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

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1917, APRIL 28th – RAID NEAR ST QUENTIN BY THE 2/4th OXFORDS

By G. K. Rose

By G. K. Rose

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

At this point I must explain for the benefit of lay readers the difference between a raid and an attack. The purpose of the latter was to drive the enemy from ground he occupied and stay there. Early attacks upon the Western Front were usually directed against trenches, of which successive lines, reaching to a distance or ‘depth’ of several thousand yards, were often our goal or ‘objective.’ So that our Infantry could enter hostile trenches it was invariably necessary to destroy the wire in front or make a pathway through it. Many attacks failed because the wire had not been cut. Before the days of Tanks the means employed consisted, broadly speaking, in artillery fire, which it was also hoped would put the enemy’s machine-guns out of action and frighten his garrison. Our Infantry advanced immediately this fire had ceased or ‘lifted’ to the next objective. During the Battle of the Somme it was found that the enemy often left his actual trenches and came forward into shell-holes in No-Man’s-Land so as to escape the fire of our artillery. To counter this manoeuvre the ‘creeping barrage’ was devised. Our shells were fired so as to form a moving curtain of destruction immediately in front of our men in their advance, whilst at the same time the enemy’s trenches were bombarded. Attacks on any scale were planned to capture and hold against the enemy some ridge, by losing which he lost observation of our lines, while we, in gaining it, saw more of his and also were enabled to advance our guns.

The purpose of a raid was to penetrate a portion of the enemy’s front, to kill or capture as many Germans as possible, and then retire. Raids differed materially from attacks in this respect, that no attempt was made in the former to hold the ground won longer than was necessary to satisfy the plan. Raids were usually supported by artillery and took place at night; but daylight raids, though less common or successful, were sometimes made, and ‘silent raids,’ when no artillery was used, were also tried.

This explanation, dull to military readers, will serve to indicate what operation I was now about to undertake. The scheme, of which the General and his Brigade Major were the authors, was to pass a body of men through a gap in the unoccupied portion of the German trenches opposite Fayet, deploy, and sweep sideways against some other trenches, thought to be held, and through several copses which Bucks patrols had pronounced weakly garrisoned by the enemy. These copses, which were expected to yield a few handfuls of runaway boys in German uniform, would be attacked by us in flank and rear at the same time. The scheme promised well, but the proposed manner of retirement, which would be in daylight and across nearly a mile of open ground, presented difficulties. The more to overcome them and to be fresh for the event, D Company and the platoons of C selected for the task were to stay in the sunken road north of Fayet, while A and B Companies went to garrison the outpost line……..

The Raid on August 28th

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

At 1 a.m. I roused the men, some 150 all told, and the responsible task of issuing the bombs, wire-cutters, and other things commenced. All these, invoiced with excellent precision by the Brigade Major, Moore, had been carried up by the Berks. The shelling rarely ceased, and I owed everything on this occasion to Corporal Leatherbarrow, who showed not only steadfast bravery but skill. The platoons could not, on account of the shells which sometimes fell in the roadway itself, be paraded, and each received its share of bombs piecemeal by sections. Food, to supplement which I did not scruple to issue some of the next day’s rations, was partaken of at 2 a.m., but it took long, and half an hour later the whole party should have started upon its journey across the mile of open fields to reach the assembly post. Disposal of the bombs, the meal, and those many last attentions which breed delay had taken longer than I had allowed. Time was getting very short. I wanted to dodge the shelling, but had missed a quiet interval that occurred at 2.30 a.m. At 3 a.m. I moved, leading the party in a long column over the open ground north of Fayet to reach its eastern side. The inevitable ‘wire mats,’ an encumbrance without which few raiding parties ever started, hampered the progress. It was a pitch dark night, nor was I certain of the way. To cover the mile and then pass 150 men, ignorant of their whereabouts, silently and in single file through a gap into No-Man’s-Land ere dawn broke and our bombardment started now seemed impossible. It was a serious quandary. To go on might be to compromise not only the operation, but the lives of 150 men, who would be discovered in daylight and in the open near the enemy. But to go back was to jeopardise the reputation of the Battalion.

