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 Arthur's wife from Corporal Green and Major Allaston.
Dear Mrs. Chandler,
Regarding Arthur. He died on the morning of the 16th inst. (March) at half-past three. I had been talking to him about an hour previous. It was very dark, and hearing a shot, I asked him if he was shot.
He said "I think so". Those were the only words he spoke. I found he had been shot in the neck, and he lived only ten minutes.
He was the most popular man in our company. He was my best chum and the bravest amongst us.
You will ne able to tell your boys when they grow up, how bravely their father fought and died for His King and Country.
Permission was asked by the men of his section to bury him, which was granted.
He was carried to the Chateau at Ypres and a cross was placed over his grave.
You have the sympathy of the whole of "C" Company.
Dear Mrs. Chandler,
I very much regret to have to inform you of the death of your husband, Corporal Chandler. A pluckier man in action I have never seen, always ready to do his duty.
He was the best bomb thrower in the company and did very good work throwing bombs into German Trenches.
He was killed instantly by a chance shot. His comrades asked permission to carry him right back to a chateau near Ypres, where he was buried.
As a general rule men are buried close to the firing line, but his comrades wished to take him, so it was done.
I sympathise most deeply in your loss.
W. Allason (Major)
(Information gathered by Andy Pay)
We are still on our way to Berlin ....
(Arthur Chandler in a letter to his family, 18 October 1914) Arthur Chandler was born in Spaldwick in 1890, the second son of William and Jane. He had four brothers and two sisters. His older brother, Percy, was also killed during the Great War, his story is told later. Of his other brothers Robert was believed to have served in the Bedfordshire Yeomanry and Ernest was a Corporal in the Huntingdon Cyclists.
At the outbreak of war Arthur was a private, number 9213, serving with “C” company of the 1st Battalion, Bedfordshire Regiment. By the time of his death on 16th March 1915 he had been promoted to the rank of Corporal. Prior to the Great War the 1st Bedfords had served overseas in India and Men. However it is likely that Arthur didn’t join the Any until around 1910 when the battalion was serving at Colchester. They then transferred to Aldershot before being garrisoned at Mullingar in the south of Ireland (then a United country) prior to the start of the war.
Arthur’s battalion became a part of 15th Infantry Brigade of the BEF along with the 1st battalions of the Norfolks, Cheshires and Dorsets. The brigade was part of the 5th Division in II Corps. They landed in France on the 16th August 1914 no doubt bearing in mind the message, reproduced below, which was presented to every soldier on embarkation.
“You are ordered abroad as a soldier of the King to help our French comrades against the invasion of a common enemy. You have to perform a task which will need all your courage, your energy and your patience. Remember that the honour of the British Army depends on your individual conduct. It will be your duty not only to set an example of discipline and perfect steadiness under fire, but also to maintain the most friendly relations with those whom you are helping in their struggle.
The operations in which you are engaged will, for the most part, take place in a friendly country and you can do your own Country no better service than by showing yourselves in France and Belgium in the true character of British soldiers. Be invariably courteous, considerate and kind; never do anything likely to injure or destroy property and always look upon looting as a disloyal act. You are sure to meet with a welcome and to be trusted. Your duty cannot be done unless your health is sound, so keep constantly on your guard against any excess. In this new experience you may meet temptations, both in wine and women. You must entirely resist both temptations, and while treating all women with perfect courtesy you should avoid any intimacy.
your duty bravely, fear God.
This message was from Lord Kitchener, then Secretary of State for War, who was actively recruiting the men he knew would be needed to fight what he predicted would be at least a three year war. He knew that the immediate battle would only be a holding operation.
Once in France the Bedfords entrained for Athens, then Le Cateau and finally arrived in Mons, Belgium on the 22nd August. The first shots of the war to be fired by British soldiers were amongst the slag heaps of the Mons mining area. The first casualty in the Bedfords was Private Edwin Bywaters of Henlow who was killed on the 23rd August during the Battle of lions. Before long the REF would begin an orderly retirement southward. I’ll let Arthur Chandler tell his own story with the letters he wrote to his parents during that period.
This letter was dated 22nd September 1914 and is reproduced in part only. It was printed in the Huntingdon Post on 9th October 1914.
