A Tale of Two Soldiers

Gunner 153455 Archie Snelling and Gunner 153456 Cornelius Skipper

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Cornelius Skipper who served as a police officer in Norwich City Police and with 293rd Battery Royal Garrison Artillery

Today marks the 100th anniversary of the death of two Norwich City Police officers who served in the Royal Garrison Artillery in WW1. Cornelius had joined the police as PC 80 on 24th April 1909 and Archie had joined up as PC 124 on 1st April 1911.

When war broke out both men remained as police officers but both did apply to join the Army. Both men were initially refused but as the war progressed they were allowed to join and Archie & Cornelius joined up together on 30th March 1917 and their service numbers, 153455 and 153456, are one number apart.

Both went to No. 1 Depot at Rugeley the next day. Cornelius was then posted as Gunner to 412th Siege Battery based at Prees Heath and then, at the end of June, onto Lydd for live fire training. After a short period of leave he left Southampton with his battery on the 14th of August and arrived Le Havre the next day.

On the 24th of August 1917 one officer and 51 other ranks from the 412th joined the 293rd Siege Battery adding an extra section and making it up to six howitzers.

 

Cornelius was wounded on 11th October 1917 when his battery received counter battery fire and he died of wounds in 47 Casualty Clearing Station. On the day that he died a medic who tended to him wrote a letter to the Chief Constable of Norwich City Police stating,

To the Chief Constable Norwich City Police

I am very sorry to inform you that Gunner Skipper late of the Norwich Police passed away here yesterday 12th instant. I was on duty with him all night the 11th and he told me he was a Police Officer previous to joining up, I myself being a member of the Kent County Constabulary.

I thought I would take the liberty to write to let you know, he was well cared for during the brief time he was here and also I done all he wished, he died peacefully from a shrapnel wound in the chest, hoping you will forgive the liberty I am taking in writing.

Private A A Arnold RAMC

C Skipper Letter

The original letter sent by Private Arnold

Secondly his C.O. wrote to his widow and detailed what had happened,

Dear Madam,

I very much regret to have to inform you that your husband No 153456 Gunner Cornelius Skipper, serving in the Battery under my command was severely wounded in the right arm and back by the explosion of a hostile shell on the morning of 11th October 1917. He was immediately conveyed to the nearest dressing station where he was attended to by the medical officer in charge and after having his wounds dressed was sent to the Casualty Clearing Station by motor ambulance. Shortly after arrival he succumbed to his injuries.

I trust you will accept my deepest sympathy.

H S K Snowdon Major

C Skipper Letter 2

The original letter sent to Cornelius Skipper’s wife

 

 

Archie would have landed in France on 16th February 1917 with the rest of 248 Siege Battery. In October 1917 they were serving in 1 ANZAC Corps and the battery was located about 200 metres north east of Birr Cross Roads in the Ypres Salient. 

At that time they were in support of 1 and 2 ANZAC during the 1st Battle of Passchendaele. Archie was killed during counter battery fire operations.

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Archie Snelling who served as a police officer in Norwich City Police and in 248 Battery Royal Garrison Artillery

Both men died on the same day and this I find very sad and I have paid my respects to both when I have been on battlefield tours.

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Cornelius Skipper’s grave in Dozinghem Military Cemetery

Cornelius is buried in Grave X. F. 19. in Dozingham Military Cemetery and was the son of James and Harriett Skipper of Surlingham and the husband of Nellie H. Skipper of “The Cabin,” in Haynford.

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Archie’s name on one of the Royal Garrison Artillery panels on the Tyne Cot Memorial

Archie has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial, he was son of Mr and Mrs. Snelling of 190 Waterloo Road in Norwich and the husband of Ellen Snelling of 72 Avenue Road, Park Lane in Norwich.

Both were aged 28 when they died.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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3rd Battle of Ypres (Part 5)

  1. Polderhoek Chateau

The 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment

9th October 1917

PHC No 5

Polderhoek Chateau prior to WW1

After Oppy Wood the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment had spent time around Beaumont but on 25th September 1917 it returned to Ypres, a place they had not served around since 1915. On 1st October they went into the reserve trenches around Dickebusch Lake. 

PHC No 7

The area around Polderhoek including the chateau

After a brief spell in reserve they were moved up to the front and were put into the line facing the Polderhoek Chateau. They had the 1/Cheshires on their left and the 16/Warwickshires on their right.

By now the weather had really set in and the ground around them was watery and described as ‘obnoxious’ with shell holes and craters filled with water. The conditions and difficulty with the weather are noted in their war diary,

‘Moved from support trenches in the early morning for attack on POLDERHOEK CHATEAU. Coys got on their kicking off position about 4 am. Very dark night and pouring with rain. Companies had a very difficult task to get on the tape but they managed it successfully, much to the credit of their Coy commanders.’

Since we saw the initial actions by the 8th Battalion there had been a series of battles fought around the Ypres Salient and the next action would be the start of the Battle of Poelcappelle. After gains had been made on 4th October the next attack was planned for 9th October along a front of 13,500 yards. The intention here was to capture Passchendaele Ridge.

Dix & Pembroke

Private 200762 Alan Jack Dix from Norwich and Private 26288 Horace Andrew Pembroke from Ilford. lan was killed in action during the attack on Polderhoek Chateau and Horace died when the battalion were in support trenches prior to moving up to the front. Both are buried in Hooge Crater Cemetery.

