Alexandra,  Princess   of   Wales's   Own
Page 60. German Offensive - Blucher-Yorck.
German Advance on the Aisne 1918.
The 4th Battalion were moved from Reserve at Beaurieux on the night of the 26th May to the area just North of Craonne, facing the massed Divisions of the German Seventh Army. When the Germans attacked at dawn on the morning of the 27th the Battalion was heavily shelled and then outflanked on both sides, at least 80 men were killed and most of the rest taken prisoner. Those who escaped retreated on the green line. The village of Craonne, situated on high ground called the Plateau de Californie, was so badly shelled it was rebuilt elsewhere after the War and today an arboretum grows on the old site.

Ruins of Craonnelle.

19th May. Diary - "After a heavy bombardment the enemy raided our forward parts at Carponiere Vincent. Enemy took two prisoners. Flanking fire from our Lewis Guns caused the enemy casualties."
The 50th Division Diary recorded - Enemy raided No. 5 Post. Right sub-section (repulsed.) Another raid on post at CHAPONNIERE VINCENT. 2 OR missing. Normal to 26th.

21st to 26th MAY. Relieved by 5th Yorks and moved back into reserve at Beaurieux where training continued.
There had been fore-warning of German offensive from a Pole who had been taken prisoner.
Early on the 27th the Germans were to launch a massive surprise attack. This was code-named Blücher-Yorck after two Prussian Generals of the Napoleonic Wars.
To British Historians it would become the Third Battle of the Aisne.
The Germans had held the Chemin des Dames Ridge from the First Battle of the Aisne in September 1914 to 1917, when the French General Mangin had captured it during the Second Battle of the Aisne.

Final Order from 150th Infantry Brigade HQ.
The Operation was planned primarily by the German Chief of Staff, Erich Ludendorff, who was certain that success at the Aisne would lead the German armies to within striking distance of Paris. Ludendorff, who saw the British as the main threat, believed that this, in turn, would cause the Allies to move forces from Flanders to help defend the French capital, allowing the Germans to continue their Flanders offensive with greater ease. Thus, the Aisne drive was to be essentially a large diversionary attack. The defence of the Aisne area was in the hands of General Denis Auguste Duchene, commander of the French 6th army. Under his Command were Four divisions of the British IX Corps, led by Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon, one of these being the 50th.
CQMS William James Jackson.
For his bravery on this day he was awarded the Croix De Guerre with Silver Star.
[The ordinary Croix de Guerre had a bronze palm, the Silver was on recommendation by a Divisional Commander and the Gold by a Corps Commander.]
He would have been 37 years of age at the time,
[Born 1881 at 82 California, Eston, N Yorks].
His Army number 1880, and later 200333, indicate that he served throughout the whole time the 4th Battalion were in action.
He survived the War and was an Ironstone Mine Deputy at California, Eston, where he died, aged 58, in 1939.
[Photograph kindly donated by his Great Grandson, Andy Jackson of Guisborough, N Yorks.]

They had been posted to what was expected to be a "quiet" area to rest and refit after being reinforced by new men in the aftermath of the previous German offensives on the Somme and the Lys.
Report of British Commander, Sir Douglas Haig:-
"These Divisions had been heavily engaged during the past month, three having been twice and one [25th] three time withdrawn from the battle line and again engaged after being reformed. They, therefore, had few experienced Officers and men when they arrived in Champagne, and were again filled up by immature and half-trained lads fresh from home whose training had to be completed. In these circumastances the Divisions could not be considered fit for heavy fighting for some time to come. Notwithstanding this they were ordered into the Front line almost at once by the French Commander, who countered the British objections by declaring that as the Front was a quiet one, and as not attack was to be expected, it would be possible to continue the training of the troops while in the line and that the French Divisions, urgently required elsewhere could thus be relieved."
Duchene, against the wishes of the British and his own superior, Petain, placed the mass of his troops in the forward trenches, which meant that there were no reserves if the Germans broke through. Neither had lines of defence trenches been prepared.
The Germans had a superiority of 38 divisions with about 5,200 guns against 17 French and 4 British divisions with a total of 1,400 guns.
The rapid breakthrough that ensued caused a panic in Paris and the Government rapidly left.
Eventually, as with most offensives in the First World War, the German advance would peter out as the Artillery and supplies could not keep up with the Stormtroopers.
30,000 British, 98,000 French and a similar, if not greater, number of German casualties would occur for an area that would be soon retaken.
General Duchene was replaced.

