Reuben Rose enlisted into the British Army on 15th September 1914, just 6 weeks after the outbreak of war. He joined the Northumbrian (North Riding) Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery at their HQ Drill Hall at 53 Grange Road W, Middlesbrough. Much of the early recruitment in August and September 1914 took place at the Drill Hall, which was the base for many of the local Volunteer units, part of the Army’s Territorial Forces. There was also three units of Royal Engineers; a couple of companies of the Yorkshire Regiment and a squadron of the Yorkshire Hussars. This Drill Hall was pulled down some time ago, although at the other end of Grange Road there is still a similar drill hall.
As Reuben was an electrical engineer he could have been drawn to the Electric Light company of the Engineer’s, but decided on the Artillery. Perhaps he was already in this Territorial Force, which according to the local paper was already up to strength when they went on their annual camp in June. Looking at his nice new uniform he probably volunteered at the start of the war joining his best friend Sandy and other pals.
The North Riding Heavy Battery was part of the Northumbrian Division of the Territorial Force. In June 1914 the Battery had 5 officers and 180 men under the command of Captain T.D.H Stubbs. At the outbreak of war on 8th August they mobilised at Middlesbrough under the command of Major C.T. Hennah and moved to Monkseaton and then onto Newcastle upon Tyne on 1st September. They formed part of the coastal defences around Tynemouth. Reuben would have travelled to Newcastle soon after his enlistment where he volunteered for overseas duty, joining a new unit – 1/1st Northumbrian (NR) Heavy Battery. Those who prefered home duty formed the 2/1st NR Battery and stayed around Tynemouth providing the home defences during the war. When men in the Territorial force agreed to overseas service they signed a “Imperial Service Obligation” and were issued a special badge, known as the “Imperial Service Brooch” worn on the right breast. As Reuben enlisted in September, he was expected to agree to overseas service and he is wearing his brooch on the 1915 Battery photo below.
In Reubens unit photo above, there are 75 solidiers (including 8 NCO’s and 4 officers) so this is probably the full 1/1st Northumbrian (NR) Heavy Battery. This would be spring, (there are no leaves on the trees) so not long before they embarked for France. We can check the numbers by looking at the Medal Roll for the 1914-1915 Medal. At the end of the war all soldiers who fought overseas in 1914 or 1915 were given this award. The Northumbrian (North Riding) Heavy Battery RGA (TF) section of the medal roll shows that there were 82 individuals on dis-embarkation on 21st April 1915 (or joined a little later that year). By the end of the war, of this 82, 6 were Killed in Action, 7 Died of Wounds and 3 Died at home. They would have had a likely complement of 17 riding horses, 6 draught and 80 heavy draught horses with 3 two-horse carts and 10 four-horse wagons formed the battery.
At the outbreak of war, the North Riding battery was equipped with 4.7-inch Quick Fire (QF) guns supported by an attached Northumbrian (North Riding) Ammunition Column. They had two guns A, B along with a D sub-section at Middlesborough and one gun in C sub-section at Thornaby. These were previously naval guns converted to field guns for the Boer War with updated carriages (known as Mk I Woolwich). Overall, the heavy batteries of the Territorial forces had 92 QF 4.7 inch guns in France.
British QF 4.7inch on 1900 Mk I “Woolwich” carriage,Western Front, World War I. AWM “Picardie, Somme Pozieres. Australian transport limbers returning down Sausage Valley gallop past a battery of British 4.7 inch quick firing (QF) field guns.”
After their seven month spell at Newcastle, the NRA RGA received their embarkation orders on 12th April 1915, boarding the train to embark and leave England on the 19th April. They landed at Le Havre on 21st April 1915, a date the Reuben remembered well, he refers to it on the first anniversary of his arrival in France in his 1916 diary. By the 23rd April the Northumbrian Division had concentrated in the area of Steenvoorde to the west of Ypres in Flanders. They had arrived just as the Second Battle of Ypres started with the Germans using poison gas for the first time. German infantry advanced across the Ypres salient, the Allied armies defensive area that had formed after the German invasion was halted in 1914. The Division was rushed into the battle moving up behind the Canadians (1st Canadian Division) who were taking the brunt of the German attack.
Here’s what was going on. “On the morning of 24 April, the Battle of St. Julien started with the Germans releasing another gas cloud towards the re-formed Canadian line just west of St. Julien. Word was passed to the troops to urinate on their handkerchiefs and place them over their nose and mouth. The countermeasures were insufficient, and German troops took the village. The next day the York and Durham Brigade units of the Northumberland Division counter-attacked, failing to secure their objectives but establishing a new line closer to the village. On 26 April the Northumberland Brigade attacked again and gained a foothold in the village, but were forced back with the loss of more than 1,940 casualties.”
It is likely that the NR Heavy Artillery was moved with the division, but they were not a mobile unit like the Field Artillery. Its possible a battery was set up to provide defensive cover to the Division fighting in the trenches some 5 miles away. They were probably located close to existing Heavy Artillery of the XIII Brigade RGA which was based to the west of Ypres close to Vlamertinghe.
This battle is was one of the first where superior German artillery came into play. They hammered the Allied armies around Ypres, stopping them from making effective counter-attacks. German artillery, made up of a single 17-inch howitzer called Big Bertha along with accurate 8-inch and lighter guns, shelled Ypres town. Big Bertha fired shells weighing 1, 719lb (816kg). The shells were fired in pairs and, according to the British Official History, “travelled through the air with a noise like a runaway tramcar on badly laid rails”. This huge gun was located in the vicinity of the Houthulst Forest, north of Ypres.
The British and Canadian Artillery with their old guns did figure prominently in the early battles, assigned to counter-battery fire trying to suppress the German fire. Unfortunately, reports from the time show that counter-battery fire failed. By the end of this battle, the barrels of some of the guns were so worn that bands were stripped off the shells at the muzzle as they were fired. Counter-battery fire failed due to the inaccuracy of the worn-out guns and the army still lacking means of accuratly locating enemy guns. Air observation and reporting along with using radios were in its early days.
Reuben would have know very little of this, the newly arrived battery would be busly engaged in setting up; building and settling into their billets; moving the ammunition around and getting the guns firing after the weeks travelling.
As artillery tactics developed during 1915, Batteries joined together, usually with three others, to form a Heavy Brigade. The brigade would have had their own Ammunition Column of around 100 OR troops and 3 officers. The ammunition was hauled around the Brigade by around 72 heavy horses in 16 four-horse wagons. Other transport was by 13 riding horses and 2 draught horses pulling a two-horse cart. An artillery Brigade HQ would also include 7 officers and 137 other ranks and their own riding, draught and heavy draught horses and wagons. Reubens 1916 diary often refers to going up to the Column, likely to be the Brigade ammunition stocks and other stores.
After the battle for St Julien was over on the 5th May, the North Riding RGA joined the newly formed XIII Brigade RGA. This artillery Brigade had been heavily involved in supporting the army during the early days of the Second Battle of Ypres. They joined other Heavy Batteries; the 2nd London Heavy Battery who had retreated some 5 miles back from Kitchener’s Wood loosing their guns (although these were subsequently recaptured), the 1st North Midland Heavy Battery who had recovered back from north of Wieltje and the 31st HB.
