In my last couple of blogs I have written the story of Jimmy Astin MM and what he did during the fisrt World War.

astinjamesarthur203654aFrom the history of his regiment the Lancashire Regiment, and his citation in the local paper we can pin down where Jimmy Astin was when he won his medal. According to the newspaper article in the Burnley Express of 28 September 1918 he was reported as being among the gallant men who fought with distinction with the 29th Division. His certificate for distinguished service states that;

“No 203654 Pte James Astin, Lancashire Fusiliers.I have read with much pleasure the reports of your Regimental Commander and Brigade Commander regarding your gallant conduct and devotion to duty in the field on 12th and 13th August 1918 near M—–, (this we now know to be Merris) and have ordered your name and deed to be entered in the record of the 29th Division  – (signed) Major General Commanding.”

This is the action where Jimmy won his Military Medal:

1918: AUGUST TO THE ARMISTICE – PROBING

1st Battalion

Signs began to multiply that the enemy’s morale was beginning to weaken even where he intended to stand his ground, which was not everywhere.  It was therefore important to continue to worry him and to find out where he was prepared to give up ground and where he was prepared to resist-in other words, to establish the position of his main line of resistance if a major attack was ordered.

adv_flanders1
British Advance into Flanders. The Lancashires were in the 29th Division, shown here near Meteren. Part of a map from the British Official History of Military Operations, France and Flanders 1918. Crown Copyright.

This was the object of a series of affrays in which the 1st Battalion  (Lieutenant-Colonel F. S. Modera, D.S.O., M.C.) was concerned in the second week in August. At 10 a.m. on IIth August, Lieutenant H. Laslett and two men reconnoitred a German machine-gun post which had been located in the south-west corner of “Celery Copse,” close to the south side of the railway half a mile south-west of Merris.

flanders-18th-august
This map shows the Albert Crssing, Celery Copse and Lynde Farm. Part of a map from the British Official History of Military Operations, France and Flanders 1918. Crown Copyright.

An hour and a half later he reported that the post was empty.  Early in the afternoon Lieutenants 1. Gorfunkle and S. J. Scurlock with two men reconnoitred the ground as far as “Abert Crossing,” a level-crossing immediately south of Merris, and reported that they had seen no Germans. At the same time Serjeants A. Tippet and W. Hillidge and another man went along the eastern edge of Celery Copse and found it unoccupied. Unfortunately, snipers from near Lynde Farm, to the south of the Copse, hit and killed Tippet as the party returned.

It was then decided to occupy Celery Copse and Lynde Farm. The left company, “B,” dribbled its platoons forward to the eastern edge of the copse and established its position there by 5.30 p.m. “D” Company, on the right, sent forward a patrol of four men under Corporal A. Amsom to examine Lynde Farm. They met with no opposition until they reached a trench containing a number of shelters, which ran from the southern edge of Celery Copse to the farm. They worked up this trench to one of the shelters, were challenged from farther down the trench and from another of the shelters, and were fired on. They returned the fire and inflicted casualties. On the way back, Amsom was wounded but continued to lead his patrol coolly and brought back information on which the trench was severely bombarded by Stokes mortars.

At 6.55 p.m. Lieutenant H. Laslett and fourteen men rushed the post and took prisoner a German N.C.O. and a wounded man.  It transpired that the other twelve men of the garrison had deserted the post at dusk, but that the commander had refused to leave until he was properly relieved. “D” Company cleared up the situation at Lynde Farm, taking six prisoners and two machine guns, and enabled “B” Company to go forward at 8.30 p.m.

During the afternoon of the next day the battalion tried to advance its line by “peaceful penetration” to some trucks on an old British siding close to the Merris-Vieux Berquin road. These were shelled for half an hour, at the end of which “B” Company sent out scouts supported by Lewis guns and riflemen. No. 7 Platoon reached the road, saw an enemy post and rushed it, taking six prisoners.

It then tried to work forward, but was stopped by heavy machine-gun fire from the trucks. The platoon commander, Lieutenant I. Gorfunkle, brought up a second Lewis gun round the end of the trucks and enfiladed the Germans behind them. The enemy suffered a number of casualties and some of them retired. But others returned the fire of the Lewis gun and killed Gorfunkle. The other forward platoon of the company was unable to make any progress, and Lieutenant S.J Scurlock, who assumed command when Gorfunkle was killed and made a personal reconnaissance of the situation under heavy fire, decided to withdraw his company to its original position, which he did with skill, and to reorganize it. He also brought back very useful information as to the German dispositions. “D” Company, on the right, had little luck.

After the bombardment of the trucks had ceased, the leading troops  advanced about a hundred yards before they were met with such heavy machine-gun fire that all further movement was impossible. Attempts were made to counter the German fire with five Lewis guns, but although these succeeded in silencing two German machine guns near Labis Farm, five hundred yards to the south of the trucks, the machine guns were quickly replaced, and were moreover reinforced by an artillery barrage.

This, together with the machine-gun fire from both flanks, made it impossible for the troops to maintain their position, and a withdrawal was ordered. At dusk the Germans put down another heavy barrage and delivered a counter-attack which forced the battalion’s line back to its original position west of Celery Copse.

 

q4649
Imperial War Museum image Q4649. Men of the Lancashire Fusiliers sit in a muddy puddle on the floor of a front line trench opposite Messines to clean a Lewis gun. Behind them, as the trench bends round to the right, a group of men can be seen standing in the trench, one of them with his bayonet fixed. To the left of the photographs, can be seen the gas alarm horn and wind vane. Several rows of sandbags form the top left-hand edge of the trench.
battle_of_hazebrouck_april_1918-2
British wounded soldier returning from the Battle of Hazebrouck in April 1918. Not Jimmy Astin, but he would be close to this action.

The operation had been costly-the losses being 2 officers killed, I officer wounded and 80 other ranks killed and wounded-but it had achieved its object of locating the enemy’s line of resistance and paved the way for its capture later by another unit under cover of an intense barrage which included 8-inch howitzers. Enemy snipers were very active on I3th August, but at night Second-Lieutenant  L. A. Manly and Lance-Corporal C.E. Lovewell skilfully brought back parties of seven and twelve men who had been out all day in advanced positions, Manly having succeeded in getting very close to the enemy’s position on the I2th but being unable to get back owing to the shelling.

The following received awards for this affair:-

 Military Cross

Lieutenant S. J.Scurlock.                                         Second-Lieutenant L. A. Manly,

Distinguished Conduct Medal

Corporal A. Amsom.

Bar to Military Medal

Lance-Corporal W. Morgan. M.M.

Military Medal

Lance-Corporal C. E. Lovewell.                               Private J.A. Astin.

Private W. Broster.                                   Private J.Chambers.

Private W. H. E. Chantler.                        Private C. Gould.

Private I. Iveson.

References;

The-History-of-the-Lancashire-Fusiliers-1914-1918-Volume-I

www.burnleyinthegreatwar.info

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