Wetherby War Memorial - The Great War 1914 - 1918

Sergeant Robert Fowler

Gunter, R B N
Durrant, C M
Weston, C G
Kelly, K G
Armitage, G J
Durrant, H M L
Hargreaves, J P
March, G
Dukes, W
Fowler, R
Westerman, H
Kirk, J C
Wiggins, T A
Telford, G
Harper, J W
Alexander, H W
Mason, T F
Wilkinson, W
Brown, C
Adkin, J
Barton, F
Hobman, A
Webster, A E
March, E A
Miller, G
Hannan, E
Utley, G
Walker, F
Bygrave, E W
Chapman, E
Varley, N W
Bowen, F J
Byrom, F
Backhouse, S
Dalby, M
Crossland, A
Crossley, J S
Dean, R
Frost, A E
Hodgson, F H
Holt, J
Hood, W H
Hill, W
Kitchen, T
Linfoot, E
Metcalfe, J C
Marsden, J
Pawson, W
Precious, G
Scutt, T G
Wiggins, J
Walker, E
Wood, A
Young, T
Pratt, W
Taylor, H
Dawson, G W
Lister, J
Binge, T
Atack, G
Durham, E F
Precious, G R
Wheelhouse Smith, W
Backhouse, H
Swann, J W
Burnsides, G A
Coles, W
Kelly, H W
Miles, J G
Tapsell, K

"A" Battery, 155th Brigade (Coal Owner's Own), Royal Field Artillery
Died Monday 13th November, 1916, age 37 years

Cemetery :- Mailly Wood Military Cemetery, Somme, France
Grave Reference or Panel Number : I.B.16

Husband of Eva Fowler (nee Whitfield), of 14, High Street, Wetherby, Yorkshire.
The Early Years
Robert was born on the 8th of January 1878 at York to one Fanny Fowler, baptism records declaring Fanny (Frances Thackrey), a "Single Woman." Baptised at St. Sampson's Church, York, on the 18th of February 1880, the family residence is recorded as Swinegate. Although recorded as single, it appears that Fanny did actually enter a union of marriage with one John Fowler, a widower, occupation, a Labourer, at York in 1871. A child, Ellen, would be born the following year but she would unfortunately die in 1877 aged just five years, John himself dying in that very same year. The 1881 Census records that both Fanny, occupation, a Seamstress, and Robert, had taken up residence in premises located in Peaseholme Green, York, close to St. Anthony's Guildhall. By 1891, Robert and his mother, describing her occupation as that of a Needlewoman, had relocated to Number 16a, Lord Mayor's Walk in the ecclesiastical parish of St. Maurice, Robert, aged 13 years, being employed as an Errand Boy/Porter.
The Gordons' Boys Home
Financially challenged, it was in April 1891 that Robert was admitted to the National Gordons' Boys Home located at Chobham, Woking. Founded in 1885 to commemorate General Charles George Gordon who was killed at the Seige of Khartoum, the school was one of a number of establishments of the National Gordons' Boys Homes and was completed and occupied in December 1887. Erected on an area of fifty acres in extent, the land not occupied by the building itself was developed in to a park and parade ground, the establishment, upon completion, being able to accomodate 160 boys. Organised on the basis of an Army Training School, the boys were assigned ranks and most acts such as mealtimes, parades etc. were announced by the call of the bugle. Boys from the ages of 14 - 18 years were 'invited' for admission, one of the criteria for their admission being that they would be trained "for military and civil life, according to their capabilities and inclinations". In addition to this, the 'boys' were to be initially 'found' from the destitute or, "would take boys from the charitable institutions of the country at an age when those charities did not require to keep them, and would fit them either for the army, or as useful and industrious citizens".
Admitted to the Home located at Woking, Robert was previously a member of the York Branch of the Gordon Boys' Home that had been founded in the City in the year of 1890. He must have made an impression as he was mentioned at the Annual Meeting on the 10th of March 1894 held at the Church Institute, the following details being recorded:-
"The York branch has paid for four boys at the Home during 1893 (Authors note:- A sum of £22 per annum), and six additional boys have been admitted free, making ten in all sent by the York Committee. We have pleasure in adding that Robert Fowler and W. Reynard are two of the best conducted boys in the Home. The others have all good characters, with one exception, who seems a troublesome lad, but is now improving".
Under the command of Major-General Henry Tyndall C.B., the Commandant, Robert was not alone in being from York. Amongst the Boys there was one John William Jackson, aged 15 years and a resident of James Street, Layerthorpe. John Josiah Gentry, aged 16 years born at York, and William Walker of Coppergate, an Instructor. Residing at the Home for nearly three years, it was at the age of 16 years and 1 month that Robert attested for military service on the 5th of March 1894.
Worcestershire Regiment:- Malta, Bermuda, South Africa
Attesting for military service at Aldershot, the terms of his enlistment were that of Long Service (12 years with the Colors). Stating a preference to enlist in the Worcester Regiment, the first witness to sign the attestation was the then Commandant of the Home, Colonel John Bridges Walker. Appointed in 1892, Walker was a former officer with the Royal Artillery who had retired after twenty four years service. The second witness was the Captain and Adjutant, Walter Dermott Holland, the attestation finally being signed by the Approving Officer, Lieutenant-Colonel John Francis Egerton.
After a preliminary medical examination, Robert was declared as height, five foot one and a half inches, weight, ninety-five pounds, complexion 'fresh' with blue eyes and fair hair. Declared 'fit' for military service, Robert was now issued with the serial number 4017 and posted to join the ranks of the 2nd Battalion at Worcester. Appointed the rank of Drummer in May 1894, he chose to resign this appointment in December of that same year. Granted 1st Good Conduct Pay in March 1896, from the 1st of May 1898, Robert elected to serve under the provisions of Paragraph 5 of Army Order 65 of 1898. Basically this related to his Messing Allowance, the amount of monies allocated to a soldier to pay for his food.
"Join the Army and see the world" is a phrase that has often been used over the course of time but for Robert, a whole 'new' world was about to be his 'oyster'. In November 1895, the 2nd Worcester's departed Aldershot and prepared to embark at Southampton for Malta. Sailing on the Hired Troopship "Britannia," Malta was reached on the 21st of the month, the ship then embarking the 2nd Battalion, Gloucestershire Regiment, who were destined for service in Alexandria. Under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Francis Seymour Allen who had assumed command upon the retirement of Colonel Egerton, the battalion were stationed at Pembroke Camp, Malta, for nearly two years. The 2nd Battalion would then witness service in Bermuda, departing Malta in October 1897 on the Hired Transport "Avoca". After a period of over two years stationed on the island, orders were initially issued to relieve the 1st Battalion, Leinster's who were stationed in Nova Scotia but these were subsequently cancelled, the Worcester's arriving back in England on the "Avoca" on the 11th of December 1899.
Proceeding to Aldershot, the battalion was now placed under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Coningham who had assumed command upon the retirement of Colonel Allen. It was on the 17th of December 1899, that the 2nd Battalion, Worcestershire Regiment, embarked at Southampton on the Transport "Tintagel Castle". Contained in the Sixth Division of the South African Field Force under the command of Lieutenant-General Sir Thomas Kelly-Kenny C.B., the battalion numbered 22 officers and 946 men upon embarkation. Arriving at Cape Town on the 8th of January 1900, sickness including pneumonia and influenza had been prevalent on the voyage resulting in the deaths of two men and the hospitalisation of 33 men upon their arrival.
The actions of the 2nd Battalion during the course of the war are beyond the scope of this commemoration and require a more detailed study. In brief, the battalion initially served in the Colesberg and Naauwpoort districts of the Cape Colony and were heavily engaged on the 12th of February during a Boer attack on the "Keeromskop" which was held by the Worcester's. During this action, Colonel Coningham it was reported, was shot through the heart and died of his wounds as he tried to ascertain the strength of the attacking force. Brevet Major Arthur Kennedy Stubbs was also killed as he gallantly led his men forward in addition to Captain Berkeley Hardinghe Thomas who was mortally wounded. In men, the battalion lost 17 men killed, 2 severely wounded and prisoners, 29 wounded and 14 men posted as 'missing'. (Source:- The Bromsgrove Droitwich & Redditch Weekly Messenger dated the 24th of February 1900).
Appointed to the rank of Lance-Corporal (unpaid) whilst the battalion were "at sea," it was on the 5th of March 1900 that Robert was now granted 2nd Good Conduct Pay. Upon the death of Colonel Coningham, command of the battalion was now assumed by Lieutenant-Colonel George William Hacket Pain, as reinforcements began to arrive from England to replace the losses to the 2nd Battalion. Witnessing numerous actions throughout the course of the war, Robert was promoted to the rank of Corporal in August 1900 and to the rank of Sergeant in March 1902. In February of the following year however he would fall foul of military discipline, subsequently being charged with "Conduct to the Prejudice" and "Drunkeness". Found guilty, he was consequently reduced to the ranks.
It was in September 1904 that the battalion were issued orders to prepare for embarkation. The Worcester's were not to return to England but were now destined to be posted to Ceylon. Departing Durban on the 18th of October on board the Transport "Avoca," the battalion arrived at Ceylon on the 4th of November and proceeded to relieve the 2nd Battalion, Royal West Kent Regiment, who were destined for service in Hong Kong. Under the command of Brevet Lieutenant-Colonel Edward Charles Ingouville-Williams D.S.O., the latter had originally joined the battalion as Second-in-Command in April 1903 and subsequently assumed command of the 2nd Worcester's in May 1904 whilst they were stationed at Bloemfontein. Remaining at various Stations in Ceylon for two years, it was in December 1906 that the battalion moved to India however due to the imminent completion of Robert's military service, he was destined to return to England in January 1907. Discharged in February of that year, Robert had served a total of twelve years and three hundred and thirty-nine days with the Colours. For his service in South Africa, he would be awarded the King's South Africa Medal with the Clasps 1901 and 1902, and the Queen's South Africa Medal with the Clasps Wittebergen, Cape Colony and Transvaal.
His first known association with the Wetherby district is recorded in November 1909 when he was appointed as a Rural Postman (British Postal Appointment Book), the 1911 Census details confirming his occupation and also stating that he was residing as a boarder at Number 2, Scott Lane, Wetherby.
It was in the year of 1911 that Robert married one Eva Whitfield of Victoria Street, Wetherby. Employed as a Dairy Maid, Eva was the daughter of the late William Whitfield and Mary Ann Whitfield, her brother, Arthur, also being employed as a Rural Postman. In 1912, the first of three children was born, Frances Mary, followed by William in 1914 and Hilda in early 1916, just after her father departed for the Western Front for service with the 155th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. It is at this juncture that we will now explore the inception and formation of the brigade.

