MY FAMILY AT WAR
FRANK & SAMUEL The Fighting Cousins
The Maltby family of Cambridge was a prominent and dispersed group in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, one member even becoming the Mayor of Cambridge. My grandfather, George Mason Maltby, was born into the Norfolk Street branch of the family in 1899. His father Samuel was a robe maker and family anecdotes suggest that he was involved in the making of the Coronation robes for Edward VII. There were six sons in the Norfolk Street Maltbys, but by 1901 only five were still living at number 41, including Frank born in 1896, and George, the youngest.
The outbreak of the First World War in August 1914 affected the Maltbys like all other families across the land. Frank was working at the Central Meat company in Burleigh Street when he, like so many of his generation, enlisted in November 1914. He joined the 2/1 Battalion Cambridgeshire Regiment which was a training unit and over a period of twenty two months he found himself moved around the country into different divisions and training camps, ending up in Catterick in July 1916. He was posted to France on 30th August 1916 in the 5th Battalion Yorkshire regiment as Private 5211. (Figure 1)
Figure 1. Frank, his parents and brother Sidney (Family archive)
Frank’s cousin Samuel Richard David Maltby was also transferred to the same unit on 30th August 1916 as Private 5212, A Company No 2 Platoon. Fortunately Samuel’s army service record is intact and available on-line. It shows that he enlisted in the Territorials on 1st January1914. Samuel was born in 1894 and lived in Barton Road, Cambridge employed by the local brick company as a labourer. Having joined the territorials he was embodied - called up - on 5th August 1914 as Private 1694, Ist Battalion, Cambridgeshire Regiment but did not volunteer for immediate overseas service so was transferred to the 2/1 Battalion. Like his cousin Frank, Samuel spent two years in a variety of training establishments before being posted on 30th August 1916 to the Yorkshire Regiment, The Green Howards.
The transfer of men from regiment to regiment became more common as the war progressed. Initially, I contacted the Green Howards Museum in Richmond to ask if they could shed any light on the Cambridge men who were transferred in 1916. However, the museum was totally unaware of this and had no records of the transfer. Therefore I contacted Cliff Brown, chairman of the Cambridgeshire branch of the Western Front Association (WFA) who has created a database of the men who served in the Cambridgeshire Regiment in WW1. From this he has discovered that one hundred and sixty-one men from the Cambridgeshire Regiment were transferred initially to the 5th (Reserve) Battalion at Catterick camp on 23rd August 1916, then posted to the 5th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment that sailed from Folkestone to Boulogne on 30th August 1916. Later, on 19th September 1916, some of these men were transferred to the 4th Battalion Yorkshires. Both the 4th and 5th Battalions were in the 150th Infantry Brigade and part of the 50th (Northumbrian) Division. On transfer to the Yorkshires the men were given new four figure service numbers. According to Cliff Brown’s extensive research the 5th Battalion numbers ran from 5119 to 5274; whilst the 4th Battalion ran from 7554 to 7629. Armed with this knowledge, I looked up the Medal index rolls for the Yorkshire Regiment at the National Archives in Kew, and found the names of sixty-three men who had been transferred from the Cambridgeshires to the Yorkshires in August 1916. However, both Frank and Samuel’s Medal Index cards showed another six figure service number - F H MALTBY 5211/242470, S R D MALTBY 5212/242471. This is explained by the fact that in April 1917 the Army introduced a new six-figure number for those men from the old Territorial Battalions. (Figure 2)
Figure 2. Yorkshire Regiment Medal Roll (N A Kew)
In August 1916, either intentionally or by the luck of the draw, the Maltby cousins Frank and Samuel and other men from Cambridgeshire found themselves in the 5th Green Howards which had just been moved down from the Ypres salient to the Somme in preparation for the next phase of that battle.
According to the 5th Battalion war diary WO95/2836, in September 1916 the Battalion was in Millencourt, west of Albert and behind the lines of the Somme front. (Michelin Map 301 – Local - ref I 7). On 9th September the Battalion moved up to the front and occupied Swansea Trench in support of the 149th Brigade around the ruined village of Bazentin le Petit (Map ref J 7). ‘The Green Howards in the Great War’ – a Regimental History - by H.C. WYLLY provides a summary of the 5th Battalion’s activities on the Somme. At 6.30 am on 15th September 1916, the 4th and 5th Battalions advanced to attack between High Wood and the ruined village of Martinpuich (Map ref J 7) occupied by the enemy. Whilst successfully achieving their objectives, they were heavily shelled before being relieved on 19th September. (Figure 3)
Figure 3. The Somme –1916 (IWM maps)
‘The Fiftieth Division 1914 –1919’ by Everard Wyrall provides a much more detailed analysis of the September campaign. The line taken over by the 50th Division in September 1916 was open to attack on three sides. As Wyrall describes:
“For sheer tragedy wholesale destruction the first vision of the ghastly battlefield (Somme) almost blotted out from one’s mind the memories of the Ypres salient.”
The 150th Infantry Brigade’s objectives were trenches along the high ground East and Southeast of Martinpuich, with High Wood still occupied by the Germans. (Map ref J 7) The preliminary bombardment commenced on 12th September and lasted for three days so that the Germans had to remain underground to avoid being blown away. The attack on the 15th September was the 50th Division’s first engagement in a set battle that became known as Flers - Courcelette. This was the first time that a so-called ‘creeping barrage’ was used to keep the enemy down in their dug-outs and so prevent a repetition of the slaughter of advancing infantry. It was also the first use of the new war weapon ‘the tank.’ The 50th division had only two tanks attached to them and as these metal monsters moved towards Martinpuich at 6.18 am they caused many Germans to run away in fear. The 4th and 5th Green Howards took the first objective of HOOK trench and under heavy fire from Martinpuich they moved on to the second objective the STARFISH line which was taken at 9.57 am. Whilst the enemy counter attacked, the Yorkshires held their position, greatly assisted by the 47th London Division’s capture of High Wood. This was at a very high price in losses as can be seen by a visit to the London Cemetery at High Wood.
