Son of George William Calver and Margaret D. Kelly
of Hill Road, Pengover Road, Liskeard, Cornwall.
Kenneth was born on the 25th February 1895 at Appleby-in-Westmoreland
to parents George, a Land Agent/Surveyor, and Margaret Kelly.
The eldest of three sons, Kenneth's younger brothers
would also serve in the Great War. Hubert, with the Australian Imperial Force and Harold in the ranks of the Royal Air
The Kelly family moved to Wetherby about 1910/1911 and took up residence in St. James Street however
the date of the exact arrival of the family in the town is unknown. George was employed as a Land Agent/Surveyor on the
Montague estates. A bill heading located by the Author describes his vocation as:"Geo. W. C. Kelly (Professional
Associate Of Surveyors' Institution,)
Land Agent, Architect, and Surveyor.
Agent For Phoenix Fire Office."
Kenneth was educated at Tadcaster Grammar School, no doubt an education afforded by his family's social status
in the community. In an obituary located by the Author in the Yorkshire Evening Post dated June 1918 the following sentence
"Late of the Ainsty Estate Office"
suggests that he may too have found employment after leaving school
at his fathers place of work. As regards Kenneth's future aspirations a letter located in surviving service papers states
an intention to find employment in the Colonies as a surveyor. As the major protagonist in recruitment of men from Wetherby was
also a Land Agent for the Montague estates, one Rowland Meyrick of Hall Orchards, no doubt Kenneth felt that it was his duty
to respond to his employers call as well as that of his country.Enlistment
Shortly after the outbreak of War, Kenneth joined the ranks of the Leeds City Battalion, the 15th (Service) Battalion
of the West Yorkshire Regiment, and appointed the rank of Private, Serial Number 15/544 on the 11th September 1914.
Battalion had been raised in Leeds in response to Kitchener's 'Call To Arms' and on permission being granted by
the War Office to raise such a "Pals" battalion, one of many raised countrywide, recruitment commenced on the
3rd September 1914 at Leeds Town Hall. At the end of the first day, over 500 men had enlisted and by the second, the number
had reached about 800. Kenneth's serial number indicates enlistment on this the second day of recruitment the 4th
On the 8th September, the Battalion had raised 1,275 men and was deemed to be complete. Kenneth,
and the names and addresses of those who had enlisted during this period were consequently published in various Leeds newspapers
of the period.
The 15th (Service) Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment was to be commanded by Lieutenant-Colonel John Walter
Stead, a major protagonist in the raising of the "Leeds Pals" and a former Commanding Officer of the 7th Battalion,
West Yorkshire Regiment (Leeds Rifles).
Training at Colsterdale
|Battalion being dismissed after arrival at Colsterdale September 25th 1914 (Authors collection)
On the 23rd September 1914 an advance party of the Leeds "Pals"
entrained from Leeds bound for Colsterdale Camp near Masham, North Yorkshire. The remainder of the Battalion set forth
from Leeds on the 25th by North Eastern Railway train to Masham Station and then onto Colsterdale by means of a light railway.
The camp had originally been built to house labour involved in the construction of Roundhill Reservoir and as
a new reservoir was under construction at Leighton, the site was earmarked for the training of the "Pals." Consequently,
the Waterworks Committee of Leeds City Council agreed unanimously, that lands in the Ure Valley under Corporation control,
i.e. Colsterdale Camp, were to be alloted for training of the Leeds City Battalion. It was recognized that the camp in its
present state of construction could not house all of the men in hutted accommodation. The Waterworks Committee therefore
pledged in accordance with War Office instruction to carry out the construction of all necessary additional buildings and
facilities which was planned to be completed before the onset of winter. This programme of expansion of the camp was to be supervised
by Captain Stanley T.A. Neil of the battalion who, in civilian life, was a civil engineer employed by the Leeds Corporation
in the construction of the reservoir at Leighton.
In the days and months that followed, men and officers alike
were gradually introduced to life in the British Army. Initially concentrating on a programme of physical fitness the "Pals"
were then instructed in drill, all aspects of fieldcraft and the 'joys' of endless route marches.
new hutted accommodation had been completed much to the relief of the men who's respite from the Yorkshire weather had
consisted of being accommodated in bell tents. Soon after, the long awaited arrival of uniforms had begun albeit, after one
issue in particular as regards the quality of boots that had been issued to the Battalion.
In January 1915 instructions were received from the War Office that required the Battalion
to form a Depot Company. "E" Company as it was to be designated, could not be formed until the Battalion received
a further intake of men as many had already been discharged to commission or had left the ranks due to medical discharge.
Kenneth was one of the men destined to form this Reserve.
(Authors note: Recruitment continued into the Battalion up
until July 1915 and continued until September of that year however men recruited between July-September were issued a '19'
prefix to their serial numbers. These men were to later form the 19th Reserve Battalion on amalgamation with the Reserve Company
of the 17th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment).
In June, the Battalion, now under the command
of Lieutenant-Colonel Stuart Campbell Taylor, were ready to leave Colsterdale for Ripon Camp to continue training
with it's sister battalions of the 93rd Brigade, 31st Division.
The men of "E" Company stood, watched and
cheered as their comrades passed by. Many of the men left behind with the Reserve would never see any of their 'Pals'
Application for commission
On June 14th 1915 whilst at Colsterdale,
Kenneth applied for a temporary commission in the Regular Army for the duration of the War.
Being under 21 years of age,
it was requisite that a parent or guardian had granted his/her consent for the forwarding of an application, duly, Kenneth's
father gave his approval.
To "certify to the good moral character," the application for commission
was signed by Dr. James Hargreaves, Wetherby's town Doctor and Physician who stated that he had known Kenneth for four
After a physical and medical examination that was carried out at Colsterdale by Lieutenant James Foley, Royal
Army Medical Corps on June 22nd 1915, Kenneth was passed 'fit' for military service.
