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Bugbrooke and the Great War - Page 13 February-May 1918

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 Page 12-Oct 1917-Dec 1917
Page 13 February - May 1918    
100 Years Ago, February and March 1918
The on-going World War still had great influence on the wider world and events, the
most significant of the latter being what was in effect a civil war in Russia. Whilst the war at sea saw the continuing almost daily loss of Allied shipping to German U-boat action, operations on land were showing gradual Allied success – except for the largest and closest to home, the Western Front. This was soon to be affected by developments on the Eastern Front, freeing the German Army from conflict there and allowing troops to be re-deployed.
After Lenin’s ‘Bolsheviks’ seized power in Russia during November 1917 they enjoyed an unofficial peace treaty with the Central Powers, allowing the gradual release of German units. These would enable a major new offensive on the Western Front , now planned for the Spring of 1918, eventually utilising some 40 additional Divisions arriving from the east; the advance was to be named ‘Operation Michael’ (after Germany’s patron saint).
It seemed that the embryonic Soviet Russia was officially out of the war and its army was to demobilise, though there was no formal treaty with the Central Powers.
On 12 February, Prime Minister David Lloyd George announced a change in the military situation, saying that there were ‘enormous’ German reinforcements on the Western Front. However, in that theatre there were some small French successes, notably in Champagne, with American batteries joining in the bombardment – an early involvement on their part.
After the apparent ‘peace’ in the east, but with the Bolsheviks slow to disarm and demobilise, hostilities resumed on 18 February and German units advanced further into Russia, taking many prisoners and forcing the Bolsheviks to re-negotiate. Severe German terms were eventually accepted on 3 March, with the Bolsheviks/ Soviets signing a peace treaty with the Central Powers and formally demobilising.
On 16 March a small force, comprising some 130 Royal Marines under command of a Major in the Royal Marine Light Infantry, was landed from the battleship HMS Glory at the port of Murmansk, on the Barents Sea coast of north
Russia; their overt task was to safeguard Allied-donated war stores. This modest start led to a major ‘Allied Intervention’ in Russia in support of the loyalist ‘White Russian’ forces that were resisting the revolutionary ‘Red Russian’ forces of the Bolsheviks/Soviets. In effect this became an undeclared war against the Bolsheviks, which only ended in practice on 18 November 1920 when the Soviet Government was officially recognised, cemented by an Anglo-Soviet Trade Treaty of 16 March 1921.
Back on the Western Front, Operation Michael – known popularly as “The Kaiser’s Battle” – began on 21 March with attacks westwards across a 50-mile front. This was immediately successful, with the Germans gaining ground and taking some 16,000 Allied prisoners during the first day.By 25 March the German advance west had reached where the front line had been in July 1916. The next day the advance was halted, probably as much through stretched logistics as anything, and coincidentally that day the Allies agreed to
appoint French Marshal Ferdinand Foch as Commander-in-Chief (retrospectively announced officially on 14 April). The German advance resumed the following day, but was repulsed on 28 March. That same day, American General John Pershing offered Foch the use of all American forces, having previously kept them solely under American command.
Over the next two days King George V made a private visit to the front; on 31 March his cousin, the Kaiser, called this Somme offensive ‘the greatest in history’, claiming that 75,000 Allied prisoners had been taken.
Meanwhile, in the Middle East, General Sir Edmund Allenby was advancing successfully across a wide front east of Jerusalem, liberating Jericho on 21 February and defeating a large Turkish force on 26 March, taking 3,000 prisoners. For his services during these operations, former local policeman (and earlier soldier) William Anderton LATTIMER was awarded a Distinguished Conduct Medal, serving as a Sergeant in his old unit, the Royal Garrison Artillery. The decoration was announced in the London Gazette Supplement of 11 April 1918, with a glowing citation published in the Supplement of 1 May.
Other Bugbrooke men known to be in this theatre included four Sappers in 115 Railway Company, Royal Engineers – Andrew Albert EALES, Oliver MEAD, Herbert William ROBINS and Fred Lowe SAUNDERS, whose
army numbers were respectively 289129, 289141, 289151 and 289282! These four had met another Bugbrooke man, Philip CAMPION, serving with the Warwickshire Yeomanry, in the Egyptian desert in 1916.
Philip was now in Alexandria awaiting embarkation for his unit’s move to France.
On the Home Front, there were a number of raids causing civilian casualties – on 15 February, Dover was shelled from the sea; on 17 and 18 February, and 7 March, London was bombed from the air; on 12 and 13 March, York and Durham respectively were bombed from Zeppelins.
Though quite a number of Bugbrooke men are known to have been in units on the Western Front and thus facing the German offensive, little of their specific involvement is known. At least none were casualties during these two months, as far as is known. Some other individual details are known, however. During February Private Arthur Sydney Jacob BASS went to France with the Machine Gun Corps (MGC); Lance-Corporal Wallace Pateman NIGHTINGALE who had been wounded and taken prisoner on 10 July 1917 in France while serving with the MGC, was released on 22
February and returned to England, where he was discharged, receiving the Silver War Badge (and post-war, the 1914-15 Star, British War Medal and the Victory Medal).  Percival Evelyn AMBLER, barely 18 years old, had attested in early February and was posted to 53rd (Young Soldier) Battalion, the Royal Fusiliers from 1 March, for training; Lieutenant William Henry PAYNE and his brother Sergeant John PAYNE, both serving with the Northamptonshire Yeomanry on the Italian Front, moved to the Asiago area during March;
Private Ernest William BARNES, a cook by trade and initially with the Army Service Corps (ASC), was posted from 17th (Service) Battalion, the Welsh Regiment (on it disbandment because of high casualties) to No. 3 Field Bakery, ASC, on 15 March; Officer Cadet Charles Bertie Ernest KING of 2/28th Battalion, the London Regiment,
an officer training unit, was appointed a Second Lieutenant in the North Staffordshire Regiment from 26 March and posted to its 3rd (Reserve) Battalion; Corporal Harry George LOVELL, Scots Guards,wounded in France during October 1917, re-joined his regiment there on 31 March. Sadly, there is one death at home to record, that of William James PAXTON, who died of Tuberculosis on 11
February in Northampton General Hospital, aged just 32.
Corporal Harry Lovell rejoined his regiment after being wounded He had served in France with the Royal Garrison Artillery as a Gunner (private soldier), returning to England on 19 October 1917 because of illness and being
discharged on 29 November, receiving the Silver War Badge. He left a widow in
Bugbrooke, Alice May PAXTON (née SHIRLEY), and two children; in December
1924 Alice, now Mrs EALES, having re-married in early 1920, received the British
War Medal and Victory Medal for which William had qualified.
The Bugbrooke School log records the unreliable fuel supplies – coke and coal
– that caused some school closures because of extreme cold – 3 February, and 5 and 6 March. The Headmaster, Frank Wright, was obliged to escalate matters on  several occasions.
On 27 February a Tank was in Northampton to promote War Savings and Mrs Lily Collins, a teacher at the school and a secretary of the local savings scheme, was given leave to visit the Tank and to buy four savings certificates.
The school closed at midday on Friday 22 March for the usual Easter holiday, staff and pupils no doubt unaware of the German onslaught of the Allied line in France that had just begun.
Roger Colbourne for the 100 Years Project