X Corps was to attack to hold German reserves around Becelaere and Gheluvelt. To the north, I Anzac Corps was to advance on the right flank of the main attack, with the 1st and 2nd Australian divisions, the 4th and 5th Australian divisions being in reserve. Further north, II Anzac Corps with the New Zealand and 3rd Australian divisions in reserve, was to attack two objectives, the 66th Division advancing along the main ridge, north of the Ypres–Roulers railway to just short of Passchendaele village and the 49th Division on either side of the Ravebeek stream, up Wallemolen spur to the Bellevue pillboxes.

If the first objectives were reached, the reserve brigades were to attack the second objectives in the afternoon. The second objectives were 800–1,000 yards ahead of the red line, beyond the village and the main ridge respectively. The reserve divisions were ready to move rapidly forward, by train from west of Ypres to continue the attack the next day.

On the 5th Army front, XVIII Corps with a brigade each from the 48th and 11th divisions, was to advance 1,200 yards up to the Poelcappelle spur and towards Westroosebeke on the main ridge. XIV Corps was to advance to the south edge of Houthoulst Forest with the 4th, 29th and Guards divisions, as the French First Army conformed on its left. Raids and artillery bombardments were arranged along the rest of the front, to deceive the Germans as to the objectives of the attacks.

There is an after action report in the war diary of the 1/Norfolks so we can follow the progress of their battle on 9th October 1917. But in the main body of the war diary there is a very brief summary which states,

‘Attacked the Chateau at 5:20 am. Attack was a failure owing to Battalion on our right apparently getting held up and losing direction. We had heavy casualties in officers and men.’

George William White KIA 9 Oct 17

Private 14775 George William White aged 25 who was the son of Edward John and Harriett Mary White of Wighton in Norfolk. George has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial.

At 4 a.m. the battalion moved from support trenches to the front. “C” Company would be on the right and “A” Company on the left. “B” Company would support both of the lead companies and “D” Company was held in reserve. They moved up in complete darkness and in heavy rain.

The barrage on the German line lifted at 5.20 a.m. and the Norfolks followed the Warwickshires who were leading the advance. Sadly both the rain and the darkness meant that the Norfolks veered off to the right and found themselves in front of the Chateau instead of the left of it. “B” Company was sent up to support the two lead companies who began to falter. But enemy artillery and machine gun fire began to take its toll, with no support from British artillery which had moved on. This led to heavy losses and no further progress could be made.

The after action report noted the following for the day,

1. Battalion formed up at zero – 1:30 “A” Company on the left – “C” Coy on the right – “B” Coy in close support – “D” Coy in section reserve. “D” Coy remained in reserve for counter attack purposes.

2. Our barrage lifting, the front line went forward but “C” Coy and half of “A” Coy made a right incline which brought them off their line and facing the Chateau.
Nos 1 and 2 Platoons followed the line, No 2 Platoon went slightly too much to their left and on reaching the objective found themselves isolated in front of the right of the Cheshire Regiment. They held on there till relieved on the night of the 10th-11th.

No 1 Platoon also went well forward about 400 yards. Then finding they had lost touch on the right, efforts were made to regain touch.

6 a.m. The Officer Commanding sent back a Sergeant to find out the situation. The Sergeant was wounded.

9 a.m. He then went back with a runner and was himself wounded.

9 p.m. Eventually the remnants of the Platoon rejoined the original front line by night.

5:30 a.m. Half “A” Coy and “C” Coy went half right and found themselves up against the Chateau

6 a.m. A retrograde movement on the part of these companies was checked by O.C. “B” Coy who threw his company in. By this time the enemy had opened cross M.G. fire and was bombing from wing trenches near the Chateau and the barrage had gone on. No further progress was made. By night the Companies were re-organised and the old line held.

Bertie Docking KIA 9 Oct 17

Private 13689 Bertie Docking who was killed in action on 9th October 1917 and who came from Brandon. He is now laid to rest in Grave 4 XII. H. 6. in Bedford House Cemetery, 

By 9 p.m. on 9th October 1917 the battalion was back where it had started and were out of the line by 11 p.m. The after action report had this to say about the failure.

The Battalion moved to relieve the KOSB at 1 a.m. on the night of 5-6th

The Battalion had no casualties on this relief. The men had no great coats and suffered a good deal. Shelling went on all the while and losses were steady. The support companies suffered most from this shelling.

Trenches can easily be dug in but it is extremely difficult to keep them in good repair as the wet causes them to fall in.

They and all shell holes fill with water.

The men had no hot food all the time from leaving Bedford House till after relief on the night of the 10th – 11th.

I think the failure was due to the worn condition of the men and the bad weather.

PHC No 3

The area around the Polderhoek Chateau which can be seen centrally

Losses on this day were high with 3 officers killed and 4 wounded other ranks casualties amounted to 38 killed and 246 wounded or missing.

Challis KIA 9 Oct 17

Lance Corporal 290071 Bertie Challis who was killed in action on 9th October 1917. Bertie came from Brandon and is now laid to rest in Grave IX. L. 4. in Hooge Crater Cemetery.

