front line, and occasions of desperate fighting.

5th (Service) Battalion, Oxford & Bucks. Light Infantry was formed at Oxford in August 1914 as part of the First New Army (K1) and then moved to Aldershot to join the 42nd Brigade of the 14th Division and then moved to Cranleigh, Guildford. In February 1915, it moved to Salamanca Barracks, Aldershot.   On 21 May 1915 it mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne and engaged in various actions on the Western Front.   In 1915 it fought in the Action at Hooge, and experienced the first flamethrower attack by the Germans, and then the Second Attack on Bellewaarde.

In August 1915 the Rugby Advertiser advised that Albert had been wounded.
The old scholars of St Matthew’s, Boys’ School have suffered badly in recent engagements. Corporal G S Rowbottom, of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, who, as recorded on page 2 of this issue, succumbed to wounds last week, making the sixth old St Matthew’s boy to give his life in his country’s service. Lce-Corpl A Ashworth, Pte A Blundy, and Pte R J Skinner, of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, and Sapper E R Ladbrooke, of the Royal Engineers, have been wounded.[2]

In 1916, the 5th Battalion – and indeed also the 2nd Battalion – fought in the Battle of Delville Wood, and the Battle of Flers-Courcelette. At some date Albert was transferred to the 2nd Battalion and possibly this was when he was promoted to Lance Corporal.  However both the 5th and the 2nd Battalions were involved in the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, and the Battles of the Scarpe in 1917.

The 2nd Oxford & Bucks L.I. had returned home from India in 1903. When World War I started the Battalion was stationed at Albuhera barracks, Aldershot, and was part of the 5th Brigade of the 2nd Division. As a regular Battalion it mobilised for war early, on 14 August 1914, and landed at Boulogne and was engaged in many actions on the Western Front.

If Albert had been transferred to the 2nd Bn. in say 1917, a summary of the campaigns in which he may have been involved is described below.

‘The New Year of 1917 brought with it a period of severe weather conditions on the Somme plain which led to an unofficial truce between the two sides. In March 1917, the Germans began the withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line (14 March – 5 April) and at the end of March the 2nd Ox and Bucks moved from the Somme to the back areas of Arras. The 2nd Ox and Bucks and other battalions of the regiment saw much involvement in the Arras Offensive … The 2nd Ox and Bucks took part in the battle of Arras from 11 April and had a leading role in the battle of Arleux on 28-29 April: during the battle the battalion protected the right flank of the Canadian 1st Division which was critical to the capture of the village of Arleux and sustained more than 200 casualties.’[3]

1918 started fairly quietly.

In January 1918, the 2nd Ox and Bucks marched to Beaulencourt, later that month they moved to Havrincourt Wood and then on 9 February to Metz-en-Couture. The 2nd Ox and Bucks were at Vallulart Camp, Ytres, when on 21 March 1918 the Germans launched the last-gasp Spring Offensive (Operation Michael).[4]

This anticipated attack by the Germans, Operation Michael, was launched on 21 March 1918, 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.

The 2nd Ox and Bucks were due to go into the corps reserve when the enemy began the Spring offensive with a colossal bombardment of Allied positions. The Spring offensive led to the furthest advance by either side since 1914. On 22 March 1918 the 2nd Ox and Bucks were in position around the village of Bertincourt. The 2nd Ox and Bucks and other battalions of the regiment sustained heavy casualties as part of the defence of the Somme during the Battle of St. Quentin (21–23 March), the First Battle of Bapaume (24–25 March) and in subsequent battles that saw the Germans achieve significant gains. The 2nd Ox and Bucks were forced back across the old Somme battlefield to the 1916 line on the Ancre. The battalion remained in the Ancre area from 29 March 1918 to 3 April 1918. After the enemy Spring offensive … lost its momentum, the Germans launched Operation Georgette in April which the Ox and Bucks defended against in the Battle of the Lys and subsequent actions.[5]

There was a general fighting withdrawal following the German attacks. The Diary of the 5th Brigade ‘… is necessarily incomplete owing to the documents required for it being lost or destroyed during the retirement between 21st and 28th.’[6]

The Chronicles of the 2nd Ox & Bucks noted some of the events in the following period.[7]

16 April – the Regiment relieved the 2nd H.L.I, in the right sub-section of the Brigade front; H.Q. at Boiry St. Martin.   Two men wounded.

17 April – A Company was on the right front; D on the left front (railway inclusive); C in support; B in reserve. Casualties :- 1 man killed, 1 died of wounds, 2 men wounded, and 2 missing.

19 April – Inter-company reliefs carried out.

20 April – 1 man wounded.

22 April – After a quiet 6 days’ tour the Regiment was relieved …

25 April – the Regiment relieved the 2nd H.L.I. in the left sub-section of the Brigade front, without incident; H.Q. at Boisleux-au-Mont; … A continuous front line, and fairly good trenches.

28 April – Inter-company reliefs carried out.

As can be seen, in the period prior to 28 April, the Battalion section was relatively quiet, and there are no more obvious actions when Albert may have been wounded. It is not entirely clear whether Albert was killed or wounded. His Medal Card notes that he ‘Died’ rather than ‘KinA’ or ‘DofW’. This implies that

‘… some time had passed between … being wounded and dying – the next-of-kin were informed that he had ‘died’, rather than ‘died of wounds’.   Exactly how much time had to pass before this distinction was made is not clear.’[8]

It is thus possible that Albert was wounded at an earlier date, and had reached a medical aid post before he died on 28 April 1918. The battalion was in action near Boisleux-au-Mont which is some eight kilometres south of Arras. It seems likely that he was wounded and that he was evacuated to an Advanced Dressing Station, possibly the one at Blairville.

On the 27th March a corps main dressing station was formed at Bac du Sud on the site of No. 43 C.C.S., with advanced dressing stations at Wailly, Blairville, and Monchy-au-Bois.[9]

Blairville is some six kilometres to the west, and this is probably where Albert died and was first buried, in Plot 1, Row B, in the nearby Blairville Orchard British Cemetery.

This small cemetery was not preserved and in 1923, the soldiers buried there were ‘concentrated’ [exhumed, identified, moved and reburied] some 25 km north at the Cabaret-Rouge Cemetery. His body was identified by a ‘cross, numerals, Lance Corporal’s stripes’. Effects, forwarded to base were ‘9 coins and Disc’. The ‘removals were undertaken by local labour …’.

He is now buried in Plot: VIII. R. 38. in the Cabaret-Rouge British Cemetery, Souchez, which is just south of the town of Souchez, some four kilometres south west of Lens.

‘Caberet Rouge’ was a small, red-bricked, red-tiled café that stood close to this site in the early days of the First World War. The café was destroyed by shellfire in March 1915, but it gave its unusual name to this sector and to a communication trench that led troops up the front-line. Commonwealth soldiers began burying their fallen comrades here in March 1916. The cemetery was used mostly by the 47th (London) Division and the Canadian Corps until August 1917 and by different fighting units until September 1918. It was greatly enlarged in the years after the war when as many as 7,000 graves were concentrated here from more than 100 other cemeteries in the area.

Albert was awarded the Victory and British medals, and also the 1914-1915 Star. It seems that nobody had applied for his medals as the ‘O i/c records, Warwick, requests auth. re disposal of medals of dec’d men of Ox & B L I – 13.9.20.’.

