May 1915

100 Years Ago by Lyn Dyson

Throughout May the 1st Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment remained at Dickebusche, Belgium, taking their turn in the trenches at Elzenwalle. It was relatively quiet, although German aeroplanes were becoming more active. The men were spending a bit longer in the trenches, spending 10 days in one stretch, followed by 3 days rest in billets.

The 2nd Battalion started the month in Strazeele, France and were back in the trenches at Picintin on 6th May. William Smith of Market Lavington was recorded killed in action on that day, although the war diary records that nothing unusual happened.

The battalion left the trenches at 11pm on 10th May and marched to Letouret, arriving there at 3am on 11th. They bivouacked there and for the next few nights they formed large fatigue parties to dig support trenches.

At midnight on 16th May the battalion was involved in an attack at Rue De L’Epinette. They took over some German trenches, encountering little opposition. However on the following day the battalion received instructions to push forward, which they did, and became involved in a heavy attack upon the enemy. The trenches were found to be in poor condition and not bullet proof. The Commanding officer stood on top of the parapet to reconnoitre but was knocked down by a high explosive shell which landed within three yards of him. Apart from being shaken he suffered no damage, although they had to dig out three men nearby, who were buried by it.

Reinforcements arrived and the trenches became overcrowded, and some of the ditches were filled with water. On the following day the whole area occupied by the Battalion was heavily shelled with all varieties of high explosives and shrapnel in bursts of approximately 1/2 an hour, with a heavy shell about every 8 or 9 seconds. Troops which had advanced the previous day came back (without arms or equipment) using the wet ditches as cover, in which they were often up to their necks in water. The whole battalion then retired. It seems likely that Frederick Giddings of Market Lavington received his wounds during this heavy battle.

The battalion continued to suffer heavy shelling with a variety of high explosives and shrapnel in bursts of approximately half an hour, with a heavy shell burst every 8 or 9 seconds. On 19th May they were subjected to an even heavier bombardment, but they had the benefit of 2000 additional sandbags which made the trenches safer. At 11pm that night the battalion was relieved, and they rendezvoused at Letouret. The men were by this time totally exhausted, wet through, covered in mud and with rifles that would not work because of the heavy rain, and the water logged ditches they had been through.

Over the next few days the battalion was re-equipped, received re-inforcements and on 31st May they marched to new billets at Robecq. During the action at Rue De L’Epinette the battalion had lost one officer and nineteen men killed; two died of wounds; one hundred and twenty six were wounded; and eleven were missing.

May 1915

Henry Ashfield Carlisle killed in action 2nd May 1915

Henry was born in in 1895 in Fribley, Buckinghamshire, the son of Henry Carlisle, a wall paper manufacturer, and his wife Isabel. He had a younger sister, Maud.

He grew up in comfortable circumstances at Danebury House, Loudwater, Buckinghamshire where the family had a cook, a parlour maid and a nurse living in the household. However Henry and Maud were orphans in their early teenage years and they went to live with their uncle, Gilbert King, at the Vicarage in Easterton.

Henry was educated at Denstone College, Uttoxeter, and after leaving school he went to Ceylon. At the outbreak of war, he enlisted in the Ceylon Planters Rifle Corps which raised a force of eight officers and 229 other ranks and sailed to Port Said, Egypt on October 27th 1914 on the SS Worcestershire.. The unit was initially deployed in defence of the Suez Canalwas later transferred to the Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) .

The CPRC contingent landed on the Gallipoli Peninsula between April 25 and May 1, 1915 at the Ari Burnu beach-head, later known as Anzac Cove. They provided bodyguards to ANZAC headquarter staff, including the General Officer Commanding ANZAC, Lieutenant General William Birdwood, who remarked, “I have an excellent guard of Ceylon Planters who are such a nice lot of fellows.”

The battle ground at Anzac Cove was very restricted, and there were no areas safe from Turkish attack.

The CPRC lost three men at Anzac Cove, and Henry was one of them. It is understood that he was shot while trying to save a wounded comrade. He is remembered on a memorial at St Barnabas Church, Easterton, where his uncle, Gilbert King, was the vicar.

William Harold Smith killed in action 6th May 1915

William was born in Market Lavington in 1895, the third son of Samuel Smith, a shepherd, and his wife, Mary. They had ten children, all of them surviving. In 1911 the family was living in Little Cheverell where William was working as a labourer.

