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Imperial War Museum War Partnership logoFirst World War - On this day...... 12th September 1916

 

Remembering the men from the Kingsdown and Creekside Cluster
who gave their lives in the First World War

On the centenary of their death, we remember

William Percy FOSTER
bapt. 4th January 1895;
d. 12th September 1916. Aged 21 years.


Private G/17538
2nd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment
Remembered with Honour
St. Sever Cemetery, Rouen
Grave Ref: Plot "B", Row 21, Grave 23

Died of Wounds

St. Sever Cemetery ROUEN

His father, W.H. Foster, paid for an inscription on his cross reading:

"PEACE PERFECT PEACE
WITH LOVED ONES FAR AWAY"


William was one of many local lads who served and died in the front line during September 1916 as they took part in the major assault in The Somme in the area of High Wood and Leuze Wood (near the French town of COMBLES). Most were "killed in action", but William "died of wounds".

William died after evacuation through the front line Casualty Clearing Station to the 1st Australian General Hospital, a "Base Hospital" in Rouen, Departement de la Seine-Maritime, Haute-Normandie, France. He is recorded in the Record of Effects as "3/1 Royal East Kent, Mounted Rifles, Private 3196" [Adding the change of military unit and number: G/17538]. His effects amounted to £4 1s. 9d. (£4 0s. 4d. to his father who was the administrator of William's estate) plus a War Gratuity of £3.

Son of Oare farmer, William Henry and Harriet H. Foster, of Uplees Farm, Oare and then Church House, Oare, Faversham, Kent. The oldest of three sons (Sidney A. b.1898; Frederick C. b.1898) with one older daughter (Elsie Grace, b. 1893). In 1911, William Percy was working on the family farm. In 1901, his father was described as a market gardener after several years as an "agricultural labourer".

Military Record

Why did William serve in the 2nd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment?

The answer is hinted at in William's medal records (and "record of effects") which show William as a volunteer reservist, Private 3196, in 3rd Battalion/1st Regiment of East Kent Mounted Rifles - a third line training unit often referred to as part of the Royal East Kent Yeomanry. First formed at Canterbury in the summer of 1915 this unit moved in April 1915 to Crowborough in Sussex where it remained in the UK until it was disbanded in early 1917 when its members were dispersed to other units of The Buffs. If William wanted to serve overseas, he was well placed to enlist in the Royal Sussex Regiment while in England. However, the answer may not be that straightforward!


Circumstances of the death of William Percy Foster

If William completed the usual six months of training and joined at Canterbury early in the formation of his original unit, that would place him as joining the 2nd Battalion, Royal Sussex Regiment no earlier than around September 1915.

Locations of 2nd Royal Sussex RegimentVersion 1 in which William joins in September 1915 or soon thereafter. We can track events faced by the 2nd Battalion serving in the trenches near Loos, Hulluch, Mazingarbe and South Maroch.

In October 1915, the Battalion occupied trenches near Loos, then near Hulluch and ended the month entrained to Lilliers. From there the Battalion moved into the Brigade Reserve in Mazingarbe before returning to trenches near Hulluch. Records show significant drafts in October, which may possibly have been when William joined the fighting - 24 other ranks on the 15th; 17 more O.R.'s arrived on the 23rd and 65 O.R.'s arrived on 30th October. Through December, the Battalion continued to occupy trenches near Hulluch and Loos with only a few isolated casualties. Troops worked hard to maintain trenches in wet weather (digging deeper sump pits) in the Front Line and in the Support Trenches at Philosophe. When relieved, they retired to billets at Noeux les Mines. When in billets, the Battalion were occupied in training, musketry and physical exercises as well as providing working parties to help digging and repairing trenches.

