Pozieres - Hill 160 - The battle of the somme

Standing on a high ridge overlooking the British positions the heavily fortified

village of Pozieres had been a thorn in the side of Fourth Army since the fourteenth of July. Nearly two weeks and much bloodshed later the Germans had still been in possession of the by then notorious village and windmill standing on the knoll which had officially been designated as ‘Hill 160’. Defended by no less than two hundred machine guns, Pozieres had indeed been a formidable nut to crack and had defied numerous assaults by some of the best soldiers that the British had had available at the time.

During the night of the 18TH/19TH of July responsibility for the capture of the village had been handed over to Hubert Gough’s Reserve [later renamed Fifth] Army, Haig’s instructions to Gough had been plain enough, take Pozieres with; ‘as little delay as possible’. The decision had eventually been taken to renew the assault using the ‘Diggers’ of the recently arrived ‘on the Somme’ First Australian Division which had belonged to First ANZAC [Australian, New Zealand Army Corps, consisting of the 1ST, 2ND and 4TH Australian Divisions].

The plan of attack, originally intended for the night of the 20TH of July which had been drawn up by the staff of Fifth Army and not the Australians had called for the assault to be carried out by two brigades of infantry, the First and the Third, with the Second brigade held in reserve. Third brigade on the right of the attack had been given the task of taking a part of the German front line known to the British as Pozieres Trench, and part of the two second line trenches known as the ‘OG Lines’, whilst First brigade on the left of the assault would concentrate their attention on Pozieres Trench.

The ‘Diggers’, many of them veterans of the Gallipoli campaign had eventually taken over the British front line to the south of Pozieres during the night of the 19TH/20TH of July, an easy enough exercise to envisage for the armchair historian like myself, then I am not frightened silly by the sound of the incessant explosion of enemy shells which had been saturating the front line at the time, or the ‘thwap’ of thousands of enemy machine gun bullets as they tore into the parapet. Neither am I wearing a claustrophobic gas mask like the ‘Aussies’ and ‘Pom’s’ were during that night due to the enemy’s use of poison gas shells.

The preliminary bombardment of Pozieres had begun on the 19TH of July. For the next four days and nights British artillery had saturated the ridge with a hurricane of shellfire. Heaviest hit had been the western side of the village between the main road to Bapaume and the communes cemetery as well as the ‘OG Lines’ and ‘Pozieres Trench’. The barrage had also been ‘put down’ on the German line to the west of the village to mislead the German’s into believing an attack would be launched from the south west and not the planned for southern assault. Late in the afternoon of 21ST of July the attack had been postponed yet again. The assault would now begin at 12-30am on Sunday the twenty third of July.

At 12-28am in the morning of Sunday the twenty third of July the bombardment of Pozieres had been brought to its devastating crescendo. The whole area around the village had been ripped apart by shells fired from the guns of four British Divisions. The artillery of 25TH Division had concentrated on a trench system known as ‘Western Trench’ 1ST Australian Division on ‘Pozieres Trench’, while the guns of 34TH and 48TH Divisions, plus the gun of a number of units from the French Army had covered the remaining ground. The German’s aware that something was afoot had retaliated with a counter barrage which had caused mayhem behind the British front line amongst the units who would form the second line of the attack as they had moved up from Albert to their allotted assembly points.

At 12-30am precisely the attack had begun according to plan. So intense had the artillery barrage been that the Diggers had found difficulty in distinguishing trenches from the multitude of shell holes and small craters. As the first waves had moved out of their assembly points, often away from the front line in No Man’s Land, little resistance had been encountered. The first objectives were taken and the following waves were able to pass through to continue the attack.

Within the hour the Diggers had been in possession of Pozieres, which by this time had been reduced to little more than piles of red brick dust. The Australians, expecting to link up with the British 48TH Division who had attacked from the west from the direction of Ovillers la Boisselle towards the left flank of the German positions had learnt that the British attack had lagged behind schedule, undaunted the diggers had poured over the main road to Bapaume to capture a strongpoint known as ‘Gibraltar’, barely two hundred yards from the mill which had marked the summit of Pozieres Ridge, they had got no further. Before them lay the formidable two lines of trenches ‘OG1’ and ‘OG2’. Barely recognisable as trenches the men of the German 84TH Reserve Regiment had nonetheless put up a fierce resistance in their defence, the Germans had also put on terrific artillery ‘strafe’, the likes of which had never been encountered before. Geoffrey Malins, a British War Photographer had gone up to a position known to the British as ‘The Chalk Pit’, near Contalmaison Wood to film the scene;