On June 25th, the application
was confirmed and signed at Ripon Camp by Officer Commanding 15th (Service) Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment Lieutenant-Colonel
Kenneth was appointed the rank of Second-Lieutenant, Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards), London Gazette
dated 2nd October 1915 with rank being appointed from the 27th September 1915.
the Yorkshire Regiment
There is very little information as regards Kenneth's service with the
Yorkshire Regiment however evidence would suggest that this may have taken place with the 11th (Service) Battalion of the
Presuming this is the case, the Battalion was formed at West Hartlepool in October 1914 under the command of
Lieutenant-Colonel Robert L. Aspinall D.S.O. but shortly after formation moved to Darlington. Originally forming part of the
89th Brigade, 30th Division, by April 1915 the Battalion became a reserve force supplying drafts and reinforcements to battalions
of the Yorkshire Regiment that were serving overseas.
In October 1915, the Battalion now under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel
W.H. Benett-Dampier moved to Rugely Camp, Staffordshire.
It was whilst at this latter place that Kenneth was transferred
to the Machine Gun Corps with effect from the 26th May 1916, London Gazette dated 11th August 1916.
On the outbreak of the War, each infantry battalion had been equipped with a machine-gun
section consisting of only two machine-guns but by early 1915 this had been increased to four per section.
As a result
of the British Expeditionary Force's early experiences on the Western Front, it was soon recognised that to use the machine-gun
to its full potential on the battlefield, a new arm of the British Army would have to be formed and specifically trained
in the use of the weapon.
Consequently, on the 22nd October 1915, Army Order Number 416 was issued authorising the formation
of the Machine Gun Corps.
It was proposed that the existing machine-gun sections of an infantry battalion, on transfer
to the Machine Gun Corps, be concentrated into one Machine Gun Company attached to the Infantry Brigade. The infantry
battalions were to be equipped with the Lewis Gun which was adopted as a light machine-gun from late 1915.
Gun Corps would eventually be constituted of the M.G.C. (Infantry), by far the largest component of the Corps, M.G.C. (Cavalry),
that would later in the War have a profound effect as what would now be termed 'Shock Troops,' and the early
formed Motor Machine Gun Service. The latter, being designated on joining the Corps in 1915 M.G.C. (Motors) would, as
the War progressed, provide many men on formation to the Heavy Section, M.G.C., the fore runner of the Tank Regiment.
Equipping the Corps
In 1889 the British Army had adopted the Maxim Machine-Gun
that had been developed and adapted from various designs of rapid-firing gun by Hiram Maxim.
After acquiring the Maxim
Nordenfelt Guns and Ammunition Company in the late 1890's, then later to be named Vickers Limited adapted and improved
the design of the Maxim to produce the Vickers MK1 Machine-Gun which was introduced into the British Army in 1912.
the outbreak of the War production could not keep apace with demand so manufacture which had principally been concentrated
at Erith and Crayford in Kent was also carried out under license by companies such as Colt in the United States.
Length 43 inches
Weight (empty) 33lbs
Weight (full with water for
cooling purposes) 40 lbs
Water 7.5 lbs
Tripod 51 lbs
Ammunition standard .303 round
in a canvas belt holding 250 rounds
Cyclic rate 450 - 500 rounds per minute
Effective range about 2200
The light machine-gun adopted by battalions of the British infantry was the Lewis Gun. The design of the
weapon was based on an initial gun invented in the United States of America in 1910 by Samuel McClean that had proved
to be difficult and complex to manufacture. The essential elements of the mechanism were redesigned by Colonel Isaac
Newton Lewis whilst employed by the Automatic Arms Company.
Utilizing spent gas from a fired cartridge, this in turn
powered a rotating bolt mechanism to eject the spent round and chamber the next. As the bolt travelled forward,
a firing pin located in the end of the latter would fire the new round.
Lewis added a circular drum magazine attached
to the top of the gun and developed a tubular jacket that cooled the weapon by the use of a series of fins that drew air over
a radiator as the machine-gun was operated.
The weapon however generated very little interest in the United States and
as a consequence Lewis proceeded to Europe rather acrimoniously due to the failure of the adoption of his design.
1913, after a demonstration of his design to the Belgian Army which proved most favourable, production commenced at a facility
in Liege designated Armes Automatiques Lewis.
The calibre of round selected by Lewis for production was the .303, the
standard round of the British Army. Generating interest in the British Army, B.S.A. (British Small Arms Company, Birmingham)
applied for a license to produce the weapon and by mid 1915 the Lewis Gun was, albeit in small numbers initially, in operation
on the Western Front.
Length 50.5 inches
Weight 28 lbs
standard .303 round (American production by Savage Arms Company .30-06 Springfield).
Magazine containing 47 rounds or
a 97 round anti-aircraft variant.
Cyclic rate 500 - 600 rounds per minute
Effective range about 880 yards
In November 1914, the British Expeditionary Force had formed a Machine
Gun School at Wisques, located to the south-west of St. Omer, in response to tactical developments on the Western Front. In
addition to the School at Wisques, a Base Depot was also established at Camiers near Etaples in March 1916.
a training centre had been established at Belton Park, Grantham in late 1915 and it was here that Kenneth was to be posted,
presumably, as stated in the London Gazette, in May 1916.
Records of Kenneth's first few months of training at Belton
Park and his alloted unit are unclear at this stage, however, on the 22nd September a most unfortunate accident occured
that would result in a serious injury.
The accident and persuance of 'Hospital Stoppages'
Whilst playing in a battalion league football match at Belton Park, Kenneth received a kick that resulted
in a fracture to the fibula and tibia of the right leg. Admitted to Grantham Military Hospital where the leg was 'set,'
the leg broke again on the 28th November when Kenneth slipped whilst walking with the aid of crutches.
