Saturday, November 9, 2013

George Henry Slater (3/2 West Lancashire Field Ambulance Unit - Feb 1915 to Aug 1918)

George Henry Slater (1893-1962) - My Grandfather

Private George Henry Slater

Volunteered and enlisted on 1st February 1915 (age 22) in the 3/2 West Lancs Field Ambulance, Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC).
  • The West Lancashire Territorial Division had 3 Field Ambulance units. Two were based in Liverpool (1st at Tramway Road; 2nd at Harper Street); the third (3rd) was at St Helens. On mobilisation all were brought up to strength very quickly and were duplicated, or even, as in the case of the 2nd triplicated. The 1/2 went to Kent to form part of the anti-invasion forces, the 2/2 were sent to France as the 63rd Field Ambulance with 21st Division. The 3/2 formed and went to Blackpool (William Gannicliffe papers – Wellcome Library).
He was based initially at/in Blackpool where he met and married (12 Sep 1916 at ‘Church of the Sacred Heart') my grandmother before leaving for France.
The Door Keepers Wye Kent


In June 1916 he was on Ward 26 at Military Hospital Number 2, Herne Bay, Kent. (Postcard sent by grandmother to Cpl G Slater, 3/2 W.L.F.A. R.A.M.C, Ward 26, Military Hospital No2, Herne Bay, Kent). Apparently he broke his arm by tripping over a tent guy rope whilst running to get on parade. A postcard sent to my grandmother, dated 21 Ju* ** shows a picture of him with his arm in a sling (http://www.flickr.com/photos/tim_slater_14-18/10446299395/in/set-72157633473569593).


    • In July 1916 57th Division moved to the Aldershot to begin its pre-deployment training prior to going to France. (http://www.1914-1918.net/57div.htm)
    • In July 1916 the 3/2 Field Ambulance unit travelled by rail to Fleet in Hampshire and from there marched to Twezeldown Camp. There were 3 T.A. and 5 Kitchener’s Army Companies. The T.A. elements were complete Field Ambulance units (2 Wessex, 1 West Lancs) and were all part of 57th Division. 3/2 West Lancs Field Ambulance unit was part of 170th Bde, each of the 2 Wessex Field Ambulance units were attached to 171st and 172nd Bdes respectively. (William Gannicliffe papers – Wellcome Library)
    The Lines Tweseldown 1916

    In August 1916 he was at or near Aldershot. He sent postcards postmarked 18 & 19 August ‘Aldershot’ to his future wife in Blackpool.

    Armentieres Dressing Station 1917
    An often repeated anecdote from my father mentions the time when my grandfather was in an improvised dressing station in the cellar of a wrecked house behind a section of the line held by the Portuguese. Outside there was ‘a hell of a racket’, apparently a German attack had driven the Portuguese back leaving the dressing station in German territory. The first any of the dressing station occupants new about it was when a ‘Tommy’ armed with a rifle, bayonet fitted entered the cellar as part of a clearing operation following a British counter attack.
    • The Corpo Expedicionário Português (CEP) - Portuguese Expeditionary Corps was placed under the operational command of the British First Army in the Artois/Flanders front. The first Portuguese unit arrived at the front line 11 May 1917, deployment was complete by 5 Nov 1917. On 17 June 1917 the CEP saw its first action of the war, against the Germans in Flanders, Belgium (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portuguese_Expeditionary_Corps#Deployment_of_the_CEP).

    He appears to have had two service numbers. An identity disk (dog tag) retained by my father is labelled ‘Slater G H, Cpl, RAMC, 339410 (his Territorial Number). However on his discharge paperwork his service number is stated as 666594.

    • Renumbering of the Territorial Force RAMC in 1917. The link indicates that RAMC territorial’s with service (territorial) numbers between 339001 and 341000 (following renumbering) were part of 2 West Lancs Field Ambulance Unit (http://www.1914-1918.net/TF_renumbering_ramc.htm).

    His history of service record sheet (issued on discharge) states the following:

    • Enlisted Feb 1915
    • Feb 1915 to Aug 1918 2nd West Lanc’s fa.
    • Aug 1918 to Mar 1919 553rd Agricultural Company, Labour Corps
    • Transferred to Army Reserve 7 Apr 1919
    He was evacuated from the Western Front following the effects of Mustard Gas which he came into contact with on the clothes of the casualties he was handling, probably during the units rotation into the Ypres area in July 1917. His injuries were such that later in life he had difficulties walking (A statement made by my father who said that his father commented on his mother’s regular complaining about his reluctance to walk very far!).
    Hospital Hut-No2 Convelescent Depot
    He appears to have spent Christmas 1917 at the No 2 Convalescence Depot in Rouen. (Post Card left).

