This site commemorates the men and women of Collingham, Linton and Micklethwaite who served during World War 1.
Wray, George Arthur
(1893-1917)

Rank and Unit at End of World War One

Rank Gunner

Service Number 66635

Service Army

Battalion 123rd Battery, 28th Brigade

Regiment Royal Field Artillery

Killed in Action: 17th August 1917

Buried Klein-Vierstraat British Cemetery, Belgium

Biography

Family background

George Arthur Wray was born in Collingham on the 19th July 1893, the second child (of seven) of James and Elizabeth Ann Wray (nee Lightfoot). George was baptised in Collingham Church on the 3rd September 1893, and was confirmed in Thorner Church in 1908. In 1911, George was living with his parents at Half Moon Cottages, Collingham.

On the 9th May 1914, George, who had been working at Wharf Spring Brewery, married Agnes Mary Simpson at Scarborough Registry Office and they made their home in Scarborough. Their first daughter, Dorothy, was born on the 30th March 1914 at 19 Hibernia Street, Scarborough. Their second daughter, Agnes, was born on the 30th June 1916 at 87 Westminster Street, Gateshead.

Service record
George enlisted in Scarborough and served with 123rd Battery, 28th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. George was a Gunner with the service number 66635 and his medal record shows that he first went overseas when he went to France on the 13th December 1915.

George served in 123 Battery, 28th Brigade of the Royal Field Artillery (RFA). 123rd Battery was one of three that comprised 28th Artillery Brigade which, in turn, came under the command of 5th Division. All together, the Brigade was equipped with 54 18-pounder guns - 18 in each Battery. Each gun was operated by a team of six men. In tracing what service George saw in the war we will track the history of this brigade. However George's personal service record has not survived and so we cannot be sure whether he had any time away from his unit, whether through injury, illness or leave, and so we cannot be sure that he took part in all the actions described.

Having got to France on the 13th December 1915, it would have taken at least a few days for George to reach his unit, which at that time was near Bray and the Wellington Redoubt, south of the German lines near Mametz (See Map 1).

Somme Battlefield overview

Map 1: The area covered by the Battle of the Somme (click for full size).

The Brigade stayed in this area until about the 20th January 1916. An entry in the War Diary for Christmas Day 1915 reads: "Quiet in Bray. Men throughly enjoyed their Xmas dinner. A good deal of shelling on our trenches, especially Wellington Redoubt. 3 infantrymen killed and 7 wounded."

Around the 20th January 1916, 28 Brigade RFA moved back into rest where they stayed until 29th February 1916, and on the 2nd March 1916, the Brigade War Diary reports that the brigade came into action near Arras. Around the 24th June, 28 Brigade were in action near Beaumetz, where they remained in action until the 3rd July. That day they moved to Rebreuve for a few days rest and drilling. On the 14th July 1916 they moved to Outrebois, followed by moves through Hem, Gezaincourt, Beauval and Val de Maison to Puchevillers, then on to Rubempre and St Gratien to Querrieu. On the 17th July the Brigade moved again to Heilly, joining XV Corps of the British 4th Army. On the 19th July, they moved on to camp near Le Carcaillot between Meaulte and Becordel Becourt (Map 2).

28 Bde RFA movements

Map 2: The movements of 123rd Battery, 28th Brigade Royal Field Artillery 24th June to 19th July 1916 (click for full size). The rough position of the German front line on 1st July 1916 is shown.

The Battle of The Somme - July 1916

The Battle of the Somme commenced on the 1st July 1916 (See Map 1) with a plan to break through the German front line and make rapid advances. From the 24th June, the Allies launched a week's intensive bombardment and on the 1st July the attack went in. Unfortunately many Germans had sheltered in deep bunkers and came out and manned their posts as the British walked forward to advance. On the first day alone the British suffered 57,540 casualties. By the 14th July some advances had been made, at terrible cost, but no breakthrough had been made (pink line on Map 1). It was around this time that George's unit, 28th Brigade RFA, made an entry into the Somme Battlefield. On the 20th July 1916, they moved into action near Montauban, south of the Carnoy-Montauban road (Map 1). Their role was to act as the artillery to cover the 95th Infantry Brigade made up of the 1st Battalion Devonshire Regiment, 1st Battalion East Surrey Regiment, 1st Battalion Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry and 12th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment.

On the 22nd July, 28 Brigade RFA's role was to support attacks on Switch Trench and High Wood (See Map 3), providing initial artillery barrages and then acting to bring fire to bear on the enemy if our infantry raised SOS calls for artillery support. On the 26th and 27th July the infantry attacks switched focus slightly in attempts to take Longueval and Delville Wood (Map 3) and on those days alone 28 Brigade RFA fired an amazing 14,271 rounds of artillery. Finally for July, 28 Brigade RFA supported attacks to consolidate the area and line between High Wood and Delville Wood.

