Promenade de Verdun

One of the first blogs I ever wrote on this site was about how the legacy of the First World War lives on in some of our street names. The ‘usual suspect’ names prove to be the most popular, with (generally speaking) the names of those who led the Allies to victory trumping battles in terms of popularity (there are no ‘Passchendaele Streets’ for instance – perhaps something to do with the spelling?!). However at least sixteen roads in the UK are named after the Battle of Verdun, which is interesting given the fact that it was not a battle that British or Commonwealth troops were involved in.

I suspect the majority of these (and indeed most other roads) could not be classed as war memorials in themselves. However the ‘Promenade de Verdun’ in Purley is different. Not only is it named after the infamous battle, it features a memorial to the battle and the French troops who lost their lives during the ten months of fighting in the area.

The promenade was the creation of William Webb, a local surveyor who designed the Woodcote Estate. He wanted the Promenade to be a tribute to the French as well as to highlight the friendship between the two nations.

The memorial itself is inscribed “Aux soldats de France mort glorieusement pendant la Grand Guerre” (To the soldiers of France who died gloriously during the Great War). The soil for the trees was brought from near Armentieres, and was reputedly so full of shrapnel and bullets that it had to be sifted several times to prevent souvenir hunters damaging the avenue. The Lombardy poplars that still line the road also came from Verdun.

The road is a cul-de-sac and today the houses along it command multi-million-pound asking prices, so I doubt many people are aware of its historic significance or the memorial. Yet it is a fascinating legacy of the war and I would urge anyone who is in the area to make a detour to see it for themselves.

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The gory details

I am often struck when reading newspaper reports or personal accounts from the war at just how frank they can be, in a way that you just would not see in newspapers these days. These accounts often include the ‘gory details’ of how many of the enemy were dispatched, and how – in many cases accompanied by a fairly graphic illustration (think propaganda publications such as The War Illustrated or Deeds that Thrill the Empire).

One such account appeared in The Fifeshire Advertiser on 1 January 1916, under the headline ‘Dysart Hero’s Gallant Exploit. Kills Seven Germans, Then Falls’:

Details of a gallant exploit, in which Private William Riley, Durham Light Infantry, killed a German officer, six men, and captured a German machine gun, have been received by his mother, Mrs Riley, 16 Dovecot Crescent, Dysart, in a letter from another member of the regiment. Private Riley was, unfortunately, killed a few hours later.

His comrade states that he was one of the few left who came out originally with the regiment. He was within a hundred yards of Pte. Riley when the latter fell, and he was respectfully buried by the Queen’s Westminster Rifles.

The writer continues – “His gallant action will remain with the regiment for many years, especially in the minds of those who saw him. I don’t know if he was recommended for any reward, as all his officers were killed, which makes all the difference in the world. I will tell you of his action, according to some of the chaps who were with him at the time. After a very stubborn resistance by the Germans, our regiment took the first line. Young Willie jumped into the trench and as he did so, a big German officer got hold of his throat and tried to strangle him. But Willie blew this officer’s head nearly off. After this he walked into the next traverse, killed six Germans, and captured a machine gun. After doing this his company officer sent him to report something to regimental headquarters, and while on his way back he was killed. No doubt you will be greatly upset over this sad affair, but you have the satisfaction of knowing your son died a hero’s death. He died for a great cause, and a gallant hero, too. If he had survived I daresay you no doubt would have been the mother of a V.C. hero. It was something like the feat of Michael O’Leary when he won the V.C. If young Willie had only done what the commanding officer told him to do he might have been spared. In delivering his message to the C.O. he was told to have a bit rest to get his wind back, but instead of this he rushed straight back to the trenches, and it was on his way back that he met his fate. No one was more touched than I was when the signaller at the Durhams’ headquarters signalled it through to me.”

William Riley had been overseas with the 2nd Battalion Durham Light Infantry since 8 September 1914. The action referred to in the article took place on 9 August 1915, when the battalion attacked from Sanctuary Wood toward Hooge, suffering 48 killed, 268 wounded, and 100 missing. Riley’s grave was subsequently lost and he is commemorated on the Menin Gate. On the same day as the newspaper article, his name was listed in the London Gazette as ‘mentioned in despatches’, presumably for his actions on the day he was killed. He is also commemorated on Dysart war memorial.

