Christon N.

NORMAN CHRISTON (1887-1917)

54339 Private Norman Christon, 1/5th Battalion, the West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own) was killed in action 9 October 1917 and is buried in Dochy Farm New British Cemetery, Belgium.[1]  He was 30 years old and is commemorated on Cockfield War Memorial.

Norman’s younger brother Victor aged 24 serving as 22/725 Private Victor Christon 22nd Battalion the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 26 March 1918. [2]

Family Details

Norman was born in 1887 [3] at Cockfield to Robert and Margaret Christon.  There were at least 9 children, all born at Cockfield:

  • Eva bc.1876
  • Harry bc.1878
  • Allan bc. 1879
  • Beatrice bc. 1881
  • Phoebe bc.1883
  • Robert bc.1885
  • Norman born 1887
  • Sarah bc.1892
  • Victor bc. 1894

In 1891, the family lived at Cockfield, in 1901 at Main Street and in 1911 no specific address is given.[4]   Norman’s father Robert worked as a shoemaker then a boot repairer.  Norman worked as a colliery banksman.[5]

Service Details

Norman Christon enlisted at Bishop Auckland, County Durham into the West Yorkshire Regiment and was allocated the regimental number 54339.[6]  He was posted to the 1/5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment which was a Territorial Force formed in August 1914 as part of the West Riding Brigade, West Riding Division.  In April 1915 the Division landed in Boulogne, France and came under the orders of the 146th Brigade, 49th (West Riding) Division.[7]  The 146th Brigade comprised the following units:

  • 1/5th, West Yorkshire Regiment
  • 1/6th, West Yorkshire Regiment
  • 1/7th, West Yorkshire Regiment
  • 1/8th, West Yorkshire Regiment left January 1918
  • 146th MGC January 1916 to March 1918
  • 146th Trench Mortar Battery formed June 1916 [8]

The service details of Private N. Christon have not been researched but he did not enter France until after 31 December 1916.[9]   He was presumed dead 9 October 1917 which coincides with the Third Battle of Ypres, the sixth phase the Battle of Poelcappelle. As part of the 2nd ANZAC Corps of the Second Army, the 49th Division saw action at the Battle of Poelcappelle. [10]

The Third Battle of Ypres: 31 July – 10 November 1917

The offensive had 8 distinctive phases: [11]

  1. Battle of Pilckem, 31 July to 2 August
  2. Battle of Langemarck, 16 to 18 August
  3. Battle of the Menin Road, 20 to 25 September
  4. Battle of Polygon Wood, 26 September to 3rd October
  5. Battle of Broodseinde, 4 October
  6. Battle of Poelcapelle, 9 October
  7. First Battle of Passchendaele, 12 October
  8. Second Battle of Passchendaele, 26 October to 10 November

Many Divisions visited the Ypres Salient during the Third Ypres and on more than one occasion.  A total of 54 Divisions were thrown into battle.  For example, the 11th Division saw action at Langemarck, Polygon Wood, Broodseinds and Poelcapelle but the 49th Division did not see action until the 6th phase, the Battle of Poelcapelle. [12]

The offensive cost the British nearly 310,000 casualties, the Germans slightly less and it consumed all of the available reserves.  On the 6th November, the village of Passchendaele was entered and the whole campaign ended a few days later when more of the ridge was taken.  It achieved none of its objectives although the Germans could no longer look down on the Ypres Salient which had been deepened by about 5 miles and they had been prevented from attacking the French when its army was in disarray following the failure of the Nivelle Offensive.  From the outset, it was obvious to the German Fourth Army that a new attack was being prepared and the previous year they had begun to strengthen their defences.  The British did not force home their initial advantage and it was not until the 11th July that an air offensive began.  On the 18th, a massive artillery bombardment commenced.  The attack itself began on the 31st July when the British Fifth Army attacked north-east from the Ypres salient.  Initially, good progress was made but a strong counter-attack resulted in only a 2 mile advance.  Heavy rain fell on the first night flooding the swampy ground whose drainage system had been totally destroyed by the 10 day bombardment.  As a result the whole operation was held up. [13]

