Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry (The 2/4th Battalion)

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1917, FEBRUARY 28th – BOMBARDMENT OF THE LINES AND THEN A GERMAN RAID

 Ablaincourt Sector

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

Morning and afternoon of the next day, February 28, were fine and ominously quiet. Excessive quietness was often no good sign. Presentiments could have been justified. At 4.15 p.m. a strong barrage of trench mortars and rifle grenades began to beat upon the front line, accompanied by heavy artillery fire against communication and support trenches and the back area. This sequel to the previous registration clearly indicated some form of attack by the enemy. The rhythmic pounding of the heavy howitzers, whose shells were arriving with the regular persistency of a barrage table, suggested that a long bombardment, probably until after dusk, was intended. Under such circumstances it was the part of the Company Commander to ‘stand to’ and await events with the utmost vigilance. This never meant that the men should be ordered out into the trenches and the fire-steps manned, for to do so would have invited heavy casualties and demoralised the garrison before the opportunity for active resistance had arrived. To keep look-out by sentries, to watch for any lifting in the barrage, and to maintain communication with H.Q. and with the flanks were the measures required. Otherwise, except to destroy maps and papers, there was nothing to do but wait, for only in the most clumsily organised shows did the other side know zero. On this occasion, at the moment the German raiding party came over, a patrol consisting of Corporal Coles and Timms had only just returned from D Company front line. They said that though the shelling was heavy immediately behind and on the flanks, the wire was intact and there was no sign of attack. At dusk, therefore, there was nothing save the heavy shelling to report to Cuthbert over my telephone, which by luck held until cut by German wire-cutters.

Within a few minutes, shouts and a few rifle shots were heard, and the next moment bombs were being thrown into my dug-out.

The lights went out and the interior became filled with fumes, groans, and confusion.

A German raiding party had penetrated C Company, seized the front line, which was a bare 80 yards from my H.Q., and, without touching my own front (which indeed was 200 yards distant and to the flank), had picketed my dug-out, and awaited their haul of prisoners.

Now, a bombed dug-out is the last word in ‘unhealthiness.’ It ranks next to a rammed submarine or burning aeroplane. For several minutes I awaited death or wounds with a degree of certainty no soldier ever felt in an attack. But in such emergencies instinct, which, more than the artificial training of the mind, asserts itself, arms human beings with a natural cunning for which civilization provides no scope. Life proverbially is not cheap to its owner.

That everyone inside was not killed instantly was due, no doubt, both to the sloping character of the stairs, which made some bombs explode before they reached the bottom, and to the small size of the bombs themselves. A gas bomb finished the German side of the argument. Hunt’s useful knowledge of German commenced the answer. We ‘surrendered.’ I went upstairs at once and saw three Germans almost at touching distance. In place of a docile prisoner they received four revolver shots, after which I left as soon as possible under a shower of bombs and liquid fire. Shortly afterwards, but too late to follow me, Hunt also came forth and found the enemy had vanished. Afterwards the Sergeant Major and Uzzell, sanitary lance-corporal, who on this occasion showed the genius of a field marshal, emerged and prevented the return of our late visitors.

After an hour’s struggle through mud and barrage I reached the two platoons in Trench Roumains, who (I mention this as a good paradox of trench discipline) were engaged in sock-changing and foot-rubbing according to time table! From there the counter-attack described in Sir Douglas Haig’s dispatch of March 1st was carried out. I fear this ‘counter-attack’ was better in his telling than in the doing, for the Germans had already decamped an hour before, taking with them Lieutenant Guildford and some 20 prisoners from C Company, several Lewis guns, and their own casualties.

