Husband of Eva Fowler (nee Whitfield), of 14, High Street, Wetherby,
Robert was born at York circa
1879 however details as regards his family and early life are unclear at present. His first known association with the Wetherby
district is recorded in November 1909 when he was appointed as a Rural Postman (British Postal Appointment Book), the 1911
Census details confirming his occupation and also stating that he was residing as a boarder at Number 2, Scott Lane, Wetherby.
It was in the year of 1911
that Robert married one Eva Whitfield of Victoria Street, Wetherby. Employed as a Dairy Maid, Eva was the daughter of the
late William Whitfield and Mary Ann Whitfield, her brother, Arthur, also being employed as a Rural Postman. In 1912, the first
of three children was born, Frances Mary, followed by William in 1914
and Hilda in early 1916, just after her father departed for the Western Front
for service with the 155th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. It is at this juncture that we will now turn to as regards the
inception and formation of the brigade.
Formation Of The Brigade
The 155th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, were formed from an initiative proposed to the
War Office by the West Yorkshire Coal Owner's Association to raise and equip a whole new field artillery brigade complete
with associated ammunition column. Upon acceptance of the offer by the Army Council in February 1915, about 700 men were required
to fill the ranks of this new brigade. The standards of the recruit were set at 5 foot 7 inches - 5 foot 10 inches for Gunners
and between 5 foot 3 inches - 5 foot 7 inches for Drivers, a further requirement being that the potential recruit had a chest
measurement of 35 inches. To fill the ranks, numerous advertisements were placed in the local press stating the requirement
for retired cavalry, horse or field artillery Non-Commissioned officers either for re-enlistment or for temporary appointment
to assist in training the recruits, a particular preference being placed on the recruitment to Swedish Drill Instructors.
The age limit or ex Sergeants was not to exceed 45 years of age, Non-Commissioned officers, above 38 years. For the perspective
recruits, application in writing was to be made to the Officer Commanding, Old Bank Chambers, Park Row, Leeds, one Temporary
Lieutenant-Colonel William St. Pierre Bunbury. (Authors note: Rank as of the 15th February 1915, London Gazette dated the
8th of June, 1915).
concept was to raise an artillery brigade composed of local volunteers, much the same as the "Pals" infantry battalions
that had been conceived in the autumn of 1914. Standard procedure for the recruitment of men by the artillery pre 1915 was
established on a national basis, this scheme initiated in the latter year being envisaged to provide a more 'local identity'
to the recruitment of men for this arm of the services, hence, the men enlisting under this programme of recruitment were
issued with an "L" Prefix to their serial number, i.e. denoting 'Local Enlistment.' With the scheme being
adopted countrywide, in Yorkshire in addition to the 155th Brigade, the following brigades were also recruited; the 161st
Brigade (York), 164th Brigade (Rotherham) and the 168th Brigade (Huddersfield).
The Yorkshire Evening Post dated the 20th of March
1915, contains yet another advertisement for potential recruits however the address for reply is now stated as the Market
Place, Wetherby. A further newspaper article dated the 25th of May (Leeds Mercury) records that the brigade had been present
in the town for a period of twelve weeks, thus placing the opening of this office as early March. With the nucleus of the
brigade forming or about to form at Wetherby, Hey's Brewery Stables were seconded for the stabling of horses, the men
ultimately being housed in private accommodation. (Authors note: Recorded as Hey's Brewery in the War Diary of the 2/6th
West Yorkshire's who stabled their horses here in October 1915, T.N.A. WO95/3082/1).
An analysis of surviving service documents points
to the fact that a large number of men were recruited in the month of April, men such as Harry Bellingham, a Tram Conductor
of Armley, Leeds. Enlisting at Leeds on the 3rd of April, Harry joined the 155th Brigade at Wetherby on the 6th April. James
Bennett, a Miner from Pontefract who had enlisted at the latter place on the 26th April, joining the brigade at Wetherby on
the following day. On a more local basis, Thomas Cartmell Birkett, a Shoeing Smith of North Street, Wetherby, enlisted on
the 1st April, his enlistment being signed by the Approving Officer, Colonel Bunbury himself. Walter Fozzard, a Saddlers Apprentice
of Grafton Square, Wetherby and Harry Lavender, a Groom/Gardener of Saint James Street. Amongst the large number of Wetherby
men who enlisted was of course, Robert Fowler.
Although there are no surviving service documents,
an analysis of the service number issued L/23752 indicates enlistment in June 1915. Attesting at Wetherby, Robert's service
obligation was that of Short Service (For the Duration of the War). After undergoing a preliminary medical examination, his
enlistment was then approved by the Approving Officer present.
A Warm Welcome In Wharfedale
Consisting in total of about 1000 men, the arrival
of the personnel of the 155th Brigade substantially increased the size of the towns population. Billets for the men were found
in private accommodation and a lucrative prospect was gained by those housing the men with the owner of the property being
paid 23 Shillings and 7 Pence per man, per week. In the following weeks, the men enjoyed the hospitality of the Yorkshire
market town, one local newspaper reporting that the troops were having "the time of their lives." A brass
band had been formed with the instruments and music kindly loaned by the Parish Council Band and the Wetherby Brass Band and
a Sports Day was held at Grange Park on the 24th of May much to the entertainment of both the local populace and visiting
loved ones. Events included "Tilting the Bucket," a "Gun Wheel Race" and a "Tug
of War" as the Brigade Band played. To add to this carnival atmosphere, the Wesleyan Children's Festival had
been changed from the Tuesday to the Monday, the children parading in the town as they sang their anniversary hymns and both
before and after tea was taken, they played numerous games in the field at Heuthwaite kindly lent for the occasion by Mr.
few days earlier though, more serious duties were performed by the men of the brigade. Madame Maria Deseck, a Belgian refugee
residing in the town with her daughter, sadly had a seizure whilst at dinner and unfortunately died a few hours later. A message
was subsequently sent to France whereupon the deceased's two sons, serving officers in the Belgian Army, were informed
and granted leave from the Western Front to attend the funeral. Aged just 46 years, personnel of the 155th Brigade acted as
bearers to the coffin at a ceremony attended by many of the townsfolk. Wreaths were laid on behalf of the townspeople of Wetherby,
and one by the local Belgian Relief Committee.
By the month of June, trade in the town was benefiting greatly. The men were
well-housed and well fed and their daily routine consisted of various programmes from 6 o'clock in the morning to 5 o'clock
in the evening leaving plenty of spare time to enjoy the 'local attractions.' For one married man, a native of Chester,
the freedom to roam away from home proved to be too much a temptation. Representing himself as a single man and proposing
marriage, the latter proposal was accepted by a servant girl from Roundhay, Leeds, whose family resided in Wetherby and with
whose mother he was billeted with. Upon leaving the Army two months later and taking up residence with his 'new' wife,
his conduct towards her led to him being turned out of the marital home whereupon in December 1915 he re-enlisted once again.
