Herbert Palmer

3/8798, Private, 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.

Killed In Action on the 6th October 1917 aged 20.

The grave of Private Herbert Palmer in the Zantvoorde British Cemetery, Zonnebeke, Belgium.

Herbert was the son of George & Hepzibah Palmer of 4 Venables Yard, Church Path, Stevenage.

After joining the Army the young Farm Labourer was posted to the Western Front arriving there on the 30th September 1915. He took part in some of the most intense fighting of the Great War and was to eventually lose his life during the closing stages of one of the major British offensives, The Third Battle of Ypres, more commonly referred to as the Battle of  Passchendaele.

The offensive had been launched on 31st July 1917 and continued until the fall of Passchendaele village on 6th 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 area had suffered some of the heaviest rains it had seen for 30 years and this, combined with intensive shelling from both sides, had turned the ground into a hellish morass.

The Battalion arrived at Sanctuary Wood in the Ypres sector on the 3rd October 1917. Over the next few days they would be involved in an attempt to capture Polderhoek Chateau. However, these attacks proved to be unsuccessful due to both very heavy German machine gun and artillery fire plus the almost impenetrable mud which reduced any attack to a crawl.

Herbert is buried in the Zantvoorde British Cemetery, Zonnebeke, Belgium. (3.G.20.)

Medal Entitlement: 1914/15 Star, British War Medal & Victory Medal

David Payne

19042, Private, 10th Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment.

Missing In Action on the 13th October 1915 aged 34.

David was born in May 1881, the son of John & Mary Payne of Little Wymondley, Hertfordshire. As was the case with many men from the town, David became a Domestic Gardner by trade. On the 23rd January 1904 he married Lizzie Bygrave and the couple lived at 44 Alleyns Road, Stevenage. By 1911 they had produced four children, Mary, Ernest. Lilly & Emily.

He was posted to France on the 4th October 1915 and was reported as missing just nine days later.

The Battalion were ordered to attack the German firing line just West of the Lens to La Bassee road, near Noeux-Les-Mines. The attack began at 2pm and was quickly met with heavy machine gun and rifle fire. The fighting lasted all afternoon and by nightfall the British troops had been driven back to their original positions. This  dreadfully unsuccessful attack had cost the lives of 150 men, with absolutely no ground gained.

It was not until July 1916 that David was confirmed as killed. Private Papps had reported seeing David’s body close to the British wire along with that of Private Alfred Dorrington. Their bodies were not recovered from the battlefield.

David has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Loos Memorial, France. (Panel 60/64.)

Medal Entitlement: 1915 Star, British War Medal & Victory Medal

William Ashley Pearce

L/11856, “A” Battery. 180th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. 16th Division.

Died Of Wounds on the 6th April 1918 aged 20

William was born in Victoria, London the son of Edith & the late William Pearce. At the time of his death his mother was living at the Sun Hotel in Stevenage.

On the 28th March 1918 the Battery were in position at the Bois De Vaire where it was very heavily involved in an attack. William Pearce received a Gunshot Wound during this action and was removed to hospital where succumbed to his injuries nine days later.

William is buried in the Etaples Military Cemetery, France. (33.D.8.)

Medal Entitlement: British War Medal & Victory Medal

Alfred Pettengell

25194, Private, 2nd Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.

Missing In Action on the 8th May 1918 aged 21.

Private Alfred Pettengell

Alfred was the second son of Arthur & Rose Pettengell of 49 Albert Street, Stevenage. Before the war he was employed by W.L.Hall in Hitchin. His brother Fred, who was serving in the Royal Navy, had been previously torpedoed and was one of only seven survivors.

Alfred was reported missing on the 8th May 1918 but his body was not found until August that year when a Corporal of the Durham Light Infantry, who was out on telephone work, found Albert laying in a shell hole. His pay book was still in his pocket, which identified his body. However, Alfred's body was never recovered and he has no known grave.

His name is recorded on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, Belgium. (Panel 48/50.)

Medal Entitlement: British War Medal & Victory Medal.

Ernest Phipps

12024, Private, 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.

Missing in Action on the 5th May 1915 aged 24.

Private Ernest Phipps

Ernest was the son of John & Martha Phipps of 2 Belmont Cottages, Stevenage. He arrived in France on the 27th April 1915 and although he was reported as missing on 5th May, just eight days later, during the battle for Hill 60 he was not confirmed as killed until February 1916.

