Remembering The Great War

Studley, Warwickshire

St. Mary's

Just south of Redditch, Studley lies on the A435 and to reach St. Mary's you must drive to the northern end of the village, then take the minor road that runs east. Note the parish war memorial as you turn off the main road. The Church of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary - and we must give it its full name, Studley's catholic church in the centre of the village, also being St. Mary's - was founded c1105 and, notes its guidebook, probably stands on the site of an earlier Saxon building.

Entering via the south porch, the first of three individual commemorations to First World War soldiers at St. Mary's can be found to the left and at the west end of the church. Hidden from view at time of my visit, but revealed thanks to my guide, was the white marble tablet recalling how Sergeant Charles Dyde of the "R.B.R" had died on 11 April, 1918 and was buried at Etaples in France. This town, a fishing port at the mouth of the Canche, being an immense troop concentration area during the First World War and with many hospitals.

His age given as twenty-seven, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission register for Etaples Military Cemetery notes that Charles Dyde of the 5th Royal Berkshire Regiment was the husband of Lily Dyde of Redditch Road, Studley and that he died from his wounds on the date given above.

Always difficult to establish just when a soldier received his fatal wounds, it would however perhaps be safe on this occasion to place the event somewhere within the last days of March or early weeks of April. But we will trace the records of the 5th Royal Berkshires back to the beginning of 1918.

Regimental historian F. Loraine Petre notes that the early days of the year "...call for little regarding the 5th Royal Berkshire." It was in reserve at Fleurbaix at the beginning of February and remained in this area until 21 March when strong German activity on the Somme saw a rapid move southwards. Soon the Berkshires would be on old and familiar ground, marching through and billeting in villages of 1916 memory - Millencourt, Carnoy, Mametz, Montauban and other scenes of horrific fighting that year. At Fricourt, notes the battalion records, it would be so cold that to keep from freezing the men were forced to walk around rather that rest at the side of the road.

In reserve at first, it would not be until the early hours of 27 March that the Berkshires engaged the enemy - firing on a column as it advanced along the Mesnil-Martinsart road. But it would be during the same afternoon that the first casualties occurred - some twenty of so notes Petre - as "A" Company made an advance in the direction of Aveluy. Then later the enemy came on in high numbers - this time forcing the Berkshires back to a defensive line south of Martinsart, and subsequently into reserve (on 30 March) at Warloy. Total casualties for period 27-30 March - twenty killed, sixty-seven wounded. But the highest casualties were yet to come.

On 2 April the 5th Royal Berkshires moved into trenches in front of Albert where casualties began to mount up from bombardment and infantry attacks. The latter all repulsed at first, but at noon, 5 April, the enemy succeeded in entering the battalion's line inflicting great loss as they did so. Reserves coming forward would also suffer greatly - as moving forward up the slope to the firing line they were cut down by machine gun fire. Records do not provide a figure for wounded and missing, but it is definite that this would by far exceed the death total for period 2-5 April of two hundred and forty-three.

Also buried at Etaples was Private Harold William Cooke of the 16th Royal Warwickshire Regiment - his memorial, a brass plaque on the north side of the church, noting that he was twenty-two when he died on 24 June, 1916. Again difficult to determine the circumstances of how this Studley man (he was the son of William and Mary Cooke of North View, Station Road) "died". This term being used (see also War Office records) as opposed to "died of wounds" and possible suggesting that death was through illness rather than as a result of direct contact with the enemy. Also, and again through "educated guess work" we can be fairly sure that Harold Cooke was an original member of his battalion. His low regimental number - 16/131 - suggesting that he was among the first to join the 16th Royal Warwickshire upon its formation in Birmingham during September, 1914.

