1805 Info 4b: Charles Reginald Crompton (Reg)
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|In Memory of
Charles Reginald CROMPTON
Private 59864 10th Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment
(Prince of Wales Own)
who died on 25 April 1918 of gangerous (sic) wounds at No 3 Casualty Clearing Stations (CCS).
Son of Charles W and Lily CROMPTON of Hall Green, Chapelthorp (sic), Wakefield.
Buried in plot I.E.31 Bagneux British Cemetery, Gezaincourt, Somme, France.
The cemetery was begun in April 1918 after the close of the German offensive in Picardy. It was located near the 3rd, 29th and 56th CCS, which were established 28-29 March 1918.
Source: - Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Right: Charles Reginald CROMPTON taken circa 1917 in the uniform of the West Riding Regiment (Source: Peter COOPER, family photograph)
|REGISTRATION DISTRICT Driffield|
|1899 Birth in Sub-district of Foston in the County of York|
Gangrenous wounds 1: Charles Reginald's cause of death
- a composite image
Source: Burnt Records, The National Archives (TNA), WO 363/C1256, Kew, London
|468 The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorks. Regt.) - Casualties|
|Crompton, Charles Reginald, 59864, Pte.,
Source: Wyrall, Everard, 'The West Yorkshire Regiment in the War - 1914 to 1918, Vol.2: 1917-1918', The Bodley Head, London 1928 - volume 2 contains the casualty lists
The official Director of Graves Registration photograph of Reg's original headstone in the Bagneux British Cemetery, Gezaincourt, taken in the 1920s.
The official Director of Graves Registration Form informing of the location of Reg's grave.
Source: Peter COOPER - family archives
|Above: A map locating Bagneux Military Cemetery|
Charles Reginald CROMPTON's military record
From his attestation papers it is possible to deduce that Charles Reginald CROMPTON was born in March 1899 and enlisted at the age of 17 years and 7 months. They show that he as a 'working farm pupil' being 5 feet 9? inches (1.77m), 147lbs (66.6kg) and with a chest of 39" (0.99m) expanding by 3" (0.07m). Source: TNA WO 363/C1256
Tim Lynch writes:
By 1917, the military had had time to develop a more streamlined system for processing potential recruits which included the completion of a national registration programme in 1915. As a result, the study of the draft shows the degree to which age entry had become controlled. Call up took place at the age of 18 years and one month.
Contrary to widespread belief, voluntary enlistment did not stop after 1916 and the authors of the few available conscription period memoirs are at pains to explain that they volunteered before receiving their call up papers.
|Reg's military career began, at the age of 17 years and 7 months when he
enlisted in Wakefield on 13 November 1916, but wasn't mobilised to the 51st
Recruiting Area until 18 April 1917 at the age of 18. He reported to 6(?) TR Battn. at
Rugeley Camp the following day.
On 15 August 1917 he was promoted to acting Lance Corporal before reverting to his substantive rank of Private on 26 March 1918 on transfer to 3rd Res Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment at Whitley Bay the following day.
The evidence gathered from the progress of the members of the draft from enlistment to training and deployment [..] shows that friends or even groups of friends could potentially remain together during enlistment and throughout their service. (Lynch)
Right: Rugeley Camp, lone of two large training camps established on Cannock Chase, Staffordshire, in World War 1
Source: First World War Camps of Cannock Chase (Accessed 30 September 2014)
|Above: Whilst at Rugeley, Reg was hospitalisation with measles Source: TNA, WO 363/C1256|
It is not known why Reg was posted to 10th (S) Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment 1 (10/WYR). Formed in York on 03 September 1914 it wasn't necessarily his local battalion, being 40 miles from Hall Green. However, Wakefield may have been in the West Yorkshire Regiment's recruiting area as the 15/West Yorkshire Regiment were the 'Leeds Pals'.
At that time certain units were under strength having been hard hit by the German March offensive. The conscripts from the class of 1899 were often sent to France under the previously imposed minimum limit of 19 years of age but having reached the age of 18 and completed at least six months of training. Whilst reports of poorly-trained conscripts are common, it follows that from 1917 onwards the majority of reinforcements had completed a minimum of six to eleven months of training before deployment. (Lynch)
Source: Tim Lynch, Unknown Soldiers – a 1918 draft, Stand To No 98, Western Front Association, September 2013
Chris Baker writes about the new recruits use to pack-out depleted battalions and those reorganised in February 1918.
The older hands tried to offer some comfort to the bewildered 18-year olds, who had recently arrived and simply could not understand what was happening.