Formation Of The 155th
Brigade (Coal Owner's Own), Royal Field Artillery
The 155th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, were formed from an initiative proposed to the War Office by the West Yorkshire Coal Owner's Association to raise and equip a whole new field artillery brigade complete with associated ammunition column. Upon acceptance of the offer by the Army Council in February 1915, about 700 men were required to fill the ranks of this new brigade. The standards of the recruit were set at 5 foot 7 inches - 5 foot 10 inches for Gunners and between 5 foot 3 inches - 5 foot 7 inches for Drivers, a further requirement being that the potential recruit had a chest measurement of 35 inches. To fill the ranks, numerous advertisements were placed in the local press stating the requirement for retired cavalry, horse or field artillery Non-Commissioned officers either for re-enlistment or for temporary appointment to assist in training the recruits, a particular preference being placed on the recruitment to Swedish Drill Instructors. The age limit or ex Sergeants was not to exceed 45 years of age, Non-Commissioned officers, above 38 years. For the perspective recruits, application in writing was to be made to the Officer Commanding, Old Bank Chambers, Park Row, Leeds, one Temporary Lieutenant-Colonel William St. Pierre Bunbury. (Authors note: Rank as of the 15th February 1915, London Gazette dated the 8th of June, 1915).
The concept was to raise an artillery brigade composed of local volunteers, much the same as the "Pals" infantry battalions that had been conceived in the autumn of 1914. Standard procedure for the recruitment of men by the artillery pre 1915 was established on a national basis, this scheme initiated in the latter year being envisaged to provide a more 'local identity' to the recruitment of men for this arm of the services, hence, the men enlisting under this programme of recruitment were issued with an "L" Prefix to their serial number, i.e. denoting 'Local Enlistment.' With the scheme being adopted countrywide, in Yorkshire in addition to the 155th Brigade, the following brigades were also recruited; the 161st Brigade (York), 164th Brigade (Rotherham) and the 168th Brigade (Huddersfield).
The Yorkshire Evening Post dated the 20th of March 1915, contains yet another advertisement for potential recruits however the address for reply is now stated as the Market Place, Wetherby. A further newspaper article dated the 25th of May (Leeds Mercury) records that the brigade had been present in the town for a period of twelve weeks, thus placing the opening of this office as early March. With the nucleus of the brigade forming or about to form at Wetherby, Hey's Brewery Stables were seconded for the stabling of horses, the men ultimately being housed in private accommodation. (Authors note: Recorded as Hey's Brewery in the War Diary of the 2/6th West Yorkshire's who stabled their horses here in October 1915, T.N.A. WO95/3082/1).
An analysis of surviving service documents points to the fact that a large number of men were recruited in the month of April, men such as Harry Bellingham, a Tram Conductor of Armley, Leeds. Enlisting at Leeds on the 3rd of April, Harry joined the 155th Brigade at Wetherby on the 6th April. James Bennett, a Miner from Pontefract who had enlisted at the latter place on the 26th April, joining the brigade at Wetherby on the following day. On a more local basis, Thomas Cartmell Birkett, a Shoeing Smith of North Street, Wetherby, enlisted on the 1st April, his enlistment being signed by the Approving Officer, Colonel Bunbury himself. Walter Fozzard, a Saddlers Apprentice of Grafton Square, Wetherby and Harry Lavender, a Groom/Gardener of Saint James Street. Amongst the large number of Wetherby men who enlisted was of course, Robert Fowler.
Although there are no surviving service documents, an analysis of the service number issued L/23752 indicates enlistment in June 1915. Attesting at Wetherby, Robert's service obligation was that of Short Service (For the Duration of the War). After undergoing a preliminary medical examination, his enlistment was then approved by the Approving Officer present.
A Warm Welcome In Wharfedale
Consisting in total of about 1000 men, the arrival of the personnel of the 155th Brigade substantially increased the size of the towns population. Billets for the men were found in private accommodation and a lucrative prospect was gained by those housing the men with the owner of the property being paid 23 Shillings and 7 Pence per man, per week. In the following weeks, the men enjoyed the hospitality of the Yorkshire market town, one local newspaper reporting that the troops were having "the time of their lives." A brass band had been formed with the instruments and music kindly loaned by the Parish Council Band and the Wetherby Brass Band and a Sports Day was held at Grange Park on the 24th of May much to the entertainment of both the local populace and visiting loved ones. Events included "Tilting the Bucket," a "Gun Wheel Race" and a "Tug of War" as the Brigade Band played. To add to this carnival atmosphere, the Wesleyan Children's Festival had been changed from the Tuesday to the Monday, the children parading in the town as they sang their anniversary hymns and both before and after tea was taken, they played numerous games in the field at Heuthwaite kindly lent for the occasion by Mr. George Gunter.
A few days earlier though, more serious duties were performed by the men of the brigade. Madame Maria Deseck, a Belgian refugee residing in the town with her daughter, sadly had a seizure whilst at dinner and unfortunately died a few hours later. A message was subsequently sent to France whereupon the deceased's two sons, serving officers in the Belgian Army, were informed and granted leave from the Western Front to attend the funeral. Aged just 46 years, personnel of the 155th Brigade acted as bearers to the coffin at a ceremony attended by many of the townsfolk. Wreaths were laid on behalf of the townspeople of Wetherby, and one by the local Belgian Relief Committee.
By the month of June, trade in the town was benefiting greatly. The men were well-housed and well fed and their daily routine consisted of various programmes from 6 o'clock in the morning to 5 o'clock in the evening leaving plenty of spare time to enjoy the 'local attractions.' For one married man, a native of Chester, the freedom to roam away from home proved to be too much a temptation. Representing himself as a single man and proposing marriage, the latter proposal was accepted by a servant girl from Roundhay, Leeds, whose family resided in Wetherby and with whose mother he was billeted with. Upon leaving the Army two months later and taking up residence with his 'new' wife, his conduct towards her led to him being turned out of the marital home whereupon in December 1915 he re-enlisted once again. In June 1916, a baby daughter was born and upon proceeding to York the following month to make arrangements about her separation allowance, she learned that the man she had married in good faith, was already married. Having just been discharged from the Army, suffice to say, the case heard at Wetherby was committed for trial at the Assizes. Applying for bail and stating that his health was not good, his application was denied and subsequently an affiliation order of 4 Shillings per week was made against the prisoner in respect of the child. At Leeds Assizes in November, Mr. Justice Darling sentenced the prisoner to three months hard labour.(Authors Note: In order to protect anonymity, I will quote no source material).
A Boxing Tournament
Despite a rainy day and on the whole unfavourable looking weather conditions, a boxing tournament was arranged to take place on Wednesday the 7th July, the venue being Grange Park kindly lent for the occasion by Mr. G. Cochrane and Mr. George Gunter. The turn out consisted of people in their hundreds and the event was well supported with prizes being generously donated by several Leeds sportsmen. The tournament itself had been organised by Bombardier Frank "Spike" Robson, the ex Feather Weight Champion Boxer of England and Physical Instructor to the officers and men of the 155th Brigade.
The judges consisted of Lieutenant Charles Percival Denby of Garforth and Second-Lieutenant Alfred Stephen Mercer of Leeds (both officers of "C" Battery), the duties of Referee and M.C. being performed by Mr. Tom Moran and assisted by "Spike" Robson. A most notable figure performed the duties of time-keeper for all of the bouts, one Lance-Corporal Frederick William Holmes, V.C. and Medal Millitaire. Holmes had gained the award of the Victoria Cross at Le Cateau in 1914 whilst serving with the 2nd Battalion, King's Own Yorkshire Light Infantry and at this period was convalescing from wounds received in that action.
Brigade contests were the first to commence with Gunner Steward opposing Driver Cliffe. Scheduled for ten rounds, Steward was obviously the more superior fighter forcing Cliffe to retire in only the second round. Gunner Glew and Gunner Fletcher also met in a six round contest but Glew had a substantial weight and reach advantage and the bout was awarded to him at the end of the third round. Gunner Myers and Gunner Watson however went the full duration of an eight round contest, Myers proving his worth with grim determination and hard hitting but Watson, though the lighter of the two, was taller and had a longer reach and showed excellent foot work. At the end of a tough fight, the bout went to Watson but for excellent sportsmanship, Myers was awarded a consolation prize. Another six round contest now took place between Gunner Pearson and Gunner Morecroft and this was keenly fought. Going the full distance and although Pearson was lighter and shorter, the latter was awarded the points.
"Parkers Midgets," the ten-year-old twin sons of the professional Lightweight boxer Sam Parker of Leeds, now gave an amusing exhibition match over three rounds. Delighting the crowd with their scientific approach to boxing, they were both well matched and their ring craft, side-stepping and in and out fighting techniques was a spectacle to behold. Then Jimmy Wilde, the Welsh Flyweight boxer who had only come along from Cardiff to lend a hand, stepped into the ring. Although giving away much weight, Wilde held a couple of three round exhibition spars with Gunner Cliffe and Gunner Saxon. Wilde a newspaper article recoding the event, described him as "like an eel, and as elusive, and evoked roars of laughter by the manner in which he baffled his opponents." It was no wonder that Wilde went on to become the worlds first recognised World Flyweight Champion in December of the following year.
As the tournament drew to a close, "Spike" now stepped into the ring in two round exhibitions against Sergeant O'Hara and Gunner Vale, a gold medal being awarded to O'Hara for putting up the best fight against Robson. Finally, the event had to be drawn to a close due to rain as the opening round of a Featherweight competition commenced between Gunner Davis and Gunner Gent. After what was described as "fierce slogging for three rounds," a draw was called despite a further round still failing to separate the pair.
