POSTSCRIPT

After he was demobilised Hob returned to Wm Cory and Son. By then my grandfather, Allan Ninnis, had been killed near Dickebusch in Belgium on 2nd August 1918 whilst serving as a Private with 1st Battalion, The East Kent Regiment (The Buffs), leaving my grandmother with a five-year old daughter.  Hob continued to visit my grandmother after the war, but it was not until 1932 and my mother had left home, that he and my grandmother married and went to live in Bexleyheath.

It was there that I accompanied my mother on various but all-to-infrequent occasions between 1942 (when I was born) until 1959 when they moved to Northamptonshire. By then my grandmother was becoming far less mobile, but their bungalow was hardly five minutes walk away and I could wander down and see them both during school holidays when the mood took me. As always, in retrospect, the mood did not take me often enough, and I sailed through my last two years at school and into my first year at university without any conscious thought that, behind that walrus moustache and ever-present pipe, fussing about my grandmother upon whom he doted, was a whole life that I knew nothing about but would one day reach out to explore.

My grandmother died in July 1962 with Hob at her bedside. He survived without her for only four months, but my mother told me afterwards that he just became a recluse, pottering about the empty bungalow with no further real interest in life.  My mother found him collapsed on the kitchen floor one November morning when she made her daily visit to see that he was alright. He had just reached the end of the first page of the first letter that he had ever written to me when he suffered a massive haemorrhage.  He had written that my grandmother would have been so proud, as indeed he was, that I had succeeded in reading for an engineering degree at Cambridge.

‘You know, your Uncle Hob was always so interested in everything you did’, my mother said to me when she gave me the unfinished letter.   I still have it.

Blackdown Camp

Blackdown Camp, Farnboro’. This was the last move the battalion made as a whole. Two years passed here, I being attached to the Overseas Coy as an A.C.S.M. helping to harden off the men as they returned from hospital or convalescent camp, and getting them fit for draft again. While we were here in 1917 the King came to open a new railway, connecting the camp with Brookwood. One day in the summer of this year our bomb store blew up, several lives being lost.

Blackdown camp

Training, sports, competition marches, impromptu concerts etc. filled up the number of our days here, while occasional leave and visits to the Garrison Theatre helped to break the monotony. Inspections and Flying Column scares were a frequent diversion. In 1918 one of these proved a reality and, early one wintry morning we found ourselves, in full war paint, on the way to Newport, South Wales, to overawe the strikers there. A concert organised by me just to prove the Overseas men could do as well as the rest of the battalion proved a great success.

Finally a commission was offered me in the regiment, (having been marked A1 earlier in the year) but, owing to the Armistice, celebrated here in the usual British fashion, all papers were returned from the W.O., and on January 9th 1919 I proceeded to the Crystal Palace via Aldershot to be demobbed.

January 10th 1919. Demobilised.

Hospitalisation and Recovery

On the way back I got hit in the wrist, and went to the Advanced Dressing Station, from there to the Dressing Station in Hebuterne, and was taken on, by motor lorry, to a C.C.S. where I stopped that night. Operated on the following morning, went from there by train to Treport arriving in the early hours of the following day, being put to bed, clothes and all, just as I had left the trenches.  Hearing there was room on a train going to Boulogne immediately after dinner, managed to get on it and found myself at Boulogne about eighteen hours afterwards. We lay about on the quay all day, without anything to eat, ‘till allowed to go on board the ‘Oxfordshire’ in the evening. The boat sailed sometime that night for Southampton, but we were waiting about in the Solent for a considerable time and eventually landed in England in the afternoon of July 5th.

HMS Oxfordshire

From Southampton I went direct to a Manchester Clearing Hospital, staying there four days, and then was transferred to Bolton Infirmary with one other member of the L.R.B.  Spent nearly three months here, managing at last to get a transfer to Croydon when, in another three months, I visited three different hospitals.

