Our second remembrance of today is Alfred Thompson who was killed this day, 8th June 1917, serving with the 4th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment, commemorated on the Bourne and Arras memorials. One of two 4th Battalion men from the Bourne area to fall on this day
Alfred Thompson was born late in 1897 in Little Horton, near Bradford, to George Thompson a railway worker and his wife Annie Susannah Osbourne, both born in Little Horton. George and Annie were married in 1891 in St Peter’s Bradford and were blessed with their first of three children in 1895.
• James Thompson, 1895, Little Horton
• Ellen Thompson, 1896, Little Horton
• Alfred Thompson, 1897, Little Horton
In 1901 the young family are living in Horton where George was working as a carter for the railway and Susannah (Annie Susannah) as a Worsted Spinner.
10 years later Annie (Annie Susannah), Ellen and Alfred can be found living with her parents in Darton Street Bradford. Annie and both children are working in a Worsted Spinning factory and Alfred was employed as a Doffer. A Doffer took the full bobbins off the spinning machines and replaced them with empty ones. George has not been found on the 1911 census to date although Annie lists that she has been married for 18 years and so it is to be assumed that George is still alive.
In September 1913 Annie Susannah, referred to variously as Annie or Susannah Hubbard in official records, remarried to Charles Hubbard in Deeping St Nicholas Fen and in 1919 was living in Tongue End near Bourne Lincolnshire.
As Alfred’s army records have not been found, assumed to have been destroyed in the London Blitz warehouse fire, we can only trace his movements through the surviving records and so some of the dates and information may be approximate.
Alfred enlisted into the 4th Battalion Lincolnshire Regiment in Spalding around May or June 1915, although the exact date is unknown. The medal rolls show that he has three separate entries for Battalions served, first the 4th Lincs (3941), then the 5th Lincs (3941) and finally the 4th Lincs again (201275).
Alfred enlisted originally into the 4th Battalion and after training was posted to France to join his battalion on 10th December 1915. At that time the Battalion were in Thiennes and on the 22nd December 1915 an entry in the Battalion Diary reports that “106 Reinforcements arrived from the 3/4th Battalion at 2.30pm, kit inspection held on arrival”. This would be Alfred’s first meeting with his Battalion ion the field.
The prospect of a long winter in the trenches was dispelled during the month of January by orders to the 46th Division to embark for Egypt at an early date, and on the 7th January both the 1/4th and 1/5th Battalions left Marseilles in T.S.S. “ Anchises.”
The vessel reached Alexandria on the 13th January and they left by rail for El Shalufa, two miles south of the Bitter Lakes, where, after detraining, they crossed the Suez Canal by ferry, and bivouacked to the east of it.
By day the desert to the east was patrolled by Indian Lancers, but by night each battalion, in turn, furnished an outpost line round the camp. The days were very hot, and the nights cold; any wind that blew carried clouds of dust; nevertheless a fortnight passed very pleasantly.
This peaceful existence came to an end when the 46th Division received sudden orders to return to France, and on the 4th February the 4th Battalion embarked at Alexandria on the “ Minnewaska,” and the 5th on the “ Megantic,” disembarking in Marseilles on the 9th February 1916.
The evacuation of the Gallipoli Peninsula set free a large number of troops for service in Egypt and the 46th Division was in consequence ordered back to France.
The Battalion then spend time in Ailly Le Haute Clocher training until the end of February and then on to Doullens, it would not be until the 11th of March 1916 that the Battalion would be back in trenches since the 2nd December and Alfred’s first taste of the trenches. Later it in the month was a movement for the Battalion and into trenches around Fonquevillers for June.
Eventually they would be given orders for a Zero Time of 7-30am for a planned attack on the 1st July, the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Their orders were to “take over a trench line south of the Gommecourt Road on the night of 27th/28th” This was to be their sector for the big push and they were to attack Gommecourt although the 4th battalion was not in the front wave.
The Battalion Diary does not give much detail for the Battle of the Somme and they remained in the trenches until the 8th July when they were relived and dropped back to Bienvillers to provide working parties.
Alfred’s next mention in any documents is on the 10th July 1916 when we find A Thompson of B Company 1/4th Lincs being admitted to the 2nd General Hospital at Le Havre with Suppuration of the Lymph Glands, axilla (Axillary Lymph Nodes). After two days in the General Hospital he was transferred to H.S. Carisbrook Castle and returned to England.
Usually after convalescence, if fully fighting fit, a man would be pushed back to the front but depending upon the level of fitness obtained it was possible that they were assigned to a Home Service Unit for duties such as defending ammunitions factories, military facilities or docks until the point when they were declared fit for a return to the Front.
It was very usual for a man to be sent back to France and then at the base camp be assigned or posted to a Battalion or Regiment that needed men as reinforcements the most urgently.
We have no records to say what happened in Alfred’s case although his medal roles show that he was posted to the 5th Battalion (still with regimental number 3941) and then back to the 4th Battalion (regimental number 201275) at some point in his war story. All we can say for certain is that when he was killed he was back with the 4th Battalion.
The following shows the movements of the 4th Battalion in the month before Arthur Thompson’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 full 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 increased 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.
Private Alfred Thompson was killed in the actions that took place during the attack on the 8th June.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission:
In memory of Private Alfred Thompson, 201275, 1st/4th Battalion, Lincolnshire Regiment who died on 8 June 1917 Age 19. Son of Mrs Susannah Hubbard (formerly Thompson) Tongue End, Spalding, Lincs. Remembered with honour, Arras Memorial.
We Will Remember Them