On 16th and 17th the attack continued on the STARFISH line, but the enemy could not be dislodged from this strong point and both 4th and 5th battalions suffered further casualties. (Figure 4)
Figure 4. Trenches attacked by the 4th and 5th Green Howards (Bill Danby)
On the 19th September the 150th Brigade was relieved. The 5th Battalion alone had suffered 252 casualties, including the death of its commanding officer Lt. Col. Mortimer. He, with several of his men, is now buried in Flat Iron Copse Cemetery on the Somme (Yorkshire Regiment WW1 website by Edward Nicholl). The official despatches made reference to the significant contribution of the 50th Division in the battle.
On 25th September the attack was renewed in the battle of Morval designed to push north of Martinpuich. The 5th battalion was back in the STARFISH trench system and on 26th attacked towards Flers (Map ref J 7). This was a night attack and the Battalion got lost but by luck managed to achieve its objective.
On 28th the Battalion was relieved and returned to Mametz Wood (Map ref J 8) The men from Cambridgeshire had had their baptism of fire and survived it. However, one cannot think that their twenty two months of training in various UK camps had really prepared them for the reality of the war with the intensity of the artillery and the machine-guns. (Figure 5)
Figure 5. Today, the area of the attack on 15th September 1916 (C R Weekes)
For the remainder of 1916 Frank and Samuel and the 5th Battalion were moved in and out of the front lines that, due to the bad weather, were now becoming swamp-like. They also provided road-mending working parties, an activity that was far from safe because of the constant shelling of the area. However the 150th Brigade were lucky not to be involved in the final, futile phase of the battle of the Somme, the attack on the Butte de Warlencourt, a nondescript hill which, in October and November, cost the lives of many of the 151st and 149th Brigades of the 50th Division. The Butte marked the furthest point of the BEF advance in 1916 and is now owned by the WFA in memory of all who were sacrificed in its capture.
The Divisional Commander General Wilkinson said:
“From 15th September to 30th October you have advanced nearly two miles and have taken seven lines of German trenches. I thank you all for the excellent and cheerful way in which you have undertaken every task put to you.”
The winter of 1916/17 saw the 5th Battalion going from Becourt camp east of Albert (Map ref J 7) to Millencourt camp (Map ref I 7) and then training in Buire sur Ancre (Map ref I 8) before finally in March 1917 arriving in Mirvaux. (Map ref H 7).
The War Diary of any Battalion shows us the amazing distances which the men marched during the war and the 5th Battalion was no exception. By referencing the Michelin Map 301 Local readers can trace the routes for themselves.
The 50th Division history provides a detailed picture of the winter of 1916/17 and comments thus:
“The 50th Division had for the time being turned its back upon the front line the human machine had almost broken down and needed rest and repair.”
The 150th Brigade spent Christmas day and Boxing day out of the lines:
“Christmas day was kept up in style; pigs replacing turkeys and the Battalion band played carols. From home the kind folk of the north sent the men many extras and altogether the festivities were a great success.”
But this respite was short lived. Back in the trenches life was getting worse because of the rain and the mud. One description from the Divisional history provides stark evidence of the conditions that had to be endured:
“We found two men sitting in the mud. Their gum boots had been sucked off by the mud, their feet had gone wrong and they were absolutely done to the world. They went to hospital with trench foot the next day.”
It is estimated that during WW1, 75000 men went to hospital with the condition ‘trench foot’ which, at worst, resulted in amputations.
In the Green Howards Museum in Richmond is an old sepia picture with the heading ‘5th Yorkshire Battalion Morcourt sur Somme March 1917’ (Figure 6)
Figure 6. 5th Battaliion at Morcourt March 1917 (Green Howard’s Museum)
It is obviously behind the battle zone with winter trees and evidence of snow in the hollows. It is a peaceful scene and somewhere in the midst of all those khaki clad figures are the Maltby cousins - Frank and Samuel. How I wish I could pick them out from the crowd! Are they posing with their A Company chums? What might they be thinking? Are they rested and ready for what was to come? Did they even know what would be next, for it is not clear as to what extent the High Command told the Tommies of future plans. Perhaps it was because ‘careless talk can cost lives’ and certainly much intelligence was gained by raiding each others’ trenches and capturing men and maps. The picture masks the horrors of war but represents the pride that the men had in their Battalion; for this was the core of the BEF and the organisation with which the men most associated themselves. Each Battalion was supposed to be 1000 men, but this was a rare number as this story of the 5th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment (Green Howards) shows. Involvement in major battles and the attrition of trench warfare ground down the numbers so that in some instances during 1918 there were only 200 men still standing.
The battle of the Somme had been an attempt to take the pressure off the French at Verdun and to tie down the Germans as well as to dislodge them from the heavily fortified areas like Thiepval. It had been a costly battle as anyone who has visited the area and seen the cemeteries and the Thiepval memorial will have seen. Frank and Samuel Maltby in A Company, no 2 Platoon had seen their fair share of the fighting and the horrors on the Somme but had come through 1916 unscathed physically.
Having passed in and out of the front line in the winter of 1916/17, on April 1st 1917 they began a route march that ended on 12th April with their arrival in the caves of Arras (Map ref J 6). It was a diversionary offensive, agreed somewhat reluctantly by Haig, to take the attention of the Germans away from a French offensive by General Nivelle in the Champagne area. The Arras offensive opened on Easter Day, 9th April and lasted for thirty-nine days. It has been described by many military historians as the most savage infantry battle of the war with daily casualty rates higher than those on the Somme and Passchendaele. The ancient city of Arras was the staging post and had been handed over to the British in March 1916, so that from then it effectively became a British town with British administration, laws and road signs. By 1917 the town was full of the troops of the British Empire.
