First World War Project

Home News - February 1917

The Western Front arrangements of fighting strength 1916 to 1917A 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). Immediately following the Close of The Somme, military formations were reorganised, men entered into training in more flexible formations. However, assaults and attrition continued to take their toll on our local men; mostly on the Western Front. There followed "the Somme winter" from October 1916 to February 1917. 1917 proved very costly to our communities; more so than the Somme. Both sides were exhausted and depleted by the Battle of the Somme; both sides had to live in the partially destroyed trenches in the bitter cold and (when thawed) knee-deep mud. What followed was a period of relative quiet but for a few limited actions and losses. The suffering would have been known about at home simply through the return of soldiers injured or on leave.

The 'game changer' waiting in the wings was the declining reliability and effectiveness of the impoverished and ill-equiped Russian Army as well as the groundswell of popular opposition to the instruments of the Russian state. With that decline, through to June 1917, Germany was increasingly able to move some of its own military machine to its Western Front. As this story-line unfolded, the Allies also prepared themselves for an 'end game' to the War.

A more immediate 'game changer' was the German implementation of their 31st January declaration on 1st February leading to a policy of "unrestricted submarine warfare". Norway forbade all submarines from entering their territorial waters on the same day. On 13th February, Scandinavian Governments made a joint protest against German submarine warfare.

America gets closer to joining forces with the Allies. On 3rd February, the USA took the long-awaited severance of diplomatic relations with Germany. On 25th February, a German submarine sank the British S.S. "Laconia" and this proved the final straw for the USA. On 26th February, President Wilson asked Congress for power to arm merchant ships. On 27th February, President Wilson states that he considers sinking of "Laconia" the "overt act" for which he was waiting to justify American involvement - however, the Declaration of War did not happen until 6th April 1917. The position was escallated, on 28th February, when Germany made proposals to the Mexican Government for an alliance against the USA (published in the American Press).

Between 20th - 27th February, an Anglo-French Conference took place in Calais to review the situation. The French left the Conference in an optimistic frame of mind, with the prospect of near "success" of the Allied performance.

In the absence of large engagements on the Western Front in Europe, the focus fell elsewhere. At sea, mines and submarines choked off some supplies but not all.


Royal Air Force Development1st October, 1916, to 28th February, 1917.

(A.) Between 29th September, 1916, and 1st March, 1917, 2,844 aeroplanes were taken into service, and 1,425 were struck off. On 1st March, 1917, the number of military aeroplanes in existence was 1,614 abroad and 2,799 at home.
The approximate percentage of wastage from 29th September, 1916, to 1st March, 1917, was 7.82 per cent, per month.
There were 2,932 mechanical transport vehicles with the Expeditionary Force on 1st March, 1917, 535 at other places abroad, and 3,518 at home.
662 vehicles a month were on order on 1st March, 1917.
On 1st March, 1917, 18 contractors were building aeroplanes of Government designs, 23 were building private designs, and 8 were building both.
On 1st March, 1917, 87 contractors were working direct on spares for aeroplanes, and 255 on miscellaneous work.
On 1st March, 1917, orders for 11,013 aeroplanes were in progress, of which 7,782 had been delivered.
On the same date, orders for 20,078 aeroplane engines were in progress, of which 6,505 had been delivered.
The anticipated deliveries were :—

Anticipated deliveries (1917)
Month Aeroplanes Engines
October 629 372
November 636 348
December 659 437
January 625 375
February 711 451
March 731 701

(B.) On 1st March, 1917, there were 32 Training Stations in existence for the accommodation of one or more squadrons, and 15 under construction.
On 1st March, 1917, there were 46 stations at which squadrons were stationed, either in huts or billets, or under canvas.
There was shed accommodation for 35 squadrons on 1st March, 1917.
3,353 officers and 54 men were under instruction at the various flying schools on 1st March, 1917. There were, in addition, 137 equipment officers and 857 cadets under instruction on the same date. These figures did not include the Balloon Training Wing, which had 122 officers under training on 1st March, 1917.
The number of pilots graduated at the Central Flying School between 29th September, 1916, and 1st March, 1917, was 1,193.
About 300 pilots were on the waiting list on 1st March, 1917.
On 1st March, 1917, the number of officers serving overseas was 2,121, and at home 2,966 ; and there were at home and abroad 57,356 other ranks.
On 1st March, 1917, there were 78 Service squadrons and 59 Reserve Squadrons already formed, and 3 Service and 9 Reserve Squadrons forming.

