A December Story

The 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment December 1914

Part 1

Private 3/7271 Walter George Hardiment

Private 3/7271 Walter George Hardiment

At the beginning of December 1914 the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment was serving in and out of the trenches around Wulverghem in the Ypres Salient. By now this area had become a quieter sector now that the 1st Battle of Ypres had come to a close and the Norfolks were getting to know their craft as they learnt about trench warfare and many men died through sniping and artillery.

On 3rd December they relieved the 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment in trenches on the Wulverghem-Messines road. The war diary for the battalion is very basic and there is no mention of casualties within it.

The history of the Norfolk Regiment in the Great War had this to say about this period.

‘Wherever they were, the men were working hard. If they had not to supply working parties for the improvement of trenches, they were busy at training, either general or in special subjects, attacks, machine gun or Lewis gun instruction, or one of the inumerable special branches which characterize warfare in the twentieth century. In the front and support trenches it was always the same, utter discomfort, constant shelling by the German artillery in varying quantities, and with varying results in the shape of casualties.One day there would be no casualties, the next perhaps fourteen or fifteen, the next two or three.’

However, with records that we can access, we know that 8 men were killed between the 4th and 23rd December 1914.

The first man to be killed was Private 8640 william Fuller aged 19 who was the son of Fred and Maria Fuller of 120 Ber Street in Norwich who was killed in action on 4th December. Next came Private 7271 Walter George Hardiment, also aged 19, the son of Ann Sophia Hardiment of 15 Morley Street in Norwich.

Private 7068 Arthur Coggles and Private 7021 Edgar Shearman were killed in action on 6th December 1914. I visited Arthur ‘s grave in Poelcappelle British Cemetery in December 2015 in just over 100 years after he died and it is sad that Edgar, who was 32, has no known grave and is now commemorated on the Menin Gate. Edgar was the son of Mrs. E. Shearman of Sugar Alms Houses in King’s Lynn and the husband of Jane E. Shearman of 4 Wanford’s Cottages Wood Street in King’s Lynn. Again there is no mention in the war as to what happened to them.

This area was considered to be a quiet sector but in 1914 it was far from being that way and there were still actions being fought in that sector right up to Christmas.

On 14th December an attack was launched by the 8th Brigade at Wytschaete this failed with heavy casualties.

On 18th December 1914 another attack was launched by the 22nd Brigade at La Boutillerie this also failed with heavy casualties.

On 19th December one man from the Norfolks was killed. This was Lance Corporal 7310 Sydney Bacon from Shouldham. So today is the 101st Anniversary of Sydney’s death.

Robert_Barnett

Robert Barnett who was 15 years and 6 months when he died.

There is another anniversary for this date and another action occurred around Plugstreet Wood when the 11th Infantry Brigade of the 4th Division were ordered to attack a position called the Birdcage with the objective of keeping enemy troops from being moved as reserves to Arras where the French were attacking.

One of the tragedies in all of this was that a boy soldier died on this day. He did not come from Norfolk but I visit him every year.

Rifleman Barnett was born on 25 June 1899 at 147 Mare Street, Hackney, London. His name at birth was Raphael Glitzenstein and he was the son of Barnett and Esther Glitzenstein.

Following a family argument, he left home and enlisted in the Army where he lied about his age and changed his name to Robert Barnett using his father’s first name.

There are many places on the Western Front that are hidden away and are not as well trodden as, for instance, Essex Farm. Rifle House Cemetery is hidden away in Ploegsteert Wood and is what the Tommies of WWI came to call Plugstreet Wood.

When the attack went in the 1/Somerset Light Infantry, the 1/Rifle Brigade and the 1/Hampshires met with furious machine gun and rifle fire as the three battalions tried to cross shell-holes filled with water, slimy mud and well positioned barbed wire. The attack failed with virtually no objectives being taken.

The 11th Brigade took heavy casualties, with some being incurred by their own artillery as they lay in no man’s land as they sheltered from the German fire. The 1/SLI lost 6 officers killed or wounded with 77 other ranks killed or wounded. The 1/Hampshires lost 1 officer killed and 40 other ranks killed or wounded. And finally the 1/Rifle Brigade lost 3 officers killed and 66 other ranks killed or wounded.

Barnett CWGC

The grave of Robert Barnett in Rifle House Cemetery in Ploegsteert Wood.

He had been in France and Belgium since 9th October 1914. He is one of the youngest soldiers to die in WWI. He lies in a lovely cemetery in a beautiful wood. Whenever I visit this sector, or take groups there, I always ensure that we pay our respects to him.

We dwell on the myth of football being played in this sector, which it wasn’t, but we can’t forget that this boy died and was recovered and buried by both British and Germans alike on Christmas Day. He is not often visited when you compare him to Joe Strudwick who is visited by everyone. So I will come back to this in my next blog.

On 20th December two men were lost. These were Private 6361 Jack Grigglestone from Thorpe Hamlet and Private 7090 Sydney Samuel Cork who died of wounds. Jack has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate and Sydney was buried in Nieuwkerke (Neuve Eglise) Churchyard.

Finally, Private 7188 Albert Edward Woodbine was killed on 22nd December aged 26 and was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John Woodbine of 117 Goldwell Road in Lakenham.

Wulverghem

The area where the 1/Norfolks were positioned for this period. Their trenches would be between the two roads in grid T & U and also intersected the road between Messines and Wulverghem. The lines in red are the German lines.

On Christmas Eve the weather changed to a hard frost. In the evening the Germans were seen to place Christmas trees with candles on their parapets and they are heard to be singing carols. It was here that something amazing would happen on Christmas Day, even after all of the killing had gone on, and we will look at this on Christmas Eve of 2015 and look at the truth and myth behind the Christmas Truce.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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