‘I am passing into the great divide.’

Sergeant Major, S/12784, Arthur Joseph James Fairbairn

490th Horse Transport Company Army Service Corps

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Arthur Fairbairn’s grave in Worstead churchyard

I came to write my first book because of two war graves in Worstead churchyard. This is the story of the second man.
Arthur Fairbairn was born in Bermondsey and resided in Croydon. He is the other man who is listed as a CWGC burial in Worstead churchyard. He is not listed on the war memorial and he is not listed on the Norfolk Roll of Honour and yet he lies in Norfolk.
The question that had to be asked in this case was why is a man who resided in London buried in Worstead churchyard? He did not die here as evidence shows he died in Great Boughton in Cheshire and was living in Chester with his wife when he died. The simple answer is that his wife was Ethel Maria Blower who is listed on the 1891 Census as being the daughter of David and Ann Blower of Worstead. Arthur Fairbairn was a pre war regular, having seen active service in South Africa. In fact both were still in South Africa when the 1911 Census was sat.
His WWI service career is an interesting case and one that can be traced exactly as his service record survived WWII. Even more interesting is the fact that his death is recorded exactly as it happened because it became a newspaper article when his coroner’s report was published.
He briefly went to France landing there on the 8th May 1915, but on the 27th May 1915 a letter was sent to 3rd corps HQ from the CO of the 9th Division, Major General H.J.S. Landon, stating that Arthur was not fit enough to serve.
The letter noting that,

‘He was appointed a few days before the Division left England and appears to be incapable of picking up the work.’

The letter went on to state that, ‘…a younger and more energetic man is essential in the field.’

On the 8th June 1915 Arthur was back in Blighty and spent the rest of his time in England. The cause of all of this was probably the fact that he had contracted Pneumonia in August of 1914. However, this did not stop him providing a good service for King and Country and he was mentioned in the Secretary of State for War’s list of valuable services rendered during the war and this was published in the London Gazette on the 24th February 1917.
In August 1918 Arthur had applied to go to Salonika, but before this could happen he died suddenly and we will now look at the sequence of events that led to his death. This occurred nine days after the massive Allied strike on 17th August. For this purpose I have transcribed the report of his passing although parts of it are unreadable due to the fact the document came from the burnt records archive in the National Archives.

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The report into Arthur’s death

STAFF SERGEANT MAJOR’S SUDDEN DEATH

The sudden death of Staff Sergeant Arthur Joseph James Fairbairn (40) A.S.C. was the subject of an enquiry before (the) Cheshire Coroner, at the war hospital Hoole, on Monday afternoon. The evidence of Corpl. Wm Chas, Hindley A.S.C. employed in the General Staff Officer Headquarters Western Command, for nearly two years, shewed that deceased was a first class sergeant major in the same office. For about … months he had been in failing health … often spoken of having a ‘racking’ cough. On Monday he came to the office and seemed in his usual health. About 12 noon he left to go to the canteen at the Roodee. About 12.55 witness proceeded to the mess. On arrival he heard someone call ‘Hindley,’ and upon looking towards the city walls near the …gate he saw the deceased.

He went up to him and deceased said ‘Get a doctor, please.’ He coughed and vomited blood. Witness assisted him towards the dry canteen and on the way he vomited more blood. Witness has already sent for medical assistance and went for a doctor himself. Sergt Major Thomas Kirby, R.A.M.C., deposed to seeing the deceased in the sergeant’s mess at the Roodee at one o’clock on the Monday. He appeared to be in his normal health. They had a conversation of the likelihood of the deceased being put under orders for Salonica.

Witness left him and five minutes afterwards, in consequence of what he heard, he went to the entrance of the Roodee, where he saw the deceased seated on a chair. Witness asked him what was the matter, to which he replied ‘I am passing into the great divide.’ Deceased appeared to be in a state of collapse and witness went to Major H.T. Jenkins, R.A.M.C., who came and remained with the deceased until he died. Captain E.D. Hayes, R.A.M.C., stated that as the result of an autopsy he found both the deceased’s lungs markedly tuberculous. Death was due to haemorrhage, following rupture of a branch of a pulmonary artery into the left lung, due to tubercular disease of the lungs. Deborah Blower, district nurse of Darwen at present staying at 34 Kingsley Road, Great Boughton, sister in law of deceased was also called and said deceased joined the Army on July 6th, 1896. He enjoyed very good health up to about four years ago.

When he arrived back from South Africa, where he suffered from pneumonia. Since then his health had only been fair and during the last twelve months he had gone terribly thin. She last saw him alive in May. The jury returned a verdict of death from ‘Natural causes’, as described in the medical evidence.

His wife must have decided to bring his body back to Worstead and he is now laid to rest in the North of West end of the churchyard.

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‘Musical Box’ Writing a Wrong

The Battle of Amiens

8th August 1918

Photo 1 Whippet Tank

A Whippet Mk A seen in 1918

In June of 2009 I was lucky enough to accompany and assist the author Mark Adkin with a ten-day tour of the Western Front. Mark had asked to be taken to various sites from Ypres to Verdun so he could cover a number of actions that incorporated every major nation that fought there for a book he is writing about the Western Front. One of the areas visited related to the Tank V Tank action at Villers Bretonneux on 24th April 1918 and a lesser-known action that was fought by a British tank called Musical Box on 8th August 1918 at the Battle of Amiens. I have been to those places a number of times since.
It is the second action that I want to write about because the information that is available to research is factually incorrect by one thing but it is, in my eyes, a major one. So much so that it was included in some of the most recent books about the battle, including Amiens 1918 by James McWilliams and R James Steel. This book is an excellent account of the battle but unfortunately followed the path of virtually every other author who has written about Musical Box. This article intends to right the wrong. However, before we go onto this, I would like to provide a brief overview as to what happened at Amiens.

Map 4

This map gives you an overview of the area where Arnold and his crew advanced and shows you the positions mentioned in the accounts used in this blog.