The day after the attack saw the battalion being commanded by one officer and wounded were left out in no-man’s land with stragglers coming in all day. After they were relieved the battalion was sent to Berthen where it reorganised receiving drafts of men.

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Private 22336 Albert Bertie Hardiment aged 30 who was the son of J. and Mary Ann Hardiment who came from Hellesdon and is now laid to rest in Hooge Crater Cemetery.

On 22nd October 2017 I will be out walking the area around Polderhoek so will update this post then.

 

PHC No 2

The remains of Polderhoek Chateau after the fighting

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

3rd Battle of Ypres (Part 4)

The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment 

14th August 1917 

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James Lewton-Brain who came from Yaxham

During a battlefield tour in June I found three Norfolk Regiment graves in Lijssenthoek Cemetery. Not knowing much about them I photographed them and then looked into their deaths when I got home.

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Douglas Arthur Leamon’s grave in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

They are:

DOUGLAS ARTHUR LEAMON

Rank: Lieutenant
Date of Death: 14/08/1917
Age: 22
Regiment/Service: Norfolk Regiment 8th Bn.
Grave Reference: XV. A. 15.
Cemetery: LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY

Additional Information:Youngest son of Philip Augustus and Lucy Leamon of Headingley in Manitoba who was born in Norwich.

 

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Wilfred Robert Williamson’s grave in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

WILFRID ROBERT WILLIAMSON

Rank: Lieutenant
Date of Death: 14/08/1917
Age: 28
Regiment/Service: Norfolk Regiment 8th Bn.
Awards: M C
Grave Reference: XV. A. 18.
Cemetery: LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY

Additional Information:Son of Annie Sophia Williamson of 67 Cecile Park Crouch End London and the late William Pope Williamson.

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James Lewton-Brain’s grave in Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery

 

JAMES ANDREW LEWTON-BRAIN 

Rank: Lieutenant
Date of Death: 14/08/1917
Age: 29
Regiment/Service: Norfolk Regiment 8th Bn.
Grave Reference: XV. A. 16.
Cemetery: LIJSSENTHOEK MILITARY CEMETERY

Additional Information: Son of James and Clara Lewton Brain of The Rookery in Yaxham who was born at Swanton.

All of these 3 officers died from the affects of gas when a phosgene shell penetrated the dugout they were in at Railway Dugouts near Zillebeke.

 

Zillebeke July 1917

The area where the 8th Battalion were positioned. The dugout where the shell landed was positioned was in grid 21.

A total of 11 officers and 12 other ranks were affected by the gas, 7 officers being seriously affected all of whom were evacuated.

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Railway Dugouts Burial Ground (Transport Farm) Cemetery this is the area where the 8th Battalion were in dugouts when the gas shells landed.

I have included part of the after action report for this time.

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The 3rd Battle of Ypres (Part 3)

The 7th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment

10th – 17th August 1917

10th August 1917

The order of battle for 10th August 1917.

The 3rd Battle of Ypres did not resume until the 10th August when 2nd Corps were ordered to capture German positions from a line starting at the Ypres-Roulers Railway to Inverness Copse in the south. It is here that we will now look at the 7/Bedfords and the 8th Norfolks. The reason for this is that a man from my village was wounded during this engagement.

We already know that George Grimes was the brother of Victor. He probably enlisted at the tail end of 1915 and one soldier with a consecutive service number joined up in November 1915. That means that, at the very earliest, he could have gone across to the Western Front in early 1916.

George joined the 7th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment who had been serving in France since July 1915. They were part of the 54th Brigade of the 18th (Eastern) Division and this division as we know from previous chapters had seen action on the first day of the Somme and subsequent actions fought there afterwards. During 1917 they had seen action there again during operations on the Ancre and Miraumont and they had also participated in the capture of Irles in March. When the Germans retreated to the Hindenburg Line they followed and had assisted in the capture of Achiet le Grand. They also saw action at the Third Battle of the Scarpe. But by July of 1917 they were in Flanders and trained for their participation in the 3rd Battle of Ypres. Their initial action happened at what became known as the Capture of Westhoek.

Initially we will look at the operational order for the battle that came as an appendix within the war diary.

The orders were simple and to the point with the document stating,

‘1. The II Corps will capture and hold at an early date INVERNESS COPSE, GLENCORSE WOOD and the Southern end of WESTHOEK RIDGE.’

This position was and still is situated to the north of the road to Menin and had been heavily fought over in October and November of 1914. It had been captured and held by the Germans until now and was heavily defended with the Germans having nearly three years to build up their defences. The 54th Brigade straddled the Menin Road facing in the direction of Glencourse Wood and Inverness Copse and formed the left flank of the division with the 25th Division to their left and the 55th Brigade to their right. The 24th Division would support the 18th Division on the right. This whole area, but especially Glencourse Wood and Inverness Copse, was bombarded between the 8th and 9th August with 3,000 heavy and medium shells being fired on Glencourse Wood on the 8th. There would only be a 46 minute pause in this bombardment for the 18th Division to attack and capture its objectives and only 25 minutes for the 25th Division to do the same.
The 7/Bedfords were positioned just to the east of a position known Surbiton Villas and roughly parallel to an old German trench known as Jargon Switch.

