Combrook Memorial


Combrook is a small village in Warwickshire about a mile north west of Kineton but accessible only from a minor road off the B4086 Kineton- Wellesbourne road or a minor road off the Fosse Way B4455.

In 1911 the village had a population of 175 which had reduced to 149 in 1921

The War Memorial was unveiled on the 4th April 1920 by Lady Willoughby de Broke and takes the form of a stone cross near the entrance door to St. Mary and St. Margaret’s Church in the centre of the village.

There are only nine casualties commemorated on the Memorial, four of whom are brothers.


Sidney Harrison  Rifleman No. 52548 12th (Service) Battalion Royal Irish Rifles, killed in action 25th October 1918 aged 19 years.  Buried in Harlebeke New British Cemetery, West Flanders.  Formerly served as No. 41183 Royal Warwickshire Regiment.

Son of George and Annie Harrison of 20 Combrook he was born and enlisted in Warwick.

The Battalion was in 108th Brigade in the 36th (Ulster) Division and landed at Boulogne in October 1915.  It is possible that Sidney Harrison served with the 11th (Service) Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment until the 7th February 1918 when that Battalion was disbanded.

By order of the British War Cabinet a reorganisation of all British divisions in France was effected in January 1918:  the divisional infantry establishment was reduced from 12 to 9 battalions by removing one battalion from each Brigade.  This resulted inter alia in the disbandment of a number of battalions the personnel being allocated to bring other battalions up to strength.

On the 8th August 1918 the Allied forces launched the surprise attack that heralded the end of the First World War.  With skill and daring 11 Divisions of infantry and 3 cavalry divisions breached the German lines, supported by 430 tanks with another 200 more acting as supply tanks or gun-carriers or a reserve (the largest number to have been seen in any one battle of the war) and over 1700 aircraft, supported on 4th Army front by 2,034 guns. On this “black day” for the Germans the Allied forces began to see a glimmer of hope and the dawn of victory that was to come only 100 days later with the Armistice on 11th November 1918.

The period between the 28th September and 25th October 1918 can usefully be described as the Liberation of the Belgian Coast.  The 36th Division was, on the 27th September 1918, together with the 9th and 29th Divisions in II Corps, one of four Corps which made up the Second Army commanded by Sir Herbert Plumer.  A 2nd Army Order was issued on the 19th September describing the operations tobe carried out by the Belgian Army and the British 2nd    Army against the enemy’s positions between Dixmude (about 11 miles inland from the Belgian coast) and St. Eloi (3 miles south of Ypres).  Te operations were to be under the command of the King of the Belgians.  For the Belgian Army the first objectives were Clerken-Staden-Passchendaele-Broodseinde and for the 2nd Army a point southeast of Zonnebeke-Stirling Castle-Observatory Ridge-Hill 60-The Bluff.  By the 1st October 1918 the Allied Front line ran east from Dixmude to within 5 miles of Thourout when it swung south to pass about 2 miles west of Roulers, running then due south almost on the line of the main road from Roulers to Menin where it turned south west following the Lys River through Comines turning further south west to pass Messines some 2 miles north to join the old 28th September line north of Nieppe.

On the 19th October 1918 Courtrai had been found clear of the enemy although the town was subjected to some scattered shelling so that by the 20th October the front of the Second Army was across the Lys River.  The River runs in a south westerly direction into Courtrai, passing south of Menin, east of Messines to Armentieres.

The 36th Division on the left of II Corps using 107th Brigade had, at 2 a.m. on the 20th October, begun crossing the Lys about 5 miles north east of Courtrai the general line of advance of the II Corps being south east heading towards the River Scheldt.  By 8 a.m. the 107th Brigade has crossed the Courtrai-Ghent railway but had been unable to turn the enemy out of the hornets nest of the hamlet of Dries, about a mile south of the river and on the Divisional boundary.  On the 21st October whilst units from X and XV Corps had reached the western bank of the Scheldt River, of the two Corps on the left, II hung back because the French on their left, made little progress, the left of XIX then waited for II Corps whilst the right pushed on to ensure touch with X Corps.  All attempts at bridging the Scheldt failed under harassing fire of snipers and machine guns.

On the 21st October two companies of the 12th Royal Irish Rifles attacked Dries at 7 a.m. and cleared the village in half an hour so straightening the front ready for the general advance at 7.30 a.m. carried out by 1st Royal Irish Rifles and 1st Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers.  The troops had no artillery support as the divisional guns had not yet been brought across the Lys and the attackers were subjected to long range enemy machine gun fire but that night four batteries of 153rd Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery crossed to fire a barrage in support of the 107th Brigade the next day.  By the morning of the 22nd October the Lys had been crossed by numerous foot-bridges, 3 medium bridges for first-line transport and a trestle bridge used by French motor-lorries.  However the general line of advance was now faced by rising ground ending in a ridge which marked the water-shed between the Lys and Scheldt River, known as the Escaut where it crossed the French frontier, before dropping down over some 2 miles to the valley of the Scheldt.  The various crests afforded excellent positions to the enemy and it was evident that the Germans could make very effective stands before falling back across the river.  The first of these was attacked on the morning of the 22nd by the 2nd Royal Irish Rifles supported by a small barrage from the Royal Field Artillery.  The rise just over a mile north-east of Vichte and topped by a windmill was taken; this was about 4 miles south east of Courtrai and a similar distance south of the Lys.  A German counter-attack by a Prussian Assault Battalion, the most resolute the 36th Division had experienced for a long time, drove the Royal Irish off the crest and back some 800 yards but a new attack by two companies of the Battalion, going forward with great gallantry, drove the enemy off the crest and re-established the position.

On the 23rd October as the enemy appeared to be withdrawing the advance was continued all along the line behind a screen of scouts.  A squadron of French dragoons attached to the 36th Division made a dash for the River crossing at Berchen but came under heavy machine-gun fire from the hills which it was evident the enemy held in force.  That night the 107th Brigade was relieved by the 109th Brigade.

The 24th October was given over to reorganization.  Two batteries of the 173rd Brigade had crossed the Lys on the 22nd, the remainder were brought over on the 24th to support a planned attack on the 25th October.

In the II Corps the first objective was a little over the crest of the main ridge, a line about a quarter of a mile beyond the villages of Ooteghem and Ingoygherm.  The 9 a.m. attack of the 36th Division was made by three battalions of the 109th and 108th Brigades supported by a barrage from the 153rd R.F.A. Brigade.  The 109th had two battalions in line, 1st and 2nd Royal Inniskillings, the 108th one only, 12th Royal Irish Rifles.  The attackers ran at once into machine gun fire and there was a loss of direction caused by fog and the smoke-screen of the enemy barrage.  Eventually a line east of Hutsbosch was consolidated.  On the left the 12th Irish Rifles made an advance of half a mile in the face of most determined opposition.  Every house in a hamlet on the line of advance was held and the German machine-gunners fought desperately.  No less than ten were counted in ten separate houses at the days end.  Repeatedly the men had charged in upon houses defended by machine-guns and bayoneted the detachments.

It was in these actions that Private Harrison was killed together with 14 of his fellow soldiers.

However the Battalions between noon and 1 p.m. were still short of the crest of the Ooteghem-Ingoyghem-Anseghem ridge (about 7 miles south east of Courtrai and running south east from Anseghem for about 3 miles to Ooteghem).  There being no possibility of a similar advance by the French 164th Division, the 108th Brigade was swung back to Heinweg.  The 9th Division on the right had captured the crest at Ooteghem and Ingoyghem and it was determined that the 109th Brigade should that afternoon assault the crest to the north east of the section taken by the 9th Division but unfortunately although a barrage hastily planned was carried out orders did not reach the attacking battalions early enough and only three companies of the two battalions went forward, companies then being only about 50 strong. Whilst the crest was reached the frontage was so narrow that it was impossible to maintain the position.

On the 26th October the 36th Division, on the left, did not advance as the French did not move. The next day the 109th Brigade of the 36th Division following its patrols reached  Kleinberg on the crest and finding that the enemy was evacuating his positions sent its patrols on to keep touch.  In the 108th Brigade there was very little change, the French on the left making no move.

The broken nature of the country dotted with small villages, isolated farms, orchards and copses being all in favour of a delaying force, in 8 days fighting the maximum advance by the British had been no more than 7 miles and nowhere had the French or Belgians reached the Schelde.

 Rifleman Harrison was awarded the Victory and British War Medals.

Twelve of the Battalion’s casualties on the 25th October 1918 are buried in Harlebeke New British Cemetery.  These are;
No. 40137 Rifleman Frank George Bailey
No. 22301 Rifleman Thomas Birney
No. 18/656 Corporal Robert Clark
No. 192 Rifleman Samuel Gray
No. 52548 Rifleman Sydney Harrison
No. 42080 Rifleman Harold Hilton
No. 15072 Rifleman Alexander Kerr
No. 19639 Rifleman William McClure
No. 13191 Rifleman Henry McIlree
No. 52446 Rifleman Frederick Offord
No. 42774 Rifleman Alfred Charles Reed and
No. 50213 Rifleman Thomas Walker.