In January 1916, the Battalion moved in and out of trenches in a high state of readiness (2 hours notice) when in reserve. On 5th February a further draft of 34 other ranks arrived. On 18th February the entire Battalion was inoculated against para-typhoid. Several groups of men were granted leave to go Home. Snow fell with hard frosts for four days from 21st February. Whenever the wind came from the direction of German trenches, gas alerts were issued alongside frequent German minenwerfer (trench mortars), enfilading machine gun fire and small arms fire. Through March, there continued to be light casualties in the stand-off. From Loos, the Battalion moved through Les Brebis to South Maroc/Double Crassier. At the close of March, the Battalion went to billets in Petit Sains. Here there was one event of interest - "One of our NCOs was instrumental in bringing about the arrest of 2 civilians suspected as spies." Nothing further is noted about this case.

On April steel helmets arrived and "issued to every man in the Regiment." The Battalion remained in and around Loos both receiving and launching Raiding Parties - a relatively complete account of creating and use of Raiding Parties is given in the record (reproduced below for the record - William will have been aware if not involved). On 26th/27th April the Germans succeeded in taking 300 yards of Front Line Trenches that were regained almost immediately. On 29th the smell of chlorine confirmed reports of gas release on British Trenches and the village of Maroc. The Germans did not follow this up.

From billets in Les Brebis, the Battalion (8th May) moved up to the Old German Front Line (O.G.I.) in support of the Lancs who were in the Loos Sector. Again, several O.R.s were sent Home on leave from time to time. From 11th May there was an increase in accurate German shelling and use of gas shells to disrupt the British Forward Trenches at Loos. Inevitably, the British artillery turned their fire to the German front line. British positions continued to be probed, including some damage to Les Brebis village.

The Second Battalion returned to the Firing Line on 1st June 1916 (South Maroc). Both in and out of the Firing Line, the weather was very wet and stifled planned movements. On 13th June, it is remarked that "a Detachment of 46 men under Capt. F.Y. Goring and 2nd Lieut. Goshawk represented the Battalion at a Memorial Service to Lord Kitchener at BRAQUEMONT." At this time, the numbers of men allowed Home Leave was reduced to 2 per Battalion a week. By close of June, the Battalion were again in Reserve at North Maroc, preparing for the launch of an attack on the CRASSIERS with the 2nd Kings Royal Rifle Corps on the night (ordered for 9.10p.m.) of 30th June. However, the German artillery opened fire at 9pm leading to a number of casualties as the troops crowded the Support Line. The British attack continued according to the timetable; the troops soon found that the wire was not cut sufficiently to make progress across the front at Crassiers. Some men made it to the German Sap-head sustaining some losses themselves. Fragmentation shells also inflicted losses and injury, requiring reinforcement. Through the night, communication was broken so Orderlies were sent back and forth.

The Battalion moves south as an active front is opened, east of Albert.

By 3rd July, the Battalion marched to billets from Houchin to DIVION in the continuing heavy rain. They the left Divion for Bresle, entrained via Flesselles and Frechencourt. On 9th July, the whole Battalion billeted in a very large shed, with the H.Q. in a farmhouse next door at Bresle. The 2nd Battalion was part of the 1st Division.

On 10th July, the Battalion moved in "Fighting Order" via ALBERT to BECOURT WOOD, where they bivouacked close to the British batteries. At that time (11th) the Black Watch took the village of Contalmaison and troops moved 800 yards in front of Mametz Wood. On 14th, British troops succeeded in capturing the villages of Longueval, Bazentin-Le-Petit & Bazentine-Le-Grand. Throughout this period, the Germans used gas shells on British batteries, trenches and villages.

William would have been part of preparations in hand for an attack by the 2nd Brigade on the night of 22/23 July on the Line. Without knowing his Company, we cannot tell if he was in the first (abortive) wave or not. There was also some ambiguity in the narrative describing the running order for neighbouring Brigades. This was the beginning of a more active fighting role for the whole Battalion. The focus was on "Pozieres-Munster Alley and the Switch on New German Line, which pivoted on Pozieres & Munster Alley, passes East & West through High Wood to just South of Flers.