At Zero Hour, set for 04:35hrs on 10th August 1917, II Corps attacked. The initial advance on all fronts was successful with the left flank and the village of Westhoek being captured by the 74th Brigade of the 25th Division. The right flank, however, was not as successful. The 55th Brigade, notably the 7/Queens had advanced from the eastern edge of Inverness Copse but had been stopped by a machine gun post and had failed to occupy the southern edge of the copse. They retreated, being closely pursued by the enemy who re-took the copse and the 7/Queens failed to carry out any further advances losing 10 officers and 272 other ranks.

The 54th Brigade had far better success, occupying the German second line around Fitzclarence Farm and the eastern end of Glencourse Wood and although German resistance was seen to be thinly held, with the forward lines offering little resistance, it was noted by the official history that it was easier to capture than to hold what had been taken. Just after 06:00hrs the Germans fired a box-barrage designed to stop any reserves being brought up and launched localised counter attacks. All requests to bring up reserves were initially refused and when permission was granted to move up the 53rd Brigade they did not reach their assembly area until 19:00hrs. But, by that time, it was too late and by then most of what had been gained was back in German hands.

The 7/Bedfords have an after action report to describe in detail what happened to them.
The initial moves made by the 7/Bedfords went well and they had taken their objectives by 05:13hrs after clearing out around 150 Germans and destroying two machine guns in Glencourse Wood. The report notes that those Germans left alive surrendered by running forward shouting ‘KAMERAD!’ Once they had reached the new line fighting patrols were sent out to the southwestern end of Nonne Bosschen Wood where the barrage was still being fired. The battalion then set about consolidating the line. Throughout the day the Germans tried to counter attack but were beaten off with rifle and machine gun fire but by the afternoon this was beginning to run out and the right flank risked being overrun because of this. Artillery support was called for but could not be given even though SOS flares were sent up. However, no artillery came and then in the evening the Germans were seen to be forming up at Nonne Bosschen, Inverness Copse and the south western part of Polygon Wood. They then advanced under the cover of smoke and gas.

The after action reports stating,

At this time I cannot state the exact clock hour the artillery opened and with terrible execution, but the Bosch line came on delivering their attack on the right flank of the Battalion. The advanced posts were either killed or captured, it is impossible to say which, but judging from the very intense barrage which the Bosch rolled over GLENCORSE WOOD they were undoubtedly killed, a certain amount of confusion set in on our right and it was only by firm determination that the strong point at J.14.a.4.2. which I had taken over from the right Battalion (11th Royal Fusiliers) and JARGON TRENCH was held.

This placed the Bedfords almost back at their start point. The report continued,

When the attack was fully developing reinforcements (two Coys) of the Royal Berkshire Regt arrived and were sent forward to hold our original front line in case the Bosch succeeded in his object to gain the strong point and high ridge STIRLING CASTLE – STRONG POINT J 14.a.4.2. – JARGON TRENCH. The attack however did not materialise and only his advanced line got near the position. The situation quietened down and the relief of the Battalion by the Royal Berkshire Regt was carried out by 2 A.M. and the Battalion withdrew to CHATEAU SEGARD. Established line handed over was JARGON TRENCH – LADY’S LEG – STRONG POINT J14.a.4.2. Situation of forward posts was somewhat obscure. It is worthy of record the splendid manner in which the two Coys of the Royal Berkshire Regt came up to reinforce. They had a terrific barrage on the support line through which they travelled without a waver, shells falling into and all round each platoon. Major Longhurst of this Regt. arrived in advance of these two Coys and rendered most valuable assistance in establishing a second line of defence in case of necessity.

The 7/Bedfords then moved out of the line and moved to Dickebusch New camp to rest and refit. However, that is not the end of their story at 3rd Ypres. On the 12th August they were ordered to join the 53rd Brigade the war diary stating,

The Battalion was reorganised into four companies of two platoons each, each platoon had one rifle section one rifle grenadier section one bombing section one L/G section. Total Battalion strength about 300. Orders were received from Division to move into a field close to Div.H.Q. and rest there until the evening. After dinners the Battalion moved to the field mentioned where the Div.General (General Lee) address a few words to the men and thanked them for their gallant behaviour in the action of August 10th. He also said that he had given instructions (that) we were not to be used unless absolutely necessary. The afternoon having been spent in receiving SAA rations etc the companies moved off at 6.30 PM A and D companies to CRAB CRAWL C and B and HQ to RAILWAY DUGOUTS.

By 23:00hrs the war diary states,

The Battalion was in support to 53 Brigade.

Langemarck 16 Aug 17

The situation for 16th August 1917

The reason for this that the 53rd Brigade had been given to the 56th Division who had taken over from the 18th and were now forming the southern flank of this fresh unit. On the 13th August the battalion waited to see if it was needed in support of the 53rd Brigade. However, a thunderstorm on the 14th August postponed the next attack that was now set for the 16th. This became known as the Battle of Langemarck. The 7/Bedford received orders to relieve the 10/Essex Regiment at Stirling Castle and to prepare for an attack on the 16th.

This came as a surprise to the battalion having been promised not to be used unless absolutely necessary. However, they prepared for the attack. On the 15th August B Company was given orders to prepare for an attack on a German strongpoint to the south of the Menin Road and just shy of the edge of Inverness Copse.