203733 Pte Thompson John. Born at Bewcastle, Cumberland and enlisted at Brampton. Killed in action on the 24th. Buried at Jonchery Sur Vesle British Cemetery.
26th May. Early evening The Battalion were at Beaurieux in reserve. Warning of a pending German attack came through and the men were turned out within the hour with the general opinion that it was just another false alarm from the top brass.
‘In a short time the narrow street of Beaurieux was full of men and horses competing for possession. Companies fell in platoon by platoon whilst sergeants called out names. The men were not in a hurry and scouted the idea of anything happening in that quiet front...concerning the attack there was general incredulity. When the battalion had stood to all night in an open trench and zero hour had been as still as the dead they would march back to billets exhausted. A company bomber expressed the common feeling, “They’re takin ’oos oot to see t’stars,” he said.’
11 p.m the Btn were back in the Front line to the North of the village of Craonnelle on the line Mt Hermel-Tr Dehard, the 4th East Yorks on their left and the other Brigades of the Division to the right.
Local newspaper report of CQMS W J Jackson's Award.

Senior NCOs later reported that the trenches they had to occupy were not fit for purpose.
The 150th Infantry Brigade Diary recorded the events of the 26th May thus:-
The 150th Inf Bde was occupying the Plateau de Californie [or Craonne Plateau] with the Right at Chevreux Village [Cross Roads inclusive] and Left to the Piste d'Orleans inclusive - total Front about 2400 metres [2600 yards].
Two Battalions were in the front line - 5th Batt Yorks on the Right and 4th Bn East Yorks on the Left. 4th Batt Yorks Regt was in Divisional Reserve at Beaurieux.
Of the Front line Battalions, the 5th Bn Yorks Regt on the Right with 3 Companies in front and one in Reserve, alternated with the 4th Bn Yorks Regt for tours of 6 days.
The 4th Bn East yorks on the Left remained permanently in the line on a Single Company front.
On a warning being received from Division about 4 p.m. of an impending hostile attack, reported by prisoners to be due to open with a 2 to 3 hour bombardment at 1 a.m. on the 27th the following measures were taken:-
The Reserve Company of the 4th East Yorks was moved from La Hutte to P.C. Verdun [in Craonne] and placed at the disposal of the 5th Yorks.
The Support Company of the 4th East Yorks moved from Electra into close support in Trench Falaise [just under S crest of the Plateau].
The 4th Bn Yorks Regt, having been released from Div Reserve and placed at the disposal of the Brigade was directed into the line Mt Hermel - Tr.Behart [500 yards North of Craonelle] along which line dugouts to accommodate the Battalion had been recently cleared and rendered habitable.

27th May, 1 a.m Suddenly the German line leapt into flame with a bombardment by 4,000 Artillery pieces, that was said to be the most violent the 50th Division had ever experienced. It was to continue until 4.30 a.m. To the "ordinary" shells were added gas shells of four kinds - lachrymatory, sneezing, lethal and thermits.
The D.L.I reported that all their trenches had been levelled.
Most of the British Artillery batteries were taken out of action and telephone communication lost.
The Adjutant Lt Victor Purcell, who was to be taken prisoner, later described one incident in his book "The Further Side of No Man's Land"
'‘The parapet was knocked in all along the trench and the fumes of phosphorus rose from the charred earth.

Brig-General Hubert C Rees.
He was in Command of the 150th Brigade from February 1918 to his capture on the Aisne.

