As this Sunday is Remembrance Sunday I wanted to complete my tributes to my great uncles who died in WW1. I wrote about the eldest, Edward, in The Last Hundred Days
and the middle one, George, in Dulce Et Decorum Est
. Now it's the turn of Arthur, the youngest of the three but the first to lose his life in April 1916 at the age of twenty-one. Tragically, George was to die only five months later on the Somme in September of that year, two days after his twenty-third birthday. The family's relief that Edward had survived the war was shortlived, as he succumbed to pneumonia following Spanish Influenza, whilst still in France, in February 1919. The only boy left was little Charlie. In between were my Gran, Edith, the eldest girl, and four other older sisters; Ethel, Ellen, Mary and Mildred. Louisa, the baby of the family, was born in 1914. As you can imagine it really was a case of 'Charlie is my Darling' for the one remaining boy.When my grandparents produced Billy, the first grandchild, just four months after Edward's death, there would have been much family rejoicing.
I've called Arthur the unknown soldier, simply because the family knows so very little about him. In my previous posts I described how my Gran would talk about her beloved older brothers, but as I was a child myself I didn't retain any information about them as individuals. If you read the other two posts you'll recall that many years ago, whilst stationed with the RAF in Germany, we visited the WW1 battlefields. At that time I tried to find out as much as I could without the benefit of modern sources available on the internet. All my enquiries were made the old-fashioned way, writing many letters and waiting patiently for replies. Arthur remains something of a mystery as we have so far not been able to add much more to what I gleaned then. He is listed in the 1911 census but there is no other information. The Commonwealth War Graves Commission, writing to me in March 1984, confirmed that:
"Private Arthur Brandon, 17373, 8th Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, died on 19th April 1916. After the war his grave was among those The Army Graves Service were unable to trace and he is therefore commemorated, by name, on the Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial, Belgium.The names of the men of the Bedfordshire Regiment are carved on Panels 31 and 33. We also have the additional information that he was born, enlisted. whilst living at the time in Watford, Hertfordshire."
The Imperial War Museum in London wrote to confirm that Arthur's name was in the offical publication: 'Soldiers Died in the Great War' and kindly photocopied a few pages for me of a brief unpublished typescript, the War Diary of 8th (Service) Battalion Bedfordshire Regiment, 21st August 1915-16th February 1918, outlining operations on which the battalion was involved.
"As you see the diary reports no soldiers killed in action on 19 April, and it should be noted that inaccuries or delays in reporting men killed or missing were not uncommon. 8 Battalion was serving with 16 Brigade, 6 Division at the time of Brandon's death."
The Imperial War Museum told me that 8 Division was serving with 16 Brigade, 6 Division at the time of Arthur's death and recommended 'A Short History of the 6th Division' by T.O.Marden (1920). I was unable to obtain this in 1984, but now, thanks to the wonderful Project Gutenberg, I found it immediately. In his preface Marden stated that the reason for the book's publication was all who served with the Division would have a record to show that they belonged to a Division which played no inconspicuous part in the Great War. Every copy sold was to help provide battlefield memorials in France and Flanders. Here is the passage which adds a little more detail to war diaries above.
"....operations near Turco Farm and Morteldje Estaminet on 19th-22nd April 1916. Certain trenches, D20 and 21 and Willow Walk, were much overlooked by High Command Redoubt, some 150 yards away. The Germans throughout the 19th April heavily bombarded these trenches, and succeeded in seizing them at night. One company 8th Bedfords and two companies Y. and L*. delivered a counter-attack in the early hours of 20th April, but could not retake the position. The Brigadier-General therefore decided to bombard them steadily throughout the 21st, and recapture them on the night 21st/22nd April with three companies of the K.S.L.I., then in Brigade Reserve. This was brilliantly accomplished in spite of the very heavy going, and the line firmly re-established, but with the loss of Lt.-Col. Luard, commanding K.S.L.I.,** who died of wounds. It was found that the enemy had dug good new trenches in several places, and equipped them with steel loop-hole plates, and these were occupied thankfully by our men. The general state of the trenches, commanded as they were by the enemy's positions, in the water-logged Ypres Salient during the winter of 1915-1916 defies description, and all praise must be given to the regimental officers and men for their hard work and cheerfulness under most depressing conditions.
* York and Lancaster
** The King's Shropshire Light Infantry
Was Arthur the one OR (Other Rank) killed on the 18th or was he one of the two wounded on the 19th and subsequently died of his wounds. Perhaps he was one of the 32 who died in the early hours of the 20th or of the 97 'missing, believed killed' which usually meant they were blown to pieces and there were no identifiable mortal remains. It was a day of significant losses. After heavy bombardment the Germans attacked and gained a footing in three of the trenches. The following day these were re-taken and consolidated, which highlights the utter pointlessness of trench warfare. Throughout the war this was repeated on a much larger scale where small advances would be made at unimaginable cost to human life, only to be lost again within weeks, sometimes days.
Our visit to Ypres was memorable in many ways but the highlight was locating Arthur's name on the Menin Gate war memorial. That evening we stood in silent and respectful contemplation as the traffic along the Menin Road came to a halt and the Last Post was sounded
by members of the local voluntary Fire Service. This takes place every evening at 8.00 p.m. and is extremely moving. Many examples of the ceremony can be viewed on YouTube.
We who are left, how shall we look again
Happily on the sun, or feel the rain,
Without remembering they who went
Ungrudgingly, and spent
Their all for us, loved too the sun and rain?
A bird among the rain-wet lilac sings -
But we, how shall we turn to little things,
And listen to the birds and winds and streams
Made holy by their dreams,
Nor feel the heart-break in the heart of things?
Wilfred Gibson, 'Lament'