Today we remember Bourne man, Albert Edward Cursley who died aged 21 on this day, 21 March 1918 whilst serving with the 2nd/ 4th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment.
Born in Peterborough in 1897, Albert was the son of James Cursley, a railway engine stoker, and Mary Emma (nee Mays).
James and Mary were married in 1890 in Peterborough. They went on to have two children:
Beatrice Emma (born 1892)
Albert Edward (born 1897).
In the 1911 census the family was registered to be living at 41 Roger Street, Peterborough. Living here was also George Walter Tilley, a railway engine cleaner so very likely to be working alongside the Head of the house James Cursley. In 1911, Albert was 14 years of age and was working as an errand boy.
During the years before the outbreak of war, the family moved to Bourne although it is unclear when. However, in 1929 following the death of the father, James, we can determine that the family address was 91 North Road, Bourne. The Index of Wills and Administration also tells us that James’ assets were left to his eldest child Beatrice, who was now aged 37. At the point of being named on her father’s will, Beatrice was still unmarried but documents show that she was to marry just a few months later.
Albert would have just turned 17 when war broke out in 1914, one year short of the enlistment age. Although many young men lied about their age to join the fight, Albert waited until he was of legal age, enlisting on 10th December 1915 in Lincoln.
Although it is unclear where Albert was specifically stationed during the war, the 2nd/ 4th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment Territorial Force were moved around numerous times in their training and were involved in numerous battles during the war:
13.09.1914: Formed in Lincoln and then moved to St Albans to join the 177th Brigade of the 59th Division.
April 1916: Moved to Dublin and Fermoy, Ireland.
January 1917: Returned to England at Fovant, Wiltshire.
February 1917: Mobilised for war and landed in France where the Division engaged in various actions on the Western Front including;
The pursuit of the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the Battle of Polygon Wood, the capture of Bourlon Wood.
31.01.1918: the 2nd/4th was absorbed by the 1/4th Battalion. From there they were involved in:
The Battle of Bapaume, the Battle of Bailleul, the First Battle of Kemmel Ridge.
The 21 March 1918 is a key date in the First World War: the beginning of the German Spring Offensive also known as Operation Michael. This was the final push for the Germans to break through the Allied lines in Northern France with the aim of reaching the Channel Ports to reach Britain.
As we have no official records for Albert’s service we also have no official dates for Albert’s time with first the 2nd /4th Battalion Lincolnshire regiment and then the 1st/4th. However from medal rolls we know he was serving with both battalions and the 2nd/4th in February 1918 was absorbed into the 1st/4th battalion, then we know that Albert must have been with the 1st/4th from this time.
The now combined Battalion Diaries for the period of March 1918 gives an insight into the Battalion movements and a description of the first day of the spring offensive leading up to Albert’s death.
15th-18th March 1918 – Bullecourt
The Battalion was relieved by the 6th North Staffords and proceeded to Mory Camp North, where it arrived after practically 29 days in the line at 2am and was in Brigade Reserve.
At 5am in view of the expected enemy attack the Battalion “Stood to” under Brigade orders. The morning proved quiet and the order to “Stand down” was given at 7am.
During the day the Battalion bathed at Mory Baths. The remainder of the time was spent in resting and cleaning up.
As per narrative attached.
The following transcription is the “Account of operations to be attached to War Diary”
At 5.5 a.m. the camp was awoken by the unmistakable sound of a violent bombardment apparently on the front system. The order was given to turn the men out, and it was generally anticipated that the expected attack had developed.
At first there was little shelling of Mory and the back areas but this gradually developed. There were no direct hits actually registered on the camp.
At 5.30am 2/Lt Bromfield arrived and reported that he had brought up the mules and pack animals for Lewis gun limbers and S.A.A!
At 5.40am the Battalion was ordered by Brigade to “Stand to”. Breakfasts were hurried on and were partially eaten when the order came to move forward into a position. Of readiness in B17 and B24. The Battalion moved across country in artillery formation and took up without incident its allotted position in Brigade Reserve, 5th Lincs Regt on the right front and 4th Leics Regt on the left front.
We lay waiting here in artillery formation until 12 noon and during this time the bombardment between Eccust and Noreuil as far as one could make out continued unceasingly, and if anything with greater violence. There was no doubt now that the great German Offensive had actually commenced and unofficial news was received from a Battery that the enemy had laid a heavy barrage on Eccust and that very heavy fighting was going on forward of this place.