“We were in the fighting at lions, and again in it two days later, but I expect you saw it all in the papers. Mr Sheerman got wounded at Mona. He was as cool an officer as you could find. He was first wounded in wrist. He bound it up and then went into the firing line again with a wounded fellow’s rifle and had another go at them until he got wounded again in the shoulder. He then had to come out of it and said to us, “I’m finished fighting, boys; do your best and good luck to you. Rub it up the Germans well.” Percy Green with his section, held a railway bridge for seven hours against the Germans, until the shells blew it up. They then went into a house and had a good time shooting Germans until the guns found them again. They were upstairs and a shell came through the roof and blew the floor out, and they all went downstairs without using the stairs. Then they all got away safely. Where I was the Germans were firing all the time at us, but we couldn’t get a straightforward shot back at them. In the second fight we were extremely lucky, as we did not get a single shell near us while we were in the trenches, but on each side they were bursting in hundreds. We could not get a good go at the German infantry fire, but by what the prisoners say, one of the German officers said our rapid fire was like machine guns. My platoon was about the last to leave the trenches, as we covered the retirement of others; but we didn’t think much of the German shooting — it’s not nearly so good as ours. When we retired we took it quite easy, and only one of my platoon got wounded by rifle fire. My chum and myself stopped to get a carrot to eat, when we heard the bullets from a machine gun singing over us, so we walked on again, quite easily, but when we got to a village the Germans suddenly let fly and gave us a few shells, one of which fetched down six of our fellows close to me. We helped the wounded to the hospital and then moved on again. The German shells don’t appear to be nearly so deadly as ours. I think Major Allason is a soldier from top to bottom. I am proud to be in his company; he is the coolest man I have ever seen out here. When under fire in the first fight, not being used to it, our nerves were rather highly strung, and when some shells burst close to us, he said it was quite a good display of fireworks. It did us good to have a good laugh. When we retired from the second fight we found an ambulance Nll of wounded and the horses killed, so we took some of the Company and pulled it to the hospital with the shells bursting all round. We were advancing across a field a few days later when the Germans suddenly let fly with their guns. They must have been waiting for us, and the shells burst all round us, but he (in italics) didn’t trouble. He told us to take cover, but when they continued to come he said “Follow me”, and he walked up the field looking at his map as if it were on a field day. “
Arthur tells the story of a famous fighting retreat with simplicity and without embellishment. But the fact remains that in the month which had passed since the Battle of Mons up to the date of Arthur writing the letter, the BEF had fought with courage and tenacity at Mons and at Le Cateau (the “second fight” Arthur mentions) where II Corps had held the might of the German Armies to give itself and the remainder of the BEF time to rest and recover before continuing its orderly retirement across the Marne to the South of Paris. They had then about faced and, with the French, fought the enemy back across the Marne to the River Aisne. Here, during the Battle of the Aisne, they had a taste of things to come with both sides entrenched, facing each other in a stale mate sown with the attritious fighting and artillery barrages which became synonymous with the Western Front. In that month the Bedfords had approximately 190 casualties which were relatively light compared to other battalions. Their heavier losses were yet to come.
On the day that Arthur wrote this letter, the Bedfords were at rest near Jury, east of Soissons and a little south of the River Aisne. They were expecting to attack Chines across the river but this was postponed. A diary written by a corporal in Arthur’s company had the following to say on that day:
“On fatigues again at 8 am but these did not last long, we were back in billets by midday.
Some heavy guns which were brought up close by began banging away at Chivres Ridge and beyond. Quite unnecessary we thought then, for they not only made an awful noise, but the enemy began searching for them with Black Marias, and some fell unpleasantly close to us”
The other soldiers Arthur mentions in his letter are:
“Mr Sheerman” — a lieutenant and scout officer for the battalion. He was wounded at Le Cateau on the 24th August and several other times during the war. He did survive however and eventually became a Brigadier with the awards of the CBE, DSO and MC.
“Major Allason” — was OC of Arthur’s company. He also was wounded several times during the war and was awarded the DSO for his services during the 1914 campaign.
“Percy Green” — was Arthur’s closest friend and they served in the same company until Arthur’s death. Percy survived the war.
At that period of the war the nominal strength of a company would be 5 officers, including the CO who was usually a major, and 240 other ranks. There were four companies in a battalion and four platoons in each company.
Arthur’s next letter appeared in the newspapers late in October 1914 and was written on the 18th of that month. Again I reproduce it in part:
“I am still knocking about. I wish the weather would keep warmer, but I expect we shall get seasoned to it. We are laying in the trenches with nothing much to do, only listening to our artillery bombarding some villages, so I am writing this but have not the slightest idea when I shall be able to send it off. I saw a clipping from a Hunts paper yesterday which got sent to a fellow, you can guess what it was. Of course I can’t tell you what operation we are engaged upon, or where we are, but I expect you will soon get an idea from the papers. When looking for the news of us look for the 5th Division.
