Hubert Gooding  M.M. - The Essex Regiment

1. Introduction
Walter Hubert Peters Gooding was my maternal Grandfather's uncle. He was born on the 1st of February 1884 in Snodland, Kent. He was the first of William and Ellen Elizabeth Gooding's nine children. In the photograph he can be seen, top left, at his brother's wedding. In 1908 he married Florence Maud Scholey of Halling, the next village. By 1915 Hubert had worked for many years for R.Lehmann & Co. Ltd. of 4, Monument Street EC. The firm were "Laundry Starch Specialists" and Hubert was their "London Representative". Hubert and Florence had three children : Alan, Eileen and Sybil. They lived at 16 Water Lane, Seven Kings, Ilford, Essex.

This document details the results of my research into Hubert's military service in The Great War.

The letters quoted in this document were written by Hubert to his wife while he was away from home. They were kindly lent to me by Hubert's daughter Sybil.

Hubert Gooding was killed near Cambrai on the 30th November 1917. It was his wife's birthday.

2. Hubert's Service

2.1. Called up
From the declaration of War by Prime Minister Asquith through to the early part of 1915, there was an enthusiastic rush to volunteer for the services (above all the Army). These volunteers were to form the bulk of the so-called New Army (or Kitchener's Army). It was in large part the New Army which went over the top on the 1st of July 1916, to be destroyed in a single terrible day on the Somme.

However, by the end of 1915, the volunteers had dried up to the extent that they could not keep up with the remorseless wastage of trench warfare and the long term needs of the country. And so Lord Derby took the decision in late1915 to introduce conscription. However, one last chance was given to volunteer. Hubert Gooding and his brothers Leonard and Bernard all took this chance as they preferred not to be conscripted. By the end of 1915 two hundred thousand men had volunteered for immediate service and a further three million had "attested". Attesting under the so-called Derby Scheme meant promising to come forward if and when called upon. The attested men were divided into married and unmarried and then further split into 23 groups according to age. It seems likely that Hubert must have attested as he was not called up until late 1916.

2.2. Enlistment
Hubert enlisted at Warley in mid November 1916. The Battle of the Somme had just ended, and there must have been an urgent need for new men to fill the ranks for the campaigns of the following year. Hubert was posted to Z Company, 3rd Battalion The Essex Regiment, based at Felixstowe. He was 32933 Private Gooding. On the 19th he wrote to his wife describing his enlistment :

Well I reached Warley Bks on Friday morning at 8.45 and was later on served out with 2 uniforms, 2 prs boots, puttees, 2 prs pants, 3 shirts and 3 prs socks and a great coat but no undervest. So will you please send me another along as soon as you conveniently can. My civvies were then parcelled up to be sent home but as the house was closed I asked the Sergeant-Major for permission to take them home and he said, "All-right my boy but be back Sat morning at 9 o/c sharp".
We were sent from Warley 20 of us together in charge of a very nice corporal - we left at 2 o/c arriving here at 6.30 pm after a cold and tedious journey having to change twice with nearly half an hour's wait at each place and it snowed hard and rained and blew a gale all the time. We had nothing to eat from 12 o/c noon till about 8pm. We were very wet and slept on the floor in our wet clothes with 2 or 3 blankets over us and our wet overcoats on top of all. My overcoat is still wet. We are billeted in an empty house - no fire at all and the doors and windows are open all day long.
We 20 recruits have to parade at 6.50 tomorrow morning at the Quarter Master Sergeant's office. Later we expect to be inoculated, later on vaccinated and then inoculated (extra strong) again, all these 3 in about 10 days. It makes some fellows very ill - will let you know how it serves me.
Five of us in our billet some from Seven Kings and they are quite decent fellows. We are all together now and each one writing to his wife or sweetheart.

Hubert was duly innoculated and it did indeed make him very poorly. His introduction to army life sounds quite appalling. In addition to being violently ill from the vaccination, which in turn prevented him from sleeping, he was put straight to work and reported to his wife

I never worked so hard in my life. And oh - if only my feet were alright I wouldn't complain - but they're simply awful. We get an hour's physical training every morning on the sea front withnothing on but shirts and trousers and shirts all unbuttoned at the neck and arms bared. Just imagine it,this weather.
Before I finish dearest one I must thank you for the cigarettes and hankies which wil be most useful - mine were getting disgraceful. I expect to go to France after 16 or 17 weeks training. I shall get no leave until I have done 5 weeks training. How I long to see you all, but I must have patience.

