Military Service Timeline
Today we remember Eric George Palmer who was killed on this day 4th March 1917 whilst serving with the 3rd Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment, attached to 2nd Battalion. Remembered on the Bourne War Memorial.
Eric was born in Higham Ferras, Northamptonshire. He was the 2nd son of Charles Simpson Reginald Palmer, a Grocery and Produce Merchant born in Kensington, London and his wife Mary Matilda Joll born in Greetham, Horncastle. They were married on 30th March 1882 in Little Carlton near Louth Lincolnshire. The couple lived in Martin Dales where their first son Reginald George Palmer was born in 1883, before moving to Higham Ferrers. They went on to have three children, one who sadly died before the 1911 census.
In 1901 Eric is living with his parents in College Street in Higham Ferrers. His father Charles was a grocer and employer. Reginald was working as a grocer’s assistant and the fact that he is listed as a worker at home indicates that they lived at the Grocer’s shop. Also in the household was a domestic servant Eliza Stubbs from Wildmore Lincs and a Grocers apprentice, George DeBow from Rushden Northants.
Ten years later in 1911 Eric is now living with the Lenton Family in Morrdown, Bournemouth. Arthur Lenton is a retail stationer’s assistant from Sussex. Eric is listed as a visitor and scholar, also in the house is Nellie Richardson another scholar from Wellingborough.
Eric was originally intended to work at the office of Morgan and George, Solicitors of Wellingborough when he received his call up to the 3rd Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment. Available records give us the information that he was attached to the 2nd Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment.
Eric’s medal card index show’s us that he arrived in France on the 7th March 1916. As the 3rd Battalion was a home service Battalion then this posting must have been to the 2nd Battalion, 2nd Lieut Eric Palmer joining the Battalion that had been in France since November 1914 after being in Alexandria on the outbreak of war.
The 2nd Battalion was in billets at Bois de Bovigene near Bethune going into trenches near Souchez on the 10th March 1916.
Officer records are kept at the National Archives and as of yet have not been digitised. The record copying service is currently unavailable and so we only have the Battalion diaries to find out about Eric’s life in the front line.
The Battalion would be involved in the attack on Vimy Ridge before moving down onto the Somme. For the first day of the Battle of the Somme the battalion were in reserve moving from Hennencourt Wood up through Fricourt to the old German Support trenches.
At 9AM the Battalion moved from bivouacs to the following positions. A&B Companies to Crucifix Trench under Major Williams. C&D Companies to Lozenge Trench with Battalion Headquarters.
A&B Companies then moved up – the later being ordered to advance and occupy the Square in Contalmaison. Meanwhile C Company had moved up ti Birch Alley and Shelter Alley to support the Worcestershire Regiment. Major Williams in command>
A cCompany then advanced in extended order along the Sunken Road, making for the village. Owing to very heavy machine gun fire the cCompany made for Peake Alley and turned to advance along the trench.
The enemy then got his artillery to work and the people in the trench suffered many casualties from shrapnel and High Explosive shells. D Company followed A Company into the trench and also suffered heavily. At the same time B and C Companies were also very severely knocked about and many casualties occurred. During this time Lt Col Buckle, Captain Parker, 2nd Lt Palmer (R E) and 2nd Lt Ferguson were wounded and Lt Selby & 2nd Lt James? were killed.
When B company reached Peake Wood, they encountered a company of the 2nd East Lancs Regiment retiring very quickly. Many efforts were made to stop them, but of no avail, Lt Falby and CSM Piquet of the East Lancs did especially good work in rallying their retiring Company and joined B Company in Peake Wood. Owing to the enemy barrage no one could make any further advance towards the village. Eventually all the Battalion was pushed back into Birch Alley – more by the retiring regiments than by our own retirement.
On reaching Birch Alley the remainder of the Battalion was organised and manned the parapet under Captain Carwith? – he with several subalterns managed to restore. a little order out of the chaos and held the line strongly. Rifles were very dirty owing to the mud and rain but the men managed to clean them. One of our lewis guns was also smarted up. The Battalion eventually formed up at Lonely Copse at about 5pm and at 8.30pm set out to dig a trench from Peake Wood to X.16.C.3.0
The next day information was that the village of Contalmaison has been evacuated by the enemy. This was not fully the case and the Battalion along with the Worcesters lead an attack but suffered even more heavy casualties but 20 men and a subaltern did mange to get to reach Peake Wood.
