KEMP Percy Vickerman 1892 – 1918

PERCY V. KEMP 1892 – 1918

Captain Percy Vickerman Kemp, 4th attached to the 11th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry died of wounds 31 May 1918, aged 25.  He is buried at Etaples Military Cemetery, France[1] and commemorated on the Witton Park War Memorials. 

Family Details

Percy Vickerman Kemp was born 16 July 1892 at Sunderland,[2] the son of James Vickerman and Mary Royston Kemp and the younger brother of Ethel and Constance.

In 1901, 50 years old James Kemp was the vicar at Witton Park (Church of England) and recorded as a, “clergyman”.  He lived at the vicarage together with his wife Mary and children 21 years old Ethel and 8 years old Percy.[3]

1 September 1902: Percy Kemp was admitted to Homerton Pow School.[4]  Presumably, this was a public school and Percy was a “boarder”.

In 1911, James was still a clergyman, living at the vicarage, together with his wife Mary and 3 children, 31 years old Ethel, 22 years old Constance and 18 years old Percy.  Both Constance and Percy were recorded as, “classical students”.[5]  Percy attended public school at St. John’s School, Leatherhead and was a graduate of St. John’s College, Cambridge.[6]

Percy’s mother was later to live at Cayton, near Scarborough, Yorkshire. [7]

Military Details [8]

In 1915, aged about 22, Percy V. Kemp was a young schoolmaster [9] when he joined the 19th (Service) Battalion (2nd Public Schools), The Royal Fusiliers and was given the service number 5860.[10]  The battalion was formed at Epsom 11 September 1914 by the Public Schools and University Men’s Force. It came under the command of 98th Brigade, 33rd Division and landed in France in November 1915. 

14 November 1915: Private P.V. Kemp entered France [11] with his battalion and the 33rd Division.  It concentrated in the Morbecque area.  The 98th Brigade consisted of:[12]

  • 18th Bn., The Royal Fusiliers (1st Public Schools) to 19th Brigade 27 November 1915
  • 19th Bn., The Royal Fusiliers (2nd Public Schools) left 28 February 1916
  • 20th Bn., The Royal Fusiliers (3rd Public Schools) to 19th Brigade 27 November 1915
  • 21st Bn., The Royal Fusiliers (4th Public Schools) left 28 February 1916
  • 1st Bn., The Middlesex Regiment from 19 Brigade 27 November 1915
  • 2nd Bn., The Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders from 19 Brigade 27 November 1915
  • 4th Bn., The King’s (Liverpool Regiment) joined 27 February 1916
  • 1/7th Bn., The Suffolk Regiment joined 28 February 1915 left February 1918
  • 98th Machine Gun Company joined 28 April 1916 moved to 33rd Bn., MGC February 1918
  • 98th Trench Mortar Battery formed 30 June 1916

27 February 1916: The Brigade was transferred to GHQ then disbanded 24 April with many of the men including Percy Kemp, being commissioned as officers.[13]

5 August 1916: He was awarded a commission into the 3rd Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry. [14] He was attached to the 11th (Service) Battalion (Pioneers), The Durham Light Infantry.  He joined 11/DLI “in the field” 20 September 1916.[15]  The 11/DLI was a New Army battalion which came under the orders of the 60th Brigade, 20th (Light) Division and had been in France since May 1915 [16] and saw action as follows:[17]


The Battle of the Somme:
15 July – 3 September: The Battle of Delville Wood
3 – 6 September: The Battle of Guillemont
15 – 22 September: The Battle of Flers-Courcelette
25 – 28 September: The Battle of Morval
1 – 18 October: The Battle of Le Transloy

20 September: The battalion war diary confirms that Second Lieutenants P. Kemp, J. Liddell, R. Bushell, W. Inglis and J. Fillingham arrived on the day that 2 Other ranks were killed and 13 were wounded.[18]  11/DLI lost 59 Other Ranks, killed in action or died of wounds during the period 15 July to 20 October 1916.[19]

4 January: Second Lieutenant P. Kemp was sent home on leave supervising 19 men.[20]

15 March – 5 April: The German retreat to the Hindenburg Line.  11/DLI suffered no casualties.

The Third Battle of Ypres, commonly known as Passchendaele
16 – 18 August: The Battle of Langemarck
20 – 25 September: The Battle of the Menin Road Ridge
26 September – 3 October: The Battle of Polygon Wood

11/DLI lost 21 Other Ranks, killed in action or died of wounds during the period 16 August to 5 October 1917.

