‘The Wunderwerk’ and Stuff Redoubt

- Lance Corporal Edward Petch
- Private Walter Newman
- Sergeant Robert Brailsford Craven
- Sergeant Thomas Clark
- Private William Trotter
- Lance Corporal Charles Stephens
- Private Thomas Edward Watson
- Private Harry Wilkinson [west Ayton]

As Fourth Army were making their final preparations for the Battle of Flers/Courcelette which would begin in a few hours time, the night of the fourteenth of September had been marked by a successful attack by the Reserve Army [later renamed 5TH army], under the command of General Sir Hubert Gough a few miles to the north west of Flers. The Reserve Army had entered the Somme Offensive on the fourth of July, when it had taken over from Fourth Army the left of the battlefront for a distance of eight miles which had ran from the village of La Boiselle in the north to that of Hebuterne at its southern most point. A particularly difficult stretch of the front, it had boasted some of the most heavily defended enemy positions that the British Army would encounter, non more so than a fearsome network of redoubts which had defended the seemingly impregnable village of Thiepval sitting atop of a ridge of the same name. However, before these positions could be dealt with there were equally heavily defended positions that had to be taken to the south east of the Thiepval Spur, a trench known as ‘Turk Street’, and a strong point named ‘The Wunderwerk’.

The Wunderwerk had been constructed in the two years that the Germans had been in possession of the area, solidly built of reinforced concrete, it in turn was defended by deep fields of barbed wire and innumerable machine gun emplacements, each perfectly sited to form a deadly cross fire, an ideal killing field for anyone attempting to get within spitting distance of the position. A novel feature of the Wonderwerk had I believe been a revolving platform of machine guns which had the ability of ‘disappearing’ when the British artillery had bombarded the position, and to ‘pop’ up again when the danger was over. Underground the position was a labyrinth of interlinked tunnels and bunkers, some thirty feet deep, which had connected it to other positions nearby.

Reserve Army Headquarters had placed responsibility for the attack into the hands of the 11TH [Northern] Division under the command of Major General F. Hammersley, which had arrived in the Somme sector following service at Gallipoli and Egypt two weeks after the offensive had begun. Concentrating near Flers the troops of the division had spent the next few weeks training and acclimatising to service on the Western Front. The attack on the fourteenth of September was to be their first major engagement.

11TH Divisional Headquarters had in its turn designated the unit’s 32ND Infantry Brigade for the assault. Using three of the brigades six Battalions of infantry [9TH West Yorkshire Regiment, 8TH Duke of Wellington’s Regiment, and 6TH Yorkshire Regiment] the attack was timed to commence at 6-28 in the evening of Thursday the fourteenth of September

At the time the units who were to be used in the operation had been in brigade reserve, that had been located in a series of shelters dug into a chalk cliff, had been situated at a place called ‘Crucifix Corner’ a cross roads near the village of Authille. During the cold and windy morning of the fourteenth the men had filed out of the positions. Probably loaded down with steel helmet, full equipment, three days rations, and two hundred and fifty rounds of ammunition apiece, they had then‘slogged’ up to the British front line opposite their intended target.

At 6-30pm all the artillery that could be brought to bear on the proposed objective had opened a terrific bombardment of the German positions. The attacking force during this period had probably eaten a last meal of bully beef and biscuits, downed with the customary pre battle swig of rum. They had perhaps nervously fidgeted with their equipment; some may even have taken the opportunity of writing a hurried letter to their parents or loved ones at home. All too soon the whistle had been blown to announce the opening of the attack, the men had soon afterwards ‘gone over the top’.

Accurate descriptions of the action at the Wonderwork from the point of view of the ordinary soldier are rare, however, Private Robert Hepburn of the 9TH West Yorkshire, had thankfully left us this account of his experiences on the 14TH of September 1916;

‘When our company went over the top and reached the German first trench it had been cleared of everyone, and our destination being a communication trench, leading from this we made there and had to dig for our lives, our artillery having battered the trench almost beyond recognition. Although open to heavy fire the nightlong and many of my comrades fell. I was unhurt Next night Fritz heavily bombarded our trenches and six men next to me but one were killed and huddled one on top another in the trench. How I escaped was marvellous’… [1]

Gallipoli veteran Sergeant Edward Miles, of the 8TH Duke of Wellington’s Regiment had also conveyed his experiences that day in a letter he had written to his wife three days after the battle;

‘September 17TH Phew! Those three days seemed like an hour’s nightmare. We went up on the night of the 14TH with three days rations in our haversacks, and on our way up we passed field guns wheel to wheel from Crucifix Corner to Railway Alley [a trench leading up to the front line].

