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Deaths of Sandy Men in 1917

Sandy war memorial August 2010
Sandy war memorial August 2010

The Sandy war memorial stands next to the recreation ground on Bedford Road. It contains 126 names of Sandy men killed in the First World War. The size of Sandy, including its hamlets was 3,377 in the 1911 census. Of these men 53 were killed serving with the Bedfordshire Regiment. Bedfordshire and Luton Archives and Records Service has the war diaries of each of the battalions of the regiment to see active service. The numbers of Sandy dead for the Regiment each year are as follows:

  • 1914: 4
  • 1915: 6
  • 1916: 10
  • 1917: 22
  • 1918: 10
  • 1919: 1

The numbers killed with each battalion were as follows:

  • 1st Battalion: 19
  • 2nd Battalion: 11
  • 4th Battalion: 4
  • 1st/5th Battalion: 2
  • 6th Battalion: 3
  • 7th Battalion: 11
  • 8th Battalion: 3

1917 was the bloodiest year of the war for Sandy with twenty men associated with it killed with the Bedfordshire Regiment, the same number as in all three preceding years combined. The first death was on 5th February when Lance Corporal James Norman, from Beeston Green of the 1st Battalion was killed in action. His parents were Jesse and Jane and he was 25 years old. That day the battalion was in the front line near a place called Ferme du Bois near Le Touret, itself near the village of Essars. The diary noted: "Trenches in fair condition, but were very weak and damaged". No casualties are noted but Lance Corporal Norman was probably killed by a sniper or struck by fragments from a stray shell. He is buried at Le Touret Military Cemetery, Richebourg l'Avoué.

The 6th Battalion had arrived in France in July 1915 and on 9th April 1917 dug itself in at Feuchy Chapelle before assaulting la Folie Ferme and la Bergere east of Arras the next day. This was part of the Arras offensive, the first of three major British offensives that year, which began on that day and lasted until 16th May. Like so many other battles it began promisingly for the attackers but stubborn resistance, ferocious counter attacks and the inability of the high command to keep control over events due to insufficient communications caused it to end in comparative failure. The general charged with launching the offensive, Edmund Allenby, later very successful fighting the Turks in Palestine commented, "We aimed for the sky and hit the ceiling". Private Ernest John Henry Darnell was killed on 9th April. His father John was dead himself by that time and his mother Ada Elizabeth had remarried a man named Comyns and was living at Church Path. Ernest himself was a native of Lower Caldecote, he was just 19 years of age. He is buried at Wancourt British Cemetery, interestingly the ground on which the cemetery stands was not captured until 12th April.

Five men with Sandy connections died in a five day period from 23rd to 27th April. On 23rd two men were killed. Private Sidney George Crawley served with 1st Battalion and had previously been with the Bedfordshire Yeomanry, a militia cavalry unit. He had been born in Sandy and was 20 years old, the son of Edmund Crawley of the Market Place. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing. The battalion had attacked la Coulotte near Givenchy-en-Gohelle, north-east of Vimy as part of the Battle of Arras; 331 officers and other ranks became casualties. On 27th April Private George Darnell of 1st Battalion died of wounds which the balance of probability suggests were received in this attack. He was 34 years old and a member of B Company, the son of Stephen and Elizabeth from Seddington. It is strange, given that he died of wounds, that George has no known grave. The best explanation for this is probably that he was buried in a cemetery which was destroyed by fighting later in the war.

On the same day the 4th Battalion, as part of Royal Naval Division, attacked and took the village of Gavrelle, north-east of Arras, losing 272 officers and other ranks. One of those killed was Acting Corporal Albert Edward Phillips, who had been born in Sandy but had moved to Hertford and whose parents, Enoch and Annie lived in Felixstowe [Suffolk] by the time the Commonwealth War Graves Commission came to take details. He was 26 years old. Again, he has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial.

