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One Gunners War

In my grandfathers footsteps

Barry Woodhouse

Tapa blanda

This is my humble tribute to the hundreds of thousands of combatants who lost their lives in the Great War, the War to end all Wars, but especially to my grandfather and two of his comrades who were killed in action on the same day in 1918 and are buried together in the Ypres Reservoir Cemetery, Belgium.

On the 10th of March 2018, I, together with my wife and other family members made a pilgrimage to their graves on the 100th anniversary of their deaths. My wife and I had been several times before to lay a wreath at my grandfather’s grave, but this visit was special, not only because it was the 100th anniversary of his death, but because I had been delving into military records, mainly the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records, and I discovered in 2017 that there were two other gunners listed as being killed in action on the same day and with the same siege battery as my grandfather. I can only conclude that they were all comrades in arms and knew each other, fighting alongside each other with the same battery.

What follows is part fact and part fiction. From what information I have been able to gather about my grandfather’s movements in Belgium and France with the 101st and 31st Siege Battery of the Royal Garrison Artillery I have recorded here as fact, as are the accounts of battles in which he was engaged in.

This is a story I have woven around these historical facts. All of the service personnel named within were real people who served on the Western Front. The places named are genuine as are all of my grandfather’s wartime journey through Belgium and France. The fictional part is however based on fact and I have used my knowledge of the First World War and the Western Front to fill in the many gaps in his story.

Having discovered from various sources some of my grandfather’s locations with approximate dates in Belgium and France I have decided to construct around these known facts a story in diary form as he may have recorded. There are many long gaps in dates from the records discovered, so I have only covered the periods known, and as such this book covers the period of March 1916 to September 1917 when the RGA Battery War Diaries and records were destroyed by enemy action and flooding at the battery sites, indeed after September 1917 there are no known surviving records, these were all destroyed by enemy action. I have however very briefly covered a period during early March 1918 when Reginald Robert Cato, Frank Chapman and B. C. Gribble were killed in action. I have also given a Christian name to B. C. Gribble to enable the reader to identify him more readily. My apologies to his descendants for this imposition.

I have faithfully tried to follow the path my grandfather and his comrades took through France and Belgium, but this has proved to be a very difficult task. Recorded place names have been spelt incorrectly and it is quite possible that after the First World War place names were changed - Ypres is now Leper for instance. Another possibility is that some of the smaller towns and villages were so totally destroyed by shellfire that they were never rebuilt, their occupants moving onto other towns to live.

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