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
James French (of Lynsted)
b. Q4, 1894
d. 14th April 1917. Aged 23 years.
1/16th (City of London) Battalion
Formerly, Rifleman, 6822, 16th (City of London) Battalion,
London Regiment (Queen's Westminster Rifles)
Remembered with Honour
Arras Memorial, Faubourg-D´Amiens Cemetery
Killed in Action
James was born in 1894, the youngest of the 3 children of James and Jane (née Johnson) French of New House Farm, Greenstreet, Lynsted. James’s elder siblings were Reginald and Florence Josephine. Reginald was also a casualty of the First World War being killed in 1918 and whose life we also commemorate.
James junior worked as a labourer on his father’s farm. James’s father was not only a farmer and butcher, but also a Justice of the Peace in which role he was responsible for signing the conscriptions papers for many of the men of Lynsted and Teynham.
Sadly James’s military records are not available but we know that he enlisted in Sittingbourne and at the time of his death had served for less than a year. We know that his battalion saw action in Gommecourt, Leuze Wood, and Bouleaux Wood in 1916.
In April 1917 the 1/16th Queen's Westminster Rifles prepared for the start of the Battle of Arras. Canadian, South African, New Zealand, Newfoundland and Australian men fought alongside each other attacking German on the Western Front near the city of Arras. Although the Allies made major gains on the first day, stalemate followed. The battle cost nearly 160,000 British casualties and about 125,000 German casualties.
The regimental war diary for James’s regiment, written in the field by Lieut Colonel R Shoolbred, has survived and comprehensively details the less than ideal way James’s battalion was prepared for battle:
|Date||Summary events and Information|
|April 1st 1917||During the day work was continued on the trenches held by us. In the evening the Battalion was relieved by the Rangers of the 168th Infantry Brigade. Relief started at about 8pm and was completed at 1am. During the day hostile artillery was fairly quiet but during the night our front and support lines were shelled. Our relief was completed without any casualties, the Rangers, however, being less fortunate. Companies proceeded by march route to Monchiet, a distance of about 10 miles. Casualties 6 OR Sick, 2 OR Reinforcements.|
|2nd||Battalion “all in” by 5.30am Day of rest and cleaning up. Casualties 1 OR Sick.|
|3rd||Another day of rest and cleaning. During the afternoon the Divisional Band played in the village and the Battalion was also allotted 400 seats at the “Bow Bells”. Casualties 2 OR Reinforcements.|
|4th||Training was carried out during the day. The new Platoon formation, bayonet fighting and rapid loading was especially practised. Casualties 1 OR Sick. Other Causes, 1 OR Reinforcement.|
|5th||Training still carried on in Battalion area, new formations etc still being practised. O.O. No.85 issued at 5pm. Casualties 12 OR Sick. 1 Officer (Major PM Glasier) and 1 OR Reinforcement.|
|6th||Training still carried on. In the afternoon special attention was given to Artillery Formation. Orders for the move to Achicourt postponed 1 day. Administrative Orders in conjunction with O.O. No.85 for Z Day were issued.
Casualties 3 OR Wounded (Ammunition Loading Party). 14 OR Sick.
