Private Percy A. STREET


Regiment/Service:
South Staffordshire Regiment
Unit:
2nd Battalion
Service Number:
20552
Date of Death:
17 November 1916 - Killed in Action
Age:
21
Cemetery / Memorial:
Memorial Reference:
Face 7 B.


Personal History:

Percy was born in 1895, the son of Richard (Labourer) and Louisa (née Allen) Street. In 1901 (Census RG 13/3269) Percy was lodging with his parents and younger brother, Samuel [see below] in the Wain family home at 4 Hobson's Court, Buxton.

By 1911 (Census RG 14/21233) the family had moved to 51 Fairfield Road, Fairfield, Buxton, and each son was working as an "Errand Boy".

On the 27th January 1917 'The Buxton Advertiser' reported:
"We understand Mrs Street of 51 Fairfield Road, Buxton, has received information from the War Office expressing their regret and sympathy that her son is reported missing. Mrs Street has two sons serving in the War and both have been out at the front a long time. It is hoped that favourable news may yet be forthcoming for this son."

Sadly, this was not the case. In fact Percy was killed over two months before this report. It got worse for the family when Percy's only brother, Samuel, died of wounds on the 3rd May 1917. Their father, Richard, died in the December quarter 1916, so Louisa lost her husband and both sons in a little over six months. [See: Footnote below]

Military History:
Percy enlisted at Buxton into the South Staffordshire Regiment and although his Service Papers are lost, however, other men with similar Service Numbers enlisted in the 2nd/3rd week of November 1915. Although 'The Buxton Advertiser' report quoted above states that Percy had: " ... been out at the front a long time ..." Percy's Medal Index Card indicates he was not posted to France until after 1915, as he was not eligible for the 1914-15 Star medal. By comparison again with similar Service Numbers, it is likely that Percy would have joined the 2nd Battalion in France in May 1916.

At the start of the War the 2nd Battalion was stationed in Aldershot, part of 6th Brigade in 2nd Division. It was immediately posted to the Front and landed at Le Havre on the 13th August 1914. The Battalion were immediately in action at The Battle of Mons and the subsequent retreat, closely followed by The Battle of the Marne; The Battle of the Aisne and, later in the year, The First Battle of Ypres.

After the Winter Operations of 1914-15, the 2nd Battalion saw action at The Battle of Festubert (15th - 25th May 1915) and The Battle of Loos, 25th September - 18th October 1915.

If, as seems likely, Percy joined his Battalion in May 1916, it was no doubt as part of the reinforcements for the coming Battle of the Somme, which began on the 1st July. He would have first seen action during The Battle of Delville Wood, (15th July - 3rd September). The 2nd Battalion joined the Battle on the 20th July, and on the 27th came under heavy bombardment, followed by an unsuccessful German attack at 9.30 p.m.

During the rest of the Battle Percy's Battalion were in and out of the front line almost on a daily basis, including action in the Serre sector.  The Battle of the Ancre began on the 13th November, during which action he lost his life on the 17th. He returned to the line at Bertrancourt on the 12th November and attacked along the Redan Ridge the following day. Uncut wire around The Quadrilateral held up the advance and the Battalion suffered heavy casualties from machine gun fire. On the 16th withdrawal to the British front line was ordered.

The Battalion History gives more detail of the action during this period, stating that:

"On October 28th, the 2nd Battalion relieved the 13th Essex Regiment in the Northern sub-section of the Redan (South of Serre). Owing to the recent heavy rain, the trenches were in an awful state; and with a continuance of bad weather the men were continually working on repairs, for the Germans periodically shelled the front line and the reserve trenches.

On the last day of October, a welcome relief by the 22nd Royal Fusiliers permitted the 2nd South Staffords to return to rest billets at Bertrancourt; but there was no rest for them: the camp was in a shocking condition, one vast accumulation of mud, so that the sapping platoon was continuously at work improving the conditions of the huts and roads.

On November 7th, the 2nd South Staffords moved to Mailly Maillet, in preparation for the renewal of the offensive on November 13th. The successes of the past four months had driven a big salient into the heart of the German defences South of Thiepval, but the strong enemy front before Beaumont Hamel and Serre had yet to be taken. This position was immensely strong, for it constituted the old first German line, and the enemy had spent two years in stocking it with endless redoubts and strong points filled with machine guns, while the wire entanglements were on a scale which had probably no parallel. The ground, too, helped the enemy, for the Germans held the high ground from Beaumont Hamel to Gommecourt. South of this was the valley of the Ancre, the country on the right bank of the stream having clearly marked spurs descending to the valley of the river, the chief of these being a long ridge with Serre as its Western extremity.