Map 3. Role of 123 Battery, late July 1916. (Click for full size).

Map 3: The role of 123rd Battery, 28th Brigade Royal Field Artillery in late July 1916 (click for full size). The Battery took part in other barrages during the month and only major attacks, in conjunction with infantry attacks, are shown.

On the 28th July, the Brigade Major of 5th Divisional Artillery wrote to all the units: "Practically the whole of the village of Longueval is now in our possession. The Divisional Commander wishes to thank the 5th Division R.A for their excellent work yesterday. The success of the Infantry is due to a great extent to the admirable work of the Divisional Artillery."

The Battle of The Somme - August 1916

As July ran into August, heavy fighting for Longueval and Delville Wood continued. The War Diary on the 1st August recording "Last night the 28th Bde were shelled. The material supplied and the narrow deep trenches greatly reduced the casualties. In the morning the country between Longueval and Bazentin-Le-Grand was shelled between 12.30 and 3pm. At 8pm Mametz Valley and Caterpillar Valley were heavily shelled." Then on the 2nd Aug it further records: "The relief of the 5th Division infantry was considerably interfered with by heavy shelling in the Longueval area, 28th Bde batteries were again shelled during the night. In the morning the Longueval area and Marlboro Wood were shelled."

This was still a very active fight for Delville Wood and on the 4th August, 28 Brigade RFA covered an attack by 17th Divisional infantry on the wood, by bombarding an area between Delville Wood and Ginchy (Map 1). On the 5th August, there was less hostile fire in the area, but for the first time since the division moved south from Arras German observation balloons reappeared, with seven being seen during the day."

Days dragged on with the same type of fighting - pushes into the enemy lines and counter attacks driving our advances back. By the 11th the Germans held the whole length of Orchard Trench through Delville wood and several attempts to gain a foothold in the trench were driven back by machine gun and rifle fire. The Artillery played its part in these attempts carrying our counter battery work as well as normal barrages. Typically at this time the whole of 28 Brigade were firing around 5,000 shells per day.

The next major attack supported by 28 Brigade RFA was on the 18th August, when 43rd Infantry Brigade of 14th Division attacked the enemy trenches east of Delville Wood, Orchard Trench and Wood Lane. Two preliminary bombardments were made; one from 8am to 8pm on the 17th August and the second from 6am to zero hour on the 18th. 28 Brigade's role in this was bombardment of Beer Trench and Ale Trench and trenches along the edge of Delville Wood (Map 4). These attacks were initially successful and around 300 German prisoners were taken. However, as was often the case, the hold on the captured trenches could not be maintained. In the end it took until 5th September until Delville Wood was eventually taken.

Map 4. Role of 123 Battery, August 1916. (Click for full size).

Map 4: The role of 123rd Battery, 28th Brigade Royal Field Artillery in August 1916 (click for full size). The Battery took part in other barrages during the month and only major attacks, in conjunction with infantry attacks, are shown.

On the 21st August, a reorganisation of artillery meant that 28 Brigade RFA came under the command of 7th Divisional Artillery. The War diary notes that during the 33 days the 5th Divisional Artillery was in action, a staggering total of 333,075 rounds of 18 pounder shells were fired.

The Battle of The Somme - September 1916 - October 1916

123 Battery RFA, the unit in which George Wray served, remained in action near Bernafay Woods supporting attacks on Ginchy and Guillemont from the 1st to the 4th September 1916. On the 5th, the Brigade marched to its wagon lines near Albert and then to La Neuville for a short period of rest. It remained resting and drilling until the 29th September, when 123 Battery returned to its position near Bernafay Woods. As part of its duties at this stage, the Battery moved to forward positions north east of Delville Wood to cover an attack on Switch Trench and Guedicourt. However this was only a short stay in the front line at the Somme as on the 8th October 1916, 123 Battery was withdrawn from the Somme Battlefield. Some extracts from the Brigade's War Diary summarises their exploits at The Somme:

5TH DIVISIONAL ARTILLERY.


SOMME OFFENSIVE.


JULY - OCTOBER 1916.