The following day, 24th April, 8th Battalion was in trenches near Cité-Saint-Elie, near ground attacked by the 2nd Battalion on 25th September 1915. Between 16th and 19th April the battalion had been involved in operations around Loos, some successful, others not.  On 24th one other rank was killed and three wounded by shelling. The other rank killed was Private Albert Brown who is buried at Mazingarbe Communal Cemetery Extension between Lens and Béthune.

Herbert George Addison [Z50/142/478]
Herbert George Addison [Z50/142/478]

On 26th April Private Herbert George Addison of 6th Battalion was killed in action. The battalion had unsuccessfully attacked Greenland Hill and dug in east of the road from Roeux to Gavrelle, north-east of Arras on 23rd April and then remained in this position until 28th when another attempt was made and the objective "almost gained" - "only 58 men actually came out of the attack". Private Addison had been born in Sandy and, like Albert Brown, lived there at the time of his joining the army. His mother Elizabeth lived in Saint Neots Road. He was 25 years of age and has no known grave, being commemorated on the Arras Memorial. This may indicate, as he was not part of an attack on that day, that he was hit by shellfire.

On 2nd May 1917 Private Charles Eaton, previously of the Bedfordshire Yeomanry, but then serving with 1st Battalion died of wounds. He was 28 and the son of Charles and Rose Emma of Sandy. His wife Sarah Jane lived in Saint Neots Road. He is buried in Bruay Communal Cemetery Extension south of Béthune. The battalion had been in billets at Cambligneul since the attack on 23rd April and it seems reasonable to assume that Private Eaton had received his death wound in that engagement.

3rd May saw two men serving with 7th Battalion killed at Chérisy, another ill-fated attack forming part of the Battle of Arras. Just about everything that could go wrong in this attack did go wrong. The battalion arrived in the area on 1st and had little time to reconnoitre. The attack was half an hour late in beginning, because at 3.45 a. m. it was too dark to see what they were doing. The bombardment, supposed to creep forward just in front of them to neutralise German positions, was not well delivered and when the men went over the top they found it as still too dark to see where they were going. The unit on their left then lost direction and piled into them. Four tanks (first used in warfare in September 1916) had been allotted to help the attack. One could not start, another broke down after a short distance and another then ploughed through the advancing men. In all this confusion the men fell back and by the time their officers got them going forward again the barrage had got so far ahead that the Germans had time to come out of their dug-outs and pour withering fire into them. They then had to remain in front of the German lines all day crouched in shell holes before slinking back to their own lines after dark. This was the first time the battalion had tasted such bitter failure and it was never to do so again. 6 officers and 25 other ranks were killed, 8 officers and 162 other ranks wounded and 55 other ranks were missing.

Cherisy - the 7th Bedfords' attack was towards the wood in the distance - March 2004
Cherisy - the 7th Bedfords' attack was towards the wood in the distance - March 2004

The two men from Sandy killed were Lance Corporal Frederick Crawley and Private Edwin Frederick Huckle. Both had been born in Sandy and still resided there. Crawley was the son of Frank Crawley of London Road and was 25 years old. He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial. Huckle is buried at Cuckoo Passage cemetery, Héninel. This remote little cemetery is in a very peaceful spot but quite difficult to access, it only contains 54 burials.

The final Sandy man killed in action during the Battle of Arras was Private Walter Skinner from Beeston Green, son of Walter and Naomi, aged 28, of the 1st Battalion, who died on the last day of the battle, 16th May. On that day two companies relieved two other companies in the front line near Arleux-en-Gohelle, east of Vimy. The diary reports; "Relief passed off quietly. Weather very bad". Presumably Private Skinner was shot by a sniper or hit by a shell fragment. He is buried at Duisans British Cemetery, Étrun.

Another man from the 1st Battalion was the next to die, on 4th June, William John Eaton. His regimental number was 33624. Charles Eaton, who died on 2nd May had the number 33625 so the two clearly joined up together. Like Charles, William had previously been in the Bedfordshire Yeomanry. It seems likely that the two were related. William died of wounds and is buried at Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension which was used by 24th, 30th and 42nd Casualty Clearing Stations. The war diary recorded that two men had been wounded by shell fire the day before, 3rd, whilst on a working party near Willerval, perhaps Private Eaton was one of these.

