The-Memorial-Plaque-to-56-London-Division-arrasIntroduction

The Great War was a conflict on an industrial scale with ammunition, from small arms up to heavy artillery, being expended at a considerable rate on a daily basis. This did not come without considerable hazards in terms of transport and storage of this ordnance. During large offensives massive quantities of artillery ammunition had to be stockpiled near the artillery batteries that would fire it but also stored nearby to allow for expended ammunition to be replaced. Obviously significant dumps of ammunition were very vulnerable to both enemy action and accidents. Sadly, all too often, the worst happened which led to disastrous results.

[this is the featured article from edition 99 of Stand To!, the WFA's acclaimed journal]

'... as busy a spot as ... anywhere on the Western Front.'

As a result of the Battle of Arras (which commenced on 9 April 1917) the village of Achicourt, a suburb of Arras, became a major logistics hub for storage and distribution of artillery ammunition. This was due to its proximity to the many artillery batteries bombarding the German defences. These batteries would support the attacks by VII Corps (Third Army) on the Hindenburg Line from the junction with the established German front line to near Croisilles. Achicourt itself was about 5km from Neuville–Vitasse and 2km from Beaurains and was therefore considered to be of sufficient depth behind the lines to be relatively safe from artillery observation and accurate bombardment. In early April 1917 the five–day bombardment of the Hindenburg Line (Siegfried Stellung) was underway prior to the infantry assault. An officer of the 1/13 Battalion London Regiment (The Kensingtons) in the forward trenches recalled:
'On this Easter Sunday [8 April 1917], we were invited, as infantry officers, to a front trench view of the artillery barrage prepared for the following day. It was no private view from either side, as may well be imagined, as it extended across our front as far as we could see from our position. There was a complete line of shell bursts in colours varying from white to cream, all shades of brown, up to and including black. Shades of pink where a building was hit. This line of shell bursts was complete and continuous all along the ground, and in the air above it, and the accompanying noise was actually deafening.'(1)

 

The transport echelons of a number of infantry battalions of 56th (London) Division, which were to attack Neuville–Vitasse on 9 April, were located in the environs of the village. Aubrey Smith, a member of the transport for 1/5 Battalion London Regiment (London Rifle Brigade), described how busy the village was:

'Achicourt, in fact, presented as busy a spot as could be seen anywhere on the Western Front. RFA (Royal Field Artillery) convoys and infantry transport limbers added to the bustle: in between all these motor and horse vehicles moved despatch riders, groups of officers on horseback (with maps open as usual) accompanied by orderlies, and batches of infantry in reserve wandering about the village. Civilians stood at their doors watching all this unwonted bustle and excitement. Needless to say, there were delays, collisions and breakdowns; traffic regulations to be complied with; pauses while some lorry or lorries turned to right and left or performed acrobatic evolutions in the square.'(2)

Lieutenant Henry Trounce, an officer of 181 Tunnelling Company RE, billeted in Achicourt, recorded that although the village was:

'... about half a mile from the Germans' front line, a few civilians were still living. The troops would buy eggs, butter, bread, vegetables, and such like articles from these French residents. Another man and I used to make a practice of going down to the house of a French carpenter's wife ... She was a wonderful cook ... shelling did not bother her much. Her husband was serving in the French army at Verdun and returned on a week's "permission" (leave) during the time we were in this village. It amused the Tommies very much to think that any soldier would care to spend his leave in a village so close to the line.'(3)

Map Showing the Location of the Achicourt Explosions and the Locations of Surrounding British Batteries

Map: the location of the Achicourt explosions and the locations of surrounding British batteries

Achicourt was not a healthy spot to dawdle however. With the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line in March 1917 the distance from Achicourt to the front increased. Trounce recorded the parting barrage as the Germans withdrew:

