Lance Corporal Walter Mason
15 February 1892 − 19 December 1917
Researched and written by David Mason and Chris Graddon
Walter Mason, the second child and eldest son of Thomas and Alice Mason, was born in Moor's Gorse, Rugeley, Staffordshire, on 15 February 1892. Walter came from a family of 5 children, one girl and four boys. His paternal grandparents, George and Ellen Mason, had 10 children - 6 boys and 4 girls - of whom Thomas was the seventh. Walter’s maternal grandparents John and Ann Cross had 7 children - 1 boy and 6 girls - of whom Alice was the youngest.
The 1901 census shows Walter living with his parents at 1 Suker's Lodge on the Beaudesert Estate, near Rugeley, Staffordshire with his elder sister Elsie and his younger brothers Harold and Albert. A third brother Herbert Thomas Mason was born about September but did not survive the year. Walter’s father, Thomas, was employed then as a gamekeeper on the Beaudesert estate.
Until 1919, when he reluctantly abandoned Beaudesert Hall and retired to the family home in Anglesey, Charles Henry Alexander Paget, the sixth Marquess of Anglesey, was a great supporter of what was to become Beaudesert Golf Club. He agreed, at a meeting on 30 September 1911, to "hills at the back of the church" being used as a site for the course, and he subsequently became the first President of the Club. The course, designed by Herbert Fowler, was intended for local golfers and was close to complete by the start of the First World War. One resident of Rawnsley recalled that when he was 14 he was collected in 1915/1916 from Cannock Wood Colliery – where he had just started work – and taken in an open-topped Rover to caddy at Beaudesert. In February 1920, the Marquess suggested that the members should submit a plan which would enable them to take over his golf course and this resulted in the Course being leased from the Anglesey estates for a period of 21 years, with an annual rent of £57 plus ten percent of any profits made by the club.
However, in August 1931, with eleven years of the lease still to run, the club members learned that a number of the Beaudesert estate properties were to be sold at auction, including the golf course and its buildings. The Club's Board of Management resolved that two of their members should attend the auction with a brief to bid no more than £2500. However the two representatives were allowed to exercise their discretion and rumour has it that they got a bit tipsy at lunchtime on the day of the auction at the George Hotel in Lichfield and, although no-one else was interested in the lot, the Beaudesert pair bid against one another and managed to boost the price to £4000! This was way beyond their limit but the Marquess - so the story goes - took pity and gave £2000 back to the Club.
The property purchased with the golf course included two cottages which were demolished in the 1960’s, when the modern detached houses known as Suker's Lodge 1 and 2 were built. These are owned by the club and at various times have been occupied by club staff.
Sadly, Walter's mother Alice died on 17 September 1901, most likely as a result of complications surrounding the birth of Walter's youngest brother Herbert Thomas Mason who died around the same time.
At the time of the 1911 census, Walter had reached the age of 19 but was still living at home at Suker's Lodge. Thomas Mason's family had grown considerably following his marriage to Flossie May Ada Amelia Perry at St Editha's Church, Tamworth, on 8 March 1902. By this time, Walter had acquired 2 step-brothers, 7-year old Percy and 5-year old Frederick, and 2 step-sisters Violet and Madge, aged 3 and 2 respectively.
Walter had found work with the London & North Western Railway. In 1911 he was working as a loco engine cleaner but by the time he joined up he was employed as a Goods Porter at Walsall Station.
The London & North Western Railway
Until 1923, the London & North Western was the largest railway in Britain. It was formed in 1846 by the merger of the Grand Junction Railway, the London and Birmingham Railway and the Manchester and Birmingham Railway, and in the years that followed the L&NWR built and took over a number of other railways.
The main line - now known as the West Coast Main Line - ran from London Euston to Carlisle where traffic for Glasgow, Edinburgh and Aberdeen was switched to its Scottish partner, the Caledonian Railway. Lines also ran to Holyhead where they connected by mail steamer to Dún Laoghaire or by L&NWR steamer to Dublin. Other routes led to Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds, to Peterborough, and to Merthyr Tydfil and Swansea in South Wales. Arrangements with other companies enabled the L&NWR to reach Bristol, Newcastle, Hull, Harwich and Brighton. The L&NWR company also built rolling stock at Crewe (locomotives), Earlestown (wagons) and Wolverton (carriages).
The LNWR carried a great deal of freight, coal from the North West, West Yorkshire and South Wales coal fields, and textiles, glass, metals and engineering products from the many industrial towns it served. The company's locomotives were painted "blackberry black" and its coaches had a distinctive livery of dark maroon (usually called "plum") lined in yellow with milky white upper panels.
After the First World War, Britain's railways were in need of a major overhaul at the same time as they were coming under competitive pressure from road transport. The government forced the rail companies to merge into four large groups from 1January 1923 - the London Midland & Scottish Railway (LMS, which included the L&NWR), the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER), the Great Western Railway (GWR) and the Southern Railway (SR). Nationalisation of the railways followed in 1948 but they were privatised again in 1993.
This memorial plaque used to be displayed at New Street Station in Birmingham. It records the names of London & North Western Railway workers who died in the Great War, including that of Walter Mason. This plaque was donated by Network Rail to the National Arboretum in Staffordshire.
This Roll of Honour poster was designed in June 1919 by the Irish-born artist and illustrator Henry (Harry) Furniss (1854-1925). It lists the names of the London & North Western railwaymen who died during the First World War.
At the start of the Great War, the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) comprised six infantry divisions and one cavalry division. Following an invasion scare in the British press, it was decided to send only the cavalry division and four of the six infantry divisions - the 1st, 2nd, 3rd and 5th Divisions - to the Western Front. That order was made on 9 August, just five days after war was declared on Germany (and three days before Britain declared war on Austria-Hungary). In addition to the threat of a German invasion, the British Government also had to deal with the uncertain situation in Ireland, so they opted to retain some troops on home soil.
Mobilisation of the BEF went smoothly - it was a small force by comparison with those of France and Germany - and all the men and equipment were moved across the English Channel as planned, advanced parties landing in France on 7 August 1914 and the majority of troops being transported between 12th and 17th August. They moved swiftly into position and had their first encounter with the enemy at the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914. The 4th Division, which had already mobilised in England, arrived in France slightly later in August, just in time to take part in the defensive stand made at Le Cateau on 26 August 1914. The 6th Division, the peacetime division of the pre-war army, had been quartered in Ireland and England at the outbreak of war. It was ordered to muster near Cambridge and was fully equipped and trained by early September. They landed at St Nazaire on 10 September and proceeded to the Western Front to join up with the other divisions of the BEF. Altogether some 120,000 highly trained members of the regular British Army formed the British Expeditionary Force under the command of Field Marshal John French.
The French Government's desire to score a quick victory led to the first major Franco-German action of the war. The French Army invaded Alsace on 7 August but, after some initial success, their offensive was met by German counter-attacks with machine-guns and heavy artillery. The French suffered heavy casualties between the 7th and 24th August, some 300,000 altogether, including 27,000 soldiers killed in a single day - the worst one-day death toll in the history of the French Army. As a result, the French fell back and prepared to defend Paris.
The first engagement between the British Expeditionary Force and the German Army occurred at the Battle of Mons on 23 August 1914 where the British army attempted to hold the line of the Mons-Condé Canal against the advancing German First Army. The massed rifle fire of the professional British soldiers inflicted disproportionate casualties on the numerically superior Germans who attacked en masse over terrain that was devoid of any cover. The British fought well and held up the German advance until the evening when they were forced to retreat because of the greater strength of the Germans and the sudden retreat of the French Fifth Army. The Battle of Le Cateau also held up the German advance and enabled the BEF to fight a tactical withdrawal from Mons that lasted two weeks. The Allied retreat ended at the River Marne where they were finally able to counterattack and make a stand to defend Paris. That First Battle of the Marne (5-10 September 1914) proved to be a major turning point in the war because it denied the Germans an early victory.
On 5 August 1914, Lord Kitchener was appointed British Secretary of State for War. Contrary to the popular belief that the war would be over by Christmas, Kitchener predicted a long and brutal war, one that would require millions of men on both sides, far more than were currently serving in the regular British army. To meet this challenge, he aimed to create a new force of well-trained and well-led divisions that would prove decisive - in the end - in the war against the Central Powers.
The New Army that was formed in the United Kingdom following the outbreak of hostilities was created on Lord Kitchener's recommendation. Kitchener's Army - often referred to, disparagingly, as Kitchener's Mob - was an all-volunteer army initially.
Kitchener chose not to use the existing Territorial Force as the foundation for his New Army. That had been set up by the former Secretary of State for War, Lord Haldane, through the Army reforms that took place in the Edwardian period between 1905 and 1912. It was Kitchener's opinion that the Territorial Force would be incapable of reinforcing the regular army in the early days of the war. It lacked modern equipment, artillery in particular, and many of the Territorials had signed up for "Home Service" only (for example, working in the coal mines) so were not available to serve abroad.
Kitchener's New Army was made up of five Army Groups, each Army Group being comprised of a number of divisions.
The men recruited into the New Army were formed into complete battalions in existing British Army regiments. The 9th (Service) Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps - which Walter Mason joined - was one of the new battalions. It was raised at Winchester on 21 August 1914 as part of Kitchener's First New Army (K1) and joined the 42nd Brigade, 14th (Light) Division.
Initially, all five of the army groups were made up of volunteer recruits, including the famous Pals' Battalions. So many men were enlisting in the early stages of the war that, in some places, there were queues up to a mile long outside recruitment offices. There were enormous problems equipping and providing shelter for all the new recruits but still almost two and a half million men volunteered for Kitchener's Army. By the beginning of 1916, with grim information reaching home about the true nature of the warfare, the queues had dwindled and Great Britain had to resort to conscription, like the other great powers involved in the war. Conscription also worked "in reverse", with skilled workers and craftsmen who had volunteered early in the war - expecting it to be over quickly - being drafted back, especially into the mines, agriculture and the munitions industry, where they were sorely needed.
Each Army Division was structured to consist of the following units:
Walter Mason joined the 9th (Service) Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps, although the exact date of his enlistment is not known. The first troops from that battalion had landed at Boulogne on 20 May 1915 but Walter did not arrive in France until 12 September 1915. This suggests that Walter was either a casualty replacement or had only recently completed his initial training.
The 9th (Service) Battalion, King's Royal Rifle Corps was raised at Winchester on 21 August 1914 and was first stationed at Blackdown Camp, Aldershot, before moving to Blenheim Barracks, Aldershot, where - according to the 9th Battalion War Records - "The majority of the officers were new to the business of soldiering, and possessed little more military knowledge than the men" who "learned squad and platoon drill, and the elements of discipline."
In November, they moved to Petworth for further training and on 22 January 1915 they marched through the snow to Hawkley, a village in East Hampshire where the whole of the 14th Division was drawn up for a mass inspection by Lord Kitchener and the French War Minister Alexandre Millerande. However, the state of the roads was so bad that the War Ministers were delayed and the soldiers were kept waiting for 5 hours in a blinding snowstorm. After the inspection the 9th Battalion marched the 5 miles back to Witley Camp where they'd spent the previous night. This camp gave them little protection as it was still under construction so their commanding officer took the decision to march straight back to Petworth after dinner - a further 16 miles - through snow that was by then 2 feet thick. It was the Battalion's first test of endurance and every single man made it back to Petworth by midnight. On 25 March 1915 the 9th Battalion moved back to Aldershot, where they practised on the rifle range at the Talavera Barracks. Brigade and Divisional training followed, with plenty of marching and digging, and by the end of this period the men "were eager to prove themselves - to show what they could do for their country and the honour of their regiment". They did not have long to wait.
The 9th Battalion was mobilised on 11 May 1915 and on 19 May the Battalion Transport left Aldershot en route for Southampton and Le Havre. Transport Officer Lieutenant Aubrey Wentworth Harrison Watson was one of the few officers who trained the Battalion in its infancy, stayed with them throughout the war and survived. Battalion Headquarters and A, B, C and D companies followed the next day, 20 May, and reached Boulogne at 2 a.m. after a calm crossing. They were marched up to Osterhove Camp and early the next morning they marched to Pont de Brique from where they travelled by train to Cassel. They arrived there at 7.30 a.m. on 22 May and were joined there by their transport giving the battalion a strength of 29 officers and 842 other ranks as they marched off to Zeggers Kappel where they spent 5 "very pleasant" days in billets. They made a 12 mile march on the 27 May to Terdeghem where they waited for 2 days that were never dull as "orders from Corps Commanders arrived every couple of hours, each fresh one cancelling its predecessor".
The Ypres Salient in Belgium was the scene of some of the biggest battles in the Great War. A salient - an outward bulge in an army's line of attack or defence - creates a region that projects into enemy-held territory and is surrounded on three sides, which makes the troops occupying or defending a salient particularly vulnerable. The Ypres Salient was formed in 1914 by British, French, Canadian and Belgian troops who were ordered to stem the German advance during the 1914 "Race to the Sea". This action, which culminated - in October and November 1914 - in the First Battle of Ypres, saved the Ypres Salient and the corner of Belgium around Veurne from German occupation, but the resulting stalemate also led to the beginning of trench warfare in the salient as both sides "dug in" around the front line. The area of the Ypres Salient is mostly flat, with few rises or hills. Those that did exist became the focus in 1915 for the Second Battle of Ypres.
On 30 May 1915, the 9th Battalion marched to Canada Huts at Dickebush, and then the following day moved on to a point on the Yser Canal, a mile and a half south-west of Ypres. "Who among those present will ever forget that first night under artillery range of the enemy's guns? Platoons marched off at 100 paces distance. Progress was slow, as it was still far too light to let the enemy's aircraft see where we were going. How we strained our necks, watching our own planes dodging the Huns' anti-aircraft heels! The Oh's that went up from the men when a shell appeared to burst right on the plane, and the cheers when our pilot was seen to emerge safe and sound from behind the white puffs of smoke. It was a lovely summer evening, and the bursts of countless shells showed up like powder puffs against a blue sky. As the light fell, our aeroplanes came back over our heads to their resting places in the rear. Then we moved on. No smoking and no talking now."
The first allotted task was the digging of a new trench. "We did not spend eight months' training in digging for nothing". But "compared to the Petworth clays, it was as easy to dig in this soil as to fall off a log. Ypres - poor old Ypres, we had all heard so much about. There it was barely one and a half miles away on our left rear, a mass of flames (the Hun had been shelling it all day). The boom of the enemy's guns in front, our own replying thereto; the screech of the shells as they passed, and the roar as they burst; the ground all around pitted with shell holes, and in the midst of it all the dim figures of the men, just discernable, digging away as if they enjoyed it. At 1 a.m. down tools! as we had to be well on our way back before daybreak. We did this for three consecutive nights and suffered no casualties. The King's Shropshire Light Infantry which was sharing Canada Huts with us, was no so fortunate. They were digging on our right, and suffered several casualties."