‘The enemy must have been putting 9-inch and 12-inch stuff in there, for they were sending up huge clouds of smoke and debris…From the chalk pit to Pozieres was no great distance. The ground was littered with every description of equipment just as it had been left by the flying Huns, and dead bodies were everywhere…The place was desolation in the extreme. The village was absolutely non-existent. There was not a vestige of buildings remaining, with one exception, and that was place called by the Germans ‘Gibraltar’, a reinforced concrete emplacement he had used for machine guns. The few trees that had survived the terrible blasting were just stumps, no more’

The terrible ordeal of the Australian First Division had continued unabated for two days and nights, during this time the formation had suffered nearly six thousand casualties. During the evening of the twenty fifth of July units of the exhausted division had begun to be relieved by infantry from the Second Australian Division, the relief had been completed by the morning of the following day. Amongst the units taking their places in the line had been the 17TH [New South Wales] battalion of Fifth Brigade. Veterans of some of the fiercest fighting of the Gallipoli Peninsular, the battle scarred Diggers had never experienced anything like the artillery bombardment which had been poured on them throughout the ensuing three days, an officer had later wrote; ‘Later we experienced many hurricane bombardments, lasting a half an hour or more, of far greater intensity, but I do not remember any other so severe for such a long time’…

On Thursday the 27TH of July the battalion’s bombers had assisted units from the British 68TH Brigade of 23RD Division in an attack on an important enemy communication trench known as ‘Munster Alley’, which had been a continuation of Pozieres Trench which had ran in a north-easterly direction to the village of Martinpuich. Ferocious hand-to-hand fighting had ensued which had achieved very little except incurring the wrath of the German artillery that had retaliated with a murderous bombardment of the Australian’s precarious positions in ‘OG 1 and 2.’ During the course of the following day [Friday 28TH of July], a twenty-one years old Scarborough born soldier had been mortally wounded;

922 Private William George Jowsey. Known to family and friends as ‘George’, Jowsey had been born in Scarborough on the 23rd of November 1894 at No 61Wykeham Street, and had been the only son of Frances Ann [formerly Lofthouse] and Arthur Jowsey, a ‘Letter Press Printer’ by profession, who had been living at No 20 Tennyson Avenue at the time of their son’s death. A pupil of Gladstone Road Board school between the ages of four and eleven years, Jowsey had been bright enough to win a scholarship to Scarborough’s Municipal School, which had been located in Westwood [in 2003 an annexe of Yorkshire Coast College]. He had remained at ‘The Muni’ until 1910, when, at the age of fifteen he had left the institute to begin an apprenticeship as a ‘dental mechanic’ with local Dentist George Henry Walshaw, whose surgery had been at No7 West Street in Scarborough’s South Cliff.

‘George’ Jowsey had eventually emigrated to Australia during 1912, and had lived with friends of his family in the small town of Cobargo in New South Wales, where he had found work as a farmhand. Like many young men of the time Jowsey had enlisted into the Australian Expeditionary Force [at Wandella N.S.W. on the second of February 1915] during a rush of patriotism, which in his case had been inspired after seeing pictures in a newspaper illustrating the aftermath of the German bombardment of Scarborough during December 1914. He had subsequently been posted to Liverpool, New South Wales during March 1915 where he had joined the newly formed 17TH Battalion.

The unit had shortly afterwards been incorporated into the Fifth Brigade of the Australian Second Division and had left Australia during early May 1915 for Egypt, where the formation had carried out training until mid August when the division had received orders to embark at Alexandria for transportation to the proverbial ‘unknown destination’, which had turned out to be the Gallipoli Peninsular.

On the twentieth of August the battalion had landed on the west coast of the Peninsular at Ari Burnu [better known to the allies as ANZAC Cove], and had taken part in the last action of the bloody August offensive, the attack on a Turkish position known as ‘Hill 60’ before settling into defensive positions, for a short time at ‘Popes Hill’, and subsequently ‘Quinn’s Post’, one of the most fought over positions along the entire ANZAC front. In addition to fighting the Turks the allied soldiers on the peninsula had had to contend with hordes of flies and deplorable sanitary conditions which had inevitably spread diseases such as Dysentery, and Enteric Fever. It is believed that not one allied serviceman at Gallipoli had escaped disease of one kind or another during their time there. Little wonder therefore that during November 1915 Jowsey had contracted the highly contagious and potentially life threatening disease known as Diphtheria, his life only being saved by a doctor in the Hospital Ship ‘Hindoo’, which had been lying off ANZAC Cove, who had performed an emergency tracheotomy on the soldier to free his constricted windpipe. Jowsey had subsequently been evacuated from the peninsular to a hospital at Malta where he had remained until January 1916, by which time the 17TH Battalion like the remainder of the Mediterranean Expeditionary Force had been evacuated from Gallipoli, the Seventeenth Battalion returning to Egypt.