The Bishop of Arras summarised it well when he said:
“Arras will be able to brag that it has been defended by all the races of the universe.” (Figure 7)
Figure 7. Arras in WW1 (City of Arras)
In preparation for the April offensive and to ensure an element of surprise the BEF had constructed a series of tunnels in the chalk under the city. LES CAVES became the home to the soldiers as well as the jumping off points for the initial attacks on April 9th. Today, one such tunnel the WELLINGTON Tunnel, so called because it was created by the New Zealand tunneling company, provides physical evidence of what it was like. It also shows the range of BEF units that served in Arras during the conflict. (Figures 8 and 9)
Figure 8. Wellington Tunnel entrance today (C R Weekes)
Figure 9. Map of Arras Caves (Somewhere on the Western Front Book)
At the commencement of the Battle of Arras the 5th Battalion Yorkshires were in Divisional Reserve in the RONVILLE caves awaiting their turn. The initial attack from 9th to 14th April was extremely successful, with low casualties, gaining four miles of ground including, most importantly, the high ground south of Arras. Haig was in favour of stopping the action and transferring resources and attention to the Flanders theatre. However, he had to continue the Arras campaign to divert attention from the French attack in Champagne that had been delayed. This was to prove costly to the BEF and to the Maltby boys.
The delay from 14th to 23rd April enabled the Germans to regroup and to fortify their defences. On St George’s Day, 23rd April, the 150th Infantry Brigade lead an attack near Wancourt (Map ref K6) with the 5th battalion in reserve. The attack did not go well and the enemy put in a strong counter attack so that the 5th Battalion was pushed forward to meet this. At 6pm on 23rd the attack was renewed with more success and the line held. (Figures 10 and 11)
Figure 10. Original map of the Arras Battle Zone 1917 (IWM maps)
Figure 11. Wancourt Tower ruins today (C R Weekes)
As the 50th Division History says:
“The 5th Green Howards give their losses on 23rd April as 18 killed, 123 wounded and 57 missing.”
One of the wounded was Samuel R.D. Maltby 242471 A Company, No 2 Platoon. His army service records contain details of this, including a letter dated 27th April 1917 from his wife A. Maltby. She had heard from him that he was in no 12 General Hospital, Rouen but she did not know how badly wounded he was. He was obviously wounded in the second attack of 23rd April and went through the well developed chain of medical assistance of Advanced Dressing Station (ADS), Casualty Clearing Station (CCS) probably at Aguez les Duisans NW of Arras (Map ref I 6) and then to one of the base hospitals by train. He was not sent back to a UK hospital and according to his records he was discharged from Rouen on 12th December 1917 to base depot at ETAPLES. (Map ref C 4). Samuel Maltby was out of the fighting but many of his comrades were not so ‘lucky’. In his excellent book ‘CHEERFUL SACRIFICE’ Jonathan Nicholls says:
“The Germans were puzzled by the British plans------ Why were they pressing on with the offensive here ?( Arras ) Again and again British troops advanced only to find themselves caught in a trap ----- On 23rd April the same tactics had caused the downfall of the Yorkshire and Durham Battalions of the 150th Brigade as several battlefield cemeteries near Heninel (Map ref K 6) silently testify.”
Paul Reed in his book ‘WALKING ARRAS’ devotes a whole chapter to the 50th Division action around Wancourt. (Map ref K 6). He describes how the 4th Battalion Yorkshires were in the first wave of the attack including Captain D. S. HIRSCH who was killed, gaining a posthumous VC and is now commemorated on the Arras Memorial to the Missing together with those others who have no known graves. Those from the 150th Brigade killed on 23rd April can be found in the many Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemeteries in the area: Wancourt British, Rookery, Cherisy Road East, and Heninel Communal Cemetery Extension. The Yorkshire Regiment WW1 website is an excellent source of reference for anyone looking for a particular soldier. (Figure 12)
Figure 12. Panel of the Arras Memorial to the Missing (C R Weekes)
With Samuel Maltby wounded, his cousin Frank and the 5th battalion went back into billets at Arras probably into the caves, for they were relatively safe from shelling though far from comfortable, being cold and damp. May was spent in training at Halloy (Map ref H 7) east of Doullens. In mid June 1917 the 5th Battalion rejoined the front line, although officially the battle of Arras had ended in May. On 26th June the 5th Yorkshires and the 5th Durham Light Infantry (DLI) attacked the enemy trenches NW of Fontaine les Croisilles (Map ref K 6) (Figure 13)
Figure 13. Trench map south east of Arras (Paul Reed)
As the war diary entry for 26th June 1917 says:
“Attack was carried out by A company. Objective of Rotten Row was achieved. In daylight 5 am the Germans counter-attacked from River Road. The counter-attack was dispersed and the company maintained its position all day being relieved at night by the 4th East Yorks regiment.” (Figure 14)
Figure 14. Remains of German defences, Fontaine les Croisilles today (C R Weekes)
On July 5th, the 5th Battalion moved further along the front line to the west of the village of Cherisy. (Map ref K 6). Lt. Col. Pearce was wounded in the move and replaced as Battalion Commander by Lt. Col. Thomson, a Yorkshire man. The Battalion dug a new front line and waited for something to happen. On July 19th at 4.15am the Germans laid down a very heavy barrage along the whole sector occupied by the 150th Brigade which preceded an attack on the front line. The attack was driven off by machine gun fire and several of the enemy were captured; but the bombardment had killed fifteen members of the 5th Battalion including Frank Herbert Maltby, aged 21. Frank was my great uncle and the only member of his family to die in WW1. He had been in the army since November 1914 but only on active service for almost one year. (Figure 15)
Figure 15. British Front Line opposite Cherisy today (C R Weekes)
It is not known precisely when his parents at 41 Norfolk Street Cambridge got the dreaded telegram, but on 1st August 1917 the Cambridge Chronicle, under the heading ‘CAMBRIDGE MEN FALL’, did a piece on Frank that included a comment from his company commander:
“I have not been with the company long; I had already noticed the quiet demeanour and intelligence displayed by your son and we shall miss him very much. He died the death of a British soldier with his face to the enemy. Arrangements have been made for his body to be interred in an English cemetery and a cross erected over his grave.”
