Military Monday – Percvial Richardson. Royal Engineers Part V

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

Following Armistice in November 1918, Uncle Percy continued with his Unit. I haven’t been able to find much detail of this period but they were working in camps at Longpre, Oissy and Dreuil les Amiens.

At the end of April 97th Field Company returned to England via Havre and Percy was given fourteen days leave. Following this he rejoined his unit and was promoted to Acting Corporal and then to Acting Sergeant.

On the 27th October 1919 Percy was transfered to the 14 SAT Company RE and then to the 219 Field Company RE Rhine Army on the 28th November. So Uncle Percy was part of the British Army of the Rhine – set up to occupy the Rhineland as part of the Armistice deal.

Royal Engineers manning a searchlight on the Rhine 1919

The British were based in and around Cologne and remained there until 1929. Percy wasn’t there for that long though; in January 1920 he was discovered to have a hernia and was demobbed back to the family home at 605 Berridge Road, Nottingham on the 3rd January 1920.

Percival Richardson 1889 – 27 August 1965

 

Military Monday – Harold Richardson Remembered

Some time ago I heard about a project to research and preserve the WW1 Roll of Honour at St Stephen’s church in Hyson Green, Nottingham. As my Great-great Uncle Harold Richardson is mentioned on it I contacted the church and was invited to the first meeting.

 

St Stephen’s Bobbers Mill Road

I was able to provide some information about Harold and was keen to return a few weeks later to the final presentaion of the project. It was lovely to see so many members of the community of different ages & backgrounds taking an interest in their local history.

 

Roll of Honour
Harold – top left-hand side

 

 

At the time the church was being built in 1901, Harold lived directly opposite at 29 Bobbers Mill Road. It’s sad to think that fifteen years later he would be commemorated, along with many others from this area, on the church wall.






Picture Credit: http://southwellchurches.nottingham.ac.uk/hyson-green-st-stephen/hintro.php

Military Monday – Harold Richardson

Sunday 3rd July 2016 is the 100th anniversary of the death of my Great-Great Uncle Harold Richardson.

Born in Nottingham in 1881, Harold was the eldest son of Robert Richardson & his wife Sarah (nee Percival). He had joined the army prior to the war, in 1911 he was serving with the Northumberland Fusiliers and based at the Hillsborough Barracks in Sheffield. At the outbreak of war in 1914 he was an acting sergeant with the Fusiliers, number 8434.

Hillsborough Barracks

Most of the following information was kindly supplied by Mel Siddons following a Trent to Trenches event in Nottingham.

The 12th (Service) Battalion The Northumberland Fusiliers was formed at Newcastle in September 1914 as part Kitchener’s Third New Army and joined 62th Brigade, 21st Division. The Division concentrated in the Tring area, training at Halton Park before winter necessitated a move into local billets in Tring, Aylesbury, Leighton Buzzard, High Wycombe and Maidenhead. The artillery was at High Wycombe and Berkhamsted, RE at Chesham, and ASC at Dunstable.

In May 1915 the infantry moved to huts at Halton Park, whilst the artillery moved to Aston Clinton with one brigade staying at Berkhamsted and the RE to Wendover. On the 9th of August they moved to Witley Camp. They proceeded to France during the first week of September and marched across France their first experience of action being in the British assault at Loos on 26th September 1915, suffering heavy casualties, around 3,800, just a few days after arriving in France.

In 1916 they were in action in the Battles of The Somme, including The Battle of Morval in which the Division captured Geudecourt. On the 1st July 1916 the 12th Battalion were fighting in Shelter Wood.

 

At dawn on the 2nd of July our troops advanced to the storm of Fricourt Wood, the Contalmaison Road, Shelter Wood, and as much of the bootshaped plateau as they could take. As they advanced, the massed machine guns in all the trenches and strongholds opened upon them. They got across the field of this fire into Fricourt Wood to an indescribable day which will never be known about nor imagined. They climbed over fallen trees and were caught in branches, and were shot when caught. It took them all day to clear that jungle; but they did clear it, and by dark they were almost out at the northern end, where Railway Alley lay in front of them on the roll of the hill. Further to the north, on the top of the leg of the boot, our men stormed the Shelter Wood and fought in that 200 yards of copse for four bloody and awful hours, with bomb and bayonet, body to body, till the wood was heaped with corpses, but in our hands.*

It is most likely that Harold died in the fighting in Shelter Wood, either in action or later, of his wounds. His body has never been recovered and he is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.