22nd July. CONTALMAISON to The TRIANGLE (Firing Line). "At first the attack was to follow one delivered by the 1st Brigade by 2 hours but was believed to be going to coincide with that the the 2nd Brigade. The task of the 2nd Royal Sussex was to attack MUNSTER ALLEY lying at right angles to the "SWITCH" and connecting it with POZIERES.
The Final orders fixed the whole attack at 12.30 a.m., July 23rd, to be preceded by 5 minutes intense bombardment. Unfortunately the Enemy being on the sides of the area to be crossed could by means of his Very Lights see the two leading Companies (A & B) moving to their position of deployment and opened a heavy artillery fire and Machine gun fire from both flanks & in front (two tiers). The result was to cause confusion and the attack never properly got under way. The casualties, 7 officers including all except one in "A" & "B" Companies & 109 Other Ranks also mostly in the leading Companies. Under the circumstances "C" & "D" Coys were not thrown into the Fight.
23rd July. Battalion came back to the original German 2nd Line of Defence & remained there all day."

August began in billets with physical training, drill, sports, and instruction on night operations and wood fighting in preparation for two nights of night operations. On the 9th a Regimental Concert was held in Henencourt Wood described as "very successful." A boxing contest on 10th August. Baths in the Chateau and celebration of "Honours won by the Regiment at MAIDA on 11th August".

[At this point, casualties began to increase as the Germans shelled the British occupation of cover in High Wood and nearby. Opportunistic and largely unprepared attacks were mostly unsuccessful]

On 14th August: "About 1pm, the Battalion marched off from BECOURT WOOD and proceeded via MAMETZ WOOD to HIGH WOOD. We relieved the 11th Suffolk in the Firing Line, the situation was then quiet. At night, about 11pm the Enemy shelled our trenches in reply to our artillery bombardment and we suffered several casualties. The 1st Brigade was on our left and the 1st Middlesex (33rd Division) on our right.

15th August: Our batteries remained very active throughout the day, the German guns replied with occasional shelling. About 9.30pm a Patrol was sent to report upon the western portion of the trench running S.W. from HIGH WOOD. At midnight the Patrol reported the line not wired and attack feasible. About 2.30am "B" Company on the right, and one Company Northamptons on the left, moved out.
There was no artillery preparation and the enterprise was unsuccessful principally owing to loss of direction. Lieut. Collins killed and some 30 O.R.'s casualties. On 16th August a larger number of men were thrown into the same sector with few casualties and 12 prisoners taken. But on 17th, the German counter-attack caused confusion in the Regiment with several losses until their relief into the Reserve on 18th August.

The German bombing parties applied increasing pressure on HIGH WOOD during 19th August, when Companies "A" and "D" were sent out of the Reserve to support the Northants who were taking heavy casualties.
Originally due to be relieved out of the Reserve on 20th, the remaining two Companies were pushed forward to the Firing Line. "About 8 a.m. the Germans with strong forces had moved against the northants advanced line and driven it back.
The Northants counterattacked from CLARKS TRENCH (captured on the night 16/17th) and "D" Company was moved forward from the original British front line to CLARKS THRECH, where later "A" Company joined it. The previous attack having failed, "A" & "D" with "B" & "C" who had now come up, and one Company Northants attacked at 2.30pm. Enfiladed from the West (SWITCH LINE) and from HIGH WOOD on the East by machine guns and meeting a very strong resistance in front, but little headway was made though a strong post was established by 2/Lieut. Roberts near the crest of the hill and this with the rest of the line was handed over to the 2/Welch and the Battalion having withdrawn reorganised South of MAMETZ WOOD and moved into billets in ALBERT about 3am." German shelling included gas shells.

