Biographical Notes 5

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Tanks in WW1 played an extremely important role as they increased mobility on the Western Front and eventually broke the stalemate of trench warfare.


WAR DEAD MISSING FROM THE MEMORIAL.


In addition to the 107 servicemen whose names are inscribed on the Tring War Memorial, the Dacorum Heritage Trust has identified a further eight war dead who appear to have a connection with the town, but whose names do not appear on the Memorial.  At this late date it is impossible to say for sure why this is so. Possible reasons are that when, in April 1919, the Vicar of Tring advertised for the names of Tring’s war dead to be put forward for inscription on the Memorial there were some friends/relatives who were unaware of the notice; possibly others had no one in the town to act on their behalf; and undoubtedly others - such as Ernest Barber (below) - died from the effects of war service after the Memorial had been inscribed, and here one assumes that the Town Council was not prepared to add further names.

The missing names are as follows:
 
BARBER, Private Ernest, 1st/1st Bn. Hertfordshire Regiment, Service No. 266355.  Died from the effect of wounds and of mustard gas on the 18th September 1920, aged 24.  Son of William and Sarah of 22 Miswell Lane, and brother of Edward Barber V.C.  Ernest is buried together with his father in Tring Cemetery.

Edward’s death came after the War Memorial had been inscribed (which seems to have been in April/May 1919), although there is space on its steps for other names to be added (David Stephen Barnsdale, who fell in the Afghanistan conflict, was added in 2014).
 


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BEDFORD, Private Daniel Ronald, 29th (Works) Bn. Middlesex Regiment, Service No. 76316 (transferred to the 389th Home Service Employment Company Labour Corps.) of Ashford. Died of wounds on the 27th July 1917.  Born in Tring.

The Labour Corps was formed on the 1st April 1917.  It was made up of personnel who were judged to be of a lower medical grade, or older than frontline infantrymen.  Although they had to be sufficiently fit to undertake manual labour, they could not march with full kit over 5 miles, or maybe they had poor eyesight.  Wounded infantrymen recovering their strength were also included.  Every member of the Labour Corps was medically re-examined every month to see if they were sufficiently fit to return to the Front, but as the war progressed, to address the shortage of frontline troops the medical standard was reduced and many Labour Corps men found themselves sent to infantry battalions.  By the Armistice the Labour Corps had grown to almost 390,000 men (more than 10% of the total size of the Army), of which around 175,000 worked in the United Kingdom with the rest in overseas theatres.

I can find no information on how Private Bedford came to suffer fatal wounds.  It is possible that he received his wounds in the German bomber raid on Shorncliffe military camp  (25th May 1917) in which 18 soldiers (16 Canadian and two British) were killed and 90 others were wounded.  Daniel is buried in the Shorncliffe Military Cemetery, Kent., an area in which a number of military hospitals were located.  The Shorncliffe Military Cemetery contains 471 First World War burials, more than 300 of which are Canadian.


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BROOKS, Private George, Service No. T4/124596, Army Service Corps, of St Albans.  Born in Tring.  Died of wounds in Egypt (Base Horse Transport Depot, Army Service Corps, Egyptian Expeditionary Force) on the 10th July 1916.  George is buried in the Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery, Egypt.

The largest element of the Army Service Corps was the Horse Transport section.  Most Horse Transport Companies were under orders of Divisions [Note], with four normally being grouped into a Divisional Train.  Others were part of the Lines of Communication where they were variously known by subtitles as Auxiliary Supply Companies or Reserve Parks.  Soldiers who served in the Horse Transport usually had the letter T as a prefix to their army service number.

I have been unable to discover how Private Brooks received his wounds, but it is possible that he had been evacuated, wounded, from Gallipoli or the Middle Eastern Theatre, and died later in Alexandria.