----------o-o-o-o-o-o-o-o-------------


1. OPERATIONS.
(i) The 5th Divisional Artillery with 'U' Battery R.H.A. went into action with the rest of the Division on July 19th, and up to August 2nd it was covering its own Infantry. During this period the successful attack on LONGUEVAL took place. The Batteries were in CATTERPILLAR VALLEY and behind MONTAUBAN.
From Aug. 2nd to 13th, the 5th Divisional Artillery was covering the 17th Division and part of the 2nd Division. During this time there were many minor attacks in DELVILLE WOOD, against ORCHARD TRENCH, GUILLEMONT etc. the majority of which were unsuccessful.
From Aug. 13th to Aug. 22nd, the 5th Divisional Artillery was covering the 14th Division. A successful attack on the 18th August, practically cleared DELVILEE WOOD; ORCHARD TRENCH was captured and 300 prisoners taken ('X' Battery R.H.A. was attached to the 5th Divisional Artillery for this operation.
(ii) On the 22nd August, 5 Batteries (119th, 120th, 121st, 52nd and D/15th) were withdrawn into rest. The other 6 Batteries formed a Group under Lieut Col. Harding Newman and were placed under the 7th Divisional Artillery. They covered the 14th Division until their relief by the 7th, and they supported the latter (from advanced positions round BERNAFAY WOOD) in their successful attack on GINCHY.
On the 4th September, the 123rd, 124th, 80th, 65th, & 'U' Battery were relieved by the resting Batteries under Lieut Col. Hawkes.

..........Diary continues........

On September 30th, the 80th, 123rd, 124th, & 66th came back into action under Lieut Col. Berkley and relieved Lieut Col. Hawkes' Group. The incoming Batteries were moved up to SWITCH TRENCH and covered the 12th Division.
On October 10th, the whole of the 5th Divisional Artillery marched N. to join the rest of the Division.

..........Diary continues........

3. CASUALTIES Nine Officers were killed (of whom 2 were Battery Commanders) and 42 wounded (of whom 3 were Battery Commanders). Another Battery Commander was evacuated as the result of an old wound.
60 Other Ranks were killed, and 416 wounded.

..........Diary continues........
..........Here a list of casualties appears........
..........Here only those of 123rd Battery are reproduced........

123rd Battery.
2/Lieut. R.F. MASON Wounded
2/Lieut. R.E. TREASE. M.C. Wounded twice.
2/Lieut. B.S. STEWART. Wounded
 
Notes: 2/Lieut Reginald Ernest Trease did not survive the war. He died of flu on the 5th December 1918 aged 29 while undergoing surgery and treatment for a serious head and facial shrapnel injury. By that time he was a Lieutenant with both a Military Cross and a Distinguished Service Order to his name. He is buried in Nottingham Church Cemetery. For much more information on Lieut Trease see http://www.beeston-notts.co.uk/ww1_trease.shtml

 

A move north - October 1916

Almost the whole of October was taken up by a move of the whole Brigade, including 123 Battery to a quieter section of the line further north (Map 5). The Brigade came out of action on the 9th October and camped that night near Bussy. On the 10th they moved via Daours and Pont Noyelles to Beaucourt. The march continued on the 11th to Mirvaux, Rubempre, Val de Maison, Le Rosel, Beauval to Doullens citadel from where 123rd Battery moved to Hamencourt to billets at Ampliers. On the 12th they retraced their steps to Doullens via Authieule and Freschevillers and then headed further north via Bretel, Hem, Frohen-sur-Authie, Villers-Fortel, Vacquerie-le-Boucq to Boubers-sur-Canche. On the 13th their route went from Boubers to Flamermont, Croisette, Fleury, Anvin and ended in Heuchin, and on the 14th to Boyaval, Pernes, Marles-les-Mines to Chocques and Locon. From there, on the nights of the 15th/16th and 16/17th October, the 5th Divisional Artillery relieved the 5th Composite Divisional Artillery forming the Left Group of Artillery. In particular 123rd Battery relieved 61st Divisional Artillery and placed 4 of its guns near Richebourg Saint-Vaast and a further two guns close to Neuve Chapelle. This new section of front must have been something of a difference to the men who had served through the Somme Battles. The Divisional War Diary recording: "Front extremely quiet one, except for a certain amount of trench mortaring south of La Bassee" (about 4 miles away) and "No incidents beyond those of normal trench warfare of a very quiet nature." During the latter part of October the Battery registered their guns and fired practice shoots.

Map 5. Movement of 123 Battery, October 1916. (Click for full size).

Map 5: The movements of 123rd Battery, 28th Brigade Royal Field Artillery in October 1916 (click for full size).

A quiet winter - October 1916 to March 1917

123rd Battery RFA's quiet winter continued through November and December 1916. A couple of extracts from 28 Brigade RFA War Diary gives the flavour of their days at this time.

 
15th November 1916
During the rest of the month no occurrences of interest tactically took place. There were various minor bombardments and the artillery stood by on different occasions to assist the infantry in raids. The enemy remained quiet throughout the month.

26th December 1916
The general attitude of the enemy has been quiet except for the usual trench mortaring, and for a burst of artillery activity from the 19th to the 22nd. The 123rd, 80th, A/300, 120th and 121st Batteries were all shelled, presumably because the Germans imagined the artillery was being relieved as well as the infantry.

1st - 7th January 1917
Very quiet week except that on Jan 4th we blew a mine at map reference A93. No raid however took place as the night was too bright. Enemy took 14 minutes to open barrage fire.