.....The Fighting Strength of the Battalion on coming out was 4 Officers & about 150 Other Ranks.
Our casualties for the previous 7 days attacks, although heavy, were justified by the successes gained and the excellent work carried out. The following message was received by the G.O.C. 2nd Brigade. "On coming out of action the G.O.C. 2nd Infantry Brigade is desirous of expressing his intense admiration of the gallant manner in which all ranks responded to the severe calls made upon them, and in carrying out the difficult and trying tasks allotted to them. The G.O.C. is proud to have troops under his command who have so splendidly maintained the famous traditions of the Units to which they belong."

21st August: About 9am an Enemy aeroplane flew over the town and dropped bombs, very little damage was caused.
Battalion engaged in cleaning up etc. Our total casualties for the previous 7 days attacks, figured as follows:-

Officers Killed 2/Lieuts. Atkinson, Collins & Young
  Wounded Captains Macdonald, Dicker, Baker & Capt. H.S.Baker (R.A.M.C.). 2/Lieuts. Prince, McK.Kennelly, Eccles, Sunderland Johnson, Thompson, King.
Capt. & Qr. Mtr. Jones. 2.Lieuts. Chad & Sainton were also wounded but remained at duty.
  TOTAL Officers. 3 Killed. 14 Wounded
Other Ranks   O.Ranks. 56 Killed. 320 Wounded. 87 Missing.


Version 2 in which William joins the 2nd Battalion on 22nd August 1916. There is a reference here that suggests that William may not have been mobilised from the reserve until called on 'in extremis' to make good the losses in the 2nd Sussex Regiment. In this scenario, William arrived at the Front in the thick of fighting and didn't last a month.

22nd August: "Draft of 128 O.R.s joined the Battalion. In this draft were included 97 men from the Royal East Kent Reserve Yeomanry.
24th to end August. Drill, Musketry & Physical exercises. Another draft of 57 ORs joined the Battalion and 2/Lieuts. Robbins & King of the 15th Royal Fusiliers were posted to the Battalion for duty. The remaining days of August were spent in training and then relieving duty in the Firing Line.

