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Bugbrooke and the Great War - Page 9 October 1916 to January 1917
100 Years Ago – October and November 1916
On the Western Front, the protracted Battle of the Somme was drawing to a close, with slow incremental successes by British and French forces, the latter securing their noted victory at Verdun on 24 October.
The other Fronts were also active – though unfairly referred to sometimes as ‘sideshows’, but dangerous enough for those involved – with small Allied successes in Russia, Yugoslavia, Albania and in the Baltic. Allied success on land and to some degree in the air, with frequent aerial bombardment of enemy held ports such as Ostend and Zeebrugge, was offset by German offensive activity at sea, particularly in the Channel.
The local infantry regiment – the Northamptonshires – had five battalions involved at some stage on the Somme, gaining six related Battle Honours. The first of the regiment’s five Victoria Crosses during the war was gazetted during this period, that to Sergeant William Ewart BOULTER of the 6th (Service) Battalion, for his actions at Trones Wood on the Somme on 14 July, announced in the London Gazette Supplement of 26 October. This battalion suffered particularly severe casualties later, including their Commanding Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel George Eustace RIPLEY, who succumbed on 16 October in Northampton following amputation of a shattered arm.
On a happier note, the former rugby-playing Edgar MOBBS, now a Lieutenant-Colonel, returned on 25 October to take command of the 7th (Service) Battalion at the Front, after treatment for a shoulder wound.
Here in Northamptonshire, 1 October saw the first local aerial bombardment, when a Zeppelin dropped some 15 bombs near Kirby Hall, outside Corby. In Bugbrooke, the school log is quite bland, though on 19 October a visitor gave a briefing on the ‘War Savings Scheme’ followed on 31 October by the headmaster, Frank WRIGHT, nominating each Tuesday as ‘War Savings Afternoon’. He records an outbreak of whooping cough on 13 November, the only other apparent departure from school routine.
However, there may have been some discussion in the village over another matter, for the Northampton Mercury of Friday 16 October reported that the Rector of Bugbrooke, Ernest Wivelsfield HARRISON, had appeared in Northampton Police Court on Saturday 7 October. He had to answer a charge relating to the ringing of bells more than an hour after sunset (on Wednesday 27 September), apparently in contravention of ‘Defence of the Realm Regulations’ and about which he had previously been warned. (It seems that the sound of loud bells was considered a potential navigational aid to enemy aircraft, as – perhaps more realistically - were bright lights). After some legal argument, the Summons was dismissed on payment of four shillings in costs.
This case must have caused something of a stir, for it was reported in several other newspapers across the country.
The Northampton Mercury also carried reports of the local Tribunals, which considered appeals from individuals against their conscription and appeals by the Army against Tribunal decisions delaying conscription.
Among the Bugbrooke men featured in this period was Frederick HEFFORD, an unmarried carrier and baker aged 36, reported in the issue of 6 October. He asked for absolute exemption on the grounds that with two brothers already killed he was now in sole charge of the family business. As he was apparently a former Yeomanry soldier, his appeal was dismissed and he was granted a short exemption to 31 October, to make arrangements to enlist (!).
Another was Bernard MOORE, an unmarried farmer aged 35, where the Army was appealing against his deferment, reported on 17 November. His ‘certificate’ [of deferment?] was reduced from 31 March 1917 to 1 January, with the comment that this was ‘not final’.
Already serving in the Army in England, Harry AMBLER, by now trained in signalling, was appointed to a commission in the Royal Engineers, as a Temporary Second Lieutenant, from 1 October (as announced in the London Gazette of 4 November), destined for posting overseas as a Signals Officer.
Charles Henry EALES, aged 25, attested on 9 October for the 7th (Service) Battalion, the Northamptonshires, one of at least three brothers who served (and one of whom died – Walter Frederick, in 1917).
Edwin John GILKES, aged 20, who had attested in December 1915 and been placed on the Reserve, was mobilised on 13 October, joining the 3rd Battalion, Northamptonshires, on 15 October.
Joseph William HAKES, who had enlisted in the 4th (Territorial) Battalion, the Northamptonshires in October 1914, but only went to France on 1 September 1916, having transferred to the 5th (Reserve) Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, returned to England on 9 October, possibly wounded, remaining here until his discharge in 1919 with ‘50% disability’.
The only Bugbrooke-related fatality during this period was Sergeant William Edward WESTLE, 13th (Service) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers (City of London Regiment), who went to France on 30 July 1915 and was killed in action there on 15 November 1916 (just seven months after the loss in France of his younger brother Henry Thomas, serving with the 5th (Service) Battalion, the Northamptonshires). Although born in east London, both boys had been fostered happily in Bugbrooke, writing back here after leaving school, William being returned to London to start an apprenticeship. He is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial on the Somme; he left a widow in London, Laura, who remarried in December 1919, by which time she had received not only his back pay of £4.6s.3d, but his War Gratuity of £12.
On the world stage, an ‘Independent State of Poland’ was declared jointly by Germany and Austro-Hungary on 5 November, President Woodrow Wilson was re-elected President of the USA on 7 November, and Emperor Franz Joseph of Austro-Hungary died on 21 November, succeeded by his nephew, Karl.
And finally, the Battle of the Somme ended officially on 18 November 1916.
Roger Colbourne for the 100 Years Project.
