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Bugbrooke and the Great War - Page 11 June to September 1917

Page 1 - Overview, Info & Articles Page 2 - August, September 1914 Page 3- October 1914 - January 1915
Page 4- February 1915 - May 1915 Page 5 June 1915 - September 1915 Page 6   October15-January 1916
Page 7- February 1916 - May 1916 Page 8- June 1916 - Sept 1916 Page 9 December 16 - January 1917
Page 10 February - May 1917 Page 11 June - September 1917

100 Years Ago – June to July 1917

Local life returned to its established wartime routine after the Whitsun break, with the school re-opening on 4 June. Headmaster Frank WRIGHT traced progress of the war in Europe, using a large map showing the major battles for his pupils.

On 20 June, two of Frank WRIGHT’s war-weary sons were invalided home from the Western Front. On leave at home was 38-year old Frank junior, a private soldier in the York and Lancaster Regiment, while his 27-year old younger brother Percy, a Corporal in the Sherwood Foresters, was recovering in hospital in Birmingham.

On 12 July, Wallace NIGHTINGALE’s mother Mary received a note from a Lieutenant SIMS informing her that her son, a 21-year old Lance-Corporal with the Machine Gun Corps, was missing in action, probably a Prisoner of War [subsequently confirmed; though wounded, he recovered and was repatriated safely at the end of hostilities].

On 17 July, it was noted that German measles still affects men in the village and causes the absence of some pupils.

On 20 July, an overnight cloudburst left several classrooms under inches of water and some lessons were temporarily removed to the ‘Old School’.

On 31 July, Fred CHAPMAN, approaching his eighteenth birthday, successfully concluded his two years as a student teacher and declared his wish to join the Royal Flying Corps. [He did not achieve this aim, but did join a Royal Fusilier battalion of the London Regiment].

Beyond England, most theatres of war were active with minor operations, though on the Western Front preparations were in hand for a new and large Allied offensive.  Separately, the arrival of the American 1st Infantry Division at St Nazaire on 26 June was tangible evidence of that country’s serious involvement in the war on land in Europe and a boost to both troop numbers and to morale.

The first stages of the new ‘Flanders Battle’ were the attacks launched across a nine-mile wide front on 7 June to secure the Messines Ridge, with some 5,000 German prisoners taken on that first day.

Our local units were not involved at Messines, though they were soon involved in other action on the wider front.

From 20 June, 1st Battalion, the Northamptonshire Regiment was deployed to the extreme west of the Allied line, near Nieuport on the Flanders coast, in a sandy area with dunes up to 60 feet high and clusters of rushes. The Yser Canal ran parallel to the front, about a mile to the rear.

On 4 July a large part of the battalion was placed into the front line, alongside 2nd Battalion, the King’s Royal Rifle Corps. From early morning on 10 July, described as ‘one of the blackest days’ in the battalion’s experience, the two units were subjected to heavy artillery bombardment. After this at about 7.00pm, the line was attacked by units of the German Marine Division and after two hours fierce fighting was eventually overrun.  All but nine men of the Northamptons were killed or captured, those few escapees swimming the canal to safety.  The small remainder of the battalion that had not been in the line was moved rearwards to rest and refit, and to receive replacements in due course. [This action, in the dunes, was where young Wallace NIGHTINGALE had been wounded and taken prisoner while in support of the Northamptons].

The 2nd Battalion of the Northamptons was destined to take part in the opening of the Third Battle of Ypres – later and more readily known as ‘Passchendaele’. The declared aim was to ‘drive the Germans from commanding heights and bring about a great strategic victory’.

The attacking units assembled in the trenches from 9.00pm on 30 July, ready for an Allied barrage which began at 5.50am the following morning. As the barrage ‘crept’ forward, the Northamptons alongside many others advanced over a 15-mile front and overran the German trenches, gaining about two miles of ground.  The fighting was inevitably fierce and there were many acts of gallantry, generating the greatest number of Victoria Crosses ever won in any single day before or since – 14. One of those was to 21-year old Captain Thomas COLYER-FERGUSSON, commanding ‘B’ Company of the 2nd Northamptons. Sadly he was killed by a sniper later in the day, some hours after the brave actions that prompted his award and therefore his decoration was posthumous (announced in the London Gazette of 6 September).

The 7th Battalion, Northamptons (known as ‘Mobbs Own’) was also destined to participate in the new offensive and the troops also attacked early in the morning of 31 July. Their Commanding Officer, 35-year old former England and Northampton rugby-player, Lieutenant-Colonel Edgar MOBBS, DSO, who had helped raise the battalion in 1914, was an instinctive leader rather than a more cautious commander. When one of the 7th’s companies was held up by an enemy machine-gun position, delaying the advance, he hastened forward hoping to resolve the situation, but sadly was shot in the neck, dying of his wound soon after. His death was mourned not only in Northampton, but in the wider world of international rugby. A memorial bust of MOBBS was placed in Market Square, Northampton, unveiled on 17 July 1921.

During this period, the war at sea was dominated by merchant ship losses, mainly to U-boat attack. Over the two months of June and July – 61 days – there were only three days when no sinking was recorded. The total loss was at least 165 vessels in the period, with a number of others damaged and limping in to a port.