'... on March 18th [sic], they gave us a last dose of heavy shelling. This day they landed at least 100 medium and heavy shells within a radius of 50 yards around us. I had more than my share of close calls during this bombardment. A shell had just burst in the road near our little ruin and I walked out to see what had happened and heard another one coming straight for me. I ran to the nearest wall and dropped alongside. The whizz–bang burst about 8 feet away from me on the same wall. I happened to be the nearest man to the shell, but was only hit with a brick in the middle of my back, knocking my wind out, but not doing any real damage. One poor fellow behind me was killed and two others wounded. ... Just before I reached a barn occupied by eleven of my men in the yard of this billet, a 4.2–inch shell burst on top of the east brick wall. Poor Holloway had his head blown off by the bricks, another fine lad, McNulty, was mortally wounded with shrapnel in his lungs and stomach; and six others wounded less seriously. The remaining three were not touched, but were badly shaken up. ... Infantry quartered in the next house to us had over seventeen casualties from one shell the same day.'(4)

Whilst the enemy trenches became further away it would be reasoned that the population of the village, both military and civilian, would become safer and that the shelling would decrease. However, there were other hazards in the village as a result of the British logistical build up for the Battle of Arras. Aubrey Smith also recorded that:

'Nearly every house in the heart of Achicourt had been crammed full of ammunition, forming a reserve dump for the attack: shells were now arriving at such a rate that we had to commandeer villages to house them! And there seemed to be no end to the convoys which passed our billets at the outskirts of the village, on their way to the batteries and various ammunition dumps further forward. The attack was fixed for the 9th and on the 8th convoys of lorries – disregarding all the regulations hitherto in force about daylight movements – passed us continually during the morning.'(5)

The scene was set for a significant event that would cost many military and civilian lives.

'Men ran in all directions'

Aubrey Smith recalled his memories of what happened on that early April day in Achicourt in 1917:

'About dinner time [on 8 April] a long line of these ammunition lorries stretched from one end of the village to the other, held up by a traffic muddle of some magnitude. We were in our billet wrestling with bully–beef tins at the time and consequently did not observe either the blockage or the appearance of German aeroplanes which flew over the village, noticed the congested state of the main street and promptly signalled to their guns.

The first we knew of it was when a loud explosion occurred – the biggest we had ever heard – which violently shook the ground and brought various bricks down from the roof into our dinner plates – or thereabouts. ... we now strove to get outside to see what the present trouble was; no doubt, the loose portions of roof etc., which were falling around us spurred us on in this effort! Less than half a mile away an enormous pillar of grey smoke had arisen high in the air, and this was followed by another, the sound of the second explosion being even greater than the first...'

Another soldier, Private Alfred Dolden, of 1/14 Battalion London Regiment (London Scottish), recorded what happened:

'Shell after shell burst in the village. Everything occurred at the most inopportune time for the village was filled with ammunition lorries. The square was packed with them, and a German shell caught a lorry full of 9.2 shells. There was a terrific explosion from the lorry which set light to the others, and altogether about half a dozen lorries were blown to bits. Men ran in all directions, and of course casualties were heavy.'(6)

An artillery officer of a nearby siege battery recalled:

'On the last day [of the bombardment] the General Staff organised a full dress rehearsal of the barrage for the morrow and at the same time the enemy began a heavy bombardment of Achicourt and the surrounding area. An ammunition column, which, for some unexplained reason, was driving through the main street in daylight, was caught, and the blazing, exploding lorries turned what had once been a thriving country village, into a holocaust of flame and death.'(7)

Aubrey Smith heard that one of the lorry drivers won a medal for bravery by driving his burning lorry into a pond to extinguish the flames.(8) Other Army Service Corps men were not so courageous:

'Two ASC men, dishevelled and very much out of breath, ran down the road and hardly paused to speak when we questioned them.

"For Gawd's sake, ––––– well hop it", said one.

"The ––––– village is being blown to –––– Hell!" gasped the other.'(9)

The Official History of The Great War was a little more subdued in mentioning this event; 'On the 8th [April] ... except for the suburb of Achicourt, where streets were temporarily blocked by fallen houses and a number of lorries were destroyed, hostile batteries were only slightly more active against Arras and its neighbourhood.' (10) The 169 Brigade HQ war diary recorded the bare facts; 'Achicourt badly shelled this afternoon. QWR estimate 25 casualties, most of the centre of village blown up + burnt with a number of ammunition lorries.'(11) The war diary of the 1/16 Battalion London Regiment (Queen's Westminister Rifles) recorded:

