At the beginning of 1918, Germany’s military leadership saw one last possibility to achieve a peace with the Western Allies on their own terms. 1917 had seen repeated Allied attacks in the West and the failure of Germany’s U-Boat offensive.
Far from bringing Britain to its knees, unlimited submarine warfare, and German intrigues in Mexico, had brought the U.S.A. into the War on the Allied side. Although on the Allied side, Italy had been almost knocked out of the War at Caporetto,
On the Central Powers side the Austro-Hungarian Army was by now much weakened and the Turks were under mounting pressure. The Allied blockade, along with the shortage of agricultural manpower was having a serious effect on food supplies as well as raw materials for armaments.
The one undoubted success of 1917 had been against Russia. Whilst the Provisional Government, following revolution in March, had, in loyalty to the Allies, tried to keep Russia in the War, its attempted offensive fell apart. The Bolsheviks seized power in November 1917, and were prepared to make peace at almost any price, so they could turn to crush their internal enemies.
Under these circumstances, the German leadership saw its salvation in withdrawing large forces from its Eastern Front and attacking the British and French in the West, before the Americans could arrive in strength.
Ludendorff, the Quartermaster General, planned a series of offensives, beginning with two against the British - the first, Michael, on the Somme front, and the second Georgette, allowing more time for the ground to dry out, in Flanders.
As well as numerous reinforcements, the Germans intended to use new tactic s- infiltration by storm troops and a hurricane artillery bombardment on a huge scale, to create surprise, confusion and destruction.
Michael commenced on 21st March 1918, with a massive attack on the British Fifth and Third Armies from their junction with the French near La Fere, to Arras. The Germans advanced over the following days almost as far as the crucial railway centre of Amiens, taking much ground and many prisoners, but suffering heavy casualties. Moreover, much of the ground captured was wrecked and deserted land - the old Somme battlefields of 1916.
Ludendorff launched a further attack – Mars - on28 March. This was directed at the British Third Army’s left wing near Arras. It was repulsed, with heavy German losses.
Turning to Flanders, Ludendorff launched Georgette, whichran from 9-29 April. It initially had considerable success, routing a Portuguese division and even taking Mount Kemmel near Ypres. But again, the Allies, whilst driven back, managed to prevent a decisive breakthrough.
Ludendorff’s next offensive, Blucher, was on the Chemin des Dames in late May. At first, this had great success, hitting six British divisions sent to join the French and recover from fighting in the previous offensives. Moreover, the French commander disobeyed orders and packed his troops in the front line, causing them heavy casualties. However, this offensive, too, eventually petered out by 4 June.
Two further offensives followed against the Allies, but cost the Germans many men and achieved little.
In the summer, the Allies turned to the offensive. A continuous series of attacks over 100 days forced the Germans back way beyond their March 1918 lines, and to an Armistice.
The following are casualties of the German Spring offensives who were patients at the Quex Park VAD Hospital.
Lance Corporal Allan Pepperell, M.M. was killed in action 22.3.1918 with 8th London (Post Office Rifles), 58th Division. He had been admitted to Quex in May 1915 (patient 165) with a thigh wound. 58th Division was in 5th Army when it was attacked on 21.3.18. He is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial to the Missing. His Burnt Records do not survive. The battalion war diary on Ancestry is extensive but very disordered.
Private Joseph King was believed killed in action 24.3.18, with the 8th Company Machine Gun Corps, Infantry. He had been admitted to St. Michael’s (Quex VAD Hospital annexe in Birchington) in April 1917 with a leg wound (patient 820). He is commemorated on the Pozieres Memorial. His Company was part of 3rd Machine Gun Battalion. It saw desperate fighting near Monchy with 3rd Division. On 21.3.18, the Germans attacked after a ferocious bombardment. The machine guns took a heavy toll of them, but the Division was obliged to give up its forward defences and form a defensive flank during 22.3.18, with the neighbouring division pushed back. On 23 and 24.3.18, the machine guns again inflicted heavy casualties on the Germans, as they tried to advance, shooting up a field artillery battery that sought to support the German infantry. The Battalion’s casualties on 24.3.18 are recorded as simply 1 O.R. killed and 2 wounded. The 2 wounded were a pair who had taken a machine gun out from the British lines to shoot at German infantry in dead ground. King’s Burnt Records do not survive. The unit war diary is extensive and graphic.