Almost immediately the Battle of Frezenberg started and the NR RGA were involved in shelling north of St Julien, counter shelling and suppressing the German artillery. More of the NR RGA action will be investigated as I go through the War Diary of the XIII brigade.
Driving north returning from a university drop-off trip to London, I thought it had been a long time since I had dropped into seeing my Uncle and Aunt, so I called into their home in Abingdon.
While there we chatted about our family tree, Uncle Basil had done a tremendous amount of manual Family History research building an extensive tree based on searching through microfiche and local records. He kept much of his findings on his BBC Micro, which was also showing its age. He proudly showed me a small wooden box that contained his father’s diaries from his time in the great war and return to England. These small books, which had survived months in the Ypres Salient in 1916/17, contained what Gunner Reuben Rose had done while at war with the 1st North Riding Royal Garrison Artillery. He managed to write a few sentences for each day, recording what he was doing, how he felt about and what action he could see.
My Uncle promised to lend them to me one day, but forgot, although to be fair his previously razor-sharp mind was getting old by then. Anyway, the diaries were handed down to his children and have been transcribed supported by some commentary and further memories from his son.
Starting from these diaries, I have put together detail of what he was doing in the army, where he was and the battles that were going on around him. He didn’t often mention these bigger, and to a historian, interesting details. When writing a personal diary I suppose these are givens and perhaps he was conscious of censorship. As with letters, they could not keep notes of important military information in case they were captured or found by the enemy.
I’m not sure if there was a 1914 and 1915 diary, what we have starts in 1916. He may have lost the early diaries when his hut was hit on 11th January 1917, losing everything he possessed. He also lost his 1917 diary when he went off to hospital in April that year and his belongings went in another direction. A notebook was used to recreate much of what was missing for that year.
There were many days when nothing happened and Reuben records a lot of the socialising around the battery and towns where he was based. He was there with school friends and neighbours who were with him in the Territorial Army before the war started. This unit and parts of the Northumbrian Division were originally based in Middlesbrough, so there was a strong community as we can see from Reubens daily activity. So we have names of friends that he spends time with, some difficult to work out from their army nicknames.
Every few days he got letters from home, so he spent a lot of time reading and replying to them often thanking for all the parcels.
So using these clues and his service records it is possible to put together much of the story of Bombardier Reuben Rose’s War experience. These will follow in subsequent blogs.
Just to clear some confusion. Reuben Rose was christened with this spelling. Much of his official war records have him incorrectly as Rueben. My notes may mix the two spellings, but we can be sure its the same person, he was the only Rose in the 1/1st Northumbrian (North Riding) Heavy Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery.
While researching my Grandfathers actions during the Great War I gathered together a fair amount of detail on the Cavalry. I summarised it on my story of Jack’s involvement, but rather than trash the rest I’m publishing here as a blog, sharing my findings.
Much of this is cut and paste from original sources, so the language is not necessarily mine. There is also some repetition from the previous blog,
These are the events that happened one hundred years ago during the Arras offensive in northern France. Jack Greenwood, my Grandfather, was possibly involved. This is the story of his regiment the 3rd Dragoon Guards who claimed their main WW1 battle honours at the First Battle of the Scarpe. I can’t say he was definitely there he may have been injured, ill or detached to another unit. But this is the best story we have.
Jack had joined the Cavalry in York, probably in 1916, before transferring to the 3rd Dragoon Guards. Compared to the infantry on the front line, the Cavalry had a relatively easy life in France. Held in reserve, they waited for the right battle, weather and opportunity to engage the enemy. Viewed as one of several mobile elements, including tanks, armoured cars, aeroplanes and bicycle mounted troops, they worked with the infantry to support any breakthrough of the enemy lines. If this was not possible, then horsemen were expected to use their mobility and get to places quickly, dismount and provide sophisticated fire with their light Hodgkiss machine guns. It was not their role to deliver a headlong charge, . However, according to the reports, in this battle, a charge did occur. In the film adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel ‘War Horse’ a charge takes place, leading some commentators questioning the accuracy of the novel. It was not their role to deliver a headlong charge, despite this being portrayed in the film adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel ‘War Horse’. Although in this battle, a charge did occur.
It would be probably true to say that during the war the cavalryman was on the whole the best trained all-round soldier in the British Army. He could use a bayonet and he could throw bombs. His musketry was of a high standard. He was proficient in the use of his automatic rifle. He had his own machine gun squadrons. On many occasions he took his place in the front line and knew that he was often called upon to do so when the situation was critical.
In a word he was capable of performing and constantly did perform all the duties of the infantryman. Between the periods of fighting he was employed on constructing railway tracks, making roads, or digging reserve trench systems. He was lent to this Army and to
that to perform whatever task was most needed. He was expected to be ready at short notice to fight as a mounted man, and his training as a cavalryman continued though often under great difficulties.
He was taught to ride his horse and to look after it. He knew how to use his sword and was ready for shock action. There was a time when the training of ” Dragoons ” to fight
on horseback was judged absurd. But the war has proved the value of trained cavalry who can be used with equal effect as cavalry, as a mobile reserve, or in an emergency as infantry pure and simple.
Examples of the employment of cavalry in all these three capacities are to be found in the history of the 6th Cavalry Brigade.
The 6th Cavalry Brigade (6 Cav Bde) began to form in England on 19 September 1914, part of the new 3rd Cavalry Division. The first two regiments to join were the 1st R Dragoons (1D) and 10th R Hussars (10H), both from S Africa where they were stationed when war broke out, and they constituted the brigade when it embarked for France during the first week in October 1914. The following month they were joined by 3rd Dragoon Guards (3DG) and ten days later by the North Somerset Yeomanry (N Som Yeo). After about a week 10H were transferred to 8th Cavalry Brigade in the same division, and from then for over three years 3DG, 1D and N Som Yeo constituted 6 Cav Bde. In March 1918, shortly before the German offensive N Som Yeo were withdrawn and converted to a MG role; they were replaced by 10H. The brigade saw a great deal of fighting both mounted and dismounted – First and Second Ypres, Loos, Arras, Epehy, the March offensive in which heavy casualties resulted in the N Som Yeo being returned to the brigade, back in the mounted role, as reinforcements. The regiment was broken up and personnel distributed among the other regiments in the brigade which took part in the advance to victory, the Hindenburg Line fighting and the final advance.
The 3rd Dragoon Guards spent the winter of 1916-17 training and parading mainly at Aix-en-Issant, close to the french coast at La Toquet. Early in April 2017 they marched to Gouyen en Artois, around 5 miles to the west of Arras ready to be called forward as the offensive progressed. At that time there were 25 Officers and 515 other ranks in the regiments.
Compared to the way trench warfare usually went, the first day at Arras was a success. Three and a half miles of depth was taken, although gains fell short of the town of Monchy-le-Preux.
The 3rd Cavalry Division retired at nightfall and bivouacked north of the Cambrai road
and west of the Wancourt-Feuchy Line trenches and Orange Hill. No hot food was
available and the ground was too soft to picket so the men sheltered in shell holes
holding the horses.
