Tag Archives: portsmouth heroes

National Archives: Day One

The National Archives, Kew 3

The National Archives (Image via Wikipedia)

I’m at the National Archives in London for a few days doing some research for my Portsmouth’s Second World War Heroes book project. The NA is such an enigma (inside a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, to quote WSC!) that I thought it might be interesting to write a short diary of each day and what I get up to.

I’ve been to TNA plenty of times, right back to when I was a keen undergraduate at uni, happy to ignore the ‘you dont have to do original research’ pleadings of the ever-so-adventurous tutors. Ever since then, any excuse I can think of I find a way to look at Documents at Kew. Odd days up to Kew are pretty un-economical and time-consuming, especially by train. What I try and do nowadays is get some time off work, stay over somewhere and make a few days of it. That way you can get there for opening time, and leave at closing time.

Today I’ve been looking at documents related to Chief Petty Officer Reg Ellingworth GC, the mine warfare rating who was killed in September 1941. I didn’t find anything directly related to Ellingworth, but I did find plenty of background material relating to Parachute Mines – a minute from Winston Churchill, reports about the threat that they posed, and a detailed list of every Parachute Mine that landed in Britain in 1940, and a similar list for the London area for the whole of the war. I also found some useful photographs of the kind of mine that killed Ellingworth.

I got that over and done with quicker than expected, so I managed to get a look at some documents relating to Major Robert Easton DSO MBE, who was killed serving in an Armoured Regiment in Italy in 1944. He turns out to have been an even more formidable soldier than I thought – he saw action in 1940 when his Battalion went to France just before the German attack, and were constantly in action until they were evacuated. Easton played a crucial role keeping the Battalion together as Adjutant, and he was awarded the MBE. Then, after being converted to a tank Battalion, in late 1943 Easton transferred to 142nd Regiment Royal Armoured Corps, acting as second in command, then serving as a Squadron Commander, and finally permanent second in command when he died of wounds in September 1944. He certainly saw plenty of action.

Part of the knack of TNA is making the best use of your time. If you can, order documents in advance – you can order up to 6, so they will be there waiting for you to start work on straight away. As it takes up to 40 minutes for documents to arrive in the reading room, try and juggle ordering documents so you’re not left twiddling your thumbs at any point. And always go with a big long list of documents you want to look at, so if you get through them quicker than you expect, you can get more in. I’ve started taking a digital camera with me to take pictures of documents, so I can look at them when I get home – its certainly easier than scribbling everything down by hand. The only problem is, I’ve found, that if you dont get the resolution right, or if its wartime economy paper with typewriter ink, you dont get a very clear image. Its also heavy on batteries, and memory – so I’ve got my laptop to decant pictures to.

TNA is a nice place to spend time even if you’re not studying seriously – theres a great Cafe, coffee bar, shop and museum. Its diversity week there this week, and at lunchtime they had an actor dressed up in ‘negro slave’ garb, giving a performance as a freed slave. A bit PC, but very interesting – why not extend it further, and have Churchill, or Nelson? Its also fun for people watching – from the tweed wearing, old-school tie traditional historians, to the ‘sunday driver’ family historians and the academics and professionals, and not forgetting the UFO hunters, you get all sorts at TNA.

Tomorrow: More on Easton, and hopefully some stuff about Flight Lieutenant John Coghlan and some other Portsmouth Heroes.

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Researching First World War Soldiers

Vis en Artois British Cemetery and Memorial, F...

Vis en Artois Cemetery and Memorial (Image via Wikipedia)

I’ve now entered over 2,000 names into my database of Portsmouth men killed serving in the Second World War. So far this covers 4 panels of the War Memorial in Guildhall Square, and these are only the men who fought with the Army. I have one more panel of Army names to enter and analyse. And then its on to the Navy, who have about the same number of names again!