Source: Baker, Chris, 'The Battle for Flanders German defeat on the Lys 1918', Pen and Sword Military, Barnsley, 2011, p.52
Reg, aged 19 or very nearly 19, embarked for France on 3 April 1918 with an assumed 11 months of training. On 04 April 1918, he was posted to 10/WYR joining his battalion as as one of the bewildered reinforcement draft of 08 April 1918, who had had no front line experience.
|WAR DIARIES or INTELLIGENT SUMMARY|
|Place||Date||Hour||Summary of Events or Information|
|PERNOIS||4/4/18||9am||At 9am on the 4th the Battn left PIERREGOT and arrived at PERNOIS at 3pm.|
|5/4/18||On the 5th the Battn received a draft of 7 Officers and 174 O.R. Temp Capt. A.A. Adams, Temp Capt. H.F. Lawton .....|
|MONTRELET||8/4/18||The Battn received a draft of 185 O.R. , Temp. 2nd Lt. J.C. BRATHWAITE, M.C. who was wounded on 28th March 1918, rejoined the Battn.|
|10/4/18||The Battn received a draft of 79 O.R.|
Source: War Diaries of 10/West Yorkshire Regiment, April 1918, TNA WO95/2004
|Above: Reg's postings record confirms the date he joined his battalion and the date he was wounded in action as 22 April 1918 Source: TNA, WO 363/C1256|
|Above: Confirmation of Reg's of death at 3CCS and an
alternative, if indistinct, date when he was posted to
10/West Yorkshire Source: TNA, WO 363/C1256
The War Diary of 10th (S) Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment for Charles Reginald's only action
Ludendorff's advance of 23 March 1918, from the Hindenburg Line, ended on 5 April 1918 with part of the British Fifth Army's front line on the ridge at Mesnil. Further actions were to take place, during a period of fluid British defence and counter attack.
During the first part of April the 10/WYR was part of 50th Brigade, 17th (Northern) Division, V Corps and were in Divisional Reserve and Army Reserve. They appeared to be constantly on the move, from village billet to village billet, in a clockwise elliptical circuit from Mesnil. They were never more than 25 miles (41kms) from the front, being on a standby of between ten minutes and three hours notice, depending on their distance from the front. The main preoccupation, during this time, was accommodating the 438 reinforcements (43.8% of its strength), training and brigade reorganisation.
Professor Gary Sheffield describes the situation experienced by many Divisions after the German onslaught of March/April 1918. He writes about the replacement drafts to 19th Division, similar to the three drafts sent to 10/WYR:
Moreover, most of the replacements that arrived at the front during the latter part of 1918 were extremely youthful and lacking in military experience.
The case of 19th (Western) Division, a Kitchener formation, illustrates this point. Making its debut on the Somme in 1916, it earned a reputation as a good fighting division. Committed to battle on the afternoon of 21 March 1918, it had incurred 3,800 casualties [18,000 when at full strength] by the 26th. A large number of 'boys' arrived as replacements but there was no time to 'absorb' them properly into the division before it was sent north to Messines. There, on 10 April, 19th Division was thrown into the Battle of the Lys, suffering 4,346 casualties. By May the division 'was now composed almost entirely of new drafts, many of whom were not fully trained'. Sent to the south, 19th Division became involved in the latter stages of IX Corps' defensive battle on the Aisne. Between 21 March and 19 June the Division suffered 13,000 casualties - 'or about 90 per cent of the strength of the Division'.
19th Division experienced a similar situation in the Battle of the Selle.
Its next major offensive action came during the successful Battle of the Selle in October. The losses incurred during these actions were replaced by 'considerable number of young soldiers with no previous experience of the war and very little time in which to train them'.
Source: Sheffield, Gary, 'Command and Morale', Praetorian Press, Barnsley, 2014, p,133
|Movements of 10/West Yorkshire Regt in April 1918|
Between 17 and 22 April 1918 the 10th (S) Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment was at Mesnil-Martinsart, north of Albert, holding the line of the River Ancre. The War Diary of 10th (S) Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment describes the action.
|WAR DIARIES or INTELLIGENT SUMMARY|
|Place||Date||Hour||Summary of Events or Information|
|MESNIL||17/4/18||8.30pm||Battn relieved the 6th DORSETSHIRE REGT. in the front line, RIGHT BATTN, LEFT BRIGADE at 8.30pm. C Coy front line; A Coy support; B and D reserve. Batt H2 were at Q28d 1,5 - in MESNIL.|
|19/4/18||On the 19th D Coy relieved C Coy in the front line.|
|21/4/18||5pm||The Battn was to have been relieved in the front line by the 10th LANCASHIRE FUSILIERS, but at 5pm the enemy put down a heavy barrage, principally TMs [trench mortar] on our front and support lines and also on those of the Battn on the right (10th NOTTS & DERBY REGT). At 5.30pm the enemy attacked from Q35b, and, after capturing the advanced posts situated along the Railway Q29d 4-5 to Q29d 4-0) which were garrisoned by one platoon of D Coy. The enemy then took up position approximately from Q29d 4-5 to Q35b 3-7. During this attack enemy TM and MG fire was very severe.|
|At 4.30AM on the 22nd a counter-attack was
launched in conjunction with the 10th Battn NOTTS & DERBY REGT. to recover
the lost posts. One and half Coy of the Battn were used; one Coy in front (A Coy)
and two platoons in support (C Coy).