15th - 22nd January 1917
Misty and cold. Snow on the 16th.

22nd January 1917
Hostile artillery fired about 450 rounds on trenches of CANAL RIGHT and GUINCHY and LA BASSEE-CAMBRIN road. About 60% gas shell.
This unusual activity was probably due to enemy knowledge that we are carrying out an Infantry Brigade relief.

23rd - 31st January 1917
Cold continued. Snow which fell on the 16th still lying on 31st.
 

In February a few more noticeable actions took place, mainly trench raids:

 
February 1917. Visibility indifferent during the month. 1 day fog, 14 days mist, 2 days rain.
We blew 2 small mines (1st and 16th) and the enemy 3 (5th, 18th, 18th) all in the GIVENCHY SECTOR.

6th February 1917
Raid was carried out by us in Brickstack area. 2 prisoners, many killed. Enemy barraged our front line especially on the flank of the raid with trench mortars.
 

March 1917 - another new front

Early March 1917 was spent in the same area, but on the 28th and 29th March 123rd Battery came out of action and retired to their wagon lines. Then on the 30th March, they marched to Verdrel. On the 31st March Battery and Brigade Commanders reconnoitered new positions at Neuville St. Vaast and George Wray and 123rd Battery were ready for The Battle of Vimy Ridge.

April 1917 The Battle of Vimy Ridge

The Battle of Vimy Ridge was part of the Battle of Arras, and was the first attack of the Nivelle Offensive, which was intended to attract German reserves from the French, before their attempt at a decisive offensive on the Aisne and the Chemin des Dames ridge further south.

The Canadian Corps was to capture the German-held high ground of Vimy Ridge, an escarpment on the northern flank of the Arras front. This would protect the First Army and the Third Army farther south from German enfilade fire. Vimy Ridge is an escarpment 5 miles northeast of Arras on the western edge of the Douai Plain. The ridge rises gradually on its western side and drops more quickly on the eastern side. The ridge is just over 4 miles in length and culminates at an elevation of 145 m (476 ft) or 60 m (200 ft) above the Douai Plains. It provides a natural unobstructed view for tens of kilometres in all directions. The ridge fell under German control in October 1914 during the Race to the Sea as the Franco-British and German forces continually attempted to outflank each other through northeastern France. (See Map 6)

Map 6. The Battle of Vimy Ridge Battlefield, including the location of 123 Battery RFA. April 1917. (Click for full size).

Map 6. The Battle of Vimy Ridge Battlefield, including the location of 123 Battery RFA. April 1917. (Click for full size)

The plan for 1917 was for the Canadian Corps to take the ridge. The plan divided the Canadian Corps advance into four coloured objective lines. The attack would be made on a front of 7,000 yd, with its centre opposite the village of Vimy, to the east of the ridge. The first objective, represented by the Black Line, was to seize the German forward defensive line. The final objective of the northern flank was the Red Line: taking the highest point on the ridge, the fortified knoll known as the Pimple, the Folie Farm, the Zwischen-Stellung trench and the hamlet of Les Tilleuls. The southern two divisions were to achieve two additional objectives: the Blue Line encompassing the village of Thélus and the woods outside the village of Vimy and the Brown Line, which aimed at capturing the Zwölfer-Graben trench and the German second line. The infantry would proceed close behind a creeping barrage placed down by light field guns, advancing in timed 100-yard increments. The medium and heavy howitzers would establish a series of standing barrages further ahead of the infantry against known defensive systems. The plan called for units to leapfrog over one another, as the advance progressed, to maintain momentum during the attack. The initial wave would capture and consolidate the Black Line and then push forward to the Red Line. The barrage would pause, to enable reserve units to move up and then move forward with the units pushing beyond the Red Line to the Blue Line. Once the corps secured the Blue Line, advancing units would once again leapfrog established ones and capture the Brown Line. Conducted properly, the plan would leave the German forces little time to exit the security of their deep dugouts and defend their positions against the infantry advance. If the corps maintained its schedule, the troops would advance as much as 4,000 yd and have the majority of the ridge under control by 1:00 pm of the first day.

The Canadian Corps' divisional artillery formations of eight field artillery brigades and two heavy artillery groups, were insufficient for the task at hand and were consequently reinforced with outside formations. Four heavy artillery groups, nine field artillery brigades, three divisional artillery groups and the artillery complement of the British 5th Division was attached to the Canadian Corps. In addition, ten heavy artillery groups of the flanking I and XVII Corps were assigned tasks in support of the Canadian Corps. In total, the British made available to the Canadian Corps twenty-four brigade artillery groups consisting of four hundred and eighty 18 pounder field guns, one hundred thirty-eight 4.5 inch howitzers, ninety-six 2 inch trench mortars, twenty-four 9.45 inch mortars, supported by 245 corps-level siege guns and heavy mortars. This firepower gave a density of one heavy gun for every 20 yards and one field gun for every 10 yards of Canadian Corps frontage, representing a considerable average increase, including three times the heavy guns, over the distribution of artillery at the Battle of the Somme a year earlier. 1.6 million shells were provided along the Canadian Corps front to maintain a high sustained rate of fire.

