Featherstone W.

WALLACE FEATHERSTONE (1882 – 1917)

18/65 Private Wallace Featherstone, 18th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 1 March 1917 and is buried at Gommecourt British Cemetery No. 2, Hebuterne, France.[1]  He was about 34 years old and commemorated on the Etherley War Memorial, the Roll of Honour in St. Cuthbert’s Church, Etherley and the Evenwood W.M.C. Memorial Plaque.

Wallace’s older brother 14017 Private Jonathan Ralph Featherstone, 10th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry died of pneumonia 28 February 1917 and is buried in Etaples Military Cemetery, France.

Family Details:

 Wallace Featherstone was born 1882 [2] the son of Wallace and Margaret Featherstone.  There were at least 8 children:

  • Jonathan bc.1881 at Morley
  • Wallace born.1882 at Morley
  • Jonah bc.1885 at Morley
  • Herbert bc.1887 at Morley
  • Grieveson bc.1891 at Morley
  • Florence bc.1893 at Morley
  • Bryan bc.1898 at Evenwood
  • Albert bc.1900 at Lands

In 1901, the family lived at Lands Bank.  41 year old Wallace and 20 year old Jonathan worked as coal miners.[3]

 By 1911, the family lived at Rowntree, Morley.  Wallace and Margaret had been married for 30 years and he worked as a farmer/coal miner (a hewer).  His sons, Wallace, Jonah, Herbert and Grieveson were all coal miners (hewers).  Florence aged 18 had no occupation recorded so probably helped her mother at home.  Bryan aged 12 and Albert aged 11 would still be at school.  The oldest brother Jonathan is not mentioned in the 1911 family details so is assumed to live elsewhere.[4]

Wallace’s father died 19 May 1916, his sister Florence 29 May 1916 and his brother Albert died 21 June 1918.  Wallace’s mother, Margaret died 23 May 1920.  At this time the family lived at Cox House Farm, Windmill near Morley.[5]

Wallace’s older brother, Jonathan enlisted as Ralph Featherstone and died of pneumonia 28 February 1917, in a military hospital in Etaples, France.[6]

Wallace’s younger brother Grieveson served with the ASC Remounts before joining the 5th Buffs.  He survived the war.[7]

Military Details:

 Wallace Featherstone enlisted at Darlington and joined the 18th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry being given the regimental number 18/65.  The 18th (Service) Battalion of the DLI was formed 10 September 1914 as part of K1, Kitchener’s New Army.[8]  The Battalion came under the orders of the 93rd Brigade, 31st Division. Others in the 93rd Brigade were:

  • 15th (Service) Battalion (1st Leeds) West Yorkshires (joined June 1915)
  • 16th (Service) Battalion (1st Bradford) West Yorkshires (joined June 1915)
  • 18th (Service) Battalion (2nd Bradford) West Yorkshires (joined June 1915)
  • 93rd Brigade Machine Gun Company (joined May 1916)
  • 93rd Trench Mortar Battery (joined 12 April 1916)

The battalion was stationed at Hartlepool from 16 October 1914 and was the first DLI battalion to come under fire when Hartlepool was bombarded by a German squadron of warships, Derfflinger, Von Der Tann and Blucher.  The battalion lost 5 men killed and 11 wounded.[9]

The battalion was the only DLI battalion to see service in the Middle East.

6 December 1914:  embarked upon SS Empress of Britain heading for Port Said, Egypt via Gibraltar, Malta and Alexandria arriving 21 December.  18/65 Private Wallace Featherstone entered Egypt 22 December 1915.[10]

5 March 1915:  18/DLI embarked upon SS Ivernia headed for Marseilles, France.[11]

30 March 1916:  18/DLI was in the trenches north-west of Beaumont Hamel in the region of the Somme, north-west France.

The Battle of the Somme 1 July – 18 November 1916: an overview [12]

 The Battle of the Somme was viewed as a breakthrough battle, as a means of getting through the formidable German trench lines and into a war of movement and decision.  Political considerations and the demands of the French High Command influenced the timing of the battle.  They demanded British diversionary action to occupy the German Army to relieve the hard pressed French troops at Verdun, to the south.

