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The Journey's End Battalion: The 9th East Surrey in the Great War, Michael Lucas

The Journey's End Battalion: The 9th East Surrey in the Great War, Michael Lucas

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The Journey's End Battalion: The 9th East Surrey in the Great War, Michael Lucas

The Journey's End Battalion: The 9th East Surrey in the Great War, Michael Lucas

This battalion history looks at the 9th East Surrey regiment, part of Kitchener's New Army, raised in 1914, thrown into combat in September 1915 and that stayed on the Western Front for the rest of the war. This was also the unit in which R.C. Sheriff, author of Journey's End, served, and his play was influenced by the men he fought with.

We start with a look at the formation of the unit, the initial recruits and the nature of the unit. Most of its original recruits were working class Londoners, or at least from the modern Greater London area, with just over half coming from Surrey (which at the time included large areas of suburbia). We then move on to their disastrous combat debut at Loos in September 1915, where the untried battalion was thrown into battle and suffered heavy casualties. The battalion recovered from this early blow in time to take part in the fighting on the Somme in 1916, Messines in 1917 and the main battles of 1918, again suffering heavily during the German offensives before taking part in the final victorious Allied advances.

Alongside the straightforward battalion history is the story of R.C. Sherriff and Journey's End, the first really successful play to be set on the Western Front. Sheriff served with the battalion, took part in many of its battles and was inspired by his experiences. Lucas traces his military experiences, looks at how the battles he fought and the men he fought with inspired the play and finishes with a more detailed examination of the writing of the play and its reception. This gives the book an extra level of interest.

This is an excellent battalion history, with a good use of German and Allied sources and a good balance between the detailed actions of the battalion and the wider battles in which it fought. It gains added interest compared to many similar books for two reasons - first the material on R.C. Sherriff, which brings in the post-war reaction to the war, and second because the battalion survived to the end of the war (unlike many New Army battalions which were merged into other battalions when Britain began to run out of infantry), and so took part in the defensive battles in the spring of 1918 and the final allied offensives.

Part I: From Sussex to the Somme, August 1914-September 1914
1 - Call to Arms, August 1914-August 1915
2 - Loos, September 1915
3 - Recovery, October 1915-March 1916
4 - Wulverghem, March-July 1916
5 - Somme-Guillemont and Delville Wood, August-September 1916

Part II: Through Attrition to Final Victory, September 1916-November 1918
6 - Return to Loos, September-December 1916
7 - A Hard Winter, January-April 1917
8 - Messines and Pilckem Ridge, April-September 1917
9 - Before the Storm, September 1917-February 1918
10 - Kaiserschlacht, March 1918
11 - Holding the Line, April-September 1918
12 - Advance to Victory, October-11 November 1918

Part III: Reflections
13 - 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment in Review
14 - After the Armistice
15 - R.C. Sherriff's Journey's End
16 - The Last of the 'Gallants'

I: Roll of Honour
II: 9/East Surrey Fatalities by Month
III: Awards and Decorations
IV: Officers Serving Abroad with 9/East Surrey, 1915-1918
V: 24th Division Orders of Battle, 1915-1918

Author: Michael Lucas
Edition: Hardcover
Pages: 246
Publisher: Pen & Sword Military
Year: 2012

The Journey's End Battalion: The 9th East Surrey in the Great War, Michael Lucas - History

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R.C. Sherriff, author of Journey's End, the most famous play of the Great War, saw all his frontline service with the 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment. This intense experience profoundly affected his writing and, through his play, it continues to have a powerful influence on our understanding of the conflict. Yet the story of his battalion &ndash known as 'The Gallants' after the bravery it displayed during the Battle of Loos &ndash has never been told in full until now.

In The Journey's End Battalion, Michael Lucas gives a vivid account of its history. Using official and unofficial sources, diaries, letters, and British and German wartime records, he describes the individuals who served in it and the operations they took part in. He identifies the inspiration for Journey's End and considers how Sherriff delved into his experiences and those of his fellow soldiers in order to create his drama.

The narrative covers the battalion's bloody initiation at Loos, its role in the fighting on the Somme at Guillemont and Delville Wood and during the Third Battle of Ypres, then the part it played in the desperate defence against the German 1918 offensives and its contribution to the Allied advance to victory.

Despite the presence of Sherriff and other notable individuals, the 9th East Surrey was in many ways typical of the southern Kitchener battalions, and Michael Lucas's account of its service provides a fascinating contrast with the northern Pals battalions whose story has been more often told. So not only does the book shed new light on the wartime experience of R.C. Sherriff, but it is a valuable record of the operation of a British battalion on the Western Front during the Great War.

As seen in.

Kent Family History Society Journal

Another well-researched and presented history of an infantry battalion of Lord Kitchener's New Armies. We are treated to a detailed narrative, laced with maps and some good photographs.

The Long, Long Trail

The Journey’s End Battalion is a valuable history worthy of considerable praise.

The western front association stand to! No. 97

Michael Lucas' history of 9/East Surrey Regiment grew out of his research into the service of a relative. Only whilst researching did he become aware of the service, and the rich archive of the playwright R. C. sheriff and his service with the battalion.

In clear, well-written prose The Journey's End Battalion presents a rounded history of 9/East Surreys. It is a valuable history and one worthy of considerable praise.

Stand To!

