Arrival in the Kemmel Sector
The 46th Division remained in the Kemmel sector for 3 months until the 20th June. During the early part of trench duty at Kemmel the 6th Battalion paired with the 8th Battalion and each in turn had their trench HQ in the Doctor’s house.
At that time Kemmel had not suffered much damage and it was recorded in the Battalion History that with its woods Kemmel was a pleasant spot where nightingales could often be heard singing. Indeed, two ‘sportsmen’ of the Battalion, Privates 391 Stephen Buckingham and 393 Joel Frith went to try their luck at fishing in the Chateau Lake, but on asking at the village for fish hooks they where only offered “fichu”, which was the French for ‘shawl’.
Stephen Buckingham and Joel Frith were both original members of "B" Company and had enlisted together on 1st April 1908. They had both previously served as members of the 2nd VB Sherwood Foresters. Joel’s brother Thomas (400) also served with 'B" Company before suffering from a gun shot wound in the left knee on 28th June 1915.
“We left Bailleul at 9-30 a.m. for Locre which is just behind the firing line. ‘On our march we saw a New Mills man who is in the Royal Engineers. While in Bailleul we saw two or three that we knew who were in the Cheshire’s. On our way we passed an aerodrome. We got to our billets on the top of a hill near a windmill. We could see for miles around. We could see Ypres in the distance. It was a pretty sight to see the country around and it seemed a pity that it should be devastated by war. At night as you stood on the hilltop you could see our artillery firing and you could see the shells bursting over the German trenches. You could also see the Germans firing from just beneath their observation tower. It was a pretty sight to see the German star shells bursting over our trenches. Royal Garrison Artillery was quite near us. Just behind there is a 15 inch naval gun which has done a great deal of damage.”
1st Trench Duty – 7th to 12th April 1915
At 7.45pm on Wednesday 7th April the Battalion marched to Kemmel from their billets at Locre. From there they crossed over 2000 yards of open ground to occupy front line trenches ‘G’ (“C” Company) and ‘H’ (“B” Company), whilst “A” Company remained in support.
Whilst on trench duty it was common practice for two Companies to occupy the front line trenches, whilst a 3rd Company remained in support just behind the firing line. The 4th Company remained in reserve at Kemmel and performed fatigue duty.
“We were having one or two inspections and preparing for the trenches all day for at night we are to relieve the 8th out of the trenches. Stretcher bearers had their rifles and ammunition taken off them. At 7-45 we fell in to go to the trenches at Kemmel. We marched to Kemmel which is about four miles from Locre. From Kemmel we marched to the trenches by platoon. Here there is about 2,000 yards of open country which is swept by fire all night long. As you march along you come to Jack Johnson holes in the road which would easily bury two or three horses, first one then another tumbling in them with it being so dark. When the star shells go up, which are very bright, everybody has to lie down wherever they are. We took H2, 3 and 4 trench. We were very lucky to get up without casualties. On our left are the Royal Scots. On the right was C Company of our Battalion, A Company being in reserve. All the men were put to their posts and then they began to find their dugouts which were not very good.”
It was recorded in the Battalion History that the right and left trenches were especially unpleasant and in a letter to the landlord of the Midland Hotel, Leonard Rawson described in detail the ground that the battalion were now occupying;
“On our front is the long line of German trenches and about fifty yards away is ours. To the rear of us there is only one mass of ruins, dead cattle and men meet the eye on every side and there is not a human being bar the dead visible. It is sudden death to show yourself even for a second, but we are getting hardened to it, and bar the shells are pretty safe.”
[2233 Pte. Leonard Rawson a shoemaker from Brampton]
This area of the front had seen heavy fighting at the end of 1914 and during the first few months of 1915 and the debris of these battles were a constant reminder to the newly arrived Terriers of the true horror of War.
The Doctors House in Kemmel (left) was used as Battalion headquarters by both the 6th and 8th Battalions. Destroyed during the War it was later rebuilt (right).
“In the dugout where I am writing this a Frenchman’s leg is showing up to the knee; the side of his boot legging, and red trousers are showing; they have delved down the side of it digging the trench. You can’t do anything with it as you would make it worse if you interfered with it. At the moment Jack Johnson’s are dropping within 100 yards of me, making the sandbags fly up in the air like mad”
[2372 Pte Ben Bagshaw from Peak Dale]
Private 2372 Benjamin Bagshaw who was the Sub-postmaster of Doves Holes. He enlisted on the 9th September 1914 and served with D Company. He was wounded on 27th April at Kemmel and then again on 10th August at Zillebeke. He was finally discharged on the 14th December 1918.
In addition to the low lying ground in Flanders the seemingly constant rain added yet more misery to the men’s existence.
“Friday April 9th 1915: During the night and morning I was on fatigue and sentry duties. Stood by at 3-30 am and then went in the dug-out which we made ourselves. It is very cold and we are about half-frozen. My boots and stockings have never been dry since we landed in the trenches; the later in places are about six inches deep in water.”
Whilst in the trenches the men were kept busy on sentry duty or fatigues, which included work to improve the trenches. In a letter home to his family Ben Bagshaw described how they had to repair the trench every night by ducking down and lifting sandbags over their heads and onto to the top of the parapet to avoid being spotted by German snipers.
At night the Companies would also send out listening patrols and detachments to repair the barbed wire. During one of these routine duties, Signaller 2196 Harold May from Chesterfield had a very narrow escape and was shot through the hat whilst wiring. He vividly described his experience in a letter home.
“Our Battalion again went into the trenches on Wednesday evening and my “pals” and I were appointed wire men. It is very risky work. At first we were stationed in a fortified house near to the first line of trenches. My word it is hot work getting to the place. The Germans send starlights up every few minutes and we then have to lie flat on the ground or we should soon be victims to the snipers. As a rule the bullets are fairly high and make a buzzing noise as they fly over. It would be more interesting were it not so serious. We have now left the house for ______ and last night I visited the firing line and helped to lay a wire from one trench to another. It took our party most of the night to do this and we had to cross some open country within 100 yards of the enemy’s lines.”
[2196 Signaller Harold May from Chesterfield]
Harold May was one of several men in the 6/Sherwood Foresters who had worked at the Derbyshire Times prior to the War. He enlisted on the 30th April 1914 and served with Headquarters Company. Whilst in Flanders he was a signaller and served with "A” Company. He was wounded on 30th September at Ouderdom Canal when a mine exploded under trench 29. He served in France until October 1918 when he was invalided home and finally disembodied on the 31st November 1919.
During this first trench duty the Battalion suffered five NCOs and men killed; Lieutenant Idwal Davies and eight other ranks wounded.
The first man to be killed was:-
- 2083 Pte George Wilkinson an engine cleaner from Disley who was shot through the head by a sniper at 9 o’clock on Thursday morning.
The Germans continued a constant sniping, which was an ever-present danger for the men.
“In the morning two of our men had a remarkable escape from being shot. A man was taking his sight to shoot at a German sniper when a shot came knocking his sight protector off hitting one of the men behind the ear with his guard. The other man getting the bullet through his clothes on his back and just grazing his back leaving a very slight wound. Everything went on as usual after this except for minor accidents. After the fatal accident the men were not so ready at putting their heads over the parapet. They used the telescope which is a very handy thing in the trenches.”
However even using the telescope sometimes proved dangerous as Private 2017 Edward Mills found out when his scope was hit with a bullet and he was wounded in the eye by broken glass.
Edward Mills was one of eleven “Terriers” from Pilsey who embarked with the 6th Battalion in February 1915 and was the first Pilsley casualty. He served with "A" Company and was wounded on 27th April 1915. He was later mentioned in dispatchers as a runner on the 1st July. He was disembodied on 26th January 1919.
The rest of the duty passed quietly until dinnertime on Friday when the Germans began to shell the trenches.
The first shell fell on 9 Platoon of “C” Company comprising Sergeant 570 George Dakin and 12 men; killing four men outright and wounding one other.
The men killed were:-
- 1592 Pte. Walter Blake aged 20 and a corset worker from Ashbourne who enlisted in March 1912.
- 1457 Pte. Frederick Bull aged 26 and a photographer from Ashbourne who enlisted in June 1911.
- 1814 Pte. Albert Harry Harrison aged 19 and a gas fitter from Ashbourne who enlisted in March 1913.
- 2717 Pte. Percy Madin aged 23 and a bricklayer from Cross Street in Brampton who enlisted on 14th October 1914.
The wounded men included:-
- 1231 Pte Harry Widdowson a joiner from Chesterfield who enlisted in April 1910.
“The last time we were in the trenches we had some experiences I don’t want to witness again for some time. One shell killed several of our fellows and another fell five yards from me. I thought our time had come – But as luck would have it, it never went off, a good job too, or I should never have written this letter. If we never see any more we have seen enough to last a lifetime.”
3227 Pte. John Steggles from Chesterfield enlisted on the 20th October 1914 and was killed in action on 14th October 1915 aged 21. He was the son of William and Alice Steggles of 27 St. Mary's Gate in Chesterfield and is Commemorated on the Loos Memorial.