Our Regiment has had some rather heavy casualties lately, but no one you know has been injured. There has been four of us chumming together, with food etc all the way through, and, as it happened none of us have been hit until the other day, when one got two bits of shrapnel in his arm, so there is only three of us now. When we look round here at night it looks like the 5th of November, as there is some rather big villages in front of us, and they are burning in several places.
Our artillery drove the Germans out of the village which we have just advanced through, and there is only one house that has not been damaged. It happened there was a woman and some children living in the cellars. Otherwise the village was practically deserted by civilians. Our artillery had to bombard the Church to fetch the German machine guns out, and although the walls were about 30 inches thick, the shells went straight through and the church was properly ruined, but a rather funny thing was the Altar was the only part not damaged. There is one thing about our Artillery, when they find the German positions they soon make them run, but they don’t appear to care much for the open. They get in houses and woods until they are blown out. We advanced across some open country and when we got into position we laid down and made some head cover. Well, the Germans must have seen us, because shortly afterwards they began to send us some shells, but there, not one of us was hit, although they burst just in front of us, so I think their shells are much inferior to ours. The next day we had course to fall back half a mile and seven of us did not go until after the rest of the platoon and we then had a length of open ploughed land to cross, and the Germans amused themselves by turning two of their machine guns on us besides Infantry fire, but to show how good their marksmanship is there was only one of us hit. I think they are using dum-dum bullets, as some of our wounded have very big wounds. I also think the Germans are getting a little more civilised now, as some of our wounded were captured the other day and the German soldiers bandaged them up, got them mattresses to lay on, and shared their rations with them, ten they were forced to retire they left our fellows behind so that was how we got to hear of it. One of our fellows had five bullet wounds and he came limping along, and the first thing he said was “who has got a Woodbine to give me”. We found it rather cold at night a short time back as we were without coats. The Germans blew our packs to pieces at Mons, no doubt under the impression they were men and our coats were in the packs and they went up bang. I think the Germans are fed up with fighting as some of the prisoners say so. One wounded prisoner said to us, “Be quick and finish the war, I want to get back to London.” But as we told him he has small hopes of getting back in London again. Most of the Germans are fighting with a bad heart. I expect they can only see defeat in front of them. We haven’t seen anything of the native troops yet, but perhaps they are miles from us. I don’t think I have much more to say, only that we are still on our way to Berlin,”
“We are still on our way to Berlin ...“. In retrospect that is a most poignant remark which must have been uttered by many thousands of our soldiers. They all believed in it, but sadly not one Allied soldier set foot in Germany, let alone Berlin, during the war, except as a prisoner of war.
In between the two letters Arthur’s battalion had made their move just across the River Aisne but that was as far as they, or any of the Allies, got in that sector. The “Race to the Sea” was once again being run and the main activity was beginning in the North, in Flanders. In early October the Bedfords found themselves withdrawn from the line and transported up to Bethune, arriving there on 11th October 1914. Then followed a march to the Givenchy Festubert — La Bassee sector and it was here that the Bedfords saw the start of trench warfare in Flanders and also a rapid increase in their casualties. On October 13th they were in the attack on Givenchy (the village in Arthur’s letter) with “C” company eventually digging-in in the village itself. That one days action saw casualties of 7 officers and 140 other ranks for the 1st Bedfords, Once taken the village was heavily bombarded by the enemy and was subject to several counter attacks in the following days and nights bringing more casualties. At one stage the Germans drove our troops out of Givenchy. A brave rearguard was fought by Arthur’s company and later, on the 16th October, the village was retaken.
The day Arthur’s letter was written, the 18th October, was very tense for the Bedfords. They were alternately at the ready for an attack on Caytteleux, a small village between Givenchy and La Bassee, and then stood down as the attack was postponed. Arthur found time to write his letter before the battalion finally advanced. I quote from the entry for that day in the diary of the Corporal in Arthur’s Company, which was previously mentioned: “A. night attack was made by us, a strong post was captured and occupied. This must have annoyed the Germans for they shelled us very heavily for several hours”.
The native troops Arthur mentions in the closing of his letter are Indian and Ghurka troops who had been brought from India to support the bard pressed, and diminishing, British Army.
