The 2nd Battle of Gaza

Part 1

Overview

Gas 2

Men undergoing gas mask training in the desert. Gas would be a weapon used at the 2nd Battle of Gaza.

The 19th April 2017 sees the 100th Anniversary of a battle fought in Palestine that I consider the Norfolk Regiment’s first day on the Somme. By that I mean the amount of casualties incurred in one day were terrible and affected communities all over Norfolk.

Two men from my village were killed in that battle.

James Robert Watts was born in 1889 and was the son of Jonah and Elizabeth Watts who were residing in Westwick when war was declared. He had one brother, Dennis, and a sister called Jane. Looking at records it looks as though he preferred the name Robert. Secondly, we have George Albert Brakenbury, as we have already discussed, he was the brother of Ernest Brakenbury and was born in 1894.

Robert and George had both joined the Norfolk Regiment and had both become Territorials. George can also be dated to being at Gallipoli at the same time as Thomas Self and Cecil Bullimore as all three landed at in that theatre of war on the 6th August 1915. In fact Thomas and Cecil had joined the battalion on 17th February 1911 and their service numbers are only 8 digits apart. Robert would have joined up in November/December 1914 due to his initial 4 digit service number.

George was part of the 1/5th Norfolks and James the 1/4th Norfolks. James must have been a replacement for men lost in late 1915 as he did not reach the battalion until, at the very earliest, January 1916 as his MIC does not record a date of entry into theatre. 

Following the failure of Gallipoli the 54th (East Anglian) Division had withdrawn from there between the 3rd & 8th December 1915. By the 18th December the 54th Division was positioned around Sidi Bishr near Alexandria. By the 2nd April 1916 they had refitted and took up position around No 1 (Southern) Section on the Suez Canal. The area around the Suez Canal was, during the Great War, part of the Ottoman Empire and the war against Turkey was continued here in what is today known as Palestine. The Turks in this region, as they had been in Gallipoli, were advised and supported by Germany. However, this area stretched as far as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iraq showing you that history repeats itself.

The word ‘Jihad’ is not a new word when it comes to fighting against British troops in a holy war. Both Turkey and Germany had ensured that they fuelled this type of war by enlisting the assistance of various Arab tribes including a group called the Senussi. During 1914 and 1915 the British had fought defensive actions against the Turks and the Senussi who had tried, and failed, to capture the Suez Canal. As with today’s strategy, the Suez Canal was vital to the whole region and this stretched to the area around it, namely Gaza, Jaffa and the Jordan Heights.

 

NPG x67153; Sir Charles Macpherson Dobell by Walter Stoneman

Lieutenant General Sir Charles Macpherson Dobell KCB, CMG, DSO

If is had not been for this vital waterway then supplies of men, materials and food would not have been able to travel through here from Australia, India and New Zealand.

The British also had the support of Arab tribes from the Hejaz region and by 1917 it was deemed viable that Palestine could be captured and that Germany might be defeated in this region, which would mean a less costly war of attrition than that of the Western Front. And so the British high command, led by Major General Charles Dobell and General Archibald Murray, looked at an offensive around Gaza, which was, and still is, a strategically important town on the coast of the Mediterranean Sea.

Murray

General Sir Archibald James Murray GCB, GCMG, CVO, DSO

The first battle, fought on the 26th March 1917 had been a costly failure when the British troops were withdrawn when in reality they could have captured the Turkish positions along the Gaza-Beersheba Line. And so a second attempt was planned for April. But by then the Turks had bolstered their defences and were ready for another attack.
The battle had been planned on the fact that the commanders believed that a quick resumption of hostilities in the same area would bring a quick and successful victory. Murray and Dobell had also informed the War Office that the first battle had been a complete success, this was not so.

Four divisions, known as the Eastern Force were put into the line, these were the 52nd (Lowland), 53rd (Welsh) and 54th (East Anglian) and the recently formed 74th (Yeomanry) Division. There would also be a mobile element made up of the Anzac Mounted Division, the Imperial Mounted Division and the Imperial Camel Corps Brigade.

British Trenches Gaza

British trenches prior to Gaza

Dobell planned to make the battle a more like the Western Front by utilising a two-day preliminary bombardment and by using gas and tanks.

‘Dobell’s plan was simple. The infantry divisions wcre to crush the enemy on his main position around Gaza, while the mounted divisions pressed back his flank towards Beersheba, prevented the withdrawal of reinforcements from there to Gaza, and held themselves in readiness for the pursuit. In the infantry attack the 52nd Division was to assault Ali hfuntar and its surrounding defences, while the 54tIi, crossing the Gaza-Beersheba road on the right of the 52nd, was to capture the enemy’s works at Khurbet el Bir, and then swing round and seize Anzac Ridge. At the same time the 53rd was to attack to the south-west of Gaza on the sand-dune sector between Samson’s Hill and Sheikh Ajlin on the west. It was therefore a plain frontal attack against the full strength of the great Gaza position, and the adoption of such a scheme is conclusive evidence of the remarkable confidence of Murray and Dobell.’