The evening had been an undoubted success and one can imagine many a wager changing hands that evening. Further boxing contests were promised so as to complete the tournament but these would be conducted at Ripon for which the 155th Brigade (Coal Owner's Own), Royal Field Artillery, were due to depart for in one week. The brigade were now destined to join their infantry, the 31st Division, who were now concentrating at various camps in the Ripon locality. The Divisional Artillery, the 155th (Coal Owner's Own), 161st (York), 164th (Rotherham) and the 168th (Huddersfield) Brigade's R.F.A. now under the command of Temporary Brigadier-General Skerrett Edward George Lawless would add to the miltary personnel already assembled in the district, their number at either temporary or permanent camps being estimated at nearly 120,000 men.
Upon even relocating to this rural idyll, there were cases of absenteeism. One Gunner of the 168th (Huddersfield) Brigade stationed at Ripon was charged at Halifax Police-court with being an absentee from his regiment and attempting to commit suicide. The Leeds Mercury dated August 1915 records that when about to be apprehended at his home in Halifax, the man picked up a table knife and slashed it across his throat remarking as he did so that "Sooner than go back, I would die." Although the wound was only superficial, he gave his disatisfaction of the food in camp as an excuse for his actions. When asked what was exactly wrong he stated before the borough magistrates, "Well, the potatoes are boiled with their jackets on, the peas and beans are as hard as iron, the bread is sad in the middle, and the tea is like water." Remanded to await a military escort, an analysis of miltary records reveals that the man with a more educated palate than most, survived the war.
For one other man of the 155th Brigade, his mental state must have been unimaginable and difficult to comprehend. Gunner Harry Crossley, L/5535, a native of Kirkstall, Leeds, had been granted leave from the brigade's camp located at Lindrick near Studley Royal and chose to return to his former billeting town of Wetherby instead of returning home. The Leeds Mercury dated the 11th of August 1915 reported that Crossley left the house where he had being staying at 4.30 a.m. on the morning of the 9th saying that he could not rest and had permission to go and gather mushrooms. Leaving at the house his equipment consisting of his bandolier, spurs and puttees, Harry was not seen again until a man boating on the River Wharfe noticed a pile of soldiers clothing on the river bank who duly notified the police. On the following morning, Harry's body was pulled from the river by the local police, a tragic story that for whatever reason ended in suicide. Harry Dixon had actually enlisted under the alias of 'Harry Crossley.' A married man aged 46 years, he now lies in St. Stephen's Churchyard, Kirkstall, Leeds.
Absenteeism during the months of July and August was proving to be most problematic with one man from Leeds deserting completely after numerous cases of being absent from parade ending on one occasion in arrest by the Leeds Police. It transpired that on one act of desertion, the man had enlisted at Carlton Barracks, Leeds, into the ranks of the 3/8th West Yorkshire Regiment but had confessed verbally after this fraudulent enlistment was discovered. Returned to Lindrick Camp and placed under arrest in the Guard Tent, the 'escapologist' slipped away from the Guard on Duty, one Bombardier Alfred Baxter, L/5518. A Court of Inquiry was subsequently held on the 23rd August comprising of the President, Second-Lieutenant William Dugdale Wilkinson and its members, Second-Lieutenants George Douglas Bottomley and George Jones Armitage (Authors note: Of Wetherby and killed whilst serving with the R.F.C.). The court declared the man as a deserter as of the 1st August under King's Regulations Paragraph 673. Of the deserter, there is no trace of him ever being apprehended and no record of medals issued. The only document as to this mans ultimate fate is an entry in the Electoral Register dated 1918 of the successful 'Houdini' residing in west Leeds. One that truly got away.
In late July and mid August, the men received their inoculations for typhoid. The weather had been quite inclement with heavy rain and thunderstorms that no doubt affected the ability to train however rumours now began to circulate of an impending move to another camp. In mid September, the artillery along with the infantry units and associated other arms that comprised the 31st Division began to move south to continue their training at Fovant. And thus, this New Army Division began to entrain for the south-west of England, for many, this would be their last glimpse of home, never to return.
Little is recorded of the Divisional Artillery other than that the 155th Brigade were located in camp at or near Fovant. A newspaper article published in the Yorkshire Post dated the 17th of November however alludes to the location of the West Yorkshire R.F.A. Brigade in the form of an appeal by the Y.M.C.A., an extract of which follows:-
"I am one of the leaders of the Y.M.C.A. Hut working amongst the men of the West Yorkshire Regiment, R.F.A., now stationed in the Fovant district, and am in charge of West Farm. I greatly need funds to purchase a lantern and slides, etc., to entertain these good soldiers after their hard day's work. If some of your readers would be willing to give or even help towards purchasing the lantern I would be most grateful. Our Institute is visited by hundreds of the men.
I am now helping in a Mission at Wolsingham, and return to my soldiers' work next week. Any gifts sent to me here, or to West Farm, Y.M.C.A., Sutton Mandeville, near Salisbury (post district), would be gratefully acknowledged. - Yours, etc., 
The Rectory, Wolsingham, November 15, 1915."
Sports were also conducted at Fovant, possibly one of the biggest events being a cross-country race that was held on the 1st November. A total of 33 teams participated numbering over 600 runners however there appears to be a conspicuous absence of teams entered by the West Yorkshire R.F.A. Brigade, only the 161st entering a team that comprised of both "A" and "B" Batteries. Both batteries finished in tenth place but the day really belonged to the Leeds "Pals" who swept the board and claimed all the honours and prizes with "D" Company finishing in first place.
Accomodation was simplistic and for many constituted wooden huts however their had been concerns expressed at the methods of their construction. As the weather turned colder, there were appeals in the local press for scarves and mitts. The village of Rainton and the nearby hamlet of Baldersby Saint James, North Yorkshire, were busy knitting up a fourth stone of wool kindly supplied by Mr. Robert Buckton, Farmer, his wife, Catherine, placing a request for the aforementioned articles of clothing in the Yorkshire Post on November the 13th.
On the 26th November, one man, Gunner Richard Thomas Perks, L/19869, of the 164th Brigade and a married man of Beall Street, Attercliffe, Sheffield, had unfortunately died at Fovant Military Hospital of 'wounds' aged just 23 years. The exact cause of death is unknown but is reported as "died of wounds"  in the Sheffield Daily Independent dated the 22nd of December. Whatever the circumstances of an untimely death, Richard is now buried in Sutton Mandeville Churchyard, Wiltshire, his gravestone bearing the obituary from his grieving wife, "To Memory Ever Dear."
Sanitary conditions were also somewhat questionable also, one man, Gunner George Nicholson, L/18787, 155th Brigade, a native of Garforth, being hospitalised at Tidworth for a period of two days with Scabies. As the men commenced their final training before being posted overseas there was to be a change of divisional affiliation. Although formed as Divisional Artillery for the 31st Division, the constituent artillery units of the latter were ordered to proceed overseas and join the 32nd Division on the Western Front. Of the 31st Division, they were destined for service in Egypt and after a period of duty on the Suez Canal Defences, the artillery of the 32nd Division were assigned to this division them when they disembarked in France in March 1916 for service in France.
The Western Front
On the 29th of December 1915, the 155th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, Lieutenant-Colonel William St. Pierre Bunbury, Officer Commanding, departed their camp at Fovant Hills between the hours of 6 - 9 p.m. and proceeded to Southampton in preparation for embarkation to France. The embarkation of both the Brigade Ammunition Column and "A" Battery was completed by late evening whereupon they proceeded to Le Havre, disembarking at the latter port on the morning of the 30th. Once completed, this advance element of the brigade proceeded to a Rest Camp situated near the docks area. Headquarters Staff plus "B," "C" and "D" Batteries respectively, disembarked at Le Havre on the 31st but did not join the advance element of the brigade but instead proceeded to Number 2 Rest Camp located at Sanvic, Le Havre. The War Diary records the strength of the 155th Brigade as 24 officers and 728 Other Ranks. In addition to personnel, the brigade also comprised of:-
729 Horses
16 Guns
56 Limber Wagons
9 General Service Wagons
11 Carts
In ammunition brought from England, the quantities appear to be quite substantial:-
1,216  18 pdr. Shrapnel Shell (Transported by the Brigade Ammunition Column)
2,816  18 pdr. Shrapnel Shell with Batteries
Total: 4032
Small Arms Ammunition (S.A.A.)  424,000 rounds transported by Brigade Ammunition Column
27,110  S.A.A. with Batteries
Total: 451,110
On the morning of the 1st January 1916, "A" Battery in addition to the B.A.C., entrained for Amiens between the hours of 4 a.m. - 6 a.m., Headquarters and "B," "C" and "D" Batteries would follow this advanced party on the following day respectively. Upon arrival at Amiens, the brigade then proceeded by road to Aroeuves located in the north-west suburbs of the town whereupon they proceeded to occupy billets. After organising equipment, at 8 a.m. on the morning of the 5th the brigade marched eastwards to the small village of Frechencourt located to the north of the main Amiens - Albert Road, the hamlet being reached at 3 p.m. in the afternoon. The stay at this picturesque backwater was of a short duration as on the following day, the journey eastwards continued towards the chalky uplands of the Somme. Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury, accompanied by half-sections of the brigade's batteries, now set forth for the village of Martinsart located to the north of Albert to prepare for offensive operations. Establishing themselves in this position on the western bank of the Ancre river, orders were now issued to commence a relief of artillery batteries located in this sector. The process of relief duly commenced at 3 p.m. on the afternoon of the 6th whereupon the half-sections of the 155th Brigade relieved half-sections of the 2nd Highland Field Artillery Brigade, 51st (Highland) Division and subsequently took up the positions they had formally occupied. With the remainder of the 155th Brigade arriving in the vicinity of Martinsart on the following day, Colonel Bunbury now assumed command of the Left Group, 32nd Divisional Artillery, the dispositions of the brigade recorded in the Brigade War Diary as follows:- 