Remaining in hospital
until the 13th February 1917, the proceedings of a Medical Board that had been convened the day previously declared that he
was unfit for "General Service" for the period of one month. A further Medical Board convened on the 14th March
at Falmouth Military Hospital found that:
"The fractured bones have now firmly united in fairly good
position, but there is considerable oedema of the foot increased by exercise, & he cannot walk without the aid of two
sticks. He requires a course of graduated exercises & massage to complete his recovery and he has been ordered into hospital
The Board now declared that Kenneth was unfit for "General Service" for a period of
three months, unfit for "Home Service" for a period of two months, and unfit for "Light Duty at Home."
Commencing the period of "Home Service" on the 14th May 1917, Kenneth was posted to No. 2 Battalion, Machine Gun
Corps located at Clipstone Camp, Nottinghamshire.
During the period of hospitalization from the 22nd September 1916
to February 13th 1917 a claim, one of many, for a remission of 'hospital stoppages' was written to the Commanding
Officer of No. 2 Battalion M.G.C. dated 24th May.
In accordance with the attached chit I
have the honour to report that I have now returned to duty so am presenting again my claim for remission of hospital
stoppages period whilst at Belton Park Military Hospital Grantham from 22 September 1916 to 13 February 1917.
recollect my right leg was broken in two places whilst playing in a Battalion League football match at Belton Park in September
1916. The leg was not properly set & is now twisted, shortened & will never be straight again & so will probably
prevent me from carrying on after the war my proposed occupation of survey or in the colonies.
As this accident was caused
through no fault & neglect on my part & during recreation promoted and approved by the battalion, may I ask you
to give this claim your kindest consideration & approval.
I have the honour to be
Your obedient servant
In response to the claim, the Commanding Officer of the 2nd Battalion M.G.C.
eventually contacted the Headquarters of Training Group "C" at Clipstone Camp on the 19th June. This correspondence
requested that the matter maybe resolved by forwarding the claim to the War Office, confirmation of this approach being requested
to the Deputy Commander at Headquarters.
Further correspondence between the C.O. of the 2nd Battalion and Headquarters
dated the 1st July also suggests that Kenneth had found a sympathetic ear. The Commanding Officer writes:
reference to the attached application, which has again been submitted by Lieut. K.G. Kelly, I beg to forward the same, and
to request that it may be laid before the G.O.C. for re-consideration.
The amount of £26, which will be the total
charge against this Officer, will be a serious financial loss to him, and though the accident did not actually occur whilst
on any Military duty, I respectfully suggest that possibly the G.O.C. may see his way to remit a part, if not the whole, of
these Hospital stoppages.
I regret to say that the injury to the Officer is serious, and has left him with a twisted
and shorter leg, which will be a serious handicap to him during the rest of his life."
The rather terse
reply was received by the C.O. of 2nd Battalion dated 9th July and signed by the Adjutant of Training Group "C."
"With reference to your No: 1841. dated the 1st instant, re-submitting an application from Lieutenant K.G.
KELLY for remission of Hospital Stoppages, I am directed by the Deputy Commander to say that in view of the G.O.C's decision
which was conveyed to you on the 26th instant, he is unable to re-forward this application."
Kelly replied in a letter dated the 12th July, this time applying for remission in Army 'parlance' stating:
"I have the honour to request that the whole of the correspondence may be forwarded through the proper channels
to the Army Council in accordance with Section 42 of the Army Act & Para. 439 King's Regulations."
communique was received by the Secretary, War Office, London, with the accompanying proceedings of the Medical Board on the
14th July. Although Kenneth's situation had been recommended as a 'special case' by the Officer Commanding Training
Centre at Grantham, a reply received from Northern Command at York on the 25th July stated:
"I do not
consider that Lieut. Kelly can be considered to have been on duty at the time of the accident, or that he has any claim to
refund of Hosp. Stoppages."
As further evidence of correspondence is not available, one can only assume that
the issue of the reimbursement of stoppages was either solved or the matter was brought to a close by whatever authority.
However, the issue of disability still remained.
Following another Medical Board that was convened at Clipstone Military
Hospital on the 13th August, it was stated that the 'condition' had started to 'improve.' The findings of
the Board declared that Kenneth was 'fit' for "Home Service" for the period of one month and that this duty was
to be carried out with his present unit.
It soon became apparent though that any 'improvement' to the 'condition'
was subject to any form of exercise, when, on being examined by a Medical Board, he was admitted to the No. 7 V.A. Hospital
located at Exeter on the 28th September.
A report of a meeting of the Board at Exeter on the 25th October stated the
cause of admission to hospital was that leather, chafing the skin, had caused an abscess over the scar of the fracture. The
report concluded that although all discharge had ceased the area was still tender and that treatment was to continue for a
further 8 weeks at Exeter. Consequently Kenneth was declared unfit for "General Service" for a period of 2 months,
unfit for "Home Service" 1 month, and unfit for "Light Duty at Home" for 8 weeks.
On the 10th November,
notification was received by the War Office from the Board at Exeter that Kelly was now presumed fit for "Home
Service" but still unfit for "General Service" for the period of 2 months. Recommended for 21 days leave? but
was also ordered to rejoin the M.G.C. Training Centre at Grantham on confirmation by Exeter.
As 1918 dawned, the
constant attentions of the Medical Board continued with reports as regards the state of the health of Lieutenant Kelly
being sent to Northern Command at York.
The first of these dated 8th January reported:
"He has practically
recovered completely from results of his injury, but the right ankle is still somewhat weak.
To continue duty with his
Although still not deemed to be fit for "General Service," for a period of one month
he was assigned "Active Duty with Troops" for a period of one month in a "Home Service" capacity.
Medically assigned a disability 'rating' of 20%, re-examination was requested in one months time.
On the 5th
February whilst serving in "F" Lines at Belton Park, Grantham, the Medical Board was assembled once again. This
examination that would prove to be the final medical assessment declared:
"He has now practically
recovered completely from effects of his disability.