20 November to 30 December 1917: The Battle of Cambrai. 

The Cambrai operation was originally conceived as a very large raid that employed new artillery techniques and massed tank.  Initially very successful with large gains of ground being made, but German reserves brought the advance to a halt.  Ten days later, a counter attack regained much of the ground.[21]  11/DLI, as a Pioneer Battalion, was heavily engaged in the construction of camouflaged camps to assemble troops just before the attack.  They worked in the vicinity of Villers-Plouich developing shelters, communication trenches, filling in craters and preparing roads.[22] 

20 November: 20th Division went into the attack meanwhile 11/DLI, A and D companies, followed to prepare roads and tracks for the cavalry and tanks.  C and D companies dug new communications trenches over No-man’s Land from the British front line to the enemy front line.  The next day, all Pioneer [23]companies were transferred onto road duties.

27 November:  The Pioneers were instructed to prepare a strong defensive line.

30 November: The Germans launched a fierce counter attack and elements of 11/DLI were caught while working and immediately converted into regular infantry in an attempt to halt the attack.  It is presumed that during this action Lieutenant P.V. Kemp was Mentioned in Despatches.[24]

From 6 October to the end of the year 11/DLI lost 3 Officers and 25 Other Ranks.  The heaviest toll was 30 November during the above action when 1 Officer and 13 Other Ranks were killed or died of wounds and another 3 men dying of wounds shortly after.[25]

The German Offensive, Spring 1918: an overview [26]

3 March, Soviet Russia made peace with Germany and her allies by virtue of the Treaty of Brest-Litovsk.  As a result, Germany could now transfer troops from the Eastern Front to the Western Front.  More importantly, these Divisions included the original elite of the German Army – the Guards, Jagers, Prussians, Swabians and the best of the Bavarians. In all, 192 Divisions could be deployed in the West.  The Allies could field 178 Divisions.  A single division numbered about 19,000 men.  Ludendorff could call upon about 3,650,000 men as opposed to the Allies 3,380,000.  Thus, the Germans now held superiority in numbers.   The German High Command needed victory to be gained before the American Forces arrived in Europe in huge numbers.  America entered the war 6 April 1917 and in the July, Pershing General of the Armies of the United States asked for an army of 3 million men.  The first of her troops arrived in France 26 June 1917.  The training and build-up of troops obviously took time but eventually by June 1918, the Americans were receiving about 250,000 men a month in France.  This amounted to 25 divisions in or behind the battle zone and another 55 in the United States ready to join the action.  Elsewhere in the Alliance, the French were able to draw on a new annual class of conscripts after a year of inactivity but the British were worn down by continuous fighting during the summer of 1917 with major offensives at Arras, Messines, Passchendaele and Cambrai.  The strength of the British infantry had fallen from 754,000 in July 1917 to 543,000 in June 1918 producing a manpower crisis.

21 March 1918:  the German Offensive was launched.  There were 5 phases:

  • 21 March – 5 April: Operation Michael, against the British, the Battle of Picardy (otherwise known as the First Battle of the Somme 1918)
  • 9 – 11 April: Operation Georgette, against the British, the Battle of Lys sector near Armentieres
  • 27 April: Operation Blucher-Yorck, against the French sector along Chemin des Dames, the Third Battle of Aisne
  • 9 June: Operation Gneisenau, against the French sector between Noyan and Montdider, the Battle of the Matz
  • 15 – 17 July: Operation Marne-Rheims, the final phase known as the Second Battle of the Marne.

The Germans enjoyed spectacular territorial gains particularly during the initial phases of the offensive.  23 March, the Kaiser declared a “victory holiday” for German schoolchildren. 