On 23rd July Corporal William Freeman, from Beeston, was killed in action with 6th Battalion. He was 25, the son of Edward and Ann Maria from the Council Houses in The Baulk. He is buried at Pond Farm Cemetery near Wulvergem, south of Ypres near the French border. The war diary entry for the day reads: "Thirty men evacuated suffering from gas - some very bad cases. Casualties, 2 killed, 4 wounded". Thus it is not clear whether Corporal Freeman was killed by gas or by some other means such as a sniper's bullet or a shell fragment.

On 4th August Private Ernest Martin from Girtford died of wounds with 2nd Battalion and is buried at Lijssenthoek Military Cemetery. The area was reasonably sheltered from German shelling and a natural area to establish casualty clearing stations. It is not known when or how Private Martin was wounded but the battalion suffered fifteen dead and fifty wounded in operations, not involving an attack, from 31st July round an area of the Menin Road known as Glencorse Wood and Stirling Castle, an area in which the 7th Battalion would make a partially successful attack on 10th August. On 27th and 28th July the battalion had had 26 dead and 44 wounded in a night raid on Jeffery Trench near a feature called Observatory Ridge a little way to the south. Ernest Martin may have been wounded in either of these operations.

Looking from Jeffrey Trench north-west to 2nd Bedfords' positions on 23-28 July 1917
Looking from Jeffrey Trench north-west to 2nd Bedfords' positions on 23-28 July 1917

The attack by 7th Battalion at Glencorse Wood on 10th August saw the death of Private Herbert John Gammons. He had been born in Sandy and was still living there at the time of his enlistment. He had received the Military Medal for bravery on 2st December 1916, the date suggesting that the medal was awarded for his actions in the actions around Thiepval in September 1916. He is buried in Hooge Crater Cemetery.

Herbert John Gammons [Z50/142/478]
Herbert John Gammons [Z50/142/478]

The attack had stormed into the German front line in a trench called by the British Jargon Trench. The war diary reads: "At 3.30 a. m. all companies were formed up for the attack timed for 4.35 a. m. C company on the right B Company on the left A Company in close support and D Company in reserve under Captains O. Kingdon, H. Driver D. S. O., R. O. Clark, J. C. M. Ferguson. The forming up was carried out in an exceedingly steady manner under considerable enemy artillery and machine gun fire and great credit is due to the company commanders for the cool and deliberate manner in which they handled their companies. At zero hour, 4.35, an intense British barrage opened and the battalion moved forward close under its protection. The battalion, famous for its fighting spirit in the past, eclipsed all former deeds of gallantry, when heavy wire held up the foremost men, those behind stood on lumps of earth and rubbish and fired over the heads of those cutting the wire, seldom have any troops shown such brilliant dash and utter contempt for the Bosch. By 5.13 a. m. Nonne Bosschen Wood was reached and at the same time all other objectives occupied. Within an hour small arms ammunition, Lewis gun drums etc. had been dispatched to the advanced positions and much consolidation had been carried out. Very early in the operations the 11th Royal Fusiliers, operating on our right, and the Queen's [Royal West Surrey Regiment], operating on their right, became adversely involved with a Bosch strong point at the north-west corner of Inverness Copse and the whole attack on our right became confused and fell back. The Fusiliers fell back from their advanced posts on to a line running along the ridge from the south-west corner of Glencourse Wood  to Clapham Junction. This change in the situation exposed our right flank and necessitated the partial expenditure of D Company to make a defensive flank which was carried out by Captain Ferguson in a quick and clever manner. Very severe fighting resulted later in the day through the unsatisfactory position in which our troops were placed. About 5.30 p. m. the Bosch showed considerable movement and it became evident that a heavy counter attack was imminent: by 6 p. m. the attack developed and by 7 p. m. the situation was severe, the Bosch attacking in mass and our own guns shooting desperately short. This condition lasted till 9 p. m. by which time although we had lost connection with our advanced posts the main position was still firmly in our hands and the enemy casualties were extremely heavy. About 8.30 p. m. the 6th Royal Berks were sent up to relieve our companies and one company of Norfolks took over the strong point at the south-west corner of Glencorse Wood from which the Fusiliers had previously been relieved by us. By 2 a. m. the Regiment had been completely relieved by the Royal Berks and moved back to Chateau Segard Area No.4".