2.3. Training
Hubert's training continued in the freezing winter. One of the main trials of life at this time was getting enough to eat, given the strenuous exertions of each day. On the 27th November Hubert writes:

Now my dearest one you must not worry on my account as I am not so much a fish out of water as some of the poor chaps one sees here. The thing that hurts most now is that I do not get enough to eat but have to keep on buying food. I did not have enough dinner on Sunday for Eileen. All I had was a small piece of stewed mutton about as large round as a dessert spoon, one tablespoonful of cabbage and one small potato. I ate it all in about 3 or 4 mouthfuls.
So will you please send me some home made good old "fill bellies" and some sausage rolls as many as you can afford.

Meanwhile poor Hubert had been sent to the hospital to be measured for a truss, as it appears hesuffered from a hernia. On the 18th December he wrote

I now know definitely darling that I am not going to get Xmas leave and shall have to spend the time in this rotten hole. Only 10% of our men are getting it and I'm one of the unlucky 90%. I went to hospital this morning to have my truss fitted and the Doctor now finds it impossible for me to wear one, as the rupture will not go back into place so I'm undergoing an operation after Xmas and I shall have to go into hospital for 3 or 4 weeks. In the meantime I am not to do any drill or marching but only light duty which means I shall have to stop in the billet all day and keep it clean sweeping and scrubbing and dusting, lighting fires etc (when there's coal). Now dear one do not worry about all this as I've done it for yours and the children's sakes. After coming out of hospital I shall get 6 days leave before starting training again. This will delay my departure for France about 6 weeks which is something after all and I hope to be permanently cured of my trouble.

One can only surmise at how miserable he must have been that Christmas, away from his family in a cold billet with an operation looming. It is about this time that Hubert makes an interesting observation about some of the men being sent out to the Front

They are sending fellows out to France in a far worse state than I am. Some of the sights I've seen are shocking and the men oughtn't to be in the army at all. In any case it would be impossible to get my discharge. I've lost all my pals today, they have been transferred to "G" Company which means a step nearer France - poor chaps....Tomorrow I am going into the corporals room to sleep for good as my new companions are rather undesirable chaps from the East End.

Hubert then underwent his operation which was a success. His letters to his wife from this period (January 1917) are a mixture of boredom and frustration (he was confined to bed). He began to look forward to his leave, and hoped he might be home in time for his birthday (February 1st).

When I come out of here dear heart I shall get 7 days leave and so come home to dear home sweet home and my glorious days with you dear one. I reckon I shall be out at the end of this month and perhaps home for my birthday and so receive my proper birthday present from you eh darling?

Hubert was eventually discharged from hospital on the 2nd of February and made it home around the 5th or 6th of February. Following this episode there is a long gap with no surviving letters, although there are three letters which are undated and may well be from the period February to April 1917 (the next surviving dated letter is from the 17th April 1917.) An incident of some interest is described in one of these undated letters

My Darling Floss
I thought you would like to know dear that I'm safe and well and have come through the terrible air raid we had here this morning at 8.30 without any damage except a shaking up. I was in Church at the time and heard the noise of aircraft and then the firing of our guns. Soon the concussion and showers of shrapnel and earth and stones on the roof and sides of the Church. I quite thought my end had come dear as the bombs fell all round and so thick.
The service was stopped and I did my best to calm the frightened women who were present.
Three poor unfortunate men in the Suffolks were killed just outside the Church and the Orwell Hotel has been wrecked and several people in it killed.
Yours with much love and kisses,

There is then another gap between May and August with no surviving letters from Hubert to Florence.

The next we hear is dated 19th August 1917

My Darling Floss
By the time you get this my darling I shall be either in France or well on the way. I am leaving here tonight at 7.30pm. Now my darling girl don't worry or cry about it, I shall come back soon.
I have known dear for over a week that I was going but wouldn't let you know until the last minute, you know why don't you dear?
God bless you all and keep you till I come home again is the earnest prayer of your devoted,

2.4. France
Hubert arrived in France on the 20th August 1917. He immediately sent his wife a field post card with this date. He later sent a letter (dated August 28th) in which he states that he should be remaining at the base for another fortnight. He mentions the dreadful weather in France at the time - buckets of rain and gale-force winds, making marching even harder work than usual. The 3rd Battle of Ypres was raging at this time - a battle famous for the dreadful weather which turned the Ypres salient into a quagmire.