'At about noon the town was again shelled. "B" Company HQ received a direct hit, causing part of the building to collapse, thereby inflicting many casualties on a Platoon of men of this Company who were taking shelter in this building. The shelling ceased at about 1 pm, but started again at 2 pm. This time a lorry loaded with 9.2" ammunition was hit and immediately burst into flames. The fire spread to adjacent lorries, until in all there were twenty burning. After a time the ammunition began to explode and some of the houses in the square began to blaze. A great deal of damage was caused by this fire, many billets being burned and a large quantity of stores and equipment buried beneath the ruins.'(12)

Second-Lieutenant A G Beville, 16th Queen's Westministers, k

Image: Second Lieutenant Alfred Beville, 16/Queen’s Westminister Rifles, killed during the shelling of Achicourt

Rifleman Clements David James Barnes, aged 22, had served at

Image: Rifleman Clements David James Barnes, aged 22, had served at Gallipoli before joining the Queen’s Westministers

Rifleman Harry Edward Burnham, aged 35, was from St Margaret

Image: Rifleman Harry Edward Burnham, aged 35, was from St. Margarets

16/Londons lost heavily: Second Lieutenant Alfred Beville and sixteen men were killed and thirty–one men were wounded on 8 April; presumably in Achicourt alone.(13) Beville was killed during the mid–day bombardment whilst tending to some wounded of his platoon.(14)Luckily the battalion was in reserve for the offensive next day but the loss of almost fifty men was significant when the battalion had not yet attacked.(15) (see table at end of article).

Other units were affected to differing extents. 1/9 Battalion London Regiment (Queen Victoria's Rifles) recorded that their Quartermaster's stores in Achicourt were damaged in the shelling.(16) Meanwhile 169/Machine Gun Company recorded that; 'Billets had to be vacated. The front of Headquarters was blown in and the whole of the interior demolished. All guns were saved. The Commanding Officer was slightly wounded and also one other rank.'(17) According to the history of 1/4 Battalion London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) the shelling caused;

'... a good many casualties in the Battalion ... For some time the flying fragments rendered the place remarkably unhealthy.'(18) The fires and sympathetic detonations eventually expended themselves; presumably those who were able to evacuated the centre of the village to reduce casualties:

'All through the afternoon one big explosion followed another until it hardly seemed possible that there could be any portion of the dumps untouched. Nothing could save the ammunition now.... Towards evening the outbreaks in Achicourt became more spasmodic ...'(19)

The Aftermath

Once the conflagration had died down the soldiers inhabiting the town went out to explore:

'The centre of the village was absolutely unrecognisable: in some places not a vestige remained of buildings we knew well. The square looked as though the earth had completely swallowed it up and no corner of Ypres could be more forlorn and devastated. All that remained of the lorries was a piece of mangled axle here or a section of distorted framework there.'(20)

Private Dolden described the devastation:

'Everywhere one could see the debris of brick and woodwork, and the curled up chassis and bonnets of lorries. One chassis was blown completely up in the air, and landed on a housetop, and a wheel was found over a quarter of a mile away. Houses and men were blown to pieces beyond all recognition. Hours after the shelling had ceased dumps were exploding and going skywards.'(21)

Lieutenant Trounce provided a similar general account which agreed with other sources. He too recorded the damage:

'All the houses surrounding the square were levelled by the resulting detonation and over 200 men killed and wounded. It was impossible afterward to find a piece of wood or steel from these trucks larger than a brick in size.'(22)

There were numerous casualties though the chaos of the scene would have made it difficult to determine numbers; 'Fellows passed us on their way down the road, with bandages on them, in such numbers that the offensive might well have begun.'(23) The task of accounting for the casualties was made more difficult by the fact that it could not be determined who was passing through the village square at the time of the shelling. Luckily the advanced dressing station in Achicourt of 2/3 London Field Ambulance was in some extensive cellars and survived the bombardment; in the aftermath 118 cases were treated here. It was difficult to report casualties attributed to this one event alone accurately; those who died of their wounds the next day are very difficult to differentiate from the casualties from the Arras offensive. Approximately thirty men were reported killed but wounded and shell–shock cases are impossible to determine.

