The Bedfordshire Regiment in the Great War
Meldreth War Memorial, South Cambridgeshire
Meldreth is a beautiful village on the South Cambridge / North Hertfordshire border, three miles north-east of Royston town centre. It lies just north of the A10 to Cambridge. The village has an active local history group who's collection of photographs from various stages in the villages history can be viewed here and their own comprehensive site here.
The War Memorial in Meldreth is representative of just about every village memorial in the country, with a mixture of stories spanning the entire war. What is a lovely touch and one that is sadly not common place is that someone ensures flowers are always laid at the base of the memorial, come rain, wind, sleet or snow.
There is also a memorial plaque (shown below), which can be seen in the Meldreth Holy Trinity village church
Private 14111 1st Battalion, the Bedfordshire Regiment
[Photograph from the Royston Crowe, 21st July 1917.]
Ernest Abrey was born in Meldreth in 1884/85, the son of Thomas (a Coal Porter from Mildenhall) and Caroline (from Ely).
In 1891, the family lived in Parish cross, Meldreth. Thomas was a 64 year old Coal Porter who lived with his 49 year old wife Caroline. Four of their sons remained with them, being Alfred, Nial, Henry and the six year old Ernest. By 1901 Ernest was a 16 year old cement worker who lived with his widowed mother Caroline and his 19 year old nephew Albert Handscomb in Chiswick End, Meldreth.
By the time war broke out in August 1914 Ernest was living in Kensington, Middlesex. He returned to his home ground and enlisted into the army at the Royston Drill Hall between 30th August and 1st September 1914. After just the briefest of training at Felixstowe he was selected to join the Regular 1st Battalion who had been fighting on the Western Front since the Battle of Mons that August. Ernest landed in France on the 3rd December 1914 and, with his new comrades, spent an uncomfortable winter in waterlogged trenches, rebuilding blown in sections, patrolling no man's land and avoiding the ever watchful German snipers and artillery observers.
Christmas Day was spent in the front lines near Wolverghem. The Germans semaphored across that they were not going to fire and some men from B Company met the Germans in no man's land whilst other sections of their front stayed huddled in their frozen trenches. Boxing Day saw a party of Germans approach their lines again but a few warning shots told them to keep away and the 'Christmas Truce' was over in their section of the Western Front.
No major battles took place on their part of the front lines for the first three months of the year until British commanders set their sights on the troublesome and infamous Hill 60, south of Ypres. However, at some stage early in 1915, Ernest was wounded and sent to the Base Hospital on the coast to recover. A few weeks later he was back with his comrades, ready for the new campaigning season.
Early in April Ernest and the 5th Division were moved into the area to take over the inadequate French trenches and the British section of the Western Front was continuous for the first time since the British Army had set foot on European soil. The 17th April was a sunny day as the Bedfords lined up quietly north of Hill 60 with the Cheshires to their left and the Dorsets to their right. For some months events had been moving along carefully and deliberately behind the scenes but now orders were issued and the assault was imminent.
At 7.05pm the hill disappeared in a series of explosions caused by six huge mines and quickly followed up by a hurricane artillery bombardment that caught the defenders out completely. After the last mine had exploded the storming Company of the 1st Royal West Kents charged up the slope and took over the row of craters that had once been the German front line trenches with little opposition. The survivors of the Company from the German 172nd Regiment who had garrisoned the hill were overwhelmed with bayonets or surrendered in a daze but most of them were either dead or missing. Twenty prisoners were taken and most of the rest of their Company destroyed with the loss of just seven British casualties.
Within fifteen minutes the supporting companies were also in position and the hill was in British hands. Taking it had been made easy by the mines but holding it would be another matter entirely. Ernest and his comrades in the 1st battalion were not involved directly in the attack and watched events unfolding from the base of the hill. Within minutes German artillery was firing wildly at anywhere on or around the hill but soon settled into a more methodical pattern that saw the railway cutting to the south and trenches on either side swamped with shells.
For three hours the troops on the hill held their positions and consolidated the trenches in readiness for the expected counter attacks with the unfamiliar, yet terrifying smell of gas drifting around the hill. Although initial fears of an as yet untried gas attack surfaced, it transpired that the smell came from cylinders buried underground in readiness for a planned German assault that had been foiled with the destruction of their mining galleries. Several days of barrages and counter attacks followed until the Bedfords were moved to their right and into the line on the remains of the hill itself.
Then followed several days of stubborn defence that saw the Surreys and Bedfords hold the hill against barrages, bombing assaults and numerous German bayonet charges. A dozen officers and around 400 men from Ernest's battalion alone fell defending what amounted to a mound of shattered earth during those few days until the first use of Gas further north shifted the focus of the battle temporarily.
Ernest and his comrades spent the next week listening to the sounds of battle coming from the north and drafts of 200 and then a further 300 men arrived at the end of April to bring the battalion back up to combat strength again.
On the 1st May 1915 the German unleashed a gas cloud against the hill, much of it drifting onto the Dorsets to the right of the Bedfords and forcing them back whilst taking the right hand company of the Bedfords with them. Private Edward Warner from Ernest's battalion initially retired with the Company but ventured back to the empty trenches and fought the assaulting Germans single handedly, refusing to let the trench fall. After gathering reinforcements he continued fighting although outnumbered and died form the effects of Gas the following day. His efforts not only spurred the men in his area on but also won him a posthumous Victoria Cross.
Several more days of relative quiet followed until a fresh barrage was unleashed on Ernest and his comrades at 8.35am on the 5th May, followed by a massed German infantry assault. The blow fell onto the newly arrived Duke of Wellington's battalion who were not properly in position and were unable to hold the German assault. They were forced from the hill leaving the Bedfords and Norfolks on either side of the gaping hole, isolated, enfiladed and thrown headlong into a desperate fight. At 11am another gas cloud was unleashed, this time drifting onto the Bedfords' open right flank.
With mounting casualties from the prolonged close quarters fighting, with both German and British artillery smothering their trenches, several well placed German machine gunners and the new threat of gas, the flank retired. Only the surviving Bedfords - perhaps the size of a Company - remained stubbornly at the foot of the hill. All day the German infantry bombed and bayonet charged their positions and all day they refused to fold. British artillery kept pounding the Bedfords' positions, thinking the trenches had been lost completely as no messages could be passed back by the isolated band, all communications having been cut long before.
Finally realising there were British troops still in position against all odds, the already exhausted 13th Brigade were brought up to retake the hill that night. Their best efforts took them to the base of the hill but no further.
Later that night one last attempt to retake the trenches around Zwarteleen and relieve the isolated Bedfords met with failure and two weakened companies of Yorkshire Light Infantry went forward, never to be seen again.
With that last ditch attempt, the desperate, costly fighting around Hill 60 effectively stopped, with just a few minor issues left unresolved.
The following day saw the isolated right section of trench still cut off and continuous German efforts to bomb their way into the shrinking party of Bedfords were all bloodily repulsed. No food, water or ammunition had been sent up to them since the start of the fighting and their colleagues could only listen to the rise and fall of rifle fire and grenade blasts that saw off attack after attack. Nevertheless, Captain Sheldon Gledstanes held the shattered remains of his Company together and at the end of another day of being trapped, surrounded and with them running out of absolutely everything, they were finally reached and relieved.
Early on the 7th May the utterly exhausted survivors were marched back to Ouderdam where they spent several days resting, refitting and retraining the new arrivals after their horrendous ordeal on Hill 60. Ernest Abrey was amongst the surrounded band and was mortally wounded during the last day of bitter fighting on Thursday, 6th May 1915. He was posted as missing but must have died from his wounds that day before the survivors were relieved. As a result, he is remembered on Panels 31 to 33 of the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial to the Missing.
Sidney Spot CHAMBERLAIN
Company Sergeant Major 7623 1st Bn., Bedfordshire Regiment
[Photograph from the Royston Crowe, 12th April 1918]
Sidney Chamberlain, known as 'Spot', was born in Shepreth late in 1885, the son of John Edward Chamberlain from Shepreth, who had been born in Shepreth around 1861. In 1891 his mother had died and his widowed father and Spot lived with Spot's Grandfather and family. His Grandfather was the local Publican at the 'Halfway House' in Shepreth. In 1901 his father had remarried to Elizabeth and the family lived on the High Street in Shepreth. By then Spot had three younger half brothers called Percy, Montague and Thomas, who shared their home with a boarded called Frederick Hewling from Camden Town in London.
Spot Chamberlain enlisted into the Bedfordshire Regiment at Royston in July 1903, aged 18, and served in India as well as at home during the years before the First World War. By August 1914 he was in England but did not sail to the Continent with the rest of the 1st battalion, being in the Regiment's reserves at the time.