Harlebeke New British Cemetery is 3 miles north east of Courtrai and was created after the armistice from isolated graves and German cemeteries and records 1,024 U.K., 23 Can., 7 Aust., 4 S.A. 3 Newfld. and 21 special memorials.

Rifleman No. 3925 Robert Hart and Rifleman No. 42628 McKenzie Twidle are both buried in Ingoyghem Military Cemetery 7 miles east of Courtrai and north east of the village with 81 U.K., 3 Newfld and 54 German burials all of whom fell in the October 1918 Advance to Victory.

Finally No. 1216 Rifleman David Wright has no known grave and is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing at Passchendaele.


William George Russell Hayes  Private No. 3651 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards killed in action 15th September 1916 aged 33 years.  Commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, Somme.

Husband of Annie Maull (formerly Hayes) of Walton Woodhouse, Wellesbourne, Warwick.  Wiliam Hayes was born and enlisted in Gloucester whilst residing at Combrook.

Private Hayes served in the South African War and landed in France with his Battalion on the 11th September 1914.

In a letter dated the 13th July 1915 Lord Kitchener advised Sir John French that the King had approved the formation of a Guards Division actually formed in August 1915.  There were three Brigades. The 1st Guards Brigade consisted of the 2nd Grenadier Guards, the 2nd and 3rd Coldstream Guards and the 1st Irish Guards. The 2nd Guards Brigade consisted of the 1st Coldstream Guards, the 1st   Scots Guards, the 3rd Grenadier Guards and the 2nd  Irish Guards. The 3rd Guards Brigade consisted of the 1st Grenadier Guards, 2nd Scots Guards, 4th Grenadier Guards and the 1st Welsh Guards (itself formed following a Royal Warrant of 26th February 1915). The Pioneer Battalion was the 4th Coldstream Guards.

The Division’s first major involvement was the Battle of Loos in September 1915. The Division remained in the Laventie Sector which extended from near Richebourg l’Avoue to Fleurbaix in the Winter of 1915 – 1916 before moving North to the Ypres Salient in mid February 1916.  The Division remained in that Sector before going South to the Somme sector at the end of July 1916.

The Somme Offensive was the main Allied attack on the Western Front in 1916.  Planned in late 1915 as a joint Franco-British operation it was concerned with territorial gain but also aimed at the destruction of German manpower reserves.  French troops were expected to bear the main burden of the operation but the German Army’s assault on Verdun in February 1916 turned the Somme operation into a large-scale British attack, the French playing a lesser role.  After a preliminary bombardment which was expected to completely destroy German forward defences the plan called on the first day for the penetration of the German front line from Serre in the north to Maricourt in the south.  In the second phase it was planned to take the high ground between Bapaume and Ginchy, followed by a breakthrough towards Arras and a general advance in the direction of Cambrai.  Instead on the 1st July 1916 the attacking troops were cut down with insignificant gains by the French and the British right wing units near Montauban being off-set by total failure to the north.  The attacks nonetheless continued in a series of limited and costly advances  until in mid July the German second line was finally broken around Bazentin Ridge.  On the 20th July a new offensive was launched by the Australians on the ridge at Pozieres and the French well to the south in the region of Foucaucourt but the front remained substantially unaltered throughout August.  In September a renewed British attack the Battle of Flers-Courcelette was launched using tanks for the first time but only a small gain was achieved.  Renewed attacks in September, the Battles of Morval and Thiepval, continued in October with a pattern of limited Allied advances whenever the weather allowed.  British offensives beyond the Flers-Courcelette line, the Battles of Transloy Ridges and the Ancre Heights, were matched by French attacks in the south and the BEF made one last effort on the far east of the salient from 13 November 1916 the Battle of the Ancre (or Beaumont Hamel) before snow on the 19th November 1916 caused the final suspension of the operation.

The Battle of Flers-Courcelette took place between the 15th and 22nd September 1916 but it was essential that Guillemont and Ginchy were captured before then but it was not until the 9th September 1916 that the ruins of Ginchy were finally taken by the 16th (Irish) Division but the Germans had retained, or regained, a foothold in the Orchard on its north-east corner which the enemy held until the Tnight of the 13th/14th September when they were finally driven out by the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards.

The movement of the Guards Division to the area of the Fourth Army in the Somme sector began on the 19th August when the Brigades left the Ypres sector and on the 25th August divisional headquarters was opened at Treux, the 1st Guards Brigade being at Meaulte, the 2nd at Morlancourt and the 3rd at Vignacourt.  For the ten days following its arrival in the Treux area the Division remained in XIV Corps reserve with every phase of the attack on the enemy’s prepared positions being rehearsed by the various battalions in conditions which were made as realistic as circumstances would allow.

On the 3rd September 1916 Major General G.P.T. Feilding commanding the Guards Division held a conference with his brigadiers and the commanding officers of the battalions in which he outlined the general idea of the attack of the Fourth Army, provisionally fixed for the 15th September, which was that as soon as the line Leuze Wood-Ginchy had been definitely secured the Guards and the 6th and 56th Divisions should attack the enemy’s position between Ginchy and Flers in order to gain possession of the line Morval-Lesboeufs-Gueudecourt, in conjunction with a French advance on the right.  Two Guards brigades were to be employed in the initial attack with the third in divisional reserve.  The maximum number of men should be in the front ranks and in as little depth as possible in the hope that they would escape the German artillery barrage which was certain to be laid down as soon as the assault had been launched.

On the 8th September the 3rd Guards Brigade moved forward from Carnoy to relieve the 47th and 48th Infantry Brigades  which had suffered severely during the day in an attack upon Ginchy and a strongly fortified defensive work, the Quadrilateral, on the Ginchy-Morval road.  During the night of the 12th-13th September the 3rd Guards Brigade was relieved in the line by the 1st and the 2nd Guards Brigades and moved back until the 14th September when it advanced to Trones Wood in support of the forthcoming attack by the two other brigades.

TThe front of the Guards Division was then held by the two brigades which were to carry out the attack on the Morval-Gueudecourt line.  1st Guards Brigade with its H.Q. in Bernafay Wood was on the left, 2nd Guards Brigade with its H.Q. west of Trones Wood held the right. 

The British Front Line in Fourth Army’s sector generally resembled an arc beginning some 1,000 yards west of Combles.  The French held the sector on the eastern side of the Combles valley.  The British line swung to pass some 2,000 yards east of Guillemont, running East to West for about 1,000 yards on the northern edge of Ginchy then turning north to pass the eastern edge of Delville Wood, some 1,000 yards east of Longueval, through the southern edge of High Wood then due west some 500 yards south of Martinpuich to cross the Albert-Bapaume road about 500 yards beyond Pozieres (in Allied hands) and then passing some 2,000 yards south west of Courcelette.  XIV Corps held the sector from the south in front of Combles to Ginchy, then XV Corps the next sector to High Wood when III Corps took over with the Canadian Corps holding the line as it straddles the Albert-Bapaume road with II Corps in Reserve Army holding the next sector.

Three Divisions from XIV Corps were to advance on the 15th September, 56th Division on the right, 6th Division in the centre and the Guards on the left.  During the night of the 14th-15th September the troops of the Guards Division went into their respective assembly positions.  On the front of the 1st Guards Brigade, the 2nd and 3rd Battalions Coldstream Guards on relief were positioned with the 2nd Battalion on the right, starting off from a position in an orchard recently captured by the 2nd Battalion Grenadier Guards. The 3rd Battalion was on the left of that position facing in a north-westerly direction towards Flers. The line from which the Guards Division was called upon to launch its attack was of considerable tactical difficulty with their advance being dependent upon the ability of the 6th and 14th Divisions (on the left) to clear their flanks.  If the troops of these divisions were unable to make their way forward, the Guards would be exposed to short range fire from the Quadrilateral Redoubt on the right and from the German trenches lying between Ginchy and Delville Wood on the left.

TThe task of 56th Division was to move forward and establish a defensive flank facing Combles with the French to its right doing likewise and then to move on to capture Combles.  The object was to screen the troops of the 6th and Guards Divisions  who were to advance to capture the crucial villages of Morval, Lesboeufs and Gueudecourt.  Lanes had been left clear to enable the tanks to advance but 2 of the 3 allotted to 56th Division broke down before reaching the British line so the 56th Divisions troops in the vicinity of these lanes were mown down by the enemy machine gunners.  6th Division had in its path the Quadrilateral, a heavily wired and well-garrisoned Redoubt which, owing to inaccurate aerial observation, had placed the Redoubt on the reverse slope of the ridge instead of its summit and forward slope so had been missed by the preliminary artillery barrage.  Again 2 of the 3 tanks broke down, the one which had come up reached the Quadrilateral but was subjected to the enemy using armour-penetrating ammunition and the tank commander withdrew.  Finally there was no creeping barrage on this front so the net result was that the 6th Division lost 4,000 men for no gains at all.

