Researched and written by Anne Wright
2/Lt A V Pratt
9th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment
Killed in action, 21.3.1918
Laura Villa in Elm Grove Road, Weybridge, was the home for many years of Arthur Victor Pratt and his family. The town was also his birthplace; he was born on 18 December 1897 to John William Pratt, a carpenter and his wife Mary (nee Gillam). He was baptised at St James’ Church on 13 February 1898 and educated at St James’ School (Baker Street). His parents had married in Brighton in 1887. Arthur was the fifth of six surviving siblings; Florence, Thomas, Edith and Herbert were all older and Dorothy younger.
Arthur did not go to the front until August 1917 but his unit, the 9th Battalion, East Surrey Regiment had landed at Boulogne on 1 September 1915. By the time he joined them they were battle hardened. They had been in France for just a few days when they saw action on 26 September, the second day of the Battle of Loos. During their first experience of fighting they incurred high casualties: 14 officers and 430 other ranks killed, wounded or missing. In July 1916 they moved to the Somme battlefields. On 3 September they were holding the line in Delville Wood (east of Longueval). They were ordered to attack Ginchy and almost achieved their objective but had to withdraw because the brigade to their right was held up by machine gun fire. They suffered 32 fatalities, 94 woundings and 25 missing. By April 1917 the East Surreys were in the Ypres sector where they remained until mid- September.
When Arthur joined his battalion on 19 August they were already embroiled in the Third Battle of Ypres (‘Passchendaele’) which had started on 31 July and would go on until early November. He had his first experience of trench warfare when his battalion went into the line in the Mt Sorrel sector near Voormezeele. Fortunately, their five days in this position passed uneventfully. On 7 September they were in a line of dug-outs on the north side of the Ypres-Menin railway embankment. They were playing a supporting role which brought Arthur to the notice of his, superior officers. The battalion received a letter on 12 September from the Brigadier-General commanding the 72nd Infantry Brigade congratulating them on the ‘excellent work they had done in the past few days carrying ammunition up and assisting with tunnelling under trying circumstances…’ Arthur was singled out for particular praise, ‘….officers in charge, especially 2/Lt Pratt showed considerable initiative in handling their men.’ This reflects a notable skill in such a young officer.
A week later the battalion spent the whole day travelling south. They reached their ultimate destination at Hervilly (13 km east of Peronne) on 27 September in the Somme country. Arthur spent the rest of his time with the battalion in this sector and a little further south to the R. Aisne. They were in and out of the trenches throughout late 1917 and into the spring of 1918. Most of their time in the front line was just to the east of Hargicourt (18 km east of Peronne). They were able to enjoy Christmas Day in camp at Hancourt; Arthur and his fellow officers ate at 8pm with pork, fruit and nuts on the menu having already enjoyed a concert in the afternoon.
They battled against snow and frost in January 1918 but at the beginning of March enjoyed a rest at Devise (south-east of Hancourt). The 9th East Surreys were back in the line at Villecholles which was close to Vermand (12 km west of St Quentin) from 11 to 18 March. They then returned to camp at Vermand. A gas attack was expected on the night of 20/21 March so on the 20th the men slept with their box respirators in alert position. The enemy bombardment began at 4.30am. The Germans had launched their Spring Offensive; their troop strength had increased by 30% since November 1917 mainly by men released from the eastern front. Initially, they overwhelmed their opponents; at 10am the 9th Surreys were ordered to move forward to man the ridge between Villecholles and Maissemy. At 1pm their Commanding Officer was killed by a sniper’s bullet. Transport lines had already been hit killing and wounding a few men and horses and their signallers hut had been hit killing two and wounding six. The next day they were ordered to withdraw to Monchy La Gache. Arthur was killed in the maelstrom of 21 March. His battalion continued to withdraw but put up a stalwart defence on the 26th before they were completely surrounded; only three officers and thirty men got away.
Arthur has no known grave; he is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial (Panels 44 & 45) 6kms north-east of Albert. His family remained at Laura Villa until at least 1923; his father died in this year. Arthur’s brother, Thomas, spent most of his war service in India. He left the army in March 1919.
The British Army in the Great War of 1914-1918, The Long, Long Trail – East Surrey Regiment, www.longlongtrail.co.uk
British Army Service Records, 1914-1920, www.findmypast.co.uk
England & Wales Marriages, 1837-2005, www.findmypast.co.uk
Memorial to the Masters and Old Boys of St James’ School, Weybridge, Who Fell in the Great War 1914-1918, St James’ Church
Surrey, England, Church of England Baptisms, 1813-1912, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Church of England Burials, 1813-1987, www.ancestry.co.uk
Surrey, England, Electoral Registers, 1832-1962, www.ancestry.co.uk