General Sir Douglas Haig, appointed Commander-in-Chief in December 1915, was responsible for the overall conduct of British Army operations in France and Belgium.  This action was to be the British Army’s first major offensive on the Western Front in 1916 and it was entrusted to General Rawlinson’s Fourth Army to deliver the resounding victory.  The British Army included thousands of citizen volunteers, keen to take part in what was expected to be a great victory.

The main line of assault ran nearly 14 miles from Maricourt in the south to Serre to the north, with a diversionary attack at Gommecourt 2 miles further to the north.  The first objective was to establish a new advanced line on the Montauban to Pozieres Ridge.

The first day, 1 July was preceded by a week long artillery bombardment of the German positions.  Just prior to zero-hour, the storm of British shells increased and merged with huge mine explosions to herald the infantry attack.  At 7.30am on a clear midsummer’s morning the British Infantry emerged from their trenches and advanced in extended lines at a slow steady pace over the grassy expanse of a No Man’s Land.  They were met with a hail of machine gun fire and rifle fire from the surviving German defenders.  Accurate German artillery barrages smashed into the infantry in No Man’s Land and the crowded assembly trenches – the British suffered enormous casualties:

  • Officers killed 993
  • Other Ranks killed: 18,247
  • Total Killed: 19,240
  • Total casualties (killed, wounded and missing): 57,470

In popular imagination, the Battle of the Somme has become a byword for military disaster.  In the calamitous opening 24 hours the British Army suffered its highest number of casualties in a single day.  The loss of great numbers of men from the same towns and villages had a profound impact on those at home. The first day was an abject failure and the following weeks and months of conflict assumed the nature of wearing-down warfare, a war of attrition, by the end of which both the attackers and defenders were totally exhausted.

The Battle of the Somme can be broken down into 12 offensive operations:

  • Albert: 1 – 13 July
  • Bazantin Ridge: 14 – 17 July
  • Delville Wood: 15 July – 13 September
  • Pozieres Ridge: 15 July – 3 September
  • Guillemont: 23 July – 3 September
  • Ginchy: 9 September
  • Flers-Courcelette: 15 – 22 September
  • Morval: 25 – 28 September
  • Thiepval: 25 – 28 September
  • Le Transloy: 1 – 18 October
  • Ancre Heights: 1 October – 11 November
  • Ancre: 13 – 18 November

Adverse weather conditions i.e. the autumn rains and early winter sleet and snow turned the battlefield into morass of mud.  Such intolerable physical conditions helped to bring to an end Allied offensive operations after four and a half months of slaughter.  The fighting brought no significant breakthrough.  Territorial gain was a strip of land approximately 20 miles wide by 6 miles deep, at enormous cost. British and Commonwealth forces were calculated to have 419,654 casualties (dead, wounded and missing) of which some 131,000 were dead.  French casualties amounted to 204,253.  German casualties were estimated between 450,000 to 600,000. In the spring of 1917, the German forces fell back to their newly prepared defences, the Hindenburg Line, and there were no further significant engagements in the Somme sector until the Germans mounted their major offensive in March 1918.

1 July 1916:  18/DLI in action [13]

The 31st Division took part in the Battle of Albert in the assault on Serre which was the first phase of the Battle of the Somme.  The Division suffered very high casualties and accordingly was withdrawn for several months to return for the tenth phase, the Battle of the Ancre in mid November.

1 July:  18/DLI “D” Company formed part of the assault troops.  The other 3 battalions were in reserve, in Maitland Trench.