By 6 June, the Germans were said to be massing before Ypres. A day or so later, in their first experience of trench work at St Éloi, the 9th Battalion's C and D companies lost 2 officers seriously injured and 1 rifleman who died later of his wounds. "These trenches were very bad (breastworks only), and the stench in them was awful. They had originally been thrown up by the French in that running fight or race for the shores of the North Sea, and many dead Frenchmen were buried in the parapet and parados". The parapet at the front of the trench was lined with sandbags to shield the soldiers' heads and shoulders from sniper fire; to safeguard the men against fire from the rear, the parados at the rear of the trench were also covered with sandbags. The sandbags didn't protect the parapet and parados from artillery shell fire but they did provide some cover from the back-blast of high explosives detonating behind the line. "I believe it is absolutely impossible to imagine, and nearly as difficult to describe, what trench life is really like. I have heard it described as blood, mud, noise and stench, and that cryptic phrase certainly sums it up, but hardly describes it. To explain it to those who have never experienced the life, if you multiply all the greatest discomforts you can imagine a hundred-fold, all the vile smells and noises you can think of a thousand-fold, only then will you begin to realise what it was all like. Death is there, too, always, in every yard of a trench, at any and every minute of the day or night."
On 11 June 1915, the 9th Battalion received orders to rejoin the 42nd Brigade under the 14th (Light) Division. They marched to Vlamertinghe, four miles west of Ypres, which was shelled that night and lost its church spire. For the 9th Battalion, a day spent frantically constructing dug-outs was followed by a second night of shelling, with high explosive shells aimed - this time - at the railway line a quarter of a mile to the left of the Battalion. At 9.45 on the night of 15 June, the Battalion marched out on to the Ypres road, round the outskirts of Ypres to the railway embankment just north of the Lille Gate. "Our first view of Ypres at close quarters! We were destined to know every yard of that road, and Ypres itself, before we left the salient seven months later."
At 3 a.m. the British guns - two batteries of which were close to the 9th Battalion's dug-outs - opened fire and the bombardment went on for 6 hours. "The Germans did not reply until 8 a.m. and then they let us have it. It was a weird and wonderful sight to see their shells, which had passed over our heads, burst on the ramparts of Ypres one hundred or so yards behind us. Hell Corner, as it is known, came in for a particularly hot time. Wounded men and German prisoners were now coming past our dug-outs in steady streams on their way to the advance dressing stations near the Lille Gate. We heard that our attack was succeeding, and that we had already captured two lines of trenches in the direction of Hooge." At 11 a.m. the 42nd Infantry Brigade was ordered to move up in support; the 5th Battalion of the Shropshire Light Infantry led the way followed by the 9th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Regiment.
The Ypres salient had seen heavy losses from October 1914 onwards. For the British Army, the main easterly access to it was via the twelve mile long Menin Road. The Ypres-Roulers railway crossed that road about a mile outside Ypres. This intersection, which was under constant observation by the opposition spotters, provided a perfect target for the German gunners and became a place where troops, artillery and supply trains felt particularly vulnerable. The Tommies quickly nicknamed the spot Hellfire Corner and troops crossed the site only at a full run, horses at a gallop and lorries with the accelerator pushed to the floor.
For over six weeks, the 14th Light Division held the hotly-contested trenches of the Ypres Salient east of the Yser River, suffering heavy shell-fire every day. The average casualty rate for the British and Commonwealth forces was then around 300 per day. A German strongpoint in the grounds of Hooge Château was proving particularly troublesome and the Germans hoped to strengthen that position by taking the chateau and its stables which were being stoutly defended by the British. Trench warfare - which had become the routine way of life in the military stalemate - allowed both sides to bring older siege methods into play. The 175th Tunnelling Company of the Royal Engineers was brought in to dig a tunnel 60 metres long and at 7 p.m. on 19 July 1915 an enormous mine was detonated under the enemy position, creating a hole roughly 6 metres deep and 40 metres wide. Two companies of the 4th Middlesex Regiment immediately occupied about 100 yards of the trenches on either side of the hole at the apex of the salient. The Germans tried to recover their lost position but were beaten back by the infantry and heavy artillery.
The following day, the 41st Brigade was ordered to move up and take over the defence of the Hooge sector. No sooner had they done so than a terrific German bombardment began, serving a warning of the desperate counterattack that was to follow.
Although closely hemmed in by German trenches, the position that had been seized at Hooge gave the British men a tactical position from which they could attack the German front line on three sides. It was obvious, therefore, that the re-capture of the salient was of huge importance to the Germans. The 8th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and the 7th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade were allotted to the first line whilst the 7th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps and the 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade were held in reserve.
The Germans' uninterrupted bombardment by shell and mortar fire resulted in the systematic destruction of the trenches. “Day by day and night by night, they shelled the front trenches, the support trenches and the communication trenches. Gradually they blew them down faster than we could repair them; whole sections of men at a time were blown to pieces, and there was no cover to withdraw the men to. We were shelled from the front, from the flank, and from the rear. At the end of a week there were hardly any trenches left, and the two battalions in first line, without sleep, and worn with constant watching by day and night, sorely needed a rest.” That need was met when the night of 29-30 July was set for the men in the first line to be relieved by the two battalions in reserve.
It was 3.15 a.m. on the morning of 30 July, and the battalions had just exchanged places, when, without any warning, jets of flame - a torrent of fire - shot across from the German side to the trenches that the British had captured ten days before and which were now occupied by the 41st Brigade. This was accompanied by a shell and mortar (minenwerfer) attack on the support trenches; the ramparts of Ypres and the exits from the town were also shelled. This was the first time in warfare that liquid fire flamethrowers (flammenwerfer) were used by the German Army against the British. The Germans achieved complete surprise and there was intense hand to hand fighting in some of the trenches. The German trenches were not more than twenty yards away at that point. One soldier, who was in the trench at the time but just clear of the liquid fire, said that after the flame had died down and the bombardment - which lasted only two or three minutes - had ended, he saw the Germans charging out of their trench so he ran down his trench trying to find a way out. "He found not a man alive; all whom he saw, who were not buried by the shells, were lying dead.”
The Germans now aimed their fire at Sanctuary Woods where the Reserve Companies were and, although they were beaten off on two sides, the Germans soon poured into the front trench; from there they proceeded to take the rest of the sector bit by bit. The news quickly reached Brigade Headquarters and the artillery were called up by the Brigadier; orders were also despatched to the two Battalions that had just been relieved to return at once and reinforce their comrades.
Meanwhile, the Germans had got into the support trenches in overwhelming numbers and were digging themselves in, rushing up a number of machine guns. The British bombers (using Mills bombs) held on to the communication trenches leading into Zouave Wood, fighting a desperate fight just south of the Menin Road. Soon after 5 a.m. the German artillery supported their attack with a curtain of shell fire designed to prevent the reinforcements arriving but losses were avoided as the two Reserve Battalions pushed forward via a route away from the usual line.
Faced with concentrated artillery and machine-gun fire, and overwhelming enemy numbers, the position became untenable forcing the remainder of the Battalion to fall back on the outskirts of Sanctuary and Zouave Woods connecting up with the Menin Road.
Reinforced by the two Battalions who - without food, water or sleep - had been rushed back up from their short and hurried rest, the whole 41st Brigade was assembled at last and managed to hold their ground.
The commanding Brigadier-General, who was early on the scene, quickly grasped that a counter-attack was impracticable. He requested a complete division as reinforcement, plus a lengthy bombardment by artillery superior to those of the enemy, so that his jaded and exhausted troops could recover and regroup. Regardless, at 11.30 a.m. orders were issued for a counterattack by the 41st and 42nd Brigades. To support this, one Battalion from the Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry was sent as reinforcement and a new line was formed; from the 42nd Brigade, the support of the 9th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps was also promised along the Menin Road. A bombardment by the Artillery Corps was also arranged, to begin at 2 p.m. and end at 2.45, when the counter-attack would begin. Two battalions were directed to attack from Sanctuary and Zouave Woods, the 7th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps on the right, with the 8th Battalion in reserve, and the 8th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade on the left, with the 7th Battalion in reserve.
All the senior officers were experienced in war and they fully understood that the counter-attack was a desperate move. However, once the necessary dispositions had been made, both the officers and riflemen lay waiting for the conclusion of the bombardment, ready to do their duty. The order had been received: theirs not to reason why, theirs but to do and die. “We were in for a real attack,” wrote one officer, “in which I honestly felt there was no chance of success, knowing the ground, and having had six weeks’ experience of the German fire. There was not an officer or man who did not realize the situation and did not count the cost.”
However, the Allied bombardment was ineffective, so much so, wrote one officer eye witness, “that the Germans opened a heavy machine-gun fire from our recently held supporting trenches before the bombardment was at an end". Despite this, the counter-attack was launched at the appointed hour, 2.45 p.m. “The attack moved forward. The men behaved very well, and the officers with a gallantry no words can adequately describe. As they came out of the woods the German machine-gun and shell fire met them, and literally swept them away line after line. The men struggled forward, only to fall in heaps along the edge of the woods.”
A rifleman described the scene: "under an unholy bombardment from every kind of gun, fired from every side into our salient, rush our splendid riflemen! It certainly seemed a case of good-bye to this world! I only felt a kind of regret that it was not a show likely to succeed! But I kept such thoughts to myself! I will say this, we did keep smiling. We went at it - officers and all. But the odds were too great, and our forty five minutes’ bombardment had done nothing to save us."
“Led by their officers, each successive line swept forward,” wrote the leader of the Brigade, “and the last wave of men rolled forward from the woods with determined courage. The men literally fell in swathes, and headway was impracticable. First came a message from the left that one Company only still remained. Shortly after, about 3.30 p.m., the senior officer on the right reported that further progress was impossible. It was clear that the attack had been pressed home with a splendid gallantry and to its furthest limit, but that success was impracticable.” The Brigadier judged correctly that pressing the attack further would result in the sacrifice of his whole Brigade; he considered that eventuality unjustifiable so directed his commanding officers to “incur no further avoidable losses, and to hold the edge of the woods till dark.” When they rallied at Sanctuary and Zouave Woods, it was found that a bare remnant of 720 of all ranks could be mustered from the four thousand men of the Brigade.
The 9th Battalion of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, under Lieutenant Colonel Charles Slingsby Chaplin, had been directed to support the counter-attack carried out by the 41st Brigade. They had been in reserve near Ypres and, having received their instructions, arrived at the assembly point on the Menin Road before the bombardment began. Chaplin issued detailed orders that at 2.45 p.m. B and D Companies were to advance towards Hooge on either side of Menin Road; B Company on the right was ordered to seize a trench to the south, and D Company to seize a trench to the north of the main road; it was believed that both trenches had been occupied by the enemy following their successful flammenwerfer attack on the 41st Brigade in the early hours before dawn. The remaining two Companies, A and C, were to follow B and D Companies in support. The Battalion was close to but not in touch with the 41st Brigade, so Chaplin did not act under the orders of the 41st's Brigadier.
Fresh from being recently held in reserve, the men of the 9th Battalion were in splendid fighting condition and, inspired by devotion to their Colonel, in whom they had implicit confidence, were eager for the fray. The advance began precisely on time, at 2.45 p.m., and, some two hundred yards from their objective, the men passed the front trench firing line held by the 9th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade. There had been good cover up to this point as the advance had been through fairly good communication trenches so the losses thus far were small. Lieutenant Colonel Chaplin went with the third line in the leading B Company, where he felt he would be in a better position to direct his men. After clearing the front line trenches, Chaplin gave orders for the bombers and the furthest forward lines of B Company to rush the main trench adjacent to the Menin Road; they swept away the enemy who had been holding it and established themselves at its eastern end. D Company followed next in support of B Company, and made good the western end of the enemy’s trench.
The main task had thus been achieved! In this gallant assault the leading men faced sustained flanking fire from Hooge village. A gallant young officer (2nd Lieutenant William Purdon Geen - a Welsh International Rugby Player) desperately charged the enemy position with a few men but was never seen again, one of 350 from B Company 9th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps who were killed on that day.
Whilst directing his men to make good their success, Colonel Chaplin came under machine-gun fire and was killed instantaneously by a shot through the head. Captain Richard Selby Durnford, commanding D Company, and Captain Andrew Alexander Truman Tanqueray of B Company were also killed at about the same time.
With D Company supporting B Company, in accordance with Chaplin’s latest orders, the two supporting Companies, C and A, were directed to seize the trench south of the Menin Road and found that it had not been occupied by the enemy. The officer commanding C Company thought he saw an opportunity to relieve the exposed flank of the leading B and D Companies, and called upon his men to charge “but few got beyond a point fifty yards from the trench, where many officers and men were shot down by machine-gun and rifle fire coming from Hooge and the neighbouring enemy trenches.” Had this bold move succeeded, this gallant effort could have relieved the pressure not only on B and D Companies but also on the left flank of the 41st Brigade where the 8th Battalion Rifle Brigade were losing heavily.
Last to arrive was A Company and - despite encountering murderous fire - they showed enormous gallantry in trying to carry back their injured comrades from the open ground where they were lying wounded. Captain Noel Jardine Exell of A Company gallantly brought back the badly wounded Captain Young of C Company; he then went to the aid of a private, was severely injured in the act and died of his wounds the following day. Captain Christie arriving about this time with the remainder of A Company, took over command, consolidated the defence of the trench and linked up with the left wing of the 41st Brigade.
At 2.20 a.m. on the morning of 31 July, the enemy renewed their attack on Zouave Wood, preceded by further bursts of liquid fire. This was followed by very heavy shelling of the wood and terrific rifle fire all along the German front line. This heavy fire was maintained without any cessation until daylight when the firing died down. The 41st Brigade hung on to the edges of the woods throughout that day, 31July, regularly losing officers and men, until they were withdrawn, finally, late in the afternoon.
In the fighting of 30 and 31 July, the 41st Brigade lost 53 of its officers and 1400 men. Altogether, the 9th Battalion's ordeal had lasted for six weeks and, in the month of July 1915 alone, they had lost 13 of officers - 6 killed, 5 wounded and 2 missing - and of other ranks had lost 49 killed, 236 wounded and 37 missing.
On 2 August fresh troops were brought up to recover the ground that the 41st Brigade had lost. A veteran Division, comprising three seasoned brigades, was ordered to retake the trenches in question, which they did effectively but at a cost. “The German trenches were bombarded for a week and on the morning of 9 August it culminated in an intense bombardment by the largest portion of the artillery of the Second Army, assisted by the French artillery. The Division then walked into the trenches we had lost, and even into some trenches west of our former line. The Germans had either retired or been blown to pieces, but as soon as our troops were in the trenches the enemy turned their artillery and minenwerfer on to them, and forced them temporarily to retire, with a loss of 1600 men.”
The 41st Brigade Commander Oliver Stewart Wood Nugent wrote later that "The curse of the salient had been heavy, our losses great. Officers of a class we shall never be able to replace. Heroes in battle, they led their men with the most sublime courage, knowing, as I am certain they did, that they were going to certain death." He added "There is nothing but praise for the conduct of the young Battalions of the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and the Rifle Brigade; they have acquitted themselves worthily of the best traditions of the two great regiments to which the belong.”
The 9th Battalion rested and refitted from 5 August to 20 August. They were joined by new officers and began a period of "normal" trench life, in and out of various sectors of the Ypres salient until 25 September. During this period they lost 8 men killed and 15 wounded..
It was during this period that Walter Mason was posted to France. His medal card shows that he reached that theatre of war on 12 September 1915. This suggests that he may have been one of the casualty replacements sent to restore the battalion's fighting strength and that he may have only recently completed his army training. However, it was not to be long before he saw action.
The 9th Battalion moved out of the rest area to take part in the Second Attack on Bellewarde Farm, north of Hooge. They went into the trenches on the evening of Friday 24 September and spent a quiet but very uncomfortable night lying at the bottom of an assembly trench.
