First World War Project
William Henry LAKER (of Teynham)
Private, Service Number G/9334
William Henry Laker came from a family with strong Sussex links until his parents, set up home in Kent. The Sussex line begins with his grandfather, also William, who was born in Henfield, Sussex. All these generations were agricultural labourers. His father, another William, was born in Twineham, Sussex and married Sarah, from Angmering, Sussex. Following their marriage, Sarah and William began raising their family in Shoreham, then moved out of Sussex, to Upchurch, where most of their six children were born, finally settling in Teynham in No.1 Station Row. William was the oldest child, followed by Daisy Gertrude, James Frederick, Arthur, Florence and Elsie.
William and Sarah lost two of their children to the First World War, William Henry and James Frederick (who died on 22nd October 1918 - serving in the 10th Battalion, The Buffs).
William attested on 11th December 1915. He was described as a labourer (qualified as a cook), 28 years and 270 days old and living at No.1 Station Road, Teynham (his parents' address). He stood 5 feet and 7½ inches, chest of 35" (2½" expansion).
He served at Home from 29th February to 21st November 1916 and joined the British Expeditionary Force on 22nd November 1916, being posted in France on 3rd December 1916. At first, he was reported Missing on 3rd May and was confirmed "died of wounds" that same day.
William was one of nearly 35,000 soldiers lost without a known grave who are recorded on the Arras Memorial. There were 368 casualties (killed, missing, injured) in the planned attack on German lines. The fighting was intense followed by counter attack. This explains the inability to recover William's body.
William Henry Laker was posthumously awarded the British War and Victory Medals. [See Appendix 1]
William's Effects amounted to just £1 4s 8d plus £4 10s War Gratuity. His father, William, was his sole beneficiary. [See Appendix 2]
Military Experience of William Henry Laker
The 7th Battalion, East Kent (The Buffs) Regiment served in the 18th Division, 55th Infantry Brigade. Battles of Arras started on 9th April 1917, opening with the Battle of Vimy Ridge (9th-14th April) and the first Battle of the Scarpe. There followed a second (23rd April) and third (2nd May) Battles of The Scarpe that ended the Battle of Arras.
12th March: THIEPVAL: The Battalion took over the dispositions of the 12th Middlesex Regiment in tents and dugouts at THIEPVAL. Battalion HQ moved to the WONDERWORK. Completion of move was wired to the Brigade at 8.30pm.
The Battalion was lent to the 54th Infantry Brigade for the attack on the ACHIET – LOUPART LINE. The Commanding Officer and Captain L.WOOD attended a Conference at 54th Brigade Head Quarters at PAISLEY DUMP (G.U.S. 54th Infantry Brigade – Brigadier General SHOUBRIDGE)
During the night 12/13 the enemy retired from the ACHIET-LOUPART LINE.
13th March: THIEPVAL: 1 officer per Company and Lt. HAYFIELD, left Battalion HQs at 3.10 a.m. to reconnoitre the positions to be taken up by the Battalion around IRLES.
The loan of the Battalion to the 54th Infantry Brigade was cancelled; the Battalion was ordered to stand by.
"B" Company relieved the 55th Trench Mortar Battery at MOUQUET FARM for work in the ROGER'S TRAMLINE at RIFLE DUMP.
14th March: THIEPVAL: "A" and "D" Companies worked in a camp at HESSIAN TRENCH under the Staff Captain Captain MITCHELL.
"C" Company worked on the St. PIERRE DIVION – MIRAUMONT ROAD under the C.R.E., 18th DIVISION.
15th March: THIEPVAL: "A" and "D" Companies worked as on 14th. "C" Company as on 14th.
On the completion of work the Battalion was distributed as follows :-
"A" by HESSIAN; "B" by GRAVEL PITS (less 2 platoons); 2 platoons "B" Company – MOUQUET FARM; "C" Company – FABECK TRENCH; "D" Company – ZOLLERN REDOUBT; Battalion H.Q. – Dug-out at R.28.b.1.3.
Move was complete at 6.30 p.m."
[Summary] 16th to 19th March: ZOLLERN TRENCH: Undertaking series of works on roads and with the Royal Field Artillery before being relieved into Billets.
