The road to Passchendaele - World War One 1917

In Remembrance of:
- Lance Corporal Arthur Graham Burnett
- Sergeant Alfred William Burnett
- Private George William Burnett
- Private Joseph Harrison Marsay
- Sergeant Lawrence Mooring
- Second Lieutenant Godfrey Ward Drake
- Private Harold Harland

Throughout June and July 1917 the B.E.F. in Flanders had prepared for the forthcoming massive offensive. Roads had been repaired, and new ones had been built, hundreds of trains had arrived at the various British railheads daily with vast supplies of ammunition and stores. Nearly three thousand artillery pieces had been assembled to take part in a preliminary bombardment which would throw over four million shells into the enemy’s positions. A hundred and thirty six Mark 4 tanks had been transported to the Ypres Sector; in addition the Royal Flying Corps had taken some five hundred aircraft. To free soldiers for the fighting front, thousands of Chinese coolies, as well as Zulu’s and other Black African labourers had been drafted in by the British to undertake the thousand and one behind the lines unloading and carrying tasks, road mending, and other non-combatant duties which had been generated by the massive build-up.

In addition, over half a million soldiers from the British Second, and Fifth Armies had assembled in the Sector. Amongst them had been the Second Battalion of the Prince of Wales Own [West Yorkshire Regiment]. Veterans of the Somme, and more recently, fighting at the Hindenburg Line, the unit had begun to move northwards during early June, the battalion arriving by train at the Flanders town of Bailleul during the evening of the third. Shortly after their arrival the officers and men of the depleted unit had marched the three miles to billets in the village of Outtersteene, where the battalion had been allowed to rest and recuperate the losses which had been incurred ‘on the Somme’ during April and May 1917. Following the arrival of four drafts of reinforcements the battalion had moved, on the eleventh of June, to the village of Burre, where the men had rested until the thirteenth, when the West Yorkshiremen had been marched fifteen miles to the south of the town of Vlamertinge where the men had found respite in an encampment of hutments known as ‘Scottish Camp.

The Battalion had eventually arrived in the combat zone on the twentieth of June, when the West Yorkshiremen had taken over a section of the British front line near to a place known as ‘Railway Wood’. The unit had subsequently gone into action during the night of the 24/25TH of June, when patrols from the battalion had carried out a successful raid into the neighbouring enemy trench system. For almost a month following this raid the battalion had received a well-earned rest, however, on the 23RD of July the unit had returned to active service.

During the following night, Tuesday the twenty fourth of July, the Battalion had again carried out a successful raid into enemy territory. On that occasion the West Yorkshiremen had captured five prisoners and killed a number of others. The Battalion had, however, not gone unscathed. One of their number had been killed and six others had been wounded by German retaliatory shellfire as the raiders had been returning to the British lines. The killed soldier had been the thirty-one years old; 26165 Lance Corporal Arthur Graham Burnett.

Born in Scarborough at No.9 Ireton Street during 1886, Arthur had been the eldest son of Mary Elizabeth, and James Thomas Burnett, a tailor by trade, who had been a widower and living in the town at No, 35 Columbus Ravine by the time of his son’s death. A pupil of the Central Board School [Which until the 1970’s had stood on the corner of Trafalgar Street West, and Melrose Street], Arthur had left the school during 1899 to become an ‘errand boy’ for Scarborough Grocer, Tea Dealer, and Provisioner, Birdsall and Wilson, in their store which had been located at No.23 St Nicholas Street.

Prior to the outbreak of war Burnett had been residing in the West Riding of Yorkshire village of Heckmondwike, and had been working for the ‘Maypole Grocery Company’ in their branch in the nearby town of Dewsbury. Burnett had enlisted [at Heckmondwike] into the army during the autumn of 1915, and had initially been posted to the 3RD [Reserve] Battalion of the Prince of Wales’s Own [West Yorkshire Regiment], which had been situated at the Regiment’s Depot at Fulford Barracks, York. Whilst at York Burnett had undergone the customary three months of training before being posted to the Second Battalion during January 1916.

During June 1916 Arthur had returned to his hometown for a fortnight’s leave, during that period he had married Lily Scales [the Scarborough born daughter of Sarah and Thomas Scales], at Jubilee Primitive Methodist Church [which had stood in Aberdeen Walk], on Sunday the eleventh of June. Shortly after wards he had returned to his unit in time to take part in the Somme Offensive

Attached to the 23RD Infantry Brigade of the 8TH Division the Second West Yorks [a pre war Regular Army formation] had been attached to the Third Corps of the British Fourth Army, on the opening day of the offensive [1ST of July 1916] Eighth Division had been given the unenviable task of capturing the village of Orvillers La Boisselle. Attacking with three brigades the formation had soon run into trouble from heavy machine gun fire and had suffered appalling casualties as the men had advanced up ‘Mash Alley’ towards their target astride the Albert-Bapaume road.

Sorely mauled on that first day the 8TH Division had been relieved during the night of the 1ST/2ND July and had taken no further part in the Offensive until had the autumn when once again the unit had suffered many casualties, particularly in the period 22ND—25TH October, when the Second West Yorkshire’s, with an active strength of only 437 officers and men, had gone into action at Transloy Ridge to capture an enemy position known as ‘Zenith Trench’, which by the end of the operation, over two hundred and thirty officers and men had either been killed or wounded, or reported missing. Following the closing down of the Somme Offensive [November 1916], the battalion had been moved from the Somme into rest at a village named Le Fay, where the unit had remained until December when it had once again moved south to the Somme.

The Battalion had subsequently endured ‘concentrated misery’ during the terrible winter of 1916/1917 in trenches at ‘Priez Farm’, near to the village of Rancourt. The hell in which Burnett and his comrades had found themselves had been described; ‘The conditions beggar description, the trenches are flooded and have fallen in. There is no cover either in front; support, or reserve lines, and men are being evacuated sick with frostbite and exhaustion by the hundred. The conditions are so bad that we were unable to see the actual trenches’ [1]

Whilst in these positions Burnett and three other men had been buried in a trench collapse, after being dug out, with much difficulty, the four almost suffocated soldiers had been transferred to a hospital in England, where they had remained until well into 1917.