The battlefield of 10th August looking from the 7th Bedfords' positions - July 2004
The battlefield of 10th August looking from the 7th Bedfords' positions - July 2004

On 6th September Private Arthur James Palmer of the 7th Battalion died. He, like Herbert Gammons, had received the Military Medal for bravery in the field on 21st December 1916. The record says that he died, rather than that he was killed in action or died of wounds and this suggests that he succumbed to disease or had a fatal accident. At the time the 7th Battalion were undergoing training at a place named Buysscheure, north-east of Saint-Omer, well behind the lines, so perhaps the hypothesis of an accident is slightly more likely than an illness. Private Palmer had been born in Sandy, his father William was dead leaving his mother Elizabeth widowed, he was 27 years old. He lies buried in nearby Arneke Churchyard one of only two Commonwealth servicemen buried there. The other is a man named Costigan who died on the same day, a private in the 19th Hussars.

On 12th September Lance Corporal Charles William Chillery, born and living in Sandy, of the 8th Battalion was killed in action. The battalion was in the front line at a place called Hill 70 near Loos-en-Gohelle, north-west of Lens on the old 1915 battlefield. The war diary for the day reads: "In trenches. Day quiet, aircraft active. At night B Company rejoined and took up position in trenches opposite enemy line to be raided on night 13/14th September. Usual night firing. Casualties 3 other ranks killed, 6 other ranks wounded". This suggests that Lance Corporal Chillery was killed by a shell during the night firing, though he may have been the target of a German sniper during the day. He is buried in Saint Patrick's Cemetery, Loos.

Another member of 1st Battalion died of wounds on 7th October - Private John Alfred Merryweather. He was the son of John and Ann of London Road and an older man at 41. He is buried at Godewaersvelde British Cemetery and so must have died at either 37th or 41st Casualty Clearing Station. The war diary for 6th-8th October reads: "A defensive system was made and a continuous Front line dug with Supports. C and B Companies were in the Front line with A and D in reserve in the Old British Line. Communication trenches were dug back from the Front line to the Old British Line". This was near Veldhoek between Geluveld and Zillebeke east of Ypres. Clearly Private Merryweather was either sniped or struck by shell splinters whilst engaged in this work.

On 20th October Private William Thomas was killed in action with the 7th Battalion. He had been born at Dunsdale in Yorkshire but was living in Sandy at the time of his enlistment. He was another older man at 40. By the time the Commonwealth War Graves Commission obtained details his widow, Sarah Elizabeth, was living in Odell. He is buried in Cement House Cemetery, Langemark. On that day the battalion had been holding the front line on the banks of the Ypres-ComminesCanal until relieved. The diary entry reads: "The line was held by the Battalion until the evening, when it was relieved by the Queens. The Battalion moved back to Irish Farm where it entrained for Tunnelling Camp, arriving there about 7 a. m. in the morning. A certain amount of difficulty was experienced in carrying out the relief owing to bad communications. "D" Company whose relief was somewhat delayed decided to wait until daylight when shelling would not be so bad. They consequently did not reach Tunnelling Camp until mid-day". Reliefs were a dangerous time as it involved men moving and so exposing themselves more to air bursts of shrapnel from artillery which the Germans habitually fired at night. It looks as if Private Taylor was hit by one of these.