[Summary of Move] Initially, WELLINGTON HUTS (20th), then (21st) marched to billets firstly in HARPONVILLE and then VILLERS BOCAGE (22nd), PONT-DE-METZ (23rd-25th).
Battalion entrained at SALEUX.
[Training Period] 27th March – 19th April: Detrained at BOESEGHEM into billets and a period of 'Training Programme' and repeated parading, firing range/musketry.
"20th April: 7th Buffs marched to billets at BERGUETTE as follows:-
(a) Time of Start – 9.36 a.m.
(b) Starting Point – Cross Roads I.15.a.8.6.
(c) Order of March – Battalion Head Quarters – B – C – Drums – D – A
1st Line Transport – Baggage Wagons.
(d) Route: PECQUEUR – LA LACQUE – ISMERGUES – BERGUETTE.
The Battalion was in billets at 12.15 p.m.
21st April: The 55th Infantry Brigade moved to BETHUNE.
7th Buffs marched as follows:-
(a) Hour of March – 9.0 a.m.
(b) Starting Point – Cross Roads, O.21.c.1.8.
(c) Order of March – Battalion Head Quarters – C – A (less 2 Platoons) – Drums – B – D – 1st Line Transport – Baggage Wagons.
(d) Route: LILLERS – CHOCQUES.
"D" Company, 1st Line Transport and Baggage Wagons joined the Column as it passed Road Junction at O.27.a.32.
"A" Company detailed 2 Platoons to man-hauling carts of 55th T.M. Battery.
The Battalion were Billeted in the Tobacco Factory.
The Battalion were in billets at 3.0 p.m.
22nd April: 11.30 a.m.: The Battalion attended Divine Service in the Divisional Cinema.
The Parade was taken by Major M.M. BRICE, M.C..
In the afternoon the Commanding Officer, Adjutant, 2nd in Command and 1 officer per Company reconnoitred the way up to WINDY Corner and trenches held by 197th Brigade – 66th Division.
23rd April: Training was carried out under Company Arrangements
24th April: The Battalion moved to billets at LA BOURSE as under:-
(a) Hour of Start – 3.30 p.m.
(b) Starting Point – Battalion Headquarters
(c) Order of March – Battalion Headquarter – D – A – Drums – B – C – 1st Line Transport and Baggage Wagons.
(d) Route – LE MARAIS – VERQUIGNEUL.
The Battalion were in billets at 5.0 p.m., and were in Reserve to the 199th Infantry Brigade, 66th Division.
25th April: Training was carried out under Company Arrangments.
26th April: BETHUNE: The Battalion paraded at 9.0 a.m. and carried out Battalion Drill.
The Battalion moved to billets previously occupied in BETHUNE as follows:-
(a) Hour of Start – 2.0 p.m.
(b) Starting Point – Battalion HQ.
(c) Order of March – Battalion HQ – A – B – Drums – C – D – 1st Line Transportation – Baggage Train
(d) Route VERQUIGNEUL – LE MARAIS.
27th April: MAREST: 55th Infantry Brigade moved to PERNES area.
7th Buffs marched to billets at MAREST as follows:-
(a) Hour of Start – 9.45 a.m.
(b) Starting Point – Road Junction E.11.d.8.0
(c) Order of March – Battalion HQ – B – C – Drums – D – A – 1st Line Transportation – Baggage Train
(d) Route: ANNEZIN – LA BEUVRIERE – MARLES LES MINES.
The Battalion was in billets at 5.0 p.m.
28th April: NEUVILLE-VITASSE: 55th Infantry Brigade moved by train to NEUVILLE-VITASSE.
7th The Buffs marched to entraining station – BRIAS – as follows:-
(a) Hour of Start: 6.20 a.m.
(b) Road Junction ¼ mile South of "I" in "GRICOURT".
(c) Order of March – Battalion H.Q – C – D – Drums – A – B.
(d) Route – BOURS – ANTIGNEUL CHATEAU.
The Battalion entrained at 11.45 a.m. and detrained at ARRAS at 3 p.m.
The Battalion marched to BEAURAINS, and the men fell-in and rested till 8.0 p.m. when they marched to Trenches at NEUVILLE VITASSE where they bivouacked.
29th & 30th April: NEUVILLE VITASSE.