Its capture was planned again for the morning of April 11, when four regiments from 3rd Cavalry Division supported the infantry attack. Vaughan’s 3rd Cavalry Division took up a position behind the infantry attack ready to exploit around the flanks of Monchy. Their objectives were Pelves Mill on the left, and Bois Du Vert and ‘Hill 100’ in the centre approximately 1000m (1100yds) beyond the village. At 7:10am 8th Cavalry Brigade learnt that 112th Brigade had a foothold in the western part of Monchy and reported this to 3rd Cavalry Division. 167 Later at 7:55am 6th Cavalry Brigade to the south passed on a similar report: “112 Brigade report Monchy has fallen, also considers it safe to say that La Bergère has also fallen.” Further patrol reports from the 3rd Dragoon Guards (6th Brigade) suggested that the village was not wholly in British hands but that it was at least partly captured. Brig. Gen. Harman of 6th Cavalry Brigade to the south ordered his own lead regiment, 3rd Dragoon Guards forward to conform with the 8th Cavalry Brigade move and cover their southern flank. These three regiments moved forward over prepared trench crossings in the Wancourt Feuchy line at around 8:30am. 10th Hussars and Essex Yeomanry of 8th Brigade on the left (north), intending to circle around between Monchy and the Scarpe, while 3rd Dragoon guards of 6th Brigade headed south of the village. Emerging south of Orange Hill they advanced at the gallop, in line of troop columns, with one troop advanced as scouts.
An advance in brigade strength like this was a rare enough sight to make a
significant impression on the watching infantry. Capt. Cuddeford of the Highland Light
Infantry (15th Div.) was witness to this advance:
“During a lull in the snowstorm an excited shout was raised that our cavalry were coming up! Sure enough, away behind us, moving quickly in extended order down the slope of Orange Hill was line upon line of mounted men covering the whole extent of the hillside as far as we could see. It was a thrilling moment for us infantrymen, who had never dreamt that we should see a real cavalry charge, which was evidently what was intended.”
It was at this moment that a decisive point was reached in the battle. The objectives of
the cavalry advance lay beyond Monchy, and the squadrons had intended to skirt around
the village, but after their experience the day before, Bulkeley-Johnson had ordered that
if fire was encountered from north of the river the 8th Brigade should swing right and
head directly for Monchy.
The 3rd Dragoon Guards reached the Monchy-La Bergre road south of the village. Here they dismounted and took up firing positions with their Hotchkiss machine guns making a defensive line between 111 and 112 Infantry Brigades. They endured heavy artillery fire and were strafed by low flying aircraft, fighting as infantry to repel potential counter attacks. They left the horses behind them, huddled in the snowy weather.
6th Cavalry Brigade advanced as far as the Monchy-Wancourt road south of Monchy, with 3rd Dragoon Guards leading. The regiment advanced with B Squadron in front (Capt. Holroyd-Smith), with one troop of the squadron in line and the remaining three troops in line of troop columns behind, followed by C Squadron (Maj. Cliff). On reaching the road, the Dragoons came upon a party of Germans attempting to dig in, in front of four guns. These troops fled leaving the guns. Very few friendly infantry were to be seen and the Brigade came under fire from Guemappe 1000m (1100 yards) to the south-east, so they took up dismounted positions along the road, deploying their Hotchkiss guns, and supported by the Vickers of the attached MG section.
An attempt was made at around 11.20am by the Royal Horse Guards (Blues), with the
remaining four guns of 8th Machine Gun Squadron to try and reinforce the village but
this was forced back by the weight of fire falling around the village. Two gun pack
horses were hit and the guns lost in the snow. At this point Vaughan, in command of
3rd Cavalry Division, realised that no further progress was likely and a decision was
made for the division to “strengthen any position they now hold” using machine guns
and to try to withdraw the remaining horses. Those of 6th Cavalry Brigade (3rd
Dragoon Guards) to the south of the village escaped without great loss, but the horses of
8th Cavalry Brigade were heavily shelled, and many more were killed during attempts to
A further despatch from Whitmore in Monchy at 11:45am read ‘We are badly in need
of reinforcements and machine-guns.’ At 12 noon a 3rd Cavalry Division aeroplane reported that the enemy were entrenching on the line St. Rohart’s factory—Keeling
Copse—Pelves, and orders were received that the 6th and 8th Brigades were to send their horses back and hold the line they had then reached with Hotchkiss rifles and machine guns.
In response to this a second attempt was made at around 2:00pm by A Squadron of the Royal Horse Guards and the remaining subsection of machine guns to reinforce the village. No. 1 MG Section did make it into the village, although the accompanying squadron of the Blues was forced back, perhaps fortuitously as their additional presence in the village would probably have served only to provide further targets for the German guns.
Similar concerns were being felt by the 3rd Dragoon Guards on the right (6th Cavalry
Brigade) front. Fearing being outflanked to the south, where the line was held only by a party of about thirty infantrymen, survivors of the morning attack, a message was sent at around 2.30pm asking for reinforcements. One squadron of the North Somerset
Yeomanry (6th Cavalry Brigade), was despatched accompanied by four machine-guns,
and by regimental tool-pack horses.192 An initial attempt to advance mounted was met
with heavy machine-gun fire, but a second attempt on foot; leading pack animals only
was successful, reinforcing the 3rd Dragoon Guards on the Wancourt road.193
By mid afternoon it was appreciated at all levels of command that the attack around
Monchy had stalled. At 5.00pm, Kavanagh at Cavalry Corps H.Q. ordered the
withdrawal of the un-engaged parts of the corps; (2nd Cavalry Division, and the 7th
Brigade of 3rd Cavalry Division) to their former positions to the west of Arras. The
remaining brigades in Monchy were to withdraw “…when the situation permits”. 194
Indeed despite the fact that the Hussars, and Yeomanry in Monchy and the Dragoon
Guards to the south fought on into the evening, Advanced Cavalry Corps Headquarters
in Arras ignored them, closing at 6.00pm and withdrawing to Duisans, west of the city.
With the departure of this stay-behind party on 12 April the part played by the cavalry
in the Arras offensive came to an end On the night of the 11th Allenby had ordered all
the cavalry back to its billets of 8 April, to the west of Arras. After resting there they
were further withdrawn on 16 April. On 18 April, Haig ordered Kavanagh to keep two
brigades in readiness within 36 hours of the front line, but these were never called for
and cavalry took no further part in the battle.197
Other cavalry arrived in the village enabled the struggling infantry to establish a defensive firing line. They dug into shell holes, deployed machine guns and established two dressing stations. This stiffened the infantry’s resolve, the dismounted cavalry provided rapid reinforcements, leadership and organisational proficiency at a crucial time, before the arrival of tanks and infantry secured the village. 600 cavalrymen were casualties and many more horses died. The animals were tethered in the open, as their riders took cover, while attempts to take them to the rear during a ‘box barrage’ only increased the killing.
As the Arras offensive illustrated, Monchy-le-Preux highlighted the cost of using horses in close proximity to an established and static defensive position, where the enemy possessed artillery and aerial superiority. Yet it also underlined that cavalry could still play a decisive part with a clear understanding of its function, efficient tactical innovations and great courage.