News of Corporal Burnett’s death had at first obviously been posted to his widow, who had in due course forwarded the news to his parents and her father,’ Chinaware dealer’ Thomas Scales, who had subsequently reported the tidings to the news office of the ‘Scarborough Mercury’, which had in turn, reported the soldiers death in an extensive casualty list which had appeared in the newspaper for Friday the 10TH of August 1917

‘Killed in action - Official intimation has been received by Mr. Scales, 5 Hoxton Road, that his son in law, Arthur Graham Burnett, West Yorks. Regiment, was killed in action on the 24th of July. Deceased, who was a native of Scarborough and served his apprenticeship as a grocer with Messrs. Birdsall and Wilson, was in the employ of the Maypole Company at Dewsbury, where he enlisted two years ago. Last Christmas he was dug out of a trench in which he had been buried and was in hospital for some time in consequence. He had not long been returned to the fighting front in France. He was 31 years of age’…

No remains identifiable as those of Corporal Burnett were ever found, either during the war, or after numerous searches of the battlefield after the war. His name had eventually been included with those of nearly fifty six thousand other officers and men who had literally been lost in the Ypres Salient, on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres. Burnett’s name is located on Panel 21 of the Memorial.

In Scarborough, apart from the town’s War Memorial, Arthur Graham Burnett’s name is commemorated on a ‘Roll of Honour’ located inside Hoxton Road Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, and a grave marker in the town’s Manor Road Cemetery [Section N, Row 17, Grave 37] which also commemorates his Filey born father, James Thomas Burnett, who had died on the 4TH of September 1922 at the age of 67 years, and James Burnett’s second wife, London born Jane Elizabeth, who had died on the 15TH of January 1913 at the age of fifty nine years. Sadly the whereabouts of Arthur’s mother’s grave is not known.

The day after Corporal Burnett’s death the Second Battalion had been relieved and moved back into reserve. Over the ensuing few days the battalion had been engaged in an intense course of lectures, and had been issued, on the 28TH of July with final instructions regarding the part they were to play in the forthcoming offensive, which would begin three days hence. At dusk on the 29TH of July the men of the formation had moved into the front line, an operation that had cost the unit ten casualties. The first of many in the hell that the few survivors would forever remember as ‘Third Wipers’.

In addition to that of Arthur Graham Burnett, Scarborough’s War Memorial commemorates the names of two other casualties of the ‘Great War’ with the surname of Burnett;

21/734 Sergeant Alfred William Burnett. Born in Scarborough during 1893, Alf had been the eldest son of Robert and Alice Burnett, who had been living in the town at No.55 Gordon Street at the time of their son’s death in action during the Battle of Poelcappelle [Third Ypres]. An original member of the 21ST [Service] Battalion [Wool Textile Pioneers] of the West Yorkshire Regiment [formed at Halifax on the 24TH of September 1915 the Battalion had subsequently become the Pioneer Battalion for the British 4TH Division], Burnett had enlisted into the battalion at Bradford, where he had been working in the grocery trade. Prior to this he had worked for Scarborough Grocer and Provisioner, William Vasey. Killed in action during the night of the 9TH of October 1917 at the age of twenty-four years. An officer, writing to inform the Burnett’s of Alfred’s loss, had written;

‘On the night when he was killed we were at work on a road. There was a good deal of shelling and your son remained at his task amidst it all, setting a good example’

[‘Scarboro Casualties’. The Scarborough Mercury of Friday October 19TH 1917].

Like his namesake, Alfred William Burnett does not possess a ‘known grave’. He is commemorated on Panels 42-47 and 162 of the ‘Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing at Zonnebeke, West Flanders. Another of the Burnett’s three sons had also served in the Army, whilst the third, Walter, had served throughout the war as a Merchant Seaman, both had fortunately survived

20247 Private George William Burnett. The son of North Eastern Railways engine driver George William Burnett, George had been born in Scarborough during 1883 and had been husband of Grace Ann Burnett and father of two children, who had been living with friends at No. 61 Lower Nelson Street at the time of his death whilst serving ‘on the Somme’ with the 10TH Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. Shot by a sniper on the 28TH of May 1916 whilst manning trenches in an infamous sector of the line that had been described as;

‘The abominable Tambour, a most unpleasant spot famed chiefly for rifle grenades, canisters, and casualties’

[Wylly; The History of the Green Howards in the Great War].

The remains of the thirty four years old Private Burnett had been interred in a military cemetery known as ‘Dartmoor Cemetery’, which had been situated close to the 1916 front line, and near to the village of Becordel- Becourt. George’s last resting place is situated in Section 1, Row B, Grave 26 of the cemetery.

During the weeks leading up to the new offensive in Flanders the British Fifth and Second Armies had intensified their respective programmes of trench raiding in order to find out as much information as they could regarding the disposition and strength of the opponents they would be attacking ‘over the wire’ in the near future. One such reconnaissance raid had taken place on Tuesday the 26TH of July 1917. On that day, Second Corps of Fifth Army had mounted an audacious daylight raid into the enemy’s front line near Zillebeke

The raid had been carried out by two hundred and fifty men of Captain Le Suer’s ‘C’Company of the Second Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment [belonging to 21ST Brigade of 30TH Division], and at first everything had gone to plan, however, by the time the unit had worked their way into an enemy position known as ‘Jeffery Reserve Trench’ the operation had gone pear shaped when the Company had lost their covering artillery barrage, ‘C’ Company had therefore been forced to return to British lines without adequate artillery protection, which had inevitably drawn intense enemy artillery, machine gun, and rifle fire, upon the unit, which had inevitably inflicted heavy casualties. Despite having captured one German officer and ten of his men during the raid, by the time that the Company had reached the British line Captain Le Suer, and Lieutenant Freeland had been killed with nine of their men, whilst a further thirty four ‘other ranks’ had been wounded and two were missing. Amongst the missing had been: 33576 Private Joseph Harrison Marsay.

Born in Scarborough on the 12TH of June 1885 [baptised at St Mary’s Parish Church on the 5TH of July], at No.1 Tindall’s Yard, Longwestgate, Joe had been the second of seven sons and two daughters of Scarborough born [27/12/1857], Mary Jane, formerly Cowling, and Matthew Marsay, a Whitby born [21/06/1850] fisherman, who had been married in Scarborough’s St Sepulchre Street Primitive Methodist Chapel on the 13TH of June 1880. A pupil of St Mary’s Parish and Friarage Board Schools, by the turn of the century the fifteen years old Joe had been living with his family at No.3 Castle Terrace Back. Having left education at the age of thirteen, for most of the remainder of Joe’s relatively short life he had worked in various labouring jobs in the town, notably for the Scarborough Brick and Tile Company, which had been situated in Seamer Road’s Barry’s Lane, where he had remained until his marriage at the age of twenty one years to a twenty years old, Frances Ellen Ward, [a daughter of John, and Ellen Ward of No. 56 North Street], on the 14TH of November 1903, at St Mary’s Parish Church. Following the union Joe had begun work as a ‘van man’ in his father-in law’s furniture, and pianoforte removal business, and had lived with his bride at the Ward’s home in St Thomas Street.