 

Fred Saunders in
football kit in 1920

 

Corporal Harry Lovell rejoined
his regiment after
being wounded

 

George Thomas Wheeler Collins in later life

Phillip Campion, torpedoed again

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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100 Hundred Years Ago – April and May 1918

At Home

The two spring months of April and May, a century ago, seem to have been fairly uneventful in Bugbrooke. Thankfully no more of its young men were killed at the front. The School Log records little. The school reopened on 8th April after the Easter holiday, a delivery of coal (ordered on 7th March) finally arrived on 19th April, and the School closed again from 17th to 27th May for the Whit holiday.

In the Ambler family, 18 year old Percival Evelyn AMBLER graduated from his basic training with the Royal Fusiliers and was appointed acting lance corporal on 5th May. About the same time his older brother, Harry James AMBLER, was on his way back to the war in East Africa after having been invalided home with a sprained knee.

Harry George LOVELL, who had recently rejoined his regiment (Scots Guards) after being wounded, was promoted to corporal on 16th May. Harry William TURLAND (a former railway man who had served as a sapper in the Royal Engineers) was discharged from service due to sickness on 28th May. George Thomas Wheeler COLLINS, aged just 19, was appointed to a commission in the Royal Warwickshire Regiment on 29th May, becoming one of Bugbrooke’s few commissioned officers. After a period of garrison duty in Dover he was to arrive in France just 5 days before the armistice.