From the Australian Official History

Only six tanks would be available and the use of gas was met with great concern from the local commanders, which prompted one commander to say,

“That, gentlemen, is the plan, and I might say frankly that I don’t think much of it”

I cannot really verify this but what I do know is that if the officer made that comment he was prophetic because his concerns were founded. 2,000 gas-shells specially shipped from England would be available for the battle and would be freely used against Ali Muntar.

Secondly, as previously mentioned, the Turks had had ample time to build up their defences and it was estimated that they could bring to 25,000 men to the battle and the area was defended by the Fortress at Gaza and Ali Muntar and, to the east, a number of redoubts on the ridges overlooking the area called Tank, Atawineh, Hareira and Sheria.

The Western Front style bombardment started on the 17th April 1917 and was assisted by the British and French Navies. However, this artillery engagement cannot be compared to that of the Western Front. It was too weak and too little for the time period and only helped to provide the Turkish defenders with ample warning that another attack was about to take place. On the morning of the attack the artillery concentrated on the fortress of Ali Muntar and it was here that gas was used.

No Mans Land 5th Suffolks

No-Man’s Land at Gaza looking from the 5th Suffolk’s trenches

The order of battle was as follows:

The 53rd Division was to advance on the extreme left of Gaza using the Mediterranean shore as an aiming point.

The 155th and 156th brigades of the 52nd Division were to attack Gaza centrally and also take Ali Muntar.

The 162nd and 163rd Brigades of the 54th Division would attack to the right of Gaza and the Tank Redoubt.

To the right of the 54th Division the 1st Battalion of the Camel Brigade would advance and conform to the movement of the 163rdBrigade, with the 1/5th Norfolks acting as their guides. The Camel Brigade was part of the Australian force which would include the Anzac Mounted Division and the Imperial Mounted Division.

The 74th (Yeomanry) Division would remain in reserve.

All through the preliminary two day bombardment the Turks had been able to pour counter battery fire onto the British lines causing casualties on the infantry who were forming up for the attack and as the attack started they were able to do the same as the three divisions started their advance.

In Part 2 we will look at what happened during the battle.

Norfolk V.C.

Sergeant 5190 Harry Cator

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Sergeant 5190 Harry Cator

Harry Cator was born at Drayton near Norwich, on 24th January 1894 and educated at Drayton School. He was married to Rose Alice Morris on 2nd September 1914 and enlisted the following day, landing in France on 23rd June 1915 with the 7th Battalion East Surrey Regiment.

During the Somme Offensive, he was awarded the Military Medal for bringing back 36 wounded men from no-mans land. 

During the advance of the 12th (Eastern) Division the capture of an egg shaped position north of the village of Tilloy-les-Mofflaines on 9th April 1917 Harry’s platoon suffered heavy casualties from a machine-gun.

The war diary for the battalion noted,

‘6.23 a.m. the F.O.O. reported Black Line, 6th Trench to be captured. H.Qrs. then moved to the report centre in the tunnel and there found a message from Capt. Roberts stating that the 4th line had been captured and later that the Black Line, 6th German Trench had been taken. At 8 a.m. H.Qtrs. consisting of the Colonel, Capt. Anns, and Lieut. Ward moved up to O.G.3 and found that the 3rd wave was consolidating in shell holes in front of the Black Line and that all the the attacking battalions had slightly lost direction and had drifted to the right, this was adjusted. Enemy machine guns were firing from the Blue Line as well as enemy snipers ad the West Kents were pressing over the captured line.’

The rest of the account is taken up below from the war diary,

Cator VC WD

 

As noted Harry took on the gun team and he was awarded the Victoria Cross in the subsequent action and his citation stated,

‘For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty. Whilst consolidating the first line captured system his platoon suffered severe casualties from hostile machine gun and rifle fire. In full view of the enemy and under heavy fire Sjt. Cator with one man advanced across the open to attack the hostile machine gun. The man accompanying him was killed after going a short distance, but Sjt. Cator continued on, .and picking up a Lewis gun and some drums on his way, succeeded in reaching the northern end of the hostile trench. Meanwhile, one of our bombing parties was seen to be held up by a machine gun. Sjt. Cator took up a position from which he sighted this gun and killed the entire team and the officer, whose papers he brought in. He continued to hold that end of the trench with the Lewis gun with such effect that the bombing squad was enabled to work along, the result being that 100 prisoners and five machine guns were captured.’

London Gazette 8 June 1917

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Harry Cator being held up by comrades when it was announced he had won the VC. This picture was taken whilst recovering from his wounds in France.

He was wounded on 12th April 1917, where his jaw was broken by shrapnel, and it was after he recovered from his wounds that the award of the V.C. as well as the French Croix de Guerre. He was awarded the in France on 14th July 1917 and his Victoria Cross was presented by King George V outside Buckingham Palace on 21st July 1917.