Following his hospitalisation at Malta William Jowsey had been sent to England to recuperate and had spent some of the time with his parents in Scarborough, leaving them for the last time during late March to return to his unit, which by this time had recently [March 22ND] arrived in France to serve with in Northern France with the British Second Army, in trenches in the Armentieres Sector. Three months later 1ST ANZAC had received orders to move southwards to the Somme Sector where the men from the three divisions had gone into billets in villages around the city of Amiens, where they had awaited the orders that had propelled them into the inferno at Pozieres.

The Jowsey’s had received the news of their son’s death in the form of an official telegram, which had arrived at their home in Tennyson Avenue on Monday the fourteenth of August 1916, shortly afterwards they had received a letter from George’s Platoon Commander, a Lieutenant Allen;

‘I feel that it is the least that I can do for you and your wife, the parents of one of my bravest and best boys-for they are all ‘boy’s’ to me even though many are much older than I am—to write to you. You have no doubt already received official news of your son George. This note I am writing in the hope of easing your pain and sadness. W e were fighting and holding trenches near Pozieres, doing our share in the big push. For twelve days and twelve nights we were either sitting in the trenches being shelled or fighting with bombs and bayonets. The casualties were heavy, but the nervous strain was sometimes almost impossible to bear. The boys stood it all like heroes. But one of the bravest and gamest was your son. He was always ready to do not only his own, but also anyone else’s work, and do it willingly, until one morning, July 28TH, I think was the date. We were being heavily shelled, and a great shell landed in the midst of my platoon, burying some and wounding others. I happened to be in the next bay, and on hearing cries rushed to where the shell had landed, along with my sergeant [Sergeant Wootley], and there we found your son blown right out of the trench up onto the parados. I went out and carried him in, and Wootley assisted me to bandage him. Both his legs had been most sorely shattered. The brave lad opened his eyes on being given a drink, and with the wonderful spirit he had, smiled and asked me if he was badly hit. I had to lie, and tell him no. Two of the boys carried him to the dressing station. I said goodbye, and that I hoped to see him in England when I myself was wounded. But it was not to be for the next day to my great sorrow I received news that he had died the death of a brave man-on the way to the hospital. Even then I doubted it, knowing the wonderfully game spirit he had, but it proved to be true, to the sorrow of all his friends, the whole platoon… should there be anything I can do for you do not fail to ask it of me. For the parents and people of such a lad I would do much’… [1]

A grave holding the remains of Private Jowsey had never been found in the wilderness of the Somme at the end of the war, his name, therefore, had been included on Panel 26 of the Australian Nation Memorial at Villers Bretonneux, a village situated sixteen kilometres to the east of the city of Amiens, in the Department of the Somme. The memorial had been unveiled during July 1938 by King George the Sixth and commemorates over 10,000 Australians who had lost their lives in the battlefields of the Somme in1916, Arras in 1917, the German Spring Offensive in March 1918, and the subsequent Allied Advance to Victory.

In Australia, William George Jowsey’s name is commemorated on Panel 88 of the Australian War Memorial situated in Parliament Square, Canberra, New South Wales. In Scarborough, in addition to the town’s Oliver’s Mount War Memorial George’s name can be located on a ‘Roll of Honour’ located on the north interior wall of St Mary’s Parish Church, in Castle Road, and a War Memorial inside ‘The Ladies Chapel’ of St Columba’s Church situated in Dean Road, which commemorates twelve members of the congregation of the former ‘Tin Tabernacle’ who had lost their lives during the 1914-1918 war. They were; Charles Armstrong, Harold Charters, Henry Ferguson*, Harold Graham, Albert Hunter, William G. Jowsey, Arthur Meller, Stanley C. Redman*, Alec John Reed*, Harry Wilson*, Herbert Wilson, Humphrey Worthington Wilson*. [* featured elsewhere in the narrative].

A few hours after Jowsey’s death [12-15am on the 29TH of July] the Second Division had launched an attack on the ‘OG Trenches’. Ill conceived and poorly prepared, the attack had been a total failure. The division had incurred over three and a half thousand casualties since they had gone into the line. The loss of life had been seen by the Australians as unnecessary and the fault of bad British leadership, it was to become a source of bitterness and resentment on the part of the Australians throughout the remainder of the war, and many believe to the present day.