* ‘The Battle of the Somme’ by John Masefield

Military Monday – Percival Richardson. Royal Engineers Part IV

Part I
Part II
Part III

Following on from my last post I wanted to see if I could find out exactly what Uncle Percy had been doing when he was wounded on the 22nd of April 1918. His service record didn’t help with this & neither did my attempts at tracking the movements of 97th Field Company RE using online resources.

The National Archives have now digitised their entire collection of WW1 war diaries and they are a mine of information, full of day-to-day activities. They are easily searchable by Unit and cost a mere £3.50 to download. I found the relevant diary quite easily and was able to track Percy’s movements in more detail.

Following the retreat from Messines the Company were responsible for mining and destroying bridges over the Comines Canal to delay the German advance. The Diary of Thomas Fredrick Littler of the Royal Engineers notes this on the 12th April:

I saw a furious battle in the air this morning, 4 German planes engaging three British, 2 German planes and two British came down and fell in our lines, 1 German plane caught fire and fell in his own lines, the other one made his escape, and the remaining British plane hovered above and then made off. In the afternoon we had to go and re-mine a bridge crossing the Ypres Canal, placing 70 lbs of guncotton under it, and connected with both electric and instantaneous fuse, finished at midnight.

Strange to think that Uncle Percy would most likely also have witnessed this.

On the 16th of April 1918 the Company had marched to Ouderdom where they were joined by eighty-nine reinforcements. Over the next couple of days they were working on a line to G.H.Q. and at Brigade Head Quarters erecting shelters. The 18th of April saw them working on the defences in the area; erecting wire around Voormezeele along with breastwork* and knife rests** at the Brasserie (stores) dump in anticipation of a German offensive. A day later work also begins on machine gun emplacements in Voormezeele.

The Village of Voormezeele

On the 22nd, the day Percy was wounded, the Company had beguin work on the Voormezeele – Kruisstraat switch.*** The unit diary notes:

 22nd April 1918 Nos 1, 2 and 4 and 1st Lincs continued work. No3 and 12/B NF commenced work on VOORMEZEELE – KRUISSTRAATHOER switch.
Lt GG McLean, 1 sapper and 3 attached infantry (1st Lincs) wounded.

The wounded sapper mentioned is Uncle Percy, but it gives no detail as to how the men were wounded.  It is possible that the men were wounded by enemy snipers, known to be active at the time.

After Percy was taken to hospital in Boulogne, the Company continued working on defences such as breastworks across the roads, as the Germans began heavy shelling on the area. Voormezeele fell into German hands at the end of April and was retaken the following September.

 

No. 13 General Hospital Boulogne

So, back to Uncle Percy and what he did next….

*Breastworks were above ground trenches, like a defensive wall & usually used on boggy ground.
**Knife rests were wooden supports for barbed wire.
***A switch trench connected two trenches that ran parallel to the front line. They were used in areas where there was a risk of the enemy overcoming the main trench and exposing it to attack from the sides. The switch line would protect the flanks by becoming a front line trench.

Picture Credit: http://voiceseducation.org/content/world-war-i-ypres
Picture Credit: https://mitchamwarmemorial.wordpress.com/tag/percy-young/

Military Monday – Percival Richardson. Royal Engineers Part III

Part I
Part II

January 1918 saw Uncle Percy raised to the skilled rate of E.P., or Engineers Pay, which would have meant a little extra in his pay packet.

The next entry in his service record is on the 10th March 1918 when he was given four days confined to camp for being absent from 8.20pm to 8.45pm.