The hellish scene that greeted Ernest on his arrival was one of almost total devastation. Shells and mines tore up the ground, dead bodies were laying everywhere and the trenches were described as shapeless cavities. Added to this was the fact that the enemy were only 100 yards away from the British line.

At 08.45am on the morning of the 5th may 1915 the Germans released a Gas attack on the British troops. The men were very tired after the preceding days fighting and many were asleep. Fortunately, at least one sentry saw the gas rolling towards the British line and sounded the alarm. The exceptionally thick gas drifted along the length of the trenches and the men’s respirators proved woefully inadequate. In this first attack the 2nd Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment lost over 150 men. Then, at 11.00am, a second attack released gas onto the men of the 1st Bedfordshire Regiment resulting in the death of a further 51 men, including Ernest Phipps. In total over 300 men were lost to this devastating attack and, despite several pitiful efforts to attack the hill, it was not captured from the Germans until June 1917 and had cost the lives of over 3000 British servicemen.

Ernest has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Menin Gate Memorial, Ypres, Belgium. (Panel 31/33.)

Medal Entitlement: 1914/15 Star, British War Medal & Victory Medal.

Leonard Piggott

43206, Private, 6th Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment. (Formerly 26846 Bedfordshire Regiment)

Killed In Action on the 10th November 1916 aged 30.

Leonard was born on the 23rd September 1886, the son of Joseph & Elizabeth Piggott of Ditchmore Common, Stevenage. The 1911 Census shows him as a Coach Painters Labourer by trade, living with his parents.

On the 10th November 1916 the Battalion were in positions near the village of Ovilliers. A pile of grenades had been left by a previous regiment in a connecting shelter between two dugouts. One of the grenades detonated causing the whole pile to explode and two men were killed instantly, one of whom was Leonard Piggott. The explosion wounded a further five men, one of whom was to die from his injuries.

The others who died that day were:

  • Private John George GOLDING MM
  • Private Harold LILLEYMAN

Leonard is buried in the Courcelette British Cemetery, France. (1.B.22.)

Headstone Inscription: "In The Midst Of Life We Are In Death"

Medal Entitlement: British War Medal & Victory Medal.

 

John Pilkington

62971, Private, 1st Company, Royal Army Medical Corps.

Died on the 25th October 1918 aged 45.

John Pilkington was born in Liverpool in 1875. He married his wife, Dorcas, in Manchester and the couple had their first child, Frederick, in the city. The 1911 Census shows that John & Dorcas moved to Stevenage where they lived at 71 Albert Street. It was here that the couple had two more children, Alec & Gladys. By the time John joined the Army the family had moved to 11 Middle Row.

His eldest son was serving as a Private in the Royal Fusiliers. John had worked as a ticket collector for Great Northern Railways for eight years at Hitchin railway station and had also worked for the company at Nottingham giving a total of 20 years service. He was a Trade Union official in the Amalgamated Society of Railway Servants and spent most of his spare time working for the cause. He also played the organ at the local Roman Catholic Church and was keenly interested in Ambulance work. He held a First Aid proficiency medal and had spent three years at the school of sanitation in Aldershot. He was one of the first married men from Stevenage to volunteer for the Army and joined up in 1915. His abilities in First Aid made him a prime candidate for the RAMC.

He died from the effects of Influenza at Aldershot hospital on the 25th October 1918.

John is buried in the Aldershot Military Cemetery. (Grave.R.351.)

His wife never re-married and died, a war widow, in 1963.

Alan Albert Pollock

Sub Lieutenant (Pilot), 878 Squadron. Fleet Air Arm, HMS Landrail.

Killed on the 5th January 1944 aged 23.

Alan was the son of Albert & Gwendoline Pollock. He was educated at Alleynes School in Stevenage where he became head boy. He was a pupil of amazing talent eventually becoming the chairman of the school literary & debating society as well as secretary of the scientific society. He was also interested in the dramatic arts and once played Father Christmas in the schools production of A Christmas Carol. Added to these talents was his outstanding sporting abilities being captain of the school boxing team and being part of the schools swimming, football and cricket teams. He then passed the civil service exam and, like his friend Eric Stanley, went to work at Adastral house.