Throughout the night of the 14th-15th September the British heavy artillery maintained a continuous bombardment of the enemy’s positions opposite the whole of the front of the Fourth Army.  Zero hour on the 15th September was at 6.20 a.m. when the creeping barrage came down and the two Guards brigades moved forward to the attack across a broken and featureless country which lay between them and their objectives.  The divisional boundary between the Guards Division and the 6th Division was a line about 500 yards south of the road from Ginchy to Lesboeufs and the final objective of the Guards Division was the Red line which ran to the east of Lesboeufs, 3,500 yards from Ginchy.  Intermediate objectives were the Green Line, 1,200 yards away; the Brown Line, 1,500 yards away (only an objective for the 3rd Battalion Coldstream Guards); then the Blue line 2,500 yards away.  There were no natural features on the ground demarking these “lines” but they were marked by known hostile trenches which barred the advance.  The general plan envisaged the 2nd and 3rd Battalions of the Coldstream Guards advancing to and occupying the first, second and third objectives and then the 1st Battalion Irish Guards were to pass through the Coldstreams and seize the last or Red line and if possible push out patrols beyond.

The troops of the 2nd Guards Brigade as well as having to face the fire of the enemy in front were enfiladed by machine-gun fire from the Quadrilateral.  The 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards on the left of the 2nd Guards Brigade in the impetus of its advance had come under the British creeping barrage and in the confusion caused by this mishap lost its bearing amid the smoke and moved forward in a northerly instead of a north-easterly direction.  This swinging to the left by the 1st Battalion resulted in a similar movement on the part of the 2nd and 3rd Battalions. 

Almost immediately after zero hour with the infantry moving steadily forward they came under the most terrific machine-gun fire from the junction of Pint Trench with the sunken road from Ginchy to Flers.  Officers and men fell fast.  “A platoon of the Coldstream in front of them (1st Irish Guards) crumped out of existence in one flash and roar.  After that the lines moved into a blizzard of shell and machine-gun fire where all landmarks were undistinguishable in the upheaval of explosives.” Major G.  E. Vaughan 2nd in command of the 3rd Battalion and the adjutant Captain H. A. Cubitt were amongst those  killed and Major H. D. Bentinck 2nd in command of the 2nd Battalion was severely wounded and their adjutant Captain G. R. Lane was killed.

Soon after the start the Guards Division formed two groups, caused by the flank pressures, the Right group consisting of the bulk of the two Grenadier Guards battalions and the 1st Scots Guards and 2nd Irish Guards which Group had kept the better direction.   The left Group was composed of the larger part of the three Coldstream battalions and the 1st Irish Guards, men of the 1st Irish Guards eager to get into the fight were therefore already mixed with the two Coldstream battalions from the 1st Guards Brigade with a portion of the 1st Coldstreams from the 2nd Guards Brigade.  Realizing that the attack on the left must be pressed home at all costs and that the sunken road must be immediately cleared of the enemy, Lieutenant Colonel J V Campbell D.S.O., commanding the 3rd Battalion, sounded one note on the hunting horn he was carrying sufficient to rally the leading waves, dangerously thin by that time, for example, Captain F Longueville in command of No. 2 Company of the 3rd Battalion arrived at a point 20 yards from the sunken road with only 4 men. Nonetheless the Coldstreamers and the Irishmen got to work with the bayonet when the waves went forward in one headlong and irresistible rush which  overwhelmed the Germans, large numbers being killed or taken prisoner together with 4 machine guns and a number of trench mortars.  The momentum of the rush had not come to an end and the troops swept on over the road, down the valley and over another unexpected hostile trench and on into the third German line with again a large number of the enemy being killed or taken prisoner and there it proved possible for the assaulting troops to be halted.  Casualties had been very heavy especially among the officers; 2nd Coldstream Guards had only two officers in addition to the Commanding Officer left with the battalion.  The trench which had been gained dominated the ground over which the advance had passed; it was a continuous trench well traversed with deep dug-outs and protected by 3 rows of barbed wire which had been cut by the British artillery. The trench was captured at 7.15 a.m. and it was believed that this trench was the blue line or third objective and that a further advance to the final objective was undesirable until a strong point about 500 yards away within the Right Group sector had been taken.  Whilst engaged in a manoeuvre to get the 1st Battalion Coldstream Guards more to the right, their Commanding Officer Lieutenant Colonel G. V. Baring whilst climbing over a barricade was shot in the head.

It was then discovered that the line the Guards had advanced to was not the third objective but was in fact only the Green Line, the first objective, and so Colonel Campbell ordered the 2nd and 2rd Battalions of the Coldstream Guards to press on forward in the direction of Lesboeufs Church which was then visible, in conjunction with some parties of the 1st Battalion Irish Guards in touch with troops from the 14th Division on the left.  Again a note from his hunting horn was enough to rally the troops in a second, impetuous and irresistible rush to the objective, marked by a German trench despite heavy machine gun and artillery fire from the right of the advance.  For his actions that day Lieutenant Colonel John Campbell was awarded the V.C.

TIn fact aerial observation revealed that there were no British troops in the Blue Line and what had been reached was the Brown Line and just beyond it.

Before dark the Germans attempted to retrieve their losses by counter-attacks, those on the 1st Guards Brigade were driven off but those on the 2nd Guards Brigade eventually obliged their most advanced posts to withdraw back.

This was an infantry battle throughout, for the tanks in this their first co-operation with the troops of the Guards Division proved of little or no assistance to the infantry.  They were late in crossing the parapet and were unable to move forward in advance of the leading battalions.  They were described as “wandering about in various directions and are reported to have done a certain amount of useful fighting on their own account …….but certainly failed on this occasion to carry out their main tasks and were of no help to the infantry in the subduing of machine-gunfire.” 

On the 16th September the 3rd Guards Brigade continued the advance and then on the night of the 16th-17th September 1916 the Division was relieved, the 1st Guards Brigade moving back to the neighbourhood of Fricourt. 

In the period between the 10th and 17th September 1916 the 1st Guards Brigade had 15 officers and 280 other ranks killed in action, 42 officers and 1,082 other ranks wounded and 2 officers and 423 other ranks missing.

Private Hayes was one of those killed in action in the operations on the 15th September 1916.

Private Hayes was awarded the 1914 Star and clasp, the Victory and British War Medals.


George Albert Hirons, Private No. 20198 11th (Service) Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment died of wounds 25th September 1917 aged 36 years.  Buried Godewaersvelde British Cemetery, Nord.  The Cemetery is close to the Belgian frontier in Northern France.  It was begun in July 1917 between the Battle of Messines and the Battle of Ypres and records 894 U.K., 65 Aust., 4 Can., 2 N.Z., 2 S.A., 1 Ind., and 19 German burials.

George Hirons was the eldest son of Joseph Hirons and Sarah Hirons of Combrook.  He was born in Heathcote, Warwick and enlisted in Warwick.

In 1901 Joseph Hirons (43) an Agricultural Labourer was living in Combrook with his wife Sarah (42) and their children Joseph (19) working as a Gardener, Agnes (14), Frederick (12), Percy (11), Elsie Jane (8), Alice (6) and Alfred (3).  George was not living at home.  Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Hirons lost four of their sons in the War.

In 1907 George married, and his widow Mary Ann Hirons of Ashorne, Wellesbourne, Warwick survived him.

The 11th Battalion was formed at Warwick in October 1914.  The 37th Division was formed in March 1915 but in April, the 16th (Irish) Division being so far behind in its training, it was decided to replace that division by the 44th Division which was then renumbered 37th Division with three Brigades 110th, 111th and 112th and with 11th Royal Warwickshire in 112th Brigade were 6th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment,   8th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, 10th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

GFollowing intensive training the Division received orders to move to France in July 1915 and on the 2nd August concentration of the Division was complete around Tilques, north-west of St. Omer.

In July 1917 in preparation for the Third Battle of Ypres the 37th Division was transferred from 1st Army to 2nd Army in the Ypres sector and moved into IX Corps.

Between the 31st July and 2nd August 1917 the Battle of Pickem Ridge, the opening stage of the 3rd Battle of Ypres, was fought and only the 63rd Brigade, with 8th East Lancashire Regiment from 112th Brigade, from the 37th Division was involved.  On the 25th August 1917 Sir Douglas Haig, the commander-in-chief, took the decisive step of transferring overall responsibility for the offensive from General Sir Hubert de la Poer Gough, commander of the 5th Army, to General Sir Herbert Charles Onslow  Plumer of the 2nd Army.

