The Ripley Pals

 By Peter Spooner (great-nephew of Robert Spooner).

THE RIPLEY PALS

2352 Rifleman Frederick PARFITT

2353 Rifleman Clarence WORSFOLD

2354 Rifleman Robert SPOONER

2355 Rifleman Andrew GADD

2356 Rifleman James WOOLGAR

2357 Rifleman Ernest HYDE

2358 Rifleman Ernest NEW

When war was declared in August 1914 it was recognised that, regardless of public belief, the war was not going to be over by Christmas and there would be a need for volunteers. This call was answered by a rush of men volunteering to join Kitchener’s Army. These included seven friends from Ripley. None of the men were to survive the war.

Six of the men attested in Guildford on the 2 September 1914 and, for some unexplained reason, Andrew Gadd was not attested until the following day. From initials written on all the attestation papers, it is possible that the men wanted to join the King’s Royal Rifle Corps, but this was not to be. The day after attestation the men presented themselves at Winchester, where they joined the Rifle Brigade (The Prince Consort’s Own) and were allocated consecutive service numbers. Initially the men were posted to the Rifle Brigade Depot, then to the 9th (Service) Battalion and finally to the 12th (Service) Battalion, being posted to C Company.

Having been allocated to the 12th Battalion, the men commenced their basic training. This would have consisted of drill, physical training and fieldwork. In due course the Battalion moved to Blackdown, Surrey, to join the 60th Brigade as part of the 20th (Light) Division. There was great difficulty in obtaining equipment and uniform and it was not until November that each man was issued with the emergency blue uniform. Rifles were also in short supply and, whilst there was a limited number of old rifles available for drill purposes, there were so few S.M.L.E. (Short Magazine Lee Enfield) rifles that these had to be shared on the range. So saying, when musketry training took place in January, it was said that, in spite of difficulties and bitterly cold weather, the standard of shooting was high.

Whilst at Blackdown Ernest New, James Woolgar, Robert Spooner, Clarence Worsfold and Frederick Parfitt were disciplined for overstaying their leave passes from midnight 26 December to midnight on the 27 December 1914. For this they were sentenced to 3 days’ confinement to camp and the loss of one day’s pay. I hope that the men were able to visit their families as, for Ernest, Robert and Clarence, this was to be their last Christmas.

In February 1915, the Division moved by road to Witley, Surrey, with the men marching in cold weather, pouring rain and blustery winds. Upon their arrival at the camp the men found a quagmire and huts that let in the weather. As khaki uniforms had not been issued, their clothing was thin and comfort-less.

In April, the Division moved by road from Witley to Salisbury Plain, the distance of 63 miles being covered in four days. This has been referred to as a creditable performance, as the weather was warm and the roads dusty; in addition the men were in full marching order for the first time. Upon arrival at Salisbury Plain three months of training commenced. This involved field training, night operations and tactical exercises with long marches to and from the training areas. On the 24 June the Division was inspected by H.M. The King; no doubt this was seen as a sign of what was about to happen.

On the 21 July 1915 the war service of the Division was to begin. The men of the 12th Battalion left Larkhill for Southampton, where they embarked on the SS Viper to sail to France. They arrived at Le Havre the following day with an establishment of 29 officers and 986 men. The Battalion was now to spend the remainder of the war on active service in France and Belgium, losing 24 officers and 755 men. These figures do not include those who suffered wounds or illness.

Having disembarked the Battalion marched to No. 1 Rest Camp for the night. The following day it took an overnight train journey to St Omer where it suffered its first casualty. Whilst asleep on the ground,  one of the men was run over by a cart and admitted to hospital with a fractured pelvis. This injury may have saved him from being killed in the Battalion’s first action two months later.

The Divisional history records that the men had been trained in England for open warfare. Upon arrival in France they had to receive training in trench warfare and recently-developed types of fighting. The men were also introduced to bombing, but training was very difficult to begin with as there were no bombs to train with.

For the next few weeks the Battalion was to experience many route marches and changes of billets. On the 10 August the real work started: two platoons of A, B & C Companies went into the trenches with the corresponding Companies of the 2nd Battalion The Rifle Brigade for instruction, trench and sentry duties, fatigue and working parties. This process was continue for two days and included working with the 1st Battalion The Royal Irish Rifles. The next stage was for platoons to take over their own frontage and be given a sector to be responsible for. Life was now to continue with a routine of trench duty, reserve duty and providing working parties.

On the 8 September a mine was exploded in front of the front-line trench held by the Battalion. Fortunately two members of the 17th Bavarian Regiment had been captured the previous day and had given information about the mine; the trench had therefore been evacuated and there were not any casualties. Later in the month some of the men had the opportunity to attend the Divisional baths.

On the 24 September the Battalion prepared for an action that was to take place the following day. The action was to be a subsidiary attack in connection with the Battle of Loos, which was to take place to the south. The men paraded in fighting order with packs and 220 rounds of ammunition; every alternate man carried a pick or shovel. Whilst the attack carried out by the Battalion on the 25 was a success and objectives were met, the survivors of the attack had to retire as their flank became exposed and they were subjected to enfilading fire. Following this action the Battalion’s casualties were 4 officers killed and 3 wounded, with 43 other ranks killed, 213 wounded and 76 missing but believed killed. This action ended my family involvement with the Battalion.

