Tag Archives: military medal

1st Hampshires in the Great War – the Kaiser Offensive continues

After the hard-fought battle on 28 March 1918, the 1st Hampshires went back into Brigade reserve trenches. March 1918 closed relatively uneventfully. On 1 April the Hampshires went into Brigade support, relieving the Somerset Light Infantry north of the River Scarpe, 3.5 miles east of Arras. Their spell in support was quiet, until the Germans began shelling on 5 April. The adjutant, writing in the war diary, felt that this was a ‘demonstration’ connected to the attacks being made at the same time, further south on the Somme. That evening the Hampshires went into the front line in Fampoux, holding Stoke Avenue, Pudding and Port trenches. The next few days saw intermittent shelling, until the Battalion was relieved on 8 April.

After being relieved the Hampshires marched back to St Laurent Blangy, and from there boarded buses to ‘Y’ Huts, about four miles north west of Arras. The next few days were spent in the usual clean up after the front line, and on 9 April it was announced that six other ranks had been awarded the Military Medal for their part in the battle on 28 March. On 10 April the Battalion moved again, marching to camps near Haute Avesnes. During the same day a draft of 159 other ranks joined the Battalion. A rare treat was enjoyed on 11 April, when the Battalion were treated to baths. Also that day Lieutenants Edwards and Evans were awarded the Military Cross for their part in the battle on 28 March.

The Battalions time away from the front was short lived, however, for on 12 April they boarded buses, and proceded to Bethune. Once there, the 11th Brigade took over a section of the line to the south of La Basse Canal, with the Hampshires being billeted for the time in Gonnehem. An attack was clearly imminent, for the next day certain personnel were detailed to remain with the transport. Sure enough, on 14 April the Battalion marched up from Gonnehem, and formed up. At 6.30pm the advance began, covered by artillery support and with the Somersets on the right. The Somersets took the village of Riez du Vinage, taking 120 prisoners. The Hampshires met no opposition, and after advancing 1,500 yards dug in on a line level with the Somersets. During the day only one man was killed, and four wounded. The next day orders were received to continue the advance. Attacks were made by the Ox and Bucks on the flank, and although they were initially succesful and the Hampshires pushed out patrols to keep in touch with them, they were eventually forced back to their start line. At 4.30am on 16 April the Hampshires were relieved, and went back to billets at L’Ecleme.

Although the 17th was spent in billets, as the situation was still very unstable the Hampshires were soon put on alert to return to the front. On 18 April a German attack on the 4th Division led to the Hampshires being recalled to Gonnehem to stand by. The attack was unsuccesful, and the Hampshires returned to L’Ecleme. This attack was part of the Germans Operation Georgette in the Lys Sector. The next day the Battalion went into the front line, holding a section south of La Basse Canal, south of Bois de Pacaut. That night a patrol led by 2nd Lieutenant Clegg crossed the canal and captured a prisoner from the 471st Regiment. Prisoner snatch patrols were a hallmark of an agressive unit. The next day brought heavy shelling. During the night C Company pushed three platoons across the Canal and occupied the Bois de Pacaut, capturing two wounded prisoners. 21 April was relatively quiet.

On 22 April the Battalion launched another attack on the Boise de Pacaut. The plan was to clear the southern portion of the Pacaut Wood, and establish a line on the road junction at La Pannerie. The attack was to be on a three Company front, with each being alloted its own objectives, and with the remaining company in support. Zero hour was to be at 5.15am, with the troops assembling south of the Canal by 5am. Three bridges were to be erected across the canal by the Royal Engineers. Stokes Mortars and Machine Guns were attached to give fire support. Supporting artillery fire was also planned, including the use of Gas if the wind was favourable. A Special Company of the Royal Engineers was also attached, to project ‘burning oil’ onto a house thought to be an enemy stronghold. Troops were reminded of the importance of consolidating captured ground. At 7am an aeroplane was tasked to fly over to observe progress.