Three of the four front platoons assembled on the line from Q29c 55-00 to Q29c 60-50, and the fourth moved down CT [communication trench] into RAVINE at Q29c 8-8.
The attack was proceeded by a detailed artillery barrage which was very weak and ineffective. The advance of the 10th Battn NOTTS & DERBY REGT on the right was held up by heavy T.M. barrage, and also enfilade M.G. fire, and they fell back to Q35 b 1-7. This left the right flank of the 10th Battn WEST YORKSHIRE REGT. unprotected, and they were obliged to withdraw. At 9AM the line was Q29 c 2-3 to Q29 c 5-0, and the 10th Battn NOTTS & DERBY REGT. held from Q29 c 5-0 to Q35 b 1-7. The situation remained unchanged for the remainder of the day.
CAPT P HOWE, MC "A" Coy was in command of the counter attack force of the 10th Battn WEST YORKSHIRE REGIMENT. During the whole of these operations the Battn had the following casualties. Lieut. FD DAMS missing (21-4-18) Temp Lieut. JR KING killed (22-4-18) Temp Lieut. S MOULSON wounded (22-4-18) Temp Lieut. M DAYSH killed (23-4-18) and 77 OR [other ranks] killed, wounded or missing.
Major (acting Lt Col) WE Thomas MC 10th West Yorkshire Regt. 2-5-1918
Source: War Diaries of 10/West Yorkshire Regiment, April 1918, TNA, WO95/2004 - describing the action of 22 April 1918 when Reg was mortally wounded.
One platoon of 'D' Coy had dug-in and placed their machine guns along the railway line. Two companies were in reserve. The 10th Notts and Derby held the right flank. Attacking over the Thiepval ridge, German pressure broke through the embankments defences causing the West Yorks to withdraw. The Notts and Derby’s were forced back, exposing the West York’s flank, necessitating their withdrawal towards Mesnil.
|Above: Map showing position of German troops and West Yorkshire
Regiment on 21-22 April 1918
Source: TNA WO29/1498, Kew, London
|Double click on any of the map to open a full version.|
Source: Institut Geographique National Map, Somme No 80, 1999
|Source: Trench map: Beaumont 17-02-1917:
TNA, WO297/1498, Kew, London
The maps above show Reg CROMPTON's final action. The map on the left shows the location of the action and the movements of the 10/West Yorkshire Regiment to the front line, and on their relief. The map on the right is a detailed map of the Battalion action, reflecting events in the War Diary. Reg's company is unknown.
|Above: A panorama of the battlefield of the 10/West Yorkshire Regiment,
Click on the image to open a larger A4 landscape image.
|Above: An aerial view of the Mesnil battlefield, showing the approximate movements of the British troops and their defensive lines.|
|Above: These photographs show the defensive line taken by one platoon of 'D' Coy along the embankments of the road, railway and River Ancre on 21 April. The lower photograph shows the position, across the green field, taken by the Germans after 17.00. The tall trees mark Railway Ravine from where a platoon of 'A' Coy tried to counter attack.|
Above: The location of 10/West Yorkshire Regiment's H2 in a field behind the church and to the side of the chateau, located behind the tall trees to the right background of the picture.
Top: Looking down from Mesnil to the railway line, the River Ancre and the embankment defended by one platoon of 'D' Coy on the night of 21 April. It was in the lower field that the counter attack took place on the 22 April. Railway Ravine is to the left.
Bottom left: The near hedge line shows the position defended by 'A' Coy and from where they launched their counter attack. Note the Thiepval Memorial marking the fierce fighting of 18th Division for the Thiepval Chateau on 26-27 September 1916. To the left, on the sky line, can be seen the Ulster Tower, the memorial to the Somme casualties of the 36th Ulster Division.
Bottom left: A modern extension to Howson Road, which extended to the railway and river. The German army launched their attack over the sky line. Having crossed the railway they made their line across the lower grass field. On the 22 April the 10/Notts and Derby were forced back across the ploughed field in the direction of a line along Howson Road, compromising the positions of the 10/West Yorkshire Regiment.
At sometime during this engagement Reg was mortally wounded and evacuated to the one of the three CCS hospitals at Gezaincourt near Doullens. The course of the single track railway line that brought ammunition to Mesnil for the onward light railway, may have been used to evacuate the wounded.