The 2nd Army entered the 3rd Battle of Yres in earnest with the attack on the Menin Road Ridge on the 20th September, being the first in a series of set-piece attacks using crushing artillery barrages on narrow fronts in support of infantry attacks with limited objectives.  The British front line on the morning of the 20th September south of the Menin Road, which runs East of Ypres through Gheluvelt and on to Menin itself, was held from the southern-most position, south of Shrewsbury Forest, by the 19th Division, then came the 39th Division the line running through the middle of Shrewsbury Forest, then the 41st and then the 23rd Division took over, up to the Menin Road itself.   By the evening of the 20th September the line had been advanced about 1,000 yards to the east so the whole of Shrewsbury Forest was in 2nd Army hands while nearer to the Menin Road itself the advance was nearer 1,500 yards the whole of Inverness Copse straddled by the road was in Allied hands with Tower Hamlets, a row of German pill boxes, holding out, and the German held village of Gheluvelt still another 750 yards away.

On the 23rd September 1917 the 37th Division relieved the 39th Division in the Menin area, the 6th Bedfordshire Regiment being in the front line with 10th Loyal North Lancashire in support.  Probably on the 25th September the 39th Division came back to the front ready to participate in the Battle of Polygon Wood, the second phased attack by General Plumer’s forces, beginning on the 26th September.

Private George Hirons was almost certainly wounded in the Menin Road Ridge operations when the 37th Division was holding the line south of the Menin Road and taken back to one of the three Casualty Clearing Stations at Godewaersvelde,  the 11th, 37th and 41st Clearing Stations.

Private George Hirons was awarded the Victory and British War Medals.


Joseph Henry Hirons, Private No. 22640 11th (Service) Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment killed in action 10th April 1917 aged 35 years.  Commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing, Faubourg D’Amiens Cemetery, Arras, Pas de Calais.  The Memorial is on the road out of Arras to Doullens, records 35,928 Missing who fell in the Battles of Arras, Vimy Ridge, 1st, 2nd and 3rd Battles of the Scarpe, Battles of Arleux, Bullecourt and Hill 70, 1917 and all Missing of the R.C.C. and R.A.F., who fell on the western Front.

Second son of Joseph Hirons and Sarah Hirons of Combrook he was born in Warwick and enlisted in Rugby.

Husband of Ethel Maud Eden formerly Hirons of Combrook and before the war had been employed as a gardener.

The 11th Battalion was formed at Warwick in October 1914.  The 37th Division was formed in March 1915 but in April, the 16th (Irish) Division being so far behind in its training, it was decided to replace that division by the 44th Division which was then renumbered 37th Division with three Brigades 110th, 111th and 112th and with 11th Royal Warwickshire in 112th Brigade were 6th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment,   8th Battalion East Lancashire Regiment, 10th Battalion Loyal North Lancashire Regiment.

Following intensive training the Division received orders to move to France in July 1915 and on the 2nd August concentration of the Division was complete around Tilques, north-west of St. Omer.

Allied plans for 1917 included the resumption of the Somme offensive by the Fourth and Fifth Armies in early February.  The Third Army was to thrust south-east to block a German retreat, with the Fifth Army forming a defensive flank by attacking north of the Third Army while the French attacked south of the Somme.   The French later were to launch their assault in the Champagne area.  A number of significant changes after the conception of these plans necessitated their modification. General Joseph Joffre, blamed for French unpreparedness at JVerdun, was removed from operational command in December.  His replacement General Robert Nivelle requested that the British forces should take over more of the front, freeing French troops for a more ambitious and spectacular offensive, involving more than a million men on a broad front between Roye and positions east of Reims. Then before any Allied offensive could begin the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg line restricted British attacks to the flanks of the abandoned area.  The term “line” was perhaps a misnomer for an enemy system of linked fortified areas stretching behind the Western Front from the northern coast to Verdun and extending to a depth of up to 15 kilometres. 

The main role in the British attack now fell to the Third Army.  If the British were able to break through the German defences north of the Hindenburg Line they could outflank the new German positions.  The Germans had anticipated such a move by digging a strong support line from Queant, near the northern end of the Hindenburg Line through Drocourt to the north, thereby covering the rear of their old defences in the Arras area.  The British Army’s only chance of success lay in its ability to break this uncompleted support line some five miles behind the front defensive system before German reserves could be brought up. At 0530 on 9th April 1917 four divisions of Canadian infantrymen attacked on a 7500 yard frontage with the objective of capturing Vimy Ridge held by the Germans since October 1914 and converted into a veritable fortress dominating the Douai Plain.  The attack was being made in conjunction with a major assault by eight infantry divisions of the Third Army south of the ridge their task being to thrust eastwards from Arras on each side of the River Scarpe.  The main assault was supported by about 2000 guns and 70 tanks covering a frontage of about 7000 yards which was to be widened by flank attacks including that against Vimy Ridge.

Attacking from East of Arras there were 4 objective lines, black about 1500 yards from the Eastern edge of Arras, blue a further 1,500 yards, red a further 2,000 yards and the green line (final objective) to Monchy another 3,500 yards.

It was hoped that the strongly fortified village of Monchy-le-Preux would be captured on the first day and the Monchy line was code-named the Green Line.  Monchy is about 6 miles south east of Arras.  Monchy, nearly 3 miles behind the German front line, dominated the central battlefield.  Standing on a high plateau, with its odd sentinel-like church spire surrounded by a tight cluster of red brick houses, it appeared safe, serene and remote.  To the north-west it was protected by two natural barriers, first Orange Hill and then Observation Ridge, and between the two lay a deep depression, Battery Valley.  From this sheltered spot German batteries lobbed shell after shell into Arras.

The task of the 37th Division on the 9th April was to pass through the12th and 15th Divisions and seize a line from Guemappe, south of the Arras-Cambrai road, north to Monchy le Preux.  In the afternoon of the 9th April units from the 12th Division had swept down the eastern slope of Observation Ridge and could see in front Battery Valley dotted with German artillery, some batteries already abandoned, some having got their teams up making off as fast as they could, others firing point blank at the British Infantry at ranges of only a few hundred yards.  By late afternoon companies of infantry from the 12th and 15th Divisions had reached their objectives, in effect the Brown Line, although having captured Feuchy Chapel Redoubt units were stopped by Church Work, uncut wire and machine guns.

Units from the 37th Division had left Arras at 8.30 a.m. and at 12 noon the 111th and 112th Brigades were ordered up to the Black Line.  At 1.40 p.m. the 112th Brigade was ordered to continue the advance and halt under cover of Observation Ridge and then at 3 p.m. Major-General Williams issued orders for the 112th Brigade to go forward in rear of the 12th Division, the 111th in rear of the 15th Division. Appreciating that the German Redoubt near Feuchy Chapel had been taken, Brigadier General R C Maclachlan, commanding 112th Brigade did not understand that the wire of the rest of the line was uncut.  Two Battalions of the 112th  Brigade advanced with the intention of forcing a way through but coming under heavy fire and seeing the uncut wire and the enemy in strength halted on the road through Feuchy Chapel and dug in. The 111th Brigade , which had the most vital objective in the Green Line, Monchy village, also came up from Battery Valley on the left of the 112th Brigade with a report that the Wancourt-Feuchy trenches had been captured but came under heavy machine-gun fire from these trenches at about 6 p.m.

The original infantry attack plan envisaged the capture of the Brown Line by 1.30 p.m. and then the advance to the Green Line beginning at 3.30 p.m. It was not until 6.30 p.m., that VI Corps headquarters advised Major General Williams that the situation on the fronts of the 3rd and 12th Divisions was not clear but that the 15th Division had captured the Brown Line and that the 37th Division was to pass through the 15th Division.  He ordered the 37th Division to push through the 15th Division and attack Monchy-le-Preux, the main objective of the Corps and the key position of the southern attack.  The Brown Line ran East of Athies, across the River Scarpe, East of Feuchy and then due south to include the Wancourt – Feuchy Line, an additional German defensive line, passing West of Orange Hill, Chapel Hill and Wancourt with Monchy a considerable distance away to the East.  Battery Valley runs from the Scarpe swinging round to the South West of Feuchy.

However by that time, 6.30 p.m., both the 111th and 112th Brigades were committed to the advance well within the 12th Division’s area and darkness was fast approaching.  All the infantry attacks were halted by nightfall on the forward slopes of Orange Hill and as far east as Les Fosses Farm, on the Arras-Cambrai road.

By 9 p.m. on the 9th April 1917 Third Army was estimating that over 8,000 of the enemy had been taken prisoner and 152 guns captured and the casualties were certainly less than half the number inflicted upon the enemy.  “Easter Monday of the year 1917 must be accounted, from the British point of view, one of the great days of the war.  It witnessed the most formidable and at the same time most successful British offensive hitherto launched.”