1st September: "[Right of High Wood] Enemy’s artillery was very active and our trenches were shelled again during the morning. Our heavies shelled a sap-head held by the Germans, and several of the enemy who were occupying shell holes in the vicinity of the sap, were sniped by our men whilst attempting to fall back on their trench over the ridge. In the evening the enemy shelled our Front, Support & Reserve lines. “B” Company (Support) relieved “A” Company in the front line; although very few casualties had taken place, “A” Company had had a very trying time, the front line trench was filled in several places and a number of men buried. The following officers joined the Battalion:- Lieut Wigston G.H. (E. Surrey Regiment), 2/Lt Brading N.B. (E. Surrey Regiment), 2/Lt Alexander J.R., 2/Lt Clarke B., 2/Lt Clarke C.T., 2/Lt Weber-Brown A.M., 2/Lt Collins C.A., 2/Lt Reade C., 2/Lt Burdett J.T., 2/Lt Coleman H.E., 2/Lt Forder C.F., 2/Lt West F.A., 2/Lt Humphreys W.G.,
2nd September: [High Wood to Becourt Wood] Situation was quiet during the morning. Our artillery opened a bombardment at 2pm which lasted till 5pm, to draw the enemy fire, whilst an attack was carried out on our right by the 50th Division.
The Germans replied with heavies on our lines; once again we were fortunate in suffering few casualties in spite of the deadly accurate German fire; the trenches were filled in a good many places.
In the evening we were relieved by the 1st Cameron Highlanders and came back in Reserve at BECOURT WOOD. Casualties for this period in the trenches:- Killed 3, Wounded 32, Missing 3. Capt. W.H.W. Apperley joined the Battalion as second in Command & 2/Lt Fewbrell A.H.H. as Transport Officer.
3rd September: [BECOURT WOOD] Battalion bivouacked in BECOURT WOOD. Cleaning up etc.
4th September: [BECOURT WOOD] Working party of 2 officer and 250 men was found by Battalion, for burying cable in MAMETZ WOOD. Draft of 328 other ranks joined the Battalion
5th September: [BECOURT WOOD to LOZENGE WOOD] In the afternoon the Battalion moved up into Brigade Support in LOZENGE WOOD and bivouacked there; the situation was normal. Draft of 9 other ranks joined the Battalion.
6th September: [LOZENGE WOOD] Battalion remained in the vicinity of the wood all day. At night working parties were found for deepening and widening the trenches near HIGH WOOD.
7th September: [LOZENGE WOOD to HIGH WOOD, Right) At about 3pm the Battalion moved up to the trenches on the right of HIGH WOOD and relieved the 2nd Welsh in the firing line. Situation was then quiet.
8th September: [HIGH WOOD (Right)] During the early morning the enemy shelled our trenches heavily and we suffered several casualties, the trench being filled in places. Casualties this day:- Killed 5; Wounded 15. In the evening carrying parties were found to carry ammunition and bombs to front line for the next day’s attack.
9th September: [HIGH WOOD (Right)] Draft of 4 other ranks joined the Battalion. The 3rd Brigade was relieved in the morning by the 2nd Brigade and the 10th Glosters (1st Brigade) came up from BECOURT WOOD in Support. The Germans were very active all day with their artillery. Orders were received that the 2nd Brigade with one Battalion each of the 1st and 3rd Brigades would attack and capture the German trench in HIGH WOOD and to the east.
At 4.45pm, in conjunction with the 1st Northamptons on our left and the 2nd KR.R.C. on our right, the Battalion advanced to the attack our objective being a portion of the trench WOOD LANE. In spite of very heavy artillery and Machine Gun fire, the attacking line which consisted of “C” and “D” Companies, advanced steadily and in splendid order, closely followed by “A” Company, which was to form an outpost line in front, and “B” Company which was to consolidate “D” Company secured the objective with few losses. “C” Company on the left was less fortunate, suffering rather heavily from Machine Gun fire from HIGH WOOD. It entered the enemy trench, however with little difficulty. “A” Company pushed through and advanced some distance in front of the captured line, accounting for several of the enemy who had run back. On our right the 60th Rifles gained their objective, but the Northamptons on our left were driven back by an intense fire. This left our flank exposed and a defensive flank was dug connecting the captured line with their original front line. By dark consolidation was well under way. Several prisoners were captured and one Maxim Gun which was secured by the Battalion Scout Sergeant. Our casualties were as follows:-
Officers: Killed: 2/Lt Forder C.F. and Capt. D’A Harvey, 2/Lt G.L.Reade, 2/Lt W.G. Humphreys, 2/Lt J.T. Clarke, 2/Lt G.H.E. Coleman.
Wounded: Captain F.C. Sainton,, 2/Lt C.A. Collins, Capt. H. Wigston, 2/Lt Weber-Brown.
Other Ranks: 43 killed, 146 wounded, 59 missing, 4 wounded and missing.

[It is not certain during which of these three rounds of fighting William was injured.]

10th September: [HIGH WOOD(Right)] We managed to maintain the ground captured the previous day and the situation remained fairly quiet. At night “A”, “B” and “C” Companies were relieved by the New Zealand Rifles and came back to BECOURT WOOD, “D” Company occupying the captured trench, could not be relieved till it was quite dark, as Head Quarters remained in the vicinity for that night. The following officers joined the Battalion, 2/Lt C.E. Marten-Smith, 2/Lt C.Fitz-G Newman, 2/Lt W.F. Barfoot, 2/Lt Gardiner A. and 63 other ranks.
11th September: {HIGH WOOD to BECOURT WOOD] “D” Company was relieved by the 21st London Regiment, and we came back to BECOURT WOOD.
12th September: [BECOURT WOOD to BAIZIEUX] At 5am, Battalion left BECOURT WOOD and marched via ALBERT to BAIZIEUX about 8 miles. The 1st Division was now in Corps Reserve and the Battalion bivouacked in the WOOD near the village.