Map showing the 2nd DLI’s positions prior to the attack at Hooge, 09/08/1915

The action of Michael O’Leary referred to in the letter took place near Cuinchy on 1 February 1915. O’Leary, serving in the Irish Guards, stormed a machine gun nest, killing eight Germans and taking another two prisoner. There are several illustrations depicting this event; two are shown below.

Depiction of Michael O’Leary’s VC action. From ‘Deeds of Heroism and Bravery’

Depiction of Michael O’Leary’s VC action. From ‘Deeds that Thrill the Empire’

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‘The position was a helpless one’ – The 2nd Sherwood Foresters at Ennetieres, 20th October 1914

The accounts that officer prisoners of war had to give when they returned from captivity make for fascinating reading. Not only can they flesh out the sometimes sparse and clinical war diary entries, but they can give an insight into how these men acted under intense pressure, often in confused circumstances, and with enemy forces bearing down on them.

One such officer was Captain Edward Drury-Lowe, of the 2nd Battalion The Sherwood Foresters (Notts & Derbyshire Regiment). The battalion was part of 18th Brigade, 6th Division; proceeding overseas on 20th September 1914, Drury-Lowe was captured exactly a month later.

On this day, 20th October, the German Fourth and Sixth Armies launched attacks in the Ypres to Armentieres area, in response to the British advances of the previous days. The 18th Brigade was holding a salient in front of the main bulk of the division, consisting of a line of scattered posts. Three battalions, including the 2nd Sherwood Foresters, were holding a line of about three miles, with the Sherwood Foresters occupying the village of Ennetieres, south east of Armentieres. The battalion to the rear was about 700 yards away, and on the Foresters’ right flank there was a gap between the battalion and the left battalion of the 16th Brigade.

Map from the British Official History showing the situation on 20th October 1914

The battalion war diary records how the Germans commenced shelling the village at daybreak. A number of attacks were made against the salient, with the battalion being shelled from all directions, and just five platoons holding a front of 1,500 yards. Eventually during late afternoon the battalion was forced to fall back, however during the course of the retirement it became clear that 16th Brigade to the right had already fallen back, and the Germans approaching from the rear cut off any route to safety. The bulk of the battalion was left with no option to surrender, but Drury-Lowe and the remnants of his men managed to hold out until the next morning. In total almost 500 men of the battalion were taken prisoner. Drury-Lowe’s account of the action is reproduced in full below:

On Oct 20th D Coy, of which I was in command, occupied the trenches on the extreme right of the Battalion’s position. I had taken over the trenches the night before from the DLI.

The position was a hopeless one. Lieut. May’s platoon (No 13) had been temporarily taken from me to form an independent post on my left. Nos. 14 and 15 platoons were entrenches close together, while 2nd Lieut. Smith’s platoon (No. 16) was entrenched about 300 yds to the right of No. 15. The only way to reach these trenches was across open ground with no cover whatsoever. Further still to the right across open more open country was a railway crossing held by the 16th Bde with whom Smith was in communication.

I had orders to withdraw No. 16 platoon as dawn on Oct. 20th to D Coy Hd Qrs, which were at a farm some 150 yds in rear of Nos. 14 and 15 platoons. Directly they arrived, the Germans began to shell the farm, and it was soon in flames. This resulted in the loss of some of the rifles and all the equipment belonging to two sections. The men however were all got away under cover before the buildings were completely destroyed.

I sent at one to inform the CO, who told me to send these two sections to him at once. He also told me to send No. 16 platoon out again to the trenches, as an attack was developing on our right. I sent Smith off with the other half of his platoon, telling him that I should be with No. 14 platoon on my return from the village.

I then took the two sections to the CO. It was about 11am when I handed them over to him. I told him that Smith had only ½ platoon in his isolated position, but the CO could not spare me any more men. I returned to No. 14 platoon. As there was not much firing going on, we dug hard, and did what we could to improve the cover.

About 4.15pm, I received a written message from Smith. He said he had seen nothing of the enemy, and asked for field glasses if I had any spare to spare.

