As the Centenary unfolds, a range of newspaper and other records will appear here to give an idea of how the war was revealed at home primarily focused on Kent for our purposes .... fairly random. If you have other snippets to share, please let us know using the dedicated email account:
A change of theatre map (right), even if no great change in front lines! This map shows the major formations confronting each other over the Western Front in the run up to April 1917 (click map for enlarged image).
The war was still very much at stalemate across the Western Front. There were continuing uncertainties concerning Russian forces and the potential impact if and when the American army arrived. This month was notable in particular for the German counter-offensive on the Eastern (Russian) Front on 18th July and the Inter-Allied Conference on the Balkan and Russian situation that took place on 25-26th July.
With the Battle of Messines behind them, our Creekside Parishes experienced one fatality. On 9th July, HMS Vanguard was utterly destroyed by an internal magazine explosion off Scapa Flow, taking with it one Newnham man.
"British (Western) Front.- During the week ending July 7 British troops carried out successful raids east of Hargicourt, north-west of St. Quentin; west of Havrincourt, south of the Bapaume-Cambrai road, and north of Nieuport. On July 2 and 3 the British received a slight check west of Lens, their advanced posts being driven back a short distance. On July 4, south-west of Hollebeke, British troops advanced slightly on a front of 600 yards, and on July 6, east of Wytschaete, the British line made a slight advance. On July 10 the enemy attacked our positions on the Nieuport front, which he succeeded in penetrating on a front of 1,400 yards and to a depth of 600 yards, thus reaching the right bank of the River Yser, near the sea. The enemy claims 1,250 prisoners.”
The British salient near the Belgian coast was heavily attacked on July 18. Under cover of a heavy bombardment the enemy attacked and succeeded in reaching the British line south of Lombartzyde on a small front. The enemy was at once driven out of the trenches by counter-attacks. On July 20 bombs were dropped on four German aerodromes and an important railway junction. On July 22, nine German machines were brought down and five sent down out of control, one of them by anti-aircraft fire. The British lost nine machines.”
Following upon a heavy bombardment at Monchy-le-Preux the enemy, on July 25, again attacked the British positions on infantry Hill, and with the assistance of Flammenwerfer, succeeded in during in a few British advanced posts on a front of about 250 yards. On the night of July 26 British troops drove the enemy from the village of La Basse Ville, near Warneton, and took several prisoners. The following morning (July 27) the enemy counter-attacked in force, and British detachments withdrew to their old line. In a series of raids in the Ypres sector last week the British took more than 200 prisoners. The British pilots and observers, in addition to fighting, did important work behind the enemy’s lines with bomb and camera. On July 31, in conjunction with the French operating on the left of the line, the British attacked on a front of over fifteen miles, from La Basse Ville, on the River Lys, to Steenstraete, on the River Yser. The French captured the village of Steenstraete, and rapidly penetrated the German defences to a depth of nearly two miles. They continued their attack beyond their original objectives, and captured Bixschoote and the enemy’s positions to the south-east and west of the village on a front of nearly two and a half miles. A hostile counter-attack was successfully repulsed. In the centre and left centre British divisions penetrated the enemy’s positions to a depth of two miles, and secured the crossings of the River Steenbeek, which constituted their final objectives. In the course of their attack the British stormed two powerful defensive systems, and carried by assault the villages of Verlorenhoek, Frezenberk, St. Julien and Pilkem, as well as many strongly defended farms, woods and organised localities. Further south, in the right centre of the British attack, after gaining the whole of their first objectives which included the village of Hooke and Sanctuary Wood, the British fought their way forward against a very obstinate resistance from the enemy in the difficult country in the neighbourhood, where heavy fighting took place, the British penetrated the enemy’s defences to a depth of about a mile. A number of powerful counter-attacks were successfully repulsed. On the extreme right, south of the Zillebeke-Zandervoorde road, the British gained the whole of their objectives early in the day, capturing the villages of La Basse Ville and Hollebeke. On August 1, the British were forced back slightly in two areas, St. Julien and the Ypres-Roulers Railway, but they successfully held all the main positions captured on the high ground between St. Julien and Westhoek.”
During 1917, through the competing navies, there continued the desire to disrupt and strangle supplies to fighting forces and demoralise home populations. 1917 saw losses of shipping that included civilian and hospital shipping following the German implementation of "unrestricted submarine warfare".
On the night of July 2-3 bombing raids were carried out on Bruges Docks and on Lichtervelde ammunition depots by R.N.A.S.
On the night of July 3-4 R.N.A.S. machines dropped bombs on the aerodrome at Ghistelles and Nieumunster, the Ostend seaplane sheds and a train at Zarren.