The usefulness of this book is enhanced by the presentation of considerable research in the Appendices to identify casualties and casualty rates. The book presented here is a model of good research and should be a base for others drafting future works, which will certainly increase as the centenary of the First World War approaches

Society of Friends of the National Army

Over the years, many books have been written about the Pals regiments. Far less has been written about the Kitchener regiments, country-based units which attracted a much wider recruitment base. In this book, Michael Lucas provides an excellent insight into the story of the Great War service of the men of the 9th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment – an account which takes the reader through the raising of the battalion, the early months in training at home, the move to France, its first action at Loos, the Somme, Ypres and the battles of 1918. Recommended.

Britain at War Magazine

There are many battalion histories on the Great War in print today, most of them focusing on the Western Front. So what makes this one different? For one thing, it's extremely well researched. The sources support a fine narrative that tells the battalion's story from its much more efficient operations of later years.

Although mostly written as a narrative, the book includes some excellent studies of the way the prisoners were treated, as well as data tables and graphs that allow readers to carry out their own analysis of how and when casualties occurred.

Well worth reading.

Military Modelcraft International

The Journeys End Battalion tells the remarkable story of the 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment and its service in the First World War. More than 850 men lost their lives while serving with the 9th East Surrey, and it suffered 50% casualties on its second day at the front during the Battle of Loose. The Battalion went on to serve on the Somme and Ypres and was almost annihilated in a famous last stand in March 1918.

This book makes for compelling reading.

Military Machines International

Many books have been written about the Pals regiments, in which whole villages or businesses sent large groups of young men - all friends - into the First World War. Far less has been written about the Kitchener regiments, county based organizations which attracted a much wider audience.

This is the story of the East Surrey Regiment initially made up of a mixed bunch of lawyers, coalmen, police, navies, burglars as well as prominent county families. One of the soldiers was a certain R C Sherriff. Surprizingly he managed to survive the entire conflict despite being in the army from 1914 to 1918, and taking part in many of the bloodiest battles. His experiences led him to write Journey's End, the most famous play of the Great War. Lucas has set out to look at Sherriff's role in the War and combined it with the story of the East Surrey Regiment.

It covers everything from the dreadful battle of Loos, Somme and Ypres to the desperate defence against the Germans final offensive in 1918. It makes interesting reading. Lucas has undertaken careful research and paints a picture of a battalion at war, and how it survived. Military historians and anyone interested in military history will find this book useful and fascinating.


The Journey's End Battalion - 9th East Surrey in the Great War by Michael Lucas - author's Addenda and Corrigenda

Inevitably, there are matters which require correction or further addition, especially following continued research, particularly at the National Archives. Since writing Journey's End Battalion I have produced a further book and various articles, as mentioned below, which have a bearing on 9th East Surrey. My son Andrew and I also gave a talk at the National Archives based on the book, which you can listen to as a Podcast on the TNA website.

I am particularly interested in hearing from those who relatives served with the battalion.

The following remarks are offered as of possible interest.

Page x The map referred to supposedly on p.230 it is not to be found, as some small last minute cuts had to be made to the book to fit the pages available. Click here to view this map.

Page 6 A photograph of Whiteman and the Transport Section, courtesy of Phil Barber, appeared in 'Stand To!' September 2015, p.94

Pages 6-7 Unfortunately, Frankau's War Office file (WO339/11211 at T.N.A.) does not mention this feud. However, a note for reviewers survives 'This man became known as a Poet. Preserve the file on review, if the contents are worthwhile.'(!) Appointed Lieutenant in the East Surrey Regiment in October 1914, his application for transfer to the R.H.A. is dated March 1915 and signed by no one except himself. He was taken on as a 2nd Lieutenant, given no technical training and functioned as a staff officer with 24th Division's artillery. He was Adjutant to 107th Brigade from July 1915. He seems to have suffered some sort of disability, perhaps neurasthenic, from his service on the Somme. He was sent to Italy with cinematic propaganda 1916-17. General Capper had recommended him for intelligence work, which was what he wanted, but the War Office seemed unsure what to do with him. He was declared permanently unfit and retired as a captain in February 1918.

Pages 6 & 165 H.A.B. Dealtry had also previously served as an officer, briefly, with the Worcestershire Regiment 1900-01, before being cited in a divorce case. (Army List and TNA J77/728/2134)

Page 7 Mitford had later transferred to the East Surrey Regiment.

Page 12 I have edited Billman's memoir and hopefully it will appear as two parts in 'Stand To!' this year or next.
[NB: the first part has now appeared in Stand To! 118]

Page 21 Fenwick as a P.O.W. was transferred to internment in the Netherlands in April 1918, under the Hague Agreements.

Page 22 I wrote an article on Elverson, published in the Journal of the Kent Family History Society, September 2015.

Page 25 etc. I extensively revised and expanded my 2009 article on Summers. It was published in Stand To! September 2015.

Page 37 etc. I subsequently edited Pirie's diary, which was published, unabridged and with extensive introductions and notes, as 'Frontline Medic Gallipoli, Somme, Ypres' by Helion in 2014.

Page 50 A caricature of Captain Anslow, from early 1917, by Private Cole (see Page 79 note below), suggests black, yellow, red streamers on the back of the collar.

Page 51 It would be wrong to assume that the Army list is anything more than a list of officers allocated to a unit at the time.

Pages 71 and 73 Colonel Harold Tew was an officer of much experience. Born 1869 in Scotland, he saw extensive service in the Boer War. He was a major with 1st East Surrey at Mons, then commanded that battalion 1915-16. In June 1916 he was appointed to command 18th Brigade, so he seems to have suffered a demotion.