To continue duty with his unit."
fit for "General Service," on completion of training at Grantham he would be posted to the front.
at Folkestone and disembarking at Boulogne on the 1st May 1918, Kenneth was posted to the Base Depot of the M.G.C. located
at Camiers. Posted to the 8th Battalion M.G.C., 8th Division on the 3rd May he joined the unit on this day whilst the
latter were located at Saleux to the south-west of Amiens.
Division was sent to the Western Front in early November 1914.
In March 1915, the 8th Division's first major action
of the War took place at Neuve Chapelle resulting in a loss of over 200 officers and about 4,300 other ranks.
1st July 1916 the opening day of the Battle of the Somme, the Division suffered heavy casualties in a gallant attempt to capture
the heavily fortified village of Ovillers.
Withdrawn from the Somme offensive, the following months were spent occupying
the front line trenches in the Loos area. In October the Division was once again sent south to the Somme where it saw action
in the closing months of the offensive.
As the Allied offensive commenced at Arras in April 1917, the 8th Division were
occupying positions south of Cambrai. In June, the Division moved north to the Ypres Sector in preparation for the commencement
of the various battles known as Third Ypres.
The Division would see action at the battles of Pilkem Ridge and Langemarck
and, after a period of relative quiet, returned to the Salient where it spent the remainder of the year alternating between
the front line and reserve.
On the 21st March 1918, the German Army launched 'Kaiserschlact'
or 'Operation Michael.'
Although not subjected to the initial thrust of this offensive, the 8th Division fought
a series of costly actions during the remainder of the month. Between April 24th-25th, the Division was involved in a desperate defence
of the Villers-Bretonneux sector to the east of Amiens that would result in catastrophic casualties in particular to the 2nd
West Yorks and 2nd Middlesex of the 23rd Brigade.
At the end of the month, orders were issued for the 8th Division to
proceed to a training area near Abbeville. These orders however were cancelled, no doubt as a consequence of the serious fighting
in which the division had been engaged. However, locations of some of the units of the 8th Division would suggest that
the movement towards Abbeville had already commenced until orders had been rescinded.
move south to the Aisne
At the beginning of May, the 8th Division under the command of Major-General
William Charles Giffard Heneker, were located near Amiens. The 23rd and the 24th Infantry Brigades were located near the town
itself (no precise location recorded), whilst the 25th Infantry Brigade were located at Huppy, to the south of Abbeville.
Further to the south of the latter brigade, the 8th Battalion, Machine Gun Corps were concentrated in or near the village
The division had by now received orders to move south to positions north of Reims and to occupy
the front line near the River Aisne. Attached to IX Corps, Lieutenant-General Sir Alexander Hamilton-Gordon Officer Commanding,
this Corps would operate in an area held by the 6th French Army under the command of General Denis Auguste Duchene.
Entrainment of the 8th Battalion Machine Gun Corps
On the 30th, the Transport
Section of the 8th Battalion Machine Gun Corps had mobilized on receipt of orders. Travelling eastwards, the night was
spent at Soues to the west of Amiens where, on the 1st May, the battalion transport set forth once again and proceeded
to Pont-de-Metz to the south-west the town.
At 9.30 a.m. on the morning of the 1st, the troops of the 8th Battalion,
M.G.C. embussed at a road junction located at Les Croisettes, north of Huppy, and proceeded by lorry to the
west of Amiens where they debussed at Ferrieres. The battalion then proceeded by route march to Pont-de-Metz.
2nd May, 8th Battalion, M.G.C. Headquarters with "A" and "B" Companies entrained at Saleux. After a lengthy
journey travelling south for much of the day, they then detrained at Fere (Fere-en-Tardenois) and marched to Mont-St.-Martin
located to the south-west of Fismes on the banks of the River Vesle.
In the morning of the following day, "C"
Company entrained at Saleux arriving in the late evening at Mont-St.-Martin followed by "D" Company who arrived
at the latter place early on the morning of the 4th May.
The 8th Division were now placed in Corps Reserve with
Headquarters located at Chery-Chartreuve to the south of Mont-St.-Martin.
In the days that followed, the battalion spent
their time in training and the cleaning of equipment when orders were received on the 11th May for the infantry of the 8th
Division to move into the line between the River Aisne at Berry-au-Bac and the Bois de la Casemate on relief of a French division.
The 8th Battalion M.G.C. followed suit at 7 a.m. in the morning marching via Fismes (Authors note: Recorded in the War Diary
as Vismes) to Bourgogne Camp located to the west of Ventelay.
On the 12th, the front line was reconnoitred by the officers
whilst the battalion spent the day preparing for occupation of positions in the front line.
positions of the 8th Battalion M.G.C.
On the night of the 13th/14th the first units of the 8th Battalion
M.G.C. began to move into the front line area when "B" Company moved into the right sub-sector of the divisional
front with 16 guns, Company Headquarters being located at P.C. Dunkerque. "C" Company also proceeded
to occupy front line positions in the left sub-sector of the divisional front with 10 guns, Company Headquarters being located
at Tuilerie on the southern outskirts of la Ville-aux-Bois.
During the night of the 14th, "A" Company
moved into the line with 16 guns and took over positions on the entire brigade front with Company Headquarters being located
at P.C. Verdun.
The dispositions of the battalion are now described in the War Diary on this date as:
"The whole of "A" & "B" Coys together with 10 guns of "C" Coy are in the line.
"D" Coy together with 6 guns of "C" Coy in Divisnl. Res. at Bourgogne Camp.
The Bn. H.Q. &
transport lines are also at Bourgogne Camp."
Dispositions of the Infantry Brigades of the
On the 14th May it was declared that all three Infantry Brigades and the 8th Battalion M.G.C. of
the 8th Division had completed the relief of outgoing French units, this relief having commenced on the 12th.
as described by Everard Wyrall in his History of the West Yorkshire Regiment constituted a salient that protruded into
enemy positions at a right angle. The northern face extended for a distance of over seven thousand yards in length whilst
the eastern face stretched for a length of over three thousand yards.
