Charles Thomas Spicer

266937, Private, No.4 Company. 1 Hertfordshire Regiment.

Killed In Action on the 31st July 1917 aged 22.

Charles was the son of Samuel & Louisa Spicer of 2 Beecroft Cottages, Walkern and was to lose his life on the first day of a major British offensive, The Battle of  Passchendaele.

He had joined the Army on the 10th November 1915 and was initally recruited into the Hertfordhsire Regiment. Charles was posted to France on the 4th July 1916, just three days after the Battle of the Somme had begun, and served continuously on the Western Front until his death. He was posted to the Regiments Entrenching Battalion on the 22nd July and moved to No.4 Company on the 24th August 1916.

On the 15th May 1917 Charles was admitted to the 133rd Field Ambulance suffering with Cellulitis of the Right Leg. His leg became ulcerated and he was transfered to the 132nd Field Ambulance on the 22nd May. He remained there until 22nd June when he was returned to duty. At this time the Regiment was preparing for the Passchendaele offensive and every man was desperately needed.

The offensive was launched on 31 July 1917 and continued until the fall of Passchendaele village on 6 November.  Although it resulted in gains for the Allies it was by no means the breakthrough General Haig intended, and such gains as were made came at great cost in human terms. The village of St. Juliaan lies on the Hanebeek, one of the small streams that drains the fields in this area. On the 18th July 1917 a heavy preliminary artillery bombardment began which lasted for the ten days prior to the launch of the attack. The bombardment was made by 3,000 guns which expended four and a quarter million shells into the surrounding ground.  Given such an onslaught the German Fourth Army fully expected the attack and the element of surprise was entirely lost. Added to this was the fact that the area was suffering the heaviest rains it had seen for 30 years and this, combined with the shelling, turned the ground into a hellish morass.

On the 31st July the Battalion were in support of an attack on the Langemarck Line and at 03.45am the planned assault began. It had three objectives to achieve known as Blue, Black & Green and units of the 116th Brigade easily captured the first two objectives, preparing the way for the forward companies of the Hertfordshire battalion, to take the third objective.

At 05.00am they left their assembly positions to attack their objective, which lay over the crest of a ridge. As they made their way forward they came under heavy fire from both German machine guns and snipers but after eliminating a German strongpoint moved up towards St.Julian, which was only lightly held. The battalion crossed the Steenbeek with some difficulty and two of its supporting Tanks became bogged down in the mud. Things then went from bad to worse. A pre-arranged artillery barrage never materialised due to the guns being unable to move forward over the muddy terrain and the German barbed wire defences, which were fifteen feet deep in some places, were found to still be intact.

It was soon realised that ground could only be won by section " rushes" supported by the unit’s own fire. The Cheshire Regiment were on the right of the battalion but the Black Watch, who were due to cover the left flank, had been seriously delayed. This left the Hertfordshire's seriously exposed and the Germans exploited this by bringing a hurricane of fire down upon the stricken troops. This was followed by a German counter-attack and by 10.30 am it was clear that the objective could not be achieved. Casualties were very heavy with 459 men being killed or wounded.

Charles body was not recovered until February 1918 and is buried in the Tyne Cot Cemetery, Zonnebeke, Belgium. (10.G.4.) 

Medal Entitlement:  British War Medal & Victory Medal

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