|7th||In the evening the Battalion marched to Billets in Achicourt. The same areas were occupied as on March 25th. Casualties 13 OR Sick, 1 OR Other Causes, 21 Reinforcements (serving with T.M.B.)|
|8th||At about 1am a few shells were fired into Achicourt with the result that a barn adjoining one of the “A” Company billets caught fire. “A” Company turned out immediately and their efforts prevented the fire from spreading. At about noon the town was again shelled. “B” Company H.Q. received a direct hit, causing part of the building to collapse, thereby inflicting many casualties on a Platoon of men of this Company who were taking shelter in the building. The shelling ceased at about 1pm, but started again at 2pm. This time a lorry loaded with 9.2” ammunition was hit and immediately burst into flames. The fire spread to adjacent lorries, until in all there were twenty burning. After a time the ammunition began to explode and some of the houses in the Square began to blaze. A great deal of damage was caused by this fire, many billets being burned and a large quantity of stores and equipment buried beneath the ruins. At 8.15pm the Battalion moved up from Achicourt to the Reserve Area, West of Beaurains. Battalion “all in” by midnight. Casualties 1 Officer (2nd Lieut A.G. Beville) and 16 OR Killed, 31 OR Wounded|
|9th||Zero Day. Orders to be prepared to move forward from Zero plus 2 hours. No orders for move received. Casualties Nil.|
|10th||Battalion still in Reserve Area. In the evening a wire was received stating that the Division had gained its objective. All Units to reform. But this information as to the objective having been gained turned out not to be true. Casualties 1 OR Other Causes, 2 OR Reinforcements.|
|11th||Orders to move were received by ‘phone at 2.30pm. The Battalion moved up to the Area in N.14.c—ENE of Neuville Vitasse, in trenches which were supposed to be the Hindenburg Line. Battalion HQ in German dug-out in Telegraph Lane. Casualties 1 OR Sick, 1 OR Reinforcement.|
|12th||In the afternoon orders were received to move South to the Area occupied by the 2nd Londons. While this move was in progress, cancelling orders were received and later, the Regiment was ordered to send three Companies up to the Nepal Trench in N.21.d. with One Company in support in N.20.B. “A”, “B”, and “D” Companies moved forward, while “C” Company who were shifting a dump remained in support. This move was not completed until the early hours of the 13th April. Casualties 4 OR Sick, 1 Officer (2nd Lieut H.J. Furminger) Transferred to “Tanks”.|
|13th||Neither the Division on our left or on our right did get on this day and the attack was not delivered and at night we relieved the L.R Cont.B. on the Left of Wancourt Tower Ridge and the Victorias relieved the 2nd Londons on the Right. This afternoon the Division on our left attacked Guemappe which was heavily shelled by both the enemy and ourselves and the position in it was very obscure.
At 10pm a Warning Order came in that the attack as detailed at the beginning of the day—April 13th—was to be carried out on the following morning and at 11.45pm the final orders were received ordering the attack at 5.30am the following morning—the Victorias attacking on the right and the Westminsters on the left, and no longer making our attack dependent on what happened on our left or right, but making it an independent and apparently isolated attack.
The men were also entirely whacked and there was no time or possibility of any proper explanation to them of their objectives—or of more than the mere organization of the advance to the attack and the objective, which no one had ever seen.
These objectives were firstly the establishing of a position along the ridge some 500 yards West of Cherisy—a ridge running NE & SW and parallel to and 1,000 yards from the Tower Ridge on which we were established. And, secondly, the capture and consolidation of the village of Cherisy itself and the establishment of strong points on the northern flank of our attack and of outposts along the line of the Sensee River to the East of the village.
The first objective was the task of “A” and “B” Companies—”A” on the right and “B” on the Left.
The second objective was the task of “C” and “D” Companies—”C” on the right and “D” on the Left.
After about 1 hours sleep in the 24 for the last three days the Battalion proceeded to its task. The enemy was known to be digging in on the ridge West of Cherisy some 1,000 yards in front of the Wancourt Tower Ridge and parallel to it, but the strength of his artillery or of his dispositions for defence were entirely unknown, though during the last few days he had been shewing a much stronger resistance than at any period since the beginning of his withdrawal from the Corps front.
James died during the fighting of the following day, the final day of the First Battle of the Scarpe.
Again, Lt Colonel Shoolbred reports the details:
At Zero Hour—5.30am—the Battalion advanced to the attack.
“A” and “B” Companies forming the first wave—”A” on the Right and “B” on the Left.
“C” and “D” Companies forming the second wave—”C” on the Right and “D” on the Left.
Each wave advancing in two lines of men extended at 6 paces interval and at 200 yards distance. The distance between the first wave last line and the first line of the 2nd wave was 300 yards in order to conform to the advance of the Victorias on our Right. It was a beautiful morning and quite light with the remains of the moon to help the dawning day. It appears that the enemy were launching an attack against the Wancourt Tower, which was our left flank, at the same time as our attack was taking place, as the enemy barrage started a few minutes before Zero Hour and before our own barrage commenced. Our own barrage is described by our attacking waves as seeming to be negligible as compared with the enemy. It certainly did not keep the Machine Gunners heads down or stop their fire.
The Battalion went into action 497 all ranks.
“A” Company with Capt. H. Agate in command. 2nd Lieuts W. Hull, H. Pickles, and R.I. Richens.
“B” Company with Lieut S.C. Yeates in command. 2nd Lieuts J. Betteridge and T.S. Baker.
“C” Company with Lieut W.G. Orr in command. 2nd Lieuts B.C. Lewall, W.M. Musgrove and C.A. English.