I went on.

Great darkness preceded the dawn, which was expected shortly after 4 a.m. I found the road, the first crater, the narrow track through the wire, and the empty ground beyond. A few minutes after the last man had reached his place our barrage opened. Shells fell spasmodically here and there for a few seconds; then all our batteries were shooting together. Their fire was admirable, heavy and well-directed.

In the stumbling rush forward to reach the nearest wood–C Company to the second crater on the Fayet Road–waves and platoons were rapidly confused. The Germans, who found themselves attacked in flank and rear, were totally surprised. They had not stood-to and many were yet asleep. Some lights went up and a few sentries’ shots were fired, but it appeared that small resistance to our progress would be made. The wire was trampled through, and for some minutes our men played havoc with the Germans, who ran, leaving draggled blankets and equipment in their trenches. Dug-outs were generously bombed, and explosions filled the air as our men hastily used the weapons brought to hurt the enemy. Three machine-guns fell into our hands. A miniature victory was in progress.

But a turn of events followed; the trenches and woods beyond those we had first entered were neither unoccupied nor weakly held. A force certainly equal to ours was in opposition. After their first surprise the Germans recovered, manned their reserve machine-guns, and opened a fierce fire from front and flanks upon their assailants. Many of us were hit, including Taylor, the officer of No. 15 Platoon, who was severely wounded in the thigh. In No. 13 Platoon, which lost most heavily, Allden and his Platoon Sergeant, Kilby, were killed. The full programme could not be effected. It was getting light; so I decided to withdraw. Most of D Company I found had already done this in their own way, but the remainder now collected at my summons. Lance-Corporal O’Connor with his two Lewis guns did yeoman service to stem what had become the German counter-attack. Ammunition was running short, and German stick-bombs obliged me, in order to save from capture those less badly hit, to leave Taylor, whose wound made him quite helpless. The wire, through which Sergeant Mowby had been busy cutting a path, was safely passed, and an hour afterwards we had regained the sunken road. I learnt that Jones, who had led the right of the advance, had not returned. He with his men had narrowly missed being cut off when the dawn broke. During the ensuing day this party had to lie scattered in shell-holes till darkness enabled them to reach our lines.

The raid was hailed as a signal success for the Battalion. Two machine-guns and one protesting prisoner had been dragged back to our lines. The German trenches had been over-run and many of their occupants had been killed or wounded. By a satisfactory coincidence the troops whom we surprised were a battalion of the Jaegers, the very regiment which after three hours’ bombardment had raided us exactly two months previously at Ablaincourt.

Our losses, considering the scope of the operation, were heavy, but not so proportionately to the number of troops of both sides engaged nor to the severe nature of the fighting. Most of our casualties had bullet wounds. The list, officially, was: Killed, 1 officer and 10 other ranks; wounded, 2 officers and 41; missing, 1 officer and 2. Of Taylor I regret to say no news was ever heard. I left him wounded, probably fatally, and quite incapable of being moved. The likelihood is that he died soon afterwards and was buried by the enemy in the trench where he lay. Allden and Kilby were a serious loss to the fighting efficiency of D Company.

D Company and 2 platoons of C raided the enemy trenches at 4.20 a.m., and reached the second objective, capturing two machine-guns and one German. Our casualties were heavy, viz. : 2nd Lieut. T. H. Allden and 16 other ranks killed, 2nd Lieut. H. S. Taylor  wounded and missing, 42 other ranks wounded, 9 missing.

