East Chinnock and World War 1
by Jeremy Churchill
Sadly, by early September 1914, East Chinnock had already suffered its first casualty as a result of the War
Albert William Dane, Lance-Corporal (Regimental No. 7983), 1st
Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry. Entered France 21/08/1914. Died aged
29, 26/08/1914, Le Cateau
(From “The Western Gazette” 02/10/1914)
With thanks to Allan Collier of Yeovil for this reference - Allan's work
on local WW1 servicemen is available during 2014
Albert William Dane. Son of George and Elizabeth (Betsy) Dane, of 430
College, East Chinnock, Yeovil, Somerset, was one of the War’s earlier
casualties. Great Britain declared war on Germany on August 4th, 1914
and the first part of the British Expeditionary Force (BEF) crossed to
France between 9th and 17th of August.
On the German invasion of
Belgium which resulted in the British declaration of war on Germany, the
Belgian Government appealed to France and Great Britain for assistance
in defending themselves against the Germans. The French Fifth Army moved
forwards into Belgium, with the BEF on its left, and met the German
First, Second and Third Armies working their way south-west through
Belgium; the result was the fighting (22nd-23rd August) along the Sambre
river for the French and the BEF’s first action at Mons on the 23rd.
The French and British forces were outnumbered by the weight of the
German advance and were forced to retreat to avoid being cut off.
The 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry was part of the 11th Brigade, and thus the 4th Division, which crossed to France on 22nd-23rd August, in time to take part in the rear-guard action fought by II Corps at Le Cateau on the 26th, on the retreat from Mons. The 11th Brigade were positioned between Fontaine-au-Pire and Esnes, to the east of the village of Caudry and the small town of Le Cateau-Cambrésis. The oncoming Germans attacked between 2:00 and 4:00 AM, and, although British resistance was tough, sheer weight of numbers forced a withdrawal by mid-day to Ligny-en-Cambrésis, where they held for the remainder of the day, being supported by the arrival of French cavalry on the left.
The battalion, presumably starting out at full wartime establishment of 30 officers and 977 men, suffered a total of 378 casualties (19 known killed, 9 officers and 150 men known wounded, and 200 missing). The missing were simply those who were not present at roll-call, so could be dead, wounded or prisoner – or simply detached in the confusion and trying to make their way back to their units; an entire platoon (53 men), for example, had to be left behind as a rear-guard at one point to cover the movement of the rest of the Somerset men.
Since the pressure of the German advance forced the French and British to retreat, the battlefield was abandoned to the Germans, with the dead and any wounded that had been left behind. Sadly for the Dane family, Albert was one of this latter category and, since no word of his capture was received from the Germans, it was assumed that he was dead. The Parish Council Minute Book entry, written on the 29th March 1915, lists Corporal Dane as “Missing”, so his family were still not aware, some seven months after the event, that he had been killed. The action at Le Cateau is thought to have cost the BEF some 7,812 casualties (5,212 killed & wounded, 2,500–2,600 captured, out of 40,000 men taking part) and 38 guns, while the Germans are thought to have lost some 5,000 killed and wounded, although some modern historians believe these figures to be excessive. Arthur Russ, also of the 1st Battalion, Somerset Light Infantry , and Walter Pike (of 441, Weston Street) serving in the 1st Battalion, The Rifle Brigade (also part of the 11th Brigade) would have been fighting the whole day somewhere close by Albert Dane, but both these managed to survive the entire War.
Corporal Dane, whose Medal Index card records him having landed in France on the 21st (evidently part of the Division’s advance party) and reads “Assumed dead 26/08/14”, has no known grave and is commemorated on the La Ferté-sous-Jouarre Memorial in the town of that name located on the main road (N3) running east from Paris, on the south bank of the River Marne.
430 College – where the Danes were living in 1901 – has now disappeared, with No. 431, but was in what is now the garden of “Ramsdale”. Albert William’s brothers, Stanley, Gerald, and Percy, if they hadn’t already volunteered for the Army, would soon be doing so – all four of George and Betsy’s sons.
According to the 1901 Census, Albert Dane was aged 11, so would have been 24 in 1914. However, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission lists him as being 29, so he would have been 16 in 1901. I don’t have Albert Dane’s service records yet, so don’t know if he falsified his age on enlisting (or when he enlisted) or if it’s a simple clerical error on the part of the CWGC or of the Census-taker.
Walter Russ in the 1st Battalion, Coldstream Guards, and William Taylor, serving with the 2nd Battalion, Coldstream Guards, were part of I Corps which was retreating to the east and took no part in the fighting on the 26th.
During the retreat, the British cavalry did an excellent job of protecting and screening the marching troops from German patrols. In “Village Echoes”, pp. 100-101, Mr Reg Warr remembers his father Frederick Giles Cooper Warr enlisting in the 9th (Queens’ Royal) Lancers which was “the only regiment to effect a cavalry charge against the enemy in France”. Pace Mr Warr, this is far from being the case, but the 9th Lancers did perhaps conduct the only lance-versus-lance charge by British against German cavalry – this took place at Montcel à Frétoy on the 7th September, when two troops of the regiment charged and scattered a larger force of German Dragoons. The 9th Lancers had made a much less successful charge between Elouges and Audregnies on the 24th August, just after the fighting at Mons, when they suffered 88 casualties (a cavalry regiment consisting of 549 men, of whom 26 were officers) and lost some 300 horses in an attempt to protect the flank of the retreating 5th Division.
The French armies and the BEF carried on retreating for another 10 days and some 250 miles before turning to defeat the Germans at the Battle of the Marne. Reports from news correspondents (the so-called “Amiens” despatch published in “The Times” of 30th August being the most significant) describing the apparently pitiful condition of the BEF did more to alert the British public to the true scale of the War and persuade men to volunteer for the Army than any official propaganda. Robert Tuck, Gerald Dane, Percy Dane, Charles Andrews, Cyril Andrews, Arthur Shire, of East Chinnock were amongst those who were spurred into volunteering for Kitchener’s New Armies.