Ernest is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate and also on the list of BTH Employees Who Served in the War 1914 – 1918,[10] and on the BTH War Memorial.[11]

Albert died one year to the day, after a fellow Rugby member of his Battalion died – Ernest Edward Welch is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate.[12]

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Albert Blundy 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, February 2017.

[1]       Rugby Remembers, https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/5th-sep-1914-rugbys-magnificent-response/, and Rugby Advertiser, 5 September 1914

[2]       Rugby Remembers, https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2015/08/21/21st-aug-1915-gas-boiling-oil-tar/, and Rugby Advertiser, 21 August 1915.

[3]       https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxfordshire_and_Buckinghamshire_Light_Infantry

[4]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxfordshire_and_Buckinghamshire_Light_Infantry.

[5]         https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Oxfordshire_and_Buckinghamshire_Light_Infantry.

[6]   WWI War Diaries (France, Belgium and Germany), 1914-1920,Various Infantry Brigades, 2nd Division.

[7]     Based on Extracts from the Regimental Chronicles of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, see: http://www.lightbobs.com/1918-april—august.html.

[8]         http://www.epitaphsofthegreatwar.com/killed-in-action/.

[9]         https://archive.org/stream/medicalservicesg03macp/medicalservicesg03macp_djvu.txt.

[10]         https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/bth-employees-who-served-war-1914-1918-d.

[11]     This is a list of names on the BTH War Memorial when it was unveiled. It is taken from the list published in the Rugby Advertiser, 4 November 1921. See: https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/bth-war-memorial.

[12]         https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/04/28/welch-ernest-edward-died-28th-apr-1917/.

Elson, Alfred William. Died 6th Apr 1918

Alfred William ELSON was born on 23 February 1890 in Rugby, and baptised on 13 April 1890, at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby. He was the son of John Elson and Elizabeth née Clarke Elson whose births were both registered in early 1859 in Rugby. The couple had married at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby, on 22 May 1879 when John was 19 and a labourer living at 34 Queen Street, Rugby, his father a bricklayer; and Elizabeth was 17, living at 19 Gas Street, Rugby; her father a labourer.

At the date of Alfred’s baptism the family were living at 56 Cambridge Street, Rugby and Alfred’s father was still a labourer but by 1891 with the family still living at the same address, John Elson was now a ‘coal carter’. In 1891, Alfred had three elder siblings.

By 1901 the family had moved to 184 Lawford Road, Bilton, and Alfred now had an additional three younger siblings. John Elson was now a ‘plasterer’s labourer’ and his two eldest sons were hairdressers. Alfred was eleven and presumably still at school. John Elson died aged only 42 later in 1901.

By 1911, Alfred’s widowed mother was living at 39 Pinfold Street, Rugby. At this date six of her seven children were still alive, but she was living with two of her younger sons, one of whom, Ernest Thomas Elson, also served in WWI and it was possibly him who was listed, and if him, in error, as E. Elson, on the Rugby Memorial Gate – the story of the various E. Elsons was told in Rugby Remembers on 9 April 2017.[1]

In 1911 Alfred was working in London as a ‘Plasterer Builders’ and lodging – although enumerated as ‘Head’ – at 12 College Street, York Road, Lambeth S E. He was still ‘Single’. It may be that he had been following his father’s later trade of plastering.   However, he was to return to Rugby to work with BTH in their Winding Department.

Alfred married with Gertrude Ethel née Davies in 1914 and the marriage was registered in Q3 1914 in Rugby. Gertrude’s family lived in Coventry.

Alfred W Elson enlisted in Rugby. He may be the ‘Elson’ from the BTH works who was listed in the Rugby Advertiser’s article ‘Rugby’s Magnificent Response’ in September 1914.[2]

He was recruited initially as Private No: 11877 in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He went to France on 2 June 1915. He was later transferred and became Private No: 16413 in the 1st Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment. It is uncertain whether this occurred before or after he went to France. Certainly he was in action later with the 1st Hampshires and the Battalion War Diary can provide some information on the actions immediately prior to his death and suggest when he may have been wounded.

After June 1915, the 1st Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment were still in the 11th Brigade of the 4th Division. It cannot be known in how many of their actions Alfred was involved, he would though have been in similar action if he was still in the ‘Ox and Bucks’. In 1916, he could have fought in the Battle of Albert, and the Battle of Le Transloy, and then during 1917, the First and Third Battles of the Scarpe, the Battle of Polygon Wood, the Battle of Broodseinde, the Battle of Poelcapelle, and the First Battle of Passchendaele.

The front was quieter in early 1918 and for the first three weeks of March 1918, the War Diary of the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment notes that the Battalion was out of the line and involved in training and similar activities at Fosseux and then Warlus, moving to Arras on 19 March. It relieved the 2nd Battalion Coldstream Guards north of the Arras-Fampoux Road, on 20 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. However, the focus of the first attacks, the Battle of St. Quentin, from 21 to 23 March, was some 40 miles south of Arras and the 1st Hampshires, and the attacks were directed from St. Quentin towards Amiens.

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.

The 1st Hampshires although nearer to Arras, also experienced shelling on 21 March from 5am to 8am which was supporting the attacks to the south.   At 11pm the Battalion moved troops forward with only one man wounded. This section remained fairly quiet over the next two or so days, but enemy movements were seen. On 25 March the area was shelled and an attack was expected. In the event the 26 March was fairly quiet, but on 27 March there was further shelling and a raid on the trenches which was repulsed.

On 28 March – ‘The enemy attacked our position…’. Two officers and 33 Other Ranks were killed; one officer and 74 other ranks were wounded; three officers and seven other ranks were wounded and missing; 76 other ranks were missing; two officers and two other ranks were missing, believed killed; and one man died of wounds. This action would be known as the Battle of Arras 1918. On 29 and 30 March the Battalion went out of the front line into the Brigade reserve, and on 31 March had a ‘quiet day’.

The first few days in April were again fairly quiet for the Battalion and although there was some shelling on 5 April, no casualties were mentioned in the Diary

Alfred was wounded, although it is not possible to know exactly when or where. However, he would have been passed down an extended chain of evacuation over a distance of some 60 miles, from the Arras area to Etaples. This would typically have included various treatment as he was carried in turn to the Regimental Aid Post; an Advanced Dressing Station; the Field Ambulance; a Casualty Clearing Station; and then finally to a Stationary or General Hospital in the Base Area, in Alfred’s case around Etaples, before he died of his wounds on the 6 April 1918.

It seems most likely that he had been wounded in the extensive shelling during the Battle of Arras on 28 March 1918, when some 74 other ranks were wounded.

Alfred was buried in the nearby Etaples Military Cemetery which was used by the hospitals in the area. His body was buried in grave ref: XXXII, B, 10. Later, when a permanent gravestone replaced the temporary cross, his family’s message, ‘Gone from our Home but not from our Heart One of God’s Best,’ would be carved upon it.

The Etaples Military Cemetery is the largest CWGC cemetery in France, located on the former site of a large military hospital complex at Etaples, a town about 27 kilometres south of Boulogne. The Military Cemetery is to the north of the town. The nearby hospitals, which included eleven general, one stationary, four Red Cross hospitals and a convalescent depot, could deal with 22,000 wounded or sick.