By the outbreak of war in August 1914, Marsay had been the father of four sons, John Matthew George [born 1905], Riley Joseph [1907], Stephen Frank [1910], and Patrick Ward [1912]. By then living in Scarborough at No.1 Sedman’s Yard, in St Thomas Street, Joe Marsay had been aged thirty two years and had initially been considered too old to enlist into Britain’s armed forces, and had not joined the throngs of local men who had rallied round the flag during that momentous summer. Neither had he enlisted into one of Kitchener’s battalions of infantry destined for service in the ‘New Citizen’s Armies’ that had typified early 1915. By 1916 however, the B.E.F. had been desperate for replacements.

Having suffered over six hundred thousand casualties, a loss which could never have been made up with volunteers, during January of that year Britain had taken the unprecedented step of introducing conscription, by March all of the country’s single men between the ages of eighteen and forty one years had been ‘called up’, to be followed a few weeks later by all the married men. Joe Marsay had been amongst the first of the latter to be taken and had eventually found himself being sent to Harrogate for training with the 11TH [Reserve] Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment [A local reserve battalion, which had been formed at Lincoln during October 1915]. Joe had joined the unit at a time when it had been a part of the 19TH Reserve Brigade.

Marsay had been allowed to return to Scarborough in time for Christmas, the occasion should have been a happy one, however, during this period Joe’s wife, ‘Ces’, had developed a chill, which had subsequently turned to pneumonia. By the beginning of the New Year ‘Ces’s’ condition had deteriorated, sadly, she had died at No.4a Atlas Place on the third of January 1917 at the age of thirty years. The remains of Frances Ellen had subsequently been buried in Scarborough’s Manor Road Cemetery on the 6TH of January 1917 [Frances’s grave also holds the remains of her niece, Grace Sylvia Freestone, the daughter of Harriet Ann [formerly Ward], and Robert Anthony Freestone, who had died at the age of nine years from the effects of ‘Spanish Flu’, on the 5TH of July 1919 [buried on the 8TH]].

Regardless of being the father of four motherless boys Joe Marsay had returned, whether by choice or no, is not known, to military life during February 1917 and had eventually been considered fit enough for active service, eventually being posted as a reinforcement to the veteran 2ND Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, which, at the time had been a part of the 21ST Infantry Brigade of the 30TH Division, which had been serving in France, near to Arras, where the Second Battalion had been providing fatigue parties for the Royal Engineers, Before Marsay had gone aboard he had been allowed just forty eight hours of embarkation leave in Scarborough, the time being spent with his beloved sons, who by this time had been living with their Grandparents, John and Ellen Ward. It was to be the last time that the boys would see their father.

Assigned to No.11 Platoon of ‘C’ Company, Marsay had received his ‘baptism of fire’ in an assault on the village of Henin-sur Cojeul, in Northern France, which had taken place on the 2ND of April 1917. The first major operation to be undertaken by the Second Battalion since it had left the Somme in October 1916, the attack had begun shortly after 5am on the Second the battalion had soon come under intense rifle and machine gun fire which had inflicted heavy casualties on the unit, Nonetheless, the assault had been continued and despite ferocious street fighting the Battalion had captured the whole of Henin by 2.30 that afternoon. The cost to the unit had not been cheap. Two officers and sixty-two other ranks had been killed and six officers and ninety-six men had been wounded, whilst a further eight men had been reported as missing.

Following the operation at Henin the Second Battalion had been relieved during a snowstorm on the third of April 1917, the remains of the unit making their weary way to the welcoming warmth of billets at a village named Bellacourt. The unit had been allowed to rest there until the 7TH of April when the Thirtieth Division had received orders to move to Blairville in order to take a part in the Arras Offensive, which had begun, also in a snowstorm, two days later, on Easter Monday the ninth of April 1917. Marsay had once again seen action on the opening day of the Offensive in an assault which had been undertaken by the 21ST Brigade on enemy lines to the east of Neuville Vitasse.

On that occasion the Second Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment had played a supporting role in the attack by providing ‘moppers up’, and carrying parties to the two assault Battalions [the 18TH King’s [Liverpool Regiment], and 2ND Wiltshire Regiment]. Once again the battalion had not gone unscathed. Of the over three hundred officers and men who had taken part in the operation, one officer and twenty three men had been killed, five officers and eighty four men were wounded, and a further two other ranks had been reported as ‘missing’.

The Second Battalion had taken part in the offensive at Arras until the end of May when the unit had been moved to the infamous Ypres Sector. In trenches to the south east of the shell torn city of Ypres, Marsay witnessed the earth-shattering explosion of the Messines mines on the seventh of June, but had played no part in the following operation to secure Messines Ridge, the 2ND Battalion merely ‘coming in for some of the backwash’. Shortly afterwards the Battalion had moved to a training area near to Zouafques, where the unit had been resting when orders had been received for the formation to prepare, and mount, the operation which had subsequently killed Private Marsay.

News of the demise of Joe Marsay had reached Scarborough four days after he had been killed, in the form of an unofficial letter, which had been written by one of his comrades. The tidings had subsequently been reported to the news office of ‘The Scarborough Mercury’, which had been included in a lengthy casualty list which had appeared in Friday the 3RD of August edition of the newspaper:

‘Killed by a sniper - News has been received that Private Joseph Marsay, Yorkshire Regiment, has been killed at the front. Aged 32, he was the son-in-law of Mr. John Ward, furniture remover, 22, St. Thomas Street, with whom he had worked before the war and prior to joining the army. He lost his wife in January last, and there are four children. Two brothers of Private Marsay are serving, one in the Coldstream Guards, and the other in the 4TH Yorkshire Regiment. A letter conveying the news, from a comrade, says that Private Marsay was ‘one of our very best chums. He was killed yesterday [26TH July] in action. He was killed when nearly back to our trenches, by a sniper. He did not suffer, for he died immediately’…

Shortly after the arrival of this letter, Marsay’s parents had received one of the thousands of buff envelopes that the War Office had sent out during August 1917 containing the official notification of the loss, or wounding, of yet another British soldier in the Third Battle of Ypres. The news had been included in the ‘Mercury’ of Friday the 10TH of August 1917:

‘Four orphan children - It is now officially announced that Private Joseph H. Marsay, Yorks. Regt., was killed in France on 26TH July 1917. W e reported a few days ago that he had fallen in action, but the War Office notice had not then arrived. Private Marsay’s wife died 3RD of January. There are four children [all attending St Mary’s School], who are with their grand mother, Mrs. Ellen Ward, 22 St Thomas Street. Two brothers are at the front’

Officially recorded as ‘Missing believed killed in action’ on 26TH of July 1917, no remains identifiable as those of Private Marsay had ever been recovered, either during, or after the war. His name had eventually been included with those of over fifty thousand officers and men with no known graves on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres; Joe’s name is located on Panel 33 of the memorial. In Scarborough, apart from the town’s War Memorial, Joseph Marsay’s name is commemorated on the memorial in Dean Road Cemetery [Section D, Row 5, Grave 0/1], which marks the last resting place of his wife, Frances Ellen Marsay. After the war Joe’s name may also have been included on one of the many ‘Roll’s of Honour’, which had been erected in Scarborough’s churches to commemorate fallen members of their congregations, alas, if this had been the case, the memorial bearing his name has not survived to the present day.