There must have been a thousand guns there, and I think it was that that gave us the victory. We lost about two hundred [out of 500] killed and wounded and unfortunately my chum was amongst the wounded, being hit in the elbow soon after we went over. There was a tremendous amount of old iron thrown about but I was lucky enough to be missed. The chief praise is due, I think, to one of our companies and a company of the W.Yorks who as we went forward, came behind and dug a communication trench from ’Jerry’ front line to our own. How those poor devils worked while we held on was marvellous. The Brigadier General, as we came out of the line, shook hands with each of us, [those that were left]. Of course it was a feather in his cap, but we didn’t get anything. Still, who cares, we get a shilling a day’…[2]

Following the capture of the Wonderwerk the men of the 9TH West Yorkshire’s had been relieved by the 9TH Duke of Wellingtons of 49TH Division during the night of the 15TH of September. Under heavy German shellfire the tired and depleted Battalion had made their way back to the dugouts at Crucifix Corner where they had slept for the night. The following day the remains of the Battalion had been paraded for the ritual post Battle roll call where it was found that of the 20 officers and 780 who had gone into action the unit had suffered eight officers killed, four wounded. The other ranks had thirty-three NCOs and men killed, two hundred and forty wounded, and a further thirty-three were missing.
Amongst them; 19901 Lance Corporal Edward Petch. Born in Scarborough during 1890 at No 24 Hibernia Street, ‘Ted’ had been the son of Sarah Ann and Labourer Arthur Petch, who by 1916 had been living at No 6 Belle Vue Street. Alas, I have been unable to find much information regarding Edward Petch. Considering that he had spent all of his life in the Gladstone road area I had expected his name to be commemorated on the war memorial at Gladstone Road School, a stones throw from where he had lived, alas it is not. Nor is his name included on the ‘Roll of Honour’ in St Saviours Church.

Ted Petch had enlisted into the army at Scarborough in late 1915 and after an initial period of ‘square bashing’ at the West Yorkshire Regiment’s Depot at Fulford Barracks in York he had joined the Battalion in Egypt where the unit had been posted to in February 1916, following service in the ill fated Gallipoli campaign. Petch had remained in Egypt until June 1916, when the 11TH Division had received orders to prepare to embark for service in France. The Battalion had duly landed at Marseilles on Saturday the 1ST of July 1916, coincidentally the opening day of the Somme Offensive.

Edward’s Parents had been informed that their son was missing in October 1916, his name subsequently appearing in the casualty list included in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday October 6TH 1916, and had heard no more news until the following year, when the following had appeared in the Mercury of Friday August 10TH 1917;

‘Now believed killed - Edward Petch, West Yorks, who has been missing since 1916, is now officially regarded as having been killed. He was 26 years of age, and resided with his Mother at 6, Belle Vue Street. He was formerly employed by Mr Chapman, Falsgrave’…

[Chemist J.W. Chapman had been the proprietor of a shop located at No 76 Falsgrave Road].

In the years following their son’s death his parents had placed an epitaph in the ‘Scarborough Mercury’s Births, Marriages, and Deaths section the first had appeared in the following year on Friday September 14TH 1917, it reads;

‘In loving memory of our dear son, Lance Corporal Edward Petch. Killed in action on September 14th, 1916. —‘God takes our loved ones from our homes, but never from our hearts’. Remembered by his mother, father, sisters, and brother’…

Apart from Scarborough’s Oliver’s Mount Memorial, Ted is remembered on three weathered strips of sandstone set into the earth of the town’s Manor Road Cemetery [Plot R, Row17, Grave7], which marks the whereabouts of his parent’s grave. Ted’s mother, Sarah Ann, who incidentally had been wounded quite severely in her side by a shell fragment during the German bombardment of the town Wednesday 16TH of December 1914, had died on August 24TH 1928 at the age of 65 years, and his father, Arthur Petch, who had passed away on March 16TH 1948 at the grand old age of 85 years.

[A photograph of Sarah Petch is reproduced on page 74 of Mark Marsay’s remarkable book, ‘Bombardment. The day the East Coast bled’, [Great Northern Publishing] which relates the facts of the Bombardment of the town in December 1914].

Also killed on the fourteenth; 18241 Private Walter Newman.

Belonging to ‘B’ Company of the 9TH West Yorkshire, Walter had been born in the Wiltshire village of Stratford Tony [near Salisbury] in 1881, and had been the eldest son of Elizabeth and Edward Newman [born at Stratford in 1857] who at the turn of the century had been the proprietors of a fruit and vegetable shop at No 81 Seamer Road. At the time of the 1901 Census the twenty years old Walter had worked alongside his father in the family’s nurseries on land which had ran alongside the Scarborough to York railway line in Seamer Road, their produce being sold in the families shop by Mrs Newman [who had been born in the Wiltshire village of Winterbourne Dauntsey in1856] and Walter’s younger sister and brother Elizabeth [born at Stratford in 1883] and William [born on the outskirts of London in the village of Swanley in 1886].

A married man at the time of his death Walter had wed Scarborough during 1903, and had been the husband of Florence Emma Newman [formally Harrison], and the father of three children, Elizabeth Ada, born 1900, Harry, 1908, and Sarah Helen, 1912, who, at the time of their father’s death had been living in Scarborough with their mother at No 9 Seamer Street.

The Newman family had been members of the congregation of St James with Holy Trinity Church in Seamer Road, where Walter’s name can be found amongst those of fifty four men, women, and children of the church who had ‘fallen’ during the 1914-18 war that are commemorated on ‘The Rood Screen’, a war memorial which takes the form of a magnificently carved oak screen separating the nave from the choir which had been erected in the church in 1921.

Newman’s name had appeared in a casualty list that had appeared in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 29TH of September 1916 as ‘Killed’, and nothing more was ever said of him in the newspaper.