The heaviest snowfalls of the whole winter occurred on the 10th, 11th and 12th April.  Continuous snow and rain very soon turned those parts of the battlefield that had been under heavy shell-fire into quagmires.   On the 10th April 1917 the 12th Division still had as an objective the Wancourt-Feuchy line, nearly a mile long and with the wire uncut but by crossing this line where it was held by the 15th Division, and by moving down behind it whilst other battalions advanced frontally succeeded, with the assistance of a single tank, Germans being captured and patrols finding Chapel Hill abandoned the task of the 12th Division was then complete.

During the night 9th/10th April the 111th and 112th Brigades were brought back from the area of the Wancourt-Feuchy line where their troops had become mixed up with those of the 12th Division and re-organised south west of Monchy, west of la Bergere near the Arras-Cambrai road.  The role of the 111th Brigade was to capture Monchy with the 112th to provide flank support passing through the 12th Division once that division had taken Chapel Hill, east of the Brown Line and straddling the Arras-Cambrai road.  The other brigade in the 37th Division, the 63rd Brigade, to cover the other flank was in fact across the Brown Line and at Orange Hill, so its orders were changed to push on and gain all the ground it could between Monchy and the Scarpe River with the 111th Brigade following and then to swing to the right to attack Monchy itself.

Once the 12th Brigade had taken Chapel Hill, the 112th Brigade would pass through it and endeavour to reach a line between la Bergere on the Arras-Cambrai road and the mill south-east of Monchy.  At about 12 noon the 112th Brigade began its advance, the leading battalions, the 8/East Lancashire and 6/Bedfordshire, were over Chapel Hill in artillery formation before the enemy could bring down a barrage to check them.  Eight guns of the 112th Machine Gun Company on both Chapel Hill and Orange Hill to the North began to barrage Guemappe and Monchy over the heads of the attacking troops.  Enemy artillery and machine gun fire forced the two leading battalions to deploy with the 8/East Lancashire finally holding a line north to south through Les Fosses Farm on the Arras-Cambrai road 1,500 yards east of the Wancourt-Feuchy line, the Brown Line.  The 6/Bedfordshire on the right got to within 600 yards from the north-west corner of Guemappe, on the green line south of the Arras-Cambrai road but had to pull back 200 yards.  Companies of the 11th Royal Warwickshire and the 10th Loyal North Lancashire had been sent forward in support.  The 11th Royal Warwickshire were advancing south of the Arras-Cambrai road, the 10th Loyal North Lancashire to the North.  The line came up to a field of barbed wire where it was for a time held up.  At dusk another unsuccessful attempt was made to advance but the Monchy machine guns brought this attempt to a halt and both the Battalions in support dug themselves in.

At 5 a.m. on the 11th April units from VI Corps supported by the 3rd Cavalry Division began the attack between the Arras-Cambrai road and the Scarpe.  The 15th Division attacked between Monchy and the Scarpe while the 37th Division attacked Monchy village itself.  In the village itself, 1st Battalion, 17th Bavarian Regiment had taken over positions in the village overnight and had little chance to arrange a proper defence.  As a result in the attack by the 37th Division at dawn the German battalion was virtually destroyed.  The 13/Kings Royal Rifle Corps and 13/Rifle Brigade (111th Brigade, 37th Division) occupied the village while the 10th and 11th Battalions (15th Division) of the Highland Light Infantry held positions to the north of the village.  However the enemy artillery had been deployed in a great arc behind Monchy ready to pour fire on to the village.  Units of cavalry also advanced but because of heavy fire both regiments had to veer into Monchy itself instead of skirting around the village, leading to the remaining Germans in the village fleeing.  However the Germans then began a very heavy artillery barrage of the village causing casualties to the cavalry, both horses and men.  The infantry of the 37th Division in Monchy suffered the loss of virtually all of the officers and a considerable number of other ranks and, being incapable of making an active defence, were set to work collecting the wounded, digging and salvaging tools and ammunition with the cavalry now dismounted taking over the defence of the village against possible German counter attacks.

General Nivelle’s attack opened on the 16th April 1917 the main offensive being between Reims and Soissons the aim being the capture of the heights dominating the Ailette Valley above the plain of Laon crossed by the Chemin des Dames and was an absolute failure costing over 130,000 casualties in five days leading to Nivelle’s replacement and Mutinies in the French Army.

Private Joseph Hirons was one of 19 casualties killed in action during this advance on the 10th April 1917.  14 of these have no known grave and are commemorated on the Arras Memorial.  They are:

No. 27762 Private Arthur Allcock,
No. 12637 Corporal Thomas Bramley,
No. 11059 Lance Corporal George Bertram Coleman,
No. 16/19996 Private James Davis,
No. 8556 Private Alfred George Fairbrother,
No. 22640 Private Joseph Henry Hirons,
No. 18448 Private Horace Thomas Perkins,
No. 9249 Lance Corporal Bernard Harold Pitcher,
No. 28555 Private Joseph Rider,
No. 21703 Private Richard Vickers,
No. 21730 Private William Vines,
No. 17383 Private Arthur James Wickers,
No. 8054 Private David Wood and
No. 21734 Private Arthur C Wyatt.

Feuchy Chapel British Cemetery is 3 miles south east of Arras near the Arras-Cambrai road.  Buried in this Cemetery are;

No. 15038 Lance Corporal Samuel William Parratt,
No. 6865 Private William Paul and
No. 9053 Lance Corporal John Henry Smith.

Tank Cemetery Guemappe is 6 miles south east of Arras and buried here is;
No. 22633 Private Harkley Dale.

Ste. Catherine British Cemetery is about a mile from Arras and buried here is;
No. 9226 Private William Horrocks.
Private Joseph Hirons was awarded the Victory and British War Medals.

Frederick Hirons, Rifleman No. 8279  3rd Battalion King’s Royal Rifle Corps killed in action 2nd March 1915 aged 25 years.  Commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial to the Missing.

Third son of Joseph Hirons and Sarah Hirons of Combrook.

Born Combrook, enlisted Warwick.

On the outbreak of the war the Battalion was at Meerut in India and sailed from Bombay on the 16th October 1914. The Battalion arrived at Plymouth and went then to Winchester to join the 80th Brigade, 27th Division and landed at Havre on the 21st December 1914.

The other Battalions in the Brigade were the 2nd Battalion King’s (Shropshire Light Infantry), 4th Battalion King’s Royal Corps. and 4th Battalion Rifle Brigade. The Princess Patricia’ Canadian Light Infantry was attached.

The 27th Division concentrated in the St. Omer, Arques,Aire area the various battalions engaged in route marching, and entrenching practised daily.  Parties of officers and sergeants visited the trenches at the front.  The 27th and the 28th Divisions were then formed into V Corps.  After about a fortnight orders required the 27th Division to take over trenches near St. Eloi from the French 32nd Division which happened on the nights of the 5th/6th and 6th/7th January 1915, the trenches taken over being from the Kemmel –Wytschaete road (just north of Hollandscheschuur Farm, in the German lines) north-eastwards to a position east of St. Eloi.  The village of St. Eloi itself and the Mound (an artificial heap of earth about 30 feet high and about half an acre in extent), about 200 yards south of the village centre were within the British lines, the German front line being about 500 yards from the village centre. The troops of the first Brigade to go into the trenches, the 80th, had to make a 17 mile march to reach the trenches and were wearing only indifferent foreign service boots – no new ones being available – suffering subsequently severely from trench feet.  The French trenches taken over were in an exceedingly poor state, both as regards protection and drainage and were far from a continuous line but were nothing more than a series of detached trenches with gaps of 30 to 50 yards between them and either no communication trenches or nothing but  water-logged ditches in which water stood 2 feet deep. There were no dugouts, the bottom of the trenches was mud, the water in the rear trenches coming up to the knees and in the fire trench was waist deep, there was no possibility of movement in the trenches for these were barely 3 feet wide and with no where to put down a rifle and keep it dry so every rifle had to be held the whole of a 48 hour tour.  Men standing in them were over their knees in liquid mud and, unless constantly moving, gradually sank.  Brushwood, straw, planks etc. were all tried to make a secure floor for the trenches but all gradually sank.  Men slept, if they ever did sleep, leaning against the back of the trench in a standing position.  At the end of the two days and nights and on relief they marched out, if they were then capable of movement.  No blankets were taken to the trenches and the cooked rations when they came up at night from Vormezeele were because of the mud and dirt usually inedible.  Half a mile behind the trenches were the ruins of the village of Vormezeele which afforded some shelter otherwise there was no cover for anything until the village of Dickebusch was reached, one and a half miles from the lines with Westoutre another 8 miles in the rear.

The German position was wholly different, being on higher and drier ground with well built trenches and some of the enemy back lines could be seen made of masses of sandbags. The German Artillery was unfettered by ammunition constraints, the British artillery being limited to 3 rounds per day with even that not being fired.