The Capture of Monchy-le-Preux
The day also saw the capture of Monchy-le-Preux by the infantry of the 15th and 37th Divisions, aided by six tanks. The capture of the village was an unbelievable feat of arms. Astonishingly, many of the attackers had lain out in the cold and snow for two days and it is a credit to their training and the fighting determination of the British Army that their attacks were pressed with such resilience. Despite the undoubted success of the infantry it is the fate of the cavalry that Monchy has become synonymous with. With the village captured the cavalry were to advance east to the Green Line. However, they were forced back into the village by German machine gun fire where they were subjected to a ‘box barrage’ of artillery. Unable to escape, the narrow streets were clogged with horses and cavalrymen. The latter dismounted; seeking refuge in cellars but the horses could do nothing and were killed in great numbers as shells rained down. The streets of Monchy, full of horse carcasses and the foul residue of high explosive shells and animals are said to have run with blood.
3rd Cavalry Division as a whole took 598 casualties over the three days, and the regiments that held the line around Monchy suffered the greater part of these losses; over 400. Col. Whitmore estimated that by 11.00 am on 11 April the garrison of the village, (formed of the 10th Hussars, Essex Yeomanry, 8th MG Squadron and some infantry) had been reduced to “…considerably less than half its strength”.
This human loss, however, was overshadowed in the eyes of contemporary observers
relatively accustomed such losses, (Preston described the casualties as … “Regrettable
[but] proportionately no higher than in many infantry attacks.”) by the more unusual
sight of the equally massive loss of horses. Lieutenant Alan Thomas, an infantry officer
who visited Monchy on the evening of 12 April as part of the 37th Division described
the scene :
“Heaped on top of one another and blocking up the roadway for as far as one could see lay the mutilated bodies of our men and their horses. These bodies torn and gaping had stiffened into fantastic attitudes. All the hollows of the road were filled with blood. This was the cavalry.”
This passage has been picked up by nearly every subsequent published account of the
battle, and serves as a graphic image of the scale of equine loss. Exact figures for
horse casualties are hard to determine (this question will be examined in more detail
later in this chapter), but may be estimated at somewhere between 500 and 1000. A 10th
Hussar survivor of the battle offered the higher figure, claiming that his regiment left
the village after dark with only 30 horses still in hand. Whatever the exact figure, the
loss was enormous, and the gains very limited.
It is tempting to look no further at the involvement of the cavalry at Monchy than this,
and to take Thomas’ final words “This was the cavalry” as an overall verdict on their
usefulness in the offensive. However while it is easy to characterise the offensive as a
whole, and Monchy in particular as expensive failures, when these events are viewed in
more detail, from the point of view of mounted troops, some facts emerge to the credit
of the cavalry and their commanders. Credit for the retention of the village in British hands for the remainder of the day falls to Col. Whitmore and the 6th and 8th Cavalry Brigades.
The accidental nature of the cavalry presence in the village should also be stressed. Monchy did not form the objective of their attack; a commander who deliberately placed nearly an entire brigade of cavalry in such a position, and left it there at the mercy of enemy artillery for the remainder of the day would be open to serious censure. However, in the confused situation of the morning of 11 April, the ability of the cavalry to consolidate (albeit at great cost) the work of the infantry earlier in the day, until proper infantry relief could be co-ordinated, probably turned the attack of 37th Division from a costly failure into a success.
One hundred years ago the Arras offensive in northern France started. The opening attacks included the Battle of the Scarpe in which the Cavalry Corps played a major part. Actually this was the main battle honours for the cavalry in the war.
This is the story of Jack Greenwood, my Grandfather, who was probably at the battle. His regiment, the 3rd Dragoon Guards, were key in capturing Monchy-Le-Preux, a village on the main objective line for the attack. I can’t say he was definitely there, he may have been injured, ill or perhaps detached to another unit. A separate blog will cover more of the scope of the battle and the role the 3rd Cavalry Division. But this is Jacks story, on the assumption he was with main regiment on those days of April 1917.
Jack had joined the Cavalry in York, probably in 1916, before transferring to the 3rd Dragoon Guards. After writing a love letter to his girl friend, my grandmother. He set out from the Canterbury training base on Wednesday 14th February 1917 heading to Rouen before arriving at their winter quarters at Aix-en-Issan close to the French coast at La Toquet.
Compared to the infantry on the front line, the Cavalry had a relatively easy life in France. In the winter of 1917 they spent their days training and parading. They learnt about communications using pigeons and signalling. After nearly 3 years of war, tactics had changed and the mounted forces were viewed as one of several mobile elements. Usually held in reserve, the cavalry waited for the right battle, terrain, weather and opportunity to engage the enemy. Other mobile forces now were Tanks, armoured cars, aeroplanes and bicycle mounted troops – all working with the infantry to support any breakthrough of the enemy lines. Horsemen were expected to use their mobility if breakthroughs were not possible. They were to get to places quickly, dismount and provide sophisticated fire with their light Hodgkiss machine guns. A headlong charge was by now a tactic of previous wars, although in this coming battle that is what they actually did.
Working out who was where during this battle requires an understanding of the organisation of the Cavalry. The 3rd Dragoon Guards Regiment were made up of 3 squadrons (A,B and C). The Guards were part of the 6th Cavalry Brigade along with 2 other regiments, the 1st Dragoons (which Jack Greenwood was in when he initially joined up) and the 19th Hussars. Together with the 7th Brigades they formed the 3rd Cavalry Division. The 3 Cavalry divisions formed the Cavalry Corp. Hope that makes it clear!
At the beginning of April 1917, in the build up to the Arras offensive, the 3rd Dragoon Guards marched 50 miles to Gouyen en Artois, around 5 miles to the west of Arras. Here the Cavalry Corp gathered, ready to be called forward as the offensive progressed. According to the regimental diary, they were in the best of spirits and full of enthusiasm. At that time there were 25 Officers and 515 other ranks in the 3rd DG Regiment.
On the morning of the 9th April the Battle of Arras started. Compared to the way trench warfare had usually gone in the previous years of the war, this was a success. During that day three and a half miles of depth was taken by the infantry, although they did fall short of their objective, held up short of the town of Monchy-le-Preux.
While the infantry were advancing, the 3rd Cavalry Division, (including the 3rd Dragoon Guards, see above), moved closer to Arras for their approach march. Part of the division, the 6th Cavalry Brigade, went into a bivouac while the officers surveyed the German trenches captured that day and planned the following days moves. During the night the weather turned from being fine to bitterly cold and snowy.
Original 1917 Map of Arras Battle Zone (WFA / IWM)
Next day, Tuesday the 10th April, the 3rd DG were sent to construct crossings over the captured trench lines. Whilst this heavy work was underway, patrols went forward to find out the situation at the front line and to report on the progress of the infantry at Monchy-le-Preux. Once out in the open, the patrols came under enemy shelling, causing a few casualties in men and horses. A fresh attack on Monchy was planned for the next day, so the Dragoons moved back to a safer position to bivouac again for another wet and cold night. No hot food was available and the ground was too soft to put up picket fences, so the men sheltered in shell holes holding onto the horses as in the official photo below.