    Some if not all of his Labour Corps service was spent in Ireland.

    Monday, April 1, 2013

    The Australian Army Website

    The Australian Army website has 2 sections that contain Great War reference material:
    This is another of those sites that is worth bookmarking as new material is regularly added.

    Saturday, February 2, 2013

    The Linge 1915 - Part 2



    The French Attack 20th July 1915

    At 14.00hrs on 20th July 1915, following a heavy artillery barrage, the French 129th Infantry Division attacked the Linge. The attack was led by the 3rd Brigade commanded by Colonel Brissaud while 5th Brigade commanded by General Trouchaud was kept in reserve. The 151st Infantry Division commanded by Colonel de Susbielle held the quite section of the front from the Hautes-Huttes to the Bonhomme Pass in the north.

    Colonel Brissaud with 5 Battalions of Alpine troops at his disposal launched the 22nd B.C.A. at the Barrenkopf, the 30th and 70th B.C.A. against La Courtine and the Schratz quarries, and the 14th and 54th B.C.A. against the peaks and forest of the Linge and the Schratz north of the quarries. On the right wing the 22nd B.C.A. came under heavy flank fire from the positions overlooking the Schratz quarries and from the Barrenkopf stronghold to their front. The survivors of the first wave fell back on their starting lines after suffering heavy casualties. The Battalion Commander Richard was killed in his command post blown up by a 210mm artillery shell. Six officers and 186 men were killed, more than 400 were wounded; one third of the troops involved in the attack were out of action. The survivors brought back a placard, pulled from the German barbed wire, which bore the ironical words: ‘The Linge will be the Chasseurs’ Grave’. This was about to become true.

    On the left wing, the 54th B.C.A. penetrated into the West bulge of the Linge then pushed right and climbed along the ridge line to the summit of the Schratz. Within the woods they came under heavy fire from German machine guns installed in strongpoints that had not been touched by the French artillery and were forced to withdraw back to their initial objective. The 14th B.C.A., harassed by barrage fire, managed to cross the border of the Linge wood, there they were stopped by machine gun fire and were unable to reach the summit. The forward elements did for a time reach and hold the Collet. Having come across two successive networks of barbed wire flanked by machine gun nests the Battalion had lost half of its men.

    In the centre, the 30th and 70th B.C.A., which had been kept in reserve for the second phase of the attack, sent two Companies to help the 14th B.C.A. Two other Companies, sent to support the 54th B.C.A., were pinned down in the woods by an entanglement of barbed wire and enfilading fire from machine gun nests hidden in concrete casements. Due to depleted resources the central attack was cancelled.

    On the same day, as a diversion to relieve the pressure on the Linge, the 47th Infantry Division attacked the Reichackerkopf while the 2nd Brigade attacked the Eichwald. In these attacks the capture of a few metres of trench cost the French more than 1,000 casualties (72 Officers and 986 men). Later on the 20th and over the next 3 days the Germans, under cover of heavy artillery fire carried out a series of counter-attacks that all but wiped out the recent French gains. With the authority of General Dubail, General de Maud’huy called off the Reichackerkopf attack in order to focus the main French attack on the Linge. With 47th Infantry Division committed to the defence the un-mauled units of the Division were put at the disposal of the 129th Infantry Division on the Linge.

    The stiff resistance put up by the German units on the Reichackerkopf and the Linge-Barrenkopf positions, sheltered in well prepared forest positions, hollowed out of the rock, concreted and camouflaged, hidden from the French artillery, had effectively broken up General Nollet’s wide-scale Army operation and was about to turn it into a series of incoherent local actions devoid of any tactical focus. Mainly due to a lack of resources the 12 km wide offensive planned by the French G.H.Q. was to dwindle down to an attack over a 2 km front. The French 129th Infantry Division was about to impale itself on 3 local narrow objectives; the Linge and its Collet, the Schratz and its quarries, and the hillside of the Barrenkopf.

    Next - The continuation of the French assault

    Sources: