Bertie was a resident of the New Town Area of Bishops Stortford in Herfordshire. As its name suggests, New Town was a largely Victorian expansion on the high ground to the south of the old market town. Many of the soldiers who appear on the town’s Roll of Honour lived in the close knit streets of the New Town area. In the 1911 census the family could be found residing at 12 Middle Row. Bertie, then a 23 year old farm labourer, lived with his Mother and Father, John and Mary Ann and brother John Frederick. Middle Way can be seen from my front window. In the present day it is much changed following the construction of the Oak Street sheltered housing development and most of the houses that could be seen at the turn of the last century are long gone.
Bertie enlisted with the Bedfordshire Regiment but was transferred to the 1st Battalion Dorsetshire Regiment with whom he was serving at the time that he was killed.
In August 1918 the tide of the war was turning in the Allies favour. The German Spring Offensive or ‘The Kaiser’s Battle’, a last ditch effort to smash through the Allied lines on the Western Front, before full deployment of the newly arriving US forces, had faltered. The Germans fell back to positions of defence, their morale battered with the realisation that a turning point in the war had been reached. Conversely, the Allies morale was greatly buoyed as all territory lost in the Spring Offensive was now retaken.
The beginning of August 1918 saw the 1st Dorsets as a fighting unit of 14th Brigade of the 32nd Division attached to the Canadian Corps of the 4th Army. The Dorsets were to participate in the Battle of Amiens, a concerted effort of British, Australian, Canadian and French forces, that was a prelude to what became known as the ‘One Hundred Day Offensive’, a series of actions that brought about a continued Allied advance and an end to The Great War.
· “D” Company was ordered to assemble in the British Front Line and capture the Bois Damery.
The remaining three Companies were ordered to assemble behind the ridge at Le Quesnoy.
· “C” Company were ordered to attack Damery Villagefrontally.
· “A” Company were ordered to attack from the North west.
· “B” Company were ordered to push through Bois Milieu (also known and visible on map below as Payen Wood) and establish communication with 5/6th Royal Scots in the wood.
The plan was that on the left flank of the Brigade front the 5/6th Royal Scots would attack the village of Parvillers and in so doing join up with “B” Company of the 1st Dorsets. On the Brigade right flank lay the 4th Army boundary with the French 126th Division. 14th Bridage's third battalion, the 15th Highland Light Infantry (H.L.I.) were held in reserve for the initial stages of the attack. Like the Dorsets, the Royal Scots also had all four Companies in the line.
At 0920, Company Commanders were informed of their respective objectives by the Commanding Officer of the Battalion, Lieutenant Colonel H.D. Thwaytes. The barrage heralding the start of the assault began its terrible roar at 0930 hours as men poured over the parapet.
No sooner had the first man gone over the top, the Dorsets were hit by very heavy machine gun fire coming from the direction of Parvillers. There was no creeping barrage behind which the Brigade could advance nor were the guns accurately ranged on the German front line, rather the hastily drawn up fire plan had the guns ranged at 500 yards ahead of the infantry and as such the German gunners were unaffected by the shells that fell a comfortable distance to their rear. Likewise, an anti-tank gun hidden and unmolested in a cornfield was able to account for six of the eight tanks available to support the Brigade attack.
“D” Company (Objective Bios Damery) on finding the Bois en Equerre was occupied by Lancashire Fusiliers pushed on towards Damery village and were within 200 yards of it when the barrage lifted at 1032 hours. The enemy could be seen to be running away from the wood. Some minutes later the two surviving tanks emerged from Bois en Equerre and were able to get “D” Company to within 100 yards of the village, but then the advance faltered in the face of machine gun fire from the flanks, most notably coming from Bois en Z which was located on the Amiens to Roye south of Damery village (that road can be seen in the bottom left corner of the contemporary map and more clearly in the aerial shot). The Company consolidated their position before sending patrols into the village. This patrolling resulted in the capture of a heavy machine gun and four prisoners. Later the Germans brought up machine guns to an area South West of the village for a counter attack on the French positions but with “D” Company involvement, since they were on the French left flank, this counter attack was repulsed by Lewis gun and rifle fire.
“C” Company advanced towards the village from Bois Sud (seen in the centre of the map). As a result of the stalled advance of the Royal Scots units on the left flank, machine gunners located in the Parvillers area were able to good pay attention to the Dorset formations further to the right. “C” Company were terribly mauled with all bar one officer becoming casualties. The one remaining officer left standing lost direction and took his men off in the direction of Bois Milieu (Payen Wood). In all “C” Company suffered 100 casualties such that those men still able to fight joined “A” and “B” Companies.
