Today I remember my grandfathers, both of whom fought in the First World War, and also those of their comrades-in-arms who never came home …
My maternal grandfather (Grandad) Charles Reuben Clements, of London, enlisted in the 24th (2nd Sportsman’s) Battalion of the City of London Regiment (the Royal Fusiliers) on May 30th, 1915, and was given the regimental number 3526. It is evident from his surviving “Medical Record” (Army Form B178), that he lied about his age when he signed up, claiming to be 22. Also, that he was only 5’6” tall, and only weighed 130lbs (9st4lbs). Private Clements went on to serve on the Western Front for three years, fighting in the Battles of the Somme and the Ancre, in 1916; Arras and Cambrai in 1917; St Quentin, Bapaume and Arras on the Somme in March, 1918, during the German “Spring Offensive” (*); and Albert, also on the Somme, in August, 1918 (among others). According to his “Casualty Record – Active Service” (Army Form B103), he was seriously wounded by shrapnel in the left arm (elbow) and leg (thigh, knee and ankle) – judging from the 24th Battalion’s “War Diary”, almost certainly at Havrincourt – on September 12th, 1918, on the opening day of the Battle of the Hindenburg Line, which was in turn part of the “Hundred Days Offensive” that eventually won the war. He was then picked up by the 5th Field Ambulance and taken to the 46th Casualty Clearing Station in Bailleulval, just west of Arras, also on September 12th, and thence transferred to the 12th General Hospital in Rouen on 13th, before being repatriated to the U.K. on 15th, spending the remaining two months of the war in hospitals in Keighley and Shoreham. After the war, he returned to his job as a gentlemen’s outfitter in London, and died there in 1958. Sadly, I was only three months old when he died, and have little to remember him by bar these few bald facts of his life, and replacements for his lost 1914-15 Star, British War and Victory medals.
My paternal grandfather (Taid) Francis Wynn Jones, of Llandrillo in North Wales, enlisted in the 2/1st Pembroke Yeomanry, a second-line regiment, on January 18th, 1916, just after his eighteenth birthday, and was subsequently transferred to the 4th Reserve Battalion of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on July 11th, 1917, and then in turn to the 5th (Nelson) Battalion of the 2nd Brigade of the 63rd (Royal Naval) Division on August 6th, 1917, and to the 8th (Anson) Battalion of the 2nd – later 188th – Brigade on February 28th, 1918 (the former Royal Naval Division had been incorporated into the 63rd Division of the Land Army in 1916). Ordinary Seaman Jones was then posted to the “Flesquieres Salient” on the Western Front, and went “missing” there on March 23rd, 1918, during the Battle of St Quentin, the first action of the German “Spring Offensive” (*) – judging from the Anson Battalion’s “War Diary”, somewhere between Havrincourt and Bertincourt. An unofficial letter to that effect was sent to his parents on April 13th, and an official one on April 20th. He had in fact been captured, and spent the last six months of the war initially in temporary Prisoner-of-War/Labour camps near Bapaume and at St Amand in France (while registered as being at a permanent one at Limburg in Germany), and subsequently in Belgium, living on “very short rations”, with many of his comrades dying of “want of food”. He was somewhere south of Tongeren at the time of the Armistice. After the war, he studied Economics at Aberystwyth, and went on to a career as a civil servant in the Ministry of Labour in London. He retired to Aberystwyth in 1959, and died there in 1970. Some of his former belongings have since come into my possession, including an enamel PoW mug (stamped “Wupperman 18”), and a hand-made wooden box given to him by a fellow PoW, both of which he brought back from the front.
(*) Note that immediately preparatory to the launch of their ground-offensive on March 21st, the Germans unleashed the largest artillery bombardment of the war, sending over some three-and-a-half million shells – many of them gas-shells. For every square mile of the fifty-mile-long by three-mile-deep front, one every second for five hours. Some 17500 British troops were killed or wounded, and a further 21000 captured, on the first day of the offensive. It was the second-worst day of the war for the British in terms of losses (only the first day of the Somme offensive was worse).