 The Battle of Poelcapelle:  9 October 1917

The 49th Division was not involved in any action until the 9th October.  It formed part of the Second Army and was allied to the 2nd ANZAC Corps along with the 66th Division. [14]

The British front was described as follows: [15]

“..a disjointed line of shell-craters and shallow ditches…thousands of shell-holes, many of which overlapped each other, were at least partly full of water and many the smaller ones were already overflowing.  The canals, the “bekes”, the intricate system of drainage ditches torn by months of shelling were everywhere spreading their waters horizontally throughout the low-lying and level plains, for the molasses-like top-soil could neither absorb it nor allow water to sink through.” [16]

The attack was scheduled for 05.20, 9 October.  General Plumer’s Second Army, the II Anzac Corps, comprising the 49th and 66th Divisions would lead the attack and advance along two parallel spurs towards the flattened village of Passchendaele.  Two brigades from each division were selected for this action. [17]  The offensive was of the established tradition on the Western Front – a massive artillery bombardment in theory would stun and disorganise the enemy front line troops, knock out his machine-guns, cut wire entanglements, neutralise his opposing batteries then the infantry would advance behind a creeping barrage and occupy the ground.  Tanks would not be used – they would not be able to cross the gluey battlefield.  There was no military innovation. [18]  The front was 8 miles in width and it was planned to take the advance 4 miles.  About 31,000 British and 6,000 French troops would participate.  The German Fourth Army lay in wait, 100 yards away in some places such as the flattened village of Poelcapelle held jointly by both sides and fully a mile away elsewhere. [19]

The following account will concentrate only on the action of the 49th Division.  It commenced its march from its assembly areas east of Ypres at about 7pm in order to arrive at the jumping-off positions by midnight.

“Nine thousand drenched troops began their march at dusk in full battle order – water bottle on the right hip, haversack moved rearward, an extra 50 cartridge bandolier over the right shoulder and under the left arm and a Mills bomb in each side pocket.

Grave difficulties were immediately encountered.  The engineers had not been able it improve the infantry’s sorry duckboard tracks beyond marking them with tapes and lamps (it had been deemed more essential to make roads for the heavy guns) and by nightfall conditions were such that the men could barely walk.  The boards were now coated with slime or submerged or shattered every few yards.  The heavy laden troopers (60lb. of clothing, equipment and weapons were carried per man) kept slipping and colliding.  Many toppled into shell-craters and had to be hauled out by comrades extending their rifle butts.  And falling into even a shallow hole was often revolting for the water was foul with decaying equipment, excrement and perhaps something dead or its surface might be covered with old sour mustard gas.  It was not uncommon for a man to vomit when being extricated from something like this…   Throughout that wretched evening the wind slapped the rain against the numbed faces and hands of the wading troops.  By midnight, 5 hours later, only a little more than a mile had been covered.  Everyone could now see that it would be touch-and-go whether the 5.20 attack would be mounted on time.” [20]

The 49th (1st West Riding) Division encountered such problems and just made it on time:

“…the men…could hardly be recognised as civilised creatures.  From head to foot they were daubed with slime.  Their faces were clay-white like those of corpses…like men who had been buried alive and dug up again.” [21]

The Germans shelled the roads with their heavier guns causing hundreds of casualties.  By one way or another, the Allied troops had splashed their way to their assigned positions.  Bayonets fixed awaiting Zero-Hour.  The rain continued.  German eyes surveyed the wasteland and the enemy front from thousands of fortified pill-boxes and observation posts virtually undamaged by the bombardment and protected by 2 belts of dense wire entanglements had not been broken up. [22]

“As the British walked forward, the classic drama of the Western Front was again enacted…the rain perversely stopped and I perfect visibility German machine gunners began to play upon the advancing waves of men, their bullets lashing and spurting from the pill-boxes and from behind parapets…the British …moved from crater to crater but even in the craters they were not safe, for the German gunners streamed bullets against the edges of the holes and wounded many men lying near the rims.”  

