Autumn Battlefields 2018 Day Four: Yorkshires and Gloucesters - Kathryn's history blog

Friday, 14 September 2018

Autumn Battlefields 2018 Day Four: Yorkshires and Gloucesters

Today was back to the Somme for me on a day of what turned out to be focused on two counties. The first part of the day's plan was to head down to Becourt to walk Paul Reed's Yorkshire Walk from 'Walking the Somme'.

En route I stopped off at Hamel Military Cemetery, which was behind British lines throughout the Somme offensive and was thus used as a field ambulance. Buried here is the Rev. Ernest Wilberforce Trevor, a chaplain attached to the Rifle Brigade. He had studied at University College, Oxford and was ordained in 1910. He was briefly at St Peter's, Thanet in 1914 until he volunteered for chaplaincy.

His memorial plaque in his father's parish church of St Cuthbert's, Marton in Middlesbrough states that he was "killed in action in France while helping the wounded". He died on 14th November, 1916.

Continuing south, I made an impromptu stop at Avuley Wood Cemetery, which is set down from the road on the edge of the rejuvenated woodland. Notable here are the graves of the Royal Naval Division. This unit comprised of naval men brought under the training and control of the army when the manpower crisis was reaching its peak. The Royal Naval Division here played an important role in defending Aveluy Wood during the German Spring Offensive of 1918. The morning light made this cemetery difficult to photograph but it was a really pleasant and secluded site.

I then continued on to Becourt where my walk was to begin. Before going to the starting point I stopped off at Becourt Military Cemetery, which is another that was photographed by Arthur Yapp in 1920. The wood has grown substantially since then  and is now,  like many in the area, home to shooting of a different kind.

The epitaph of one soldier buried here, Pte F Bland, remembers his brother, H Bland, killed two months after him in August 1916.

Over the other side of the village I began my walk at Norfolk Cemetery. This route would take me out of the British front line, through No Man's Land and to the German positions at Fricourt. It would focus on a number of Yorkshire battalions who formed the 17th (Northern) and 21st Divisions who made this attack on the 1st July. The capture of Fricourt, overall, was a success with the British taking the village on 2nd July, although, as often is the case, this wasn't without cost.

Norfolk Cemetery shows some of that cost. Lieut Colonel CWD Lynch had won the DSO at Loos and was in command of 9th battalion King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry here in July 1916. He was killed by a shell when leading his men out of the trench during the attack. All four of his company commanders also died. The total casualties for the battalion were 455.

Also buried here are tunnelers of the Royal Engineers, who were heavily involved in this area, both with digging the mine which created the Lochnagar Crater to the north and the Tambour Mines which I passed on this walk. Among the dead is Lieut WR Cloutman who, according to Reed, was killed by gas poisoning from the mine. He had been trying to rescue a sergeant who he had carried on his shoulder 45 feet up a ladder, when he too succumbed to the gas.

This walk gave fantastic views of the attack made by the Yorkshires that morning and it was amazing to be able to follow the route of their advance. Fricourt itself was downhill from where they were attacking, but with further ridges behind the Germans could both see and fire over to them.

In the old No Man's Land now stands Fricourt Military Cemetery which was made shortly after the battle. Most of the buried here are from the 10th West Yorkshire Regiment, including the Lieut Col and his adjutant. A 16 year old is also among those here.

Approaching Fricourt itself, the German concentration cemetery is off to the left but I didn't visit it as I have a few times before. Instead I went to Bray Road Cemetery, where there is a comrades' grave to the 7th Yorkshires. A memorial to the battalion also stands in the corner as it was from here that they attacked on 1st July against orders, sustaining heavy casualties. This memorial is interesting as it lists the names of all those who fell in the attack regardless of where they are buried. In that sense, it is almost more like a town memorial and maybe represents the closeness of community felt by the battalion's survivors after the war.

This was the end of the walk's sights so I crossed back over the battlefield to Becourt, enjoying the hot sunshine. Although relatively short, this was a really rewarding walk, which brought this section of the battle almost to life. Aside from the assault on La Boiselle, in which the 8th Gloucesters were involved, I had not really considered much about this front  before so it was interesting to learn about the Yorkshires' story, particularly as this was one attack with such a strong county identity.

Just a little further south I came to Dartmoor Cemetery, where Lieut Henry Webber, generally considered to be the oldest battle death of the First World War, is buried. He also happens to be a Pembroke College man. The website surreyinthegreatwar.org.uk have done a great deal of research into him, noting how keen he was to enlist despite initial rejection by the authorities. He eventually served as a transport officer with the 7th South Lancashire Regiment.

 On 21st July he was providing the battalion transport as they moved up into the line. He breaked, to talk to the CO when a single shell dropped near them. Webber was one of twelve men hit in the blast and he was unconscious, with a head wound. Despite being rushed to a dressing station, he died of his wounds. He was survived by his three sons who all fought in the war and served as higher ranks than he.

From here, I headed west to the cemeteries south of Albert, to visit a few graves of interest. Down a very long road and track between fields, I came to Grove Town Cemetery, Bray. This was a casualty clearing station during the Battle of the Somme and marks the burial place of Col Frederick Mahone of Slimbridge. He served with 2nd Royal Berks, as he had latterly worked in a Windsor boot store, and was injured in late October 1916 by a shell. He was one of the thousands killed by artillery in the offensive.