The right flank of the Division was held by the
25th Infantry Brigade under the command of Brigadier-General Ralph H. Husey. This flank, referred to as the 'Cesar
Sector,' rested on the bank of the River Aisne at Berry-au-Bac with the river and the Aisne Canal protecting the
eastern face of this salient. To the right of the 8th Division and extending southwards, positions were occupied by the 21st
Division under the command of Major-General David Graham Muschet Campbell.
In the centre, the right flank of the 24th
Infantry Brigade under the command of Brigadier-General Roland Haig D.S.O. rested on the Miette Stream and was referred to
as the 'Yvetot Sector.' This natural obstacle was deep and over 20 feet wide with banks that were marshy
and that would prove difficult to traverse by any attacking force. However the advance during 'Kaiserschlacht'
had proved how adept the enemy had become in negotiating such obstacles.
Crossed by bridges located in thirteen
places, the stream ran from the front line to the rear area in a right-angle to the front. The Miette also acted as a brigade
boundary to the left flank of the 25th and the right flank of the 24th respectively.
On the left flank, the 23rd Infantry
Brigade under the command of Brigadier-General George William St. George Grogan held terrain that was referred to as the 'Tunnel
Sector.' Apart from a hill known as the Bois des Buttes and one wood the Bois des Boches, the topography of
the landscape consisted of relatively flat and rolling countryside. The Germans however had some forward observation
of rear positions to the north of the River Aisne from a high point known as Hill 108 near Berry-au-Bac. To overcome this
advantage of observation held by the enemy, camouflage screens had been erected with the intended purpose of screening any
movement in the rear areas and that to the forward zones.
Divisional Headquarters had now also moved forward to a position
On the left flank of the 8th Division, the 50th (Northumbrian) Division under the command of Major-General
Henry Cholmondeley Jackson held the line with the 149th Brigade extending northwards from la Ville-aux-Bois and
running roughly in a north-westerly direction to the Plateau de Californie.
In addition to the above that held the front
line, the British 25th Division under the command of Major-General Sir Edmund Guy Tulloch and three French divisions
were held in reserve.
Prelude to the attack
In the days that followed the
occupation of the front line positions, all divisions engaged in a programme of active patrolling into No Man's Land to
gain any intelligence on the enemy opposite. As the sector remained relatively quiet, the men set about the improvement of
trenches and generally began to familiarize themselves with the various trenches that they had inherited from the French.
Far from remaining content with the positions they had taken over, the 8th Battalion M.G.C. once again carried out a further reconnaisance
of the line with a view to reorganizing existing machine gun defences whilst Battalion Headquarters set forth to relocate
at Roucy. In addition to this reorganization, a programme of training was to be initiated. The War Diary records:
"Having regard to the necessity of training whilst in this quiet sector, it has been decided to keep
2 entire coys out of the line for training purposes; & to hold the line with 24 guns & 8 in the defenses of Gernicourt.
In accordance with this scheme, on the night of 16th/17th the guns in the Yvetot sector were reduced to 8 & the guns
of 'A' Coy thus relieved took over the 8 best positions from 'C' Coy in the Tunnel sector.
of relief the 10 guns of 'C' Coy in the line moved to Bourgogne Camp. 'A' Coy H.Q. remained at P.C. Verdun."
During the following days the reorganization scheme continued:
continuation of scheme of reorganization 8 guns of 'B' Coy in Cesar sector evacuated positions & moved into defences
of Gernicourt which are manned by 22nd D.L.I., the O.C. D.L.I. being Lt.-Col. James who is responsible direct to the Divisional
Commander. Two sections are attached to him under Lt. Taylor.
'B' Coy H.Q. remain at P.C. Dunkerque."
(Authors note: The 22nd Battalion, Durham Light Infantry, 8th Divisional Pioneers, under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel
"The battalion has now two coys in the line....
The 24 guns in Brigade
Sectors are sighted for close defence but put down an SOS barrage on first seeing SOS signal.
Much work is necessary
in the line as it has not previously been occupied by British troops, i.e. in constructing emplacements for Vickers."
The work on constructing these emplacements began immediately. In the days that followed "C" and "D"
Companies who were in Divisional Reserve at Bourgogne Camp whilst employed in training during the day, moved to the front
line at night. By the night of the 22nd/23rd, these two companies had constructed 24 new emplacements, sighted in depth, and
stocked with ammunition behind those positions already maintained in the front line.
The strategy was one of strength
in depth with the Divisional frontage being divided into sectors. This would enable the guns to put down an effective machine
gun barrage should the enemy attack be brought to bear on a specific brigade front.
|8th Battalion M.G.C. and Artillery Barrage Map, Juvincourt, courtesy of Russell Gore
As the above map illustrates, should
the enemy attack, one or more of a series of machine gun and artillery barrages were to be put down.
gun barrages of "B," "C," "D" and "E" Companies is denoted by the 'Brown Line.'
The artillery, operating on a three brigade frontage with corresponding groups of artillery attached is denoted from south
to north as:
'Group Paul,' (French) covering the 25th Infantry Brigade, 'Pink Line.'
Fisher,' covering the 24th Infantry Brigade, 'Blue Line.'
'Group Ballard,' covering the 23rd Infantry
Brigade, 'Green Line.'
The double red line on the map indicates the 'Line Of Resistance'
in effect a redoubt line. Appendix 1 of Operational Orders states:
"In the event of a hostile attack
which does not embrace the whole Divisional Front, one or more of the following five barrages will be put down on the initiative
of Section Commanders as soon as the S.O.S. Signal goes up:-
(a) Attack on Right Inf. Bde. front South
of the Northern edge of the Bois des Consuls -
Guns 1 to 8. 'A' Barrage.
(b) Attack on Right
Inf. Bde. front North of the Bois des Consuls -
Guns 1 to 8. 'B' Barrage.
Guns 9 to 16. 'C' Barrage.