Gezaincourt Casualty Clearing Stations
Reg's final action took place some 19 miles/31km from Gezaincourt at Mesnil Martinsart. It is assumed that, having been recovered from the field to an Advanced Dressing Station (ADS), he would have been evacuated by the Mesnil railway line for further treatment. However, there does not appear to be a direct link to the Amiens, Gezaincourt, Doullens railway and the 'tent city' at 'Hospital Valley', Gezaincourt, where No.3CCS was based along with No.29CCS and No.36CCS. The papers of Lt. Col. James Carmichael, CO of 29CCS, and the detailed log of those who had died in his care, together with the unit War Diary detail the history of 29 CCS from March 1918 to March 1919, allows the reader to appreciate the hard pressed professionalism that tried to save Reg's life.
On 24 March 1918, under pressure from the German advance of Operation Michael, the five CCSs based at Dernancourt (known as Edgehill) were under confusing orders to pack and withdraw whilst admitting casualties. At 21.00, despite continual pleas for further Ambulance Trains (AT), 29CCS still had 1420 patients that Carmichael had to classify as 'walking wounded' and those who had to be left to the enemies care. His dilemma was resolved when the 'walking wounded' found and carried stretchers whilst others carried their 'walking' comrades. Fortunately, Carmichael was able to commandeered an ammunition train that happened to stop at the hospital sidings. 29CCS's personnel, the last to leave Dernancourt's hospitals, eventually boarded empty railway trucks and fell asleep on their way to Doullens. At 01.00 on 25 March the train was stopped by enemy bombing leaving the hospital personnel to march the remaining 21 miles.
Iain Gordon describes 29CCS's arrival at Gezaincourt and their struggle to become operational.
On the morning of Tuesday 26 March 1918, the men of 29CCS woke refreshed after their best night's sleep in almost a week. […]
Their feet taken care of, the unit was marched to the site, south-west of the village [of Gezaincourt] where the casualty clearing stations had previously been encamped during the desperate Somme battles of 1916. […] There were also two other CCSs there - 3 CCS, their old colleagues from Grevillers, and 56CCS, which had been the base unit at Edgehill before the attack and had managed to bring thirty-two lorry loads of hospital equipment with it from Edgehill. Under instructions from the assistant director medical services (ADMS) at Doullens, the tents and equipment were pooled between the three units and they started pitching camp. Before the tents were half up, however, the casualties started to arrive.
The three COs had a hurried conference and decided that, until they were properly established and equipped, and could recommence working as separate units, 56CCS would do all the paperwork, 3CCS would receive stretcher cases and 29CCS the walking wounded. […] There had been steady rain throughout the week and it had been bitterly cold, which caused great difficulties with pitching tents. Towards the end of the week it became warmer, although the rain became heavier. All men who weren't engaged in admitting patients were set to trenching tents, deepening drainage ditches and spreading cinders on the floors and paths. Eventually the tents and marquees were all erected, and the wards and theatres were set up and equipped to recommence operating as an independent hospital.
The hospital site at Gezaincourt lay in a valley between two ridges of slightly higher ground, which gave some protection from winds but made drainage difficult. […] The following day it rained solidly, at times very heavily, but by the evening the three COs had decided that they would be ready to start operating independently from 1 p.m. the next day. […]
By Friday 29 March, it could fairly be said that the enemy advance had been halted. […]
On Wednesday 3 April, the MOs and RAMC personnel of 29CCS were delighted to see the return of the sisters, with the arrival of six nurses from No. 6 Stationary Hospital at Prevent. They were joined two days later by two more - Sister I.M. Greaves QAIMNSR from Abbeville and Sister J. Miller QAIMNSR from No. 3 Canadian Stationary Hospital, which was at the time operating from the nearby Citadelle of Doullens. Later she would have cause to be eternally thankful for this posting.
The sisters arrived just in time for a surge in admissions from 5-9 April as a result of very heavy fighting in Aveluy Wood, north of Albert, which was now occupied by the enemy, and around the village of Hebuterne. On 5 April there were 377 admissions and 345 the following day; of these, forty-one were gas cases. […]
On the day Reg was wounded, Aveluy Wood was on the 10/West Yorkshire's right and was held by 10/Notts and Derby. See map above.
In the area where the frontline passed between Bouzaincourt and Aveluy the enemy held the high ground, which denied the British a view into the Ancre Valley. The 38th Division was therefore ordered to capture this ground, while the 35th Division guarded their left flank in Aveluy Wood and the Australians provided artillery support to the right. […]
At the Gezaincourt field hospitals the wounded poured in through-out the night, and for several days thereafter. On 22/23 April alone [the date Reg was wounded], 29CCS received 244 wounded from the front and during the ensuing week buried seventeen men of the 38th (Welsh) Division in the cemetery at Gezaincourt.