The attack began as planned, but the heavy artillery barrage alerted the enemy almost at once to the impending attack. Enemy artillery fell as the Hampshires were crossing the Canal bridges, causing casualties. The centre bridge in particular received heavy fire, with the leading officer being killed whilst crossing the Bridge. The right and centre companies came under machine gun fire from the wood almost at once, but the left met no opposition. The right hand company pushed Lewis Guns out front, and managed to overcome resistance. By 5.35am the left flank company had reached its objective, and by 5.40am platoons of the right company were on their objective. The centre company, however, had taken heavy casualties in officers and NCO’s, but after being held up for a short time they managed to make progress and link up with the other Companies. At 9am a platoon of the support Company was ordered up to fill a gap in the Battalion’s line. After daybreak heavy Machine Gun fire was directed on the wood, and the Canal area received heavy shelling. At 1.30pm Lieutenant-Colonel F.A.W. Armitage, who had commanded the Battalion since shortly after the Somme, was killed. At 5.30pm the Germans launched a counter-attack south-west through the wood, with the intention of clearing the area and pushing the Hampshires back. This counter-attack was beaten off with machine gun fire. The centre Company were still struggling to make progress to their objctive. 12 men were detached from the support Company as reinforcements, but it was not possible to attach any more men as the Support Company themselves were suffering heavy casualties on the Canal Bank, and if the Canal Bank were to be lost the rest of the Battalion might have become cut off. Any further attacks were impossible, as the whole Battalion was heavily committed fighting off German resistance. The Battalion was finally relieved the next day.

The battle of Pacaut Wood was part of a larger counter-offensive, the battle of Bethune, was designed to hit the Germans hard after the failure of Operation Georgette. The Hampshires paid a high price, however. During the attack on 22 April three officers were killed, including Colonel Armitage. Five officers were wounded, two dying later. 22 men were killed, one died of his wounds, 147 were wounded, eight were wounded but remained at duty, and 20 men were missing.

A number of Portsmouth men were killed during this period. 2nd Lieutenant Eric Reid, aged 19 and from Lennox Road in Southsea, was killed on 29 March 1918. He is remembered on the Arras Memorial. Lance Corporal G.H. Lacey, 33 and from Clive Road, Fratton, died on 31 March 1918. He evidently died in a Base Hospital or on his way home on leave, for he is buried in Boulogne Eastern Cemetery. Several men were killed on 3 April – Lance Corporal P.O. Lawrence is buried in Roclincourt Valley War Cemetery, and Private Frederick Henwood, 21 and from Bishop Street, Fratton, is buried in Athies War Cemetery. Four men were killed During the Battle of Bethune and the attack at Pacaut Wood. Corporal S. Metcalf, 40 and from Orange Street, Portsea, was killed on 21 April and is buried in Mont Bernanchon War Cemetery. Private Harry Reeve, 29 and from Rivers Street, Southea, was killed on 22 April, and is buried in St Venant-Robecq Road Cemetery. Also killed on the 22nd was Private C.F. Jerome, who is buried in Mont Bernanchon Cemetery. Finally, on 23 April, Private W. Brockway, 22 and from London Road, North End, who is buried in Lapugnoy War Cemetery.

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Alan Cumming – Who Do You Think You Are?

The Battle of Kohima March - July 1944: View o...

Alan Cumming's Grandfather fought at the Battle of Kohima (Image via Wikipedia)

Tonight’s WDYTYA was possibly one of the best yet. And what’s more, this remarkable story focussed on just one ancestor. Alan Cumming (actor, x-men: I didn’t have a clue who he was!) knew that his grandfather had served in the Army during the war and had died suspiciously in Malaya, but very little apart from that.

