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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