1st May: NEUVILLE VITASSE: Bivouacs in trenches at N.14.C. (N.E. of NEUVILLE VITASSE). [Map ÉTERPIGNY 1/20,000]
8.30 p.m.: 7th Buffs relieved 7th Queens in Front and Support Positions (Right).
Infantry Brigade Sector as follows:-
2 Platoons "A" Company 7th Buffs relieved 2 Platoons "A" Company 7th Queens on right of front line.
2 Platoons "B" Company 7th Buffs relieved 2 Platoons "C" Company 7th Queens on left of front line.
Front Line extended from O.25.d.7.3 in touch with 54th Infantry Brigade on right, to O.26.c.0.8. in touch with 8th East Surrey Regiment on left.
2 Platoons "A" Company 7th Buffs relieved 2 Platoons "A" Company 7th Queens on right of support line.
1 Platoon "B" Company 7th Buffs relieved 1 Platoon "B" Company 7th Queens in Strong Point in rear of Support Line.
"C" and "D" Companies 7th Buffs relieved 2 Companies 7th Royal West Kent Regiment in Southern Portion of trenches in N.30.b.
Battalion Headquarters moved to QUARRY N.30.b.
2nd May: 1.5 a.m.: The Relief was complete at 1.5 a.m.
3rd May: Companies commenced to take up their Battle Positions as follows:-
1. "A" and "B" Companies – Assaulting Companies.
In 3 waves – 1st 2 waves in front trench.
3rd wave with 3 Platoons 7th Royal West Kent Regiment (detailed as dug-out clearing parties) in shell holes between front and support trench.
(NOTE – 1 Platoon, 7th R.W. Kent Regiment, was allotted to right Assaulting Company and 2 Platoons 7th R.W. Kent Regiment to left Assaulting Company).
2. "C" Company – Supporting Company. In support trench.
3. "D" Company – Battalion Reserve. In shell holes in rear of Support Trench.
4. Battalion Report Centre was at Gun Pits O.25.d.6.5.
The two leading waves commenced to assemble in front of the first trench at 3.15 a.m. This was done quietly and well in spite of darkness. The moon having set and all were in position by 3.35 a.m. being in touch with 12th Middlesex Regiment in the right and 8th East Surrey Regiment on the left.
At that time it was impossible owning to the darkness to see the lines of men until within 2 or 3 yards of them.
At ZERO hour (3.45 a.m.) it was still just as dark and it was not until the Eastern edge of CHERISY was reached that it was possible to see at all distinctly.
The barrage did not start well, several batteries appearing to start prematurely, and it did not immediately become intense.
The enemy opened fairly heavy rifle and machine gun fire at once but all Companies of the Battalion were clear of our front line before the enemy barrage commenced. When it started it was not at first very heavy but increased to some intensity on the valley in rear of our front line, and on areas further back.
Owing to the darkness, sections, platoons, and Companies soon got intermingled. Before the enemy's front trench was reached, the left of the 12 Middlesex Regiment came across the front of the right Company of the 7th Buffs, but the Company Commander of that Company managed to get the left shoulders of these men up.
Right Company Headquarter passed into CHERISY through the plantation at about O.32.b.0.8, and was at that time in touch with portions of the 12th Middlesex Regiment and also in reaching the main street of CHERISY running N.N.E. & S.S.W.
The O.C. right Company 7th Buffs, finding the party of 12th Middlesex Regiment on his right thought they were not in touch with the remainder of their Battalion, moved out of the village in a half-right direction, and on reaching the bed of the SENSEE River, found that the right of the 7th Buffs.
It became apparent, however, that the enemy still held a portion of the trench opposite the extreme left of the 12th Middlesex Regiment's frontage. So a front stop was established and efforts made to progress through the trench. The first attempt was repulsed by Machine Gun fire down the trench which was perfectly straight.
Two Lewis Gun detachments were wiped out in this way.
The trench was deep and narrow, and bombing was consequently difficult.
As no impression could be made and the Battalion on the right did not advance, a Stokes Gun was sent up to this Company about 6.40 a.m., and finally ground was gained as far as the Sunken Road about O.32.a.1.9.
It had become apparent from reports received that the progress made by 8th East Surrey Regiment and the left of the 7th Buffs was satisfactory and that they were on the "Blue Line".