At one place where the trench was blocked carrying parties and stretcher-bearers had to go above ground and were exposed to their thighs in the long grass. The roof of a dug-out near headquarters, occupied by signallers and runners, had received a direct hit from a 9-inch and had subsided, imprisoning those within. A corporal and three men worked away with spades at the entrance like men possessed, and regardless of the shells bursting near them, of singing nose-caps and jagged pieces of shell case ripping the sides of the sandbags, they dug until they could lever the fallen girders and get at the men.’
3.30 a.m Through the morning mist and smoke the German Infantry began to advance behind a line of tanks.
They were met by a hail of fire which forced them behind the tanks.
4.30 a.m The enemy were advancing in numbers and coming through the village of Craonne. Brigadier Rees ordered the Battalion to hold its position and "C" Company to attack the German progress from the flank.
6 a.m The 4th Battalion were effectively holding the Front line, for more Germans were approaching from the front Left direction which had been defended by the 22nd French Division. It was not long before a bombing contest ensued on this flank, with men of the Yorkshires raking down earth from both sides of the trench in an effort to shore up a communication trench and block the penetration of the enemy bombers. What was was left of "C" Company were falling back from Craonne and German machine gunners who had occupied the bombed out buildings opened up.
6.30 a.m The Battalion were being outflanked on both sides and began to fall back on the village of Craonnelle.
Major Newcombe, who was to be taken prisoner, later described the situation:-
‘On my return journey to Battalion H.Q. I noticed that the enemy’s barrage had lessened very considerably and that I was several times fired on by machine guns and rifles at quite close range. This fire was coming from both flanks. On reaching Battalion H.Q. I found a party of the enemy in the neighbourhood of the H.Q. about 20 strong - officers, cooks, signallers, scouts, and runners and batmen - were turned out.

Brig H C Rees was taken prisoner on the 27th and made to appear before the Kaiser himself on the Craonne plateau.

We retired under close fire about 200 yards down a communication trench. Enemy bombing parties were held up here for some fifteen minutes, then we had to retire to Craonnelle as we were attacked also from both flanks.’ At Craonnelle the few men left tried to stem the tide of stormtroopers:-
‘One Lewis gun fired over a pile of bricks on the left, and a Corporal took the other through the ruins and fired from a window-gap in the front. The riflemen kept up a steady fire from both sides of the building. No bullet was without a mark. There seemed to be shoals of grey-coated infantry and machine gunners, getting what cover they could in the unevenness of the ground.’
7 a.m Only five men escaped from here and most of the Battalion men who had been in forward positions had either been killed or captured. No news was received from the 4th East Yorks, very few of whose men came back.
Brigadier Rees himself was captured while trying to cross the River Aisne.
[Much of the above information has been kindly contributed by David Blanchard of Skipton, N Yorks.]
The 4th Yorks War Diary described the events briefly thus, for any Officer who had witnessed the events was either dead or in enemy hands:-
"Btn took up a support position round Craonelle and La Hutte.
Enemy bombardment started about 1 a.m. Heavy gas shelling as far back as Maizy.
The enemy broke through on our left and pushed on towards Beaurieux arriving there about 10 a.m. The enemy also came through on our right using tanks over the flat country to the East of Craonne.
This party also pushed on towards Beaurieux and surrounded the Brigade in the line.
The enemy then pushed on towards Maizy.
All troops in Maizy and the few who had got out of Beaurieux then made a stand on the hills to the South of the village.
At about 11.15 a.m. these troops were withdrawn from this position.
The next position was held at Glennes and later a line on the hill North of Fismes."

The Brigade Diary for this day:-
Harrassing fire had been carried out during the early part of the ningt by our Artillery and manchine guns, on the enemy approaches, upon which abnormal activity had been noticed during the evening of the 26th.
At 1 a.m. the bombardment opened with all nature of shell, including gas. Brigade HQ in particular was shelled consistently with gas and masks had to be worn outside the gas-proof dugouts.
All communications were cut within a very short time, except buried cables. These existed to Battalion HQs and Observation Posts on the Plateau.
No Infantry attack developed against the Brigade front from the North. But as a result of the successful advance made by the enemy on the Right position of the Divisional Front and through the 22nd French Division on the Left, the Plateau was enveloped on both flanks by about 6.30 a.m.
The hostile barrage was maintained on the Plateau itself to the last and it is feared that many men were captured in the deep dugouts before they were able to come out.
The Observation Posts on the Plateau had been unable to report the progress of events owing to the smoke and dust. There was no morning mist.

The shelled ruins of Craonnelle.
This French village had been the scene of fighting throughout the War.