The attempted advance of the 49th Division was hampered by one mishap after another, for instance:

  1. The Ravebeke, a little canal shown on the maps to be only 5ft. wide that day spread to 150ft. with water waist deep in the centre and one of the 2 brigades (presumably the 148th) did not cross it. The 146th Brigade crossed further north and advanced several hundred yards to be hit by shrapnel and heavy machine-gun fire from pill-boxes on the higher ground.
  2. Messenger pigeons released to communicate with HQ were so terrified by the din of the German barrage that they refused to leave their bearers.

By 10am, the German 16th Rhineland Division was “master of the field”. [23]   The 49th Division suffered 2,585 casualties and had not advanced at all.  The 66th Division had lost 3,119 men, and gained 500 yards of No Man’s Land but had not even dented the main German positions on top of the ridge.  The 2nd Australians suffered 1,253 casualties and had not advanced their line. [24]

 1/5th Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment: in action

The War Diary records: [25]

“9th and 10th: The Battalion was ordered to attack the PASSCHENDAELE RIDGE in conjunction with attacks by the 1/7th and 1/8th Bns West Yorkshire Regiment on the left and the 148th Infantry brigade on the right.  The frontage allotted to the Battalion was 280 yards, the centre of the Battalion frontage (where the battalion assembled) being a point about 500 yards East-North-Eastof CALGARY GRANGE D.9.a.9.4.  The attack was on a compass bearing of 58⁰ true.

The Battalion was ordered to take two objectives, the limit of the first objective being a line running roughly North-west and South-east about midway between PETER PAN and WOLF COPSE.  The limit of the second objective being a line running roughly Noerth-west and South-east about 100 yards North-east of the road running North-west and South-east in D.4.b.and d…………

The formation adopted by the Battalion for the attack was “A” and “C” Coys in the first wave, (“A” on the left and “C” on the right) to take the first objective: “B” and “D” Coys in the second wave (“B” on the left, “D” on the right) to leapfrog through the first wave and take the second objective.

Companies adopted the formation of lines of sections for the attack.  ………..

Punctually at 5.20am the Battalion advanced from the assembly position behind the barrage.  The ground was extremely wet and cut up and great difficulty was experienced in keeping pace with the barrage especially in the crossing of the STROOMBEEK which was found to be a small stream adjoining a marsh about 200 yards wide…..The enemy barrage opened out within 5 minutes of Zero hour and fell heaviest on the STROOMBEEK and behind our assembly position on the north east end of CALGARY GRANGE.  Few casualties were caused by the enemy barrage but the Battalion after crossing the STROOMBEEK came under machine gun fire and fire from enemy snipers who were able to fire through our barrage from pill-boxes and selected positions in shell holes, most casualties being caused by machine guns from BELLEVUE and YETTA SLOPES….

The first objective was completely taken by 6.40am and “B” and “D” Coys went forward to the second objective…….The enemy appeared to have held most strongly the slopes round PETER PAN and had machine guns at BELLEVUE…………………….No prisoners were taken by the Battalion.  The enemy was identified as belonging to the 5th JAGER REGIMENT….

The attack appears to have been held up by the machine guns firing from the pill-boxes at BELLEVUE.  Attempts were made to rush these pill-boxes without success………….

Information could not be got back from companies as we were close up to the enemy snipers and their observation from the higher ground made it almost impossible for the runners to get back……….

Aline of detached forts running from the South edge of WOLF FARM to the Eastern edge of WOLF COPSE and along the south-east side of WOLF COPSE with a detached post about 150 yards South-east of the Southern corner of WOLF COPSE; a Support Line was established along the line of the limit of the first objective – about 200 yaards behind the line of forward posts.

These positions were held until the night of the 10th October when the Battalion was relieved although several small Infantry and Bombing attacks were made on many of the advanced posts.

The Battalion suffered the following casualties:

Killed: 4 Officers and 48 other ranks

Wounded: 8 officers and 182 other ranks

Wounded & Missing: 2 officers and 12 other ranks

Missing:  44 other ranks      

11th: WIELTE

The Batt. arrived in small parties between the hours of 3 am to 11 am after being relieved to the old German reserve line east of WIELTE.”      