In June 1916, a baby daughter was born and upon proceeding to York the following month to make arrangements about her separation
allowance, she learned that the man she had married in good faith, was already married. Having just been discharged from the
Army, suffice to say, the case heard at Wetherby was committed for trial at the Assizes. Applying for bail and stating that
his health was not good, his application was denied and subsequently an affiliation order of 4 Shillings per week was made
against the prisoner in respect of the child. At Leeds Assizes in November, Mr. Justice Darling sentenced the prisoner to
three months hard labour.(Authors Note: In order to protect anonymity, I will quote no source material).
A Boxing Tournament
Despite a rainy day and on the whole unfavourable
looking weather conditions, a boxing tournament was arranged to take place on Wednesday the 7th July, the venue being Grange
Park kindly lent for the occasion by Mr. G. Cochrane and Mr. George Gunter. The turn out consisted of people in their hundreds
and the event was well supported with prizes being generously donated by several Leeds sportsmen. The tournament itself had
been organised by Bombardier Frank "Spike" Robson, the ex Feather Weight Champion Boxer of England and Physical
Instructor to the officers and men of the 155th Brigade.
The judges consisted of Lieutenant Charles Percival Denby of Garforth and Second-Lieutenant
Alfred Stephen Mercer of Leeds (both officers of "C" Battery), the duties of Referee and M.C. being performed by
Mr. Tom Moran and assisted by "Spike" Robson. A most notable figure performed the duties of time-keeper for all
of the bouts, one Lance-Corporal Frederick William Holmes, V.C. and Medal Millitaire. Holmes had gained the award of the Victoria
Cross at Le Cateau in 1914 whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and at this period
was convalescing from wounds received in that action.
Brigade contests were the first to commence with Gunner Steward opposing Driver Cliffe.
Scheduled for ten rounds, Steward was obviously the more superior fighter forcing Cliffe to retire in only the second round.
Gunner Glew and Gunner Fletcher also met in a six round contest but Glew had a substantial weight and reach advantage and
the bout was awarded to him at the end of the third round. Gunner Myers and Gunner Watson however went the full duration of
an eight round contest, Myers proving his worth with grim determination and hard hitting but Watson, though the lighter of
the two, was taller and had a longer reach and showed excellent foot work. At the end of a tough fight, the bout went to Watson
but for excellent sportsmanship, Myers was awarded a consolation prize. Another six round contest now took place between Gunner
Pearson and Gunner Morecroft and this was keenly fought. Going the full distance and although Pearson was lighter and shorter,
the latter was awarded the points.
"Parkers Midgets," the ten-year-old twin sons of the professional Lightweight boxer Sam Parker of Leeds, now gave
an amusing exhibition match over three rounds. Delighting the crowd with their scientific approach to boxing, they were both
well matched and their ring craft, side-stepping and in and out fighting techniques was a spectacle to behold. Then Jimmy
Wilde, the Welsh Flyweight boxer who had only come along from Cardiff to lend a hand, stepped into the ring. Although giving
away much weight, Wilde held a couple of three round exhibition spars with Gunner Cliffe and Gunner Saxon. Wilde a newspaper
article recoding the event, described him as "like an eel, and as elusive, and evoked roars of laughter by the manner
in which he baffled his opponents." It was no wonder that Wilde went on to become the worlds first recognised World
Flyweight Champion in December of the following year.
As the tournament drew to a close, "Spike" now stepped into the ring in two round
exhibitions against Sergeant O'Hara and Gunner Vale, a gold medal being awarded to O'Hara for putting up the best
fight against Robson. Finally, the event had to be drawn to a close due to rain as the opening round of a Featherweight competition
commenced between Gunner Davis and Gunner Gent. After what was described as "fierce slogging for three rounds,"
a draw was called despite a further round still failing to separate the pair.
The evening had been an undoubted success and one
can imagine many a wager changing hands that evening. Further boxing contests were promised so as to complete the tournament
but these would be conducted at Ripon for which the 155th Brigade (Coal Owner's Own), Royal Field Artillery, were due
to depart for in one week. The brigade were now destined to join their infantry, the 31st Division, who were now concentrating
at various camps in the Ripon locality. The Divisional Artillery, the 155th (Coal Owner's Own), 161st (York), 164th (Rotherham)
and the 168th (Huddersfield) Brigade's R.F.A. now under the command of Temporary Brigadier-General Skerrett Edward George
Lawless would add to the miltary personnel already assembled in the district, their number at either temporary or permanent
camps being estimated at nearly 120,000 men.
Upon even relocating to this rural idyll, there were
cases of absenteeism. One Gunner of the 168th (Huddersfield) Brigade stationed at Ripon was charged at Halifax Police-court
with being an absentee from his regiment and attempting to commit suicide. The Leeds Mercury dated August 1915 records that
when about to be apprehended at his home in Halifax, the man picked up a table knife and slashed it across his throat remarking
as he did so that "Sooner than go back, I would die." Although the wound was only superficial, he gave
his disatisfaction of the food in camp as an excuse for his actions. When asked what was exactly wrong he stated before the
borough magistrates, "Well, the potatoes are boiled with their jackets on, the peas and beans are as hard as iron,
the bread is sad in the middle, and the tea is like water." Remanded to await a military escort, an analysis of
miltary records reveals that the man with a more educated palate than most, survived the war.
For one other man of the 155th Brigade, his mental
state must have been unimaginable and difficult to comprehend. Gunner Harry Crossley, L/5535, a native of Kirkstall, Leeds,
had been granted leave from the brigade's camp located at Lindrick near Studley Royal and chose to return to his former
billeting town of Wetherby instead of returning home. The Leeds Mercury dated the 11th of August 1915 reported that Crossley
left the house where he had being staying at 4.30 a.m. on the morning of the 9th saying that he could not rest and had permission
to go and gather mushrooms. Leaving at the house his equipment consisting of his bandolier, spurs and puttees, Harry was not
seen again until a man boating on the River Wharfe noticed a pile of soldiers clothing on the river bank who duly notified
the police. On the following morning, Harry's body was pulled from the river by the local police, a tragic story that
for whatever reason ended in suicide. Harry Dixon had actually enlisted under the alias of 'Harry Crossley.' A married
man aged 46 years, he now lies in St. Stephen's Churchyard, Kirkstall, Leeds.