Two days later, on the 12th March at Les Attaques, Calais, Percy failed to attend the 6.15pm defaulter’s parade and was absent from the 8.20pm roll call to 9.30pm. For this he was awarded nine days Field Punishment No.1, which involved being shackled in irons and secured to a fixed object, such as a gun wheel.

Field Punishment No.1

Percy would only have been fixed for up to two hours in every twenty four, and not for more than three days in every four. Field Punishment No.1 came to be known as ‘crucifixion’ and due to its humiliating nature was considered by Tommies as unfair.

 

In March and April 1918, there are only two entries in Percy’s service record, both noting that he joined the Royal Engineers’ base depot. But during this period the 21st Division were in action. The Battle of St. Quentin on the 21st -23rd March saw the German army advance forty miles and many Tommies taken prisoner. This was followed immediately on the 24th-25th by the first Battle of Bapaume in which the German army recaputured Baupaume.

On the 10th-11th April 1918 the 21st Division were at the Battle of Messines, where the British army withdrew four miles as the Germans captured Messines. This prompted General Haig’s famous ‘backs to the wall‘ message to the troops.

‘Every position must be held to the last man: there must be no retirement. With our backs to the wall and believing in the justice of our cause each one of us must fight on to the end.’

The next entry in Uncle Percy’s record reveals that he was wounded on the 22nd April 1918 and transfered to No. 13 General Hospital, based in the Casino in Boulogne with a mild gunshot wound to his face and arms on the 24th April.

From the 17th May to the 2nd of October 1918, Percy was in Britain, beginning with a stay at the Springburn Woodside Central Hospital in Glasgow for thirty-five days, suffering from pneumonia.

Following his period of convalesence Percy was expected to return to a Royal Engineers base but he overstayed his sick furlough from the 2nd  to the 11th July and was confined to barracks for ten days, forfeiting ten days pay.

The 2nd of October found Percy back in France.  Following which the 21st Division were involved in the successful Battle of the Selle from the 7th to the 26th October.

Percy found himself in trouble yet again on the 9th of November, when on active service he was absent for fifteen minutes and was caught drinking in the cafe Le Clas Fleuri during prohibited hours. For this he was deprived of two days pay and was also confined to barracks for seven days.

The Armistice on the 11th of November, found the 21st Division around Berlaimont and they moved via Beaufort to to Amiens by the end of December. Following demobilisation the 21st Division had ceased to exist but Percy’s time with the Royal Engineers was to continue for a little longer.

Part IV

Picture Credit: http://www.historytoday.com/clive-emsley/crucifying-tommy-punishment-first-world-war
Picture Credit: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205331665
Picture Credit: http://nzetc.victoria.ac.nz/tm/scholarly/tei-WH1-Fran-t1-body1-d15.html

Military Monday – Percival Richardson. Royal Engineers Part II

Military Monday – Percival Richardson. Royal Engineers Part I

Part 1

The end of March 1917 found Percy and the 97th Field Company Royal Engineers stationed on the Hindenburg Line.

The German army was staging a strategic withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. As they withdrew they destroyed bridges, railways, buildings and roads to hinder the Anglo-French advance.

So there was an urgent need for the Royal Engineers to restore transport and communication links.

 

 

Royal Engineers building a pontoon bridge across the Somme River at Peronne, 22 March 1917

Sir Douglas Haig mentioned the contribution of the Royal Engineers in his third Despatch in May 1917.

The systematic destruction of roads, railways and bridges in the evacuated area made unprecedented demands upon the Royal Engineers, already heavily burdened by the work entailed by the preparations for our spring offensive.
Our steady progress, in the face of the great difficulties confronting us, is the best testimony to the energy and thoroughness with which those demands were met.
The bridging of the Somme at Brie, to which reference has already been made, is an example of the nature of the obstacles with which our troops were met and of the rapidity with which those obstacles were overcome.  In this instance six gaps had to be bridged across the canal and river, some of them of considerable width and over a swift-flowing stream.
The work was commenced on the morning of the 18th March, and was carried out night and day in three stages.  By 10.00 p.m. on the same day foot-bridges for infantry had been completed, as already stated.  Medium type bridges for horse transport and cavalry were completed by 5.00 a.m. on the 20th March, and by 2.00 p.m. on the 28th March, or four and a half days after they had been begun, heavy bridges capable of taking all forms of traffic had taken the place of the lighter type.