The attack started at 5:30 am on Easter Monday, 9 April 1917. During the late hours of 8 April and early morning of 9 April the men of the leading and supporting wave of the attack moved into their forward assembly positions. The weather was cold and later changed to sleet and snow. Although physically discomforting for everyone, the northwesterly storm provided some advantage to the assaulting troops by blowing snow in the faces of the defending troops. At 5:30 am, every artillery piece at the disposal of the Canadian Corps began firing. Thirty seconds later, engineers detonated the mine charges laid under no man's land and the German trench line, destroying a number of German strong points. Light field guns laid down a barrage that mostly advanced at a rate of 100 yards in three minutes while medium and heavy howitzers established a series of standing barrages further ahead against known defensive systems.

The 1st, 2nd and 3rd Canadian Divisions reached and captured their first objective, the Black Line, by 6:25 am and the 4th Canadian Division, held up during its advance took its first objective some hours later. After a planned pause to consolidate their positions, the advance resumed. Shortly after 7:00 am, the 1st Canadian Division captured the left half of its second objective, the Red Line and moved the 1st Canadian Brigade forward to mount an attack on the remainder. The 2nd Canadian Division reported reaching the Red Line and capturing the village of Les Tilleuls at approximately the same time. The southern section of the 3rd Canadian Division reached the Red Line at the western edge of the Bois de la Folie at around 7:30 am. By 9:00 am many objectives had been taken but its left flank was exposed as it had not yet captured Hill 145 and the 3rd Canadian Division quickly established a divisional defensive flank to its north.

On the 10th April the British moved three fresh brigades up to the Red Line by 9:30 am to support the advance of the 1st and 2nd Canadian Division, whereupon they were to leapfrog existing units occupying the Red line and advance to the Blue Line. Fresh units including two sections of tanks and the 13th British Brigade were called up from reserve to support the advance of the 2nd Canadian Division. By approximately 11:00 am, the Blue Line, including Hill 135 and the village of Thélus, had been captured. To permit the troops time to consolidate the Blue Line, the advance halted and the barrage remained stationary for 90 minutes while machine guns were brought forward. Shortly before 1:00 pm, the advance recommenced with both the 1st and 2nd Canadian Divisions reporting their final objective. The tank-supported advance via Farbus was eventually halted by concentrated German fire short of the village. The Canadian 1st and 2nd Divisions were nonetheless able to secure the Brown Line by approximately 2:00 pm.

The 4th Canadian Division made an attempt to capture the northern half of Hill 145 at around 3:15 pm, briefly capturing the peak but a German counterattack retook the position. However it later became obvious that the position was completely outflanked and there was no prospect of reinforcement and the German troops pulled back. The German forces were evacuated off the ridge with German artillery batteries moved west of the Vimy–Bailleul railway embankment or to the Oppy–Méricourt line. By nightfall of 10 April, the only Canadian objective not yet achieved was the capture of the Pimple.

Finally on the night of the 11th April artillery harassed German positions while a gas section of Royal Engineers, employing Livens Projectors, fired more than 40 drums of gas directly into the village of Givenchy-en-Gohelle to cause confusion. On the 12th, the defending German troops drove back the initial Canadian assaults at around 4:00 am using small arms fire, but the 10th Canadian Brigade attacked once again at 5:00 am, this time supported by a significant amount of artillery and the 24th Division of I Corps to the north. This battle was decisive and the 10th Canadian Brigade, assisted by snow and a westerly wind, fought hastily entrained German troops to capture the entire Pimple by 6:00 pm.

Canadian Memorial on Vimy Ridge

This battle was the first occasion when the four divisions of the Canadian Expeditionary Force fought together and it was made a symbol of Canadian national achievement and sacrifice. A 250-acre portion of the former battleground serves as a memorial park and site of the Canadian National Vimy Memorial.

 

Now let's look at the role of 123rd Battery RFA, including George Wray, in this battle.

123rd Battery Royal Field Artillery at Vimy Ridge

123rd Battery RFA moved into a position between La Targette and Neuville St Vaast (see Map 6) on the 1st and 2nd of April 1917. We can only imagine how cold and hard this work was as the war diary records 2 hours continuous snow on the afternoon of the 1st and another 2½ hours of snow on the 2nd. Work for the next few days (until the 8th) included building gun platforms and constructing dugouts and shelters in case of enemy counter battery work.