The British bombardment started at 3.50 a.m. and lasted 30 minutes. The Germans, who were anticipating the attack, responded in kind. At 4.19 a.m. a Battalion-built mine was exploded under a German redoubt 50 yards from the Battalion's trenches but the artillery bombardment made such a noise that the explosion itself could not be heard; nevertheless, the ground shook very violently and a crater 30 feet deep and 30 yards across was created. The explosion of the mine was the signal for the 9th Rifle Brigade to lead the charge. They found the German front line abandoned, except for look-out men, so advanced to the enemy's second line which was lightly defended; they took this and prepared to defend it while some of their bombers advanced on the German third line. The 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. were waiting meanwhile under heavy shell fire for orders to advance and give support to the 9th Rifle Brigade.
At about 7 a.m. Lieutenant Charles Robin Hollway received an order from Battalion Headquarters to take a patrol of 4 men and make contact with the regiment on the right of the 9th Battalion. Telephone communications had broken down with them, and their position was unclear, but they were intended to make a simultaneous advance. Hollway set off but found it hard making his way through the trenches, which he knew well, as they were blown to bits beyond all recognition and already getting blocked with the wounded. After half an hour he reached the dug-out of the regiment's commanding officer and was ordered to take details of their position to Battalion Headquarters. On his way back, he met two companies of the 9th Battalion advancing to support the 9th Rifle Brigade which had abandoned the German second line. The 9th Rifle Brigade had lost all but one of their officers and so were unable to organise their own defence. They had also lost 20 bombers in five minutes in one dangerous spot and poor communications meant that they were unable to call up fresh bombers and bombs in time to stem a German counter-attack that included a large number of bombers concealed in dug-outs and gaps in the communication trenches. Meanwhile, the regiment visited by Hollway met with stubborn resistance and failed in their advance, leaving a gap for the Germans to exploit.
Hollway's company had been expecting to advance to, and hold, the crater created by the earlier mine; once there, they were to guard the left flank of the 9th Rifle Brigade as it strived to hold back the German front line. Having delivered his message to Battalion Headquarters, Lieutenant Hollway went to rejoin his company at the crater but was met on the way, at about 7.45 a.m., by a messenger saying that the British shells were dropping short and were landing in the crater. When he got there, "the crater itself was an awful sight. There were more dead and wounded than living men. There was one machine gun in position." Almost immediately, "one of our own shells burst right in the middle of the crater, blowing several men to bits, a sickening sight". Hollway gave the order to evacuate the crater and to take up positions beside it. Before he left, he saw two more shells burst in the same place. "As each cloud of earth lifted, one saw men - who had been sitting there alive just before - toppled over, with shattered skulls and limbs, and blood pouring from them." They managed to get the machine gun away although the sergeant in charge of it wanted to stay at his post despite Hollway's evacuation order. "The place was an absolute death trap". When he got out of the crater, Hollway found the rest of his company - now about 40 men - on the left of the crater, entrenching with the company commander, Captain John Christie.
Christie and Hollway took 2 bombers and went for a reconnaissance up a German communication trench where they encountered a German scout who ran away. At 10 a.m. the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. was relieved by the 6th Battalion Somerset and Durham Regiment. Captain Christie saved the life of a wounded officer by carrying him all the way back to the British trenches but the wounded man Hollway was carrying died from a sniper's bullet through the neck. The 9th Battalion spent the rest of the day under shell fire in support trenches and, when relieved that night, were shelled all the way back for 3 miles. "So far this was the worst fight we have taken part in. The sights we saw tried the stoutest nerves". It cost the lives of 5 officers, with 3 more wounded, plus of other ranks, 33 killed, 188 wounded and 29 missing.
In the list of honours that followed, Captain John Christie and three others were awarded the Military Cross. John Christie was educated at Eton College and Trinity College, Cambridge, and he then spent seven years as a teacher at Eton. He served in the trenches with the King's Royal Rifle Corps despite suffering from partial blindness. John Christie married the opera singer Audrey Mildmay in 1931 and in 1934 they founded the Glyndebourne Opera House and the Glyndebourne Festival Opera at his home at Glyndebourne near Lewes in Sussex.
On 27 September 1915 the 9th Battalion moved back to the rest area and reorganised. On 28 September they were inspected by the 5th Corps commander, Field Marshal Viscount Allenby, and then on 29 September were inspected by the 6th Corps commander, Lieutenant General Sir John Lindesay Keir. Both commanders congratulated the men on the way they had conducted themselves during the 25 September attack.
Trench life resumed for the 9th Battalion and carried on all through October 1915 with the loss of 3 officers killed and 1 wounded, while for other ranks 3 were killed and 34 wounded. On 22 October they were taken by train from Ypres to Poperinghe some 7 miles to the east, and then just over the border from Belgium into France to the Houtkerque Training Area, another 6 miles, where they stayed until 1 November. Here they were bolstered by the arrival of new troops. The month of November 1915 saw the 9th Battalion replacing and being replaced by the 9th Rifle Brigade at Kaaie in the northern sector of the Ypres salient.
Early in December the 9th Battalion was withdrawn to Houtkerque expecting to move to Egypt but that move was cancelled on Christmas Day because information was received that the Germans were again concentrating their forces at Ypres. All ranks were hugely disappointed by this news as they had anticipated and hoped that they would say goodbye to the Ypres Salient forever. Casualties for December 1915 were slightly lower, only 1 officer wounded and, of other ranks, 3 killed and 11 wounded.
January 1916, and the early part of February, followed much the same pattern as December 1915. Then, on 21 February - after seven months of hard work, not to mention the continuous strain of living and surviving in the Ypres Salient - the 9th Battalion left by train for St Leger les Domart, some 80 to 90 miles south west of Ypres, and from there they made 3 route marches totalling 25 miles to Sombrin. From here they did turn and turn about duties throughout March 1916 in the trenches south-east of Arras with the 9th Rifle Brigade. The casualties continued, 3 officers wounded and, of other ranks, 14 killed and 27 wounded.
The 9th Battalion's War Diary reports that April 1916 was uneventful! In May and June they continued to carry out their work as before, occupying front line trenches and supplying working parties, and every now and again they were able to go back and rest at the billets near Arras. About this time an enemy patrol of one officer and four men was spotted inspecting the British barbed wire. Flares were sent up and the team with the Lewis gun opened fire, killing the officer and 2 men and wounding another; the fourth unwounded German leapt for safety into the British trench and was captured. The 9th Battalion's casualties for this two month period were 1 officer wounded and, of other ranks, 19 were killed, 5 died of wounds, 49 were wounded and 1 missing.
On 27 July 1916, the 9th Battalion left the trenches in the Arras sector and by 1 August had travelled 30 miles south west to Fienvillers on their way to the Battle of the Somme. The village of Fienvillers was an important base for the Royal Flying Corps and all day long "the air vibrated with the throb of aeroplane engines". The Battalion stayed at Fienvillers until 7 August, carrying out a programme of training and exercise, trying to shed the effects of all those months spent in the Ypres trenches. The weather was glorious and there was an open air swimming bath at Candas, two miles away, which troop parties visited daily. Nevertheless, there was no escaping the sound of the battle raging close by.
On 7 August, the Brigade left by rail for Buire-sur-L'Ancre which they reached on the morning of 8 August after a short march from Maricourt. There, they continued to train, attack formations especially. On 11 August there was a serious accident when a rifle grenade exploded on discharge, killing two men and wounding another six. On 12 August the 9th Battalion marched via Dernancourt and Meaulte to bivouacs that overlooked the formidable line of German defences and the ruin that had once been Fricourt. The British had seen early success at the start of the Somme offensive, capturing Mametz on 1 July 1916 and taking Fricourt the following day.
The 9th Battalion were surrounded by guns of every calibre and 17 British Observation Balloons floated close by overhead; one of these broke its cable, and the occupants were forced to descend in a parachute. At night the battle line was lit up with flares and coloured lights.
On 14 August, a showery and gusty day, the 9th Battalion provided a party of 100 men to load ammunition at a dump at Meaulte, and that night another 150 were detailed to dig a communication trench behind Delville Wood.
On the afternoon of 18 August the 43rd and 41st Brigades attacked from Delville Wood, capturing 279 prisoners and some machine guns. This line was then pushed east of Delville Wood towards Ginchy. At 6 p.m. the next day, 19 August, the 9th Battalion marched to Montauban, passing through the ruins of Mametz, and occupied the reserve trench, Montauban Alley, just north of Montauban. That night, the 9th Rifle Brigade went into the front line trenches east of Delville Wood. On 20 August, officers reconnoitred the approaches to Delville Wood and then, in the evening, some 32 aeroplanes - mainly British - were locked in aerial combat overhead.
Delville Wood lay just to the east of the village of Longueval. About a mile further to the east lay the small village of Ginchy which was held by the enemy. South-east of Longueval was the somewhat larger village of Guillemont that was then being fought over. High Wood, north-west of Longueval had already been the scene of many fierce actions and possession of it was still unclear.
Delville Wood had been the scene of fierce fighting since 14 July. By 20 August, the British held a line running through the wood whilst the enemy held a line inside and parallel to the north and north-east edge. The ground was pitted everywhere with shell holes and was strewn with shattered trees and branches. The village of Longueval was now little more than dust and craters, and both Longueval and Delville Wood were littered with the remains of dead bodies and discarded munitions.
On the night of 21 August the 9th Battalion relieved the 8th Rifle Brigade in Delville Wood. When they went into those trenches the 9th Battalion comprised 19 officers and 640 other ranks. 22 August was fairly quiet but that evening patrols established that the enemy trenches and fortifications were still occupied. On 23 August, the 9th Battalion received preliminary orders that they were to attack the following day in conjunction with French forces and other British corps.
The day of 24 August passed fairly quietly apart from a rather heavy German bombardment of Delville Wood. At 3.45 p.m. the bombardment of the British heavy artillery started, with the Germans replying. At 5.45 p.m. the 9th Battalion's C and D Companies advanced to the attack, and at the same time A Company moved from the support trench, Devil's Help, and re-formed in Devil's Trench, ready to advance. The distance from Devil's Trench to the first objective varied from 250 to 300 yards but the ground, which was pitted with innumerable shell holes and obstructed by the debris of shattered trees, compelled a slow advance. As soon as the barrage lifted, the troops leading the assault began climbing over the parapet and immediately encountered the enemy's intense artillery fire. Machine gun and rifle fire opened up on them causing a number of casualties including Captain Harold Stedman Richmond, the officer commanding D Company, who was killed almost as soon as the assault commenced. The remaining men rallied, led on by their N.C.O.'s.
From C Company, 2nd Lieutenant Charles Farran was killed at the start of the assault, and Captain Maxwell Mallalue was killed as he neared the enemy's trench. On the right of Edge Trench, the enemy's barbed wire remained intact and formed a considerable obstacle that prevented the remains of C Company from gaining access to the trench. The C and D Company Lewis Guns were brought into action close to the German trench and had some impact on the enemy until their teams were killed. Sergeant Alfred Clifford Hamp of D Company and Corporal Leonard Ord of C Company, who were in charge of the Lewis Gun Teams, met their deaths with unflinching courage as they exposed themselves fearlessly to heavy fire close to the enemy's trench.
Forming the third wave of the assault, and maintaining its formation, A company advanced at 5.45 p.m. from Devil's Help. On the right of the 9th Battalion, the attack from Hop Alley by the 8th Battalion K.R.R.C. was making no headway so a party of bombers was ordered to advance towards the junction of "Ale" Alley and "Hop" Alley, which they found being held by just two men of the 8th Battalion K.R.R.C. Ordered to hold this point at all costs, the party fashioned a barricade from which they began bombing the enemy, and they held on there until they were relieved the following morning. 2nd Lieutenant Havilland Le Mesurier, who was advancing with A Company, clambered over the barricade but was killed immediately and the two bombers with him were wounded.
This was only a relatively early stage in the battle, yet every officer in the 9th Battalion's assault companies had either been killed or become a casualty. B Company was being held in reserve but a little while later, at 7 p.m., their commanding officer Captain Reginald Samuel Daw was mortally wounded; he died the following day.
The attack was now stalled, held up by barbed wire and machine-gun and rifle fire - particularly from an enemy strong point in Edge Trench which - it was discovered later - had not been seriously damaged by British shell fire. Nevertheless, some men from A Company managed to enter the enemy trench where they took a number of prisoners and found a substantial number of German dead.
One company from the 9th Battalion Rifle Brigade was ordered to go in and add reinforcement and, at 2 a.m. the next morning (25 August), bombing attacks were carried out by the 9th Battalion Rifle Brigade and the 9th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps after which the enemy's trench was found to be almost entirely evacuated. This meant that the objective of clearing Delville Wood had been achieved. Admittedly, one small enemy position remained but 160 prisoners had been captured, including 9 officers, as well as some machine guns. Once more the gallant 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. had carried out their orders; they had enhanced their good name and brought honour to their regiment. However, the cost to the 9th Battalion in the blood shed by those brave riflemen was a heavy one. They suffered severe losses during this operation with 5 officers killed, 1 missing (believed killed) and 6 others wounded, while for other ranks 41 were killed, 190 were wounded and 46 were missing.
On 25 August, the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. received this telegram from the Brigade: "The Army Commander congratulates you on your success yesterday, and wishes you to convey to all ranks his appreciation of their gallant work. The Brigadier wishes me to say that his confidence in the fine fighting qualities of the Brigade has been more than justified, and to convey his congratulations to all ranks on their success of yesterday."
The 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. were relieved from front line duty after the assault and the beginning of September found them enjoying a well-earned rest 50 or so miles away in the picturesque village Saint-Maulvis. There, in pleasant surroundings and away from the sound of guns, the Battalion reorganised after the heavy losses it had suffered in the intense fighting around Delville Wood. The companies of the 9th Battalion were kept busy until 11 September 2016 with physical exercises before breakfast, drill every morning and N.C.O. training in the afternoon. The 9th Battalion's depleted numbers were boosted by the arrival of 200 additional men on 2 September, many from the 5th and 6th Battalions K.R.R.C, including a number of old soldiers, and on 6 September another 103 men arrived. During their time at Saint-Maulvis, parties of troops, N.C.O.s and officers were allowed to take 48 hours leave at Ault, Le Treport and other holiday resorts on the coast of the English Channel about 25 miles away. On 8 September, Lieutenant Colonel Eric William Benson returned from hospital and took over the command of the Battalion.
11 September saw the 9th Battalion on the move again, marching 7 miles to Airraines where they boarded trains for Maricourt. From there they marched to Dernancourt and, after camping overnight in a field, moved on nearer to the firing line to the south of Bécordel-Bécourt. Four new officers had joined the Battalion by this stage and on 14 September operational orders were issued for the big attack that was being co-ordinated with the French for the following day. In the evening of 14 September, the 9th Battalion moved up to Pommiers Redoubt.
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette, which lasted from 15th to 22nd September 1916, saw tanks employed for the first time in history. These primitive tanks came from C Company and D Company of the Machine Gun Corps. The project to develop a "land battleship" - an armoured vehicle that would break the deadlock of trench warfare - had begun in earnest in January 1915 and the first prototype of the Mark I tank rolled out in January 1916. General Douglas Haig, the commander of Allied forces at the Somme, wanted to launch the first mass tank attack on the opening day of the Battle of the Somme but the tanks were not ready for 1 July. The tanks were finally delivered two and a half months later, as the action at Flers-Courcelette was being planned, so Haig was able to incorporate them into his battle plans. The tanks were rhomboidal in shape and armed with 6-pounder guns and machine guns. Some carried a wire frame on the roof that was designed to deflect grenades. These early tanks suffered numerous mechanical failings. They were manned by crews that had received little operational training and they did not cope easily with the ravaged terrain of the Somme battlefield. Nevertheless, at least initially, the tanks did have a devastating effect upon the morale of German troops on the ground. However, their effect was limited, there were so few of them and those few were inherently unreliable, which led the German High Command to believe the tanks could be defeated.