The five men killed during this 4-day period were buried together in a small cemetery “on road leading from Church behind Kemmel” by the Reverends John Percy Hales and Arthur Stanley Bishop see here.Arthur Stanley Bishop of the 5th Battalion Notts & Derby Regiment
The place chosen for ‘trench burials’ in Kemmel was originally started in December 1914. The four comrades were buried next to each other and close to Pte John Ward from Chapel-en-le-frith who had been killed with the 10th Battalion the King’s (Liverpool) Regiment on 23rd December 1914 aged 18 years. John Ward was well known to many of the men from the Chapel Company of the 6th Sherwood Foresters.
The 1/10th (Scottish) Battalion, The King's (Liverpool Regiment) was one of the first Territorial Force battalions of infantry to go into the trenches in France and Belgium in 1914.
The Battalion were relieved by the 8th Sherwood Foresters at 10pm on Sunday 11th April and returned to their billets at Locre. Private 1573 George Turner from Bakewell, writing to a friend on the 12th April, described the men’s honour at completing their first trench tour
“We have just come out of the trenches; we have been in four days and four nights. We were relieved by the 8th Battalion. We were in the first line of fire and held a position of our own, which I think is a great honour for us ….. we were only ________ yards form the Germans. In front of our trenches, there are dozens of dead Germans. We had a lot of the well-known ‘coal boxes’ dropped just past us, and there was one dropped inside the trench, and it didn’t half shut it, I can tell you. We managed to escape, but it caught some of our chaps, and it finished them off, poor fellows. None of them were from our place”.
[1573 George Turner from Bakewell]
[George Turner enlisted on 12th February 1912 and initially served with D (Bakewell) Company. He arrived in France on 28th February 1915 and was posted to 11 Platoon in “C” Company with whom he was wounded on the 27th April 1915. He was disembodied on the 19th March 1919 and later awarded the Territorial Force Efficiency Medal]
German 5.9 and 8-inch shells were called coal boxes because of the thick black smoke that erupted when they exploded.
The other men wounded or taken ill during this first trench duty included:-
- 1283 Pte. WIlliam Johnson a horse keeper from Chesterfield who was wounded in the abdomen and evacuated to England. Returned to France with the 21st Reinforcement.
- 1399 Pte. William Birch a mill hand from Mayfield who suffered a shrapnel wound in the head and was evacuated to England. Returned to France with the 9th Reinforcement.
- 1553 Sergt. Charles Porter a law clerk from Wirkworth who had synovitis and was admitted to 3rd Stationary Hospital. Returned to duty in June 1915.
The War Diary records 5 men killed and 8 wounded, however, only 4 wounded men can be identified.
Billets in Locre from 12th to 15th April
Monday 12th April 1915
The Billets provided for the men during their ‘rest’ period were located in the village of Locre about 3 miles behind the front line and protected from German observation by Mount Kemmel. In most cases these proved to be dry and comfortable accommodations.
“We have left the trenches and are now at the rest station, which consists of a bakehouse. Four of us share it viz, Billy Hopkins, Jas Turner, Frank Pollard, of Staveley, and myself. Here we are very warm and comfortable but we can hear the big guns thundering.”
[508 Pte Albert Askey from Brampton]
Pte 508 Albert Askey (right) and his pal Pte Billy Hopkins.
“There is scarcely a house, mill or church that has not been shelled. We have had some fine billets. We have been in farms, mills, old empty houses and once a pub – that would suit some of them at Chesterfield. I think I have worn all the sharp corners off my hips by lying on stone floors and on the ground. You ought to see us when we come out of the trenches. We look more like a gang of roadmen just turned out of a pub on pay day! As we go we generally sing ‘Has anyone seen a German band’.”
During their first period of rest the Battalion provided men for working parties with the Royal Engineers, but also found time to visit their dead comrades.
“After dinner we went down to the English Cemetery and saw the graves of our dead comrades. There is a large number of graves, but I think the 6th and 8ths are the nicest graves, each grave has a separate cross and each one has trees and flowers planted on it. The crosses are beautifully painted and weIl got up. In the same cemetery is Private Ward’s grave of the Liverpool Scottish.”
Kemmel Château pictured in the summer of 1913. The grounds were later to be used by men of the BEF to bury their ‘trench dead’. In total 134 Officers and men of the Sherwood Foresters Brigade are buried here including Lt Henry Severne and 36 men of the 1/6th Battalion.
A row of men from the 1/6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters killed in action and buried in Kemmel Chateau Military Cemetery. These four men were all from “C” Company and were killed by a single shell burst on the 9th April.
Tuesday 13th April 1915
The men provided by the Battalion for the working parties found themselves just behind the front line in an area commonly referred to as “Sahara Desert” and it was during one of these fatigues on 13th April that:-
- 2364 Sergeant John Fletcher a stoker from Doves Holes was shot by a sniper as he was entering the trench. Reverend Hales buried him in the “Chateau Ground” later that day.
At least three other men were wounded during these nightly working parties, demonstrating just how dangerous these details could be:-
- 1830 Archibald Edwards a pony driver from Worksop suffered a GSW in the chest and shoulder. Evacuated to England and discharged in June 1916.
- 1891 Percy Marper a miner from Mosborough who was wounded but returned to duty.
- 2215 Wilfred Protheroe a stationary council driver colliery from Stonebroom who was wounded in the field.
Front line trenches ‘G’ and ‘H’ from 15th to 19th April
Thursday 15th April 1915
The Battalion returned to the front line trenches ‘G’ and ‘H’ on the evening of Thursday April 15th and suffered a continual stream of fatalities. There was always this risk of instant death and Alfred Afford recorded in his diary that a German mortar grenade landed within 4 yards of his platoon without causing any casualties.
Sunday 18th April 1915
Snipping by the Germans continued to be a constant threat and “D” Company suffered its first casualty on the 18th April when 2380 Cpl. Robert Armitage, a linesman from Whaley Bridge, was shot through the head by a sniper. George Bagshaw recorded this event in his diary, adding that Cpl Armitage had just cooked breakfast when at 8.30am he was shot.
“The bullet passed in at his neck and came out in the small of his back. We did what we could for him but he gradually sank. He died about 1-30 being conscious about three quarters of an hour. He knew from the first he was done. It made a gloom over all the Company for a time. The bearers came for him about 9-30 and he was buried in the English cemetery.”
[George Bagshaw]2380 Cpl Robert Armitage from Whaley Bridge was shot through the head by a sniper on the 18th April 1915 aged 38. He had enlisted in September 1914 and arrived in France on the 28th February 1915. The husband of Edith Armitage of 4 Willow Terrace, Horwich End, Whaley Bridge.
The German sniping was causing a gradual toll of casualties and George Bagshaw and his comrades were in constant demand as Company stretcher-bearers.
“Everything went on as usual until dinner time, when just as I was sitting down to my dinner word was passed up ‘man hit’. It was private G Stychie. He had one side of his head split right off and it was hanging on his shoulder. All his brains and everything out of his head was on the floor. I got hold of his head and tied the two parts together, then put it in a sand bag.”
Friday 16th April 1915
However the 6th Sherwood Foresters also had its fair share of “crack shots”, one of whom was 508 Pte Albert Askey from Chesterfield who had won a shooting medal before the War. In a letter to his mother he described a close encounter with a German sniper.
“A week ago last Friday [16th April] I was having a shot at a sniper in a ruined house about 400 to 500 yards away. Suddenly I felt something burn my head. I took my hat off and felt for blood but there was none. Then I noticed that a bullet had gone clean through my hat. It went in at the badge and came out at the top. This made me more cautious, and I had a few more shots at the sniper, who replied to the first two or three. Then there was no response, and as I never heard from him again I concluded I had dispatched him.”
508 Albert George Askey was a Porter at Chesterfield Great Central Station. He enlisted on the 1st April 1908 and was posted to A Company. On arrival in France he was instructed as a sniper. He was promoted to Corporal and was to be wounded twice. The first occasion was on the 14th September 1914 and then again on the 1st September 1918, before finally being discharged in February 1919. Albert was possibly the brother Arthur Askey the well know entertainer.
Saturday 17th April 1915
At dawn on Saturday April 17th the Fifth Division attacked Hill 60 to the south-east of Ypres in a fierce local battle and the 46th Division were instructed to do all that was possible to harass the enemy between the hours of 3am and 6am. At this time the trenches were occupied by the 6th Sherwood Foresters on the left and the 8th Sherwood Foresters on the right.
“During the afternoon we had the order to come down that Hill 60 was to be taken that night. They would begin to bombard at 7 o’clock and the bombardment would come slowly down the line getting to us at 7-45. At this time our men had the order to put forty rounds into them quick. The men got very enthusiastic some of them putting over a hundred rounds into them. This ruse was to stop the Germans from sending reinforcements to Hill 60. At the same time as our men began to fire the artillery behind us started three or four hundred guns going. The noise was terrific. The German artillery began to reply but doing no damage~ It was a grand sight but One I don’t want to see again. It was too dangerous to be healthy. If our men had got the order to charge they would have been into the Germans pell-mell, but our order was to hold the position. The bombardment lasted about two hours. The Germans hardly ever replied to our rifle fire because it was as much as they could do to keep their heads down.”