Bolton Infirmary Rehab 2

 

 In July, whilst Hob was in Bolton Infirmary, his mother received the following letter:

B E F

25/7/16

Dear Mrs Brown,

Thank you very much for your letter with such good news of our old friend H.O. I am glad that he was able to get away so well with his wound. It was a sad business for us all and we could not afford to lose the capital fellows who went under. I was particularly glad to hear that your son had got a ‘Blighty one’ as we say, for he was at it were a real link with the past being one of the very few alas who remained of the original dear old regiment. This means more to me than I can express with 20 years, nearly, connection with the regiment.   I am glad that you have been able to make the journey to Bolton to see him and trust that ere long he will be able to get some leave when in the convalescent stage.

With regard to his personal effects, they have been sorted out and will reach you via the Base shortly if you have not already received them. I was unable to sort them out myself as I was in trenches when your letter arrived but I hope all the valuables both sentimental and intrinsic were duly saved.

Please remember me very kindly to the dear old chap and say how much I miss him especially as the only Sgts. I have left to me now are Swan and Hubbard. Also please tell him to steer clear of this country in the future if he can. He will appreciate my message if when writing you will tell him to ‘swing it’ as much as he can!

With kind regards  

Yours very sincerely

Arthur J.R.McVeagh

C S M D Co.

Discharged as fit just before Christmas 1916. At the end of my furlough I rejoined the L.R.B, their 3rd (R) Battalion being stationed at Dawlish, and we stayed there for two or three months, I being still under the doctor for my wound.

Dawlish

Saturday 1st July 1916

Daylight. Intense bombardment by our own guns. Then we attacked in a smoke cloud reaching the 3rd German line, where we hung on ‘till the afternoon. ‘B’ Company, who were supposed to follow us up, never got through the barrage. We were gradually driven back by German bombers to their original front line, where we again made a stand until about 8.30 pm. Then, as our flanks had gone, the remnant of the Battalion made the best of their way back over ‘no man’s land’, under a hail of machine gun fire.

On this day 15 Platoon (‘D’ Company) was as follows:-

Lt. Smith
myself
No 9 Section No 10 Section No 11 Section No 12 Section
L/Cpl Phipps Cpl Ebbetts L/Cpl Sweeting L/Cpl Burn
L/Cpl Parke Rfm Beach L/Cpl Hughes Rfm Allen
Rfm Colgate Rfm Brialey Rfm Twiddy Rfm Brady
Rfm Reeve Rfm Barber Rfm Baxter Rfm Baines
Rfm Fuller Rfm Barter Rfm Bareford Rfm Deverell
Rfm Brooks Rfm Humphries Rfm Foxley Rfm Draper
Rfm Hollingham Rfm Malin Rfm Clark Rfm Claxton
Rfm Pett Rfm Shilson Rfm Helps Rfm Thom
Rfm Doble Rfm Sanders Rfm Wood Rfm Haile
Rfm Woodhouse Rfm Williams Rfm Causby Rfm Daniel
Rfm Gregory Rfm Treadwell Rfm Seagrove Rfm Dyer
Rfm Ingram Rfm Ford Rfm Gosslin
Rfm Ridley Rfm Colvin Rfm Biddle
Rfm Theide Rfm Whatmough
Rfm Rickman
Rfm Hawkins
Rfm Herman
Rfm Fisher
Rfm Schenk

Of the original fifty-nine members of 15 Platoon, seventeen (in italics) were killed during the attack, only four of whom were recovered for burial in the Gommecourt and Hebuterne cemeteries. The remaining thirteen remain where they fell, and their names are recorded on the memorial at Thiepval. Of the forty-two who survived the day, thirteen (including Lt Smith) went on only to lose their lives during subsequent engagements and, when the war ended, only twenty-nine of the original 15 Platoon who set out together on 1st July 1916 were still alive.

Despite a preliminary bombardment lasting seven days, the German defences were barely touched and the attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance. Losses were catastrophic and with only minimal advances on the southern flank, the initial attack was a failure. In the following weeks, huge resources of manpower and equipment were deployed in an attempt to exploit the modest successes of the first day. However, the German Army resisted tenaciously and repeated attacks and counter attacks meant a major battle for every village, copse and farmhouse gained. At the end of September, Thiepval was finally captured. The village had been an original objective of 1 July