It was planned to use 49 Mark I tanks in the attack but, as they moved into position on 11 September, only 32 made it to the front line and, of those, 7 failed to start on the morning of the offensive. Ultimately, 9 tanks made it through no-man's land to the enemy positions, the rest either broke down, got stuck or were destroyed. Whilst some of these Mark I tanks advanced over a mile into enemy territory, they were unable to hold their positions during the German counterattack. However, General Haig saw the promise inherent in this new instrument of war and ordered the War Department to produce hundreds more.
After two and a half months of struggle on the Somme, General Haig believed that the British were close, at last, to breaking through the German defences. The offensive at Flers-Courcelette was the first full scale British offensive since the first day of the Battle of the Somme and the 7th, 8th and 9th Battalions K.R.R.C. were all engaged. The sight of 24 armoured tanks passing them on the front line greatly improved the men's morale and the tanks proved to be invaluable in destroying machine-gun nests.
With the exception of the 14th Division, the troops used in this attack were fresh, having not been used on the Somme before. They were considered to be the pick of the British Army so the 14th Division considered it something of an honour that they had been selected to take part.
The attack was preceded by a massive artillery bombardment; it lasted for 3 days and increased steadily in intensity as the start of the assault approached. However, the tanks were so slow that they needed to advance ahead of the infantry and this meant that corridors had to be left in the artillery barrage for the tanks to advance in. So, in some places, key German strong points - designated targets for the tanks - escaped the barrage.
The 14th Division formed up for the attack with the 41st Division on their left and the Guards Division on their right. At 4.30 a.m. the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. moved from Pommiers Redoubt to Montauban Alley and, after advancing for a further 2 hours, formed up behind the 9th Battalion Rifle Brigade. On their right they had the 5th Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry and their objective was to gain ground north-east of Gird Support and then to dig in. Goat Trench, Gird Trench and Gird Support were primary trench-lines that guarded the town of Gueudecourt.
The 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. advanced in 4 lines, roughly 100 yards apart, with the 2 Vickers machine guns, 2 Stokes mortars and Battalion Headquarters in the front line. At 7.15 a.m. they came round the north east corner of Delville Wood but to their surprise they did not encounter the hostile shell fire they were expecting. However, they did face enfilade fire from a German machine gun nest and, before the Lewis gunners and some bombers from the Rifle Brigade managed to remove it, the Battalion suffered a large number of casualties in the leading companies and Battalion Headquarters. 7 officers were wounded and their 29 year old commander Lieutenant-Colonel Benson was killed; he was awarded the Military Cross. So, once again, the Battalion was left with very few officers early in the offensive.
Having removed the German machine gun nest, and not facing any hostile shelling, the remains of the Battalion pushed on to achieve their objective. They moved through Switch Trench at about 8.15 a.m. with the 3 leading companies suffering no additional casualties; they were in a hollow so the shelling that caught D Company, who were someway behind, passed over them. They pressed on and passed Gap Trench, occupied by the 41st Infantry Brigade, hot on the heels of the 9th Battalion Rifle Brigade.
Sergeant L Elderfield, who was commanding the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. first line, then spotted 2 German field guns firing towards Flers. He gathered a small group and rushed the guns, killing most of the gunners and giving chase to those that escaped. Some of his group reached Gird Trench but they then returned to the captured guns. Sergeant Elderfield was award the Distinguished Conduct Medal for his prompt and brave action.
The 9th Battalion Rifle Brigade now stopped advancing and formed a line with the intention of attacking Gird Trench at 11.20 a.m., the time designated in their orders. They expected to be supported by a barrage from the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. but, seeing the weakness of the 9th Rifle Brigade, the 9th K.R.R.C. opted instead to advance in close support of them. Although the British guns did not appear to be shelling Gird Trench, the 9th Rifle Brigade attempted nonetheless to advance on that trench. As soon as they got onto the rising ground in front of them, hostile machine gun fire halted their advance; 15 of their officers were killed and their attack failed. With only one very junior officer remaining, the remnants of the 9th Rifle Brigade came under the command of the 9th K.R.R.C. bringing their numbers up to around 350. Having no mortars to knock out the German machine guns, and lacking any British artillery barrage to advance under, there was no option for the remnants but to abandon the attack and dig in. Trenches were dug connecting with the 5th Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry on the left and with Gas Alley on the right, which was occupied as a defensive flank. About midday, around 20 Irish Guards joined the Battalion; they had no idea where their own units were so they were added to those already in Gas Alley. A little while later a few Scots and Grenadier Guards arrived with a Lewis gun, again having lost contact with their own battalions, and they too went into Gas Alley.
That afternoon German troops began to mass in Gird Trench in front of the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. The support from the Guards Division had fallen away on their right and, on their left, the 5th Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry also faced massed German troops. The Irish Guards came up on the right and went into Gap Trench so that afternoon turned out to be a relatively quiet one for the 9th K.R.R.C. aside from increased vigilance resulting from the gradual massing of the German troops.
At about 6.45 p.m., after some heavy shelling, the Germans made a half-hearted advance and were easily checked. They soon gave up on the attempt, with machine gun fire from the 9th Battalion inflicting substantial casualties. Later in the evening the 9th K.R.R.C. was joined by 70 men from Gap Trench; they were from the 7th Battalion K.R.R.C. and were used to bolster the troops in Gas Alley thereby extending the Battalion's right flank. The Germans made no further advance and the night passed peacefully, although Battalion patrols kept careful watch on the German line.
At 4.30 a.m. on 16 September the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. were relieved and retired to Montauban Alley. The Somerset Light Infantry took over all their lines from Sunken Road to Gas Alley apart from the section of Gas Alley occupied by the mixed group of Guards with the Lewis gun. The 9th Battalion remained all day at Montauban Alley supporting the 43rd Brigade which made an unsuccessful attack in the afternoon on Gird Trench.
The 9th Battalion suffered heavy casualties at Flers-Courcelette - 2 officers killed, 9 more wounded, and of the other ranks 22 killed, 143 wounded and 66 missing - so another reorganisation was necessary. The death of Lieutenant-Colonel Benson had left Major Henry Colin Mansel Porter in command.
Major Porter was a career soldier. He was born in Worcestershire in 1882 and served in South Africa in 1902 in the Second Boer War. He was mentioned in despatches 5 times during the Great War and, for his bravery in the action at Flers-Courcelette, he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order on 14 November 1916. He was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel, survived the war and lived until 1955.
The Battle of Flers-Courcelette saw British and Canadian troops making initial gains of more than a mile in the first three days, a significant achievement at that time in the Somme. The British Army finally captured High Wood, a strategically desirable small forest that had been the scene of intense fighting for two months, and the villages of Martinpuich, Flers and Courcelette also fell to the Allies. However, the British and Canadian advance was halted on 17 September by a combination of appalling weather and major German reinforcements, and the attack was finally called off on 22 September. The British and their allies again suffered heavy casualties; amongst them was Raymond Asquith, the son of the British Prime Minister Herbert Asquith, who was shot in the chest leading an attack near Ginchy on 15 September 1916 and died while being carried back to British lines.
General Sir Henry Rawlinson, Commander of the Fourth Army, wrote to the 14th Division on 20 September saying "I desire to convey to every officer, N.C.O. and man my gratitude and congratulations for the admirable work they have done. Both in Delville Wood and in the attacks of 15th and 16th September they displayed a fighting spirit and a dash worthy of the best traditions of the British Army, whilst their discipline and self-sacrifice is beyond praise."
At midnight on 16 September the 9th Battalion was relieved from their position in Montauban Alley and, with every man suffering the effects of a tear gas attack during their march, the exhausted remnants returned to their previous camp at Bécordel-Bécourt. The next day they were on the move again, this time to a camp a mile north of Buire-sur-l'Ancre just south of the Albert to Amiens Road. They stayed there, reorganising, until 22 September, training as far as that was possible, heavy rain having turned their camp into "a slough of despond".
The 9th Battalion Transport moved to Talmas on 21 September. The following day 425 French buses - each capable of holding about 30 men - were employed to move the whole of the 14th Division. For once, the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. enjoyed a very pleasant journey through Amiens, Doullens and some very pretty countryside near Lucheux to their old billets at Beaudricourt about 4 miles from the majority of the men of the 42nd Brigade who went to Grand-Rullecourt. The 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. enjoyed the peaceful surroundings and some much needed rest at Beaudricourt until 25 September when they moved on to Bernville, this time on English lorries; many of the men arrived at their destination completely white as the journey had covered them in dust from the road.
On the evening of 26 September they relieved the 7th Battalion Royal Sussex Regiment in "G" sector, where they found the trenches clean and well drained. Three companies from the 9th Battalion went into the firing line with one more held in support. Battalion Headquarters was based in Agny and, this being a very quiet sector, the orderly room, canteen, cooks, shoemakers and tailors all moved up to that village; places were even arranged for the men to have baths. The majority of October 1916 was very quiet, the enemy being largely inactive apart from a 6-day gas alert. The 9th Battalion was relieved on the night of 26 October and rewarded with a very cold lorry journey to Fosseux from where they marched, the following day, to their new billets at Berlencourt. The 9th Battalion's War Diary description of Berlencourt is of "a small impoverished village, where ordinary billets are scarce, good billets non-existent, and mud everywhere owing to heavy rains". They spent most of November there and discovered an excellent range where "the standard of shooting improved very rapidly". Route marches were carried out each week and the men marched well, thanks in no small measure to the newly-formed bugle band. Afternoons were spent training for the sporting contests organised within the 42nd Brigade, the 9th Battalion triumphing at Boxing, Football and Cross-Country. Then, on 23 November, this period of rest and recuperation was rudely interrupted with the arrival of an order to march 16 miles to new billets in Arras. However, life there was equally pleasant and peaceful and 2603 Rifleman George Harry Evans - from Perry Barr in Birmingham - won the 14th Division Cross-Country Race on 27 November, thereby earning himself the first prize of 10 days leave to go with the gold medal he had won previously in the 42nd Brigade race. Sadly, George Harry Evans was one of 69 other ranks who were killed on 9 April 1917 when the 9th Battalion attacked and took the "String of the Harp" trench system.
The opening days of December 1916 saw the 9th Battalion "feverishly engaged in fitting the new and excellent small box respirator", arguably the most reliable and heavily used gas mask of the Great War.
The mask was made of thinly rubberized canvas and had a canvas-covered rubber hose that connected the mask to a canister, all contained in a square bag. The Small Box Respirator featured an internal nose clip (that was very uncomfortable for long-term wear) and an internal mouth piece, which meant that the face mask did not need to be air-tight. It filtered dangerous gases through a canister of charcoal and gauze impregnated with neutralizing chemical agents. It was first introduced to British soldiers in April 1916, a few months before the Battle of the Somme. By January 1917, it had become the standard issue gas mask for all British soldiers.
Pictures 37, 38 and 39
On 8 December the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. left Arras for Magnicourt-sur-Canche; it rained throughout their 16 mile march so the men were not best pleased when they arrived and found another unit had already occupied the best houses and barns leaving insufficient billets for them. Magnicourt "proved itself to be a poor and dirty village" but whilst there the 9th K.R.R.C. won the 42nd Brigade Musketry Competition by a substantial margin.
On the morning of 15 December 1916 the 9th Battalion began the march to the forward area. En route, they had to request the mayor at Wanquetin to have use of the local school room, there again being insufficient billets for all the men. They continued on to Dainville on 18 December where, the following morning, they relieved the 8th Battalion Royal Fusiliers. After a 5-day stint in trenches that were dry and in good condition they were, in turn, relieved by the 5th Battalion of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry and went to the 14th Division Reserve at Dainville where they spent Christmas; there "heavy feeding and a concert were the only two outstanding features of this short rest".
On 27 December the 9th K.R.R.C. relieved the 5th K.S.L.I in the line. By then the trenches had collapsed in a number of places - the result of frost followed by thaw and rain - and it took a lot of labour to restore the line to its previous condition. Fortunately the German line in front of the 9th Battalion was relatively peaceful and unwarlike.
According to the 9th Battalion's War Diary "The New Year was seen in under the most fitting circumstances, the offensive spirit being specially prominent. At the hour of the Hun New Year our Lewis guns played a merry opening chorus, and the deeper notes of the orchestra were taken up by the Vickers (machine guns) and Stokes mortars; this lasted ten minutes. At 11.45 p.m. the buglers played a selection of marches from the support line, which was keenly appreciated by the Boches. At 11.55 p.m. the "Last Post" was sounded and then all the Lewis and Vickers guns opened, followed by the Stokes, with a few salvos from the 18-pounders, which were not so keenly appreciated (by the German soldiers). On their return from the line, the buglers played through the streets of Agny, chiefly with a view to waking up the 9th Rifle Brigade and wishing them a Happy New Year."
The 9th K.R.R.C. were relieved that night and left the line for the 42nd Brigade Reserve in Agny where the only event of any significance was "a very fine display of heavy artillery work on Beaurains during the morning of 6 January prior to a raid by the 43rd Brigade". On 7 January they relieved the 5th Battalion of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry and spent 5 very uneventful days in the line, "the Hun being more than usually quiet". On 13 January they took over billets in the 14th Division Reserve at Dainville where heavy falls of snow interrupted three days of training. Very cold weather then set in causing the countryside to freeze hard. The 9th K.R.R.C. continued to alternate between the front line and billets at Dainville all through the month of January 1917. On the 28th they were back in the trenches where, with temperatures still below freezing point, they had to "continue the unequal contest of replacing the trench boards and other pieces of wood which, during the cold weather, proved more attraction in brazier than as part of the fabric of the trenches". On the 29th and 30th January the Germans resumed their bombardment, "throwing all manner of projectiles", but "for the amount of ammunition expended, the damage was very slight", though the 9th Battalion did lose 3 men killed and 4 wounded. The sector was then quiet again and the Battalion left the "G" sector line for the last time on 2 February 1917.
On 6 February the 9th K.R.R.C. replaced the 10th Durham Light Infantry in the front line of "H" sector, with the 36th Infantry Brigade on their left and the 43rd Infantry Brigade on their right. Once again, the enemy "seemed to be taking a rest and was not actively disagreeable" during their 5-day tour. The 9th Battalion was relieved on 11 February and then spent 5 more uneventful days, this time in the 42nd Brigade Reserve at Ronville. They then moved to 14th Division Reserve billets in Arras where there was again little activity apart from supplying Signals with working parties of 450 men each day. This lull gave an opportunity for the 42nd Trench Mortar Battery to demonstrate how their "noisy engines of war worked". Some of the men also took the opportunity to enjoy alternative entertainment, playing rugby on the local ground. On 27 February they returned to the 42nd Brigade Reserve at Ronville where the shortage of billets meant that "each room and cellar now resembles a human sardine tin". The Battalion's casualty figures for February 1917 reflected the general let-up in hostilities, just 2 men wounded, and one of those accidentally.