The cost in manpower was enormous:

  • Between 21 March and 10 April the 3 main assaulting armies had lost 303,450 men – 1/5th of their original strength.
  • The April offensive against the British in Flanders was eventually computed to have cost 120,000 men out of a total of 800,000.

The German High Command calculated that it required 200,000 replacements each month but only 300,000 recruits stood available taking into account the next annual class of 18-year olds.  There were 70,000 convalescents available from hospitals each month but even counting them, the strength of the German Army had fallen from 5.1 million to 4.2 million men in the 6 months of the offensive.  It could not be increased on the estimated scale required.  To add to this dilemma, in June 1918, the first outbreak of “Spanish Flu” laid low nearly 500,000 German soldiers.  This epidemic was to reoccur in the autumn and wreak havoc throughout Europe and the wider world. The poor diet of the German troops, battle fatigue, discontentment with the military leadership, social unrest at home and a general realisation that their great effort was beginning to wane were other problems which the German hierarchy had to deal with.  The Allies counter attack in mid-July began to seize the initiative.  Sweeping victories over demoralised German forces eventually led to the resignation of Ludendorff 27 October, the abdication of Kaiser Wilhelm II 9 November and the signing of the Armistice 11 November 1918.

The 20th Division was caught up at various times as follows:

  • 21 – 23 March: The Battle of St. Quentin
  • 24 – 25 March: The actions at the Somme crossings
  • 26 – 27 March: The Battle of Rosieres

11/DLI: March and April 1918 [27]

It should be pointed out that companies and platoons were required to undertake many tasks and it is impossible to detail all action.    

21 March: The German forces attacked the whole front – no DLI Service Battalions were in the line.  11/DLI was in reserve located at Golancourt and Voyennes.  In the afternoon the battalion left for Villers St. Christophe, north of the Somme canal.

22 March: heavy firing heard to the north east in the direction of Holnon Wood and St. Quentin.  11/DLI was required to fill a gap between the 61st and 60th Brigades on the line Tugny-Lavesne.  Captain P. Kemp commanded B Company supported by Second Lieutenants Martin, Morris, Maylor and English.

“By 8pm, when A and B companies arrived, the King’s had had to evacuate Tugny and the support line thus became the front line.  A and B companies, from left to right filled the gap between D company and the Shropshires of the 60th Brigade in position further north.  Before 9.00pm Capt. Endean reported that D company and the King’s had retired leaving the right flank of A company exposed.  A thick fog had gathered and the enemy in Tugny could now be heard shouting in English and making a lot of noise…Soon after midnight B company were rushed from the right rear and there was confused fighting with the Durhams, Shropshires and Germans all mixed together in the fog.  On the right Capt. Endean and A company fought stoutly but in withdrawing one party came under machine gun fire at close range and were all killed or wounded.

About 70 men of the 11th with 30 Shropshires and some Machine Gun Corps were collected south-west of Aubigny and withdrew down the Ham road, leaving a rearguard under 2nd Lieut. English to support 2 Vickers guns which were still in action.  On the way to Ham, Colonel Hayes received orders to hasten to Offay and hold the bridgehead there.

Meanwhile Capt. Endean and 2nd Lieuts. Galey and Craig and about 40 men of A company had fought a way out in the fog through Dury to Ham. C-S-M T.J. Craggs of Bishop Auckland had done the same with a party of B company and some men of the Rifle Brigade.  For his gallantry in the retreat this warrant officer was afterwards awarded the DCM.”

After 2 difficult days, a rough calculation can be made that about 40 men from A Company, 100 men from B Company, 200 men from D Company and 100 men from Captain Jee’s detachment plus about 20 officers survived, less than half the battalion.[28]

23 March: early morning:

“Colonel Hayes reached Offay and organised the men who were left with him into one company under the command of Lieut. Bushell, 2nd Lieuts. Martin, Naylor and English were also available and so was C-S-M Craggs who had managed to re-join.”

At dusk German snipers were active and after dark there was German machine gun and trench mortar fire.