Alfred’s death, aged 28, was announced in the Coventry Herald,[3] together with a very poor quality photograph which shows him earlier in the war wearing the cap badge of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

PRIVATE A. W. ELSON has been killed in action. He married the only daughter of Mr. and Mrs. J. Davies, of 14, Stoney Stanton Road, Coventry.

Alfred William ELSON is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gates; on the list of BTH Employees who served in the War 1914 – 1918; on the BTH War Memorial;[4] and on the New Bilton War Memorial, by the chapel in Croop Hill Cemetery, Addison Road.

His Medal Card showed that he was awarded the British War Medal and the Victory Medal, and also the 1915 Star.

Alfred’s widow Gertrude received his back pay of £16-16-2d on 15 July 1918 and his Gratuity of £17 on 2 January 1920. Her address latterly was 14 Stoney Stanton Road, Coventry, she had returned to live with her parents.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Alfred William ELSON 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, January 2018.

[1]     https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/elson-ernest-thomas-died-9th-apr-1917/.

[2]       See: https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/5th-sep-1914-rugbys-magnificent-response/ and Rugby Advertiser, 5 September 1914.

[3]       Coventry Herald, Saturday, 27 April 1918.

[4]       This is from a list of names on the BTH War Memorial when it was unveiled.   It is taken from the list published in the Rugby Advertiser, 4 November 1921 and given at https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/bth-war-memorial.

Reeve, Frank Basham. Died 21st Mar 1918

Frank Basham REEVE was born in early 1888 in Rugby, and baptised on 31 March 1888 at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby.   He was the son of William (b.c 1848) and Caroline née Ince (b.c.1847) Reeve who had been born in Frankton, Warwickshire and in Essex respectively. They had married in 1871, and their first child was born in Ryton on Dunsmore.

In 1891 the family was living at 33 Arnold Road, Frank was three years old and had six older and one younger sibling; his father was a baker. By 1901, the family had moved to 158 Cambridge Street, Rugby, and by 1911 the family had moved again to 14 Cambridge Street, Rugby; Frank’s parents had now been married 40 years.   Frank was 23 and a ‘General Labourer’ at British Thompson Houston (BTH) in Rugby, where his elder sister also worked, in the ‘Lamp Dept.’.

It is uncertain exactly when he enlisted, but his name is included in a list of BTH employees who had joined up which was published in the Rugby Advertiser on 5 September 1914.

‘BTH – FROM THE WORKS. – This is an additional list of men who have left to join the Colours from August 27th up to and including September 2nd: … Reeve,…’[1]

He thus enlisted in Rugby between 27 August and 2 September 1914, as a Private No.11873, in the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry [Ox and Bucks].   His initial Battalion is not definitely known, but his Medal Card has a reference to the 6th Battalion as did his identity discs. He would later be promoted to Lance Corporal. His CWGC entry states that he was later in the 2nd/4th Battalion of the Ox and Bucks.

Frank’s Medal Card shows that he went to France on 22 July 1915, which would suggest that he was indeed with the 6th Battalion Ox and Bucks, as they landed in Boulogne on that date.

6th (Service) Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was formed at Oxford in September 1914 as part of the Second New Army (K2). After some initial training with very little equipment, they moved to Deepcut, near Camberley and then to Aldershot to join the 60th Brigade of the 20th Division.   In March 1915 they moved to Larkhill, Salisbury Plain. On 22 July 1915 they mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne, and after trench familiarisation and training engaged in various actions on the Western front including in 1916: the Battle of Mount Sorrel, the Battle of Delville Wood, the Battle of Guillemont, the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, the Battle of Morval, and the Battle of Le Transloy. In 1917: the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the Battle of Langemarck, the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, the Battle of Polygon Wood, and the Cambrai Operations.

On 15 February 1918 the Army reorganised and Brigades were reduced from four to three Battalions. The 6th Battalion Ox and Bucks was disbanded at La Clytte and the remaining personnel transferred to the 2/4th and 5th Battalions, and the 14th Entrenching Battalion. It seems most likely that this was when Frank joined the 2nd/ 4th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

The 2nd/4th (Service) Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry had landed in France much later than the 6th Battalion, on 24 May 1916, and had been involved in many of the actions in France and Flanders including in 1916: the Attack at Fromelles (the unsuccessful diversionary tactic during the Battle of the Somme), and in 1917: the Operations on the Ancre, the German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the Battle of Langemark, and the German counter attacks.

Soon after Frank transferred to the 2/4th Ox and Bucks in 1918, he would have been involved in the opening of the Battle of St Quentin, when, 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 action on that first day, 21 March 1918 has already been described in some detail (see Operation Michael or consult other references.[2]).

An outline of the actions of the 2nd/4th Battalion at that date are included in the Battalion history.[3]

On the night of 18/19 March the Battalion went into the front line. C Company was on the right, in front of Fayet; B Company, under the command of Wallington, was on the left, just south of Gricourt. A went to Fayet itself and D Company, commanded in Robinson’s absence by Rowbotham, provided the garrison of Enghien Redoubt, which was a quarry near Selency Château; Battalion Headquarters also were at this redoubt. During the night of March 20 a raid on the Battalion’s right was carried out near Cepy Farm by the 182nd Brigade. It was successful. German prisoners from three divisions corroborated our suspicion that the great enemy offensive was about to be launched. From headquarters to headquarters throbbed the order to man battle stations. Ere dawn was due to lighten the sky a dense mist shrouded everything and added a fresh factor to the suspense.

Early on March 21, only a short time after the Colonel had returned from visiting the front line posts, the ground shook to a mighty bombardment.   At Amiens windows rattled in their frames. Trench mortars of all calibres and field guns, brought to closest range in the mist and darkness, began to pound a pathway through our wire.   Back in artillery dug-outs the light of matches showed the time; it was 4.50 a.m. The hour had struck. Our guns, whose programme in reply was the fruit of two months’ preparation, made a peculiar echo as their shells crackled through the mist. Some ‘silent’ guns fired for the first time.

On all headquarters, roads, redoubts, and observation posts the enemy’s howitzer shells were falling with descending swoop, and battery positions were drenched with gas.

In the back area the fire of long-range guns was brought with uncanny accuracy to bear against our rest billets, transport lines, and dumps.   Cross-roads, bridges, and all vital spots in our communications, though never previously shelled, were receiving direct hits within a short time of the opening of the bombardment. The Berks had casualties at Ugny. Some English heavy batteries, recent arrivals on the front and seemingly undiscovered by the enemy, were now knocked out almost as soon as they had opened fire. The Artillery level crossing was hit by an early shell which blocked the road there with a huge crater. Never in the war had the Germans flung their shells so far or furiously as now.

By daylight all front line wire had been destroyed, and our trenches everywhere were much damaged. The mist hung thick, but the Germans did not yet attack. About 9.30 a.m. the barrage was felt to lift westwards from Fayet and the fitful clatter of Lewis guns, firing in short bursts with sometimes a long one exhausting a ‘drum’, was heard. In the front line showers of stick bombs announced the enemy’s presence.   Everywhere it seemed that quick-moving bodies in grey uniforms were closing in from either flank and were behind.   In the mist our posts were soon over-run. Few of our men were left to rally at the ‘keeps’. A messenger to A Company’s platoons, which had been stationed in support at the famous ‘Sunken Road’, found that place filled with Germans. Before noon the enemy had passed Fayet and his patrols had reached Selency and the Cottages.