March 1917 began with the 9th Battalion again occupied as a labour unit, supplying large parties of men each day for a variety of tasks. Then, on 5 March, they relieved the 5th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the front line, a tour that saw an increase in German movement and artillery bombardment. This period was noteworthy for two daring reconnoitres that got behind the German lines, bringing back useful information. The Battalion's 2 inch mortars were also employed to good effect, breaking the barbed wire repeatedly at a number of points along the line. On 11 March, Battalion Headquarters came under attack in Ronville. The bombardment began at 11 a.m. and the third shell demolished the kitchen "scattering to the four winds all the hoarded luxuries, not to mention completely wrecking the midday meal". After 2 hours, the Germans "took a lunch break" but the shelling resumed at 3 p.m. and the Battalion mess took 5 hits. The houses nearby were also damaged but fortunately casualties were light. In one lucky escape, an 8 inch German shell rolled down the stairs from the first floor, ending up in the hall just above the cellar where Battalion Headquarters had earlier taken refuge; to everyone's relief, it proved to be a "dud" and did not explode. Fire then took hold of the house next door but, thankfully, the German bombardment soon ended, allowing Battalion Headquarters to relocate to safer quarters.
On 13 March, the Battalion began a 20-mile, 2-day march from Dainville to Sombrin where they remained until 28 March, training and preparing for the "push" they knew was coming. The afternoons were given over to various sports, including relay races, football matches and tug-of-war competitions. On 28 March they marched back to Dainville where they relieved the 5th Battalion of the King's Shropshire Light Infantry. The situation there had changed a lot thanks to the German withdrawal. "Training could now be continued on excellent ground which formerly harboured cunningly concealed gun positions", sites that previously "could never have been used during the hours of daylight". The 9th Battalion lost 4 men wounded and 3 men killed during March 1917 and the end of the month saw all the men "trying to cut down on kit" as they prepared themselves for the impending attack.
Between 9 February and 15 March 1917, the German armies on the Somme carried out Operation Alberich, a planned, strategic withdrawal to new positions on the shorter, more easily defended Hindenburg Line. As they went, they destroyed everything that they left behind on the ground. They flattened villages, poisoned wells, cut down trees, blew craters in roads and crossroads, and booby-trapped ruins and dugouts. Construction of the Hindenburg Line had been spotted by British and French airmen in the latter months of 1916 and a cautious pursuit began as British patrols began to detect the gradual withdrawal of German infantry from the Somme in mid February 1917.
At the start of April, as the men completed their training for the big push, "paper poured in with instructions, orders and counter-orders". Assembly trenches were dug and "by good fortune no casualties occurred". On the evening of 5 April the Battalion took over a portion of the sector in the old reserve line, with Battalion Headquarters in the dugout in Hop Alley. On the afternoon of 7 April, the Battalion went to billets in "Les Boves", the Arras tunnel network.
The Battle of Arras was a major offensive by the British Army and its allies on the Western Front in the spring of 1917; it was similar in scale to the Battle of the Somme and the Third Battle of Ypres. Although the town of Arras was under Allied control throughout the war, its situation so close to the front line meant that for almost three years, from October 1914 to April 1917, the city and its inhabitants had been a regular target for German artillery. On 8 October 1914 the 16th century town hall had been burned to the ground by incendiary shells and a fortnight later the bell tower, the pride of the city, had collapsed. The methodical shelling of the German Army reduced the old part of the city to rubble and by the end of the war only 5% of the city's houses were habitable.
When they were starting to plan for the battle, the need for the attack to catch the enemy by surprise created a particular difficulty for the British high command, namely how to marshal that many troops close to the front line and yet keep their numbers concealed so the suspicions of the enemy would not be aroused. They were anxious to avoid any repeat of the slaughter inflicted on Allied troops in the Somme. The ingenious solution to this problem was to use the Royal Engineers to create a vast underground network with assault tunnels that would bring troops up directly in front of, and a few yards short of the German front line, without them having to face the enemy's deadly machine gun fire in no man's land.
From October 1916 to March 1917, the Royal Engineers worked underground constructing tunnels for the troops, the largest operation of its type ever undertaken by the British Army. The scale of it was enormous. In one sector alone four Tunnel Companies (of 500 men each) worked 18-hour shifts around the clock for two months. On the eve of the Battle of Arras the caves and quarries under the town contained more than 24,000 soldiers, roughly the civilian population of the town prior to the war. Altogether there was about 12 miles of tunnels under the town and its environs; these were classified as subways (foot traffic only), tramways (with rails for hand-drawn trolleys that took ammunition to the line and brought casualties back from it); and railways (a light railway system).
The soldiers had to spend prolonged periods in the tunnels which were equipped with electric lighting, kitchens and water supplies. There were even latrines in each "room", for those of high enough rank. Although they were not quite up to the standards of the British Army's temporary camps, the tunnels under Arras did provide far greater safety than the trenches which must have reassured the men as they waited to go into battle.
The tunnel system even had a hospital capable of treating 700 wounded men, the British Army anticipating a high level of casualties. It was fitted out like a normal hospital with waiting rooms for the wounded, a fully equipped operating theatre, a rest area for the stretcher-bearers and, of course, a mortuary.
This network of tunnels was divided into two main sections: the first, under the Cambrai Road, had galleries with familiar British names such as Carlisle, Glasgow, Manchester, Liverpool and Chester; the second, under the Ronville district of the town, was - from 12 February 1917 - the exclusive territory of the New Zealanders who named their galleries after towns such as Wellington and Christchurch.
On 6 April Allied troop morale was given a major boost when the United States Congress finally voted to enter the war, following two and a half years during which President Woodrow Wilson had strived to keep the United States neutral.
By midnight on 8 April, the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. had taken up positions in their assembly trenches prior to the attack on the Harp. The weather was exceptionally cold and there was snow on the ground. The14th Division were south of the village of Tilloy-lès-Mofflaines, opposite a section of the Hindenburg Line where it merged with older defence lines to form a redoubt known as "The Harp". To the right of that was the sloping line of Telegraph Hill. Together, these provided a well defended and dominant position 1000 yards long and 500 yards wide from where German defenders could spray enfilade fire northwards up Observation Ridge and southwards to Neuville Vitasse. Capture of the Harp was therefore essential. An initial assault was to be made by the 9th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps and the 5th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry against the southern portion of "The String", a trench running down the length of The Harp. 16 tanks were to co-operate in this attack.
An intensive four-day British bombardment preceded the attack, its purpose being to disrupt the anticipated enemy retaliation. Zero hour was set for half past 5 in the morning on Easter Monday, the 9th of April. At that hour the 3rd Division captured Gateshead Trench on the 9th Battalion's left and then moved into line with the 14th Division, ready for the attack. There was very little enemy shelling of the assembly trenches prior to the advance, only 3 casualties being reported. The advance by the 9th Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps and the 5th Battalion of the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry began at 7.34 a.m. and was covered by an artillery barrage, half high explosive, the other half shrapnel.
"A" and "B" were the lead companies, on the right A Company under Lieutenant Geoffrey Charles Martyn Leech and, on the left, B Company under Captain Arthur Evelyn Dent. Immediately behind them, D Company under Lieutenant Thomas Anthony Wood acted as "moppers up" for the first trench of the Harp, with C Company under Lieutenant Herbert Stewart, a further 100 yards behind, acting as support.
They expected a German artillery barrage but that did not materialise. However, as soon as the advance started, very heavy machine gun fire from the direction of the Harp caused significant casualties within the leading companies. Lieutenant Leech died from the wounds he sustained and 3 other officers of A company were wounded as were 3 of their 4 sergeants. Captain Dent was killed together with 2nd Lieutenant Ralph Bertram van Praagh of C Company and 2nd Lieutenant Edward Rupert Clarke of the 4th London Regiment, who had been attached to B Company. Not one of these men reached the first line of enemy barbed wire.
The advance was not halted despite these losses and the first enemy trench was captured at 7.50 a.m. As the British barrage continued, the leading companies lay prone after passing the first trench and allowed D Company to mop up. The artillery had managed to cut the wire in front of that trench in several places so it proved no obstacle to the leading companies as they moved forward. The advance on the "String" continued at 8 o'clock with A, B and C companies coming under fire from two German machine guns sited on the "String" and also from enemy snipers. The artillery had not been able to make many breaks in the barbed wire in front of the "String" so this provided a serious obstacle to progress, especially under the enemy machine gun fire. The 9th Battalion suffered further casualties in the ten minutes that followed, Lieutenant Stewart and 2nd Lieutenant R. Cook of C Company were both killed and Lieutenant V. Richardson of B Company was wounded for the second time.
The 16 tanks might have removed the snipers and machine gun nests but they were stuck in or before the first-line trench, so at 8.10 a.m. only two small parties succeeded in entering the "String". They had worked their way up from the first-line trench to the communication trenches at either end of the "String". At 8.20 a.m., with hostile shelling targeting the communication trenches, two platoons from C Company were dispatched to support the small party from B company that had already entered the "String" on the left. These two groups then worked their way along the "String" to the right until they linked up with the small group from A Company that had entered the "String" via the communication trench on the right. In the process they took out the enemy snipers and machine guns.
At 9.15 a.m. the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. sent a message to the 42nd Brigade saying that they had achieved their objective. Other units then passed through the trenches they had captured and set about capturing the remaining parts of the "Harp". The medical personnel ensured that all the 9th K.R.R.C. casualties were evacuated from the danger zone by 5 p.m. The other men from the 9th Battalion remained in their trenches until the afternoon of 12 April when they were relieved by the 9th Rifle Brigade.
On the early morning of 13 April they marched via Dainville to Wanquentin through a violent snow blizzard that was "worthy of the best traditions of a Russian winter and very nearly knocked everybody over". At this time, as part of an Army reorganisation, the 14th Division was transferred to the XVIII Army Corps and the 9th Battalion received orders to move to Noyelette. When they arrived there they paraded in front of the General Officer Commanding the 42nd Brigade who made an inspiring speech praising their outstanding achievements on 9 April; they also received a number of messages of congratulations from the Commander in Chief and the Army and Corps Commanders. They went on to their temporary destination, the village of Berlencourt, on 15 April and remained there until 23 April, resting, hastily reorganising after their losses, and training in open warfare. A small number of reinforcements arrived but the platoons were still "woefully weak". However, football flourished during the afternoons and, though the results were not flattering, a hastily constituted rugby XV endeavoured to compete against the 9th Rifle Brigade and against a combined team from the 7th Rifle Brigade and the 7th K.R.R.C.
Altogether, the action had cost the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. 75 men killed, 6 of them officers, 122 men wounded, 4 of them officers, and 2 men from the ranks were also missing. However, they had captured about 200 prisoners, mostly from the 76th Prussian Reserve Infantry Regiment, together with 2 machine guns, 2 Granatenwerfer (grenade throwers), and a substantial quantity of bombs and ammunition. Furthermore, while they were holding their line after the attack, "by dint of hard labour and a complete lack of knowledge of engineering, a medium minenwerfer (trench mortar) was dismantled and removed from its emplacement, fitted together again and put on wheels and, with the aid of a few pack mules and H.Q. orderlies, this trophy was drawn triumphantly to Brigade Headquarters where it was duly handed over."
The first two days of the Battle of Arras were a tactical success for the British who advanced about 3 miles along both banks of the river Scarpe, taking the villages of Thélus, Farbus, Saint-Laurent-Blangy, Feuchy, Athies, Fampoux, Tilloy-les-Mofflaines and Neuville-Vitasse.
Another notable success came when the Canadian Corps captured Vimy Ridge, a long, high hill that dominated the landscape and provided unobstructed views for miles in all directions. It had been under German control since October 1914 and the French Army had attempted to remove the Germans from it on a number of occasions, suffering 150,000 casualties in the process. The Germans had transformed Vimy Ridge into a strong defensive position with a complex system of tunnels and trenches that were manned by highly-trained soldiers armed with machine guns and artillery. The Canadian success in taking the ridge - which is considered by many to be a defining moment for Canada, one where the country emerged from the shadows of the British Empire - enabled allied artillery to remove enemy gun batteries from the villages of Givenchy-en-Gohelle, Vimy, Willerval and Bailleul-Sire-Bertoult. On 11 April, after bitter fighting, the high-lying village of Monchy-le-Preux was also taken - it had been turned into a fortress by the Germans - and the day after that Wancourt and Héninel also fell into Allied hands.
This rapid advance forced the Germans to fall back to their second line of defence but the arrival of a large numbers of reinforcements enabled them to mount a strenuous counter-attack that began on 14 April and checked the British advance. The experience of many previous Allied offensives was repeated, with the British unable to sustain the early breakthroughs made at Arras on 9 April and the days that followed. From that point on the Battle of Arras deteriorated into local but nevertheless bloody battles at Arleux (28-29 April), Fresnoy (3-4 May), and Rœux (13-14 May).
Meanwhile the British had started to receive information regarding the unfolding disaster in the Second Battle of the Aisne (La Bataille du Chemin des Dames), a French attempt to win a decisive victory over the German armies in France. Initially, the French achieved substantial tactical successes, and took about 29,000 prisoners, but the failure to break through the German defences had a traumatic effect on the morale of the French army and many of its divisions mutinied. Germans losses, estimated at 168000, came at the cost of some 187000 French casualties and the Aisne offensive was finally abandoned in disarray on 9 May 1917 following a final, and ineffective, four day assault. By this time, disillusionment among the French public and politicians had led to the removal of Robert Nivelle as Commander in Chief of the French Army. He was replaced on 25 April by the more cautious Marshall Henri-Philippe Petain and all hope of an imminent decisive victory disappeared.
Field Marshal Haig persevered for a number of weeks with the attacks on the German line near Arras, along a section that ran from Gavrelle through Rœux and Guémappe to Fontaine-les-Croisilles. These operations, designed to give some relief to the beleaguered French by holding back as many German soldiers as possible, were also intended to establish a new front line, one that would be easier to defend.
At first glance the Battle of Arras could be considered a British success: 20,000 German prisoners had been taken, a large quantity of munitions had been captured and a lot of important ground had been won. The combat zone had been pushed back about 6 miles thereby relieving the pressure on the town of Arras which had suffered incessant German shelling since October 1914.But these successes had been obtained at great cost. More than one hundred thousand British soldiers had been put out of action during the fighting at Arras in April and May 1917; German losses had also been on a comparable scale.
On 23 April, the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. received orders to return to the forward area and 25 April saw them moving into Niger Trench, just north of Wancourt. On the night of 28/29 April they relieved the 5th Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in the front line but, unable to move in the daylight hours because of continuous but generally ineffective enemy shelling of their sector, they busied themselves making assembly trenches for the next "push". Casualties during this tour were few, 3 men from the ranks wounded, and - on the positive side - 3 machine guns were captured. On the night of 2/3 May they were relieved by the two battalions who were to carry out the attack, the 9th Rifle Brigade and the 5th Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, who were supported by the 5th King's Shropshire Light Infantry in the reserve line. On their way back to Niger Trench, the 9th K.R.R.C. had to put on their box respirators as their route took them through a strong gas concentration from gas shells.
The 9th Battalion took no significant part in the general attack by the Third Army on 3 May. However, in Niger Trench, they were surrounded by the deafening sound of British guns, of every possible calibre, firing non-stop, day and night. Having occupied the area previously, the Germans had a pretty good idea where this artillery was likely to be situated and therefore knew the positions to target in their retaliation. At night, the 9th K.R.R.C. supplied working parties who were employed digging new communication trenches. They also experienced another gas attack on 5 May which "caused everyone considerable discomfort without doing any particular damage". Not surprisingly, this tour was an anxious one for the 9th K.R.R.C. and it was a miracle that they had so few casualties; one officer was invalided back to England and, from the ranks, 2 men were killed, 5 more were wounded and one was diagnosed to be suffering from shell shock.