The buried cables to the Right Battn held and Lt Col Thompson reported about 5.45 a.m. that his HQ Company was then fighting around his Command Post and that they appeared to be surrounded.
No news was received back from the 4th East Yorks, very few of whose men came back, but it is probable that they were overwhelmed about the same time.
The Brigadier General, Commanding decided, in view of the general advance being made by the enemy along the whole Front, that no counter-attack carried out by the 4th Yorks could be expected to meet with success. He intended, therefore, to hold the Intermediate Line with this Battalion, moving his HQ back to P.C Terrasse [600 yards South of Craonnelle] to which proposal the Divisional General agreed by telephone.
About 7 a.m. the Brigage HQ left La Hutte with the intention of re-establishing at P.C Terrasse. On arrival there, however, it was discovered that the 4th Yorks had been overwhelmed on the Mt Hermel - Tr Behard line and that the enemy were already approaching P.C. Terrasse from the West.
An attempt to organise into defence at this point had therefore to be abandoned.
The Brigade HQ had now become dispersed as a result of hostile shelling. The Staff Captain and Intelligence Officer had been wounded whilst withdrawing towards the Aisne.
Brigadier General Rees, it is believed, became too exhausted to continue and was captured.
Some few stragglers were collected on the River and placed under the Command of such Officers as could be found.
The Brigade HQ ceased to exist temporarily and was not re-formed until the arrival of the Division at Vert-la-Gravelle on the 31st May.

Divisional History - "No less than 227 Officers and 4,879 other ranks were killed, wounded or captured during the battle. Practically all those casualties occurring on the 27th, for after that date the 50th Division became intermingled with other Divisions, which were in a like condition; only a mere handful of the Infantry remained."
87 Men of the 4th Yorks Btn were killed in action this day.
The following 51 dead are commemorated on the Soissons Memorial.

201562 Cpl Bagley Thomas. Enlisted in Middlesbrough, N Yorks.

Pte James Castle.

46734 Pte Baines James. Home at - 14 Spencer St, Preston, Lancs, town of birth and enlistment. Age 19.
235003 Pte Bannister Frederick. Home at 143 High St, Skelton in Cleveland, N Yorks. Enlisted at Salburn N Yorks. Age 22.
35637 Pte Brook[e]s Richard, John. Home at Bedminster Bristol, place of birth. Enlisted Bristol. Ex 4033 R Berks Yeomanry.
200542 Cpl Brown Walter, Joseph. Born at Rugby and enlisted at Catterick, N Yorks.
35622 Pte Butler William, James. Home at Frampton, Cotterhill, Bristol, place of birth and enlistment. Ex 3985 R Berks Yeomanry.
200100 Pte Calvert Anthony. Home at - 1 Vine Cottages, Northallerton, place of enlistment. Born at North Ormesby, N Yorks. Age 28.
35104 Pte Carter William. Of Wealdstone Harrow.
66 Pte Castle James. Home at 2 Melbourne Yard, Northallerton, N Yorks. Age 33. He was employed as a Carter before the War and married to Mary Alice Payne. He was just 5ft 3 ins and 129 pounds. At some time he had had the middle finger of his right hand amputated. Surviving documents at the National Archives show that he had enlisted on the 11th February 1907 in the "Imperial Yeomanry Volunteer Force" which in the North Riding of Yorkshire was the 1st Volunteer Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment. After Haldane created the Territorial Force, James was one of those first men to be enrolled in the 4th Yorks Battalion with the number 66 on the 2nd April 1908.
He attended the Annual Training every year from then until 1914 apart from the year 1911. His papers indicate that he went out to France with the Battn on 18 April 1915 and served for 349 days abroad. It seems he was part of a Battalion machine gun team as he was attached to 150th Brigade of the Machine Gun Corps in February 1916. He was awarded the 1914/15 Star. At the end of March 1916 he returned to England and was discharged as his enlistment term had "expired". One can see why it was necessary to introduce conscription which started in that year. James Castle was recalled or voluntarily re-enlisted in August 1916, given a new Battalion number 6241 and posted to one of the 4th Yorks Battn Reserve Battalions in the UK. Presumably as a result of his civilian experience with horses, he qualifed during this time as a "cold shoer", someone who could re-shoe horses without the use of blacksmith's hot work. On the 17th April 1917 he was permanently transferred to the 50 Battalion of the Machine Gun Corps with number 73620. He was serving with them, but attached to the 4th Yorks Battalion when he was missing presumed killed on the 27th May 1918.
[Pte Castle's photograph has been kindly contributed by Stuart Castle.]