Amiens is generally considered the turning point for the Allies on the Western Front and was fought between the 8th and 11th August 1918. It was designed to counteract the German advances that had been made by the Germans after their massive offensive, which had started on 21st March 1918 that had almost pushed the BEF right to the outskirts of Amiens. This city was of strategic importance to the allies because of its railway network. Had the Germans been able to capture this supply route it would have seriously hampered the Allies ability to wage war.
There was an even bigger gamble for this offensive as Rawlinson was given virtually all of the Allied armour totalling to around 600 British and French tanks. This included 72 Whippet and 342 Mark V and V* tanks all of which were the newer variants of the tanks used in 1916 and 1917. Rawlinson also had 2,070 artillery pieces and 800 aircraft. A counter attack was planned that would involve American, Australian, British, Canadian and French divisions under the overall command of Haig who directed Henry Rawlinson to plan and prepare the offensive. It would also involve a ten-division attack on a ten-mile front from Morlancourt in the north to Hargicourt in the south. Surprise was essential as the majority of the fighting would be carried out by the Australians and the Canadians who were respected by both friend and foe alike for their determined ferocity in battle. Had the Germans got wind that these two elements were being concentrated in this area then it could have gone very differently on the day.
The German sector chosen was defended by 20,000 soldiers and they were outnumbered 6 to 1 by the attacking troops. The plan relied on the infantry and tanks acting in co-operation and there would be no preliminary bombardment with Rawlinson relying on a creeping barrage as the troops advanced.
The battle was a major success for the hard pressed Allies and by the end of the first day they had advanced nine miles into the German lines capturing well over 13,000 men and around 200 artillery pieces. It prompted Ludendorff to write of the battle that it,
‘…was the black day of the German Army in this war. … The 8th of August put the decline of that [German] fighting power beyond all doubt. … The war must be ended.’
That, simplified, is Amiens and this story is about one action in a battle fought on a huge scale that would see the Allies never really stopping right up to 11th November 1918 after it was fought.
As mentioned the battle included the use of tanks on a massive scale. One of the newer versions of this weapon was the Whippet Mark A which was faster than the earlier, heavy tanks and was intended as a cavalry style weapon. It only carried four machine guns and had a crew of three, one commander, a driver and a gunner meaning that the commander acted as the second gunner. It weighed 14.2 tons, had 5-14 mm armour was powered by 2 x 45hp Tylor JB Petrol Engines with 318 litres of fuel and had a maximum speed of just over 8 m.p.h., which was extremely fast for WWI standards!

C B Arnold Freiburg

Lieutenant Clement B. Arnold

Whippet Tank No 344, named ‘Musical Box’ was one of the 72 Whippets sent into action that day and was crewed by Lieutenant Clement B. Arnold, Private Christopher Ribbans (Gunner) and Private William J Carnie (Driver) of the 6th Battalion Tank Corps. It is Private Carnie that we must look to for the error. This is because virtually every account written has his name incorrectly spelt as Carney. We will come onto why this was so later on in the article.
The story starts with the 6th Battalion advancing in support of the Australians at 04.20hrs, zero hour, when Arnold and his crew advanced to the south side of the railway at Villers Bretonneux, crossing over the railway line and advanced past Australian infantry and Mark V tanks. Arnold takes up the story,
‘After 2000 yards in this direction I found myself to be the leading machine, owing to the others having become ditched, etc. To my immediate front I could see more Mark V tanks being followed very closely by Australian infantry. About this time we came under direct shellfire from a 4 field-gun field battery of which I could see the flashes between Abancourt and Bayonvillers. Two Mark V tanks, on my right front, were knocked out. I saw clouds of smoke coming out of these machines and the crews evacuated them. The infantry following the heavy machines were suffering casualties from this battery. I turned half-left and ran diagonally across the front of this battery at a distance of 600 yards. Both my guns were able to fire on the battery in spite of which they got off about eight rounds at me…’

Aus OH Bayonvillers Bty

An Australian OH map showing the batteries around Bayonvillers, some of which engaged Musical Box.

Arnold and his crew were engaged here by elements of the 27th Foot Artillery and he ran level with a belt of trees, using them as cover, then turned right and took out the guns from the rear, Arnold stating that the gunners, numbered around thirty, were engaged and, ‘Gunner Ribbans and I accounted for the whole lot.’

Map 2

A French IGN map showing Guillaucourt and the siding where Arnold stopped, noted here as ‘Arret’ e.g. stop!

After this initial action Arnold got back on track and caught up with the advancing tanks and infantry stopping at a railway siding NNW of Guillaucourt. Here he offered assistance to an Australian Lieutenant who was promptly shot in the shoulder. After briefly reporting what he had done to Major Rycroft (a Yeoman), who was OC B Coy 6/Tank Corps and Captain Strachan a Section Commander, he noticed that a number of tanks were bunching up so he opted to move onward proceeding on a course parallel with the railway.

He then came across forward elements of the 2/Dragoons that were deploying patrols into the area. One of two patrols came under fire and he assisted with suppressing fire killing three or four Germans.

Guillaucourt Station

Guillaucourt station and specifically the railway siding where Arnold and his crew stopped to confer with Australian infantry and his O.C.

The second patrol was seen to pursue a number of the enemy and this group were fired upon by some of these men who turned and stood their ground. One rider and horse were felled and the rest deployed to the right and dismounted. Arnold stated,
‘…where they came under fire from the enemy, who had now taken up a position on the railway bridge, and were firing over the parapet, inflicting one or two casualties. I ran the machine up until we had a clear view of the bridge and killed four of the enemy with one long burst, the other two running across the bridge and on down the opposite slope out of sight.’

Cavalry Action

The area where Arnold and his crew assisted cavalry.

Having assisted the cavalry, and having witnessed a burning train being pulled away three quarters of a mile away, he continued eastwards still running parallel with the railway. He then came across a small valley which he entered between Bayonvillers and Harbonnieres and came across hutments where the enemy were caught packing up. Arnold and Ribbans did not hesitate and opened fire on the poor hapless enemy. After this engagement Ribbans actually got out of the tank to count how many Germans they had just killed.

Christopher Ribbans

Gunner Christopher Ribbans soon after he joined the Machine Gun Corps.

Here I would like to add that of all the accounts I have read regaling Arnold’s one tank battle none is better, to my mind, than the one written by G. Murray Wilson in his book “Fighting Tanks – An account of The Royal Tank Corps in action 1916-1919”, published in 1929. It is across between a ‘Boy’s Own/Ripping Yarns’ story that is scathing of the enemy, where I would suggest that the wounds were still pretty raw eleven years onwards! Here is an extract from the book recounting what happened next.
‘There were probably about 600 Bosches, and yet Gunner Ribbans left the shelter of the Tank to do his little sum. “I turned left from the railway and cruised across country, where lines of enemy infantry could be seen retiring. We fired at these from 200 to 600 yards range. As our cruise lasted an hour, we inflicted much damage.” Arnold was now absolutely in the blue—an island entirely surrounded by undiluted Huns. “I did not see any more of our troops or machines after leaving the cavalry patrols.” Consequently he drew all the fire, from every kind of weapon that the harassed Bosches could bring to bear on “Musical Box,” which kept on playing her own devil’s tattoo in reply. The only thing to do was to keep on moving, like the stormy petrel in a typhoon.’
Stirring stuff indeed! Arnold continued onwards with his one tank battle and although he did not know it he had now become the forward element of the advance and was now well into enemy territory. By now the tank crew were also having to face problems from their own tank as they were carrying extra fuel on the roof of Musical Box. They had been ordered to do this prior to the attack, but this was against all standing orders and for the same reasons that they would find out later. Their initial problems were from the petrol fumes from spilt fuel that was sloshing all over the floor. This forced the men to breath through the mouth piece of their box respirators. They were also suffering from heat exhaustion as well as great fatigue, they had now been in action for ten hours, and finally wounds suffered from bullet splash. However, they continued onwards.
As the crew continued eastwards they noticed a large number of motor and horse transport moving in all directions and Arnold noticed the canopy of a truck heading their way. They then hid up and waited for the lorry to come over the rise of a bridge. Here Arnold shot the driver and the lorry crashed into a ditch on the right.