At Enghien Redoubt Battalion Headquarters had received no news of the attack having begun; the dense mist limited the view to fifty yards. The earliest intimation received by Colonel Wetherall of what was taking place was enemy rifle and machine-gun fire sweeping the parapet. At one corner of the redoubt some of the enemy broke in but were driven out by D Company with the bayonet. Outside Headquarters the first three men to put their heads over were killed by Germans, who had crept close along the sunken road which leads from Favet to Selency Château. The rifles and machine guns of the garrison opened up and gained superiority. The defence, destined to last for many hours, of Enghien Redoubt proved an important check to the enemy’s advance and helped to save many of our guns.

At 12 noon, after several patrols had failed to find out whether the enemy had captured Holnon, the Colonel himself went out to see all that was happening. He did not return, and shortly afterwards Headquarters were surrounded by the enemy, who had made ground on either flank. Nevertheless till 4.30 p.m. Cunningham, the officer left in command, held out most manfully. Of all the companies, Jones and less than fifty men had escaped capture. They reached the ‘Battle Line’ of trenches east of Holnon Wood, and there joined the Gloucesters, who had not yet been engaged in the fighting. The enemy, having captured Maissemy, Fayet, and Holnon, paused to reorganise as evening fell.

Towards evening on the 21st the Berks, who were in reserve when the attack started, were sent to counter-attack against Maissemy, which had been lost by the division on our left. Near the windmill, which stands on the high ground west of the village, Dimmer, the Berks V.C. Colonel, was killed leading his men on horseback. This local attempt to stem the German onslaught proved of no avail. At 10.30 a.m. on March 22 the enemy, whose movements were again covered by mist, pressed the attack against the Battle Line. Almost before the Gloucesters knew they were attacked in front, they found themselves beset in flanks and rear.

At noon the enemy from its north side had penetrated Holnon Wood.   Gloucesters and Oxfords fell back to join the garrison of the Beauvoir Line, all parts of which were heavily engaged by evening. A gallant resistance, in which the Gloucesters under Colonel Lawson were specially distinguished, was made by the 184th Infantry Brigade. The General encouraged the defence in person.   But the line was too weakly manned long to withstand the enemy; though parts of it held till after 8 p.m. on March 22, before midnight the whole of this last Army Line had been lost. The enemy had ‘broken through’.

The Battalion Diary[4] also provides a briefer summary of the actions on 21 March 1918.

March 21 – Our positions were subjected to a severe enemy bombardment commencing at 4.30 a.m., gas shells being freely used on our back areas and keeps. At 9 a.m., under a heavy smoke barrage, a strong hostile attack was launched, penetrating the Forward Zone and surrounding Enghien Redoubt. The garrison of the latter, D Company and Battalion H.Q., held out till 4 p.m., at which time, owing to casualties, they attempted to fight their way out. The remainder of the Battalion (Captain G. K. Rose says they were less than 50 men.) attached themselves to 2/5th Glosters. Casualties: Killed, 5 other ranks; Missing, believed killed, Lieut. G. E. Bassett, 2nd Lieuts. R. G. H. Gough, W. H. Flory, C. C. Hall; Wounded and Missing, 2nd Lieut. E. Little and 31 men; Wounded, 32 men; Missing, Captain K. E. Brown, M.C., Captain C. E. P. Foreshew, M.C., Captain F. T. Cahill (M.O.R.C.U.S.A.), 2nd Lieuts. R. Ostler, J. Pett, C. H. Wallington, M.C., V. C. Gray, J. C. Cunningham, J. W. Mallett, F. A. Naylor, G. Shelley, G. V. Rowbotham, M.C., C. H. Leach, P. J. Sims, and 494 other ranks. Total: 19 officers and 562 other ranks. Later statistics show that of these 525 missing men, 407 were made prisoners, 54 of them being wounded. The number of killed must therefore have been upwards of 120 men.

At some time on 21 March 1918, Frank Reeve was one of those ‘upward of 120 men’ ‘Killed in Action’.

Frank Reeve was originally buried, or his body was later found, probably near to where he fell at Map Reference ‘62B S. 5. a 0 7’, which was in Fayet, about two kilometres north-west of St. Quentin. It was some way forward of the Enghien Redoubt which features in the above accounts of the defence of the area. As there were another nine soldiers found at the same map reference this was probably a temporary battlefield graveyard or shell crater where they had been buried.   There was a cross marking one grave which tends to confirm this.

In 1920, Frank’s body was recovered and ‘concentrated’ [i.e. exhumed and re-buried]. He was identified by his identity disk which also gave his earlier 6th Battalion. The burial record was later amended to read 2nd/4th Battalion. He is now buried in Chapelle British Cemetery, Holnon in grave ref: II. I. 18.   Holnon is a village six kilometres west of St Quentin and south of the main road to Vermand and Amiens. … Chapelle British Cemetery, named from a wayside shrine, was made after the Armistice, by the concentration of graves of 1917-18 from the battlefields West of St. Quentin.

Frank Reeve was awarded the Victory and British medals and although his Medal Card includes the 1914-1915 Star, this appears to have been deleted – possibly it had not yet been issued – or there was confusion caused by his change of Battaion. He is remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate; on the BTH War Memorial, as Frank Reeves;[5] and on the list of BTH Employees ‘Who Served in the War 1914 – 1918’ – as F B Reeves.[6]

Frank’s father, William, predeceased him in 1914. His mother, Caroline lived until she was aged 93, in 1940.   After the war she had lived at 168, Murray Road, Rugby.

After Frank’s death, the 2nd/4th Battalion Ox and Bucks were in action at the Somme Crossings, the Battle of Estaires, the Battle of Hazebrouck, and   the Battle of Bethune. The allies held the advance which had badly weakened the Germans and overextended their supply lines, and then from August 1918 fought back. The 2/4th Battalion fought in the Battle of the Selle, and the Battle of Valenciennes, and ended the war S.E. of Valenciennes, France.

One of Frank’s elder brothers, Arthur Kimbell Reeve, an old boy of St. Matthew’s School,[7] also died in WWI and is also remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate. Born in about 1876, he served in the 13th Battalion, Princess Charlotte of Wales’s Regiment (The Royal Berkshires). He died on 4 March 1917, in Queen Alexandra Hospital, Dunkirk of spotted fever. His life is recorded  for 4 March 1917, and further details of Arthur’s life were also provided in the Rugby Advertiser for 17 March 1917

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Frank B REEVE 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, December 2017.

[1]       https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/5th-sep-1914-rugbys-magnificent-response/

[2]       Murland, Jerry, Retreat and Rearguard Somme 1918 – the Fifth Army Retreat, Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 2014, ISBN: 978 1 78159 2670, p.49.

[3]       Rose, G. L., The story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, available at http://www.gutenberg.org/files/20395/20395-h/20395-h.htm#img185. Chapter XIII – The Great German Attack of March 21.

 

[4]       Abstracted by http://www.lightbobs.com/24-tf-bn-oxf–bucks-li-1917-1918.html.

[5]       From a list of names on the BTH War Memorial when it was unveiled. The list was published in the Rugby Advertiser, 4 November 1921. See https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/bth-war-memorial.