Pte William Alexander Harrison in 1915, probably in the Army Service Corps. He was commissioned into the 4th Yorks Bn, on the 26th June 1918 and was at some time awarded the French decoration, Bronze Croix De Guerre with Palm and promoted to Captain.
[Photographs kindly contributed by his niece, Pat Goodship.]

Soissons Memorial.
The Soissons Memorial. Situated in Soissons town the memorial commemorates over 4,000 men who died in the 1918 Battles of the Aisne and Marne.

35108 Pte Christmas Benjamin, Charles. Home at 88 Ealing Rd, Brentford, Middlesex. Born Brentford. Enlisted Chiswick. Age 19. Ex 34558 9th T R Battn.
35124 Pte Cross Ernest. Home at38 Mansfield St, Foss Island Rd, York, place of birth and enlistment. Age 39. Ex 9th T R Battn.
201854 Pte Day Alvery, Dodsley. Home at 20 Montrose St, Saltburn, N Yorks, place of birth and enlistment. Age 21.
201758 Pte Drinkwater Joseph. Home at Langley Moor Durham. Born at Brotton, N Yorks and enlisted at Whitby, N Yorks. Age 19. Son of the late John and Elizabeth Drinkwater.
202277 Pte Essam Bertie. Born and enlisted in Northampton.Ex Northants Regt.
22696 Pte Fleet Walter. Home at - Bridge Inn Yard, Thorngate, Barnard Castle, Co Durham. Born Greatham, Co Durham and enlisted at Stockton on Tees. Age 28.
Germans at Berry Au Bac, May 1918, sending Minenwerfers onto the defending British. By 1 am on the 27th May, the heavy German Artillery had destroyed the supporting Allied Artillery. When the German Stormtroopers attacked a couple of hours later to make, as they say in their official report, "the best use of the long Spring day" - the French on the Left and the Division on the Right were driven back and the 150th Brigade were surrounded. Many were killed or taken prisoner.

29863 Sgt Foster Walter. Home at - Claythorpe Notts, place of birth. Enlisted at Newark. Age 27. Ex 32687 Notts Derby Regt.
35630 Pte Gillions Victor, John. Born at Tottenham, Middlesex and enlisted at Aylesbury Bucks. Age 19.
202285 Pte Goosey Charles. Born at Wellingborough, Northants and enlisted at Northampton. Ex 4794 Northants Regt.
43572 Pte Green William. Born and enlisted at Leicester. Ex 87th T R Battn.
35152 Pte Griffiths Thomas, Henry. Home at New Wortley, Leeds, place of birth and enlistment. Ex 9th T R Battn.
35301 Pte Hall Albert. Home at - 359 Mossbay Rd, Workington, Cumberland, place of birth. Enlisted at Carlisle. Age 19. Ex 7th T R Battn.
35160 Pte Harvey Sydney. Born and enlisted at Derby.
35624 Pte Hazell Alec, James. Home at - 11 Wellesley St, Lawrence Hill, Bristol, place of enlistment. Born at Paddington, London. Age 19.
201162 Cpl Hunt Herbert, William. Home at - Newby Wiske, Northallerton, N Yorks. Enlisted at Thirsk, N Yorks. Age 23. Signal Company.
Soissons Memorial.