‘On 30th March, 1918 Harry Cator was given a hero’s welcome at Drayton and he and his wife Rose were drawn through the village on a wagon pulled by local men.  Railway engines blasted signals and children waved Union Jacks. Celebrations were centred round the village green where he was presented with a watch and chain, engraved “From his friends at Drayton.”‘

Source: https://joemasonspage.wordpress.com/2013/02/04/local-hero/

In the Second World War he was commissioned, becoming a Temporary Captain in the 6th Norfolk Battalion Home Guard, and was at one time the Commandant of a POW camp near Cranwich near Mundford.

Harry Cator is Norfolk’s most decorated other rank of the First World War and in very much the same light as Harry Patch is quoted as saying,

‘Real soldiers curse all war and war makers. I have seen men driven mad in the trenches. They gave me a decoration. In that hell a soldier may as easily do one thing as another.’

Harry died at Norwich on 7th April 1966 and is buried at Sprowston Churchyard.

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Harry Cator’s grave in Sprowston cemetery he is buried with his wife Rose.

 

 

 

 

The Battle of Arras

The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment

1st Battle of the Scarpe

Maison Rouge

9th April 1917

Tilloy April 1917

The village of Tilloy-les-Mofflaines after it was captured. The 7th Battalion Norfolk Regiment advanced to the north-east of this position.

On 16th November 1916 the Chantilly Conference had seen the Allies decide their strategy for the following year drawing up plans for a combined action to breach the German line. The area around Arras was chosen for a diversionary offensive to draw German reserve troops away from the main offensive at Chemin des Dames.

Their plans were disrupted in mid-March when the Germans conducted Operation Alberich which saw their troops withdraw to the new fortifications of the Hindenburg Line. Conducting a scorched earth campaign as they fell back, the Germans managed to shorten their lines by approximately 25 miles.

Nevertheless the Allies elected to move forward as planned. The main assault was to be led by the French under the command of General Robert Nivelle who had the task of capturing the ridgeline along the Chemin des Dames.

To support the French effort, the British planned to attack the Vimy-Arras sector a week earlier, where it was hoped that the attack would draw troops away from the French.

The British would use the 1st, 3rd and 5th Armies running north to south respectively. Also, the offensive would utilise a vast network of underground chambers and tunnels that had been under construction since October 1916. 

Taking advantage of the region’s chalky soil, engineering units had begun excavating an elaborate set of tunnels as well as connected several existing underground quarries. These would allow troops to approach the German lines underground as well as the placement of mines. When completed, the tunnel system allowed for the concealment of 24,000 men and included supply and medical facilities.

To support the infantry advance, artillery planners improved the system of creeping barrages and developed innovative methods for improving counter-battery fire to suppress German guns.  Rather than firing on the entire front as in the past, the preliminary bombardment would be focused on a relatively narrow twenty-four mile section and would last over a full week. During the bombardment over 2,689,000 shells were fired.

On Monday 9th April 1917 at 5.30 a.m., after an intensive bombardment lasting four days to preclude any retaliation from the enemy, the British 1st Army comprising four Canadian divisions under the command of General Henry Horne set out to capture Vimy Ridge. Taking control of this height from the Germans would allow the 3rd Army under General Edmund Allenby to advance on Douai, an important road and rail junction, and liberate the coal-mining region.

Allenby was also expected to take Monchy-le-Preux, a village lying a mile to the east of Arras which gave a commanding view over the Scarpe Valley and, because of this, could hinder the second arm of the offensive directed at Cambrai. Finally the 5th Army under General Hubert Gough, placed on the southern wing of the offensive, was given the task of taking the village of Bullecourt.

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An Official History map showing the advance of the 12th Eastern Division which includes the route taken by the 7/Norfolks to capture Maison Rouge.

The the 12th (Eastern) Division, part of  VI Corps, was positioned to the north of St Saveur facing Tilloy-les-Mofflaines on the Cambrai road. They would have the 3rd Division on their right and the 15th Division on their left. The division would attack with the 36th and 37th Brigades leading the advance and the 35th Brigade kept hidden in cellars near to the tunnels were in reserve. The the 6/Queens on the right and the 7/East Surrey on the left (37th Brigade) and the 11/Middlesex on the right and the 7/R. Sussex on the left would start the initial advance at Zero Hour. They would be followed by the 8th and 9th Royal Fusiliers for the 36th Brigade and the 6/R. West Kent and the 6/Buffs for the 37th Brigade. The advance would be covered by 24 machine guns.

Toward Arras

Looking at the 7th Battalion’s advance which came from the treeline to Maison Rouge which is behind the camera.

The objectives were the German 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 4th lines known as the Black, Blue, Brown and Green Lines respectively. At Zero Hour the Black Line to the north of Tilloy was captured but the advance on the next two lines met with heavy machine gun fire as well as fire from the ruins of Tilloy. 