A/155 Battery - Map Ovillers 57d S.E.4 - W.3 B.30.95. (near Martinsart)
B/155 Battery - Map Beaumont 57d  S.E. 1 and 2 - Q.34 B.1.5. (near Mesnil)
C/155 Battery - Map Beaumont 57d  S.E. 1 and 2 - Q.34 B.3.8. (near Mesnil)
D/155 Battery - Map Ovillers 57d  S.E.4 - W.18 a 15.80. (near Aveluy)

The position of the batteries equates to a line therefore of Beaucourt-sur-Ancre - Martinsart and a line 500 yards south of Authuille - Martinsart.

Somme: Firepower Unleashed

Registration of targets began immediately with 86 rounds of Shrapnel shell fired by the end of the 8th.
B/164 Battery had now been added to the Left Group with registration of targets still continuing in the days that followed.
Enemy activity had by now also increased with artillery shelling Mesnil but it was the ever present trench mortars that continued a harrassing fire of the front line that were proving to be most prevalent. As a consequence, frequent requests were received to deviate from the task of registration to one of suppressive fire.
On the 12th, an aircraft was observed heading towards the British front line from the direction of the German lines at about a height of 9000 feet. Identified as a 'Voisin' Type, displayed in corresponding French markings, it was deemed 'unusual' that their was no anti-aircraft fire from the enemy line as it flew onwards. The aircraft then proceeded to circle over the British lines before flying back over St. Pierre Divion to the north and over into German held territory.
Later during the day with the weather being described as clear and fine, attempts by the enemy to observe positions were rather more obvious when two observation balloons were put up. Several working parties were also observed and shelled as the War Diary describes "with effect."
As the month progressed, newly dug enemy trenches and a presumed ration dump located at Crucifix Corner at the junction of the Thiepval and Grandcourt Roads also received due attention as the programme of registration continued. In addition to these strafes, enemy train and motor transport was observed entering and leaving Achiet-le-Grand however the diary records no instance of any action being taken.

At 10.15 p.m. on the 15th January, an order for a 'Test Shoot' was issued to all batteries. The 'target' was to be the Right Sector Of The Barrage Line and from the time of this order being received, all batteries had completed their fire in 3.5 minutes expending 112 shells.
During the following day, all batteries confirmed registration and commenced to shell known machine gun and trench mortar positions under sporadic enemy artillery fire.
If the incident regarding the aircraft that circled the batteries positions was deemed 'unusual' in the days previously, a far more sinister occurence took place at 10 p.m. on the evening of the 16th.
A sentry guarding the positions of "C" Battery near Mesnil was approached by a 'man' who failed to answer the 'challenge.' The sentry duly opened fire but the mysterious 'visitor' managed to flee. Enquiries were instigated but eventually no evidence could be found as to his identity. 
As the first month of the year closed, the brigade, once again under sporadic fire of both artillery and trench mortar, now continued a bombardment of German front line positions. This would set the pattern and routine in the weeks that followed.

