100 Years Ago
June 1915 was hot and sultry. On 3rd June the 1st battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment marched to Vlamertighe where they stayed in huts. The next day they were in the trenches at Hooge. On 6th June two men were killed when the Germans fired their “Minenwerfer”. These were short range mortars. The Wiltshires responded with Howitzers.
The next day another two men were killed and the battalion was busy putting up large quantities of barbed wire in front of the trenches.
On 8th June another man was killed and three were wounded. There was a thunder storm. After four days in the trenches the battalion marched to Ypres on 9th June for some rest. During this period of rest there was an accident with a lyddite grenade, and two people were killed and 23 injured.
On 15th June, they were back in the trenches, this time on the Menin Road, west of Hooge. They took up their positions at 11.45pm. At 2.50 am the artillery commenced a bombardment on the German trenches between Roulers railway and the southern end of Ypres wood. This was followed by an assault on the German trenches, which was successful. At about 9am on the 16th the Germans began their counter attack. The Wiltshires were on the receiving end of a heavy bombardment, and for about an hour and a half they responded with grenades. However by 10.30, they had used up all their grenades and the Germans succeeded in driving them slowly back down the trench.
They had to retreat in the open, and lost a considerable number of men. A counter charge was organized but without success as the officer and many men were shot down. Charles Pike from West Lavington was one of the men killed on this day. Towards evening the Germans fired some gas shells, but these caused only a temporary inconvenience.
The next day the battalion was relieved and they marched to billets between Ypres and Vlamertinge. During the action the battalion lost two officers killed, and 20 other ranks. Three men were missing believed killed, one hundred and three men were wounded; 3 were wounded and taken as prisoner, and 54 men were missing.
After one night’s rest the battalion was in the trenches again the next day at Hooge. They were there for five days and then had four days rest at Valmertinghe. During this rest period there was another accident when the medical Officer was severely burnt. He subsequently died from his injuries.
On 27th June they were back in the trenches at Hooge. The Germans regularly shelled the trenches over the next few days, during which the battalion lost two men on 29th June, including Ernest Sainsbury from Market Lavington.
On 1st June the 2nd Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment was resting in billets at Robecq. At 4pm they were lined along the road, and subject to a casual inspection by Mr Asquith, the Prime Minister, who was accompanied by General Haig. The battalion remained at rest, moving from Robecq to Hinges to Locon where they stayed until 14th June.
On 14th June they took over the trenches at Givenchy, and at 6pm the following day they started an attack on the German line, during which they managed to take over some German trenches. The next day they were relieved and made their way back to the reserve dugouts where they had breakfast. Over the next few days they marched back to Robecq where they spent eight days in billets. They then received orders to march to Lumbries about 26 miles from Robecq, and they arrived there on 29th June.
Frederick William Wright died 2.6.1915
Fred was born in London around 1874, the son of coachman Frederick Wright. At the age of 21 he enlisted into the Royal Field Artillery on 18th May 1894, and he served for three years. He was working as a labourer prior to his enlistment. Whilst serving with the RFA he was a driver.
In 1896 he married Rhoda Carr in Camberwell. Rhoda was born in Trowbridge. Following his marriage, Fred bought himself out of the army for the sum of £18 in 1897. They had at least four children, Hubert born in 1898, Gaston born in 1899, Alfred born in 1900 and Gladys born in 1901. There were probably more children, but I have been unable to find this family in the 1911 census.
At the outbreak of the war, Fred was one of the first to enlist, signing up on 4th September 1914 at the age of 41. At that time he and his family were living at 5 Church Street, Market Lavington. He gave his occupation as licenced victualler. He was assigned to the 4th Wiltshire Reserve Battalion and saw service at Codford.
Sadly, it soon became clear that Fred wasn’t fit for service. He suffered from a constant night cough with shortness of breath and chest pains, and after three spells of sick leave he was discharged as medically unfit by reason of chronic bronchitis and emphysema. His condition was not caused by his army service, but it was aggravated by the constant wet conditions at Codford camp.
Fred was discharged in February 1915, and he died a few weeks later at home in Market Lavington. Rhoda never remarried, and died in Trowbridge in 1957.
Charles Pike killed in action 16.6.1915
Charles was born about 1887 in West Lavington. His father was John Pike, a gardener from Wilton, and his mother Eliza came from Suffolk. The family moved around a bit, but were living in West Lavington from about 1886 to 1890. They then settled in the Swindon area.
Charles was working as a compositor in Swindon in 1911. By that time he had been married to Frances Paddon for a little over a year, and they had a son, Charles Edward Pike.
Charles enlisted into the 1st battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment and arrived in France on 18th May 1915. The battalion was then at Elzenwalle in Belgium, and having a relatively quiet time, according to the war diaries.
On 15th June the battalion marched to trenches on the Menin Road, and arrived there about 11.45pm. At 2.50 am that night, the British artillery commenced a bombardment on the german trenches. At around 9am the Germans began bombing heavily. The Wiltshires replied with grenades, and the exchange lasted about one and a half hours. The supply of grenades was exhausted and the battalion was driven back down the trench. They suffered heavy casualties. They then had to fall back in the open and lost a considerable number of men. A counter charge was organised, but without success, as the officer and many men were shot down and the remainder made no progress.