The two brothers of Joseph Harrison Marsay mentioned by the ‘Scarborough Mercury’ had been younger brother Matthew, who had also served on the Western Front, with the 4TH [Pioneer] Battalion of the Coldstream Guards [Regimental Number20897], later being transferred to the Labour Corps [639008]. Born in Scarborough in Potter Lane on the 17TH of December 1887 ‘Matt’ had married Sarah Teale [born 1889] at St Mary’s Parish Church on the 23RD of July 1910 and had eventually been the father of twelve children from two marriages [Sarah Marsay had died on the 12TH of February 1927 at the age of 38 years, Marsay being remarried on the 22ND of May 1927 to Lily Walker]. Matthew had lived for many years in Providence Place, where he had died at No.11, at the age fifty-five years during June 1943. Buried on the 16TH of June in Scarborough’s Woodlands Cemetery, he had been joined the following year by Lily, who had passed away at the age of 43 years during April 1944 [buried on the 25TH of April]. Matthew and Lily Marsay’s last resting place is located in Plot C, Row 4, Grave 12 at Woodlands.

Born at Whitby during 1882, Joe’s eldest brother, Jacob Cowling Marsay, had served on the Western Front from 1916 with the Territorial Force’s 1ST/4TH Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, and despite numerous attempts by the German’s to kill him, Jacob had returned to his wife, Ellen and home at No. 13a Providence Place, where, sadly, Ellen had died on the 1ST of February 1936 at the age of 51 years [buried in Scarborough’s Manor Road Cemetery on the 4TH of February]. Jacob Cowling had eventually passed away on the 2ND of March 1964 at the age of eighty-one years, his remains being interred with those of his wife in the Roman Catholic Section of Manor Road Cemetery [Plot W, Row 1, Grave 11].

The gravestone commemorating the pair also contains the name of their daughter, Beatty Daisy [married name Pitz], who had been born on the 6TH of November 1915, and had died on the 25TH of November 1994. [Although not featured in my text, Joe’s younger brothers, Richard Thomas 1890-1953, William [Bill] 1896-1960, John [Jack] 1900-1953, and Frances Noel [Frank] 1902-1981, had served in one capacity or another during the ‘Great War’]

By the onset of the 1930’s Joe Marsay’s parents had been residing in Scarborough’s ‘Seamen’s Dwellings’, located in Castle Road, where, on the 6TH of January 1932, Matthew Marsay, by then aged eighty two years, had passed away. His remains had subsequently been interred in the town’s Manor Road Cemetery in Plot R, Row 12, Grave 11. Matthew’s Widow, ‘Jane’ Marsay had continued to live in the Seaman’s Dwellings throughout the following Second World War and had watched four sons, four grandsons, and a granddaughter, Eileen Kerr, leave the town on war service. Jane had been featured in an article which had appeared in the ‘Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday August 23RD 1940[page 7] highlighting her contribution to the war effort by knitting ‘without the use of spectacles’ for the forces. A photograph of a knitting Jane Marsay had also been featured in Leo Walmsley’s ‘Fishermen at war’, a copy of which can be found in Scarborough Library’s ‘Scarborough Room’. By Christmas 1945 Jane Marsay’s health had been failing, and had died on Boxing Day the 26TH December at the age of eighty-eight years. Her remains had also been interred in Manor Road Cemetery, strangely, not with those of her husband. Mary Jane Marsay’s final resting place is located in Plot R, Row 6, Grave 11; of the Cemetery [there is no headstone to mark the spot].

Ellen and Joe Marsay’s eldest son John Matthew George had eventually been married at the age of twenty to Ida Clark, the twenty years old daughter of [deceased] milkman Joseph Clark, at St Mary’s Parish Church on the 2ND of October 1924. The father of Alan and Enid Marsay, John and Ida had lived for a number of years at No. 9 Tennyson Avenue, by the mid thirties however, the couple had been residing at No. 39 Long Walk on the new Northstead Estate, and subsequently at No.19 Springhill Close, where john had died on Saturday the 10TH of March 1979 at the age of 74 years. Cremated at Scarborough’s Woodlands Crematorium during the morning of Wednesday the 14TH of March. Ida Marsay had survived her husband until July 2003 when the grand old lady of ninety-nine years had passed away, her remains being interred in Woodlands Cemetery on the 16TH of July [Ida’s grave is located in Section P, Row 3, Grave 1 of the Cemetery].

Riley Joseph Marsay had lived with his Grandmother, Ellen Ward at No 22 St Thomas Street until he had been married at the age of twenty three on the 24TH of December 1930 [at St Mary’s Parish Church], to Iris Bland, the twenty one years old daughter of Howard Bland, a builder who had resided in Scarborough at No.33 Nelson Street. Having served in the armed forces during the Second World War Riley had returned to Scarborough and had later, it is believed, moved with his family to York.

The Marsay’s third son, Stephen Frank, had opted to use the surname of his grandparents, and had lived for a number of years with wife Emily near to brother John, at No.35 Long Walk. However, by the end of the Second World War Frank’s name had disappeared from the Electoral Rolls of Scarborough.

Joe’s youngest son, Patrick Ward Marsay had lived in Scarborough at No.43 Princess Street with wife Florence Nightingale Whittleton, daughter Rosina, and sons, Joseph Harrison, and Reginald Whittleton until the late nineteen seventies, when he and 'Flo' had moved into No.9 Springhill Close, where ‘Pat’ had died at the age of seventy three on Tuesday the 26TH of November 1985, his remains had subsequently been cremated at Woodlands Crematorium on the 28TH of the month. His wife, Florence Nightingale Whittleton Marsay, had passed away at the age of seventy-five years three years later, on Monday the 8TH of February 1988. Following cremation, on the 10TH, her ashes were strewn at Woodlands with those of her husband.