The Blue line was eventually captured but the 6/Buffs and 6/R. West Kents were checked and the 8th and 9th Royal Fusiliers were delayed. The line was eventually taken with over 300 prisoners captured. But the advance was at risk of being stalled so the 35th Brigade was called upon to support the advance.

The 7/Norfolks on the right, along with the 9/Essex on the left, led the way up to the Blue Line and was given the task of capturing Observation Ridge as at this point it was learnt that the 3rd Division had still not cleared the position of opposition. The position was cleared with the assistance of the 7/Norfolks. 

Maison Rouge

Maison Rouge

As they continued their advance they took casualties from Tilloy and Lieutenant John Bolland was killed. At 12.08 the main attack went in,

‘…the Norfolk men going forward with with great dash and quickly silencing the machine guns and snipers from whose attention they had been suffering. The Germans began to surrender freely; in Tilloy Quarry ninety of them stood with their hands up and were taken.’

The Norfolks continued their advance and their main objective was the high ground around Maison Rouge. Their advance was given special mention in the Official History of the Great War,

‘The 7/Norfolk, the only battalion of the 35th Brigade to go forward from the Blue Line up to time, had as its final objective, the “Maison Rouge” on the Cambrai road and some trenches north of it. It captured this without difficulty. Such Germans as were encountered put up their hands and “only wanted to know where “they ought to go”.’

The battalion pushed on and in total it captured at least 250 prisoners and by the time they stopped they had also captured seven 77 m.m. guns and six machine guns. They stopped  to allow the 7th Suffolks and the 9th Essex to pass them in order that they capture Feuchy Chapel Redoubt. The battalion supplied a platoon to mop up German stragglers.

German Dead Tilloy April 1917

German dead in trenches near Tilloy after the advance.

The line now held at Feuchy Chapel with the Suffolks and the Essex battalions digging in either side of the Cambrai roads. One objective still held which was the Chapel Redoubt on the Brown Line and the 35th Brigade were ordered to capture this on 10th April 1917.

At 8.15 a.m. the 7/Norfolks formed up on Chapel road and either side of Tilloy Lane trench, they were supported by two machine guns. They would advance with the 9/Essex on their right and the 7/Suffolks on their left and would cross the Cambrai road to take their objective. Casualties, especially in N.C.O.’s were caused by snipers as they formed up and the attack was postponed until 12.30 p.m. The 5/Berkshires were to push onto the Brown Line from the left and if the wire was found to be uncut the Norfolks would be used in a feint to distract this advance. The wire was uncut and so the Norfolks went in as ordered. They pushed up Tilloy Lane using bombs and the fact that the Berkshires turned the Germans forced them to retire.

Toward Feuchy

The finishing point for the 7th Battalion on 9th April 1917 and you are looking towards Feuchy Chapel which was assaulted by 9/Essex and the 7/Suffolks on the 10th April 1917 supported by a platoon from the Norfolks.

The 37th Brigade now pushed onto Monchy-le-Preux, part of the Green Line, and the 7/Norfolks assisted in consolidating what had been captured at Maison Rouge. They were relieved in terrible wet and snowy conditions on 13th April 1917.

Albert William Page 9 Apr 17

Private 29686 Albert William Page who was born in Edinburgh and who enlisted at Mill Hill, initially joining the Norfolk Yeomanry. Albert died of wounds on 9th April 1917 whilst serving with the “D” Coy 7/Norfolks. Albert is recorded as dying in No 19 CCS. He was 27 and was the son of Albert and Eliza Page of 174, King Street in Norwich and is now laid to rest in Grave III. A. 8. in Duisans British Cemetery.

Casualties between 9th and 13th April were 5 officers killed and wounded and 162 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. 

The initial stages of Arras were a stunning victory and this was the beginning of a sustained offensive which would run into May. We will look at what happened to other Norfolk battalions later on in April.

 

 

 

Private 28976 Ernest Alfred Brakenbury

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Ernest Brakenbury. This photo was took before the war.

Ernest Alfred Brakenbury was born in 1881 and was the eldest son of Alfred and Anna Brakenbury who in turn had five other sons Arthur, Edwin, Victor, George and William. We will come onto George later on in 2017, but it is known that William also served in WWI. Ernest’s trade was listed as a coal carter during the 1911 Census.

Ernest joined the 8th Bedfordshire Regiment and we can also state that he did not go to war, at the very earliest, until January 1916. The 8th Bedfordshires had moved from the 24th Division to the 6th Division in October of 1915 and they had seen action on the Somme. We cannot pinpoint when he joined them, but he would have been part of a draft to make up for losses somewhere in this timeline. By December 1916, they were in trenches at Givenchy les la Bassée situated to the east of Bethune.

I have recorded the entire war diary for December 1916, as this was the month that Ernest was wounded.