We cannot be 100% sure that this is Eric Palmer being wounded but it is a 2nd Lt Palmer and sadly the letters in the brackets afterwards are not really legibly. No casualty records for this period can be found for Eric but also no other 2nd Lt Palmer can be seen in any 2nd Northamptonshire records until 1918. The letters may be RE in which case there may have been a 2nd Lt of the royal Engineers attached to the battalion.
The battalion came out of the line on the 10th and marched back to billets at Bresle.
We move forward a few days as this is where the Battalion had been cleaning and refitting, to the 15th July 1916
The Battalion marched again at 9am to Longeau Station and entrained at 11pm. Captain Latham carried out the entraining in record time. The HQ Company under Lieut E.G. Palmer formed a loading party. Arrived at Bethune Station at 8.30pm and marched to billets in Annezin, arriving there at about 10.20 pm.
No parades. The Battalion ?? Lt E.G Palmer went as Brigade B.O.
The Battalion would eventually go back into trenches on the 31st July 1916
The Battalion would remain in the Bethune, Annezin, Fouquereuil until mid October. On thing of note was that on coming out of the front line on the 12th October they had just completed a 24 day tour in the trenches.
Their next location would be back in the Somme close to Trones Wood (East of Albert). Lt Eric Palmer once again gets a mention on the 21st October when he and 2nd Lt Essame were sent out to reopen the road for the transport close to Needle and Penn trenches. Later that day The CO and 2nd in command went up to inspect the trenches, having only been taken over the previous day and in a dilapidated state, the Battalion had been reinforcing them and making them as comfortable as possible without having access to any R.E. equipment. The enemy started a bombardment on the Sunken Road and the Valley of Death at 4.30pm.
The battalion would stay in the trenches until the 1st November being billeted at Sandpits Camp near Meaulte before being withdrawn out of the line for training, parades, marches etc at Villers Campsart (West of Amiens) on the 21st November.
They would remain there until the 27th December and the diary notes on the 25th December “Christmas Day, there were no parades”.
Their next location would be near Bray at Camp 107 near Billon Wood, where they would see in the new year.
Once more the battalion were out of the front line carrying out training for an attack for most of January and February, alternating this with some time in the trenches supply in working parties and in brigade reserve.
From the 1st March the Battalion had moved from a tented camp at L.17.b to dug outs Asquiths Flats, drawing stores on the 2nd for the attack that was planned. That night they relieved the 2nd West Yorks in the Bouchauesnes North Sector.
On the 4th they attacked the enemy trench system on the Moislains Ridge they had met their objectives and came under repeated counter attacks.
During this day 7 officers and 235 other ranks were listed as casualties of this action. These included Lt Eric Palmer and also Haconby man Rowland Stuart Clark.
The Northampton Mercury for Friday 16th March:
Palmer Lieut Eric G., Northamptonshire Regiment, younger son of Mr and Mrs C.S.R. Palmer, The Poplars, Wellingborough, is officially reported as killed in action in France on Sunday last. The sad news of the death of Lieut. Palmer with much regret in Wellingborough where he was well known and very popular. The deepest sympathy is extended to his father was the Vice-Chairman of the Wellingborough Board of Guardians and prominently associated with the Wesleyan Church, and also to Mrs Palmer. Twenty-one years of age, Lieut. Palmer was originally intended for the legal profession, and was in the office of Messers. Morgan and George, Solicitors, Wellingborough and Northampton when the call came.
Lieutenant Eric Palmer, 2nd Battalion Northamptonshire Regiment, was originally buried in the field with two other 2nd Bn men just north of the Rancourt to Moislains Road 62c.b.9.b.5.4. He was identified and reburied in 1920 by members of the 712 Labour Company. The point on the 1917 map where the burials were found was the original British line on the day when the action took place and so we can expect that, as the battalion took their objectives and held them (Juniper Trench) that Eric would have been killed going over the top leading his men into action.
Probate: Eric Palmer of the Polars Wellingborough, Lieutenant in His Majesty’s Army died 4 March 1917 in France. Administration London 24 October to Charles Simpson Reginald Palmer Provision Merchant. Effects £138.11s.2d.
The Commonwealth War Graves Commission adds the following memorial;
In memory of Lieutenant E G Palmer, 3rd Battalion attd. 2nd Battalion, Northamptonshire Regiment who died on 4 March 1917 Age 21. Son of Reginald and M A Palmer, of The Haven, Bourne, Lincs. Remembered with honour, Fins New British Cemetery, Sorel-Le-Grand.
Eric is remembered on the Bourne War Memorial and buried at Fins New British Cemetery.