Walter’s body had, however, eventually been found on the battlefield, and had been buried close to where he had fallen. The grave had also survived the devastation of the remainder of the war, and Newman’s remains had been re-interred at the end of hostilities by the Imperial War Graves Commission amongst over 1,500 other casualties of the Somme in Plot 3, Row V, Grave 4 of ‘Lonsdale Cemetery’, located some five kilometres to the north of Albert, near the village of Authuille.

One of only a handful of casualties of the Great War who are commemorated in Scarborough’s Woodlands Cemetery. A stone bearing Walter Newman’s name, and that of wife, Florence Emma Newman, who had died at No 31 Maple Drive, Scarborough on the tenth of May nineteen fifty four at the age of seventy two years, can be found in Plot L, Row 1, Grave 24. Also included on the monument is the name of his son, Harry, [previously living at No 62 Oxcliffe], who had died on June 2nd 1985 at the age of 77 years.

I have recently found, after enquiries at Scarborough’s Crematorium Office [which holds the details of all burials in the town] regarding the grave, that a daughter, Sarah Helen Newman, had also been interred in the same grave, she had died at the residential home situated at No101 Prospect Road on the first of September nineteen fifty four at the age of eighty six years. The ashes of another daughter Elizabeth Ada Walker, Nee Newman, a widow, who had died on the third of July nineteen seventy seven at the age of sixty eight years were also subsequently scattered on the grave.

To the left of the West Yorks had been the men of the 6TH Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. This unit’s role in the assault on the Wonderwerk had been to make a bombing attack on a series of German trenches know only as ‘Trenches 91- 69’. Of this episode Wylly says;

‘At 6-30 pm a very heavy artillery barrage from every gun that could be brought to bear was opened upon Turk Street, and three minutes later the front attacking wave of ‘D’ Company left its assembly trench and assailed the enemy trenches 91-69. These had somehow remained untouched by our artillery and the attacking force was met by heavy rifle and grenade fire, but nevertheless some of them at least reached the objective and assisted by a platoon of the West Yorkshire which arrived as a reinforcement, Trenches 91-69 were gained by a bombing attack about midnight; a bombing block was then established at about seventy yards from 91 post. The enemy counter-attacked violently with bombs at least three times during the night, but on each occasion was successfully repulsed’…[3]

The surviving men of the 6TH Yorks had spent the whole of the next day [the fifteenth] ‘consolidating’ a position known as ‘Prince Street’, and the Trenches 91-69. Wylly records that ‘the enemy had remained tolerably quiet’, until the evening when German artillery had counter attacked with ‘a strong bombardment’, which was followed later in the night by an infantry assault that had managed to retake a portion of the Trenches 91-69. The 6TH had themselves then made a counter attack that had driven the Germans out and recaptured the lost ground.

Early in the morning of Saturday the 16TH of September the 6TH Battalion had been relieved, the weary men threading their way back to rest at the nearby village of Hedauville. Here the Battalion had been paraded for a ‘roll call’ that had revealed that of the officers, two, including the unit’s Commanding Officer, Lieutenant Colonel C.G. Forsyth D.S.O. had been killed, two had been wounded, and another was missing. The ‘other ranks’ had had a hundred and thirty men killed, wounded, and missing.

Amongst the Battalion’s missing had been; 18554 Sergeant Robert Brailford Craven. Born in Scarborough in February 1891 [Baptised at St Mary’s Parish Church on November 25TH] at No 3 James Street, Robert was the third of six children of Mary A. and Labourer Robert Craven [Robert Craven and Mary Ann Burn had been married at St Mary’s Parish Church on October 18TH 1884]. Married at St Mary’s Parish Church during 1912, Robert had been the husband of Margaret Ellen Stephenson, and father of four children, Beatrice, Frank, Bert, and John, who were living in Scarborough with their mother at No 16 Murchison Street, at the time of their father’s death. [4]

Prior to the war Robert Craven had been employed as a gardener and had enlisted into the Army at Scarborough in the autumn of 1914. I had expected him to have been in the 6TH Yorks from it’s formation at Richmond in August 1914, however, Roberts name appears in a ‘Roll of Honour’ printed in ‘The Scarborough Pictorial’ of Wednesday August 4TH 1915 under the title of ‘Our Gallant Sons’ as being a Corporal in the 3RD Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, a Reserve Battalion which had been stationed at West Hartlepool at the time.

Robert had been listed as ‘missing’ in a casualty list which had appeared in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 20TH of October 1916, and as far as can be gathered, his parents, nor his wife had known whether he was alive or dead until June the following year, this is verified by a casualty list of June 22nd 1917, which had included the name of Roberts younger Brother, Richard Roland Craven [who had been born in 1893];

‘News has been received by Mr R. Craven, 14 Beechville Avenue, that his son, Driver R.R. Craven, R.F.A., Has been wounded for the second time. He is now in Hospital in France. He was called up at the beginning of the war, and has been in France some time. Prior to joining he was employed by Messrs. Sutton, Carriers. Mr Craven had three sons serving. One has been missing since last September’…

The remains of a soldier, reportedly those of Sergeant Craven had eventually been found amongst the wreckage of the Somme battlefield, these had subsequently been buried probably in a small burial ground near where they had been located, and after the war had been re-interred in the larger ‘Lonsdale Cemetery’ near the village of Authuile, which had been located directly behind the British front of 1916. Over one thousand five hundred 1914-18 casualties are commemorated in the cemetery, of these, over a half are unidentified and special memorials are to be found commemorating twenty two soldiers including Robert Brailford Craven, from the United Kingdom known, or believed to be buried amongst them. Sergeant Craven’s memorial is numbered A.9.