Indeed it was only a matter of time before Hubert would be drafted into a Frontline unit, a fact he could only have been too aware of. On the 3rd of September he writes

So master Alan laughed did he at our misfortunes - ah well, of course he does not understand and I hope he'll never have to experience it. It is what we are fighting for - a lasting peace that our children and the generations to come may have the benefit and let's hope our endeavours and hardships will not have been in vain darling. I am going up the line either tomorrow (Tuesday) or Wednesday but do not worry dearest girl.

Hubert was now a member of the 1st Battalion Essex Regiment, part of the 88th Brigade, in turn part of the 29th Division. He was a Private in No.16 Platoon, Z Company. On the 16th August the 29th Division had taken part in an attack at Steenbeek near Ypres. This was part of the battle officially known as 3rd Ypres, but better known as Passchendaele. After a succesful attack, the Essex were relieved on the 17th and moved back to a camp near Elverdinghe, behind the Yser Canal (Belgium).

When Hubert went up the line at the start of September it would have been in or near the deadly Ypres salient where fighting was still raging. He writes to Florence from a base behind the lines on the 11th September, and tries to show her that things are allright in France

This afternoon I went down into the town from here and went to the pictures and very good they were too. Last night I went to a concert which was held in a barn and it was quite good and all our own talent too, our regimental band was there. This evening as I write there is a football match on. So you see, things are not so bad here are they?

On the 20th September Hubert writes to say that he is going back into the line. A tour of duty in the fromt line usually lasted four days. On the 25th he writes again

I am glad to say I am quite well and feeeling fit - although very tired as it was quite impossible to sleep in the trenches, as Fritz kept us busy with his shells and machine gun fire. On Sunday we were subjected to continuous bombardment from early morning until the evening. I had three very narrow escapes, three shells bursting within 10 feet of me - but I escaped uninjured I am glad to say. On another occasion our parapet was knocked in by a shell but I happened to be away on a listening post, but my pals all escaped with a shaking. I don't know what you would have thought of me dear girl if you had seen me as I came back. Utterly tired out, 4 days growth of beard on chin and unwashed. However after a supper of good hot stew and hot tea and rum I got to sleep and never woke until [next page lost]

A later letter dated 1st October elaborates on this same tour of duty.

We went up into the front line trenches on Friday 21st Sep for 4 days darling and we had a bad time and were shelled by the Huns the whole time except on the following Tuesday night when we came out. If he had shelled then I don't know how many of us he would have killed or injured. As it is we only just got out in time as he commenced just after we left. Our luck was in dear. On the Sunday we were bombarded from dawn until night. It was awful and we (my section and I) had some narrow escapes. He sent over many gas shells and 2 of our officers were gassed one of whom has since died. We laid him to rest last Saturday afternoon, marched 14 miles to the funeral, as he died in hospital 7 miles from here. But what of the enemy, for every shell he sent over - we sent 20 back to him.

The following letter, dated 7th October, I reproduce in its entirety. Somewhere in France

Sunday 7th October

My Darling Floss
Many thanks for your 12th letter darling and the enclosure which reached me just after I had come in from an 18 miles march yesterday. We had been out from 2 o/c am and went to the line again and dug a long trench and came back just before dinner wet and tired out and plastered in mud. We had dinner and a rest in the afternoon and turned into bed early and so had a fairly good night's rest in spite of the fact that we had an air raid. I am so sorry dear that you have such bad times every night through the same cause and to think that you and the kiddies have to go into the tunnel every night and stay there until midnight thus disturbing their rest - makes my blood boil and if ever I get the chance the Hun shall feel the point of my bayonette - or get a bullet through him. Now dear don't get worried about these raids and about me, and as for the winter, I don't think Fritz will be able to face the elements and come all the way to England. I had the pleasure of seeing one brought down last Sunday. It fell not far from where we were camped. Now goodnight darling and God bless you and the kiddies.
Yours with love and x's

On the 8th October the 29th Division received orders to take part in a push at Broenbeek, in the Ypres Salient. Fortunately for Hubert, the Essex were in reserve for this operation. This operation was yet another in the series known to us as 3rd Ypres (Passchendaele). There are various pages of letters, one at least of which bears the date 12th October, which seem to refer to this offensive. Here are a selection from these pages, if they appear disjointed it is because some pages seem to have gone missing.