At 5:30am on the morning of the April 11, four regiments from 3rd Cavalry Division set off to support the infantry attack. This included the 3rd Dragoon Guards who were at the head of the 6th Brigade as they moved into position behind the captured trenches. The infantry had moved ahead so mounted patrols were sent out to keep in touch. By 8:30am it was reported that Monchy had been taken but still subject to counter-attack. Actually, the reports were wrong, fighting was still in progress and it was not going well in the town. So the Cavalry were called for and they started their advance across the trenches they had filled-in the previous day. Records of the battle and the regimental war diary explain they were to contour just north of the Cambrai Road, 1,000 yards E of Feuchy Chapel. These can be seen in the battle maps I have included below. B Squadron from the Dragoon Guards advanced in line of troop columns and started to galloped steadily across the ground.
An advance in brigade strength like this was a rare enough sight to make a significant impression on the watching infantry. Captain Cuddeford of the Highland Light Infantry (part of 15th (Scottish) Division) was a witness to this advance:
“During a lull in the snowstorm an excited shout was raised that our cavalry were coming up! Sure enough, away behind us, moving quickly in extended order down the slope of Orange Hill was line upon line of mounted men covering the whole extent of the hillside as far as we could see. It was a thrilling moment for us infantrymen, who had never dreamt that we should see a real cavalry charge, which was evidently what was intended.”
Another witness said;
“Just after dawn, we got the surprise of our lives when from a copse on our right there emerged the cavalry. It was a thrilling sight to see them line up in one long line. Then, with the officer and standard-bearer in the centre they set up a yell and set off hell for leather towards Monchy-Le-Preux. We all stood up in the trench and yelled with them. The element of surprise was on their side because they got half way to Monchy before the Germans realised what was happening – then all hell was let loose and Jerry threw everything he had got at them.”
According to the war diary, heavy shelling was experienced immediately after leaving and 3 German machine guns continually swept the valley causing many casualties amongst the horses. By 9:00am they reached the outskirts of the Monchy village where they dismounted and took up a fire position with their Hotchkiss Machine Guns. There they came under a hostile artillery barrage and very heavy machine gun fire which caused them to suffer a good many casualties.
The Germans then counter-attacked, advancing in strength from the NE but the dismounted brigade of the 3rd DG and Essex Yeomanry stopped the enemy. The rest of the Brigade arrived and they joined with the advance infantry, about 50 men of the N. Lancs. They all dug into abandoned trenches and returned fire.
Whilst the officers went to study the situation those in the trenches made contact with the command posts at rear of the lines. Signalling, (probably flags but may have been carrier pigeon as they had been training with these recently), was resumed as the Royal Horse Artillery (RHA) arrived and began to return heavy fire on the enemy.
It was now 9:30am and a troop of the guards galloped forward towards Les Fosses farm supporting small groups of infantry that were there, about 20 men from the 112th brigade. More RHA arrived and shelling continued for the next 2 hours or so until 12:00 when the guns and horses were sent back to the reserve position. This movement caused a good deal of shelling and they took casualties as they went back. Five minutes after the horses of the 3rd DG had left, five German aircraft were over the position and the whole valley was subject to heavy shelling. Further up on the left of the Scarpe valley the 8th Brigade suffered heavily from the shelling.
By 2pm, the Germans started amassing for a counter attack from St Roharts Factory on the outskirts of the village. As the troop had been weakened by the action so far and many men had gone back with the horses, reinforcements in the shape of the heavy Machine Guns of the M.G. Squadron along with the dismounted North Somerset Yeomanry were sent from the reserves to reinforce the line. They had to march to the front line with horses only carrying equipment.
After an hour those left on the front line watched an attack by the Gordon Highlanders from the SW of the farm. which was brought to a standstill by an intense German Artillery barrage. Half an hour later, the dismounted reinforcements arrived somewhat fatigued, after a long march with all their equipment and ammunition.
All the troops then moved forward along with the Machine Gunners to move forward. Just south of the road 25 infantry had gathered in a trench, organised into a defence post by Private Batchelor of the 6th Bedfords. He had collected German rifles, ammunition and bombs for his party as they had only 5 rounds of their own ammunition left.
As they approached the outskirts of the village they came across an advance British MG post and more abandoned German guns and ammunition. The Dragoons had fought all day so around 5pm the Guards were told they would be relieved that evening. ANother regiment of infantry, the 13th Kings Rifles, came through and built strong points in front of the Dragoons.
After the position was safely strengthened they had a visit from the Officer Commanding 3rd D. Gds, who found “all correct and in excellent order. The men had worked splendidly and the Germans had ceased to worry (them) for the time being“. He later reported very favourably on the small machine guns they were using – “the line held by 3rd D. Gds was defended entirely with Hotchkiss rifles which were able to break up an assembly of the Germans prior to their counter-attack.”
They arranged to hand over the trenches and evacuate the wounded before moving back to a collecting station which had been set up at Les Fosses Farm. Later that night, at 11:30pm they returned Arras and bivouac at the race course.
The casualties of the regiment were 1 Officer and 19 Other Ranks killed; 3 Officers and 56 Other Ranks wounded of which 3 died later; 196 horses killed or wounded. I could speculate that Jack Greenwood was amongst the wounded although I havent been able to find out when and where this picture was taken.
It would be difficult to conceive of worse weather for these important operations. Numbers of men in the Brigade, after having been out in the open for three nights in the snow, had to be evacuated suffering from exposure. The horses suffered even more than the men. Every night they stood out in the driving snow up to their hocks in mud and slush. On one occasion it was impossible to water them for close on 48 hours. It was recorded that it was extraordinary how quickly the horses picked up after a week’s rest and care.
That’s it for the First Battle of the Scarpe, in the Arras campaign. From what I can see from the Regimental War Diaries, the 3rd D Gds cavalry were only subsequently in skirmishes in support of Infantry battles. A full reading of the diaries awaits the winter.
Some of the language in this story may appear a little odd. Much of the events of the battle are copied from official documents and so are written straight after the event on the battlefield. I have also tried to remove most of the army jargon, which is difficult to follow without a full glossary. Grammar mistakes must be mine and the officers in 1917 would have had a better education in English at their grammar school than I had at my Secondary Modern.
– War Diaries of 3rd Dragoon Guards, National Archives Piece 1153/2: 3 Dragoon Guards (1914 Oct – 1919 Jan)
– Monchy Le Preux, By Colin Fox – ‘War Horse’ at Monchy-le-Preux – 11 April 1917 by Stephen Barker
– British Cavalry on the Western Front 1916-1918, DAVID KENYON, PhD Thesis.
Defence College of Management and Technology. Cranfield University.
– HISTORY OF THE 6th CAVALRY BRIGADE, 1914-1918, BY LIEUTENANT J.B.BICKERSTETH. M.C.
– Voices and Images of the Great War, Lyn MacDonald, 1988
In my last couple of blogs I have written the story of Jimmy Astin MM and what he did during the fisrt World War.
From 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
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.
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.
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.
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:-
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.
Lance-Corporal C. E. Lovewell. Private J.A. Astin.
We know that Private James Astin was at the Battle of the Somme, with the 1st Battalion. He is quoted as being there in his newspaper interview. Using this we can place him at the Battle of Albert n the 1st of July 1916. Details of what happened that day are in this extract from the The History of the Lancashire Fusiliers 1914-1918 Volume-1 Page 137.
