100 Years Ago
In early September, following the battle of Marne, the German forces retreated to the high ground on the north bank of the River Aisne. As they moved northward, the Germans were closely pursued by units of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) and their French allies. The 1st Wiltshires were stationed at the bridge at Vailly-sur-Aisne, where they formed one of several bridgeheads on the north bank of the river. The Allied intention was to advance north toward Laon, capture the heights, and force the German armies to continue their retreat. Allied commanders were unaware of the real strength of the enemy forces on the Chemin des Dames ridge, but it soon became clear that the German units had dug trenches, were supported by heavy artillery, and intended to stand and fight.
The Wiltshires held their position in trenches in uncomfortable circumstances for nine days. The weather was wet and cold and miserable; they were shelled regularly, and the regiment sustained heavy losses during this time.
After more than a week in the trenches, the battalion was relieved on 22nd September, and they marched to billets at Braine, where they refitted, reorganized and rested. Unfortunately the first casualty from our villages, Herbert Pinchin from Easterton, was mortally wounded on 22nd September in this battle.
Herbert John Pinchin
Herbert John was the son of Jane Pinchin, a widow from Easterton. Her husband William was a clerk, and the couple were married in 1870 when Jane was seventeen and William was thirty-one. They lived in Box, where they had two children. William died in 1875, leaving Jane and his children well provided for with an estate valued at £1000.
In 1881 Jane was living in Morris’s Lane, Devizes with her two children, and working as a laundress. What happened to reduce her circumstances is not known. She then gave birth to Herbert John Pinchin on 12th May 1882.
In 1885 Jane married William Smith, a road contractor and they lived in Church Street, Easterton where they had a son, George born in 1888.
Herbert went to school in Market Lavington and Easterton, and enlisted in the army in December 1898 when he was sixteen and a half years old. As a member of the 1st battalion Wiltshire Regiment, he served in the Boer War. In July 1914 he was promoted to Sergeant, and at the outbreak of WW1 he went to France, arriving there on 16th August 1914.
Herbert was wounded in the action on 22nd September, and was transported back to England where he was admitted to the Northern General Hospital in Newcastle-upon-Tyne. He died of his wounds there on 23rd October 1914. He was buried in Newcastle-upon-Tyne and is remembered on the Easterton war memorial.
Meanwhile the 2nd Battalion were on their way to England from Gibraltar, having boarded the SS Edinburgh Castle on 31st August. On 1st September their escort, HMS Minerva captured a merchant ship flying the Austrian-Hungary flag. The crew of 21 was taken off and put on the Edinburgh Castle. Minerva then sank the enemy ship.
On arrival in Southampton, the prisoners of war were handed over, and the battalion marched to Lyndhurst in the New Forest, where they remained until early October.