Hill 60 was a low ridge approximately 65 yards (60 m) high and 250 yards long from end to end and was formed when the Ypres-Commines Railway cutting was dug. It received this name from British troops to signify its height in meters on the contour map. The battle for Hill 60 was destined to rage for several days as each side gained the upper hand through attack and counter attack. Eventually the British succeeded in occupying the top of Hill 60 but paid a high price in casualties.
During their time in the front line trenches the Officers and men of the Battalion tried to make to best of the surroundings. For the Officers of the Battalion the conditions were generally much better as Captain Arthur Hopkins of “A” Company described in a letter to his father.
“Our lot in the trenches is really not so bad as you image…In the dug out I last occupied we had a table with wooden seats on either side. Our meals are cooked over charcoal braziers. The food issued couldn’t be better, we have bacon, bread, butter, jam and an excellent tinned ration composed of stewed meat and vegetables.”
However, for the NCOs and enlisted men of “A” company the living quarters were not quite as comfortable and Privates 1877 Albert Wycke and 1939 John Adams of No 2 Platoon (A Company) composed a song in honour of their “Little wet home in the trench”
“Sir – just a few lines to let you know that all the Chesterfield boys are all in the pink and have a song every night. They all wish to be remembered to all their friends. We wish you to put the little song of ours in the Derbyshire Times. We composed it in the trenches and it is sung to the tune of “My little grey home in the West”
In my little wet home in the trench, Where the rest are continually drenched, There’s a dead cow nearby with her hoofs to the sky, And she kicks up a terrible stench. Underneath there’s a place called the floor There’s a mass of some mud and some stones And the shells dropping there, There’s no place to compare With my little home in the trench.
There are snipers that keep on the go, So you must keep your nappers down And the shells by night make a dance of the light And cause some nice language to flow The bully and biscuits we chew For its months since we tasted a stew And the “Jack Johnsons” are frew There’s no place to compare With my little wet home in the trench.
1877 Albert Wyche from Whittington Moor enlisted in April 1913 and served with A Company before being disembodied in January 1919. 1939 John Adams a core maker from Chesterfield enlisted in May 1913 and served with A Company. He won the Military Medal for gallantry during an attack at Lieven (LG 2.6.17) and was later wounded on 7th August 1917 at St Elie. He was disembodied on the 24th February 1919.
Monday 19th April 1915
At 10.30pm on Monday 19th April the Battalion were relieved from trench duty and marched back to their billets at Locre. During their second four-day spell in the trenches the Battalion had eight men killed on the previous days and all are buried in Kemmel.
Friday 16th April:-
- 3063 Pte. Harry Clements a labourer from Chesterfield who was ‘killed in action’ and buried 2 days later in Kemmel by Rev. Hales.
- 1733 Pte. John Thomas Mason a shunter from Peak Dale who was ‘killed in action’ and buried 2 days later in Kemmel by Rev. Bishop.
- 1909 Pte. John Watts a limestone quarryman from Dove Holes who was shot by a sniper and buried the following day by Rev. Hales.
- 1665 Pte. Douglas Mullins a waggoner from Peak Dale who was shot by a sniper and buried the following day by Rev. Hales.
Sunday 18th April:-
- 1674 Pte. Theodore Flaxman a fitter from Chesterfield who was shot by a sniper.
- 2361 Pte. John Melbourne a painter from Wirksworth who was ‘killed in action’.
- 2380 Cpl. Robert Armitage a telephone linesman from Whaley Bridge who was shot by a sniper.
Monday 19th April:-
- 2842 Pte. George Stychie a railway labourer from Hull who was ‘killed in action’.
Most of these fatal casualties were the result of German sniping and often resulted in instant death. One early exception was:-
- 708 Pte Arthur Atterbury a wagon builder from Clay Cross who suffered a gunshot wound in the head on the 18th April. He was initially sent to the British General Hospital in Wimereux, but his injuries were so severe that he was transferred to England on the Hospital Ship ‘HMHS Salta’. Arthur was admitted to the Royal Victoria Hospital in Netley and despite numerous operations he died two months later on the 17th June aged 25.
Arthur Atterbury’s ‘Casualty Form – Active Service’ WO363.
Part of the medical record of Arthur Atterbury recording the gradual worsening of his condition despite the best effort of Surgeon H John Nightingale. He was buried the the Churchyard of his home village of Cogenhoe in Northamptonshire.
The number of men wounded is not precisely known but George Bagshaw recorded in his diary that up to this time the Battalion had lost 18 men killed and 24 wounded (in fact the Battalion had suffered only 12 men killed), whilst the Battalion History records that 14 men were wounded (10 at duty) during this last trench duty.
Amongst the less seriously wounded or taken ill were, in chronological order:-
- 1875 Pte. Percy Brittain a labourer from Brampton who suffered a GSW and evacuated to England. Returned to France with the II Reinforcement.
- 809 Pte. Jim Cook a labourer from Clay Cross who suffered a GSW in the arm.
- 1422 Pte. William Bradshaw a miner from Pilsley who had septic poisening.
- 1770 Pte. George Clements a miner from Pisley who had a GSW in the back.
- 1853 Pte. Charles Shaw a joiner from Chesterfield who suffered from and was evacuated to England. Returned with the V Reinforcement in November 1915.
- 2002 Pte. George Kirkham a miner from Pilsey.
- 2934 Pte. Herbert Wint a labourer from Wirksworth.
- 3250 Pte. George Elliott a quarryman from Wirksworth.
- 2224 Pte. Denis Moorcroft a labourer from Stavelely.
- 1176 Pte. Walter Bradshaw a miner from Clay Cross.
- 1386 Pte. Charles Turner a labourer from New Mills who suffered a GSW in the ankle and evacuated to England. Discharged in April 1916.
Many of the wounded were sent to advanced dressing stations located close behind the front line trenches at Kemmel, or to the casualty clearing station and base hospitals.
The 1st North Midland Field Ambulance was located in Locre and acted as an initial triage for all wounded, sick and injured men of the Battalion.
Those requiring further treatment would be sent to a Casualty Clearing Station and if necessary to one of the large Stationary or General Hospitals on the French Coast at Etreat, Le Havre, Treport, Rouen or Boulogne.
The 2nd and 8th Casualty Clearing Stations located at Bailleul were those primarily used by the 6th Battalion. Map extracted from the War Diary of the 1/1st NMFA.
Working parties from 20th to 23rd April
Tuesday 20th April 1915
When the Division first went into the line at Kemmel there was no communication trench to the front line and all journeys had to be made at night. Indeed Alfred Afford recorded in his diary that on the 5th April his platoon was detailed for fatigue duty and went with the 8th Battalion to the front line trenches at 6.30pm. To reach these they had to travel over 1200 yards of open ground whilst the Germans were sending up ‘starlight’s’ and it was on this open ground that the Germans spotted them and ‘sent over a volley or two’.
The 6th Battalion were allotted the dangerous job of digging a communication trench from trench G4 to just in front of the Doctors house in Kemmel. Remarkably this was accomplished in only two nights (April 20th and 21th) and called “Via Gella” after the well-known Derbyshire road.
“When we were digging a new trench the other day we unearthed a dead man. Just fancy digging up a dead body and little bits of lead flying about all the time you are doing it. But still it has to be done and we go into the work with the best of spirits. We are often told that the people have never seen a more cheerful set of lads. I don’t think we could be quiet for one minute. We are always singing”.
“Via Gella” was eventually dismantled in 1917 although the name board was saved by Colonel Goodman and was displayed in the Chesterfield Drill Hall for many years. The Victoria Drill Hall at Ashgate was opened by Lord Roberts on 28th September 1898 and closed in 1967.
- 3437 Pte. Albert Baguley a miner from Stavely was admitted to 1st NMFA and 8CCS, but returned to duty.
- 1321 Pte. Percy Heather a packer from Tunstead Milton wounded in the leg but returned to duty. Died of wounds in the 43rd FA on 4th July 1915.
- 1535 Pte. Joseph Harold Heather from Fernilee was evacuated to England and discharged in May 1916. He died in 1976.
- 3345 Pte. Thomas Sprigg a blacksmith from Doncaster who was evacuated to England and discharged in July 1916.
Kemmel front line trenches from 24th to 29th April
Saturday 24th April 1915
At 11pm on Saturday 24th April the 6th Sherwood Foresters returned to the front line trenches. George Bagshaw records in his diary that at this time the battalion stretcher bears were detailed to help men of the 8th Battalion who had earlier been buried by a shell explosion.
“The 8th stretcher bearers came up to get their remaining dead. They brought seven bodies down. Two of them being in little sand bags, all that there was left of them. An awful sight to see, they were buried the same night.”