H.M.S. Vanguard, a battleship of 19,250 tons, blew up whilst at anchor on the night of July 9 as the result of an internal explosion. The ship sank immediately. The Vanguard had a complement of about 800. Thirty-seven officers were killed and one died after being picked up. There were two survivors of the men on board. Twenty-four officers and 71 men were not on board at the time.
On July 11 a patrol of five R.N.A.S. machines met and engaged ten Albatross scouts and three large two-seater machines off Nieuport. Five of the enemy machines were accounted for, with the loss of one of our machines.
July 19th 1917 saw the resignation of Sir Edward Carson, First Lord of the Admiralty. It appears he was unable initially to impose his belief in the convoy system on professional officers; his compromised authority led to his replacement with Sir Eric Geddes. Nevertheless, Carson was invited to remain in the Cabinet as Minister without Portfolio.
In the air,
British (Western) Front: In the German attack in the Nieuport section of the Belgian coast on July 10 the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and the Northamptonshires Regiment worthily upheld the traditions of the British Army. With the defences in the sandhills smashed by the artillery and retreat across the Yser cut off by the destruction of the bridges, they stood their ground with coolness and tenacity until they were overpowered. On the night of July 11-12 bombing operations against the enemy’s railway stations, hutments and aerodromes were carried out with success. All the British machines returned. There was unceasing aerial activity on both sides from dawn on July 12 till late at night. The fighting, which resulted greatly in favour of the British, was the most severe that had been experienced since the commencement of the war. Continuous engagements took place between large formations, consisting in some cases of as many as 30 machines. As a result of these encounters 14 enemy aeroplanes were brought down, three of which fell within the British lines, and 16 other hostile machines were driven down out of control. In addition one enemy machine was shot down by a direct hit from a British anti-aircraft gun. While the British scout machines were engaged in fighting, other British aeroplanes took photographs; and the bombing of the enemy’s aerodromes, dumps and railway stations was continued, large numbers of bombs being dropped with good results. Nine British machines were reported missing. Since their success on the coast on July 11 the Germans have tried twice to extend their gains to the south by attacking the British Lombartzyde positions. N each occasion they have failed. On the night of July 13-14 four important railway stations behind the enemy’s lines and a large German rest camp were bombed by British aeroplanes. In air fighting on July 13-14 four important railway stations behind the enemy’s lines and a large German rest camp were bombed by British aeroplanes. In air fighting on July 13 and 14 eight German machines were destroyed and 12 others were driven down out of control. Twelve of our machines were reported missing.”
On 25th June, the first contingent of US troops had arrived in France.
2nd July saw the first regular convoy of merchant ships sail from Hampton Roads, Virginia, USA. On 4th July, a concerted attack by German submarines on United States transports was defeated.
The “Tanks,” mainly with the object of keeping their existence a secret, originally formed part of the Machine-Gun Corps, under the title of “Machine-Gun Corps, Heavy Section.”
There is no specific date on which the formation took definite shape, but it was about 6th March, 1916.
The “Tanks” continued to form part of the Machine-Gun Corps until 27th July, 1917, when the Tank Corps was created by Royal Warrant.
Early in 1916 a Training Centre was established at Elveden. The first six Tank units were formed at Bisley and later moved to Elveden. The Tank unit at this time was the Company and it was not until the end of 1916 that the Corps was reorganized into battalions.
The first four Tank companies went to France in August, 1916, and were first used in action on the Somme on 15th September, 1916.
When it was realized that more Tank units would be required in France in 1917, more accommodation than was available at Elveden became necessary, and eventually the large Infantry camp at Bovington, Wool, in the county of Dorset, was selected as the future home of the Tanks in England. The Tank Museum is located there today. To this camp, in November, 1916, came the remaining one and a half companies of Tanks, one half company having been sent out to Egypt to assist in the operations in Palestine.
Intensive training commenced and five battalions and a Depot Battalion were formed.
At the same time the four companies in France expanded, with the aid of seasoned officers and men transferred from other units, into four battalions. These four battalions were concentrated in what afterwards became the Tank Corps Area, around the village of Bermicourt, some 5 or 6 miles from St. Pol.
From this time onwards, all units required were raised in England, and after about four months’ training were sent over to France. In this way four battalions were raised in the late spring of 1917, five more during the late summer and autumn and eight more during the winter of 1917-18. The last eight battalions, however, never went to France, as the Armistice was signed before they were ready.
Since the Armistice, the Tank battalions raised during the war were slowly disbanded, and the two battalions (17th and 19th) that remained, the 19th was disbanded on 31st March 1919, and the 17th converted into the 5th Armoured Car Company.