KILLED IN ACTION APRIL 28th 1917

2nd Lieutenant T. H. Allden

2nd Lieutenant Herbert Samuel Taylor

200603 Sergeant Herbert Kilby

201083 Corporal Frederick Harris

201477 Corporal Harry Harbud

201373 Lance Corporal Francis Edward Buckingham

203761 Lance Corporal Albert Henry Souch

203458 Private James Edgar Cockridge (Formerly 3065, R. Bucks Hussars)

200445 Private Stanley George Covey

203459 Private William Henry Dear (Formerly 3043, R. Bucks Hussars) (Died)

203534 Private Thomas Ginger (Formerly 3139, R. Berks Regt.)

203839 Private Willie Goff

203497 Private Reginald Jack High (Formerly 2829, R. Bucks Hussars)

203502 Private William John Murphy (Formerly 3015, R. Bucks Hussars)

202654 Private Ernest Roof

200361 Private John Shepherd

202139 Private William Waite

201381 Private George Walker

203762 Private John Thomas Williams

DIED OF WOUNDS APRIL 28th 1917

267483 Private George Henry Williams

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

For their gallantry Corporal Sloper and Sergeant Butcher received the Military Medal and Jones the Military Cross. Corporal Leatherbarrow for his steadfast conduct in the sunken road was mentioned in dispatches. To Sergeant-Major Brooks fell the honour of the Battalion’s first V.C., of which the official award ran as follows:–

‘For most conspicuous bravery. This Warrant Officer, while taking part in a raid on the enemy’s trenches, saw that the front wave was checked by an enemy machine-gun at close quarters. On his own initiative, and regardless of personal danger, he rushed forward from the second wave with the object of capturing the gun, killing one of the gunners with his revolver and bayoneting another. The remainder of the gun’s crew then made off, leaving the gun in his possession. S.M. Brooks then turned the machine-gun on to the retreating enemy, after which he carried it back to our lines. By his courage and initiative he undoubtedly prevented many casualties, and greatly added to the success of the operations.’

Company Sergeant-Major Edward Brooks V.C.

Company Sergeant-Major Edward Brooks V.C.

Sergeant George Fowler

It looks if George Fowler was very involved in football prior to the war. Below he is in a picture of the Wycombe Generals F.C. 1910-11.

It also looks if he at one time played for Wycombe Wanderers Reserves.

Wikipedia has the following entry on Wycombe Wanderers:

Events off the pitch soon had an impact on the club. In the autumn and winter of 1913 a major industrial dispute in the furniture trade in High Wycombe saw workers locked out and attendances were seriously affected. However far more serious events were taking place in Europe and the First World War soon broke out. Wycombe players joined the two companies of Territorials and the Bucks Battalion. Loakes Park was used for training artillarymen and the club ceased to be active for the duration of the war. The club and football began to organise itself again and in the summer of 1919 the club held its AGM at the Red Lion Hotel and all stood for those who had lost their lives in the First World War. They included the following players; Charlie Buchanan, George Buchanan, Pat Carter, Bunny Fowler, Frank Langley, Jock Love, Jim McDermott, Edward Reynolds, A Saunders and Harry Stallwood.

Could Bunny Fowler be George?

The photographs above were from a Miss Carol Randall on Buckinghamshire Remembers.

Name George FOWLER   MM
Rank/Number Sergeant   11860
Regiment Oxford & Bucks Light Infantry   2/4th Battalion
Enlisted High Wycombe
Age/Date of death 25      12 Sep 1918
How died/Theatre of war Killed in action   France & Flanders
Residence at death
Cemetery Rue-du-Bois Military Cemetery, Fleurbaix, France 
Grave or Memorial Reference II.E.3
Location of memorial High Wycombe Hospital
Date/Place of birth c1895      Desborough Rd, High Wycombe
Date/Place of baptism 01 Mar 1895 High Wycombe
Pre-war occupation of Casualty
Parents George & Annie Fowler
Parent’s occupation labourer
Parents’ Address (last known) 88 Richardson St, High Wycombe
Wife
Wife’s Address (last known)

George was killed during an attack  on Junction Post, a grass covered breastwork where the enemy was offering stubborn resistance. During this attack the battalion won it’s second Victoria Cross through the valor of Lance-Corporal A. Wilcox.