A recent photograph of the building used as Battalion H.Q. is included in Frontline Medic. It was identified from one of Sherriff's immediately post-war photographs.

Page 72 I had studied many of Sherriff's letters from his service in France and his 'My Diary' series of articles. However, because of illness, I was unable to study Sherriff's unpublished 'Memories of Active Service', before writing my book. Sherriff had written this for his mother, covering his first three months at the Front, shortly after the end of the Great War. This is now held at Surrey History Centre. Sherriff mined this for his 'My Diary' series of articles, but left a lot out, especially relating to fellow officers, like Swanton, Abrams and Tew. He also says quite a lot about his servant Morris and includes a caricature of him.
An important biography of Sherriff 'From Journey's End to the Dambusters' by Roland Wales, published by P&S, appeared in 2016. As well as covering the whole of Sherriff's career, Roland critically examines Sherriff's writings and demonstrates his novelist's liking for a good story did, on numerous occasions, conflict with the complete truth. Roland puts various material on Sherriff and 9th East Surrey on his website rolandwales.com. Another website with interesting material on the same areas is that for Surrey History Centre.

Page 73 In contradiction to one of Sherriff's own statements quoted on page 98, it appears he also served briefly with 'D' Company, under Captain Tetley, around New Year 1917.

Page 76 Sherriff, in 'Memories' agrees with Pirie that Swanton, as a martinet, quickly made himself unpopular with the battalion.

Page 79 In 2012, Di Stiff of Surrey History Centre drew my attention to a series of fourteen caricatures of officers of 9th East Surrey by Pte Edward Cole, which had recently been transferred from the regimental museum (which was subsequently sadly burnt out in the fire at Clandon Park). They are of: Anslow, Birch, Clark, Davies, Grant, Hartley, Hilton, Lindsay, Poole, Pirie, Taylor, Tetley, Thomas and Whiteman. I wrote about them in two articles for Stand To! (September 2014 and January 2015.) Six of the caricatures are also reproduced in 'Frontline Medic'.

Page 86 Mitford was not a success in his new role, commanding a Lancashire Territorial division, recently arrived from Egypt. He lost his command after six months.

Pages 95, 165 and Appendix IV Strictly speaking Abrams was dismissed from the Service, rather than cashiered.

Forster Taylor lost his commission in the Leicestershire Regiment when he went AWOL. He then served in the ranks of the Queen's Regiment in France. In November 1917 he was again commissioned. He was killed in the attack on Haussy with 9th East Surrey in October 1918. (TNA WO339/108820)

Thomas Rawson was a ledger clerk in a shipping house, who enlisted in the Pay Corps in August 1914, before re-enlisting in 1916 in the King's Liverpool Regiment. He was commissioned in April 1917.He was not court martialled, but considered unfit to hold a commission following a complaint by Cameron in September 1918. Although he had come through a traumatic time at Cambrai in late 1917, no good medical reason was found for his behaviour and it was decided he should be demobilised as quickly as possible. (TNA WO374/56390).

Cameron considered Geoffrey Sampson also 'in no way fit to command men.' However, the brigadier considered this was due to ignorance, and he served on until 1921. (TNA WO3339/56639)

Page 97 In reviewing my book in May 2013's 'Stand To!, David Filsell drew attention to Frankau's account of a post-war reunion: Sherriff turned to Clark and said 'I'm afraid I wasn't much good as an officer. I wonder if you remember, Sir, what you said to me when I was [sic] reported to you that I had just been wounded and that I was to be evacuated?'. 'Afraid I don't', smiled Nobby. 'You said, “Thank God”', remarked Sherriff and sat down to soldierly applause.'

Page 104 The reference to Pirie from the Gallipoli book now appears to be regarding another medical officer named Pirie.

Pages 104-105 Peter Crook has pointed out to me that the Official History and the map from it on Page 105 are wrong. 72nd Brigade attacked on 24th Division’s right, and 17th Brigade on the left on 31.7.1917.

Pages 106-107 Peter Crook has pointed out that the dating of the battalion war diary here must be in error. 9th East Surrey, from other war diaries, must have relieved the two front line units on the night of 1 /2 .8.1917. Peter has also taken much trouble to establish when and where Sherriff appears to have been wounded. The line had been taken forward on 31.7.1917 with the capture of the German outpost line near Job’s Post the main line - Jehovah Trench and, in part, the supporting trench-Jordan. Sherriff’s company took casualties moving up on 1.8.1917. Sherriff was wounded during the day on 2.8.1917, probably near Jordan Trench. See Peter Crook’s articles - ‘R C Sherriff and Journey’s End Voices from the Great War’ in the W.F.A. Bulletin No. 111 (August 2018) and ‘How, where and when was R C Sherriff wounded in August 1917?’ in Stand To! No.115 (May 2019).

Pages 115-7 Arthur Pratt enlisted in July 1915 at 19 and was a sergeant in November 1916. His C.O. of 13th East Surreys seems to have felt uncomfortable in recommending him for a commission. 'In civilian life he was a grocer's assistant in a small shop. He was picked from the best available in my Battn.' Pratt was commissioned June 1917 and joined 9th East Surreys in August. He was killed, in temporary command of 'B' Company, on the first day of the Kaiserschlacht. His body was not recovered. His mother advised that he left no other estate than his army pay. (TNA WO339/95640)

Page 121 Haig was rather dismissive of 'Teeny' Watts, then commanding 21st Brigade, in his diary for February 1915. He wrote 'a plucky hard little man, with no great brains'. Born in 1859, he had been 'dugout' of retirement in 1914. He commanded 7th Division 1915-17, in succession to Thompson Capper, John Capper's brother, killed at Loos, before being given his Corps in 1917.('Douglas Haig War Diaries and letters' edited by Sheffield and Bourne.p.103.) Gough in his 'The Fifth Army', however, pays tribute to Watts as 'a spare, active man, quiet and very modest in demeanour, but one of the most courageous and experienced of our commanders.'