24 March:  4.00am, Captain Endean, 2nd Lieut. Galley and over 30 men of A company re-joined.

6.00am: German artillery and mortar attack.  Despite a request, there was no reply from the British artillery.  Daylight – thick fog, Germans advanced from Canizy village, were fired upon by the British then retreated.  B Company regained their trench.

“A German aeroplane flew over their position and Capt. Endean reported that the enemy were coming down the Ham-Nesle road.  Other retiring troops of many units now helped to form a defensive flank on the right and a counter attack kept the enemy in check.”

25 March: 5.00pm: Germans attacked again and the Durhams covered the withdrawal of the French.

26 March:  11/DLI was detailed to dig defences in the neighbourhood of le Quesnel then march off down the Amiens-Arvilles road to dig and repair trenches.

27 March: 11/DLI began to retire. 

28 March: The French were to take over early 28 March and had already begun to do so when a short fierce bombardment was followed by a German advance.  German infantry was seen massing in the woods.  A counter attack was organised but it was obvious that the enemy was too strong but the position was maintained until orders were received to retire to Fresnoy later in the day.  By the evening, 11/DLI was in reserve.

29 March: next morning the Germans attacked along the Amiens road and entered Mezieres.  At 3.15pm, 11/DLI was called upon to recapture the village though they only had 130 men left.

“Crossing open ground, a trench mortar barrage was encountered and enfilade machine gun fire smote them.  Only here and there could small groups of men get through the barrier of bursting shells and Capt. Pemberton had about 20 Durhams with him when he entered the village.  He pushed on until only 2 survived and then withdrew.  On the left 2nd Lieut. R.H. King had also reached Mezieres but all his party were killed and wounded and after working a Lewis gun with great effect he returned alone.  Both officers were awarded the Military Cross.”

11/DLI was now withdrawn to a position between Thennes and Hourges and passed the night in peace.

30 March: The Germans were now in Moreuil Wood and the battalion formed a defensive flank in this direction.

31 March next morning:  The enemy attacked again.  At 4pm came a determined advance but rifle and Lewis gun fire stopped the enemy who retreated leaving many dead and wounded behind.  Capt. Endean was wounded during this action.  There was some shelling after this but the evening and night passed without further incident.

1 April: no attack.  In the evening came relief.  Marching to the Amiens road, the battalion now the strength of a strong platoon journeyed by bus to Quevavillers some 12 miles south-west of the city. 

“Losses in the ranks during these 10 days totalled 455 and there were 19 casualties to officers.  Among the killed or missing were 2nd Lieuts. W.G Craig, R.R. Galley, H. Rutherford, W.T Alexander, W. Banks, V.G. Duckett, F. Arnott, D.E Ellwood, T.W Applegarth and C.A. Morris and Lieut. R. Bushell.  2nd Lieuts. P. Naylor, E.W. English, N.F. Gibson, J.H. Dodds, A.E. Wilkinson and H.J. Whitfield and Capts. W.G.L. Sear MC, W.J. Endean were all wounded”

Captain P. Kemp survived this onslaught, to fight another day.  Of the above officers, it is highly likely that one would have been well known to Captain P. Kemp, namely Second Lieutenant Thomas William Applegarth from Evenwood.  He died of wounds, 8 April 1918 whilst in German hands and is buried at Caix British Cemetery, France.[29]  He was 24 years old and is commemorated on the Evenwood War Memorial and memorials in St. Paul’s Church, Evenwood, Darlington Grammar School and Emmanuel College, Cambridge. 

Later research records that between 21 March and 9 April 1918, 11/DLI lost 2 Officers and 78 Other Ranks killed in action or died of wounds.[30] Many men were missing, the fortunate were held as prisoners of war.  The 20th Division was withdrawn after the heavy fighting of the Somme battles.