After the Gallipoli campaign of 1915, Alexandria remained an important hospital centre during later operations in Egypt and Palestine and the port was much used by hospital ships and troop transports bringing reinforcements and carrying the sick and wounded out of the theatres of war.  The Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery was begun in April 1916 when it was realised that the cemetery at Chatby would not be large enough.  Most of the burials were made from the Alexandria hospitals, but a number of graves of December 1917 were due to the loss of the troop transports “Aragon” and “Osmanieh” which were sunk by torpedo and mine as they entered the port.  The cemetery continued in use until December 1919, but some graves were later brought in from small burial grounds in the western desert at Maadia and Rosetta.


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BUSHELL, Private Charles Sansom, 2nd Bn. Wiltshire Regiment, Service No: 36136.  Born in Tring.  Killed in action on the 19th August 1918 aged 18.  Son of William Joseph and Margaret Mary of Gamnel, New Mill.

The 2nd Bn. Wiltshire Regiment War Diary for the 19th August 1918 gives no indication of the fate of Private Bushell, but it does show that the battalion was in contact with the enemy and that their officers were falling victim to gunfire and gas from which it follows that other ranks were also exposed.


1918-08-18: Battalion in Support Trenches.

On the night 18/19th 2nd Wilts relieved 9th RWF
[Royal Welch Fusiliers] in the front line.  Relief complete 1.30am 19th. 2nd Lieut GM JEANS wounded.

1918-08-19: in trenches, Hinges, France.

Battalion in front line.  “A” Coy Right front company, “B” coy Left front company, “C” coy Left support, “D” coy Right support.  Patrols from “A” & “B” coys went out at dawn to reconnoitre enemy positions but were held up by heavy machine gun fire.  In the afternoon the GOC rang up to say that the Bosche was retiring on our left and instructed us to push out patrols again.  2nd Lieut GD CHAPMAN “B” coy took out a patrol and encountered the same opposition.  2nd Lieut CHAPMAN was wounded in the arm by a machine gun bullet and was evacuated to a Field Ambulance.  On the right 2nd Lieut SWH DANN of “A” coy pushed forward about 800 yards and established a post.  The Battalion on our right, the 8th GLOSTERS, pushed forward and established posts in line with us.  On the left the 1st WARWICKS were being relieved by the 2nd SEAFORTHS, 4th Div, and did not move with us.  Capt HW MARSH MC “D” coy went down badly gassed.  Lieut JH PEACOCK took over command of “D” coy.  During the early morning a man of “A” coy surprised and captured a ration party of the enemy which had lost its way and was approaching our line.  13 prisoners passed through the 57th Brigade and a Sergt Major was brought to Battalion Headquarters.  Word was received that patrols were pushing forward from Battalions on our flanks.  “B” coy accordingly pushed forward to bring our left in line with the SEAFORTHS.  A forward Battalion Headquarters in the ABERDEEN LINE and was manned by the Commanding Officer, Second in Command, Intelligence Officer, Signallers, Runners and Scouts.  GOC visited advanced Headquarters in the morning.  Meanwhile patrols had pushed forward along the whole line and had advanced so far that, owing to the Brigade boundary converging to a point, the 58th Brigade was squeezed out.  At 2pm orders were received from Brigade to withdraw the Battalion to the ABERDEEN and EDINBURGH LINES.  Operation Orders were accordingly issued and the companies withdrew by sections at 10 minutes intervals.  Battalion Headquarters moved back to GORDON HOUSE with the exception of the Intelligence Officer who remained in the advanced Headquarters in charge of Report Centre.  At 10pm an inter company relief took place.  “C” coy relieving “B” coy in the EDINBURGH LINE, “D” coy relieving “A” coy in the VERTBOIS LINE.



Charles is buried in the Le Vertannoy British Cemetery, Hinges, Pas-de-Calais, France.  His grave inscription reads: TWAS HARD TO PART WITH HIM WE LOVED BUT JESUS KNOWS WHAT’S BEST.