At 6pm on the 24th April the Germans began a heavy bombardment of trenches G1, G2 and H4 and eventually both trenches were enfiladed by the Germans who kept up an accurate rifle and machine gun fire. The 8th Sherwood foresters suffered 14 men killed and 2 Officer and 124 men wounded.
Saturday 24th April 1915
- 1339 Pte Samuel Hibbert, a calico printer from Whaley Bridge who was seriously wounded in the head by a sniper bullet and taken to the Advanced Dressing Station at Locre. He died the following morning and was the first man of the 6th Sherwood Foresters to be buried in the Churchyard at Locre.
The village of Locre was about 2 miles behind the front line and the 1st North Midland Field Ambulance under the command of Colonels Edward Wraith and Barron (R.A.M.C.) was stationed in the Convent of St. Antoine, which was later destroyed during the German Offensive of 1918.
The Churchyard in Locre was used for burials by the field ambulances and fighting units of the BEF from December 1914. In total 13 men from the Sherwood Foresters Brigade were buried here including Ptes 1339 Hibbert and 2706 Ditchfield of the 1/6th.
On several occasions George Bagshaw recorded in his diary that it took the Battalion stretcher-bearers several hours to make the trip from the dressing station in Kemmel to the field ambulances in Locre.
Monday 26th April 1915
- Sam Muir later died of his wounds in the base Hospital at Boulogne on the 7th May and is buried in the Eastern Cemetery.
- Joseph Tolsen was transferred to England on the Hospital Ship ‘HMHS St. Andrew’ and later returned to France on the 22nd October 1915. He was posted back to the 1/6th on 13th March 1916 and played a prominent role in the attack at Gommecourt on the 1st July 1916.
Tuesday 27th April 1915
The steady stream of casualties continued during this trench duty and on the 27th April:-
“About 10-30 the adjutant came and wakened us up asking for four volunteers to fetch a man who had been very seriously wounded in the stomach. It was a very dangerous job because the Germans could see us. Three men, Hall, Kirk, Newton and myself volunteered because it was a case of life and death. We got up to the trench after a trying journey for we had to keep lying down as they kept shooting at us. Bullets flying in all directions. When we got there we were wet through with having to lie in water. When we got there it was no use bringing him down as he was dying. He died about an hour after. We left him there till it was dark and made our way back to our breakfast getting there about 3-30.”
The seriously wounded man was:-
- 2639 Pte John Sharp, a labourer from Chinley, who had moved to Derbyshire from his home at Belchford in Lincolnshire. He was buried with his Derbyshire comrades in Kemmel Cemetery in a ceremony preceded over by Rev. John Hales.
John was one of several men in the Battalion who had originally enlisted into the 2/6th Battalion on its formation in October 1914. Many of these men were transferred to the 1/6th Battalion prior to its departure to France in February 1915.
John was the only man of the 1/6th to be killed and buried in Kemmel during this trench duty.
There were also several men not as seriously wounded during this trench duty. These included:-
- 1573 George Turner, a printer from Bakewell, who received a bullet wound in the head and was admitted to 1st NMFA and 1st General Hospital. Returned to Battalion in June 1915.
- 1489 Pte. Horrace Allen from New Barlborough who had part of his ear blown off but returned to duty.
- 2090 Pte. Jack Marsden, a labourer from Bakewell, who received a bullet wound to the forehead.
- 732 Cpl. Fred Thompson.
- 2240 Pte. Edward Robinson wounded in the leg.
- 1790 Samuel Dawes a coal miner from Chesterfield.
- 2017 Edward Mills, a miner from Pilsley, who was wounded in the eyes and admitted to 1st NMFA and 13 Stationary Hospital. Returned to Battalion on 9th June
- 2372 Benjamin Bagshaw, a postman from Peak Dale, who received a bullet wound in the cheek and admitted to 1st NMFA. Discharged to duty on 28th April.
- 1449 Frank Allen, a quarryman from Matlock.
- 1884 William Cook, a miner from Clay Cross, who received a bullet wound in forehead and hand and was admitted to 1st NMFA. Discharged to duty the following day.
- 2657 Pte. Frederick Madin.
In contrast, the following men were all invalided to England:-
- 401 Sergt. James Alfred Waterhouse, a road labourer from Chinley who received a GSW in the right shoulder and was discharged in May 1916.
- 825 L/Cpl. Richard Large, a labourer from Bakewell who received a gunshot wound in the head and was admitted to 1st NMFA and 1 General Hospital. Returned to England on ‘HMHS Carisbrooke Castle’.
- 1977 Pte. Herbert Stone, a Miller’s labourer from Rowlsey received a bullet wound in right foot. Admitted to 1st NMFA and transferred to England on ‘HMHS St Andrew’.
- 1732 Pte. George Greenhalgh, an electrical driller from Peak Dale, was seriously wounded and not expected to survive.
Richard Large and Herbert Stone both returned to France with the V Reinforcement, whilst James Waterhouse and George Greenhalgh were discharged due to wounds.
As the mobile nature of the war slowed and then ceased altogether the tacticians of both sides began to devise new ways to break the stalemate of trench warfare. One such development was the use of mining and counter-mining measures. The German Army first made use of mines in December 1914 at Givenchy, when they exploded 10 mines driven in saps under the British front line trenches and followed this up with a successful infantry attack in which they overwhelmed the Indian Corps holding that part of the front line.
Shortly after, to counter act German mining operations, the BEF established their own mining detachments that were formed on a Brigade basis and in February 1915 Royal Engineers of the 28th Division exploded their first mine underneath Hill 60. Later in February specialised “tunnelling companies” were established within the Corps of Royal Engineers, which were detailed the task of ‘offensive mining’. Following this deployment the Brigade Mining Sections were normally only involved in defensive mining operations such as the placing of explosive charges under the German tunnels and galleries to collapse them.
“We had a rather exciting experience a few days ago. We were driving a sort of heading underneath the Germans trenches to blow them up, and we could hear them doing the same. It was a race which could be there first. We stood to expecting every minute to go up. But we got there first, and charged it with explosive, and up they went, trenches and all. Talk about spreading _______, this is how they do when the trenches get so close together. They call it sapping, and sap-head – any game to destroy each other here!”
[Pte Ben Bagshawe, sub-postmaster at Peak Dale in High Peak News; May 8th 1915]
Tuesday 27th April 1915
During the spring of 1915 several Royal Engineer tunnelling companies were active in the Ypres and Kemmel sectors and on the 27th April the Royal Engineers who had been mining the “G2” trench near to Peckham fired their mine and succeeded in blowing up a German gallery. At the time “D” Company were occupying this part of the trench and Alfred Afford was ideally placed to witness the event.
“In this trench we have Sappers at work undermining the enemies’ trenches, and they found out that the Germans were mining too, and to stop them they blew their shaft up. It blew up about 2 yards short of the enemies’ trenches, another 12 feet and our men would have been ready for blowing the trench, and a house called “Peckham House” where the German snipers and Maxim guns are. Five hours after it had been blown up men went down, 9 were gassed, 3 officers, one of our own company and 5 Sappers and a Sergeant. The Sergeant died, one man went down and saved two, the third being the Sergeant he tried to bring out, but was overcome with the gases himself.”
The death of the Sergeant left a deep impression on many of the men, including George Bradshaw who recorded in his diary that he left a wife and 6 children. Research would suggest that this man is 292 Thomas Harper of the 1/6 Battalion North Staffords, C Coy, the Tamworth Territorials who was attached to the 172 Tunnelling Coy RE. A number of Tammies were attached to the Company as they were ex miners. Three Tamworth men were awarded the DCM attempting to rescue Sgt Harper and Lt Daniels along with other soldiers attached to 172 from the Middx Regt and 1/5 North Staffs. Information Courtesy of Jim.
One of the RE Officers to proceed down the trench was Lieutenant Daniels and when he failed to return 2nd Lieutenant Henry Severne followed him down the shaft and brought the stricken Officer to the surface.
For this act of bravery 2/Lt Severne was mentioned in dispatchers; he was later killed in action on the 10th May.
Another man in D Company who witnessed the event was 2230 Cpl. Mathew Unwin from Clay Cross and on May 8th he wrote home describing his own role in the incident:-
“You will no doubt be pleased to hear that I have been mentioned in the dispatchers for bravery or pluck I will say. It happened thus. The Engineers were mining in the trench we occupied to the German trenches (a distance of about 30 yards) and when the mine was blown up a Sergeant, three officers and seven men were gassed. The seven men were got out and an R.A.M.C man and myself got them round by artificial respiration when someone shouted for volunteers, as four more were still down. I volunteered with another engineer and we got them out, but sorry to say only three of the four lived. The Sergeant died. Captain Johnson V.C. of the Engineers took my name and number and our Lieutenant told me yesterday that I had been mentioned in the dispatchers to the General and I should probably here about it again.