Photo 4 Bridge Ambush

‘I moved up out of sight and waited until he topped the bridge…’ This is the bridge where Arnold ambushed the lorry and is situated between Harbonnieres and Rosieres en Santerre.

By now Arnold and his crew were deep in enemy territory and we again visit Murray Wilson’s ripping yarn.
‘The railway was now quite close, and I could see long lines of men retiring along it at ranges of 400 to 500 yards. I fired at them and did much damage. Leaving these in a state of panic, ‘Musical Box ‘ looked round for more exciting quarry. Passing by a two horse canvassed wagon, I knocked that out, Gunner Ribbans (R.H. gun) did some good shooting on the motor and horse transport, whilst I fired many bursts at 600 to 800 yards on the transport blocking the roads on the left (L.H. gun).

IMG_2284

The area where Musical Box engaged retreating Germans along the railway.

I turned quarter-left to a small copse. On the way we came under the most intense rifle and machine-gun fire (bullet splash). The L.H. revolver port-cover was shot away. I withdrew the forward gun, locked the mounting and held the body of the gun against the hole.” This was pretty levelheaded after over ten hours’ delirious brainstorm. Arnold kept his balance, and if only the Fates had done the same it is conceivable that he would have overrun the German Army H.Q. His luck, however, ran out, like the petrol on the cab, and he describes it without bitterness: “Petrol was still running down the inside of the back door (of course ignited). As it was no longer possible to continue the action, I shouted to Driver Carney to turn about, when two heavy concussions closely followed each other and the cab burst into flames.’
Arnold would not have realised this at this point but he had come across a large force of Germans which the Australian Official History bears witness.
‘The troops into whom Arnold ran were transport of two regiments (18th Res. and 373rd) of the 225th Divn, together with its instructional school. Early on Aug. 8 this division, being driven out of its line by the Canadians south of the Luce, had ordered up this force, about 500 in all, to protect its headquarters in some sunken huts in the open country south-east of Harbonnieres. The force had just arrived there about 9 o’clock, says the history of the 217th RIR, “When the first tank appeared; it came up across country. A patrol of the instructional school under Res. Capt. Renner (O.C. school) with a light machinegun took it under fire and advanced within a few yards of it. A few shots with armour-piercing ammunition and the tank stopped and began to burn. Three men left it. A pigeon set free at the last moment was shot down but had no message on it. Prisoners and pigeon . . . were sent to D.H.Q.’

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This is supposed to show the burnt out remains of Musical Box pictured the day after its demise with Australian soldiers of the 15th Brigade and some German prisoners.

Arnold’s campaign was at an end and the demise of Musical Box was swift. All three of the crew managed to evacuate from the doomed tank but the driver was shot in the stomach and died. Arnold and Ribbans narrowly escaped being bayoneted and bludgeoned to death when a group of angry Germans reached them but an officer intervened and they were eventually marched away into captivity.
The 6th Battalion Tank Corps reported Musical Box missing although there are reports of it being found the next day. The story of Arnold and his crew was not told until 1919 when both of the surviving crew were repatriated, both meeting up with each other in a camp near Canterbury. Arnold wrote a detailed account, as was dictated by the War Office for all officers to account for their capture, and the tale became one of legend.
And this is also how Carnie’s name became to be miss-spelt and how virtually all the accounts I have read have assumed that this is the correct spelling of his surname. If you search for the surname Carney on the CWGC website it will not come back with any matches for a man serving in the 6th Tank Corps and I have seen instances where people have assumed he must have survived. However, if you search under the correct spelling it comes back with a direct match.

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William James Carnie

William James Carnie was born in 1897 and was the son of William and Mary Carnie of Kintore in Scotland. Carnie has no known grave and is now commemorated on the Vis en Artois Memorial as well as being listed on the Kintore war memorial. Both he and Ribbans are also often reported as being Sergeants but I have not seen any evidence of this on any military documents, including Arnold’s report.
Arnold was awarded the DSO and Ribbans the DCM, Carnie received no such award even though Arnold had stated in his report,
‘The conduct of Gunner Ribbans and Driver Carney was beyond all praise; throughout, Driver Carney drove from Villers-Bretonneux (4.20 P.M. 18th till 3.30 P.M. 19th).’
Therefore, when you guide or visit this area, please spare a thought for William Carnie who still lies out on the battlefield of Amiens.
Sources used:
Official History of Australia in the War of 1914–1918 – Volume VI CHAPTER XIV “DER SCHWARZE TAG”.
From the book “Fighting Tanks – An account of The Royal Tank Corps in action 1916-1919”, published in 1929 and edited by G. Murray Wilson.
Amiens 1918 by James McWilliams and R James Steel.
To Win a War by John Terraine.

A Forgotten Hero

Corporal 12345 Armine Davison (Military Medal)

11th Sherwood Foresters (Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment)

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Armine Davision, this picture is shown on the montage in Worstead Church

Armine Davison was born in 1894 and was the son of Austin and Florence Davison who lived on Church Plain in Worsetad. Armine was a gardener like his Grandfather James Davison and his Uncle George both of whom were the retired and current Head Gardener for the Westwick Estate. Armine’s father is listed as being a shopkeeper and overseer in the 1912 UK City and County Directory and went on to become a parish councillor after WWI.

Armine moved away to become a gardener at Belton and in August 1914 he joined up with his friends Harold Porter and William Thornley. All took consecutive service numbers in the Nottinghamshire & Derbyshire Regiment. William took 12344, Armine took 12345 and Harold took 12346. They all initially joined the 9th Battalion. 

This battalion was formed at Derby in August 1914 and became part of the 33rd Brigade in the 11th (Northern) Division. They sailed from Liverpool in early July 1915 and landed at Gallipoli at Suvla Bay on 7th August 1915, Armine, Harold and William all landing on that date. There they remained until Gallipoli was evacuated in December 1915 where they then sailed first for Imbros in Greece before going onto Egypt in February 1916.

However, this time took its toll, Armine contracted enteric fever and was sent back to England. When he returned to active duty he did so with the 11th Battalion Sherwood Foresters who were part of the 70th Brigade of the 23rd Division. It was with this battalion that he was awarded a Military Medal and Armine is the only man to be awarded a gallantry medal and to make the ultimate sacrifice who is listed on the war memorial in Worstead church.