Six days later Lance Corporal Frederick John Banes of the 1st Battalion was killed. He had been born in Sandy and was still living there at the time of his enlistment. He was 23 years old and his mother lived in Ivel Road. He is buried in Hooge Crater Cemetery. On that day 13th Brigade attacked Polderhoek Chateau at 5.40 that morning. A message was received saying that all objectives were taken at 10 o'clock. The Germans then counterattacked and at noon a message was received saying that two of the attacking battalions had withdrawn to their original positions and evacuated the chateau. In consequence another battalion was ordered to reinforce all three attacking battalions of 13th Brigade. At 1.30 p. m. orders received from 15th Brigade for the 1st Bedfords to support this battalion. At  5.30 the battalion was ordered to take over the front line between two streams, Reutelbeek and Scherriabeek, and relieve all troops of 13th Brigade in the line. This small action was a part of the larger Third Battle of Ypres otherwise known as the Battle of Passchendaele. This battle has come to symbolise, above all others, the futility of the Great War. It began on 31st July and ended on 6th November in one of the wettest summers on record. The battlefield was soon a quagmire of mud in which many men simply drowned. Around 400,000 men of each side became casualties, only slightly less than the Battle of the Somme of 1916 and for less gains.

Private Reginald H. Markham was killed in action with 1st/5th Battalion on 3rd November 1917. This battalion was unique in the regiment in that it was the only Territorial Army unit to see active service and that it did not serve on the Western Front but at Gallipoli in 1915 and then in Egypt and Palestine as part of 54th (East Anglian) Division. Private Markham's death came during the Third Battle of Gaza. On 2nd the battalion had, with seven other battalions of the division, successfully attacked Turkish positions between the city of Gaza and the sea. The battle ended in victory on 8th November opening the way to the capture of Jerusalem on 9th December.

The war diary for 2nd November is very vivid for, unusually, having been written at the time. It is as follows:

  • 0210 Left Bivouac area, in order named in Bedford Order No.8 dated 31 Oct 17.
  • 0310 Passed Sheikh Ajlin. No casualties.
  • 0315-0345 Moved forward very slowly to within 150 yards of Sea Post, where we were blocked owing to 11th Londons waiting to deploy.
  • 0410-0430 Moved forward about 300 yards.

Companies moved off and Battalion Headquarters were established about 150 yards south of Cricket Well waiting here until Advanced Battalion Headquarters reported Tomb Spur cleared and Advanced Headquarters established there. This was reported about 0510. Battalion Headquarters moved to Tomb Spur, [where] they came under heavy machine gun fire from Rafa-Belah Ridge. No casualties. Attack on Sheikh Hasan was carried out absolutely to programme and by 0600 Hasan Garden was cleared right through and consolidated on a line from south-west corner of [map reference] P.3.c. - Hasan Pimple - Sheikh Hasan. Thirteen officers and 140 other ranks prisoners were taken and sent back, a number of Turks were killed twenty have been counted, there are probably more as the locality is too big to reach properly. Three Machine Guns, fragments of a fourth over 200 rifles, many thousand rounds of small arms ammunition, bombs, Royal Engineers material, Quarter Master Stores, papers and booty is being collected, but owing to consolidation no proper salvage arrangements can be put into operation. In the attack one Platoon led by 2nd Lieutenant E. A. Phillips, [Royal] Berkshire Regiment, attached, with more dash than thought for his orders reached and entered Turtle Hill. The Turks put up the white flag, but a machine gun in rear opened on the Platoon and nearly all of the were wiped out 2nd Lieutenant E. A. Phillips was killed. During the advance through the garden our shrapnel barrage is said to have been erratic, or it may have been the keenness of the men, but we suffered most of our casualties there from our own shell fire. The protective barrage also did not lift off Hasan Pimple and Sheikh Hasan, this also caused further casualties before it could be stopped. The Tanks were not on time and only No.5 turned up eventually at 0625, this off-loaded its Royal Engineers material and proceeded forward, but soon afterwards it broke down. From about 0615 to 0830 the enemy shelled us heavily with what was thought to be one 5.9 one 4.2 and two 77 m. m. batteries. Efforts were made to support the Northamptons attack on Lion and Tiger but owing to smoke and mist visibility was bad. During the morning we suffered from enemy machine gun and rifle fire from Tortoise Hill and Turtle Hill. At 1430 the 1/4th Northampton Regiment attacked Tortoise Hill and Belah unsuccessfully and were driven back at the same time the whole locality came under very heavy enemy shell fire again and a very strong enemy counter-attack developed between Tortoise Hill and Turtle Hill. We reinforced our right, and all communications being cut by shell fire, fired the S.O.S. signal, our barrage then came down and this together with our machine gun fire stopped the enemy. At the same time Turks were reported advancing from the direction of Tiger this was confirmed by the action of the Navy who opened fire on them at once and this stopped the movement. It is said that this party was the remains of the Northampton Company returning to our lines. During the evening the remaining Northamptons and one Company of 1/11th London Regiment were put under this Battalion's orders, the distribution being as follows Strong Point south-east corner of P.2.d is held by Northamptons. Three of our Companies with one Platoon each attached from 1/11th London Company are distributed in two lines from Beach Road, Hasan Pimple to Sheikh Hasan. No attempt has been made to entrench a continuous line. Platoons are distributed checkerwise mutually supporting one another, four machine guns and four Stokes Guns are in the second line near the road. This arrangement has worked well so far although the enemy has shelled us very continuously we have not had as many casualties as we might have done. We are under close observation from Turtle Hill and it is beginning to tell".