On 8 May they moved back to their old support line for a week long rest, with two companies and the officers in tents and the other two companies in dug-outs. The weather was hot and their stay was a pleasant one. The rest period was much needed as the men were physically exhausted from their experiences and from the strain under which they had been living. The men paraded every morning, then enjoyed sport and relaxation in the afternoon, and at night the concert party performed with gusto and spirit.
On 15 May the 9th Battalion moved up to support trenches round Neuville-Vitasse where they came under the command of the 41st Infantry Brigade. Owing to the lack of dug-outs the men had to make what shelter they could in the trenches and some of the new arrivals were annoyed when they returned from a night-time working party to find their shelters had become "sump pits" as they had not allowed for rain when they had dug below the level of the trench. "Experience is dearly bought!"
On 19 May the 9th Battalion stayed in position but relinquished the working parties to the 5th Battalion Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. That night, the canteen was brought up and carefully camouflaged in a valley out of sight of the Germans. But fate intervened and the area around the canteen came under fire from 4 enemy salvos just as the beers were being served. After the first salvo, those who had paid for and drunk their beer made a hurried but dignified exit from the area, whilst those who had paid but not finished their beer "sat like heroes till the last drop was gone." The second salvo dispersed even those who were "the staunchest partisan of the barrel".
Training continued until the night of 24/25 May when the 9th Battalion left Neuville-Vitasse and marched to the trenches in front of Wancourt where they relieved the 8th Rifle Brigade in the left sector of the 14th Division's front line, the 5th King's Shropshire Light Infantry replacing the 8th K.R.R.C. on their right. The front line and communications trenches were heavily shelled while the relief was being carried out and both the relieving battalions suffered casualties. The British responded at 3 a.m., an hour and a half after the relief was completed, launching 10 tons of gas cylinders on the enemy trenches to the right of the 9th Battalion. However, the wind that night was light and variable and a substantial quantity of the poisoned gas came back on the British lines, forcing the men to put on their box respirators. The 5th K.S.L.I. suffered more casualties than the 9th Battalion who had 9 men gassed, 2 of them badly. Nevertheless, the action was judge a success because the reports coming back from German prisoners indicated that the enemy had suffered 60 casualties of whom 30 had been killed. Sadly, 25 May saw a serious injury to the 9th Battalion's senior officer, Lieutenant-Colonel Henry Colin Mansel Porter, who had been in charge of the 9th K.R.R.C. since the action at Flers-Courcelette in September 1916; his arm was badly shattered by a shell as he was going up to the front trenches. Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury took over, having previously been in command of the 2nd Battalion K.R.R.C.
Charles Kenneth Howard-Bury was interested in mountaineering from an early age, a passion that led him to take on the larger climbs in the Austrian Alps. He joined the King's Royal Rifle Corps in 1904 and was posted to India where he went travelling and big game-hunting. In 1905 he entered Tibet secretly without permission and was rebuked by Lord Curzon. In 1921 he was the leader of the Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition, organised and financed by the Mount Everest Committee, a joint body of the Alpine Club and the Royal Geographical Society. During the expedition he found a number of footprints at high altitude, and later gave his opinion that the tracks "were probably caused by a large loping grey wolf, which in the soft snow formed double tracks rather like a those of a bare-footed man ". However, the team's Sherpa guides said it was their belief that the tracks belonged to a "metoh kangmi" ("wild man of the snows"). Henry Newman, who was a long-time contributor to The Statesman, a broadsheet newspaper printed in Calcutta, obtained descriptions of the tracks from the expedition's porters when they returned to Darjeeling. He then mistranslated "metoh kangmi" as "Abominable Snowman", a phrase that came into existence at that point in time, primarily as a result of Howard-Bury's 1921 Everest Reconnaissance Expedition.
On both the 25th and the 26th May there was intermittent, heavy shelling of the 9th Battalion's trenches and enemy aircraft were also active. At 2.20 a.m. on 27 May there was a 20 minute heavy barrage of the front and communication trenches. A German raiding party managed to work its way up the Cojeul Valley and 10 men and their officer got through at the point where the trenches did not quite reach the river, but 30 other men were quickly dispersed. Reports came through 10 minutes later that 6 or 7 Germans had attacked dug-outs in the area of Battalion Headquarters, the Sunken Road and the Railway, but they managed to escape capture and got back to their own lines taking a Battalion Headquarters orderly with them. At 3.20 a.m. on 27 May an enemy stretcher bearer and 2 men were captured, and 25 minutes later two of the 9th Battalion's riflemen seized a wounded German officer and 2 more men. There were frequent raids by both sides during this tour but the one that night by another German raiding party failed to reach the British lines. 28 May was generally quiet, as was the night that followed, but shell fire killed 2 men at the 9th Battalion Headquarters during the day on 29 May. That evening the Battalion was relieved and went into the immediate support line. The end of the month was marked by heavy thunderstorms and poor visibility and, on 31 May, a shell struck C Company headquarters, injuring 5 officers. Altogether, in May 1917, the 9th K.R.R.C. suffered 6 officers wounded, 10 men from the ranks killed, another 81 wounded and 2 more missing in action.
June began with the 9th K.R.R.C. in reserve in Albatross trench. The days were peaceful but the nights were hectic with both sides firing poison gas canisters. The Battalion's rations "were supplemented from the gardens of Wancourt and Heninel which yielded a rich harvest of asparagus, gooseberries and other vegetables" that were collected during intervals in the shelling. From the 6th to the 9th of June the 9th Battalion was in the Reserve Camp at Beaurain where every day a German zeppelin showered shrapnel on Battalion Headquarters.
Rumours were confirmed that the 14th Division were to go for an extended rest and, at dawn on 9 June, the 9th K.R.R.C. set out on a 2-day march to Gaudiempré, some 18 miles or so behind the front line, where excellent billets and baths were provided, and where Battalion Headquarters enjoyed some unexpected luxury and splendour in a chateau normally reserved for high ranking officers. Some of the men of the 9th Battalion took the opportunity to go and see the devastation at Gommecourt, a town on the Western Front that had been occupied by the Germans for most of the war.
On 1 July 1916, a British Army assault on Gommecourt had resulted in a severe defeat for the 56th (London) Division and the 46th (North Midland) Division, and the town itself had been virtually destroyed by the violence it had experienced since the war began.
A 4-hour thunderstorm turned roads into rivers as the 9th Battalion continued their march away from the front towards their final destination, the pretty village of Puchevillers. They remained there until 12 July. Once again, mornings were spent training, especially on the firing range, whilst afternoons were given over to sports of every kind, with the 9th K.R.R.C. distinguishing itself in a wide variety of Brigade competitions. On 16 June, those surviving from the 9th Battalion's original complement of officers gave a "banquet" for the original N.C.O.s and men who had come through 2 years of everything that war on the Western Front could throw at them. Throughout their stay at Puchevillers, the men enjoyed nightly concerts and visits to the cinema. The jovial and rotund Town Mayor supplied entertaining turns for the concerts but, in the cinema, the projection light had a habit of going out at critical moments during the films, which unnerved the audience who were already rather highly strung on account of their battlefield experiences.
During this period, secret information was received that King George V and Queen Mary were to visit the armies and battlefields of France from the 3rd to the 14th of July 1917, and the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. had been given the honour of providing the Guard of Honour for His Majesty when he came to the area occupied by the British Third Army. The honour guard consisted of 3 officers and 120 other ranks, under the command of Captain Gerald Blakeney de Courcy-Ireland.
Captain de Courcy-Ireland was a career soldier. Born in Doncaster in 1895, he was commissioned into the King's Royal Rifle Corps in October 1914 and served with them until his transfer to the Worcestershire Regiment 2 years later. He saw active service in France throughout the First World War and was awarded the Military Cross in 1916 for conspicuous gallantry during the Battle of the Somme. Whilst acting as escort for King George V during his visit to France in 1917, Captain de Courcy-Ireland was made a Member of the Royal Victorian Order. After the war, he saw service in Ireland, China, and India and he continued to serve with the Worcestershire Regiment and, latterly, the Royal Army Ordnance Corps until his retirement from the army in 1946.
The 9th Battalion left Puchevillers on 12 July and, after an exhausting march to Candas, travelled for 6 hours by train to Bailleul in French Flanders, near the Belgian border. On 14 July they suffered their first and, as it turned out, only serious casualty for the month when a German shell fragment took out the mess tea pot which had been "sitting peacefully on the mess table". The usual mixture of morning training and afternoon sport continued throughout July, while officers went off to reconnoitre the front near Wytschaete and - towards the end of the month - the area around St Eloi. Night time did not bring much relief as searchlights scanned the skies for German aircraft flying overhead.
Conflicting orders for the 9th K.R.R.C. marked the start of August 1917. They had expected to relieve the 41st Division after the 31 July push at Hollebeke (the start of the Third Battle of Ypres - Passchendaele) but this never came about so they resumed their relatively peaceful existence at Bailleul, though torrential rain rather spoilt things. On 5 August, orders came to move to the Caestre area where another period of training was marred by low flying German airmen who terrified the local inhabitants, so much so that during one night's bombing raid "the Medical Officer awoke to find himself in the embarrassing position of having no less than 7 girls clustering around him demanding comfort and protection".
Orders to move arrived on 13 August and early the following morning the 9th Battalion embarked by bus on an "interesting journey round Northern France" from Borre to Poperinge in Belgium where they found accommodation at Ottawa Huts. On 17 August they moved on to Dickebusch where the next day they relieved elements of the 56th Division at Halfway House. The 9th Battalion Headquarters were located in the Ritz dug-out, a subterranean dwelling that required the constant attention of 4 pumps to prevent it turning into a swimming pool. During that 4 day stint, the 9th K.R.R.C. suffered "a fair number" of injuries from the German shelling of the artillery batteries that were sited nearby. The enemy also sent over large quantities of gas shells but these, fortunately, caused no casualties.
During the night of 20/21 August the 9th K.R.R.C. relieved the 9th Rifle Brigade in the front line, in front of Westhoek Ridge, with the 5th King's Shropshire Light Infantry on their right and the 8th Division on their left. Battalion Headquarters was on the right flank, some way away in the only suitable place available, a tunnel under the Menin Road; this position made it difficult for them to keep in touch with the front line. The 9th Battalion were never actively engaged in the actions that followed, which saw the capture of Herenthage Chateau, Fitzclarence Farm and the western part of Glencorse Wood, but they were subjected to heavy shelling the entire time. Although casualties were light in comparison to the shelling, "the stretcher bearers and runners had a very hard time and acquitted themselves nobly".
The Battle of Langemarck took place in Belgian Flanders from 16th to 18th August 1917. It was the Allies' second general attack of the Third Battle of Ypres. The exceptionally wet August weather turned parts of the Ypres battlefield into a quagmire that hampered both sides, the British more so as they occupied lower-lying areas and had to advance onto ground that had been frequently and severely bombarded.
An action against the German-held Gheluvelt Plateau had been attempted on 10 August but it had yielded few positive gains. The main allied attack came on 16 August after a number of weather-related postponements. In the wake of a creeping barrage, and in atrocious conditions, eight British Divisions attacked at 4.45 a.m. on a front roughly 12000 yards in length. The attack succeeded in the north, from Langemarck to Drie Grachten, but failed in the centre and the south. There were widespread heavy casualties, especially in the centre and the south where British bombardment had failed to destroy the German batteries and field defences. Devastating enemy shelling, together with relentless machine-gun fire from numerous surviving concrete pillboxes and fortified farms, exacted a terrible toll on the attackers. By mid-morning, all progress in the centre and the south had ground to a halt. Then, well organised German counter-attacks forced British withdrawals and pushed back the early advances on the Gheluvelt Plateau. When early evening came, many of the exhausted troops were back at or near the point where they had started. At the end of the day, an advance of around 1500 yards had been made in the north but virtually no progress had been made elsewhere. Allied casualties were estimated at around 15000.
On 22 August the Allies captured a strong point near Bodmin Copse and resumed their operations to capture Nonne Bosschen and Glencorse Wood, with Inverness Copse and Herenthage Park as their initial objective. Supported by 4 tanks, the 14th Division forced the German defenders back, incurring heavy losses on both sides. Herenthage Château was captured, 50 prisoners were taken, and the allies occupied Inverness Copse north of the Menin Road. At 4.30 a.m. on 23 August, British tanks arrived at Inverness Copse where they immediately came under attack by enemy artillery, one tank being knocked out by German shellfire. The Germans attacked the 14th Division with bombers, light machine-gun and flame-thrower units, pushing the British back to the 22 August line from Inverness Copse to Glencorse Wood. Under a hail of fire from both artilleries, a second German attack in the afternoon pushed the British out of Inverness Copse to its western fringe. The next day, a British attempt to retake Inverness Copse was cancelled.
On the night of 24/25 August the 9th K.R.R.C. was relieved by the 23rd London Regiment and proceeded back to Halfway House; they remained there until the afternoon when they were relieved by the 8th Battalion of the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry. Two days later they left by bus for a camp near Abeele, remaining there just long enough to clear up after the battle. From there they marched on to their destination of Thieushouk.
Casualties had been high between the 17th and 24th August 1917 - 2 officers killed and 2 wounded, 38 men of other ranks killed and 100 wounded - so the 9th Battalion certainly had no regrets leaving that particular front, "the worst to gaze upon on the Western battle area, and words fail to describe it. Complete desolation for miles, shell-hole upon shell-hole, with marshy swamps dotted about, and tree stumps which are all that remains of fair woods. Human wreckage and all manner of equipment lay strewn about and the contours are changed daily by the evening shelling."
On 1 September, the 42nd Brigade moved to Neuve Eglise. The 9th K.R.R.C. remained there for the night before moving on early the following morning to Messines where they relieved the 18th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment. In support of the 42nd Brigade, they held the sector from the River Douve on the left to the Blauwpoortbeek on the right. That night they relieved the 16th Battalion of the Manchester Regiment in the front line, 2500 yards east of the crest of the Messines Ridge; the 5th Battalion Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry were on their right. The front line, which was low lying and very wet in places, had been won at the Battle of Messines on 7 June 1917. Normal trenches and communications trenches were few and the whole of the forward slope of the Messines Ridge was exposed, its surface destroyed by shell fire. The Battalion held their position in the front line for 4 days until they were relieved by the 5th Battalion King's Shropshire Light Infantry.
The Battle of Messines was a British Second Army offensive against the German Front Line on the high ground of the Wytschaete-Messines Ridge. The ridge ran north to south a few miles south of the town of Ypres and was home to the villages of Wytschaete (known as “Whitesheet” by the British troops) and Messines. The Battle of Messines was to act as a prelude to the Third Battle of Ypres which had, as its objective, the high ground of the Passchendaele Ridge, north-east of Ypres. The objective of the June 1917 offensive was to remove the German Army from the dominating positions it had held since October 1914 on the high ground of the Messines Ridge south of Ypres.
Mining operations began in the early spring of 1916 to dig the tunnels and lay the explosives for 21 mines. 19 of these were blown up at the start of the offensive on 7 June. Caught unawares, the German defenders and their equipment in the front line were hurled into the air, along with concrete bunkers and tons of earth. 19 enormous craters were left after the debris had crashed back down.