“At twenty minutes past seven was heard the explosion of the great mine at Beaumont Hamel and the British rate of fire increased.  But now the German artillery opened in earnest upon our trenches, dealing death and chaos among the infantry already climbing out to form for the assault.  In the ten minutes which followed the fate of the day was decided.  Though every effort was made to advance, few men lived to pass beyond the hostile curtain of fire which barred the way across No Man’s Land.  There were some who struggled on and reached the German parapet, now alive with machine-gunners and riflemen; we know too, that a gallant handful of D company reached Pendant Copse, a mile inside the German front.” [14]

At 9.30 the 3 companies of the 18th were ordered forward to Monk Trench – into German shell fire then they were distributed into Flag, Maitland and Monk Trenches.  Wounded and the dead were removed under shell fire.  The front line no longer existed as a fighting trench, communication trenches were nearly obliterated.  All afternoon and evening, the work of reorganisation continued under constant Germen shell fire.  It was known that some infantrymen had entered Serre but all thoughts of a fresh advance were abandoned.  The 18th took over the front line on alert for any counter attack.  Firing died down during the evening and the night was quiet.[15]

2 July:  the Battalion was ordered to hold the front line with one company during the day and double the strength at night.  The remainder of the battalion occupied South Monk Trench.  British gunners fired upon the enemy to mask an advance further south and this brought about retaliation on “C” Company who lost 2 officers and 10 men.  At 8pm North Monk Trench was “drenched” with tear shells. “C” Company set out to rescue the wounded.  40 were brought in.  The dead were buried.

3 July:  In the early hours, a bombardment of high explosive and tear shells rained on the British trenches.

“The 18th, at full fighting strength when the battle began, now numbered, with reinforcements only 14 officers and 357 men…Twelve officers were killed or wounded and 58% of the rank and file, but this sacrifice was adjudged to have served its purpose.” [16]

 4 July:  During the night, the remains of the battalion were relieved by the Worcesters

5 July:  5am behind the lines at Louvencourt. The battalion then went to La Fosse for training then back in the line.

27 July:  Neuve Chapelle: fierce German bombardment and the enemy entered D Company’s lines but were repelled.  Losses of the 18th amounted to 79 from shell fire.

4 August: withdrew to La Fosse.

The next “tour” was near Festhubert but this was generally a quiet sector then to Neuve Chapelle.

21 August:  Givenchy: many men worked with the tunnellers.

5 October:  Bethune, la Perriere

9 October:  Orville for training.

21 October:  Sailly-au-Bois: took over support positions carrying out wiring and digging under heavy fire, then to Hebuterne and under heavy bombardment.

End of October – Rossignol Farm – billets, working parties and training for raids.  At this time no place on the front was worse than the Hebuterne sector – all roads through the village and the trenches were kept under almost ceaseless fire.

“The weather could not have been worse and the troops lived and worked under the most miserable conditions imaginable.  Small wonder that the 18th in common with other units evacuated many sick men.” [17]

The Battle of the Somme may have been abandoned but trench warfare continued unabated.

Trench Warfare

16 December: carried out a raid and returned with a few men slightly wounded.

18 December:  Famechon: rest over Christmas.

“The 18th had another tour in the line – where they found the trenches worse than ever – before going back for a rest and training, first at Frohen-le-Petit and Outrebois, west of Doullens and then at Thieves and Marieux.  On January 22nd the Durhams moved to Heuzecourt, where training and recreation continued in bright frosty weather.  It was nearly a month later when they came back into support positions in the Hebuterne sector.  The enemy was known to be retiring and when the 18th occupied front trenches on February 25th fires were seen behind the lines.” [18]

26 February:  18/DLI took over from the 7/Loyal North Lancs.of the 19th Division.  The German artillery pounded the British lines and No Man’ Land.  A reconnoitre by 2 platoons took place and it was discovered that the enemy lines were deserted.

27 February:  The area was occupied then handed over to the 4/Leicesters.  By 7.30 the whole Moltke Graben was occupied from Crucifix Corner to Gommecourt Cemetery.