No doubt the parents of the other fourteen men killed received similar sentiments, although the reality was that these men had been killed by the unseen enemy, the German artillery way behind the front lines. One week later the Cambridge Chronicle printed a picture of Frank in his Cambridgeshire Regiment uniform and on August 17th 1917 the Cambridge Independent Press printed another photograph under the heading ‘LOCAL ROLL OF HONOUR.’ (Figure 16)
Figure 16. Frank Maltby in his Cambridgeshire uniform (Cambridge Chronicle 1916)
The family like so many others had to deal with their grief and produced an In Memoriam card which I now have in my possession giving the details of his death and stating that Frank was buried in the Heninel Military Cemetery SE of Arras. (Figure 17)
Figure 17. In Memoriam Card (Family archive)
Today this cemetery name no longer exists but the beautifully peaceful Heninel Communal Cemetery Extension can be visited and the fifteen graves of Frank Maltby and the other 5th battalion men killed on 19th July 1917 can be seen, including Herbert Ernest Moxon 243288 from March, Cambridgeshire and Ernest Reynolds 242488 from Cambridge. (Figure 18)
Figure 18. CWGC Heninel Communal Cemetery Extension (C R Weekes)
The Arras campaign had removed both the Maltby cousins from active service. For those of the 5th Battalion who had survived, the remainder of 1917 was spent in and out of the front line trenches, in training and on working parties with the Royal Engineers. In mid October the Battalion was sent back to Flanders, firstly to Brandhoek ( Map ref J 2) and finally to Ypres. ( Map ref K 2).
According to the LONG LONG TRAIL website 64% of wounded men returned to duty although normally to another fighting unit because their place in their old unit had been filled by a replacement. It is probable that Samuel R.D. Maltby 242471 returned to the 5th battalion in early 1918 having been discharged from hospital to base camp at Etaples in December 1917. He had been away from active service for eight months. He was unusual in that he returned to the same unit, A Company 5th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment back to the occupation of trenches in the Ypres salient the most dangerous place on the western front. The 5th Battalion war diary tells us that at the end of February 1918 the Battalion was moved to Setgues NW of St Omer (Map ref G 3) for training, until on 9th March they were sent to Boves SE of Amiens ( Map ref H 8) again for training.
Intelligence was predicting a German offensive in the southern sector and on 21st March 1918 the St Michael offensive commenced against General Gough’s 5th Army. (Figure 19)
Figure 19. March 1918, German Offensive (CWGC booklet)
The 50th Division was ordered east of Amiens to meet this German attack. The 5th Battalion war diary provides a detailed description of how the Battalion fought a rearguard action from 21st to 31st March resulting in a nine mile withdrawal from Hancourt (Map ref L 8) to Domart S.E. of Amiens (Map ref H 9). The retreat of the 5th Army is well documented in Peter Hart’s fantastically detailed book “1918 A VERY BRITISH VICTORY”. The March defensive operations cost the 5th Battalion 372 casualties, including its commanding officer Lt .Col. Thomson who was wounded but still kept to his post. The regimental history by Wylly provides a graphic description of the Battalion’s involvement in trying to stem the hordes of German storm troopers. The 4th and 5th Battalions lost so many men and the whole thing became so chaotic that Battalion identities got lost such that groups of stragglers were grouped together to form the 150th Brigade Composite Battalion.
The 50th Division history points out that at the beginning of 1918 the BEF was exhausted, having had to take the brunt of the 1917 battles culminating in Passchendaele. The transfer of the German troops from the Eastern Front, with the collapse of Imperial Russia, gave the German High Command the resources to launch a series of blows against the British. The BEF had wind of this and had attempted to construct a new, in-depth defensive system that needed large numbers of the infantry to be engaged in working parties. This meant fewer men engaged in training in new battle tactics. With a lack of in-depth reserves, partly caused by Lloyd George’s refusal to release home based reserves, the British army was way below strength.
The Division history explains that the 150th Brigade arrived at the front line on 22nd March 1918:
“The march from Brie to the Green line was a weary business for already everyone was tired.
Thick mist, darkness, heavy traffic on the main road delayed progress.”
On 23rd March the withdrawal began:
“The 5th Battalion engaged with the enemy and fought a rearguard action crossing the Somme Canal at Brie.”
This withdrawal, officially known as the Battle of St. Quentin, was a tactical withdrawal across the river which was then expected to be defended against the Germans. However many individual diaries of the period show the soldiers’ dislike of withdrawal and the thoughts that they could have inflicted more damage on the enemy had they stood their ground. The 50th Division was relieved by the 8th Division on 23rd March, but on 24th the Germans crossed the Somme and the 150th Brigade was ordered to rush across country to bolster the defences. On 25th the Brigade was involved in some very hard fighting and had to withdraw even further and faster. As the situation became more chaotic the three Battalions of the 150th Brigade were formed into one composite battalion of 560 men of whom only 140 were from 5th Battalion including Samuel Maltby. The Division history makes this tribute:
“To the undying glory of the British soldier, let it be remembered of him that in the greatest battle the world has ever known, he carried himself with great honour and courage fighting the harder as the situation grew more desperate, often preferring death to surrender.”