The name of Robert Craven, a parishioner of St Mary’s is also commemorated on a ‘Roll of Honour’ that can be located on the North interior wall of the Parish Church in Castle Road. His name can also be seen in Dean Road Cemetery inscribed on a now dilapidated gravestone which can be found in East, Circle, Border, Grave 56, which also commemorates the name of Sergeant Craven’s son John [Jack] Brailford Craven, who had passed away at Leeds on March 19TH 1918 at the age of two and a half years.

Margaret Ellen Craven, who by 1918 had been living in Scarborough at No 11 Murchison Street, had placed an epitaph for her husband and son in the Scarborough Mercury, which had appeared on Friday September 13TH 1918, it had read;

‘In loving memory of my dear husband, Sergeant R.B. Craven, Yorkshire Regiment, reported missing in France, September 15TH 1916; also our dear little son, John B. Craven, aged two and a half years, who had died March 19TH 1918.In our home you are fondly remembered, sweet memories cling around your dear names when we think of the old happy days, and wish you were with us again’. —11, Murchison Street…

In the years following the ‘Great War’, Margaret Craven had resided at No59 Falsgrave Road and had lived long enough to see the world plunged into a Second ‘Great War before she had passed away on Tuesday the fourth of November 1941 at the age of sixty three years. She was buried on the seventh of November, and is now also commemorated on a now broken stone in Dean Road Cemetery [Although not included on the memorial this grave also contains the remains of the Craven’s daughter, Beatrice Evelyn Rodgers, had died during January 1966 [buried on the twentieth] at the age of 63 years].

The memorial also bears the inscription ‘Greater love hath no man than this’…

Also amongst the 6TH Battalion’s casualties of the 14TH of September had been; 15181 Sergeant Thomas Clark.

Born in Scarborough at No.4 Wray’s Yard, William Street, on the 27TH of December 1889, Tom had been the second of two sons of Elizabeth [formally Trotter], and ‘stone mason’ George Clark.

Little is known of the whereabouts of Tom Clark’s parents between 1891 and 1901, however, by the time of the 1901 Census he and elder brother Chris had been residing in Scarborough with their widowed grandmother, Charlotte Trotter, at No 42 William Street, and at the time of the outbreak of war the twenty four years old Tom had been employed in the fishing industry at Lowestoft. Nevertheless, records show that during August 1914 he had been residing in Scarborough with sister Charlotte White at No.36 Trafalgar Road, from where Tom had enlisted into the army during December 1914, shortly after the devastating bombardment that had been inflicted on Scarborough by units of the German Navy on the 16TH of December 1914. [5]

A member of the original 6TH Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, unlike Sergeant Craven, Tom Clark had served with the unit throughout its history, and had landed with the Battalion at Suvla Bay on the 7TH of August 1915 to take part in the ill fated Gallipoli campaign until the unit, sorely depleted by Turkish gunfire and sickness, had finally been evacuated from the dreadful peninsular on the 21st of December 1915. Eventually posted to the Western Front, Clark and the remainder of the 6TH Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment had landed at Marseilles during July 1916, and had eventually arrived on the Somme by the 15TH of July 1916.

Like so many of his comrades in arms, no remains of a soldier identifiable as those of Sergeant Thomas Clark had ever been recovered from the detritus of the Somme battlefield, and Tom is amongst over seventy two thousand British and South African officers and men that are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing. His name can be found amongst the officers and men of the Yorkshire Regiment who had died in the nearby killing fields that are contained on Pier and Face 3A, and 3D.

In Scarborough, apart from the Oliver’s Mount Memorial, Tom Clark’s name is remembered in Column One of the ‘Roll of Honour’ located on the north interior wall of St Mary’s Parish Church that commemorates one hundred and fifty six former members of the Parish of St Mary’s that had lost their lives during the Great War of 1914-1918.

Relieved during the night of the 15TH of September the exhausted surviving officers and men of the 9TH Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment had duly marched back to dugouts at Crucifix Corner, where they had been afforded some rest before being marched to billets at Hedauville, where the unit had remained until the 18TH of September, when the unit had made a further move to Bouzincourt. Whilst there the sorely depleted battalion had been reinforced with the arrival of large drafts of men from the Base Depot, and by the time the unit had been considered in a fit state for action on the 21ST of September it had consisted of twenty-two officers and five hundred and forty eight men.

Duly ordered to bivouac at Mailly Wood, on the 22ND of September the 9TH Battalion had been marched to Ovillers, where the unit had relieved the 9TH Battalion of the Lancashire Fusiliers to take over their dugouts in reserve, four men having been wounded during the exchange. The 9TH West Yorkshire had remained at Ovillers for three days, during that period the unit had been put to work digging and reconstructing trenches, an operation that had seen two men killed and four wounded. Relieved on the 25TH by the 5TH Dorset Regiment, the 9TH Battalion had subsequently marched back to Bouzincourt, where the men had bivouacked ‘on a strip of land’.

