Today we commemorated the 101st anniversary of the death of local man Alfred Weldon of Witham on the Hill who was serving with the 4th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment when he was killed in action on the 8th June 1917.
Alfred was born in the spring of 1893 in Witham on the Hill to Thomas Weldon, an agricultural labourer born in Tickencote and his wife Louisa born in Witham on the Hill.
Thomas had married Louisa Holmes in 1884 and although their first son was born in Baston they made their home in Witham on the Hill where their other children were born:-
William Weldon, 1887, Baston
Rachel Weldon, 1888, Witham on the Hill
Ellen Weldon, 1891, Witham on the Hill
Alfred Weldon, 1893, Witham on the Hill
Louisa Weldon, 1895, Witham on the Hill
Frances Weldon, 1899, Witham on the Hill
They had one further child who they had sadly lost.
Thomas passed away before 1901 and Louisa moved the young family into her father’s house. They were still in the same house 10 years later but by now Louisa’s father had passed away and her brother had moved in with them.
By now Alfred is 17 and working as a farm labourer.
Alfred enlisted into the 4th Battalion Lincolnshire regiment in Bourne and joined the force in May 1915 (number 4186) and posted to france the same year.
Alred served with the 4th Battalion throughout the war. The medal rolls star that he was posted to France on the 7th December 1915, this is consistent with him serving with the 1st 4th (first line Battalion) as the 2nd/4th served in Ireland before moving to France in January 1917. Although the Commonwealth War Graves documents state that he was serving with the 2nd 4th (Second Line Battalion) at the time of his death.
Without his service records, which were most likely destroyed in the warehouse fire in the blitz, it is not possible to say when or even if Arthur was transferred from the 1st to 2nd 4th Battalion.
The 1st 4th had seen action on the Western Front in 1915, spent one month in Egypt in January 1916 before being posted back to France.
If you look at the 1st 4th and 2nd 4th locations around the 8th June 1917, then you would have to say that the fact that he is commemorated at Thiepval would point to a battalion in the Somme. However if you look at the 2nd 4th Diary, being on the Somme on that date, there are no casualties reported and the Battalion had faced sever days on trench digging.
The 1st 4th were in Cite des Riaumont, Lievin, near Lens and undertook an attack on the 8th June that resulted in numerous casualties.
The final piece of the unsolved puzzle comes from a newspaper article in April 1918.
<He was about to come home on leave when the attack on Messines was made in June 1917, from which date he was posted “Missing”. Now his mother has been notified by the War Office of his presumed death since the Messiness attack. His Mother lives at Witham-on-the-Hill.>
From all of this we can only assume that he was still with the 1st 4th Lincolnshire regiment and that he was reported missing after their attack on the 8th June 1917 near Leivin on the same day as the Messiness Ridge was attacked just 50km away.
The 4th Battalion Diaries describe the days leading up to and the day of the attack that most likely saw Alfred make the ultimate sacrifice.
The following shows the movements of the 4th Battalion in the month before Arthur’s death and are taken from the 4th Battalion diaries. This is the most accurate way of seeing Arthur’s movements over the last days of his life.
May 28th 1917 – Bovigny Boyeffles
The 138th Brigade (Lincolns and Leicesters) was withdrawn from the line, the 4th Battalion Lincolns taking up billets at Bouvigny Boyeffles. There it was that the striking news reached them. The Battalion had been honoured by the command to take part in an extensive enterprise on a 2000 yards front North West., West and South West of Lens. The 138th Infantry Brigade being further represented by the 5th Leicesters. Our Battalion was thrilled with the news and one heard repeatedly the remark “Our first real chance since Hohenzollern”
29th May – June 3rd 1917 – Bouvigny Boyeffles
Training began in earnest. A replica to scale of the ground over which the attack would be launched was planned and laid out at Marqueffles Farm a mile or so South East of Bouvigny. From “assembly trenches” one’s eye ranged forward to persuasive notice boards announcing in bold letters “Railway Cutting” and “Bridge Destroyed”, on past crinoline wire entanglements to objective trenches, first and second line strongholds of the enemy, strangely quiescent, and labelled according to their map designations, Ahead, Agnes, Alcove, Archie, Alice, Amy, Admiral and Annie such were the communications and trenches guarding hill 65. These it was, the Battalion was to storm.
Daily to the practice ground went the Battalion joined by D Company (captain Wakeley) of the 4th Leicesters – our “Moppers-up” elect. The artillery and machine gun barrage to cover our advance and keep the impetuous in check was indicated by flagmen and thus the progress of the attacking waves was directed.
On six successive days the course was covered. Forward at Zero to the “Cutting”, half right form to face the objective trenches, B Company then edging away to the left, half D Company inclining to the right and joining up with C Company on that flank. “Moppers-up” in position behind the first wave – Gradually the movement attained a clock work precision and every man wac capable of pushing his path blindfold.
On the seventh day Dress rehersal. General Holland 1st Corps Commander, General W Thwaites 46th Division G.O.C, Colonel Thorpe Commanding 138th Infantry Brigade (Whose presence and responsibility for the tactical dispositions inspired the confidence of all ranks), and their staffs surveyed the final training bout. Fully equipped with arms, spades, picks, bombs, lights and flares the “Attack” began. The repeated “Toot toot” of a “claxton” from a contact plane aloft completed the programme. Flares were lighted to announce the progress of the advance.