It should not be forgotten that the French civil population also suffered heavily during this and previous bombardments; thirty civilian inhabitants were killed during the war. In addition the start of General Nivelle's offensive in April cost Achicourt a further four of her sons killed in the fighting. The commune of Achicourt was commended on the orders of the French Army as it; '... was partially destroyed by the guns. Despite the high number of victims the population has during the shelling showed superb courage and patriotic firmness.'(24)

A photograph of the aftermath of the explosions in the villa

Image: A photograph of the aftermath of the explosions in the village square. The building on the right is the remains of the village hall.

The village square in the 1930s showing the village hall reb

Image: The village square in the 1930s showing the village hall rebuilt

An approximate modern comparison showing the rebuilt village

Image: An approximate modern comparison showing the rebuilt village hall in the square at Achicourt

The village war memorial which includes the names of the thi

Image: The village war memorial which includes the names of the thirty French civilians killed by German shelling during the war

Heroism Under Fire

The 1/4 Londons' history referred to; 'Excellent work was done in saving two lorries by Major H. Campbell of the Kensingtons. He well earned his DSO by driving two of the blazing lorries out of the square into a place of safety.'(25) According to a member of 13/Londons who heard of the story second–hand from the transport section:

'Some of our transport personnel went to do what they could to help extinguish the fires on the lorries under the direction of Major Campbell who was in the village at the time. They drove some of the lorries away out of danger, some to a pond just outside the village, and managed to quench those on fire. One of the corporals received the DCM for this and another man (I think the wheelwright) got the Military Medal. Great pieces of shell and ironwork were blown ... over a quarter of a mile distant.'(26)

Major (later Lieutenant Colonel) Hugh Campbell, second–in–command of the Kensingtons, was awarded the DSO; the citation for which read:

'For conspicuous gallantry and devotion to duty. The ammunition lorries were being heavily shelled when he personally drove two of them which were in flames out of the danger zone. He then organised a party to get the fire under [control] and remove ammunition from the vicinity of the flames. This task was carried out under continuous shell fire, and by his prompt action and gallantry undoubtedly saved many lives and averted a disaster.'(27)

The explosions and fire were still taking place in the evening, this was around the time that many battalions were moving forward to the trenches ready to support or take part in the attack next day. Private Charles Stanley recorded additional damage to vehicles:

'In fields near Achicourt ... bivouack [sic] situated in front of a battery of 8" howitzers – on our way up in lorry the enemy started to shell Achicourt so that we were delayed and had to walk. ... in the square [in Achicourt] 16 lorries were broken up – two teams of horses were killed in their harnesses – several mules and two private cars wrecked – the village is in total ruins – habitation in cellars only. – this area is constantly shelled by very heavy shells.'(28)

Many battalions of 14th (Light) Division were already in the trenches ready for the attack but their 41 Brigade was in reserve and needed to move forwards to the Ronville Caves which would give them shelter for the night of the 8/9 April. The 7/King's Royal Rifle Corps (KRRC) war diary recorded that they were to move through Achicourt by platoons:

'The move to the caves was accomplished without casualties though ACHICOURT had to be avoided owing to the constant explosions of shells from the dumps on fire.'(29)

8/KRRC recorded that:

'Two of our large shell dumps "went up" in the afternoon one at the CITADEL (ARRAS) & the other at ACHICOURT, the latter being so bad that we had to march into Arras by a different route.'(30)

However 8/Rifle Brigade (RB) stated that 41 Brigade's transport was at the Citadel, under Lieutenant Poole (the 8/RB Transport Officer). The brigade transport failed to mention any explosions there.(31) It was lucky in some ways that the shelling occurred when it did; if the shelling and explosions had occurred when these battalions were marching through the village then very heavy casualties indeed would have been incurred. Consequently they avoided the village and moved forwards during the hours of darkness and by moving in platoons the risk of a massed target being present was reduced.