After leaving Gallipoli and Egypt they embarked for France landing at Marseilles on the 29th March 1916 moving to the western front. The 1st Battalion … moved to the Beaumont Ramel district (when) it came to France. From 15th to 29th June, the majority were at Mailly Wood, practising the next attack. “C” Company, and the 10% battle reserve, took over a portion of the line on 23rd June and carried out a series of patrols and raids. They tried to discover the state of the German wire at the various stages of the preliminary bombardment and whether the enemy was manning his front line.
Part of a map contained in the British Official History [Crown Copyright]. The Somme offensive was begun by the British Fourth Army (red) and the French Sixth Army (blue), attacking the German Second Army (green). The map shows the position of the front line just before the start of the offensive.
The Attack on Beaumont Hamel, 1st July
1st and 2nd Battalions
The Lancashire Regiment were in the 29th Division, part of the VIII corp.
To the north of the River Ancre, and just to the left of the ground where the Salford battalions (32nd Division) fought on 1st July, lay another important objective, the Grandcourt-Serre ridge. This was the goal of the VIII Corps, in which the 1st and 2nd Battalions were serving, in the 29th and 4th Divisions respectively. The distance from the British front line to the ridge was about two thousand yards, and the plan of attack allowed the troops three hours and twenty minutes to cross it. The Germans had protected the ridge by a very formidable series of defences, many of which lay in valleys out of sight of British artillery observers and were consequently not touched by the long preliminary bombardment. The most deadly of these was the strongly fortified village of Beaumont Hamel, lying in a salient of the front system, which could cover with flanking fire all the ground to be crossed by the 29th and 4th Divisions. It stood right in the path of the former, the 4th being immediately on the left of the 29th.
One of its outposts was Hawthorn Redoubt, under which a large mine had been prepared. After much controversy, it was decided to explode this mine at 7.20 a.m. on 1st July, ten minutes before the attack was to be delivered. The unfortunate effect of this decision was that the Germans, who had been warned by the seven days’ bombardment that a big offensive was imminent and were uncertain only as to the day and hour of its launching, rightly interpreted the explosion as the signal for the attack and thus had ten minutes’ grace in which to man their trenches and make their final preparations. These were helped by the fact that all the British heavy artillery had to stop firing on the front trenches when the mine blew up so as to avoid the risk of hitting the parties seizing the crater. When the troops of the 29th Division came to leave their own trenches, their only covering fire was a thin barrage of 18-pounder guns, Stokes mortars and machine guns.
Before the battle, on 29th June, the main body was addressed by the Divisional Commander, Major-General H. de B. de Lisle, who said: “To you has been set the most difficult task-that of breaking the hardest part of the enemy’s shell.” That evening they went up into the line.
The battalion’s objective was the village of Beaumont Hamel itself. Between this and the British front line lay a sunken road. between ten and fifteen feet deep and running north and south, shallow at its northern end but overhung and lined with trees at the southern. Tunnels had been dug from the British front line to this natural trench, and one of these was opened up on the night before the attack, whereupon at 3.30 a.m. on 1st July “B” and “D” Companies, with the Brigade Bombing Company and eight Stokes mortars, occupied the sunken road.
Battalion headquarters moved thither at 7 a.m., at which time the Germans began shelling the road with field guns, having apparently noticed the communication trench made by the tunnels. Hot breakfasts were issued to all ranks; and several photographs were taken in the sunken road by Mr. Malins, the official photographer. Officers were dressed like the men. The latter each carried 120 rounds of ammunition, two days’ rations and two bombs; the leading companies carried fifty shovels and ten picks each; each platoon carried two trench bridges; and men of the rear companies carried engineer stores. Few could get much sleep before the attack owing to the incessant roar of the bombardment.
At 7.20 a.m. the mine below Hawthorn Redoubt exploded, and “B“ and “D” Companies lined up for the attack while the 86th Stokes Mortar Battery opened a hurricane bombardment. At 7.30 a.m. the leading sections of those companies moved forward and “A” Company began to leave the front line to support them.
The first two lines of “B ” and ” D ” Companies had not moved many yards when enemy machine guns opened fire. Their third and fourth lines were almost annihilated as they left the sunken road, and only a few wounded, including the two company commanders (Captains G. P. Nunneley and C. F. Wells), succeeded in crawling back into it. “A” Company also suffered heavily in its advance to the sunken road, but Captain E. G. Matthey managed to reach its northern end with a few men and to push on a short way before he fell mortally wounded.
“C” Company was caught by machine– gun fire as it left the front line, Captain E. M. Dawson and Company Serjeant-Major Nelson being hit as they stood up to give the order to advance. One platoon was blocked by wounded in the communication trench leading to the sunken road. But Second– Lieutenant W. R. B. Caseby and about sixty men reached the latter, though they were so encumbered with coils of wire and tools that many of them rolled down its steep banks and half an hour’s delay resulted before the remnants of “A” and “C” Companies could be reorganized for a further advance.
Serjeant Caulfield, a Lewis gunner, spotted a German machine gun firing from behind some debris in the village and pointed it out to Lieutenant-Colonel Magniac, who ordered two Lewis guns to engage it. But no sooner had they opened fire than they were shelled by field guns, one gun being hit-a tribute to the quickness and accuracy of the German observation. The machine gun, however, did not again fire from the same position.
At 8.15 a.m. Lieutenant-Colonel Magniac ordered the Stokes mortars to open a rapid burst of fire, under cover of which Caseby was to lead forward some seventy-five men who had been collected, with a view to gaining a footing in the northern end of the village, where the ground was higher and promised a good field of fire. The party dashed forward with great bravery, but were caught by machine-gun fire as they topped the crest a few yards from the sunken road and were mown down, only Caseby, Lieutenant I. Gorfunkle and about ten men reaching the German wire.
It was by then evident that the battalion could not succeed in its task and, though the brigadier issued orders for a further attack at 12.30 p.m., with an artillery bombardment, he immediately countermanded them on learning that Lieutenant-Colonel Magniac had by now only about seventy-five men and one officer in the sunken road and some fifty in the front line and elsewhere, while over one hundred wounded lay in the road. He ordered Lieutenant– Colonel Magniac to reorganize his battalion, make sure of holding the sunken road and watch his left flank. But before this fresh order arrived, an attempt was made to comply with the original message, Captain E. W. Sheppard doing very useful work in trying to collect unwounded men; and at 12.30 p.m. Major Utterson advanced with the only men he could collect, some twenty-five in all, with the intention of attaching to himself the unwounded men in the sunken road and pushing on to the German lines. Actually, he and four men alone survived to reach the road.
The afternoon was spent in trying to organize the road for defence. German shells caused more casualties; and snipers killed a good many of the wounded as they moved or tried to put on their field dressings. At 6 p.m. the sunken road was evacuated except for a party of one officer and twenty-five men detailed to hold it during the night. After dark all available stretcher-bearers and other men searched for wounded. Throughout the night wounded men crawled in and about midnight Second-Lieutenants G. R. Spencer, I. Gorfunkle, G.R. Craig and Caseby came in with about twenty men, having spent the day in a small hollow just short of the German wire, too weak in numbers to force their way through, but able to make a useful contribution to the battle by keeping up a flanking fire towards Hawthorn Redoubt.