The weather continued to remain clear and fine as the month of February commenced. Enemy artillery and trench mortar fire was still sporadic but new targets and locations continued to be registered such as St. Pierre Divion and trenches to the north and south of Thiepval Chateau.
At 4.30 p.m. on the 3rd, yet another aircraft of 'dubious' origin, this time in British markings, was observed approaching from the direction of the German lines. Circling over the position occupied by B/155 Battery, the machine then departed the area heading for the enemy lines.
Batteries of the group now commenced to shell enemy wire and locations in Thiepval Village with, as the War Diary records "with very good effect."
On the 6th, enemy artillery became very active to the north in the sector held by the 4th Division between 9 and 11 a.m. During the day, A/155 observed a large tunnel under construction to the south of the village that was subsequently screened by the enemy to conceal his activities. He was also observed digging in the vicinity of the cemetery but fire was directed on this position at various times during the day to disperse any activity.
The temporary command of the Left Group now passed to Lieutenant-Colonel F.T. Oldham, Officer Commanding 168 Brigade R.F.A. whilst Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury proceeded to the School of Gunnery located at Beauval to assume duties as Commandant.

On the 12th, orders were received for the brigade to move out of action. Gun and Headquarters positions were to be handed over to the 2nd West Riding Field Artillery Brigade, the 'Bradford Territorials,' however, D/155, B/164 and D/164 Batteries were to remain in situ as part of this new group.
As a departing 'gesture,' German artillery shelled Mesnil with 4.5 and 5.9 inch shells along with Authuille and Aveluy Wood which was replied to by the firing of several shells. During this bombardment, A/155 had observed a large calibre gun firing from the direction of the Ferme du Mouquet no doubt valuable intelligence to the relief units of the artillery.
At 10 a.m. on the morning of the 14th, Brigade Headquarters staff minus telephonists and three linesmen proceeded on relief by the 2nd West Riding F.A. Brigade to Frechencourt under command of the Orderly Officer. During the afternoon, half sections of each battery began to withdraw however previous orders to move to Frechencourt were changed at 7 p.m. on the 15th. The destination for a period of rest was now designated as the village of Montigny located to the north of the latter place with the final withdrawal of the remainding half sections and respective batteries staff being completed on the 15th.
At 9 a.m. on the 16th the sector was handed over to the 2nd West Riding's with the remainder of Headquarters staff of the 155th Brigade under the command of the Adjutant proceeding to rejoin unit at Montigny.

The brigade was now considered to be at 'rest,' somewhat of a misnomer in miltary parlance. Time was spent in drilling, gun laying techniques and driving and riding drill in addition to general maintenance and cleaning of kit and equipment.
On the 21st, Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury returned from his duties at Beauval, Lieutenant-Colonel Oldham having returned to his respective unit on the 16th.
After this brief respite from operations, orders were received on the 28th to proceed to relieve the 83rd Brigade, R.F.A. of the 18th (Eastern) Division who were located in positions near Albert.
Once again, Robert and the men of the 'Coal Owners Own' were to be on the offensive.

Preparatory to the movement of the brigade, a forward party of the 155th assembled to reconnoitre the positions occupied by the 83rd Brigade R.F.A.
At about 1.30 p.m. on the 3rd March, relief of the 83rd Brigade commenced and positions of the 155th Brigade were established as thus:

Wagon Lines:- Headquarters, Albert, near to the station
"        "         "A" Battery, Albert
"        "         "B" and "C" Batteries, Moulin-de-Vivier
Headquarters:- Farm Belle

Authors note: Moulin du Vivier and Bellevue Farm located west of Meaulte and south of Albert respectively.
On occupation of the position, the guns of the 83rd Brigade remained in situ and were subsequently taken over by the 155th with those of the latter being exchanged on handover. However, it is of interest to note that the 155th retained their Number 7 Dial Sights and the 83rd their Number 1 variant.
The guns of the following batteries now constituted the Centre Group under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury. It must be noted however that D/155 Battery was still in action near Aveluy under the command of the 49th (West Riding) Division however orders were received that the battery were to move into the Centre Group by the 6th March in exchange for A/168 Battery.

"A," "B" and "C" Batteries 155th Brigade
"B" 164th Battery

The weather had by now begun to deteriorate with snow storms being experienced at intervals both during the day and night, however, all the guns of the group minus "A" Battery had commenced to fire on enemy trenches located near La Boisselle with "good effect."
During the following days, activity by the enemy consisted of the desultory shelling of Albert and of the road to Pozieres. The actions of enemy trench mortars however remained a constant threat resulting in requests for bombardment by the infantry occupying the line.
As the brigade continued its operations, Robert was about to receive some tragic news from the family home at Wetherby.

Family Tragedy

William, aged 2, one of their three children, had died in the most unfortunate of circumstances.

A newspaper article dated March, 1916 reports the inquest into the circumstances regarding William's death:

"Eva Fowler, the mother of the child, who lives at 14, High Street, Wetherby, stated that just prior to the accident she went upstairs to light a fire in the bedroom, taking the deceased with her. Whilst in the bedroom the baby commenced to cry, and she went down to feed it. The little boy William was taken downstairs also, but while she (witness) was answering the front door he went upstairs again. Almost as soon as she got to the door, she heard William scream. Rushing upstairs she found the child with his clothing in flames. The only way she could account for the accident was that the child must have been reaching up to the mantelpiece for a toy, when the draught caused by the opening of the front door blew his pinafore into the fire.

William, given first aid and his burns bathed, a neighbour then called for the assistance of Dr. Hargreaves, the local physician, and was admitted to Leeds General Infirmary where he died the following day."

Trench Raid

The remaining weeks of the month of March were characterized by desultory enemy artillery and trench mortar fire. Aerial observation by the enemy utilizing both balloon and aircraft had also proved to be a significant feature of this sector as had mining activity in front of the village of La Boiselle. It was also noted that heavy calibre artillery, possibly about 15 cm, had now come into action and was firing from positions located at Contalmaison or Pozieres.
Batteries of the Centre Group had by now turned their attentions to the enemy's barbed wire defences as early as the 13th in an attempt to cut 'lanes' as a precursor to a 'scheme' that was due to be carried out by the infantry.
On the night of the 26th/27th March, a trench raid was to be carried out by the 1st Dorsets, 14th Brigade, 32nd Division on the German trenches at La Boisselle. The raiding party would penetrate the enemy's defences at two points; 'Y Sap,' that protruded into 'Mash Valley' located to the south of the village, and enemy trenches located between the village cemetery and the 'Glory Hole.' The objectives of the raid were to ascertain the strength of the enemy's positions and, if possible, identify which unit(s) were holding the line.
During the day, enemy artillery had fired about 12 rounds into Albert but the main part of his bombardment consisting of over 200 shells fell on the British trenches.
The night was clear with hardly any cloud cover as the raiders assembled in two parties, the only actions of the enemy being the firing of several Very lights. As a precursor to the raid, a small mine was detonated by the 179th Tunnelling Company, Royal Engineers under the heavily mined area known as the 'Glory Hole' at 12.27 a.m. and at this time also, a barrage by the Centre Group commenced on the following points:

A/155 Battery  Rounds Expended  121  X.8.c 12.50 - X.8.a.05.52.
B/155 Battery  "                    "  186  X.13.d.
C/155 Battery  "                    "  188  X.13.d. - X.14.c.
D/155 Battery  "                    "  170  X.13.d.
B/164 Battery  (Howitzer)           53   X.13.d. - X.14.c.

In addition to this barrage mounted by the Centre Group, other batteries in the sector, C/164, D/168 and both sections of the 27th Siege Battery also provided fire support for the raid.     
As the raiding party penetrated the enemy positions via the 'lanes' cut in the barbed wire defences, the German artillery opened up a heavy bombardment on the batterie's positions and that of the British line. By 1 o'clock the raid was effectively over after suffering numerous casualties with little or no intelligence being gathered. The position at 'Y Sap,' as suspected , proved to be a formidible one that would later require destruction by mine warfare.

