Little P.

PERCY LITTLE 1899-1918

81297 Private Percy Little, 15th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 27 May 1918.  He was 18 years old, the son of William and Margaret Little.  He is commemorated on the Soissons Memorial, France[1] and the St. Helen’s Colliery Memorial Cottages.

Family Details

Percy Little born 19 September 1899 [2] at St. Helen’s Auckland, Bishop Auckland, Co. Durham was the son of William and Margaret Little.  There were at least 4 children:

  • Elizabeth born c.1883
  • Ernest born c.1885
  • Phyllis born c.1890
  • Percy born 1899 [3]

In 1901 the family lived at the Square, St. Helens and in 1911, they still lived there and it is recorded that they lived at Whitwell Terrace.  William was employed as a coal miner (a shifter) and as Percy was only 11 years old, it is assumed that he was still at school. [4]  Some time later, the family lived at 10 Maude Terrace, St. Helen’s Auckland. [5]  Percy was a member of the St. Helen’s Colliery Institute football team 1909-10 – see Miscellaneous Details.

Service Record

81297 Private Percy Little 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry was killed in action 27 May 1918.  He has no known grave and is commemorated on the Soissons Memorial, France. [6]  He served a total of 250 days, 194 at home and 56 in France. [7]  However, Percy had previously been discharged from the Army 30 June 1916. [8]  He had served 1 year 91 days “under age”!  Percy Little legally enlisted 19 September 1917 on his 18th birthday. [9]  He stood 5’7” tall and weighed 130lbs (9st.4lbs).  At that time the family lived at 3 Oakley Street, West Auckland. [10]  After a period “At Home” training, he entered France 31 March 1918 and was transferred 3 April 1918 to the 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry and was given the new regimental number 81297.  He was “in the field” 4 April 1918 and recorded as “missing” sometime between 27 and 29 May 1918, 23 to 25 days later!  [11]

The 15th (Service) Battalion was formed at Newcastle in September 1914 as part of K3 Kitchener’s New Army and came under orders of 64th Brigade, 21st Division.  It landed in Boulogne 11 September 1915. [12] The Division saw action in 1915 at the Battle of Loos, 1916 the Battle of the Somme, 1917 the German retreat to the Hindenburg Line, the Arras Offensive and Passchendaele then in 1918 during the German Spring Offensive, the Battle of St. Quentin and the First Battle of Bapaume, The Battles of the Lys, the Battles of the Aisne, Albert and the Second Battle of Bapaume, the Battles for the Hindenburg Line and the Battle of the Selle, a phase of the Final Advance in Picardy.  The Division ceased to exist 19 May 1919.

The following units served with the 64th Brigade: [13]

  • 9th Battalion, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
  • 10th Battalion, the King’s Own Yorkshire Light Infantry
  • 14th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry (left November 1915)
  • 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry
  • 1st Battalion, the East Yorkshire Regiment (joined November 1915)
  • 64th Machine Gun Company
  • 64th Trench Mortar Battery

The Battle of the Aisne was fought between 27 May and 6 June 1918.  The 21st Division and the 50th (Northumbrian) Division which comprised other DLI battalions were heavily involved.  The general area of the offensive was to the north east of Paris and to the west of Rheims around the town of Soissons.  Before the German attack, the French and British forces held the sector between Bouconville and Bermericourt. The German attack succeeded in pushing the Allies across the Aisne down as far as the Marne at Chateau Thierry, capturing the towns of Soissons and Le Fere-en-Tardenois. [14]   The War Diary for the 15th Battalion, Durham Light Infantry has not been examined.  However, the following details are taken from Capt. W. Miles’ book: [15]

“Large drafts of young soldiers were received at Volkerinckhove and on May 4th the battalion entrained at St. Omer.”

It is assumed that Private Percy Little was amongst the contingent of soldiers.

6 May: the 15/DLI was billeted in the region of Olizt et Violaine:

“Training was proceeded with apace…the battalion consisted largely of young soldiers with no experience in warfare.”

13 May: 15/DLI relieved the 6th battalion 299th (Bayard) French Regiment in the line, 1 mile north of Loivre on the Aisne & Marne canal to Berry-au-Bac.