The process goes like this – look up the names on the War Memorial (handily transcribed  by Tim Backhouse on Memorials in Portsmouth), enter the names onto my Access Database, then search for them on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. Of course, when you start with just initials for forenames, its quite difficult – especially if all you have is ‘A. Smith’, which there are hundreds of – it would take days searching through that to find the right person. Fortunately, quite a few of the names on the CGWG have their house number, road name and area listed – which makes it much easier to find the right person – if you’re looking through a list of 20 or so names, its heartening to find one listed as ‘…Twyford Avenue, Stamshaw’, cos odds are you’ve found your man. But when there are 4 or 5 names, and none of them have any details, its so frustrating – its got to be one of them, surely? But sometimes the sheer number of names can be daunting.

Its going to take some serious research to track down the several hundred men who are remaining elusive – but by using Street Directories, Register Office Records, the 1901 and 1911 Census, and electoral registers, it should be possible to slowly but surely fill out the gaps.

Another problem can be when you enter the name into the CWGC and NOTHING comes up – they must have been a real person, surely? Otherwise why would their names have been put forward for the memorial? The only thing I can suggest is that mistakes were made in compiling the names for the memorial, or perhaps people had different given names – someone registed officially as Harry James, for example, might have been known as Jim, and thus entered on the Memorial as J., and not H.J… it takes a bit of imagination to ferret these things out.

Another difference with researching First World War soldiers, is that it is much harder to trace details of any medals that they won. With the Second World War, more often and not you can find their award listed in the London Gazette. But for the First World War there are just so many, its like trawling through a haystack. You have to use some cunning, such as typing in a mans service number in the search, rather than their name. The problem there, of course, is that prior to 1920ish the Army didnt have an Army-wide numbering system, so if you’re looking for a Military Medal awarded to Private Jones 14532, there might be scores of 14532’s in the Army. Also, whereas many Second World War medal citations have been made available online on the National Archives website, the only information we have for First World War soldiers are their medal cards – relatively spartan in detail.

But on the flipside, one other source we have readily available for the Western Front are the War Diaries. Select War Diaries have been made available on The National Archives, such as the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment, which I have been serialising on Daly History for the past few months. Although these rarely mention individual soldiers – especially not other ranks – they do give you the wider picture of what was hapenning day to day. If you know that someone died on a particular day, you can look up what was happening – if they were in the front line undergoing heavy shelling, maybe the man was killed that way. Or if there was a raid and he is listed on a memorial to the missing, he might have been killed in no mans land. Alternatively, if he died somewhere away from where the Battalion was, or on a day when they were not in action, he probably died of wounds or illness in a hospital behind the lines.

Another useful source is the National Roll, a publication produced after the war, the lists not only men who died, but other men who survived. Its not comprehensive – men or their families put their details forward, meaning that only a percentage of men are listed – but none the less, for the men who are included, it is a gold mine of information. Most entries tell you when a man joined the Army, and whether he was a regular, mobilised with the territorial force, volunteered in 1914, attested under the Derby Scheme, or was conscripted. This fact on its own builds up a veritable social history of the manpower situation. Some men have more information than others – most entries tell us where a man fought, if he was wounded, or if he won medals. Some tell very interesting stories – such as the Hampshire Regiment soldier who was captured at Kut, fell ill with Dysentry and fell out of the march to captivity and was left to die on the side of the road; the Sergeant killed in a Grenade accident at a training school in the New Forest; or the Sapper serving with Grave Registration unit after the war who drowned in a Canal. Without these details, they would just be names. But with their stories, we are so much closer to knowing who they were and what they went through.

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

Hindenburg and Ludendorff

Hindenburg and Ludendorff, architects of Germany's last throw of the dice (Image via Wikipedia)

As 1918 dawned, it seemed to most that the endgame of the First World War was in sight. Britain had expanded her Army hugely, and had taken massive losses, particularly on the Somme and at Passchendaele. The French Army, battered at Verdun, had mutinied and refused to take offensive action. Unrestricted submarine warfare had brought the USA into the war, but her troops would not start arriving in any numbers until later in 1918. The German commander, Ludendorff, propsed a knock out blow, using troops released from the Eastern Front after the newly Communist Russia had withdrawn from the war to reinforce the west. The intention was to defeat the French and British before the American reinforcements had arrived.

