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In March 1917, after two years employment as a junior clerk at Yarmouth’s Ralph Watlings Maltings, eighteen-year old Bert (as he was known) enlisted and was drafted to France, where he saw his first action during the Battle of Arras, spending most of his service in trenches at Monchy-le-Preux, a village that suffered some of the bloodiest action during Haig’s spring offensive of April 1917, when British and German soldiers fought hand-to-hand for possession.
Despite early gains, the battle proved a costly and unnecessarily prolonged diversion from French intentions on the Aisne Sector. In early October 1917, Bert was transferred to Poelcapelle, as part of the renewed Allied offensive in what was to become known as the Third Ypres Campaign. The battalion attacked and made some progress on the 9th October, but the offensive was soon to become bogged down in the porridge of mud called Passchendaele.
Fortunately, Bert was spared the worst of the Third Ypres Campaign, his battalion being moved south on the 19th October and to the trenches it knew so well at Monchy-le-Preux, in which area it remained for the rest of the year and through to the 12th April 1918, when it left for the Arras Sector.
Just over a fortnight before the signing of the November Armistice, the 2nd Lancs Fusiliers were involved in their final action of the war, one that rewarded Bert. At 9 a.m. on the 26th October, 1918, orders were received that a special platoon under an officer was to establish a bridgehead over La Rhonelle stream to the north-east of Artres. The task was entrusted to 2nd Lieutenant W.D.Henshall. Around noon, Henshall was wounded after getting his men across the stream and taking fifty-seven prisoners; but Bert took command of the platoon and, when held up by a trench mortar, took two men forward and captured it with its crew of six. For his part in this action, he was awarded the DCM. He was nineteen-years old, but had lost two brothers in the Somme campaigns.
From Ian Gotts of Kings Lynn:
" I remember my grandfather very well. In contrast to my grandmother, quite a vivacious woman, he was a silent, almost dour man. Whenever I tried to ask him about the war, like many others he simply clammed up."