Undaunted the Second Division had insisted that they be allowed to continue with the attack. During the evening of Friday the fourth of August the formation had attacked the ridge yet again. On that occasion, despite appalling losses, the ‘Diggers’ with extreme tenacity and gallantry had captured the pile of brick dust, which had once been a windmill standing on the top of Pozieres Ridge. The exhausted Division had been relived on the fifth of August. It had been under continual bombardment for twelve days and had lost two hundred and thirty officers, and six thousand six hundred ‘other ranks’… [2]

The 17TH [New South Wales] Battalion had returned to the trenches at Pozieres for a second time, albeit in a reserve role between the 18TH and 28TH of August 1916. After a spell in a ‘quieter’ sector of the Belgium front, the Battalion [with Second Division] had returned to the Somme during October where the battalion had manned the front during an extremely bleak winter. During 1917 the 17TH had been involved in the follow up of the German Army after their retreat to the Hindenburg Line, and had been one of four Australian battalions to defeat an enemy counter attack almost four times as strong, at Lagincourt. Before the year was out the battalion had taken part in three major and bloody battles. Second Bullecourt [3-4May] in France, and Menin Road [20-22 September], and Poelcappelle [9-10 October] in Belgium.

After another bleak winter of trench duty, the 17TH Battalion had helped to thwart the German Spring Offensive of 1918, and had subsequently taken part in the Battle of Amiens [8TH August], Mont St Quentin [31ST of August] and the forcing of the Beaurevoir Line around Montbrehain on 3RD October. Montbrehain had been the battalion’s last battle. It had been training out of the line when the Armistice had been signed on the 11TH of November 1918, and was eventually disbanded in April 1919 having suffered over eight hundred killed and nearly two and a half thousand wounded since the unit had first gone into the line on the twenty fifth of July 1916.

Today very little remains to remind one of the terrible suffering the Australians had undergone during July and August 1916 to capture what one could now only describe as an ‘insignificant French hill’. There are memorials to the Australian First and Second Divisions near the village of Pozieres where the strongpoint named ‘Gibraltar’ had once been. On the highest point of the ridge to the north of the village, where the infamous mill had once stood can be found the National flags of Australia and France flying side by side, on the ground however, there is very little to see apart from a small mound which has been left much as the Australians had found it in August 1916. The remains of the mill are approached by a pathway of weathered stone slabs, one of which bears the inscription;

‘The ruins of Pozieres windmill which lies here was the centre of the struggle in this part of the Somme battlefield in July and August 1916. It was captured on August 4TH by Australian troops who fell more thickly on this ridge than on any other battlefield of the war’

Whilst the Australians had been undergoing their own form of torment in the fighting for Pozieres Ridge not too far away the men of the British 19TH [Western] Division had been involved in a similar form of hell. During Saturday the 30TH of July that Division had attacked a heavily defended position known as ‘the Switch Line’. One of the hottest days of the Somme Offensive, the Division’s attack had been launched at ten minutes past six that sweltering afternoon and under cover of a smoke screen the various units had gone forward into a veritable hell of artillery, machine gun and rifle. On the right of the assault, the 57TH Brigade had fielded the 7TH Battalion of the King’s Own [Royal Lancaster Regiment] along with the 10TH Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment and together these two units had captured, albeit at heavy cost, half of a position known as ‘Intermediate Trench’, together with a strongpoint located to the east of this position. However, on the left of the attack things had not gone so good, the men of 10TH Worcestershire and 8TH Gloucestershire coming under such intensive enemy fire that they had made little progress.

The cost of this operation in terms of human life, as one can imagine, had been expensive. Apart from the hundreds of officers and men that had been wounded during the ill fated attack, the 8TH Gloucesters had lost fifty seven men and five officers killed or died of wounds, 10TH Worcester 40 men and five officers, 7TH Kings, a further twenty seven men killed or D.O.W. In addition the 10TH [Service] Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment had lost one officer and forty men killed or died of wounds. The Battalion’s sole officer casualty that day had been thirty-one years old; Temporary Captain George Brown Bird, Military Cross and Bar.

Born in Scarborough at No.12 Oxford Street during 1884, George had been the eldest of two children of Emma and ‘joiner’ George Bird. A former pupil of Scarborough’s Central Council School, George had left the establishment at the age of thirteen to work in the ‘pianoforte warehouse’ of Mr. Archibald Ramsden Ltd. Located at No.26 Huntriss Row Bird had worked for Mr. Ramsden until the age of eighteen when he had enlisted as a bandsman into the 17TH [Duke of Cambridge’s Own] Lancers during the autumn of 1902.

Nicknamed ‘The death or glory boys’ the 17TH Lancers Depot had been located at Canterbury at the turn of the century. Sent there for training, George had eventually been posted to the regiment, which during 1902 had been stationed at Edinburgh, and eventually Glasgow, having recently returned from the war in South Africa

[It had been whilst in South Africa that the regiment’s ‘C’ Squadron had been ambushed by a large force of Boer Commandoes at Moddenfontein. Although outnumbered and surrounded the Squadron’s 144 officers and men had refused to surrender, and during the ensuing action 3 officers and 32 men had been killed, whilst a further 4 officers and 33 men had been wounded, the remainder being taken prisoner].

Stationed in Scotland until 1905 during that year Bird, by then promoted to Band Sergeant, and had embarked for service in India, where he had spent the next nine years of his military service. Located in the Punjab, at Sialkot at the outbreak of War in August 1914, during October the 17TH Lancers had received orders to embark for service in France. Attached to the Sialkot Cavalry Brigade of the 1ST Indian Cavalry Division, the regiment had arrived at Marseilles by the start of November 1914, George Bird first setting foot on French soil on the 8TH of November 1914.

[A photograph of the moustachioed Band Sergeant George Bird, obviously taken during pre war days, along with those of a number of other local soldiers appears in ‘The Scarborough Pictorial’ of Wednesday the 2ND of December 1914 under the banner; ‘Our Heroes Gallery’

At this stage of the burgeoning war the initial mobile phase had come to an end and the allies and Germans had begun to dig the first trenches of the soon to become, some would say, infamous ‘Western Front’, and throughout the remainder of his time with his regiment Bird had rotated between trench duties in various sectors of France and Belgium and training for the day [that had never materialised] when the infantry would breakthrough the enemy’s positions thus paving the way for the cavalry to ‘exploit the situation’.

However, by the start of 1915 Bird had been promoted to Sergeant and with an acute shortage of junior officers at that time he had shortly been sent to England for Officer Training. Attached to No.11 Officer Cadet Battalion located at Pirbright in Surrey, George had undergone four and a half months of training with this unit and at the end had emerged as a Temporary Second Lieutenant ‘for service in the field’ [George’s promotion had been ‘Gazetted’ in ‘The London Gazette’ of Tuesday the 19TH of October 1915. Posted to the 10TH Warwicks, Bird had joined his unit in France at the start of January 1916.

Promoted to the rank of Temporary Captain with effect from the 2ND of June 1916

[Gazetted in ‘The London Gazette’ of the 1ST of September 1916]. At the start of the Somme Offensive George Bird had been involved in the capture of the village of La Boiselle, where between the 2ND and 5th of July 1916 three officers and men of 19TH Division had been awarded with the Victoria Cross, Bird receiving the first of his two Military Crosses that had been awarded for ‘Most Conspicuous Gallantry’ that had been displayed by the Scarborian during the attack on La Boiselle, an award that Bird had never known about considering he had died so shortly afterwards.

Reported as killed in action on the 31ST of July 1916, the news of the thirty-one years olds death had initially been broadcast in Scarborough in a casualty list that had appeared in the ‘Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 11TH of August 1916 [Bird’s rank is incorrectly listed as ‘Second Lieutenant’]. Reportedly a resident of No.23 James Street at the time, the news of George Bird’s death had initially been received by a Mrs. Hill belonging to that address; however, the relationship with the dead officer is not known.

Nevertheless, during the following week, in Friday the 18TH of August’s edition of ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ a lengthy article had been featured which sheds light on the circumstances in which he had lost his life, a segment of this article reads;

‘Deceased’s only sister, Mrs. Harrison, who resides in Manchester, received a letter from the Lieutenant Colonel Commanding the 10TH Royal Warwicks, which regiment Captain Bird was in, on Sunday morning last, in which he says; ‘Captain George Bird was killed very gallantly leading his company to the attack of some German trenches on July 31ST, at around 6-15pm. The Regiment was told to capture a line of trenches about two hundred yards distant, and I gave command of the first attacking line to your brother. Although he personally never reached the trenches, it was thanks to his splendid example of courage that the line never wavered and the objective was carried. He was shot through the heart some yards from the trench, but he had the satisfaction of knowing before he died that his objective was achieved. Your brother in many ways was a remarkable and gifted man He was a born leader and soldier.

He was worshipped by his men, who would do anything for him and follow him anywhere. Their perfect trust in him was a tribute to his character—and Tommy is no mean judge of character. A few days before his death I had obtained permission for him to be my second in command, and his death to me and to the whole battalion is a loss that we can ill spare. We have lost a friend and leader who it will be hard to replace’ [3]

During the post war years, George’s only sister, Mrs. Margaret Harrison, then living at No.2 Watts Street, Levershulme, Manchester, had received her gallant brother’s Military Cross, in addition to the trio of British war medals known as ‘Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred’ [a 1914 Star, the British War Medal and the Victory Medal], unfortunately the whereabouts of these awards is not known.

