Wilfred Smith

G/15354, Lance Corporal, 2nd Queens Royal West Surrey Regiment.

Killed In Action on the 26th October 1917 aged 26 .

Wilfred was the son of Reuben & Rosanna Smith of High Sreet, Walkern.

He was tolose his life in the closing stages of 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 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.

On the 24th October 1917 the Battalion relieved the 16th & 17th Sherwood Foresters at Bodmin Copse. The ground conditions were terrible and the Battalion moved into position at night using duckboard walkways. This made progress very slow and the relief was not completed until 1.30am due to the darkness, the fact it was raining and that they had to share the walkways with the outgoing troops.

The 25th October was described as “relatively quiet” with the Battalion preparing for an assault the following day on a position known as Lewis House. The attack began at 5.40 am and quickly became disorganised due to the fact that most of the Officers and NCO’s had become casualties. It also appears that two lines of troops converged on each other as they reached the objective, increasing the confusion and possibly resulting on troops firing on each other. In total the Battalion suffered 101 casualties during this disastrous attack, one of whom was Wilfred Smith.

Wilfred is buried in the Perth Cemetery (China Wall), Zillebeke, Belgium. 

Medal Entitlement:  British War Medal & Victory Medal

William Herbert Smith

19836, Lance Corporal, 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.

Died Of Wounds on the 7th May 1917

William arrived in France on the 27th July 1915.

On the 23rd April 1917 the Battalion were engaged in an attack on the village of La Coulotte during fighting in the Zouave Valley. The Commanding Officer described the attack as “most hazardous” and praised his men for their efforts. As the attack moved forward one company became trapped between two belts of barbed wire, at some places over 15 feet thick, and an enemy communication trench. The CO stated that his men were caught like rats and the Germans made good use of this by bringing heavy rifle and machine gun fire to bear on them.

William Smith had been given the job of running out a wire for a power buzzer, which was an early type of intercom used to keep the supporting troops aware of the situation. He was wounded during this tragic assault and lay out on the battlefield for most of the day before being rescued. After being evacuated for treatment to his wounds, he was moved to a General hospital but died on the 7th May as result of his injuries.

His Commanding Officer had recommended him for an award of the Military Medal but this was never confirmed.

He is buried in the Boulogne Eastern Cemetery, Pas De Calais, France. (4.B.5.)

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

Percy Harry Snelgrove MM

265339, Sergeant, “H” Company. 1st Battalion. Hertfordshire Regiment.

Missing In Action on the 11th January 1918 aged 21.

Sergeant Percy Snelgrove MM

The life and death of Percy Snelgrove is filled with uncertainties but what is clear is that he was born in Stevenage on Boxing Day 1896, the son of William Francis and Florence Snelgrove. The 1911 Census shows him as a 14 year-old Blacksmith living at 10 Trinity Road, Stevenage.

Only a few pages of his Army Service Record exist but these state that he joined the Hertfordshire Regiment in Hitchin on the 2nd June 1913 with the Service Number 2214 and, at the time, was employed as a Machinist at the Educational Supply Association in Stevenage. It also states that his age on enlistment was 17 years and 5 months but this is incorrect and he was just 16 years and 6 months old.

Percy was posted to France on the 6th November 1914. Very little detail exists with regard to his award of the Military Medal, which was awarded on the 23rd February 1918, nor his eventual death. It is known that the Battalion was in the Steenbeek area of Belgium when he was killed.

He has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, Belgium. (Panel 153.)

Medal Entitlement: Military Medal, 1914 Star, British War Medal & Victory Medal.

Robin Snoxell

G/73553, Private, 24th Battalion, Royal Fusiliers.

Killed In Action on the 25th August 1918 aged 18.

Robin was the son of Norman & Emily Snoxell of 3 Walkern Road, Stevenage. Before his service in the Army he had worked for the Shelford Brothers bakery and Eastmans the Butcher in the High Street. Both he and his twin brother, John, had tried to join the Army in 1914 when they were aged 15. Although they were rejected for service, because of their age, they were allowed to join the local VTC, which was a form of Home Guard. On reaching enlistment age they both joined up and Robin was posted to the Royal Fusiliers whilst John served as a Signaller with the Suffolk Regiment. Their elder brother George was serving in the Royal Navy.