1915 – The Death of Innocence by Lynn MacDonald contains the reminiscences of Rifleman Worrell, who served with C Company 12th (Service) Battalion and is likely to have known the lads from Ripley. He refers to this action, during which he was wounded.

The fate of the Ripley Pals is shown below:

Ernest New was the first member of the group to become a casualty; he was killed in action on the 5 September 1915 having received a gunshot wound to the head. The war diary records that 2nd Lieutenant Knights Smith and an unnamed Rifleman were killed whilst in a listening post; they had been for an hour endeavouring to locate German machine-gun emplacements. The two men were buried side by side in Rue-du-Bacquerot No. 1 Military Cemetery, Lavantie, France, with the burial service being taken by the Reverend Steward of the 60th Field Ambulance.

Andrew Gadd was wounded on the 14 September 1915. The war diary refers to 410 men forming a working party under the Royal Engineers. Four were wounded by shrapnel; it is likely that Andrew was one of them. Andrew returned to duty on the 18 September following treatment at 61st Field Ambulance. He was wounded again on the 12 February 1916; this time it was a gunshot wound to the head, which seems to have been received during a German infantry attack on the Battalion’s trenches. Again he was treated at 61st Field Ambulance but this time he was transferred to 10 Casualty Clearing Station and then No. 13 General Hospital. On the 25 February 1916 he was repatriated to England and treated at No. 4 London General Hospital. He returned to France on 22 December 1916 and rejoined C Company five days later. On 27 November 1917 he was wounded again, this time by a gunshot wound to his right hand, and was treated at 55 Casualty Clearing Station and No. 1 Australian General Hospital. Having rejoined the Battalion he had two weeks’ leave, returning on 1 February 1918. On 24 March 1918 Andrew was killed in action when German infantry carried out an attack on troops holding the canal bank at Offoy. Without a known grave, he is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial to the Missing, France.

Clarence Worsfold and Robert Spooner were both killed in action on 25 September 1915. The Ripley parish magazine reports that Clarence’s family was initially informed that he was missing, believed killed. It was not until April 1916 that it was able to report that the family had received confirmation of his death. An entry in his service record, although difficult to read, may help to explain the delay. It is apparent that his death was reported to the Foreign Office by German sources. It is not clear if he was found dead by the Germans or was wounded, captured and died of his wounds whilst in captivity. Both men are commemorated on Ploegsteert Memorial to the Missing, Belgium.

Ernest Hyde was wounded in the action on the 25 September 1915. His service record does not provide information as to the extent of his injuries but, as he was repatriated to England two days later, they are likely to have been serious. The move may also have been because the medical services could not cope with the number of wounded. It is probable that Ernest was initially treated by Lieutenant Malling RAMC, the Battalion Medical Officer who, for his actions that day when he treated over 300 casualties, was awarded the Victoria Cross.

Following treatment in England, Ernest was posted to the 15th (Service) Battalion in Sleaford, Lincolnshire, returning to France on the 22 March 1916. On his arrival in France Ernest was posted to 13th (Service) Battalion The Rifle Brigade, 111th Brigade, 37th Division. It is unlikely that he saw his surviving friends from Ripley again. On 12 March 1917 he was again wounded; this time the wound was described as a mild gunshot wound to the head, the circumstances of which are not clear. On 27 April 1917 he was wounded once more; this time he was not to survive and died on 12 May 1918 in No. 9 General Hospital in Rouen from a gunshot wound to the chest. The circumstances that led to him being wounded are not known and the Battalion war diary does not provide assistance. He was buried in St Sever Cemetery Extension. Rouen, France.

Frederick Parfitt (the surname is spelt Parfett in his service record, no doubt the spelling selected by the person completing the form on enlistment.) Frederick was wounded on the 6 June 1916. His service record records that this was a slight gunshot wound and that he was treated by 61st Field Ambulance and 20 DRS, returning to duty on 16 June. The war diary records that the Battalion’s trench was subject to an attack by German infantry supported by shell fire and a mine explosion. On 29 June 1916, Frederick was killed in action: the war diary records that the men in the front-line trench were firing in support of a neighbouring battalion carrying out a raid when a 5.9 gun started enfilade fire on the support trench, killing 5 men and wounding 21. He is buried in Vlamertinghe Military Cemetery, Ypres, Belgium.

James Woolgar was killed in action on 22 February 1916. The war diary records that British artillery shelled the German front line opposite their trenches, that there was a very severe barrage in retaliation and that 4 men were killed and 34 wounded. James’ service record records that his widow was awarded a pension of 10s. (50p) a week. Without a known grave, he is commemorated on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing, Ypres, Belgium.

All the men are commemorated on a memorial in Ripley Royal British Legion Club and on Ripley War Memorial in the grounds of St Mary Magdalen Church.

Sources:

Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914 -19 (The Rifle Brigade).

Commonwealth War Graves Commission records.

Service Records – Ancestry.com.

History of the 20th (Light) Division.

War Diaries of the 12th & 13th Battalions, The Rifle Brigade – The Royal Green Jackets’ Museum, Winchester.

The Rifle Brigade Chronicle 1918 and 1920 – The Royal Green Jackets’ Museum, Winchester.

The Rifle Brigade 1914–18, Volume 1 – The Royal Green Jackets’ Museum, Winchester.

Lynn MacDonald, 1915 – The Death of Innocence (Penguin, 1997),

Ripley Parish Magazine.

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