“D” Company with 2nd Lieut P. Palmer in command. 2nd Lieuts S.E. Trotter, V. Bell and C.K. Gray.
Headquarters followed the last line of “C” and “D” Companies and established itself just under the crest of the hill at about 6am.
Information was at this time brought back by Sergt Hawkins of “C” Company that some enemy were quite close and it appears that as soon as the front waves had gone over the ridge and were descending into the valley between us and the ridge, which formed the first objective, a number of the enemy appeared in their left rear.
Heavy Machine Gun fire was also opened from front and from both flanks and the advance was held up—the casualties from Machine Gun fire being severe. It was this Machine Gun Fire and not the enemy barrage which caused nearly all our casualties.
At shortly before 6.30am two Companies of the L.R.B. were sent up, one to line the trench out of which our first wave had gone and the other to form a defensive flank by the river. At about 9am a formed body of the enemy were seen some 200 yards on their side of the Tower Ridge moving to the SW to a position about half way between the Tower and the junction of the tracks in 29.d.8.9. They were about 50 strong and looked remarkably like the front wave of a counter attack, but they contented themselves with some sniping which the L.R.B. replied to and I did not turn the artillery on to them because of the numbers of our wounded, who I feared were in their neighbourhood, neither in view of the obscurity of the position in our front did I attack them with the bayonet.
It appears that our lines advanced keeping touch with the Victorias on our Right across the enemy practice trenches on our side of the valley over which the attack was advancing and that the few remaining Officers and Men of the two front Companies established themselves in the furthest of these trenches, the two rear Companies in one of the nearer of them.
They were no longer in sufficient strength to press the attack any further and were under heavy Machine Gun fire as well as enemy shell fire, but it was the Machine Gun fire which caused nearly all the casualties.
Quite early in the morning Capt. H. Agate was wounded and Lieut S.C. Yeates and 2nd Lieut T.S. Baker were killed, 2nd Lieut R.I. Richens mortally wounded and at different times 2nd Lieuts Betteridge and Pickles were wounded leaving in these two Companies “A” and “B” - only 2nd Lieut W. Hull.
Lieut W.G. Orr established himself with some 20 OR of his Company in a spit locked trench forming of the rear ones of this German practice system and collected into it some 20 other men of our Regiment and also some Durhams and some Victorias and proceeded to dig in.
The messenger whom he sent back to report his position never reached Battalion Headquarters and was presumably killed.
Lieut Orr was attacked at about 11am from his left front but with the help of his Lewis Guns and by rifle fire he drove off the attack. His losses were heavy during the day and at dusk, including 3 Officers of the Durhams and a few Victoria men, he had only 27 all told.
2nd Lieut B.C. Lewall of “C” Company was wounded early in the day, and in going to help, although already wounded himself, a wounded rifleman, he was again wounded. 2nd Lieut W.M. Musgrove was also wounded.
Of “D” Company 2nd Lieuts P. Palmer, V. Bell and S.E. Trotter were all wounded and 2nd Lieut C.K. Gray and his whole Platoon, with the exception of two or three men who got detached, is missing. They were the left Platoon of the last wave and it is feared that the survivors of it have been captured.
There is no doubt that under the immense difficulties of the hurried issue of orders and of the absolute impossibility of any sort of previous reconnaissance of the ground that the Battalion attack swung too much to its Right, drawing indeed into the Victoria area. In some cases also, the sunken road leading to Fointaine Lez Croisilles seems to have been mistaken for the correct one, viz, the one leading to Cherisy, which was the inter-battalion division between the Victorias and ourselves.
This rendered our left all the more vulnerable to the enemy formed for their attack on the Wancourt Tower position.
Furthermore, our left was, from the initial plan of the attack, entirely in the air, there being no attack made between Guemappe and the left of our Brigade objectives, this ground being the reverse slope of a hill ending at the East end of the Wancourt Tower Spur. At the last Minute and while on the trek to some other destination the ————- Brigade were diverted and ordered to fill in this gap and establish a defensive flank from Cherisy to Guemappe, but coming up in the dark and with no previous reconnaissance at all they got too much to the Right—deployed for their advance in the middle of our assembly area and eventually crossing the line of our advance by a further diagonal half right advance came into support of the Victorias on our right instead of being on our left, and being held up on the Tower Ridge, established themselves there where they remained all day.