Absenteeism during the months of July and August was
proving to be most problematic with one man from Leeds deserting completely after numerous cases of being absent from parade
ending on one occasion in arrest by the Leeds Police. It transpired that on one act of desertion, the man had enlisted at
Carlton Barracks, Leeds, into the ranks of the 3/8th West Yorkshire Regiment but had confessed verbally after this fraudulent
enlistment was discovered. Returned to Lindrick Camp and placed under arrest in the Guard Tent, the 'escapologist'
slipped away from the Guard on Duty, one Bombardier Alfred Baxter, L/5518. A Court of Inquiry was subsequently held on the
23rd August comprising of the President, Second-Lieutenant William Dugdale Wilkinson and its members, Second-Lieutenants George
Douglas Bottomley and George Jones Armitage (Authors note: Of Wetherby and killed whilst serving with the R.F.C.). The court
declared the man as a deserter as of the 1st August under King's Regulations Paragraph 673. Of the deserter, there is
no trace of him ever being apprehended and no record of medals issued. The only document as to this mans ultimate fate is
an entry in the Electoral Register dated 1918 of the successful 'Houdini' residing in west Leeds. One that truly got
In late July and mid August, the men received their inoculations for typhoid. The weather had been quite inclement with heavy
rain and thunderstorms that no doubt affected the ability to train however rumours now began to circulate of an impending
move to another camp. In mid September, the artillery along with the infantry units and associated other arms that comprised
the 31st Division began to move south to continue their training at Fovant. And thus, this New Army Division began to entrain
for the south-west of England, for many, this would be their last glimpse of home, never to return.
Little is recorded of the Divisional Artillery other
than that the 155th Brigade were located in camp at or near Fovant. A newspaper article published in the Yorkshire Post dated
the 17th of November however alludes to the location of the West Yorkshire R.F.A. Brigade in the form of an appeal by the
Y.M.C.A., an extract of which follows:-
"I am one of the leaders of the Y.M.C.A. Hut working amongst the men of the West
Yorkshire Regiment, R.F.A., now stationed in the Fovant district, and am in charge of West Farm. I greatly need funds to purchase
a lantern and slides, etc., to entertain these good soldiers after their hard day's work. If some of your readers would
be willing to give or even help towards purchasing the lantern I would be most grateful. Our Institute is visited by hundreds
of the men.
am now helping in a Mission at Wolsingham, and return to my soldiers' work next week. Any gifts sent to me here, or to
West Farm, Y.M.C.A., Sutton Mandeville, near Salisbury (post district), would be gratefully acknowledged. - Yours, etc.,
Rectory, Wolsingham, November 15, 1915."
Sports were also conducted at Fovant, possibly one of the biggest events
being a cross-country race that was held on the 1st November. A total of 33 teams participated numbering over 600 runners
however there appears to be a conspicuous absence of teams entered by the West Yorkshire R.F.A. Brigade, only the 161st entering
a team that comprised of both "A" and "B" Batteries. Both batteries finished in tenth place but the day
really belonged to the Leeds "Pals" who swept the board and claimed all the honours and prizes with "D"
Company finishing in first place.
Accomodation was simplistic and for many constituted wooden huts however their had been
concerns expressed at the methods of their construction. As the weather turned colder, there were appeals in the local press
for scarves and mitts. The village of Rainton and the nearby hamlet of Baldersby Saint James, North Yorkshire, were busy knitting
up a fourth stone of wool kindly supplied by Mr. Robert Buckton, Farmer, his wife, Catherine, placing a request for the aforementioned
articles of clothing in the Yorkshire Post on November the 13th.
On the 26th November, one man, Gunner Richard Thomas Perks, L/19869, of the
164th Brigade and a married man of Beall Street, Attercliffe, Sheffield, had unfortunately died at Fovant Military Hospital
of 'wounds' aged just 23 years. The exact cause of death is unknown but is reported as "died of wounds"
in the Sheffield Daily Independent dated the 22nd of December. Whatever the circumstances of an untimely death, Richard is
now buried in Sutton Mandeville Churchyard, Wiltshire, his gravestone bearing the obituary from his grieving wife, "To
Memory Ever Dear."
Sanitary conditions were also somewhat questionable also, one man, Gunner George Nicholson, L/18787, 155th Brigade, a native
of Garforth, being hospitalised at Tidworth for a period of two days with Scabies. As the men commenced their final training
before being posted overseas there was to be a change of divisional affiliation. Although formed as Divisional Artillery for
the 31st Division, the constituent artillery units of the latter were ordered to proceed overseas and join the 32nd Division
on the Western Front. Of the 31st Division, they were destined for service in Egypt and after a period of duty on the Suez
Canal Defences, the artillery of the 32nd Division were assigned to this division them when they disembarked in France in
March 1916 for service in France.
The Western Front
On the 29th of December 1915, the 155th Brigade, Royal
Field Artillery, Lieutenant-Colonel William St. Pierre Bunbury, Officer Commanding, departed their camp at Fovant Hills between
the hours of 6 - 9 p.m. and proceeded to Southampton in preparation for embarkation to France. The embarkation of both the
Brigade Ammunition Column and "A" Battery was completed by late evening whereupon they proceeded to Le Havre, disembarking
at the latter port on the morning of the 30th. Once completed, this advance element of the brigade proceeded to a Rest Camp
situated near the docks area. Headquarters Staff plus "B," "C" and "D" Batteries respectively,
disembarked at Le Havre on the 31st but did not join the advance element of the brigade but instead proceeded to Number 2
Rest Camp located at Sanvic, Le Havre. The War Diary records the strength of the 155th Brigade as 24 officers and 728 Other
Ranks. In addition to personnel, the brigade also comprised of:-
General Service Wagons
In ammunition brought from England, the quantities appear to be quite substantial:-
1,216 18 pdr. Shrapnel Shell (Transported by
the Brigade Ammunition Column)
18 pdr. Shrapnel Shell with Batteries
Arms Ammunition (S.A.A.) 424,000 rounds transported by Brigade Ammunition Column
27,110 S.A.A. with Batteries
On the morning of the 1st January 1916, "A"
Battery in addition to the B.A.C., entrained for Amiens between the hours of 4 a.m. - 6 a.m., Headquarters and "B,"
"C" and "D" Batteries would follow this advanced party on the following day respectively. Upon arrival
at Amiens, the brigade then proceeded by road to Aroeuves located in the north-west suburbs of the town whereupon they proceeded
to occupy billets. After organising equipment, at 8 a.m. on the morning of the 5th the brigade marched eastwards to the small
village of Frechencourt located to the north of the main Amiens - Albert Road, the hamlet being reached at 3 p.m. in the afternoon.
The stay at this picturesque backwater was of a short duration as on the following day, the journey eastwards continued towards
the chalky uplands of the Somme. Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury, accompanied by half-sections of the brigade's batteries,
now set forth for the village of Martinsart located to the north of Albert to prepare for offensive operations. Establishing
themselves in this position on the western bank of the Ancre river, orders were now issued to commence a relief of artillery
batteries located in this sector. The process of relief duly commenced at 3 p.m. on the afternoon of the 6th whereupon the
half-sections of the 155th Brigade relieved half-sections of the 2nd Highland Field Artillery Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division
and subsequently took up the positions they had formally occupied. With the remainder of the 155th Brigade arriving in the
vicinity of Martinsart on the following day, Colonel Bunbury now assumed command of the Left Group, 32nd Divisional
Artillery, the dispositions of the brigade recorded in the Brigade War Diary as follows:-
A/155 Battery - Map Ovillers 57d S.E.4 - W.3 B.30.95. (near Martinsart)
B/155 Battery - Map Beaumont
57d S.E. 1 and 2 - Q.34 B.1.5. (near Mesnil)
C/155 Battery - Map Beaumont 57d S.E. 1 and 2 - Q.34 B.3.8.