Further west I visited Dernancourt Communal Cemetery Extension; another dressing station and casualty clearing station for the Battle of the Somme. After the battle, the area was taken over by Australian units which is where WS Rowan worked as a secretary for the Australian YMCA.

He had travelled over from Melbourne to assist the Association with providing for the soldiers, and undoubtedly would have provided some Aussie comfort to men serving on the other side of the world. A Melbourne Advertiser article recording his death on 14th January 1917 only partially survives, but it notes that he died from 'shocking injuries'. Most likely, these would have been caused by shellfire. His commitment to duty and his faith can be seen in his epitaph 'His utmost for the highest'.


On my way to get groceries, I next stopped at the Albert town memorial which depicts Mary in the centre, with a carved image of a family on the left, and the same family, children older and without father, visiting a simple cross grave. Above flies a giant French flag. This memorial seems to include all the traits of French civic memorials, with the literal depiction of a fallen soldier, the Madonna and the nationalism of a strongly French symbol.

East of Albert, the next place I visited was Bapaume Post Cemetery, where 2nd Lieut Raymond Knight DCM is buried. I have often read about Knight when studying his unit, the 5th Gloucesters, as they included my local territorials. I also included him in my tour of Gloucester Cathedral's memorials, where his brother donated electric lighting in his memory. But it wasn't until I was researching this trip that I discovered that he had been at Pembroke College, after schooling in Gloucester. In 1915, then Corporal Knight won his DCM alongside his close friend FW Harvey, the poet, in Hebuterne which I visited later today. He was clearly a talented soldier , being commissioned to 2nd Lieutenant, and, most importantly, organising the battalion's whist drives.

After his death, Harvey wrote a poem in honour of Knight which he published in their 5th Gloucester Gazette. I read this while I was by his grave.

Further along the road I made a brief stop at the Pozieres Memorial, where interestingly I met a tour group of French visitors. The memorial here contains the names of the 14,000 men who died with no known grave on the Somme in 1918: another reminder of how gains so desperately won in 1916 could not be maintained for the duration of the war. More fighting was carried out over the same bettered ground, now littered with small cemeteries and reminders of how much they had already lost.

I now headed north, back to the B&B to drop off my groceries and pick up my bike, to cycle up to Hebuterne which is about 3 miles north of where I'm staying. This was the home of the 5th Gloucesters through late 1915 and the first half of 1916 and where much of their 5th Gloucester Gazette was written. This trench newspaper, like its more famous cousin, the Wipers Times, combined the serious with the humerous, providing both entertainment and battalion news to fellow soldiers. In the paper's first year, Harvey was undoubtedly its star, publishing many columns and poems in its pages.

One such was this poem to his chum Knight in 1915.

Another entry details how Knight and Harvey won their DCMs. They were awarded them for their action of the night of 3rd August 1915. While their citations are printed in the Gazette, they have also offered their embellished description alongside:

"The Patrol was commanded by ... Knight, assisted by ... Harvey, and 6 other men. Cpl Knight and 4 men were armed with rifles and bayonets. LCpl Harvey carried a revolver and a bludgeon ... On the way out, about 350 yards from our trenches the patrol heard coughing on their right. They moved towards it and came on a hostile listening post apparently put out to cover a working party ... One of the hostile post having heard our patrol came towards it and Cpl Knight shot him. Cpls Knight and Harvey then rushed the post, shooting two others ... Meanwhile LCpl Harvey had followed a German who was running away and coming up with him felled him with a bludgeon. The man then made signs of surrendering but when Harvey seized him by the collar and pointed the revolver at him, the prisoner became frightened and struggled for the revolver. When LCpl Harvey pulled the trigger he found he had used all his rounds ... three Germans were undoubtedly killed; our casualties were nil."

A month later both men were commissioned 2nd Lieutenants with the unit. The 5th Gloucesters no doubt felt their loss after the summer of 1916. After Knight's death in July 1916, Harvey was taken prisoner in August. The battalion who released their July edition of the Gazette in the reserve lines of that fateful 1st July, were certainly not the same in the years that followed.


A further poem by Harvey is dedicated to another friend Sgt Durrett, which shows some of the poet's wit. Durrett is buried with many from the battalion in Hebuterne Military Cemetery.

To the east of Hebuterne, near Rossignol Wood where Theodore Hardy won his VC, are two small cemeteries close together. The first, Rossignol Wood Cemetery is an interesting Commonwealth cemetery as it contains more Germans than it does British. The neighbouring Owl Trench Cemetery is another mass grave, and one which was photographed by Yapp in 1920. The men buried here are West Yorkshires and KOYLI, bringing me back round to this morning's theme.

Enjoying the evening sun, I cycled down to Puisieux and across to Serre, stopping at another Yorkshire site, the memorial to the Sheffield City Battalion, 12th Yorks and Lancs. They fought heavily here on 1st July and suffered many casualties.
The Serre Road cemeteries are always beautiful, but particularly against the setting sun. At Serre Road No 1 two Gloucesters, Lieut TH Moore of Tewkesbury, and LCpl Rodway, are buried. They were both killed in a trench raid on 27th September 1915. More about them can be read on my blog article "Trench raiding with the Gloucesters".


Tomorrow I return to the battlefields north of the Somme, but with a look east to the final advances of 1918.

Kathryn

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