On the 1st April, orders were received that the 32nd Division were to be relieved by the 8th Division, III Corps.
The relief commenced at 7 p.m. on the evening of the 6th when one section of all the batteries that constituted the brigade were relieved by the following units:

A/155  -  1st Battery, 45th Brigade, R.F.A.
B/155  -  3rd Battery, 45th Brigade, R.F.A.
C/155  -  'O' Battery, 5th Brigade, R.H.A.
D/155  -  5th Battery, 45th Brigade, R.F.A.

Leaving their guns in position and taking over those of the 8th Divisional Batteries, the relieved sections of the brigade proceeded to their respective Wagon Lines where they spent the night.
At 7 a.m. on the morning of the 7th, the sector covered by the departing Centre Group was handed over to the Left Group Command of the 8th Divisional Artillery.
At 8 a.m., the section of batteries that had remained in thier Wagon Lines during the night commenced a march to a rest area located at Rubempre to the west of Contay, followed by Brigade Headquarters Staff under the command of the Orderly Officer on being relieved by the 5th Brigade R.H.A. at 10.30 a.m. The remaining sections of batteries also followed suit later during the day on relief being completed at 7 p.m.

The brigade would now also part company with Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury who had now received orders to proceed to Senlis to take over duties of C.R.A. in the absence of Brigadier-General James A. Tyler. (Authors note: Lieutenant-Colonel Bunbury left for Amiens at 5 p.m. on the 28th April en route for England).
The brigade now assumed a programme of drill and general cleaning and maintenance of equipment, however, the stay at Rubempre was to prove to be a short one. Due to a suitable watering place being located over 4 miles from the latter village, orders were now issued for the brigade to relocate to Contay on the 13th instant. This was duly carried out at intervals by the various sections of the brigade travelling by different routes as was standard military practice, billets and lines being occupied by 12.30 p.m.
Once again the brigade set about routine tasks of drill and training in the days that followed, however, intimation was received on the 20th April that Lieutenant-Colonel Ponsonby Sheppard D.S.O. was to assume duties as Commanding Officer, 155th Brigade, R.F.A.
Lieutenant-Colonel Sheppard visited the brigade on the 26th and on the 28th, formally assumed command, the men parading for his inspection at 2.30 p.m. dressed in Field Service Marching Order.

The month of May began as the previous month had ended with the men engaged in cleaning kit, and a programme of various drills and training.
The build up of men and materiel at Contay would have been most notable to the men as the village was located on one of the primary railheads involved in the transportation of ammunition to the front.
Although the brigade were in reserve, several N.C.O's, gunners and drivers under the command of two officers, were attached to other brigades of the 32nd Division digging gun pits and constructing Observation Points or 'O.P's.'
The Divisional Ammunition Column was also required to attend, each afternoon, instruction in gun drill, one would assume, to enable the men of the brigade in whatever capacity they served to 'multi-task.'
Training had now also commenced with Trench Bridges issued at a rate of 2 per battery for bridging ditches and other obstacles, this training being described as "satisfactory."
On the 11th May, the brigade received a distinguished visitor in the form of Commander-in-Chief, Sir Douglas Haig who was passing through the village of Contay. Men of "B" Battery paraded with Haig expressing "His satisfaction with the Lines."
From the 14th - 16th May, working parties had been formed from "A," "B," and "C" Batteries, each battery party under the command of 1 officer, for the preparation of gun pits at Q.35.b. & d (near Mesnil). It is of interest to note that the War Diary records that material for their construction was drawn from a Royal Engineer Dump located at Aveluy. This possibly refers to the site now occupied Aveluy Wood Cemetery (Lancashire Dump), Mesnil-Martinsart.

On the 26th of the month, in accordance with the re-organisation of Divisional Artilleries, the 155th Brigade Ammunition Column was broken up, personnel being distributed to the 32nd Divisional Ammunition Column or to the Trench Mortar Batteries of the 32nd Division. The horses were distributed to the 32nd and 49th D.A.C.'s with some lucky enough to be 'evacuated.'
Some batteries were also subject to re-organisation with D/155 Battery (18-pounders) transfered to the 164th Brigade R.F.A. In addition, A/164 Battery (4.5 inch Howitzers) was transferred to the 155th Brigade R.F.A. and was re-designated D/155 Battery.
In manpower, provisional authority was issued to the brigade for the increase of one subaltern to all 4 gun batteries, both 18-pounder and 4.5 inch Howitzer, under a 32nd Divisional Artillery 'Letter' dated 18th May.
Provision was also made for the adoption of reserve positions whilst the brigade was located in the Rest area at Contay. Should the enemy attack, and the brigade was required for support, they would occupy the following positions (Trench Map co-ordinates corrected by Author).

"If enemy capture the ridge from Auchonvillers - Hamel:-
Battery positions Q.32.c.  O.P.'s at Q.21.d. and Q.27.b."
(These positions equate roughly: Batteries, to the north-west of Martinsart. Observation Posts, between Englebelmer - Hamel, and to the west of Mesnil respectively).

"If enemy capture the ridge from Auchonvillers to Mesnil:-
Bty. positions W.7.b. and d. - Ops. at W.2.d."
(Batteries, in and around the village of Bouzincourt, Observation Post, south-west corner of Bois de Martinsart respectively).

"If enemy capture Authuille, Authuille Wood area:-
Bty. positions at W.8.d. and 1 Bty at sw edge of Martinsart Wood.
O.Ps. at W.15.a."
(Battery positions, to the east of Bouzincourt and 1 battery, south-west edge of Bois de Martinsart. Observation Posts located near to mills, east of Bouzincourt).

"If enemy occupy valley running from Thiepval Wood to south of Authuille Wood - Battery positions in W.9. - Ops. W.15.a."
(Battery positions, south of Bois de Martinsart and east of Bouzincourt, Observation Posts, near to mills east of the latter location).

During the period spent in the Rest Area at Contay, 'Test Calls' were made to the brigade who paraded ready to respond to any of the above scenarios.
The War Diary closes the month of May 1916 with the following:

"On completion of the gun positions at W.35. b & d the Brigade will probably move into action and relieve one of the Brigades now there."

This would happen sooner than later. Robert and the men of the 'Coal Owner's Own' were now about to take part in the greatest Allied offensive yet mounted in the Great War. The Battle of the Somme.

The Somme Offensive

The first major action of the 32nd Division in the Great War was destined to take place on the 1st July 1916, on the Somme, France. The original date for the commencement of the offensive was to be the 29th June, however, the deterioration in weather conditions, in particular heavy rainfall, forced the postponement of the launch of the attack by 48 hours.
The objective of the division was to capture the heavily fortified village of Thiepval and its subsequent environs. Once this first line of the enemy's defence was penetrated, the attack was to continue onto the second German line defences located near Mouquet Farm. Prior to the launch of the offensive, the Divisional Artillery consisting of the 155th, 161st, 164th and 168th Brigades R.F.A., would mount a bombardment of the German Front Line and associated enemy positions.