D/155 Battery - Map Ovillers 57d S.E.4 - W.18 a 15.80. (near Aveluy)
of the batteries equates to a line therefore of Beaucourt-sur-Ancre - Martinsart and a line 500 yards south of Authuille -
Somme: Firepower Unleashed
Registration of targets began immediately with 86 rounds of Shrapnel shell fired by the end
of the 8th.
B/164 Battery had now been added to the Left Group with registration of targets still continuing in the days
Enemy activity had by now also increased with artillery shelling Mesnil but it was the ever present trench
mortars that continued a harrassing fire of the front line that were proving to be most prevalent. As a consequence, frequent requests
were received to deviate from the task of registration to one of suppressive fire.
On the 12th, an aircraft was observed
heading towards the British front line from the direction of the German lines at about a height of 9000 feet. Identified as
a 'Voisin' Type, displayed in corresponding French markings, it was deemed 'unusual' that their was no
anti-aircraft fire from the enemy line as it flew onwards. The aircraft then proceeded to circle over the British lines before
flying back over St. Pierre Divion to the north and over into German held territory.
Later during the day with the
weather being described as clear and fine, attempts by the enemy to observe positions were rather more obvious when two
observation balloons were put up. Several working parties were also observed and shelled as the War Diary describes "with
As the month progressed, newly dug enemy trenches and a presumed ration dump located at Crucifix Corner
at the junction of the Thiepval and Grandcourt Roads also received due attention as the programme of registration continued.
In addition to these strafes, enemy train and motor transport was observed entering and leaving Achiet-le-Grand however the
diary records no instance of any action being taken.
At 10.15 p.m. on the 15th January, an order for a 'Test
Shoot' was issued to all batteries. The 'target' was to be the Right Sector Of The Barrage Line and
from the time of this order being received, all batteries had completed their fire in 3.5 minutes expending 112 shells.
During the following day, all batteries confirmed registration and commenced to shell known machine gun and trench mortar
positions under sporadic enemy artillery fire.
If the incident regarding the aircraft that circled the batteries positions
was deemed 'unusual' in the days previously, a far more sinister occurence took place at 10 p.m. on the evening
of the 16th.
A sentry guarding the positions of "C" Battery near Mesnil was approached by a 'man' who
failed to answer the 'challenge.' The sentry duly opened fire but the mysterious 'visitor' managed to flee.
Enquiries were instigated but eventually no evidence could be found as to his identity.
As the first month of the
year closed, the brigade, once again under sporadic fire of both artillery and trench mortar, now continued a bombardment
of German front line positions. This would set the pattern and routine in the weeks that followed.
continued to remain clear and fine as the month of February commenced. Enemy artillery and trench mortar fire was still sporadic
but new targets and locations continued to be registered such as St. Pierre Divion and trenches to the north and
south of Thiepval Chateau.
At 4.30 p.m. on the 3rd, yet another aircraft of 'dubious' origin, this time in British
markings, was observed approaching from the direction of the German lines. Circling over the position occupied by B/155
Battery, the machine then departed the area heading for the enemy lines.
Batteries of the group now commenced to shell
enemy wire and locations in Thiepval Village with, as the War Diary records "with very good effect."
the 6th, enemy artillery became very active to the north in the sector held by the 4th Division between 9 and 11 a.m. During
the day, A/155 observed a large tunnel under construction to the south of the village that was subsequently screened by the
enemy to conceal his activities. He was also observed digging in the vicinity of the cemetery but fire was directed on this
position at various times during the day to disperse any activity.
The temporary command of the Left Group now passed
to Lieutenant-Colonel F.T. Oldham, Officer Commanding 168 Brigade R.F.A. whilst Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury proceeded to the
School of Gunnery located at Beauval to assume duties as Commandant.
On the 12th, orders were received for
the brigade to move out of action. Gun and Headquarters positions were to be handed over to the 2nd West Riding Field
Artillery Brigade, the 'Bradford Territorials,' however, D/155, B/164 and D/164 Batteries were to remain in situ as
part of this new group.
As a departing 'gesture,' German artillery shelled Mesnil with 4.5 and 5.9 inch shells
along with Authuille and Aveluy Wood which was replied to by the firing of several shells. During this bombardment, A/155
had observed a large calibre gun firing from the direction of the Ferme du Mouquet no doubt valuable intelligence to the relief
units of the artillery.
At 10 a.m. on the morning of the 14th, Brigade Headquarters staff minus telephonists and three
linesmen proceeded on relief by the 2nd West Riding F.A. Brigade to Frechencourt under command of the Orderly Officer. During
the afternoon, half sections of each battery began to withdraw however previous orders to move to Frechencourt were changed
at 7 p.m. on the 15th. The destination for a period of rest was now designated as the village of Montigny located to the north
of the latter place with the final withdrawal of the remainding half sections and respective batteries staff being completed
on the 15th.
At 9 a.m. on the 16th the sector was handed over to the 2nd West Riding's with the remainder of Headquarters
staff of the 155th Brigade under the command of the Adjutant proceeding to rejoin unit at Montigny.
was now considered to be at 'rest,' somewhat of a misnomer in miltary parlance. Time was spent in drilling, gun laying
techniques and driving and riding drill in addition to general maintenance and cleaning of kit and equipment.
21st, Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury returned from his duties at Beauval, Lieutenant-Colonel Oldham having returned to his respective
unit on the 16th.
After this brief respite from operations, orders were received on the 28th to proceed to relieve the
83rd Brigade, R.F.A. of the 18th (Eastern) Division who were located in positions near Albert.
Once again, Robert
and the men of the 'Coal Owners Own' were to be on the offensive.
Preparatory to the movement of the brigade,
a forward party of the 155th assembled to reconnoitre the positions occupied by the 83rd Brigade R.F.A.
At about 1.30
p.m. on the 3rd March, relief of the 83rd Brigade commenced and positions of the 155th Brigade were established as thus:
Wagon Lines:- Headquarters, Albert, near to the station
" "A" Battery, Albert
" "B" and "C" Batteries, Moulin-de-Vivier
Authors note: Moulin du Vivier and Bellevue Farm located west of Meaulte and south of Albert respectively.
On occupation of the position, the guns of the 83rd Brigade remained in situ and were subsequently taken over by the 155th
with those of the latter being exchanged on handover. However, it is of interest to note that the 155th retained their Number
7 Dial Sights and the 83rd their Number 1 variant.
The guns of the following batteries now constituted
the Centre Group under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury. It must be noted however that D/155 Battery was still in
action near Aveluy under the command of the 49th (West Riding) Division however orders were received that the battery were
to move into the Centre Group by the 6th March in exchange for A/168 Battery.
and "C" Batteries 155th Brigade
"B" 164th Battery
The weather had by now begun to
deteriorate with snow storms being experienced at intervals both during the day and night, however, all the guns of the group
minus "A" Battery had commenced to fire on enemy trenches located near La Boisselle with "good effect."