Page 150 The West Kents made some criticism of the battalion. ‘After several days of active patrolling it became clear that the map references they had been given by the East Surreys showing the forward posts did not tally with the actual posts held’. This led to the ‘Dean’s Post’ action, in .which Lt. Dean, serving with the West Kents, won the V.C. (Donald Dean V.C. ed. Terry Crowdy p.49).

Page 153 The map scale shown is incorrect.

Page 156 Williams' account of his alarming experience is in TNA WO374/74652.

Page 166 The percentage of combat fatalities to total serving should read 27%. Of course, not all officers who left the battalion survived the War. Among others, Philip Mighell died of wounds October 1917, serving with the R.F.C. James Monro never fully recovered from shell wounds received at Delville Wood. He relinquished his commission in April 1918, but was drowned, as a civilian, in October 1918, when the liner Hirano Maru, was torpedoed.

Page 167 The survival rate for records in the so called 'Burnt Records' series for those who served with the East Surrey Regiment looks relatively poor. Ironically, the surviving record rate for those who died seems to be significantly higher than for the others. One can only presume that the 'deads' were filed separately, and their location meant that they suffered less from fire and water in the burning of the Army's record depository in Arnside Street, in 1940. Besides Summers, the records of J.H.L. Dacey provides detail on a promotion from the ranks of this battalion. A house furnisher, born 1897, he attested 20.1.16. After initial service with the Royal Fusiliers he was with 9th East Surrey from September 1916 and was soon promoted corporal and lance sergeant. He was wounded, gassed and buried once each. He applied for a place at an officer cadet battalion for a commission in the R.F.A. His cadet report rated his Power of Command and Leadership 'Very Fair. Can think for himself.' Remarks 'A hard working cadet quite good at practical work paper work at times uncertain but did well in W.O. exam which he passed.' Commissioned in the Ox & Bucks L.I. (his 1st choice of unit) 9th September 1918. He reached the B.E.F. in November 1918. (TNA WO374/17537). There is a picture of him in Billman's papers at I.W.M.

Page 169 Clearly, the battalion was extremely raw and in a bad state after Loos. According to the diary of N.A.C. Weir, 10th Argylls, 9th Division, October 1915: ‘As our companies were only about fifty strong, we received companies from the East Surreys of the 24th Division, who had followed us up from Loos. This was really their period of trench instruction…..my East Surrey company were expecting a relief, [and] left my front line without orders. Luckily their relief, consisting of Argyll drafts, arrived soon after.’ (Mud and bodies: The war diaries and letters of Captain N.A.C.Weir 1914-20 ed. Saul David p.42-43).

Page 176 J. Lewis Stempel in 'The War behind the wire' gives the official death rates for German prisoners in Britain as 3.04%, but 7.09% for British O.Rs. in Germany, whilst arguing that the latter figure is a substantial underestimate because of unregistered deaths. It seems that Private Samuel Argyle was one of 2,000 unfortunate P.O.W.s sent by the Germans to labour on the Eastern Front. This was intended as a reprisal for the British supposedly exposing German P.O.W.s to shellfire when required to work in France. In February 1917, 500 were sent to work on German trenches between Riga and Mitau (now Jelgava, Latvia). Conditions were terrible and there was deliberate mistreatment of the P.O.W.s. Around 30 died and were buried in Nikolai Cemetery, Mitau. Most of the remainder required hospital treatment. Conditions improved in June, following British concessions. The P.O.Ws. were returned to Germany in November. (See Richard van Emden 'Meeting the Enemy-The Human Face of the Great War' pp 226-38.)

Page 177 My article on Charlie Woodbury was published in The W.F.A. Bulletin No.113 (April 2019).

Page 179 My article on Reg Howship was published in Your Family Tree magazine in April 2011.

Page 184 When I read Sherriff's 'Memories of Active Service', it became clear that the war weary Captain Hilton had also contributed to the character of Stanhope. I recommend Robert Gore-Langton's 'Journey's End - The classic war play explored' published by Oberon, 2014, as well as Roland Wales' book, as previously mentioned, for further examination of the play.

Page 188 Gilbert Frankau was a Flying Officer in the Air Ministry's Directorate of Intelligence by May 1940. Walter Summers rose to be a Wing Commander in the R.A.F's. Balloon Branch. (see Air Force List). Amongst the many who must have served in the Home Guard, was George Stanbury, veteran of 9th East Surrey at Loos and of 172 Tunnelling Company.

Photograph 6 Following sight of the Cole caricatures and discussion with Roland Wales, there are more identifications to add: first row extreme right - Captain Tetley, second row fourth left - 2/Lt. D.L. Hatten, sixth left - 2/Lt. T.E.S. Reynolds, extreme right - 2/Lt W.H. Lindsay third row third from left - 2/Lt. H. Kiver.

Photograph 19 Captain Whiteman is in the front row, 9th from the left, not as indicated.