(c) Attack on Centre Inf. Bde. front -
Guns 13 to 20. 'D' Barrage.
on Left Inf. Bde. front -
Guns 9 to 24. 'E' Barrage.
'A' Barrage is not shown on
Map "A" and will be placed down on the Right of the Right Inf. Bde. Sub-sector through the line."
On the left flank of the 8th Division, the right flank of the 149th Infantry Brigade, 50th (Northumbrian) Division,
had identified that the terrain and topography of the landscape was suitable for an assault by enemy tanks. Any prospective
attack by this means however would be dictated by the large belt of woodland that extended along this front. To counter this
threat where it was most likely to occur, machine gun positions were established in the area of the Butte de l'Edmond
to the west of la Ville-aux-Bois. Each of these positions constructed had been stockpiled with 500 rounds of armour piercing
small arms ammunition, a total of 4000 rounds being issued with a further 1000 rounds issued to two positions located on slopes
west of Beaurieux. However, strict orders had been issued to the gun teams that the tanks themselves were not to be a primary
target and that their destruction was of minor importance. The prime objective of the gun crews was to concentrate all fire upon
enemy troops following a tank into action and that their annihilation was imperative.
On the afternoon of the 25th
May, the dispositions of the battalion were recorded as thus; In each sector occupied by the three Infantry Brigades
of the 8th Division there were located 8 guns with a further 8 located in the defences surrounding Gernicourt.
were in Divisional Reserve at Bourgogne Camp with 32 guns, however, positions had been prepared and sighted for 24 of
these behind those already placed in permanent positions. In the event of an enemy attack being imminent, these reserve guns
would be brought forward to the prepared positions with the remaining 8 guns being brought further forward into Divisional
Reserve at Roucy.
In addition to the 8th Battalion, M.G.C., three French Machine Gun Companies namely the 11th, 162nd
and the 313th were located in the line with each company operating 6 guns. These companies also had a total of 6 guns in Divisional
Reserve which would be brought forward if an attack was presumed to be imminent.
In the Gernicourt area, two further
French Machine Gun Companies, the 24th and 25th, were to take up positions in the latters defensive system and also the ground
between the village and the River Aisne.
Orders were issued that all British and French Machine Gun Companies operating
in the 'Outpost' and 'Battlezone' were, in the event of an attack, to come under the orders of the Infantry
Brigadiers in their respective sub-sectors.
On the 23rd,
the 2nd West Yorkshire Regiment, 23rd Infantry Brigade, 8th Division, sent out one of two patrols that encountered a
large party of the enemy. During the ensuing clash, one prisoner was captured but was unfortunately killed during the melee,
however, on the 25th, the 8th Durham Light Infantry, 151st Brigade, 50th Division, managed to bring back a wounded prisoner.
The information obtained from this man stated that the enemy was to attack on the morning of the 27th after a preliminary
bombardment that would commence at 1.00 a.m. The infantry, with the assistance of tanks, would then begin an assault
at 4.30 a.m. Further prisoners that were captured confirmed indeed that the enemy intended to launch his attack in the early
hours of the 27th.
On the 26th, the War Diary of the 8th Battalion M.G.C. records that IXth Corps had now informed the
8th Division that due to the 'examination' of prisoners, an attack was now deemed to be imminent. Consequently at
4.35 p.m. the division issued a telegram ordering that the 'Battle Positions' were now to be manned.
p.m. Divisional Telegram Number 238 was issued. The battalion on receipt of this now issued orders that 8 guns of "C"
Company and 16 guns of "D" Company located at Bourgogne Camp were now to move up into the previously prepared positions
in the 'Battlezone.' Both companies departed the camp at 9.30 and 10 p.m. respectively with the remaining 8 guns
of "C" Company moving up at 10.30 p.m. into Divisional Reserve at Roucy. In addition, the 6 guns of the French machine
gun companies who were in reserve were also ordered to move up into position around Gernicourt.
Orders issued by the
8th Division previously at 8.45 p.m. now directed the artillery and machine guns to carry out a 'counter preparation scheme.'
This probably refers to a programme of harassing and counter-battery fire that is mentioned in 'The History Of The
Fiftieth Division' by Everard Wyrall and is recorded as having being initiated at midnight. However, both the
War Diaries of the 8th and 50th Battalions M.G.C. do not record any instance of this action.
Also at midnight, 8th Divisional
Headquarters proceeded to their 'Battle Headquarters' located at the Moulin de Roucy. 'Rear Headquarters'
of the division now took up station at Ventelay with Headquarters of the 8th M.G.C. moving to 'Battle Headquarters'
at the Moulin de Roucy also.
Heavy rain had fallen during the evening no doubt making conditions thoroughly miserable
to all, yet, the enemy remained ominously quiet as the clock ticked towards the anticipated hour of their attack. The
silence however was about to be shattered by a storm of high explosive and gas.
Monday 27th May, 1918:
The death of Lieutenant Kenneth George Kelly
At 1 a.m. as a ground mist enveloped the landscape,
over 6000 guns of all calibres and about 3500 trench mortars commenced what is commonly acknowledged as one of the heaviest
bombardments of the Great War by any combatant country.
Along the whole of the front occupied by IX Corps, the men were
subjected to this maelstrom of steel, bomb and gas, the latter requiring the men to don their gas masks to avoid asphyxiation
by chemical agent. The rear areas comprising of battery positions, battalion headquarters and all associated reserve
locations were also bombarded with high explosive and gas resulting in the loss of communication almost immediately with the
In the 'Battlezone,' known positions to the Germans of British and French artillery
batteries were subjected to heavy shelling, in particular the use of gas followed by barrages of high explosive.
bombardment, the War Diary of the 8th Battalion M.G.C. records that on the right flank of the division held by the 25th
brigade, "shelling not heavy." In the centre held by the 24th brigade, the bombardment is described as
"battery positions being shelled with gas & fairly heavy shelling of forward areas." On the left of
the divisional front the 23rd brigade is noted as being subjected to "very heavy shelling."
about 4 a.m. (times vary as to a distillation of source material), all along the length of IX Corps front, Ludendorf
launched fifteen divisions into the attack with a further five in support. The initial thrust fell on the 'Cesar Sector'
occupied by the 25th Infantry Brigade on the banks of the Aisne.
