September 15th 1917

Capt. Tom Sheepshanks (Norfolks) has been attached to the 11th Suffolks, who last month took part in operations to capture a series of German positions, which formed the advance elements of the Hindenburg Line. I think it can be said that they met with singular success:

“We had a champagne dinner the night before we moved up and I remember quite well – well. I think we had better leave it at that; we are digressing.

Zero day was Sunday August 26th, and on Friday we moved up towards the line and bivouacked in a copse… Friday night the other Coy Commander and I walked up to BHQ and went out to reconnoitre the jumping off place, which was a sunken road some distance in front of our line. Saturday we spent sleeping and dishing out bombs, flares etc.

Zero hour was fixed for 4.30 a.m. Sunday morning and we had to be in position by 2 a.m., so we gave the men a hot meal about 11 o’clock at night with a good tot of rum in their tea, under the influence of which I made them a patriotic speech and we then moved off. The intelligence officer had been out earlier in the evening and marked the respective company frontages with pegs marked with luminous paint, so we all got into position quite happily…

The only worry was the cooing of the carrier pigeons and the violent blasphemies of the signallers in charge of them. The noise those beastly birds made was something outrageous and the signaller made it even worse by threatening in a raucous whisper to wring their blank blank necks unless they shut up. I shut him up and the birds quieted down…

Punctually at 4.30 the machine gun barrage opened up and a few seconds later the 18 pounders let fly. We were attacking on a three company front, mine being in the centre, and my company’s objective was a place called Malakoff Farm, with a line of trenches in front of the farm and another behind it.

The barrage was all shrapnel and we followed it at a distance of about 30 yards; the ground wasn’t cut up and the going was good. Eventually we reached the wire or what was left of Fritz’s front line. Our heavies had knocked the trench and wire absolutely flat, so we found no one there.

That was our first objective and the leading wave stopped there and started to consolidate. The rest of the company went on…

A few moments later we got up to our final objective, waited for the barrage to lift and then rushed it. That was where we scored so much by following the barrage closely. He had two or three m.g’s there, but we were on him so quickly that he only got one into action and that didn’t fire long. Fritz showed no fight at all. He either ran away or put up his hands.

One of them was quite pathetic. He was so keen to surrender that he evinced a desire to embrace and kiss me. I kicked him over the back of the trench and went on to dug-out just beyond, which seemed to promise something. We raked ten men out of it and last of all, to my intense delight, an officer with a beautiful automatic and a pair of Zeiss. He seemed unwilling to give them up to my Corporal at first. He thought better of it a second or two later. That Corporal never did like Huns and had a very business-like fist.

I’m a bit hazy about the next ten minutes. I found both my platoon commanders had got in all right and also the company on either side, but there was a lot of sniping going on and a m.g was causing my men trouble. My Sergeant-Major, the finest man I’ve ever known, got killed trying to locate it and knock it out, and one of my subalterns who was standing talking to me got hit badly, whilst I had one through my hair at the back of my head.

However we soon got things straight and started to dig ourselves in. We had got all of our objectives and felt very pleased with ourselves.”

Tom added that his regiment won a VC, three MCs, a DCM and twelve Military Medals in this action.

 

We still live in hope that Tom’s brother Bill Sheepshanks, who went missing in an action fought on July 26th, is alive and a prisoner of war.

 

 

 

 

August 30th 1916

CH Counsell

Further information has been received on the death of  Lieut. Christopher Counsell on July 6th.

A fellow officer in the Hants Regiment, 2nd Lieut. Churcher, has confirmed that Chris was providing a covering party for a working party when he was hit in the head, and possibly in both hands, by machine gun fire. He never regained consciousness and died in transit from 89 Field Ambulance to 29 Casualty Clearing Station.

Oxford has converted a number of buildings to receive and treat the wounded and by chance a wounded sergeant in Chris’s company was brought to the Oxford Hospital at the new Schools. He said that Chris was always ready and eager to go out at night on any wild entertainment towards the Hun lines, and he was evidently greatly impressed with his Lieutenant’s daring.

Christopher’s father, Dr H.E. Counsell (whose practice is at 37 Broad Street) is in charge of Surgical 5 in the North School.

* * * * * * *

The Esson family have suffered another bereavement: Mr William Esson passed away in Abingdon aged 78 on August 25th. (Mrs Esson predeceased him, having died in 1893).

His poor daughter Margaret lost her brother Capt. William Esson on April 27th 1916 on HMS Russell; her husband, Capt. Edmund Gay has been missing in action since August 12th 1915 and now her father has died, all in the space of just over a year.

July 15th 1916

CH Counsell

Lieut. Christopher Counsell (Hampshire Regiment)

The Counsell family have suffered a week of grief, mixed with hope and despair. First they received a telegram informing them that Chris had been wounded in the “Push”:

Counsell wounded

Three days later has come the news that Chris is dead.

Counsell killed

His battalion had received their orders too late on July 1st to launch a further attack on Beaumont Hamel that day and thus they remained in the original British Front line.

Chris was providing cover for a working party on July 6th, whilst they placed some advanced outposts. A machine gun opened fire and Chris was severely wounded.

It transpires that he died on the way to the Casualty Clearing Station.