This was awarded for volunteering to lead a daylight patrol 300 yards into no-man’s land where he brought back vital information as to the ground in front of the enemy and their positions during the Battle of the Menin Road at 3rd Ypres where the 11th Battalion saw action between the 20th September and 1st October 1917. This was gazetted on 12th December 1917.

MM Armine

Armine’s citation for his Military Medal

On the 23rd October 1917, orders were received to prepare to move to an unknown destination, and within days the lengthy move by rail to Italy began. So why Italy?

Italy had sided with the Allies and had been fighting the Austro-Hungarian Empire on its own. As the campaign progressed the Germans gave assistance to the Austro-Hungarians and in 1917 they launched a spectacular offensive that almost destroyed the Italians.
On the 24th October 9 Austrian and 6 German divisions attacked after the Italians had been pounded by a preliminary bombardment of high explosive, gas and smoke. Using the same type of tactics as would be seen in France and Belgium the offensive smashed the 2nd Italian Army and they were pushed back 16 miles before the front could be stabilised enough to stop the advance.

By then failed counter attacks and the complete surprise had led to the Italians losing some 300,000 casualties with virtually all their artillery lost. It so shocked the Allies that the Italians received assurances of increased military support from Allied governments. And so six French and five British divisions were sent to bolster the beleaguered Italians. The Italians were also lucky that the Austro-Hungarian/German could not launch any fresh offensives as they had lost heavily in the advance and the Italians also withdrew to the River Piave where the line was held.

And so the 23rd Division, which was inspected by the Commander in Chief Sir Douglas Haig at Leulinghem on 31st October, entrained. On the 10th November 1917 when the Italian line finally settled, the 70th Brigade moved from Wizernes then through the Rhone valley and on through Marseille, Cannes and Nice, eventually entering Italy at Mantola where on the 16th November they were billeted at Ceresa. On 16th November 1917, their concentration was completed between Mantua and Marcaria. But, the travelling did not stop and the men would now march to the front.

They covered a staggering 90 miles in 90 days. On the 3rd December, the 23rd Division took over a section of front line on the Mountain of Montello, relieving the 70th Italian Division.

Here they consolidated and repaired the Italian front line trenches and came under fire from Austrian artillery. They moved out of the line on the 30th November. Following the route of the 70th Brigade we find them moving in and out of the line between December and January and February saw them in billets at Pedervia and then in March another move was made whereby they moved from Pedervia to Granezza.

On the 28th of March they relieved the Italian 28th Regiment. It was noted that was a very quiet sector and patrols were mounted. Effectively from then on the 23rd Division spent time in and out of the line. However, all this would change in June at the Battle of the Piave River which would be code-named Operation Radetzky.

Sketch map Asiago[1]

The order of battle for the 11th Battalion for Asiago

On the night of the 14th and 15th June 1918 on the Asiago plateau was damp, with a thick mist forming in hollows and valleys. At 3 a.m. a furious artillery barrage was poured onto the Allied lines and this also fell on their command and control, supply dumps and road junctions. This bombardment lasted for over four hours, and was followed up with a massive infantry attack who had assembled in areas just forward of their own wire. The Austrians, who commenced their infantry assault at 05:30hrs, chose to attack the French and British sectors who were positioned around Granezza and Carriola and the edge of an escarpment.

The 23rd Division had to protect a front of about 18,000 feet and the 68th and 70th Brigades were in the front line with the 69th Brigade in reserve. The situation facing the division has been described as complicated. It was holding the line in preparation for an Allied offensive that was set to be implemented on the 17th June. However, all front-line troops were under orders to prepare for an enemy bombardment and were to only have their front-line positions lightly manned. They were further hampered by the fact that all the battalions were seriously under-strength because of illness, leave or the fact that men were attending courses. The war diary would note that the Austrians attacked with four divisions, identified as the 6th, 58th, 38th, and 16th, against five British battalions and they managed to breach the British lines before being repulsed where they suffered horrendous losses in their retreat. The 11/Sherwood Foresters were holding the line at a place called the San Sisto Ridge and had a frontage of about 3,230 feet. As well as information provided by the war diary we also have a regimental history published in 1919 entitled ‘The Men From Greenwood’ written by Percy Fryer.

The Battalion had gone into the line on the 11th June and like all of the battalions it was seriously under-strength. The war diary lists that only 19 out of 34 officers were in the line, while the two forward companies, listed as ‘A’ and ‘D’ Coys, each had less than a hundred other ranks to man around 3,000 feet of trench. This was difficult in itself as the regimental history describes the ridge that they now defended as 1000 yards long, 300 yards broad and 200 feet high and joined the British to the French lines.

WD.jpg

The main war diary entry for the battalion for 15th June 1918

‘D’ Company was commanded by Captain Fred Handel Frith and ‘A’ Company by Captain Edward Harold Brittain who was the adored elder brother of Vera Brittain. However, the regimental history notes that both companies were specifically under the command of 2nd Lieutenant Coleman Leonard James Maurice Sallmeyer and 2nd Lieutenant Thomas Cheetham respectively at the time of the attack. Both of the forward companies were also supported by two well sited machine guns that had been placed 100 yards covering two advances to two shallow valleys as well as four other machine guns were also sited 20 yards forward of the woodland that also occupied the ridge.

‘B’ and ‘C’ Companies were in support with B holding the Allied second line next to a French battalion on their right and the 8/York & Lancs to their left. It would be B Company’s job to counter attack if the need arose. ‘C’ Coy was positioned in four strong-points situated on top of the ridge and Armine was part of ‘C’ Coy. It is also noted that another platoon had to provide a night piquet and cover an outpost.

When the artillery barrage opened ‘A’ Coy sustained severe casualties and was trying to hold nearly 2,600 feet of the line with only fifty rifles and large gaps between them and ‘C’ Coy allowed the a group of enemy described as 200 in strength with 2 machine guns to get through the British lines.

Charles_Edward_Hudson.jpg

The 11/Sherwood Forester’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Edward Hudson, DSO, MC

They advanced towards ‘C’ Coy as ‘A’ and ‘D’ Coys managed to hold the line with the French. This group managed to bring fire down on the battalion’s HQ and the country beyond.