Preparations Begin

After dark on the 8th June, the batteries of the brigade under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Ponsonby Sheppard D.S.O. began transporting ammunition  from Contay, located west of Albert, and dumping the latter at positions located to the north-east of Aveluy Wood in the Ancre valley.
By the 14th, "A," "B" and "C" Batteries of the 155th Brigade occupied these new positions with "D" Battery located to the south of Martinsart. Brigade Headquarters had also moved forward from Contay the day previously and now occupied positions located at Bouzincourt.
On the 19th, the War Diary records that the dumping of ammunition had been completed, and that the dumps for "A," "B" and "C" Batteries contained 5000 rounds and "D" dump, 3700 rounds respectively.
At 4.00 p.m. on the afternoon of the 20th, "A" and "B" Batteries began to register their fire on the German Support and Reserve Line Trenches located south of Thiepval with covering fire being provided by 9.2 and 8 inch Howitzers.
On the 23rd, the brigade came under the control of the Left Group, 32nd Divisional Artillery with the Headquarters of the 155th and 168th Brigades being also attached.
On the 24th, the preliminary bombardment prior to the launch of the offensive began with "A," "B" and "C" Batteries employed on the cutting of barbed wire defences in front of the German Support Line Trenches, south of Thiepval. In addition to these tasks, the batteries also bombarded the German Reserve Line Trench located south of 'Ligne des Pommes,' in the area of the 'Hindenburg Redoubt.' The batteries also fired on wire already to cut to hamper any possible attempts at repair by the enemy.
As the 18-pounders operated to this fire-plan, "D" Battery with it's 4.5 inch Howitzers shelled certain strong-points by day.
For the next two days, this programme of bombardment continued with tasks switching to the cutting of the German barbed wire defences and keeping breaches in the latter already open on the 27th.
As the proposed start date of the offensive drew closer, the 29th June, orders were received that the attack was to be postponed for 48 hours due to heavy rainfall.
As the infantry waited, the brigade maintained the bombardment on the wire, strongpoints and enemy communication trenches. On the 30th June, the War Diary records that:
'A/155 has been able to cut wire on the German Front Line laying the gun with open sights.'
It is recorded that the batteries gun-pits were located 1500 yards from the enemy front line and that the latter was clearly visible. The War Diary continues:
'Although A, B & C batteries were in exposed positions and ammunition was brought up to them every evening during the preliminary bombardment, the battery positions & approaches to them were under intermittent heavy machine gun & artillery fire; the casualties sustained were very small.'
The War Diary then records the number of casualties sustained since the commencement of operations. "A," "B" and "D" Batteries are recorded as 'Nil' however, casualties sustained by "C" Battery are not recorded.
An analysis of 'Soldiers Died In The Great War' and Commonwealth War Graves records suggests that "C" Battery also sustained no casualties in the period 20th - 30th June.

'Zero' Hour, 7.30 a.m., Saturday 1st July 1916

At 06.40 a.m., the batteries of the 155th Brigade commenced a heavy bombardment of the enemy lines prior to the launch of the assault by units of the 32nd Division at 7.30 a.m.
As the 96th Brigade on the left of the divisional attack pressed forward to capture Thiepval village, the guns of the batteries now lifted and concentrated fire on the German support and reserve lines trenches.
Crossing 'No Mans Land,' the infantry were met with a hail of machine-gun and rifle fire as soon as they had left the safety of their own trenches. In spite of heavy casualties, some men had managed to penetrate the German Front Line, but, as the day wore on, any positions gained on this frontage became untenable and the men were either captured, killed, or tried to escape back to the safety of the British Front Line.
On the right flank however,the attack of the 97th Brigade had managed to gain a valuable foothold in the enemy strong point known as the 'Leipzig Salient' albeit, suffering heavy casualties.

Much has been written as regards the failure of the effects of the British artillery in the Somme offensive. The War Diary of the 155th Brigade indicates that enemy barbed wire defences were 'cut' as far as their own observations are concerned, however, evidence from unit War Diaries would now suggest in insufficient quantity along the length of the attack frontage as a whole. Thiepval, similar to other fortified villages attacked on the 1st July such as Gommecourt, Serre and Fricourt also relied on a subterranean defence consisting of deep dug-outs sheltering large bodies of men, safe from the effects of the barrage. Failure to neutralize these defences by heavy artillery and the lack of reliable intelligence as to their locations, no doubt, contributed to the failure to capture these positions.

Further Operations

On the 2nd July, the brigade continued the bombardment of enemy trenches and strong points located to the south of Thiepval.
On the 3rd, between the hours of 1.15 a.m. and 3.00 a.m. the batteries were engaged in a heavy bombardment of enemy communication trenches and strong points in preparation for an attack on Thiepval by the 25th Division at 6.15 a.m.
After a lull in the firing, the final preparatory bombardment recommenced at 5.00 a.m until 'Zero' Hour and the launch of the infantry attack. In addition to the fire of the 155th Brigade, other batteries placed a barrage on the enemy's support, reserve and communication trenches.
In a repeat of the 1st July attack, the 75th Brigade, 25th Division on leaving the British Front Line were subjected to a storm of machine-gun, rifle and artillery fire and the attempt to take Thiepval for a second time failed with heavy casualties.
The days that followed were characterized by a marked increase in German artillery activity particularly on the 5th when high explosive and gas shells were fired on Aveluy Wood and it's environs. This bombardment resulted in several direct hits registered on the Observation Posts of the batteries and at the Telephone Exchange located in the wood itself.
On the 7th, between the hours of 7.30 a.m and 8.50 a.m., all batteries were engaged in the bombardment of the German Front Line at Thiepval. This was in conjunction with an attack being made on Ovillers La Boiselle by the 36th Brigade, 12th Division, with the 74th Brigade, 25th Division being attached for the operation.


On the 8th July, a gradual withdrawal of the 155th Brigade commenced. Brigade Headquarters, moving from dug-outs located in positions at the 'Bluff' which it had occupied on the 26th June, relocated to Warloy (Warloy-Baillon), west of Albert. However, Headquarters and Brigade Wagon Lines remained west of Senlis, a position they had occupied since the 22nd June.
Consequently, on the 11th July, the batteries of the 155th Brigade began a two-stage relief, after dark, of the 153rd Brigade, R.F.A., attached to the 36th (Ulster) Division. The War Diary records:
' A B & C batteries take over guns of A B & C batteries 153 Bde.
Guns of A B & C 155 to be taken to 153 Bde. wagon lines.
D/155 takes its own guns to the new position.'

This relief of one section of the batteries of 153rd Brigade was completed on the nights 11th/12th and the second section completed this manoeuvre during the nights 12th/13th respectively.
All ammunition dumped by the 153rd Brigade at this new position located near Mesnil, was taken over by the 155th Brigade, the latter now coming under the command of Right Group, 49th (West Riding) Divisional Artillery under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Charles Clifford V.D. R.F.A.
Here the batteries remained until the 18th July when "A," "B" and "C" were relieved by artillery units of the 49th (West Riding) Division.
"A" Battery removed all of its guns during the relief. "B" Battery was to leave all of its guns in position taking only two field pieces from the relieving battery, whilst "C" also left its guns in situ but took over four pieces on completion of the relief. "D" Battery was to take its own guns away on relief from a position located at Mesnil Chateau.
The brigade now moved to the Wagon Lines located at Senlis where it spent the night.
The following day, the whole of the 32nd Divisional Artillery began a movement westwards away from the Somme battlefield.
At 6.00 a.m., the 155th Brigade, led by Brigade Headquarters and "A" Battery commenced the march with "B," "C" and "D" Batteries following on at fifteen minute intervals respectively. Passing through the villages of Hedauville, Varennes, Lealvillers, Louvencourt and Sarton, the final destination of the brigade was billets located at Milly, to the north of the town of Doullens.