During the Anglo-French advance, Percy was involved in both the first and second Battles of the Scarpe near Arras. He was to remain in the area around the Hindenburg Line until June 1917.

Whilst based in Les Attaques, Calais, Percy had two more misdemeanors noted on his service record. On the 26th June, when on active service, he was absent from his duty as cook’s mate for two hours and received seven days confined to camp and deprivation of three days pay. Two days later, on the 28th June he was awarded fourteen days confined to camp and deprived of seven days pay for being both drunk and absent from duty for eleven hours.

Battle of the Menin Road Ridge, 20 September 1917

Percy’s stay in Calais ended in September 1917 when the 21st Divison became heavily involved in the Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly known as Passchendaele. Percy’s involvement began with the Battle of the Menin Road Ridge from the 20th September to the 25th. This was immediately followed on the 26th by the Battle of Polygon Wood which ended on the 3rd of October and continued on the 4th of October by the Battle of Broodseinde.

There was a small respite until the Battle of Poelcapelle on the 9th of October and finally the Second Battle of Passchendaele from the 26th of October to the 10th of November 1917.

Despite being in the thick of battle for three weeks, the Royal Engineers then found themselves at the Battle of Cambrai from the 20th of November to the 3rd of December 1917. This is noteable as the first time tanks were used en masse. 

The British front line before the Battle of Cambrai, 10 Dec. 1917.


Despite the innovative use of tanks, Cambrai was not a success and the war continued into 1918.

Part III
Part IV




Picture Credit: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205237910
picture Credit; http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205079730
Picture Credit; http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205239645

Military Monday – Percival Richardson. Royal Engineers Part I

Military Monday – Percival Richardson. Royal Engineers Part II

I’ve recently added my 2xGreat Uncle Percival Richardson to Lives of the First World War.

I’ve already posted a few posts about Percy, but hadn’t got round to adding his details to the site. Luckily Percy’s service records are extant unlike many others so I have been able to find out much more about his time as a sapper with the Royal Engineers.

Percy enlisted in Nottingham on the 9th January 1915 and was assigned to the Royal Engineers. During his initial training at Hallfield Camp in Chatham, Kent he was AWOL twice, once for three days and then for five days. He was fined and confined to barracks for both offences.

On the 11th September 1915 he landed in France with 97 Field Company, which made up part of the 21st Division. There isn’t anything else noted on his record until the 6th February 1916, but it is possible to follow his route.

Once the Division had gathered, they endured lengthy forced marches to Loos, for ‘The Big Push’ where they saw action on the 26th September, losing around 3,800 men. Further reading about the battle can be found here.

The next entry in Percy’s service record finds him in a military hospital back home in Newark, suffering from an inguinal hernia and septic sore throat. He remained in Newark from the 21st of February to the 26th of June 1916. During this time he overstayed his leave three times, again resulting in fines and confinement to barracks. On the 24th of June ‘when on active service disobeying in such manner as to show a wilful defiance of authority, a lawful command given personally by his superior officer in the execution of his office.’  That found him confined to barracks for fourteen days.

In July 1916 Percy rejoined his Unit where, fortunately for him, he had missed the Battle of Albert (part of the Somme offensive) and the Battle of Bazentine Ridge.

Between July 1916 and the next entry in Percy’s records in June 1917 he would have been involved in various battles in the Somme area. Firstly the Battle of Flers-Courcelette which saw the first use of tanks on the battlefield, Morval 25th to 28th September, and Le Transloy 1st to the 18th October 1916.

 

Battle of Flers-Courcelette. 21st September 1916.

Link to Part II
Link to Part III
Link to Part IV

Picture Credit: http://www.iwm.org.uk/collections/item/object/205078825