2230 Pte Mathew Unwin was a case paper clerk from Clay Cross and was to win the Military Medal later in the War (LG 3.3.1916). He enlisted in August 1914 and served with "D" Company. He was wounded on 23rd April 1917 during the attack on Fosse 3 at Lievin and was discharged on the 6th December 1918.
George Bagshaw and the other stretcher-bearers were also called upon to help with the casualties when it was dark and safe to do so.
“When it was dusk we went to fetch the wounded and dead to bring down. There were two that had been badly gassed who were Engineers. They were gassed with firing a mine. A Sergeant of the R.E. was dead leaving a wife and six children. We went to bed at 4-30 tired out. One of the wounded was Private Greenhalgh of B Company and he is not expected to live.”
1732 Private George Greenhalgh enlisted on the 11th September 1912 and served with B Company. Although wounded at Kemmel 27th April he survived his wounds and was discharged on the 12th May 1916.
Billets in Locre from 28th April to 2nd May
Wednesday 28th April 1915
On the 28th April the 1/6th were relieved by the 1/5th Battalion and returned to their billets in Locre. Since April 15th the Battalion had suffered eleven men killed and Lieutenant Tolson and twenty-nine NCOs and men wounded.
The numbers are recorded in the Battalion History, which are all confirmed by research using the Battalion casualty list, Army Service Records, private diaries and letters published in the local Derbyshire newspapers. The names of all 29 wounded men have been determined.
The Battalion History records that most of these were due to enemy snipers and that on one occasion two men, Privates 2308 Charles and 2090 John Marsden, a father and son from Bakewell, were wounded by the same bullet.
John William Marsden enlisted in January 1914 aged 21 and his father Charles Henry enlisted in September 1914. Both men survived the War, however, Charles died at home in December 1919 probably due to War service.
Despite the mounting casualties the men’s letters home were full of optimism and a quick end to the War.
“I am enjoying myself after some rather tough work with the Germans. We have just been in the trenches for ___ nights and _____ days . . . . . . I can tell you we have ‘scuttled’ a few of the Germans and I really and truly think that the War will end quickly if they get a lot like our chaps in the trenches. They are brave fellows you know
2010 Pte Tom Sidebottom from Peak Dale enlisted 19th June 1913. He served with B Company and was killed in action on the 1st July 1916 during the attack on Gommecourt.
Front line trenches ‘G’ and ‘H’ from 2nd to 6th May
Sunday 2nd May 1915
On May 2nd the Battalion returned to the front line trenches ‘G’ and ‘H’, with “D” Company remaining on fatigue duty at Kemmel.
“On MAY 2nd instead of going in the trenches we went to Kemmel and we were billeted there, our Coy is the fatigue Coy, this time we have to go up to the trenches every night with food and other things such as sand bags and coke and wood. The farm we are in is called Hannarts Farm.”
Hannart’s farm was one of several deserted farms or buildings between Kemmel and Lindenhoek in which the support companies were located. These were also interspersed with Battalion supply and ammunition dumps.
“Things went on as usual until afternoon when word came down that Private Ditchfield of B Company had been seriously wounded, could anybody volunteer to fetch him. Four of us went up by the communications trench which our brigade had made. We had a job to get him out of the trenches as they were very narrow, but after a hard struggle we got him out and down to the dressing station. After he had been dressed we set off to meet the motor ambulance vehicle which cannot come into Kemmel during the day or the Germans would see them and then we should get shelled out. We met the ambulance over the hill. We carried him in all from two to three miles. By bringing him out in the daylight we either saved his life or prolonged it. We were wet through with sweat.”
Wednesday 5th May 1915
Up to now the 1/6th Battalion casualties, while gradually mounting through routine trench warfare, had been comparatively few at any one time; but this was soon to change.
Just after 6pm on May 5th the Battalion suffered the single largest number of casualties to date. Blockhouse S4A, which was about 200 yards behind the front line trenches, was being garrisoned by Lieutenant Victor Robinson and 13 men of “A” Company, a machine gun section of 1 sergeant and 4 men and a Battalion signaller, when it was hit by a “Jack Johnson”.
A 'Jack Jackson' was the British nickname used to describe the impact of a heavy black German 15-cm artillery shell. Jack Johnson (1878-1946) was the name of the popular U.S. world heavyweight boxing champion who held the title from 1908-15.
Eight men were killed outright and another 8 were wounded, whilst Victor Robinson and 3 men were buried in the debris.
Although knocked down himself and partially buried Captain Robinson went for help to the nearest trench which was over 700 yards away. He subsequently returned to direct the work of digging out the men.
Two men suffered such concussion that one of them wandered into no-mans-land where has was at once shot down. George Bagshaw provides us with a very vivid account of the carnage that was caused by this explosion:-
“I shall never forget this day as long as I live for I witnessed the most awful sight I have ever seen in my life. Everything went on as usual until about 6-30 when Private Ward came running into the dressing room saying ‘I have been hit’. He had run down from the trenches in the daylight without being dressed. When we had dressed him he said, ‘Oh God, there is a lot of men buried yonder’. Immediately we got all the stretcher-bearers and we set off to see whether we could get any of them out alive. When we got there a rescue party was at work, Captain Derbyshire in command. There were three wounded men but they wouldn’t let us take them down, all that they thought of was their comrades left behind. They got two men each to help them down. We worked hard all night getting eight dead bodies, the Germans giving us a hot time all the time with rifle fire. We got the bodies to the dressing station over a mile away. After that came the work of identifying them. Some of them were without heads, others without bodies, some with limbs missing. It was really too awful to describe. All the time we were laying them out and getting them straight there was a nightingale singing outside. It was very nice but it did seem a mockery with all those mutilated bodies lying there. In all that night we had eight killed and nine wounded. One man was stone deaf with shock.”
Private 1678 Christopher Blankley from Chesterfield was one of the wounded men and wrote to his family two days after arriving in hospital.
“We were in a trench behind the firing line on May 5th, when at about 6.10 pm a shell dropped in the middle of us. There were 20 in the trench, eight were killed and three wounded. It is the most awful feeling that anyone can have, to hear the shells coming and not knowing where they are going to drop, and it makes one say his prayers more than once. Tell Mrs Shaw that her lad is alright, as he was with me at the time”
Christopher Blankley enlisted in April 1912 and served with A Company. He was wounded on the 5th May 1915 and later taken prisoner of war at Kite Copse in March 1917. He was finally disembodied in March 1919.
Interestingly, not all of the men wanted their family and friends in Chesterfield to know the true horrors of war and this was the very much the case in a letter written by Leonard Rawson.
“I am sorry to inform you that some of our poor lads got their ticket on Wednesday. You would know Statch, ‘Ginger’ and Danny Holland. It was a ghastly business, and I am not going to harrow your feelings by going into details.”
The eight men killed were:-
- 206 Sergt. James Wood was from Hope Street in Brampton and had been trained as a maxim gunner at Sheffield and Bisley. Prior to the outbreak of the War he had worked as a packer at Robinson and Sons and on mobilisation had been lent a powerful pair of field glasses by Mr Philip Robinson.
- 764 Pte. William Staten was a pipe moulder from Brampton who had originally joined the 2 VB in January 1907; he left a wife and young son.
- 1492 Pte. Joe Hall from Newbold.
- 2231 Pte. Alec Purdy of Clay Cross who was an engine driver was the first Clay Cross “Terrier” to lose his life. At one time he had been a pre-War Territorial and re-enlisted just days after the outbreak of the War.
- 1346 Pte. Harold Hartill a resident of Mayfield was another pre-War Territorial and had been a cotton operator in Ashbourne.
- 251 Pte. Daniel Holland from Hasland was another pre-War Territorial who had served with the 2VB and had also worked at Robinson’s bleach Works in Brampton.
- 1533 Pte. Walter Lager a bricklayer from Bolsolver.
- 2723 Pte. Horace Litchfield a joiner and resident of Bedford.
The bodies of all eight men were eventually recovered and buried next to each other in Kemmel Chateau Cemetery that same night by men of “D” Company.
The following men were also wounded by the shell explosion:-
- 1311 Pte. Ralph Kettle.
- 723 Pte. Francis Lang a coal miner from Staveley.
- 1125 Pte. Goorge Woodroffe a coal miner from Brampton.
- 1527 Pte. Frederick Smith.
- 1678. Pte. George Blankley.
- 2111 Pte. George Nadin.
- 2373 Pte. Robert Ward.
- 1620 Pte. David Clough a labourer from Wirksworth.
- 2372 Pte. Benjamin Bagshaw a postman from Peak Dale.
- 3091 Pte. William Ruston.
Private 811 George Handbury, who also served with the gun section, was granted permission with three of his comrades to leave the trenches early to attend the burial service.
“He was buried last night in the British Cemetery near the trenches. I was present at the funeral with some of the Officers. The Battalion was still in the trenches. A cross will be placed over his grave with an inscription.”
George Handbury enlisted in October 1908 and served with A Company. He later transferred to the 139th Company the Machine Gun Company in early 1916 and was renumbered 24277. He was disembodied in January 1919.