Against a front line crowded with untried troops (I refer to the new draft of which the platoons holding C Company front line were principally composed) a well-planned raid powerfully pressed home under a severe box barrage and assisted by gas and liquid fire, was almost bound to succeed. The mud, strange trenches and weak artillery support were other factors for which allowance might have been made before such degree of blame was laid upon the Battalion as was seen fit for it to receive. The only cure for being raided is to raid back. That was happily done exactly two months later against the very regiment to which the German raiding party on this occasion belonged. Nor was it true that the enemy was not fought with. Some parties which attacked Brown’s front were, under the able example of that officer, driven off with Lewis guns, and D Company, whose loss in prisoners was nil, also maintained its front intact. Casualties were inflicted on the enemy, but these mostly regained their own lines or were carried back by stretcher parties. Our loss in killed that night amounted to some twenty. The story of this raid I should not have allowed to reach this length but for the fact that the affair created some stir at the time, and correspondence raged on the subject till long afterwards. Hunt, who was with me during the bombardment and the bombing of my H.Q., was not captured on emerging from the dug-out, but himself, some hour or more afterwards, while wandering among the blown-in trenches in an effort to follow me, entered a German listening post and became a prisoner. As a prisoner he was present at a German H.Q. when the details of an exactly similar raid upon a neighbouring division were being arranged; which raid proved for the enemy an equal success.

The aftermath of this fighting proved a trying experience. The dug-out to which I returned to spend the remainder of the tour was a shambles. The stairs were drenched with blood. Of my companions, Thompson, a signaller, Timms, Smith (Hunt’s servant, a fine lad) and Corporal Coles–one of the bravest and most devoted N.C.O.’s the Battalion ever had–were dead or died soon afterwards. Longford and Bugler Wright were severely wounded. Longley and Short had escaped before the first bombs exploded in the dug-out, but the remaining survivors, the Sergeant-Major, Lance Corporal Rowbotham, Roberts and myself were all partially gassed and hardly responsible for further action. Under these circumstances the task of carrying-on involved a strain, lessened, as always on such occasions, by management of everything for the best by Battalion Headquarters.

KILLED IN ACTION FEBRUARY 28th 1917

201534 Corporal Henry Coles

200453 Private Arthur Church

203732 Private Frank Dann (Formerly 20275, Hants Regt.)

203258 Private Alfred George Eno

202370 Private William Gibbons

200350 Private Edward Leach

200844 Private Walter Smith

202162 Private Trainton Thomas Whiting

Enemy bombardment of our lines very severe for 3 ½ hours, and at 6.15 p.m. they raided our trenches, penetrating the centre company front. A counter attack was organized, and the enemy driven out, but not before he had inflicted heavy casualties, as follows: Officers, wounded, 2nd Lieut. Constable; missing, 2nd Lieuts. Guildford and Hunt. Other ranks, killed 6, wounded 18, missing 19. 2nd Lieut. Guildford was captured, together with some 20 men of C Company, in a dug-out in a front line trench less than 100 yards from the enemy’s lines. 2nd Lieut. Hunt was with Captain Rose and D Company when their dug-out was raided. He was wounded by a bomb, losing a finger, but escaped from the dug-out, only, however, to walk into a German listening post and be taken prisoner.

Died of Wounds February 28th, 1917

2nd Lieutenant, Arthur Charles Fry

Fry died at the age of 24 at No. 5 Casualty Clearing Station in France of wounds received in action at Ablaincourt on 28 February 1917, and is buried at Bray Military Cemetery at Bray-sur-Somme (I.C.16). He was listed as dead in The Times of 7 March 1917.

1917, FEBRUARY 27th – UNDER ENEMY BOMBARDMENT FOR FOUR HOURS IN ABLAINCOURT TRENCHES

Ablaincourt Sector

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, by Captain G. K. Rose M.C. (Oxford: B.H. Blackwell, 1920)

On the morning of February 27 German howitzer batteries commenced some heavy shelling on the Battalion sector, especially on the communication trenches passing under the former French titles of B.C.4 and B.C.5. Working parties who were busy digging out mud from those trenches were compelled to desist. At 10 o’clock I heard that Fry, the commander of No. 16 Platoon, had been hit by shrapnel on his way from Company H.Q. to the Sucrerie. To get him to the nearest shelter (C Company H.Q.) was difficult through the mud, and uncomfortable enough with 5.9s coming down close to the trench, but the men, as always, played up splendidly to assist a comrade.

Soon afterwards, the doctor, in answer to a telephonic summons, appeared at my H.Q. On our way to reach Fry we were both knocked down in the trench by a 4.2, which also wounded Corporal Rockall in the shoulder-blade. I regret that Fry, though safely moved from the trenches the same night, had received a mortal wound. In him died a fine example of the platoon officer. He met his wound in the course of a trivial duty which, had I guessed that he would do it under heavy shelling, I should have forbidden him to undertake. His type of bravery, though it wears no decorations, is distinguished, more than all other, by the unwritten admiration of the Infantry.

