Rewcastle G.

GEORGE REWCASTLE 1899 – 1918

35739, Private George Rewcastle, 1/6th Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment was killed in action 1 November 1918.  He was about 19 years old and is buried at Maing Communal Cemetery Extension, France[1] and commemorated on the St. Helen’s Colliery Memorial Cottages, West Auckland War Memorial and the Roll of Honour, Memorial Hall, Darlington Road, West Auckland, County Durham.

Family Details

George was born 1899 at West Auckland, the son of George and Elizabeth Rewcastle.  There were at least 5 children:

  • Mary Anne born c.1897
  • George born c.1899
  • John born c.1901
  • Ethel born c.1905
  • William born c.1908

All were born at West Auckland.  In 1911, the family lived at Ayres Yard.  George (senior) worked as a coal miner (hewer). [2]  Later, the family lived at 35 New Street, West Auckland.[3]

Service Details

George attested 4 January 1917 and joined the Army Reserve.  He was 18 years old.  He was originally given the regimental number 95084.[4]  He undertook a medical examination 24 April 1918 when 19 years 3 months old, was 5ft 6¾” tall, weighed 116 lbs., had brown hair, fresh complexion and hazel eyes and found to be fit for duty.[5] He was mobilized 24 April 1918 and posted to the 4th Battalion, the Durham Light Infantry.  He entered France 4 September 1918 and was transferred to the 1/6th Battalion, the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment 7 September 1918 and given the regimental number 35739.  [6]  He joined them in the field 8 September 1918.[7]

The 1/6th Battalion, the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment was a territorial force which was mobilized August 1914, landed in France 14 April 1915 and came under the orders of the 147th Brigade, 49th (West Riding) Division.[8]

In 1918, other battalions were:

  • 1/4th, the West Riding Regiment
  • 1/7th, the West Riding Regiment

The Division had served with distinction on the western front since April 1915 being involved in many actions.[9]  During April 1918, the Division was involved in the Battles of Messines and Bailleul, the First and Second Battles of Kemmel and the Battle of Scherpenberg, known collectively as the Battle of the Lys, part of the German offensive in Flanders.[10]  Then:

  • 9 -12 October: the Pursuit to the Selle
  • 17 – 25 October; the Battle of Selle
  • 1 – 2 November: the Battle of Valenciennes

The latter two battles are known as the Final Advance in Picardy.[11]

Private G. Rewcastle joined the 1/6th Bn., the West Riding Regiment in the field 8 September 1918 and will have seen action during the October offensives.  He was killed in action 1 November 1918.  The Battalion War Diary has not been researched.  The following is an account of the 49th Division during October and November 1918.

As a result of the troop shortages in early 1918, and the subsequent restructuring of the BEF, 49th Division lost three battalions; 146 Brigade lost 1/8 West Yorks, 147 Brigade lost 1/5 Duke of W and 148 Brigade lost 1/5 KOYLI.

49th Division was also involved in the final stages of the ‘100 Days’ offensive in the autumn of 1918. Here 49th Division was part of XXII Corps (First Army). General Horne (GOC First Army) was preparing for the final offensive known as the Battle of the Sambre. 49th Division was positioned between Douai and Mons. In the preparations for the Battle of the Sambre, the German stronghold at Valenciennes had to be ‘nipped out’. Horne decided not to hit Valenciennes with an all-out attack as there were too many civilians within the area. He decided to attack around the stronghold and force the Germans to withdraw. On 1 November 1918, 49th Division was to attack between the Marly Steel works and the settlement at Preseau. In this advance, the troops would have to cross a river, the Rhonelle, and advance uphill. The GOC 49th Division, Major-General NJG Cameron, decided on a two battalion attack – 1/5 West Yorks (146 Brigade) on the left and 1/6 Duke of Wellington (147 Brigade) on the right. The lead battalions would advance on the final objective and the support battalions would follow up and fill in where needed. The troops set off at 0515 some 150 yards behind a creeping barrage. The men carried six light bridges (each one carried by four men), the artillery were using many more heavy guns than at Thiepval (Poelcapelle is not a fair comparison as the artillery had been so ineffective due to the state of the ground) and machine guns were firing over the heads of the advancing troops. During the crossing of the Rhonelle one of the bridges was lost to German shelling but this did not slow down the advance. The stronghold at Aulnoy on the left of the Intermediate Objective was taken by 0630 and the troops continued to advance on their final objective at the top of the ridge. They were supported in this by some of the Field Artillery which had been able to advance, crossing the river on strengthened bridges, without any problem. The battle was over by 0800 and the division had taken 443 casualties, of which 97 were fatal. The West Yorks had suffered 38% casualties and the Dukes 45%. The battle was a success and the Germans abandoned Valenciennes the following day. The success of the division in this battle was due to:

  • accurate artillery fire,
  • combined with effective counter battery fire,
  • far better trained troops and
  • much improved infantry tactics.

A comparison can be made between shells and casualties for these three battles in which 49th Division was involved.

At Thiepval the attack had been supported by the firing of 10,700 shells, at Valenciennes by over 100,000. (Poelcapelle is not included in this comparison).

Troops involved in each attack:

  • Thiepval: 5,000 of which approximately 30% became casualties;
  • Poelcapelle 5,000 troops of which approximately 50% became casualties;
  • Valenciennes 1,000 troops of which approximately 50% became casualties (though only 55 fatalities occurred in the two leading battalions).

To conclude, did the learning curve of the BEF include 49th Division? Certainly, because lessons were learned, objectives were taken. But the casualties were still high. This is found to be the case in nearly all the attacking divisions during the 100 days.[12]

Research concludes that between 9 October and 4 November, the battalion lost 6 officers and 88 other ranks, killed in action and/or died of wounds and the Battle of Valenciennes, 1 – 4 November, the battalion lost 1 officer and 48 other ranks, 1 of which was Private G. Rewcastle.[13]

Private G. Rewcastle served a total of 1 year 302 days, the last 59 in France.[14]  He was awarded the British War and Victory Medals.[15]

Burial

Private George Rewcastle is buried at grave reference C.17 Maing Communal Cemetery Extension, Nord, France.  The cemetery contains 85 burials.  The village of Maing was captured by the 51st (Highland) Division 24 October 1918 and the cemetery was commenced by the Highland Division and the 49th (West Riding) Division in October and November 1918.[16]

References:

[1] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

[2] 1901 and 1911 census

[3] Army Form B.2512: Short Service

[4] See 3

[5] Medical History

[6] Army Form B.200 Statement of the Services

[7] Army Form B.108 Casualty Form – Active Service

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

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

[10] http://www.warpath.orbat.com/battles_ff/1918_pt1.htm

[11] http://www.warpath.orbat.com/battles_ff/1918_pt2.htm

[12]  http://www.westernfrontassociation.com/great-war-on-land/britain-allies/1761-from-disaster-to-triumph-the-49th-west-riding-division-in-the-great-war.html  Article contributed by: Peter J Palmer.  This article is based on talk given by Derek Clayton to the Yorkshire Branch of the WFA. The talk was recorded, and can be found in the WFA Website’s Video Resources.

[13] Officers & Soldiers Died in the Great War

[14] Military History Sheet

[15] Medal Roll card index

[16] Commonwealth War Graves Commission

Photograph

Rewcastle G. Medal Roll

Rewcastle G.
Medal Roll

REWCASTLE G.
Headstone

3 thoughts on “Rewcastle G.

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

  2. Pingback: WEST AUCKLAND | The Fallen Servicemen of Southwest County Durham

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