Le Vertannoy British Cemetery was begun in April 1918, during the Battles of the Lys, and was used by field ambulances, burial officers and fighting units until the following September.  It contains 141 First World War burials, two of them unidentified.


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COKER, Private Samuel, Service No. 10594, 1st Bn. Welsh Regiment, of Tring.  Born in Pitstone.

The 1st Bn Welsh Regiment mobilised for war as part of the 84th Brigade, 28th Division [Note] and landed at Le Havre on the 18th January 1915.  During March/April 1915 they were in the Dranoutre and Ploegsteert sectors of the line in West Flanders, Belgium.  Private Coker was reported dead on the 5th March during a period that the battalion War Diary reports as being “a very eventful time” without giving details of the events that gave rise to this description, unless it related to fighting earlier in the month for which the following casualties are given:


21st February: total casualties 16th to 22nd Feb, Killed or died of wounds, 51: Wounded 26; Missing, 41.


From the casualty figures below one can only assume that Private Coker was the person in “D” Company posted missing.


27th February 1915

Battalion marched to DRANOUTRE at 2p.m. - 3½ miles N.E. of BAILLEUL and went into billets in two farms as Reserve Battalion of the E Sector of defence DRANOUTRE Section.


28th Feb-3rd March 1915

At DRANOUTRE - Companies employed in making fascines and hurdles daily.

2/Lieuts R. M. Garth and E. Newington and draft of 65 other ranks joined from Base ROUEN on 3 March. On night 3/4 March the battalion marched to the trenches – Headquarters at Pond Farm. “A” and “C” Coys in trenches, “B” & “D” Coys in support at COOKERS FARM.

4th-7th March 1915

In trenches. Companies relieved each other every 24 hours.  Headquarters changed to TEA FARM on 4th March.  A very eventful time.

Casualties            Killed      Wounded       Missing

“A” Coy                   -              2                      -
“B” Coy                   -              2                       -
“C” Coy                  -              3                       -

“D” Coy                  -              2                       1


Samuel is buried in Dranouter Churchyard, Belgium, which contains 79 Commonwealth burials of the First World War.


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CRAWLEY, Rifleman Harold Robin, Service No. S/10732, 9th Battalion, Rifle Brigade, of Watford.  Born in Tring, killed in action on the 15th September 1916, aged 26.

The 9th (Service) Battalion, Rifle Brigade, was raised at Winchester on the 21st August 1914 as part of Kitchener’s First New Army [Note] and were attached to the 42nd Brigade, 14th (Light) Division [Note].  The battalion trained at Aldershot, then moved to Petworth in November, then to return to Aldershot  for final training in February 1915.  They proceeded to France, landing at Boulogne on the 19th of May 1915.  They fought in the Action of Hooge (21st April-25th May) – being the first division to be attacked with flamethrowers [Note] – and in the Second Attack on Bellewaarde (25th September).  In 1916 they saw action on the Somme  in The Battle of Delville Wood (15th July–3rd September) and the Battle of Fler-Courcelette (15th–22nd September).

Judging from the date of his death, it is likely that Rifleman Crawley fell during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette.  This battle commenced on the 15th September with an Anglo-French attack on the German First Army, which began the third phase of the Battle of the Somme. [Note] By its conclusion on 22nd September, the strategic objective of a decisive victory had not been achieved.  Although the attack fell short of its desired objective it inflicted many casualties on the German frontline divisions and the capture of the villages of Courcelette, Martinpuich and Flers were a considerable tactical victory; that said, the Germans recovered quickly.  Overall, the battle was a moderately successful set-piece attack by 1916 standards, but its plan was too ambitious and mistakes were made in the use of artillery and tanks (their first appearance on the battlefield).

The relevant pages of the  9th Battalion Rifle Brigade War Diary are missing, but the 9th Kings Royal Rifle Corps War Diary refers to the 9th Rifles during fighting in which both battalions took part on the day of Rifleman Crawley’s death.  Thus the references taken from the K.R.R.C. Diary that follow give a description of the action in which he too was involved, and in which all but one of the 9th Rif. Brig. officers were killed.