Corporal Alfred Wilcox, V.C.

From G. K. Rose, The Story of the 2/4th Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry.

“At a few hours’ notice and in weather calculated to make any operation a fiasco, the Battalion on September 12 attacked Junction Post, a grass-bound breastwork where the enemy was offering a stubborn resistance. Though finally unsuccessful in result, the fighting, which was accompanied by driving storms of rain, produced two noteworthy incidents. Rowlerson, one of C Company’s platoon commanders, after reaching the German trenches, somehow lost touch and was captured with several of his men. In A Company an exploit was performed, which gained for the Battalion its second Victoria Cross. Lance-Corporal Wilcox came to close quarters with some enemy defending a piece
of trench with four machine-guns. Each of these guns Lance-Corporal Wilcox, followed by his section, successively captured or put out of action. Wilcox was shortly afterwards wounded and was in hospital in England when news of the award arrived. His deed lent lustre to a profitless attack.”

Dave Wilcox, a relation of Alfred Wilcox has a Web page dedicated to him with some interesting articles and photographs. Please check out: http://www.dave-wilcox.com/Genealogy/Alfred%20Wilcox%20VC.aspx

Below is a photograph of Alfred Wilcox (rear row second from right) with pals at a training camp preparing to go to the Western Front in the First World War.

The following article is from www.victoriacross.org.uk:

A HEADSTONE HAS BEEN ERECTED OVER THE PREVIOUSLY UNMARKED GRAVE OF CORPORAL ALFRED WILCOX VC, IN ST PETER & ST PAUL PARISH CHURCHYARD, ASTON, BIRMINGHAM
12 September 2006

First World War hero Alfred Wilcox has finally won recognition in his home city of Birmingham, 88 years after he won the Victoria Cross. For reasons that still remain unclear his grave was never given a headstone and his final resting place in Aston Parish Churchyard has been lost from memory.

Yesterday, thanks to an investigation to track down the “lost VC”, a service of dedication was held at St Peter & St Paul Church where Corporal Wilcox, of the 2nd/4th Bn, Ox & Bucks Light Infantry, was buried in 1954. The new memorial stone unveilled on Tuesday, 12th September 2006, simply reads “For Valour. Near this site lies Alfred Wilcox 1884-1954, awarded the Victoria Cross for conspicuous bravery in France, 12 Sept 1918.”

Those relatives attending the ceremony included Alfred Wilcox’s son Vincent Nicholls, granddaughter Elaine Read and nephew John Wilcox. Elaine Read and General Sir Edward Jones, chairman of the Regimental Committee of the Ox & Bucks Light Infantry both laid a wreath on the base of the new headstone. The standard bearers in attendance were the National Service Veterans Association, the Birmingham and District Royal Artillery Association, South Staffordshire County Royal British Legion, and the Federation of Ex-Servicemen.

Alfred Wilcox enlisted in the 1st Royal Warwicks, a Volunteer Battalion, in 1902, where after serving for four years his job took him to Liverpool where he continued serving as a Territorial for a further three years. He retired with the rank of Corporal in 1909. On 25 March 1915 he joined the Royal Bucks Hussars, but was dismounted shortly afterwards, and was attached to the 2/4th Ox & Bucks Light Infantry, going to France in December 1917

Lance Corporal Alfred Wilcox was a member of the 2/4th Bn, Ox & Bucks Light Infantry which arrived at Laventie, south-west of Armentieres on 11th September 1918. The enemy was holding the line called the Picantin – Junction Post and the Battalion was ordered forward to attempt to hold an outpost line that was to the north-east of the town. Headquarters was established in a former dressing station in Laventie, a house of pretentious size, which had not been destroyed by enemy artillery.

The Battalion was ordered to attack Junction Post the following day, the 12th September. The post was a grass-bound breastwork, where the enemy offered strong resistance, the attack being carried out in driving rain. It was here that Alfred Wilcox gained the Victoria Cross and the citation sums up perfectly the heroic action that took place.