24751 L/Cpl Ireland Walter, J. Born and enlisted at Hull, Yorks.
200905 L/Cpl Johnson Sydney Home at 17 Errington St, Brotton, place of birth. Enlisted at Skelton in Cleveland, N Yorks. Age 27. "Y" Company.
43581 Pte Johnson James, Archibald. Born at Arrochar, Dumbartonshire and enlisted at Gateshead, Co Durham.
35314 Pte Kelly John, Patrick. Home at - 19 Field St, Miles Platting, Manchester, place of enlistment. Born at Collyhurst, Lancs. Age 19. "X" Company.
201183 Pte Lumley James, William. Home at - 25 Willow St, Middlesbrough, N Yorks, place of enlistment. Died. Age 33.
26297 Pte Maybray William, Cecil. Home at - 20 Kensington Rd, Middlesbrough, N Yorks. Born at Thornaby on Tees. Age 20.
30840 L/Cpl McCabe Patrick. Born and enlisted at Middlesbrough, N Yorks.
201890 Pte Metcalfe Godfrey. Born Ellingstring, N Yorks. Home at East Witton, Middleham, N Yorks. Enlisted at Bedale, N Yorks. Age 28.
Coy Sgt Major John George Morley.

He was shot in the head on the 26th May 1918, while rounding up stragglers after the German breakthrough. Along with many others he was made a Prisoner of War and was held in various camps in Germany until being released after the Armistice. He afterwards suffered the physical and mental scars of War, but worked in the Teesside area until his death in 1963, at 16 Lawson Street, Stockton on Tees, aged 76. He had served in the Territorial Force and from Sep 1914 to some time in 1917 he was a trainer of recruits in the 2/4th Battalion at Home, which is the likely date of the photograph above as a Corporal.

[Photograph and information kindly donated by his grandson, Graham R Morley of Windsor, Berks.]

Click here to read CSM Morley's story.

Click here to read about Crossen, Germany Prisoner of War Camp where many men were initially sent after being captured on the Aisne.
22717 Pte Oxley John. Home at S Bank, Middlesbrough, place of enlistment. Born at Darlington, Co Durham. Age 28.
200536 Cpl Peacock Ernest. Home at Catterick N Yorks. Enlisted at Northallerton, N Yorks. Age 20.
265324 Pte Rennison Arthur. Home at N Ormesby, Middlesbrough N Yorks, town of birth and enlistment.
48445 Pte Richards Charles. Born and enlisted at Wolverhampton. Age 18. Ex 87th T R Battn.
205032 Pte Smith Albert. Home at 41 Pearson Rd, Birkenhead. Enlisted at Middlesbrough, N Yorks. Age 37.
20920 Pte Smith John. Born at Guisborough and enlisted at Middlesbrough. N Yorks.
204616 Pte Smith William. Home at Monkseaton Durham, place of birth. Enlisted at North Shields.
242504 Pte Spoors William. Home at 7 Prudhoe Place, Newcastle upon Tyne. Enlisted at Sheerness. Age 24.
34718 Pte Strawford Ralph. Home at Tyr, Nant, West Cross, Glam. Born Bristol, Enlisted at Swansea.
202961 Pte Summers Herbert. Home at Horden, Co Durham. Enlisted at Sunderland.
205397 Pte Tapkin John, F. Born at Willington Quay, Northumberland and enlisted at South Shields.
45585 Pte Thomas John, Henry. Born and enlisted at Middlesbrough, N Yorks.
61508 Pte Thomas John, Thomas. Born and enlisted at Swansea, Glamorgan.
35572 Pte Tummey Leonard. Home at Bromsgrove Worcs, place of birth. Enlisted Stourbridge.
31753 Pte Vernon Joseph, Edwin. Home at 4 Beaumont St, Oadby, Leicester, place of enlistment. Born at Batley Yorks. Age 38.
260094 Pte Wagstaff Frank. Home at Yeldon, Sharnbrooke, Beds and enlisted at Rushden.
14566 Pte Webster James. Born and enlisted at Sunderland, Co Durham.
46821 Pte Wilson Walter, Henry. Home at Cambleforth, Selby, Yorks, place of birth. Enlisted at Goole. Age 19.
48073 Pte Wood Claude, Albert. Home at 39 Talbot St, Nottingham, place of birth. Enlisted at Plymouth. Age 36.
2nd Lt Jones William Henry. Killied in action. Aged 29. The son of William Henry and Sara Ann Jones of 3 Victoria Mansions, Church Road, Hanwell in London. William Jones joined the Inns of Court Officer Training Corps on January 15th 1917 and was commissioned into 1st Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment in September of that year. He was attached to the 4th Battalion at a date not yet found. Commemorated on the Soissons Memorial.
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