Lest We Forget
Compiled and copyright © 2004 Andy Pay & Martin Edwards
From Huntingdonshire Heroes of the First World War by John Bell ISBN 0 946965 21 8. Letter to Mrs. Chandler Percy's mother from G.F. Sudren of the Field Hospital.
56th Field Ambulance H.B.F
Dear Mrs. Chandler,
I am sending you the sad news of the loss of your son Percy William Chandler, who died of wounds in the head, this morning at 6.30 a.m.
During the night he arrived at this hospital but was quite unconcious and passed away without feeling any pain.
You have given a very valuable life for our dear old country. May God give you strength and courage to bear the loss and may you be rewarded for the great sacrifice your son has made.
For him I have no sorrow. He is with those who have so nobly served and given all for us. They are at peace and safe in the keeping of our Heavenly Father.
I shall see that he is given a worthy burial and cross in ourwell kept little cemetery here.
Later the Graves Office, London willtell you the exact spot. If I can do anything here to help you please write and ask; it will be done willingly.
May God bless and comfort you.
PERCY WILLIAM CHANDLER
(Information gathered by Andy Pay)
cannot be too often repeated that C.S.Ms were the
Percy Chandler, born in Spaldwick in 1885, was the older brother of Arthur Chandler whose story has been told earlier. He also was a regular soldier serving in the same Regiment as his brother. He was number 7612, a company sergeant major in the 2nd Battalion of the Bedfords.
Percy had seen 13 years service in the Bedfords June 1916. He had served overseas in Gibraltar 1909, Bermuda 1910-1912 and South Africa 1912-13. A battalion diary entry for the 2nd Bedfords on 13th February 1913 states simply, “one Sgt to the 3rd Battalion”. This would have been Percy as he came home to England at that time to be a musketry instructor. The 3rd Battalion was the Reserve Battalion, based at Bedford, which undertook training of recruits for the two line battalions.
The 2nd Bedfords were located at Roberts Heights near Pretoria, in the Transvaal, South Africa at the outbreak of the Great War. On 10th August 1914 they mobilised for the return to England. They joined the 21st Infantry Brigade, 7th Division at Lyndhurst in Hants to prepare for the move to France. The other three battalions in that brigade were the second battalions of the Green Howards, the Royal Scots Fusiliers and the Wiltshires. Percy would have rejoined his battalion on their arrival back in England. At that time he was still a sergeant.
The 7th Division landed at Zeebrugge on the 7th October 1914 in time to give much needed support to the BEF in the First Battle of Ypres. They were located in the Gheluvelt area about four miles east of Ypres down the Merin Road and not far from where Arthur Chandler met his death in 1915. This was a period of desperate fighting, with the 7th Division thrown immediately into the fray. The day that Percy’s Division landed at Zeebrugge German cavalry briefly entered Ypres and then retired. This was the last time that the enemy were to enter the town. It was another week before British and French infantry entered Ypres to consolidate their defence lines. The British force was led by 7th Division. The Northumberland Hussars, in 7th Division became the first Territorial Unit to see action in the Great War when, on the 13th October, they had been in the advance of the British entry into Ypres.
On 22nd October the enemy laid a concentrated artillery barrage on Ypres and made advances westward. The front was very fluid at this time, it being the last stage of the Race to the Sea before the consolidation of the trench lines of the Western Front. By the end of October the BEF’s lines had contracted around Ypres and our troops were under severe pressure from continuous assaults by superior numbers of enemy troops and artillery. The 30th October saw the 2nd Bedfords on a line behind the Gheluvelt - Zandvoorde road after making a brief advance in front of Hill 60 and Sanctuary Wood. On 31st October their task was to advance and occupy a small fir wood 250 yards ahead of the newly occupied line. Before this could be done the enemy forced a retirement towards the Menin - Ypres road and Sanctuary Wood. This was a black day for the 2nd Bedfords, their commanding officer and their second in command remained in the line after the retirement and were killed. The battalion itself was left with 4 officers and not much over 300 other ranks out of the nominal 30 officers and 960 other ranks who landed on 7th October 24 days earlier.
One of the casualties was Percy Chandler who was severely wounded in the shoulder. He was eventually evacuated to England where he remained for three months recovering. Percy would have been evacuated before Arthur and the 1st Bedfords relieved the 2nd Battalion in the line on 5th November. Arthur mentions this meeting of the two battalions in his letter dated 23rd November 1914 and reproduced earlier.
By the time Percy had recuperated and returned to his battalion they had fought in the Battle of Neuve Chapelle receiving 200 casualties and were now located in the Givenchy - Festubert area, where the 1st Battalion had suffered greatly in October 1914. About this time Percy was promoted to Company Sergeant Major.
