May 17th 1918

Capt. Philip Frere (KRRC), who visited us last term, was caught up in the Spring Offensive launched by the Boche on March 21st. His record of events, which we have now received, makes the most gripping reading and shows how desperately hard pressed our troops were at that time:

28/3/18. “It all started on the 22nd, as far as we were concerned. We were in Corps Reserve, and had been standing by to move at an hour’s notice.

We were just drinking our port after an early dinner, when we were interrupted by a burst of M.G. fire from about 500 yards, sweeping the village. It was a patrol that had pushed right through. Of course, this was rather sudden when we thought we were six miles at least from the battle. We turned out at once, got the Companies into a trench outside the village and kept off the Boche. We managed to get in touch with the people on the right and left and to form some sort of line…

On the morning of the 23rd, we started scrapping; eventually we saw that the Boche had got right through on our right and were coming round, so we had to hook it, and jolly quick too. He shelled us very heavily with whizz-bangs at point blank range for a time. Our guns behaved as at a military tournament, coming into action at a gallop. We left a platoon to cover our retirement, and then got back as best we could to a line facing South instead of East.

We had a horrid time there; I have never been under such heavy fire in my life. The Boche was streaming over the ridge opposite and we fired as much as we could, husbanding our ammunition; his advance was covered with M.G. fire most awfully well directed, and eventually the people on the left went and we had to swing back N.W…

The first two days I had nothing but a cup of cocoa and a slice of biscuit and marmalade which we found; but then food doesn’t matter and I was hardly hungry. The awful part was thirst, and it was not until the eve of the 24th that we came upon a water point and managed to fill up just before the Boche arrived. I did not know what thirst was till then.

But even this was not so bad as the fatigue and awful depression. What was happening? When would it all end? How long were we to continue this unending fighting? We had not the least idea where the rest of our Brigade and Division were, we had no orders what to do, and were left to gloomy speculation how on earth we were going to subsist.

At Ytres on the 23rd, we managed to hold on till about 4 p.m. when we found that the Boche had crossed the canal, so we fixed up a line behind with the people on our right and retired to it.

Soon after we got into position the Boche started to shell us with a H.V. gun (11”). How on earth he got them up I do not know, there must have been about six of them. I then spent the most unpleasant two hours I have known. We cowered down in the bottom of a shallow trench with these huge shells falling all about the place and four German aeroplanes flying round and round fifty feet above us; not one of ours was to be seen, and we had no ammunition left to fire at them…

Next morning, the 24th, at dawn, we found that we were at the point of the salient about three miles deep and about a mile across at the base. I never thought that we should extricate ourselves, but we did.

All that day the same thing went on, the men were absolutely done, parched with thirst, and with no spirit left at all. That evening we reached Le Sars and dropped where we stood; however, we had fallen on our feet, for we found the Transport and got food and water. That night I got a little sleep, but the cold was ghastly.

Next morning, the 25th, we started with a very heavy action in front of Le Sars; my Assistant Adjutant was killed and the second in command saved me by stopping a bullet in front of me. That day we fought three actions and came to rest in the evening near Beaucourt.

The night was better, the Boche did not molest us and we managed to get hot food from the Transport; I found a tarpaulin which kept me moderately warm, though I was too tired to sleep.”

It is difficult to find a good map on which one can place such events, but this one from the newspapers is the best I can do. Philip’s line of retreat is just south of Bertincourt (Ytres) going due west to Le Sars.

Whilst we have read a lot about the German casualties being enormous, this account, along with the never ending lists of fallen officers in the newspapers, show that our losses have been very considerable as well:

“You could put what is left of the Battalion into a drawing room. I have had a great piece of luck coming through it and I don’t know how I managed it.”

Philip’s sang-froid is truly remarkable; he and his troops must have been driven right to the very limits of their powers of endurance. I fear that the horror of it all will live with them for quite some time.

So much for this. It is an episode about which one could easily write a book, but I have neither the time nor the inclination. I hope to be able to sleep tonight. Last night I had nothing but nightmares.”