On the 9th April zero hour was at 5.30am. 123rd Battery, as part of 28th Brigade was charged with supporting the 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade. The whole plan was for infantry brigades to leapfrog over each other as objectives were taken and 6th Canadian Infantry Brigade's role was to advance through the already taken Black line to capture the Red and Brown lines through Thelus. Artillery Brigades had Forward Observation Officers (FOO) and Liaison Officers (LO) who could report back to the gunners what was happening and could call for artillery fire to support the infantry. Some extracts from the 28th Brigade's FOO/LO reports show the progress of the attack:

 
9th April
 6.15am Parties of prisoners coming in.

 6.35am 4th and 5th Brigades report BLACK Objective taken.

 7.26am 4th Brigade report they have taken RED Objective.

 7.55am Everything going well. 6th Brigade 'Report Centre' is going forward. Our men walking about on Lille Road.

 8.00am 4th Brigade report enemy barrage very light on their front. Battalions are going forward.

 8.10am Enemy reports massing 8am in Flet Trench. 37th Battery turned on 8.13am for 15 minutes.

 8.21am 5.9 inch shelling area over which 6th Brigade are advancing. General Officer Commanding 6th Inf. Bde requires neutralisation urgently.

 8.51am Heavy machine gun barrage on 4th Brigade from high ground west of Thelus to Thelus Wood.

 8.57am Battery firing from direction of Farbus. 600 prisoners passing 6th Brigade Headquarters.

 9.01am Two 18 pounder batteries 27th Brigade turned on to area South of Thelus Cemetery and Thelus Wood.

 9.18am 6th Brigade lined up ready to advance.

10.03am 6th Brigade Headquarters moving forward.

10.05am Infantry have reached THELUS TRENCH.

10.20am 6th Brigade have been seen going over the Crest on whole front.

10.33am 6th Brigade holding whole of THELUS TRENCH

10.55am Infantry have taken THELUS WOOD

10.55am Centre Battalion have 2 companies passed THELUS CHURCH.

11am 200 prisoners from THELUS TRENCH passing 6th Brigade Headquarters. Our casualties up to THELUS TRENCH light.

11.25am 29th Battalion report have reached BLUE objective.

11.40am 28th Battalion have BLUE Objective. Few casualties and many prisoners. 29th Battalion through THELUS WOOD and very few casualties. Got through HUN barrage without casualties. Have taken prisoners from 4 different Regiments - estimated at about 400.

11.50am 27th Battalion are moving forward to BLUE line. 28th Battalion report barrage very good, very few short rounds.

12.07pm 29th Battalion digging in on BLUE Objective.

12.55pm Enemy are counterattacking between GOULOT and HEROES WOOD.

 1.01pm 15th Brigade RFA ordered to increase rate of fire to rapid.

 1.02pm 27th Brigade RFA - ditto>

 1.03pm Turn fire to counteract enemy counterattack.

 1.15pm Some of our infantry are in BROWN Line.

 1.27pm Enemy retiring on roads running east from VIMY and FARBUS. Have looked over the ridge and seen them.

 1.54pm 27th Battalion are through BROWN Line in parts. 5 Artillery Office Prisoners at 6th Brigade Headquarters say they got 'hell' from our heavies.

 

At 2pm 123rd Battery ceased fire as it was reported that all objectives had been taken. Later they came back into action to provide covering artillery as other groups moved forward and then at 3.45pm they were ordered to barrage the Railway in its zone in order to catch any enemy traffic in that zone.

By 5pm the Canadian Infantry were inside FARBUS and GOULOT WOOD and BOIS de VILLE. At 6.05pm the infantry raised an SOS alarm, calling for immediate artillery fire to suppress and enemy attack. All guns of 123rd Battery were immediately fired on pre-arranged targets, but by 6.25pm no attack had materialised and the Battery stopped firing again.

At 9.01pm the 6th Infantry Brigade reported:

"We are holding all our Objectives comfortably. Patrol have pushed forward through Station and Farbus Woods, and have reached FARBUS Station. More guns captured in the two Woods."
 

From 3.35am on the 10th April, the Divisional Artillery were expecting a strong enemy counterattack, but strong artillery work by the whole Divisional Artillery meant that by 12.11pm on the 10th, the FOOs were reporting that the German counter attack had been broken up. 123rd Batteries zone of fire for this work was as shown on Map 7.

Map 7. The Battle of Vimy Ridge Battlefield. 123 Battery RFA position on 9th-14th April 1917, barrage zone for the 10th April, advance on the 14th/15th April and movement on 7th May 1917. (Click for full size).

Map 7. The Battle of Vimy Ridge Battlefield. 123 Battery RFA position on 9th-14th April 1917, barrage zone for the 10th April and advance on the 14th/15th April. (Click for full size).