The war diary for the 16th August states,

B Company having formed up on the tapes put out by 2nd Lt. Craig during the night attacked the enemy strong point at J14 c.4.4. This attack was carried out in conjunction with a large offensive by the Division on our left; a heavy shrapnel barrage opened at ZERO hour (4.45 AM) and 4.5 howitzers shot on strong points. Owing to some mistake a battery of 4.5 howitzers detailed to shoot on the enemy’s strong point at J 14 c.4.4 fired short and on to our B Company about to move forward to the attack, knocking 50% of their effective strength out. Captain Ferguson at once supported with a platoon of D Company but owing to the heavy enemy M.G. fire little could be done and the attempt to capture the strong point was abandoned. The day was chiefly spent in artillery duels no further infantry activity taking place on our sector.

The Battle of Langemarck failed in this area with only minimal gains in this sector and a few gains in the north, around the town of Langemarck. The attack that B Company assisted in was thwarted when the Germans poured artillery fire on the leading companies and then stopped the advance by pouring fire on the survivors with machine guns sited in Inverness Copse. During the night what was left of the 7/Bedfords were relieved by the 12/Middlesex and they saw no more offensive action at 3rd Ypres. The after action report finished with eight recommendations/observations on the attack and was made by the C.O. of the 7/Bedfords Lieutenant-Colonel George Pilkington Mills D.S.O.

For general interest I have listed them.

Lessons:

1. I venture to think had a fresh Battalion been close at hand when the situation on the right became obscure and pushed in, in attack formation a good deal more ground would have been taken and the Bosche routed from his position.

2. Artillery should not cease firing on protected lines until Battalion Commander is satisfied all is well. Artillery ceased on the 10th without any reference to Battalions (at least not to 7th Bedfords). I consider it of great importance that Battalion Commanders should be able to convey to Artillery, which fire other than S.O.S. is required.

3. No telephone wire to be laid beyond Brigade HQ as it is used for all kinds of things that hopelessly give away arrangements, and too many other ranks have access to it and the Commanders of the sector having no knowledge of many things happening on the wire unless he or his Adjutant sits by it. The telephone was a nuisance and not the least assistance to the Battalion on the 10th inst.

4. It took from 5 to 6 minutes before the Hun Barrage got really going on our lines; it was severe when it did do so.

5. The 54th Brigade arrangements for ordering up the reserve Coys from RITZ area and the Coys for mopping up was excellent, timing was also extremely good.

6. To avoid any Platoon going astray I placed Battalion Police posts 100-200 yds apart along the ATN track from RITZ area to MENIN road passing point.

7. Our own Artillery inflicted many casualties on our troops by firing very short what appeared to be one 8” gun in particular.

8. The Bosche attack was guided by a line of his men at a few paces apart firing very lights, during the advance these were with the first wave.

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The casualty list for the 7/Bedfords records that between the 10th and 17th August 1917 that they lost 7 officers killed, wounded or missing and 259 other ranks went the same way. Of this total George is listed as being wounded but did not recover and he died of his wounds on 25th October 1917.

He got as far as being moved to one of three CCS around the town of Westvleteren, which is situated to the west of the front. All three were prepared for the forthcoming offensive and were given the nicknames of Mendinghem (Mending them), Dozinghem (Dosing them) and Bandaghem (Bandaging them). He is now laid to rest in grave X. D. 9. in Dozinghem Military Cemetery. I have visited George’s grave on numerous occasions and he now lies in a beautiful cemetery surrounded by trees and farmer’s fields in a very peaceful part of Flanders Fields.

 

The 3rd Battle of Ypres (Part 2)

The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

The Capture of Westhoek

10th – 11th August 1917

Langemarck 16 Aug 17

The order of battle for 10th – 11th August 1917

At Zero Hour, set for 04:35hrs on 10th August 1917, in what became known as the Capture of Westhoek, II Corps attacked. The initial advance on all fronts was successful with the left flank and the village of Westhoek being captured by the 74th Brigade of the 25th Division. The right flank, however, was not as successful. The 55th Brigade, notably the 7/Queens had advanced from the eastern edge of Inverness Copse but had been stopped by a machine gun post and had failed to occupy the southern edge of the copse. They retreated, being closely pursued by the enemy who re-took the copse and the 7/Queens failed to carry out any further advances losing 10 officers and 272 other ranks.

The 54th Brigade had far better success, occupying the German second line around Fitzclarence Farm and the eastern end of Glencourse Wood and although German resistance was seen to be thinly held, with the forward lines offering little resistance, it was noted by the official history that it was easier to capture than to hold what had been taken. Just after 06:00hrs the Germans fired a box-barrage designed to stop any reserves being brought up and launched localised counter attacks. All requests to bring up reserves were initially refused and when permission was granted to move up the 53rd Brigade they did not reach their assembly area until 19:00hrs. But, by that time, it was too late and by then most of what had been gained was back in German hands.

On the morning of 10th August 1917 the 8th Battalion were called forward to Chateau Segard and then to Inverness Copse where they were to take part in the attack at 7 p.m. They were to assault the north-west corner of the wood after the 55th Brigade had failed to take the wood. At 2 p.m. they were at Ritz Street where they came under the orders of the 54th brigade.