Soon after this some of the men of the DLI came and crowded into our trenches – there was no officer with them. They said that they had been sent ‘to assist in covering the retirement’, but there was then no reason to retire.

Presently however, as it was getting dark, we heard shouting from our left rear (the direction of LA VALLEE), as if men were charging. Soon after we saw men about 300 yds behind us. I estimated their numbers at not less than 1000. Directly I could see that they were Germans, I ordered the men to turn about, and then opened fire, but I soon found that we were being fired at from the front. I now ordered the men to face alternately front and rear, and not to fire unless they were compelled to, as I know that we were completely outnumbered, and our ammunition was running short.

As it got dark we could hear the Germans in rear digging themselves in. Later they set fire to a building near No. 14 platoon. I expected every minute that they would rush our trenches, and ordered every man to stand to. There was also a building on my left, by which I posted a piquet.

At dawn the piquet reported that the enemy had brought up a machine-gun on our left, and as soon as it was light, I saw what looked like a Battalion of the enemy drawn up on that side.

I knew then that we were completely surrounded, I considered that the only course open to me was to surrender.

I surrendered at about 5.15am on Oct 21st with about 50 men, a few of whom were DLI.

I received no messages from and heard nothing of Smith after 4.15pm on the 20th, and I received no messages or orders from the CO after I left him in the village about 11am.

I fear there can be no doubt that Smith and his men were all killed on the evening of Oct 20th, his trenches being rushed from the rear. The ground sloped down slightly behind his trenches, which would enable the enemy to come up unseen.

Drury-Lowe’s sketch map of the action. His original position can be seen left of centre above the ‘Coy’ of D Coy; the asterisk marks where he was surrounded and captured

Brigadier-General Congreve wrote after the battle “The Battalion had done exceedingly well all day; it was just worn out and overwhelmed by superior numbers.” The action of the men that day highlights the resilience of the British Army at the time. Despite having already suffered heavily in action, being led by new officers, with very few of the original platoon commanders who had accompanied the battalion to France, and having been reinforced by men new to the battalion, the men still held out under extremely difficult circumstances.

The same area shown on a later trench map; position of Drury-Lowe’s capture marked

Casualties were hard to estimate due to the loss of all the battalion’s paperwork and records when the HQ was shelled early on in the battle, but in addition to those taken prisoner it was estimated that over 100 men were wounded. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission records 77 men of the battalion killed on the 20th, 72 of whom have no known grave and whose names are inscribed on the Ploegsteert Memorial. Amongst these names is that of Lieutenant Harry Smith, referred to in Drury-Lowe’s account.

Ploegsteert Memorial

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A Lucky Escape

I am often struck when reading the recollections of soldiers in the First World War how much luck, providence, fate – call it what you will – seems to factor in their accounts. As such the following story caught my eye.

At the end of October 1917 the Thanet Advertiser ran an article where Second Lieutenant William Munday recounted how his cigarette case saved his life. Munday was a career soldier, having joined the Dragoon Guards aged 16 and serving 14 years with the regiment prior to receiving a commission to the 7th Buffs.

At the end of September 1917 the battalion was in camp at St. Jan-ter-Biezen, three miles west of Poperinghe, undergoing a period of training. The battalion war diary records that at 7.20pm on 29th September a solitary aeroplane dropped four bombs on the camp, killing 27 men and wounding a further 63.

The British camp at St. Jan-ter-Biezen

Munday wrote home that he had been standing in the mess tent before dinner, talking to two fellow officers. The explosion of the bombs hurled him across the tent and when he extricated himself from the debris he found one of the officers was dead (Second Lieutenant Ralph Mead, aged 19) and the other wounded. Munday had been saved by his cigarette case in the left breast pocket of his tunic, which had been pierced by a bomb fragment.

The cigarette case that saved William Munday’s life

The men killed in the raid were buried side by side the following day at Nine Elms British Cemetery, just two miles from the site of the camp, where they lay in plots II and III.

