100 Years Ago

January 1915 by Lyn Dyson

The 1st Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment spent the whole of January 1915 in the trenches Kemmel, Belgium, with regular periods of rest in Locre. The pattern was to spend  four days and nights in the trenches, followed by about four nights of rest. Although there was regular shelling from the enemy, and several men were killed, it was generally considered to be a quiet time. The weather was bad, and the trenches became very wet. Pumps were used to try and control the amount of water in the trenches. Men in the front line trenches during the day were generally relieved during the night. It was found that if they didn’t do this, there was an increased amount of sickness amongst the troops.

The billets for the rest days were about three quarters of a mile behind the front line. When resting every effort was made to keep the men fit. They had hot baths and clean washing when possible; they did short route marches, fatigues work and had some classes of instruction.

Even during this relatively quiet period, during January the battalion lost 18 men killed and 16 wounded. The worst day was 23rd January when they suffered heavy shell fire, the trenches were damaged, and eight men, including William Plank were killed.

Meanwhile the 2nd battalion was in the trenches at Fleurbaix, in France. There was a lot of sickness amongst the men, mainly from the recent volunteers of Kitchener’s army. The regular soldiers and reservists were said to stand up to the hardships of trench warfare with greater fortitude and even cheerfulness. Here too the trenches were in poor condition, with the men constantly working pumps to try to keep the water out. At times there was up to four feet of water. Towards the end of the month, conditions improved with the use of wooden platforms built by the Pioneers.

The 2nd Battalion followed a pattern of up to a week in the trenches followed by four days’ rest. A Divisional Football League was drawn up and the battalion played their first match, against RAMC, on 28th January. They lost by seven goals to one.  In the evening, the battalion put on a concert which was described as fairly successful, and some talented performers were noted for future reference.

William Plank killed in action 23rd January 1915

William was born about 1882 in Lavington (which one?), the son of William Plank, a farm carter born in Rushall, and Mary Anne who came from Urchfont. William was the oldest of six children.

The family was quite mobile, spending time in Etchilhampton, and South Wales before settling in Rowde.

In 1907 William was working as an agricultural labourer for D W Butler in Rowde. The family was living at Rowdeford Farm Cottages. At this time William enlisted in the 3rd battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment, but his period of service lasted only twenty five days as he bought himself out for the sum of £1. He was given a good character reference.

William joined Kitchener’s army and arrived on the Western Front on 4th January 1915, where he joined the 1st battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment at Kemmel in Belgium. The battalion was already well ensconced in the trenches, with periods of respite during which the fusiliers took up their positions.

Following one such rest period in Locre from 16th to 19th January, the men marched back the two miles to the trenches on 20th January. It was reported that the trenches were in a shocking state when they took them over from the 5th fusiliers.

Over the next few days they suffered heavy shelling and on 23rd January the trenches were hit by shellfire from 6” Howitzers at 12 noon and 4pm. Throughout the night there was continuous rifle fire. On this day the battalion lost eight men killed and four wounded. William Plank was one of those killed in action.

William was buried at the Wytschaete Military Cemetery and is remembered on the war memorials at All Cannings and Rowde.

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2 Responses to “100 Years Ago”

  1. Amanda Says:

    My father was named Kemmel after the battle for Kemmel where his father, Andrew John Poolman fought and was wounded and his uncle, Herbert Poolman was killed. Andrew John Poolman married Harriet Rose Polden in Market Lavington on 4th August 1914 and my father Jacob John Kemmel Poolman (known as Kem) was born there in 1918.

    From Amanda

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