Robin received his training in Ireland and was then posted to France. On the 25th August 1918 the Battalion were in positions near the village of Behagnies, close to Gomiecourt. They were tasked with attacking German positions, which were reported as containing many machine guns, and the assault began at 3.30am. A barrage was laid down and the troops kept so close to it that, in most cases, the Germans did not have time to man their positions before they were overrun. Although over 200 German prisoners were take, the Battalion had suffered as many casualties in the engagement, one of whom was Robin Snoxell.

He is buried in the Gomiecourt South Cemetery, France. (3.C.3.)

Medal Entitlement: British War Medal & Victory Medal.

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

Leonard Spriggins

6956, Private, 1st Bedfordshire Regiment.

Missing In Action on the 22nd October 1914 aged 36.

Le Touret Memorial and Cemetery

Leonard was the son of James & Louisa Spriggins and the husband of Ellen Elizabeth Spriggins. He enlisted in the Army on the 10th April 1901 and served in South Africa between January and February 1902, just at the closing stages of the Boer War. The Battalion then moved to India and Leonard served with it until December 1908, when he returned to the UK. He was transfered to the Army Reserve in June 1909 and and was recalled to the colours at the outbreak of WW1. He was to become the first man from the local villages to lose his life on the Western Front.

On the 22nd October 1914 the Battalion were positioned in Givenchy. They were ordered to move to Chappelle St. Roch to assist the 13th Infantry Brigade in an attack on the village of Voilaines. The attack, despite considerable effort, was not successful and eventually the Brigade was ordered to fall back. However, it seems that the fall back was not co-ordinated and became confused with troops rejoining the Battalion all throughout the night and early next day. It is not known exactly what happened to Leonard Spriggins but it can only be assumed that he lost his life during the confusion of battle.

He has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, Pas De Calais, France. ( Panel 10/11.) 

Medal Entitlement: Queens South Africa (Orange Free State, Transvaal & 1902 Bars), 1914 Star, British War Medal & Victory Medal

(My Thanks To Dave Goble For Providing Additional Information)

Eric Lionel Victor Stanley

102980, Pilot Officer (Pilot), 110 Squadron. Royal Air Force (VR).

Killed on the 6th December 1941 aged 22.

Eric Stanley was the son of the parish verger who lived at 93 Walkern Road, Stevenage. He was educated at Alleynes school in Stevenage and was described by his Headmaster, Mr H.P. Thorn, as " unassuming and reliable and who most certainly had a distinguished career ahead of him" . He was a brilliant student and a keen sportsman who liked Cricket and football. Before leaving school, in 1936, Eric had reached the position of Head Boy and was captain of the school football team as well as chairman of the literary & debating society and sub editor of the school magazine. Upon leaving school Eric, like his school friend Alan Pollock, took the entrance examination for the Civil Service and passed with flying colours.

He began his career, as did Pollock, with the Air Ministry and was later to enter the Executive section of the service, a position that was held in high esteem.

In October 1940 Eric joined the RAF and his capabilities were quickly recognised. He was selected for Pilot training under the Empire Air Training scheme and was posted to Canada for a course. Again his academic qualities brought him to the forefront and he was amongst the top three in his passing out examination. Shortly afterwards Eric received his commission and was the first North Herts man to fly the Atlantic, under the watchful eye of an American Ferry Pilot. He is also believed to be only the second British observer to navigate an aircraft across the Atlantic.

Eric was killed in a flying accident on the 6th December 1941 when the Blenheim he was flying in crashed during a training sortie just beyond the airfield at Bicester. The accident was later attributed to incorrect trim tab settings.