“On the same night I was one of the funeral party for 8 of our men who got done in by a shell, all reserve machine gunners and one signaller, one of them was out of our Company.”
In 1914 each machine-gun Section within a battalion had two machine guns, served by a subaltern and 12 other ranks. The ‘Vickers’ (or ‘Maxim’) machine gun was usually positioned on a flat tripod and required a gun crew of four to six men and could fire 400-600 small-calibre rounds per minute. The 1/6 Battalion machine gun officer on arrival in France was Lieutenant Francis Robinson, the only son of a very well known and prosperous family in Chesterfield.
The other men wounded or taken sick during that trench tour were:-
- 2965 Pte. George Neale who received Gunshot wound in left foot.
- 1336 Pte. Ernest Endinboro who suffered pleurisy and was admitted to 1st NMFA but rejoined the Battalion on 8th May.
- 2423 Pte. Richard Peacock
- 1411 Pte. John Bright
- 1514 Pte. George Thompson
- 3123 Pte. Percy Oxford
Billets in Locre from 6th to 9th May
Thursday 6th May 1915
On 6th May the Battalion were relieved by the 1/8th Battalion and arrived at their billets in Locre at 2 am. During this four-day trench duty the battalion had suffered 8 men killed and 15 wounded (one of whom died later).
“At about 8.30 pm the German opened rapid fire on us also fired many rifle grenades. We were relieved at about 10.30 pm by the eighth battalion. Arrived at billets feeling jigged up”.
During this ‘rest’ period the Battalion again provided men for fatigue parties bringing ammunition and supplies (including barbed wire entanglements) to the front line trenches. Generally these fatigue duties lasted from early evening after it had gone dark until the early hours of the morning.
On the 8th May Alfred Afford received the news that he had been promoted to Lance Corporal.
Front line trenches ‘J’ to ‘L’ from 9th to 14th May
In early May the 139th Brigade side slipped to the North flank of the sector with the 1/6th Battalion now paired with the 1/5th Battalion taking over trenches “J” to “L4+6”. Whilst occupying “J3” it was possible for the Battalion to overlook the German trenches in the “Petit Bois”.In fact the trenches were so close at this point that Intelligence Officers from GHQ were able to read the numbers of the regiments from the tunics of the men. The Battalion Headquarters moved first to Rossignol Estaminet and then later to a farm west of Vierstraat.
“We relieved the Royal Scots in J trenches, we are about 120 yards away, here their trenches being right on the edge of a wood. Snipers get up the trees here and fire right into the trench.”
“At 8 o’clock we left Locre for the trenches. All the stretcher-bearers and the medical staff stayed at the dressing station, the dressing station being about half a mile behind the firing line (Rossingol), it being subject to stray bullets and shellfire. We had no cases that night except a Gordon Highlander who had been hit in the back. This time I was doctor’s orderly.”
Monday 10th May 1915
The Germans commenced a heavy bombardment that eventual wounded six men:-
- 1373 Ernest Jordan.
- 1483 George Brown.
- 2046 Tom Middleton.
- 2250 William Graham.
- 2291 Fred Greaves suffered a GSW in the buttocks.
All of these men survived the War and it is known that Privates Graham and Greaves were invalided to England and subsequently discharged due to wounds. Privates Middleton and Jordan returned to duty but were later wounded at Loos and Ypres respectively.
The Battalion History also records that on the same day 2nd Lieutenant Henry Severne was shot and killed by a German sniper whilst crossing a gap in the trenches and climbing into trench ‘J2’.
“We went through the usual routine. Just after dinner had an hours shelling of shrapnel, having to get down in the cellar. At night we had six wounded and Lieutenant Severne killed”
A similar fate befell 117 John Hoult from Clay Cross who was wounded by shrapnel as he also moved between trenches. At this point in the War the British front line in front of Petit Bois comprised a number of unconnected trenches and strong points and to move between them was always dangerous.
- Henry Severne was buried later that day beside his men in Kemmel Chateau Cemetery. He was from Wirksworth and had been in France for only 10 weeks.
- John Hoult was admitted to the 1st NMFA before being transferred to the 2nd Canadian Stationary Hospital at Le Touquet. He died at 11.10pm on the 14th May following a series of unsuccessful operation and was buried in Le Touquet-Paris Plage Communal Cemetery.
During this trench tour the Germans attempted to explode a sap close to the British front line and as a precautionary measure against a possible attack the Battalion were required to ‘stand-to’ for over an hour.
As part of his new responsibility as a Lance Corporal Alfred Afford was expected to take charge of and lead fatigue parties to the front line and this included on one occasion taking a machine gun up to K trench.
“On our right in G trench the Germans have been sapping and blown it up today, it blew about 25 yards short, injuring no one. We had to ‘stand to’ about an hour.
Tuesday 11th May 1915
Over the next three days George Bradshaw recorded in his diary that one man was killed and 18 wounded, many of these wounds were inflicted by exploding shells during the frequent Germen bombardments.
“Everything went on all right till after tea when we had six shrapnel shells in about two minutes, one hitting the corner of the dressing station breaking every window and we found lumps of iron in the room afterwards. We had seven wounded.”
The men wounded during the few days of German shelling included:-
- 1337 Pte. John Fenton.
- 1611 Pte. John Valance.
- 1615 Pte. Ernest Marshall.
- 1730 Pte. John Boam.
- 1806 Pte. Joseph Bradley a labourer from Dove Holes suffered GSW in the fingers.
- 1978 Pte. John Oldbury a wagon inspector from Cromford.
- 1984 Pte. John Savage.
- 2020 Pte. JG Hall.
- 2042 Pte. Charles Richmond a miner from Staveley suffered a bullet wound in the right hand and transferred to England. Returned to France in November 1915.
- 2074 Pte. George Flavell a collier from New Mills suffered from dental caries.
- 2117 Pte. Stanley Stone.
- 2127 Pte. Fred Bucklow a grocer from Matlock Bank.
- 2344 Sergt. John Mcbride.
- 2973 Pte. Alfred Bedford.
- 3434 Pte. James Knight.
- 1514 Pte. George Thompson from Darley Dale who only the day before had written to his parents describing life in the trenches.
“So while I am in my little dug out writing this letter a few shells about a ton weight is whistling by and the Germans are about 200 yards away from us, they never bother us a deal”
The full letter that George wrote can be found here G Thompson Letter.
Two other men were wounded:-
1886 Pte. Arthur Marsh a miner from Clay Cross who suffered a bullet wound in the left and ankle was transferred to England on “HMHS Asturias” on the 14th May. He later returned to France with the 13th Reinforcement in July 1916.
1597 Pte. Ernest Cutts a collier from Staveley who suffered a bullet wound in the left arm and a compound fracture. He was transferred to England on then 16th May and later returned to France with 504th Company of the Labour Corps in March 1918.
During the preceding trench duty the Battalion War Diary recorded 1 Officer and man killed and 25 wounded.
Reserve at Siege Farm from 13th to 17th May
Thursday 13th May 1915
On the 13th May the 1/6th were relieved and proceeded to Siege Farm, which was about 2 km from the front line. One Company remained in support at Siege Farm, whilst the remaining three companies were stationed near a farm in little Kemmel on the road to Locre.
“The same night we were relieved at 11.10 by our 7th Battalion. Our platoon with 13 platoon is on ration fatigue. I went in charge of a party of 17 men to take a Machine Gun up to K trench. We are billeted in an old farm.”
- 1797 Pte Harry Wilson from Harborne Cottage in Bugwsorth; disemb 16.3.1919.
- 1961 Pte. John Marsland from Kettleshulme; disemb 17.3.1919.
- 325 Pte Jesse Ratcliffe from Bugsworth; d/w.
- 1712 Pte William Wilson from Bugsworth; disc 21.8.1917 due to wounds.
- 2106 Pte Charley Metcalf from Bugsworth; k/a 4.11.1917.
- 1823 Pte Frank Smith from Whaley Bridge; disemb 20.3.1919.
- 1594 Pte Joe Hughes from Whaley Bridge; wounded 19.7.1915 and 13.10.1915; disemb 24.3.1919.
- 1337 Pte John Fenton from Chapel-en-le-Frith; wounded 11.5.1915.
[Image from here]
As a result of the fine summer weather the men were sleeping in bivouacs, whilst the headquarters and medical staff were billeted with local residents who had remained in the area and were trying to lead some semblance of normal life. Even at this stage of the War many farmers had remained tilling their fields and only took cover during periods of heavy shelling. At this time the men were able to travel to Bailleul for a bath.
Men evacuated sick during the rest period included:-
Front line trenches from 17th to 21st May
Monday 17th May 1915
The 1/6th returned to the front line trenches on 17th May to relieve the 1/5th Battalion. The Germans commenced a heavy bombardment and the holding companies had to retire to nearby dugouts for shelter.
“We got shelled out of our trenches the other day, and with the exception of the bomb throwers all the company had to retire. We could see the huge shells coming through the air, and when we had judged were they would drop we ran for our lives out of the way. It’s the fun of a life time – that is if you don’t get hit.”