Source: Gordon, Iain, 'Lifeline - a British Casualty Clearing Station on the Western Front, 1918, 2013, The History Press, Stroud, ISBN 978 0 7524 8996 4, pp.46-52 (Accessed: 31 August 2016)
|Had Reg survived to be evacuated to a base hospital he would have
boarded an ambulance train. The Imperial War Museum's (IWM) photographic archive
'publicity' photograph, taken two days after his death, shows an AT where everything
appears calm, look immaculately clean and white.
Left: Interior of a Ward on a British Ambulance Train. Near Doullens, 27 April 1918. Source: IWM - Q8749
|Above: German Offensive in Flanders. French and British wounded having their
wounds dressed in a British Ambulance Train near Doullens. 27 April 1918.
Source: IWM - Q8736
|Above: German Offensive in Flanders. French and British wounded having their
wounds dressed at No.29 Casualty Clearing Station, Gezaincourt. 27 April 1918.
Source: IWM - Q8735
|Above: Gezaincourt tent city October/November 1916||Above: 3CCS nurses quarters, Gezaincourt, unknown date|
See also: Location of hospitals and Casualty Clearing Stations in the Great War
Bagneux Military Cemetery in March 2007
Along the now abandoned and rusty Amiens to Doullens railway track, which once transported the wounded to the hospitals, lies the Bagneux Military Cemetery where Reg was interned after his death on 25 April 1918. It was the usual practice for the dead to be buried adjacent to the hospital.
In death, Reg CROMPTON is honoured by the idyllic Bagneux Military Cemetery which stands isolated up a farm road that winds its way out of the centre of Gezaincourt village. Its regimented headstones tumble on two axes toward the valley floor and the morning sun. The Stone of Remembrance stands on a raised dais, which supports sandstone pillars at each corner and over looks the flat valley floor once strewn with hospital tents and known as 'Hospital Valley'.
|Above: The cemetery grave registration
Right: Two photographs of the Cross of Sacrifice
Below: The Doullens to Amiens railway, used by the ambulance trains
Bottom right: The Stone of Remembrance - looking towards 'Hospital Valley'
|Above: Reg's headstone, March 2007||Above: The author at Reg's grave March 2007|
A rough lane leads across a blood-red track
A friend now kneels this day before the place
The final statements
On 24 July 1918 Reg's effects were sent home. Charles William CROMPTON acknowledged their receipt, at Hall Green, on 26 July 1918. Army Form B.104-126, from No 2 Infantry Records at York, lists them as:
|Above: Reg's belongings on Army Form B.104-126 as returned to Hall Green Source: TNA, WO 363/C1256|
On 23 August 1919 Charles H IVENS, vicar of Chaplethorpe near Wakefield, witnessed Charles William CROMPTON's signature on Army Form W.5080. This records and confirms:
Source: Army Form W5080, WO363/C1256, TNA, Kew, London
Some time after Reg's death the family dedicated a chair, in York Minster, to his name. However, shortly after midnight on 09 July 1984 the Cathedral was struck by lightning. It took around 150 fire fighters from across North Yorkshire two hours to bring the blaze under control. A letter, from the Minster assured the family that Reg's chair was safe. But on subsequent visits it has been impossible to find the chair, even with the help of guides.
|Perhaps the more impressive memorial to Reg is the view from Lutyen’s Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, where 72,112 names are
When the many thousands of visitors look through the central arch, over the 300 French and 300 British graves, few will appreciate that they can see the whole of Reg’s final battlefield.
Right: The Mesnil battlefield from the Thiepval Memorial. Mesnil can be seen in the trees beyond the field. Battalion headquarters were in the field where the central trees dip. 'A' Coy defended the thin line of trees in front of the plough land.
On Friday 30 May 2009 Professor Richard HOLMES, late Wellington Professor at Southampton University, spoke at Chipping Norton Theatre, Oxfordshire. He said, ‘Look through the monument to the people and their battles. Look through Thiepval at Jacob’s Ladder.’ This was the communication trench which ran from Mesnil north-easterly direction to the River Ancre (see top of trench map). It is not know whether he was referring to the action in 1918.
Mesnil-Martinsart yesterday and today
|Above: 'British transport passing the ruined church in Mesnil, December 1916' Source: IWM Q.1747|
The photograph, taken after the closure of the Somme campaign, creates an atmosphere for the occupation of Mesnil by the 10/West Yorkshire Regiment in April 1918. It is possible to suggest that, because of relative inactivity on this front, Mesnil remained much the same. The entrance to the field housing Batt H2 is between the houses on the left of the photograph. The modern village appears to have been rebuilt on the footprint of these ruins. The pile of rubble and the hollow gable end have been replaced by the buildings seen across the road from the church.