It arrived just as we were about to march off to the trenches for the 2nd time where we stayed only about 4 hours in reserve during this big push. The advance was very successful and they went behind a battery of big Howitzers and I had the pleasure of firing one at Fritz's roads of communications behind his lines. I believe the range was something like 10 miles, so you see how thoroughly our artillery do their work. The noise of our barrage was simply terrific and started at 5 o/c in the morning. It kept right on raining darling and the mud and slush are too awful. I think we are out for about a month's rest if not longer. Write to me as often as you can darling wife. I believe we are going on to another part of the line altogether when our rest is over.
. . . . . . . . . .
and he must have lost hundreds in killed and injured. One night I was out in front in charge of a party of men - putting up barbed wire - it is a rotten job in the dark and requires nerve under shell and machine gun fire darling. However it's got to be done and we did it, happily without loss. We are some miles back from the line now darling at rest in a nice camp and are billeted in huts. We have spent the last 2 days in road making etc etc and the roads over here need it, too, dearest. I am sorry dear you get so many raids, we too get them here every night and sometimes they are about all night. On Sunday morning we had the pleasure of seeing one of our airmen bring down a Fritz, he fell just a little way off the camp, shot thro' the head and his machine was smashed. The Hun is mortally afraid dear now and never shows himself during the day. Only creeping out at night sniping with machine gun and rifle.

After this attack, the 29th Division was withdrawn from the Salient. The Essex entrained and were taken to Saulty on the Arras-Doullens road, and from there marching to Berles au Bois ten miles South West of Arras. Here they had comfortable billets for the next month. Hubert writes home from here telling Florence about the 16 hour train journey

We had a journey of 12 kilos march and 16 hours train journey. We are billeted in a quiet little village - rather a pretty although dilapidated place. I think the Huns came through here in the early stages of the war.

Hubert then describes buying some fresh laid eggs, the first he'd had in some months. His letter of the 3rd November closes with some thanks and an enigmatic question.

Yes darling I have received all your letters thanks and very nice they are too. I am always  pleased to hear from you darling love. I had a little parcel from home this week containing a folding aluminium cup from Muriel - some chocolate from mother and smokes from father. All very acceptable.
Who is the Gentleman who paid you the compliment darling?
Goodnight and God bless you all.
Write soon dear to yours ever,

As the November days drew on, secret concentrations were taking place for a new offensive, albeit on a limited scale, in the Cambrai area (Cambrai was the objective). The 29th Division were to take part in this, attached to Byng's Third Army. The letter we have from Hubert to Florence is dated the 12th November. Hubert obviously had wind of what was in store for him, as we can deduce from the following

Look out for news in the paper dear as   (The remainder of this sentence, some one and a half lines, has been obliterated - almost certainly by Hubert's commanding officer.)

Officers were responsible for censoring their men's mail, particularly to avoid mention of location. It seems likely that the remainder of Hubert's sentence is telling Florence to look out for news of an offensive in the Cambrai area.

The Cambrai offensive was scheduled to start at 0630 on the 20th November. The last communication we have from Hubert to Florence is a field postcard dated 16th November. It was Army practise to get men to fill these cards in shortly before they took part in any major action. This also is reproduced below.

And so Hubert went off to take part in the Battle of Cambrai.

One final point was that Hubert was by now a Lance-Corporal. We have no knowledge of when this promotion occurred.