[6]       https://www.rugbyfhg.co.uk/bth-employees-who-served-war-1914-1918-m-y.

[7]       https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/04/07/7th-apr-1917-death-of-lieut-g-redmayne/

[8]       https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/03/04/reeve-arthur-kimbell-died-4th-mar-1917/.

[9]       https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/03/17/17th-mar-1917-high-french-honour-for-miss-ivens/

Chambers, Charles William. Died 21st Mar 1918

Charles William CHAMBERS, was born on 7 March 1888, in Braunston, Northamptonshire, and baptised on 13 May 1888 in Welton Northamptonshire, the eldest son of William Henry (b.c. 1859 Braunston – 1950) and Amy Alice, née Matthews, Chambers (b.c.1868 Weldon – 1927), of Braunston. They had married on 30 March 1887 in Braunston.

In 1901, William Henry Chambers was enumerated as a ‘farm labourer’ with eight children, in a house in High Street, Braunston. Then sometime between 1901 and 1903, the family moved to Hillmorton, Rugby and in 1911 William was a ‘working farm bailiff’ and living at Abbotts Farm, Hillmorton.

In 1911, Charles was 23, and a ‘farm labourer’. He then had ten younger siblings at the family home, six brothers and four sisters. However, the records show that later, until just before the war, Frank was working at British Thompson Houston in Rugby.

At some date, he enlisted in Rugby as a Private No.11054, in the 5th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry [Ox and Bucks].

The 5th (Service) Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was formed at Oxford in August 1914 as part of the First New Army (K1) and then moved to Cranleigh, Guildford and then to Salamanca Barracks, Aldershot in February 1915 to be placed under orders of 42nd Brigade in 14th (Light) Division. They mobilised for war and landed at Boulogne on 21 May 1915.

Charles’ Medal Card shows he went to France on 20 May 1915 and he would thus have been with his Battalion when they went to France, and would have been engaged in various actions on the Western Front including in 1915: the Action of Hooge, when he probably experienced part of the first flamethrower attack by the Germans; the Second Attack on Bellewaarde and in 1916: the Battle of Delville Wood, and the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.

Then in 1917 with the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the so called Battle of Arras and particularly, the First Battle of the Scarpe (9 – 14 April 1917) which was conducted in parallel with the attack by the mainly Canadian Divisions on Vimy Ridge, slightly to the north. Both these being in part diversions for a major French attack to the south, which in the event was unsuccessful.

The Battalion’s activities in the Arras offensive can be found in more detail in the account of the life of Charles’ colleague in the 5th Ox and Bucks, Frank Scotton who died on the first day of that action, 9 April 1917. In later 1917, the Battalion was involved in the Third Battle of the Scarpe, the Battle of Langemark, and the First and Second Battles 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 the 5th Ox and Bucks in the 14th (Light) Division in Gough’s Fifth Army.

The action on that first day, 21 March 1918 has already been described in some detail or consult other references.[2]. The 14th Division held a line from north of Moy to Witancourt. Whilst much of the Division ‘did not fight well’ and fell back, the forward Battalions, including the 5th Ox and Bucks, were in a salient and with five other depleted Battalions came under heavy attack from the far superior strength of five German Divisions.   The Battalion Diary[3] provides a summary of early 1918 and of the actions on 21 March 1918.

5th Service Battalion – Summary of Events, 1918.

On New Year’s Day the Battalion was on the move again back to the Somme country, where January was spent mostly in training. About the middle of the month the 42nd Brigade was ordered to shed a Battalion, and for a few days the fate of the 5th Battalion hung in the balance. Eventually, however, it was decided that the 6th King’s Shropshire Light Infantry should be broken up to furnish reinforcements, instead of the 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, and during February the Battalion was in the trenches at Bois d’Urvilliers, with rest intervals at Montescourt. The first twenty days of March were similarly spent, and all was quiet. Then on 21 March descended the German avalanche, … On that day and on 23 March the Battalion put up a stout fight, but, being overwhelmed by numbers, was withdrawn only with difficulty. On the 4th April it again came in for further hot fighting, and was again forced back, its casualties in the fortnight having amounted to some twenty-six officers and upwards of five hundred men.

THE GERMAN ATTACK. March 2lst
Misty morning. Action:

6.5 a.m. Battalion, under command of Major Labouchere, moves up to Battle zone. A and B Companies lose very heavily from shell-fire. Enemy reach Battle zone about 11.30 a.m. Front posts lost, having been obliterated (with their occupants) by shell-fire.   Second line held in front of Brigade H.Q. along Benay-Essigny road. Some hand-to-hand fighting; 8 prisoners taken. Enemy massing in Lambay Wood and Essigny all afternoon. Line abandoned at night; all British troops retire behind the canal at Flavy. Casualties: Lieut. B. A. Anderson, M.C., and 2nd Lieut. W. Fawcitt, killed; Major C. H. Williams, 2nd Lieut. J. F. Traynor, and 2nd Lieut. J. W. Baldwin, M.M., wounded; Missing: Lieut. W. A. Ramsay, Lieut. E. C. Cook, 2nd Lieut. F. J. Collinge, (all three afterwards reported prisoners of war,) and 2nd Lieut. R. J. McL. W. Theobald, (later reported killed).’

At some time on 21 March, Charles Chambers was one of those Killed in Action.

During this and subsequent battles the Division took very heavy casualties, losing some 6000 men, killed or injured.   The Division was withdrawn from the line and engaged in building defensive works in the rear. The 5th Battalion having taken heavy losses (see above), was withdrawn, and on 27 April 1918 was reduced to a cadre and on 16 June 1918 returned to England as part of the 16th (Irish) Division, and then on 20 June 1918, was absorbed by the 18th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment.

After Charles’ death, the allies held the advance which had badly weakened the Germans and overextended their supply lines, and then fought back.

Because of the intensity of the battle, and as the Germans were moving forward, many of those killed were never found or formally identified. In the confusion of the retreat and rearguard action, when Charles was ‘Killed in Action’, his body was never found or was not identified.   He was probably killed in the area that the Germans overran on 21 March 1918.

Charles is remembered on Panels 50/51 of the Pozieres Memorial.   Pozieres is a village 6 kilometres north-east of the town of Albert. The Memorial encloses Pozieres British Cemetery.

The Pozieres Memorial relates to the period of crisis in March and April 1918 when the Allied Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields, and the months that followed before the Advance to Victory, which began on 8 August 1918. The Memorial commemorates over 14,000 casualties of the United Kingdom and 300 of the South African Forces who have no known grave and who died on the Somme from 21 March to 7 August 1918.[4]

Charles’ death was reported in the Coventry Evening Telegraph[5] together with that of one of his younger brothers Frederick,[6] who died some two weeks later. ‘… other additions to the Rugby roll of honour are … Sergt. S. Chambers and Pte. Charles Chambers, sons of Mr W. Chambers, farm bailiff, Hillmorton; …’.

Charles was awarded the Victory and British medals and the 1914-1915 Star.   He is remembered on the Rugby Memorial Gate; on the BTH Memorial and, with his brother, on the south side of the Hillmorton Memorial – ‘CHAMBERS, Frederick, Gloucester Regt.; CHAMBERS, Charles, Oxon & Bucks L. I.’

Charles’ younger brother, Fredrick Louis Chambers (2 May 1893 – 4 April 1918), died of wounds some two weeks after Charles, also in Flanders. He originally enlisted at Rugby into the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, No.11893, and then was transferred to the 12th Entrenching Battalion, and then to the 14th (Service) Battalion (West of England) Gloucestershire Regiment, No.37798, and attached to the 7th Battalion, the Queen’s Own (Royal West Kent Regiment). He is buried in Namps-au-Val British Cemetery, south-west of Amiens, with the inscription ‘Until the Day Dawns’. At the end of March 1918, when the German offensive in Picardy began, the 41st, 50th and 55th Casualty Clearing Stations came to Namps-au-Val and made this graveyard. Charles left a widow, Julia Amy, née Sainsbury, Chambers (b.c.1896) whom he had married on 22 April 1916, at St Peter, Dartmouth Park Hill, Islington, and who was latterly of Hillmorton Road, Paddox Estate, Rugby. For some reason, he is not listed on the Rugby Memorial Gate, but is remembered with his brother, Charles, on the Hillmorton War Memorial.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS THEM

– – – – – –

 

This article on Charles William Chambers 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, December 2017.

 

Thanks to Christine Hancock of the RFHG for coordinating and providing data for the Project and to all those have transcribed and searched out and photo

[1]         https://rugbyremembers.wordpress.com/2017/04/09/scotton-frank-died-9th-apr-1917/ .

[2]       Murland, Jerry, Retreat and Rearguard Somme 1918 – the Fifth Army Retreat, Pen and Sword Books Ltd, 2014, ISBN: 978 1 78159 2670, p.49.

[3]       Abstracted by http://www.lightbobs.com/5-oxf–bucks-li-1917-1918.html .

[4]       Information from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission web-site at https://www.cwgc.org/ .

[5]       Coventry Evening Telegraph, Saturday, 20 April 1918.

[6]       The initial ‘S’ seems incorrect and this was Fredrick Louis Chambers, Died of wounds, 4 April 1918.

Boyes, Frederick Ernest. Died 16th Aug 1917

Frederick Ernest BOYES’s birth was registered in Q3 1896 in Rugby, he was the son of John Boyes, b.c.1858, in Willoughby or Rugby and Anna (Annie) Marie, née Webb, Boyes, also b.c.1858, in Lawford or Rugby.

He appears to have been baptised twice: first on 2 December 1896 at St. Andrew’s church, Rugby, with the surname spelled ‘Boies’; he was then baptised again on 9 May 1897 also at St Andrew’s with the correct surname ‘Boyes’ entered in the register.

On both baptism dates, the family were living at 11 Worcester Street, Rugby, and his father was an ‘Engine driver’ or an ‘LNWR Driver’. In 1901, they were still living at 11 Worcester Street; Frank was about two and the youngest of six children then at home – his father was still a ‘railway engine driver’.

By 1911, the family had moved to live at 84 Railway Terrace, Rugby.   Frank’s parents had been married 31 years and had had 9 children, of whom eight had survived. His father was still a ‘Railway engine driver’; three sons were still at home, with Frederick, now aged 14 working as a ‘Confectioner’s Errand Boy’.

Frederick Ernest Boyes

The exact date Frederick enlisted is not known but was probably sometime in later 1914 or earlier 1915. He enlisted at Rugby, as a Private, No.11104 in the 6th Bn. Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (‘Ox and Bucks’).

6th (Service) Battalion was formed at Oxford as part of the Second New Army (K2) in September 1914 and then moved to Aldershot to join the 60th Brigade of the 20th Division. In March 1915 they moved to Larkhill, on Salisbury Plain, and then mobilised for war on 22 July 1915 and landed at Boulogne.

Frederick’s Medal Card states that he went to France on 7 August 1915, which was just after the Battalion’s initial mobilisation, and after trench familiarisation and training, the Battalion was in various actions on the Western Front, although none of the major actions in later 1915.  However, in 1916 they were engaged in: the Battle of Mount Sorrel; the Battle of Delville Wood; the Battle of Guillemont; the Battle of Flers-Courcelette; the Battle of Morval and the Battle of Le Transloy.

At some date Frederick was promoted to Lance Corporal. He had already been wounded twice as a later report stated that ‘… Another son, Pte F E Boyes, Oxon & Bucks L.I., has been twice wounded; …’,[1] although it is not known in which actions these had occurred.

In 1917 the Battalion took part in the actions during the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line and the Battle of Langemarck, on the opening date of which, Frederick was killed.

The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, The Battle of Langemarck, The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, The Battle of Polygon Wood, The Cambrai Operations.”

It seems the Battalion was not involved on the first day of the 3rd Battle of Battle Ypres and the Battle of Pilckem Ridge (31 July – 2 August 1917), however, they were involved in the first day of the Battle of Langemarck, (16 – 18 August 1917).

RECORD OF THE 6th (SERVICE) BATTALION.

August 16th

Having placed the units attached to the Battalion and the Battalion itself in position, the C.O. and H.Q. established themselves in a block-house on the bank of the Steenbeek (since known as Jock’s House) and waited for zero hour (4.45 a.m.). ….

All was quiet, with the exception of the usual intermittent bombardment. The enemy had been dropping shells about 200 yards behind the K.S.L.I. off and on all night. He evidently had no idea that the whole front under his very nose was crowded with men. It was a wearing time to go through, as if the enemy chanced to discover how things were situated, he could have converted our entire front into a shambles. However, the luck that followed us right through the operations held on this occasion, and we lost only 5 men wounded during the night.

THE FIGHT FOR LANGEMARCK.

I doubt if there was a single man in the Battalion who did not heave a deep sigh of relief when zero at length came (4.45 a.m.). I know that I did. For about an hour before this our artillery had put up a fairly heavy barrage on all the enemy positions. At 4.45 a.m. it sounded as if someone had been careless about leaving the lid off hell. The scene beggared description. It was just light enough to see one’s way. The first thing that struck me was the immense variety of fireworks that the Hun was sending up. There was every known variety of Very Light, and some that I had not seen before. In fact, the only thing that he did not send up was a set-piece, with a portrait of the Kaiser, and God bless our Home in golden rain.

The 11th R.B.’s put up a smoke barrage, and rushed forward to try conclusions with Au Bon Gite.

Before describing our own movements, I will deal with the work of this company of the 11th R.B., for no account of the Langemarck fight can be complete without justice being done to the bitter struggle for Au Bon Gite. First and last, the passage of the Steenbeek cost the 59th Brigade almost half its number in casualties. This was chiefly due to this Au Bon Gite concrete block-house, xcellently planned for defense, and held grimly by the Germans until surrounded and cut off.

The block-house, which had loopholes for machine guns, was irregular in outline, but wonderfully well sited. Around it were five or six smaller posts, and from it to the stream a barbed-wire entanglement ran diagonally in such a way as to break up any attacking party which should attempt an enveloping movement. With the smaller block-houses in the vicinity, there was formed a kind of triangular position of immense strength, and absolutely impervious to artillery fire.

The capture of Au Bon Gite seemed well nigh impossible; the general advance went on regardless of it, and it was perhaps this fact that upset the calculations of the enemy and caused him to surrender about an hour after the attack had been launched. Captain Slade and his company of the 11th R.B., with the aid of a smoke barrage, succeeded in getting under the walls, and, after much discussion, the defenders agreed to surrender, when 32 Germans were made prisoners and two machine guns captured. Had they stuck to their post they could have absolutely hung up the attack of half our Battalion frontage.

Now for our own proceedings. What struck me most at the start was that everybody with one accord lit a cigarette, and promptly looked at peace with all the world. If the boys did feel bloodthirsty, they concealed the fact to admiration. So great was the revulsion of feeling after the trying night, that they went forward smoking, laughing, and talking as if they had just heard that peace had been declared. Our first wave moved forward with parade-ground precision, getting well up to the barrage, which started just the other side of Au Bon Gite; and the rear platoons came over the bridges with perfect steadiness, taking up their correct dressing, and moving on as they got their distance. I will say here that the whole manoeuvre of crossing the Steenbeek was perfectly carried out. The barrage was splendid all the way through, and the highest praise is due to the gunners.

The 60th M.G. Company put up a barrage which must have been a demoralizing affair to face. The 60th Trench Mortar Battery had not any call on their services during the day, but lost fairly heavily, and must have had a fearful time carrying their mortars through the mud.

Our advance was well and steadily carried out. The two left companies suffered heaviest all the way, due to the fact that Au Bon Gite and other positions were firing on them as they advanced; also they had to advance over very bad ground and mud of the worst description.

I myself, with the Scouts, went forward with the second wave, and having watched the operations against Au Bon Gite for two or three minutes, during which time one of its machine guns did a great deal of firing to the east, though without much effect, we moved on to the block-house on the road (B), which had just surrendered, and was disgorging about a company of Boches. I do not know how many were there, but I saw at least forty come out.

I then established a forward runners’ relay post at Block-house A, to which Colonel Boyle shortly afterwards moved his H.Q.   Colonel Wood, of the 6th K.S.L.I., moved forward with his men, and took up his H.Q. at Alouette Farm later on. It took six men to dig him out of the mud on one occasion, but he had the air of enjoying himself immensely.

The 1st Objective was reached with only a trifling loss of men in the right companies; but, as I have said, the left companies suffered more heavily, C Company having been very badly cut up, and A not much  better. Here we were, I think, slightly behind the barrage.

When the time came to go on to the Green Line (2nd Objective), D Company got there and consolidated up to time. C Company were slightly behind them, but the manoeuvre was at length satisfactorily carried out, and the work of the Battalion in the advance was completed.

It hardly comes within the scope of this account to follow the fortunes of the 7th K.S.L.I, and 12th K.R.R.C.; suffice it to say that they went on and carried their own objective forward in good style. More of them later.

Having seen the Green Line taken and consolidated, I went back to the H.Q. block-house, and made a personal report on the situation to Colonel Boyle. Afterwards I visited the whole of the Blue and Green, Lines to make a review of the situation and to collect reports. I collected the following information:

A Company. 2nd Lieut. Cockshut wounded about the time the Blue Line was captured; shot through the thigh – not severely.

2nd Lieut. Moase in command. He estimated his casualties at about 40 up to that time. Well dug in. Getting badly shelled on left.

B Company. 2nd Lieut. Mitchell still in command; has lost 2nd Lieut. Riley, wounded (not severely), and 17 other ranks killed and wounded. Has 5 Lewis guns (his own and those of the 12th R.B.) under 2nd Lieut. Little, who has lost his two subs, 2nd Lieuts Milner and Wastell.

C Company. Captain Middleditch wounded; 54 other ranks not accounted for, but not believed all killed or wounded.   2nd Lieut. Broke in command. Connected up with Somerset Light Infantry on left.

D Company. Captain Money thought that he had lost 40 other ranks (which turned out about right). Well dug in, and well connected on right with 7th Dorsets.

I returned via Alouette Farm, and found 7th K.S.L.I. H.Q. installed. Colonel Wood told me that a Hun counter-attack was threatening from Poelcappelle, and that whereas he got his objectives, the 12th K.R.R.C. had been obliged to fall back from theirs a matter of 200 yards. The Lancashire Fusiliers, on the right, had not gone forward farther than 200 yards beyond the Green Line. He asked for more men and, the Brigadier having assented, at 9 a.m. Colonel Boyle placed our C Company at his disposal, and sent it up to help out the K.R.R.C., who were having a terrific handling.

The Boche counter-attack crumpled up beneath our artillery and rifle fire. The 12th R.B. threw two companies in on the right flank of the K.S.L.I., and the 10th Welsh put a company into Au Bon Gite. By dark the situation had become less critical, and could be said to be in some measure safe. The enemy shelling kept up all the afternoon and night.

So ended the fight for Langemarck. To the military student the fight itself has no special interest. It was merely the conventional advance well carried out. But as an example of troops forming up under the noses of the enemy without shelter trenches or, indeed, any shelter, and with nothing to guide them, it will, I venture to say, stand for long in military history among the offensives of the war. It is an excellent example of what may be done with well disciplined and well officered troops.

The following messages were received, through the Brigade, from Divisional H.Q. :

‘Corps and Divisional Commanders send warmest congratulations to 60th Infantry Brigade and 61st

Infantry Brigade on capture of Langemarck.’

Following message received from XIVth Corps. Begins. ‘The Corps Commander most heartily thanks 20th Division and 29th Division and all the Artillery for the complete success gained today (16th). He particularly congratulates all the fighting troops on their determination to overcome all difficulties of mud and water as well as the opposition of the enemy, Ends. Addressed all concerned.’

Following message from XIVth Corps. Begins. Commander-in-Chief called on Corps Commander this morning (17th) and ordered him to convey his congratulations to all troops engaged in our operations yesterday. Ends.”

August l7th

The morning passed fairly quietly. We managed to get water and rations to the men.

The forward line being considered unsafe, the 12th R.B. detailed two companies to endeavour to correct it; the K.S.L.I, also cooperated, and the attempt was fairly successful.

At 6.30 p.m. the preparatory barrage opened, and A Company moved up to, and to the north of the Alouette Farm road, behind the Green Line. C Company, it will be remembered, had already gone up to the assistance of Captain Lycett and his BLR.R.C.

At 7 p.m. the R.B. made their attack on the Red Line, losing heavily, though being fairly successful.

During the remainder of the night there was intermittent artillery fire over the whole area.

August 18th

A quiet morning. No change in the situation. Heard with no great grief that we were to be relieved at night by the 14th Welsh in the Blue Line, and by the 10th Welsh in the Green Line.

The relief went well, and the Battalion came back to Malakoff Farm (B.23.a.30), the same camp as before, and nowise sorry to get there.

The total casualties in the Battalion during the operations of 16th-18th were :
Killed, or died of wounds, 38 other ranks;
Wounded, 3 officers and 148 other ranks;
Wounded and missing, 4 other ranks;
Missing, 8 other ranks.[2]

Frederick was one of those Killed in Action on that day. His body was either never found or not identified. He is remembered on one of the panels of the Tyne Cot Memorial. He is also commemorated on the Rugby Memorial Gates in Hillmorton Road, Rugby.

Frederick’s Medal Card and the Medal Roll entry showed that he was awarded the British War Medal, the Victory Medal and the 1914-1915 Star.

The Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects, recorded a payment on 22 November 1917, to his widow, Georgina, of £3-1-5d and then a payment of a war gratuity of £4-0-0d on 10 November 1919.

Mr and Mrs Boyes, of Railway Terrace, Rugby, have received information that nothing further has been heard of their son, Pte F H Boyes, Royal Berkshire Regt, who was reported missing on July 1st, 1916, and it must be presumed he has been killed. Pte Boyes was a drummer in the 1st Rugby Boys’ Brigade before enlisting in March, 1915, when only 16 years of age. He was in France before attaining his 17th birthday. Another son, Pte F E Boyes, Oxon & Bucks L.I., has been twice wounded ; whilst a third son, Pte W J Boyes, 7th Warwicks, has also served.[3]

Lance-Corpl Boyes had two brothers who were also serving: his brother Frank Harold BOYES was in the 2nd Bn. Royal Berkshire Regiment and was reported missing, presumed killed in action, on the first day of the Battle of the Somme on 1 July 1916  The other son Pte W J Boyes, was in the 7th Warwicks, and wrote a letter to the Rugby Advertiser which was published on 23 October 1915 (see also Rugby Remembers).

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

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This article on Frederick Ernest BOYES 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, June 2017.

[1]       Rugby Advertiser, 16 June 1917.

[2]         http://www.lightbobs.com/6-service-bn-oxf–bucks-li-1917-1918.html, transcribed from The National Archives, Document Reference: WO 95/2120/2, War Diary of the 6th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, Date: July 1915 – Jan 1918.

[3]       Rugby Advertiser, 16 June 1917.

Hipwell, George William Ward. Died 3rd May 1917

George William Ward Hipwell was born in Old Basford, Nottingham on 9 April 1885, and was christened in New Bilton, Warwickshire on 9 December 1885.   His parents were George Henry Ward Hipwell, born in Ullesthorpe in 1859 and Annie Elizabeth, born in about 1862 in Long Lawford. In 1911 George Henry was a cabman living at 27 King Edward Road, Rugby, they had ten children and nine were still living, and living with them, in 1911.

George William was the eldest of those ten children and in 1911 he was an Electrical Engineering Fitter at BTH works in Rugby.

George William enlisted in Rugby, as a Private, No.11894, in the 5th Battalion, Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He probably joined up at the same time as many other men – many from Hillmorton – who also joined the 5th Battalion. He went to France with his Battalion on 22 July 1915.

He must have had leave as his marriage with Bertha Frances A. Ingram was registered in Rugby in the first quarter of 1916 [Rugby Q1, 1916, 6d, 1383].

George was killed in action on 3 May 1917.   The action on that day was recorded the following day, by Lieut.-Colonel, H. L. Wood, who was commanding the 5th Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

RECORD OF THE 5th (SERVICE) BATTALION.1st July 1916 to 30th June 1917.

The movements of the 42nd Brigade to positions of assembly on “Y” day and “Y”/”Z” night had been previously notified, thus:

The 5th Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry from N.14.b via Brigade H.Q.(N.15.d.4.4), N.22 central, N.23.d.8.4, along the bank and via the railway. The Battalion will move by platoons in file at 3 minutes’ interval. The leading platoon to arrive at Brigade H.Q. at 8 p.m. Water will be issued to men requiring it, under Brigade arrangements at Brigade H.Q. The Battalion will be clear of Cross Roads N.22.a by 9.15p.m., and will proceed in file to their Assembly Trenches. All trenches have been labelled. All units (less 9th K.R.R.C.) will report by runner to Advance Brigade H.Q. in the Stag as soon as they are in their positions of assembly. As soon as Battalions are in their Assembly Trenches an issue of hot tea and rum will be made under Brigade arrangements. The Assembly Trenches were named “zoologically,” and the Battalion assembled for the assault in portions of the Ape, the Boar, the Buck, the Lion, and the Bison. ‘Z’ day was 3rd May and zero hour 3.45a.m. The following is Lieut.-Colonel H.L. Wood’s Official Report of action of the Battalion:

 —

At zero the Battalion was formed up as follows: A and C Companies in the front line, A on the right, C on the left; B and D Companies in the second line, B on the right, D on the left; each company in two lines of two platoons. The front line was on the taped line, the second line in Ape Trench. The German artillery and machine-guns opened fire within 3 minutes of our barrage commencing; most of the artillery fire was between Ape and Bison. Until the advance commenced at zero plus 18 there were only a few casualties from artillery fire in Ape, and none in the companies in front. On the other hand, the machine-gun fire was very heavy and accurate, and came from the left flank (either from St. Rohart Factory or from the Quarry in 0.15.c) and front (from the Quarry at 0.21.b.8.0 or from Triangle Wood).

At zero plus 18 the advance commenced and reached a line about 50 yards west of New Trench, beyond which it was found impossible to advance farther on the left. On the right of the line 2nd Lieut. Peel (A Company) found it possible to avoid the machine-gun fire by crawling, and he got a few men forward and occupied part of New Trench. As touch had been lost with the 8th K.R.R.C., 2nd Lieut. Peel brought up the reserve platoon of A Company on his right flank, and gained touch with them. This was about 4.30 a.m. About this time the remainder of A Company and part of D Company managed to get into New Trench on the left of A Company. The Germans who had been holding New Trench retired to a line about 40 yards in rear, from which they heavily bombed and opened fire with two machine-guns on New Trench. These were, however, soon silenced by rifle and Lewis-gun fire. It was, however, found impossible to advance owing to the very accurate and unceasing machine-gun fire from the left, and also to a certain extent from the front. The artillery fire also became fairly heavy about this time. The situation now was as follows: about 50 men of all companies in New Trench, and parties of B and D Companies (about two platoons in all) in a line of shell-holes about 40 yards behind. This party tried to consolidate, but found it impossible to work owing to the incessant machine-gun fire, snipers, and heavy Vane-bomb fire, which came from the left flank, probably from Hillside Work. The situation remained unchanged until about 10.45a.m., New Trench being shelled continuously, while a very heavy barrage was maintained on the Assembly Trenches. At about 10.45a.m. the troops on our right were observed retiring, and a strong enemy counter-attack in 6 or 7 waves (each estimated by those in the front line at about 150 to 200 men) was launched against New Trench. Fire was immediately opened on them with all available rifles, Lewis-guns, and two Vickers which had come up, and many casualties were inflicted, but without stopping the counter-attack. When the enemy had got within 50 yards of New Trench, and our ammunition was practically all expended, the remnants withdrew to the Assembly Trenches, bringing back as many Lewis-guns as possible. The two Vickers had to be abandoned.

… The casualties were: A Company (Right leading) 75, out of 129 who attacked. C Company (Left leading) 84, out of 118. B Company (Right Support) 57, out of 123. D Company (Left Support) 62, out of 123. H.Q. 13, out of 30, including bombers who went over behind the leading company.[1]

Of the 12 officers and 523 N.C.O.s and Men who went into action on 3 May 1917, 8 officers and 291 N.C.O.s and Men became casualties.

George William Hipwell’s body was not found and he is remembered on the Arras Memorial at Faubourg-D´Amiens Cemetery, Arras.

 

RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM

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This article  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, May 2015.

[1]         http://www.lightbobs.com/5-oxf–bucks-li-1916-1917.html