Bethune Sector

The following chapter details the rather complex series of movements and transfers from commands that an artillery brigade performed during the course of the Great War. This period, covered extensively by the War Diary, provides a fascinating insight into the command and control structure of the artillery and it's ability to respond with rapidity to tactical changes and developments often at a moments notice.
On the 20th July, the 155th Brigade proceeded northwards. On the afternoon of the 22nd, the whole of the brigade occupied their subsequent battery lines at Ames, located to the south-west of Lillers.
"A" and "D" lines were located in the village itself, whilst "B" and "C" lines were located in a large field on the outskirts between Ames and the village of Bellery all personnel being billeted in Ames.
The 32nd Divisional Artillery now came under the command of 1 Corps, First Army with Divisional Headquarters located at Ecquedecques.
The batteries remained at Ames refitting and overhauling equipment, the 18-pounder guns being described in particular as 'found to be in a bad condition.' On the 25th, as a consequence for the need for vital maintenance, "C" Battery sent one gun to I.O.M. workshops (Authors note: Inspector Of Ordnance Machinery) located at Labeuvriere for a general overhaul whilst "B" Battery received two guns from the railhead.
The return to action once again became apparent when, on the 26th, orders were received from 32nd Divisional Artillery Headquarters that 1 officer, 1 servant plus one telephonist per battery and Headquarters were to be attached to the 16th Divisional Artillery for familiarisation duties on the front occupied by the infantry of that division.
At 8.40 a.m. on the morning of the 27th, these advance parties left Brigade Headquarters. Orders received dictated the attachment of two 18 pounder and one 4.5 Howitzer batteries to Heavy Artillery, 1 Corps, to act as 'Counter Batteries' with "A," "C" and "D" Batteries respectively being selected for the task.
On the 28th, orders were received that the 32nd Divisional Artillery were to move to Marles-les-Mines, located south-west of Bethune and it's surrounding district. Prior to this movement, "A" and "C" Batteries handed over their guns to batteries of the 161st, 164th and 168th Brigades.
On July 29th, the 155th Brigade proceeded to their new positions moving via Bellery, Ferfay, Auchel and Lozinghem.
As the brigade moved to their wagon lines at Marles-les-Mines, they drew guns which had been overhauled by the I.O.M. workshops from the other brigades of the 32nd Divisional Artillery as they moved forward. Of these workshops, Bethune supplied two guns, Labeuvriere, three guns and Ruitz three guns also.
Further orders for a change of command were received on the 1st August when all battery commanders and associated staff attached to the 16th Divisional Artillery were ordered to move to Headquarters, Left Group, of the 8th Divisional Artillery. 
The 164th Brigade now came under the control of Officer Commanding 155th Brigade to form part of the Left Group, 32nd Divisional Artillery, and by the 4th August, one section of each battery relieved batteries of the 8th Divisional Artillery in positions near Annequin, located to the west of Auchy-les-Mines. However, A/155 and A/164 Batteries did not relieve any batteries of the 8th Division and instead moved into unoccupied positions.
At 10.50 p.m. on the 5th August, all guns were in position and the relief was complete. It would suggest from the War Diary that the batteries commenced fire on the night 5th/6th with seventeen 18-pounders and four 4.5 Howitzers but the target(s) is not specified, however, registration of the fall of shot is recorded on the 6th
'on various points of the German line.'
The sector of the German line that was about to receive the attention of the brigade encompassed the area to the south of Cuinchy Brickstacks. This was an area where underground warfare and the detonation of mines was most prevalent, the War Diary recording three instances.
On August 10th, the Left Group Headquarters of the 155th Brigade moved to Le Preol, but the batteries of the Group maintained their positions under sporadic, and at times, intense artillery fire directed by the enemy.
On the 8th September, Lieutenant-Colonel Ponsonby Sheppard D.S.O., Officer Commanding 155th Brigade was evacuated to England although the War Diary does not stipulate as to the cause. As a consequence of this, Lieutenant-Colonel Herbert Allcard D.S.O., Officer Commanding 164th Brigade R.F.A. now assumed command of the brigade.
In this sector the brigade remained until the 15th October when they began a gradual withdrawal from action. On the afternoon of the 16th, the whole brigade had completed this manoeuvre and marched to billets located at Lapugnoy, west of Bethune.

Return To The Somme

On the 17th, the march south began. On this date, the village of la Thieuloye, north-east of St. Pol was reached, and the men subsequently billeted. The following day, the brigade accomplished the march to Rebreuette located to the south-east of Frevent and accommodation was furnished at this location. Finally, on the 19th October, the area of Doullens was reached, the brigade being billeted at Authieule to the south-east of the town. On this date also, Captain Pollock, previously serving with "C" Battery, 168th Brigade, assumed command of "A" Battery, 155th Brigade.
(Authors note: Possibly Arthur J.C. Pollock).
On the 20th October, the brigade proceeded by march to wagon lines and bivouacs located at the village of Louvencourt. Brigade Headquarters proceeded onwards to the village of Mailly Maillet and after dark, the batteries of the 155th moved forward into action.
Tactically, "A," "B," and "D" batteries with Brigade Headquarters now came under the control of the 3rd Division's Artillery, whilst "C" Battery now came under the control of Officer Commanding, 42nd Brigade Royal Field Artillery.
The following dispositions of the batteries is taken from the brigade War Diary including map references:
A/155 - Q 4 a 3.7
B/155 - Q 4 a 5.5
C/155 - K 26 a 1.7
D/155 - Q 4 a 6.2
These trench map locations translate as "A," "B" and "D" Batteries in the vicinity of 'White City' facing the village of Beaumont Hamel and "C" Battery in a position on the Colincamps Plain due west of La Signy Farm.
No information is recorded in the War Diary as to the objectives of the brigade on this date though one must presume the fire-plan was of a general nature.
With the batteries in position, the brigade Wagon Lines commenced a series of movements away from the village of Louvencourt. C/155's Lines moving to Acheux on the 28th October, and "A," "B" and "D" moving to Thievres on the 3rd November respectively.
The War Diary records that on the 4th November, the batteries located at 'White City' had ceased shooting, but that ' Batteries were heavily shelled intermittently' however, no casualties are recorded.
The attack would commence on the 13th November from points K28 located to the north at Serre, to R20, east of the River Ancre. The 155th Brigade fire-plan, would see them support in their allotted sector the attacks to be made by the 2nd and 51st (Highland) Division located north and south of 'White City' respectively.

Monday 13th November 1916:- The Death Of Sergeant Robert Fowler

In preparation for the attack to be launched by V Corps, over 600 artillery pieces of various calibres from 8 Divisional Artilleries had been massed to support the infantry assault.
The British bombardment had commenced on the 11th November and lasted for forty-eight hours, however, the 155th Brigade, according to the War Diary, had ceased 'shooting' on the 4th November. Zero hour was set for 5.30 a.m. on the morning of the 13th. At this time, the barrage was planned to move 100 yards every five minutes, it was then to halt on the first objective for one hour and then move on. Due to the weather, in particular fog, artillery observation had been virtually impossible and impeded counter-battery work. This was to have dire consequences to the batteries of the 155th located at 'White City.'
The specific task allocated to the brigade during the offensive was to direct fire on any enemy troops that appeared to be massing, however, due to visibility being limited, tactics were adapted and the batteries proceeded to bombard German communication trenches.
The War Diary unfortunately does not record any specific time during the day, but, in the course of operations, "A" Battery had "two guns buried but not damaged" no doubt due to enemy counter-battery work.
It would appear now that the enemy guns had located the positions held by the brigade. The War Diary records, albeit difficult to decipher due to annotations, " 9 men? and (annotation, B Battery) 2? horses were blown up by a 150 cm? shell at the battery position when bringing up rations".
Casualties are recorded in the War Diary as 2 O/Rs (Other Ranks) killed and 4 wounded.
An analysis of Commonwealth War Graves records suggest that the two Other Ranks killed in this incident were Acting Bombardier Frank Holliday, born at Eastwood, Nottinghamshire, and Corporal Bertie Dewhirst Norton, a native of Toller Lane, Bradford, aged just 22 and 21 years respectively. Both men are now interred at Euston Road Cemetery, Colincamps. As regards the circumstances surrounding the death of Robert, one can only surmise that he was a member of the party bringing up rations to the men of "B" Battery. It is therefore a possibility that the number of casualties killed and their deaths recorded by the War Diary, is an inaccurate figure, or, that of the 4 wounded, one may have succumbed to wounds received by the explosion.

On Saturday the 18th of November, Mrs. Eva Fowler received a letter from the Reverend Philip Giffard Holden, Chaplain to the Forces, stating that her husband, "Bob," had been unfortunately killed in action. The contents of the letter were published in the Skyrack Courier dated the 24th of November 1916, an extract of which follows:-

"I have very sad news for you. Your husband was brought in to the Aid Post where I was yesterday, but from his appearance he had been dead some time. I should say he must have died at once, but at any rate he must have been unconscious from the time he received his wound. I have no idea where his unit is, or would have returned his effects to it. But I handed them over to the sergeant at the Aid Post. I trust you will receive them. There was a silver watch, some letters (from which I got your address), some notes and loose coins. I took his medal ribbons to make sure you would get something. May God comfort you and the children. In haste and heartfelt sympathy, etc. Your husband will be buried in an English cemetery".   

Mailly Wood Cemetery, Mailly-Maillet, Somme

The cemetery was begun in June 1916 and burials continued up until the Ancre offensive of November 1916.
In 1917, 43 burials of casualties were made by units occupying the surrounding area. Burials continued from mid 1918 onwards, and, after the Armistice, graves from the surrounding battlefields and from a cemetery located in the village itself were concentrated into the cemetery. There are now 702 burials and commemorations of which 60 are unidentified. The cemetery also contains special memorials to 8 casualties whose graves could not be located or were destroyed by shell fire.