1st December

Le Quesnoy Battalion training. Billets inspected by Corps Commander.

2nd December

Trenches at Givenchy-les-la-Bassee. Relieved 1/The Buffs in left sub sector of 16 IB front at GIVENCHY. A, B & C Coys in front line with D Coy in support in redoubt and keeps. Day cold & misty. Enemy quiet. At night enemy machine guns on back area especially near WINDY CORNER.

3rd December

In trenches as above. Enemy trench mortars aggressive during afternoon. Our snipers claim a hit at 10 a.m. – Officers patrol under Capt Body passed through gap in craters – entered German trenches, surprised and shot a sentry and then retired to our lines. Enemy trenches reported in good condition, wire bad.

4th December

In trenches as above. Enemy trench mortars aggressive during afternoon. Enemy working party 20 strong caught by our Lewis Gunners just after dark. Cries of pain denoting casualties were heard. Our snipers claim a hit today on German peering over parapet. Casualties 4 O.R. wounded.

5th December

In trenches as above. Enemy trench mortars bombarded our left front coy area between 3.30 am & 4.30 am. No damage done. Enemy attempts to dig trench near RED DRAGON CRATER impeded by indirect fire from machine gun and rifle grenades. Casualties 2 O.R. killed.

6th December

Pont Fixe road support trenches In trenches as above. Enemy quiet. Hostile patrol dispersed near THE GAP by our Lewis Gun at 7 a.m. Relieved by 1/The Buffs in the afternoon and moved back into support on the PONT FIXE ROAD.

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The trenches around Givenchy-les la-Bassee.

7th December

Battn in Support keep and billets. Working parties furnished to work on front line system.

8th December

In support as above. Working parties furnished on front line system.

9th December
In support as above. Working parties furnished on front line system.

10th December

Front line trenches Givenchy-les-la-Bassee Relieved 1/The Buffs in left sub sector. Enemy trench mortars aggressive during afternoon. Working party dispersed by one Lewis guns at night, one hit registered by our snipers. No casualties.

11th December

In trenches as above. Enemy very quiet except for a little trench mortar fire. Snipers claim a hit from TURNERS POST. Germans suspected to be occupying old trenches near RED DRAGON CRATER at stand to arms as whispering coughing & stamping of feet heard from that point. No casualties.

12th December

In trenches as above & Enemy quiet, apparently due to inclement weather damaging his trenches. Patrols report Germans reclaiming their old line near lip of craters. No casualties.

13th December

In trenches as above. Enemy field guns & mortars active during evening otherwise quiet. machine guns & snipers less active. Casualties 2 O.R. wounded.

14th December

Le Quesnoy relieved by 1/The Buffs and moved back into billets at LE QUESNOY.

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Ernest in uniform and this comes from the WW1 montage in Worstead church.

15th December

Battn bathed and changed underclothing. Working parties at night on line.

16th December 1916

Coys training. Inspection of arms by Bde. Armourer. Working parties at night.

17th December

Church service in Soldiers’ Club hut and working parties.

18th December

Front line trenches near Givenchy-les-la-Bassee Relieved 1/The Buffs in left subsector GIVENCHY. Enemy trench mortars active from 12.30 pm to 1.30 pm. Damage done to our trenches and saps considerable but no casualties. Night quiet. Enemy heard busy pumping and transport heard at 12.25 am and again at 2.30 a.m.

19th December

In trenches as above. Enemy non-aggressive except for short trench mortar bombardment & rifle grenades. Casualties 1 OR killed, 2 OR wounded.

20th December

In trenches as above. Quiet day and night. Enemy busy working during night on his trenches.

21st December

In trenches as above. machine guns and snipers not active. Relief expected to have taken place. Uneventful day & night.

22nd December

Bethune. Relieved in trenches by 1/K.O.S.B. and moved back into billets at BETHUNE.

23rd December

Battalion cleaning up and kit inspection. Baths and change of underclothing.

24th December

Presentation of medal ribbons by Corps Commander to Capt J E Black M.C. (RAMC) Lt W.J.Holbrook MC and military medalists Ptes Aston, Nottingham & Thurgrove.

25th December

Voluntary communion service. The battalion had a splendid Xmas dinner owing to the kindness of the Bedford Comfort Fund.

26th December

Companies route marching.

27th December

Coys training. Draft 151 strong inspected by Commanding Officer.

28 December

Noyelles-les-Vermelles. Marched to NOYELLES and accommodated in Hutment camp. 16 I.B. took over HOHEZOLLERN SECTOR. Battalion in reserve.

29th December

Companies training. Draft practised in use of box respirators.

30th December

Companies training.

31st December

Service was held in NOYELLES.