15th September 1916

6-20 am: Battn. moved from MONTAUBAN ALLEY to YORK ALLEY & CHECK LINE being on the right of the 5th Oxf & bucks L.I. and behind the 9th Rif. Brig.

8am: At this time the 9th Rif. Brig. appeared to be bearing away too far to the right and were only in front of the right half company of “A” Company.

About 9am: The 9th Rif. Brig. had stopped advancing and were forming a line more or less parallel with GIRD TRENCH, their left being about N.32 c.9.0.

About 9.30am: I asked captain Merryweather, then commanding the 9th Rif. Brig. what were his intentions. He told me that the 9th Rif. Brig. intended to attack GIRD TRENCH under our barrage, at the appointed time, according to programme. Seeing that his battalion were very weak, I told him that the 9 K.R.Rif.C. would advance in close support of the 9th Rif. Brig.

9.30am: The battalion was organised in two lines behind the 9th Rif. Brig., ready to advance behind the 9th Rif. Brig. Battn. Hdqtrs established at T.2.c.3.7., from where a good view of front could be obtained.

9.30am to 11.20am: Our guns did not appear to be shelling GIRD TRENCH or GIRD SUPPORT much, only desultory shelling by heavy guns observable.


11.20am: Although no friendly barrage of Field Guns was on GIRD TRENCH the 9th Rif. Brig. tried to advance on this trench, but as soon as they got on to the rising ground in front of them a hostile machine gun situated about N.52.d.9.3. prevented them advancing - all their remaining officers were killed except one very junior officer - their attack failed.   Seeing this I assumed command of the small remainder of the 9th Rif. Brig.

Dated 18th Sept 1916, Major Commanding 9th K.R.R.C.


The above extracts give only slight indication of the heavy fighting in which the 9th Rif. Brig. and the 9th K.R.R.C. were involved, and the heavy losses that both sustained.

Harold was the son of Sabrina and the late Joseph.  He has no known grave, but is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France (The Rifle Brigade war dead are commemorated on panels 16B & 16C).


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DOCKERTY, Private Frank (Frank Dockertys connection with the town appears doubtful and the Dacorum Heritage Trust has been unable to provide me with details), Service No. 25/923, 25th (Tyneside Irish) Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers.  Son of Helena Docherty (nee Mahoney) and the late Francis Docherty.  Killed in action on the 1st July 1916 aged 28.  A keen footballer, he played for Jarrow and Willington Quay early in his career, and just before WW1 for Everton and Fulham.  A brother, Sergeant William Docherty, had fallen in January.

Often known as the “Fighting Fifth” – the Regiment was until 1881 the Fifth Foot – the Northumberland Fusiliers raised no fewer than 51 battalions for service in the Great War, which makes it the second largest after the London Regiment.  The 25th (Service) Battalion (2nd Tyneside Irish) was formed at Newcastle on the 9th November, 1914, by the Lord Mayor and City.  In June 1915 the battalion came under orders of the 103rd Brigade, 34th Division, and after final training on Salisbury Plain landed in France in January 1916.  During 1916 it was engaged in various actions on the Western front including The Battle of Albert (1st-3rd July), The Battle of Bazentin Ridge (14th-17th July), The Battle of Pozieres Ridge (23rd July-3rd Sept) and The Battle of Flers-Courcelette (15th-22nd Sept).  Judging from the date of his death and the battalion’s location it appears that Private Dockerty was killed during the Battle of Albert.  The Battalion War Diary for the 1st and 2nd July describes this bloody encounter as follows:





Frank has no known grave, but is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, France, pier and face 10B 11B and 12B.


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ROWLAND, Private William John, Service No. 220024, 2nd Bn. Wiltshire Regiment, of Tring.  Enlisted at Watford, formerly with the Oxfordshire and Bucks Light Infantry.  Killed in action on the 1st August 1917.  Born in Pitstone to William & Minnie Rowland.  Metal fitter in the Bulbourne canal works.

