On the 2nd May 1917 the A.A. & Q.M.G. of the 59th North Midland Division announced the award of Gallantry Medals to 1 Officer and 4 men of the 2/6th Battalion Sherwood Foresters; however, this action only warranted four lines in the Battalion War diary.
This is their story.………
Prelude: The 2/6th Battalion of the 178th (2nd Sherwood Forester) Brigade of the 59th (2nd North Midland) Division landed in France on 28th February 1917.
During the early part of March units of the 59th Division were attached to various ‘veteran’ Divisions for training, but this instruction was very limited and the Division were woefully underprepared when they were ordered to the front line trenches in mid-March.
15th March: 2/6th SF ordered to relieve the 2/6th South Staffords of the 176th Brigade. Relief completed 1am on 16th.
19th March: Footbridge constructed at CIZANCOURT. Two Companies of the 6th Sherwood Foresters crossed and bridgehead established in SAUTERELLE ALLEY and NOTRE DAME TRENCH. Visual established with Brigade HQ at BERNEY. GERMAN trenches DAME BLANCHE, POULE VERTE and ACTRICE converted to face eastwards and post over SOMME constructed.
20th March: 5 other ranks wounded – possibly the result of German booby traps.
21st March: Patrol sent out by 2/6th SF.
242634 CSM William Henry Rylands died of wounds in 5 CCS. Aged 28, William was from Brackley in Northhamptonshire and was married to Edith.
22nd March 9am: 2/6th moved to P.C. NANCY.
[P.C. = Poste de Commandement]
23rd March: 2/6th provided working parties for branch roads.
26th March: 2/6th occupied bridgehead defences.
28th March: 2/6th SF pushed outposts to front and patrolled VENDELLES to SOYECOURT. Whilst trying the wire in the German ‘switch trench’ they were fired on, one man missing and one man wounded. [178th Bde War Diary WO/95/3024/2]
The missing man was 241904 Pte Frederick Lancaster Mawer, aged 20 and from Hull. It would appear from a German ‘Nachlassliste’, that his body was recovered (and wrongly badged to the 2/5th Battn), but he now has no known grave and is commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the missing.
31st March 1917
31st March 2.30am: Battn left BERNES and occupied Quarry Q.4.A.4.2.
9.35am: 2/6 S.F. reported that his patrols had occupied MONTIGNY FARM. [178th Bde War Diary]
[See Military Medal awarded to Sergeant Edwin Smith]
1.30pm: 2/6th advanced from point of deployment & launched attack. Artillery opposition not strong. Wire around VENDELLES had to be cut by hand. [178th Bde War Diary]
2.0pm: Battn launched attack from …Q4…. attacked in waves & came under heavy hostile shell fire but carried the village of VENDELLES successfully. Line pushed forward and captured JEANCOURT. 10 prisoners captured. The Battn then took up position from R.1.C.8.5. to R.1.D.2.5. [2/6th Battn War Diary]
3.55pm: Our infantry could be seen around JEANCOURT and went to the North of the high ground R.2.B. & down into JEANCOURT. Here 8 unwounded and 1 wounded prisoners were taken. The 2/6th then began to dig in at L.32.B. The Germans held LE VERQUIER with strength (unknown but probably 2 Coys), also the high ground about point 136. And the 2/6th were shelled. [178th Bde War Diary]
4.30pm: Col. Hodgkin [Lieutenant-Colonel Harry Sidney Hodgkin] sent a message asking for further support & the 3 remaining Coys of 2/8th were ordered up in support. [178th Bde War Diary]
4.35pm: GOC went up to see the situation. On arrival at VENDELLES found the 2/6th withdrawing. Col. Hodgkin reported to him that owing to shell fire & m.g. fire he was unable to dig in on the open in daylight. Col. Hodgkin was ordered to consolidate the defence of VENDELLES to 31 Central. These were placed under the command of Lt Col. COAPE OATES, who arrived with 3 Coys 2/8th shortly afterwards.
Casualties: Captain EDMUNDS 2/6th S.F. wounded; 3 OR killed; 29 wounded.
Brigade congratulated by Division on its success in its first operation in France.
[178th Bde War Diary]
During the attack and capture of VENDELLES and JEANCOURT the 2/6th Battn suffered one man killed and nineteen wounded.
[The names of the 19 wounded men are currently unknown. In total the 59th Division casualties for the preceding twenty four hours was 4 OR killed, 2 Officers and 60 OR wounded, 4 OR missing]
The man killed was 242209 Pte Horace Joseph Clayson, aged 19 and from Bedford. He is now buried in Hancourt British Cemetery. Horace was originally buried in Bernes at Q.10.A.7.6. – probably the site of a dressing station – and his body was exhumed and reburied in September 1919. Horace was most likely a ‘Derby Scheme man’ and mobilised in early 1916. It is interesting to note that his 4-digit pre-1917 number was used to identify his body.
Gallantry awards and what more do the tell us about the attack on Jeancourt?
2nd Lieut. (T/Lt) Frank Brindley
“He remained behind and covered the retirement of the Bn with a Lewis Gun and was actually the last man to leave the position S. of Jeancourt On 31st March. During the action he advised the Lewis Gunners on positions under a galling fire. His coolness was contagious.”
2518/240619 L/Cpl Albert Chell
“Was in charge of 5 men who surrounded and captured a party of Germans. He showed great intelligence and initiative at JEANCOURT on 31st March 1917.
Albert was a ‘scavenger’ from Ashbourne and enlisted in October 1914. He later served with the 15th Battn.
3186/240937 Sergeant Edwin Smith
[Pictures kindly provided by Mike Orme]
“This NCO at Montigny Farm on March 31st beat off an attack from a German party of 20 men when in command of a patrol.”
Edwin was a coal miner from Staveley and enlisted in October 1914. He died of wounds at the 55th Casualty Clearing Station on 28th April 1917. He was the son of Mrs Mary Ann Smith of Staveley, Chesterfield; husband of Ethel Fanny Smith of 42 Sutton Rd., Watford.
2482/240594 Pte Sydney Gilman
“Delivered numerous messages under heavy fire and showed great keenest in the action at JEANCOURT on 31st March”
Sydney was from Ashbourne and enlisted in October 1914. He was killed in action on 21st March 1918.
3923/241277 Pte Joseph Charles Ash
“Showed gallantry and initiative in rounding up German prisoners in the action at JEANCOURT on 31st March”
Joseph was from Bedford and enlisted in Chesterfield in February 1915 and later served with the 22nd London Regiment from 25th May 1918. Killed in action on the 30th August 1918.