On 7th July, there was a severe aeroplane raid by daylight on Margate and London. Casualties experienced were 250, most of whom were civilians. This was the last raid in daylight made on London.
The Thanet Advertiser carried this story on 14th July: BRILLIANT AIRMEN. Naval Pilots' Fight at Sea. How Our Men Returned. "A persistent story that some at least of the German raiders who visited London and Thanet on Saturday had paid the full penalty for their temerity had reached the locality before the official message to that effect was issued to the public, in the form of a special communication.
There had been a scene of much rejoicing earlier in the afternoon at an aerodrome, when pilots of the R.N.A.S. returned to their base after having successfully chased and tackled the German raiding squadron while on its way home after the attack on London.
The British airmen ascended when the alarm was given and were on the lookout for the raiders on their return. The bare statements of the Admiralty communique issued later in the day convey no idea of the skill and daring which characterised the work of our intrepid pilots.
A running fight was carried on over the waters of the Channel, the object of the attacking machines being to break up the squadron formation of their opponents.
Eventually, one of the pilots returned, and after a landing under atmospheric conditions which called for great skill, reported that he had been successful in engaging one of the Germans at close quarters and had brought down his quarry, after a chase extending forty miles out to sea.
Another daring pilot – Flight-Lieutenant Butler, a man who has several brilliant feats of airmanship to his credit and still suffers lameness through an injury received – had departed on a similar errand; and as time passed and he failed to return, some fear arose as to his safety.
Eventually his machine was recognized winging its homeward passage through the sky and the doubt of his comrades was changed to joy. This was heightened by his cheerful shout, as he effected a skilful landing, “Got another, boys! He came down in flames.”
Cordial congratulations were offered to the intrepid airman, who was able to show, by the bullet holes and marks on his machine, the desperate nature of the combat in which he had proved the victor.”
Leading Stoker, Ernest Bolton ATKINS, K/21358, H.M.S. "Vanguard" (of Teynham)
Reported in 14th July, Hampshire Advertiser: "BRITISH BATTLESHIP. Heavy Death Roll. The Secretary of the Admiralty regrets to report that H.M.S. Vanguard (Capt. James D. Dick) blew up whilst at anchor on Monday night as the result of an internal explosion. The ship sank immediately, and there were only three survivors, an officer and two men, of those on board at the time. The officer has since died. There were, however, twenty-four officers and seventy-one men of the crew not on board at the time of the disaster, bringing the total survivors up to ninety-seven. Full inquiries have been ordered, and all the next of kin informed."
"For some days past the daily papers have seemed quite unusually silent as to the movements of their Majesties, and many people must have wondered as to what was happening. It was only on the 15th that it was revealed to us that the King and Queen had just returned safely to this country from a ten days’ visit to the Front, and since then the papers have told us of all that their Majesties have seen and done, and of the enthusiastic reception which everywhere in France and Flanders was theirs. This is the fourth time since the war opened that the King has crossed the Channel to visit the Army whose fighting he has followed with such deep interest, and with whose prolonged sufferings he has evinced so abiding a sympathy; and each visit only adds to the warmth of the reception he meets with from all ranks of his Imperial Army. He has visited them in the dark days when victory seemed very far, and last week he came amongst his Armies with their triumphs just won, and passed over the shell-scarred fields of Vimy, Wytschaete and Messines, seeing the piles of rubble that once were villages and the mounds where Memory sleeps.” Army and Navy Gazette, 14th July
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, in reply to questions on July 16, concerning the payment of compensation to persons injured or pensions to the relatives of persons killed by enemy air raids over this country, said:- “Applications either for temporary or permanent assistance should be made to the local representative committees which were instituted at the outbreak of war for the relief of distress caused by the war. Forms of application can be obtained at the offices of each committee. The right hon. gentleman added that payment would be retrospective.”
Police Gazette, 20th July 1917 reported: "On 18th July - Remanded at Stratford Petty Session till 23rd instant (wanted elsewhere) - J Division case - charged as Fred Cox with horse-stealing.- George COLLINS, C.R.O. No.209-11, age 29, Height 5ft 1in, colour dark, hair dark, eyes grey. A horse dealer; native of Ripon. Previously convicted of horse-stealing, larceny and minor offence at Reigate, Chatham, Sittingbourne, Faversham, Cirencester and on N & R Divisions, Metropolitan Police."