He first set foot on French soil as a Private on the 26th August 1914, amongst the first batch of replacements for the 1st battalion's losses during the Battles of Mons and Le Cateau earlier that month. He met them east of Paris and fought with them through the battles of the Marne, the Aisne, La Bassee and the First battle of Ypres that year.
April 1915 saw him in the thick of the costly fighting at Hill 60 where he served alongside Ernest Abrey (above). Early in May he was one of the early gas casualties and retired from the lines whilst he recovered.
The following year saw him come to the end of his service yet he rejoined and was involved in the Battle of the Somme. Up until the summer of 1916 he wrote home that he had 'gone through the whole campaign without a scratch', despite having been gassed the previous April.
The local paper of 18th August 1916 lists him as suffering from shell shock but a letter home said he had actually been injured in August by falling masonry from a building damaged by a German shell. He recovered in hospital on the Isle of Wight, only to be wounded again in April 1917, when the battalion suffered heavily whilst assaulted La Coulotte during the Arras offensives.
Returning to his battalion in time for the Third Battle of Ypres, Spot survived the battalion's assault astride the Menin Road and was supervising supply parties around Stirling Castle the day he was killed. His Company were shelled heavily as they toiled to move the supplies forward, causing casualties.
Company Sergeant Major Chamberlain was killed in action on Thursday, 25th October 1917, aged 31, as he tried to help wounded comrades on the open battlefield.
In the letter of condolence to his widow, his Company Commander wrote how he was "always cool and a man to be relied on in times of danger," adding "I cannot speak too highly of his conduct as a soldier". He left a widow, Alice, and two sons behind.
His body was not recovered, or was lost in the fighting around the area over the following year and as a result, is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing.
Private 13671 11th Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment
[Photograph from the Royston Crowe, 27th October 1916]
His father Charles was born in Cambridge and his mother Naomi was from Meldreth. Their eldest son William was born in 1881/82 in Melbourn, followed by Lily, Florence, Thomas, Elsie, all being around 2 years apart in Meldreth. In 1891 the family lived in Kneesworth Road, Meldreth, his father being an Agricultural labourer. By 1901 the large family lived in the High Street, Meldreth and his father worked as a cement labourer in the local factory. His mother Naomi looked after Reuben and his siblings, being William, Thomas, Elsie, Charles, Edith, Edward, David Basil and John, the entire family being born in Meldreth.
The three older brothers would move to America before war broke out and Reuben was employed by Mr J. Mortlock of Meldreth Court, Meldreth by then.
Reuben enlisted into the army at Cambridge on the 4th September 1914 and was posted into the Machine Gun Section to the 11th battalion of the Suffolks when they were formed on the 25th September. His battalion served in the 101st Brigade, 34th Division.
After prolonged training, they landed in Boulogne on the 9th January 1916 and served in the trenches until the fateful opening day of the Battle of the Somme on the 1st July 1916, when Reuben was to become one of the 57,000 British and Commonwealth casualties to fall that day.
After a week-long barrage of German positions facing them, at 5am on the 1st July 1916 the battalion left Becourt Wood, just east of Albert, to move to their jumping off positions. By 7am they were in position and ready for their first taste of 'going over the top'.
The 102nd Brigade to their left was assigned the assault on La Boiselle, but made no headway. As a result, as soon as the battalion left their trenches at 7.30 they were met with an intense machine gun fire, followed quickly by the addition of a heavy German barrage. Despite the heavy casualties within the opening minutes, many of them within thirty yards of their own front lines, the following waves did not hesitate in clambering from the relative safety of their own trenches and marching into the smoke, towards the German lines.
No news came back as to the progress of the battalion and the casualty toll was feared as being disastrous with no gains being made in the process. Just a pitifully small number made it back into their own lines once darkness fell over the battlefield, with none having come from the German lines themselves.
Incredibly, at midnight an unexpected message was received at the battalion HQ. Captain O. Brown and about 20 of the battalion were in the German held trench called Wood Alley, along with mixed groups of men from a variety of other units. The exhausted band had secured the section of trench and were covering the flank of the 20th Division to their south. Nothing could be done to support them so the day was spent recovering the wounded as best as the survivors could manage.
Another day followed which saw the remnants of the battalion mixed in with survivors from other units for various defensive, consolidation or cleaning up duties until they were marched back from the front to start the process of rebuilding.
Almost 500 men from the battalion were killed, wounded or listed as missing during the first phase of the battle, most of them falling in the opening hours of the battle. Private Dash was initially posted as wounded in the local papers (Royston Crowe, 25th August 1916) but was later listed as being killed in action on Saturday, 1st July 1916.