He is buried next to his mother at Holy Trinity church in Weston. (Row19. Grave 1)

Crew of BLENHEIM Mk.IV  Z7962  VE -

Number

Rank

Name

Age

741461

SGT

Victor Horace LANGRISH

23

60344

F/O

Douglas Hickling IVENS

26

1375120

SGT

Allan Edward BAILEY

19

102980

P/O

Eric Lionel Victor STANLEY

22

Alec Stevens

Served as Alec Leonard PUTTOCK.

175906, Pilot Officer (Pilot), 576 Squadron. Royal Air Force.

Killed In Action on the 17th June 1944 aged 25.

Alec Puttock was born in Guilford in 1919. He lived at New Farm in Stevenage, known locally as “Donkeys Whim”.  He attended both Shephall school and Stevenage Boys school where he is believed to have excelled at many subjects.

The rise of Alec Puttock to Pilot Officer was a rapid one. He joined 576 Squadron in late 1943 as a Sergeant. By February 1944 he had attained the rank of Flight Sergeant and rose to Warrant Officer by May of that year.

It was only a month later that he gained his commission as a Pilot Officer. He flew on many operations with the Squadron. Alec’s prowess as a Pilot was put to the test on the 22nd April 1944.

The mighty Lancaster, LL794 UL-D2, was fully fuelled and bombed up ready for a raid on Dusseldorf. Alec released the brakes and the aircraft began to build up speed down the runway and as it did so the Port tyre burst and the aircraft swerved off of the runway with the Port engine ablaze. Luckily the flames were quickly extinguished and the crew, although shaken, were returned to their quarters unhurt. The coolness of both Pilot and crew had saved them from certain disaster.

On the night of 16th June 1944 Lancaster PA997 UL-D2 took off from Elsham Wolds airfield with Pilot Officer Alec Puttock at the controls. The aircraft headed for its target, Sterkgrad. With the invasion of Europe only ten days old the enemy night fighters were very active and there were many desperate combats to, over, and from the target. Added to this was an intense flak barrage in the target area making the chances of survival even slimmer.

As with so many losses during the war it is not known what exactly happened to the aircraft but it never returned to Elsham Wolds airfield again and it's crew now lay buried at the British War Cemetery in the Reichswald Forest.

Crew of LANCASTER PA997 UL-D2

Number

Rank

Name

Age

P.O.W

175906

P/O

Alec Leonard PUTTOCK

25

n/a

1482478

F/SGT

Thomas JEFFERSON

22

n/a

1099268

SGT

L R S TEMPLETON

n/a

POW No.194/Camp 357

1575151

SGT

John BROWN

22

n/a

1314538

F/SGT

D W G  WARR

n/a

POW No.199/Camp L7

1822774

SGT

Charles PHILP

20

n/a

1894974

SGT

Herbert Edgar LILLICRAP

19

n/a

Allan Abel Stockbridge

3207, Private, 1st Hertfordshire Regiment.

Missing In Action on the18th May 1915 aged 19.

Allan was the son of Thomas & Mary Stockbridge of Victoria House, Walkern. He was posted to France on the 23rd January 1915 and was killed on the same day as his younger brother, Cedric, whilst serving with the same Battalion.

They were in support of an attack by the Irish Guards on German positions East of L’Pinette. near Festubert. The No.1 Company supported an attack by the Irish Guards but had only gone 200 yards when they were held up by heavy machine gun and rifle fire, suffering a number of casualties, including the Stockbridge brothers.

Allan has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, France. (Panel 47.)

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

Cedric Gordon Stockbridge

Private, 1st Hertfordshire Regiment.

Missing In Action on the18th May 1915 aged 18.

Cedric was the son of Thomas & Mary Stockbridge of Victoria House, Walkern. He was posted to France on the 6th November 1914 and was killed on the same day as his older brother, Allan, whilst serving with the same Battalion.

They were in support of an attack by the Irish Guards on German positions East of L’Pinette. near Festubert. The No.1 Company supported an attack by the Irish Guards but had only gone 200 yards when they were held up by heavy machine gun and rifle fire, suffering a number of casualties, including the Stockbridge brothers.

Cedric has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Le Touret Memorial, France. (Panel 47.)

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