The Story of a Great Grandfather’s Military Career – Part 1

I’d always known that my Great Grandfather had been in the military. A trinket bearing his name had been sat on top of the fireplace in my Grandmother’s house for as long as I could remember. I had visions that he was a grand military commander yet knew nothing about his history.

My Grandmother rarely if ever spoke about him other than “He was in the Army and we traveled a lot.” As I got a bit older and understood the inscription on the trinket I understood that when he was given it, he was the rank of RSM (Regimental Sergeant Major), quite a high rank in the Army and meant that he would have indeed been very successful in his career. I didn’t know how he got there and always wanted to find out. Luckily my Grandmother has always been interested in family trees and collecting things like books, pieces of paper, photos etc and also had my Great Granfather’s service number. I already knew that he was in the Gloucestershire Regiment which eventually became the RGBW (Royal Gloucester Berkshire and Wiltshire) due to the inscription. I wrote away to the now Gloucestershire Regimental Museum in hope they had more information about him.

They did, and what came back was whirlwind read and the story of great determination, selflessness and possibly the odd crazy. Somehow my Great Grandfather’s survived when in fact the odds were against him from the very beginning, this is the start of his story…

Stanley Drinkwater was born in April 1899 in Worcestershire, 15years and a few months later he lied about his age and enlisted as a regular soldier in 1915. He was posted overseas on 3rd March 1916 to join 1st Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment on the Western Front.

On the outbreak of the Great War, 1st Gloucesters had been mobilized at Bordon in Hampshire (where they had been based since 1913) on 7th August 1914 and landed at Le Havre on 13th August. The battalion formed part of 3rd Brigade, 1st Division B.E.F.  Taking up position to the south east of Landrecies on 26th August the battalion fell back with the rest of the B.E.F before the German advance.  1st Division fell back with the rest of the B.E.F before the German advance until finally coming to a halt across the River Marne at Monroux on 6th September. The battalion was involved in the B.E.F’s counter-offensive when 1st Divison attacked along the Chemin-des Dames ridge around the village of Chivy. 1st Division was relieved on 16th October and moved from the River Aisne to the north of Ypres and a few days later was involved in heavy fighting around Dixmunde and Langemarck. On 24th October 1st Division were replaced by French troops and moved into reserve in the Ypres-Hooge-Zillebeke sector. Two days later, 1st Battalion was again involved in heavy fighting losing around 160 officers and men around Gheluvelt. Fierce fighting continued during this First Battle of Ypres until 15th November until only one hundred or so men of 1st Battalion out of around its starting strength of around a thousand were able to march back to Ypres. Once having rested and recuperated until 20th December 1914, 1st Battalion took part in the recapture of Festubert, again suffering heavy casualties. The battalion was in and out of the front line trenches over the next few weeks but saw little further action in this period.

A German assault on 25th January 1915 was stopped at Cuinchy and Givenchy. On 9th May the battalion again took heavy casualties during the attacks on Aubers Ridge. The situation remained generally quiet for 1st Gloucesters over the next few months. In the autumn of 1915, 1st Battalion was involved in the battle of Loos. Another hard-fought action took place in October, at Chalk Pit Wood.

In the spring of 1916 1st Battalion was in and out of the front line around Loos, sustaining steady although never very heavy casualties, mostly from shelling. It was during this that Stanley Drinkwater joined the battalion. The Battalion War Diary noted a draft of 69 men joining on 13th March, with another 39 on 4th April and 100 on 10th April. It is quite likely that Stanley Drinkwater joined on 13th March. 

After a week in Divisional Reserve at Les Brebis, 1st Gloucesters moved back into the front line inn the evening of 26th April between Scrub Lane and Carfax Road near Loos.

The Battalion War Diary states :-

14th May 1916. MAROC.

4.20 a.m. Camouflet blown by the enemy opposite Mine 11 doing no exterior damage of any sort. Sap J and front line around shelled by field guns intermittently during the day, doing damage to sap and front trench: probable reason for shelling was searching for a Trench Mortar.

9.10 a.m. S.O.S received from left Battalion, left Brigade. Our front however was unaffected and all was quiet. Captain D. Baxter rejoined from Hospital. Draft 38 other ranks also joined. 1 man was wounded.

15th May 1916.

Quiet day except for some intermittent shelling of Sap J with Field Guns. 2 other Ranks wounded.

16th May 1916.

Trench Mortars in early morning worried the CRASSIER Company and some small shells, otherwise a quiet day. 7 other ranks wounded.

On 25th May 1st Gloucesters were sent back to Les Brebis again, still being within enemy artillery range.

The Battalion War Diary states :-

29th May 1916. LES BREBIS.

Divisional Reserve. A good deal of hostile shelling of the mine, otherwise quiet. 1 man wounded.

1st June 1916.

In Divisional Reserve. Billets shelled 1 p.m. to 4.30 p.m. by 4.2’s. Casualties 3 men killed and 4 men wounded.

It wasn’t good news, Stanley Drinkwater had been in those Billets… look out for Part 2 coming soon.

 

 

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Gavin

Lead Interaction Designer at DigitalDWP. Organiser of Industry, The Practical Web Conference..

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