The 26/27th March saw the 150th Composite Battalion withdrawing from Rosieres (Map ref J 9) with one complete platoon of 5th Yorkshires killed or captured. (Figure 20)
Figure 20. 5th Battalion retreat March 1918 (Bill Danby)
Wyrall says in the 50th Division History:
“Thus ended 27th March forever memorable in the annals of the Division and all units as a day of hard fighting and magnificent courage.”
The end of the German offensive on Amiens saw the 5th Army in a state of total confusion with Battalions, Brigades and Divisions all jumbled up, fighting as mixed units under different commanding officers. By 31st March the 150th Composite Battalion found itself in a line Moreuil (Map ref H 9 ) to Hangard (Map ref I 9). On 1st April, what remained of the 150th Brigade marched off to the suburbs of Amiens. (Map ref G 8). It was totally exhausted by ten days of constant fighting with no sleep or proper food and numbered only 849 men of which 234 were 5th Battalion men including Samuel Maltby. Wyall observes:
“The results of the Great German offensive on the Somme in March 1918 were terribly disappointing to the enemy. That he did not break through was due to the splendid courage and tenacity of the British soldier. The fine fighting displayed by ALL units of the 50th Division received but little notice in official despatches.”
Although the St Michael offensive had failed, the German High Command still thought that they could smash through the BEF in Flanders and gain control of the channel ports. The 50th Division regrouped but did not have time to get its breath back before the next blow. On 9th April they were moved to the North of Bethune (Map ref I 4 ).
The 5th Battalion war diary contains the details of the action during 9th to 16th April 1918 in what was officially called the Battle of the River Lys or to the Germans, the Georgette offensive. Their intention was to capture the rail hub of Hazebrouk (Map ref I 3) and then the channel ports of Dunkirk and Calais. History repeated itself for the 150th Brigade as it became split up in the confusion of battle and had to form a weak battalion of stragglers, falling back to the town of Merville (Map ref I 4). (Figure 21)
Figure 21. German offensive on the River Lys April 1918 (GWGC booklet)
Peter Hart, in his book ‘1918, A Very British Victory’ has a quote from Brigadier General Rees Commanding Officer of the 150th Brigade made on 11th April:
“Up and down the line for the next couple of days this was the nature of the fighting on the 50th Division front. Desperate men clinging on as best they could, falling back, filtering in the newly arriving reinforcements that were inevitably chewed up in the intense fighting.”
The sector in which the 50th Division men found themselves had been held by Portuguese troops for a long time, and when the German attack came, they gave way in flight. The 50th Division tried to plug the gap and to prevent the enemy from crossing the River Lys at Estaires (Map ref J 4). This they achieved until they withdrew in the dark on 10th April. (Figure 22)
Figure 22. 4th and 5th Battalions’ defence at Estaires (Bill Danby)
“Large bodies of the enemy attempted to press back the line but the battalions with fine tenacity stuck to their positions.”
This time the troops of 50th division were mentioned in the official despatches:
“At Estaires the troops of the 50th Division tired, reduced in numbers by exceptionally heavy fighting of the previous three weeks and threatened on their right flank by the enemy’s advance south of the river Lys were heavily engaged. After holding their position with great gallantry during the morning they were slowly pressed back in the direction of Merville.”
On 11th April the situation was even worse as the Division history reports:
“At 9.5 am 5th Green Howards reported that the enemy pressure on the front was great. Fighting hard, the Green Howards held on until practically surrounded. Many were captured and wounded owing to impossibility of getting away.”
Miraculously some did get away including Samuel Maltby who, given the circumstances, was leading a charmed life. The remnants of the 4th and 5th Battalions went to Doulieu (Map ref J 3) and formed a composite battalion under Lt. Col. Thomson of 5th Battalion Green Howards. The 50th Division had taken another pounding and was relieved on 16th April. As the Regiment History tells us the 5th Battalion had sustained 698 casualties between 22nd March and 12th April.
General Horne of 1st Army wrote on 15th April:
“I appreciate the magnificent way in which the 50th Division have fought since 9th not only against overwhelming superiority of numbers but under particularly difficult circumstances.”
The Division had been decimated again and new young recruits joined the ‘old guard’- one of whom was Samuel Maltby, aged only 24, who, having survived the two German offensives might have thought that his life was protected given the very high casualties experienced in his 5th Battalion. How wrong he would have been if he had imagined that the worst was over.
Certain units of the BEF had suffered especially badly during the German offensives of March and April 1918. These were the 8th, 21St 25th and 50th Divisions. They were relieved by French troops in late April and sent to the Champagne region to what had been a very quiet part of the front, the region of the Chemin des Dames, the scene of fierce fighting by the French Army in 1917. These Divisions came under the direct command of the French and immediately on arrival went into the front line. The British commanders protested but the French said that in no way would the Germans be attacking this sector as they were much more concerned with getting to the channel ports. The 5th Battalion Green Howards occupied a part of the ridge known as the Plateau de Californie and continued to train the new recruits. (Figure 23)
Figure 23. German offensive on the River Aisne May 1918 (Bill Danby)
The peace of this ‘quiet zone’ was shattered on 27th May at 1.00 am with an almighty barrage followed at 4.30 am by an infantry attack.
The 5th Battalion war diary has a whole section detailing this action:
“The bombardment was the heaviest yet experienced and heavy casualties were caused in the forward position on the plateau.”
By 6.30 am the German attacking forces had managed to go around both flanks of the plateau. To quote the war diary:
“The hostile barrage was maintained on the plateau and it is feared that many men were captured in the deep dug outs before they were able to come out.”