The troops who had fought around Neuville Vitasse on 9 April returned through Achicourt when they were relieved:

'Something terrible had happened here. ... It was dark when we arrived and passed the small working class houses, most of which were in ruins and smoking ... Small groups of frightened men and women were still hurrying away with hand trucks and perambulators filled with whatever of their simple belongings they had been able to salve. ... At the end of the road we emerged on the square which was a litter of destruction. One row of houses about 6 or 8, bordering the square were in ruins. A whole platoon of about 30 or so Queen's Westministers had been billeted in these and were all killed. ... The Mairie had suffered some damage from shell fire but was still standing.'(32)

However, by the time 13/Londons had been relieved and travelled back through Achicourt; 'The gaping graves had been filled in, the roads repaired; the town made into an important dump, alive with men, bristling with guns and shells, and warm with a large array of wooden huts.'(33) Whether this village was that much improved or whether it just seemed more pleasant as a result of time spent in the trenches was not elaborated on by the author.

The Causes

So what had caused this disaster? Whose were the ammunition lorries and why were they stationary in such a vulnerable place? Aubrey Smith recorded seeing a German aeroplane directing the artillery, however the war diary for 3 Heavy Artillery Group (HAG) also recorded:

'Little hostile aerial activity. Many German Balloons up who were ranging batteries on dumps in Agny + Achicourt.'(34)

This could mean the artillery fire was actually directed from a balloon. Whatever the means of aerial observation the Royal Flying Corps were enduring 'Bloody April' and between 4 and 8 April lost 75 aircraft and 105 aircrew.(35) The accurate German shelling was ultimately an advantage of these British losses in the air.

In answer to the latter question 283 Motor Transport (MT) Company, ASC, had the onerous task of supplying shells to the various artillery brigades and batteries of VII Corps. The 283 MT Company war diary recorded:

'Received message at 5.30 pm from T. 2nd Lieut OVEREND ASC that 17 lorries had been destroyed by hostile shell fire in ACHICOURT. These lorries were proceeding to gun positions with ammunition. He believes that Military Police caused the block.' (36)

Whether this was the cause or not is unknown; the Military Foot Police or Military Mounted Police would always be good scapegoats for such an incident. In addition 1/North Irish Horse was the cavalry regiment attached to VII Corps – they had a number of troops providing traffic control in the VII Corps area.(37) Another question that must be asked was why the MPs had stopped the convoy? This would not have been 283 MT Company's first visit to Achicourt as the day before this event the company had been ordered to clear XVIII Corps dumps and take all 9.2" howitzer ammunition to Achicourt. The company had been augmented by the ASC personnel of all the heavy and siege artillery batteries attached to VII Corps.(38) As such 283 MT Company mustered about 2,650 men and the massive demands for shells for the different batteries meant that convoys to them were increasingly difficult to coordinate and control. On 4 April the company war diary recorded that both the vehicles and men were already overworked and this was further exacerbated on 6 April when the General Officer Commanding VII Corps Heavy Artillery (GOCRA) ordered an increase in stockpiles of a further 60 shells per gun. All the while many lorries needed to be kept free to drag forward the guns once the offensive started. The logistic demands placed on this company to supply the forthcoming battle forced extra convoys to be run. The presence of such vehicles by daylight may have led to a curious military policeman stopping them to avert a potential disaster. In so doing this may have possibly caused it.

283 MT Company lost one man killed and four seriously wounded on 8 April.(39) The Military Medal was awarded to DM2/168152 Private H. A. Evans and M2/116987 Private A. Walton on 9 May by Lieutenant General D'Oyly Snow (commanding VII Corps) for gallantry in the field; presumably for work in Achicourt.(40)

Conclusion

Whilst the loss of life, devastation and loss of materiel was significant it was minor by comparison to the losses amongst the fighting troops the next day. In terms of artillery ammunition, for the Arras offensive, VII Corps possessed 336 18–pounder guns and 110 4.5–inch howitzers along with seventy–six 6–inch howitzers, forty–eight 60–pounders, seventy–two 8 or 9.2–inch howitzers and fifteen further heavy guns. (41) These guns expended a great deal of ammunition in early April; from 30 March to 3 April, VII Corps artillery fired 62,348 shells. Once the bombardment, in preparation for the main battle, had started this expenditure exponentially increased to 712,970 shells fired between 3 to 11 April.(42) Even if thousands of shells were lost in Achicourt in this devastating incident they would have been a drop in the ocean by comparison. However, when Major W. J. Beatty, OC 283 MT Company, visited Achicourt on 12 April, he found the village ruined but that their dump was not damaged and that only a cartridge store had been destroyed; presumably in addition to the shells carried in the lorries.(43) 48 Siege Battery, equipped with 9.2–inch guns, was stationed near Achicourt, its war diary recorded firing about 750 shells that day but mentioned in passing that; 'During the afternoon the enemy heavily shelled Achicourt catching a dump of field + medium [artillery] ammunition + a number of lorries with siege ammn [ammunition].'(44) With the shells already stockpiled they recorded no shortage of ammunition. Likewise a number of batteries in the area failed to mention either the bombardment or the explosion; presumably they were too busy with their own tasks of bombarding the Hindenburg Line.