Given where he is buried, it would appear that he was recovered from either the Buire local cemetery or from one of the mass graves on the battlefield itself.
The anniversary of his death saw his parents place the following 'In Memoriam' poem in their local paper (dated 6th July 1917):
"In health and strength he left his home, Not thinking death so near. It pleased the Lord to bid him come And in his sight appear. A sudden change, at God's command he fell, He had no time to bid his friends farewell. Death came without a warning given, We hope at last to meet in Heaven From his loving Mother, Father and Friend"
He is buried in grave II. E. 11 of the Cerisy-Gailly French National Cemetery on the Somme.
Private 5688, later 327522 "D" Coy. 1st/1st Battalion, the Cambridgeshire Regiment
[Photograph from the Royston Crowe, 2nd November 1917]
Jabez was born around 1892 in Meldreth, the second son of Thomas East (from Whaddon) and Elizabeth East (of Melbourn). In 1901 the 43 year old father Thomas worked in the local cement factory and the family lived in North End, Meldreth, where they still lived by the time war broke out. The eldest son Alfred Thomas (born in Whaddon) was a 13 year old Kitchen Boy, whereas Jabez, Frank and Emily G (all born in Meldreth) were all too young to work. After leaving school, Jabez worked for Mr C.W. Farnham, a Meldreth corn merchant and later married Elsie.
In April 1916 he went to Cambridge and enlisted into the Cambridgeshire Regiment and was sent to Halton Camp near Tring, Bucks to train. July 1916 saw him posted to the Western front but he was back in Blighty in October suffering from septic poisoning to his face. Having recovered in Scotland he rejoined the regiment for training and was back in France again 14th March 1917, in time for the Battle of Arras.
Private East was 24 years old when he was killed by a bursting shell on the opening day of the Third Battle of Ypres. His Division - the 39th - advanced in the second waves of the British assault and, after an initially trouble free start, found themselves in a difficult battle. Having advanced past the first line of German trenches, they moved out of range of the supporting British artillery and advanced onto the unbroken barbed wire defences. In no man's land, they were badly cut up by the defensive artillery barrage and concentrated machine gun fire as they tried to force a passage through the wire.
Jabez fell at around 10am on Tuesday, 31st July 1917, leaving a young widow and small baby. His wife Elsie remarried some years later, becoming Elsie Whitehall and remaining at North End in Meldreth.
His body was not recovered and he is remembered on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial to the Missing.
Captain 1st/6th Battalion, the Lancashire Fusiliers
Ralph was born in Meldreth around 1887/88, the son of Thomas (born around 1850 in Meldreth) and Sarah A (born around 1851 in Bassingbourn). In 1891 the family lived in the High Street, Meldreth and Thomas was a 40 year old Agricultural Labourer. Their children at the time were Walter (who lived two doors away with his grandmother) Frank, Kate, Ralph and Lillah, all born in Meldreth. His 76 year old Grandmother Sarah was a widowed Schoolmistress who lived two houses away and must have had some bearing on his future profession, given that Ralph was to become a Schoolmaster.
In 1901 the family remained in the High Street and Ralph's 57 year old Aunt Charlotte lived next to them. His father had now worked at the local cement factory and his older brother Frank worked on the farms. He earned a B.A. (hons.) degree from the University of London and in October 1914 joined their Officer Training Corps. A sports lover, he excelled in hurdling and high jump and was a schoolmaster at the time he enlisted, teaching in Tottenham, London.
Ralph was gazetted a Second Lieutenant in April 1915 and married Daisy A. Haslar that summer.
He sailed for Gallipoli in October 1915, where he served in the Territorial 1st/6th battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers, who were part of the 125th Brigade, 42nd Division. His battalion were among the last British troops to be evacuated from the peninsular and served from January 1916 in Egypt, guarding the Suez Canal.
March 1917 saw the Division return to the Western Front and Ralph was sent home from France later that year suffering from septic poisoning. He returned to the battalion on the 3rd July 1918, just before the birth of his daughter. By that time his battalion had been moved into the 66th Division and served in the final '100 days' of campaigns that resulted in the end of four years of war.
Captain Farnham had survived 'going over the top' many times and the hazardous life in the trenches for several years and, in what was their last spell on the front line, his battalion were holding recently won positions around Nieuport (Nieuwpoort) on the Belgian coast.