[ London Gazette, 15 November 1918 ], Near Laventie, France, 12 September 1918, 285242 Private ( Lance Corporal ) 2nd/4th The Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

For most conspicuous bravery and initiative in attack (near Laventie, France) when his company was held up by heavy and persistent machine-gun fire at close range. On his own initiative, with four men he rushed ahead to the nearest enemy gun, bombed it, killed the gunner, and put the gun out of action. Being then attacked by an enemy bombing party, Cpl. Wilcox picked up enemy bombs and led his party against the next gun, finally capturing and destroying it. Although left with only one man, he continued bombing and captured a third gun. He again bombed up the trench, captured a fourth gun, and then rejoined his platoon. Cpl. Wilcox displayed in this series of successful individual enterprises exceptional valour, judgment, and initiative.”

Alfred Wilcox was invested with his Victoria Cross by King George V at Buckingham Palace on the 26th November 1919.

After discharge from the Army, Alfred Wilcox attended many reunions of Victoria Cross holders, including the 1920 Afternoon Garden Party and the 1929 VC Reunion Dinner in the House of Lords. Wilcox was very interested in sport and in particular was a keen cyclist. He was also a good swimmer and long-distance walker, being a member of Birchfield Harriers. Alfred Wilcox died at his home, 31 Arthur Street, Small Heath, Birmingham, on the 30th March 1954 and was buried in an unmarked grave in St Peter & St Paul Churchyard, Aston.

Medal entitlement of Corporal Alfred Wilcox – 2 / 4th Bn, Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry

* Victoria Cross
* British War Medal ( 1914-20 )
* Victory Medal ( 1914-19 )
* King George VI Coronation Medal ( 1937 )
* Queen Elizabeth II Coronation Medal ( 1953 ) e

From Wikipedia

Alfred Wilcox VC (16 December 1884-30 March 1954), was an English recipient of the Victoria Cross, the highest and most prestigious award for gallantry in the face of the enemy that can be awarded to British and Commonwealth forces. Until 2006, he was the only recipient of the Victoria Cross whose exact resting place was unknown.

He was 33 years old, and a lance-corporal in the 2/4th Battalion, The Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry, British Army during the First World War when the following deed took place for which he was awarded the VC.

On 12 September 1918 near Laventie, France, when his company was held up by enemy machine-gun fire at short range, Lance-Corporal Wilcox rushed to the nearest enemy gun, bombing it and killing the gunner. Being then attacked by an enemy bombing party, the corporal picked up enemy stick bombs and led his company against the next gun, finally capturing and destroying it. Then, left with only one man he continued bombing and captured a third gun. Going up the trench, bombing as he went, he captured a fourth gun and then returned to his platoon.

His nephew was Charles Wilcox GC. In 2006 his nephew John Wilcox, who had attended his Uncle’s funeral in 1954, helped historian Chris Sutton in locating his grave in Aston Church. A service was held, and a memorial unveiled on 12 September 2006, 88 years to the day after he captured the guns.

Company Sergeant-Major, Edward Brooks, VC

A bio of Edward Brooks by Paul F. Wilson from www.findagrave.com

“World War I Victoria Cross Recipient. A native of Oakley, Buckinghamshire, in civilian life he was a construction worker and a first-class shot, winning several prizes. He enlisted in the 2/4th Battalion of the Oxford & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in October 1914. His unit spent the first months of the war in England on garrison and training duty, Brooks teaching shooting and army drill to the members of the Headington Miniature [small bore] Rifle Club for the first two months of his service. The OBLI was posted to France in May 1916 and first saw action during the Battle of the Somme on July. Brooks was awarded the VC for action at the village of Fayet, near St. Quentin, France, April 28, 1917. From his citation: “For most conspicuous bravery. This Warrant Officer, while taking part in a raid on the enemy’s trenches, saw that the front wave was checked by an enemy machine-gun at close quarters. On his own initiative, and regardless of personal danger, lie rushed forward from the second wave with the object of capturing the gun, killing one of the gunners with his revolver and bayoneting another. The remainder of the gun’s crew then made off, leaving the gun in his possession. Company Sgt-Major Brooks then turned the machine-gun on to the retreating enemy, after which he carried it back into our lines. By his courage and initiative he undoubtedly saved many casualties, and greatly added to the success of the operations.” Brooks was mustered out of the Army in 1919 and began working on the production line for Morris Motors at their Cowley plant in Oxford. He stayed with Morris until shortly before his death at the age of 61. His medals are on display at the Royal Green Jackets Museum, Winchester.”