21 May: relieved and withdrew to a support position near the main road to Rheims.

22 May: in reserve at a camp at Chalons-le-Verguer.

27 May 1.00am: heavy bombardment of mustard gas shells came down upon the camp.  15/DLI moved off in respirators to Cauroy:

“At 10 am C company were sent forward to reinforce the 9/KOYLI but the Yorkshiremen had had to give ground and the German infantry were already on the main road…..B company pushed out on the left of the line and it was hoped to hold the Boyau de la Somme….D company occupied the strong points Bon de la Cuve, Bon de la Lavoir, Redoubt Nord and Redoubt Central.

The Germans came on in determined fashion, supported by a fierce bombardment and pushed b company back to Avancee de Cauroy.  The Durhams counter-attacked with bombs and a bloody struggle was waged in these trenches on the outskirts of the village until the German numbers prevailed.  During the afternoon the enemy occupied part of Boyau de Beau Sejour and bombed his way into Avancee de Cauroy so that in spite of their desperate resistance B and C companies were forced back to the sunken road east of Redoubt Sud.  At 5.30pm the 97th Field Company RE arrived from Hermonville and reinforced the left flank on the light railway west of the village.  Two hours later came another onslaught in overwhelming strength and the British line was obliged to draw back to the road behind the village but the Germans tried in vain to debouch from Cauroy and desisted in their attempts as darkness fell.  On the right the 15th still held some advance posts but soon after midnight came orders to withdraw.  This was done in darkness without hurry or confusion, for the Germans did not seem to be aware of the retirement.”

28 May: 15/DLI at camp at Luthernay Farm (in the Brigade reserve) 7.30am the Germans attacked with machine gun fire.  15/DLI withdrew to a position south east of Prouilly which was occupied by mixed units of the 64th Brigade.

29 May: the position came under heavy shell fire, no infantry attack.  15/DLI relieved by French troops and moved back to Rosnay.

30 May: 15/DLI moved back to Mery Premercy

31 May: camp at Chaltrait.

“In heavy fighting of May 27th and 28th, the Fifteenth had lost 456 men in killed, wounded and missing, the heaviest casualties of the brigade….It was largely owing to the efforts of these officers [names given in an earlier paragraph] that the Fifteenth succeeded in checking the Germans advance at Cauroy and had fought such a splendid rear guard action on the following day.”

Between 27 May and the end of the month, 128 men serving with the 15/DLI were either killed in action or died of wounds: [16]

  • 27 May: 28 Other Ranks and 1 Officer
  • 28 May: 11 ORs
  • 29 May: 82 ORs and 1 Officer
  • 30 May: 1 OR
  • 31 May 4 ORs

Total: 126 Other Ranks and 2 Officers.

Private Percy Little was recorded as “Missing” from 27 May 1918.  It was not until 25 June 1919 that it was formally accepted that he was dead. [17] His mother would have initially hoped that he had been taken as a Prisoner of War but after the Armistice when no news was heard then the sad reality of the situation was inevitable.  81297 Private Percy Little was awarded the British War and Victory medals. [18]

Commemoration

The Soissons Memorial, France:  The Memorial commemorates almost 4,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom who died during the Battles of the Aisne and the Marne in 1918 and who have no known grave.[19]

The commemorative plaque belonging to the Little family is kept in the DLI cabinet at the former Bishop Auckland Town Hall, now the Library, Art Gallery and Theatre in the Market Place, Bishop Auckland.

References:

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] Army Form B.103

[3] 1901 census

[4] 1911 census

[5] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[6] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[7] Army Form B.2513 Inside Sheet

[8] Army Form B.2513

[9] Army Form B.2513

[10] Army Form B.178

[11] Army Form B.103 casualty form-Active Service

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

[13] http://www.1914-1918.net/21div.htm

[14] http://www.1914-1918.net/bat24.htm

[15] Capt. W. Miles book, “The Durham Forces in the Field 1914-18”: p298-303

[16] “Soldiers Died in the Great War” and “Officers Died in the Great War”

[17] Army Form B.2513 Inside Sheet

[18] Medal Roll index card

[19] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Photographs:

PERCY LITTLE

PERCY LITTLE Press Photo

PERCY LITTLE
Press Photo July 1916

SOISSONS MEMORIAL

LITTLE P. Inscription

LITTLE P. Commemorative Plaque

LITTLE P.
Commemorative Plaque

One thought on “Little P.

  1. Pingback: ST.HELEN’S | The Fallen Servicemen of Southwest County Durham

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