Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Detailed account of the Death of Lieutenant Colonel A C Gordon

Hemel Hempstead Gazette, 22nd December, 1917
The Battle of Cambrai
... ...
While the 235th Brigade was supporting the Guards Division, the 236th  Artillery Brigade, under Lieutenant Colonel A. H. Bowring, were allocated to help the 20th Division on the Welsh Ridge in the neighbourhood of La Vacquerie.

Over the next week the Germans shelled indiscriminately in the area, including Havrincourt Wood. They killed a mess carthorse on 8th December, while the A/235 Battery lost two horses killed and three men wounded on the 10th, and the wagon lines moved to a safer position at Fins. On the 12th there was a major regrouping of artillery and the C.R.A. war diary records that “The Divisional front is from 4 p.m. today covered by one Field Artillery Group, under the command of Lt. Col. Bowring, consisting of 77th (Army) Brigade R.F.A. and 235th  and 236th Brigades R.F.A.” The war diary also reports that there was very little hostile fire with “only a few rounds on Havrincourt and our trenches.” Unfortunately, half an hour after the regrouping of the Divisional artillery one of the few shells to fall on Havrincourt that day found a target in the B/235 Battery position. Captain Pilditch recorded what happened in his diary:
December 12th. ... I was just going comfortably to bed when a message came from Brigade to say that Colonel Gordon had been killed and Major Hatfield badly wounded. It was a great shock, the worst I’ve had since Gorell’s death, especially as everything seemed reasonably quiet in front and we had had no casualties to speak of since we came into action here. It was not so much surprise at a Colonel being overtaken by the fate more commonly reserved for gunners and subalterns, (a year of Ypres had scattered all illusions and put us all on a level as far as that was concerned) but Gordon was certainly a man whom one unconsciously thought of as one who goes on and prospers and is not killed. He has done splendidly during the last week as C.R.A. to the artillery covering the Guards, and after ten days’ momentous action with so few casualties in our immediate circle, one had, as so often, become lulled into a false sense of security and hardly gave a thought to the tragic side of war. Now that pleasant illusion was shattered. The two senior officers of the Brigade had been hit, Hatfield was reported very badly wounded, and the Doctor [Hebblethwaite] had had a miraculous escape. It could, we felt, have been quiet on our front, but it was a reminder, as in the case of Kimber, and again when Gorell was killed, that on the quietest, sunniest days, death lurks quietly unseen and unthought of, but never absent and never asleep, I felt very miserable for some days after this. Gordon was a fine C.O. and a good friend to our Battery and to me personally. I slept badly, thinking of Gordon and that the last important link with the old days was gone.
December 13th. ... Flynn rode back with me along the cord-wood road to Trescault for the funeral at Havrincourt. There were ten officers from the Brigade there. He was buried in a little graveyard by the side of the road [at Ruyaulcourt]. Eighty men and two trumpeters followed. As at all funerals I felt profoundly miserable. I think at such times most of us feel ‘which one of us will be the next?’  There is one thing, however, about deaths out here. There is too much action and work in one’s life to allow of much worrying and brooding over sad happenings. One man goes, another takes his place, and still the war goes on, full of vital interest and concern for the survivors. We shall, I expect, those of us who are alive when the war stops, feel the deaths far more then than now. Also, I think, we feel that a proportion of us (in the Infantry a majority) will soon pass the same way, and the consciousness that it is but a step forward is stronger, here and now, than in the piping times of peace. So after the funeral, at which we all felt very miserable, we came back to our pigsty billet and had a good dinner and cheery game of bridge and personally I slept like a log. Gordon is not forgotten but God is merciful and blunts the edge of these sorrows while we have other hard things to bear.
The Brigade Chaplain wrote a letter of condolence to Gordon’s widow, Irene, which, in the light of Pilditch’s diary and General Fielding’s letter, seems more genuine than many which were sent to grieving relatives:
He was one of the finest commanding officers that any brigade could have. He had all the qualities which go to make the ideal leader of men, and they would have followed him anywhere. He died just after the accomplishment of the greatest achievement in his military career, having done something with his brigade which it is given to few artillery officers to be able to do. His name has been on everybody’s lips in this division, and not in this division alone. Further honours would certainly have come to him in the near future. I have known him for over two years now, and I have lost a much respected and large-hearted friend. I shall always remember him as one who inspired, by his example, the boys and men whom he led (and whom I have worked among and love) to achieve things which seemed almost impossible.
The news soon reached Hemel Hempstead, as one of the gunners formerly billeted in the town wrote with news from the front on 15th December:
We are now billeted in a village, which our boys have named “The Better Hole” on account of its being but a heap of ruins. I regret to say we have lost Colonel Lowe, who had been made a Brigadier-General, and was posted to another Division. He had been there only a month when a piece of shrapnel pierced his lungs. ... Lieutenant Colonel Gordon, D.S.O. was also killed a few days ago. No doubt you will remember him when he was at Hemel Hempstead. He was Major at that time. Corporal Gilman  was also wounded this morning but not very badly. He used to be in the Battery office at the Manse [in Alexandra Road] in the old days.
The London Gunners Come to Town Chapter 23, pages 199-201

The London Gunners Come to Town describes life in a Hertfordshire market town [Hemel Hempstead], its overnight transformation into a garrison town, and the war’s impact from three very different viewpoints. ... ... "The Soldier's Tale" describes life in the town, and military training in the surrounding countryside, as recorded by the soldiers at the time. To emphasize the reason why they had come to Hemel Hempstead, the book briefly follows the military career of Major Gordon of the 2nd London Division (later the 47th Division) on the Western Front. The battle of Loos is described by men from the town. The book also reports on the local men who joined the Hertfordshire Regiment and marched out of town in August, 1914

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