During the following days, activity by the enemy consisted of the desultory shelling of Albert and of the road to Pozieres.
The actions of enemy trench mortars however remained a constant threat resulting in requests for bombardment by the infantry
occupying the line.
As the brigade continued its operations, Robert was about to receive some tragic news from the
family home at Wetherby.
William, aged 2, one of their three children, had died in the most unfortunate of circumstances.
A newspaper article dated March, 1916 reports the inquest into the circumstances regarding William's
"Eva Fowler, the mother of the child, who lives at 14, High Street, Wetherby,
stated that just prior to the accident she went upstairs to light a fire in the bedroom, taking the deceased with her. Whilst
in the bedroom the baby commenced to cry, and she went down to feed it. The little boy William was taken downstairs also,
but while she (witness) was answering the front door he went upstairs again. Almost as soon as she got to the door, she heard
William scream. Rushing upstairs she found the child with his clothing in flames. The only way she could account for the accident
was that the child must have been reaching up to the mantelpiece for a toy, when the draught caused by the opening of the
front door blew his pinafore into the fire.
William, given first aid and his burns bathed,
a neighbour then called for the assistance of Dr. Hargreaves, the local physician, and was admitted to Leeds General Infirmary
where he died the following day."
remaining weeks of the month of March were characterized by desultory enemy artillery and trench mortar fire. Aerial observation
by the enemy utilizing both balloon and aircraft had also proved to be a significant feature of this sector as had mining
activity in front of the village of La Boiselle. It was also noted that heavy calibre artillery, possibly about
15 cm, had now come into action and was firing from positions located at Contalmaison or Pozieres.
the Centre Group had by now turned their attentions to the enemy's barbed wire defences as early as the 13th in an attempt
to cut 'lanes' as a precursor to a 'scheme' that was due to be carried out by the infantry.
On the night
of the 26th/27th March, a trench raid was to be carried out by the 1st Dorsets, 14th Brigade, 32nd Division on the German
trenches at La Boisselle. The raiding party would penetrate the enemy's defences at two points; 'Y Sap,' that
protruded into 'Mash Valley' located to the south of the village, and enemy trenches located between the village cemetery
and the 'Glory Hole.' The objectives of the raid were to ascertain the strength of the enemy's positions and,
if possible, identify which unit(s) were holding the line.
During the day, enemy artillery had fired about 12 rounds
into Albert but the main part of his bombardment consisting of over 200 shells fell on the British trenches.
was clear with hardly any cloud cover as the raiders assembled in two parties, the only actions of the enemy being the firing
of several Very lights. As a precursor to the raid, a small mine was detonated by the 179th Tunnelling Company, Royal
Engineers under the heavily mined area known as the 'Glory Hole' at 12.27 a.m. and at this time also, a barrage by
the Centre Group commenced on the following points:
A/155 Battery Rounds Expended 121 X.8.c
12.50 - X.8.a.05.52.
B/155 Battery "
" 186 X.13.d.
C/155 Battery " "
188 X.13.d. - X.14.c.
D/155 Battery "
" 170 X.13.d.
B/164 Battery (Howitzer) 53 X.13.d.
In addition to this barrage mounted by the Centre Group, other batteries in the sector, C/164, D/168
and both sections of the 27th Siege Battery also provided fire support for the raid.
As the raiding party penetrated the enemy positions via the 'lanes' cut in the barbed wire defences, the
German artillery opened up a heavy bombardment on the batterie's positions and that of the British line. By 1 o'clock
the raid was effectively over after suffering numerous casualties with little or no intelligence being gathered. The
position at 'Y Sap,' as suspected , proved to be a formidible one that would later require destruction by mine
On the 1st April, orders were received that the 32nd Division were to be relieved by the 8th Division,
The relief commenced at 7 p.m. on the evening of the 6th when one section of all the batteries that constituted
the brigade were relieved by the following units:
A/155 - 1st Battery, 45th Brigade, R.F.A.
B/155 - 3rd Battery, 45th Brigade, R.F.A.
C/155 - 'O' Battery, 5th Brigade, R.H.A.
D/155 - 5th Battery, 45th Brigade, R.F.A.
Leaving their guns in position and taking over those
of the 8th Divisional Batteries, the relieved sections of the brigade proceeded to their respective Wagon Lines where
they spent the night.
At 7 a.m. on the morning of the 7th, the sector covered by the departing Centre Group was handed
over to the Left Group Command of the 8th Divisional Artillery.
At 8 a.m., the section of batteries that had remained
in thier Wagon Lines during the night commenced a march to a rest area located at Rubempre to the west of Contay, followed
by Brigade Headquarters Staff under the command of the Orderly Officer on being relieved by the 5th Brigade R.H.A. at
10.30 a.m. The remaining sections of batteries also followed suit later during the day on relief being completed
at 7 p.m.
The brigade would now also part company with Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury who had now received orders to
proceed to Senlis to take over duties of C.R.A. in the absence of Brigadier-General James A. Tyler. (Authors note: Lieutenant-Colonel
Bunbury left for Amiens at 5 p.m. on the 28th April en route for England).
The brigade now assumed a programme of drill
and general cleaning and maintenance of equipment, however, the stay at Rubempre was to prove to be a short one. Due to a
suitable watering place being located over 4 miles from the latter village, orders were now issued for the brigade to relocate
to Contay on the 13th instant. This was duly carried out at intervals by the various sections of the brigade travelling by
different routes as was standard military practice, billets and lines being occupied by 12.30 p.m.
Once again the brigade
set about routine tasks of drill and training in the days that followed, however, intimation was received on the 20th April
that Lieutenant-Colonel Ponsonby Sheppard D.S.O. was to assume duties as Commanding Officer, 155th Brigade, R.F.A.
Lieutenant-Colonel Sheppard visited the brigade on the 26th and on the 28th, formally assumed command, the men parading
for his inspection at 2.30 p.m. dressed in Field Service Marching Order.
The month of May began as the previous
month had ended with the men engaged in cleaning kit, and a programme of various drills and training.
up of men and materiel at Contay would have been most notable to the men as the village was located on one of the
primary railheads involved in the transportation of ammunition to the front.
Although the brigade were in reserve, several
N.C.O's, gunners and drivers under the command of two officers, were attached to other brigades of the 32nd Division digging
gun pits and constructing Observation Points or 'O.P's.'
The Divisional Ammunition Column was also required
to attend, each afternoon, instruction in gun drill, one would assume, to enable the men of the brigade in whatever capacity
they served to 'multi-task.'