Top left: The interior and east window of Mesnil Church, showing the cream plaster
ashlar stucco work.
Top right: A painted image at the south-east corner of the rose window.
Bottom left: Looking from the Headquarters field to the Churches east window and the farm across the road.
Bottom right: The road leading from the village to the south-east and the battlefield.
Before World War One the village had a population of 800 people. They were evacuated when the village was used as a depot for British troops; the 63rd Royal Naval Division was stationed here in preparation for the November Battle of the Ancre Heights ending the Somme campaign. Many natives never returned. The Church, perhaps because its tower could be used as an observation post, was destroyed in the war and rebuilt between 19?? and 1929. The materials and weathering of the other buildings would suggest a similar date. Now about 100 people live in this tidy and well kept collection of red bricked houses and farm and farm buildings. There is no shop or school and the Church, though well maintained, is closed and shows no evidence of a rota of service. Sadly a dying village ....
In Chapter IX of 'Undertones of War' Edmund Blunsden describes his experiences in the Mesnil area during the campaign of 2 September 1916. He shares many of his locations with Reg.
'... Presently we reached an empty village called Mesnil, which, although it stood yet in the plausible shape of farmhouses and outbuildings, not shattered into heaps, instantly aroused unpleasant suspicions. Those suspicions were quickly embodied in the savage rush of heavy shrapnel shells, uncoiling their dingy green masses of smoke downwards while their white-hot darts scoured the acre below. On the west side, a muddy sunken lane with thickets of nettles on one bank and some precarious dugouts in the other led past the small brick station, and we turned out of it by two steps up into a communication trench chopped in discoloured chalk. It smelt ominous, and there was a gray powder here and there thrown by shell-bursts, with some of those horrible conical holes in the trench sides, blackened and fused, which meant "direct hits" and by big stuff. If ever there was a vile, unnerving, and desperate place in the battle zone, it was the Mesnil end of Jacob's Ladder, among the heavy battery positions, and under enemy observation.
Jacob's Ladder was a long trench, good in parts, stretching from Mesnil with many angles down to Hamel on the River Ancre, requiring flights of stairs at one or two steep places. Leafy bushes and great green and yellow weeds looked into it as it dipped sharply into the green valley by Hamel, and hereabouts the aspect of peace and innocence was as yet prevailing. A cow with a crumpled horn, a harvest cart should have been visible here and there. The trenches ahead were curious, and not so pastoral.
Ruined houses with rafters sticking out, with half-sloughed plaster and crazy window-frames, perched on a hillside, bleak and piteous that cloudy morning; derelict trenches crept along below them by upheaved gardens, telling the story of savage bombardment. ... The front line lay over this brow, and descended to the wooded marshes of the Ancre in winding and gluey irregularity. Running through it towards the German line went the narrow Beaucourt road, and the railway to Miraumont and Bapaume; in the railway bank was a look-out post called the Crow's Nest, with a large periscope. South of the Ancre was massive high ground, and on that a black vapour of smoke and naked tree trunks or charcoal, which I found was called Thi?val Wood. The Somme indeed! ...
... The battalion moved up to a straggling wood called from its map reference P. 18, near the little town of Mailly-Maillet. Here, three miles from the enemy's guns, it was thought sufficient to billet up in tents (and those, to round off my posthumous discontent, used specimens). Mailly-Maillet was reported to have been until recently a delightful and flourishing little place, but it was in the sere and yellow; its long chateau wall was broken by the fall of shell-struck trees; its church, piously protected against shrapnel by straw mats, had been hit. ...
... I went up next night with some heavy materials for the dump in Hamel, carried on the limbers. ... At Mesnil church, a cracked and toppling obelisk, there were great craters in the road, and when one of the limbers fell in, it was necessary to unload it before it could be got out. While this delay lasted, in such a deadly place, my flesh crept, but luck was ours, and no fresh shells came over to that church before we were away. The journal into Hamel that evening was unforgettable. One still sees in rapid gun-lights the surviving fingerpost at the fork in the unknown road. It helped us. ...
... On the evening of September 2, the battalion moved cautiously from Mailly-Maillet by cross-country tracks, through pretty Englebelmer, with ghostly Angelus on the green and dewy light, over the downs to Mesnil, and assembled in the Hamel trenches to attack the Beaucourt ridge next morning. ...
... Orders for withdrawal were sent out to our little groups in the German lines towards the end of the afternoon. ... Mesnil was its vile self, but we passed at length.'
Source: Blunden, Edmund, 'Undertones of War', R.Cobden-Sanderson, London, 1928
The defence of Dernancourt
On the night of 27 March 1918, Australian soldiers of the 47th Battalion (Queensland and Tasmania) and 48th Battalion (South Australia and Western Australia) moved across fields to take up positions along the Albert to Amiens railway embankment facing Dernancourt and along the line as it curved away to the north–east towards Albert.