By 5.45 am the 5th Battalion command post was surrounded and the 150th Brigade HQ ceased to exist with the Brigade General Rees captured. This desperate situation is told in Peter Hart’s book, ‘1918 A Very British Victory’:
“Col. Thomson rang up to say that the counter attack he had launched had been swept away and that he was desperately fighting around his headquarters. He was afraid it was hopeless and said ‘I’ll say goodbye General, I’m afraid I shall not see you again.’ Brig. General Rees 150th Brigade 50th Division.”
He was right, in making a run for it, Lt. Col. Thomson was shot by a machine gun near Craonne. He is buried in Vendresse Cemetery and commemorated in his native Yorkshire on the Malton war memorial. (Yorkshire Regiment in WW1 website) Even the 50th Brigade commander, Brig. General Rees could not escape and was captured near Craonne and to his surprise was taken to see Kaiser Bill who said to him:
“My troops made a successful attack. I saw some of your men who have been taken prisoner, they looked as if they had been through a bad hour. Many of them were very young.”
Peter Hart ‘1918 A Very British Victory’ The 50th Division history sums up the whole awful situation of May 1918:
“The terrible disaster which befell the infantry of 50th Division on 27th May saw the end of all those gallant battalions which, whenever possible, had put up a stout resistance. But the majority were surrounded and forced to surrender before they could come into action.”
On May 27th in one day alone the 50th Division had 227 officers and 4879 other ranks killed, wounded or captured in a sector that was supposed to be a quiet zone. The Battle of the Aisne was the last operation in WW1 in which the original 50th Division took part. The losses on the Aisne were so great that they could not be replaced and the old battalion identities disappeared for ever. The 50th Division had been caught in all three of Germany’s attempts to end the war in the spring of 1918. (Figure 24)
Figure 24. The German Offensives March, April and May 1918 (Bill Danby)
The 27th May 1918 marked the end of Samuel R.D. Maltby’s active service. He, like so many others, became a PoW. What were his feelings? Was he relieved to still be alive? Was he disappointed at the failure to stop the Germans? Was he scared of what was to happen to him? Rumours about the German treatment of prisoners were rife. Peter Hart in ‘1918 A Very British Victory’ examines the dilemma of surrender:
“Whatever his rank the stigma of capture was something that each man had to deal with in his own way. Many wondered if they could have done more in the final moments before capture.”
As one officer in the DLI put it:
“For myself I only know that it was inevitable and that in similar circumstances I should almost certainly do the same again. It may be a trait of cowardice or merely an unheroic commonsense.”
Samuel Maltby’s surviving army records show that he was listed as missing on 27th May 1918 and also contain a letter from his wife dated 17th June 1918 asking his regiment where he was because she had not heard from him for over a month. (Figure 25)
Figure 25. Letter to the Yorkshire Regiment from Mrs A Maltby June 1918 (Service Records Ancestry.com)
The record also tells us that he was repatriated on 19th December 1918 having managed to find his own way home and was then posted to the regimental depot on 21st December. Ironically PoW s came home more quickly than some of the fighting soldiers who had to wait for the slow process of demobilization. The chances of finding out where Samuel was a PoW will be enhanced in 2014 when the ICRC records in Geneva are digitalized. For now we can only assume that he spent seven months of hardship in one of the 167 PoW camps inside Germany. By 1918 there were 175000 other ranks imprisoned, almost 50% of whom had been captured between 21st March and 11th November 1918. With massive food shortages in Germany and riots in the streets, it is not surprising that PoW s were underfed.
When Samuel entered the army his medical record of 16th February1914 recorded him as being 20 years 8 months old, 5ft 5 1/4 ins tall, with a chest of 34 inches and fair physical development. When he was repatriated in December 1918 one can imagine that after four years of army rations and seven months of prison food he was not an A1 physical specimen. As a returned prisoner Samuel was entitled to two months leave from the army. The process of demobilizing the vast number of serving troops was intentionally slow to prevent mass unemployment. Samuel was one of the lucky ones because his previous employer, the Cambridge Brick Company, offered him his old job. Thus Samuel was released to employment on 19th January1919, having relinquished one month of his leave entitlement. However, the Army bureaucracy was slow so that he did not receive his demobilization certificate until 15th February 1919 when he, like many others, was transferred to the army reserve.
For whatever reason Samuel applied for a disability pension but, in May 1920 this was rejected. The final document in his service record is dated October 1921 when, together with the millions who served in the war, Samuel received his Victory and British war medals. The Medal Roll for the Yorkshire Regiment sheet 322 shows Samuel 242471 and his Cousin Frank 242470 together with ten other former Cambridge Regiment men who had served and in some cases died with the 5th Battalion Yorkshire regiment.
So Samuel Richard David Maltby who for 2 1/2 years had served as Private 242471, A Company, no 2 Platoon, 5th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment, the Green Howards returned to civvy street, the brick company and his wife living in Selwyn Terrace, Barton Road, Cambridge.
All I know is that he died aged seventy in 1964 still living in Cambridge. Did he have children? Did he retain any links with his old service pals? Was he in the Territorials in the 1920s? Did he go to see his cousin Frank’s family? Did he suffer from any post war after affects?
I do know from my grandfather that their mother Sarah never really recovered from Frank’s death and would never take part in Remembrance Day.