Wednesday 19th May 1915
The Germans continued a heavy bombardment during the next three days mainly during the afternoons and evenings and then on the 19 May:-
- 2269 Pte. Tom Bramwell from Chapel was killed by an exploding shell, but it was not until the following day that George Bradshaw and the other Company stretcher bearers could identify Tom and prepare him for burial.
During these few days at least other five men were wounded, including:-
1987 Pte. Frank Hollingshead from Ashbourne who was wounded by a shell explosion.
1618 Pte. John Howe from Tideswall who was wounded by a shell explosion.
During the night of 19th May Captain Victor Robinson made a careful reconnaissance of no mans land between trench J.3 left and the German front line. This included the examination of a ruined house and a calculation of the distance to the German trench, which was about 50 yards away.
Sergeants 1448 William Wibberley and 2243 John Boam also led patrols up to the German wire on many occasions to obtain intelligence and throw bombs.
Thursday 20th May 1915
Men wounded included:-
- 3289 Pte. George William Beardsley a draughtsman from Chesterfield who dislocated his knee and returned to duty on the 1st August.
- 216 Pte. J Fellows (no information).
- 2748 Pte. James Simms a labourer from Sheepbridge who suffered a bullet wound in the head but returned to duty.
Friday 21st May 1915
At midnight on the 21st May the 1/6th Battalion were relieved by the 1/5th. However, during the relief:-
- 2101 Pte Frank Bradley of “A” Company was killed by a stray bullet whilst on sentry duty and observing the German trenches.
At the end of April he had written to his parents informing them that he was picket duty and described how for two hours stray bullets were going over their heads or between them and dropping on the ground only a few yards away. Three weeks later one of these stray bullets was to prove fatal for Frank.
Letter written by Mrs Bradley thanking the War Office for the return of a portion of her son’s belongings and asking for the return of a missing silver cigarette case. Several Officers, including Colonel Goodman, Captain Darbyshire and Lieut. Goodall, had written to Mrs Bradley to inform her of her son’s death.
Also killed on that day was:-
- 1628 Pte Fred Ponsonby a 19-year-old miner from Buxton, who was also on sentry duty during the relief of the Battalion.
“Weather is very nice and warm. Fred Ponsonby killed on sentry duty by a shot from a sniper…there are plenty of dead bodies lying about between theses trenchers. Such are the atrocities of modern warfare. Left trenches at about 9’clock.”
Once relieved the Battalion moved to bivouacs at Siege Farm. During this recent trench duty they had suffered 3 men killed and 7 wounded.
Tom Bramhall, Fred Ponsonby and Frank Bradley were all buried in Kemmel Chateau Cemetery in Ceremonies presided over by Reverend John Hales.
Bivouacs and Siege Farm from 22nd to 25th May
Monday 24th May 1915
On the 24th May the Germans used poison gas in the vicinity of Kemmel.
“Early this morning the Germans started using gas again, and with a very strong wind the people in the village 7 miles behind the firing line were drove out of their houses, and there was a very heavy artillery duel all night through.”
One of the men to be gassed that night was George Bagshaw:-
“I slept near the door and just where my mouth was there was a hole. In the early morning I wakened in a dazed condition, my throat burning, and my head going all round. I couldn’t understand it because I had been having such good health. I struggled through the day as best I could and we were told that there had been a heavy doge of gas along the line and it had been felt our way. It didn’t strike me then what I was suffering from.”
George then proceeded on the same journey that many of the wounded men that he had helped to save had undertaken earlier. He was first taken by motor ambulance to Locre and then to the casualty clearing station at Bailleul. He was finally returned to England on the 30th May on the Hospital Ship “HMHS Asturias” and was transferred to a Hospital in Liverpool the following day.
The men reporting sick included:-
- 1776 Pte John Barber a labourer from Thornsett was admitted to the 12th General Hospital.
- 2278 Pte. Isaac Elliot from Bakewell was admitted to the 1st NMFA with tonsillitis.
Front line trenches from 25th to 30th May
Tuesday 25th May 1915
On the 25th May “D” Company proceeded to K2B trench to the north west of Petit Bois and were joined by a detachment of the 8th Battalion Kings Royal Rifles and almost immediately the Germans began to fire on the front lines with a trench mortar.
“We had 8 put on the casualty list besides 5 K.R.R., four of our men were very serious, our platoon Commander was wounded, all except one was wounded by trench mortars”
Bivouacs and Siege Farm from 30th May to 3rd June
Sunday 30th May 1915
The Battalion were relieved by 1/5th Battalion at 12.30 a.m. on the 30th May and marched to a farm just behind the firing line.
During this trench duty four men were killed:-
- 1349 Pte. Alec Ford a labourer from Ashbourne.
- 2242 Pte. Hubert Fewkes a poor law clerk from Bakewell who was shot by a sniper.
- 1894 Pte. Arthur Staton a pit pony driver from Mosborough.
- 394 Sergt. George Waterhouse a labourer from Chinley.
The Battalion also suffered 22 men wounded either by gunshot or shell wounds:-
- 745 Pte. Jabez Beresford a labourer from Chesterfield who was transferred to England with GSW in the foot.
- 2208 Pte. Adam Brooks a quarry man from Middleton admitted to 8 CCS and 5 General Hospital and transferred to England on 10.6.15. Returned to France on 4.3.16 with 6th Reinforcement.
- 1803 Pte. Charles Bunting a machinist from Matlock who was admitted to the 1st NMFA with gastric enteritis.
- 284 Pte. Ernest Hallam wounded in the field.
- 3435 Pte. Ralph Hartley wounded in the field and returned to Battalion.
- 1591 Pte. Jack Guy wounded in the field and returned to Battalion.
- 1704 Pte. John Hall cyst on eyelid and admitted to 1st NMFA. Returned to duty.
- 1941 Pte. William Ryder shell wound in back and legs. Admitted to 1st NMFA, 8 CCS and 3 Canadian Hospital. Also caught scabies but returned to duty on 7.10.15.
- 1944 Pte Leonard Wilson GSW left hand and returned to Battalion.
- 2014 Cpl. Ernest Hallam wounded in hip and admitted to 1st NMFA, 8 CCS and 2 Canadian Hospital. Returned to duty on 26.06.15.
- 1838 Pte. Frank Mellor wounded in the field.
- 3291 Pte. Albert Biggin wounded in the field.
- 1463 Pte. Alfred Marchington wounded in the field.
- 1685 Pte. William Broughton wounded in the field.
- 3217 William Wilks transferred to England and discharged 17.3.16.
- 3217 Pte. Thomas Moss transferred to England and discharged due to wounds on 17.7.16 (para 392 XVI).
- 1804 Pte. Harry Bagshaw Pneumonia and admitted to 1st NMFA and 13General Hospital. Transferred to England by ‘‘HMHS Brighton’’ on 7.6.15, Returned to France with V Reinforcement.
- 172 Pte. James Mellor wounded in the field.
- 1750 Cpl. Edward White wounded in the field.
- 1915 Pte. John Markham wounded in the field.
The numbers are recorded in the Battalion History, which are all confirmed by research using the Battalion casualty list, Army Service Records, private diaries and letters published in the local Derbyshire newspapers.
Monday 31st May 1915
Alfred Afford recorded in his diary that on the first day in Brigade reserve the battalion had to build huts to sleep in. During this time, to help counteract the use of poison gas by the Germans, the man regularly practiced respirator drill in which they were required to keep the uncomfortable masks for five to ten minutes at a time and practice breathing through them.
Despite being in Brigade Reserve the Battalion suffered several casualties:-
- 2595 Pte. Charles Cooper an engraver from New Mills who suffered a shell wound to the head causing a compound fracture. He was admitted to the 11 General Hospital in Boulogne before being transferred to England on the “HMHS Devanta”. He died of his wounds at 11.20 am on the 9th June in King George Hospital and is buried in New Mills.
Also wounded or sick were:-
- 2273 Pte. Robert Clarke a limestone quarryman from Buxton who was evacuated to England and discharged in May 1916.
- 1752 Pte. Albert Richardson a labourer from Chinley who was admitted to the 1st NMFA but returned to duty a week later.
- 1681 Pte. George Byfleet a moulder from Whittington Moor who suffered dyspepsia and was admitted to the 1st NMFA, 2 CCS and 2 General Hospital. Returned to duty on 27th June.
It was recorded in the Battalion History that in the month of May the 1/6 the Battalion Sherwood Foresters suffered 2/Lt Henry Severne and 16 men killed; 2/Lt Gilderoy Glossop and 69 men wounded.
Research using the CWGC records suggests that during the month of May Lt Severne and 17 men were killed in action and buried in Kemmel, whilst a further 2 died of theirs wounds and were buried at Locre and Le Touquet respectively. These numbers are recorded in the Battalion History, which are all confirmed by research using the Battalion casualty list, Army Service Records, private diaries and letters published in the local Derbyshire newspapers. The names of all 69 wounded men have been determined. Gilderoy Glossop was wounded by a trench mortar.