He was wounded on October 14th and moved south-west to a casualty Clearing Station at Poperinghe. He died from his wounds on the 31st October 1918 at the same Casualty Clearing station along the Ypres to Poperinghe road, aged 30.
Ralph Farnham lies in grave XXXV B.10 of the huge Lijssenthoek military in Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium. News of his death appeared in the local papers 4 days after the war was over, suggesting his wife was notified of his death in Belgium within days of the war ending. Ironically, his obituary appeared as the article underneath the one exclaiming the war had ended. Hence, having enlisted at the outset, he had served in three separate theatres over a four year period, only to die in the last gasp of the war.
Daisy Farnham lived at 10 Sydney Road in Waltham Cross at the time, along with their baby daughter whom Ralph never got to meet. By the summer of 1921 Daisy had moved to 72 Westborough Road, Westcliffe on Sea but whether they got to visit Ralph's grave is not known.
Nelson William FIELDING.
Bombardier 56825 V Battery, Royal Horse
Artillery Nelson was born in Norwich, around 1895/96 and by 1901 his family lived at 14 Downing Terrace in the St. Paul's parish of Cambridge. His 41 year old father was a Licensed Victualler, born in Surrey and his 33 year old mother Margaret was born in Portsmouth. His siblings were the 7 year old Gladys and 5 year old Percival, both born in Norwich too.
Nelson enlisted into the British Army before war broke out, around late 1913, from London. He was amongst the first wave of British troops to land in France on the 15th August 1914 and fought in the early engagements of the war, including the Battles of Mons and the First Battle of Ypres.
Unfortunately, I have been unable to uncover more about Nelson. He died on Tuesday, 2nd March 1915, aged 19, at the Highland Casualty Clearing Station in Aire, south of St. Omer and is buried in grave IV, E.24 of the Aire Communal cemetery. His parents, Percival and Margaret Ellen Fielding, are recorded from the time as living in both Norwich and at the Mill, Meldreth.
Harry W. FLACK
Private G/43317, 2nd Battalion, the Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex) Regiment.
Harry was born around 1888 in Meldreth, the son of Arthur and Mary Ann Flack, both originally from Westwickham, who had moved their family to Meldreth in the early 1880's. Harry had at least four sisters, being Martha, Priscilla M., Rose E., Elenor G. and Grace Ellen He also had an elder brother Nathan B. In both 1891 and 1901, Harry lived in North End, Meldreth with his parents and several siblings. Although previously a farm labourer, by 1901, both his father and older brother worked in the local cement factory and Harry was working as a domestic Kitchen Boy.
At the time he joined the army, Harry was living in Cuxton in Kent and enlisted from Purfleet in Essex. He first went abroad to serve his country sometime after January 1916, possibly even as late as the end of 1917. Harry was posted to the 2nd Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, who were part of the 23rd Brigade in the 8th Division and whom had been on the Western Front since November 1914.
When the German Spring Offensive was launched on the overstretched British lines on the 21st March 1918, his battalion were elsewhere but as the situation developed it quickly became apparent that reinforcements were badly needed if a disaster was to be averted. The 8th Division were one of those rushed into the fray almost instantly and found themselves lining the banks of the River Somme with orders to hold against all attempts to break their lines.
The Division were one of the numerous units to make an incredible stand against a series of determined and overwhelmingly large assaults but by the 25th March, they were being gradually prised away from the banks of the Somme. William Moore's 'See How They Ran' (page 146) records:
"At the same time the line had been breached at Eterpingy itself, where a post of the 2nd Middlesex, actually on the damaged bridge, was overwhelmed in the mist. Now began a furious battle. The Companies of the 2nd Middlesex strung out along the river refused to retreat and German infantry swarmed around them in ever increasing numbers. Eventually ten tattered and bleeding men emerged from the smoke shrouded ruins of Eterpingy, cutting their way through the encircling enemy - [they were] the remains of C Company."
Page 148 continues describing the day's events. Orders were issued to withdraw and re-form further west but "unhappily the order to retreat never reached the 2nd Middlesex, who maintained their dogfight until eleven of the sixteen platoons in the battalion had been wiped out. The survivors retired under a covering party commanded by the C.O. Lieutenant Colonel C.A.S. Page."
