The Story of a Great Grandfather’s Military Career – Part 2

If you’re looking for Part 1 of this story, go here.

We left Stanley in Part 1 as the billet’s he was staying in were shelled for 3 and a half straight hours, this is what happened next…

Stanley Drinkwater was sent back to England on 1st June, reasons unknown. It is possible that he had been wounded on 29th May or 1st June, but it is also possible that his true age had been discovered and he was sent back because of that.

Stanley Drinkwater returned to France on 12th May 1917, and this time he was posted to 1/4th Battalion, The Gloucestershire Regiment. 4th (City of Bristol) Battalion was a pre-war Territorial Battalion. The flood of volunteers on the outbreak of the Great War led to many Territorial Battalions being split into two and brought up to strength.  1/4th Gloucesters left Swindon for Danbury (near Chelmsford) in late August 1914 for a training period which lasted until 31st March.

1/4th Battalion formed part of 144th Brigade, 48th (South Midland) Division, which left for the Western Front on 31st March 1915, Leonard Andrews being with the battalion. On 11th April the battalion arrived at Armentieres in France and 48th Division was assigned to the Ploegsteert (“Plugstreet”) Wood sector under the command of III Corps, Second Army, with 1/4th Battalion occupying the south-eastern corner of the wood and the village of Le Gheer.  48th Division was relieved in late June and in late July was moved forward once again to line the trenches opposite Serre. By later September 1915, 1/4th Battalion was entrenched in the front-line village of Hebuterne. These positions were occupied with the Division being much engaged in sporadic fighting and patrol work until July 1916.

By July and the battle of the Somme, 144th Brigade including 1/4th Battalion were being held in reserve around Sailly au Bois, Couin and Maillet-Mailly until 14th July when 48th Division was ordered to the attack on Ovillers. 1/4th were heavily involved and some progress was made. After having been withdrawn from the fighting during the first two weeks of August 1916, 48th Division was back in action around Ovillers until 28th August when it was moved to Auchonvillers in the Ancre sector. Late autumn and winter remained quiet for the Division which transferred to Cappy in late January 1917.

During the spring of 1917, 1/4th Battalion was involved in the battles during the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line, seeing action at Villers-Faucon and Queuchette. In May, 48th Division came under the command of XVIII Corps in Fifth Army. Battalion Orders of 19th June 1917 note 22582 Private Drinkwater, B. [sic] as having joined the battalion with two others on 16th June and posted to “C” Company. The battalion was resting in billets at Lebucquiere at the time. Between 4th and 20th July, 1/4th Gloucesters were training at Blaireville, and Battalion Orders of 8th July shows Stanley Drinkwater being admitted to the Field Ambulance on 6th July. At least 30 others went at around the same time, presumably either injured in training or sick. He rejoined the battalion on 12th July.

The situation remained quiet, with few casualties being suffered until October when 1/4th Battalion was involved in the battle of Third Ypres, or Passchendaele, where it was fighting in support of the attacks on Poelcappelle on 9th October.

The Battalion War Diary states:-

REPORT OF OPERATIONS ON 9TH OCTOBER 1917, & SUBSEQUENTLY.

Reference Map POELCAPELLE Ed. 4, 1/10,000.

1. The plan for moving the Battalion to the jumping off position was as follows:-

The Second-in-Command went on an hour in advance of the Battalion with 3 N.C.Os per Company, this party was to lay out the tape lines 50 yards and 200 yards respectively behind Country Cross Roads and then to return to TWEED HOUSE to guide the Battalion in. The Battalion was to move up by the ALBERTA TRACK and then along the POELCAPELLE Road to U.30.d.63 80, where they were to have been met by Bucks Battalion guides, who would guide them to TWEED HOUSE by the taped track via BAVAROISE HOUSE.

On arrival at U.30.d.63 80, Lieut.Col. Crosskey found that the guides were not there and after waiting for a time decided that he would turn about and move up via the Trench board track and HUBNER FARM, a route which he knew himself to some extent. This he did and arrived at TWEED HOUSE about 1.45 a.m. but then discovered that the three rear Companies and about one platoon of the leading one had lost touch. Battalion Headquarter runners were sent out to look for the missing Companies and “C” Company, the leading company, was guided down to the jumping-off point.

At about 4.30 a.m. “A”, “B” & 2 platoons of “D” Company were brought to TWEED HOUSE and were taken on down to the jumping-off point. These Companies were just forming up along the tape when our barrage came down, so that the Battalion started the attack less two platoons “D” Company and a few men from “A” & “C”. “B” Company was complete.

2. The leading Companies “A” on the right and “D” on the left, started off at once and got to within about 50 yards of the barrage before the first lift. “B” & “C” Companies, “B” on the right, moved forward a few minutes after “A” & “D” Companies.

At the first lift the barrage was lost and owing to the sodden condition of the ground was never caught up again.

Immediately the advance commenced our men came under Machine Gun fire from the Cemetery in V.26.d., a Machine Gun in a post about V.26.b.60 25, 2 Machine Guns in a breastwork in front of OXFORD HOUSES at V.26.b.33 45, and a Machine Gun about V.26.a.97 60.

Snipers were also very active from the large rectangular hedge South of the Road in V.26.b., OXFORD HOUSES, BEEK HOUSES, and other points North of LEKKERBOTERBEEK.

The story will continue in Part 3, where Stanley Drinkwater was now once again in the thick of things fighting for his life.