Recruitment Drive

East Kent Gazette of 10th February 1917
NEWHAM. A CALL FOR VOLUNTEERS.- On Thursday, February 1st, Captain Faunce de Laune, at the request of Lord Harris, the County Commandant, called a meeting of men over military age or otherwise exempted from military service at the Parish Room, Newnham, for the combined parishes of Newnham, Doddington, and Eastling, when an urgent appeal was made by Captain De Laune and Brigadier-General P.D. Jeffreys, C.B., Group Commandant to men to join the Kent Volunteer Regiment. It was explained by both speakers how urgent the call for men was at the present time, and the prominent part Volunteers were taking in the defence of our shores. Lieutenant Kitto came over from Faversham to explain all details of the scheme, and the obligations attendant on men who joined. He explained under the new scheme that men would be trained by paid Sergeants within their own group of parishes or in their parishes themselves, by that means obviating the necessity of men having to occupy more of their spare time than was necessary in going long distances to the Headquarters of their unit. There was a very fair attendance. All those present showed very fair attendance. All those present showed great interest in the scheme, and about10 recruits were forthcoming. But there is every reason to hope that this number will be largely exceeded in the course of the next week or ten days. The success of the meeting was largely due to the Rev. T. Barton and Mr. Pincott, for Eastling; the Rev. H. Greenland and Mr. Humphreys, for Newnham; and Mr. Potts for Doddington. All these gentlemen were untiring in their exertions in distributing literature and otherwise asking men to attend the meeting. It is sincerely to be hoped that all country parishes throughout the country will follow the excellent example set by these three parishes, and form themselves into groups of parishes, thereby adding enormously to the strength of the Volunteers, and by so doing liberate large numbers of men for overseas.

† - Fifty Third Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 3rd February 1917.

Private, Henry William FEAKINS (of Luddenham), Killed in Action aged 22/23 years
Theatre: France and Flanders
Memorial: Dickebusch New Military Cemetery, West-Vlaanderen, Plot 1, Row M, Grave 50
Serving in: "D" Company, 23rd Battalion, Duke of Cambridge's Own (Middlesex) Regiment. Died during a flawed Relieving Action by 15th Hants Regiment that left some soldiers without relief until late at night.

Place of Women in support of the Military

Women were first officially employed with the Army under special authority, dated 3rd August, 1915, given to the Cookery Section of the Women's Legion, and subsequently by Army Council Instruction 441 of 26th February, 1916, when members of the Women's Legion were engaged in various household duties in convalescent hospitals and as instructresses at military schools of cookery. By further instruction, authority was extended to officers' messes, &c, and ultimately to army formations generally, and by Army Council Instruction 221 of 7th February, 1917, to women drivers, &c, under the Motor Transport Section of the Women's Legion.

USA breaks relations with Germany; submarines sink all types of ships

Dover Express of 9th February 1917
THE WAR. The result of the German submarine war announcement has been that the United States have broken their relations with Germany. There have been more sinkings by submarines since the announcement, the Germans undoubtedly having made a special effort. The British Forces on the Somme have met with several successes, and on Wednesday occupied Grandcourt without opposition. Otherwise, there has been no very great activity.

† - Fifty Fourth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 10th February 1917.

Private, Charles Huggett RICHES (of Teynham), Died of wounds aged 36 years
Theatre: France and Flander
Memorial: Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery, Arras
Serving in: 1st Battalion, South African Infantry Brigade. Probably died as part of a Heavy Trench Mortar team, hit by a British artillery shell.

{Society Note: Not on Teynham Memorial, but is a "Teynham man" - born and raised}

† - Fifty Fifth Loss in the Kingsdown with Creekside Benefice - 24th February 1917.

Leading Stoker, Thomas BAKER (of Teynham), Died of wounds aged 28 years.
Theatre: Baltic Theatre
Memorial: Tallinn Military Cemetery (Reval Military Cemetery) Estonia
Serving in: H.M. Submarine "E.19", Royal Navy. One of three men to die within one month at their operational base, through an unspecified illness (possibly endemic cholera or black pox)

French Optimism for Victory!

Whitstable Times & Herne Bay Herald of 24th February 1917
FRANCE PREPARING FOR VICTORY. The French Government, steadily pursuing their preparations for facilitating the resumption of economic activity when Sir Douglas Haig's forecast of victory is fulfilled, are seeking to obtain stocks of material and equipment for distribution in the invaded regions. They have already received valuable assistance in the restoration of agricultural activity in the Marne and the Meuse through the medium of the Agricultural Relief of Allies Committee, initiated by the Royal Agricultural Society of England. Further help is being arranged and when the Franco-British troops have beaten the enemy in the west the Committee, which represents every phase of English farming, will again be ready to give instant aid to the peasants who have helped to save this country from the sacrifices which they have cheerfully borne. Gift sales are required in every farming centre to ensure that the help offered shall be adequate to the needs."

German shelling of English East Coast

The Times of 27th February 1917

The following communique was issued at 4.15 o'clock yesterday afternoon by the Field-Marshal Commanding-in-Chief, Home Forces:-

"Some enemy torpedo-boat destroyers approached the Kentish Coast at 11.15pm last night [25th February], and fired a number of shells at the unfortified towns of Broadstairs and Margate.
Fire was continued for about 10 minutes.
The material damage caused was slight, one occupied and one unoccupied house being wrecked, and about 10 houses damaged.
It is regretted, however, that one woman and one child were killed, while two children were seriously injured."

Additional particulars were given in the House of Commons by Sir E. Carson, who said that a short engagement took place in the Channel on Sunday night between a British destroyer and a force of several enemy destroyers, and that although under very heavy fire, our destroyer was not damaged. The enemy vessels were pursued, but were lost in the darkness.
About the same time another force of enemy destroyers bombarded the undefended watering-places of Broadstairs and Margate. As soon as the firing was heard our forces in the neighbourhood were called to the scene, but the enemy had already withdrawn before the arrival of our vessels.

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