The History of the 8th Division remarks on this episode; "At 7.15pm he [Lieutenant Colonel Page] sent off Major C.D. Drew and the Adjutant with half the party to a covering position. The remainder he sent back in batches up the trench. Finally Private Burgess the C.O.'s servant and Private Allen of D Company were left with the C.O., each firing rapid to cover the retirement and helped by a single Vickers gun under Captain Robertson [of the Machine Gun Corps]. At 7.25pm when the light began to fail, the C.O. sent back his comrades and after a final five rounds rapid [fire], the last of the two hundred he had fired himself, followed them up the trench. The Germans occupied the trench about three minutes after Colonel Page left it and sent up Very lights …"
Harry is listed as being killed in action on Tuesday, 26th March 1918 in France & Flanders. He was around 30 years old and his body was not recovered, probably due to the German army controlling the battlefield where he fell. As a result he is remembered on the Pozieres Memorial to the Missing on the Somme.
John William FULLER
Guardsman 11012, 2nd Battalion, the Grenadier Guards
John was born in Burwell, Cambridgeshire, the son of Robert and Ann. In 1901 the family lived in Burwell, John's siblings being Arthur, Nellie, Charles, Birty, Annie and Alice. By the time of the war, his family moved to Reed, south of Royston and John was a Regular soldier and married to Agnes who lived at Hope Folly in Meldreth. His brother Charles was a Groom at the Stables in Meldreth.
Guardsman Fuller landed in France on the 22nd August 1914 and served in the 4th (Guards) Brigade of the 2nd Division. He would fight in many of the early engagements including the Battles of the Marne, the Aisne and the First Ypres during 1914 and Festubert and Loos in 1915.
In August 1915, his battalion was transferred to the newly formed 1st Guards Brigade of the Guards Division. Whether John fought in all of the engagements in not known as the odds of him being wounded or becoming ill are very high, given how heavily his battalion were engaged and how high their casualty rates were.
After the Battle of Loos they were 'rested' and spared involvement in any major battles between October 1915 and September 1916, although trench warfare and constant training continued unabated.
The Battle of the Somme had raged since the 1st July 1916 but John and his battalion were spared involvement in the opening phases which saw the British and French Armies grind their way forward on a daily basis, suffering heavy losses in the process. Late July saw initial orders issued to the Division and training started in earnest. In the event, they were committed to battle during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette, that saw eleven British Divisions go over the top with mixed results. That battle also saw the debut of the 'Tank', but of the 49 committed to battle, just 21 made it to the front line with the rest breaking down en route.
John and the Guards Division moved towards the front in readiness for their assault and bivouacked in Carnoy overnight on the 13th September. The next night was clear, fine and moonlight as they made their final move to the front. The battalion set off at 9pm, headed for the front lines and their jumping off positions, marching through the devastated Trones Wood and what remained of the villages of Guillemont and Ginchy, the latter of which had only just fallen to the determined assault from the 16th Irish Division five days earlier.
The Guards Division were to be near the southern end of the British line, with the British 6th Division to their right and positioned slightly further back. The 2nd Guards Brigade rested on their left flank but had to start the assault from further back too, leaving them isolated. John's 2nd Brigade lined up with the 1st Coldstream Guards on the left and the 2nd Grenadier Guards on the right with the 1st Scots Guards in direct support of the Grenadier's. The right flank of the Grenadier's rested 100 yards from the Ginchy Telegraph station and extended 250 yards north-east towards Delville Wood.
Arriving in position at 3am on the 15th September, the men were given sandwiches, a tot of rum and left to sleep as best they could until 5.45am, with 'Zero' hour set for 6.20am. At 6am the heavy British artillery fired around 40 rounds at the German lines, resulting in a reply from their German counterparts who heavily shelled Ginchy and Leuze Wood, catching some of the 6th Division in the process, who were still moving into position. 30 seconds before Zero hour, the battalion rose to their feet and advanced, being met by heavy machine gun fire as soon as they rose. Within 200 yards, No.4 Company on the left flank had lost all its Officers but No.3 Company on the initially right suffered less.
The 1st Guards Brigade on their left started further back, leaving the Grenadier's and Coldstream's left flank badly exposed and the 6th Division to their right 'failed to advance' according to their war diary, leaving the Grenadier's right flank wide open. These factors, coupled with the failure of any of the promised 'Tanks' appearing to help with the assault left them dangerously exposed, yet they continued to advance nonetheless.
After around 250 yards, the battalion met with a strongly held German line of machine gun posts, supported by German infantry which slowed their assault up even more. Although leaderless and having suffered heavily at the hands of machine gunners on both of their open flanks, the line rushed forward. After a bloody brawl with defenders who refused to yield, none of the Germans were left alive and the advance continued, having been badly broken up already.