3. The Cambrai Offensive

3.1. Leadup
Unlike all previous offensives, there was no preliminary bombardment planned for Cambrai. Zero hour was 0620 on the 20th November and the aim was to achieve total surprise. This was clearly going to be difficult, particularly with so many tanks to be brought up to the front line. The way in which this plan affected Hubert was that it required the men of the 29th Division to move to their starting point around Gouzeaucourt, by train and by foot. The final approach was to be made in a series of night marches and by day the men were to be confined to their billets so as not to be spotted by German reconnaissance aircraft. Meanwhile, tanks were being secretly marshalled behind the British line, making use of the thickly wooded countryside for cover. Likewise the guns of the artillery. All this is described in the Official History:

 In previous offensives the registration of artillery targets, the preliminary destructive bombardment, and the methodical cutting of the enemy's wire - operations which generally extended over some weeks - had given ample warning of the assault which was to follow. Now it was hoped that the tanks, used in large numbers to lead the assault, would be able to crush passages for the infantry through the wire, thus releasing a mass of artillery for other tasks. This tank assault might be delivered without warning; but if complete surprise were to be secured the artillery must be assembled in secret and deliver a sudden storm of fire at zero hour without any previous ranging or registration.

Hence, to guarantee secrecy, no guns should pre-register on their targets - that is registering by observed trial and error. Instead, already known methods of "shooting by the map" had to be elaborated and improved. In this, the British Army was far in advance of all others. The Nobel Prize winning physicist WL Bragg was a Lieutenant in the Royal Artillery, and he helped transform this practise into a precise science. The story of this is indeed remarkable, and may be of interest to the reader of a scientific bent of mind. In any case, there was a lot of trigonometrical donkey work to be performed in order to lay all the guns of the 3rd Army, and the work was completed with only hours to spare. And so the scene was set for an unleashing of technology which it was hoped would stun the Germans by its very unexpectedness.

3.2 Attack

Total surprise was indeed achieved, and the successes of the 20th November were such that church bells were rung throughout Britain for the only time during the war. The soldiers of Byng's 3rd Army became feted (for a few days) as "Byng's Boys". The 29th Division, with Hubert's battalion in the lead, went over as part of the second wave, the Essex advancing from Gouzeaucourt at 1015. It was planned that the 20th Division, in the lead, should have cut through the Hindenburg Line and penetrated as far as the Canal de St.Quentin between the villages of Marcoing and Masnieres. The 29th's task was to push through them and secure a bridgehead on the north side of the canal. The 88th Brigade advanced northwards up the La Vacquerie valley, led by the Essex behind four tanks. One of the tanks eventually broke down and the other three were knocked out by field guns south of the canal on Welsh Ridge. Nevertheless the Essex pushed on, capturing a battery of German guns and taking 70 prisoners.

Their task was to cross the canal at Masnieres, clear the village on the north side, and establish a bridgehead. However, by the time they arrived, a 20th Division tank had already attempted to cross the canal using the road bridge. Unfortunately the bridge had partially collapsed under the weight of it, and the tank was wedged between the two ends. The bridge became known thereafter as "tank bridge".

"Tank Bridge" in 1918, during the last few months of the German occupation of the area
Tank E22 is still on the fallen centre section

The Essex spent the rest of the day trying to force the canal at Masnieres, but to no avail, coming under heavy machine-gun and rifle fire from the buildings in Masnieres. Meanwhile, to their left, the Newfoundland Regiment had succeeded in crossing a lock bridge between Marcoing and Masnieres, and had stormed the railway embankment on the far side. They were joined by elements of the 2nd/Hants battalion. Eventually, in the early hours of the next day, Y and Z companies of the Essex (Hubert was in No. 16 Platoon, Z company) crossed by that route and dug in for the night north of the canal (by remarkable coincidence the acting CO of the 2nd/Hants at this time was Kenneth Johnston, who was the father of Hubert's sister's daughter, Jean. Johnston was put in command of all troops north of the canal on the night of the 20th/21st, and hence was effectively commanding Hubert that night!)
The Essex defended the canal at Masnieres that night.  It is possible that Hubert was awarded his Military Medal for hisconduct on this night (see below). In the following days little further advance was made. On the 22nd the 1st/Essex were relieved by the Lancashire Fusiliers and billeted in Marcoing.

On the 24th the battalion diary states that the shelling was so heavy that the entire battalion was moved into a single large dugout.

Refugees leave Marcoing on 22nd. November - the day that Hubert arrived here.