Similar artillery work continued on the 11th and 12th April as the infantry consolidated its positions, and enemy attacks were driven back. On the 12th, in the North of the attack area, The Pimple was taken on this day, so the whole of the initial objectives had been taken, and on the 13th the enemy had withdrawn and Angres, Vimy, Willerval and Bailleul had all been taken.

This advance now meant that the guns of 123rd Battery were lying further behind our own lines and out of range. So, on the 14th April, new positions West of the embankment between Vimy and Farbus were reconnoitered, and the guns of 123rd Battery moved forward over the ridge into these new positions on the night of the 14th-15th April. However, the bad state of the roads, coupled with enemy shelling caused casualties to both horses and men, and only about 80% of the guns could be got into action on the morning of the 15th April.

On the 15th April 123rd Battery did not fire as it was a relatively quiet day and the enemy artillery was largely inactive. On 16th, 123 Battery started registering on targets but work was very difficult due to hostile enemy shelling of Vimy, Farbus and the ridge, as well as communication roads and back areas. There was also much enemy aircraft activity over the battery positions. For the next two days, low visibility meant that our registration could not proceed but enemy guns were again active. One of the Battery's gun was damaged by shell fire on the 19th and hostile artillery harassed the Battery for the next few days firing against the Batteries including the use of some gas shells and on the 22nd and 23rd also including phosgene and lachramatory shells.

During this time the Battery was involved in supporting Canadian attacks on enemy positions from Arleux-en-Gohelle and Fresnoy to Acheville (20th April) and on the Fresnoy-Acheville line on the 25th April, including attacks on Arleux and Oppy. Compared with the initial battle and the immediate days after, these days were relatively quiet, although even then 1 gun of 123rd Battery was damaged by shell fire on the 24th April. The following day, 123rd Battery again took part on shelling Acheville. The next few days settled into a routine of hostile observation by airplane and enemy shelling of Farbus, Vimy, Vimy Ridge and the railway embankment, again causing some damage to guns in 123rd Battery, while our guns supported attacks on Arleux (which was taken) and on Oppy (which was driven back by the Germans). The month ended with pioneer battalions joining the Battery positions to help dig in further under the railway embankment. This was still a very active part of the front with the war diary reporting that the enemy had fired about 5000 gas shells on its positions during the night of the 30th April, but with no casualties.

The 28th Brigade RFA casualties for April 1917 amounted to 2 officers killed, 2 officers wounded, 9 other ranks killed, 20 other ranks wounded and 5 other ranks wounded but returned to duty. Of those figures the 2 officers killed were both from George's Battery (123rd Battery), with 2 other ranks killed, 4 wounded and 1 wounded and returned to duty.

 
Notes: 2/Lieut Robert Claude Hawker Kingdon, aged 27, from Holsworthy, Devon, was killed on the 9th April 1917 and 2/Lieut John Denis Circuit Olver, MC, aged only 19 from Purley, Surrey, was killed on the 27th April 1917. Both were killed serving in 123rd Battery RFA and both are buried in Ecoivres Military Cemetery, Mont St. Eloi.

 

The daily pattern of life in 123rd Battery settled into a routine of shelling the enemy to prevent movement and troop build up while being subjected to return artillery fire. On the 7th May 1917, 123rd Battery moved forward again (Map 7), this time close to Willerval from where it could support attacks on Arleux, Fresnoy and Oppy (all of which lie just to the right of the area shown in map 7), and also could bring further enemy back areas into range. On the 7th May all Batteries were subjected to a long enemy barrage of phosgene, lachramatory, high explosive and shrapnel shells for many hours. During the 7th, 123rd Battery lost another office who was wounded, but subsequently died of his wounds. The enemy barrage on the 7th was the prelude to an enemy attack on the 8th May which retook Fresnoy village and wood. 123rd Battery reports firing all day to counter this attack. On the 9th an attempt to regain Fresnoy was made but this was unsuccessful. After that the month settled into a routine of shell, and be shelled. This included one gun of 123rd Battery being completely destroyed on the 19th May by shell fire.

Casualty figures for May for 123 Battery were 1 officer killed, 4 other ranks killed, and 11 other ranks wounded.

 
Notes: 2/Lieut Sydney Jerrett, aged 31, originally of Exeter, but husband of Maud Jerrett, of 66 Lefevre Road, Bow, London, was wounded on the 7th May and died on the 8th May 1917. He is buried in Aubigny Communal Cemetery Extension.

 

Finally towards the end of May 1917, a relief of the Artillery Brigade was carried out.

On the 5th May 1917, while out of the front line and at rest, 28th Brigade RFA held a horse show about ½ west of the wagon lines at Aux Rietz. George's Battery (123rd Battery) came second in the 6-horse turn out competition, won the driving competition, while Major Lutyens of the Battery came second in both the 'Officer's Chargers' and Officer's jumping competitions. The following day the whole 5th Divisional Artillery Horse show was held at Ecurie.