The best method of occupying the line was difficult to judge.  The French had held the line very lightly relying entirely on their artillery but the 27th Division had inexperienced Artillery and very little ammunition and so had to hold the line in far greater strength.  It took about a brigade actually in the front and support trenches to make the position anything like secure.  The trenches themselves were either barricades of earth too thin to keep out bullets or shallow broad trenches which soon became water courses.  Several men were lost on the first night because of the mud, drowned or smothered.  The Division was holding a line about 3,500 yards in length with no communication trenches and so all reliefs had to be carried out over the top.  In the centre portion of the line even by day movement by small parties was possible with care because of woods and the uneven nature of the ground but to both the left and right of this portion the country was flat and open making movement by day impossible.  In places the enemy’s trenches were not more than 20 yards away.

tUp to the middle of March 1915 there was no engagement of more than local importance on the British front but there were several attacks in which the Germans were generally the aggressors, followed by counter-attacks to recover lost trenches.  For example on the 28th January the enemy’s guns opened on St. Eloi Mound with high explosives destroying the dug-outs in rear of the Mound completely.  Then on the 14th February the 82nd Brigade of the Division lost some trenches near St. Eloi and the 3rd Battalion was loaned to the 82nd Brigade to help in the recovery the counter attack taking place during the night of the 14th/15th February and the Battalion took a successful and distinguished part in it but both officers and other ranks were killed.  The  Bavarian Corps which held this part of the enemy front was full of fight.  The opposing trenches were within bombing distance of each other and bombing was incessant.  Rifle fire went on all night.

Rifleman Frederick Hirons was one of 8 from the 3rd Battalion killed in action on the 2nd March 1915.  The others were:
No. 8363 Rifleman Albert Eccleston
No. R/7720 Rifleman William Egan
No. 8334 Rifleman George Albert Graves
No. 8586 Rifleman Frederick King
No. 9075 Rifleman Percy Miller
No. A/344 Rifleman Patrick Mooney and
No. R/5884 Rifleman Arthur William Southall.

None has any known grave and all are commemorated on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial.
At 5 p.m. on the 14th March 1915 the Germans made a surprise attack on a larger scale at St. Eloi firing two mines.  They captured the village, the trenches near it and The Mound from the 82nd Brigade of the 27th Division.  There was severe hand to hand fighting.  A counter attack in the early hours of the 15th March led to the recovery of the village and the trenches but The Mound remained in the enemy’s hands because of their immediate consolidation of the captured position and this gave them good observation over the British positions. 

Rifleman Frederick Hirons was awarded the 1914-1915 Star, the Victory  and British War Medals.

Alfred Ernest Hirons, Private No. 24670  2/7th Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment (T.F.) died of wounds 13th April 1918 aged 21 years.  Buried Vieille-Chapelle New Military Cemetery, Lacoutre, Pas de Calais.

Fifth son of Joseph Hirons and Sarah Hirons of Combrook, he was born and resided in Combrook and enlisted in Leamington Spa.  Before the war he was employed by the North Western Railway Company.

The Battalion was in 182nd Brigade 61st (2nd South Midlands) Division.  The Division landed in France on the 21st May 1916

By February 1918 there were unmistakable signs that the enemy was planning a major offensive but the problem was to identify upon which sector the blow would fall.  It was subsequently established that the German Army Commander, General von Hutier, was opposing the Fifth Army and that was where the blow was likely to fall as he was the architect of the Austrian victory at Caporetto and at Riga on the Eastern Front and he banked on the element of surprise, a hurricane bombardment followed by his troops surging forward behind a rolling barrage  sweeping all opposition aside, bypassing strong-points for mopping up by following formations.   

By the evening of the 20th March 1918 a ground fog had developed steadily over the whole area occupied by the British Fifth and Third Armies which thickened during the night.  Some British Divisions set about manning their battle stations forthwith and from about 3.30 a.m. onwards the artillery began intermittent fire on areas where it was thought the Germans might be assembling.

About 4.40 a.m. on the 21st March 1918 a terrific bombardment opened on the whole front of the Fifth Army;  on the frontages of V, IV and VI Corps of the Third Army and on the front of the First Army between Fleurbaix (just north of the La Bassee canal) and Armentieres. The bombardment, which included gas shell, at first appeared to be directed chiefly on artillery positions, and on machine-gun posts in the Battle Zone as well as behind that zone.  Initially the shelling of the forward zones was insignificant but from 9.35 a.m. light and heavy trench mortars opened rapid fire on the British front lines.

The British artillery responded to the German bombardment firing on their night lines as unable to see their aiming posts and orders were issued for the troops held in readiness behind the Battle Zones to man battle stations.

At 9.40 a.m. the German bombardment changed to a creeping barrage behind which the specially trained Storm Troops equipped with flamethrowers and light machine-guns advanced:  more than a million German troops had been lined up to attack the fronts of the British Third and Fifth Armies.

tThe 61st Division covered a front of about 6,000 yards mostly on the reverse slope of a spur running north from St. Quentin.  It was in XVIII Corps and was on the 22nd March still holding the front of the Battle Zone when it was subjected to a very heavy German attack resulting in a decision for the whole of XVIII Corps to retire to the left bank of the River Somme.   On the 24th March the Division was described as “sadly depleted”  obviously in numbers and was in reserve near Ham and moved to Roye the following day remaining in that area until the 26th March 1918.

The German offensive was halted by General Erich Ludendorff, quarter master general to Field Marshal Paul von Hindenburg German Army chief of staff on the 5th  April 1918.  Whilst the offensive had forced huge gaps in the British 5th Army line, advancing up to 40 miles in places, there had been no strategic advantage gained.  There had been considerable casualties in the German Army especially amongst the storm troopers who could not easily be replaced.  The German armies had also outrun their supplies which had to be brought forward over ground ravaged by 3 years of war.

Taking stock of the BEF resources on the 1st April 1918 there were inter alia fifteen exhausted divisions still in or near the British front line of which the 61st Division was one.  In the period 21st – 27th March 1918 the Division had lost 213 officers and 5,328 other ranks, these figures included lightly wounded and absentees who rejoined later.

On the 6th April OHL (the German Supreme Command) made its assessment of the British front.  The strongest sector was around Arras.  However to the north the front was held by tired divisions battered by the March offensive: the Portuguese troops on the Lys were regarded as particularly weak and OHL had a similar view of the Belgian army further north.

The Lys offensive followed.  It was intended to capture the commanding heights of Mont Kemmel, Cassel and Mont des Cats which would render the occupation of the Messines Ridge and the southern part of the Ypres Salient most difficult for the British.  Next it was intended to take the vital rail centre of Hazebrouck and the line of the Cassel-Poperinghe-Ypres road which would cut off the route of supply to the Ypres front and also affect the supply of the important Bethune sector, between the River Lys and the La Bassee Canal.  Having overrun the southern sector of the Ypres Salient, the intention was to drive on to the coast between Calais and Dunkirk which would lead to the defeat of the Allied forces in Flanders.

From March 31st onwards  British aircraft reported a general northward movement of German reserves and artillery by road and rail concentrating in the areas northwards from the La Bassee Canal.  That area was held mainly by Divisions which had been involved in the substantial fighting in the area of the Somme and which had been sent North to recuperate and receive fresh troops to make up for those killed or wounded in that fighting.  The drafts to bring the divisions up to establishment had been almost entirely composed of lads of 19 with 9 months training arriving in large batches with a portion being kept back in the corps area for a further 3 months training.  (The age limit for service overseas had been 19 years but because of the losses in the 21st March offensive was reduced in April 1918 to 18 years 7 months and then 18 years 6 months, who had 6 months training, until the end of August 1918 when the limit for overseas service was put back to 19 years).

It was originally intended that the German 4th and 6th Armies would attack simultaneously, 4th Army north of the River Lys towards Messines, 6th Army to attack the Portuguese on the front between Armentieres and the La Bassee canal, cross the River Lys and push on to Hazebrouck but 4th Army was unable to meet the 9th April start date because of the poor weather conditions and lack of sufficient artillery.

At 4 a.m. on the 9th April 1918 an intense bombardment was opened on the 11 mile front between the La Bassee Canal and Armentieres using high explosive and poison gas.  Whilst the main German infantry attack did not begin until about 8.45 a.m., supported by heavy mortar fire on the front line, parties of German infantry had advanced about 7 a.m. to force the 2nd Portuguese Division back the enemy taking 6,000 Portuguese prisoners and creating a 3 mile wide gap in the British line.   North of the River Lys was the responsibility of XV Corps of the British First Army whilst XI Corps was responsible for the area south of the River down to the La Bassee Canal.  The attack on the Givenchy sector adjacent to the canal failed but on the first day over 200 officers and over 3,400 other ranks were admitted to the Medical units of First Army and the number of dead and those captured could not be calculated.

At 2.45 a.m. on the 10th April, the German 4th Army bombardment barrage began and three German divisions attacked at 5.15 a.m. on a 7 mile front.  Messines was encircled and Ploegsteert taken but British resistance was strong on the high ground.    Obviously reinforcements were required.