British, Irish, Australian and New Zealand infantry carried out the assault on what was left of the German line and over 7000 German prisoners were taken. Artillery and tanks moved up, German counter-attacks were held off and by the end of the first day the British objectives had been achieved. By the end of the offensive, on 14 June 1917, the German Army had been pushed off the Messines Ridge.
The 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. were relieved on 10 September and marched to Wheal Camp, Neuve-Eglise where they trained and also supplied working parties. On 15 September they moved to Doulieul to support the 38th Division; they were expected to be ready to move into the Corps line in the event of the anticipated attack at Armentieres. They returned to Messines on 28 September where they found conditions in the front line had not altered since their previous tour though the state of the trenches did improve somewhat after a spell of fine weather. The harassing machine-gun fire had lessened but the vicinity of Battalion Headquarters was shelled continuously. From 20 September, their sector remained fairly quiet whilst the battle in front of Ypres raged on. Once again, casualties were relatively light in September, with 9 officers wounded along with 10 from other ranks.
The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge lasted from 20 to 25 September 1917 and was a great success. After earlier failures at Ypres, General Herbert Plumer used an alternative strategy, his “bite and hold” strategy. The British would pick a small part of the front line, hit it with a heavy bombardment and then attack it in strength. The advancing troops would stop once they had penetrated 1500 yards, by which point they would have overrun the German front line and some of the strong points behind the German lines. The attacking troops would stop there and dig in, creating a well organised defensive line that would repel the typical German counter-offensive which had become used to encountering a disorganised group of exhausted men at the limit of an Allied advance.
At the start of October the 9th K.R.R.C. were once more in the front line but things were unusually quiet so Brigade requested intelligence gathering to ascertain whether the Germans were withdrawing. Led by 2nd Lieutenant Henry Duncan Toogood, a 9th Battalion patrol went out to reconnoitre the situation, bombed a machine-gun post and then returned. In retaliation, the enemy attempted a raid on B company that got to within 10 yards, but it was quickly repulsed after 3 minutes of lively fighting.
After lunch on 3 October, German 8 inch shells targeted the vicinity of Battalion Headquarters; they caused few casualties but did considerable damage. The 9th K.R.R.C. were due to be relieved on 6 October but this was cancelled; they anticipated a move to the Menin Road but were relieved on 8 October and went to the Kortepyp Camp south of Neuve-Eglise. After a spell of training at Ridge Wood in the Berthen area, getting ready for the front line, they relieved the 7th Battalion of the Rifle Brigade on 16 October in the trenches opposite Polderhoek Chateau. There was heavy shelling as they made their way through the trenches and suffered 5 casualties en route to the front line. The Germans had a clear view of the whole area as far as the Menin Road and laid down an intense barrage as soon as they spotted the 9th Battalion coming over the ridge; C Company, which was on its way to relieve the troops in the right front line, was forced to halt in the support trenches as the shelling was too intense for them to proceed any further. During this stop, one officer was killed, another was mortally wounded and there were a number of other casualties.
This was one of the worst periods in the trenches that the 9th Battalion experienced. The mud was terrible and had a glue-like consistency; the shelling was also heavy and sustained throughout this tour. The Germans and the Allies were both making extensive use of mustard gas and tear gas and, to make matters worse, shells fired by both sides often fell short onto their own troops in the front line. C company, on the right of the front line, could not be reached in daylight as any attempt to do so would have been in full view of the very active enemy snipers in the German front line 25 to 50 yards away. On 17 October, the 9th K.R.R.C. received an urgent message from the Assistant Director of Medical Services: "State how many ablution benches and latrine buckets are needed to complete the Battalion". The 9th Battalion's Medical Officer replied "Men using shell holes for both purposes - no additional ones required". The waterlogged condition of the marshy ground between the support trench and Battalion Headquarters made the duties of stretcher bearers and message carriers even worse than usual but "the work of both was beyond praise". The only dependable means of communication with the Brigade in their sector involved runners undertaking "a very nasty journey over 350 yards of sticky bog and water that was severely shelled at most times of the day or night". Other means of communication - such as the power buzzer, lamp signalling at night-time, and sending messages by carrier pigeon - were often unreliable. The power buzzer - an earth induction telegraph that was widely adopted by the British Army in 1916 - was described in the 9th Battalion's War Diary as "all bark and no bite - thoroughly useless".
To make sure the troops were fed, rations were taken by pack mules as far as Clapham Junction on the Menin Road, then they were carried by the support battalion (in this case the King's Shropshire Light Infantry) to Battalion Headquarters, where they would arrive at about 7 o'clock in the morning; at 10 minute intervals, parties of 2 or 3 men would then take the rations as far as the support line, and from there they would finally make it to the companies in the front line that night.
An uninterrupted enemy barrage began at 5.30 p.m. on 19 October and went through the night until 6 a.m. the following morning. At 7 a.m. Battalion Headquarters - which was a pill-box 800 yards from the front line - was visited by an officer from the 7th Division dressed in a kilt. Like the Aid Post, Battalion Headquarters had received several direct hits during the night. Although the officer had been sent on reconnaissance for the planned attack on Polderhoek and Gheluvelt, his amusing manner helped to boost the 9th's morale. During his visit, a shell burst in the doorway, giving those inside the pill-box their first experience of hydrogen sulphide gas. That same day, spirits fell when they learned that this was to be an 8-day tour, they were not going to be relieved until the night of 24/25 October.
The night of 21 October was calmer with the 9th Battalion snipers keeping their German counterparts quiet; good progress was made constructing new trenches in the vicinity of the support line for the front line companies to occupy safely during the 9.2 inch howitzer bombardment of Polderhoek Chateau scheduled for the next day. The need for this precaution was shown at 5.30 p.m. when A Company reported that about 12 shells from British field guns had fallen short, with 3 hitting their trench; half an hour later, several more fell close by but fortunately, from A Company's point of view, many of these had been duds.
Before dawn on 22 October, C Company and the majority of A company had withdrawn from the front line to the newly constructed trenches, and during the morning there were artillery barrages by both sides. Heavy British bombardment started at midday, but a number of rounds fell in the support line and some shorter still, as much as 800 yards short, near Battalion Headquarters. It was altogether "a most trying day", one that saw 2 officers and 69 men of other ranks wounded. After a quiet night, B and D Company moved up allowing A and C Company to go back to the support line; the 23 October followed the same pattern as the previous day, with enemy barrages and occasional inaccurate shelling by the Allied guns. Once again the night started quietly but at 1 a.m. there was a lot of enemy shelling, some of it heavy, and this continued through till dawn. The day was relatively quiet on 24 October and it came as a considerable relief when the 9th Battalion were relieved that night; however, heavy rain slowed their progress through the mud and also obscured any light from the moon that might have helped them see their way. Busses met them at Shrapnel Corner and, after tea and rum for all ranks, took them to Flêtre in the early hours of 25 October. At the end of this most trying of tours, the 9th Battalion had lost 4 officers (2 wounded plus Lieutenant Arthur Haines Tucker - killed - and 2nd Lieutenant Henry George Savage - mortally wounded - as the Battalion went up to the front line on 16 October); of other ranks, 43 had been killed, 6 had died of their wounds, 84 had been wounded and 11 gassed. Of the 20 officers and 450 men of other ranks that had gone up to the front line, only 16 officers and 266 men of other ranks remained.
On 25 October, the 9th Battalion were taken from Flêtre back to the Berthen area where they rested for 6 days, trained, played football and enjoyed the luxury of accommodation in barns. On 31 October they also enjoyed the novelty of being accompanied on their route march back to Flêtre by a band that had been practising hard for several weeks. They stayed at Flêtre until 9 November pursuing the usual mix of training and inter-Company football matches. On 6 November news was received that the courageous efforts of the 9th K.R.R.C. at Polderhoek Chateau had been acknowledged with the award of one Military Cross and seven Military Medals. However, this good news was tempered 2 days later when the Battalion received orders to hold itself in readiness for a return to action.
On 9 November the Battalion went by bus from Flêtre to Ypres where they were accommodated in cellars and dug-outs; with some hard work, they managed to make these "quite comfortable". Orders had been received attaching the 9th K.R.R.C. to the Canadian Corps, from whom they were now taking their work orders; they received their supplies from the 1st Canadian Division as 42nd Brigade Headquarters was now over 30 miles away. Work started on 10 November, the day after they arrived at Ypres, and almost immediately claimed its first casualties, with all three officers from one working party killed: Captain William Earle Villiers, 2nd Lieutenant Ernest Gantsman and 2nd Lieutenant Robert Andrew McKenzie.
On 12 November news arrived that the 9th K.R.R.C. and three other battalions were not going to proceed with the rest of the 42nd Brigade "to St. Omer for a prolonged period of training". Instead, the period from the 10th to the 22nd November saw the 9th Battalion carrying out a very heavy programme of work which included a daily trek to and from Abraham Heights where they had to try to make tracks across the almost impassable mud and push heavy trolleys along roughly constructed light railways. Every available man walked a total of 144 miles during this tour, and carried out a 4-hour task each day, frequently under heavy artillery fire. Inevitably, the men became exhausted and a number reported sick, but then the order came for the 9th Battalion to exchange duties with the King's Shropshire Light Infantry, which they were pleased to do as their new tasks consisted of sweeping roads and unloading trains within a 3-mile radius of Ypres.
On 22 November, the Battalion received a letter of congratulation from Lieutenant-General Sir Arthur Currie, the Canadian Corps Commander, praising them for the work they had carried out under such trying conditions. They remained at Ypres until 29 November, a period that saw not only the birth of the Battalion band but also a number of lucky escapes. On one occasion, a house was blown up over the signallers' billets, an explosion that buried some of them in debris. On another, a shell landed in the earth two feet from the Quartermaster's stores; fortunately, it failed to explode, but its impact dislodged two bricks which fell on the head of the Regimental Quartermaster Sergeant who was not amused.
Relief came on 29 November when they left Ypres and travelled 16 miles by train to Godewaersvelde, a journey that for once took only an hour; from there a 5 mile march - to the accompaniment of the newly formed band - brought them to their billets at Steenvoorde; they stayed there for 3 days in barns that were "very comfortable indeed", with "plenty of room for both officers and men". Altogether, November 1917 had cost the Battalion 3 officers killed and 15 other ranks wounded. In addition, 3 men from the ranks had returned to England to work as ploughmen.
A number of skilled men enlisted for the army in the early years of the Great War, which led to a shortage in key areas, mining and agriculture in particular. German submarine attacks on Allied shipping led to food shortages and rationing, and increased the pressure on farms to produce more and more. In 1917, the government took direct control of over 2.5 million acres and gave it over to farming; members of the Women's Land army and conscientious objectors were put to work as farm labourers. Agriculture was effectively put on a war footing and every effort was made to get the maximum out of the land. Even so, the shortage of agricultural skills meant that some men still had to be sent home to plough the land.
The 9th Battalion's rest ended on 3 December when they were ordered to move to Ridge Camp; 3 days later they marched from there to Warrington Camp near Brandhoek and "the band played in great style" to brighten the journey. On the afternoon of 8 December they moved again, this time to Capricorn Camp near Wieltje where accommodation was both scarce and very bad. The German airmen were very active during this period and, on 10 December, one dropped a bomb outside Battalion Headquarters wounding 3 orderlies who were eating their evening meal.
On 12 December the 9th K.R.R.C. relieved the 6th Battalion Somerset Light Infantry in the support trench at Bellevue. "Battalion Headquarters consisted of a pill box, with accommodation for three officers which no self-respecting dog would dream of using". Its entrance was only 3 foot high. On the plus side, there was little shelling and casualties were minor ones. On 15 December they were relieved by the King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and, although the weather was very cold between 16 and 18 December, the Battalion began to look forward to Christmas.
The 9th K.R.R.C. relieved the Durham Light Infantry in the front line at Passchendaele on 19 December 1917. To get there they "had to negotiate a 7-mile walk along slippery duckboards placed by skilled Royal Engineers. All the death traps in the world seemed to fall on us this night. Casualties were numerous in the form of all manner of sprains and broken limbs." After a quiet tour, they were relieved on 22 December.
On 24 December, the 8th Army Corps Commander, General Sir Aylmer Gould Hunter-Weston, conducted an investiture in Cathedral Square at Ypres of all the men who had been awarded either the Military Medal or the Distinguished Conduct Medal. The 9th Battalion band was asked to perform at the ceremony and, despite having learned their first pieces of music in the cellars of Ypres only five weeks before, they played with distinction. The 9th K.R.R.C. then saw out the rest of 1917 at Tatinghem where they enjoyed a long rest, Christmas dinner and a great recreational snowball fight. However, the start of the new year saw them heading back once more to the Somme.
Lance Corporal Walter Mason had survived for over 2 years on the Western Front when he died on 19 December 1917. The 9th Battalion War Diary for that December does not record any details specific to Walter but his medal card shows that he died of his wounds. He was buried in the Nine Elms British Cemetery so it is likely that he was taken there from the 44th Casualty Clearing Station.
The Nine Elms British Cemetery was developed by the 3rd Australian and 44th Casualty Clearing Stations when they moved from Brandhoek and Lijssenthoek to Poperinghe in September 1917. Nearly all the burials in Plots I to IX are from the period when these two Casualty Clearing Stations operated in the Passchendaele area during the Third Battle of Ypres and its aftermath. The cemetery contains 1556 Commonwealth graves from the First World War plus 22 Second World War burials that date from the Allied retreat to Dunkirk in 1940.
The Casualty Clearing Stations, which received wounded troops from Aid Posts and Field Ambulances, were usually located just beyond the range of enemy artillery, close to railway lines and other transport links so casualties could be moved as quickly as possible away from the battlefield. The job of the Casualty Clearing Station was to provide short term treatment for wounded soldiers that would enable them to return to active duty and, if that was not possible, to patch them up sufficiently so they could be evacuated to hospital.
The Casualty Clearing Stations were manned by troops of the Royal Army Medical Corps, with attached Royal Engineers and men of the Army Service Corps. They changed location when there were significant advances or retreats in the front line. The 44th Casualty Clearing Station was based at Puchevillers from 20 August 1916 to 19 March 1917, Brandhoek from 23 March 1917 to 16 September 1917 and Nine Elms from 17 September 1917 to 8 April 1918.
The December 1917 War Diary for the 9th Battalion King's Royal Rifle Corps shows that ten men from the ranks were wounded on 15 December, one more on 16 December. If Walter was indeed taken to the 44th Casualty Clearing Station, and from there to the Nine Elms British Cemetery, then it is likely that he was one of those eleven soldiers.
Pictures 63 and 64
Walter Mason’s Family
Walter Mason was the second child and eldest son of Thomas Mason and Alice Cross. His parents were married on 7 March 1888 at St Paul's Church, Fazeley, on the outskirts of Tamworth in Staffordshire and lived at Suker's Lodge on the Beaudesert Estate where Thomas worked as a gamekeeper.
Thomas was the fifth son and eighth child of George Mason, a gardener, and his wife Ellen Smith. Thomas' five brothers - John, Charles, George, William and Arthur - grew up in Sutton Coldfield in Warwickshire with their four sisters, Elizabeth, Anne, Ellen and Mary.
Alice Cross was the youngest of seven children of John and Ann Cross Her father was a coachman and the family lived in the village of Hints near Tamworth in Staffordshire. Alice had five sisters - Sarah Ann, Elizabeth, Mary Jane, Clara and Evelyn - and one brother, William.