About 6.30 a.m. the enemy brought a machine gun into "no man's land" and in rear of the right of "D" Company 7th Buffs. This gun also brought fire to bear on the crest close to the Battalion Report Centre, so all spare signallers and orderlies were placed in shell holes in the vicinity to watch the flanks.
Between 7.15 a.m. and 7.30 a.m., 3 reports were received from the Assaulting Companies. Captain BLACK, commanding right assaulting Company reported that his right was absolutely in the air, but that he was forming a defensive flank. Also that the enemy was shelling the Southern outskirts of CHERISY. This message was timed 6.25 a.m. Lieut. WOTTON, Commanding Supporting Company, reported that at 6.30 a.m. he was at O.33.b.5.9. and was consolidating. That he was in touch on his right with elements of "A" and "B" Companies, 7th Buffs, and with 8th East Surrey Regiment on his left. He could find no other officers of the Buffs.
2nd Lieut DUNGEY, Commanding Left Assaulting Company reported that at 6.15 a.m. he was on railway beyond SENSEE River at O.33.a.5.1. that he had only 12 men with him and that the remainder had gone too much to the left. That he was in trench with 8th East Surrey Regiment on his left and with a Platoon of "A" Company on his right. He was held up by a machine gun at O.33.b.6.3. but had a Stokes Gun dealing with this gun.
A second report from Lieut. WOOTON timed 7.0 a.m. stated that he was on 1st Objective and that he was in touch with 8th East Surrey Regiment. The enemy appeared to be forming up for a counter attack on his front and left.
This information was sent on to the Brigade in a message timed 7.40 a.m.
Before this the O.C. 7th Royal West Kent Regiment arrived in our front line.
At 8.35 a.m. a report was sent to the Brigade giving the situation as follows:-
8.35 a.m.: Left of 7th Buffs in touch with 8th East Surrey Regiment on "blue line". Line of 7th Buffs runs along SENSEE River to S.E. edge of CHERISY village. Position of right difficult owing to reported counter-attack, result of which has not come in. Reserve Company still in CABLE TRENCH with bombstop about O.26.c.2.1., beyond which point to its right trench is held by enemy. Captain LONGBOURNE is now in our original front line with 2 Companies 7th Queens. 7th R.W.Kent (less 2 Platoons and H.Q.) have moved forward. Assaulting Battalions on right of 7th Buffs have not moved forward yet from original front line.
9.0 a.m.: At 9.0 a.m. the following report was sent to the Brigade and repeated to O.C. 7th Queens.
Captain BLACK, O.C. Right Company 7th Buffs reports that right of Buffs still in the air and protected only by very weak posts and open to attack from CHERISY Lane and Strong Point at O.33.a.10.05.
Original advance reached point O.33.a.10.05 but owing to no troops being up on right, the ground was lost.
9.30 a.m.: About 9.30 a.m., an officer sent from Battalion Headquarters to find out the situation on 54th Infantry Brigade Front found a fresh attack in progress. No success was achieved and the right flank of 55th Infantry Brigade was thus not relieved.
9.40 a.m.: At 9.40 a.m. a message was received from O.C. 7th Queens stating the Brigadier directed 1 Company 7th Queens to move forward and take the place of 1 Company 7th Buffs in CABLE TRENCH, latter Company to move forward to support remainder of 7th Buffs. This message directed Captain LONGBOURNE to move forward "A" Company 7th Queens for this purpose.
It was thereupon decided to move this Company forward by the left of the Brigade front and gradually withdraw "D" Company, 7th Buffs, and send them forward. The commencement of this operation was delayed by the fact that "A" Company 7th Queens was on the right of the Line and had consequently a long distance to go in moving to the left. Movement was very difficult near the top of the ridge where this Company was, owing to machine gun fire.
At about this time a message was received from the 55th Infantry Brigade as follows:- Time 9.35 a.m.. Situation of 54th Infantry Brigade still obscure; they have not reached the "Blue Line". 7th Buffs must form a defensive flank facing right.
Almost simultaneously with this, a message was received directing 7th Buffs and 8th East Surrey Regiment to advance to the "RED LINE" and 7th R.W. Kent Regiment to consolidate the "BLUE LINE".