During the morning of the 10th April the 61st Division which since the 3rd April had been resting and refitting around Pissy (10 miles west of Amiens) in reserve of the Fourth Army was (less artillery) placed at the disposal of  XI Corps. The 2/7th Battalion of the Royal Warwickshire Regiment had received reinforcements and, with the 2nd/6th Battalion was on the morning of the 10th April sent north in haste to Calonne-dur-Lys, a town on the River Lys south west of Merville.  The units of the 61st Division were sent up piecemeal as they arrived generally taking up ground north of an east-west line running through Paradis, a hamlet about 4 miles south-east of Calonne. 

By the morning of the 12th April after 3 days of battle Estaires, Merville and the village of Robecq, about 9 miles north west of Bethune (all of which had avoided serious damage, were smoking ruins).  Initially centred on the hamlet of Pacaut, about a mile west of Paradis, three German divisions attacked the 2/6th Royal Warwickshire which was quickly overwhelmed with the survivors joining the 2nd/7th Royal Warwickshire which had been on their left and nearer to Calonne, occupying the eastern bank of the River Clarence (which runs in a south westerly direction from Calonne towards Robecq) since the evening of the 11th April. By 8.45 a.m. the posts of that Battalion were also being driven in with the 7th Battalion Gordon Highlanders having retired across the Clarence River.

The 2nd/4th Battalion of the Oxford and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry was another of the 61st Division units from 184th Brigade sent up as they arrived who had passed through Robecq at about 9 a.m. on the 12th April to link up with the hard-pressed Warwickshire Battalions.  That evening an order was received to retire across the Clarence River.  During the night German pressure drove the 61st Division out of Merville with the enemy moving into the town about 4 a.m. on the 13th April.

In this period the 2nd/7th Battalion had casualties of 4 officers and 235 men, Prvate Hirons being one of those wounded who subsequently succumbed to his wounds being buried in Vieille-Chapelle New Military Cemetery which is about 6 miles north of Bethune. 

Private Alfred Hirons was awarded the Victory and British War Medals.


Herbert Hadland Oldham, Private No. 35904  14th (Service) Battalion Royal Warwickshire Regiment died of wounds in a  Casualty Clearing Station on the 28th September 1918 aged 18 years and is buried in Thilloy Road Cemetery, Beaulencourt, Pas de Calais.

Son of Alfred Oldham and Jessie Maria Oldham of 35 Combrook.  Born Combrook and enlisted Gloucester.

The Battalion was in 13th Brigade, 5th Division and landed at Boulogne on the 21st November 1915. 

On the 8th August 1918 the Allied forces launched the surprise attack that heralded the end of the First World War.  Eleven Infantry Divisions and three Cavalry Divisions breached the German lines, supported by 430 tanks with another 200 more acting as supply tanks or gun-carriers or a reserve (the largest number to have been seen in any one battle of the war) and over 1700 aircraft, supported on 4th Army front by 2,034 guns. On this “black day” for the Germans the Allied forces began to see a glimmer of hope and the dawn of victory that was to come only 100 days later with the Armistice on 11th November 1918.

From the 13th August 1918, the 5th Division was, with the 37th, 42nd and the New Zealand Divisions, in IV Corps of the Third Army and on the night of the 18th August the 5th Division moved to the Authie-Doullens area, moving forward the following night to near Couin and Coigneux.  This move was all part of the Third Army’s push on Cambrai, protected by the Hindenburg Line of German defences, following an instruction issued by General Sir Julian Byng, commanding the Third Army, that the Third Army was to press the enemy back towards Bapaume without delay and to make every effort to prevent the enemy from destroying road and rail communications.

After dark on the 20th August the march to the assembly trenches on the western side of Bucquoy (about 3 miles East of Gommecourt) averaging 8 or 9 miles over totally unknown country, was successfully carried out.  Zero hour on the 21st August 1918 was at 4.55 a.m. and by 7.40 a.m. the attacking battalions had reached a line west of Achiet-le-Petit, about 2,000 yards south east of Bucquoy, with very few casualties.  The attack was continued on the 22nd August, heading south towards the village of Irles but the enemy remained in strength in that village and so at 7.30 p.m. the 13th Brigade was moved up to attack with the attacking battalion being the1st Battalion Royal West Kents, the 14th and 15th     Battalions Royal Warwickshire Regiment with the 2nd Battalion King’s Own Scottish Borderers in support.

On the 25th August, the 5th Division received orders to relieve the 37th Division which was effected in the early hours of the 26th August following which the King’s Own Scottish Borderers captured the Village of Beugnatre, with 2 companies from the 14th Royal Warwicks being sent up to re-inforce the line.

The area of France where the fighting took place is some 12 miles south east of Bapaume and approaching the Hindenburg Line which General Erich Ludendorff, German Army quartermaster,  had ordered was to be the furthest line eastwards to which he could contemplate a withdrawal.  The fighting in this period was bitter with casualties on both sides mounting.

Following a three day pause, on the 29th August patrols from the New Zealand Division pushed through Bapaume, with units from the 5th Division continuing the advance until the 4th September when a line Hermies-Havrincourt Wood had been reached.  The Division had advanced close on 14 miles and whilst the casualties had been severe – 210 officers and 4,065 other ranks – but not out of proportion to the results gained.  The 5th Division remained at rest to the 12th September whilst the 37th Division continued the advance beyond Havrincout Wood.

On the 13th September the 5th Division took over from the New Zealand Division with the 13th Brigade in front, the line running from the high ground East of Gouzeaucourt Wood to the south-west of Trescault Spur.  The role of the 5th Division was to advance the right of the line some 400 yards and form a defensive flank for the larger operations by the Corps and Fourth Army to the right.  Extremely heavy fire from enemy machine-guns prevented the capture of African Trench but Gauche Wood, south east of Gouzeaucourt Wood was captured.  African Trench was a strong and important system running north and south along Trescault Ridge overlooking and about 1,000 yards from the western edge of Gouzeaucourt village.

On the 27th September 1918 the offensive was again resumed.  The 13th Brigade was on the right with the 15th Brigade on the left.  The 13th Brigade had to capture African Trench and then the 15th Brigade were to continue the advance and capture the village of Beaucamp and Highland Ridge to its east.  At 7.52 a.m. on the 27th September the 13th Brigade attacked with the 1st Royal West  Kents on the right, 15th Warwickshire in the centre and the 14th Warwickshire on the left.  On the right the 1st Royal West Kents met with intense machine-gun fire from African Trench and were only able to get forward a short distance. 

The 15th Warwickshire bombed their way into the enemy trenches whilst the 14th Warwickshire started well and after some opposition made good their objectives on the centre and left connecting up with the 15th Warwickshire.  In the evening it was decided that on the 28th September the advance should be continued by the 95th Brigade passing through the 15th Brigade’s position whilst the 15th Brigade moved across to attack from the 13th Brigade’s position.

At 2.30 a.m. on the 28th September the 1st Devonshire Regiment and the 1st East Surrey Regiment went forward with the 1st Royal West Kents moving forward into African Trench at 9.30 a.m. followed shortly afterwards by the 15th and 14th Warwicks.  Later the 1st East Surreys reached the northern outskirts of Villers Plouich and the Divisional Line ran from North-West of Villers Plouich to African Trench, North West of Gouzeacourt and by 8 p.m. on the 28th September the final objectives had been reached with the line running along the Gouzeaucourt-Villers Plouich railway and along the sunken road East of the railway.

Private Herbert Oldham was wounded in the operations probably on the 27th September and was taken back to either No. 45 Casualty Clearing Station or No. 46 Casualty Clearing Station, both stationed near Beaulencourt.  The cemetery is about a mile west of the village of Beaulencourt which is about 3 miles south of Bapaume and was recovered after severe fighting at the end of August 1918.  It records 230 U.K., 9 N.Z. and 1 B.W.I. burials.

Private Herbert Oldham was awarded the Victory and British War Medals.

 Robert Bishop Slade, Lieutenant  in 20th Squadron Royal Air Force died of wounds 23rd July 1918 aged 26 years and is buried in Aston Upthorp (All Saints) Churchyard, Berkshire.

Eldest son of Leonard Gillott Slade and his wife Maria of Park Gate Farm, Donhead St. Andrew, Shaftesbury, Dorset.  Used to farm at Lodge Farm, Compton Verney.

Robert Slade was born at Aston Upthorp, Berkshire on the30th June 1892 and educated at Abingdon Grammar School.  Before the war worked as a Farmer then in February 1911 emigrated to Canada.  He enlisted in the Canadian Forces and served as No. 73837 in the 28th Battalion Canadian Infantry, Canadian Expeditionary Force. The 28th (Winnipeg) Battalion was in the 6th Brigade of the 2nd Canadian Division.  This Division had been raised in Canada almost immediately after the First Contingent had sailed for England in October 1914 and many of those enlisting had been disappointed at not being included in the First Contingent.  A majority of the enlistees came from Western Canada and the 6th Brigade was raised in the west. The other Battalions in the Brigade were the 27th (City of Winnipeg), 29th (Vancouver) and 31st (Calgary) Battalions.