The day had cost the battalion many casualties: 7 officers had been killed and 14 wounded; of the other ranks, 156 were killed, 298 wounded and 11 missing. The brigadier in his report recorded his opinion that he did not think that any troops could have taken the German line as held that day. Indeed, it was not captured until I3th November, 1916, and then only by two brigades, with the help of special artillery preparation and a new method of using gas.
Captain C. F. Wells, who, though wounded early in the day, remained with his men for six hours until compelled by weakness to retire, received the Military Cross, as did Captain G. P . Nunneley and Second-Lieutenants W. R. B. Caseby and E. W. Sheppard. Military Medals were awarded to Serjeant V. C. D. Froude, Corporal T. ~IdIanus, and Privates W. Brain, G. W. Capon, J. A. Dickenson, J. Richardson and J. Wilson.
The battalion remained in the front line, strengthening the defence of the sunken road, until 3rd July, when it was ordered to move to some rear trenches which were so devoid of shelter or means of cooking that Lieutenant-Colonel Magniac asked that it should be allowed to stay where it was. A small party was eventually sent to the rear trenches as originally ordered, the remainder going back to bivouacs at Auchonvillers, where it was shelled by 5.9 inch guns. On 4th July the whole battalion marched to Acheux Wood, ” a very depressed force.”
Private Jimmy Astin was in there somewhere, and was very lucky to survive the 1st of July.
My mother in law often mentions her cousin Joyce. Joyce Astin and Edna lived close to each other in Burnley. Joyce’s father was Jimmy Astin, remembered in Burnley as a war hero in the first World War.
Last year we made a trip to Towneley Hall to visit the exhibition they had put together to remember the start of that war. By the time we made it there, it had closed and all the exhibits put away. So I turned to pulling together my own version of the James Arthur Astin MM story.
Jimmy married my mother in laws aunt, Alice Cooper, in 1923. It’s possible that Edna’s mother was named after Alice. I know that name has become synonymous with the 1970’s rock group, but she is definitely part of our Burnley family..
Anyway, Jimmy was born in Accrington in 1890. His father, also James, was a cabinet-maker and undertaker. The family moved to the Rosegrove area of Burnley and Jimmy worked at the local Messrs Walmsley’s Peel Mill, where he became a Winding Master. He married Sarah Blackburn in 1912 and they soon had a daughter – Ethel.
According to newspaper reports, Jimmy was well-known in the Accrington Road district of Burnley. He was a member of the Rosegrove Wesleyan School and Chapel and a devoted worker for the (church) cause. (Burnley News 21/08/1918.)
When war started, Jimmy joined up in 1915, and after a few months wait was drafted into the 3/5th Battalion Lancashire Fusiliers. This was a part of the Territorial Force in Bury and East Lancashire. He did his training at Colchester and then in March 1915, moved to the 1st Battalion in the Regular army. They sailed to Gallipoli via Egypt and Alexandria. There landing was planned for 23rd April, but postponed due to bad weather. They must have felt ill staying on the ships during the storm. Eventually on the 25th April the 29th Division, including the Lancashires, landed at ‘W’ Beach on Cape Helles. They were able to overwhelm the defences despite the loss of 600 casualties from 1,000 men. Fighting was so hard a remarkable number of six Victoria Crosses were won by the Lancashires. This is popularly refered to as the “Six VC’s before breakfast” on what was afterwards known as Lancashire Landing. Battles for Kritha and the Achi Baba heights on the peninsula followed.
After the battle in Turkey ground to stalemate in January 1916, the Lancashires evacuated to Egypt due to the severe casualties from combat, disease and harsh weather. They were quartered in barracks at Abbassia, near Cairo defending Suez Canal at Darb-el-Raj and El Kubri.
They left Egypt in March and sailed across the Mediterranean, landing at Marseilles, France in March 1916. They moved up to the front France and trained for the next big push. On the 1st July 1916, the Lancashires were one of the first units over the top at start of the Battle of the Somme. They were key in the Battle of Albert which started with the giant mine explosion at the Hawthorn redoubt. Just 10 minutes later the 7:30am attack on Beaumont Hamel started.
This famous photograph shows men of the 1st Battalion, Lancashire Fusiliers in a communication trench near Beaumont Hamel, possibly on 1st July 1916.
The following year 1917 Jimmy was involved in the Battle of Arras (where Jack Greenwood was also involved in the cavalry) along with battles in Ypres and Cambria.
Early in 1918, Jimmy returned to England injured and suffering from Trench Foot. While recovering at Queen Mary’s Hospital in Whalley, he heard that his wife Sarah had died. That must have been such a shock, maybe she had visited before she died.
He was soon back in France, the Lancashires were in the centre of the action. They moved to northern france to support the battle against the second German drive, the Lys Offensive, where the enemy pushed back to Ypres and into France. After the Americans joined the war, the division spent a lot of effort training them in this part of France.
We can pin down where Jimmy was when he won his Military 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 commendation led to the award of the medal, published in the London Gazette of 24th January 1919.
This action was part of the response to the earlier German advance towards Paris in April, known as the Battles of the Lys 1918. This offensive took place in Flanders with the Germans trying to capture key railway and supply roads and cut off the British Second Army at Ypres. The German attack initially made ground but was held after British and French reserves were found and deployed.
In August 1918 the British Army started to recapture the Lys valley, advancing across land lost in April.
Early in August, the Battalion were asked to “worry” the enemy to find out where they were prepared to give up ground. They were to find out his line so that in the event of a major attack they would know his weak points.
On 11th August, they started to investigate areas south of Merris, taking over key points before the battalion advanced its line by “peaceful penetration” on the afternoon of the 12th. They came under heavy fire and bombardment before withdrawing to their original position. Parties of men got very close to the enemys position but were unable to get back because of the shelling. On the night of the 13th these parties were brought back t their own lines. It seems that Private Astin received his award for his part in the operation being either trapped in the field or part of the party that brought them back.
A ceremony to present the medals was held at The Palace in Burnley in March 1919, where the Mayor (Ald R Hargreaves) pinned the medals on the breasts of the honoured soldiers and congratulated them on their distinction. Apparently the soldiers said they would rather fight than make a speech. The mayor called them the right men in the right place. James Astin received his award for bravery and devotion to duty.
After the end of the war he received his Victory and British Medals. The record shows he moved from the 3/5th Lanc Fusiliers to the 1st and ending in the 2nd Battalion. His exact disposition in the early part of the war I have worked out from his newspaper interview.
On his return, Jimmy will have returned to working in the mill and looking after his young daughter. When he was 32 he married Alice Cooper in 1923, becoming part of our family tree. He had two more daughters, Margaret in 1924 and Joyce in 1931. Cousins of the children, will have played around Rosegrove and Edna got to know Jimmy. She did tell me he was such a nice chap.
Jimmy is not a relative, he appears in our family tree as Gertrude Kay’s (Alisons Great Grandmother) first husband. She married James W. Walton on 8th July 1911 at Trinity Church Burnley, when she was 22 years old. We don’t know much about James beyond the bare facts. He was born in Facit, Whitworth, in Rossendale and worked in the mines as an underground pit drawer. He lived in Brush Street Burnley in 1911 just before he got married. According to Edna when she met him he always looked ill and was very thin.