Even though most of the British Army on the Western Front was all too aware that an offensive was likely. However, for the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment March 1918 began as quietly as February had ended. In camp at Fosseux, the men practiced night attacks and marching at night by compass. On 6 March the Battalion marched to a Camp at Warlus, where training continued. Two days later the Battalion practiced an attack in conjunction with tanks, the tanks being represented by artillery limbers. All throughout this period, the Commanding Officer and Company Commanders were visiting sections of the line to familiarise themselves. At the same time a warning order was issued, preparing the Battalion to move up in support in the event of an attack anywhere on the front. But even though an attack was expected, the Battalion was also being prepared to attack.

After further training and inspections by the Brigadier and Major-General Commanding the Division, on 18 March the whole Battalion spent a day being drilled by the Regimental Sergeant Major. The next day the Battalion marched to billets in Arras at the College Communal. The day after the 1st Hampshires relieved the 2nd Coldstream Guards in support north of the Arras-Fampoux road.

The Hampshire’s first full day in the support lines was also the first day of the German’s Kaiser Offensive. From 5am to 8am a heavy barrage came over the Scarpe Valley sector, consisting of gas and high explosives. This proved to be a diversion, in support of the main attack further south on the Somme. At 11pm the Hampshires were ordered up to occupy the 2nd trench system, consisting of Coot and Colt Trenches. By this time the enemy had become quiet, however, and only one Hampshire was wounded throughout the day.

22 March was also a quiet day for the 11th Brigade, but news was received that the enemy had made considerable gains further south on the Somme and nearer at Wancourt. At 11pm news was received that the 15th Division to the right had pulled back, abandoning Monchy-le-Preux, where the Hampshires had fought on numerous occasions. As a result the Hampshires flanks were wide open. They did not retreat, however.

23 March dawned misty, adding to the uncertain situation. A good deal of machine gun and artillery fire could be heard around Monchy. Shortly after dawn the 11th Brigade received orders to pull back, during daylight – a highly risky move. Later during the day news was received that Monchy had fallen, and men could be seen streaming westwards from the town. At 4pm the enemy made their first attack on the Hampshire’s front line. Small parties of Germans managed to penetrate the front line, but were dealt with by the Somerset Light Infantry to the rear of the Hampshires. Between 5pm and 8pm the enemy’s artillery barrage increased, but no attack was forthcoming. At 7pm the Battalion moved back to the old reserve line.

The 24th was uneventful until the evening. At 8pm orders were received to pull back to the old third trench system. An attack was considered likely at dawn but did not materialise, and before daybreak the Hampshires relieved the Somerset Light Infantry in the front line. During the 25th the German Artillery registed on the Hampshire’s trenches, causing heavy casualties. Information was received that an attackl was expected the next morning. Interestingly, no information is ever given about the source of these expected attacks. The next few days were quieter, although at 3am on 27 March an enemy raid was beaten off by D Company.

28 April saw the German’s heaviest attack yet on the Hampshire’s positions, as the offensive switched from the Somme to the Arras sector. The CO, Lt-Col Armitage, filed a detailed report of the days fighting. At about 3am the enemy opened up a heavy bombardment, which mostly fell behind the first system. At 4.50am the barrage reached the Hampshire’s lines, and by 5.30pm all telephone communication between HQ and companies was cut. At 7.15am the enemy infantry began advancing in waves. Rifle and Machine Gun fire was directed on them, inflicting heavy casualties. An orderly withdrawal took place however, to a designated strong point in the reserve lines. By 9.30am the Hampshires line ran from Coral Trench-Coot Trench-Camel Avenue-Cadiz Trench. The enemy were still attacking however, attempting to turn the Battalions left flank. The Company in Cadiz Trench, however, held out srongly, until the neighbouring Brigade withdrew, forcing them also to pull back. The enemy followed up closely, delivering bombing attacks. A counter-attack by a company of the Rifle Brigade relieved some of the pressure.

At 2.15pm Colonel Armitage was informed that all troops south of the railway had pulled back, leaving his flank dangerously exposed. Rather than withdraw, however, Armitage merely ordered two Platoons of the Rifle Brigade Company to form a left flank along the railways embankment facing south, and sent back for reinforcements. At 4.15pm the enemy began another bombing attack, but were caught in the open by a Lewis Gun and wiped out. From then on the front was quiet. The Hampshires remained in their positions until ordered to withdraw at 8.30pm.