William Munday

As an aside, William Munday was to play a minor role in another aspect of the conflict. By the end of the war he was the Deputy Assistant Provost Marshal for Calais, a position he held until 1922. In November 1918 a member of the Chinese Labour Corps, Chang Ju Chih, murdered a woman and her children. He went on the run and was arrested in April 1919, subsequently escaped, and was re-arrested in February 1920. For his crime he was sentenced to death. He spent his last night in the company of William Munday, who also oversaw the firing squad on 14th February 1920. However the salvo from the firing squad did not kill Chang Ju Chih, and Munday was forced to administer a coup de grace with his pistol. Chang Ju Chih lies in Les Baraques Military Cemetery outside Calais, one of the last servicemen to be ‘shot at dawn’.

William Munday’s medals are now held by the National Army Museum – as is the cigarette case that saved his life, still containing the piece of shrapnel that it stopped.

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A Missing Sergeant – updated

Once again time seems to have flown by since my last post, for a number of reasons. Family life and the day job have taken precedence, and a lot of my free time was spent preparing for my role as a battlefield guide on the Royal British Legion’s ‘Great Pilgrimage 90’ tour. The prospect of being asked questions about potentially any aspect of the war was quite daunting, so I probably over-prepared because of this!

Now I have a bit more free time on my hands I can get back doing what I love most – researching. My research focuses primarily on three areas; my family who served, the men named on my local war memorials, and the local regiments (particularly the 1st Queen’s Royal West Surreys). However, pursuing research leads I often find myself side-tracked by interesting stories.

This one starts with the war diary of the 1/7th Battalion Royal Highlanders (The Black Watch). This was the battalion my Great Great Grandfather served with. It went overseas in May 1915 and later that year was posted to the Somme sector, where it took over the line from the French. In November the battalion was based in the village of Authuille, just over a mile from Thiepval. I was reading the battalion war diary, tracking my Great Great Grandfather’s movements, when the entry for 9 November caught my eye:

The enemy shelled PETERHEAD today without effect. Important patrols were sent out this evening to investigate reported working by the enemy in the road opposite the HAMMERHEAD. Capt MHN Graham was in command of the main patrol, and 2nd Lieut AL Millar of the covering patrol. The main patrol was fired on at very close range by a German sentry group, and Capt Graham was seriously wounded in the left arm. When roll was called it was found that Sergt Marnock was missing. Lieut Millar volunteered to lead a patrol search party, but no trace of Sergt Marnock could be found. Weather, dull. Casualties Officers wounded 1, other ranks missing 1.

Hammerhead sap was located at the south east corner of Thiepval wood. If you have ever stood at the 18th Division memorial at Thiepval looking down towards the wood, the sap was just in front of the corner of the wood as you are looking at it.

Hammerhead Sap

Attempts were made to locate the missing sergeant the following day:

10th Nov – A search party under Lce Cpl Falconer B Coy went out from the Hammerhead at 1pm but found no trace of their missing comrade.

It was initially presumed that Sergeant Marnock had been taken prisoner. His family cannot have been helped by reports such as that in the Fifeshire Advertiser, 1 January 1916:

While unabated anxiety is felt by his friends as to the fate of Sergt. J. Marnock, 1/7th Black Watch, Kirkcaldy, it is unofficially stated that he is a prisoner of war. Sergeant Wilson, who is home to East Fife from the front, states that Sergeant Marnock is a prisoner in the hands of the Germans.

However enquiries to the International Committee of the Red Cross are marked with the dreaded words ‘negatif envoye’ in May 1916, and again in June 1917. The German record states no details were found.

John’s brother David, serving in the Royal Garrison Artillery, was killed in August 1917; in the report of his death in the Fifeshire Advertiser of 1 September 1917, it states that John has been missing for nearly two years – his family seemingly still unaware of his death.

Whatever the circumstances (and date) of John’s death, it seems that he was originally buried by the Germans at Courcelette Communal Cemetery. Perhaps he died soon after he was captured, hence the ICRC having no records of him. However his original grave was destroyed by shellfire and Marnock is now commemorated at Delville Wood cemetery, on a special memorial. The memorial reads ‘To the memory of these three Soldiers of the British Empire, killed in action in 1915 and buried at the time in Courcelette Communal Cemetery, German extension, whose graves are now lost. Their Glory shall not be blotted out.’

Sergeant John Marnock is commemorated on Kirkcaldy war memorial, along with his brother.