At the outbreak of war, the 2nd Wilts was serving as part of the Gibraltar Garrison.  The battalion was brought back to England and attached to the 21st Brigade, part of the 7th Division. [Note]  It arrived in France in October 1914 in time to take part in the First Ypres, where it suffered heavy casualties in helping to stop the German advance.  In December 1915, the 21st Brigade transferred to the 30th Division.  In the following three years of action on the Western Front, the battalion took part in most of the major engagements, including, in 1917, the pursuit of the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line (14th March–5th April – Note), The First Battle of the Scarpe (9th-14th April), The Second Battle of the Scarpe (23rd-24th April) and The Battle of Pilckem Ridge (31st July–2nd August).  In March 1918 both the 1st and 2nd Wilts were nearly destroyed during the German Army’s Spring Offensive, [Note] losing 22 officers and 600 men.

Judging by the date of his death and his battalions involvement, it seems likely that Private Rowland fell during the Battle of Pilckem Ridge (Belgium).  This action marked the opening attack of the Third Battle of Ypres (a.k.a. Passchendaele).  The battle began at 3.50am on the 31st July when 2,000 Allied guns opened fire on German lines and 14 British and two French divisions attacked along 15 miles of the front.  The most significant success was achieved in the north, particularly across Pilckem Ridge. However, on the afternoon of the 31st July, it began to rain on the battlefield and over the following days the shell-damaged ground became a quagmire, severely hampering the advancing troops and making the movement of artillery, casualties and supplies very difficult.  After three days, the Allied advance was half of what had been planned.


Battle of Pilckem Ridge: stretcher bearers struggle in mud up to their knees to carry
a wounded man to safety near Boesinghe, 1st August 1917.


The following extract from And We Go On: A Memoir of the Great War, by Will R. Bird (published 1930) gives a fair description of the landscape in which Private Rowland was fighting:


“The atmosphere of the
[Ypres] Salient had gripped us.  Before us, all around us, in the fan of a great wheel, it lay.  Pilckem, Wieltje, Railway Wood, Hooge, Sanctuary Wood, Mont Sorrell, Hill 60, Hollebeke.  Among the veterans I had visited in other battalions I had heard of numerous Farms, Lancashire, Turco, Argyle, Hussar, and Essex.  And there were Cottages and the Willows, and Admiral’s Road, and Hellfire Comer, and Crab Crawl, the Spoil Bank, the Bluff, Maple Copse and Zillibeke Lake.  We peered around us as we marched out into that flat world of mud and water, a desolation racked by explosions, fetid with slime of rotting things, gray and gruesome beyond description.  We went to California Trench, relieving the 4th C.M.R.s, and found it a dreadful ditch with make shift shelters.  The rain continued and we stood about like wooden Indians or arranged some sort of roof to shed the drizzle.  There was considerable shelling from all angles and at dusk the Salient seemed a mighty ghoul, something invisible and vengeful, blood-seeking, watching.  All that night we sat in such shelter as we had an were soaked by constant dripping, chilled to the bone.  Dawn came slowly and with a clinging penetrating mist that made even the rifles clammy to the touch.  We got out and moved off in small parties and an officer came to INSPECT that swamp hole in which we had cowered, to see if any cigarette butt or rubbish had not sunk in the mire.  Wheeeee-ump!  A shell, probably a stray, came with a heart-stopping suddenness and exploded in the very niche Melville and I had excavated, leaving the lieutenant a bloody pulp.”