Training had now also commenced with Trench Bridges issued at a rate of 2
per battery for bridging ditches and other obstacles, this training being described as "satisfactory."
the 11th May, the brigade received a distinguished visitor in the form of Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig who was passing
through the village of Contay. Men of "B" Battery paraded with Haig expressing "His satisfaction with the
From the 14th - 16th May, working parties had been formed from "A," "B," and "C"
Batteries, each battery party under the command of 1 officer, for the preparation of gun pits at Q.35.b. & d (near
Mesnil). It is of interest to note that the War Diary records that material for their construction was drawn from a Royal
Engineer Dump located at Aveluy. This possibly refers to the site now occupied Aveluy Wood Cemetery (Lancashire Dump),
On the 26th of the month, in accordance with the re-organisation of Divisional Artilleries,
the 155th Brigade Ammunition Column was broken up, personnel being distributed to the 32nd Divisional Ammunition Column or
to the Trench Mortar Batteries of the 32nd Division. The horses were distributed to the 32nd and 49th D.A.C.'s with some
lucky enough to be 'evacuated.'
Some batteries were also subject to re-organisation with D/155 Battery (18-pounders)
transfered to the 164th Brigade R.F.A. In addition, A/164 Battery (4.5 inch Howitzers) was transferred to the 155th Brigade
R.F.A. and was re-designated D/155 Battery.
In manpower, provisional authority was issued to the brigade for the increase
of one subaltern to all 4 gun batteries, both 18-pounder and 4.5 inch Howitzer, under a 32nd Divisional Artillery 'Letter'
dated 18th May.
Provision was also made for the adoption of reserve positions whilst the brigade was located in the Rest
area at Contay. Should the enemy attack, and the brigade was required for support, they would occupy the following positions
(Trench Map co-ordinates corrected by Author).
"If enemy capture the ridge from Auchonvillers - Hamel:-
Battery positions Q.32.c. O.P.'s at Q.21.d. and Q.27.b."
(These positions equate roughly: Batteries,
to the north-west of Martinsart. Observation Posts, between Englebelmer - Hamel, and to the west of Mesnil respectively).
"If enemy capture the ridge from Auchonvillers to Mesnil:-
Bty. positions W.7.b. and d. - Ops. at W.2.d."
(Batteries, in and around the village of Bouzincourt, Observation Post, south-west corner of Bois de Martinsart respectively).
"If enemy capture Authuille, Authuille Wood area:-
Bty. positions at W.8.d. and 1 Bty at sw edge of
O.Ps. at W.15.a."
(Battery positions, to the east of Bouzincourt and 1 battery, south-west
edge of Bois de Martinsart. Observation Posts located near to mills, east of Bouzincourt).
"If enemy occupy
valley running from Thiepval Wood to south of Authuille Wood - Battery positions in W.9. - Ops. W.15.a."
positions, south of Bois de Martinsart and east of Bouzincourt, Observation Posts, near to mills east of the latter location).
During the period spent in the Rest Area at Contay, 'Test Calls' were made to the brigade who paraded ready
to respond to any of the above scenarios.
The War Diary closes the month of May 1916 with the following:
completion of the gun positions at W.35. b & d the Brigade will probably move into action and relieve one of the Brigades
This would happen sooner than later. Robert and the men of the 'Coal Owner's Own'
were now about to take part in the greatest Allied offensive yet mounted in the Great War. The Battle of the Somme.
The Somme Offensive
The first major action
of the 32nd Division in the Great War was destined to take place on the 1st July 1916, on the Somme, France. The original
date for the commencement of the offensive was to be the 29th June, however, the deterioration in weather conditions,
in particular heavy rainfall, forced the postponement of the launch of the attack by 48 hours.
of the division was to capture the heavily fortified village of Thiepval and its subsequent environs. Once this first
line of the enemy's defence was penetrated, the attack was to continue onto the second German line defences located
near Mouquet Farm. Prior to the launch of the offensive, the Divisional Artillery consisting of the 155th, 161st, 164th
and 168th Brigades R.F.A., would mount a bombardment of the German Front Line and associated enemy positions.
After dark on the 8th June, the batteries of the brigade under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel
Ponsonby Sheppard D.S.O. began transporting ammunition from Contay, located west of Albert, and dumping the
latter at positions located to the north-east of Aveluy Wood in the Ancre valley.
By the 14th, "A," "B"
and "C" Batteries of the 155th Brigade occupied these new positions with "D" Battery located to the south
of Martinsart. Brigade Headquarters had also moved forward from Contay the day previously and now occupied positions
located at Bouzincourt.
On the 19th, the War Diary records that the dumping of ammunition had been completed, and
that the dumps for "A," "B" and "C" Batteries contained 5000 rounds and "D" dump,
3700 rounds respectively.
At 4.00 p.m. on the afternoon of the 20th, "A" and "B" Batteries began
to register their fire on the German Support and Reserve Line Trenches located south of Thiepval with covering fire being
provided by 9.2 and 8 inch Howitzers.
On the 23rd, the brigade came under the control of the Left Group, 32nd Divisional
Artillery with the Headquarters of the 155th and 168th Brigades being also attached.
On the 24th, the preliminary bombardment
prior to the launch of the offensive began with "A," "B" and "C" Batteries employed on the cutting
of barbed wire defences in front of the German Support Line Trenches, south of Thiepval. In addition to these tasks,
the batteries also bombarded the German Reserve Line Trench located south of 'Ligne des Pommes,' in the area
of the 'Hindenburg Redoubt.' The batteries also fired on wire already to cut to hamper any possible attempts at repair
by the enemy.
As the 18-pounders operated to this fire-plan, "D" Battery with it's 4.5 inch Howitzers shelled
certain strong-points by day.
For the next two days, this programme of bombardment continued with tasks switching to
the cutting of the German barbed wire defences and keeping breaches in the latter already open on the 27th.
As the proposed
start date of the offensive drew closer, the 29th June, orders were received that the attack was to be postponed
for 48 hours due to heavy rainfall.
As the infantry waited, the brigade maintained the bombardment on the wire, strongpoints and
enemy communication trenches. On the 30th June, the War Diary records that:
been able to cut wire on the German Front Line laying the gun with open sights.'
It is recorded that the batteries
gun-pits were located 1500 yards from the enemy front line and that the latter was clearly visible. The War Diary continues:
'Although A, B & C batteries were in exposed positions and ammunition was brought up to
them every evening during the preliminary bombardment, the battery positions & approaches to them were under intermittent
heavy machine gun & artillery fire; the casualties sustained were very small.'
The War Diary then records
the number of casualties sustained since the commencement of operations. "A," "B" and "D" Batteries
are recorded as 'Nil' however, casualties sustained by "C" Battery are not recorded.
of 'Soldiers Died In The Great War' and Commonwealth War Graves records suggests that "C"
Battery also sustained no casualties in the period 20th - 30th June.
Hour, 7.30 a.m., Saturday 1st July 1916
At 06.40 a.m., the batteries of the 155th Brigade commenced
a heavy bombardment of the enemy lines prior to the launch of the assault by units of the 32nd Division at 7.30 a.m.
the 96th Brigade on the left of the divisional attack pressed forward to capture Thiepval village, the guns
of the batteries now lifted and concentrated fire on the German support and reserve lines trenches.