11.0 a.m.: About 11.0 a.m. reports were received that a general retirement was taking place, and it soon became apparent that the whole line was coming back. The enemy established an intense bombardment of our front line system and of the valley in rear and his machine gun fire was heavy.
CABLE TRENCH was by this time full of men in addition to "D" Company 7th Buffs, but owing to the fact that the enemy and our troops were hopelessly intermingled, it was impossible to fire on the enemy except on occasions.
Those men who passed through CABLE Trench on the way back were rallied by a number of officers in our front and support line, and those who passed through these trenches were rallied in the valley, and came forward to the trenches again. In half an hour the trenches were strongly held, and the situation well in hand. As regards the evacuation of CABLE Trench, Lieut. FINE, Commanding "D" Company, 7th Buffs, states the retirement commenced on the left and became general until his Company alone remained. Finding himself isolated he withdrew slowly in extended order to our original line.
The enemy shell fire continued very heavy well into the afternoon but otherwise the situation became normal.
2.0 p.m.: About 2.0 p.m. Battalion were reorganised as much as possible.
3.0 p.m.: By this time the enemy shell fire had died down completely, except for a few rounds directed on the QUARRY in N.30.b.
5.35 p.m.: At 5.35 p.m. order were received that the 7th Queens would attack, with a barrage, and capture CABLE Trench, then FONTAINE Trench and the Southern portion of the village.
ZERO Hour was given as 6.15 p.m. and heavy shelling was to start at 5.30 and continue to 6.0 p.m. The 7th Queens formed up in our front line, the 7th Buffs in Support trench, from which they were to advance into the front line trench as soon as the Queens attacked.
During those preparations no preparatory shelling took place, and at 6.15 p.m. no barrage opened. The 7th Queens, therefore, did not leave their trenches.
6.10 p.m.: At 6.10 p.m. a message arrived from Brigade stating that ZERO HOUR was postponed 1 hour i.e. 7.15 p.m.
7.15 p.m.: At 7.15 p.m. the 7th Queens attacked under cover of poor barrage; the 7th Buffs immediately occupied the front line as arranged. Owing to heavy Machine Gun and Rifle Fire, the attack did not succeed, and by dark the 7th Queens were back in our lines. The 7th Buffs manned the front line during the night 3/4.
4th May: The night passed quietly, as also the next day.
Casualties of 7th Buffs during 3rd and 4th of May were,
Killed, Wounded and Missing: Officers – 12; Other Ranks – 368.
8.0 p.m.: The Battalion was relieved by the 6th Royal Berkshire Regiment and went into Bivouac at BEAURAINS. Relief was complete at 11.45 p.m. Camp situated at M.10.c.8.3.
5th May: BEAURAINS: Baths and cleaning up.
Creekside Cluster Losses on 3rd May 1917
Thursday 3 May 1917 saw the heaviest casualties for Lynsted when 5 men were lost at the Third Battle of the Scarpe.
The stories of these 5 men follow similar paths. Amos Brown and Reginald Weaver both served in 6th (Service) Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). Stanley Cleaver and MacDonald Dixon served in both the Royal East Kent Yeomanry (The Duke of Connaught's Own) (Mounted Rifles) and 7th (Service) Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). William Gambrill served in both Royal East Kent Yeomanry (The Duke of Connaught's Own) (Mounted Rifles) and the Household Battalion, Household Cavalry and Cavalry of the Line, alongside Henry Carrier who was lost 8 days later on on 11 May 1917.
Three more men were lost that day from the Creekside Cluster. Harry Filmer, lost from Newnham, served in the 1st (Service) Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). William Henry Laker, lost from Teynham, served alongside Stanley Cleaver and MacDonald Dixon serving in 7th (Service) Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment). George Potts, also lost from Teynham, served alongside Amos Brown and Reginald Weaver, 6th (Service) Battalion, The Buffs (East Kent Regiment).
Six of these eight men fell without a known grave and are recorded in Bay 2 of the Arras Memorial alongside 242 other men from The Buffs who perished that day. They are Amos John Brown, Stanley Monkton Cleaver, MacDonald Dixon, William Henry Laker, George Potts and Reginald Douglas Weaver.
Artefacts - Historical Records of The Buffs - Colonel R.S.H. Moody - May 1917
On 1 May the battalion moved up to the front line and at midnight on 2 May 1917, the 7th (Service) Battalion was positioned opposite the village of Chérisy, where William would face his final action in the Third Battle of the Scarpe.
