The Fifth Glosters in Hebuterne - Kathryn's history blog

Friday, 27 January 2017

The Fifth Glosters in Hebuterne

Postcard of Hebuterne dated 20th November 1915 (source)
The 5th battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment first arrived in Hebuterne at the north end of the Somme sector on 20th July 1915, taking over from the 93rd Infantry, French Army as part of the 48th (South Midland) Division. Their time was spent in trenches east of Hebuterne, predominantly north of the Puisieux Road, and in billets in Hebuterne village and Sailly-aux-Bois. They would remain in this area until mid-July 1916 when they moved ten miles south to Ovillers-la-Boisselle to join the offensive in the Battle of the Somme.

Throughout this time those who died were buried at Hebuterne Military Cemetery, near the village billets. The Fifth Glosters had their own plot where their men were buried together. Their time spent in the trenches was predominantly quiet, with minor trench raids and some bouts of shelling particularly at night.

Pte AE Sampson, #2708, C Coy, 1st November 1915
The first of the Glosters to die on the Somme was Pte Albert Edmund Sampson in November. The war diary reported that he was mistaken for the enemy and was shot dead by the listening post to the right of Puisieux Road at 4am. Sampson had enlisted at the start of the war and was regarded by the Fifth Gloster Gazette trench newspaper as 'immensely popular'. He was a battalion grenadier and 'was always ready to do his best in whatever part he was required to play'. He had previously won praise for being part of a night patrol in August which had killed three German soldiers and wounded one other.

The following few months were largely quiet, with mostly fine and frosty weather.
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A relieved platoon of 5th Glosters in Hebuterne, by Fred Roe (source)
Pte Edgar Archibald Adams, #2481, A Coy, 25th January 1916
Ever in our Thoughts
Edgar Archibald Adams was shot in the head while on sentry duty at 6:30 in the morning on 25th January. The Gazette wrote that 'he had been killed instantly beside his gun just before his relief was due'. He had grown up in Derby with his parents Samuel and Elizabeth of 4 Fleet St and was aged 24 when he died. He was described as 'unselfish' and 'invariably cheery'. He 'left behind him happy memories which will be cherished by a multitude of friends'.

Sgt Thomas Durrett, #66, 13th March 1916
The next of the Glosters to fall was Thomas Durrett. He was an older soldier, aged 40 at the outbreak of war, and had spent almost 20 years in the territorials, serving as a sergeant since 1910. He was married to Ellen of 38 Park Road, Gloucester and they had a daughter, Muriel, born in 1909. Durrett was killed with a rifle bullet at 11:30pm on 13th March and was buried the following day. He was described in the Gazette as 'one of those men who possessed the gift of dispelling gloomy feelings in others' who was 'a great loss to the company'.

The situation in the trenches remained relatively quiet until 14th April when shelling began, followed by more artillery fire overnight. On 15th five soldiers were wounded by the shellfire, followed by four more on the 16th. On this day there was inter-company relief, with B Company relieving A and D Company relieving C. The fire became intense overnight and four soldiers were killed, as well as five wounded.

Pte SEV Dancey, #2811, D Coy, 17th April 1916
So he passed over and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side
Stanley Ewart Vinson Dancey was the son of Harry and Louisa Rose of Woodlands, Welland Rd Gloucester, and had been educated at Crypt School, Gloucester. He was 23 when he died. His parents chose this quote from John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress for his epitaph after the war.

Pte AB Smith, #4358, B Coy, 17th April 1916
Augustus Bates Smith was another born-and-raised Gloucester man, resident of 211 Edwy Parade, and was among those who died in shellfire in April 1916. The Imperial War Graves Commission reports his age as 17, meaning that he probably enlisted underage at 15.

Pte S Brown, #3008, B Coy, 17th April 1916
Stanley Brown was a general labourer from Cheltenham and was age 24 when he was killed by shellfire.

Pte W Berry, #4427, B Coy, 17th April 1916
William Berry was from Tewkesbury and was wounded by shellfire, dying three hours later. Privates Smith, Brown and Berry were all serving with B Company but it is not known whether they were together in the trench or if they were killed by the same shell.

The artillery slowed after the heavy rain started on the 18th April and had stopped completely by the 20th when the Glosters were relieved by the 4th Royal Berkshires.

Pte HG Steele, #4381, D Coy, 20th April 1916
George Steele is recorded in the war diary as having died in the field ambulance on 20th April. It is not known how he was injured, whether it was from enemy fire or if an accident occurred during their relief from the front line. He was buried the following day under heavy rain.
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Trench map of Hebuterne (source)
Throughout May and June the Fifth Glosters spent time in billets and in training in the north-Somme area. They only spent a small amount of time in the trenches and in the last fortnight of June they were staying in billets in Couin, further behind the lines (about 6 miles west of Hebuterne). On the 1st July they marched the 6 miles south east to Mailly-Maillet and were not involved in the fighting. The war diary simply notes 'artillery continuous on front'. They were unaware of the disaster facing the British Army on the front line.

On 4th July they returned to Hebuterne where they went into the trenches. From the 5th they experienced heavy shelling and heavy rain and on the 6th they performed inter-company relief, with B and D companies moving into the trenches in place of A and C companies.

Pte AE Roberts, #2563, B Coy, 6th July 1916
To memory ever Dear Jesus took him from the tumult
Albert Roberts was killed by a shell in the trenches, likely only hours after the inter-company relief.
The son of Mary and the late John Roberts of Badgeworth Cross, Cheltenham, Roberts was aged 22 when he died.

The Glosters remained in the area into 15th July when they moved south to Bouzincourt and then to Ovillers-la-Boisselle on the 20th. This was the end of their time in the Hebuterne area, a town which had become their own in the year they had spent building and manning its trenches.

Having read the war diary and experiences of the Glosters during this time, Hebuterne felt almost familiar when I visited last autumn. It is now a quiet village, surrounded by farms and fields which are not dissimilar from the villages of Gloucestershire. The military cemetery, now surrounded by trees, is one of the last traces of the war in Hebuterne but it is a lasting memory of those men, like the Glosters and the rest of the 48th Division who spent such time defending the village.

Kathryn

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