During that night I had a peculiar and interesting task. It was to report on the condition of all roads leading through our front line across No-Man’s-Land. Mud, battle and frost had so combined to disguise all former roads and tracks, that to decide their whereabouts it was often necessary to follow them forward from behind by means of map and compass. Seen by pale moonlight, these derelict roads, in places pitted with huge craters or flanked by shattered trees, wore a mysterious charm. More eloquent of catastrophe than those thrown down by gale or struck by lightning are trees which shells have hit direct and sent, splintered, in headlong crash from the ranks of an avenue. If wood and earth could speak, what tales the sunken roads of France could find to tell!

The enemy bombarded our trenches for four hours. Casualties.

—  2nd Lieut. A. C. Fry mortally wounded (died next day) and 2 men wounded.

In 1916 Arthur Charles Fry was Fry was well enough to enter an Officers’ Training Battalion, from which he received a commission in the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, and went to France on 5 January 1917 as a Second Lieutenant in “D” Company of the 2nd/4th Battalion; a month later he was killed. A fellow officer described him thus:

During the short time he was in the line he did extremely well. His Company Commander told me that it was perfectly extraordinary how quick he took to everything, and he went so far as to say that he was the best Platoon Commander he had had … he was most popular with his Platoon … and an awfully keen soldier…. In the line he was awfully good and brave, did not care a rap for bullet or shell, and was always with his men if there was a bombardment on, walking about amongst them cracking jokes and cheering them on, and the men admired him and thought of him as a little god. It was a chance shell that hit him, and he lay for hours in an Officers’ dug-out before they could take him to the Field Ambulance and then to hospital, where he died on March 1st.

Corporal Herbert Edward (“Doctor”) Rockall

November 1916
“One night about this time a party of us, including Hunt and ‘Doctor’ Rockall, the medical corporal, who had accompanied me round the front posts, lost its way hopelessly in the dark.”

February 1917
“On our way to reach Fry we were both knocked down in the trench by a 4.2, which also wounded Corporal Rockall in the shoulder-blade.”

I’m 99% sure that it is Herbert E. Rockall mentioned above. As the document below gives details of him being wounded in action on 24th February 1917.

Second Lieutenant Arthur Charles Fry

From The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire Light Infantry, By Captain G. K. Rose, M.C.

“At 10 o’clock I heard that Fry, the commander of No. I6 Platoon, had been hit by shrapnel on his way from Company H.Q. to the Sucrerie. To get him to the nearest shelter (C Company H.Q.) was difficult through the mud, and uncomfortable enough with 5.9s coming down close to the trench, but the men, as always, played up splendidly to assist a comrade. Soon afterwards, the doctor, in answer to a telephonic summons, appeared at my H.Q. On our way to reach Fry we were both knocked down in the trench by a 4″‘, which also wounded Corporal Rockall in the shoulder-blade. I regret that Fry, though safely moved from the trenches the same night, had received a mortal wound. In him died a fine example of the platoon officer. He met his wound in the course of a trivial duty which, had I guessed that he would do it under heavy shelling, I should have forbidden him to undertake. His type of
bravery, though it wears no decorations, is distinguished, more than all other, by the unwritten admiration of the Infantry.”

From: First World War in Headington & Marston Roll of Honour of St Andrew’s Church, Old Headington

Arthur Charles Fry was born at Tonbridge in 1892. He was the son of John Fry (born in Maidstone in the third quarter of 1867) and Annie Florence Dawes (born in Canterbury in c.1865). His parents were married in the Tonbridge Registration District in the first quarter of 1892 and had the following three sons:

* Arthur Charles Fry (born in Tonbridge on 6 November 1892)
* Bertram H. Jesse Fry (born in Tonbridge in the third quarter of 1894)
* John Eric Donald Fry (born in Horsemonden in the second quarter of 1900).

In 1891 Arthur’s father was a general smith and living with his wife at 52 Broad Street Canterbury. The family evidently soon moved to Tonbridge, and then on to Horsemonden by 1899. At the time of the 1901 census, when family lived near Horsemonden station, Arthur’s father described himself as a mechanical engineer.