Only three years after Gerturde and James were married, and just 6 weeks after the start of the war, he enlisted in Kitchener’s Third New Army on 4th September 1914. He joined the 9th Battalion of the East Lancs (Service) Corp. His unit assembled in the area of Eastbourne and Seaford and spent the first year of the war on the south coast of England where James was trained as a Bomb Thrower.
They were under the command of 65th Brigade in 22nd Division which crossed to France on 4th September 1915. Initally billeted near Flesselles north of Amiens the stay in France was a short one. Soon they were transfered to the war in the Balkans – arriving in Salonika, Macedoniaon on the 5th November 1915 . There an Anglo-French force was assembling to assist the Serbs in resisting Germany’s Bulgarian allies. Compared to other theatres of war, stalemate characterised this arduous campaign in mountainous terrain, with offensive operations largely confined to raids and patrolling. In December 1915 the 9th East Lancashires were in action at Kosturino and on 13th-14th September 1916, the same battalion saw more serious fighting at Macukovo. All three battalions took part in the first Doiran offensive, April-May 1917. After this last battle James was transferred back to France. The Division had suffered casualties of 7,728 killed, wounded and missing during the war but vastly larger numbers were sick with malaria, dysentery and other diseases rife in the Salonika theatre.
In August 1918 he transferred to the Labour Corp, probably because of his illness. James had caught malaria in Salonica and by the time he was demobbed he also had an ear infection and Bronchitis. According to Edna she remembers him coughing a lot later in his life, presumably the effects of his war illness.
James named Alice Kay as one of his dependent children, although recorded as illegitimate. He did end up with a pension for Alice. In his Army Records he at first recorded his mother Martha Anne at 15 Brush Street as his next of kin. Later he changed that to his wife Gertrude at 1 Regent Street.
He was demobbed on 27th January 1919, getting a pension on 10/3 per week, which was enhanced becuase of his illnesses – they were attributed and aggravated by the war.
From James service records (which are one of the few to have survived) we can see that he was short, 5ft 4 ¾ inches, weighing 129 pds (58 kg) and 35in chest. He was small and thin, confirming Edna’s recollection.
At a recent family party I was chatting with Matthew my nephew & godson. He was asking about Jack Greenwood’s war record and how many Greenwoods there were in the records. I promised him details of what I have, so here goes.
My grandfather was christened John Greenwood although his family and friends knew him as Jack. His service records were one of the many destroyed in the blitz in 1940 nor did he keep a diary unlike my other Grandfather. What we do know about his part in the war has had to be pieced together from photographs we have of him; his Medal Card; the entry in the Medal Roll and a few clues from a letter he wrote to his then girlfriend and future wife.
Which Regiment was Jack in?
We can make the obvious first step that he is in the cavalry from the picture of him on a horse. His regiment comes from his cap badge which is the feathers of the 3rd Dragoons. The postcard of Jack in the field hospital (below) also shows his Prince of Wales feathers. The other photos we have of him in uniform has a cap badge from the 1st (Royal) Dragoons. This was the cavalry unit based at York at the start of the war. So it is likely he started at York before moving to the 3rd Dragoon guards for his active service.
A further check is searching for all the John Greenwoods in the cavalry. From the War Medals index there are only two John Greenwoods in the Cavalry; one in the 3rd Dragoon Guards, the other in the Hussars. His insignia are not those of the Hussars. So everything points to the Dragoons.
He had two Regimental numbers, first GS/15242, then D/15283. A prefix of GS means General Service in Cavalry units, which became D for Dragoons. All members of the Territorial forces, of which the Dragoons were part, had their numbers changed in April 1917. So we know that he joined up before the numbers changed in 1917.
Following a careful examination of the mounted photo above, I spotted a stripe on his arm. So Jack made it to Lance Corporal in Canterbury. He perhaps was acting during training, or maybe lost his stripe sometime during his service.
Jack didn’t volunteer at the start of the war, otherwise he would have a Star medal on his card. So it looks likely that he joined-up in 1915 or 1916, maybe the latter which was when conscription started.
Why did he join the Cavalry?
Most people who were conscripted joined the local regiment that were recruiting in the town at the time. Jacks brother Sid Greenwood, joined the 2/4 York & Lancs regiment probably when they visited York in April 1915.
Jack probably volunteered for the cavalry at the barracks close to where he lived in Fulford, York. There is a photo of a young Jack with Cavalry officers. Based on his age this was taken before the war started, so he was showing an early interest in the cavalry.
Jacks uniform and equipment.
Here is Jack in his new uniform, probably taken just after he joined up. It shows the insignia of the 1st (Kings) Dragoons.
He is wearing the standard khaki service tunic, distinguished by a 90 round brown leather bandolier worn in the Cavalry. A stiffened flat-topped cap is on the table. These were worn in the early years of the war but later on and in active-service, the caps were replaced by an infantry soft cap. On his arm he has the insignia of a signaller. Photographed with his group, below, probably still while training, he is also wearing the stiff cap and the insignia of the 1st Dragoons.
The later photo with Jack mounted on his horse shows him again with a stiff cap, but with the badge of the 3rd Dragoon Guards. This is also a posed photo, in active service his horse would be loaded with extra equipment. His weapon was the .303 Short Magazine Lee-Enfield rifle. This is carried on the saddle in a specially constructed ‘rifle bucket’ for easy access. In action the sabre was positioned on the opposite side to the rifle bucket usually strapped with his metal mess tin. The cavalry were proud of their sabres, experts judged that this 1908 pattern cavalry sabre was, perhaps, the best designed and weighted edged weapon the British Army ever produced. Ironically, the sword was also one of the most under used.
So Jack probably joined up in 1916, starting at York Barracks. He moved to Canterbury, the HQ of the Cavalry where did his basic training and the specialist skill of a Signaller. At some time in Canterbury he became a Lance-Corporal, but lost his rank later on.
After he finished his training he moved to the 3rd Dragoon Guards and prepared to move to the western front in France. Jack had a leave visit to York early in 1917, having an emotional departure from York Station. He wrote to Ada; “I must thank you for showing such bravery at the station… keep smiling and don’t worry + when I come back after this war we shall be happy together”. He left England on Wednesday 14th February, the day after he went into the YMCA in Canterbury and wrote his letter to Ada. He was on his way to France writing, “going tomorrow morning (Wed) + will write from Rouen.”
Once in France. he was billeted at Issant on the coast, well back from the front line. Action came a few weeks later in the battle of Arras in April.
Jack is in the bed on the far left.
We cannot really know what Jack did during his active service. He did suffered injury or illness, we have a photo of him at a field hospital, although when this happened and where it is will be difficult to pin down. Jack recovered from his injury, he was fully fit at the end of the war and never mentioned it in later life. I also have a photo of Jack at the Railway workers convalescence home in Dawlish although he looks much older so this may not be his war injury. I will decipher the regimental war dairies in due course so we can follow the regiment through the rest of the war.
At the end of the war he was discharged on 18th October 1919 and returned to civilian life. Although he left the army he was still an active reserve as a Section A and Class Z Reserve. There were fears that Germany would not accept the terms of any peace treaty so trained men were told they would be liable to be quickly recalled in the eventuality of the resumption of hostilities. He also committed to return for twelve days training every year. Class Z reserve was soon abolished on 31 March 1920 as normal life returned.