Mans Land,' the infantry were met with a hail of machine-gun and rifle fire as soon as they had left the safety of their
own trenches. In spite of heavy casualties, some men had managed to penetrate the German Front Line, but, as the day wore
on, any positions gained on this frontage became untenable and the men were either captured, killed, or tried to escape back
to the safety of the British Front Line.
On the right flank however,the attack of the 97th Brigade had managed to
gain a valuable foothold in the enemy strong point known as the 'Leipzig Salient' albeit, suffering heavy casualties.
Much has been written as regards the failure of the effects of the British artillery in the Somme offensive. The
War Diary of the 155th Brigade indicates that enemy barbed wire defences were 'cut' as far as their own observations
are concerned, however, evidence from unit War Diaries would now suggest in insufficient quantity along the length of the
attack frontage as a whole. Thiepval, similar to other fortified villages attacked on the 1st July such as Gommecourt, Serre
and Fricourt also relied on a subterranean defence consisting of deep dug-outs sheltering large bodies of men, safe from the
effects of the barrage. Failure to neutralize these defences by heavy artillery and the lack of reliable intelligence
as to their locations, no doubt, contributed to the failure to capture these positions.
On the 2nd July, the brigade continued the bombardment of enemy trenches and strong points
located to the south of Thiepval.
On the 3rd, between the hours of 1.15 a.m. and 3.00 a.m. the batteries were engaged
in a heavy bombardment of enemy communication trenches and strong points in preparation for an attack on Thiepval by the 25th
Division at 6.15 a.m.
After a lull in the firing, the final preparatory bombardment recommenced at 5.00 a.m until 'Zero'
Hour and the launch of the infantry attack. In addition to the fire of the 155th Brigade, other batteries placed a barrage
on the enemy's support, reserve and communication trenches.
In a repeat of the 1st July attack, the 75th Brigade,
25th Division on leaving the British Front Line were subjected to a storm of machine-gun, rifle and artillery fire and
the attempt to take Thiepval for a second time failed with heavy casualties.
The days that followed were characterized
by a marked increase in German artillery activity particularly on the 5th when high explosive and gas shells were fired
on Aveluy Wood and it's environs. This bombardment resulted in several direct hits registered on the Observation Posts
of the batteries and at the Telephone Exchange located in the wood itself.
On the 7th, between the hours of 7.30
a.m and 8.50 a.m., all batteries were engaged in the bombardment of the German Front Line at Thiepval. This was in conjunction
with an attack being made on Ovillers La Boiselle by the 36th Brigade, 12th Division, with the 74th Brigade, 25th Division
being attached for the operation.
8th July, a gradual withdrawal of the 155th Brigade commenced. Brigade Headquarters, moving from dug-outs located in positions
at the 'Bluff' which it had occupied on the 26th June, relocated to Warloy (Warloy-Baillon), west of Albert.
However, Headquarters and Brigade Wagon Lines remained west of Senlis, a position they had occupied since the 22nd June.
Consequently, on the 11th July, the batteries of the 155th Brigade began a two-stage relief, after dark, of the 153rd
Brigade, R.F.A., attached to the 36th (Ulster) Division. The War Diary records:
A B & C batteries take over guns of A B & C batteries 153 Bde.
Guns of A B & C 155 to be taken to 153 Bde.
D/155 takes its own guns to the new position.'
This relief of one section of the batteries
of 153rd Brigade was completed on the nights 11th/12th and the second section completed this manoeuvre during the nights 12th/13th
All ammunition dumped by the 153rd Brigade at this new position located near Mesnil, was taken
over by the 155th Brigade, the latter now coming under the command of Right Group, 49th (West Riding) Divisional Artillery under
the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Clifford V.D. R.F.A.
Here the batteries remained until the 18th July when "A,"
"B" and "C" were relieved by artillery units of the 49th (West Riding) Division.
removed all of its guns during the relief. "B" Battery was to leave all of its guns in position taking only two
field pieces from the relieving battery, whilst "C" also left its guns in situ but took over four pieces on completion
of the relief. "D" Battery was to take its own guns away on relief from a position located at Mesnil Chateau.
The brigade now moved to the Wagon Lines located at Senlis where it spent the night.
The following day, the whole of
the 32nd Divisional Artillery began a movement westwards away from the Somme battlefield.
At 6.00 a.m., the 155th Brigade,
led by Brigade Headquarters and "A" Battery commenced the march with "B," "C" and "D"
Batteries following on at fifteen minute intervals respectively. Passing through the villages of Hedauville, Varennes, Lealvillers,
Louvencourt and Sarton, the final destination of the brigade was billets located at Milly, to the north of the town of Doullens.
The following chapter details the rather
complex series of movements and transfers from commands that an artillery brigade performed during the course of the
Great War. This period, covered extensively by the War Diary, provides a fascinating insight into the command and control
structure of the artillery and it's ability to respond with rapidity to tactical changes and developments often at a moments
On the 20th July, the 155th Brigade proceeded northwards. On the afternoon of the 22nd, the whole of the brigade
occupied their subsequent battery lines at Ames, located to the south-west of Lillers.
"A" and "D"
lines were located in the village itself, whilst "B" and "C" lines were located in a large field on the
outskirts between Ames and the village of Bellery all personnel being billeted in Ames.
The 32nd Divisional Artillery
now came under the command of 1 Corps, First Army with Divisional Headquarters located at Ecquedecques.
remained at Ames refitting and overhauling equipment, the 18-pounder guns being described in particular as 'found
to be in a bad condition.' On the 25th, as a consequence for the need for vital maintenance, "C" Battery
sent one gun to I.O.M. workshops (Authors note: Inspector Of Ordnance Machinery) located at Labeuvriere for a general
overhaul whilst "B" Battery received two guns from the railhead.
The return to action once again became apparent
when, on the 26th, orders were received from 32nd Divisional Artillery Headquarters that 1 officer, 1 servant plus one
telephonist per battery and Headquarters were to be attached to the 16th Divisional Artillery for familiarisation duties
on the front occupied by the infantry of that division.
At 8.40 a.m. on the morning of the 27th, these advance parties
left Brigade Headquarters. Orders received dictated the attachment of two 18 pounder and one 4.5 Howitzer batteries to Heavy
Artillery, 1 Corps, to act as 'Counter Batteries' with "A," "C" and "D" Batteries respectively
being selected for the task.
On the 28th, orders were received that the 32nd Divisional Artillery were to move to Marles-les-Mines,
located south-west of Bethune and it's surrounding district. Prior to this movement, "A" and "C" Batteries
handed over their guns to batteries of the 161st, 164th and 168th Brigades.
On July 29th, the 155th Brigade proceeded
to their new positions moving via Bellery, Ferfay, Auchel and Lozinghem.
As the brigade moved to their wagon lines at
Marles-les-Mines, they drew guns which had been overhauled by the I.O.M. workshops from the other brigades of the 32nd
Divisional Artillery as they moved forward. Of these workshops, Bethune supplied two guns, Labeuvriere, three guns
and Ruitz three guns also.