During the afternoon of the following day 32ND Brigade had received orders to move back to dugouts at Crucifix Corner, where, during the morning of Wednesday the 27TH of September orders had been received for the 9TH Battalion along with the 6TH Yorkshire Regiment, ‘to move up in support of 34TH Brigade, and to occupy trenches around Mouquet Farm’. The two battalions, loaded down with ‘battle equipment’ had duly trudged up Thiepval Ridge, where, later that afternoon, the 9TH West Yorkshire had occupied the old front line trenches running through Mouquet Farm, whilst the 6TH Yorkshire had taken up positions in Ration Trench.

Whilst the two units had been making their way to the front 32ND Brigade Headquarters had received orders for the formation to make an attack on the line ‘Hessian Trench—Stuff Redoubt, ‘clearing up on the way’, whatever that meant.

These orders had been received by the West Yorkshire at around 2-30 that afternoon, the unit being ordered to ‘attack the line Point 99—Hessian Trench to Point 97, with the right [flank] of the Battalion on Point 99, in touch with the 1ST Canadian Division, and the left, in touch with the 6TH Yorkshire at Point 97 in Stuff Redoubt. The Barrage was to begin at 3pm and lift beyond objectives at 3-08. Positions of assembly, the line Zollern Trench, 1000 yards east of the Quarry’.

Somewhere along the line communications between the four Companies of the 9TH West Yorkshire, and only ‘A’ and ‘B’ Companies had received the necessary instructions of attack and these two units alone had begun the advance at 2-57pm. However, the advance by these Companies had eventually been noticed by ‘C’ and ‘D’ Companies, and soon they too had begun to move forward. The Battalion’s War Diary reports the outcome;

‘On leaving the line Point 52—Row of Apple Trees the Battalion came under very heavy indirect machine gun fire. The enemy shellfire not causing many casualties. The advance was however carried through with great gallantry to the objective. The great mass of barbed wire around the Zollern Redoubt caused the Battalion to lose direction and instead of arriving at the Hessian Trench they arrived at, and captured the Stuff Redoubt about 3-25pm. This was affected quite alone, as soon after the Battalion had advanced from High Trench sudden orders had been received that the attack was postponed for an hour, the 6TH Yorks on the left were caught in time, but the Battalion had been launched to the attack several minutes before the receipt of these orders and it was impossible to recall the Companies’…[6]

Private Hepburn takes up the ensuing story - ‘It was afternoon and we were not in good form for attack for we had marched a good three miles to the trenches laden with ammunition and tools, still, at the appointed hour we were on the top, and after a stiff job racing up and down shell holes we reached a communication trench. This was being peppered with machine gun fire, and bullets were dropping on the side of the trench, or what was left of it, like hailstones. From here we had to move forwards to a German trench while another regiment was going over the top of it, and I was on my way when a bullet pierced my arm and sent my pick out of my hand. I wanted to stick it but as everyone was bent on moving up and I could not get my wound dressed…I had to clear out to the Dressing Station’…

One of a series of strongly defended redoubts situated in the shell scarred area to the north of the piles of brick and mortar that had once been the village of Thiepval; the Stuff Redoubt had defied all previous attacks by the British, nevertheless, during that afternoon the 9TH Battalion had gained a foothold in the intricate system of trenches and blockhouses. Later that day the surviving members of the Battalion had been reinforced by men of the 6TH Yorkshire Regiment and together the two units, under the command of former school teacher Captain Archie Cecil Thomas White, had beaten off repeated enemy counterattacks that had been mounted over the next four terrible days. Unfortunately, I have been unable to find a detailed account of those four days of hell that had been endured by that most gallant band of Yorkshiremen. However, the citation that had accompanied Captain White’s award of the Victoria Cross, which had appeared in the London Gazette of the 26TH of October 1916, perhaps says all that needs to be said;

‘For most conspicuous bravery at Stuff Redoubt on the 27TH September and the 1ST October 1916. He was in command of the troops that held the southern and western faces of a redoubt. For four days and nights, by his indomitable spirit, great personal courage and skilful dispositions he held his position under fire of all kinds and against several counterattacks. Though short of supplies and ammunition, his determination never wavered. When the enemy attacked in greatly superior numbers and had almost ejected our troops from the redoubt, he personally led a counterattack, which finally cleared the enemy out of the southern and western faces. He risked his life continually and was the life and soul of the defence’…

[Born at Boroughbridge in North Yorkshire, Archie White had also later been award with a Military Cross and had survived the war to serve in the Second World War. He had died peacefully at his home at Camberley on the 20TH of May 1971 at the age of eighty years].

After the Battle the injured Private Hepburn had said…’I’m afraid few must remain of my Battalion of the West Yorks, for I saw my Captain, sergeant major, and three sergeants put out of action, in addition to the number of men. I consider myself highly fortunate and can shake hands with myself at having got through, for I thought my number was up proper’…[7]

The remnants of the 9TH Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment had eventually been relieved during the early hours of the 1ST of October 1916, by this time, of the twenty two officers and five hundred and forty eight men that had gone into action on the 27TH of September, only 1 officer and twenty four other ranks had answered their names during the calling of the Battalion’s rolls during the morning of the 1ST of October.

Amongst two officers and eighty six other ranks of the 9TH West Yorkshire that had lost their lives between the 27TH of September and the 1ST of October 1916 had been my father’s elder brother; 3/10384 Private William Trotter.