There was further bombardment during the evening, and several gas shells were fired. These apparently caused only temporary inconvenience.
It was during this action that Charles was killed. He has no known grave but is remembered on the Ypres Menin Gate memorial.
George H W Griffiths killed in action 22nd June 1915
George was born in 1866 in Handsworth, Birmingham. His father was George Griffiths, a barrister, and his mother was Emma Lucy Harvey.
At an early age, George went to sea. Whilst engaged in this occupation, George had some extreme tattooing performed on his person. On his chest he had a woman’s head and a trophy of flags and a crown; 1887 was inscribed on his right arm; Britannia, cross flags, a ship and a bracelet were on his right forearm; a sailor with a flag was on his left arm; GHWG MAAW in a wreath, and a bust of a woman were on his left forearm. George also had scars above each knee and each foot.
In April 1888 George had obviously had enough of the sea, and he decided to join the army. He enlisted into the 18th Hussars. He was described as 5ft 6ins tall, fresh complexioned with hazel eyes and black hair. He weighed 136 lbs and had a chest measurement of 35 inches. George served for 78 days from April 1888 to July 1888, and then bought himself out for a payment of £10. His commanding officer described him as being regular in his habits with good conduct and a temperate nature.
This good report obviously held George in good stead when he applied again to join the 18th Hussars in February 1891. When signing up he gave his occupation as “Collector”. He served for seven years in India from 1st September 1891 to 28th December 1898. He was discharged from the army on 31st December 1898, but recalled in November 1899. He was sent to South Africa and served throughout the Boer War, until July 1902. He was finally discharged in February 1903.
It was at about this time that George came to West Lavington. He was certainly in the village in 1906 when he married Alice Riddle Burgess. Alice was the daughter of Ebenezer Burgess, who was described as a pathological painter. He must have been quite successful as the family seem to have lived in reasonably affluent circumstances. It may be pure coincidence that George married within a few months of the death of his father. His father left a modest estate of £221.1s with his spinster daughter, Eveline Constance Griffiths as his executor. From this one does gain the impression that maybe George was felt to be a bit of a black sheep.
George joined the 25th battalion of the Royal Fusiliers. This was formed in London by the Legion of Frontiersmen on 12.2.1915. The Legion of Frontiersmen was a unique paramilitary group formed in 1905, and was likened to Boy Scouts for grown men! It was a group of adventurers from all over the Empire, with experience in various colonies.
They embarked at Plymouth on 12.2.1915, bound for East Africa, and they arrived in Mombasa on 4th May 1915. The Battalion was part of a Force in Africa which defended British Colonies from German Colonial raids mostly focused in the areas around Lake Tanganyika, British East African and German East African territory.
The first major battle to involve the Frontiersmen was Bukoba in June 1915. The British objective was the destruction of the Bukoba wireless station. Due to Bukoba’s location on the shore of Lake Victoria, it was decided that the raid should take the form of an amphibious assault. The raid was launched from Kisumu in British East Africa on June 21st 1915. Amongst the units chosen for the attack were the Loyal North Lancashire and the 25th (Frontiersmen) Battalion, Royal Fusiliers, more commonly known by the their nickname the 25th ‘Frontiersmen’.
Upon reaching the objective at Bukoba the attackers were accidentally landed in a large swamp and were pinned down by fierce rifle and machine gun fire from the German positions. Finally managing to escape the swamp, the British force was then held up by snipers—who succeeded in stalling the attack until a Captain Meinertzhagen advanced towards them and opened fire, killing one and driving the rest away. The attack continued for a further two days in the town; however, casualties were light on both sides. The Frontiersmen took the town on June 23rd. An Australian member of the unit, Lieutenant Wilbur Dartnell, climbed to the top of the town hall and removed the German Imperial Ensign from the flagpole as a symbolic gesture of victory.
George was killed in action on 22nd June 1915, and is buried in Dar Es Salaam Cemetery.
George and Alice had two children, George Edwin born in 1907 and John Whitmore born in 1918. The family stayed in West Lavington until at least the late 1920s. George was the goalkeeper in the local football team. John became a vicar. I have so far been unable to trace any descendants for either of them, but their aunt, Elise Elizabeth Griffiths married twice and had several children.
Ernest Charles Sainsbury 29th June 1915
Ernest was born in Market Lavington in 1896, the son of agricultural labourer Frederick George Sainsbury, often known as George, and his wife Sarah. Frederick was born in West Lavington, and Sarah came from Easterton. The family lived in the High Street in Easterton, where Ernest grew up with two older sisters and a younger brother.
In 1911 Ernest was working as an agricultural labourer. In 1914 he was already serving in the 1st battalion of the Wiltshire regiment and he arrived in France on 14th August 1914. He was promoted to corporal at some stage after the start of the war.
His battalion was involved in the action at Mons and Ypres. On 29th June, a showery but warm day, the battalion was in the trenches at Hooge in Belgium. They were fired upon with trench mortars, and two men, one of whom was Ernest, were killed and eight men were injured. He was buried in Bedford House Cemetery.