December 1916/January 1917 — A Very Cold Winter
100 years ago the winter was said to be the coldest in living memory. For 3 consecutive months the mean temperature was below 2° Celsius. The School Log kept by headmaster Frank Wright is dominated by problems caused by the cold. On 30th January he writes “It is many years since we have experienced such cold...even with the addition of coal fires it has been difficult to keep the children warm. I have done my best this last two years especially to be economical with the coals and coke, but during the last few weeks it has been so very cold.... that I have at last ordered a small fire to be lighted in our large school room to last an hour or two, to be lighted at 8 a.m. My experience of hot water pipes is this. Their general heat is welcome searching into every corner of the room alike, but the heat raised is only 10 degrees higher than the outside temperature, let that be what it may.” (He would of course be talking of degrees Fahrenheit which translated to Celsius means that if temperatures outside were anywhere near freezing the inside temperature would only be in single figures.)
It was not just here that suffered. For soldiers on the front in France conditions were truly terrible. For days on end the ground was frozen hard. At other times the problem was water, with flooded trenches and shell holes; and with mud so deep men and horses could drown in it. The days were bitter and the nights even worse. Clothing and blankets often froze. Heating was not possible in tents; and in forward positions braziers and fires were forbidden for fear they would create targets.
The weather also affected vehicles and transport. Ambulance drivers were forced to organise so that a number would be on duty through the night to wind up all the engines every 20 minutes to stop them freezing up.
Germany of course had to endure the weather too, in what there became known as the “turnip winter” because food shortages meant that both soldiers and civilians had to rely on the humble turnip to survive.
The severe weather conditions ruled out any major offences during these months. However the final engagement of the 303 day long battle of Verdun between German and French forces took place on 15-17 December 1916; and in January 1917 the first phases of the British raid on the Ancre were begun (though greatly frustrated by the conditions).
Bugbrooke Man Dies in Salonika
On 9th December 1916 while serving on the Salonika front, Edwin Bubb received severe wounds from which he died three days later on 12th December. Edwin was born in Bugbrooke in or about 1894. He and his younger brother, Henry Bubb, volunteered at the beginning of the war in August 1914. They were given consecutive service numbers. At first they served with the 10th (Prince of Wales Own) Hussars and fought in France in the Ypres sector. In November 1915 they were both transferred to the 2nd Gloucester Regiment and sent to Salonika.
We do not know the circumstances in which Edwin received his fatal wounds. His regiment had just taken part in an unsuccessful raid on a Bulgarian strong point in an engagement known as the Battle of Tumbitza Farm. This is said to have ended on 7th December, two days before Edwin is recorded as being wounded. Possibly there was just some confusion over the dates; or maybe he was wounded in some separate incident.
Edwin is buried in the Struma Cemetery (the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his name as Edward Bubb). His brother Henry continued to serve in Salonika for the remainder of the war. They also had a third, older, brother, Charles Bubb. He had gone to Australia in 1909 and joined up from there. He served in France and became a corporal; he was twice wounded, but survived the war.
A Little Bit about Salonika
Salonika is now called Thessaloniki. It is the second largest city in Greece, lying in the North Eastern region of Macedonia (not to be confused with the Republic of Macedonia, which is one of the new countries formed on the breakup of Yugoslavia). The city is a port and has been described as the southern gateway to the Balkans.
In the autumn of 1915 France and Britain sent an expeditionary force to Salonika in a belated attempt to assist our ally Serbia against an invasion by forces from Germany, Austria-Hungary and, most significantly, their new ally Bulgaria. The Franco–British force arrived too late to save Serbia from being overrun and occupied. However some 125,000 Serbian troops managed to escape and eventually join the French and British in Salonika, where their contribution was to prove significant.
A curious feature of the Salonika front is that in 1915 Greece was a neutral country. Not only that but King Constantine was pro-German (he was married to the Kaiser’s sister). However the prime minister Eleftherios Venizelos (Cretan hero of the earlier Balkan wars) was pro-Britain and France; and it was he who invited us to Salonika. A schism developed in Greece resulting in King Constantine departing the country in June 1917 and Greece joining the war on our side.
On the military side early attempts to advance northwards out of Greece were repulsed and our forces retreated and dug in. A vast network of trenches and defences was created. This was given the nickname the “Bird Cage”, because of the vast amounts of wire that were used. The front attracted some other nicknames too. Some called it the “Muckydonian Front” (a pun on its other name of the Macedonian Front). The French leader Georges Clemenceau disparagingly called the forces of his own side the “Gardeners of Salonika”, because all their energy went into digging rather than advancing. The campaign was dogged not only by the maze of Greek politics, but by political infighting among the allies, particularly the French who were in overall command. Nevertheless Salonika was to play a crucial role in securing victory at the end of the war.
Conditions on the “Muckydonian” front were not good. The main killer was not the shell or the bullet, but the mosquito: malaria was rife. The summers were hot and dusty and the winters bitterly cold. There were other Bugbrooke men who served in Salonika, including Samuel Warwick and Stephen Howard, both in railway companies of the Royal Engineers. The terrain in Macedonia would have seemed very foreign to men from Northamptonshire. Much of it was rugged and mountainous, with deep rocky ravines – ambush country. But it was also crossed by several rivers, giving way as they neared the sea to extensive marshlands (hence the malaria). The Struma Cemetery where Edwin (or Edward) Bubb lies is situated about 70 kilometres North East of Thessaloniki and from the photographs looks beautiful and well maintained.
Back in Britain
In December 1916 the Prime Minister H.H. Asquith resigned and was succeeded by David Lloyd George. Nearer home on 19th December 1916 Edwin Gilkes transferred to the Machine Gun Corps after having been placed in the reserves when he had joined up a year previously, then mobilised for active service in October 1916. He was shortly to be sent to France. In the last year of the war he would be wounded and twice gassed; but he survived to return to Bugbrooke, get married and live to the age of 79.
Jim Inch for the 100 Years Project