June and early July saw 28th Brigade RFA return into action in the same area along the south of the Vimy Ridge battlefields, generally harrassing the enemy and carrying out anti-battery work, but no new offensives took place. From the 10th to the 30th July the Brigade again came out of the line and were engaged in training, Battery drill and instructional work. On the 11th July The King visited the Divisional area and a party of 200 men from the Brigade paraded on the east side of the Arras-Souchez road as the King drove by. On the 22nd July a major church parade was attended by the General Officer in Command of 5th Division and the General Officer in Command of 5th Division Royal Artillery, which was followed by the presentation of medals and awards. Finally, on the 25th July a Brigade boxing competition was held.

At some time around the end of July/ early August we believe that George was granted some leave and that he travelled back to Yorkshire, where he was described as looking a picture of health.

On the 30th July, 28th Army Brigade RFA marched to Houdain on transfer from First Army to Second Army (X Corps) and billeted there. The following day, they marched on from Houdain to Neuvpre and again billeted. On the 1st August their journey continued from Neuvpre and Aire to Thieushouk (near Fletre). On the 4th to 6th August, 123rd Battery came into the line again near Hallebast, relieving 104th Brigade RFA. On the 10th and 11th August the wagon lines were shelled and a number of aeroplanes bombed the wagon lines.

George was killed on the 17th August 1917. Unfortunately the pages of the war diary from 11th to 17th August are missing from the diary, but we have learned what happened to George from a report in The Wetherby News.

On the 7th September 1917, the Wetherby News, under the headline "Local Soldier Killed while asleep" reported that:

Wetherby News September 7th 1917

Local Soldier Killed while asleep

News has been received of the death of Gunner George Arthur Wray, aged 24 years, of the Royal Field Artillery. A married man, his wife and two children reside at Benshaw, Gateshead, but he was formerly in service with the late Mr Micheal Stead at the Wharfe Spring Brewery Kearby Wetherby. His father and sisters now reside at the Gate House, Kirk Deaton, but formerly resided at Collingham. Gunner Wray volunteered in January, 1915, and had been in France a year and eleven months. A letter received by his relatives from a second-lieutenant of his Battery states that deceased and three sergeants were killed by a shell while asleep, death being instantaneous, and that they were accorded full military honours at the funeral. Wray was at home on leave only a fortnight before he met his death, looking a picture of health. The letter describes him as a fine trustworthy soldier, and says that he will be much missed by all the officers and men.

 

That letter reads:

August 19th 1917
Dear Mrs Wray

It is with deepest regret that I have to inform you that your Husband No 66635 Gunner G. Wray, has been killed in action.

He was sleeping at the time with three Sergeants all of whom were killed by the same shell.

It is a most regrettable occurrence, and I offer you my heartfelt sympathy in your terrible be-reavement.

He could not possibly have felt any pain, as his death was instantaneous.

He was a fine, trustworthy, and brave soldier, and his death is keenly felt by all Officers, N.C.Officers and men of the Battery, and his loss can never be replaced.

Your Husband was buried with full Military Honours, in a Cemetery near Dickebush, on the 17th August 1917.

Again I offer my sympathy to you in your irreplaceable loss.

(Signed)

R.J. Ferus, 2nd Lieut R.F.A.

123 Battery R.F.A.

B.E.Force

 

Klein Vierstraat Cemetery

George was buried in Klein-Vierstraat British Cemetery, Belgium, along with the three sergeants from 123 Battery RFA that George died with - Sergeant 87266 Arthur Wilkinson, Sergeant 55108 Albert Victor Wilshaw aged 23 of Crosshaven, Cork and Sergeant 39624 Arthur W Dyer.

 

Having suffered with George's death in 1917, another tragedy befell the family when George's wife, Agnes Mary Wray, died in 1919 in Gateshead as a result of Spanish Flu. At that time their children, Dorothy and Agnes, were 5 and 3 respectively. We do not know who brought up the two children, but the recently digitised Pension Record Cards show that George's pension was paid to Mrs M. Ginyson, at 87, Westminster Street, Gateshead - the address where Agnes had been born in 1916.

George's brother, John Henry Wray, also served in the Great War, with the Signal Service (Royal Engineers) in France.


Sources

1911 Census. The National Archives. Class RG14 Piece 25962
First World War Medal Index Cards. The National Archives (WO372).
First World War Medal Index Rolls. The National Archives (WO329).
War Diary of 28th Brigade RFA (WO95/293) The National Archives.
War Diary of 5th Division. HQ Branches & Services: Commander Royal Artillery. (WO95/1522) The National Archives.
Commonwealth War Graves Commission Cemetery and Burial Reports

If you have any photographs or further details about this person we would be pleased to hear from you. Please contact us via: alan.berry@collinghamanddistrictwararchive.info