Amongst the large number of Scarborough’s casualties of the Great War for whom no identifiable remains ever been recovered from the Somme battlefield, Captain George Brown Bird’s name is commemorated amongst those of over sixty thousand other ‘missing British servicemen that are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing [Pier and Face 9A, 9B, and 10B]. In Scarborough his name can be found on the town’s Oliver’s Mount War Memorial, and on a ‘Roll of Honour located in the Albemarle Baptist Church, in Albemarle Crescent. Constructed of Oak, this fine memorial also includes the names of a further fifteen former members of the church that had lost their lives whilst on active service between 1914 and 1918 [in addition, also that of George Henry Pateman. Formally a Sergeant [Regimental Number 5345] in the Coldstream Guards, George had served throughout the war and had died from the effects of wounds and possibly the ‘Spanish Flu’ at the end of the conflict].

The story of George Bird is almost completed; however, I would like to round this incredible man’s story off with an epitaph that had been inserted by his sister in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 11TH of August 1916;

‘Fold him, O Lord, in Thine arms, and ever let him be a messenger of love between my aching heart and Thee. ---From his sorrowing sister, Mrs. Harrison, Manchester’

During 2002 my family and I had visited the brand new Royal Armouries Museum in Leeds. Splendid though the exhibits of shining armour, swords, and spears are, the most memorable exhibit for me had been a piece of yellowed crumpled paper held in the First World War section. This had been no ordinary piece of paper; it is an Army Form B. 104-82B. Which perhaps caused more sorrow during the war than all the swords and spears in the museum had ever done. Sent by the men’s Regimental Records Offices in their thousands during the war and usually accompanied with a pre written formal letter from a grateful King and Queen, they told the next of kin of fallen soldiers in no uncertain terms that their sons, Husbands, and in many instances fathers had been killed in action.

The form had usually began with: Sir, It is my painful duty to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office notifying the death of; and went on to give the casualties Regimental number, rank, name and Regiment that he had served with, followed by where he had died, ‘In the field’ usually sufficed accompanied by the date that he had become a casualty [if it were known] and how he had died, usually ‘Killed in action’ and had usually ended with: ‘By His Majesty’s command I am to forward the enclosed message of sympathy from Their Gracious Majesties the King and Queen. I am at the same time to express the regret of the Army Council at the soldier’s death in his country’s service’.

There was also an alternative form, [Army Form B. 104- 83] for those men who were believed by the War Office to be ‘missing’, which stated; ‘I regret to inform you that a report has been received from the War Office to the effect that [such and such a soldier] was posted as missing’ [on such and such a date]. The relative then had to wait anxiously, often for many months until they received official notification that Private so and so had indeed died, when they would receive Army Form 82A, which stated in the usual cold official manner;

‘It is my painful duty to inform you that no further news having been received relative to [the soldier in question] the Army Council have been regretfully constrained to conclude that he is dead’…

After a month of bloodshed the Somme Offensive had claimed a staggering 165,000 British and Empire casualties [of which 40, 000 had been killed]. Imagine, a hundred and sixty five thousand pieces of paper of one kind or another being received by relatives in all parts of Britain, Canada, Australia, India and New Zealand, the effects must have been appalling.

Many notifications to the next of kin arrived at the door by telegram, but it was not uncommon for one to arrive by ordinary mail. I have read of parents opening letters from their sons informing them that they were in the best of health, and upon opening another letter in the same post learning that they had been killed in action on the same day they had written the letter.

Even in August the majority of the population of Britain were still unaware of the disaster that had befallen the British Army during the Somme Offensive. Mis-informed by a British Press, which in its turn had been misguided by the High Command, they were still under the impression that the campaign was going as planned, if not better. The returning wounded and overflowing Hospitals had told a different story, doubt was beginning to show on the faces of people anxiously awaited news of their kin. For the Marshall family of James Street, Scarborough, the piece of paper informing them of their eldest son’s death, who had died on Sunday the sixth of August had arrived late in September, which had not been an uncommon occurrence due to the severe losses. [Their son’s name had subsequently appeared in a casualty list in the ‘Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday September 29th; 18322 Private Albert Hartas Marshall.

