This story is the result of an investigation of documents held by Surrey History Centre. The file (SHC ref. CC7/4/4, nos. 1-50) contains correspondence and insurance claims on behalf of Surrey County Council Education Department employees who had been killed in action during the Great War. The cases date from 1915 to 1918.
Name: Arthur Ewart Barnfield
Occupation: Assistant Teacher, Council School
Birth Place: Newport, Monmouthshire
Residence: Southfields, Surrey
Date of Death: Killed-in-Action 13th April 1918
Age: 29 years (Born 30th November 1888)
Location: Meteren, France
Regiment: 1st Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment
Regimental Number: T/206126
Arthur was the son of Thomas, a stone mason, and Susan of Newport in Monmouthshire, Wales. The 1911 census states that Thomas and Susan had three children, of whom only two survived. Arthur’s brother, Trevor John, was a builder’s clerk, and would fight in the Monmouthshire Regiment from February 1915. He survived the war.
Arthur was educated at Newport Intermediate School, and in 1907, he passed (‘Second Division’) the University of London matriculation test. No record can be found of Arthur attending nor qualifying from the University.
In the 1911 census he was boarding at 264, Sandycombe, Kew Gardens, listing his profession as an elementary school master. On 28th July 1914, Arthur married Rose Lydia Weaver in St Luke’s Church, Richmond. By now, he was living in Greenford Road, Sutton, and working as an elementary school teacher with Surrey Education Committee. It has not been possible to trace the school at which he taught.
On 1st December 1916 he was conscripted into the 4th Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment. At the time he was living at 132 Balvernie Grove, Southfields. He was aged 27 years and 7 months. The 4th Battalion was a reserve unit that provided replacements for front-line battalions. It not known when Arthur joined the 1st Battalion, a regular army unit, nor when he went to the front.
The 1st Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment had been in France and Belgium since the very start of the war. They had fought in almost every major engagement on the western front – from Mons, Aisne, Loos, Second Ypres, the Somme, Arras and Passchendaele.
In January 1918 the battalion moved to Longuenesse in France, and in February came under the orders of the 100th Infantry Brigade, part of the 33rd Division. They trained and paraded for much of January and February, before moving back to the front near Poperinge in Belgium. They remained in the Ypres sector for the next month.
On the 21st of March, the Germans launched the first of what to be a series of massive offensives in the west. The first fell on the old Somme battlefields, and the battalion was warned of a move south as reinforcements. On 31st March they began their move down to the Arras sector, and it was there when the Germans began a new offensive on 9th April.
On the morning of the 11th, the battalion moved up to an area south-west of Meteren. The village had been under artillery fire since the previous evening. On the 12th, at 1 p.m., the battalion was ordered to take up a defensive position. When they moved forward they found their positions occupied by enemy machine gunners, and when finally they got into position they discovered they were relatively isolated – with only a couple of other battalions alongside, covering a front of over 2,100 metres.
At 5.32 p.m. the war diary describes how the ‘enemy attacked in waves several times, but was stopped without difficulty, and suffered many casualties’. A history of the battalion records the words of ‘one who was there’:
‘The whole line vomited out a blaze of fire; ahead of us Germans reeled and fell, the grey horse reared up on its hind legs and horse and rider fell in a heap. The whole column broke and fled helter-skelter, but still the hail of bullets ceaselessly sped from Lewis gun and rifle, and bigger and bigger grew the heaps of corpses in front.’
However, the battalion was slowly pushed back. The 13th of April saw further attacks under the cover of heavy artillery and mortar fire. The 1st Battalion was slowly pushed back under the pressure of these attacks. However, towards evening reinforcements had begun to arrive, and other units moved into the area in support. That evening passed comparatively peacefully.
It was during these heavy attacks around Belle Croix Farm, to the south of Meteren village, that Arthur lost his life.
The 1st Battalion continued to defend against heavy attacks on the 14th and was finally relieved on the 15th. The Battalion had 4 officers and 36 other ranks killed or died of wounds, 8 officers and 161 other ranks were wounded, and 1 officer and 160 men were missing.
Arthur’s body was never recovered, and he is commemorated on the Ploegsteert Memorial in Belgium, and on the Richmond War memorial.
He is entitled to the British War Medal and Victory Medal.
War Diary – 1st Battalion, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey) Regiment
The Cardiff Times, 3rd August 1907 – ‘University of London Matriculation: Local Successes’
Surrey Recruitment Registers 1908-1933
Colonel H.C. Wylly, History of The Queen’s Royal (West Surrey) Regiment in The Great War, (1925)
Commonwealth War Graves Commission – https://www.cwgc.org/
Ancestry website – https://www.ancestry.co.uk/