Private William Albery, 1st Royal Berkshire, 2nd Division. Formerly a grocer’s assistant from Fareham, Hampshire, he was treated at St. Michael’s (patient 1202) 2.4.18 -11.5.18 with a foot wound incurred 26.3.18. His battalion was involved in heavy fighting on the Somme front from 23.3.18, taking 500+ casualties. On 26.3.18 it was near Hawthorn Ridge, on the old 1916 battlefield. It was a relatively quiet day and the Anzacs arrived to take over the line. Although the Germans did not attack, there was shelling and ‘ceaseless’ long range rifle and machine gun fire. Albery served in Salonika/Russia in 1919. He was discharged from the Army 1.1920. His Pension records and the unit war diary are online.
Private Gilbert McGill, from Kilmarnock, was killed in action 28.3.18 with 1st Royal Scots Fusiliers, 8th Brigade, 3rd Division. He had been admitted to St. Michael’s with an elbow wound in August 1917 (patient 939). His Burnt Records do not survive. He is commemorated on the Arras Memorial
Private John Murray, 38th Australian Infantry, a Victoria labourer born in Scotland, he was wounded in the left thigh on 28.3.18, being treated at St. Michael’s 8.4.18-28.5.18 (patient 1262). His battalion had just arrived at Mericourt, on the Somme front. One company was pushed forward to occupy a wood in advance of the main defensive line. After an ineffective machine gun bombardment, German infantry attacked the wood, but the Australians beat them off with rifles and Lewis guns, inflicting heavy casualties. German artillery fire increased, but there was no further attack that day. His service record and the unit war diary are online.
Private George Bleach, 7th Royal Sussex, 36th Brigade, 12th Division. An ironmonger from Brighton, he was treated at Quex 8.4.18 to 28.5.18 (patient 1254), with abdomen and back wounds sustained 5.4.18. His battalion was then engaged in repelling an enemy attack north of Albert. Bleach had initially tried to join the Navy, but had been rejected for poor eyesight. He was accepted by the Army in November 1915 and joined 7/R. Sussex August 1916. Following his discharge from hospital, he was transferred out of the infantry, first to the Army Service Corps, motor transport, and then the Labour Corps. He was discharged from the Army 16.11.18 as a result of his wounds which had given him a permanent, unspecified, disability. He was granted a pension and Silver War Badge. His ‘Burnt’ Records are online.
Private Albert Haylock 49th Australian Infantry, 13th Brigade, 4th Australian Division. A Brisbane baker, he was treated at Quex 8.4.18 to 28.5.18 with arm wounds (patient 1211). He had been wounded near Lavieville in the Somme area on 5.4.18 (2nd Battle of Dernancourt). The Germans launched a very heavy attack on 4th Australian Division. 49th battalion found that 47th Battalion had been forced to withdraw. Supported by part of the 45th, it made a successful counterattack, relieving the pressure on the Australian line, but suffering 221 casualties. Haylock’s service records and unit war diary are online.
Private Philip Tilghman, 49th Australian Infantry, 13th Brigade, 4th Australian Division, a gardener from New South Wales, was also treated at Quex, with a wound to his left elbow (patient 1212), from 8.4.18 to 14.6.18. He had been wounded on the same day and with the same unit as Haylock. He was returned to Australia and discharged from the Army because of his wounds 19.11.18. His service records and unit war diary are online.
Private Edward Slattery 47th Australian Infantry 12th brigade, 4th Australian Division, was treated at Quex 8.4.18 to 14.6.18 (patient 1232) with multiple shell wounds sustained 5.4.18. The battalion was engaged near Lavieville, on the Somme front. On 5.4.18, the Germans shelled the Australians, heavily. As the barrage lifted at 9.30 a.m., the German infantry attacked, under cover of haze and mist, making a breach in the Australian lines at 10.40 a.m. With the poor visibility, it was some time later that 47th Battalion,holding the railway embankment, found Germans firing at them from the rear and were forced to withdraw. A counterattack was organised. This took heavy casualties, but succeeded in driving off the Germans in disorder. Because of heavy casualties sustained, the attack was not pursued as far as the railway embankment. (The battalion’s Sgt Stanley McDougall was awarded the VC for bravery displayed on 28 March, halting an enemy advance. He distinguished himself again, eight days later, repulsing another enemy attack, for which he was awarded the MM.) Slattery’s service records and the unit war diary are online.