Born in Scarborough ironically on the 1ST of October 1898, at No.4 Thompson’s Yard in William Street, ‘Bill’ had been the third of nine children of Margaret Ann [formally Hodgson] and ‘general labourer’ William Trotter. [8]

Living in Scarborough at No.23 Hope Street by 1914 William had been employed as a labourer in the North Street bottling plant of the Scarborough and Whitby Brewery at the outbreak of war that August. Aged seventeen by then, Bill Trotter, like Ted Petch, had enlisted into the West Yorkshire Regiment at Scarborough during 1915, the pair initially being sent for training to the Regimental Depot at York’s Fulford Barracks, where they had duly joined the ranks of the 3RD [Reserve] Battalion.

In training until the start of 1916, Bill Trotter had been amongst a draft of replacements destined for service with the 9TH Battalion which had been attached to the 32ND Brigade of 11TH [Northern] Division, that had recently been evacuated from the Gallipoli Peninsular along with the remainder of the British Mediterranean Expeditionary Force during December 1915 following a campaign that had cost the lives of thousands of British and Commonwealth troops for very little gain.

Bill and his fellow replacements had duly been shipped off the Egypt, where the 9TH West Yorkshire had been languishing in trenches strung out along the banks of the Suez Canal. Supposedly defending the Canal against attack from Turkish forces that had never materialised, during June 1916 the Battalion, along with the remainder of 11TH [Northern] Division, been posted to France, arriving at Marseilles on the 1ST of July the opening day of the Somme Offensive.

Amongst 59 men of 9TH West Yorkshire that had been reported as ‘missing’ after the action at the Stuff Redoubt, my grandparents had been informed of Bill’s ‘loss’ by the beginning of December 1916, and had nothing more regarding the fate of their son until the following year, when, during August 1917, they had received the customary telegram from the War Office informing them that as no further news, regarding the fate of the son, had been forthcoming, it had therefore to be assumed that he had been killed in action, probably on the 27TH of September 1916. ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 24TH of August 1917 had duly reported;

‘Missing man now reported as killed - It is now officially stated that Private William Trotter, 23 Hope Street, missing since 27TH September last, must now be regarded as dead. Private Trotter was in the West Yorkshire Regiment, and had served in France and Egypt. A brother, who has been wounded, is now at Brompton [Military Hospital]. Private William Trotter was aged 18. Before joining was employed by the Scarborough and Whitby Brewery Co’… [9]

There had been no further information in the local press regarding the loss of Private Trotter.

Also amongst the missing had been thirty-one years old; 15637 Lance Corporal Charles Stephens.

Born in Scarborough during 1885 at No.21 Hampton Road, Charles had been the only son of Elizabeth and ‘housepainter’ John Stephens. A former pupil of Scarborough’s Central Board School, at the age of thirteen Charles had left formal education to become an apprentice painter and decorator with the local firm of George Bradley & Sons.

Shortly after the death of his mother in 1904, Charles and his father had moved to the city of York, where the pair had lodged at No18 East Mount Road, Charles working in the house painting industry for ‘High Class Decorators’ Hartley & Sons, of No. 28 Blake Street, York.

During 1905 the twenty years old Charles had married Lucy Eleanor Lindsay, and by the outbreak of war in August 1914 had been the father of four sons [William?, James Salisbury, born Scarborough 1910, Charles Ronald, and Ernest Harold [born at York 1913 and 1914 respectively].

A married man, Stephens had been exempt from military service at the outbreak of hostilities. Despite this, Charles had enlisted at York during September 1914 into the then forming 9TH [Service] Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment, and by October had been training at Grantham, where on the 18TH the Battalion, and the remainder of the infantry units of 11TH [Northern] Division, had been inspected by Lord Kitchener. For the next few months Stephens had remained in training in England until April 1915, when the 11TH Division had been considered fit for service abroad.

Everyone in the 9TH West Yorkshire had inevitably believed that they would be posted for service in France or Belgium, however, shortly after the Battalion had been once again inspected at Witley on the 31ST of May 1915 by King George the Fifth, on the 12TH of June the Battalion had received orders to prepare for service in the Mediterranean, and had duly embarked on the 30TH of June at Liverpool aboard the Empress of Britain.

The 11TH Division had eventually concentrated on the Greek Island of Imbros on the 28TH of July 1915, and on the 6TH of August had boarded motor lighters that had landed the unit on the Gallipoli Peninsular at Suvla Bay during that same night. Over the next four months of his life Stephens had been involved in a number of actions at Suvla Bay, including ill prepared 11TH Division operations at a hillock known as ‘Yilghin Burnu’, that the ‘Tommies’ would eventually name ‘Chocolate Hill’, where, on the 9TH of August Danish born [1890] Captain Percy Howard Hanson of the 6TH Lincolnshire Regiment, had been awarded with the Victoria Cross for his heroic actions during the rescue of a number of wounded from burning scrub.

Stephens had remained at Suvla Bay until the night of the 19/20 December 1915 when the 11TH Division had been finally evacuated from the Gallipoli Peninsular, having lost almost seventy five per cent of its complement in action with the Turks, and many more to sickness.

