Arthur Read


By the time of the 1911 census, Arthur's parents, Edgar and Mary had been living in Hoxne for a number of decades. Mary was born in Watercloney, County Antrim whilst Edgar was born in Stradbroke around 1850. Edgar's early life was hard, the 1851 census recording him, at the age of two, as a resident of the Hoxne Union Work House. In 1861 he is recorded as a servant in the Tuft Household in Church Street, Hoxne but by 1871 census he had moved from Hoxne and enlisted in the Army as he is resident at "The Camp", Colchester. By 1881 Edgar had returned to Hoxne and is listed as working as an agricultural labourer but still in the Army Reserve. The census for 1901 and 1911 record a growing family still living in Low Street. However some time after 1911 Edgar and Mary had moved with, presumably, the younger siblings and were living at Battle Road, Hollington, Leonards-on-Sea, Sussex. There is no indication of the reason for this rather dramatic move.

Born in 1898, Arthur was aged 13 at the time of the 1911 census and recorded as a scholar. No Attestation records survive for Arthur but we do know that he initially served with the Norfolk Regiment and his service number was 26750. From the surviving records of men with similar service numbers in the Norfolk's we know that he enlisted at Bury St Edmund in October 1916 and after initial training was sent to France in early 1917. Again no records survive detailing when Arthur was transferred out of the Norfolk's and into the Nottinghamshire and Derby Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) but it appears that a number of Norfolk men were transferred into the 15th Battalion Sherwood Foresters and were given their new service numbers in February 1917. In addition, it is believed that the Norfolk men were transferred before serving with their Regiment at the front.

The 15th Battalion, Sherwood Foresters was known by the nick name the "Bantams" due to the fact that the Battalion (and a number of other Battalions in Kitchener's Army) accepted men below the regulation height of 5 foot 3 inches. Having fought through numerous actions during the Somme Offensive the Battalion had suffered accordingly, but as the Battalion was brought back up to strength it quickly became apparent that the new drafts were not of the same physical standard as those they were replacing. The result was that nearly 1500 of these new drafts were not accepted into the Battalion and were transferred on to the Labour Corps. The replacements then had to be found in Regiments such as the Norfolk's.

In February 1917 the British took over a sector of the Somme Battlefield previously occupied by the French Army to the south east of Amiens. The ensuing months saw Arthur slowly acclimatise to life on the Western Front, the Battalion spent it's time serving in the frontline, organising working parties to repair or create defences or involved in training. Occasionally the Battalion took part in raids on the German trenches to gain prisoners or intelligence. Whilst much of the British (and Empire) Army was heavily engaged in the Battle of Passchendaele to the north the Sommer sector did not see any major action although casualties still mounted.

On 1st August the Sherwood Foresters were relieved and spent the next two week's in their camp at Aizecourt-la-Bas practising for an attack on the Knoll, a German trench system that overlooked the British line at Gillemont Farm. Divisional HQ had prepared a full scale replica of the German trenches that were to be attacked, this gave both the 15th Sherwood Foresters and their sister battalion, the 15th Cheshires a idea of what they had to achieve. Although a relatively small scale operation the Division had prepared a detailed plan to support the attack with some very heavy artillery assets, 9.2 inch, 8 inch and 6 inch Howitzers and 60 pounders would provide a considerable barrage.

On the 17th August the War Diary records the Battalion leaving the camp at Aizecourt-la-Bas just after lunch at 1.30 p.m. marching via Longavesnes and Villers Faucon to neighbourhood of St. Emilie where they pitched camp. At 10 pm on the 18th August, the 15th Sherwood Foresters began their journey to their Assembly Point for the assault on the Knoll, on paper it seems a rather tortuous route march via the Rosnay-Lempire-Tombois Road, Fleeceall Post and Fag Lane to the position known as the Old Barrier on the Sunken Road. All company's were in position between 3am and 7am. The Battalion War Diary records the attack:

"The attack on the Knoll was carried out successfully, (Zero time 4 a.m.), in conjunction with the 15th Cheshire Regiment. All objectives were gained, the new defensive line in front of the Old German line was sited and began, and a bombing block established on the left at a point about 50 yards or so from the junction of Beal Lane with Tombois Trench. Little or no quarter was given, and few prisoners taken. The moppers up detailed from 'Y' Coy. dealt with a number of the enemy who survived our bombardment. The German trench was practically destroyed by our fire, the wire was well and completely cut and our men met with little or no opposition in their advance. On their right the dug-outs at A.1.d.3.0 were bombed and cleared, and two trench mortars captured in conjunction with a party of the 15th Cheshires. Order of attack, 15th Cheshires on the right, 15th Sherwoods on the left. Our battalion went over in three waves. 'Y' & 'Z' Coys. formed the first and second waves, they were the Assaulting Coys. Three platoons of 'W' Coy. formed the third wave and dug the new trench in front of the Old German line. 'X' Coy. were in Reserve and supplied carrying parties. Then the latter were formed up in the front trench of Fleeceall Post, and lost two men killed there by enemy shells before the attack started about 3-30 a.m. The Bombing Block party under 2nd Lieut. F.G. Mottershaw was detailed from Ltr. 'Z' Coy. The Assaulting Coy. began to withdraw about 5 a.m. and returned to billets in Lempire. At one time in the morning our Artillery was firing short, also one of our Aeroplanes flew overhead and opened fire by mistake on our front line wounding three men. The rest of the of the day was fairly quiet, but the enemy kept shelling our new position."

In fact the Battalion's losses were heavier than recorded in the War Diary, the Divisional History stating that 27 men were killed, 51 wounded and 5 missing Arthur being one of the killed. He is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial.