Percy John SHARMAN was born in Rugby in about 1892. He was the son of Sherwin Sharman, who was born in Kings Cross, London in about 1870 and worked as a joiner, and Florence Annie Landon née Branston, Sharman, who was born in Napton on the Hill, Warwickshire, in late 1869 and later lived at Marton. They were married at some date after their last banns were called on 14 June 1891 at Frankton, Warwickshire.
In 1901 the family were living at 25 Queen Street Rugby, and they were still living there in 1911. Percy was then 19 and an ‘Iron Moulder (learner)’ living with his family. His younger brother, Albert Sidney Sharman, who was 18, was a ‘machine hand’ and would later join up as No.19849 in the Gloucestershire Regiment. There are surviving Pension Records for Sidney, who joined up aged 22 years and six months on 12 May 1915, joined the BEF, wounded in the hand, and survived the war, serving until 1919.
There are no surviving military Service Records for Percy. He joined up as No.S/1289, Rifleman P. J. Sharman in the 11th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. He would later be promoted to Lance-Corporal. His Medal Card shows that he went to France on 21 July 1915
The 11th (Service) Battalion of the Rifle Brigade was formed at Winchester in September 1914 as part of K2 and came under command of the 59th Brigade in the 20th (Light) Division. They moved to Blackdown, going on in February 1915 to Witley and then in April to Hamilton Camp (Stonehenge). On 21 July 1915 the Battalion landed at Boulogne which is also the date given on Percy’s Medal Card for his arrival in France – so he landed in France with his battalion.
In 1916 he is recorded as a rifleman in the 11th Battalion Roll Book of NCOs and Men, and the Battalion was engaged in various actions on the Western front: the Battle of Guillemont in 1916 and the attacks on Steenbeek, and on Rue Des Vignes in 1917.
On 20 November 1917, after the actions earlier in the Battle of 3rd Ypres, the 11th Battalion were part of the British Third Army which launched an attack towards Cambrai. The method of assault was new, with no preliminary artillery bombardment. Instead, a large number of tanks were used in significant force. However, having started well, with large gains of ground being made, the German reserves brought the advance to a halt. Ten days later, a German counter-attack regained much of the ground.
On 5 February 1918, the 11th were reinforced by some of the men from the 10th Battalion which had been disbanded near La Clytte. The 11th Battalion was then heavily involved with various actions, in particular, the various defences against Operation Michael.
In the spring of 1918, a German attack had long been predicted and it was finally delivered in the early hours of 21 March 1918. It came after an intense artillery bombardment and the strength of the infantry attack was overwhelming. Within hours, the British Army was undertaking a desperate fighting retreat along a wide front. .
The 20th (Light) Division, which included the 11th Battalion was heavily engaged in the Battle of St Quentin, which was the start of the German assault, Operation Michael. The Germans launched a major offensive 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 actions of Operation Michael have already been described in some detail.
There is a slight uncertainty as to the actual date of Percy’s death, so it may be that in addition to the Battle of St Quentin, he may have been involved in the subsequent actions at the Somme crossings and the Battle of Rosieres. Possibly he was wounded and captured and died in German hands.
His exact date of death may have been ‘presumed’. His Medal Card notes ‘Acc as Dead’ i.e. Accepted as Dead. An earlier record on one of the CWGC documents suggests that his date of death was 20 March 1918. It was later recorded by the CWGC as being 1 April 1918. Percy was 26 years old.
By 1 April 1918, the 11th Battalion was pulling out of the front line having suffered very heavy casualties in the various rearguard actions. Percy was not listed as killed or wounded on the extensive lists enclosed with the Battalion War Diary, although the lists may not be complete. He may have been missing or wounded and buried by the Germans. The date of death may signify the date that the 11th pulled back.
Percy was originally buried with [at least] seven others at Map Reference (M.R.): 66D C23c 9-2. These soldiers were later ‘concentrated’ [disinterred, moved and reburied] in September 1919 from that smaller ‘cemetery’ to the Pargny British Cemetery, Somme, France, at M.R. 66D C16c 2-2. Percy’s body was identified by his identity disc/s and he was reburied at Pargny in grave ref: II. E. 17. No additional inscription was added to his memorial by the family.
Pargny is a village about 15 kilometres south of Peronne, which is between Amiens and Saint-Quentin. The British Cemetery is one kilometre south of the village. The Cemetery was made after the Armistice, by concentrations from the surrounding battlefields and from the Pargny German Cemetery, which was a little way North-East of Pargny Church, and contained the graves of 32 soldiers from the United Kingdom. The majority of the burials in this cemetery are those of officers and men of the 61st (South Midland) and 8th Divisions [and in Percy’s case, the 20th Division], whose resistance at the Somme crossings on 24 March 1918, materially helped to delay the German advance.
Percy John SHARMAN was awarded the British War and Victory Medals and the 1915 Star. He is also commemorated on the Rugby Memorial Gates in Hillmorton Road, Rugby and on his family’s grave at Plot H171, at the Clifton Road Cemetery, Rugby.
RUGBY REMEMBERS HIM
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This article on Percy John SHARMAN 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, January 2018.