8th Bedfordshire Regt Field State

Killed 3 Wounded 10 Sick to Hospital 48 Sick from Hospital 36 Evacuated from F.A. 38 Strength of A Coy 11 Officers 225 Other Ranks Strength of B Coy 5 Officers 215 Other Ranks Strength of C Coy 8 Officers 216 Other Ranks Strength of D Coy 5 Officers 210 Other Ranks

Total 29 Officers 866 Other Ranks

From the war diary, National Archives Ref No WO 95/1611

This shows that Ernest was one of ten soldiers who were wounded on either the 4th, 13th or 19th December 1916 as the war diary for the beginning of January 1917 does not record any soldiers being wounded before he died of his wounds on the 13th January.

He must have been stable enough to be moved to No 13 Base Hospital in Boulogne but succumbed to those wounds there and now lies in grave VIII. C. 178 in Boulogne East Cemetery. He was 35 years old.

Private 41030 Herbert Cary

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This is believed to be Herbert Cary. This image comes from the WW1 photo montage in Worstead church and was identified by a relative.

This is my first blog of 2017 and looks at a Centenary event from 1917 which records the death of a man from Worstead. When I came to the village with my family in October 2000 I saw that there were two war graves in the churchyard. I wanted to learn about those men and also about the men recorded on the war memorial in the church. This eventually led to my first book being published on that subject in 2012.

Herbert Cary was the son of Louis and Rebecca Cary and he was one of four sons, Louis senior, Charlie, Bernard and Percy. They are listed as living in Reymerstone in Norfolk at the turn of the century and worked as farmers. In 1911 he was living in Worstead and was employed as a gardener. He was married to Florence Louisa Cary and had two daughters Florence and Alice.

Herbert has been a bit of an anomaly because, although he is one of two men buried in the churchyard, there is very little info to go on him. We know, through his gravestone, that he contracted a fever whilst on active service and that he died at St Andrew’s Hospital in Norwich on the 3rd January 1917. So what follows is an abridged account of what his regiment was up to prior to his death.

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St Andfrew’s hospital where Herbert died on 3rd January 1917.

Herbert had initially joined the Norfolk Regiment serving with them as Private 20908 Cary. But he was one of thirteen men that were posted in block to the Essex Regiment. Herbert ended up in the 2nd Battalion which was a pre-war regular battalion that was part of the 12th Brigade in the 4th Division. They had trained in Norfolk predominantly around Cromer and Norwich before moving onto Harrow and landed at Le Harve on the 28th August 1914 and had seen almost continuous action all through 1914 and 1915.

Obviously during this time they had incurred casualties and we know that Herbert did not join them until sometime in 1916. By that time they were on the Somme and the 4th Division saw action on the 1st July 1916 when they attacked a German strong-point known as the Quadrilateral. The 2/Essex lost many men in this advance to German counter battery fire and the 4th Division as a whole lost 4,692 men killed, wounded or missing on that day alone.

Herbert would have been a replacement for the men lost at this time and he would have therefore more than likely to seen action in the later stages of the Somme offensive. At some point it seems that he contracted an illness that was quite endemic in the trenches. This was either ‘Trench Fever’, which was a type of typhus which was contracted from the lice that plagued the soldiers in the war. Or we are looking at him contracting an illness where it is possible he contracted something like pneumonia. On the louse there is a bug which has been described as being central between a virus and a bacterium in size named Rickettsia Quintana. This got into the soldier’s body by way of the bloodstream and the symptoms are described thus,

‘…the incubation period could be as short as 5 days but as long as 21 days before symptoms were present. The symptoms would come on very quickly, the victim would develop back and headaches, the eyes would become congested and rigors would develop. The site of the bite could ulcerate, even become gangrenous, and the lymph nodes on that side of the body would swell up. The victim would then develop a very high temperature of 100 plus degrees. On the 4th -5th day a rash would develop on the chest, abdomen and the limbs. The nervous system would be involved now, the victim would become apathetic and listless by day, and by night delirious, bumbling etc, the disease lasts about 14-21 days if untreated.’

Tue., Dec 12, 1916 FRANCE

Front line trenches. Left of Battn on S. edge of SALLISEL. Weather very bad. Efforts concentrated on fighting the rain. No material available. Inter-communication impossible except at night. Casualties 1 O.R. missing, 2 O.R. wounded.

Wed., Dec 13, 1916 FRANCE

Front line trenches as above. Casualties to F.A. (Field Ambulance) 25 O.R. Killed 1 O.R. Missing 2/Lt H.W. Carter, 46 O.R.

Thu., Dec 14, 1916 FRANCE

Front line trenches as above. Casualties to F.A. 34 O.R. Previous by reported missing now reported killed 1 O.R. Rejoined 2 O.R.

Fri., Dec 15, 1916 FRANCE

Front line trenches. Frost. Ground harder. Relieved by DUKES. Relief complete about 11.0 p m Duck boards laid about ½ way between road and front line. Casualties:- Previously Repd missing now to F.A. 2/Lt Carter to F.A. 14 O.R. wded 1 O.R.