 

April 27th 1918

Lieut. Henry Addis (Royal Dublin Fusiliers)

On April 11th Henry’s name appeared in the Daily Telegraph ‘Roll of Honour as being “wounded and missing, believed killedand whilst we feared the worst there was, given the confusion at the outset of the German offensive, a glimmer of hope.

However, it is now stated in the Times that Henry was killed in action on the first day of the German Offensive (March 21st.)

The German attack, made under the cover of a thick mist and in great numbers, overran many of our troops in the forward positions. Henry was stationed near the front (represented by the thick black line) at Lempire (east of Peronne) and it is understood that he was in a dug-out with his Captain when a messenger came with a despatch.

They told him where to take it, and he came back almost at once and shouted down that the Germans were upon them. The Captain and Henry got the men out immediately and there was a fierce fight. At the end of about twenty minutes, the Captain was shot through the chest and fell and another bullet went through his head and killed him. Henry ran to his side, but was immediately shot.

It is proving to be a harrowing month – this new phrase of the war has seen the deaths of 4 of our Old Boys endeavouring to hold back the German advance (Alan Haigh-Brown, George Thuillier and Ronald Stonehouse being the others). With casualty lists being the length they are, I fear there may be further additions to this list still to come.

 

Whilst at the Dragon, Henry was a quiet, reserved boy, with a considerable sense of humour. He was not particularly keen on games, but had his own amusements and was an interested observer of all that went on. He was always popular with a good set of boys. He was a good essay writer and fond of history.

His line of thought was always independent and original, and it is impossible to think of him without remembering the twinkle in his eye, which brought him into many scrapes and saved him from their usual consequences.

 

April 18th 1918

Capt. George Thuillier (Devons)

Following a period when it was thought that George might have been wounded and captured, Mrs Thuillier has received the news that he is now known to have been killed on March 26th.

When the German offensive started, the Devons were thrown in to stem the flow as best they could. At present, the exact circumstances of George’s death are not clear, apart from the testament of a brother officer, who has written:

“He met his death when extricating his company from an exceedingly dangerous position, and that they withdrew in such good order is greatly due to his self-sacrifice.”

His body could not be recovered, owing to the rapid advance of the enemy.

George went to the RMC at Sandhurst when he left Dover College, and left it with a commission in July 1915. He went to the Front in July 1916 with the 2nd Battalion Devons, taking part in the battle of the Somme in September and October 1916.

He was slightly wounded in early 1917, but recovered well to be promoted in command of a Company in February 1917. He received the MC in the New Year’s Honour List this January.

At the OPS, he was famous for his fearless tackling and clever diving, and his bright sunny nature won him friends everywhere.

His pluck and his bright, sunny disposition, and his fondness for, and care of animals, made him a general favourite.

 

April 10th 1918

Lieut.-Col. Alan Haig-Brown DSO (Middlesex)

Many families have been more than a little concerned for their young men following the German offensive that started in March 21st. News of their fate has been slow in coming through. Mrs. Haig-Brown had not heard from her husband for two weeks and contacted the War Office for news on April 4th. That same day she received a telegram informing her that Alan had been killed during the retreat, on March 25th.

Alan taught at Lancing College before the war and played a key role in the development of the OTC; he aided in the training of numerous battalions before going out to become the Commanding Officer of the 23rd Service Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment – known as the 2nd Football Battalion.

Alan was well known both for his writing and footballing skills.

The Assistant Chaplain-General has written to say, “From what I hear, he gave his life in seeing that others got clean away, and died, as he had lived, for the men he commanded.”

This notice appeared in yesterday’s ‘Daily Telegraph’:

I have fond memories of Alan as a boy. His love of animals showed itself at a very early age; he was the originator of ‘pets’ at the School, and a goat which trotted about with him was the forerunner of many and various kinds of two, four and even no-legged successors: ducks, hens, kittens, snakes, tortoises, rats, mice, parrots, macaws, cardinals, cut-throats, budgerigars et hoc genus omne, may all claim to owe their appearance among us to Alan.

Some of us may remember his introduction of a huge snake into the drawing-room of 28 Norham Road, and the ensuing hysterics of a parent.