Under cover of the mist, made even more dense by
gas and shell-fire, the Germans began to advance behind tanks as they flattened out the barbed wire defences. Almost
immediately, units in the 'Outpost Line' were cut off and had become surrounded.
At the 'Battle Headquarters'
of the 2nd Battalion, Royal Berkshire Regiment, the situation was reported to Divisional Headquarters by means of carrier
pigeon, the message being timed about 1 hour after the attack had begun. Lieutenant-Colonel J.A.A. Griffin
D.S.O. stated that they had been assaulted on the right flank, the advance coming from the direction of Hill 108 and
that the enemy were now reported to be in the rear in great strength, bombing dug outs as they continued to push forward.
An attempt was made to hold the position, but Lieutenant-Colonel Griffin and associated Headquarters Staff were captured by
Although some stubborn resistance was met by the enemy in the 'Battle Zone' in this sector, the front
line positions had simply been overun by numerical superiority.
Brigade Headquarters had by now also been drawn into
the fight. After attempting a stand and on the brink of being overun in which the Brigade Major, Captain Basil Conquest
Pascoe M.C. was killed, the survivors eventually managed to fight their way out of the beleaguered position. Retiring
to Gernicourt, here, Brigadier-General Ralph H. Husey and what remained of his headquarters staff prepared the latter
place for a state of defence.
No doubt in response to the enemy's rapid advance in this sector, at 5 a.m. the
8 guns of "C" Company in Divisional Reserve at Roucy were hurried northwards towards the northern edge of Gernicourt
The guns were immediately put into action on the western edge of the wood the position also affording a field of
fire over the crossings of the Aisne Canal.
At 6.30 a.m., Divisional Headquarters were informed by Brigadier-General
Husey that the 25th Infantry Brigade, or what remained of it, were now holding this position.
In the 'Yvetot
Sector' held by the 24th Infantry Brigade, the enemy had commenced the attack about 5 a.m.
As the initial thrust
fell upon the 2nd Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment under the command of Lieutenant-Colonel Christopher G. Buckle D.S.O,
M.C., the battalion gradually retired from the overun 'Out Post' Line under increasing pressure along with
the 1st Battalion Worcesters to strong positions located in the 'Battle Zone.' Here, the impetus of the attack
stalled due to a resolute defence inspired by Lieutenant-Colonel Buckle, who, at this critical juncture of the battle, was
By 5.45 a.m., a large force had successfully crossed the Miette Stream to the south and were now
attempting to outflank the right hand units of the 24th Infantry Brigade. Major James B.F. Cartland, Officer
Commanding 1st Battalion, Worcesters now also fell whilst the Brigade Headquarters, in a similar scenario to that of the 25th,
was also attacked by the outflanking movement performed by the enemy. Brigadier-General Roland Haig D.S.O. and associated
headquarters personnel that had not been killed or captured managed to extricate themselves although under great duress due
to gas poisoning. The survivors fought their way back to la Pecherie Bridge which crossed the River Aisne to the west of Gernicourt, where
a defensive position was organised under Captain Acton Brooke Pratt M.C., 1st Battalion, Worcesters.
In the 'Tunnel
Sector' held by the 23rd Infantry Brigade there is some doubt as to actually what time the enemy commenced his attack.
Although sources vary, the time is recorded by the War Diary of the 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment as being 4.30 a.m.
The battalion had, during the preliminary bombardment, evacuated its forward positions and took up station in the 'Line
Of Resistance' or 'Redoubt Line' although casualties caused by artillery fire at this point were
As the attack continued, it now became clear that the right of the brigade had been outflanked and also the left
flank occupied by units of the 149th Infantry Brigade of the 50th Division that had suffered heavy losses during the intitial
bombardment. Retiring further back into the 'Battle Zone,' with the 2nd Battalion Middlesex Regiment,
an attempt was made to hold position by these two battalions but, due to the collapse of the flanks, this ultimately
led to them being cut off and surrounded.
The enemy were by now advancing towards the Bois des Buttes and la Ville-aux-Bois.
Whilst retiring towards Pontavert, Lieutenant-Colonel Rupert Henry Anderson-Morshead D.S.O., Officer Commanding 2nd Devons
ordered the regiment to make a stand and fight to protect a crossing over the River Aisne. Here, this gallant regiment,
in the best traditions of the British Army, fought and died to the last man. Lieutenant-Colonel Anderson-Morshead himself
being killed with the regiment sustaining nearly 600 casualties in officers and men.
As a consequence of this heroic
stand, Brigadier-General Grogan issued orders that the survivors of the 23rd Infantry Brigade were to cross the river and
take up a defensive position to the south of Pontavert.
Under the command of the Adjutant of the 2nd West Yorks, Captain
Clive Sanders, attached from the 9th West Yorks, this position was established on high ground at la Platrerie.
the east at Gernicourt, the situation was by now also critical.
The 8 guns of "C" Company of the 8th Battalion
M.G.C. in conjunction with the 1st Battalion Sherwood Foresters of the 24th Infantry Brigade began an intense action resulting
in considerable casualties to the enemy as they attempted to cross the river near la Pecherie Bridge.
The men under the
command of Captain Sanders located on the high ground at la Platrerie were now outflanked and driven back. The enemy had by
now succeeded in crossing the river under the cover of his artillery, Captain Sanders himself being killed in the
ensuing action. Consequently as this position fell, the Gernicourt position was outflanked and the men of the 8th M.G.C. and
the Sherwood Foresters were ultimately cut off and surrounded. The fate of the defenders is described in the 8th M.G.C. War
Diary simply as "the majority of both sections were eventually captured."