“The battalion now commenced attacking the FIRST GRADE STELLUNG, B Company sent a platoon up the ROM GRABEN on the left but a strong German bombing party assisted by 2 machine guns strenuously resisted all attempts by the Durhams to force their way into the main positions.  Two enemy communication trenches on the right were practically obliterated and 2 platoons that tried to use them got lost in the darkness.  The battalion kept trying all night and most of 1st March to enter the enemy position but that afternoon a patrol from D Company reported that FIRST GARDE STELLUNG was strongly held by many Germans armed with several machine guns.  It wasn’t until 0200 hours on the 3rd March when 18/West Yorks got into ROSSIGNOL WOOD that the Durhams were able to make progress.” [19]

4 March:  The action continued into the morning 4 March.  The battalion was relieved by the 12/York & Lancaster Regiment then made their way to Rossignol Farm for a well earned rest.  It is believed that Private Wallace Featherstone died 1 March 1917.

Losses for the battalion were reported as:

“Casualties amounted to 15 killed, 28 wounded and 3 missing.  The battalion received the congratulations of the First Army commander and the Distinguished Service Order was conferred upon 2nd Lieut. H.E. Hitchen M.M., 2nd Lieut. J.B. Bradford received the Military Cross and the Military Medal was awarded to Lance-Corpls T. Rigg, H.W. Lawler, Laskey, Hutchinson and Fraser and to Pte. Vocknock.” [20]

It seems reasonable to assume that Private Wallace Featherstone lost his life during the action of 1 to 3 March 1917.

Later research records the following casualties: [21]

  • 1 March 1917 – 7 other ranks killed in action including Private Wallace Featherstone
  • 2 March 1917 – 1 other rank died of wounds
  • 3 March 1917 – 5 other ranks killed in action, 1 died of wounds

 Burial

Private W. Featherstone is buried at grave reference III.L.9 Gommecourt British Cemetery No. 2, Hebuterne, France.  The cemetery was originally laid out in 1917 but after the Armistice burials from the battlefield and smaller cemeteries were concentrated here.  The cemetery contains 1,357 First World War burials and commemorations of which 675 are identified casualties and 682 are unidentified.[22]

Private W. Featherstone’s body was exhumed and re-buried.  The Graves Registration Report and Burial Return both record the date of death as 2 March 1917.  Private E.J. Eales, 18/DLI has the same date of death and was probably re-interred at the same time.  He is buried at III.L.10 next to Private W. Featherstone. [23]

Commemoration

Private W. Featherstone and his brother Private J.R. Featherstone are both commemorated on the family headstone in Etherley cemetery.

References:

[1] CWGC details give 1 February 1916 as the date of death for Private Wallace Featherstone.    Soldiers Died in the Great War and “Durham Pals – 18th, 19th & 22nd Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry in the Great War” by John Sheen record it as 1 March 1917.  The account of the battalion movements and action would suggest that the later date is correct.  Army Form W.3372 records date of death as 2 March 1917 (2.3.17)

[2] England & Wales 1837-1915 Birth Index Vol.10a p.247 Auckland 1882 Q3

[3] 1901 census

[4] 1911 census

[5] Headstone in St. Cuthbert’s Churchyard, Etherley

[6] CWGC

[7] Ancestry details

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

[9] www.1914-1918.net/31div.htm & “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-1918: The Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry”  Capt. W. Miles 1920 p.11

[10] Medal Roll card index

[11] Miles p.39-41

[12] “The Somme” P. Hart various pages

[13] Miles various pages

[14] Miles p.50

[15] Miles p.51

[16] Miles p.52

[17] Miles p.118

[18] Miles p.119

[19] Miles p.153 & 154

[20] Miles p.121

[21] Soldiers Died in the Great War

[22] CWGC

[23] CWGC Army Form W.3372 & Burial Return

Photographs:

FEATHERSTONE W.  Photo

FEATHERSTONE W.
Photo

FEATHERSTONE W. Headstone

FEATHERSTONE W. Headstone

Featherstone Family Headstone Etherley cemetery

Featherstone Family
Headstone
Etherley cemetery

One thought on “Featherstone W.

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

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