The 2nd Bedfords fought two main actions at Festubert. First from 16th 18th May 1915, when they had nearly 400 casualties, and next from 15th - 17th June 1915 when they had 125 casualties. These battles were a part of the British offensive policy which they continued despite being outnumbered and outgunned. The military leaders believed an offensive war was the best plan; constant attrition and wearing down of the enemy who had settled into strong defensive positions often on the advantageous high ground. Unlike in Mesopotamia advances on the Western Front measured in terms of yards were regarded as successful.
June to September 1915 was a more settled time for the REF but it was not to last. The French wished to mount a joint offensive with the British located above Lebs and the French below it. The British part of the attack, to be known as the Battle of Loos, began on 25th September. Initially it made good advances despite our poor use of gas which had drifted back on our own troops in many areas. The 7th Division, with Percy’s 2nd Bedfords, made the best advances of the day.
The 2nd Bedfords remained in the line until 1st October by which time they had received over 380 casualties.
1915 once again settled down into the static desultory war without any more major battles. The BEF still received a steady flow of casualties due to artillery and sniper fire and trench raids. Until June 1916, prior to their involvement in the Battles of the Somme, Percy’s Battalion suffered an average of 20 casualties a month. In one month, April 1916, they had no casualties. They were in desperate need of this respite. This was the time of the build up of the BEF for the big summer offensive of 1916 on the Somme.
In December 1915 the 2nd Bedfords moved from the Loos area south to the Albert Sector where they eventually became a part of the 89th Brigade in the 30th Division. The other battalions in that brigade were the 17th, 19th and 20th Kings (Liverpool) Regiment. These were Kitchener’s army battalions known as the 1st, 3rd and 4th Liverpool Pals respectively. The Bedfords move was a part of the reorganisation of the BEF which involved the merging of Regular, Territorial and Kitchener’s battalions to streamline and stiffen the Army for the coming Somme offensive. The early part of 1916 was entirely devoted to training and re-equipping for that offensive alone. The men were given leave and long rest periods as a part of this preparation. Percy was home on leave in the April of 1916 for the third and last time since his battalion originally arrived on the Western Front.
From January 1916 to the start of the Battle of the Somme on 1st July 1916 Percy’s were located near Maricourt at the southern end of the British line. They even found time to visit their 1st Battalion at Bray early in January. Their time in the line was interspersed with improving the Maricourt Defences and training periods behind the lines. June saw the build up intensify with the Bedfords training about 5 miles north east of Amiens. On the 12th June they returned to Bray before going, once again into the front line at Maricourt on the 13th.
The Battle of the Somme was due to start on 29th June 1916 preceded by a five day bombardment of the enemy trenches. The weather turned very poor on the 26th and 27th resulting in the start date for the Offensive being changed to 1st July. Percy did not live to see that day. Throughout the British bombardment the German’s retaliated causing many casualties in the British assembly areas as well as the front lines. I reproduce below the complete war diary entries for the 2nd Bedfords for the 27th and 28th June 1916:
Percy became the third son of Spaldwick to die for his country in the Great War.
As for the 2nd Bedfords, they didn’t participate in the main assault on 1st July but remained in support to the 17th and 20th Kings who successfully took Dublin Trench. The whole of 30th Divisions attack was a relative success when compared to those on the remainder of the line. As a consequence the division did not suffer the massive casualties normally associated with the first day of the Somme.
The 2nd Bedfords casualties from 1st to 4th July when they were withdrawn were 2 officers wounded, 2 other ranks killed and 70 wounded. Their main casualties came later that month with 244 lost during an unsuccessful attack on Trones Wood on 12th July and a further 192 during a more successful advance on Maltz Horn Farm on 30th July.
A letter from the Chaplain of 56th Field Ambulance to Percy’s family, dated 28th June 1916 the day of his death, explained that he had died of wounds to the head at 6.30 that morning. He had arrived in the hospital overnight and remained unconscious till his death. He is buried in Plot 2, Row A, Grave 2 in Dive Copse British Cemetery at Sailley-le-Sec, about 4 miles east of Albert and 10 miles from where he was wounded at Maricourt. This cemetery is on the site of XIV Corps Main Dressing Station which was a concentration of Field Ambulances. Probably the 56th, whose chaplain wrote to Percy’s family, were located here. The cemetery has a total of 579 graves.
Percy Chandler was the last of Spaldwick’s Regular Army soldiers to die in the Great War. All the remaining casualties came from the New Armies.
16 May 2004