The story of Private Joseph Marsay and his remarkable family is almost ended, apart from telling the story of the soldier’s last letter. A year after their son’s death the Marsay’s had received a small parcel from the War Office containing a few of Joe’s personal effects. Amongst these had been a cracked and torn photograph of his smiling sons, and a letter he had written to eldest son John whilst in Belgium, which had obviously never been posted. A segment of the now almost indecipherable note reads:

….’Be good boys and do all you can to please your nanny and pardy, your granny says you go to see her, that is good. I’m thinking this is all this time, from you loving dad to my dear sons John xxxx, Riley xxxx, Frank xxxx, Pat xxxx. For nanny and pardy and all at home, so goodnight and god bless you all at home.

Give my best respect to all at home xxxx. I hope you had a fine day for your Sunday school outing and enjoyed yourselfs…. All my love Dad’ [1]

[I am indebted to my good friends Carol and Malcolm Appleby for letting me have copies of Joe Marsay’s letter and other invaluable information, without their assistance my story could not have been completed].

The largest artillery bombardment in the history of land warfare had begun on the 16TH of July 1917. Originally intended to last for nine days, owing to the postponement of the battle by three days the rain of shells into the enemy line would gone on day and night for fifteen days until the 31ST of July, when the orchestra of artillery would rise to it’s deathly crescendo seconds before the beginning of the infantry assault at 3-50am, by which time the Flanders landscape had been turned to a moonscape, the vital infrastructure of drainage ditches and canals necessary to maintain the fine balance between swamp and drained land, blown to kingdom come.

The general line up of the units taking part in the initial assault had been, running from north to south, nine divisions of Gough’s Fifth Army, which had been grouped into X1V, XV111, X1X, and 2ND Corps. Above these had been two divisions of General Anthoine’s First French Army that would be attacking primarily with the role of guarding the left flank of Fifth Army against enemy counter attacks. Below, to the south, had been Plumer’s Second Army composed of three British, plus the New Zealand, and 3RD Australian Divisions. Dispersed along a fifteen-mile front, Seventeen divisions, consisting of around 100,000 troops all told [a further seventeen divisions had been held in reserve], were to play a part in the assault.

Three elements were to play a crucial part in the outcome of the forthcoming battle.

The first had been General Sixt Von Armin’s formidable Fourth Army, which had stood directly in front of the assault. This formation had primarily been administered by the German Army’s top defensive expert, Colonel Von Lossberg, who had been given a free hand to smother Haig’s drive. Following Messines Lossberg had increased the German trench and pillbox system of defences to six lines. In general, his dispositions had emphasised strong points rather than rigid, densely packed frontal masses. Forward areas were held lightly.

Several hundred machine gun posts had also been scattered throughout the forward slope of the ridges, and the riflemen had mostly been withdrawn to prepared defences on the reverse slopes. The crux of Von Lossberg’s defence had, however, been counter attack. Bodies of troops for this purpose had been staggered in depth throughout the rear, with the strongest ones further back, in this way, he had hoped, his retaliatory blows would get successively more powerful should the need arise.

The second had been due to the fact that inadequate weaponry, poor weather conditions, and despite the large number of guns taking part in the initial bombardment, many of the artillery’s prime targets, i.e. twenty three concrete blockhouses, a large number of machine gun posts, and artillery batteries sited well behind the front line had remained relatively unscathed, a fact which had been known by Fifth Army Intelligence, which on the 19TH of July had recorded;

‘Fire from [enemy batteries] continues to be heavy…much gas was used’. On the 23RD Intelligence had again reported; ‘our battery areas and traffic routes were shelled throughout the whole army front; the news, it would seem, had not reached the ears of the commander in Chief of the B.E.F, Field Marshal Douglas Haig, who had reported in his diary for the 28TH of July; ‘the British gunners have gained the upper hand over the hostile artillery’… [2]

The third element had been the weather. British Meteorologists had thoroughly analysed the pattern of rainfall in Flanders going back some eighty years. Based in particular on the previous year’s records, Charteris, Haig’s Intelligence Chief, had predicted normal rainfall for July, August, and September, but October had always been the rainiest month. As it had turned out, the August deluge at Ypres had been nearly double the historical average. On the eve of battle, Charteris had ominously informed Haig; ‘My one great fear is the weather’…

For weeks before the battle the various units taking part in the operation had trained on mock-ups of their objectives which had been laid out in fields behind the front line far from German prying eyes, until every man had known almost blindfold, the part he was to play. All the training and preparation had, however, come to an end by the 30TH of July, by which time most of the attacking force had been in their allotted positions to begin the assault during the early hours of the following day.

Just before the dawn of Tuesday the thirty first of July 1917 the merciless preparatory artillery barrage had reached its crescendo, and had abruptly stopped. The silence, it is said, had been ’startling, almost unreal’. As before the Messines attack, men had reported hearing the singing of nightingales.

In the assembly trenches the men had been issued with a generous tot of rum, whilst their hearts had quickened and caught their breaths. Some had smoked the customary last ‘Woodbine’ cigarette, whilst others had tried to suppress the trembling of their pre battle nerves. At ‘Zero Hour’

[3-50am], which had supposed to have been first light, five hundred thousand men had fixed bayonets and clambered out of their trenches into the darkness, there being no light. The skies had been cloud enshrouded, dark, low, and smelling of rain.

Soon the immense barrage had begun again all along the Ypres Salient, silencing the song of the nightingales and even shaking the railway carriage which had been acting as Haig’s forward Headquarters, positioned some twenty miles behind Ypres. This had been the start of the ‘creeping barrage’, the curtain of exploding shells that had marched in front of the British, and French attacking force protecting them from fire from the German lines. Thus, had begun the first action of the Third Battle of Ypres, The Battle for Pilckem Ridge.

At first every thing had gone to plan. In the north the French had encountered little opposition and had overran enemy positions for more than two miles. On the right of the French had been Lord Cavan’s Fourteenth Corps, comprising of The Guards, and 38TH Divisions. These two formations had been given the objective of attacking Pilckem Ridge. Their attack had initially gone smoothly; however, as the troops had crossed into enemy territory they had come under intense machine gun fire from weapons hidden in woods and from concrete emplacements. But the opposition, though severe at times, had not held up the Guardsmen, nor the ‘Kitchener’s men’ of 38TH [Welsh] Division. Nonetheless, as the advance had proceeded towards their first obstacle, the Steenbeek, its progress had faltered.

First the troops had lost the protection of the creeping barrage, so much so that by the time that the follow-up support troops of 1ST Guards Brigade had arrived at the river the barrage had in places been eight hundred yards distant, whereas in other areas it had been so close that the troops could not move forward. Another reason for the halt had been the numerous concrete pill boxes which had not been destroyed by the preliminary bombardment, which by this time had been creating havoc amongst the attacking force so much so, that they had brought Cavan’s men to a halt on the west bank of the Steenbeek, some 1,000 yards short of their final objective.