Dernancourt itself suffered considerably that day. Knowing it to be held by the Germans, the British artillery bombarded the village until 2 pm when enemy soldiers were seen leaving. However, when Australian troops went forward to scout out the situation, enemy fire from the village drove them back with heavy casualties. To assist in the possible reoccupation of Dernancourt a company of the 45th Battalion (New South Wales) was ordered forward. They were badly hit as they made their way down the hill towards the railway embankment.
Private Edward Lynch, of the 45th Battalion, recorded his part in the defence of the railway embankment south of Albert and his part in the counter attack. Though lacking etangs, the River Ancre meanders to the southeast parallel to the railway embankment. The land rises gently to the northwest. However, Dernancourt lies in the valley whilst Mensil-Martinsart is on the reverse slope of the valley side.
Perhaps even though the German attack and the British artillery bombardment lacked the intensity of Dernancourt, it is possible that the 10/West Yorkshire Regiment shared many similar experiences on between 21 and 22 April 1918.
‘Now I am watching the railway embankment again. Some men are carrying stretchers about. Clouds and clouds of black dust and smoke leap skywards at each shell burst. Two shells land together. Two black funnels of earth and smoke viciously kick upwards. There's nothing more solid in the mountain of dust. Something spinning and turning in the dust cloud. Something like a thick catapult fork. A man with neither head nor arms, flying high above the embankment. ………
……… It's after nine o'clock. Over two hours since the barrage began, and no sign of slackening yet. Our brains can't house this awful swelling sound much longer. Surely our heads will explode! The buzz, buzzing within our brain must find a way out. Heads weren't made to hold this noise!
Still we hang on, taking turns to look over the parapet with not a straight nerve in our bodies. Shattered and shaking, but grimly holding on through it all. The shelling has been on for two and a half hours, and seems like keeping on forever as Fritz mean to smash us up properly before launching his infantry. ………
……… Wounded men are everywhere waiting for the shelling to ease before they can get out. Dead men, many of them half buried, are everywhere along the trench. Many of our dead have bandages on, telling that they had already been wounded before getting their final issue.
Many men are huddled against the wall of the trench. White faces stained whiter still by the flying chalk dust. Some men have the appearance of dead men except for their jerky breathing.
Suddenly the shelling is off us. The men are flying, rifles in hand, to line the parapet. From out in front I catch the rattle of machine-guns and rifles.
'Give it to 'em!'.
I see dazed, hopeless, despondent poor beggars rising from the floor of the trench like dead men from the grave, warmed back to life by the thought of getting some of their own back. ………
……… Thousands of Fritz are rushing the railway embankment from everywhere. We’re bowling them over, but nearer to the embankment they draw. The ground behind is carpeted with grey forms that lie still, that twitch and kick, lashing the ground in agony, but hundreds and hundreds of other grey forms are leaping from shell hole to shell hole and ever drawing nearer to the few men left on the embankment.
Desperately we aim and fire to stem that closing grey wave. Many fall, but others rise in their places. Fritz is jumping through hell, but never slackens in that deadly advance. Sheer weight of numbers is carrying them towards our men.
‘My God! I never thought it was in ‘em!’ Snow exclaims, unable to hide his admiration for the men who advance in the face of what we’re giving them.
Wounded men are now seen running back from the embankment as Fritz gets there. Men stand and throw bombs at them, but still they close in on our chaps. We see two platoons leave our trench and race down to reinforce the 47th men on the embankment. Two more platoons race ahead and take up positions a little way behind the embankment.
In a couple of places, Fritz is now on the embankment as our men come back, then they finally take the embankment. Slowly our men are dropping back, firing as they come. Dragging or carrying their wounded with them. With a rush they’re into some trenches behind the embankment. The enemy, now lining the embankment, is firing at them and at us. The rifle duelling is ear-splitting. Still we keep on firing and firing. Men in this trench are stopping Fritz lead now, but we’ve got a score of Fritz for every one of us who gets hit.
Fritz is now advancing from the embankment, but falters as our two platoons down there pour in deadly rifle and machine-gun fire. He’s racing back for the shelter of the embankment! We’ve stopped him, though he’s taken the embankment. Then Fritz is coming again in front of us. More terrific firing and more bomb work below, the overwhelm?ing odds are telling and the remnants of our front line are falling back and jumping into support trenches.
Fritz is well up the ridge now and above Dernancourt. They’ve made a fair advance, but every yard of it is marked by a fallen man. He’s bought his gain at tremendous cost! He still has to shift us if he wants all the ridge, as he undoubtedly does.