Colonel R S H Moody describes the action of 7th (Service) Battalion, The Buffs, in his book, "The Historical Records of the Buffs":
"On the night of the 2nd/3rd May, the 7th were opposite the village of Chérisy preparing for the attack: A and B Companies were the assaulting companies, C the supporting company, and D was in reserve, in shell holes, in rear of the support trench. At midnight all Companies moved to take up their positions. The Buffs were on the right of their brigade with the 54th Infantry Brigade on their right and the 8th East Surrey on the left. The Royal West Kent supported both Buffs and East Surreys, and the 7th Queen's were brigade reserve. The orders given to our battalion were to advance in conjunction with the 54th Brigade and to capture Keeling Copse.
It must be admitted at once that the attack was a failure, due, in the opinion of all, to the intense darkness at 3.45am. The attack of the Buffs and East Surreys was successful in itself, however, and other units showed great dash, but failure on the flanks led to a subsequent retirement, and it is sad to think that, taking part in what Sir Douglas Haig describes as a successful battle, both the brigades in which battalions of the Buffs were serving failed in the part allotted to them. There seems to be no doubt that the front waves reached their objectives, but the 12th Middlesex and 11th Royal Fusiliers, both of the 54th Brigade, failed to get past the wire covering the German front line. Little opposition was experienced at first, but the second and third subsequent waves came under very heavy fire, causing their progress to be slow, so that the men who started first were more or less cut off for a time. The Germans, being unable to reinforce in masses owing to our guns, dribbled up men from their rear in very small parties. As regards to the Buffs' advance: all companies of the battalion got clear of the front trench before the enemy's barrage commenced, but owing to the darkness, sections, platoons and companies soon got mingled up together and at one time part of the Middlesex belong to the 54th Brigade came across the Buffs' front in the dark, but the error was skilfully rectified.
At the first glimpse of dawn and the village of Chérisy was reached and passed through. As it was entered the right company had touch with the Middlesex, but on reaching the bed of the Sensée River, which is just beyond, its officer Captain Black, discovered that this touch was lost and that the flank was in the air, though the other was in proper prolongation of its left-hand neighbouring company. He therefore determined to halt and form a defensive flank along the road which runs south east of the village across the stream. Before this could be done he was heavily attacked, and the message he sent to that effect failed to get through.
Meanwhile the left assaulting company, reinforced by portions of C and in touch with the East Surreys, gained the first objective, or "Blue Line". D Company has halted, according to the order, in what was called the "Cable Trench", which was perfectly straight and which was found to be occupied in its right extremity by a considerable number of the enemy, some of whom the company destroyed or captured, together with a machine gun. However, the Germans still held one end and a bomb-stop [a barricade] had to be constructed and an attempt made to progress down the trench; but it was not until a Stoke gun [a trench mortar] was brought up that any progress was made, the work being deep, narrow and difficult to bomb. Thus the situation at 9am was that Captain Black's company (A) on the right was still open to assault and unable to move, thus causing the left, which had gained certain advantages, to lose ground for want of the support expected from the Middlesex battalion, while the reserve company was still struggling for possession of Cable Trench, and B and C Companies had both fought their way to the Sensée river.
A little afterwards came an order that the Buffs and East Surreys were to advance to the Red Line, the West Kents to consolidate the Blue Line. About 11 o'clock reports came that a general retirement was taking place, and the enemy established an intense bombardment of our front line and back area. Cable Trench was now full of men in addition to D Company, who had not yet been able to emerge from the trench; but our own remaining people were hopelessly intermingled with the enemy, so that it was impossible to open fire. The Englishmen, however, who passed over and beyond the trench in their retirement, were soon rallied and brought back to the original lines, so that in half an hour or so the situation was well in hand, though Cable Trench had been evacuated. An attempt was made at 7.15pm to retake this, the assaulting battalion being the Queen's supported by the Buffs, but the hostile machine gun and rifle fire was too much and the attack failed. The Queen's fell back and the Buffs occupied the original front-line trenches for the night, having suffered a casualty list of 2 officers killed, 6 wounded and 4 missing; 25 other ranks killed, 169 wounded and 174 missing."