In 1911 the family were living in Gillingham (at 216 Windmill Road), but Arthur (18) was then at Derby School, and living in Derby as the ward of Wilfred Ryan Johnson (39), a Clerk in Holy Orders.

On 14 October 1911 Fry matriculated at the University of Oxford from Hertford College. The Undergraduate Register records that he passed Responsions (preliminary examinations for entry) in Trinity Term 1911. He went on to pass examinations in Holy Scripture (then compulsory) in Michaelmas Term 1912 and Greek and Latin in Hilary Term 1913. In Trinity Term 1914 he passed examinations in the following “groups” of the Final Pass School: A1 (two books, either both Greek, or one Greek and one Latin) and C1 (The Elements of Algebra and Geometrical Trigonometry).

Poppy About six weeks after the start of the First World War, Fry gave up his studies to join the army. He commenced service on 19 September 1914, serving in the ranks of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. Shortly after joining up, in the last quarter of 1914, he married Lucy Elizabeth Empson (born in the Faringdon Registration District in the third quarter of 1876) in the Epsom Registration District. He was 22, and she was sixteen years his senior. They do not appear to have had any children.

Fry may have come back to England from the war in need of recuperation, because Kelly’s Directory for 1916/17 (presumably published at the end of 1915) lists “A. F. Fry” as the gardener of Miss Davenport of Davenport House. He and his wife were living in the cottage that is now in the grounds of Headington School beside Headley Way, but was then in a quieter setting next to the Boundary Brook. It was presumably Fry, with his Kentish roots, who named it Bromley Cottage; but it was later known as The Boundary Cottage. It seems likely that he was a friend of Miss Davenport’s brother, Major Hugh Davenport, who was a Major in his battalion and also an Oxford man.

Under the War Decree (1) of 8 February 1916 Fry was exempted from further examinations. This decree appears in the University Gazette No.1483 Vol. XLVI. It states that “any member of the University who shall have been absent on Military Service and who at the termination of the period of his Military Service, or after he has been absent on such Service for not less than four Terms, shall either have kept or, … be deemed to have kept, twelve Terms by residence, and who shall be statutably qualified to the Examination in any Final Honour School, shall be permitted to supplicate for the Degree of Bachelor of Arts without passing any further Examinations, provided that he shall have paid the fee of three pounds in addition to the fees payable under the provisions of the Statutes.” Hence the degree of BA was conferred on Arthur Fry at a ceremony in Oxford on 8 July 1916.

Poppy Arthur Fry went back to fight as a Second Lieutenant in “D” Company of the 2nd/4th Battalion of the Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry. He died in France at the age of 24 of wounds received in action at Ablaincourt on 28 February 1917, and is buried at Bray Military Cemetery at Bray-sur-Somme (I.C.16). He is listed on the roll of honour of St Andrew’s Church in Old Headington.
After the War

Arthur’s widow, Mrs Lucy Elizabeth Fry, continued to live at The Boundary Cottage after her husband’s death. The whole Davenport estate running along the north side of the Headington Road was sold to Headington School in 1920, but the school evidently allowed Mrs Fry to continue to rent the house, as she was still listed there in the 1947 Kelly’s Directory.

Name: FRY, ARTHUR CHARLES
Initials: A C
Nationality: United Kingdom
Rank: Second Lieutenant
Regiment/Service: Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry
Unit Text: “D” Coy. 2nd/4th Bn.
Age: 24
Date of Death: 28/02/1917
Additional information: Son of John and Anna Fry; husband of Lucy Elizabeth Fry, of The Boundary Cottage, Headington Hill, Oxford. Graduate of Hertford College, Oxford.
Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead
Grave/Memorial Reference: II. C. 16.
Cemetery: BRAY MILITARY CEMETERY

General Directions: Bray-sur-Somme is a village about 9 kilometres south-east of Albert. Bray Military Cemetery is north of the village, a little west of the road to Maricourt.

The cemetery was begun in April 1916 by fighting units and field ambulances. In September 1916, the front line having been pushed further east, it was used by the XIV Corps Main Dressing Station and in 1917, the 5th, 38th and 48th Casualty Clearing Stations came forward and used it.

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