The 11/Sherwood Forester’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel Charles Edward Hudson, DSO, MC, now took the initiative himself and utilised his HQ Coy into action whilst sending another officer to get reinforcements from B Coy. Hudson’s prompt action beat back the attackers who retreated back to the front-line. Furious efforts to stop the advance utilising reinforcements from other British and Italian units effectively plugged gaps in the line and on the flanks. Once this was done Hudson then led a group of men to the front-line where for this overall action he was awarded the Victoria Cross, his citation stating,

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when his battalion was holding the right front sector during an attack on the British front. The shelling had been very heavy on the right, the trench destroyed, and considerable casualties had occurred, and all the officers on the spot had been killed or wounded. This enabled the enemy to penetrate our front line. The enemy pushed their advance as far as the support line which was the key to our right flank. The situation demanded immediate action.Lieutenant Colonel Hudson recognising its gravity at once collected various headquarter details, such as orderlies, servants, runners, etc., and together with some Allies, personally led them up the hill. Driving the enemy down the hill towards our front line, he again led a party of about five up the trench, where there were about 200 enemy, in order to attack them from the flank. He then with two men got out of the trench and rushed the position, shouting to the enemy to surrender, some of whom did. He was then severely wounded by a bomb that exploded on his foot. Although in great pain, he gave directions for the counter-attack to be continued and this was done successfully, about 100 prisoners and six machine guns being taken.Without doubt the high courage and determination displayed by Lieutenant Colonel Hudson saved a serious situation and had it not been for his quick determination in organising the counter-attack a large number of the enemy would have dribbled through, and a counter-attack on a larger scale would have been necessary to restore the situation

London Gazette dated 11th July 1918

Hudson was only 26 at the time.

Overall the 23rd Division lost a little ground on its flanks but actions such as Hudson’s recovered the lost ground during the day. The overall Allied line suffered a breach of 1.5 miles towards the escarpment but the Austrians were checked although it took another five days of terrible fighting before the Austrians were beaten. Both French and British accounts mention massed attacks made by the Austrians that led to them suffering terrible casualties, which amounted to almost 50,000 men from the 11th Austrian Army, during the period 14th-25th June 1918 these all for minimal Allied casualties. For example the British casualties amounted to just fewer than 1,500 of all ranks, killed, wounded and missing.

The war diary for the 11/Sherwood Foresters reported at least 200 Austrian dead lying in front of their lines after the battle. Operation Radetzky had failed to push the Allies back and the Austrians never attacked again.

Armine Davison and Grave

Armine Davison and his original grave marker at Granezza

Among the British dead was Armine and Edward Brittain, the brother of Vera Brittain the writer who written about the women’s experience of WWI, who had apparently been the only unwounded officer in his company. He is reported as appearing on the scene having returned from consulting with the French and rapidly organizing a counter-attack group, which included some French soldiers. He led this attack, which forced the Austrians back.

Some jumped out of the trench and ran back towards others coming through the wire. These enemy troops went to ground and opened fire on the Foresters, as did machine-gunners and riflemen on both sides of the wire. Brittain re-organized the defence of the trench, forming a flank with what troops he had available. He apparently paused to observe the enemy, and was shot by a sniper as he did so.

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Edward Brittain

Vera Brittain was haunted by her brother’s death for the rest of her life and after the war she wrote the book ‘Testament of Youth’. She was the mother of former Labour cabinet minister Baroness Shirley Williams. Her ashes were taken to Italy by her daughter and sprinkled on Edward’s grave. Armine was also among the dead and overall the 11/Sherwood Foresters lost 4 officers killed or wounded with a further 52 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. Armine was probably killed when the Austrians breached the line and attacked the positions held by ‘C’ Company.

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Armine’s grave seen in the present (Photo from Battle Honours Tours)

After the terrible fighting in June the line again settled to one of training and of going in and out of the front line. In September 1918 the 23rd Division was moved from the Asiago Plateau, and was billeted in an area northwest of Vicenza before moving by rail to Treviso. It was part of a wider movement with the British Army taking over a wide front on the banks of the River Piave, down stream from its former positions on the Montello. The Piave here is a mighty river indeed: 800 yards or more wide, very fast-flowing in numerous deep channels. A feature facing the British was a flat, narrow, four mile-long island of Papadopoli.

This move was part of a broad plan by the Italian Commander-in-Chief General Diaz to make a decisive break through across the Piave, to separate the Austrian forces on this front from those in the Trentino. If a major advance could be secured in this area then the enemy’s rail routes for supply would be cut and they would be forced to withdraw their troops from Italian soil. The attack commenced on the 23rd October 1918 and became known as the Battle of Vittorio Veneto. This battle efectively destroyed the Austrians who lost a staggering 300,000 men in the offensive and they sued for peace on the 4th November 1918.

Armine Davison now lies in Plot 1, Row B, Grave 4 in Granezza British Cemetery and is buried in the same row as Edward Brittain and the other men who were killed in action on the 15th June and who served in the 11/Sherwood Foresters. Harold Porter and William Thornley both survived the war.

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Armine’s parent’s grave which records the loss of their son

As a footnote when Armine’s mother passed away in 1948 his passing was also recorded on her gravestone noting at the bottom,

Also Their Son
Corporal Armine Davison MM
11th Sherwood Foresters
Killed in Action Granezza Italy
15th June 1918 Aged 25 Years

Norfolk War Memorials

Crostwick War Memorial

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Crostwick war memorial which is hidden away off the B1150 Norwich-North Walsham road

If you drive from Norwich to Coltishall on the B1150 you will pass through Crostwick. Hidden away on the right between Rackheath Road and the White Horse Pub you will find the Crostwick War Memorial. But blink and you’ll miss it! It is hidden away off the road and the only marker you have is a public footpath sign.

There are six men recorded on the memorial that died in WW1. Sadly there is only one photograph that I have found of these men but we can use other documents to record what happened to them.

Frederick James Goffin was born in Salhouse and enlisted in Norwich. He became Driver T4/045054 in the Army Service Corps. But by 1918 he was serving as Private 31232 with the 12th (Norfolk Yeomanry) Battalion Norfolk Regiment. This battalion had started out as 1/1st Norfolk Yeomanry and had initially served in Gallipoli and Egypt. But on 7th February 1917 they were converted to infantry and on 1st May 1918 they embarked at Alexandria for Marseilles where they landed on 7th May. By 21st June 1918 they were serving with the  94th Brigade in the 31st Division.

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Hyde Park Corner seen in Grid 19 from a trench map

By September 1918 the battalion was positioned around Hyde Park Corner situated to the west of Ploegsteert Wood. The war diary records that were in and out of trenches around this area with their Battalion HQ positioned at Grande Munque Farm. His death is not recorded but the war diary records that they were in trenches between 8th to the 13th September 1918. During that time the battalion lost 2 officers and 4 other ranks. Frederick was one of three killed on 11th September 1918 and is now laid to rest in Grave VIII. O. 6. in Strand Military Cemetery where the majority of the casualties from that time are buried. He was aged 42 when he died and was the son of John and Mary Goffin.

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Frederick James Goffin’s grave in Strand Military Cemetery near Ploegsteert

Henry John Holmes enlisted in Norwich and became Private 3435 in the Norfolk Regiment. But he was sent to the Northumberland Fusiliers and given the service number of 4/9310 which denoted he was now serving in the 1/4th Battalion which was a TF unit. TF units were standardised to conform to the regulars in 1916 and he was given the service number of 204045 when that happened.