Further orders for a change of command were received on the 1st August when all battery commanders
and associated staff attached to the 16th Divisional Artillery were ordered to move to Headquarters, Left Group, of the
8th Divisional Artillery.
The 164th Brigade now came under the control of Officer Commanding 155th Brigade to form
part of the Left Group, 32nd Divisional Artillery, and by the 4th August, one section of each battery relieved batteries of
the 8th Divisional Artillery in positions near Annequin, located to the west of Auchy-les-Mines. However, A/155 and A/164
Batteries did not relieve any batteries of the 8th Division and instead moved into unoccupied positions.
At 10.50 p.m.
on the 5th August, all guns were in position and the relief was complete. It would suggest from the War Diary that the batteries
commenced fire on the night 5th/6th with seventeen 18-pounders and four 4.5 Howitzers but the target(s) is not specified,
however, registration of the fall of shot is recorded on the 6th 'on various points of the German
The sector of the German line that was about to receive the attention of the brigade encompassed the
area to the south of Cuinchy Brickstacks. This was an area where underground warfare and the detonation of mines was
most prevalent, the War Diary recording three instances.
On August 10th, the Left Group Headquarters of the 155th Brigade
moved to Le Preol, but the batteries of the Group maintained their positions under sporadic, and at times, intense artillery
fire directed by the enemy.
On the 8th September, Lieutenant-Colonel Ponsonby Sheppard D.S.O., Officer Commanding 155th
Brigade was evacuated to England although the War Diary does not stipulate as to the cause. As a consequence of this, Lieutenant-Colonel
Herbert Allcard D.S.O., Officer Commanding 164th Brigade R.F.A. now assumed command of the brigade.
In this sector the
brigade remained until the 15th October when they began a gradual withdrawal from action. On the afternoon of the 16th, the
whole brigade had completed this manoeuvre and marched to billets located at Lapugnoy, west of Bethune.
Return To The Somme
On the 17th, the march south began. On this date, the village
of la Thieuloye, north-east of St. Pol was reached, and the men subsequently billeted. The following day, the brigade accomplished
the march to Rebreuette located to the south-east of Frevent and accommodation was furnished at this location. Finally, on
the 19th October, the area of Doullens was reached, the brigade being billeted at Authieule to the south-east of the town.
On this date also, Captain Pollock, previously serving with "C" Battery, 168th Brigade, assumed command of
"A" Battery, 155th Brigade.
(Authors note: Possibly Arthur J.C. Pollock).
On the 20th October,
the brigade proceeded by march to wagon lines and bivouacs located at the village of Louvencourt. Brigade Headquarters proceeded
onwards to the village of Mailly Maillet and after dark, the batteries of the 155th moved forward into action.
"A," "B," and "D" batteries with Brigade Headquarters now came under the control of the
3rd Division's Artillery, whilst "C" Battery now came under the control of Officer Commanding, 42nd Brigade
Royal Field Artillery.
The following dispositions of the batteries is taken from the brigade War Diary including map
A/155 - Q 4 a 3.7
B/155 - Q 4 a 5.5
C/155 - K 26 a 1.7
D/155 - Q 4 a 6.2
map locations translate as "A," "B" and "D" Batteries in the vicinity of 'White City'
facing the village of Beaumont Hamel and "C" Battery in a position on the Colincamps Plain due west of La Signy
No information is recorded in the War Diary as to the objectives of the brigade on this date though one must
presume the fire-plan was of a general nature.
With the batteries in position, the brigade Wagon Lines commenced a series
of movements away from the village of Louvencourt. C/155's Lines moving to Acheux on the 28th October, and "A,"
"B" and "D" moving to Thievres on the 3rd November respectively.
The War Diary records that on the
4th November, the batteries located at 'White City' had ceased shooting, but that ' Batteries were heavily
shelled intermittently' however, no casualties are recorded.
The attack would commence on the 13th November
from points K28 located to the north at Serre, to R20, east of the River Ancre. The 155th Brigade fire-plan, would see them
support in their allotted sector the attacks to be made by the 2nd and 51st (Highland) Division located north and south
of 'White City' respectively.
Monday 13th November 1916: The
Death Of Sergeant Robert Fowler
In preparation for the attack to be launched by V Corps, over 600 artillery pieces of various
calibres from 8 Divisional Artilleries had been massed to support the infantry assault.
British bombardment had commenced on the 11th November and lasted for forty-eight hours, however, the 155th Brigade, according
to the War Diary, had ceased 'shooting' on the 4th November. Zero hour was set for 5.30 a.m. on the morning of the
13th. At this time, the barrage was planned to move 100 yards every five minutes, it was then to halt on the first objective
for one hour and then move on. Due to the weather, in particular fog, artillery
observation had been virtually impossible and impeded counter-battery work. This was to have dire consequences to the batteries
of the 155th located at 'White City.'
The specific task allocated to the brigade during the offensive was to
direct fire on any enemy troops that appeared to be massing, however, due to visibility being limited, tactics were adapted
and the batteries proceeded to bombard German communication trenches.
The War Diary unfortunately does not record any
specific time during the day, but, in the course of operations, "A" Battery had "two guns buried but not damaged"
no doubt due to enemy counter-battery work.
It would appear now that the enemy guns had located the positions held by
the brigade. The War Diary records, albeit difficult to decipher due to annotations, " 9 men? and (annotation, B
Battery) 2? horses were blown up by a 150 cm? shell at the battery position when bringing up rations."
are recorded in the War Diary as 2 O/Rs (Other Ranks) killed and 4 wounded.
An analysis of Commonwealth War Graves records
suggest that the two Other Ranks killed in this incident were Acting Bombardier Frank Holliday, born at Eastwood, Nottinghamshire,
and Corporal Bert Norton, a native of Toller Lane, Bradford, aged just 22 and 21 years respectively. Both men are now interred
at Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps. As regards the circumstances surrounding the death of Robert, one can only surmise that
he was a member of the party bringing up rations to the men of "B" Battery.
It is therefore a possibility that
the number of casualties killed and their deaths recorded by the War Diary, is an inaccurate figure, or, that of the 4 wounded,
one may have succumbed to wounds received by the explosion.
On Saturday the 18th of November, Mrs. Eva Fowler received a letter from the Reverend Philip
Giffard Holden, Chaplain to the Forces, stating that her husband, "Bob," had been unfortunately killed in action.
The contents of the letter are unknown but tragedy had once again darkened the door of Number 14, High Street, Wetherby, twice
in one year.
Mailly Wood Cemetery, Mailly-Maillet, Somme
was begun in June 1916 and burials continued up until the Ancre offensive of November 1916.
In 1917, 43 burials of casualties
were made by units occupying the surrounding area.
Burials continued from mid 1918 onwards, and, after the Armistice,
graves from the surrounding battlefields and from a cemetery located in the village itself were concentrated into the cemetery.
There are now 702 burials and commemorations of which 60 are unidentified. The cemetery also contains special memorials
to 8 casualties whose graves could not be located or were destroyed by shell fire.