As we approach the centenary of the Great War in 2014 more attention will be focused on those who served, fought, endured, survived or gave their lives. As someone who is still researching my relatives in WW1 it is increasingly obvious to me that we can find out so much more about those who died than those who survived. The names of the Glorious Dead are to be found all over the country on war memorials erected in the 1920s by a grateful country. (Figure 26)
Figure 26. The City of Cambridge Memorial to the Dead of World War 1 (C R Weekes)
Those who survived are known only to their relatives. The fighting cousins Frank and Samuel are a case in point. Samuel’s name appears only in old War office documents partly destroyed in 1940 and in regimental data bases lovingly put together by people like Cliff Brown. Frank Maltby’s name however lives on in the CWGC Heninel Communal Cemetery Extension Fig.27, on the roll of honour in the Guildhall Cambridge Fig.28, in the data base ‘Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914-19’, in the ‘Green Howards’ Gazette Roll of Honour’, on the Yorkshire Regiment WW1 website, on the 4th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment in WW1 website and, most splendidly of all, on the panels in Ely Cathedral commemorating the men of Cambridgeshire who fell in WW1. (Figures 27, 28 and 29)
Figure 27. Frank and Yorkshire comrades (C R Weekes)
Figure 28. Roll of Honour, Guildhall Cambridge (C R Weekes)
Figure 29. Ely Cathedral WW1 Memorial panels (C R Weekes)
Altogether these are a magnificent tribute to a twenty-one year old butcher’s boy from Cambridge who paid the ultimate sacrifice and who is remembered by his distant relatives with pride.
Cambridgeshire Library Services, Mill Road, Cambridge
Danby Bill, 4th Battalion Yorkshire Regiment website
Gigardet, Jacques and Litho Duclos ‘Somewhere on the Western Front Arras 1914-1918’ Degorge Editions France 2007, Pages 71 to 83
Green Howards’ Gazette
Green Howards Regimental Museum Richmond, Yorkshire UK
Hart Paul ‘1918 A Very British Victory’ Phoenix Books 2008, Pages 236, 247, 266 & 280
Long, Long, Trail website
Mapping the Front CD WFA / IWM
Michelin Map 301 Local
National Archives Kew London UK, Medal Index cards, Medal Rolls, War Diary 5th, Battalion Yorkshire Regiment WO95/2836
Nicholl Edward Yorkshire Regiment WW1 website
Nicholls Jonathan ‘Cheerful Sacrifice - The Battle of Arras’ Pen and Sword Books 2007, Pages 189 and 191
Reed Paul Old Front Line Research Service
Reed Paul ‘Walking Arras’ Pen and Sword Books 2007, Pages 165 to 188
Soldiers Died in the Great War 1914 – 1919 database
Wellington Tunnel, Arras
Wylly H.C. ‘The Green Howards in the Great War’ The Naval and Military Press 2007, Pages 156 to 168
Wyrall Everard ‘The Fiftieth Division 1914-1919’ The Naval and Military Press, Pages 135 to 227 and 250 to 350
POWs IN WW1
Samuel R D Maltby was taken prisoner at Craonne in the Aisne, along with thousands of other BEF troops, on 27th May 1918. His records cannot be found amongst the 500000 held by the ICRC in Geneva. Another man, George Wilkinson, who was also in the 5th Bn Yorkshires, was captured on the same day in Craonne. He was listed and sent to a camp at LANGENSALZA in the middle of Germany.
ICRC POW card held in Geneva
Langensalza Camp in Thuringia Germany was opened in 1914 and accommodated 10,000 men.
The German camp records, now available online from the ICRC website, show that many men from the 5th Bn Yorkshires were sent to Langensalza. So it might be that Samuel Maltby was one of them, although it is a mystery as to why his name is missing from the comprehensive records.
Page from the Langensalza records book
GERMAN POW CAMPS WW1
The subject of POWs in WW1 has not been well researched, although I can recommend the book by John Lewis-Stempel 'THE WAR BEHIND THE WIRE'.
The following is taken from a detailed WIKIPEDIA article on WW1 prisoners in Germany. It gives some light as to the operations and conditions of the camps.
The situation of World War I prisoners of war in Germany is an aspect of the conflict little covered by historical research. However, the number of soldiers imprisoned reached a little over seven million for all the belligerents, of whom around 2,400,000 were held in Germany.
Before 1915, conditions of detention in Germany were very harsh and marked by temporary lodging and the absence of infrastructure. The prisoners slept in hangars or tents, where they dug holes to keep warm. The German authorities also commandeered schools, barns and various other types of shelters. Camps were established in the countryside as well as near the towns, which had consequences when epidemics of cholera or typhus threatened to spread to the civilian population.
Not all the camps were situated on German territory; a certain number were built in occupied territories, notably in northern and eastern France. They began to be developed starting in 1915 when the number of prisoners being held captive in Germany reached 652,000. The camps mixed a large number of nationalities sharing the same quarters: French, Russian, British, American, Canadian, Australian, New Zealanders, Belgian, Italian, Romanian, Serbian, Montenegrin, Portuguese and Japanese prisoners were found there. The number of prisoners rose very quickly. From February to August 1915, it went from 652,000 to 1,045,232. In August 1916, it reached 1,625,000, jumping to 2,415,000 by October 1918.
These were the basic camps, made up of wooden barracks 10 m wide and 50 m long, covered with tar on the outside. Each of these barracks kept around 250 prisoners. On the inside, a central corridor provided access on each side to straw or sawdust beds stacked two high. Furniture was kept to a minimum: a table, chairs or benches and a stove. Camps also featured barracks for guards, a Kantine (cafeteria) where prisoners could sometimes buy little objects and additional food, a barrack for packages, a guardhouse and kitchens. Each camp had its own particular structures, notably sanitary facilities or cultural places like a library, a theatre hall or a worship space. All around the camp, there was barbed wire three metres high.
As many prisoners were put to work, they might in fact spend longer or shorter periods of time away from their parent camp: those engaged in agriculture, for example, might be housed in village assembly halls.
According to the Second Hague Convention, “The Government into whose hands prisoners of war have fallen is charged with their maintenance. In the absence of a special agreement between the belligerents, prisoners of war shall be treated as regards board, lodging, and clothing on the same footing as the troops of the Government who captured them." Nevertheless, prisoners frequently suffered from hunger.