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The order of battle for the 1/4th Battalion on 24th April 1917

In April 1915 they landed in France became part of the 149th Brigade in the 50th (Northumbrian) Division. Henry was a 1916/1917 entrant to the war and he died of wounds on 24th April 1917 when during the second phase of the Battle of Arras the 149th Brigade assisted in the attack to the south of the Cojeul River, a strong counter attack forced the division back. He was 33 when he died and was the son of Walter Henry Holmes of Crostwick Bridge and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

Corporal 13969 Robert James Parfitt enlisted at Wisbech and joined the 8th Battalion Suffolk Regiment. He landed in France on 25th July 1915 and had won the Military Medal during the fighting on the Somme, his medal was listed in the London Gazette on 21st December 1916.

Robert was killed in action when the 8th Battalion took part on the opening phase ofthe 3rd Battle of Ypres. Robert was part of c Company which advanced up the menin Road from Sanctuary Wood. Once they reached an objective called Jap Avenue they came under heavy fire from Glencourse Wood and Inverness Copse and any further advance was stopped with the company consolidating shell-holes. They came under fire from an enemy strong-point which was partially captured, the company silencing one machine gun and capturing twenty prisoners. But the position took heavy fire and they had to retire back to Jap Avenue. Robert was one of thirteen men killed in this advance.

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The order of battle for 31st July 1918 involving the 8th Division. The menin Road, Glencourse Wood and Inverness Copse can be seen centrally and to the east

 

He is listed as the Father of Miss Dora Parfitt of 41 Belvoir Street in Norwich and has no known grave, being commemorated on the Menin Gate.

 

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John Dossie Patteson

John Dossie Patteson was commissioned into the 5th (Princess Charlotte of Wales’s) Dragoon Guards on 9th April, 1910. The 5th Dragoon Guards landed in France of 16th August 1914.

On 13th October 1914 the Cavalry Corps were ordered to move to protect the northern flank of III Corps and met with opposition and requested infantry assistance. They were unable to turn the flank around Meteren. A Corps attack, the first of the war, along a 5 mile front between La Couronne to Fontaine Houck, went in. During this attack Mont Noir was occupied by the Cavalry Corps and in this fighting John was killed in action.

He was 25 and is laid to rest in Grave VI. F. 5. in Pont Du Hem Military Cemetery at La Gorgue. He was the son of Col. H. T. S. Patteson of Beeston Hall.

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A closer view of the memorial listing

Corporal 16327 Walter James Sandy had initially served in the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment as 7704 and had landed in France as a draft on 12th May 1915. He had transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and was serving with the 5th Battalion when he was killed in action on 2nd September 1918.

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The after action report for 5 MGC 2nd September 1918

Aged 22 he was the son of William and Rose Sandy of Spixworth. He has no grave and is commemorated on the Vis-en-Artois Memorial.

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The 2nd part of the after action report for 5 MGC

Private 23932 Frederick Thaxton was one of lost 6 officers and 128 other ranks killed, wounded or missing when the 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment assaulted and captured a German trench known as Skyline Trench, it also had the name of 6th Avenue.

At 10.30 p.m. the 7/Norfolks advanced with the 9/Essex on their left and the Australian 50th Battalion on their right marking the line between the Australian and British divisions. The Norfolks advanced with “A” and “D” Companies leading and “B” and “C” Companies behind them. The advance carried forward under the cover of a barrage and because of this the Norfolks managed to get into the German trench unopposed and caught the enemy by surprise capturing 20 out of the 30 Germans they encountered there. They then cleared out the dug-outs in the trench and consolidated their gains. They made contact with both the Essex and the Australians of which the Australian Official History (OH) notes

‘An hour later arrived news that the left company at 81 was in touch with the Norfolk Regiment in Skyline Trench.’

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6th Avenue, AKA Skyline Trench, as it is today. I am stood on what would have been known as Point 81

Frederick was aged 26 and was the son of S. Arthur Thaxton and the husband of Kate Thaxton of Crostwick. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

 

 

 

 

 

Tank Week

Norwich Tank Week

1st – 5th April 1918

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News of tanks being used on a massive scale at Cambrai increased public desire to see the charismatic new war machine, thereby creating a fundraising opportunity for the National War Savings Committee. Charged with raising money for the war, the Committee initiated a ‘Tank Bank’ campaign which, though carried out at home, would become one of the most successful tank operations of the entire war.

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A notice in the Norwich Evening News letting people know that the tank would arrive on Monday

The first Tank Bank was established shortly after the Battle of Cambrai. A battered tank named ‘Egbert’ was recovered from the battlefield, shipped to London and installed in Trafalgar Square. People were then invited to buy war bonds and certificates, and to queue up outside this unlikely ‘new god’ so that their bonds could be specially stamped by young women seated inside the tank.

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A report on the third day of Tank Week, 3rd April 1918, detailing donations made by local schools

Having proved successful in Trafalgar Square, the campaign was soon extended elsewhere. A collection of tanks was brought back from France and toured around the country, under the guidance of the National War Savings Committee’s ‘tank organisers’, spending a week at a time in scores of cities and towns. In total, there were six tanks that were used to tour the country. They were called Julian, Old Bill, Nelson, Drake, Egbert and Iron Ration.  As would be expected, Nelson was sent to Norfolk. 

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Nelson being escorted to the Guild Hall by men of the Norfolk Regiment

As in London, politicians, churchmen, war heroes and theatrical celebrities were invited to perform and address the crowds from the top of the tank. A competitive league was established to see which town could raise most per head of population, and the atmosphere that built up around the visiting tanks at the end of their week-long visit was likened to a pre-war football cup final.

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An advertisement in the Eastern Daily Press noting that the tank would be leaving on Friday night

The Tank Banks were reported to have raised prodigious sums of money as they travelled from one place to the next. Large employers invested through the tanks, but they were also said to be particularly effective in attracting investment from the working class and people without bank accounts.

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Mrs Charlotte Lucy Bignold stood at the front giving a speech on top of Nelson

But fundraising was not their only role. The Committee’s tanks were taken to exert their ‘moral effect’ in areas troubled by political militancy. For instance, in South Wales, the Tank Banks were used not just to sell war bonds, but to stir up a ‘tank patriotism’ that could be turned against miners who opposed the war and were taking their lead from the peace proposals made by Leon Trotsky and Vladimir Lenin following the Bolshevik takeover of Russia in November 1917.

From Monday, 1 April 1918, ‘Norwich Tank Week’ was held in an effort to raise war bonds, with Nelson displayed outside the Guildhall. The EDP reported that the most memorable part of the week was arranged by the newly formed National Union of Women Workers.