Appendix I - Roll of Honour Unfortunately, the following were omitted by me:

1780 L/Cpl. William George Webb, enlisted Reigate, Surrey, kia 26.9.15
4805 Pte. George Thomas Soanes, enlisted Huntingdon, kia 25.1.17
27282 Pte. William Miller, enlisted Camberwell , dow.16.10.18
33756 Pte Edwin Lambert, enlisted Canterbury, d. (as POW), 22.10.18.

This means that the totals should be 872 total deaths, 656 k.i.a., 160 d.o.w., 56 d. The various conclusions on the origins of the men at various times may be slightly skewed as a result, and Appendix II Fatalities by Month becomes slightly incorrect.

Appendix III Awards and decorations I have since found some more in the Brigade war diary for early 1917, looking for other information:

Pte. C. Baker - awarded an M.M. in February for the January raid - had the serial no.182.
6735 Pte. C.A. Pearson was also awarded an MM for this raid.
4422 Sgt. D.O.L. Robertson and 830 Corporal (Lance Sergeant) T.Harris received.
MMs in March 1917 - Robertson had previously been honoured for the Somme.

Appendix IV - Officers Also left off the original roll prepared by the battalion is Second Lieutenant D. McLaren, wounded at Loos, 26.9.15, and listed in the war diary as a casualty there.

The Journey's End Battalion: The 9th East Surrey in the Great War, Michael Lucas - History

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R.C. Sherriff, author of Journey's End, the most famous play of the Great War, saw all his frontline service with the 9th Battalion East Surrey Regiment. This intense experience profoundly affected his writing and, through his play, it continues to have a powerful influence on our understanding of the conflict. Yet the story of his battalion has never been told in full until now. In The Journey's End Battalion, Michael Lucas gives a vivid account of its history. Using official and unofficial sources, diaries, letters, and British and German wartime records, he describes the individuals who served in it and the operations they took part in. He identifies the inspiration for Journeys End and considers how Sherriff delved into his experiences and those of his fellow soldiers in order to create his drama. So not only does the book shed new light on the wartime career of R.C. Sherriff, but it is a valuable record of the operation of a British battalion on the Western Front during the Great War.

As featured in

Stand To! Journal of the Western Front Association

Want to know more about 9th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment?

9th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment

during the Great War 1914-1918.

  • Broad Walter James. Pte. (d.10th Oct 1917)
  • Clark DSO MC.. Charles Alfred. Mjr.
  • Corley William Raymond. 2nd.Lt. (d.27th Mar 1918)
  • Gillman Richard Joseph. Cpl. (d.13th Jun 1917)
  • Hartley Richard Rutland. Pte. (d.3rd Sept 1916)
  • Jennings Walter Charles. Pte. (d.24th Jun 1917)
  • Martin Frank William. Pte. (d.16th October 1918)
  • McNamara VC.. John. Cpl. (d.16th Oct 1918)
  • Noe John Thomas. Pte.
  • O'Connell Jeremiah. Pte. (d.6th Oct 1916)
  • Picton MC.. James Allanson. Lt. (d.23rd July 1917)
  • Stanbury George Wyndham . Cpl.
  • Wardell John. Pte. (d.16th October 1918)
  • Warters Sydney Arthur. Pte.
  • Weed James Thomas. Pte (d.18th Jun 1917)
  • Wiggins William Thomas. Pte. (d.16th Aug 1916)
  • Young Allen George. Pte. (d.3rd September 1916)

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Killed or Captured

At 1:00am the East Surreys had withdrawn from their positions, between Hattencourt and Hallu. As the History of the 8/West Kents noted:

‘the withdrawal had to be done with great care. It took a long time creeping, section by section, along the grass border of the village road, out beyond the village, until it was safe to march in column of route on the road itself. The withdrawal was made in perfect order, without casualties and we took up positions at Hallu by 3:30am.’

The Battalion took its place in trenches which had, in 1916, been the old German front line. The position ‘did not inspire us with a great deal of hope’.

As early as 7:45am, the Entrenching Battalion on the East Surreys’ right (the West Kents were to their left) reported to Brigade that there was a gap of several miles in the line between the Brigade and the French on their right, and the enemy were advancing in large numbers. They were told to withdraw fighting to the Rouvroy-Rozieres line.

At the same time a message was sent to the East Surreys that their right flank had given way, and the Entrenching battalion withdrawn. 15 minutes later another message reported that the trench just 30 yards in front was now full of Germans, and a ‘great deal of machine gun firing’ ensued, with many casualties inflicted. The Battalion was holding a front of almost 1400 yards, and beat back the Germans time and again.

Shortly afterwards, 73 Brigade, on the left flank was forced to withdraw from its position on the Brigade’s left, leaving the West Kents and the East Surreys in line ‘with both flanks in the air’. The West Kents informed the East Surreys that they were proceeding to withdraw, by platoons, from the left, and ‘an orderly retirement commenced’.

But as the East Surrey Diary noted, they were:

‘determined to hold on at all costs, and would not withdraw. Under Major C A Clark’s command, defensive flanks were at once formed and still we held the enemy back, against terrific odds. The Battalion continued the great stand against overwhelming numbers, every officer and man fighting to the last, until 9:30am when it was completely surrounded.’

Clark’s indomitablility was later recalled by Private Eatwell (as quoted by Michael Lucas):

‘[Major Clark] said: “We have nothing on our flanks, and there are no supports behind. You will either be killed or captured before the morning is out. Stick it out for the honour of the Regiment.’