Charles Riches KIA 11 Aug 17

Charles Riches who was born in Catton was killed in action on 11th August 1917.

At 5.30 p,.m. they took over the 54th Brigade’s front with the 6th Battalion Royal Berkshire Regiment. Although this relief was met with confusion the Germans did not attack and only did so at 4.30 a.m. on 11th August. At this time the Germans attacked just as the battalion was relieving the 7/Bedfords and the enemy captured a strong point and broke through, especially in the line held by ‘A’ and ‘D’ Companies.

‘B’ Company was was ordered to be ready to counter attack but it was found that although ‘A’ Company had been forced back the left flank was still holding and ‘C’ Company was ordered  to counter and take back the strong point. This was held by 4 machine guns and the C.O. Colonel Ferguson decided to make a converging attack using ‘C’ and ‘B’ Companies.

Inverness Copse & Glencourse Wood

Inverness Copse and Glencourse Wood seen from the air in 1917.

The attack went in with the support of Lewis gunners and snipers and was assisted by a platoon of the 6/R. Berks and the strong point was recaptured. Captain Frederic Morgan led this attack and after the capture of the strong point the enemies fire slackened and ‘B’ and ‘C’ Company were able to support each other. In this attack Captain Morgan was severely wounded.

A line was then reorganised and ‘A’ Company was put into the line to the left of the strong-point, held by ‘C’ Company, and the right of the line was held by ‘B’ Company with ‘D’ Company in reserve at Surbiton Villas. 

Capt Frederic Morgan D of W 19 Aug 17

Captain Frederic Morgan who was severely wounded on 10th August 1917.

The Germans attempted to counter attack on a number of occasions and each one was repulsed and the line held. They were relieved on 12th August 1917 and were sent back to Railway Dugouts.

Reginald Tweedy KIA 11 Aug 17

Reginald Tweedy who was killed in action on 11th August 1917. Reginald was the son of Elizabeth Tweedy of ‘Clovelly’ at 41 Tennyson Avenue in King’s Lynn he was 19 years old when he died. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate.

I am often contacted by people or have conversations with them on social media. Recently I spoke to Shannon Taylor whose relative served with the 8th Battalion. John Wells came from Santon Downham and enlisted in December 1915 and went to France in December 1916. He had contracted scabies whilst the battalion was in trenches around Irles in March 1917 and also received a gunshot wound 4 days layer on 10th March 1917 and was admitted to No 10 Hospital in Rouen. John recovered from that so that he was present during the attack on 11th August and was killed in action during the fighting. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Menin Gate. John was 29 when he was killed and was the husband of Lily Emily Wells of 90 London Road in Brandon. His death was reported in the Brandon Times which stated that a sniper’s bullet had killed him and he left a young daughter ‘Joan’ who was only 10 months old when he was killed. My thanks go to Shannon for providing me with this information.

John Wells KIA 11 Aug 17

John Wells who was killed in action 11th August 1917.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The 3rd Battle of Ypres (Part 1)

The 8th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

31st July – 1st August 1917

3rd Ypres 31 Jul 17

The start of the 3rd Battle of Ypres. The 18th (Eastern) Division were positioned to the west of the 30th Division for the opening of the battle on 31st July 1917.

Today marks the 100th Anniversary of what is considered one of the most contentious and bloodiest battles of the Great War. Over the next few months I will be following the progress of this by using the Norfolk Regiment battalions who fought there. We will start with the 8th Battalion who would see action on the first day.

By July of 1917 they were in Flanders and trained for their participation in what would become known as the Third Battle of Ypres.

This offensive came after the major success at the Battle of Messines, which was fought, between 7th and 14th June 1917. This offensive’s objective was to relieve the pressure on the French Army who had suffered greatly after the failed Nivelle Offensive and were now at risk of collapse after a series of mutinies. Haig planned a new summer offensive on the Ypres Salient and he appointed General Sir Hubert Gough, commander of 5th Army, to plan and implement an attack. The initial attack would fall on Messines Ridge, which dominated the area to the south of Ypres.

This plan utilised the firing of 19 mines under the German lines and a preliminary bombardment that began of the 21st May. Nine divisions, including the 3rd Australian and the New Zealand Divisions, attacked after the mines were fired. The battle is generally considered one of the most stunning victories of the war and caught the Germans completely by surprise. They lost well over 25,000 men in the seven-day battle but recovered enough to bolster their defences and the battle came to an end on the 14th June with the British now holding the Messines Ridge.

The successes at Messines should have been carried but there was a halt and the German 4th Army, which was on full alert, soon guessed that there was going to be second offensive on their front. The architect of Messines, General Herbert Charles Onslow Plumer, advocated continuing the attack immediately into Passchendaele ridge, arguing that the morale of the German troops was, for the present at least, broken, and that this combined with a shortage of forces would virtually guarantee Allied capture of the ridge.  Haig however disagreed, choosing not to bring forward his plans from the end of July.

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The western end of Zillebeke Lake where the 8th Battalion was positioned at the start of 3rd Ypres.

