Lieutenant Douglas Marshall RIGBY


Regiment/Service:
Cheshire Regiment
Unit:
6th Battalion (Territorial)
Service Number:
n/a
Date of Death:
4 September 1918 - Killed in Action
Age:
26
Cemetery / Memorial:
Grave Number:
II. A. 22.


Personal History:

Douglas was born at Woodlands Bank, Timperley, Cheshire c. 1891 (1891 Census RG 12/2826), the only son of Marshall (Solicitor) and Grace Adeline (née Betts) Rigby of 'White Knowle', Burbage, Buxton. (Marshall had grown up in Buxton, son of John (Cotton Manufacturer) and Sarah, living at Beaufort House, Fairfield)
Douglas had an older sister, Honoria M. (1901 Census RG 13/3270). In 1911 Douglas was living at home at 'White Knowle' and working as a "Clerk to Iron Merchant". Some time after the War the family moved to 3 Tabley Road, Knutsford, Cheshire.

Military History:
Douglas enlisted as a Private in the Cheshire (Earl of Chester's) Yeomanry, and was Gazetted 2nd Lieutenant in the 6th Battalion on the 6th March 1915 (London Gazette 5th March 1915). He entered France, according to his Medal Index Card,  on the 22nd July 1915 and at some time between then and his death he was promoted to Lieutenant.

Douglas' Battalion's first major action was when the Battle of the Somme was final stages. On the13th October 1916, the 6th Cheshires were just behind the front line near Thiepval in the heart of the Somme battlefield. An attack was planned for the next day in yet another attempt to capture a German stronghold known to the British as the Schwaben Redoubt. On the 13th November 1916, which became known as the Battle of the Ancre. The 6th Cheshires' objective was the hamlet of St Pierre Divion to the north east of their position in the Schwaben Redoubt, and they advanced in four lines.

At 5.45 a.m. the Battalion left their positions and advanced, in four waves. The fog caused them to miss their first objective, Mill Trench, but they re-organised and captured it. By noon, they had also taken St Pierre Divion.

The History of the Battalion records that "A mist screened the movement of our troops, but also enabled many enemy parties, who had been overlooked, to fire into the backs of troops who had passed. Many of the Germans, who had surrendered to the first wave of troops, took up arms again and we sustained many casualties in this manner."

When the Cheshires reached the village, there were no buildings still standing - all having been destroyed by artillery fire. The Battalion History goes on to say: "One signaller had been told that when he arrived at St Pierre Divion, he must look out for Brigade Signals for further supplies of wire. He sent a message back "Brigade Signals ain't here, wire ain't here and St Pierre Divion ain't here." (Crookenden page 96)

During the day, the Battalion captured 150 prisoners and took two machine guns, but at a heavy cost. 126 men had been wounded. 38 had been killed; 22 of which have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.

Douglas' next action was probably during The Third Battle of Ypres (often called Passchendaele) had started on 31 July 1917. The Cheshire's were part of the reserve Brigade for its Division and were intended to overlap the leading troops once these had captured the initial objectives. The attack, along an 18 kilometre front, had been meticulously planned. An artillery bombardment of the German positions had been underway since the 18th July so there was no element of surprise.

By 1.00 a.m. on the 31st July, 20 officers and 600 "other ranks" had assembled at a place known as English Farm at Wieltje (to the north east of Ypres). Zero hour had been set for 3.50 a.m. and the leading battalions set off for the initial objective - the village of St Julien, approximately a mile away. Later, in the morning the Cheshires left their positions and advanced up the hill towards St Julien. The history of the Battalion records "On arrival at the Boche front line, the casualties had been fairly heavy, but the advance was maintained. The Steenbeck was crossed at 10am and the Battalion was re-organised for the final objective, intermittent fire being maintained whilst this was going on."

Throughout the morning, there had been a downpour of rain and the ground was quickly turning to deep mud. Despite these conditions, the advance continued at 10.30 p.m. and the final objective (described as the Green Line - some 1100 yards north east of St Julien) was taken at 11.05 p.m. The Cheshires had reached their objective exactly on schedule. Patrols were then pushed out to Tirpitz Farm, some 300 yards further on.

The position had been secured but at a terrible cost in dead and wounded. There were only 2 officers and 57 Cheshires left, together with 11 Black Watch and 8 Hampshires out of 60 officers and 1800 men. They had come three miles.

The 1/6th Battalion had 120 Officers and men killed in action on that day. Of these just 4 have a known burial place, the rest are commemorated at Tyne Cot and the Menin Gate Memorials.

After two weeks out of the line at Chippewa Camp, near Ypres, Douglas' Battalion next saw action on the 20th September 1917, still during the 3rd Battle of Ypres, at the Battle of the Menin Road. On the evening of the 19th September, the Battalion moved forward to an assembly position in Shrewsbury Forest, to the south east of Ypres. The men were in position by 2.00 a.m. on the 20th and were intended to be part of the Divisional reserve troops supporting an attack. Two companies were in a forward position and two companies in support of a battalion of the Kings Royal Rifle Corps. At 7.40 a.m. one of the two reserve companies moved forward to reinforce the KRRC. Shortly afterwards, the second reserve company came forward to reinforce the left flank.

Later in the day, one of the two forward companies was ordered into an attack on a German strongpoint near Basseville Beek. The Official History of the Cheshires describes them as advancing "with great gallantry" under machine gun fire, capturing their objective at 7.10 p.m. They held this position all night. In the morning, they found that the troops on the flanks had failed to advance sufficiently and they were now being fired on from both sides. The Cheshires were compelled to withdraw back to the line held by the Division.

CWGC records show that Douglas lost a further 49 of his comrades, killed in action, on the 20th September 1917. All but four of these men have no known grave and are commemorated on the Tyne Cot memorial.

In the following year 221 Officers and men of the 1/6th and 6th Battalions were lost, before the 4th September 1918 when Douglas was killed in action - the only man to be lost that day. The most likely cause of death would be sniper fire, and he now lies in Wulvergem Military Cemetery. Just two months later the Great War was over, against all the odds for a junior Officer Douglas had survived major Battles for over three years, only to fall so close to the Armistice.

Sources:
· I am grateful to The British War Graves for the photo of Douglas' grave
· I am grateful to John Hartley for his notes on the Battle of Ancre and the 3rd Battle of Ypres.
· "The History of Cheshire Regiment in the Great War" - Col Arthur Crookenden (Naval & Military Press) ISBN 9781845741402


Link to CWGC Record
Lt Rigby's Grave
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