Like the majority of the troops that had served at Galipoli, Stephens had on many occasions been a victim of Dysentery. Nevertheless, amongst the fortunates that had survived numerous attacks of this disabling and often fatal disease, Stephens had eventually found himself in Egypt, where the 11TH Battalion had recuperated following its experiences in the Dardanelles in ‘A Section’ of the Suez Canal Defence system. Stationed at Sidi Bashr, and El Ferdan whilst in Egypt, like Private William Trotter, Stephens had been amongst the Battalion’s ranks that had boarded the transport during June 1916 that would eventually deposit the 9TH West Yorkshire on French soil during Saturday the 1ST of July 1916.

Also initially reported as ‘missing in action’, the news of Charles’s ‘loss’ had been forwarded to his wife during October 1916 and Lucy Stephens had heard nothing more regarding Charles’s fate until the following year, when during August 1917 she had received confirmation that he had been killed in action he previous year. His name had appeared in a lengthy casualty list that had appeared in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 10TH of August 1917;
‘Reported killed - Lance Corporal Chas. Stephens, who has been missing since 27TH September 1916, is now officially regarded as having been killed. Born in Scarborough, he served his apprenticeship with Mr. Geo Bradley, Westborough. When the war broke out he was working in York as a painter and decorator. He leaves a widow and family’…

Lucy Stephens had received no further information regarding the fate of her husband and except for a small pension in recompense for the loss of Charles had received nothing else as a reward for his lost life until after the Armistice when she had received a trio medal known as ‘Pip, Squeak, and Wilfred, that had been the 1914-15 Star, and the British War, and Victory Medals, which had proved to be of little worth in the years of depression following the ending of the so called ‘war to end all wars’.

By the poverty riddled 1920’s the remains of the Lucy Stephens had brought her three sons family had been residing in Scarborough at No.9Brook Square, a squalid rectangle of terraced dwellings that had stood in the centre of Scarborough between Lower Barwick Street and Lower Albion Street [now Northway], where, during Tuesday the 1ST of November 1932 her 18 years old son; Ernest Harold Stephens, had passed away from the effects of pneumonia.

Fortune had, nevertheless, seemed to have shone on the Stephens family by the 1950’s, by which time Lucy and son Charles Roland Stephens had been residing in the more affluent South Cliff area of Scarborough in a ground floor flat of ‘Rose Cottage’ located in Filey Road, where Lucy had lived until her demise at the age of eighty two years during Friday the 6TH of November 1964.

Lucy Eleanor Stephens’s funeral had taken place during the afternoon of Sunday the 12TH of November 1964 when her remains had been interred in Scarborough’s Manor Road Cemetery in Section O, Row 13, Grave 30. Her final resting place is marked by a still magnificently carved memorial that also perpetuates the names of her beloved son ‘Ernie’, and husband Charles, along with that of her mother in law, Elizabeth Stephens, who had died in Scarborough at No32 Caledonia Street at the age of forty two years during Tuesday the 9TH of August 1904.

[Not commemorated on this memorial, Charles’s father, John Stephens, had been born in the Herefordshire village of Yarpole during 1851, and had eventually died in the city of York at the age of sixty during the March quarter of 1908].

Born in Scarborough at No.4 Adelaide Place [Longwestgate] during 1880; 21082 Private Thomas Edward Watson had also been amongst the missing. Aged thirty-seven years at the time of the action at the Stuff Redoubt, Tom had enlisted into the West Yorkshire Regiment during 1915 at Leeds, where he had formally worked in the Leeds Iron Works. The husband of Eliza Mary Watson, and son of George and Barbara Sophia Watson, like Private Trotter, Tom had also joined the 9TH Battalion in Egypt. One of three brothers that had lost their lives in less than six months during the Great War, Tom had also initially reported as ‘missing in action’ and his name had been featured in a casualty list that had appeared in ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 27TH of October 1916;

‘Son killed and two missing - Blows for Scarborough woman - Official news has been received that Private Thomas Edward Watson, whose mother lives at 24, Longwestgate, is missing. Private Watson, who is married, had worked for some time at Leeds before joining the [West] Yorkshire Regiment.
A brother George William Watson West Yorks was killed in action June 4TH.

Another brother Private Ernest Watson, West Riding Regiment, has been missing since July 10TH’…

[A more detailed account of the lives of the three Watson brothers is to be found elsewhere in my text].

Another casualty of the fighting at Stuff Redoubt had been West Ayton born; 19900 Private Harry Wilkinson. The eldest son of Ayton’s blacksmith, Frederick, and Mary Wilkinson, Harry had been born in the village during 1898 and had worked with his father until his enlistment at the age of seventeen into the West Yorkshire Regiment at Scarborough during September 1914. Also an original member of the 9TH Battalion, Harry had also been a veteran of the Gallipoli campaign and his Battalion’s subsequent service in Egypt.