During mid morning
a line was now established on high ground to the south of the River Aisne running east to west respectively Bouffignereux
- Roucy - Concevreux.
By early afternoon the War Diary of the 8th M.G.C. records that the line was held by the 75th Infantry
Brigade of the 25th Division with surviving elements of the 8th Division attached.
Shortly after midday 8th Divisional
Headquarters had moved to a camp located near a farm half a mile north of Ventelay whilst 8th M.G.C. Headquarters also relocated
to Bourgogne Camp to the east which transport had vacated during the morning.
The survivors of the 8th M.G.C. had by
now collected together 5 guns and thier respective teams and under instruction from the 75th brigade took up a position on
the eastern edge of the high ground astride the Roucy - Ventelay Road.
By 5.00 p.m. another 6 guns had been collected
and moved forward with a further 4 guns ordered to take up a position between Roucy and Bouffignereux.
At about this
time, the enemy once again rose to the attack under cover of a barrage of his trench mortars and machine guns.
of interest to note that the initial 6 guns collected by the 8th M.G.C. were, according to the War Diary, to be kept in reserve.
However, no doubt as a consequence of the attack being renewed, they were ordered forward, the diary would suggest, rather
Due to virtually all artillery support having being either destroyed or captured during the course
of the day, it was inevitable that the enemy would exploit this situation.
To the right flank of the line, the position
held by the 7th Infantry Brigade of the 25th Division gave way and the village was subsequently captured. As the enemy continued
to advance rapidly once again, 8th Divisional Headquarters and that of the 8th Battalion M.G.C. moved to Montigny-sur-Vesle
at about 6 p.m. The latter, rejoining with the Battalion Transport who were located in a wood to the south of the village.
At about 7.15 p.m. the line had now retired over a distance of about 3000 yards to positions on high ground between the
valleys of the River Aisne and that of the Vesle. The 75th Infantry Brigade under the command of Brigadier-General A.A. Kennedy,
realising that the situation was now critical, urgently requested that ammunition and reinforcements were needed at once to
stem the tide of the enemy advance. To meet this request, Major-General Heneker ordered that stragglers were to be collected
and these, further augmented by various personnel from rear echelon units, were to be sent forward as soon as possible under
the command of his A.D.C. Major George R. Hennessy. At about 10 p.m. this composite force reported to Brigadier-General
Kennedy whilst the 8th M.G.C. or what remained of it took up a position astride the Ventelay - Montigny Road. The line continued
to retire however and between 11 p.m. and 12 p.m. the villages of Ventelay and Bouvancourt were in the hands of the enemy.
At about 11 p.m. Divisional Headquarters and that of the 8th M.G.C. had now fallen back to the southern bank of the River
Vesle at Branscourt with the Battalion Transport moving to Vandeuil located to the west respectively.
At dawn on
the following day the enemy once again renewed his attack. Retiring southwards as the offensive ground on, the 8th Battalion
M.G.C. eventually found itself in the line located between Treslon and Bouleuse on the 29th May. During the following day,
the men of the 8th Division holding this line were now placed under the orders of the 19th (Western) Division.
30th May, Battalion Headquarters and the Battalion Transport Section had moved further afield and were now south of the River
Marne camped in the Foret d'Epernay 3/4 of a mile north of St. Martin d'Ablois.
Strength of the battalion
is recorded as 25 Officers and 456 Other Ranks (these figures include those personnel known to be in the line at Treslon -
Casualties sustained by the battalion since the 26th May are recorded as:
23 Officers and 396 Other Ranks.
Losses in animals, 31 killed and 47 wounded.
" " Vehicles,
19 and a half Limbers, 1 General Service Wagon and 1 Cooker.
|Post Office Telegram received whilst the family were residing at Cambourne, Cornwall
Kenneth had been killed at some stage during the battle but the exact location and circumstances
surrounding his death remain unknown. His family received the fateful telegram whilst residing at "Givisley,"
Mount Pleasant Road, Cambourne, Cornwall, shortly before relocating to Stockport, Cheshire.
It is even unclear as to
which company he was serving with at the time of his death as conflicting correspondence between the family and the War Office
either denotes service with "C" or "D" Companies of the battalion.
Posted as 'Missing In Action,'
Kenneth's grieving father set about attending to his late sons affairs until a letter was received on the 23rd October
1918 from the War Office that brought some closure to the family. The letter states:
"The Military Secretary
presents his compliments to Mr. Kelly, and begs to inform him that the following further information respecting Lieutenant
K.G. Kelly, Machine Gun Corps, appears on an official German List headed "List of Dead" which has been forwarded
to the War Office through the Geneva Red Cross:-
List Of Dead.
Kell (ey) K.G. Lieut. M.G.C.
in by the S.I. (Central Office for Effects) on 23.8.18. Forwarded by a Sanitary Unit."
With this new
information that Kenneth's body had actually been recovered by a 'Sanitation Unit' of the German Army as they
cleared the battlefield of dead, Kenneth was buried at Prouvais Communal Cemetery in the German extension to the latter.
On the 4th May, news had been received by the family that Kenneth's younger brother Hubert, had died of gas poisoning
whilst serving with the Australian Infantry age 22.
Within one month, the Kelly family had made the ultimate sacrifice.
la Ville-aux-Bois British
Cemetery, Aisne, France
The British Cemetery was made after the Armistice by the concentration of graves
from a wide area and from two other cemeteries. There are now 564 Commonwealth burials of the 1914-18 war commemorated
here, of which 413 are unidentified. Special memorials are erected to four United Kingdom soldiers, known or believed
to be buried among them. Kenneth was originally buried by the Germans at Prouvais Communal Cemetery located to the east in
an extension to the village cemetery. Unfortunately, on concentration for burial at La Ville, his body could not be positively
identified hence he is now commemorated by one of the special memorials located in the cemetery.