A 9.2 Inch Howitzer shells destined for guns like this destr

Image: A 9.2 Inch howitzer; shells destined for guns like this destroyed the village of Achicourt. This example survives at the Imperial War Museum London.

The effectiveness of the artillery in this segment of the front would not have been significantly affected; when the 14th and 56th Divisions advanced the next day they found the wire generally pretty well cut and a large number of the German trenches significantly damaged. In one instance the German trenches were so battered that an officer of 10/Durham Light Infantry (14th Division) had to ask two German officer prisoners for directions to his objective. Whilst there were sections of wire inadequately cut and trenches incompletely bombarded further to the south–east, these were unlikely to have been affected by the reduced availability of 9.2–inch shells around Achicourt and was more to do with the recent German withdrawal. The 9.2–inch howitzers were tasked with counter battery fire and engaging German trenches deeper behind the enemy lines; coincidentally they were to do the exact same job as that conducted by the enemy battery that shelled Achicourt and were; '... reserved for special distant targets ... with aircraft observation whenever possible.'(45) The 9.2–inch howitzers were to fire 140 rounds per howitzer per day at a rate of four rounds every five minutes. Trounce came up with the financial cost of each 9.2–inch howitzer shell being $150.(46) According to one observer the cost of the bombardment of 2 million shells from 25 March to 8 April was estimated at £13 million.(47)

A 9.2 Inch High Explosive Shell of the type which detonated

Image: A 9.2-inch high explosive shell of the type which detonated on the lorries in Achicourt. Each shell weighed 131kg. (Pictured at the IWM.)

The casualties from the preliminary stages of the Arras offensive were high; the 56th Division lost 108 officers and 2,274 men between 5 and 22 April. Between 29 April and 22 May they lost a further 80 officers and 2,028 men; a total of almost 200 officers and over 4,000 men. 14th Division lost 90 officers and 1,707 men in April.(48) By comparison the dozens of casualties at Achicourt were minor. Ultimately the event was caused by a series of events which unluckily led to a German battery being able to bombard the village at an optimum time to achieve maximum target effect. Sadly, according to a casual observer like Trounce, explosions like this were not uncommon around this time:

'During the retreat it was a very common occurrence for enemy shells to explode large artillery ammunition–dumps in this way on account of the fact that it was impossible to get them under adequate cover. Every night one could count dozens of fires caused by enemy shells hitting the cordite propellant of batteries.'(49)

In addition, according to the historian of 2/2 City of London Field Ambulance:

'Heavy as this bombardment was, it was only an incident compared with the terrible intensity of our own fire.'(50)

 

Article and images contributed to Stand To! No 99 by Colin Taylor.