William joined the 2nd battalion of the Wiltshire regiment, and arrived in France on 17th February 1915. On 5th May the battalion took over some old trenches at Picintin, north of Neuve Chapelle, in France.  The war diaries indicate that nothing unusual happened on 6th May, but on that day William was killed in action. Nothing further is known about the circumstances.

William was buried at the Rue du Bois Military Cemetery in Fleurbaix.

Arthur John Hartland Lancaster 10th May 1915

Arthur Lancaster was born in 1890 in Great Cheverell, the son of John Lancaster and his wife Maria. John worked as a farm labourer. Maria was a widow when she married John Lancaster, so Arthur grew up with five half brothers and sisters who were considerably older than he was.

Arthur enlisted in the Rifle Brigade when he was eighteen years of age in 1908. He was posted to the 4th battalion of the Rifle Brigade in May 1909, and he served in Cairo from 1910 and in Dagshai, India from February 1913. The battalion sailed from Bombay India in August 1914, and landed at Devonport on 18th November 1914. They moved to Winchester  and ultimately landed at Le Havre on 21st December 1914.

Arthur was promoted to acting corporal in 1913, to corporal in October 1914, and to Sergeant on 29th March 1913.

There is one offence on his conduct sheet. This was in April 1910 whilst serving in Cairo. He made an improper reply to a NCO and as a result he was confined to barracks for eight days from 26th April 1910 to 2nd May 1910.

In March 1915 the unit was involved in a battle at St Eloi, close to Ypres when the trenches and the village were attacked with very heavy cannonade and a landmine, and the Germans were able to take over the positions. A counter attack followed at 2am and the positions were regained. The 4th Rifle brigade earned a special commendation from the Army commander for their gallantry.

The unit was then engaged in the second battle of Ypres at Frezenberg Ridge between 8th and 13th May.

At 5.30am on 8 May a violent German artillery bombardment began on the British lines causing massive destruction – especially in vulnerable trenches on the forward slopes of the Ridge. The subsequent German infantry assault was repelled by the surviving British battalions. A second German thrust on the ridge was held but a third assault at 10am, forced the remaining defenders to fall back. Tenacious defence, hastily improvised counter-attacks and a crucial night advance of 10th Brigade restored a precarious situation.

There were further attacks over the next few days, but the Germans made no significant breakthrough. On 13 May, a day of ceaseless rain and shelling, the trenches were a quagmire and six days of intense fighting yielded German gains of around 1,000 yards of front between Hooge and Mouse Trap Farm but at such high cost in casualties that offensive operations were halted.

It was during this battle that Arthur lost his life on 10th May 1915.

Frederick Giddings 19th May 1915

Frederick was born in Devizes around 1894, the son of market gardener Thomas Giddings and his wife Mary Jane. The family was living at Windmill Sand, Market Lavington in 1901.

Frederick was living with his older brother Hubert in Market Lavington in 1911. Frederick was working as an agricultural labourer.

He enlisted into the 2nd Battalion of the Wiltshire Regiment and joined them in France on 7th October 1914. This early start date , along with his rank of corporal  means he was a serving soldier before the start of the war. His medal index card shows he was living in Alnwick, Northumberland before enlisting.

Frederick died of wounds on 19th May 1915 at Bethune in France. In the days prior to his death the battalion was involved in heavy action in the trenches at Rue de L’Epinette.

The battalion arrived in the trenches at L’Epinette on 15th May and from midnight they were subject to constant enemy shells. The next day the battalion received instructions to push forward, which they did, and became involved in a heavy attack upon the enemy. The trenches were found to be in poor condition and not bullet proof. The Commanding officer stood on top of the parapet to reconnoitre but was knocked down by a high explosive shell which landed within three yards of him. Apart from being shaken he suffered no damage, although they had to dig out three men nearby, who were buried by it.

Reinforcements arrived and the trenches became overcrowded, and some of the ditches were filled with water. On the following day the whole area occupied by the Battalion was heavily shelled with all varieties of high explosives and shrapnel in bursts of approximately 1/2 an hour, with a heavy shell about every 8 or 9 seconds. Troops which had advanced the previous day came back (without arms or equipment) using the wet ditches as cover, in which they were often up to their necks in water. The whole battalion then retired. It seems likely that Frederick received his wounds during this heavy battle.

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