Time goes by. All is still, except for movement as wounded men try to crawl in. We expect the attack to be renewed any minute against a mere handful of men in those old support trenches between us and the enemy. Our turn next and we know it. Can we hope for better luck than the 47th? It’s not possible that any men can fight harder or braver than they did, but the terrific odds outbalanced them. Our officers are coming along the trench. ‘ Prepare to advance. We’re going forward to reinforce the front line.' And we get set to hop-over. ………………
……… Across the open and strung out, our platoons keep perfect parade-ground formation. Enemy machine-guns and rifles start up and men start dropping everywhere. Still we advance. Still that perfect parade-ground formation is kept despite flying bullets and falling mates, kept when each man knows any step may be his last, kept without an order or a direction given. Yet they say the Australians lack discipline — the biggest lie of jealous lying criticism.
We're nearing Fritz. We can see the steel helmets above the rifle-lined trench. On we go. The man next to me spins and gives a soft surprised gasp. The poor wretch staggers in front of me. I go cold and sick as I see the shuddering convulsion of his death shiver. He's down. I'm stepping over him like a man in a dream.
Another few yards. My foot strikes on something soft. I stumble over a man just fallen. He rolls over dead and I recognise him as the men begin to yell and shout. I'm running on with the rest, doing a desperate bayonet charge over the last hundred yards. The enemy are leaving the trench! They won't face our bayonets! They won't stand and fight it out! They're off! Running!
Source: Lynch, EPF, (Ed. Davies W) ‘Somme Mud – The Experiences of an Infantryman in France, 1916-1919’, Doubleday, Great Britain, 2008, pages 209-214
|More information 1|
|The 10th (Service) Bn. West Yorkshire Regiment
was formed at York on 3 September 1914 as part of the K(itchener)2 recruitment. On 1 July 1916 the 10/West Yorkshire Regiment sustained 720 casualties, the most of any battalion on the opening day of The Somme. In Fricourt New Military Cemetery 159 of the 210 burials are of 10/West Yorkshire Regiment, placed in four mass graves. The sea of identical regimental badges, on headstones, brings home the enormity of that days casualties. The Battalion was disbanded in 1919.
|More information 2|
Gangrene is the death of body tissue. Gas gangrene is a fast-spreading and potentially life-threatening form of gangrene caused by a bacterial infection.
It gained recognition for its wartime incidence. During World War I, gas gangrene complicated 6% of open fractures and 1% of all open wounds. On the Western Front (1914-1918) 1.8 in 1000 cases involved gar gangrene. It represented 10 to 12% of all Germans who died of wounds.
Severe trauma to the major blood vessels would be usual wartime causes: a deep lacerating shrapnel wound or a major wound to the calf or parts of the thigh could cause the lower leg and foot to become gangrenous. If the blood supply was not compromised, then local gangrene can still result from the destruction of tissue.
A main cause of gas gangrene was damage to muscle tissue from bullet wounds where there was deep contamination from the debris from the clothing pushed into the wound. After a few days exposed to the filth in the trench one can imagine the state of uniforms. In Reg's case he was exposed to both bullets and trench mortars fragments.
The usual cause is Clostridium perfringens, though other Clostridial species are implicated in about 20% of cases. Clostridium perfringens is a common soil contaminant in soil heavily fertilized with animal manure, exactly the kind of soil on which the fighting in France was fought. Once Clostridium gets started, it produces a toxin that causes the infected tissue becomes swollen and fluid that seeps from the wound may be frothy with the gas produced by the organism. There is a characteristic smell associated with the fluid. The infection may spread so rapidly up the muscle bundles that death from gas gangrene of an entire limb has been known to occur within 16 hours from the time of injury.
Gangrene is caused by loss of blood supply to some or all of a limb. If the skin surface remains intact and there is no infection, you will get 'dry' gangrene. The skin dies and the underlying tissue will appear black. If the skin breaks down, or is damaged as part of the trauma, then infection will occur causing 'wet' gangrene. There are lots of bacteria that will infect dead tissue, giving rise to the 'wet' fluid that has the rotting odour. Clostridium infection may occur in these situations but is not the major cause of this type of problem.
In the pre-antibiotic era, death was very common and the limb had to be amputated very quickly if the person was to be saved. It was found that the fatal sepsis and gas gangrene of wounds could be avoided if effective operation was performed within thirty-six hours of their infliction, and all dead and injured tissue removed, in spite of the extensive mutilation incurred, exposing the anaerobic bacteria to oxygen which kills it. However, the treatment rarely worked. Even with antibiotics and anti-toxin, the mortality is very high - as much as 30%. The lack of oxygen in the area of the infection means lack of blood supply, which in turn means that antibiotics find it difficult to get to the infection.
Source: Great War Forum (Accessed: 30 September 2014)
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