Officers of the 9th East Surreys, April 1917. Major C A (‘Nobby’) Clark highlighted right, and Captain Godfrey Warre-Dymond highlighted left. RC Sherriff middle first row standing. By permission of the Surrey History Centre (ESR/25/Clark/7(9))

At one point in the battle Clark attempted to withdraw his men, only to find Germans to the rear as well as in front. He later recalled:

‘We took up position in an old communication trench and used our rifles with great effect. [Lieutenant] Grant was doing excellent work until shot through the head, and Warre-Dymond behaved admirably. It was a fine fight and we held them up until the ammunition gave out. They charged in and mopped up the remainder. They were infuriated with us.’

The 72 Brigade Diary is quietly critical of Clark’s decision to stand and fight: ‘9th East Surrey hung on too long and lost heavily. Major Clark MC, Lt Grant, Capt Dymond, Lt Blower and RSM Phillips all missing. Reported surrounded and fighting to the last.’ But everyone in the Brigade were impressed at their bravery:

‘We can well imagine Clark, dogged old solider that he was, hanging on like grim death to that bit of trench. It was not till long afterwards that we heard he was wounded and a prisoner, and we all missed him greatly in the Brigade for the rest of the war. There can be no question of the gallantry of himself and his officers and men.’

The final scene in Sherriff’s Journey’s End marks the beginning of the German onslaught on the first day of the Kaiserschlacht. What happened next was left to the audience’s imagination. The old soldiers among those who were first to see the play would have had no doubt about the likely fate of Stanhope and his fellow officers, being well aware of the casualties the battle inflicted on both sides.

A couple of years after the play was first produced, Sherriff turned his hand to writing a sequel, in movie-style, hoping that the film companies might be interested in what happened to Stanhope after the curtain fell. The opening scene shows Stanhope, Trotter and the men continuing to fight, but the Germans are superior in numbers and firepower. When they offer him the chance to surrender, he declines, and the Germans begin to pound his trenches. With his men dying around him, Stanhope leads the remainder on a forlorn charge against the German trenches, where those that survive are easily overpowered:

‘It is soon over. Some are shot down. Others fling themselves blindly into the German trench. Stanhope is struck and stunned by the butt of a rifle – Trotter struggles violently and is overpowered. A German officer glances down at the captives and gives an order to the German soldiers who line the trench. The soldiers climb out of the trench and walk silently in line across No Man’s Land, into the ruined trenches of Stanhope’s Company and into the distance beyond.’

There seems little doubt that the opening scenes in Sherriff’s sequel to Journey’s End were, at the very least, heavily influenced by the heroic sacrifices of the 9th East Surreys on the 6th day of the Kaiserschlacht – perhaps not in all its detail, but probably as it was handed down at Regimental dinners and reunions by those who were there that day (and especially by two of Sherriff’s closest friends in the Battalion – ‘Nobby’ Clark and Godfrey Warre-Dymond)

The East Surrey Diary reports that only three officers and about thirty men succeeded in escaping German clutches. From 26 March until 8 April, ‘the remnants of the Battalion were attached to the 8/Royal West Kents until the arrival of the Brigade at Franlen, when the Battalion became a separate unit once more.’

Explore further

31st (Huntingdonshire) Regiment of Foot

This infantry unit was formed in 1702. It served in many British Army campaigns until the 1881 reforms, when it was merged into The East Surrey Regiment.

70th (Surrey) Regiment of Foot

This infantry regiment was raised in 1758. It continued in British Army service until the 1881 reforms, when it was merged into The East Surrey Regiment.

The Queen's Royal Regiment (West Surrey)

Raised in 1661, this was the oldest English line regiment in the British Army. It existed until 1959 when it was merged into The Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment.

The Queen's Royal Surrey Regiment

This short-lived infantry regiment was formed in 1959. It served with the British Army until 1966, when it was merged into The Queen’s Regiment.

The Queen's Own Royal West Kent Regiment

This infantry unit was formed in 1881. It existed until 1961, when it was amalgamated into The Queen’s Own Buffs, Royal Kent Regiment.

The Middlesex Regiment (Duke of Cambridge’s Own)

The Middlesex Regiment was an infantry regiment of the British Army, created in 1881 and amalgamated in 1966 into The Queen's Regiment.

The real soldiers of Journey’s End

Written by a man who had experienced the trenches of the Western Front, the dramatic, tense and claustrophobic events of the play and film Journey’s End have a realism and authenticity. This is because its writer, RC Sherriff, had seen first-hand the effect of years of war on his friends and knew the fear and terror of waiting for an impending attack, waiting for his journey’s end.

The characters of Journey’s End are believed to be a reflection of the men Sherriff had served with in the 9th Battalion of the East Surrey Regiment. The events of the play, especially the impending sense of doom at an imminent German attack, are based on the experiences of Sherriff’s comrades who held the line near the French town of St. Quentin at the start of the German Spring Offensive in March 1918.

Writing to a fellow officer in 1936, Sherriff said:

“None of the characters are drawn from life – but you may find some of them a likeness to men you knew.”

While in his autobiography published in 1968, he wrote:

“Besides Stanhope and Raleigh, the other characters walked in without invitation. I had known them all so well in the trenches.”

Here are some of the men Sherriff served with, who are believed to have inspired characters in the play:

Captain Godfrey Warre-Dymond MC – Captain Stanhope

In the dedicated and highly capable, yet fatally flawed character of Captain Stanhope there are parallels with a Captain Godfrey Warre-Dymond, who Sherriff met in October 1916. Godfrey was already a highly capable officer and veteran of the Somme when he joined Sherriff’s battalion. Sherriff refers to Godfrey’s abilities as “magic”, similar in the way that the character of Raleigh views Stanhope in the play. Warre-Dymond was taken prisoner in March 1918 and survived the war.