Thomas Mason and his first wife, Alice Cross, had 5 children, one girl and four boys. Their youngest son Herbert Thomas Mason was born in Brereton, near Rugeley in Staffordshire, around September 1901; he was christened at St Peter's Church in Hednesford on 6 October 1901 but died shortly thereafter. His mother, Alice, died just before Herbert, on 17 September 1901, most likely from complications resulting from Herbert's birth.
Following the death of his first wife, Alice Cross, Walter's father Thomas Mason married Flossie May Ada Amelia Perry on 8 March 1902 at St Editha's Church, Tamworth.
Thomas and Flossie Mason had four children - two sons and two daughters - between 1904 and 1908, during which time the family continued to live at Suker's Lodge. Walter's father Thomas Mason was still working as a gamekeeper at Beaudesert but the estate was soon to be broken up by Charles Henry Alexander Paget, the sixth Marquess of Anglesey, to ease his financial difficulties. The furniture from the great hall would be sold off and the fabric of the hall and stables would go to auction. Demolition of the hall would begin in 1935 but would never be completed; some ruins still remain today.
At some stage, Thomas Mason left his position as gamekeeper at Beaudesert and took a job as Boiler Attendant with the South Staffordshire Water Works Company at Trent Valley. It is probable that leaving the Beaudesert Estate led to the family losing their home at Suker's Lodge which resulted in Thomas, his second wife Flossie and their family moving to a council house in Valley Lane, Lichfield.
The eldest child of Thomas Mason and Alice Cross was their only daughter Elsie Gertrude Mason, who was born in Rugeley on 17 April 1889. By the time of the 1911 census, Elsie was living away from home at 11 Alexandra Place, Cannock Road, in the Blackford area of Cannock, where she was working as a domestic servant for grocer and fruiterer Henry Abraham Davies, his wife Martha and their family of five children. Two years later, around July 1913, Elsie married George Duncan at Tamworth Register Office; they had three children that survived into adulthood.
Their daughter Jessie Gertrude Duncan was born on 16 April 1914 and married Frederick W Wilson at the Wesleyan Temple in Tamworth around January 1938; Jessie died in Glamorgan at the age of 90 in February 2005.
Elsie and Frederick's eldest son Kenneth George Duncan was born on 11 November 1921; he married Peggy P Stuchbury in Smethwick around April 1945 and died in Birmingham at the age of 58 around December 1979.
Their second son Alan Walter Duncan was born on 16 August 1925 and died at the age of 76 in Reading around August 2001.
Elsie Mason and Frederick Wilson did have a second daughter, born in the first three months of 1920, but she died either during childbirth or soon thereafter. Elsie herself died in South Glamorgan in 1974.
Thomas and Alice Mason had four sons, Walter being their eldest. Walter's two brothers, Harold and Albert Mason, were also born in Brereton, and both survived well into old age. When they were children, Harold and Albert used to pick watercress from the brook at Moor's Gorse; they would also place pins on the local railway crossing for the trains to run over to make scissors!
Harold Mason, the elder of the two brothers, was 3 years younger than Walter. He was born on 24 January 1895 and was baptised on 14 April 1895 at St Peter's Church, Hednesford. His grandson, David Keith Mason, is joint-author of this biography.
Harold Mason served in the army in India, where he was wounded - shot in the hand - and spent some time in hospital. He began work as a trainee gamekeeper on the Tissington Estate in Derbyshire but his father, Thomas, managed to get Harold a post as a Boiler Stoker at the Trent Valley pumping station where the pay was better. It was soon after this, on 18 July 1925, that Harold married Beatrice Mabel Robinson at St Mary's Church in Lichfield, when she was a working as a nurse at St. Michael's Hospital in Lichfield. Harold's wife was always known as Mabel within the family.
Harold worked for the South Staffordshire Water Works Company for the rest of his life, and in due course became foreman at the Trent Valley pumping station. Harold, Mabel and their family lived at the house next to the pumping station and Mabel liked to take her grandchildren from there to watch the steam trains going through Trent Valley station.
Harold and Mabel's son Gordon Harold Mason was born in Lichfield on 5 July 1926 and married Joyce Cracknell on 19 May 1951 at St Michael's Church in Lichfield. They had two children, David Keith Mason and Christine Ann Mason, born in 1953 and 1955 respectively. After national service, Gordon Mason served as a sergeant in the Palestine Police.
Walter's youngest surviving brother, Albert Ernest Mason was born was born on 22 January 1898 and baptised on 24 February 1898 at St Peter's Church, Hednesford.
Albert served in the army as a Physical Training Instructor. He started his working life as a signalman on the railways and later went to work for the menswear shop Foster Brothers', becoming manager of the Lichfield branch in Bird Street, a position he held for many years. Albert continued working well into his 70s.
Albert never married and lived for a number of years with Harold and Mabel Mason. Harold's grandson David has an early memory of Albert letting him steer his Standard 8 up and down the long driveway at the Trent Valley Pumping Station.
Little is known of Walter's eldest step-brother, Percy Mason, who was born in Brereton, near Rugeley, around May 1904 and died in Birmingham around April 1964.
Thomas and Flossie's second son Frederick Thomas Mason, known in the family as Dick, was born in Brereton on 19 January 1906. He and his step-brother Albert worked together on the roads for a time. Dick served between the wars with the Royal Artillery. He was called up for service in the Second World War and was one of the soldiers evacuated from Dunkirk. Early in 1942 he married Nellie Durose at All Saints Church in Alrewas, where Nellie worked in the Post Office.
After the war, Dick became foreman at Trent Valley Maltings, near the pumping station home of Harold Mason and his family. The two families were close and Harold and Dick shared a love of gardening; Harold's passion was sweet peas whilst Dick's was dahlias. When Dick retired from his job at Trent Valley Maltings, he and Nellie went to live with her mother at the Navigation Inn by the canal in Alrewas.
The eldest of Walter Mason's step-sisters, Violet May Mason, was born at Brereton on 4 October 1907, at Brereton near Rugeley. She married Morgan Davies on 10 September 1928 at St Michael's Church in Lichfield . He was then a Private with the South Wales Borderers at Whittington Barracks. Little is known of what happened to the couple after that.
Her sister, Madge Mason was born at Brereton on 4 November 1908, married Arthur William Richard Rooke on 19 June 1929 at St Michael's Church in Lichfield. Arthur was born on 30 September 1907 in Johannesburg, South Africa, and was a grocer by trade, with a shop in Atherstone in Warwickshire. Together they had three daughters, Silvia, Nina and Mollie Rooke, born in Atherstone around November 1930, July 1932 and April 1935 respectively. Arthur died in Atherstone around January 1972 and Madge died in Nuneaton around November 1983.
Reference, item and source
1. Grave of Walter Mason Grave at Nine Elms British Cemetery, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium © The War Graves Photographic Project
2. Nine Elms British Cemetery, Poperinge, West-Vlaanderen, Belgium © The Commonwealth War Graves Commission
3. Copy of Walter Mason’s birth certificate © General Register Office
4. Extract from the 1901 Census for Walter Mason’s family © Ancestry
5. Ordnance Survey map showing Beaudesert, Moor's Gorse and Suker's Lodge © Ordnance Survey
6. Beaudesert Hall and Park in 1814 © William Salt Library, Stafford
7. 1901 Baptism of Walter Mason's youngest brother Herbert Thomas Mason at St Peter's Church, Hednesford © Lichfield Record Office
8. 1911 Census for Walter Mason’s family © Ancestry
9. Extract from the spreadsheet "Railway workers who died in World War One" © National Railway Museum website http://www.nrm.org.uk/NRM/RailwayStories
10. Photo of London & North Western Railway locomotive in traditional livery © Chasewater Stuff's Railway Blog http://chasewaterstuff.wordpress.com/category/chasewater-diesel-locos/
11. Photo of London & North Western Railway carriage in traditional livery © The Bluebell Railway website
12. Memorial to London & North Western Railway workers who died in the Great War (donated by Network Rail to the National Arboretum) © Birmingham Updates website
13. Memorial Roll of Honour poster designed by Harry Furniss in June 1919 to record the railwaymen of the London & North Western Railway who died during the First World War © National Railway Museum website
14. World War I recruitment poster of Lord Kitchener © Imperial War Museum
15. "The Royal Horse Guards Retreat from Mons, 1914" painted by Elizabeth Southerden Thompson Butler © The Royal Hospital Chelsea
16. Poster showing the New Army Terms of Enlistment © Wikimedia Commons
17. World War I recruitment poster © Wikimedia Commons
18. Postcard of a King's Royal Rifle Corps recruitment march in London 1915 © Hulton Archive/Getty Images
19. The Ypres Salient before and after the Second Battle of Ypres, April - May 1915© The Long, Long Trail website
20. The Ruins of Ypres, May 1915 © City of Vancouver Archives
21. Hellfire Corner in 1917 © National Library of New Zealand
22. Hooge crater 1915 © World War 1 Battlefields website, ww1battlefields.co.uk
23. Dugouts at Hooge Crater © World War 1 Battlefields website, ww1battlefields.co.uk
24. First World War German flamethrower © AllPosters.com website
25. Walter Mason's medal card © Ancestry
26. Captain John Christie, founder of the Glyndebourne Opera Company, with his wife Audrey Mildmay © Glyndebourne
27. Royal Flying Corps biplane flying over the mill at Fienvillers in 1916 © Imperial War Museum
28. Camps and transport lines in Fricourt Valley, August 1916 © Imperial War Museum
29. Soldiers digging a communication trench through Delville Wood, July 1916 © Imperial War Museum
30. Map showing the advances British forces made by 14 July, 15 September and 19 November 1916 during the Battle of the Somme © Wikipedia
31. 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. field map of Delville Wood at the time of their assault on 24 August 1914 © King's Royal Rifle Corps War Diary
32. The first official photograph of a Mark I tank going into action, at the Battle of Flers-Courcelette © Imperial War Museum
33. The Mark I tank C19 "Clan Leslie" in Chimpanzee Valley preparing for the advance on Flers © Imperial War Museum
34. Trench mortar bombs ready for use in September 1916 in a reserve trench near Fricourt © Imperial War Museum
35. Citation of Sergeant L Elderfield for the Distinguished Conduct Medal, 14 November 1916 © London Gazette
36. Citation of Major H. C. M. Porter for the Distinguished Service Order, 14 November 1916 © London Gazette
37. Small box respirator and haversack © Imperial War Museum
38. Australian soldiers wearing small box respirators at Ypres, 1917 © Wikipedia
39. Inside (soldier's) view of small box respirator © Imperial War Museum
40. Allied soldiers in 1917 in billets in "Les Boves", the chalk mine tunnels under Arras © Les Boves, Arras
41. Map of the front lines on 9th April just east of Arras to Henin © Old Front Line Battlefields of WW1 website (http://battlefields1418.50megs.com)
42. "The Taking of Vimy Ridge, Easter Monday, 1917" painted in 1919 by Richard Jack (1866-1952) © Canadian War Museum, Ottawa, Ontario, Canada
43. The members of the 1921 Mount Everest Reconnaissance Expedition © The Royal Geographical Society and The Grange Collection, New York City
44. King George V with General Sir Julian Byng (Commander of the British Third Army) at the remains of Thiepval Church, 13 July 1917 © Imperial War Museum
45. Citation of Captain G. B. de Courcy-Ireland for the Military Cross, 14 November 1916 © London Gazette
46. A team of stretcher bearers struggle through deep mud to carry a wounded man to safety during the Third Battle of Ypres © Imperial War Museum
47. King's Royal Rifle Corps field map showing the locations of Nonne Boschen, Glencorse Wood, Herenthage Chateau, and Inverness Copse lying either side of the Menin Road © The National Archives WO 95/1900/2 (King's Royal Rifle Corps War Diary)
48. Map of the Messines-Wytschaete area 1917 © Wikimedia Commons and The Times Encyclopaedia of the Great War
49. The village of Wytschaete on Messines Ridge (known by the British as "Whitesheet") captured on 7th June 1917 by the 16th (Irish) Division and the 36th (Ulster) Division © Imperial War Museum
50. Members of the Women's Land Army operate a horse-drawn plough during World War One © Imperial War Museum
51. Photograph of the 44th Casualty Clearing Station © University of Oxford Great War Archive
52. Photograph of members of Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service at the 44th Casualty Clearing Station © University of Oxford Great War Archive
53. Entry in the 9th Battalion K.R.R.C. War Diary showing the December 1917 casualties © The National Archives
54. Certificate in memory of Lance Corporal Walter Mason © Commonwealth War Graves Commission
55. Map of the Nine Elms British Cemetery showing the location of the grave of Lance Corporal Walter Mason © Commonwealth War Graves Commission
56. 1914-1915 Star, British War Medal and Victory Medal © Ghillie Mòr website
57. Photograph of Lichfield War Memorial in the Garden of Remembrance © lichfieldlive.co.uk website
58. Photograph of the Lichfield War Memorial panel containing the dedication to Walter Mason © Christopher Graddon
59. War Memorial Window in the Parish Church of Saint Chad, Lichfield © www.militaryimages.net website
60. Dedication to Walter Mason on the War Memorial in the Parish Church of Saint Chad, Lichfield © www.militaryimages.net website
61. Hednesford War Memorial © Burntwood Family History Group
62. Hednesford War Memorial panel containing the dedication to Walter Mason © Burntwood Family History Group
63. Inside pages from the Remembrance Book for the Hednesford War Memorial © Burntwood Family History Group
64. Inside pages from the Remembrance Book for the Hednesford War Memorial containing the dedication to Walter Mason © Burntwood Family History Group
65. Staffordshire Roll of Honour © Walsall Local History Centre
66. Page from Staffordshire Roll of Honour containing the dedication to Walter Mason © Walsall Local History Centre
67. 7 March 1888 marriage register for Thomas Mason and Alice Cross from St Paul's Church, Fazeley, Tamworth © Lichfield Record Office
68. 20 September 1902 Directory of Probate for the death of Alice Mason, mother of Walter Mason, on 17 September 1901 © Ancestry
69. 8 March 1902 marriage register for Thomas Mason and Flossie May Ada Amelia Perry from St Editha's Church, Tamworth © Lichfield Record Office
70. 14 April 1895 baptism register for Harold Mason from St Peter's Church, Hednesford © Lichfield Record Office
71. 18 July 1925 marriage register for Harold Mason and Beatrice Mabel Robinson from St Mary's Church, Lichfield © Lichfield Record Office
72. 24 February 1898 baptism register for Albert Ernest Mason from St Peter's Church, Hednesford © Lichfield Record Office
73. Photo showing Walter Mason's brothers, Albert on the right, Harold on the left with Harold's wife Mabel in the middle © David Keith Mason
74. 1942 marriage of Frederick Thomas Mason and Nellie Durose at All Saint's Church, Alrewas © Staffordshire BMD
75 Photograph of Frederick Thomas ("Dick") Mason © David Mason
76. 10 September 1928 marriage register for Violet May Mason and Morgan Davies from St Michael's Church, Lichfield © Lichfield Record Office
77. 19 June 1929 marriage register for Madge Mason and Arthur William Richard Rooke from St Mary's Church, Lichfield © Lichfield Record Office
78. War Memorial in Winchester Cathedral Close to those soldiers of the King's Royal Rifle Corps who gave their lives in the Great War and the Second World War © Winchester Cathedral and The Royal Green Jackets