The diary for 3rd November, the day of Private Markham's death, is as follows: "A Section of Royal Engineers were with us all night on the Northampton strong point and also put in a pump and well at the North end of Beach Road which is giving us a good supply of water. The men are very tired, the long advance over the sand carrying heavy loads took a lot out of them, they got a little sleep last night, and blankets are expected up for them tonight, bivouac sheets are already up. The morale of the men is excellent all round and needs to be on account of the heavy shell fire they are subjected to. Patrols during the night went out to (1) Turtle Hill. Found enemy consolidating (2) Lion and Tiger. Found enemy consolidating. Two observation posts have been established No.1 Observation Post at Sheikh Tomb, No.2 Observation Post in centre of Alfred approximately P2.D.3.9.

  • 0630 Enemy shelled HasanGarden, High Explosive and shrapnel.
  • 0735 Enemy shelled our 1st and 2nd Line in the Garden every 2½  minutes.
  • 1030 Enemy shelled with High Explosive from direction of Sheikh Redwan
  • 0635 Small parties of Turks seen at different times all morning on high ground behind enemy lines
  • 1655 Considerable movement on Sand Ridge east of No.1 Observation Post.
  • 1545 16 Turks came forward over small ridge in front of trench Lion-Tiger Line. They had full march order
  • 1605 Small parties observed in communication trenches Lion-Tiger Line
  • 1730 100 Turks seen north of Turtle Hill
  • Flash of enemy gun observed 60 degrees near Clump of trees

The total casualties for 2/3rd are officers: 1 Killed, 3 Wounded, 2 of these remained at duty. Other Ranks: [blank] Killed; [blank] Wounded; [blank] of these remained at duty. Missing: [blank] 27 Turks have been buried 10 evacuated to Hospital wounded. A British cemetery has [been] made in SheikhHasanGarden. 2 Barrels of Beer were brought up with the rations and issued to the men. The men are in excellent spirits, but rather tired. Consolidation proceeding satisfactorily".

It looks, from this, as if Private Markham was probably killed by shell fire. He is buried in Gaza War Cemetery. Interestingly the Commonwealth War Graves website gives his rank as Drummer. This would have meant that we served as a stretcher bearer in action.

Frederick John Braybrooks - furthest from camera [Z50/142/478]
Frederick John Braybrooks - furthest from camera [Z50/142/478]

The last of the Sandy men to die with the Bedfords in 1917 was Frederick James Braybrooks of the 7th Battalion. He had been born in Sandy and still lived there at the time of his enlistment. He was killed on 8th December and is buried at Poelcapelle British Cemetery. On that day the battalion relieved another unit in the front line in front of Houthoulst Forest, north-east of Ypres. The war diary says the relief went off without incident. Clearly this was not true for poor Fred Braybrooks who must have been hit by a sniper or strck of a shell fragment.