The Battalion War Diary for the 31st July and the 1st August gives no indication of Private Rowland’s fate, but it does show heavy fighting at the time:


31-07-1917: in trenches, Belgium

Entry Z day ZERO was at 3.40am, and when our first wave, consisting of three platoons of “B” company under Lieut LC MAKEHAM, went over it was still quite dark.  The enemy at once put down a barrage on our old front line trenches and on CRAB CRAWL.  There was also considerable machine gun fire from the right, which somewhat hindered the 2nd YORKSHIRE Regt.  However, the objective was captured and the trenches cleaned by 6.15am. About 40 prisoners were taken from the JAM SUPPORT, JEFFERY TRENCH and JEFFERY SUPPORT.  “B” company HQ was finally established at the head of JAM ROW near GREEN JACKET RIDE at J.19.b.4.6.  Three platoons of “C” company, under CAPT WB GARDNER, formed the second wave, and killed a number of Huns in JAM ROW and JAM LANE, but took no prisoners.  2/Lieut LG LEWIS was badly wounded during the advance.  “C” company HQ was established in a trench mortar dug-out on dotted line J.19.b.4.2, and the company astride of JAM LANE with 2/Lieut HS STARKEY’S platoon around J.19.b.0.6.  “A” company, under Capt WB WOOD, together with 2 platoons of “D” company, met with a good deal of resistance from machine gun fire from the woods W of DUMBARTON LAKES and INVERNESS COPSE.  About 12 prisoners were taken around junction of JAM LANE and JAR ROW, and about the same number killed up to strong point at J.19.b.75.65.  2/Lieuts FR LEWIS and VAP BOWEN established a strong point with about 20 men at J .19.b.95.60, and strengthened the position considerably by Lewis guns taken from a derelict tank near by.  This position covered low lying ground and junction of JAR ROW and JASPER AVENUE.  Later they were joined by men from other units, and Capt KEEFE took charge.  2/Lieut EW CAIN was killed at J.19.b.8.0, and during the advance 2/Lieuts. ACB DODD and WW MANNING were wounded.  The Commanding Officer and Adjutant established Battalion HQ at 9.30am at J .19.b.10.15 in JAM LANE, and were joined at 12.30am by the rest of HQ company under 2/Lieut W RUDMAN, with two platoons of “D” company forming a reserve in JAM RESERVE under 2/Lieuts. VH TROW and FC BRITTAIN.  The barrage was said by all to have been splendid.  About 2pm “A” company reported enemy massing around DUMBARTON LAKES but no development took place.  Heavy shelling continued around our reserve positions and “No Man’s Land” the whole day.

1917-08-01: in trenches, Belgium

Entry Weather very wet. Our positions were held, & with the exception of a platoon of “A” company who occupied a trench they had dug the previous night, the situation was unaltered. The new trench ran from the junction of JAR ROW and JAM LANE running N for about 200 yds.  Patrols from “A” coy got in touch the previous night with 2/Lieuts FR LEWIS and VAP BOWEN’S Strong Point at J.19.b.9.6. with Capt KEEFE (19th Manchesters) in command. The above officers were relieved at night by Capt BEAUMONT of the 20th King’s and joined Capt WOOD in JAR ROW.  2/Lt AH CHANDLER’S platoon was also moved up to reinforce “A” coy in JAR ROW and 2/Lt S COLLIER took up a commanding position E of Strong Point at J.19.b.8.7.  “A” coy had a few casualties during the day, and the enemy shelling was very heavy throughout the day, especially around J.19.b.1.1. and MG fire around JAR ROW and JAM LANE.  Iron rations were eaten.  A ration party under 2/Lt VH TROW and the RSM had a difficult journey to and from VALLEY COTTAGES with rations, and water carrying parties.  2/Lt HH MARTYN granted 10 days leave from VII Corps Lewis Gun School.  Joined battalion for duty on completion of leave.


The British Army suffered some 27,000 casualties wounded, killed and missing.  Their graves can be found in cemeteries all around Ypres, but most of the dead, have no known grave.  The names of some 4,500 servicemen who died on 31st July alone are commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.

William is commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium, panel 53, and also in the Pitstone War Memorial Hall.


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