Further Detail from his daughter as told to his grandson. http://pearce.50megs.com/brooks.htm

“It is understood that he was the only Oxonian resident to receive the V.C. in the first World War. He was the son of Thomas and Selina Brooks and was born on 11th April 1883 at Oakley in Buckinghamshire where his father was a farm labourer.

A copy of the order (No.362) dated 2nd July 1917 reads,

The Brigadier-General notes with the greatest satisfaction that His Majesty has been please to award the Victoria Cross to Company Sergeant Major Brooks, Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry. By his gallant conduct on the 28th April 1917 Coy Sergt Major Brooks has brought the greatest credit on the 184th Infantry Brigade and has added additional lustre to the splendid historical records of the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry.

Ted with Wife Elsie and eldest doughter Doris

Brooks, Once told of his award, immediately wrote a short note to his wife: “Just a few lines hoping to find you all right and the children keeping well. You will be surprised to hear that I have been awarded the V.C. ”

Brooks with his wife Elise and eldest daughter Doris

When Ted returned to Oxford in July 1917, He was given a Reception by the Mayor and Corporation at the GWR station and was driven to Headington accompanied by the Mayor, Brooks’ Colonel and Canon Colson, preceded by the Headington Silver Band. The carriage was lent by Mrs Morrel. He was presented with a framed illuminated address for His most conspicuous bravery regardless of personal danger, and also some money which had been collected in the neighbourhood. There were large crowds along the route

Ted Brooks had a life full of variety. Not wishing to work on a farm He left home at 13 and went to work at Huntley and Palmers biscuit factory in Reading. Unfortunately, when they discovered that he had put his age up a bit they could not continue to employ him officially. However, he was only threatened with dismissal and kept on by the firm, receiving no wages but instead being given a weekly substantial tip. He was there until the start or the Boer War when he was one of the first to volunteer. He was disappointed in not being accepted but joined the Brigade of Guards Regiment of Foot at the age of 18 1/2 years for a three year period. He was able to stand so still when on sentry duty at Buckingham Palace that some American tourists, when trying to rouse him by pushing his buttons in, thought that he must be stuffed. He was a member of the Guard of Honour which welcomed the Kaiser when he came to Britian and later this seemed ironic to him and his family in view of the war which was to come.

After the war was over, Ted left the Army and worked for Lord Nuffield in the days when he was known as William Morris.

The Prince of Wales talking to Ted Brooks during a visit to Morris Motors where Brooks worked from 1919 until his death in 1944.

In the Second World War Brooks wished to be a dispatch rider, this time putting his age back instead of forwards, but without success.

Ted Brookes died at his home in Morrell Avenue on the 26th June, 1944 aged 61 years. Brooks Taylor Court in Albion Place, St Ebbe’s was named after him and for a member of the Womens Army Corps. It was built by the Royal British Legion Housing Association.

The writing on His grave reads as follows :-

Treasured
Memories of
Loved Husband
And Father
Edward Brooks
V.C. Died
Coy. Sergt, Major
R/J Oxford & Bucks LI

June 26th 1944
Aged 61 years

His Beloved Wife
Elsie May
Died Reunited
Nov 20th 1958
Aged 73 years

All details are from Nora Pearce only daughter of Ted and Elsie that is still alive (this web page was built for her by her grandson)

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