Sat., Dec 16, 1916 COMBLES, FRANCE

Reserve:- Two Coys “A” & “C” in dug outs near Bde Hd Qrs. 2 Coys “B” & “ D” cellars in COMBLES. Conditions of last tour were worse than any previously experienced by the Battn. A number of men treated by the M.O. besides those admitted to F.A. Men dried & fires lit in all dug-outs and cellars. Casualties To F.A. 16 O.R.

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Herbert’s grave in Worstead churchyard. He is buried with his wife Florence and behind the headstone a stone has been laid to his two daughters Alice and Florence.

So just in this period alone he could have contracted an illness. Whatever the circumstances he was sent home and ended up back in Norfolk. Between 1st December 1916 and 315th January 1917 he was one of 27 men who became a fatality serving with the battalion. A large majority of those men are listed as having ‘Died’ or ‘Died at Home’ which in this case means they would have died of illness.

Although this must have been a terrible time for his wife and young daughters at least they would have got to see him before he died and I feel Herbert’s story just highlights that not every soldier died from the result of going over the top.

Herbert’s grave can be found in the northwest end of Worstead churchyard where he is buried with his wife and two daughters.

Just One Man

William Thomas Green

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William Thomas Green as PC 75 Green Norwich City Police

Today is the 100th Anniversary of the passing of this Norwich City Police officer.

William Thomas Green joined Norwich City Police on 23rd October 1911 and had given exemplary service.

After war had broken out three Royal Engineer Field Companies were formed by the Lord Mayor of Norwich, John Gordon-Munn M.D., in February 1915. These were the 207th, 208th and 209th Field Companies. They are rightly 3 ‘Pals’ units and evidence shows that many men joined up together to serve in them. The prime example of this is William who joined up with three other police officers from Norwich City Police. The others being Harry Hazel, William Jinks and Herbert James Whitehand. All of them initially served in the 208th Field Company.

We can ascertain this because Norfolk Constabulary records show they all joined up on 7th June 1915 and their service numbers were between 85503 (Jinks) and 85550 (Hazel). Because these service numbers were sequential you can see that their service numbers are just 47 digits apart between William Jinks & Harry Hazel joining up. William Green became Sapper 85542.

The three Norfolk Royal Engineer Companies went on to serve with the 34th Division and by 15th January 1916, the whole of the division were in France. Their first experience of battle was terrible. On 1st July 1916, the first day of the Battle of the Somme, the three brigades of the division were given the task of attacking the heavily defended area in front of La Boiselle and lost 6,811 men killed or wounded between the 1st and 5th July, including 8 senior officers.

The division was taken out of the line and after a brief period of rest and recuperation was put back into the fighting on the Somme. They saw action again between July and August 1916 fighting around Bazentin le Petit and Bazentin le Grand in an effort to capture Intermediate Trench. Sadly their efforts to do that failed

Having been pulled out of that area they then spent the rest of 1916 around Armentieres. In total their casualties up to the end of the year was 733 officers and 15,235 men killed, wounded, missing or sick.

Of this total William Green became sick and contracted trench fever. This was a type of typhus which was contracted from lice that plagued the soldiers in the war. On the louse there lay a bug which has been described as being central between a virus and a bacterium in size named Rickettsia Quintana. This got into the soldier’s body by way of the bloodstream and the symptoms are described thus,

‘There is an incubation period of 8-30 days, a sudden onset with severe headache, myalgia, trunk, leg and, characteristic shin pains. Rigors were common. There was sometimes a short lived maculo-papular pink rash, sometimes lasting only hours. The spleen was usually enlarged. The fever was exceedingly variable, but was usually of a few days, followed by a remission and then relapsed after 5-6 days. Relapses were single or multiple, up to 12 relapses every 5 or 6 days were not uncommon!’

From Lice and Men: Trench Fever and Trench Life in the AIF by Dr M.G. Miller

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William’s grave in Earlham Cemetery.

Death would generally come in the later stages of the illness and was generally due to heart failure. Sadly it was a condition that a lot of men never recovered from. William died at St John’s Hospital in Southport on 18th November 1916. He was 27 and the son of Louisa Emma Green of 19 Bishop Bridge Road in Norwich, and the late Daniel Thomas Green. His CWGC listing notes he was formerly a constable in Norwich Police Force.

The Battle of the Somme officially ended the day after William died when the subsidiary Battle of the Ancre finished with the first snowfall and is recognised as being the end date in the Official History of the Great War.

William was just one man who now lies in Earlham Cemetery who had served on the Somme from the opening of the battle and is, to me, an unsung hero.

He probably did not think that. He certainly would not have thought that when he was dying. But I do think it. He volunteered, he could have stayed in a reserved occupation, but he didn’t. So to me he is an unsung hero.

So perhaps, if you get a chance, you could go and visit this unsung hero and say hello.

