Edward James GUMMERY
Gummery Family of Hylton Road, Worcester
Edward James Gummery was born in 1888 at Worcester, the eldest child of William James Gummery, a house painter and his wife Frances. There were other known children in the family:-
Enlistment in the Lincolnshire Regiment
Edward enlisted at Worcester in the 10th (Service) Battalion of the Lincolnshire Regiment as a Private (43494). The 10th Battalion was raised at Grimsby on 9th September 1914 by the Mayor and Town of Grimsby. The service battalions were formed in many local areas as thousands of men responded to Field Marshall Lord Kitchener's appeal for volunteers. In contrast to regular and territorial battalions which recruited county wide, the service battalions were initially formed from local communities and areas. Some prided themselves as being "pals battalions" where the entire workforce of a company, or all the members of the local boys' brigade enlisted at the same time. The 10th Lincolnshire Battalion was known as the "Grimsby Chums". It is almost certain that Edward was not in this battalion from its inception, but would have been part of new recruits, raised to bring the battalion up to numbers after losses in battle.
The Situation in France
After sustaining losses in early April 1917 in the first battle of Scarpe in north western France, the 10th Lincolnshire Battalion was brought up to strength on the 21st April with new drafts of 5 officers and 193 other ranks. None of these men had had any battle experience and some had only the three months basic training. On 21st April the Battalion Commander Clark was taken ill and went to hospital leaving Vignoles temporarily in command. The battalion were moved up to a reserve position in the Point du Jour sector on 23rd April, digging a hole in the ground for their battalion HQ. On the 24th they were hastily moved together with the rest of the 24th Division to a point near Roeux, in the area of Arras, to take part in an offensive planned for the 28th April against German positions to the north and south of the river Scarpe.
Field Marshall Haig (the Commander in Chief in France) had been urged by the French to keep up the pressure on the Arras front in order to draw some of the Germans away from the Aisne where the French were suffering heavy losses. Instead of assembling his troops for a properly co-ordinated advance, Haig ordered the Third Army to go into action as soon as possible. The key to any progress in the northern sector was the taking of Greenland Hill, and this position could not be taken as long as the heavily fortified village of Roeux to the south remained in German hands.
Vignoles had been landed with the temporary command of the 10th Lincolnshires at a bad time. The battalion had taken in a large number of young soldiers straight out from England with little time for training them, and no chance to teach them about trench life before they went into action. He was also confronted with a tactical problem which needed a new approach. The battalion was in a part of the Scarpe Valley where the Germans had breached the Hindenberg Line and ahead of them lay open country, instead of the more familiar line of trenches. The Germans had established a number of heavily fortified positions in buildings and hidden in the contours of the ground, with the main body of infantry stationed a mile to the rear, prepared for a strong counter-attack when needed. It was a situation that required fresh tactics but there was no time to think them out.
The Battle for Roeux
At 01.00 on the 28th April the Chums moved "C" company into Care trench and "D" company into Cap trench. "A" and "B" companies took up the rear position in Ceylon trench. Zero hour was 04.25 but as the direction of attack was not opposite the lines they were occupying the 10th Lincolnshires had to get out in the open at 04.15, as silently as possible, and line up to face their objective. This would have been a difficult manoeuvre for experienced regular troops in the dull early morning light, and it proved to be impossible for the raw young recruits. The enemy was alerted and showered them with shells and machine-gun fire. It was the worst possible start.
It was difficult to determine the line of advance in the dark, and it was not known for certain where the enemy were. A barrage of artillery fire which was intended to take out the houses where the Germans had established machine-gun posts was begun, but the fire seemed to miss the houses and the posts remained intact. In hindsight it seems incredible that the advance at Roeux was ordered before these houses, known from a previous attack to contain machine-gun posts, had been destroyed by shell fire, but this is what happened.
At 04.25 the Chums advanced towards their first objective, the Gavrelle-Roeux road between the chateau on the left and the south western edge of the cemetery on the right.They soon came under intense machine-gun fire from a post in front of the chateau and from some houses behind the road. Immediately there were a large number of casualties. Several houses around the cemtery were described as being full of enemy troops. It is known that the German unit opposite the 10th Lincolnshires was the 1st Battalion of the 64th Infantry Regiment which had three of its companies in strips of trenches and strong points around the cemetery and its remaining company in reserve in the village.
At 05.14 the Chums had only advanced about 230 yards and the intense fire made it impossible to go further, so they lay down in shell holes and took whatever cover they could. Knowing that the British unit lying in front of his position could neither advance nor retreat the German commander sent his troops out in strength at 05.30 with machine-guns and they quickly surrounded large parties of Chums lying in the shell holes. Some of the men tried to get back to their own lines but they were all seen to be shot down (according to the account in the battalion diary), while the remainder were forced to surrender.
The Remnants of the Chums
Vignoles was in battalion headquarters about a quarter of a mile from the front line. He went forward to see what as happening, and collected together all the troops from the battalion that he could find and directed them to assemble at the junction of Corona and Ceylon trenches. They got a mortar gun into action at this point and sent a Lewis gun up to point "A" and managed to kill some Germans taking cover in houses to the north of the cemetery. Soon these guns were put out of action and their teams killed by heavy counter fire. Vignoles had only collected 40 men and they were spread out along Ceylon trench. Of other survivors of the 10th Lincolnshires, a small group had withdrawn to point "E", and ten men maintained a Lewis gun at position at point "C". It was in this sorry state that they awaited the inevitable German counter-attack.
No eye witness account exists for what happened next and the sequence of events are difficult to piece together. The Germans made a counter attack at 08.05 covered by heavy machine-gun fire from the chateau, and by artillery fire on Mount Pleasant Wood. This was met with Lewis gun fire from the 20th Northumberland Fusiliers in Cusp trench and from the remnants of the Chums in Ceylon and Care trenches, which broke the flanks of the enemy but still 200 or more managed to get through and enter Care trench, Mount Pleasant Wood and Colne trench. Thirty or so Germans pressed on and entered a section of Ceylon trench that was ungarrisoned.
HUNS in OUR Trench
Vignoles made another reconnaissance and saw "HUNS in OUR trench". When he got back to the reserve line he organised bombing groups to oust the Germans from the stretch of Ceylon trench they were occupying, which resulted in the enemy running back in the direction of the village in disorder. By 12.30 the action was over and fighting ended for the day, and so ended the most disastrous action ever fought by the 10th Lincolnshires. The strength of the battalion on the morning of the 28th April was 18 officers and 626 other ranks. When roll call was taken at the end of the day there were only 5 officers and 206 men who remained unharmed. Casualties numbered 433, or 67% of the total strength - 204 killed and 229 wounded. Among those killed in action on 28th April 1917 was Private Edward James Gummery (43494), aged 28 years.
The dead are commemorated on the Arras Memorial in the Faubourg-d'Amiens Cemetery, on the Boulevard General de Gaulle in the western part of the town of Arras.
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