Like the other ‘missing’ Scarborough men, little had been heard by Harry’s parents regarding their son’s loss, and Fred Wilkinson had made numerous enquiries with the military authorities in an attempt to ascertain Harry’s fate, and had eventually received word of the young soldier’s probable death during November 1916. The Ayton section of the ‘District News‘ section of ‘The Scarborough Mercury’ of Friday the 17TH of November 1916 had duly reported;

‘Fallen---News from his officer was received this week to the effect that after speaking about the matter with his sergeant Major it must now be accepted that Pte. Harry Wilkinson has fallen. This communication was received by his sorrowing father, Mr. Wilkinson, Blacksmith, this week. We have previously announced that Pte. Wilkinson was missing. He joined the West Yorks shortly after the war broke out, when he was only seventeen years of age, and he had seen active service for many months, having been at Suvla Bay, and Egypt, and a short time ago with his regiment he was conveyed to France’

Amongst over seventy two thousand officers and men of the British and South African armed forces that had lost their lives in the Somme Sector before the 20TH of March 1918 that have no known graves, no identifiable remains of Privates Petch, Trotter, Watson, and Wilkinson, along with Lance Corporal Stephens had ever been found. Possibly amongst the thousands of unidentified bodies of British troops that had been interred in the numerous burial grounds located on the Somme, that remain to this day ‘missing in action’, the names of the five Scarborough born casualties belonging to the 9TH Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment are perpetuated on Pier and Face 2A, 2C, and 2D of the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, a massive monument located atop Thiepval Ridge that towers over the now peaceful French soil that during 1916 had been the most lethal killing grounds of the Somme Sector, that may still hold the remains of five of the most gallant of Scarborough’s sons.

In Scarborough the names of Privates Edward Petch, William Trotter, Thomas Edward Watson, and Lance Corporal Charles Stephens are commemorated on the town’s Oliver’s Mount War Memorial, whilst that of Private Harry Wilkinson is included on the War Cross Memorial located in East Ayton’s St. John the Baptist churchyard that commemorates sixteen men of East and West Ayton that had lost their lives during the First World War, and a further five men that had died whilst on active service during World War Two.

[1] Private Robert Hepburn’s account of the 9TH Battalion of the West Yorkshire Regiment’s part in the attack on the ‘Wunderwork’ and Stuff Redoubt had appeared in the ‘Yorkshire Evening Press’ of Wednesday the 4TH of October 1916

[2] The letter written by Sergeant Miles is now in the possession of the Imperial War Museum, and is featured in ‘The Imperial War Museum Book of the Somme’, by Malcolm Brown. Pan Books, 1997.

[3] ‘The History of the Green Howards in the Great War’, 1914—1918’; Wylly. A copy can be found in the Scarborough Room of Scarborough Central Library.

[4] Brothers George Henry, and Richard Roland, were born at Scarborough in 1886 and 1893 respectively. Robert’s third brother, John William Craven, had been born during 1901. Mary Ann Craven, Robert’s elder sister and eldest child of the Craven’s, had been born in 1885, also at Scarborough.

[5] Born at Scarborough on the 20TH of September 1864, Elizabeth Trotter had been the eldest daughter of the author’s great grandparents Thomas and Charlotte Ann Trotter [formally Dickinson], and had married Suffolk born [29TH of September 1863 at Bruisyard] George Clark at Scarborough’s St Mary’s Parish Church on Thursday the 25TH of September 1884. Thomas’s elder brother Christopher had also been born in the town, on the 16TH of November 1884, and had been baptised at St Mary’s Parish Church on the 8TH of January 1895. Sister Charlotte Clark had been baptised in the same church on the 22ND of November 1888, whilst Thomas had been baptised on the 23RD of January 1890.

[6] A copy of the 9TH Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment’s War Diary had kindly been made available to the author by Mrs. Pat Boyd of the Prince of Wales’s Own [West Yorkshire] Regimental Museum in York.

[7] Born at Dunfermline, Fife, before the war; 10929 Private Robert Hepburn had been a reporter for ‘The Yorkshire Herald’ and ‘Yorkshire Evening Press’. Wounded during the attack on the Stuff Redoubt, Hepburn had survived further war service with the West Yorkshire Regiment until 1918, when his number had finally ‘been up proper’ during that year’s German Spring Offensive, when on the 27TH of March 1918, he had been killed in action. No remains of Robert Hepburn had ever been found and he is commemorated in Bay 5 of the Arras Memorial to the Missing

[8] The Trotter family had still been residing at this address at the time of the 1901 Census. It had consisted of ‘bricklayers labourer’ William, aged 27 years, Margaret, 26 years, Charlotte, 5 years, Thomas, 4 years, William, 2 years, and Elizabeth aged 9 months. All had been born at Scarborough. Over the ensuing years the family would be augmented by George, born 1902, Dickinson, 1904, James, 1906 [died 1907], Harold, 1909, Alfred [my father] August 1911, and Ethel, 1918.

[9] Aged five at the time of his brother’s death, my father had had little recollection of Bill. However, until his final days he had remembered his eldest brother; 4135 Private Thomas Trotter being supported by another equally badly wounded soldier as the pair had made their way down Hope Street towards his family home. Born in Scarborough on the 27TH of January 1897 Tom had been wounded during September 1916 whilst serving ‘on the Somme’ with the 5TH Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. So bad had his injuries been that he had never returned to the war, Tom having been invalided out of the army shortly after his return from hospital during 1917. Married to Ada Casson in Scarborough on the 10TH of July 1920, Tom had been the father of two sons; Thomas, born 1920, and Leonard Francis, 1921. Sadly, Tom had died prematurely from the effects of the injuries received in France on the 28TH of April 1953 at the age of fifty-six years.

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