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An advertisement in the Norwich Evening News encouraging those that have purchased war bonds to purchase more

‘There were units of munition girls in uniform, including a large party from Norwich Components and parties also representing women railway workers, Carrow Works, the Women’s Land Army, the Women’s Co-Operative Guild, Milk Girls and women and girls employed in printing and allied trades.’

The article revealed that the female workers of J. & J. Colman alone had raised £1,219 4s 6d. The final day of Tank Week saw the EDP report that,

‘The success of the week is already assured; but we are not content with a measure of success below a million; and we trust that today’s final effort will achieve it.’

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Civil dignitaries, including the Chief Constable of Norwich City Police, seen stood central wearing the helmet

And meet it they did. A final ceremony was held and further funds were donated, including two cheques from Norwich City Police whereby the Chief Constable, John Henry Dain, presented the Lord Mayor, Richard Jewson, with a total of £50,000 raised through private donations from police officers and their families.

In total a staggering £1,057,382 was raised for the war effort.

A Jolly Good Chap (Part 3)

Epilogue

Frank-Smith

Frank Smith seen in 1915 prior to him going out to France. This is the photo I vividly remember seeing at my Grandparent’s house in the 70s and 80s

Frank’s wife Edith did not receive any notification of his missing status straight away and wrote to him on 1st April 1918. By this time she knew that there had been a big battle because she notes in the letter,
‘I read of how the Buffs have made a name for themselves in fact every Regiment.’
Edith was initially told that Frank was reported wounded and made a series of attempts to try and find out what had happened.
She asked a number of local dignitaries, including Lady Rose Weigall, to make enquiries, from this she received notification from the Red Cross which again recorded him as being wounded.

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The Red Cross card notifying Edith that the War Office believed Frank was wounded

Edith wrote to the battalion but did not receive any firm news back from them, and certainly they were still embroiled in the heavy fighting in France to confirm what had happened. They could only tell her he had not answered roll call.

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A newspaper cutting reporting the fact that Frank was missing

It was only until a letter arrived from a Mrs Laura Isabel Kingsland that she learnt about Frank’s fate. Written on 23rd June 1918 Mrs Kingsland had written to Edith because her cousin had told her of Edith’s search to learn the truth. In the letter she directly quotes what her husband, Private 203385 Mark Frederick Kingsland, told her, whilst at this time, he was still serving as a POW in Germany.

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The letter from Mrs Kingsland confirming that Frank had died on 21st March 1918

‘Will you write to Mrs Smith 1. Salisbury Terrace, Haine, Ramsgate & and tell her from me that her husband was killed on 21st March 1918. He was shot by a sniper, a jolly good chap, we had many long talks about Kent. Perhaps she wouldn’t know otherwise. I saw him. It is very sad. He had 6 children.’
It confirmed Edith’s worse fears and Frank’s death was officially confirmed by the War Office on 8th October 1918.

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The official notification from the War Office

Many years later we also learnt that Mark Kingsland recorded Frank’s loss in a diary, noting for 21st March 1918,
‘10.00 a.m. Smith killed.’
You will recall in Part 2 that the first part of the Buffs position to be attacked by the Germans was A Company and the Canal Post. This diary entry, Mark Kingsland’s account and what is known of the fighting from the Buffs history pretty much confirms that Frank must have been one of the first casualties that the 7th Battalion incurred on 21st March 1918. It is also known through correspondence with Mark Kingsland’s son that he described in letters that he spent time in a forward position and had to cross a stream to get to it. This is pretty much the area where Canal Post was placed and it is almost certain that Frank died when the position was attacked. It is known that elements of A company held out till the 22nd, the history noting,
‘As a matter of fact, it was afterwards ascertained that Lieut. Kennett’s platoon fired on the German transport on the 22nd and held out till the evening of that day.’
Edith never got to read the diary of Mark Kingsland as that did not come to light until the late 70s. As a boy I can remember my Grandfather discussing all of this with my Father and he learnt of snippets about all of this from enquiries made by a second cousin. At that time all I was told was that he was killed during what my family termed as the 2nd Battle of the Somme. As I have already noted his photo was on display in my grandparent’s house when all of this was going on.

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Frank’s name on one of the panels on the Pozieres Memorial

Then, during a trip to see friends in France in December of 1979, my Father decided to find where Frank is commemorated. In snow and fog he got us horrendously lost on the Somme. But eventually we found the Pozieres Memorial. As a young boy I felt disappointed that he was just a name on a wall and had no idea of the scope of what he had been through. I wanted to know more about him but did not do anything about that until I was much older and serving in the RAF.

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The wreath we laid in memory of Frank at Vendeuil in 2011

This was where I learnt about the full extent of his war in France and Flanders and eventually got to see letters written by him. In 2011 I had the honour of taking my Father, my Uncle and my Aunt to trace his war from Loos to Vendeuil.

He is one of my most striking memories of my childhood, especially when I went to see his name on the Pozieres Memorial for the first time.
He is why I guide.
He is there with me on the battlefields and cemeteries of France and Flanders.
I often shed a tear over his loss, especially when I am following in his footsteps.
He is out there somewhere either still in the ground where he has not been found, or he is a Soldier of the Great War in a cemetery somewhere.

Frank Smith and Family

Frank seen in 1915 with his beloved Edith and six of his seven children, from left to right, standing Len, Maud, Dolly, Frank, Daisy (sat on his lap), Edith (his wife), Alf and Henry (my Grandfather). Missing from this image is his last son Leslie who was born in February 1918 just one month before his father was killed in action

This aspect of his time over there haunts me as there is no place I can go to stand at his grave. But I find solace when I go to places like Loos, Ploegsteert, Ypres and Guillemont, knowing he was there in 1915 and 1916.
I follow in his footsteps.
I will remember him.

A Jolly Good Chap (Part 2)

The 7th Battalion Buffs (East Kent Regiment)

21st March 1918 

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The 7th Buffs positions for 21st March 1918. ‘A’ Company was positioned to the south of Vendeuil facing the Sambre Canal.

By the beginning of March 1918 the 7th Buffs were positioned around a small French town called Vendeuil. This is situated due south of St Quentin. They were in an area known as the Battle or Forward Zone, meaning it was devoid of civilians. The positions they held were rudimentary to say the least and they were enduring great hardships at the end of a very severe winter.

They were put on a frontage of 5,500 yards and had their companies widely extended with platoons occupying parts of the old French line in the ruins of Vendeuil and their support companies spread out across the whole front. Just two platoons were left in reserve on what was known as the Vendeull-Ly Fontaine switch. There was also a garrison at Fort Vendeuil which was commanded by Captain Fine of the 7th Buffs who had commanded a mixture of infantry and engineers along with two machine guns.