He landed in France on the 17th September 1915 with his Battalion and the 2nd Division.

Robert Slade seems to have transferred to the Machine Gun Corps and then
applied for transfer to the Royal Flying Corps being commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps on the 23rd May 1917.

He was shot down by enemy aircraft over Dadizeele and managed to land at Abeele aerodrome sustaining burns and crushed legs.   This was probably on the 27th July 1917 when a formation of eight F.E.2d’s of No. 20 Squadron set out to patrol in the neighbourhood of Menin with orders to then decoy enemy fighters towards Polygon Wood where layered formations of single seater fighters were to be patrolling in readiness. This operation was in preparation for the opening of the Third Batle of Ypres on the 31st July 1917.  The F.E.2d’s destroyed 6 enemy aeroplanes with the only casualties being “a wounded pilot and observer who safely landed their damaged aeroplane.”  Dadizeele is about 3 miles North of Menin;  Abeele, the site of an RFC Aerodrome is some 15 miles West of Menin.

After recovering he became an instructor and was killed during aerial gun practice.  He is buried in Aston Upthorp (All Saints) Churchyard.

The independent Royal Air Force was formed on the 1st April 1918 by uniting the military Royal Flying Corps with the naval Royal Naval Air Service.

Lieutenant Slade was awarded the 1914 – 1915 Star, the Victory and British War Medals.


Frank Stanley Private No. 351463 22nd (Service) Battalion Durham Light Infantry killed in action 26th March 1918 aged 30 years and is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial to the Missing, Somme.  Formerly served as No. 241277 Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.
Son of Mrs Jane Stanley of 41 Combrook, born and enlisted in Banbury.

The 22nd (Service) Battalion (3rd County Pioneers) was raised in County Durham on the 1st October 1915 being taken over by the War Office on the 9th March 1916.  Towards the end of 1914 the onset of trench warfare on the Western Front had created a demand for manpower for soldiers to be trained as infantry but with special skills and aptitude for mining and engineering.  Working mostly in detachments under the instructions of Royal Engineers, work carried out included entrenching, shoring, revetting, building of dugouts, road making, construction of wire obstacles, sapping and mining, building trackways and bridging.  They nonetheless remained infantry and not infrequently (particularly in 1918) had to abandon their working tools to fight with the infantry in repelling attacks by the enemy.

The 22nd Battalion landed at Havre on the 17th June 1916 attached to the 19th Division until the 2nd July 1916 and then became the Pioneer Battalion for the 8th Division, each Infantry Division having three infantry brigades and a Pioneer Battalion attached.

By order of the British War Cabinet in January 1918 a reorganisation of all British divisions in France was effected:  the divisional infantry establishment was reduced from 12 to 9 battalions by removing one battalion from each Brigade.  This resulted inter alia in the disbandment of a number of battalions the personnel being allocated to bring other battalions up to strength.   It is hypothetical, but appreciating that Private Stanley served first with the Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, the 2/1st Battalion of that Regiment was disbanded on the 22nd February 1918 with the troops going to the 25th Entrenching Battalion, regarded mainly as holding units between postings, perhaps this was the course of Private Stanley’s service.

By February 1918 there were unmistakable signs that the enemy was planning a major offensive but the problem was to identify upon which sector the blow would fall.  It was subsequently established that the German Army Commander, General von Hutier, was opposing the Fifth Army and that was where the blow was likely to fall as he was the architect of the Austrian victory at Caporetto and at Riga on the Eastern Front and he banked on the element of surprise, a hurricane bombardment followed by his troops surging forward behind a rolling barrage  sweeping all opposition aside, bypassing strong-points for mopping up by following formations.   

In mid March 1918 the 8th Division was holding the Passchendaele sector of the Ypres front.  On the 8th March the Division had been relieved by the 29th Division and had moved to the Steenvoorde area.  On the 13th March the Division was placed in General Headquarters reserve and based adjacent to the railway junction at St. Omer.

By the evening of the 20th March 1918 a ground fog had developed steadily over the whole area occupied by the British Fifth and Third Armies which thickened during the night.  Some British Divisions set about manning their battle stations forthwith and from about 3.30 a.m. onwards the artillery began intermittent fire on areas where it was thought the Germans might be assembling.

About 4.40 a.m. on the 21st March 1918 a terrific bombardment opened  on the whole front of the Fifth Army;  on the frontages of V, IV and VI Corps of the Third Army and on the front of the First Army between Fleurbaix (just north of the La Bassee canal) and Armentieres. The bombardment, which included gas shell, at first appeared to be directed chiefly on artillery positions, and on machine-gun posts in the Battle Zone as well as behind that zone.  Initially the shelling of the forward zones was insignificant but from 9.35 a.m. light and heavy trench mortars opened rapid fire on the British front lines.

The British artillery responded to the German bombardment firing on their night lines as unable to see their aiming posts and orders were issued for the troops held in readiness behind the Battle Zones to man battle stations.

At 9.40 a.m. the German bombardment changed to a creeping barrage behind which the specially trained Storm Troops equipped with flamethrowers and light machine-guns advanced:  more than a million German troops had been lined up to attack the fronts of the British Third and Fifth Armies.

At 6 p.m. on the 21st March instructions were given to the 8th Division to entrain on he 22nd and 23rd March, the first train leaving from St. Omer at 6 a.m. on the 22nd March.  The Division travelled south to the area held by the British 5th Army and detrained at Nesle, Chaulnes and Rosieres during the evening and night of the 22nd March.  The approximate area of the 5th Army was south from the River Somme to the River Oise south of Noyon.

The Division had been allotted to XIX Corps but as the different units of the Division arrived at their detraining stations they were directed to different areas on the western bank of the Somme River.  The sector of the rive frontage allotted to the 8th Division ran from the junction of the river d’Ingon in the south (about 4 miles north east of Nesle) to Eterpigny in the north (about 4 miles south of Peronne), a frontage of over 8 miles.  The principle was for the 50th Division and the remnants of the worn and exhausted divisions which had been engaged since the opening of the battle, were to come back across the bridges over the Somme and go through the 8th Division into reserve positions in the rear, there to reorganise.  The bridges were then to be blown up.

By late afternoon of the 22nd March (the guns and transport and first elements of the retiring infantry having passed over the bridges) the rear guards had crossed and the work of blowing up the bridges began but the charges in many cases were insufficient to totally destroy all the bridges and the hurried retreat left no time for further demolition.  Way to the south the enemy had crossed on the extreme right of the 5th Army at Tergnier, and by the morning of the 23rd March had reached Ham with the railway bridge East of the town intact and so crossed the river in strength and began to press back the British troops.

At dawn on the 24th March the enemy renewed the attacks and by felling trees and the use of rafts had effected crossings on the front of the 25th Infantry Brigade of the Division, holding the southernmost sector from north of the d’Ingon River.  The 22nd Battalion on the 23rd March had been billeted in Rosieres as divisional reserve but the situation on the 25th Brigade front led to the Battalion going forward arriving at Pertain early in the afternoon of the 24th March.  Pertain is about 4 miles directly west of the Somme river. At 9 a.m. on the 25th March an attack by masses of German infantry who had ample artillery support began but the Battalion held on until, in danger of being surrounded, adopted a fighting retreat back to Omiecourt and then were ordered to go back to the ridge north east of Chaulnes reaching that position in the evening.  The Battalion sustained heavy losses in the period up to the 25th March, 14 officers and 400 other ranks.

At dawn on the 26th March the enemy began attacking again but whilst against the 8th Division little progress was made, further to the left  the enemy had more success and it became plain that the position of the 8th Division was in danger so a general withdrawal to the line Rouvroy – Proyart was on Corps orders begun.  The withdrawal of the 23rd and 24th Brigades was covered by the 25th Brigade at Lihons, the 22nd Battalion being with the 25th Brigade.   At Lihons (3 miles east of Rosieres) the enemy was not advancing but was reported to be in Chaulnes, about a mile east of Lihons.  However Lihons itself was being shelled by German artillery and it is most probable that Private Stanley was killed by shell fire.  He was one of 105 other rank casualties of the Battalion on the 26th March 1918.

On the 27th March the 22nd Battalion with the 2nd Battalion the Devonshire regiment launched a successful counter attack north-eastwards from Harbonnieres driving the enemy back across the main Amiens road.  One of the casualties was the C.O. of the 22nd Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel Cecil Morgan C.M.G., D.S.O. mortally wounded and dying at a hospital in Rouen on the 29th March 1918.  He is buried in St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen.

Private Stanley was awarded the Victory and British War Medals.








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