The Hampshires had faced a very serious German attack, but had inflicted heavy losses. Although tactical withdrawals had been made, these were orderly and well planned, and forced upon the Battalion by movements on their flanks. This demonstrates just how well the British Army had learnt to soak up attacks, by standing their ground but pulling back orderly to avoid excessive losses. Colonel Armitage’s decision to remain in the positions on the railway embankment, when he knew that his flank was open, was very brave indeed.

During March 1918 the Hampshires suffered significant losses. Two officers and 34 men were killed, and two officers (including the Padre) and 81 men were wounded. Two officers and seven men were missing and wounded, and two officers and two men were missing presumed killed. These were heavy losses, particularly among junior officers.

Two Portsmouth men were killed in the major battle on 28 March 1918. Private Robert Bevis and Private George Grainger are both remembered on the Arras Memorial.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – Passchendaele

artillery barrage map from ...

An example of a creeping artillery barrage at Passchendaele (Image via Wikipedia)

The Battle of Passchendaele had begun on 31 Jul7 1917. The first phase during July and August had failed to make any serious progress. The Battle of Broodseinde was to be the last assault launched in the Ypres Salient as part of the offensive, and was an attempt to protect the southern Flank of the salient. The ever-elusive breakthrough was still hoped for, however.

After arriving at Proven on 20 September, the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment spent the next week training hard. It was hard to get much training done, however, due to the limited amount of space available. On 23 September a draft of 103 men arrived, and on the 27th the Divisional Commander, Major-General Matheson, inspected the Battalion.

On 28 September the Battalion entrained at Proven in the afternoon, and detrained at Elverindghe. From there the Hampshires marched to Roussol Camp. The next day Company Commanders instructed their NCO’s and men in the plans for the forthcoming offensive. The day after that on the 30th each Company rehearsed their plan for the attack.

later on the 30th the Battalion went into Brigade reserve at the Canal Bank, relieving the 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers. The detailed operation order issued by the Adjutant listed the equipment and rations that the men were to carry. Officers were not to carry swagger sticks, and were to dress exactly the same as the men. Haversacks and entrenching tools would be left behind. Instead every man was issued with either a pick or shovel. Each platoon would carry 10 wire cutters, every man 2 aeroplane flares and every man 3 sandbags.

A detailed map was issued, showing the ground over which the Brigade was to advance. Starting in the area of Langemarck, the 11th Brigade was to attack on a narrow front, capturing ground to the North East of Poelcappelle. The 1st Hampshires were on the left, the Somerset Light Infantry on the right, and the 1st East Lancs in support and the Rifle Brigade in reserve. The Hampshires objectives, in order, were to be the Red House, Beek Villa, Imbros House, Kangaroo Huts and Tragique Farm. The principal objective, however, was merely a green line marked on the map. An even more detailed Battalion-level map was issued, that showed each of the Companies objectives, and also the distances between each landmark on the map. A diagram of how the platoons were to be set out in the advance was also included, and each platoon was allocated a specific objective, either to capture or, for the support companies, to consolidate once it had been captured.

The attack was to be on a 2 Company front, with each company’s front being 150 yards wide. The two other companies were to be in close support. A creeping Artillery Barrage was planned, as well as a Machine Gun Barrage. A detailed map showed the planned creep of the Barrage, beginning at Zero hour, and creeping forward on lines in front of the advance, moving forward every 2 to 3 minutes. Each Battalion was also alloted 2 Vickers Machine Guns to act in support. 2 Platoons were also designated as counter-attacking platoons, and designated authority to act on their own initiative to break up any German attacks. A Lewis Gun team of the 21st West Yorks was to be attached for anti-aircraft duties. A contact aeroplane was to overfly the area at set times to observe and report on progress.

On 1 and 2 October officers and NCO’s went forward to reconnoitre the line. The next day, on the 3rd, the Battalion went forward to its assembly area at Eagle Trench. It comprised 19 officers and 522 men. 3 officers and 118 men were to be left with the transport, to form a nucleus for reforming the Battalion if it were wiped out. Two tins of hot tea laced with rum were brought up for each Platoon. Heavy rain had fallen in the first few days of October, turning the artillery-riddled ground into a morass.

