After the battle it was found that both battalions were so badly mauled that they had to be formed together into a battalion called the 4/5th Composite Norfolk Regiment under the command of the 1/8 Hampshire’s C.O. Lieutenant Colonel Oliver Miles Torkington. By dawn on the 20th April what little had been gained had to be given up when orders were sent to withdraw.
Both of the Norfolk battalions had suffered terrible casualties and the Norfolk Regimental history records this figure:
Officers 1/5th Battalion killed 6 and 11 wounded.
Officers 1/4th Battalion killed 6 and 9 wounded
Other Ranks 1/5th Battalion killed 49 and 312 wounded.
Other Ranks 1/4th Battalion killed 13 and 401 wounded.
On top of this both battalions lost 5 officers and 328 other ranks missing.
The total for both battalions being 37 Officers and 1103 other ranks killed, wounded or missing.
This can be amended to show that 228 officers and men from the 5th Battalion and 165 officers and men from the 4th Battalion died between 19th and 30th April 1917, many of which have no known grave and are commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial.
The Australian Official History records the casualties for each division which took part as follows:
54th Division 2,971
52nd Division 1,365
53rd Division 584
Camel Brigade 345
Anzac Mounted Division 105
Imperial Mounted Division 547
The casualty list for the 163rd Brigade included 2 Battalion and 12 Company commanders which included Lieutenant Colonel Bernard Salway Grissell D.S.O., the C.O. of the 1/5th Battalion Norfolk Regiment who was the son of the late Thomas de la Garde Grissell of Redisham Hall in Beccles and the husband of Olive Grissell. He is laid to rest in grave XXIII. C. 5. in Gaza War Cemetery.
George Brakenbury is recorded as being ‘Killed in Action’ and Robert Watts is listed as having ‘Died’.
This means that, as with the earlier chapter with the Norfolks at Gallipoli, Robert’s fate was unknown but is listed as this because at a certain point in time it would have been recorded on his service record that he must be dead but how this occurred was not known.
It is possible that he was one of the men who reached the Turkish lines because he was in ‘A’ Coy who had been in the first line of advance. Whatever his fate he has no known grave and he is listed on the Jerusalem Memorial. George, at the very least, was given a burial and now lies in Gaza War Cemetery.
Also among the casualties was the intrepid tank commander of HMLS Nutty. Joseph Emms described what happened to Frank Carr and his crew,
‘…then a very lucky shot for the Turks hit one of the ‘Tanks’ wheels and put her out of action which made a great difference to us in the trenches. The crew rather than let the Turks have it set fire to it and ran into the trench where I was in, there was an officer and 3 or 4 men and they all seemed to be wounded.’
2/Lieutenant Frank Carr died of his wounds. He was aged 35 and the son of Mrs. T.H. Smith of The Corner House Handsworth Wood Road in Birmingham and the husband of Dora Carr of 129 Church Lane Handsworth Wood. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Jerusalem Memorial.
It should be noted that George and Alfred’s parents had lost their two sons in the space of four months.
Towns and villages across Norfolk were deeply affected by the battle, one family alone lost three sons in the battle. Arthur, Clifford and Horace Bird, all brothers, and Frank Bird, their cousin, all died in the fighting at 2nd Gaza. All came from East Runton. Also from West Runton, Charles and Henry Creasey, were also killed in action. They, along with two other brothers, are commemorated on the war memorial for East and West Runton with the Bird brothers.
These casualties are staggering for one day when you compare it to the losses incurred by the 8th Norfolks on the 1st July 1916 at the opening of the Battle of the Somme. Here they lost 335 officers and men of which 104 were killed. So, to me, the 2nd Battle of Gaza was the First Day of the Somme for the Norfolk Regiment and the county as a whole.
If you think about it 393 telegrams were sent to families in the county recording the loss of those that died at 2nd Gaza. Just doing one speculative search shows that 22 telegrams went to families in Great Yarmouth and 25 went to families in King’s Lynn. A staggering 50 telegrams went to families in Norwich and this is why I think this compares to how it must have been to communities who lost so many on the 1st July 1916. To lose two in men in a small village like Worstead must have had an impact on the whole community and it is still something I cannot get my head around.
To lose two sons in one go must have been beyond comprehension.
Alfred and Anna Brakenbury were so heartbroken by the loss of two sons that they recorded their passing on their own headstone when they were buried in Worstead cemetery and both died within months of each other in 1939. Alfred died in February aged 83 and Anna passed away in December a few months after World War Two had started, I often wonder what she must have thought about this and on their gravestone it states,
In Loving Memory of
Anna Maria Brakenbury
Who Died Dec 3rd 1939
Aged 76 Years
Also Of Her Two Sons
Killed In Action
Ernest France Jan 1917
George Gaza April 1917
For Ever With The Lord
Also of Alfred Brakenbury
Who Died Feb 14th 1939
Aged 83 Years
The same can said for Robert Watts as his passing was also recorded on his parent’s grave in Worstead cemetery. He is listed as having ‘Died of Wounds Gaza April 1917’ on the headstone of Jonah and Elizabeth Watts when they died in 1937 and 1944 respectively.
I wonder how many more parents recorded this fact on their graves.
My personal thanks go to Ibrahim E. Jaradah from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Gaza for getting a photograph of George Brakenbury’s grave.