On the 3rd June the battalion moved from the huts they had recently built to an area just behind the trenches and were billeted in the numerous ruined buildings in that area.
On a 1918 trench map of the Kemmel sector (28SW1-3b) a number of Camps are marked,several of which (Rossignol and La Polka) are close to the area occupied by the 6 Sherwood Foresters that week.
Front line trenches ‘L’ and ‘M’ from 3rd to 8th June
Thursday 3rd June 1915
On the 3rd June the Battalion returned to the front line trenches, this time occupying trenches L5 to L7 and M1-2, whilst HQ was placed at Howitzer Farm.
During the last few trench duties by the 1/6th Battalion in the Kemmel sector they were given the added responsibility of instructing detachments of the newly arrived Kitchener’s Army in trench duties. The now experienced 46th Division became responsible for the 14th Division and the first company to come under the watchful gaze of the 1/6th was a detachment of the 8/KRR from Winchester followed on the 3rd June by the 5/KSLI, a new army battalion raised in Shrewsbury and finally the 6/KOYLI which had formed in Pontefract.
During this trench duty three men were killed:-
- 3205 Pte. George Fell a coal miner from Clowne.
- 2140 Pte. Robert Ball a locomotive fireman from Fairfield near Buxton.
- 2051 Pte. Walter Houghton a plate layer from Darley Dale.
The Battalion also had eight men wounded and one of the more seriously wounded men was:-
- 351 Cpl. Sam Henstock a labourer from Matlock who succumbed to his wounds in the casualty clearing station in Bailleul and was buried in the nearby soldiers cemetery.
Amongst the less seriously wounded were:-
- 1687 Pte. Willie Coleman a miner from Renishaw with GSW in scalp and admitted to 1st NMFA and 4 General Hospital. Transferred to England but returned to France in March 1916 with 6th Reinforcement.
- 2144 Pte. Bradshaw Goodwin a quarryman from Tideswall Gunshot wound in chest and admitted to 1st NMFA, 2 CCS and 2 General Hospital. Returned to England on 10.6.15. Retuned to France in September 1917 with 38th Reinforcement.
- 2146 Pte. William Harrison wounded in the field.
- 3220 Pte. Edgar Greaves wounded in the field and returned to England. Discharged due to wounds on 5.6.15 (para 392 XVI KR).
- 2251 Pte. George Gibbons GSW in hand and admitted to 2 CCS and 2 General Hospital. Returned to duty.
- 2061 L/Cpl. Albert Cragg who was wounded in the field and transferred to England. Discharged due to wounds on 7.6.15 (para 392 XVI KR).
- 3341 Pte. Ernest Pearce wounded in the field.
- 1400 Pte. Bailey wounded in the field.
- 2225 Pte. Arthur Jessop gunshot wound in right ankle and transferred to England.
- 2971 Pte. John Satterfit GW wound both thighs and admitted to 1st NMFA. Re-joined Battalion on 13.6.15.
Bivouacs at Kemmel from 10th to 12th June
During their rest period the Battalion were just behind the trenches in bivouacs and Alfred Afford recorded in his diary that his detachment slept in the cellars of a destroyed creamery, but does not mention precisely where this was.
Men injured or sick during these days included:-
- 608 Pte. Henry Greaves admitted to 8 CCS and 4 Stationary Hospital. Discharged to duty on 16.6.15.
- 1579 Pte. Patrick Fox had a foreign body in eye and admitted to 1st NMFA. Returned to duty on 15.6.15.
- 1369 Pte. Fred Scofield dental caries and admitted to 1st NMFA. Returned to duty on 15.6.15.
- 2768 Pte. Arthur Dovinson Mental deficiency and admitted to 1st NMFA and 13 Stationary Hospital. Transferred to England on but returned to France in November 1915 with the V Reinforcement.
Front line trenches ‘L’ to “M” from 12th to 16th June
Saturday 12th June 1915
On June 12th the 1/6th relieved the 1/5th Battalion and a detachment of SLI under instruction. “D” Company occupied K3 trench along with a detachment of 6/KOYLI.
As part of Alfred Afford’s duty as Lance Corporal he took 3 men and went on a listening patrol in no-mans-land, advancing to within 40 or 50 yards of the German trenches and the men were out in no mans land for 1½ hours.
Monday 14th June 1915
At 8.30 p.m. on June 14th the Germans blew a mine under J3 trench which was occupied by the 8th Battalion and 6/KOYLI.
“At about nine o’clock we had a furious encounter preceded by the exploding of two mines J3 and K1. Trench mortars were used but our artillery soon settled their job.”
Altogether three mines were blown in the Brigade sector that night but the subsequent attack was beaten back. The Germans attempted the same on the following night.
Tuesday 15th June 1915
“The Germans made a ferocious attack on us Tuesday night last, and they blew up a mine with a terrible explosion about _____ from the trench we were in . . . . . . it did not have the effect the Germans intended. The explosion went up just like a water spout. Then they started pounding us with artillery etc. We calmly waited for them to advance, but they never came. We wished they had – we would have given them hell. We came off very well, only getting one man killed and one of two wounded. I am sorry to tell you the one to get killed was poor old Jack Finney.”
[High Peak News, Saturday June 26th 1915]
“On Tuesday night, just as the light was fading, they started a nice pre-arranged programme. They had been fairly quit for several hours. We all stood too, keeping a strict look-out, when the earth seemed to heave and rock under us; to our right front a terrific explosion occurred. The ground was rent open, and flames, smoke, and debris leapt into the air. They had driven a sap and exploded a mine, but lucky for us, they were short by about 30 yards. This was the signal for a general attack all along their line, as immediately this went up their artillery opened an attack and rained shell and shrapnel about us, and from trench mortars they dispatched bombs. Our own artillery opened fire, and our shells went screaming over our heads and bursting in their lines, which were about 130 yards to our front. We all jumped into the firing boards and poured rapid fire into them, and for about an hour it was just as if the gates of hell had opened. They had evidently been reinforced and intended making a charge and capturing the trenches. They finished up with an attack of gas, but we used our respirators and suffered no ill-effect. We repulsed the attack and held our the position easily. They must have suffered heavily as next morning some of their dead hung on the wire entanglements.”
At this time 2006 Signaller Albert Wright was required to repair a telegraph wire whilst under heavy bombardment; he was to perform a similar feat 3 months later in the Ypres sector. For these acts of bravery Albert Wright was awarded the DCM on 14th January 1916.
- 2296 James Hart a shirt sorter from Chapel who was shot through the top of the head by a sniper.
- 241 William (Jack) Finney from Matlock Bath killed during stand to.
Both men are buried next to each other in Kemmel Château Military Cemetery and were the last men of the 1/6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters to be buried in the Kemmel sector.
Several men were also wounded or sick during the 5 day trench duty:-
- 1440 Pte. Ernest Turner a cotton worker from Wardlow and admitted to 1st NMFA with poisoning.
- 1970 Pte. Thomas Sheldon a quarryman from Bonsall and admitted to 1st NMFA with shrapnel wound in the knee.
- 2162 Pte. Thomas Marples a quarryman from Middleton was transferred to England on the 15th June.
- 2284 Pte. Joseph Ford a labourer from Chapel-en-le-Frith wounded but retuned to duty.
- 2325 Pte. Morgan Thomas from Chapel-en-le-Frith wounded but retuned to duty.
- 2336 Pte. Joseph Ward wounded but retuned to duty.
- 1752 Pte. Alan Richardson a labourer from Chinley and admitted to 3rd Northumberland FA with conjunctivitis.
During their time at Kemmel the 1/6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters had one Officer killed and a second wounded, thirty-seven NCOs and men killed and a further 116 wounded; some of them fatally.
In total the 139th Brigade from 4/5th April until 19th/20th June suffered the following casualties:-
- Officers killed 6
- Officers wounded 24
- Other ranks killed 122
- Other ranks wounded 499
Thirty-five of the men killed in action ‘in the field’ are buried within yards of each other in Kemmel Château Military Cemetery, whilst two men are buried in Locre Churchyard and close to the site of the 1st North Midland Field Ambulance.
Of the wounded men at least 6 died of their wounds and are either buried at the site of a CCS* or one of the Base Hospitals** close to the French coast. Three men were repatriated to a Hospital in England, but later died of their wounds and are buried in their local Parish Churchyards***.
*Locre and Bailleul **Boulogne and Le Touquet ***New Mills, Fernilee and Coghnoe
As the 1/6th Battalion with 139th Sherwood Foresters Brigade of the 46th North Midland Division prepared to move to a new sector of the front line it was a time of reflection for many men in the Battalion and in a letter to his mother John Steggles laments the loss of many comrades.
“My platoon has suffered about as much as any. Poor old No. 9, first one and then the other keep getting picked off, and we shall soon want reinforcements. Out of my section of 15, only 5 are left, and while I myself have come safely through up to now I have had some narrow shaves.”