It was a fine hazy morning and nothing could be seen by us of a battle. Enemy aeroplanes were conspicuous by their absence, there were several of ours about.
At 12 noon 4th Leicester and 5th Lincs Regt received orders to move up and occupy the 2nd system trenches, and this Battalion to e in Reserve in the 3rd system about junction of Noreuil and Eccoust Switch.
Battalions accordingly moved up in Artillery Formation and the two forward Battalions on passing the 3rd system trenches discovered that the enemy had overrun Eccust Ridge and were themselves occupying the 2nd system.
He had come over the ridge in very large numbers, and succeeded before a position could be taken up, in cutting off three companies of the 5th Lincolns.
He had brought up with him a great number of machine guns which he used freely. In order to hold up the advance A, B and D companies took up a position in the firing line of the 3rd system with the remaining company of the 5th Lincolns on their right in the Noreuil Switch and the 4th Leicesters on their left in C.14c. C Company were in reserve line of the 3rd system. This system was merely a ‘spitlocked’ trench affording no cover to men. Tools were immediately gathered from a neighbouring dump and the men dug in with a will.
At 2pm we were ordered – in conjunction with the 5th Lincolns – to counter attack Pontefract and Dewsbury trenches. This order was cancelled almost at once as it was realised that the operation was impracticable.
Our right flank was at this time exposed and the 6/7th Royal Scots Fusiliers were brought up to protect it from an attack up the Noreuil Valley. This Battalion’s front line however, established a junction with our support-line, still leaving the right flank of the front line exposed at the junction of the Noreuil Switch and the 3rd system. Battalion Hd Qrs were constituted at C.19.a.3.5, and ammunition was got up to all companies.
At about 8pm a hot meal was brought up and was much appreciated by all ranks.
The Battalion was relieved in the firing line by the 14th Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders and the 10/11th Highland Light Infantry which relief was complete by 5.30am.
The report continues over the next days up to the 25th March 1918, the final paragraph of the report for the 25th states:
At 10pm orders were received for the Battalio, who were being relieved, to withdrawn without casualties. The whole Battalion arrived in Bucquoy, and though the men were very tired and exhausted their spirits were excellent. During the whole 5 days fighting they had proved their superiority over the enemy, and in spite of the numerical odds up against them had carried out the tasks allotted to them in a splendid manner.
21.3.18 – Capt H Ward – Killed (attached 2/5th Lincs), 2/Lt M.S. Page – Killed; Other ranks Killed 27, Wounded 114, Missing 58.
An extract from the Grantham Journal, Saturday 6th April 1918 makes claims about Albert’s death:
‘’Unofficial intimation has been received that Pte. Cursley, son of Mr. and Mrs. Cursley, North-road, Bourne, has been killed in action. The news was forwarded by a relative from the battle-field, who had made enquiries as to the whereabouts of Pte. Cursley, the information stating that Pte. Cursley had been killed by a sniper. The source of the information seems to leave little double as to the fate of this young man.’’
Albert is commemorated on the Arras Memorial at Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery, Arras. As he is commemorated by name on the walls of the Memorial rather than with an identified headstone it is either that his body was not recovered from No Man’s Land, or that he was buried but could not be named so therefore lies under an unidentified headstone.
Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery was created in March 1916, and was used to bury those who had died from wounds from local medical and dressing points behind Allied lines. The cemetery was used until November 1918, but was enlarged after the Armistice when smaller cemeteries were merged with this larger one. Faubourg d’Amiens Cemetery is the resting place for over 2,650 Commonwealth soldiers, 10 of which are unidentified.
Surrounding the cemetery is the Arras Memorial, which commemorates almost 35,000 servicemen from the United Kingdom, South Africa and New Zealand. These men died in the Arras area between Spring 1916 to 7 August 1918 and who have no known grave, just like that of Albert Edward Cursley. Both the cemetery and memorial were designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens, a key architect involved in the work of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission.
Lutyens also designed the Arras Flying Services Memorial at this site, with the assistance of Sir William Reid Dick. This Memorial commemorates nearly 1,000 airmen of the Royal Naval Air Service, the Royal Flying Corps, and the Royal Air Force who were killed on the entire Western Front and who have no known grave. The memorial was unveiled by Lord Trenchard, Marshal of the Royal Air Force on 31 July 1932.
Albert’s name can be found on Bay 4 of the Arras Memorial.