At dawn on 21st March 1918, the Germans would unleash a huge barrage of artillery fire on British positions on the Western Front, primarily concentrating on areas around the Somme . This was the beginning of the “Kaiserschlacht” – the “Kaiser’s Battle ” which, it was hoped, would end the war before the arrival of the Americans in substantial numbers.

The main German offensive in the Somme was code-named “Operation Michael”, and initially had stunning success. Many of the areas chosen for the assault were lightly held, and the British defenders lacked the ability to hold this offensive. The British Third and Fifth Armies lost 38,000 casualties.

At ten minutes past five on the morning of the 21st March 1918, General Sir Hubert Gough, commanding the British 5th Army, was awakened by the roar of a Bombardment,

‘…so sustained and steady that it at once gave me the impression of some crushing, smashing power. I jumped out of bed and walked across the passage to the telephone in my office and called up the General Staff. On what part of our front was the bombardment falling? The answer came back immediately: All four corps report heavy bombardment along their front.’

For the 7th Buffs the 21st March 1918 would become a day of infamy. Their day started at 04:45hrs when the German bombardment began. Stand to was ordered and as daybreak began a thick blanket of fog and gas was seen all around their front line. Communication began to break down as the shells being fired cut field telephone lines and the Buffs became isolated into small groups.

‘The Boche bombardment began at 4.40 A.M., a bombardment that swelled into a deep roar along the whole front. The 18th Divisional area back to the Crozat Canal was drenched in gas, and as the German artillery programme developed, it became clear that for the first two hours their gunners were searching for our guns; next, their object was to bombard our infantry positions with gas and high explosives; afterwards hundreds of mortars assisted in a culminating crescendo of shelling that acted as escort to the advancing German infantry and continued to ravage our positions and road approaches. Our own outnumbered guns replied spiritedly, and at 5.12 A.M. our troops manned the Battle Stations.’

From The 18th Division in the Great War by G.H.F. Nichols

Within all this confusion the Germans began to infiltrate the positions and at 10:00hrs they could be seen in ‘A’ Company lines.

‘The first intimation of any hostile infantry on the sector held by the Buffs came from A Company (Captain Grant) reporting about 10 a.m. that thirty Germans were about Canal Post, near the quarry. After this headquarters lost communication with Captain Grant.’

This account from the Buffs history is important because Frank was in A Company. From what can be gathered from a witness he was in the Canal Post and had to retreat with the rest of this outpost.

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A trench map showing the area to the south of Vendeuil. ‘A’ Company were positioned around grid 25.

By 11:45hrs, ‘C’ Company was surrounded by the enemy and ‘A’ and ‘D’ Company were able to see Germans moving around in their rear lines. In fact their plight was becoming so un-tenable that all members of the HQ Company, which included cooks etc had to man defences and further reports from the regimental Chaplin and M.O. only confirmed that the Germans were slowly but surely infiltrating Vendeuil and isolating its defenders.

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The Crozat Canal. On the left of this picture is roughly where the O.P., known as ‘Canal Post’ was positioned.

‘The line was so thinly held, it had to be so. The enemy had made surprise rushes through the mist. Corporal Waters, who with six men held the left forward post of the 7th Buffs, heard the opening bombardment, but it did not look as if the Boche attack was on his sector. The next thing he remembers was a large body of Germans on top of his position. Before the Germans could remove these seven Buffs to the rear they bolted in the fog and made their way back to their company, which they found retiring through Vendeuil.’

From The 18th Division in the Great War by G.H.F. Nichols

At 13:30hrs the Germans launched an attack on Vendeuil Fort, which was repelled by infantry and artillery fire, but the Buffs HQ was also attacked by a machine gun and the HQ staff had to fight off a number of determined attacks. The afternoon was one of sustained artillery attacks, directed by aircraft, and this only helped to assist the German infantry who slowly but surely managed to wear the defenders down.

‘Up to 3.30 P.M. the situation appeared unchanged, except for enemy attempts to capture positions holding out in the Forward Zone. A large body of Germans tried to storm Fort Vendeuil ; but Captain Harry Fine of the 7th Buffs and his garrison kept them out with rifle and machine-gun fire, and the 18-pounders of A/82 and B/82, fired over open sights, exerted such telling effect that the assault crumpled up. Further attempts were made on the 7th Buffs  headquarters at Dublin. These, too, were beaten off by Colonel Ransome’s confident and energetic garrison, which was made up of runners, signallers, cooks, water-cart men, and a few stragglers. Captain C. K: Black, the Adjutant, and Lieutenant G. J. Howcroft, the Intelligence Officer, showed any amount of resource in organising the defence of this quarry headquarters. One of the signallers, Private A. C. Coleman, had been out four hours, exposed to gas shelling and machine-guns, trying to restore communication with Fort Vendeuil. The Boche shelling had broken Coleman’s wires in over 40 places.’

From The 18th Division in the Great War by G.H.F. Nichols

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The main area for ‘A’ Company on 21st March 1918

So much so that by 18:00hrs Vendeuil Fort came under a prolonged and intense artillery attack and it was deemed to be lost, although the fort managed to hold out for another 24 hours. All 4 companies were now either deemed lost or were operating in disjointed groups and it became apparent to the Buffs that the whole area was now lost to the Germans.

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The rough area where ‘Canal Post’ was positioned with potential evidence of an old trench running parallel to the canal

Colonel Ransome asked for Written orders; the officer had none, but he insisted that he had instructions to escort the Buffs head-quarters by the only clear route to Liez. Colonel Ransome Waited While his Adjutant, Captain Black, bicycled to Remigny to obtain information. Captain Black returned and said he had telephoned to Liez and the orders were correet all troops to be West of the Crozat Canal by dawn. Patrols were sent out again to try and reach Fort Vendeuil and the reserve company, but Without success. So having destroyed all papers that could not be removed, and leaving behind reluctantly a quantity of Whisky, port, and beer, the Buffs headquarters party set out for Liez about 1 A.M. ; eventually they reached Liez at 2 A.M.

From The 18th Division in the Great War by G.H.F. Nichols

So at 01:55hrs, after orders from brigade, what was left of the 7th Buffs was out of the zone and back at Liez. They could only muster 3 companies, but where heartened by the fact that they had been the only battalion to hold out on the 21st from the whole of 3 Corps and that this had greatly aided the rest of the defending troops around the Crozat Canal as they desperately fought to reorganise their defences.

Between the 21st to the 26th March 1918, the 7th Buffs lost 17 Officers and 603 Other Ranks killed, wounded and missing. However, many of the missing would be accounted for in the prisoner of war camps.

Frank Smith would be one of those men reported missing with the Buffs history noting, 

‘A Company was despaired of. The best that could be hoped was that the men were prisoners; but firing from their direction was heard up till midnight, and it was supposed they were then still refusing to surrender.’

We will learn of his fate in Part 3 of this blog.