Tom Darling joined the Cameron Highlanders – a Scottish Infantry Regiment – in the 1930′s. After a period as a cook at the Regimental Depot, he was assigned as a motorcycle despatch rider, and saw action in France in 1940. He was awarded the Military Medal for an action in May 1940 when he drove his motorbike between Headquarters and the Rifle Companies carrying ammunition, along an exposed road in full view of the enemy.

After being evacuated to Britain and promoted to Sergeant, Darling was sent to Burma in time to fight in the Battle of Kohima. He was wounded, probably by shrapnel. He was evacuated to a Hospital India. Then, his service record is mysteriously vacant. It appears that he spent time in hospital with battle-related mental illness, as he was in an institutionĀ  in India known for treating mental illness, and which gave its name to the term to ‘go dolally’. After recovering and seeing out his service with the Army, he was demobilised. His family did not see him again after 1945. Originally it was thought that he had simply been serving abroad.

After a year working as a sales clerk at a garage in St Albans. He obviously found civvy street not to his liking, for he soon applied to join the Malay Police Force. In his application, Alan Cumming found a shocking discovery – he listed his marital status as ‘separated’. That explains why his family did not see him again after the end of the war, and also why he possibly travelled to the other side of the world.

Whilst in Malaya, Tom Darling was part of a police force that was involved in a bitter counter-insurgency campaign against communist guerillas. Darling’s job, as a Police Lieutenant, was to guard villages against insurgents. Other police units were tasked to go out into the countryside and capture and kill communists, whose bodies were then brought back to the villages for identification and display. Darling was evidently well thought of, as the locals state when Cumming visits the area.

The circumstances of Darling’s death turned out to be even more shocking than feared. It transpires that he was playing Russian Roulette with a revolver, and either his luck ran out, or he misjudged it, or both. He was killed by a gunshot wound behind his ear. Apparently he would regularly play Russian Roulette, and the local people would bet on the outcome. Such a tragic end for a very brave and distinguished man. Its difficult not to imagine how a man who had been through traumatic experiences, was wounded in battle, had experienced combat stress and who had separated from his family possibly felt nothing to lose by playing Russian Roulette.

For me this was one of the best WDYTA episodes ever. Focussing in detail on the story of one man, it was excellently researched, across some difficult subjects andĀ  locations. Not only that, but it gave us some idea of the human toll of war, something that we very rarely get to hear about.

Alan Cumming’s Who Do You Think You Are? is available to view on BBC iplayer until Monday 20 September 2010

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BQMS Stanley Thayer MM

Lance Bombardier Stanley Thayer, 27 and from Cosham, was serving with 5th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Battery of the Royal Artillery. 5 HAA Battery were part of 2 Heavy AA Regiment, and were based in Northern France as part of the British Expeditionary Force. They landed in France in November 1939.

As a 27 year old Lance-Bombardier in a regular Artillery unit in 1940, Thayer was almost certainly a pre-war regular soldier. During the German invasion of France and Belgium in the Spring of 1940, Lance Bombardier Thayer found himself facing an attack by German aircraft.

At 6am on Sunday May 11th, eleven Dornier 215 aircraft flew at a height of about 50 feet very near to the gun position at which the L/Bdr was stationed. The aircraft appeared to be about to attack the gun site since they were flying in line astern formation in the direction of the site. Although a burst of machine gun fire came from one of the planes, and he was standing quite unprotected by any form of emplacement, L/Bdr Thayer opened fire with his Bren Gun. The approach of the aircraft was turned away from the site, five planes flying to one side and six to the other. He engaged each plane as it appeared and one plane appeared to be hit a large number of times.

By his exemplary conduct and coolness in action, L/Bdr Thayer set a very fine example to the remainder of the section and saved the gun site.

Thayer’s Military Medal was announced in the London Gazette on 20 December 1940.

Thayer served on throughout the war, and at some point he was also mentioned in dispatches. In 1944 he was a Battery Quartermaster Sergeant with the 80th Heavy Anti-Aircraft Brigade. 80th HAA Brigade came directly under the command of 21st Army Group in the invasion of Europe.