The defences here were built upwards due to the high water table, the origin of the word Flanders can be traced to medieval times and it can be translated to the term ‘Flooded-Plain’, and the German trenches were interlaced with machine-gun positions protected by concrete pillboxes. The allied offensive was hampered by delay and the artillery bombardment did not start until the 18th July, ten days prior to the launch of the attack, and it made use of 3,000 guns which expended four and a quarter million shells.  This led General Friedrich Bertram Sixt von Armin, the commander of the German 4th Army, to fully expect that an imminent offensive was on the cards.

The Third Battle of Ypres was opened by Sir Hubert Gough ‘s 5th Army, with 1 Corps of Sir Herbert Plumer’s 2nd Army joining on its right and a corps of the French 1st Army, led by General Francois Paul Anthoine, to its left, in total twelve divisions, and did not start until the 31st July when they pushed outwards of Ypres towards the north east. 

However, the Germans soon recovered and counter attacked. The advance was also hampered by rain, which fell on the first night. This rain, the heaviest of the war, flooded friend and foe alike and the offensive could only make a gain of two miles before grinding to a halt. 

Zillebeke July 1917

The area around Zillebeke where the 8th Battalion started. They were positioned to the west of Zillebeke Lake between the railway to the south and the grid to the extreme north of the lake.

The 18th (Eastern) Division had the job of following the 30th Division who were given the task of advancing on Glencourse Wood and stopping midway through the wood on what was called the ‘Black-Line’ and then capturing and consolidating the ‘Blue-Line’ which ran parallel and intersected Nonne-Bosschen. The 53rd Brigade, to which the 8th Battalion were part of, was placed on the left of the 30th Division and would leap-frog them when they had reached their objective. 

Glencourse Wood TM

A trench map from the 8th Battalion’s war diary. The Black-Line can be seen in Grid J-14 and the Blue-Line is situated to the east of it intersecting Nonne-Bosschen.

In reality the 30th Division attacked Chateau Wood and the 53rd Brigade moved into the gap they made and the lead battalions, the 8/Suffolk and 8/Berkshire Regiments, met strong German fire and suffered heavy casualties from German strong points at Clapham Junction and Surbiton Villas.

8th Battalion started to the west of Zillebeke Lake along a long from south to north from Railway Dugouts to the western bank of the lake (Zillebeke Bund). At 10 a.m. ‘C’ Company advanced as per their timetable and moved through a heavy barrage under the command of Captain Arthur Patten. They reached the Blue-Line at 10.55 a.m. and found out that the 8th Division was held up. He then came under heavy fire from the north-west edge of Glencourse Wood. 

Captain Arthur Patten

Captain Arthur John Hickson Patten who commanded ‘C’ Company on 31st July 1917.

He extended his platoons out and conferred with Captain Hudson who was in command of a very weak company from the 6/R.Berks and it was then noticed that the Germans were preparing to attack from Stirling Castle and the north-east corner of Glencourse Wood.

Patten identified that there was a gap between him and the 8th Division after the 2/Linclons had been forced back 350 yards by determined enemy fire from Glencourse Wood. He therefore attempted to plug that gap by slotting in next to the reduced company of Berkshires. He then ordered his platoons to open fire on the Germans. They carried on in the same light all day whilst constantly under the fire from German artillery. Casualties were high and Patten eventually ended up with a mixture of Berkshire, King’s Liverpool and Essex Regiment men.

He divided this force up into four strong-points until he was relieved at 3.30 a.m. in the morning of 1st August 1917. He then retired back to the original start line at Zillebeke.

Glencourse Wood No 1

Glencourse Wood in 1917.

The war diary noted that all of the casualties for the day were from ‘C’ Company and that amounted to 3 officers wounded and forty other ranks killed, wounded or missing.

Arthur Wade KIA 1 Aug 17


Lance Serjeant 43718 Arthur Wade who was killed in action on 1st August 1917. Arthur had previously served as Private 628 1/6 Battalion Norfolk Regiment prior to them being sent to France in 1916. He was 24 when he died and is now buried in Grave XXVII. B. 7. in New Irish Farm Cemetery and was the son of Rose and Walter Wade of Wells Road in Fakenham.

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Glencourse Wood seen in October 2017

The battalion would now go into a period of rest and would not go back into action until 10th August 1917.

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Inside a very peaceful Glencourse Wood in October 2017

Note…

I refuse to call this battle ‘Passchendaele’, although it is generally termed as such. The 1st Battle of Passchendaele did not start until 12th October 1917 and went on to end at the 2nd Battle of Passchendaele on 10th November 1917. So what came before was a series of other battles fought prior to that.  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oppy Wood

The 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment

28th June 1917

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Oppy Wood and Oppy seen on a trench map.

 

After the Arras Offensive had ended the Germans still held Oppy Wood, situated to the west of Oppy village and to the south west of Fresnoy. The wood was approximately 1-acre square and was heavily fortified. Attempts were made to capture it on 27th April and 3rd May 1917 (The 3rd Battle of the Scarpe) and both of these attacks had failed during terrible bouts of heavy fighting with the Germans counter attacking and pushing the British out of the wood on each occasion.

During this period Lance Corporal 8763 James Welch of “B” Company, the 1st Royal Berkshire Regiment, won the Victoria Cross on 27th April and Lieutenant John Harrison of the 11th (Service) Battalion of the East Yorkshire Regiment was awarded a posthumous Victoria Cross during the fighting on 3rd May. On this day, the 31st Division lost 1,900 casualties and the 2nd Division’s composite brigade lost 517 officers and men.