Despite over 400 casualties, the battalion made headway but were stopped by a mixture of being exposed on both flanks and losing so many men during the early part of the advance. To their north gains were made, including almost 3,500 yards in the centre at Flers. The notorious High Wood further north-east had held against all the British could throw at it for two and a half months but fell to the determined efforts of the 47th London Division. Unfortunately, to the south much of the British line was bloodily halted in No Man's Land and a mixture of heavy German artillery and machine gun barrages, coupled with British guns firing short created dreadful casualty levels in the assaulting units and stopped them making significant headway.
Guardsman 11012 John William Fuller is recorded as being killed in action on Thursday, 14th September 1916, aged 32, although he probably fell during the following morning's assault as the war diary only records one man suffering from a minor wound on the 14th September. As is the case with so many men who fell during the battle, John has no known grave but is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing on the Somme
Wilfred Ward HARRUP.
Private G/21166 7th Battalion, the Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment
[Photograph from the Royston Crowe, 27th April 1917.]
Wilfred was born in Meldreth around 1896, the son of Charles and Isabella Harrup of Meldreth. In 1901 the family lived in Whitecroft road in Meldreth and the 5 year old Wilfred had three elder siblings living there, being Walter, Maud and Mark. His father was an Agricultural worker at the time. By the time war broke out the family lived in "Fieldgate House," Meldreth, and he worked for his father, who was a well known local fruit grower by then and had moved to Royston.
He went to Bury St. Edmunds to join the army on the 25th April 1916 and trained at Shoreham. Wilfred went home for a short leave in August and was sent abroad that month, into the Queen's Regiment, who were part of the 55th Brigade in the 18th (Eastern) Division.
The days surrounding his recorded death in the war diaries of his battalion and those around him are not specific enough to confirm the circumstances but his Brigade were in the front line trenches. Weather stopped an assault planned for the 27th October and on the 26th they were relieved from trenches and billeted in Albert. Hence it appears he was either killed as the Brigade left the trenches or wounded at some stage before their relief, dying in the Casualty Clearing Station at Serre shortly afterwards. Wilfred was killed in action within two months of his arrival, on Thursday, 26th October 1916, aged 20.
He lies in grave VII K.3 of the Serre Road cemetery on the Somme.
Private 18548 1st Battalion, the Suffolk Regiment
Albert was born in Melbourn and enlisted into the army there in September 1914. He was posted abroad after his training, landing in France on the 11th March 1915.
The battalion war diary is blank for the period Albert fell, possibly due to the high casualty rate suffered at the time. However, the battalion were in support of the Canadian on the Frezenberg Ridge after the Germans had used gas against them for the first time on the 23rd April. On the afternoon of the 24th April, Albert and his comrades advanced towards Fortuin in support of the Canadian's assault against the Gravenstafel Ridge, under heavy shell fire. They made it as far as the Zonnebeke to keerselare road until stopped by the sheer intensity of fire and their mounting casualties.
Having lost almost 300 men in the advance, they spent the night digging a new trench under fire, using just their entrenching tools. In the ten day battle around this period, Albert and over 400 of his comrades from the 1st Suffolks became casualties.
Albert was killed in action on Saturday, 24th April 1915. He has no known grave and is remembered on panel 21 of the Ypres (Menin gate) Memorial to the Missing.
Private 2670, the Army Pay Corps, Pay Office (Cairo).
[Photograph from the Royston Crowe, 27th April 1917]
Ernest was the seventh son of Samuel Pepper from Whitecroft in Meldreth and was a brother to Samuel, who is also on the Meldreth War Memorial and is detailed below. In 1891 the family were living in Whitecroft road, Meldreth. Samuel was an Agricultural labourer and lived there with his wife and nine children; Walter, Arthur, Albert, Ada, Thomas, Susan, Daisy, Joseph and Sarah E. By 1901 they still lived in Whitecroft Road but Edward, Ernest and Samuel had also been born and Walter had moved away.
After education at the County Cambridge School, he went to work in the clerical department of Swifts American Meat Combine in London.
Ernest enlisted at London in October 1914 and was posted to Egypt in December 1915, arriving there in January 1916. After just a month in Cairo he became ill and his parents received a telegram on the 8th February 1916, warning them that he was dangerously ill.