BQMS Thayer died on 8 October 1944, at the age of 31, and is buried in Dieppe Canadian War Cemetery in France. He may have died of illness in hospital as Dieppe was some way behind the front line, or his anti-aircraft unit may have been stationed there.

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Lance Corporal Leslie Webb MM

Troops coming ashore at Gold Beach on D-Day

Troops coming ashore at Gold Beach on D-Day

Lance Corporal Leslie Webb, 27 and from North End, was serving in D Company of the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment. On D-Day, 6 June 1944, the 1st Hampshire landed at 0725 in the first wave on Gold Beach at Arromanches. They came under heavy fire and lost their Commanding Officer and Second-in-Command within minutes of landing.

Yet in the confusion the long and thorough training of the men seems to have held out. In an assault to capture Le Hamel, on the flank of Gold Beach, D Company found themselves pinned down. Lance Corporal Webb managed to move his men forward, and was seriously wounded while going to receive orders from his Platoon Commander. The Battalion suffered 64 men killed on D-Day alone, including many officers.

For his bravery on D-Day Lance Corporal Webb was reccomended for the Military Medal:

At Le Hamel on 6 June 44, during an attack on an enemy position by D Coy, the Company came under heavy enemy fire and found movement forward impossible.

L/Cpl Webb, showing complete disregard for his personal safety, repeatedly exposed himself to enemy fire in order to move his men forward. In full view of the enemy he went to get orders from his Pl Cmd, and was seriously wounded, but his courage and bravery were such an inspiration to all that the Pl went forward again and seized its objective.

Webb was evacuated back to England, but sadly died on 14 June 1944. He is buried in Milton Cemetery. His Military Medal was announced in the London Gazette on 25 September 1944.

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Lance Bombardier Edward Wait MM

Lance Bombardier Edward Wait, 25 and from Southsea, was serving with 444 Field Battery in 64 Field Regiment Royal Artillery, a London-based Territorial Army unit. The Regiment was part of the 56th (London Division) during the war in Italy in 1943. As an Observation Post Assistant to the Battery Commander, Wait had an important role in keeping communications flowing between the Observation Post, the Guns and the Infantry that the Battery was commanding. Frequently in the Second World War the Royal Artillery were called upon to provide support to Infantry attacks, and the Artillery Signals network often provided a link not only for the Gunners but other units too.

The Reccomendation for his Military Medal takes up the story:

On the night of 29 October 1943 444 Field Battery RA were supporting the 7th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the attack on the Tranzi feature 0492. Lance Bombardier Wait was performing the duties of O.P.A. to the Battery Commander’s party. In about the area 047916 the wireless set which was carried by a signaller got struck by a piece of shell which damaged the terminal wire and rendered the set unserviceable. At this particular moment, approximately 0230 hours, this set was the only means of communication to Brigade HQ as the Battalion set was disserviceable. To repair the wireless set was a delicate operation which entailed removing minute screws from the control panel. Lance Bombardier Wait worked coolly and patiently in the dark under heavy mortar and shelling and made good the repair in 15 minutes. The shelling was so intense that the Infantry were forced to take cover but Lance Bombardier Wait remained in the open with his set. Later on the set gave further trouble; infiltrating enemy made things very confused and Lance Bombardier Wait and one signaller got separated and lost touch with the rest of the party. He knew that the objective was a certain feature and through his determination to succeed at all costs he rejoined his Battery Commander on the feature at first light with his set through to the Battery. His complete disregard for personal safety was most noticeable, he is a young NCO and this was his first experience of an attack and his behaviour throughout was very fine indeed.

Lance Bombardier Wait’s Military Medal was announced in the London Gazette on 21 March 1944. He did not live to learn of the award, however. Wait was killed on 20 February 1944, during the amphibious assault in the Anzio Beachead. He is buried at Anzio War Cemetery.

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