In all, whilst not achieving what had been planned, Fourteenth Corps had, nonetheless, captured two enemy defence lines, and had advanced some 3,000 yards across Pilckem Ridge. The cost of this operation, by Western Front standard, had been considered ‘moderate’, some 5,000 casualties, including 750 dead.

In the centre of the assault had been 18TH and 19TH Corps. These two formations had been given the task of advancing across the Steenbeek to capture the ruined village of St Julien, and if all went well, advance on, and take another village, Gravenstafel. Like the units on their left 18TH and 19TH Corps had initially met with little resistance. However, the Germans had soon stiffed their resistance, the attackers being drawn into the fire coming from numerous undamaged pillboxes. Nonetheless, with the assistance of tanks some of these obstacles had been overrun and the advance had continued. By 8am the 39TH Division had captured the piles of rubble, which had been St Julien and crossed the Steenbeek on its whole front of attack, whilst the 51ST [Highland] Division had got reconnaissance patrols across the river at two points.

The 39TH Division had soon prepared for its renewed assault on Gravenstafel. However by this time so many men had become detached to subdue the many enemy fortifications that much of the Division had become scattered over the whole of the unit’s area of operations that few troops had remained to form the sharp end to press forwards with the assault. The attacking force had also noticed a slackening in the protective barrage. At the same time the enemy’s fire, which had at first been subdued, had intensified. Thus, by mid morning, having suffered around seven thousand casualties, the scattered and depleted formations of 18TH Corps had found themselves insufficiently supported by their own artillery, and increasingly harassed by that of the enemy.

The largest advance of the morning had been made by Watts's 19TH Corps. On their section of the front the troops had been ordered advance across three low ridges, Pilckem, St Julien, and London, to capture three lines of enemy trenches, and if possible, thence push on beyond them. Consisting of the 15TH [Scottish] and 55TH [West Lancashire] Divisions, the formation had launched its advance at ‘Zero Hour’. The leading two Brigades of 15TH Division [another had been in support] had reached their first objective [the Blue Line] with little loss, and despite the battered state of the terrain had managed to keep up with the creeping barrage.

Finding the enemy wire well cut, and with the help of a single tank, the men of 9TH Black Watch, and 8/10TH Gordon Highlanders of 44TH Brigade had fought their way through the ruined village of Frezenburg and on to their second objective [the Black Line], where the two units had consolidated a trench line some five hundred yards to the east of the village. Two enemy counter attacks had subsequently developed, both had been beaten off. On the right of the 44TH had been the 46TH Brigade. Consisting of 7/8th King’s Own Scottish Borderers and 10/11th Highland Light Infantry, the Brigade had met strong resistance from a redoubt in Frezenburg village; nonetheless, with the aid of two tanks the unit had also reached the Blue Line, where the two battalions had reorganised. At 5am the assault had been continued and despite desperate fighting, by early afternoon all of the 15TH Division’s objectives had been carried.

On 15TH Division’s left had been the 55TH [West Lancashire] Division. Advancing from their start positions near to the village of Wielje the formation had attacked with two Brigades, the 165TH and 166TH in the lead, and with the 164TH in support. This division had also reached the Blue Line with very little mishap, however, once beyond this line enemy resistance had once again intensified with heavy machine gun fire coming from undamaged pillboxes, this time located in a position known as ‘Plum Farm’. Nonetheless, despite sustaining severe casualties this strongpoint had been taken and the advance had been continued, the two lead Brigades again suffering notable losses around ‘Spree Farm’, ‘Capricorn Trench’, and ‘Pond Farm’, to the south east of St Julien At around 10am the supporting 164TH Brigade had begun the advance to capture the Division’s final objective, the elusive ‘Green Line’.

‘We left St Julien close on our left [wrote 2ND Lieutenant Floyd of the 2ND/5TH Lancashire Fusiliers]. Suddenly we were rained with bullets from rifles and machine guns. We extended. Men were being hit everywhere. My servant was the first of my platoon to be hit. We lay down flat for a while, as it was impossible for anyone to survive standing up…. My platoon seemed to have vanished just before I was hit, whether they were in shell holes or whether they had found some passage through the wire I cannot say’…

Despite appalling losses amongst the 2ND/5TH Lancashire Fusiliers and the 1ST/8TH [Liverpool Irish] Battalion of the King’s Own [Liverpool] Regiment, Spree Farm’ had fallen, and shortly afterwards some parties from the division had captured ‘Pond Farm’ and ‘Hindu Cottage’, a few men had even managed to establish outposts along the final objective, Gravenstafel Spur, five batteries of German artillery being taken by the 1ST/4TH North Lancashire together with the 1ST /4TH King’s Own [Royal Lancashire] Regiment in the process.[Lance Sergeant Tom Fletcher Mayson of the 1/4th King’s Own had subsequently been awarded with the Victoria Cross for acts of valour committed during this action].

The hold on these newly gained positions had prove to be very flimsy, for soon enemy troops had seen massing for an assault on the remains of 55TH Division, and in addition, the formation had begun to take enemy fire from the rear. Thus, finding themselves virtually surrounded the division had been withdrawn some distance in order to keep in touch with the Fifteenth Division, which had been on the right of the advance. In effect, what had taken hours of ferocious fighting to capture, and would take more several weeks of bitter fighting to recapture, had been abandoned in less than thirty minutes.

By midday the 55TH Division had suffered over seventy per cent casualties, roughly four thousand killed, wounded, and missing. The hardest hit had been the Liverpool Irish, a fine pre war Territorial Army battalion which had begun the advance, as one officer had described…‘in the best of spirits and the men ‘went over’ [the top] singing’..[3]

By the end of the day’s ferocious fighting the once proud battalion had virtually ceased to exist. Consisting of just two Second Lieutenants by this time [Fenn and Hodson], and a hundred and sixty other ranks, the unit had lost eight officers and twenty seven other ranks killed, eleven officers and a hundred and ninety other ranks wounded, with another officer and eighty seven other ranks reported as missing. Amongst the latter had been twenty-eight years old; 49888 Acting Sergeant Lawrence Mooring, belonging to No.7 Company of ‘B’ Company.

Born in Scarborough during 1889, at No.81 Prospect Road, Lawrence had been the only son of Hanna Cook, and William Mooring, a Gardener, who, for over forty years was to be in the employ of Scarborough Council at Scarborough Cemeteries in Dean Road, and later, Manor Road. From the age of four Mooring had been a pupil of Miss Julia Pritchard’s Infants, and eventually, Mr William Drummond’s Junior Department of Gladstone Road Board School, where he had remained until the summer of 1903, when, at the age of fourteen Lawrence had left ‘Glaggo Road’, to become an errand boy for local grocer, tea dealer, and provisioner, William Vasey, based at his shop at No 107 Falsgrave Road.