Second Lieutenant Richard Webb – Second Lieutenant Raleigh

Second Lieutenant Raleigh can be considered a fusion of soldiers who Sherriff knew. Raleigh is young, enthusiastic and naive about the realities of war, not unlike many young officers of the period and indeed Sherriff himself. The closest comparison perhaps is with Second Lieutenant Richard Webb.

Just like the characters of Raleigh and Stanhope who are portrayed as childhood friends, Webb and Sherriff were close friends and used to go on camping trips together in their youth before the war. Just like Raleigh in the play, Webb did not survive the war. He died in October 1916 and is buried in CWGC Etaples Military Cemetery.

Asa Butterfield as Raleigh

Captain Archibald Henry Douglass – Lieutenant Osborne (Uncle)

“… a tall, dark man … one of the finest men I have ever known. He was a man of few words. He hated affectation and he hated vulgarity. He was also about the coolest man I ever saw in the trenches.”

In this we can see the clam and dependable character of Osborne. Douglass was with the 9th East Surreys in March 1918, and was wounded during the German attack. He was sent back to the United Kingdom where he died on 8 April 1918. He is buried in Hanwell (City of Westminster) Cemetery.

Paul Bettany as Osborne (left)

Newspaper report of the 9th Battalion's theatre outing to see Journey’s End and annual dinner, 1930. 130 officers and men attended the event and Sherriff showed some of his former comrades around the stage set. Clark is in the centre, Sherriff far left. Reproduced by permission of Surrey History Centre.

Chapter 2

Loos, September 1915

With 24th Division, 9/East Surrey was fated to see its first experience of war in the biggest battle fought up to that date by the British Army.

Lord Kitchener’s original plan was to build up the strength of the British Army so that it would be ready to strike the decisive blow in 1916 or 1917. This, though, required the French and Russian armies to bear the main weight of the conflict in the meantime. Unfortunately, the situation in mid-1915 did not allow this. Both these armies had already suffered huge losses. The French, however, with a large part of their country, including much of their industrial base, occupied by the Germans, were understandably not prepared to stand on the defensive. On the Eastern Front, the Central Powers, following the failure of the Schlieffen Plan on the Western Front in 1914, were making a major effort to knock out Russia. The British-led attack on the Dardanelles, in part to assist Russia, had proved a major disappointment.

In these circumstances, Britain came under heavy pressure to assist its allies, by joining a major offensive on the Western Front. However, the BEF was ill prepared for this. Whilst its numbers had grown considerably, it was seriously short of artillery, especially heavy guns, and shells. As for infantry weapons, there were few light machine guns as yet and the grenades in use were much inferior to those of the Germans. Apart from material deficiencies, commanders were struggling with the new challenges of taking the offensive in trench warfare. With the enormous expansion of the Army and huge casualties amongst the regulars in 1914, there was also a serious shortage of trained and experienced officers in the newer units, especially, and of staff officers most of all.

In spite of these difficulties, Sir John French, commanding the BEF, and Sir Douglas Haig, commanding his First Army, were mindful of the need to put pressure on the Germans and were not opposed to offensive action. Both were, however, unhappy with the proposals from the French Commander in Chief, Joffre, as to how the British might assist. Joffre planned offensives in Artois and Champagne at either end of the huge salient occupied by the Germans. If successful, these could force the Germans to evacuate a large area, or risk being cut off. Joffre wanted the British to join with the French Artois offensive, by attacking near Lens, at Loos. Haig saw this as most unsuitable ground for an attack, being broken up by coal mines, pitheads (fosses and puits), mining villages and slag heaps (crassiers) and in generally flat and open land, dominated by the German artillery.

Nevertheless, the French were insistent on the need for British support for their offensive the Gallipoli campaign had become a bloody stalemate and it was feared that Russia could collapse. In these circumstances, Kitchener concluded, ‘We must act with all energy and do our utmost to help the French in their offensive even though by doing so we suffer very heavy losses indeed.’¹ The Cabinet agreed, on 20 August 1915, to support the French offensive over reinforcing Gallipoli. As Kitchener saw it, ‘We must make war as we must not as we should like.’²

With Britain committed to an attack at Loos, Sir John French left the planning very much to Haig. Sir Douglas threw himself into organising an ambitious attack. He thought a new weapon for the British Army, poison gas (used against it by the Germans earlier in 1915), could make up for his weakness in artillery.

Haig’s plans assumed the wholesale commitment of his own First Army, so where were the reserves to come from to exploit the expected breakthrough? There were three infantry divisions uncommitted to either of the two British armies in France–21st, 24th and the Guards, in XI Corps under General Haking, a notably aggressive commander. Haig’s plans assumed that these would be under his control for the battle. Sir John French, however, was reluctant, for whatever reason, to release them. He only agreed, a week before the battle was due to commence, to move them forward, but still under his control.

Be that as it may, the 21st and 24th Divisions, both raw ‘New Army’ units, were sent towards Loos, followed by the Guards. In the two New Army divisions 4 out of 6 brigade commanders were re-employed retired officers and of 26 battalion commanders all but 1 were re-employed retired officers, some from the Territorials or Militia. Almost all the officers were newly commissioned, and there were few old soldiers in the ranks. These divisions were keen, but very lacking in experience. But according to Colonel Stewart, chief staff officer to 24th Division, General Haking’s views, as stated before the battle, were that ‘Not having been previously engaged in this way, they would go into action for the first time full of esprit and élan and being ignorant of the effects of fire and the intensity of it, would go forward irresistibly and do great things.’³

This is all ominously reminiscent of the German attacks at Ypres in 1914, where several divisions of inexperienced troops, their numbers made up with war volunteers and often led by elderly officers, suffered terrible losses when thrown against the long-service regulars of the BEF, in particular.