Born in Scarborough during 1892 Albert had been the eldest son of Elizabeth Anne [formally Harper] and William [Bill] Marshall, a ‘plumber’ by trade, who were living at No 37 James Street at the time of their son’s death. A typical ‘Kitchener’s Volunteer’ Albert had enlisted into the army at Ferryhill in County Durham. Assuming that over a hundred thousand men had enlisted during the first fortnight of the war it seems a safe bet that he had enlisted during this period, and in September 1914 he had joined 2,180 other recruits who had been sent from the Durham Light Infantry’s depot at Newcastle to Bullswater Camp, near Pirbright in Surrey, to form the nucleus of the then forming 12th and 13th [Service] Battalions of the Regiment.

Life for Albert Marshall in those early days of the war, like all the recruits into Britain’s ‘New Armies’ had been miserable. The vast influx of volunteers [nearly 300,000 in August alone] had been too much for military machinery geared to the needs of a relatively small pre war British Army, consequently there was very little in the way of clothing, food, and shelter for the men.

There were not enough uniforms. Albert had probably still been dressed in the clothes that he had enlisted in, they would by late September/October have been filthy and inevitively wet from the bad weather which was prevalent at the time. His boots had also probably begun to wear thin due to the seemingly endless ‘foot slogging’, [the situation was so bad in one of the Divisions that the men were given permission to do only slow marching, and on grass]. Initially there were no weapons for the men so they had practiced arms drill with broom handles. In any case what weapons there were had usually last been fired in the Boer War.

The permanent Barracks were full to overflowing; therefore it is more than likely that Albert had probably spent his early months of Army service accommodated under canvas in an Army issue bell tent with fifteen or so other men. Cold, wet, and usually hungry the volunteers slept on the bare earth, as the tents had no floor boarding. Food was also in short supply and they had also to buy their own out of their own pockets, if they had no money they usually went without. A lack of water also ensured that they had often gone thirsty, and unwashed and unshaved.

Attached to the 69TH Brigade of the 23Rd Division, the two Battalions of D.L.I. had remained under canvas at Bullswater until November 1914when they had marched into Aldershot with the remainder of the Brigade [10TH and 11TH Northumberland Fusiliers] at the end of the month to share Malplaquet Barracks, here the men were finally issued with khaki uniforms, and the standard British Army issue .303 Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifles.

The 23RD Division had eventually been ordered to proceed to France during the summer of 1915, Albert Marshall first setting foot on foreign soil with the remainder of his Battalion on the 25TH of August 1915. Initially concentrated around Tilques, the Division had served in trenches in numerous sectors of the Western Front until the formation had eventually arrived ‘on the Somme’ late in June 1916, when Marshall had received his ‘baptism of fire’ during the early hours of Friday the 7TH of July 1916, during an action that had lasted for three days and two nights of fierce fighting for possession of ‘Bailiffe Wood’, near the village of Contalmaison. On that first day the 68th Brigade’s 11th Northumberland Fusiliers had reached the southern edge of the wood and had captured a handful of Germans, machine gun fire from Contalmaison had however, forced them to retire 400 yards to link up with the 19th Division. To achieve this, the 12th Durham’s had been brought forward under heavy shellfire to occupy a trench on higher ground on the left.

On Sunday the 9th of July patrols of the 12th Durham’s had entered ‘Bailiff Wood’ but had come under heavy fire from British artillery and had been forced to withdraw. Two companies were to have advanced from the west later in the day but an attempted German counter attack had delayed them. At 8-15 pm however, two companies of the Durham’s had captured the Wood and trenches either side In the afternoon of the tenth the exhausted 68th Brigade had been withdrawn to the nearby town of Albert, having lost over 235 men killed, wounded, and missing. Of the days prior to, and including the day that Albert had died, the 12TH Durham’s Regimental History says;

‘The Twelfth spent July 26th in reserve and then occupied trenches at Contalmaison. Becourt Wood was reached in the evening of the 28th and next day 200 men carried bombs to the front line under heavy shellfire. On July 30th the men of the 12TH were shelled in their bivouacs and sustained 7 casualties….

Carrying parties were still in demand, the battalion now coming under the orders of 70th Brigade. On August 2nd the Twelfth took over the front line, eastward from the scene of the fighting [by 13th Durham Light Infantry] at Munster Alley. There was much work to do, both digging and wiring, while patrols and snipers were busy. Two days later came a move to support trenches, and the Battalion withdrew altogether on the seventh, being relieved by troops of the 15th Division. The German shell fire had never ceased and the twelfth had lost 68 men in this last tour of the line’… [4]

Officially recorded as having been killed in action on the 6TH of August 1916 Albert had been amongst fifteen other ranks of the 12TH D.L.I. that had lost their lives during the month of August 1916, and like George Bird possesses ‘No Known Grave’, and is therefore also commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, [Pier and Face 14A and 15C].