The troops were formed up and ready to go at 2am on 4 October. The enemy began shelling at 5am. At 6am the advance began, advancing behind the creeping barrage. They met light resistance, but the barrage was reported as being ‘ragged’, and caused many casualties to the Battalion. 30 prisoners and a machine gun were captured in Kangaroo trench. The Battalion advanced well, however. At 1pm it was noticed that the 10th Brigade on the left flank were retiring. An advance by the Rifle Brigade, coming up from reserve, checked this withdrawl. The Hampshires held firm on their objective line as night fell. Overall the battle of Broodseinde was one of the most succesful of the war. All objectives had been captured, for relatively light casualties when compared with the Somme and the earlier phases of Passchendaele. This was

The Battle on 4 October inflicted heavy casualties on the Battalion. 4 officers and 36 men were killed, and 8 officers and 182 men were wounded. 25 men were missing. Among the wounded were Colonel Armitage and Captain Laurie, the Chaplain, who both remained at their post.

Four Portsmouth men were killed on 4 October 1917. Private William McCarthy, 32 and from Highland Street, Eastney, is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial. 19 year old 2nd Lieutenant Henry Hall, of Victoria Road South, Southsea, is also remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial. Private Charles McCable is another man remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial, while Private Frank Oxford, 29, is buried in Cement House Cemetery.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – after the Battle of Arras

Lewis gun

A Lewis Gun, as used by the 1st Hants (Image via Wikipedia)

As June 1917 dawned Company Training continued, as well as sports events, including a Company football competition. On 6 June the Divisional Royal Engineers commander lectured on consolidation. On 10 June a party of 100 men under Captain Johnston marched to Monts-en-Ternois, where medals were presented after the recent operations at Arras.

On 11 June the whole Battalion moved to billets in Arras by ‘motor bus’. The next day the men were bivouaced in the support lines, until 7.15pm when the Battalion relieved the 5th Cameron Highlanders in Brigade support. They remained in support until 16 June, when the Battalion went into the front line near the River Scarpe. The line ran to the east of Roeux. The Battalion had a very quiet time in the line, and were relieved on 20 June, when they went back into Brigade support. The next few days were spent on improving the trenches and erecting barbed wire, before the Battalion was relieved by the 1st Royal Warwickshires on 26 June. The last few days of June were spent in the usual post front line cleaning, inspections and then work parties.

During June 1917 the Battalion had received significant reinforcements, in the shape of 6 officers and 131 men. Notably, no members of the Battalion were killed during the month – a rare month indeed on the Western Front. By mid-1917 the BEF and its units had honed the routine of trench warfare. Each time the Battalion went into the line or was relieved, a detailed operations order was issued in advance by the Adjutant. Atlhough this was no dobt efficient, it was also motivated by a feeling that the high proportion of conscripts in the Army, as well as non-regular officers, needed more detailed orders.

 Early July was spent in Balmoral Camp, training and providing work parties. On 13 July the Battalion went into Brigade support, and on 14 July went into the front line, north east of Monchy-le-Preux. The Germans were very quiet during the day, but very busy at night with snipers, rifle grenades and trench mortars. No men were killed, and the Battalion was relieved on 18 July. After several days in Reserve, the 1st Hampshires went back into the front line on 22 July. This tour proved to be more eventful. On the 23rd the Artillery carried out a dummy raid on the German lines to which the enemy replied, and the next day the Battalion sent out a patrol to reconnointre the enemy line. Several members of the patrol were lost. One of them was Corporal John Leask, a Portsmouth man, who is remembered on the Arras Memorial. On the 25th the Artillery again carried out a dummy raid, before the Battalion carried out a genuine raid the next night. The raiding party advanced behind a strong barrage, and took four prisoners. Only one Hampshire was killed. The Battalion was relieved the next day on 27 July. The rest of July was spent in Brigade reserve and providing working parties.