The next attack was planned for 28th June would be carried out by the 15th Brigade of the 5th Division and the 94th Brigade of the 31st Division. Their line would extend from Gavrelle in the south to the north of Oppy Wood.

By this time the Army was operating under a new training pamphlet entitled ‘SS143-Instructions for Training of Platoons for Offensive Action 1917’. This booklet would pave the way for the way the infantry would fight until the end of the war. In this book the infantry was expected to be able to fight its way forward independently of artillery support as a battle developed. It;s doctrine taught that there were advantages for different weapon types being brought to bear on the enemy as and when needed. 

In the place of a single line of riflemen, SS143 promoted the self-contained platoon comprising a small HQ and four sections of specialists. In simple terms, the attack was to be led forward by bomb and rifle sections, with the rifle grenade and Lewis gun sections following close behind.  Upon contact with the enemy, the rifles and the bombers were to seek out the enemy flank and attack with fire, bayonet and bomb.  The rifle grenadiers and Lewis gun team were to attempt to suppress the enemy, allowing the other sections to press home their attack.

This flexible use of arms also passed a degree of initiative to the junior officers down the chain of command and was used to promote an Esprit de Corps.

SS143 taught a platoon to lead by its sections of riflemen and bombers with the platoon sergeant between, it is followed by the platoon commander then the Lewis gun and rifle grenade sections. The platoon has a prepared and hopefully rehearsed drill for reaction to coming under fire. In this moment of chaos, having a pre-programmed reaction is critical to overcoming the perfectly human reaction to hide. It would be too easy for the platoon to fragment into cover and the attack to lose its momentum. From SS 143 all members of the platoon would know what would be happening around them. On being engaged the Lewis gun section should find the first available cover and engage the point of resistance, this is accompanied by a barrage of rifle grenades. Under the cover of this direct and indirect fire the rifle and bombing sections are to deploy to a flank and pursue the attack.

This was how the battle for Oppy Wood would be fought.

Benjamin Thorpe KIA June 1917

Private 43381 Benjamin Thorpe who was killed in action in the assault on Oppy Wood. He was 21 and was the son of A. F. and Emily Thorpe of 32 Morley Street in Norwich. Benjaimin is laid to rest in grave II. C. 16. in Rolincourt Military Cemetery.

At 5:30 p.m., German artillery bombarded the British jumping-off trenches for ten minutes and caused c. 200 casualties in the two attacking brigades. At 7:00 p.m., a British hurricane bombardment began from Gavrelle to Hulluch, along the 14-mile (23 km) front of the XIII Corps and I Corps, as part of a feint against Lens. Howitzers fired smoke-shell to create a screen, to the north of the 5th Division attack and then a thunderstorm began, the infantry advancing at 7:10 a.m. amidst lightning and torrential rain.

In the XIII Corps area, the 94th Brigade of the 31st Division advanced north of Gavrelle and the 15th Brigade of the 5th Division attacked Oppy on a 2,300-yard (2,100 m) front. Despite the German bombardment on the jumping-off trenches, the British troops advanced swiftly across no man’s land behind a creeping barrage, before the German counter-barrage fell three minutes later.

IWM-Oppy-Q-37358

Oppy under fire in WW1

On the 5th Division front, the 15th Brigade had the task of advancing on Oppy Wood to the north of the 31st Division. The 1/Norfolks would advance centrally with the 1/Cheshires on their right and the 1/Befordshires on their left.

All three battalions went over at 7.10 p.m. moving out of Maquis Trench in two waves advancing within 25-30 yards of the creeping barrage and took some casualties from this.

They got into the first German line with opposition from a group of Germans that numbered around 30 in a concrete pillbox. This defensive position was dealt with by Mills Bombs. The Brigade got into Oppy Wood with little opposition and a line was established 80 yards into it with outposts placed further onward. By 9 p.m. this line was being consolidated and the battalion had captured 1 officer and 70 other ranks and two machine guns.

NR TM 28 Jun 17

A trench map from the 1st Battalion’s war diary. The green line to the east is the line that was consolidated in Oppy Wood.

Losses, for WW1 standards, were light and the battalion lost 2 officers wounded and 61 other ranks killed or wounded. 

Fighting patrols put out the next day were repulsed as they entered Oppy village.

Burning oil was also used in the attack to draw the enemy away from Oppy and toward Fresnoy. This is thought to have helped and was used as a deterrent against the German flame-thrower.

Edward Bream KIA 28 June 1917

Private 16803 Edward Bream who died of wounds on 29th June 1917 after Oppy Wood. He was 25 and is laid to rest in grave III. H. 54. in Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension and was the son of J. and M. A. E. Bream of Saham Toney near Thetford.

The 15th Brigade took 143 prisoners, several machine-guns and trench mortars and the 94th Brigade took a similar amount; 280 German dead were counted on the battlefield. Gavrelle Mill and the other objectives were captured easily but the rain interfered with consolidation, which had begun by 9:00 p.m.

In the attack of 28 June the 31st Division lost 100 men and the 5th Division casualties were 352 men.

From this total 17 men died serving with the 1st Battalion Norfolk Regiment.

Nash-Oppy_Wood


Oppy Wood, Evening, 1917 by John Nash