20th Jan, 2019

German Spring Offensive claims the lives of many sons of Redditch

Ross Crawford 25th Mar, 2018

BY the spring of 1918 the Allied blockade of the Axis powers was causing massive food shortages in Germany.

With American troops streaming over to join the conflict, on March 21, 1918 the Germans launched ‘Operation Michael’ in a last ditch bid to win the war, an offensive was to have a devastating effect on many sons of Redditch.

Frederick Enos Harris was one of seven children born to Edwin and Anna Harris, then living in Stock Green.

In 1901 Frederick, now eight, was living in Droitwich with his mother and sister Maud while his father was ‘living in own cottage’ in Stock Green.

By 1911 the family were back together in Stock Green and Frederick was working as a labourer.

It is likely he enlisted in the 15th (The Kings) Hussars in February 1916 and on September 3, 1916 he married Florence Clarke of Dagtail at Feckenham Church.

Frederick would have seen action at the Somme, Arras and at Cambrai before meeting his fate.

At 4.50am on a foggy March 21 the German assault started with an artillery bombardment of both conventional and gas shells, the attacking troops quickly overrunning the front line trenches.

The 15th Hussars were moved near the village of Roisel with orders to ‘hold the brown line’.

However by the morning of March 22 the brown line had been captured in some places and the 15th were ordered to counter-attack.

This was carried out by ‘A’ squadron and although successful the men were soon isolated.

With the village impossible to hold the order came to abandon the position but there was no way to tell A Squadron who continued fighting until they were pounded into submission.

Frederick’s body was never found and he is remembered on the Poziers Memorial to the missing, in the Somme area.

After the war Florence received his pay and war gratuity of £12.18.6d. Today Frederick is remembered on the Feckenham War Memorial.

Also remembered on the Feckenham War Memorial is William Styler.

William was born in 1896 to Thomas and Elizabeth Styler, one of their 15 children, only six of whom survived childhood.

The family living on Mill Lane in Feckenham.

On the 1901 census William was living with his grandmother, aunt and uncles a few doors down from his parents.

Ten years later he was working as a cycle enameller and back home with Dad, Mom and his sisters Emily, Jane and Bertha.

In France he firstly served with the 8th Battalion, the Somerset Light Infantry before transferring to the 1st Battalion.

He was stationed at Achiet Le Grand when the Germans attacked, and was killed in action on March 23.

William Henry Surman was just 19 when he too was killed on March 23.

Born in 1898 in Alvechurch, he was one of John and Elizabeth Surman’s 14 children.

His father was a letterpress printer and in 1901 the family was living at 6 Cottage Swan Street before moving to 94 Oakly Road in Redditch.

William was a Private in the 6th Battalion Prince Albert’s Somerset Light Infantry, a unit that was all but obliterated in the German Spring Offensive.

So great was its casualties that a month after the attack it had been disbanded to form a composite unit with the 5th Battalion Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire Light Infantry April 1918, before being absorbed into the 13th Battalion Duke of Cornwall’s Light Infantry.

He is buried at the St Souplet British Cemetery in France and is remembered today on the St Laurence Church WW1 Memorial in Alvechurch and the St Stephen’s Church. Redditch War Memorial in Redditch.

Another victim of the German offensive was Harold Mogg.

Born in Redditch on August 10, 1893, he’d been on the Army Reserve since December, 1915. However he joined the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve in September 1917 and was assigned to the Anson Battalion on January 11, 1918, a unit which took the full brunt of the German attack.

He too died on March 23 and has no known grave.

Harold was one of five children born to John and Alice Mogg. His father was a labourer and mum was a rod finisher, the family living at 28 Albert Street.

By the 1911 census Harold was working as a packer in a warehouse.

His father having died, Harold named his Mum as next of kin and by 1918 she was living at Back of 35, George Street, Redditch.

He is remembered today on the Arras Memorial in France and on the St Stephen’s War Memorial in Redditch.

Alfred Horace Gibbons was born in 1894 in Kings Norton but by the 1911 census he was living with his grandparents Anne and Frederick Gibbons in Evesham Road, Astwood Bank. His mum, Margaret Mary Gibbons is recorded as being 34 years-old and single.

He worked as a needle finisher before the war and joined the 2nd Battalion of the Coldstream Guards.

He was killed in action on March 24, 1918, and is buried in the Bucquoy Road Cemetery, Ficheux in France and is remembered today on the Astwood Bank War Memorial, the St Stephen’s War Memorial. and the memorial of Astwood Bank Baptist Church now in Cookhill Baptist Church.

Frank Mander was a Lance Corporal in the 1st Battalion of the Worcestershire Regiment.

It is likely the 31 year-old took part in a daring, and successful, counterattack on March 24 which plugged a gap in the British line.

However the attack cost him his life.

Born in 1887 in Ipsley to Robert Nathan, a timekeeper, and Francis Elizabeth Mander, Frank had been a house painter before the war.

The family lived at ‘Ivy Dell’ in Astwood Bank and Frank is remembered today on the Astwood Bank War Memorial.

George Francis Coton also died in action on March 24.

A Corporal with the 4th Battalion the Worcestershire Regiment, he’d been born in 1893, one of the two children of George Frederick and Mary Coton.

The family lived at 32 Archer Road and by the 1911 census George was working as a clerk while his dad was a fish hook maker and his mum a gut drawer working from home.

In 1916 George married Ethel Mary Langston, whose father was a baker in George Street, and the couple made a home at 119 Other Road.

George is buried at Oxford Road Cemetery in Ypres and is remembered today on the St Stephen’s War Memorial.

ALL these deaths happened on the Western Front, however another son of Redditch who died was Albert Harris, who was killed on March 19.

Albert was born in 1898 to Albert and Esther Harris who lived at Other House on Other Road near the town centre.

One of four children, he joined the Royal Navy and had been aboard HMS Barham at the Battle of Jutland in 1917.

By 1918 he was serving on HMS Montagua, an armed merchant cruiser with a mission to seek out and destroy U-Boats.

He died in an explosion when the Montagua was in collision with the American warship USS Manley which was operating off Cork in southern Ireland.

The collision, at about 8am, cause Manley’s depth charges to explode, killing 29 of Montagua’s crew, including Albert.

He is remembered today on the Naval Memorial in Plymouth and on the St Stephen’s War Memorial in Redditch.

With thanks to Richard Pearce, Remembering Redditch’s Fallen Heroes, and www.rememberthefallen.co.uk.

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