On the 26th the battalion relieved the Inniskilling Fusiliers in trenches North West of Marcoing and were occupied in improving the positions and digging a strong point. The diary states that they were under heavy machine gun fire while doing this. On the 27th the diary notes that there were a few casualties from artillery and machine gun fire, and then on the 28th at 2030 they were relieved by the Inniskilling Fusiliers and returned to Marcoing village. On the 29th Marcoing was shelled heavily all day. Hubert wrote to Florence on this day, and told her that he had been recommended for a medal, full details in his next letter.

Unfortunately this letter does not survive. Imagine Hubert writing this last letter from a Marcoing cellar while the German shells fell all around.

3.3. Counterattack
Major-General de Lisle, CO 29th Division, says of the 30th November 1917:

On 30 November we were surprised... it is no use disguising the fact. The Germans made a secret concentration and at dawn advanced in three columns against our three divisions. Just as we had finished our breakfast at 0845, machine gun fire opened up at close range.

In fact zero hour for the Germans was 0830. The battalion diary states that the day opened with intense bombardment including gas shells between 0700 and 0900. The 20th Division on the right of the 29th had been driven back by 1000 and so the 1st/Essex were ordered to assemble on ground to the south of Marcoing Copse. The German attack was directed due West from Les Rues Vertes. Y company were involved in a minor advance against Germans who had reached a sunken road to the south-east of the copse. The Germans withdrew leaving some dead and some prisoners. W and Z companies arrived shortly afterwards and were ordered to prolong the line eastwards to link up with the Newfoundland Regiment, who were forming a defensive flank facing south-east. The diary states that

During the advance of W and Z Coys Capt Grant commanding Z Coy was killed and 2/Lieut Cramer severely wounded.

This allows us to deduce that this was when Hubert was killed. Although the diary records this action in rather dry terms, I suspect that the "advance" in which Hubert was killed was actually quite dramatic (possibly a charge with bayonets fixed), as the Germans had to be dislodged from the crest of the hill. The 29th Division held the ground around Masnieres and Marcoing on the 30th, and continued to hold it over the ensuing days, despite having to give ground.

The 1st/Essex battalion diary entry for 30th November concludes with this statement:

Casualties during the evening of the 30th - Killed 1 officer, 14 men; Wounded, 4 officers (1 mortally), 60 men; Missing, 31 men.

Looking towards Les Rues Vertes from the sunken road.
Hubert lies somewherein these fields.

3.4. Aftermath
The British divisions took a fearful battering on the 30th November. The German counterattack was as succesful as had been the initial British attack, and as much ground as had been wrested from the Germans they now won back. "What price Byng's Boys now?" a convalescing Tommy asked the hospitalised George Coppard ("With a Machine Gun to Cambrai"). And so the line was re-established for the cold winter of 1917-18.

Field-Marshall Haig heaped praise on the 29th Division. In the period from the 30th November until the 5th December they held the salient around Marcoing as the Germans swept around them on both sides. They hence stopped the Germans from cutting off the rest of the Third Army at Bourlon, turning a disappointment into a serious defeat. This bitter action started with the charge for the crest in which Hubert was killed.

4. Remembrance
Hubert was posthumously awarded the Military Medal. His daughter Sybil tells me that he won it for volunteering to guard a bridge overnight, over which the Germans were expected to attack. In the event they did attack, but Hubert alerted his comrades and the attack was beaten off.

Unfortunately we can't be sure exactly when this took place, though it is likely to have been on the night of the 20th/21st. According to the newspaper cutting, Hubert wrote to his wife on the day before he died telling her that he had been recommended for a medal, with details to follow in his next letter.

4.1. Hubert's fate
We have Hubert's Commanding Officer's statement that Hubert was shot through the head and buried that night on the battlefield (from the newspaper cutting reproduced above). There is always the possibility that the officer lied about Hubert's death in order to protect his wife from a more horrible truth. But in this case I think we can believe the officer as what reading I have done tends to show that when lying, officers tended to be very non-specific about the cause of death, employing phrases such as "he died quickly". It is pleasing to hear that Hubert received a burial, albeit surely a hasty one given the circumstances. The ground on which he fell and was presumably buried was captured by the Germans over the ensuing days, which explains why Hubert has no known grave, instead being recorded on the Cambrai memorial to the missing at Louverval.

Readers may like to use this link to see the 1st. Battalion's War Diary for November 1917.

For a direct link to the author of this article, click here to email Chris Shepherd

Copyright December, 1996. Chris Shepherd

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