2 April: the remnants of the 20th Division were billeted around Quevauvillers, 10 miles south west of Amiens reorganising and taking new drafts.  14 officers and 578 other ranks joined the battalion, bringing it almost up to strength.  Training and inspections occupied the rest of the month.[31]

2 May: 11/DLI left Frevillers, marching to Chateau de la Haie, west of Ablain-St. Nazaire to relieve the Canadians in their positions around Lens.  There was much work done with communications trenches, strong points and defensive works in l’Hirondelle Wood, northeast of Givenchy.  During the month of May, a great deal of gas was liberated by the British causing retaliation from the enemy.  A casualty of this action was to be Captain P.V. Kemp.

23 May: 11/DLI Pioneers were engaged in pushing 75 trucks containing 21 gas cylinders each, up to the front line.  They worked in parties of 20 and 2 tramway lines were used.  In the front line trench, the gas was discharged without removing the cylinders from the trucks which meant that they could be pushed back on the tramway.

26 and 27 May: German retaliation followed.  The town of Lievin was drenched with mustard gas, suspending all work.  11/DLI lost Captains P.V. Kemp and A. Philip, both survivors of the March Retreat, and 7 other junior officers together with 122 men, all gassed. 

31 May:  Captain P.V. Kemp died of wounds. [32] There were 14 other casualties during May, men killed in action or died of wounds.  [33]


21 December 1917: Serving as a Lieutenant P.V. Kemp was mentioned in despatches.[34]  Captain P.V. Kemp was awarded the 1914-15 Star, the Victory and British War medals.[35]



Captain P.V. Kemp is buried at grave reference XXVIII.M.4, Etaples Military Cemetery.  His headstone bears the epitaph, “Til…Life’s long shadows break in cloudless love”. [36]


Captain P.V. Kemp left his effects amounting to £202 0 shillings 7pence, to his father, Reverend James V. Kemp.[37] However, another source indicates that he left his estate to Mary Emmerson (perhaps his fiancée).[38]



Captain Percy V. Kemp was born in Sunderland, the son of Reverend James V. Kemp, vicar of Witton Park.  Initially, he joined the 19th Battalion, The Royal Fusiliers but when it was disbanded, he was transferred to the Officer Training Corps and was assigned to the 11th Battalion, The Durham Light Infantry. He proved a capable officer and was mentioned in despatches for actions in the lead up to the Battle of Cambrai, 1917.  He suffered early in the German Spring Offensive and was pulled out of the line, 24 March 1918.  The gas attack on 27 May caused severe complications and he died of pulmonary oedema on 31 May 1918 at hospital in Etaples.[39]


[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] “The 11th Durham Light Infantry: In Their Own Names” 2011 M. Bashforth p.191 and England & Wales Birth Index 1837-1915 Vol.10a p.6412 Sunderland 1892 Q3 Note: London, England Schools Admissions and Discharges 1840-1911 records his date of birth as 21 September 1893.

[3] 1901 census

[4] Schools Admissions and Discharges.

[5] 1911 census

[6] Bashforth p.191

[7] Medal Roll card index

[8] The service records of Captain P.V. Kemp have not been researched and these details come from 2 main sources – Martin Bashforth and Captain Wilfred Miles’ books which are referenced.

[9] Bashforth p.191

[10] Medal Roll card index

[11] Medal Roll card index



[14] Medal Roll card index

[15] Bashforth p.103



[18] Bashforth p.103

[19] ODGW & SDGW

[20] Bashforth p.121


[22] Bashforth p.143

[23] Bashforth p.144

[24] Medal Roll card index Note: London Gazette notice 21 December 1917

[25] ODGW & SDGW

[26] Various sources including,, “The First World War” Keegan J. 1999, “First World War” Gilbert M. 1994

[27] “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18: The Service Battalions of the Durham Light Infantry” 1920 Capt. W. Miles. Bashforth p.157-188 provides further details.

[28] Bashford p.162

[29] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[30] ODGW & SDGW

[31] Miles p.285

[32] CWGC

[33] Miles p.307 and Bashforth p.189-192

[34] Medal Roll card index Note: date refers to the London Gazette notice.

[35] Medal Roll card index and Regimental Rolls for Medals

[36] CWGC

[37] England & Wales, National Probate Calendar (Index of Wills and Administrations) 1858-1995

[38] Bashforth p.192

[39] Bashforth p.191 & 192