In addition to the Oliver’s Mount War Memorial, Albert Hartas Marshall is also commemorated in Scarborough on a headstone in Manor Road Cemetery [Plot L, Row 20, Grave 35] that also commemorates his father who died on November 30th 1933 aged 61 years, and mother who had died on August 12th 1940 at the age of 68 years. This stone also commemorates and the Marshall’s eldest daughter, Margaret, who had died on November 6th 1926 at the age of 27 years.

[William and Elizabeth Marshall had lived in Britannia Street for the remainder of their lives; according to the Scarborough Electoral Rolls of 1923 to 1930 their daughter Jane Annie had also lived at the house with husband, Stephen William Megginson, and following the death of William, son Alfred William [born 1894] and wife Edith Marshall had also lived at the house].

The Somme Offensive went on remorselessly; the beautiful summer weather persisted warm and sunny. The flies prospered, they were everywhere, pestering troops on the move and settled on them when they rested. Maggots became bloated as they fed from the profusion of flesh scattered across the Picardy countryside, the rats thrived and prospered too. On the fourteenth of August it had begun to rain, it had poured non stop from the leaden skies for four days and nights turning the tortured battlefield into a morass in which men and horses could hardly move, the trenches had filled with water, men drowning in filthy water filled shell holes.

In ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday August 25th 1916, a letter, from an un-named officer serving in the East Yorkshire Regiment and reportedly written the day before he had been killed on the Somme to his relatives in Hull, had appeared in the newspaper, the words so many years after the event are haunting, and show much of the hardship that the combatant had to endure, it also shows optimism, all the men had to sustain them throughout those terrible days;

‘Talk about nerves, you have to try to forget you have any. The continual booming of guns on both sides--heavy artillery, machine guns, Lewis guns, etc, is too awful for words. All this goes on day and night. It is indeed a bloody business. And our brave men—the public ought to see them working behind the firing line carrying timber, wire, concrete slabs, shells, and endless other things to assist the men taking the brunt of the fighting. It is grand to see them doing all this unseen work so cheerfully and willingly under such trying circumstances, under cover of night. Then they step into the firing line, and the men relieved get a slight and rest from the nerve racking work and carry on the work behind the lines, work, which is scarcely less dangerous, for shells and bullets are constantly flying around.

My work never ceases; I get sleep in the daytime when I can in snatches of about four hours per day, not in peace and quietness, but under the unceasing thunder of guns. One of our Officers was killed, and two wounded the day before yesterday. The Officer who was killed enlisted with me at Scarborough. This may not be cheerful news, but I can assure you we are in the best of health and spirits, and the men sing whenever possible in spite of it all’… I wish the people of England could only see for themselves just for a few minutes. I f they did they would not bother about such minor things as the income tax going up, but would only be too thankful to give all they have to bring this bloody drama to a speedy and victorious conclusion’…

[1] The letter had subsequently been featured in the ‘Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 25TH of August 1916 under the banner; ‘Scarborough ANZAC killed’.

[2] In the fighting for Pozieres Ridge, and the nearby Mouquet [known to the Australians as ‘Moo Cow’] Farm between the 23RD of July and 9TH of September seven Victoria Crosses had been awarded. Five [two posthumous] had gone to Australia, one [posthumous] to Canada, and one [posthumous] to Great Britain.

[3] ‘Gazetted’ with the award of a single Military Cross in the London Gazette of the 3RD of June 1916 [no citation], although credited with having been recommended for the Distinguished Service Order following the incident described n this article, despite an exhaustive search of the indexes of ‘The London Gazette’ for the years 1916-1920 located in Leeds City Library, I cannot locate any information showing George Bird had ever received this award, neither can I find a ‘Gazette’ showing he had been awarded with a ‘Bar’ to his Military Cross, although the records of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission indicate he had indeed received a second Military Cross.

[4] The trench known as ‘Munster Alley’ had been the scene of much bitter fighting during the Battle of Pozieres Ridge, and had been the place where the British composer, George Sainton Kaye Butterworth, serving as a Lieutenant with the Thirteenth Durham Light Infantry [already recommended for the Military Cross for gallantry shown during a previous raid on the trench] had died after being shot in the head during a futile attempt at capturing the position on Saturday the Fifth of August, at the age of 31years. Butterworth also has ‘No Known Grave’ and is also commemorated on the Memorial to the Missing at Thiepval. Private William Short of the 8th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment had gained a Victoria Cross for gallantry shown at Munster Alley on Sunday the 6th of August.

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