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Written by Jim Woolley   
Tuesday, 14 April 2015 00:11

The End of The Beginning

By the beginning of April 1915, Britain’s professional army, the “Old Contemptibles” who went to war in August 1914, was all but destroyed. They had first met the enemy at Mons, suffered the gruelling retreat to the Marne, then advanced back to the Aisne and finally raced north to take over the sector of the Allied line around Ypres. Their losses in killed, wounded and missing were relentless. Those that remained, many of whom had been wounded and returned to the Front Line after recovery, were exhausted and ill prepared or equipped for the wet and cold of a Flanders winter. But they held the Line, they did not fail.

Fortunately the Germans in the “trenches” opposite were in a similar state. The area around Ypres has a high water table and conventional trenches could not be dug into the water-logged ground in many places, both sides resorting to raised parapets. Most of the time was spent bailing out the flood water and repairing the parapets that were washed away, so neither side felt particularly aggressive!

For the Army as a whole, the biggest problem it faced was one of expertise. The scale of the casualties in what was a relatively small army meant that a significant proportion of the experienced officers and men were lost, key people whom it could ill afford to lose, especially at a time when the army was expanding rapidly. The Territorial battalions were beginning to arrive at the Front, and Kitchener volunteers would be coming later in the year, but they would not be fully effective for many months. In the meantime, the war would have to be fought by an increasing proportion of “green” troops.

For the Germans, at this stage in the war, they held most of “the cards”! They had decided where to make their stand, they had chosen, in the main, easily defended positions, they could decide to either stand firm or attack if the opportunity presented itself. For the Allies, inactivity was not an option, they had to evict the enemy who occupied large areas of Belgium and France. Hence the Allies had to keep attacking and the first significant British offensive was at Neuve Chapelle in March 1915.

Ottregian Casualties

In the first quarter of 1915, Ottery lost seven of her sons, all killed on the Western Front.

Five were serving with the 2nd Devons, the majority of them being regular soldiers who had enlisted before the war began.

Typical of the random nature of many of the deaths of the Great War was that of 8968 Private John Perryman, 2nd Devons, killed in action 11/03/1915, by a German shell which burst in the midst of a group of four of them whilst they were standing in a farm house in Northern France, during the Battle of Neuve Chapelle.

The other four members of the same battalion who were killed at this time were :

8569 Private Harold Lionel Salter, died of wounds 01/02/1915

8833 Private Arthur Young, killed in action 23/02/1915

11839 Private Albert George Berry, died of wounds 15/03/1915, also at Neuve Chapelle.

11508 Private Herbert William Godfrey, died of wounds 16/03/1915, also at Neuve Chapelle.

Also killed were Sergeant Richard John Carnell, East Lancashire Regiment, one of the London Ottregians, originating from Fenny Bridges, died of wounds 15/01/1915, and 2nd Lieutenant Cyril Henry Cameron, Royal Horse Artillery, killed in action 12/03/1915, a nephew of Ann Buller, of Strete Raleigh House, and a member of the Escot Club.

Rest in Peace.

Charles John Piney

Several people responded to my plea in the March Gazette for help in uncovering the identity of Charles John but unfortunately we still cannot discover who his parents were. We have however confirmed the West Hill connection. The Exeter and Plymouth Gazette of the 20th September 1916 carries a report of the death in India of ”John Piney, only son of Mr and Mrs Piney, of Salston Cottage, Ottery St Mary”. Sadly we still do not know the identity of Mr and Mrs Piney.

If you can solve the mystery, do you know which Pineys lived at Salston Cottage, please telephone me on 01404 812176

Jim Woolley