Private Albert Lewis, 24th London, 142nd Brigade, 47th Division, formerly a hospital lift attendant, was treated at Quex 8.4.18 to 28.5.18, with multiple wounds (patient 1238) sustained 5.4.18. He had been wounded twice previously - in 1915 and 1916. He was wounded during the German attack on the Aveluy Wood area. With a heavy bombardment the Germans attacked, through clouds of gas and smoke, with 3 divisions, on the front held by 12th, 47th and 63rd Divisions. The attack fell first on 142nd Brigade, and specifically on its left battalion (Lewis’ 24th London) at 7.20 a.m. The Germans sustained heavy casualties, but managed to get behind some posts in Aveluy Wood. About 10.30 a.m., with a sudden rush, the Germans succeeded in breaking 142nd Brigade’s line in the wood. A counterattack at 4 p.m. to restore the line, made by two companies of 22nd London, was partially successful. A continuous line was established along the slope above the western edge of the wood and a further effort to restore the original line put off to the following morning. Lewis’s Burnt Records are online.
Alexander McIntyre, from Glasgow, was believed killed in action sometime between 9.4.18 and 15.4.18- being listed as ‘missing,’ with 7th Black Watch, 51st (Highland) Division. He had been admitted to St. Michael’s in November 1917, suffering from gas poisoning (patient 1062). He is commemorated on the Loos Memorial. The Division had fought the German March 1918 offensive, and was then heavily engaged near Bethune with the German April offensive. McIntyre’s Burnt Records have not survived. The battalion war diary is very detailed and lists all casualties.
Private Albert Martin, was an old soldier, who had first enlisted in 1907. He had been admitted to Quex with rheumatism in March 1915 (patient 109). When serving with 1/4th York & Lancaster, 49th Division, he was captured around 12 April 1918 in the Battle of the Lys. His battalion had been put in, on 11th April, near Neuve Eglise, to support 25th Division in trying to stem the German breakthrough. The battalion was obliged to fall back, under German pressure and to conform to other units. 72 other ranks were missing on 12.4.18. Martin was taken to Friedrichsfeld POW camp. He was repatriated 23.11.18, following the Armistice. His unit’s war diary is online with Ancestry, as are his Burnt Records.
Private William Rolfe, a former Buckinghamshire fretworker, was serving with 2/4th Oxfordshire & Buckinghamshire Light Infantry in 61st Division, he was treated at St. Michael’s 16.4.1918- 21.1.19 (patient 1278). He was apparently wounded, in the arm, on 15 April, at Robecq. His battalion, after fighting against the German March offensive, was back in the fighting when the Germans attacked on the Lys in early April. On 15 April at 7p.m, after a bombardment, the Germans attacked ‘B’ Company, but were beaten off, but took shelter in some houses. These were heavily shelled and then ‘B’ Company attacked them. The Germans were driven out, but the position could not be held and it was necessary to withdraw. The battalion lost 4 killed, 18 wounded, 1 missing. After hospital, Rolfe served as a mess waiter in Ireland, before being discharged autumn 1919. He was left with 25% disability from his arm wound. His Burnt Records and detailed unit war diary are online.
Private Herbert Woodhead, a Bradford man, serving with 2nd Battalion West Yorkshire Regiment, 23rd Brigade, 8th Division, died of wounds 25.4.18. He had been admitted to St. Michael’s in February 1917 with myalgia and pyrexia (patient 744). He is buried at Crouy-sur-Somme. After heavy fighting in late March, the battalion opposed a German attack of infantry and 3 tanks on 24.4.18, at Villers Bretonneux. The Germans broke through and the battalion took heavy casualties. Bearing in mind where he is buried, it seems likely that Woodhead was wounded on 24.4.18 and died the next day at a nearby casualty clearing station. The battalion lost very heavily 24-28.4.18- 20 killed, 3 died of wounds, 183 wounded, 214 missing. The Australians recaptured Villars Bretonneux late on 24.4.18. Woodhead’s Burnt Records do not survive. The unit war diary is online.
WE WILL REMEMBER THEM