In August 1941 Alan joined the Fleet Air Arm as a Leading Airman and went to both Canada and the USA to train as a pilot. After receiving his commission on the 9th June 1942 he was posted to 762 Squadron at HMS Heron (RNAS Yeovilton) for advanced flying training on Sea Hurricanes.

On the 8th May 1943 he was transferred to 893 Squadron on the aircraft carrier HMS Formidable (Illustrious) and took part in patrols over Sicily and the Salerno landings. On the 5th January 1944, whilst 878 prepared for disbandment, Alan and two fellow pilots took off from RNAS Eglington in Northern Ireland in a Stinson Reliant, FK914. The aircraft crashed in bad weather on the North Eastern side of Sawel Mountain with all the occupants being killed. His body, and that of his two companions, were not found until sometime after they were reported missing.

Alan is buried in the Faughanvale (St.Canice) Church of Ireland Churchyard in Eglinton, Northern Ireland. (Grave 8)

Ernest Daniel Poulter

16616, Private, “C” Company, 7th Battalion. Bedfordshire Regiment.

Missing In Action on the 22nd March 1918 aged 17.

Ernest was born in Baldock, the son of Ernest & Emily Poulter. He enlisted in Ware, Hertfordshire, and was posted to France on the 30th August 1915. He was reported as missing in action whilst the Battalion was involved in fighting at Crozat Canal on the 22nd March 1918 and was not seen again.

British units conducted an aggressive, sometimes vicious, fighting withdrawal along the 50 mile front and carefully chose their positions at which to stop, turn towards their pursuing enemy and fight. The British 'Rear guard' units made the advancing German battalions pay dearly, but also suffered in return. The 8th Durhams are recorded as saying they killed more Germans that day than during the entire war to that point. However, the 2 companies of the 7th Leicesters (450 men) fighting one of the scores of rear guard actions, only 1 officer and 14 other ranks fell into enemy hands and none got back to their own lines. Indeed the 11th Royal Fusiliers of the 54th Brigade mustered a pitiful 2 Officers and 26 other ranks from a starting strength of over 650 by end of 23rd March. Badly outgunned British artillery fired over open sights for the first time since 1914 before being overrun by bayonets themselves, causing horrific casualties amongst their enemy yet still the juggernaut rolled towards the thing British lines. Several British and German Battalions were wiped completely from the Army Sheets in the bitter fighting over these two days.

The day's events were broken into dozens of separate, often isolated engagements as the Germans pressed forward and the British held their posts, often not knowing who was to either side of them due to the thick fog that did not burn off until early afternoon. Brigades and Battalions did not count for much that day. It was a day of stubborn and often heroic actions by platoons, sections and even individuals isolated from their comrades by the fragmented nature of the battle and lack of visibility.

A mile east of the Bedfords, as dawn broke, a cook in the 53rd Brigade was busy preparing breakfast for his platoon. He could see no-one through the thick fog and hear nothing above the roar of the guns yet he carried on, knowing the smell would bring them running. Unexpectedly a group of Germans appeared from the fog but by the time he realised they were not his pals, it was too late to react. Thinking fast, he bartered with them; his bacon in exchange for his freedom. Warily, the Germans insisted on him eating some first, presumably to check it was not a trap. Having seen he was genuine, the starving German soldiers hungrily devoured the rare treat and the cook slipped away into the fog, eventually finding his unit and, after complaining that the Germans had eaten his breakfast, he joined the firing line to help beat the next attack off!

The 7th Bedfords started the second day moving into a defensive position between Mennessis on their southern flank, and the intact La Montagne Bridge on their northern flank. Despite the urgent necessity to destroy the bridge, "it couldn't be blown as we'd got no explosives" according to one bemused Private. Exploding trench mortar shells and various other ingenious methods were tried to bring the bridge down, all without success, leaving the Bedfords no option than to set their defences carefully and wait. By 7am they were in position, having spent the night marching, then digging in. They waited, peering through the thick fog which reduced visibility to between twenty and fifty yards at best, unsure what was about to be thrown at them. Visibility beyond the opposite canal bank was impossible so they lined the western bank and waited for whatever was to come at them out of the fog.

The 11th Royal Fusiliers took up position between Jussy and north of La Montagne Bridge with the 7th Bedfords holding from the bridge to the northern fringes of Mennessis, within sight of the village cemetery. The Northampton's were kept in Brigade reserve and sheltered in the woods and copses to the west as well as the cover would allow.