Mooring had remained in the grocery trade until 1907, when he had left his family, which by this time had been living at ‘New Cemetery Lodge’, in Dean Road, to enlist into the Regular Army at the Richmond [North Yorkshire] Depot of the Yorkshire Regiment. After training Private Mooring [Regimental Number 9224] had been posted to the Regiment’s First Battalion, which had been stationed at Malplaquet Barracks, Aldershot.

During February 1908 the First Battalion had left Aldershot for service in Egypt, where the battalion had been stationed at Kaser-El Nil Barracks in Cairo until 1912, when the Battalion had been posted to India. Serving initially at Sialkot, by the outbreak of war in August 1914 the Second Battalion had been stationed in the Murree Hills of Northern India at Barian, and had been one of fifty two battalions of British stationed in India and Burma at this crucial time [by the end of September ten of those battalions had left India for service in England or France].

During October 1914 Mooring had been transferred with his battalion, to Victoria Barracks at Rawalpindi. Considered the Aldershot of the British Army in Northern India, Mooring had remained at Rawalpindi until January 1915, by which time the Second Battalion had lost many of its veteran soldiers, who had been shipped back to Britain to assist with the training of the numerous ‘New Army’ battalions of infantry, which had been forming at the time. In addition, the unit had furnished a draft of twenty-five men destined to serve with the Cheshire Regiment in the Middle Eastern campaign in Mesopotamia. During late January 1915 another draft, this time including Mooring, had been assembled, lead by Lieutenant T.C. Mintoft these thirty men had subsequently found themselves attached to the 2ND Battalion of the Loyal [North Lancashire] Regiment, of the 27TH Indian Brigade serving in the deadly East African campaign [a photograph of a sun helmeted, moustachioed Private Mooring, posing with the carcass of a so called ‘Harte Beast’ which he had recently ‘bagged’, is featured in the Scarborough Pictorial of Wednesday the 11TH of August 1915 under the banner; ‘Scarborian’s bag in East Africa’].

A more dangerous killing field due to disease rather than German bullets, the mosquito infested swamps and jungles of East Africa had been the undoing of many fine units, non more so than the 2ND Loyal’s, which by the spring of 1916, had been riddled with Dysentery, Typhoid, and a myriad of other tropical diseases to such an extent that the unit had had to be withdrawn to the moderate climes of South Africa to recuperate. Mooring, stricken with Dysentery, had been in such a weakened state that he had been evacuated to Britain, where, after his recovery in August 1916 he had been considered unfit for front line duty and relegated to a training role, with the Territorial Force’s 2ND/8TH[Irish] Battalion of the King’s Regiment, which had been stationed at Tweseldown, near Aldershot.

Promoted to Acting Sergeant during this period, despite being classed as ‘unfit for active service’ Mooring had wangled his way to the Western Front by June 1917, joining the Liverpool Irish in the Ypres Sector a bare six weeks prior to his death.

The news of Mooring’s demise had reached Scarborough by the beginning of September 1917, the tidings appearing in a casualty listing in the ‘Scarborough Mercury of Friday the seventh;

‘After six weeks in France - Official notification has been received at Cemetery Cottage, Manor Road, that Sergeant L. Mooring, King’s Liverpool Regiment, was killed in action in France recently. Sergeant Mooring, who was in the regular army serving in India at the time of the outbreak of war, was afterwards sent to East Africa, where he served in the campaign. Returning to England, he was detailed for home service on account of his health, but by his own persistency he was accepted for service in France, where as stated he has given his life for his country. Deceased was the son of Mr. W. Mooring, who has been for over forty years engaged at the Scarborough Cemetery’…

Another of Scarborough’s war casualties without a known grave. Lawrence Mooring’s name can also be located on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres amongst the hundreds of names of fallen and missing ‘Kingsmen’, which adorn Panels 4, and 5 of the Memorial. In Scarborough, apart from the town’s Oliver’s Mount Memorial, Sergeant Mooring’s name is also commemorated on a memorial in his father’s beloved cemetery in Manor Road [Section N, Row 4, Grave 6], which also bears the name of the soldier’s Scarborough born mother Hannah Cook Mooring, who had passed away on the 25TH of April 1923, at the age of 66 years. Lawrence’s father, William Mooring, born in the North Yorkshire village of West Lutton, had died on the fourth of November 1927 at the age of seventy-three years; his name is also to be found on the memorial. The stone also bears the name of the Mooring’s eldest daughter [born in Scarborough during 1878], Amy. The wife of F.E. Taylor, she had died on the ninth of April 1949 at the age of seventy-one years.

The toughest part of the attack, the assault on the Gheluvelt Plateau had been placed squarely on the shoulders of Lieutenant General Claud Jacob’s 2ND Corps. For this reason the formation had been composed of three Divisions, the 8TH, 24TH, and 30TH.

Initially the assault by most of these units had also gone fairly easily. The German outpost line [the Blue Line] had swiftly been overrun and the various battalions of infantry had pushed forward for a mile before enemy resistance had stiffened significantly. However, soon after they had begun the assault the 30TH Division had lost touch with the creeping barrage, which, advancing at the prescribed twenty five yards per minute, had soon left them behind, dangerously exposing the men to severe artillery fire, which had pinned them down for seven hours just five hundred yards from their starting point near Sanctuary Wood.

By 10am 2ND Corps artillery, unaware of the unfolding disaster had moved the barrage to the third objective [the Green Line] even though the infantry had not been able to leave the first one. All along the formation’s three miles of front it had been the same story. By late morning the 24TH Division had barely advanced three hundred yards through Shrewsbury Forest before the heavily laden troops, advancing into a hurricane of enemy fire and flying shrapnel had become enmeshed in a nightmare of tangles of rusting barbed wire, jumbles of debris, hundreds of shell holes, and fallen trees.

8TH Division had fared little better. Attacking with two Brigades of infantry [23RD, and 24TH], this formation had become embedded in the ghoulish wastes of Chateau Wood, where the attackers had become disorganised by the enemy’s deep outpost line and countless pillboxes, and strong points. Harried by masses of enemy artillery positioned behind Gheluvelt, the two Brigades had been struck by Von Lossburg’s specially trained counter attack divisions, which had tore into the attackers stopping their assault dead.