The Beginning of August 1917 found the Battalion in Wilderness Camp, before on the 2nd of the month they marched to Balmoral Camp. The Battalion began training, including a tactical exercise for officers to illustrate how to advance after a retreating enemy. Divisional sports competitions were held, and medals were awarded for the raid carried out on 24 July. On 13 August a full Battalion exercise was carried out, complete with dummy enemy machine guns. On the 14th the Battalion went into Brigade reserve, and the next day into the front line. The Battalions line was in the area of Musket Trench and happy valley. The Hampshires remained in the line until 23 August – a very long tour – and suffered 4 men killed by enemy shelling. One of them was Private Francis Davis, 35, from Boulton Road in Southsea. He is buried in Level Crossing Cemetery.

On 23 August the Battalion marched back to camp in Scots Valley, apart from A Company who remained in Lance Lane. The accomodation at Scots Valley consisted mainly of tents, and a few tarpaulin shelters. There were no cookhouses, and these had to be built. Over the next few days the Battalion also provided work parties. On 28 August Colonel Armitage left the Battalion temporary to take charge of the 11th Brigade – presumably the Brigadier was ill or wounded. On 31 August the Battalion marched back to Balmoral Camp.

September proved to be an interesting time for the Battalion. Although the ever-present work parties continued, time was found for platoon training. On the 5th the Battalion was relieved, and marched to Pommier. During the day a draft of 129 men arrived. The next day the new arrivals were inspected by the CO, and the Companies were re-organised into 4 platoons. On the 7th individual training commenced, including bombing and Lewis Gun lessons. the next day Brigadier-General Marshall, of the 45th Infantry Brigade, gave a fighting on recent fighting at Ypres. On the 8th Colonel Armitage returned to resume command.

Interestingly, on 9 September a group of 3 officers and 80 other ranks went by lorry to visit the area around Beaumont Hamel, where the Battalion had fought in July 1916 on the Somme – an early form of battlefield tour. Meanwhile back with the Battalion training continued, and on the 10th all officers and NCO’s down to Platoon Sergeant were lectured on German methods of defence ‘and how to deal with them’. More and more lectures were taking place – a sign of the experience that was being gained on the Western Front, the new professionalism in the BEF, and the number of amateur soldiers in the Army.

Training continued, and on the 15th of September, when 14 officers and 350 men turned out for a cross-country run (one wonders what happened to the rest of the men). On the 18th the Battalion marched off to Mondicourt. At midnight on the night of the 19th/20th the Battalion entrained at Mondicourt, and 9.30am detrained at Hopoutre, south of Poperinghe. From there they marched to Piddington Camp, south east of Proven.

The Battalion had returned to the Ypres Salient, where the Third Battle of Ypres had been raging for several months.

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1st Hampshires in the Great War – Battle of Arras #2

Troops embussing in Arras to go back for a res...

Troops embussing in Arras to go back for a rest (Image via Wikipedia)

 

As night fell on 9 April 1917, the 1st Battalion of the Hampshire Regiment were holding a section of captured German trenches after the Battle of Arras. Snow fell throughout the night, enough to leave a white blanket over the ground.

10 April seems to have been a relatively quiet day. The Hampshires observed the Germans very closely, and they seemed to be in the process of retreating. Judging by the traffic on the roads behind the enemy lines it seemed that they were pulling back, yet small groups of Germans in the front line kept up resistance. Attempts were made to continue the attacks, but the wintry conditions made fighting difficult.

At 7pm Germans were spotted moving towards the Hampshires front in a counter-attack. An artillery barrage was quickly called up – a great example of the improvements in all-arms co-operation – as well as rifle and Lewis Gun fire. After several hours it became clear the enemy’s attack was a reconnaisance in force, to assess the strength of the British line.

The next day, 11 April, saw the Battalion return to offensive action. The 4th Division was ordered to attack and hold a low ride, about 1,200 yards to the East of the fourth line of German trenches. The Somersets were in the lead for the 11th Brigade. The Germans were holding their line in strength, however, and the plan had to be altered. The Hampshires attacked to the left, and extended their line by 150 yards, losing 1 officer and 11 men killed and 16 wounded in the process. A similar attack was enacted the next day in order to cause a diversion for another attack elsewhere near Arras. This attack was repulsed, and the Battalion again lost 11 men killed and 16 wounded.