The Bedfords remained in the Givenchy area until the 1st November before moving northward again, this time to the Ypres area, They were to take part in the First Battle of Ypres which lasted through until the end of November. Once again I’ll let Arthur tell the story himself. This letter was dated 23rd November 1914 and, once again is reproduced in part only:
“I expect you will think me a long time writing but we have not had the chance to write. I saw the 2nd Battalion on the 5th, they told me Percy had got wounded about the end of last month. I was very disappointed at not seeing him, but was told that he was not too badly wounded. The 1st and 2nd Battalions have had rather a lot of casualties. We are having a rest now, barring accidents. We have been in the trenches just lately, where we were only about 200 yards from the German trenches, and at night we had to get our coats over our heads down the bottom of the trenches to get a smoke, The last trenches we were in I had plenty of chances for sniping, and of course you know I can shoot straight, and I bet I had a dozen of them. One had the cheek to run in front of me at about 200 yards range, that pleased me A1. It was like shooting a rabbit. The way the Germans advance to meet death shows them to be brave men or fools; because they don’t seem to have any strategy, they seem to think they can carry a position by their force of numbers but I think they are driven forward a lot by their officers by what the prisoners tell us, They say a lot more of the Germans would surrender if they could get away from their lines. We had a lively time about two weeks ago. The Germans got “temporarily” into our trenches, but you should have seen our Regiment book them out again. The Colonel said “We will charge them” and the boys gave a “view holloa” like foxhunting and went for them. You should have seen them run, there was no chance of getting at them with the bayonet, but there was a decent lot stayed behind to surrender themselves. One of our fellows got scrapping a German officer with his fists, but he soon had him bottled up, and another of ours got round the German trenches and took six prisoners. One other said, “I’m going to have a German”, so he went to a trench and found four Germans in it, he killed two wounded one and took the other prisoner. When be brought him back he said, “I have got a whole German this time, he has not got a bullet in him anywhere”, You ought to see me making tea under fire — and we were almost close enough to the enemy to see them wink — but there is one thing, when we are close together they can’t shell us, as they are afraid to hit their own men. We had the misfortune to get our Major wounded the other day, beside the adjutant and a few of our other officers. My company suffered a lot lately. My section was 15 strong when we came out, now there is only 3 of the original 15 left, and as luck would have it two of my chums and myself are left. Well the war is going on quite satisfactorily, and Dad is quite right in thinking we shall soon have them beaten. I don’t know if we shall be home for Christmas, but I don’t think we shall be long after.”
The 23rd November 1914 was later to be declared the end of the First Battle of Ypres and it left the REF dug into the position which would change very little until the German Spring Offensives of 1916. Arthur, as usual, put a light touch to events when he retold them in his letter. The 1st Bedfords, along with the rest of the BEF, had fought the Germans to a standstill. Tenuously they held onto a small corner of Belgium around Ypres (a word which even today symbolises so much sacrifice and struggle) a town to become familiar to all as Wipers. By this time the 2nd Battalion of the Bedfordshire Regiment had become a part of the BEF and Arthur’s older brother Percy, mentioned in the above letter as being wounded was sewing with them. (Percy’s story comes later).
Arthur’s battalion had suffered greatly during November, especially between the 7th and 9th and again between the 14th and 16th. The Germans had stepped up their artillery barrages to intensities never before seen and then followed up with desperate attacks on the British front line in an attempt to take Ypres and drive the BEF out of Belgium .... they never succeeded.
On the 21st the Bedfords were pulled out of the line to face a 14 mile march to Locre in the rear. Their total casualties at Ypres being 10 officers and 419 other ranks, in 12 days of intense fighting. They remained at Locre to rekit and recover until 24th November, The following is from the same corporal’s diary as the previous extracts; this for the 23rd November 1914:
“We enjoyed a well earned rest .... with hot baths, clean clothes and new socks. I might here mention that many of us had not had a change of under—clothes since we left England on the 13th August .... with a hot bath and new clothes we felt like new men.”
It was in this refreshing atmosphere after 34 months fighting that Arthur wrote the last letter, copied above, that I am able to find in the newspapers of the day. Two more letters concerning Arthur do follow, both written by others to Arthur’s family after his death.
By the 28th November the Battalion was back in the line but the fighting was for less intense as winter set in. The casualties dropped to single figures each day, usually caused by sporadic artillery fire and sniping. Large drafts of reinforcements began arriving from England to strengthen the BE? for the coming battles of 1915. The month of December was spent alternating between spells in the front line and in reserve.
Arthur’s company spent Christmas Day in rest until 4 pm when they then went forward to relieve their “B” company in the line. During the relief they discovered that “B” company bad taken part in the now famous Christmas Truce when British and German soldiers met in peace in no man’s land. The next day, Boxing Day, “C” company took part in a similar meeting which was brought to an abrupt end when the British artillery began shelling positions behind the German front lines. The truce was at an end; to follow was four more years of suffering.