As a general rule, breakfast was served between 6:00 and 7:30 am, lunch around 11:00 am and dinner at about 6:30 pm.[ From the start of their captivity, the food posed a problem for prisoners, who complained of a diet that was too inconsistent to ward off hunger. Soup became the symbol of this regime: it might be made with beans, oats, prunes, beets, codfish. Bread was replaced by “KK bread” (from the German “Kleie und Kartoffeln”: bran and potatoes), the ingredients of which remain unclear. Malnutrition became a daily affair for the prisoner; after the war, many suffered serious digestive problems and adapted with difficulty to a new dietary regime.
The Allied blockade of Germany played a role in this: from 6 November 1914, Germany was subjected to an economic blockade by the Entente nations. The military administration responsible for supplying the camps had much difficulty in feeding the troops, considered a priority, which partly explains the catastrophic state of supplies in the camps. Prisoners were not the only ones to suffer from the situation; the general population was also affected.
According to official directives concerning nourishment issued at the beginning of 1916, each week the prisoner was to have 600-1,000g of potatoes, 200-300g of vegetables at lunch, meat three times, fish twice and 150g of legumes. The reality could be far from what these menus prescribed. Not only was the food insufficient, it was often quite detrimental to health: “The other day I saw, in our kitchens, quarters of refrigerated beef of which the smell and greenish tint were so pronounced that our cooks refused to prepare them. The German head doctor, called to arbitrate, ordered them soaked in a solution of permanganate and, the day after the morrow, this meat, thus disinfected, decorated the ordinary one”.
The food served in the camps, often the cause of illness, weakened the prisoners more than it kept them in shape. Only parcels and shipments from charitable bodies including the Central Prisoners of War Committee (in Britain), the Vetement du Prisonnier (in France), and the Red Cross, allowed them to hang on. By the end of the war, some 9,000,000 food parcels and 800,000 clothing parcels had been despatched to British prisoners abroad. Prisoners’ families were also able to send food and other luxuries (although there were restrictions on what these parcels could contain). British prisoners, in particular, received parcels regularly and in abundance: French prisoners received far fewer, and Italians and Russians virtually none.
As the blockade increasingly affected the Germans, and as the system of food parcels became established, prisoners – especially the British, and especially officers – were sometimes better fed than the military personnel guarding them and the local civilian population. This naturally prompted resentment among the Germans.
From the beginning, questions of hygiene posed a problem in the camps, built in haste. The goal was to quickly build a maximum number of installations. Camps in Germany featured only a simple tap in the yard for thousands of people. Very often, latrines consisted of a simple board with a hole in the middle above a pit, which the prisoners were tasked with emptying at regular intervals.
Diseases such as typhus or cholera appeared very fast. The close confinement of the accommodations and the number of prisoners per barrack, on average 250, partly explains the phenomenon, as the foul air circulated very little. An official policy of integration of different nationalities mean that typhus tended to spread rapidly from Russian troops, among whom it was endemic, to the French and British who had little immunity to it. The fight against lice was at the centre of measures to be taken by using hair-removing creams and disinfecting rooms. Vaccines were also ordered, and a vaccination frenzy ensued.
Cemeteries for deceased prisoners were gradually opened near the camps. It was a point of honour for the survivors to take care of their comrades’ final resting places. Most often, each nationality had its own reserved patch. It is estimated that 120000 prisoners died in German prison camps “The State may utilise the labour of prisoners of war according to their rank and aptitude, officers excepted. The tasks shall not be excessive and shall have no connection with the operations of the war." A huge number of prisoners were used to work for the German Reich. Of 1,450,000 prisoners, 750,000 were employed in agricultural labour and 330,000 in industry. As able-bodied men were at the front, the lack of manpower was felt in all European belligerents and especially in Germany. The armaments industry, agriculture and mines were the three branches concerned. Prisoners of war represented an indispensable segment of the workforce. This is strikingly apparent, for instance, with regard to farm labour.
While prisoners’ labour was voluntary at the beginning, it very quickly became mandatory, organised into kommandos. The Ministry of War even set daily work quotas.[ Work in mines and swamps was dreaded as particularly painful; most of the time, agricultural work allowed for slightly better detention conditions. Food was also better than in the camps. Work was fixed at ten hours daily and guard surveillance was reduced (which allowed some prisoners to escape more easily).
Although prisoners were forced to work, some refused, which led to severe penalties, going up to prison terms of a year. Cases of “sabotage” were also reported, principally in factories, but also on farms.However, the attitude most often adopted (and also the safest) was to work as little as possible. Since their labour was forced, the detainees did not expend all their effort on the enemy.
One clause of the 11 November 1918 Armistice dealt with the matter of prisoner-of-war repatriation: "The immediate repatriation without reciprocity, according to detailed conditions which shall be fixed, of all allied and United States prisoners of war, including persons under trial or convicted. The allied powers and the United States shall be able to dispose of them as they wish". By 10 October 1918, 1,434,529 Russians had been made prisoner since the start of the war, as had 535,411 Frenchmen, 185,329 Britons, 147,986 Romanians, 133,287 Italians, 46,019 Belgians, 28,746 Serbs, 7,457 Portuguese, and 2,457 Americans. Of the non-Russians, some 576,000 had been repatriated by the end of December 1918, and all by the beginning of February 1919.
The British and American prisoners were speedily repatriated as there were fewer to deal with: some 185,000 Britons and 2,450 Americans, compared to the over half-million France had. The first British ex-captives reached Calais on 15 November, slated to be taken to Dover via Dunkirk.
Repatriated prisoners were welcomed with various sorts of demonstrations, especially if they returned before the war ended (for instance those interned in Switzerland). British prisoners received a message in the hand of King George V welcoming them home.
So it was that Samuel Maltby returned from being a POW in December 1918 one of the lucky ones to have survived.