Sergeant John Marnock


I was recently contacted by the relative of a German soldier who had sketched a picture of John Marnock’s grave, presumably when he was originally buried at Courcelette Communal Cemetery. The picture clearly shows John Marnock’s name on the cross, along with his rank, battalion and regiment, and date of death. The German soldier, Arthur Beyler, had enlisted at the beginning of the war and served until he was captured at Thiepval on the eve of the Battle of the Somme. He saw out the remainder of the war as a prisoner of war at Donington Hall in Leicestershire.

The sketch by Arthur Beyler. Courtesy of Delphine Beyler.

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He Made the Great Sacrifice for King and Country

So reads the epitaph on the grave of Second Lieutenant Alfred Claude Gant, 2nd Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps, who was killed less than a month before the war ended, aged 21. He lies in Busingy communal cemetery, about 15 miles south east of Cambrai.

A while ago I picked up two photographs of his grave. There is nothing particularly special about them; they are small prints that have obviously been taken from an album. One shows presumably his father standing behind his grave. The man stands almost expressionless, not looking at the camera. To me it is a powerful image of a father’s grief. The pictures were probably taken in the late-1920s, perhaps on a pilgrimage, perhaps the first or maybe the only time his parents visited their son’s grave; his mother died in 1933 and his father in 1946.

Alfred was born in Nottinghamshire in 1895, the son of William, a farrier, and Annie. He was educated at Sneinton Church Higher Grade School and became a grocer’s assistant. He enlisted in the 13th King’s Royal Rifle Corps in March 1915 and went to France in July of that year. One of four children, two of his brothers also served.

In May 1917 he was appointed Lance Corporal and in July applied for a commission. At the end of that month he was gassed. He re-joined his battalion in October and was promoted to the rank of Corporal in November. Later that month he returned to England to carry out officer training. His report states: ‘Education, average; Military Knowledge, good; Power of Command and Leadership, good. Better in the field than on paper. Has worked hard and shown satisfactory progress throughout the course. Should make a satisfactory officer.’

He was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the 2nd KRRC on 26 June 1918, and joined the battalion towards the end of September. It was a baptism of fire for the new subaltern, as the British and Commonwealth forces sought to break through the Hindenburg Line. The KRRC Chronicle reported that ‘On the evening of the 23rd the Battalion moved up to the line again to attack on the 24th. The enemy apparently suspected the attack, because they were shelling all the roads and valleys and likely forming-up positions very heavily with gas. The Royal Sussex were attacking on our left and the 3rd Infantry Brigade on our right. Their objectives were two hills about two miles from the assembly position, and the Battalion’s task was to clear the valley running in between, and the final objective was known as Le Due Trench, about 400 yards south of Pontruet [about six miles north west of St. Quentin]. The attack progressed very well, and all objectives were gained except on our right, where a party of about 200 of the enemy held out in a trench redoubt till dusk, when we captured the positions. A further advance was made at dusk by A and C Companies, and a sunken road on an important ridge in front was captured. This attack had to be arranged and carried out at very short notice, and was most successful. About 2pm the next day, the 25th, the enemy attempted to counter attack, after heavy artillery preparations. They were heavily repulsed by our rifle and Lewis gun fire and the excellent barrage from our own guns. Enemy shelling remained very heavy all day, but no further counter-attack was attempted.’

The attack had cost the battalion 22 killed, 69 wounded (including the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Edward St. Aubyn), and 3 missing.

After a period of rest and training during the first half of October, on 16 October the battalion moved to Becquignette Farm, to the east of Bohain, and prepared for an attack the following day. This was the Battle of the Selle, as the armies advanced north east over the River Selle towards Valenciennes.