Sadly, he died from Diphtheria the day before their telegram arrived, on Monday, 7th February 1916 at Cairo Hospital. He lies in grave D. 300 of the Cairo War Cemetery
(Samuel) Mark PEPPER
Private 28206, 12th Battalion, the East Yorkshire regiment
[Photograph from the Royston Crowe, 27th April 1917]
Samuel Pepper was born around 1896/97, the son of Samuel and Fanny Pepper from Meldreth and a brother of Ernest Pepper, shown above. His family details can be seen in his brother's obituary above. Samuel was known as Mark and before the war was employed by his father, who was a well known local fruit grower.
In June 1916 he became old enough to serve in the army and went to France in September, joining 'Hull Commercials' battalion who served in the 92nd Brigade in the 31st Division. Within two months, he was to fall in battle. On the opening day of the Battle of the Somme - the 1st July 1916 - his Division had attacked Serre with disastrous results.
In the last gasp of the battle some four and a half months later, they were to do the same, with similar results. Although units to their south successfully stormed the German lines, Mark's Division were held up and mauled badly, failing to make it into the heavily fortified village. He was wounded on the 14th November 1916 and died from his wounds in the 3rd or 4th Casualty Clearing Station the following day, aged just 19.
Samuel Mark Pepper lies in the Puchevillers British Cemetery, which is just west of the village and about 19 kilometres north-east of Amiens.
Also inscribed on the memorial are the names of those local men who gave their lives during the Second World War. The inscription reads; "And also of those who fell in the world war 1939-1945". The information taken from the Roll of Honour site reads:
James Raymond HOWARD. Lieutenant 200204 Royal Scots Greys (2nd Dragoons), R.A.C. who died on Thursday, 16th September 1943. Age 24. Son of Alwyne Andrew and Evelyn Howard, of Meldreth. Buried in SALERNO WAR CEMETERY, Italy. Grave I. A. 44.
Joseph J KELLY. Possibly JOSEPH JOHN KELLY Serjeant 6916995 H.Q. Sqn., 3rd (8th Bn. The Royal Northumberland Fusiliers) Regt., Reconnaissance Corps, R.A.C. who died on Sunday, 9th July 1944. Age 28. Son of John Joseph and Clara Kelly, of Barking, Essex; husband of Florence Kelly, of Barking. Buried in RANVILLE WAR CEMETERY, Calvados, France. Grave II. C. 6. Or JOSEPH JAMES KELLY Signalman 2319994 Royal Corps of Signals who died on Monday, 20th May 1940. Age 29. Commemorated on DUNKIRK MEMORIAL, Nord, France. Column 31. Or JOSEPH JOHN KELLY Driver T/72084 1st Army Tank Bde. Coy., Royal Army Service Corps who died on Thursday, 27th November 1941. Age 30. Son of William and Sarah Kelly; husband of Anne E. J. Kelly, of Birkenhead. Commemorated on ALAMEIN MEMORIAL, Egypt. Column 76.
George Clement Russell PIZZEY. Corporal 1621043 Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve who died on Tuesday, 30th October 1945. Age 34. Son of Thomas Clement Cecil and Rose Pizzey; husband of Doris Kathleen Pizzey, of Meldreth. Buried in Meldreth Cemetery. Grave 97.
Reginald W PLUCK. Corporal 7536802 Army Dental Corps who died on Saturday, 13th October 1945. Age 28. Son of Herbert John and Florence Pluck; husband of Enid Frances Pluck, of Shepreth. Buried in BRUSSELS TOWN CEMETERY, Evere, Vlaams-Brabant, Belgium. Grave X. 28. 38.
Bertie Richard Elijah RADFORD. Private 1642266 4th Bn., King's Own Scottish Borderers who died on Thursday, 2nd November 1944. Age 34. Son of Elijah and Annie Maria Jane Radford; husband of Joyce Ethel Radford, of Stetchworth, Suffolk. Buried in BERGEN-OP-ZOOM WAR CEMETERY, Noord-Brabant, Netherlands. Grave 8. B. 20.
Albert Kitchener WALBEY. Lance Corporal 7938897 2nd Bn., Worcestershire Regiment who died on Tuesday, 29th May 1945. Age 28. Son of Charles William and Mary Ann Walbey, of Meldreth. Buried in MAYNAMATI WAR CEMETERY, Bangladesh. Grave 3. E. 10.
Arthur YUILL. Trooper 7949518 17th/21st Lancers, R.A.C. who died on Tuesday, 19th January 1943. Age 28. Son of Arthur and Jane Yuill; husband of A. M. Yuill, of Royston, Hertfordshire. Commemorated on MEDJEZ-EL-BAB MEMORIAL, Tunisia. Face 3.
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