Active patrol work was carried out along the German wire, and on November 11th 2nd Lieut. F. J. Brooks, who was in charge of a patrol and the Battalion torpedo party, successfully exploded a torpedo under the German front line wire at a selected point in front of the Battalion assembly trenches. These assembly trenches were just South of Serre, and the 2nd South Staffords moved into them during the night of November 12th. There was very little German shelling and no casualties occurred during the process of forming up. The British left wing in this attack comprised three Divisions: the 2nd Division, the 3rd and 51st Divisions, while further extended to the right was the Naval Division, which, after fighting at Antwerp and Gallipoli, was now for the first time taking part in action on the Western front.

The 2nd South Staffords formed the left front Battalion and the 13th Essex Regiment the right front Battalion, of the 6th. Infantry Brigade. The South Staffords joining up on their left with the 3rd Division. Each Battalion was to go forward in four waves, in column of half Companies in single file, three paces between each man, the distance between each wave being 100 yards. Immediately behind the first wave, ready to follow as closely as possible, came the "mopping up" parties with two Lewis guns. The 6th Brigade Machine Gun Company provided four guns each for the 2nd South Staffords and the 13th Essex Regiment, the remaining guns being in support or reserve. Each man in the attacking parties carried 150 rounds of ammunition, two Mills bombs and two sandbags, with one iron ration and one day's ration. After a preliminary bombardment, lasting from November 11th to the 13th, the attack was commenced in the darkness and heavy mist of a November morning, when at 5.45 a.m. the men went "over the top."

The going was extremely heavy, but the 2nd South Staffords, guided by their Officers. marching on compass bearings, went straight towards their objective, which, owing to the thick fog was invisible. The attack had been most carefully planned, but in that dense shroud it was hard for the best trained soldiers to keep direction. The 2nd South Staffords successfully crossed the German front line, and moving close on the fringe of our own barrage, assaulted the second German line wire, which was practically uncut. Here, they were held up, and to make matters worse for them, unfortunately, units from the 3rd Division on their left, having lost direction in the darkness, came across the South Staffords' front, breaking up their formation. All was confusion for a time, it was a regular mix up, and reorganisation was rendered difficult owing to the heavy mist, meanwhile our barrage had gone on ahead of the troops - widening the gap between it and the South' Staffords.

The ground over which they had to advance was ploughed up into a sticky mud into which the men sank in places up to their waists. Gallant efforts were made by Officers and men to find a gap in the German wire through which they could advance, but it was found to be practically impassable.

Casualties among both Officers and men were very heavy, for the Germans, after the barrage had passed over their position, came up out of their dug-outs and opened a withering machine gun fire on the troops. Among others, two Company Commanders were missing, one of whom, Captain R. P. Phipps, was known to be wounded, two Subalterns missing and believed killed, several Subalterns were wounded, and also all the four C.S.Ms., but C.S.M. Cox remained at duty until the Battalion was relieved. The bombs issued to each man had been used, mud made the rifles useless, and there was nothing left but for the South Staffords to fall back to the old defensive lines in Monk and Legend trenches.

During this fighting the Chaplain joined Battalion Headquarters, and did excellent work for the wounded, acting as dresser and giving much needed help. For two days the 2nd South Staffords held these trenches against heavy German counter-attacks, and while little progress was possible after the unfortunate happenings of November 13th, despite all attacks, they grimly held their own line. They were relieved on November 15th by the 4th Royal Fusiliers, and the Battalion, sadly depleted in strength, went back to the area known as Ellis Square, but owing to the Germans putting down a heavy barrage on Monk Trench, one detachment was not relieved until twelve hours after the bulk of the Battalion had gone.

On relief they went into rest billets at Louvencourt, being taken there by motor lorries from Mailly Maillett. While in these rest billets at Louvencourt, the Divisional General Major-General W. G. Walker, V.C., C.B., visited the South Staffords' Headquarters, and expressed his satisfaction with the part they had played in the recent fighting. "He pointed out, that by being on the edge of that part of the line which failed to advance, it had to bear the brunt of the enemy resistance. He expressed great regret at the heavy casualties suffered, but said, that these were inevitable in an action of this nature."

Commonwealth War Graves records show that Percy was one of 60 Officers and men of the 2nd Battalion killed in action between the 13th and 17th November 1916. 21 lie in Serre Road Cemetery and 24, including Percy, have no known grave and are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial.


Footnote:
· Percy's younger brother, Private 17414 Samuel Walton STREET, also served with the 2nd Battalion, South Staffs Regiment in France, and died
   of wounds on the 3rd May 1917. He is buried in Buxton, in Fairfield Cemetery.

Sources:
· 'The Buxton Advertiser' - 27th January 1917
· I am grateful to Colin Taylor for the War Diary extract
· "British Battalions on the Somme" - Ray Westlake [ISBN-10: 0850523745] p. 170
· "A History of the South Staffordshire Regiment (1705-1923)" - James P. Jones, 1923  Pages 335 - 337

Link to CWGC Record
Thiepval Memorial Panel
Thomas' name on the Memorial
poppy