The Battle of the Selle

The KRRC Chronicle recounts the details: ‘Early on October 17th, at 1.30 a.m., we went to our assembly positions in the Bois de Busigny. The plan of attack was the 2nd Battalion, working in conjunction with the 1st Northamptons on our right and an American battalion on our left, was to follow close behind the attack of the 6th Division, and, when the latter had gained their objective, leap-frog through and carry on with the attack. The morning mist, together with the smoke barrage, made direction difficult to follow, and the Companies were for the moment disconnected. They, however, all got in touch again before we were due to pass through the 6th Division, and we continued to push forward in section artillery formation, A Company on the left, B on the right, D in support, and C in reserve. When the moment came to pass through the 6th Division we found that they were digging in some 800-1000 yards short of their objective. At first little opposition was met with, but the shelling was fairly heavy. The day went well until the enclosed country north of La Vallee Mulatre was reached. It was here that the enemy had a great number of well-concealed nests of machine-guns in hedges, etc., which kept up a big volume of fire. One of D Company’s platoons, working well, succeeded in out-flanking two of these guns, but the remainder held up the attack. Consequently B and C Companies were ordered to work right round the left flank. While carrying out this movement they had to deal with a sunken road to their left rear, which was still strongly held by the Germans, as the Americans were a little late in dealing with this obstacle. However, the obstacle was overcome, thirty prisoners taken, and later these two Companies, together with one platoon of Americans, successfully rushed the enemy machine-guns, which were firing from a railway embankment. Gallant as was this little affair, it did not ease the situation on the right. Accordingly A and D Companies made another attempt to move forward, with the help of three “whippet” tanks. This was again frustrated, partly by the enfilade fire, which was still very galling, and partly because the “whippets” were also soon placed hors de combat by anti-tank guns. Thus, unable to make progress, we held on to the ground already won and consolidated. It was very satisfactory that we had got further than any other battalion in the Division. During the night the 2nd Battalion Royal Scots pushed through us, but they too found that they could make but little headway their flanks being in the air. An extremely interesting point about this fight was that we were engaged against the same enemy division that the Battalion had met at Nieuport in July, 1917, and we actually took an officer prisoner who had been present at the battle of Nieuport. Time had gone full circle: the debt was paid. We took 100 prisoners, fourteen guns, twelve trench mortars, and many machine-guns. Our losses in the fight were: Officers killed 2nd Lieut. J.M. Hunter, A.C. Gant, W.S. Gibbs. Died of Wounds. 2nd Lieut. A.J. Stephens. Wounded. Capt. J.R.P. Maxwell, Lieut. B.V. Cherry, 2nd Lieut. T.C.S. White, T. Scatter, F. Tun, MM.’

The farm where Alfred’s body was found in 1920

Alfred’s body was recovered in May 1920 from a farm at map reference 57b.w.18.c.7.4, along with several of the other casualties from his battalion that day. The farm is located about 3/4 of a mile north east of  La Vallee Mulatre, referred to in the KRRC Chronicle account of the action.

The location where Alfred’s body was found, east of Molain

He is now buried in Busigny Communal Cemetery Extension, Plot V Row A Grave 23, and lies between two Lance Corporals from his battalion who were also killed in the attack. He is also commemorated on the Sneinton St. Stephen war memorial.

Alfred Gant’s headstone

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‘The bayonet was freely used’ – The 3/4th Queen’s at the Battle of Broodseinde 4th October 1917

The 3/4th battalion of The Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regiment) was a territorial battalion that been formed in 1915 and went overseas in June 1917, joining 62nd Brigade, 21st Division, in August.  Although the battalion spent some time in the line, the Battle of Broodseinde on 4th October 1917 was to be its first action.

On the night of 2nd-3rd October the 62nd Brigade relieved the 110th in the front line to the east of Polygon Wood. On the 3rd the men tried to carry out reconnaissance of the area but this was made difficult owing to the Germans occupying the nearby high ground.

Plan of attack for the Battle of Broodseinde

The action of 4th October was the third of General Plumer’s ‘bite and hold’ attacks, carried out to try and consolidate on the recent advances made and take the Broodseinde Ridge, thereby protecting the southern flank of the British line before the drive to take the Passchendaele Ridge. The 21st Division was to advance east and take the village of Reutel and the high ground overlooking it. 62nd Brigade was tasked with advancing almost 1,200 yards.

At 3am on the 4th the 3/4th Queen’s assembled with three companies in the front line, each with a frontage of about 85 yards. The strength of the battalion was 982 men.