The next two days were very quiet apart from heavy shelling, and one man was killed on each day. On 15 April another attempt was made by B Company to capture Hudson and Hazard trenches, but again it was found impossible to take.

On 16 April the Battalion was shelled heavily, losing 4 men killed, before being relieved by the 1st Royal Irish Rifles and going back to Divisional Reserve that night. D Company did not manage to get away before daylight and had to remain in Hyderabad redoubt until the next night.

The Battalion marched back to shelters in the old German second line. Whilst they would have been OK in decent weather, the rain and snow had made them uncomfortable. After several days in reserve the Battalion then marched back to huts in Agnez-lez-Duisans, six miles west of Arras. The next day the Battalion marched to crowded billets at Izel-lez-Hameau, twelve miles west of Arras.

After the ubiquitous church parade on the first Sunday and time spent cleaning up, the Battalion were paraded and read messages of congratulations from Major-General Lambton (GOC 4th Division) and Lieutenant-General Fergusson (XVII Corps) for their efforts in the Battle of Arras. By the end of the month the Battalion had recommenced training in a similar manner to that it had before going into action.

During April 1917 the 1st Hampshires had suffered their heaviest casualties since the Somme the previous year – 3 officers and 26 men killed, 8 officers and 122 men wounded, 3 men accidentally wounded and 5 missing.

On 2 May the Battalion returned to the front line. After marching up to the old German 4th system the Hampshires were occupying trenches immediately north of the Fampoux-Athies road. Major Earle was in command, as divisional orders had ordered that Lt-Col Armitage was to remain behind with the transport.

The next day the 4th Division attacked, with the aim of capturing the western outskirts of Plouvain. Zero hour was very early, at 3.45am. The Germans were obviously expecting an attack, and it seemed that little progress was made. In the afternoon the 1st Hants supported the 1st Rifle Brigade in their attack on the Chateaux north of Roeux. Due to delays the Rifle Brigade began their attack at 3.30am, but were held up by maching-gun fire.

The next few days were relatively uneventful apart from heavy shelling. On 4 May the Battalion was holding a position between the junction of Corona and Ceylon trenches and the railway embankment. The enemy’s snipers were very active between the Chemical Works and the Chateau that the Rifle Brigade had attempted to capture. On 8 May the Battalion made a ‘chinese attack’ on the Chateaux, Chemical Works and surrounding areas, but evidently were not succesful.

10 May was spent preparing for operations, and nightfall found the Battalion occupying Ceylon and Cordite trenches. On 11 May the 4th Division, together with the 17th Division, attacked on a fron from Roeux Cemetery on the left to the station buildings on the right. Maps showed blue and black lines which were the respective objectives. The enemy were completely surprised and offered little resistance. The Black line was reached by 7.30pm, and the Battalion had taken 150 prisoners and 7 machine guns. The next day at 6am the Battalion advanced on the Blue line, and was again succesful, taking very few casualties.

The Battalion was relieved on 12 May by the 1/8th Argyll and Sutherland Highlanders. 13 May found the Battalion bivouaced south of the Fampoux-St Nicholas road, and from there the men marched to the Cavalry Barracks in Arras. On 14 May the 1st Hants boarded buses at Arras and moved to Magnicourt-sur-Canche. Over the next two days Major-General Lambton and General Sir Edmund Allenby inspected and addressed the Battalion, and operation awards were announced – 1 DSO, 2 MC’s, 1 DCM and 2 MM’s.

Although relatively modest, compared to the Somme the gains at the Battle of Arras were very impressive, and for much smaller losses. Little progress was made after the first day, however, and no breakthrough was made. The Hampshires were to remain at Arras for the time being, until the Third Battle of Ypres began – Passchendaele.

More Portsmouth men were killed in the days and weeks after the first day than on the first day itself:

11 April – Corporal Mervyn Offer (Arras Memorial), Private J.J. Cleaver (Bailleul Road East)

15 April – Private W.C.Brine (Etaples)

16 April – Lance Corporal George Jones (96 Twyford Avenue, Stamshaw; Arras Memorial)

18 April – Private Frederick Earwicker (Worlds End, Hambledon; Aubigny)

25 April – Lance Corporal W. Palmer (29 Mills Road; Aubigny)

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