There was no communication from the front, and knowing how close a formed body of the enemy were to the Tower Ridge, I had no hope of establishing any from the rear, except that 2nd Lieut A.M. Mackle went out in the early afternoon to collect all the men he could find in our near front so that the remains of the Battalion could be reassembled as order by Brigade in our morning assembly area. In this way some 65 OR were collected. At this time we had no knowledge of the men of “C” Company and oddments who were maintaining themselves in the German practice trench (alluded to above).
At 5pm an order was received from Brigade that Battalion HQ was to move to and re-establish itself in the HQ in Wancourt which we had occupied the previous night and 2nd Lieut A.M. Mackle was left on the ridge to collect stragglers and wounded from the field at dusk, and misinterpreting his orders, as he failed to distinguish between stragglers and a formed body, however, small, holding a position won in battle. 2nd Lieut A.M. Mackle instructed to withdraw to the assembly area. Owing to the unfortunate withdrawal of Battalion HQ it was 9 o’clock at night before I heard of Lieut Orr’s position and of his having withdrawn from it. After consultation with Brigade Lieut Orr was ordered to re-establish himself in the post he had occupied and informed that he would be relieved by the 4th Londons of the 168th Brigade who were taking over the line and for whom he was instructed to leave guides. He left 2nd Lieut S.A. English and three other guides who knew perfectly well what they had to do and where they had to go, but who, on account of the darkness of the night, failed when guiding the platoon to find the position. Lieut Orr having only 15 men with him—his original 27 less oddments of other Regiments and less the guides for the relieving platoon of the 4th London Regiment, and having had no orders to hold the position at all costs, and estimating his force as insufficient to be able to hold the position in the face of any attack during the day, withdrew his men at dawn, judging himself just before dawn to be practically surrounded by the enemy, whose Very Lights were crossing over his trench from both front and back. A withdrawal for which, wrong or right, I accept full responsibility.
Lieut Orr had behaved with the greatest gallantry and resource all day and owing to the failure of communication was placed in a position of extreme difficulty in making his final decision. As a matter of fact the enemy never did occupy the trench he withdrew from and the following night the London Scottish re-established themselves in it without any fighting or casualties.
But this whole incident is another instance shewing the imp0rtance of Battalion Headquarter not being moved from its Battle position until for good or for ill the position in front is definitely and fully cleared up.
The Battalion came out of action that night to the Neuville Vitasse Area.
Casualties - 13th - 2 OR Killed 11 OR Wounded.
Casualties—14th—2 Officers Killed (Lieut S.C. Yeates and 2nd Lieut T.S. Baker) and 11 OR Killed. 5 Officers (2nd Lieuts S.E. Trotter, B.C. Lewall, J. Betteridge, P. Palmer and V. Bell) and 143 OR Wounded. 3 Officers (Capt H. Agate, 2nd Lieuts C.K. Gray and H. Pickles) and 96 OR Missing. 1 OR Reinforcement.
15th At noon the Battalion paraded for “Roll Call” after which the Companies were amalgamated, “A” and “B” Companies forming No. 1 Company and “C” and “D” Companies No.2 . At 3.30pm the Battalion again paraded and marched back to trenches in the old German front line 500 yards South of Beaurains. The Battalion now being so small in numbers all the men were able to find accommodation in cleared German Dug-outs and shelters erected by the 167th Infantry Brigade.
Casualties 2 Officers Died of Wounds (2nd Lieut R.I. Richens and 2nd Lieut W.M. Musgrove) and 1 OR Died of Wounds. 2 OR Other Causes.
Sadly James was one of the “other ranks” posted as missing on 14 April. A year later, on 9 March 1918, the Faversham and North East Kent News carried the following article:
No tidings have yet been received of Pte. James French, of Queen’s Westminster Rifles, younger son of Mr and Mrs James French, of Greenstreet. He was reported missing nearly a year ago. The family have not altogether given up hope that something may yet be heard of him, though the War Office think there is little chance after the time that has elapsed.
Two months later, on 17 May 1918, probate was granted accepting that James was presumed “killed in action” on 14 April 1917.
Less than 3 months later, on 3 August 1918 the same newspaper reported that James’s older brother, Reginald, who was serving in the Australian Forces in France, had been reported missing since 14 June 1918. He too would later being confirmed as killed in action.
James was posthumously awarded both the British War and the Victory medals and is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, Bay 10.