Juniper trench

The battalion was attacking German positions on higher ground, so the Germans held the advantage and had a good view of the attacking troops. Between the battalion and its objectives were three ‘beeks’ or streams, and because of the shelling the ground was completely churned up, the war diary calling it an ‘impenetrable morass’. The rising ground towards the German positions was covered by barbed wire and there were ‘mebus’ (blockhouses/pillboxes) at the top of the high ground. These would hold 20-30 men, with machine guns and trench mortars covering the approaches.

The area attacked by the battalion. The Polygon Beek can clearly be seen

Zero hour was 6am, and as soon as the British barrage commenced the men moved up behind it. However negotiating a line of barbed wire caused delays and the men came under machine gun fire from the right flank. It also proved difficult negotiating the Polygon Beek and the marshy ground surrounding it, despite the use of mud mats and a few trench boards. Despite the confusion Juniper trench was reached and successfully assaulted. Many Germans were seen emerging, but in the dark it was impossible to tell if they meant to surrender or fight, and they were killed.

Lieutenant Arthur Byfield Frost. He was killed on 23rd March 1918 and is commemorated on Pozieres memorial

A German blockhouse was then encountered; a bombing party led by Lieutenant Arthur Byfield Frost attacked the structure and set it on fire with phosphorous bombs, an act for which Frost was awarded the Military Cross. The rest of this portion of the line was captured and the battalion consolidated its position and established Lewis Gun posts.

The Brigade war diary provides a more detailed account of the action which is worth quoting from, as it paints a vivid picture of the nature of the fighting, very different to the sanitised accounts that are often encountered:

The bayonet was freely used and large numbers of the fleeing enemy were shot with the rifle…One mebus was apparently set on fire by a phosphorus bomb and burnt furiously, the whole garrison being shot as they fled or burnt to death before they could emerge…

Prisoners were numerous and estimated by one commanding officer at 500, but the German dead far outnumbered these and were greatly in excess of our own casualties…

It is impossible to estimate with any accuracy the numbers of the enemy killed during the morning’s fight, but the numbers were far in excess of anything witnessed by the Brigade in the Battle of the Somme…

A gross case of treachery occurred during the attack near a mebu in Jupiter trench. A German officer surrendered and put up his hands. As Lieutenant Cooper of the 3/4th Queen’s went forward to take his surrender the German officer whipped out his revolver and shot Lieut Cooper dead. Before he could do more harm the German’s body was riddled with bullets from the rifles of the men who witnessed the treacherous shot.

On account of an inner compartment of a mebu reopening fire after the outer garrison had surrendered it was necessary to kill all the Germans in the post.

Bayonet work was impossible on the many Germans who fled to the rear as they ran without arms or equipment, but they offered good targets to the riflemen.

It also mentions an incident that occurred with the Padre:

A German rushed at the Reverend Tron and nearly tore his coat from off his back. The padre who is a bit of a boxer, repeatedly struck the German in the face until they broke apart. Unslinging his glasses, the astonished German thrust them into the hands of the astonished clergyman, and tended his surrender.

The area today showing the battalion’s starting point and the blockhouse bombed by Lieutenant Frost

The battalion had captured 200 prisoners, 15 machine guns, and 10 mortars. However losses had also been heavy: three officers and at least 84 men killed or died of wounds, and 250 wounded; of these 17 were officers including the Lieutenant Colonel, the Medical Officer, and the Padre. Total casualties amounted to a third of the battalion’s strength prior to the battle. Nearly 90% of those killed have no known grave and are commemorated on Tyne Cot memorial.

One of those who does have a grave is Private Harry Brown. In the 1911 census Harry was 16 and living with his widowed mother and brother and sister in Sutton, working as a gardener. His body was recovered in 1920, confirmed by his identity disc, about 2 miles from where the battalion had been in action.

Other casualties included:

Lance Corporal John William Stracey of Carshalton, aged 21. His picture shows that he was a stretcher bearer. He is commemorated on Carshalton memorial.






Private John Fletcher Boughey, aged 35. Educated at Brighton Grammar School, he worked for Child & Co private bank. He was also involved in the Church Lads Brigade at Ealing and Hanwell.






Private Sydney Copeland Cleaver, of Canterbury, who worked for Lloyds Bank.

Posted in 1917, Passchendaele, Queen's Royal West Surrey Regiment, Surrey Regiments, WW1 | Tagged , | 2 Comments