Later research confirms that between 9 and 12 October 1917, the 1/5 WYR lost 7 officers and 107 other ranks, killed in action or died of wounds including 7 officers and 99 other ranks, 9 October 1917, one of whom was Private N. Christon. [26]

Private N. Christon was awarded the British War and Victory medals.[27]

The Australian War Memorial, Australian Military Units reports as follows:

“Like earlier battles in the Ypres offensive, the aim of the Poelcappelle attack was to secure a series of objectives in turn, protected by a heavy artillery barrage, the troops involved would be drawn from the 49th and 66th British and 2nd Australian Divisions.  Rain however had begun to deluge an already poorly drained battlefield and adequate numbers of guns were unable to be brought within range.  The infantry’s advance also wallowed in the mud.  The Australians were able to secure some of their objectives for a short time but with little artillery support and both flanks open, they were forced to withdraw.  The 2nd Australian Division sustained 1,250 casualties in the battle.” [28]

General Haig’s Diary contains the following entry:

“Tuesday 9 October, A general attack was launched at 5.30 am today from a point SE of Broodseinde on the right to St. Janshoek on the left (1 mile NE of Bixschoote).  The results were very successful.”  [29]

The London Times reported on the joint British-French offensive as follows:

“SIDE BY SIDE SUCCESS

Conditions of extraordinary difficulty and discouragement…seem to have made no difference.  The blow has been struck as surely and with results as decisive, as any of the former blows…The story is the same story I had to tell so many times, the story of an attack pushed with perfect determination and gallantry to final and complete success.  The Germans on the whole fought badly.”  [30]

Other serviceman with connections to the Gaunless Valley area who were killed in this battle:

  • Rifleman M.T. Raine 1/7 WYR, from High Lands, is commemorated on the Tyne Cot Memorial and the Evenwood War Memorial
  • Rifleman H. Hall 1/7 WYR, from Cockfield, buried at Tyne Cot Cemetery and commemorated on the Cockfield War Memorial.
  • Corporal George Parmley, 1/4th battalion, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry, from Ramshaw, died of wounds 16 October 1917 and is buried in Wimereux Communal Cemetery, France and commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial.

Burial

Private N. Christon is buried at grave reference V.C.15, Dochy Farm New British Cemetery, Belgium.  The cemetery was made after the Armistice when small cemeteries and isolated burials on the battlefield were concentrated here.  There are 1439 burials and 958 identified.  [31]

Commemorations

The Memorial Column to the 49th (West Riding) Division: Behind Essex Farm CWGC cemetery on the western bank of the Yser Canal, just to the north of Ypres (Ieper) is the Memorial Column to the 49th (West Riding) Division inaugurated in 1924.

References:

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[3] England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p228 Teesdale Q4 1887

[4] 1891, 1901 & 1911 census

[5] 1911 census

[6] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[7] http://www.1914-1918.net/westyorks.htm

[8] http://www.1914-1918.net/49div.htm

[9] Medal Roll card index

[10] http://www.warpath.orbat.com/battles_ff/1917.htm

[11] http:/lightinfantry.org.uk/regiments/koyli/kingyork_ww1.htm

[12] http://www.1914-1918.net/11div.htm

[13] Web.westernfrontasociation.com/thegreatwar/articles/timeline/ypres3.htm

[14] http://www.warpath.orbat.com/battles_ff/1917/htm

[15] “In Flanders Fields” Leon Wolff 1959

[16] Wollf p.195

[17] Wolff p.196

[18] Wolff p.197

[19] Wolff p.198

[20] Wolff p.199

[21] Wolff p.200

[22] Wolff p.202

[23] Wolff p.206

[24] Wolff p.207

[25] 1/5th Battalion The Prince of Wales’s Own (West Yorkshire Regiment) War Diary

[26] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[27] Medal Roll card index

[28] http://www.ypressalient.co.uk/3rd%20Ypres%20of%20Battle.htm

[29] Wolff p.210

[30] Wolff p.211

[31] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Photographs:

39th Division Memorial

39th Division Memorial

CHRISTON N.  Headstone

CHRISTON N.
Headstone

 

2 thoughts on “Christon N.

  1. Pingback: COCKFIELD | The Fallen Servicemen of Southwest County Durham

  2. Pingback: Cockfield Schools: Some Details | The Fallen Servicemen of Southwest County Durham

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