The Times 10th July and Kent Messenger 23rd June 1917 reported an important local auction to take place on 20th July 1917. "AUCTION: By order of the Trustees under the Will of the late Robert Mercer, Esq. EAST KENT. In the Parishes of BAPCHILD, LYNSTED, TEYNHAM, SITTINGBOURNE and RAINHAM. MESSRS. COBB (H.M.COBB, R.COBB, H.F.COBB) will SELL by AUCTION, at the Bull Hotel, Sittingbourne, on Friday, July 20th 1917, at 3 p.m. precisely, in four or nine lots, the following Valuable Freehold Properties, with the advantage of possession on completion of the purchase:-
CLAXFIELD FARM, a compact holding of 109a. 1r. 3p., comprising Farmhouse, Cottage, and Agricultural Buildings, about 68 acres of first-class Orchards, and 39 acres of fertile Arable Land, situate in the parishes of Lynsted and Bapchild, close to the village of Greenstreet, a short distance from Teynham Station.
A BLOCK of 10 substantially-built COTTAGES, known as Sandown Cottages, with excellent Orchard, containing together 19a. 1r. 20p., in the parish of Teynham, near the village of Greenstreet, and abutting on the London and Dover Road.
SHOP and SEVEN COTTAGES, situate in Harold road, Sittingbourne, producing rentals amounting to £105 6s. per annum.
PLATTERS FARM, Rainham, comprising two Bungalow Cottages, Agricultural Buildings, 46 acres of choice Orchard Land, and about 60 acres of Woodland, adjoining a recently-developed Building Estate, and abutting on the main London road between Gillingham and Rainham, the whole covering an area of 107a. 0r. 25p.
Particular, plans and conditions of sale may be obtained at the place of sale; of Messrs. Tassell and Sons, Solicitors, Faversham; and of Messrs Cobb, Land Agents and Surveyors, 61 and 62, Lincoln's Inn fields, London, W.C., and Higham, hear Rochester."
Kent Messenger followed up on 28th July. “Property Sales: Farm and other property left by the late Mr. Robert Mercer, J.P., of Rodmersham, was submitted to public competition at the Bull Hotel, Sittingbourne, on Friday, by Messrs. Cobb, the well-known Kent auctioneers and valuers, of Higham and Lincoln's Inn Field. The sale room was crowded, and bidding was keen, with the result that everything was sold at excellent prices.
The Clacfield (sic) Farm property, situate in the parishes of Bapchild and Lynsted, comprises nearly 109 1/2 acres, of which 69 acres are choice orchards, the remaining being arable. There is a farm house, now let in three tenements, with another cottage, and agricultural buildings. This was put up as a whole, at a starting bid of £10,000, and was bought by Mr Potter Oyler, of Spitalfields Market, for £15,000.
Sandown Cottages, Teynham, comprising ten cottages with garden, and nearly 19 acres of orchard land, went to Mr. T. Tritton, of Preston, near Canterbury, for £4,350.
Seven freehold cottages and shop, in Harold Road, Sittingbourne, made £1,000, the purchaser being Mr. A.Payne, Key Street.
Platter's Farm, Rainham, a holding of 107a. 0r. 25p. (of which about 46 acres are orchards, the rest being mark oak wood), with two bungalow cottages and buildings, evoked some spirited competition. The property was put up at £3,000, and was eventually secured by Messrs. E. Jelly and Marshal Harvey, of Rainham, for £8,675.
The sale realised £29,025. Messrs. Tassall and Son, Faversham, were the solicitors to the vendors.
On the north-west front of Verdun – that is, in the famous region of Avocourt, Hill 304 and the Mort Homme – our gallant Ally has been having a trial as acute, though not yet so prolonged, as he has had to meet on the Chemin. From the Bois d’Avocourt, safely in French possession, the line runs almost east to Hill 304, the intervening ground constituting the slight col or saddle called de Pommerieu. Here passes the road from Esnes on the French side to Malancourt on the German. Passing the Hill 304, the line drops into a ravine where the Esnes-Bethincourt road is, and then climbs on to the Mort homme. The annoying thing for the enemy has been that the three strongholds – Avocourt Woos, 304 and the mort homme – have for 18 months blocked his view of the next French line, which stands at the level of Bourrus Wood, and of the intervening lower ground in which doubtless much of our Ally’s defensive outfit is installed.”
The Tank Corps was officially created by Royal Warrant as a standalone entity outside the Machine-Gun Corps on 27th July, 1917. See short piece at the top of this page.
Comparisons can be made to the "Royal Airforce" that emerged from the two 'homes' for aircraft - Navy and Army. It took time for people to get their heads around a new way of conducting warfare, resulting in a need to integrate and formalise the new methodology and men.
31st July: The Third Battle of Ypres opens - Allies bombard the village of Passchendaelle