“A” Company advanced to the right of Bois Milieu without taking too many casualties until they cleared the wire after which it became necessary to reinforce with the two platoons in reserve and reorganise as two platoons. Heavy enemy fire spewed out of Bois Milieu such that “A” Company were forced to consolidate a trench approximately 100 yards west of the wood. Lewis guns protected the flanks of the position. Artillery support was called down onto the right of the wood but shells rained down on the village instead. An opportunity to capture the wood was thus lost.
“B” Company cleared the barbed wire without significant loss and reached Bios Milieu but were there caught by machine gun fire primarily coming from the direction of Parvillers. The losses were great.
Night fell and the Battalion was relieved at 0600 hours on 12th August upon which they bivouacked at Beaucourt.
The losses suffered that day by the Battalion were heavy:Officers killed: 7
Officers wounded: 7
Wounded (Gas): 1
It is not possible to say whether Bertie was one of those originally recorded 26 fatalities since the CWGC includes a total of 86 deaths on 11th August, so clearly many of the missing were later confirmed to have been killed in action.
Included in the Regimental War Diary are the following letters of thanks written by the Divisional and Brigade Generals respectively.
32nd D. W. No GS 1857/3/4
Addressed all branches of the Division.
On conclusion of the first phase of the operation in which the Division had taken part during the past four days, the Divisional Commander wishes to thank all ranks for the energy, endurance and courage shown both in the approach march to the battle front and in the two days hard fighting which followed.
The Corp Commander Canadian Corps has expressed his appreciation of the gallantry shown by all ranks in the difficult task that was given them. The fact that the strongly entrenched and heavily wired position was reached and entered all along the line and was broken through on at least half of the Divisional front may well be remembered with pride by all ranks of the Division.
The rapidity with which the artillery was brought up and the boldness with which it was handled in action deserves the highest praise.
The collection and evacuation of the wounded was admirably carried out by the medical services and stretcher bearers.
The work done by all branches of transport during the long marches and during the operation contributed largely to the success of the Division.
I wish to express my admiration of the gallantry and devotion to duty shown by the 5/6th Royal Scots, 1st Dorset Regt and “A” Coy 32nd Btn M.G.C. in the attack on the 11th.
No time was available for reconnaissance, the frontage of the attack was wide, and in view of the recent rapid advance, the ammunition supply limited. The strength with which the position would be held could not be foretold, but the advantages to be gained by immediate attack were that a large force of the enemy were in danger of being completely surrounded and the gaining of the ridges overlooking ROYE would probably have affected this.
Although this object was not achieved the result achieved was one to be proud of. The 14th Brigade attacking on a wide front drove the enemy heavily reinforced with machine guns back out of a considerable slice of carefully organised defences and handed over intact to another Division a footing in the enemy defences clear of the thick wire of the old ‘No Man’s Land.'
This result will materially achieve future operations.
The loss of many valuable lives is deeply to be regretted but they have not been lost without result.
The 5/6th Royal Scots, 1st Dorset Regt and “A” Coy 32nd Btn M.G.C. have good cause for pride in the action fought on the 11th August and the admiration of those of us in the Brigade who took no active share in the fighting is both deep and sincere.
High praise indeed, but without postulating the lions lead by donkeys idea, there followed a more sober appraisal of the fate of the 1st Dorsets on 11th August 1918 from the pen of the Battalion's Commanding Officer Colonel Thwates:
"Looking back on this engagement I cannot emphasise too strongly the lack of definite information and the haste with which all plans had to be made. The only real chance of success was to have advanced under cover of darkness. As it was, from the moment the Battalion left their starting position they were visible and subject to intense, aimed, machine gun fire".
Planning in this operation was clearly deficient. Zero hour shifted three times from 0400 (in darkness) to 0700 and then to 0930 (broad daylight) to accommodate the tank support, which in the event was very ineffectual.
Communication of these changes with the French was missed to the extent that the French attack that commenced at 0700 hours lacked support from the British 4th Army flank. By the same token, given this fact, the French failure left the later British attack open to machine gun fire from positions within Bois Z that may otherwise have been eliminated had better coordination of the attack prevailed. Perhaps most damning of all was the fact that the initial artillery barrage was targeted on the old German trenchline of 1916 rather than the closer French 2016 (Battle of The Somme) trenches that the Germans were occupying on 11th August 1918.
I cannot say for certain where exactly Bertie fell but as Battalion fronts were fairly limited it would have been within two or three kilometres only of Damery village.
Bertie lies in Bouchoir New British Cemetery (Plot VIE.23) on the modern day D936 Amiens to Roye Road, itself a mere four kilometres from Damery.
His headstone bears the epitaph:
‘GONE BUT NOT FORGOTTEN BY HIS EVERLOVING MOTHER R.I.P.’
Mary Ann Osborne was recorded at the time to be living at 31, Castle Street, again not more than two minute walk from my front door.
A modern day aerial shot of the 1st Dorset starting point clearly still shows the shape of the front line compared with the map above. Here, Parvillers and Damery are clearly seen.