 

 

A Chief Constable Before His Time

Part 2

Major Egbert Napier

Norfolk County Constabulary

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Major Egbert Napier Chief Constable Norfolk Constabulary 1909- 1915.

Major Egbert Napier, the Chief Constable of Norfolk County Constabulary, after not being called back to the colours, felt that he had no option but to take a commission in the army. He could have lived out the war in a secure post but he chose to go and serve his King and Country.

He initially joined the Northumberland Fusiliers as a Colonel, but took a reduction in rank to re-join his old regiment the Gordon Highlanders, initially serving in the 3rd Battalion, which remained in the UK as a reserve/training unit. However, on the 14th October 1916, he was sent to France as a replacement officer and was attached to the 1/5th Gordon Highlanders, a territorial unit, who were serving on the Somme.

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A trench map of the Beaumont Hamel area for late 1916. The 153rd Brigade faced the Y-Ravine situated at the bottom of this map.

The 1/5th Gordons were part of the famous 51st (Highland) Division and it had been fighting on the Western Front since May of 1915. There is no mention of him joining the battalion in their war diary. The only record we have is the fact that his arrival to the battalion was recorded by Lieutenant Alexander Cheyne who was also serving them

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Letters from JWC and Nora
Sing-song in loft with Padre in evening
Major Napier arrives.

At this time the battalion was at Courcelles and they held a church parade before sending out working parties.

When Major Napier joined his battalion the Battle of the Somme was coming to a climax and Field Marshall Haig was looking at one area on the battlefield that had held out since the 1st July 1916. Beaumont Hamel was a fortified village surrounded by a network of trenches, including the formidable position known as Y-Ravine which ran East to West about 800 metres South of Beaumont Hamel and was a deep ravine with steep sides and was lined with dug-outs.

The attack was set for the 13th November 1916 and the Highland Division were ordered to capture the fortified village. The plan was assisted by the fact that  a new front-line had been dug right under the noses of the Germans and a new mine would be fired under the old one at Hawthorn Ridge.

Zero Hour was set for 5.45 a.m. and at bayonet point, in frost, sleet, snow mud and fog the Highland Division attacked. The 1/5th Gordons were in support with the 1/7th Gordon Highlanders and the 1/6th Black Watch leading the advance.

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The Newfoundland Memorial Park. Over this part of the park the 153rd Division advanced using the trenches in the middle distance as their jumping off point. The 51st (Highland) Division memorial can be seen in the distance. They entered the southern part of Beaumont Hamel.

The battalion reached the first German line and met no opposition but as they reached the second German line they found it strongly occupied. Here they became involved in hard fighting with the enemy and were assisted by the 6th Black Watch and the 7th Gordon Highlanders.

They succeeded in clearing this line out by bombing their way through the communication trenches where they managed to reach the third German line and by this time only one officer was left in the two lead companies where by now they were also being supported 4th Gordon Highlanders and this meant that elements of the battalion reached the 4th
German line.

Although the 51st Division met with heavy resistance, especially from well-sited machine guns in various bunkers and cellars in the village, the Germans capitulated in the afternoon and they managed to join up their advance with other units and divisions where the 1/5th then formed a defensive flank to the east of Beaumont Hamel to join up with the 63rd (Naval) Division.

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Beaumont Hamel in 1916.

Egbert Napier was not amongst the survivors. He had been killed in action during the advance along with 5 other officers and 60 other ranks. Knowing Napier like I do I think he would have led his men from the front and would have died quite early on. Certainly the war diary confirms that most of the officer casualties were incurred in the initial advance. His death is not mentioned in the war diary. The only record of his passing is mentioned in Lieutenant Cheyne’s diary,

Nov 13.

Receive 43 francs as C Coy Mess fund from 2/Lt Thomas.
ATTACK ON BEAUMONT-HAMEL
Take 3 lines of trenches.
Officers killed – Major Napier, Capt Stephen, 2/Lts Wilson, Sykes, R.M. Ferguson, John Watt.
Wounded – Gilmore, Johnstone, Brackenridge, Gibb, Red, Manson, Capt Robertson, K W Ferguson
Killed OR -60
Wounded – 130
Missing- 40

The war diary considered their casualties light compared to the German losses and noted that they captured 305 men.

Major Napier’s passing was reported in the news and he was commemorated as ‘…a soldierly figure at all times’. The changes he made in Norfolk County Constabulary were ground breaking and, to my mind, was all for the greater good and for the welfare of the men who served under him. He has been recorded as a man with a kindly disposition and he was much loved by his officers. It was a sad loss to the service but he died fighting alongside his men and is almost certainly a hero in my books.

Most of the dead were taken to Mailly Wood Cemetery in Mailly Maillet where Major Napier now lies. He was 49 and he left a wife, Evangeline, and two daughters.

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Egbert Napier’s grave in Mailly Maillet Cemetery.

I have visited Egbert Napier’s grave on a number of occasions and have stood by his it and held a small silence for a man I greatly respect.