On the Home Front, there were several air raids over the east coast aimed at ports, causing many casualties. Essex and Kent suffered on 5 June (13 killed, 34 injured), Essex again and London on 13 June (162 killed, 432 injured), Essex and Suffolk on 4 July (casualties not recorded), Kent and London on 7 July (57 killed, 193 injured) and Essex and Suffolk on 22 July (13 killed, 26 injured).

Internationally, two other events of note were the abdication of King Constantine of Greece in favour of his second son, Alexander, on 12 June, and the Mutiny of the Russian Black Sea Fleet on 20 June.

And finally, back home, the Royal family assumed the name ‘Windsor’ from 17 July.

Roger Colbourne for the100 Years Project

 

 

 

Captain Thomas Colyer-Fergusson

 

Lieutenant-Colonel Edgar MOBBS, DSO

 

 

 Bugbrooke and the Great War- August/September 1917   

At the beginning of August 1917 it was almost the end of term at Bugbrooke School. The Headmaster, Frank Wright, notes in the School Log Book that on 3rd August the children and teachers presented a wallet to Fred CHAPMAN who had just finished his two year student teachership at the school, and was about to join up. Fred, aged no more than 18, had been born and brought up in Bugbrooke, the son of a blacksmith. Frank Wright said of him “He is a good teacher...and has worked his very best. He is trustworthy and I shall miss him very much indeed. To the best of my belief he hopes to join the RFC” (Royal Flying Corps). He never achieved that ambition but joined a Royal Fusiliers battalion. He was killed in action in October 1918, only a few weeks before the armistice.

On 7th August, the second last day of term, Frank Wright’s son, Arthur Reginald WRIGHT, was home on leave; and he gave the pupils a demonstration on the use of a gas helmet.

The same day at about 10.55am, while the pupils were in the playground, “an aeroplane from the West swooped down upon us and at a height of less than 100 feet circled over the playground three or four times to the immense delight of the whole school. The pilot answered our cheers with a salute, then went off eastwards”

The following day more mundanely the headmaster gave a lesson on Yarrow (“wonderfully ripe and in abundance” he recorded –was Frank Wright a herbalist as well as a radio pioneer?).

The School closed for the annual harvest holiday and was intended to reopen on 13th September. However due to bad weather the reopening was postponed to 24th September. Frank Wright records that Dorothea Gilkes and Kathleen Ballaster started duties as probationary teachers; and that the Rector visited in the morning. He also wrote:  “This afternoon it is our intention to take class 1 for blackberrying”. This would not have been just a jaunt; collecting blackberries served a serious purpose when food supplies were under constant threat from the devastating German U-boat campaign.

If the weather had been bad in Bugbrooke it had certainly been bad in Flanders and had done a lot more than delay the harvest. The British offensive which became known as Passchendaele (or more officially the Third Battle of Ypres) was in its early stages. It was to go on till November, but even in August exceptionally heavy rain turned the battlefield into a mudbath as well as a bloodbath. This was a particularly critical stage of the war. Of Britain’s allies the Russians were more or less out of it and the French had suffered serious reverses. Although the Americans had joined the war, no significant troop numbers would arrive till 1918. At sea the German U-boats were inflicting huge losses on merchant shipping. The British offensive at Ypres at least tied the German army down and prevented them pressing home their apparent advantage. But it was at a terrible cost in lives and for little gain in ground.

Ypres is a town in Belgium, famously mispronounced “Wipers” by the troops. Passchendaele is a village nearby. We have always pronounced this “Passion-dale“ However accurate or not this is, it is easy to understand how the name came to mean so much.

In these two months of August and September 1917 there were no casualties among Bugbrooke men at Passchendaele. However one man from Bugbrooke was killed elsewhere on the Western Front, near Arras in France. He was George HOWARD, who was born in Kislingbury but married a Bugbrooke girl, Harriet Gardner. Their wedding took place on Bank Holiday Monday 1914 according to the first school letter of the autumn term that year (so just after the start of the war). The couple set up home in Chapel Yard, Bugbrooke and they had a baby daughter, Vera Mary, the following January. George enlisted in November 1915, but was initially placed in the army reserve and sent home. He was mobilised in January 1917 and posted to the Household Battalion. This battalion had been formed the previous September from reservists from the three Household Cavalry regiments. George had worked as a domestic groom, and maybe this had something to do with his being placed with a battalion of cavalry origins. However the Household Battalion was in fact set up as an infantry unit, there being a much greater need for infantry than cavalry in trench warfare. Nevertheless George would have carried a few marks of cavalry status: a slightly different uniform, the description trooper rather than private, and even a few pence more pay. (Note that in the National Roll of the Great War George is wrongly described as a gunner in the Royal Garrison Artillery, possibly in confusion with a man of the same name killed two days later. I am grateful to my colleague Roger Colbourne for his expertise and diligent research in clearing up this discrepancy in the records)

George embarked for France on 6th May1917 to join his battalion at the Front. At the time they were one of the units taking part in another, less well-known, British offensive, the Battle of Arras. The main battle concluded on 16th May but various smaller engagements continued after that. George was killed in action on 20th August and is buried in the Roeux Cemetery, no doubt very near where he fell. His personal effects and balance of pay of £3-4s-2d were sent to his young widow later that year.

Jim Inch for the 100 Year Project