References
(1) Papers of Lieutenant Colonel J. C. Slingsby, NAM 1985–11–44. p.6.
(2) Smith, Aubrey, (1922 reprinted 2001), Four Years on the Western Front (Uckfield: Naval and Military Press). p.214.
(3) Trounce, H. D., (1918), Fighting the Boche Underground (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons). pp.143–4.
(4) Ibid. pp.144–6.
This actually occurred on 5 March 1917; the 181 Tunnelling Company War Diary recorded one man killed and six wounded by shelling (PRO WO 95/405). 197853 Sapper Charles Holloway, aged 31, from Halesowen, Worcestershire was married and lived in Kentish Town. He formerly served with the Worcestershire Regiment and first arrived in France on 12 August 1914. He was killed on 5 March 1917 and was buried in Agny Military Cemetery.
(5) Smith, Aubrey, op.cit. p. 214.
(6) Dolden, A. Stuar,t (1980), Cannon Fodder, An Infantryrman's Life on the Western Front 1914–18 (London: Blandford Press). p.115.
(7) Lushington, Major Franklin, ('Mark Severn'), (Republished 2007), The Gambardier, The Experiences of a Battery of Heavy Artillery on the Western Front During the First World War (Leonaur Ltd.). p100.
(8) Smith, Aubrey, op.cit. p.214.
(9) Ibid, p. 215.
(10) Falls, Captain Cyril, (1939), The History of the Great War Based on Official Documents, Military Operations, France and Belgium 1917, The German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line and the Battles of Arras (London: HM Stationers). pp.196–7
(11) 169 Brigade War Diary. PRO WO95/2957.
(12) 16/Londons War Diary. PRO WO95/2963
(13) The Commonwealth War Graves Commission record one officer and nineteen men killed or DoW on 8 April. Amongst these men were a number of original members of the battalion who had embarked in November 1914. Rifleman Clements David James Barnes was born in Kennington and was educated at St. Dunstan's College, Catford. He enlisted in 2/Londons on 1 October 1914 and was sent to Malta in December. He served at Gallipoli until January 1916 and was transferred to the Queen's Westminster Rifles in April 1916. Rifleman Harry Edward Burnham, aged 35, and from St. Margarets had been with the battalion a little longer having arrived in France in early 1916. Both were buried in Agny Military Cemetery. The other members of the Queen's Westminster Rifles killed on 8 April 1917 are recorded in a table below.
(14) Second Lieutenant Alfred Geoffrey Beville, aged 20, from Hampstead, London, was educated at Highgate School and was a member of the OTC there. He joined the Inns of Court OTC in September 1915, where he was a lance corporal. He attended No. 7 Officer Cadet Battalion and was Gazetted in June 1916. He was buried in Agny Military Cemetery. His father wrote an embittered letter to the War Office in January 1919 after worries about the livelihood of Alfred's mother who had no–one to provide for her:
'... is the Country for whom my boy gave his life and for whom my wife sacrificed her only son, going to allow her to suffer privation because she no longer has her son to provide for her? Or will this Government recognise The Country's indebtedness to my son and make some provision for his mother as will secure her against distress.' PRO WO374/6259.
(15) 16/Londons (QWR) lost 18 officers and 441 men during the month of April 1917. PRO WO95/2963.
(16) QVR War Diary PRO WO95/2963. The battalion lost 390167 Rifleman Walter Augustus Trew killed on this day; presumably at Achicourt. He was born in Kingston and resided in St. Pancras; he embarked in November 1914.
(17) 169/Machine Gun Company War Diary. PRO WO95/2963.
(18) Grimwade, Captain F. Clive, (1922), The War History of the 4th Battalion The London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers) 1914–1919 (London: HQ 4/Londons). p.257. 1/4 Londons suffered two men killed on 8 April, presumably in this village. 280645 Lance Corporal Albert Edward Thornton, aged 25, from Bow, London was buried in Warlencourt Halte British Cemetery Saulty. 7544 Private Henry Natali was buried at Achicourt Road Cemetery.
(19) Smith, Aubrey, op.cit. pp. 215–216.
(20) Ibid, p. 218.
(21) Dolden, Alfred Stuart, op.cit. p.115.
(22) Trounce, H. D, op.cit.p.147.
(23) Smith, Aubrey,op.cit. p.216.
(24) Quoted on the Achicourt village war memorial.
'Citation
A l'Ordre de l'Armée
De la Commune d'Achicourt.