4th June 1917
The higher commands were satisfied. It only remained to form up and receive the confident good wishes of the staff, and , with a ful day’s rest on the morrow, all were ready and impatient for the real thing.
5th June 1917
A day of well-earned rest.
6th June 1917
On the morning of the June 6th the Commanding Officer announced to the Battalion, at a special parade, that plans had been altered and instead of the premeditated operation the attack was to be a series of destructive raids. The same evening the Battalion marched away from Bouvigny and billeted in the ruins of Cite Des Bureaux, Lievin.
7th June 1917 – Cite Des Bureaux, Lievin
8th June 1917 – Cite Des Riaumont
The 8th June arrived – a perfect summer day. The afternoon was spent in moving up to the cellars in Cite De Riaumont adjoining the assembly trenches. All Companies reached these without mishap except D Company which lost the services of 2nd Lieut E A Dennis (13 Platoon) wounded by one of the enemy’s shells that were already finding our starting zone.
Time crept on towards zero. “Sausages” enlivened the waiting period as they crashed on and around the ruins which sheltered us. Well before 8pm “C”, “D” and “B” Companies were in position in their respective assembly trenches. In some way the enemy seems to have known our timed movements and intentions. The intensity of the barrage to which the assembled troops was subjected was and experience no one on the spot is likely to forget.
“D” Company fared worst as, while the bombardment of their sector was accurate to a degree, on the flank sectors it was sufficiently plus to miss the assembled platoons.
At Zero – 3 Captain R D Ellis commanding D Company and Captain Wakeley O.C. 4th Leicesters “Mopping-Up” Company were caught by the same shell as they came into position in the rear trench. Both were killed outright.
At 8:30pm the synchronised signal to advance was given. C Company on the right got away without mishap, two platoons South of Cutting and one under 2nd Lieut A B Hardy, who was wounded almost immediately, to bring covering fire from the Cutting. D Company in the centre as soon as they “Jumped Off”, by ranks and increadsw intervals to lessen gaps, showed the effects of their experience in the assembly trenches. B Company on the left were a joy to behold as they went over the line.
The Cutting was reached. D Company by this time reduced by half its number and B company, already caught by the enemy’s guns, scaled the further slope of the Cutting together and advanced to their objectives. Captain E.J.S. Maples commanding B Company was at this juncture struck in the forearm by an ugly piece of shell case but continued the advance with his men. Owing to the position of their line being oblique to the “A” Barrage and the stokes mortars which were to deal with this sector being put out of action, the enemy had time to man his trenches from his dug-outs. C Company with the platoon of the 5th Leicester’s on their right were completely held up. When the first waves of “D” & “B” Companies reached the first German trench his barrage was already on it, and a temporary check occurred until the reinforcing waves came up. Owing to this check we were unable to keep up with our barrage, and the enemy had lined his second trench before our arrival there. Hand to hand fighting ensued and after a further advance of D Company to the South and B Company to the East the odds became overwhelming. We fell back first to Ahead and then the Cutting. Meantime Sergeant Quinton E, with his platoon got further afield than the rest. It was during this stage of the fight that B Company lost 2nd Lieut R T Thomson and 2nd Lieut H C Chase, both of whom died gloriously, the former a result of a second wound and the latter from a shell burst. Sergeant E Quinton, B Company, and his platoon after several attempts to re-join their comrades, in which they repeatedly bumped up against strong parties of the enemy, finally succeeded in rushing an opposition post and fighting their way back to our line, after having been in the German lines for four hours; a triumph of leadership on the part of Sergeant E Quinton. The demolished bridge on the right flank was at once mamed, and under 2nd Liuet W F Maskell (D Company 14 Platoon) kept the enemy at respectful distance, sterling work being done by the Lewis gun. The front of the Cutting was lines by the remnant of B and D Companies under Captain E J S Maples and was held until orders for withdrawal to Assembly Trenches was received, A Company having manned our original line of posts. It was not till then that Captain E J S Maples withdrew from the fight and had his arm properly dressed, some 3 hours after he was wounded.
The greatest assistance had been rendered throughout by the 138th Machine Gun Company under Major A A Ellwood, a 4th Lincoln officer and particularly by a detachment of two of his guns under Lieut Stentiford, manned by 4th Lincolns.
The attack on the right hand had gone well, A Company 4th Leicesters having reached their objectives and sent back 27 prisoners.
9th June 1917 – Chateau (Leivin)
The day was spent reorganising Companies. Evacuation of wounded continues and by night search parties went out, discovering two more wounded men and a number of dead, who before had been reckoned as missing. On the night of the 9th we were relieved by the 5th Lincolns and moved to billets in Aix Noulette. Here we rested that night and also the following day.
10th June 1917 – Aix Noulette
In the afternoon we were honoured by a visit of the G.O.C the Battalion paraded in clean fatigue and were addressed by the General. He expressed himself well pleased with the excellent fighting qualities our men showed, and with the number of Boches they killed.
On the night of the 10th we moved into support in Lievin.
Normally the casualties from this battle would be commemorated on the arras memorial but, Irrespective of where he is commemorated, Alfred lost his life on the 8th June 1917.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
In memory of Private Alfred Weldon, 201410, 2nd/4th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment who died on 8 June 1917
Remembered with honour, Thiepval Memorial.
Rest in Peace Alfred.