On the Western Front

However if Bugbrooke was uneventful, all was certainly not quiet on the Western Front. This was the time of Germany’s Spring Offensive. The first phase of that, Operation Michael, was described in the last article. The final German attack in that offensive took place on 4-5th April (the Battle of Avre) with British and Australian forces halting further enemy advance towards the town of Amiens. The Germans then however mounted a second offensive known as Operation Georgette (or sometime as the Battle of Lys). The offensive started on 9th April in the northern part of the front where the German plan was to break through the allied line and drive west to the English Channel, cutting off the British forces from their supply line, which ran through the ports of Calais, Dunkirk and Boulogne. It was a bold plan which came close to succeeding. By 11th April the British situation was desperate causing Haig to issue the following stirring appeal:

“There is no other course open to us but to fight it out. Every position must be held to the last man. There must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall, and believing in the justice of our cause, each one of us must fight on to the end.”

Ultimately the British forces, with some later support from French troops, did thwart the offensive, but as always with heavy losses on all sides. One point of interest is that fighting alongside the British was a division of Portuguese troops, who were overrun on the first day of the offensive, despite some acts of great individual bravery.

The Germans launched a third Spring Offensive towards the end of May. This was further south against mainly French forces.  Called the Third Battle of Aisne it was to bring the Germans within 35 miles of Paris before it was halted.

The 28th May saw the first major battle for American troops. This was the battle of Cantigny, where the US 1st Division took a village of that name situated on high ground that had formed an observation post for German artillery. The Americans acquitted themselves well, especially in defending the village from a series of fierce German counter attacks.

In the Air

Earlier on 21st April, over another part of the western front, the German flying ace, Manfred von Richthofen – the ”Red Baron”- was shot down and killed.

Zeebrugge Raid

One of the most daring exploits of the whole war took place in the early hours of St Georges Day 23rd April. This was the raid on Zeebrugge, and was aimed at curbing the U-boat menace. The Germans had established their main submarine base at Bruges, (not something you’d associate with this charming medieval city). The base here was well inland, a safe distance from naval attack, but connected by canals to the English Channel at Zeebrugge and Ostend. The object of the raid was to block up the canal entrance into Zeebrugge harbour by sinking three obsolete warships across the mouth of the canal. To give these ships a chance of reaching their goal, a diversionary attack was mounted on the opposite, outer side of the harbour Mole (breakwater), The diversionary attack was led by another elderly cruiser HMS Vindictive, followed by two requisitioned Mersey ferries (with the singularly unmartial names of Daffodil and Iris) carrying a storming force of marines. The raid largely achieved its object. Two of the old ships were sunk across the canal mouth, the third a little further out in the harbour. Unfortunately however the effect on the passage of U-boats was far from complete. Partly this was because a similar attempt to block Ostend failed. But even at Zeebrugge the U-boats could still squeeze out at high tide. Nevertheless the sheer heroism of the raid made for a great propaganda boost at a difficult time of the war; and resulted in no fewer than eight Victoria Crosses being awarded.

Philip CAMPION torpedoed again

While it is unlikely that anyone from Bugbrooke was involved in the above naval exploits, one Bugbrooke man was to encounter the threat from U-boats in another theatre of the war. On 27th May Philip CAMPION was on board the liner turned troopship Leasowe Castle, a day out from Alexandria and bound for France. His Warwickshire Yeomanry regiment had completed their duties in Egypt and Palestine, and were heading to be retrained as machine gunners on the western front. They were in a convoy with six other liners and an escort of Japanese destroyers (Japan was our ally in the First War).  Philip describes the scene in his war memoir as “a most majestic and impressive sight”.  When night came it was “a beautiful moonlit one, in fact we were loath to go to bed. However at last we went, and got some sleep, when at midnight a torpedo hit our ship fairly, the explosion shook her from stem to stern.” Philip and most of his comrades got off the ship in the lifeboats. Others were not so lucky. Philip goes on to describe the dramatic end of the ship: “Down went her stern, we watched horribly fascinated, men jumping and falling off in all directions the ship absolutely vertical for some seconds. We saw the Captain, our own Colonel Leslie Grey Cheape and Adjutant, remain calmly on the bridge and go down with her. When she was gone there remained a seething vortex, screams of dying men, all that was possible was done to rescue them, but a hundred and one brave fellows were lost with her.”

This was the second time Philip had escaped from a torpedoed troop ship. The first time was when he was bound for Egypt back in 1915. He also witnessed the sinking of another troopship on his way to Gallipoli later that year.  The whole of Philip Campion’s war memoir can be read in pdf format on the LINK website.

Jim Inch for the 100 Years Project