Attempts to force the bridge that day were repulsed with heavy losses inflicted on the attacking German battalions but at 5.45pm, C Company were finally pushed from Montagne Bridge by a heavy German attack. However the Brigade regained the bridge again by a counter attack 2 hours later. Several medals were won around this position, including a Victoria Cross by Second Lieutenant A.C. Herring of the Northampton's, several D.S.O.'s and Military Crosses, numerous Military Medals, and Distinguished Conduct Medals. The 54th Brigade History records:

"Captain Browning [2nd in command] of the Bedfordshire Regiment won his MC that day. The enemy attacked with large forces, crossed a bridge that had not been demolished [La Montagne Bridge], and succeeded in pushing back the left flank of the Battalion [C Company]. He was immediately counter attacked and thrown back across the canal [by C Co. and 3 Companies of Northamptons]. This was largely due to Captain Browning, who displayed magnificent leadership in collecting and organising the men and launching a counter attack at a critical moment under intense artillery and machine gun fire".

"Things had looked so bad for the Bedfordshire Regiment at one time on the afternoon of the 22nd that, with the enemy within 200 yards of Battalion HQ, Colonel Percival, Commanding Officer, and Captain Browning, 2nd in command, destroyed all maps and secret documents to prevent their falling into enemy hands".

Mennessis became the Strategic Anchor of that sector of the battle, as the determined German onslaught started taking its toll on the exhausted, badly battle worn British defenders. The remnants of British units south of that point were forced from the canal and conducted spirited fighting withdrawals, suffering further heavy losses in the process. All available units not already engaged were thrown into the gap that developed south of Mennessis, including cooks and transport drivers as the ever shrinking 54th Brigade stubbornly held the banks of the Crozat Canal.

The 54th Brigade History records: "On March 23rd the Germans crossed the Montagne Bridge, after severe fighting, and gained a position on the south bank of the canal. 2nd Lieutenant Herring's post was cut off from the troops on both flanks and surrounded. He at once counter attacked with his post and recaptured the position, taking over 20 prisoners and 6 machine guns. The post was attacked continuously throughout the night for 11 hours, and all attacks were beaten off. This was entirely due to the splendid heroism displayed by 2nd Lieutenant Herring, who continuously visited the men personally throughout the night and cheered them up. The initiative and individual bravery of this officer were entirely responsible for holding up the German advance for 11 hours at an exceedingly critical period. The magnificent heroism and personal bravery of this officer, coupled with his initiative and skill in handling the troops, were most important factors in holding up the German advance over the Crozat Canal"

It is worthy of note that 2nd Lieutenant Herring had never been in combat before, as was the case with the entire section of men he was leading. Their counter attack and subsequent refusal to surrender was worthy of his V.C. but Herring and what was left of his post was captured on the morning of the 23rd, having held out for eleven hours without relief.

Darkness came and brought a day of hard and bitter fighting to an end yet still the canal had been held. During the night the Germans kept their attentions to sniping and bursts of machine gun fire but did not attack again, leaving the battered, surviving Bedfords to grab any rest they could in their improvised trenches and gun pits.

Ernest has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Pozieres Memorial, France. (Panel 29)

Medal Entitlement: 1914/15 Star, British War Medal & Victory Medal.

Kenneth Albert Graham Prater

1201735, Warrant Officer (Pilot), 1 Ferry Unit. Royal Air Force.

Killed on the 31st March 1945 aged 32.

Kenneth Prater was born in 1913 the son of Mr.& Mrs A.G.Prater who lived at " Woodview" , Fishers Green. He was educated at Alleynes Grammar School between 1921 and 1930 and was a keen sportsman who favoured Tennis, Badminton and Squash. When he left school he was captain of his house, a prefect and had received his school colours in both football and cricket.

Before joining the RAF he was employed as a sales representative for the Michelin Tyre Company. Kenneth joined the RAF in 1940 and trained as a Pilot. He flew many thousands of miles in Africa and India whilst serving with Ferry Command. During this time he received considerable injuries when his aircraft caught fire and he spent some time recovering at home. Eventually he was posted to Worcester after making a full recovery.

On the 31st March 1945 he was detailed to fly a Mosquito, TA226, to Cairo but was killed instantly when his aircraft crashed shortly after take off from Portreath airfield in Cornwall on a flight to Istres.

Kenneth was cremated at Golders Green crematorium and his name is recorded on the memorial there.