All forward movement had been halted, the attackers being forced to desperately fight off many local counter attacks throughout the remainder of that sorry day. Amongst the units who had taken part in these operations had been the veteran Second Battalion of the Prince of Wales’s Own [West Yorkshire Regiment]. Belonging to the 23RD Brigade [with Second Devonshire Regiment, and 2ND Cameronians [Scottish Rifles]], of the 8TH Division, the history of the Battalion relates of the assault;

’At Zero hour it was still very dark, and the West Yorkshiremen on the right, and the Devons on the left, had to move forward by compass bearings, which fortunately had been taken previously. East of Ypres, where the Menin Road crossed the crest of the Wytschaete-Passchendaele Ridge, the country was difficult, and the ‘going’ was very rough. Fortunately, little opposition was experienced by the West Yorkshiremen, and although somewhat scattered owing to the darkness, the leading waves reached the ‘Blue Line’ just before 5am, where ‘A’ and ‘C’ Companies dug in small posts; the battalion was then collected. At 5-20am the 2ND Scottish Rifles [in support] passed through the Blue Line, but it was not until 9am that the Black Line [the unit’s final objective] was finally held. The small posts established on the Blue Line by the West Yorkshiremen were, for the first hour, garrisoned by only 150 men. But men were continually arriving, and by 12noon the strength of the post was 320’…when the posts had been consolidated, rifles were cleaned, S.A.A. [ammunition] issued, and all ranks awaited developments’ [4]

Despite a seemingly trouble free advance to their final objective, the history of the battalion goes on to state that the unit had suffered three officers killed, three died of wounds, and five wounded, whilst the ‘other ranks’ had lost twenty one killed, one hundred and fifty two wounded and a further thirty six had been reported as missing.

The battalion’s wounded had been rescued despite the appalling state of the ground due to the superhuman efforts of the unit’s stretcher bearing parties, which had borne their comrades to the overworked Regimental Aid Post, where the Battalion’s M.O. had patched the men up as best as his limited resources would allow, before shipping the more seriously injured off in packed hospital trains to Casualty Clearing Stations situated behind the front line in towns such as Poperhinge where surgeons of the Royal Army Medical Corps had taken over the care to the thousands of wounded. Inevitably over the ensuing few days, many of the wounded, including the three officers from the 2ND West Yorkshires, had succumbed to their wounds. Amongst these had been the twenty five years old; Second Lieutenant Godfrey Ward Drake, who had passed away on Wednesday the First of August 1917.

Born in Scarborough during 1892 [baptised at St Mary’s Parish Church on the 25TH of September] at No.2 Brunswick Terrace, Godfrey had been the eldest son of Florence Jane [formerly Kinsey], and Henry Ward Drake, a professor of music [the couple had married at St Mary’s Parish Church on the 8TH of July 1889], who had been residing in Scarborough at No 38 ‘Atherley House’, Roscoe Street at the time of Godfrey’s death.

Another former pupil of Gladstone Road Infant and Junior Schools from 1896 until the summer term of 1906, when the fourteen years old Drake had left the school to become a scholar at Scarborough’s prestigious ‘Municipal School, which had been located in Westwood [later renamed the Scarborough Boys High School, the premises are now part of the Yorkshire Coast College Complex]. Drake had remained at the ‘Muni’ until 1908, when he had left to become an apprentice to local drapers, W. Rowntree & Sons, at their store located at No.33-39 Westborough, where he had been working as the clouds of war had been forming during the spring and summer of 1914.

Drake had eventually enlisted into the army at Scarborough during November 1914, at the Northern Cavalry Depot, which had been located in Burniston Road [later named Burniston Barracks, the site is now [2005] occupied by a housing estate], and had served as a private [Regimental Number 20309] in the 18TH [Queen Mary’s Own Royal] Hussars. Following training in Scarborough and the Cavalry Depot at Tidworth, Drake had been sent to the 18TH Hussars during July 1915, and had joined the unit in France, where the formation had been serving as part of the 2ND Cavalry Brigade, of the Cavalry Division.

Promoted to Corporal by the spring of 1916, Drake had been recommended for officer training at this time, the prospective officer had consequently been sent back to Britain, where he had joined Number 5 Officer Training Battalion at Trinity College Cambridge, whilst there he had adopted the white cap band denoting his status as officer cadet. Following six weeks of training Drake had been ‘Gazetted’ as a ‘Temporary Second Lieutenant’, and following leave in Scarborough had been posted to the Western Front and the 2ND Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, joining the unit in time to take part in the Somme Offensive [see Sergeant Arthur Graham Burnett for details].

Whilst ‘on the Somme’ Lieutenant Drake had taken part in a number of operations, including the capture of the village of Villers-Guislain, which had initially been planned for the night of the seventeenth of April 1917. The elements had however, taken a hand. The Battalion’s War Diary says;

‘Dogged by ‘infamously cold and wet [weather]. Sleet showers and other abominations, thank heaven attack postponed’…

The assault had eventually taken place during the early hours of the eighteenth. Once again bitterly cold, the men had been served with rum prior to the attack, which had begun at 4-25am with a heavy artillery bombardment of the enemy’s positions in, and around the village. Finding the enemy wire reasonably cut the Battalion’s four companies, led by Captain J.P. Palmes despite thick mud had advanced in ‘quick time’ and had been in the village at around 4-45am, where they had captured some thirteen Germans along with two machine guns.

The remainder of the village’s garrison had bolted throughout the remainder of the day the Battalion had been assailed with heavy retaliatory machine gun fire, which had inflicted eleven casualties. The 2ND west Yorks had remained at Villers-Guislain until the 21ST of April, during that time the unit had witnessed the momentous German retreat to their newly completed ‘Siegfied Stellung’ or, ‘Hindenburg Line’, the Battalion’s Diary entry for the 20TH of the month reports;

’Several villages and farms seen burning behind enemy lines. Famous Hindenburg Line clearly visible on high ground about 3,000 yards in front. Enemy’s snipers giving way in places before battalion patrols, which usually gain some ground daily’… [4]

Lieutenant Drake had remained on French soil until early in June 1917, when, on the third the considerably under strength Battalion [out of a usual complement of around a thousand officers and men, the unit had been depleted to just 21 officers and 434 men] had begun their move northwards. Travelling by train, the unit had arrived at Bailleul during the evening of the same day, moving out shortly afterwards to march the three miles to billets in the village of Outtersteene, where the battalion had been allowed to recuperated and await the arrival of badly needed reinforcements.

The 2ND West Yorks had eventually gone into the front line on the twentieth of June, taking up positions in the neighbourhood of ‘Railway Wood’, situated a couple of miles west of Ypres. From these positions the unit had carried out a number of trench raids until the 25TH of July the unit

Share this article

Request our email newsletter for all our latest news and information
Contact us

01723 369361
45 Eastborough, Scarborough, North Yorkshire, YO11 1NH, England

We are here

Opening times

11am - 4pm
11am - 4pm
11am - 4pm
11am - 4pm
11am - 4pm
Registered charity No 1144532. Company No 06755717.