"A été en partie détruite par le canon. Malgre le nombre élevé des victimes dans sa population a montré au cours des bombardements une superbe vaillance et une patriotique fermeté."'
(25) Grimwade, Captain F. Clive, op.cit. p.257.
(26) Tucker, John F., (1978) Johnny Get Your Gun (London: William Kimber). p.126.
(27) London Gazette 18 June 1917, p. 5980. Major Hugh Campbell embarked for France on 3 November 1914. He was 2ic of the Kensingtons and later worked as a lieutenant colonel on the RAF air staff and served on the Staff of 47 (London) Division. He was awarded the DSO, CBE and TD.
(28) Diary of 3162 Private Charles Stanley, 56th Division Signals. NAM 2007–10–03.
(29) PRO WO95/1896.
(30) PRO WO95/1895.
(31) PRO WO95/1895.
(32) Tucker, John F., op.cit. p. 125.
(33) Seward, Joseph Johns, (2011), The Platoon, An Infantryman on the Western Front 1916–18 (Barnsley: Pen and Sword). p.116.
(34) 3 Heavy Artillery Group War Diary, PRO WO95/297. 3/HAG was in charge of some of the 9.2–inch batteries in the area of Achicourt.
(35) Barker, Ralph (1995) The Royal Flying Corps in France – From Bloody April 1917 to Final Victory (London: Constable).p. 30.
(36) 283 Motor Transport Company ASC War Diary. PRO WO95/817.
Second Lieutenant W. L. Overend was an ASC MT officer attached to the ammunition column of 244/Siege Battery; this battery was equipped with 6–inch guns. Second–Lieutenant William Lethem Overend, aged 34, from Penge, SE20, had been a consulting automobile engineer and a driving instructor before joining the ASC and being later gazetted to a commission on 5 January 1917. He arrived in France with 146 Section of 244 Siege Battery on 30 January 1917. He was later promoted lieutenant and served in France until September 1918 before being sent home as an instructor at MT artificer schools. PRO WO339/85926.
(37) 1 North Irish Horse War Diary. PRO WO95/816.
(38) VII Corps Heavy Artillery War Diary. PRO WO95/813. As such eleven HAGs and fifty–five batteries were with VII Corps by 8 April and all their ammunition columns were attached to 283 MT Company.
(39) Amongst 283 MT Company presumably M2/149504 Private James Edward Sandars, aged 23, from Packforton, Cheshire, was killed outright and buried in Agny British Cemetery. M2/191188 Private Albert John Gurney, aged 30, from Sydenham, London, died of his wounds and was buried at Warlincourt Halte British Cemetery, Saulty. Also presumably DoW was M2/137751 Private Wilfrid Horton, aged 23, a butcher from near Ramsgate, who was buried in Wanquetin Communal Cemetery Extension. DM2/224755 Private Joseph Goodyear, aged 38, was a french polisher from Retford, was with 283 MT Company but attached to 264 Siege Battery Ammunition Column; he was also killed on 8 April 1917 and was buried in Agny Military Cemetery.
(40) These MMs were Gazetted on 18 June 1917. In addition, further medals were awarded in May and June to men of 283 MT Company.
(41) VII Corps War Diary. PRO WO95/805.
(42) PRO WO95/805.
(43) 283 MT Company ASC War Diary. PRO WO95/817. Major William John Beatty ASC, from Chelsea, was appointed as a secondlieutenant on 14 June 1915 and had embarked for France on 18 July 1915 with 377/ Company ASC. He had commanded 283 Company from 7 November 1916. He was Mentioned in Despatches 29 May 1917, possibly for the work done by his company during the build up for the Arras offensive. He died of influenza and pleurisy on 10 February 1919 aged 30 whilst attached to Fourth Army Heavy Artillery. He was appointed OBE on 3 June 1919 and was again MiD 10 July 1919. He was buried in Charleroi Communal Cemetery. PRO WO339/3503.
(44) 48 Siege Battery War Diary. PRO WO95/222. They were stationed 1.3km to the southwest and were a likely destination for the convoy.
(45) Falls, Captain Cyril (1939,) The History of the Great War Based on Official Documents, Military Operations, France and Belgium 1917, The German Retreat to the Hindenburg Line and the Battles of Arras (London: HM Stationers). Pg 183.
(46) Trounce, H. D., op.cit. p.164.
(47) Lushington, Major Franklin, op.cit. p.100.
(48) Falls, Captain Cyril, op.cit. pp. 559 and 560.
(49) Trounce, H. D., op.cit. p.147.
(50) Unknown author (1920), The 'Second–Seconds' in France (London: Spottiswoode). p. 40.

 

 

 

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