ARTEFACTS - THE RAIDING PARTY AT LOOS (Military Cross and D.C.M. earned)

There is no record of which "Other Ranks" from William's Battalion took part but the detail of this War Diary report on a "Raiding Party" may be of interest in its own right as an example of how machine-gun emplacements were sometimes assaulted.

"NORTH MAROC. 9th-11th April. During these three days we prepared a scheme for a small raid on the German Front Line Trench at a particular point which had been selected. Volunteers for this Enterprise were called for and there was great competition for inclusion in the Raiding Party which 2nd Lieutenant OSMASTON was selected to command. A careful reconnaissance was made and the point to be attacked carefully watched by the Brigade and Battalion Scout Officers. The party consisted of one Officer and 15 NCOs and men, some being armed with rifles and others with bludgeons, every on carried a few bombs. The Raid was arranged to take place in the early hours of April 14th and the objective a suspected enemy machine gun emplacement. LOOS. 12th April. Preparations for the Raid were completed and each man carefully instructed in the part he had to play. It was arranged that the Raid was, if possible, to be carried out in silence, and the bayonet or bludgeon only to be used, unless of course the party was counter-attacked. The line of advance between our own and the Enemy trenches had been reconnoitred and marked the night before by 2nd Lieut OSMASTON and Lance Corporals ADAMS and KENT who to do this had crept up quite close to the Enemy wire where they found that the gap in the wire, which we knew of, still existed. Our chief anxiety was with regard to the moon which we knew would not set on the morning of the 14th until 3a.m., thus giving only about one hour before daylight. LOOS. 13th April. The Raid Party paraded at 1.30 a.m. and assembled at the Starting Point in our own trench at 2 a.m.
[14th April] At 2.25 a.m. a bank of cloud fortunately obscured the moon and the party left on its mission. We listened assiduously for any developments in the situation but could hear nothing except occasional sounds as of wire being thrown on the ground in the German lines, and the faint sound of digging there also. There had been some bombing activity at DEADMAN'S SAP and few hundred yards to the left as the Bombers were instructed to keep this up; this they did with a will, and as the Enemy replied vigorously a regular bomb battle ensued which made a great noise and was no doubt very useful in diverting the enemy's attention. To those waiting for the return of the party it seemed a very long time since they had gone out, but still not a sound from the Enemy trenches in front until, at last at 3.15 a.m. after an absence of fifty minutes all but "2nd Lieutenant OSMASTON and three men came in. From them we learned that the Raid had been successful, that the only two Germans met with in the Enemy's sap had been quickly and silently despatched with the bayonet, and that the reminder of the Part were following on. Five minutes later Lance Corporal ADAMS came in followed shortly afterwards by 2nd Lieutenant OSMASTON and the other two men; these last had stayed behind to cover the retirement of the Party. Second Lieutenant OSMASTON then described to us how the whole Party had crept up silently to within a short distance of the Enemy's wire when they had to lie quiet for some time as some enemy wires were found to be working close on their left and another party of Germans were digging a trench on their right, finally however they managed to crawl unseen to the edge of the sap and having cut the wire, dropped into it.
A sentry was then posted down the Sap and the suspected Machine Gun emplacement was examined; unfortunately it had not been completed and therefore there was no gun in it. Meanwhile two Germans who came up the Sap had been killed and there being nothing more to be done, the Party returned as quietly as they had come. It was not until our Party was all safely back in our own trench that the Enemy became aware of what had happened when they put up a number of lights and opened fire on our parapets which of course did no harm whatever.
For their excellent work and gallant leading on this occasion 2nd Lieut OSMASTON was awarded the Military Cross and Lance Corporal ADAMS the D.C.M. The names of Lance Corporal KENT and Private MOORE were also noted by the Major General commanding the Division."


Draft Family Tree for William Percy Foster