After just three weeks in France, spent well behind the Front, 9/East Surrey set out for Loos early on 21 September, 30 officers and 901 ORs strong.⁴ After a series of marches in hot weather, then heavy rain, the battalion rested on 24 September at Berguette. At 6.00pm the troops received their last solid meal for 60 hours.⁵ The brigade then set off for Béthune taking 7 hours. Breakfast, planned for 4.30am, failed to arrive, through a staff officer’s mistake. Each division, with its artillery and transport, required 15 miles of road and the march had been very considerably prolonged by severe congestion on the few available roads immediately behind this part of the Front. There had been inadequate planning by the First Army staff, to get reinforcements forward through all the other traffic. The men had but a short rest and all had arrived ‘wet through’. Private Fred Billman of 9/East Surrey recalled, ‘Now we were absolutely tired and hungry, and even the thunder of the guns could not keep us awake.’⁶

The Battle of Loos commenced early on 25 September. Initial reports were encouraging. At 7am, Haig requested Sir John French to move XI Corps forward. After a further prompt, French, at 9.30am, ordered that 21st and 24th Divisions should move forward to First Army’s trenches ‘as soon as the situation requires and permits’ (not ‘immediately’) and come under Haig on arrival there. Haking then ordered 21st and 24th Divisions to move up–about 2 miles to Mazingarbe/ Vermelles, about 1½ miles behind the British start line. French kept the Guards Division under his own command.

9/East Surrey had turned out of billets at 7.00am (Billman says 9.00am) and was then kept waiting in readiness until 11.15am, when it set off marching to Vermelles. Billman wrote, ‘We were still very tired and stiff with our heavy marching, but the excitement of going into action kept us going.’ The troops were again delayed by congestion. Billman also refers to the numbers of wounded they encountered. Mitford remembered, years later, ‘Some of them were pitiable cases . . . They must have been rather a shock to new troops who had never seen a wounded man before’.

On the basis of optimistic reports received earlier, Haig ordered Haking, at 2.35pm, to detach one brigade from each division to shore up the line elsewhere and push on with the remainder, as far as the Heute Deule Canal crossings. However, there was delay in getting the orders through and then in getting the men forward, so a less ambitious advance was substituted–to the Hulluch–Lens road, unless moonlight allowed a further move forward. In the early evening, before receipt of these orders, 72 Brigade advanced under shellfire, sustaining light casualties, crossing the German trenches captured in

Sherriff was born in Hampton Wick, Middlesex, to insurance clerk Herbert Hankin Sherriff and Constance Winder. [5] He was educated at Kingston Grammar School in Kingston upon Thames from 1905-1913. [n 1]

After he left school, Sherriff worked in an insurance office as a clerk (from 1914) and as an insurance adjuster (1918 to 1928) at Sun Insurance Company, London. [7] Sherriff served as an officer in the 9th battalion of the East Surrey Regiment in the First World War, taking part in the fighting at Vimy Ridge and Loos. [8] He was severely wounded at Passchendaele near Ypres in 1917. [9]

Sherriff studied history at New College, Oxford from 1931 to 1934. [10] [11] He was a fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and the Society of Antiquaries of London. [12]

Playwright Edit

He wrote his first play to help Kingston Rowing Club raise money to buy a new boat. [13] His seventh play, Journey's End, was written in 1928 and published in 1929 and was based on his experiences in the war. [3] It was given a single Sunday performance, on 9 December 1928, by the Incorporated Stage Society at the Apollo Theatre, directed by James Whale and with the 21-year-old Laurence Olivier in the lead role. [14] In the audience was Maurice Browne who produced it at the Savoy Theatre where it was performed for two years from 1929. [15]

Novelist Edit

Sherriff also wrote prose. A novelised version of Journey's End, co-written with Vernon Bartlett, was published in 1930. [16] His 1939 novel, The Hopkins Manuscript is an H. G. Wells-influenced post-apocalyptic story about an earth devastated because of a collision with the Moon. [17] Its sober language and realistic depiction of an average man coming to terms with a ruined England is said [ citation needed ] to have been an influence on later science fiction authors such as John Wyndham and Brian Aldiss. The Fortnight in September, an earlier novel, published in 1931, is a rather more plausible story about a Bognor holiday enjoyed by a lower-middle-class family from Dulwich. [18] It was nominated by Kazuo Ishiguro as a book to 'inspire, uplift and offer escape' in a list compiled by The Guardian during the COVID-19 pandemic, describing it as "just about the most uplifting, life-affirming novel I can think of right now". [19]

His 1936 novel Green Gates is a realistic novel about a middle-aged couple, Tom and Edith Baldwin, moving from an established London suburb into the then-new suburbs of Metro-land. [20]

Sherriff was nominated along with Eric Maschwitz and Claudine West for an Academy award for writing an adapted screenplay for Goodbye, Mr. Chips which was released in 1939. [21] His 1955 screenplays, The Dam Busters and The Night My Number Came Up were nominated for best British screenplay BAFTA awards. [22]

Watch the video: Children in the Great War May 2021 (August 2022).