The total casualties for Arthur’s battalion for 1914 were 15 officers killed, 19 wounded, 246 other ranks killed and 440 wounded this out of a nominal strength of 1000. The Official History has the following to say about the BE? at that time:
“In the British battalion which fought from Mons to Ypres there scarcely remained with the Colours an average of one officer and 30 men of’ those who landed in August. The old British Army was gone beyond recall”.
From this we can see that despite their losses the 1st Bedfords fared better than most of their fellow battalions in the BEF. The BEF’s losses were all the more significant because they constituted the greater portion of the Regular Any which could not be replaced and whose leadership and example were desperately needed to shape the new recruits for the future. January 1915 was spent by the 1st Bedfords in the Wulverghem and Messine areas south of Ypres. Throughout this time bad weather, desultory shelling and sniping took their toll. February saw them at rest near Bailleul and early March brought a move nearer Ypres to Vlamertinghe. Once again they moved into the front line being based at a Chateau about a half mile south of Ypres. Prom here they alternated in the trenches with the Dorsets.
On the 14th March whilst moving up in relief they were heavily shelled and received casualties. “C” company was holding an old communication trench, known as International Trench, and the advance post was only 20 yards from the Germans. The 15th March brought much trench mortaring and sniping by the enemy but the Bedfords gave as much as they got in the way of rifle grenades and, eventually, artillery. This did not deter the enemy who were in an advantageous position well dug in on higher ground overlooking the Bedfords trenches.
Relief was due at midnight on the 16th March, but before that came the Bedfords once again came under sniper and shell fire suffering 3 dead and 11 wounded. One of the dead was Arthur Chandler. I copy below extracts from two letters sent to his wife, and published in the Huntingdon Post on 9th April 1915. The first is from his friend Percy Green; the second from his company commander Major Allason.
From Percy Green:
“He died on the morning of the 16th inst at half past three. I had been talking to him an hour previous. It was very dark, and hearing the report, I asked him if he was hit. He said, “I think so”, those were the only words he spoke. I found he had been shot in the neck and he lived only ten minutes. He was the most popular man in our company. He was my best chum and the bravest amongst us. You will be able to tell your boys when they grow up, how bravely their father fought and died for his King and Country. Permission was asked by the men of his section to bury him, which was granted. He was carried to the Chateau at Ypres, and a cross was placed over his grave. You have the sympathy of the whole of “C” company.”
From Major Allason, written on 22nd March 1915:
“I very much regret to have to inform you of the death of your husband Cpl Chandler. A pluckier man in action I have never seen, always ready to do his duty. He was the best bomb thrower in the company and did very good work throwing bombs into the German trenches. He was killed instantly by a chance shot. His comrades asked permission to carry him back to a chateau near Ypres, where be was buried. As a general rule men are buried close to the firing line, but his comrades wished to take him back, so it was done. I sympathise most deeply with your loss.”
After fighting through from Mons to the Aisne, from Givenchy to Ypres Arthur was killed by a chance shot in the dark only hours before being relieved.
It is believed that Arthur’s widow and children remained in Spaldwick for only a short time after his death and then moved to Beccles in Suffolk, possibly to her own family. One child, Ernest William, born on January 31st 1914 was baptised in Spaldwick on 16th May 1915 two months after Arthur’s death. Arthur would have seen little of him being in Ireland at the time of his birth and then in France from August 1914 until his own death. I can find no trace of the second childs name.
Although Arthur was originally buried in the Chateau grounds on the Ypres — St Eloi road, like many others his remains were re—interred later in the war.
He is now buried in the Perth (China Wall) Cemetery, Zillebeke which is approximately two miles north east of his original resting place. He is buried in plot 4, row A, grave 2. This cemetery contains the remains of 2763 British and Empire dead, although not all of their names are known. Like all British cemeteries Perth is looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Coission who keep these memorials and cemeteries in immaculate conditim in surroundings befitting those who gave their lives for their country.
The 1st Bedfords were soon back into the thick of things taking an active part in the Second Battle of Ypres notably during the capture of Hill 60 in April 1915 when they had 6 officers and 90 other ranks killed and over 350 other ranks wounded. Later that year they moved south to prepare for the battles to come on the Somme. By that time the continuous losses and replacements changed the battalion so dramatically that Arthur would no longer have recognised many, nor would many remember him .... except, I am sure, his best chum Percy Green.
1 May 2004