16th (3rd Birmingham) Battalion At Camp in Malvern, 1915

It would also be fairly safe to assume that he crossed with the 16th to France on 21 November, 1915 and with his battalion transferred to the 5th Division, then at Bray, in the following month. Here the men would go into the line for the first time and "For new troops, fresh out from home" notes The Fifth Division in the Great War (Brigadier-General A.H. Hussey and Major D.S. Inman), "their ordeal was a severe one owing to the physical conditions prevailing, but they acquitted themselves well. The fighting conditions were fairly quiet, although the 16th Warwicks were particularly unfortunate in this respect; on their first tour in the trenches as a Battalion, which coincided with Christmas Day, they were subjected to a heavy shelling by 5.9 Howitzers, which caused a number of casualties, whilst on another occasion, very shortly afterwards, a mine was exploded under their tenches, from which they suffered somewhat severely; the gallantry they displayed on both occasions augured well for the future."

Close by Harold Cooke's memorial, another brass provides much information regarding the death from wounds on 29 November, 1917 at Cairo of Corporal S.L. Hough. These, notes the inscription, being received "...in the memorable charge made by the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanry against the Turkish guns at Huj, Palestine on November 8th 1917".

Bear and Ragged Staff cap-bade of the Warwickshire Yeomanry

November, 8th, 1917 opened with the Warwickshire and Worcestershire Yeomanries in hot pursuit of the Turks "...now driven back some seven miles, every yard of which had been clung to with desperate tenacity...and now for the first time in Palestine, the British troops had the satisfaction of seeing the enemy flying in hundreds for dear life" (Worcestershire Yeomanry history by "C").

At 1.15 pm, and at some thousand yards short of the enemy's gun positions covering Huj (these to be taken at all costs in order for the advance to continue), the Yeomen rested their horses and made ready for the charge to come. "At 1-20 pm" notes "C", "the little band of horsemen, 160 strong, marched off under the boomerand ridge; the Worcesters were in front...Then came Captain Valentine's squadron of Warwick Yeomanry.

They had not gone far before the dust raised by the movement drew the attention of the enemy to the threat to their flank, and two of the four field guns on the main ridge were swung round to meet it." The guns unable to pick up the range, the Yeoman charging on as the Turkish infantry stood to meet their attackers "...some fired wildly, others wavered, the majority turned and fled down the reverse slope with the victorious horsemen thundering at their heels." Now to meet the guns, Captain Valentine turned his troops to the left and charged the objective with great force - being met as they did so by a terrific outburst of shell-fire, machine gun and rifle bullets "Men and horses fell rapidly, but still the racing horsemen pressed forward, down the side of the ridge, into the valley 600 yards across, and up the slope to where the guns stood...Valentine and Edwards [Second-Lieutenant J.W. Edwards, Worcestershire Yeomanry] and many more fell in the charge, the track of it was littered with men and horses." But regardless of their losses the Yeomen charged their way over the guns and never checking their speed "Shouting, they burst through the battery position, sabreing and riding down the gunners, and dashed on, through reduced now to a mere handful, to attack the machine guns." (Military Operations Egypt & Palestine Vol. 2 Part 1).

Corporal Sidney Leonard Hough of the Warwickshire Yeomanry, we learn from the CWGC register for the Cairo War Cemetery, was twenty-eight when he died and the son of C.W. and Isabella Hough of The Firs, Studley.

Before leaving St. Mary's visit the graves of four soldiers. Close to the south porch, a private headstone, the cross of which has been broken, marks the grave of Second-Lieutenant Thomas Harold Gostling of the Leicestershire Regiment. Twenty-two when he died on 2 August, 1919 having been wounded in action. Then further over to the south part of the churchyard, three Commonwealth War Graves Commission headstones this time - Gunner Thomas Blick, 7th Reserve Brigade, Royal Garrison Artillery, who died 18 December, 1918; Private A. Danks of the 11th Royal Berkshire Regiment, 18 February, 1919 and Private A.E. Summers, 2nd Lancashire Fusiliers, 22 January, 1919.

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Copyright © Ray Westlake, September, 2002

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