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.

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.

John Robertson

10445, Private, 1st Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment.

Missing In Action on the 10th March 1917.

Thiepval Memorial, Somme.

John arrived in France on the 30th May 1915. On the 10th March 1917 the Battalion were in the forward firing line at Irles, near Albert, in the Somme sector. At 5.15 am the Battalion attacked Grevillers Trench in conjunction with the 1st Battalion, Kings Royal Rifle Corps. The trench was captured at once and a line of posts was established in front to facilitate the digging of a new assembly trench for a future attack. 100 prisoners were taken and three Machine Guns and two light trench mortars were captured. Casualties amongst the Other Ranks were; 10 Killed, 75 wounded and 9 missing. One of the missing men was John Robertson.

He has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France. (Pier/Face 11D.)

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

 

Henry Mark Ruddock

73832, Private, 28th Canadian Infantry.

Missing In Action on the 15th September 1916 aged 21.

Henry was born on the 16th December 1895 the only son of Reverand Mark & Annie Ruddock of Ardley vicarage. He was to become a Farrier by trade and joined the Canadian army on the 23rd October 1914.

On the 15th September 1916 the Battalion were involved in an assault on the village of Courcelette where it suffered the loss of 10 Officers and 300 Other Ranks in this engagement.

Henry has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Vimy Memorial, France.

William Arthur Sams

16270, Private, 11th Battalion. Essex Regiment.

Died Of Wounds on the 1st October 1915 aged 19.

William was born and raised in the village of Codicote, Hertfordshire, the son of Thomas and Hannah Sams. He was a Farm Labourer before joining the Army.

He was living in Stevenage when he joined the Army and was posted to France on the 30th August 1915.

On the 26th September his Battalion were engaged in fighting in the Vermelles area, South-West of the town of La Bassee. The unit War Diary indicates that the Battalion encountered strong German resistance and were, eventually, forced to withdraw, having suffered over 350 casualties. It is believed that William was amongst the wounded and was evacuated to No.2 Stationary Hospital, Abbeville, where he died of his wounds on the 1st October 1915.

He is buried in the Abbeville Communal Cemetery, France. (2.E.7.)

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

Charles Edwin Sangster

14381, Sergeant, 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment.

Killed In Action on the 27th April 1918 aged 24.

Sergeant Charles Edwin Sangster

His father was the local Food Inspector and Charles was his eldest son. He had been employed at Knebworth Golf house before joining up and prior to that he was in the employ of the Grand Duke Michael when he was resident at Knebworth.

Charles joined the Army in 1914 at the outbreak of the war and was posted to France on the 12th May 1915 and also served in Italy. His wife lived at Shrub Terrace, Woodbridge, Suffolk.

At 04.30am on the 27th April 1918 the Germans attacked the positions held by the Battalion. A heavy artillery barrage fell on the postions prior to the infantry assault, resulting in 8 men being killed and a further 12 wounded. It was during this barrage that Charles was killed by shellfire.

He is buried in the Merville Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France. (1.F.43.)

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

 

William Charles Sapsed

5368, Private, 1st Battalion, Hertfordshire Regiment.

Missing In Action on the 13th November 1916 aged 27.

William was the son of William & Alice Sapsed of Lymington Road, Stevenage.

He was killed in one of the last actions during the Battle of the Somme. This was the Battle of The Ancre during which the Battalion were called upon to assault German trenches just in front of a heavily fortified position known as the  Schwaben Redoubt. The attack began at 5.45am whilst there was still a heavy mist on the ground. It was tough going for the troops who had to make their way through thick mud and many shell holes which covered the area. All of the officers in the leading Company had been killed or wounded and this added to the general confusion of battle. However, the Battalion managed to achieve their objectives but had suffered some losses.

William has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Thiepval Memorial, Somme, France. (Pier/Face 12C.)

Medal Entitlement: British War Medal & Victory Medal.

Frank Saunders

G/41588, Private, 2nd Battalion, Middlesex Regiment. (Formerly 144390 Royal Field Artillery).

Missing In Action on the 30th November 1917 aged 22.

Private Frank Saunders

Frank was the youngest son of Jonas & Katherine Saunders of 28 Trinity Road, Stevenage. A hairdresser by trade he was firstly an apprentice to Buckingham’s in the High Street and was later employed as Head Hairdresser by Mrs.Hann in Royston, where he had worked for five years before joining up.

He joined the Army in May 1916 and was sent France six months later, at the completion of his training.  In March 1917 he was sent back to England suffering from Dysentery and spent several months in hospital in Bournemouth and Addington Palace, Croydon. Frank, who had two brothers also serving in the Army, was killed in the Ypres, sector. His battalion had been serving in this sector throughout the summer and autumn and had seen much action in the terrifying battles of Thrid Ypres, also know as the Battle of Passchendaele.

On the 27th November 1917 the Battalion were in positions North of Passchendaele and were sent forward to relieve the men of the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment in the Front Line. During the following days the line was continuously shelled by German artillery in an effort to wear down the British troops and destroy their positions. The Battalion casualties as a result were, 7 men killed and a further 7 wounded. One of these was Frank Saunders.

He has no known grave and his name is recorded on the Tyne Cot Memorial, Zonnebeke, Belgium. (Panel 113/115.)

Medal Entitlement: British War Medal & Victory Medal

Alfred Savage

M/349525, Private, Royal Army Service Corps.

Died on the 25th February 1919 aged 33.

Alfred was the son of Charles and Maria Savage and the husband of Rose Savage. He was born in Cottered and moved to Walkern when he was 11 years old where he worked as Bootmaker for John Cannon. He joined the Army in December 1917.

The exact circumstances of his death are not yet known.

Alfred is buried in the St.Mary Churchyard, Walkern. (Grave C6.)

Medal Entitlement:  British War Medal & Victory Medal

Walter William Savage

G/15595, Private, 12th Royal Sussex Regiment.

Killed In Action on the 17th October 1916.

The Battalion were in an area of the Somme sector known as the Schwabern Redoubt from the 15th to the 17th October 1916, during the closing stages of the Battle of the Somme. They were involved in intense action over these two days and were attacked on several occasions with Flame-throwers and grenades as well as being shelled by artillery.  On the 17th October as the Battalion were being relieved they were heavily shelled, resuting in a number of casualties including Walter Savage

He is buried in the Gommecourt British Cemetery No.2, Hebuterne, France. (6.B.1.)

Medal Entitlement:  British War Medal & Victory Medal

(Photo Courtesy of Simom Cawthorne)